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Title: Vagabond Life in Mexico
Author: Ferry, Gabriel
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Vagabond Life in Mexico" ***

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PERICO, THE MEXICAN VAGABOND                           5

FRAY SERAPIO, THE FRANCISCAN MONK                     47


REMIGIO VASQUEZ                                      128

THE MINERS OF RAYAS                                  177


THE JAROCHOS                                         277

THE PILOT VENTURA                                    314


Perico, the Mexican Vagabond.


The Jamaïca and Mount Parnassus.

Mexico is the most beautiful city ever built by the Spaniards in the New
World; and even in Europe it would take a high place for splendor and
magnificence. If you wish to behold the magnificent and varied panorama
which Mexico presents, you have only to mount at sunset one of the
towers of the Cathedral. On whatever side you turn your eye, you see
before you the serrated peaks of the Cordilleras, forming a gigantic
azure belt of about sixty leagues in circumference. To the south, the
two volcanoes which overtop the other peaks of the sierra raise their
majestic summits, covered with eternal snow, which, in the evening sun,
put on a pale purple hue flecked with delicate ruby. The one,
Popocatapetl (smoking mountain), is a perfect cone, dazzling in the blue
vault of heaven; the other, Iztaczihuatl (the white woman), has the
appearance of a nymph reclining, who lifts her icy shoulders to receive
the last beams of the dying sun. At the foot of the two volcanoes gleam
two lakes, like mirrors, which reflect the clouds in their waters, and
where the wild swan plays its merry gambols. To the west rises an
immense pile of building, the palace of Chapultepec, once the abode of
the old viceroys of New Spain. Round the mountain on which it is built
stretches, in a long, waving belt of verdure, a forest of cedars more
than a thousand years old. A fountain bubbles forth at the top of the
mountain; its brawling waters leap down into the valley, where they are
received into an aqueduct, and thus conducted into a large and populous
city, to supply the wants of its inhabitants. Villages, steeples, and
cupolas rise on all sides from the bottom of the valley. Dusty roads
cross and recross one another like gold stripes on a green ground, or
like runnels of water interbranching through the country. A tree,
peculiar to Peru, the weeping willow of the sandy plains, bends its
long, interlaced branches, loaded with odoriferous leaves and red
berries, in the evening breeze, and a solitary palm-tree rises here and
there above clumps of olives with their pale-green foliage.

But these are only the grand outlines of the picture. Turn your eye upon
the city, or, rather, look at your feet. In the midst of the chess-board
formed by the terraces of houses, and from among the flowers with which
these are adorned, you will see rising, as from an immense bouquet,
spires, churches with domes of yellow and blue tiling, houses with walls
stained with various colors, and balconies hung with a kind of striped
cotton, which give them a trim and jaunty appearance. On one of the four
sides of the Plaza Mayor (great square) the Cathedral towers
majestically aloft. This magnificent edifice overtops the turrets of the
president's palace, a building devoid of all pretensions to
architectural beauty, and now falling to decay. It is an immense pile,
inclosing within its four walls the public offices of the government, a
prison, two barracks, a botanic garden, and the legislative chambers.
This palace occupies a whole side of the square. The _Ayuntamiento_
(Municipality) and the _Postal de las flores_, an immense market, form
the third side. The _Parian_, a market similar to the preceding,
completes the fourth. Thus the legislative and executive power, the
board of works, commerce--all the departments of the Mexican government,
in short, are in one building, and seem as if grouped together under the
shadow of the church. The people are there also; for the streets of St.
Domingo, of St. Francisco, of Tacuba, of Monnaie, of Monterilla, all
arteries of the great city, pour into the Plaza Mayor a flood of human
beings, which is always changing, and ever in motion, and you have only
to mix in this crowd for a few moments to get acquainted with Mexican
life in all its diversified phases of vice and virtue, of splendor and

When the hour of the Angelus approaches especially, horsemen,
foot-passengers, and carriages are packed together in disorderly
confusion, and gold, silk, and rags, mingled here and there, give to the
crowd a grotesque and startling appearance. The Indians are returning to
their villages, the populace to the suburbs. The _ranchero_ makes his
horse prance and curvet in the midst of the passengers, who are in no
hurry to get out of his way; the _aquador_ (water-carrier), whose day's
work is over, crosses the square, bending under the weight of his
_chochocol_ of porous earthenware; the officer is bending his steps to
the coffee-houses or gambling-tables, where he intends to spend the
evening; the non-commissioned officer clears the way for himself with a
vine-tree-staff, which he carries in his hand as a badge of his rank.
The red petticoat of the townswoman is in glaring contrast with the saya
and black mantilla of the fashionable lady, who holds her fan over her
face to shade it from the departing rays of the sun. Monks of all colors
flit through the crowd in every direction. Here the _padre_, with his
huge hat _à la Basile_, elbows the Franciscan in his blue gown, silken
cord, girdle, and large white felt hat; there goes the Dominican in his
lugubrious costume of black and white, reminding one of Torquemada, the
founder of the Inquisition; farther on, the brown drugget of the
Capuchin contrasts with the white flowing robes of the Brother of Mercy.
Incidents of different kinds occur continually in this motley crowd, and
serve to keep one's attention alive. Sometimes, as the drum in the
barracks are beating a salute, the folding doors of a _sagrario_[1]
suddenly fly open, and there issues forth a carriage splendidly gilt,
the slow toll of the bell is heard along with the harsh rattle of the
drum, and the whole crowd uncover, and kneel with bent head to the holy
sacrament which they are carrying to a dying man. Woe betide the
foreigner, though bold and resolute, who, ignorant of the profound
respect which the Mexican pays to his religious rites, fails to bow the
knee to the host as it passes! Sometimes a military detachment of six
officers, escorted by three soldiers and preceded by a dozen musicians,
is seen marching into the square in all the majesty of military pomp; it
is to proclaim a _bando_ (law or edict) of the highest authority, for
which all this display of military music and brocaded uniforms is deemed
necessary. Such at this time of the evening is the general appearance of
the Plaza Mayor, that square where the people of Mexico, the sovereign
people (as their flatterers call them), flutter in rags, ceaselessly
engaged in quest of a new master who can put down the master of the
night before, quite indifferent as to political principles, mistaking
disorder for liberty, and never suspecting that the continual assaults
of anarchy may bring down one day the worm-eaten structure of their
rotten republic, although it has not been in existence more than
twenty-five years.

Every evening, however, at the first peals of the Angelus, all noise
ceases, as if by enchantment, in the Plaza Mayor. The crowd becomes
hushed and silent. When the last toll of the bell dies away, the din
recommences. The crowd disperses in every direction, carriages rattle
off, horsemen gallop away, foot-passengers hurry hither and thither, but
not always nimbly enough to escape the sword or _lasso_ of the bold
thieves who murder or rob their hapless victims, and whose audacity is
such that, even in open day, and with crowds looking on, they have been
known to commit their crimes.[2] At nightfall the square is deserted; a
few promenaders scurry along in the moonlight; others remain seated, or
swing lazily upon the iron chains, which, separated by granite pillars,
run round the sagrario. The day is past, the scenes of the night begin,
and the _léperos_ become for a few hours masters of the city.

The _lépero_ is a type, and that the strangest, of Mexican society. The
attentive observer, who has seen Mexico stirring with the joyous
excitement that precedes the Oracion, and then abandoned to the
ill-omening silence which the night brings on, can alone tell what is
singular and formidable in the character of this Mexican _lazzarone_. At
once brave and cowardly, calm and violent, fanatic and incredulous, with
just such a belief in God as to have a wholesome terror for the devil, a
continual gambler, quarrelsome by nature, with a sobriety only equaled
by the intemperance to which he sometimes delivers himself, the lépero
can accommodate himself to every turn of fortune, as his humor or
idleness inclines him. Porter, stone-mason, teamster, street-pavior,
hawker, the lépero is every thing at different times. A thief sometimes
by inclination, he practices his favorite calling every where, in the
churches, at processions, and in theatres; his life is only one struggle
with justice, which is not herself safe from his larcenies. Lavish when
he finds himself master of a little money, he is not the less resigned
or courageous when he has none. Has he gained in the morning a
sufficiency for the expenses of the day? he drops work immediately.
Often his precarious resources fail him entirely. Tranquil then, and
submissive, and careless about thieves, he wraps himself in his torn
cloak, and lies down at the corner of the pavement or in a door-way.
There, rattling his _jarana_ (a little mandolin), and looking with
stoical serenity at the _pulqueria_ (public-house), where he has no
credit, he listens distractedly to the hissing of some savory stew which
they are preparing for some more favored being, tightens the belt round
his stomach, and, after breakfasting off a sunbeam, he sups off a cigar,
and sleeps quietly without thinking of the morrow.

I will confess my weakness: among this motley crowd, idle and brawling
as it was, my attention was more engaged with the miserable
tatterdemalions than with the well-dressed foot-passengers, as the
former seemed to afford a truer index of Mexican society than the
latter. I never met, for instance, a lépero, in all the picturesqueness
of his tattered costume, without having a strong desire to become better
acquainted with this Bohemian-like class, who reminded me frequently of
the more uncommon heroes of Picaresque romance. It appeared to me a
curious study to compare this filthy and ragged denizen of the great
towns with the savage adventurers I had met in the woods and savannas.
When I first came to live in Mexico, I sought, and succeeded in getting
acquainted, through the kindness of a Franciscan monk, a friend of mine,
with a thorough-bred lépero, called Perico the Zaragate.[3] Unhappily,
our acquaintance had hardly commenced, when, for very good reasons, I
was resolved to break it, for I only got the scantiest information from
him about his class, and the number of piastres I was forced to pay him
was so considerable as to induce me to reflect strongly upon the
absurdity of taking such expensive lessons. I was resolved, then, to
bring my studies with him to a conclusion, when, one morning, Fray
Serapio, the worthy monk who had made me acquainted with Perico, entered
my apartment.

"I came to ask you," said the Franciscan, "to go with me to a bull-fight
at the Necatitlan Square; there will also be a _Jamaïca_ and a _Monte
Parnaso_, which will be an additional inducement."

"What is a _Jamaïca_ and a _Monte Parnaso_?"

"You will know that immediately. Let us set out; it is nearly eleven,
and we shall be scarcely there in time to get a good place."

I could never resist the attraction of a bull-fight, and I found an
advantage in having the company of Fray Serapio while traversing in
security those suburbs which surround Mexico in a formidable belt. The
neighborhood of the Necatitlan Square is more dreaded than any, and it
is almost always dangerous to appear there in a European garb; indeed, I
never passed through it alone without uneasiness. The cowl of the monk
would be a safeguard to me in my European dress. I accepted his offer
with pleasure, and we set out. For the first time, I viewed with a
tranquil mind the narrow, dirty, and unpaved streets, the blackened
houses full of cracks running over the walls in all directions,
lurking-places of the thieves and robbers who ply their calling on the
streets, and who sometimes even break into houses in the city. Swarms of
one-eyed léperos, their faces cut and scarred with the knife, were
drinking, whistling, and shouting in the taverns, clad in dirty cotton
clothes, or enveloped in their _frazadas_.[4] Their wives, dressed in
tatters, stood in the doorways, watching their naked children, who were
sporting in the mud, and laughing and shouting merrily. In passing
through these haunts of cut-throats, the terror of the police, the judge
mutters a prayer, the alcalde crosses himself, the _corchete_ (bailiff)
and the regidor shuffle humbly along with downcast eye but watchful
look, and the honest man shudders, but the monk stalks along with lofty
brow and serene face, and the creak of his sandals is more respected
there than the clink of the _celador's_ sabre; sometimes, even, like
tame tigers who recognize their master, the bandits emerge from their
lurking-places, and come and kiss his hand.

The Necatitlan Square presented an appearance at once strange and
novel. On one side, where the sun darted his unpitying rays upon the
_palcos de sol_,[5] stood the people, with cloaks and rebozos hung over
their heads as a shade, clustered in noisy, animated groups on the steps
of the circus, and keeping up a lively concert of whistling and
groaning. On the shady side, the nodding plumes of the officers' hats,
and the variegated silk shawls of the ladies, presented to the eye an
appearance which contrasted strongly with the wretchedness and misery of
the rabble in the palcos de sol. I had witnessed bull-fights a hundred
times. I had seen this dirty mass of people, wearied and exhausted in
body, but with as keen a relish for slaughter as ever, their tongues
sticking to the roofs of their mouths, and their throats dry and parched
as the sand, when the setting sun darted his long rays through the
ill-joined boards of the amphitheatre, and when the scent of the blood
lured the hungry vultures who were sailing in the air above, but I never
saw the arena so transformed as it was at that time. Numerous wooden
erections filled the space ordinarily devoted to the bull-fights; these,
covered with grass, flowers, and sweet-smelling branches of trees, made
the whole place assume the appearance of a vast hall, growing, as it
were, out of the ground, and forming a series of shady groves, with
paths winding through them. Little booths were dispersed here and there
through the groves, some intended for the preparation of delicate
articles of Mexican cookery, others for the sale of cool, refreshing
drinks. In the cookery booths you could indulge in the luxury of
nameless ragouts of pork, seasoned with pimenta. In the puestos[6]
glittered immense glasses filled with beverages of all the colors in
the rainbow, red, green, blue, and yellow. The mob in the palcos de sol
snuffed up greedily the nauseous smell of the fat pork, while others,
more lucky, seated in this improvised elysium, under the shade of the
trees, discussed patés of the wild duck of the lakes.

"Look!" said the Franciscan, pointing with his finger to the throng
seated at the tables in the ring; "that's what we call a _Jamaïca_."

"And that?" said I, showing him a tree five or six yards high, fixed in
the ground, with all its leaves, in the middle of the arena, quite
covered with handkerchiefs of every hue, which fluttered from the

"That is a _Monte Parnaso_," said the Franciscan.

"Probably poets are to ascend it?"

"No; but léperos, and such like uneducated persons--which will be a
great deal more diverting."

The monk had hardly given me this answer, which but half enlightened me,
when cries of _toro, toro_, from the rabble in the palcos de sol became
louder and more overpowering; the pastry cooks' booths and the puestos
were suddenly deserted; the revelers were suddenly interrupted by the
sudden rush of a band of léperos from the highest boxes round the
inclosure, who, sliding down by means of their cloaks, made a terrific
onslaught on the green booths inside. Among the crowd who were yelling
and kicking down the booths, and strewing the whole ring with their
remains, I recognized my old friend Perico. Indeed, without him the fête
would have been incomplete. The _Monte Parnaso_, with its cotton
handkerchiefs, stood alone in the midst of the wreck, and soon became
the only object to which the looks and aims of the rabble were directed.
All tried to be the first to ascend the tree, and get possession of
such handkerchiefs as took their fancy; but the struggles of the one
impeded the efforts of the other; the tree still remained standing, and
not a single claimant had yet succeeded in even touching its trunk. At
the same moment the bugle sounded in the box of the alcalde, the door of
the _toril_ was thrown open, and a magnificent bull, the best that the
neighboring haciendas could furnish, came thundering into the arena. The
spectators, who expected a more formidable animal, were somewhat
disappointed when they saw an _embolado_.[7] The aspiring laureates of
_Monte Parnaso_ were nevertheless somewhat scared and frightened. The
bull, after standing with some hesitation, bounded with a gallop toward
the tree, which was still standing. Some of the léperos ran away, and
the others took refuge, one after another, in the branches of _Monte
Parnaso_. The bull, having come to the foot of the tree, butted at it
with repeated blows of his horns; it tottered; and at the very moment
Perico was busily engaged in reaping an abundant harvest of
pocket-handkerchiefs, it fell, dragging with it the men who were
entangled in the branches. Roars of laughter and enthusiastic cheering
arose from the ten thousand spectators in the galleries and boxes at
sight of the unfortunate wretches, who, bruised and lamed, were seeking
to escape from each other's grasp, and from the branches in which they
were entangled. To add to the confusion, the bull, seeking no doubt to
separate the black mass struggling on the ground, butted several of the
unfortunate léperos with his horns, and, to my great sorrow, I saw
Perico, launched ten feet into the air, fall to the ground in such a
state of insensibility as to deprive me of all hope of completing my
studies of Mexican life under so skillful a master.

Perico had been scarcely carried out of the arena when cries of "a
priest! a priest!" were raised by a hundred voices. Fray Serapio
crouched in a corner of his box, but he could not avoid the duty which
the people expected from him. He rose, gravely cloaking his
disappointment as much as he could from the eyes of the people, and said
to me, in a low tone,

"Follow me; you will pass for a surgeon."

"Are you joking?" said I.

"Not at all; if the fellow is not quite dead, he will have a surgeon and
a priest of equal merit."

I followed the monk with a gravity at least equal to his own, and while
descending the stairs of the amphitheatre, the laughter and loud hurrahs
of the populace proved that the people in the _shade_, as well as the
rabble in the _sun_, viewed the accident as an every-day occurrence. We
were conducted into a little dark room on the ground floor of a house,
from which issued several lobbies leading to different apartments. In a
corner of this room Perico was laid, having been previously deprived of
all his handkerchiefs; then, partly through respect for the Church and
the faculty, so worthily represented by both of us, partly lest they
should lose the spectacle of the fight, the attendants withdrew and left
us alone. The lépero, his head leaning against the wall, and giving no
sign of life, was seated rather than reclining; his motionless arms, and
his pale, corpse-like face, showed that, if life had not quite fled,
there was but a slender spark remaining. We looked at each other, the
Franciscan and I, quite at a loss what to do in the circumstances.

"I think," said I to the monk, "that it would perhaps be best to give
him absolution."

"_Absolvo te_," said Fray Serapio, touching roughly the lépero's foot.
He appeared sensible to this mark of interest, and muttered, half
opening his eyes,

"I believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy--Ah! the rascals
have taken all my handkerchiefs--_Señor Padre_, I am a dead man.

"Not yet, my son," said the monk; "but perhaps there only remains for
you sufficient time to confess your sins; and it would be best for you
to profit by it, that I may open to you the folding doors of heaven. I
warn you that I am in a hurry."

"Is the bull-fight not over, then?" said poor Perico, naïvely. "I
think," said he, passing his hands over his body, "that I am not so ill
as you imagine."

Then, seeing me, Perico shut his eyes, as if he were going to faint, and
added, in a very low voice,

"Indeed I am ill, very ill; and if you please to listen to my
confession, I will soon finish it."

"Go on, then, my son."

The monk then kneeled down close to the sick man, who, to speak the
truth, bore no trace on his body of a single wound. Taking off his large
gray hat, Perico brought his lips near the ear of the monk, and I, not
to interrupt the lépero, stepped aside. He began thus:

"I accuse myself first, father, of the blackest ingratitude to this
cavalier, in that I took from him so much money--and would have taken
more if I could--and I hope he will bear no ill feeling toward me on
that account, for at heart I sincerely loved him."

I bowed in token of forgiveness.

"I accuse myself also, father, of having stolen the gold watch of
Sayosa, the judge in the criminal court, the last time I appeared before

"How was that, my son?"

"The Lord Sayosa was imprudent enough to put his hand into his pocket
for his watch, and to express his regret and surprise that he had left
both it and his gold chain at home. I said to myself then, if I am not
executed for this, that will be a good stroke of business for me.
Ignorant that any thing like this accident would befall me, I gave a
hint to a friend of mine who was at that moment set at liberty. I ought
to tell you that my lord judge has a weakness for turkeys."

"I don't understand you, my son."

"All in good time, father. My confederate bought a splendid turkey, and
hastened to present it to the wife of my Lord Sayosa, saying that her
husband had ordered him to give it her; my lord judge entreated her at
the same time, added my friend, to deliver to the bearer his gold watch
and chain that he had forgotten at home. It was thus the watch--"

"That's serious, my son."

"I did worse than that, father; the day after, I stole from the judge's
lady while her husband was at court."

"What, my son?"

"The turkey, father. You see one does not like to lose any thing,"
muttered Perico, in a doleful tone. The monk could scarcely restrain
himself from laughing outright at the confession of the lépero.

"And why," said Fray Serapio, in a shaking tone of voice, "were you at
the bar before my Lord Judge Sayosa?"

"A trifle, father. A citizen in the town (his name needn't be mentioned)
had engaged me to take vengeance on a person who had offended him. The
man was pointed out to me whom I was to strike. He was a young, handsome
cavalier, easily recognizable by a long narrow scar above his right
eyebrow. I placed myself in ambuscade at the door of a house which he
was accustomed to enter every night before orisons. I saw him, in fact,
enter the house pointed out to me. Night came on. I waited. Two hours
passed. There was not a single person in the street, which was silent as
the grave. The person I was waiting for had not yet appeared. I was
curious to see what kept him so long. The apartment in which I thought
he was was on the ground floor. I crept slowly up to it, and looked
through the bars of a window that had been left open probably on account
of the heat."

Perico, in continuing his confession, either from weakness or some other
motive, seemed to do it unwillingly, as if he could not brook the
ascendency which Fray Serapio had over him. The lépero unveiled his
thoughts like one in a state of mesmeric sleep, who is obliged to act
according to the will of the manipulator. I asked the monk by a look
whether I should stay or retire. His glance urged me to stay.

"Beneath a picture of all the saints," continued Perico, "slept an old
woman wrapped up to the eyes in her _rebozo_. The handsome cavalier,
whom I recognized, was seated on a sofa. Kneeling before him, her head
on his knees, was a young and beautiful woman, her eyes fixed upon his,
beaming with the most ardent devotion. The young man was stripping the
leaves off a full-blown rose that he had taken from the tortoise-shell
comb in the hair of the fair dame, whose head was on his knees. I saw
clearly now why the time had seemed to him so short. Perhaps the feeling
of compassion which rose in my bosom will be placed to my credit aloft,
for I felt quite sorry at being forced to bring this sweet romance to a
rough conclusion."

"Did you kill him, then, you wretch?" cried the monk.

"I sat down in the shade on the pavement, with my face to the door. I
pitied the poor fellow, was quite discouraged, and slept at my post. The
creaking of a door awoke me from my slumbers; a man came out. I said to
myself then that my word of honor had been given, and my feelings of
compassion must be crushed. I arose. A second after, I was on the traces
of the unknown. The sound of a piano came stealing from the window,
which was now closed. 'Poor girl!' said I, 'your lover has seen his last
hour, and you are playing!' I struck--the man fell!"

Perico stopped and sighed.

"Had grief dimmed my sight?" said he, after a short silence. "The rays
of the moon fell full upon the face of the poor fellow. It was not my
man. I had done my duty, however; I had been paid to kill a man. I had
killed him. And my conscience quieted on this score, I set about cutting
off a lock of hair from the head of the unknown, in order to convince my
employer that I had fulfilled my mission. 'All men's hair is of the same
color,' said I to myself. I was again deceived; the man I had killed was
an Englishman, and had hair red as a ripe pimenta. The handsome cavalier
still lived. Chagrined at my disappointment, I blasphemed the holy name
of God, and that is what I accuse myself of, holy father."

Perico beat his breast, while the Franciscan showed him the blackness of
the latter crime of which he was guilty, passing very slightly over the
former, for the life of a man, an English heretic above all, is of very
little importance in the eyes of the least enlightened class of the
Mexican people, of which the monk and the lépero were two very distinct
types. Fray Serapio finished his exhortation by administering hastily to
Perico an absolution in Latin, worthy of Molière's comedies. He then
said, in good Spanish,

"All you have got to do now is to ask pardon of this cavalier for having
fleeced him so often, which he will willingly grant, seeing that it is
very improbable that you will lay him again under contribution, at least
for a long time."

The lépero turned to me, and, in as languishing a tone as he could

"I am a double-dyed rascal," said he, "and shall only consider myself
completely absolved if you will pardon me for the unworthy tricks that I
have played upon you. I am going to die, Señor Cavalier, and I have not
the wherewithal to bury me. My wife must be told of my situation, and it
will be a great comfort to her if she find something in my pocket to pay
for my shroud. God will reward you for it, Señor Cavalier."

"In truth," said the monk, "you can hardly refuse the poor devil this
favor, as they are the last piastres he will cost you."

"God grant it!" said I, not thinking about the cruelty of the wish, and
I emptied my purse into Perico's outstretched hand. He shut his eyes,
let his head fall upon his breast, and said no more.

"_Requiescat in pace!_" said Fray Serapio; "the sports must be far
advanced by this time. I can be of no farther use here."

We went out. After all, said I to myself in leaving the circus, this
recital has been the most curious revelation I have yet got from the
Zaragate. Such a confession as this is ample amends for the drafts upon
my purse which this singular personage has made. Besides, this would be
the last lesson the lépero would ever give me; and, with this thought in
my mind, I could not help pitying the poor wretch. I was wrong, however,
as will be seen in the sequel, in thinking that I would have no more
dealings with my master Perico.


[1] Sagrario, the part in a church where the host is kept.

[2] A journal, "Siglio XIX." of the 11th November, 1845, contains in its
columns a petition addressed to the Ayuntamiento upon the subject of
certain thieves, who, not content with the evening, had chosen midday
for the exercise of their calling. The petition and answer of the
municipal council are alike curious.

[3] Zaragate, a rogue of the most dangerous kind.

[4] A blanket of common wool, differing in that respect only from the

[5] Those parts of the circus exposed to the sun.

[6] Portable shops.

[7] A bull with a ball on each horn.


The Alameda.[8]--The Paseo of Bucareli.

There are few towns in Mexico which can not boast of having an Alameda;
and, as generally happens in the capital city, that of Mexico is
decidedly the finest. There is no promenade of this sort in Paris. Hyde
Park in London most nearly resembles it. The Alameda of Mexico forms a
long square, surrounded by a wall breast high, at the bottom of which
runs a deep ditch, whose muddy waters and offensive exhalation mar the
appearance of this almost earthly paradise. An iron gate at each of its
corners affords admission to carriages, horsemen, and pedestrians.
Poplars, ash-trees, and willows bend their branches over the principal
drive, and afford a leafy shade to the occupants of the carriages and
equestrians for whom this beautifully level road is appropriated.
Alleys, converging into large common centres, ornamented with fountains
and _jets d'eau_, interpose their clumps of myrtles, roses, and jasmines
between the carriages and the pedestrians, whose eyes can follow,
through the openings in those odoriferous bushes, the luxurious
equipages and prancing steeds caracoling round the Alameda. The noise
of the wheels, muffled by the sand on the drive, scarcely reaches the
ear, mingled as it is with the murmur of the water, the sighing of the
wind through the evergreen leafage, and the buzzing of bees and
humming-birds. The gilded carriage of the country and the plain European
chariot are continually passing each other, and the gaudy trappings of
the Mexican horses contrast strongly with the unaffected plainness of
the English saddle, which wears a shabby appearance in the midst of this
Oriental luxury. The ladies of fashion have laid aside for the promenade
the _saya_ and _mantilla_, to wear dresses which are only six months
behind the last Parisian mode. Stretched in dreamy languor on their silk
cushions, they allow their feet, the pride and admiration of Europeans,
to remain in shoes, alas! ill fitted for them. The sorry appearance of
their feet is hidden when in the carriages, through the open window of
which you can only see their diadems of black hair, decorated with
natural flowers, their seductive smile, and their gestures, in which
vivacity and listlessness are so pleasingly blended. The fan is kept in
a perpetual flutter at the carriage window, and speaking its own
mysterious language. Swarms of pedestrians present a spectacle not less
piquant; and the sad-colored garments of the Europeans are seen less
frequently here than the variegated costumes of America.

After taking a few turns, the carriages quit the Alameda, the horsemen
accompany them, and the whole crowd saunters carelessly past a
strongly-grated window, which hangs over the path you must traverse
before reaching a promenade called the _Paseo_ of Bucareli.[9] One can
hardly tell what hideous scenes are daily exhibited there behind this
rusty iron grating, not two paces from the most fashionable promenade in
Mexico: this is the window of the Mexican Morgue, where the dead bodies
are exposed. Justice only displays her anxiety at the moment when the
dead bodies of men and women are thrown together in one promiscuous heap
on its floor, some half naked, others still bleeding. Every day there is
a new succession of victims. As for the Paseo, which is close to this
melancholy exhibition, its only attractions are a double row of trees, a
few stone seats for the use of pedestrians, and three fountains
overloaded with detestable allegorical statues. At this spot you catch a
glimpse of a part of the country seen from the towers of the Cathedral;
the two snow-covered peaks of the volcanoes with their canopy of clouds;
the sierra shaded with its beautiful violet tints: lower down, the
whitened fronts of several haciendas; and through the arches of a
gigantic aqueduct you descry fields of maize, church domes and convents,
almost always half hidden at the promenade hour in the mist which
generally ascends at nightfall.

On the evening of the day on which I had witnessed the bull-fight, I
found myself in a crowd of idlers who ordinarily cover the space between
the Paseo and the Alameda. It was twilight; the lamps were about to be
lighted, and pedestrians and carriages were severally wending their way
homeward. It was Sunday. Noisily repeated by the numerous bells of the
churches and convents, the toll of the Angelus rose high above the
murmur of the crowd, of which one portion respectfully paused, while the
other made its way like a torrent that nothing could resist. The last
gleams of departing day glimmered through the grate of the Morgue, and
lighted up feebly the victims who were lying promiscuously on the
slabbed pavement, stained here and there with large patches of blood.
Women, uttering the most piercing cries of sorrow, returned to the rusty
grated window, though again and again pushed back by the soldiers. Their
cries attracted the passers-by; some pitied them; others contented
themselves with peering curiously in their faces. Kneeling before the
grated window, his head uncovered, and the bridle of his
richly-caparisoned horse in his hand, stood a man praying devoutly. From
his costume you could easily see that he belonged to that opulent class
of inhabitants of the _Tierra Afuera_, who disdain both the fashions and
ideas of Europeans. His picturesque costume harmonized well with his
manly and noble features. Above the right eyebrow of the stranger
extended a long narrow scar. It was doubtless the handsome young
cavalier whom Perico had that very morning described to me. Was he
thanking God for preserving him from danger, or for loving and being
loved? The question remained doubtful; besides, the emotions which gave
rise to these conjectures were suddenly interrupted. Startled by the
noise of the carriages, a refractory horse struck violently against a
ladder, on the top of which a _sereno_ (watchman) was lighting a lamp
suspended from the walls of the barrack of La Acordada. The sereno fell
from a height of fifteen feet, and lay motionless on the pavement. It
would be easy to describe the feelings of the unfortunate horseman when
he saw the poor fellow lying unconscious, and perhaps dangerously
injured; for the cavalier, I must own, was myself; but I prefer telling
what followed.

Every one is well aware of the benevolent feelings of the populace of
great towns toward those who have the misfortune to be guilty of such
sad accidents. It is impossible, however, to have an exact idea of the
spirit of such a populace, in Mexico especially, toward a foreigner,
which is there synonymous with a national enemy. Hemmed in, in spite of
his mettle, amid a dense crowd of léperos, who were deliberating only
what sort of punishment to inflict on the unhappy author of such a
calamity, my horse was of no use to me. I could not help envying for an
instant the fate of the sereno, insensible at least to the rude hustling
of the crowd, who mercilessly trod him under foot. Fortunately, chance
sent me two auxiliaries, on one of whom, at least, I was far from
reckoning. The first was an alcalde, who, escorted by four soldiers,
made his way through the crowd, and told me that in his eyes I was
guilty of having caused the death of a Mexican citizen. I bowed, and
said not a word. In compliance with the magistrate's orders, the still
inanimate body of the sereno was placed on a _tapestle_ (a kind of
litter), always kept at the barracks for similar accidents; then
politely inviting me to dismount, the alcalde ordered me to follow the
litter on foot to the palace, which was not more than two paces from the
prison. It may be supposed that I took good care not to comply at once
with this invitation, and attempted to demonstrate to the alcalde that
the exceptional case in which I stood nowise warranted such a
procession. Unhappily, the alcalde was, like all his class, gifted with
strong obstinacy, and replied to all my arguments only by insisting on
the respect due to custom. I then thought of seeking among the
spectators some one who might be security for me, and, very naturally,
my eyes sought the place where I had seen the cavalier, who had, at
first sight, inspired me with such interest; but he had disappeared. Was
I then to be compelled to submit to the odious formality required by the
alcalde? Chance at this moment sent me the second auxiliary of which I
have spoken. This new personage, who interposed between me and the
alcalde, was very jauntily dressed in a cloak of olive-colored Queretaro
cloth, the skirt of which, thrown back, almost entirely hid his face.
Through the numerous rents in his cloak appeared a jacket as dilapidated
as his upper garment. Having, with great exertion, got through the crowd
as far as the alcalde, this personage passed his hands through one of
the holes in his cloak, and was thus able to touch the remains of a hat
which covered his head without disarranging the folds of his cape. He
courteously uncovered, while a few cigarettes, a lottery ticket, and an
image of the miraculous Virgin of Guadaloupe remained sticking in his
long black hair. I was not a little surprised in recognizing in this
respectable townsman my friend Perico, whom I believed dead, and on the
eve of being buried.

"Señor Alcalde," said Perico, "this cavalier is right. He committed the
murder involuntarily, and he should not be confounded with ordinary
malefactors; besides, I am here to become security for him, for I have
the honor of his intimate acquaintance."

"And who will be security for _you_?" asked the alcalde.

"My antecedents," modestly replied the Zaragate, "and this cavalier,"
added he, pointing to me.

"But if you become security for him?"

"Well, I become security for this cavalier--he is security for me; you
have, therefore, two securities for one, and your lordship could not be
better suited."

I confess that, placed between the justice of the alcalde and the
offensive protection of Perico, I hesitated an instant. On his side, the
alcalde seemed scarcely convinced by the syllogism which Perico had
enunciated with such barefaced assurance. I thought it best, then, to
finish the debate by whispering to the alcalde my address.

"Well," he replied, on retiring, "I accept the security of your friend
in the olive cloak, and will go immediately to your house, where I hope
to find you."

The alcalde and his soldiers walked away; the mob remained as compact
and threatening as before, but a shrill whistle and two or three gambols
played by Perico soon caused him to be acknowledged by the people of his
caste, who eagerly made way for him. The lépero then took my horse by
the bridle, and I quitted this scowling rabble very uneasy about the
termination of my adventure, and much depressed at the unfortunate event
of which I had been the innocent cause.

"How comes it that I find you in such good health?" said I to my guide,
when I had recovered a little my presence of mind. "I confess I thought
your affairs in this world were forever wound up."

"God wrought a miracle specially for his servant," returned Perico, and
he devoutly raised his eyes to heaven; "but it appears, señor, that my
resurrection displeases you. You can conceive that, in spite of my
strong desire to be agreeable to you--"

"Not at all, Perico; by no means; I am delighted to see you alive; but
how was this miracle brought about?"

"I don't know," gravely replied the lépero; "only I was resuscitated so
quickly as not only to resume my place among the spectators of the
fight, but even to attempt another ascension. I had just been confessed
and received absolution, and it was a capital opportunity for risking my
life without endangering my soul. I wished to profit by it, and it
brought me good fortune; for this time, although the bull gave me
another pitch in the air with his horns, I fell on my feet, to the great
delight of the public, who showered reals and half reals upon me. Then
finding myself, thanks to you especially, with a tolerably well-lined
purse, I thought it my duty to satisfy my love for dress; I went to a
_baratillo_, and purchased this garb, which gives me quite a respectable
appearance. You saw with what consideration the alcalde treated me.
There is nothing like being well dressed, señor."

I saw clearly that the fellow had _done_ me once more, and that his
pretended agony, like his confession, had been only simulated for the
purpose of getting more money out of me. I must confess, however, that
my anger was disarmed at this moment by the comic dignity with which the
lépero strutted about in his torn cloak all the time he was holding
forth in this strange way. I determined to rid myself of company that
was becoming troublesome to me, and said to Perico, with a smile,

"If I reckon accurately, your children's illness, your wife's
confinement, and your own shroud have cost me little less than a hundred
piastres; to release you of the whole debt will, I would fain hope, be a
sufficient reward for the service you have rendered me. I will therefore
return home immediately; and I again thank you for your kindness."

"Home, señor! What are you thinking about?" cried Perico; "why, by this
time your house will be in the hands of the soldiers; they are seeking
you among all your friends. You do not know the alcalde you have to do

"Do you know him, then?"

"I know all the alcaldes, señor; and what proves how little I deserve
the surname bestowed upon me is, that all the alcaldes do not know me;
but of all his fellows, the one in pursuit of you is the most cunning,
the most rapacious, and the most diabolical."

Although I felt that this portrait was exaggerated, I was for a moment
shaken in my resolution. Perico then represented to me, in very moving
terms, the happiness his wife and children would receive by seeing their
benefactor indebted to them for a night's lodging. Having a choice
between two protectors equally disinterested, I allowed myself to be
convinced by the one whose rapacity seemed most easily satisfied; I
decided upon once more following the lépero.

Meanwhile, night came on; we traversed suspicious lanes, deserted
places, streets unknown to me, and shrouded in darkness. The serenos
(policemen) became more and more scarce. I felt myself hurried away into
the heart of those dreadful suburbs where justice dares not penetrate; I
was unarmed, and at the mercy of a man whose frightful confession I had
just heard. Hitherto the Zaragate, I must confess, in spite of his
crimes so unblushingly avowed, did not seem to me to stand out in
glaring relief among a people demoralized by ignorance, want, and civil
wars; but at that hour, amid a labyrinth of dark lanes, and in the
silence of the night, my imagination gave fantastic and colossal
dimensions to his picaresque figure. My position was a difficult one. To
leave such a guide suddenly in this cut-throat quarter was dangerous,
to follow him not less so.

"Where the devil do you live?" said I. The lépero scratched his head in
answer. I asked him again.

"To say the truth," replied he at last, "having no fixed abode, I live a
little every where."

"And your wife and children, and the night's shelter you offered me?"

"I forgot," replied the Zaragate, imperturbably; "I sent away my wife
and children yesterday to--to Queretaro; but as for a lodging--"

"Is that at Queretaro also?" I asked Perico, discovering, when too late,
that the wife and children of this honorable personage were as imaginary
as his abode.

"As for shelter," added Perico, with the same impassible air, "you shall
share that which I can procure for you, and which I find when my means
won't admit of paying for a night's lodging, for heaven does not send us
every day bull-fights and such like windfalls. Stop," said he, pointing
with his finger to a glimmering light at a distance, which was reflected
on the granite pavement; "that is perhaps what we are seeking for."

We advanced to the light, and soon perceived that it came from the
lantern of a sereno. Wrapped in a yellow cloak almost as ragged as
Perico's, the guardian of the night, squatted on the pavement, seemed to
follow with his melancholy gaze the large clouds which flitted across
the sky. At our approach he still kept his indolent position.

"Halloo! friend," said the Zaragate, "do you know of any _velorio_
(wake) in this neighborhood?"

"Of course, a few _cuadras_ from here, near the bridge of Eguizamo, you
will find one; and if I did not fear some round of the Señor Regidor's,
or found some good fellow to don my cloak and take care of my lantern, I
would go with you to the entertainment myself."

"Much obliged," said Perico, politely; "we will profit by the

The sereno cast a look of astonishment at my dress, which was singularly
out of keeping with Perico's.

"Gentlemen like that cavalier are little in the habit of frequenting
such meetings," said the man of the police.

"This is a special case; this señor has contracted a debt which obliges
him to spend the night elsewhere."

"That makes all the difference in the world," said the sereno. "There
are some debts that one likes to be as long in paying as possible." And,
hearing a church clock strike at a distance, the night-watch, troubling
himself no more about us, cried out in a doleful tone, "Nine o'clock and
stormy weather." He then resumed his former attitude, while the distant
voices of the serenos answered him in succession through the silence of
the night.

I resumed my melancholy march behind Perico, followed by my horse, which
I led by the bridle, as, by the police regulations of Mexico, no one is
allowed to ride through the streets after Angelus has rung, and I was
unwilling to try another fall with the alcaldes. Shall I confess it? My
curiosity was roused by the words of my guide, and I decided at this
moment not to separate from him. I wanted to know what a velorio was;
and this love of novelty, which finds so many opportunities of
satisfying itself in Mexico, once more made me forget my troubles.

We had not walked ten minutes, till, as the sereno had told us, we came
to a bridge thrown over a narrow canal. Some dilapidated houses bathed
their greenish bases in the thick muddy water. A lamp which burned dimly
before a picture of the souls in Purgatory threw its livid reflex on the
stagnant water. On the terraces the watch-dogs bayed at the moon, which
was sometimes hidden, sometimes fringed only by a movable curtain of
clouds, for it was the rainy season. Except those doleful sounds, all
was silent there as in the other parts of the town that we had
traversed. The windows in the first story, brightly lighted up opposite
the picture of the souls in Purgatory, were the only things remarkable
in this double row of melancholy-looking huts. Perico knocked at the
door of the house with the illuminated windows. They were rather long in
coming; at last the door half opened, one of the leaves being fastened
as usual by an iron chain.

"Who is there?" said a man's voice.

"Friends who come to pray for the dead and rejoice with the living,"
said Perico, without hesitation.

We entered. Lighted by the porter's lantern, we passed through a porch
and entered an inner court. The guide pointed out to Perico an iron ring
let into the wall. I tied my horse up by the bridle; we ascended some
twenty steps, and I entered, preceded by Perico, a room tolerably well
lighted up. I was at last going to learn what a _velorio_ was.


[8] Alameda, a general name for a public walk; literally, a place
planted with poplars, _alamos_.

[9] The name of the viceroy who presented it to the town.


A Mexican Wake.

The company to which Perico had introduced me presented a very singular
appearance. About twenty men and women of the lowest class were seated
in a circle, chatting, bawling, and gesticulating. A dank, cadaverous
smell pervaded the apartment, which was hardly smothered by the smoke of
cigars, and the fumes of Xeres and _Chinguirito_. In a corner of the
room stood a table loaded with provisions of every sort, with cups,
bottles, and flasks. Some gamblers, seated at a table a little farther
off, jingling copper money, and shouting out the technical terms of
_monte_, were quarreling, with drunken excitement, over piles of
_cuartillas_[10] and _tlacos_. Under the triple excitement of wine,
women, and play, the orgie, which had only commenced when I arrived,
seemed likely to mount to a formidable height; but what struck me most
was precisely that which seemed to engage the attention of the assembly
least. A young child, who seemed to have scarcely reached his seventh
year, was lying at full length on a table. His pale brow, wreathed with
flowers faded by the heat of the stifling atmosphere, his glazed eyes,
and shriveled, sunken cheeks, already tinged with a violet hue, plainly
showed that life had left him, and that it was some days, probably,
since he had slept the eternal sleep. The mere sight of the little
corpse was heartrending amid the cries, the gambling, and the noisy
conversation; the men and women meanwhile laughing and singing like
savages. The flowers and jewels which decorated him, far from stripping
death of its gloomy solemnity, only made the appearance more hideous. A
general silence followed our entrance. A man, in whom I soon recognized
the master of the house and the father of the dead child, rose to
receive us. His face, far from being oppressed with sadness, seemed, on
the contrary, radiant with delight, and he pointed with an air of pride
to the numerous guests that had assembled to celebrate the death of his
son, an event considered as a favor from heaven, since God had been
pleased to call the child to himself before he was old enough to
displease him. He assured us that we were welcome to his house, and that
to him, on such an occasion, strangers became friends. Thanks to the
loquacity of Perico, I had become the focus on which all eyes were
centred. I had a difficult part to play, Perico thinking it right to
make it appear to all who would listen to him that no one could kill
people with a better grace than I. To enable me to act my part properly,
I hastened to put my gloves in my pocket, and affect the most cavalier
assurance, convinced that it was prudent to follow the fashion.

"What do you think of the lodging I have found you?" asked Perico,
rubbing his hands; "is not this better than what I could offer you?
besides, you will now know what a velorio is; it will be a resource in
the evenings when you are low-spirited, and have nothing to do. Thanks
to me, you will thus acquire a title to the eternal gratitude of this
worthy father, whose child, having died before its seventh year, is now
an angel in heaven."

And Perico, anxious, no doubt, to have a share in this tribute of
gratitude, seized, without ceremony, an enormous glass of _chinguirito_,
and swallowed it at a draught. I witnessed for the first time this
barbarous custom, which compels the father of a family to cloak his
sorrow beneath a smiling face, and to do the honors of his house to the
first vagabond who, under the guidance of a sereno, comes to gorge
himself with meat and drink before the corpse of his son, and share in
that profuse liberality which often brings want to the family on the

The orgie, which had been disturbed a moment by our entrance, now fell
in its usual course, and I began to cast my eyes about a little. In the
midst of a circle of excited females, who esteem it a duty never to
neglect a night-wake, I perceived a pale face, lips attempting to smile
in spite of eyes full of tears, and, in this victim of a gross
superstition, I had little difficulty in detecting the mother, for whom
an angel in heaven could not compensate for the angel she missed on
earth. The women about her seemed vying with one another as to who
should increase the sorrow of the poor woman by their ill-timed but
well-meant importunities. The different stages of the disease, and the
sufferings of the dead child, were described by one woman; another
enumerated infallible remedies that she would have applied if she had
been consulted in time, such as St. Nicholas's plasters, moxas, the
vapor of purslane gathered on a Friday in Lent, decoctions of herbs
strained through a bit of a Dominican's frock, and the poor credulous
mother turned her head away to wipe her eyes, thoroughly convinced that
these remedies, if applied in time, would have saved her child. Sherry
and cigarettes were rapidly consumed during these discussions; then all
the innocent games in use in Spanish America were proposed and played,
while the children, weary and sleepy, lay down to rest in every corner
of the room, as if envying him whose discolored face protested, beneath
the withered flowers, against this odious profanation of the dead.

Seated in the deep recess of one of the windows which looked into the
street, I watched all Perico's motions with some uneasiness. It appeared
to me that the protection he had so suddenly bestowed was only a cloak
to entrap me. My features must have betrayed my uneasiness, for the
lépero approached and said, by way of consolation,

"Look you, señor, killing a man is like every thing else; the first step
is the only painful one. Besides, your sereno may perhaps be like my
Englishman, who is to-day as well as ever. These heretics have as many
lives as a cat. Ah! señor," said Perico, with a sigh, "I have always
regretted that I was not a heretic."

"To have as many lives as a cat?"

"No, to be paid for my conversion! Unfortunately, my reputation as a
Christian is too well established."

"But the cavalier you were to kill," I asked of Perico, naturally
brought back to the recollection of the melancholy young man whom I had
seen kneeling before the Morgue, "do you think that he is still alive?"

Perico shook his head. "To-morrow, perhaps, his mad passion may have
cost him his life, and his mistress will not survive him. I have no
desire to make two victims at once, and I threw up the business."

"These sentiments do you honor, Perico."

Perico wished to profit by the favorable impression his answer had
produced upon me.

"Doubtless--you can not risk your soul so for a few piastres. But,
speaking of piastres, señor," he continued, holding out his hand, "I
feel in the vein, and perhaps there are still a few pieces left in your
purse. If I break the bank at _monte_, you shall go halves with my

I thought it prudent to yield to this new demand of the Zaragate. The
play, besides, would free me from his company, which was becoming
irksome. I slipped, then, some piastres into Perico's hand. Almost at
the same moment twelve o'clock struck. One of the company rose, and
cried in a solemn tone, "It is the hour of the souls in Purgatory; let
us pray!"

The gamblers arose, amusements were suspended, and all the company
gravely knelt. The prayer began in a high tone of voice, interrupted by
responses at regular intervals, and for the first time the object of the
meeting seemed remembered. Picture to yourselves these sots, their eyes
glazed with drunkenness--these women in tatters, standing round a corpse
crowned with flowers; draw over all this kneeling crowd the vapors of a
thick atmosphere, in which putrid miasmas were mingled with the fumes of
liquor, and you will have an idea of the strange and horrible scene of
which I was forced to become an unwilling eye-witness.

Prayers over, gambling commenced anew, but not with so much liveliness
as before. In company, when the night is far advanced, there is always a
strong inclination to go to sleep; but when this struggle is over, the
spirits become more lively, and get almost delirious and frantic. That
is the hour of the orgie: the time was approaching.

I had again sat down in the recess of the window, and, to drive away the
drowsiness which I felt stealing upon me, occasioned by the close air in
the room, had opened the window a little. Looking out into the darkness
of the night, I tried to find out, by the stars, what o'clock it was,
and also to trace my way mentally through the labyrinth of streets, but
I could scarcely see a bit of the sky, which on that night was cloudy,
above the tops of the neighboring houses. I never remembered to have
seen in Mexico before this canal with its leaden waters, nor those dark,
deserted lanes which ran at right angles to it. I was completely at
fault. Should I remain any longer amid this hideous orgie? Ought I not
to try to escape, even though it was dangerous, through the streets of
this distant suburb? While I was irresolutely weighing all these things
in my mind, a noise of steps and confused whispers attracted my
attention. I hid myself behind one of the shutters, so as to see and
hear without being seen. Half a dozen men soon issued from a lane in
front of the house in which I was. Their leader was wrapped in an
_esclavina_,[11] which only half concealed the scabbard of his sword.
The others were armed with naked sabres. A European but newly arrived in
the country would have considered them criminals from their timid
deportment, but my experienced eye could not be deceived; justice alone
could seem so terrified, and I easily recognized the night patrol,
composed of a regidor, an auxiliary alcalde, and four _celadores_.

"_Voto a brios!_" said the man in the _esclavina_, probably one of the
auxiliary magistrates, at once alcaldes and publicans, who lodge
criminals during the day, and let them off to pursue them at night;
"what does my Lord Prefect mean by sending us to patrol in such a
quarter as this, where the officers of justice have never penetrated. I
should like to see him employed about this business."

"He would take care to provide himself with fire-arms, that he refuses
to us," said one of the _corchetes_, who appeared the coolest of the
party, "for criminals and malefactors are not in the habit of carrying
the arms we do, and the person whom we have been ordered to protect will
perhaps experience it this night to his cost."

"What the devil!" said the alcalde, "when one knows that he runs the
risk of getting a dagger into him at night, why does not he stay at

"There are some scamps whom nothing frightens," replied one of the
corchetes; "but, as the Evangelist says, 'he who seeks the danger shall
perish in it.'"

"What o'clock may it be now?" asked the auxiliary.

"Four in the morning," answered one of the men; and, raising his eyes to
the window behind which I was concealed, he added, "I envy those people
who pass the night so merrily in that _tertulia_." Talking thus, the
celadores walked along the brink of the canal. All at once the auxiliary
at their head stumbled in the darkness. At that moment a man sprang up
and stood before the patrol.

"Who are you?" cried the alcalde, in a voice meant to be imposing.

"What's that to you?" replied the man as haughtily. "Can't a man sleep
in the streets without being questioned?"

"One sleeps at home as--as--much as possible," stammered the alcalde,
evidently frightened.

The person thus caught acting so much like a vagabond gave a shrill
whistle, and, pushing the alcalde aside, ran down a neighboring lane.
To my great surprise, the alcalde and the celadores, like men who dread
a snare, instead of following him, ran off in quite an opposite
direction. Almost at the same moment a hand was laid on my shoulder. I
started and turned about. Perico and my host stood before me.

"That whistle sounds wonderfully like the call of my chum Navaja, when
out on an expedition," cried the former, stooping to peer through the
window, while the latter, with bleared eyes, his legs tottering like a
man who had too conscientiously fulfilled his duties as master of the
house, offered me a glass of liquor, that his shaky hand allowed to run
over. Then, with the irritability peculiar to drunkards,

"One may say, señor," said he to me, "that you despise the society of
poor people like us; you don't play, you don't drink; yet, in certain
cases of conscience, gambling and brandy give great relief. Look at me
now! To gratify my friends, I have eaten and drunk what I have and what
I haven't: well, I am happy, although I don't possess a _tlaco_ in the
world; and, if you like, I will play with you for my child's body! It is
a stake," continued he, in a confidential tone, "which is as good as
another, for I can let it out, and well too, to some lover of a

"Play for the body of your child!" I cried.

"Why not? That is done every day. Every body hasn't the good fortune to
have an angel aloft, and the body of this dear little one brings luck

I got rid, as well as I could, of the entreaties of this tender-hearted
father, and cast my eyes once more into the street, but the approaches
to the canal were now silent and deserted. I was not long, however, in
discovering that this quiet, this solitude, were only apparent. Some
strange, vague sounds escaped now and then from one of the lanes leading
to the canal. Presently I fancied I heard the crunching of unsteady
steps on the gravel. With my body leaning over the balcony, and
listening intently, I waited for the moment when the awful stillness
would be broken by some cry of anguish. The sound of voices, loud in
dispute, again drew my attention to the room on which my back was
turned. The orgie was this moment at its height. The Zaragate,
surrounded by a group of angry gamblers, whose suspicions had been
roused by his run of good luck, was trying, but in vain, to wrap around
him the shreds of his olive cloak, which had been torn into ribbons by
the furious hands of his adversaries.

The most stinging epithets were launched against him from all sides.

"I am a man of substance," cried the fellow, impudently, "as much as
those whose uncivil hands have torn to tatters the handsomest cloak I
ever possessed."

"Barefaced swindler!" cried a gambler; "your cloak had as many rents as
your conscience."

"In any other place," replied Perico, who was prudently edging toward
the door, "you would have to give me satisfaction for this double
insult. Señor," said he, appealing to me, "be my surety, as I have been
yours; half of my winnings is yours; they were honestly come by. All
this is but mere slander."

I was once more mentally cursing my intimacy with Perico, when an
occurrence of a graver nature made a happy diversion to the scene in
which I saw myself in danger of becoming an actor. A man rushed
hurriedly out of one of the back rooms on the same floor. Close behind
him another followed, knife in hand; a woman after, shrieking terribly,
and her dress flying in disorder about her.

"Will you stand and see me murdered?" cried the pursued, piteously.
"Will no one hand me a knife?"

"Let me bury my knife in this rascal's body, this destroyer of my
honor!" gasped the outraged husband.

The women, doubtless through sympathy, shrieked in concert, and uttered
the most dreadful cries, while a friend of the offender slyly slipped a
long knife into his hand. The latter faced about, and rushed boldly at
his adversary. The cries of the women increased; a dreadful confusion
ensued. The infuriated fellows made prodigious efforts to get at one
another. Blood was about to flow, when, in the struggle, the table on
which the infant lay was overturned. The body fell on the floor with a
dull, heavy sound, and the flowers were scattered about. A large circle
formed round the profaned corpse. A piercing shriek rose over all the
uproar, and the bereaved mother threw herself on her child's remains
with a cry of intense agony.

I had seen too much. I rushed to the balcony to cast a second look into
the street, to assure myself that escape was yet possible; but there was
no egress in that way. A man had just emerged from one of the lanes
which opened upon the opposite bank of the canal. Other men came behind
him, brandishing their weapons. This Navaja, whom Perico acknowledged as
one of the fraternity, had doubtless collected his troop, and I was
about to see him terminate, without being able to help his victim, one
of those nocturnal brawls, of which some of the léperos boast. The
person they were pursuing soon reached the parapet, and set his back to
it. I distinctly heard him exclaim,

"Back, you cowardly rascals, who fight five to one."

"At him, _Muchachos_!" cried the chief of the band; "there are a hundred
piastres to be earned."

Need I tell what followed? The unequal struggle lasted only a few
moments. Soon a fierce shout announced that the murderers had triumphed.
The unhappy man still breathed. He was able even to drag himself to the
bridge, and, waving the stump of his sword, to dare the assassins to
come on. Again surrounded by these villains, he once more fell beneath
their blows. By the wan light of the lamp burning for the souls in
Purgatory, I saw the men lift a bleeding body and throw it into the
canal, the surface of which was for a moment disturbed. A second after,
the assassins dispersed, and so rapidly that I asked myself if all this
was not a bad dream; but the reality was too evident for me to indulge
long in this error. Another incident occurred to prove to me that I was
wide awake. A man on horseback issued from the house to which a fatal
chain of events had bound me, and in this man I recognized Perico,
mounted on the noble animal that I had brought with so much trouble from
the _hacienda de la Noria_.

"Halloo, you rascal!" I exclaimed, "this is too much; you are stealing
my horse."

"Señor," replied Perico, with astonishing composure, "I am carrying away
a proof which might criminate your lordship."

Such was the lépero's farewell. The spurs driven home, the horse sprang
off at a gallop. Without taking leave of any body, I set off in pursuit.
It was too late; I only heard in the distance his plaintive neigh and
the break of his gallop. These sounds soon died away. I rushed at
random down one of the lanes which led to the canal. I wandered a long
time in this labyrinth before finding myself in a place I knew, and day
was breaking before I discovered my whereabouts. Night had brought its
counsel, and I resolved to make a declaration in a court of law about
the misfortune I had caused the night before. I went, then, to the
_juzgado de latras_.[12] When I entered the judge had not yet arrived,
and I waited in the hall. Fatigue and want of sleep were not long in
making me oblivious of all my anxieties, and I fell asleep on a bench. I
was retracing in my dreams the extraordinary scenes I had witnessed. I
fancied I heard a dull noise about me, then deep silence all at once. I
opened my eyes; I still believed myself a prey to the nightmare. A
stretcher, covered with a bloody sheet, was laid almost at my feet. A
thought passed through me like a flash of lightning. I imagined that I
had been recognized, and that, by a refinement of barbarous justice,
they were about to confront me with him whose death I had caused. I
walked to the end of the lobby; the sight of the bloody sheet became
insupportable to me. I gradually reassured myself, however, and, arming
myself with courage, went and raised a corner of the covering. I had no
difficulty in recognizing the victim. His pale, handsome face, and
forehead marked with a long, slender scar, had left too deep an
impression in my memory. The marshy plants and green slime which soiled
his clothes reminded me of the theatre of the crime. This was the man I
had seen die so valiantly, and whose loss, I knew, would be so tenderly
bewailed. I let the sheet fall over his noble face.

I hasten to terminate this too long story. Twenty days had passed. No
attention seemed to have been paid to the unfortunate accident of which
I had been the innocent cause, and nothing remained of my nocturnal
adventures but an invincible horror of the whole tribe of léperos, when
I received an order to appear before a strange alcalde. A man about
forty years of age, as much a stranger to me as the alcalde, was waiting
for me at the bar.

"Señor," said this man to me, "I am the lamplighter whom your lordship
almost killed; and as this accident has kept me from work for a
fortnight, you will not take it ill if I ask you to make it up to me."

"Certainly not," said I, delighted to know that I had not to reproach
myself with the death of any body. "How much do you ask?"

"Five hundred piastres, señor."

I must confess that this exorbitant charge immediately changed my
pleasure into anger, and I could not help mentally consigning the
lamplighter to the devil. But these feelings cooled down almost
immediately; and the alcalde advising me to compound with the man, I was
glad to be let off for a fifth part of the sum demanded by the
lamplighter. After all, if my studies had been too expensive, the
experience I had gained had its value, and I regretted nothing that
Perico had extorted from me, not even the noble horse which he had so
ingeniously appropriated.


[10] A cuartilla is worth 1½_d_; a tlaco ¾_d_.

[11] A small frock-coat, a short cloak.

[12] Justiciary court. The _juez de latras_ is the criminal judge.

Fray Serapio, the Franciscan Monk.


The Convent of St. Francis.

In the present state of society in Europe, in which the principles and
traditions of the Middle Ages have been so completely broken up, one can
hardly form any idea of the influence which the monk exercises in
Mexico, and of the strong tie which connects him with the world. If,
however, this bond had no existence, the singular picture which Mexican
society presents would lose one of its greatest charms--the perpetual
contrast, namely, of the customs and characteristics of the nineteenth
century with those of the time of Philip II. Beside men armed to the
teeth, women dressed as in the days of Cortez and Pizarro, and
barelegged Indians, with feet encased in ancient sandals, the gown of
the monk appears, not as an anomaly, but as a highly poetic souvenir.
This figure is not out of keeping with the picture, but in perfect
harmony with it. Whether in public or in private, the monk takes a share
in Mexican life, not only every day, but almost every moment. Not to
speak of the many religious ceremonies performed by the monks, the rules
of the cloister are generally so lax as to allow them free liberty of
egress at almost any hour; and thus they can mix, without difficulty, in
all the gayeties of the world. You can easily understand what a
picturesque element is introduced into society by this immense crowd,
who issue every day from the numerous convents, each order bringing its
own type upon the scene, from the black frock of the Dominican to the
white robe of the _Mercedario_.

If the upper classes of Mexican society have escaped from the trammels
of monkish influence, the middle classes regard them with as much
superstitious reverence as they did a century ago. The fantastic
eloquence of the Middle Ages still keeps its ground here. The Mexican
preacher, carried away by his enthusiasm, seizes upon the most startling
metaphors: sometimes he represents God _as making the sun his charger,
and the moon his stirrup_;[13] sometimes it is an obscene story, to
which, with the most imperturbable gravity, he attaches a religious
moral. When out of pulpit or confessional, the same man who inculcated
the severest ascetism, utters the raciest jokes, and sings the best
songs in some _tertulia_ on the ground floor. He even pushes his anxiety
so far as to furnish the laity with hints about dress. He gives
excellent directions about the cut of a new suit of clothes; nay, more,
he charges himself sometimes with their purchase, frequenting
assiduously the saloons of fashion--and there is no appeal from his
criticism. Very often his complaisance is not of the most disinterested
kind; too often his purchase is only a kind of tribute paid to a family
whom the reverend father supports at his own expense, on condition of
tasting clandestinely in its pleasures. The monk is every where except
at his convent. Every thing is an attraction to him--bull-fights,
cock-fights, gambling-tables, and theatres; every place gives him an
opportunity of displaying his whims and oddities. Let no one fancy that
his compliant manners operate against him as a priest and spiritual
director. The Mexicans understand to a nicety the bond which unites
devotion to worldly pleasures. When the monk, late at night, wends his
way to his convent after a day spent in dissipation, the passers-by,
when they see him, bow the knee with as much respect as if his pious
discourses and conduct were not in startling contrast with each other.

After this account of the character and habits of the Mexican monk, no
one will be astonished at the occurrence which made me acquainted with
one of the jolliest members of the great monastic family, the Reverend
Fray Serapio. Curiosity had led me to a popular fête in the environs of
Mexico, that of San Augustin de las Crevas, a small town about twelve
miles from the capital. This fête, which makes Mexico a deserted city
for three days, is frequented by the élite of Mexican gamblers. Whoever
does not play is looked upon with suspicion. I followed the example of
the numerous card-players who had been attracted to San Augustin, and
seated myself at a table. My opposite neighbor was a Franciscan of
athletic mould, and I shall never forget his sunburned, swarthy
countenance, his piercing look, and his shaven face fringed with
clusters of long crisp hair, shaggy as a bison's mane. He was a true
soldier in a monkish dress. After a run of bad luck, I left the tables
just as my last stake disappeared in the pocket of the monk. I wandered
for some time in the streets of the village, hearing around me every
where the clink of quadruples and piastres. I then mounted my horse,
and, cursing my ill luck, took the road to Mexico. I had scarcely gone
more than half way when I was brought to a stand-still by a very
disagreeable circumstance. A turnpike gate stood half way between Mexico
and San Augustin. Just as I came within sight of it, I made the
disagreeable discovery that I had not the real necessary for passing me
through the gate. Wishing to give myself time for reflection, I walked
my horse slowly along, but the fatal turnpike came always nearer and
nearer. I was just going to turn my horse's head round and gallop back,
when by chance the Franciscan who had cleaned me out came up. The lucky
winner addressed me most politely, and I replied in the most courteous
manner. He offered to accompany me to Mexico; and the secret hope of
being able to pass the gate at the Franciscan's expense doubtless made
me accept his offer with so much alacrity. I fancied that I was doing no
more than an act of politeness in congratulating my companion on his run
of good luck. But what was my surprise when he exclaimed, with a sigh,
"Confound it! I was quite cleaned out down there; I have
nothing--nothing but my debts. I must say that I counted upon you to
pass me through."

I confessed that I was just about to beg the same favor of him. Upon
this the Franciscan fell into such convulsions of laughter that, in
spite of myself, I could not help joining him heartily. We then
deliberated what course to pursue. We hit upon several ludicrous
expedients, but they were rejected one after the other. After some
discussion, we decided that it would be best to clear the turnpike at a
gallop without paying. "We will pay double the next time we pass," said
the monk. Having thus disposed of this case of conscience, he spurred
his steed; I followed. We soon left the pikemen behind us; and our
horses flying at full speed, a thick cloud of dust soon hid us from
their sight. Once at Mexico, it may be easily understood that we did not
part without agreeing to meet again. A card-table, it must be owned, is
rather an extraordinary place for one to strike up a friendship with a

The acquaintance thus commenced promised to be agreeable, and a few days
after our first meeting I repaired to the convent of St. Francisco, the
abode of my friend. After this visit I went often, at first for the
Franciscan's sake, and afterward to see the convent, the most beautiful
building of the kind in Mexico. To tell the truth, Fray Serapio was
seldom in his cell; but his friendship insured me a constant welcome at
the monastery, the library of which possessed inexhaustible treasures.

None of the religious communities scattered over Mexico is so rich or
powerful as that of St. Francis. The vast extent of ground covered by
the Franciscan convents in all the large towns, and the massive walls,
crowned with numerous turrets, which surround them, are sufficient
indications of the power and wealth of the order. The monastery to which
chance had introduced me is at once worthy of the community that owns
it, and of the capital of which it is one of the chief ornaments. The
street of San Francisco, which leads to the cloister of this name, is a
continuation of that crowded commercial street, the _Plateros_. The
cloister, happily situated in the most stirring part of the town, rises
at the extremity of the street Francisco, and extends as far as the
entrance to the Alameda. The thick walls, flanked with massive
buttresses, give to the convent the appearance of a fortress. At the
same time, the spires, which shoot up into the air, and the fine
cupolas, covered with burnished tiles, gave clear indications of the
character of the building. You arrive at the principal chapel by a vast
flagged court, which is always crowded with sight-seers, visitors, the
faithful, and the poor. Opposite the first court is an inclosure
reserved for the monks. The immense cloisters, ornamented with basins
inlaid with white jasper, gardens, a rich library, new dormitories,
three hundred cells, a refectory, in which three hundred persons can sit
down to dinner, combine to form a spectacle at once imposing and
magnificent, which surpasses even the expectation of the visitor who
enters the convent after having admired its exterior.

All my leisure hours, on Sundays especially, I loved to bury myself in
the huge dusty library, and to ransack archives of which even the monks
themselves were quite ignorant. Two books, above all, captivated me
completely; one was a volume of legendary stories, the other a
collection of _autos de fé_, executed by the Mexican Inquisition. I
forgot even the lapse of time while reading them. These atrocious
recitals, which the cold-blooded chronicler always sums up with _Laus
Deo_, exercised upon me, especially when the day was waning, a singular
fascination. The distant droning of the organ, and the doleful chanting
of the monks, sometimes deepened the impression; and, in the mysterious
gloom which had already enveloped the hall, I fancied I saw rise before
me the heroes of the legendary stories, or the victims of the
Inquisition. When I came out of the library, and walked in the
cloisters, the monks whom I met in the dark corridors seemed to me to
bear no resemblance whatever to those I had seen upholding the dignity
of the cowl in the streets of Mexico. There are two sorts of monks in
the convent: monks still young enough to delight in a _monte_ table and
in a _tertulia_, and who are never in their cells; others whose age and
infirmities prevent them from mixing with the world: these last form the
settled population, which is not a very numerous one. Among the monks
whom I met in the corridors of San Francisco, there was one, above all,
who seemed to me to personify the convent life, with all its attendants
of gloomy observance and secret penance. He was an old man, with a
shining bald head; a kind of awe, mingled with curiosity, seized me
whenever I saw him. I could have sworn that one of those sombre pictures
upon the walls of the convent, from the pencil of Rodriguez, Cabrera, or
Villalpando, had left its frame and come to life again.

Sometimes I mused away an idle hour in the garden; for, all the time I
was in Mexico, solitude was peculiarly pleasing to me. Since my arrival
in Mexico, years had been added to years, and I began to experience
attacks of home-sickness. The unvarying deep blue sky, so unlike that of
France, rather increased my sadness. The appearance of the convent
garden, surrounded on all sides by lofty walls, was in perfect harmony
with the melancholy thoughts which had taken possession of my mind. The
sun had calcined the brick walls, upon which opened the windows of the
tenantless cells. Weeds were growing here and there on a terrace shaded
with the wide-spreading branches of the sycamore, the palma christi, and
the mango. An arbor, ornamented with climbing plants, was the place to
which I most frequently directed my steps. There, under a flowery arch,
where the passion-flower, that favorite plant of the cloisters, the
jasmine, and the clematis, with its beautiful flowers, grew in charming
confusion, I passed many long hours, dreaming of my native country and
absent friends. A mysterious charm drew me to this fresh and rustic
retreat. A quaint device, cut on the trunk of a sycamore, which threw
its branches across my bower, often attracted my attention: _In silentio
et in spe erit fortitudo tua_. My soul felt strengthened and soothed in
this solitude. In this wild and uncultivated garden I was charmed into a
forgetfulness of the world, where the only sounds that reminded me of
life were the buzzing of the humming-birds among the rose-bushes, the
tinkling of bells, and the distant droning of the organ.

I scarcely ever saw any one in the garden. One monk only seemed to share
with me a predilection for this peaceful inclosure, and, above all, for
the arbor, from which I almost always saw him escaping at my approach.
He was the same man whom I had so often watched in the cloisters with
such a fearful curiosity. Sometimes I surprised him watering the garden
borders, or giving his care to those flowers which grew near the
grass-grown walks. My imagination soon found some romantic link between
this melancholy old man and the forsaken bower. I resolved to enter into
conversation with him. A conscience so troubled as his seemed to be
might surely be able to make some curious revelations; but, after
repeated attempts to rouse him from his habitual taciturnity, I was
forced to give it up as hopeless. With hands crossed, and face turned to
the ground, the monk, every time he met me, quickened his pace and
vanished from my sight. I looked at him always with intense interest, as
the intellectual though stern expression of his features contrasted
strikingly with the vacant faces of the other monks. His face, which
sometimes betrayed painful dejection, sometimes a fanatical joy,
reminded me at times of the wonderful legends and dismal stories which I
had been reading in the convent library. Was I right in my conjectures
about this singular personage? Despairing of success in my endeavors to
induce the monk to break silence, I resolved to question Fray Serapio
about him; and, with the hope of meeting the jolly Franciscan, I
directed my steps to one of the most charming spots in the environs of
Mexico, the canal of Viga.


[13] Cabalgando el sol, y estribando la luna.


The Viga Canal.

Nowhere in Mexico could there be found a spot which presents an
appearance more different, according to the seasons of the year, than
the Viga Canal. No place is by turns more solitary or more crowded, more
noisy or more silent. This canal, about twenty-four miles long, mixes
its waters with the lake on which Chalco stands, and forms a means of
transport and communication between that town and Mexico. A broad open
road, planted with aspens and poplars, runs along its sleeping waters.
If the pedestrian did not observe, at some distance from the highway,
the buildings which inclose the bull-ring, and, farther off, the towers
of the Cathedral, above which shoot up the two mighty volcanoes of
Mexico, he might fancy himself three hundred miles from the city. Some
country houses, whose inhabitants are always invisible; the deserted
paths of the _Candelaria_, a rival road to the Viga; lakelets scattered
here and there in the midst of teeming vegetation, on whose surface
float _chinampas_[14] looking like large baskets; a solitary _vaquero_
hut here and there in the plain; then a range of hills overtopped by the
sierra, form the principal features in the landscape. A placid stillness
reigns over every part of the picture. Sometimes a pirogue is seen
gliding noiselessly on the canal, sometimes a group of Indians kneeling
in some grove before a Christ that they are decking with flowers, at
whose feet they are piously depositing oranges and grenadilles,
offerings which savor strongly of paganism. The flapping of the wings of
an aigret hovering over the water, or that is losing itself in the blue
sky, and the baying of some dogs prowling about, are the only sounds
which break the stillness on this shady road. But at the approach of the
Easter fêtes the road assumes quite a different appearance. Every Sunday
in Lent, the entire population of Mexico assembles here, and a noisy
crowd streams along the way. The day on which I went to the canal was
the last Sunday in Lent. On reaching the road, I found the habitual
promenaders of the _Paseo_ and _Alameda_ crowding every spot of the
ground in the Viga; but it was not the crowd which chiefly attracted me,
it was the canal itself. On that day, the reeds on the bank, ordinarily
so still, waved and jostled to and fro under the continual motion of the
water, produced by the passing and repassing of numberless fleets of
boats. _Launches_, canoes, pirogues, were constantly coming and going;
some conveying to Mexico, for the Holy Week, immense quantities of
flowers, which diffused a most delightful odor around. Other boats
followed, crowded with light-hearted, merry passengers, wearing wreaths
of wild poppy and sweet pea, and dancing on the deck to the inspiring
strains of harps, flutes, and mandolins. Light-hearted Cyprians, in
gamesome mood, scattered upon the breeze the purple buds of their
wreaths, and trolled out choruses of lascivious songs. The clear sky,
the dazzling brilliancy of the different costumes, and the soft, sweet
melody of the language, brought to my mind the national festivals of
ancient Greece; while the canal, which seemed at times suddenly
transformed into a carpet of flowers, generally had the appearance of a
moving mass of canoes, which shot past one another in all directions;
groups of people, lying lazily on the bank, bantered the boatmen as they
passed. Farther off, under the green arcades formed by the aspens upon
the road, which shook under the roll of carriages and gallop of horses,
paraded the gay fashionables of Mexico. Parties of high-spirited,
wild-looking cavaliers, dressed in the national costume, sauntered up
and down amid this gay throng as if protesting by their rough manners
against the whimsical appearance of the dandies habited in French style.

A striking contrast was observable to the spectator. Upon the canal one
saw America in the sixteenth century, which, under the beaming sun of
the tropics, had abandoned herself without constraint to pleasure. Upon
the road was America in the nineteenth century, seeking to model its
native appearance on the worn-out type of Europe. By way of
compensation, a few Europeans, habited in the ancient Mexican costume,
at times appeared on the Viga; but beneath their dress you could
distinguish at a glance the Englishman, the Frenchman, or the German. I
must say, however, that our compatriots of the South were distinguished
above all the other foreigners for the ease and grace with which they
wore the national costume.

Evening was drawing on, darkness was coming down over the surrounding
country, and the moving picture before me was rapidly dissolving, when I
perceived four horsemen seemingly making their way toward me. I could
not at first distinguish their features, their faces being partly
concealed by the wide-spreading _sombreros_, trimmed with broad ribbons,
which they wore; but their appearance caused me to suspect them. These
men, dressed in _mangas_ and _sarapes_, seemed to be hemming me in with
the intention of opposing my passage. They immediately spurred their
horses and galloped up to me. "Stand!" cried a threatening voice; and,
at the same moment, the four horsemen surrounded me. They were neither
robbers nor alguazils, but men whose amiable character and joyous
temperament I often had occasion to appreciate. In one I recognized Don
Diego Mercado, student of theology in the college of St. John de
Lateran; in another, the officer Don Blas; the third was the hidalgo,
Don Romulo D---- F----, a political marplot, who could never be
satisfied with the government of the day, but was always looking about
for an opportunity to overturn it, who was admitted, notwithstanding
this weakness, into the highest society in Mexico; the fourth was one
whom I would have least expected to find in a company like the present,
and in such a disguise: it was no other, in truth, than my worthy
friend, Fray Serapio.

"Do I really see the Reverend Fray Serapio?" I exclaimed. "Do I really
see my friend under this bandit costume?"

"Tut!" said the Franciscan; "I am traveling incog.; I shall tell you
why some other time."

"Good," said I to the monk; "I have something to ask you which interests
me as much."

"You are one of ourselves," cried the officer, "and we are going to
conduct you to a place out of Mexico, where we intend to finish the Holy

"Where is it?" I inquired.

"You will know when you get there," replied the hidalgo. "I know you are
a lover of adventures: well, I promise you some, and of a strange enough

This was taking me on my weak side, and I accepted the offer without
troubling myself any farther as to its whereabouts. I was, besides, in
full traveling costume; and an excursion by night was, above all, highly
agreeable to me. We alighted, and threaded our way through the crowd;
then leaving it, we struck along the Candelaria road, and, remounting,
pursued a northerly direction. I fell behind the rest and joined Fray
Serapio, and again renewed my inquiries about his disguise. On our first
acquaintance the monk seemed to my taste too shy and distrustful, but I
soon hit upon a sure way of stripping him of these unsocial qualities. I
feigned to make the Christian virtues of my venerable friend the theme
of my warm admiration; and Serapio, who had the high ambition, a
singular one in a monk, of passing for a rake, replied to my eulogiums
by some revelations about the old monk which did not redound greatly to
his credit. At this time, too, the expedient succeeded as it ordinarily
did. The Franciscan assured me, with a contrite air, that he had put on
this disguise by the will of God!

"As you always do," I rejoined, gravely; "you obey him implicitly, like
a humble servant."

The monk bowed and quickened his horse's pace.

"It has pleased God," replied he, "to deprive his servant of his robes
for the purpose of saving the soul of a Christian who is about to quit
this world."

"St. Martin gave to the poor only a half of his cloak. What was his
charity in comparison with yours?"

The Franciscan shrugged his shoulders.

"Alas!" he muttered, "it is a rich man who has my gown, and I don't
deserve to be compared to St. Martin."

"I am well aware that the most noble virtues are often modestly hidden
from the world."

Wearied with my bantering, the monk dropped the mask entirely.

"Faith!" he replied, in a frank, open tone, "pietistic people prefer
being interred in a monkish habit; and, the more threadbare the garment,
the higher they value it. My gown, on this account, is of an inestimable
value. I sold it a short time ago for double its original cost; and,
besides the profit from the sale of it, I got a present of this costume
which I am now wearing."

The sun had now set; and the moon, which was rising, diffused its beams
over the solitary country. Arrived at the crest of a small eminence, I
looked back upon the canals and the plains of the Viga, which, under the
brilliant night of the tropics, appeared to me under quite a new aspect.
The moon had lighted up the lagoons, the canal, and the road. They were
all now silent. The most profound stillness had taken the place of the
stir and hum of the busy crowd; the silence was broken only by the
distant bellowing of the bulls in the savannas. The fire-flies sparkled
in the high grass, and the watch-fires of the shepherds shone here and
there in the fields.


[14] Floating islands.


An Indian Village.

We had now been for some time on the road, and the night was getting
darker and darker. The moon, which up to this time had lighted our way,
was now becoming gradually encircled with a halo--a bad omen. At last it
finally disappeared in a dense bank of clouds on the verge of the
horizon. From time to time a yellowish sheet of lightning shot through
the dark mass, and brought out, in strong relief, the dense blackness
which enveloped the country around. The instinct of our horses alone
kept us right in the thick darkness. The barking of dogs announced our
approach to some solitary cabin by the wayside; sometimes we charged
unwillingly among a herd of pigs which were lying wallowing in the ruts
of the road, and which trotted off grunting in the darkness. In the
midst of this savage scene, surrounded with the lurid light produced by
the flashes, which were following each other in quick succession, we
looked more like some country smugglers out on an expedition than
peaceful travelers on an excursion of pleasure.

We had already passed through the village of Tacubaya, and were
struggling onward in the mountain road which leads to Toluca. I knew
nothing of the road they were leading me. That was of little importance,
provided we reached our place of destination before the bursting of the
storm, which announced its approach by distant peals of thunder. We soon
arrived at a rising ground, round the foot of which ran a pine wood.
There a halt was called to breathe our horses. The clouds of dust we had
swallowed rendered some refreshment necessary. A skin of Valdepeñas
wine, which the officer Don Blas carried at his saddle-bow, was passed
round, and served for a moment to quench the burning thirst which had
begun to torment us. I profited by this opportunity to renew my
inquiries about our place of destination. The theological student
undertook to satisfy my curiosity.

"I have been invited," said he, "to spend the Easter holidays at the
hacienda of a friend of mine, about a dozen leagues from here; I thought
it no bad thing to give my friend the honor of receiving a few more
guests, and I am sure you will all be very welcome."

The hidalgo Don Romulo, on his part, was not unwilling to allow, during
his absence, the agitation caused by a very violent pamphlet which he
had written against the government of the republic to subside, while he
was anxious, at the same time, to visit the ruins of a celebrated
convent, the Desierto, which was on our way. The officer hoped to escape
in the Desierto and the hacienda the importunities of his numerous
creditors, and was disposed to make himself happy in every place but
where they were. As for Fray Serapio, he confessed that, having been
forced, as he might call it, to purchase a habit ill suited to a monk,
he had embraced with delight the invitation of his friend, Don Diego

"And yet I got a hundred piastres for my old habit," added the
Franciscan, gloomily, taking another pull at the skin of Valdepeñas.

"That's where your soft-heartedness leads you," said I. "You have
doubtless flung it away in charity."

"_Mon cher_ (these were the only French words that Fray Serapio knew,
and he made use of them on all occasions), know then, once for all, that
I don't deserve your praises. Nature cut me out for a soldier, but
conventionality made me a monk."

The Franciscan confessed, readily enough, that when he was on the point
of buying a new frock, an inconceivable distraction made him spend the
money on other things quite useless for a man, and, above all, for a
monk; things which--(Fray Serapio whispered the remainder in my ear).
The skin of Valdepeñas being now half empty, we resumed our journey.
Large drops of rain began to fall; the storm was going to burst over us
in all its fury. To push on was our only resource. Stimulated by a
secret instinct, our horses increased their pace. Sometimes they shyed
or stopped suddenly, terrified at the fantastic forms of some projecting
root, or the sudden growl of the thunder; but these annoyances were only
temporary, and we flew over the ground with inconceivable swiftness. We
descried at last, in a plain, a little Indian village, still more than a
league in advance. We covered this league in a few minutes, and entered
the village, saluted by a legion of hungry dogs, who snarled and bit at
our horses' heels. Our arrival set every one in motion. Copper-colored
faces appeared and disappeared at the doors of the huts. We were asking
ourselves, in no small consternation, if we must give up all hopes of
finding a shelter in a place where every door seemed to be shut against
us, when Fray Serapio, catching an Indian by his long hair, forced him
to lead us to a house that did duty for an inn.

Scarcely had we stopped before the door of the pretended hostelry than
a great hulking fellow, one of the half-breeds so numerous in Mexico,
very easily known by his complexion, opened one of the leaves of the
door, which was secured by the invariable iron chain. This was the
master of the inn, who had come to parley with us.

"I have neither stables, nor maize, nor straw to offer your lordships,"
said the half-breed, in a gruff tone; "be so good, then, as to continue
your journey."

"Go to the devil," said the officer, "with your straw, your maize, and
your stables; all we want is a room fit for Christians and officers.
Open, or I will smash the door to pieces."

To give full force to his threat, Captain Don Blas struck the door such
a furious blow with his sabre, that the _huesped_, in a fright, dropped
the chain, and, excusing himself for his obstinacy by the plea that
there were a great number of suspicious characters abroad, ushered us
into an apartment little better than a stable.

"I hope," cried Don Romulo, putting his pocket handkerchief to his nose,
"that we sha'n't be obliged to pass the night in this cursed hole!"

"You are very squeamish, _mon cher_," said Fray Serapio; "the room seems
tolerable enough."

In spite of this assertion, we determined to push on after the storm had
passed. We remained, then, standing till we could take the road again,
as we wished to reach the _hacienda_ as quickly as possible, where a
hospitable reception had been promised us. I thought this halt presented
a favorable opportunity for making some inquiries about the mysterious
monk I had met in the garden of San Francisco. To my first question: "I
can guess whom you are inquiring about," said Fray Serapio, shaking his
head; "it is Fray Epigmenio whom you saw in the arbor in the garden of
the convent, of which you and he are the only visitants. A trial, to
which he was subjected by the Inquisition, turned the head of the poor
soul, and for fifty years his life has been only one long penance."

"Well, I'll tell you frankly," I rejoined, "I had a suspicion that some
painful mystery was wrapped up in the life of this man. I counted upon
you for its solution, and it was you I was in search of when chance
brought us together on the Viga."

The monk was about to reply, when an extraordinary noise arose in the
court-yard of the _posada_, which was suddenly lit up by the red glow of
torches. Almost at the same moment a man, whom from his copper-colored
visage and strange costume we easily knew to be an Indian, entered,
followed by several inhabitants of the village, some carrying torches,
others brandishing knotty clubs, some even with bows, and arrows in reed
quivers. The Indian who seemed to be the chief of the party advanced,
and told us that, as our noisy arrival had disturbed the peace of the
village, the alcalde wished to see us without delay.

"And what if we don't want to see the alcalde?" said the officer.

"You will then be taken by force," said the Indian, pointing to his
armed escort. This gesture was sufficient. It was impossible for us to
resist, for the ministers of Indian justice had very prudently seized
our horses and arms. We looked at one another in no small dismay. The
Indian _mansos_, who rule their villages according to the laws of the
republic, and even choose from their brothers of the same race their
municipal magistracy, behave in the most merciless manner to all the
Mexicans who may have committed any crimes in the district intrusted to
their care. The worst of all cruelties, the cruelty of weakness, is
resorted to on such occasions. It was quite useless to struggle against
those sturdy rough alguazils with the bare legs and long hair. We went
quietly enough to the house of the alcalde.

"Have patience," said Fray Serapio to me, in a low voice, while going
along: "instead of the history of Fray Epigmenio, which I will tell you
at some other time, you will behold a sight which few foreigners have an
opportunity of seeing in Mexico. If I am not mistaken, we have fallen
upon this cursed village at the very time when the Indians celebrate, in
their way, the fêtes of the Holy Week. The house of the alcalde is one
of the ordinary resting-places of their nocturnal processions."

I had often heard of these singular ceremonies, in which the remains of
Indian idolatry are mixed up with the rites of Catholicism. Just when I
was going to reply to Fray Serapio, some melancholy monotonous sounds
met our ears. The plaintive wail of the reed flute, called by the
Indians _chirimia_, was sadly intermingled with the tapping of several
drums struck at regular intervals.

"Three hundred years ago," said Don Diego Mercado to me in a whisper,
"it was to the sound of these _chirimias_ that the ancestors of these
Indians butchered their human victims at the feet of their idols."

Round a lane, which ran at right angles to the road, came the procession
whose approach was announced by this funereal music. Engaged during the
day in cultivating their grounds, the Indians devote the night to
certain religious solemnities. The time thus adds to the lugubrious
effect of their ceremonies. At the head of the procession, borne by four
men, was an image of Christ, of a hideously gigantic form, bedabbled
with blood. At the two arms of the cross hung two Christs of a smaller
size; behind came a disorderly throng of Indians from the village and
its environs, carrying crosses of all shapes and dimensions. I remarked
that the size of several of the crosses was by no means in harmony with
the height of the person who carried them; their dimensions were, in
fact, only regulated by the higher or lower sum paid by the person who
wished to figure in these processions. The most splendid images were
carried in the van by the head men of the village; the poorer
inhabitants followed, and nothing could be imagined more grotesque, more
sadly ludicrous than this motley crowd of tatterdemalions; some, too
poor to purchase Christs, were carrying little images of the saints;
others, less lucky still, were forced to hoist on long poles, for want
of better, faded pieces of colored cloth and tawdry tinsel, while some
had even been forced to carry hen-coops. We bent the knee respectfully
as this singular procession slowly wended its way through the streets,
while the odd collection of hideous and incongruous objects, and the
grotesque faces of the men, lighted up by the dim, ruddy glare of the
pine torches, and seen through the smoke, struck us as being more like
some infernal procession revisiting this earth than a body of Christians
engaged in the celebration of a religious festival.

We arrived at the alcalde's house. The sinister appearance of this
Indian magistrate did not tend to soothe our apprehensions. Long gray
hair, encircling a face deeply furrowed with wrinkles, flowed down
behind to the middle of his back; his muscular arms were hardly covered
by the sleeves of his _sayal_ (a tunic with short sleeves); his
shrunken, sinewy legs were only half covered by his flapping trowsers of
_calzoneras_ skin. On his feet were leather sandals. In such a dress
this singular personage seated himself, with an air of comic grandeur,
under a sort of canopy formed by the branches of _xocopan_ (a kind of
sweet-smelling laurel). The red-skin alguazils ranged themselves behind
like a group of stage supernumeraries. We were now asked, "Who and what
are you?" This question, delivered in bad Spanish, was put to Fray
Serapio, whom his long beard, jaunty costume, and free manners had
undoubtedly caused the alcalde to regard as the most suspicious of the
party. The monk hesitated. The alcalde continued:

"When people come with arms to a village, it is to be presumed they have
a right to carry arms. Can you prove your right?"

It was, then, to examine us as to our right of carrying arms that we had
been arrested. The alcalde thought he had us in a trap, and would have
an opportunity of inflicting upon us, without going beyond the strict
letter of the law, some of those petty insults, for which opportunities
are eagerly seized on, to satisfy the traditionary hatred of the Indians
against the whites. We understood this perfectly, but we could not
counterplot him. We were all obliged to make the same reply. We were
traveling incognito, and had no right to carry arms. With the exception
of the monk, who seemed ill at ease in his disguise, we were eager to
tell our names and quality. As it was a point of the very highest
importance to let the Indians know the powerful protectors we had in
Mexico, the student fancied he was acting prudently when he said that he
was the nephew of the most celebrated apothecary in the city. The clerk
wrote down the answer, stopping every now and then to break in pieces
little branches of _xocopan_. As for the alcalde, he seemed to triumph
at having in his power five of the enemies of his race. When the student
avowed his relationship to the Mexican apothecary, the wily Indian did
not consider himself foiled. He seemed lost in thought; but suddenly an
expression of malignant joy shot across his features as he hastily put
this question to Don Diego:

"If you are the nephew of an apothecary, you must know something of

Don Diego replied in the affirmative, with an air of perfect

"You must, then, be acquainted with the virtues of _matlalquahuitl_?"

The alcalde had intentionally chosen a strange Mexican plant very little
known, with an Indian name of the most uncouth sound. When he saw the
blank look that immediately appeared on the countenance of the student,
he guessed that his ruse was successful, and he rubbed his hands with an
air of satisfaction. You know nothing of botany; you were trying to
cheat me; you are not the nephew of an apothecary; you have all a
suspicious air about you. I have a right to detain you, and I'll do it,
too. Such was the reasoning which we saw written on the face of the
alcalde, who looked with a cool air of disdain both on Don Diego Mercado
and on us. At this moment the religious fête, in which the alcalde had
to play an important part, luckily created a diversion in our favor by
putting a stop to this examination. A band of Indians hurriedly entered
the room. They dragged along, or rather pushed before them, a man
crowned with a wreath of rushes, and draped in a tattered red cloak
which had very probably been used as a _muleta_[15] in a bull-fight. His
face and body were quite bespattered with mud. I looked at this man with
astonishment as a living enigma, when the student, who was better
acquainted with the manners of the Indians than with the virtues of the
_matlalquahuitl_, said, in a low tone,

"There is nothing in this but a religious joke. They are going to get up
here a dramatic representation of the Passion. We are no longer in an
Indian village, but in Jerusalem. This fellow with the bespattered face
personates Christ, and the alcalde, confound him! is Pilate."

In fact, we were about to have produced before us all the scenes of a
genuine mystery of the Middle Ages. The alcalde, seated under his canopy
of laurel, having gravely listened to the calumnious accusations of the
Jews, rose and pronounced in the Indian tongue the historical sentence
of condemnation. Such a storm of cries and yells greeted the sentence,
that the unfortunate lépero (for it was one of that class, who, for a
few reals, was personating Christ) seemed to think that the drama was
becoming rather too serious. He cried out in Spanish,

"Caramba! I think it would have been better had I taken the part of the
good thief. Señor Alcalde, don't forget to pay me three reals more for
personating the Divine Redeemer!"

"You are a fine fellow!" said the alcalde, pushing the lépero back, who,
in violation of all historical truth, took refuge in the tribunal
itself. At the same time, one of the soldiers who surrounded the Christ,
more faithful to his part than the bespattered lépero, struck him a
smart blow on the cheek. The lépero could contain himself no longer; he
rapped out a fearful oath, and struck out right and left at his
astonished persecutors. There was a general melée; a fierce struggle
arose between the actor, who had completely forgotten the spirit of his
part, and the Indians, who attacked him with a vigor worthy of the
agents of Herod. The contest was brought to an end by a heroic sacrifice
on the part of the alcalde, who, to overcome the obstinacy of the
lépero, promised him six reals more than he was originally entitled to.
On this condition the fellow agreed to walk to Calvary in the midst of
the Indians. They dragged him along to the place of execution, dealing
him a more than ordinary allowance of blows.

This business finished, the alcalde returned to us. He had pronounced
the sentence upon the pretended Christ with an ill-disguised anxiety.
When we saw him conversing with the clerk, I looked somewhat dejectedly
at the monk. To my amazement, a smile appeared on his lips which set me
completely at my ease. The cause of this sudden change in Fray Serapio
was soon explained. To avoid the imprisonment which he saw impending
over us, he resolved to appeal to the religious feelings of the alcalde
and his followers, of which they had just given such striking proofs.
Fray Serapio had reasoned justly. Just when the alcalde was rising to
pronounce our sentence, the monk gravely approached the tribunal,
snatched off the neckerchief which encircled his head, and showed the
Indian magistrate his tonsure. This was truly a theatrical stroke. The
man who, scarcely a second before, was affecting to look upon us with
such stubborn pride, threw himself trembling and confused at the feet of
the Franciscan.

"Ah! holy father," cried the Indian, "why did you not discover yourself
sooner? Taking every thing into consideration, one can be an honest man
without knowing the virtues of _matlalquahuitl_."

Fray Serapio need not have answered the terrified Indian. He
condescended to confess that, under this disguise and with this escort,
he was traveling to execute a mission of religious interest; and the
alcalde, who crossed himself devoutly at every word of the monk, took
good care not to press him with imprudent questions. An instant after,
we marched majestically out of the cabin into which our entrance had
been so humble and crestfallen. The Indians returned us our arms and
horses. They pressed us in vain to return to the hostelry where we had
been so scurvily welcomed. We were very ill pleased at the reception
they had given us; and, in spite of the thunder, which had again begun
to growl, we galloped out of the village without lending an ear to their


[15] A red cloth shaken before the bull for the purpose of exciting him.


Fray Epigmenio.

Already the Indian village lay a league behind us. The route we were
pursuing was through a ravine, the road through which could with
difficulty be believed to have been made by the hand of man. We soon
entered a pine forest which ran along a chain of precipitous hills. The
darkness, which was rendered thicker by the interlaced branches of the
trees overhead, was so profound that our horses could literally advance
only by the gleam of the vivid flashes of lightning. Soon the storm
increased; the trunks of the pines cracked and swayed to and fro in the
wind, and the hollows in the mountains resounded with the multiplied
echoes of terrific thunder-claps. The flashes now became less and less
frequent, and at last, the intermittent gleams, which had hitherto
lightened our advance, failed us entirely. A deafening thunder-clap was
followed by a torrent of rain. It had now become impossible for us
either to advance or to regain the road. Forced to remain immovable like
equestrian statues, we were obliged to shout to one another to find out
our respective positions. I then discovered that I was very near Fray
Serapio. The voices of our three companions reached us like a distant
echo borne along amid the whistling of the squall. We at last found
ourselves separated from one another, without any probable hope of
joining each other during the whole night, each of us being forced to
stay where the darkness had overtaken him, exposed to all the dangers of
the forest.

"Since we are condemned to remain here, as motionless as the statue of
Charles IV. in Mexico," said I to the Franciscan, "don't you think this
is a very good opportunity for telling me the history of your friend,
Fray Epigmenio?"

"Fray Epigmenio!" cried the monk. "This is not a story suited either to
the time or place. When I hear the trees groaning like spirits in
Purgatory, and the torrents raging like wild beasts, I have not the
courage to go over a history that is frightful enough in itself."

A long pause followed. "Where are we?" I at last asked.

"We ought to be only a mile and a half from the _Desierto_. We have kept
on the right road; but I have strong fears that we have got entangled in
a ravine, from which escape is almost impossible amid this darkness. In
a few hours, should the rain continue, this ravine will be no longer a
road, but a torrent, that will carry us along on its rushing waters like
dead leaves. God succor our poor souls!" He crossed himself devoutly.

I had seen too often in America torrents suddenly swollen by
thunder-showers to such a degree as to uproot trees a hundred years old,
and carry down rocks, to doubt for a moment the imminent danger of which
I had been apprised by Fray Serapio. To this disheartening reply I had
but one answer to make--we must have a fire, at any price. Unluckily,
the monk had left his flint and steel with the student. I was not
discouraged, however; and, unwilling to throw away any chance of
extricating ourselves from our disagreeable position, I alighted from my
horse, took in one of my hands the _reata_ attached to the neck of the
animal, and with the other tried to guide myself while holding on to the
rocks. I was not long in finding my progress stopped by a precipitous
bluff. I tried the other side; always a perpendicular wall of rock.
Forced at last to stop after having unrolled the _reata_ to its utmost
length, I came back step by step to my horse, and, gathering it up again
in my hand, remounted.

"This ravine is in truth a prison," said I.

"It is not the torrent alone that I fear," replied the monk. "Even if we
escape drowning, we may be burned to death if the trees are set on fire
by the lightning."

"Could we not leave our horses here, and try to gain on foot a place
less exposed to danger?"

"We run a risk of tumbling into some quagmire. By the way the wind hits
my face, I know that this ravine is of great extent. Let us remain where
we are, and trust to Divine Providence."

I had exhausted all my expedients, and could find nothing to reply to
those last words of Fray Serapio's, which were uttered in a truly
mournful tone. Some moments passed. The storm was still at its height,
and I could not shut my ears to its wild music. In the depths of the
forests, a wail as of a thousand spirits came booming on the wind;
torrents raged and dashed from rock to rock, the pines creaked like the
masts of a vessel caught in a hard gale, and above our heads the wind
whistled strangely among the leaves. During the temporary lulls of the
tempest, we heard our companions, who, whether from ignorance or a wish
to drown their sense of danger, were shouting and singing with all their

"Don't you think," said I to the monk, "that this gayety is somewhat out
of place? I have a good mind to make them sensible of the danger they
are running, to cause them to change their song for the 'De Profundis.'"

"What good would that do?" said the monk, gloomily. "Would it not be
better for them to remain ignorant of their danger, and let death
surprise them in their joyous thoughtlessness? At this moment, when the
spirits of darkness are hovering about us, the human voice seems to
bring with it an undefinable charm. I have not yet told you the story of
Fray Epigmenio. I'll do it now. I would rather hear the sound of my own
voice than the whistling of the wind among the firs. And now, when I
think of it, it was in the convent of the Desierto, in the vicinity of
this forest, and exactly at this time of the year, that the most
interesting occurrence in the life of Fray Epigmenio took place."

"This circumstance," said I, "must add particular interest to your
recital; but, at such a moment as this, I hardly feel disposed to listen
to you. However, if you like to tell the story, I--"

"Fray Epigmenio," began the Franciscan, interrupting me, "was, even in
his youth, but a melancholy companion. That is to say, he was not at all
like me. Far from having wished, as I did, to be a soldier before
donning the monk's habit, he was, when a mere boy, admitted as a novice
into the Carmelite convent of the Desierto. At the time I refer to, that
is, fifty years ago, the Desierto was not abandoned as it is now. It was
then a retreat inhabited by several monks, who wished, by thus
withdrawing themselves from the cities, to push austerity to its utmost
limits. You may guess what influence a wild solitude like that would
exercise upon a weak brain. For my part, I don't think I should be long
in my right mind were I to live in such a place. The superiors of the
young novice were soon alarmed at the ferocious exultation that soon
took the place of his former solid piety. They represented to Epigmenio
that the devil, jealous of his merits, was setting a trap for him, into
which he would fall. It was a wise advice; but Epigmenio paid no heed to
it. Worse than all, he isolated himself almost entirely from his
brethren, and shut himself up more closely than ever in his cell--a sort
of dark dungeon, whose windows opened upon the wood which surrounded
the convent. This was the gloomiest cell in this gloomy cloister. Fray
Epigmenio had chosen it in preference to those whose windows looked out
upon the garden. The sight of the flowers seemed to this rigid cenobite
too much of a worldly pleasure. The heavy masses of the dark woods,
constantly agitated by the wind, and surrounded by an amphitheatre of
rocks in fantastic forms, was the kind of landscape which had the
greatest charm for Epigmenio. I told you before that the soundest head
in the world could not long resist the combined influences of solitude
and prayer. The monk confessed, when too late, that strange visions
passed before his eyes in those long days of contemplation and silence.
Mysterious voices assailed his ears, and it was not always the concerts
of angels that he heard: the murmurs of the forest were often changed
into voluptuous sighs and--"

At this moment the Franciscan suddenly paused, and, turning to me, said,
"Are you listening?"

"I confess," I rejoined, "that I am paying more attention to the noise
of the water which is now rising about our feet."

"Fray Epigmenio," said Serapio, without attending to my remark, "fancied
himself a saint, since temptations like these assailed him, and that he
was struggling against the devil, like the monks in the old legends. One
day, about sunset, not content to wait for the tempter in his cell, he
resolved to beard him in the forest itself, which was peopled with such
phantoms. He had not wandered far among the pines when he heard the
sound of stifled sobbing not far from him. He stopped and listened, and
then advanced in the direction from which the moaning seemed to
proceed. For a long time his search was fruitless. At last, after many
turnings and windings, he arrived at a glade in the wood, in the centre
of which lay, on the turf, a man, who invited him by signs to approach.
Fray Epigmenio hesitated a moment. At last, having crossed himself
devoutly, he falteringly approached the wounded man. 'In God's name,'
cried he, 'of what unfortunate accident are you the victim?' The holy
name of God appeared to rouse in the stranger a painful emotion, and his
voice was hardly perceptible when he told Epigmenio that, as he was
traveling with his daughter, he had been set upon by robbers, stripped
of all he had, and left bleeding on the ground. He added that it was not
for himself that he was asking assistance, but for the feeble creature
by his side; and, at the same time, parting the branches of a bush near
which he lay, he showed the monk a young lady lying in a swoon upon the
grass. The rays of the moon fell full upon her marble countenance and
white dress. You may imagine the confusion Epigmenio was in when he saw
this beautiful female, who seemed to realize to him the most beautiful
visions of his dreams. After a short silence, he represented to the
stranger that the convent of the Desierto was not far off; but, were it
nearer, a female could not be received within its walls. The unknown was
grieved that he could not continue his journey, as his horse had escaped
when the robbers attacked him. Plucking up his spirits, he declared, as
his wound now gave him less pain, he would like to rise and seek for his
lost steed. They set out together, but soon after agreed to separate,

A blinding flash of lightning interrupted the monk's story. The storm
was increasing. The muddy water had now risen as far as our stirrups.
Our horses, that had stood without motion a long time, now turned and
presented their chests to the current, which was surging up higher and
higher every minute. Around us, in the depth of the woods, the noise of
the torrents was mingled with the wild harmony of the brawling winds,
that seemed to blow from every point of the compass.

"The water is rising," cried Fray Serapio, "and our horses will soon be
utterly powerless against its force."

Almost at the same moment the poor animals turned quickly round, and,
whether guided by instinct, or carried away by the force of the current,
they moved toward the bottom of the ravine. A cry of distress, wafted to
us by the wind, apprised us that the torrent was also bearing away our
companions in misfortune. A second flash lighted up the forest, and was
followed by a clap of thunder which shook the air. A sulphurous odor
filled the atmosphere, and immediately, to our inexpressible
satisfaction, a pine, which had been struck by lightning a few paces
from us, blazed up, and soon illuminated the surrounding objects.

"We are saved!" cried Fray Serapio: "I see near us a rock low enough for
our horses to mount."

Our companions had already escaped from the torrent; they encouraged us
by voice and gestures to do the same. My horse, by a desperate effort,
reached the top of the bank. I had kept close by Fray Serapio, whose
horse had twice attempted the ascent, and had twice fallen back; but the
third time, like a true Mexican, he accomplished it. We were still not
out of all danger. A shelter must be found, as it was now out of the
question to push on to the hacienda.

By the pale light in the sky, which was now comparatively clear, we
could discern a narrow bridle-path running along the edge of the ravine.
This road doubtless led to the Desierto, the very convent in which Fray
Epigmenio had first taken his vows. We hurried along this path, certain
this time of not missing our way; and a few minutes after, having
escaped the most imminent peril, our little troop stopped, with
heartfelt satisfaction, before the ruined walls of the ancient


The Desierto.

After fastening our horses in the outer court of the convent, we chose,
near the entrance of the building, the cell which seemed to be most
convenient for shelter. The first moments of our halt were devoted to an
interchange of reflections, half merry, half serious, upon the danger we
had run. Don Romulo confessed that he had taken part in seventeen
conspiracies; that he had been banished, under circumstances of great
aggravation, from three republics--from Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, but
that the danger he had just escaped was the most imminent he had ever
experienced in his life. As for the monk, the student, and the officer,
they owned frankly enough that, when the danger appeared most imminent,
and they had seemed callous to it, they were far from feeling so in
their minds. After some more talk of a like kind, our eyes roamed around
the old monastery to which chance had directed us for shelter.

Situated in the midst of a tract of country which reminds one of the
Grande Chartreuse of Grenoble, the convent of the Desierto is, to all
outward appearance, far from being in a ruinous condition. Its cupolas
and spires still shoot as high as ever above the pines which surround
it; and although half a century has rolled away since the monks quitted
it, ivy has not yet entirely covered the embrasures of its deserted
cells. The green moss which grows upon its walls shows only the want of
repair and the ravages of time. You must pass through the first
quadrangle, which is still in good preservation, so as to reach the
interior of the convent, before seeing the spectacle of melancholy and
desolation which there meets your eye. The dilapidated cupolas admit the
daylight through large chinks, the pilasters in the cloisters are
crumbling away, large stones have been forced from their sockets, heaps
of ruins block up the choir and the nave of the chapel, and a thick
mantle of pellitories covers the rubbish. The vapors which hang in a
dense curtain round the summit of the mountain, at the foot of which the
convent is built, fall in fine rain on the bare stones, and cover every
thing with an icy moisture. Above the high altar, through one of the
numerous fissures in the dome, the condensed vapor escapes, and falls
drop by drop with the regularity of a water-clock, as if to mark the
flight of time, and to relieve, by the light noise it makes on the
marble, the melancholy silence which reigns in this dreary solitude.
Such is the convent of the Desierto, seen by the light of day and under
a clear sky. Let any one fancy its appearance at the time we sought
refuge within its walls, when the storm, which had lasted since
twilight, was scarcely over. Imagine the beams of the moon, fitfully
streaming through its deserted arches, and the wind whistling in the
empty nave, in its organ loft, in its solitary cells, and he will have
some idea of the shelter in which we spent the remainder of the night.

We stood shivering in our wet clothes, and our first business was to
seek materials for a fire. We took each a different part of the convent.
The quarter in which I was engaged happened to be the most ruinous in
the whole building. The remembrance of the old monk of St. Francis often
came into my mind; and, in passing along the deserted galleries, I could
not help fancying I saw him flitting through the gloomy arches. Around
me the pillars stretched their great shadows upon the ground, whitened
by the moonbeams. A stillness, as of the grave, rested every where. The
ivy curtains alone shook in the wind.

From the cloister I entered a vast corridor. Through the large chinks in
the vaulted roof above the moonbeams stealthily penetrated. In the
distance I thought I observed a red glow on the flagstones playing amid
the surrounding whiteness, and imagined I heard the snort of a horse
which did not seem to proceed from the court where we had fastened our
steeds. At the same instant my companions called me; I eagerly joined
them. They had collected some brushwood, as they could find nothing
better. The officer, Don Blas, affirmed that he had seen, by the light
of the moon, in a distant court, a horse which was not one of ours. The
student pretended he had met the ghost of one of the monks who had been
buried in the convent. A short silence succeeded. Don Romulo was the
first to break it.

"Here is a charming variety of horrors; the horse of a bandit; the
ghost of a monk; spectres and malefactors!"

We tried to induce Fray Serapio to pronounce the classical formula of
exorcism in his formidable Latin, but the monk replied tartly,

"My Latin won't drive away the spectre you talk of; it will rather
attract it. God grant it may not appear! Be assured this is no freak of
the imagination. The phantom seen by Señor Don Blas is a reality. It is
my superior, the Reverend Father Epigmenio, who comes here every year,
at the return of the Holy Week, to fulfill a penitential vow imposed on
him for some sins of his youth. If he recognize me, how can I justify my
present disguise and foolish excursion?"

The Franciscan's reply set us completely at our ease, and we sympathized
very little in his anxiety. Wishing, however, to have no meeting between
the two, we resolved to light our fire in a cell in a retired part of
the convent, and to stretch ourselves on our wet cloaks round it. The
student, the officer, and the hidalgo were soon sound asleep; the monk
and I remained awake. Fray Serapio, on the watch to catch the slightest
noise, trembled all over at the thought of being surprised by his
superior, while my mind was filled with the story of Fray Epigmenio, so
unfortunately interrupted. Seeing the Franciscan was not inclined to
sleep, I pressed him to finish it. My companion, who could not shut an
eye, was overjoyed at finding this means of whiling away the time. He
consented with a very good grace, and crept more closely to the fire.

"I left," said he, "Fray Epigmenio at the moment when chance had
delivered to his care a female in a swoon. His first impulse was to run
away; his second was to remain, and he remained. He ceased even to shout
for the wounded horseman, whose return he did not now particularly
desire; and when the young lady, coming out of her faint, opened her
languid eyes, the reverend father lost his senses entirely. If at this
moment the stranger had appeared, the monk would have strangled him, for
you have doubtless guessed by this time that the stranger in black was
no other than the devil!"

To this unexpected assertion my only reply was a shake of the head. Fray
Serapio, believing I agreed with him, continued:

"Fray Epigmenio yielded to temptation. He fell deeply, madly in love.
For a time his vows were forgotten, but the prickings of conscience at
last aroused him, and he resolved to confess his fault. He was taken
before the tribunal of the Inquisition.[16] Till the final judgment was
pronounced, they were both kept in confinement, the monk in his cell,
the female in a dungeon. Some weeks passed in miserable anticipation.
One evening, the cell of Fray Epigmenio was the theatre of a scene, in
which the intervention of the devil was as clearly seen as in the
meeting in the forest. Kneeling before his crucifix, the monk was asking
from God that peace which his soul had lost. All at once he was startled
by a footfall in his cell. A man stood before him, who regarded him with
a stern, watchful eye. This man was no other than the stranger who had
appeared to the recluse a month before in the wood; his dress was the
same, and he appeared still paler than on the night in which the monk
had found him bathed in blood. Fray Epigmenio stepped back, but the
stranger did not stir. The formula of exorcism, hastily stammered out,
had no effect upon him. The monk then called for help, but it was too
late. When they entered the cell the stranger had disappeared.
Epigmenio, bleeding from a dagger thrust, lay in a swoon before his
folding-stool, and you could see the impress of the villain's bloody
fingers. Time has not effaced these marks; they are still there."

"I can guess the conclusion of your story," said I to Fray Serapio; "the
female was condemned as a sorceress, and the monk was acquitted."

"The female," said Serapio, "confessed on the rack that she had been in
league with the devil, and was condemned to expiate the crime _by a
public act_; but she did not undergo that punishment. Her keepers found
her one morning lying dead on the floor of her dungeon, strangled with
the beautiful black tresses which had proved so fatal to Fray Epigmenio.
As for the monk, his wound was slight; it soon healed. Condemned to five
years menial servitude in the convent of St. Francis, he was made the
convent gardener. Almost at the same period the Inquisition ceased to
exist, and the convent of the Desierto was abandoned as unhealthy. The
visit which Fray Epigmenio makes at the same time every year to this
ruined building is the only memorial of this event."

Fray Serapio paused. I was weary for want of sleep; he seemed also ready
to drop with fatigue, and I forbore troubling him with any remarks on
the story I had just heard. I had already lain down by the side of my
companions, who were all fast asleep. Suddenly the Franciscan shook me
by the arm, and invited me precipitately to follow him. I rose and
accompanied him to a window which commanded a view of the inner courts
of the convent, which were still bathed in the silvery light of the
moon. The monk, whose stern and forbidding countenance had awakened my
attention in the garden of St. Francis, was at this moment traversing
one of the courts. We remarked that his steps were more tottering, and
his body more bent than usual. When he disappeared, "Follow me," said
Fray Serapio, "to the cell which was his, which he has just quitted." We
soon arrived at the cell, but nothing distinguished it from the others.
The walls were quite bare; the wind whistled through the parasitical
plants which clung to the disjointed stones. A pine torch, stuck into an
interstice of the wall, was just expiring. Fray Serapio fanned the dying
flame, and, with all the obstinacy of a conscientious cicerone, he
pretended to point out upon the wall the traces of the five fingers of
the unknown who had stabbed the monk in his prison. I did not tell
Serapio that the black stains on the wall had been produced by damp, and
not by the hand of Satan. I seized, however, this opportunity of
informing the worthy monk that the story of his unfortunate superior
could be perfectly well explained without the intervention of the devil.
The superiors of Fray Epigmenio, jealous of his rigid virtue, had
probably set the trap into which he had fallen. They had found an adroit
monk and a female willing to work through their plans, and the brutal
fanaticism of the monk had unhappily spoiled every thing. The
Inquisition had got wind of the matter. The farce was then turned into a
tragedy. The vengeance of the father, who repented the selling of his
child, her unhappy end, and the blighted, melancholy life which Fray
Epigmenio had been afterward doomed to lead, were the unhappy
consequences of the shameful intrigue hatched in the very convent in
which we now were. Such was my commentary on Fray Serapio's story; but
he, with an obstinacy only equaled by his credulity, held fast by his
own interpretation.

Next morning we arrived at the hacienda of the friend of Don Diego
Mercado, where the cordial reception we experienced soon made us forget
the dangers and sufferings of the previous night.

On my return to Mexico I resumed my visits to the convent of St.
Francis, and I read with more interest than ever the narratives
preserved in these valuable archives, for I had now a thorough
conviction that the old Spanish fanaticism, of which there were many
instances in these documents, had still firm root in the minds of the
people of Mexico. There is a close connection between the past and
present race of the inhabitants of the cloisters, which the frivolous
manners of the monks, as seen by me in the streets of Mexico, had not
led me to suspect. The Inquisition has passed away, but it has left in
the clergy a well-defined outline, a singularly deep-rooted tradition of
demoralization, superstitious ignorance, and fanaticism.

Every time I went to the convent of St. Francis I met Fray Epigmenio,
sometimes in the cloisters, sometimes sunk in reverie in the arbor. One
day, however, I traversed the whole convent in search of him, but in
vain. Just as I was quitting it I met Fray Serapio. The presence of the
Franciscan in his convent was so very rare an occurrence that I could
not help inquiring why he had condescended so far as to break through
his usual habits.

"It is a pity," cried Fray Serapio, "but don't ask me why. Fray
Epigmenio has just breathed his last. A lingering fever hung about him a
long time; he died this morning, and the duty of watching the corpse of
the reverend father has been assigned to me. Could any one have played
me a more scurvy trick?"

"I don't understand you," I replied. "You surely don't mean poor Fray

"Who then, if it isn't he? Do you know what this duty makes me lose? A
charming assignation, _mon cher_." And, as a commentary on these words,
there darted from his eyes an expressive glance which, told more than he
said. I had not the heart to reproach the monk for his heartless talk,
uttered, too, in such a cavalier tone. At this moment the first strokes
of the passing-bell interrupted our conversation. "Good-by!" said Fray
Serapio; "the bell calls me to my post." I shook him by the hand, and,
on retiring, could not help reflecting on the singular contrast which
these two men presented, inhabitants of the same convent, both under the
same rules, both regardless of the sanctity of their mission; the one
uniting libertinism with credulity, the other pushing piety to
fanaticism, till it degenerated into cruelty. This contrast, I said
sadly to myself, is a faithful picture of Mexican life. Who can tell how
many unhappy wretches there are, in the numerous convents in Mexico, who
have commenced with the first and ended with the second?

Among the persons who have figured in this narrative, one only succeeded
in securing a peaceful life after a youth of stirring adventure: this
was the student Don Diego Mercado, who, belonging to a rich family in
Mexico, had always looked to the future without uneasiness. As for Don
Blas, he met his death in a petty encounter with some robbers on the
high road. Don Romulo's lot was at once more brilliant and more varied.
After having, as I said before, taken part in seventeen conspiracies,
and been banished from three republics, Don Romulo, after engaging in
another political intrigue, was forced to quit Mexico in the same way as
he had left Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. On returning to the
last-mentioned state, in which he had been born, he was raised to the
presidency; and this time, being at the head of affairs in his own
country, one would think he ought to have renounced his revolutionary
principles. We do not know, however, if his conversion was sincere.
There are some political agitators whom the attainment of supreme power
can not correct, and who still prefer the precarious advantages gained
by intrigue to the pleasures of unlimited authority.


[16] Suppressed in Mexico in 1810. The old palace of the Inquisition,
situated on the street St. Domingo, is now used as a custom-house.

Don Cadeo Cristobal, the Thieves' Lawyer of Mexico.

There is an old document in the National Library of Paris which has
hardly ever been consulted, I dare say, since the day on which it was
placed on the dusty shelves of the manuscript room. It is an essay on
the idioms of the Indian tribes of the New World, written toward the end
of the sixteenth century, by Fray Alonzo Urbano, a monk of the order of
St. Augustin. The chain of circumstances which was the means of bringing
this curious document from Mexico to Paris is perhaps known only to
myself, and that for an excellent reason. It was I who carried thither
the unknown work of the monk of St. Augustin. The person from whom I
obtained it is very likely dead. Be that as it may, the way in which I
got possession of this manuscript will never be effaced from my memory;
and the essay of Fray Urbano, although I am no judge of its philological
merits, has still a great interest in my eyes. It brings to mind the
intercourse I once had with one of the strangest personages that I ever
had the good fortune to meet in Mexico. That intercourse was very short,
but the recital will enable one easily to understand the deep impression
it left upon me. I do not require to add that this story, though it
appear romantic, is strictly true. In Mexico, you must remember, romance
is ingrained in the manners of the people, and he who would faithfully
picture these exceptionable manners would be set down as a somewhat
unscrupulous story-teller, _when he is, in fact, only a simple


The Public Scribe.--Pepito Rechifla.--The China.--The Callejon del Arco.

At the commencement of the year 1835 I happened to be in Mexico, engaged
in the prosecution of a troublesome piece of business. This concerned
the somewhat problematical recovery of a very considerable sum of money
due me by an individual of whom I could not find the slightest trace.
The business demanded the most energetic measures, and I addressed
myself, in consequence, to several lawyers, well known for their success
in dealing with such difficult cases. They all at first promised their
assistance, but when I mentioned my debtor's name (he was called Don
Dionisio Peralta), one and all of them excused themselves from having
any share in the business. One said he could never pardon himself if he
gave the slightest cause of uneasiness to so gallant a man as Señor
Peralta; a second, that he was attached to him by a _compadrazgo_[17] of
long standing; a third suddenly remembered that he had been a bosom
friend of his in his youth. A fourth, more communicative than the
others, enlightened me as to the cause of such friendly scruples; these
gentlemen had the fear of a dagger before their eyes, a mode of
procedure of which Señor Peralta had availed himself more than once, to
shake himself free of creditors who had been too pressing. "I don't
know," he added, "a single person who will undertake your business, if
the licentiate Don Tadeo Cristobal refuse: he has a heart of rock and a
hand of iron; he is the man for you." I ran immediately to the _Calle de
los Batanes_, where I was told he lived; but another check awaited me
there. Don Tadeo had quitted that place, and no one could tell me his
present abode.

Wearied and dejected in the evening, after a whole day spent in running
up and down to no purpose, I was walking listlessly to and fro in the
Merchants' Arcades (_Portales de los Mercadores_), which stands on the
grand square of Mexico. Despairing of success, I resolved to ask for
some information about Don Tadeo from some of the numerous public
writers, whose stalls under the gallery are so many public intelligence
offices; but, once there, I completely forgot the motive which had
brought me into this kind of bazar, the daily resort of all the idlers
of Mexico, and my attention was completely distracted by the animated
picture which was unrolled before my eyes. The spectator will be less
astonished at this if he figure to himself the almost magical appearance
the Plaza Mayor presents an hour before sunset. The _Portales de los
Mercadores_ occupy, in fact, almost one complete side of this immense
square. The Cathedral, the Ayuntamiento, and the President's palace
form, as the reader already knows, the other three sides. The most
beautiful streets in Mexico debouch between those buildings; there is
the street Primeria Monterilla, crowded with elegant shops; another,
called _los Plateros_ (the street of the goldsmiths), whose shops are
almost exclusively occupied by jewelers or lapidaries, while the petty
Mexican merchant seems to have chosen, for the display of European
commodities, the dark arcades of the _los Mercadores_. At the time of my
stay in Mexico, French innovation had not yet ventured to alter the
picturesque appearance of these arcades, which, in their general aspect,
bore a remarkable resemblance to the Piliers des Halles in Paris. The
heavy arches are supported on one side by vast warehouses, on the other
by pillars, at the foot of which are ranged shops (_alacenas_) well
stocked with religious books, rosaries, daggers, and spurs. Close by
these shops, as if to represent all the grades of trafficking, léperos,
in rags, hawk about articles of glassware, and, sticking one of them on
the tip of their finger, they search for customers with great eagerness.
Every now and then the venders of wild duck ragouts, or _tamales_,[18]
seated in the shade of the arches, strike in, amid the din of the crowd,
with their well-known cry,[19] _Aqui hay poto grande, mi alma; senorito
venga sted_, or that as popular but shorter call, _Tamales[20]
queretanos_. The passers-by and purchasers are as worthy of observation
as the sellers. The ever-varying color of gowns and _tapalos_,[21] the
gold of the mangas, and the motley color of the serapes, form, under the
dim, hazy light which prevail in the pilastera, a brilliant mixture of
different colors, which reminds one strongly of the most fantastical
Venetian masquerades. In the evening, when the stalls and shops are
closed, the _Merchants' Arcades_ become a kind of political club. Seated
on the threshold of the gates, or striding along in this kind of
cloister, officers and townsmen talk about revolutions that have been
effected, or are to be effected, till the time when the almost deserted
galleries serve only as a retreat for lovers, and their low whispers is
all that is heard beneath the silent arcades.

I had now sauntered for a long time in the Merchants' Arcades, when the
sight of a writer's stall reminded me of my business there. Among the
working population of the _Portales_, the public writers form a
considerable portion of the community. You must remember that in Mexico
primary instruction is not at all general, and that the office of a
public writer, among this illiterate population, has lost nothing of its
primitive importance. The tractable pen of the _evangelists_ (that is
the name they bear) is required for a thousand commissions, more or less
delicate, and often of the most equivocal character--from the venal
love-letter down to the note sent by a bravo to lure his intended victim
to some secret ambuscade. The evangelist whom I had remarked among the
rest of his tribe was a little squat fellow, his head almost bald,
scarcely encircled with a few gray hairs. What principally drew my
attention to this man was an expression of sardonic joviality which
shone in his otherwise insignificant face. I was just about to make some
inquiries of him about Don Tadeo, when an incident made me suddenly
pause, and continue to look on in silence. A young girl came to the
stall of the evangelist. The long wavy hair, which escaped in plaits
from her open _rebozo_, her complexion of a slight umber tint, the brown
shoulders that her chemise of fine linen, fringed with lace, left almost
bare, her slender figure, which had never been deformed by stays, and,
above all, the three short petticoats of different colors, which fell in
straight folds over her pliant haunches, all pointed out the young
woman as a genuine specimen of the _China_.[22]

"Tio Luquillas," said the maiden.

"What is it?" replied the evangelist.

"I need your assistance."

"I don't doubt that, since you come to me," replied Tio; and, fancying
he had divined the message she was going to send, he began complaisantly
to fold a sheet of rose-tinted vellum paper, highly glazed, and embossed
with cupids. But she made a gesture of impatience with her little brown

"What," said she, "would a man, who is almost breathing his last, care
for your rose-tinted billet-doux?"

"The devil!" said the scribe, in a passionless tone, while the girl
wiped her streaming eyes with one of her long plaits: "is it a farewell
epistle, then?"

A sob was the only reply; then, stooping to the scribe's ear, she forced
herself to dictate a short letter, not without frequent pauses to take
breath and to wipe away her tears. The contrast between the
unsusceptible old man and the passionate girl appeared to me most
striking. I was not the only observer; every one who passed the booth of
Tio Luquillas could not help casting a glance of pity, not unmingled
with curiosity, upon the young _China_. The evangelist was about to fold
the letter, but had not yet written the address, when a passer-by,
bolder and more curious than the rest, came unceremoniously to have some
conversation with the old man. The new-comer's features were not unknown
to me, and I remembered that he had, when standing next me at a
bull-fight a few days before, dilated, in the most attractive manner,
on a sport which I passionately loved. The time did not seem to me
suitable for making any inquiry of the evangelist, and I thought it best
not to approach the three. I consequently remained a few paces from the
booth, waiting patiently till the visitor would take his departure. The
man, with whom an hour or two's chat had made me acquainted, had
inspired me with a certain degree of interest. He was about forty years
of age. His features were marked with a certain kind of nobility, in
spite of a sarcastic expression which he sometimes threw into them.
Although I might have forgotten we had ever met, the odd costume in
which he was habited stamped him on my recollection. At the bull-fight
he wore a wide-flowing blue cloak, lined with red, and on his head an
enormous _sombrero_ of yellow vicuna cloth, trimmed with gold lace.

"For whom is the letter, my dear?" he asked of the _China_, somewhat

The girl pointed to the prison of the presidential palace, and muttered
a name which I did not catch.

"Ah! for Pepito?" said the unknown, aloud.

"Alas! yes; and I don't know how to get it conveyed to him," replied the

"Well, never despair. Here's an opportunity that Heaven sends you."

At this moment the people hastily left the galleries, and scattered
themselves hastily upon the _Plaza Mayor_. What motive had they for
leaving? The commission of a deed but too common in Mexico; an
assassination had been perpetrated on the public street. They had seized
the murderer, raised the victim, and the melancholy cortège was on its
way to the nearest prison. This place of confinement happened to be
precisely that in which the lover of the young girl was imprisoned, and
I could easily comprehend the tenor of the words of hope which my new
acquaintance had addressed to the _China_.

The procession, which was now making its way across the square, had
partly a comical, partly a mournful appearance, with an originality in
its arrangement truly Mexican. A _cargardor_ (porter) marched in front,
bearing on his shoulders, by means of a leathern belt passed round his
forehead (as all Mexican porters do), a chair, upon which was strapped a
man, or rather a corpse, wrapped in a bloody sheet. The assassin,
guarded by four soldiers, followed closely behind. Some gaping idlers,
and a few friends of the dead man, who seemed to be making a sorry
attempt to appear sad, closed the procession. Of all the individuals of
which that crowd was composed, the man most at his ease was the criminal
himself, who, with a cigar in his mouth, marched along with perfect
coolness, addressing himself every now and then to the bloody corpse,
which, to his great surprise, uttered not a word in reply. "Come, now,"
said he, "none of your waggish tricks, Panchito; you know quite well
that I can't make your wife any allowance. You are shamming death well;
but I am not to be done in that style." But Panchito was quite dead, let
the assassin say what he might, and I could feel a cold shudder creep
over me when the hideous corpse was borne close past me. Its eyes (for
the sheet did not cover the face), with a stony glitter, stared at the
sun with immovable fixity. The bull-fight amateur, who was doubtless
more accustomed to such sights, walked right up to the procession,
stopped it, and holding the letter of the _China_ out to the murderer,

"Pay attention!" said he. "Have you not some acquaintance with the
illustrious Pepito Rechifla--he who is to be garroted to-morrow?"

"Of course; I am a chum of his."

"Well, as you will, in all probability, not be executed before him, you
will see him just now in the prison. Give him this letter from me."

"Ah! Señor Cavalier," said the Mexican girl, suddenly, who, with face
bathed in tears, and a palpitating bosom, made her way through the
crowd, threw herself at the murderer's feet, and seizing the corner of
his cloak, after the ancient fashion, said, "By the blood of Christ, and
the merits of the Virgin in her seven sorrows, do not forget to give him
this letter, which contains my last farewell! I am so unhappy at not
being able to see him!"

"Yes, _Linda mia_, I will," replied the murderer, carrying his hand to
his eyes, and trying to give his voice a pathetic tone. "I have as
feeling a heart as you; and had not this d--d Panchito been always
thwarting me, I should not have been here, I swear; but keep up your
spirits, _preciosita de mi alma_."

A piece of money which the sporting character threw to the prisoner cut
short his eloquent speech; the soldiers surrounded him, and they resumed
their march to the prison. The procession soon disappeared round a
corner of the _Ayuntamiento_, while some women, with a delicacy peculiar
to Mexican females, surrounded the young _China_, but were unable to
persuade her to go home. In a short time, in spite of all their
entreaties, I saw her walk to the prison, seat herself at the foot of
its dark wall, and, veiling her face with her rebozo, remain there
immovable. My friend of the bull-fights was lost in the crowd, and I had
now a fitting opportunity for consulting the evangelist. I stepped up
to the old man, and tapped him gently on the shoulder.

"Can you tell me," said I, "where the licentiate Don Tadeo Cristobal

"Don Tadeo Cristobal, do you say? He was here a minute ago."

"Was Don Tadeo here?"

"Did you not see how obligingly he caused a message to be delivered to
the bandit Pepito Rechifla, that one of the prettiest _Chinas_ in Mexico
dictated to me?"

"What! was that man in the _sombrero_ and red cloak Don Tadeo the

"It was."

"And where shall I find him now?"

"I do not know; for, to say the truth, he has no settled abode, but
lives a little every where. If, however, you wish to consult him on
urgent business, go this very evening, between the hours of nine and
twelve o'clock, to the _Callejon del Arco_ (blind alley of the arcade);
you are sure to find him in the last house on the right as you pass the

I thanked the scribe, and, after giving him a few reals for his trouble,
directed my steps to the Callejon del Arco. Although it was scarcely
seven o'clock in the evening, I went to try to find out, before
nightfall, the house which I intended to visit two hours afterward.
Experience had taught me that such precautions were not useless in
Mexico; besides, the Callejon del Arco had long been notorious as one of
the most dangerous places in the Mexican capital.

The appearance of the alley justified but too well the reputation which
it had acquired. The dense mass of houses, of which the Merchants'
Arcades form a part, known by the name of the _Impedradillo_, does not
form one compact _cuadra_. On the southwest side of the Cathedral, a
narrow lane runs into the Impedradillo; this is the Callejon del Arco.
It is like one of those caverns which the sea sometimes hollows out in
the face of a cliff. When still blinded by the overpowering rays of the
sun with which the square is flooded, and which beat in all their
intensity on the white walls and granite pavement, the eye, at first
dazzled by the glare, sees only after a few moments another street
cutting this one at right angles, and forming with it a dark cross-road.
There, as in the caverns by the sea-shore, you can not hear the noise
without, except it be a dull, mournful hum, which resembles as much the
wail of the wind-tossed waves as the tumult of a populous city. A few
rope-spinners' shops, their massive doors fast closed, and here and
there a few dark passages, are the only signs which remind you that you
are in a city, and in the midst of inhabited houses. Water is constantly
oozing out of the walls; a perpetual moisture reigns every where; and
scarcely, even at midday, at the time of the summer solstice, does a
sunbeam visit this dismal den. A little new life then begins to stir,
till the sun has advanced into the winter solstice, when it relapses
into its former gloom and silence.

It was there, then, in one of these sinister-looking houses, that I was
to meet a man able to settle a piece of business for me from which all
the other lawyers in Mexico had recoiled. I stopped some moments to gaze
with wonder and amazement upon the situation chosen for the office of
the lawyer; but had not the episode, which I had witnessed a short time
before, already prepared me for the eccentricities of Don Tadeo? How
could I explain the easy, familiar tone which he had employed with the
wretch to whom he was consigning the message to Pepito Rechifla? How the
relations which appeared to exist between the bandit and the licentiate?
The strange intimacy of a lawyer with thieves and assassins seemed, at
first sight, not at all to be expected. The hope, however, of obtaining
a solution of this seeming enigma decided me, and I left the Callejon
del Arco with the intention of visiting it again two hours afterward.


[17] Lit., a compaternity.

[18] A kind of meat pudding, strongly seasoned with pimenta.

[19] Here's your fine duck, my jewel; come, buy, my young master.

[20] _Tamales_, made in Queretaro, a town about forty leagues from

[21] A shawl, which is sometimes used as a head-dress.

[22] A China is, in Mexico, what the manola is in Madrid, and the
grisette in Paris.


A Mexican Gambling-house.--Navaja, the Mexican Bravo.--John Pearce, the

Night had come; one of those nights in May in which Mexico, seen by
moonlight, assumes an appearance almost magical. The pale light of the
moon sheds its soft radiance upon the stained steeples of the churches
and the colored façades of the monuments. The moon here scatters her
voluptuous light over the earth in a bounteous fashion, unknown in our
northern regions. The crowd upon the Plaza Mayor was not so dense as
before sunset; it was less noisy, and more scattered. The promenaders
spoke in a low tone, as if they feared to break the silence which was
brooding over all. The light noise produced by the waving of fans, the
rustle of silk dresses, sometimes a peal of female laughter, melodious
and clear as the tone of a crystal bell, or the striking of a church
clock at a distance, alone broke the general silence. Veiled women, and
men wrapped in long cloaks, glided like shadows over the sand, that
hardly crunched beneath their tread. I saw more than one mysterious
couple, whose appearance there would probably furnish dainty food to the
scandal-loving denizens of the drawing-room. Besides young and beautiful
women, there were also those who, to use an English expression, were on
the shady side of thirty years. You could see also a considerable number
of those _doncellas chanflonas_, those beauties of easy virtue mentioned
by Perez of Guevara. I say nothing of the adventure-seekers whom you
find every where in Mexico--bullies, who wear the pavement with their
sabres and spurs. Such was the motley crowd which pushed and jostled one
another on the Plaza Mayor at the very time I was betaking myself, not
without some fear, I must say, to the Callejon del Arco.

I had hardly reached the mouth of the dark lane, when a current of cold
air, as if it had issued from a cave, struck my face, and chilled me to
the bone. I stood for some seconds at the entrance of the alley, trying
to discover some gleam of light from the windows or grated doors, but
there were no signs of life in a single house. I then advanced, groping
along in search of the house which I had discovered a short time before.
I had almost arrived at the cross-road of which I have already spoken,
when I heard a noise of footsteps behind me, and saw a man who, coming
from the square, was advancing toward me. I wished to keep on the
pavement, but my legs getting entangled in the long rapier of the
stranger in some way or other, I stumbled, and, to keep myself from
falling, grasped his cloak. The man immediately stepped back, and, by
the grazing of steel, I knew he was drawing his sword.

"_Capa de Dios!_" cried he. "Whether is it my person or my cloak you
are fancying, Sir Robber?"

I thought I knew the voice, and I hastened to reply:

"I am neither a robber nor assassin, Señor Don--"

I thought the unknown was going to assist my memory, and state his name.
He did nothing of the kind; but, putting his back to the door of a
house, he said, roughly,

"Who are you, and what do you want?"

"I am seeking for the dwelling of Don Tadeo the licentiate," I replied;
"and, if I am not greatly deceived, we are standing before it at this
very moment."

"Ah! who told you he lived here?"

"Tio Lucas, the public scribe. I wish to consult Don Tadeo on a very
important affair."

"Don Tadeo! It is he that is speaking to you just now."

The costume of this man I could not distinguish; his features were
precisely similar to the bull-fight amateur, with whose name Tio Lucas
had acquainted me. I hastened to reply to Don Tadeo, counting myself
happy in having met him, and begged a few minutes' private conversation.

"With the greatest pleasure," he replied. "I am quite ready to take up
your affair; but let us first enter the house; we can then speak more at
our ease." At the same time, he struck the pommel of his sword against
the door behind him. "My profession," added he, "obliges me to employ
many precautions. You will immediately comprehend why. Do not be
astonished at my queer domicile. You may think me an original, and may
have reason."

Don Tadeo paused, and the door of the mysterious house opened with a
great clanking of chains. The porter, with a huge lantern in his hand,
bowed respectfully to the licentiate, who motioned me to follow him. We
walked rapidly along the _zaguan_ or lobby, and, after mounting a very
steep stair, stopped before a serge curtain, surmounted by a transparent
lantern, on which was inscribed, in large letters, _Sociedad
Filarmonica_. Voices and confused cries escaped from the hall which bore
this ambitious title. "Are those your clients who are making such a
great noise, Señor Licentiate?" I inquired. Without a word, he lifted
the curtain of green serge, and we found ourselves in an immense hall,
indifferently lighted. A long table, covered with green baize, and
surrounded with players, stood in the middle of the room. Besides the
lamps which hung from the walls, the place was lighted up by four
candles stuck into tin holders. Some small tables, with refreshments,
placed at regular distances from each other, furnished the players with
infusions of tamarinds, rose water, or Barcelona brandy. At the bottom
of the hall rose a high estrade, ornamented with some size-color
paintings, representing, for the purpose, no doubt, of showing the
original design of the establishment, a confused group of bassoons,
hunting-horns, and clarionets. My surprise may be easily conceived when
I found myself in a gambling-house like this at the very time I fancied
I was stepping into a lawyer's office. I contemplated my companion as if
I were looking upon him for the first time. He was assuredly the very
man I had met in the circus and in the Merchants' Arcades. With this
strange costume, long rapier, and thick, black curly hair, his
appearance partook more of the bandit than of the lawyer. He had taken
only a few steps in the hall when he was accosted by two
individuals--worthy habituès of such a den. The first was a tall,
awkward, shambling fellow, with a ferocious air, who held out to the
licentiate a hand large as a shoulder of mutton, and said, in Spanish,
with strong English accent, "How is Señor Don Tadeo to-day?"

"Better than those to whom you wish well, Master John Pearce," replied
he, darting upon his interlocutor a look of cold disdain, which pierced
him like a sword. "You know well that your reputation here is ruined as
much as it was in Texas. Above all, since--"

"Tut!" said the American, evidently not at all desirous that the
licentiate should finish his sentence. "With your permission, I have
come to consult you."

"Immediately," replied the man of law. "I must, however, give the
preference to this gentleman, whom I met before you."

"Do me a favor; listen to me first, Señor Licentiate," cried another
personage, with squinting eyes and gray hair, dressed in the national
costume of Mexico. "I wish also to ask your advice."

"Ah! is it you, Navaja," replied Tadeo, eyeing the Mexican, who seemed
to tremble under his stern glance. "Are you going to trouble me any more
about that ugly affair?"

"Tut!" cried the Mexican in his turn. "Since it pleases you, I will take
the third place."

It was quite sufficient for Don Tadeo to remind them of these two
episodes, which doubtless did not redound to their credit, to shake
himself free of their importunities. I admired the power that gave my
companion an experience, evidently acquired at great personal risk,
among the most dangerous bravos of the Mexican brotherhood.

"Ah!" said Don Tadeo, turning at last to me, "will you now enlighten me,
Señor Cavalier, about the affair which has brought you hither? It must
be something very delicate, since only those cases are brought to me
which my brother lawyers consider insurmountable. It was doubtless one
of these lawyers who advised you to address yourself to me."

I named the licentiate who had extolled the intrepid heart and good
sword of Don Tadeo. He shook his head with a disdainful smile.

"The business in question is a dangerous one," replied he, "I can easily
see that. The man who recommended me to you is my declared enemy, and he
does not send me such jobs for nothing. Besides, perhaps I am a little
too ready to draw in the public streets after nightfall. What of it? I
am of Seville, and one hasn't passed several years of one's life among
the fighting men in the suburb of Triana for nothing."

"Are you a Spaniard?"

"Of course; and, before being a lawyer, I was what you call a go-ahead
fellow--_uracan y calavera_. You see before you a student of
Salamanca--of that beautiful city:

     "'En Salamanca, la tuna
     Anduve marzo y abril.
     Niñas he visto mas de mil
     Pero como tu, ninguna.'[23]

"I once made some songs myself, and even set them to music; and it was
in consequence of a serenade unhappily broken up, and followed by the
death of a man, that necessity compelled me to seek my fortune in New
Spain. To insure my success here, I possessed two valuable qualities,
which rarely go together--I was a thorough master of law and of fence.
You yourself can acknowledge that my old humor of sword-playing has not
yet left me; but I think, Señor Cavalier, I owe you some amends for the
unintentional insult which I lately put upon you. To tell the truth, at
that time I was just about to pass my sword through your body. Allow me
to offer you, as a slight compensation for my rudeness, some tincture of
rose water or Catalonian _refino_."

Without giving time for reply, the licentiate drew me to a table, where
we sat down. My astonishment increased as I became more acquainted with
this singular personage. It was not till after we had partaken of some
slight refreshment that Don Tadeo would consent to listen to my
business, which I told him as clearly and briefly as I could.

"Good!" said he; "you are seeking a debtor you can't find; but won't you
tell his name?"

"Ah! his name is one that touches the sympathies of your brethren very
nearly, for no one dares take up my case against him."

"Let's hear this terrible name. I am curious to know if it will have the
same effect upon me."

"I'll tell it you in a whisper. His name is Don Dionisio Peralta!"

The licentiate never moved a muscle of his face.

"How much does he owe you?"

"Four hundred piastres."

"No more," said Don Tadeo, after a moment's silence. "Let us go to the
terrace at the top of the house, where we can converse more at our
ease. But, first of all, allow me to finish the business of those two
fellows who are waiting for me. The interest even which I take in your
case obliges me to put a stop to our conversation for the present, for
the purpose of getting some indispensable information among the
frequenters of this gaming-house. All I ask of you is to manifest no
surprise if you see or hear things you don't exactly understand."

I shook hands with the licentiate. We rose and crossed to a group of
players, that had increased considerably since our private conversation
began. A crowd of spectators, two deep, surrounded the green board upon
which the piastres rolled with a most attractive clink.

The licentiate passed before his two clients, the Mexican and the
American, signing them to wait upon him, and walked up to a young man,
who, like the other spectators, was devouring the green board with
greedy look. This fellow, of a sallow and cadaverous aspect, wore an
almost brimless hat over his long, thick hair, and a well-worn
_esclavina_ on his shoulders. He was the beau ideal of a lawyer's clerk,
sorry at being unable to stake his master's fortune on a card.

"Ortiz!" said the licentiate, "have you writing materials with you?"

"Of course," the clerk replied; and he drew from his pocket a roll
containing paper, pens, and ink. The licentiate sat down by himself,
wrote a few lines, folded the paper, and passed it to his clerk, who
replied to his master's directions, given in a low voice, only by a bow
and a hurried exit. The licentiate then begged me to have patience for a
few minutes longer, till he had given his two clients their promised
consultation, and I mixed with the throng round the table. It was
certainly an extraordinary sight; adventurers of all kinds surrounded
me, reminding me strongly of the heroes in the old picaresque romances.
I was struck by a remarkably characteristic feature. The banker had on
the table by him a Catalonian knife, with an edge as keen as a razor. An
intimation which he gave the players let me into the secret of this
strange proceeding. "I warn the gentlemen now present," said he, "that
if any one affects to confound the bank with his stake, I shall nail his
hand to the table with this knife." This strange threat seemed not to
astonish or offend any one; and I concluded that the mishap provided
against by the banker had occurred more than once.

In spite of the extraordinary scenes I was witnessing, I could not help
feeling the time rather long till the licentiate drew me away from the
green board to a retired corner of the hall, where his two clients, the
tall Yankee and the squinting Mexican, were seated together at a table.
The American was just finishing a bottle of Catalonian _refino_, while
the Mexican slowly sipped some iced tamarind water.

"Well," said the licentiate, regarding me with a look full of meaning,
"here are two gentlemen who will remove your conscientious scruples
regarding the four hundred piastres you owe me, and who affirm that you
can very easily pay me by making over a similar debt due you by Señor
Peralta, who will honor his signature with the greatest grace in the

"I did not say that," cried the American, with a roar of laughter. "I
don't know if he will pay with pleasure. All I know is that he will pay,

"Softly!" interrupted Don Tadeo. "From the moment that Peralta becomes
my debtor, his life is valuable to me, and I require you to respect it."

"Señor Peralta will pay with pleasure, I uphold," said the Mexican,
softly, sipping his liquor by mouthfuls as if it burned him, while the
American emptied his glass of _refino_ at a single draught, like so much

"Make him pay, that's all I care about," said the licentiate. "But is
not that Pepito Rechifla with my clerk over there? That's capital! Ortiz
has not been long about his business."

The name of Pepito reminded me of the pretty _China_ that I had seen
with such a sad face in the Merchants' Arcades. I contemplated the man
pointed out by the licentiate with some curiosity. He was a fellow with
a sunburned complexion, shaggy, unkempt hair, and a bold, shameless
face--such a one as is met with nowhere but in the tents of the
wandering Bohemians or in the streets of Mexico. "Ah! Señor Licentiate,"
cried he, "I shall never forget that I owe my life to you. I was to be
garroted the day after to-morrow, and it was you who extricated me from
the claws of the _juez de letras_ (criminal judge). Some reals from your
purse restored me to freedom. Yes, Señor Licentiate, don't be
astonished; I know you are my savior; your clerk has told me all."

"Ortiz is a fool!" replied Don Tadeo, dryly; "but I am rejoiced at your
good fortune, for I wished to speak with you. I need your assistance.
Here's a piastre for your supper."

"Thank you. I am never hungry but when my pocket is empty. When I have a
piastre I stake it."

And the fellow hastened to the table. The Yankee and Mexican rose also,
and followed him. Don Tadeo, freed from their importunities, drew me
aside. "You see these three men," said he, with a smile. "Do you think
there is any debtor who can resist three such bailiffs--above all, when
the debt has been made over to Don Tadeo the licentiate? You understand
me, of course. When I wished the debt made over to me, my name confers
additional power in this dangerous war; but when the conflict is over,
all the advantages will be yours, less the expenses of the campaign,
which, along with the honors of victory, you will allow me to retain."

"But how will you light upon Peralta? Up to this moment I could never
get a trace of him."

"That is my concern, and that of the three precious vagabonds you saw
just now. Don Dionisio Peralta is a bad payer, but a good fence.
However, we shall see."

I then reminded Don Tadeo that he had expressed a wish to know more
about my business with him, and I offered to satisfy him in this
respect. At bottom I wished to examine more thoroughly this singular
character. Don Tadeo seemed to guess my real intention. "It is half past
ten," he replied, looking at his watch. "I am at your service till
midnight. Let us go up to the _azotea_ (terrace). There is nobody there
at this hour. The night is beautiful, and you can tell me your story
without any risk of being overheard."


[23] At Salamanca I led a very dissipated life in the months of March
and April. I saw more than a thousand women, but none so fair as you.


The Convent of the Bernardines.--The young Creole Lady.

Arrived at the terrace, we stood for some time in silent contemplation.
At our feet lay the ancient city of the Aztecs, with its domes and
spires innumerable glittering in the pale moonlight. Not far from us,
the Cathedral threw its gigantic shadow and the profile of its towers on
the _Plaza Mayor_. In the distance, the Parian[24] reared its black mass
in the midst of spaces whitened by the moon, like a dark rock surrounded
by foaming billows. Still farther off you recognized the elegant cupola
of Santa Teresa, the fine domes of the convent of St. Francisco, the
steeples of St. Augustin and the Bernardines, and behind this majestic
crenulated mass of buildings, cupolas, and colored spires, you saw the
country bathed in a white vapor, which, rising from the lakes, encircles
the city like a luminous halo.

Don Tadeo was the first to break silence by asking me some questions
about the business which had been intrusted to him. I eagerly replied,
hoping that he would soon make me some revelations about himself, which
could not fail to be interesting; but the licentiate had fallen into a
profound reverie, and I was beginning to despair of success, when the
merest accident came to my relief. This was the toll of a distant bell,
which suddenly rose, like a mysterious wail, from amid the mournful
silence. At the sound he shook his head, then put his hands over his
face, which became gradually overspread with a deadly pallor. At last he
took me by the hand, and, interrupting me in the midst of my
explanation, cried, "Don't you hear that bell?"

"Yes," I replied. "And, if I am not deceived, it is the sound of the
passing-bell in the convent of the Bernardines."

"In the convent of the Bernardines!" he repeated, in a strangely altered
tone; "in the convent of the Bernardines, do you say?"

"Assuredly. I recognize the direction of the sound; I can not be wrong."

"Let us descend immediately, for the sound drives me mad."

"Why descend? Is the light of the moon not better than those smoky lamps
in the hell we have just quitted?"

The licentiate made no reply for a long time. The bell, whose strokes
became more and more distinct, exercised upon him a kind of influence
quite inexplicable. I can not tell whether Don Tadeo remarked my
surprise, but he probably relieved his bursting heart by taking my hand,
and letting escape, in the midst of stifled sobbing, these strange

"You must listen to me. I never hear the peal of that bell without
seeing, as in a bad dream, the saddest event in my life rise before my
eyes. Nothing in me will more excite your astonishment when you are
acquainted with the horrible occurrence of which that bell reminds me."

I made him aware, by signs, that I was ready to listen to him. This is
the story he told me, with a coolness that I could hardly have
expected, from the sad introduction with which it was prefaced.

"In the year 1825, that is, ten years ago, an attempt at assassination
was made in the streets of Mexico. This is, unhappily, such an every-day
affair in the capital of Mexico, that the public mind would not have
been called to it had it not been accompanied by some strange
circumstances. These were so strange, that, instead of being briefly
narrated in the last column of the journals, as is commonly the case, it
figured among the events, more or less important, which have the
privilege of engaging the attention of the idle inhabitants of Mexico
for more than a week. A singular mystery, in fact, hung over this
attempt at murder. Early in the morning, when the Paseo of Bucareli is
quite solitary, a hackney-coach was seen standing in a retired part of
the promenade. The coachman had descended from his box, and was standing
prudently aside, as if he guessed the meaning of this early drive. Was
it a man or a woman whom this coach of _providence_ (you know that is
the name given to the hackney-coaches in Mexico) had driven to a love
appointment? The blinds, carefully drawn down, left every thing to
conjecture; but it transpired afterward that a young female of dazzling
beauty was in it, who, prompted by female vanity, was richly adorned
with jewels for this occasion. The Creoles, you know, have a strange
fancy for appearing to be as rich as they are beautiful; however,
although that was the case with this young lady, she was still more
beautiful than rich. A few minutes passed, when a man enveloped in a
large cloak approached the vehicle. The coachman opened the door of the
carriage, and the stranger sprang in precipitately. A meeting of this
kind was too much in the Mexican fashion to astonish the coachman, who
stretched himself upon the grass under the poplars, and fell into a deep
sleep. When he awoke the carriage was still in the same place, only the
shadows of the poplars, instead of leaning to the west, as at the time
when he fell asleep, were stretching toward the east, as much as to say
that the sun had nearly set, and the evening was succeeding the morning.
This is the time when the Paseo is most thronged with promenaders. The
coachman was astonished at having slept so long; he ran to the carriage,
called aloud, and, not receiving any answer, opened the door. A horrible
spectacle met his eyes. Upon the cushions lay the young lady in a swoon,
the cause of which was sufficiently explained by the blood with which
the carriage was flooded. The blood flowed from a large wound, struck by
the unerring hand of a skillful practitioner; and this wound, at its
first appearance, seemed mortal. Of all the diamonds which sparkled on
her neck and dangled from her ears, not one remained. The unhappy female
had thus found an assassin instead of a lover, and theft was followed by
an attempt at murder. The cries of the coachman were not long in drawing
a crowd, among which was luckily a surgeon, who maintained that the lady
was still alive. He got her conveyed to the nearest convent, which
happened to be that of the Bernardines. The first duty of humanity
fulfilled, justice commenced its task; but while the physicians were
restoring her to health, the efforts of the ministers of justice were
not crowned with a like success. The coachman was first arrested; but he
was soon released, having proved his perfect innocence. A young
Spaniard, whose attentions to the fair Creole had been very marked for a
long time, was then apprehended. He learned at one and the same time
both the infidelity and death of her whom he wished to become his wife.
This was a terrible stroke." Here Don Tadeo's voice evidently broke, and
he seemed as if he had lost his senses. "At the end of a year,"
continued the licentiate, "the Spaniard was released for want of proof;
but he left the prison ruined by law expenses, and with a heart dead to
all his former dear illusions. He then learned that she who had deceived
him, and whom he had bewailed as dead, was still alive, but that she had
renounced the world, and taken the veil in that convent to which she had
been carried after the unhappy incident in the Paseo. He never attempted
to see her; but all his efforts, all his thoughts were directed to one
sole end--vengeance! Mexican justice had been unable to discover the
assassin. He set on foot inquiries himself, and succeeded, although the
judges declared that success was impossible."

The licentiate here paused; the bell was still tolling, and I began to
understand the emotions these melancholy sounds awoke in his bosom.

"This Spaniard, you have guessed already, I dare say, was myself. A
letter had been found on the young Creole's person, inviting her to that
private interview which had nearly terminated in her death. This was the
only clew I had to guide me in the intricate labyrinth where Mexican
justice had been at fault. Since then commenced a dark and uneasy period
of my life, which death can alone put an end to. I condescended to live
among thieves and murderers in the hope of unraveling, by their
revelations, that secret which entirely absorbed me. Under color of
exercising my profession, I mixed myself up in all those cases which
would give me an opportunity of interrogating malefactors, and of
penetrating into their haunts and places of amusement. Since then, not a
single crime has been committed in Mexico whose perpetrator I could not
hand over to justice. The most secret societies of criminals are well
known to me in all their most intimate workings. You may perhaps have
heard of that band of _ensebados_ who for a whole year kept the Mexican
capital in continual alarm. The _ensebados_ were men who, after
besmearing their naked bodies with grease or oil, threw themselves upon
the benighted pedestrian and robbed him, and, in the event of
resistance, plunged a dagger into his body. Only one of the bandits, as
slippery as an eel, escaped from the soldiers who had managed to hunt
down all the rest. Well, he was their chief. I know him; and even now I
could put my hand on him, if I chose. This is not the only singular
discovery I made. I could mention a thousand. Thanks to the perilous and
watchful life I have led, I acquired an experience which soon made me of
incalculable benefit to the miserable cutthroats with whose singular
antecedents I had thus become acquainted. Often, for days together, has
my life been in danger, and more than one wretch has tried to stab me as
a spy; but the services which my knowledge of the law rendered to many
of the rest proved my protection. Now, I am not a little proud of the
influence which I exercise over the most redoubtable robbers in Mexico,
and you see that I have under my orders an army willing to assist honest
people who stand in need of my assistance."

"Mine is a case in point," I replied, "and I am glad that I fell in with
you; but you have not informed me whether you were successful in
finding the assassin of the Paseo of Bucareli."

"I was completely successful. I was lucky enough to fall in with the
public scribe who had been employed to write those fatal lines which had
enticed my mistress to the Paseo. The evangelist knew the wretch, and he
set me on his track. I found him out. I had but to denounce him, and
justice would have pounced upon him; but this would have defeated the
object to which I had devoted my life. I did not betray him, therefore.
Many years had rolled away since the attempt; and, during that time, on
account of my intercourse with such characters, I had learned more to
pity than hate them. Nay, I often employ them to do certain pieces of
business for me, which Mexican justice gives up as impossible. The
assassin is still a useful instrument for me; one, too, that I can crush
at a word, but whom I prefer employing in the service of my numerous

Another pause. The toll of the bell was still heard. "I never saw my
beloved again, who is now in a convent," continued Don Tadeo; "but I
learned from a sure quarter that she has been long in a deep
consumption. You will now understand why the bell-peal of the
Bernardines made me shudder."

I was trying to persuade Don Tadeo to descend, that he might no longer
hear the dismal toll of the passing-bell, when the trap-door of the
_azotea_ creaked lightly on its hinges, and the squint-eyed Mexican,
called Navaja, glided rather than walked toward us. He was pale with
fright, and looked uneasily behind him.

"He is the devil in person!" cried he, leaning to take breath against
the railing of the _azotea_.

"Whom do you mean?" asked the licentiate.

"The American. He is just about finishing his third bottle of _refino_,
and is shouting in a loud voice what he calls his war-song. He is a
ferocious Indian, with a white man's skin. He is recounting all the hair
he has raised, all the murders he has committed. And, would you believe
it, he claims my scalp as an addition to his treasures. I tell you
again, he is a devil."

"What a saint you have become all at once!" said the licentiate, who
again began to fling his sarcasms at the Mexican. "How long is it since
you began to hate the smell of blood?"

The gayety of Don Tadeo was terrible to behold. This question of the
licentiate's raised a hatred in his mind, fierce and implacable as the
tiger's. Don Tadeo did not seem to take any notice of the impression he
was producing, but, on the contrary, to delight in irritating the
wretch, who foamed with anger under his cold, biting sarcasm. An
allusion to the criminal attempt on the Paseo suddenly enlightened me as
to this keen, bitter irony. Before me stood the man on whom the
licentiate could take vengeance if he chose, at whose mercy he lived,
and who had treacherously attempted the life of the unhappy female for
whom the passing-bell was perhaps tolling at this very moment. "Does the
peal of the Bernardines remind you of nothing?" said Don Tadeo; but this
last sally deprived the Mexican of all patience, and, instead of
replying, he bounded forward to snatch the licentiate's rapier, but with
a vigorous thrust of the arm he was hurled violently to the ground.

"Come, now," cried the licentiate, "you forget the crime you committed.
I forgive you, miscreant; but out of this, instantly."

The Mexican, stunned and stupefied, did not wait for a repetition of
the order, but shuffled off precipitately. I could not help
complimenting Don Tadeo on his coolness and courage. "What of that?" he
said, with a melancholy smile. "You know the university in which I took
my degree. I value my life only at its true worth. Let us go below. I
understand your case thoroughly; and, before many days are passed, I
hope to have some good news for you."

We went down, and soon reached the great square upon which the Callejon
del Arco opens. There we separated, the licentiate repairing to his
abode, and I to mine, by the street Monterilla. "We shall meet again
soon," said Don Tadeo to me on bidding me good-night. "I hope so," I
replied, although I did not partake so heartily in that belief as did
the intrepid lawyer. I could not help comparing Don Tadeo in my own mind
with those wild-beast tamers, who often astonish us by their deeds of
courage and address, but whose least false step may transform them from
masters to victims.


[24] An old bazar, not unlike the Temple-market in Paris.


Manner of taking Possession in Mexico.--Tragical End of the Assassin of
the Paseo.

A month passed away without Don Tadeo giving any signs of life. At last
a note, that he had sent me by his clerk Ortiz, explained the reason of
his long delay. There were two causes that hindered my case from being
proceeded with according to his customary activity. "One of these you
may probably guess," he said. "The passing-bell that we heard tolling
was for _her_! After the first burst of grief I was about to take up
your case, when I received a dagger-stab from an invisible hand, the
effects of which forced me to keep my bed for a considerable time.
However, I am happy to be able to announce to you that your case is now
progressing favorably. I succeeded in discovering, not without some
trouble, the abode of Dionisio Peralta, and have set upon his traces the
three knaves whom you saw the other night. Good-by; take no step without
consulting me, and in a short time you will receive more satisfactory

Eight days had scarcely elapsed when I received another note from the
licentiate. This letter contained a detailed account of the campaign
which he had conducted against Dionisio Peralto, and its happy
termination. Pepito Rechifla, John Pearce the Yankee, and Navaja the
Mexican, went, one after the other, to the house of Dionisio Peralta,
claiming, as they said, the recovery of a debt with which they had been
intrusted by their friend the licentiate, Don Tadeo. Dionisio Peralta,
in spite of his gentlemanly airs, was, to speak the truth, a knave of
their own stamp, and received them at first with all the arrogance of a
bully; but the significant threats of the three ruffians soon brought
him to terms. Peralta knew but too well the character of the men with
whom he had to deal, and the influence of the licentiate, who directed
these bullies, rendered the odds decidedly against him. He at last ended
by proposing a compromise, which the licentiate had been constrained to
accept. Peralta had a small villa in the little village of Tacuba, about
a league from Mexico, the value of which was almost equal to the amount
of the debt. He consented, in lieu of payment, to deliver up this house
to Don Tadeo, who had taken possession of it from the very first. There
remained nothing now to wind up the affair but to receive the house from
the hands of its new owner. Don Tadeo invited me to wait upon him the
following day. We proposed to go together to the domain of my old
debtor, of whose property he would install me as rightful owner.

Next day we set out together on horseback for the village of Tacuba. I
was somewhat curious to see my new property, and, above all, to witness
the ceremonies which, in Mexico, ordinarily accompany the act of taking
possession. On the road I congratulated the licentiate on the lucky star
which seemed to favor him, and that had on a recent occasion saved his
life a second time. I expressed at the same time my regret that perhaps
he had drawn upon himself the vengeance of Dionisio Peralto; but he
replied that I was wrong in my supposition, and that, to all appearance,
the man who had attempted his life was no other than the same wretch who
had assaulted the Creole lady in the Paseo of Bucareli. "Be that as it
may," he added, "my suspicions of Navaja have not hindered me from
employing him in this business of yours, in which his zeal has been very
conspicuous. Men of this class, when not in their cups or in a sullen
mood, are blindly obedient to the person who has made them feel his
superiority. In a letter which Peralto wrote me, announcing his
acceptance of my terms, I read without regret the terrible menaces which
he launched against this ruffian, whom I strongly suspect to have
attempted my life, and who has shown himself the most active of the
three in pursuit of your debtor. Peralta is hardly a man that will
threaten in vain, and I fear his vengeance will follow quickly."

In conversation like this, we soon left the town behind us and got into
the country, if the desert and arid plains that we crossed at full
gallop could be so termed. The heat was stifling, and a deep silence lay
around. All at once a horse's hoof broke the stillness, and we were
joined by a cavalier, in whom I could hardly have recognized Pepito
Rechifla. The ruffian had attired himself with some degree of elegance;
he wore a blue manga lined with yellow cotton, and his horse's
equipments were of a character thoroughly Mexican. He saluted us with an
air at once courtly and patronizing. "You will pardon me," he said,
"Señor Licentiate, if I take the liberty of traveling in your company;
but, aware of your intention to take a short ride to-day, I thought you
would not be the worse of having an additional companion. This road does
not bear a very good character;" and, casting an expressive look at the
arm which the lawyer carried in a sling, he added, "it is not always
prudent to run into dangers at a distance from home. I am, however,
pretty sure that we shall not need to draw upon any body to-day."

Having finished this last sentence with a drawling affectedness, Pepito
whispered into the ear of the licentiate some words which I could not
make out. I only remarked that he pointed out to Don Tadeo a group of
hillocks on our left, over which hovered a flock of great black
vultures. Without replying to Pepito, the licentiate stopped his horse a
moment, and looked in a different direction. His face had a painful
expression in it. He then signed to us to continue our route, spurred
his horse vigorously, and a few minutes after we clattered through the
streets of the village in which my new property was situated.

The house which Don Tadeo had gained (for he had at first taken
possession in his own name) was situated at the extremity of the
village. Crowds of villagers, who had assembled to share in the
largesses which are usually distributed on an occasion of this kind,
stood before the house, and assisted us in recognizing it. It was a
little building of a very sorry appearance, with a small porch before
the door, supported by brick pillars. Numerous cracks furrowed the walls
in every direction, clearly indicating a sad state of disrepair. Behind
the house was a garden choked with weeds, surrounded by a wall thickly
covered with moss, and crowned with pellitories. The porter, whom the
licentiate had put in charge of the house, opened the door. "You are in
your own house," said Don Tadeo to me. We entered. The interior of the
house was as desolate as the exterior. The ceilings were gaping with
chinks, the disjointed boards in the stairs creaked sadly under foot,
and the garden was nothing more than a collection of sentern, nettles,
and thistles, in the midst of which rose some sickly-looking
fruit-trees. This wretched house and garden, however, were almost equal
to the debt, and that was sufficient; the more in the case of such a
debtor as Peralta was, with whom one could not be too exacting.

After visiting the ground floor and the garden, we went up stairs. The
room which we first entered seemed to have been a dining-room, and had
not been entered for many years, if one could judge from the musty smell
which pervaded the apartment. We hastened to let in the air and light by
opening the strongly-barred window-shutters. A collection of spiders'
webs, thickly matted together, covered the entire ceiling. We looked
into the presses, but they were all empty; one only contained a large
dusty tome, in an antique binding, which the licentiate put under his
cloak after hurriedly glancing over its contents. Our inspection was
over. "Let us call the witnesses," said Don Tadeo to Pepito, whom we
have constituted upon this solemn occasion master of the ceremonies. The
lépero, magnificently dressed in his blue manga, advanced to the
casement, and made a short speech to the worthy people in rags, who were
collected in groups beneath the windows. The eloquence of Pepito had the
desired effect, and a few minutes afterward the court was filled with a
far greater number of witnesses than the law required. I had never seen
such a rich collection of gallows-birds. Preceded by Pepito, we
descended into the court, and thence into the garden, followed by the
crowd. "Señores," cried Pepito, in a loud voice, "you are witnesses
that, in the name of the law, his lordship here present," and Pepito
pointed to me, "takes regular possession of this estate. _Dios y
Libertad!_" Don Tadeo then came forward. By his instructions I first
plucked a handful of grass and threw it over my head, and then pitched a
stone over the garden wall. These, by the terms of the Mexican law, are
the ceremonies which accompany the act of taking possession. A general
hurrah now burst from the throats of the respectable company assembled
in the garden. All that now remained, according to national usage, was
to present some gratuity to the dirty ruffians who had crawled from
every corner of the village to wish me joy of my new possession. I gave
them a few piastres to drink, and, headed by Pepito, they went to spend
them in the neighboring cabaret.

"Well," said the licentiate to me, when we were alone, "you see you have
got payment of your debt. What do you think of my plan for making
stubborn debtors pay?"

"I fear, Don Tadeo, that you are playing a very dangerous game for
yourself; and, if you would take my advice, you would give up business
immediately as redresser of wrongs, as I think the losses exceed the

"You see, however, that I am fortunate in my enterprises. Never mind.
But as I may prematurely receive a dagger-thrust some day or other, I
would like you to keep some remembrance of me. Here is a book which was
not comprised in the inventory of the house. It is an old work, and not
without its value."

"Thank you," said I to the licentiate, taking the dusty tome. "The story
that you told me on the _azotea_ of the house in the Callejon del Arco
will ever live in my recollection. One can not easily forget such
revelations; and I was very fortunate indeed in listening to such a
romantic history."

The time had now come when we must return to Mexico. Without waiting for
Pepito, who would probably finish the day at a wine-shop, we pushed
along. The heat was as insupportable as before. The flock of vultures
that Pepito had pointed out to Don Tadeo had evidently increased, and a
fetid odor was wafted by the wind in our direction from the little
mounds above which the birds were fluttering. The licentiate drew up

"If you are curious to read the last page of the history of which we
were just talking," said he, "go over to these hillocks; but I fear your
nerves are not strong enough."

"And what shall I see among these rocks?"

"A corpse; you observe that at this very moment the birds are pecking
at it. One of the three ruffians whom I employed to recover your debt
has paid for all the others. God is just! The man who fell under the
dagger of Peralta was the perpetrator of the outrage on the Paseo of
Bucareli. The romance is now complete, is it not?"

"Assuredly; and the sight of the vultures will add to the impression
your story has made upon me."

"Come," said the licentiate, spurring his horse, "I see you are getting
nervous. To town, then."

We parted on the Plaza Mayor in the hope of seeing one another again,
but fortune decreed otherwise; and a few weeks after my installation in
Peralta's house I quitted Mexico.

During my absence the gambling-house in the Callejon was closed. On my
return, Tio Lucas informed me that the licentiate had returned to Spain.
Since that time I have made many ineffectual attempts to procure some
information about him. The only souvenir that was left me of this
extraordinary man is the manuscript of Alonso Urbano, now in the
National Library at Paris.

Remigio Vasquez.


There is one peculiar charm in the towns of Mexico, and that is the
perfect straightness of the streets, along which the eye wanders till
the point of sight terminates in the blue hills of the country. In
Mexico especially I was never tired gazing upon the mountains which
bound the horizon upon all sides. On the east I seemed to hear the
murmur of the Pacific, and on the west the hoarse roar of the Atlantic
sounding from behind these mountains. The first of these oceans reminded
me of one of the most adventurous epochs of my life; and I never could
forget that the second washed the shores of my native country. I never
looked in that direction without feeling a kind of regret and sadness,
which often merged into feverish anxiety. In this state of mind, I
grasped at every thing which could afford me a pretext for quitting
Mexico. I hastened to shake off the sluggishness which began to weigh
upon me, and to abandon myself anew to the dangers and emotions of a
wandering life--a sure remedy against home-sickness.

One evening, on reaching home, I learned that a stranger had called
during my absence. The unknown had said that his business with me
related to a matter of life and death; but, when asked to leave his
name, had obstinately refused to give it. He happened to say, however,
that he was living at an inn, the _Meson de Regina_, and had gone away
expressing great annoyance at not finding me, and promising to return
the next day. The strange air of the visitor, the numerous questions he
put, the care that he evidently took not to allow his face to be seen by
arranging the folds of his blue manga over it, and the large hat which
shaded his eyes, combined to give to this visit a mysterious character,
which acted very strongly on my imagination. When alone in my chamber, I
called to recollection every one whom it might possibly be, but in vain,
and I waited anxiously for the next day, which might probably unriddle
the enigma; but the morning passed, the day advanced, and the unknown
had not made his appearance. I resolved to go to the Meson de Regina;
and, having got a description of the stranger, set out for the inn.

Although situated in one of the most central streets in Mexico, the
Meson de Regina is only distinguished from other inns on less frequented
roads by the greater number of travelers who are always coming and
going. There is the same range of stabling, the same barrenness of
furniture, the same absence of every comfort. I called for the
_huesped_. In any other country it would have been an easy thing to find
out the name of the unknown, whose costume I could describe to the most
minute details, but it is very different in a Mexican hotel.

"Do you fancy," said the huesped to me, "that it is my business to ask
the names of those who frequent my house? I have something else to think
of, I assure you; but as for the person you are inquiring after, he set
out, not half an hour ago, for Cuantitlan, as his servant, who
accompanied him, informed me, and, if you are a swift horseman, you may
overtake him, if you are so very desirous to know his name."

"What was the color of their horses?"

"Iron-gray and peach-blossom."

A ride of some hours before dinner could not but be salutary. Before
setting out in pursuit of the stranger, I went home in order to ask some
more questions of Cecilio, my valet, about my visitant. This lad had
been already several years in my service, and his round chubby face,
with an air at once hypocritical and simple, reminded me strongly of
Ambrosio of Lamela in Gil Blas. As I expected, he gave me a very
unsatisfactory description of the unknown. I then disclosed to Cecilio
my intention of setting out immediately for Cuantitlan, ordering him at
the same time to saddle our horses with all speed. Cecilio tried to
convince me that, in an affair of so delicate a nature, it were best if
I went alone, but I reiterated my order, and he left the room to execute
my commands. As I was going to travel in the country, I donned my
Mexican costume, and went down into the court in all haste. I remarked,
without surprise, that my _serape_ had been attached to the back of my
saddle. My pistols were in their holsters; and I also carried a lance
with a scarlet pennon, heavily shod with iron, which I was accustomed,
when traveling, to have fixed to my right stirrup. A sabre hung from
Cecilio's saddle-bow, and a tolerably well-packed valise was fixed to
the croup of his horse. I asked him why he was making such preparations,
as we were only going out for a short ride; but his only answer was,
that the environs of Mexico were infested by robbers.

We set out. The travelers we were in pursuit of could not be more than
an hour in advance of us, and the unusual color of their horses would
aid us in tracking them easily. I flattered myself that if we pushed on
we could overtake them without difficulty in two hours, and if that were
beyond our power, a couple of fresh horses would not take long to cover
the six leagues between Mexico and Cuantitlan. I thus set out with the
intention of returning before sunset. The difference of speed, however,
between my horse and that of my servant, forced me to slacken my pace.
Two hours had already rolled away without catching the slightest glimpse
of the man I was in quest of, and the spire of Cuantitlan had not even
come in sight. I almost feared that the inn-keeper had sent us the wrong
road, when some muleteers, returning to Mexico, told me that they had
met two horsemen, one mounted on an iron-gray, the other on a
peach-blossom. We reached Cuantitlan in a short time, and I was directed
to the hostelry where the two horsemen had stopped. I had not been long
in coming hither, and was at last soon to know what I was burning to
learn. I went to the inn which had been pointed out to me, and my foot
had no sooner reached the ground than I began questioning the huesped
with the air of one who is sure of finding what he wants.

"Are your horses tired?" said the host, when I had finished.


"Well, that's something, for the travelers only entered my house for
refreshment and then left, and it will be fresh horses alone that can
overtake them."

And the host, who interested himself as much, if that could be, with the
horsemen that passed his house as with those that lived within it,
turned his back upon me with the politeness peculiar to his class. I
vaulted again into my saddle. A quarter of an hour more, thought I,
would explain to me a certain defiant raillery which Cecilio had taken
little pains to suppress. To my great mortification, however, the time
rolled away; night was coming on, and the shades of evening were falling
insensibly around. Night at last fell; and I would have given up this
long-protracted chase, had not wounded self-esteem goaded me as much as
curiosity. A solemn silence brooded over the road we were pursuing.
Sometimes I stopped, fancying I heard before me the stamp of horses'
feet, and then redoubled my pace with ardor, till the unbroken stillness
which reigned around showed that I had been under a delusion. Still, the
certainty of being on the traces of the unknown kept up my spirits, for,
from Mexico to the place where we now were, not even a bridle-path
joined our road. All the probabilities were in my favor. However, after
a six hours' ride we required rest, and a twelve leagues' gallop
rendered a halt necessary for our horses. It was, besides, time to set
about looking for a place to put up, for in Mexico there are two
requisites for getting into an inn; the first is, that the inn please
the travelers; and the second, that the hour and the travelers please
the inn-keeper. Luckily, I was not long in discovering a light in a
cabin standing by itself, toward which we spurred our horses. Our host
informed us that two horsemen had passed his house about half an hour
before we came up, but the night was so dark that he could not
distinguish the color of their horses. As he was sure that they must
stop a short way off to pass the night, we decided to stay where we were
till dawn, hoping to overtake them on the following morning. I
considered that if we were off before sunrise we could easily make up
for lost time. Unfortunately, Cecilio did not rise next morning till
late, and the sun was high in the heavens ere we found ourselves on the
road. I had, however, gone too far to recede, and, besides, I had now a
definite aim to pursue. Cecilio did not view the case in the same light
as myself, and it was with a slight feeling of despair that every now
and then he informed me of the number of leagues we had traveled since
we left Mexico. But, though seen by so many people, the travelers seemed
to slip from me as if by magic at the very moment I was flattering
myself that I had overtaken them. I had already passed through the rocky
defile of the Cañada, and had left behind me the hacienda of St.
Francisco. During my journey I had inquired at every _rancho_, and at
all the ordinary halting-places, and every one concurred in saying that
two mounted travelers, one on an iron-gray, the other on a
peach-blossom, could be only a short distance in advance.

"These two travelers are surely a brace of devils," said Cecilio, sadly,
"or two great criminals at least, as they seem to stop to rest nowhere."

Without replying, I continued my route, for I did not wish to have the
worst in this contest, and a kind of phrensy began to take the place of
my former curiosity. For the second time since leaving Mexico the sun
set behind the hills that lay before us, and still there was no hope of
attaining the object of our journey. Our horses, jaded by a ride of
twenty hours, were beginning to be fatigued; and it was with a lively
satisfaction that I perceived, by the last gleams of departing day, the
red walls of the _hacienda_ of Arroyo Zarco.


The Hacienda of Arroyo Zarco.--The young Mexican Lady.--The young
Spanish Nobleman.--Don Tomas Verdugo.

The hacienda of Arroyo Zarco is a vast and imposing building, built
partly of brick and partly of large stones, situated almost at the
entrance to the extensive and fertile plains of Bajio. The place,
however, where this hacienda rises, is far from presenting the smiling
appearance which characterizes the basin bearing its name. It stands on
a flat, barren plain, where grow a few melancholy-looking stunted trees,
one or two of which shade the back walls of the building: a little brook
of bluish-looking water, the fountain-head of which is not far off,
gives the name of Arroyo Zarco (blue rivulet) to the hacienda. A large
square court, ornamented on its four sides with stone arches like the
cloisters of a convent, forms a kind of vestibule to the apartments of
the family. The rooms devoted to travelers are under these galleries.
Stables, large enough to contain with ease a whole regiment of cavalry,
make up two or three other courts. It was the only place at which I
could put up within six leagues, and here I hoped to find the travelers
I was in quest of, provided I had not taken the wrong road.

"We have come thirty-two leagues since yesterday," said Cecilio, taking
my bridle, with a sigh, "and if your lordship persist in continuing the
pursuit, perhaps it will only be prudent and advisable if I return to
Mexico to dissipate the uneasiness that will probably arise there on
your account."

"The duty of a good servant is to accompany his master every where," was
my reply; and, going up to the stable-boy, I began to put some questions
to him regarding the travelers who had arrived before us. From him I
learned that about forty travelers had stopped at the hacienda in the
afternoon, and, for want of better information, I was obliged to content
myself by a personal inspection of the stables. I ought to have gone
there at first without making any inquiries; and, as there was still
some daylight, I directed my steps to the courts. A great number of
horses were munching their provender in their stalls, and, from the
joyful eagerness with which they ate, I could see that they had come a
long distance; but I could hardly contain myself for joy when I
distinguished side by side, like two faithful companions, the iron-gray
and the peach-blossom. This was but the beginning of success; for, to
complete the discovery, I must examine nearly sixty travelers, for there
was almost that number of horses in the stables. This, to speak the
truth, was almost impracticable--dangerous, perhaps, in one respect, and
ridiculous in another.

As I was going along the lobby which led to my room, where I intended to
rest a short time previous to resuming the pursuit, a coach, drawn by
eight mules, and escorted by three horsemen armed with muskets and
sabres, came rattling into the court-yard. The arrival of a carriage at
a Mexican inn is always an event of some importance; it bespeaks
travelers of distinction, or, better still, the presence of females,
whom, though they may not perhaps be young, the excitement of travel
invests with a thousand illusory charms. While the three horsemen who
formed the escort, and the two coachmen who conducted the team, were
wrangling with the huesped, the court all the time filled with strange
figures, one of the horsemen alighted and advanced respectfully to open
the carriage door. A man of a certain age descended first, a younger
person followed, and, before any one had time to offer her their hand, a
young lady hurried out after them. She wore a costume adopted by several
rich _rancheras_ when traveling, an attire which suits equally well the
carriage or the side-saddle. She carried in her hand a hat with a broad
brim; and her manga, richly ornamented with silk velvet and gold lace,
could not hide entirely her fine flexible figure, and bare, sunburned
arms. Her uncovered head left exposed her beautiful black hair; and her
eyes, as black, and not less brilliant, gazed around in the free bold
style peculiar to Mexican women. She seemed evidently seeking for some
one in the group that surrounded her; but when she saw the unknown faces
which greeted her, she veiled them modestly under her eyelids.

Night came on, and the young lady had retired to one of the chambers of
the hacienda when another traveler entered the court-yard. The new-comer
was a young man, evidently about five or six-and-twenty, tall and well
made. Though poorly clad, his dress was unstudiously elegant, and a fine
black mustache heightened the dignity of his appearance. The predominant
expression of his countenance was at once haughty and sad, but his face
was remarkable at times for a singularly winning sweetness. A little
mandolin hung round his neck, and at the pommel of his saddle dangled an
old rusty rapier. The lean and somewhat scraggy horse he rode was
followed by another ready saddled and bridled. I could not help feeling
a touch of pity for this poor young man with the melancholy face. The
famine-stricken appearance of both horses and master, showed but too
well the hardships which they had endured in common--long journeys
executed upon little or no food, and entire days passed probably without
sustenance of any kind. Like the other travelers, the cavalier called
the huesped; but, instead of addressing him in a loud voice, he stooped
from his saddle and whispered in his ear. The huesped, in reply, shook
his head; a cloud passed over the face of the unknown, he colored
slightly, looked sorrowfully at the unharnessed carriage, twitched his
bridle, and left the hacienda.

It was now time for me, however, to look after my own business. The joy
of Cecilio, when he found that the two horses of our travelers were in
the stables of the inn, was changed into despair when I communicated to
him my orders. As I could not interrogate sixty travelers, I ordered him
to saddle our horses at midnight, and station himself along with me in
the court-yard near the gate. In this way not a single traveler could
leave the place at any hour of the night without my knowledge. This
point arranged, I left Cecilio plunged in melancholy reflection at the
prospect of a night to be passed in the open air, and hastened to the
kitchen, which, according to the custom of the country, served also for
a dining-room.

In this vast hall, travelers of every kind--traders, military men,
_arrieros_, and servants, were seated round a number of tables placed
near the fire. I sat down like the rest, and, during the whole time of
my meal, kept my ears open to catch the conversation that was going on.
I did not, however, pay much attention to it, as it consisted only of
stories of robbers, storms, impassable torrents--favorite topics of
conversation with all travelers. Weary at last of listening to a series
of questions and answers in which there was nothing interesting, I asked
the landlady, in a loud voice, about the two horses, the colors of which
I mentioned, that were then in the stable. I was more fortunate at first
than I hoped. I learned that one of the individuals was the Señor Don
Tomas Verdugo, who had arrived about an hour before me; but, being
pressed for time, he only waited till he got a relay of horses, and then
departed, leaving at the hacienda the two horses he had brought with him
till his next arrival.

"Although it seems strange that you can have any business with him,"
added the landlady, "I know that he will stay two days at Celayo, and
you will find him at the _Meson de Guadalupe_, where he is accustomed to
put up."

I was very anxious to elicit some more information, but the wary hostess
kept herself very reserved, and I quitted the kitchen very much
disappointed to learn that I had still a forty leagues' ride before
meeting my mysterious visitor, but delighted to find that I knew his
name, and had a certain aim to pursue. After countermanding my order to
Cecilio, as it was not late--and sleep is a long time in visiting a
stony couch, especially when one is very much fatigued--I went and sat
down at the outer gate of the hacienda, a few paces from the high road.

The country round lay as still and silent as if it had been midnight,
and the moon shone brightly overhead. In the horizon the hills began to
put on their nocturnal russet. Upon the whitened plain, the moisture
from the earth, condensed by the coldness of the night, looked in the
distance like a tranquil lake, and from among the vapor towered aloft
some aloes which grow upon this rocky soil. In this mournful solitude,
in an inhospitable country, where a thousand dangers surround the
traveler, especially when he is a foreigner, my present enterprise
appeared for the first time in its true light--a perilous folly. For the
first time, also, since my departure from Mexico, my heart failed me,
and I was almost on the point of retracing my steps, when, as I was
taking, as I fancied, a last look at the scene, I thought I heard, amid
the stillness of the night, the distant sounds of a guitar. This came,
probably, from a party of muleteers who had bivouacked at some distance,
or some groom who was playing to his fellows in one of the inn stables.
Without stirring, I listened to the strains broken by the distance, when
gradually, out of the stillness, a vocal accompaniment stole along on
the night air. Owing to the profound silence that prevailed, I easily
made out the words of the song; it was a Spanish _Romancero_; but the
musician, through some odd fancy, had accompanied it with a refrain,
consisting of some by-words very much in use among the Mexican people.
This singularity raised in me a desire to see the player. At a short
distance from the hacienda, and at the foot of a low hill which
overtopped it, I observed the flickering light of a fire. One side of
the singer's face was brightly illuminated by the blaze, and near him,
two horses, tied together by a long cord, were cropping the scanty grass
which grew on that stony soil. I advanced quietly, so as not to
interrupt the unknown; but the noise of my footsteps betrayed me, and
the music stopped all at once. The stranger rose hurriedly; the graze
of a sword which he was unsheathing struck my ear. The adventure was
becoming less pleasant than I had anticipated. I stopped, then advanced
again; and, by the light of the fire, I distinguished the young man whom
I had seen in the court-yard of the inn, but whom I little expected to
find again so near me.

"Who goes there?" he exclaimed in Spanish, and in a pure Castilian

"A friend!" I cried; "but put up your rapier; I am alone and unarmed."

The moon lighted up the surrounding objects so clearly that the Spaniard
was convinced that I had spoken the truth, and he returned it to its

"Pardon my indiscretion, Señor Cavalier," I said, advancing into the
illuminated circle; "I have been drawn to you, I must say, only by a
motive of curiosity. If I am not deceived, you are, like myself, a
foreigner, and, as such, almost a friend."

In spite of my politeness, the stranger's features still kept an air of
haughty defiance. He seated himself, however, and invited me, with a
wave of his hand, to do the same. I did so without ceremony.

"I am a Spaniard, it is true," answered my new companion, haughtily;
"but, throughout the whole of America, is not a Spaniard at home? It is
now my turn to ask pardon of you for deeming you a spy sent by--"

The Spaniard stopped all at once.

"By whom?" I inquired.

"You are welcome," said the unknown, without replying. He accepted a
cigar which I offered him, and we began to smoke with all the gravity
which characterizes Indian warriors round a council fire. By the light
of the moon, aided by that of the fire, I could easily see, what I had
before noticed, that the hard privations which the Spaniard had endured
had left ineffaceable traces of mental suffering on his brow, but
without altering in the least his noble physiognomy.

"Did you compose those verses yourself," I asked, "which I have so
indiscreetly interrupted, and whose originality has struck me so much?"

"No; I only adapted them to an air of my own composition for an affair
which it would be too tedious to relate to you."

There was evidently an attempt at concealment in this reply, which
whetted my curiosity. I resolved to make a confidant of the young
Spaniard by telling him the object of my journey, and the many checks I
had experienced since my departure from Mexico.

"Our positions are not dissimilar," said the Spaniard, when I had done.
"Like you, I am pursuing a nameless object; but thank God that you have
been saved from the dangers that I have undergone."

"Tell me about them," I said. "I like a story told in the open air--at
night above all, and in the light of a fire like this."

"Be it so," said the Spaniard. "I shall begin by telling you that I am a
Biscayan and a nobleman; not by election, like most of my Compatriots,
but descended from a long line of ancestors, who recognize Lope Chouria
as the chief of their ancient clan. My name is Don Jaime de Villalobos.
I bear another name here for common use. My mother has the first rank in
my affection, then my father, and lastly my country. You now know me,
Señor Cavalier. I am now about to tell you of the affair in which I am
at present engaged."

The slight air of superciliousness with which he began his story was
not displeasing to me; it was like a continuation of the Romancero of
which the young nobleman had been singing a verse a short time before.
He continued with more simplicity.

"Unfortunately, I was born poor, though of noble blood. More than once
during my infancy have I been awakened from sleep by the rude ice-wind
which whistled without obstruction through the ruined manor-house in
which my mother and I dwelt. As a compensation, God gave me a good
appetite, which made me forget the cold. I shot up apace; my noble birth
interdicted me from all manual labor and servile employment; and to
leave my mother, who was now growing old, and take service in the army,
was a step which was not in accordance with my inclination. However, I
could not long remain a stranger to the civil war which was then raging
in the Basque Provinces. Don Carlos, you are perhaps aware, often forgot
to pay his officers and soldiers, and all that I gained in his service
was the honor of being a creditor of his noble highness. Returning to my
maternal abode, I was grieved to find it more dilapidated than ever, and
to feel still more the anguish which rent my mother's heart, for I saw
her sinking day after day under the double burden of old age and
poverty. One evening a peddler came and demanded hospitality of us, and
as he only asked for shelter, we granted it. His wandering life had
enabled him to pick up all sorts of news, and I learned from him that
one of our neighbors had made a wealthy marriage in New Spain.

"'What a capital thing it would be,' said he, 'if a young nobleman like
you could be so lucky in that land of gold and silver, where the
ambition of all the women is summed up in the couplet,

     "'Canrisas de Britaña,[25]
     Y maridos de España.'

"In my present position a rich marriage was the only resource left me,
and I resolved to go to the New World and seek my fortune. I
communicated my hopes to my mother. The payment of a debt gave me the
means of procuring a passage in a ship from Bilboa; and full of hopes of
being able to bring back a fortune to my mother, which was my only
ambition, I set sail. I arrived at Vera Cruz a year ago, and visited the
churches assiduously, the only place where the fair inhabitants delight
to show themselves, but not one deigned to give me the slightest
countenance. At night in the deserted streets I watched long, but to no
purpose, for none appeared. I knew well that if I did not announce my
presence under a window, I ran a risk of spending my nights as
fruitlessly as my days. I had then recourse to music, and purchased a
mandolin. Unluckily, though a passable musician, I was not poet enough
to compose a good serenading song, and was forced to tack on to an old
Romancero a piece of a wretched ballad that I remembered--the miserable
bit of doggerel which had incited me to quit the old manor-house. I was
engaged in singing that when you interrupted me."

The Spaniard here began to smoke with the air of a man who is resolved
to do his duty conscientiously.

"And you are not much older than a boy," said I, much surprised at the
abrupt conclusion of Don Jaime's story.

"An old maid, a sort of duenna, who had worn linen of Brittany for many
years, had no objection to me on that score. You understand my object in
coming here was to get a young, rich, and beautiful wife. Had the duenna
been rich, for my mother's sake I would have married her, but she was
neither rich nor young, and had never been pretty."

"'Tis a thousand pities," said I; "you are half a century behind, Señor
Don Jaime. Fifty years ago every chance would have been in favor of a
cavalier of your figure and appearance. Now I am afraid that time is

An almost imperceptible smile broke upon the lips of the Biscayan, but I
could not guess whether it was caused by the compliment I had paid him,
or pity for the incredulity I had manifested.

"Since you are in the indulgent vein, and I in the indiscreet one, Señor
Don Jaime, allow me to ask you this last question--Have you supped

The brow of the Spaniard lowered. I feared I had abused rights acquired
on such a slender acquaintance as mine; but his noble self-respect never
gave way. He was, besides, too much of a gentleman to blush because he
was poor.

"I have," replied he, with a gracious smile. "May I have the honor of
offering you a portion of my supper?"

The Spaniard tendered me a cigarette.

"What! was that all your supper?"

"A cigarette! fie on it; it is, in truth, somewhat too meagre a repast
for the last descendant of the Counts of Biscay. I have consumed more
than a dozen of them, and have not made a very good supper."

This seemed to have exhausted the patience of the poor nobleman. He
said nothing for a few moments, and then, with an air of calm dignity,

"Señor Cavalier, I have granted you the only thing it was in my power to
bestow in this world--my hospitality, such as it is. Enjoy yourself at
my fire as much as you please; but, after a hard day's journey, you will
pardon me if I betake myself to rest. May God bless and protect you!"

The Biscayan threw some sticks upon the fire, wrapped himself up in his
cloak, and, after bidding me good-night with a wave of his hand, lay
down. I threw my eyes mechanically around. More fortunate than their
master, and half hidden by the icy fog of evening, the two horses
cropped the short, withered grass which grew on the stony plain. My
heart swelled, and a deep feeling of respectful sympathy took possession
of me at seeing this deep misery so nobly supported.

"Señor Don Jaime," said I, with a broken voice, "I thank you for the
hospitality you have shown me, and, in return, I should be both proud
and happy if you would take the use of my chamber in the _venta_."

The young traveler started and sat up; his eyes sparkled in his pale
face. He seemed to hesitate for a moment; he then held out his hand.

"I accept your offer," he said; "you will do me a service I shall never
forget. I must now tell you, in confidence, that I had vainly solicited
that accommodation from the huesped, for which I was too poor to pay,
but which on this night, and this night only, I would thankfully have
paid for with my heart's blood."

This reply was an additional mystery to me; but I had now become Don
Jaime's host, and that prevented me from asking any questions. We took
the two horses by the bridle, and, without exchanging a word, returned
to the venta.



     Chemises from Brittany,
     And husbands from Spain.


The Elopement.

After my new companion had been installed in my chamber, I went out
under pretense of seeing that the horses were taken care of, and ordered
Cecilio to fetch from the kitchen a supper sufficient for two persons.
The Biscayan, after some ceremony, seemed quite willing to accompany me
in my repast. I had already made a good supper, but, for politeness'
sake, I took a small portion to bear him company, my guest meanwhile
doing justice to the viands, and quite lost in wonder at my

"How can I help it?" said I, in explanation; "this is my first run
through the country, and I have not yet got accustomed to their infernal

And while Cecilio, standing behind my chair, opened his eyes wide on
hearing me say that I had but newly come into the country, I could not
help admiring the prodigious appetite that had been developed by a fast
of twenty-four hours.

"Now," said I, when the dishes were all cleared, "if the neighborhood of
a young and charming lady, whose chamber is next to mine, does not
hinder you from sleeping, I fancy you will do well to imitate me." And I
muffled myself in my cloak, and lay down on the floor.

"Not a bad idea," said the Spaniard. "But, before going to sleep,
perhaps you would like to hear an air on my mandolin."

"Use your freedom, but pray pardon me if the melody set me asleep."

In spite of the hard and cold couch on which I was reclining, in a short
time I heard nothing but a confused murmur of broken notes, and then
consciousness forsook me. I awoke with a start, under the impression
that a strong chilling draught was setting full upon me. The long, thin
candle which had been stuck to the wall of the chamber was throwing its
last dull, smoky glare around. The Spaniard had disappeared. I was
alone; and the chamber door, which had been left open, had allowed the
cold night air to enter and awake me. A dead silence reigned through the
hacienda, broken only by the distant crowing of the cock. I listened,
surprised at the abrupt disappearance of my companion, and rose and shut
the door, and, while doing so, threw a hasty glance into the court-yard.
From amid the darkness I thought I discerned two black profiles half
hidden by a column. One of them was that of the Biscayan, whose voice I
could distinguish, although he spoke low; the other was unknown to me;
but in the sweet tone, and in the accents, though prudently concealed, I
could not doubt for a moment but that it was a woman. I had seen enough.
I repaired to the door and pushed it open. At the grating of the rusty
hinges, a slender form disappeared like a shadow behind a distant
pillar. The Biscayan came up quickly to me.

"No apologies," said he; "you have, without knowing it, made yourself
master of a secret which would have been yours sooner or later. It is
better, then, that you know it now. Besides, I was just speaking of
you. Is it not to you I owe one of the happiest moments of my life? Have
I not still need of a new proof of that friendship which henceforth will
be so valuable to me?"

Don Jaime then, in a few words, gave me the particulars of a romantic
attachment which had arisen six months before in the shady walks of the
Alameda; that, owing to the want of fortune on his part, a union could
not be effected; that all attempts at flight had been defeated by
watchful vigilance, which had never been relaxed till the time when the
father of her he loved for her beauty alone, before knowing of her
wealth, set out to visit one of his haciendas in the interior of the
country. To assist in the attempt at elopement, Don Jaime had brought
two horses with him; but at the third stage, at Arroyo Zarco, the poor
young man, who had followed the carriage at a distance, was deprived of
this last resource, as the huesped would not admit him within the walls
of the building. Thanks to our lucky meeting, he had obtained
admittance, and was now quite ready for a start to Guanajuato. Once
there, Don Jaime intended to intrust the daughter of the _haciendero_ to
the care of a distant relative of his, who would conceal her in a
convent till, the pursuit being slackened and the marriage concluded, he
could set sail for Spain. Unluckily, a new obstacle presented itself.
How could we quit the inn without awakening the suspicions of the
huesped, and how hide the direction of our flight and keep up
appearances? Don Jaime had thought that I might be able to accompany
them, leaving my valet at the venta, while we accommodated ourselves
with his horse. Donna Luzecita (the lady's name) could pass easily for
Cecilio, and the landlord, seeing as many pass out as had entered in,
could conceive no suspicion.

The Biscayan regarded me with a look of such melting eloquence, that I
was on the point of throwing myself, heart and soul, into this new
adventure; but, on reflection, I deemed it proper to refuse. Don Jaime
sighed, and left me. He returned in a few minutes, accompanied by the
young lady. A rebozo, worn in the Mexican manner, was passed round her
head. Through the folds of her silk veil you could discern a bandeau of
jet black hair encircling a brow empurpled with a modest blush, and
under the arch of her black eyebrows two eyes modestly veiled by their
long lashes.

"What should I not owe you, Señor Cavalier," said she, in that
harmonious voice whose silvery tone had so charmed me some minutes
before, "if you would consent to help us in our extremity! At any rate,
a refusal will never change my unalterable resolution."

I must confess that her look and simple words had almost brought me over
to her side. I only stammered out some commonplace about duty and

"Your presence," added the Spaniard, "can prevent one misfortune; for I
love her so much that, rather than see her torn from me, I would stab
her to the heart."

Proud and grateful for this burst of passion in her lover, the lady
raised her eyes, which had been hitherto cast to the ground, and gazed
steadily at the Spaniard with one of those sharp, piercing looks of love
which her Creole impetuosity could not retain. It was thus she desired
to be loved. Then, holding out to me one of those hands which God seems
to have modeled expressly for Mexican women--"You consent, don't you?"
said she.

Every moment was precious. Twelve o'clock had struck, and I could not
pain her by another refusal. To carry our saddles and valises to the
stables, and prepare the horses for the road, was the work of an
instant. The darkness in the stables was very great, and it was only by
the light from our cigars that we could distinguish our steeds. In the
court-yard the two coachmen were sleeping near their mules.

"Halloo! friend," cried one of them, yawning, "are you for the road so

"I have a long way to go," I replied; "but you needn't stir; the cock
has not yet crown."

The snoring of the coachmen, who had dropped asleep an instant
afterward, was soon mixed with the chorus of noises that proceeded from
the stable, and by groping about we managed to finish our business
without any new interruptions. We arranged that the better of the two
horses which Don Jaime had brought with him should be reserved for the
use of the daughter of the haciendero. One thing only remained to be
done--to instruct Cecilio in the part he was to play in our absence. I
went to his bed-chamber. His organ of wonder had been largely exercised
during the night, but the surprise which now awaited him was still more
astonishing than any of the others. The poor fellow was sleeping with
his hands clenched, when I, with some difficulty, awoke him.

"Wilt thou[26] listen?" said I to him, when he was fully awakened. "Thou
must sleep soundly till ten o'clock in the morning. If thou art unable
to do so, at least remain in thy chamber. Reasons of the most important
nature demand that thy presence in the venta be not even suspected till
that hour. Thou must then slip unperceived out of the hacienda; and, in
order that thou may'st do that the more easily, I am going to take away
thy horse. Take the road to Celaya, and rejoin me at the venta of the
Soledad, where I shall wait for thee."

"I shall execute your lordship's orders," said Cecilio, bowing sadly,
and seemingly quite disconcerted at this new inconvenience.

My two companions were in the saddle on my return. Don Jaime appeared to
shudder in the cold night air; and his beautiful companion, her head
concealed by her thick silk veil, and her shoulders covered with a manga
with the lining outside, seemed completely disguised except to a very
experienced eye. The convulsive agitation of her bosom, however, and her
stifled sobs, betrayed her violent emotion. I well understood the
sentiments which agitated her, and I could not help casting a melancholy
glance in the direction of the chamber in which the father of Donna Luz
slept. In that trying moment, the Castilian generosity, so inherent in
Don Jaime's character, showed itself in a remarkable manner.

"Luzecita," he said, in a choking voice, "you have not yet advanced too
far to recede--it is your father you are leaving."

Recalled by the voice of Don Jaime to the thought that was uppermost in
her mind, the lady trembled, and the two for a time seemed alone in the
world. Taking the hand of the one she loved, and carrying it to her lips
with the passionate submission of an Eastern slave,

"I have no father now," she said, in a voice at once firm and sweet;
"lead on."

On hearing this my last scruples vanished, and we set out. We traversed
the court in silence. The huesped was sleeping on the ground close to
the gate. I touched him with the point of my lance without speaking; he
started up with the mechanical promptness of a man accustomed to be
roused at all hours of the night.

"For the road already?" on receiving the reckoning. "And this cavalier
also, with his two horses?"

"Yes," I replied; "this cavalier, my valet, and myself, must be at the
hacienda of San Francisco before daylight."

"A pleasant journey," he cried, on opening the gate, which soon closed
behind us. We at first followed the road to Mexico, so as to tally with
the false direction I had given to the huesped; we then turned bridle
all at once in the direction of Celaya, making a wide detour to avoid
passing near the hacienda. A damp, icy fog covered the plain as far as
the eye could reach; the night-wind tore aside the curtain of mist from
time to time, and showed us the surrounding country covered with
hoar-frost. A few paces distant appeared the watch-fire of the Biscayan:
it looked like a star just about to expire. Our horses made their way
rapidly through the mist, the breath that issued from their nostrils
playing about their heads in immense volumes. Although not sharing in
the feverish impatience of my two companions, I could not help feeling a
kind of emotion when I compared the uncertain issue of the event into
which they had blindly rushed with the thick vapors which enwrapped in
darkness the road and the objects around. We were not long in placing a
considerable distance between us and the venta. We then slackened our
pace; a grayish glimmer began to light up the objects around us: in the
east, and behind the hills, which were still enveloped in mist, a few
pale rays heralded the approach of the sun.

"Let us stop here a minute," I said to the Biscayan, "to breathe our
horses. In the mean time, I shall alight to listen if there are any
pursuers behind us."

We had now covered a distance of almost eight leagues without exchanging
a word, this being one of those cases in which a full heart places a
restraint upon the tongue. With my ear close to the ground, I listened
anxiously to catch the sound of the approach of horsemen: no noise, no
echo came from the earth. We were in a vast desert plain. The slight
agitation I had felt during our long gallop was succeeded by a soothing
calm; I seated myself on the grass, and invited my companions to do the
same. This moment of passing security brought out a burst of sentiment
which had been restrained during the long gallop. As the hoar-frost
immediately disappears when the first beams of the sun have reddened the
grassy plain, so anxiety fled from the hearts of the two lovers, and
gave place to confidence and delirious exultation. Scarcely had the lady
alighted, than, obeying an irresistible impulse of her Mexican nature,
she strained in her arms him who would henceforth stand to her in place
of the whole world. The faded, melancholy face of the Spaniard seemed
all at once lighted up with animation; but the rapture inspired by these
caresses was too much for him; he turned pale, staggered, and fell to
the ground with his eyes closed. Donna Luz rent the air with her

"Don't be afraid," I said; "joy never kills."

I laid him gently upon the grass; Donna Luz knelt by him, and bedewed
him with tears. Don Jaime soon revived and came to himself, while the
young Creole, turning about, hid her face in her hands with that strange
mixture of modesty and passion which lent an additional charm to her

"You must come with us no farther," said the Biscayan to me. "You have
risked enough in our service, and I will abuse your kindness no longer;
but, before parting, I have another favor to ask of you: it is that you
take my cloak in exchange for yours; it will aid my disguise more

I consented to his request.

"You will gain little by the bargain," said Don Jaime, with a smile;
"but you have done me a great service. Since you are not bound in any
particular direction, you may perhaps come to Guanajuato. I shall remain
a fortnight there, and you can easily find me out, and I shall be but
too happy to express to you once more the gratitude which I shall feel
for you all my life."

The parting moment came. We assisted the lady to her saddle. Don Jaime
then mounted. Untying the mandolin which hung at his saddle-bow,

"Take this," he cried, "and keep it as a remembrance of me. For a long
time this instrument and hope were all my possessions; now, instead of
hope, God has given me the reality."

The tears stood in his eyes. He shook me by the hand a second time.
Donna Luz paid me with a smile more than she owed me, and the pair
galloped away. I followed them with my eye for a long time
involuntarily, thinking that there was much between the cup and the
lip. The morning mist soon hid them from my sight.


[26] In Mexico it is the custom for masters to "_thou_" their valets.


Florencio Planillas, the Mexican Miner.

Left alone in the midst of the desert plain of Cazadero, I remained, I
must confess, a considerable time in a state of great uncertainty. Being
far distant from any habitation, I was debating within my own mind
whether I should not turn bridle and regain the hacienda of Arroyo
Zarco; but the sun shone so cheerily upon the plain, and the morning air
was so refreshing, that my discouragement and hesitation disappeared
like the mist upon the hills, which had now put on their usual bluish
appearance. I continued my route. A gallop of barely two leagues would
take me to the venta of the Soledad, where I had ordered Cecilio to
await my coming. The landlord, on seeing me come in with a guitar slung
across my shoulder, took me for a music-mad tourist that had come in the
very nick of time to amuse him, and spoke of his love for music with the
air of a man who was desirous to hear my performance. I refused,
however, point blank, and hastened to take possession of the most
retired room in the venta. Cecilio did not make his appearance till
nightfall. He had nothing new to tell me. At midday, when he escaped
from the hacienda, there was not the slightest stir. This information
calmed me about the fugitives, and freed me from anxiety on their
account. I resolved to pass the night in the inn. My poor valet, who had
traveled on foot a distance of thirty miles, was hardly able to stand
upright; and, for my own part, I needed to husband my strength, that I
might resume on the following day that pursuit which seemed to be
getting interminable.

Next morning, at an early hour, we were in the saddle and on the road to
Celaya, where we expected to meet Don Tomas. It was a two days' journey,
and these two days were marked with as many odd occurrences as had
signalized the first part of this singular excursion. In all the inns at
which we stopped Don Tomas had preceded us only by a few hours. At last
I arrived at Celaya, and alighted at the Meson de Guadalupe at the very
moment that Cecilio was mentally registering the seventy leagues we had
traveled since we left Mexico, with this consoling reflection, however,
that, according to the intelligence we had received, we were now
approaching the end of our journey. Unhappily, I was once more balked.
At Celaya, as at Arroyo Zarco, I missed Don Tomas by half an hour. Don
Tomas, on leaving Celaya, had taken the road to Irapuato. We set out for
that place. In the solitary inn of this small market-town no one had
seen him. They knew him, however, for the host told me that Don Tomas
owned and inhabited a solitary house at the foot of the Cerro del
Gigante (Giant peak).

"Where is the Cerro del Gigante?" I asked, not without an apprehension
that it might be a hundred leagues away.

"It is the highest peak of the range of mountains," replied my host,
"which overhangs Guanajuato. If you set out from here at dawn of day,
you will be there in the evening."

Irapuato is ninety-two leagues from Mexico. To reach Guanajuato I had
still twenty leagues to travel. It occurred to me that Guanajuato was
the town to which the Biscayan nobleman had conveyed Donna Luz. Besides
the certainty of there meeting Don Tomas, I had the hope of learning the
fate of a man in whom I already felt an interest as intense as if he had
been an old friend. This double consideration determined me.

"Well," said I to Cecilio, "we must go and wait upon Don Tomas in his
own house, which he seems in a great hurry to reach."

The road to Guanajuato winds through a ravine of interminable length
called Cañada de Marfil, and it was far on in the afternoon before we
reached that city, whose steep streets we traversed rapidly in the
direction of the Cerro del Gigante. The road that we followed on leaving
the town was cut with ravines and full of ruts. I was not long in
regretting that I had entangled myself in such a defile as this,
especially as night was coming on, and we were on an unknown road. As we
advanced the scenery became wilder and more desolate; the noise made by
the runnels of water which bounded over the rocks on either side, and
the cawing of troops of crows which hovered over head, were the only
sounds which broke the stillness around.

"Ah! señor," said Cecilio, approaching me when I had halted for a moment
to recall to my recollection the instructions I had received, "this
gully seems a real cutthroat place, and I hope nothing worse will befall
us than wandering all night long in this labyrinth of mountains, where
the cold cuts into one's marrow."

I was not insensible to the cold which began to prevail in this deep
valley, and I threw over my shoulders the manga that the Biscayan had
given me in exchange for my cloak. I began to share in my servant's
fears; but I judged it better to keep my anxiety to myself, and
continued to advance, certain besides of being in the right road,
although it was becoming rapidly darker and darker. Abrupt precipitous
rocks, with whitened crests, rose before and on each side of us. Already
the mountains were throwing their long shadows across the valleys; the
evening mist was mounting in light flakes from the deep bottoms in which
the brooks purled to the mountain tops that the sun was touching with
his departing beams; and the Giant Peak, which seemed to me so near,
rose always at the same distance, encircled with a purple halo,
overtopping the neighboring heights with an appearance of gloomy
majesty, as if placed there as the guardian of the mysterious treasures
inclosed in the bowels of the Sierra.

"You know the proverb, master," continued Cecilio: "those who go to seek
wool often come back shorn. Something tells me that we have got
ourselves into a terrible mess. Who can this Don Tomas be whom every
body on the road knows, but whom we can never catch? Some bandit chief,
I fear, who has his own reasons for not showing himself; and I think,"
he continued, in a low tone, "that these gorges are not so solitary as
they seem. Mother of Jesus! did you not see the gleam of a musket-barrel
among those branches up there?"

I carried my eyes involuntarily in the direction pointed out by Cecilio;
it was nothing but the wind agitating the thick branches which crowned
the crest of a precipice, and I could not see far on account of the fog.
I affected to laugh at my servant's fears, when I thought I heard a
sound resembling the click of a gun-lock. Our horses could advance but
slowly, owing to the rocks with which the bottom of the ravine was
covered. I quickened my pace, however. All at once a flash burst forth
over our heads, the whiz of a ball shot past our ears, and the report of
a gun echoed through the ravine, accompanied by a dull sound, as if the
ball had been flattened against the rocks.

"Ah! the scoundrel," cried a voice, which seemed to come from the top of
the precipice, "I have missed him."

My first impulse was to close my eyes, in the expectation of hearing
another report. An instant passed in terrible anxiety, during which the
echoes reverberated among the rocks. I then raised my head to seek for
the place from which the shot had been fired, but the fog lay so thick
on the heights that I could distinguish nothing. A strip torn off the
pennon of my lance, which was within two feet of my body, clearly proved
that I had been aimed at.

"'Tis lucky I escaped that shot," said I to Cecilio; "but come, let us
climb the rocks on both sides, and lay hold on the scoundrel who is
seemingly so sorry that he has missed."

"But," cried Cecilio, who was not at all pleased with the task I had
assigned him, "there is no indication whatever that they aimed at you;
besides, I won't leave you. It is the duty of a good servant to be
always at his master's side."

I gained the top of the rocks before him. As far as my range of vision
extended, I saw nothing but the distant hills deeply bathed in violet, a
few fields of maize whose heavy heads swung slowly backward and forward,
and some deep gorges in the Sierra, denoted by deeper tints of color.
The country round had a sad, melancholy look in the gray of the evening
that was creeping over all. It would have been imprudent to have turned,
so I continued my march. In a short time I perceived in the distance a
building of considerable size; no smoke rose above the roof. Indeed, it
seemed quite deserted. It had probably been at one time a work-shop. I
was confirmed in this opinion by the dilapidated state of the walls, and
the large holes in the tiling. Just when Cecilio was alighting to assure
himself that the place contained no inhabitant, a horseman issued from a
by-road, and came galloping up with a carbine in his hand. He stopped
suddenly on seeing me, and continued to look at me for some seconds with
an air of fear and visible distrust. All at once he burst into a loud
roar of laughter.

"You are not, then, Remigio Vasquez?" he inquired.

"I don't know him," I replied.

"Ah! Señor Cavalier, pardon me; I fancied it was Remigio Vasquez I was
firing at."

Again the fellow laughed loudly, but added, in a tone of regret,

"_Caramba!_ to say that I missed at twenty paces, when I had covered you
too; but a sudden movement you made saved your life. Ah! but I am indeed

"Of having missed, no doubt. No more of that, if you please. The hour
and the place seem quite suitable for my taking my revenge by blowing
your brains out."

"For what?" cried he, slightly alarmed. "I thought you were my enemy; I
was deceived. I fired at, and missed you. The one quite compensates for
the other; and, for my part, I would not harm you the least in the

The unknown appeared so convinced by the force of his own argument that
I could not help laughing. I then asked if I were far from the Cerro del

"A good carbine could carry a ball there quite easily; but, from the
windings of the ravine, it is a two hours' march from here; and, as the
night is coming on, and the road rather difficult to find in the dark, I
offer your lordship a night's lodging under my roof, to show you that I
bear no malice."

The dilapidated appearance of the house promised only a very sorry
shelter, but the offer seemed frankly enough made, and I was, besides,
one of that class of unencumbered travelers with whom robbers only
exchange salutations on the road. I made no difficulty, therefore, in
accepting the offer, and dismounted. The unknown led me through a vast
hall, whose roof was much broken in many parts, and, while he was
assisting Cecilio to unsaddle the horses, I could see by the tools lying
about the place that I was in one of those metallurgic work-shops
(_haciendas de beneficio_) where the silver extracted from the mines
receives its last treatment. My host was not long in returning; he
lighted a miner's torch, and then told me to consider myself at home.
Misery seemed to have taken up its abode in this ruined building, and I
could not help remarking to myself that there seemed little likelihood
of getting here even the slightest refreshment. I seated myself opposite
to my host, and tried to listen patiently to the explanations he was
giving me about the uses of various instruments which I had never seen
before; but as time passed, and there seemed to be no likelihood of any
thing being placed on the table, I said frankly,

"I am very hungry."

"So am I," he returned, gravely, without stirring.

I feared I had not been explicit enough.

"At what time do you ordinarily sup here? For my part, I can sup at any
hour of the evening when I am as hungry as I am at present."

"Any hour is convenient enough for me; but to-day I have had no supper."

This reply astonished me. Luckily, Cecilio had supplied himself with
some yards of dried meat.[27] I was able then, our respective positions
being reversed, to offer a frugal repast to the singular amphitryon with
whom chance had brought me acquainted, and he needed no pressing to make
him accept it.

"It appears to me," I said, after we had finished, "that there is a
certain person called Remigio Vasquez in the world who is far from being
a friend of yours; what ill has he done you?"

"None, till a little ago; and I fired at him (that is, at you) to-day
purely from precaution, and to prevent him from ruining me."

Florencio Planillas, that was my host's name, then entered into long
details about his own affairs. He was one of those obstinate miners who
have all their lives struggled to grasp after merely visionary
illusions, and who, like the unlucky gambler, fancy themselves
constantly on the point of becoming possessors of millions without ever
being able to learn those rude lessons of experience which their unhappy
obstinacy prevents them from acquiring. His history was that of many
others. Once proprietor of a rich silver mine, then of a flourishing
_hacienda de beneficio_, he had seen the thread of silver fail in the
_borrasca_,[28] and the want of capital had forced him to suspend his
metallurgic operations. According to Mexican custom, a mine once
abandoned becomes the property of the person who proclaims the failure
of the former proprietor. This proclamation was a perpetual source of
annoyance to Florencio Planillas both day and night. His restless,
perturbed spirit saw a rival in every one, ready to deprive him of his
property, and he had been told that an individual named Remigio Vasquez
had arrived the night before at Guanajuato, with the avowed intention of
profiting by the suspension of his works, and claiming them as his own.
It would prove a rough blow to Florencio to be deprived of a property
which had enriched him before, and very probably might do so again. The
Mexicans are very generally in the habit of deciding such cases by the
knife. He had therefore vowed the death of Remigio Vasquez. "I never saw
him," he added, on finishing his recital; "but his appearance has been
so exactly described to me that he can not escape. I spent this whole
day at Guanajuato trying to discover him, but in vain, and on my return,
deceived by the darkness, by a certain vague resemblance you bore to
him, and, above all, by the cloak you wore, I thought you were the
person that had come to dispossess me of my rights, and it was only on
closer inspection that I discovered my error. I do not say, however,
that I am sorry I missed you; but after this I'll use the knife. _El
cuchillo no suena ni truena_ (the knife does its work silently), as my
friend Tomas Verduzco says."

"Verdugo, you mean," said I, interrupting him.

"Do you know him?" cried Florencio, with a laugh. "What a capital joke!
But you don't transact business with him, I think."

"What joke are you referring to?"

"_Hombre!_ don't you know that his true name is Verduzco, and that he is
called Verdugo[29] (executioner) because he is obliged sometimes to see
justice done to himself in what he calls his affairs of conscience?"

This peculiarity in the character of the man on whose heels I had been
treading so closely was not the most agreeable thing in the world, I
must confess; but I wished to get some more information about him, and
accordingly inquired how long it had taken Don Tomas to acquire this
formidable surname.

"On my word," replied Florencio, "that's one of those matters of which
one does not like to keep a too exact account--probably he does not even
know himself--but perhaps you will form a bad opinion of Don Tomas from
what I have told you. The Señor Verduzco is no egoist; his neighbor may
have the use of his knife at a time; and, provided you give him solid
reasons (with a strong emphasis on solid), he is always ready to render
one a service."

"The devil he is!" I cried. "Don Tomas must be a most inestimable
character, and I am quite impatient to make his acquaintance."

In spite of this gasconade, the intense desire that I had shown to see
Don Tomas was dispelled as if by magic; but, having gone too far to
recede, I determined to make my way, as I had intended, to the Cerro del
Gigante. The night passed without any incident occurring except that I
was forced to lend my host a part of my manga to stop up a hole in the
roof that admitted the cold, and I took leave of him in the morning with
many thanks for his munificent hospitality, which had been shown by his
appropriating to himself three parts of my supper and the half of my
cloak. Moreover, not many hours before he had tried to shoot me.

I mounted, and proceeded in the direction of the Cerro del Gigante.
Armed with my lance, whose torn pennon bore witness to the danger I had
run, escorted by Cecilio, and having the guitar of the Biscayan nobleman
thumping on my back, I bore no uncertain resemblance to the wandering
knight of La Mancha in search of adventures, attended by his trusty
squire. This mission of mine was one of the most delicate kind, for now
I had no doubt whatever but that we were on the traces of a Mexican
bravo, and I had been following him for the last six days. I was quite
convinced, however, that I had done nothing to get myself involved with
Don Tomas.

The _bravï_ of Mexico, like their compatriots in other countries where
this formidable profession is exercised, begin at first by putting those
to death to whom they become indebted at the gaming-table. It was, then,
a point of the very greatest importance to establish my identity fully
in the eyes of a fellow of this stamp, as I might probably, if this were
not done, get a stab intended for some other person. This consideration
deciding me above all, I repaired to the Cerro del Gigante, and in a
short time arrived at a very pretty house at the foot of the mountain. A
purling brook, shaded with sycamores, ran close by the door. My host of
the preceding night had described the place to me too minutely to allow
of my missing it. I addressed myself to a groom, who was rubbing down a
beautiful horse at the gate, by inquiring if the Cavalier Verduzco could
be seen at present.

"No, señor," replied the man. "He had scarcely arrived here last night
ere he was sent on business of the utmost importance to Guanajuato,
which he can scarcely finish in less than three days; and when he comes
home, he may require to depart again immediately."

"Where is he going next?" I asked.

"I don't know," said the man, dryly. I made no more inquiries, wheeled
my horse round, and rode off.


[27] In some parts of Mexico butcher-meat is cut into strips, dried in
the sun, and sold by measure, like ribbons or cloth.

[28] An appellation given to a mine when it has become unprofitable.

[29] A sharp poniard.


Assassination of the young Spanish Noble.

On returning to the town, I inquired which of the three or four hotels
in Guanajuata was the cheapest, convinced that it was only in one of
that description that the Biscayan was to be found. I was right in my
conjecture, for the first person I met on alighting in the court-yard of
the posada was Don Jaime de Villalobos. He was just going out when I
presented myself suddenly before him, and I had scarcely dismounted ere
he pressed me in his arms, according to the manner of his country. For
my part, I listened with interest to his adventures after our
separation. He told me that he had arrived at Guanajuato almost four
days before me, and that his utmost wishes had been realized. A priest,
who had been gained over by the relative of Donna Luz, had married them
without difficulty, and since that time his young wife had been hidden
in a convent, where he saw her every day, until he could take such steps
as would allow them to leave Mexico. One circumstance only caused him a
little alarm: he believed that he met in the streets, the night before,
one of the servants who was in the train of his wife's father at the
venta of Arroyo Zarco.

"But as I fancy that I see every where the appearance of spies and
robbers," he said, gayly, "it is more than probable that I am deceived,
and that they are seeking me at a greater distance than where I really
am. And you," added he, "have you laid your hand on Don Tomas Verdugo

"No; and, from all I have learned about him, I am more anxious to avoid
him now than I was to meet him before." And I recounted my adventure in
the ravine with Florencio Planillas. "Your cloak," I added, "served me a
bad turn, for it is similar to one that the informer against Florencio
wears, one Remigio Vasquez."

At the name Don Jaime turned pale, and cried,

"What! was it Remigio Vasquez that the scoundrel had in mind to shoot?
and do they accuse him of a crime which he never contemplated? Ah! my
presentiments have not deceived me."


"Remigio Vasquez is the name I bear here."

This unexpected revelation caused me to shudder. Perhaps, even now, that
villain, whose knife was at every one's service, might have been sent
upon the Biscayan's track to satisfy the vengeance of the injured
father. I told him what my opinion was upon the matter, and insisted
upon his staying within doors for a few days; but the Spanish nobleman
had now recovered all his former courage.

"No," he said, "Luzecita waits me at the convent. Not to go to see her
would plunge her into the deepest grief. No one can escape their

We talked together a short time longer. As he insensibly lapsed into a
gloomy mood, I tried to jest with him upon our actual position.

"As for me," I said, "I shall be more prudent than you. I am going to
bury myself in the deepest mine I can find, and it will be a terrible
thing if this horrid Verdugo meets me eighteen hundred feet below

We separated, Don Jaime to the convent, and I to visit one of the most
easily accessible mines in the neighborhood. As I was crossing the
square on my way to the outskirts of the town, I fancied I distinguished
the well-known face of Florencio Planillas at the door of a pulqueria.
Delighted at having this opportunity of undeceiving him as to the
intention of Remigio Vasquez, or rather Don Jaime, I went up to the
door, in spite of the repugnance I have for these Mexican cabarets,
where both men and women sit drinking that abominable liquor prepared
from fermented _pulque_.[30] Whether Florencio had seen, and wished to
avoid me, I know not; at any rate, he disappeared into the shop. The
life of Don Jaime doubtless depended on the interview I was going to
have with Florencio. I stepped over some drunkards, quite intoxicated,
who were lying, clothed in rags, across the doorway, and entered the
pulqueria. What a fantastical appearance met my eye! The walls were
covered with frescoes of the most incredible nature, representing
ancient grotesque personages, pictures of drunken brawls, of murder, of
love, of giants, dwarfs, and cavaliers, accompanied with the most
startling devices, and all surmounted with this clinching inscription:
(_Hoy se paga, mañana se fia_)--_Pay now, credit afterward_. Large open
vats, filled with a milky liquor, from which exhaled a horrible smell,
were placed all round the room, and the publican was busily engaged
ladling it out with a calabash for his customers, among whom I soon
recognized Florencio.

"Ah! Señor Cavalier," cried he, advancing with the glass in his hand,
"allow me to offer you--"

"No, I am not thirsty; but I have some good news for you."

I tried then to tell him that he had been falsely informed when he had
been told that the person who was trying to dispossess him of his mine
was Remigio Vasquez. It was a long time before I could make the
obfuscated drunkard understand the purport of my visit, and undeceive
him with regard to the Biscayan.

"You see that I am delighted," cried he, when he had at last made out
the meaning of my words.

"For poor Remigio's sake?" I said.

"No, for my own sake. I don't fear his information," he replied, with a
drunken frankness; "but if that change my intentions regarding him,
Remigio Vasquez's affair is not a bit improved. I mean to say--(and,
swallowing what remained in his glass, he seemed to be trying to collect
his thoughts)--I mean that it is capital for--for--"

"For whom?" I exclaimed, losing all patience.

"Ah! caramba, for our intimate friend, the respectable Don Tomas
Verdugo, as your lordship styles him."

And the miner was not slow in telling me that the bravo would receive a
considerable sum from the injured father, as he had been told, to avenge
the insult offered to his outraged family.

"And where is Don Tomas?" I inquired of Florencio. "I am sure that I can
undeceive him as well as yourself."

"I think I know where he is at present," replied Planillas.

"Well, why do you wait here? Let us set out immediately in search of

"I would like well enough to be off; but, you see, I can't quit this
place without paying my score, and I have not a single tlaco about me."

"That needn't detain you. Call the publican."

"Truly," said Florencio, with much effrontery, "yesterday evening you
partook of my hospitality; if you clear my expenses to-day, we shall be

The publican immediately appeared, and I inquired how much Florencio
owed him. The miner tipped him the wink, and the other immediately said,
"Two piastres." This was far too much, and the drunken scoundrel would
very likely gain a piastre and a half by it; but time was precious. I
yielded, and we hastened in pursuit of Don Tomas. Unluckily, the
tottering legs of my companion but ill seconded my efforts, and I was
obliged to proceed very slowly. In this manner we traversed a
considerable part of the town. Every now and then the drunken rascal
stopped before a house, saying he was within, but he was invariably
mistaken. We at last stood before a dark, steep, wet alley, at the end
of which you saw the dusky light which issued from a garden.

"Are you sure you are right this time?" I asked anxiously of Florencio;
"for time is passing, and poor Vasquez is in danger of his life."

"He is there, assuredly," stammered my companion; "for I could never
forgive myself if I had arrived too late, and any misfortune (here his
eyes became bathed in maudlin tears) were to happen to Don Tomas. Such a
worthy man as he is, too!"

After this burst of sensibility, which failed signally in its object,
Florencio plunged into the lane, and I remained alone, for I thought
that we could no longer proceed together. I walked about in the street,
a prey to anxiety easy to comprehend, counting the minutes, which seemed
centuries, and expecting every moment to see this Don Tomas, who had not
been out of my thoughts for so many days, appear before me; but time
passed, and he did not make his appearance. An hour was spent in this
manner, and at last I decided on going to the house myself. I walked
through the dark alley, entered the garden at the other end, and the
first thing I saw was a man stretched on the ground. This was the
unhappy Florencio, who was snoring as if he would burst his nostrils,
and had forgotten every thing in his drunkenness. I retraced my steps,
resolving to trust to myself only; but it was a long time before I found
myself in a part of the town I knew. I got to my hotel with some
difficulty. Cecilio met me at the gate.

"Ah!" cried he, on seeing me, "what a dreadful misfortune has happened!
The young cavalier that you met this morning had a quarrel fixed on him
by a passenger in the street, and they have carried him to his own room.
He is dead, there's no doubt of it."

Such an occurrence is so common in Mexico that no unusual stir was
visible in the hotel as I mounted the stairs to go to Don Jaime's room.
The poor young man, uncared for, untended, appeared to be sleeping the
most tranquil sleep of all, upon a bench of stone, with a bloody sheet
thrown over him. The fresh air which struck his face as I lifted the
cloth caused him to open his eyes, over which the glaze of death was
already stealing.

"I know who you are," he said; "it was you who succored me when I was in
want, and you will remain by me till the last, I am sure. Thank you."

The Biscayan gave me his clay-cold hand.

"My hand is burning hot, is it not? A few minutes ago _she_ pressed it
between both of _hers_. Good God! what will she say when she never sees
me again?"

"Never fear," I replied. "Tell me where I can see Donna Luz."

The Biscayan whispered her address into my ear.

"Now," replied he, "it is useless. My hours are numbered; she will come
too late! When I am gone, don't tell her that she was the cause of my
death. Inform her only that my last thought was of her."

Some rambling, unconnected words now escaped from the poor Spaniard--his
mother's name, his country's, and his dear wife's, for whom he had paid
the penalty of his life. While the exterior world was gradually fading
from his eyes, the sweet and holy impressions of childhood, the first
imprinted on the heart of man, and the last to leave it, still threw a
few bright beams athwart the thickening darkness of his thoughts. All at
once, turning himself to me, he exclaimed, in a clear, distinct voice,

"You will go and see my mother, won't you? Be it a year after this, or
even ten. Say this to console her, that I died worth millions, but not
that I breathed my last on such a bed as this."

I bowed in token of assent, and Don Jaime employed the little strength
that was left him in telling me where to find his house, near Vergara,
in Biscay. I promised to fulfill this last request. A vague, meaningless
smile now played upon the dying man's lips, that moved only in a prayer
he put up in which his mother's name was mentioned. These were his last
words. I wiped away the foam that covered his lips with a corner of his
cloak, and closed the eyes, which were wide open and staring. At this
moment somebody touched me on the shoulder. I turned about. A man whose
entrance I had not noticed stood behind me. By his staff I saw he was an

"Well, Señor Cavalier," said he, "you would give something, I know, to
have satisfaction for the death of this young man. I am convinced you
would; be calm--the eye of justice sees it all."

"When it is too late," I said, in a low tone.

"Is he a friend--a relation--a brother perhaps?" asked the alcalde.

I knew Mexican law too well to allow myself to be taken in by this
appearance of compassion and interest, and said nothing.

"Well, I am waiting for your declaration," pursued he, with an engaging

"My declaration, Señor Alcalde, is this" (and I inwardly asked pardon of
the corpse lying before me for the lie I was about to utter): "I declare
that I don't know, nor ever have known, this young man."[31]

The disappointed alcalde was not long in leaving the room.

"Ah! Señor Cavalier," said the huesped, who had witnessed the whole
scene, "you are a foreigner, it is true, but you did not come into the
country yesterday."

I pretended not to comprehend the compliment he had paid me, and threw a
last glance at the poor Biscayan. His face wore that aspect of serenity
and peace which often appears on men who have died a violent death. A
quiet smile played upon his lips. Though only commenced a few days
before, the short connection I had had with Don Jaime was now closed. As
regards the mysterious link which bound me to Don Tomas, that was not
broken for some time afterward.

A year had passed since the death of the Biscayan. I had quitted Mexico.
Besides the promise I had given Don Jaime, a less romantic motive, one
quite personal, led me into Spain. The embers of the civil war were then
fast dying out. The diligences which plied between Bayonne and Madrid,
and the towns between those cities, had stopped running in consequence
of the Carlist bands which infested the Basque frontier. I reached
Bilboa, and it was only at great expense that I could procure a pair of
horses and a guide. This man, who was to leave me at Vergara, from
whence I could reach St. Sebastian, had himself served in the Carlist
ranks. From Bilboa to Vergara is almost thirty miles. Throughout this
wide extent of country, the people in the villages, fearing invasion,
had emigrated in bands, and the road, dangerous even at its best, would
have appeared very long without the stories of my guide. We arrived at
Vergara at nightfall; the townsmen were fast deserting it. A Carlist
band had announced its arrival. My guide could go no farther, his pass
not permitting him to leave the town. A league farther on the horses
would be seized and himself arrested.

"I must leave you," he said, "but I am very sorry for it. I know my old
comrades well; and may the holy Virgin keep you from falling into their

"My nationality protects me," I exclaimed; "I fear neither Carlist nor

"Your being a Frenchman will not avail you, for--for--for--" The good
man, hesitating for a while, added, "For you will probably be hung

This did not startle me much; I knew, if my life were in peril, I should
find a secure retreat in the house of the mother of poor Don Jaime, who
had once been a Carlist officer. The mountaineer, who could not account
for my coolness, shook me by the hand and said,

"You are a brave fellow, by heavens! and I hope they will shoot rather
than hang you."

The ex-Carlist quitted me. I left my valise at an inn, and, after
learning the direction of the castle of Tronera, a place which every
body seemed to know, set out on foot. It was about three quarters of a
mile from the town. The castle of Villalobos, as I expected, was a
gloomy enough place, and the wind was whistling in the angles of the
crumbling turrets with a noise which sounded to me like the drums of a
Carlist band. Flocks of swallows were darting in and out of some
apertures in the loose tiles on the roof. The shutters were all closed;
some scaffolding, however, raised at different parts of the building,
showed that repairs had been begun, but had been interrupted. The
castle seemed deserted. I knocked at the door. Some seconds elapsed, and
a woman, clad in black, appeared. I desired her to announce to her
mistress that a stranger had arrived from America, and was the bearer of
some important news.

"Alas!" replied the woman, "the poor lady died six months ago, and I am
looking for her son every day."

"He is dead too!" I exclaimed.

I then learned that, some time before my arrival, the mother of Don
Jaime had been presented with a considerable sum of money. As no letter
had accompanied the remittance, she concluded that the unknown
benefactor must have been her son. This sudden change in her fortune had
a fatal effect upon her. When on her death-bed, she had ordered the
money to be laid out in rendering the castle worthy of the residence of
its young master, and had died thanking God that he had allowed a gleam
of prosperity to shine at last upon the old race of Villalobos.

I had fulfilled my promise, and did not remain long at the chateau. It
is needless to add that, contrary to the warning of my guide, I finished
my excursion without meeting even the shadow of a Carlist band or
Christino detachment.


[30] The sap of the aloe, which is first as sweet as honey, but by
fermentation becomes stinking, sour, and heady.

[31] By professing relationship, or even acquaintance, with one who has
fallen by assassination, you render yourself, in Mexico, bound to defray
the expenses of justice.

The Miners of Rayas.


The Hand upon the Wall.--Desiderio Fuentes, the lucky Miner.--Don Tomas

Hardly a century ago, Guanajuato was a town of very little importance.
Before the sudden change in its fortune, which resulted from the rich
yield of silver in the Valenciana and Rayas mines, the mining industry
of Mexico had concentrated its activity in the works of Tasco, Pachuca,
and Zacatecas. The title of _ciudad_ (city) had been borne by Zacatecas
since 1588, while Guanajuato, though founded in 1554, did not attain
that rank till seventy-eight years later, in 1741. It was not known that
the mountains inclosing it on all sides, and on the slope of which it
was built, held within their stony bosom the _Veta Madre_ (Mother Vein),
the richest lode of silver in the world. The situation of Guanajuato is,
besides, doubly advantageous. The city is situated at once in the
richest mining district in Mexico, and in the best cultivated part of
the fertile plains of the Bajio.[32] It is thus the inhabitants call
that large extent of country, about eighty leagues in circumference,
which is bounded toward the side of Guanajuato by the Cordillera.

Alternately parched and inundated, the Bajio presents at all seasons an
aspect singularly picturesque. During the rainy season, the winter of
those favored climes, the sky, which loses its blue without losing its
softness, floods the plains with fertilizing torrents. For several hours
a day the Bajio is a vast lake, studded with tufts of verdure, with blue
hills, with groups of white houses and enameled cupolas. On this sheet
of water the green summits of the trees alone reveal to the traveler the
capricious meanderings of the inundated road. Soon, however, the thirsty
soil has imbibed the moisture through the innumerable cracks that eight
months' drought has left in its surface. A layer of slime, deposited by
the heavy rains and the torrents from the Cordillera, has enriched the
impoverished earth. The heavens are clear and cloudless as before. The
springs, freed from the crust which obstructed them, gush out more
abundantly from the foot of the _ahuehuetl_.[33] The Peruvian-tree, the
gum-tree, the golden-flowered _huisache_, amid whose blossoms the
scarlet-plumed parrots scream, shade and perfume the now consolidated
roads. The songs of muleteers and the bells of mules resound in the blue
distance, mingled with the shrill creaking of cart-wheels. It is the
time when the Indian laborer returns to his toils. Like the shepherd in
the Georgics, with his leathern buskins, his short tunic, and bare legs,
he lazily goads the oxen at the plow. And such is the fertility of this
soil, that splendid crops cover the ground which the plow has scarcely
furrowed. Still, it is not in the rich plain alone that nature has been
most indulgent to the happy dwellers in the Bajio. Over the fertile
valleys in the vicinity of Guanajuato, the Cordillera rears its
metalliferous crest, whose sides are veined with lodes of gold and
silver, and which delivers to the mattock of the miner the immense
treasures of the Veta Madre.[34] The striking contrast that is visible
between the laborer and the miner is nowhere so strongly apparent as in
this part of the Bajio. Humble and submissive, the Indian husbandman is
at every one's mercy. The miner, haughty and independent, takes a higher
rank; and this claim is justified, we must admit, by the importance of
the duty he performs. Obliged to submit to labor which yields him only
limited results, the husbandman finishes his work in silence, while the
pickaxe of the miner resounds, so to speak, to the end of the world, and
is constantly adding, at every stroke, to the riches of mankind.
Prosperity is not long in coming to the indefatigable miner. The slopes
of the hills, the ravines, and the summits of the mountains swarm with a
dense population, among whom the lucky finders of a new lode scatter
their hard-earned money with thoughtless liberality, and squander in one
day the earnings of six months. From the French miner Laborde, who
lavished thousands upon Cathedrals, down to the meanest _peon_, the
history of this bold workman has been always the same. Fortune is the
only god he worships. He goes to his dangerous occupation as if
specially sent thither by Divine Providence; and this proud thought is
favored by the laws of the country, old privileges according the title
of nobility to the worker in the mines. Even at this day he can not be
dispossessed by his creditors of his mine, if he can afford to work it.
It appears that there is a tendency to respect the descendants of a
privileged race. Besides a knowledge of metals to guide him in his
search, the miner must be endowed with a number of rare qualities; from
that vigorous strength indispensable to one who has to raise heavy
burdens, and support all day, on scanty wages, the enervating fatigue of
under-ground work, down to activity and pliancy of limb, united with
undaunted resolution and coolness. These qualities, it must be owned,
are never found in the same man without corresponding defects. A
capricious and undisciplined being, the miner only employs all his tact
and energy if interested in the success of his enterprise. Sometimes,
after toiling for a month, during which he has hardly earned enough to
live upon--in a week, or even in a day, he recompenses himself for his
long privations. The miner then thanks Dame Fortune. He scatters his
gold with a lavish hand, and returns to his work only after all his
gains are exhausted. At times he enriches himself by secretly pilfering
the ore which really belongs to the proprietor of the mine, and the
miners are but too expert at this species of theft.

It was in the midst of a population like this that I found myself at
Guanajuato, after the dangerous and useless search recorded in the
preceding chapters. I did not wish to let this opportunity escape me of
observing upon this theatre of action a class of men, of whom the
_gambusinos_, or gold-seekers of the Sonora, give one only an imperfect
idea. After spending a day in repose, which the many painful events I
had encountered rendered necessary, I went out next morning to visit the
mines in the neighborhood of Guanajuato. While crossing the great
square, and keeping myself on my guard, my attention was arrested by an
unusual object. Nailed against the wall, and under a small pent-house,
was a human hand cut off by the wrist. I stopped my horse to assure
myself that it was not a plaster cast. A moment's examination was
sufficient to convince me that it was indeed a human hand, once strong
and muscular, but now blanched and withered by the wind, the sun, and
the rain. Under the pent-house some half-burned candles told that pious
souls had been touched by this strange exhibition, which seemed destined
to perpetuate the remembrance of some bloody deed. After seeking in vain
upon the wall an explanatory inscription, I continued my journey; but,
during my short stay, a horseman had approached, and seemed determined
to keep close by me. At any other time I would have accepted with a bad
grace the company of the unknown, but I had come out, you must remember,
in quest of a guide. I stopped my horse, and put some questions to him.
The stranger bowed courteously.

"You are a stranger, Señor Cavalier," said he, with a smile.

"How do you know that?" I replied, a little astonished at his abrupt way
of beginning a conversation.

"The curious way in which you gazed upon that withered hand sufficiently
convinced me that you have not been long in the town, and had not much
time to lose. I must say that, for me, who am looking out for a
companion, our meeting is a lucky one."

I was not quite sure if I ought to accept with much cordiality the
companionship so familiarly thrust upon me. He seemed to observe my
hesitation, and exclaimed, with a certain degree of haughtiness, "You
do not know me, and I am unwilling that you should for a moment suppose
that you have got to do with some of those poor devils who are always
ready to offer their services to the first stranger they meet. My name
is Desiderio Fuentes. I am a miner; and, in the profession I exercise,
there are some days on which fortune is unkind, and others on which you
amass so much money that you do not know how to get rid of it. I am in
the latter condition at present; and my invariable custom, on an
occasion of this kind, is to procure some jolly companion who can share
in my pleasures. If I can't get one, I take up with the first cavalier
of good appearance I meet, and I confess that I have never had occasion
yet to blame Fortune for the comrade she sent me."

This frank declaration reassured me completely. I told Desiderio,
however, that I could not accept of his cordial offer. I had come to
visit the silver mines in the immediate vicinity of Guanajuato, and was
unwilling to waste in his company the time that I intended to devote to
such a purpose, supposing always that he would not serve me as a guide.
Desiderio preferred doing this rather than relinquish my society, being
but too happy to escape from his own thoughts, were it only for a few
hours. This bargain made, we spurred our horses, and a few minutes
afterward got clear of the town.

On the road my guide informed me that he had made a lucky hit the night
before, and that he could take his _far niente_ for several days to come
from the proceeds of a _partido_.[35] He added that it would be a
delightful recreation for him to visit the mines in the neighborhood as
an amateur, and he desired me to choose the one I had a mind to visit,
premising only that he would rather not go to the Valenciana, as he
happened to have a quarrel with one of the administrators. He wished to
keep away from the Mellado, because he owed some money to one of the
workmen there; and as for the Cata, certain misunderstandings of recent
date caused him to avoid it with the greatest care. In spite of the
apparent liberty of choice he had granted me, I saw no other way of
accomplishing my object but by going to inspect the Rayas--the only one
open to me. The precautions which Desiderio Fuentes was forced to take
did not say much in his favor. My new friend was evidently very
quarrelsome. He had certainly no love for paying his debts, and in his
misunderstandings (_désavencias_) his knife had doubtless played no
unimportant part. I began to entertain but a very indifferent opinion of
my companion. One expression especially that escaped the miner caused me
to reflect.

"My first impulse is always very good," he said, "but I own my second is

We had now come to the extremity of a ravine whose precipitous sides had
till now obstructed the view. A beautifully level plain lay stretched
before us. Long strings of mules, laden with ore, were slowly making
their way to one of those metallurgic establishments known in Mexico as
a _hacienda de platas_. High chimney-stacks, from which volumes of smoke
and leaden vapors rolled, now appeared; the stone _patros_ also, on
which the fluid metal is poured a day before its formation into ingots.
The noise of the hammer pounding the argentiferous rock, the clattering
of the mules' hoofs, and the cracking of whips, were mingled with the
hoarser sound of the falling water that moved the machinery. I had
stopped my horse to gaze on this animated scene, but my attention was
soon attracted elsewhere. A few paces distant, but half hidden from us
by a hollow in the road, I espied two men dragging along with ropes the
carcass of a mule. Having arrived at a place where Desiderio and I could
alone see them, one of them stooped over the dead mule, and seemed to
examine it curiously, casting at the same time a suspicious glance
around. The moment he caught sight of us, he flopped down on the carcass
that he had been dragging a minute before, while his companion
immediately disappeared in a dense thicket of low trees and brushwood.

"Well, I thought I was right," said Fuentes. "It is my friend Planillas;
but what the devil is he doing there?"

At the name of Planillas I shuddered involuntarily, and, preceded by
Fuentes, made my way directly to the place where the man was seated on
the mule. I hoped to obtain some information from the friend of Don
Tomas Verduzco as to the part the bravo had played in the murder of my
friend Don Jaime. Planillas, his elbows on his knees, and his head on
his hands, appeared overwhelmed by violent grief. The noise of our
approach drew him at last from his abstraction, and he looked up at us,
but with an expression of uneasiness rather than of sorrow.

"Ah! señores," cried he, "in me you behold the most miserable man in all
New Spain."

"You are doubtless thinking," I replied, "of the young cavalier whom Don
Tomas assassinated two days ago, and whose blood is on your head, since
you might have saved his life by stopping the hand of your friend--of
that Don Tomas who had been paid to kill him, you told me."

"Did I say that?" cried Florencio; "then, by the life of my mother, I
lied. I am a terrible liar when in drink; and you know, Señor Cavalier,
I had drunk a great deal that day."

Florencio paused, visibly embarrassed. Fuentes thereupon asked him why
he was in such a state of grief when we came up, and why he persisted in
taking the carcass of a mule for a seat.

"This mule is the cause of my sorrow," replied Planillas. "Although I
was tenderly attached to her, I had sold her in my misery to the
hacienda de platas you see in the valley below. I got employment in the
work-shops to be near her; but, alas! the poor beast died this morning,
and I have dragged her to this lonely place in order to mourn over her

Planillas again plunged his head between his hands with the air of a man
who will not be consoled; then, doubtless, to turn the conversation,
"Ah! Señor Cavalier," he said, "that is not my only misfortune.
Yesterday a fight took place between the miners of Rayas and those of
Mellado, and I was not there."

"I see nothing so unfortunate in that."

"Nothing unfortunate!" vociferated Planillas. "Ah! it was not one of
those vulgar encounters that one sees every day; and you would never
guess how it terminated--by a shower of piastres which the miners of
Mellado poured upon their adversaries to prove the superiority of their
mine. Ah! the beautiful eagle piastres!" he added, with a broken-hearted
air; "and I was too late in the field."

I could better understand Planillas's grief for this last
disappointment; but I should have doubted this excess of arrogant
prodigality on the part of the Mellado miners had not Fuentes confirmed,
with proud satisfaction, the truth of the tale. My companion would again
have questioned Planillas, of whose lamentations he appeared suspicious,
but a sudden cracking of branches in the brushwood behind us attracted
his attention. A little thick-set man, a sort of dwarf Hercules, with a
somewhat stern expression of countenance, stood before us. He saluted us
politely, and sat down on the ground beside Planillas. His mouth tried
to smile, but his glance, sinister and piercing as that of a bird of
prey, belied the feigned gayety. We were silent for a few moments. The
new-comer was the first to speak.

"You were talking just now," he said, "if my ears did not deceive me, of
one Don Tomas. Could it be of Don Tomas Verduzco you were speaking?" He
said this in a soft and silky tone, that contrasted strongly with the
evil expression of his countenance. This simple question, coming from a
man who had at once inspired me with the strongest repugnance, sounded
very much like an insult.

"Precisely," I replied, exerting myself to keep cool; "I accused Don
Tomas of the murder of a young man whom he did not even know the night

"Are you sure?" said the man, with a sinister glance.

"Ask this wretch!" I replied, pointing to Planillas.

On hearing this, Planillas bounced up as if he had been touched by a
spring. He appeared to have recovered all his assurance. "I never said
any thing of the kind. But your lordship," cried he, in an ironical
tone, "is surely not acquainted with the respectable Don Tomas
Verduzco, since you speak so in his presence."

I looked at the man thus denounced to me, and whom I now beheld for the
first time. Imagination placed before me the bleeding body of Don Jaime,
his agony, his last moments, and his happy future, all cut off in an
instant by the knife of the man before me.

"Ah! you are Don Tomas Verduzco--" I could not finish. A sort of
faintness came over me, and, without accounting to myself for what I was
about to do, I cocked one of my pistols. At the click of the lock the
stranger's face became livid, for Mexicans of the lower classes, who
will not wince at the glitter of a knife-blade, tremble at the sight of
a fire-arm in a European hand. He never stirred, however. Fuentes threw
himself between us.

"Gently, señor! gently, Cascaras! how you take the customs of the

"The deuce take that Planillas," said the stranger, with a forced laugh;
"he is always playing off some joke or other. But the idea of passing me
off as Don Tomas is too absurd. Has your lordship any interest, then, in
this Don Tomas?"

My passion appeared to me ridiculous, and passed away as by enchantment.

"I do not even know him," I replied, somewhat confusedly, but with all
my former coolness. "I can not tell how he has got mixed up in my
affairs; but I think I owe it to my safety to show no mercy to such
assassins when chance throws them in my way."

The stranger muttered some unintelligible words. I thought the
opportunity a good one to get rid of my new friend Desiderio, whose
companionship was becoming somewhat burdensome to me, so I saluted the
group and rode off; but I had not counted on the idleness of Fuentes,
for, before I had gone a hundred yards, he had overtaken me.

"I was perhaps wrong," he said, "to interfere in this affair, and to
prevent you from lodging a bullet in the head of that ill-looking knave;
for, judging from the revengeful look he cast at you, I presume the
first stroke of a knife you will receive will be from his hand."

"Do you think so?" I replied, rather startled at this unpleasant

"I yielded, in truth, too readily to my first impulse," continued
Fuentes, who seemed in a reverie. "What if we went back?" he said. "You
might then resume the affair at the point at which you left it, and, in
case of need, I would help you."

It was quite clear that Fuentes regretted having let slip this nice
opportunity for a quarrel. I dryly refused his offer, and thought to
myself that, decidedly, his second impulse was worse than his first.

"You won't! Well, it's no great matter. After all, who cares for a
knife-thrust more or less? I have received three in my time, and am not
a bit the worse."

I did not deem it necessary to make any reply to this remark, which did
not place my guide's character in a very favorable light, and cut short
his revelations by asking him some questions about the mine whose
buildings were coming gradually into sight as we approached.


[32] Literally, bottom of a valley.

[33] The name of a species of cedar, whose presence almost always
indicates the vicinity of a hidden spring. In Indian, _ahuehuetl_ means
lord of the waters.

[34] The Veta Madre, wrought by the four mining companies of Valenciana,
Cata, Mellado, and Rayas, was discovered by the French miner Laborde,
and has yielded, between the years 1829 and 1837, ore to the value of
almost six million two hundred and fifty thousand pounds sterling.

[35] The miners are said to be in _partido_ when a share of the proceeds
is given them as wages. In this case the employers furnish them with
tools, gunpowder, and candles.


Description of, and descent into, a Silver Mine.--The Miner's Chapel.

When a mine is first begun, it is always left open to the sky, and the
mineral is extracted by following the vein that contains it; but, as the
mine gets deeper, two obstacles present themselves: the extraction of
the ore becomes more costly, and the workmen are not long in meeting
with hidden springs, the waters of which, unless removed, would drown
the mine and stop the works. To provide against this danger, shafts are
sunk, at the bottom of which a working gallery runs, that follows the
vein of metal. The depth of the shaft depends upon the lode, which
sometimes stretches so far down into the ground that two or three
working galleries, one above the other, are obliged to be constructed.
In the richest mines little paths of communication are added to these
principal arteries, besides other works to assist in its exploration.

The ore and water are raised out of the mines by means of machines
called _Malacates_, placed at the mouth of the shaft. Large bags, some
made of the stringy bark of the aloe, others of ox-hide, are fixed to
the ends of ropes wound round an enormous drum, the former for raising
the ore, the latter for the water, and these are constantly passing up
and down the shaft. The motive power is given by horses, which are kept
constantly at the gallop.

Besides the grand shaft (_tiro general_), the mine of Rayas has two
others of less importance, one of which reaches a depth of nearly eight
hundred feet. The tiro general, remarkable for the diameter of its
shaft, which is thirty-four feet, and for its frightful depth, almost
twelve hundred feet, communicates with three principal galleries, one
above the other, and these shafts and galleries, together with their
accessories, form the most complete series of gigantic workings that are
to be found in the country. The exterior appearance of this mine is,
however, far from giving one an idea of the constant activity which
prevails within it. Some paltry wooden sheds, covered with tiles, which
protect the malacates, or shelter the workmen; a few buildings of mean
appearance, the offices of the administrators or overseers, and two or
three whitewashed houses, huddled together without any regard to order
on the neighboring mounds, scarcely convey to the visitor any notion of
the wonders he is going to behold.

It was about midday when I arrived with my companion at the opening by
which we were to be admitted into the mine. We dismounted, confided our
horses to the care of one of the miners, and entered. Desiderio carried
in his hand a huge torch. I stood for a short time at the mouth of this
vast laboratory, thinking on the millions of money it had been the means
of putting into circulation. My guide, his cloak thickly covered with
gold lace, that appeared, as the light of the torch fell on its velvety
folds, to be seamed with golden links, looked like the lordly genie of
this subterranean kingdom. We descended for a long time a series of
steps, every one of which had the dimensions of a terrace. Amid the
profound darkness, which the torch dispelled but feebly, we made a
series of turnings and windings, changing every minute our temperature
and direction, and sometimes mounting an inclined plane only to descend
it. In about a quarter of an hour I perceived in the distance some
wandering lights, then a few gigantic shadows appeared on the moist
walls of the vault. I still kept on, and soon found myself in a square
which the piety of the miners had converted into a chapel. In the centre
rose a low altar, ornamented with wax tapers, which burned before an
image of a saint. A man, who seemed to be praying fervently, was
kneeling upon the steps of the altar. He was the first human being I had
seen since entering the mine.

My guide touched my arm.

"Take a good look at this man," he said, in a low tone. The suppliant
miner was entirely naked. Without the light of the flambeau, which
allowed you to see his gray hair and angular features, you would not
have thought he was an old man, so much youth and vigor seemed still to
possess his nervous members.

"Why?" I inquired of Desiderio.

"This man," said he, "is no stranger to the history of the hand upon the
wall that you gazed at with so much curiosity this morning; and, though
that history is as well known to me as to him, perhaps from his lips it
would have an additional interest, as his son was concerned in it."

I fancied that I had at last found an opportunity for shaking off
Desiderio by insinuating that the narrator would probably go more into
detail if he were telling the story to me alone. This time he took the

"I am neither irritable nor quarrelsome," cried he; "but your lordship
seems very desirous to get rid of his devoted servant."

"I must protest against the meaning you put upon my words."

Fuentes seemed to be calming down.

"Come," said he, with an air of raillery, "I will renounce my desire of
accompanying you through these subterranean abodes, seeing you wish it.
Besides, I must find out the meaning of the comedy played this morning
by Planillas upon the carcass of the mule. You must visit the mine
without me; and I shall tell you what I have learned about this fellow
after you have come up the grand shaft, for, to crown your achievement,
you must be drawn up by means of the malacate."

I was in such a hurry to be quit of this personage that I promised all
he asked, without remarking the ironical smile with which he welcomed my
reply. At this moment the miner had finished his prayer. Fuentes
exchanged a few words with him in a low tone, and walked rapidly away. I
felt relieved.

"Señor Cavalier," said the new-comer to me, "my comrade Fuentes has made
me acquainted with your desire to know the story of my son from my own
lips--about him who was the pride of the corporation of miners. This
desire does me honor; but at present I can not accede to your wish. I am
on my way to fire a charge in the mine. If I am still in being after
that operation, I shall be with you in two hours, and place myself
entirely at your disposal, for I love the brave, to whatever nation they
may belong."

"And who told you I was brave?" I asked, with an air of astonishment.

"_Caramba!_ a man who visits a mine for the first time, and who, as
Fuentes tells me, has a strong desire to make the perilous ascent by
means of the _tiro_! Well, we shall go up together, and on our journey
I shall tell you the story. I shall meet you, then, in two hours at the
bottom of the last gallery, close upon the grand shaft."

I could scarcely have avoided this pompous eulogium; but I could not
help feeling a certain sinking of heart at the very thought of being
forced, as it were, against my will, to make this difficult and
dangerous ascent. I was again indebted to Fuentes for this new
annoyance. However, I promised to meet the old miner at the time
appointed, and, being alone, I profited by my independence so far as to
examine at my leisure the new world into which I found myself
transported. I had the torch which Desiderio had left with me, and
walked about at my pleasure. Above me, fancifully hollowed out in the
living rock, and studded with brilliant spangles, stretched vaults of
unequal grandeur, some sustained by wooden props, others letting their
sharp points descend, like the pendant of a Gothic lamp, till they
threatened to fall and bruise one to pieces. A few tiny streamlets,
which flowed along the bottom of the rough pilasters, gleamed brightly
as the light of the torch fell upon them. At a distance, large drops of
water escaped from the fissures in the rocks, and fell on the stony soil
with the dull, regular beat of a pendulum. Before me several dark
squares opened; the noise of footsteps reverberated in the sombre caves,
and died away in the distance. Various lights from time to time
struggled through the deep gloom; these were the miners passing and
repassing, with a rush-light stuck behind their ear, looking like the
gnomes of the magicians, who, with a light on their forehead, watch over
the hidden treasures of their masters.

I advanced with all caution; for, left without a guide in this
labyrinth, I did not know which way to go. I soon heard in the distance
the dull sound of the pickaxes with which they were hewing away the
rock, mingled with mysterious noises which seemed to come from a lower
gallery. These sounds, though very indistinct, served to guide me. Since
entering the mine, I had seen only those passages in which the ore had
been all extracted. I was now impatient to behold a spot in which the
miners were actually at work. Such a locality is called the
_labor_--that is to say, the place where they are following the vein of
silver. A dusky, obscure glimmer indicated that the proximity of the
place was not far off; and I soon reached the orifice of a shaft not
very deep, from which a strong light proceeded. I descended it by means
of a wooden ladder placed zigzag. I hesitated at first to trust myself
to this rickety ladder; but, emboldened by the shallowness of the shaft,
I ventured to descend, and arrived safely at the bottom. A passage about
five feet wide, and six hundred in length, conducted me along this
underground hive, the air in which was as hot and stifling as if it had
left the mouth of a crater. Lost in the midst of this crowd of workmen,
who were too busy to notice my presence, I could examine at my ease the
fantastic tableau which there met my eyes. A number of candles, stuck to
the walls, threw a dull, confused light upon the miners, the greater
portion of whom, up to their waists in water, were attacking the living
rock with vigorous strokes of their _barretas_. Others trudged off
loaded with sacks of ore, the weight of which brought their muscles into
tension, while the lighted rush-light which they carried upon their
heads shone full upon their bronzed bodies, trickling with sweat, and
their long floating hair. The sharp sound of the pickaxes striking the
rock--the splash of the stones in the water--the voices of the
miners--their shrill cries, and wheezy breathings, seemed at times to
shake the very vault. The reddish glare of the candles reflected in the
water--the dust--the vapor, which filled the place like a mist--the
coppery veins which ran in all directions through the rock, all combined
to increase the singularity of the spectacle.

After spending there a considerable time, I resolved to make my way to a
lower gallery, at the end of which I was to meet the old miner. The
ascent I was to make from that place did not seem so perilous as I at
first imagined, and I should, besides, be saved going over the same
ground. I requested one of the miners to conduct me to this place, as I
feared to lose my way in the maze, the paths crossing and recrossing
each other in all directions. I began, also, to feel the necessity of
breathing a purer air, and followed my new guide with pleasure.

I went down an inclined plane so long that the joints of my legs knocked
together, and arrived at last, worn out and breathless, at the extremity
of the last gallery, which formed a right angle with the grand shaft,
whose black mouth yawned right at my feet. This shaft was carried down
still lower. The miner had not yet arrived. To a solitary workman, who
seemed to have been forgotten in these vast catacombs, was assigned a
most dangerous and frightful task. Close at hand, another shaft full of
water was in process of being slowly emptied by means of an enormous bag
of ox-hide attached to the cable of the malacate. When full, it was
raised by means of the invisible machine twelve hundred feet above;
but, being violently drawn in an oblique direction toward the axis of
the grand shaft, the bag, distended with water, was in danger of being
cut against the sharp rocks, had not the workman deadened the impulse it
had received from the first motion of the malacate. On a narrow space
between the two pits, in the midst of almost utter darkness, the peon
held on to a double rope passed round the cable, whose two extremities
he held in his hands; then, as he was pulled with a fearful rapidity to
the mouth of the gulf, he let go all at once one of the ends of the
rope, and the bag struck the opposite side of the rock very gently; but,
had he made one false step, or let go the rope a second too late, he
would have been dashed down an almost unfathomable abyss. I regarded the
unhappy wretch who, every quarter of an hour during the whole day,
hazarded his life for scanty wages with a feeling of pity and

The bag had already ascended and descended four times; that is to say,
an hour had elapsed, and not a single person had yet appeared. I must
confess that, at the sight of the dark, gloomy shaft which I had to
ascend, I felt my spirits sink somewhat; and as the old miner did not
make his appearance, I pardoned him in my heart with a good grace, when,
through the thick darkness, the cable of the malacate came in sight. A
feeble glimmer lighted up the damp walls, and a voice, which was not
unknown to me, called out,

"Halloo! friend, is there not a gentleman waiting here to go up by the

I had scarcely answered that I was ready than a packet fell at my feet.
I untied mechanically the cord which encircled it. The parcel contained
a vest, trowsers of thick wool, a leathern baton, and a kind of plaited
rope made of the bark of the aloe. I asked in some terror if the vest
and trowsers were quite sufficient to deaden a fall of twelve hundred
feet. As for the leathern baton and the plaited strap, I guessed their
use at once. The workmen near me described the use of each of these
articles. The woolen clothing was to keep me from being wet by the
water, which shot forth in fine rain at certain places in the shaft. I
was to attach myself to the cable by means of the plaited strap, and the
baton was to prevent me from being dashed to pieces on the rock by the
oscillations of the rope.

"Make haste!" cried my invisible guide; "we have no time to lose."

I put on the clothes with all speed, drew the cable toward me, and
grasped it firmly with my hands, crossing my legs likewise over it. The
peon passed the strap twice or thrice round my body and under my thighs,
so as to form a kind of seat, tied the two ends firmly to the cable, and
placed the baton in my hands. He had scarcely finished ere I felt myself
lifted from the ground by an invisible power. I spun round three or four
times, and, when I recovered from my astonishment, found myself already
swinging over the gulf. A little above my head I perceived the legs of
my guide, who was grasping the cable tightly. Although he carried a
torch, I could discover but imperfectly his copper body, half naked,
which, at certain moments, gleamed like Florentine bronze. However, I
could make out his words quite well.

"Am I well enough tied to the cable, do you think?" I asked, seeing that
not a single knot or roughness in the rope could prevent the strap that
bound me from slipping to the bottom.

"Well, I suppose you are, unless the peon has done his business ill,"
replied the miner, in a calm tone; "but, should that not be the case,
you can grasp the rope with your hands with all your might."

I clutched the cable convulsively. Unfortunately, I could hardly compass
it with my two hands.

"How long shall we be in going up?"

"Twelve minutes commonly, but in this instance half an hour--a favor
which I have obtained solely on your account, to allow you more time to
observe the wonders of the mine."

"And does any accident ever happen in the ascent?"

"Pardon me. An Englishman, who happened to be ill bound to the rope,
fell almost from the top to the very bottom, and so suddenly and quietly
that a fellow-workman of mine, who was his guide, had not remarked his
disappearance till he was at the top of the shaft."

I thought it best to ask no more questions. When I considered that five
minutes had elapsed since the first movement of the malacate, I ventured
to look above and below me. The shaft seemed to be divided into three
distinct zones. At my feet a thick darkness dimmed the horror of that
gulf which no eye could fathom; white tepid vapors rose slowly from the
dark bottom and mounted toward us. Around me, the guide's torch lighted
up with a smoky glimmer the green walls of rock, cut and torn in all
directions by the pickaxe and the wedge. In the upper region a column of
thick mist pressed round the circle of light produced by our torch, and
shut us out completely from the light of day. At this moment the
machine stopped to give the horses breath. I clutched the cable anew as
if it were slipping from me, and shut my eyes to avoid looking downward.

"This halt is especially for you," said my guide. "I had forgotten that
I was to tell you a story, and this affords me time."

Without waiting for my reply, the miner commenced a recital whose
incidents and minute details could not, in a dangerous ascent like this,
fail to be deeply engraven on my memory. The attention I gave to the
narrator kept my mind from dwelling upon the dangerous position in which
I was at the moment, and this cessation of thought I would have welcomed
at almost any price.


Story of the Passer of the Rio Atotonilco, Osorio.--Felipe.--The young
Miner.--A Duel in the Mine.

"You are perhaps aware," said the miner, "that in passing from San
Miguel el Grande[36] to Dolores, the traveler is obliged to cross the
Rio Atotonilco. In the rainy season the passage of this river can not be
made by any but those who know the principal fords. The stream is about
sixty yards wide at the place where the road to San Miguel meets it. The
impetuosity of its waters, and the heavy, imposing noise of its yellow
waves, produce an involuntary terror in any one who requires to cross
it at this place. On the opposite bank, a few cabins, formed of
branches, shelter a few wretched families, who make a scanty living by
piloting the passengers across by the fords, with which they are
acquainted. Often, when the traveler on the other side sees the poor
half-clad people wandering upon the bank, and throwing themselves into
the water, he hesitates, turns his bridle, and gallops off. A sad event
proved that too little confidence can not be placed in men who will not
be contented with the scanty living they pick up at this dangerous
employment. Some years ago, an old miner of Zacatecas, who had rendered
himself obnoxious to justice, and had quitted that province, came and
established himself among the passers of the Rio Atotonilco. This man,
whose strength and prowess rendered him formidable, was marked as having
a singularly unlucky hand. Once or twice, the travelers whom he had
engaged to convey across had been ingulfed by the waters of the river.
One stormy night, believing himself alone, and seeing a traveler on the
opposite bank, the passer crossed the ford to tender his services. He
was observed by one of his comrades who had followed him, but who had
hid himself among a thick clump of osiers on the brink of the river for
the purpose of watching all that passed. The passer, having crossed the
river, soon reappeared, followed by the cavalier, whose horse he led by
the bridle. When half way across he mounted behind, and, a few seconds
after, the splash of some one falling into the water was heard. One only
of the horsemen remained in the saddle. This man reached the opposite
bank at a considerable distance from the hamlet, and was soon lost in
the darkness. The witness to the crime was a young man whom the passer
had, a few days before, brutally ill used, and he was now seeking an
opportunity for revenge. Thinking he had found it, he threw himself into
the water, swam after the sinking body, and soon succeeded in dragging
the unhappy man to the other bank, whom, by his tonsure and dress, he
guessed to be a priest. Overcome with fatigue, the youth fainted. When
he recovered his senses it was broad daylight, and the body of the
priest was gone--carried off, doubtless, by some charitably-disposed
persons who had been passing. That circumstance did not check the young
man's eagerness to make his deposition before the alcalde of the nearest
village; but, though a pursuit was set on foot, it was unsuccessful."

My guide checked himself at this moment. As if we had arrived in the
region of clouds, a mist enveloped us, which gradually converted itself
into a fine and almost impalpable, but soaking rain. The torch
sputtered, and gave forth a very feeble glimmer. The water ran off the
bronzed body of the miner in streams. The machine again stopped, and I
felt a new sinking of heart, similar to the feeling one has on the deck
of a laboring ship, when he thinks that every moment he is going to the
bottom. A short and terrible apprehension increased the fear of
immediate danger which had come over me. I fancied that the strap which
bound me to the cable had slipped, and I was sliding downward. I gave a
convulsive shudder.

"Has the strap got loose?" cried the miner; then, looking downward, and
seeing me always at the same distance from him, he continued, with
imperturbable calmness: "A short time after the disappearance of the
passer, about whom the strangest stories were noised abroad, a new
miner came to work at Rayas, which is about a dozen leagues from Rio
Atotonilco. He said he had served his apprenticeship in the neighboring
state of Cinaloa, and by his good-humor and liberality (for he appeared
to have other resources besides his daily pay) soon gained the
friendship of all his fellow-workmen. My son Felipe was the one he
attached himself to more than any of the others. There was, however,
between him and Osorio (that was the new miner's name) a complete
dissimilarity in age and disposition. Felipe was a rough, unpolished
workman, jealous of the reputation he had acquired, and haughty as a
miner ought to be; for we have no need of ancient privileges to
distinguish us from the vulgar, our profession ennobling the right that
is granted us. Osorio, on the other hand, who was twice the age of
Felipe, seemed to look upon labor as a burden, and passed his time in
thrumming a guitar and preaching insubordination to the _mandones_
(overseers). However, their friendship might have been of a lasting
nature had they not both fallen in love with the same woman. This was
the first time that they ever had a sentiment in common, in spite of
their intimacy, and this was what produced the first quarrel. They
continued, however, in spite of these differences, to pay their
attentions to the fair damsel; for, though she preferred Felipe, she
could not give up Osorio's music and merry good-humor. The frequent
absence of the latter gave a great advantage to Felipe. During one of
Osorio's times of absence, a report spread abroad that the Cathedral of
Guanajuato had been burglariously entered, and that a monstrance of
massy gold, adorned with precious stones, had disappeared from the place
in which it was usually put. This sacrilegious theft struck the
clergymen of the town with horror; but all their exertions to discover
the daring robber were in vain. In the absence of Osorio, Felipe had
succeeded in gaining the first place in the affections of the maiden to
whom both had been paying their addresses. Her parents resolved to marry
her to him, as it would tend to cut short the incessant quarrels that
were ever taking place between them. The wedding was to take place in a
short time, and all the friends of both families assembled at the young
woman's house to celebrate their betrothal. Brandy and _pulque_ flowed
profusely, and music enlivened the feast, when an unexpected occurrence
brought every thing to a stand-still. A man stood in the midst of the
guests; that man was Osorio. Every one knew his violent disposition, and
his sudden appearance caused all to tremble. Felipe alone remained cool,
and waited, knife in hand, the attack of his rival; but he, without
putting his hand to his belt, advanced into the circle, and apologized
for having come without an invitation; then, taking a guitar from one of
the musicians, he seated himself on a barrel of _pulque_, and began to
improvise a bolero. This unexpected event caused a general surprise, and
the merriment was redoubled. The party, interrupted for a moment, became
more boisterous, and it broke up to assemble again on the eighth day

Here the narrator paused. We were gradually approaching the mouth of the
tiro, as I could discover by the light shining through the fog which
still enveloped us; besides, the higher we got, the gulf below appeared
more frightful.

"Do you know what distance we are from the bottom of the mine?" cried
the guide. "Five and a half times the height of the towers of the
Cathedral of Mexico."

To confirm this assertion, the miner drew from his belt a bundle of tow
steeped in pitch, which he lighted at his torch. My strained eye could
scarcely follow it as it slowly descended the pit like a globe of fire,
till it gradually became small as one of those pale stars whose light
scarcely reaches our earth. The voice of the miner, who again began his
recital, turned my mind away from this reflection.

"From that night on which Osorio showed himself at the betrothal, Felipe
was annoyed in a thousand ways by some unknown hand. On the very next
day a blast was fired close to him, and covered him with fragments of
rock; another time, when he was at a considerable height in one of the
galleries, the rope to which he was suspended broke suddenly. These
attempts being unsuccessful, vague assertions began to be bruited
abroad, accusing poor Felipe as the thief who had stolen the monstrance.
The brave young man was unwilling to recognize in Osorio the author of
these foul calumnies. His eyes could hardly have been opened to the
evidence that he was his calumniator, had not a young miner, who
constantly watched Osorio, and who had lately entered the mine, apprised
Felipe of the snares that were laid for him. Felipe resolved to seek his
revenge. On the evening of the day on which the marriage was to take
place (for all this had passed in less than a week), Osorio and Felipe
met in the subterranean galleries of the mine. Felipe reproached Osorio
with his treachery; Osorio replied by recounting the injuries he had
suffered; the two then drew their knives. They were alone and almost
naked; their _frazadas_ were their only shields. Osorio was the
stronger, Felipe the more agile; the issue of the combat was therefore
uncertain. All at once the young miner of whom I have spoken threw
himself between the two combatants. 'Allow me,' said he, to Felipe, 'to
punish this sacrilegious robber; my claim is anterior to yours.' Osorio
gnashed his teeth and threw himself on the young miner, who stood grimly
on his defense. The two then began to fight by the light of Felipe's
torch, who had now become a spectator instead of an actor. With their
frazadas wound round their left arms to hide their lunges, they
commenced the combat. Perhaps the struggle would have been a
long-protracted one had not the young miner adopted the following
stratagem: he took such a position as allowed the covering on his arm to
sweep the ground; then, behind the veil which masked his movements, he
slipped his knife into his other hand, and gave his adversary a mortal
wound. Osorio fell. He was drawn up by the grand shaft in a
_costal_.[37] By chance a _padre_ happened to be passing the mine at
that moment. They besought him to come and confess the wounded man; but
scarcely had the dying man and the padre looked at one another than a
cry of horror broke from the priest. The holy father had recognized in
the wounded man the passer of the Rio Atotonilco. Osorio discovered in
the priest the man he thought he had drowned, but who had escaped as if
by a miracle from almost certain death. After that, by the
investigations of justice, many mysteries were cleared up. The passer of
the Rio Atotonilco, the sacrilegious robber, the miner of Zacatecas, and
also of Rayas, were one and the same person. The garrote did justice to
the crimes of this wretch, and it was his hand you saw nailed to the
wall in the grand square of Guanajuato. I must now tell you what became
of Felipe. The providential recognition of the victim and his assassin
was soon noised abroad, and a few hours afterward a band of alguazils
appeared to arrest the miner who had stabbed Osorio. Unluckily, on that
day Felipe had quitted his work sooner than ordinary. I do not know by
what fatal mistake he had been pointed out as the murderer of Osorio;
perhaps it was an additional token of good-heartedness on that caitiff's
part--at any rate, the alguazils came to seize him. The victorious
combatant had escaped, and I need not tell you that this mortal enemy of
Osorio's was no other than the young man whom he had ill used, and who
was a witness of the crime he had committed on the Rio Atotonilco. Had
Felipe remained under ground, the alguazils would not have ventured into
the inner workings of the mine, for the miners would not have suffered
any injury to be inflicted on a comrade in their _fueros_. The alguazils
perceived the young man in one of the courts of the mine buildings, and
immediately set off in pursuit. Felipe saw he was lost; but he resolved
to die a miner's death, and not suffer himself to be dishonored by the
touch of the bailiffs. Having arrived at the brink of this very shaft
quite out of breath, 'I will not be insulted as if I were a vile
lépero,' he cried; 'a miner is more than man; he is the instrument whom
God delights to employ!' Then, with pale face and gleaming eyes, he
leaped over the balustrade surrounding the shaft, and disappeared in the
black gulf which now yawns beneath your feet."

The miner paused, and the light of his torch grew dim. High above our
heads, at the mouth of the shaft, appeared the first gleam of daylight,
like the pale blushes of early morning. The impression which the miner's
story had made upon me was so great that I could not help trembling in
every limb.

"It was very nearly ten years ago," said the miner, in a hollow voice,
"since Felipe threw himself down this abyss, and I have never ascended
the shaft since, and that has been often, without having a strong desire
to cut the cable."

And the madman brandished a large knife, as if he were preparing to
carry it really into effect. I would have called aloud for assistance,
but, as in a frightful dream, my tongue refused to perform its office.
My hands even refused to grasp the rope. Besides, what good would it do
me? the cable was going to be cut right above my head. I threw a
mournful look at the pale light which was tinging the green walls of the
shaft, and listened to the indefinite noises which told me we were
slowly approaching the haunts of men--the dusky daylight appeared so
beautiful--the confused noises above seemed such delightful harmony. At
this moment a peal of subterranean thunder burst up under my feet, and
the mine roared through its many mouths like a growling volcano. The
compressed air being inclosed in this enormous siphon, a powerful blast,
equal to that of a strong whirlwind, shook the cable like a silk thread,
and we received several severe bruises against the rocks. The torch was
blown out; but, luckily, the terrible knife slipped from the miner's
hands, and went whirring down the shaft.

"_Cascaras!_ a new knife gone, worth two piastres," cried a voice, which
I immediately recognized as that of Fuentes. I had scarcely pronounced
his name ere a great shout of laughter burst forth right above me. It
was Fuentes indeed, who had come down to serve me as a guide, and play
the part of the old miner. The extreme eagerness I had shown to get rid
of him prompted him to this kind of revenge.

"Do you know, Señor Cavalier," he remarked, "that you are not easily
frightened? In a situation such as would have tried the nerves of the
bravest man, you did not even condescend to shout for help."

"Certainly not," I replied, with an impudence which surpassed his own;
"you see you have only made yourself ridiculous by trying to frighten

The malacate now stopped; we had finished our ascent. Desiderio was
first unloosed, and I waited my turn in feverish anxiety. When the strap
which bound me to the cable had been untied, I could scarcely keep
myself from fainting outright. I soon recovered my senses, however. I
pressed the earth with a kind of rapture. Never had Nature seemed so
beautiful, so resplendent, as on that day.

In the interval that passed while our horses were getting ready,
Fuentes, who had resumed his gaudy dress, stood silently by, and I took
care not to be the first to speak. My foot was already in the stirrup
when an old man came up to me. I could scarcely recognize, in the person
whose dress vied in richness with that of Fuentes, the old miner whom I
had seen a few hours before kneeling at the altar.

"You will pardon me for having broken my word," said he to me; "but my
work detained me longer than I expected. You must have heard the
explosion in the mine: it took place not half an hour ago."

"True," I replied. "I have been also told a touching and very mournful

"My boy behaved nobly," replied the old man, raising his head proudly;
"and you can tell in your own country that the miners are a race by
themselves, and that they know how to prefer death to dishonor."

I have seen the gold-seekers in the state of Sonora, and could not help
admiring the kind of grandeur which characterizes their physiognomy, for
every thing in the desert takes the largest proportions; but in the
towns the type of the miner was far from exercising upon me a like
fascination. The whimsical and capricious character of Fuentes, and the
immorality of Planillas, had brought about this disenchantment. The
story I had heard, while it helped to make up my mind partly about the
class, proved that the miner had not quite degenerated: the vices of
Planillas, and the oddities of Fuentes, like the dark shades in a
picture, disappeared before the austere figure of that old stoic who had
bidden me farewell with such haughty expressions, and I forgot Osorio
only when I called Felipe to remembrance.


[36] A small town near Guanajuato, celebrated for its manufactures of
zarapes, which almost rival those of Saltillo. Dolores is a market-town,
still more celebrated for having been the cradle of Mexican

[37] A kind of basket formed from the filaments of the aloe.


Rencounter with Don Tomas Verduzco.

I fancied a favorable moment had at last arrived for taking leave of
Fuentes, for whom I entertained no good feeling, though a regard for
myself caused me to conceal it.

"What!" said he, "are you going to town? I am going there also; and you
will find it more cheerful to have a companion by the way."

We set out. Daylight was fast ebbing away, and it was doubtful if we
should reach Guanajuato before nightfall. Desiderio kept up a continual
flow of talk about the sayings and doings of the miners, and what an
excellent profession he belonged to; but I took no interest in his
conversation, and inwardly imprecated the bore whom I could not shake
off. All at once he stopped, and struck his forehead with the palm of
his hand.

"_Voto al demonio!_" cried he. "I have forgotten the unhappy devil for
these two hours, and he may have bled to death by this time."

"Whom do you refer to?"

"Planillas, to be sure."

Almost at the same moment Fuentes went off at a gallop. I had now got a
capital opportunity of ridding myself of him; but my curiosity
prevailed, and I hastened after him. When we had arrived at a place not
far from where we had that morning met Planillas plunged in grief,
sitting on the carcass of the mule, Desiderio paused, and made a gesture
of surprise.

"I don't see any body," I said.

"No more do I, and that's what astonishes me. True, he must have been
tired waiting. It is very shabby of him; and another time I won't
believe him. However, it is more than probable that some charitable
person has removed him, for he had excellent reasons for remaining there
till the sounding of the last trump."

"What has happened to him?"

"Look!" said Fuentes, pointing to the earth dyed in blood, and to the
mule which the vultures were then preying upon. The miner added that, in
the morning after leaving me, he had returned to ask some questions of
Planillas, whose crooked morality made him an object of suspicion. Not
finding either him or the mule at the place he had left them, he had
followed their traces, and having arrived at the spot where we now were,
found poor Florencio lying on the ground almost insensible, and bleeding
profusely. He had then learned the truth from the lips of the wounded
man. The mule, which Florencio and his companion were dragging to a
solitary place, had died, it is true, in the hacienda de platas; but
Florencio had never seen the animal till that day, and the cause of his
tender solicitude was, that its flanks contained a number of silver
ingots which Planillas had stolen and hidden there, so that the clerk of
the mines might not discover them. The stratagem had been successful;
but when they came to divide the spoil, after having drawn it to a still
more solitary spot, a quarrel arose, and the result was, that Planillas
got nothing but a couple of stabs from the ready knife of his neighbor,
which had placed his life in great danger.

"You can guess the rest," continued Fuentes. "I could not help being
sorry for the fellow, and went away, promising to send him assistance. I
can't tell how it is, but I completely forgot the poor devil."

Fuentes was right in not boasting of his second impulse. As for this
reckless indifference to human life, I had seen too many similar
instances in Mexico to be at all astonished at it. I rode sadly back to
Guanajuato, still in the company of Fuentes, who did not fail to stop me
at the little pent-house in which the hand of the sacrilegious robber
was exposed. This memorial of a barbarous justice reminded me that I had
observed some imperfections in the miner's story.

"If I understood you aright," I said, "of the three persons, actors and
witness, who were present at the duel between Osorio and the young
miner, two are dead, and the third escaped. How comes it, then, that you
can speak so positively about actions of which no person could have
informed you?"

"Very simply," replied Fuentes. "I had forgotten to tell you that it was
I who killed Osorio; it was I who witnessed the deed on the Rio
Atotonilco. Don't think, however, that I am an utterly heartless bravo
like that Don Tomas, surnamed _Verdugo_.[38] I have given, it is true,
more than one stroke in my time; but in Mexico one must see a little
justice done to one's self. Were you not yourself on the very point of
killing a man this morning? And don't you think that a similar case
might perchance happen to me?"

I shuddered at this rude speech, which reminded me of the danger I ran
by remaining any longer in Guanajuato. The man whose life I had
threatened that day was, I had no doubt, the murderer of Don Jaime. It
may be easily imagined that I felt some degree of satisfaction in
finding myself safe at the door of my hotel.

"Ah! you live here?" said Fuentes, grasping my hand; "I am very glad I
know; I shall call on you to-morrow, and we shall have a pleasant day

"Well, to-morrow," I said. We parted, and I entered the inn.

My valet Cecilio waited on me with as much impatience as curiosity in
his countenance. He had been long obliged to make himself acquainted
with all the particulars of my life, but seldom had he been necessitated
to follow me into such a maze of disagreeable incidents. I interrupted
his questions by ordering him to have our horses saddled at midnight,
as I wished to avoid both Fuentes and the treacherous designs of Don

"After this," said I, "we shall travel only at night; it is better for
the health."

By traveling at night and sleeping during the day, I reasonably hoped to
baffle all pursuit. However, grown bolder by success, I returned to my
ordinary habits; and when I came to the venta of Arroyo Zarco, it was
midday before I arrived, after having passed the night at San Juan del
Bio, and journeying almost the whole day. In this last stage of my
excursion many sorrowful remembrances crowded into my mind. The plain,
the venta, alike reminded me of Don Jaime. It was while musing sadly on
this young man, so prematurely cut off, that I found myself, almost
without knowing it, at the very spot where he had lighted his fire. Of
so many dreams of love and fortune, what was left behind? A corpse three
hundred miles away, a few burned sticks, and some ashes which the winds
of the plain were scattering about! The supper-hour approaching, I went
to pass away an idle hour, if not at the common table, at least in a
room where all the travelers, and they were numerous on that day, were
generally accustomed to take their meals. The company consisted, as it
had done before, of a curious mixture of all classes of Mexican society,
but I had no end in view as I had then, and accordingly seated myself in
a corner after looking around me with a careless eye. I thought for some
time on the cruel isolation to which foreigners are subjected in those
countries inhabited by people of Spanish extraction, when the hostess
pronounced, almost at my ear, the name of a person that made me start.

"Señor Don Tomas," cried the hostess, "here is a foreigner who was
inquiring after you a fortnight ago, and whom I was telling you about
just now."

I jumped up. In the man whom the hostess had addressed, and which a
secret feeling in my own mind convinced me was the person, I recognized
the sinister companion of Planillas. A cold shudder ran through my whole
frame. I looked at the by-standers, but I could see on their
countenances only that expression of apathetic indifference which makes
a comedy or a tragedy a matter of mere moonshine to them. Almost
immediately, and before I was able to prevent it, I was strained between
two strong muscular arms. I disengaged myself without any ceremony, but
he affected not to perceive the repugnance with which he had inspired

"Ah!" cried he, with an impudence seldom to be met with, "how happy am I
at meeting here a cavalier who has won my entire regard! What! were you
inquiring after me? In what can I serve you?"

"It was all a misconception on my part, I can assure you; but, if you
have not forgotten your visit to the _Secunda Monterilla_,[39] you may
perhaps recall to your memory your object in coming there."

"Do _you_ live there? You can then boast that you have come more than
two leagues in search of me."

"I have gone two hundred and forty to meet you," I answered, "and find
you here at last."

The bravo replied by the same constrained smile I had seen his face wear
the first time I met him. "I was seeking for a foreigner with whom I had
been engaged to do a little business, and an error that I now recognize
alone conducted me to you; but I know you now, Señor Cavalier, and will
not commit the same blunder a second time. I only need to see a person
once to remember him ever after. I never forget faces, even at the end
of twenty years."

These last words were accented in such a way as to leave me in no doubt
of the ruffian's meaning. I said not a word, but the bravo seemed to
have repented of having shown any resentment. Turning to the hostess,
and in a tone of rough gayety,

"Halloo, _Patrona_!" cried he; "you have doubtless supplied this
cavalier, whom I hold in particular esteem, with the best fare your
house affords?"

"I have supped," I said, interrupting him, "and I must only express my
perfect satisfaction with our hostess's arrangements; besides, I am not

"Well, we shall drink to our unexpected meeting. Patrona, bring us a
bottle of Catalonian brandy."

I was quite at a loss how to decline this forced invitation that
prudence was urging me to accept, when Captain Don Blas P----, or rather
lieutenant, for he held the former title only by courtesy, rose from the
table, and advanced to welcome me.

"You are one of us, captain, I hope?" said the bravo.

The captain accepted his offer; but, emboldened by his presence, I
formally refused.

"I am much jaded and tired," I said, "and would rather go to my room.
Captain Don Blas, if your road lies the same way as mine, I should be
happy to profit by your company, and to-morrow at break of day we might
pursue our journey to Mexico together."

Don Blas excused himself at not being able to agree to my proposal by
stating that certain very important business would detain him all next
day in the neighborhood. He then sat down opposite Don Tomas, before
whom the hostess had already placed the bottle of Catalonian brandy.

"Good-night, then, señores," I exclaimed. "I hope your slumbers will be
as refreshing as mine."

I settled my bill, and, disguising my precipitate retreat under an air
of haughty defiance, quitted the room with measured steps, the bravo all
the while regarding my motions with indirect glances. I reached my room,
fearing more the oily silkiness of Don Tomas than his anger. I found
Cecilio sleeping on our saddles.

"Listen!" I said, awakening him. "Saddle our horses immediately without
any noise; then bring them round to the back of the venta, and wait for
me there. In a quarter of an hour I shall be with you."

That time had hardly elapsed when I quitted the hostelry without being
observed. My flight at this time formed a striking contrast to that
which I had shared so cheerfully with Don Jaime. I need not say that we
covered the distance between Arroyo Zarco and Mexico still more rapidly
than on our departure: the parts only were changed. The man before whom
I was flying was that very person I had been pursuing so long. Thank
heaven, the issue of this adventure was not tragical, as I feared at one
time it would have become.


[38] Lit., poniard.

[39] The street in Mexico where I lived.

Captain Don Blas and the Silver Convoy.


Threatened Insurrection in Mexico.--Stealthy Movements of
Troops.--General Don Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

The day was approaching on which I was to leave Mexico for Vera Cruz, to
embark for Europe. For several years before this a Yankee company had
established a line of diligences which ran between several of the
largest towns; wagons, also, for the conveyance of heavy goods, competed
with the picturesque caravans of the _arrieros_ on all the principal
roads. Ought I to give up my habit of solitary traveling for no other
reason than the quickness of transit between Mexico and Vera Cruz? I
must then renounce the hospitality of the venta, so pleasant after a
long ride--the siesta under the shade of a tree--the friendly connection
of horse and rider, and all the enlivening contingencies of solitary
travel. I must confess that I could not look upon this innovation, due
to the foreigner who had brought Vera Cruz within four days' journey of
Mexico, without some degree of abhorrence. I felt that, under the
influence of more rapid communication, the ancient appearance of Mexico
was beginning to alter. I groaned and chafed like an antiquarian who
sees rude hands defacing some rare and ancient medal. The establishment
of this new kind of conveyance in Mexico had been attended with
annoyances of a most dangerous character. Well-organized bands of
robbers turned the innovation to account, and not a diligence passed
without being pillaged. The remembrances of my ancient relations with
the Mexican _salteadores_, ordinarily so courteous to every traveler
unencumbered with baggage, rendered the prospect of a similar
humiliation very disagreeable. The pillaging part of the business was
not a thing at all to my mind; besides, the idea of passing several days
in a close carriage, drawn by four swift steeds, and bounding over a
Mexican road rutted by heavy rains, and covered with large pieces of
rock, was a mode of traveling not at all in accordance with my habits
and tastes.

A mere accident caused me to decide what course to follow. Several
merchants in Mexico, profiting by one of those political lulls so rare
in the republic, were about to send a rich convoy of silver (_conducta
de platas_) to Vera Cruz. Some muleteers were loading their mules with
sacks of piastres, inclosed in little wooden boxes, in the great court
of one of the houses in the street of Monterilla, where I lived. The
sight of these preparations had drawn a great crowd of spectators around
the gate, myself among the rest. When the mules had received their
precious burden, they all instinctively huddled together in a corner of
the court. A score of _mozos de mulas_ (stable-helpers) kept up a
running fire of oaths while at their work. Under the archway of the
court the _arriero_[40] brought matters to a close by signing the bills
of lading, and invoking the Virgin and all the saints to give him a safe
and successful trip, every now and then stopping to scold the helpers.
In the street, the multitude speculated on the possibility of such a
rich lading surviving the perils of a long and dangerous road, while the
greatest part of the spectators in tatters did not take the least pains
to conceal their real sentiments.

"_Canario!_" said a lépero, covering a breast seamed with scars with a
cloak almost torn to ribbons, "if I had only a beast like the one that
cavalier has between his legs!"

And he eyed a horse, black as jet, which a _ranchero_ was riding. The
animal, tightly reined in by his rider, champed his bit furiously, and
threw the foam to the right and left. I could not help admiring the
beauty of the horse, and remarking at the same time the firm but easy
seat of the cavalier, who seemed to manage his steed only by his own
will, a quality possessed in the highest degree by the gentlemen of

"Well! what would you do if you had, Gregorito?" asked one of his

"Canario! I would accompany the conducta to a spot on the road I know
well; and though, as you are well aware, I am no braggart, I should
count myself very unlucky if one or two such loads did not fall to my

"One or two loads, Gregorito!" said the other, in a tone of surprise.

"Yes, three loads at most. You know I never had very much ambition, but
the horseman there seems to have even less than I."

The ranchero, in appearance at least, looked on the whole convoy with
disdain, but what was passing through his mind it was impossible to tell
from his face.

Meanwhile a squadron of lancers, designed to serve as an escort, had
great difficulty in keeping the crowd out of the court, among whom
Gregorito was one of the most modest in the expression of his desires.
The fluttering rags of the léperos, and the waving pennons at the points
of their lances, formed a curious contrast. The loading was at length
completed, the last mule left the court, and the detachment formed up to
accompany the convoy. The crowd gradually melted away, and at last only
the ranchero remained, who appeared to be counting the mules with care,
besides eyeing attentively every individual _mozo_. At last the ranchero
began to put his horse in motion. At this moment the lépero Gregorito
approached him, and begged him to allow him to light his cigarette at
his. A long and animated conversation, in a low tone, took place between
the two men, but I paid little heed to an incident which appeared to me
so insignificant. I left the place, and went home.

The sight of the convoy awakened in me a desire which I was not long in
putting into execution. The departure of the convoy, whose escort I
could easily join, would furnish me with the only opportunity I should
ever have, not only of escaping the ennui of a diligence, but also of
satiating my curiosity by exploring, in perfect security and by short
stages, the long route between Mexico and Vera Cruz. The loaded mules
would travel but slowly, and I could easily rejoin them, even though
they were at several leagues distance from Mexico--thanks to the proved
swiftness of my horse--so as to allow me a couple of days even to bid
farewell to my friends. I began in all haste to make the necessary
preparations for departure. My first object was to procure a horse for
my servant. He had been so ill mounted during our long journey while
searching for, and flying from, the bravo, that his horse had broken
down entirely after we re-entered Mexico, and I had ordered him to
replace it by another. As for my own steed, one of those I had brought
with me from the hacienda of Noria, he nobly justified the name of
_Storm_ which I had given him; the strength and vigor which his free
life in the desert had produced rendered him fit to endure the hardest

Cecilio went about the business immediately. I told him that economy was
to be considered in the purchase, but the fellow did not conform too
scrupulously to my instructions. A few hours afterward he came to tell
me that a _picador_, one of his friends, had a horse to dispose of which
seemed to come up to my standard. In a few minutes, a sorry hack, of a
dun color, with hanging head and tottering legs, that apparently had
escaped from the bull-ring, came slowly into the court. I almost
screamed when the picador, with matchless effrontery, asked ten piastres
for the miserable brute; but, considering that the only time on which we
needed to travel rapidly would be in joining the convoy, and that
afterward short stages would be the rule, I consented to the purchase.
The picador and Cecilio, seeing my impatience, began to expatiate on the
noble qualities that lay hidden beneath the miserable skin of the
wretched beast, and I paid the knave the sum he demanded, knowing well
that my honest valet would partake in the plunder with the picador.

All my preparations being made, I determined to set out next morning;
but a series of unforeseen events retarded my departure for several
days. The time for sending this rich convoy of silver to Vera Cruz
appeared to have been ill chosen. A dull, vague feeling of uneasiness
weighed on all men's minds. The most alarming symptoms of an imminent
political storm were apparent. Even on the very day after the convoy had
left Mexico, it was universally regretted that a lading so valuable had
been exposed to the dangers of a long road at this conjuncture, and
several circumstances, it must be owned, justified these fears.

General Don Anastasio Bustamente--after losing in Europe, in learned
retirement, the remembrance of his country's misfortunes--had returned,
and assumed the presidency of the republic. If disinterestedness and
probity, joined to ardent patriotism, were sufficient to govern a great
state, Bustamente was the man for Mexico. Like almost all the generals
who have attained to power in Mexico, it was in the war of independence
that he showed what he was capable of performing. A devoted friend and
partisan of the Emperor Iturbide, he had taxed Santa Anna with the
blackest ingratitude in commencing his military career by revolting
against the one who had raised him from obscurity. This was the
commencement of that personal enmity which still subsists between the
two generals. During the time I was at Mexico, Santa Anna could not be
prevailed on to forgive Bustamente for having forestalled him in the
presidency. For three years Bustamente had been subjected to many
trials. Two years had scarcely elapsed since the taking of Vera Cruz by
the French, and already the emptiness of the public treasury had
compelled Congress to impose an additional duty of fifteen per cent.
upon imports. Commerce languished by this measure. The decision of
Congress only augmented its sufferings. A general bad feeling began to
gain ground in the state, which, to all accustomed to the march of
political events in Mexico, seemed likely to be employed to the
disadvantage of the existing government. Events were not long in
confirming the justice of these forebodings.

The reader may not, perhaps, have forgotten a certain lieutenant Don
Blas, whom I had met at the venta of Arroyo Zarco, and had left seated
at table with the bravo, Don Tomas Verduzco. The slight degree of
acquaintanceship which I had with this officer never occurred to my mind
without recalling to memory the mysterious relations which seemed to
exist between him and a man who I had every reason to believe was my
mortal enemy. Since my last meeting with Don Tomas I had been under a
continual apprehension, but too well justified by the known antecedents
of this ruffian.

I had, I believed, taken every precaution against an attack which would,
according to all appearance, be made in the dark. Besides, I had
conformed to the rules of the strictest prudence by restricting myself
only to short walks from my place of abode. The porter of my house was
an old soldier of the wars of independence, a brave and honorable man,
who never showed more vigilance than when he was intoxicated. The result
was, that the house could not have been better guarded. I was, it is
true, the first victim of this excess of precaution on his part, for it
was not without the greatest difficulty that, on one occasion, I
prevailed upon him to unlock the iron chain that held together the two
leaves of the entrance gate.

The Angelus was still sounding from all the churches in Mexico when,
returning from a gallop on the Paseo, I rode through the streets, as I
fancied, for the last time. Night was coming on when I gained my
lodging, and it was not without a longer parley than ordinary with the
old porter that I succeeded in gaining admittance. Leaning against the
wall to steady himself and keep up appearances, the brave man, with a
bayonet in his hand, contented himself by jerking his thumb over his
shoulder in the direction of a soldier, who, seated on one of the stone
benches of the vestibule, rose up eagerly at my approach. A peakless
shako, too small for the head it covered, tottered on the top of a dense
thatch of thick yellow hair. A uniform coat of thick cloth, and a pair
of trowsers as large as the shako was small; shoes, whose upper leather
had long parted company from the sole, not only allowing the toes to be
seen, but also ventilating on the most approved principles the wearer's
feet, and a complexion of a bright copper color, all served to stamp the
man as a lépero who had been torn away, by the exigencies of the
service, from following his profession of sleeping in the sun on the
pavement. However, a sort of picaresque and arrogant bearing about the
fellow showed that he was not insensible to his profession, and to the
splendor of his military dress. The soldier, who was the _asistente_ of
Don Blas, had been sent by him with a letter to me. I recognized, in
fact, his handwriting. The note ran thus:

     "MY DEAR FRIEND,--I have just read with much emotion, in a French
     novel that you lately lent me, a story of two friends, who, when in
     need, aided one another with their purse and their sword. As I
     require some money at present, I should be obliged by your sending
     with the bearer, in whom I have every confidence, an ounce of gold,
     which I shall restore to you on the first opportunity. I can tell
     you that this will be a service with which the country will be as
     well pleased as your devoted friend and servant,

     "Q. S. M. B.,[41]

     "BLAS P----.

     "P.S.--On reflection, if you will bring the ounce of gold yourself,
     it will be better; and, to imitate the devotion of those friends
     whose story has made such an impression upon me, I offer you my

I thought, as the lieutenant did, that the ounce of gold would have a
greater chance of coming into his hands if I carried it myself.

"Where is your officer?" I inquired of the soldier.

"At the Guadaloupe gate."

"It is a pity," I said, "that the oracion has sounded, as we can not now
ride thither."

"If it is the intention of your lordship to accompany me, as my captain
said you might," the messenger replied, "he recommended you to go on

In spite of the great honor that would accrue to me by rendering this
service to the Mexican nation, I could not hide from myself that I would
have the worst of it in this chivalrous exchange of purse and sword.
However, the desire of knowing from the mouth of Don Blas how much I
ought to fear the resentment of the bravo with whom chance had brought
me acquainted, determined me not to allow this opportunity to escape. I
took time only to throw a cloak over my shoulders, and hide my pistols
under my coat. I then set out, followed by the soldier. Still, I took
care, while passing through the town--which became more and more
solitary as we approached the suburbs--to walk in the middle of the
road, as well to see all who were approaching, as to avoid the angles in
the wall that might shelter ambuscades. I arrived without accident at
the Guadaloupe gate, sometimes smiling at my terrors, sometimes
shuddering at some sudden noise. The night was very dark, and the July
rains were already announced by a thick fog, the moisture of which
rendered the pavement slippery.

"Shall we soon be there?" I asked of the soldier, when we came to the

"Immediately," he replied.

A drizzling rain succeeded the fog. We soon arrived at a road which ran
between the lakes, without the soldier showing any signs of having
reached the end of his journey. A thick mist, which hovered over the
water, hid the two snowy peaks of the volcanoes which cap the
Cordilleras. At last I perceived at some distance the lighted windows of
a small house, and very soon a confused sound of voices reached my ear.
Arrived at the house, the soldier tapped with his bayonet, and the door
opened. He entered first without any ceremony, and motioned me to follow
him. Under any other circumstances, I should have seen nothing very
extraordinary in this invitation; but my ideas having been running on
ambuscades for the last month, I hesitated about penetrating into such a
cut-throat looking place. A voice that I knew put an end to my
hesitation: it was that of the Lieutenant Don Blas, who was conversing
with his _asistente_ about the result of his mission. All my fears then
vanished, and I entered. At the same time Don Blas sprang to meet me,
and pressed me in his arms with all a Mexican's warmth. After the first
compliments had passed, he led me through a room (crowded with men of
all grades), a kind of vestibule, into a spacious hall, where some
individuals of a higher rank sat round half a dozen tables, drinking and
gambling. They all appeared to be military men, judging at least from
their mustaches, and Don Blas himself bore no other insignia of his rank
than a round jacket, decorated with a sort of epaulet on each shoulder,
denoting only the brevet captain. We sat down at a table by ourselves.
The men looked at me in a way that was not altogether pleasant or

"He is a friend," Don Blas said, hastily; "he won't betray us."

I had the best of reasons for being discreet on such an occasion, and
made no remark upon the words of the lieutenant. We were served with an
infusion of tamarind with a strong dash of brandy in it; I then asked
him, "How comes it that you did not, in person, ask for the favor you
expected from me? You would have saved me a long walk, and a return home
alone in the dark."

"I am going to reply to your question," said the lieutenant, stretching
out his hand for the ounce of gold, and putting it into his pocket. "The
reason why I have given you so much trouble is that I am kept here as a
kind of pledge for the money I owe; as for you, you will return home at
daybreak in the company of your very devoted servant."

"Does that mean that I am to be kept here as a kind of pledge also?"

"Not at all; but certain affairs will happen, two hours hence, which
will prevent you from returning. At present I can tell you nothing

Such a disclosure as this opened a wide field for conjecture; but I
wished, at the moment, to obtain some information regarding an affair
which touched me more nearly.

"You were good enough," said I to the lieutenant, "to place yourself at
my disposal in exchange for the small favor that I was able to render
you, and doubtless you will be happy to learn that a very important
conjuncture makes it necessary for me to ask the assistance of your
valorous sword."

A cloud came over the hitherto smiling face of Don Blas, and I fancied
that the lieutenant never thought that he was so soon to be taken at his
word. However, he promptly recovered himself, and cried, "Play is an
unfortunate thing! Caramba! my sword is in pledge with the rest of my
accoutrements; but what have you done to need the loan of mine?"

"It is your strong right arm, and not your sword, that I require," I
replied, smiling at the evasive subterfuge of the lieutenant. "The sword
of the Cid would be useless in my hands against an enemy so formidable

"Speak lower," said Don Blas, interrupting me and twirling his mustache;
"my rash bravery is well known here. All are aware that danger
electrifies me, and it might be feared that I had lent for another
motive the weight of that arm which belongs to my country alone."

The hectoring air of the officer made no impression upon me; but I had
no wish to turn what was intended only for a joke into something more
serious. I desired only to know if the bravo had made me the subject of
conversation after my departure from the room on that night I happened
to be at Arroyo Zarco, and it eased me not a little to hear that he had
asked not a single question about me.

At this moment the gallop of a horse rang on the stone causeway, and
almost at the same moment a young lad, about fifteen years of age,
bounced into the room. By his military cap--a kind of beret, ornamented
with a profusion of gold lace, as well as his uniform--I immediately
discovered that he was a _cadete_ (cadet).

"Every thing goes on swimmingly, gentlemen," cried he; "the colonel is
coming to receive his general's commission. This evening his division
reached Cordova. Valencia is advancing. In three days we shall be
masters of Mexico, and then I shall be _alferez_!"

All in the room sprang to their feet; and I asked the lieutenant, by a
motion of my eye, what I should do.

"Do you still wish to leave?"

It was evident that I was witnessing the first act of some new
revolution which was about to take place, and that I was a spectator of
some of those little scenes which serve as the prelude to some grand

Among the numerous causes which have tended to exhaust the public
exchequer in Mexico, and contributed to isolate the country from
European progress, the most deplorable and the most striking are,
without contradiction, those which prevail in the military executive. In
a country whose geographical position effectually preserves it from all
rivalry with neighboring nations, the army was, it may be said,
disbanded at the declaration of independence, but in a short time
afterward it sprang again into existence. Unhappily, the heads of the
new republic only looked to that power as an instrument for executing
its own ambitious designs. Since then, a warlike mania has seized a
people that had been pacifically disposed for three hundred years, and
gradually the army had become accustomed to decide upon and settle all
political questions. The result of this warlike transformation is well
known. To-day the pettiest Mexican officer fancies himself called on,
not by a political conviction, but only by his own ambition, to protect
or to overturn the established government. It would seem, as one might
say, that an article of the Constitution gives to every one the right of
becoming a colonel.

Accustomed since infancy to trample under foot all civil institutions,
the cadet, transformed into an officer almost before the age of reason,
and the soldier of fortune, to whom a long series of _pronunciamentos_,
in which he has taken part, has given a commission, have both in view
the same design, a rapid promotion by the same way, that of
insurrection. Liable to be broken at every instant by a sudden change in
the government, the officers have no hope of obtaining a higher grade
but by their swords. Then, according to the fortunes of civil war, the
officer who has fought his way to a higher rank, or who has seen the
banner under which he fought leveled with the dust, has no more chance
of getting his pay from the new government than he had from the old. He
thus constitutes himself a creditor of the state till some stray bullet
closes his account forever, or till the time when he can dip his fingers
into the public purse, and become a permanent debtor of those who have
outstripped him in his career. However, although the vicissitudes to
which the country has been subjected are numberless, it is the
exception, and not the rule, if the officer arrive at the head of
affairs; his life, in such a case, becomes only a continual series of
annoyances. Then, a revolutionist by ambition--a gambler by nature--a
contrabandist on occasion--a knave by necessity--a _remendon de
voluntades_[42] when in want, the officer practices every trade, deals
in all sorts of merchandise, and becomes at last more an object of pity
than blame; for he knows nothing of business, and his country never has
paid him for any service he has rendered her, not even though he may
have shed his best blood in her behalf.

The news of an approaching insurrection was doubtless soon communicated
to the men in the other room, for a deafening din drowned the general
hurrah, in which cries of Santa Anna forever! Death to Bustamente! Down
with Congress, and fifteen per cent.! and others, of a like import, were
shouted, and which will always find an echo in the hearts of people
still too young to know what true liberty is. When silence had been
re-established, I questioned my friend the lieutenant about the
political movement; but in a hurried tone, "Tut!" he replied; "here you
must seem to know nothing. I shall make you acquainted with every thing
afterward. For the moment, I have nothing more pressing than to pay my
score and go away. You must know that the country is as much your debtor
as if the debt had been committed to writing, for its safety is
concerned in the liberty of my person."

"About two such debtors I need have no fear," I said, gravely; "but how
comes it that a mere civilian has dared to place an embargo on a
military man?"

"Alas!" replied Don Blas, in a melancholy tone, "one must borrow
wherever one can. The misfortune is, that this inn is kept by an
officer, and I only learned that when, enchanted with the credit I
received here, I had used the place as if the owner had been a

That the inn was kept by an officer was not at all astonishing to one,
like me, well acquainted with Mexican manners, but that an officer had
ventured to give credit to a comrade appeared a piece of the most
inexplicable rashness.

"Halloo! Juanito," cried the lieutenant to his asistente. The man soon
made his appearance in a costume still more picturesque than the one I
had seen him wear an hour before. His peakless shako still trembled on
the top of his frightful mop of hair, but he had donned the horseman's
jacket instead of the foot-soldier's coat; and it being too short for
him, a large portion of his copper skin was exposed to view above the
waistband of his trowsers. The fellow was evidently in a bad humor.

"What's the matter, _muchacho_?" asked Don Blas.

"The deuce!" cried Juanito, sharply; "you called me away at the very
moment I was going to receive a dragoon's helmet for my shako; and who
do you think would be pleased with that?"

"Request the huesped to come here," said Don Blas, affecting not to
perceive the rough reply of the soldier.

Juanito wheeled half round, and went out without saying a word.

"That is a man devoted to my interests, and I overlook the liberties he
takes in consideration of his devotion," remarked the lieutenant, by way
of apology; "devotedness is such a rare thing in this world."

The host was not long in appearing, and I immediately explained to him
the position in which the lieutenant stood. The huesped was a man of
Herculean proportions, with broad shoulders and a florid complexion. He
sported a formidable pair of mustaches curled up at the ends. In a word,
he had quite the appearance of a _valento_ (bully) of the first class.

"How much do I owe you?" inquired Don Blas; "for it is always a pleasure
to me to pay my debts."

"The fact is, if the rarity of the pleasure doubles the value of it, the
payment of a debt ought to be a perfect treat to you," replied the host:
"you owe me fifteen piastres and a half."

"Fifteen piastres and a half!" cried the lieutenant, jumping up
hurriedly; "demonio!"

And, handing the colonel the ounce of gold that he had newly received
from me, he received in return change to the amount of four reals.

"Caramba! colonel, you will give me a real more, I hope," said the
debtor, in a suppliant tone.

The host turned a deaf ear to this demand, and taking from a press the
sword and helmet of the lieutenant, he gave them to him, saying, "Take
notice that I charge you nothing for the trouble I have been at in
retaining these articles in pledge for two days."

The debt of Don Blas having been thus satisfactorily arranged, he
proposed a walk with me upon the road. I unhesitatingly attributed this
proposition to the desire of making use of the liberty he had now
acquired, but I was soon undeceived. The lieutenant exchanged some words
in a low tone with the other officers in the hall, and went out,
promising to let them know every thing he saw or heard. I hastened to
follow him; for, in spite of the curiosity that possessed me, I could
not hide from myself the fact that the place for a foreigner was not in
the centre of a band of conspirators, whatever their private opinions on
other points might be.

The rain had ceased. A thick mist still covered the surface of both
lakes, but their still waters already reflected in their bosom a sky
less sombre than before. The volcano of Popocatapetl was still shrouded
in mist, while the snow of the neighboring mountain sparkled in the
gentle light of the moon. By her uncertain light the _White Woman_
(Iztaczihuatl) looked more like one of the pale Scandinavian divinities
under a northern sky than an American nymph reclining under that of the
tropics. The lights of the town went out one after the other, and a deep
silence reigned around. A confused noise, however, like the wind
agitating the reeds in the lake, at times came stealing upon our ears.

"Come on," said Don Blas to me; "it is close upon the hour, and I am
astonished that I have seen nothing yet."

"What are you waiting for?" I asked.

"You will soon see; come on."

After walking for about a quarter of an hour, the indistinct noise which
broke the stillness of the night soon resolved itself into the tramp of
a body of horse. The sounds were deadened by the damp air, and the soft,
moist earth on which they moved. It was doubtless a troop of cavalry on
march. A dark mass was not long, in fact, in advancing.

"Who goes there?" cried one of the leaders.

"Friends!" replied Don Blas.

"_Que gente?_" asked the same voice.

"_Mexico!_" was the lieutenant's reply. He demanded, in his turn, where
the division had come from.

"From Cordova," answered the same voice.

The troop passed, and we remained in the same place. A little after, a
second troop, and then a third, came in sight, and made the same
replies, and afterward continued their march to Mexico. I saw nothing,
however, in these men but ordinary travelers, for there was little in
their bearing that betokened them as regular troops, when some distant
lights sparkled in the midst of the fog, and I fancied I heard repeated
_vivas_; this was another band advancing. In the centre, and clearly
seen by the light of the torches, rode two officers on fiery horses, in
the costume of country gentlemen--half military, half civilian. The
superior officer had a physiognomy and mien which struck me forcibly,
and awoke in my mind a feeling of curiosity and vague remembrance. He
was a man apparently about forty-five years of age, of a lofty and
commanding aspect, and swarthy complexion. A high forehead, which his
hat but imperfectly concealed, and a rounded chin, perhaps too large for
the perfect regularity of his features, denoted obstinacy and
resolution; a nose slightly aquiline, great black eyes full of
expression, and flexible lips, stamped him with an air of haughty
nobility; his strong black curly hair flowed over his temples, and
shaded his high cheek-bones. I remarked, also, that his bridle hand was

Don Blas made a gesture of surprise, and, scarcely giving himself time
to reply to the countersign which was asked of him, bounded toward the
officer on horseback.

"Your excellency ought not to forget that we are within a short distance
of Mexico," said he, uncovering respectfully, "and prudence requires
that you come no nearer."

"Ah! is it you, Captain Don Blas?" said the cavalier, stopping his
horse; "I am very glad to see you among us." Then, addressing himself
to his cortège, "You know well, señores," said he, "that the pleasure I
feel in finding myself once more among you has caused me to forget my
own safety; but the time is not far distant, I hope, when I shall come
again, and find there," pointing to Mexico, "none but brothers and

After this speech he wheeled his horse half round, and I could see that
it was a wooden leg which rested in the right stirrup. A general hurrah
followed his last words. The torches were hurled far into the lake, and
went out with a hiss, and all again was dark, but not before I had
recognized in the cavalier who was conversing with Don Blas the man who
for twenty-five years had been the evil genius of Mexico, the cause and
fomenter of all its revolutions--in one word, General Don Antonio Lopez
Santa Anna.


[40] A kind of farmer.

[41] _Que sus manos besa._--Lit., he who kisses your hands.

[42] Lit., Humorer of caprices.


The Colonel Inn-keeper.--Sharp Fighting in the Streets of
Mexico.--General Bustamente, President of the Republic.

The lieutenant and I remained alone. I asked him to give me some
explanation regarding the scenes of which I had been a witness. He very
eagerly gave me some account of the discontent that prevailed among all
classes, caused by the import duty of fifteen per cent. It was, in fact,
the bad feeling which arose from this that had furnished the pretext for
the new _pronunciamento_. The numerous pedestrians we had met on the way
to Mexico were part of a regiment of cavalry in garrison near the city.
Don Blas had been urged to entice them into the service of Santa Anna,
with the promise, if successful, of getting a commission as captain of
cavalry. I then comprehended how the _asistente_ of Don Blas had shown
so much eagerness in procuring a cavalry uniform. Advantage had been
taken by the partisans of Santa Anna of introducing the regiment which
had been gained over into the town in a civil dress, a thing of very
easy execution, as the difference between the civil and military costume
in Mexico is very small.

On returning to the inn, the lieutenant recounted all that had passed to
the officers assembled, who had taken the initiative with their
soldiers. They then adjourned, as the project for which they had been
waiting had been realized, and the officers rose to make their way, one
by one, into the town. Don Blas and I, like the rest, set out on foot
for the same place. The soldiers passed in small scattered bands through
different gates.

On the way, I pointed out to the future captain the fears that I
entertained about the fate of the convoy of silver, exposed, as it were,
to the attack of the insurgents.

"May I ask if you have any interest in that?" said he, sharply.

"None at all; but the pillage of the convoy would entail considerable
loss on some of my countrymen."

"There's no fear of that; a powerful but hidden protection is extended
over the convoy. An extraordinary courier, that left town this morning,
has seen it put into a place of safety. The chief muleteer will wait for
the conclusion of events; and the escort has been intrusted to the
command of a brave and faithful man. Why, I take as lively an interest
in it as yourself."

"And for what reason?" I asked, astonished.

"Because we do not wish a crime to sully the glory of this coming
revolution. And, besides, I am to be the commander of the escort of the

I could hardly explain the heat with which the lieutenant spoke of a
piece of business that seemed to offer no apparent advantage to him.
But, without asking any more questions, I contented myself by telling
him of the project that I had entertained of joining the conducta. Don
Blas received this news at first very coldly; then, seeing me determined
in my resolution, he pretended that it would be no bad thing to have me
for a companion on the road. Unfortunately, it was impossible yet to fix
a day for our departure; and many dangers, although Don Blas perhaps
exaggerated them, menaced the precious convoy.

Twenty-four hours after our arrival in the town, it was rumored that
Generals Santa Anna and Valencia were advancing at the head of two
divisions, to obtain redress of those grievances which they affirmed
they had suffered under Bustamente's government. Events now succeeded
each other with startling rapidity. A few skirmishes, and those not of
an unimportant nature, had already taken place between the government
troops and the factious, who had advanced to invest the _Plaza Mayor_,
and had raised a barricade at the corner of the streets San Augustin and
Secunda Monterilla. It was learned afterward, to the general
consternation, that the garrison in the palace, corrupted by the rebels,
had seized the person of the president even in the palace itself. While
this conflict was raging I heard nothing of Don Blas, but on the morning
of the day that followed these events, some blows, violently struck on
the lodge gate of my house, awoke me with a start. A few minutes after,
the lieutenant entered my chamber in a pretty plight. A long beard,
disordered hair, and a face begrimed with the smoke of gunpowder,
proved, or at least seemed to prove, that he had taken an active part in
the engagements of yesterday. I congratulated him on his warlike
appearance. Don Blas received my praises with the air of a man who knows
his own merit, and informed me, with a certain air of importance, that
he had come to occupy the terrace of my house with a body of his men, as
it commanded the palace square.

"I have chosen your house without even asking your permission," said he
to me, "because it is in the neighborhood of the presidential palace,
and also to show you how a captain's rank is gained. I hope that you
will follow me to the terrace, where my company is already stationed."

"I shall assist at your triumph with much pleasure," I said; "and, if
you will allow me to dress, I shall be very happy to take my place near
you; only I must keep out of the way of the balls, as I have not the
least honor to gain. But you are still in the infantry, I see."

"I have very good reasons for making no change as yet," replied the
lieutenant, with some slight hesitation. "In a hubbub like this, a
horseman is too much exposed--he is quite useless, I mean; and, besides,
how the devil have I the means of purchasing a horse?"

At this moment the door opened, and the helmet of a dragoon was shoved
in at the aperture. This helmet covered the head of the asistente
Juanito, who, more lucky than his master, had found means, thanks to
_monte_, of half transforming himself into a horseman; for all that
remained of his former costume was his enormous trowsers, in which he
seemed every moment ready to be ingulfed.

"Captain," cried the asistente, "if you don't come immediately and put
yourself at the head of your men, some misfortune may happen."

"What!" said Don Blas, "are my fellows so impatient to come to blows?"

"Oh no," replied Juanito, "they are in no hurry for that--rather the
contrary; but upon the terrace of the Ayuntamiento, opposite the house
of this French señor, stands that great rascal of a colonel you
know--the master of the inn who kept your lordship in pledge. He
proposes to buy our cartridges of us."

"And my braves have scouted the idea with indignation, I am sure?"

"They did; but that was because he only offered them half price."

"Has this d--d colonel, then, betrayed us?" cried the lieutenant.

"That may be, Señor Captain. I am not in the habit of meddling in other
people's affairs. The colonel has perhaps changed his side for very good
reasons: who knows?"

The officer started after the impassible Juanito, and I dressed myself
in all haste. I was curious to see how, according to the expression of
Don Blas, one attained the rank of captain. When I was almost on the
last step of the flight of stairs that led to the terrace, I heard the
word "Fire" given in a very loud voice. I stopped. To my great
astonishment, perfect quiet reigned on the roof. A second command was no
better obeyed; and it was not till after a third that a report followed,
but so feeble as to show that the cartridges, though only valued at
half price, still possessed such a value in their eyes as to prevent
them from being prodigally expended.

I opened the door of the terrace with all imaginable prudence, and stole
along, protected by a wall which ran round the azotea, and got behind
one of the pilasters, which rose turret-like at regular intervals.[43] I
had a telescope in my hand.

"What are you going to do with that glass?" inquired Don Bias.

"Why, I never go to the theatre without my glass--not even to a
bull-fight. Should I have forgotten it when I am come to secure the best
place for seeing the gigantic efforts of the combatants on both sides."

The future captain seemed to look with an eye of envy upon the place in
which I found myself in such perfect security. I could clearly discern
from my terrace even the quadrangle of the palace and the adjacent
streets. The national flag floated no longer from the roof of that
building, and the president found himself a prisoner in his own abode.
At the opposite angle of the building, through the grated windows of the
prison, which formed part of the palace, I espied the heads of the
prisoners, who were furious with excitement. The troops which had
remained faithful to the cause of Bustamente were ranged upon the grand
square, officers went and came, giving their orders, and cannon-wheels
rumbled upon the pavement, while the distant booming of the heavy guns,
and the white smoke which rose in dense massy clouds behind the houses,
showed that, in those streets which were hidden from my view, a fierce
engagement was going on. I could make out but imperfectly the places
where the combats were raging; but, according to Mexican tactics, the
same scenes were repeated on the tops of the houses. The fighting on the
terraces was on the same plan as that pursued in the streets below. The
roof of the palace was covered with soldiers, forming part of the
garrison that had been brought over by Santa Anna. These men kept up an
incessant fire against the troops of the colonel, thus placed between
two fires; but the close proximity of Don Blas's detachment gave him the
most serious alarm.

The lieutenant was just about to command his party to fire again, and
probably with more success than on the two former occasions, when the
tall colonel advanced to the edge of the azotea to hold a parley; and,
forming a kind of speaking trumpet with his two hands, cried out,
"_Muchachos!_ don't you see how shabby it is of you to fire upon us in
this way? _Caramba!_ you show little discretion by it. Is it not too bad
for two to fight against one? All brave men think so."

"Traitor!" cried the angry lieutenant.

"Traitor! traitor! You are a pretty fellow, on my word, my dear Don
Blas! One does not become a traitor for mere pleasure; and your notions
of politics appear to be behind the age. Ah! have you got cavalry on the
roof?" cried he, pleasantly, observing the gleam of the asistente's
helmet in the sun.

"You have made my soldiers the most insulting proposals," Don Blas

"That's true," answered the colonel, "I did. I have not offered them a
reasonable price for their cartridges, but I am ready to atone for my

A general hurrah, which burst from the lieutenant's men, showed that he
was regaining the ground he had lost.

"The colonel is no bad reasoner, it appears to me," said I to Don Blas.

"His reasons seem solid enough," he answered, with the air of a man who
seemed almost convinced; "but my duty obliges me to look on him as an

Affairs, however, appeared to be drawing to a pacific conclusion, when
the colonel added, "It is an understood thing, then, that we do not fire
upon each other. Besides, what would your captain gain by shooting me?
He does not owe me a single real."

This unhappy allusion, which brought to the lieutenant's mind the
disagreeable circumstance that he had been held in pledge for a debt of
a few piastres, kindled anew all his former hatred, and he exclaimed,
"Death to the enemies of our country! Fire upon the traitors!"

His men were astonished at such an unexpected order, but they were
forced to obey, and the two parties began to fire at one another with a
want of success only equaled by their obstinacy. The balls passed above
my head, and tore through the air with a sharp whiz, similar to that
produced by thrusting red-hot iron into water. Carefully squatting down
in an angle of the wall, I marked the countenance of Don Blas, and I
must say that it did not appear quite at ease, when a fresh discharge
was heard, and the lieutenant fell. I ran toward him, but the asistente
was before me. Don Blas, lying at full length, gave no sign of life. I
saw Juanito shove several of the soldiers imperiously aside, and could
not help admiring the fidelity of this man to his master, when, to my
great surprise, he thrust his hands into the pockets of the
lieutenant's uniform, and drawing them out empty, cried out, with an
air of disappointment, "Nothing! not a real! How can we expect to be
properly commanded by officers who have not a single real in their
pockets? What if he had on cavalry trowsers!"

After such a funeral oration, this devoted servant detached the gold
epaulet from the lieutenant's shoulder with the utmost coolness, and
appropriated it to himself by way of consolation. Don Blas breathed
feebly, opened his eyes, and begged to be conveyed from the scene of
action. His orders were complied with, and four men took him up in their
arms. I wished to accompany him, to see him laid on my bed till his
wound could be examined. He objected strongly to that arrangement; but I
insisted, and made them carry him to my chamber.

"This will not do," said Don Blas to me; "powder and shot have no effect
on an old soldier like me. Go up again, and watch what turn matters are
taking. Victory will be my only cure."

I obeyed, and returned to the place I had left. During my absence the
colonel had proposed a cessation of hostilities. It had been agreed to,
and when I regained my former position, both parties were exchanging the
most courteous salutations with each other.

The most serious affairs, however, were taking place all round us.
Reassured by the peaceful attitude of the soldiers of Don Blas and the
colonel, I could observe more easily the progress of events. The redoubt
established at the corner of the streets of San Augustin and Monterilla
kept up continual discharges of grape-shot, and the road was covered
with the dead and wounded. Some fell with all the stoicism of the
Indian character, others uttering the most heart-rending cries. The
latter were principally those whom curiosity had drawn to the scene of
strife. Farther off, in the direction of the barrier of San Lazaro, the
roar of the cannon was heard without a single pause; while in the street
of Tacuba, opposite the palace, a battery, established by the insurgent
troops, swept the square, and made large breaches in the wall which
surrounded the palace. Masses of rubbish increased rapidly, the iron
balconies were torn and twisted like lianas in an impassable forest, and
very soon a large portion of the wall tumbled down. Then a man advanced
boldly to a dismantled window with so firm a step as to overawe the
crowd. I could distinguish in his bold features all the marks of one of
those vigorous natures which a kind of predestination seems to push
forward for the rude trials of a military life. This man was, perhaps,
the best citizen in Mexico. I had seen General Bustamente too often not
to recognize him immediately, in spite of the distance which separated
us. More grieved, doubtless, at the bloody scenes which then filled the
city, than careful of his own safety, the general addressed to the
seditious townsmen some words which I could not hear. However, the
cannon still roared without intermission; chips of stone, struck from
the sides of the window, began to fly about him in showers; but the
president appeared not to heed the danger, which was increasing every
moment. A new incident drew the general attention. The walls of the
prison, torn by cannon shot, had opened in many places, and I could see
the prisoners, shouting lustily, creep through the breaches, one after
the other, in spite of the storm of grape which swept the square, and
disperse themselves through the streets of the town. This completed the
anarchy which reigned at this moment over the devoted city.

These sad scenes were beginning to disgust me, when a temporary truce
was arranged between the combatants. A deep silence succeeded the
booming of the artillery; the time had now come for both sides to count
their dead and to remove the wounded. I went to my room, anxious to know
how Don Blas was getting on, but he was not there, and the bed on which
I had laid him was very little disarranged. On questioning the people of
the house, I learned that, at the very moment the truce had been
proclaimed, he had been seen to descend the stairs and go into the
street. He had probably thought that it would be more reasonable and
prudent of him to see after his much-coveted rank of captain than remain
quietly in my house. Seeing, then, that his wound must have been but
slight, I went out also. In the streets they were lifting the wounded,
and carrying them into the houses. As for the dead, their game had been
played out, and the pedestrian trod their bodies under foot with the
coolest indifference. They were already completely forgotten.

On the very next day, however, the combat recommenced, and blood again
flowed in the streets. Beaten without being overcome, the executive
annulled the obnoxious law of fifteen per cent. A full and entire
amnesty was granted to the insurgents; and, issuing from the gates of
the presidential palace, marched, with all the honors of war, a body of
the factious citizens, among whom I recognized, with no small dismay,
several convicted felons, notorious in the annals of crime. The ruins of
fallen masonry which encumbered the streets, the blood that had been
every where shed, and the withdrawal of the obnoxious law, were the
deplorable results of an insurrection which had brought in its train
twelve days of fighting and anarchy.


[43] Since the time of the Spaniards, these turrets or _almenas_ denoted
the house of a nobleman.


Departure of the Convoy.--Victoriano, the Muleteer.--His sudden
Disappearance.--The Convoy is attacked by Robbers.

I purposed leaving Mexico now that order appeared established and
commerce had returned to its wonted channels. I learned that the
conducta was already in motion. I still held by my purpose of making
part of the escort under the command of the Lieutenant Don Blas; and on
the morning after a day spent in taking leave of my friends, I traversed
the streets of Mexico for the last time, attended by my valet Cecilio.

Upon reaching the open country, the joy that had taken possession of me
at the idea of my speedy return to Europe was slightly tinged by a vague
feeling of sadness. Mexico is still surrounded with lakes as in the time
of the Conquest; but the appearance of these still waters, traversed by
a magnificent road, has been completely changed. The time is gone by
when they bore on their bosom the brigantines of Cortez and the pirogues
of the ancient inhabitants. Partly lessened by evaporation and partly by
drainage, the lakes of Mexico preserve nothing of their former splendor.
The distant report of some sportsman's gun, and the wild songs of the
Indians, whose pirogues may sometimes be seen making their way through
the bending reeds, at rare intervals break the mournful silence which
broods over the fields in their vicinity. Some white aigrets--sitting
motionless on the surface of the water--white as the flowers of the
water-lily, a few water-hens, wild ducks, and huge reptiles which shake
the aquatic plants as they pass, and here and there an Indian angler
standing up to the middle of his legs in water, are the only living
beings to be seen in these solitudes. The heavens and the mountains are
alone unchanged; and the same volcanoes, their tops covered with eternal
snow, still shoot up aloft into the air as they did three hundred years

Having arrived at Buena Vista, which commands a view of the whole valley
of Mexico, I stopped to take a last look of the beautiful plain at my
feet. In the midst of a belt of blue hills and small villages, whose
white houses contrasted beautifully with the green of the willows, the
lakes assumed, owing to the distance, something of their ancient glory.
Mexico seemed still the city of the New World. I stopped for a moment to
contemplate the distant domes with a feeling of involuntary dejection. I
looked for the last time upon a city to which I had come with all the
curiosity and enthusiasm peculiar to youth. Mexico was my halting-place
when I returned from my excursions in the country round. It was like a
second country to me; for, if infancy has its souvenirs dear to that
state of childhood, youth can not forget the place where the flower of
adolescence has shot up, and withered, alas! too soon. I looked again at
this fertile valley, where smiles an eternal spring; and, to escape from
the sadness which possessed me, put my horse to the gallop, and the
lofty towers of that city which I was never more to behold were soon
quickly lost to my view.

After passing a night at the venta of Cordova, my road lay through the
woods of Rio Trio, so notorious for the robberies committed there in
broad daylight, and the smiling plains of San Martin, which strongly
remind one of those of the Bajio. The snowy peaks of the volcanoes in
the vicinity of Mexico were lighted up by the last rays of a sun that
sparkled like an expiring beacon-fire when I rode into Puebla. The
conducta had passed through that town the same evening. Puebla, the
lofty towers of its convents, churches, and cupolas all covered with
enameled tiling, looks at a distance like an Oriental town overtopped
with minarets. I halted a short time to rest myself, and on the third
day after my departure from Mexico descried from a distance the red
pennons of the lancers who escorted the convoy.

In the first cavalier to whom I addressed myself after overtaking the
escort I could scarcely recognize the asistente of Don Blas. The desires
of this worthy lépero on becoming a soldier had been completely
satisfied, for, except that he had only a bottine on one foot, a shoe on
the other, and no straps to his trowsers, his cavalry uniform left him
nothing to desire. In consonance, also, with military discipline, he had
parted with his hair.

"Tell me, friend," said I, accosting him, "are you still in the service
of Lieutenant Don Blas?"

"Captain Don Blas, if you please--for he has been promised this rank as
a reward for his heroic conduct on your azotea; and I have got my
stripes also now. I am his servant no longer. He is a captain in a
regiment of lancers. You see a detachment of them here."

I proceeded onward, and, in spite of his new uniform, had little
difficulty in recognizing Don Blas. The captain was riding gloomily at
the head of his troop. I congratulated him on his promotion, and
inquired about his wound. He reddened slightly when he told me it had
quite healed, and hurriedly asked me if I had counted the cost of
traveling with him. I assured him it was my unalterable intention to
accompany the convoy to Vera Cruz. Don Bias affected much joy at my
resolution, after which the conversation fell quite naturally upon the
dangers of the road, the mishaps of which I thought I should escape in
his company. The captain shook his head.

"I am not so sure of that," said he. "I fear that you are jumping from
the frying-pan into the fire, for the late troubles have increased the
number of _guerillas_.[44] And folks say that we shall probably have a
hard fight with the highwaymen in the gorges of the Amozoque. The time
is gone by when, under a certain viceroy, the standard of Castile,
floating above a silver caravan, was sufficient to protect it in its

"I hope," I replied, "that the troop of lancers under your command will
make up for the want of the Spanish flag."

"God grant it!" returned Don Blas. "Although I am not blind to the
dangers we shall have to run, I shall do my duty in every case."

The long file of richly-laden mules, each having a burden of five
thousand dollars in coined money, over every one of which the guardians
of the convoy kept an incessant watch, was, in fact, a prize worth
striking a blow for. The road to Mexico presents the most striking
scenes incident to beauty in landscape, but the thick woods, the deep
gorges, and the narrow defiles which we had to traverse might be
swarming with robbers. I had scarcely passed a few hours among my new
companions ere I began to feel the want of some amusement to dissipate
the ennui attendant upon a slow and monotonous march through a desert
country. The captain was assuredly a merry companion, but his jokes were
trite and commonplace. The stories and songs of a muleteer who took the
lead in that kind of entertainment in our little troop were infinitely
more agreeable to me. He was a man of about thirty years of age, called
Victoriano. He had traveled this road for several years, and had a story
for every halting-place. In the evening, under a starry sky, when the
mules, relieved from their burdens, munched their maize under the
_mantas_ which served them for a rack; when round the bivouac fires the
sentinels mounted guard over the treasure committed to their care, and
the other soldiers slept upon their arms, the captain and I always had a
new pleasure in listening to Victoriano, whose unflagging spirit found
vent in pleasant stories, or in songs accompanied by the mandolin.

I pitied then the travelers I saw whirled along in the diligence like a
flash of lightning, their horses galloping at the top of their speed,
while the passengers very likely would be pointing us out to their
friends as the only remnant existing of the old Mexican manners. A few
more vices, I said to myself, and a few less charms, are the only
results of this parody of civilization, which, up to the present time,
has destroyed every thing and constructed nothing. On these evenings,
round our watch-fire, living at once the life of a muleteer and that of
a soldier, I still experienced without alloy, even though on my way to
Europe, the feelings incident to life in the Eastern deserts.

Since our departure from Puebla, Acajete, the hacienda of San Juan,
Tepeaca, and Santa Gertrudis (for we had deviated from the ordinary
route) had been so many resting-places, marked by a certain quiet in
which the fatigue of the body is transferred to the mind, and which
seems to prove that the happiness of a man consists in physical motion
as much as in thought. We had just passed the town and fort of Perote.
"Señor Cavalier," said Victoriano to me, "you ought to go to see the
fort. I can easily accompany you to the gate, and, upon my
recommendation, you will be admitted without difficulty. You can rejoin
us afterward at Cruz Blanca, a little village about two leagues from
here, where we shall pass the night, and on your return I shall tell you
a story about it which made a great noise some years ago."

I took the advice of the muleteer, who, according to promise, introduced
me into the fort, the interior of which I ran over at my pleasure in the
company of an officer, who was glad to attend me in the capacity of
guide. I was about an hour in the place, and, as the sun was beginning
to set, galloped at full speed to join the convoy.

I passed over one of those arid and desolate plains, bristling with
volcanic scoriæ, known by the name of _mal pais_, upon which a scanty
layer of earth allows only a few stunted plants to grow. The wind,
blowing in sudden gusts, seemed to moan as it struck the sonorous leaves
of the nopal and the clumps of juniper. The wolves also began to howl
frequently, and the fog which was falling was so dense and cold that I
thought I was long in reaching the watch-fire at which I expected
Victoriano to fulfill his promise. However, the fear of losing my way in
the fog, which hid the horizon, joined to the roughness of the ground,
forced me to slacken my pace, and night had fallen before I arrived at
our halting-place--Cruz Blanca. In the small number of houses which
composed the village, it was not difficult to find where the conducta
had stopped. To my great astonishment, I learned that Victoriano had not
made his appearance. This circumstance had alarmed every body. Some
accident of a serious nature must have happened to prevent a man, whose
habitual punctuality was well known, from rejoining the cavalcade, and
every one was lost in conjectures as to his absence, when a stranger
presented himself, and requested to speak with the chief arriero. The
new-comer was dressed in a well-worn stable-coat, and an apron such as
is generally worn by mule conductors. He told us that Victoriano, whose
horse had come down, had been much injured by the fall, and that they
had conveyed him to Perote, where the utmost care would be taken of him.
The unknown added that it was by his express desire that he had come to
supply his place till he should be in a fit state to rejoin the convoy.
The chief arriero, who had only the number of men strictly necessary,
accepted his offer perhaps a little too inconsiderately. The new-comer
was a stout fellow of about the same age as Victoriano, but the sinister
expression of his countenance did not inspire me with the same feeling
of confidence as the arriero.

The next morning we resumed our march, intending to pass the night at
Hoya, a little village about five leagues from Cruz Blanca. The journey,
though slow as ever, seemed more fatiguing, as Victoriano was not there
to enliven it with his stories. Every thing seemed to go wrong after his
departure. On arriving at Barranca Honda, about a league from where we
had started in the morning, a mule cast its shoe, then a second, and
afterward a third. Very long halts were necessary for re-shoeing the
animals. Victoriano's substitute acquitted himself as a farrier with
great zeal and intelligence, to the great delight of the arriero, who
continued, however, to discharge as many oaths as there were saints in
the calendar. For my part, I must say that I could not look upon our new
companion with the same satisfaction as the muleteer.

"Does it not seem to you," said I to Don Blas, "that this fellow, who
shoes the mules so cleverly, might not show an equal address in
unshoeing them?"

The captain looked on my suspicions as ridiculous. "I am perfectly
disinterested in the matter," I replied, "for, fortunately, none of the
precious boxes belong to me; but I can't help regretting the absence of

The convoy put itself again in motion. Still, although it was necessary
that the pace should be quickened, the mules appeared to have lost all
their former energy, as if some enervating drug had been mixed with
their food. Just when we were passing through Las Vigas, the arriero
held a sort of conference with the chief of the escort. The former
advised that we should pass the night in the village; Don Blas, however,
thought it would be better to push on to Hoya, alleging that a delay in
a convoy so soon expected in Vera Cruz, especially when the stages in
advance were well known, would tend to spread a prejudicial uneasiness.
Unluckily for the muleteer, this advice prevailed, and we resolved to
push on to Hoya.

There is, perhaps, no part of Mexico in which the difference between the
temperature of the plains and that of the more elevated regions is more
keenly felt than in the approaches to the Vigas. A few seconds before
reaching the village, you were in an instant transported into the
vegetation peculiar to cold climates. There the warm breeze and blue
heavens were gone, and in their stead a cold north wind blew sharply
through the icy vapor which floated around us. Our eyes met only a dull
sky, and an arid soil torn up and thickly covered with volcanic
boulders. The fog, which at first crept along the surface of the ground,
and rolled about in volumes like dust under the feet of our horses, was
not long in mounting aloft, and hiding from our view the tops of the
tall pines. We could scarcely distinguish one another in the dense mist
which the icy wind was driving right in our faces. Deep ravines ran
parallel with the road, which was of volcanic formation, and it was a
difficult matter to prevent the mules from straggling in a path so hard
to follow. I could not help admiring the calmness of Don Blas, the great
importance of whose trust absolutely frightened me. As for the arriero,
he was in great perplexity, and he galloped incessantly up and down the
whole length of the convoy, the sparks flying from his mule's feet at
every stroke. The poor man inspired me with a lively interest, for every
thing he had in life was at stake; an immense responsibility rested upon
him, and he counted and recounted his mules every minute with an anxiety
painful to behold. When night had fully come on, Don Blas divided his
escort into two bodies. With one he rode at the head of the convoy, and
left the other under the charge of Juanito, his ex-asistente. The march
was gloomy and silent, the chief noise heard being the tinkle of the
bell of the leading mule, the songs of the soldiers, and the clattering
of the mules' feet on the stony road. Riding alone on the flank of the
convoy, I passed through my mind the various incidents of the morning;
the disappearance of our favorite, the unshoeing of the mules, and the
dull listlessness with which they now marched, appeared to me, in the
midst of the fog which enveloped us, alarming in the highest degree. At
the very moment I was asking myself if some treachery was not at work
around us, I was joined by my valet Cecilio.

"Señor," said Cecilio, in a low voice, "if you will believe me, we ought
not to stay here a moment longer. Something strange is going to happen."

"And where are we to go," said I, "when we can not see two paces before
us among these rocks and ravines? But what is the matter?"

"The matter is, señor, that Victoriano has just slipped in among us, and
perhaps I am the only one that has remarked his presence; but his coming
bodes no good. The story of his accident appears to be only a

"Are you sure of it?"

"Yes, quite; but that is not all. About a quarter of an hour ago, I was
in the rear, as I have been generally all the march, owing to this
confounded beast of mine, when two mounted cavaliers passed without
seeing me, as I was concealed behind a mass of rock. One of them
bestrode a magnificent black horse, and was otherwise too well equipped
for a peaceable traveler."

"A magnificent black horse?" I said, interrupting him, thinking of the
ranchero in Mexico who had looked so coolly on the departure of the

"The other," continued Cecilio, "rode a mule, and had the costume of a
muleteer; and, if I rightly understood what they said, Victoriano must
be an accomplice."

"And what became of the horsemen?"

"I have no doubt that, under cover of the darkness, they mingled with
the escort. It is easy to guess why; and, probably, they are not alone,
for these ravines could conceal an entire _cuadrilla_ (band). If your
lordship will be guided by me, we shall let the convoy go on without

"Not at all," I answered; "I must go and tell the captain."

"And who told you, señor, that the captain is not also an accomplice?"

I made no answer. It was not the time for discussion, but for acting.
Without considering whether Cecilio's suspicions of Don Blas were well
or ill founded, I spurred my horse to warn at least the chief arriero.
With some trouble I made up to the rear guard, passed it and some of the
mules, the others still forming a long line in front. In the midst of
the fog I was guided by the clank of their hoofs on the rocky ground. At
last I distinguished the tinkling of the leading mule a few hundred
yards in advance. At the same moment I fancied I recognized in the
cavalier by my side the sinister countenance of Victoriano's substitute.
Some seconds after, the voice of a muleteer rose in the darkness.

"What's the meaning of this?" cried he. "Halloo! Victoriano, is that
you? It is, by heavens! and by what chance?"

There was no reply, and the question was not repeated. I shuddered. I
thought I heard a stifled cry, followed by a heavy fall. I listened
again attentively, but the only sounds were the whistling of the wind,
and the echo of the mules' feet upon the stony road. A few seconds after
my horse shied violently, as if he had distinguished in the darkness
something that had alarmed him. Desirous of clearing up the terrible
doubts that harassed my mind, I took out my tinder and steel as if to
light a cigar, and to warm me by the exercise it afforded. I fancied for
a moment that I was the sport of a dream. By the momentary light it sent
forth, I thought I saw some strange figures marching along with the
soldiers of our escort and the muleteers. Silent phantoms seemed to have
glided mysteriously out of the darkness, and were traveling along with
us, some clad in lancers' uniform, others wearing the striped frocks of
the muleteers. All at once the bell of the leading mule ceased to sound;
in a few seconds it recommenced, but in quite a different direction, and
similar sounds issued from the ravines on the left of the road. I had
seen enough--nay, too much; treachery surrounded us on every side. But
what could one do in the midst of a thick fog, and on a road bordered by
ravines? How could one distinguish friends from foes in the deep gloom?
Astonished and disconcerted, I stopped my horse; then, at the risk of
breaking my neck in the darkness, I galloped to the front of the convoy;
it was now too late. A cord whistled over my head and encircled me; my
horse made a bound forward; but, instead of being dragged from my
saddle, and thrown under the animal's feet as I expected, I felt myself
bound to my horse with a terrible tightness. The noose intended for me
alone had also enlaced him. My right arm was so tightly bound to my body
that I could not disengage myself sufficiently to allow me to draw my
knife from my boot to cut the lasso. I dug my spurs into my horse's
flanks. The noble animal neighed, and tore forward with irresistible
vigor. I felt the lasso tighten till it almost cut me, then suddenly
slack. A snap of broken girths, an imprecation of rage, and all at once
I found myself free, almost before I could fully realize the danger I
had escaped. A vigorous bound of my horse almost unseated me. I kept my
saddle, however, and galloped furiously on. Some shots were heard, and a
ball whistled close to my ears; at the same moment, cries of alarm arose
in the darkness. The repercussion of the firing was fearful, and the
confusion indescribable. The mules, deceived by the bells which rang in
various directions, ran against each other, and jostled one another in
the darkness. The flashes of the fire-arms tore through the fog, and the
reports died away among the rocks. By the glare of the musketry you
could see the lancers, in their red uniforms, huddled together in
confusion, and firing away at random in the thick darkness; the balls
went whistling through the air, and the cries of despair of the muleteer
were heard distinctly above the din of the tumult.

My frightened horse had carried me far from the scene of combat. I
pulled him in immediately and returned. When I rejoined the convoy the
contest was over and the bandits had disappeared. Don Blas, who had kept
himself very cool during the whole affair, grasped me silently by the
hand. I had no time to question him, for a man threw himself between us,
a torch in his hand, imploring the captain's assistance. By its light I
recognized the discomposed features of the poor muleteer. Some of the
soldiers, dismounting, cut branches off the fir-trees and lighted them.
We could then survey the sad spectacle which met our eyes. The mozos,
among whom Victoriano's substitute was no longer to be seen, watched the
poor animals that were standing in groups round the leading mule, whose
bell had disappeared. Several mules were bleeding from large wounds: two
soldiers, very likely hit by the balls of their comrades, were bandaging
their legs with their pocket-handkerchiefs. In a shallow ravine, which
the torches reddened with a melancholy glow, a poor muleteer lay
writhing in the death agony. This was the man who had recognized
Victoriano; he had expiated the fault of having seen too well. The
arriero, torch in hand, walked from one mule to another, tearing his
hair the while, and wiping off the sweat, which, in spite of the
coldness of the night, dropped profusely from his face. "I am
lost--ruined!" cried the poor devil, who appeared scarcely to have
sufficient courage to ascertain his precise loss with exactness. He
commenced, however. Don Blas, who seemed very pale even by the reddish
glare of the torches, sat motionless in his saddle. I scrutinized his
features as I thought over Cecilio's words, but nothing in his
countenance betrayed the painful emotion of a man who, by negligence or
misfortune, had failed in the execution of his duty.

"Don't you think," said I to him, "that it would be no bad thing to
pursue the robbers who have carried off their booty, and who are every
moment increasing their distance from us?"

Don Blas seemed to wake out of his reverie.

"Doubtless," he cried, roughly; "but who told you that they have carried
off any thing?"

"Heaven help this poor man!" said I, pointing to the muleteer, who
uttered a doleful cry.

"May God pity me!" cried he, "for I shall never survive it. Five, Señor
Captain! five are gone!" he continued, in a choking voice. "I have lost
in one night the fruit of twenty years' toil! Ah! Señor Don Blas, by
the life of your mother, try to recover them for me; the half shall be
yours. Ah! why did you advise me to proceed to-night? Why did I listen
to you?"

And the poor muleteer, dashing his torch upon the road, rolled in the

The captain being thus forced to make some reparation for the misfortune
which he had either ignorantly or designedly caused, picked out a dozen
of his best-mounted horsemen, ordered them to cut some pine branches to
serve for torches, and to commence the pursuit without delay. I did not
anticipate any very successful issue to the expedition, although I had
been the first to advise him to it. Persuaded, however, that, though
there was little chance of success, there was little risk to be run;
desirous, besides, to witness the wonderful sagacity of the Mexicans in
following even the faintest traces, I insisted upon accompanying Don
Blas and his band. The captain agreed without much difficulty, and we
set out immediately for Hoya.


[44] Bands of robbers.


Don Tomas Verduzco is shot by Juanito.--Death of Captain Don Blas.

It was a difficult enterprise on which we had entered. Darkness masked
the march of the robbers, whose trail it would be almost impossible to
follow unless during daylight, as it led over a volcanic soil. We were
certain that the stolen mules had not been taken in the direction of
Perote. From the place where we now were, the lights in the village of
Hoya were easily discernible even through the dense fog which stretched
all round us. The news of our disaster could not be long in reaching
that place, and the presumption was that the robbers were not to be
sought for in that direction. The ground on the left side of the road
was impracticable in the darkness, from the large number of sloughs and
ravines which seamed its surface. There was no doubt but that the
bandits had gained the woody heights on the right which overhung the
road, and that the pursuit must be begun in that quarter. A soldier
remarked that the light of our torches would betray our presence. We
were ignorant of the number of our enemies, who could very easily see us
from the lights we carried, and prudence prompted us to hide our motions
in darkness. By the captain's order we extinguished the flambeaux, not,
however, without casting a glance over the ground we were going to
traverse. A steep path led to the crest of a ridge that overhung the
road. Three of us, of whom I was one, remained to point out this
particular spot. The rest were sent to explore the different paths which
were to be met with more in advance. We waited in all stillness the
return of the exploring party. Thus passed some minutes. The winds,
sighing through the pines which formed a gloomy arch above the hollow
road at whose mouth we were stationed, shook upon our heads the
condensed mists which fell drop by drop from their sloping branches. At
the end of half an hour the horsemen returned. They had seen nothing,
but they were certain that no other path than the one on which we were
posted led to the high road. If we followed it, we would be sure of
hitting the right trail. The soldiers, animated by the hope of a rich
reward, were as desirous to begin the pursuit as a pack of dogs to hunt
a stag. The captain alone seemed to have no heart for the work, and the
orders he gave betrayed a considerable amount of indecision. We began
our march, however. Unfortunately, the darkness of the night made our
progress very slow. At times, and during a short halt, one of the
horsemen alighted and applied his ear to the ground, but not a sound was
heard but the sighing of the wind. The rocky ground, carefully examined
by the light of a cigar, seemed incapable of bearing even the slightest
impress. Guided, however, by an inexplicable instinct, the soldiers did
not appear to doubt but that the robbers had passed that way. The gravel
soon ceased to crunch beneath our tread; we were now on softer ground.
We had at last some chance of discovering the trace of the men or
animals which had followed that road. Half of us alighted, and by the
light of our cigars, or sparks from flint and steel, began examining
with the utmost minuteness every bit of moss or bare earth on the path.
Tracks crossed one another in every direction; and at the end of a few
minutes, a soldier uttered a cry of joy, and pointed out to us the
distinct impress of the two feet of a mule. One of the marks showed that
the animal had been newly shod, from the deeper dent made in the soft
ground. This was, assuredly, the traces of one of the mules of the
convoy that we had been forced to shoe that very morning. At this time
we were marching only at random, and our delight at this discovery was
intense. The trail was followed till it conducted us to a vast open
clearing, a sort of square, from which several paths struck off similar
to the one we had followed. There we were completely at fault.

A considerable time had now elapsed since we began our search. The
captain, in order to husband our horses' strength in case a new and
longer pursuit would be required, ordered a halt. The different paths,
which crossed one another in such confusion, could not, he said, be
properly examined unless by daylight. The men began to murmur at this
unexpected check; but obedience was necessary, and they all alighted.
Some large fires were kindled, more for warmth against the freezing cold
of the night, and to guard against a sudden surprise, than for the light
they afforded. As I took no great interest in the search, I joyfully
welcomed the opportunity I had of warming myself at a good fire, and of
taking some repose, of which I stood in great need.

After a few minutes' talk, all was silent. The clearing in which we were
bivouacked was illuminated throughout its whole extent by the light of
our fires. Nothing was heard but the rapid and measured step of the two
sentinels we had posted. Several hours rolled away; our fires were just
dying out, and day could not be far off, when a cracking of broken
branches was heard at some distance. One of our sentinels, his carbine
in one hand and a torch in the other, advanced to the place whence the
noise proceeded, and soon reappeared leading a mule, which, from its
color, and the pack-saddle on his back, was easily recognized as one of
those that had been stolen from the convoy. His broken bridle showed
that, after having been deprived of his precious burden, they had tied
him up in a thicket to prevent our finding him, and that the poor beast
had only been able to gain our encampment by breaking his tether. Every
body was soon on foot. The woods, perviated every where with paths,
unhappily afforded us no new traces, and we much feared that the
robbers had divided their plunder, and gone off in a different
direction. This thought, which discouraged us so much, produced quite a
different effect upon the captain. Up to this time Don Blas had seemed
to take no interest in the pursuit, but now he flew into a violent
passion, and uttered the most violent menaces against the bandits, whose
daring had caused us to lose so much.

"Ah!" cried he, "if chance but throws any of them into my hands, I shall
shoot them without benefit of clergy."

Speaking thus, Don Blas walked backward and forward, hitting the ferns
which branched out above us with his sabre.

"Whom will you shoot?" I asked.

"Whom?" replied the captain; "why, the first man that happens to fall
into my hands."

"That will be a right which it may be difficult to exercise, for robbers
on the high road have generally long arms."

"That's my concern," answered Don Blas, with a strange smile; "I will
find the means to have the law on my side."

The captain immediately gave the word to mount. The soldiers, delighted
at the prospect of regaining their lost time, welcomed the order with
acclamation. I must confess that I could not account for this sudden
change in the conduct of Don Blas. Why so much zeal after so much
coldness? I pleased myself by thinking that hitherto it had been only in
appearance, and that the captain had shown so much apathy at first for
the sake of propriety, that it might not be thought he was actuated by
too lively a desire to gain the reward promised by the arriero.

One of the three paths which led out of the clearing was so narrow, and
so little frequented, judging by the appearance of the ground, that,
according to all appearance, it could not lead to any inhabited place.
The other two were deeply marked with the footprints of men and animals.
They would very likely lead to some hacienda, or rancho at least.
According to the conjectures of the soldiers, the least trodden of the
three paths was that which most probably the robbers had taken. Opinion
being divided on that point, the captain ordered us to separate into two
parties, and each, taking a particular path, to explore it to the
utmost, and two hours after nightfall to rejoin one another in the
clearing. Don Blas placed himself at the head of one of these
detachments, the other was under the command of Juanito. As for myself,
I followed Don Blas, although he did every thing he could to dissuade me
from doing so, but I had an instinctive notion that he would not be the
man to prefer the most dangerous road. The path we had taken led us
toward a wide plain. We soon arrived at an open square in the wood
whence several roads diverged. This was a new embarrassment. Our band,
however, proceeded in pairs to explore each of these ramifications.

"If this continue," I said to Don Blas, "we shall soon be completely
separated from one another, and be liable to be pursued in our turn by
those whom we are pursuing."

Still Don Blas did not think that any danger was to be apprehended by
this division of our forces. He forthwith proceeded to reconnoitre one
of these roads, and I accompanied him. However, when we had proceeded
some distance from our companions, his ardor seemed suddenly to cool.
He stopped his horse, which was before mine, and proceeded to expatiate
upon the beauty of the landscape with the cool indifference of a
dissatisfied tourist. The sun had dissipated the mist which had till now
enwrapped us. The sky was clear and without a cloud, and a pleasant
warmth soon made us forget the sharp and piercing cold of the preceding
night. A slight perfume of guava, that the wind wafted along at
intervals, was now and then mixed with the sharp and pungent odor of the
pines. This was like a harbinger of the beautiful azure sky of the hot
regions, and the magnificence of their luxuriant vegetation. We were now
separated from the first of our party by several miles.

"I should like to know," said Don Blas to me, after a short silence,
"how far the audacity of these brigands would go."

"That is very clear, it seems to me," I replied, "and, since yesterday
evening, facts show very strongly how much they are capable of doing."

We had not proceeded far till we met with evidence which proved to us
that we were now on the trail of the robbers. Don Blas, seeing some
pieces of wood lying on the ground, alighted and picked them up. It was
the remains of one of the little boxes in which the sacks of piastres
had been packed. He then begged me, in spite of my entreaties, to remain
where I was; and, wheeling his horse about, set off at full speed. A
turn in the road soon hid him from my view, and I remained alone,
without being able to explain the reason of his singular conduct. A
painful suspicion, which I had been trying to drive from my mind for
some time, now recurred to me with redoubled force. Had Don Blas really
any connivance with those robbers, whose presence he wished to seek
without a witness? Suddenly a distant shot was heard, which roused me
from my reflections. I thought I heard likewise a feeble cry of alarm
and distress. I listened, but every thing was calm and silent round me.
Prudence urged me to retrace my steps. The captain might be killed; if
still alive, dangerously wounded. In these two cases I could be of no
assistance; but I resolved to return to procure help. Having come to the
place where Don Blas and I had separated from our companions some time
before, I discharged my two pistols in succession. I soon had the
satisfaction of being rejoined by two of our men, whom I informed in a
few words of what had passed.

"The brigands!" cried Juanito; "they are capable of killing my captain
for his gold epaulets;" and, to prevent a proceeding so prejudicial to
his interests, the sergeant set off at a gallop. The lancers imitated
his example, and I followed them, impatient to rejoin Don Blas, but
without much hope that Juanito would be deceived. My fears were soon
changed to a painful certainty. The captain, unhorsed by the shot I had
heard, lay upon the grass, his breast pierced by a ball, but still
alive, in spite of the dangerous nature of his wound, and the blood that
was flowing from it in abundance. We all hastened to assist him. One of
the soldiers stanched the blood, and bound it up very dexterously with
our handkerchiefs. While one of the escort went in pursuit of Don Blas's
horse, which had escaped, and the captain, with his back to the trunk of
a tree, was slowly reviving, I began to examine the ground on all sides.
The unhappy man had evidently surprised the bandits at the very moment
they were dividing their booty, for broken boxes and bags turned
outside in strewed the ground in all directions. Refreshed by a sip of
brandy that I caused him to swallow, Don Bias declared that he had seen
nobody, and that he had but newly arrived at the place when he was
stretched on the earth by a musket-shot. He then added that he knew the
hand that had fired the piece. This was too singular a contradiction to
provoke a reply. Whether he had said too much, and, being fatigued,
wished to say no more, I know not, but he spoke not another word. In the
mean time his horse had been caught, and the wounded man affirmed that
he thought himself sufficiently recovered to be able to reach the
convoy. Still, his strength not being equal to his inclination, it was
necessary to lift him on horseback. A soldier mounted behind to support
him and take the reins, and we set out on the road to Hoya.

We arrived there about midday. A new incident here awaited us. Scarcely
had Don Bias been laid on one of the rough beds, hastily knocked up for
him in a cabin in the village, when a detachment of the escort which had
been scouring the country round all the morning brought in a prisoner
with his hands tied behind his back. His face was blackened, and half
concealed by a handkerchief. This disguise was most suspicious, as it is
the one usually adopted by Mexican highwaymen. Under this hideous mask I
fancied I discerned--a remarkable circumstance--the features of a man
who had played a most prominent part in one of the most melancholy
episodes of my wanderings, Don Tomas Verduzco. Surrounded by a crowd, he
did not discern me. He entreated to be led to the captain; and his
voice, though altered by his agitation, was still that of the bravo. I
went before the men who were conducting him, and entered first into the
hut where Don Blas lay. As soon as he saw the person they had brought
him, his pale face became livid, and hatred gleamed in his eyes; he,
however, said nothing. The prisoner stood unmoved, and an air of
impudent assurance had replaced the expression of stupefaction that was
visible a moment before in his countenance.

"What! Señor Don Blas!" cried he; "can I believe my eyes? Are you
dangerously wounded? The conducta, it seems, has been pillaged in part,
and I am accused of having assisted in that piece of villainy. Good God!
it seems as if it were only a dream."

"I fear that it is something worse than a dream," replied the captain,

"What do you mean by that coldness?" said the bravo, for it was really
he. "Your lordship will, perhaps, be less pleased at seeing me than I am
in meeting you."

"On the contrary," answered Don Blas, in a voice to which excitement had
restored all its former firmness, "I doubt if you are as glad to see me
as I am to have you in my power."

"I do not understand you, Señor Captain," returned the bravo,

"You _will_ understand me," said the captain. "If I am pleased at
meeting you again, it is only that I may treat you as a highwayman, as a
murderer, by shooting you at once, without benefit of clergy."

The look of the captain, which expressed an implacable hatred, added
strength to his words; and the bravo, the predominant feature of whose
character was evidently not courage, seemed almost to quail under this
terrible menace, and he lost countenance for a moment. Seeing, however,
that his wound gave Don Blas more assurance, he made a strong effort to
master himself, and replied, in quite a firm tone of voice,

"Shoot _me_! That's rather a good joke; but I have more protectors than
you think; and, if it is necessary, I will say--Señor Captain, I will

It was now Don Blas's turn to tremble. The captain ordered the bravo to
be silent by an imperious gesture; and, signing to Juanito to leave the
room, remained alone with the assassin. I am wholly ignorant of what
passed between these two worthies, and could only guess what cause had
so suddenly changed the opinion of Don Blas with regard to Verduzco. I
only know that, after an hour's conversation, the bravo quitted the
captain's chamber under the escort of Juanito, who appeared from that
moment to treat the prisoner with singular consideration.

The captain's wound did not, however, look so alarming as it did, and a
considerable difference could even be observed upon his spirits. After
passing two miserable days in the cabin at Hoya, I heard without much
surprise that Don Blas thought himself sufficiently recovered to be able
to accompany us to Jalapa in a litter, which the chief muleteer had
constructed for the purpose. The wounded officer would probably find in
that town better medical advice than he could get in Hoya. He could also
keep his prisoner in his own hands and under his own guidance.

We had more than fifteen miles to go to reach Jalapa, and, although it
was almost two hours after midday before we set out, it was possible to
reach that town if we traveled at a quickened pace. This time, a
reconnoitring party had been sent on in advance, and every precaution
taken to guard against a new surprise. Juanito carried the prisoner
behind him. The sergeant and his prisoner chatted as gayly as two
friends who were going to the same fête, sharing the same horse. The
convoy advanced at a rapid pace. We had now marched two leagues, and had
reached San Miguel el Soldado. I then could not help observing that
Juanito's horse, probably from its double burden, had lagged behind, and
was now far in the rear. Restrained by curiosity from leaving the
captive out of sight, I gradually checked the impetuosity of my horse in
such a way as to follow Juanito and the bandit at a short distance.

"Caspita!" cried the sergeant, after a long silence, "you have on a
capital pair of boots, Señor Don Tomas."

I must remind the reader that Juanito had only a bottine and a shoe.

"I am glad my boots please you," Verduzco replied, "and I would place
them at your disposal, but you see I am not quite done with them yet."

"You are very kind, Señor Don Tomas," replied the sergeant, with equal
courtesy, "but I mean that I would only borrow them from you when they
are of no more use to you. That is always the way I do with my friends,
and you are decidedly one. I shall wait, then."

The two horsemen then spoke in a low tone, and I could only catch
snatches of their conversation. I was soon drawn away from the
distraction into which I had been betrayed by the beauty of the
landscape. We were just over San Miguel. From this elevated point the
eye wandered over a charming valley, encircled by a belt of foggy
mountains. The Naocampatepetl,[45] an extinct volcano, which has the
appearance of a square block of stone, is the highest eminence in this
range. At the foot of the peak of Macuiltepetl, upon a beautiful carpet
of verdure which covers the valley, in the midst of orange-trees in full
blossom, of lofty palm-trees, and bananas loaded with fruit, stands the
town of Jalapa, set as in a garland of flowers. Placed between the icy
fog of the mountains which surround it and the hot atmosphere of the
sea-coast, Jalapa is only visited by breezes laden with perfumes. The
thick vapors, which hang like a curtain over the plain, lend to it a
delicious freshness. Viewed from the top of the hill, where nothing was
near but gloomy pines and a stunted vegetation, similar to that of the
north, the valley which now lay at my feet seemed more enchanting from
the contrast which it afforded.

Day at last came to a close. Macuiltepetl, and the sides of the extinct
volcano, began to lose their shades of dusky violet, and already the
peak of Orizaba[46] appeared at a distance like a brilliant star. At the
bottom of the picture under my eye ran an almost imperceptible white
line, which terminated to the right and left in the horizon. This line
was the ocean, and it was not without a lively emotion that I
contemplated that immense mass of water which laves the shores of

While I was absorbed in the contemplation of this enchanting landscape,
the convoy had advanced considerably beyond me. I then fancied that the
belt which bound the body of the bravo and the soldier together was not
so tight as it used to be. This circumstance, remarked also by others,
led me to believe that Juanito was conniving at a plan of escape on the
part of the prisoner. I asked myself, though it was a business
repugnant to my feelings, if I ought not to apprise the captain of the
matter. However, I thought that my presence would be a hinderance to
Verduzco's attempt to escape, and so preferred remaining where I was.
Suddenly the belt, cut by the bravo's knife, divided into two, and the
bandit, slipping from the horse's back to the ground, darted off at a
run. The lancer was up with him at a single bound of his horse. Juanito
applied the muzzle of his carbine to the bravo's head, drew the trigger,
and blew out his brains before I could even utter a cry.

"On my word," said Juanito, replacing the carbine in its case, still
smoking, "he can't complain that I have not had a regard for his
feelings, for I could have got possession of his boots two hours

Set completely at ease on this delicate point, the sergeant dismounted,
and, snatching the objects of his desire, pulled them off the corpse and
put them on.

"I knew quite well," added he, "that I would complete my equipment at

"My dear Juanito," said I to him, "you are a faithful servant to the
captain, although I always suspected the contrary; but there is a
mystery wrapped up in this which I do not comprehend, and if you
unriddle it for me I will give you a piastre."

"With much pleasure," said Juanito, taking the money; "I wish I could
find every day a confessor equal in generosity to your lordship."

The sergeant remounted, and, while walking our horses together, he said,

"What you saw me do was by an order of the captain. To shoot this wicked
knave would have been, in the eyes of the law, a crime that would have
cost us dear; to place him in the hands of the judges would have
offered him a favorable chance of getting off altogether; to kill him,
on the contrary, when he was trying to escape, was quite lawful. The
attempt at flight, at which I seemed to connive, was only a plan
concerted between the captain and me, and the prisoner fell into the

"But why has your captain acted in such a way to a man with whom he had
formerly such intimate relations?"

"Ah! that's quite another thing!" replied Juanito. "Before sending
Verduzco to a better world, my captain charged me to confess my
prisoner. Here is what he told me, and which I will tell only to you, or
to those who will give me a piastre for the information. Counting upon
the influence which he had in high places, Verduzco engaged to procure
for the captain an acting order as commander of the first convoy which
left Mexico, the agreement being that he was to allow the conducta to be
pillaged on its march, and that afterward the proceeds should be shared
between them. Don Blas accepted these conditions; but I must say in his
favor that he seemed to have repented of the bargain he had made with
the bandit. Now, you know what happened to the convoy; but the best of
the joke is, that the successful _coup_ was made by another band than
that of Verduzco's, who had not reckoned on any thing of the kind. While
the bravo was waiting for the conducta beyond Hoya, another body of
robbers, better informed, met it before it reached that place. It was by
these wretches that the captain was wounded. He fancied that Verduzco
had betrayed him, and it was on that account that I received the order
to seize the first opportunity that offered to blow the ruffian's brains

We spurred our horses to rejoin the convoy. As soon as Juanito
perceived the captain's litter, he set his horse to a gallop, and rode
alongside for a time. Some minutes passed, during which, bending to the
patient's ear, he whispered to him the execution of his orders. Suddenly
he ordered the convoy to stop. All pressed round the litter, and I
galloped up to ascertain the cause of the halt. A painful feeling,
produced by the sergeant's report, had brought on bleeding internally,
and when I came up he was already in the last agonies.

The death of Don Blas severed the last tie that bound me to the silver
convoy. I resolved to let it proceed without me. The scenes I had
witnessed had left a painful feeling on my mind, and I was no longer
able to support the company of men whose brutal passions were not
satisfied till a crime had been committed. I then halted, and soon saw
the cavalcade disappear in the mist, conveying a litter which contained
only a corpse, the escort around it holding their lances reversed as a
sign of mourning. Night approached. I set out, and reached Jalapa after
a slow march, where my sombre and melancholy thoughts were soon replaced
by more cheerful feelings.


[45] In the Indian tongue, the square mountain.

[46] Called by the Indians Citlaltepetl (star mountain).

The Jarochos



If there is any place in Mexico where the sun shines upon a richer
vegetation than that in the valley of Jalapa, there is certainly no part
of the country that enjoys a moister atmosphere. A dense, compact mass
of light gray vapors always stretches from the summit of the _Cofre de
Perote_ to the very verge of the horizon. From this dark canopy, which
is always charged with moisture, a fine drizzling rain falls, cloudlets
of mist roll along the roofs of the houses, the streets are deserted,
and Jalapa suffers dreadfully during the greater part of the year for
the magnificence of its perpetual verdure; but the sun has no sooner
torn aside this cloudy veil, and the deep blue of the heavens and that
of the hills has become blended into one, than Jalapa becomes the
enchanting town which at a distance it promises to be. The steep
streets, which have now put on a very lively appearance, present at
every step some charm which is ever varying. The eye is arrested
sometimes by the blue and red painted houses which peep out from clumps
of guava-trees, of liquidambars and palms--sometimes by the mountains
which overhang the town--by the rocks which are completely hidden by a
drapery of convolvuli--by the thousand streams which burst from their
sides--and by the paths which are soon lost to view between a double
hedge of daturas, honey-suckles, and jasmines.

When evening has come a shade falls upon the landscape, but the veil is
so transparent that it softens its contour without effacing it. Even the
night at Jalapa is quite as beautiful as the day. It is then that life
begins to stir in the town. The ground-floor is, in all houses in hot
countries, the place of rendezvous for the family and friends. It is in
the evening at Jalapa, and at several other towns in Mexico, that the
stranger can obtain the best insight into the domestic life and manners
of the inhabitants. Every open window then sends forth a welcome ray of
light into the dark and silent street, and the traveler can not but hear
the joyous merriment that is going on within. In the warm nights of this
beautiful climate the stranger can thus share in these fêtes every
evening; he can see the Jalapeñas[47] display their charming vivacity
without affectation, from the first moment that the fête commences till
the flowers in their head-dresses wither, the harp ceases to be heard,
and the windows are closed behind their iron bars.

It is always with regret that you leave this charming, warm valley,
whether you are going to Mexico through the icy fogs of the frigid zone,
or to Vera Cruz through the stifling and unbearable heat of the country
between Jalapa and that city. I had deferred my departure from day to
day, and two weeks had almost rolled away like a dream since that
evening when, permitting the silver convoy to go on in advance after the
death of Don Blas, I had entered Jalapa alone. My pecuniary resources
were almost exhausted, and I was obliged to set out, taking with me my
servant Cecilio and another traveling companion, a young spaniel bitch,
answering to the name of Love, an appellation which Cecilio had
transferred into a Spanish name with quite a different signification,
Lova (she wolf). This dog followed me in all my wanderings; and my horse
Storm, who had contracted an affection for her, never galloped with
greater animation than when he felt her bounding between his legs or
fawning upon his chest.

We soon left behind us the fertile hills of Jalapa, its orange groves
and daturas, its plains dotted with bananas and guava-trees, and arrived
at Lencero. This name was given to the place by one of Cortez's soldiers
who had set up a venta there. In that quarter are still to be found some
of these huts called jacales.[48] Lencero offers likewise an additional
interest to the curious traveler. Near the hamlet, upon the top of a
hill, from which, in a clear day, the serrated tops of the Cordillera
and a distant view of the ocean can be easily obtained, rises a little
house with red stained walls, ornamented with a modest veranda, and
surmounted by a _mirador_ (belvedere) of glass. This agreeable retreat
is the country house of General Santa Anna.

At some distance from Lencero our road passed through the gorges of
Cerro-Gordo, and a dull roar, like the sea-waves breaking on a rocky
beach, warned us of our approach to the River Antigua. Seven arches,
thrown with great boldness over a deep ravine, at the bottom of which
the river flows; the blasted rocks and the filled-up abysses, still
attest the ancient grandeur of the old masters of Mexico. This bridge is
now called the Puente Nacional.[49]

Vera Cruz is only about forty miles from the Puente Nacional; but since
our departure from Jalapa, the heat had become gradually overpowering.
Storm snuffed up with delight the burning wind which imbrowned the
grass; it reminded him of the hot breezes of the savannas. It was the
first time for five years that he had bathed in the rays of a sun
similar to that of his distant _querencia_, and his joy was manifested
by his wild neighing. Love, on the contrary, her tongue lolling out, and
her chest heaving, sought in vain for some drops of dew in the midst of
a vegetation parched and withered by the heat of such a sun.

Fatigued by a ride which had lasted longer than I had anticipated, I
pulled up for an instant. I had not intended that my halt should be
long, as I wished to reach Vera Cruz that evening, leaving my servant to
follow next morning if his horse could not keep up with mine; but Fate
had decreed otherwise. Cecilio, who had lagged behind, came up at the
very moment I was going to start. The sweat was rolling in beaded drops
from his burning brow, and his face, ordinarily so calm and placid, wore
an appearance of extreme uneasiness. He shuffled up alongside of me. I
was doubly surprised. It was the first time that he had ever shown
himself wanting in respect, and the effort he now made to keep his horse
close to mine was quite without precedent.

"Señor," said Cecilio to me, "if the accounts I have picked up on the
road are to be relied on, we have entered the district in which yellow
fever is so rife, and I must say that I have strong fears for my
personal safety, and, with your lordship's permission, will go no

"Very true," said I, "the yellow fever has haunts peculiar to itself; it
is, besides, very partial to stout, healthy people like you; but never
mind; you know the road from here to Mexico, and you may consider the
horse on which you are at present mounted your own, in lieu of the money
I owe you."

Unfortunately, there was a question of wages between the valet and his
master which the gift of a foundered horse, fit only for the knackers,
could scarcely cover. The former hinted delicately at the difficulty,
and wished to be paid on the spot. I had then recourse to an argument
which I thought would leave him without any reply.

"You know why I left Jalapa so soon. Now, as there are no commercial
houses in these deserts that will accept a bill of mine upon Vera Cruz,
you must have patience till we get there."

Cecilio made no reply; but his attitude proved that he did not consider
himself beaten. In fact, after riding in silence for about half an hour,
he came again to the charge.

"If your lordship would take me to Europe with you," he said, "I should
not care about running my chance of the yellow fever. He who runs no
risk will never cross the sea, as the proverb says."

I reminded Cecilio that such a voyage was very expensive, and that among
those foreigners who had emigrated to Mexico there were very few
millionaires, and that the greater part generally went away as poor as
they came. "Although," I added, "such men may be looked upon as of
consequence here, when they arrive in their own country they are not
treated with a like consideration."

This stopped his mouth, and he again lapsed into his former taciturnity.
We continued our journey, but he still hung obstinately on my heels. All
at once he uttered a cry of joy.

"What is the matter?" I asked.

"I have hit upon a capital way of settling the business."

"Ah! let me hear it."

"I propose to your lordship," he replied, gravely, "to stake your horse
Storm against the wages which are due me. As it is impossible for you to
pay me here, and you see that I am unalterably resolved to go no
farther, your lordship can not refuse to assent to my proposition. If
your lordship win, we shall be quits, and I shall then have only the
honor of having served you for nothing. If your lordship lose, I shall
have the chestnut horse and the favor of God."

At first I was on the point of rejecting with indignation a proposition
so extraordinary, but the very idea seemed so extravagant that I
laughingly accepted it. We alighted. According to a habit common enough
in Mexico, Cecilio never stirred abroad without being provided with a
pack of cards; and master and valet sat down, face to face, beneath a
clump of trees on the off side of the road. Love stretched herself
panting on the sand, while Storm, impatient of delay, pawed the ground
with his hoof. At sight of the noble animal, that perhaps, in a short
time, would cease to belong to me, I could not help regretting my
rashness for an instant, but I had gone too far to recede. Cecilio
passed me the cards.

"Your lordship will honor me by dealing them," said he, with redoubled

I shuddered, and took the pack with a hand not at all steady. Not to
prolong my absurd position, I determined that the game be decided in
three _alburs_.[50] Five minutes would then settle the question. I put
down two cards from the pack. Cecilio chose one, I took the other; then,
after laying down half a dozen cards in succession, I won the first
albur. Not a frown crossed Cecilio's face; and, for my part, I thought
that fortune was going to befriend me for once in my life, but I lost
the second throw. The third albur remained, which would decide the

While thus engaged, we had not perceived two horsemen who were advancing
toward us. I did not see them, for my part, till they were almost at my
side. The sound of their voices caused me to raise my head, and at a
single glance I saw in one of the new-comers a perfect specimen of the
Jarocho.[51] He wore in all its purity the peculiar costume of this
class of men, a straw hat with a broad brim turned up behind, a fine
linen shirt with cambric frills, without any vest above it, a pair of
blue cotton velvet breeches open at the knee, and falling in a point to
the middle of his leg. In a belt of Chinese crape of a scarlet color
hung a straight sword (_machete_), without guard or sheath, the sharp
and glittering blade of which sparkled in the sun. His feet, which were
bare, were held in the wooden stirrup only by the tips of his toes. This
Jarocho, his head inclined indolently upon one shoulder, sat his horse
in the attitude peculiar to people of his caste, whose easy manner and
unconstrained demeanor suited him to perfection. His complexion partook
equally of the darkness of the negro and the copper color of the Indian.
It was a more difficult matter to define precisely what the other
cavalier was, who was habited in an Indian robe, blue pantaloons, and
bottines of Cordovan leather, while a rich hat of _Jipijapa_ straw[52]
sheltered him from the rays of the sun. His face, with a slight tinge of
sternness in it, might have become equally well a merchant, a
horse-dealer, or a highwayman, and the easy-going horse that he bestrode
seemed to suit equally all three suppositions.

Two gamesters at play, wherever they may be, are always an agreeable
sight for Mexicans of all classes, and, to my great annoyance, the two
horsemen stopped short to look at us. I sat quite motionless with the
cards in my hand, and was much confused at being surprised at an
occupation so contrary to my habits. As no stake was visible, however, I
flattered myself that I would be able to keep up appearances so far as
to make them believe that it was only the most innocent pastime; but I
had to do with men who are acute judges of human character.

"Might I ask if this beautiful horse is the stake?" asked the horseman
in the Indian robe, saluting me, and accompanying his request with a
piercing look.

"Exactly so," I answered.

"In that case you are playing high, señor," replied the cavalier; "and
if, as I fancy, the horse is your own, I wish Fortune may be propitious
to you; but would you not like any body to help you with their advice?"

"I prefer finishing the game as I commenced it. I have always remarked
that I have more luck when there is no one by."

The cavalier was too much of a gamester himself not to see at once the
full force of my scruples, and, turning to his companion, said, "'Tis as
well as it is. Time presses. We must part here, although, if I have
time, you may trust on my rejoining you at the fandango of Manantial;
still, to speak truth, if certain infallible signs do not deceive me,
the north wind will not be long in beginning to blow."

"To-morrow, then, if it is possible," answered the Jarocho; and the two
cavaliers separated, the first following the direct road, while the
horseman in the Indian robe took a path on the left.

"What the devil has the north wind to do with a fandango in a little
village?" I asked, mechanically, of my valet.

"The cavalier in the Indian robe is perhaps afraid of catching cold,"
said Cecilio, with an affected air.

After this absurd explanation, we again began the game which had been so
unexpectedly interrupted. I once more drew two cards out of the pack.
One was the _sota de bastos_ (knave of clubs). Cecilio chose it. I
shuffled the cards this time with a trembling hand. My heart beat.
Perhaps I was going to lose the daily companion of five long years.
Cecilio wiped away the sweat which ran in streams down his forehead.
Suddenly he uttered a cry which pierced to my innermost core. I was just
turning up the knave of hearts.

"You have lost, sir!" cried he.

At these words, spoken in good French, I regarded Cecilio with mute
surprise. He, meanwhile, stepping up proudly to my horse, put his foot
in the stirrup, and was going to spring upon Storm's back.

"Stop!" I cried; "the saddle does not go with the animal." I then
ordered him to take the saddle off, and to put it on the back of the
other horse. Cecilio executed this order, which would probably be the
last he would ever receive from his old master, with sufficient
readiness and good will. This done, he mounted that horse which was no
longer mine. I cursed my folly, but it was too late. A feeling of pride,
however, kept me from showing the remorse I felt; and, to hide my
chagrin, I asked Cecilio how he had managed to pick up so much French
without my knowledge.

"I have not been behind the chair of your lordship," he replied,
"especially when you dined with your countrymen, without acquiring some
of the language; and as for making you acquainted with that fact, I was
too wide awake. Your lordship, from that time, would have kept your
secrets to yourself."

Cecilio was evidently like one of that class of valets who figure so
largely in the picaresque romances of Spain. More than once he had
reminded me of Ambrosio of Lamela in Gil Blas. His physiognomy had not
deceived me. However, in spite of the impudence which he here manifested
for the first time, he seemed, when the parting moment came, to suffer
considerably. It was natural, in fact, to show some emotion when he was
leaving a master who had used him kindly. Moved by this token of feeling
on his part, I showed that I was not without some affection for him.

"Cecilio, my friend," I said, "the horse you have won from me would have
been yours before many days had passed. Are you grieved because you have
been the means of taking him from me?"

Cecilio squeezed out a tear.

"The truth is," said he, "I regret seeing your beautiful saddle on the
back of such a sorry brute, and I am ashamed at the miserable
appointments that the horse I have won is provided with. But, if your
lordship is in the humor, would it suit you to play for the saddle and

This was too much. Overcome by this last piece of ingratitude, "Take
care," I cried, cocking a pistol, "that I do not take back a horse which
you are not worthy to mount."

Cecilio made no other reply to this threat than by spurring his horse
and whistling on the Spanish dog, which had looked upon this scene with
a painful air of dumb anxiety. I whistled also. Thus forced to choose
between two parties whom he had affectionately loved all his life, the
poor animal hesitated. He ran up to Storm, and then came back to me with
a most pitying expression in his face. The convulsive movements of his
body betrayed his anguish, and showed the struggle that was going on
within. His limbs shook for an instant; he then gave three convulsive
howls, darted-from me, and was soon lost in the dust raised by his
much-loved companion. I remained alone. My heart was in a storm of rage
and grief, and I was even tempted to vent my ill-humor on the miserable
hack that fortune had left me, but this weakness lasted only for a
moment. I had learned, in the many crosses incident to a life of
stirring adventure, the difficult virtue of resignation, and the
different phases of this sentimental episode had been accompanied by
circumstances so ludicrous that I finished by throwing myself on the
grass and bursting into a violent fit of laughter.


[47] The women of Jalapa are renowned throughout the whole republic for
their beauty and grace, and their taste in fêtes, music, and flowers is

[48] These huts are constructed of bamboos, wattled so as to admit both
air and light freely.

[49] Before the independence of Mexico this bridge was called Puente del
Rey (the King's Bridge).

[50] The game called _monte_ is thus divided.

[51] The peasants of the sea-coast and the country round Vera Cruz are
so called.

[52] These hats, which take their name from the place where they are
made, are often worth from £10 to £12 each.


I arrive at Manantial.--Superstitions of the Jarochos.

The unfortunate occurrence recorded in the preceding chapter caused me
to change my route. It was impossible for me to reach Vera Cruz that
day, mounted as I was; so I resolved to pass the night at Manantial, a
little village which I supposed to be not more than a mile off. I had
thus some time before me, and I thought it could not be better employed
than in taking a siesta under the shade of the trees, amid the green
solitude in which I found myself. It was a spot in one of the most
picturesque forests which cover almost the entire country between Puente
Nacional and Vergara. Amid these matted thickets, narrow paths, cut by
the hatchet, run in different directions, overshadowed by the almost
impenetrable foliage of the trees, while a wall of luxuriant vegetation
on each side bars every where the entrance of man, and almost that of
the fallow deer. The long, pendent branches twist and interlace their
tendrils with the boughs of the neighboring trees. The cocoa-nut-tree
covers, with its large leaves, its necklace of green fruit; and the
Bourbon palms stretch their branches, covered with shining foliage to
the ground; the silk-cotton-tree shows its white flakes of cotton just
bursting from the dark green pod. In the deep shade of these inhabitants
of the forest the friar's cowl abounds with its polished chalice; and at
the bottom, as well as the top of this green vault, the gobeas hang
their little bell-flowers of variegated colors. Such is the aspect of
these woods--an appearance, however, which assumes a different phase
according to the hour of the day. At midday the rank vegetation droops
under the scorching rays of the sun, from the palm, with its towering
crest, to the lowly moss which covers the ground. A hot breeze at that
time rushes through the thickets, and appears to arrest every where the
progress of vegetation; wild beasts, birds, insects, and plants--all
animated nature, in fact, seems to languish under this stifling heat;
but when the sun's rays no longer gild the tree-tops, and the vapors
rise slowly from the ground, to fall back again in dew, these forests
and their denizens, once so silent, start again into life.

Overcome by the powerful influence of the sun, I fell fast asleep
without any thought about my horse. The pettiest thief, indeed, would
have been ashamed of such booty; and I was, besides, in a district where
no stain of dishonesty rested on the character of the inhabitants. The
sun was yet high in the horizon when I awoke, but a refreshing breeze
was beginning to temper the sultry heat. High up amid the branches of
the trees which sheltered me, the paroquets had begun their discordant
noises, and their infernal melody was of such a kind as to annoy even
the strongest nerves. I got impatient; and, hastily bestriding the
wretched animal which supplied the place of my excellent Storm, set out
on the beaten path that led to Manantial.

After riding slowly and painfully along for about half an hour, the
shrill croaking of the paroquets always paining my ears, I perceived a
horseman a little way in advance. This cavalier, attired exactly like
one of those who had interrupted Cecilio and me at our game, seemed,
like myself, to be quite out of humor. He rode, as all the Jarochos do,
with his body inclined more to one side of the saddle than the other.
His horse shuffled slowly along, and every now and then he held up his
fist to the skies in all the fury of passion. Delighted that chance had
sent me a companion in misfortune, I wished to offer him my hearty
condolence, and succeeded in that design beyond my expectation. Scarcely
had I managed, by dint of hard spurring, to make up to him, than a loud
ringing laugh replaced the mental irritation in which I thought he had
been indulging a minute before.

"May I ask if you are laughing at me?" I said, abruptly; for, in the bad
humor I was in, this hilarity seemed quite out of place.

"At you? No, Señor Cavalier," answered the Jarocho. "But you will excuse
me if, at sight of your horse, I bid adieu for a time to all customary

"My horse is in no worse condition than the _andante_[53] you are on," I
replied, almost choking.

"You may think so; but that hack of yours is a mere bag of bones, and it
is no small satisfaction to me to find one worse mounted than myself."

The horseman then began to laugh in such a merry, unconstrained fashion,
that, tickled with the very absurdity of the thing, I could not help
joining him, and we had a good hearty laugh together. The squabbling of
the paroquets, struck with the unusual noise, ceased all of a sudden.
They recommenced their ear-splitting cries, till at last I discharged a
pistol at random among the foliage. To my great surprise, a bird fell at
my feet.

"Did you take aim at it?" asked the astonished Jarocho.

"Of course," I replied, sharply; "and this will serve to show you that
it is not altogether safe to jest with people you don't know."

At these words the Jarocho stopped his horse, and, straightening himself
in his saddle, placed one hand upon his haunch, and pulled his straw hat
over his eyes with the other. He then cried out, "_Oigajte, ñor
deconocio_.[54] I am of a caste and of a country where words are few,
and whose actions are prompt. I did not mean to offend you; but if you
seek a quarrel, I shall not flinch. In spite of the disparity of our
weapons, I am not afraid to try which of us is the better man."

He hummed a tune, drew his sharp sword from the leathern belt which
encircled his waist, and flourished it in the air. I likewise drew my

The idea of crossing swords, mounted as we were on such sorry jades, was
so absurd, that we at last burst into a mutual roar of laughter, which
ended the matter. I then hastened to explain to the Jarocho that I had
no inimical feeling toward him. He held out his hand.

"I am glad you are satisfied," he replied, "for I should have been very
sorry to have an enemy in one so brave as you appear to be, as at
present I have a more serious quarrel on my hands."

We then rode along together quite amicably. To turn the conversation,
recalling, besides, to my recollection the parting words of the two
horsemen at the cross-road, I said, in a careless kind of a tone, "Isn't
there to be a fandango at Manantial to-morrow?"

"There is, confound it! I promised _ña_[55] Sacramenta a bow of red
ribbons for the occasion, and there is not a bit to be had in all the
neighborhood. At the very moment you joined me I was cursing my unlucky
star. Probably you are yourself going to the fandango?"

"Well, I am; but chance alone brought me to think of it, for I had
reckoned on sleeping to-night at Vera Cruz, had not an unfortunate
occurrence come in the way."

"You will have no cause to regret it, I hope, for _the crowd will be as
thick as smoke_. But where will you put up at Manantial? There is no inn
in the place."

"With you, perhaps, since you appear to be so desirous to have me at the

The Jarocho bowed in token of assent, and then began to give me an
account of the numerous pleasures that awaited me on the morrow.
Conversing thus, we reached Manantial. Night had come. A few scattered
lights gleaming from among the green foliage announced our approach to
the village. We soon reached a little clearing in the wood, dotted with
cabins formed of wattled bamboo. This was Manantial. Some men and women,
clad in the national costume, were dancing to the monotonous sound of a
mandolin, while the mothers were rocking their infants to sleep in
hammocks formed of strips of aloe bark. I soon learned the name of my
new host.

"Ah! it's Calros,"[56] cried they, in a tone as if his arrival had long
been looked for. He paid no attention to the greeting of his friends,
who advanced to welcome him, but his eye roved about till it rested on
the slender and graceful form of a young girl, whose pretty little feet
were twinkling merrily in the dance. Her hair, black as ebony, was
ornamented with a wreath[57] of suchil flowers, interspersed with
fire-flies, whose pale bluish light encircled her forehead with a
mysterious and fantastic halo. Draped in a white robe, whose waving
folds were every moment blanched by the pale rays of the moon,
Sacramenta, with her bare shoulders and variegated hair, looked like a
fairy dancing by night in a glade of the forest, when all around is at

The almost disdainful glance which she threw at him showed me at once
the true state of affairs. The Jarocho waited till the dance was
finished, and then advanced toward the girl. By the entreating tone of
his voice, it was clear that he was excusing himself about the red
ribbons he had promised her. I was too far off to hear his words, but
the light which streamed from a neighboring cottage showed me the full
expression of her features. It was evident that all Calros's rhetoric
had been useless, and he remounted, but with a saddened, irritated air.
Sacramenta, in shaking her head to a remark of his, allowed one of the
suchil flowers to fall from her chaplet. The Jarocho regarded it for
some time with an undecided air; and she, marking his hesitation, and
while pressing the wreath on her forehead, in a fit of coquetry, raised
the flower on the tip of her tiny foot, and presented it to him. The
cloudy countenance of the Jarocho was now lit up with joy; he seized the
flower eagerly, spurred his horse, and was soon lost in the darkness.

It was quite clear that he had completely forgotten me, but it was as
clear that I had no intention of taking up my quarters for the night in
the forest.

"Halloo! Señor Don Calros," I shouted after him, "you have left me

"Pardon me, Señor Cavalier," cried he, pulling up; "but there are times
when I am hardly master of myself."

"I am convinced of that," I said; "and it is certainly no indiscretion
in you to forget a stranger whom you met by the merest chance."

"In my country the stranger is at home every where; but you shall not
have my hospitality for nothing, for you must pay me either by doing me
a particular piece of service, or assisting me with your advice."

"With pleasure," I answered, "if it is in my power."

The dwelling of the Jarocho, called a _jacal_, was situated at the other
end of the village. A small inclosure, in which a few goats were penned,
was attached to it. The cabin was divided into three apartments by reed
partitions. In one of these, the mother of the Jarocho was preparing the
evening meal over a fire whose reddish glow lighted up the whole jacal.
The repast consisted of rice boiled in milk, fried bananas, and red
haricots from the Tierra Caliente, which enjoy a proverbial celebrity in
Mexico. When supper was ended the old woman left the room, wishing me a
pleasant sleep.

The distant thrumming of guitars apprised us that the company we had
left were still keeping up their merriment. The voice of the Jarocho
awoke me from the reverie in which I had been indulging.

"Do you see," said he to me, as we were lying at the door of the cabin,
"that fleecy mist which dulls the light of the stars? These are the
vapors which, at the end of every hot day, arise from the lakes, brooks,
and waterfalls. Do you think it possible that, at the command of a
mortal like ourselves, this shadowy impalpable fog should assume the
form of a friend who has been lost, or an enemy that has been murdered?"

"I doubt that much," I replied, astonished at this preamble; "I fancied
that these superstitious notions were peculiar only to northern climes."

"Here," said Calros, in a solemn tone, "ghosts haunt not the abodes of
the living; they love to flit about in the woods, and to frisk among the
leaves and flowers. But you smile. Let us talk of something else. Did
you see ña Sacramenta this evening?"

"The pretty girl with the wreath of _cucuyos_ and the _suchil_ chaplet?"

"The same. She is very beautiful, is she not? Six months ago, at a
fandango in the neighborhood, a quarrel arose on her account, which was
followed by the death of a man. The victim was a relation of mine; and,
according to universal custom, it became my duty to avenge his death. I
had, besides, an additional inducement in seeking the murderer; he
adored Sacramenta, and every one who loves her is my sworn enemy. Twenty
times have I persuaded myself into a belief that Sacramenta loved me,
and twenty times have I been forced to confess to myself that I was
deceived. I feel that I love Sacramenta more than my life--than my
honor, perhaps--else I should have been on the murderer's traces long
ago; and yet this evening I have even ventured to hope."

"Yes, a mere suchil flower may sometimes work miracles," said I,
interrupting him.

"What!" cried Jarocho, "have you the gift of seeing what no one else has

"I only observed what every body else might have seen, had they chose;
but when a man receives a flower from the hand of a girl he loves, he
needn't, I think, despair."

"Thank Heaven!" cried the Jarocho, cheerfully. "Yet," he added, with a
sigh, "this is not the first token I have had from her; to-morrow the
illusions of this night may be dispelled. Ever since ña Sacramenta came
to live at Manantial I have suffered the utmost tortures of anxiety, and
yet vengeance has not been done on my cousin's murderer. I have tried to
forget that duty; unluckily, there are others who do not. The dead man's
mother reminds me every day of the charge which has devolved upon me.
Eight days ago I met the old woman. I wished to avoid her, but it was
impossible. She is looked upon as a sort of witch by the people around.
On passing me she cried out, 'The dead have better memories than the
living.' I asked her what she meant, although I knew full well. 'You
will see him to-night,' she replied. In truth, that very evening,"
Calros continued, in an altered voice, "I was seated at the same place
where we now are, Señor Cavalier; the door was open, and my thoughts
were engaged about nothing in particular. I was only listening to the
voices in the trees and on the wind; a pale white mist was creeping up
to the sky, as it is doing now. All at once a cloud came between my eyes
and the stars; it took a human form, and the dead man was before me! I
saw him distinctly, right in front of me. I closed my eyes, and when I
opened them he was gone. You will now understand why I asked you, señor,
who, as a European, must be a learned man, if mortals like ourselves can
raise the dead."

These superstitious notions are not at all prevalent in Mexico, and the
Jarochos seem to have a complete monopoly of them. I gently hinted that
all this was nothing but the result of a diseased imagination.

"I know well," said he, "that the ghost of my deceased relative has not
been raised by any human power, but I believe that God himself has sent
it to me. I have taken my resolution. I shall not stay in the village a
day after to-morrow, although I leave it with a broken heart."

"But is there no way of reconciling your duty with your love?"

"That can only be done by delegating my powers to a devoted friend. A
guest makes a part of the family; and in this quality, señor, you might
take my place and seek the murderer, who would not hesitate to give you

"That would be too glorious a mission for me, and I fear I should not be
successful in the search," I said, modestly; "but I have no objections
to accompany you, and aid you in your task."

"That is an offer which I will not refuse," Calros answered. "We shall
then set out the day after to-morrow."

This delicate point settled to our mutual satisfaction, we stretched
ourselves under a shed which served as a sort of veranda to the cabin. A
gentle breeze was beginning to dissipate the heat of the day. The
lizards were silent in the grass; and in the savannas, the wild cattle,
by their joyful lowing, testified to the grateful freshness of the
night. Lulled by the soft murmur of the twittering leaves, I soon fell


[53] Local synonym for a horse.

[54] Listen, Sir Stranger.

[55] Abbreviated form of Doña, used in this part of Mexico.

[56] Calros, Charles.

[57] A head-dress greatly in vogue among Mexican females.


The Fête of Manantial.--The Combat.

The name of Jarochos is given to those peasants who live on the
sea-board round Vera Cruz. Their costume bears no resemblance whatever
to that of the people around them. The inhabitants of Andalusia wear a
dress very similar to theirs, and it is the general opinion, from their
manners and character, that they are the descendants of the Gitanos of
that Spanish province. Their dialect is, like their attire, strange and
singular. It abounds in words of the purest Castilian, interspersed with
local terms disfigured by a vicious pronunciation, and can not be
understood, even by those who know Spanish, without diligent and careful
study. They are impatient of restraint, and, consequently, ill fitted
for acting as soldiers or sailors, although well versed in the use of
arms, and not unacquainted with the dangers of the sea. It is their love
of independence which causes them to prefer the wandering life of the
herdsman and the horse-dealer, and the _machete_ plays no unimportant
part in all their difficulties. The Jarocho would rather want the most
indispensable part of his dress than be deprived of the long, sharp,
glittering blade which he wears in his belt. This sabre is more
generally in the hand of the Jarocho than at his side. A small point of
honor, or the most futile remark, has often been the means of bringing
on the most bloody and long-continued series of combats. They are
possessed, however, of some rare qualities, which atone for their
defects. The Jarocho is temperate, frank, loyal, and hospitable to the
_whites_ (by this term he means the higher classes); he looks upon theft
with horror; he loves the place of his birth. A stranger to every desire
for wealth, he lives contented with a little in the midst of a fertile
country where three harvests a year cover the ground, which is sown but
not tilled. The inhabitants of the country round Vera Cruz are in
general robust and well made. They are strong and muscular; and nature
has thrown round their persons an air of elegance in exact harmony with
the devotion the Jarocho pays to three things: his horse, his sword, and
his mistress.

Seven years before my arrival in Mexico, I once had an opportunity of
meeting with one of this singular race; but, from want of familiarity
with Spanish, I could not well understand his peculiar dialect.

As soon as I awoke in the morning, I was reminded, by the handsome and
elegant dress of my host, that it was the fête-day of Manantial. A
twisted fringe, strung with Venetian pearls, and studded at regular
distances with little mirrors, ran round his hat; his shirt, of the
finest linen, was embroidered in the most beautiful manner; the buttons
of his velvet _calzonera_ at his girdle were made of solid piastres, and
those which ran down his legs of reals and half reals. On his feet were
half-boots of Cordovan leather. His _cortante_,[58] polished to the
highest degree of brilliancy, hung suspended from his girdle of scarlet
silk, and two bows of the same color adorned its hilt. Set out thus to
the best advantage, the Jarocho had an air of refinement about him which
augured well for his success.

In spite of a degree of satisfaction which shone upon his countenance,
Calros could not help twirling the end of his mustache with an anxious
expression. His joy seemed to be mixed with an alloy of bitterness. I
asked him the cause of it.

"Ah! if you could only free me of my vow of vengeance, I should be
relieved of a charge which will embitter, I fear, all my pleasures."

"What! will your oath keep you from drinking, singing, and playing?"

"No, but it will hinder me from knocking a fellow down; and what is a
fandango without some little quarrel to enliven it? No matter; one can
not have all one's pleasures at once. I shall sing louder, play more,
and drink as much as will soothe me for the disappointment."

I doubted much the calming efficacy of Catalonian brandy, but I affected
to believe fully in the power of the remedy.

Manantial, like the Jarocho, had put on its holiday garb for the
occasion. An unusual stir was visible in the village. At the doors of
the cabins, women, arrayed in abundance of muslin and lace, appeared
from time to time, decked with gold and coral ornaments, so dear to the
swarthy beauties of Southern countries. In a glade, an estrade had been
erected for the accommodation of the dancers; little shops had been
improvised for the supply of water, _tepache_, and Catalonian brandy;
gambling-tables had been set up. In a few hours the Jarochos from the
surrounding villages would come pouring in. The sun was shining full
upon the spot in all its dazzling brilliancy. The shadow cast by the
palm-trees, already a little off the perpendicular, showed that it was
two hours past noon. Crowds of horsemen now began to arrive, who, after
alighting, tied their foaming steeds to the trunks of the trees or the
pillars of the houses. Horses and men were soon mingled together in
strange confusion; the cries of the men, the neighing of the steeds, and
the tuning of guitars, were now heard on all sides. Circles were
speedily formed round the gambling-tables, the _ventorillos_,[59] or the
estrade reserved for the female dancers. Here I stationed myself.

The estrade, on which female dancers were alone to figure, was elevated
a few inches above the ground. According to a singular custom prevailing
in all the villages round Vera Cruz, the men on this occasion are mere
spectators of the women's performances. A Jarocho squatted himself down
on the ground close to the estrade, and commenced strumming his
mandolin. Eight or ten girls answered to his call, and began to dance. I
could not help admiring the graceful dexterity with which many of them
carried a glass of water on their heads without spilling a drop,
dancing, too, all the while with the greatest vigor; or the agility with
which they untied, without using their hands, the silk bows attached to
their shoes,[60] When this dance, very coldly applauded, was finished,
the guitar struck up a new tune, that of the dance called _petenera_.

This time the estrade was quite full, and among the women who advanced
to take a part in this measure I recognized, by her graceful mien and
dazzling beauty, Doña Sacramenta, whom my host called, in his flowery
language, _his dearly-beloved angel on earth_. She was attired in a
beautiful dress of transparent muslin. Her rounded arms were adorned in
the upper part by the embroidery and lace of her cambric chemise, the
rest remained bare. The contour of her fair shoulders was masked, but
not entirely concealed, by a gorget of lace very like Arlesian. She wore
shoes of the most beautiful satin, and a tress of her magnificent black
hair was wound round a tortoise-shell comb mounted with massy gold. Her
eyelids, cast down under the fiery glances that were shot from all sides
at her, allowed one to see the long silken lashes with which they were
fringed. She was not now the calm beauty that I had admired the evening
before in the moonlight, but an impassioned daughter of the tropics in
all her brilliancy.

The excitement among the spectators, increased by their frequent
libations, became greater and greater every minute, but another and a
more intense interest was soon awakened in the minds of the crowd.

"Ah!" cried a Jarocho at my side, whose hair was beginning to turn gray,
"at the last fandango held at Malibran,[61] Quilimaco lost one of his
ears, and Juan de Dios the point of his nose, in a quarrel that arose
about a beauty who was not worth a lock of hair compared with that girl

"Have patience, _tio_,"[62] answered another; "the beautiful Sacramenta
has more than one aspirant in this village, and I venture to predict
that, before nightfall, she will have danced the _machete_ and
_chamarra_ for two at least among us."

I did not understand what they meant, but the events that followed soon
explained it. Two groups had by this time formed round the estrade
occupied by the dancers. In the first, a Jarocho, as richly dressed as
Calros, seemed to exercise a marked ascendency. In the second, my host
appeared to be the head of another party. Animated by the hope of some
quarrel arising between the two factions, the musicians strummed their
guitars with redoubled ardor, and a fearful discord filled the air. Just
when the dancers were beginning to put themselves in motion, some
singers chanted, in a nasal tone of voice, a couplet whose words bore no
relation whatever to the present circumstances, and which consisted of a
series of proverbs put in verse, almost devoid of meaning, but strongly
tinged with obscene allusions. I was then standing near my host, whose
eye was following with a jealous attention the least movement of
Sacramenta, but she did not deign to bestow upon him the slightest

"You see my hard fate," said he to me, in a low voice; "in high hope one
day, in despair the next. We shall set out to-morrow."

These last words betrayed such poignant grief that I could not help
cursing in my heart that pitiless coquetry which could wound the
feelings of so ardent a lover.

"Ah!" he resumed, "she has not yet forgiven me for that confounded bow
of red ribbons which I was unable to procure for her."

At this moment his rival advanced to the estrade, and uncovering,
presented his hat to Sacramenta with a very gallant air. She received it
with a smile, without interrupting for a moment the evolutions in which
she was engaged. Calros's face appeared quite impassible, and he
contented himself with making an almost imperceptible gesture to one of
his partisans. This person then advanced in his turn and did the same.
Custom demanded that, in a case like this, the maiden should show
preference to neither; she therefore continued to dance with the two
hats in her hand. The advantage of seeing his hat placed upon the head
of the dancer would by right belong to the third gallant; and, as I
expected, Calros was the one who profited by this usage. The two rivals
then exchanged looks of mutual defiance, while the first, untying his
sash of China crape, formed it into a rosette, and stepped forward to
suspend it to the bare shoulder of Sacramenta.

The guitars, now struck with the greatest vigor, made almost as much
noise as a band of trumpeters, and the voices of the singers increased
in proportion. The men were exchanging looks of evident satisfaction,
but the women were chattering among themselves, evidently envying the
homage paid to Sacramenta. This young girl kept her feet in motion; her
complexion was heightened by a reddish glow, which lent an additional
charm to her radiant black eyes. A vague apprehension, however, seemed
to agitate her bosom. At once happy and miserable, she dared not turn
her eyes upon him whose heart yearned for her with such true affection.
In spite, also, of Calros's apparent calm, the involuntary working of
the muscles of his face disclosed the torture he was suffering.

"Courage!" said I to him, in a whisper; "have you not on your heart the
suchil flower?"

Calros raised his head, as if the remembrance of that had restored all
his confidence. He seized his machete, and went to suspend it at
Sacramenta's shoulder. I then understood the meaning of the prediction
that I had heard some time before. Sacramenta danced with the machete
and _chamarra_ of two of her suitors. It was a singular sight to see a
long, sharp, glittering blade dangling from the nude shoulder of the
young girl, in such close proximity to her heaving bosom.

A sudden silence now fell upon the crowd, similar to what sometimes
takes place at a bull-fight when the arena has received its first stains
of blood. All at once a loud and imposing male voice near the orchestra
exclaimed "Bomba!" The instruments ceased to sound, and the song died
away. The voice was that of Calros's rival, who now chanted a couplet
expressive of his confidence in his mistress's tenderness, while the
friends of the Jarocho repeated the last line in chorus. Calros then
answered in a high key by saying that he would not have a divided heart,
and that his rival was a traitor.

The Jarocho replied in another recitative, by inquiring if he had spirit
sufficient to meet him in fair combat. Calros then, with a smile upon
his face, expressed his willingness to meet this traitor, this vagabond,
this false friend.

Whether Sacramenta was weary of the dance, or overcome by the general
emotion which was manifested when this last couplet was chanted, I know
not, but she stepped hastily from the estrade, and her companions
followed her. Instructed by past experience not to wait for the
commencement of the melee, as their instruments generally suffer in the
fray, the musicians hurriedly retired. Some customary pieces of ceremony
were still, however, to be gone through; the suitors must redeem the
pledges given to the dancer. The customary fee for these is half a real
each. The two rivals advanced, one after the other, and filled both
hands of Sacramenta with silver coin. While she was receiving the
forfeits, in the midst of murmurs of applause excited by the prodigality
of the two Jarochos, and which she could not refuse without being guilty
of rudeness, her two little outstretched hands trembled involuntarily,
and her pale lips tried, but in vain, to smile. Calros fruitlessly
sought a look of encouragement from her. Pale and mute, and evidently
laboring under an emotion too powerful for concealment, she kept her
eyes fixed upon the ground. The machete would decide the question; and
the pleasures of the fête were going to be wound up by my host in spite
of his sage resolutions, when an old woman, elbowing her way through the
crowd, reminded him of the oath he was about to violate. She was the
mother of his dead relative.

"It is a shame, _ñor_ Don Calros," cried the beldame, "to take a new
quarrel upon you when your cousin's death has not yet been avenged."

The Jarocho was evidently taken aback at this unseasonable interruption,
and he made all the efforts he could to induce the old woman to retract
what she had said, but to all his reasons she had one unvarying reply.

"Well, _ña_ Josefita," said Calros at last, good-humoredly, "you are
making a great work about nothing, and are mistrusting my good
intention; for, if I fight this man, am I not keeping my hand in

"And should you happen to be run through the body, who will then avenge
my son?"

"You are right there," replied Calros, thrown off his guard by this
argument; "but that's just the way: the women are always mixing
themselves up in business that does not concern them. Any one may now
take my place," he continued, with an ill-natured air, "if my adversary

His rival bowed, and, poising his hat jauntily over his right ear,
placed at the same time his hand upon the hilt of his machete, and with
his right leg thrown slightly in advance, exclaimed, with an air of
haughty condescension, "What do I mean by all this? Will the good folks
of Manantial allow it to be said that they suffered their fandango to be
terminated without bestowing the customary honors upon their visitors?
Now," he continued, his eyes winking with increased rapidity, "if I can
not knock a man down for the sweet eyes of _ña_ Sacramenta, I shall
forfeit to any one who draws the first blood a bottle of Catalonian

Loud shouts of applause interrupted the orator, who, raising his head
with an air of assurance, thus went on: "I must say, however, that,
having expended my last real not an hour ago, I can not pay and must
conquer. Will any one here fight me on these conditions?"

This ridiculous fanfaronade, quite in the spirit of a Jarocho, was
welcomed enthusiastically by the by-standers. As for the speaker,
looking upon Calros, who was biting his thumbs, he cried impudently,
"Come, now, Don Calros, you have no lack of friends to take your place."

But the enthusiasm of the crowd had died away. The prospect of paying
the forfeit in one's own person, and out of one's own purse, did not
appear to be welcomed by any of the on-lookers, and I was not without
some apprehension that Calros would revert to his former idea by asking
me to become his substitute. Happily, an unexpected incident occurred
which saved the honor of the villagers of Manantial.

By the same road that I had reached the village the evening before, a
horseman was descried galloping along at his utmost speed. All eyes were
turned upon the new-comer, who appeared to be a stranger, and whom I
recognized as one of the horsemen who had interrupted my game with
Cecilio. The unknown alighted, and, without saying a word, tied his
horse to one of the wooden pillars of a house; then, still silent, he
stepped to the estrade, drew his machete, at whose hilt fluttered a bow
of red ribbons, with its point traced a circle in the sand, and then
stuck his sword in the centre.

A dead silence welcomed this strange visitant. The sword stuck in the
ground seemed to me to convey a defiance to all the village. The
antagonist desired by the rival of Calros appeared to have stepped in at
the proper time. The general gaze was now directed to the former
boaster, but he evidently did not feel inclined to take up this
unlooked-for challenge. The stranger, who looked like one of those
Paladins on whom a vow of silence has been imposed, advanced as
haughtily as he had come to one of the _ventorillos_, called for a glass
of brandy, and raised it to his mouth; but, with the air of a man who
disdains to assist his courage by artificial stimulants, instead of
drinking it, he tossed the liquor over his shoulder. He then cast upon
all the by-standers a proud glance of defiance.

All the villagers viewed the unknown with admiration, but none seemed so
impatient to measure their strength with this brilliant champion as
Calros. If the reader remember, he was not in favor with Sacramenta,
owing to the affair of the bow of red ribbons. Now at the hilt of the
stranger's sword hung a bow of ribbons of the very color she wanted.

"Viva!" he whispered to me; "the old woman may go to the devil;
Sacramenta shall have her ribbons."

He then went and planted his sword beside that of the unknown. The
challenge was accepted. The stranger courteously carried his hand to his
hat, and, having considered his adversary for a moment, cast a rapid
look among the group of females, as if singling out some one on whom to
bestow the homage of his valor. He was not long in discovering the
beautiful Sacramenta, and, stepping toward her, exclaimed, with
admirable self-possession, "The fandangoes of Medellin have lost all
their attraction since _ña_ Sacramenta is no longer there to enliven
them with her presence. May I flatter myself that she has not forgotten
them, and one of her most fervent _apasionados_?"

The young woman was going to reply, when Calros, whose jealousy was ever
awake, approached the unknown, and said, "Pardon me, Señor Cavalier, but
I have a particular liking for red ribbons. Will you surrender those
that adorn your machete as forfeit for the first blood drawn?"

"With pleasure," answered the stranger. "I should hardly have ventured
to offer them in homage to Doña Sacramenta; henceforth they shall have a
certain value in my eyes, as being the price of blood shed for her."

After saying these words with a gracious smile, he uncovered himself,
and plucked his sword out of the ground. Calros did so too. A polite
altercation then took place between them as to who should be the first
to place his hat on his head; but this was soon decided by bonneting at
the same time. The most experienced of the spectators undertook the task
of selecting a spot free from the sun's rays. This done, the combatants
stood face to face, the villagers surrounded them, and they waited for
the signal to begin. If the stranger was as skillful as he was brave,
Calros would find in him a tough opponent, and the issue might probably
be unsuccessful to this ardent lover of Sacramenta. The word was given,
and the combat commenced. Their blows were so furiously put that it
looked more like an encounter for life and death than a contest for the
first blood.[63] Sometimes the swords cut the air with a mournful sough;
sometimes they struck one another with a shrill clang. It was evident,
however, that the stranger looked more to the honor of his antagonist
than to his life. Now, in combats of this sort, the great point is to
guard the hand. A wounded hand is the greatest stain upon the reputation
of the most renowned swordsman. The loss of life even is not such a
disgrace. Unluckily, the red ribbons, fluttering at the hilt of the
unknown's sword, protected his hand more securely than even the best
steel guard could have done. It was to deck the beautiful hair of
Sacramenta that Calros was exposing his life; it was to guard these
ribbons from stain that the Jarocho stood so grimly on his defense. In
the course of the combat the swordsmen had now gone over a considerable
space of ground. The tumultuous crowd wavered to and fro, and followed
the two combatants as they were successively displaced. Neither had yet
received a scratch, when the sword of the stranger, striking that of
Calros, glided along the whole length of the blade. A moment after, my
host's fingers being cut, he was just about to drop his machete, but a
rude parry he made to save his arm failed, and the blood poured out
from a wound above his wrist. At the same instant a bloody stain
appeared upon the shoulder of the stranger. The two swords were lowered
at once, and the combat was decided without it being possible for me to
say which of the two had been first wounded; but the skilled and
experienced eyes of the witnesses had decided that question. The unknown
did not even appeal to their judgment; but, detaching the silk bow which
adorned his machete, fixed the much-coveted ornament upon its point, and
held it out to his adversary, thus confessing himself conquered. This
last act of courtesy won him all hearts; and, in spite of his defeat, he
partook with his rival in all the honors of victory. One thing only
remained, which my host perhaps desired more. During the whole time the
combat had lasted, a deadly paleness had overspread the countenance of
Sacramenta, but that soon gave place to a more lively color when Calros
advanced toward her. While she was receiving the precious ribbons which
he had so valiantly fought for, the tumultuous heavings of her bosom, a
sweet and radiant smile, and looks no more cast down to the ground, all
proclaimed in the most eloquent manner to the happy Jarocho that his
beloved attached as much value to the bow of scarlet ribbons as he had
done to the withered suchil flower which had fallen from her hair the
night before.

This last episode had passed unnoticed by almost every body. The men
surrounded the stranger, who this time invited them to a _ventorillo_.
Calros soon joined the company, and the two rivals began a contest of
prodigality, to the great delight of all the villagers, who, as they
swallowed the brandy in long draughts, congratulated themselves on
having had such a brilliant fandango as would furnish matter for
conversation for a week to come. For my part, after some words had
passed between the former rivals, I was on the point of addressing the
stranger, when the general attention was directed to a horseman who was
seen advancing at full gallop. This cavalier was no other than the
person with whom the unknown had agreed the evening before to meet at
Manantial. When he saw the blood which stained his shirt, the new-comer
cried, "Have you passed a pleasant time here, friend Julian?"

"Better than I could have expected, friend Ventura," answered the

"Well, did I not tell you what would happen?" said the horseman,
pointing to the sky, which, having been covered with clouds for some
time, now betokened a coming storm. "We shall have some hard work
presently upon the beach. Will you accompany me?"

"Willingly," answered the unknown, sadly, "for I am afraid I have
nothing to hope for here."

And, remounting his horse, after shaking every one by the hand, the two
friends went off at a gallop. A general break-up then followed. The
passage at arms between Calros and Julian had closed the fête in a
worthy manner.

Who were Julian and Ventura? None of the Jarochos around me seemed to
know them; but I intended to interrogate Calros about the strangers on
the first opportunity. When night had come, and we were lying together
under the veranda of my host's cabin, I was on the point of questioning
him about the two mysterious individuals, when the light tread of a
person walking over the dry grass interrupted me. It was the old woman
Josefa. Carefully draped, in spite of the heat, in her _rebozo_, which
allowed only her two sparkling dark eyes to be seen, the old woman
presented a complete specimen of those sorceresses that are still to be
found in Mexico among so many other remnants of the Middle Ages.

"I have been charged with a message for you," said she to Calros, "and
from the lips of one dear to you, who will welcome you on your return,
if you ever return alive. You will be told when to set out as soon as
you are ready."

The Jarocho rose briskly, and followed the old woman. An hour afterward
he returned. He knew that _her_ most fervent wishes accompanied him in
his perilous enterprise, and his brow was radiant with delight.

"It is, however, very hard to leave Sacramenta," he remarked, "but I
have no longer a pretext for deferring my departure, and we shall set
out to-morrow morning."

"So be it; but what road do you intend to take? Do you know to what
place the murderer has fled?"

"We shall keep by the coast. Old Josefa assures me that the pilot
Ventura will put me on his traces. He is at Bocca del Rio. Down there we
shall certainly meet him."

When Calros named Ventura, I was desirous to satisfy my curiosity by
asking who he was. I inquired if he knew this Ventura, and, above all,
Julian, whose chivalrous conduct had singularly interested me; but, as I
obtained nothing but vague replies, I was confirmed in my design of
accompanying my entertainer to Bocca del Rio, where I hoped to meet the
two friends.

Next morning we saddled our horses before dawn, and, as soon as it was
daylight, quitted the village, which was still enveloped in its usual
morning fog.


[58] Local name for a sword.

[59] A kind of shed erected for the sale of brandy, tepache (a fermented
liquor made from ananas), and other intoxicating liquors.

[60] This dance is called bomba.

[61] A little village about three leagues from Vera Cruz.

[62] Uncle, an expression of endearment, applied to men advanced in

[63] The Jarochos know nothing of scientific fencing, and trust
altogether to strength and agility of body.

The Pilot Ventura.


Vera Cruz.--Bocca del Rio.

The place where Vera Cruz now stands is not that on which Cortez first
disembarked. It was not till the end of the sixteenth century that Count
de Monterey, the viceroy, laid the foundations of the present city.
Destined to become the key to New Spain, Vera Cruz was built by the
conquerors with all the splendor which they usually lavished on their
undertakings. The houses were made large and spacious, and the streets
crossed each other at right angles, to allow the fresh sea-breezes to
circulate freely, and to temper the intense heat of the atmosphere.
Still faithful to that antipathy to trees, which seems a distinctive
trait in their hygienic principles, the Spaniards chose, as a site for
the first maritime city in Mexico, a vast sandy plain, enlivened by
scarcely a spot of verdure, and not even containing a single spring of
water. Even before it was first visited by the yellow fever, a situation
so unfavorable gave to Vera Cruz a melancholy appearance, which it has
preserved to this day. The town, though scarcely all built upon,
nevertheless quickly attained a very high degree of prosperity. It was
from its ill-sheltered roadstead that those rich galleons sailed which
conveyed to Europe a mass of wealth far surpassing the much-vaunted
treasures of Potosi.

Few remains of its former grandeur are now to be seen. Built on too
large a scale for its decreasing population, this city, once so
flourishing, never tried to struggle against that decline which is soon
made known to the traveler by its empty houses and deserted streets. The
wind from the sea exercises in full force its destructive agency; and
the terrible periodical gales are sometimes so violent as to tear down
the crumbling walls of the palaces, and lift from their beds the rusty
cannon which serve for posts upon the quays. In Vera Cruz you are
reminded of the cities of the East, as well from the rich and
picturesque costumes of the people of the neighboring coast and of the
interior, who flock to the town, as by the dull appearance of the houses
and public buildings. Every where you observe domes of various colors,
steeples shooting high into the air, balconies ornamented with massive
gratings; and, as if to increase the resemblance still more, the women
of the upper classes are never seen in the streets. If you wish to get a
glimpse of them, you must penetrate into the interior of the houses, or,
rather, go out after sunset. Then, the murmur of mysterious voices, the
rustling of a fan, and some pale figures, blanched by the rays of the
moon, sitting behind a Venetian blind half opened, reveal the presence
of the fair Vera Cruzans to the stranger, whom the freshness of the
night, and the delicious coolness of the sea-breeze, have brought out
upon the streets.

Washed on one side by the ocean, which is gradually wearing away its
admirable mole, surrounded by heaps of sand, which the wind is
continually shifting, Vera Cruz, at the present moment, submits with
indifference to the progressive encroachment of the sand-hills and the
daily ravages of the waves. The north-east wind carries before it, in
dense whirling masses, large bodies of sand. For many centuries a line
of movable hills has been thus gradually formed behind the city. These
hillocks, improperly called _medanos_, are continually augmented by
fresh additions, and are ever changing, according to the caprice of the
wind, their place and figure. Some rise in the air like pyramids, from
the top of which small portions of sand are constantly flying off like a
never-failing bank of fog. The great number of these medanos, many of
which attain a height of from fourteen to more than thirty feet,
threatens to bury the town; but, as the danger is still distant, and in
hot countries one's existence hangs merely by a thread, the inhabitants
leave to their posterity the task of providing against that emergency.
Another disadvantage still more serious is, that the medanos hinder the
rain-water from flowing away. Small lakes are thus formed at the bottom
of these sand-hills; and the parched-up ground is gradually converted
into a fenny marsh, from which arise the most pernicious exhalations. A
thick layer of mud fertilizes the sand, and all the noxious plants which
abound in low, moist grounds are here produced in countless profusion.
During the rainy season this rank vegetation spreads and grows round all
the margin of the ponds. The mangroves shoot their branches down to the
ground. They take root there, produce new trunks, and soon form
impenetrable thickets--haunts of numberless reptiles of every kind. A
thick crust of greenish scum carpets the surface of the water. The
fermentation which sets in on the return of hot weather in these
frightful marshes disperses deleterious miasmas abroad, and removes to a
distance the swarms of musquitoes. For three months of the year,
however, the impetuous squalls which usually prevail sweep away all
pestilential vapors, and momentarily purify these sinks of putrefaction.

The reader may perhaps remember that, the day after the fandango at
Manantial, I had set out with Calros to seek the murderer whom he had
sworn to punish. On leaving the village, there were signs abroad which
showed the near approach of one of those tempests caused by the north
wind, termed by seamen northers. A strange, dreamy sort of languor
seemed to brood over all nature; the suffocating heat caused our horses
to foam and pant, although our pace was designedly slow, and our lungs
sought in vain for the freshness of the morning air.

We had traveled only a few hours on a road overshadowed by trees, when a
dull, hollow, rumbling noise was heard. It was the sound of waves; we
were approaching the sea without being able to discover its whereabouts.
A few minutes afterward we debouched upon the beach, and I could not
help contemplating with delight that ocean which bathed the shores of
Europe. In the distance we descried Vera Cruz, with its spires and
domes, and the fort San Juan de Ulloa, that stood like a rock among the
billows, above which shot the tall, slender masts of the shipping in the

The state of the sea gave every indication of a tempest, of which we had
recognized the first symptoms in the wood. The waves gently licked the
sand; a more than usually keen smell was distinguishable; the fish were
evidently uneasy, leaping high out of the water; and the sea-birds
wheeled round and round in the air, uttering mournful cries. Thick
clouds were already sweeping up over the town. All at once a large
cleft was observable in them. The Sierra of San Martin, which extends
from Tuxtla to the mouth of the Goazacoalco, was suddenly stripped of
the veil which had, till now, hid the range from our eyes, and its sharp
peaks were brought out in bold relief against the deep blue sky.

"Woe betide the ships that are in the gulf just now!" said Calros, "for
the north wind will advance upon them sword in hand;[64] this will be a
tempestuous night. We shall know something more about it this evening at
Bocca del Rio."

I made no reply at first. I was gazing on the ocean. To-morrow I
intended to bid adieu to Mexico, and to embark for France. Contending
emotions were striving for mastery within me. The joy at my return, long
desired as it had been, was tinged with a momentary feeling of
dejection. The country that I was about to leave had satisfied my thirst
for adventure, and I wished ever afterward to lead a more calm and
equable life. Calros's remark reminded me that I had not yet left this
life of peril, from which I fancied I had been freed too easily. When,
after saying nothing for a few moments, I told him--a little confused, I
own--that I intended to embark in the first American ship that was
leaving the roads, Calros objected with an air of chagrin, reminding me
of my promise to accompany him to Bocca del Rio; and he then pointed out
the threatening appearance of the sea. Not a single ship will lift her
anchor here for four days, he added; and this last argument was
decisive. I then agreed to his terms. I arranged to spend one of the
four days of detention with him at Bocca del Rio, to assist in the
search for the murderer. That port is only twelve miles from Vera Cruz.
Calros intended to go through the city on the way to his village. For my
part, I resolved to stay in town to make arrangements for my departure,
after which I meant to rejoin Calros in the evening.

A short time after this we entered Vera Cruz. Upon the arid, sandy plain
which surrounds the town, some muleteers had pitched their tents,
waiting impatiently for the time when they could fly this pestiferous
coast, which carries off some of their number at almost every trip.
Farther off, a few negro porters, accustomed to this burning climate,
were wrestling and struggling on the sand, paying no regard to the fine
clothes they wore. I could not help smiling involuntarily when I
compared in my own mind their condition with those of our porters at
home. After renewing my promise to Calros of meeting him soon, I
repaired to the countinghouse of my correspondent. I shall pass over in
silence the worthless incidents which occurred during this day, till the
time when I had to quit the town and set out for Bocca del Rio.

The wind now began to blow strongly from the north. When I reached the
shore, after passing the outskirts of the town, great black clouds,
preceded by drifting scud, veiled the face of the sky, and an icy blast,
charged with cold from Hudson's Bay, struck me at intervals upon the
face. The waves broke on the beach with a mighty roar, and the water
came up as far as my horse's feet in large sheets of white foam. The
farther I advanced, the wind seemed to increase in fury, and the night
was growing darker and darker. Forced sometimes to turn my back to avoid
the clouds of drifting sand, I now and then had a glimpse of the town
that I repented of having left. At regular intervals, the light-house of
San Juan de Ulloa blazed up in all the beauty of its revolving light,
sometimes gleaming on Vera Cruz shrouded in darkness, and then on the
roadstead white with foam. For a moment I discerned the ships at their
anchors pitching up and down on the broken swell, and almost driving on
each other. The light soon turned, and all was dark. It was scarcely the
season for a nocturnal excursion. I advanced, however, with a resolution
that deserved some credit, and had already approached the wood at the
extremity of which lies the village of Bocca del Rio, when I fancied I
distinguished a cavalier somewhat in advance of me. I hastened toward
him. Enveloped in a large blue cloak, he seemed at a distance like a
Franciscan. The noise of the tempest was so loud and overpowering that I
was by his side before he perceived me. I then saw he was not a monk,
but a peasant of the coast, whose _bayeta_[65] I had taken for a frock.
With his hand upon his eyes to guard them from the dazzling glare of the
lightning, the horseman rode on, casting keen glances toward one side,
as if seeking to pierce the dark veil which hung over the ocean; but
nothing could be seen but the white crest of the waves lashed into fury
by the violence of the storm. I shouted to the stranger with all the
force of my lungs, but the violence of the wind hindered my words from
reaching him. All at once a loud report was heard in the distance. At
the sound, as if it had been a signal he had been ardently expecting,
the cavalier put spurs to his horse, and galloped off in the direction
of the woods of Bocca del Rio. He was soon lost to view among the trees,
and my only care was, in the midst of the lianas and underwood, to keep
the straight path which led to the houses. I had reason to hope that,
once among the trees and sheltered from the fury of the wind, I could
follow the road with ease. As soon as I entered the wood, the noise of
the waves gradually died away. I rode almost an hour beneath this leafy
vault in complete darkness, and it was not without regret that I again
perceived, by a flash of lightning, a long line of foaming breakers. I
soon arrived at Bocca del Rio, so called from its situation at the mouth
of the river; but, on issuing from the wood, an interesting spectacle
met my view, which decided me to make a short halt.


[64] _Con espada en mano_, a local term to denote the fury of the
north-east wind. It commonly blows for fifty hours when it is strong. If
weak, it lasts sometimes five or six days.

[65] A kind of cloak of woolen cloth worn almost exclusively by the


The Wreckers.--Narrow Escape of Ventura.

In spite of the violence of the tempest, the whole population of Bocca
del Rio were assembled on the beach, and all eyes were fixed on the
boiling sheet of foam, whose phosphorescent light contrasted strongly
with the deep black of the heavens above. Not a sail was in sight. The
distant boom of a gun, however, signaled that a ship was in distress,
and that a pilot was required. In such a night as this, it was evident
that nothing short of a miracle could save the luckless vessel from
being dashed to pieces. Still, as another gun had not been heard, it was
hoped that the ship exposed to the tempest had weathered the danger.
Besides, a pilot who had left that morning before the _norther_ began
to blow had very likely got on board, and his consummate seamanship and
skill eased some minds. A few, however, persisted in looking upon the
ship as doomed.

I soon recognized Calros, whom curiosity had brought to the spot. Just
when he was concluding his account about the general gathering of the
people of the village, we heard another heavy boom, and this time more
distinctly than the last. A flash was soon followed by a third report,
and at the end of a few seconds the dark mass of a vessel was distinctly
seen, driving on shore with as much rapidity as if she had been impelled
by sails. Apparently no power could now save her. A by-stander, however,
remarked that there was still a chance of safety, if she succeeded in
reaching a part of the bay, opposite to which ran a kind of natural
canal, where she might glide softly on to a sandy beach; but if, on the
contrary, the luckless ship were driven on the rocks, she would
infallibly go to pieces as soon as she grounded. Unfortunately, no one
could exactly make out the place in question in the dark, since we could
not light any fires for fear of guiding her in a wrong direction.

All the manoeuvres of the ship appeared to be now directed to impelling
her in the direction of the canal that was covered by the waves.
Sometimes she drifted broadside on, sometimes she ran right before the
gale, in the direction of the shore. A cry of joy suddenly arose that
was heard above the roaring of the tempest. About a gunshot from the
place where we were standing, a beacon-fire flashed up with a brilliant
flame. Had some courageous fellow hazarded his life to point out the
passage into the place of safety? We fancied that the people on board
put the same construction upon the light as we did, for the ship was
seen advancing toward the light with great rapidity, looming larger and
larger as she approached the shore. The light was waved backward and
forward, but was kept always in a straight line. A single jib was the
only sail that could be set to assist her in answering her helm.
Sometimes, when the wind lulled for an instant, her motion appeared to
be checked, but a fresh gust soon gave her a new impulse. At last,
carried on the top of a high wave, the vessel hung for an instant upon
her larboard quarter, then upon her starboard; she then started forward
and canted on her broadside, her timbers grinding heavily against the
ground. A cry of distress reached our ears, heard distinctly above the
roar of the winds and waves; at the same instant the light went out,
like one of those glow-worms which flit through the air at night in
fenny places, and lead the incautious traveler into quagmires. The
schooner was a complete wreck. All we could now do was to save the crew
and passengers. While some were deliberating on the means that should be
adopted for that purpose, a man was seen making his way along the bows
of the wrecked ship, and, by the light of a lamp which shone full upon
his face, I distinguished a person who was no longer unknown to me since
his visit to Manantial--I mean the pilot Ventura. Some words that he
directed to us through a speaking-trumpet were heard very indistinctly,
but a line that he held in his hand left us in no doubt as to his
meaning. Ventura was begging us to launch a boat to take the end of a
rope on shore. But it was impossible that any thing could swim amid
these breakers. A boat was then lowered from the bows of the schooner,
several seamen got in, and pulled hard to reach the shore; but, in a
few minutes, struck by a sea, it filled with water and disappeared.

One man only succeeded in reaching the shore, almost exhausted with cold
and fatigue. He was the pilot Ventura. Paying no attention to the
questions the people put to him, he unwound a line that was fastened
round his body, and ordered them to hold on by the end so as to assist
in saving the remaining sailors on board the schooner. A hundred hands
immediately seized the rope, and held it with the strength of a capstan.
That done, the pilot gave me the details of the dark and mysterious
proceeding which I had just witnessed. The ship had been lost through a
false light. The beacon-fire that had drawn her upon a reef of rocks had
been lit by the perfidious hands of one of those wreckers to whom every
shipwreck is a godsend. While telling a story which reflected so much
credit upon himself for his courage, Ventura's eyes wandered about among
the crowd, seeking to discover the malicious individual who had caused
the loss of the schooner. I could hardly help thinking on the person
whom I had seen in advance of me before my arrival at Bocca del Rio, and
who, on the first signal of distress given by the ship, had galloped off
so furiously in the direction of the sea.

"Curse them!" cried Ventura, on finishing his account; "to the devil
with those wreckers whom the north wind brings to the coast to rob the
shipwrecked and pillage the cargo! Above all, confound the rascal who
led us ashore to gratify his own infernal cupidity!"

While he was speaking, the vibratory motion given to the cordage
announced that the sailors of the ship were striving to reach the land
by its assistance. In fact, partly by swimming, partly by wading, the
shipwrecked seamen were not long in reaching the shore, though not
without great difficulty and danger, as the sea was running higher, and
the wind had increased in fury. The vessel, which was an American
schooner, had been bound to Alvarado with a rich cargo of contraband
goods, which was destined to become, to all appearance, a prey to the
waves and the inhabitants of the coast; but, with American prudence, the
lading had been insured for a sum at least equal to its value, and the
captain, knowing it was an affair between the underwriters and the
proprietors of the ship, interested himself only to procure shelter for
himself and crew. The peasants received both him and his men with every
demonstration of hospitality, incited, no doubt, by the consideration of
profiting without scruple, during the night, by the waifs which the sea
would not be long in throwing up. For my part, I intrusted my horse to
one of the villagers, after taking the precaution of placing in my belt
the pistols which were in the holsters. My intention was to remain upon
the beach, that I might not lose a single portion of the strange scene
which the organized pillage of a wreck promised me.

The women and children having been sent away, a small number of men only
remained upon the shore, waiting impatiently for the moment when the sea
would give back a part of the cargo that had been ingulfed in it.
Ventura caused all the lights to be extinguished, and the beach became
dark, if not still. The hoarse noise of the waves was as loud as the
thunder overhead. Sometimes the pale light of the moon illumined the
foaming breakers with which the sea was covered, and you got a glimpse
of the ill-fated vessel pounding to pieces upon the rocks.

"Wherever there is a corpse," said the pilot, pointing to the schooner,
"there you will find _zopilotes_[66] or sharks. We shall soon see the
wretch that caused the loss of the vessel, and it will be a shame if we
allow others to share in any thing that the sea may throw upon our

No sound, however, save the wild war of the elements was heard, and,
while waiting for the wreckers, I had leisure to examine the situation
of the different places. A few paces from us was the mouth of a river,
whose banks were covered on both sides with thick brushwood. On our side
of the stream stood the houses of Bocca del Rio, and between it and us
ran a thick range of mangroves, which would, owing to the darkness, hide
us completely from view. Upon the suggestion of the pilot, we agreed to
lie in ambush at this spot.

We were not long kept in suspense. A body of men on horseback soon
appeared, riding along the bank of the stream. They stopped upon the
beach. The troop halted a short distance from the mangroves as if in
doubt, and a horseman advanced alone to reconnoitre.

"The rascal has gone away to get assistance," said the pilot to me, in a
low voice.

"And some mules, doubtless, to carry away the spoil," remarked one of
the river-men.

In the horseman who had left the main body I was not long in
distinguishing the man whose odd behavior had raised my suspicions while
on my way from Vera Cruz to Bocca del Rio. Astonished, no doubt, to find
the place which he had left so full of life some time before, quite
deserted, the man, still enveloped in the same blue bayeta, continued
silently to examine every place, and at last advanced near the
mangroves. He soon, however, returned to his comrades.

The remains of the schooner's cargo, which the tide was washing on
shore, could now be plainly seen. This was a sure indication that the
most valuable parts of the lading would not be long in being thrown up.
The wreckers could no longer restrain their impatience. They stationed
themselves in a long line along the strand, so that nothing could escape
them. The man in the blue cloak, who seemed to be the chief of these
wretches, rode his horse into the waves, to have a better view of the
boxes and bales floating about.

"Will any of you lend me a gun?" asked the pilot.

One of our party handed him his musket. Ventura seized it. At this
moment the dark profile of the chief wrecker and his horse, relieved by
the white foam of the sea, presented an admirable mark. He fired, and we
saw the cavalier fall from his steed, and disappear beneath the waves.
The other wretches took to flight. Immediately after, a man came out of
the water, and walked up the beach, the ball which Ventura had intended
for him having only struck his horse. The pilot ran toward the villain
to prevent his escape. A struggle took place in the darkness. Just when
we had come up to assist the pilot, he was thrown to the ground by the
marauder, whose poniard happily had glided over his clothes without
injuring him. It was impossible to overtake the fugitive, as he fled as
fast as his legs could carry him, fancying, probably, his opponent had
been killed. Ventura rose with difficulty.

"I was not able to hold him," said he, passing his hand over his body;
"but that's nothing. I recognized the fellow; it is Campos! I am not
hurt a bit; but it is a wonder that the rascal did not pin me to the
ground with his dagger. I am curious to know, however, where the deuce
the scoundrel got that horse."

"Did you say that the miscreant's name was Campos?" cried Calros;
"Tereso Campos?"

"Yes, Tereso Campos."

"That's the man I am seeking," returned the Jarocho, grasping my hand.

"Are you in search of him?" asked the pilot; "and why?"

"To kill him," answered Calros, quite naïvely.

"Well, I warrant you we shall find him to-morrow; and if the proprietor
of the horse he stole join us, as he ought to do, the scoundrel will be
very fortunate if he escape."

"You hear, Señor Cavalier," said Calros to me; "you have a like interest
with us in avenging yourself upon Campos."


"Because, if I am not mistaken, it is your horse he has carried off."

I replied with perfect disinterestedness that, with the exception of the
saddle, which was a costly one, I did not attach the slightest value to
the sorry hack of which he had deprived me. But my objection was
overruled, and I was obliged to yield. The reader may perhaps remember
that I had sent my horse to the village in the charge of one of the
inhabitants, but the man had tied up the beast to a tree near the beach,
intending to return for it in a short time; and Campos, meanwhile, had
stepped in and appropriated the animal.

Before advancing up the country in pursuit of the fugitives, a very
delicate business still remained to be accomplished. This was the
equitable division of the spoils from the wreck, vast quantities of
which had been thrown up by the waves. I was not long in perceiving that
the wrath of Ventura was chiefly directed against the marauders, because
they were poaching on his preserves. At first, a few isolated portions
of the rigging had been collected, then casks of wine and brandy, which
were soon followed by large quantities of boxes filled with various
articles. As they were thrown upon the shore, they were seized and piled
up in a dry, sandy hollow till the distribution was made. I must say
that Ventura conducted himself on this occasion with the strictest
impartiality; he reserved nothing to himself beyond his share but a
number of small boxes containing a goodly number of yards of fine Irish
linen, as a sort of recompense for the dangers he had run. All was
arranged to the full satisfaction of the river-men, who carried their
booty away with such expedition that, in a short time, not a single
article was to be seen on the sands.

We at last settled what was to be done during the remaining hours of the
night, which was already approaching its meridian. In an hour hence we
agreed to meet on the bank of the river at a place that the pilot
pointed out to us. He, meanwhile, went home to secure his share of the
plunder. The Jarocho had contemplated with a disdainful indifference the
pillage of the shipwrecked cargo. Before quitting the shore, he threw a
last look upon the sea, which was still beating with remorseless fury
against the timbers of the ill-fated schooner, and then upon the broken
barrels and boxes which the tide was still floating to land.

"All that," said he, with a melancholy smile, "is not to be compared to
a fandango under the palm-trees, nor a look from Sacramenta."

I could not help thinking that the Jarocho was right; but it was
scarcely the moment to lose one's self in amorous reveries. A short walk
took us to the village; and, after a frugal repast, a necessary
precaution before setting out to encounter new fatigues, we directed our
steps in silence to the place where Ventura was waiting for us.


[66] Black vultures that abound in the streets of Vera Cruz, which
perform the part of public scavengers by clearing the streets of
carrion, &c.


Excursion up a River.--Vengeance overtakes Campos, the Murderer.

In a little creek, overshadowed by some gigantic willows, we found the
pilot engaged in putting the oars on board a small boat that was moored
to the bank. I was rather averse to a march through the woods, and it
was with a feeling of pleasure that, instead of a pedestrian excursion,
I saw we were to be conveyed to our place of destination in a boat. I
communicated my satisfaction to the pilot.

"Here," said he, "we only travel in two ways, on horseback or in a
'dingy.' We leave to the newly-landed Galicians the resource of
_striding a path_.[67] You can row, of course?" addressing himself to

He answered in the affirmative, and we took our places in the skiff. As
I was only a passenger, I stretched myself on my cloak at the bottom of
the boat to shelter myself from the wind. Though we were at a
considerable distance from the mouth of the stream, the river was
swollen with the tide, and the water lapped the sides of the boat with
great fury. We set out, and, impelled by two pairs of strong arms, soon
began to glide rapidly along the surface of the dark water. The usual
imposing stillness of American forests was on the banks. At a distance
you heard the dull, heavy roar of the wind raging among the trees. The
banks of the river were very undulating. Sometimes its bed widened
considerably, and we then kept in the centre of the stream. At other
times the water flowed between high, precipitous rocks, under a thick
canopy of mahogany and cedar trees, from whose branches long-trailing
parasitical plants hung over our heads. Charmed with the beauty of the
river, I forgot completely the object of our journey. I was soon
reminded of it, however, by the pilot.

"Every one," said he, "in this world has his enemies. For my part, I
know more than one individual, and Campos among others, who would be
very glad to know that at this late hour of the night, in the midst of
these solitudes, which alcalde has never visited, they could meet
Sinforoso Ventura unarmed and defenseless."

"Have we no arms?" Calros inquired. "Are the pistols of my friend here,
my machete, and your musket, to be reckoned as nothing?"

"In an open country such arms would be of the greatest service; here
they are of no use. A person hidden in any of the trees which overhang
the stream could pick out any of the three he chose, and send a ball
through his head; or, by throwing the trunk of a tree across the river,
might capsize our boat, if he did not smash it to pieces. What do you
think of that?"

"I dare say you're right," answered Calros. "Luckily, nobody is to know
that you are to be pulling up the river to-night."

"I am not so sure of that," said the pilot; "there are spies and
traitors every where. If any of the marauders we put to flight this
evening has the slightest inkling of our plans, be sure that his
comrades will be apprised of it time enough to meet us at a part of the
river I know. We have already rowed two hours," he added, shaking his
head, "and the place is not far off. You now know what we have to fear.
Consider, therefore, whether we shall push on, or land, and wait till

"I can not lose a minute," returned the Jarocho, coldly. "If we pull
well, we shall reach the village where Campos lives in an hour."

"It is quite the same to me," Ventura replied. "Let us proceed."

A dead silence succeeded these words. Knowing now the dangers we had to
run, I went and seated myself in the bow, to try to make out, if it were
possible, the ambuscades that threatened us; but the darkness was so
great that I could discover nothing. The leafy vault under which we
moved threw a thick shadow over the bed of the river; at times, however,
a gust of wind shook into the water, like a shower of golden rain, large
cucuyos, which fell from the trees above us. Not a single star was to be
seen through the interstices of the foliage. A quarter of an hour had
now elapsed without in the least justifying the suspicions of the pilot.
The Jarocho lay on his oars to take breath, and the boat, moved by the
current, turned broadside on to the stream.

"Keep her head to the stream," cried the pilot, sharply. "Even supposing
that we have no ambuscades to fear, the wind may, perhaps, have
uprooted some dead tree, and should it happen to hit the side of our
boat, it would cant over to a dead certainty; but if we are struck on
the bow, it may do us no harm. The tide runs up as far as this, and
sharks not uncommonly come up with it."

This last observation disclosed another danger which I had not
suspected; and, in the presence of the increasing perils of this
nocturnal expedition, I thought, with some bitterness, on the
comfortable _farniente_ and refreshing sleep I should have enjoyed had I
been in my hotel at Vera Cruz.

Calros did not require a second warning, but resumed his oar with new
vigor. We soon arrived at a place where a high rock on each side of the
stream approached each other, narrowing very considerably the bed of the
river. About a dozen paces farther up, the passage became so contracted
that both oars could not be worked, and it was only by the assistance of
a boat-hook that the pilot, by fixing it among the lianas, could pull us
up against the force of the current. The river widened considerably at
the head of this narrow pass, and allowed us again to ply our oars; but
as the stream grew broader, the banks rose in proportion. On the right
and left, high rocks curved gently inward, and then ran sheer down into
the water, like the arch of a bridge broken at the key-stone. Under this
vault every stroke produced an echo. We advanced by chance, and the
darkness was so intense that we did not know but what every pull would
send us up against the wall of rock on either side.

"One would need to have the eyes of a tiger-cat to see in this place,"
cried the pilot.

"Have we far to go now?" asked Calros.

"A few vigorous strokes will send us there," answered Ventura; "but the
most embarrassing thing is to discover the entrance to the narrow reach
that runs up from this basin. This reach is as narrow as the one we have
just left."

"Put out the boat-hook to feel if we are not running against the rocks."

I did what he ordered me. The boat was still in the middle of the
stream. The boat-hook, though stretched out as far as I could reach,
struck against nothing.

"All right," I cried. "I can touch the rocks on neither side."

The rowers again plied their oars, and the light skiff flew up the
river. All at once the boat-hook, which I was holding at right angles to
the boat, hit against a rock, and bounced out of my hands. The shock
over-set me completely. A cracking of broken branches was heard. The
skiff suddenly stopped.

"What's this?" cried the pilot, who had run to the bow, and was fumbling
with his hands among a tangled mass of lianas and branches. "Demonio!
the rascals have pitched a dead tree into the river higher up, and the
current has carried it down here. We can advance no farther. How shall
we get out of this mess? One or two large stones, hurled from the top of
these rocks, might crush us to pieces before we could clear the

This took us completely aback, and not another word was said. The only
plan seemed to be to return to the reach we had just left; but the boat
was so strongly fixed among the branches of the fallen tree that it
could not be disengaged. Some moments passed in a fruitless endeavor to
overcome this obstacle. Suddenly a voice called out right above us,
"Who is there?"

"_Gente de paz_," I replied, prompted by the pilot.

"That's not enough. There are three of you, and I must hear three

"Caramba! well," cried the Jarocho. "Tell Campos that I am here--I,
Calros Romero, of Manantial."

"And ask him also," added the pilot, haughtily, "if he remembers the
name of Sinforoso Ventura, of Bocca del Rio."

A shrill whistle was heard in the woods. It was repeated behind us,
showing that both banks were guarded. Two or three seconds elapsed, that
seemed as long as so many years. Shadowy forms appeared on the rocks
above our heads, threatening cries were heard, and quivering lights
danced upon the water. The pilot was not long in firing upon the
scoundrels; but they had the advantage in point of position, and wielded
arms more terrible than ours. The flash of the gun lighted up all
surrounding objects. Meanwhile an enormous stone, which they had
succeeded in moving to the edge of the rocks, fell close to the boat,
and splashed us with water from head to foot. The pilot cried out as if
he had been hurt. We felt the boat lurch under us heavily, and then,
torn from the rude embrace of the branches, drift rapidly down the
stream. When I opened my eyes, for we had been both blinded by the
spray, Ventura had disappeared. I called aloud several times. There was
no reply.

"'Tis all over with him!" cried Calros. "He is at the bottom of the
river. We must see to ourselves now."

A speedy retreat was the only chance of safety left us. The Jarocho
seized the oars and began rowing vigorously. Not a sound was heard but
the dip of the oar in the water. Had our enemies retreated, or were they
waiting for us at the narrow reach we must unavoidably pass? We could
not escape the fate that seemed to be awaiting us. We were soon in the
dangerous pass. The trunk of a guaiacum or cedar hanging over the
water--the noise of the wind in their branches--an iguana leaving its
bed of dry leaves--a squirrel frightened by the working of the oars--the
slightest sound, or the least object that we saw, all kept our minds on
the rack, and our hands on our arms. We stopped at short intervals,
after which Calros resumed his oars with new ardor.

We reached at last a spot where the vegetation was not so abundant, and
one of the banks was destitute of wood. We landed there. A rapid survey
convinced us that this was not the place for an ambuscade. We decided to
remain a short time to rest ourselves, and we should afterward consider
whether to continue our journey by land or water. The sun was just
beginning to make his appearance. What was our surprise, when, as we
were about to throw ourselves upon the ground, we heard a voice calling
to us! The voice was that of our late companion Ventura. We thought at
first that we were laboring under a hallucination; but in a short time
we could no longer doubt about the resurrection of our brave friend, who
appeared on the opposite bank, waving his hand to invite us to carry him
across. To cross the stream was with Calros the work of an instant.

"And by what miracle are you still in this world?" I asked of Ventura.
"The cry of agony you uttered still rings in my ears."

"That cry saved my life. As soon as I felt that we ran the risk of
getting crushed to pieces without being able to defend ourselves, I
jumped among the branches that stopped our passage, and, on seeing the
immense stone which they had pushed into the river, I raised a great
shriek. The rascals, fancying from the cry that I was mortally wounded,
decamped as quickly as they could. Once out of the water, I followed the
course of the river, knowing that you could not be far off. I was right,
as you see. We shall now resume our journey. As for you, Señor Calros,
who are so impatient to revenge yourself upon Campos, I have hit on a
more expeditious plan than the one we are now following. I have some
friends in the village in which Campos lives. We shall go and visit
them; and in two hours all your wishes shall be fully satisfied."

The arrival of the pilot had brought back to Calros's mind all that
boiling impatience which his exhaustion of body had alone kept under. He
would not listen to a halt. A short discussion then arose as to whether
we should continue our journey by land or water. Ventura was of opinion
that we ought still to make use of the boat and reascend the river, as
we should probably fall in with no more enemies, and the force of the
current had very likely removed all obstacles to our passage. We
therefore took our places in the skiff without loss of time, Calros and
Ventura pulling, and I between the two rowers, glad at finding that,
from my inexperience in rowing, I should not be expected to give any
assistance, and would be at full liberty to admire the glorious
landscape that unfolded itself before our eyes, bathed in the first
light of dawn.

The river, so dark and sombre the night before, seemed now to smile in
the sunlight. Light vapors arose from the surface of the water, drawn up
by the heat, which had taken the place of the coolness of the evening
before. Numerous aquatic plants covered its surface, and the furrow
which our boat cut in passing through them soon closed up again, leaving
not a trace of our presence. No sound was heard save the working of the
oars in the row-locks, and a green woodpecker tapping with long, regular
strokes the trunk of a dead tree.

My companions were quite indifferent to the glorious beauty of this
solitude. I must confess, however, that I allowed myself to be
distracted from the contemplation of these charms to listen to the
conversation of the two men, which was becoming more and more animated.
Besides relating the grievances which he had endured from Campos, the
pilot, in the course of his narrative, caused a chord to vibrate in the
heart of the chivalrous lover of Doña Sacramenta. Calros was painfully
surprised on learning that Julian, his antagonist in the fandango at
Manantial, was his rival. Julian, being the pilot's friend, had no
secrets from him. His passion for Sacramenta dated from the time when
the parents of the young girl lived in another village called Medellin,
before they had come to reside at Manantial. After the departure of
Sacramenta for Manantial, Julian had not lost all hope of seeing her
again, and of winning her affections. Old Josefa, the woman whose son
Campos had killed, and who was seeking every where an avenger for her
son's murder, had been often invited from Manantial to Medellin for the
purpose of exercising the black art, in which she was considered an
adept. It was through her that Julian received news of Sacramenta, and
the old crone had even promised to exert her influence with the girl in
his favor, if he succeeded in putting her on the traces of her son's
murderer. This condition Julian had been able to fulfill through the
friendship of the pilot, as the latter, by his ancient relations with
Campos, was well aware of all this wretch's crimes. Julian had thus
informed her that Campos was her son's murderer, and that the pilot
Ventura would lend her a hand in securing him. Josefa had, on her side,
kept her word. She had used all her influence with Sacramenta in
Julian's favor, "and was successful," said the pilot, with an arch
smile, "since the amorous Jarocho had been invited to attend the fête of
Manantial by the young girl herself, to challenge, in her honor, the
bravest champion in the village." The pilot did not know that the old
crone Josefa, in her eagerness to have her son avenged, had likewise
excited the passion of Calros, in order that she might make him more
eager in the search after Campos. Calros and I could alone complete the
revelations of Ventura. I did not say a single word, however, because I
feared to excite the Jarocho's jealousy still more by untimely
consolation, and because I knew that his soul was torn by violent and
contending emotions. The pilot, seeing us both sunk in thought, turned
to Calros and said,

"Now, when I think of it, it was you that challenged my friend Julian.
It was you that was victor in the combat held in honor of the fair
Sacramenta. Well, shall I tell you? Julian confessed to me that, even
after his defeat, he had not entirely lost hope; so much so that he is
talking about quitting Medellin, and you will perhaps see him some of
these days quietly settled in Manantial."

"Are you sure of what you say?" asked Calros, in an altered tone.

"Has my good friend Julian ever deceived me?" answered the pilot.
"Trust me, he is not a man that is under the influence of illusions. If
he never come to Manantial, it is because he will have the best of
reasons for staying away."

This was rather much, and Calros asked him no more questions. With eyes
fixed mechanically on the water around him, the poor fellow plied his
oar with a kind of feverish energy. His body was with us, but his mind
had fled away to the woods of Manantial.

We had now gone as far as we could on the river, which had now dribbled
down to a mere streamlet, flowing between low banks. Upon one side
fields of green sugar-cane, waving in the wind, stretched to the foot of
a chain of hills which rose at a short distance from the stream.

"We must land here," cried the pilot; "the village is behind these


[67] Ensillar la vereda.


The Duel.--Awful Death of the Murderer.

We leaped ashore. The pilot tied the "dingy" to the bank, and led the
advance. We soon reached the village. All was quiet there. The greater
part of the inhabitants were still in their hammocks under the verandas
of their cabins, but they saluted the pilot as he approached with the
greeting of an old acquaintance. After replying briefly to the questions
that were put to him, Ventura asked where Campos was. He pointed to
Calros, and explained why he had come thither. This news was welcomed
with enthusiasm by the idle and pugnacious peasants; but in a
_diversion_ in which there was so much interest, the greatest secresy
must be employed, and every one rivaled his neighbor in discretion. The
hut of Campos was noiselessly approached, and he was found inside
stretched in his hammock. I could not help admiring the rare command of
countenance which this man showed when he saw the pilot, whom he
believed to be lying at that moment at the bottom of the neighboring
river. He rose quietly, looked at us with a disdainful curiosity, and
did not appear to be moved at seeing Calros.

"Who put you on my traces?" he asked of the Jarocho.

"_Tia_ Josefa," was the reply. "It was by her order I came here from

"A word is enough to the wise," answered Campos. "It is well; I am ready
for you."

The conditions of the duel were immediately discussed, with a calmness
and dignity which I did not expect in two such adversaries. Neither
Calros nor the pilot deigned to make the slightest allusion to the
events of last night. It was a duel to the death which was to be fought,
and at such a solemn moment all recrimination was reckoned silly and
trifling. The place of meeting was mutually agreed on; and Campos left
to procure his seconds, while we directed our steps thither. I walked
behind Calros, silent and sorrowful.

"Whatever happen," said he to me, in a low voice, "whether I fall or
remain alive, in any case, you will have no message to deliver to _her_
from me."

After walking about half an hour on a footpath that ran at right angles
with the river, we arrived at the edge of one of those marshy ponds so
common in certain parts of Mexico. On one side was a clump of trees,
and on the other rose lofty hillocks of fine moving sand, which was
gradually filling up the lagoon by its ceaseless shifting. We there
waited the arrival of Campos and his seconds. Calros strode over the
ground, a prey to feverish anxiety, for the Jarocho was not one of those
lackadaisical lovers who rush out of life the first check they receive.
The ground measured, and the situation chosen, the antagonists stood
face to face. The signal was given; and I heard, with a beating heart,
the clash of the two swords. I had turned my head away; but, hearing a
cry of rage, I was drawn irresistibly to cast a look upon the
combatants. A man had run to the top of one of the sand-hills; he
brandished the stump of a machete, and blood was trickling down his
side: this was Campos. His flight had been so sudden and rapid that his
adversary was still immovable in his place. One of his seconds
approached to hand him a sword in the place of the one that had been
broken, but he came too late. Exhausted by the effort he had made in
clambering up the hill, Campos staggered and fell upon the sand. For a
moment we thought he would have kept himself on the mound, but the
movable substance rolled away from beneath him, and the unhappy wretch,
after struggling fearfully for a few moments, rolled down into the
marsh, and was ingulfed alive in an avalanche of sand.

Nothing now remained but to secure the flight of Calros. We left in all
haste the scene of action, and arrived at the boat before the alcalde of
the village had detached a single alguazil in pursuit. Aided by the
current, the light skiff glided like an arrow down the stream, the trees
and rocks seeming to fly behind us. After a two hours' row, we reached
the mouth of the river, and landed under the willows which overshadowed
the pilot's abode. We required his services no farther, and therefore
bade him adieu. Before parting, he tried to induce Calros to stay with

"I was looking out for a brave and resolute fellow to make a man of him
like myself. I have found one in you. The sea-shore is preferable to the
woods. It is to enrich the dweller on the coast that the norther blows
three months every year. Remain with me; you will be rich in that time."

But a complete dejection now possessed the mind of the Jarocho; he shook
his head moodily in token of refusal.

"Well, I am sorry for it," said the pilot. "I shall always miss a
comrade who can handle an oar as well as a machete. We two could have
done a good stroke of business together. Good-by, then; every one must
follow his destiny."

We parted, and I accompanied Calros to the hut where he had left his
horse. Some wood-cutters, during my absence, had found my hack a short
way off in the woods.

"I must bid you farewell here," said Calros. "You will soon see your
native land, and I--"

He left the sentence unfinished; I finished it in thought, and pressed
him to return to Manantial. I attempted also, but in vain, to prove to
Calros that his despair was at least premature.

"The words of the pilot," he replied, "agree but too well with a voice
that has been incessantly calling to me, 'Sacramenta never loved you.'"

"But," I answered, "if you intend to bid an eternal farewell to your
mother and the village in which Sacramenta lives, why did you refuse the
offer of the pilot? Your life would then have some definite aim."

"That's of no consequence. The Jarocho is born to live free and
independent. A bamboo hut, the woods and the river, a gun and nets, are
all that is necessary for him, and these I shall find every where.
Farewell, señor; don't tell any body that you saw me weep like a woman."

Pulling his hat over his eyes, Calros gave the spur to his horse. It was
not without a lively sympathy that I followed with my eye the retiring
figure of one whose exalted passion and adventurous humor had shown the
character of the Jarocho in the most pleasing light. I had to gain Vera
Cruz on foot this time, as my horse had lost both saddle and bridle. I
dragged him along, however, with a halter behind me. Oppressed by heat
and thirst, I stopped at a hut by the way-side, and the host accepted of
the poor brute in compensation for the refreshment with which he had
supplied me.

Two days afterward I embarked on board the good ship _Congress_ for the
United States. I could not leave Mexico without regret, for the society
to be found in that country had for me all the attraction of a romance,
with every particular of which I had a strong desire to become





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     History of the Council of Trent. From the French of L. F. BUNGENER,
     Author of "The Priest and the Huguenot." Edited, from the Second
     English Edition, by JOHN M'CLINTOCK, D.D. 12mo, Muslin, $1 00.

     Most persons know that the Council of Trent was a product of the
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     will find ample means of information in this volume. * * * He (the
     author) is clear in statement, subtle and consecutive in his logic,
     and steers as far from dullness as from sourness.--_Perthshire

     It is all that a history should be--perspicuous in language,
     discriminating in detail, dignified and philosophical in manner,
     candid and faithful in the narration of facts, and bears evident
     traces of extensive reading and enlarged information.--_Caledonian

     This history is invaluable.--_Christian Advocate._

     Characterized by clearness, truthfulness, and vigor in the
     narrative, acuteness and terseness in the reasoning, and a spirit
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     The work before us is undoubtedly one of the very best that has
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     A work of permanent interest, which should be well understood by
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     It is adapted for popular reading; while, as a true portraiture of
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     Or, Incidents of Travel in that Country during Parts of the Years
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     Places Visited. By ROBERT A. WILSON. With Illustrations. 12mo,
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     Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome. Being Notes of Conversations
     held with certain Jesuits on the Subject of Religion in the City of
     Rome. By Rev. M. HOBART SEYMOUR, M.A. 12mo, Muslin, 75 cents.

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