Chapter 40 - The Tiger Hunter by Mayne Reid

Fatal Misunderstandings.

The death of this first victim, offered to the manes of his murdered father, had to some extent the effect of appeasing the vengeful passion of Don Rafael. At all events his spirit became calmer; and other sentiments long slumbering at the bottom of his heart began to usurp their sway. He perceived the necessity of justifying his conduct—which he knew must appear inexplicable—to the inhabitants of the hacienda Las Palmas. Had he done so at that moment all would have been well; but unfortunately a certain spirit of pride interfered to hinder him. A son who had punished the murderer of his father, ought he to excuse himself for what he felt to be a holy duty? Moreover, could he expect pardon for becoming the enemy of a cause he could no longer call his own?

This haughty silence on the part of Don Rafael could not do otherwise than complete the ruin of his hopes, and render still more impassable the gulf that had been so suddenly and unexpectedly opened up between his love and his duty.

The news of Valdez’ death—brought to the hacienda of Las Palmas by a passing messenger—together with the tenour of the inscription that revealed the author of it, had fallen like a bomb-shell into the family circle of Don Mariano de Silva. Unfortunately the same messenger had failed to report the assassination of Don Luis Tres-Villas—for the simple reason that he had not heard of it. His hosts, therefore, remained ignorant of the cause of this terrible reprisal.

From that moment, therefore, the family of Las Palmas could not do otherwise than regard the dragoon captain as a traitor, who, under the pretence of the purest patriotism, had concealed the most ardent sympathies for the oppressors of his country. Nevertheless the love of Gertrudis essayed that justification, which the pride of Don Rafael had restrained him from making.

“O my father!” exclaimed she, overwhelmed with grief, “do not judge him too hastily. It is impossible he can be a traitor to his country’s cause. One day—I am sure of it—one day, he will send a message to explain what has occurred.”

“And when he does explain,” responded Don Mariano, with bitterness, “will he be less a traitor to his country? No—we need not hope. He will not even attempt to justify his unworthy conduct.”

In fine, the message came not; and Gertrudis was compelled to devour her grief in silence.

Nevertheless the audacious defiance to the insurrection implied in the act of Don Rafael, and the inscription that announced it, had something in it of a chivalric character, which was not displeasing to the spirit of Gertrudis. It did not fail to plead the cause of the absent lover; and at one time her affection was even reconquered—that is, when it came to be known that the head of the insurgent chief had replaced that of Don Rafael’s father, and that it was blood that had been paid for blood.

If in that crisis the captain had presented himself, Don Mariano, it is true, might not have consented to his daughter forming an alliance with a renegade to the Mexican cause. The profound patriotism of the haciendado might have revolted at such a connection; but an explanation, frank and sincere, would have expelled from the thoughts both of himself and his daughter all idea of treason or disloyalty on the part of Don Rafael. The latter, ignorant of the fact that the news of his father’s death had not reached Las Palmas—until a period posterior to the report of that of Valdez—very naturally neglected the favourable moment for an éclaircissement.

How many irreparable misfortunes spring from that same cause—misunderstanding!

The two captains, Caldelas and Tres-Villas, soon transformed the hacienda of Del Valle into a species of fortress, which some species of cannon, received from the governor of the province, enabled them to do. In strength the place might defy any attack which the insurgent bands of the neighbourhood could direct against it.

During the constant excursions which he made against the other two assassins of his father, Arroyo and Bocardo, Don Rafael left the charge of their citadel to the Captain Caldelas.

Listening only to the whisperings of his heart, he had finished by making a compromise between his love and his pride. Repelling the idea of communicating by a messenger, he had at one time resolved to present himself in person at the hacienda of Las Palmas; but, carried forward by the ardour of his vengeance, he dreaded that an interview with Gertrudis might have the effect of weakening his resolution; and for this reason he deferred seeking the interview, until he should complete the accomplishment of that rash vow made over the grave of his murdered parent.

Notwithstanding the almost superhuman efforts which he daily made in the pursuit of the insurgents, the result was not such as to appease his spirit of vengeance. Man by man did he accomplish the destruction of their band; but both the leaders still contrived to escape. In fine, after more than two months had passed since the death of Valdez, the rumour became spread throughout the neighbourhood that Arroyo and Bocardo had quitted the province of Oajaca, and gone northward with the remnant of their guerilla to offer their services to General Hidalgo.

On receiving this news Don Rafael, who had been absent on a protracted scout, returned to the hacienda Del Valle. During his absence, an order had arrived from the general-in-chief of the vice-regal army, commanding him to return to duty with his regiment—the Queen’s dragoons.

Before obeying this order, however, he resolved on devoting one day to the affairs of his heart; and, permitting his love to conquer his pride, he determined on presenting himself at the hacienda of Las Palmas.

Alas! it might now be too late. A justification in the eyes of Don Mariano would now be more difficult than it might have been two months before. During that time appearances had been converted into realities, suspicions into certainties, and Don Rafael was for him no longer aught but a common renegade. Certain words which he was in the habit of repeating to his daughter, told too plainly his opinion of the dragoon captain; and these words rang in the ears of Gertrudis as a sad presentiment which she almost believed already accomplished.

“Do not weep for the defection of Don Rafael,” said the haciendado, endeavouring to dry his daughter’s tears. “He will be false to his mistress, as he has been to his country.”

What appeared a strange circumstance in the eyes of the father—these words only caused Gertrudis to weep the more abundantly and bitterly!

Nevertheless, such had been the former friendship of Don Mariano for the young officer—such the tender passion kindled in the heart of Gertrudis—that it is possible, had Don Rafael even then presented himself before them—his countenance open and beaming with the manly pride of accomplished duty—the frankness of his bearing, and the loyalty of his speech, might have still dissipated the clouds that hung over the heads of all.

Unfortunately destiny had decided otherwise. It was not decreed by fate that at that hour Don Rafael should enter, as a friend, the hospitable gates of the hacienda Las Palmas.