Chapter 33 - The Tiger Hunter by Mayne Reid

The Isle of Roqueta.

While thus on the summit of the Voladero de los Hornos the Indian Costal and the negro Clara were debating between themselves how the castle might be captured—the same subject was being discussed by two persons of more importance in the tent of the insurgent general. These were Morelos himself, and Don Hermenegildo Galeana—now usually styled the “Marshal,” to distinguish him from another Galeana, his own nephew, who was also an officer in the insurgent army.

The countenance of Morelos had not yet cast off the shadow caused by the failure of their assault upon the castle; and his garments were still soiled with dust, which, under the agitation of violent passions, he disdained to wipe off.

The brow of the Marshal was also clouded; but that was rather by reflecting the unpleasant thoughts that were troubling the spirit of his well-beloved General: for no care of his own ever darkened the countenance of the warlike Galeana.

A chart of the bay and roadstead of Acapulco lay upon the table before them, illuminated by two candles, whose light was every moment becoming paler, as the day began to break into the tent.

They had been for some time engaged in discussing the important matter in question. The Marshal had been endeavouring to press upon the General the necessity of at least capturing the town: since the troops were not only badly provided with tents and other equipage, but were in such a position among the burning sands, that it was difficult to transport provisions to the camp. Moreover, the situation on the river’s bank was exceedingly unhealthy; and fever was daily thinning the ranks, and prostrating some of their best soldiers. The Marshal urged, that, once inside the town, they would at least be better lodged, while many other evils might be avoided. The town could not hold out against a determined assault. It might be, carried by a coup de main.

“I know all that, my dear Marshal,” said Morelos, in reply to the arguments of Galeana; “we can easily take the town, but the castle will still hold out, provisioned as it can always be through this unfortunate isle of Roqueta, with which the garrison is able to keep up a constant communication.”

The isle in question lay in the roadway of Acapulco, two short leagues from the town. There was a small fort upon it, with a Spanish garrison; and at the anchorage connected with this fort the Spanish ships, occasionally arriving with supplies for the fortress, could discharge their cargoes, to be afterwards transported to the castle in boats.

“Let us first capture Roqueta, then?” suggested Galeana.

“I fear the enterprise would be too perilous,” replied Morelos; “we have scarce boats enough to carry sixty men—besides, the isle is two leagues out to sea; and just at this season storms may be looked for every hour—to say nothing of a mere handful of men landing to attack a strong garrison behind their entrenchments.”

“We can take them by surprise,” continued the intrepid Mariscal. “Leave it to me, General; I care not for the danger. In the glory of your name I shall undertake to capture La Roqueta.”

“A perilous enterprise!” repeated Morelos, half in soliloquy. “Yes, friend Galeana,” continued he, once more addressing himself to his Marshal, “although you have taught me to believe in the success of any enterprise you may undertake, this is really of such a nature as to require serious consideration.”

“Never fear for the result, Señor General! I promise to capture the isle on one condition.”

“What is it?”

“That as soon as you see my signal, announcing that I have mastered the garrison of Roqueta, you will take the town of Acapulco. Your Excellency will agree to that?”

Morelos remained for a moment thoughtful, and apparently reluctant to permit so perilous an attempt.

Just at that moment a rocket was seen ascending into the air, and tracing its curving course against the still sombre background of the sky. It had evidently been projected from the fort of Roqueta, which in daylight would have been visible from the camp of the insurgents. Morelos and his Marshal, through the open entrance of the marquee, saw the rocket and conjectured it to be some signal for the garrison on the isle to the besieged within the fortress. Almost on the instant, this conjecture was confirmed by another rocket seen rising from the citadel upon the summit of the cliffs, and in turn tracing its blue line across the heavens. It was evidently the answer.

For some minutes the General and Galeana remained within the marquee, endeavouring to conjecture the object of these fiery telegraphs. They had not succeeded in arriving at any satisfactory conclusion, when the General’s aide-de-camp, Captain Lantejas, entered the tent. His errand was to announce to the Commander-in-chief that Costal, the scout, had just arrived in the encampment as the bearer of some important intelligence.

“Will your Excellency permit him to come in?” requested the Marshal. “This Indian has always some good idea in his head.”

Morelos signified assent, and the next moment the Indian entered the tent.

“Señor General!” said he, after having received permission to speak, “I have just been up to the cliff of Los Hornos, and through the grey dawn I have seen a schooner at anchor by the isle of Roqueta. She must have arrived during the night: since she was not there yesterday.”

“Well, what of it, friend Costal?”

“Why, General, I was just thinking how easy it would be for a party of us, after it gets dark, to slip up alongside, and take possession of her. Once masters of that schooner—”

“We could intercept all the supplies destined for the castle,” impetuously interrupted Galeana; “and then we shall reduce it by famine. Señor General, it is God who speaks by the mouth of this Indian. Your Excellency will no longer refuse the permission which I have asked?”

It is true, the danger apprehended was not diminished by the presence of the schooner; but, overcome by the earnest appeals of the Marshal, and the prospect of the important results which would certainly arise from the possession of the vessel, Morelos at length consented to the attempt being made.

“If I know how to read the clouds,” said Costal, whose counsel on this point was now requested, “I should say, from the way in which the sun is now rising, we shall have a dark calm day and night—at least, until the hour of midnight—”

“After midnight?” demanded the Marshal.

“A tempest and a howling sea,” replied Costal. “But before that time the schooner and the isle of Roqueta may be ours.”

“Shall be ours!” cried Galeana, with enthusiasm.

In fine, and before the council broke up, the enterprise was planned. The expedition was to be commanded by the Marshal, accompanied by his nephew, the younger Galeana, while Lantejas was to be the captain of a canoe, with Costal under his orders.

“The brave Don Cornelio would never forgive us,” said Galeana, “if we were to perform this exploit without him.”

The Captain smiled as he endeavoured to assume a warlike expression of countenance. He thought to himself, however, how much more to his taste it would be to have been deprived of the privilege accorded to him. But according to the habit he had got into, and in conformity with the energetic Spanish refrain: Sacar de tripas corazon (Keep a stout heart against every fortune), he pretended to be delighted with the honour that was yielded to him.

The prognostic of Costal about the weather appeared likely to be realised. During the whole day, while they were making preparations for their night expedition, the sky remained shadowed with sombre clouds; and, as evening arrived, the sun went down in the midst of a thick cumulus of vapour.