"I will see what detains my friend," said Mademoiselle, the little woman.
We suffered her to withdraw. In a moment more a quick expostulation was to be heard.
"They are there, the gendarmes, my little one! I should have run, but they caught me, the villains! and replaced me in the house. Oh, sacre!"—and rolling this word between his teeth, he came down and laid a little box on the counter. I opened it. There was within a large, glittering, curiously-cut piece of glass. I threw it aside.
"The diamond!" I exclaimed.
"Monsieur had it," he replied, stooping to pick up the glass with every appearance of surprise and care.
"Do you mean to say you endeavored to escape with that bawble? Produce the diamond instantly, or you shall hang as high as Haman!" I roared.
Whether he knew the individual in question or not, the threat was efficient; he trembled and hesitated, and finally drew the identical shagreen case from his bosom.
"I but jested," he said. "Monsieur will witness that I relinquish it with reluctance."
"I will witness that you receive stolen goods!" I cried, in wrath.
He placed it in my hands.
"Oh!" he groaned, from the bottom of his heart, hanging his head, and laying both hands on the counter before him,—"it pains, it grieves me to part with it!"
"And the chain," I said.
"Monsieur did not demand that!"
"I demand it now."
In a moment, the chain also was given me.
"And now will Monsieur do me a favor? Will he inform me by what means he ascertained these facts?"
I glanced at the garcon, who had probably supplied himself with his master's finery illicitly;—he was the means;—we have some generosity;—I thought I should prefer doing him the favor, and declined.
I unclasped the shagreen case; the sergent-de-ville and the gendarme stole up and looked over my shoulder; the garcon drew near with round eyes; the little woman peeped across; the merchant, with tears streaming over his face, gazed as if it had been a loadstone; finally, I looked myself. There it lay, the glowing, resplendent thing! flashing in affluence of splendor, throbbing and palpitant with life, drawing all the light from the little woman's candle, from the sparkling armor around, from the steel barbs, and the distant lantern, into its bosom. It was scarcely so large as I had expected to see it, but more brilliant than anything I could conceive of. I do not believe there is another such in the world. One saw clearly that the Oriental superstition of the sex of stones was no fable; this was essentially the female of diamonds, the queen herself, the principle of life, the rejoicing creative force. It was not radiant, as the term literally taken implies; it seemed rather to retain its wealth,—instead of emitting its glorious rays, to curl them back like the fringe of a madrepore, and lie there with redoubled quivering scintillations, a mass of white magnificence, not prismatic, but a vast milky lustre. I closed the case; on reopening it, I could scarcely believe that the beautiful sleepless eye would again flash upon me. I did not comprehend how it could afford such perpetual richness, such sheets of lustre.
At last we compelled ourselves to be satisfied. I left the shop, dismissed my attendants, and, fresh from the contemplation of this miracle, again trod the dirty, reeking streets, crossed the bridge, with its lights, its warehouses midway, its living torrents who poured on unconscious of the beauty within their reach. The thought of their ignorance of the treasure, not a dozen yards distant, has often made me question if we all are not equally unaware of other and greater processes of life, of more perfect, sublimed, and, as it were, spiritual crystallizations going on invisibly about us. But had these been told of the thing clutched in the hand of a passer, how many of them would have known where to turn? and we,—are we any better?
For a few days I carried the diamond about my person, and did not mention its recovery even to my valet, who knew that I sought it, but communicated only with the Marquis of G., who replied, that he would be in Paris on a certain day, when I could safely deliver it to him.
It was now generally rumored that the neighboring government was about to send us the Baron Stahl, ambassador concerning arrangements for a loan to maintain the sinking monarchy in supremacy at Paris, the usual synecdoche for France.
The weather being fine, I proceeded to call on Mme. de St. Cyr. She received me in her boudoir, and on my way thither I could not but observe the perfect quiet and cloistered seclusion that pervaded the whole house,—the house itself seeming only an adjunct of the still and sunny garden, of which one caught a glimpse through the long open hall-windows beyond. This boudoir did not differ from others to which I have been admitted: the same delicate shades; all the dainty appliances of Art for beauty; the lavish profusion of bijouterie; and the usual statuettes of innocence, to indicate, perhaps, the presence of that commodity which might not be guessed at otherwise; and burning in a silver cup, a rich perfume loaded the air with voluptuous sweetness. Through a half-open door an inner boudoir was to be seen, which must have been Delphine's; it looked like her; the prevailing hue was a soft purple, or gray; a prie-dieu, a book-shelf, and desk, of a dark West Indian wood, were just visible. There was but one picture,—a sad-eyed, beautiful Fate. It was the type of her nation. I think she worshipped it—And how apt is misfortune! to degenerate into Fate!—not that the girl had ever experienced the former, but, dissatisfied with life, and seeing no outlet, she accepted it stoically and waited till it should be over. She needed to be aroused;—the station of an ambassadrice, which I desired for her, might kindle the spark. There were no flowers, no perfumes, no busts, in this ascetic place. Delphine herself, in some faint rosy gauze, her fair hair streaming round her, as she lay on a white-draped couch, half-risen on one arm, while she read the morning's feuilleton, was the most perfect statuary of which a room could boast,—illumined, as I saw her, by the gay beams that entered at the loftily-arched window, broken only by the flickering of the vine-leaves that clustered the curiously-latticed panes without. She resembled in kind a Nymph or Aphrodite just bursting from the sea. Madame de St. Cyr received me with empressement, and, so doing, closed the door of this shrine. We spoke of various things,—of the court, the theatre, the weather, the world,—skating lightly round the slender edges of her secret, till finally she invited me to lunch with her in the garden. Here, on a rustic table, stood wine and a few delicacies,—while, by extending a hand, we could grasp the hanging pears and nectarines, still warm to the lip and luscious with sunshine, as we disputed possession with the envious wasp who had established a priority of claim.
"It is to be hoped," I said, sipping the Haut-Brion, whose fine and brittle smack contrasted rarely with the delicious juiciness of the fruit, "that you have laid in a supply of this treasure that neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, before parting with that little gem in the Gironde."
"Ah? You know, then, that I have sold it?"
"Yes," I replied. "I have the pleasure of Mr. Ulster's acquaintance."
"He arranged the terms for me," she said, with restraint,—adding, "I could almost wish now that it had not been."
This was probably true; for the sum which she hoped to receive from Ulster for standing sponsor to his jewel was possibly equal to the price of her vineyard.
"It was indispensable at the time, this sale; I thought best to hazard it on one more season.—If, after such advantages, Delphine will not marry, why—it remains to retire into the country and end our days with the barbarians!" she continued, shrugging her shoulders; "I have a house there."
"But you will not be obliged to throw us all into despair by such a step now," I replied.
She looked quickly, as if to see how nearly I had approached her citadel,—then, finding in my face no expression but a complimentary one, "No," she said, "I hope that my affairs have brightened a little. One never knows what is in store."
Before long I had assured myself that Mme. de St. Cyr was not a party to the theft, but had merely been hired by Ulster, who, discovering the state of her affairs, had not, therefore, revealed his own,—and this without in the least implying any knowledge on my part of the transaction. Ulster must have seen the necessity of leaving the business in the hands of a competent person, and Mme. de St. Cyr's financial talent was patent. There were few ladies in Paris who would have rejected the opportunity. Of these things I felt a tolerable certainty.
"We throng with foreigners," said Madame, archly, as I reached this point. "Diplomates, too. The Baron Stahl arrives in a day."
"I have heard," I responded. "You are acquainted?"
"Alas! no," she said. "I knew his father well, though he himself is not young. Indeed, the families thought once of intermarriage. But nothing has been said on the subject for many years. His Excellency, I hear, will strengthen himself at home by an alliance with the young Countess, the natural daughter of the Emperor."
"He surely will never be so imprudent as to rivet his chain by such a link!"
"It is impossible to compute the dice in those despotic countries," she rejoined,—which was pretty well, considering the freedom enjoyed by France at that period.
"It may be," I suggested, "that the Baron hopes to open this delicate subject with you himself, Madame."
"It is unlikely," she said, sighing. "And for Delphine, should I tell her his Excellency preferred scarlet, she would infallibly wear blue. Imagine her, Monsieur, in fine scarlet, with a scarf of gold gauze, and rustling grasses in that unruly gold hair of hers! She would be divine!"
The maternal instinct as we have it here at Paris confounds me. I do not comprehend it. Here was a mother who did not particularly love her child, who would not be inconsolable at her loss, would not ruin her own complexion by care of her during illness, would send her through fire and water and every torture to secure or maintain a desirable rank, who yet would entangle herself deeply in intrigue, would not hesitate to tarnish her own reputation, and would, in fact, raise heaven and earth to—endow this child with a brilliant match. And Mme. de St. Cyr seemed to regard Delphine, still further, as a cool matter of Art.
These little confidences, moreover, are provoking. They put you yourself so entirely out of the question.
"Mlle. de St. Cyr's beauty is peerless," I said, slightly chagrined, and at a loss. "If hearts were trumps, instead of diamonds!"
"We are poor," resumed Madame, pathetically. "Delphine is not an heiress. Delphine is proud. She will not stoop to charm. Her coquetry is that of an Amazon. Her kisses are arrows. She is Medusa!" And Madame, her mother, shivered.
Here, with her hair knotted up and secured by a tiny dagger, her gauzy drapery gathered in her arm, Delphine floated down the green alley toward us, as if in a rosy cloud. But this soft aspect never could have been more widely contradicted than by the stony repose and cutting calm of her beautiful face.
"The Marquis of G.," said her mother, "he also arrives ambassador. Has he talent? Is he brilliant? Wealthy, of course,—but gauche?"
Therewith I sketched for them the Marquis and his surroundings.
"It is charming," said Madame. "Delphine, do you attend?"
"And why?" asked Delphine, half concealing a yawn with her dazzling hand. "It is wearisome; it matters not to me."
"But he will not go to marry himself in France," said her mother. "Oh, these English." she added, with a laugh, "yourself, Monsieur, being proof of it, will not mingle blood, lest the Channel should still flow between the little red globules! You will go? but to return shortly? You will dine with me soon? Au revoir!" and she gave me her hand graciously, while Delphine bowed as if I were already gone, threw herself into a garden-chair, and commenced pouring the wine on a stone for a little tame snake which came out and lapped it.
Such women as Mme. de St. Cyr have a species of magnetism about them. It is difficult to retain one's self-respect before them,—for no other reason than that one is, at the moment, absorbed into their individuality, and thinks and acts with them. Delphine must have had a strong will, and perpetual antagonism did not weaken it. As for me, Madame had, doubtless, reasons of her own for tearing aside these customary bands of reserve,—reasons which, if you do not perceive, I shall not enumerate.
"Have you met with anything further in your search, Sir?" asked my valet, next morning.
"Oh, yes, Hay," I returned, in a very good humor,—"with great success. You have assisted me so much, that I am sure I owe it to you to say that I have found the diamond."
"Indeed, Sir, you are very kind. I have been interested, but my assistance is not worth mentioning. I thought likely it might be, you appeared so quiet."—The cunning dog!—"How did you find it, Sir, may I ask?"
I briefly related the leading facts, since he had been aware of the progress of the case to that point,—without, however, mentioning Mme. de St. Cyr's name.
"And Monsieur did not inform me!" a French valet would have cried.
"You were prudent not to mention it, Sir," said Hay. "These walls must have better ears than ordinary; for a family has moved in on the first floor recently, whose actions are extremely suspicious. But is this precious affair to be seen?"
I took it from an inner pocket and displayed it, having discarded the shagreen case as inconvenient.
"His Excellency must return as he came," said I.
Hay's eyes sparkled.
"And do you carry it there, Sir?" he asked, with surprised, as I restored it to my waistcoat-pocket.
"I shall take it to the bank," I said. "I do not like the responsibility."
"It is very unsafe," was the warning of this cautious fellow. "Why, Sir! any of these swells, these pickpockets, might meet you, run against you,—so!" said Hay, suiting the action to the word, "and, with the little sharp knife concealed in just such a ring as this I wear, give a light tap, and there's a slit in your vest, Sir, but no diamond!"—and instantly resuming his former respectful deportment, Hay handed me my gloves and stick, and smoothed my hat.
"Nonsense!" I replied, drawing on the gloves, "I should like to see the man who could be too quick for me. Any news from India, Hay?"
"None of consequence, Sir. The indigo crop is said to have failed, which advances the figure of that on hand, so that one or two fortunes will be made to-day. Your hat, Sir?—your lunettes? Here they are, Sir."
"Good morning, Hay."
"Good morning, Sir."
I descended the stairs, buttoning my gloves, paused a moment at the door to look about, and proceeded down the street, which was not more than usually thronged. At the bank I paused to assure myself that the diamond was safe. My fingers caught in a singular slit. I started. As Hay had prophesied, there was a fine longitudinal cut in my waistcoat, but the pocket was empty. My God! the thing was gone. I never can forget the blank nihility of all existence that dreadful moment when I stood fumbling for what was not. Calm as I sit here and tell of it, I vow to you a shiver courses through me at the very thought. I had circumvented Stahl only to destroy myself. The diamond was lost again. My mind flew like lightning over every chance, and a thousand started up like steel spikes to snatch the bolt. For a moment I was stunned, but, never being very subject to despair, on my recovery, which was almost at once, took every measure that could be devised. Who had touched me? Whom had I met? Through what streets had I come? In ten minutes the Prefect had the matter in hand. My injunctions were strict privacy. I sincerely hoped the mishap would not reach England; and if the diamond were not recovered before the Marquis of G. arrived,—why, there was the Seine. It is all very well to talk,—yet suicide is so French an affair, that an Englishman does not take to it naturally, and, except in November, the Seine is too cold and damp for comfort, but during that month I suppose it does not greatly differ in these respects from our own atmosphere.
A preternatural activity now possessed me. I slept none, ate little, worked immoderately. I spared no efforts, for everything was at stake. In the midst of all G. arrived. Hay also exerted himself to the utmost; I promised him a hundred pounds, if I found it. He never told me that he said how it would be, never intruded the state of the market, never resented my irritating conduct, but watched me with narrow yet kind solicitude, and frequently offered valuable suggestions, which, however, as everything else did, led to nothing. I did not call on G., but in a week or so his card was brought up one morning to me. "Deny me," I groaned. It yet wanted a week of the day on which I had promised to deliver him the diamond. Meanwhile the Baron Stahl had reached Paris, but he still remained in private,—few had seen him.
The police were forever on the wrong track. To-day they stopped the old Comptesse du Quesne and her jewels, at the Barriere; to-morrow, with their long needles, they riddled a package of lace destined for the Duchess of X. herself; the Secret Service was doubled; and to crown all, a splendid new star of the testy Prince de Ligne was examined and proclaimed to be paste,—the Prince swearing vengeance, if he could discover the cause,—while half Paris must have been under arrest. My own hotel was ransacked thoroughly,—Hay begging that his traps might be included,—but nothing resulted, and I expected nothing, for, of course, I could swear that the stone was in my pocket when I stepped into the street. I confess I never was nearer madness,—every word and gesture stung me like asps,—I walked on burning coals. Enduring all this torment, I must yet meet my daily comrades, eat ices at Tortoni's, stroll on the Boulevards, call on my acquaintance, with the same equanimity as before. I believe I was equal to it. Only by contrast with that blessed time when Ulster and diamonds were unknown, could I imagine my past happiness, my present wretchedness. Rather than suffer it again, I would be stretched on the rack till every bone in my skin was broken. I cursed Mr. Arthur Ulster every hour in the day; myself, as well; and even now the word diamond sends a cold blast to my heart. I often met my friend the marchand des armures. It was his turn to triumph; I fancied there must be a hang-dog kind of air about me, as about every sharp man who has been outwitted. It wanted finally but two days of that on which I was to deliver the diamond.
One midnight, armed with a dark lantern and a cloak, I was traversing the streets alone,—unsuccessful, as usual, just now solitary, and almost in despair. As I turned a corner, two men were but scarcely visible a step before me. It was a badly-lighted part of the town. Unseen and noiseless I followed. They spoke in low tones,—almost whispers; or rather, one spoke,—the other seemed to nod assent.
"On the day but one after to-morrow," I heard spoken in English. Great Heavens! was it possible? had I arrived at a clue? That was the day of days for me. "You have given it, you say, in this billet,—I wish to be exact, you see," continued the voice,—"to prevent detection, you gave it, ten minutes after it came into your hands, to the butler of Madame——," (here the speaker stumbled on the rough pavement, and I lost the name,) "who," he continued, "will put it in the——" (a second stumble acted like a hiccough) "cellar."
"Wine-cellar," I thought; "and what then?"
"In the——." A third stumble was followed by a round German oath. How easy it is for me now to fill up the little blanks which that unhappy pavement caused!
"You share your receipts with this butler. On the day I obtain it," he added, and I now perceived his foreign accent, "I hand you one hundred thousand francs; afterward, monthly payments till you have received the stipulated sum. But how will this butler know me, in season to prevent a mistake? Hem!—he might give it to the other!"
My hearing had been trained to such a degree that I would have promised to overhear any given dialogue of the spirits themselves, but the whisper that answered him eluded me. I caught nothing but a faint sibillation. "Your ring?" was the rejoinder. "He shall be instructed to recognize it? Very well. It is too large,—no, that will do, it fits the first finger. There is nothing more. I am under infinite obligations, Sir; they shall be remembered. Adieu!"
The two parted; which should I pursue? In desperation I turned my lantern upon one, and illumined a face fresh with color, whose black eyes sparkled askance after the retreating figure, under straight black brows. In a moment more he was lost in a false cul-de-sac, and I found it impossible to trace the other.
I was scarcely better off than before; but it seemed to me that I had obtained something, and that now it was wisest to work this vein. "The butler of Madame——." There were hundreds of thousands of Madames in town. I might call on all, and be as old as the Wandering Jew at the last call. The cellar. Wine-cellar, of course,—that came by a natural connection with butler,—but whose? There was one under my own abode; certainly I would explore it. Meanwhile, let us see the entertainments for Wednesday. The Prefect had a list of these. For some I found I had cards; I determined to allot a fraction of time to as many as possible; my friends in the Secret Service would divide the labor. Among others, Madame de St. Cyr gave a dinner, and, as she had been in the affair, I determined not to neglect her on this occasion, although having no definite idea of what had been, or plan of what should be done. I decided not to speak of this occurrence to Hay, since it might only bring him off some trail that he had struck.
Having been provided with keys, early on the following evening I entered the wine-cellar, and, concealed in an empty cask that would have held a dozen of me, waited for something to turn up. Really, when I think of myself, a diplomate, a courtier, a man-about-town, curled in a dusty, musty wine-barrel, I am moved with vexation and laughter. Nothing, however, turned up,—and at length I retired, baffled. The next night came,—no news, no identification of my black-browed man, no success; but I felt certain that something must transpire in that cellar. I don't know why I had pitched upon that one in particular, but, at an earlier hour than on the previous night, I again donned the cask. A long time must have elapsed; dead silence filled the spacious vaults, except where now and then some Sillery cracked the air with a quick explosion, or some newer wine bubbled round the bung of its barrel with a faint effervescence. I had no intention of leaving this place till morning, but it suddenly appeared like the most woful waste of time. The master of this tremendous affair should be abroad and active; who knew what his keen eyes might detect, what loss his absence might occasion in this nick of time? And here he was, shut up and locked in a wine-cellar! I began to be very nervous; I had already, with aid, searched every crevice of the cellar; and now I thought it would be some consolation to discover the thief, if I never regained the diamond. A distant clock tolled midnight. There was a faint noise,—a mouse?—no, it was too prolonged;—nor did it sound like the fiz of Champagne;—a great iron door was turning on its hinges; a man with a lantern was entering; another followed, and another. They seated themselves. In a few moments, appearing one by one and at intervals, some thirty people were in the cellar. Were they all to share in the proceeds of the diamond? With what jaundiced eyes we behold things! I myself saw all that was only through the lens of this diamond, of which not one of these men had ever heard. As the lantern threw its feeble glimmer on this group, and I surveyed them through my loophole, I thought I had never seen so wild and savage a picture, such enormous shadows, such bold outline, such a startling flash on the face of their leader, such light retreating up the threatening arches. More resolute brows, more determined words, more unshrinking hearts, I had not met. In fact, I found myself in the centre of a conspiracy, a society as vindictive as the Jacobins, as unknown and terrible as the Marianne of to-day. I was thunderstruck, too, at the countenances on which the light fell,—men the loyalest in estimation, ministers and senators, millionnaires who had no reason for discontent, dandies whose reason was supposed to be devoted to their tailors, poets and artists of generous aspiration and suspected tendencies, and one woman,—Delphine de St. Cyr. Their plans were brave, their determination lofty, their conclave serious and fine; yet as slowly they shut up their hopes and fears in the black masks, one man bent toward the lantern to adjust his. When he lifted his face before concealing it, I recognized him also. I had met him frequently at the Bureau of Police; he was, I believe, Secretary of the Secret Service.
I had no sympathy with these people. I had liberty enough myself, I was well enough satisfied with the world, I did not care to revolutionize France; but my heart rebelled at the mockery, as this traitor and spy, this creature of a system by which I gained my fame, showed his revolting face and veiled it again. And Delphine, what had she to do with them? One by one, as they entered, they withdrew, and I was left alone again. But all this was not my diamond.
Another hour elapsed. Again the door opened, and remained ajar. Some one entered, whom I could not see. There was a pause,—then a rustle,—the door creaked ever so little. "Art thou there?" lisped a shrill whisper,—a woman, as I could guess.
"My angel, it is I," was returned, a semitone lower. She approached, he advanced, and the consequence was a salute resonant as the smack with which a Dutch burgomaster may be supposed to set down his mug. I was prepared for anything. Ye gods! if it should be Delphine! But the base suspicion was birth-strangled as they spoke again. The conversation which now ensued between these lovers under difficulties was tender and affecting beyond expression. I had felt guilty enough when an unwilling auditor of the conspirators,—since, though one employs spies, one does not therefore act that part one's-self, but on emergencies,—an unwillingness which would not, however, prevent my turning to advantage the information gained; but here, to listen to this rehearsal of woes and blisses, this ah mon Fernand, this aria in an area, growing momently more fervent, was too much. I overturned the cask, scrambled upon my feet, and fled from the cellar, leaving the astounded lovers to follow, while, agreeably to my instincts, and regardless of the diamond, I escaped the embarrassing predicament.
At length it grew to be noon of the appointed day. Nothing had transpired; all our labor was idle. I felt, nevertheless, more buoyant than usual,—whether because I was now to put my fate to the test, or that today was the one of which my black-browed man had spoken, and I therefore entertained a presentiment of good-fortune, I cannot say. But when, in unexceptionable toilet, I stood on Mme. de St. Cyr's steps, my heart sunk. G. was doubtless already within, and I thought of the marchand des armures' exclamation, "Queen of Heaven, Monsieur! how shall I meet him!" I was plunged at once into the profoundest gloom. Why had I undertaken the business at all? This interference, this good-humor, this readiness to oblige,—it would ruin me yet! I forswore it, as Falstaff forswore honor. Why needed I to meddle in the melee? Why—But I was no catechumen. Questions were useless now. My emotions are not chronicled on my face, I flatter myself; and with my usual repose I saluted our hostess. Greeting G. without any allusion to the diamond, the absence of which allusion he received as a point of etiquette, I was conversing with Mrs. Leigh, when the Baron Stahl was announced. I turned to look at his Excellency. A glance electrified me. There was my dark-browed man of the midnight streets. It must, then, have been concerning the diamond that I had heard him speak. His countenance, his eager, glittering eye, told that today was as eventful to him as to me. If he were here, I could well afford to be. As he addressed me in English, my certainty was confirmed; and the instant in which I observed the ring, gaudy and coarse, upon his finger, made confirmation doubly sure. I own I was surprised that anything could induce the Baron to wear such an ornament. Here he was actually risking his reputation as a man of taste, as an exquisite, a leader of haut ton, a gentleman, by the detestable vulgarity of this ring. But why do I speak so of the trinket? Do I not owe it a thrill of as fine joy as I ever knew? Faith! it was not unfamiliar to me. It had been a daily sight for years. In meeting the Baron Stahl I had found the diamond.
The Baron Stahl was, then, the thief? Not at all. My valet, as of course you have been all along aware, was the thief.
The Marquis of G. took down Mme. de St. Cyr; Stahl preceded me, with Delphine. As we sat at table, G. was at the right, I at the left of our hostess. Next G. sat Delphine; below her, the Baron; so that we were nearly vis-a-vis. I was now as fully convinced that Mme. de St. Cyr's cellar was the one, as the day before I had been that the other was; I longed to reach it. Hay had given the stone to a butler—doubtless this—the moment of its theft; but, not being aware of Mme. de St. Cyr's previous share in the adventure, had probably not afforded her another. And thus I concluded her to be ignorant of the game we were about to play; and I imagined, with the interest that one carries into a romance, the little preliminary scene between the Baron and Madame that must have already taken place, being charmed by the cheerfulness with which she endured the loss of the promised reward.
As the Baron entered the dining-room. I saw him withdraw his glove, and move the jewelled hand across his hair while passing the solemn butler, who gave it a quick recognition;—the next moment we were seated. It was a dinner a la Russe; that is, only wines were on the table, clustered around a central ornament,—a bunch of tall silver rushes and flag-leaves, on whose airy tip danced fleurs-de-lis of frosted silver, a design of Delphine's,—the dishes being on side-tables, from which the guests were served as they signified their choice of the variety on their cards. Our number not being large, and the custom so informal, rendered it pleasant.
I had just finished my oysters and was pouring out a glass of Chablis, when another plate was set before the Baron.
"His Excellency has no salt," murmured the butler,—at the same time placing one beside him. A glance, at entrance, had taught me that most of the service was uniform; this dainty little saliere I had noticed on the buffet, solitary, and unlike the others. What a fool had I been! Those gaps in the Baron's remarks caused by the paving-stones, how easily were they to be supplied!
Madame de St. Cyr.
How quick the flash that enlightened me while I surveyed the saliere!
"It is exquisite! Am I never to sit at your table but some new device charms me?" I exclaimed. "Is it your design, Mademoiselle?" I said, turning to Delphine.
Delphine, who had been ice to all the Baron's advances, only curled her lip. "Des babioles!" she said.
"Yes, indeed," cried Mme. de St. Cyr, extending her hand for it. "But none the less her taste. Is it not a fairy thing? A Cellini! Observe this curve, these lines! but one man could have drawn them!"—and she held it for our scrutiny. It was a tiny hand and arm of ivory, parting the foam of a wave and holding a golden shell, in which the salt seemed to have crusted itself as if in some secretest ocean-hollow. I looked at the Baron a moment; his eyes were fastened upon the saliere, and all the color had forsaken his cheeks,—his face counted his years. The diamond was in that little shell. But how to obtain it? I had no novice to deal with; nothing but delicate finesse would answer.
"Permit me to examine it," I said. She passed it to her left hand for me to take. The butler made a step forward.
"Meanwhile, Madame," said the Baron, smiling, "I have no salt."
The instinct of hospitality prevailed;—she was about to return it. Might I do an awkward thing? Unhesitatingly. Reversing my glass, I gave my arm a wider sweep than necessary, and, as it met her hand with violence, the saliere fell. Before it touched the floor I caught it There was still a pinch of salt left,—nothing more.
"A thousand pardons!" I said, and restored it to the Baron.
His Excellency beheld it with dismay; it was rare to see him bend over and scrutinize it with starting eyes.
"Do you find there what Count Arnaklos begs in the song," asked Delphine,—"the secret of the sea, Monsieur?"
He handed it to the butler, observing, "I find here no"——
"Salt, Monsieur?" replied the man, who did not doubt but all had gone right, and replenished it.
Had one told me in the morning that no intricate manoeuvres, but a simple blunder, would effect this, I might have met him in the Bois de Boulogne.
"We will not quarrel," said my neighbor, lightly, with reference to the popular superstition.
"Rather propitiate the offended deities by a crumb tossed over the shoulder," added I.
"Over the left?" asked the Baron, to intimate his knowledge of another idiom, together with a reproof for my gaucherie.
"A gauche,—quelquefois c'est justement a droit," I replied.
"Salt in any pottage," said Madame, a little uneasily, "is like surprise in an individual; it brings out the flavor of every ingredient, so my cook tells me."
"It is a preventive of palsy," I remarked, as the slight trembling of my adversary's finger caught my eye.
"And I have noticed that a taste for it is peculiar to those who trace their blood to Galitzin," continued Madame.
"Let us, therefore, elect a deputation to those mines near Cracow," said Delphine.
"To our cousins, the slaves there?" laughed her mother.
"I must vote to lay your bill on the table, Mademoiselle," I rejoined.
"But with a boule blanche, Monsieur?"
"As the salt has been laid on the floor," said the Baron.
Meanwhile, as this light skirmishing proceeded, my sleeve and Mme. de St. Cyr's dress were slightly powdered, but I had not seen the diamond. The Baron, bolder than I, looked under the table, but made no discovery. I was on the point of dropping my napkin to accomplish a similar movement, when my accommodating neighbor dropped hers. To restore it, I stooped. There it lay, large and glowing, the Sea of Splendor, the Moon of Milk, the Torment of my Life, on the carpet, within half an inch of a lady's slipper. Mademoiselle de St. Cyr's foot had prevented the Baron from seeing it; now it moved and unconsciously covered it. All was as I wished. I hastily restored the napkin, and looked steadily at Delphine,—so steadily, that she perceived some meaning, as she had already suspected a game. By my sign she understood me, pressed her foot upon the stone and drew it nearer. In France we do not remain at table until unfit for a lady's society,—we rise with them. Delphine needed to drop neither napkin nor handkerchief; she composedly stooped and picked up the stone, so quickly that no one saw what it was.
"And the diamond?" said the Baron to the butler, rapidly, as he passed.
"It was in the saliere!" whispered the astonished creature.
In the drawing-room I sought the Marquis.
"To-day I was to surrender you your property," I said; "it is here."
"Do you know," he replied, "I thought I must have been mistaken?"
"Any of our volatile friends here might have been," I resumed; "for us it is impossible. Concerning this, when you return to France, I will relate the incidents; at present, there are those who will not hesitate to take life to obtain its possession. The diligence leaves in twenty minutes; and if I owned the diamond, it should not leave me behind. Moreover, who knows what a day may bring forth? To-morrow there may be an emeute. Let me restore the thing as you withdraw."
The Marquis, who is not, after all, the Lion of England, pausing a moment to transmit my words from his ear to his brain, did not afterward delay to make inquiries or adieux, but went to seek Mme. de St. Cyr and wish her goodnight, on his departure from Paris. As I awaited his return, which I knew would not be immediate, Delphine left the Baron and joined me.
"You beckoned me?" she asked.
"No, I did not."
"Nevertheless, I come by your desire, I am sure."
"Mademoiselle," I said, "I am not in the custom of doing favors; I have forsworn them. But before you return me my jewel, I risk my head and render one last one, and to you."
"Do not, Monsieur, at such price," she responded, with a slight mocking motion of her hand.
"Delphine! those resolves, last night, in the cellar, were daring; they were noble, yet they were useless."
She had not started, but a slight tremor ran over her person and vanished while I spoke.
"They will be allowed to proceed no farther,—the axe is sharpened; for the last man who adjusted his mask was a spy,—was the Secretary of the Secret Service."
Delphine could not have grown paler than was usual with her of late. She flashed her eye upon me.
"He was, it may be, Monsieur himself," she said.
"I do not claim the honor of that post."
"But you were there, nevertheless,—a spy!"
"Hush, Delphine! It would be absurd to quarrel. I was there for the recovery of this stone, having heard that it was in a cellar,—which, stupidly enough, I had insisted should be a wine-cellar."
"It was, then"——
"In a salt-cellar,—a blunder which, as you do not speak English, you cannot comprehend. I never mix with treason, and did not wish to assist at your pastimes. I speak now, that you may escape."
"If Monsieur betrays his friends, the police, why should I expect a kinder fate?"
"When I use the police, they are my servants, not my friends. I simply warn you, that, before sunrise, you will be safer travelling than sleeping,—safer next week in Vienna than in Paris."
"Thank you! And the intelligence is the price of the diamond? If I had not chanced to pick it up, my throat," and she clasped it with her fingers, "had been no slenderer than the others?"
"Delphine, will you remember, should you have occasion to do so in Vienna, that it is just possible for an Englishman to have affections, and sentiments, and, in fact, sensations? that, with him, friendship can be inviolate, and to betray it an impossibility? And even were it not, I, Mademoiselle, have not the pleasure to be classed by you as a friend."
"You err. I esteem Monsieur highly."
I was impressed by her coolness.
"Let me see if you comprehend the matter," I demanded.
"Perfectly. The arrest will be used to-night, the guillotine to-morrow."
"You will take immediate measures for flight?"
"No,—I do not see that life has value. I shall be the debtor of him who takes it."
"A large debt. Delphine, I exact a promise of you. I do not care to have endangered myself for nothing. It is not worth while to make your mother unhappy. Life is not yours to throw away. I appeal to your magnanimity."
"'Affections, sentiments, sensations!'" she quoted. "Your own danger for the affection,—it is an affair of the heart! Mme. de St. Cyr's unhappiness,—there is the sentiment. You are angry, Monsieur,—that must be the sensation."
"Delphine, I am waiting."
"Ah, well. You have mentioned Vienna, and why? Liberals are countenanced there?"
"Not in the least. But Madame l'Ambassadrice will be countenanced."
"I do not know her."
"We are not apt to know ourselves."
"Monsieur, how idle are these cross-purposes!" she said, folding her fan.
"Delphine," I continued, taking the fan, "tell me frankly which of these two men you prefer,—the Marquis or his Excellency."
"The Marquis? He is antiphlogistic,—he is ice. Why should I freeze myself? I am frozen now,—I need fire!"
Her eyes burned as she spoke, and a faint red flushed her cheek.
"Mademoiselle, you demonstrate to me that life has yet a value to you."
"I find no fire," she said, as the flush fell away.
"I do not affect him."
"You will conquer your prejudice in Vienna."
"I do not comprehend you, Monsieur;—you speak in riddles, which I do not like."
"I will speak plainer. But first let me ask you for the diamond."
"The diamond? It is yours? How am I certified of it? I find it on the floor; you say it was in my mother's saliere; it is her affair, not mine. No, Monsieur, I do not see that the thing is yours."
Certainly there was nothing to be done but to relate the story, which I did, carefully omitting the Baron's name. At its conclusion, she placed the prize in my hand.
"Pardon, Monsieur," she said; "without doubt you should receive it. And this agent of the government,—one could turn him like hot iron in this vice,—who was he?"
"The Baron Stahl."
All this time G. had been waiting on thorns, and, leaving her now, I approached him, displayed for an instant the treasure on my palm, and slipped it into his. It was done. I bade farewell to this Eye of Morning and Heart of Day, this thing that had caused me such pain and perplexity and pleasure, with less envy and more joy than I thought myself capable of. The relief and buoyancy that seized me, as his hand closed upon it, I shall not attempt to portray. An abdicated king was not freer.
The Marquis departed, and I, wandering round the salon, was next stranded upon the Baron. He was yet hardly sure of himself. We talked indifferently for a few moments, and then I ventured on the great loan. He was, as became him, not communicative, but scarcely thought it would be arranged. I then spoke of Delphine.
"She is superb!" said the Baron, staring at her boldly.
She stood opposite, and, in her white attire on the background of the blue curtain, appeared like an impersonation of Greek genius relieved upon the blue of an Athenian heaven. Her severe and classic outline, her pallor, her downcast lids, her absorbed look, only heightened the resemblance. Her reverie seemed to end abruptly, the same red stained her cheek again, her lips curved in a proud smile, she raised her glowing eyes and observed us regarding her. At too great distance to hear our words, she quietly repaid our glances in the strength of her new decision, and then, turning, began to entertain those next her with an unwonted spirit.
"She has needed," I replied to the Baron, "but one thing,—to be aroused, to be kindled. See, it is done! I have thought that a life of cabinets and policy might achieve this, for her talent is second not even to her beauty."
"It is unhappy that both should be wasted," said the Baron. "She, of course, will never marry."
"For various reasons."
"She is poor."
"Which will not signify to your Excellency. Another?"
"She is too beautiful. One would fall in love with her. And to love one's own wife—it is ridiculous!"
"Who should know?" I asked.
"All the world would suspect and laugh."
"Let those laugh that win."
"No,—she would never do as a wife; but then as"——
"But then in France we do not insult hospitality!"
The Baron transferred his gaze to me for a moment, then tapped his snuff-box, and approached the circle round Delphine.
It was odd that we, the arch enemies of the hour, could speak without the intervention of seconds; but I hoped that the Baron's conversation might be diverting,—the Baron hoped that mine might be didactic.
They were very gay with Delphine. He leaned on the back of a chair and listened. One spoke of the new gallery of the Tuileries, and the five pavilions,—a remark which led us to architecture.
"We all build our own houses," said Delphine, at last, "and then complain that they cramp us here, and the wind blows in there, while the fault is not in the order, but in us, who increase here and shrink there—without reason."
"You speak in metaphors," said the Baron.
"Precisely. A truth is often more visible veiled than nude."
"We should soon exhaust the orders," I interposed; "for who builds like his neighbor?"
"Slight variations, Monsieur! Though we take such pains to conceal the style, it is not difficult to tell the order of architecture chosen by the builders in this room. My mother, for instance,—you perceive that her pavilion would be the florid Gothic."
"Mademoiselle's is the Doric," I said.
"Has been," she murmured, with a quick glance.
"And mine, Mademoiselle?" asked the Baron, indifferently.
"Ah, Monsieur," she returned, looking serenely upon him, "when one has all the winning cards in hand and yet loses the stake, we allot him un pavilion chinois"—which was the polite way of dubbing him Court Fool.
The Baron's eyes fell. Vexation and alarm were visible on his contracted brow. He stood in meditation for some time. It must have been evident to him that Delphine knew of the recent occurrences,—that here in Paris she could denounce him as the agent of a felony, the participant of a theft. What might prevent it? Plainly but one thing: no woman would denounce her husband. He had scarcely contemplated this step on arrival.
The guests were again scattered in groups round the room. I examined an engraving on an adjacent table. Delphine reclined as lazily in a fauteuil as if her life did not hang in the balance. The Baron drew near.
"Mademoiselle," said he, "you allotted me just now a cap and bells. If two should wear it?—if I should invite another into my pavilion chinois?—if I should propose to complete an alliance, desired by my father, with the ancient family of St. Cyr?—if, in short, Mademoiselle, I should request you to become my wife?"
"Eh, bien, Monsieur,—and if you should?" I heard her coolly reply.
But it was no longer any business of mine. I rose and sought Mme. de St. Cyr, who, I thought, was slightly uneasy, perceiving some mystery to be afloat. After a few words, I retired.
Archimedes, as perhaps you have never heard, needed only a lever to move the world. Such a lever I had put into the hands of Delphine, with which she might move, not indeed the grand globe, with its multiplied attractions, relations, and affinities, but the lesser world of circumstances, of friends and enemies, the circle of hopes, fears, ambitions. There is no woman, as I believe, but could have used it.
The next day was scarcely so quiet in the city as usual. The great loan had not been negotiated. Both the Baron Stahl and the English minister had left Paris,—and there was a coup d'etat.
But the Baron did not travel alone. There had been a ceremony at midnight in the Church of St. Sulpice, and her Excellency the Baroness Stahl, nee de St. Cyr, accompanied him.
It is a good many years since. I have seen the diamond in the Duchess of X.'s coronet, at the drawing-room, often,—but I have never seen Delphine. The Marquis begged me to retain the chain, and I gave myself the pleasure of presenting it, through her mother, to the Baroness Stahl. I hear, that, whenever she desires to effect any cherished object which the Baron opposes, she has only to wear this chain, and effect it. It appears to possess a magical power, and its potent spell enslaves the Baron as the lamp and ring of Eastern tales enslaved the Afrites.
The life she leads has aroused her. She is no longer the impassive Silence; she has found her fire. I hear of her as the charm of a brilliant court, as the soul of a nation of intrigue. Of her beauty one does not speak, but her talent is called prodigious. What impels me to ask the idle question, If it were well to save her life for this? Undoubtedly she fills a station which, in that empire, must be the summit of a woman's ambition. Delphine's Liberty was not a principle, but a dissatisfaction. The Baroness Stahl is vehement, is Imperialist, is successful. While she lives, it is on the top of the wave; when she dies,—ah! what business has Death in such a world?
As I said, I have never seen Delphine since her marriage. The beautiful statuesque girl occupies a niche into which the blazing and magnificent intrigante cannot crowd. I do not wish to be disillusioned. She has read me a riddle,—Delphine is my Sphinx.
* * * * *
As for Mr. Hay,—I once said the Antipodes were tributary to me, not thinking that I should ever become tributary to the Antipodes. But such is the case; since, partly through my instrumentality, that enterprising individual has been located in their vicinity, where diamonds are not to be had for the asking, and the greatest rogue is not a Baron.
* * * * *
HAMLET AT THE BOSTON.
We sit before the row of evening lamps, Each in his chair, Forgetful of November dusks and damps, And wintry air.
A little gulf of music intervenes, A bridge of sighs, Where still the cunning of the curtain screens Art's paradise.
My thought transcends those viols' shrill delight, The booming bass, And towards the regions we shall view to-night Makes hurried pace:
The painted castle, and the unneeded guard That ready stand; The harmless Ghost, that walks with helm unbarred And beckoning hand;
And, beautiful as dreams of maidenhood, That doubt defy, Young Hamlet, with his forehead grief-subdued, And visioning eye.
O fair dead world, that from thy grave awak'st A little while, And in our heart strange revolution mak'st With thy brief smile!
O beauties vanished, fair lips magical, Heroic braves! O mighty hearts, that held the world in thrall! Come from your graves!
The Poet sees you through a mist of tears,— Such depths divide Him, with the love and passion of his years, From you, inside!
The Poet's heart attends your buskined feet, Your lofty strains, Till earth's rude touch dissolves that madness sweet, And life remains:
Life that is something while the senses heed The spirit's call, Life that is nothing when our grosser need Engulfs it all.
And thou, young hero of this mimic scene, In whose high breast A genius greater than thy life hath been Strangely comprest!
Wear'st thou those glories draped about thy soul Thou dost present? And art thou by their feeling and control Thus eloquent?
'Tis with no feigned power thou bind'st our sense, No shallow art; Sure, lavish Nature gave thee heritance Of Hamlet's heart!
Thou dost control our fancies with a might So wild, so fond, We quarrel, passed thy circle of delight, With things beyond;
Returning to the pillows rough with care, And vulgar food, Sad from the breath of that diviner air, That loftier mood.
And there we leave thee, in thy misty tent Watching alone; While foes about thee gather imminent, To us scarce known.
Oh, when the lights are quenched, the music hushed, The plaudits still, Heaven keep the fountain, whence the fair stream gushed, From choking ill!
Let Shakspeare's soul, that wins the world from wrong, For thee avail, And not one holy maxim of his song Before thee fail!
So, get thee to thy couch as unreproved As heroes blest; And all good angels, trusted in and loved, Attend thy rest!
De todos los Generales cual es el mejor? Es mi General Jose con su Guardia de Honor!
It is only within a century that the world has become habituated to behold the birth of nations, and already the spectacle has grown too common to attract more than transitory notice. In the sluggish days that preceded the revolutionary efforts of our fathers, a nationality was fixed, seemingly immutable, the growth of scarcely numbered ages, the daughter of immemorial Time. A people then could place its hand upon its title-deeds, and, looking back through half a score of centuries, trace its gradual development from nothingness to power. To-day, on the contrary,—to use a somewhat daring metaphor,—nations have become autochthonous; they have repudiated the feeble processes of conception and tutelage; they spring, armed and full-grown, from the forehead of their progenitors, or rise, in sudden ripeness, from the soil.
Thousands must now be living, the citizens of prosperous states, who can recall the days when they had entered upon manhood and yet the name itself of their nation had no existence. How many, indeed, are still among us, to whom nations owe the impetus that gave them birth! Prominent, at least, among those who can lay claim to such distinction, there still stands one whose career it were well, perhaps, to study. We will endeavor to profit by a glance at it.
With this intent let us transport ourselves in imagination to the Llanos or Plains of Venezuela. It is a region similar in some respects, widely dissimilar in others, to the more celebrated Pampas of the regions to the south. The wonderful plain, covering more than two hundred thousand square miles, and forming the basin of the gigantic Orinoco, is a study in itself. The stranger who descends upon the vast savanna from the mountains that line and defend the coast is impressed with the momentary belief, when his eye for the first time sweeps over the level immensity, that he is again approaching the sea. From the hilly country through which he has toiled, he beholds at his feet a limitless and dusky plain, smooth as an ocean in repose, but undulating, like it, in gigantic sweeps and curves. The Llanos that he sees spread out before him thus are one huge and exuberant pasture. Like the Pampas of Buenos Ayres, they are the support of myriads of roaming cattle; but, unlike them, they are intersected by numerous rivers, and suffer rather from excess than from lack of moisture. The Orinoco sweeps, in turbid magnificence, from west to east, traversing their entire breadth; and its countless tributaries seam in every direction the immense plain thus divided, and frequently by their unmanageable floods turn it for thousands of miles into a lake.
The dwellers in this region have a character no less distinctive than that of the Plains themselves. At long intervals, sometimes scores of miles apart, their habitations are established; but their home is the saddle. Innumerable herds of cattle and of horses turn to account the pasturage of the rich savanna; and the true Llanero exists only as guardian or proprietor of these savage hosts. He is as much at home in this trackless expanse of rank vegetation as the mariner navigating a familiar sea. There are no roads in the Llanos; but he can gallop unerringly to any given point, be it hundreds of miles away. There are no boundaries to the huge estates; but he knows when the cattle he is set to protect are grazing upon their own territory or upon that of a neighbor. He leads a life in which the extremes of solitariness and of activity are combined. Separated from his nearest neighbor by a journey of half a day, visited only rarely at his hato or farm-house by some casual traveller, or by the itinerant Galician peddler, whom he contemptuously denominates the merca-chifles, the silent horseman lives wrapt up in ignorance of all but the care of the roving beasts that are intrusted to his vigilance.
Let us glance somewhat more nearly at the Llanero in his home. If we are able to obtain an elevated view of the savanna,—let us say, in the Llanos which constitute the Province of Barinas, and through which the Apure rolls its rapid current to swell the volume of the Orinoco,—we shall observe, at distant intervals upon the plain, irregular groups of palm-trees surmounting the wavy level of the grass. These isolated clumps or groves, called matas in the provincial idiom, form the landmarks of the Venezuelan Plains; and in the neighborhood of each we shall find the hato or dwelling of a Llanero. The building, we shall find in every case, is a roughly-constructed hut, consisting of a floor raised a couple of feet above the spongy soil, and covered with a steep roof of palm-branches, with perhaps a thatch composed of the leaves of the same invaluable tree. A rough partition of mud-plastered twigs divides the Llanero's dwelling into unequal apartments; the lesser being reserved for the use of the females of the household, while the larger, furnished with half-a-dozen hides, the skin of a jaguar, and a couple of benches or stools ingeniously manufactured from bamboo, is the general reception-room, sleeping-apartment, and workshop for the hatero, when the floods are out, or when he takes a fancy at other times to shelter his head beneath a roof. A few rods from the dwelling is the corral or cattle-pen, a large oval inclosure, into which, at irregular intervals, he drives his herds for purposes of branding or enumeration; and near the corral two or three impatient horses, shackled with a thong confining the forelegs, are grazing.
The cattle-farms or hatos of the Plains are owned, for the most part, by the Creole residents of the cities which dot their outskirts, but are inhabited only by the semibarbarous hateros, who attend to the few requirements of the stock, and slaughter the annual supply. The hatero, although a descendant, and proud that he is so, of the Spanish settlers, has much intermixture of Indian and negro blood in his veins. Few of the Llaneros, indeed, could show a pedigree in which the Castilian blood was not sorely attenuated and diluted with that of half-a-dozen Indian or negro progenitors. He is born on the Llanos, as were his ancestors for many generations; and he has no conception of a land in which cattle-plains are unknown, and where the carcass of an animal is of more value than the hide. His ideas are restricted to his occupation, and his religious notions limited to the traditional instruction handed down from the days when his forefathers lived amid civilized men, or to the casual teaching of some fervent missionary, who devotes himself to the spiritual welfare of these lonely dwellers on the Plains. Eight or ten persons at the utmost form a hato, and suffice for all the requirements of thousands of cattle. The women are as much accustomed to solitude as the men, and spend their time in domestic occupations, or in cultivating the little patch of ground upon which their supply of maize and cassava is grown. The occasion of their marriage is perhaps the only one of their visit to a town,—perhaps their only opportunity of seeing a printed book. Men and women alike are a simple, healthy, ignorant race, borrowing manners, dress, and dialect rather from the Indian than from the Spanish stock.
Such as he is, nevertheless, and for the purposes which his existence subserves, the true Llanero is indeed well placed in his peculiar region. A man of middle stature, usually of broad and powerful build, short-necked, with square head and narrow forehead, and with eyes that would be black, if it were not for the fire that flickers in them with a carbuncle-like intensity. From the hips upward the Llanero is straight and well-proportioned; but his constant equitation curves and bandies his legs in a manner plainly visible whenever he attempts to walk. His distinctive costume consists of the calzones, or cotton breeches, reaching a little below the knee, a tunic or smock-frock of the same material, confined about his waist with a thong of leather, into which he thrusts his formidable machete or cutlass, and the inevitable poncho, that many-colored blanket which the entire Spanish-American race has adopted at the hands of the vanquished Indians, and which he uses as cloak, as pillow, as bed, and sometimes as saddle. Boots he has none, nor shoes; but perhaps he may fasten strips of raw hide to his feet by way of sandals,—and a piece of raw hide covers, in all probability, his head. He cares little for ornament, since there are so few about him to admire display; and all his pride is concentrated in the steed that bears him, the lasso that he can throw with such unerring aim, and the heavy lance that he uses in driving his ferocious cattle, or as a death-dealing weapon when he is called upon to take part in some partisan warfare.
Upon his hato, perhaps, there are between one and two hundred thousand head of cattle and horses, guarded here and there by isolated posts of a nature similar to his own. The animals, savage from their birth, roam the plain in droves of many hundreds, each herd commanded by two or three bulls or stallions, whose authority is no less despotic than that of the colonel of a Russian regiment. They sweep from feeding-ground to feeding-ground, galloping eight or ten abreast, headed by scouts, and suffering no human being or strange animal to cross their path. As the dusky squadron hurries, like an incarnate whirlwind, from one point to another, every one prudently withdraws from their irresistible advance; and instances have occurred in which large bodies of troops, marching across the Plains, have been scattered and routed by an accidental charge of some such wild-eyed regiment. At certain intervals, la hierra, the branding, takes place; when drove after drove are dexterously compelled within the walls of the corral, and there marked with the initials or cipher of the proprietor. This is the great festival of the hatero, and he invites to it all his neighbors for scores of leagues around. The bellowing cattle, the plunging steeds, the excitement of lassoing some bull more refractory than usual, the hissing of the iron as it sears the brand-mark deep into the animal's hide, all these are elements of exquisite enjoyment to the unsophisticated Rarey of the Plains. His great delight, on such occasions, is to display his skill in lassoing an untamed colt, or in performing the feat called to colear a bull. He selects from the suspicious herd some fine young three-year old, grazing somewhat apart from the main body, and creeps silently towards it. Suddenly the lasso flies in snaky coils over the head of the beast, and is drawn with strangulating tightness about its neck. At the first plunge, a brother hatero lassoes the animal's hind legs, and it is permitted to rear and kick as frantically as it can, until it drops to the ground exhausted and strangled. The Llanero immediately approaches the prostrate colt, and deliberately beats its head with a heavy bludgeon until it becomes quite senseless. He then places his saddle upon its back, adjusts a murderous bit in its clammy mouth, and seats himself firmly in the saddle at the moment when the animal recovers strength enough to rise. The fearful plunges, the wild bounds, the vicious attempts at biting, which ensue, are all in vain; in a couple of days he subsides into a mere high-spirited trotter, whom one can ride with ease after once effecting a mount.
The pastime of "tailing" a bull is somewhat singular. Two or three horsemen single out an animal upon which to practise it, and secure a lasso about its horns. Another lasso, deftly thrown about its hind legs, is fastened to a tree, and the strongest of the party then seizes the bellowing beast by its tail, which he twists until his victim falls over on its side and is dispatched. The greatest dexterity is required in this manoeuvre by all practising it, as the slacking of either lasso enables the bull to turn upon his caudal persecutor, who is certain to be gored to death. This, indeed, not unfrequently happens. But a Llanero cares little for death. He faces it daily in his lonely converse with thousands of intractable beasts, in his bath in the river swarming with alligators,—in the swamp teeming with serpents, against whose poison there is no antidote, and whose bite will destroy the life of a man in a single hour. Content with the wild excitement of his daily round of duty and recreation, with his meal of dried beef and cassava-cake, washed down, it is likely, with a gourdful of guarapo, a species of rum, in comparison with which the New England beverage is innocent and weak, and with the occasional recurrence of some such turbulent festival as that of the branding, he cares nothing for the future, and bestows no thought upon the past. The Llanero may be called a happy man.
Two years more than half a century ago there lived a Creole trader of some wealth in the little town of Araure, in the province of Barinas, upon the outskirts of the Llanos. Don Jose had a stalwart son, aged about sixteen, whom he had trained to active usefulness amid the monotonous ease of the torrid little municipality. Young Jose Antonio had received, it is true, only a scanty education, but he could sign his name, could verify a calculation, and had a shrewd, quick head for business. The doctors-of-law, tolerably numerous even in little Araure, pronounced him born for a jurist, and he was a godsend to the litigious natives of the Captain-Generalcy. The hide-and-tallow merchants nodded knowingly, as he passed them in the street with a good-humored Adios, and predicted great fortunes for the lad as a future man-of-business. The Cura thought it a pity that he should prefer the society of the dusky beauties of Araure to the more hallowed enjoyments of preparation for a priestly life. And all the while quite other destinies were held in store by Fate. The remissness of a mercantile correspondent of his father altered the current of his life, and mightily influenced, even to the present day, the fortunes of his country.
A sum was owing to Don Jose by a trader of Capudare, and he intrusted his son with the task of collecting the debt. One fine day, in the spring of 1807, the lad accordingly set out, in high spirits at his important mission, armed with a brace of pistols and a cutlass, and mounted on a trusty mule. The money was duly collected, but, as young Jose Antonio journeyed home with it, a rumor of his precious charge was spread, and he was beset in a lonely by-path by four highwaymen. The pistols flashed from Jose's holsters, and one of the churriones fell the next moment with a bullet in his brain. Instantly presenting the second pistol, which was not loaded, he advanced upon the remaining three, who fell back in consternation, and fled, panic-stricken, from the boy. Jose Antonio was left alone with the highwayman's corpse. It was no light thing in Venezuela to commit a homicide without testimony of innocence, and young Jose hastened homewards with his treasure, in a state of trepidation far greater than any the living highwaymen could have inspired. Even in his parents' dwelling, he dreaded, every moment, the arrival of an order for his arrest, and to appease his groundless anxiety his father shortly suggested that he should take refuge upon the Llanos,—the Sherwood of Venezuelan Robin Hoods. The youth was delighted with the idea, and engaged himself as herdsman in the service of Don Manuel Pulido, a wealthy proprietor, whom he served so well that he was very quickly advanced to a position of confidence and command. In a few months the slayer of the churrion had learned to smile at his recent apprehensions; but the wild life of the hato had already thrown around him its subtle fascination, and the sprightly youth of Araure had become a naturalized son of the Plains. Soon few were able like young Jose to break an untried steed; few wielded more dexterously the lasso, or could drive with more unerring force the jagged lance into the side of a galloping bull. Clad in poncho and calzones, he scoured the vast plain of La Calzada, acquiring, at the same time with manual dexterity and physical hardihood, the affections, still more important, of the wild Llaneros with whom only he associated. The lad of eighteen, scarcely two years a denizen of the Plains, possessed all the influence and authority of the hoariest Llanero; and now the predictions ran that this daring Jose Antonio would one day be the most successful cattle-farmer in Venezuela!
We must leave young Jose among his comrades of the hato for a while, and glance at the contemporaneous doings of anointed heads, whose destinies were strangely interwoven with his own.
Far away across the Atlantic, in the shadow of the Pyrenees, events had been developing themselves to the consummation that should overturn a splendid throne, shake Europe to its foundations, and electrify Spanish America with a sympathetic current of revolution, flashing from the pines of Oregon to the deserts of Patagonia.
The mysterious treachery of Bayonne was consummated. Joseph, brother of Napoleon, reigned on the throne of which King Charles had been perfidiously despoiled. Ferdinand, heir to the crown of Spain and the Indies, had scarcely heard himself proclaimed as the seventh monarch of that name, when he had resigned his kingly functions to a Regency, and hastened into the snare which already held his father a captive on the soil of France. The astounding intelligence arrived in different parts of South America during the year 1808. The effect was everywhere alike. One moment of utter bewilderment, an instant's reeling under the shock of surprise, and then a magnificent outburst of loyalty from the simple-hearted Creole population! El Rey, the King,—that almost mythical sovereign, who was ignorantly adored as the personification of wisdom and beneficence, no matter how cruelly Viceroys might misgovern, or Captains-General oppress,—was it possible to conceive him a captive, the signer of his own humiliation, the renouncer of his immemorial rights? And Ferdinand, the young monarch of whom so little was known and so much expected,—he, too, a voluntary prisoner, while a Frenchman reigned in Madrid? This was news, indeed, to bewilder nations who had hitherto remained content in infantile tutelage, unconscious, undesirous, of the rights of men! Addresses, fervent with loyalty, were dispatched to Spain, embodying vows of eternal affection towards the King, and of detestation of Joseph, the usurper. French residents in Venezuela were publicly execrated by the excited Creoles; the French flag was insulted, and the French messengers were glad to escape with their lives from the hands of the infuriated Colonists. No Spanish monarch ever had a firmer hold upon the Indies than Ferdinand VII. when Spain was lost to him in July and August, 1808.
But soon there came that inevitable question, first in the catechism of all human society: Whom shall we obey? The King, whose hand had weighed not over lightly these many years, an abdicated prisoner at Bayonne; Ferdinand yielding his authority into the hand of a nameless Regency, and his capital to the brother of the Corsican Emperor; Spain overrun by two hundred thousand foreign troops; messengers at hand from Joseph, from the Regency, from the Junta of the Asturias, from the Junta of Seville, each alike asserting its right to authority over the Colonies, as legitimate possessors of jurisdiction in Spain itself! The accession of Joseph, in fact, gave a momentary independence to Spanish America, and the royal governors were thrown upon their own resources for the maintenance of their power. The Colonies were for the first time called upon to provide for their own defence,—solicited, not commanded, to obey; and they proved their loyalty by dispatching enormous sums in gold and silver to the Junta at Cadiz, as well as by their eagerness to ascertain in whom actually reposed the lawful government of Spain. Gradually, however, the consciousness of their own entity stole over the Venezuelans and New Granadians, and they bethought them of establishing an administrative Junta of their own, until better times should dawn on Spain. Blindly imprudent, the Viceroy violently opposed the project, and with such troops as remained in the Colonies the first Juntas were dispersed or massacred. Squabbles ensued, until the citizens of Caracas quietly deposed the chief Colonial authorities, and appointed a Junta Suprema to administer affairs in the name of Ferdinand VII. Intelligence of this step, however, was received with great alarm by the sapient Junta of Cadiz, and a proclamation was launched, on the 31st of August, 1810, declaring the Province of Caracas in a state of rigorous blockade. A war of manifestoes ensued, until the Provinces became enlightened as to their own importance and strength, and published, on the 5th of July, 1811, the Declaration of their Independence. Scarcely was this done when the Spanish Cortes offered liberal terms of accommodation, but they were rejected. The nation, that in 1808 thought it sweet to be subject, declared itself, three years later, for unqualified independence. The ardent revolutionist, General Miranda, was placed in command of some hastily-levied forces, and took the field against the Spanish commander, Don Domingo Monteverde, who had assumed a hostile attitude immediately after the Declaration.
It is only necessary here to say, that, after some hard-fought and honorable fields, Miranda and his fellow-officers were completely successful. All the principal cities were in the hands of the Patriots before 1812 began. Monteverde, in January of that year, was cooped up in the remote province of Guiana, and Coro on the sea-coast was also held by his troops; but elsewhere the new Republic seemed fully established. Already the point of Constitution-making—the crystallization-point of republics—had been reached. The ports of Venezuela were for the first time opened to foreign trade. Her inhabitants were no longer restricted from the enjoyment of the fruits of their own industry. A gigantic system of taxation had been brushed, like a spider's web, away. Two-thirds of the Captain-Generalcy, in a word, were free.
There was little fear among any of the inhabitants of Caracas, in March, 1812, that they would again fall under the dominion of Spain. The Carnival had been celebrated with greater joyousness than in any year before; the proverbial gayety of the town was doubled during the concluding festival of Shrove Tuesday; and Lent had scarcely thrown as deep a shade as usual over the devoutest inhabitants of the city. Lent drew to a close, and there was every prospect that Passion Week would be succeeded by a season of rejoicing over impending defeats of the Royalist Goths in Coro and Guiana; and Passion Week came. Holy Thursday fell on the 26th of March.
The solemn festival was ushered in with the most imposing rites of the Church. In the great cathedral, which dwarfed all other buildings in the Plaza, there was high mass that day. The famous bell clanged out to all Caracas remembrance of the agony of our Lord. A silent multitude was prostrated all day long before the gorgeous altar. Prelates and priests and acolytes stood, splendid in vestments of purple and white and gold, solemnly celebrating upon the steps of the sanctuary the holiest mysteries of the Roman Catholic communion. Above and around, gigantic tapers flared from candlesticks of beaten gold; and every little while, the glorious anthems floated forth in majestic cadence, eddying in waves of harmony about the colonnade that stretched in dusky perspective from the great door to the altar, soaring above the distant arches, and swelling upwards in floods of melody, until the vast concavity of the vaulted nave was filled with a sea of sound. But a sultry heaviness weighed with the incense upon the air. Elder citizens glanced uneasily at one another, and the thoughts of many wandered anxiously from the sacred building. Outside, the streets were empty. All Caracas was engaged in public worship; and the white dwellings that inclosed the Plaza, with its converging avenues, looked silently down upon deserted pavements, echoing only now and then to the careless tread of a party of negroes, or to the clattering heel of some undevout trooper. The sun had a glow as of molten copper; the atmosphere was dense; but not a cloud occupied the heavens. Towards evening the churches and the cathedral were again emptied, and the throng of worshippers, streaming out into the streets, prepared to witness the great religious procession that was to close the ceremonies of the holy day. Still the declining sun glowed with unnatural intensity of hue; and the evening breeze swept over the town in unusually fitful and stormy gusts. The air seemed to be laden with mysterious melancholy, to sigh with a hidden presage of some awful calamity to come.
Of a sudden it came. A shudder, a tremor, a quivering shock ran, for hundreds of miles simultaneously, through Venezuela. A groan, swelling thunderously and threateningly into a hollow roar, burst from the tortured earth, and swallowed up in its convulsive rumbling the shrieks of an entire nation suddenly inwrapt in the shadow and agony of death. For a moment,—as if a supernatural hand were painfully lifting it from its inmost core,—the earth rocked and heaved through all Venezuela; and then, almost before the awful exclamation, El temblor! had time to burst from the lips of that stricken nation, it bounded from the bonds that held it, and in a moment was quaking, heaving, sliding, surging, rolling, in awful semblance to the sea. Great gulfs opened and closed their jaws, swallowing up and again belching forth dwellings, churches, human beings, overtaken by instantaneous destruction.
A flash and a roar passed through the earth, and a jagged chasm followed in its track, creating others in its rapid clash and close. Whole cities shivered, tottered, reeled, and fell in spreading heaps of undistinguishable ruin. In one minute and fifteen seconds, twenty thousand human beings perished in Venezuela; and then the Earthquake of Caracas ceased.
It was after four o'clock in the afternoon when the first subterranean shock was felt; and long before five the agonized earth was still. Long before five, the stupefied survivors stood slowly recovering their faculties of speech and motion. Long before five, a piteous wail ascended to heaven from fathers and husbands and wives and mothers, desolately mourning the dead in the streets of Caracas, La Guayra, Merida, San Felipe, and Valencia. In this manner the Holy Thursday of 1812 drew toward its close. But the physical disasters consequent upon the great earthquake were of insignificant import as compared with its moral effect. Colonist and Spaniard had shared alike in suffering and death during those dreadful moments; but the superstitious population readily accepted the interpretation which an eager priesthood placed upon the event, and bowed in the belief that they had suffered the infliction in punishment of their rebellion against the King. Nine-tenths of the clergy and monastic brotherhood inwardly hated and feared the Revolution, and their practised tongues drew terrible auguries for rebellious Venezuela from the recent throes and upheaval of the earth. Preachers solemnly proclaimed the fact, that this, without doubt, was a catastrophe akin to the memorable convulsion which once had swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, for mutiny against the Lord; and the proximate wrath of God could be appeased only by a retrogression into his chosen paths. The people listened to the fathers, and obeyed trembling. Miranda, who had struggled against and overcome the material power of his enemies, was impotent when confronted by spiritual terrors; and after a few languid combats, his troops deserted, leaving Monteverde to triumph once more in the assertion of Spanish authority over every province of Venezuela. His headquarters were established at Caracas, and there, as well as elsewhere, his troops revelled in the perfidious torture and execution of their capitulated foes. During nearly two years, Monteverde reigned in Venezuela.
GUERRA A LA MUERTE!
Yet, towards the close of 1813, the star of liberty glimmered once more from the summits of the Western Cordillera. During and after the memorable earthquake, the city of Puerto Cabello, at that time held by the Patriots, was under the command of a young colonel in the Republican service, who had devoted a portion of his immense patrimonial wealth to the culture of his intellectual powers in European travel, (not, however, without subsequently applying a large share to the necessities of his country,) and whose name was Simon Bolivar. The treachery of an officer delivered the citadel of Puerto Cabello into the hands of some Spanish prisoners who were there confined, and in June, 1812, Colonel Bolivar was compelled to evacuate the town with all his force. While Monteverde lorded it over his country, he took refuge in the neighboring islands, and afterwards in New Granada, where he conceived the daring project which freed Venezuela, and has perpetuated, with his name, the simple but expressive title: Liberator, Libertador.
It is not our purpose here to follow the intrepid partisan in his descent, with six hundred New Granadian adherents, from the Andes, upon the astounded Spaniards. We cannot follow him, nor the generals whom he created, in their marvellous marches, and still more marvellous triumphs, during many succeeding years. Suffice it to say, that he fell like a thunderbolt from a sunny sky upon the confident Royalist troops,—that he defeated and routed them time after time, broke, with his terrible lancers, upon encampments which believed him a hundred miles away, and drove the Royal commanders, with varying success, from one point to another of Venezuela. His watchword was, Guerra a la muerte, "War unto death!" Every battle-ground became a shamble, every flight a butchery. The system was inaugurated by his antagonists, who cruelly slew eight Patriot officers, and eight citizens of Barinas, shortly after the commencement of hostilities, under circumstances of peculiar barbarity. Thenceforward Bolivar's men took no prisoners.
In the mean time, Wellington had driven the French across the Pyrenees, and Ferdinand the Adored ruled once more in Madrid. Even now, judicious management might have secured again the allegiance of the Colonies; but the first action of Ferdinand was to vituperate his American subjects as rebels, whom he commanded to lay down their arms at once; and on the 18th of February, 1815, there sailed from Cadiz a stately armament intended to enforce this peremptory order. Sixty-five vessels composed the fleet, bearing six regiments of infantry, one of dragoons, the Queen's hussars, artillery, sappers and miners, engineers, and eighteen pieces of cannon, besides incalculable quantities of arms and munitions of war. The expedition numbered fifteen thousand men, and was commanded in chief by the famous soldier, General Don Pablo Morillo, the guerilla champion, the opposer of the French.
On the 4th of April, this redoubtable army effected a landing; and once more, all but an insignificant fraction of Venezuela fell under the hand of Spain. The flood of successful rebellion was rolled back from the coast, and Bolivar, with his dauntless partisans, was soon confined to the Llanos, which stretch away in level immensity from the marshy banks of the Orinoco, the Apure, and their tributaries.
Our readers have already been introduced to these Llanos, and have beheld their wild inhabitants amid the monotonous avocations of a time of peace. Let us now approach them while the "blood-red blossom of war" blazes up from their torrid vegetation. Let us descend upon them at night, here, at no great distance from the banks of the cayman-haunted Apure, and we shall gaze upon a different scene. All around us, the plain extends in the same desolate immensity that we noticed when we looked upon it from the hato; still, as before, we see it covered with a dense wilderness of reedy grasses that overtop the tallest trooper in Morillo's army; as before, we notice the scattered palm-islands, breaking here and there the uniformity of level; and hosts of cattle and wild horses are still roaming over the plain.
Near a mata, or grove of palm-trees, there is a sound of merry voices to-night. Fires are crackling here and there; huge strips of fresh beef are roasting on wooden spits; the long grass has been trodden flat in a wide circumference, and three or four rudely-constructed huts of palm-branches close the scene on one side. Five hundred men are collected here,—the elite of the liberators of Venezuela. Gathered about their camp-fires, these troopers, who have ridden a hundred miles since morning, are enjoying rest, refreshment, and recreation. But the word trooper must not conjure up a vision of belted horsemen, rigid in uniform, with clanking sabres, and helmets of brass. Of a far different stamp are the figures reclining before us. These are improvised warriors, hateros, cattle-farmers, who, grasping their lances and lassos, have eagerly exchanged the monotony of pastoral life for the wild excitement of the charge upon Spanish squadrons, and the ferocious slaughter of fellow-men. No two of this invincible band are clad alike. Here is a sergeant, wearing an old and dilapidated blanket poncho-fashion, with the remains of a palm-leaf hat sheltering his head, and with limbs which a pair of ragged calzones make only a pretence of covering. Yet over his left shoulder is slung a gorgeous hussar jacket, which he wears with the greater pride since it belonged last night to a lieutenant in the Queen's regiment, whom he slew in cold blood after the fight! Next to him leans a private, bare-legged and bare-headed, wearing only an old piece of carpet about his waist, a flannel shirt, and the uniform coat of a Spanish officer, from which he has cut the right sleeve in order to secure greater freedom for his arm. A third has made himself a suit which Robinson Crusoe might have envied. Helmet, jerkin, breeches, sandals, all have been cut from the same raw bull's hide! His neighbor, a new recruit, still wears the national dress of his order, which has not yet been tattered and torn from him by long service; and he is the envy of the motley troop. But the lack of uniformity in no wise detracts from valor, nor does it diminish the gayety of these terrible lancers as they lie idly grouped about the flickering fires. Half-a-dozen circles are absorbed in as many games at cards; others are swallowing greedily some improvised fantastic tale; and some are singing, in wild, irregular cadence, the favorite songs of the Plains. Their example soon becomes contagious, and group after group chimes in with the uproarious chant. Listen! From the farthest extremity of the encampment comes a querying solo:—
"De todos los Generales cual es el valiente?"
and from five hundred throats the response is thundered:—
"Mi General Paez con toda su gente!"
Again the solo demands:—
"De todos los Generales cual es el major?"
and the tumultuous answer is vociferated:—
"Es mi General Jose con su guardia de honor!"
And who may be the valiant General, the General with his guard of honor, excelling all the rest? This, we learn, is the guard of honor; the General is Jose Antonio Paez, little Jose Antonio who killed the highwayman and betook himself to cattle farming on the Plains! Now, however, he is the famous Llanero chieftain, favorite champion of Venezuela, brother-in-arms of Bolivar, who allows him, alone of all the military leaders, the privilege of an especial body-guard. Since 1810,—for five years,—he has been fighting constantly in his country's service, and has won himself fame while our eyes have been turned in other directions. Look! he is standing there, at the entrance to his hut, while the chorus yet echoes among the palm-branches. Scarcely of middle stature, certainly not more than five feet four in height,—but broad-shouldered, muscular, with a constitution of iron, equal to perpetual exertion, capable of every fatigue. His countenance is open and prepossessing, his features rounded, forehead square, eyes piercing and intelligent. Like his men, he wears a motley garb,—part Spanish uniform, part costume of the Llanos; and he leans upon a lance, decorated with a black bannerol, which has carried death already to innumerable Loyalist hearts. Thus Jose Antonio Paez stands before us, on the banks of the Apure, in the twenty-fifth year of his age.
He has perhaps been hitherto too much neglected by us, and we must look backwards in order to take up the thread of his career. At the very first outbreak of insurrection in 1810, Paez took service as a volunteer in the hastily-levied militia of Barinas, and was quickly promoted to the post of sergeant in a corps of lancers. His influence and example attracted multitudes of Llanero horsemen to the Revolutionary ranks, but the calamitous period of the earthquake put an end to his military service, and he returned, in 1812, to his pastoral post. Soon, however, came news of Bolivar fighting from the mountains of New Granada; and in 1813 Paez was once more in the saddle, with the commission, this time, of captain in the Patriot service. The Spaniards soon learned to dread the fiery lancer of Barinas. They were never safe from his sudden onslaught; and Puy, the commandant of the Province, rejoiced loudly when an unlucky defeat placed the indefatigable guerrillero in his power. Paez was condemned to be shot, and was actually led out, with other prisoners, to the place of execution; but a concatenation of extraordinary accidents saved his life, and he escaped once more to the head of his command. It was not long before he was brought in immediate contact with the now famous Bolivar, and he rapidly rose to independent command. In 1815, he was second only to the Liberator. Thousands of grim Llaneros acknowledged no chieftain beside el Tio Pepe,—Uncle Joe. When Morillo landed, in 1815, with his overwhelming force, only the Llaneros of Paez held out for the Republic; everywhere else in Venezuela the banner of Spain waved in triumph, but on the Plains of the Apure there was neither submission nor peace. Yet, after a while, as the victorious legions of Morillo flooded, in successive waves from the coast, the level region of his refuge, Paez was compelled to evacuate the Plains, and leave them to the invader. With a few hundred of his horsemen he established himself on the Plains of New Granada. Scarcely had he grown familiar with his new centre of action when the troops of Morillo were turned westward for the purpose of curbing the rebellious spirits in the neighboring Vice-Royalty,—when, quicker than thought, Paez was once more over the mountains, and recovered by a sudden swoop the Llanos of Barinas. Thenceforward, this region remained the surest foothold of the revolution in Venezuela. Encircled with Spanish troops, it remained, nevertheless, a practical republic in itself, and the vast basin of the Orinoco was the cradle of Venezuelan freedom. The Provisional Government consisted of a mere council of generals, who, in 1816, created Paez General and Supreme Chief of the Republic. A vast stride from the hatero's hut that we saw him inhabiting in 1808!
Paez resigned this dignity in favor of Bolivar in the following year, contenting himself with his great military command. Surrounded by the body-guard we have seen, through all the years 1816, 1817, and 1818, now in Venezuela, now in New Granada, in the Plains to-day, in the mountains to-morrow, enduring every privation, braving odds apparently the most overwhelming, fighting pitched battles at midnight, and triumphantly effecting surprises in the open day, he maintained alive, in the midst of general discouragement, the cause he had espoused. Bolivar, the Liberator, was meanwhile endeavoring to make head against the Spaniards elsewhere, and gathered a considerable force in the interior province of Guiana. In 1818, the vanguard of the British legion—troops browned by the sun of Spain, who had marched with Wellington from Lisbon to the Pyrenees, and who gladly accepted the offers of the Patriots when Waterloo had put an end to European strife—sailed up the Orinoco, and effected a junction with the assembled Patriot forces.
At this time, not only the whole of New Granada, but the entire sea-coast of Venezuela and every important city in the Republic were possessed by Morillo. Yet the Royalist cause made no progress. Morillo's dominion was like that famous Haarlem lake which occupied so large an extent of the lands of Holland; it might be great and threatening, but barriers insurmountable, though unpretending, forbade its expansion, and perseverance gradually succeeded in curtailing its limits. Whatever the hand of Morillo covered, he possessed; but his authority ceased outside the range of his guns. His men were growing weary of the struggle; few reinforcements came from Spain; and the troops suffered frightfully, through their constant fatigues and hardships. The war had become that most terrible of all wars,—a deliberate system of surprises and skirmishes. Paez here, Bolivar there, Monagas, Piar, Urdaneta, and a score of other chieftains, at every vulnerable point, harassed, without ceasing, the common foe.
In 1819, Bolivar set out upon that marvellous expedition across the Andes in which, by marching one thousand miles and fighting three pitched battles in somewhat less than eleven weeks, he finally liberated New Granada, and secured a vast amount of Spanish treasure and munitions of war. During his absence, Paez was left to keep Morillo in check on the east of the Cordillera. His plan of operations was, to be everywhere, and to do everything with his lancers. Venezuela clung with terrible tenacity to the idea of freedom; and the Republic was converted into two great camps, perpetually shifting their boundaries, yet ever presenting the same features. Trade and commerce were at an end; the only business thought of was that of war unto death. Death, everywhere; death, at all times; death, in every shape. By the sword and the lance, by famine, by drowning, by fire, decimated by fever, worn out by fatigue, the Spaniards perished. When their convoys failed or were intercepted, it was impossible to obtain food; no foraging-party dared venture forth from the fortified encampment; it was necessary that an entire division should march out into the Llanos, and seek for the nearest herd of cattle. It not unfrequently happened, in these expeditions, that the very cattle were enlisted on the Patriot side. Herds of several thousands of the savage beasts were sometimes driven headlong upon the Spanish lines, throwing them into confusion, and trampling or goring great numbers to death. Close in the rear of the resistless herd then charged the lancers of Paez, with the terrible black bannerol fluttering in the van. Before the scattered Royalists have time to rally, they are attacked in every direction by their merciless foes,—and in another minute the battle is over, and the men of the Plains are out of sight! Sometimes, too, a detachment traversing the savanna would notice with affright a column of thin smoke stealing up into the sky a mile to windward; and almost before the bugle or the drum could summon them to arms, the flames would be seething and crackling around them, and roaring away, in an ocean of fire, across the savanna beyond. And then, in the rear of the flames, dashed the bloodthirsty lancers, and the blackened embers of the grass turned red with the richness of Spanish veins! No venture was too arduous for the Llanero chieftain. He accomplished at one time an exploit in which only the multiplicity of witnesses who have testified to the achievement permits us to believe. San Fernando, an important town on the Apure, was strongly fortified, and was held by the Spaniards as a potent means of annoying the Patriots in any attempts they might make to cross the river. In order further to defend the passage, six large river-boats, each containing a piece of artillery, were anchored at a short distance below the only ford. But it became necessary that the Apure should be crossed, and Paez quietly undertook to secure the passage. With a few of his lancers, he rode to the river-bank, and there gave the command, Al agua, muchachos! "To the water, boys!" which he was accustomed to use when ordering his men to bathe. His meaning was at once apprehended. The men, stripping off their upper clothing, and holding their swords under their arms, plunged into the stream, shouting loudly to keep off the alligators, and partly rode, partly swam, nearly half a mile towards the gun-boats. Only the heads of horses and men were visible above the water, and the crews of the gun-boats, after a single discharge, which wounded none of the extraordinary attacking party, threw themselves into the river and made the best of their way to San Fernando, where they alleged that it was useless to contest possession of their charge with incarnate devils, to whom water was the same us dry land, and who butchered all their prisoners. The gun-boats were navigated in triumph to the Patriot camp, and did excellent service in ferrying the troops across the Apure.