"Blood and thunder!" cried Cuchillo, started as if bitten by a snake—"that cannot be—it is not possible I could be fooled in that manner by a child!"
"That child is a giant beside you, master Cuchillo," coldly replied Arechiza.
"It is impossible!" exclaimed the exasperated Cuchillo.
"Do you wish the proofs?—if you do you shall have them—but I may tell you they are of a nature to make you shudder from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet."
"No matter; I should like to hear them," said Cuchillo in a suppressed voice.
"I will not speak of your conscience—mark that well, Cuchillo! For I know that it never shudders—nor yet shall I speak of your timidity, which I observed last night while you were in the presence of the jaguars—"
Don Estevan paused, to let his words have their full effect. It was his design to crush by his superiority the man whose fidelity he had a thousand reasons to suspect.
"Tiburcio," continued he, "is of a race—or appears to be of a race— that unites intelligence with courage; and you are his mortal enemy. Do you begin to understand me?"
"No," said Cuchillo.
"Well, you will presently, after a few simple questions which I intend to ask you. The first is:—In your expedition with Arellanos, had you not a horse that stumbled in the left leg?"
"Eh!" ejaculated Cuchillo, turning pale.
"A second question:—Were they really Indians who murdered your companion?"
"Perhaps it was me?" replied the outlaw, with a hideous smile.
"Third question:—Did you not receive, in a deadly struggle, a wound in the leg? and fourth: Did you not carry upon your shoulder the dead body of Arellanos?"
"I did—to preserve it from being mutilated by the Indians."
"One more question:—Was it for this you flung the dead body into the neighbouring river—not quite dead, it may be?"
The beams of the moon, slanting through the leaves of the granadines, shone with a livid reflection on the face of the outlaw, who with haggard eyes listened, without comprehending whence they came, to the proofs of a murder which he believed forever buried in the desert.
Cuchillo, when imparting to Don Estevan the knowledge of his marvellous secret, had of course taken care not to give in detail the exact manner by which he had himself become master of it; he had merely stated such circumstances as were necessary to convince the Spaniard of the importance of the discovery. It would be impossible to paint the stupefied expression of his countenance, as he listened to these interrogatories. The very desert itself had spoken!
"Does Tiburcio know all this?" he asked, with an ill-dissembled anxiety.
"No; but he knows that the assassin of his father had a horse like yours; that he was wounded in the leg; that he flung the dead body in the water. Of one matter only is he still ignorant—the name of the murderer. But now let me say to you; if you give me the slightest cause to suspect your fidelity, I shall deliver the secret to this young man, who will crush you like a scorpion. Good blood never lies; so I repeat it, Cuchillo; no deception—no treason, or your life will answer for it!"
"Well, as regards Tiburcio," muttered Cuchillo to himself, "if you only keep the secret till this time to-morrow night, you may then shout it in his ears: I shall have no fear of his hearing you."
The outlaw was one of those characters who soon recover from a shock, similar to that he had just received. Almost on the instant he inquired, with impudent assurance:
"But your Excellency has not proved to me that this young fellow is in love with Dona Rosarita; and until I have proof of this I shall not doubt my penetration—"
"Hush!" interrupted the Spaniard; "I fancy I hear voices!"
Both remained silent. In advancing across the garden, the two men had approached nearer to the walls of the building, and on that side of it which fronted the window belonging to the chamber of Rosarita. They were still at a considerable distance from the window itself; but so tranquil was the night, that sounds could be heard along way off. As they stood to listen, a confused murmur of voices reached their ears—as of two persons engaged in conversation—but the words could not be distinguished.
"It is the voice of Tiburcio and Rosarita!" muttered the outlaw.
"Did I not tell you? You may take that, I think, as an instalment of the proof you are desirous of having."
A reflection, at this moment, came into the mind of the Spaniard, that struck upon his spirit like a thunderbolt. It was this:—"If the young girl, after all, is really in love with this fellow, what a dilemma! I may have to renounce all idea of the marriage, which I had designed as the corner-stone of my vast edifice!"
Don Estevan was the only one who at this time was aware of the real name and family of Tiburcio, and of course knew that he was not unworthy of the daughter of a Mexican haciendado. But it had never entered his mind that this young girl, who only regarded Tiburcio in the light of a poor gambusino, would think for a moment of reciprocating his passion. His ideas were suddenly altered, however, on hearing the voices of Tiburcio and Rosarita, alternating with each other, with no other witness to their conversation than the stars in the sky. It was evident, therefore, that Rosarita did not regard the young rustic with an unfavouring eye. An interview, such as this, could not be otherwise than a thing premeditated and prearranged.
The heart of the Spaniard swelled with rage at the thought. His ambition was suddenly alarmed: for this was an obstacle that had never occurred to him. His countenance exhibited a thoughtful and troubled expression. He found himself unexpectedly in the presence of one of those exigencies, which render diplomacy powerless, and absolve all reasons of state. He had behind him a man ready to destroy whatever victims he might point out; but he remembered that twenty years of expiation had failed to wash from his memory a murder of which he had been himself accused. Should he, then, after having passed the middle of his career, again embitter the remainder of his days by another deed of blood? On the other hand, so near the object of his ambition, was he to permit this barrier to stand in his way? or with a bold effort to rid himself of the obstacle?
Thus it is that the ambitious continually roll before them the rock of Sisyphus!
"Providence," said he to himself—and as he pronounced the word a bitter smile played upon his lips—"Providence offers me an opportunity to restore to this young man his name and his fortune, and the honours which he has lost. Such a good action in my ripe age would perhaps compensate for the crime of my youth. But, no—no—I spurn the occasion—it is but a slight sacrifice to the cause which I serve."
As he spoke, his face was turned towards Cuchillo, who was observing him attentively; but the shadow of the trees hindered the outlaw from noting the sombre expression of his countenance.
"The hour is come," said he, speaking to Cuchillo in a low voice, "when our doubts are to be solved. But remember! your projects of vengeance must remain subordinate to my wishes—now follow me!"
Saying this, he walked silently towards the hacienda, followed by the assassin.
The storm which threatened Tiburcio promised soon to break over his head. Two dangerous enemies were approaching him; Cuchillo with wounded self-esteem, and purposes of vengeance that caused, him to grind his teeth as he thought of them; and Don Estevan, smarting at the discovery of such an obstacle to his ambition.
Tiburcio in going forth from his chamber, and traversing the path that conducted him to the appointed rendezvous, was under the belief he had not been observed: neither was he; but unfortunately chance had now betrayed him.
The night was not so dark as Don Estevan and Cuchillo would have wished; nevertheless, by crouching low, and keeping well in to the wall that enclosed the garden, they succeeded in reaching a little grove of orange and citron trees, the foliage of which was thick enough to shelter them from view. From this grove, thanks to the calmness of the night, they could catch every word that was said—for under the shadow of the trees they were able to approach very near to the speakers.
"Whatever you may hear," whispered Don Estevan in the ear of the other, "remain motionless as I do."
"I will," simply answered Cuchillo.
The two now placed themselves in an attitude to see and hear. They were separated from the speakers by a slight barrier of leaves and branches, and by a distance not greater than an active man could pass over in two bounds. Little did the victims of their espionage suspect their proximity—little dreamt Tiburcio of the danger that was so near him.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
LOVE THROUGH THE WINDOW.
For a time the listeners heard nothing beyond those commonplace speeches exchanged between lovers—when the young man, doubtful of his position, makes himself heard in reproaches, or arguments, which to him appear all-powerful, while the responses which he meets with show too plainly that he is either not loved at all, or that the advantages are on the side of the girl. But was this really the position of Tiburcio with Rosarita? It remains to be known.
According to the custom of country houses throughout Mexico, the window of Rosarita's chamber was unglazed. Strong iron bars, forming what is called the reja, hindered an entrance from without; and behind this reja, lit up by the lamp in the chamber, the young girl was standing in an attitude of graceful ease. In the calm and perfumed night she appeared even more charming than when seen in the brilliant saloon—for it is behind the railing of these balconies that the women of Spanish race appear to the greatest advantage.
A reboso of silk was thrown over her head, falling over her shoulders in graceful undulations. The window running quite down to the level of the floor concealed nothing of her person; she was visible from the crown of her head to the satin slipper that covered her pretty little foot; and the outline of her figure formed in a graceful silhouette against the light burning within.
Tiburcio, his forehead resting against the bars, appeared to struggle with a painful conviction that was fast forcing itself upon him.
"Ah!" said he, "I have not forgotten, as you, Rosarita, the day when I first saw you in the forest. The twilight was so sombre I could scarce make out your form, which appeared like the graceful shadow of some siren of the woods. Your voice I could hear, and there was something in it that charmed my soul—something that I had never heard till that moment."
"I have never forgotten the service you rendered us," said the young girl; "but why recall those times? they are long past."
"Long past! no, not to me, Rosarita—that scene appears to me as if it had happened yesterday. Yes," continued the young man, in a tone of melancholy, "when the light of the camp-fire by little and little enabled me to observe the radiant beauty of your face, I can scarce describe the emotion which it gave me."
Had Tiburcio, instead of looking to the ground, but raised his eyes at that moment, he might have noticed upon the countenance of Rosarita an expression of interest, while a slight blush reddened her cheeks. Perhaps her heart was scarce touched, but rarely does woman listen, without pleasure, to those impassioned tones that speak the praises of her beauty.
Tiburcio continued in a voice still softer and more marked by emotion:—"I have not forgotten the flowers of the llianas which I gathered for you, and that seemed to give forth a sweeter perfume when mingled with the tresses of your hair. Ah! it was a subtle poison that was entering into my heart, and which has resulted in filling it with an incurable passion. Ah! fool that I have been! Is it possible, Rosarita, that you have forgotten those sweet souvenirs upon which I have lived from that day up to the present hour?"
There are certain moments of indiscretion in the life of most women, of which they have a dislike to be reminded. Was it so with Rosarita? She was silent for a while, as if her rebellious memory could not recall the particulars mentioned by Tiburcio.
"No," at length answered she, in a tone so low as not to betray a slight trembling of her voice, "I do not forget, but we were then only children—to-day—"
"To-day," interrupted Tiburcio in a tone of bitter reproach, "to-day that is all forgotten, since a Senator from Arispe has condescended to comprise you in his projects of ambition."
The melodious voice of Rosarita was now heard in a tone of disdainful anger. Tiburcio had wounded her pride.
"Comprise me in his projects of ambition," said she, her beautiful nostrils curving scornfully as she spoke, "and who has told you, senor, that it is not I who condescend?"
"This stranger, too," continued Tiburcio, still preserving his reproachful manner, "this Don Estevan—whom I hate even worse than the Senator—has talked to you of the pleasures of Madrid—of the wonderful countries that lie beyond the sea—and you wish to see them with your own eyes!"
"Indeed I acknowledge," answered Rosarita, "that in these deserts life appears to me dull enough. Something tells me that I was not made to die without taking part in those splendours of the world of which I have heard so much. What can you offer to me—to my father?"
"I understand now," cried Tiburcio with despairing bitterness, "to be poor, an orphan, unhappy—these are not the titles to win the heart of a woman."
"You are unjust, Tiburcio. It is almost always the very reverse that happens—for it is the instinct of a woman to prefer those who are as you say. But it is different with fathers, who, alas! rarely share this preference with their daughters."
There was in these last words a sort of tacit avowal which Tiburcio evidently did not comprehend—for he continued his reproaches and bitter recriminations, causing the young girl many a sigh as she listened to them.
"Of course you love this Senator," said he. "Do not talk, then, of being compelled!"
"Who talks of being compelled?" said Rosarita, hastily interrupting the young man. "I said nothing of compulsion, I only spoke of the desire which my father has already manifested; and against his will, the hopes you may have conceived would be nothing more than chimeras or idle dreams."
"And this will of your father is to throw you into the arms of a ruined prodigal, who has no other aim than to build up the fortune he has squandered in dissipation, and satisfy his ambitious desires? Say, Rosarita, say! is this will in consonance with your own? Does your heart agree to it? If it is not, and there is the least compulsion upon you, how happy should I be to contest for you with this rival. Ah! you do not make answer—you love him, Rosarita? And I—Oh! why did they not leave me to die upon the road?"
At this moment a slight rustling was heard in the grove of oranges, where Don Estevan and Cuchillo were crouching in concealment.
"Hush!" said the young girl, "did you not hear a noise?"
Tiburcio turned himself quickly, his eye on fire, his heart beating joyfully with the hope of having some one upon which to vent the terrible anger that tortured it—but the rays of the moon shone only upon the silvery foliage—all was quiet around.
He then resumed his gloomy and pensive attitude. Sadness had again taken possession of his soul, through which the quick burst of anger had passed as lightning though a sombre sky.
"Very likely," said he, with a melancholy smile, "it is the spirit of some poor lover who has died from despair."
"Santisima Virgen!" exclaimed Rosarita, making the sign of the cross. "You make me afraid, Tiburcio. Do you believe that one could die of love?" she inquired in a tone of naivete.
"It may be," replied Tiburcio, with a sad smile still playing upon his lips. Then changing his tone, he continued, "Hear me, Rosarita! you are ambitious, you have said so—hear me then! Supposing I could give you all that has been promised you? hitherto I have preferred to plead the cause of Tiburcio poor and an orphan; I shall now advocate that of Tiburcio Arellanos on the eve of becoming rich and powerful; noble too I shall become—for I shall make myself an illustrious name and offer it to you."
As he said these words the young man raised his eyes towards heaven: his countenance exhibited an altered expression, as if there was revived in his soul the pride of an ancient race.
For the first time since the commencement of the interview, Tiburcio was talking sensibly, and the daughter of Eve appeared to listen with more attention than what she had hitherto exhibited.
Meanwhile the two spies were also listening attentively from their hiding-place among the oranges. Not a word of what was said, not a gesture escaped them. The last speech of Tiburcio had caused them to exchange a rapid glance. The countenance of the outlaw betrayed an expression of rage mingled with shame. After the impudent manner in which he had boasted of his penetration, he felt confounded in the presence of Don Estevan, whose eyes were fixed upon him with a look of implacable raillery.
"We shall see now," whispered the Spaniard, "whether this young fellow knows no more of the situation of the Golden Valley than he does of the Garden of Eden."
Cuchillo quailed under this terrible irony, but made no reply.
As yet Don Estevan had learnt nothing new. The essential object with him was to discover whether Tiburcio's passion was reciprocated: the rest was of little importance. In the behaviour of Rosarita there was certainly something that betrayed a tender compassion for the adopted son of Arellanos; but was this a sign of love? That was the question to which Don Estevan desired to have the answer.
Meanwhile, having excited the evil passions of the outlaw to the highest pitch, he judged it prudent to moderate them again; an explosion at that moment would not have been politic on his part. A murder committed before his face, even though he had not ordered it either by word or gesture, would at least exhibit a certain complicity with the assassin, and deprive him of that authority which he now exercised over Cuchillo.
"Not for your life!" said he, firmly grasping the arm of the outlaw, whose hand rested upon his knife. "Not for your soul's safety! Remember! till I give the word, the life of this young man is sacred. Hush!" he continued, "listen!" and still holding the outlaw by the arm he turned his eyes upon Tiburcio, who had again commenced speaking.
"Why should I conceal it from you longer?" exclaimed the young man, in a tone to which the attentive attitude of Rosarita had lent animation. "Hear me, then! honours—riches—power I can lay at your feet, but you alone can enable me to effect this miracle."
Rosarita fixed her eyes upon the speaker with an interrogatory expression.
"Perhaps I should have told you sooner," continued Tiburcio, "that my adopted mother no longer lives—"
"I know it," interrupted the young girl, "you are alone in the world; I heard it this evening from my father."
The voice of Rosarita, in pronouncing these words, was soft as the breeze that sighed through the groves of oranges; and her hand, falling as if by chance into that of Tiburcio, did not appear to shun the pressure given to it.
At the sight of this, the hand of Don Estevan gradually relaxed its hold upon the arm of Cuchillo.
"Yes," continued Tiburcio, "my mother died in poverty, though she has left me a valuable inheritance, and at the same time a legacy of vengeance. True, it is a dangerous secret of which I am the heir, for it has already been death to those who possessed it; nevertheless it will furnish the means to raise myself to an opulence like your own. The vengeance which I have sworn to accomplish must be delayed, but it shall not be forgotten. I shall yet seek the murderer of Arellanos."
At these words Cuchillo turned pale, impatiently grinding his teeth. His arm was no longer restrained, Don Estevan grasped it no more, for he saw that the hand of Rosarita was still pressed by that of Tiburcio.
"Here me further!" continued the young man. "About sixty leagues from here, in the heart of the Indian country, there is a placer of gold of incalculable richness; it was discovered by my adopted father. My mother on her death-bed gave me full directions to find the place; and all this gold may be mine, Rosarita, if you will only love me. Without your love I care nothing for it. What should I do with such riches?"
Tiburcio awaited the answer of Rosarita. That answer fell upon his heart like the tolling of a funeral knell.
"I hope, Tiburcio," said she, with a significant smile, "that this is only a ruse on your part to put me to the proof—I hope so, because I do not wish to believe that you have acted so vile a part as to make yourself master of a secret that belongs to another."
"The secret of another!" cried the young man in a voice hoarse with astonishment.
"Yes, a secret which belongs only to Don Estevan. I know it—"
Tiburcio at once fell from the summit of his dreams. So his secret, too, was lost to him as well as her whom he loved, this secret upon which he had built his sweetest hopes; and to add to the bitterness of his disappointment, she too—for whose sake alone he had valued it—she to accuse him of treason!
"Ah!" cried he, "Don Estevan knows of the Golden Valley? perhaps then he can tell me who murdered my father! Oh! my God!" cried he, striking the ground with his heel, "perhaps it was himself!"
"Pray God rather to protect you,—you will need all his grace!" cried a rough voice, which caused Rosarita to utter a cry of terror as she saw a dark form—that of a man—rushing forward and flinging himself upon Tiburcio.
The young man, before he could place himself in an attitude of defence, received a severe wound, and losing his balance fell to the ground. The next moment his enemy was over him. For some minutes the two struggled together in silence—nothing was heard but their loud quick breathing. The knife of Cuchillo, already stained with blood, had escaped from his hand, and lay gleaming upon the ground without his being able to reach it.
"Now, villain, we are quits," cried Tiburcio, who with an effort of supreme strength had got uppermost, and was kneeling upon the breast of the outlaw. "Villain!" repeated he, as he endeavoured to get hold of his poignard: "you shall die the death of an assassin."
Places had suddenly changed—Tiburcio was now the aggressor, but at this moment a third personage appeared upon the scene. It was Don Estevan.
"Hold," screamed Rosarita, "hold, for the love of the Holy Virgin! This young man is my father's guest; his life is sacred under our roof."
Don Estevan grasped the arm that was raised to strike Cuchillo, and as Tiburcio turned to see what thus interfered between him and his vengeance, the outlaw glided from under him.
Tiburcio now sprang up, rolled his serape around his left arm, and holding it as a shield, stood with his body inclined backward, his left leg advanced, and his right hand firmly grasping his weapon, in the attitude of an ancient gladiator. He appeared for a moment as if choosing upon which of his antagonists he would first launch himself.
"You call this being quits!" cried Cuchillo, his breast still heaving from the pressure to Tiburcio's knee. "Your life belongs to me—I only lent it to you, and I shall now take it back."
"Come on, dog!" shouted Tiburcio, in answer; "and you too, Don Estevan, you cowardly assassin! you who pay for the murder of defenceless people."
The countenance of the Spaniard turned livid pale at this unexpected accusation. He instantly drew his dagger, and crying out:—"Down with him, Cuchillo!" rushed furiously forward to the attack.
No doubt Tiburcio would soon have succumbed before two such formidable antagonists, but at this moment a red light flashed upon the combatants, as Dona Rosarita, with a flaming torch in her hand, rushed forward between them.
The aspect of Tiburcio, who, despite the odds against him, and the blood that was running from his arm, still fearlessly maintained his defensive attitude, caused the heart of Rosarita to beat with sympathetic admiration. This sanguinary denouement to their interview, was pleading the cause of the lover far more eloquently than either his reproaches or promises!
The first impulse of Rosarita was to fling herself into the arms of the young man so daring and beautiful. She was restrained only from following this impulse, by a feeling of feminine delicacy; and for an instant Tiburcio seemed the one about whom she was least concerned.
"Oh! my God!" cried she, "are you wounded? Don Estevan? Senor Cuchillo? Senor Arechiza! retire; for the love of the Virgin, let not the world know that a crime has been committed in our house."
The excited bearing of the young girl, her bosom heaving under the light tissue of her dress, her reboso floating behind her, mingled with the long dark tresses of her dishevelled hair—all these, added to the proud savage beauty of her countenance—commanded respect; and as if by enchantment, the weapons of the combatants were restored to their sheaths.
Cuchillo growled like a dog newly muzzled, while Don Estevan preserved a sombre silence. Both walked away from the ground, and their forms were soon lost in the darkness.
Tiburcio, with face upturned, his eyes still flashing with rage, his features illuminated with the red light of the torch, remained for some moments without changing his attitude. His features exhibited that superb expression that danger only magnifies into grandeur. Gradually, however, their tone became softened, and an air of melancholy succeeded it, as his eyes rested upon Rosarita. The young girl had suddenly become pale, under the reaction of such vivid emotions, as well as under the influence of the powerful sentiment now rekindled within her heart. Acting under this influence as well, she hastily arranged her scarf in order to cover her nude shoulders, and the palpitating movements of her bosom. Even her motive for this was misunderstood by Tiburcio.
"Rosarita!" he said, speaking with perfect calmness, "I might have doubted your words, but your actions have spoken more plainly. It was to my enemies you first ran, though my blood was spilling; all your fears appeared to be for Don Estevan."
"God knows that I do not deserve this reproach," said the young girl, as with a look of terror she saw the blood streaming to the ground. At the same instant she advanced to examine the wound.
Tiburcio repulsed her by stepping backward.
"It is too late," said he with a bitter smile, "the evil is done. Adieu! I have been too long your guest. The hospitality of your house is fatal to me. Under your roof my life has been threatened, my dearest hopes have been crushed! Adieu, Rosarita! Adieu!"
As he pronounced the last words, he turned and walked hastily away. There was a broken place in the wall of the enclosure, and towards this he directed his steps. A hundred paces beyond, the forest commenced, and the dark sombre trees were visible through the opening. The mysterious light he had already noticed, was still glimmering feebly above their tops.
"Where are you going, Tiburcio?" cried the young girl, her hands joined and her eyes filling with tears, "my father's roof will protect you."
Tiburcio only answered by a negative shake of the head.
"But yonder," continued Rosarita, pointing to the woods, "yonder, alone and without defence—danger—death will await you."
"God will send me friends," answered Tiburcio, glancing towards the distant light. "The hospitality of the wandering traveller—a sleep by his camp-fire—will be safer for me than that of your father's roof." And Tiburcio continued to advance towards the breach with a gentle but resolute step.
"For the love of heaven do not expose yourself to dangers that may perhaps arise when I am no longer present to protect you! I tell you out yonder you will be risking your life;" then giving to her voice a tone of persuasive softness, she continued, "In what place, Tiburcio, will you be safer than with me?"
Tiburcio's resolution was for a moment shaken, and he paused to make answer.
"One word, Rosarita!" said he; "say that you hate my rival as I hate him—say this, and I remain."
A violent conflict appeared to arise in the breast of Rosarita. Her bosom swelled with conflicting emotions, as she fixed upon Tiburcio a glance of tender reproach, but she remained silent.
To a man of Tiburcio's age the heart of a woman is a sealed book. Not till we have lost the attractions of youth—so powerful, despite its inexperience—are we able to penetrate the mysteries of the female heart—a sad compensation which God accords to the maturity of age. At thirty years Tiburcio would have remained. But he was yet only twenty-four; he had spent his whole life in the desert, and this was his first love.
"You will not say it? Adieu, then," cried he, "I am no longer your guest," and saying this, he leaped over the broken wall, before the young girl could offer any opposition to his departure.
Stupefied by this unexpected movement, she mounted upon the fragments that lay at the bottom of the wall, and stretching her arms toward the forest, she cried out—
"Tiburcio! Tiburcio! do not leave us so; do you wish to bring upon our house the malediction of heaven?"
But her voice was either lost to his ears, or he disdained to reply.
She listened a moment, she could hear the sound of his footsteps fast dying in the distance—until they could be heard no more.
"Oh! my God," cried she, falling upon her knees in an attitude of prayer, "protect this young man from the dangers that threaten him. Oh God! watch over him, for alas! he carries with him my heart."
Then forgetting in her grief her projects of ambition, the will of her father, all that deceptive confidence, which had kept silent the voice of a love, of the existence of which she was hitherto almost ignorant— the young girl rose hastily from her knees, once more mounted upon the wall, and in a heart-rending voice called out, "Come back! Tiburcio; come back! I love only you!"
But no answer was returned, and wrapping her face in her reboso, she sat down and wept.
Before returning to her chamber she cast one more look in the direction of the forest, but the woods were still enveloped in the obscurity of night; all was sombre and silent, though in the distance the feeble light was still glimmering over the tree tops. All at once it appeared for an instant to flash more brightly, as if offering a welcome to him who had no longer a home!
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
AN ABRUPT DEPARTURE.
Don Estevan and Cuchillo, on leaving the ground of the combat, returned to the alley of granadines; but for some time not a word passed between them. Don Estevan was buried in a profound meditation. More skilled than his coarse companion in the mysteries of the female heart, he had divined, before the end of the dialogue between Rosarita and Tiburcio, that the young girl felt for the latter a tender sentiment. It was true it was just germinating in her soul; but the accents of her voice, her gestures, and other signs, discovered to the experienced intelligence of Don Estevan that she really loved Tiburcio, though herself not yet aware of the extent of that love.
For Tiburcio knowing the secret of the Golden Valley, Don Estevan cared little—that was a matter of secondary importance; but Tiburcio's love reciprocated by Dona Rosarita was a very different affair. This at once presented a series of obstacles to the ambitious projects of the Spaniard. Tiburcio then must be got out of the way at all hazards, and at any price. Such are the terrible exigencies of ambition.
It only remained to adopt some plan; but the Spaniard was not then in the spirit to think of one. He was writhing at the inadvertence that had just happened.
"The clumsy fool!" he muttered, but loud enough for his companion to hear him.
"Is it of me your excellency is speaking?" inquired Cuchillo, in a tone that savoured strongly of his usual impudence.
"Who else could I mean, you sot? You who neither know how to use strength or stratagem! A woman has accomplished what you could not do! I have told you that this child is a giant to you; and had it not been for me—"
"Had it not been for you," interrupted the outlaw, "this young fellow would not now have been living to trouble us."
"How sir?" demanded Don Estevan.
"Last night, as I was bringing him to your bivouac, the fellow did an outrage to my honour, and actually threatened me. I was about putting an end to our differences by a shot from my carbine, when your precious old fool of a servant, Benito, came galloping up, and of course I had to renounce my design. So you see, the only good action I have ever done, has brought me to grief. Such is the reward of our virtue!"
"Speak for yourself, my droll fellow!" said the Spaniard, whose pride revolted at being thus classed with such company as the outlaw. "But if that could be outraged which does not exist, may I ask what attempt this young man made upon your honour?"
"I do not know myself—it was something that happened with my horse, who has the fault—"
Cuchillo interrupted himself as one who has made an imprudent speech.
"The fault of stumbling in the left fore-leg?" added Don Estevan. "I see—this old history of the murder of Arellanos."
"I did not murder him," cried the outlaw, impudently. "I had reasons not to like him; but I pardoned him, for all that."
"Oh! you are so magnanimous! But come, an end to these pleasantries. It remains for you to get this young man out of the way. I have my reasons for wishing it so—among others, he knows our secret. I gave you a half onza to save his life. To-day I have different views regarding him; and I promise to give you twenty onzas when I am assured that he is no longer alive."
"Agreed, Don Estevan; and in to-morrow's hunt of these wild horses, it will be strange if Tiburcio Arellanos don't knock his brains out against either a rock or the trunk of a tree, or at least get himself into some corner, where he won't be able to find his way out again. The only regret I have is, that I shall have to share these twenty onzas with my friends, Baraja and Oroche."
"To-morrow!" exclaimed Don Estevan; "and who knows but that to-morrow may be too late? Is the night not better for your purpose? Are you not three to one? Who is to assure you that to-morrow I may not change my mind?"
This threat seriously alarmed Cuchillo.
"Carramba! your excellency is quick to decide; you are not one of those who leave for to-morrow what should be done to-day. Pues—then—I shall try my best. In fact, it is very quiet here—I wonder the cries of this young woman have not startled the whole house. There's not a creature about."
Such was in reality the case. Notwithstanding the noise of the struggle between Tiburcio and his assailants, and later still, the cries of Rosarita, no one had been awakened. The vast extent of the building prevented these sounds from being heard, particularly as all the domestics of the hacienda, as well as the proprietor himself, were buried in a profound slumber.
Cuchillo now directed himself toward the apartment where he had left his comrades; Don Estevan returning at the same time to his own chamber. The moon once more poured her soft, silvery light upon the grove of oranges, as if no crime had ever been attempted in that tranquil spot.
Don Estevan did not go to rest; but for a long time paced to and fro across his ample chamber, with the air of one accustomed to watch over ambitious projects while others were asleep.
After a lapse of time, Cuchillo was heard knocking softly at his door; and as soon as it was opened, the hired assassin stepped in. His confused looks caused Don Estevan to tremble. Was the deed already done? He wished it, yet feared to ask the question. Cuchillo relieved him from his embarrassment by speaking first.
"My twenty onzas are gone to the devil!" said he, in a lugubrious tone.
"How?" hastily inquired Don Estevan.
"The bird has flown: the young man is no longer about the place."
"Gone!" exclaimed Don Estevan. "And you have let him escape?"
"How could I hinder him? This brute, Baraja, as well as Oroche, were both drunk with mezcal; and Diaz refused to assist me, point-blank. While I was endeavouring to arouse the other two, the fellow had taken leg bail through an opening in the wall of the garden—at least that's all we can make out."
"And how have you arrived at this conjecture?" asked Don Estevan, angrily striking the floor with his foot.
"Why, when we arrived at the place, the Dona Rosarita was clinging over the wall, no doubt guided there by Tiburcio. He could not be far off at the time, for she was still calling upon him to return; and judging by the love-speeches she was making, she must have earnestly desired it."
"She loves him, then?"
"Passionately—or her words and her accents are all deceit. 'Come back!' she cried, 'Tiburcio, come back! I love only you!' These were the last words I heard; for shortly after she left the wall, and went back to her room."
"We must to horse and pursue him!" cried Don Estevan, hurrying to make ready; "yes, there is no help for it now. The success of our expedition depends upon the life of this ragged fellow. Go! arouse Benito and the others. Tell them to saddle the horses. Warn your friends in the chamber that we must be en route in an hour. Away! while I awake Don Augustin and the Senator."
"Just as I have known him for twenty years," muttered Cuchillo, as he hastened to his companions, "always awake, always ready for the greatest obstacles. Well, if with his character he has not made way in his own country, I fear that in Europe perseverance and energy are not worth much."
Don Estevan, as soon as Cuchillo had left him, spent a few minutes in putting himself once more in travelling costume, and then repaired to the chamber of the Senator. He found the door open—as is the custom in a country where people spend most of their lives outside their houses. The moon was beaming full through the large window, and her light illumined the chamber as well as the couch upon which the Senator was sleeping.
"What is it, Don Estevan?" cried the Senator, suddenly leaping up in his bed; "Senor Estevan, I should say." Tragaduros had been dreaming of the court of the King of Spain. "What is it, your grace?"
"I come to take leave of you, and to give you my final instructions."
"Eh! what?" said the Senator. "Is the hour late? or have I been three days asleep?"
"No," gravely replied the Spaniard, "but there is a serious danger that menaces our projects—both yours and mine. This young rustic, whom we found on the road, knows all about the Golden Valley; and what is still worse, he loves Dona Rosarita, and Dona Rosarita loves him."
Tragaduros, instead of starting up at this announcement, sank back upon his pillow, crying out.
"Adieu then to the million dollars of dowry! adieu to those beautiful plains covered with horses and cattle, which I already believed my own! adieu to the honours of the court of Carlos el Primero!"
"Come! all is not yet lost," said Don Estevan. "The evil may be remedied if taken in time. This young fellow has quitted the hacienda. It will be necessary to follow and find him before he gets out of the way. So much the worse for him, if his evil star is in opposition to yours."
The Spaniard said no more of his designs with regard to Tiburcio. As to the Senator, it was of little importance to him how he was to be disembarrassed of so dangerous a rival, so long as he himself should not be troubled with the matter.
"Whatever may be the end of it," added Don Estevan, "one thing is certain—the young fellow will never be allowed to come back to this house, for I shall arrange that with Don Augustin. You will therefore be master of the situation, and will have everything your own way. Make the young lady love you—it will be easy enough—your rival will be absent, he may be dead—for these deserts are dangerous, and you know the old proverb about absence?"
"I shall make myself irresistible!" said the Senator, "for since yesterday I feel as if I was on fire about this lovely creature, who appears to have come down direct from heaven—and with—such a dowry!"
"No man ever aimed at an object more desirable than this immense dowry and this fair flower of the desert. Spare no pains, therefore, to win both the lady and the fortune."
"If necessary I shall spin for her, as Hercules at the feet of Omphale."
"Ha, ha ha!" laughed the Spaniard. "If Hercules had any merits in the eyes of Omphale, it was not on account of his spinning, but because he was Hercules. No—do better than spin. To-morrow Don Augustin has a hunt among his wild steeds; there will be an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself by some daring exploit. Mount one of the wildest of the horses, for the honour of the beautiful eyes of Rosarita, and after having tamed him, ride him up panting into her presence. That will gain you more grace than handling the thread and distaff a la Hercules."
The Senator responded to these counsels with a sigh: and Don Estevan, having given him further instructions as to how he was to act during the absence of the expedition, took leave of him, and repaired to the chamber of Don Augustin.
The clank of his heavy spurs, as he entered the sleeping apartment of the haciendado, awoke the latter—who on opening his eyes and seeing his nocturnal visitor in full riding-costume, cried out:
"What! is it time to set forth upon the chase? I did not know the hour was so late!"
"No, Don Augustin," replied the Spaniard, "but for me the hour has come to set forth upon a more serious pursuit than that of wild horses. I hasten to pursue the enemy of your house—the man who has abused your hospitality, and who if not captured, may bring ruin upon all our projects."
"The enemy of my house! the man who has abused my hospitality!" cried the haciendado, starting up in astonishment, and seizing a long Toledo rapier that hung by the side of his bed, "Who is the man that has acted so, Don Estevan?"
"Be calm!" said Don Estevan, smiling inwardly at the contrast exhibited between the spirit of the haciendado and the pusillanimity of the Senator. "Be calm! the enemy I speak of is no longer under your roof— he has fled beyond the reach of your just vengeance."
"But who is he?" impatiently demanded Don Augustin.
"What! Tiburcio Arellanos my enemy! I do not believe it. Loyalty and courage are the characteristics of the young man. I shall never believe him a traitor."
"He knows the situation of the Golden Valley! Furthermore, he loves your daughter!"
"Is that all? Why, I was aware of these facts already!"
"Yes, but your daughter loves him—perhaps you were not aware of that fact?"
Don Estevan here detailed the events that had just transpired, and which proved that the passion of the young gambusino was reciprocated by Rosarita.
"Well!" calmly rejoined Don Augustin; "so much the worse for the Senator!"
This reply could not fail to astonish the Spaniard, and create a feeling of disappointment.
"Remember," said he, "remember, Don Augustin Pena; that you have engaged your word—not only to me, not only to Tragaduros, but to a prince of the blood royal of Spain, from whose brow this apparently simple incident—the caprice of a young girl—may snatch a crown. Think too of your country—its future glory and greatness—all dependent on the promise you have given—"
"Why," interrupted Don Augustin, "why set forth all these considerations? After my promise has been given, I never retract my word. But it is only to the Duke de Armada I have engaged myself, and he alone can free me from that engagement. Are you satisfied with this assurance?"
"How could I be otherwise?" cried the Spaniard, holding out his hand to the noble haciendado. "Enough! I have your word, it will be necessary forme to leave you without farther delay. This young fellow may find comrades to accompany him to the Golden Valley. There is not a moment, therefore, to be lost. I must at once proceed to Tubac. Adieu, my friend, adieu!"
Don Augustin would have risen to accompany his guest to the gates, but the Spaniard would not permit him, and they parted without farther ceremony.
When Don Estevan reached the court-yard, his attendants and domestics were found in readiness to depart. The mules had been packed, and the remuda collected in charge of the driver. The followers, Cuchillo, Baraja, Oroche, and Pedro Diaz were already in their saddles—the last mounted on a magnificent and fiery steed, which told that the generous haciendado had kept his promise.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.
THE LONE FIRE IN THE FOREST.
The motive for this hasty departure from the hacienda was unknown only to Benito and the other domestics. The cavalier adventurers were aware of its object though two of them, Baraja and Oroche, had no very clear understanding upon the matter. The fumes of the mezcal were still in their heads, and it was with difficulty they could balance themselves in the saddle. They were sensible of their situation, and did their best to conceal it from the eyes of the chief.
"Am I straight in my stirrups?" whispered Oroche addressing himself to Baraja.
"Straight as a bamboo!" replied the other. "Do I appear firm?" inquired he in turn.
"Firm as a rock," was the response.
Thanks to the efforts they were making to keep themselves upright, Don Estevan, as he glanced over the ranks of his followers, did not observe anything amiss. Cuchillo, however, knowing that they were not in a fit state for inspection regarded them with an anxious glance.
As Don Estevan was about to mount, the outlaw rode up to him, and pointing to the others with an expressive gesture, said, "If your honour desires me to act as guide, and give the order of march, I am ready to enter upon my duties."
"Very well," replied Don Estevan, springing into the saddle, "commence at any moment, but let us be gone as soon as possible."
"Benito!" shouted the newly appointed guide, "take the remuda and recua in advance; you will wait for us at the bridge of the Salto de Agua."
Benito, with the other attendants, obeyed the order in silence; and the moment after were moving with their respective charges along the road leading to Tubac. A little later the cavalcade rode out of the court-yard of the hacienda, and turning round the wall of the enclosure, guided by Cuchillo, proceeded toward the breach through which Tiburcio had passed. The guide was riding by the side of Don Estevan.
"We have found his traces," said he to the chief, as they moved forward; "he is down in the forest."
"Do you see a light yonder shining through the trees?"
The mysterious light was gleaming, just as Tiburcio had first seen it from his window. It was to this that Cuchillo directed the attention of the chief.
"Yes," replied the latter, "what of it?"
"It is the camp-fire of some travellers; and in all probability the fellow will be found there. So," continued he, with a hideous smile, "we are going to give chase to a wild colt—which will be better than hunting Don Augustin's wild horses—and here are the three hunters."
As the outlaw said this, he pointed with his whip, first to himself, and then to his two comrades, Oroche and Baraja.
"They have both espoused our quarrel," he added.
"From what motive?" inquired the Spaniard.
"That motive which the hound has in taking the part of the hunter against the stag," answered the outlaw, with a significant smile; "they only follow their instincts, and they are two animals with formidable teeth."
At this moment the moon shone out, and gleaming upon the carbines and knives of the two adventurers, seemed to confirm the assertion of Cuchillo. But the light proved disadvantageous to Baraja and Oroche, for it enabled Don Estevan to perceive that they were far from steady in their seats.
"Why, these fellows are drunk!" cried he, turning upon the guide a look of furious reproach. "Are these the assistants you count upon?"
"True, your honour," replied Cuchillo, "they are not exactly sober; but I hope soon to cure them. I know of a remedy that will set them all right in five minutes. It is the fruit of the jocuistle, which grows abundantly in these parts. I shall find it as soon as we have reached the woods."
Don Estevan was forced to swallow his chagrin in silence. It was not the time for vain recriminations; and above all, Tiburcio had first to be found, before the services of either of the inebriated gentlemen would be called into requisition.
In a few seconds' time the party had reached the breach in the wall. Cuchillo dismounted, and striking a light, pointed out to the others the traces left by Tiburcio. There could be seen some fragments freshly fallen from the wall, evidently detached by the feet of one passing over; but what was of more consequence, they were stained with drops of blood. This must have been Tiburcio's.
"You see," said the outlaw to Don Estevan, "that he must have passed this way. Ah! if I had only given him another inch or two. After all," added he, speaking to himself, "it is better I didn't. I shall be twenty onzas the richer that I didn't settle with him then. Now," continued he, once more raising his voice, "where can he have gone, unless to yonder fire in the woods?"
A little farther on in the direction of the forest, other spots of fresh blood were discovered upon the dry calcareous surface of the soil. This appeared to confirm the conjecture of the guide—that Tiburcio had proceeded towards the camp-fire.
"If your honour," resumed Cuchillo, addressing himself to his chief, "will go forward in company with the Senor Diaz, you will reach a stream running upon your left. By following down its bank for some distance, you will come to a bridge constructed with three or four trunks of trees. It is the bridge of the Salto de Agua. Just before reaching it, your honour will see a thick wood on the right. Under cover of that you can remain, until we three have finished our affair and rejoin you. Afterwards we can overtake the domestics. I have ordered them forward, for the reason that such people should not be privy either to our designs or actions."
In this arrangement Cuchillo exhibited the consummate skill of the practiced bandit. Don Estevan, without offering any opposition to his plan, rode off as directed, in company with Diaz; while the outlaw, with his two chosen acolytes turned their horses' heads in the direction of the fire.
"The fire betokens a halt of travellers, beyond doubt," remarked Diaz to Don Estevan; "but who these travellers can be is a thing that puzzles me."
"Travellers like any others, I suppose," rejoined the Spaniard, with an air of abstraction.
"No, that is not likely. Don Augustin Pena is known for his generous hospitality for twenty leagues around. It is not probable that these travellers should have halted so near his hacienda without knowing it. They must be strangers to the country I fancy, or if not, they have no good purpose in camping where they are."
Pedro Diaz was making almost the same observations that had occurred to Tiburcio at an earlier hour of the night.
Meanwhile, Cuchillo, with his two comrades, advanced towards the edge of the forest. As soon as they had reached it the guide dismounted from his horse.
"Stay here," said he, "while I go fetch something to cure you of your ill-timed drunkenness."
So saying he glided in among the trees, and in a few seconds came out again, carrying with him several oblong yellow-coloured fruits that resembled ripe bananas. They were the fruits of the jocuistle, a species of asimina, whose juice is an infallible remedy against the effects of intoxication. The two inebriates ate of the fruit according to Cuchillo's direction; and in a minute or two their heads were cleared of the fumes of the mezcal as if by enchantment.
"Now to business!" cried Cuchillo, without listening to the apologies his comrades were disposed to make—"to business! You will dismount and lead your horses forward by the bridle, until you can see the fire; and when you hear the report of my gun, be ready, for I shall then fall back upon you."
"All right," responded Oroche, "we are both ready—the Senor Baraja and myself—to sacrifice all private interests to the common good."
Cuchillo now parted with the two, leading his horse ahead of them. A little farther on he tied the animal to the branch of a tree, and then stooping downward he advanced on foot. Still farther on he dropped upon his hands and knees, and crept through the underwood like a jaguar stealing upon its prey.
Now and then he paused and listened. He could hear the distant lowing of the wild bulls, and the crowing of the cocks at the hacienda, mingled with the lugubrious notes of the great wood owl, perched near him upon a branch. He could hear the distant sound of water—the cataract of the Salto de Agua—and, in the same direction, the continuous howling of the jackals.
Again the assassin advanced—still creeping as before. Presently he saw before him the open glade, lit up by the flame of the camp-fire. On the edge nearest him, stood a huge button-wood tree, from whose base extended a number of flat ridge-like processes, resembling the bastions of a fortification. He perceived that, behind these he would be concealed from the light of the fire; while he himself could command a view of every object within the glade.
In another moment he was crouching under the trunk of the button-wood. His eyes gleamed with a fierce joy, as he gazed in the direction of the fire, around which he could distinguish the forms of three men—two of them seated, the other stretched along the ground, and apparently asleep.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.
Behind the Hacienda del Venado—that is, to the northward of it—the surface of the country was still in a state of nature; as we have already said, the edge of the forest lay almost within gun-shot of the walls; and this vast tract of woods extended for many leagues to the north, till it ended in the great deserts of Tubac.
The only road that trended in a northerly direction, was that leading to the Presidio of Tubac—though in reality it was not a road, but simply an Indian trail. At a short distance beyond the hacienda, it was crossed by a turbulent and rapid stream—the same that passed near the house—augmented by several tributaries that joined it in the woods. Where the road crossed it, and for a long distance above and below, this stream partook rather of the nature of a torrent, running in a deep bed, between rocky banks—a canon. Over this canon the crossing was effected by means of a rude bridge consisting simply of the trunks of two or three trees, laid side by side, and reaching from bank to bank. About half-way between the hacienda and this bridge, and but a short distance from the side of the road, was the fire which had already attracted so much attention.
This fire had been kindled near the centre of a little glade, but its flame cast a red glare upon the trees at a distance, until the grey bark of the button-wood, the pale foliage of the acacias, and the scarlet leaves of the sumac, all appeared of one colour: while the darker llianas, stretching from tree to tree, encircled the little glade with a series of festoons.
At the hour when Tiburcio was about leaving the hacienda, two persons were seated by this fire, in the attitude of men who were resting after a day of fatigue. These persons were the trappers, who had already made their appearance at La Poza.
There was nothing remarkable in two men having made their camp-fire in the woods; it was their proximity to a hacienda—and that, too, the Hacienda del Venado—that rendered the fact significant. The trappers knew well enough that the hacienda was close at hand; it followed, then, that they had some reasons of their own for not availing themselves of its hospitality. A large pile of fagots lay near the fire, evidently collected to feed it, and this proved that the men who had kindled it intended to pass the night on the spot.
The appearance of these two men would have been striking, even in the light of day; but under that of the fire it was picturesque—almost fantastic. The older of the two was habited in a costume half Indian, half Canadian; on his head was a sort of bonnet, shaped like a truncated cone, and made out of the skin of a fox; a blue striped cotton shirt covered his shoulders, and beside him upon the ground lay a sort of woollen surtout—the capote of the Canadians. His legs were encased in leathern leggins, reaching from the thigh downward to the ankle; but instead of moccasins he wore upon his feet a pair of strong iron-bound shoes, capable of lasting him for a couple of years at the least. A large buffalo-horn, suspended from the shoulder, contained his powder; and upon his right side hung a leathern pouch, well filled with bullets. In fine, a long rifle, with a barrel nearly six feet in length, rested near his hand; and this, with a large hunting-knife stuck in his belt, completed his equipment. His hair already showed symptoms of turning grey and a long scar which crossed his temples, and appeared to run all round his head, showed that if his scalp was still there he had some time or other run the risk of having it raised. His bronzed complexion denoted a long exposure to sun, wind, and rain; but for all this, his countenance shone with an expression of good-humour. This was in conformity with his herculean strength—for nature usually bestows upon these colossal men a large share of kind-heartedness.
The other trapper appeared to be some five or six years younger; and although by no means a man of small stature, he was but a pigmy alongside his gigantic companion. His countenance also lacked the serenity which distinguished that of the other—his black eyes gave out an expression of boldness approaching to effrontery; and the play of his features indicated a man whose passions, fiery by nature, once aroused, would lead him into acts of violence—even of cruelty. Everything about him bespoke the second trapper to be a man of different race from his companion—a man in whose veins ran the hot blood of the south. Although his style of dress did not differ very much from that of his comrade, there were some points in it that denoted him to be more of a horseman. Nevertheless, his well-worn shoes bore witness to his having made more than one long journey on foot.
The Canadian, half reclining upon the grass, was watching with especial interest a large piece of mutton, which, supported upon a spit of iron-wood, was frizzling and sputtering in the blaze of the fire. He appeared to enjoy the savoury odour that proceeded from the joint; and so much was his attention taken up by his gastronomic zeal, that he scarce listened to what his companion was saying.
"Well, I have often told you," said the latter, "that when one is on the trace of an enemy, whether it be an Indian or a white, one is pretty sure of coming on his tracks somewhere."
"Yes," rejoined the Canadian; "but you forgot that we shall just have time to reach Arispe, to receive the pay for our two years' campaign; besides, by our not going to the hacienda, we lose the bounty upon these three skins, and miss selling them besides."
"I never forget my interests," replied the other; "no more than I do the vows which I make: and the best proof of it is, that twenty years ago I made one which I believe I shall now be able to accomplish. We can always force them to pay us what is due at Arispe, and we shall find many an opportunity of getting rid of the skins: but the chance which has turned up in the middle of these deserts, of bringing me in contact with the man against whom I have sworn vengeance may not offer again during my whole lifetime."
"Bah!" exclaimed the Canadian, "vengeance is like many other kinds of fruit, sweet till you have tasted it, and afterwards bitter as gall."
"For all that, Senor Bois-Rose, you do not appear to practise your own doctrine with the Apaches, Sioux, Crows, and other Indians with whom you are at enmity! Your rifle has cracked many a skull—to say nothing of the warriors you have ripped open with your knife!"
"Oh! that is different, Pepe. Some of these would have robbed me of my peltries—others would have taken my scalp, and came very near doing so, as you see—besides, it is blessed bread to clear the prairies of these red vermin; but I have never sought to revenge myself against one of my own race and colour. I never hated one of my own kind sufficiently to kill him."
"Ah! Bois-Rose; it is just those of one's own race we hate most—that is when they have given us the reason for doing so—and this man has furnished me with such motives to hate him as can never be forgotten. Twenty years have not blunted my desire for vengeance; though, on account of the great distance that separated us, I supposed I should never find an opportunity of fulfilling my vow. Strange it is that two men, with relations like ours, should turn up together in the middle of these desert plains. Well! strange though it be, I do not intend to let the chance escape me."
Pepe appeared to have fixed his resolution upon this matter, and so firmly that his companion saw the folly of attempting to dissuade him by any further advice. The Canadian, moreover, was of an easy disposition, and readily yielded to the arguments of a friend.
"After all," said he, "perhaps, if I fully understood your motives, I might entirely approve of the resolution you have made."
"I can give them in two words," rejoined he whom the Canadian was addressing as Pepe. "It is just twenty years, as I have already told you, since I was a carabinier in the service of her Catholic majesty. I should have been content with my position and the amount of pay, had it only been paid which unfortunately it was not. We were obliged to do the duty of coast-guard as well, and this would have done well enough had there been any smuggling, with the capture of which we might have indemnified ourselves; but there was none. What a fool a smuggler would have been to have ventured on a coast, guarded by two hundred fellows at their wits' end with hunger! Well, then I reasoned that if any smuggler was to land it could only be with the concurrence of our captain, and I suspected that the captain would make no objection to such an arrangement—for he himself was, like the rest of us, a creditor of the government. In such case he would cast around among us for the man in whom he could most confide, and that would be he who was noted as being most careless upon his post. I resolved, therefore, to become the captain's confidential sentry.
"To arrive at this object I pretended to be all the day asleep; and, notwithstanding the reprimands I received, I managed also to be found asleep upon my post at all hours of the night. I succeeded in my design. The captain soon learnt all about my somnolent habits, and chose me for his favourite sentinel."
At this moment the Canadian detached the mutton from the spit, and having cut a large "hunk" from it with his knife passed the joint to his comrade.
This interrupted the narrative, for both narrator and listener were hungry. The two now sat face to face, their legs forming a sort of an ellipse, with the roast mutton in the centre, and for several minutes a formidable gritting of teeth, as huge pieces of the mutton passed through them, were the only sounds that broke the stillness of the night.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.
"I have said then," resumed Pepe, after a time, "that I pretended to be always asleep. The ruse succeeded equal to my best expectations, and one night the captain sent for me. Good! said I to myself, there's an eel under the stone—the captain is going to confide a post to me. Just as I had anticipated he sent me to sleep—at least he thought so—on a most important post; but for all that I did not sleep a wink during the whole of that night."
Here Pepe paused for a moment, in order to swallow an enormous mouthful of the roast mutton, that hindered the free use of the tongue.
"To be brief, then," resumed he, "a boat arrived with men, and I permitted it to land. It was only afterwards that I learnt that it was no smuggling business these men were bent upon, but an affair of blood— of murder; and the thought that I was instrumental in aiding the assassins causes me to this hour a feeling of remorse. I did not conceal what I knew. Afterwards I denounced the murderer, by way of atoning for my fault. A trial took place, but as in Spain justice goes to the highest bidder, the assassin was set free, and I became a victim. I was drummed out of my regiment, and transported to the fisheries of Ceuta, on the unhealthy coast of Africa. There I was compelled to remain for many years, till at last having made my escape, after a thousand perilous adventures, I found myself on the prairies of America."
"It was a rich man then—some powerful person—whom you denounced?"
"Yes; a grand senor. It was the old story of the pot of clay broken against the pot of iron. But the desert here has no distinctions; and, by the Virgin of Atocha! I shall prove that before many suns have gone over my head. Ah! if I only had here a certain alcalde of the name of Don Ramon Cohecho, and his damned friend, one Senor Cagatinta, I fancy I should make them pass an uncomfortable quarter of an hour."
"Very well, then," said Bois-Rose, seeing the other had finished his narrative; "very well. I quite approve of your intentions—let the journey to Arispe stand over."
"It is an old story," said Pepe, in conclusion; "and if for ten years you have been teaching me to handle a rifle, after many more spent in the usage of a carbine in the service of her Catholic majesty, surely I should be able to manage it now. I think I would scarcely miss an object as large as him whom you have seen at the head of those horsemen journeying towards the hacienda."
"Yes—yes," replied the Canadian, with a laugh; "but I remember the time, Pepe, when you missed many a buffalo twice as big as he. Nevertheless, I fancy I have made a passable shot of you at last, although you still persist in mistaking the ear of an otter for his eye, which always depreciates the value of the skin. Well, you know that I myself was not brought up on the prairies. I was a sailor for many long years; and perhaps I should have continued one but for—a sad event—a melancholy affair—but what good is there in speaking of that which is no more. Let the past be past! I find the life of the desert something like that on the ocean—once a man has got used to it he cannot easily quit it."
"Yes," rejoined Pepe; "the life of the forest and prairie has its charms, and for my part—"
"Hush!" whispered the Canadian, interrupting the speech of his comrade and placing himself in an attitude to listen. "I heard a rustle among the branches. Other ears than mine may be listening to you."
Pepe cast a glance in the direction whence the sounds had been heard. The dark form of a man was perceived among the trees coming from the direction of the hacienda.
It was evident that the man was not trying to approach by stealth, for his form was erect and he made no attempt to conceal himself behind the branches.
This would have freed the mind of Pepe from all suspicion, but for the circumstance that the stranger appeared to be coming direct from the hacienda.
"Who goes there?" he hailed in a loud tone, as the dark shadow was seen entering the glade.
"One who seeks an asylum by your fire," was the ready reply, delivered in rather a feeble voice.
"Shall we allow him to come on? or beg him to continue his journey?" muttered Pepe to the Canadian.
"God forbid we should deny him! Perhaps they have refused him a lodging up at the house; and that voice, which I think I have heard before, plainly denotes that he is fatigued—perhaps ill."
"Come on, Senor!" called out Pepe, without hesitating farther; "you are welcome to our fire and our mess; come on!"
At this invitation the stranger advanced. It is needless to say that it was Tiburcio Arellanos, whose cheeks as he came within the light of the fire betrayed by their paleness the traces of some violent emotion, or else of some terrible malady. This pallor, however, was partly caused by the blood which he had lost in the conflict with Cuchillo.
As soon as the features of Tiburcio came fairly under the light, the trappers recognised him as the young man they had met at La Poza; but the ex-carabinier was struck with some idea which caused him to make an involuntary gesture. The Canadian, on the other hand, regarded the new-comer with that expression of condescending kindness which age often bestows upon youth.
"Have you parted with the gentlemen in whose company we saw you?" asked Pepe of Tiburcio.
"Perhaps you are not aware that there is a house close by. I do not know the owner, but I fancy he would not refuse you a night's lodging, and he could entertain you better than we. Perhaps," continued he, observing that Tiburcio made no reply, "you have been up to the house already?"
"I have," answered Tiburcio. "I have no reproach to make against its owner, Don Augustin Pena; he has not refused me hospitality; but there are other guests under his roof with whom my life is not safe."
"Oh, that!" exclaimed Pepe, appearing to become more interested; "has anything happened to you?"
Tiburcio lifted his serape, exhibiting the wound in his right arm from which the blood was yet oozing.
Both Pepe and the Canadian rose hastily to their feet and stepped forward to examine the wound. Having done so, they immediately set about dressing it, which they effected with as much dexterity and despatch as might have been shown by practised surgeons; at the same time the rude physiognomy of each was marked by an expression of interest almost amounting to tenderness. While the Canadian kept bathing the wound with water from his canteen, Pepe proceeded into the woods in search of a peculiar plant noted for its healing properties. This plant was the oregano. Presently he returned, bringing with him several slices which he had cut from the succulent stem of the plant; the pulp of these, mashed between two stones, was placed over the wound, and then secured by Tiburcio's own scarf of China crape wound several times around the arm; nothing more could be done than await the effect of the application.
"Now," said the Canadian, "you will soon feel better. There is no danger of inflammation—nothing beats the oregano for preventing that, and you need not be afraid of fever. Meanwhile, if you feel inclined, there's a bit of roast mutton and a glass of eau de vie at your service; after which you had best lie down by the fire and take some sleep—for I can see that you're weary."
"In truth," replied Tiburcio, "I am fatigued. I thank you for your offer, but I do not feel inclined either to eat or drink; I have more need of sleep, and with your permission shall try and get some. One request I would make of you: that you will not permit me to sleep too long; there are reasons why I should soon be awake again."
"Very well," said Pepe; "we don't want your reasons. If you wish us to watch the hacienda, I beg you will only say so, and you shall have two pair of good eyes at your service; therefore make your mind easy, and sleep without fear of any enemy coming upon you unawares."
Tiburcio stretched himself upon the grass, and overcome by fatigue and the many violent emotions he had that day experienced, soon fell into a lethargic slumber.
For some time Bois-Rose sat regarding the sleeper in silence, but with an air of strange interest.
"What age do you think he is?" he at length inquired of his comrade.
"Twenty-four, I should fancy," replied the ex-coast-guard.
"Just what I was thinking," said the Canadian, speaking in a tone of half soliloquy, while a melancholy expression appeared to tone down his rude physiognomy. "Yes, just the age he ought to be if still alive."
"He! who are you talking of?" brusquely interrupted his companion, in whose heart the words of the Canadian seemed to find an echo.
"No matter," said Bois-Rose, still speaking in a tone of melancholy; "the past is past; and when it has not been as one would have wished it, it is better forgotten. But come! let us have done with idle regrets and finish our supper—such souvenirs always spoil my appetite."
"The same with me," agreed Pepe, as he seized hold of a large mutton-bone, and commenced an attack upon it in a fashion that proved that his appetite was not yet quite gone.
After a while Pepe again broke the silence.
"If I had the pleasure," said he, "of a personal acquaintance with this Don Augustin Pena, who appears to be the proprietor here, I would compliment him upon the fine quality of his mutton; and if I thought his horses were of as good a sort, I think I should be tempted to borrow one—one horse would never be missed out of the great herds we have seen galloping about, no more than a sheep out of his vast flocks; and to me a good horse would be a treasure."
"Very well," said the Canadian. "If you feel inclined for a horse, you had better have one; it will be no great loss to the owner, and may be useful to us. If you go in search of one, I can keep watch over this young fellow, who sleeps as if he hadn't had a wink for the last month."
"Most probably no one will come after him; nevertheless, Bois-Rose, keep your eye open till I return. If anything happens, three howls of the coyote will put me on my guard."
As he said this, Pepe took up a lazo that lay near, and turning his face in the direction in which he was most likely to find a drove of horses, he walked off into the woods.
Bois-Rose was left alone. Having thrown some dry branches upon the fire, in order to produce a more vivid light, he commenced regarding anew the young man who was asleep; but after a while spent in this way he stretched himself alongside the prostrate body, and appeared also to slumber.
The night-breeze caused the foliage to rustle over the heads of these two men, as they lay side by side. Neither had the least suspicion that they were here re-united by strange and providential circumstances—that twenty years before, they had lain side by side—then lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean, just as now by the whispering murmurs of the forest.
BOIS-ROSE AND FABIAN.
For twenty years the murderer of the Countess de Mediana had gone unpunished. For twenty years the justice of heaven had remained suspended; but the time of its accomplishment was not far off. Soon was it to open its solemn assizes; soon would it call together accuser and criminal, witness and judge—not from one part of a country to another, but from opposite sides of the globe; and, as if led by some invisible hand, all would have to obey the terrible summons.
Fabian de Mediana and the Canadian sailor lay side by side—just as they had done twenty years ago, at three thousand leagues distance from Sonora. And yet they had no suspicion of ever having met before, though a single chance word might at that moment have brought either to the memory of the other.
It was just about this time that Don Estevan and his party rode off from the hacienda.
The Canadian, according to the counsel of his comrade Pepe, slept with one eye open. At short intervals he contrived to awake himself, and raising his head slightly, cast around him a scrutinising glance. But on each of these occasions, the light of the fire showed him Tiburcio still tranquilly asleep; and this appearing to satisfy him, he would again compose himself as before.
About an hour had passed, when the sound of heavy footsteps awakened him once more, and listening a moment, he distinguished them as the hoof-strokes of a horse.
A few moments after, Pepe made his appearance within the circle of the blaze, leading a horse at the end of his lazo—a magnificent animal, that snorted and started back at sight of the fire. Pepe, however, had already given him more than one lesson, and his obedience was nearly complete; so that, after a short conflict, the trapper succeeded in bringing him nearer and attaching him to the trunk of a tree.
"Well," said Pepe, wiping the perspiration from his forehead with an old ragged handkerchief, "I've had a tough struggle with him; but he's worth it, I fancy. What think you, Bois-Rose? Isn't he the most splendid quadruped that ever galloped through these woods?"
In truth it was a beautiful creature, rendered more beautiful by the terror which he was exhibiting at the moment, as he stood with his fine limbs stretched, his head thrown high in the air, his mane tossed over his wild savage eyes, and his nostrils spread and frothy. Strange enough that fear, which renders vile and degraded the lord of the creation, should have an opposite effect on most of the lower animals— especially on the horse. This beautiful creature under its impulse only appears more beautiful!
Little as Bois-Rose delighted in horse-flesh, he could not withhold his approval of the capture which his comrade had made.
"He looks well enough," was his sober reply; "but he'll be a rough mount, I reckon."
"No doubt of that," assented Pepe. "I know he'll be rough at first; but the main thing was to get hold of him. I had a lucky hand to hook him as I did."
"I hope your neck will prove as lucky as your hand. For my part, I'd rather walk ten leagues than be on his back for ten minutes. But see, comrade!" continued the big trapper, pointing to the stars, "they're gone down yonder! you'll need some sleep before morning. Lie down while I take my turn of the watch."
"I'll take your advice," replied Pepe, at the same time stretching himself out upon his back, with his feet to the fire—in which attitude he was soon asleep.
The Canadian rose to his feet, took several turns round the fire—as if to drive away any remains of sleep that might be lurking in his eyes— then sat down again, with his back resting against the stump of a tree.
He had not been long seated before he got up once more, and, approaching with caution, stood over Tiburcio. For several minutes he remained in this attitude, attentively examining the features of the young man: he then returned to his seat by the stump.
"Just about his age, if he is still living," muttered he to himself. "But what chance have I to recognise in a grown man the features of an infant scarce four years old?"
A smile of disdain played for an instant on his lips, as if he were chiding himself for the silliness of his conjectures.
"And yet," he continued, his countenance changing its expression, "I have seen and taken part in too many strange events—I have been too long face to face with Nature—to doubt the power of Providence. Why should I consider this a miracle? It was not one when I chanced upon the boat adrift that carried that poor infant and its murdered mother! No, it was the hand of God. Why might not the same hand restore him to me in the midst of the desert? The ways of Providence are inscrutable."
As if this reflection had given birth to new hopes, the Canadian again rose to his feet, and approaching, stooped once more over the prostrate form of Tiburcio.
"How often," said he, "have I thus gazed on my little Fabian as he slept! Well, whoever you are, young man," continued he, "you have not come to my fire without finding a friend. May God do for my poor Fabian what I am disposed to do for you!"
Saying this, he once again returned to his seat, and remained for a long time reflecting upon incidents that had transpired twenty years before in the Bay of Biscay.
It should here be stated that up to this hour Bois-Rose and Pepe had not the slightest suspicion that they had ever met, before their chance encounter upon the prairies of America. In reality they had never met— farther than that they had been within musket-range of each other. But up to this hour Pepe knew not that his trapping comrade was the gigantic smuggler he had fired at from the beach of Ensenada; and Bois-Rose was equally ignorant that Pepe was the coast-guard whose "obstinacy and clumsiness" he had spoken of to his lieutenant.
The cause of this mutual ignorance of each other's past was that neither of them had ever mentioned the word Elanchovi in the hearing of the other. The Canadian had never thought of communicating the incidents of that night to his prairie comrade; and Pepe, on his side, would have given much to have blotted them altogether from the pages of his memory.
The night became more chilly as the hours passed on, and a damp dew now fell upon the grass and the foliage of the trees. It did not wake the sleepers, however, both of whom required a long rest.
All at once the silence was broken by the horse of Pepe, that neighed loudly and galloped in a circle at the end of his lazo: evidently something had affrighted him. Bois-Rose suddenly started from his reverie, and crept silently forward, both ear and eye set keenly to reconnoitre. But nothing could be heard or seen that was unusual; and after a while he glided back to his seat.
The noise had awakened Tiburcio, who, raising himself into a sitting posture, inquired its cause.
"Nothing," answered the trapper, whose denial, however, was scarce sincere. "Something indeed," continued he, "has frightened the horse. A jaguar, I fancy, that scents the skins of his companions, or, more likely, the remains of our roast mutton. By the way, you can eat a bit now; I have kept a couple of pieces for you."
And as he said this he handed two goodly-sized pieces of mutton to Tiburcio.
This time the young man accepted the invitation to eat. Rest had given him an appetite; and after swallowing a few mouthfuls of the cold mutton, warmed up by a glass of the brandy already mentioned, he felt both his strength and spirits restored at the same time. His features, too, seemed to have suddenly changed their hue, and now appeared more bright and smiling.
The presence of the hunter also added to the pleasure thus newly arisen within his breast. He remembered the solicitude which the Canadian had exhibited in dressing his wound—which he now extended even to giving him nourishment—and the thought occurred to him that in this man he might find a friend as redoubtable for his herculean strength as for his dexterity and courage. He no longer felt so lone in the world—so abandoned.
On the other hand, Bois-Rose sat looking at his protege and apparently delighted to see him enjoy his repast. The heart of the trapper was fast warming into a strong friendship for this young man.
"Stranger!" said he, after a considerable interval of silence, "it is the custom of the Indians never to inquire the name or quality of a guest until after he has eaten of their bread. I have followed their example in regard to you; and now may I ask you who you are, and what happened at the hacienda to drive you forth from it?"
"I shall willingly tell you," answered Tiburcio. "For reasons that would have no interest for you, I left my hut and started on a journey to the Hacienda del Venado. My horse, overcome by thirst and fatigue, broke down on the way. It was his dead body, as you already know, that attracted the jaguars, so adroitly destroyed by you and your brave comrade."
"Hum!" interrupted the Canadian, with a smile; "a poor feat that—but go on. I long to hear what motive any one could have for hostility to a mere youth scarce twenty years old, I should fancy."
"Twenty-four," answered Tiburcio, and then proceeded with his narrative. "I came very near sharing the fate of my poor horse; and when, about two hours after, you saw me at La Poza, I had just arrived there—having been saved by the party in whose company you found me. But what motive those gentlemen could have, first to rescue me from death, and then afterwards attempt to take my life, is what I am unable to comprehend."
"Perhaps some rivalry in love?" suggested the Canadian, with a smile; "it is usually the history of young men."
"I acknowledge," rejoined Tiburcio, with an air of embarrassment, "there is something of that; but there is also another motive, I believe. Possibly it is to secure to themselves the sole possession of an important secret which I share with them. Certain it is, that there are three men whom my life appears to discommode; there is one of them against whom I have myself sworn vengeance, and although I am but one against three I must accomplish the vow which I made at the death-bed of a person who was very dear to me."
The three men whom Tiburcio meant—and whose names he repeated to Bois-Rose—were Cuchillo, who had attempted to assassinate him; the Senator, his rival: and Don Estevan, whom Tiburcio now believed to be the murderer of Marcos Arellanos.
Bois-Rose tacitly applauded this exhibition of youthful ardour and reckless courage.
"But you have not yet told me your name?" said he, interrogatively, after a moment's hesitation.
"Tiburcio Arellanos," was the reply.
At the mention of the name the Canadian could not restrain a gesture that expressed disappointment. There was nothing in the name to recall the slightest souvenir. He had never heard it before.
The young man, however, observed the gesture.
"You have heard the name before?" he asked abruptly. "Perhaps you knew my father, Marcos Arellanos? He has often been through the wildest parts of the country where you may have met him. He was the most celebrated gambusino in the province."
Instead of calling Marcos Arellanos his father, had Tiburcio said his adopted father, his explanation might have elicited a different response from the Canadian. As it was, he only said in reply:
"It is the first time I have heard the name. It was your face that recalled to me some memories of events that happened—long, long ago—"
Without finishing what he meant to have said, the Canadian relapsed into silence.
Tiburcio, too, ceased speaking for a while; he was reflecting on some hopes that had suddenly sprung up within him. His meeting with the two trappers appeared to him not so much a mere chance as a providential circumstance. The secret which he possessed, almost useless to him alone, might be rendered available with the assistance of two auxiliaries such as they—it might become the key to the favour of Don Augustin. It was not without repugnance that he reflected on this means of winning the heart of Rosarita—or rather of purchasing it at the price of gold—for Tiburcio believed that it was closed against any more tender appeal. He had mentally resolved never to return to the hacienda; but notwithstanding this vow he still indulged in a slight remnant of hope—perhaps the echo of his own profound passion. This hope overcame his repugnance; and he resolved to make known his design to the trappers, and endeavour to obtain assistance in carrying it out.