Chapter 22 - The Tiger Hunter by Mayne Reid

Rafael and Gertrudis.

As already stated, Don Luis Tres-Villas, the father of Don Rafael, was a Spaniard. He was one of those Spaniards, however, who from the first had comprehended the necessity of making liberal political concessions to the Creoles—such as those accorded to them by the enlightened Don José Iturrigaray. Even the interest of Spain herself demanded these reforms.

Don Luis, himself an officer in the vice-regal guard, had been one of the most devoted partisans of Iturrigaray; and when the latter was arrested by the more violent Gachupinos and sent prisoner to Spain, Tres-Villas saw that all ties of attachment between Spaniards and Creoles had been severed by the act; and that an open rupture was at hand. Unwilling to take part against the native people, Don Luis had thrown up his commission as captain in the vice-regal guards, left the capital, and retired to his estate of Del Valle.

This hacienda was situated on the other side of the ridge that bounded the plain of Las Palmas on the north, and about two leagues distant from the dwelling of Don Mariano de Silva. These two gentlemen had met in the metropolis; and the slight acquaintance there initiated had been strengthened during their residence in the country.

On receiving the news of Hidalgo’s insurrection, Don Luis had sent an express messenger to his son Don Rafael, summoning him to the Hacienda del Valle. In obedience to the order of his father, the young captain of dragoons, having obtained leave of absence from his regiment, was on his way thither, when he overtook upon the road the student of theology. Nevertheless, Don Rafael had not deemed the order of his father so pressing as to hinder him from passing a day at the hacienda of Las Palmas, which lay directly in the route to that of Del Valle. This, therefore, he had determined upon doing.

A word about the antecedents, which led to this resolve on the part of the dragoon captain.

In the early part of the preceding year Don Mariano de Silva had passed three months in the Mexican metropolis. He had been accompanied by his daughter Gertrudis—Marianita remaining in Oajaca with a near relative of the family. In the tertulias of the gay capital the fair Oajaqueña had met the dashing captain of dragoons, and a romantic attachment had sprung up between them, mutual as sincere. To this there could be no objection by the parents on either side: since there was between the two lovers a complete conformity in age, social position, and fortune. In all likelihood the romance of courtship would soon have ended in the more prosaic reality of marriage; but just at that time the young officer was ordered upon some military service; and Don Mariano was also suddenly called away from the capital. The marriage ceremony, therefore, that might otherwise have been expected to take place, thus remained unconsummated.

It is true that up to this time Don Rafael had not formally declared his passion to the young Creole; but it is probable that she knew it without any verbal avowal; and still more that she fully reciprocated it. Neither had Don Mariano been spoken to upon the matter: the captain of dragoons not deeming it proper to confer with him till after he had obtained the consent of Gertrudis.

After the separation of the two lovers, by little and little Don Rafael began to doubt whether his passion had been really returned by the fair Oajaqueña. Time and absence, while they rendered more feeble the remembrance of those little incidents that had appeared favourable to him, increased in an inverse ratio the impression of the young Creole’s charms—that in fancy now appeared to him only the more glowing and seductive. So much did this impression become augmented, that the young officer began to think he had been too presumptuous in aspiring to the possession of such incomparable loveliness.

His cruel doubts soon passed into a more cruel certainty; and he no longer believed that his love had been returned.

In this state of mind he endeavoured to drive the thoughts of Gertrudis out of his head: by saying to himself that he had never loved her! But this attempt at indifference only proved how strongly the sentiment influenced him; and the result was to force him into a melancholy, habitual and profound.

Such was the state of Don Rafael’s mind when the soldier-priest, Hidalgo, pronounced the first grito of the Mexican revolution. Imbued with those liberal ideas which had been transmitted to him from his father—and even carrying them to a higher degree—knowing, moreover, the passionate ardour with which Don Mariano de Silva and his daughter looked forward to the emancipation of their country; and thus sure of the approbation of all for whom he had reverence or affection—Don Rafael determined to offer his sword to the cause of Independence. He hoped under the banners of the insurrection to get rid of the black chagrin that was devouring his spirit; or if not, he desired that in the first encounter between the royalist and insurgent troops, death might deliver him from an existence that was no longer tolerable.

At this crisis came the messenger from Del Valle. The message was simply a summons to his father’s presence that he might learn from him some matters that were of too much importance either to be trusted to paper or the lips of a servant. The young officer easily conjectured the object for which he was summoned to Oajaca. Knowing his father’s political leanings, he had no doubt that it was to counsel him, Don Rafael, to offer his sword to the cause of Mexican Independence.

The message, however significant and mysterious, partially restored the captain of dragoons to his senses. In the journey he was necessitated to make, he saw there might be an opportunity of sounding the heart of Gertrudis, and becoming acquainted with her feelings in regard to him. For this purpose he had determined upon frankly declaring his own. In fine, he had half resolved to renounce those chivalric sentiments, that had already hindered him from opening the affair to Don Mariano without the consent of Gertrudis. So profound had his passion become, that he would even have preferred owing to filial obedience the possession of her he so devotedly loved, than not to possess her at all.

Influenced by such ideas, no wonder that with feverish ardour he rushed over the hundred leagues that separated Mexico from Oajaca; and it was for this reason he was willing to risk the danger of perishing in the flood rather than not reach the Hacienda las Palmas, on the evening he had appointed to be there.

It may be mentioned that in sending back the messenger of his father, he had charged the man to call at the hacienda of Las Palmas and inform its proprietor of his—Don Rafael’s—intention to demand there the hospitality of a night. Having calculated the exact time he might be occupied on his journey, he had named the day, almost the very hour, when he might be expected. Without knowing the importance which the young dragoon attached to this visit, Don Mariano was but too gratified to have an opportunity of showing politeness to the son of a gentleman who was at the same time his neighbour and friend.

With regard to the sentiments of Gertrudis, they are already known to the reader. What would not Don Rafael have given to have been equally well acquainted with them! Ah! could he have known the secret pleasure with which his arrival was expected—the ardent prayers, and that sacrificial vow registered in his favour, at the moment when he was struggling with danger—could he have known all this, it would have at once put an end to his melancholy!

At this time the insurrection was just beginning to make some stir at Oajaca. On throwing off the mask, Hidalgo had despatched secret agents to the different provinces of Mexico, in hopes that they might all join in the grito already pronounced by him in Valladolid. The emissaries sent to Oajaca were two men named Lopez and Armenta; but both, having fallen into the hands of the government authorities, were beheaded on the instant, and their heads, raised upon poles, were exposed upon the great road of San Luis del Rey, as a warning to other insurgents.

This rigorous measure had no effect in retarding the insurrection. Shortly after, a ranchero, named Antonio Valdez, raised the standard of independence, and, at the head of a small guerilla of country-people, commenced a war of retaliation. Many Spaniards fell into his hands; and their blood was spilled without mercy: for in this sanguinary manner did the Mexican revolution commence; and in such fashion was it continued.