THE REBEL CHIEF

A TALE OF GUERILLA LIFE

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD

AUTHOR OF "THE BEE-HUNTERS," "STRONGHAND," "BUCCANEER CHIEF,"

&c. &c. &c.

LONDON
WARD AND LOCK, 158, FLEET STREET
MDCCCLXV.

CONTENTS.

I. LAS CUMBRES
II. THE TRAVELLERS
III. THE SALTEADORES
IV. EL RAYO
V. THE HACIENDA DEL ARENAL
VI. THROUGH THE WINDOW
VII. TO THE RANCHO
VIII. THE WOUNDED MAN
IX. A DISCOVERY
X. THE MEETING
XI. IN THE PLAIN
XII. POLITICAL
XIII. THE CONVENTION BONDS
XIV. THE HOUSE IN THE SUBURBS
XV. DON MELCHIOR
XVI. THE ASSAULT
XVII. AFTER THE BATTLE
XVIII. THE AMBUSH
XIX. COMPLICATIONS
XX. THE SURPRISE
XXI. THE PRISONERS
XXII. DON DIEGO
XXIII. THE SUPPER
XXIV. THE REVELATION
XXV. THE AVENGER
XXVI. SUNNY HOURS
XXVII. AN HONEST MAN
XXVIII. LOVE
XXIX. THE BOLD STROKE
XXX. THE SORTIE
XXXI. TRIUMPH
XXXII. EL PALO QUEMADO
XXXIII. SETTLEMENT OF ACCOUNTS
XXXIV. A SUPREME RESOLUTION
XXXV. JOSÉ DOMINQUEZ
XXXVI. THE BEGINNING OF THE END
XXXVII. THE LAST BLOW
XXXVIII. FACE TO FACE
XXXIX. THE HATCHET
 


CHAPTER I.

LAS CUMBRES.


No country in the world offers to the delighted traveller more charming landscapes than Mexico; among them all, that of Las Cumbres or the peak, is, without fear of contradiction, one of the most striking and most agreeably diversified.

Las Cumbres form a succession of defiles in the mountains, through which winds, with infinite meanderings, the road that runs to Puebla de los Ángeles (the town of the Angels), so called, because the angels, according to tradition, built the cathedral there. The road to which we allude, made by the Spaniards, runs along the side of the mountains with curves of extraordinary boldness, and is bordered on either side by an unbroken line of abrupt peaks, bathed in a bluish vapour at each turn of this road, which is, as it were, suspended over precipices clad with a luxurious vegetation. The scene changes, and grows more and more picturesque. The mountain peaks no longer rise behind one another, but gradually sink into the plain, while on the other hand, those left behind rise perpendicularly.

On July 2nd, 18—, about four in the afternoon, at the moment when the sun, already low on the horizon, only shed its beams obliquely on the earth, calcined by the heat of the mediodía, and when the rising breeze was beginning to refresh the parching atmosphere, two horsemen, well mounted, emerged from a thick clump of yuccas, bananas, and purpled flowered bamboos, and turned into a dusty road, which led by a series of successive inclines to a valley in which a limpid stream ran through the verdure, and kept up its pleasant freshness.

The travellers, probably struck by the unexpected sight of the grand landscape which was so suddenly unfolded before them, stopped their horses, and after gazing for some minutes admiringly at the picturesque arrangement of the mountains, they dismounted, took off their horses' bridles, and sat down on the bank of the stream, with the evident intention of enjoying for a few minutes longer the effects of this admirable kaleidoscope, which is unique in the world.

Judging from the direction they were following, the travellers appeared to come from Orizaba, and to be going to Puebla de los Ángeles, whence they were at no great distance at the moment.

The two horsemen wore the attire of rich hacenderos, a costume which we have described too frequently to render a repetition necessary here: we will only mention one characteristic peculiarity rendered necessary by the slight degree of security on the roads at the time when our story takes place. Both were armed in a formidable manner, and carried with them a complete arsenal. In addition to the six-shot revolvers in their holsters, others were thrust through their belts. They carried in their hand a first-rate double barrel, turned out by Devismes, the celebrated Parisian gunsmith; and thus each was enabled to fire twenty-six rounds, without counting the machete, or straight sabre, hanging at their side, the triangular-bladed knife thrust into the right boot, and the lasso, or reata, coiled on the saddle, to which it was securely attached by a carefully riveted iron ring.

Certainly if men thus armed were endowed with a fair amount of courage, they might face without disadvantage even a considerable number of enemies. However, they did not seem to trouble themselves at all about the wild and solitary aspect of the spot where they were, and conversed gaily while half reclining on the green grass, and carelessly smoking their cigars—real Havana puros.

The elder of the riders was a man of from forty to forty-five years, though he did not seem more than six-and-thirty, above the middle height; he was elegantly, though powerfully built, his well knit limbs denoted great bodily strength, he had marked features, and an energetic and intelligent countenance; his black sparkling eyes, ever in motion, were soft, but at times emitted brilliant flashes, when they were animated, and they then gave his face a harsh and savage expression impossible to describe; he had a lofty and spacious forehead, and sensual lips; a beard black and tufted like that of an Ethiopian, and mixed with silvery threads—fell on his chest; a luxuriant head of hair, thrown back, covered his shoulders, and his bronzed complexion was of a brick colour. In short, judging from his appearance, he was one of those determined men who are invaluable in certain critical circumstances, because a friend runs no risk of being deserted by them. Although it was impossible to distinguish his nationality, his brusque, sharp gestures, and his quick imperative speech, seemed to give him a Southern origin.

His companion—who was much younger, for he did not appear above eight-and-twenty years of age—was tall, rather thin, and delicate looking, though not at all sickly; his elegant slim stature, and extremely small feet and hands, denoted high birth; his features were fine, his countenance pleasing and intelligent, and stamped with a great expression of gentleness; his blue eyes, light hair, and, above all, the whiteness of his complexion, caused him at once to be recognised as a European belonging to the temperate clime, recently landed in America.

We have said that the two travellers were conversing together, and the language they employed was French; the turn of their phrases, and the want of accent, led to the supposition that they were expressing themselves in their own language.

"Well, Count," said the elder, "do you regret having followed my advice, and instead of being jolted over execrable roads, undertaking this journey on horseback in the company of your humble servant?"

"By Jove! I should be very difficult to please were it so," the one to whom the title of Count was given replied. "I have travelled through Switzerland, Italy, and the banks of the Rhine, like everybody else, and must confess that I never before saw such exquisite scenery as that which I have gazed on for the last few days—thanks to you."

"You are a thousand times too polite: the scenery is really very fine, and remarkably diversified," he added, with a sardonic expression which escaped his companion; "and yet," he remarked with a stifled sigh, "I have seen finer, still."

"Finer than this?" the Count exclaimed, stretching out his arm, and describing a semicircle in the air; "Oh, sir, that is not possible."

"You are young, my lord," the first speaker resumed with a sad smile; "your tourist travels have only been child's play. This attracts you by the contrast it forms to the other scenery, that is all; having never studied nature except from an opera stall, you did not suppose that it could hold such surprises in reserve for you; your enthusiasm has been suddenly raised to a diapason, which intoxicates you through the strangeness of the contrasts which are incessantly offered you; but if, like myself, you had wandered over the savannahs of the interior, the immense prairies over which the wild children of this country, whom civilisation has despoiled, roam in freedom—like myself, you would only have a smile of contempt for the scenery that surrounds us, and which at this moment you are admiring so conscientiously."

"What you say may be true," Mr. Oliver; "unfortunately I am not acquainted with the savannahs and prairies to which you refer, and probably shall never see them."

"Why not?" the first speaker interposed quickly; "You are young, rich, strong, and free—at least I suppose so. What is there to prevent you attempting an excursion into the great American desert? You are in a capital position at this moment to carry out such an expedition; it is one of those journeys, reputed impossible, of which you will be able to speak with pride hereafter when you return to your own country."

"I should like it," the Count answered with a tinge of melancholy; "unluckily that is impossible, for my journey must terminate at Mexico."

"At Mexico?" Oliver repeated in surprise.

"Alas! Yes, sir, so it is; I am not my own master, and am now obeying the influence of stranger's will. I have simply come to this country to be married."

"Married! At Mexico! you, my lord?" Oliver exclaimed in astonishment.

"Yes," very prosaically, "married to a woman I do not know, who does not know mo either, and who doubtless feels no more love for me than I do for her: we are related—we were betrothed in the cradle, and now the moment has arrived to keep the promise made in our names by our parents—that is all."

"But in that case the young lady is French?"

"Not at all: she is Spanish, and I believe a bit of a Mexican."

"But you are a Frenchman?"

"Certainly, and from Touraine to boot," he replied with a smile.

"That being so, allow me to ask, sir, how it happens that—"

"Oh, very naturally so; my story will not be long, and as you seem inclined to hear it, I will tell it you in a very few words. You know my name—I am Count Ludovic Mahiet de la Saulay; my family, which belongs to the Touraine, is one of the oldest in that province, and goes back to the first Francs; one of my ancestors, so it is said, was one of the leaders of King Clovis, who gave him, as a reward for his faithful and valiant services, vast prairies bordered by willows, from which my family afterwards derived its name. I do not tell you of this origin through any absurd feeling of pride. Though of noble birth, I have been educated, thank Heaven, in ideas of progress sufficiently wide for me to know the value of a title in the present age, and to recognise that true nobility dwells entirely in elevated sentiments. Still, I was obliged to tell you these details concerning my family in order that you might thoroughly understand how my ancestors—who always held high offices under the different dynasties that have succeeded each other in France—happened to have a younger branch of the family Spanish, while the elder remained French. At the epoch of the league, the Spaniards, summoned by the partisans of the Guises, with whom they had formed an alliance against King Henry IV., then only called King of Navarre, were quartered for a rather lengthened period in Paris. I ask your pardon, my dear Mr. Oliver, for thus entering into details which may appear to you very wearisome."

"Pardon me, my lord, on the contrary, they greatly interest me; so pray go on."

The young man bowed and resumed—

"Now, the Count de Saulnay—alive at that time—was an impetuous partisan of the Guises, and a very intimate friend of the Duke of Mayence; the Count had three children—two sons, who fought in the ranks of the army of the League, and a daughter who was maid of honour to the Duchess of Montpensier, the sister of the Duke of Mayence. The siege of Paris lasted a long time, it was even abandoned, then resumed by Henry IV., who eventually bought for ready money a city which he despaired of seizing, and which the Duc de Brissac, Governor of the Bastille for the league, sold him. Many of the officers serving under the Duke de Mendoza, Commander of the Spanish troops, and that General himself, had their families with them. In short, the younger son of my ancestor fell in love with one of the Spanish General's nieces, asked her in marriage, and obtained her hand; while his sister consented, by the persuasion of the Duchess of Montpensier, to give hers to one of the General's aides-de-camp. The artificial and politic Duchess, thought by these alliances to keep the French nobility aloof from him whom she called, the Béarnais and the Huguenot, and retard his triumph if she did not render it impossible. As usually happens in such cases, her calculations proved to be false. The king re-conquered his kingdom, and those gentlemen most compromised in the troubles of the league, found themselves compelled to follow the Spaniards on their retreat, and leave France with them. My ancestor easily obtained his pardon of the king, who even deigned at a later date to give him an important command, and take his elder son into his service; but the younger, in spite of the entreaties and injunction of his father, never consented to return to France, and settled permanently in Spain. Still, though separated, the two branches of the family continued to maintain relations, and to intermarry. My grandfather married during the emigration a daughter of the Spanish branch: it is now my turn to contract a similar alliance. You see, my dear sir, that all this is very prosaic, and not at all interesting."

"Then you are willing, with your eyes shut as it were, to marry a person you have never seen, and whom you do not even know?"

"What would you have? So matters are; my consent is useless in the affair; the engagement was solemnly made by my father, and I must honour his word. Besides," he added with a smile, "my presence here proves to you that I did not hesitate to obey. Perhaps, had my will been free, I should not have contracted this union; unfortunately it did not depend on me, and I was obliged to conform to my father's wishes. However, I must confess to you that having been brought up with the continual prospect of this marriage, and knowing it to be inevitable, I have gradually accustomed myself to the thought of contracting it, and the sacrifice is not so great to me as you might suppose."

"No matter," Oliver said with some degree of rudeness; "to the deuce with nobility and fortune if they impose such obligations—better a life of adventure in the desert and poor independence; at any rate you are your own master."

"I am perfectly of your opinion; but for all that, I must bow my head. Now, will you permit me to ask you a question?"

"Of course, most readily—two if you like."

"How is it that we—who met by accident at the French hotel in Veracruz, just after I had landed—have become so quickly and intimately attached?"

"As for that, it is impossible for me to answer. You pleased me at first sight, your manner attracted me. I offered you my services; you accepted them, and we started together for Mexico. That is the whole story. When we arrive there we shall separate, doubtless, never to meet again, and all will be settled."

"Oh! Oh! Mr. Oliver, permit me to believe that you are mistaken; that, on the contrary, we shall meet frequently, and that our acquaintance will soon become a solid friendship."

The other shook his head several times.

"My lord," he said at length, "you are a gentleman, rich, and of good standing in the world; while I am but an adventurer, of whose past life you are ignorant, and whose name you scarce know, even supposing the one I bear at this moment is real; our positions are too different; there is between us a line of demarcation too distinctly traced for us ever to stand on a footing of suitable equality toward each other. So soon as we have re-entered civilisation, I feel—for I am older than you, and have a greater experience of the world—that I should soon become a burden to you; hence do not insist on this point, but let us both remain in our place. This, be convinced, will be better both for you and me. I am at this moment your guide rather than your friend, and this position is the only one that suits me: leave it to me."

The Count was preparing to reply; but Oliver sharply seized his arm.

"Silence," he said; "listen—"

"I hear nothing," the young man remarked at the end of a moment.

"That is true," the other replied with a smile; "your ears are not like mine, open to every sound that troubles the silence of the desert; a carriage is rapidly coming up from the direction of Orizaba, and is following the same route as ourselves; you will soon see it appear, for I can perfectly distinguish the tinkling of the mule bells."

"It is doubtless the Veracruz diligence, in which my servants and luggage are, and which we are only a few hours ahead of."

"Perhaps it is; perhaps it is not. I should be surprised if it had caught us up so quickly."

"What does it matter to us?" the Count said.

"Nothing, that is true, if it is the diligence," the other replied after a moment's reflection; "at any rate it is as well to take our precautions."

"Precautions, why?" the young man asked in astonishment.

Oliver gave him a look of singular meaning.

"You know nothing as yet about American life," he said presently; "in Mexico, the first law of existence is always to put yourself on guard against the possible chances of an ambuscade. Follow me, and do what you see me do."

"Are we going to conceal ourselves?"

"Of course," he said, with a shrug of his shoulders.

Without any further reply, he went up to his horse, which he re-bridled, and leapt into the saddle with a lightness and dexterity denoting great practice, and then started at a gallop for a clump of liquidambars, distant a hundred yards at the most.

The Count, involuntarily overpowered by the ascendancy which this man had contrived to obtain over him through his strange mode of dealing since they had been travelling together, jumped into the saddle and went after him.

"Good!" said the adventurer, as soon as they found themselves completely sheltered behind the trees; "Now let us wait."

Some minutes elapsed.

"Look!" Oliver said laconically, stretching out his hand in the direction of the little wood from which they had themselves emerged two hours previously.

The Count mechanically turned his head in the direction; at the same instant some ten irregular horsemen, armed with sabres and long lances, entered the valley at a gallop, and proceeded along the road towards the first defile of the Cumbres.

"Soldiers of the Veracruz President," the young man muttered; "what is the meaning of this?"

"Wait," the adventurer remarked.

The rolling of a carriage soon became distinct, and a berlin appeared, dragged at a tremendous pace by a team of six mules.

"Maldición!" the adventurer exclaimed with an angry gesture on perceiving the carriage.

The young man looked at his companion: the latter was pale as a corpse, and a convulsive tremor ran over all his limbs.

"What is the matter?" the Count asked him with interest.

"Nothing," he answered drily; "look—"

Behind the carriage a second squadron of cavalry came up at a gallop, following it at a slight distance, and raising clouds of dust as they passed.

Ere long cavalry and berlin entered the defile, when they soon disappeared.

"Confound it," the young man said with a laugh; "those are prudent travellers, at any rate; they will not run a risk of being plundered by the salteadores."

"Do you think so?" Oliver asked with an accent of biting sarcasm. "Well, you are mistaken, for they will be attacked within an hour, and probably by the soldiers paid to defend them."

"Nonsense—that is impossible."

"Would you like to see it?"

"Yes, for the rarity of the fact."

"You will have to take care though, for possibly powder may be burned."

"I hope so too."

"Then you are resolved to defend these travellers?"

"Certainly, if they are attacked."

"I repeat that they will be attacked."

"In that case we will fight."

"That will do: are you a good rider?"

"Don't trouble yourself about me; when you pass I will."

"Well, then, in Heaven's name, we have only just the time to get there; and mind and keep an eye on your horse, for on my soul, we are about to have such a ride as you never saw."

The two riders leant over their steeds' necks, and loosing the bridle, while at the same time digging in the spurs, they started on the track of the travellers.


CHAPTER II.

THE TRAVELLERS.


At the period when our story takes place, Mexico was going through one of those terrible crises, whose periodical return has gradually brought this hapless country into the extremity to which it is now reduced, and whence it cannot possibly emerge unaided. The following are the facts that occurred:—

General Zuloaga, nominated President of the Republic, one day found—it is not known why—power too oppressive for his shoulders, and abdicated in favour of General Don Miguel Miramón, who was consequently appointed interim President. The latter, an energetic and most ambitious man, began by governing at Mexico, where he was careful in the first instance to have his nomination to the first magistracy approved by Congress, who unanimously elected him, and by the ayuntamiento.

Miramón hence found himself de facto and de jure legitimate interim President; that is to say, for the period that must still elapse until the general elections.

Matters went on tolerably well for a considerable period; but Zuloaga, doubtless wearied of the obscurity in which he was living, altered his mind one fine day, and suddenly at a moment when it was least expected, issued a proclamation to the people, came to an understanding with the partizans of Juárez, who, in his quality of Vice President on Zuloaga's abdication, had not recognised the new President, but had himself elected constitutional President at Veracruz by a so-called national junta, and published a decree, by which he revoked his abdication, and took back from Miramón the power he had entrusted to him.

Miramón was but little affected by this unusual declaration, as he confided in the right he imagined he had, and which Congress had sanctioned. He went alone to the house inhabited by General Zuloaga, seized his person, and compelled him to follow him; saying with a sarcastic smile,—

"As you desire to resume the power, I am going to teach you how a man becomes President of the Republic."

And, keeping him as a hostage, though treating him with a certain degree of respect, he obliged him to accompany him on a campaign, which he undertook in the interior provinces against the generals of the opposite party, who, as we have said, assumed the name of Constitutionals.

Zuloaga offered no resistance: he apparently yielded to his fate, and accepted the consequences of his position so far as to complain to Miramón about not having a command in his army. The latter allowed himself to be deceived by this feigned resignation, and promised that his desire should be satisfied at the first battle. But one fine morning, Zuloaga and his aides-de-camp, who had been appointed to guard, rather than do him honour, suddenly disappeared, and it was learnt a few days after, that they had taken refuge with Juárez, from whose capital Zuloaga began protesting again more than ever against the violence done him, and fulminating decrees against Miramón.

Juárez is a cautious, cunning Indian, a profound dissimulator, a skilful politician. He is the only President of the Republic, since the declaration of independence, who was not a military man. Issuing from the lowest classes of Mexican society, he gradually rose, by dint of tenacity, to the eminent post which he so recently occupied. Knowing better than anyone else the character of the nation which he pretended to govern, no one knew so well as he how to flatter popular passions, and excite the enthusiasm of the masses. Gifted with an immeasurable ambition, which he carefully concealed beneath the cloak of a deep love for his country, he had gradually succeeded in creating a party, which, at the period of which we write, had grown formidable. The constitutional President organized his government at Veracruz, and from his cabinet instructed his generals to fight Miramón. Although he was not recognised by any power but the United States, he acted as if he were the true and legitimate depository of the national power. The adhesion of Zuloaga, whom he despised in his heart for his cowardice and nullity, supplied him with the weapon he needed to carry out his plans successfully. He made him, so to speak, the standard of his party, by declaring that Zuloaga must first be restored to the power which had been violently torn from him by Miramón, and that they would then proceed to new elections. However, Zuloaga did not hesitate to recognise him solemnly as sole President, legitimately nominated by the free election of the citizens.

The question was distinctly laid down. Miramón represented the conservative party, that is to say, the party of the clergy, large landowners and merchants; while Juárez represented the absolute democratic party.

The war then assumed formidable dimensions. Unluckily, money is needed to wage war, and that was what Juárez was entirely without, for the following reasons:

In Mexico the public fortunes are not concentrated in the hands of the government. Each state, each province retains the free disposal and management of the private funds of the towns forming parts of its territory; so that, instead of the provinces being dependent on the government, the government and metropolis endure the yoke of the provinces, which, when they revolt, stop the subsidies, and place the power in a critical position. Moreover, two thirds of the public fortune are in the hands of the clergy, who take very good care not to part with it, and who, as they pay no taxes, or obligations of any sort, spend their time in lending out their money at a high rate of interest, and ostensibly engage in usury, which enriches them, while they run no risk of losing their capital.

Juárez, though master of Veracruz, found himself, then, in a very critical position; but he is a man of resources, and felt no embarrassment in finding the money he wanted. He first began by laying hands on the customs of Veracruz, then he organised cuadrillas, or guerillas, who had no scruples in attacking the haciendas of the partisans of Miramón, Spaniards settled in the country, and generally very rich, and of foreigners of all nations who possessed any worth taking. These guerillas did not restrict their exploits to this; they undertook to plunder travellers and attack convoys: and it must not be supposed that we are exaggerating the facts, on the contrary, we are toning them down. We must add, for the sake of being just, that Miramón, for his part, let no opportunity slip for employing the same means, when he had the chance; but this was rare, for his position was not so advantageous as that of Juárez for fishing with profit in troubled waters.

It is true that the guerilleros acted apparently on their own account, and were loudly disapproved by both governments, who feigned on some occasions to act with severity against them; but the veil was so transparent, that the farce deceived nobody.

Mexico was thus transformed into an immense brigand's cave, in which one half of the population plundered and assassinated the other. Such was the political situation of this hapless country at the epoch to which we allude. It is dubious whether it has much changed since, unless to become worse.

On the same day that our narrative commences—at the moment when the sun, still beneath the horizon, was beginning to bar the dark blue sky with brilliant beams of purple and gold, a rancho, built of reeds, and resembling—though it was very large—a hen house, offered an animated appearance, very singular at so early an hour.

This rancho, built in the centre of a grassy patch, in a delicious situation, only a few paces from the Rincón grande, had been changed a short time before into a venta, or inn, for travellers surprised by the night, or who, for some reason, preferred stopping here to pushing on to the town.

On a rather large space of ground left unoccupied in front of the venta, the bales of several convoys of mules were ranged in a semi-circle, and piled on one another with some degree of symmetry. In the middle of the circle the arrieros crouching near the fire, were boucaning tasajo for their breakfast, or repairing the saddles of the animals, which, separated in troops, were eating their provender of maize placed on pesadas spread out on the ground. A berlin, loaded with trunks and boxes, was standing in a shed by the side of a diligence, which had been forced to stop here, owing to an accident to one of its wheels. Several travellers, who had spent the night in the open air, rolled up in their sarapes, were beginning to wake, while others were walking up and down, smoking their papilitos; some who were more active, had already saddled their horses, and were starting at a gallop in various directions.

Ere long, the mayoral of the diligence came out from under his vehicle, where he had slept on the grass, gave his animals their forage, washed the wounds produced by the harness, and then began summoning the travellers. The latter, aroused by his shouts, came out of the venta, half awake, and went to take their places in the coach. They were nine in number, with the exception of two individuals, dressed in the European style, and easily to be recognised as Frenchmen. All the rest wore the Mexican garb, and appeared to be true hijos del país, that is to say, children of the country.

At the moment when the driver, or mayoral—a pure-blooded Yankee—after succeeding, by dint of Yankee oaths mingled with bad Spanish, in getting his passengers into the vehicle, which was half dislocated by the jolting of the road, was taking up the reins to start, the galloping of horses, accompanied by the rattling of sabres, was heard, and a band of horsemen, dressed in a sort of uniform, though in very bad condition, halted in front of the rancho.

This troop, composed of twenty men, with hangdog faces, was commanded by an alférez, or sub-lieutenant, as poorly attired as his soldiers; but his weapons were in excellent condition.

This officer was a tall, thin, but muscular man, with a crafty face, sly eye, and bistre-coloured complexion.

"Hola, compadre," he shouted to the mayoral, "you are starting at a very early hour, it strikes me."

The Yankee, so insolent a moment before, suddenly changed his manner: he bowed humbly, with a false smile, and answered in a soothing voice, while affecting a great joy, which he probably did not feel,—

"Ah! Válgame Dios! It is Señor don José Dominquez! What a fortunate meeting! I was far from expecting so great a happiness this morning. Has your Excellency come to escort the diligence?"

"Not today; another duty brings me."

"Oh! Your Excellency is perfectly right; my travellers do not at all deserve so honourable an escort. They are costeños, who do not appear to me at all rich. Besides, I shall be obliged to stop at least three hours at Orezaba, to repair my coach."

"In that case, good-bye, and go to the deuce!" the officer answered.

The mayoral hesitated a moment, but then, instead of stating as he was ordered, he rapidly got down from his box and went up to the officer.

"You have some news to give me, have you not, compader?" the latter said.

"I have señor," the mayoral replied with a false laugh.

"Ah, ah," said the other, "and what is it, good or bad?"

"El Rayo is ahead on the road to Mexico." The officer gave an almost imperceptible start at this revelation, but at once recovered himself.

"You are mistaken," he said.

"No, I am not, for I saw him as I see you now." The officer seemed to reflect for a minute or two.

"Very good, I thank you, compader, I will take my precautions. And your travellers?"

"They are poor scamps, with the exception of the two servants of a French count, whose trunks fill, up the whole coach. The others do not deserve any notice. Do you intend to examine them?"

"I have not yet decided; I will think over it."

"Well, you will act as you think proper. Pardon me for leaving you, Señor don José, but my passengers are growing impatient and I must be off."

"Good-bye then for the present."

The mayoral mounted to his box, lashed his mules, and the vehicle started at a pace not very reassuring for those whom it contained, and who ran a risk of breaking their bones at every turn of the road.

So soon as the officer was alone he went up to the ventero who was engaged in measuring maize for some arrieros, and addressing him haughtily, asked:

"Eh! Have you not a Spanish caballero and a lady here?"

"Yes," the ventero replied, doffing his hat with a respect mingled with fear. "Yes, señor officer, a rather aged caballero, accompanied by a very young lady, arrived here yesterday a little after sunset, in the berlin which you can see there under the shed: they had an escort with them. From what the soldiers said, they have come from Veracruz, and are going to Mexico."

"Those are the people I am sent to serve as their escort as far as Puebla de los Ángeles; but they do not seem in any hurry to start: yet, it will be a long day's journey and they would do well to hurry."

At this moment an inner door was opened, a richly dressed gentleman entered the common room, and after slightly raising his hat and uttering the usual Ave Maria Purísima, he walked up to the officer who, on perceiving him, had taken several steps toward him.

This new personage was a man of about fifty-five years of age, but still in his prime: he was tall and elegant, his features were handsome and noble, and an expression of frankness and kindness was spread over his countenance.

"I am Don Antonio de Carrera," he said, addressing the officer; "I heard the few words you addressed to our host: I believe, Sir, that I am the person you have orders to escort."

"It is true, señor," the sub-lieutenant politely replied, "the name you have mentioned is really the one written on the order of which I am the bearer: I await your good pleasure, ready to do whatever you may desire."

"I thank you, señor: my daughter is slightly unwell, and I should be afraid of injuring her delicate health, if I set out at so early an hour. If you have no objection, we will remain a few hours longer here, and then set out after breakfast, which I shall feel honoured by your deigning to share."

"I offer you a thousand thanks, caballero," the officer replied with a courteous bow; "but I am only a rough soldier, whose society cannot be agreeable to a lady: be kind enough, therefore, to excuse if I refuse your gracious invitation, for which, however, I feel as grateful as if I had accepted it."

"I will not press you, señor, though I should have been flattered to have you as a guest: it is settled then that we are to remain here a little while longer?"

"As long as you please, señor: I repeat that I am at your orders."

After this exchange of politeness the two speakers separated, the old gentleman re-entered the rancho, and the officer went out to give his squadron orders to bivouac.

The soldiers dismounted, picketed their horses, and began strolling about, smoking a cigarette, and looking at everything with the restless curiosity peculiar to Mexicans.

The officer whispered a few words to a private, and the latter, instead of imitating the example of his comrades, remounted his horse and went off at a gallop.

About ten in the morning, the servants of Don Antonio de Carrera put the horses to the berlin, and a few minutes after the old gentleman came forth.

He gave his arm to a lady, so wrapped up in her veil and mantua that it was literally impossible to see anything of her face or divine the elegance of her form.

So soon as the young lady was comfortably seated in the berlin, Don Antonio turned to the officer who had hurried up to him.

"We will start whenever you please, señor lieutenant," he said to him.

Don José bowed.

The escort mounted: the old gentleman then entered the carriage, the door of which was closed by a footman who seated himself by the side of the coachman: four other well armed valets got up behind the carriage.

"Forward!" the officer shouted.

One half the escort went in front, the other half formed the rear guard. The driver lashed his horses, and carriage and horsemen soon disappeared in a cloud of dust.

"May heaven protect them," the ventero muttered, as he crossed himself and tossed in his hand two gold ounces given him by Don Antonio: "the old gentleman is a worthy man, but unfortunately Don José Dominquez is with him, and I am greatly afraid that his escort will be fatal to him."


CHAPTER III.

THE SALTEADORES.


In the meanwhile the carriage rolled along the Orizaba road, surrounded by its escort. But at a little distance from that town it turned off and reached by a short cut the Puebla road, along which it advanced in the direction of the defiles of Las Cumbres: while going at full speed along the dusty road, the two travellers caroused.

The lady who accompanied the old gentleman was a girl of sixteen or seventeen years at the most; her delicate features, her blue eyes bordered by long lashes which, in falling traced a brown semicircle on her velvety cheeks, her straight nose with its pink or flexible nostrils, her small mouth, whose coral lips when parted allowed a glimpse of her pearly teeth, her slightly dimpled chin, her pale complexion rendered even paler by the silky tresses of raven hair which surrounded her face and fell on her shoulders, produced one of those pale and attractive countenances, which are only seen in equinoctial countries, and which, while not possessing the piquancy of the frail beauties of our northern climes, have that irresistible attraction which makes one dream of the angel in the woman, and produces not only love but adoration.

Gracefully reclining in a corner of her carriage, half buried in masses of muslin, she allowed her eyes to wander pensively over the country, only answering absently and in monosyllables the remarks which her father addressed to her.

The old gentleman, though he affected a certain assurance, appeared, however, rather restless.

"I tell you, Dolores," he said, "all this is not clear in spite of the repeated affirmations of the heads of the Veracruz government, and the protection they feign to grant me. I have no confidence in them."

"Why not, papa?" the young lady asked carelessly.

"For a thousand reasons: the principal one is that I am a Spaniard, and you know that unfortunately at the present time, that name is a further motive for the hatred the Mexicans feel against Europeans generally."

"That is only too true, papa, but permit me to ask one question."

"Pray do so, Dolores."

"Well, I should like you to tell me the urgent motive which induced you to leave Veracruz suddenly, and take this journey with me, more especially, when usually you never take anyone with you on your excursions."

"The motive is very simple, my child, serious interests claim my presence at Mexico, where I must be as soon as possible. On the other hand, the political horizon is daily growing darker, and I reflected that a residence at our Hacienda del Arenal might become ere long, dangerous for our family. I therefore have resolved that, after leaving you at Puebla with our relation Don Luis de Pezal, whose god-daughter you are, and who loves you dearly, to push on to Arenal, where I shall take up your brother Melchior, and convey you to the capital, where it will be easy for us to find effectual protection, in the event, unhappily too easy to foresee, of the constituted power being suddenly overthrown and that of Veracruz substituted for it."

"And you have no other motive, but that, papa?" the young lady said, leaning forward, with a slight smile.

"What other motive could I have but what I have just told you, my dear Dolores?"

"You see I do not know, papa, since I ask you."

"You are a curious niña," he continued laughingly, shaking his finger at her, "you would like to make me confess my secret."

"Then you have a secret, papa?"

"That is possible; but for the present you must be satisfied with knowing so much, for I shall not tell it to you."

"Really, dear papa?"

"I pledge you my word."

"Oh, in that case I will not press you. I know too well that when you put on your big voice and knit your brows, it is useless to do so."

"You are a madcap, Dolores."

"No matter. I should have liked to know why you assumed a false name for this journey."

"Oh! I have no objection to tell you that: my name is too well known, as that of a rich man, for me to venture to carry it across country when so many bandits are swarming on the roads."

"You had no other motive?"

"No other, my dear child: I believe that is sufficient, and that prudence urged me to act as I have done."

"Very good, papa," she replied, shaking her head with a pout: "but," she suddenly exclaimed, "I fancy, papa, that the carriage is slackening its speed."

"It is true," the old gentleman answered, "what is the meaning of this?".

He pulled down the glass and thrust out his head, but could see nothing: the berlin was at this moment entering the defile of the Cumbres, and the road made so many winds, that it was impossible to see more than thirty yards before or behind. The old gentleman called up one of the servants who rode close to the carriage.

"What is the matter, Sanchez?" the traveller asked. "I fancy we are not going so fast as before."

"That is true, señor amo," Sanchez answered, "since we left the plain, we have not been advancing so rapidly, though I do not know the reason: the soldiers of our escort appear alarmed, and are talking together in a low voice, while incessantly looking round them: it is evident that they fear some danger."

"Could the salteadores or guerillas who infest the roads think of attacking us?" the old gentleman said with ill-disguised anxiety, "Pray inquire, Sanchez—Hem! The spot would be capitally chosen for a surprise, still, our escort is numerous, and unless they have an understanding with the bandits, I doubt whether the latter would venture to bar our way. Come, Sanchez, cross-question the soldiers adroitly, and report to me what you learn."

The servant bowed, checked his horse to let the carriage pass him, and then prepared to carry out the commission with which his master had intrusted him.

But Sanchez caught up the berlin again almost immediately: his features were distorted, his panting voice hissed between his teeth which were clenched by terror, and a cadaverous pallor covered his face.

"We are lost, señor amo," he muttered, as he bent down to the carriage window.

"Lost!" the old gentleman exclaimed with a nervous tremor, and giving his daughter, who was dumb with terror, a glance charged with the most impassioned paternal love: "Lost! You must be mad, Sanchez, explain yourself, in Heaven's name."

"It is unnecessary, mi amo," the poor fellow stammered. "Here is Señor Don José Dominquez, the chief of the escort, coming up: without doubt he will inform you of what is taking place."

"What is it? Better, on my soul, a certainty however terrible its nature, than such anxiety."

The carriage had halted on a species of platform, about one hundred yards square: the old gentleman looked out: the escort still surrounded, the berlin, but seemed to be doubled: instead of twenty horsemen there were forty.

The traveller understood that he had fallen into a trap: that any resistance would be madness, and that the only chance of safety lay in submission: still, as in spite of his age, he was endowed with a firm character and energetic mind, he would not thus allow himself vanquished at the first collision, and resolved to try and render his troublesome position as agreeable as he could.

After tenderly embracing his daughter, and recommending her to remain quiet and not interfere, whatever might happen, he opened the carriage door, and actively sprang into the road, with a revolver in each hand. The soldiers, though surprised at the action, did not make a move to oppose it, but remained immoveable in their ranks.

The traveller's four servants ranged themselves behind him unhesitatingly, with their rifles in readiness to fire on receiving their master's order.

Sanchez had spoken truly; Don José Dominquez was coming up at a gallop; but he was not alone, another horseman accompanied him.

The latter was a short, thick set man, with stern features and a sidelong glance: the reddish tinge of his complexion proved him to be a full blooded Indian: he wore the sumptuous uniform of a colonel in a regular army.

The traveller at once recognised this unpleasant personage as Don Felipe Neri Irzabal, one of the guerillero chiefs of Juárez' party; he had met him twice or thrice at Veracruz.

It was with a nervous start and a thrill of terror that the old gentleman awaited the arrival of the two men; still, when they were only a few paces from him, instead of allowing them to question him, he was the first to speak.

"Hola, Caballeros," he shouted to them in a haughty voice, "what is the meaning of this, and why do you thus compel to interrupt my journey?"

"You shall learn, my dear sir," the guerillero replied with a grin; "and in the first place, that you may know at once what you have to expect, I arrest you in the name of the country."

"Arrest me! You?" the old gentleman protested. "By what right, pray?"

"By what right?" the other repeated with his ill-omened grin; "Viva Cristo! I might, if I thought proper, reply that it was by the right of force, and the reason would be peremptory, I imagine."

"Certainly," the traveller replied sarcastically, "and I presume it is the only one you can invoke."

"Well, you are mistaken, my good sir; I do not invoke it, but arrest you as a spy, convicted of high treason."

"Nonsense, you are mad, Señor Coronel. I a traitor and a spy!"

"Señor, for some time past the government of his most gracious Excellency, President Juárez, has had its eye on you; your movements have been watched; we know for what motive you so hurriedly left Veracruz, and with what object you are going to Mexico."

"I am going to Mexico on commercial business, and the President is well aware of the fact, as he Himself signed my safe conduct, and the escort that accompanies me was graciously granted me by him, without my having the necessity to ask for it."

"All that is true, Señor; our magnanimous President—who always feels a repugnance for rigorous measures—did not wish to have you arrested; he preferred, through consideration for your grey hairs, to leave you means of escape; but your last act of treachery has filled up the measure, and though he has been obliged to force himself to do so, the President recognised the necessity of acting vigorously against you without delay. I was sent after you with orders to arrest you, and this order I now execute."

"And may I know of what treason I am accused?"

"You must know better than anyone else, Señor Don Andrés de la Cruz, the motives which induced you to give up your own name and assume that of Don Antonio de Carrera."

Don Andrés—for such in reality was his name—was startled by this revelation; not that he felt himself guilty, for this change of name had been effected with the assent of the President; but he was confounded by the duplicity of the people who arrested him, and who, for want of better reasons, even played this one to make him fall into an infamous snare, in order to seize on a fortune which they had long coveted.

Don Andrés, however, overcame his emotion, and addressed the guerillero once more.

"Take care of what you are doing, Señor Coronel," he said; "I am not a nobody, and will not let myself be thus despoiled without complaining; there is at Mexico a Spanish ambassador, who will be able to procure me justice."

"I do not know what you mean," Don Felipe answered imperturbably; "If you are alluding to Señor Pachero, I do not think that his protection will be very profitable to you; for this gentleman, who entitles himself ambassador extraordinary of H.M. the Queen of Spain, has thought proper to recognise the government of the traitor Miramón. Hence we of the other party have nothing to do with him, and his influence with the national President is completely null. However, I have no occasion to discuss the point with you; whatever may happen, I arrest you. Will you surrender, or do you intend to offer a useless resistance? Answer."

Don Andrés surveyed the persons who surrounded him; he saw that he had no hope or support to expect from anyone but his own servants, hence he let his revolvers fall at his feet, and folded his arms on his chest.

"I surrender to force," he said in a firm voice; "but I protest before all those who surround me against the violence which is done me."

"Pray protest, my dear sir, you are quite at liberty to do so, and it is not of the slightest consequence to me. Don José Dominquez," he added, addressing the officer who had calmly and carelessly witnessed this scene, "we will at once proceed to a minute inspection of the baggage, and, above all, the papers of the prisoner."

The old gentleman shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"Well played," he said; "unluckily you are a little too late, caballero."

"What do you mean?"

"Only this, that the money and securities you expect pact to find in my baggage are no longer there. I knew you too well, señor, not to have taken my precautions in the provision of what is happening at this moment."

"Maldición!" exclaimed the guerillero, as he smote the pommel of his saddle with his fist; "Devil of a gachupeico; do not fancy you will escape in this way. I will know where you have hidden your treasures, even if I am obliged to flay you alive."

"Try it," Don Andrés said ironically, and he turned his back on him.

The bandit had revealed himself. The guerillero, after the outbreak into which his avarice had led him; had no reason to affect moderation toward a man whom he intended to plunder in such an audaciously cynical manner.

"Very good," he said, "we shall see," and bending down to Don José's ear, he whispered to him for a few minutes.

The two bandits were doubtless concerting together the most effectual means by which to force the Spaniard to reveal his secret, and place himself at their mercy.

"Don Andrés," the guerillero said a moment after with a nervous grin; "since that is the case, I will venture to interrupt your journey; before returning to Veracruz, we will proceed together to your hacienda of Arenal, where we shall be able to discuss our business far more comfortably than on this high road; be good enough to get into your carriage again, and we will start; besides, your daughter, the charming Dolores, doubtless requires to be re-assured."

The old gentleman turned pale, for he comprehended all the horrible extent of the threat which the bandit made him; he raised his eyes to Heaven, and prepared to return to the carriage.

But at the same instant a furious galloping was heard. The soldiers moved out of the way in terror, and a horseman, coming up at full speed, dashed like a tornado into the centre of the circle formed round the berlin.

This horseman was masked, a black veil entirely covered his face. He suddenly pulled up his horse on its hind legs, and fixing on the guerillero eyes that flashed like live coals through the holes in the veil, he asked in a sharp, menacing voice—

"What is going on here?"

By an instinctive gesture, the guerillero gave a pull at his bridle, and made his horse recoil without replying.

The soldiers and the officer himself crossed themselves in terror, and muttered in a low voice—

"El Rayo! El Rayo!"

"I asked you a question," the unknown said, after a few moments of expectation.

The forty odd men who surrounded him piteously hung their heads, and, gradually falling back, considerably enlarged the circle, as they cordially felt no desire to enter into a discussion with this mysterious personage.

Don Andrés felt hope return to his heart; a secret foreboding warned him that the sudden arrival of this stranger, though it might not entirely change his position, would at least produce a more advantageous phase for himself; moreover, he fancied that he could confusedly recall the stranger's voice, though it was impossible for him to remember where he had heard it. Hence, while everybody else fell back in terror, he, on the contrary, approached the stranger with an instinctive eagerness, for which he could not account.

Don José Dominquez, the commander of the escort, had disappeared; he had fled disgracefully.


CHAPTER IV.

EL RAYO.


At the period when our story takes place, one man in Mexico had the privilege of concentrating on himself the curiosity, fears, and, more than all, the sympathy of all.

This man was El Rayo, that is to say, the Thunder.

Who was El Rayo? Whence did he come? What did he do?

These three questions, short though they were, no one could have answered with certainty.

And yet a most extraordinary number of legends was current about him.

We will tell in a few words the facts known about him.

Toward the close of 1857 he had suddenly appeared on the road that runs from Mexico to Veracruz, the police control of which he undertook in his fashion, stopping convoys and mail coaches, protecting or levying blackmail on the passengers, that is to say, in the second event, obliging the rich to bleed their purses slightly in favour of their companions less favoured than themselves by fortune, and forcing the leaders of escorts to defend the persons they were ordered to accompany against the attacks of the salteadores.

No one could have said whether he was young or old, handsome or ugly, brown or fair, for his face had never been seen uncovered. As for his nationality, it is equally impossible to determine, for he spoke with the same facility and elegance Castilian, English, French, German and Italian.

This mysterious personage was perfectly well informed about everything that occurred in the territory of the republic; he knew not only the name and social position of the travellers with whom he thought proper to have dealings, but was also acquainted with certain peculiar facts about them which often rendered them very ill at ease.

A stranger thing than any we have yet mentioned was, that El Rayo was always alone, and never hesitated to bar the way of his adversaries, no matter what their number might be. We must add that the influence which his presence exercised over the latter was so great, that the mere sight of him sufficed to check any wish of resistance, and that a threat from him made a shudder of terror course through the veins of those whom he addressed.

The two presidents of the republic, while carrying on a deadly war to supplant each other, had each separately tried on several occasions to deliver the highway from so troublesome a caballero, who seemed to them a dangerous rival; but all their attempts to obtain this result had failed in a deplorable manner. El Rayo, being put on his guard, no one knew how, and perfectly informed as to the movements of the soldiers sent in search of him, always appeared suddenly before them, foiled their tricks, and compelled them to make a disgraceful retreat.

On one occasion, however, the Government of Juárez hoped that it was all over with El Rayo, and that he could not escape the measures taken to seize him.

It was learned that for some nights past he had been sleeping at a rancho situated a short distance from Paso-del-Macho; a detachment of twenty dragoons, commanded by Carvayal, one of the most cruel and determined guerilleros, was immediately, and with the utmost secrecy, sent to Paso-del-Macho.

The commandant had orders to shoot his prisoner so soon as he seized him, doubtless to prevent him from making any attempt to escape while being conveyed from Paso-del-Macho to Veracruz.

The detachment, therefore, set out in all haste; the dragoons, to whom a large reward was promised if they succeeded in their awkward expedition, were perfectly prepared to do their duty, as they felt ashamed of having been so long held in check by one man, and were burning to take their revenge at last.

The soldiers arrived in sight of the rancho; when about two leagues from El Paso they had met a monk, who, with his hood drawn over his face, and mounted on a sorry mule, was trotting on, and telling his beads.

The commandant invited the monk to join his squadron, which offer the monk accepted with some degree of hesitation. At the moment when the detachment, which was marching in rather loose order, reached the rancho, the monk dismounted.

"What are you doing, padre?" the commandant asked him.

"As you see, my son, I am getting off my mule; business calls me to a rancho a short distance off, and while leaving you to continue your journey, I ask your permission to leave you, while thanking you for the pleasant company you have afforded me since our meeting."

"Oh, oh!" the commandant said, with a coarse laugh, "That will not do, señor padre; we cannot separate in that manner."

"Why so, my son?" the monk asked, approaching the officer, though still holding his mule.

"For a very simple reason, my worthy Fray—"

"Pancracio, at your service, señor caballero," the monk said, with a bow.

"Pancracio—very good," the officer continued. "I want you, or, to speak more correctly, your good offices: in a word, I want you to shrive a man, who is about to die."

"Who is it?"

"Do you know El Rayo, señor padre?"

"Santa Virgin! Of course I know him, illustrious commandant."

"Well, it is he who is going to die."

"Have you arrested him?"

"Not yet; but in a few minutes it will be done, as I am seeking him."

"Nonsense! Where is he, then?"

"Why, there, in that rancho you can see," the officer replied, bending down complacently to the monk, and extending his arm in the direction he indicated to him.

"Are you sure of it, illustrious commandant?"

"¡Caray! Of course I am."

"Well, I fancy you are mistaken."

"Ah! What do you mean? Do you know anything?"

"Certainly I know something, for I am El Rayo, accursed ladrón!"

And before the officer, startled at this sudden revelation, which he was so far from expecting, had regained his coolness, El Rayo had seized him by the leg, hurled him on the ground, leaped into his saddle, and drawing two revolvers concealed under his gown, he dashed at full speed upon the detachment, firing with both hands simultaneously, and uttering his terrible war cry—"El Rayo! El Rayo!"

The soldiers, who were even more surprised than their officer by this rude, and so unexpected attack, disbanded, and fled in all directions.

El Rayo, after passing through the whole detachment, of whom he killed seven, and hurled an eighth to the ground with his horse's chest, suddenly checked the rapid pace of his steed, and after halting for a few minutes a hundred yards off with an air of defiance, seeing that the dragoons did not pursue him—which the poor horrified fellows had no intention of doing, as they only thought of flying, and left their officer in the lurch—he pulled his horse round, and returned to the officer, who was still lying on the ground as if dead.

"Eh, Commandant!" he said to him, as he dismounted, "Here is your horse; take it back, it will serve you to reform your soldiers; for my part I require it no longer. I am going to wait for you at the rancho, where, if you still have a desire to arrest me, and have me shot, you will find, me ready to receive you until eight o'clock tomorrow morning; so good-bye for the present."

He then waved his hand to him, bestrode his mule, and proceeded to the rancho, which he at once entered.

We need not add that he slept peacefully till the morning, and that the officer and soldiers so eager in his pursuit did not dare come to disturb his rest; they had gone back to Veracruz, without once looking round.

Such was the man whose unexpected apparition among the escort of the berlin had caused such great terror to the soldiers, and entirely chilled their courage.

El Rayo stood for an instant calm, cold, and frowning in the face of the soldiers grouped in front of him, and then said, in a sharp, distinct voice—

"Señores, I fancy you have forgotten that no one but myself has the right to give orders on the high roads of the Republic. Señor Don Felipe Neri," he added, turning to the officer, who was standing motionless a few paces from him, "you can turn back with your men; the road is perfectly free as far as Puebla—you understand me, I suppose?"

"I do understand you, Caballero; still, I fancy," the Colonel replied, with some hesitation, "that my duty orders me to escort—"

"Not a word more," El Rayo interrupted him violently; "weigh my words carefully, and mind you profit by them; those whom you expected to meet a few paces further on are no longer there; the corpses of several of them are serving as food for the vultures. You have lost the game for today, so take my advice, and turn back."

The officer again hesitated, and then, urging his horse forward a few yards, he said, in a voice which emotion caused to tremble—

"Señor, I know not whether you are a man or a demon thus alone to impose your will on brave men; to die is nothing for a soldier when he is struck in the chest when facing the enemy; once already I have recoiled before you, but do not wish to do so again, so kill me today, but do not dishonour me."

"I like to hear you speak thus, Don Felipe," El Rayo coldly answered, "for bravery becomes a soldier; in spite of your plundering instincts and bandit habits I see with pleasure that you do not lack courage, and I do not despair of converting you some day, if a bullet does not brutally cut your thread of life, and suddenly arrest your good intentions. Order your soldiers, who are trembling, like the poltroons they are, to fall back a dozen paces, for I am going to give you the satisfaction you desire."

"Ah, Caballero!" the officer exclaimed, "Can it be possible that you consent?"

"To stake my life against yours?" El Rayo interrupted him, mockingly—"Why not? You wish for a lesson, and that lesson you are about to receive."

Without losing an instant the officer turned his horse and ordered his troopers to fall back, a manoeuvre which they performed with the most praiseworthy eagerness.

Don Andrés de la Cruz, for we will now restore him his true name, had looked on with great interest at this scene, in which he had not as yet ventured to interfere.

When he saw the turn that matters were taking, he thought it, however, his duty to hazard a few observations.

"Pardon me, Caballero," he said, addressing the mysterious stranger, "while sincerely thanking you for your intervention in my favour, permit me to remark that I have been delayed in this defile for a long time already, and that I should like to continue my journey, in order to protect my daughter from danger, as soon as possible."

"No danger threatens Doña Dolores, señor," El Rayo coldly answered; "this delay of only a few minutes cannot possibly have any injurious consequences for her; besides, I wish you to witness this combat, which is to some extent fought in support of your cause, hence I beg you to have patience. But stay, here is Don Felipe returning; the affair will not take long. Fancy that you are betting on a cock fight, and I am convinced that you will take pleasure in what is going to happen."

"But still—" Don Andrés interposed.

"You would disoblige me by insisting further, caballero," El Rayo interrupted him, drily. "You have, as I know, excellent revolvers which Devismes sent you from Paris; be kind enough to lend one of them to Señor Don Felipe. They are loaded, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir," Don Andrés replied, offering the officer one of his pistols.

The latter took it, turned it over in his hands, and then raised his head with an air of disappointment.

"I do not know how to use these weapons," he said.

"Oh, that is very easy," El Rayo courteously replied, "and you will be perfectly acquainted with their mechanism in an instant. Señor Don Andrés, be kind enough to explain to this caballero the very simple management of these weapons."

The Spaniard obeyed, and the officer at once comprehended the explanation that was given him.

"Now, Señor Don Felipe," El Rayo resumed, still cold and impassive, "listen to me attentively. I consent to give you this satisfaction on the condition that whatever the issue of the combat may be, you agree to turn back immediately after, leaving Señor Don Andrés and his daughter at liberty to continue their journey if they may think proper: do you agree to this?"

"Certainly, señor."

"Very good. Now, then, this is what you and I are going to do; so soon as we have dismounted we will station ourselves twenty paces from each other: does that distance suit you?"

"Perfectly, Excellency."

"Good; then at a signal given by me, you will fire the six shots of your revolver; after that I will fire, but only once, as we are in a hurry."

"Pardon me, Excellency, but suppose I kill you with these six shots?"

"You will not kill me, señor," El Rayo answered coldly.

"Do you think so?"

"I am sure of it; to kill a man of my stamp, Señor Don Felipe," El Rayo said, with an accent of cutting irony, "a firm heart and a hand of iron are required: you possess neither."

Don Felipe made no reply, but devoured by a dull rage, with pale brow and frowning gesture, he resolutely went to place himself twenty paces from his adversary.

El Rayo dismounted and placed himself facing the officer, with his head thrown back, his right leg advanced, and his arms folded on his back.

"Now," he said, "pay great attention to aiming true; revolvers, good though they are, generally have the fault of carrying a little too high; do not hurry yourself. Are you ready? Well, then, fire."

Don Felipe did not let the invitation be repeated, but rapidly fired three shots.

"Too quick—much too quick," El Rayo cried to him; "I did not even hear the whistle of the bullets. Come, be calmer, and try to make good use of the three shots left you."

All eyes were fixed, all chests were panting. The officer, demoralized by the coolness of his adversary and the ill success of his firing, felt involuntarily fascinated by the black motionless statue before him, whose eyes he could see sparkling like live coals through the holes of the mask; drops of cold perspiration gathered on his hair, which stood erect with horror, and his former assurance had abandoned him.

Still, anger and pride gave him the necessary strength to conceal from the spectators the frightful agony he was suffering: by a supreme effort of the will he resumed an apparent calmness, and fired again.

"That is better," El Rayo said mockingly, "but a little too high. Try another."

Exasperated by this fire, Don Felipe pulled the trigger.

The bullet struck the rock about an inch above the stranger's head.

Only one bullet was now left in the revolver.

"Advance five paces," said El Rayo; "perhaps you will not then throw away your last chance."

Without replying to this cutting sarcasm, the officer bounded like a wild beast, stopped at fifteen paces, and fired.

"It is now my turn," the stranger said, as he fell back five paces to re-establish the distance; "you forgot to take your hat off, caballero, and that is a want of courtesy which I cannot tolerate."

Then drawing one of the pistols thrust through his belt, he cocked it, stretched out his arm and fired without taking the trouble of aiming. The officer's hat was hurled from his head and rolled in the dust.

Don Felipe uttered a howl like a wild beast.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, "You are a demon!"

"No," El Rayo answered, "I am an honest man. Now, begone. I leave you your life."

"Yes, I will go; but whether you are man or fiend, I will kill you. I swear it, even if I have to pursue you to the lowest pit of hell."

El Rayo went up to him, seized him violently by the arm, drew him on one side, and lifting the veil which covered his features, shewed him his face.

"You recognise me now, I suppose?" he said to him in a hollow voice; "But remember that now you have seen me face to face, our first meeting will be mortal. Begone."

Don Felipe made no reply; he remounted his horse, placed himself at the head of his terrified soldiers, and started at a gallop along the Orizaba road.

Five minutes later only the travellers and their servants remained on the plateau. El Rayo, doubtless taking advantage of the moment of surprise and disorder produced by the close of this scene, had disappeared.


CHAPTER V.

THE HACIENDA DEL ARENAL.


Four days had passed since the events recorded in our last chapter. Count Ludovic de la Saulay and Oliver were still riding side by side, but the place of the scene had completely changed.

All around them extended an immense plain covered with a luxuriant vegetation, intersected by a few water courses, on the banks of which were huddled the humble cabins of several unimportant pueblos; numerous flocks browsed here and there, watched by mounted vaqueros, bearing the reata on the saddle, a machete at their side, and a long lance in its rest. Along a road, whose windings formed a yellow track on the green carpet of the plain, appeared like black dots, teams of mules hurrying toward the snowy mountains, which closed in the horizon in the distance; gigantic clumps of trees diversified the landscape, and a little to the right, on the top of a rather high hill, proudly rose the massive walls of an important hacienda.

The two travellers were slowly following the last windings of a narrow track that ran down with a gentle slope to the plain; the curtains of trees which masqued the view suddenly falling back on the right and left, the landscape appeared suddenly to rise before them, as if it had been created by the magic wand of a mighty enchanter.

The Count stopped and burst into a cry of admiration at the sight of the magnificent kaleidoscope which was displayed before them.

"Ah, ah," said Oliver, "I was aware that you were an amateur, and it was a surprise I prepared for you; how do you like it?"

"It is admirable; I never saw anything so beautiful," the young man exclaimed enthusiastically.

"Yes," the adventurer resumed with a stifled sigh, "it is very fair for a country spoilt by the hand of man. As I have told you several times, it is only in the savannahs of the great Mexican desert that it is possible to see nature as God has made it; this is only theatrical scenery in comparison; a conventional landscape which signifies nothing."

The Count smiled at this sally.

"Whether conventional or not, I consider this view admirable."

"Yes, yes, I repeat, it is a very fair success. Think how lovely this landscape must have been in the early days of the world, since, in spite of all their clumsy efforts, men have not succeeded in entirely spoiling it."

The young man's laughter was redoubled at these words.

"On my faith," he said, "you are a charming companion, Mr. Oliver; and when I part from you, I shall often regret your agreeable company."

"In that case get ready to regret me, my lord," he replied with a smile, "for we have only a few minutes left to pass together."

"How so?"

"An hour at the most; but let us continue our journey. The sun is beginning to grow hot, and the shadow of the trees down there will be very agreeable to us."

They loosened their horses' bridles, and slowly went down the almost insensible incline which would lead them to the plain.

"Are you not beginning to feel the want of a rest after your fatigue, my lord?" the adventurer asked, as he carelessly rolled a cigarette.

"Really no, thanks to you; this journey has seemed to me delightful, although slightly monotonous."

"How monotonous?"

"Well, in France frightful stories are told about countries beyond the sea, where bandits are found in ambush every step you take, and you cannot go ten leagues without risking your life twenty times; hence it is with some degree of apprehension that we land on these shores. I had my head stuffed with stories to make one's hair stand on end. I was prepared for surprises, ambushes, desperate fights, and all that sort of thing. Well, after all, I have made the most prosaic journey in the world, without the slightest accident which I could narrate hereafter."

"You are not yet out of Mexico."

"That is true; but my illusions are destroyed. I no longer believe in Mexican bandits or ferocious Indians; it is not worth the while to come so far to see nothing more than is to be seen in this country. Confound travelling! Four days ago I believed that we were going to have an adventure; while you left me alone I formed tremendous plans of battle, and then at the end of two long hours of absence, you returned with a smiling face to announce to me that you were mistaken, and that you had seen nothing, and I was obliged to dismiss all my warlike intentions. This is really having ill luck."

"What would you have?" the adventurer replied, with an accent of almost imperceptible irony; "Civilization is so gaining on us, that we nowaday resemble the peoples of the old world, with the exception of a few slight shades."

"Laugh away, make fun of me, I give you full liberty to do so; but let us return to our subject, if you please."

"I wish nothing more, my lord. Did you not say among other things, while talking with me, that you intended to go to the Hacienda del Arenal, and that if you did not turn from the road instead of pushing straight on to Mexico, it was because you were afraid of losing yourself in a country which you do not know, and of not meeting persons capable of putting you on the right track again?"

"I did say so, sir."

"Oh! Since that is the case, the question is becoming extraordinarily simplified."

"How so?"

"Look before you, my lord. What do you see?"

"A magnificent building that resembles a fortress."

"Well, that building is the Hacienda del Arenal." The Count uttered a cry of astonishment.

"Can it be possible? You are not deceiving me?" he asked.

"For what purpose?" the adventurer said gently.

"Why! In this way the surprise is even more charming than I at first supposed it."

"Ah! By the bye. I forgot one circumstance, which, however is of some importance to you; your servants and all your baggage have been at the hacienda for the last two days."

"But how were my servants informed?"

"I warned them."

"You have hardly left me."

"That is true, only for a few minutes, but that was sufficient."

"You are an amiable companion, Mr. Oliver, I thank you sincerely for all your attentions to me."

"Nonsense, you are joking."

"Do you know the owner of this hacienda?"

"Don Andrés de la Cruz? Very well."

"What sort of man is he?"

"Morally or physically?"

"Morally."

"A true hearted and intelligent man, he does a great deal of good, and is accessible to the poor as well as the rich."

"Hum! You are drawing a magnificent portrait."

"It is below the truth; he has a great many enemies."

"Enemies?"

"Yes, all the scoundrels in the country, and thanks to God, they swarm in this blessed country."

"And his daughter, Dolores?"

"Is a delicious girl of sixteen, even better hearted than she is beautiful, innocent and pure; her eyes reflect heaven, she is an angel whom God has allowed to descend on earth, doubtless to shame human beings."

"You will accompany me to the hacienda, sir, I suppose?" said the Count.

"No, I shall not see Señor don Andrés; in a few minutes I shall have the honour of taking leave of you."

"To meet again soon, I hope!"

"I dare not promise it you, my lord."

They rode on silently, side by side, for a few moments longer.

They had hurried on their horses, and were now rapidly nearing the hacienda, whose buildings now appeared in their full extent.

It was one of those magnificent residences built in the earliest times of the conquest, half palace, half fortress, such as the Spaniards erected at that day on their estates, in order to hold the Indians in check, and resist their attacks during the numerous revolts which left a bloody stain on the first years of the European invasion.

The almanas, or battlements that crowned the walls, testified to the nobility of the owner of the hacienda; as gentlemen alone possessed the right of placing battlements on their mansions, and were very jealous of their right.

The dome of the hacienda chapel which rose above the walls, could be seen glistening in the ardent sunbeams.

The nearer the travellers approached, the more lively the landscape appeared; at each instant they met horsemen, arrieros with their mules. Indians running with burdens hanging on their back by a thong passed round their forehead. Then came herds, driven by vaqueros, to change their pasturage, monks trotting on mules, women, children, in a word busy persons of all ranks and sexes, who were coming and going, and crossing each other in all directions.

When they reached the foot of the hill crowned by the hacienda, the adventurer stopped his horse at the moment when it was entering the path that led to the main gate of the hacienda.

"My lord," he said, turning to the young man, "we have now reached our journey's end; permit me to take my leave of you."

"Not before you have promised to see me again."

"I cannot promise that, Count, as our roads are diametrically opposite. Besides, it will perhaps be better if we never meet again."

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing insulting or personal to you; permit me to shake your hand ere we part."

"Oh, most willingly," the young man exclaimed, as he warmly offered him his hand.

"And now farewell—farewell, once again, time flies rapidly, and I ought to have been a long way from here before now."

The adventurer bent over his horse's neck, and darted with the speed of an arrow along a track in which he speedily disappeared.

The Count looked after him as long as it was possible to see him; and when he was hidden by a turn in the road, the young man heaved a sigh.

"What a singular character," he muttered in a low voice. "Oh! I shall see him again, it must be."

The young man lightly gave his horse the spur, and entered the path, which would lead him in a few minutes to the top of the hill, and the principal gate of the hacienda.

The young man dismounted in the first courtyard, and handed his horse to a groom, who led it away.

At the moment when the Count was walking towards a large door surmounted by a verandah, and which gave admission to the apartment, Don Andrés went out, ran eagerly toward him, pressed him warmly to his heart, and embraced him several times, while saying,—

"Heaven be praised! Here you are, at last! We were beginning to be in a mortal anxiety about you."

The Count, thus suddenly taken by surprise, had allowed himself to be seized and embraced without exactly comprehending what was happening to him, or with whom he had to deal; but the old gentleman, perceiving the amazement he felt, and which, in spite of his efforts, he could not succeed in completely concealing, did not leave him long in embarrassment, but stated his name, adding—

"I am your near relative, my dear Count—your cousin; hence, stand on no ceremony—act here as if you were at home: this house, with all it contains, is at your disposal, and belongs to you."

The young man began protesting, but Don Andrés once more interrupted him.

"I am an old fool," he said. "I am keeping you here, listening to my maundering, and forget that you have had a long ride, and must need rest. Come, I wish to have the pleasure of conducting you myself to your apartments, which have been ready for you for some days past."

"My dear cousin," the Count answered; "I thank you a thousand times for your kind attention; but I think it would be only polite for you to introduce me to Doña Dolores, ere I retire."

"There is no hurry for that, my dear Count: my daughter is at this moment shut up in her boudoir with her women. Let me announce you first, for I know better than you what is proper under the circumstances,—and go and rest yourself."

"Very well, my cousin; I will follow you. I will indeed confess, since you are so good as to place me so thoroughly at my ease, that I shall not be at all sorry to take a few hours' rest."

"Did I not know it?" Don Andrés replied, gaily; "But all young people are the same—they doubt nothing."

The hacendero thereupon led his guest to the apartments which had been tastefully prepared and furnished under the immediate inspection of Don Andrés, and were intended to serve as the Count's abode during the whole of the period he might be pleased to spend at the hacienda.

The suite of rooms, though not large, was arranged in a very sensible and comfortable manner, considering the resources of the country.

It consisted of four rooms. The Count's bedroom, with dressing room and bathroom attached, a study, serving as a drawing room, an antechamber, and a room for the Count's valets; so that he might have them within call by day and night.

By means of a few partitions, the suite bad been separated from and rendered entirely independent of the other apartments in the hacienda. It was entered by three doors, one opening on the vestibule, the second into the common court yard, and the third leading by a flight of steps to the magnificent huerta, which, through its extent, might pass for a park.

The Count, newly landed in Mexico, and who, like all foreigners, formed a false idea of a country which he did not know, was far from expecting to find at the Hacienda del Arenal a lodging so convenient, and in such conformity with his rather serious tastes and habits, hence he was really ravished by everything he saw. He warmly thanked Don Andrés for the trouble he had been kind enough to take in rendering his stay in the house agreeable to him, and assured him that he was far from expecting so cordial a reception.

Don Andrés de la Cruz, highly pleased with this compliment, rubbed his hands in glee, and at length withdrew, leaving his relative at liberty to repose, if he thought proper.

When left alone with his valet, the Count, after changing his dress, and assuming another more suitable to the country than the one he was wearing, questioned his servant as to the way in which he had performed the journey from Veracruz, and the reception offered him on his arrival at the hacienda.

This valet was a man of about the same age as the Count, deeply attached to his master, whose foster brother he was; a powerfully-built fellow, tolerably good looking, very brave, and possessing a quality very precious in a servant—that of seeing nothing, hearing nothing, and only speaking when he received an express order to do so, and even then he did it as concisely as possible.

The Count was very fond of him, and placed unbounded confidence in him. His name was Raimbaut, and was a Basque; continually particular about etiquette, and professing a profound respect for his master. He never spoke of him save in the third person, and at whatever hour of the day or night the Count might call him, he never presented himself before him, unless dressed in the strict garb he had adopted, and which was composed of a black coat with a stand-up collar and gold buttons, a black waistcoat, black knee breeches, white silk stockings, buckled shoes, and white cravat. Thus dressed, with the exception of powder, which he did not wear, Raimbaut presented an amazing likeness to the steward of a great nobleman in the last century.

The Count's second servant was a tall lad, twenty years of age, robust and sturdy—godson of Raimbaut, who had undertaken to train him for his duties. He did the heavy work, and wore the Count's livery—blue and silver: his name was Lanca Ibarru. He was devoted to his master, and awfully afraid of his godfather, for whom he professed a profound veneration. He was active, courageous, crafty, and intelligent; but these qualities were slightly tarnished by his gluttony and pronounced taste for the dolce far niente.

Raimbaut's story was a short one. Nothing at all had happened to him, with the exception of the order which a strange man had delivered to him, as from his master, not to continue his journey to Mexico, but to have himself conducted to the Hacienda del Arenal, which order he had obeyed.

The Count recognised the truth of what the adventurer had told him: he dismissed his valet, sat down on a butaca, took up a book, and very shortly after fell fast asleep.

At about four in the afternoon, just as he was waking, Raimbaut entered the room, and announced that Don Andrés de la Cruz was waiting for him to sit down to table, as the hour for the evening meal had arrived.

The Count cast a glance at his toilette, and, preceded by Raimbaut, who acted as his guide, proceeded to the dining room.


CHAPTER VI.

THROUGH THE WINDOW.


The dining room of the Hacienda del Arenal was a vast, long room, lighted by Gothic windows lined with coloured glass. The walls, covered with oak paneling, rendered black by time, gave it the appearance of a Carthusian refectory in the fifteenth century. An immense horseshoe table, surrounded by benches, except at the upper end, occupied the entire centre of the room.

When Count de la Saulay entered the dining room, the other guests, numbering from twenty to five-and-twenty, were already assembled.

Don Andrés, like many of the great Mexican landowners, had kept up on his estates the custom of making his people eat at the same table with himself.

This patriarchal custom, which has long fallen into desuetude in Europe, was for all that, in our opinion, one of the best our forefathers left us. This community of life drew together the bonds which attach masters to servants, and rendered the latter, so to speak, vassals of the family whose private life they shared up to a certain point.

Don Andrés de la Cruz was standing at the end of the room, between Doña Dolores, his daughter, and Don Melchior, his son.

We will say nothing of Doña Dolores, with whom the reader is already acquainted. Don Melchior was a young man of nearly the same age as the Count. His tall stature and powerful limbs rendered him a gallant gentleman, in the common acceptance of the term. His features were manly and marked, and his beard was black and full. He had a large, well open eye, a fixed and piercing glance: his very brown complexion had a slight olive tinge; the sound of his voice was rather rough, his accent harsh, while his countenance was stern, and its expression became menacing and haughty upon the slightest emotion. His gestures were noble, and his manners distinguished; and he wore the Mexican costume in all its purity.

So soon as the introductions had been made by Don Andrés, the party took their seats. The hacendero, after bidding Ludovic sit on his right hand, by his daughter's side, made a sign to the latter. She repeated the Benedicite, the guests said Amen, and the meal commenced.

The Mexicans, like their Spanish ancestors, are extremely sober; they do not drink during meals. It is only when the dulces or sweets are brought in, that is to say, at dessert, that vessels containing water are placed on the table.

By a delicate attention, Don Andrés offered wine to his French guest, who was waited on by his valet, standing behind him, to the general amazement of the company.

The meal was silent, in spite of the repeated efforts of Don Andrés to animate the conversation. The Count and Don Melchior limited themselves to the exchange of a few conventional phrases, and then held their tongues. Doña Dolores was pale, and seemed to be unwell; she ate hardly anything, and did not utter a syllable.

At length dinner was over. They rose from table, and the servants of the hacienda dispersed to go to their work.

The Count, involuntarily disturbed by the cold and measured reception which Don Melchior had offered him, alleged the fatigue of the journey as a reason for wishing to retire to his apartments.

Don Andrés consented to this with much repugnance. Don Melchior and the Count exchanged a ceremonious bow, and turned their backs on each other. Doña Dolores gave the young man a graceful bow, and the Count withdrew, after warmly shaking the hand which his host held out to him.

It took Count de la Saulay, who was habituated to the comfortable elegance and pleasant relations of Parisian life, to become used to the sad, monotonous, and savage existence at the Hacienda del Arenal.

In spite of the cordial reception which had been given him by Don Andrés de la Cruz and the attention he did not cease to offer him, the young man speedily perceived that his host was the sole person of the family who regarded him favourably.

Doña Dolores, though very polite to him and even gracious in their daily relations when chance brought them together, still seemed to be embarrassed in his presence, and to shun every occasion when he could converse with her in private: so soon as she perceived that her father or brother was leaving the room, in which she happened to be with the Count, she at once broke off the begun conversation, blushingly faltered an excuse, and went away or rather flew away, light and rapid as a bird, and left Ludovic without further ceremony.

This conduct on the part of a girl to whom he had been betrothed from his childhood, for whose sake he had crossed the Atlantic almost against his will, and solely to honour the engagement made by his family in his name, naturally surprised and mortified a man like Count de la Saulay, whom his personal beauty, his wit and even his fortune had not hitherto accustomed to be treated with such strange want of ceremony and such complete contempt by the ladies.

Naturally but little inclined to the marriage which his family wished to force himself into, not feeling at all enamoured of his cousin, whom he had scarce taken the trouble to look at, and whom he was much disposed to consider a fool, on account of her want of tact towards himself, the Count would easily have taken advantage of the repugnance which she seemed to feel for him—would not only have consoled but congratulated himself on the breaking off of his marriage with her, had not his self-esteem been too extensively implicated, in a way very insulting to him.

However great might be the indifference he felt for the young lady, he was offended at the slight effect his dress, manners and luxurious habits had produced on her, and the coldly contemptuous way in which she had listened to his compliments and accepted his advances.

Though sincerely desirous in his heart that this marriage, which displeased him for a thousand reasons, might not be completed, he would still have liked that the rupture, without coming absolutely from him, should not come so distinctly from the young lady, and that circumstances should permit him while retiring with all the honours of war, to feel himself regretted by the girl who was to have been his wife.

Dissatisfied with himself and the persons by whom he was surrounded, feeling himself in a false position, which could not fail to become ridiculous ere long, the Count thought of getting out of it as speedily as possible. But, before provoking a frank and decisive explanation on the part of Don Andrés de la Cruz, who did not seem to suspect in the slightest degree the turn affairs were taking, the Count resolved to know positively what he had to depend on as regarded his affianced; for with that fatuity natural to all men spoiled by facile successes, he felt a mental conviction that it was impossible Doña Dolores would not have loved him, if her heart had not already been captivated by someone else.

This resolution once formed and fully resolved in his mind, the Count, who found himself very unoccupied at the hacienda, set about watching the young lady's conduct, determined, once he had acquired a certainty to retire and return as speedily as possible to France, which country he regretted every day more, and which he repented having so suddenly abandoned, in order to seek so humiliating an adventure two thousand leagues from home.

In spite of her indifference for the Count, we have remarked, however, that Doña Dolores felt herself obliged to be polite and attentive to the Count, although not so amiable as he might have desired: an example which her brother completely dispensed himself from following towards his father's guest, whom he treated with such marked coldness, that it would have been impossible for the Count not to notice it, though he disdained to let it be seen: hence he feigned to take the young man's rough and even brutal manner as natural and perfectly in accord with the manners of the country.

The Mexicans, let us hasten to state, are exquisitely polite, their language is always carefully chosen and their expressions flowery, and with the exception of the difference of dress, it is impossible to distinguish a man of the people from a person of high rank. Don Melchior de la Cruz, through a singular anomaly, doubtless emanating from his natural sternness, was perfectly different from his countrymen: always gloomy, thoughtful and reserved, he generally only opened his mouth to utter a few sharp words, with a coarse tone and in a rough voice.

From the first moment that they met, Don Melchior and the Count seemed equally little satisfied with each other: the Frenchman appeared too mannered and effeminate to the Mexican and, per contra, the latter repulsed the other by the coarseness of his nature and the triviality of his gestures and expressions.

But if there had been only this instinctive antipathy between the two young men, it would probably have disappeared by degrees, and friendly relations would have been established between them, when they knew each other better and could consequently appreciate one another's good qualities; but this was not the case, it was neither indifference nor jealousy that Don Melchior felt for the Count, but a hearty Mexican hatred.

Whence did this hatred spring? What unknown familiarity of the Count had given birth to it? That was Don Melchior's secret.

The young hacendero was completely wrapped up in mysteries: his actions were as gloomy as his countenance: enjoying unbounded liberty, he used and abused it as he pleased to the fullest extent by going in and out without accounting to anybody: it is true that his father and mother, doubtless accustomed to this behaviour, never asked him any questions as to where he had been, or what he had been doing, when he reappeared after an absence which was frequently prolonged for a week.

On such occasions, which were very frequent, he was usually seen returning at the breakfast hour.

He bowed silently to the company, sat down without uttering a syllable, ate, then twisted a cigarette, which he lighted, and then withdrew to his apartments without further notice of the party.

Once or twice Don Andrés, who understood perfectly well how unpolite such conduct was towards his guest, tried to apologise for his son, by throwing the blame of this apparent rudeness on his very serious occupations, which completely absorbed him; but the Count replied that Don Melchior appeared to him a charming cavalier, that he saw nothing but what was perfectly natural in his mode of acting towards him, that the very want of ceremony he displayed was a proof of the friendship which he evidenced for him by treating him not as a stranger, but as a friend and relative, and that he would be most sorry if Don Melchior, on his account, set any restraint on his habits.

Don Andrés, though not duped by his guest's apparent gentleness, had not considered it prudent to dwell on this subject, and it dropped.

Don Melchior was feared by all the people belonging to the hacienda, and, according to all appearance, even by his father.

It was evident that this gloomy young man exercised over all who surrounded him an influence, which though occult, was probably the more formidable on that account, but no one dared to complain, and the Count, who alone might have ventured some observations, did not at all care about doing so for the very simple reason that regarding himself as a stranger spending a little while in Mexico, he felt no inclination to mix himself up in matters or intrigues which did not concern him and could not possibly affect him in the slightest degree.

Nearly two months had elapsed since the young man's arrival at the hacienda: he had passed the time in reading, or riding about the country, on which occasions he was nearly always accompanied by the majordomo of the hacienda, a man of about forty years of age, with a frank and open face, a short, muscular and powerfully built man, who appeared to be very intimate with his masters.

This majordomo, Leo Carral by name, had struck up a great liking for this young Frenchman, whose inexhaustible gaiety and liberality had touched his heart.

During their long rides over the plain, he took pleasure in perfecting the Count in art of riding made him understand the defective principles of the French school, and applied himself to render him a real hombre de a caballo and a jinete of the first class, just like himself.

We must add that his pupil profited perfectly by his lessons, and not only became within a short time a perfect horseman, but also a first rate shot. Thanks again to the worthy majordomo.

The Count, by the advice of his professor, had adopted the Mexican garb, an elegant and convenient costume, which he wore with unparalleled grace.

Don Andrés de la Cruz rubbed his hands with glee on seeing the man whom he already regarded almost as his son-in-law, assume the garb of the country—a certain proof in his eyes of the Count's intention to settle in Mexico. He had even on this occasion adroitly tried to lead the conversation to the subject he had nearest his heart, that is to say, the young man's marriage, with Doña Dolores. But the Count who was always on his guard, avoided this awkward subject, as he had done on several previous occasions, and Don Andrés withdrew, shaking his head and muttering—

"Yet we must come to an explanation."

It was at least the tenth time since the Count's arrival at the hacienda that Don Andrés de la Cruz promised himself to have an explanation with him, but up to then, the young man had always contrived to elude it.

One night when the Count, who had retired to his apartments, was reading later than his wont, at the moment when he closed his book and prepared to go to bed, raising his eyes accidentally, he fancied he saw a shadow pass before the glass door that opened on the huerta.

The night was advanced, all the inhabitants of the hacienda were or ought to be asleep two hours before, who was this prowler whom fancy impelled to stroll about so late?

Without accounting for the motive that urged him to act so, Ludovic resolved to find out.

He got up from the butaca in which he was seated, took from a table two revolvers, in order to be prepared for any event, and opening the door as softly as he could, he went forth into the huerta and proceeded in the direction where he had seen the suspicious shadow disappear.

The night was magnificent, the moon shed as much light as broad day, and the atmosphere was so transparent, that objects could be perfectly distinguished for a great distance.

As the Count very rarely entered the huerta, and hence was ignorant of its arrangement, he hesitated to enter the walks which he saw running before him in all directions, crossing each other as to form a perfect labyrinth, for he had no inclination to stay out all night, lovely though it was.

He therefore, stopped to reflect, perhaps he was mistaken, had been the dupe of an illusion, and what he had taken for a man's shadow, might possibly be that of a branch agitated by the night breeze, and which the moon beams had caused to dazzle his eyes.

This observation was not only just, but logical, hence the young man carefully guarded himself against yielding to it; at the end of an instant an ironical smile curled his lips and instead of entering the garden, he cautiously slipped along the wall which formed on this side a wall of verdure to the hacienda.

After gliding along thus for about ten minutes, the Count stopped, first to take breath and then to look about him.

"Good," he muttered after looking cautiously around, "I was not mistaken."

He then bent forward, cautiously parted the leaves and branches and looked out.

Almost immediately he drew himself back, suppressing a cry of surprise.

The spot where he was, was exactly opposite the suite of apartments occupied by Doña Dolores de Cruz.

A window in this suite was open, and Doña Dolores leaning on the window ledge, was talking to a man who was standing in the garden, but exactly opposite to her, a distance of scarce two feet separated the speakers, who appeared engaged in a most interesting conversation.

It was impossible for the Count to recognize the man, although he was only a few yards from him. In the first place, he had his back turned to him, and then he was wrapped up in a cloak which completely disguised him.

"Ah!" the Count muttered, "I was not mistaken." In spite of the blow this discovery dealt his vanity, the Count uttered these words with a mental satisfaction at having guessed correctly: this man, whoever he was, could only be a lover.

Still, though the two spoke softly, they did not lower their voices so as to render them inaudible at a short distance, and while blaming himself for the indelicate action he was committing, the Count, excited by vexation and possibly by unconscious jealousy, parted the branches and bent forward again for the purpose of listening.

The young lady was speaking. "Good heaven," she said with emotion, "I tremble, my friend, when I pass several days without seeing you: my anxiety is extreme and I even fear a misfortune."

"Confound it," the Count muttered, "that fellow is dearly beloved."

This aside made him lose the man's reply. The young lady continued:

"Am I condemned to remain much longer here?"

"A little patience: I trust that everything will be ended soon," the stranger answered in a low voice; "and what is he doing?"

"He is still the same, as gloomy and mysterious as ever," she replied.

"Is he here tonight?"

"Yes."

"Still as ill-tempered?"

"More so than ever."

"And the Frenchman?"

"Ah! Ah!" said the Count, "Let us hear what is thought of me."

"He is a most agreeable person," the young lady murmured in a trembling voice; "for the last few days he has seemed sad."

"Is he growing weary?"

"I fear so."

"Poor girl," the Count said, "she has perceived that I am growing tired; it is true that I take but little trouble to conceal the fact. But, by the way, can I be mistaken, and this man is no lover? It is very improbable, and yet who knows?" he added fatuously.

During this long aside, the two speakers had continued their conversation which had been totally unheard by the young man, when he began to listen again. Doña Dolores was concluding—

"I will do it, as you insist on it: but is it very necessary, my friend?"

"Indispensable, Dolores."

"Hang it! He is familiar," the Count said.

"I will obey then," the young lady continued,

"Now we must part: I have remained here too long as it is."

The stranger pulled his hat down over his eyes, muttered the word farewell, for the last time and went off at a quick pace.

The Count had remained motionless at the same spot, a prey to a profound stupefaction. The stranger passed close enough to touch him, though without seeing him: at this moment a branch knocked off his hat, a moon ray fell full on his face and the Count then recognized him.

"Oliver!" he muttered, "It is he then, that she loves."

He returned to his apartments tottering like a drunken man. This last discovery had upset him.

The young man went to bed, but could not sleep: he passed the whole night in forming the most extravagant projects. However, toward morning, his agitation appeared to give way to lassitude.

Before forming any resolution, he said, "I wish to have an explanation with her, very certainly I do not love her, but for my honour's sake, it is necessary that she should be thoroughly convinced that I am not a fool and that I know everything. That is settled: tomorrow I shall request an interview with her."

Feeling calmer, after he had formed a definitive resolution, the Count closed his eyes and fell asleep.

On waking, he saw Raimbaut standing at his bed side, with a paper in his hand.

"What is it? What do you want?" he said to him.

"It is a letter for Monsieur le Comte," the valet answered.

"Ah!" he exclaimed; "Can it be news from France?"

"I do not think so; this letter was given to Lanca by one of the waiting women of Doña Dolores de la Cruz, with a request to deliver it to M. le Comte, as soon as he woke."

"This is strange," the young man muttered, as he took the note and examined it attentively; "it is certainly addressed to me," he muttered, at length deciding on opening it.

The note was from Doña Dolores de la Cruz, and only contained these few words, written in a delicate though rather tremulous hand.

"Doña Dolores de la Cruz earnestly requests Señor don Ludovic de la Saulay to grant her a private interview for a very important affair at three o'clock in the afternoon of today. Doña Dolores will await the Count in her own apartments."

"This time I cannot make head or tail of it," the Count exclaimed. "But stuff," he added, after a moment's reflection; "perhaps it is better that it should be so, and the proposition come from her."


CHAPTER VII.

THE RANCHO.


The state of Puebla is composed of a plateau mountain, more than five and twenty leagues in circumference, crossed by the lofty Cordilleras of Ahamiac.

The plains which surround the town are very diversified, cut up by ravines, studded with hills, and closed on the horizon by mountains covered by eternal snows.

Immense fields of aloes, the real vineyards of the country, as pulque, that beverage so dear to the Mexicans, is made from this plant, extend beyond the range of vision.

There is no sight so imposing as these commanding aloes, whose leaves, armed with formidable points, are thick, hard, lustrous, and from six to eight feet in length.

On leaving Puebla by the Mexico road, about two leagues further on, you come to the city of Choluta, formerly very important, but which, now fallen from its past splendour, only contains from twelve to fifteen thousand souls.

In the days of the Aztecs, the territory, which now forms the State of Puebla, was considered by the inhabitants a privileged Holy Land, and the sanctuary of the religion. Considerable ruins, very remarkable from an archæological point of view, still bear witness to the truth of our statement; three principal pyramids exist in a very limited space, without mentioning the ruins on which travellers tread at every step.

Of these three pyramids, one is justly celebrated; it is the one to which the inhabitants of the country give the name of Monte hecho a mano, the mountain built by human hands, or the great teocali of Cholula.

This pyramid, crowned with cypresses, and on the top of which now stands a chapel dedicated to "Nuestra Señora de los remedios," is entirely constructed of bricks, its height is one hundred and seventy feet, and its base, according to the calculations of Humboldt, is 1355 feet in length, or a little more than double the base of the pyramids of Cheops.

Monsieur Ampère remarks, with considerable tact and cleverness, that the imagination of the Arabs has surrounded with prodigies, the, to them, unknown cradle of the Egyptian pyramids, whose construction they refer to the deluge; and the same was the case in Mexico. On this subject he relates a tradition picked up in 1566, by Pedro del Rio, about the pyramids of Cholula, and preserved in his MSS., which are now in the Vatican.

We will in our turn, make a loan from the celebrated savant, and relate here this tradition, such as he gives it in his Promenades en Amérique.

"During the last great inundation, the country of Ahamioc (the plateau of Mexico), was inhabited by giants. All those who did not perish in this disaster, were changed into fishes, except seven giants who took refuge in the caverns. When the waters began to subside, one of these giants, of the name of Xelhua, who was an architect, erected near Cholula, in memory of the mountain of Tlaloc, which had served as a refuge to him and his brothers, an artificial column of a pyramidal form. The Gods, seeing with jealousy, this edifice, whose peak was intended to touch the clouds, and irritated by the audacity of Xelhua, hurled the heavenly fires against the pyramid, whence it happened, that many of the builders perished, and the work could not be completed. It was dedicated to the god of the air, 'Qualzalcoatl.'"

Might we not fancy ourselves reading the Biblical account of the building of the Tower of Babel?

There is in this narrative an error, which must not be imputed to the celebrated professor, but which we, in spite of our humble quality of romance writer, believe it useful to rectify.

Quetzalcoatl—the serpent covered with feathers, the root of which is quetzalli feathers, and coatl serpent, and not qualzalcoatl, which means nothing, and is not even a Mexican name—is the god of the air, the god legislator par excellence; he was white and bearded, his black cloak was studded with red crosses, he appeared at Tula, of which place he was high priest; the men who accompanied him wore black garments, in the shape of a cassock, and like him, were white.

He was passing through Cholula, on his way to the mysterious country whence his ancestors sprang, when the Cholulans implored him to govern them and give them laws; he consented, and remained for twenty years among them. After which, considering his mission temporarily terminated, he went to the mouth of the river Huasacoalio, when he suddenly disappeared, after solemnly promising the Cholulans that he would return one day to govern them.

Hardly a century ago the Indians, when carrying their offspring to the Chapel of the Virgin erected on the pyramid, still prayed to Quetzalcoatl, whose return among them they piously awaited, we will not venture to assert that this belief is completely extinct at the present day.

The pyramid of Cholula in no way resembles those to be seen in Egypt, covered with earth on all sides; it is a thoroughly wooded mount, the top of which can be easily reached, not only on horseback, but in a carriage.

At certain spots landslips had laid bare the sun-dried bricks employed in the construction.

A Christian chapel stands on the top of the pyramid at the very spot where the temple dedicated to Quetzalcoatl was built.

We cannot agree with certain authors who have asserted that a religion of love has been substituted for a barbarous and cruel faith; it would have been more logical to say that a true religion has followed a false one.

Never was the summit of the pyramid of Cholula stained with human blood; never was any man immolated there to the god adored in the temple, now destroyed, for the very simple reason that this temple was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, and that the only offerings laid on the altar of this god consisted of productions of the earth, such as flowers and the first fruits of the crops, and this was done by the express order of the God legislator, an order which his priests did not dare infringe.

It was about four o'clock, a.m., the stars were beginning to disappear in the depths of the sky, the horizon was striped with large grey bands that incessantly changed their colour, and gradually assumed all the colours of the rainbow, until they at last became blended into one red mass; day was breaking, and the sun was about to rise. At this moment two horsemen issued from Puebla, and proceeded at a sharp trot along the Cholula road.

Both were carefully wrapped up in their zarapés, and appeared well armed.

At about half a league from the town they suddenly turned to the right and entered a narrow path cut through a field of agaré.

This path, which was very badly kept up, like all the means of communication in Mexico, formed numberless turns, and was cut up by so many ravines and quagmires, that there was the greatest difficulty in riding along it, without running the risk of breaking one's neck twenty times in ten minutes. Here and there came arroyos, which had to be crossed with the water up to the horses' girths; then there were mounds to ascend and descend; lastly, after at least twenty-five minutes of this difficult riding, the two travellers reached the base of a species of pyramid clumsily made by human hands, entirely covered with wood, and rising about forty feet above the plain.

This artificial hill was crowned by a vaquero's rancho, which was reached by steps cut at regular distances in the sides of the mound.

On reaching this spot the two strangers halted and dismounted.

The two men then left their horses to themselves, thrust the barrels of their guns into a crevice at the base of the hill, and pressed on them, using the butt as a leverage.

Although the pressure was not greatly exerted, an enormous stone, which seemed completely to adhere to the ground, became slowly detached, turned on invisible hinges, and unmasked the entrance of a cave which ran with a gentle incline underground.

This grotto doubtless received air and light through a great number of imperceptible fissures, for it was dry, and perfectly clear.

"Go, Lopez," said one of the strangers.

"Are you going up above?" the other asked.

"Yes; you will join me there in an hour, unless you see me beforehand."

"Good; that is understood."

He then whistled to the horses, which trotted up, and, at a signal from Lopez, entered the cavern without the slightest hesitation.

"Good bye for the present," said Lopez.

The stranger gave him an affirmative nod; the servant entered in his turn, let the stone fall behind him, and it fitted so exactly into the rock, that there was not the slightest solution of continuity, and it would have been impossible to find the entrance it concealed, even were its existence known, unless one had been acquainted beforehand with its exact position.

The stranger had remained motionless, with his eyes fixed on the surrounding plain, seeking, doubtless, to assure himself that he was really alone, and that he had nothing to fear from indiscreet glances.

When the stone had fallen into its place again, he threw his gun on his shoulder, and began slowly ascending the steps, apparently plunged in gloomy meditation.

From the top of the mound there was a vast prospect: on one side Lapotecas, Cholula, haciendas, and villages; on the other, Puebla, with its numerous painted and conical cupolas, which made it resemble an eastern city. Then the eye wandered over fields of aloes, Indian corn, and ajuves, in the midst of which the high road to Mexico wound, forming a yellow line.

The stranger remained for an instant pensive, with his eyes turned to the plain, which was completely deserted at this early hour, and which the first sunbeams were beginning to gild with lustrous tints: then, after breathing a suppressed sigh, he pushed the hurdle, covered with a cowhide, which served as door to the rancho, and disappeared in the interior.

The rancho externally had the wretched appearance of a hut almost falling into ruins; still, the interior was more comfortably arranged than might have been reasonably expected in a country where the exigencies of life, with the lower classes more especially, are reduced to what is most strictly necessary.

The first room—for the rancho contained several—served as parlour and sitting room, and communicated with a lean-to outside, used as a kitchen. The whitewashed walls of this room were adorned, not with pictures, but with six or eight of those coloured engravings, manufactured at Epinal, and with which that town inundates the world. They represented different episodes in the wars of the empires, and were decently framed and glazed. In a corner, about six feet from the ground, a statuette, representing Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, was placed on a mahogany console, edged with points, on which were fixed yellow wax tapers, three of which were lighted. Six equipales, four butacas, a sideboard covered with various household articles, and a large table placed in the middle of the room, completed the furniture of this apartment, which was lighted by two windows with red curtains. The floor was covered with a mat, of rather delicate workmanship.

We have omitted mention of an article of furniture very important through its rarity, and which was most unexpected in such a place: it was a Black Forest cuckoo clock, surmounted by some bird or other, which announced the hours and half-hours by singing.

This cuckoo was opposite the entrance door, and placed exactly between the two windows.

A door opened on the right into the inner room.

At the moment when the stranger entered the rancho, the room was empty.

He leant his gun in a corner, took off his hat, which he laid on a table, opened a window, up to which he drew a butaca, then rolled a husk cigarette, which he lit and smoked as calmly and coolly as if he were at home, though not till he had cast a glance at the clock, and muttered,—

"Half past five! Good! I have time: he will not arrive before."

While speaking thus to himself, the stranger threw himself back in the butaca; his eyes closed, his hand loosed its hold of the cigarette, and a few minutes later he was sleeping soundly.

His sleep had lasted about half an hour, when a door behind him was cautiously opened, and a pretty woman, three-and-twenty at the most, with blue eyes and light hair, came into the room stealthily, curiously stretching out her head, and fixing a kind, almost affectionate, glance on the sleeper.

The young woman's face evidenced gaiety and maliciousness, blended with extreme kindness. Her features, though not regular, formed a coquettish and graceful whole which pleased at the first glance. Her excessively white complexion distinguished her from the other rancheros' wives, who are generally copper-coloured Indians: her dress was that belonging to her class, but remarkably neat, and worn with a coquettishness that admirably became her.

She thus came up softly to the sleeper, with her head thrown back, and a finger laid on her lip, doubtless to recommend two persons who followed her—a middle-aged man and woman—to make as little noise as possible.

The woman appeared to be about fifty years of age, the man sixty; their rather ordinary features had nothing striking about them, excepting a certain expression of energetic decision spread over them.

The woman wore the garb of Mexican rancheros; as for the man, he was a vaquero.

All three, on coming close to the stranger, stopped before him, and watched him sleeping.

At this moment a sunbeam entered through the open window, and fell on the stranger's face.

"Vive Dieu!" the latter exclaimed in French, as he sprang up suddenly and opened his eyes; "Why, deuce take me, I really believe I was asleep!"

"Parbleu! Mr. Oliver," the ranchero replied, in the same language; "what harm is there in that?"

"Ah! There you are, my good friends," he said, with a pleasant smile, as he offered them his hand; "it is a joyous waking for me, since I find you at my side. Good day! Louise, my girl. Good day! Mother Therese; and good day to you, too, my old Loïck! You have cheerful faces, which it is a pleasure to look at!"

"How sorry I am that you woke up, Mr. Oliver," the charming Louise said.

"The more so, because you were doubtless fatigued," Loïck said.

"Stuff! I have forgotten it. You did not expect to find me here, eh?"

"Pardon me, Mr. Oliver," Therese replied; "Lopez informed us of your arrival."

"That confounded Lopez cannot hold his tongue," Oliver said, gaily; "he must always be chattering."

"You will breakfast with us, I hope?" the young woman asked.

"Is that a thing to ask, girl?" the vaquero said; "I should like to see Mr. Oliver decline, that is all."

"Come, rough, one," Oliver said, laughingly; "do not growl. I will breakfast."

"Ah! That is all right," the young woman exclaimed. And, aided by Therese, who was her mother, as Loïck was her father, she instantly began making preparations for the morning meal.

"But, you know," said Oliver, "nothing Mexican—I do not expect the frightful cooking of the country here."

"All right!" Louise answered, with a smile; "We will have a French breakfast."

"Bravo! The news doubles my appetite."

While the two women went backwards and forwards from the kitchen to the dining room, preparing the breakfast, and laying the table, the two men remained near the window, and were conversing together.

"Are you still satisfied?" Oliver asked his host.

"Perfectly," the other answered. "Don Andrés de la Cruz is a good master; besides, as you know, I have but few dealings with him."

"That is true. You only depend on No Leo Carral."

"I do not complain of him. He is a worthy man, although a majordomo. We get on famously together."

"All the better. I should have been grieved had it been otherwise. However, it was on my recommendation that you consented to take this rancho; and if there were anything—"

"I would not hesitate to inform you of it, Mr. Oliver; but in that quarter all goes well."

The adventurer looked at him fixedly.

"Then something is going wrong elsewhere?" he remarked.

"I do not say so, sir," the vaquero stammered, with embarrassment.

Oliver shook his head.

"Do you remember, Loïck," he said to him, sternly, "the conditions I imposed on you, when I granted you your pardon?"

"Oh! I do not forget them, sir."

"You have not spoken?"

"No."

"Then Dominique still believes himself?"

"Yes, still," he replied hanging his head; "but he does not love me."

"What makes you suppose so?"

"I am only too certain of it, sir: ever since you took him on the prairies, his character has completely changed. The ten years he spent away from me have rendered him completely indifferent."

"Perhaps it is a foreboding," the adventurer remarked in a hollow voice.

"Oh, do not say that, sir," the other exclaimed with horror, "musing is a bad counsellor: I was very guilty, but if you knew how deeply I have repented of my crime—"

"I know it and that is the reason why I pardoned you. Justice will be done, some day, on the real culprit."

"Oh, sir, and I tremble, wretch that I am, at having been mixed up in this sinister history, whose denouement will be terrible."

"Yes," the adventurer said with concentrated energy,—"very terrible indeed! And you will help in it, Loïck."

The vaquero gave a sigh, which did not escape the other.

"I have not seen Dominique," he said, with a sudden change of tone; "is he still asleep?"

"Oh no, you have instructed him too well, sir; he is always the first of us to rise."

"How is it that he is not here, in that case?"

"Oh," the vaquero said with hesitation, "he has gone out: hang it, he is free, now that he is twenty-two years of age."

"Already!" the adventurer muttered in a gloomy voice. Then suddenly shaking his head, he said:

"Let us breakfast."

The meal commenced under rather melancholy auspices, but thanks to the efforts of the adventurer, the former gaiety soon returned, and the end of the breakfast was as merry as could be desired.

All at once Lopez suddenly entered the rancho.

"Señor Loïck," he said, "here is your son: I do not know what he is bringing, but he is on foot and leading his horse by the bridle."

All rose and left the rancho. At about a gunshot from the rancho, they really saw a man leading a horse by the bridle: a rather heavy burden was fastened on the animal's back.

The distance prevented them from distinguishing the nature of this burden.

"It is strange," Oliver muttered in a low voice, after attentively examining the arrival for some moments, "can it be he? Oh, I must make certain without delay."

And, after making Lopez a sign to follow him, he rushed down the steps, to the amazement of the vaquero and the two women who soon saw him running, followed by Lopez, across the plain to meet Dominique.

The latter had noticed the two men and had halted to await their arrival.


CHAPTER VIII.

THE WOUNDED MAN.


A profound calm brooded over the country: the night breeze had died away; no other sound but the continual buzzing of the infinitely little creatures, that toil incessantly at the unknown task for which they were created by Providence, disturbed the silence of the night: the deep blue sky had not a cloud: a gentle, penetrating brilliancy fell from the stars and the moonbeams flooded the landscape with gleams that gave a fantastic appearance to the trees and mounts whose shadows they immoderately elongated: bluish reflections seemed to pervade the atmosphere whose dearness was such, that the heavy flight of the coleoptera buzzing round the branches could be easily distinguished: here and there fireflies darted like will-o'-the-wisps through the tall grass, which they lit up with phosphorescent gleams as they passed.

It was, in a word, one of those limpid and pure American nights, unknown in our cold climates less favoured by heaven, and which plunge the mind into gentle and melancholy reverie.

All at once a shadow rose on the horizon, rapidly increased and soon revealed the black and still undecided outline of a horseman; the sound of horses' hoofs striking the hardened ground hurried blows, soon left no doubt in this respect.

A horseman was really approaching and going in the direction of Puebla; half asleep on his steed, he held the bridle rather loose, and allowed it to go much as it pleased, until the animal, on reaching some cross roads, in the middle of which a cross stood, gave a sudden start and leaped on one side, cocking its ears and pulling back forcibly.

The rider, suddenly aroused from his sleep or, as is more probable, from his reflections, would have been thrown, had he not, by an instinctive movement, gathered up his horse by pulling at the bridle.

"Holah," he exclaimed, drawing himself up sharply and laying his hand on his machete, while he looked anxiously around, "what is going on here? Come, Moreno, my good horse, why this terror? There, calm yourself, my good boy, no one is thinking of us."

But though the master patted it as he spoke, and both seemed to be on good terms, the animal still continued to pull back and display signs of the most lively terror.

"This is not natural, by Heaven! You are not accustomed to be thus frightened for nothing: come, my good Moreno, what is it?"

And the traveller again looked around him, but this time more attentively and peering at the ground, "Ah!" he said all at once, on noticing a corpse stretched out on the road, "Moreno is right; there is something there, the body of some hacendero without doubt, whom the salteadores have killed to plunder him more at their ease, and whom they left, without paying further heed to him: let me have a look."

While speaking thus to himself in a low voice, the horseman had dismounted.

But, as our man was prudent, and, in all probability, long accustomed to traverse the roads of the Mexican confederation, he cocked his gun, and held himself in readiness either for attack or defence, in the event of the individual whom he proposed to succour suddenly rising to ask him for his money or his life, an eventuality quite in accordance with the manners of the country, and against which he must place himself on his guard.

He therefore approached the corpse and gazed at it for an instant with the most serious attention.

It only required one glance to attain for certainty that there was nothing to be feared from the unhappy man lying at his feet.

"Hum!" he continued, shaking his head several times, "This poor fellow seems to be very bad: if he is not dead, he is not worth much more, well, I suppose I must try to succour him, though I am afraid it will be lost trouble."

After this fresh aside, the traveller, who was no other than Dominique, the ranchero's son, to whom we just now alluded, uncocked his gun which he leant against the road side, so as to have it within reach in case of need, fastened his horse to a tree, and took off his zarapé, so as to be less impeded in his movements.

After taking all these precautions quietly and methodically, for he was a very careful man in everything, Dominique took off the alforjas or double pockets carried on the back of the saddle, put them on his shoulder, and kneeling down by the side of the out-stretched corpse, he opened the wounded man's clothes and put his ear to his chest, in which was a gaping wound.

Dominique was a man of tall stature, powerful and perfectly proportioned: his supple limbs were garnished with muscles thick as cords and hard as marble: he was evidently endowed with remarkable strength, joined to great skill in all his movements, which were not without a certain manly grace: he was, in a word, one of those powerful men uncommon in all countries, but who are most frequently found among those nations where the exigencies of a life of combat develop the personal faculties of the individual in frequently extreme proportions.

Although he was only two and twenty years of age, Dominique appeared at least eight and twenty. His features were handsome, masculine and intelligent, his black open eyes looked you boldly in the face, his ample forehead, his auburn hair that curled naturally, his large mouth with rather thick lips, his fiercely curled moustache, his well designed and squarely cut chin gave his face an expression of frankness, boldness and kindness, which was really attractive, while at the same time rendering him most distinguished looking. A singular thing in this man, who belonged to the humble class of vaqueros, his hands and feet were wonderfully small, and his hands more especially were exquisitely shaped.

Such physically was the new personage whom we introduce to the reader, and who is intended to play an important part in the course of this narration. "Well, he will have a job, to recover, if he does recover," Dominique continued as he rose, after vainly trying to feel the beating of his heart. Still he did not let himself be discouraged, he opened his alforjas and took out linen, a surgical case and a small locked box.

"Luckily I have kept up my Indian habits," he said with a smile, "and always carry my medicine bag about with me."

Without loss of time he probed the wound and washed it carefully. The blood dripped drop by drop from the violet edges of the wound, he uncorked a vial, poured on the wound a few drops of reddish liquor, and the blood at once ceased flowing as if by enchantment. Then with a skill that evidenced much practice he bandaged the wound, on which he delicately laid some herbs pounded and moistened with the red fluid he had before employed.

The unhappy man gave no sign of life, his body continued to retain the inert rigidity of a corpse; still a certain moistness existed at the extremities, a diagnostic which made Dominique suppose that life was not completely extinct in this poor body. After dressing the wound with care, he gently raised the man and leaned him against a tree: then he began rubbing his chest, temples and wrists with rum and water, only stopping from time to time to examine with an anxious eye his pale contracted face. Everything appeared to be useless: no contraction, no nervous quiver indicated the return of life. But there is nothing so persistent as the will of a man who desires to save his fellow man. Although he began seriously to doubt the success of his efforts, far from being discouraged, Dominique felt his ardor redoubled, and resolved not to give up his exertions, till he had attained the certainty that they were wasted. A striking picture was offered by the group formed on this deserted road upon this calm and luminous night, at the foot of the cross—the symbol of redemption—by these two men, one of whom impelled by the holy love of humanity lavished on the other the most paternal care.

Dominique ceased his frictions for a moment and smote his forehead, as if a sudden thought had risen to his brain.

"Where the deuce can my head be?" he muttered; and feeling in his alforjas, which seemed inexhaustible, so many things did they contain, he brought out a carefully stoppered gourd.

He opened the wounded man's clenched teeth with his knife blade, thrust the gourd between his lips, and poured into his mouth a portion of the contents, while examining his face anxiously. At the end of two or three minutes, the wounded man gave a slight shiver, and his eyelids moved, as if he were trying to open them.

"Ah!" said Dominique with joy, "This time I believe I shall win the day."

And, laying the gourd by his side, he recommenced his frictions with renewed ardour. A sigh faint as a breath issued from the wounded man's lips, his limbs began ere long to lose a little of their rigidity, life was returning by inches. The young man redoubled his efforts; by degrees the breathing, though faint and broken, became more distinct, the features relaxed and the cheek bones displayed two red spots, although the eyes remained closed, the lips moved as if the wounded man were trying to utter some words.

"Come," said Dominique with delight, "all is not over yet, but he will have had a very narrow squeak for it; bravo! I have not lost my time! But who on earth can have given him so tremendous a sword thrust? People do not fight duels in Mexico. On my soul! If I were not afraid of insulting him. I could almost swear I know the man who so nearly slit up this poor wretch; but patience, he must speak ere long, and then he will be very clever if I do not learn with whom he has had the row."

In the meanwhile life, after long hesitating to return to this body which it had almost abandoned, had commenced an earnest struggle with death, which it drove further and further away. The movements of the wounded man became more distinct and decidedly more intelligent. Twice already his eyes had opened, although they closed again immediately; but the improvement in him was sensible: he would soon recover his senses, it was now but a question of time. Dominique poured a little water into a cup, mixed with it a few drops of the liquid contained in the gourd, and put it to the patient's mouth: the latter opened his lips, drank and then gave a gasp of relief.

"How do you feel?" the young man asked him with interest.

At the sound of this unknown voice, a convulsive quiver agitated the whole of the wounded man's body; he made a gesture as if repulsing a terrifying image, and muttered in a low voice, "Kill me!"

"Certainly not!" Dominique exclaimed joyfully.

"I had too much trouble in recovering you for that."

The wounded man partly opened his eyes, glanced wildly around, and at length gazed at the young man with an expression of indescribable horror.

"The mask!" he exclaimed, "The mask! Oh! Back, back!"

"The brain has suffered a very severe shock," the young man muttered, "he is suffering from a feverish hallucination which, if it continued, might produce madness. Hum! The case is serious! What is to be done to remedy this?"

"Murderer!" the wounded man continued feebly; "Kill me."

"He insists on that as it seems; this man has fallen into some frightful snare, his troubled mind only recalls the last scene of murder, in which he acted so unfortunate a part. I must cut this short and restore him the calmness necessary for his cure, if not, he is lost."

"Do I not know perfectly well I am lost?" the wounded man who overheard the last word said; "Kill me, therefore, without making me suffer more."

"You hear me, señor," the young man answered "very good then, listen to me without interruption: I am not one of the men who brought you into your present state. I am a traveller, whom accident or rather Providence brought on this road, to come to your assistance and, as I hope, to save you: you understand me, do you not? Hence cease to invent chimeras; forget, if it be possible, for the present at any rate, what passed between you and your assassins. I have no other desire but that of being useful to you: without me you would be dead: do not render more difficult the hard task I have taken on myself: your recovery henceforth depends on yourself."

The wounded man made a sudden effort to rise, but his strength betrayed him, and he fell back with a sigh of discouragement; "I cannot," he murmured.

"I should think not, wounded as you are. It is a miracle that the frightful sword thrust you received did not kill you on the spot: hence, do not any longer oppose what humanity orders me to do for you."

"But if you are not the assassin, who are you?" the wounded man asked, apprehensively.

"Who am I? A poor vaquero, who found you expiring here, and was fortunate enough to restore you to life."

"And you swear to me that your intentions are good?"

"I swear it, on my honour."

"Thanks!" the wounded man murmured.

There was a rather long silence.

"Oh! I wish to live;" the wounded man resumed, with concentrated energy.

"I can understand the desire—it is quite natural on your part."

"Yes; I wish to live, for I must avenge myself!"

"That sentiment is just, for vengeance is permitted."

"You promise that you will save me—do you not?"

"At least I will do all in my power."

"Oh! I am rich: I will reward you."

The ranchero shook his head.

"Why speak of reward?" he said. "Do you believe that devotedness can be bought? Keep your gold, caballero—it would be useless to me, for I have no wants to satisfy."

"Still, it is my duty."

"Not a word more on this subject, I must request, señor. Any pressure on your part would be a mortal insult to me. I am doing my duty in saving your life, and have no claim to any recompense."

"Act as you please, then."

"Promise me first not to raise any objection to what I may consider it proper to do on behalf of your health."

"I promise it."

"Good! In this way we shall always understand one another. Day will soon appear, and so we must not remain here any longer."

"But when can I go? I feel so faint, that I cannot possibly make the slightest movement."

"That need not disturb you. I will put you on my horse; and by making it go at a foot pace, it will carry you, without any dangerous jolts, to a safe place."

"I leave myself in your hands."

"That is the best thing you could do. Do you wish me to take you to your house?"

"My house!" the wounded man exclaimed, with ill-disguised terror, and making a movement as if he would try to fly. "You know me then, señor—know my residence?"

"I do not know you, and am ignorant where your house is situated. How could I know such details, when I never saw you before this night?"

"That is true," the wounded man muttered, speaking to himself. "I am mad! This man is honest." Then, addressing Dominique, he said in a broken and scarce distinct voice; "I am a traveller. I come from Veracruz, and was going to Mexico, when I was suddenly attacked, plundered of everything I possessed, and left for dead at the foot of this cross, when you so providentially discovered me. As for a home, I have no other at this moment but the one you may be pleased to offer me. This is my whole story: it is as simple as truth."

"Whether it be true or not does not concern me, señor. I have no right to interfere in your affairs against your will. Let me request you, therefore, to refrain from giving me information which I do not ask of you—which does not concern me, and which, in your present condition, can only be injurious to you, first, by causing you too great tension of mind, and then, by forcing you to speak."

In truth, it was only by a violent effort of the will, that the wounded man had succeeded in keeping up so long a conversation. The shock he had received was too powerful, his wound too severe, for him to talk any longer, without running the risk of falling into a fainting fit more dangerous than the one from which he had been so miraculously drawn by his generous saviour. Already he felt his arteries throbbing, a mist spread before his sight: there was a sinister buzzing in his ears; an icy sweat beaded on his temples; his thoughts, into which he had found it so difficult to introduce a little regularity and coherence, were beginning to desert him again: he understood that any lengthened resistance on his part would be madness, and he fell back in a state of discouragement, and heaving a sigh of resignation,—

"My friend," he murmured, in a faint voice, "do with me what you please; I feel as if I were dying."

Dominique watched his movements with an anxious eye: he hastened to make him drink a few drops of cordial, with which he had mixed a soporific. This help was efficacious, and the wounded man felt himself recalled to life. He tried to thank the young man.

"Silence!" the latter said to him, quickly; "You have talked too much already."

And he carefully wrapped him in his cloak, and laid him on the ground.

"There!" he continued; "So far you are all right; do not stir, and try to sleep, while I reflect on the means of removing you from here as quickly as possible."

The wounded man attempted no resistance; the opium he had swallowed was already acting upon him: he smiled softly, closed his eyes, and was soon plunged in a calm and strengthening sleep. Dominique watched him for a moment asleep with the most entire satisfaction.

"I like better to see him thus than as he was on my arrival," he said, gladly. "Ah! All is not over yet: now we must be off as rapidly as possible, if I do not wish to be impeded by the troublesome people who will soon flock along this road."

He unfastened his horse, put on the bridle again, and led it close to the wounded man. After making a species of seat on the animal's back with some blankets, to which he added his zarapé, pulling it off without the slightest hesitation, he raised the wounded man in his powerful arms, with as much ease as if he had been a child instead of a tall, rather corpulent man, and placed him softly on the seat, where he fastened him as well as he could, while carefully holding him to avoid a jolt, which might prove fatal.

When the young man felt assured that his patient was in a position as convenient as circumstances permitted, he started his horse, whose bridle he held, without leaving his place by the side of the wounded man, whom he supported, and proceeded straight to the rancho, where we preceded him about an hour, in order to introduce the adventurer there.


CHAPTER IX.

A DISCOVERY.


Dominique marched very gently, supporting with a firm hand the wounded man seated in his saddle, watching over him as a mother watches over her child, having only one desire—that of reaching the rancho as soon as possible, in order to give this stranger, who, without him, would have died so miserably, that attention which the precarious state in which he still was, necessitated.

In spite of the impatience he felt, it was unfortunately impossible to hurry his horse on for fear of an accident across the broken and almost impracticable roads he was compelled to follow: hence it was with an indescribable feeling of pleasure that, in coming within two or three gunshots of the rancho, he noticed some persons running towards him. Though he did not recognise them at first, his joy was great, for it was help arriving for him; and though he would assuredly have been unwilling to allow it, he recognised its extreme necessity for himself, and especially for the wounded man, as for some hours he had been stumbling along tracks nearly always impracticable, constrained to keep a constant watch on this man, whom, by an incomprehensible miracle, he had saved from a certain death, and whom the slightest neglect might kill.

When the men running towards him were only a few yards from him, he stopped and shouted to them with a joyous air, like a man delighted to be freed from an oppressive responsibility.

"Eh! Come on! Caray! You ought to have been here long ago."

"What do you mean, Dominique?" the adventurer asked in French. "What pressing need did you feel for us?"

"Why, that is plain enough, I fancy. Don't you see that I am bringing a wounded man?"

"A wounded man!" Oliver started with a tiger's bound, which brought him up to the young man's side. "To what wounded man are you alluding?"

"Hang it! To the one I have seated to the best of my ability on my horse, and whom I should not be sorry to see in a good bed; of which, between ourselves, he has the greatest need: for if he be still alive, it is, on my soul, through some incomprehensible miracle of providence!"

The adventurer, without replying, roughly pulled away the zarapé thrown over the wounded man's face, and examined it for some minutes with an expression of agony, grief, anger and regret, impossible to describe. His face, which had suddenly turned pale, assumed a cadaverous hue; a convulsive tremour ran over his whole body; his eyes, fixed on the wounded man, seemed to emit flashes, and had a strange expression.

"Oh!" he muttered in a low voice, convulsed by the storm that agitated his heart; "That man! It is he—really he! And is not dead!"

Dominique did not understand a word. He gazed at Oliver with amazement, not knowing what to think of the words he was uttering.

"But tell me," he at length said, with an outburst of passion, "what is the meaning of this? I save a man—Heaven knows how—by my care: in spite of a thousand difficulties I succeed in bringing here this poor wretch, who, without me, I may safely say, would have died like a dog, and this is how you greet me!"

"Yes, yes, rejoice!" the adventurer said to him, with a bitter accent; "You have committed a good action. I congratulate you on it, Dominique, my friend! It will benefit you, be sure, and that ere long!"

"You know that I do not understand you!" the young man exclaimed.

"Well! is there any need that you should understand me, poor boy?" he replied, with a disdainful shrug of his shoulders. "You have acted according to your nature, without reflection or afterthought. I have no more reproaches to address to you, than explanations to offer you."

"But, come; what do you mean?"

"Do you know this man?"

"Really, no. How should I know him?"

"I do not ask you that. Since you do not know him, how is it that you are bringing him to the rancho, without giving us notice?"

"For a very simple reason. I was returning from Cholula, when I found him lying across the road, groaning like a bull in the death throes. What could I do? Did not humanity command me to succour him? Is it permissible to let a Christian die in such a way without attempting to aid him?"

"Yes, yes," Oliver replied, ironically; "you acted well, and certainly I am far from blaming you. Of course, a man could not meet one of his fellow men in this cruel condition without assisting him." Then, suddenly changing his tone, and shrugging his shoulders with pity, he added; "Did you receive such lessons in humanity from the Redskins, among whom you lived so long?"

The young man attempted to answer, but he hurriedly checked him.

"Enough, now the evil is done," he said to him: "it is of no use alluding to it. Lopez will convey him to the cavern of the rancho, where he will nurse him. Go, Lopez, lose no time; lead away this man, while I talk with Dominique."

Lopez obeyed, and the young man allowed him to do so. He was beginning to comprehend that possibly his heart had deceived him, and that he had too easily given way to a feeling of humanity towards a man who was a perfect stranger to him.

There was a rather lengthened silence. Lopez had gone off with the wounded man, and had already disappeared in the cavern. Oliver and Dominique, standing face to face, remained motionless and pensive. At length the adventurer raised his head.

"Have you spoken with this man?"

"Only a few words."

"What did he tell you?"

"Not much that was sensible, he talked to me about an attack to which he had fallen a victim."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, or nearly so."

"Did he tell you his name?"

"I did not ask him for it."

"But he must have told you who he is."

"Yes, I think so: he told me that he had come a short time previously from Veracruz and was proceeding to Mexico, when he was attacked unawares and plundered by men whom he was unable to recognize."

"He told you nothing else about his name or position?"

"No, not a word."

The adventurer remained pensive for a moment.

"Listen," he then continued, "and do not take what I am going to say to you in ill part."

"From you, Master Oliver, I will hear anything you have the right to say everything to me."

"Good! Do you remember how we became acquainted?"

"Certainly: I was a child then, wretched and sickly, dying of want and misery in the streets of Mexico: you took pity on me, you clothed and fed me: not satisfied with this, you yourself taught me to read, write and cypher, and many other things."

"Go on."

"Then, you enabled me to find my parents again, or at least the persons who brought me up, and whom, in default of others, I have always regarded as my family."

"Good, what next?"

"Hang it, you know that as well as I do, Master Oliver."

"That is possible, but I wish you to repeat it to me."

"As you please: one day you came to the rancho, you took me away with you and took me to Sonora and Texas, where we hunted buffalo: at the end of two or three years, you caused me to be adopted by a Comanche tribe, and you left me, ordering me to remain on the prairies, and to lead the existence of a wood ranger, until you sent me an order to return to you."

"Very good, I see that you have a good memory: go on."

"I obeyed you, and remained among the Indians, hunting and living with them: six months ago, you came yourself to the banks of the Rio Gila, where I was at the time, and you told me that you had come to fetch me and that I must follow you. I followed you, therefore, without asking an explanation which I did not need: for do I not belong to you, body and soul?"

"Good, you still retain the same feeling."

"Why should I have changed? You are my only friend."

"Thanks, then you are resolved to obey me in everything?"

"Without hesitation, I swear it."

"That is what I wished to be certain of, now listen to me in your turn: this man whom you have succoured so foolishly—forgive the word—lied from the first to the last word he told you. The story he told you is a tissue of falsehoods: it is not true that he had only arrived a few days before from Veracruz, it is not true that he is going to Mexico, and lastly it is not true that he was attacked and plundered by strangers. This man I know: he has been at Mexico for the last eight months, he lives at Puebla, he was condemned to death by men who had a right to try him and with whom he is perfectly well acquainted: he was not attacked unawares, a sword was placed in his hand, and he received permission to defend himself—a permission which he took advantage of, and he fell in fair fight: finally, he was not plundered, because he had not to do with highwaymen but with men of honour."

"Oh, oh," said the young man, "this alters the case."

"Now answer this: you have pledged yourself to me? What do you mean by that?"

"This man, when he regained his senses and was able to speak, implored your protection; did he not?"

"That is true, Master Oliver."

"Good, and what did you answer him?"

"Hang it all, you understand that it was very difficult for me to abandon the poor fellow in the state he was in, especially after what I had done for him."

"Good, good; what then?"

"Well then, I promised to cure him."

"Nothing else?"

"Well no."

"And you only promised him this?"

"No, I pledged my word."

The adventurer gave a start of impatience.

"But supposing he recovers," he continued, "which between ourselves seems rather doubtful; when he is in a good state of health, will you consider yourself entirely free from him?"

"Oh yes, Master Oliver, completely."

"In that case, it is only a half evil."

"You know that I do not at all understand you?"

"Be content, Dominique, learn that you have not a lucky hand for a good deed."

"Because?"

"Because the man you have succoured and on whom you lavished such devoted attentions, is your deadly enemy."

"This man my deadly enemy?" he exclaimed with an astonishment mingled with doubt; "But I do not know him any more than he knows me."

"You suppose so, my poor fellow; but be convinced that I am not deceived and am telling you the truth."

"It is strange."

"Yes, very strange, indeed, but it is so: this man is even your most dangerous foe."

"What is to be done?"

"Leave me to act: I went to the rancho this morning with the intention of telling you that one of your enemies, the most formidable of all, was dead: you took care to make me a liar. After all, perhaps it is better it should be so: what God does is well, His ways are unknown to us, we must bow before the manifestation of His will."

"Then, it is your intention—?"

"My intention is to order Lopez to watch over your patient: he will remain in the cavern where he will be taken the greatest care of, but you will not see him again, as it is unnecessary for you to know any more about him at present: in my turn, I pledge you my word that all the attention his condition demands shall be bestowed on him."

"Oh, I trust entirely to you, Master Oliver: but when he's cured, what shall we do?"

"We will let him go away in peace, he is not our prisoner: be at ease, we shall find him again without difficulty when we want him: of course it is understood that no one in the rancho is to go down to him or have any relations with him."

"Good: in that case you will tell them so, for I cannot undertake it."

"I will do so: but I shall not see him either; Lopez alone will remain in charge of him."

"Have you nothing more to say to me?"

"Yes, that I intend to take you away with me for a few days."

"Ah, are we going far?"

"You will see: in the meanwhile go to the rancho and prepare everything you want for your journey."

"Oh, I am ready," he interrupted.

"That is possible, but I am not; have I not to give Lopez orders about your wounded man?"

"That is true, and besides I must say good-bye to my family."

"That will be very proper, as you will probably be away for some time."

"Good, I understand, we are going to have a famous hunt."

"Yes, we are going to hunt," the adventurer said with an equivocal smile; "but not at all in the way you suppose."

"All right, I do not care. I will hunt in whatever way you please."

"I reckon on it; but come, we have lost too much time already."

They proceeded toward the mound. The adventurer entered the vault, and the young man went up to the rancho. Loïck and the two women were awaiting him on the platform considerably perplexed by the long conversation he had held with Oliver; but Dominique was impenetrable—he had lived too long in the desert to let the truth be drawn from his heart when he thought proper to conceal it. Under these circumstances, all the questions they showered on him were thrown away; he only answered by clever evasions, and at last his father and the two women, despairing of making him speak, resolved to leave him at peace. His breakfast was all ready on the table. As he was hungry, he took advantage of this pretext to change the conversation, and while eating, announced his departure. Loïck made no remark, for he was accustomed to these sudden absences.

At the end of about half an hour Oliver reappeared. Dominique rose and took leave of his family.

"You are taking him with you," said Loïck.

"Yes," Oliver replied, "for a few days; we are going into the Tierra Caliente."

"Take care," said Louise anxiously; "you know that Juárez' guerillas are scouring the country."

"Fear nothing, little sister," the young man said as he embraced her; "we shall be prudent. I will bring you back a handkerchief. You know that I have promised you one for a long time."

"I should prefer your not leaving us, Dominique," she replied sadly.

"Come, come," the adventurer remarked gaily; "do not be alarmed, I will bring him back safe and sound."

It appears that the occupants of the rancho had great confidence in Oliver's word, for on this assurance their anxiety became calmed, and they took leave of the two men in tolerably good spirits. The latter then left the rancho, descended the mound, and found their horses, ready to be mounted, awaiting them, tied up to a liquidambar tree. After giving a last parting signal to the inhabitants of the rancho, who were assembled on the platform, they leapt into their saddles, and went off at a gallop across country to strike the Veracruz road.

"Are we really going to the hot lands?" Dominique asked, while galloping by his comrade's side.

"We are not going so far, or nearly so; I am only taking you a few miles off to a hacienda, where I want you to make a new acquaintance."

"Bah! Why so? I care very little for new acquaintances."

"This one will be very useful to you."

"Oh, in that case it is different. I confess to you that I am not very fond of the Mexicans."

"The person to whom you will be introduced is not Mexican, but French."

"That is not at all the same thing; but why do you talk in that mysterious way? Are you not going to introduce me?"

"No, it is another person whom you know, and for whom you feel some liking."

"To whom are you alluding?"

"To Leo Carral."

"The majordomo of the hacienda del Arenal?"

"Himself!"

"In that case we are going to the hacienda?"

"Not exactly, but near it. I have given the majordomo a rendezvous, where he will wait for me, and we are going there now."

"In that case all is for the best. I shall be delighted to see Leo Carral again. He is a good fellow."

"And a man of honour and trust," Oliver added.


CHAPTER X.

THE MEETING.


Ever since Count de la Saulay's arrival at the hacienda del Arenal, Doña Dolores had treated him with a degree of reserve which the marriage projects made by the two families were far from justifying. The young lady had not only had no private interviews with the man whom she ought to consider to some extent her betrothed, but had not indulged in the slightest intimacy, or most innocent familiarity; while remaining polite, and even gracious, she had contrived, ever since the first day they met, to raise a barrier between herself and the Count—a barrier which he had never attempted to scale, and which had condemned him to remain, perhaps against his secret wishes, within the limits of the strictest reserve.

In these conditions, and especially after the scene at which he had been present on the previous evening, we can easily understand what the stupefaction of the young man must be on learning that Doña Dolores requested an interview with him. What could she have to say to him? For what motive did she grant him this meeting? What reason impelled her to act thus? Such were the questions which the Count did not cease to ask himself—questions which necessarily remained unanswered. Hence the young man's anxiety, curiosity, and impatience, were aroused to the highest degree, and it was with a feeling of joy, which he could not fully explain, that he at length heard the hour for the interview strike. Had he been in Paris instead of a Mexican hacienda, he would have certainly known beforehand what he had to expect from the message he had received, and his conduct would have been regulated beforehand.

But here the coldness of Doña Dolores toward him—a coldness which had never once thawed—the preference which after the last night's scene she seemed to give to another person, all combined to deprive this interview of the slightest supposition of love. Was it his renunciation of her hand, and immediate retirement, that Doña Dolores was about to request of him?

Singular contradiction of the human mind! The Count, who felt for this marriage a repulsion more and more marked, whose formal intention it was to have, as soon as possible, an explanation on this subject with Don Andrés de la Cruz, and whose firm resolution it was to withdraw, and renounce the alliance so long prepared, and which displeased him the more because it was forced on him—revolted at the supposition of this renunciation, which, without doubt, Doña Dolores was going to ask him; his wounded self-esteem made him regard this question under a perfectly new light, and the contempt which the young lady seemed to feel for his hand, filled him with shame and anger.

He, Count Ludovic de la Saulay, young, handsome, rich, renowned for his wit and elegance, one of the most distinguished members of the jockey club, one of the gods of fashion, whose conquests occupied every mouth in Paris, had produced on a half wild girl no other impression but that of repulsion, had inspired no other feeling but a cold indifference. There was certainly something desperate about this; for an instant he went so far as to fancy—for anger blinded him to such an extent—that he was really in love with his cousin, and he was on the point of swearing to remain deaf to the tears and supplications of Doña Dolores, and insisting on the completion of the marriage within the shortest period possible. But fortunately the pride which had urged him to this determination suddenly suggested to him a more simple, and assuredly more agreeable way to escape from the embarrassment.

After taking a complacent glance at his person, a smile of haughty satisfaction lit up his face; he found himself both physically and morally so immeasurably above his surroundings, that he only felt a sort of merciful pity for the poor girl whom the bad education she had received prevented from appreciating the numberless advantages which gave him a superiority over his rivals, or understanding the happiness she would find in an alliance with him.

While revolving all these, and many other thoughts, the Count left his rooms, crossed the courtyard, and proceeded to the apartments of Doña Dolores. He remarked, though without attaching much importance to the fact, that several saddle horses were waiting in the court, held by peons. At the door of the apartments stood a young Indian girl with pretty face, and sparkling eyes, who greeted him with a smile and a profound courtesy, as she made him a sign to enter. The Count followed her; the waiting maid passed through several elegantly furnished rooms, and finally raised a curtain of white China crape, embroidered with large flowers of every hue, and introduced the Count, without saying a word, into a delightful boudoir, furnished throughout with China lace.

Doña Dolores, half-reclining on a hammock of aloe fibre, was amusing herself with teasing a pretty parrot half the size of her hand, and was laughing heartily at the little creature's cries of fury.

The young lady was charming, thus: the Count had never seen her so lovely. After bowing deeply to her, he stopped in the door, experiencing an admiration mingled with such great stupefaction, that Doña Dolores after looking at him for a moment, could not retain her seriousness, but burst out into a silvery peal of laughter.

"Forgive me, cousin," she said to him, "but you look so singular at this moment, that I could not help—"

"Laugh, laugh, my fair cousin," the young man replied, resolved to share this gaiety which he was so far from expecting, "I am delighted to find you in such good humour."

"Do not stay there, cousin," she continued, "set down here near me in this butaca," and with her pink finger she pointed to an armchair.

The young man obeyed.

"Cousin," he said, "I have the honour of obeying the invitation which you deigned to send me."

"Ah, that is true," she answered; "I thank you for your kindness, and more especially for your punctuality, cousin."

"I could not display too great eagerness in obeying you, cousin, I have so rarely the happiness of seeing you."

"Is that a reproach you are addressing to me, cousin?"

"Oh, by no means, Madam. I in no way claim the right of offering you what you are pleased to call reproaches: you are at liberty to act as you please, and to dispose of me."

"Oh, oh, my dear cousin, I fancy if I were disposed to make trial of this noble devotion, I should expose myself to shame and you would refuse me point blank."

"Now we have it," the young man thought and added aloud, "it is my most sincere desire to please you in everything, cousin. I pledge you my word as a gentleman, and no matter what you may ask of me, I will obey you."

"I am much inclined to take you at your word, Don Ludovic," she said, leaning down to him with a delicious smile.

"Do so, cousin, and you will see from my promptitude in obeying you, that I am the most devoted of your slaves."

The young lady remained pensive for a moment, then putting back on its rosewood perch the parrot with which she had been playing up till now, she leaped from her hammock, and seated herself a short distance from the Count.

"Cousin," she said to him, "I have a service to ask of you."

"Of me? At length I shall be of some use to you."

"This service," she continued, "is not of great importance in itself."

"All the worse."

"But I fear, lest it may cause you great annoyance."

"What matter, cousin, the annoyance I may experience, if I can be of service to you."

"Cousin, I thank you, this is the affair: I must take a rather long ride today, for reasons you will soon appreciate. I cannot and will not be accompanied by any of the inhabitants of the hacienda, whether masters or servants. Still, as the roads are not, at this moment, perfectly secure, and I dare not venture to traverse them alone, I want with me, in order to protect and defend me if necessary, a peon whose presence at my side could not give rise to any malevolent suppositions. I have thought of you as my companion on this expedition. Do you consent, cousin?"

"With delight: I would merely remark that I am a stranger to this country, and might lose my way on roads I am unacquainted with."

"Do not trouble yourself about that, cousin, I am a native of the country, and have no fear about losing my way for fifty leagues round."

"If that is the case, cousin, all is for the best: I thank you for the honour you deign to do me, and place myself completely at your disposal."

"It is for me to thank you, cousin, for your extreme kindness; the horses are saddled, the Mexican garb becomes you admirably, go and put on your spurs, warn your valet that he will have to accompany you, and fetch your weapons: that is an important point, for you never know what may happen, and come back in ten minutes, when I shall be ready for you."

The Count rose, bowed to the young lady, who responded by a gracious smile, and left the room.

"By Jove," he muttered as soon as he was alone, "this is delightful, and the duty she intends for me is most satisfactory. I fancy I am simply accompanying my delightful cousin to some love appointment. But how was it possible to refuse her anything! I never saw her looking so lovely as today. On my soul, she is a charming fay, and unless I take care, I may end by falling in love with her, unless I have done so already," he added with a stifled sigh.

He returned to his rooms ordered Raimbaut to get ready to follow him, which the worthy valet did with the punctuality and silence that distinguished him, and after buckling on his heavy silver spurs, and throwing a zarapé over his shoulders, he selected a double-barrelled gun, a straight sabre, a brace of revolvers, and thus armed went into the patio. Raimbaut followed his example, had laid in a complete arsenal. The two men were thus, without exaggeration, capable in case of need, to face fifteen bandits.

Doña Dolores, already mounted, was talking with her father while awaiting the Count's arrival. Don Andrés de la Cruz was rubbing his hands in delight, the good understanding between the young people charmed him.

"So you are going to take a ride?" he said to the Count; "I wish you all possible pleasure."

"The señorita has deigned to offer to accompany me," Ludovic answered.

"She has acted admirably, for her choice could not be better."

While exchanging these few words with his future papa-in-law, the Count had mounted.

"A pleasant trip," continued Don Andrés, "and mind you are careful whom you meet, Juárez' cuadrillas are beginning to prowl about the neighbourhood, so I have been informed."

"Do not be alarmed, papa," Doña Dolores replied; "besides," she added with a charming smile aimed at the young man, "under my cousin's escort I fear nothing."

"Be off then and get back early."

"We shall return before the oración, papa."

Don Andrés gave them a last farewell nod, and they left the hacienda. The Count and the young lady galloped side by side. Raimbaut, as a well trained servant, followed a few paces in the rear.

"I will act as your guide, cousin," the young lady said, when they had ridden some distance out into the plain and were lost among clumps of liquidambars.

"I could not desire a better one," Ludovic answered gallantly.

"Stay, cousin," she resumed, giving him a side glance, "I have a confession to make to you."

"A confession, cousin?"

"Yes, I see you are such a good fellow, that I feel ashamed at having deceived you."

"You deceived me, cousin?"

"Shamefully," she said with a laugh, "as you shall judge. I am leading you to a spot where we are expected."

"Where you are expected, you mean."

"No, because it is you they want especially to see."

"I confess, cousin, that I do not understand you at all: I know no one in this country."

"Are you quite sure of that, my dear cousin?" she asked with a mocking air.

"Well, I believe so at least."

"Then, you are beginning to doubt."

"You seem so sure of your fact."

"I am so, indeed: the person who expects you, not only knows you, but is a friend of yours."

"Very good, this makes the matter more puzzling than ever: go on, I beg."

"I have but very little to add, besides, in a few minutes we shall have arrived, and I do not wish to keep you in doubt any longer."

"That is very kind of you, cousin, I declare. I am humbly waiting till you deign to explain."

"I must do so, as your head has such a bad memory. What, sir, you are but a foreigner, who had been but a little while in a strange land. In this country, so soon as you landed, you met one man who displayed some sympathy with you, and you have already forgotten him. Permit me to remark, my dear cousin, that this offers but poor testimony to your constancy."

"Crush me, cousin, I deserve all your reproaches. You are right; there is really one man in Mexico for whom I feel a sincere friendship."

"Ah! Ah! Then I was not mistaken?"

"No; but I was so far from supposing that it was to him you alluded, that I confess—"

"That you no longer remembered him, eh?"

"On the contrary, cousin; and it would be my most eager desire to see him again."

"And what is this person's name?"

"He told me it was Oliver; still, I should not like to affirm that it is really his name."

The young man gave a meaning smile.

"Would it be indiscreet to ask you why you entertain this unfavourable supposition?"

"Not at all, cousin; but Señor Oliver appeared to me a very mysterious gentleman; his manners are not those of everybody. As I think, there would be nothing extraordinary if, according to circumstances—"

"He assumed a name," she interrupted. "Perhaps you are right—perhaps you are wrong—I could not answer that question; all I can tell you is, that he is the person who expects you."

"That is singular," the young man muttered.

"Why so?—He has doubtless an important communication to make to you; at least, so I understood."

"Did he tell you so?"

"Not precisely; but while conversing with me last night he displayed a desire to see you as soon as possible; that is the reason, cousin, why I asked you to accompany me on my ride."

This confession was made by the young lady in such simple faith that the Count was completely staggered by it, and looked at her for a moment as if he did not comprehend her. Doña Dolores did not notice his astonishment. With her hand placed as a screen over her eyes, she was examining the plain.

"Ah," she said a moment after, pointing in a certain direction, "look at those two men seated side by side in the shade of that clump of trees; one of these is Oliver, the person who expects you. Let us hurry on."

"Very good," Ludovic answered, spurring his horse.

And they galloped toward the two men, who, on perceiving them, had risen to receive them.


CHAPTER XI.

IN THE PLAIN.


Oliver and Dominique, after leaving the rancho, rode for a long time side by side without exchanging a word; the adventurer seemed to be reflecting, while for his part the vaquero, in spite of his apparent nonchalance, was greatly preoccupied. Dominique, or Domingo, according as he was called in French or Spanish, whose physical portrait we have sketched in a preceding chapter, was, morally, a strange mixture of good and bad instincts; still, we are bound to add, that the good nearly always gained the victory. The wandering life he had led for several years among the indomitable Indians of the prairie, had developed in him, beside a great personal strength, an force of will and energy of character, blended with a leonine courage and a degree of cleverness which might at times be taken for duplicity. Crafty and distrustful like a Comanche, he had transferred to civilized life all the practices of the wood rangers, never letting himself be taken unawares by the most unforeseen events, and opposing an impassive face to the most scrutinizing glances, he feigned a simplicity by which the cleverest persons were often deceived; added to this, he generally displayed a rare frankness, unbounded generosity, exquisite sensibility of heart, and carried his devotion to those he loved to the extremest limits, without reflection or afterthought; but on the other hand he was implacable in his hatreds, and possessed a true Indian ferocity. In one word, his was one of those strange natures as perfect for good as for evil, and whom opportunity can as easily make remarkable men as great villains.

Oliver had profoundly studied the extraordinary character of his protégé, hence he knew better than himself, perhaps, of what he was capable; and he had frequently shuddered on probing the hidden depths of this strange organization which did not know itself; and while imposing his will on the indomitable nature and making it bow as he pleased, still, like the imprudent beast tamer who plays with a tiger, he foresaw the moment when the lava boiling dully at the bottom of this young man's heart would suddenly burst forth under the impetuous blast of the passions; hence, in spite of the implicit confidence he seemed to have in his friend, it was with extreme care that he set certain chords vibrating in him, and he sedulously avoided giving him a consciousness of his strength, or revealing to him the extent of his moral power.

After a ride of some hours the travellers arrived about three leagues from the hacienda del Arenal, on the skirt of a rather thick wood that bordered the last plantations of the hacienda.

"Let us stop here and eat," Oliver said, as he dismounted; "this is our destination for the present."

"I am quite willing," Dominique answered; "this confounded sun falling virtually on my head since the morning, is beginning, I confess, to tire me, and I should not be sorry to lie down for a little while on the grass."

"In that case stand on no ceremony, comrade; the spot is glorious for a rest."

The two men hobbled their horses, which they unbridled, to let them browze at their ease; and after sitting down opposite each other under the protection of the dense foliage of the trees, they felt in their alforjas, which were well stocked with provisions, and began eating with good appetite. Neither of the men was a great speaker, hence they disposed of their meal in silence, and it was not till Oliver had lit a puro and Dominique his Indian calumet, that the former resolved to speak.

"Well, Dominique," he said to him, "what do you think of the life I have made you lead for the last five months in this province?"

"To tell you the truth," the vaquero replied, puffing out a dense cloud of smoke, "I consider it absurd and wearisome to the highest degree. I should long ago have requested you to send me back to the western prairies, had I not been convinced that you wanted me here."

Oliver burst into a laugh.

"You are true, friend," he said, as he offered him his hand, "ever ready to act without observation or comment."

"I flatter myself I am; for is not friendship composed of self-denial and devotedness?"

"Yes; and that is why it is so rarely met with in this world."

"I pity those who are incapable of experiencing the feeling, for they deprive themselves of a great enjoyment. Friendship is the only real link that attaches men to each other."

"Many believe that it is egotism."

"Egotism is only a variety of the species; it is friendship badly understood, and reduced to low proportions."

"Hang it! I did not fancy you were so strong in paradoxes. Did you learn these tricks of the tongue among the Indians?"

"The Indians are wise men, my master," the vaquero answered with a shake of the head; "with them the true is true, and the false false, while in your cities you have so well succeeded in embroiling everything, that the cleverest man could not find his way, while the simple man soon loses the feeling of justice and injustice. Let me return to the prairies, my friend, my place is not among the paltry contests that disgrace this country, and make my heart ache with disgust and pity."

"I would willingly restore you your liberty, my boy, but I repeat that I have need of you, perhaps for three months longer."

"Three months? That is very long."

"Perhaps you will find the period very short," he said, with a peculiar expression.

"I do not believe it."

"We shall see; but I have not told you yet what I want of you."

"That is true, and I had better know, so that I may fulfil your intentions properly."

"Listen to me then: I shall be the more brief, because when the persons I am expecting arrive, I shall give you more detailed instructions."

"Very good, go on."

"Two persons are going to join us here, a young man, and a young lady; the latter is Doña Dolores de la Cruz, daughter of the owner of the hacienda del Arenal: she is sixteen years of age, and very beautiful; she is a gentle, pure, and simple girl."

"Very good, but that does not concern me, for you know I trouble myself but slightly about squaws."

"That is true, so I will not dwell on the point: Doña Dolores is betrothed to Don Ludovic, who will marry her immediately."

"Much good may it do him; and who is Don Ludovic? Some Mexican, I suppose, stupid and proud, who prances like a canon's mule."

"In that you are mistaken; Don Ludovic is her cousin, Count Ludovic de la Saulay, belonging to the highest nobility in France."

"Ah, ah! He is the Frenchman in question?"

"Yes: he has come expressly from France to contract with his cousin this union which has long been arranged between the two families. Count Ludovic is a most agreeable gentleman, rich, kind, amiable, well educated, and obliging: in short, an excellent fellow, in whom I take the most sincere interest, and I wish you to attach yourself to him."

"If he is as you say, all right; before two days we shall be the best friends in the world."

"Thanks, Dominique, I expected no less from you."

"Eh," said the vaquero, "look there, Oliver, someone is coming, I fancy: hang it, they are riding fast, they will be on us in ten minutes."

"They are Doña Dolores and Count Ludovic."

They rose to go and receive the young people, who, in truth, were coming up at full speed.

"Here we are at last," the young lady said, as she stopped her horse, with the skill of a practised rider.

With one bound the newcomers reached the ground; after bowing to Dominique, the Count held out both hands to the adventurer.

"I see you again then, my friend," he said to him; "thanks for remembering me."

"Did you suppose I had forgotten you?"

"On my word," the young man said gaily, "I almost had the right to do so."

"My Lord Count," the adventurer then said, "permit me first of all to introduce to you M. Dominique, he is more than a brother, he is another self: I shall be pleased if you will transfer to him a small portion of the friendship you deign to testify to me."

"Sir," the Count replied, bowing gracefully to the vaquero, "I sincerely regret that I express myself so badly in Spanish, for it prevents me from proving to you the lively desire I feel to let you see the sympathy with which you have already inspired me."

"That is of no consequence, Sir," the vaquero replied in French "I speak your language fluently enough to thank you for your cordial language, for which I am most grateful."

"Ah, by Jove! Sir, you delight me; this is a charming surprise; pray, accept my hand, and consider me as entirely at your service."

"Most willingly, sir, and thank you; we shall soon know each other better, and then, you will reckon me, I hope, in the number of your friends."

After these words, the two young men warmly shook hands.

"Are you satisfied, my friend?" Doña Dolores asked.

"You are a fairy, dear child," Oliver replied with emotion; "you cannot imagine how happy you render me."

And he respectfully kissed the forehead which the young lady offered him. "Now," he continued, changing his tone, "let us turn to business, for time presses; but we are still one short."

"Who is it?" the young lady asked.

"Leo Carral: let me summon him;" and raising to his lips a silver whistle, he produced a shrill and long sustained note.

Almost immediately the galloping of a horse was heard in the distance, which rapidly drew nearer, and the majordomo soon appeared.

"Come on, come on, Leo," the adventurer shouted to him.

"Here I am, señor," the majordomo replied, "entirely at your orders."

"Listen to me attentively," Oliver resumed, addressing Doña Dolores; "the affair is serious, I am compelled to go away this very day: my absence may last for a long time; and hence it is impossible for me to watch over you: unfortunately I have a foreboding that an imminent danger threatens you, of what nature it is, or when it will burst on you, I am unable to say, but it is certain. Now, my dear Dolores, what I cannot do, others will do: these others are the Count, Dominique, and our friend Leo Carral, all three are devoted to you, and will watch over you like brothers."

"But, my friend," the young lady interrupted, "you forget, I think, my father and my brother."

"No, my child, I do not forget them, on the contrary, I bear them in mind: your father is an aged man, who not only cannot protect anyone, but needs protection himself, which in the case of need you will not fail to grant him. As for your brother, Don Melchior, you know, my dear girl, my opinion about him, and hence it is unnecessary to dwell on that point: he cannot, or will not defend you. You know that I am usually well informed, and am rarely mistaken; now, all of you carefully remember this; be most careful not to let Don Melchior or any other inhabitant of the hacienda suppose, either from your words or actions, that you foresee a misfortune; but watch carefully, so as not to let yourselves be surprised, and take your precautions accordingly."

"We will watch, trust to me," the vaquero replied; "but I have an objection to offer, my friend, which is not without justice."

"What is it?"

"How shall I manage to get into the hacienda and remain there without arousing suspicions? This appears to me rather difficult."

"No, you are mistaken; no one at the hacienda knows you but Leo Carral, I think?"

"That is true."

"Well, you will go there as a Frenchman, a friend of the Count de la Saulay; and for greater security you will pretend, not to understand a word of Spanish."

"Permit me," Ludovic observed, "I have spoken several times to Don Andrés about an intimate friend attached to the French Legation at Mexico, and whom I expect to visit me at the hacienda at any moment."

"Perfect, Dominique will pass for him, and if he likes, he can talk broken Spanish; what is the name of the friend you expect?"

"Charles de Meriadec."

"Very good, Dominique will christen himself so; while he is at the hacienda I will arrange that the man whose name he temporarily assumes, does not come to disturb him."

"Hum, that is important."

"Fear nothing, I will arrange it; so that is settled; and tomorrow Monsieur Charles de Meriadec will arrive at the hacienda."

"He will be well received then," Ludovic replied with a smile.

"As for you, Leo Carral, I have no recommendations to give you."

"No, no, my measures have been taken for a long time past," the majordomo replied; "I have only now to arrange with these gentlemen."

"All is going well, so now let us separate: I should have been a long way off by this time."

"Are you leaving us already, my friend?" Doña Dolores asked with emotion.

"I must, my child; be of good cheer, and have confidence in God; during my absence He will watch over you; farewell."

The adventurer pressed the Count's hand for the last time, kissed the young lady's forehead, and leapt into the saddle.

"Let me see you again soon," Doña Dolores said to him.

"Tomorrow you will see your friend Meriadec," Dominique said with a laugh, and he started at a gallop after the adventurer.

"Are you going back with us to the hacienda?" the Count asked the majordomo.

"Why not?" he replied; "I shall be supposed to have met you during your ride."

"That is true."

They remounted, and cantered toward the hacienda, which they reached a little before sunset.


CHAPTER XII.

POLITICAL.


The closing months of 18— had arrived. Political events were beginning to press on each other with such rapidity that the least enlightened minds already understood that they were hurrying towards an imminent catastrophe. In the South, the troops of General Gutiérrez had gained a great victory over the constitutional army commanded by General Don Diego Álvarez (the same who at an earlier period presided at Guaymas over the court martial that condemned to death our unfortunate countryman and friend Count Gaston de Raousset Boulbon). The carnage of the Puitos Indians had been immense: 1200 remained on the battlefield, and the artillery and abundant materiel fell into the hands of the victor. But at the same period, there commenced in the interior a series of opposite events: the first was the flight of Zuloaga, that president who, after abdicating in favour of Miramón, revoked that abdication one day without knowing exactly why, without consulting anyone, and at the moment when it was least expected.

General Miramón then loyally offered to the President of the Supreme Court of Justice to assume the executive power and convoke the assembly of the Notables to have himself elected chief magistrate of the Republic. While this was happening, a new catastrophe added fresh dangers to the situation. Miramón, whom his continual victories had probably endowed with imprudent confidence, or more probably impelled by the desire to come to an end in some way or another, offered battle at Silao to forces four times his own. He suffered a complete rout, lost his artillery, and was himself on the point of perishing: it was only by performing prodigies of valour, and killing with his own hand several of those that surrounded him, that he succeeded in cutting his way out of the mêlée and escaping to Queretaro, where he arrived almost alone. From this place, Miramón, not allowing himself to be crushed by misfortunes, returned to Mexico, whose inhabitants thus learned simultaneously his defeat, his arrival, and his intention to offer himself for election.

The result did not disappoint the secret expectations of the general: he was elected President by the chamber of Notables almost unanimously. The general, who knew how time pressed, took the oaths, and immediately entered on his duties. Although materially the defeat at Silao was almost nothing, still from a moral point of view the effect produced was immense. Miramón understood this: he actively employed himself in restoring a little order in the finances, creating resources, precarious but sufficient for the urgent necessities of the moment in raising fresh troops, and taking all the precautions that prudence suggested. Unfortunately the president was constrained to abandon several important points in order to concentrate his forces round Mexico, and these various movements, ill understood by the people, alarmed them and made them apprehend approaching misfortunes. Under these circumstances, the president, wishing doubtless to satisfy public opinion and restore a little tranquillity to the capital, consented to enter into negotiations with his rival Juárez, which, if they did not lead to peace, might at any rate produce an armistice which would temporarily check bloodshed. Unluckily, a fresh complication rendered all hope of an arrangement impossible.

General Márquez had been sent to the relief of Guadalajara, which town, it was supposed continued successfully to resist the federal troops; but all at once, after the federals had carried off a conducta de plata belonging to English merchants, an armistice was concluded between the two belligerent corps—an armistice with which the money of the conducta had no doubt a great deal to do—and General Castillo, commandant of Guadalajara, abandoned by the majority of his troops, found himself compelled to leave the town and take refuge on the Pacific: so that the federals, freed from this obstacle, combined against Márquez, defeated him, and destroyed his corps, the only one that still kept the field. The situation thus became more and more critical: the federals meeting with no further obstacle or resistance in their victorious march, rose up on all sides and every hope of negotiations was lost. Fighting must go on at all risks. The fall of Miramón, consequently, could only be a question of time: the General doubtless perfectly comprehended this, but he did not let it be seen, and, on the contrary, redoubled his ardour and activity in order to parry the incessantly rising embarrassments of his situation.

After appealing to all classes of society, the General at length resolved to apply to the clergy, whom he had always supported and protected: they replied to his appeal, raised a tithe on their lands, and resolved to carry to the mint their gold and silver ornaments, to be melted and placed at the disposal of the executive power. Unfortunately, all these efforts were thrown away, the expenses increased in a ratio with the continually growing dangers of the situation, and ere long Miramón, after vainly employing all the expedients which his critical position suggested to him, found himself with an empty treasury and the sorrowful conviction that it was useless to dream of refilling it.

We have already had occasion to explain how as each State of the Mexican confederation remains in possession of the public funds during a period of revolution, the government sitting at Mexico finds itself almost continually in a state of utter penury, because it only has the funds of the State of Mexico at its disposal, while its rivals, on the contrary, constantly beating up the country in all directions, not only stop the conductas de plata and appropriate very considerable sums without the slightest remorse, but also plunder the exchequer of all the States they enter, carry off the money without the slightest scruple, and thus find themselves in a position to carry on the war without disadvantage.

Now, that we have rapidly sketched the political situation in which Mexico was, we will resume our narrative in the early days of Nov. 18—, that is to say, about six weeks after the period when we interrupted it. Night was advancing, shadows were already invading the plain, the oblique beams of the setting sun, gradually expelled from the valleys, were still clinging to the snowy peaks of the mountains of Anahuac, which they tinged with vermillion hues: the breeze rustled through the foliage: vaqueros, mounted on horses as wild as themselves, were driving across the plain large herds which had wandered all day at liberty, but at night returned to the corral. In the distance could be heard tingling the mule bells of some belated arrieros, who were hurrying to reach the magnificent highway lined enormous aloes, contemporaries of Motecuhzoma, which runs to Mexico.

A traveller, mounted on a powerful horse and carefully wrapped in the folds of a cloak which was pulled up to his eyes, was slowly following the capricious windings of a narrow track which, cutting across country, joined at about two leagues from the town the high road from Mexico to Puebla, a road at this moment completely deserted, not only on account of the approach of night, but also because the state of anarchy into which the country had so long been plunged, had let loose numerous bands of brigands who, taking advantage of the circumstances and waging war in their own way, stripped without any distinction of political opinion both constitutionals and liberals, and emboldened by impunity, did not always content themselves with the highway, but even entered the towns to carry on their depredations. Still, the traveller to whom we allude appeared to trouble himself very little about the risks he ran, and continued his venturesome ride at the same quiet and gentle rate. He went on thus for about three quarters of an hour, and was not more than a league from the city when, happening to raise his head, he perceived that he had reached a spot where the track parted and ran to the right and left: he halted with evident hesitation, but a moment later took the right hand track. The traveller, after going in this direction for about ten minutes appeared to know where he was, for he gave his horse a slight touch of the spur, and made it break into a long trot. Ere long he reached a pile of blackened ruins, scattered disorderly over the ground, and near which grew a clump of trees whose long branches overshadowed the earth around them for a considerable distance. On reaching this spot, the horseman halted, and after looking searchingly around him, evidently to make sure that he was alone, he dismounted, sat down comfortably on a sod of grass, leant against a tree, threw back his cloak and revealed the pale worn features of the wounded man whom we saw conducted to the rancho by Dominique, the vaquero.

Don Antonio de Caserbaz, for such was his name, only appeared the shadow of his former self—a sort of mournful spectre. His whole life appeared concentrated in his eyes, which flashed with a sinister gleam like those of fawns; but in this body, apparently so weak, it could be seen that an ardent mind and energetic will were enclosed, and that this man, who had emerged a victor from an obstinate struggle with death, was pursuing with unswerving obstinacy the execution of dark resolutions previously formed by him. Scarce cured from his frightful wound, still very weak, and only enduring with extreme difficulty the fatigue of a long ride, he had, for all that, imposed silence on his sufferings, to come thus at nightfall nearly three leagues from Mexico to a rendezvous which he had himself requested. The motives for such conduct, especially in his state of weakness, must be of very great importance to him.

A few minutes elapsed, during which Don Antonio, with his arms crossed on his chest, and his eyes closed, reflected, and in all probability prepared himself for the interview he was about to have with the person he had come so far to see. All at once a sound of horses, mingled with the clank of sabres, announced that a rather large troop of horsemen was approaching the spot where Don Antonio was waiting. He drew himself up, looked nervously in the direction whence the noise came, and rose, doubtless to receive his visitor. They were fifty in number. They halted about fifteen paces from the ruins, but remained in the saddle. Only one of them dismounted, threw his bridle to a horseman, and walked up to Don Antonio, who, on his side, advanced to meet him.

"Who are you?" Don Antonio asked in a low voice, when he was but five or six yards from the stranger.

"The man you are expecting, señor Don Antonio," the other immediately replied; "Colonel Don Felipe Neri Irzabel, at your service."

"Yes, it is you. I recognise you. Approach."

"It is very lucky. Well, señor Don Antonio," the Colonel replied, offering his hand; "and your health?"

"Bad," said Don Antonio, falling back without touching the hand that the guerillero offered him.

The latter did not notice this movement, or, if he did, attached no importance to it.

"You have come with a large escort," Don Antonio continued.

"Caray! Do you fancy, my dear sir, that I have any wish to fall into the hands of Miramón's scouts? My account would be soon settled if they caught me. But I fancy that in spite of all the pleasure we feel at meeting, we had better attend to business without delay. What is your opinion?"

"I wish for nothing better."

"The General thanks you for the last information you sent him—it was scrupulously exact; hence he has sworn to reward you as you deserve, so soon as the occasion offers."

Don Antonio made a gesture of disgust.

"Have you the paper?" he asked, with some degree of eagerness.

"Of course," the Colonel answered.

"Drawn up as I requested?"

"Everything is in it, señor, so set your mind at rest," the Colonel continued, with a coarse laugh.

"Where could honesty be found at the present day, except among people of our stamp? What you stipulated is accepted. The whole is signed, 'Ortoga, General-in-Chief of the Federal Army,' and countersigned, 'Juárez, President of the Republic.' Are you satisfied?"

"I will answer you, señor, when I have seen the paper."

"Nothing easier. Here it is," the guerillero said, drawing a large envelope from his dolman, and presenting it to Don Antonio.

The latter seized it with a movement of joy, and broke the seal with a febrile hand.

"You will have a difficulty in reading at this moment," the Colonel said, with a knowing look.

"Do you think so?" Don Antonio asked, ironically.

"Haugh! It is very dark, it strikes me."

"That is of no consequence. I will soon have a light:" and rubbing a lucifer match on a stone, he lit a rolled up taper, which he drew from his pocket.

As he read, a lively satisfaction was legible on his face. At length he put out the taper, folded up the paper, which he carefully secured in his pocketbook, and then addressed the Colonel.

"Señor, you will thank General Ortega from me. He has behaved toward me like a perfect caballero."

The guerillero bowed. "I will not fail, señor," he answered; "especially if you have an information to add to that which you have already given us."

"I certainly have, and of a very important nature."

"Ah! Ah!" said the other, rubbing his hands eagerly; "pray let me have it, my dear señor."

"Listen, then. Miramón is at the last gasp. He wants money, and cannot possibly obtain any. The troops, nearly all recruits, badly armed, and worse clothed, have not been paid for two months, and are murmuring."

"Very good! Poor dear Miramón! He is in a very bad way, then?"

"The worse for him is, that the clergy, who promised at the outset to come to his assistance, have now refused their help."

"But," the guerillero remarked, ironically, "how is it that you are so well informed, my dear sir?"

"Do you not know that I am attaché to the Spanish Embassy?"

"That is true—I forgot it; pray excuse me. What more do you know?"

"The ranks of the partizans of the President are daily growing thinner: his old friends are abandoning him. Hence, in order to raise him slightly in public opinion, he has resolved to attempt a sortie, and attack General Bercozabal's division."

"Come, come! That is worth knowing!"

"You are warned."

"Thanks! We will be on our guard. Is that all?"

"Not yet. Reduced, as I told you, to the last extremity, and wishing to procure money—no matter by what means, Miramón has resolved to imitate the robbery of the conducta of 'Laguna Seca,' effected by your party."

"I know," the Colonel interrupted, rubbing his hands. "It was I who carried out that negotiation. Unfortunately," he added, with a sigh of regret, "such hauls are rare."

"Miramón has therefore resolved," Don Antonio continued, "to carry off the money of the Convention, which is at this moment at the British Legation."

"That is a superb idea! Those fiends of heretics will be furious! Who is the man of genius who suggested to him this idea, which will infallibly ruin him with England? For the gringos do not understand jests in money matters."

"I am aware of it: and hence the idea was suggested through my influence!"

"Señor!" the guerillero said majestically; "In this instance you have deserved well of your country. But the amount cannot be large?"

"It is a tolerably round sum."

"Ah, ah! How much at a guess?"

"Six hundred and sixty thousand piastres (£132,000)."

The guerillero was dazzled.

"Caray!" he exclaimed, with conviction; "I lay down my arms before him. He is stronger than I. The affair of the Laguna Seca was nothing in comparison. But with this sum, hang it all! He will be in a condition to recommence the war."

"It is too late now; we have arranged for that, and the money will be spent in a few days," Don Antonio remarked with an ugly smile: "trust to us for that."

"May Heaven grant it!"

"Such, for the present, is all the information it is possible for me to give you; I consider it tolerably important."

"Caray," the guerillero exclaimed, "it could not be more so."

"I hope, in a few days, to give you some of a more serious nature."

"Here?"

"Here at the same hour, and by means of the same signal."

"That is settled. Ah! the General will be highly delighted to learn all this."

"Now let us come to our second matter—that which concerns us two alone; what have you done since I saw you last?"

"Not much; I have not the means at this moment to enter into the difficult researches with which you commissioned me."

"And yet the reward is a fine one."

"I do not say it is not," the guerillero replied absently.

Don Antonio gave him a piercing glance.

"Do you doubt my word?" he said haughtily.

"It is my principle never to doubt anything, señor," the Colonel answered.

"The sum is a large one."

"That is the very thing that terrifies me."

"What do you mean? Explain yourself, Don Felipe."

"On my word," he exclaimed, suddenly making up his mind, "it is, I believe, the best thing I can do, so listen to me."

"Speak."

"Above all, do not be vexed, my dear señor; business is business, hang it all, and must be treated on the square."

"That is my opinion too, go on."

"Well, then, you offered me fifty thousand piastres to—"

"I know what for, so pass over it."

"I am quite agreeable: now fifty thousand piastres form a considerable sum; I have only your word as security."

"Is it not sufficient?"

"Not quite. I know very well that between gentlemen a word is a bond; but where business is concerned, it is no longer so. I believe you to be very rich, as you say you are, and as you offer me fifty thousand piastres; but what proof have I that when the moment arrives to pay me you will be in a position to do so, however good your will may be?"

Don Antonio, while the guerillero was laying down the matter so distinctly, suffered from a dull wrath, which was twenty times on the point of bursting forth, but fortunately he restrained it, and succeeded in retaining his coolness.

"Well, then, what do you desire?" he asked him in a choking voice.

"Nothing for the present, señor; let us finish our resolution. So soon as we enter Mexico—which I hope both for you and me will not be long first—you will take me to a banker I know: he will be responsible for the sum, and all will be settled. Does that suit you?"

"I can't help myself; but till then?"

"We have more pressing matters to attend to. Some days more or less are of no consequence, and now that we have nothing more to say to each other for the present, permit me to take leave of you, my dear sir."

"You are at liberty to retire, señor," Don Antonio replied drily.

"I kiss your hands, my dear sir, and trust I shall see you again shortly."

"Farewell."

Don Felipe bowed cavalierly to the Spaniard, turned on his heels, rejoined his cuadrilla, and set off at full speed, followed by his partisans.

As for Don Antonio, he went back pensively and slowly to Mexico, where he arrived two hours later.

"Oh!" he muttered, as he pulled up before the house he occupied in the Calle de Tacuba; "In spite of heaven and hell I will succeed."

What was the meaning of these sinister words which seem to contain the result of his long meditation?


CHAPTER XIII.

THE CONVENTION BONDS.


Reddish tints were striping the snowy peaks of the Popocatepetl, the last stars were expiring in the heavens, and opaline gleams were tinting the summit of the buildings; day was just beginning to break. Mexico was still sleeping; its silent streets were only disturbed at long intervals by the hurried footfalls of a few Indians arriving from the neighbouring pueblos to sell their fruit and vegetables. A few pulqueros' shops alone timidly set their doors ajar, and were preparing to serve to the early customers the dose of strong liquor, that obligado prologue of every day's work. Half-past four struck from the Sagrario; at this moment a horseman emerged from the Calle de Tacuba, crossed the Plaza Mayor at a sharp trot, and pulled up right in front of the gates of the palace of the presidency, which were guarded by two sentries.

"Who goes there?" one of them shouted.

"A friend," the horseman replied.

"Pass, friend."

"Certainly not," the horseman answered, "for I have business here."

"You wish to enter the palace?"

"Yes."

"It is too soon; come back in two hours."

"In two hours it will be too late, and so I must enter at once."

"Stuff," the sentry said jeeringly, and then added to his companion: "What do you think of that, Pedrito?"

"Well, well," the other replied with a grin; "I think that the gentleman must be a stranger, who is making a mistake, and fancies himself at the door of a mesón."

"Enough of that insolence, scoundrels," the horseman said sternly; "I have lost too much time already. Warn the officer of the guard, and make haste about it."

The tone employed by the stranger appeared to make a powerful impression on the soldiers. After consulting together for a moment in a whisper—as after all the stranger was in the right, and what he demanded was provided for in their orders—they resolved to satisfy him by striking the door with the butt of their muskets. Two or three minutes later, this door was opened, and offered a passage to a sergeant, who could be easily recognised by the vine-wood stick, symbol of his rank, which he carried in his left hand. After enquiring of the sentries the reason of their summons, he bowed politely to the stranger, begged him to wait a moment, and went in, leaving the door open behind him, but almost immediately reappeared, preceding a captain in full dress uniform. The horseman bowed to the captain, and repeated the request which he had previously made to the sentries.

"I am very sorry to refuse you, señor," the officer replied, "but my orders prohibit me from letting anyone into the palace before eight o'clock; if the reason that brings you here is serious, be kind enough therefore to return at that hour, and nobody will oppose your entrance."

And he bowed as if taking leave.

"Pardon me, Captain," the horseman continued; "one word more, if you please."

"Say it, señor."

"It is unnecessary for anyone but yourself to hear it."

"Nothing is easier, señor," the officer replied, as he came near enough to touch the stranger; "now speak."

The horseman leant down, and murmured in a low voice a few words, which the officer listened to with marks of the most profound surprise.

"Are you satisfied now, Captain?"

"Perfectly, señor;" and turning to the sergeant, who was standing a few yards off, he said "open the gate."

"It is unnecessary," the stranger remarked; "with your permission I will dismount here, and a soldier can hold my horse."

"As you please, señor."

The horseman dismounted, and threw the bridle to the sergeant, who held it till a private should come to take his place.

"Now, Captain," the stranger continued, "if you wish to set the seal on your kindness by leading me yourself to the person who expects me, I am at your orders."

"I am at yours, señor," the officer replied, "and since you desire it, I shall have the honour of accompanying you."

They then entered the palace, leaving behind them the sergeant and two sentries in a state of the utmost surprise. Preceded by the captain, the horseman passed through several rooms, which, in spite of the early hour, were always crowded, not by visitors, but officers of all ranks, senators and councillors of the Supreme Court, who seemed to have spent the night at the palace. A great agitation prevailed among the groups, among which were blended officers, members of the clergy, and the chief merchants; they were conversing with considerable animation, but in a low voice; the general expression of faces was gloomy and anxious. The two men at length reached the door of a study guarded, by two sentries; an usher, with a silver chain round his neck, was slowly walking up and down; at the sight of the two men he hurried up to them.

"You have arrived, señor," said the Captain.

"I have now only to take my leave of you, señor, and offer you my thanks for your politeness," the horseman answered.

They bowed, and the Captain returned to his post.

"His Excellency cannot receive at this moment; there was an extraordinary council this night, and his Excellency has given orders that he is to be left alone," said the usher, bowing ceremoniously to the stranger.

"His Excellency will make an exception in my favour," the stranger remarked gently.

"I doubt it, señor; the order is general, and I dare not break it."

The stranger appeared to reflect for a moment.

The usher waited, evidently surprised that the stranger should persevere in remaining. The other at length raised his head; "I understand, señor," he said, "how sacred the order you have received must be to you, hence I have no intention of urging you to disobey it; still, as the subject that brings me here is of the most serious nature, let me implore you to do me a service."

"To oblige you, señor, I will do anything that is compatible with the duties of my office."

"I thank you, señor; however, I assure you, and you will soon receive proof of my assertion, that, far from reprimanding you, his Excellency, the President, will feel obliged to you for allowing me to reach his presence."

"I had the honour of remarking to you, señor—"

"Let me explain to you what I want of you," the stranger interrupted quickly, "then you will tell me whether you can or cannot do me the service I ask of you."

"That is fair, speak, señor."

"I will write one word on a piece of paper, and this paper you will place before his Excellency's eyes, without saying a word, if his Excellency says nothing to you; I will withdraw; you see there is no difficulty about it, and that you will in no way transgress the orders you have received."

"That is true," the usher replied, with a meaning smile, "but I evade them."

"Do you see any difficulty in doing so?"

"Is it very necessary, then, that you should see his Excellency this morning?" the usher continued, without answering the question asked him.

"Señor don Livio," the stranger answered in a grave voice, "for though you do not know me, I know you, I am aware of your devotion to General Miramón; well, on my honour and faith as a Christian, I swear to you that it is most urgent for him that I should see him without delay."

"That is sufficient, señor," the usher replied; seriously, "if it only depended on myself, you would be with him at this moment; there are paper, pen and ink, on that table, please to write."

The horseman thanked him, took up a pen and wrote in large letters, in the middle of a sheet, this one word,

ADOLFO

followed by three dots, arranged in a triangle, and then handed it to the usher.

"There," he said to him.

The usher gazed at him with amazement.

"What!" he exclaimed, "You are—"

"Silence," the stranger said, laying his finger on his lips.

"Oh, you will enter," the usher added, and opening the door, he disappeared.

But almost immediately the door was opened again, and a powerful voice, which did not belong to the usher, shouted twice from the interior of the cabinet,

"Come in, come in."

The stranger entered.

"Come," the President continued, "Come, my dear Don Adolfo, it is Heaven that sends you," and he advanced towards him, holding out his hand.

Don Adolfo respectfully pressed the President's hand, and sat down in an armchair by his side. At the moment when we bring him on the stage, President Miramón, the general whose name was in every mouth, and who was justly considered the first warrior of Mexico, as he was her best administrator, was quite a young man: he was scarce six-and-twenty years of age, and yet, what noble and grand actions he had accomplished during the three years he had been in power! Physically, he was tall and elegantly formed; his manner was full of ease; his features, delicate, distinguished, and full of cleverness, displayed boldness and intelligence; his wide forehead was already wrinkled by the effect of thought; his well-opened black eyes had a straight and clear glance, whose depth, at times disturbed those upon whom he fixed them; his rather pale face and eyes bordered by a wide brown circle evidenced a long want of sleep.

"Ah," he said gladly, as he fell back in an easy chair, "my good genius has returned, he is going to bring me back my happiness, that has fled."

Don Adolfo shook his head mournfully.

"What is the meaning of that movement, my friend?" the President continued.

"This means, General, that I fear it is too late."

"Too late! How so? Do you not think me capable of taking a startling revenge on my enemies?"

"I think you capable of every great and noble action, General," he replied; "unfortunately treachery surrounds you on all sides, and your friends are deserting you."

"That is only too true," the General said bitterly; "the clergy and the chief merchants, whose protector I constituted myself, whom I have defended everywhere and always, selfishly allow me to exhaust my last resources in protecting them, without deigning to come to my assistance, they will most likely regret me, if, as is only too probable, I succumb through their fault."

"Yes, that is true, General, and in the council which you held this night, of course you assured yourself in a definite manner of the intentions of these men to whom you have sacrificed everything."

"Yes," he said, frowning, and laying a bitter stress on his words, "to all my requests, to all my observations, they only gave one and the same answer: We cannot. They had agreed on it beforehand."

"Pardon my frankness, General, but in that case your position must be extremely critical."

"Say precarious, and you will be nearer the truth, my friend; the treasury is completely empty, and it is impossible for me to fill it again; the army, having received no pay for two months, are murmuring, and threaten to disband; my officers are going over, one after the other, to the enemy; the latter is advancing by forced marches on Mexico; such is the true situation, what do you think of it?"

"It is sad, horribly sad, General; and pardon me the question, and what do you intend doing to parry the danger?"

The General, instead of answering him, gave him a piercing glance.

"But before we go further, General," Don Adolfo continued, "permit me, General, to give you an account of my own operations."

"Oh! They have been successful, I feel convinced," the General replied with a smile.

"I hope that you will find them so, Excellency; do you authorize me to make my report?"

"Do so, do so, my friend; I long to hear what you have accomplished for the defence of our noble cause."

"Oh, pardon, General," Don Adolfo said quickly; "I am only an adventurer, and my devotion is entirely personal to yourself."

"Good, I understand; let me hear this report."

"In the first place, I succeeded in taking from General Dyollado the remains of the conducta which he carried off at the Laguna Seca."

"Good, that is honourable warfare; for it was with the money of that conducta that he took Guadalajara from me. Oh, Castello! Well, how much is it?"

"Two hundred and sixty thousand piastres."

"Hum! A very decent amount."

"Is it not? I next surprised that bandit Cuellar; after that his worthy partner Carvajal, and lastly their friend Felipe Irzabal had a row with me; without counting several partizans of Juárez, whom their evil star brought across my track."

"But the total from these various encounters, my friend?"

"Nine hundred and odd thousand piastres; the guerilleros of the worthy Juárez are excellent shearing, for they have their arms free, and take advantage of it to fatten themselves by fishing largely in troubled waters. In short, I bring you about twelve hundred thousand piastres, which will be brought here on mules within an hour, and which you are at liberty to place in the treasury."

"Why, this is magnificent."

"I do what I can, General."

"Hang it all! If all my friends were to beat up the country with such excellent results, I should soon be rich, and able to carry on the war vigorously. Unfortunately that is not the case; but this sum, added to what I have been able to procure in another quarter, makes a very decent amount."

"What other sum are you alluding to, General? You have found money, then?"

"Yes," he replied with some hesitation; "a friend of mine, attaché to the Spanish embassy, suggested the means to me."

Don Adolfo bounded as if he had been stung by a viper.

"Calm yourself, my friend," the General said quickly; "I know that you are an enemy of the duke; still, since his arrival in Mexico, he has rendered me great services, as you cannot deny."

The adventurer was pale and gloomy, and made no reply. The General continued, for, like all honestly-minded men, he felt the necessity of exculpating himself from a bad action, although the utmost pressure alone compelled him to commit it. "The duke," he said, "after the defeat of Silao, when everything failed me at the same moment, succeeded in inducing Spain to recognize my government, which was very useful to me, as you will allow, I think?"

"Yes, yes, I allow it, General. Oh, Heaven! What I was told is true, then!"

"And what were you told?"

"That, being reduced to the last extremity through the obstinate refusal of the clergy and merchants to assist you, you had formed a terrible resolution."

"It is true," the General, said, hanging his head.

"But perhaps it is not too late yet; I bring you money; your situation is changed, and with your permission I will go—"

"Listen," the General said, checking him by a look. The door had just been opened.

"Did I not forbid you disturbing me?" the President said to the usher, who was standing respectfully before him.

"General Márquez, Excellency," the usher answered impassively.

The President started, and a slight flush spread over his face.

"Let him come in," he said sharply.

General Márquez appeared.

"Well?" the President asked him.

"It is done," the General replied laconically; "the money is paid into the treasury."

"How did it come off?" the President continued, with an imperceptible tremor in his voice.

"I received your Excellency's orders to proceed with a respectable force to the legation of Her British Majesty, and request of the English representative the immediate surrender of the funds destined to pay the bondholders of the English debt, while observing to the representative that the sum was at this moment indispensable to your Excellency, in order to place the city in a posture of defence; moreover, I pledged your Excellency's word for the restitution of the sum, which must only be regarded as a loan for a few days, and: I also offered to arrange with your Excellency the mode of payment which would be most agreeable to him. To all my observations the English representative restricted himself to replying that the money did not belong to him, that he was only the responsible holder, and that it was impossible for him to surrender it. Perceiving that all my objections must fail in presence of an invincible resolution, after an hour spent in useless discussion, I at length determined to execute the last part of the orders I had received; I ordered my soldiers to break the official seals, and I removed all the money I found, being careful to have it counted twice in the presence of witnesses, in order to be sure of the amount of money which I appropriated, in order to restore it in full hereafter. I thus carried off one million four hundred thousand piastres (£240,000), which were immediately transported to the palace by my orders."

After this succinct narration, General Márquez bowed, like a man convinced that he has perfectly done his duty, and who expects complimenting.

"And what did the English representative do then?" the President asked.

"After protesting, he hauled down his flag, and, followed by the whole legation staff, left the city, declaring that he broke off all relations with your Excellency's government, and that in the face of the unjust act of spoliation to which he had been a victim,—such are his own expressions,—he should retire to Jalapa, and await fresh instructions from the British government."

"Very well, General, I thank you; I shall have the honour of conversing with you more fully in a moment."

The General bowed and retired.

"You see, my friend," the General remarked, "it is now too late to restore the money."

"Yes, the evil is irremediable, unhappily."

"What do you advise me?"

"General, you are at the bottom of an abyss; your rupture with England is the greatest misfortune which can happen to you under the present circumstances: you must conquer or die."

"I will conquer," the General exclaimed, hotly.

"May Heaven grant it!" the adventurer replied, sorrowfully; "For victory alone can absolve you."

He rose.

"Are you leaving me already?" the President asked him.

"I must, Excellency; have I not to bring the money here, which I at least took from your enemies?" Miramón hung his head sadly.

"Pardon me, General, I was wrong, I should not have spoken thus; do I not know in my own case that misfortune is a bad adviser?"

"Have you nothing to ask of me?"

"Yes, a blank signature."

The General at once gave it to him.

"There," he said, "shall I see you again before your departure from Mexico?"

"Yes, General—one word more."

"What is it?"

"Distrust that Spanish duke; he is betraying you."

He then took leave of the President, and withdrew.


CHAPTER XIV.

THE HOUSE IN THE SUBURBS.


At the palace gate Don Adolfo found his horse held by a soldier; he at once leapt into the saddle, and after throwing a coin to the asistente, he again crossed the Plaza Mayor, and entered the Calle de Tacuba.

It was about nine in the morning; the streets were crowded with pedestrians, horsemen, carriages, and carts, proceeding in all directions. The city, in a word, was leading that feverish existence of capitals during moments of a crisis, when all faces are restless, all glances suspicious—when conversations are only held in a low voice, and people are always led to suppose an enemy in the inoffensive stranger whom accident makes them suddenly meet.

Don Adolfo, while rapidly advancing through the streets, did not fail to observe what was going on around him; the ill-disguised restlessness, the growing anxiety of the population did not escape him. Earnestly attached to General Miramón, whose noble character, lofty ideas, and, above all, his real desire for the welfare of his country, had attracted him, he felt a profound mental grief at the sight of the general despondency of the masses, and the disaffection of the people toward the only man, who at this moment, had he been honestly supported, was able to save them from the government of Juárez—that is to say, from anarchy organised by the terrorism of the sabre. He continued to advance without appearing to pay any attention to what was going on, or to what was being said in the groups collected on the doorsteps, in the shops, or at the corners of the streets, groups in which the carrying off of the English money by General Márquez upon the peremptory order of the President of the Republic, was being discussed and appreciated in a thousand different ways.

Still, on entering the suburbs, Don Adolfo found the population calmer; the news had now spread there to any great extent, and those who knew it appeared to trouble themselves very slightly about it, or perhaps considered it perfectly simple, although it was really a most arbitrary act of power. Don Adolfo perfectly understood this distinction; the inhabitants of the Faubourg, mostly poor people belonging to the lowest class of the population, were indifferent to an act which could not affect them, and by which only the rich city merchants could be hurt. On coming near the Guard, or Gate of Helen, he at length stopped before an isolated house, of modest, though not poor appearance, whose door was carefully closed. At the sound of his horse's hoofs, a window was half opened, a cry of delight was raised in the interior of the house, and a moment later the gate was thrown wide open to let him pass in. Don Adolfo entered, crossed the zaguán, reached the patio, where he dismounted, and fastened his horse to a ring fixed in the wall.

"Why take that trouble, Don Jaime?" a lady who appeared in the patio, said in a soft and melodious voice; "Do you intend to leave us so quickly?"

"Perhaps so, sister," Don Adolfo, or Don Jaime made answer; "I can only remain a very little time with you, in spite of my lively desire to grant you several hours."

"Very good, brother; in the doubt you can let José lead your horse to the corral, where it will be more comfortable than in the patio."

"Do as you please, sister."

"You hear, José?" the lady said to an old man servant; "Lead Moreno to the corral, rub him down carefully, and give him a double feed of alfalfa. Come, brother," she added, passing her arm through Don Jaime's.

The latter offered no objection, and both entered the home. The chamber they went into was a dining room, plainly furnished, but with that taste and neatness which denote assiduous attention; the table was laid for three persons.

"You will breakfast with us, I suppose, brother?"

"With pleasure; but before all, sister, kiss me, and tell me all about my niece."

"She will be here in an instant; as for her cousin, he is absent, do you know it?"

"I fancied he had returned."

"Not yet, and we all were very anxious about him, as we are about you, for he leads a most mysterious life: going off without saying where to, staying away frequently a very long time, and then returning without saying where he comes from."

"Patience, Maria, patience! Do you not know," he said with a shade of sorrow in his voice, "that we are toiling for you and your daughter? Some day, ere long I hope, all will be cleared up."

"Heaven grant it, Don Jaime; but we are very solitary, and very anxious in this small house; the country is in a state of utter disturbance, the roads are infested by brigands; we tremble every moment lest you or Don Estevan may have fallen into the hands of Cuellar, Carvajal, or El Rayo, those bandits without faith or law, about whom frightful stories are daily told us."

"Reassure yourself, sister, Cuellar, Carbajal, and even El Rayo," he replied with a smile, "are not so terrible as people think proper to represent to you; however, I only ask a little patience of you; before a month, I repeat, sister, all mystery shall cease, and justice be done."

"Justice!" Doña Maria murmured, with a sigh; "Will that justice restore me my lost happiness—my son?"

"Sister," he replied with some degree of solemnity, "why doubt the power of Heaven? Hope, I tell you."

"Alas! Don Jaime, do you really understand the full import of that remark? Do you know what it is to say to a mother: hope?"

"Maria, do I need to repeat to you that you and your sister are the two sole ties that attach me to life, that I have devoted my entire existence to you, sacrificing for the sake of seeing you one day happy, avenged and restored to the high rank from which you ought not to have descended, all the joys of family life and all the excitement of ambition. Do you suppose that you would see me so calm and resolute if I did not feel the certainty of being on the point of attaining that object which I have pursued for so many years with so much perseverance and such great obstinacy? Do you not know me still? Have you no further confidence in me?"

"Yes, yes, brother, I have faith in you," she exclaimed, as she sank in his arms; "and that is why I incessantly tremble, even when you tell me to hope, because I know that nothing can check you, that every obstacle raised before you will be overthrown, every peril met, and I fear lest you may succumb in this mad struggle sustained solely on my behalf."

"And for the honour of our name, sister—do not forget that—in order to restore to an illustrious coat of arms its now tarnished splendour; but enough of this, here is my niece; of all this conversation, remember but one word, which I repeat to you—hope!"

"Oh! Oh! Thanks, brother," she said, embracing him for the last time.

At this moment a door opened, and a young lady appeared.

"Ah, my uncle, my dear uncle!" she exclaimed eagerly approaching him and offering him her cheek, which he kissed several times; "At last you have arrived, and are most welcome."

"What is the matter, Caruna, my child?" he asked affectionately; "Your eyes are red, you are pale, you have been crying again."

"It is nothing, uncle—the folly of a nervous and anxious woman, that is all; have you not brought Don Estevan back with you?"

"No," he replied lightly, "he will not return for some days; but he is perfectly well," he added, exchanging a significant look with Doña Maria.

"Have you seen him?"

"Yes, only two days ago. I am slightly the cause of the delay, as I insisted on his not yet returning, as I wanted him down there; but are we not going to breakfast? I am literally dying of hunger," he said to turn the conversation.

"Yes, directly, we were only waiting for Caruna: now she is here, let us sit down," and she rang a bell.

The same old servant who had led Don Jaime's horse to the corral, came in.

"You can serve, José," Doña Caruna said to him.

They sat down to table and began their meal.

We will trace in a few lines the portrait of the two ladies whom the exigencies of our narrative have compelled us to bring on the scene. The first, Doña Maria, Don Jaime's sister, was still a beautiful woman, although her sunken and worn features bore traces of great sorrows; her carriage was noble, her manner graceful, and her smile sweet and sad. Although she could not be more than forty-two, her hair had turned perfectly white, and formed a striking contrast with her black eyebrows and bright flashing eyes, which revealed strength and youth. Doña Maria was dressed in long mourning robes, which gave her a religious and ascetic appearance.

Doña Caruna, her daughter, was twenty-two years of age at the most; she was lovely as her mother—of whom she was the living portrait—had been at her age. All about her was graceful and dainty; her voice had an extraordinary sweet modulation, her pure brow evidenced candour, and from her large black eyes, surmounted by eyebrows traced as if with a pencil, and fringed with long velvety lashes, escaped a gentle and hurried glance, filled with a strange charm. Her dress was simple: it consisted of a white muslin robe, fastened at the waist by a wide blue ribbon, and a mantilla of embroidered lace. Such were the two ladies.

In spite of the indifference he affected, Don Jaime, the adventurer, was evidently restless and anxious—at times he held his fork in the air, forgetting to carry it to his mouth, and apparently listening to sounds perceptible to himself alone; at other times he sank into so profound a reverie, that his sister or niece was forced to recall him to himself by giving him a gentle tap.

"Really, there is something the matter with you, brother," Doña Maria could not refrain from saying to him.

"Yes," the young lady added, "this preoccupation is not natural, uncle, it alarms us: what is it?"

"Nothing, I assure you," he answered.

"Uncle, you are concealing something from us."

"You are mistaken, Caruna; I am not concealing anything from you, of a personal nature at least; but at this moment such an agitation prevails in the city, that I confess to you plainly I fear a catastrophe."

"Can it be so near at hand?"

"Oh! I do not think so; still, there may be meetings, disturbances, or things of that sort. I advise you seriously, if you are not absolutely obliged, not to leave the house today."

"Oh, not today, or tomorrow, brother," Doña Maria eagerly answered; "for a long time past we have only gone out to go to mass."

"Not even to attend mass for some time hence, sister, I should advise you."

"Is the danger so great then?" she asked anxiously.

"Yes and no, sister; we are in a critical moment when a government is on the point of falling, and of being followed by another. You understand that the government which is being overthrown today is powerless to protect the citizens; on the other hand, the one that succeeds it does not yet possess the power, or doubtless the will, to watch over the public safety; now, under such circumstances, the wisest course is to protect oneself."

"You really terrify me, brother."

"Good Heavens, uncle, what will become of us?" Doña Caruna exclaimed, clasping her hands in horror; "These Mexicans frighten me—they are thorough barbarians."

"Reassure yourself, they are not so wicked as you suppose; they are badly educated, quarrelsome children, that is all; but their hearts are good. I have known them for a long time, and can answer for their good feelings."

"But you know, uncle, the hatred they entertain for us Spaniards."

"Unfortunately, I must allow that they repay us with interest the injury which they accuse our forefathers of having done them, and that they detest us cordially; but they do not know that you and I are Spaniards, and believe you to be hijas del país, which is a protection for you; as for Don Estevan, he passes for a Peruvian, and everybody is convinced that I am a Frenchman; hence you see that the danger is not so great as you suppose, and that you have nothing to fear, at least for the present, if you commit no imprudent act; besides, you will not remain without protection. I shall not leave you alone in this house with an old man servant when a catastrophe is so near at hand; hence, reassure yourselves."

"Are you going to remain with us, uncle."

"I should do so with the greatest pleasure, my dear child; but unfortunately, I dare not promise it to you, as I fear that it will be impossible."

"But uncle, what business of so important a nature?"

"Silence, curious one: give me a light for my cigarette, for I do not know what I have done with my mechero."

"Yes," she went on, as she handed him a match, "always your old tactics to change the conversation; really, uncle, you are a horrible man."

Don Jaime laughed and lit his cigarette.

"By the bye," he said presently, "have you seen anyone from the rancho?"

"Yes, a fortnight ago Loïck came with his wife Therese, and brought us some cheeses and two jars of pulque."

"Did he say anything about the Arenal?"

"No, everything was going on there as usual."

"All the better."

"He merely mentioned a wounded man."

"Ah, ah, well."

"Good gracious, I do not remember exactly what he said."

"Stay uncle, I remember, these were the exact words, Señorita, when you see your uncle, be kind enough to inform him that the wounded man whom he placed in the vault in Lopez' charge, took advantage of the absence of the latter to escape, and that in spite of all our researches, we could not find him again."

"Maldición!" Don Jaime exclaimed furiously, "Why did not that ass of a Dominique let him die like a wild beast: I suspected it would end thus."

But noticing the surprise depicted on the face of the two ladies on hearing these strange words, he broke off, and feigning the most perfect indifference, remarked, "Is that all?"

"Yes uncle; but he recommended me carefully not to forget to warn you."

"Oh, the matter was not worth the trouble, but no matter my dear girl, I thank you. Now," he added rising from table, "I am obliged to leave you."

"Already!" the two ladies exclaimed, hurriedly leaping from their seats.

"I must, unless some unforeseen event happen, I must be at a meeting tonight, a very long distance from here; but if I cannot return so soon as I hope, I will take care to send Don Estevan in my place, so that you may not remain without protectors."

"That will not be the same thing."

"I thank you; ah, by the way, before we separate, a word about business matters. The money I gave you the last time I saw you must be nearly exhausted, I suppose?"

"Oh, we do not spend much, brother, we live most economically, and a decent sum is still left us."

"All the better sister, it is always preferable to have too much than too little, hence, as I am tolerably well off at this moment, I have put aside for you sixty ounces, of which I will request you to relieve me."

And feeling in his dolman, he drew out a long red silk purse, through the meshes of which gold could be seen glittering.

"That is too much, brother: what would you have us do with so large a sum?"

"Whatever you like, sister, that does not concern me: come, take it."

"Since you insist."

"By the bye, you may possibly find forty ounces over the amount I specified: use them to dress yourself and Caruna, for I wish her to be able to appear elegant when she wishes to do so."

"My kind uncle!" the young lady exclaimed, "I am sure that you are depriving yourself for our sake."

"That is not your business, señorita, I wish to see you looking nice, that is my whim: it is your duty as a submissive niece to obey me, without venturing any remarks: come kiss me both and let me be off, for I have delayed too long already."

The two ladies followed him into the patio, where they helped him to saddle Moreno, whom Doña Caruna patted and fed with sugar, an attention for which the noble animal appeared duly grateful. At the moment when Dom Jaime was giving the old servant orders to open the gate, the hasty galloping of a horse was audible outside: then, hurried blows were dealt on the gate.

"Oh, oh!" said Don Jaime, "What is happening?" and he went boldly under the zaguán.

"Uncle, brother," the two ladies screamed, attempting to arrest him.

"Let me alone," he said to them sharply, "we must know what this means; who is there?" he shouted.

"A friend," was the reply.

"It is Loïck's voice," the adventurer said, and opened the gate.

The ranchero came in, "Heaven be praised!" he exclaimed on noticing Don Jaime, "For allowing me to meet you here."

"What has happened?" the adventurer quietly asked.

"A great misfortune," he answered, "the hacienda del Arenal has been captured by Cuillac's band."

"¡Demonios!" the adventurer shouted, turning pale with passion, "When did this happen?"

"Three days ago."

The adventurer hurriedly dragged him into the interior of the house.

"Are you hungry? Are you thirsty?" he asked him. "For three days I have neither eaten nor drank, as I was so anxious to get here."

"Rest, yourself and eat, and then you will tell me what has happened."

The two ladies hastened to place before the ranchero, bread, meat and pulque. While Loïck was taking the nourishment, of which he had such pressing need, Don Jaime was walking in agitation up and down the room. At a sign from him the ladies had discreetly retired, leaving him alone with the ranchero.

"Have you finished?" he asked, as seeing that he was no longer eating.

"Yes," he answered.

"Now, do you feel capable of narrating to me how this catastrophe occurred?"

"I am at your orders, señor."

"Speak, then."

The ranchero, after emptying a last glass of pulque in order to clear his throat, commenced his narrative.


CHAPTER XV.

DON MELCHIOR.


We will substitute our narrative for that of the ranchero, who, indeed, was ignorant of many of the details, only knowing the facts which had related to himself. We will go back to the precise moment when Oliver —for the reader has of course recognised him in Don Jaime—parted from Doña Dolores and the Count, at a distance of about two leagues from the hacienda del Arenal. Doña Dolores and the persons who accompanied her, did not reach the hacienda till a few minutes before sunset. Don Andrés, alarmed by this lengthened ride, received them with marks of the most lively joy: but he had noticed them a long way off, and on seeing Leo Carral with them, he had been reassured.

"Do not remain any longer out of doors, Count," he said to Ludovic, with a thoroughly paternal anxiety. "I can understand all the pleasure you of course feel in galloping by the side of that madcap, Dolores; but you do not know this country, and may lose your way. Moreover, the roads are at this moment infested with marauders belonging to all the parties that divide the unhappy republic; and these pícaros have no more scruple in firing at a gentleman, than in killing a coyote."

"I believe your fears are exaggerated, sir: we have had a delightful ride, and nothing of a suspicious nature has occurred to trouble it."

While conversing, they proceeded to the dining hall, where dinner was served up. The meal was silent, as usual, save that the ice seemed to be broken between the young lady and young man; and—what they had never done before—they now talked together!

Don Melchior was gloomy and restrained, as usual, and ate without saying a word; only now and then, evidently astonished at the good understanding that seemed to prevail between his sister and the French gentleman, he turned his head toward them, giving them glances of a singular expression; but the young people feigned not to remark them, and continued their conversation in a low voice. Don Andrés was radiant. In his joy he spoke loudly, addressed everybody, and ate and drank heartily. When they rose from table, Ludovic checked the old gentleman, as they were taking leave.

"Pardon me," he said; "but I should like a word with you."

"I am at your orders," Don Andrés replied.

"Good heavens! I do not know how to explain it to you, sir. I am afraid I have acted rather lightly, and have committed an offence against propriety."

"You, Count!" Don Andrés remarked, with a smile; "You will permit me not to believe it."

"I thank you for the good opinion you have of me; still I must make you the judge of what I have done."

"In that case, be kind enough to explain yourself."

"This is the matter, in two words, sir. Thinking that I was going straight to Mexico, for I was ignorant of your presence here—"

"Quite true; go on."

"Well, I wrote to an intimate friend of mine, an attaché of the French Legation, to inform him, first, of my arrival, and in the next place, to beg him to take the trouble of finding me rooms. Now, this friend, whose name is Baron Charles de Meriadec, and who belongs to a very old French family, kindly assented to my request, and prepared, to obtain me what I wanted. While this was going on, I learned you were living at this hacienda, and you were kind enough to offer me your hospitality. I immediately wrote to the Baron to stop the affair, because I should doubtless remain a considerable period with you."

"By accepting my hospitality, Count, you gave me a proof of friendship and confidence, for which I am extremely grateful."

"I believed that all was settled with my friend, sir; when, this morning, I received a note from him, in which he tells me that he has obtained leave, and intends to spend his holiday with me."

"Ah! ¡Caramba!" Don Andrés exclaimed, joyously; "The idea is delightful, and I shall thank your friend for it."

"Then you do not consider him rather unceremonious?"

"What do you mean by unceremonious, Count?" Don Andrés quickly interrupted; "are you not almost my son-in-law?"

"But I am not so yet, sir."

"It will not be long first, thank Heaven: hence, you are at home here, and at liberty to receive your friends."

"Even if they were a thousand in number," Don Melchior, who had overheard the conversation, said with a sardonic smile.

The Count pretended to believe the young man's kindly intention, and answered him with a bow.

"I thank you, sir, for joining your father in this matter; for it is a proof of the good will you are kind enough to display towards me, whenever the opportunity is afforded you."

Don Melchior understood the sarcasm hidden under these words. He bowed stiffly, and withdrew with a growl.

"And when does the Baron de Meriadec arrive Don Andrés continued.

"Well, sir, you confuse me; but as I must confess everything, I believe that he will arrive tomorrow morning."

"All the better. Is he a young man?"

"About my own age, sir. But I must inform you that he speaks Spanish very badly, and hardly understands it."

"He will find persons here to whom he can talk French: but you were right to warn me; if not, we might have been taken unawares. I will give orders to prepare rooms for him this very night."

"Pardon me, sir, but I should be truly sorry to cause you the slightest derangement."

"Oh! Do not trouble yourself about that. There is no lack of room, thank goodness; and we shall easily manage to put him in comfortable quarters."

"That is not what I mean. I know your splendid hospitality, but I think it would be better to place the Baron near me, for my servants could wait on him, and my apartments are large."

"But that will bore you horribly."

"Not at all: on the contrary, I have more rooms than I want: he will take one: in this way we shall be able to talk together at our ease, whenever we please: as we have not seen each other for two years, we shall have plenty to talk about."

"Do you press it, Count?"

"I am in your house, sir, and hence cannot press anything: I only make a request."

"Since that is the case, Count, it shall be done according to your wish: this evening with your permission, everything shall be put in order."

Ludovic hereupon took leave of Don Andrés, and retired to his apartments; but almost immediately after him came peons loaded with furniture, who in a few minutes converted his drawing room into a comfortable bed room. The Count, so soon as he was alone with his valet, informed him of all it was necessary for him to know, so that he might play his part in such a way as not to make a blunder, since he had been at the meeting and seen Dominique. At about nine o'clock on the next morning, the Count was informed that a rider, dressed in the European fashion and followed by an arriero, driving two mules loaded with trunks and portemanteaux was approaching the hacienda. Ludovic had no doubt that it was Dominique, and hence hurried to the hacienda gate: Don Andrés was already there to do the honour to the stranger.

The Count in his heart felt some anxiety as to the way in which the vaquero would wear his European dress, so tight and warm and for that very reason so difficult to wear with ease: but he was almost immediately reassured at the sight of the handsome, proud young man who advanced, managing his horse gracefully, and having over his whole person an incontestable stamp of distinction. For a moment he doubted whether this elegant cavalier was the same man he had seen on the previous day, and whose frank but trivial manner had caused him fears about the part he was undertaking to play, but he was soon convinced that it was really Dominique who was before.

The two young men greeted each other with marks of the most lively friendship, and then the Count introduced his friend to Don Andrés.

The hacendero, delighted with the good looks and appearance of the young man, gave him a most cordial greeting, and then the Count and the Baron retired, followed by the arriero, who was no other than Loïck the ranchero. So soon as the mules were unloaded, and the trunks were placed in the apartments, the Baron—for we will temporarily give him the title—gave a generous fee to the arriero who most heartily thanked him and hastened away with his mules, as he did not care to remain too long at the hacienda, through fear of seeing some face he knew.

When the two young men were alone, they placed Raimbaut on sentry in the outer room, to prevent a surprise: and withdrawing into the Count's bed chamber, they began a long and earnest conversation during which Ludovic gave the Baron a species of biography of the persons with whom he was going to live for some time: he dwelt more especially on Don Melchior, whom he urged him to distrust, and recommended him not to forget that he merely understood a few words of Spanish, and did not understand it: this point was essential.

"I have lived a long time with the Redskins," the young man answered, "and have profited by the lessons I received of them: you will be surprised at the perfection with which I shall play my part."

"I confess that I am surprised already, you have completely deceived my expectations: I was far from believing in such a result."

"You flatter me: I will try always to merit your approbation."

"By the way, my dear Charles," the Count continued with a smile, "we are old friends, college chums."

"Of course, we knew each other when children," the other replied in the same key.

"Very well then, do not forget."

Upon this, the two young men shook hands cordially, laughing like schoolboys home for the holidays. A portion of the day was thus spent without further incident than the introduction of Baron Charles de Meriadec, by his friend Count Louis de Saulay, to Doña Dolores, and her brother, Don Melchior de la Cruz, a double introduction in which the Baron behaved like a practised comedian.

Doña Dolores returned a graceful and encouraging smile for the compliment which the young man considered himself obliged to pay her. Don Melchior contented himself with a silent bow, while giving him an ugly look from under his eyelashes.

"Hum," the Baron said when he found himself again alone with the Count, "that Don Melchior appears to me to be an ugly customer."

"I entirely share that opinion," the Count answered distinctly.

At about three in the afternoon, Doña Dolores sent to ask the young men if they would do her the honour of offering her their company for a few moments: they eagerly accepted and hastened to join her. They crossed Don Melchior in the courtyard: the young man did not speak to them, but looked after them till they had entered his sister's apartments.

A month passed, and nothing occurred to disturb the monotonous existence of the inhabitants of the hacienda.

The Count and his friend frequently went out, accompanied by the majordomo, either to shoot or simply for a ride; sometimes, though rarely, Doña Dolores accompanied them.

Now that the Count was no longer alone with her, she seemed to be less afraid of meeting him and at times even to take pleasure in it: she favourably accepted his gallantries, smiled at the sallies that escaped from him and under all circumstances, evidenced perfect confidence in him. But it was more especially to the pretended Count that she displayed a marked preference, either because knowing what he really was, she considered him of no importance, or because, through a pure caprice of feminine coquetry, she liked to sport with this native, whose indomitable energy she did not suspect, and wished to try the power of her charms on the simple young man.

Dominique did not perceive, or pretended not to perceive, the young lady's manoeuvres: though exquisitely polite to her and most attentive, he still remained within the strict limits he had laid down for himself, not wishing to render a man jealous, for whom he professed a sincere friendship, and whom he knew to be on the point of marrying Doña Dolores.

As for Don Melchior, his character had grown more and more sombre, his absences had become longer and more frequent, and on the rare occasions when accident brought him across the young men, he returned their bow silently, without deigning to say a syllable to them: in a word, the repugnance he had felt for them from the outset, had changed with the course of time into a good and hearty Mexican hatred.

In the meanwhile, political events pressed on with ever increasing rapidity: Juárez' troops seriously occupied the country: already scouts belonging to his party had appeared in the neighbourhood of the hacienda: people talked vaguely of Spanish chateaux taken by assault, plundered, burnt, and whose owners had been cowardly assassinated by the guerilleros. The anxiety was great at Arenal: Don Andrés de la Cruz, who was not reassured as to the future by the fact of his being a Spaniard, took the most extensive precautions not to be surprized by the enemy. The question of abandoning the hacienda and retiring to Puebla had even been agitated several times, but had constantly been obstinately repelled by Don Melchior.

Still, the strange conduct which the young man displayed ever since the Count had been at the hacienda, his affectation of keeping aloof, his long and frequent absences, and, more than all, the recommendations of Don Oliver, whose mistrust doubtless aroused a long time before, and based on facts known to himself alone, had led to Dominique's presence at the hacienda under the name of Baron de Mireadec, aroused the suspicions of Count de Saulay, suspicions to which the antipathy he had felt for Don Melchior since the first day of seeing him, almost gave the strength of certainty.

The Count, after ripe reflections, resolved to communicate his anxiety to Dominique and Leo Carral, when one evening on entering the patio he met Don Melchior on horseback proceeding to the hacienda gate. The Count then asked himself why, at so advanced an hour (it was about nine o'clock at night), Don Melchior ventured on a moonless night to go alone into the country, at the risk of falling into an ambush of Juárez' guerilleros, whose scouts, as he was perfectly well aware, had been prowling round the hacienda for some days past.

This fresh departure of the young man, for which there was no apparent motive, dissipated the Count's last doubts, and confirmed him in the resolution of immediately taking counsel with his two friends.

At this moment Leo Carral crossed the patio and Ludovic called to him.

The majordomo ran up directly.

"Where are you going now?" the Count asked.

"I can hardly tell your Excellency," the majordomo answered. "This evening I feel more anxious than usual, and I am going to pay a visit to the neighbourhood of the hacienda."

"Can it be foreboding?" the Count said pensively. "Will you let me accompany you?"

"I purpose going out and beating up the country a little," No Leo Carral continued.

"Very good: have my horse and Don Carlos' saddled, we will join you in an instant."

"Mind, Excellency, not to take any servants, but do our business ourselves. I have a plan, so let us avoid all chances of treachery."

"Agreed: in ten minutes we will be with you."

"You will find your horses at the gate of the first court. I need not recommend you to be armed."

"All right."

The Count went to his apartment. Dominique was soon told of the state of affairs; both left the apartments directly after and found the majordomo, who, already mounted, was waiting for them at the open gate of the hacienda. They leapt on their horses and rode out in silence. The hacienda gate was gently closed after them. They went down the incline that led to the plain at a sharp trot.

"Eh," the Count said a minute after, "what is the meaning of this? Are we mounted on spectral steeds, that produce no sound in moving?"

"Speak lower, Excellency," the majordomo remarked, "we are probably surrounded by spies; as for the thing that perplexes you so, it is only a very simple precaution; your horse's hoofs are thrust into sheepskin bags filled with sand."

"Hang it!" Ludovic replied, "It seems, then, that we are on a secret expedition."

"Yes, Excellency, secret and most important."

"What is it?"

"I suspect Don Melchior."

"But remember, friend, that he is the son and heir of Don Andrés."

"Yes, but as we say on the wrong side of the blanket; his mother was a Lapotheque Indian, with whom, I do not know why, my master fell in love, for she was neither beautiful, nor good, nor witty; however, the result of their connection was a child, and that child is Don Melchior. The mother died in childbirth, imploring Don Andrés not to abandon the poor creature; my master promised it, recognised the boy, and brought him up as if he had been legitimate, and a few years later induced his wife to receive him into the family. He was thus brought up as if he were really a legitimate son, the more so, that Doña Lucca de la Cruz died, only leaving her husband a daughter."

"Ah! Ah!" said the Count, "I am beginning to get a glimpse of the truth."

"All went on well for some years; Don Melchior, most kindly treated by his father, gradually came to persuade himself that on the death of Don Andrés the paternal fortune would fall to him; but about a year ago my master received a letter, after reading which he had a long and serious explanation with his son.

"Yes, yes, that letter reminded him of the marriage plan arranged between his family and mine, and announced my speedy arrival."

"Probably, Excellency; but nothing transpired of what took place between father and son, except it was noticed that Don Melchior, who is not naturally of a gay temper, became from that period gloomy and morose, seeking solitude, and only addressing his father when absolutely compelled. Although he had hitherto rarely left the hacienda, he now began to have a wild liking for the chase, and often stayed away for several days; your sudden arrival at the hacienda, when he doubtless never expected to see you, augmented his ill-feeling to a frightful extent, and I am convinced that in his despair at losing the inheritance he has so long coveted, he will not hesitate before anything, even a crime, to seize on it. This, Excellency, was what I thought it my duty to tell you. Heaven knows that if I have spoken, it was solely from a pure motive."

"Everything is now explained to me, No Leo Carral. I am, like yourself, persuaded that Melchior meditates some odious treachery against the man to whom he owes everything, and who is his father."

"Well," said Dominique, "do you wish to know my opinion? If the opportunity presents itself, it will be a pious task to lodge a bullet in his wicked brain; the world will in that way get rid of a frightful villain."

"Amen!" said the Count, with a laugh.

At this moment they reached the plain.

"Excellency, here the difficulties of the enterprise we are about to undertake really commence," the majordomo then said; "we must act with the most extreme prudence, and, above all, avoid revealing our presence to the invisible spies by whom we are indubitably surrounded."

"Fear nothing, we shall be dumb as fishes; go on ahead without fear; we will prowl on your track after the fashion of Indians on the war path."

The majordomo took the head of the file, and they began advancing rather rapidly along the paths which were entangled together, and formed an inextricable network for anyone but Leo Carral.

As we have already stated, the night was moonless, and the sky black as ink. A profound silence, interrupted at long intervals by the shrill cries of the night birds, brooded over the country.

They continued to advance thus without exchanging a word for about half an hour, and then the majordomo halted.

"We have arrived," he said in a low voice; "get off your horses, we are in safety here."

"Do you think so?" said Dominique; "I fancied during the march the cries of night birds too well imitated to be true."

"You are right," Leo Carral answered; "they are the enemy's sentries challenging each other; we have been scented, but thanks to the night and my acquaintance with the roads, we have temporarily, at any rate thrown out those who started in pursuit of us, they are seeking us in a direction opposed to the one in which we are."

"That is what I fancied I could understand," Dominique remarked.

The Count eagerly listened to this conversation, but to no effect, for what the two men said was Hebrew to him; for the first time since he had been in the world, accident placed him in a situation so singular; hence he was completely deficient in experience; he was far from suspecting that he had passed through all the outposts of a hostile camp; had been within pistol shot of sentinels ambuscaded on the right and left, and had escaped death perhaps twenty times by a miracle.

"Señores, take the bags off the horses, as they ace no longer wanted, while I light a torch of ocote wood," Leo Carral then said.

The young men obeyed, for they tacitly recognised the majordomo as the leader of the expedition.

"Well, is it done?" the majordomo asked a moment after.

"Yes," the Count answered, "but we cannot see anything; are you not going to light your torch?"

"It is lighted, but it would be too imprudent to show a light here; follow me, drawing your horses after you by the bridle."

He went in front again as guide, and they advanced once more, but this time on foot.

Ere long a light glistened in front of them, and illuminated them sufficiently to enable them to distinguish surrounding objects.

They were in a natural grotto; this grotto opened at the end of a passage, sufficiently winding for the light of the torch not to be seen from the outside.

"Where the deuce are we?" the Count asked, in surprise.

"As you see, Excellency, in a grotto."

"Very good, but you had a reason for bringing us here."

"Certainly I had one, Excellency, and the reason is as follows: this grotto communicates with the hacienda, by a very long subterraneous passage; this passage has several issues into the country, and two into the hacienda itself; of the latter two, one is known to myself alone, and the other I stopped up this very day; but fearing less Don Melchior might have discovered this grotto during his rides, I determined to visit it tonight, and solidly wall it up inside, so as to prevent a surprise in this way."

"Famously reasoned, No Leo Carral; there is no want of stones, so we will set to work as soon as you like."

"One moment, Excellency, let us make certain first that other persons have not got here before us."

"Hum! That appears to me rather difficult."

"You think so," he said, with a slight tinge of irony in his voice.

He took the torch which he had placed on an angle and stooped down to the ground, but almost immediately rose again, uttering a cry of fury.

"What is it?" the two young men exclaimed anxiously.

"Look," he said, pointing to the ground.

The Count looked.

"We are foiled," he said, a moment after; "it is too late."

"But, explain yourself in Heaven's name," the Count exclaimed, "I do not understand what you are saying."

"Stay, my dear fellow," said Dominique, "do you not see how the ground is trampled? Do you not notice the footsteps going in all directions?"

"Well."

"Well, my poor friend, these footsteps were left by the men probably led by Don Melchior, who have taken this road to enter the hacienda, where they probably are by this time."

"No," the majordomo remarked, "the footsteps are quite fresh: they only entered a few minutes before us. The advance they have is nothing, for on reaching the end of the passage, they will have to destroy the wall I built, and it is substantial. Let us not be discouraged yet, therefore, perhaps Heaven will permit us to reach the hacienda in time; come, follow me, make haste, and leave your horse; ah, it was Heaven that inspired me not to touch the second outlet."

Then, waving the torch to revise the flame, the majordomo ran along a side gallery, followed by the two young men. The subterraneous passage rose with a gentle ascent; the road they had followed to reach the grotto, wound round the hill on which the hacienda was built; besides, they had been obliged to make numerous circuits, and march circumspectly, that is to say, rather slowly, through fear of being surprised, which had demanded a considerable lapse of time; but now this was no longer the case, they ran on in a straight line and they accomplished in less than a quarter of an hour, what, on horseback had required nearly an hour, and reached the garden.

The hacienda was silent.

"Wake your servants, while I ring the alarm bell," said the majordomo, "possibly we may save the hacienda."

He ran to the bell, whose sonorous peals soon aroused the inhabitants of the hacienda, who ran up, half dressed, not at all understanding what was going on.

"To arms, to arms!" shouted the Count, and his two companions.

In a few words Don Andrés was informed of the state of matters, and while he had his daughter guarded in her rooms, by some devoted attendants, and organized the defence as well as circumstances permitted him, the majordomo, followed by the two young men and their servants, dashed into the garden.

Ludovic and Dolores had only exchanged one word.

"I am going to my father," she said.

"I will join you there."

"I shall expect you, no one but you will approach me?"

"I swear it."

"Thanks."

And they separated. On reaching the garden, the five men distinctly heard the hurried blows which the assailants were dealing on the wall.

They ambushed themselves within pistol shot of the issue, behind a clump of trees and shrubs.

"But, these people must be bandits," the Count exclaimed, "to come in this way to pillage honest people."

"Of course they are bandits," Dominique replied, "you will soon see them at work, and no longer have a doubt on the subject."

"In that case, attention," said the Count, "and let us receive them as they deserve."

In the meanwhile, the blows were redoubled in the passage; ere long one stone was detached, then a second, then a third, and a rather large breach was opened in the wall. The guerilleros, dashed forward with a shout of joy, which was at once turned into a yell of pain. Five shots, blended in one, had exploded like a formidable clap of thunder.

The battle was beginning.


CHAPTER XVI.

THE ASSAULT.


At the frightful discharge which greeted them, and scattered death in their ranks, the guerilleros fell back with horror; surprised by those whom they calculated on surprising, prepared to plunder but not to fight, their first thought was flight, and an indescribable disorder broke out in their ranks.

The defenders of the hacienda, whose number had considerably increased, took advantage of this hesitation to send a shower of bullets among them. Some resolution must be formed, however, either to advance under the bullets, or give up the expedition.

The proprietor of the hacienda was rich, as the guerilleros were aware; for a long time past they had desired to seize this wealth, which they coveted, and which, whether rightly or wrongly, they supposed to be hidden in the hacienda; it cost them a struggle to give up this expedition so long prepared, and from which they promised themselves such magnificent results.

Still the bullets constantly scattered among them, and they did not dare to pass the breach. Their chiefs, even more interested than they in the success of their projects, put an end to any hesitation, by resolutely arming themselves with pickaxes and crowbars, not only to enlarge the breach, but also to completely throw down the wall, for they understood that it was only by a sudden eruption that they could succeed in overthrowing the opposition which the defenders of the hacienda offered them.

The latter continued to fire bravely, but most of their shots were thrown away, as the guerilleros were working under shelter, and were very cautious not to show themselves in front of the breach.

"They have changed their tactics," the Count said to Dominique, "they are now engaged in throwing down the wall, and will soon return to the attack; and," he added, taking a sorrowful glance around, "we shall be conquered; for the men who accompany us are not capable of resisting a vigorous attack."

"You are right, friend, the situation is serious," the young man answered.

"What is to be done?" the majordomo asked.

"Stay, I have an idea," Dominique suddenly said, striking his forehead; "you have gunpowder here."

"Yes, thank heaven, there is no want of that; but what is the use of it?"

"Have a barrel brought here as speedily as possible, I answer for the rest."

"That is easy."

"In that case go."

The majordomo ran off.

"What do you intend to do?" the Count asked.

"You shall see," the young man replied, with flashing eyes; "by Heaven, a glorious idea has occurred to me. These brigands will probably seize the hacienda, and we are too weak to resist them, and it is only a question of time for them; but, by Jupiter, it shall cost them dearly."

"I do not understand you."

"Ah," the young man continued, in a state of feverish excitement; "ah, they wish to open a wide passage; well, I undertake to make it for them; wait a while."

At this moment the majordomo returned, bringing not one, but three barrels on a truck; each of these barrels contained about 120 pounds of gunpowder.

"Three barrels!" Dominique exclaimed, joyously; "All the better: in this way each of us will have his own."

"But what do you intend doing?"

"I mean to blow them up, by heaven!" he exclaimed. "Come to work! Imitate me!"

He took a barrel and unheaded it; the Count and Leo Carral did the same.

"Now," he said, addressing the peons, who were startled by these sinister preparations; "back, you fellows, but still continue to fire, and keep them on the alarm."

The three men remained alone with the Count's two servants, who refused to abandon their master. In a few words Dominique explained his plan to his companions. They raised the barrels, and gliding silently behind the trees, approached the grotto. The besiegers, occupied in destroying the wall inside, and not daring to venture in front of the breach, could not see what was going on outside. It was therefore an easy task for the five men to reach the very foot of the wall the guerilleros were demolishing, without being discovered. Dominique placed the three powder barrels so as to touch the wall, and on these barrels, he, aided by his companions, piled all the stones he could find. Then he took his mechero, drew out the tinder match, from which he cut off about six inches, lit it, and planted it on one of the barrels.

"Back! Back!" he said, in a low voice; "The wall no longer holds! See how it is bulging. It will fall in a moment."

And, setting the example, he ran off at full speed. Nearly all the defenders of the hacienda, about forty in number, with Don Andrés at their head, were assembled at the entrance of the huerta.

"Why are you running so hard?" the hacendero asked the young men; "Are the brigands after you?"

"No, no," Dominique replied; "not yet; but you will soon have news of them."

"Where is Doña Dolores?" the Count asked.

"In my apartments with her women, and perfectly safe."

"Fire, you fellows!" Dominique shouted to the peons.

The latter recommenced a tremendous fire.

"Raimbaut," the Count said, in a low voice; "we must foresee everything. Go with Lanca Ibarru, and saddle five horses: mind one of them is a side-saddle. You understand me, do you not?"

"Yes, my lord."

"You will lead these horses to the door which is at the end of the huerta. You will wait for me there with Lanca, both well armed. Go."

Raimbaut went off at once, as quiet and calm as if nothing extraordinary were occurring at the moment.

"Ah!" said Don Andrés with a sigh of regret; "If Melchior was here he would be very useful to us."

"He will be here soon, señor, you may be sure," the Count remarked, ironically.

"Where can he be, though?"

"Ah! Who can tell?"

"Ah! Ah!" Dominique exclaimed; "Something is going on down there."

The stones, vigorously assailed by the repeated blows of the guerilleros, were beginning to fall outwards. The breach was rapidly entered, but at last a whole piece of wall fell in one mass into the garden. The guerilleros uttered a loud shout, threw down their picks, and seizing their weapons, prepared to rush forth. But suddenly a terrible explosion was heard; the earth quivered as if agitated by a volcanic convulsion; a cloud of smoke rose to the sky, and masses of ruins, raised by the explosion, were hurled in all directions. A horrible cry of agony rang through the air, and that was all: a deadly silence brooded over the scene.

"Forward! Forward!" Dominique shouted.

The injury caused by the mine was terrible. The entrance of the passage, completely destroyed, and filled up with masses of earth and heaped-up stones, had not permitted one of the assailants to pass. Here and there the disfigured remains of what had been a moment before men, emerged from the middle of the fragments. The catastrophe must have been awful, but the passage kept the secret close.

"Oh! Heaven be praised! We are saved!" Don Andrés exclaimed.

"Yes, yes," the majordomo said; "if no other assailants arrive from another quarter."

Suddenly, as if in justification of the remark, loud cries were heard blended with shots, and a vivid flame, which rose from the outhouses of the hacienda, lit up the country with a sinister gleam.

"To arms! To arms!" the peons shouted, as they ran up in alarm. "The guerilleros! The guerilleros!"

And they speedily saw, by the red glow of the fire which was devouring the buildings, the black outlines of some hundred men, who hurried up, brandishing their weapons, and uttering yells of fury. A few paces in advance of the bandits advanced a man, holding a sabre in one hand, and a torch in the other.

"Don Melchior!" the old gentleman exclaimed, despairingly.

"By heaven! I will stop him!" Dominique said, taking aim at him.

Don Andrés darted at the gun, which he threw up.

"It is my son!" he said.

The shot passed harmlessly through the air.

"Hum! I fancy you will repent having saved his life, señor," Dominique coldly replied.

Don Andrés, dragged away by the Count and Dominique, entered his apartments, all the issues to which his peons hastily barricaded, and then kept up a sustained fire from the windows on the besiegers.

Don Melchior had an understanding with the partizans of Juárez. Reduced, as the majordomo had very correctly told the Count, to a state of desperation by the speedy marriage of his sister, and the inevitable loss of the fortune of which he had so long entertained the hope of being sole heir, the young man forgot all moderation, and, under certain conditions accepted by Cuellar, though with, the intention of not fulfilling them, he had proposed to the latter to surrender the hacienda to him; and all the measures had been taken in consequence. It was then arranged that a portion of the cuadrilla, under the orders of resolute officers, should attempt a surprise by the secret passage, which the young man had previously made known. Then, while this troop was operating, the other of the cuadrilla, under Cuellar's own orders, and guided by Don Melchior, would silently scale the walls of the hacienda on the side of the corrals, which the inhabitants would doubtless neglect to defend. We have related the success of this double attack.

Cuellar, though he was still ignorant of it, had lost one half of his cuadrilla, who were buried under the ruins of the grotto. With the men left him he was at this moment waging an obstinate fight with the peons of the hacienda, who, knowing they had to deal with the band of Cuellar, the most ferocious and sanguinary of all Juárez' guerilleros, and that this band never granted quarter, fought with the energy of desperation, which renders strength tenfold as great. The combat lasted some time. The peons, ambushed in the apartments, had lined the windows with everything that came to hand, and fired under cover at the assailants scattered about the courtyards, on whom they entailed considerable losses. Cuellar was furious, not alone at this unforeseen resistance, but also at the incomprehensible delay of the soldiers of his cuadrilla who had entered by the grotto, and who should have joined him long ere this. He had certainly heard the noise of the explosion, but as he was at the time at a considerable distance from the hacienda, in a direction diametrically opposed to that where the explosion took place, the noise had reached his ears indistinctly, and he had paid no further attention to it; but the inexplicable delay of his comrades at this moment, when their help would have been so valuable, was beginning to cause him lively anxiety, and he was on the point of sending one of his men off to hurry the laggards, when suddenly shouts of victory were raised from the interior of the buildings he was attacking, and several guerilleros appeared at the windows, brandishing their weapons joyously. It was owing to Don Melchior that this decisive success was obtained. While the main body of the assailants attacked the buildings in front, he, accompanied by several resolute men, stepped through a low window, which in the first moment of confusion they had forgotten to barricade like the rest. He had entered the interior, and suddenly appeared before the besieged, whom his presence terrified, and on whom his comrades rushed with sabres and pistols.

At this moment it was no longer a fight but a horrible butchery. The peons, in spite of their entreaties, were seized by the conquerors, stabbed, and hurled through the windows into the courtyard. The guerilleros soon poured through all the buildings, pursuing the wretched peons from room to room, and pitilessly massacring them. They thus reached a large drawing room, whose large folding doors were wide open; but on arriving there they not merely stopped, but recoiled with an instinctive movement of terror before the terrible spectacle that was presented to them. This room was splendidly lit up by a number of candles, placed in all the chandeliers and on the various articles of furniture. In one corner of the room a barricade had been erected by piling up the furniture: behind this barricade, Doña Dolores had sought shelter with all the wives and children of the hacienda peons, two paces in front of the barricade, four men were standing erect with a gun in one hand and a pistol in the other. These four men were. Don Andrés, the Count, Dominique and Leo Carral: two barrels of gunpowder with the heads knocked out were placed near them.

"Halt," the Count said in a jeering voice, "halt, I request, caballeros; one step further, and we blow up the house. Do not pass the threshold, if you please."

The guerilleros were careful not to disobey this courteous hint, for at the first glance they recognized with whom they had to deal. Don Melchior stamped his foot savagely on seeing himself thus rendered powerless.

"What do you want?" he asked in a strangled voice.

"Nothing of you; we are men of honour, and will not parley with a scoundrel of your stamp."

"You shall be shot like dogs, accursed Frenchmen."

"I defy you to put your threat in execution," said the Count, as he coolly cocked the revolver he held in his hand and pointed it at the barrel of gunpowder by his side.

The guerilleros recoiled, uttering shrieks of terror.

"Do not fire, do not fire," they exclaimed; "here is the Colonel."

In fact, Cuellar arrived. Cuellar is a frightful bandit, this statement will surprise nobody, but we must do him the justice of stating that he possesses unparalleled bravery. He forced his way through his soldiers, and soon found himself standing alone in front of them. He bowed gracefully to the four men, and examined them craftily, and while idly rolling a cigarette.

"Well," he said gaily, "the affair you have imagined is most ingenious, and I sincerely compliment you upon it, caballeros. Those demons of Frenchmen have incredible ideas, on my honour," he added, speaking to himself; "they never allow themselves to be taken unawares; there is enough there to send us all to paradise."

"And in case of need we would no more hesitate to do it than we hesitated to blow up your men, whom you sent as scouts through the grotto."

"What," Cuellar asked, turning pale, "what is it you are saying about my soldiers?"

"I am saying," the Count replied coldly, "that you can have their corpses sought for in the passage, all will be found there, for all have fallen there."

A shudder of terror ran along the ranks of the guerilleros at these words.

There was a silence. Cuellar was reflecting. He raised his head, every trace of emotion had disappeared from his face, and he looked around him as searching for something.

"Are you looking for a light?" Dominique asked him, as he advanced toward him candle in hand: "Pray light your cigarette, señor."

And he politely held out the candle.

Cuellar lit his cigarette, and returned the candlestick.

"Thanks, señor," he said.

Dominique rejoined his companions.

"So then," said Cuellar, "you request a capitulation."

"You are mistaken, señor," the Count replied coolly; "on the contrary, we offer you one."

"You offer us?" the guerillero said with amazement.

"Yes, since we are masters of your life."

"Pardon me," Cuellar said, "that is specious, for on blowing us up, you will go with us."

"Hang it! That is precisely what we intend." Cuellar reflected once more.

"Come," he said a moment after, "let us not wage a war of words, but come to the fact like men: what do you want?"

"I will tell you," the Count answered.


CHAPTER XVII.

AFTER THE BATTLE.


Cuellar was carelessly smoking his cigarette, his left hand was laid on his long sabre, the end of the scabbard resting on the floor: there was a charming ease in the way in which he stood at the door of the room, letting his eyes wander around with a feline gentleness, and emitting through his mouth and nostrils, with the blessed sensuality of a real enjoyer, thick clouds of bluish smoke.

"Pardon, señores," he said, "before going further, it is necessary to have a thorough understanding, I think, so permit me to make a slight observation."

"Do so, señor," the Count answered.

"I am perfectly willing to treat: I am a very easy man to deal with as you see, but do not ask of me extravagant things which I should be forced to refuse you, for I need not tell you that, if you are determined, I am no less so, and while desiring a bargain equally advantageous for both sides, still if you are too exorbitant, I should prefer to blow up with you, the more so because I have a presentiment that I shall in that way some day or other, and should not be sorry to go to the deuce in such excellent company."

Although these words were uttered with a smiling air, the Count was not deceived as to the resolute purpose of the man with whom he was dealing.

"Oh señor," he said, "you know us very badly, if you suppose us capable of asking impossibilities of you, still as our position is good, we wish to take advantage of it."

"And I think you perfectly right, caballero; but as you are a Frenchman and your countrymen never doubt anything, I thought it my duty to make this observation to you."

"Be convinced señor," the Count answered, while affecting the same tranquillity as the other, "that we shall only demand reasonable conditions."

"You demand," Cuellar repeated, laying a stress on these two words.

"Yes: hence we will not oblige you to leave the hacienda, because we know that if you went out today, you would recommence the attack tomorrow."

"You are full of penetration, señor: so pray come to the facts."

"In the first place you will give up the poor peons who have escaped the massacre."

"I see no difficulty in that."

"With their arms, horses and the little they possess."

"Agreed, go on."

"Don Andrés de la Cruz, his daughter, my friend, myself and Leo Carral, the majordomo, and all the women and children sheltered in this room, will be at liberty to retire whenever we please without fear of being disturbed."

Cuellar made a grimace. "What next?" he said.

"Pardon me, is that settled?"

"Yes, it is settled; what next?"

"My friend and I are strangers, Frenchmen, and Mexico is not at war, as far as I am aware, with our country."

"It might happen," Cuellar said maliciously.

"Perhaps so, but in the meanwhile we are at peace, and have a claim to your protection."

"Have you not fought against us?"

"That is true, but we had a right to defend ourselves: we were attacked and were compelled to fight."

"Good, good, enough of that."

"We therefore request the right to take away with us on mules, everything that belongs to us."

"Is that all?"

"Nearly so; do you accept these conditions?"

"I do."

"Good, now there only remains a slight formality to fulfil."

"A formality, what is it?"

"That of the hostages."

"Hostages! Have you not my word?"

"Of course."

"Well, what more do you want?"

"As I told you, hostages: you can perfectly understand, señor, that I would not confide my life and that of my companions, I will not say to you, for I hold your word and believe it good, but to your soldiers, who, like the worthy guerilleros they are, would have not the slightest scruple, if we had the madness to place ourselves in their power, about plundering us and perhaps worse: you do not command regular troops, señor, and however strict may be the discipline you maintain in your cuadrilla, I doubt whether it goes so far as to make your prisoners respected, when you are not there to protect them by your presence."

Cuellar, flattered in his heart by the Count's remarks, gave him a gracious smile.

"Hum," he said, "what you say may be true up to a certain point. Well, who are the hostages you desire, and how many are they?"

"Only one, señor, you see that it is very trifling."

"Very trifling, indeed; but who is this hostage?"

"Yourself," the Count answered distinctly.

"Canarios!" Cuellar said with a grin, "You are a cool hand: that one would in truth be sufficient."

"For that reason we will have no other."

"That is very unfortunate."

"Why so?"

"Because I refuse, caray! And who would be security for me, if you please?"

"The word of a French gentleman, caballero," the Count hastily replied, "a word which has never been pledged in vain."

"On my word," Cuellar continued with that bonhomie of which he possesses so large a share and which, where it suits him, causes him to be taken for the best fellow in the world: "I accept, caballero, let what may happen, for I am curious to try that word of honour of which Europeans are so proud: it is settled then that I act as your hostage: now, how long am I to remain with you? It is very important for me to settle that point."

"We will ask no more of you than to accompany us within sight of Puebla: once there you shall be at liberty, and you can even, if you think proper, take with you an escort of ten men to secure your return."

"Come, that is speaking; I am yours, caballero. Don Melchior, you will remain here during my absence and watch that everything goes on right."

"Yes," Don Melchior replied hoarsely.

The Count, after whispering a few words to the majordomo, again addressed Cuellar.

"Señor," he said to him, "be kind enough to give orders for the peons to be brought here: then, while you remain with us, No Leo Carral will go and make all the preparations for our departure."

"Good," said Cuellar, "the majordomo can go about his business: you hear, my men," he added, turning to the guerilleros who still stood motionless, "this man is free, bring the peons here."

Some fifteen poor wretches, with their clothes in rags, covered with blood, but armed as had been agreed, then entered the drawing room: these fifteen men were all that remained of the defenders of the hacienda. Cuellar then entered the room in the door way of which he had been hitherto standing, and without being invited to do it, posted himself behind the barricade. Don Melchior, feeling the false position in which he was placed, now that he remained alone, facing the besieged, turned away to retire; but at this moment Don Andrés rose, and addressed him in a loud and imperious voice.

"Stay, Melchior," he said to him, "we cannot separate thus: now, that we shall never meet again in this world, a final explanation between us is necessary—even indispensable."

Don Melchior started at the sound of this voice: he turned pale, and made a movement as if he wished to fly, but then suddenly halted and haughtily raising his head, said—

"What do you want with me? Speak, I am listening to you."

For a very considerable period, the old man stood with his eyes fixed on his son with a strangely blended expression of love, anger, grief and contempt, and at length making a violent effort on himself, he spoke as follows:

"Why wish to withdraw, is it because the crime you have committed horrifies you, or are you really flying with fury in your heart at seeing your parricide foiled and your father saved in spite of all your efforts to rob him of life? God has not permitted the complete success of your sinister projects: He chastens me for my weakness for you and the place you have usurped in your heart: I pay very dearly for a moment of error, but at length the veil that covered my eyes has fallen. Go, wretch, marked on the brow by an indelible stigma, be accursed! And may this curse which I pronounce on you, weigh eternally on your heart! Go, parricide, I no longer know you."

Don Melchior, in spite of all his audacity, could not sustain the flashing glance which his father implacably fixed on him: a livid pallor spread over his face, a convulsive trembling agitated his limbs, his head was bowed beneath the weight of the anathema, and he recoiled slowly without turning round, as if dragged away by a force superior to his will, and at length disappeared in the midst of the guerilleros, who left a passage for him with a movement of horror.

A funereal silence pervaded the room; all these men, though so little impressionable, felt the influence of the terrible malediction pronounced by a father on a guilty son. Cuellar was the first to recover his coolness.

"You were wrong," he said to Don Andrés, with a shake of his head, "to offer your son this crushing insult in the presence of all."

"Yes, yes," the old gentleman answered sadly, "he will avenge himself; but what do I care? Is not my life henceforth crushed?"

And bowing his head on his chest, the old man sank into a deep and gloomy meditation.

"Watch over him," Cuellar said to the Count, "I know Don Melchior, he is a thorough Indian."

In the meanwhile, Doña Dolores, who up to this moment had remained, timidly concealed among her women behind the barricade, rose, removed some articles of furniture, glided softly through the opening she had effected, and sat down by the side of Don Andrés. The latter did not stir; he had neither seen her come nor heard her place herself by his side. She bent down to him, seized his hand, which she pressed in her own; kissed him softly on the forehead, and said to him in her melodious voice, with an accent of tenderness, impossible to describe—

"My father, dear father, have you not a child left who loves and respects you? Do not let yourself be thus prostrated by grief; look at me, papa, in Heaven's name! I am your daughter, do you not love me, who feel so great a love for you?"

Don Andrés raised his face, which was bathed in tears, and opened his arms to the girl, who rushed into them with a cry of joy. "Oh! I was ungrateful," he exclaimed, with ineffable tenderness; "I doubted the infinite goodness of God; my daughter is left to me! I am no longer alone in the world, I can be happy still!"

"Yes, papa, God has wished to try us, but He will not abandon us in our misfortune; be brave, forget your ungrateful son; when he repents, remove the terrible malediction you uttered against him; let him return penitent to your knees; he has only been led astray, I feel sure; how could he help loving you, my noble father, you are ever so great and good?"

"Never speak to me about your brother, child," old man replied with savage energy, "that man no longer exists for me; you have no brother, you never had one! Pardon me for deceiving you, by letting you believe that this villain formed part of our family; no, this monster is not my son, I was abused myself in supposing that the same blood flowed in his veins and mine."

"Calm yourself, in Heaven's name, papa, I implore you."

"Come, my poor child," he continued as he pressed her in his arms, "do not leave me, I want to feel you are here near me, that I may not believe myself alone in the world, and that I may have the strength to overcome my despair. Oh, say to me once more, that you love me, you cannot understand what balm the words are to my heart, and what relief they offer to my sorrow!"

The guerilleros had dispersed over all parts of the hacienda, plundering and devastating, breaking the furniture, and forcing locks with a dexterity that evidenced lengthened practice. Still, according to the agreement made, the Count's apartments were respected. Raimbaut and Ibarru, relieved from their long watch by Leo Carral, were busily engaged in loading on mules, the portemanteaux of the Count and Dominique; the guerilleros watched them for a while with knowing looks, laughing to each other at the clumsy way in which the two servants loaded their mules, and then offered their services to Raimbaut, which he bravely accepted; then, the same men, who without the slightest scruple, would have plundered all these articles, which possessed great value for them, were actively engaged in removing and loading them with the greatest care, without thinking for a moment of stealing the smallest article.

Thanks to their intelligent aid, the luggage of the two young men was in a very short time loaded on three mules, and Leo Carral had only to see that the horses required for the journey were saddled, which were effected in a moment, such eagerness and good will did the guerilleros display in fetching the horses from the corral, and bringing them into the yard. Leo Carral then returned to the drawing room, and announced that everything was in readiness for departure.

"Gentlemen, we will go when you please," the Count said.

"At once then."

They left the drawing room, surrounded by the guerilleros, who walked by their side, uttering loud cries, but still without daring to draw too near, restrained, according to all appearance, by the respect they bore their chief.

When all those who were to leave the hacienda were mounted, as well as ten guerilleros, commanded by a non-commissioned officer, whose duty it was to serve as escort on their Colonel's release, the guerillero addressed his soldiers, recommending them to obey in all points Don Melchior de la Cruz, during his absence, and then gave the signal for departure. Beckoning the women and children, the little caravan was composed of about sixty persons, all that were left of the two hundred servants of the hacienda.

Cuellar rode at the head, by the side of the Count; behind him was Doña Dolores, between her father and Dominique; next came the peons, leading the bat mules, under the direction of Leo Carral and the Count's two servants; the guerilleros formed the rearguard.

They descended the hill at a slow pace, and ere long found themselves in the plain; the night was dark, it was about two hours after midnight; the cold was severe, and the sorrowful travellers shivered under their zarapés. They took the high road to Puebla, which they reached at the expiration of about twenty minutes, and then broke into a more rapid pace; the town was only five or six leagues distant, and they hoped to arrive there at sunrise, or, at any rate, at a very early hour.

Suddenly a great light tinged the sky with reddish hues, and lit up the country for a long distance. The hacienda was on fire. At this sight, Don Andrés cast a sad glance behind him, and gave vent to a deep sigh, but he did not utter a word. Cuellar was the only person that spoke; he tried to prove to the Count, that war had painful necessities, that for a long time past, Don Andrés had been denounced as an avowed partisan of Miramón, and that the capture and destruction of the hacienda were only the results of his dislike of President Juárez. All matters to which the Count, understanding the inutility of a discussion on such a subject with such a man, did not even take the trouble to reply. They rode on then for about three hours, without any incident occurring to disturb the monotony of their journey.

The sun rose, and by the first beams of dawn the domes and lofty steeples, of Puebla appeared in the distance, with their black and still indistinct outlines standing out against the dark blue sky.

The Count ordered the party to halt.

"Señor," he said to Cuellar, "you have loyally fulfilled the conditions stipulated between us; receive my thanks, and those of my unfortunate companions here; we are not more than two leagues from Puebla, it is daylight, and it is, therefore, unnecessary for you to accompany us further."

"In truth, señor, I believe that you can now do without me, and as you permit it, I will leave you, repeating my regret for what has occurred, but unfortunately I am not the master, and—"

"No more of this, pray," the Count interrupted, "what is done is irreparable, for the present at least: so it is useless to dwell on the subject any longer."

Cuellar bowed. "One word, Señor Conde," he said, in a low voice.

The young man went up to him.

"Let me," the guerillero continued, "give you a piece of advice ere we part."

"Pray go on, señor."

"You are still far from Puebla, where you will not arrive for two hours: be on your guard, and carefully watch the country around you."

"What do you mean, señor?"

"It is impossible to know what may happen: I repeat to you, watch."

"Farewell, señor," the young man replied mechanically as he returned his salute.

After thus courteously taking leave of the party, the guerillero placed himself at the head of his men and galloped off, though not without once more recommending the young man to be prudent by a significant gesture. The Count watched him depart with a pensive air.

"What is the matter, friend?" Dominique asked him.

Ludovic told him what Cuellar had said to him on taking leave.

The vaquero frowned. "There is something in the background," he said; "in any case the advice is good and we should do wrong to neglect it."


CHAPTER XVIII.

THE AMBUSH.


For some minutes after the departure of the guerillero, the melancholy caravan silently continued its journey. The last words uttered by Cuellar had gone home, however: the Count and the vaquero felt involuntarily restless, and without daring to impart their gloomy presentiments to each other, they advanced with excessive prudence, sniffing the air, so to speak, and starting at the least suspicious movement in the bushes. It was a little past five a.m.: it was that moment when nature appears to be sunk in contemplation, and when day and night, struggling together with almost equal force, melt into each other and produce that opaline gleam, whose misty tints impart to objects a vague and undetermined appearance, which renders them somewhat fantastic. A greyish vapour rose from the ground and produced a transparent fog, which the sunbeams, gradually growing in intensity, rent at spots, lighting up one part of the landscape and leaving the other in shadow: in a word, it was no longer night and not yet day. In the distance the numerous domes of the buildings of Puebla appeared, standing out in confused masses against the dark blue sky: the trees, washed by the abundant night dew, had grown green: on each leaf trembled a crystalline drop of water and their branches agitated by the morning breeze, smote each other softly with mysterious murmurings: already the small birds concealed beneath the foliage were uttering twitterings, and the wild oxen raised their heads above the tall grass with hoarse lowings. The fugitives were following a winding track beset on either side by factitious embankments, thrown up for the cultivation of the agave, which limited the horizon to an extremely narrow circle, and prevented that careful survey of the environs, which was perhaps necessary for the general safety of the caravan. The Count approached Dominique, and leaning over the saddle, said in a low cautious voice:

"My friend, I know not why, but I feel an extreme anxiety: the farewell of that bandit painfully affected me: it seems to forebode a speedy, terrible and inevitable misfortune for us, and yet we are only a short distance from the town, and the tranquillity that prevails around us ought to reassure me."

"It is this tranquillity," the young man replied in the same key, "which causes me like yourself indescribable agony: I too have a presentiment of a misfortune; we are here in a wasp's nest, and no place would be better for an ambush."

"What is to be done?" the Count muttered.

"I do not know exactly, for it is a difficult case: still I feel convinced that we ought to redouble our prudence. Place Don Andrés and his daughter in front, warn the peons to march with finger on trigger, and be ready for the slightest alarm: in the meanwhile, I will go out scouting and if the enemy is pursuing us, I will contrive to throw him off the track: but we must not lose a single instant."

While speaking thus, the vaquero dismounted, threw his bridle to a peon, placed his gun on his left arm and ascended the right hand embankment, where he almost immediately disappeared among the bushes that bordered the path.

When left alone, the Count immediately set about following his friend's advice: he consequently formed a rearguard of the most resolute and best armed peons, and gave them orders attentively to watch the approaches; but he concealed from them, through fear of terrifying them, the gravity of the events he foresaw. The majordomo, as if he divined the Count's anxiety and shared his suspicions of an approaching attack, had placed Don Andrés and his daughter in the centre of a small group of devoted servants, of whom he took the command, and hurrying on the horses, he left an interval of about one hundred yards between himself and the main body. Doña Dolores, overwhelmed by the terrible emotions of the night, had paid very slight attention to the arrangements made by her friends, and mechanically followed the new impulse given her, in all probability unconscious of the new dangers that menaced her, and only thinking of one thing, watching over her father, whose state of prostration was becoming more and more alarming. In fact, since his departure from the hacienda, in spite of his daughter's entreaties, Don Andrés had not uttered a syllable, with fixed, lacklustre eyes, with his head bowed on his chest and his body agitated by a continuous nervous trembling, he left his horse to guide itself, without appearing to know whither he was going, so utterly had sorrow broken all his energy and will.

Leo Carral, who was devoted to his master and young mistress and who understood how incapable the old gentleman would be of offering the slightest resistance in the probable event of an attack, had especially recommended the servants he selected to serve as an escort to Don Andrés, not to lose sight of him; and in the event of a combat, to make every possible effort to draw him out of the medley, and protect him as far as possible from danger: then at a signal the Count gave him, he turned back and rejoined him.

"I see," the Count said, "that like myself you have a foreboding of danger."

The majordomo shook his head. "Don Melchior will not give up the game," he replied, "until he has either won or utterly lost it."

"Do you then suspect him to be capable of a horrible trap?"

"This man is capable of anything."

"Why, in that case he is a monster."

"No," the majordomo replied gently, "he is a mixed blood, an envious and proud man, who knows that fortune alone can obtain him the apparent consideration which he covets: all means will be right to obtain this consideration."

"Even parricide?"

"Exactly."

"What you tell me is horrible."

"What would you have, señor? It is so."

"Thank Heaven, we are approaching Puebla, and once inside the town we shall have nothing more to fear."

"Yes, but we are not there yet: you know the proverb as well as I do, Excellency."

"What proverb?"

"That twixt the cup and the lip there's many a slip."

"I hope that this time you will be mistaken."

"I wish it, too: but you called me, Excellency?"

"Yes; I had a hint to give you."

"I am anxious to hear it."

"In the case of our being attacked, I insist that you leave us to our own resources, and escape at full speed towards Puebla, taking with you Don Andrés and his daughter, while we are fighting. Perhaps you will have time to place them in safety behind the walls of the town."

"I will obey you, Excellency. No one shall reach my master without passing over my corpse. Have you nothing more to say to me?"

"No. Return to your post; and may Heaven be gracious to us!"

The majordomo bowed, and galloped up to the small troop, in the centre of whom were Don Andrés and his daughter. Almost at the same moment Dominique reappeared on the side of the track: he fetched his horse, and then stationed himself on the Count's right.

"Well," the latter asked him, "have you discovered anything?"

"Yes, and no," he replied, in a low voice.

His face was gloomy, his eyebrows contracted till they joined. The Count examined him attentively for a moment, and felt his alarm redoubled.

"Explain yourself," he at length said to him.

"What is the use? You will not understand me."

"Perhaps not; but speak all the same."

"This is the fact. The plain is completely deserted on our right, left, and rear; I am certain of that. If the danger really exists, it is not to be feared in those quarters. If a trap is laid for us—if ambushed enemies are prepared to rush upon us, this trap is ahead; these enemies are concealed between the town and us."

"What makes you suppose this?"

"Signs which are certain to me, and which my long residence among the Indians made me recognise at the first glance. In the regions where we now are, men generally neglect all the precautions employed on the prairies, the forgetfulness of one of which would entail the immediate death of the imprudent hunter or warrior who had thus revealed his presence to his enemy. Here the trail is easy to recognise, and easier to follow, for it is perfectly visible even to the most inexperienced eye. Listen carefully to this:—since we left the hacienda, we have been—I will not say followed, for the term is not correct under the circumstances—but accompanied on our right by a large party of horsemen, who galloped in the same direction as ourselves at the distance of a gunshot at the most. These men, whoever they may be, wheeled about half a league from here, drawing slightly nearer to our left, as if they wished to approach us; but then doubled their pace, passed us, and entered, ahead of us, the track on which we now are, so that we are following them at this moment."

"And you conclude from this?"

"That the situation is dangerous, even critical; and that whatever precautions we may take, I am greatly afraid that we have to deal with too strong a party. Remark how the path gradually contracts—how the sides become scarped. We are now in a canyon, and in a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes at the most, we shall reach the spot where the canyon opens out into the plain. It is there, be assured, that our watchers are waiting for us."

"My good fellow, this is only too clear. Unluckily, we have no way of escaping the fate that menaces us, and we must push on all the same."

"I know it, and it is that which vexes me," the vaquero said with a suppressed sigh, as he cast a side glance at Doña Dolores. "If the question only concerned us, it would be soon settled, for we are men, and could fall bravely; but will our death save that old man and that poor innocent girl?"

"At least, we will attempt impossibilities to keep them from falling into the hands of their persecutors."

"We are now approaching the suspicious point, so let us push on, to be ready for any event."

They forced their horses into a gallop. A few minutes passed, and they then reached a spot where the path, before entering the plain, made a rather sharp elbow.

"Look out," the Count said, in a low voice.

All placed their finger on the trigger. The elbow was passed, but suddenly the whole cavalcade halted with a start of surprise and terror. The entrance of the canyon was barred by a strong barricade, composed of branches, trees, and stones, thrown across the path. Behind this barricade some twenty men were standing motionless and threatening. The weapons of other men crowning the heights on the right and left could be seen glistening in the beams of the rising sun. A horseman was standing in the centre of the path, a little in front of the barricade. It was Don Melchior.

"Ah! Ah!" he said, with an ironical grin; "Each his turn, caballeros. I believe that I am at this moment master of the situation, and in a position to offer conditions."

The Count, without being in the slightest degree disconcerted, drew a few paces nearer.

"Take care of what you are going to do, señor," he replied; "a treaty was loyally concluded between your chief and us. Any infraction of that treaty would be an act of treachery, and the dishonour would fall on your chief."

"Good!" Don Melchior retorted; "We are partizans, and carry on war in our fashion, without troubling ourselves about what people may think. Instead of entering into an idle discussion, which would not be favourable to you, I fancy it would be more sensible to inform you on what conditions I will consent to let you pass."

"Conditions! We will not accept a single one, caballero; and if you do not consent to let us pass, we may compel you to do so, however serious the consequences of a struggle may be for both of us."

"Try it!" he replied, with an ironical smile.

"We are going to do so."

Don Melchior shrugged his shoulders, and turning to his partizans, shouted,—

"Fire!"

A frightful detonation was heard, and a shower of bullets hustled round the little party.

"Forward! Forward!" the Count cried.

The peons rushed with yells of anger against the barricade. The struggle began—a terrible, fearful struggle; for the peons knew that no quarter would be granted them by their ferocious adversaries, and they fought accordingly, performing prodigies of valour—not to conquer, for they did not believe that possible—but not to fall unavenged. Don Andrés had torn himself from the arms of his daughter, who tried in vain to retain him; and, only armed with a machete, boldly threw himself into the thickest of the fight. The attack of the peons was so impetuous, that the barricade was crossed at the first bound, and the two parties fought hand to hand, being too near each other to employ either guns or pistols.

The partisans stationed on the heights were necessarily reduced to inaction through fear of wounding their friends, as the two bands were so mixed up. Don Melchior was far from expecting such a vigorous resistance on the part of the peons: owing to the advantageous position he had chosen, he had believed the victory easy and reckoned on immediate submission. The event singularly deranged his calculations, and he was beginning to see the consequences of his action. Cuellar, who would doubtless have forgiven an act of treachery accomplished without striking a blow, would not pardon him for letting his bravest soldiers be thus madly killed. These thoughts redoubled Don Melchior's rage. The small troop, horribly decimated, now only counted a few men capable of fighting, the rest were either killed or wounded.

Don Andrés' horse had been killed and the old gentleman, though his blood poured from two wounds, did not the less continue to fight. All at once he uttered a fearful cry of despair: Don Melchior had dashed with a tiger's bound into the centre of the group where Doña Dolores had sought shelter. Hurling down all the peons who came in his way, Don Melchior seized the girl, in spite of her resistance, threw her across his horse's neck, and clearing all obstacles, fled, without troubling himself further about the combat sustained by his comrades. The latter, on seeing themselves thus abandoned, gave up a fight which no longer possessed any object for them, and doubtless, in pursuance of an order previously given them, dispersed in all directions, leaving the peons at liberty to continue their journey to Puebla, if such were their desire. The abduction of Doña Dolores had been so rapidly performed by Don Melchior that no one noticed it at the first moment, and the cry of despair uttered by Don Andrés alone gave the alarm. Without calculating the dangers to which they exposed themselves, the Count and the majordomo dashed in pursuit of Don Melchior. But the young man who was mounted on a valuable horse, had a considerable advance on their tired steeds, which was augmented every instant. Dominique cast a glance at Don Andrés, who had thrown himself on the ground, and raised him gently saying,

"Have good, hopes, señor, I will save your daughter."

The old gentleman clasped his hands, and after looking at him with an expression of unspeakable gratitude fainted away. The vaquero remounted his horse, and driving his spurs into his flanks, he left Don Andrés in the hands of his servants, and in his turn started in pursuit of the abductor. Shortly after the pursuit began, the vaquero acquired the certainty that Don Melchior who was better mounted than himself and his comrades, would speedily be out of reach. The young man, who had hitherto galloped in a straight line across country, suddenly made a sharp whirl, as if an unforeseen obstacle had suddenly risen before him; and keeping to the right he seemed for some minutes desirous of reapproaching his pursuers. The latter then tried to bar his passage. Dominique stopped his horse and dismounted, and cocked his gun.

According to the direction Don Melchior was following at this moment, he must pass within a hundred yards of him. The vaquero made the sign of the cross, shouldered his gun and pulled the trigger. Don Melchior's horse, struck in the head, rolled on the ground, dragging down the rider in its fall. At the same moment, some thirty partizans appeared in the distance, galloping at full speed toward the scene of the ambuscade. Cuellar galloped at their head. Great as was the haste displayed by the Count and the majordomo to reach the spot where Don Melchior was lying, Cuellar arrived, before them. Don Melchior rose, much hurt by his fall, and leant down to his sister to help her to rise: Doña Dolores had fainted.

"By heavens, señor," Cuellar said in a rough voice, "you are a rude comrade, you practise treachery and ambushes with a rare talent, but may the fiend twist my neck sooner than he ought to do, if we ride any longer in company."

"You select your time badly for jesting, señor," Don Melchior replied; "this young lady, who is my sister, has fainted."

"Whose fault is it," the partisans exclaimed brutally, "except your own? With the mere object of carrying her off for I know what purpose, you have had twenty of the most resolute men in my cuadrilla killed. But things shall not go on so. I will put them in order, I vow."

"What do you mean?" Don Melchior asked haughtily.

"I mean that you will henceforth do me the great pleasure of going wherever you like, so long as it is not with us, and that I intend from this moment to have nothing more in common with you. This is clear, is it not?"

"Perfectly clear, señor, and hence I will not abuse your patience any longer: supply me with the requisite horses for my sister and myself, and I will leave you immediately."

"Hang me if I supply you with anything: as for this young lady, here are several gentlemen coming who, I am afraid, will hardly let you take her away with you."

Don Melchior turned pale with rage, but he comprehended that any resistance on his part was impossible: he folded his arms on his chest, drew himself up haughtily and waited. The Count, the majordomo, and Dominique were really hurrying up. Cuellar walked some paces toward them—and the young man felt rather anxious, for they did not know the partisan's intentions, and apprehended that he might declare against them.

But Cuellar hastened to disabuse them: "You arrive opportunely, señores," he said with a kindly accent: "I hope that you have not done me the insult of supposing that I was in any way connected with the trap to which you so nearly fell victims."

"We did not believe it for a moment, señor," the Count politely replied.

"I thank you for the good opinion you entertain of me, señores: of course you have come to request that this young lady may be delivered to you."

"That is certainly our intention, señor."

"And if I refuse to let you remove her," Don Melchior said fiercely.

"I shall blow out your brains, señor," the partisan coolly interrupted. "Believe me, you had better not try to contend with me, but rather profit by my present good temper to be off: for I might soon repent of this last reproof of my kindness I give you, and abandon you to your enemies."

"Be it so," Don Melchior remarked bitterly; "I will retire since I am compelled to do so;" and looking at the Count disdainfully, he added, "We shall meet again, señor, and then I hope, if the strength is not entirely on my side, that at least the chances will be equal."

"You have already been mistaken on that point, señor; I have too much confidence in God to believe that it will not always be so."

"We shall see," he replied in a hollow voice, falling back a few paces as if to withdraw.

"And your father—do you not wish to know what the result of your ambush has been with him?" Dominique then asked him in a tone of dull menace.

"I have no father," Don Melchior replied savagely.

"No," the Count exclaimed in disgust, "for you have killed him."

The young man shuddered, a livid pallor covered, his face, a bitter smile contracted his thin lips, and casting a venomous glance at those who surrounded him, he cried in a choking voice—"Make way; I accept this new insult; make way for the parricide."

Everybody recoiled with horror watching this monster, who departed across the plain, apparently calm and peaceful. Cuellar himself watched him retire with a shake of the head.

"That man is a demon," he muttered, and crossed himself.

This gesture was piously imitated by the soldiers. Doña Dolores was gently raised in Dominique's arms, placed on the Count's horse, and the young men, escorted by Cuellar, returned to Don Andrés. The peons had bound up their master's wounds to the best of their ability. By the Count's orders, they then made a litter of branches, which they covered with their zarapés, and the old gentleman was laid on it by his daughter's side. Don Andrés was still unconscious. Cuellar then took leave of the Count.

"I regret more than I can express this unfortunate event," he said with some degree of sadness. "Although this man is a Spaniard, and consequently an enemy of Mexico, still the lamentable state to which I see him reduced fills me with compassion."

The young men thanked the rough partisan for this proof of sympathy, and after collecting their wounded, they finally took leave of him, and sadly recommenced their journey to Puebla, where they arrived two hours later, accompanied by several relations of Don Andrés, who, warned by a peon sent on ahead, had come out to meet them.


CHAPTER XIX

COMPLICATIONS.


Loïck ended his narrative. The ranchero's story had been a long one. Don Jaime listened, to it from one end to the other without interruption, with a cold and impassive face, but with flashing eyes.

"Is that all?" he asked Loïck, turning to him.

"Yes, all, Excellency."

"In what way were you so well informed of the slightest details of this awful catastrophe?"

"It was Domingo himself who related the events to me; he was half mad with rage and grief, and knowing that I was going to you, he ordered me to repeat to you—"

Don Jaime sharply interrupted him.

"Very good; did Domingo give you no other message for me?" he asked, fixing on him a fiery glance.

The ranchero became confused.

"Excellency," he stammered.

"Confound the Briton," the adventurer exclaimed; "what cause have you to tremble so? Come, speak or choke."

"Excellency," he said resolutely, "I am afraid I have done a stupid thing."

"By Heaven! I suspected it, if only from your air of contrition. Well, what is this folly?"

"It is," he continued, "that Domingo appeared in such despair at not knowing where to find you—he seemed to have such a desire to speak to you, that—"

"That you could not hold your tongue, and revealed to him—"

"Where you live; yes, Excellency."

After this confession, the ranchero bowed his head, as if he felt inwardly convinced that he had committed a great fault. There was a silence.

"Of course you told him under what name I concealed myself in this house?" Don Jaime continued a moment after.

"Hang it!" Loïck said simply, "if I had not done so he would have had a difficulty in finding you, Excellency."

"That is true; he is coming then?"

"I fear it."

"It is well."

Don Jaime walked up and down the room reflecting, then approaching Loïck, who was still motionless at his place, he asked him—

"Did you come alone to Mexico?"

"Lopez accompanied me, Excellency; but I have left him at a pulquería near the Belem gate, where he is waiting for me."

"Good, you will join him there, but say nothing to him; in an hour, not sooner, you will return here with him, perhaps I shall want you both."

"Good," he said, rubbing his hands; "all right, Excellency, we shall come."

"Now, be off."

"Pardon, Excellency, I have a note to deliver to you."

"A note! From whom?"

Loïck felt in his dolman, drew out a carefully sealed letter, and handed it to Don Jaime.

"Here it is," he said.

The adventurer took a glance at the address.

"Don Estevan!" he exclaimed with a cry of joy, and eagerly broke the seal.

The note, though short, was written in cypher—it was to the following effect:—

"Everything is going on admirably; our man is coming of his own accord to the bait held out to him. Saturday, midnight, peral."

"Hope!"

"CORDOVA."

Don Jaime tore the note up into imperceptible pieces.

"What day is this?" he suddenly asked Loïck.

"Today?" he repeated, startled by this question, which he did not at all anticipate.

"Ass! I suppose I did not mean yesterday or tomorrow."

"That is true, Excellency—this is Tuesday."

"Why could you not say so at once?"

Don Jaime again walked up and down the room in deep thought.

"Can I go?" Loïck ventured.

"You ought to have gone ten minutes ago," he answered sharply.

The ranchero did not require a repetition of this injunction. He bowed, and retired. Don Jaime remained alone, but at the end of a minute the door opened, and the two ladies came in again. Their faces were anxious, and they timidly approached the adventurer.

"You have received bad news, Don Jaime?" Doña Maria asked.

"Alas! Yes, sister," he answered, "very bad indeed."

"May we hear it?"

"I have no reason for concealing it from you; and, besides, it concerns people whom you love."

"Heavens!" said Doña Carmen, clasping her hands, "Can it be Dolores?"

"Dolores—yes, my child," Don Jaime answered; "Dolores, your friend; the Hacienda del Arenal has been surprised and burnt by the Juarists."

"Oh, Heavens!" the two ladies exclaimed sorrowfully; "Poor Dolores! And Don Andrés?"

"He is dangerously wounded,"

"Thank God, he is not dead."

"He is not much better."

"Where are they at this moment?"

"Sheltered in Puebla, where they arrived under the escort of some of their peons, commanded by Leo Carral."

"Oh! He is a devoted servant."

"But had he been alone, I doubt whether he would have succeeded in saving his masters; fortunately Don Andrés had at the hacienda two French gentlemen, the Count de la Saulnay."

"The gentleman who is going to marry Dolores?" Doña Carmen said eagerly.

"Yes, and the Baron Charles de Meriadec, attaché to the French embassy; it appears that these two young men performed prodigies of valour, and that it was through their bravery that our friends escaped the horrible fate which threatened them."

"May God bless them!" Doña Maria exclaimed; "Though I do not know them, I already feel an interest in them as if they were old friends."

"You will soon know one of them at least."

"Ah!" the young lady said curiously.

"Yes, I expect the Baron de Meriadec at any moment."

"We will receive him to the best of our ability."

"I wish you to do so."

"But Dolores cannot remain at Puebla."

"That is my opinion. I intend to go to her."

"Why could she not come to us?" Doña Carmen said; "She would be in safety here, and her father should not want for a nurse."

"What you are saying, Carmen, is very judicious; perhaps it would be as well for her to live for some time with you. I will think over it; before all, I must see Don Andrés, that I may convince myself of the state he is in, and whether he can be removed."

"Brother," Doña Maria observed, "I notice that you have told us about Dolores and her father, but you have not said a word about Don Melchior."

Don Jaime's face suddenly grew dark at this remark, and his features were contracted.

"Can any misfortune have happened to him?" Doña Maria exclaimed.

"Would to Heaven it were so!" he replied with a sadness mingled with anger; "Never speak to me about that man—he is a monster."

"Great Heaven! You terrify me, Don Jaime."

"I told you, I think, that the Hacienda del Arenal was surprised by the guerilleros."

"Yes," she said, quivering with emotion.

"Do you know who commanded the Juarists and served as their guide? Don Melchior de la Cruz."

"Oh!" the two ladies exclaimed in horror.

"Afterwards, when Don Andrés and his daughter obtained permission to retire safe and sound to Puebla, a man laid a snare for them a short distance from the town, and treacherously attacked them: this man was once again Don Melchior."

"Oh, this is horrible!" They said, as they hid their faces in their hands and burst into sobs.

"Is it not?" he continued; "The more horrible, as Don Melchior had coldly calculated on his father's death, that he wished by a parricide to seize his sister's fortune, a fortune to which he had no claim, and which the approaching marriage of Doña Dolores will entirely strip from him, or, at least, he believed so."

"This man is a monster!" said Doña Maria.

The two ladies were terrified by this announcement. Their intimacy with the de la Cruz family was great, the two younger ladies having been almost brought up together; they loved each other like sisters, although though Doña Carmen was a little older than Doña Dolores, hence the news of the misfortune which had so suddenly burst on Don Andrés filled them with grief. Doña Maria warmly urged Don Jaime to have Don Andrés and his daughter conveyed to Mexico and lodged in her house, when Doña Dolores would find that care and consolation which she must need so greatly after such a disaster.

"I will see, I will strive to satisfy you," Don Jaime replied; "still, I dare not promise you anything as yet. I intend to start this very day for Puebla, and if I were not expecting a visit from Baron de Meriadec I should set out at once."

"It would be the first time," Doña Maria said gently, "that I should see you leave us almost without regret."

Don Jaime smiled. At this moment they heard the outer gate opened, and a horse's hoofs re-echo in the zaguán.

"Here is the Baron," said the adventurer, and he went to meet his visitor.

It was really Dominique. Don Jaime offered him his hand, and giving him a significant glance, said in French, which language the ladies spoke very well—

"You are welcome, my dear Baron; I was impatiently expecting you."

The young man understood that he was to retain his incognito till fresh orders.

"I am really sorry at having kept you waiting, my dear Don Jaime," he answered, "but I have come at full speed from Puebla, and do not tell you anything new in saying that it is a long journey."

"I know it," Don Jaime remarked with a smile; "but let me introduce you to two ladies who desire to know you, and let us not remain any longer here."

"Ladies," Don Jaime said as he entered, "allow me to introduce to you Baron Charles de Meriadec, attaché to the French Embassy, one of my best friends, to whom I have before alluded. My dear Baron, I have the honour to present to you Doña Maria, my sister, and Doña Carmen, my niece."

Although the adventurer omitted, no doubt purposely, one-half of the ladies' names, the young man did not appear to notice it, and bowed respectfully.

"Now," Don Jaime resumed gaily, "you are one of the family; you are acquainted with our Spanish hospitality: if you require anything, speak; we are all at your service."

They sat down, and while taking refreshments, conversed—

"You can speak quite openly, Baron," Don Jaime said; "these ladies are aware of the frightful events at the hacienda."

"More frightful than you suppose, I fancy," the young man said; "and since you take an interest in this unhappy family, I am afraid to add to your grief, and be a messenger of evil tidings."

"We are intimately connected with Don Andrés de la Cruz and his charming daughter," Doña Maria observed.

"In that case, madam, forgive me if I have only bad news to impart to you."

The young man hesitated.

"Oh, speak! Speak!"

"I have only a few words to say: the Juarists have seized Puebla; the town surrendered to the first summons."

"The cowards!" the adventurer said, smiting the table with his fist.

"Were you ignorant of it?"

"Yes; I believed it to be still held by Miramón."

"The first business of the Juarists was, according to their invariable custom, to plunder and imprison the foreigners, and more especially the Spaniards residing in the town. Some were even shot without the pretence of a trial; the prisons are crowded; they have been obliged to employ several convents in which to bestow their prisoners. Terror reigns at Puebla."

"Go on, my friend; and Don Andrés?"

"Don Andrés, as, of course, you are aware, is dangerously wounded."

"Yes, I know it."

"His state admits of but slight hopes; the governor of the town, in spite of the representations of the notables and the entreaties of all honest people, had Don Andrés arrested as convicted of high treason—those are the very words of the warrant—in spite of the tears of his daughter and all his friends, he had been removed to the dungeons of the old Inquisition; the house occupied by Don Andrés has been plundered and destroyed."

"Why, this is frightful! It is barbarity!"

"Oh, that is nothing as yet."

"How, nothing?"

"Don Andrés was tried, and as he protested his innocence, in spite of all the efforts of the judges to make him condemn himself, he was subjected to torture."

"To torture!" the hearers exclaimed with a start of horror.

"Yes; this wounded, dying old man was suspended by the thumbs, and received the strappado on two different occasions. In spite of this martyrdom his torturers did not succeed in making him confess the crimes with which they charge him, and of which he is innocent."

"Oh, this surpasses all credence!" Don Jaime exclaimed; "And of course the hapless man is dead?"

"Not yet; or, at least, he was not so on my departure from Puebla. He had not even been condemned, for his murderers are in no hurry; time is their own, and they are playing with their victim."

"And Dolores!" Doña Carmen exclaimed; "Poor Dolores! How she must suffer!"

"Doña Dolores has disappeared; she has been carried off."

"Disappeared!" Don Jaime shouted in a voice of thunder; "And you still live to tell me of it?"

"I did all I could to be killed," he replied simply, "but did not succeed."

"Ah! I will find her again," the adventurer continued, "and the Count, what is he doing?"

"He is in a state of despair and is seeking her, aided by Leo Carral: while I came to you."

"You did well: I shall not fail you. Then the Count and Leo Carral have remained at Puebla?"

"Leo Carral alone. The Count was obliged to fly in order to escape the pursuit of the Juarists and has taken shelter at the rancho with his servants: every day his youngest valet Ibarru, I think that is his name, goes to the town to arrange measures with the majordomo."

"Was it from your own impulse that you came to me?"

"Yes, but I first consulted with the Count, as I did not like to act without having his advice."

"You were right, sister, prepare a suitable apartment for Doña Dolores."

"You will bring her back then?" the two ladies exclaimed.

"Yes, or perish."

"Shall we be off?" the young man cried impatiently.

"In a moment, I expect Loïck and Lopez."

"Is Loïck here?"

"It may be he who brought me the news about the surprise of the hacienda."

"It was I who sent him."

"I am aware of it. Your horse is fatigued, you will leave it here, when it will be taken care of, and I will give you another."

"Very good."

"Of course you heard the names of Don Andrés' principal persecutors?"

"They are three in number, the first is the first secretary, the tool of the new governor, his name is Don Antonio de Cacerbas."

"You have a lucky hand," the adventurer said ironically, "that is the man whose life you so philanthropically saved."

The young man uttered a roar like a tiger, "I will kill him," he said hoarsely.

Don Jaime gave him a glance of surprise.

"Then, you hate him thoroughly?" he asked him.

"Even his death will not satisfy me: the man's conduct is strange: he suddenly arrived in the town two days after the army: he only appeared and then went off again, leaving behind him a long train of blood."

"We shall find him again: who is the second?"

"Have you not guessed him already?"

"Don Melchior, I suppose."

"Yes."

"In that case, I know where to find Doña Dolores: it was he who carried her off."

"It is probable."

"And the third?"

"The third is a young man with a handsome face, soft voice, and noble manners, more terrible than both the others, it is said, though he has no official title: he seems to hold great power and passes for a secret agent of Juárez."

"His name?"

"Don Diego Izaguirre."

The adventurer's face brightened.

"Good," he said with a smile, "the affair is not so desperate as I feared; we shall succeed."

"Do you think so?"

"I am sure of it."

"May heaven hear you!" the two ladies exclaimed with clasped hands.

Doña Maria, ever since the arrival of the pretended baron, had been suffering from an extraordinary feeling, while the young man was conversing with Don Jaime. She gazed at him with strange intentness, she felt her eyes fill with tears and her bosom oppressed, she could not at all understand the emotion which was caused her by the sight and voice of this elegant young man, whom she now saw for the first time; in vain did she search her recollections to discover where she had already heard his voice, whose accent had something so sweetly sympathetic about it that went straight to her heart. She studied the handsome manly face of the vaquero, as if she were to discover in his features a fugitive resemblance to someone she had formerly known: but everything was a chaos in her memory, an insurmountable barrier seemed to be raised between the present and the past, as if to prove to her that she was allowing herself to be overpowered by a wild hope, and that the man who was before her, was really a stranger to her. Don Jaime attentively followed on Doña Maria's face the different feelings that were in turn reflected on it; but whatever his opinion on the subject might be, he remained cold, impassive, and apparently indifferent to the interludes of this family drama, which, however, must interest him to the highest degree. Loïck arrived followed by Lopez: a fresh horse was saddled for Dominique.

"Let us go," the adventurer said as he rose, "time presses."

The young man took leave of the ladies.

"You will return, will you not, sir?" Doña Maria graciously asked him.

"You are a thousand times too kind, madam," he answered, "I shall consider it a happiness to avail myself of your delightful invitation."

They left the room, Doña Maria seized her brother's arm.

"One word, Don Jaime," she said to him in a trembling voice.

"Speak, sister."

"Do you know this young man?"

"Intimately."

"Is he really a French gentleman?"

"He passes for such," he replied, looking at her intently.

"I was mad," she murmured, as she let go the arm she had hitherto held, and heaved a sigh.

Don Jaime went out without another word. Ere long the hoofs of the four horses urged at their full speed could be heard clattering in the street.


CHAPTER XX.

THE SURPRISE


They galloped thus till night without exchanging a word. At sunset they reached a ruined rancho, standing like a sentry, on the skirt of the road. The adventurer made a sign and the riders pulled up their horses. A man came out of the rancho, looked at them, without saying a word, and then went in again. Some minutes elapsed; the man reappeared, but this time he came from behind the rancho, and was leading two horses by the bridle. These horses were saddled. The adventurer and Dominique leapt down, removed their alforjas and pistols, placed them on the fresh horses and remounted. The man returned a second time with other two horses, which Loïck and Lopez mounted. The man, still silent, collected the bridles of the four horses, and went off dragging them after him.

"Forwards!" Don Jaime cried.

They set out once more. The silent and rapid ride recommenced. The night was gloomy and the riders glided through the shadows like phantoms. All night they galloped thus. At about five a.m. they changed horses again at a half-ruined rancho. These men seemed made of iron; though they had been fifteen hours in the saddle, fatigue bad no hold on them. Not a word had been exchanged between them during this long ride.

At about ten o'clock in the morning, they saw the domes of Puebla glittering in the dazzling sunbeams. They had covered one hundred and twenty-six miles that separated that town from Mexico, in twenty hours, along almost impracticable roads. At about half a league from, the town, instead of continuing to advance in a straight line, at a sign from the adventurer, they turned off and entered a scarce traced path that ran through a wood. For an hour they galloped after Don Jaime, who had taken the lead of the cavalcade. They thus reached a rather extensive clearing, in the centre of which stood an euramada.

"We have arrived," said the adventurer, checking his horse and dismounting. "We will establish our headquarters here temporarily."

His companions leaped down and prepared to unsaddle their horses.

"Wait," he continued. "Loïck, you will go to your rancho, where the Count de la Saulnay and his servants are at present, and bring them here. You, Lopez, will fetch our provisions."

"Are we two going to wait under this euramada, then?" Dominique asked.

"No; for I am going to Puebla."

"Do you not fear being recognised?"

The adventurer smiled. Don Jaime and the vaquero were left alone. They removed their horses' bridles so that they might graze freely on the tender grass of the clearing.

"Follow me," said Don Jaime.

Dominique obeyed. They went under the euramada. This is the name given in Mexico to a species of shapeless hut formed of interlaced branches, and covered with other branches and leaves; these tenements, though of very paltry appearance, offer a very sufficient shelter against rain and sunshine. This euramada, better built than the others, was divided into two compartments by a hurdle of intertwined branches, which mounted to the roof and divided the hut into two equal parts. Don Jaime did not stop in the first compartment, but passed straight into the second, still followed by Dominique, who for some moments past seemed to be plunged into serious reflections. The adventurer disturbed a pile of grass and dry leaves, and drawing his machete, began digging up the ground. Dominique looked at him in amazement.

"What are you doing there?" he asked him.

"As you see, I am clearing the entrance of a vault; come and help me," he answered.

Both set to work. Ere long appeared a large flat stone, in the centre of which a ring was fixed. When the stone was removed, steps, clumsily cut in the rock, became visible.

"Come down," said the adventurer.

He had lighted a lamp by means of a lucifer match. Dominique cast a curious glance around him. The spot where he was, situated some seven or eight yards under ground, formed a sort of octagonal hall of very considerable dimensions; four galleries, which seemed to run further underground, entered at so many different points. This hall was amply supplied with weapons of every description; there were also harness, clothes, a bed made of leaves and furs, and even books on a shelf hanging against the side.

"You see one of my dens," the adventurer said with a smile. "I possess several like this scattered all over Mexico. This vault dates from the time of the Aztecs, and its existence was revealed to me several years ago by an aged Indian. You are aware that the province in which we now are, was anciently the sacred territory of the Mexican religion, and temples swarmed on it; the numberless underground passages were used by the priests to go from one place to another without being discovered, and thus give greater force to miracles of ubiquity which they pretended to accomplish. At a later date, they served, a refuge to the Indians persecuted by the Spanish conquerors. The one we are now in, which runs on one side to the pyramid of Cholula, and on the other to the very heart of Puebla without counting other issues, was on several occasions extremely useful to the Mexican insurgents during the war of Independence—now its existence is forgotten, and the secret is only known to myself and to you now."

The vaquero had listened to this explanation with the most lively interest.

"Pardon me," he said, "but there is one thing that I do not exactly understand."

"What is it?"

"You told me just now that if anyone arrived by chance, we should be at once warned?"

"Yes, I did say so."

"I do not at all understand how this can be."

"Very simply. You see that gallery, do you not?"

"Yes."

"It terminates with a sort of outlook about a yard square, covered with shrubs, and impossible to detect at the very entrance of the path by which it is alone possible to enter the wood; now, by a singular effect of acoustics, which I shall not at all attempt to explain, all sounds, of whatever nature they may be, even the slightest, which are produced near that outlook are immediately repeated here, with such distinctness, that it is most easy to recognize their nature."

"Oh! In that case I am no longer alarmed."

"Moreover, when the persons we expect have arrived, we will stop up this hole, which will be useless to us, and leave by the gallery that opens there in front of you."

While giving these explanations to his friend, the adventurer had doffed a portion of his garments.

"What are you doing?" Dominique asked.

"I am disguising myself, in order to go and find out how matters stand at Puebla. The inhabitants of that town are very religious; monasteries are numerous there, and hence I am going to put on a Camaldoli dress, by favour of which I can attend to my business without fear of attracting attention."

The vaquero had sat down on the furs, and was reflecting with his back against the wall.

"What is the matter, Dominique? You appear to me preoccupied and sad?" Don Jaime asked him a moment after.

The young man started as if a viper had suddenly stung him.

"I am, in truth, sad, master," he muttered.

"Have I not told you that we shall find Doña Dolores again?" he continued.

Dominique quivered, and his face became livid; "Master," he said, as he rose, and hung his head, "despise me, I am a coward."

"You a coward, Domingo! Good God, you speak falsely."

"No, master, I am telling the truth, I have misunderstood my duty, betrayed my friend, and forgotten your recommendations." He gave a profound sigh. "I love the betrothed wife of my friend," he added feebly.

The adventurer fixed his bright eyes on him, "I was aware of it," he said.

Domingo started and exclaimed in alarm, "You knew it?"

"I did," Don Jaime continued, "And you do not despise me?"

"Why should I? Are we masters of our heart?"

"But she is betrothed to the Count, my friend."

The adventurer made no answer to this exclamation. "And does she love you in return?" he asked.

"How can I tell?" he exclaimed, "I have hardly dared to confess it to myself."

There was a lengthened silence. While putting on his monastic garb, the adventurer examined the young man aside. "The Count does not love Doña Dolores?" he at length said.

"What! Can it be possible?" he exclaimed, hotly. Don Jaime burst into a laugh.

"That is the way with lovers," he remarked, "they do not understand that others have not the same eyes as themselves."

"But he is going to marry her?"

"He ought," he said, laying a marked stress on the word.

"Did he not come to Mexico expressly for the purpose?"

"It is true."

"Then you see he will marry her in that case."

The adventurer shrugged his shoulders.

"Your conclusion is absurd," he said. "Does a man ever know what he will do? Does the morrow belong to him?"

"But since the misfortunes which have crushed Doña Dolores' family and herself, the Count has been attempting impossibilities to save the young lady."

"That proves that the Count is a perfect gentleman and man of honour, that is all. Besides, he is her relation, and is doing his duty in trying to save her, even at the risk of his life and fortune."

Dominique shrugged his shoulders several times, "He loves her," he said.

"In that case I will turn the sentence; Doña Dolores does not love him."

"You think so?"

"I am sure of it."

"Oh, if I could only persuade myself of it, I might hope."

"You are a baby. Now I am off, and do you wait for me here: swear not to leave this place till my return."

"I swear it."

"Good: I am going to work for you, so hope I shall return soon."

And giving him a last wave of the hand, the adventurer went off by a side gallery.

The young man remained pensive so long as the sound of his friend's retiring footsteps reached him, then he fell back on the bed of furs, murmuring in a low voice, "He bade me hope."

We will leave Dominique plunged in those reflections which, judging from the expression of his face, must have been agreeable, and follow Don Jaime on his adventurous expedition. As the vault was situated about half a league from the town, Don Jaime had that distance to go underground before he found himself in Puebla. But this long walk did not appear at all to alarm him: he proceeded at a round pace along the gallery into which sufficient light penetrated by invisible interstices, for him to be able to guide himself in the countless windings he was forced to make. He walked thus for about three parts of an hour, and at length reached the foot of a staircase, consisting of fifteen steps.

The adventurer stopped a moment to draw breath, and then went up. When he reached the top of the steps, he sought for a spring, which he soon found, and pressed his finger on it. Immediately an enormous stone became detached from the wall, moved noiselessly on invisible hinges, and displayed a wide passage. Don Jaime stepped out and thrust back the stone, which immediately resumed its first position in so perfect a manner, that it was impossible, even with the most earnest attention, to perceive the slightest crack or solution of continuity in the wall.

Don Jaime looked searchingly round him: he was alone. The spot where he was was a chapel of the cathedral of Puebla. The secret door through which the adventurer had passed opened on a corner of this chapel, and was concealed by a confessional. These precautions were carefully taken, and there was no risk of a discovery. Don Jaime left the church and found himself on the Plaza Mayor. It was about midday, the hour of the siesta, and the square was almost deserted. The adventurer pulled the hood over his eyes, hid his hands in his cuffs, and with his head hanging on his chest, and with a calm and contemplative step he crossed the square and entered one of the streets that ran from it.

Oliver thus reached the gate of a pretty house, standing in its own grounds, and which seemed to rise from the centre of a bouquet of orange and pomegranate trees. As this gate was only on the hasp, the adventurer pushed it, went in and closed the gate again after him. He then found himself on the sanded walk that led to the door of the house, which was raised by a few steps, and covered by a large verandah in the Mexican fashion. Oliver looked suspiciously around him, but the garden was deserted. He advanced; but instead of proceeding toward the house he struck into a side walk, and after a few turns found himself facing a door apparently belonging to the offices.

On reaching this spot Oliver took a silver whistle hanging round his neck by a thin gold chain, raised it to his lips, and produced a sweet and peculiarly modulated sound. Almost immediately a similar whistle was heard from the interior, the door opened, and a man appeared. The adventurer made him a Masonic sign, to which the other replied, and followed him into the house. Without speaking, this man guided him through several apartments till he reached a door which he opened to let the adventurer pass through, while he remained behind.

The room into which Oliver was thus introduced was elegantly furnished, large Venetian blinds interrupted the rays of the sun, the floor was covered with one of those soft pelates which the Indians alone know how to manufacture; a hammock of aloe fibre suspended by silver rings from hooks of the same material divided the room in two. A man was lying in this hammock fast asleep. It was Don Melchior de la Cruz; a knife with a curiously embossed silver hilt, with a wide long blade sharp as a viper's tongue, was placed on a low sandalwood table within reach, by the side of two magnificent revolvers.

Even in his own house, in the middle of Puebla, Don Melchior thought it right to be on his guard against a surprise or treachery. His fears, however, were not at all exaggerated, for the man who is at that moment before him might fairly be reputed one of his most formidable enemies.

The adventurer surveyed him for some minutes, then advanced softly to the hammock without producing the slightest noise. He took the revolvers, concealed them under his gown, seized the knife, and then gently touched the sleeper. Though the touch, was so light, it sufficed to arouse Don Melchior. He at once opened his eyes, and stretched out his arm to the table by a mechanical movement.

"It is useless," Oliver said to him, coldly; "the weapons are no longer there."

At the sound of this well-known voice Don Melchior sprang up as if moved by a spring, and fixing a haggard eye on the man standing motionless before him, he asked, in a voice choked by horror—

"Who are you?"

"Have you not recognized me yet?" the adventurer remarked, jeeringly.

"Who are you?" he repeated.

"Ah! You require a certainty: well, look!" and he threw back his hood on his shoulders.

"Don Adolfo!" the young man muttered, in a hollow voice.

"Why this astonishment?" the adventurer continued, in the same mocking voice. "Did you not expect me? Still, you should have supposed that I would come to seek you."

Don Melchior remained for a moment as if lost in thought. "Be it so," he at length said, "After all it is better to come to an end once for all," and he sat down again, apparently calm and careless, on the edge of the hammock.

Oliver smiled. "Very good," he said; "I would sooner see you thus: let us talk, we have time."

"Then you have not come with the intention of assassinating me?" he asked, ironically.

"Oh! What a bad thought that is of yours, my dear sir! I raise a hand against you! Oh, no! Heaven preserve me from it! That is the hangman's business, and I should be most sorry to poach on the manor of that estimable functionary."

"The fact is," he exclaimed, impetuously, "that you have entered my house as a malefactor, in disguise, of course, to assassinate me."

"You repeat yourself, and that is clumsy; if I have come to you in disguise it is because circumstances compelled me to take the precaution, that is all: moreover, I only followed your example," and suddenly changing his tone, he added—"by the by, are you satisfied with Juárez? Has he rewarded your treachery handsomely? I have heard say that he is a very greedy and mean Indian, and so, I suppose, he contented himself with making you promises?"

Don Melchior smiled disdainfully.

"Did you thus privily enter my house only to talk such trash to me?" he asked.

The adventurer rose, drew a revolver, stepped forward, and regarding him with a look of indescribable contempt, shouted, in a voice of thunder—

"No, scoundrel, I have come to blow out your brains if you refuse to reveal to me what you have done with your sister, Doña Dolores!"


CHAPTER XXI.

THE PRISONERS.


For some seconds there was a silence, pregnant with menace. The two men were standing face to face. This silence Don Melchior de la Cruz was the first to break.

"Ah, ah, ah!" he said, bursting into a hoarse laugh, and sinking again on the border of the hammock, "Was I so wrong in saying to you, my dear sir, that you entered my house for the purpose of assassinating me?"

The adventurer bit his lip savagely, and the unlucky revolver.

"Well, no!" he exclaimed, in a loud voice; "No, I repeat, I will not kill you, for you are not worthy to die by the hand of an honest man; but I will compel you to confess the truth to me."

The young man looked at him with a singular expression. "Try it," he said, with a disdainful shrug of the shoulders.

Then he began carelessly rolling in his fingers a dainty husk cigarette, lit it, and while sending up to the ceiling a puff of blue and perfumed smoke, he said—

"Come, I am waiting for you."

"Good! This is what I propose to you: you are my prisoner, well, I will restore you to liberty if you will deliver Doña Dolores, I will not say into my hands, but into those of Count de la Saulay, her cousin, whom she is going to marry immediately."

"Hum! This is serious, my dear sir; please to remember that I am my sister's legal guardian."

"How her guardian?"

"Yes, since our father is dead."

"Don Andrés de la Cruz dead?" the adventurer exclaimed, leaping up.

"Alas! Yes," the young man replied, hypocritically raising his eyes to heaven; "we had the grief of losing him the night before last, and he was buried yesterday morning; the poor old gentleman could not resist the frightful misfortunes which have overwhelmed our family. Sorrow crushed him: his end was most affecting."

There was a silence, during which Oliver walked up and down the room. All at once the adventurer stopped in front of the young man.

"Without any further circumlocution," he said to him, "will you, yes or no, restore your sister her liberty?"

"No!" Melchior replied, resolutely.

"Good," the adventurer coldly remarked; "in that case, all the worse for you."

At this moment the door opened, and a tall and elegantly-dressed young man entered the room. At the sight of this young man a cunning smile illumined Don Melchior's face.

"Eh!" he said, to himself, "Things may turn out differently from what this dear Don Adolfo supposes."

The young man bowed politely, and walked up to the master of the house, with whom he shook hands.

"I am disturbing you?" he said, taking a careless glance at the supposed monk.

"On the contrary, my dear Don Diego, you could not arrive more opportunely: but by what chance do I see you at so unusual an hour?"

"I have come to bring you good news: Count de la Saulay, your private enemy, is in our power; but, as he is a Frenchman, and certain considerations must be maintained, the general has decided to send him, under a good escort, to our most illustrious president. Another piece of good news, you are intrusted with the command of this escort."

"¡Demonios!" Don Melchior exclaimed, triumphantly, "You are a good friend. But now it is my turn: look carefully at that monk, do you recognize him? Well, this man is no other than the adventurer called Don Adolfo, Don Olivero, Don Jaime, or by a hundred names, who has so long been sought in vain."

"Can it be possible?" Don Diego exclaimed.

"It is true," Don Adolfo said.

"Within an hour you will be dead—shot like a traitor and bandit!" Melchior exclaimed.

Don Adolfo shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"It is evident," Don Diego observed, "that this man will be shot; but the president alone has the right of deciding his fate, as he declares that he is a Frenchman."

"Why all the demons seem to belong to that accursed race!" Don Melchior exclaimed, quite disconcerted.

"Well, really I cannot tell you exactly; as regards this man, as he is a daring fellow, and you might be considerably embarrassed by him, I will send him to the president under a separate escort."

"No, no, if you wish to do me a service; let me take him with me; do not be alarmed, I will take such precautions, that, clever as he is, he shall not escape me; still, it will be as well to disarm him."

The adventurer silently handed his weapons to Don Diego. At this moment a footman came in, and announced that the escort was waiting in the street.

"Very good," said Melchior, "let us be off."

The servant gave his master a machete, a brace of pistols, and a zarapé, and buckled on his spurs.

"Now we can start," said Don Melchior.

"Come," said Don Diego, "Señor Don Adolfo, or whatever be your name, be kind enough to go first."

The adventurer obeyed without a word. Twenty-five or thirty soldiers attired in a rather fantastic uniform, mostly in rags, and resembling bandits, much more than honest soldiers, were waiting in the street.

These men were all well mounted and armed. In the midst of them were the Count de la Saulay, and his two servants under strict guard; a smile of joy lit up Don Melchior's face at the sight of the gentleman; the latter did not deign to appear to notice his presence. A horse was prepared for Don Adolfo; at a sign from Don Diego he mounted, and placed himself of his own accord by the side of the Count, with whom he shook hands. Don Melchior also mounted.

"Now, my friend," said Don Diego, "a pleasant journey to you. I am going back to the government house."

"Good bye then," said Melchior, and the escort set out.

It was about two in the afternoon, the greatest heat of the day had passed, the shops were beginning to open again, and the tradesmen standing in the door watched the soldiers pass with a yawn. Don Melchior rode a few yards ahead of his troop; his demeanour was cold and sedate, he made vain efforts to restrain the joy which he experienced on at length having his implacable enemies in his hands. After they had ridden some distance from the town, the lieutenant who commanded the escort, approached Don Melchior.

"Our men are fatigued," he said to him, "it is time to think about camping for the night."

"I am willing to do so," the other replied, "provided that the spot is a secure one."

"I know a few paces from here," the lieutenant continued, "a deserted rancho, where we shall be very comfortable."

"Let us go there then."

The lieutenant acted as guide, and the soldiers soon entered a path scarce traced through a very thick wood, and at the end of about three quarters of an hour reached a large clearing, in the middle of which stood the rancho announced. The officer gave his men orders to dismount. The latter eagerly obeyed; for they seemed anxious to rest after their fatigue.

Leaping from his horse, Don Melchior entered the rancho, in order to assure himself of the condition it was in. But he had hardly set his foot in the interior, ere he was suddenly seized, rolled in a zarapé, and bound and gagged, even before he had the time to attempt a useless defence.

At the end of some minutes, he heard a clanking of sabres, and a regular sound of footsteps outside the rancho; the soldiers, or at least a portion of them, were going away, without paying any attention to him.

Almost at the same moment he was seized by the feet and shoulders, lifted up, and carried off. After a few rapid steps, it seemed to him as if his bearers were taking him down steps that entered the ground; then, after about ten minutes march, he was softly laid on a bed, composed of furs as he supposed, and left alone. An utter silence prevailed around the prisoner, he was really alone. At length a slight noise became audible, this noise gradually increased, and soon became loud; it resembled the walk of several persons, whose footsteps grated on sand.

This noise suddenly ceased. The young man felt himself lifted up and carried off once more. They carried him for a very considerable distance, and the bearers relieved each other at regular distances.

At length they stopped again; from the fresher and sharper air that smote his face, the prisoner conjectured that he had left the tunnel and was now in the open country. He was laid down on the ground.

"Set the prisoner at liberty," a voice said, whose dry metallic sound struck the young man.

His bonds were at once unfastened, and the gag and the handkerchief that covered his eyes removed.

Don Melchior leaped on his feet and looked around him. The spot where he found himself was the top of a rather lofty hill in the centre of an immense plain. The night was dark, and a little to the right in the distance gleamed like so many stars, the lights of the houses in Puebla. The young man formed the centre of a rather large group, drawn up in a circle round him. These men were masked, each of them held in his right hand a torch of ocote wood, whose flame agitated by the wind, threw a blood red hue over the country, and imparted to it a fantastic appearance. Don Melchior felt a shudder of terror run over his whole body, he understood that he was in the power of that mysterious Masonic association, of which he was himself a member, and which spread over the whole of Mexico, the gloomy ramifications of its formidable ventas. The silence was so profound on the hill, all the men so thoroughly resembled statues in their cold immobility, that the young man could hear his own heart beating in his breast.

A man stepped forward.

"Don Melchior de la Cruz," he said, "do you know where you are, and in whose presence?"

"I know it," he replied through his clenched teeth.

"Do you recognise the authority of the men by whom you are surrounded?"

"Yes, because they have the might on their side; any attempt at resistance or protest would be an act of folly on my part."

"No, it is not for that reason that you come under the authority of these men, and you are perfectly aware of the fact; but because you voluntarily connected yourself with them by a compact. In making this compact, you accepted their jurisdiction, and gave them the right to be your judges, if you broke the oaths which you took of your own full accord—"

Don Melchior shrugged his disdainfully.

"Why should I attempt a useless defence?" he said; "for am I not condemned beforehand. Hence execute without further delay, the sentence which you have already tacitly pronounced."

The masked man darted at him a flashing glance through the openings in his mask.

"Don Melchior," he continued in a hard and deeply marked voice, "it is neither as parricide, nor as fratricide, nor as robber, that you appear before this supreme tribunal, I repeat to you, but as a traitor to your country, I call on you to defend yourself."

"And I refuse to do so," he replied in a loud firm voice.

"Very good," the masked man continued coldly; then, planting his torch in the ground, he turned to the spectators. "Brothers," he said, "what punishment has this man deserved?"

"Death!" the masked man answered, in a hollow voice.

Don Melchior was not at all affected.

"You are condemned to death," the man continued who had hitherto spoken. "The sentence will be executed at this spot. You have half an hour to prepare to meet your God."

"In what way shall I die?" the young man asked, carelessly.

"By the rope."

"That death as soon as another," he said, with an ironical smile.

"We do not arrogate the right of killing the soul with the body," the masked man continued; "a priest will hear the confession of your faults."

"Thanks!" the young man said, laconically.

The masked man stood for a second, as if expecting that Don Melchior would address another request to him; but seeing that he continued to maintain silence, he took up his torch again, fell back two paces, waved it thrice, and extinguished it beneath his foot. All the other torches were put out at the same moment. A slight rustling of dry leaves and broken branches was heard, and Don Melchior found himself alone. Still, the young man did not deceive himself as to this apparent solitude. He understood that his enemies, though invisible, continued to watch him. A man, however well tempered his mind may be, however great his energy, though he has looked death in the face a hundred times, when he is twenty years of age, that is to say, when he finds himself scarcely on the threshold of existence, and the future smiles on him through the intoxicating prism of youth, cannot thus completely forget himself, and, without any transition, pass from life to death, without feeling an utter and sudden enervation of all his intellectual faculties, and suffering a horrible agony and nervous contraction of all his muscles, especially this death which awaits him full of life and youth, is inflicted on him coldly at night, and has an indelible brand of infamy. Hence, spite of all his courage and resolution, Don Melchior suffered an awful agony. At the root of every hair, which stood on end with terror, gathered a drop of cold perspiration. His features were frightfully contracted, and a livid and earthy pallor covered his face. At this moment a hand was gently laid on his shoulder. He started as if he had received an electric shock, and sharply raised his head. A monk was standing before him, with his hood pulled down over his face.

"Ah!" he said, rising; "Here is the priest."

"Yes," said the monk in a low, but perfectly distinct voice; "kneel down, my son: I am prepared to receive your confession."

The young man started at the sound of this voice, which he fancied he recognised; and his ardent and scrutinising glance was fixed on the monk standing motionless before him. The latter knelt down, making him a signal to imitate him. Don Melchior mechanically obeyed. These two men thus kneeling on the desert crest of this hill, faintly lit up by the feeble and flickering light of the lanthorns, which rendered the darkness that surrounded them on all sides more profound, offered a strange and striking spectacle.

"We are watched," said the monk. "Display no agitation; keep your nerves quiet, and listen to me. We have not a moment to lose. Do you recognise me?"

"Yes," Don Melchior said, faintly; who, feeling a friend at his side, involuntarily clung to hope, the sentiment which last survives in the human heart: "Yes, you are Don Antonio de Cacerbas."

"Dressed in the garb I am now wearing," Don Antonio continued; "I was on the point of entering Puebla, when I was suddenly surrounded by masked men, who asked me whether I was in orders? On my affirmative reply—a reply made at all hazards, in order not to destroy an incognito which is my sole safeguard against my enemies, these men carried me off with them, and brought me here. I witnessed your trial while shuddering with terror for myself, if I were recognised by these men, from whom I escaped once before solely by a miracle; but, whatever may happen, I am resolved to share your fate. Have you weapons?"

"No. But of what use are weapons against so large a body of enemies?"

"To fall bravely, instead of being ignominiously hung."

"That is true!" the young man exclaimed.

"Silence, unhappy man!" Don Antonio said, sharply.

"Take this revolver and this dagger. I have the same for myself."

"All right!" he said, clutching the weapons to his chest; "Now I am no longer afraid of them."

"Good! That is how I wished you to feel. Remember this: the horses are waiting ready saddled down there on the right, at the foot of the hill. If we succeed in reaching them, we are saved."

"Whatever happens, thanks, Don Antonio. If Heaven decrees that we shall escape—"

"Promise me nothing," Don Antonio said, quickly; "there will be time hereafter to settle our accounts."

The monk gave his penitent absolution. A few minutes elapsed. At length Don Melchior rose with a firm and assured countenance, for he was certain of not dying unavenged. The masked men suddenly reappeared, and once more crowned the top of the hill. The one who hitherto had alone spoken, approached the condemned man, by whose side Don Antonio had stationed himself, as if to exhort him in his last moments.

"Are you ready?" the stranger asked.

"I am," Don Melchior coldly replied.

"Prepare the gallows, and light the torches!" the masked man ordered.

There was a great movement in the crowd, and a momentary disorder. The members were so convinced that flight was impossible, and besides, it was so improbable that the condemned man should attempt to escape his fate, that for two or three minutes they relaxed their watchfulness. Don Melchior and his friend took advantage of this moment of forgetfulness.

"Come!" Don Antonio said, hurling to the earth the man nearest him. "Follow me!"

"All right!" Don Melchior boldly replied, as he cocked his revolver, and drew his knife.

They rushed head foremost into the midst of the conspirators, striking right and left, and forcing a passage. Like most desperate actions, this one succeeded through its sheer madness. There was a gigantic mêlée, a frightful struggle for some minutes between the members, who were taken off their guard, and the two men who were resolved to escape, or perish with arms in their hands. Then the furious gallop of horses became audible, and a mocking voice shouting in the distance,—

"Farewell, for the present!"

Don Melchior and Don Antonio were galloping at full speed along the Puebla road. All hope of catching them was lost: however, they had left sanguinary traces behind them—ten corpses lay on the ground.

"Stop!" Don Adolfo shouted to the men who were running to their horses. "Let them fly. Don Melchior is condemned—his death is certain. But," he added, thoughtfully; "who can that accursed monk be?"

Leo Carral, the majordomo, leant over to his ear.

"I recognised the monk," he said; "he was Don Antonio de Cacerbas."

"Ah!" he said, passionately; "That man again!"

A few minutes later, a cavalcade, composed of about a dozen horsemen, were trotting sharply along the high road to the capital. This party was led by Don Jaime, or Oliver, or Adolfo, whichever the reader may please to call him.


CHAPTER XXII.

DON DIEGO.


Don Melchior de la Cruz resolved to seize at any price the fortune of his father, which his sister's marriage threatened to make him hopelessly lose, had rushed headlong into politics, hoping to find amid the failures which had so long distracted his country, the occasion to satisfy his ambition and insatiable avarice by fishing largely in the troubled waters of revolutions. Endowed with an energetic character and great intelligence, a true political condottiere, passing without hesitation or remorse from one party to another, according to the advantages offered him, ever ready to serve the man who paid him best, he had contrived to render himself master of important secrets which made him feared by all, and gained him a certain degree of credit with the chiefs of parties whom he had served in turn; a well-born spy he had managed to get in everywhere, and join all the fraternities and secret societies, for he possessed in a most eminent degree the talent so envied by the most renowned diplomatists, of naturally feigning the most opposite feelings and opinions. It was thus that he became a member of the mysterious society Union and Strength, by which he was eventually condemned to death, with the predetermined resolution of selling the secrets of this formidable association whenever a favourable opportunity presented itself. Don Antonio de Cacerbas was shortly after made a member of the same association. These two men were made to understand each other at the first word, and they did so. The most intimate friendship ere long united them. When, at the beginning of their connexion, Don Antonio de Cacerbas, owing to anonymous revelations, was convicted of treachery, condemned by the mysterious association, and obliged to defend his life against one of the members, fell beneath his adversary's sword, and was left for dead on the road, where Dominique found him, as we have previously related. Don Melchior, who had been watching this sanguinary execution from a distance, resolved, were it possible, to save this man who inspired him with such warm sympathy. After the departure of his comrades, he hurried up as soon as he dared with the intention of succouring the wounded man, but did not find him; chance, by bringing Dominique to the spot, had deprived him, to his great regret, of the opportunity he desired for rendering Don Antonio his debtor. At a later date, when Don Antonio, half cured, escaped from the grotto where he was being nursed, the two men met again; more fortunate this time, Don Melchior had rendered his friend important services. The latter, in his turn, had been able on several occasions to let the young man profit by the occult influence which he had at his disposal. The only difference was, that if Don Antonio was thoroughly aware of his partner's affairs, of the object he proposed to himself, and the means he intended to employ in attaining it, the same was not the case with Don Melchior as regarded Don Antonio de Cacerbas, who remained an undecipherable mystery to him. Still the young man, though he had several times tried to make his friend speak, and lead him into confessions which would have given certain prerogatives, but never succeeded, did not for all that resign the hope of discovering one day what the other appeared to have so great an interest in hiding.

The last service which Don Antonio had rendered him, by making him so unexpectedly escape from the implacable justice of the members of the Union and Strength society, had rendered Don Melchior temporarily, at any rate, dependant on him. Don Antonio seemed to make it to some extent a point of honour not to remind Don Melchior of the immense danger from which he had saved him; he continued to serve him as he had hitherto done. The first care of the young man, on returning to Puebla, had been to proceed in all haste to the convent in which he had confined his sister after carrying her off; but, as he had a secret presentiment, he found the bird flown. Don Antonio had said but a few words to him on this subject, but they had a terrible eloquence.

"Only the dead do not escape," he had remarked.

Don Melchior bowed his head, recognising the correctness of this remark. All the young man's searches in Puebla were vain: no one could or would tell him anything; the mother superior of the convent was dumb.

"Let us go to Mexico; we shall find her there if she be not dead already," Don Antonio said to him.

They set out. What means Don Antonio employed to discover the retreat of Doña Dolores, we are unable to say, but so much is certain, that two days after his arrival in the capital, he was acquainted with the young lady's residence.

Let us leave for a short season these two men, whom we shall meet again but too soon, and describe how Doña Dolores had been liberated. The young lady was placed, by Don Melchior's orders, in a convent of Carmelite nuns. The mother superior—whom Don Melchior succeeded in winning to his interests by a large sum of money he paid her, and the promise of larger sums if she executed his orders zealously and intelligently—did not allow the young lady to receive any visitors but her brother, she was forbidden to write letters, and those that arrived for her were pitilessly intercepted. Dolores thus passed sad and monotonous days in a narrow cell, deprived of all relations with the outer world, and no longer retaining even the hope of being some day restored to liberty; her brother had made known to her his will in this respect; he insisted on her taking the veil. This was the only method Don Melchior had found to force his sister to give up her fortune to him, by renouncing the world. Still Don Melchior, though he had got himself named his sister's guardian, could not have taken her to a convent without a written order of the governor; but this had been easily obtained, and handed by Don Diego Izaguirre—private secretary to his Excellency the Governor—to the mother superior when the young lady was taken to the convent.

At about nine o'clock on the night of the day when Don Melchior had been so adroitly carried off by Don Adolfo, whom he believed his prisoner, three men wrapped in thick cloaks, and mounted on handsome and powerful Spanish genets, stopped at the gate of the convent, at which they rapped. The lay sister opened a wicket in this gate, exchanged a few words in a low voice with one of the horsemen who had dismounted, and evidently satisfied with the answers she received, she set the gate on the jar to admit this late visitor. The latter threw his horse's bridle to one of his companions; while the latter awaited him outside, he went in, and the gate was closed after him. After passing along several corridors, the porteress opened the abbess' cell, and announced Don Diego Izaguirre, private secretary to His Excellency the Governor. Don Diego, after exchanging a few compliments, drew a sealed letter from his dolman, and handed it to the superior, who opened and hastily read it.

"Very good, señor," she answered, "I am ready to obey you."

"Please, madam, carefully to bear in mind the tenour of the order I have communicated to you, and which I am compelled to request back. Everybody, you understand, madam," he said, laying a marked stress on the word, "must be ignorant how Doña Dolores has left the convent: this recommendation is of the highest importance."

"I will not forget it, señor."

"You are at liberty to say that she has escaped. Now, madam, be kind enough to warn Doña Dolores."

The superior left Don Diego in her cell, and went herself to fetch Doña Dolores. So soon as he was alone, the young man tore into impalpable fragments the order he had shown the superior, and threw them into the brasero, when the fire immediately consumed them.

"I am not at all desirous," Don Diego said as he watched them burning, "that the governor should perceive one day the perfection with which I imitate his signature, for it might cause him to feel jealous;" and he smiled with an air of mockery.

The superior was not absent more than a quarter of an hour.

"Here is Doña Dolores de la Cruz," said the abbess; "I have the honour of delivering her into your hands."

"Very good, madam; I hope soon to prove to you that his Excellency knows how, when the opportunity offers, worthily to reward those persons who obey him without hesitation."

The mother superior bowed humbly, and raised her eyes to Heaven.

"Are you ready, señorita?" Don Diego asked the young lady.

"Yes," she answered laconically.

"In that case be kind enough to follow me."

"Go on," she said, wrapping herself in her cloak, and taking no further leave of the abbess. They then left the cell, and guided by the superior, reached the convent gate. By some slight pretext the abbess had had the precaution to remove the porteress. She opened the gate herself, and then, when Don Diego and the young lady had passed through, she gave a farewell bow to the secretary, and closed the gate again, as if anxious to be delivered from the alarm that his presence caused her.

"Señorita," Don Diego said respectfully, "be kind enough to mount this horse."

"Señor," she said in a sad but firm voice, "I am a poor defenceless orphan: I obey you, because any resistance on my part would be madness; but—"

"Doña Dolores," said one of the horsemen, "we are sent by Don Jaime."

"Oh!" she exclaimed joyfully, "'Tis the voice of Don Carlos."

"Yes, señorita; re-assure yourself, then, and be good enough to mount without further delay, as we have no time to spare."

The young lady leapt lightly on Don Diego's horse.

"Now, señores," the young man said, "you no longer wait me—good bye; gallop your hardest, and I wish you a pleasant journey."

They dashed away like a whirlwind, and soon disappeared in the darkness.

"How they race!" the young man said laughingly; "I fancy Don Melchior will have some difficulty in catching them."

And wrapping himself in his cloak, he returned on foot to the palace of the government, where he resided. The two men who accompanied the young lady were Dominique and Leo Carral. They galloped the whole night. At sunrise they reached an abandoned rancho, where several persons were awaiting them. Doña Dolores joyfully recognised among them Don Adolfo and the Count. Surrounded by these devoted friends, she had nothing more to fear. She was saved. The journey was a continued maze, but her joy was immense when she arrived in Mexico, and under the escort of her brave friends entered the small house, where every preparation had been made to receive her. She fell weeping into the arms of Doña Maria and Doña Carmen. Don Adolfo and his friends discreetly retired, leaving the ladies to their confidences. The Count, in order to watch more closely over the young lady, hired a house in the same street, and offered to share it with Dominique, who eagerly accepted it. It was arranged, in order not to arouse suspicion or attract attention to the house of the three ladies, that the young men should only pay them short visits at rather lengthened intervals. As for Don Adolfo, the young lady had scarcely been installed in his house ere he recommenced his wandering life, and once more became invisible. Sometimes after nightfall he would suddenly turn up at the young men's house, of which Leo Carral had undertaken the management, declaring that as the Count was going to marry his young mistress, he was his master, and he regarded himself as his majordomo; the Count, not to grieve the worthy servant, had left him carte blanche in these rare appearances. The adventurer conversed for some time on indifferent topics with the two friends, and then left them, after recommending them to be vigilant.

Matters went on well for some days; Doña Dolores, under the beneficial impression of happiness, had resumed all her girlish gaiety and confidence; she and Carmen twittered like hummingbirds from morn till night in every corner of the house; Doña Maria herself, yielding to the influence of this frank and simple joy, seemed quite rejuvenated, and at times her earnest features were even illumined by a smile.

The Count and his friend, by their visits, which, in spite of Don Jaime's advice, became gradually more frequent and long, produced a variety in the calm monotonous existence of the three voluntary recluses, who never set foot in the street, and were in utter ignorance of what was taking place around them.

One evening when the Count was playing a game of chess with Dominique for the sake of killing time, and the two young men who took but slight interest in the game were sitting face to face, ostensibly arranging clever schemes, but in reality thinking of other things, there was a violent knocking at the street door.

"Who the deuce can come at this hour?" they both exclaimed with a start.

"It is past midnight," Dominique said.

"If it is not Oliver," the Count remarked, "I cannot think who it is."

"It is he, of course," Dominique added.

At this moment the room door was opened, and Don Jaime entered.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he said; "you did not expect me at this hour, eh?"

"We always expect you, my friend."

"Thanks: with your permission," he added, and turning to the servant who showed him a light, said, "get me some supper, if you please, Master Raimbaut."

The latter bowed and left the room.

Don Jaime threw his hat on a table, and sat down on a chair, fanning himself with his handkerchief.

"Ouf!" he said; "I am dying of hunger, my friends!"


CHAPTER XXIII.

THE SUPPER.


The young men examined the adventurer with a surprise that they tried in vain to conceal, and which, spite of themselves, was reflected on their faces.

Raimbaut, aided by Lanca Ibarru, brought in a ready-laid table, which he placed before Don Adolfo.

"By Jove, gentlemen!" the adventurer said gaily, "Master Raimbaut has had the charming attention to lay covers for three, evidently foreseeing that you would not refuse to keep me company; forget your thoughts for a moment, then, I beg, and come to table."

"Most willingly," they replied, as they took the seat by his side.

The meal began; Don Adolfo ate with good appetite while talking with a humour and quickness they had never noticed in him before. He was inexhaustible; it was a rolling fire of sallies, witticisms, and neatly told anecdotes that poured from his lips. The young men looked at each other, for they did not at all comprehend this singular temper; for, in spite of the gaiety of his remarks and his easiness of manner, the adventurer's brow remained thoughtful, and his face retained its habitual coldly sarcastic expression. Still, excited by this most communicative gaiety, they soon forgot all their anxieties, and allowed themselves to be won by this apparently so frank joy, ere a contest of laughter and merry remarks was mingled with the clink of glasses and the rattle of the knives and forks. The servants were dismissed, and the three friends left alone.

"Really, gentlemen," Don Adolfo said as he uncorked a bottle of champagne, "of all meals, in my opinion, supper is the best; our fathers liked it, and were right; among other good customs that are departing, this one is going, and will soon be entirely forgotten. I, for one, shall regret it sincerely." He filled his companions' glasses. "Permit me," he continued, "to drink your health in this wine, one of the most delicious productions of your country." And after hobnobbing, he emptied the glass at one draught. The bottles rapidly succeeded each other, for the glasses were no sooner filled than emptied. They soon began to grow excited. Then they lit cigars, and attacked the liqueurs—Jamaica rum, Catalaña refino, and French brandy. With their elbows on the table, and enveloped in a dense cloud of fragrant smoke, they went on talking with less reservation, and insensibly—they did not perceive it themselves—their conversation assumed a more earnest and confidential character.

"Bah!" Dominique suddenly said, throwing himself back comfortably in his chair, "Life is a good thing, and above all a beautiful one."

At this outburst, which fell into the centre of the conversation like an aërolite, the adventurer burst into a sharp, nervous laugh.

"Bravo!" he said, "That is first-class philosophy. This man, who was born, he does not know of whom or where, who has sprung up like a sturdy mushroom, never knowing any other friend save myself, who does not possess a shilling, considers life a beautiful thing and congratulates himself on enjoying it. By Jove! I should be curious to hear this fine theory developed a little."

"Nothing is easier," the young man replied, without any excitement. "I was born I know not where, that is true: but it is a blessing for me. The whole earth is my country. To whatever nation they may belong, men are my countrymen. I do not know my parents: but who knows whether this is not also a blessing for me? By their desertion they freed me from respect and gratitude for the cares they might have bestowed on me, and left me at liberty to act as I pleased, without having reason to fear their control. I never had but one friend: but how many men can flatter themselves with possessing even so much? Mine is kind, sincere, and devoted. I have always felt him near me, when I wanted him to share my joy or sorrow; to support me and attach me by his friendship to the great human family, from which I should be exiled without him. I do not possess a shilling: that is also true—but what do I care for wealth? I am strong, brave, and intelligent; ought not man to work? I accomplish my task like the rest, perhaps better, for I envy nobody and am happy with my lot. You see clearly, my dear Adolfo, that life is to me at least a good and beautiful thing, as I said just now. I defy you, the skeptic and disabused man, to prove to me the contrary."

"Perfectly answered, on my word," the adventurer said. "All these reasons, though specious and easy to refute, do not the less appear very logical, and I shall not take the trouble to discuss them. Still, I will remark, my friend, that when you treat me as a skeptic, you are mistaken; disabused, perhaps, I am, but a skeptic I shall never be."

"Oh, oh!" the two young men exclaimed simultaneously. "That demands an explanation, Don Adolfo."

"And I will give it you, if you insist upon it: but what is the good? Stay, I have a proposal to make to you, which I think will please you."

"Go on; speak."

"It is now nearly morning, in a few hours it will be day, none of us are sleepy, so let us remain as we are and continue to talk."

"Certainly; I desire nothing better for my part," the Count said.

"And I the same. But what shall we talk about?" Dominique observed.

"If you like, I will tell you an adventure or a history—give it which name you like—that I heard this very day, and whose correctness I can guarantee; for the person who told it me, I have known a long time, and he played an important part in it."

"Why not tell us your own history, Don Adolfo? It must be filled with touching events and curious incidents," the Count said meaningly.

"Well, you are mistaken, Count," Oliver answered, simply. "Nothing can be less touching than what you are pleased to call my history; it is much the same as that of all smugglers, for you know, I believe," he added, confidentially, "that I am nothing else. The existence of all of us is the same; we act cunningly to pass the goods intrusted to us, and the custom house officers do the same to prevent it and seize us. Hence arise combats, which sometimes, though rarely, thank Heaven! become blood-thirsty. Such is substantially the history you ask of me, my dear Count. You see that there is nothing essentially interesting in it."

"I do not press you, dear Don Adolfo," the Count answered with a smile. "Pass on to something else, if you please."

"In that case," Dominique said to the adventurer, "you are at liberty to begin your history whenever you please."

Oliver filled a champagne glass with Catalaña refino, emptied it at a draught, and then struck the table with the handle of his knife.

"Attention, gentlemen," he said. "I am about to begin. I must before all claim your indulgence for certain gaps, and also for some obscure points which will be found in my narrative. I must again remark that I am merely repeating what was told to me, that consequently there are many things of which I am ignorant, and that I cannot be rendered responsible for reticences, probably made purposely by the first narrator, who no doubt had motives known to himself alone, for leaving in the dark some incidents of the day, which is, however, very curious, I assure you."

"Begin, begin," they said.

"There is another difficulty in the narrative," he continued imperturbably, "it is that I am utterly ignorant in what country it occurred: but that is only of relative importance, as men are nearly the same everywhere, that is to say, agitated and governed by identical vices and passions; all that I fancy I can be certain of is, that it took place in the Old World—but you shall judge for yourselves. Well, then, there was in Germany—let us suppose, if you please, that the scene of this truthful history is laid in Germany—there was, I was saying, a rich and powerful family, whose nobility went back to the most remote period. You know, of course, that the German nobility are the oldest in the world, and that the traditions of honour have been preserved among them almost intact to the present day. Now, the Prince of Oppenheim-Schleswig, we will call him, so as the head of the family is a prince—had two sons nearly of the same age, as there were only two or three years' difference between them; both were handsome and endowed with brilliant intellects, these two young gentlemen had been educated with the utmost care, under the eyes of their father, who attentively watched their education. It is not the same in Germany as in America, for there the power of the head of the family is very extensive and most respected. There is something truly patriarchal in the way in which the internal discipline of the household is maintained. The young men profited by the lessons they received, but as they grew older their characters became more marked, and it was soon easy to recognise a great difference between them, although both were perfect gentlemen in the common acceptation of the term. Their moral qualities, however, were completely different; the first was gentle, affable, obliging, earnest, attached to his duties, and extremely attached to the honour of his name. The second displayed very different tastes, although he was very proud and punctilious; still, he did not fear to compromise the respect he owed his name in the lowest resorts and amongst the worst company; in a word, he led a most dissipated and rackety life. The prince bewailed in secret the debauchery of his younger son; he several times summoned him to his presence, and addressed severe remonstrances to him. The young man listened to his father respectfully, promised amendment, and went on the same as before. France declared war against Germany. The Prince of Oppenheim was one of the first to obey the orders of the emperor, and place himself under his banner; his sons accompanied him as aides-de-camp, and went under fire for the first time by his side. A few days' after his arrival at the camp the prince was intrusted with a reconnaissance by the general in chief; there a sharp skirmish with the enemy's foragers, and, in the height of the action, the prince fell from his horse. His friends gathered around, him, he died: but it was a strange circumstance, and one never explained, that the bullet which caused his death had entered between his shoulders—he was shot from behind."

Don Adolfo stopped.

"Give me some drink," he said to Dominique.

The latter poured him out a glass of punch; he swallowed it almost burning, and after passing his hand over his pale, dark forehead, he resumed with pretended carelessness.

"The prince's two sons were some distance away when this catastrophe occurred, they galloped up at once, but only found their father's bleeding and disfigured corpse. The sorrow of the two young men was immense, that of the elder gloomy and restrained, as it were; that of the younger, on the contrary, noisy. In spite of the most minute research, it was impossible to discover how the prince, while at the head of his troops by whom he was adored, could have been struck from behind: this always remained a mystery. The young men left the army and returned home: the elder had assumed the title of prince and had become head of the family, as in Germany the law of entail exists in all its rigour, the younger was completely dependant on his brother, but the latter would not leave him in this inferior and humiliating condition. He gave up to him his mother's fortune, which was very considerable, left him perfectly his own master, and authorised him to take the title of marquis."

"Of duke, you mean," the Count interrupted.

"That is true," Don Adolfo continued, biting his lips. "Since he was a prince—but you know that we republicans," he added, "are but little used to these pompous titles, for which we profess the most profound contempt."

"Go on," Dominique said carelessly.

Don Adolfo continued: "The duke realised his fortune, bade farewell to his brother, and started for Vienna. The prince, who remained on his estate among his vassals, did not hear from his brother for long intervals; but the news he received about him was not of a pleasing nature. The duke now set no bounds to his licentiousness, and matters attained such a point that the prince was at length compelled to interfere seriously, and give his brother an order to leave the kingdom—I mean the empire—immediately, and the latter obeyed without a murmur. Several years elapsed, during which the duke travelled over the whole of Europe. Writing but rarely to his elder brother, he, however, on each occasion, spoke of the change that had taken place in him, and the radical reformation of his conduct. Whether he believed in these protestations or not, the prince thought he could not refrain from announcing to his brother that he was on the point of marrying a noble, young, lovely, and rich heiress, that the marriage was about to take place immediately, and probably expecting that distance would prevent it, he invited his brother to be present at the nuptial ceremony. If such was his idea, he was mistaken—the duke arrived on the very eve of the marriage. His brother received him very well, and gave him apartments in his palace. On the morrow the projected union was accomplished."

"The duke's conduct was irreproachable: remaining with his brother, he seemed anxious to please him in everything, and prove to him on every possible occasion that his conversion was sincere. In short, he played his part so well, that everybody was deceived, the prince first of all, who not only restored him his friendship, but soon granted him his entire confidence. The duke had returned from his travels for some months; he seemed to regard life earnestly, and to have but one desire, that of repairing the faults of his youth. Welcomed in all families, at first with a slight coldness, but ere long with distinction, he had almost succeeded in causing the errors of his past life to be forgotten, when extraordinary rejoicings took place in the county on the occasion of some fête or anniversary. The prince naturally assumed the initiative, as was his duty; and by his brother's instigation he even resolved to take a part in them himself, in order to give them greater lustre."

"It was intended to represent a species of tournament: the first nobles of the surrounding country eagerly offered their assistance to the prince, and at length the jousting day arrived. The prince's young wife, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy, impelled by one of those presentiments which come from the heart, and never deceive, tried in vain to prevent her husband from entering the lists, confessing to himself through her tears that she apprehended a misfortune. The duke joined his sister-in-law in urging his brother to abstain from appearing at the tournament otherwise than as a spectator; but the prince, who considered his honour involved, was immoveable in his resolution, jested, treated their fears as chimerical, and mounted his horse to proceed to the scene of the tournament. An hour later he was brought back dying. By an extraordinary accident, an unheard-of fatality, the unfortunate prince had met with death at the spot where he should only have found pleasure. The duke displayed extreme sorrow at the frightful death of his brother. The prince's will was immediately opened; he appointed his brother sole heir to all his property, unless the princess, who, as I said, was in an advanced state of pregnancy, gave birth to a son, in which case this son would inherit his father's fortune and titles, and would remain till his majority under the guardianship of his uncle."

"On learning her husband's death, the princess was suddenly seized with the pangs of labour, and was delivered of a daughter. The second clause of the will being thus annulled, the Duke assumed the title of prince, and took possession of his brother's fortune. The princess, in spite of the most enticing offers her brother-in-law made her, refused to continue to reside as a stranger in a palace where she had been mistress, and returned to her family."

The adventurer made a pause.

"How do you like this history?" he asked his hearers, with an ironical smile.

"I am waiting till you give us the counterpart," the Count replied, "before I offer my opinion about it."

The adventurer gave him a clear and piercing glance.

"Then," he said, "you fancy this is not all?"

"Every history," the Count retorted, "is composed of two distinct parts."

"That is to say?"

"The true part, and the false."

"Will you explain yourself?"

"Willingly: the false part is that which is public, which everybody knows, and can comment on and repeat as he likes."

"Good," he said, with a slight inclination of the head; "and the true part?"

"That is the secret, the mysterious part, only known to two or three persons at the most—the sheepskin removed from the wolfs shoulders."

"Or the mask of virtue torn from the face of the villain!" he exclaimed, with a terrible outburst: "Is it not that?"

"Yes, indeed, it is."

"And you wait for this second part of the story?"

"I do," the Count answered, sternly.

The adventurer sat for two or three minutes with his face buried in his hands, then raised his head haughtily, emptied the glass before him, and then said, in a loud, metallic voice—

"Well, listen, then, for by heaven! I swear to you that what you are going to hear is worth the trouble, this time."


CHAPTER XXIV.

THE REVELATION.


There was a rather long silence, during which the guests remained plunged in profound meditations.

At length Don Adolfo broke the charm that seemed to enchain them, by suddenly speaking again.

"The princess had a brother, at that time a young man of two-and-twenty at the most, adroit in all manly exercises, brave as his sword, a great favourite with the ladies, whose fondness he returned, and who concealed beneath a frivolous exterior an earnest character, a capacious intellect, and an indomitable will. This brother, whom we will call Oclau, if you like, felt a sincere attachment for his sister; he loved her for all that she had suffered, and was the first to urge her to leave the palace of her defunct husband, and return to her family, chaining her down, and rejecting the offer of service made by the prince, her brother-in-law. Oclau felt a strong repulsion for the prince, although there was nothing in the eyes of society to justify the conduct he adopted towards him. Still, he did not break off all relations with him; he visited him now and then, though rarely, it is true. These interviews, always cold and constrained on the part of the young man, were cordial and eager on that of the prince, who essayed by his gracious manner, and continually renewed offers of services, to win over again this man, whose aversion he had divined. The princess, who had retired to her family, brought up her daughter far from the world, with tenderness and absolute devotion. On her husband's death she put on mourning, which she has not left off since: but this mourning she wore even more in her heart than in her garments, for the catastrophe which had deprived her of her husband was ever present to her mind, and with the tenacity of loving hearts, for whom time does not progress, her grief was as lively as on the first day; if at times, in the retreat to which she voluntarily confined herself, her brother-in-law's name was accidentally pronounced, a convulsive tremor suddenly agitated her whole person, her pale face became livid, and her large eyes, burned by fever, and inundated with tears, were at such times fixed on her brother Oclau with a strange expression of reproach and despair, seeming to say to him that the vengeance he had promised her was long delayed. The prince, now a made man, had reflected that he was the last of his race, and that it was urgent, if he did not wish the family titles and estates to pass to distant collaterals, to have an heir to his name; consequently, he commenced negotiations with several princely families of the country, and at the period we have now reached, that is to say, about eight years after his brother's death, there was a strong report about the prince's marriage with the daughter of one of the noblest houses of the Germanic Confederation. Nothing could be more suitable than this alliance, destined to augment the already proverbial importance and wealth of the house of Oppenheim-Schleswig: the lady was young, fair, and connected by marriage to the reigning family of Habsburg. The prince, consequently, attached great importance to this union, and hurried on its completion by all the means in his power. While this was occurring, Count Oclau was obliged by the settlement of some important business, to leave home, and go for some days to a town about twenty leagues distant. The young man bade farewell to his sister, got into a post chaise, and set out. On the next day but one, at about eight p.m., he arrived at the town of Bruneck, and stopped at a house belonging to him, which was in the principal square of the town, and only a few yards from the governor's palace."

"Bruneck is a very pretty little Tyrolese town, built on the right bank of the Rienz; the population, amounting to fifteen or sixteen hundred at the most, still retain the patriarchal, simple and stern manner of sixty years ago. Count Oclau remarked with surprise on entering the town that the greatest agitation prevailed there: in spite of the advanced hour, the streets his chaise passed through were filled with a restless crowd, who were running about in all directions with singular vociferations; most of the houses were illuminated, while large bonfires were lighted on the market square. So soon as the Count had entered his house; he inquired as he sat down to supper the cause of this extraordinary excitement. This is what he learned:—Tyrol is an excessively mountainous country—the Switzerland of Austria; now, most of these mountains serve as lurking places for numerous bands of malefactors, whose sole occupation is to plunder the travellers whom their unlucky star brings within reach, to plunder the villages, and even towns at times. For some years a bandit chief, more adroit and enterprising than the rest, at the head of a considerable band of resolute and well-disciplined men, had desolated the country, attacking travellers, burning and plundering the villages, and not hesitating, in case of need, to resist detachments of soldiers sent in pursuit of him, who very frequently returned much maltreated from their encounters with him. This man, in the end, inspired the population of this country with such terror that the inhabitants had grown to tacitly recognize his authority, and obey him tremblingly, as they felt persuaded that it was impossible to vanquish him. The Austrian Government naturally refused to admit this compact made with the brigands, and resolving to destroy them at any price, employed the most energetic efforts to capture the chief. For a very long period all the efforts were fruitless; this man, admirably served by his spies, was kept perfectly well acquainted with the attempts about to be made against him; he formed his plans in consequence, and easily succeeded in escaping from his pursuers, and foiling all the traps that were laid for him."

"But what force had been unable to affect treachery at last accomplished. One of the associates of Red Arm (such was the bandit's alias) dissatisfied with the share given him in a rich booty made a few days previously, and believing himself injured by the chief, resolved to take vengeance by betraying him."

"A week later Red Arm was surprised by the troop, and made prisoner with the principal members of his band."

"The few men who escaped, demoralized by the capture of their chief, soon fell in their turn into the hands of the soldiers, so that the entire band was destroyed."

"The trial of the bandits was not a long one; they had been condemned to death, and executed immediately. The chief and two of his first lieutenants were alone reserved, in order to render their punishment more exemplary. They were to be executed on the morrow, and that was the reason why the town of Bruneck was in such a state of excitement."

"The neighbouring peasants had flocked out to witness the punishment of the man before whom they had so long trembled, and in order not to miss this spectacle which had such attractions for them, they camped in the streets and in the squares, impatiently awaiting the hour for the execution."

"The Count attached but very slight importance to the news; and as he felt tired from having travelled two days along execrable roads, he prepared to go to bed soon after supper."

"Just as he was entering his bedroom a servant appeared, and exchanged a few words in a low voice with the valet."

"'What is it?' Count Oclau asked, turning round."

"'Pardon, my lord,' the servant respectfully replied, 'but a person desires to speak to your Excellency.'"

"'Speak to me at this house?' he said, in surprise, 'It is impossible; I have hardly arrived ere my coming is known: tell the man to return tomorrow, it is too late tonight.'"

"'I told him so, my lord, and he replied that tomorrow would be too late.'"

"'This is extraordinary! Who is the man?'"

"'A priest, my lord, and he added, that what he has to tell your Excellency is most serious, and that he earnestly implores you to receive him.'"

"The young man, greatly perplexed at a visit at so late an hour, repaired the disorder in his dress, and wandered to the dining room, curious about the solution of this enigma."

"A priest was standing in the centre of the room. He was a very aged man, his hair, white as snow, fell in long masses on his shoulders, and gave him a venerable appearance, which was completed by the expression of goodness and calm grandeur spread over his face."

"The Count bowed to him respectfully, and begged him to be seated."

"'Excuse me, my lord,' he replied with a bow, and still remained on his feet, 'I am the prison chaplain: you have doubtless heard of the arrest of certain malefactors?'"

"'Yes, sir; some vague information on the subject has been given me.'"

"'Several of these unhappy men,' he continued, 'have already endured the terrible fate to which human justice condemned them. The most guilty of all, their chief, is about to undergo his at sunrise tomorrow.'"

"'I am aware of it.'"

"'This man,' the chaplain went on, 'on the point of appearing before God, his supreme judge, to whom he will have a terrible account to render, has felt, owing to my efforts to lead him to repentance, remorse enter his heart. Your arrival in this town which he learnt I know not how, has appeared to him a warning of Providence. He at once sent for me, and begged me to go to you, my lord.'"

"'To me!' the young man exclaimed, in amazement, 'What can there be in common between me and this villain?'"

"'I do not know, my lord, for he told me nothing on that subject. He implores you to proceed to his dungeon, as he desires to reveal to you a secret of the highest importance.'"

"'What you say, confounds me, sir: this man is an utter stranger to me; I do not comprehend in what way my life can be mixed up with his.'"

"'He will doubtless explain this to you, my lord; but I advise you to consent to the interview this man implores,' the priest answered without any hesitation. 'For many years I have been a prison chaplain, and have seen many criminals die. Men do not speak falsely in the presence of death. The strongest and bravest man becomes very small and weak when facing that unknown thing called Eternity; he begins to tremble, and, no longer daring to hope the goodness of men, he turns to that of God. Red Arm, the unhappy man who is about to die tomorrow, knows that nothing can save him from the terrible fate that awaits him: hence, for what object would he, on the threshold of death, request an interview with you, unless it be to redeem, by the revelation he wishes to make to you, one of his most horrible crimes, though it is possibly the least known of all. Believe me, my lord, the hand of Providence is in all this: it is no accident that brought you to this town precisely at the moment of this terrible expiation. Consent to follow me, and enter with me the dungeon where this unhappy man is doubtless awaiting, with the most lively anxiety, and while counting the minutes, your arrival. Even supposing that this revelation does not possess for you the importance this unhappy man fancies, could you refuse to grant this last consolation to a man who is about so fatally to be erased from the number of the living? I implore you, my lord, to consent to follow me.'"

"The young man's determination was soon formed. He wrapped himself in a cloak and set out of his house, accompanied by the priest. In spite of the late hour, for it was near midnight, the square was full of people. The crowd, far from diminishing, was increased every moment by the arrival of newcomers, who flocked in from the neighbouring villages. Bivouacs were everywhere established. The Count and his guide forced their way with some difficulty through the crowd up to the prison, in front of which several sentries were posted."

"At a word from the chaplain the prison door was immediately opened. The Count entered, and preceded by the worthy priest, and followed by a gaoler they went toward the condemned man's cell."

"The gaoler, with a torch in his hand, silently guided the two visitors along a numerous series of passages, and then, on reaching a door barred with iron from top to bottom, he checked him, uttering but one word:—'Enter!'"

"They went into the dungeon—we employ this usual term, although nothing less resembled a dungeon than the room they entered. It was a rather spacious cell, lighted by two gothic windows, lined with heavy bars on the exterior. The furniture consisted of a bed, that is to say, a frame on which a cow hide was stretched, a table and various chairs, while a looking glass hung on the wall. At the end of the room was an altar hung with black, for the condemned man was in chapel. Daily, since the passing of the sentence, the chaplain had said two low masses there for the culprit."

At this singular account of the capilla which only exists in Spain and her dependencies, the two hearers exchanged a side glance which the adventurer did not remark. The latter went on, without suspecting the error he had unreflectingly committed.

"The condemned man was seated in an equipal, with his head in his hand, with his elbow on the table, he was reading by the light of a smoky lamp."

"On the entrance of the visitors he immediately rose and bowed to them with the most exquisite politeness."

"'Gentlemen, pray take seats, and do me the honour of awaiting for a few minutes the arrival of the persons I have sent for,' he said, drawing up butacas, 'their presence is indispensable, for at a later date no one must be able to cast a doubt on the truth of the revelation I wish to make to you.'"

"The chaplain and the Count gave a sign of assent and sat down. There was a silence for some minutes, only interrupted by the regular steps of the sentry stationed in the passage to guard the condemned man, and who passed and repassed in front of his dungeon."

"Red Arm had returned to his equipal, and seemed to be reflecting. The Count took advantage of this circumstance to examine him attentively."

"He was a man of not more than forty years of age, he was of tall stature, and powerfully built, and his gestures displayed ease and elegance. His rather large head was, doubtless through a habit of commanding, thrown back, his features were handsome and strongly marked, while his glance had extraordinary intensity. A singular expression of gentleness and energy that was spread over his face, gave it a strange look impossible to describe; his black hair curling naturally, fell in large curls on his broad shoulders. His costume, entirely of black velvet, and peculiarly cut, formed a contrast to the dull pallor of his complexion, and added, even if possible, to the striking appearance of his whole person."

"A sound of footsteps was heard outside, a key grated in the lock, and the door opened: two men appeared. The gaoler, after introducing them into the dungeon without saying a word, went out and closed the door after him. The first of these two men was the director of the prison, an active old gentleman still, in spite of his sixty years, with calm features and venerable aspect, whose white hair cut short on his temples fell behind on his coat collar. The second was an officer —a major his gold epaulettes proved; he was young, and appeared scarce thirty, while his features had nothing very remarkable about them: he was one of those men born to wear a uniform, and who if dressed in civilian garb would appear ridiculous, so thoroughly are they created for a soldier's harness. Both bowed politely, and waited, without uttering a word, till they received an explanation of the request sent them to come to this dungeon. The condemned man understood their motive. After the first salutations had been exchanged, he hastened to make known to them his motive for requesting them to come to him at this supreme moment when he had nothing more to hope from man."

"'Gentlemen,' he said to them in a firm, voice, 'in a few short hours I shall have satisfied human justice, and will appear before that of God, which is far more terrible. Since the day when I began the implacable struggle which I have carried on against society, I have committed many crimes, secured many hatreds, and been the accomplice of an incalculable number of odious actions. The sentence passed on me is just, and though resolved to undergo—like a man whom death has never terrified—the punishment to which I am condemned, I think it my duty to confess to you with the greatest sincerity and deepest humility that I repent of my crimes, and that, far from dying impenitent, I shall die imploring God not to pardon me, but to regard my repentance with pity.'"

"'Good, my son,' the chaplain said gently; 'take refuge in God, His mercy is infinite.'"

"There was a silence of some minutes, which Red Arm was the first to interrupt."

"'I should have liked at this supreme moment,' he said, 'to repair the evil I have done. Alas! This is impossible, my victims are really done, and no human power would be able to restore them the life of which I so cowardly deprived them; but among these crimes there is one—the most frightful of all perhaps—which, it is true, I cannot fully repair, but whose effects I hope to neutralise by revealing to you its sinister incidents, and divulging to you the name of the man who was my accomplice. God, by unexpectedly bringing Count Oclau to this town, doubtless wished to force me to this expiation; I submit without a murmur to His will, and perhaps He will deign to pity me on account of my obedience. Gentlemen, in requesting you to come to me, I wish to procure the person most interested in my narrative, the indispensable witnesses who will enable human justice to punish the criminal hereafter without fear of error. Hence, gentlemen, take note of my words, for I swear to you on the brink of the tomb that they are perfectly true.'"

"The condemned man ceased, and appeared to be collecting his thoughts. His hearers waited with the most eager curiosity; the Count more especially tried in vain to conceal by a cold and stern, air the anxiety that was contracting his heart. A secret presentiment warned him that the light was at length about to shine, and that the hitherto impenetrable secret which surrounded his family, and the clue of which he had so long sought, was about to be divulged to him. Red Arm continued, after selecting from among the papers that crowded his table a rather large bundle, which he opened and placed before him."

"'Though eight years have elapsed,' he said, 'since the period when these events happened, they have remained so fresh in my mind that as soon as I heard of the arrival of Count Oclau in this town, a few hours sufficed me to write a detailed account of them. I am about to read to you, gentlemen, this frightful history, after which each of you will attach his signature beneath mine at the end of this manuscript, in order to give it the necessary authenticity for the use which the Count will think it his duty to turn it to hereafter on behalf of his family, and to punish the guilty man. I in all this have only been the paid accomplice and the instrument employed to strike the victim.'"

"'This precaution is very good,' the prison director then said: 'we will sign this revelation unhesitatingly, of whatever nature it may be.'"

"'Thanks, gentlemen,' the Count remarked, 'though I am as ignorant as yourselves of the facts which are about to be revealed; still, for certain private reasons, I feel almost convinced that what I am going to hear is of great importance to the happiness of certain members of my family.'"

"'You shall judge of that, my lord,' the condemned man said, and immediately began reading his manuscripts."

"This reading lasted nearly two hours. The result of the collected facts was this: first, that when the Prince of Oppenheim Schleswig was killed, the bullet came from the gun of Red Arm, who was concealed in a thicket, and paid by the prince's younger son to commit this parricide. Once he had entered on this slippery path of crime, the young man followed it without hesitation or remorse in order to reach the object he meditated, that of seizing the paternal fortune. After a parricide, a fratricide was nothing to him, and he executed it with a Machiavellism full of atrocious precautions. Other crimes, more awful still were it possible, were recorded with a truth of detail so striking, and supported by such undeniable proofs, that the witnesses summoned by the condemned criminal asked themselves, with horror, if it were possible that such an atrocious monster could exist, and what horrible punishment was reserved for him by that divine justice which he had mocked with such frightful cynicism for so many years. The princess, on learning her husband's death, had been seized by the pangs of childbirth, and was delivered—not of a daughter as everybody believed—but of twins, of whom the boy was carried off, and the prince got rid of him in order to annul the clause in his brother's will which left to his posthumous son the titles and entire fortune of the family."

"The Count, with his face buried in his hands, fancied himself suffering from a horrible nightmare; in spite of the aversion he had ever felt for his brother-in-law, he would never have dared suspect him capable of committing so coldly, and at lengthened intervals, a series of odious crimes patiently arranged and meditated under the impulse of the vilest and most contemptible of all passions, the thirst for gold. He asked himself if, in spite of undeniable proofs he had thus unexpectedly obtained, there was in the whole empire a tribunal which would dare assume the possibility of punishing crimes so odious and so beyond human nature. On the other hand this revelation, if made public, would irresistibly dishonour a family to which he was closely allied: would not this dishonour be reflected on his own family? All these thoughts whirled in the Count's brain, causing him horrible grief, and increasing his perplexity, for he knew not what resolution to form in so serious a case, he dared not ask advice of anyone, or seek support."

"Red Arm rose, and walking up to the Count, said—'My lord, take this manuscript, it is now yours.'"

"The Count mechanically took the manuscript which was offered him."

"'I can understand your astonishment and horror, sir,' the condemned man continued; 'these things are so terrible, that in spite of these stamps of truth, the exceptional circumstances under which they were written, and the authority of the persons who have signed the statement after hearing it read, it runs the risk of being doubted; hence I wish to protect you from all suspicion of imposture, my lord, by adding to this document some undeniable proofs.'"

"'Do you possess them?' the Count said, with a start."

"'I do. Be good enough to open this portfolio: it contains twenty odd letters from your brother-in-law, addressed to me, and all relating to the facts recorded in this manuscript.'"

"'Oh, Heavens!' the Count exclaimed, clasping his hands; but suddenly turning to Red Arm, he added,—"

"'This is strange.'"

"The convict smiled."

"'I understand you,' he answered; 'you are asking yourself how it is that, holding letters so compromising to the Prince of Oppenheim, he did not employ the power he possesses to put me out of the way, and regain possession of these proofs of his guilt?'"

"'In truth,' the Count replied, amazed at finding his meaning so thoroughly divined; 'the Prince, my brother-in-law, is a man of extreme prudence, and he had too great an interest in destroying these overwhelming proofs.'"

"'Certainly; and he would not have failed, I feel convinced, to employ the most expeditious means in succeeding; but the Prince was ignorant that these proofs remained in my possession. This is how, whenever he appointed a meeting with me by letter, so soon as I arrived in his presence, I burned a letter exactly like the one I had received from him, in order to prove to him with what good faith I acted, and what confidence I had in him, so that he never supposed I had kept them. In the next place, immediately after your sister's confinement, supposing rightly that the Prince, having succeeded in his object, would desire to get rid of me, I prevented him by leaving the country suddenly. I remained in foreign parts for three years. At the expiration of that period, I spread a report of my death. I managed so that the news should reach the Prince most naturally, and as a certain thing; then I returned here. The Prince never knew my name—we gentlemen adventurers have a custom not only of changing our alias frequently, for an incognito is a safeguard for us—but also of always wearing three or four at once, in order to establish a confusion about ourselves, through which we find ourselves in perfect safety; so that, in spite of his attempts, even if the Prince had made any, of which I am ignorant, he has not succeeded in learning my existence, much less in discovering me.'"

"'But for what object did you keep these letters?'"

"'The very simple one of employing them against him; so as to compel him by the fear of a revelation to supply me with the sums I might require, when I felt inclined to give up my perilous career. As I was suddenly surprised, I could not make the desired use of them, but now I do not regret it.'"

"'I thank you,' the Count replied, warmly; 'but cannot I do anything for you in your present extremity, as a recognition of so great a service?'"

"Red Arm looked cautiously around; in order to give the Count full liberty to converse with the condemned man, the chaplain and the two officers had retired into the most distant corner of the cell, where they seemed to be talking with great animation."

"'Alas, my lord!' he said, lowering his voice; 'It is too late now. I should have liked—'"

"'Speak, and possibly I may be able to satisfy this last desire.'"

"'Well, be it so. It is not death that terrifies me, but, mounting an ignoble scaffold, to be exposed alive to the laughter and insults of people whom I have so long seen tremble before me: this it is that troubles my last moments, and renders me unhappy. I should like to foil the expectations of the ferocious crowd, who are rejoicing in the hope of my punishment; and that, when the moment arrives, only my corpse should be found. You see clearly that you can do nothing for me, my lord.'"

"'You are mistaken,' he answered, quickly. 'I can, on the contrary, do everything. Not only will I spare you the punishment, but your two comrades, if they like, can escape it by a voluntary death.'"

"A flash of joy glittered in the convict's savage eye."

"'Are you speaking the truth?' he asked."

"'Silence!' said the Count; 'What interest could I have in deceiving you, when, on the contrary, my most eager desire is to prove my gratitude to you?'"

"'That is true; but in what way?'"

"'Listen to me. This ring I am wearing contains a poison of great subtlety. You have only to open the locket and inhale the contents to fall dead. This poison kills without suffering, and with the rapidity of lightning. One of my ancestors brought this ring from New Spain, where he was Viceroy. You are acquainted with the profound skill of the Indians in making poisons. Here is the ring; I offer it to you. Do you accept it?'"

"'Certainly!' he exclaimed, as he seized it, and quickly concealed it in his bosom. 'Thanks, my lord; you now owe me nothing, we are quits. You do more for me by the gift of this ring than I have done for you. Thanks to you, I and my poor comrades will be able to escape the ignominious fate that awaits us.'"

"They then went up to the other persons, who, on seeing the conversation ended, at once broke off their own."

"'Gentlemen,' said Red Arm, 'I thank you sincerely for having deigned to be present at the revelation which my conscience ordered me to make. Now I feel more tranquil. Only a few short moments separate me from death. Would it be asking too much to let me pass these few moments with my two comrades, who, condemned like myself, must also die today?'"

"'It is a last consolation,' said the chaplain."

"The governor of the prison reflected for a moment."

"'I see no inconvenience in granting you this request,' he at length said. 'I will give the necessary orders that your companions be brought here, and you will remain together till the moment of the execution.'"

"'Thanks, sir!' Red Arm gratefully exclaimed. 'This favour—the only one you could grant me, is of great value to me. Bless you for so much kindness!'"

"By the governor's order, the sentinel summoned the gaoler, who ran up and opened the dungeon."

"'Farewell, gentlemen,' said the convict; 'God be with you!'"

"They went out. The Count, after taking leave of the chaplain and the other two persons, left the prison, crossed the square, filled with an immense crowd, and hurried home. At this moment six o'clock struck. It was the hour appointed for the execution. Suddenly, as if by enchantment, a silence of death prevailed in this crowd, an instant before so noisy and agitated. Their vengeance was at length about to be satisfied."


CHAPTER XXV.

THE AVENGER.


"Immediately he reached home, the Count gave orders for his departure. He had completely forgotten the business for which he came to Bruneck: besides, had the business been even more important than it really was, it could not have retained him, so great was his anxiety to get away. Still, he was obliged to remain ten hours longer in the town. It was impossible to procure horses before three o'clock in the afternoon."

"He profited by this hindrance to take a little rest; in truth, he was utterly worn out with fatigue. He soon fell into so deep a sleep that he did not even hear the furious cries and vociferations of the crowd assembled in the square, on seeing that, instead of three criminals, whom they had so long awaited in order to enjoy their punishment, and satiate a vengeance so long desired, only three corpses were offered them. At the moment when the gaoler and officials entered the dungeon to lead the condemned men to the gallows, they only found their corpses; the men were quite dead. When the Count woke, all was over, the shops were opened again, and the town had reassumed its accustomed appearance. The Count enquired after his carriage, the horses had been put in and it was waiting at the door. The final preparations were soon made; the Count went down."

"'Where are we going, Excellency?' the postillion asked, hat in hand."

"'The Vienna road,' the Count replied, making himself as comfortable as he could in the corner of the carriage."

"The postillion cracked his whip, and they set off at full speed. The Count had reflected, and the following was the result of his reflections:—Only one person was powerful enough to render him thorough and prompt justice, that person was the Emperor. He must, consequently, apply to the Emperor, and that was the reason why he was going to Vienna. It is a long distance from Bruneck to Vienna; at that period, more especially when railways were only just beginning, and only existed in few places, journeys were long, fatiguing and expensive. This lasted twenty-seven days. The Count's first business on arriving, was to enquire after his Imperial Majesty; the court was at Schönbrunn. Now Schönbrunn, the Saint Cloud of the Austrian Emperors, is only a league and a half from Vienna. Still, not to lose precious time in false steps, he must obtain an audience with the Emperor as speedily as possible. Count Oclau was of too great a family to be kept waiting long; two days after his arrival in Vienna an audience was granted him. The palace of Schönbrunn stands, as we said, about a league and a half from Vienna, beyond the suburb of Maria itself and a little to the left. This imperial palace, commenced by Joseph I., and finished By Maria Theresa, is a simple, elegant, and graceful building, though not without a certain majesty. It is composed of a large main building with two wings, with a double flight of steps leading to the first floor; low buildings running parallel to the main edifice, serve as offices and stables, and are attached to the end of the east of the wings, leaving merely an aperture of about thirty feet, on either side of which stands an obelisk, which thus completes the courtyard. A bridge thrown across the Vienne, a thin stream of water which falls into the Danube, gives access to the palace, behind which extends in an amphitheatrical form, an immense garden, surmounted by a belvedere, placed on the top of a large grass plot, which is flanked on the right and left by magnificent coppices full of shadow, freshness, and twittering birds. Schönbrunn, rendered celebrated by Napoleon I. residing there twice, and by the painful death of his son, bears a stamp of indescribable sadness and languor, everything is gloomy, dull, and desolate; the court with its formal etiquette and brilliant parades only imperfectly succeeds at lengthened intervals, in galvanizing this corpse. Schönbrunn, like the palace of Versailles, is only a body without a soul, and nothing could restore it to life."

"The Count arrived at Schönbrunn ten minutes before his audience, which was fixed at noon. A chamberlain on duty awaited him, and at once introduced him to his majesty. The Emperor was in a private room, leaning upon a mantelpiece. The reception granted the Count was most affable. The audience was a long one, it lasted nearly four hours, no one ever learned what passed between the sovereign and the subject. The last sentence of this confidential interview was alone heard. At the moment when the Count took leave of the Emperor, his majesty said, while giving him his hand to kiss—"

"'I believe it will be better to act thus on behalf of the whole of the nobility, every effort must be made at any cost, to avoid the frightful scandal which the publicity of so horrible an affair would arouse; my support will never fail you. Go, my lord, and Heaven grant that you may succeed with the means I place at your service.'"

"The Count bowed respectfully, and retired. The same evening he left Vienna, and took the road which would lead him home. At the same time with him, a cabinet courier sent by the Emperor, started on the same road."

On reaching this point in his narrative, the adventurer paused, and addressing Count de la Saulay, asked him:—"Do you suspect what passed between the Emperor and the Count?"

"Nearly," the latter answered.

"Oh!" he said, in amazement; "I should be curious to know the result of your observations."

"You authorize me then to tell you?"

"Certainly."

"My dear Don Adolfo," the Count continued, "as you are aware, I am a nobleman; in France the king is only the first gentleman of his kingdom, the primus inter pares, and I suppose that it is much the same everywhere now; any attack upon one of the members of the nobility affects the sovereign as seriously as all the other nobles of the empire. When the Regent of France condemned Count de Hom to be broken alive on the wheel upon the Place de Grivé, for robbing and murdering a Jew in the Rue Quincampoix, he replied to a nobleman of the court, who interceded with him on behalf of the culprit, and represented to him that the Count de Hom, allied to reigning families, was his relative: 'When I have any bad blood, I have it taken from me;' and turned his back on the petitioner. But this did not prevent the nobility from sending their carriages to the execution of Count de Hom. Now, the fact you are talking about is nearly similar, with this exception, that the Emperor of Austria, less brave than the Regent of France, while allowing that justice ought to be dealt upon the culprit, recoiled from a publicity, which, according to his views, would brand a stigma of infamy upon the entire nobility of his country; hence, like all weak men, he satisfied himself with half measures, that is to say, he probably gave the Count a blank signature, by means of which the latter, on the first plausible pretext, might put down his noble relative, kill him, or even have him assassinated, without other form of trial, and in this way, obtain by the destruction of his enemy the justice he claimed; since, the Prince once dead, it would be easy to restore to his sister-in-law or her son, in the event of his being recovered, the titles and fortune which his uncle had so criminally appropriated. This, in my opinion, is what was arranged between the Emperor and the Count at the long audience granted at Schönbrunn."

"Matters turned out so in reality, Count, with the exception that the Emperor insisted that hostilities should not commence between the Count and the Prince, until the latter was beyond the frontiers of the empire, and the Count requested the Emperor to place at his disposal all the means of action he possessed, in order to try and find his nephew again, if he still lived, and to this the Emperor consented."

"The Count returned then to his castle, provided with a blank signature of his majesty, which gave him the most extensive powers to carry out his vengeance, and in addition, with an order entirely in his majesty's handwriting, empowering him to obtain the aid of all the imperial agents, both at home and abroad, at the first requisition. The Count, as you of course understand, was but moderately satisfied with the conditions which the Emperor had imposed on him; but recognising the impossibility of obtaining more, he was obliged to give way. For himself, he would have certainly preferred, whatever might have been the consequence, a public trial, to the paltry and disgraceful vengeance that was permitted him; but it was better, in the interests of his sister and nephew, to have obtained these semi-concessions, than to meet with a formal refusal. He immediately set to work in search of his nephew, for this search the papers which Red Arm had handed him, contained precious information. Without saying anything to his sister, through fear of giving her false hopes, he immediately went about his task. What more shall I tell you, my friends? His search was long, and is Still going on; still the situation is beginning to grow clearer, and has been so fortunate as to find his nephew again: since this discovery, he has never let the young man out of sight, although the latter is ignorant to this day of the sacred bonds which attach him to the man who has brought him up, and whom he loves like a father, the Count has kept this secret even from his sister, not wishing to reveal it to her till he can announce at the same time that justice has at length been done, and that the husband she has deplored for so many years is avenged. Very frequently, since that period, the two enemies have met, many opportunities have been offered the Count to kill his foe, but he has never let himself be led astray by his hatred, or, to speak more truly, his hatred has given him the strength to wait; the Count wishes to kill his enemy, but he desires first that the latter should dishonour himself and fall, not conquered in an honourable contest, but justly struck, like a criminal, who at last receives the chastisement of his misdeeds."

After uttering the last words the adventurer stopped. There was a lengthened silence; night was coming to an end, white gleams were beginning to filter through the half-open window; the light of the candles was growing pale; indistinct noises announced that the city was awaking, and the distant bells of monasteries and churches were summoning the faithful to early mass. The adventurer left his chair and began walking up and down the room, every now and then casting searching glances at his two companions. Dominique, thrown back in his butaca, with his eyes half closed, was mechanically smoking his Indian pipe. Count de la Saulay was playing the devil's tattoo on the table, while watching the adventurer's movements.

"Don Adolfo," he suddenly said to him, as he raised his head and looked him full in the face, "your story has ended then?"

"Yes," the adventurer answered, laconically,

"You have nothing more to add?"

"Well, excuse me, my friend, but I fancy you are mistaken."

"I do not understand you, my dear Count."

"I will explain myself; but on one condition."

"What is it?"

"That you will not interrupt me."

"Very good, if you insist. Now I will listen to you."

"My friend," the Count said, "the first friendly face I met on landing in America was yours; though we were placed in very different situations, accident was pleased to bring us together with such persistency, that what was at first but a passing acquaintance has become, without either of us knowing how, a sincere and profound affection. It is not possible to become so connected with a man without studying his character a little, which I have done with you, and you doubtless have done with me. Now, I believe that I know you intimately enough, my friend, to feel convinced that you did not come suddenly to our house tonight with the mere object of supping, or, forgive the phrase, indulging in a debauch, which does not agree with your character or morals, as you are the most sincerely sober man I ever met. Moreover, I ask myself, why you, so chary of your words, and especially of your secrets, have told us this story, very interesting, I allow, but which, apparently, does not concern us in any way, and can have but a very secondary interest for us. To this I answer that if you thus came to ask of us a supper, which you could very well have done without, you came expressly to tell us this narrative: that it interests you more than us, and I conclude that you have still something to tell us, or, to speak more clearly, to ask of us."

"That is evident," said Dominique.

"Well yes: all you have supposed is true—the supper was only a pretext, and I really only came here tonight with the intention of telling you the story you have just heard."

"Very good," said Dominique, joyously, "that, at any rate, is being frank."

"Still I confess," the adventurer continued sadly, "that I now hesitate because I am afraid."

"You afraid? And of what?" the two young men exclaimed in surprise.

"I am afraid, because this long history must shortly have its conclusion; because this conclusion must be terrible and though when I came here I intended to ask your assistance, I have since reflected, and recoil from the idea of mixing you up, you who are so young, happy, and careless, even indirectly, in this horrible history to which you ought to remain strangers. Pray, my friends, forget all you have heard—it is only a story told after drinking."

"No, on my honour, Don Adolfo," the Count exclaimed, energetically, "it shall not be so, I swear, and I speak for myself and Dominique: you want us and here we are. I know not what mysterious interest you have in this affair. I do not even wish to discover the motives that lead you to act, but I repeat to you, if you were to send us away when you are going to incur a great danger, which we might, perhaps, protect you from by sharing it with you, it would be a proof to us that you entertain neither esteem nor friendship, and that you regard us rather as thoughtless young people than men of courage."

"You go too far, my dear Count!" the adventurer warmly exclaimed. "I never had such ideas, far from it. Still, I repeat, I tremble at the thought of mixing you up in this affair, which does not concern you."

"Pardon me, my friend; from the moment it interests you, it concerns us, and we have the right to mix ourselves up in it."

The adventurer hung his head and began walking up and down the room again in great agitation.

"Well, be it so, my friends," he said at the end of a moment, "since you insist, we will act in concert. You will aid me in what I have undertaken, and I hope that we shall succeed."

"I feel convinced of it," said the Count.

"Let us go then," Dominique said, rising from the table.

"Not yet: but the moment is at hand. I swear to you that you will not have long to wait. Now, one last toast, and good-bye. Ah! I forgot: in the event of my not being able to come to you myself, this is the signal—one and two make three. It is very simple and you will remember it, I think?"

"Perfectly."

"In that case, good-bye."

Five minutes later he had left the house.


CHAPTER XXVI.

SUNNY HOURS.


The small suburban house in which Doña Dolores had found such a secure shelter between Doña Maria and Doña Carmen, though simple and comparatively unimportant, was a delightful abode, furnished very plainly, but with perfect taste. In the rear, a rarity in Mexico, was a small but well laid-out garden, full of shade and freshness, which afforded a charming retreat from the heat of the sun at the burning hour of noon. It was in these fragrant clumps that the young ladies hid themselves, to prattle and gossip at liberty, responding, by the sweet bursts of their laughter, to the joyous songs of the birds. Three persons alone were admitted to the house: they were the adventurer, the Count, and Dominique. The adventurer, incessantly absorbed by his mysterious occupations, only made rare and short visits there. It was not the same with the young men. During the first days they had strictly conformed to their friend's recommendations, and paid short, and, so to speak, stealthy visits, but gradually led on by the invisible charms which unconsciously attracted them, the visits were multiplied, became longer, and inventing all sorts of pretexts, they at last came to spend nearly the whole day with the ladies.

One day, while the inhabitants of the small house had withdrawn to the garden and were gaily conversing together, a frightful tumult was heard outside. The old servant ran in great alarm to inform his mistress that a band of ruffians, assembled before the house, insisted on having the gate opened to them, threatening to break it down if they were not obeyed. The Count re-assured Doña Maria, told her to fear nothing, and after begging her and the young ladies not to leave the garden, he and Dominique advanced to the outer door. Raimbaut had accidentally come a few minutes previously to bring his master a letter, and his presence, under the circumstances, became very valuable. The three men took their double-barrelled guns and revolvers, and after making their arrangements in a few words, the Count approached the gate, on which furious blows were being dealt outside, and ordered the old servant to open it. The gate was hardly opened ere there was an awful pushing, and a dozen individuals rushed into the zaguán with furious shouts and yells. But suddenly they stopped. Before them, at ten paces distance at the most, three men were standing with shouldered guns, ready to pull the trigger. The bandits, who were mostly unarmed, as they were so fully convinced of meeting with no resistance, and who only had the knives thrust through their belts, stood struck with stupor at the sight of the guns levelled at them. The fierce looks of these three men awed them; they hesitated, and finally stopped short, exchanging glances of alarm. This was not what had been announced to them: this house, apparently so tranquil, contained a formidable garrison. The Count handed his gun to the old man servant, and drawing his revolver, advanced resolutely toward the ruffians. The latter, by an opposite movement, commenced to recoil step by step, so that they soon reached the gate; then, turning round with a bound, they rushed out. The Count quickly locked the gate after them. The young men laughed heartily at their easy victory, and rejoined the ladies, who had hidden themselves, all trembling, in the thickets. This lesson had been sufficient; henceforth the quiet of the inhabitants of the small house was undisturbed.

Still, Doña Maria, grateful for the service the young men had done her, not only did not think that they paid too long visits, but even when they proposed to retire, she invited them to remain. It is true that the young ladies joined their entreaties to hers, so that the Count and his friend easily allowed themselves to be induced to remain, and thus passed the greater part of the day with them.

It was the day after the night Don Adolfo had spent in supping so heartily with his friends; noon had long struck from all the city churches, and the young men, who generally presented themselves at Doña Maria's at eleven o'clock, had not yet made their appearance. The two young ladies, who were in the dining room, pretended to be arranging and dusting the furniture, so as not to go and join Doña Maria, who had been for a long time expecting them in the garden. Though they did not speak, the girls, while arranging, or rather deranging the furniture, had their eyes incessantly fixed on the clock.

"Can you understand, Carmelita," Doña Dolores at length said with a delicious pout, "why my cousin has not yet arrived?"

"It is inconceivable, querida," Doña Carmen at once answered. "I confess that I feel very anxious, for the city is in a disturbed state at this moment, I hear. I only hope nothing unpleasant has happened to the two poor young gentlemen."

"Oh! It would be frightful if any accident were to happen to them!"

"What would become of us alone and unprotected in this house? Had it not been for their assistance, we should have been assassinated before."

"The more so, because we cannot count on Don Jaime, who is always absent."

The young ladies heaved a sigh, looked at each other silently for a moment, and then fell into one another's arms with a burst of tears. They understood each other. It was not for themselves they feared.

"You love him, then?" Doña Dolores at length whispered in her friend's ear.

"Oh, yes," she replied softly. "And you?"

"I too."

The confession was made; they now understood one another, and had nothing further to conceal.

"How long have you loved him?" Doña Carmen continued.

"I do not know, but I fancy that I have always loved him."

"It is the same with me."

Nothing is so sweet and pure as a girl's simple love. It is the soul scarce awake to human sensations, which seeks its lovely angelic wings to fly toward the unknown regions of the ideal.

"And does he love you?" Carmen asked softly.

"Yes, since I love him."

"That is true," she replied, quite convinced.

Love has this adorable thing about it, that it is essentially illogical; were it not so, it would not be love. Suddenly the young ladies rose, and laid their hands on their heart.

"Here he is," said Dolores.

"He is coming," Carmen remarked.

How did they know? The deepest silence prevailed outside. Then, quitting the dining room, they fled to the garden like startled doves. Almost immediately there was a knock at the door. The old servant doubtless recognised the knock, for he at once opened. The Count and his friend entered.

"The ladies?" the Count asked.

"In the huerta, Excellency," the servant answered, as he closed the door after them.

The ladies were seated in an arbour; Doña Maria was embroidering, the young ladies were attentively reading—so attentively, indeed, that, though they suddenly blushed, they did not hear the sound of their visitors' footsteps on the gravel walks, and were greatly surprised on perceiving them.

The gentlemen took off their hats on entering the arbour, and bowed respectfully to the ladies.

"Here you are at last, gentlemen," Doña Maria remarked with a smile; "do you know that we felt very anxious?"

"Oh!" said Doña Carmen with a pout.

"Not so very," Doña Dolores murmured, "these gentlemen have doubtless found an opportunity to amuse themselves elsewhere and took advantage of it."

The Count and Dominique gazed at the young ladies in surprise, for they did not understand.

"Come, come, little mad caps," Doña Maria said gently: "do not torment the poor young men so, you render them quite confused: it is probable that they did not come sooner because they were prevented."

"Oh! These gentlemen are perfectly at liberty to come when they please:" Doña Dolores said disdainfully.

"We should be sorry to feel angry with them for such a trifle," Carmen added with the same tone.

This was the death shot for the young men, and they completely lost countenance. The teasing girls looked at them for a second, and then burst into such a frank and sudden laugh, that the Count and Dominique turned pale with annoyance.

"Viva Dios!" the vaquero exclaimed, stamping his foot angrily, "It is too unkind to punish us thus for a fault we have not committed."

"Don Adolfo detained us against our will!" the Count said.

"You have seen Don Jaime?" Doña Maria asked.

"Yes, Madam, he paid us a visit at eleven o'clock last night."

The young men then took chairs, and a pleasant conversation was carried on. Doña Carmen and Dolores continued to tease them: they were happy at having made them so utterly disconcerted, though in their hearts they felt a grudge because their lovers had not comprehended the feeling that dictated their reproaches. As for the Count and Dominique, they felt happy in being by the side of these lovely and simple girls, they intoxicated themselves with the fire of their glances, listened with ravishment to the sweet music of their voice, without thinking of anything but enjoying as long as possible the easy happiness which they thus procured. The entire afternoon passed in this way with the rapidity of a dream. At nine o'clock they took leave and returned home without exchanging a word.

"Do you feel inclined to sleep?" the Count asked his friend, as soon as they reached their apartments.

"Really, no," the latter answered; "why?"

"Because I should like to talk with you."

"Well, that is capital, for I too want to talk to you."

"Ah," said the Count: "well, if you like, we will talk over a cigar and a glass of punch."

"That will be excellent."

The young men sat down opposite each other and lit their cigars.

"What a charming day we have spent!" the Count said.

"How could it be otherwise," Dominique asked, "with such amiable persons?"

And as if by common accord the young men sighed. The Count suddenly seemed to form a determination.

"Come," he said to his friend, "will you be frank?"

"With you I shall always be so, as you are well aware," Dominique answered.

"Well, listen to me: you are aware that I have only been a few months in Mexico, but what you know only vaguely is the motive that brought me to this country."

"I fancy I was told you had come here with the intention of marrying your cousin, Doña Dolores de la Cruz."

"That is true: but what you do not know is the way in which this marriage was arranged, and the motives that prevent me from breaking it off."

"Ah!" said Dominique.

"I will be brief: know then that while still a child, by the conditions of a family compact I was betrothed to my cousin Doña Dolores, of whose existence even I was ignorant. When I became a man, my parents called on me to fulfil this engagement, which they had made in my name without consulting me. In spite of the very natural repugnance I felt for this strange union with a woman whom I did not know, I was compelled to obey. I quitted with regret the happy careless life I was leading in Paris among my friends, and embarked for Mexico. Don Andrés de la Cruz received me on my arrival with the liveliest joy, overwhelmed me with the most delicate attentions, and introduced me to his daughter, my betrothed. Doña Dolores received me coldly, even more than coldly: evidently she was no more satisfied than myself with the union she was forced to contract with a stranger, and felt hurt at the right her father had thus arrogated of disposing of her hand without consulting her, or even warning her; for Doña Dolores, as I learned afterwards, was perfectly ignorant of the compact concluded between the two branches of our family. As for myself, delighted at the cool reception which I received from the woman. I was destined to marry, I hoped that possibly this union might not be completed. Doña, Dolores is very beautiful, as you are aware."

"Ah, yes," Dominique muttered.

"Her character is charming, her mind cultivated—in a word, she combines all the graces and seductive attractions which make an accomplished woman."

"Oh, yes," Dominique repeated; "all that you are saying is perfectly true."

"Well, I cannot love her, the feeling is stronger than I am; and yet duty—duty forces me to marry her, for Doña Dolores has suddenly become an orphan. She is almost ruined, and surrendered defencelessly to her brother's hatred: betrothed to her against my will, it is true, but very really betrothed, honour orders me to carry out this union, the last wish of her dying father; and yet I love—"

"What do you say?" Dominique exclaimed in a panting voice.

"Forgive me, Dominique; I love Doña Carmen."

"Oh, thanks, Great Heaven!"

"What do you mean?"

"I love too," said Dominique; "you render me very happy, for the woman I love is Doña Dolores!"

The Count offered his hand to Dominique, but the latter threw himself into his arms. They held each other closely embraced for some time, but at last the Count gently liberated himself.

"Let us hope!" he said; and this one word contained the feelings which were boiling in his heart.


CHAPTER XXVII.

AN HONEST MAN.


It was about two in the afternoon. There was not a breath of air, the country seemed to have fallen asleep under the weight of a leaden sun, whose burning beams fell from heaven with the colour of burnished copper on the gaping earth, and made the pebbles flash like so many diamonds on a wide and tortuous road which wound with infinite curves across an arid plain covered with greyish white rocks, on whose sides a blending light formed a cascade of fire. The perfectly transparent atmosphere, such as always exists in countries deprived of humidity, allowed the diversities of the country to be plainly distinguished as far as the horizon, with a crudity of forms, and details which, owing to the want of aërial perspective, gave them something harsh which saddened the eye. At a spot where this road separated into several branches, and formed a species of square, stood a small house with white walls and Italian roof, whose door was ornamented by a portello of coarsely planed tree trunks, supporting a balcony of trellis work which enclosed it like a cage. This cottage was a venta. Several horses tied by the bridle to the portello, with sadly hanging heads, heaving sides, and running down with perspiration, seemed to be as much exhausted by the heat as by fatigue. Here and there several men, rolled up in their zarapés, with their heads in the shade and their feet in the sun, were sleeping, according to the Spanish expression, a picrua sculta.

These men were guerilleros: a sentry half asleep, leaning on his lance, and with his back against the wall, was supposed to be watching the arms of the cuadrilla, which was filed. Under the portello, a man seated in a hammock, was desperately strumming a jarana, while singing in a ropy voice the languishingly amorous words of a triste. A fat little man, with grey eyes full of motion, and a mocking countenance, came out of the venta and approached the hammock.

"Señor don Felipe," he said with a respectful bow to the improvised musician; "will you not dine?"

"Señor ventero," the officer answered roughly "when you speak to me, you might, I think, be more respectful toward me, and give me the title to which I have a right—that is to say, call me Colonel."

"Excuse me, Excellency," the host replied with a deeper bow than the first; "I am a ventero, and very little acquainted with military ranks."

"That will do—you are excused! I will not dine yet, for I am expecting someone who has not yet arrived, but will be here shortly."

"That is certainly very unfortunate, Señor Colonel Don Felipe," the ventero remarked; "a dinner that I have prepared with so much care, will be entirely spoiled."

"That would be a misfortune; but what is to be done? Well, lay the table, I have waited long enough, and have too formidable an appetite to delay any longer."

The landlord bowed, and at once retired. In the meanwhile the guerillero had made up his mind to leave his hammock, and lay aside his jarana for the present. After rolling and lighting a husk cigarette, he carelessly walked a few paces towards the end of the portello, and with his arms crossed on his back, and cigarette in his mouth, surveyed the country. A horseman, enfolded in a dense cloud of dust raised by his rapid pace, was coming toward him. Don Felipe uttered a cry of joy, for he was certain that the horseman coming toward him was the person he had so long been expecting.

"Ouf!" the traveller said, stopping his horse short before the portello and leaping off; "I could not stand it any longer, válgame Dios; what a horrible heat!"

At a sign from the Colonel, a soldier took the horse and led it to the corral.

"Ah, Señor Don Diego, you are welcome," said the Colonel, as he offered his hand; "I have almost despaired of seeing you. Dinner is waiting for us: after such a ride, you must be almost dead of hunger."

The ventero introduced them into a retired cuarto. The two guests sat down to table and vigorously attacked the dishes placed before them. During the first part of the dinner, being fully occupied with satisfying the claims of an appetite sharpened by a long abstinence, they only interchanged a few words; but ere long their ardour was calmed, they threw themselves back on their butacas with an "ah" of satisfaction, lit their cigarettes and began smoking them, while sipping some excellent Catalaña refino which the host had brought as the wind up of the dinner.

"There," Don Diego said, "now that we have fed well—thanks be to Heaven and Saint Julian, the patron saint of travellers—suppose we talk a little, my dear Colonel."

"I am quite ready," the other answered with a crafty smile.

"Well," Don Diego continued, "I will tell that I spoke yesterday to the General about an affair which I intended to propose to you, and what do you think his answer was? Do not do, my dear Don Diego; in spite of his great talents, Don Felipe is an ass imbued with the most absurd prejudices, he would not understand the great patriotic purpose of the affair you proposed to him, he would only see the money and refuse with a laugh in your face, although certainly twenty-five thousand piastres are a very handsome sum; and he added in conclusion—well, since you have made an appointment with him, go and see him; if only for the singularity of the fact, you had better see. Now, if you think proper to mention the affair to him, he will shut your mouth and send you and your twenty-five thousand piastres to the deuce."

"Hum!" said the Colonel, to whom the amount caused serious reflection.

Don Diego examined him with a corner of his eye.

"Well," he continued, as he threw away his cigarette, "after due consideration, I am of the General's opinion, and will not talk to you about the matter."

"Ah!" the Colonel said again.

"It annoys me, I confess, but I must make up my mind to it; I will go and find Cuellar, perhaps he will not be so difficult to deal with."

"Cuellar is a scoundrel," Don Felipe exclaimed violently.

"I am well aware of it," Don Diego replied gently; "but what do I care for that? By giving him ten thousand piastres beforehand, I am certain that he will accept my proposition, which has the additional advantage of being very honourable."

The Colonel filled the glasses: he seemed absorbed in thought. "Confound it," he said, "that is a tidy sum you offer."

"Well, you understand, my dear sir, that I am not the man to ask any friend of mine to undertake such a job gratuitously."

"But Cuellar is no friend of yours."

"It is true, and that is why I feel sorry about applying to him."

"But what is the matter to be done?"

"It is a secret."

"Am I not your friend? Be assured that I will be as dumb as the grave."

Don Diego appeared to reflect.

"You promise me silence?"

"I swear it on my honour."

"Well, in that case, nothing prevents me from speaking. This is simply the matter: I shall tell you nothing new, Colonel, when I mention that numerous spies, seeing both causes at once, sell without scruple to Miramón the secrets of our military operations, just as they make us pay largely for the information they supply us about those of the enemy. Now, the Government of his Excellency, Don Benito Juárez, has, at this moment, his eyes open upon the machinations of two men, who are strongly suspected of playing a double part; but the individuals in question are gifted with such a remarkable talent, their measures are so well taken, that, in spite of the moral certainty existing against them, it has hitherto been impossible to obtain the slightest proof of the truth. These two men must be unmasked by seizing their papers, on the delivery of which fifteen thousand piastres will be immediately paid, in addition to the ten thousand advanced. Once that the General Governor has these proofs in his hands, he will not hesitate to bring them before a court martial. You see that this affair is honourable to the person who is willing to undertake it."

"Indeed, it is a meritorious act of patriotism to acquire this certainty: and who are the two men, pray?"

"Did I not mention their names?"

"That is the only thing you have forgotten."

"Oh! These are no ordinary persons—quite the contrary: the first has just been appointed private secretary to General Ortego, while the second, I believe, has very recently raised a cuadrilla at his own expense."

"But their names—their names?"

"You know them well, or, at least, I suppose so; the first is Don Antonio Cacerbas, and the second—"

"Don Melchior de la Cruz!" Don Felipe interrupted, eagerly.

"You know it!" Don Diego exclaimed, with perfectly well-acted surprise.

"The sudden elevation of these two men, the almost unlimited credit which they enjoy with the President, has also caused me to reflect, for no one understands this so sudden favour."

"Hence, certain persons consider it necessary to elucidate the question by assuring themselves in a positive manner about what these two men are."

"Well," Don Felipe exclaimed, "I will know it! I promise you, and will give you the proofs you require."

"You will do that?"

"Yes, I swear it! The more so because I consider it the duty of an honest man to take these rogues with their hand in the bag; and," he added, with a singular smile, "no one possesses the means to obtain the result better than I."

"I trust you may not be mistaken, Colonel, for, if this were to happen, I think I may assure you that the gratitude of the Government toward you will not be limited to the sum of which I am going to hand you a portion."

Don Felipe smiled proudly at this transparent allusion to the new rank of which he was ambitious.

Don Diego, without appearing to remark the smile, took from a large pocketbook a sheet of paper, and handed it to the guerillero, who seized it with a gesture of delight, and an expression of satisfied rapacity, which imparted something vile and contemptible to his features, which were generally handsome and rather regular. This paper was a draft for ten thousand piastres, payable at sight on a large English banking house in Veracruz. Don Diego rose.

"Are you going?" the Colonel asked him.

"Yes; I am sorry to be compelled to leave you."

"We shall meet again soon, Señor Don Diego."

The young man remounted his horse, and went off at a rapid pace.

"Ah!" he muttered, while galloping, "I think that this time the mousetrap is well set, and that the villains will be caught in it."

The Colonel had reseated himself in his hammock, and had begun to strum the jarana again, with more power than accuracy.


CHAPTER XXVIII.

LOVE.


Dolores and Carmen were alone in the garden. Hidden like two timid turtle doves, in an arbour of orange, lemon, and flowering pomegranate trees, and were eagerly conversing. Doña Maria kept her room, through a slight indisposition—such, at least, was the excuse she made to the young ladies for not keeping them company in the garden, but, in reality, she had shut herself up to read an important letter which Don Jaime had sent her by a safe man.

The girls, free from all surveillance, were rejoicing their hearts by confiding to each other their simple and sweet secrets; a few words had sufficed to render any explanation between them unnecessary; hence there were no concealments or subterfuges, but an entire and unbounded confidence, a tacitly concluded union to help each other, and compel their swains to break a too lengthened silence, and let them read in their hearts the name of her whom each of them preferred. It is on this serious and interesting subject that the conversation of the young ladies turned at this moment. Although they had confessed to each other their mutual love, by a feeling of delicacy inseparable from every real passion, they hesitated and recoiled with a blush before the thought of urging the young men to declare themselves.

Doña Carmen and Doña Dolores were really simple and innocent girls, ignorant of all the coquettish tricks of which, among us, the so-called civilized people, women make such cruel, and, at times, implacable sport. By one of those strange accidents, which real life so frequently creates, the conversation of the young ladies was, with but a few slight differences, the same as the one that had previously taken place between the Count and his friend on the same subject.

"Dolores," Doña Carmen said, in a caressing voice, "you are braver than I. You know Don Ludovic better than I do; and, besides, he is your relation; why this reserve with him?"

"Alas! My darling," Doña Dolores replied, "this reserve which surprises you is forced upon me by my position. Count Ludovic is now my sole relation, as I am deserted by all the others; for many years past we have been betrothed to each other."

"How is it possible," the girl exclaimed, nobly, "that parents thus dare to enchain their children without consulting, and condemn them beforehand to a future of misery?"

"These arrangements are frequently made in Europe, dearest, I understand; moreover, does not our natural weakness render us women slaves of men, who have retained the supreme power in their hands? and although this intolerable tyranny makes us groan, we must humbly bow the head and obey."

"Yes, that is only too true; still, I fancy that if we were to resist—"

"We should be branded, pointed at, and ruin our reputation."

"Well, do you, in spite of your heart, conclude this odious marriage?"

"What shall I answer you, darling? The mere thought that this marriage might be accomplished renders me wild with grief, and yet I can see no way of escaping it: the Count left France and came here with the sole object of marrying me; my father, on his dying bed, made him promise not to leave me without a protector, and to conclude this marriage. You see that there are several and very serious reasons why it seems to me impossible to escape from the fate that menaces me."

"But, my darling," Doña Carmen exclaimed, warmly, "why do you not have a clear explanation with the Count? Perhaps this explanation would smooth all difficulties."

"That is possible; but this explanation cannot come from me; the Count has rendered me immense services since my unfortunate father's death, and it would be giving him a very bad reward to answer by a refusal to a request which ought to honour me in every respect."

"Oh, you love him, Dolores!" she exclaimed, passionately.

"No, I do not love him," she answered, with dignity, "but perhaps he loves me; nothing proves the contrary."

"I am certain that it is I whom he loves!" Carmen exclaimed.

"My angel," she said, with a smile, "a woman can never be certain of such things, even when she holds the most solemn oaths, much less than when he has not a word, or a gesture, or a look to certify that she is not mistaken. I will go on then: one of two things is certain—the Count either loves me, or does not love me, and supposes that I am in love with him; in either case my conduct is laid down for me. I must wait without provoking an explanation, which cannot fail to take place between us, and which, I feel convinced, will not be long delayed. In that case, Carmen, I swear to you to be to the Count just what I ought to be, that is to say, frank and loyal; and if, after this explanation, any doubts remain in the Count's mind, it will be because he was determined to retain them, and nothing will be left me but to bow my head sadly, and yield to my fate. That is all I can possibly promise you, my love; anything else I could not dare do, for my dignity as a woman, and the respect I owe myself, have traced for me a line of conduct which I believe my honour commands me not to stray from."

"My dear Dolores, though I am greatly grieved by your resolution, still I am forced to allow that it is the only one which, under present circumstances, it is proper for you to adopt; hence, do not feel vexed by my ill temper, for I am suffering so greatly."

"And I? Do you believe, darling, that I am happy? Oh! Undeceive yourself if you have that thought; perhaps I am even more unhappy than you."

At this moment footsteps were heard on the gravel walk.

"Here is somebody," said Doña Dolores.

"It is the Count," Carmen at once replied.

"How do you know, dear?"

The girl blushed.

"I guess it by the beating of my heart," she said gently.

"He is alone, I think?"

"Yes."

"Oh, Heaven! Can anything new have happened?"

"Oh! Pray do not think that."

The Count appeared at the entrance of the arbour. He was really alone. He bowed to the young ladies, and waited for their permission to join them. Doña Dolores offered him her hand with a smile, while her companion bowed to hide her blushes.

"You are welcome, cousin," said Doña Dolores. "You arrive late today."

"I am pleased, cousin," he replied, "that you have noticed this involuntary delay. My friend, Don Domingo, who was obliged to go this morning early two leagues from the city, intrusted me with a commission, which I was compelled to execute before I could have the felicity of paying my respects to you."

"A very fair excuse, cousin, and Carmen and I absolve you. Now, sit down between us and let us talk."

"With the greatest pleasure, cousin."

He entered the arbour, and sat down between the two young ladies.

"Permit me, Doña Carmen," he continued, as he bent down courteously to the young lady, "to offer you my respectful homage, and inquire after your health."

"I thank you for this attention, caballero," she answered. "Thank Heaven, my health is very good; but I should wish that my mother's were the same."

"Is Doña Maria ill?" he eagerly asked.

"I hope not; still she is so indisposed as to keep her room."

The Count made a movement to rise.

"Perhaps, my presence might appear improper under the circumstances," he said, "and I will—"

"Not at all. Stay, caballero, you are no stranger to us. Your title of cousin, and betrothed of my dear Dolores," she said significantly, "sufficiently authorises your presence."

"It is authorised much more, cousin, by the numerous services you have rendered us, and which give you a claim to our gratitude."

"Hence, whatever may happen, you and your friend Don Domingo will always be welcome to us, caballero," Doña Carmen said with a smile.

"You overwhelm me, señoritas."

"Shall we not have the pleasure of seeing your friend today?"

"Within an hour he will be here, señorita. But you are rising: do you purpose leaving us, Doña Carmen?"

"I ask your permission to leave you for only a few minutes, caballero; Doña Dolores will keep you company, while I go and see whether my mother is better."

"Do so, señorita; and be kind enough to inform her of the lively interest I feel in her, and my grief at finding her indisposed."

The young lady bowed and went away, light as a bird. The Count and Doña Dolores remained alone. Their situation was singular and most embarrassing, for they thus unexpectedly found themselves in a position to have that explanation, from which they both hung back, while recognising its urgent necessity. If it is difficult for a woman to confess to a man who is wooing her that she does not love him, this confession is far more difficult, and painful, too, when it must come from the gentleman. Some minutes elapsed during which the two young people did not utter a word, and contented themselves with taking shy glances at each other. At length, as time was slipping away, and the Count was afraid if he allowed this favourable opportunity to pass, that it might not occur again for some time, he resolved to speak.

"Well, cousin," he said, with the easiest air he could affect, "are you beginning to grow used to this secluded life, which the unhappy circumstances in which you found yourself have brought upon you?"

"I am perfectly accustomed to this calm and tranquil existence, cousin," she answered, "and if it were not for the sad recollections which assail me every moment, I confess that I should be very happy."

"I congratulate you, cousin."

"In truth, what do I want for here? Doña Maria and her daughter love me. They lavish kindness and attention, and I have a small circle of devoted friends—can I desire anything else in this world, where real happiness cannot exist?"

"I envy your philosophy, cousin. Still my duty as a relation—and a friend," he added, hesitatingly, "oblige me to remind you that this situation—happy though it is—can only be precarious. You cannot hope to pass your life in the bosom of this charming family. A thousand unforeseen events may happen at any moment to cause a violent separation."

"That is true, cousin," she murmured in a low and trembling voice.

"You know," he continued, "how little it is permitted in this unhappy country to reckon on the future. A young lady of your age, and especially of your beauty, cousin, is fatally exposed to a thousand dangers, from which it is almost impossible for her to escape. I am your relative, if not your nearest, certainly the most devoted to you. You do not doubt this, I hope?"

"Oh, Heaven forbid, cousin! Believe, on the contrary, that my heart retains a profound gratitude for the numberless services you have rendered me."

"Only gratitude?" he said significantly. "The word is rather vague, cousin."

She raised her charming limpid eyes to him. "What other word would you have me employ?" she asked.

"I am wrong, forgive me," he continued. "The fact is, the situation in which we stand to each other at this moment is so singular, cousin, that I really do not know how to express myself when addressing you. I am afraid of displeasing you."

"No, cousin; you have nothing of the sort to fear," she answered, with a smile. "You are my friend, and from that title you have the same right to say anything to me, as I have to hear it."

"You give me the title of friend," he said gently. "Your father desired—"

"Yes," she interrupted him with some degree of vivacity, "I know to what you allude, cousin; my father had future plans for me, which death prevented him from realising."

"Those projects, cousin, it depends on you alone to realise."

She seemed to hesitate for an instant or two, but then went on in a trembling voice, and with a slight pallor. "My father's wishes are commands to me, cousin. On the day when it pleases you to ask my hand, I will give it to you."

"Cousin, cousin," he exclaimed hotly, "I do not mean that. I swore to your father not only to watch over you, but to secure your happiness by all the means in my power. The hand which you are ready to give me, in obedience to your father, I will not accept unless it is at the same time accompanied by the gift of your heart: whatever may be the feelings I entertain toward you, I will never force you to contract marriage which would render you unhappy."

"Thanks, cousin," she murmured, and cast her eyes down; "you are noble and good."

The young man softly took her hand.

"Dolores," he said to her, "permit me to call you by that name, cousin, for I am your friend."

"Oh yes," she replied, feebly.

"But," he added, with hesitation, "only your friend."

"Alas!" she sighed.

"That is enough," he said, "it is unnecessary to press you further: cousin you are free."

"What do you mean?" she exclaimed, anxiously.

"I mean, Dolores, that I give you back your promise. I renounce the honour of marrying you, though, with your permission, I still claim the right of watching over your happiness."

"Cousin!"

"Dolores, you do not love me; your heart is given to another; a marriage between us would cause the misery of both, poor girl. You have already been sufficiently tried by adversity, at an age when life should only be strewn with flowers, be happy with the man you love: it will not be my fault if your fate is not, ere long, united with his. I will justify the precious title of friend which you have given me by overthrowing the obstacles which possibly prevent the accomplishment of your dearest desires."

"Ah!" she exclaimed, with eyes bathed with tears, as she pressed the hand that held hers, "Why is it not you I love? You so worthy to inspire tender feelings."

"The heart has these anomalies, my cousin. Who knows, perhaps it is better that it is so? Now dry your tears, my querida Dolores; only see in me a devoted friend, a sure confidant to whom you could without fear, intrust all your charming love secrets, if I did not know them already."

"What?" she said, looking at him with surprise, "You know—"

"I know all, cousin, so reassure yourself; besides, he has not been so discreet as you; he has confessed everything to me."

"He loves me!" she exclaimed, drawing herself up to her full height; "Can it be possible?"

At this time the sound of hurried footsteps was heard outside.

"He is coming to tell you so himself," the Count remarked.

At the same instant Dominique entered the arbour.

"Ah!" she said, trembling and falling back on the bench she had left.

"Good God!" Dominique cried, turning pale, "What is going on here?"

"Nothing that need alarm you, my friend," the Count answered, with a smile, "Doña Dolores permits you to offer her your homage."

"Can it be true?" he exclaimed, as he rushed towards her, and fell on his knees.

"Oh, cousin!" the young lady said, in a tone of gentle reproach, "Why have you taken this unfair advantage of a secret?"

"Which you did not confide to me, but I guessed," he answered.

"Traitor!" the young lady said, suddenly rising, and threatening her cousin with her finger, "If you have read my secret, I have surprised yours."

And she disappeared, flying light as a bird, and leaving the two men face to face. Dominique, amazed at this unexpected flight, for which he could not attribute a motive, made a movement to dart after her, but the Count stopped him.

"Stay," he said to him, "the heart of a girl contains mysteries which must not be unveiled. What more do you want, now you are sure of her love?"

"Oh! My friend," he exclaimed, throwing himself into his arms, "I am the happiest of men."

"Egotist!" the Count said gently to him, "You only think of yourself, when my heart is perhaps hopelessly suffering."

Doña Dolores had only fled so fast from the arbour in order to restore a little order to her thoughts, and to recover from the excessive emotion she was suffering.

As she entered the house Carmen was leaving it. Dolores threw herself into her arms, and burst into tears. Carmen, terrified at the state in which she saw her friend, led her gently to her bedroom, and she obeyed mechanically, without offering the slightest resistance. It took Doña Dolores some time ere she was able to inform her friend of what had taken place in the arbour, and how the unexpected arrival of Dominique had forced from her, as it were, an avowal of love. Doña Carmen, who was far from expecting so quick, and so happy a conclusion, was overjoyed.

Henceforth no constraint, no misunderstanding; they could indulge in their sweet dreams of the future without any cause of alarm. What had they to fear, now they were sure of the love of the two young men? What obstacle could prevent their speedy union?

Thus Doña Carmen reasoned, to reassure the modesty of her friend, which had been rather startled by the confession which had involuntarily escaped her and filled her with shame. Girls are so: they are willing that the man whom they love should divine their love, but they consider it an unpardonable weakness to confess it in his presence.

Carmen, who was some years older than Dolores, and consequently better able to conquer her own emotions, gently teased her friend about her weakness, and gradually led her to agree with her, that since the confession of her love was made, she did not regret it.

They then quitted their room, and composing their faces to efface all traces of emotion, proceeded to the garden. It was deserted.


CHAPTER XXIX.

THE BOLD STROKE.


Going back a little distance, we will relate what had occurred from the day when Miramón so freely disposed of the money of the convention bonds deposited in the English consulate, to that which our story has reached; for the political events precipitated the termination of the narrative we have undertaken to write.

As Don Jaime had predicted to him, the rather brutal manner in which General Márquez executed his orders, and the most illegal act of seizing the money, cast a fatal slur on the character of the young President, which up to this time had been pure from any violence or spoliation.

On learning this news, the members of the diplomatic body, among others the ambassador of Spain, and the Chargé d'Affaires of France, who were better disposed to Miramón than to Juárez, owing to the nobility of his character, and the loftiness of his views, had from this moment considered the cause of the moderate party represented by Miramón as hopelessly lost, unless one of those miracles, so frequent in revolutions, but of which no possibility could be seen, occurred. Besides, the comparatively large sum of the convention bonds, joined to that which Don Jaime remitted to the president, had not been sufficient to cover the deficit, which was enormous, and had not even sensibly diminished it.

The greater part of the money was employed in paying the soldiers, who not having received a farthing for three months, were beginning to raise seditious cries, and threatening to desert in a body.

The army paid, or nearly so, Miramón began recruiting for the purpose of increasing it, so that he might, for the last time, try the fortune of war, resolved to defend, inch by inch, the power which had been freely entrusted to him by the representatives of the nation. Still, in spite of the confidence he affected, the young and adventurous general did not deceive himself as to the deplorable state of his position, when opposed to the far more considerable, and really imposing forces of the Puros, as the partisans of Juárez called themselves. Hence, before playing the last stake, he determined to try the last resources in his power, that is to say, a diplomatic mediation.

The Spanish ambassador, on arriving in Mexico, recognised Miramón's government; it was therefore to this diplomatist that the president in his desperate circumstances applied, with the object of obtaining a mediation of the ministers residents, to try and effect the re-establishment of peace by conciliation. He proposed to submit to certain conditions of which the following were the most important:—

Firstly.—The delegates chosen by the two belligerent parties, conferring with the European ministers and the representative of the United States, would agree as to the way of re-establishing peace. Secondly.—These delegates would nominate the person who was to hold the government of the whole Republic, while a general assembly resolved the questions that divided the Mexicans. Thirdly and lastly.—The manner of convoking Congress would also be determined.

This despatch, addressed, on October 3rd, 1860, to the Minister of Spain, terminated with these significant words, which fully displayed Miramón's lassitude, and his desire for a settlement.

"Heaven grant that this convention, confidentially attempted, may obtain a better result than those which have been proposed up to this day."

As was generally supposed, this final attempt at reconciliation failed. The motive was simple and easy to be understood, even by persons the least versed in politics. Juárez, master of the larger portion of the territory of the republic, felt himself in his government of Veracruz too strong, through his adversary's exhaustion, not to prove intractable, he would not share the position by reciprocal conditions, but triumph fully.

Still Miramón, like a brave lion at bay before the hunters, had faith in his valiant sword which had so often been victorious, he did not despair yet, or perhaps would not despair. In order to keep together the scattered strength of his last defenders, he addressed to them a supreme appeal on November 17th, in which he strove to rekindle the dying sparks of his ruined cause, by trying to impart to those who still surrounded him, the courage which himself retained intact. Unhappily, faith had fled, these words fell on ears closed by personal interest and fear; no one would comprehend this supreme death cry of a great and sincere patriot. Still, he must form some resolution, either give up the struggle and lay down the power, or attempt again the fate of arms, and resist to the last extremity. The latter resolution was adopted by the General after ample reflection.

Night was drawing to its close; bluish gleams filtered through the curtains and paled the candles burning in the cabinet, to which we have once before led the reader to hear the conversation between the General President, and the adventurer. This time again, the same couple were face to face in the cabinet. The candles almost entirely burnt down, proved that the conference had been long, the two men bending over an immense map, seemed to be studying it with the most serious attention, while conversing together with some degree of animation. All at once the General rose with an angry movement, and fell back into an armchair.

"Bah!" he muttered between his teeth, "What is the use of obstinately opposing ill fortune?"

"To conquer it, General," the adventurer answered.

"It is impossible."

"Do you despair?" he asked significantly.

"I do not, far from that, I am resolved to fall if necessary, sooner than yield to the law, which would be imposed on me by that villain Juárez, a hateful and vindictive Indian, picked up through pity on the side of a road by a Spaniard, and who only employs the learning he has gained, and the education he has received by accident, to distract his country, and plunge it into an abyss of misfortunes."

"What would you have, General?" the adventurer answered sarcastically. "Who knows whether the Spaniard to whom you allude did not educate this Indian for the purpose of accomplishing a vengeance, and with a prevision of what is taking place today?"

"Everything would lead to the belief, on my soul! Never did man follow with more cat-like patience, the darkest schemes, or accomplish more odious actions, with such impudent cynicism."

"Is he not the chief of the Puros?" the adventurer said laughingly.

"Curses on the man!" the General exclaimed, with an outburst of generous indignation, which he could not overcome. "He wishes the ruin of our unhappy country."

"Why do you refuse to follow my advice?"

The General shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

"Good Heavens!" he said, "Because the plan you have submitted to me is impracticable."

"Is that really the sole motive that prevents you from adopting it?" he asked cleverly.

"And then again," the General said with a slight embarrassment, "since you compel me to say it, I consider it unworthy of me."

"Oh, General, permit me to remark that you have not understood me."

"Monsieur, you are joking, my friend, I have so thoroughly understood you, on the contrary, that if you wish it, I will repeat to you word for word, the plan you have conceived, and," he added with a laugh, "which, with an author's self love, you are so anxious to see me carry out."

"Ah!" said the adventurer, with an air of doubt. "Well, the plan is as follows: to quit the city suddenly, take no artillery with me, so as to march more quickly across country roads, surprise the enemy, attack him—"

"And beat him," the adventurer added meaningly.

"Oh, beat him," he said dubiously.

"It is infallible; consider, General, that your enemies rightly consider you shut up in the city, engaged in fortifying yourself there in the provision of the siege, with which they menace you; that since the defeat of General Márquez, they know that none of your partisans keep the field, and that consequently they have no attack to fear, and march with the most perfect security."

"That is true," the General muttered. "Hence, nothing will be more easy than to rout them; a guerilla war is not only the sole one you can carry on at the present day, but it offers you almost certain chances of success, by unnecessarily harassing your enemies, and beating them in detail; you have the hope of seizing once more the fortune which is abandoning you, and of delivering yourself from your odious rival. Only gain the victory in three or four encounters with his troops, and your partisans who are deserting you because they believe you ruined, will return in crowds, and Juárez's formidable army will melt away like snow before the sun."

"Yes, yes, I understand the boldness of this plan."

"Besides, it offers you a final chance."

"What?"

"This, if you are defeated, of ennobling your overthrow, by falling weapons in hand upon a field of battle, instead of letting yourself be smoked out like a fox from its earth, by an enemy whom you despise, and of seeing yourself in a few days constrained to accept a shameful capitulation, in order to spare the capital of the Republic the horrors of a siege."

The General rose, and began walking up and down the cabinet with long strides; presently he stopped in front of the adventurer.

"Thanks, Don Jaime," he said to him, in an affectionate voice; "your rough frankness has done me good, it has proved to me that I have at least one faithful friend left in misfortune; well, be it so, I accept your plan, and will put it into execution this very day; what o'clock is it?"

"Not quite four, General."

"At five, I shall have left Mexico."

The adventurer rose.

"Are you leaving me, my friend?" the General said to him.

"My presence is no longer necessary here, General, permit me to retire."

"We shall meet again."

"Yes, at the moment of action, General. Where do you intend to attack the enemy?"

"There," said the General, placing his finger on a point of the map, "at Toluca, where his vanguard will not arrive before two in the afternoon: by making haste I can reach it before noon, and thus have the necessary time to make all my preparations for the action."

"The spot is well chosen, and I predict you a victory, General."

"May heaven hear you! I do not believe in it."

"Again your discouragement."

"No, my friend, you are mistaken: it is not discouragement on my part, but conviction."

And he affectionately offered his hand to the adventurer, who took leave and withdrew. A few minutes later Don Jaime had left Mexico, and bending over his horse's neck, was galloping madly across country.


CHAPTER XXX.

THE SORTIE.


As Miramón had stated to the adventurer, at five o'clock, a.m. precisely, he left Mexico at the head of his troops. His forces were not numerous, they only consisted of three thousand five hundred men, infantry and cavalry, without artillery, on account of the execrable roads along which he was obliged to march. Every cavalry man carried an infantry soldier behind him, in order to render the march more rapid. It was really a coup de main that the President was about to attempt, a most hazardous one, but for that very reason it had numerous chances of success. General Miramón rode at the head of the army, in the midst of his staff with whom he gaily conversed; on seeing him thus calm and smiling it might have been fancied that no anxiety disturbed his mind; he seemed on leaving Mexico to have resumed that happy carelessness of manner which the anxieties of power had made him so rapidly forget. The morning, though rather fresh, promised a beautiful day, a transparent mist rose from the ground as the sunbeams became more ardent. A few herds could be seen scattered over the plain; some recuas of mules led by arrieros and proceeding to Mexico incessantly crossed the line of march; the well cultivated ground offered no trace of war, and, the country, on the contrary, seemed to enjoy a profound calm.

Some Indians were running along the roads, driving oxen to the city, others were carrying their fruit and vegetables, all were in a hurry and carelessly singing, in order to dispel the weariness and length of the road. On passing the President, whom they knew well, they stopped in amazement, took off their hats and bowed to him with an affectionate respect. Ere long, by Miramón's orders, the troops entered almost insurmountable paths, on which the horses only advanced with great difficulty. The country became more abrupt and diversified: the march became more rapid, and silence was re-established in the ranks of the troops: they were approaching the enemy.

At about ten o'clock the President ordered a halt to rest the horses and give the soldiers time to breakfast. Usually no sight is so curious as a Mexican army. Every soldier is accompanied by his wife, who carries the provisions and prepares his meals. These wretched women, exposed to all the frightful consequences of war, camp at some distance from the troops when they halt, which give the Mexican armies the appearance of an emigration of barbarians. When a battle is being fought, they remain impassive spectators of the contest, knowing beforehand that they will become the prey of the victor, but accepting, or rather yielding with philosophic indifference to this hard necessity. This time it was not so; the President had expressly prohibited any woman from following the army, the soldiers therefore carried their provisions ready cooked in the alforjas hanging behind the saddle; a precaution which, while avoiding a considerable loss of time, had the additional advantage of rendering fires unnecessary.

At eleven boot and saddle was sounded, and the troops at once fell into their ranks. They were approaching Toluca, the spot where the President resolved to await the enemy. The road, cut up by deep ravines, which could only be crossed with great difficulty, became almost impracticable; still, the soldiers were not discouraged; they were the élite of Miramón's troops, his most faithful partizans, who had accompanied him since the beginning of the war. They had redoubled their ardour in the presence of obstacles which they surmounted laughingly, encouraged by the example of their young general, who marched bravely at their head, and thus gave them a sample of patience and self-denial.

General Cobos had been detached to reconnoitre at the head of twenty resolute men, in order to watch the enemy's march, and warn the General as soon as he caught sight of them, by falling back unseen on the main body. Suddenly Miramón perceived three horsemen galloping toward him, supposing, correctly, that they were the bearers of important news. He spurred his horse, and hastened to meet them. He soon joined them. Of these three men, two were soldiers; the third, who was well mounted and armed to the teeth, appeared to be a peasant.

"Who is this man?" the President asked of one of the soldiers.

"Excellency," he replied, "this man presented himself to the General, asking to be led to you, for he says he is the bearer of a letter which must be handed to you personally."

"Who sent you to me?" the President asked the stranger, who stood motionless before him.

"I pray your Excellency first to read this letter," he answered, as he drew a sealed note from his dolman, and respectfully handed it to the General. Miramón opened it and rapidly read it.

"Ah! Ah!" he said, examining him attentively; "What is your name, my good fellow?"

"Lopez, General."

"Good. So he is near here?"

"Yes, General; in ambush with three hundred horsemen."

"And he places you at my disposal?"

"Yes, General, for as long as you may want me."

"Tell me, Lopez, do you know this country?"

"I was born in it, Excellency."

"Then you are capable of guiding us?"

"Wherever you please."

"Do you know the enemy's position?"

"Perfectly, Excellency; the heads of Generals Bercozabal and Digollados' columns are not more than a league from Toluca, where they intend to make a long halt."

"At what distance are we from Toluca?"

"Following this road, about three leagues, Excellency."

"That is a long way: is there no shorter road?"

"There is one that shortens the distance by more than two-thirds."

"¡Caray!" the General exclaimed, "We must take it."

"Yes, but it is narrow, dangerous, and impracticable for artillery; even cavalry will not pass it without great difficulty."

"I have no artillery."

"In that case the thing is possible, General."

"I ask no more."

"Still, with your Excellency's permission, I will offer a bit of advice which I think good."

"Speak."

"The road is rough; it would be better to dismount the cavalry, send the infantry on ahead, and let the cavalry follow, leading their horses by the bridle."

"That will delay us a long time."

"On the contrary, General; we shall go faster on foot."

"Very well: how long before we reach Toluca?"

"Three-quarters of an hour. Is that too long, General?"

"No; if you keep your promise, I will give you ten ounces."

"Although it is not interest that directs me," Lopez said with a laugh, "I am so certain of not making any mistake, that I regard the money as gamed."

"Well, if that is the case, take it at once," the General said, giving him his purse.

"Thanks, Excellency; now we will set out when you like: but order your soldiers to maintain the deepest silence, so that we may come upon the enemy unawares, and attack him before he has time to look about him."

Miramón sent a soldier to General Cobos with orders for him to fall back as quickly as possible; then he made his soldiers dismount, placed the infantry in front, four abreast, the greatest width possible, and the dismounted cavalry formed the rearguard. General Cobos soon returned, and Miramón told him in a few words what was going on. The President placed himself at the head of the troops, having his own horse and the guide's led behind him, in spite of the entreaties of his friends.

"No," he replied to their solicitations, "I am your chief; as such, the greater part of the danger falls on me. My place is here, and I remain."

They were compelled to let him act as he pleased.

"Shall we start?" Miramón asked Lopez.

"I am ready, General."

They set out: all their movements had been performed in the deepest silence, with admirable rapidity and precision. Lopez had made no mistake; the path along which he led the troops was so rocky and difficult, that they advanced much more rapidly on foot.

"Does this path run any long distance?" the President asked the guide.

"Within half a gunshot of Toluca, General," he answered, "at that point it ascends until it commands Toluca, and then it is easy for cavalry to descend to the town at a gallop."

"Hum! There is both good and bad in what you say."

"I do not understand your Excellency."

"Hang it! It is clear enough, I fancy: suppose the Puros have placed a line of sentries on the heights, our project will be thwarted, and our expedition rendered fruitless. You did not reflect on what you were doing when you led us here."

"Pardon me, Excellency; the Puros know that no corps keep the field; they believe themselves certain of having no attack to apprehend, hence they do not take precautions, which they consider useless; moreover, the heights to which you refer are too remote from the spot where they will camp, and much too high for them to dream of crowning them."

"Well," the General muttered; "I must place my trust in Heaven! Now that I am here, I will not recoil."

They continued their advance with redoubled precautions. They had been for about five and twenty minutes on the path, when Lopez, after looking searchingly around, suddenly halted.

"What are you doing?" the General asked.

"As you see, Excellency, I am stopping. On the other side of that bend before us the path begins to ascend, and we are not more than a musket shot from Toluca. With your permission, I will go on ahead, to make sure that the heights are not watched, and that you have a free passage."

The General looked at him attentively. "Go," he at length said; "we will await your return before we push on. I trust to you."

Lopez took off his weapons and hat, which were not only useless to him, but might betray him; and lying down on the ground, he began crawling in the Indian fashion, and soon disappeared among the bushes that bordered the path. At a signal from the President, the word to halt ran rapidly along the ranks, and the army stopped almost instantaneously. Several minutes elapsed. The generals had drawn nearer, and surrounded the General. The guide did not return, and the anxiety was great.

"That man is a traitor," General Cobos said.

"I do not believe it," Miramón at once replied:

"I am sure of the person who sent him to me."

At this moment the bushes were parted, and a man appeared. It was Lopez, the guide. His face was calm, his eye bright, his step confident. He approached the President, stopped at two paces from him, saluted, and waited till he was spoken to.

"Well?" Miramón asked.

"I have advanced to the very crest of the heights, Excellency," he replied. "I have distinctly seen the bivouac of the Puros. They do not suspect your presence, and I believe that you can act."

"Then they have not posted a line of sentries on the heights?"

"No, General."

"Good! Lead me to the entrance of the path, for I must examine the ground before I arrange my plan of attack."

Lopez picked up his gun and hat.

"I am ready," he said.

They advanced. Behind them, at a short distance, came the army. Everything was deserted, as the guide had announced. Miramón examined the ground with the most serious attention.

"Good!" he muttered; "I know now what remains for me to do:" and, addressing the guide, he said, "So, your master is in ambush, to attack the enemy in the rear?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"But, how to warn him, so that his attack may coincide with ours?"

"Nothing is easier, Excellency. You see that tree which stands alone on the top of the heights?"

"Yes, I see it; what then?"

"I have orders to cut off the head of that tree at the precise moment when you commence the attack. The disappearance of the crown of the tree will be the signal for him to charge."

"By heavens!" he exclaimed; "That man was born a general: nothing escapes him. Go to the tree, climb up it, and hold yourself in readiness. When you see me raise my sword in the air, you will lop off the crown with one blow of your machete. You have understood me?"

"Perfectly, Excellency; but after that, what shall I do?"

"Whatever you like."

"In that case, I shall rejoin my master."

He took his horse from the asistente who was holding it, and calmly proceeded toward the tree. Miramón divided his infantry into three corps, and placed his cavalry in reserve. All these arrangements made, the troops began to ascend the heights. When they reached the top—"Forward! Forward!" Miramón shouted, waving his sword, and rushing down the slope. The whole army rolled after him like an avalanche. On seeing the President raise his sword, Lopez deftly lopped off the crown of the tree, on the top of which he was; then, when this exploit was accomplished, he stepped down, leaped on his horse, and galloped after the army. The sudden appearance of Miramón's troops caused a frightful disorder in the bivouac of the Puros, who were far from expecting so sharp and vigorous an attack, as their spies had assured them that no corps kept the field. The soldiers ran to their arms, and the officers tried to organise a resistance: but even before the ranks could be formed, the President's troops were upon them, and charged them furiously to the shouts of—

"Long live Mexico! Miramón! Miramón!"

The generals who commanded the Puros, brave and intelligent officers, strove a tremendous resistance. At the head of those troops who had succeeded in forming their ranks, they kept up a murderous fire, while the guns placed in battery decimated the President's infantry. The affair was becoming serious. The Juaristas had the advantage of numbers. Having recovered from the panic they at first felt, there was reason to fear that, if the combat was prolonged, they might assume the offensive. At this moment loud shouts were heard in their rear, and a large body of cavalry rushed upon them with couched lances. Taken between two enemies, the Juaristas believed themselves betrayed. They lost their heads, and began to disband. Miramón's cavalry appeared at this moment, and vigorously charged the enemy. The combat then degenerated into a massacre: it was no longer a fight, but a butchery. The Juaristas, attacked in front, on the flank, and in the rear, broke and fled. The retreat began, and was soon changed into a rout. General Bercozabal, General Digollado, his sons, two Colonels, all the officers composing their staff, fourteen guns, a large quantity of ammunition and arms, and nearly two thousand prisoners, fell into Miramón's hands. The President had seven men killed, and eleven slightly wounded. The battle had only lasted twenty-five minutes. The victory was complete. Capricious fortune granted a last smile to the man whose ruin she had resolved on.


CHAPTER XXXI.

TRIUMPH.


This unforeseen victory, so brilliant and complete, gained by Miramón over veteran troops commanded by renowned officers, restored courage and hope to the terrified partizans of the President of the Republic. The temper of the troops changed to such an extent, that they no longer doubted the triumph of their cause, and in a few minutes grew to regard it as definitively gained. Amid the general joy, Miramón alone entertained no illusions as to the value of the victory he had gained. For him this new lustre cast on his armies, which had so long been victorious, was only the last and brilliant flicker of an expiring torch. He was too thoroughly acquainted with the precarious position to which he was reduced, to entertain for a single moment delusive hopes. Still in his heart he thanked fortune for the last smile she had deigned to grant him, and which would prevent him from falling from power like a common man. When the cavalry sent in pursuit of the fugitives, to prevent them from rallying, at length rejoined the main body, which had remained on the field of battle, Miramón, after granting his troops two hours' rest, gave orders to return to Mexico.

The return of the expeditionary force was not nearly so rapid as its preceding march. The tired horses only advanced with difficulty. The infantry had dismounted to escort the prisoners, and thus the cannon and numerous baggage waggons, which had been captured and now followed the army, could only pass along a wide and beaten road, which compelled Miramón to follow the high road and occasioned him a delay of several hours. It was about ten at night when the vanguard of the expeditionary force reached the garitas of Mexico. It was quite dark, and yet the city appeared in the darkness, flashing with an innumerable quantity of lights.

Good news, like bad, is propagated with extraordinary rapidity. Let anyone who can solve the almost insoluble problem, but it is certain that the battle was scarce terminated at Toluca, ere its issue was known in Mexico. The rumour of the brilliant success gained by the President immediately ran from mouth to mouth, though no one could tell whence he obtained it. At the news of this unhoped-for victory, the joy was universal, enthusiasm raised to its utmost pitch, and at nightfall the citizens spontaneously illuminated. The ayuntamiento awaited the President at the entrance of the city to offer him their congratulations. The troops marched between two compact lines of people, uttering frenzied shouts, waving handkerchiefs and hats, and letting off any quantity of squibs, in sign of rejoicing. The bells, in spite of the late hour, rang a full peal, and the numerous shovel hats of the clergy mingled with the crowd, proved that the priests and monks, so cold on the previous day for the man who had ever supported them, had suddenly felt their slumbering enthusiasm aroused at the news of his victory.

Miramón passed through the crowds, cold and impassive, returning with an imperceptible expression of irony the salutations incessantly made to him on both sides of the road. He dismounted at the palace; a little in front of the gate a man was standing motionless and smiling. This man was the adventurer. On seeing him, Miramón could not restrain a movement of joy.

"Ah, come, come, my friend," he exclaimed walking toward him.

And, to the general stupefaction, he passed his arm through his and led him into the interior of the palace. When the President reached the private cabinet, in which he usually worked, he threw himself into an easy chair, and wiping with a handkerchief his damp face, he exclaimed with an ill-tempered tone: "Ouf! I am half dead! This stupid recantation, at which I was forced to be present against my will has, on my honour, wearied me more than all the other events of this day, futile though it was in extraordinary incidents."

"Good," the adventurer replied affectionately. "I am glad to hear you speak thus, General. I was afraid lest you might be intoxicated by your success." The General shrugged his shoulders disdainfully.

"What do you take me for, my friend?" he answered. "What a wretched opinion you must have of me, if you suppose that I am a man to let myself be thus blinded by a success which, brilliant though it may appear, is in reality only one victory more to register, while its results will be null for the welfare of the cause I support?"

"What you say is only too true, General."

"Do you fancy I am ignorant of it? My downfall is inevitable: this battle will only retard it for a few days. I must fall, because, in spite of the enthusiastic shouts of the mob—ever fickle and easy to deceive—what has hitherto constituted my strength, and has sustained me in the struggle I undertook, has abandoned me for ever. I feel that the temper of the nation is no longer with me."

"Perhaps you go too far, General! Two battles more like this one, and who knows if you will not have regained all you have lost?"

"My friend, the success of today's battle belongs to you. It was owing to your brilliant charge in the enemy's rear, that they were demoralised and consequently conquered."

"You insist on seeing everything in gloomy colours. I repeat again: two battles like this one, and you are saved."

"These battles I shall fight, my friend, if they grant me the time, be assured. Ah! If instead of being alone, blockaded in Mexico, I still had faithful lieutenants holding the country, after today's victory, all might be repaired."

At this moment the door of the cabinet was opened, and General Cobos appeared.

"Ah! It is you, my dear General," the President said to him, holding out his hand and suddenly reassuming a laughing air. "You are welcome. What motive procures me the pleasure of seeing you?"

"I implore your Excellency to excuse me for venturing to appear thus, without being announced; but I have to talk with you on serious matters, which admit of no delay."

The adventurer made a movement to withdraw.

"Stay, I beg of you," the President said, checking him by a sign. "Speak, my dear General."

"Excellency, the greatest disorder is prevailing on the Plaza among the people and the troops; the majority are noisily demanding that the officers taken prisoners today, may be immediately shot as traitors to the country."

"What?" the President asked, drawing himself up and turning slightly pale. "What is that you are saying, my dear General?"

"If your Excellency will deign to open the windows of this cabinet, you will hear the cries of death which the army and the people are raising in concert."

"Ah!" Miramón muttered. "Political assassinations committed in cold blood after the victory: I will never consent to authorise such odious crimes. No, a thousand times no! I at least will never have that said of me. Where are the captured officers?"

"In the interior of the palace, under a guard in the courtyard."

"Give orders for them to be at once brought into my presence: go, General."

"Ah, my friend," the President exclaimed with discouragement, as soon as he found himself alone with the adventurer, "what can be hoped from a nation so devoid of moral feeling as ours? Alas! What will the European governments think of this apparent barbarity? What a contempt they must feel for our unfortunate nation! And yet," he added, "this people is not bad-hearted, it is its long slavery which has rendered it cruel, and the interminable revolutions to which it has been constantly a victim for forty years. Come, follow me; we must put an end to this."

He then left the cabinet accompanied by the adventurer, and entered an immense saloon, in which his most devoted partizans were assembled. The president dent seated himself in a chair raised on two steps, prepared for him at the end of the room, and the officers who remained faithful to his cause, grouped themselves on either side of him. At an affectionate nod from Miramón the adventurer remained by his side, apparently indifferent.

A noise of footsteps and the rattling of arms were heard outside, and the captured officers, preceded by General Cobos, entered the hall. Although they affected calmness, the prisoners were rather anxious as to the fate reserved for them. They had heard the cries of death raised against them, and were aware of the ill feeling of Miramón's partizans towards them.

The one who walked first was General Bercozabal, a young man of thirty at the most, with an expressive head, firm and delicate features, and a noble and easy demeanour. After him came General Digollado between his two sons; then two colonels and the officers composing General Bercozabal's staff.

The prisoners advanced with a firm step toward the President, who on their approach, hastened from his chair and walked a few steps toward them, with a smile on his lips.

"Caballeros," he said to them with a graceful bow, "I regret that the circumstances in which we are now unfortunately placed do not permit me at once to restore you to liberty, but at any rate I will try, by all the means in my power, to render you comfortable during a captivity which, I hope, will not last long. Be good enough first to receive back the swords which you wield so bravely, and of which I regret having deprived you."

He made a sign to General Cobos, who hastened to restore to the prisoners the arms which he had taken from them, and which they received with a movement of joy.

"Now, Caballeros," the President continued, "deign to accept the hospitality which I offer you in this palace, where you will be treated with all the respect that your misfortune deserves. I only ask your word as soldiers and caballeros not to leave it without my permission. Not that I doubt your honour, but in order to protect you from the attacks of people ill disposed toward you, and rendered savage by the sufferings of a long war: you are, therefore, prisoners on parole, caballeros, and at liberty to act as you please."

"General," Bercozabal answered in the name of all, "we thank you sincerely for your courtesy, we could not expect less from your well-known generosity. We give you our word, and will only employ the liberty you grant us within the limits you may think proper, promising you to make no attempt to regain our liberty, until you have freed us from our parole."

After a few more compliments had been exchanged between the President and the two generals, the prisoners withdrew to the apartments assigned to them. At the moment when Miramón was preparing to return to his cabinet, the adventurer quickly checked him, and pointed to a general officer, who was apparently trying to escape notice.

"Do you know that man?" he said to him in a low and trembling voice.

"Of course I know him," the President answered, "he only joined me a few days ago, and he has already rendered me eminent services: he is a Spaniard, and his name is Don Antonio Cacerbas."

"Ah! I know his name," said the adventurer, "for I have known him a long time unfortunately: General, that man is a traitor!"

"Nonsense, you are jesting."

"I repeat, General, that man is a traitor: I am sure of it," he said forcibly.

"I beg you not to press the point, my friend," the General quickly interrupted him; "it would be painful to me; good night, come tomorrow: I wish to talk with you about important matters."

And after nodding kindly to him, the President returned to his cabinet, the door of which was closed upon him. The adventurer stood for a moment motionless, painfully affected by the President's incredulity.

"Oh!" he muttered sadly, "Those whom God wishes to destroy, he blinds! Alas! All is now over, this man is hopelessly condemned, his cause is lost."

He left the palace full of the most sinister anticipations.


CHAPTER XXXII.

EL PALO QUEMADO.


The adventurer as we said, left the palace, the Plaza Mayor was deserted, the popular effervescence had calmed down as rapidly as it had risen: by the entreaties of certain influential persons, the troops had returned to their quarters: the leperos and other citizens equally respectable, who formed the majority of the insurgent mob, seeing that decidedly there was nothing to be done, and that the victims whom they coveted were effectually escaping from them, after a few cries and yells raised as a consolation, dispersed in their turn, and returned to the more or less ill-famed dens, always open in the low quarters of the city, and where they were sure of finding a shelter.

Lopez alone remained firm at his post. The adventurer had ordered him to wait for him at the palace gate, and he did so. Still, as the night was dark, and the most profound obscurity had succeeded the radiant illumination of the evening, he waited with his hand on his weapons, with ears and eyes on the watch, lest, in spite of the vicinity of the palace, he might be surprised and robbed by some night prowler, who would not have been sorry of the windfall if the peon had not thus kept good guard. When Lopez saw the palace gate opened, he understood that it could only be his master who thus came out alone, and he went up to him.

"Anything new?" the adventurer asked, as he put his foot in the stirrup.

"Not much," he answered.

"Are you sure?"

"Pretty well; still, now that I reflect, I fancy I just now saw someone I know leaving the palace."

"Ah! Was it long ago?"

"No, a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes at the most; but I am afraid I was mistaken, for he wore a costume so different from that in which I knew him, and then I had but such a slight opportunity of looking at him."

"Well! Whom did you fancy you recognised?"

"You will not believe me if I tell you it was Don Antonio de Cacerbas, my old patient."

"On the contrary, for I also saw him in the palace."

"¡Ah demonio! In that case I regret that I did not listen to his conversation."

"What conversation—when, with whom? Speak or choke: come, will you explain yourself?"

"I will do so, mi amo: when he left the palace there were still some groups on the plaza; a man quitted one of these groups and approached Don Antonio."

"Did you recognise the man?"

"Well, no, for he had a broad brimmed Vienna hat pulled down over his eyes, was wrapped up to the nose in a large cloak, and moreover, it was not much lighter than at this moment."

"Come to facts," the adventurer exclaimed impatiently.

"These two men began conversing in a low voice."

"And did you hear nothing?"

"No, only a few unconnected words, that was all."

"Repeat them, at any rate."

"Willingly: 'So he was there,' one of them said. I did not hear the other's answer. 'Bah! He would not dare,' the first continued: then they talked so low that I could not hear anything; the first said presently, 'We must go:' 'It is very late,' the other objected. I only heard the two words—Palo Quemado: then, after exchanging a few whispered words, they separated; the first at once disappeared under the portales: as for Don Antonio, he turned to the right as if intending to go to the Paseo de Bucareli; but he will have stopped at some house, for it is not probable that at such an hour he should dream of walking alone at a place of that description."

"That we will very soon find out," the adventurer remarked as he mounted; "give me my reins and follow me: the horses are not tired?"

"No, they are quite fresh," Lopez said, as he handed the adventurer a double-barrelled gun, a brace of revolvers, and a machete; "by your orders I went to the corral, where I left our tired horses, I saddled Mono and Zopiloto, now here, and returned to wait for you."

"You have done well—let us be off."

They rode away, crossed the deserted square, and after a few turnings, made doubtless with the intention of throwing out any spies who might be watching their movements, they at length went in the direction of Bucareli. In Mexico, after nightfall it is forbidden for anyone to ride along the streets, unless he holds a special permission very difficult to obtain; the adventurer, however, seemed to trouble himself very slightly about this prohibition, and indeed his boldness was perfectly justified by the apparent indifference of the celadores, a good number of whom they met on their passage, and who allowed them to gallop as they pleased, without venturing the slightest protest.

When the two riders found themselves sufficiently distant from the palace no longer to fear pursuit, each drew a black half mask from his pocket, and put it on his face; this precaution taken against any idlers who might recognise them in spite of the darkness, they resumed their ride. They soon reached the entrance of the Paseo de Bucareli; the adventurer stopped, and after striving to sound the gloom with a piercing glance, he gave a shrill and prolonged whistle. At once a shadow emerged from a gateway, where it was perfectly concealed, and advanced into the middle of the road; on reaching it, this shadow, or this man halted, and waited without saying a word.

"Has anyone passed here during the last three-quarters of an hour?" the adventurer said.

"Yes, and no," the stranger answered laconically.

"Explain yourself."

"A man came, stopped before the house there on your right, and rapped his hands twice; at the end of a moment a door opened, a peon came out leading a horse by the bridle, and holding a cloak lined with red under his arm."

"How did you see that on this dark night?"

"The peon carried a lanthorn; the man to whom I allude reproached him for his imprudence, smashed the lanthorn under his heel, and then threw the cloak over his shoulders."

"What dress did this man wear?"

"That of a cavalry general officer."

"Well, what next?"

"He handed his plumed hat to the peon; the latter entered the house, from which he came out a moment after with a Vienna hat, pistols, and a gun; he put spurs on the officer, who seized the weapons, mounted his horse, and departed."

"In what direction?"

"That of the Plaza Mayor."

"And the peon?"

"Re-entered the house."

"You are sure you were not seen by either?"

"Quite."

"That will do: watch—good bye."

"Adieu!" and he returned to his dark post.

The adventurer and his peon turned round; they soon found themselves again on the Plaza Mayor, but crossed it without stopping. Don Jaime seemed to know what directions he should follow, for he galloped without hesitation through the streets; he soon reached the garita of San Antonio, which he passed without stopping: some market gardeners were already beginning to enter the city. On arriving about six hundred paces from the garita, at a spot forming a square, the centre of which is occupied by a stone cross, and from which six wide but badly kept roads radiate, the adventurer halted again, and as on the first occasion, gave a shrill whistle. At the same instant, a man lying at the foot of the cross, rose and stood motionless before him.

"A man has passed here," Don Jaime said, "mounted on a skewbald horse, and wearing a hat with a gold golilla?"

"The man has passed," the stranger answered.

"How long ago?"

"An hour."

"Was he alone?"

"Yes."

"Which direction did he take?"

"That," the stranger answered, stretching out his arm toward the second road on the left.

"That will do."

"Shall I follow?"

"Where is your horse?"

"In a corral near the garita."

"It is too far, I have no time to wait; farewell, watch."

"I will watch."

And he lay down again at the foot of the cross.

The two horsemen resumed their journey.

"He is really going to the Palo Quemado," the adventurer muttered; "we shall find him there."

"That is probable," Lopez said with the utmost coolness.

"It is strange that I did not guess that sooner, for it is easy enough."

They galloped for about an hour without exchanging a syllable; at length they perceived a short distance from them a dark mass, whose black outline stood out from the less dense obscurity of the surrounding country.

"Here is the Palo Quemado," Don Jaime said.

"Yes," was all that Lopez answered.

They advanced a few paces, and then stopped. All at once a dog began barking furiously.

"¡Demonio!" Don Jaime exclaimed; "We must pass, or that accursed animal will betray us."

They spurred their horses, and darted past at full speed. At the end of a few minutes the dog, whose barking had changed into hoarse growls, was quite silent. The horsemen stopped, and Don Jaime dismounted.

"Hide the horses somewhere in the vicinity," he said, "and wait for me."

Lopez made no answer, the worthy man was not given to talking, and did not care to lavish his words unnecessarily. The adventurer, after inspecting his weapons with the great care so as to be sure, in the probable event of his being obliged to use them, that they would not fail him, lay down on the ground like an Indian of the Savannahs, and by an undulating, slow, and almost insensible movement, approached the rancho of the Palo Quemado.

When he was only a short distance from the rancho he saw what he had not noticed before, that some ten or a dozen horses were tied up in front of the house, and that several men were lying on the ground asleep near them. An individual, armed with a long lance, was standing motionless before the door, a sentinel, doubtless, posted there to watch over the general safety.

The adventurer stopped, the situation was a difficult one; the individuals, whoever they might be assembled in the rancho, had neglected no precautions in the event of an attempt being made to surprise them. Still, the greater the difficulties appeared, the more did the adventurer comprehend the importance of the secret he wished to surprise; hence, his hesitation was short, and he resolved, however great the risks he might run, to learn to learn who were the members of this clandestine meeting, and for what motive they were assembled. The reader is sufficiently acquainted with the adventurer, whom we have introduced to him under so many names, to guess that now his resolution was formed to push on, he would not hesitate to do so.

This was really what happened: he merely redoubled his prudence and precautions, advancing inch by inch as it were, and crawling along the ground with the silent elasticity of a reptile. Instead of proceeding directly to the rancho he went round it, in order to assure himself that, with the exception of the sentry at the door, he had no fear of being discovered by any watchman concealed at the rear of the building. As the adventurer had foreseen, the rancho was only guarded in front. He rose and examined the neighbourhood as far as the darkness permitted it. A rather large corral, enclosed by a quickset hedge, joined the house: this corral appeared deserted. Don Jaime sought an opening through which he could step into the interior; after groping for a few minutes he discovered one wide enough to admit his passing. He went in.

Now the difficulties were slighter to approach the house; by the hedge he in a few instants almost reached the wall. What astonished him was not having been scented and tracked by the dog which had previously announced his approach so noisily.

This is what had happened: disturbed by the barking of the dog, and fearing lest it should reveal by its noise their suspicious presence to the Indians, who at this hour were proceeding to the city for the purpose of selling their wares, the strangers collected in the rancho, trusting in their sentinel to watch over their safety, ordered the ranchero to call the animal into the house, and chain it sufficiently far away that its barking might not be heard outside should it set off again.

This excessive prudence on the part of the temporary guests of the rancho permitted the adventurer to approach, not only without being discovered, but also without arousing suspicions. Although he was ignorant of this fact, Don Jaime profited by it, thanking Providence in his heart for freeing him from so troublesome a watcher. While attentively examining the wall along which he was moving, he came to a door, which, by some inconceivable negligence, had been left ajar, and yielded to the slight push he gave it. This door opened on a very dark passage, but a slight ray of light which filtered through the badly-joined crack of a door revealed to Don Jaime the spot where, in all probability, the strangers were assembled.

The adventurer stealthily approached, placed his eye to the crevice, and looked. Three men, folded in thick cloaks, were seated round a table covered with bottles and glasses, in a rather large room, as far as might be judged, and only lighted by one candle placed on a corner of the table. An animated conversation was going on between the three guests, who smoked, drank, and talked like men who feel sure of not being overheard, and, consequently, of having nothing to fear. These three men the adventurer at once recognized: the first was Don Felipe Neri Irzabal, the guerillero colonel, the second, Don Melchior de la Cruz, and the third, Don Antonio de Cacerbas.

"At last," the adventurer muttered, with a quiver of joy, "I am about to know everything."

And he listened attentively. Don Felipe, who was speaking, seemed to be in an advanced state of intoxication; still, though his speech was thick, he did not wander as yet, but, like all half-drunken people, he was beginning to stray into abstruse arguments, and seemed to be supporting with indomitable doggedness a condition which he wished to impose on his two hearers, and to which they would not consent.

"No," he repeated, incessantly, "it is useless to press me, señores, I will not give you the letter you ask of me. I am an honest man, and have only one word, voto a licos!" and at each sentence he struck the table with his fist.

"But," Don Melchior remarked, "if you insist on keeping this letter, though you have orders to deliver it to us, it will be impossible for us to carry out the mission with which we are entrusted."

"What credit," Don Antonio added, "will be given us by the persons with whom we wish to come to an understanding, if we have nothing to prove to them that we are duly authorized to do so?"

"That does not concern me—each for himself in this world. I am an honest man, and must guard my interests as you do yours."

"What you are saying is absurd," Don Antonio exclaimed, impatiently; "we risk our heads in this affair."

"Possibly, my dear sir; everybody does as he pleases. I am an honest man, I go straight before me. You will not have the letter unless you give me what I ask; give and give, that is all I know. Why did you not warn the General of today's affair, in accordance with your agreement with him?"

"We have proved to you that it was impossible, as the sortie was unexpectedly resolved on."

"Good, that! You will settle as you can with the General-in-Chief—I wash my hands of it."

"Enough of this nonsense," Don Antonio said, drily; "will you, or will you not, deliver to this caballero or myself the letter which the President intrusted to you for us?"

"No," Don Felipe answered, bluntly, "unless you give me an order for ten thousand piastres. It is really giving it away, but I am an honest man."

"Hum!" the adventurer muttered to himself, "An autograph of Señor Benito Juárez is really precious. I would not bargain if he offered it to me."

"But," Don Melchior exclaimed, "you will commit a scandalous robbery in acting thus."

"Well, what then?" Don Felipe said, cynically. "I rob, you betray, we are well matched, that is all."

At this insult, so brutally hurled in their teeth, the two men rose.

"Let us go," said Don Melchior, "this man is a brute, who will listen to nothing."

"The most simple plan is to go to the General-in-Chief," Don Antonio added, "he will do us justice, and avenge us on this wretched drunkard."

"Go! Go, my dear sirs," the guerillero said, with a grin, "and luck go with you! I keep the letter—perhaps I shall find a purchaser. I am an honest man."

At this menace the two men exchanged a glance, while laying their hands on their weapons, but after a hesitation, no longer than a lightning flash, they disdainfully left the room. A few minutes after the rapid gallop of several horses could be heard outside.

"They are gone," the guerillero muttered, as he poured out a tumbler of mezcal, which he swallowed at a draught: "they are decamping, on my word, as if the fiend were carrying them off! They are furious. Stuff! I don't care, I have kept the letter."

While speaking thus to himself, the guerillero replaced his tumbler on the table. Suddenly he started; a man wrapped up to the eyes in the folds of a thick cloak was standing in front of him. This man held in either hand a revolver, the barrels of which were pointed at the guerillero's chest. The latter gave a sudden start of terror at this sight, which he was far from expecting.

"Hilloah!" he exclaimed, in a voice which trembled from emotion and terror, "Who is this demon, and what does he want? Why, hang it! I have fallen into a wasp's nest."

Terror had sobered him; he tried to rise and fly.

"One word, one gesture," the stranger said, in a hollow, menacing voice, "and I blow out your brains." The guerillero fell heavily back on the stool he had been sitting on.


CHAPTER XXXIII.

SETTLEMENT OF ACCOUNTS.


Hidden behind the passage door, the adventurer had not lost a word of what was said. When Don Melchior and Don Antonio rose, Don Jaime, not knowing by what door they would go out, hastily left the passage, glided into the corral, and waited in concealment behind the hedge. But, a few minutes after, as nothing had stirred, and no noise was heard, he ventured to leave his hiding place and enter the passage again.

Then he approached the door, and applied his eye to the crack through which he had been previously able to see all that went on in the room. The two men bad just gone; Don Felipe was alone, still seated at the table, and drinking. The adventurer's resolution was at once formed: placing the blade of his knife between the crack against the bolt, he noiselessly opened the door, silently approached the guerillero, and revealed his presence to him in the somewhat startling way we described at the end of the preceding chapter.

Though the guerillero was brave, the sudden appearance of the adventurer, and the sight of the revolvers pointed at him alarmed him. Don Jaime took advantage of this moment of prostration; without uncocking his pistols, he walked straight to the door through which Don Melchior and Don Antonio had retired, secured it inside to avoid any surprise, then returned slowly to the table, sat down on a trunk, laid his pistols before him, and letting his cloak fall, said—

"Let us have a talk."

Though these words were pronounced in a rather gentle voice, the effect they produced on the guerillero was immense.

"El Rayo!" he exclaimed, with a shudder of terror on perceiving the black mask which covered the face of his singular visitor.

"Ah! Ah!" the latter said with an ironical laugh, "So you recognise me, my dear Don Felipe?"

"What do you want of me?" he stammered.

"Several things," the adventurer replied; "but let us proceed regularly, as there is no hurry."

The guerillero poured out a tumbler of Catalaña refino, raised it to his lips, and emptied it at a draught.

"Take care," the adventurer observed to him; "Spanish brandy is strong, it easily rises to the head; it is better, considering what is going to pass between us, for you to retain your coolness."

"That is true," the guerillero muttered; and seizing the bottle by the neck, he hurled it against the wall.

The adventurer smiled, then continued while carelessly rolling a cigarette between his fingers—

"I see that you have a good memory, and I am glad of it; I was afraid you had forgotten me."

"No, no; I remember our last meeting at Las Cumbres."

"Exactly: do you remember how that interview terminated?"

The guerillero turned pale, but made no reply.

"Good: I see that your memory fails you, but I will come to its aid."

"It is unnecessary," Don Felipe replied, raising his head and appearing to form a resolution; "as chance permitted me to see your features, you told me—"

"I know—I know," the adventurer interrupted.

"Well, I am going to keep the promise I made you."

"All the better," he said resolutely. "After all, a man can only die once; as well today as another day. I am ready to meet you."

"I am delighted to find you in such a warlike temper," the adventurer coldly answered; "restrain your ardour a little, pray: everything shall have its turn, I assure you, but that is not the point for the moment."

"What is it, then?" the guerillero asked with amazement.

"I am going to tell you."

The adventurer smiled again, rested his elbows on the table, and leant over slightly to the guerillero.

"How much," he said, "did you ask your noble friends for the letter which Señor Don Benito Juárez ordered you to deliver to them?"

Don Felipe fixed on him a look of terror, and mechanically made the sign of the cross.

"This man is the fiend," he muttered with horror.

"No; re-assure yourself I am not the fiend, but I know a good many things about you more especially, and the numerous businesses you carry on. I know the bargain you made with a certain Don Diego: moreover, if you desire it, I will repeat to you word for word the conversation which you held scarce an hour ago in this very room with the Señores Don Melchior de la Cruz and Don Antonio de Cacerbas. Now, let us come to facts: I wish you to give me—you understand me, I suppose?—Give me, and not sell me, the letter of Señor Juárez which you have in your dolman, which you refused to the honourable caballeros whose names I mentioned to you, and surrender to me at the same time the other papers of which you are the bearer, and which I presume must be very interesting."

The guerillero had had time to recover a portion of his coolness, hence it was in rather a firm voice that he said—

"What do you intend doing with these papers?"

"That can be of very little importance to you when they are no longer in your hands."

"And if I refuse to surrender them?"

"I shall be obliged to take them by force, that is all," he answered calmly.

"Caballero," Don Felipe said with an accent of dignity at which the adventurer was surprised, "it is not worthy of a brave man like yourself thus to menace a defenceless man. My only weapon is my sabre, while you, on the contrary, hold the lives of a dozen men at your disposal."

"This time there is an appearance of reason in what you say," the adventurer observed, "and your remark would be just were I about to use my revolvers in forcing you to do what I demand of you; but re-assure yourself you shall have a loyal combat, and my pistols will remain on this table. I will merely cross my machete with your sabre, which will not only re-establish the balance between us, but also give you a signal advantage over me."

"Will you really act thus, caballero?"

"I pledge you my word of honour; I am accustomed always to settle accounts honourably both with my enemies and my friends."

"Ah! You call that settling accounts?" he said ironically.

"Certainly; what other name can I employ?"

"But whence comes this hatred you bear me?"

"I do not hate you more than any other villain of your stamp," he said savagely. "In a moment of braggadocio you wished to see my face, so that you might recognise me hereafter. I warned you that the sight would cost you your life: perhaps I should have forgotten you, but today you again came across my track. You possess papers which are indispensable to me, and these papers I have resolved on gaining at any price. You refuse them to me; I can secure them by killing you, and I shall kill you. Now I grant you five minutes to reflect, and to tell me if you persist in your refusal."

"The five minutes you so generously grant me are unnecessary; my resolution is unbending: you shall only have the papers with my life."

"Very good; you will die," he said as he rose.

He took his revolvers, uncocked them, and laid on the table at the other end of the room; then returning to the guerillero and drawing his machete, he asked—

"Are you ready?"

"One moment," Don Felipe answered, as he rose in his turn; "before crossing swords with you, I have two requests to make."

"Go on."

"Is the duel we are going to fight mortal?"

"Here is the proof," the adventurer answered, as he unfastened his mask and threw it from him.

"Good," he said; "the proof you give me is quite sufficient, and one of us must die. Let us suppose it is I."

"Any supposition is unnecessary, the fact is certain."

"I admit it," the guerillero answered coldly; "in the case of it being realized, do you promise me to do what I am about to ask of you?"

"Yes, on my honour, if it be possible."

"Thanks—it is possible; it is merely to be my residuary legatee."

"I will be so; go on."

"I have a mother and young sister, who live rather poorly in a small house situated not far from the canal de Las Vigas, in Mexico; you will find their exact address in my papers."

"Good."

"I desire them to be put in possession of my fortune after my death."

"It shall be done; but where is this fortune to be found?"

"At Mexico; all my funds are deposited with — and Co., English bankers. On the simple presentation of my voucher, the sum will be handed over to you in full."

"Is that all?"

"Not quite. I have about me several bills, amounting altogether to fifty thousand piastres, drawn on various foreign banks in Mexico. You will have them cashed, add the amount to the sums you have previously received, and the whole will be handed over to my mother and sister. Do you swear to do this?"

"I pledge you my honour."

"Good; I have confidence in you. I have only one more request to make of you."

"What is it?"

"This: we Mexicans are very clumsy hands with sabres and swords, whose use we are ignorant of, as duels are prohibited by law. The only weapon we can properly use is the knife: will you consent to our fighting with knives? Of course it is understood that we fight with the whole blade."

"The strange duel you propose to me is better suited for leperos and bandits than caballeros; but I accept."

"I am grateful to you for so much condescension, caballero, and now may Heaven protect me. I will do my best."

"Amen!" the adventurer said, with a smile.

This calm conversation between two men on the point of cutting each other's throats, this will, made so coolly, whose execution is confided, in the case of the death of one of the adversaries to the survivor, displays one of the strangest phases in the Mexican character; for these details are most strictly true. Although very brave naturally, the Mexican fears death, the feeling is innate in him: but when the moment arrives to risk his life, or even to lose it, no one accepts with greater philosophy, or, to speak more correctly, with greater indifference, this harsh alternative, or accomplishes with greater willingness a sacrifice which, among other nations, is never regarded without a certain degree of terror, end an instinctive nervous tremor.

As for duelling, the Mexican laws prohibit it even among officers. Hence emanate the numerous assassinations and snares laid to wash out insults received, which it is impossible otherwise to avenge. The leperos and lower classes alone fight with the knife.

This combat, which is perfectly regulated, has its laws, which must not be transgressed. The opponents make their conditions as to the length of the blade, so as to settle beforehand the depths of the wounds to be dealt. They fight with one inch, two inches, the half, or entire blade, according to the gravity of the insult. The combatants place their thumb on the blade at the agreed on length, and the thing is settled.

Don Felipe and Don Jaime had unhooked their swords, which were now useless, and armed themselves with the long knife which every Mexican carries in his right boot. After taking off their cloaks, they rolled them round their left arms, carefully letting a small part hang down in guise of a curtain: it is with this arm, thus protected, that blows are parried. Then, the two men fell on guard, with their legs straddled and slightly bent, the body forward, the left arm half extended, and the blade of the knife concealed behind the cloak. The fight commenced with equal fury on either side. The two men turned and bounded round one another, advancing and falling back like two wild beasts. Eye to eye, with clenched teeth, and panting chest.

It was really a combat to death they were fighting. Don Felipe had a perfect knowledge of this dangerous weapon; several times his adversary saw the bluish flash of the steel dazzle eyes, and felt the sharp point of the knife slightly buried in his flesh; but, calmer than the guerillero, he allowed the latter to exhaust himself in vain efforts, waiting with the patience of a lurking tiger for the favourable moment to finish by one stroke.

Several times, harassed by fatigue, they stopped by common accord, and then rushed on each other with renewed fury. The blood flowed from several slight wounds they had dealt each other, and dropped on the floor of the room. All at once Don Felipe gathered himself up, and leapt forward with the rapidity of a jaguar; but his foot slipped in the blood, he tottered, and while he was striving to regain his balance, the whole of Don Jaime's blade was buried in his chest.

The unhappy man heaved a stifled sigh, a flood of blood poured from his mouth, and he fell like a dog on the ground. The adventurer bent over him, he was dead—the blade had passed through his heart.

"Poor devil!" Don Jaime muttered, "He brought it on himself."

After this laconic, funeral discourse, he fell on the guerillero's dolman and calconciras, and seized all the papers about him. Then he took up his revolver, resumed his mask, and wrapping himself as well as he could in his cloak, which was cut to pieces, he left the room, reached the passage, went through the hole in the hedge unnoticed by the sentry who was still standing in front of the door, and on arriving at a certain distance from the Palo Quemado, he imitated the whoot of the owl. Almost immediately Lopez appeared with the two horses.

"To Mexico," Don Jaime cried, as he bounded into the saddle; "this time, I believe, I hold my vengeance."

The two riders started at full speed. The delight which the adventurer experienced at the unhoped for success of his expedition, made him forget the pain of the stabs, slight it is true, which he had received in his duel.


CHAPTER XXXIV.

A SUPREME RESOLUTION.


The first beams of day were beginning to tinge the sky with opaline tints at the moment when the two horsemen reached the garita of San Antonio. For some time past they had checked the rapid pace of their steeds, had taken off their masks, and re-established such order as they could in their clothes, which had been dirtied and damaged by the numerous incidents of their night's ride. At some paces from the garita they mixed themselves up with the groups of Indians proceeding to market, so that it was easy for them to enter the city unnoticed. Don Jaime proceeded straight to the house he inhabited in the calle de San Francisco, near the plaza Mayor.

On reaching home, he dismissed Lopez, who was literally falling asleep. In spite of the copious draughts which he had taken while his master was at the Palo Quemado, he gave him leave for the whole day, merely appointing a meeting with him the same evening, and then withdrew to his bedroom. This room was a real Spartan abode, the furniture, reduced to its simplest expression, only consisted of a wooden frame, covered with a cow hide, which served as a bed, an old saddle forming the pillow, and a black bearskin the coverlet; a table loaded with papers, and a few books, a stool, a trunk containing his clothes, and a rack filled with weapons of every description, knives, pistols, sabres, swords, daggers, machetes, guns, carbines, rifles, and revolves, completed with the horse trappings suspended from the walls, this singular furniture, to which we must add a washstand, placed behind a zarapé hung up as a curtain in a corner of the room.

Don Jaime dressed his wounds, which he had carefully washed with salt and water, according to the Indian custom, then sat down at his table, and began inspecting the papers he had found such difficulty in seizing, and whose possession had nearly cost him his life. He soon was completely absorbed by the task, which seemed greatly to interest him. At length, at about ten o'clock a.m., he left his seat, folded up the papers, placed them in his portfolio, which he thrust into a pocket of this dolman, threw a zarapé over his shoulders, put on a Vienna hat, with a large gold golilla, and left the house in this garb, which was as elegant as it was picturesque.

Don Jaime, it will be remembered, had given Don Felipe his word of honour to be his residuary legatee. It was to fulfil this sacred promise that he went out. About six o'clock he returned home. His word was liberated. He had delivered to Don Felipe's mother and sister the fortunes which a knife thrust had made them so promptly inherit. At the door of his house the adventurer found Lopez, quite refreshed, who was awaiting him. The peon had prepared a modest dinner for his master.

"What news is there?" Don Jaime asked him, as he sat down to talk, and began eating with good appetite.

"Not much, mi amo," he answered. "A captain, aide-de-camp to his Excellency the President, has called."

"Ah!" said Don Jaime.

"The President wishes you to go to the palace, at eight o'clock, as he desires to see you."

"I will go. Well, what next? Have you heard nothing? Have you not been out?"

"Pardon me, mi amo, I went as usual to the barber's."

"And did you hear nothing there?"

"Only two things."

"Let me hear the first."

"The Juarists, it is said, are advancing by forced marches on the ciudad. They are only three days' journey distant—at least, so it is reported."

"The news is rather probable. The enemy must at this moment be concentrating his forces. What next?"

Lopez burst into a laugh.

"Why are you laughing, animal?" Don Jaime asked him.

"It is the second piece of news I heard that makes me laugh, mi amo."

"Is it very funny?"

"Well, you shall judge. It is said that one of the most formidable guerillero chiefs of Benito Juárez was found this morning killed by a knife in a room at the rancho of the Palo Quemado."

"Oh, oh!" said Don Jaime, smiling in his turn, "And do they say how this unfortunate event occurred?"

"No one understands anything about it, mi amo. It would appear that the colonel—for he was a colonel—had pushed on as far as the Palo Quemado, while scouting, and resolved to spend the night there. Sentries were posted round the house, to watch over the safety of this chief, and no one entered the house, except two unknown horsemen. It was after their departure, when they had finished a long conversation with the colonel, that the latter was found dead in the room, from a stab which had passed through his heart. Hence it is supposed that a quarrel having broken out between the colonel and the two strangers, the latter killed him, but it was done so quietly that the soldiers, sleeping only a few yards off, heard nothing."

"This is, indeed, singular."

"It appears, mi amo, that this colonel, Don Filipe Irzabal—such was his name—was a frightful tyrant, without faith or law, about whom numberless atrocities are reported."

"If that is the case, my dear Lopez, everything is for the best, and we need not trouble ourselves any further about the scoundrel," Don Jaime said as he rose.

"Oh! He will go to the deuce without us."

"That is probable, if he is not there already. I am going to take a walk about town till eight o'clock. At ten you will be at the palace gate, with two horses and weapons, in the case of our being compelled to take a ride by moonlight, like last night."

"Yes, mi amo, and I will wait till you come out, no matter at what hour."

"You will await, unless I send you a warning that I no longer require you."

"Good, mi amo, all right."

Don Jaime then went out as he had stated, took a short walk, but only under the portales of the Plaza Mayor, so that he might reach the palace exactly at the appointed hour. At eight o'clock precisely the adventurer presented himself at the palace gates. An usher was waiting to lead him to the President. General Miramón was walking, sad and pensive, up and down a small saloon adjoining his private apartments; on perceiving Don Jaime, his face became more cheerful.

"You are welcome, my friend," he said affectionately offering him his hand; "I was impatient to see you, for you are the only man who understands me, and with whom I can talk frankly; stay, set down by my side, and let us talk, if you are willing."

"I find, you sorrowful, General; has anything annoying happened to you?"

"No, my friend, nothing; but you know that for a long time past I have not had much cause for gaiety, I have just left Madame Miramón, the poor woman is trembling, not for herself, dear and gentle creature, but for her children. She sees everything in dark colours, and foresees terrible disasters. She has been weeping, and that is why you find me sad."

"But why not, General, send Madame Miramón away from this city, which may be besieged any day?"

"I have proposed it to her several times, I have insisted by trying to make her understand that the interests of her children, their safety, imperiously demanded this separation, but she refused; you know how dearly she loves me. She is divided between the love she bears me, and her affections for her children, and she cannot make up her mind; as for me, I dare not force her to leave me, and hence my perplexity is extreme."

The General turned his head away, and subdued a sigh. There was a silence. Don Jaime understood that it was for him to turn the conversation to a subject less painful for the General.

"And your prisoners?" he asked him.

"Ah, that matter is all arranged, thank heaven; they have nothing now to fear as regards their safety, now I have authorized them to leave the city and visit their friends and relations."

"All the better, General, I confess to you that I was for a moment frightened for them."

"On my word, my friend, I may now say frankly that I was even more frightened than you, for in this affair it was my honour that was at stake."

"That is true, but come, have you any new plan?"

Before answering, the General walked round the room, and opened all the doors to make certain that nobody was listening.

"Yes," he at length said, returning to Don Jaime.

"Yes, my friend, I have a plan, for I wish to have an end to this once for all, I shall either succumb, or my enemies will be crushed for ever."

"Heaven grant you success, General."

"My victory of yesterday has given me back courage, if not hope; and I mean to attempt a decisive stroke. I have nothing at present to take into consideration; I mean to risk everything for everything, and fortune may again smile on me."

They then approached a table, on which was stretched out an immense map of the Mexican Confederation, with pins stuck into it at a great number of points.

The President continued:—"Don Benito Juárez, from his capital of Veracruz, has ordered the concentration of his troops, and their immediate march on Mexico, where we are shut in, the only point of the territory we still hold; alas! Here is General Ortega's corps composed of 11,000 veteran troops, it is coming from the interior, that is to say, from Guadalajara, picking up on its passage all the small detachments scattered over the country. Amondea and Gazza are coming from Jalapa, bringing with them nearly 6000 regulars, and flanked on the right and left by the guerillas of Cuellar, Carbajal, and Don Felipe Neri Irzabal."

"As for the last, General, you need not trouble yourself about him further: he is dead."

"Granted, but his band still exists."

"That is true."

"Now, these bands arriving from different directions simultaneously, will ere long, if we allow it, join and enclose us in a circle of steel; they form an effective strength of nearly 20,000 men. What forces have we to oppose to them?"

"Well—"

"I will tell you: by exhausting all our resources I could not bring together more than 7000 men, or 8000 at the most by arming the leperos, sir; a very weak army, you will allow."

"In the open country, yes, that is possible, General, but being in Mexico, with the formidable artillery you have at your disposal, more than 120 guns, it is easy for you to organise a serious resistance; if the enemy resolve to lay siege to the capital, torrents of blood will be shed ere they succeed in rendering themselves masters of it."

"Yes, my friend, what you say is true, but, as you know, I am a humane and moderate man, the city is not disposed to defend itself, we have neither the provisions nor means of obtaining them, since the country no longer belongs to us, and everything is hostile to us, except for a radius of about three leagues round the city. Do you understand, my friend, what would be the horrors of a siege endured under such disadvantageous conditions, the ravages to which the capital of Mexico, the noblest and most beautiful city in the New World, would fall victim? No, the mere thought of the extremities to which this hapless population would be exposed, lacerates my heart, and I would never consent to such a measure."

"Good, General, you speak like a man of honour, who really loves his country, I wish that your enemies could hear you express yourself thus."

"Why, my friend, those whom you call my enemies do not in reality exist, as I am perfectly well aware; overtures have been made me personally on several occasions, offering me very advantageous and honourable conditions: when I have fallen, I shall offer the singular peculiarity, rare in Mexico, of a President of the Republic, overthrown by people who esteem him, and bearing with him in his fall the sympathy of his enemies."

"Yes, yes, General, and not so long ago, had you consented to remove certain persons, whom I will not name, all would have been arranged amicably."

"I know it as well as you, my friend, but it would have been a cowardice, and I was unwilling to commit it; the persons to whom you allude, are devoted to me, they love me; we shall fall or triumph together."

"The sentiments you express, General, are too noble for me to attempt to discuss them."

"Thanks, let us quit this subject and return to what we were saying; I do not wish by my fault to entail the destruction of the capital, and expose it to the sanguinary horrors of pillage, which always follow the capture of a besieged city. I know Juárez's guerillas, the bandits who compose them would cause irreparable misfortunes if the city were handed over to them, they would not leave one stone on the other, be assured my friend."

"Unfortunately, that is only too probable, General, but what do you propose doing? What is your plan? Of course you do not intend to surrender to your enemies?"

"I had that thought for a moment, but gave it up: this is the plan I have formed, it is simply—to leave the city with 6000 men, the élite of my troops, march straight on the enemy, surprise and beat them in detail, ere the different corps have had time to effect their junction."

"The plan is really very simple, General; and in my opinion offers great chance of success."

"Everything will depend on the first battle. Gained—I am saved: lost—everything is hopelessly lost."

"God is great, General; victory is not always with the heavy battalions."

"Well, live and learn."

"When do you propose carrying out your plans?"

"In a few days; for I require time to prepare it. Before ten days I shall be in a position to act, and will immediately quit the city. I can reckon on you, I suppose?"

"Of course, General; am I not yours, body and soul?"

"I know it, my friend: but enough of politics at present. Pray accompany me to the apartments of Madame Miramón; she eagerly desires to see you."

"This gracious invitation fills me with joy, General; and yet I should have liked to speak with you about a very important matter."

"Later, later, a truce, I implore you, to business. Perhaps it relates to a new defection, or a traitor to punish? During the last few days I have heard enough of such bad news to desire the enjoyment of a few hours' respite, as the ancient said, 'tomorrow serious business.'"

"Yes," Don Jaime answered significantly, "and on the morrow it was too late."

"Well, I trust to God. Let us enjoy the present. It is the only blessing left us, as the future no longer belongs to us."

And taking Don Jaime by the arm, he gently led him to the apartments of Madame Miramón, a charming, timid, and loving woman—the true guardian angel of the General; who was terrified by her husband's greatness and was only happy in private life, between her two children.


CHAPTER XXXV.

JOSÉ DOMINQUEZ.


At the end of an hour, Don Jaime left the palace followed by Lopez, went to the house in the suburbs, where he found the Count and his friend, who wholly occupied with their love, and indifferent to the events that were going on around them, spent whole days with those whom they loved, enjoying with, the happy carelessness of youth the present, which seemed to them so sweet, without wishing to think of the future.

"Oh, here you are at last, brother!" Doña Maria exclaimed joyfully. "What a stranger you have grown!"

"Business!" the adventurer answered with a smile.

The table was laid in the centre of the room. The Count's two menservants were preparing to serve, and Leo Carral, with a napkin on his arm, was waiting for the party to sit down.

"My faith, since supper is on the table," Don Jaime said gaily, "I will not let you sup alone with these caballeros, if you will permit me to bear you company."

"What happiness!" Doña Carmen exclaimed.

The gentlemen offered a hand to the ladies and led them to their seats, after which they sat down by their side. The supper began. It was as it should be among persons who had loved and known each other for a long time—that is to say, cheerful and full of pleasant intimacy. Never had the young ladies been so happy, for this unexpected pleasure charmed them. The hours passed rapidly, but no one thought of calling attention to the fact: all at once midnight struck on a clock standing on a console in the dining room The twelve strokes fell one after the other with a majestic slowness into the midst of the conversation, which they suddenly chilled and stopped.

"Good gracious!" Doña Dolores exclaimed, with a slight start of terror, "So late!"

"How time passes!" Don Jaime said carelessly. "We must now think of going."

They left the table; and the three friends, after promising to visit the three recluses as often and soon as possible, at length withdrew, leaving the ladies at liberty to retire. Lopez was waiting for his master under the zaguán.

"What do you want?" the latter asked him.

"We are spied," the peon answered. He led him to the gate and noiselessly pulled back the bolt.

Don Jaime looked out. Exactly opposite the gate a man was standing, almost confounded with the darkness that prevailed in a hollow formed by the scaffolding of a house under repair. It would have escaped any less piercing glance than that of the adventurer.

"I believe you are right," Don Jaime said to the peon. "In any case, it is urgent to make sure, and I will undertake it," he added between his teeth, with a terrible expression. "Change cloak and hat with me. You will accompany these caballeros. The man saw three persons enter, and he must see three depart. Now mount and be off."

"But," said Dominique, "I fancy it would be more simple to kill the man."

"That may happen," Don Jaime answered; "but I wish to make certain beforehand that he is a spy: I do not care to commit a mistake. Do not be anxious about me, within half an hour I will join you again and inform you of what has taken place between this man and myself."

"Good-bye for the present, then," the Count said, shaking his hand.

"Good-bye."

They then went out, followed by Leo Carral and the Count's two servants. Doña Maria's old servant closed the gate with a bang, but was careful to open it again noiselessly. Don Jaime placed himself at the wicket, whence it was easy to watch all the movements of the supposed spy. At the noise caused by the departure of the young men, the latter eagerly bent forward, doubtless to remark the direction they followed, and then returned to his dark corner, where he resumed his statuesque immobility. Nearly a quarter of an hour passed ere the man made the slightest movement. Don Jaime did not lose him out of sight. At length he cautiously emerged from his hiding place, looked carefully around him, and reassured by the solitude of the street, he ventured to take a few steps forward; then, after a moment's hesitation, he boldly advanced toward the house, crossing the street in a straight line. Suddenly the gate opened and he found himself face to face with Don Jaime. He made a sudden backward movement and tried to fly, but the adventurer seized his arm which he held as in a vice, and dragging him after him, in spite of the obstinate resistance he offered, he drew him up to a statuette of the Virgin placed in a niche above a shop, in front of which some tapers were burning, and then, with a backhander he knocked off his prisoner's hat and curiously examined his features.

"Ah, Señor José Dominquez," he said an instant after, in an ironical voice, "is it you? ¡Viva Dios! I did not expect to meet you here."

The poor wretch looked piteously at the man in whose power he was, but made no answer. The adventurer waited a moment, then seeing that his prisoner was decidedly determined, on not answering him, he said, as he gave him a rough shake:—

"Come, scoundrel, are you going to answer or no?"

The prisoner gave a hollow groan.

"It is El Rayo or the Fiend!" he muttered in horror, as he looked despairingly at the masked face of the man who held him so securely.

"It is certainly one or the other," the adventurer continued with a laugh. "So you are in good hands and need not feel alarmed. Now be good enough to tell me how it is that you, a guerillero and highway robber, have become a spy and doubtless an assassin, if necessary, in this capital."

"Misfortunes, Excellency. I was calumniated. I was too honest!"

"You? Hang me if I believe a word of it. I know you too thoroughly, scoundrel, for you to try to deceive me. Hence decide to tell me the truth, and that at once, without further subterfuge, or I will kill you like the cowardly zopilote you are."

"Would you have any objection, Excellency, to hold my arm not quite so tightly? You are twisting it so cruelly, that it must be broken."

"Very good," he said, loosing his hold; "but make no attempt to fly, for you would suffer for it. Now speak."

José Dominquez, on feeling himself delivered from the adventurer's rough grasp, gave a sigh of relief, shook his arm several times, in order to re-establish the circulation, and then decided on speaking.

"I will tell you first, Excellency," he said, "that I am still a guerillero, and have risen to the rank of lieutenant."

"All the better for you. But what are you doing here?"

"I am on an expedition,"

"On an expedition, alone, in Mexico? What! Are you laughing at me, villain?"

"I swear, on the share I hope in Paradise, that I am telling you the strict truth, Excellency. Besides, I am not here alone; my captain accompanies me, and it was by his express orders I came."

"Ah, ah! And who is this captain?"

"Oh, you know him, Excellency,"

"That is probable. But he has a name, I suppose?"

"Certainly Excellency. He is Don Melchior de la Cruz."

"I suspected it. Now I can guess all. You are ordered to spy Doña Dolores de la Cruz, I suppose?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"Good, what next?"

"Well, that is all, Excellency."

"Oh, no, it is not, my scamp; there is something more yet."

"But I assure you—"

"Ah, I see I must employ a grand method," he said, coldly, cocking a pistol.

"Why, what are you doing, Excellency?" he exclaimed, in terror.

"I should think you can see that I am simply preparing to blow out your brains. Hence, if you wish to try and commend your soul to Heaven, make haste and do it, as you have only two minutes left to live."

"But that is not the way to make me speak," he said, with simplicity.

"No," the adventurer answered, coldly; "but it will make you hold your tongue."

"Hum," he said, "you employ such excellent arguments, Excellency, that it is impossible to resist you. I prefer telling you everything!"

"You will act wisely."

"Well, this is the matter in a few words. I was not only ordered to watch Doña Dolores, but also the old and young ladies with whom she resides, as well as all the persons who visit them."

"Hang it all! That was work enough for one man."

"Not too much, Excellency. They hardly receive any visits."

"And since when have you carried on this honourable trade, scoundrel?"

"About ten or twelve days, Excellency."

"So, then, you were one of the bandits who attempted to enter the house by main force?"

"Yes, Excellency, but we did not succeed."

"I know it. Are you well paid by your employer?"

"He has not given me anything yet, I must allow; but he has promised me fifty ounces."

"Oh! Promises cost Don Melchior nothing. It is easier to promise fifty ounces than to give ten piastres."

"Do you think so, Excellency? Is he not rich?"

"He? He is poorer than yourself."

"In that case he must be badly off, for up to the present all my savings consist of debts."

"I really think you are a precious ass, and that you deserve what has happened to you."

"I! Excellency?"

"Hang it! Yes, who else? What, scoundrel! You attach yourself to a villain who has not a farthing—who is hopelessly ruined, instead of taking side with those who could pay you."

"Who are they, if you please, Excellency? I confess that I have very long fingers, and would serve such persons enthusiastically."

"I do not doubt it. Do you fancy that I am going to amuse myself by giving you advice?"

"Ah! if you would, Excellency, I should be delighted to serve you."

"You? Nonsense."

"Why not, Excellency?"

"Hang it! As you are the enemy of those whom I love, you must be my enemy too."

"Oh! If I had only known it!"

"What would you have done?"

"I do not know, but certainly I should not have played the spy on them. Employ me, Excellency, I implore you."

"You are fit for nothing."

"Try me, and you will see, Excellency; that is all I say."

The adventurer pretended to reflect. José Dominquez anxiously waited.

"No," he said at last; "you are a man who cannot be trusted."

"Oh, how badly you know me, Excellency, when I am so devoted to you!"

The adventurer burst into a laugh.

"That is a devotion which has sprung up very rapidly," he said. "Well, I consent to make a trial: but suppose you deceive me?"

"It is enough, Excellency: I know you; you will be contented with me. What do you want?"

"You will only have to turn your dolman, that is all."

"Good, I understand, that is easy: my master will not take a step without your being warned of it."

"Good! Has not our dear Don Melchior an intimate friend?"

"Yes, Excellency, a certain Don Antonio Cacerbas. They are united like the fingers of a hand."

"There will be no harm in your watching him, too."

"I am quite willing."

"And as all trouble deserves payment, I will give you half an ounce in advance."

"Half an ounce?" he exclaimed, with a radiant look.

"And as you are in want of money, I will advance you twenty days' pay."

"Ten ounces! You will give me ten ounces, Excellency! To me! Oh! It is impossible!"

"It is so possible that here they are," he continued, taking them from his pocket, and placing them in José's hand.

The bandit clutched them with a movement of feverish joy.

"Oh!" he exclaimed; "Don Melchior and his friend had better look out."

"Be adroit, for they are clever."

"I know them; but they have to do with a cleverer fellow: trust to me for that."

"That is your business. At the slightest mistake, I give you up."

"I do not fear that happiness."

"Did you not allude to the dexterity of your fingers?"

"Yes, I did, Excellency."

"Well, if by chance these gentlemen let any papers of importance fall, you will do well to pick them up and bring them to me at once. I am of a very curious nature."

"Enough. If I do not find any lying about, I will look for them."

"That is a good idea, which I approve of. Ah! Remember this: the papers count separately. Each of them, if worth it, will fetch you three ounces. If you make a mistake it will be all the worse for you, as you will receive nothing."

"I will take my precautions, Excellency. Now will you be kind enough to tell me where I can find you when I have communications to make, or papers to deliver?"

"That is very easy. I walk every afternoon from three till five along the canal de Las Vigas."

"I will be there."

"Pray be prudent."

"As an opossum, Excellency."

"Good-bye: watch attentively."

"Excellency. I have the honour to salute you."

They separated. Don Jaime, after ordering his sister's old servant who, during the whole of this conversation had held the gate open to go in and secure it on the inside, proceeded toward the residence of the young man rubbing his hands. The Count and his friend, disturbed by Don Jaime's long absence, were awaiting him with a feeling of lively anxiety, they were already preparing to go in search of him, when he entered: they received him with warm testimonies of joy, and then asked him about his expedition. Don Jaime saw no reason for keeping them in ignorance of what had taken place, and he repeated to them in detail his conversation with José Dominquez, and how he had led him to betray his master. This narrative greatly amused the young men. The three remained together till daybreak: shortly before sunrise they separated, Don Jaime's last remark on leaving them being the following:

"My friends, though my conduct may seem to you so extraordinary, do not judge of it yet: in a few days at the most, I shall strike the great blow which I have been preparing for so many years. Everything will then be explained to you, whatever the result may be, and hence be patient, for you are more interested than you suppose in the success of this affair: remember what you promised me and hold yourselves in readiness to act when I claim your assistance. Farewell."

He pressed their hands affectionately and withdrew, a whole week passed away without any events worthy of record. Still a dull anxiety prevailed in the city: numerous meetings in which all the new political movements were discussed, were held in the squares and in the streets. In the mercantile quarters of the city, the shops were only opened for a few hours, and provisions became more and more scarce, and consequently dearer, as only a few Indians came to the city and brought very little with them. A vague agitation, without any known or definite cause prevailed among the population: it was felt that the critical moment was approaching and that the storm; so long suspended over Mexico would soon burst with; a terrible fury.

Don Jaime, apparently at least, led the idle life of a man whom his position places above all accidents, and for whom political events possess no importance: he strolled about the squares and streets, smoking his cigar, listening to everything that was said with the simplicity of a believer, accepting as true all the monstrous absurdities invented by the novelists of the street corners, and not saying a word himself. Every day he took a walk on the canal de Las Vigas, accident made him meet José Dominquez, they conversed for a long time while walking side by side, and then separated apparently mutually satisfied. For the last two or three days, however, Don Jaime had not seemed so pleased with his spy, sharp words and covert threats were exchanged between them.

"My friend José Dominquez;" Don Jaime said to his spy at the six or seventh interview he had with him: "take care; I fancy I can perceive that you have been trying to play a double game, I have a fine nose as you are aware, and scent treachery."

"Oh, Excellency," José Dominquez exclaimed, "you are mistaken; I am on the contrary most faithful, be assured of that, for men do not betray a generous caballero like yourself."

"That is possible; at any rate you are warned, and act accordingly; and mind not to forget to bring me tomorrow the papers you have promised me for the last three days."

Upon this Don Jaime left the spy greatly abashed by this sharp reprimand, and very anxious as to the turn matters might take if he did not act prudently; for, it must be confessed, José Dominquez' conscience was not very tranquil. Don Jaime's suspicions were not totally devoid of foundation; if the spy had not yet betrayed his generous protector, the idea had occurred to him of doing so, and for a man like the guerillero, from thought to execution was only a step. Hence he resolved to rehabilitate himself in Don Jaime's opinion by a brilliant stroke in order to regain his confidence; for this purpose he decided on taking the papers which Don Jaime asked of him, and handing them to him on the morrow, with a determination of stealing them from him again if he considered it worth the while. On the next day, at the appointed hour, Don Jaime was at the place of meeting: José Dominquez speedily arrived, and with a great display of devotedness according to his wont, handed a rather large bundle of papers to the adventurer; the latter took a rapid glance at them, concealed them under his cloak, and after letting a heavy purse of gold drop into the guerillero's hand, he brusquely turned his back on him, without listening to his protestations.

"¡Diablos!" José Dominquez muttered. "He does not seem in a very sweet temper today, so I must not leave him the time to take his precautions: I have luckily discovered where he lives, and now I must act and go and tell everything to Don Melchior. I shall be able to arrange matters so that he will believe I have only manoeuvred to make his enemy confident, and betray him the more easily; and as I intend to betray him, Don Melchior will be enchanted, and congratulate me on my skill. By Heavens! Sense is a fine thing. I am decidedly a man full of intelligence."

While complimenting himself thus in an aside, José Dominquez, who was walking with his head down as persons do who are reflecting, ran full butt against two individuals who were walking arm in arm and conversing. The two persons were probably quick tempered, for they turned sharply, and addressed some rather harsh reproaches to the guerillero. The latter, who felt himself in the wrong, and as he had a considerable sum about him, did not feel anxious to get into an ugly quarrel, attempted to apologise as well as he could. But the strangers would listen to nothing, and continued to apply to him the epithets of brute, ass, and other compliments of the sort. Though the guerillero was on his guard, his patience at length deserted him, and letting himself be overpowered by passion, he laid his hand on his knife. This imprudent action was his ruin. The two strangers rushed upon him, knocked him down, and both stabbed him repeatedly; then, as the street in which this quarrel took place was entirely deserted, and consequently no one had seen them, they assured themselves that the poor fellow was really dead; after which they quietly went off, though not till they had eased him of his money and everything that could prove his identity.

Thus died Señor José Dominquez. The celadores picked up his body two hours later, and as no one recognised it, it was unceremoniously cast into a hole dug in the cemetery, without further enquiry. Don Melchior was perhaps astonished at not seeing him again; but as he placed slight confidence in his honesty, he supposed that he had committed some roguery, which rendered his absence advisable, and thought no more of him.


CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END.


The few days which had elapsed since his interview with Don Jaime, were not wasted by General Don Miguel Miramón. Decided on playing a last stake, he had not been willing to risk it till he had as far as possible equalised the advantages, even though he might not have all the chances on his side, so as to render the struggle which, whatever its result might be, must be decisive, more favourable to his projects.

Not only did the President actually employ himself in recruiting and organising his army and placing it on a respectable footing; but in addition, not heeding for himself how injurious the seizure of the six hundred thousand piastres of the convention bonds in the house of the consul of that nation was to him, he made energetic efforts to repair the injury which this stroke had done him, and paved the way for a negotiation, by which he pledged himself to refund in London the money he had so unfortunately taken; while alleging as excuse for this audacious act that it was only intended as reprisals against Mr. Mathew, the Chargé d'Affaires of the British Government, whose incessant machinations and hostile demonstrations against the recognised government of Mexico had placed the President in the critical position in which he now found himself. As a proof of this statement, he declared, as was true, that after the battle of Toluca there had been found among the baggage of General Degollado, who was made prisoner in that affair, a plan for attacking Mexico, written by Mr. Mathew himself—a fact that constituted an act of felony on the part of the representative of a friendly government.

The President, in order to give greater force to this declaration, showed the original of this plan to the foreign ministers residing in Mexico, and then had it translated and published, in the official journal. This publication had produced all the effect the President anticipated from it, and, by increasing the instinctive hatred of the population for the English nation, regained him the sympathies of a few.

Miramón then redoubled his efforts, and, at length succeeded in arming eight thousand men—a very small number against the twenty-four thousand who menaced him—for General Huerta, whose conduct had for some time past been marked with hesitation, at length decided on leaving Orelia at the head of four thousand men, who, joined to the eleven thousand of Gonzalez Ortega, the five thousand of Gazza Amondea, and the four thousand of Aureliana, Carbajal and Cuellar, formed an effective strength of twenty-four thousand men, who were advanced by forced marches on Mexico, and would speedily appear before the city. The situation became more critical with every moment. The population, ignorant of the President's plans, were agitated by the most lively terror, expecting at any moment to see the heads of the Juarist columns debouch, and to undergo all the horrors of a siege.

In the meanwhile, Miramón, who was anxious before all not to lose the esteem of his countrymen, and to calm the exaggerated fears of the population, resolved on convoking the ayuntamiento. He then strove, by a speech full of courage, to make these representatives of the population of the capital understand that it had never been his intention to await the enemy behind the walls of the city—that, on the contrary, he had determined to go and attack them in the open country, and that, whatever might be the result of the battle he proposed to fight, the city would have no cause to fear a siege. This assurance slightly calmed the fears of the population, and stopped, as if by enchantment, the tentatives at disorder, and the seditious cries which the hidden partizans of Juárez secretly excited among the groups assembled in the squares, which were constantly stationed there for the last two or three days, and even bivouacked there at night.

When the President believed that he had taken all the prudential measures which circumstances demanded to attack the enemy without too marked a disadvantage, while leaving in the city the requisite forces to keep it in subordination, he assembled a last council of war, to discuss the most suitable plan for surprising and defeating the enemy. This council of war lasted several hours. A number of projects was proposed, some of which, as always happens under such circumstances, were impracticable—and others which, had they been adopted, might possibly have saved the government.

Unfortunately, on this day, General Miramón, usually so sensible and prudent, allowed himself to be carried away by his personal resentment, instead of considering the true interests of the nation.

Don Benito Juárez is a lawyer. We will mention, in passing, that, since the proclamation of Mexican, independence, he is the sole President of the Republic who has not emerged from the ranks of the army, or belonged to the magistracy. Now, Juárez, not being a soldier, could not place himself at the head of his army. Hence, he had temporarily established his residence at Veracruz, which he had made his capital, and appointed Don Gonzalez Ortega Commander-in-Chief, with the most extensive powers as regarded questions of military strategy, trusting entirely to special knowledge and experience for the conduct of the war. But he had completely held back the diplomatic question in his own hands, not wishing that General Ortega, a brave soldier but very bad negotiator, should compromise, by misplaced generosity, the success which he anticipated from his cautious And crafty policy. It was General Ortega by whom Miramón had been defeated at Silao. The resentment at this defeat had remained ever present in the President's heart: and he felt the most lively desire to wash out the insult he had received on that occasion. Hence, forgetting his habitual prudence, and contrary to the advice of his wisest councillors, he insisted, in the council, that the first attack should be directed against the corps, at the head of which was Ortega.

The motives he alleged in order to have this resolution adopted, though rather specious, were not absolutely deficient in logic. He declared that if he succeeded in defeating Ortega, the Commander-in-Chief, at the head of the largest corps, demoralization would break out in the enemy's army, and they would have an easy victory over them. The President sustained his opinion with so much eloquence and obstinacy, that he overcame the opposition of the members of the council, and caused the plan he had conceived to be definitively adopted; and once this decision was formed, the General, not wishing to lose a moment in putting it in execution appointed for the morrow a review of all the troops, and fixed the departure for the same day, so as not to let the enthusiasm of his soldiers grow cold.

When the council finally broke up, the President withdrew to his apartments, in order to make his final arrangements, set his affairs in order, and burn certain compromising papers which he did not wish to leave behind him. The President had been shut up in his apartments for some hours; the enemy was advanced when the usher on duty announced Don Jaime. He at once ordered him to be shown in. The adventurer entered.

"You will permit me to go on, will you not?" the President said with a smile; "I have only a few more papers to arrange, and then I shall have finished."

"Do so, pray, General," the adventurer said, seating himself in a butaca.

Miramón resumed his momentarily interrupted occupation. Don Jaime gazed at him for a moment with an expression of indescribable melancholy.

"So," he said, "your resolution is decidedly formed, General?"

"Oh, the die is cast. I have crossed my Rubicon, I would say, were it not ridiculous for me to compare myself with Cæsar. I am going to offer my enemies battle."

"I do not blame that resolution, for it is worthy of you, General. Will you permit me to ask when you propose setting out?"

"Tomorrow, immediately after the review I have ordered."

"Good: in that case I have time to send out two or three intelligent scouts, who will inform you of the enemy's exact position."

"Although several have already started, I gratefully accept your offer, Don Jaime."

"Now, be kind enough to tell what direction you intend to follow, and the corps you have resolved to attack."

"I intend to take the bull by the horns; that is to say, Gonzales Ortega himself."

The adventurer shook his head, but did not venture the slightest observation. He merely said, "Very good."

Miramón left his writing table and sat down by his side. "There that is finished," he said; "now I am at your service. I guess that you wish to make up some important communication; so speak, Don Jaime, I am ready to hear you."

"You are not mistaken, General; I have, indeed, a matter of the utmost importance to communicate to you. Be good enough to read this paper."

And he handed the President a folded document. The President took it, read it without displaying the slightest sign of surprise, and then returned it to the adventurer. "Have you read the signature?" he said.

"Yes," he replied coldly; "it is a letter of credit given by Don Benito Juárez to Don Antonio Cacerbas, recommending the latter to his adherents."

"It is really so, General; you have now no doubts left as to that man's treachery?"

"None."

"Pardon me for asking, General, but what do you intend doing?"

"Nothing."

"What, nothing?" he exclaimed with unaffected surprise.

"No, I shall do nothing," he added.

The adventurer looked stupefied.

"I do not understand you, Excellency," he muttered.

"Listen to me, Don Jaime, and you will understand me," the President answered in a gentle and penetrating voice: "Don Francisco Pacheco, Ambassador Extraordinary of the Queen of Spain, has rendered me immense services since his arrival in Mexico. After the defeat of Silao, when my position was most precarious, he did not hesitate to recognise my government. Since then he has offered me the best advice, and given the greatest proof of sympathy; his conduct has been so kind toward me, that he has compromised his diplomatic position, and so soon as Juárez obtains the power, he will certainly hand him his passports. Don. Pacheco is aware of all this, and yet, at this moment, when I am all but ruined, his conduct remains the same. It is on him alone—I confess it—I reckon to obtain from the enemy, in the probable event of a defeat, good conditions, not for myself, but for the unhappy population of this city, and the persons who, through friendship for me, have been most compromised latterly. Now the man whose treachery you denounce to me—treachery—I hasten to agree with you—so flagrant, that not the slightest doubt can exist about it: this man is not only a Spaniard and the bearer of a great name, but he was also personally recommended to me by the ambassador himself, whose good faith, I feel convinced, has been surprised, and who was the first person deceived in the matter. The principal object of Don Pacheco's mission is, as you cannot be ignorant, to demand satisfaction for the numerous insults offered his countrymen, and reparation for the annoyances to which they have been exposed for some years."

"Yes, General, I am aware of that."

"Good Now what would the ambassador think were I to arrest on a crime of high treason not only a Spaniard of the highest rank, but also a man whom he recommended to me? Do you suppose he would be pleased, after the numerous services he has already rendered me, and those which he may still be called on to render me, with such conduct on my part? I could, you will say, perhaps, take the letter and discuss the affair confidentially with the ambassador: but, my friend, the insult would be no less grave in that way, as you shall judge. Don Pacheco is the representative of a European government; he belongs to the old school of diplomatists of the beginning of the century: for these two reasons and others I pass over in silence; he holds us poor American diplomatists and governors in but slight estimation, he is so infatuated with his own merit and his superiority over us, that, were I foolish enough to prove to him that he has been deceived by a villain who has played with him with the most daring effrontery, Don Pacheco would be furious, not at having been deceived, but because I had unmasked the deceiver: his wounded self-esteem would never forgive me the advantage which chance would gratuitously give me over him, and instead of a useful friend, I should make myself an irreconcilable enemy."

"The reasons you condescend to give me, General, are very good, I allow; but for all that, the man is a traitor."

"That is true, but he is no fool, far from it. If I fight tomorrow and gain the victory, he will remain attached to my fortunes, as he was at Toluca."

"Yes, he will be faithful till he finds a favourable opportunity for ruining you utterly."

"I do not say the contrary; but who knows?—perhaps we shall find, between this and then, the means of getting rid of him without noise or scandal."

The adventurer reflected for a moment.

"Stay, General," he said suddenly, "I believe I have found the means."

"First, allow me to ask you a question, and promise to answer it."

"I do promise."

"You know this man, he is your personal enemy."

"Yes, General," he answered frankly.

"I suspected it: the inveteracy you display in destroying him did not seem to me natural. Now let me hear your plan."

"The sole motive that holds you back, you told me yourself, is the fear of offending the ambassador of her Catholic Majesty."

"It is, indeed, the sole one, Don Jaime."

"Well, General, suppose Don Pacheco consented to abandon this man?"

"Could you succeed in obtaining that?"

"I will obtain more, if necessary; I will make him give me a letter, in which he shall not only abandon Don Antonio Cacerbas, as he chooses to call himself, but also authorize you to try him."

"Oh, oh! That seems a rather bold statement, Don Jaime," the President remarked, dubiously.

"That is my business, General; the main point is, that you shall not be in any way compromised, and remain neutral."

"That is my only desire, and you understand the serious reasons for it?"

"I understand them, General, and pledge you my word that your name shall not be even mentioned."

"In my turn, I pledge you my word as a soldier that if you succeed in obtaining this letter, the villain shall be shot in the back in the centre of the Plaza Mayor, even though I had only an hour's authority left me."

"I hold your pledge, General; besides, I have the blank signature you were kind enough to give me; I will myself arrest the villain when the moment arrives."

"Have you nothing more to say to me?"

"Pardon me, General, I have still a request to make."

"What is it?"

"General, I wish to accompany you on your expedition."

"I thank you, my friend, and gladly accept."

"I shall have the honour of joining you at the moment when the army sets out."

"I attach you to my staff."

"It is, no doubt, a great favour," he answered, with a smile, "but, unfortunately, it is impossible for me to accept it."

"Why not?"

"Because I shall not be alone, General—the three hundred horses who followed me at Toluca will again come with me; but during the battle my cuadrilla and myself will be at your side."

"I give up all idea of comprehending you, my friend; you have the privilege of performing miracles."

"You shall have a proof of that. Now, General, permit me to take leave of you."

"Go, then, my friend, I will keep you no longer."

After affectionately pressing the hand which the General offered him, Don Jaime withdrew.

Lopez was waiting for him at the palace gate; he mounted his horse, and at once returned home. After writing some letters, which he ordered his peon to deliver at once, Don Jaime changed his dress, took certain papers locked up in a bronze casket, assured himself that the hour was not improper (it was hardly ten at night), then went out, and hurried toward the Spanish Embassy, from which he was at no great distance. The Ambassador's door was still open; servants in handsome liveries were moving about the courtyard and vestibule; a porter was standing at the entrance of the zaguán, halberd in hand.

Don Jaime addressed him. The porter called a footman, and made the adventurer a sign to follow this man. On reaching an antechamber, an usher wearing a silver chain round his neck, approached Don Jaime, handed him a card, sealed up in an envelope.

"Deliver this card to his Excellency," he said.

At the expiration of a few minutes the usher returned, and throwing open a door, said—

"His Excellency awaits your lordship."

Don Jaime followed him, passed through several rooms, and at length reached the cabinet in which the Ambassador was. Don Pacheco advanced a few steps toward him, and bowed graciously.

"To what happy chance may I attribute your visit, caballero?" he asked him.

"I beg your Excellency to excuse me," Don Jaime replied, with a bow, "but it was not in my power to select a more convenient hour."

"At whatever hour you may think proper to come, sir, I shall always be delighted to receive you," the Ambassador made answer.

At a sign from his master the usher drew up a chair, and then retired. The two gentlemen bowed again to each other, and sat down.

"Now I am ready to listen to you," the Ambassador said; "be kind enough to speak, my Lord Count—"

"I implore your Excellency," Don Jaime eagerly interrupted, "to permit me to maintain my incognito even toward yourself."

"Very good, sir, I will respect your wishes," the Ambassador remarked, with a bow.

Don Jaime opened his pocketbook, and took from it a document, which he handed to the Ambassador.

"Will your Excellency," he said, "deign to cast your eyes on this royal order?"

The Ambassador took the order, and began reading it with the most earnest attention; when he had finished he returned the paper to Don Jaime, who folded it up and placed it again in his pocketbook.

"Do you demand the execution of this royal order, caballero?" the Ambassador said.

Don Jaime bowed.

"Very good," Don Francisco Pacheco remarked.

He rose, went to his table, wrote a few words on a sheet of paper bearing the arms of Spain and the Embassy stamp, signed it, sealed it, and then handed it open to Don Jaime.

"Here," he said, "is a letter for his Excellency, General Miramón; will you take charge of it, or do you prefer it being sent by the Embassy?"

"I will take charge of it, with your Excellency's permission," he replied.

The ambassador folded the letter, put it in an envelope, and then handed it to Don Jaime. "I regret, caballero," he said, "that I am unable to give you any other proofs of my desire to be agreeable to you."

"I have the honour to request your Excellency to accept the expression of my lively gratitude," Don Jaime answered, with a respectful bow.

"Shall I not have the pleasure of seeing you again, caballero?"

"I shall do myself the honour of coming to pay my respects to your Excellency."

The Ambassador rang a bell, and the usher made his appearance. The two gentlemen bowed ceremoniously, and Don Jaime retired.


CHAPTER XXXVII.

THE LAST BLOW.


On the morrow the sun rose radiantly in floods of gold and purple. Mexico was rejoicing. The city had resumed its festive air; it seemed to have returned to the bright days of calmness and tranquillity: the whole population were in the streets; the motley crowd were hastening with shouts, songs, and laughter to the Paseo de Bucareli. Military bands, drums and fifes, could be heard playing in different directions. Staff officers, dressed in uniforms glistening with gold, and plumed hats, were galloping about to deliver orders. The troops left their barracks, and proceeded toward the Paseo, where they drew up on either side of the great avenue.

The artillery took up position in front of the equestrian statue of King Charles IV., whom the leperos insist on confounding with Fernando Cortez, and the cavalry, only eleven hundred strong, were, drawn up on the Alameda. The leperos and boys took advantage of the occasion for rejoicing by discharging crackers and squibs between the legs of the loungers. At about ten a.m. loud shouts were heard rapidly drawing nearer the Paseo. The people were greeting the President of the Republic.

General Miramón came up in the midst of a brilliant staff. The expression on the President's face was a glad one, he seemed to be pleased with these shouts of "Long live Miramón!" uttered as he passed, and which proved to him that the people still loved him and were displaying, after their fashion, their gratitude for the heroic resolution he had formed of risking a final battle on the open field, instead of awaiting the enemy within the city. The General bowed smilingly to the right and left. When he reached the entrance of the Paseo, twenty pieces of artillery thundered simultaneously, and thus announced his presence to the troops massed on the promenade. Then, rapid orders ran along the ranks, the soldiers fell in, the regimental bands began playing, the bugles sounded, the drums beat, the General passed slowly along the front, and the review began. The soldiers seemed full of ardour, the crowd had communicated their enthusiasm to them, and they shouted, "Long live Miramón!" heartily, as the President passed.

The inspection held by the General was short and conscientious. It was not one of those reviews which rulers now and then offer the people as an amusement. On leaving the city these troops were going to march straight into action, and the great object was to know whether they were really in a condition to face the foe, whom they would attack a few hours later. The General's orders had been scrupulously carried out, the troops were well armed, and they had a martial air which it was a pleasure to see. When the President had passed along the ranks, now and then addressing soldiers whom he recognised, or pretended to recognize,—an old method which always succeeds, as it flatters the soldier's self-esteem—he stationed himself in the centre of the Paseo, and ordered several manoeuvres in order to gain an idea of the training of the troops. These manoeuvres, some of which were rather difficult, were executed with very satisfactory precision. The President warmly congratulated the commanding officers, and then the marching past began; but, after passing in front of the President, the troops resumed their former positions, and established a temporary bivouac.

Miramón, not wishing uselessly to fatigue his troops by compelling them to march during the great heat, had resolved not to set out till nightfall. Up to that moment the troops would bivouac on the Paseo. Among the officers who composed the President's staff, and returned with him to the palace, were Don Melchior de la Cruz, Don Antonio Cacerbas, and Don Jaime. Don Melchior, though he was rather surprised at seeing in military uniform a man whom he had hitherto only known by the name of Don Adolfo, and whom he supposed to be engaged in smuggling transactions, saluted him with an ironical smile. Don Jaime duly returned his salute, and got away, as he was not at all desirous of entering into conversation with him. As for Don Antonio, as he had never seen Don Jaime with his face uncovered, he paid no attention to him.

While the President was returning to the palace, Don Jaime, who had stopped on the Plaza Mayor, dismounted, and was joined by the Count and Dominique, with whom he had made an appointment, though they would not have recognised him, had he not taken the precaution of walking straight up to them.

"Are you going with the army?" they asked him.

"Yes, my friends, I am: but I shall be back here: unfortunately the campaign will not be a long one. During my absence, redouble your vigilance, I implore you: do not let my sister's house out of sight; one of our enemies will remain in the city."

"Only one?" said Dominique.

"Yes; but he is the more formidable of the two; the one whose life you so clumsily saved, Dominique."

"Good; I know him," the young man answered, "he had better look out."

"And Don Melchior?" the Count asked.

"He will not trouble us," Don Jaime answered, with a singular accent. "So, my dear friends, watch attentively, and do not allow yourselves to be surprised."

"If necessary we will make Leo Carral and our servants help us."

"That will be more prudent; and perhaps you would act wisely by lodging them in the house."

"We will attend to that."

"Now let us part, I have business at the palace. Good-bye for the present, my friends."

They separated. Don Jaime entered the palace and proceeded to the President's cabinet. The usher knew him, and raised no difficulty about letting him pass. Miramón was listening to the reports several scouts made him touching the enemy's movements. Don Jaime sat down and waited patiently till the President had finished his examination. At length the last scout completed his report and withdrew.

"Well," the President said, with a laugh, "have you seen the ambassador?"

"Certainly, General. Last night, after leaving you."

"And the famous letter?"

"Here it is," he said, handing it to him.

The General took the paper with a start of surprise, and rapidly perused it.

"Well?" Don Jaime asked him.

"We have not only carte blanche?" he answered; "But I am even begged to act severely against this man; it is wonderful, on my honour. You have more than carried out my promises. How did you manage it?"

"I simply asked for the letter."

"You are the most mysterious man I know: it is now my turn to fulfil my promise."

"There is no hurry."

"Do you no longer wish to have him arrested?"

"On the contrary: but not till our return."

"As you please: but what shall we do in the meanwhile?"

"We will leave him under the orders of the Town Commandant."

"By Jove, you are right."

The President wrote an order, sealed it, and called the usher. "Is Colonel Cacerbas here?" he asked.

"Yes, Excellency."

"Let him carry this order to the Town Commandant."

The usher took the order and went away.

"That is done," said the President

Don Jaime remained with the General till the hour for departure. At nightfall, the troops began defiling on the plaza, surrounded by the people, who shouted lustily. When all the troops had passed, the General left the palace, in his turn, with his staff. A large squadron of cavalry was drawn up in the plaza.

"Whose are those horsemen?" the General asked.

"My cuadrilla," Don Jaime answered with a bow.

These horsemen, wrapped in long heavy cloaks, and wearing broad brimmed hats, only allowed the end of their beard to be seen. It was in vain that the President examined them, trying to distinguish their faces.

"You cannot recognise them," Don Jaime said to him, in a low voice, "the beards are false, their dress is in itself a disguise; but, believe me, they will not fight the less bravely in action."

"I am persuaded of that, and thank you."

They set out. Don Jaime raised his sword, the horsemen wheeled and stationed themselves as a rear guard, they were three hundred in number. Differing from the Mexican cavalry, whose favourite weapon is the lance, they were armed with a carbine, the straight sabre of the French chasseur d'Afrique, and pistols in their holsters. At midnight the troops camped, orders were given not to light any bivouac fires. At about three in the morning a scout arrived. He was at once conducted to the President.

"Ah, ah! It is you, Lopez?" the General said, on recognising him.

"Yes, General," Lopez replied, with a smile to Don Jaime, who was seating by the President's side negligently smoking a cigarette.

"What news? Have you heard anything about the enemy?" Miramón asked.

"Yes, General, and quite fresh."

"All the better: where is he?"

"Four leagues from here."

"Good, we shall soon be there then. Which corps is it?"

"That of General Don Gonzalez Ortega."

"Bravo," the President said joyously, "you are a precious lad: here is something for you."

He placed several pieces of gold in his hand, "Give me the details," he continued.

"General Ortega is at the head of eleven thousand men, of whom three thousand are cavalry, and thirty-five guns."

"Have you seen them?"

"I marched with them for more than an hour."

"In what temper are they?"

"Well, General, they are furious against you."

"Good, rest yourself, you have an hour to sleep."

Lopez bowed and withdrew.

"At last then," said Miramón, "we are going to meet face to face."

"How many troops have you, General?" Don Jaime asked.

"Six thousand, of whom eleven hundred are cavalry and twenty guns."

"Hum," said Don Jaime, "against eleven thousand! It is not quite the double my friend, courage will make up for the deficiency."

"May heaven grant it!"

At four o'clock the camp was raised: Lopez acted; as guide. The troops, shivering with cold, were in a very unsatisfactory temper. At about seven they; halted, the army was drawn up in battle array in a very advantageous position and the guns placed in battery. Don Jaime drew up his horse behind the regular cavalry. Then, all arrangements being made, they breakfasted. At eight o'clock, what the Spaniards call a tiroteo began to be heard: the outposts were falling back before the heads of Ortega's columns, which were debouching on the battlefield selected by Miramón, and were exchanging shots with them.

Nothing would have been easier for the President than to avoid the battle, but he did not wish it, as he longed for the end. Miramón was surrounded by his surest lieutenants, Velez Cobos, Negrite, Ayestaran and Márquez. On perceiving the enemy he mounted his horse, rode along the ranks of his small army, gave his instructions in a loud sharp voice, strove to communicate to all the valiant ardor that inflated him, and raising his sword in the air, shouted— "Forward!"

The battle at once commenced. The Juarist army forced to form under the enemy's fire, had a marked disadvantage. Miramón's troops, excited by the example of their young chief, who was only twenty-six years of age, fought like lions and performed prodigies of valour. In vain did the Juarists try to establish themselves in the position they had chosen; they were driven back several times by the vigorous charges of the enemy. In spite of their numerical superiority, the soldiers only advanced inch by inch, and were constantly driven back and broken by the President's troops.

Miramón's lieutenants, into whom his soul seemed to have passed, placed themselves at the head of the troops, drew them after them, and dashed into the thickest of the fight. One more effort, and the battle was gained, and Ortega forced to retreat. Miramón hurried up. He judged the position with an infallible glance. The moment had arrived to hurl his cavalry on the centre of the Juarists, and break it by a decisive charge. The President shouted: "charge!" The cavalry hesitated. Miramón repeated the order. The cavalry set out, but, instead charging, one-half went over to the enemy, and charged with couched lances, the other half that still remained faithful. Demoralized by this sudden desertion, the cavalry who remained faithful turned round, and dispersed in all directions. The infantry, on seeing themselves thus cowardly deserted, fought without energy.

Cries of "treachery, treachery!" ran along the ranks. In vain did the officers try to lead the soldiers again against the enemy. They were demoralized. Ere long the flight became general. Miramón's army no longer existed. Ortega was once again the victor but through a shameful treachery at the very moment when he had lost the battle.

We have said that Don Jaime took up a position with his cuadrilla in the rear of Miramón's cavalry. Certainly, if three hundred men could have changed the issue of the battle, these brave horsemen would have accomplished the prodigy. Even when the rout was general, they continued fighting with unparalleled obstinacy against the Juarist cavalry, sent in pursuit of the fugitives. Don Jaime had an object in prolonging this unequal combat. As a witness of the unworthy treachery which had caused the loss of the battle, he had seen the officer who was the first to pass over to the enemy with his soldiers. This officer was Don Melchior. Don Jaime recognized him, and swore to capture him. The adventurer's cuadrilla was not composed of common horsemen, as they had already proved and would prove again. In a few hurried words, Don Jaime explained his intention. The horsemen uttered a yell of fury, and resolutely charged the enemy. There was a gigantic struggle of three hundred men against three thousand. The cuadrilla entirely disappeared, as if it had been suddenly buried beneath the formidable mass of its adversaries. Then the Juarists began oscillating. Their ranks became loosened. There a gap, and through this gap the cuadrilla passed, carrying off Don Melchior in its centre—a prisoner.

"To the President! To the President!" Don Jaime shouted, as he dashed with his whole band up to Miramón, who was vainly trying to rally a few detachments.

Miramón's lieutenants, who were all his friends, had not abandoned him. They had sworn to die with him. The cuadrilla made a last charge for the purpose of disengaging the general. Then, after taking one despairing glance at the battlefield, Miramón consented to listen to his friends, and retreat. Of his whole army, scarce a thousand men remained to him. The rest were dead, dispersed, or had gone over to the enemy.

The first moments of the retreat were terrible. Miramón was suffering from a fearful sorrow, caused not by his defeat, which he had foreseen, but by the cowardly treachery of which he was the victim. When they no longer feared being caught up by the enemy, the President ordered a halt, to enable the horses to breathe. Miramón, leaning against a tree, with folded arms and drooping head, maintained a stern silence, which his generals, standing near him, did not venture to break.

Don Jaime advanced, and, stopping two paces from the President, said: "General!"

At the sound of this friendly voice, Miramón raised his head, and offered his hand to the adventurer.

"Is it you?" he said, "My friend? Oh! Why did I so obstinately refuse to believe you?"

"What is done is done, General," the adventurer roughly answered. "We cannot recall it. But, before leaving the spot where we now are, you have a duty to fulfil—an exemplary act of justice to perform."

"What do you mean?" he asked with amazement.

The other generals drew nearer, no less surprised than he.

"You know why we were defeated?" the adventurer continued.

"Because we were betrayed."

"But do you know the traitor, General?"

"No, I do not," he said, passionately.

"Well, I do. I was there when he carried out his cowardly project, and was watching him; for I had been suspecting him for some time past."

"What matter? The villain cannot be reached now."

"You are mistaken, General, for I have brought him to you. I went to fetch him in the midst of his new comrades: and would have gone to the infernal regions to seize him."

At these words a quiver of joy ran along the ranks.

"By Heaven!" Cobos exclaimed; "the villain deserves quartering."

"Bring the man here," Miramón said, sadly; for his heart was painfully affected at being forced to act severely; "he shall be tried."

"That will not take long," said General Negrite; "he will meet with the death of traitors—shot from behind."

"We have only to prove his identity, and have him executed," Cobos added.

Don Jaime gave a signal, and Don Melchior was brought up by two. He was pale and haggard; his torn clothes were stained with blood and mud: his hands were fastened behind his back. The officers formed a court martial under the presidency of General Cobos.

"Your name?" the latter asked.

"Don Melchior de la Cruz," he replied in a hollow voice.

"Do you acknowledge that you went over to the enemy, taking your command with you?"

He made no answer, but his whole body was agitated by a convulsive tremor.

"The court is certain of this man's treachery," Cobos continued; "what punishment has he deserved?"

"That of traitors!" the officers unanimously replied.

"Let it be carried into effect," said Cobos.

The condemned was forced on his knees. Ten corporals formed a firing party, and placed themselves six paces behind him.

General Cobos then approached the condemned man. "Coward and traitor," he said to him, "you are unworthy of the rank to which you were raised. In the name of all our companions I declare you to be degraded and rejected from our midst."

A soldier then removed the symbols of Don Melchior's rank, and gave him a blow in the face. The young man uttered a tiger's yell at this insult, looked around him in horror, and made a movement to rise.

"Fire!" General Cobos shouted.

A detonation was heard; the criminal uttered a fearful cry of agony, and fell with his face on the ground, writhing in awful convulsions.

"Finish him!" Miramón said, pityingly.

"No!" Cobos cried, roughly; "Let him die like a dog. The more he suffers, the more perfect our vengeance will be."

Miramón gave a look of disgust, and ordered the boot and saddle to be sounded. The troops set out. Only two men remained with the wretched man, watching him writhe at their feet in atrocious agony. These two men were General Cobos and Don Jaime. Don Jaime bent down to him, raised his head, and forcing him to fix his glassy eyes on him, said in a hollow voice—

"Parricide! Traitor to your country and your brothers, the latter avenge themselves today. Die, like the dog you are. Your soul will go to the fiend who awaits it, and your body, deprived of sepulture, will be the prey of wild beasts!"

"Mercy!" the wretch cried, as he fell back. "Mercy!"

A final convulsion agitated his body, his crisped features became hideous; he uttered a horrible yell, and stirred no more. Don Jaime kicked him. He was dead!

"One!" the adventurer said, hoarsely, as he remounted.

"What?" asked General Cobos.

"Nothing; it is an account I am going over," he replied, with a burst of mocking laughter.


CHAPTER XXXVIII.

FACE TO FACE.


When General Miramón arrived in Mexico, the news of his defeat was already public. Then a singular fact occurred. The clergy and the aristocracy, whom President Miramón had always supported and defended, and yet whose indifference and egotism had caused his ruin and entailed his destruction, now deplored the way in which they had behaved to the man who was alone able of saving them. If Miramón had wished in this supreme hour to make an appeal to the people, they would immediately have gathered round him, and it would have been easy for him to organise a vigorous defence. The idea did not even occur to him. He was disgusted with power, and only longed to give it up, and retire into private life. His first care, immediately he arrived in Mexico, was; to assemble the diplomatic body, and beg its members to interpose for the sake of saving the city, by putting an end to a state of war which was no longer necessary from the moment when Mexico was prepared to open its gates to the Federal troops without a blow.

A deputation, composed of the ministers of France and Spain, General Bercozabal, the prisoner of Toluca, and General Ayestaran, a particular friend of Miramón, at once proceeded to General Ortega, in order to obtain an honorable capitulation. Don Antonio de Cacerbas had tried to join the deputation. He had heard of the deplorable end of his friend, Don Melchior, and a gloomy presentiment warned him that a similar fate impended over him. But the gates of the city were carefully guarded; no one could leave without a pass signed by the Town Commandant: and so, Don Antonio was forced to remain in Mexico. A letter he received restored him a little hope, by allowing him a glimpse of a speedier conclusion than he believed of plans, whose execution he had so long been pursuing. Still, as Don Antonio Cacerbas was a very prudent man, and as the gloomy machinations to which he had devoted his dark existence had accustomed him to be constantly on his guard, while remaining at home, as he was requested to do in the letter he had received, he summoned a dozen distinguished cutthroats, and concealed them behind the tapestry, in order to be ready for any event. It was the day of Miramón's return to Mexico, and about nine o'clock at night. Don Antonio had retired to his bedroom, and was reading, or rather, trying to read; for his troubled conscience did not allow him the necessary calmness of mind to take this innocent amusement, when he heard someone talking rather loudly in his anteroom. He at once rose and prepared to open his door, in order to enquire the cause of the noise he had heard, when this door opened, and his confidential servant appeared, acting as introducer of several persons. They were nine in number; six masked men wrapped in zarapés and three ladies. On seeing them, Don Antonio gave a nervous start, but immediately recovering himself, he remained standing at the table, probably waiting till one of the strangers resolved on speaking. This really happened.

"Señor Don Antonio," one of them said, advancing a step, "I bring you Doña Maria, Duchess de Tobar, your sister-in-law, Doña Carmen de Tobar, your niece, and Doña Dolores de la Cruz."

At these words, uttered with an accent of cutting irony, Don Antonio fell back a step, and his face, was covered with an earthy paleness.

"I do not understand you," he said in a voice which he strove in vain to render firm, but which trembled.

"Do you not recognise me, Don Horacio?" Doña Maria then said in a soft voice; "Has grief so completely altered my features that it is possible for you to deny that I am the unhappy wife of the brother whom you assassinated?"

"What means this farce?" Don Antonio exclaimed violently. "This woman is mad! And you, scoundrel, who dare to play with me, take care!"

The man to whom these words were addressed only replied by a laugh of contempt, raising his voice.

"You wish for witnesses to what is going to take place here, caballero? I presume you consider there are not enough of us to hear what is going to be said. Well, I consent; come out of your hiding places, señores; and you, caballeros, come."

At the same instant the tapestry was raised, the door opened, and some twenty persons entered the room.

"Ah! you are calling witnesses!" Don Antonio said in a mocking voice. "Well, then, your blood be on your own head!" And turning to his men standing behind him, he shouted, "Upon these scoundrels; kill them like dogs!" and he leaped on a brace of revolvers which were laid on a table within reach.

But no one stirred.

"Down with their masks," the person who had alone spoken hitherto said, "they are unnecessary now. We must speak to this gentleman with uncovered faces."

With a gesture he removed the mask that covered his face: his companions imitated him. The reader will have recognised them already. They were Don Jaime, Domingo, Count Ludovic, Leo Carral, Don Diego, and Loïck, the ranchero.

"Now, señor," Don Jaime continued, "put off your borrowed name, as we have thrown away our masks. Do you recognise me? I am Don Jaime de Birau, your sister-in-law's brother. For twenty-two years I have been following you step by step, Señor Don Horacio de Tobar, watching all your movements, and seeking the vengeance which Heaven at length grants me, great and complete as I dreamed of it."

Don Horacio haughtily raised his head, and surveying Don Jaime with a glance of sovereign contempt, he said to him—"Well, what next, my noble brother-in-law, for, as you desire, I give up all feigning, and consent to recognise you. What so grand and complete vengeance have you gained at the end of twenty-two years, noble descendant of the cid Campiada?—That of compelling me to kill myself—a fine profit. Is not a man of my stamp always ready to die? What more can you do?—Nothing. Suppose that I writhe bleeding at your feet, I shall bear with me to the tomb the secret of this vengeance which you do not suspect, and all whose profit remains with me, for I shall leave you on my death a more profound despair than that which turned your sister's hair white in a single night."

"Undeceive yourself, Don Horacio," Don Jaime answered; "I know all your secrets: and, as for your killing yourself, that consideration only takes the second place in my plan of vengeance. I, too, will kill you, but by the hangman's hand. You shall die dishonoured, the death of the infamous—by the garote, in a word."

"You lie, villain!" Don Horacio exclaimed, with a roar like a wild beast; "I—I—the Duke de Tobar, noble as the king! I, who belong to one of the oldest and most powerful families in Spain, die by the garote! Hatred has turned your brain—you are mad. I tell you, there is a Spanish ambassador in Mexico."

"Yes," Don Jaime answered, "but that ambassador leaves you to all the rigour of the Mexican laws."

"He, my friend, my protector, who introduced me to President Miramón? It is not so, it cannot be. Besides, what have I, a foreigner, to fear from the laws of this country?"

"Yes, a foreigner who took service with the Mexican government, in order to betray it to the profit of another. That letter, which you demanded so earnestly from Colonel Don Felipe, and which he refused to sell you, he gave me for nothing; and the compromising letters which were taken from you at Puebla, thanks to Don Estevan, whom you do not know, but who is your cousin, are at this moment in Juárez' hands. Hence you are hopelessly lost in that quarter; for, as you are aware, clemency is not one of Señor Don Benito Juárez' striking virtues. Lastly, I also possess your most precious secret—that which you believed so well guarded. I know of the existence of Doña Carmen's twin brother; I know also where he is, and can, if I like, suddenly bring him before you. See, here is the man to whom you sold your nephew," he added, pointing to Loïck, who was standing motionless by his side.

"Oh!" he muttered, falling back into a chair, and folding his arms in despair. "I am lost!"

"Yes, and most utterly lost, Don Horacio," he said, contemptuously, "for not even death will be able to save you from dishonour."

"Speak, in Heaven's name!" Doña Maria exclaimed, approaching her brother-in-law, "tell me that I am not mistaken, that Don Jaime really spoke the truth; that I have a son, in short, and that this son is the twin brother of my beloved Carmen?"

"Yes," he muttered, in a low voice.

"Oh, thanks be to God!" she cried, with an expression of ineffable joy, "And you know where my son is? You will restore him to me, will you not? I implore you, reflect that I have never seen him, that I long for his caresses! Where is he? Tell me."

"Where he is?"

"Yes."

"I do not know," he answered, coldly.

The unhappy mother sank into a chair, and buried her face in her hands. Don Jaime approached her.

"Courage, poor woman!" he said to her, gently. There was a moment of mournful silence. In the room where so many persons were collected, nothing was to be heard but the sound of oppressed breathing and the stifled sobs of Doña Maria and the two young ladies. Don Horacio advanced a step.

"My noble brother-in-law," he said in a firm voice, impressed with a certain grandeur, "request these caballeros to retire into the adjoining room; I wish to be alone with you and my sister-in-law for a few minutes."

Don Jaime bowed, and addressing the Count, said, "My friend, be kind enough to conduct these ladies into the adjoining saloon."

The Count offered his hand to the young lady, and went out without a word, followed by all the company, who silently withdrew at a sign from Don Jaime.

Dominique alone remained with a flashing eye fixed on Don Horacio. "As for me," he said, in a sullen voice, "as I do not know what is going to happen here, and fear a snare, I will not go except by the express order of Don Jaime—it was he who brought me up; I am his adopted son, and it is my duty to defend him."

"Remain then, señor," Don Horacio replied with a sorrowful smile, "since you may belong to our family." Don Jaime stepped forward at this moment. "Brother-in-law," he said to him, "that son, whom you carried off from my sister, the heir of the Dukes de Tobar, whom you believe lost, I saved! Dominique, embrace your mother. Maria! This is your son!"

"Mother!" the young man cried, bounding wildly towards her, "Mother!"

"My son!" Doña Maria murmured, in a dying voice, and fell fainting in the arms of the child she had at length recovered.

Though resolute against grief, like all choice natures, joy had overcome her. Dominique raised his mother in his vigorous arms, and laid her on a sofa; then, with frowning brows, eyes full of fury, and clenched teeth, he slowly advanced toward Don Horacio. The latter watched him approach with a shudder of terror. Falling back step by step before him until, at length, feeling the tapestry at his shoulder, he was involuntarily forced to stop.

"Assassin of my father, torturer of my mother," the young man said in a terrible voice, "coward and villain, my curses on you!"

Don Horacio bowed his head before this anathema, but drawing himself up again immediately, he said,

"God is just! My punishment is beginning. I knew that this man was alive. By great search I had succeeded in finding again, under the name of Loïck, the wretch to whom I sold him at the house of his birth."

"Yes," said Don Jaime, "and this Loïck, whom want led into crime, repenting of his fault, restored him to me."

"Yes, all this is true," Don Horacio said, in a low voice. "This young man is really my nephew. He has the features and voice of my unfortunate brother." He hid his face in his hands, but recovering himself suddenly, he said, with firmness,—

"Brother, you possess nearly all the proofs of the horrible crimes I have committed; and," approaching a table drawer, which he burst open, "here are the ones you want," he added, handing him a bundle of papers. "Unconsciously, perhaps, remorse had already entered my heart, here is my will, take it, it appoints my nephew my sole heir, while establishing his rights in an undeniable manner; but the name of de Tobar must not be sullied. For your own sake, and of that of your nephew, whose name is mine, do not carry out the cruel vengeance you meditated against me. I swear to you on my word as a gentleman, on the spotless honour of my ancestors, that you shall have full satisfaction for the crimes I have committed, and for the sorrowful existence to which I condemned my sister-in-law."

Don Jaime and Dominique remained gloomy and silent.

"Will you refuse me? Are you pitiless?" he anxiously exclaimed.

At this moment, Doña Maria left the sofa on which her son had laid her: walking with a slow and mechanical step toward Don Horacio, she placed herself between him, her brother and her son. Then, stretching out her arm with supreme majesty, she said in a voice marked with ineffable sweetness—

"Brother of my husband, vengeance belongs to God alone! In the name of the man whom I loved so dearly, and whom your cruel hand tore from me, I forgive you the frightful tortures you have inflicted on me, the nameless sorrows to which you condemned me, a poor innocent woman, for the last two and twenty years. I pardon you and may God be merciful to you!"

Don Horacio fell prostrate on his knees. "You are a saint," he said, "I am unworthy of forgiveness, I know it, but I will strive to expiate the crimes of my life as far as depends on myself by my death."

He then rose and tried to kiss her hand, but she recoiled with a start of horror.

"It is just," he said sadly, "I am unworthy to touch you."

"No," she replied, "since repentance has entered your heart."

And turning away her head, she offered him her hand. Don Horacio respectfully pressed his lips to it, and then turned to his brother-in-law and nephew, who had not moved.

"Will you alone," he asked sadly, "be pitiless?"

"We no longer have the right to punish," Don Jaime said in a hollow voice.

Dominique hung his head and maintained a sullen silence, his mother approached him and gently seized his arm: at this contact the young man gave a start.

"What do you want, mother?" he asked.

"I have pardoned this man," she said imploringly, in a gentle voice.

"Mother," he replied with an accent of implacable hatred: "when I cursed this man, it was my father who spoke by my lips, and dictated the malediction from the bloody tomb in which this wretch laid him: the indelible brand will cling to him, and God will ask of him as of the first fratricide: Cain, what hast thou done with thy brother?"

At these words, uttered in an awful tone, Don Horacio sank senseless on the floor.

Don Jaime and Doña Maria recoiled from him with horror. He remained lying on the ground for some minutes, and the persons present did not make a movement to succour him: at length Doña Maria leaned over him.

"Stay mother!" the young man exclaimed, "Do not touch that wretch! The contact would sully you!"

"I have forgiven him!" she said feebly.

Don Horacio, however, gradually recovered his senses, he rose slowly and his frightfully contracted features wore a strange expression of resolution.

He turned to Dominique.

"You insist," he said; "be it so; the reparation shall be striking."

He felt in the carefully locked drawer of a table, which he opened by means of a key hung round his neck by a gold chain, took something they could not see out of it, closed the drawer again, then walking with a firm step to the door, he threw it wide open.

"Come in caballeros, all of you!" he cried in a loud voice.

In a second the room was filled with people. The Count de la Saulay and Don Estevan alone remained in the sitting room with the young ladies, upon receiving a sign from Don Jaime. Don Jaime then walked up to his sister and offered her his arm.

"Come," he said to her; "come, Maria, this scene is killing you. Your place is no longer here, now that you have forgiven this man."

Doña Maria offered but a slight resistance, and followed her brother, who led her into the sitting room, the door of which he closed after them. The rolling of a carriage was heard, in which the three ladies returned home under the Count's escort. At the same moment a clash of arms was audible outside.

"What is that?" Don Horacio asked with a start of terror.

Numerous footsteps approached, the doors were noisily opened, and soldiers appeared. At their head came the prefect of the city, the Alcalde mayor, and several corchetes.

"In the name of the law," the prefect said in a stern voice, "Don Antonio Cacerbas, you are my prisoner: corchetes, seize this man."

"Don Antonio Cacerbas no longer exists," Don Jaime said, as he threw himself between his brother-in-law and the police agents.

"Thanks," the latter said, "thanks for having saved the honour of my name. Señores," he said in a loud voice, pointing to Dominique, who was standing by his side, "this is the Duke de Tobar. I am a great criminal; pray to Heaven to pardon me."

"Forward, corchetes!" the prefect cried; "Seize that man, I tell you."

"Come on, then," Don Horacio answered, as he quickly raised his hand to his mouth.

Suddenly he turned pale, tottered like a drunken man, and rolled on the floor without even a sigh. He was dead. Don Horacio had poisoned himself.

"Señores," Don Jaime then said to the prefect and the Alcalde mayor, "your duty ceases with the death of the culprit; his corpse henceforth belongs to his family. Have the goodness to withdraw."

"May God pardon the unhappy man this last crime!" the prefect said; "We have nothing more to do here."

And after bowing ceremoniously, he withdrew with his followers.

"Gentlemen," Don Jaime said in a sad voice, addressing the spectators, who were terrified at the strange and rapid close of this scene, "let us pray for the soul of this great criminal."

All knelt with the exception of Dominique, who remained standing, with his flashing eyes fixed on the corpse.

"Dominique," his uncle said to him gently, "does your hatred for him exist beyond the tomb?"

"Yes," he exclaimed in a terrible voice, "may he be accursed to all eternity!"

His hearers sprang up in horror: this awful curse had frozen the prayer on their lips.


CHAPTER XXXIX.

EPILOGUE.—THE HATCHET.


In the meanwhile political events advanced with a fatal rapidity. The deputation sent to General Ortega returned to Mexico without obtaining any capitulation. The situation was becoming excessively critical: under the circumstances, General Miramón displayed extreme self denial; not wishing to compromise the city of Mexico further, he resolved to abandon it on the same night. He therefore proceeded to the ayuntamiento, to whom he proposed to appoint a temporary President or Alcalde, who, through his previous relations with the triumphant party, would be able to save the city, and maintain order in it. The ayuntamiento unanimously applied to General Bercozabal, who generously accepted this difficult office. His first care was to request the foreign ministers to arm their countrymen, who would take the place of the disorganised police, and watch over and guard the general safety.

During this time Miramón made all his preparations for departure. Not being able to take his wife and children with him on a flight whose incidents might be sanguinary, he resolved to entrust them to the Spanish Ambassador, by whom they were received with all the respect to which their unhappy situation gave them a claim. Had he wished it, Miramón would have gone away without having any violence to apprehend from Juárez' partisans. Naturally good-hearted, if he was regarded as a political adversary, no one hated him as a personal enemy. Propositions to escape alone had even been made him on several occasions, but with that chivalrous delicacy which is one of the noblest traits of his character, he refused, for he would not at the last moment abandon to the implacable enmity of their opponents certain persons who had fought for him and compromised themselves on his behalf. This feeling was assuredly honourable, and his adversaries themselves were constrained to admire this generous conduct.

Don Jaime de Birau had spent a portion of the day with the General, consoling him as well as he could, and aiding him to gather together the scattered fragments—we will not say of his army, as it no longer existed—but of the different corps which were still hesitating which side to join. Count de la Saulay and the Duke de Tobar—for we will restore to Dominique the name that belongs to him—after keeping the ladies company for the whole evening, and talking with them about the strange events of the previous day, at length took their leave, feeling somewhat alarmed about the protracted absence of Don Jaime, owing to the confusion that prevailed at the moment in the city; they had just reached home, and were preparing to retire for the night, when Raimbaut, the Count's valet, announced Lopez. The peon was armed as if for a dangerous expedition.

"Oh! Oh!" the Duke said to him, "What an arsenal you have about you, Lopez."

"Have you a communication to make to us?" the Count asked.

"I have only this to say to your Excellency. Two and one make three."

"By Heaven!" the young man exclaimed, rising spontaneously, "What are we to do? We are ready."

"Arm yourselves as well as your domestics. Hold your horses saddled, and wait."

"Something is happening, then?"

"I do not know, Excellency. My master will tell you."

"Is he coming, then?"

"Before an hour he will be here. He gave me orders to remain with you."

"Good! Take advantage of that hour to rest yourself, Lopez, while we get ready."

When Don Jaime arrived at about eleven o'clock, his friends were dressed in travelling costume, had put on their spurs, and placed revolvers in their belts, and were now smoking and waiting, with their sabres and guns lying before them on a table.

"Bravo!" he said, "We are off."

"Wherever you like."

"Are we going far?" the duke asked.

"I do not think so, but there may be a fight."

"All the better," they said.

"We have nearly half an hour before us. It is more than sufficient for me to tell you what I intend doing."

"Very good. Go on."

"You are aware that I am very intimate with General Miramón," he continued.

The young men nodded an affirmative.

"This is what is happening. The General has collected about fifteen hundred men, and hopes, with this escort, to be able to reach Veracruz, where he will embark. He starts at one o'clock tomorrow morning."

"Have things reached this point already?" the Count asked.

"All is over. Mexico has surrendered to the Juarists."

"All the worse. Well, let them settle among themselves," the Count said. "It does not concern us."

"I do not see in all this," said the Duke, "the part we have to play."

"It is this," Don Jaime continued, "Miramón believes he can reckon on the fifteen hundred men who compose his escort. But I am persuaded of the contrary. The soldiers are attached to him, it is true, but they detest certain persons who are going with him. I fear lest they may allow themselves to be seduced, and Miramón in this way made prisoner."

"That is what will probably happen," the Count remarked with a shake of the head.

"Well, that is exactly what I wish to avoid," he said energetically; "and for this I have reckoned on you."

"By Jove, you were right."

"You could not make a better choice."

"In that case, you two and myself, Leo Carral, and your two servants, form, a body of resolute men, in whom it will be possible to trust, in the case of matters taking a bad turn; moreover, your quality as foreigners, the care you have taken to live retired, and not to attract attention, will enable us to complete our task by concealing the General among us."

"Where he will be in perfect safety."

"However, all that I am saying to you is very uncertain at present: perhaps the escort will remain faithful to the General, and in that case, our escort becoming unnecessary, we shall only have to retire after accompanying him far enough from the city to place him in safety."

"Well, let us trust to Heaven," said the Count; "there is about this young man something grand and chivalrous, which has attracted me, and I should not be sorry if the opportunity offered to do him a service."

"Now that we are agreed as to facts, suppose we set out," said the Duke. "I am anxious to find myself by the side of this brave General; but I suppose, before all, you have provided for my mother's safety?"

"Be at your ease, nephew; the Spanish ambassador, at my request, has placed a guard of merchants belonging to our nation, inside the house; neither she, nor Carmen, nor Dolores, has anything to fear; besides, Estevan is with her, and owing to the credit he enjoys with Juárez, he alone would suffice to protect them efficaciously."

"In that case, off we go!" the young man exclaimed, jumping up merrily.

They wrapped themselves in their cloaks, and took their weapons.

"Let us be off," said Don Jaime.

The servants were waiting in readiness. The seven horsemen left the house, and proceeded in the direction of the Plaza Mayor, where the troops were assembled. The Plaza Mayor was extremely animated, the soldiers were fraternizing with the people, talking and laughing as if the affair going on this moment was the most ordinary matter in the world. General Miramón—surrounded by a rather large group, composed of officers who had remained faithful to his cause, or who, too deeply compromised to hope to obtain favourable conditions from the conquerors, preferred accompanying him on his flight to remaining in the city—feigned a calmness and cordiality doubtless absent from his heart. He talked with remarkable freedom of mind, defending without bitterness the acts of his government, and taking leave without reproaches or recriminations, who through selfishness had abandoned him, and whose handiwork his downfall was.

"Ah!" he said, on perceiving Don Jaime, and making a movement toward him; "You are really going with me? I had hoped that you would change your mind."

"Ah, General," he replied gaily, "the remark is most kind."

"You are well aware that you ought not to take it in ill part."

"The proof is that I have brought two friends of mine, who absolutely insist in following you, General."

"I beg them to accept my thanks. Happy is the man who, in falling from such a height, has friends to render his fall less heavy."

"You have no reason to complain, General, for you do not want for friends," the Count remarked, with a bow.

"It is true," he muttered, taking a sorrowful glance around him; "I am not alone yet."

The conversation continued in this tone for some time. An hour after, midnight struck at the Sagrario. Miramón drew himself up.

"Let us go, gentlemen," he said in a firm voice; "the hour has arrived to abandon the city."

"Sound the boot and saddle!" an officer shouted.

The bugles sounded. A sudden movement began in the crowd, who were driven back under the portales. The soldiers mounted and closed up. Then calmness was re-established, as if by enchantment, and a silence of death brooded over this immense square, which was covered with people, and literally paved with heads. Miramón sat upright on his horse in the midst of his troops. Don Jaime and his companions were mixed up with the officers surrounding the General. After a moment's hesitation, the General took a last sad glance at the dark, gloomy palace, in which not a single light was burning.

"Forward!" he shouted.

The troops started. The march commenced. At the same instant shouts of "Long live Miramón!" were raised on all sides.

"They regret me already," the General said in a low voice to Don Jaime; "and yet I have not left them."

The troops slowly passed through the city followed by the crowd, who seemed desirous, by paying this last respect to the fallen President, to prove to him the esteem of which he was personally the object. At length, at about two o'clock in the morning, they reached the city gates, and found themselves in the open country. Ere long the city appeared only as a luminous point in the horizon. The troops were sorrowful and silent. Still the march continued. All at once a certain hesitation seemed to be displayed, and a sullen agitation prevailed in the ranks.

"Attention! There is something going to happen," Don Jaime muttered, addressing his friends. Ere long this agitation increased, a few cries were heard from the vanguard.

"What is going on there?" Miramón asked.

"Your soldiers are revolting," Don Jaime said, bluntly.

"Oh, it is not possible!" he exclaimed.

At the same instant there was a terrible explosion of cries, hootings and hisses, in which prevailed the shout of—"Long live Juárez! The hatchet! The hatchet!"

The hatchet is, in Mexico, the symbol of the federation. Shouting for the hatchet is the same thing as revolting, or, to speak more in accordance with classical phraseology, making a pronunciamiento. This shout for the hatchet at once ran from one rank along the other, became general, and ere long the confusion and the disorder were at their height. Juárez' partizans mingled with the troops, raised cries of death against the enemies whom they did not wish to let escape, sabres were drawn, lances couched, and a conflict became imminent.

"General, you must fly!" Don Jaime said, hurriedly.

"Never," the President answered; "I will die with my friends."

"You will be massacred without succeeding in saving them; besides, look! They are deserting you themselves."

It was true; the President's friends had disbanded, and attempting flight in all directions.

"What is to be done?" the General exclaimed.

"Cut a way through," Don Jaime answered, and without giving Miramón time for reflection, he shouted, in a thundering voice—"Forward!"

At the same instant the insurgents dashed with couched lances at the small group, of which Miramón formed the centre. There was a frightful medley for some minutes; Don Jaime and his friends, who were well mounted, and more especially well armed, succeeded at length in cutting a passage, through which they dragged the General in their midst.

Then they set off at a mad gallop.

"Where are we going?" the President asked.

"To Mexico; it is the only spot where they will not dream of looking for you."

An hour later they passed through the gate again, and re-entered the city, mixed up with the disbanded troops, who were raising deafening cries of "Long live Juárez!" and themselves shouting more loudly than those who surrounded them. Once inside the city they separated; Miramón and Don Jaime remained alone; prudence demanded that the fugitives should only return to their homes one by one. At about four in the morning they were all together in safety. Juárez' troops entered the city, preceding by only a few hours General Ortega. Thanks to the measures taken by General Bercozabal, and the foreign residents acting together, the change of Government was effected almost without commotion. On the morrow the city appeared as tranquil as if nothing extraordinary had occurred.

Don Jaime, however, was not tranquil; he was afraid that if Miramón remained any length of time in the city his presence might eventually become known; hence he sought an opportunity to get him away, and was beginning to despair about finding one, when accident offered one, on which he was certainly far from calculating. Several days had elapsed; the revolution was finished, and matters had resumed their ordinary course, when Juárez at length arrived from Veracruz, and made his entry into the city. The first operation of the new President was, as Miramón had truly foreseen, to intimate to the ambassador of Spain his expulsion from the territory of the Mexican republic. Similar notifications were made on the same day to the legate of the Holy See, and to the representatives of Guatemala and Ecuador. This brutal expulsion, made in the most offensive terms and so opposed to the principles admitted between civilized nations, caused a general stupor. Consternation prevailed in the city; what might not be expected from a government which began with such unjustifiable acts?

The opportunity which Don Jaime had so long sought was at length offered him. Miramón would depart not with the Spanish Ambassador, but with the representative of Guatemala. This was what really happened. The departure of the expelled ministers took place on the same day. They were the Spanish ambassador, the legate of the Holy See, the representative of Guatemala, and the minister of Ecuador. Moreover, the Archbishop of Mexico and four Mexican bishops, comprising the entire episcopate of the republic, had been exiled from the territory of the republic, and took advantage of the escort of the ambassador to leave the capital.

Miramón, whose wife and children had left several days previously, followed the minister of Guatemala in a disguise which rendered him unrecognisable. Count de la Saulay and the Duke de Tobar proceeded, on their side, to Veracruz, escorting Doña Maria and the two young ladies. Don Jaime, who was unwilling to abandon his friend, travelled with the ambassador, attended by Lopez. Don Estevan alone remained in Mexico. We will not relate the insults and annoyances to which the expelled ministers and the bishops had to submit during the course of their journey from Puebla, where they were kept prisoners, to Veracruz, where they were menaced; stones were thrown at them, and the population wished to proceed to the worst extremities against the legate, and the unfortunate exiled bishops.

Matters attained such a pitch, that the French consul found himself constrained to claim the assistance of a French brig of war, and a Spanish vessel anchored off Sacrificios, and which at once sent parties of marines ashore.

Miramón had been recognised, but owing to the energy of the French consul, and of the commander of the brig, he succeeded in making his escape from his enemies.

Two days later, the Velasco, a Spanish man-of-war, sailed for Havana, with all our characters on board.


On January 15th, 1863, a double marriage was celebrated at Havana.

That of the Count de la Saulay with Doña Carmen de Tobar, and that of the Duke de Tobar with Doña Dolores de la Cruz.

The witnesses were, the Ambassador of Her Catholic Majesty to Mexico, General Miramón, the Commander of the Velasco, and the ex-minister of Guatemala.

It was the legate of the Holy See who gave the nuptial blessing to the young couples.

Count de la Saulay, we understand, lately set out again for Mexico, in order to claim by the aid of the French intervention, the immense estates which his wife possesses in that country, and which the government of Juárez thought proper to confiscate.

Don Jaime de Birau, accompanies his friend. Leo Carral is with them.

THE END.