Chapter 50 - The Tiger Hunter by Mayne Reid

A Splendid Stroke.

Surrounded by his staff, Morelos still continued to watch the progress of events. From the commanding position which he held, almost every incident of the battle could be observed. Even those occurring at the most distant point of the field were observable through the medium of the telescope. Among other objects that had attracted his notice was a horseman going at full gallop along the crossroad, which led from the field of maize to the Royalist encampment.

“Ha!” exclaimed he to an officer of his staff; “if I’m not mistaken, it is our Captain Lantejas who is galloping down yonder. Where can he be going? No doubt he is about to strike one of those improvised, decisive blows in which he excels—as when at Cuautla, he dashed his horse full tilt against the gigantic Spanish cuirassier, and received the sabre stroke that might else have fallen upon my own skull. Fortunately his sword turned in the hand of the Spaniard, and Don Cornelio was struck by the flat side of the blade, which only knocked him out of his saddle, without doing him any great injury.”

“Señor General,” remarked the officer, with some show of hesitation; “there are evil-disposed persons, who pretend to say that—that—”

“What do they pretend to say?” demanded Morelos.

“Why, that on the occasion of which your Excellency speaks, the horse of Señor Lantejas was running away with him.”

“An odious calumny!” pronounced Morelos, in a severe tone. “Envy is always the proof of merit.”

At this moment, Don Cornelio disappeared from off the crossroad; and Morelos now saw coming in the same direction a Spanish officer also going at a gallop.

“Santissima!” cried Morelos, recognising the latter through his glass. “As I live, it is the brave Caldelas, who also appears to have been seized with vertigo! What can all this galloping mean?”

It was in reality Caldelas, who, pistol in hand, was searching for Regules, to accomplish the threat he had made.

Just then Don Cornelio again appeared in the crossroad; but this time going in the opposite direction, as if charging forward to meet Caldelas.

“See!” cried Morelos to his staff. “Look yonder—an encounter between Caldelas and the Captain! Ha! what was I saying to you? Viva Dios!—did you ever see such a beautiful coup de lance? He has struck down the most formidable of our enemies. Huzza! Victory is ours! The Spaniards are scattering! They yield the ground, and all because their bravest leader has been slain. Now, sir!” continued the General, turning to the officer who had doubted the courage of Don Cornelio; “will that silence the detractors of Señor Lantejas? To whom, if not to him, are we indebted for this splendid victory? Presently you will see him ride with his accustomed modesty, to say that he has simply done his duty. Otherwise, should he present himself to be complimented, he shall find his mistake: I must reprimand him for being too rash.”

“Happy is he whom your Excellency is pleased to reprimand in such fashion,” said the officer, withdrawing to one side.

“Let us onward!” exclaimed Morelos. “The action is over—the siege is raised, and our enemies are in full retreat. To Yanguitlan, and then—to take up our winter-quarters in the capital of Oajaca!”

On pronouncing these word, Morelos remounted his horse and rode off, followed by his officers.

We return to Colonel Tres-Villas and the ex-student of theology.

Notwithstanding the violent wrath of Don Rafael against the man who had killed his brave comrade, Caldelas, there was something so ludicrously comic in the countenance of the ex-student—so much innocent simplicity in its expression—that the resentment of Don Rafael vanished upon the instant. Then, quick as a flash of lightning, came over him the remembrance of that day—at the same time terrible and delightful—when parting from the student of theology, he had hurried forward to see Gertrudis, and receive from her the avowal of her love—alas! too soon forgotten!

These souvenirs—but more especially that recalling the daughter of Don Mariano—formed the aegis of the ex-student. A bitter smile curled upon the lip of Don Rafael, as he looked upon the pale and feeble youth within his grasp. “If such a man,” thought he, “has been able to give his death-blow to the valiant Caldelas—whose very glance he could scarce have borne—it must be that the hours of the vice-royalty are numbered.”

“You may thank your stars,” he continued, addressing himself to Lantejas, “for having fallen into the hands of one, who is hindered by old memories from revenging upon you the death of the valiant Caldelas, the bravest of the Spanish chiefs.”

“Ah! is the brave Caldelas dead?” inquired Don Cornelio, scarce sensible of what he was saying. “Is it possible? But it must be so, if you say it. In any case, I pardon him, and you too.”

“Very gracious of you,” rejoined Don Rafael, with a sarcastic smile.

“More than you think,” replied the ex-student, a little restored to his senses at finding his exploit was to be forgiven. “You have no idea of the terrible fright that he and you caused me just now. But, Señor Don Rafael—with your permission—I am in a very uncomfortable position for conversing—”

“Perhaps you will pardon me again for setting you safe and sound upon your feet?” said Don Rafael, permitting the captain to slide gently to the ground. “Adieu, then, Captain!” continued he, about to ride away. “I leave you, regretting that I have not time to inquire how it is that the peace-loving student, so terribly frightened at the mandate of the Bishop of Oajaca against the insurrection has become transformed into an officer of the insurgent army?”

“And I,” replied Lantejas, “I should like to know how it is that a captain in the Queen’s Dragoons, who did not appear to view that same mandate with a favourable eye, is to-day one of the bitterest adversaries of the insurrection? If it pleases you, Señor Don Rafael, to sit down here beside me, and let us discourse a bit—like the old Paladins, who often interrupted their deadliest combats for such a purpose—it would be much more agreeable to me than returning to the battle-field.”

A sombre shadow passed over the countenance of Don Rafael at the allusion made to the change of his opinions. Both officers presented a striking example of how little man can do to direct his own destiny, and how much he is the sport of circumstances. Both were, in fact, serving the cause opposed to that of their heart’s choice.

Just then a series of loud huzzas and vivas of triumph came from both sides of the battle-field; but it was impossible for either of them to tell upon which side the victory had declared itself.

“Ah! Señor Don Rafael,” cried the ex-student, “if our side has succumbed, then I am your prisoner.”

“And if you are victorious, I am not yours,” responded the Colonel, casting towards Lantejas a glance of contempt that he could not conceal—while at the same time he gathered up the reins of his bridle.

As he did so, at both extremities of the road appeared a number of mounted men, whose half-military equipments proclaimed them to be insurgents. One was heard to call out—

“Señor Colonel! Yonder he is—Don Cornelio still living and well!”

It was Costal who spoke.

In another moment both the Captain and Don Rafael were surrounded by the horsemen.