Chapter 52 - The Tiger Hunter by Mayne Reid

Rude Guests.

Let us now recount the events which took place at the hacienda Las Palmas from the day on which Captain Tres-Villas was compelled to leave Don Mariano and his two daughters at the mercy of the ferocious robbers Arroyo and Bocardo.

The two guerilleros had sought refuge there, with the remnant of their band—most of which had been already destroyed by Tres-Villas and Caldelas. From the moment of first entering his house, they had insisted upon a footing of perfect equality between themselves and their old master. Even Gertrudis and Marianita were not exempted from this compulsory social levelling. The brigands ate at the same table with Don Mariano and his daughters—were waited upon by the servants of the hacienda—and slept in the very best beds the house afforded.

All the while Bocardo was observed to cast covetous glances on the silver plate—which, as is customary in the houses of Mexican ricos, was massive and abundant.

In Don Mariano’s presence he was in the habit of frequently making allusion to the richness of the Royalists; and behind his back he had several times endeavoured to persuade Arroyo that one who was the proprietor of such wealth, as was enjoyed by the haciendado, could not be otherwise than an enemy to the insurgent cause, and, at the bottom of his heart, a friend to the oppressors of the country.

“Look at us, poor insurgents!” he would say, “often reduced—especially when absent from this hospitable mansion—to use our fingers for forks, and our tortillas for spoons!”

And the wind-up of his argument always was, that they “ought to treat as a Royalist a master who dined every day upon silver plates—that Don Mariano should be reduced to the same condition as other patriotic insurgents, and use his fingers for forks, while his plates should be converted into piastres.”

Up to a certain period Arroyo rejected these proposals of his comrade. Not that he had any more respect for the property of Don Mariano than his associate had; but rather that he was not yet sufficiently hardened to reckless outrage, as to perpetrate such an audacious robbery on one who was publicly known to be a friend to the insurgent cause. We say, up to a certain time Arroyo preserved these egotistical scruples; but that time terminated on the day and hour when, in the presence of his old master, and the whole household of Las Palmas, he was forced to endure the terrible insults inflicted upon him by the dragoon captain. From that moment he transferred a portion of his vengeful hatred for Don Rafael to the haciendado and his daughters; and it is possible that on his leaving Las Palmas the night after—which the dangerous proximity of Del Valle influenced him to do—he would have left bloody traces behind him, but for the interference of his associate Bocardo.

The latter, in his turn, had counselled moderation. More covetous of gold, and less thirsty of blood than Arroyo, the astute brigand had represented, that “there could be no great blame attached to them for using the silver of Don Mariano to serve the good cause of the insurrection; that the more needy of the insurgents might justly demand aid from their richer brethren, but not their lives or their blood.”

Arroyo no longer combated the proposals of his confrère. To him they now appeared moderate; and the result was, that the two forbans collected all of Don Mariano’s silver they could lay their hands upon, with such other valuables as were portable—and, having made a distribution among their followers, decamped that night from Las Palmas, taking good care in their Haegira to give the hacienda of Del Valle a wide berth.

With regard to Don Mariano and his daughters, they were only too happy that nothing worse than robbery had been attempted by the brigands. They had dreaded outrage as well as spoliation; and they were rejoiced at being left with their lives and honour uninjured.

Made aware, by this episode, of the danger of living any longer in a house isolated as Las Palmas—which might be at the mercy any moment of either royalists or insurgents—Don Mariano bethought him of retiring to Oajaca. He would be safer there—even though the town was thoroughly devoted to the cause of the king; for, as yet, his political opinions had not been declared sufficiently to compromise him. For some days, however, circumstances of one kind or another arose to hinder him from putting this project into execution.

The hacienda of San Carlos, inhabited by the man who was about to become his son-in-law—Don Fernando de Lacarra—was only a few leagues distant from that of Las Palmas; and Marianita did not like the idea of leaving the neighbourhood. Without stating the true one, she urged a thousand objections to this departure. Gertrudis was also against it. The souvenirs which Las Palmas called up were at once sweet and sad; and the influence which sorrow has over love is well-known—especially within the heart of woman.

In the hacienda Las Palmas sad memories were not wanting to Gertrudis. How often, at sunset, did she sit in the window of her chamber, with her eyes bent in dreamy melancholy over the distant plain—deserted as on that evening when Don Rafael hastened to arrive, risking life that he might see her but an hour sooner!

When Don Rafael, in the first burst of his grief and vengeance, indulged in that wild pleasure which is often felt in breaking the heart of another, while one’s own is equally crushed—when he galloped off along the road to Oajaca, after burying the gage d’amour in the tomb of his father—thus renouncing his love without telling of it—then, and for some time after, the young girl waited only with vivid impatience. The pique she had at first felt was soon effaced by anxiety for his safety; but this at length gave place to agony more painful than that of suspense—the agony of suspicion.

We have already related, by what insensible and gradual transitions the family of Don Mariano de Silva had become confirmed in the belief, that Don Rafael had proved traitor to his mistress as to his country.

Nevertheless, at that moment when he presented himself, to demand the surrendering of the brigands, the sound of his voice falling upon the ears of Gertrudis had come very near vanquishing her wounded pride. That manly voice—whether when exchanging a few words with her father, or hurling defiance at the ferocious Arroyo—had caused her heart to tremble in every fibre. She required at that moment to summon up all the resentment of love disdained, as well as all the natural modesty of woman, to hinder her from showing herself to Don Rafael, and crying out—

“Oh, Rafael! I can more easily bear the dagger of Arroyo, than your desertion of me!”

“Alas! what have you done, mio padre?” cried she, addressing herself to her father, as soon as Don Rafael had gone; “you have wounded his pride by your irritating words, at the very moment when, out of regard for us, he has renounced the vengeance which he had sworn on the grave of his father! It may be that the words of oblivion and reconciliation were upon his lips; and you have hindered him from speaking them now and for ever. Ah! mio padre! you have ruined the last hope of your poor child!”

The haciendado could make no reply to speeches that caused his own heart to bleed. He deeply regretted the allusions he had made, towards an enemy to whose generosity he was now indebted for the lives both of himself and children.