The evening before the arrival of the two travellers, he had inquired what direction he ought to take to reach Don Augustin's house; and, above all, he had testified a great wish to learn whether Dona Rosarita was still unmarried.
The unknown always wore on his head a red checkered handkerchief, the folds of which hung down over his eyes; and in consequence of this head-dress he always went by the name of the "man with the red kerchief."
This being explained, let us now return to our two travellers.
The new-comers—whose arrival created some sensation—on entering the presidency, directed their steps towards one of the houses of the village, at the door of which sat a man, who was soothing his leisure hours by playing upon the guitar.
One of the cavaliers, addressing him, said—
"Santas tardes! my master; will you afford hospitality to two strangers for a day and a night?"
The musician rose and bowed courteously.
"Pray dismount, noble cavaliers," he answered, "this dwelling is at your service as long as you please to remain."
Such is the simple ceremonial of hospitality still in vogue in these distant countries.
The cavaliers dismounted from their horses, in the midst of an idle group who had collected around them, and who observed the two strangers with considerable curiosity—for in the Presidio of Tubac an arrival is a rare event.
The host silently assisted his guests to unsaddle their horses, but the more inquisitive of the crowd did not exercise so much discretion, and without scruple addressed a multitude of questions to the travellers.
"Good people," said one of the cavaliers, "let us first attend to our horses, and afterwards, when we have taken a mouthful of food, we shall have a chat. My comrade and myself have come here for that very purpose."
Thus saying, the bearded cavalier unfastened his gigantic spurs, threw them across his horse's saddle, which he deposited, together with its woollen covering carefully folded, in the piazza attached to the house.
The two strangers did not dwell long over their repast. They soon rejoined their host upon the threshold, and sat down beside him.
Their questioners had not yet departed from the house.
"I am the more inclined," resumed the bearded traveller, "to inform you all of the object of our visit to the Presidio, since we are sent by our master to ask you a few questions. Will that be agreeable to you?"
"Perfectly," replied several voices, "and first, may we know who your master is?"
"He is Don Augustin Pena; you are not without some knowledge of his name?"
"The proprietor of the great Hacienda del Venado—a man worth three millions! Who does not know him?" replied one of the bystanders.
"He is the same. This cavalier, whom you see, is a vaquero, entrusted with the care of the beasts of the hacienda; for myself, I am a major-domo attached to the service of the proprietor. Would you have the kindness, my dear friend, to give me a light for my cigar?" continued the bearded major-domo.
He paused to light his cigar of maize husk, and then resumed:
"Six months ago an expedition set out from here in search of gold dust. This expedition was headed by one named—let me see—carrai! I have heard him called by so many names that I cannot remember any!"
"Don Estevan Arechiza!" replied one of the interlocutors, "a Spaniard, and one such as we do not often see in this country; one who seemed, by his noble deportment and majestic countenance, to have commanded all his life."
"Don Estevan Arechiza: the very same," said the major-domo, "a man who as far exceeds all others in generosity as a gamester who has just won a fortune. But let me return to the expedition; about how many men composed it, do you guess?"
"More than eighty started out with it."
"More than a hundred," suggested another.
"You are mistaken—the number was not a hundred in all," interrupted a third.
"That matters little to Don Augustin, my master. It is far more important to know how many returned."
Upon this point also there were two different opinions.
"Not a single one," remarked a voice.
"Yes; there was one, and but one," continued another.
The major-domo rubbed his hands with an air of satisfaction.
"Good!" said he, "then at least one is saved, provided this gentleman, who declares that all the gold-seekers are not dead, be rightly informed, as I hope he is."
"Do you not think," said the last who had spoken, "that the man of the red handkerchief may not be one of those whose departure we witnessed six months ago? I would swear to it by the cross and Gospel."
"No! not so!" cried another, "that man never set foot in the Presidio before the other day."
"In any case," interrupted a third, "the man of the red handkerchief has doubtless something of interest in store for Don Augustin Pena, since he has so often inquired about him. With these gentlemen, he will probably be more communicative than with us."
"That will be just what we desire," resumed the major-domo.
"You must know, then, and I may without indiscretion inform you," continued he, "that Don Augustin Pena, whom God preserve, was the intimate friend of Senor Arechiza, and that he has had no news of him for six months past, which would be natural enough if he has been massacred by the Indians with all the rest. But my master is anxious for his return, that he may marry his daughter, Dona Rosarita, a beautiful and charming person, to the Senator Don Vicente Tragaduros. Months have elapsed, and since the hacienda is not on the main road from Arispe to Tubac, and that we cannot gain information from any one upon the subject of this deplorable expedition, Don Augustin determined upon sending us here to inquire about it. When he shall have established the fact that Don Estevan's return is impossible—and as young girls do not readily meet with Senators in the heart of the desert—nor do the latter often find there girls whose marriage portion is worth two hundred thousand piastres—"
"Carramba! that is a high figure."
"True, friend," continued the major-domo, "then the projected marriage will take place to the mutual satisfaction of all parties. Such is the object of our journey to Tubac. If, therefore, you can conduct me to him whom you describe as the sole survivor of this expedition, we shall perhaps learn from him what we wish to discover."
The conversation had reached this stage, when, at some distance from the house where it was taking place, a man was seen passing, with his head bent downwards.
"See!" said one of the party, pointing to the man in question; "there goes your sole survivor."
"In truth, it is a person whose conduct is sufficiently mysterious," added the host. "For some days past he has done nothing but come and go, from one place to another, without informing any one of the object of his journeyings."
"If it please you, we shall question him?" proposed one.
"Hola! friend!" cried another of the party; "come this way; here is a gentleman who is anxious to see and speak with you."
The mysterious unknown approached at the summons.
"Senor cavalier," said the major-domo, courteously addressing him, "it is not to gratify an idle curiosity that I now address you; but the master whom I serve feels a natural anxiety at the disappearance of a friend, whose death he would greatly deplore. What do you know of Don Estevan de Arechiza?"
"Many things. But, pray what is the name of the master of whom you speak?"
"Don Augustin Pena—proprietor of the Hacienda del Venado."
A ray of joy lit up the countenance of the unknown.
"I am able," he said, "to furnish Don Augustin with all the information he may desire. How many days' journey is it from hence to the hacienda?"
"Three days' journey, with a good horse."
"I possess a capital one; and if you can wait for me until to-morrow evening, I shall accompany you, and communicate with Don Augustin in person."
"Be it so," answered the major-domo.
"Very well," added the man of the red handkerchief; "to-morrow at this same hour we will start, so that we may travel by night, and so escape the heat."
Saying this, he took his departure, when the major-domo remarked:
"It must be agreed, gentlemen, that nothing can exceed the complaisance of this cavalier of the red handkerchief."
The arrangement did not satisfy the bystanders, who were thoroughly disappointed; but their interest was renewed, on seeing the man of the red handkerchief pass by on horseback, and depart at full speed towards the north.
The unknown kept his promise: and on the day following he returned at the hour of the evening angelus.
Don Augustin's two envoys took leave of their host, assuring him of a kind welcome, if ever his affairs led him in the direction of the Hacienda del Venado. Even the poorest in this primitive country, would blush to receive any other reward for hospitality than sincere thanks, and a promise that they in their turn should receive it.
The three horsemen set off at full speed; the horse of the unknown equalled in strength and mettle those of Don Augustin's envoys. The journey was rapidly accomplished; and at dawn of the third day, they could trace in the distance the clock-tower of the Hacienda del Venado, and an hour afterwards they dismounted in the court-yard. Although it was at that early hour when the sun sheds its most enlivening rays, everything which surrounded this habitation bore the stamp of melancholy. One might have supposed that the gloomy nature of the inmates was reflected upon its exterior.
Dona Rosarita was dying of grief; and this filled the haciendado with the deepest anxiety. Don Augustin's daughter could not help the belief that Fabian yet lived. But why, then, had not Tiburcio, as she always called him, returned to the hacienda? Either he was dead, or he no longer loved her? It was this uncertainty that gave rise to Dona Rosarita's deep dejection.
Another source of anxiety to the haciendado, was the absence of all news from the Duke de Armada; and to this anxiety was added impatience. The projected marriage between Rosarita and the Senator had been devised by Don Estevan. Tragaduros had urged its fulfilment. Don Augustin had laid the proposal before his daughter, but she replied only by tears; and her father still hesitated.
However, at the expiration of six months, it was determined to put an end to the uncertainty by sending to the Presidio for information concerning the expedition commanded by Don Estevan. It was the last respite that poor Rosarita had ventured to demand.
The Senator had absented himself for some days from the hacienda, when the major-domo returned, and Don Augustin was informed of the arrival of a stranger who could remove his uncertainty. He ordered the stranger to be introduced into the chamber already known to the reader; and Dona Rosarita, who had been sent for, speedily joined her father.
In a few moments the stranger presented himself. A wide felt hat, to which on entering he raised his hand without removing it, shaded his face, upon which a keen anxiety was visible. From beneath the broad brim of his hat a red handkerchief fell so low upon his forehead as almost to conceal his eyebrows, and from beneath its shadow he gazed with a singular interest upon the pale countenance of the young girl.
CHAPTER FIFTY THREE.
THE STRANGER'S STORY.
Her head veiled by a silk scarf which partly concealed the luxuriant tresses of her dark hair as they fell in luxuriant clusters upon her bosom, Dona Rosarita's countenance gave evidence of long and secret suffering.
As she seated herself, a look of deep disquietude increased her paleness. It seemed as though the young girl feared the approach of a moment, in which she might be required to renounce those sweet dreams of the past, for the reality of a future she dared not contemplate.
When the stranger was also seated the haciendado addressed him.
"We are indebted to you, my friend," he said, "for travelling thus far to bring us news which I have been forewarned may prove of a very sad nature; nevertheless we must hear all. God's will be done!"
"My news is in truth sad; but as you say, it is necessary," and the stranger, laying a stress upon these last words, seemed to address himself more particularly to Dona Rosarita, "that you should hear all. I have been witness to many things yonder; and the desert does not conceal so many secrets as one might suppose."
The young girl trembled slightly, while she fixed upon the man of the red handkerchief, a deep and searching glance.
"Go on, friend," said she, in her melodious voice, "we shall have courage to hear all."
"What do you know of Don Estevan?" resumed the haciendado.
"He is dead, Senor."
A sigh of grief escaped Don Augustin, and he rested his head upon his hands.
"Who killed him?" he asked.
"I know not, but he is dead."
"And Pedro Diaz—that man of such noble and disinterested feeling?"
"He, like Don Estevan, is no more of this world."
"And his friends Cuchillo, Oroche, and Baraja?"
"Dead as well as Pedro Diaz, all dead except—but with your leave, Senor, I shall commence my narrative at an earlier period. It is necessary that you should know all."
"We shall listen to you patiently."
"I need not detail," resumed the narrator, "the dangers of every kind, nor the various combats in which we were engaged since our departure. Headed by a chief who inspired us with boundless confidence, we shared his perils cheerfully."
"Poor Don Estevan!" murmured the haciendado.
"During the last halt in which I was present, a report spread through the camp that we were in the vicinity of an immense treasure of gold. Cuchillo, our guide, deserted us; he was absent two days. It was doubtless God's will that I should be saved, since it inspired Don Estevan with the idea of sending me in search of him. He therefore commanded me to scour the country in the environs of the camp.
"I obeyed him, notwithstanding the danger of the mission, and went in search of our guide's footsteps. After some time I was fortunate enough to find his traces; when all at once I perceived in the distance a party of Apaches engaged in a hunt of wild horses. I turned my horse's head round as quickly as possible, but the ferocious yells which burst out on every side told me that I was discovered."
The stranger, in whom the reader has doubtless recognised Gayferos, the unfortunate man who had been scalped, paused an instant as though overcome by horrible recollections. Then in continuation, he related the manner in which he was captured by the Indians, his anguish when he thought of the torments they were preparing for him, the desperate struggle by which he kept up in his race against them with naked feet, and the inexpressible sufferings he endured.
"Seized by one of them," said he, "I was struck by a blow which felled me to the earth; then I felt the keen edge of a knife trace, as it were, a circle of fire around my head. I heard a gun fired, a ball hissed close to my ears, and I lost all consciousness. I cannot tell how many minutes passed thus. The sound of a second shot caused me to open my eyes, but the blood which covered my face blinded me; I raised my hand to my head, which felt both burning and frozen. My skull was bare, the Indian had torn off the hair with the scalp attached to it. In short, they had scalped me! That is the reason, Senor, that I now wear this red handkerchief both by day and by night."
During his recital, a cold perspiration covered the narrator's countenance. His two listeners shuddered with horror.
After a momentary pause, he continued:
"I ought perhaps to spare you, as well as myself, other sad details."
Gayferos then related to his auditors the unexpected assistance he had obtained from the three hunters who had taken refuge upon the little island, and was describing the moment in which Bois-Rose carried him off in the presence of the Indians, when this heroic action drew from Don Augustin's lips a cry of admiration.
"But there were then a score on this little island?" interrupted he.
"Reckoning the giant who carried me in his arms there were but three," continued the narrator.
"Santa Virgen! they were trusty men then—but continue."
The adventurer resumed:
"The companion of him who had carried me in his arms was a man of about the same age—that is, near five-and-forty. There was, besides, a young man, of a pale but proud countenance, a sparkling eye, and a sweet smile; by my faith, a handsome young man, Senorita; such a one as a father might with pride own as a son—such as a lady might be proud and happy to see at her feet. During a short interval of calm, which succeeded the horrible agonies I had suffered, I found time to question the preservers of my life concerning their names and occupation; but I could learn nothing from them except that they were hunters, and travelled for their own pleasure. That was not very probable, still I made no observation."
Dona Rosarita could not quite suppress a sigh: perhaps she expected to be reminded of a familiar name.
Gayferos continued the recital of various facts with which the reader is already acquainted.
"Alas, Senorita," he continued, "the poor young man was himself captured by the Indians, and his punishment was to avenge the death of their companions."
At this part of the narrative, Dona Rosarita's cheek became deadly pale.
"Well, and the young man," interrupted the haciendado, who was almost as much moved as the daughter, on hearing these sad events, "what became of him?"
Rosarita, who had remained silent as the narrator proceeded, returned by a look of tender acknowledgment, the solicitude her father testified for the young man, for whom in spite of herself, she felt so deep an interest.
"Three days and three nights were consumed in fearful anguish, relieved only by a feeble ray of hope. At length on the morning of the fourth day, we were able unawares to fall upon our sanguinary foes; and after a desperate struggle, the warlike giant succeeded in reconquering the youth, who, safe and sound, he again pressed to his heart, calling him his beloved child."
"Heaven be praised!" exclaimed the haciendado, with a sigh of relief.
Rosarita remained silent, but her colour suddenly returning, testified to the pleasure she experienced: while a joyous smile lit up her countenance on hearing the last words of the narrator.
"Continue!" said the haciendado; "but, in your recital, which is deeply interesting to a man who was himself during six months held captive by the Indians, I seek in vain for any details relative to poor Don Estevan's death."
"I am ignorant of them," continued Gayferos, "and I can only repeat the words spoken by the youngest of the three hunters, when I questioned him upon the subject."
"He is dead," said the young man to me, "you yourself are the last survivor of a numerous expedition; when you shall have returned to your own country—for," added he, with a sigh, "you have perhaps some one, who in grief numbers the days of your absence—they will question you concerning the fate of your chief, and the men he commanded. You will reply to them, that the men died fighting—as to their chief, that he was condemned by the justice of God, and that the divine sentence pronounced against him, was executed in the desert. Don Estevan Arechiza will never again return to his friends."
"Poor Don Estevan!" exclaimed the haciendado.
"And you could never learn the names of these brave, generous, and devoted men?" asked Dona Rosarita.
"Not at the moment," continued Gayferos; "only it appeared strange to me, that the youngest of the three hunters spoke to me of Don Estevan, Diaz, Oroche, and Baraja, as though he knew them perfectly."
A pang shot through Dona Rosarita's heart, her bosom heaved, her cheeks were dyed with a deep crimson, then became pale again as the flowers of the datura, but she still remained silent.
"I draw towards the close of my recital," continued Gayferos. "After having recovered the brave warrior's son from the Apaches, we journeyed towards the plains of Texas. I shall not relate to you all the dangers we encountered during six months of our wandering life, as hunters of the otter and the beaver, nevertheless, it had its charms; but there was one amongst us, who was far from finding this life agreeable. This was our young companion.
"When I saw him for the first time I was struck by the melancholy expression of his countenance, but afterwards, as we journeyed together, I noticed that this melancholy, instead of decreasing, seemed daily to augment. The old hunter, whom I believed to be his father (I know now that he is not), took every opportunity of calling his attention to the magnificence of the vast forest in which we lived, the imposing scenes of the desert, or the charm of the perils we encountered. They were vain efforts, for nothing could banish the grief that consumed him. He seemed only to forget it in the midst of the dangers he eagerly sought. One might have supposed that life to him was no more than a heavy burden which he desired to get rid of.
"Full of compassion for him, I often said to the old hunter—'Solitude is only suited to an advanced age, youth delights in activity, and in the presence of its equals. Let us return to our habitations.' But the giant only sighed without replying.
"Soon afterwards the manner of the two hunters, who loved their young companion as a son, became also saddened.
"One night while the young man and I were watching, I recalled a name which six months before he had uttered in his sleep. I then learned the secret of that grief which was slowly consuming him. He loved, and solitude had but increased a passion which he vainly sought to stifle."
Gayferos paused an instant to cast a searching glance upon the countenances of his auditors, especially upon that of Dona Rosarita. He appeared to take a secret pleasure in exciting the young girl by the recital of all the circumstances best calculated to touch the heart of a woman.
As a warrior and a hunter, the haciendado did not attempt to conceal the interest with which the stranger's narrative was inspiring him.
Rosarita, on the contrary, endeavoured, under a mask of studied coldness, to conceal the charm she experienced on listening to this romance of heart and action, whose most stirring pages were so considerately opened to her by the intelligent narrator.
But her heightened colour and the fire in her large dark eyes completely belied her efforts.
"Ah!" cried Don Augustin, "if these three brave men had been under Don Estevan's command, the fate of the expedition might have been far different."
"I am of the same opinion," replied Gayferos, "but God had ordained it otherwise. Meanwhile," he continued, "I felt a great longing again to see my native land, but gratitude required that I should conceal it. But the old warrior divined my thoughts, and one day addressed me on this subject.
"Too generous to suffer me alone to brave the dangers of my homeward journey, the giant hunter resolved to accompany me as far as Tubac. His companion did not oppose his resolution, and we set out for the frontier. The young man alone seemed, to follow us reluctantly in this direction.
"I shall not describe our fatigues and the various difficulties we surmounted, in the course of our long and perilous journey. I wish, however, to speak of one of our last encounters with the Indians.
"In order to reach the Presidio we were obliged to cross the chain of the Rocky Mountains. It was towards the approach of night that we found ourselves amongst their gloomy solitudes, and we were obliged to halt.
"This is a spot much frequented by the Indians, and we could not encamp without the greatest precaution.
"Nothing, as it seems to me, can better resemble the abode of condemned souls than these mountains, where we spent the night. At every moment strange sounds, which appeared to proceed from the cavities of the rocks, broke upon our ears. At one time it was a volcano, which rumbled with dull and heavy noise beneath us, or the distant roar of a cataract: sometimes resembling the howling of wolves or plaintive cries; and from time to time dreadful flashes of lightning tore aside the veil of mist which eternally covers these mountains.
"For fear of a surprise we had encamped upon a rock which projected, in the form of a table, above a wide open valley about fifty feet below us. The two elder hunters were asleep; the youngest alone kept watch. It was his turn, and as usual he had been compelled to insist upon it—for his companions seemed unwilling thus to allow him to share their toils.
"As for myself, sick and suffering, I was stretched upon the ground. After many vain efforts to obtain a little rest, at length I slept, when a frightful dream awoke me with a start.
"'Did you hear nothing?' I asked of the young man, in a low voice. 'Nothing,' he replied, 'except the rumbling of the subterranean volcanoes in the mountains.' 'Say, rather, that we are here in an accursed spot,' I continued, and then I related my dream to him.
"'It is, perhaps a warning,' he said gravely. 'I remember one night to have had just such a dream, when—'
"The young man paused. He had advanced to the edge of the rock. I crawled after him mechanically. The same object arrested our attention at the same moment.
"One of those spirits of darkness which might have inhabited such a spot, appeared suddenly to have acquired a visible form. It was a kind of phantom, with the head and skin of a wolf, but erect upon its legs like a human being. I made the sign of the cross, and murmured a prayer, but the phantom did not stir.
"'It is the devil,' I whispered.
"'It is an Indian,' replied the young man; 'there are his companions at some distance.'
"In short, our eyes, well practised in making out objects in the dark, could distinguish about twenty Indians, stretched upon the ground, and who, in truth, had no idea of our vicinity.
"Ah, Senorita!" added the narrator, addressing himself to Dona Rosarita, "it was one of those opportunities fraught with danger, which the poor young man sought with so much avidity; and your heart, like mine, would have been torn at beholding the sad joy which sparkled in his eyes; for the further we travelled in this direction the more his melancholy seemed to increase.
"'Let us wake our friends,' I suggested.
"'No; let me go alone. These two men have done enough for me. It is now my turn to run a risk for them and, if I die, I shall forget—'
"As he spoke these words the young man quitted me, made a detour, and I lost sight of him—without, however, ceasing to behold the frightful apparition which continued immovable in the same spot.
"All at once I saw another dusky shape, which rushed towards the phantom and seized it by the throat. The two forms grappled with one another. The struggle was short and noiseless, and one might have believed them two spirits. I prayed to God in behalf of the poor young man who thus exposed his life with so much indifference and intrepidity. A short time afterwards I saw him return; the blood was flowing over his face from a large wound on his head.
"'Oh, Heavens!' I cried; 'you are wounded.'
"'It is nothing,' he said; 'I will now wake our companions.'
"What do you think, Senorita?" continued the narrator. "Was not my dream a warning from God? A party of Indians, whom we had put to flight on the other side of the mountains—had followed our track in order to revenge the blood of their companions, which had been spilt upon the banks of the Gila—at the place where we had rescued the young man.
"But the Indians had to contend with terrible adversaries. Their sentinel was the phantom who had been killed by the courageous hunter before he had time to utter a cry of alarm, and the rest, surprised in their sleep, were nearly all stabbed; a few sought safety in flight.
"The night had not passed before this new exploit was accomplished.
"The tall hunter hastened to dress the wound of the young man, whom he loved as a son; and the latter, overcome with fatigue, stretched himself upon the ground and slept.
"In the mean time his two friends watched by his side to guide his sleep, whilst I in sadness contemplated his altered countenance, his reduced figure, and the bloodstained bandage with which his head was bound."
"Poor youth," interrupted Dona Rosarita, gently, "still so young, and yet compelled to lead a life of incessant danger. And his father, also, he must have trembled for the life of a beloved son?"
"Beloved, as you say, Senorita," continued the narrator.
"During a period of six months I was a daily witness to the infinite tenderness of this father for his child.
"The young man slept tranquilly, and his lips softly murmured a name— that of a woman—the same which had lately been revealed to me in his slumber."
Rosarita's dark eyes seemed to question the narrator, but her words expired upon her parted lips; she dared not utter the name her heart was whispering in her ears.
"But I encroach upon your time," continued Gayferos, without appearing to notice the young girl's agitation. "I draw towards the close of my narrative.
"The young man woke just as day began to dawn. 'Comrade,' said the giant to me, 'go down yonder and count the dead which these dogs have left behind them.'
"Eleven corpses stretched upon the ground," continued Gayferos, "and two captured horses, attested the victory of these intrepid hunters."
"Let all due honour be given to these formidable men," cried Don Augustin, with enthusiasm, whilst his daughter, clapping her little hands together, exclaimed, with sparkling eyes, and an enthusiasm which equalled that of her father—
"That is splendid! that is sublime! so young, and yet so brave."
Rosarita only lavished her praises upon the young unknown—though perhaps the acute perception which belongs to a woman, and which almost resembles a second sight, may have revealed to her his name.
The narrator seemed to appreciate the praises bestowed upon his friends.
"But did you not learn their names?" asked Dona Rosarita, timidly.
"The elder was called Bois-Rose, the second Pepe. As to the young man—"
Gayferos appeared vainly endeavouring to recall the name without remarking the anguish which was depicted in the young girl's agitated frame, and visible in her anxious eyes.
By the similarity of position between Tiburcio and the unknown, she could not doubt but that it was he; and the poor child was collecting all her strength to listen to his name, and not to utter, on hearing it, a cry of happiness and love.
"As to the young man," continued the narrator, "he was called Fabian."
At this name, which was unknown to the young girl, and which at once destroyed her pleasant delusions, she pressed her hand upon her heart, her lips became white, and the colour which hope had revived in her cheek faded away. She could only repeat mechanically.
At this moment the recital was interrupted by the entrance of a servant. The Chaplain begged the haciendado to come to him for an instant, upon some business he had to communicate to him.
Don Augustin quitted the apartment, saying that he should speedily return.
Gayferos and the young girl were now left alone; the former observed her some moments in silence, and with a delight he could scarcely conceal, saw that Rosarita trembled beneath the folds of her silk scarf. By a secret feeling the poor child divined that Gayferos had not yet finished. At length the latter said gently, "Fabian bore another name, Senorita; do you wish to hear it, while we are alone and without witnesses?"
Rosarita turned pale.
"Another name! oh, speak it?" she cried, in a trembling voice.
"He was long known as Tiburcio Arellanos."
A cry of joy escaped the young girl, who rose from her seat, and approaching the bearer of this good news, seized his hand.
"Thanks! thanks!" she exclaimed, "if my heart has not already spoken them."
Then she tottered across the chamber, and knelt at the feet of a Madonna, which, framed in gold, hung against the wall.
"Tiburcio Arellanos," continued the narrator, "is now Fabian, and Fabian is the last descendant of the Counts of Mediana—a noble and powerful Spanish family."
The young girl continued on her knees in prayer without appearing to listen to Gayferos' words.
"Immense possessions, a lofty name, titles and honours. All these he will lay at the feet of the woman who shall accept his hand."
The young girl continued her fervent prayer without turning her head.
"And, moreover," resumed the narrator, "the heart of Don Fabian de Mediana still retains a feeling which was dear to the heart of Tiburcio Arellanos."
Rosarita paused in her prayer.
"Tiburcio Arellanos will be here to-night."
This time the young girl no longer prayed. It was Tiburcio and not Fabian, Count of Mediana. Tiburcio, poor, and unknown, for whom she had wept. At the sound of this name, she listened. Honours, titles, wealth. What were they to her? Fabian lived, and loved her still, what more could she desire?
"If you will come to the breach in the wall, where, full of despair, he parted from you, you will find him there this very evening. Do you remember the place?"
"Oh! my God!" she murmured, softly, "do I not visit it every evening?"
And once more bending before the image of the Virgin, Rosarita resumed her interrupted prayer.
The adventurer contemplated for some instants this enthusiastic and beautiful creature, her scarf partly concealing her figure, her nude shoulders caressed by the long tresses of her dark hair, which fell in soft rings upon their surface; then without interrupting her devotion, he rose from his seat and silently fitted the chamber.
CHAPTER FIFTY FOUR.
When Don Augustin Pena returned, he found his daughter alone, and still kneeling; he waited until her prayer was finished. The news of Don Estevan's death so entirely occupied the haciendado's mind that he naturally attributed Dona Rosarita's pious action to another motive than the true one. He believed that she was offering up to Heaven a fervent prayer for the repose of his spirit, whose mysterious end they had just been made acquainted with.
"Every day," said he, "during the following year, the Chaplain will, by my orders, say a mass for Don Estevan's soul, for this man spake of the justice of God, which was accomplished in the desert. These words are serious, and the manner with which they were pronounced, leaves no doubt as to their veracity."
"May God pardon him!" replied Rosarita, rising from her knees, "and grant him the mercy he requires."
"May God pardon him!" repeated Don Augustin, earnestly, "the noble Don Estevan was no ordinary man, or rather, that you may now know it, Rosarita, Don Antonia de Mediana, who, in his lifetime, was Knight of the Grand Cross, and Duke de Armada."
"Mediana, did you say, my father?" cried the young girl, "what! he must then be his son?"
"Of whom do you speak?" asked Don Augustin, in astonishment, "Don Antonio was never married. What can you mean?"
"Nothing, my father, unless it be that your daughter is to-day very happy."
As she said these words, Dona Rosarita threw her arms round her father's neck, and leaning her head upon his breast burst into a passion of tears; but in these tears there was no bitterness, they flowed softly, like the dew which the American jasmine sheds in the morning from its purple flowers.
The haciendado, but little versed in the knowledge of the female heart, misconstrued the tears, which are sometimes a luxury to women; and he could conceive nothing of the happiness which was drawing them from his daughter's eyes.
He questioned her anew, but she contented herself with answering, while her lips were parted by a smile, and her eyes were still moist.
"To-morrow I shall tell you all, my father."
The good haciendado did indeed require the explanation of this mystery, when he was left in ignorance of the chief fact concerning it.
"We have another duty to fulfil," continued he; "the last wish expressed by Don Antonio, on parting from me, was that you should be united to the Senator Tragaduros. It will be in compliance with the request of one who is now no more, that this marriage should no longer be delayed. Do you see any obstacle to it, Rosarita?"
The young girl started at these words, which reminded her of the fatal engagement she had sought to banish from memory. Her bosom swelled, and her tears flowed afresh.
"Well," said the haciendado, smiling, "this is another proof of happiness, is it not?"
"Of happiness!" repeated Rosarita, bitterly. "Oh! no, no, my father!"
Don Augustin was now more puzzled than ever; for, as he himself alleged, his life had been spent more in studying the artifices of Indians, with whom he had long disputed his domain, than in diving into the hearts of women.
"Oh, my father!" cried Rosarita, "this marriage would now prove a sentence of death to your poor child!"
At this sudden declaration, which he had not expected, Don Augustin was quite stupefied, and it was with difficulty he subdued the anger to which it had given rise.
"What!" he cried with some warmth, "did you not yourself consent to this marriage only a month ago? Did you not agree that it should be consummated when we knew that Don Estevan could not return? He is dead; what then do you wish?"
"It is true, father; I did fix that period, but—"
"But I did not know that he still lived."
"Don Antonio de Mediana?"
"No; Don Fabian de Mediana," replied Rosarita, in a low voice.
"Don Fabian? who is this Fabian of whom you speak?"
"He whom we called Tiburcio Arellanos."
Don Augustin remained mute with surprise: his daughter took advantage of his silence.
"When I consented to this marriage," said she, "I believed that Don Fabian was forever lost to us. I did not know that he still loved me; and yet—consider whether I do not love you, my father; consider what a grievous sacrifice I made in my affection for you—I knew well—"
As she spoke these words—her eyes moist with tears, yet shining with their own sweet lustre—the poor girl approached, and, by a sudden impulse, threw herself upon her father's shoulder to hide her rising blushes.
"I knew then that I loved him only," she murmured.
"But of whom do you speak?"
"Of Tiburcio Arellanos—of the Count Fabian de Mediana—they are one and the same person."
"Of the Count Mediana?" repeated Don Augustin.
"Yes," cried Rosarita, passionately; "I still love in him Tiburcio Arellanos, however noble, powerful, and rich may be at this hour Count Fabian de Mediana."
Noble, powerful, and rich, are words that sound well in the ear of an ambitious father, when applied to a young man whom he loves and esteems, but whom he believes to be poor. Tiburcio Arellanos would have met with a refusal from Don Augustin—softened, it is true, by affectionate words—but had not Fabian de Mediana a better chance of success?
"Will you tell me how Tiburcio Arellanos can be Fabian de Mediana?" asked Don Augustin, with more curiosity than anger. "Who gave you this information?"
"You were not present at the close of the stranger's narrative," replied Dona Rosarita, "or you would have heard that the young companion of the two brave hunters whose dangers he nobly shared, was no other than Tiburcio Arellanos, now become the Count Fabian de Mediana. To this day I am ignorant of how, alone and wounded, he quitted the hacienda, and by what circumstances he found these unexpected protectors—or what relationship exists between Tiburcio and the Duke de Armada. But this man, who knows, will tell you."
"Let him be instantly sought," said Don Augustin, quickly; and he called an attendant to whom he gave the order.
Don Augustin awaited with the greatest impatience, the return of Gayferos; but they sought him in vain. He had disappeared. We shall presently explain the motive of his departure. Almost at the same moment in which the haciendado and his daughter were informed of it, another attendant entered to announce that Tragaduros was dismounting in the court-yard of the hacienda.
The coincidence of the Senator's return with the approaching arrival of Fabian, was one of those events in which chance, oftener than might be supposed, sports with the events of real life.
Rosarita, in order to secure an ally in her father, hastened to embrace him tenderly, and to testify her astonishment at a miracle, which had converted the adopted son of a gambusino into the heir of one of the most powerful families in Spain. After having launched this twofold dart against the Senator, the young girl vanished from the apartment, leaving her father alone.
Tragaduros entered like a man who feels that the announcement of his arrival is always welcome. His manner was that of a future kinsman, for he had obtained the father's promise and the daughter's consent, although that consent was only tacitly given. However, notwithstanding his self-satisfaction, and his confidence in the future, the Senator could not fail to remark the grave reserve of Don Augustin's manner. He thought himself at liberty to remark it.
"Don Estevan de Arechiza, the Duke of Armada, is no more," said the haciendado; "both you and I have lost a dear and noble friend."
"What, dead?" cried the Senator, hiding his face with an embroidered cambric handkerchief. "Poor Don Estevan! I do not think I shall ever be able to console myself."
His future, nevertheless, might not have been obscured by perpetual grief, for the regret he expressed was far from being in harmony with his most secret thoughts. While he acknowledged the many obligations he owed to Don Estevan, he could not help remembering that had he lived, he would have been compelled to spend in political intrigues the half of his wife's marriage portion; half a million of money he must thus have thrown to the dogs. It is true, he said to himself, I shall neither be a count, marquis, or duke of any kind, but to my thinking, half a million of money is worth more than a title, and will multiply my pleasures considerably. This fatal event will besides hasten the period of my marriage. Perhaps after all Don Estevan's death is not a misfortune. "Poor Don Estevan," he continued aloud, "what an unexpected blow!"
Tragaduros had yet to learn that it might have been better for him had Don Estevan lived. We will leave him with the haciendado, and follow Gayferos—for perhaps the reader will be glad to hear from him again.
The adventurer had saddled his horse, and unseen by anybody had crossed the plain and again taken the road which led to the Presidio of Tubac.
The route which he followed for some time brought him in contact with few travellers, and when by chance some horseman appeared in the distance, Gayferos, as he passed him, exchanged an impatient salutation, but failed to recognise the one he sought.
The day was drawing towards a close, and it was at a late hour when Gayferos uttered a joyful exclamation on seeing three travellers advancing at a gallop.
These travellers were no others than the Canadian, Pepe, and Fabian de Mediana. The giant was mounted upon a strong mule, larger and more vigorous than the Mexican horses. Nevertheless this animal was somewhat out of proportion with the gigantic stature of the rider.
Fabian and Pepe rode two excellent coursers, which they had taken from the Indians.
The young man was greatly changed since the day when he arrived for the first time at the Hacienda del Venado.
Painful and indelible recollections had left their traces upon his pale and wasted cheeks, a few wrinkles furrowed his brow, though the brilliancy of his eye was heightened by the sorrowful reflection of the passion which consumed him. But perhaps in the eyes of a woman his pale and sickly appearance might render the young Count of Mediana still more handsome and interesting than was that of Tiburcio Arellanos.
Would not that countenance, ennobled by toil and travel, remind Dona Rosarita of the love for which she had every reason to feel proud and happy? Would it not tell of dangers overcome, and surround itself with a double halo of sacrifice and suffering?
As to the rough countenances of the hunters, sun, fatigue, and danger of every kind had left them unchanged. If the hot winds had bronzed their skin, six months more of the adventurous life to which they were accustomed left no trace upon their sunburnt features.
They testified no surprise on seeing the gambusino, but a lively curiosity was depicted in the glance of each. A look from Gayferos, however, soon satisfied them. That look doubtless assured them that all was as they wished. Fabian alone expressed some astonishment on seeing his old companion so near the Hacienda del Venado.
"Was if in order to precede us here that you came to take leave of us near Tubac?" asked Fabian.
"Doubtless—did I not tell you so?" replied Gayferos.
"I did not understand you thus," said Fabian, who, without seeming to attach much importance to that which was said or done around him, relapsed into the melancholy silence which had become habitual to him.
Gayferos turned his horse's head round, and the four travellers continued their journey in silence.
At the expiration of an hour, during which Gayferos and the Canadian only exchanged a few words in a low tone, and to which Fabian, always absorbed in thought, gave no attention, the recollections of a past, not very remote, crowded upon the memory of the three travellers. They were again crossing the plain which extends beyond El Salto de Agua, and a few minutes afterwards they reached the torrent itself which foams down perpetually between the rocks. A bridge, the same size as the former one, replaced that which had been precipitated into the gulf below by those men who now slept their last sleep in the valley of gold, the object of their ambition.
The Canadian here dismounted.
"Now, Fabian," said he, "here Don Estevan was found; the three bandits (I except, however, poor Diaz, the tenor of the Indians) were there. See, here are still the prints of your horse's hoofs—when he slipped from this rock, dragging you downwards in his fall. Ah! Fabian, my child, I can even now see the water foaming around you—even now hear the cry of anguish I uttered. What an impetuous young man you then were!"
"That I no longer am," said Fabian, smiling sadly.
"Oh, no! at the present time your manner is imbued with the firm stoicism of an Indian warrior who smiles at the tortures of the stake. In the midst of these scenes your face is calm, yet I am convinced the recollections they recall to you must be harrowing in the extreme; is it not so, Fabian?"
"You are mistaken, my father," replied Fabian; "my heart resembles this rock, where, though you say so, I no longer trace my horse's hoofs; and my memory is mute as the echo of your own voice, which you seem still to hear. When, before suffering me to return and live forever removed from the inhabitants of yonder deserts, you required as a last trial that I should again behold a spot which might recall old recollections, I told you those recollections no longer existed."
A tear dimmed the Canadian's eye, but he concealed it by turning his back to Fabian as he remounted his mule.
The travellers then crossed the bridge formed of the trunks of trees.
"Do you trace upon this moss which covers the ground the print of my horse's hoofs when I pursued Don Estevan and his troop?" asked Fabian of Bois-Rose. "No! the dead leaves of the past winter have obliterated them—the grass which sprung up after the rainy season has grown over them."
"Ah! if I raised the leaves, if I tore up the grass, I should again discover their traces, Fabian; and if I searched the depth of your heart—"
"You would find nothing, I tell you," interrupted Fabian with some impatience; "but I am mistaken," he added, gently, "you would find a reminiscence of childhood, one of those in which you are associated, my father."
"I believe it, Fabian, I believe it—you who have been the delight of my whole life; but I have told you that I will not accept your sacrifice until to-morrow at this hour, when you shall have seen all, even the breach in the old wall, over which you once sprung, wounded in body and spirit."
A shudder, like that of the condemned on seeing the last terrible instrument of torture, passed through Fabian's frame.
The travellers halted at length, in that part of the forest situated between the Salto de Agua and the hacienda, in the open space where Fabian had found in the Canadian and his comrade, friends whom God seemed to have sent to him from the extreme ends of the earth.
Now the shades of night no longer obscured the silent depths of the American forest—a silence in which there is something awful when the sun in its zenith sends forth burning rays like blades of crimson fire, when the flower of the lliana closes its chalice, when the stems of the grass drop languidly downwards, as though in search of nourishment, and the whole face of nature, silent and inanimate, appears buried in sleep. The distant roar of the cataract was the only sound which at this hour broke the stillness of the forest.
The travellers unsaddled, and having removed their horses' bridles, fastened them at some distance off. As they had travelled all night to escape the heat of the sun, they determined to take their siesta under the shade of the trees.
Gayferos was the first who fell asleep. His affection for Fabian was not disturbed by any fears for the future. Pepe was not long in following his example. The Canadian only and Fabian did not close their eyes.
"You are not sleeping, Fabian," said Bois-Rose, in a low voice.
"No, nor you. Why do you not take some rest, like our companions?"
"One cannot sleep, Fabian, in a spot consecrated by so many sacred memories," replied the old hunter. "This place is rendered holy to me. Was it not here that, by the intervention of a miracle, I again found you in the heart of this forest, after having lost you upon the wide ocean? I should be ungrateful to the Almighty if I could forget this— even to obtain the rest which He has appointed for us."
"I think as you do, my father, and listen to your words," replied the young Count.
"Thanks, Fabian; thanks also to that God who ordained that I should find you with a heart so noble and so loving. See! here are still the remains of the fire near which I sat; here are the brands, still black, though they have been washed by the rain of an entire season. Here is the tree against which I leant on the happiest evening of my life, since it restored you to me; for now that I can again call you my son, each day of my existence has been fraught with happiness, until I learnt what I should have understood, that my affection for you was not that to which the young heart aspires."
"Why so frequently allude to this subject, my father?" said Fabian, with that gentle submission which is more cutting than the bitterest reproach.
"As you will. Let us not again allude to that which may pain you; we shall speak of it after the trial to which I have submitted you."
The father and son—for we may indeed call them so—now maintained a long silence, listening only to the voices of nature. The sun approached the horizon, a light breeze sprung up and rustled among the leaves; already hopping from branch to branch, the birds resumed their song, the insects swarmed in the grass, and the lowing of cattle was heard in the distance. It was the denizens of the forest who welcomed the return of evening.
The two sleepers awoke.
After a short and substantial repast, of which Gayferos had brought the materials from the Hacienda del Venado, the four travellers awaited in calm meditation the hour of their great trial.
Some time passed away before the azure sky above the open clearing was overcast.
Gradually, however, the light of day diminished on the approach of twilight, and then myriads of stars shone in the firmament, like sparks sown by the sun as he quitted the horizon. At length, as on that evening to which so many recollections belonged, when Fabian, wounded, reached the wood-rangers by their fire, the moon illumined the summits of the trees and the glades of the forest.
"Can we light a fire?" inquired Pepe.
"Certainly; for it may chance that we shall spend the night here," replied Bois-Rose. "Is not this your desire, Fabian?"
"It matters little to me," replied the young man; "here or yonder, are we not always agreed?"
Fabian, as we have said, had long felt that the Canadian could not live, even with him, in the heart of towns, without yearning for the liberty and free air of the desert. He knew also that to live without him would be still more impossible for his comrade; and he had generously offered himself as a sacrifice to the affection of the old hunter.
Bois-Rose was aware of the full extent of the sacrifice, and the tear he had that morning shed by stealth, was one of gratitude. We shall by-and-by enter more fully into the Canadian's feelings.
The position of the stars indicated eleven o'clock.
"Go, my son," said Bois-Rose to Fabian. "When you have reached the spot where you parted from the woman who perhaps loved you, put your hand upon your heart. If you do not feel its pulses beat quicker, return, for you will then have overcome the past."
"I shall return, then," replied Fabian, in a tone of melancholy firmness: "memory is to me like the breath of the wind which passes by without resting, and leaves no trace."
He departed slowly. A fresh breeze tempered the hot exhalations which rose from the earth. A resplendent moon shone upon the landscape at the moment when Fabian, having quitted the shadow of the forest, reached the open space intervening between it and the wall inclosing the hacienda.
Until that moment he proceeded with a slow but firm step, but when, through the silver vapours of the night, he perceived the white wall with the breach in the centre partly visible, his pace slackened, and his knees trembled under him.
Did he dread his approaching defeat? for his conscience told him already that he would be vanquished—or was it rather those recollections which, now so painfully recalled, rose up before him like the floods of the sea?
There was a deep silence, and the night, but for a slight vapour, was clear. All at once Fabian halted and stood still like the dismayed traveller, who sees a phantom rise up in his path. A white and airy form appeared distinctly visible above the breach in the old wall. It resembled one of the fairies in the old legends of the north, which to the eye of the Scandinavian idolaters floated amidst vapours and mists. To the eye of Fabian it bore the angel form of his first and only love!
For one instant this lovely apparition appeared to Fabian to melt away; but his eyes deceived him, for in spite of himself they were obscured. The vision remained stationary. When he had strength to move, he advanced nearer, and still the vision did not disappear.
The young man's heart felt as if it would burst, for at this moment a horrible idea crossed his mind. He believed that what he saw was Rosarita's spirit, and he would rather a thousand times have known her living, though pitiless and disdainful, than behold her dead, though she appeared in the form of a gentle and benignant apparition.
A voice, whose sweet accents fell upon his ear like heavenly music, failed to dispel the illusion, though the voice spoke in human accents.
"Is it you, Tiburcio? I expected you."
Even the penetration of a spirit from the other world could not have divined that he would return from such a distance.
"Is it you, Rosarita?" cried Fabian, in a scarcely perceptible voice, "or a delusive vision which will quickly disappear?"
And Fabian stood motionless, fixed to the spot, so greatly did he fear that the beloved image would vanish from his sight.
"It is I," said the voice; "I am indeed here."
"O God! the trial will be more terrible than I dared to think," said Fabian, inwardly.
And he advanced a step forward, then paused; the poor young man did not entertain a hope.
"By what miracle of heaven do I find you here?" he cried.
"I come every evening, Tiburcio," replied the young girl.
This time Fabian began to tremble more with love than hope.
We have seen that Rosarita, in her last interview with Fabian, chose rather to run the risk of death than confess that she loved him. Since then she had suffered so much, she had shed so many tears, that now love was stronger than virgin purity.
A young girl may sometimes, by such courage, sanctify and enhance her modesty.
"Come nearer, Tiburcio," she said; "see! here is my hand."
Fabian rushed forward to her feet. He seized the hand she offered convulsively, but he tried in vain to speak.
The young girl looked down with anxious tenderness upon his face.
"Let me see if you are much changed, Tiburcio," she continued. "Ah! yes. Grief has left its traces on your brow, but honour has ennobled it. You are as brave as you are handsome, Tiburcio. I learned with pride that danger had never made your cheek turn pale."
"You heard, did you say?" cried Fabian; "but what have you heard?"
"All, Tiburcio; even to your most secret thoughts. I have heard all, even of your coming here this evening. Do you understand? and I am here!"
"Before I dare to comprehend, Rosarita,—for this time a mistake would kill me," continued Fabian, whose heart was stirred to its very depths by the young girl's words, and the tenderness of her manner, "will you answer one question, that is if I dare to ask it?"
"Dare, then, Tiburcio," said Rosarita, tenderly. "Ask what you wish. I came to-night to hear you—to deny you nothing."
"Listen," said the young Count: "six months ago I had to avenge my mother's death, and that of the man who had stood in my father's place, Marcos Arellanos; for if you know all, you know that I am no longer—"
"To me you are the same, Tiburcio; I never knew Don Fabian de Mediana."
"The wretch who was about to expiate his crime—the assassin of Marcos Arellanos, in short, Cuchillo—begged for his life. I had no power to grant it; when he cried, 'I ask it in the name of Dona Rosarita, who loves you, for I heard—,' the suppliant was upon the edge of a precipice. I would have pardoned him for love of you; when one of my companions precipitated him into the gulf below. A hundred times, in the silence of the night, I recalled that suppliant voice, and asked myself in anguish, What did he then hear? I ask it of you this evening, Rosarita."
"Once, once only, did my lips betray the secret of my heart. It was here, in this very spot, when you had quitted our dwelling. I will repeat to you what I then said."
The girl seemed to be collecting all her strength, before she dared tell the young man that she loved him, and that openly and passionately; then—her pure countenance shining with virgin innocence, which fears not, because it knows no ill, she turned towards Tiburcio.
"I have suffered too much," she said, "from one mistake, to allow of any other; it is thus, then, with my hands in yours, and my eyes meeting yours, that I repeat to you what I then said. You had fled from me, Tiburcio. I knew you were far away, and I thought God alone heard me when I cried: 'Come back, Tiburcio, come back! I love only you!'"
Fabian, trembling with love and happiness, knelt humbly at the feet of this pure young girl, as he might have done before a Madonna, who had descended from her pedestal.
At this moment he was lost to all the world,—Bois-Rose, the past, the future—all were forgotten like a dream on awaking, and he cried in a broken voice:
"Rosarita! I am yours forever! I dedicate my future life to you only."
Rosarita uttered a faint cry. Fabian turned, and remained mute with astonishment.
Leaning quietly upon his long carbine, stood Bois-Rose, a few paces from them, contemplating, with a look of deep tenderness the two lovers.
It was the realisation of his dream in the isle of Rio Gila.
"Oh, my father!" cried Fabian sadly; "do you forgive me for suffering myself to be vanquished?"
"Who would not have been, in your place, my beloved Fabian?" said the Canadian, smiling.
"I have broken my oath, my father!" continued Fabian; "I had promised never to love any other but you. Pardon! pardon!"
"Child, who implores pardon, when it is I who should ask it?" said Bois-Rose; "you were more generous than I, Fabian. Never did a lioness snatch her cub from the hands of the hunters, and carry it to her den, with a more savage love than I dragged you from the habitations of men to hide you in the desert. I was happy, because all my affections were centred in you; and I believed that you might also be so. You did not murmur; you sacrificed, unhesitatingly, all the treasures of your youth—a thousand times more precious than those of the Golden Valley. I did not intend it should be so, and it is I who have been selfish, and not generous, for if you had died of grief, I should have died also."
"What do you mean?" cried Fabian.
"What I say, child. Who watched over your slumbers during long nights, to hear from your lips the secret wishes of your heart? It was I, who determined to accompany to this spot, Gayferos, whom at your intercession I saved from the hands of the Apaches. Who sent him to seek this beautiful and gracious lady, and learn if in her heart, she still treasured your memory? It was I still, my child, for your happiness is a thousand times more precious than mine. Who persuaded you to make this last trial? It was still I, my child, who knew that you must succumb to it. To-morrow I had said to you, I will accept your sacrifice; but Gayferos had even then read the most secret pages of this lady's heart. Why do you ask my pardon, when I tell you it is I, who should ask yours?"
The Canadian, as he finished these words, opened his arms to Fabian, who eagerly rushed into his embrace.
"Oh, my father," cried he, "so much happiness frightens me, for never was man happier than I."
"Grief will come when God wills it," said the Canadian, solemnly.
"But you, what will become of you?" asked Fabian, anxiously. "Your loss will be to me the only bitterness in my full cup of joy."
"As God wills, my child," answered the Canadian. "It is true, I cannot live in cities, but this dwelling, which will be yours, is on the borders of the desert. Does not infinity surround me here? I shall build with Pepe—Ho, Pepe," said the hunter in a loud voice, "come and ratify my promise."
Pepe and Gayferos came forward at the hunter's summons.
"I and Pepe," he continued, "will build a hut of the trunks and bark of trees upon the spot of ground where I found you again. We shall not always be at home, it is true, but perhaps some time hence should you wish to claim the name and fortune of your ancestors in Spain, you will find two friends ready to follow you to the end of the world. Come, my Fabian, I have no doubt that I shall be even happier than you, for I shall experience a double bliss in my happiness and yours."
But why dwell longer upon such scenes? happiness is so transitory and impalpable that it will not bear either analysis or description.
"There remains but one obstacle now," resumed the hunter. "This sweet lady's father."
"To-morrow he will expect his son," interrupted Rosarita, who stood by, listening with singular interest to the dialogue.
"Then let me bless mine," said the Canadian.
Fabian knelt before the hunter.
The latter removed his fur cap, and with moist eyes raised to the starry heavens, he said—
"Oh! my God! bless my son, and grant that his children may love him as he has been loved by old Bois-Rose."
The following day the illustrious Senator returned in sadness to Arispe.
"I was sure," he said, "that I should unceasingly mourn for poor Don Estevan. I might at least have possessed, besides my wife's marriage portion, a title of honour and half a million of money. It is certainly a great misfortune that poor Don Estevan is dead."
Sometime afterwards a hut made of the bark and trunks of trees was built in the forest glade so well-known to the reader. Often Fabian de Mediana, accompanied by Rosarita, to whom he was now united by the holy ties of marriage, performed a pilgrimage to the dwellers in the hut.
Perhaps at a later period one of those pilgrimages might be undertaken with the view of claiming the assistance of the two brave hunters in an expedition to the Golden Valley or to the coast of Spain; but that is a thing of the future. Let us for the present be content with saying, that if the happiness of this world is not a vain delusion, in truth it exists at the Hacienda del Venado, enjoyed by Fabian, Rosarita, and the brave Wood-Rangers—Pepe and Bois-Rose.