Chapter 53 - The Tiger Hunter by Mayne Reid

Love’s Malady.

After the departure of the bandits, a mournful tranquillity reigned in the hacienda of Las Palmas. Gertrudis, asking herself at every moment of the day whether Don Rafael really no longer loved her, could only answer with certainty that she loved him, and should do so for ever.

One afternoon—it was the third after Arroyo had gone—she sat looking over the plain as the sun was sinking slowly to the horizon. It was just such an evening as that on which she had awaited the arrival of Don Rafael. Now, however, the floods had retired, and the landscape had assumed a more verdant and joyous aspect.

All at once, half-a-dozen horsemen appeared before her eyes, as if just coming from the hills in the rear of the hacienda. The Spanish pennants floating from their lances proclaimed them to be Royalist dragoons. One rode a little in advance of the rest, evidently their leader. Several other horsemen appeared, following them: until a large troop was seen defiling across the plain.

Gertrudis heeded not those in rank. Her eyes were solely occupied by the one who rode in front. He was too distant to be recognised by the sight, but her heart told her who it was.

“I, too,” murmured she to herself, “I have been rash in my words—in pronouncing an anathema against those sons of our country who should betray its cause. What matters it to the woman who loves, what flag her beloved may fight under? His cause should be hers. Why did I not do as my sister? Ah! why, indeed? Marianita is now happy, while I—” A sigh choked her utterance, and with tears falling from her eyes she continued silently to gaze after the horsemen, until their retreating forms melted away into the golden haze of the sunset.

Not even once had their leader turned his face towards the hacienda, and yet it was Don Rafael!

It was in reality the dragoon captain, going off in obedience to the order he had received; and who, to conceal from his soldiers the anguish of his spirit, had thus ridden past the hacienda without turning his head to look back.

From this time it should have mattered little to Gertrudis where she might reside. For her, Las Palmas had now only sad memories; but even these seemed to attach her to the place; and she could not help thinking, that her departure from Las Palmas would break the last link that bound her to him she so devotedly loved.

When Don Rafael no longer breathed the same air with her, she found a melancholy pleasure in taking care of his beautiful steed—the bay-brown Roncador—that, having galloped off after the encounter with the men of Arroyo, had been recaught by Don Mariano’s vaqueros, and brought back to the hacienda.

Shortly after the marriage of Marianita with Don Fernando de Lacarra was celebrated. This union had been arranged, long previous to the breaking out of the insurrection, and found no opposition on the part of Don Mariano. Don Fernando was a Spaniard, it is true; but he had already obtained the consent of the haciendado. Even under the changed circumstances in which the revolution had placed the country, it would not have been refused. Like many other Spaniards at this time, Don Fernando had chosen for his country, that which held the object of his affections; and his sympathies had become enlisted in favour of the land of his adoption.

A few days after his marriage, he bore his young bride home with him to the hacienda of San Carlos. His mansion was situated not far from the hacienda of Del Valle, lying, as the latter did, on the banks of the river Ostuta which separated the two estates, and not far from the lake of the same name.

Most of the people on the estate of Don Fernando—less given to insurrectionary views than those of Las Palmas—had remained faithful to its owner. On this account, it appeared to offer a more secure abode during the troublous times of the insurrection; and Don Fernando wished to give an asylum to his father-in-law and his family. Don Mariano, however, had declined the offer, in hopes that amidst the stirring life and society of a large town he might find distraction for the melancholy of Gertrudis. He preferred, therefore, retiring to Oajaca, and a few days after his daughter’s marriage had set out. Gertrudis refused to use the litera that had been prepared for her on the journey. She preferred riding the beautiful bay-brown, that had so often carried Don Rafael; and the fiery Roncador, as if conscious that he was object most dear to his master, suffered himself to be guided with as much docility by the fair frail hand of Gertrudis, as if his rein had been held in the vigorous grasp of Don Rafael himself.

Contrary to Don Mariano’s expectation, the sojourn in Oajaca proved ineffectual in removing the melancholy under which his daughter suffered. Insensible to all the attractions offered by the best society of the place, the time hung heavily upon Gertrudis. One moment of happiness she enjoyed: and that was when public rumour announced that Colonel Tres-Villas, after capturing the town of Aguas Calientes, had caused the hair to be shorn from the heads of three hundred women!

As Trujano had already hinted—having heard it from Marianita, at the house of whose husband he had spent several days—this news had for a moment filled the heart of the young Creole with happiness and pride. Amidst the general surprise at this act of singular severity, she alone knew why it had been accomplished. Don Rafael did not wish that she should be the only woman who, by this insurrection, should lament the loss of her hair. Gertrudis, nevertheless, did not fail to reproach herself, for indulging in this moment of selfish happiness.

“Pobres mujeres!” (poor women!) exclaimed she, as she drew her fingers through the ebony locks that already replaced the long luxuriant tresses she had sacrificed. “Pobres mujeres! They have not had, as I, the good fortune to make the sacrifice for the life of those they loved.”

After this occurrence, months passed, without her receiving any news of Don Rafael; and her cheek, gradually growing paler, with the blue circles darkening around her eyes, bore witness to the mental torment she was enduring.

For the long period of two years this agony continued—the young girl in vain endeavouring to stifle the passion that was devouring her life. Both spirit and body, enfeebled by solitude, by silence, and the sedentary character of the life she now led, had not the strength to continue the struggle much longer.

Don Rafael had the advantage in this respect. He carried his grief from one end of the kingdom to the other; and the constant change of scene, along with the distraction caused by the excitement of battles, were to him a species of relief.

Such advantages were wanting to Gertrudis. Happily, however, God has granted to woman, in a large degree, the virtue of resignation—often her sole defence against sorrow.

Gertrudis made no complaint, but suffered in silence—concealing, as well as she could, the dark chagrin that was consuming her. In long sleepless nights, when resignation appeared as if it would soon succumb, a feeble ray of hope would sometimes break upon her spirit, and for the moment restore its equanimity.

It was then she thought of her first resource—that which she intended to make use of when her power of resistance should be gone—that supreme resource that still existed in the tress of hair she had so carefully cherished and preserved.

The sending back to Don Rafael his horse had already cost her a pang. It had been a step on her part towards compromising the strife between her love and pride. Still more painful would it be to resort to that last measure, and avail herself of the permission, alas! so prophetically asked for.