Chapter 51 - The Tiger Hunter by Mayne Reid

A Generous Enemy.

The situation of Don Rafael had now become as critical as was that of Lantejas but the moment before. His pistols had been discharged; his sabre, broken in the battle, he had flung from him; and the only arm of which he could now avail himself was the dagger so near being sheathed in the heart of Don Cornelio.

During the Mexican revolutionary war but few prisoners were taken by the Royalists; and the cruelties exercised upon those that were, naturally led to retaliation. On both sides it was a war of extermination. The lives of captives were rarely spared, even after they had voluntarily surrendered.

Don Rafael, therefore, had made up his mind to sell his life as dearly as he could, rather than fall into the hands of his enemies, when one of them, an officer, addressing Lantejas, called out, in a voice which the latter recognised—

“Ah! Captain Lantejas! haste and come this way. The General wishes to thank you for the victory which you have given us.”

Don Rafael also recognised the officer, who was advancing at a gallop; and brave though Tres-Villas was, it was not without satisfaction that the enemy he saw coming towards him was Colonel Trujano, the ex-muleteer.

Trujano, on his side, at the same instant recognised the royalist officer.

Don Rafael, too proud to appeal to old friendships for protection—even to one whose life he had saved, in return for a similar service—put spurs to his horse, and galloped towards Trujano. With such impetuosity did he ride, that in another instant the two horses would have come into collision, had not the bridle of Don Rafael’s been grasped by a hand—the hand of Lantejas! The Captain, at the risk of being crushed under the hoofs of both horses—moved by the generosity which Don Rafael had so lately bestowed upon him—rushed between the two horsemen as a mediator.

“Colonel Trujano!” cried he, “I do not know what you mean in saying that the General is indebted to me for a victory; but, if I have done anything that deserves a recompense, I do not wish any other than the life and liberty of Don Rafael Tres-Villas.”

“I ask favours from no one,” interrupted Don Rafael, with a haughty glance towards Trujano.

“You will grant me one—that of giving me your hand,” said the ex-muleteer, at the same time cordially holding out his own.

“Never to a conqueror!” exclaimed Don Rafael, though evidently affected, in spite of himself, by the action and speech of his generous enemy.

“Here there is neither conqueror nor conquered,” rejoined Trujano, with that winning smile that gained all hearts. “There is a man, however, who always remembers a service done to him.”

“And another who never forgets one,” repeated Don Rafael, with warmth, at the same time grasping the hand that was still held towards him.

Then the two horsemen drew their horses nearer, and exchanged the most cordial greetings.

Trujano profited by this occasion to whisper in the ear of his enemy, and with a delicacy which still further moved Don Rafael, whose pride he had treated with such condescension—

“Go—you are free. Only promise not to cut the hair off the heads of any more poor women; although it is said there was one whose heart trembled with pride that the conqueror of Aguas Calientes should send her such a terrible souvenir. Go!” added he, withdrawing his hand from the convulsive grasp of Don Rafael, “deliver yourself up a prisoner at the hacienda Las Palmas, where the road is open for you, believe me.”

Then, as if he had too long occupied himself with the trivial affairs of the world, the countenance of Trujano resumed its expression of ascetic gravity, and when the eye of Don Rafael was interrogating it, in hopes of reading there the true signification of the last words, the insurgent chieftain called out—

“Let Don Rafael Tres-Villas pass free! Let every one forget what has occurred.”

Saying this, he formally saluted the Royalist colonel with his sword, who could only return the salute with a glance of the most profound gratitude.

Don Rafael pressed the hand of the Captain; and bowing coldly to the other insurgents, rode out from their midst. Then, urging his horse into a gallop, he followed the road that led outward from the plain of Huajapam.

On finding himself alone, he reduced the speed of his horse to a walk, and became absorbed in a reverie of reflection. The last words of Trujano—what could they mean? “The road is open for you, believe me.” Was it an assurance that he should be welcomed at the hacienda of Las Palmas? Should he proceed thither, as the insurgent colonel had counselled him? or should he go direct to Del Valle, to make arrangements for his last campaign against the brigand Arroyo?

Once more had commenced the struggle between love and duty.

Don Rafael would not have hesitated long as to the course he should pursue, had some good genius only made known to him a certain fact—that at that same hour an accident was occurring at the hacienda Del Valle, of a nature to reconcile the two conflicting sentiments that had warped the thread of his destiny.

A messenger from Don Mariano—the same who had brought back Roncador to Del Valle—had on that very day again presented himself at the hacienda. This time his errand was one of a purely personal nature—to Don Rafael Tres-Villas himself.

“Where are you from?” demanded Veraegui of the messenger, in his usual blunt Catalonian fashion.


“Who has sent you?”

“Don Mariano de Silva.”

“What do you want with the Colonel?”

“I can only declare my errand to the Colonel himself.”

“Then you will have to go to Huajapam first—that is, unless you prefer to wait till he arrives here. We expect him in three or four days.”

“I prefer going to Huajapam,” rejoined the man “my errand is of such a nature that it will not bear delay.”

This messenger was on his way to Huajapam, and not more than thirty leagues from the town, at the moment when Don Rafael was leaving it to proceed in the opposite direction.

Meanwhile Trujano, returning to the field of battle covered with the bodies of his dead and wounded enemies, caused all his soldiers to kneel, and publicly render thanks to God for having delivered them from their long and painful siege. Morelos at the same moment ordered his troops to prostrate themselves in prayer; and then a psalm was sung by all in chorus, to consecrate the important victory they had gained.

Don Rafael was still not so distant from the field but that he could hear the swelling of many voices in the pious chaunt. The sounds fell with melancholy effect upon his ears, until the tears began to chase themselves over his cheeks.

In reviewing the circumstances which had influenced him to change his line of conduct in regard to this revolution, he reflected that had he given way to more generous instincts, and not allowed himself to be forced astray by the desire of fulfilling a rash vow, his voice would at that moment have been mingling with theirs—one of the loudest in giving thanks for the success of a cause of which he was now the irreconcilable enemy!

With an effort he repulsed these reflections, and sternly resolved upon going to the hacienda Del Valle, to re-steel his heart over the tomb of his father.

A perilous journey it would be for him. The whole province—the capital and one or two other places excepted—was now in the hands of the insurgents; and a royalist officer could not travel the roads without great risk of falling into their hands.

“God protects him who does his duty,” muttered Don Rafael, as he again turned his horse to the roads, spurring him into a gallop, in order that the sound of his hoofs might drown that pious song, which, by stirring up sad souvenirs, was fast weakening his resolution.

In another hour he had crossed the Sierra which bounded the plain of Huajapam, and was following the road which led southward to the hacienda Del Valle.