Chapter 64 - The Tiger Hunter by Mayne Reid

The Talisman Transmitted.

It was only after a long and desperate effort to subdue the passion with which Don Rafael Tres-Villas had inspired her, that Gertrudis de Silva resolved upon making use of the talisman she had so carefully preserved—that message, which Don Rafael had sworn to obey without a moment’s hesitation—even though it should reach him on the instant when his hand was raised to strike down his most mortal enemy.

When the young girl at length reluctantly yielded to the determination of once more seeing Don Rafael, her first emotion was one of profound pleasure. She could not convince herself of the fact, that her former lover could now be indifferent, or that from his mouth she should hear the avowal that he no longer loved her. She believed that the message would convey to him a happiness similar to that she herself felt in sending it; and it was for this reason, and also the better to secure his fidelity and zeal, that she had led the messenger to expect a magnificent reward, on the accomplishment of his errand. Under the critical circumstances in which the messenger found himself, after setting out from Oajaca, it was well that such a golden lure glistened before his mental vision—else the precious talisman might have stood less chance of arriving at its destination.

On the departure of the messenger, Gertrudis felt as if inspired with new life; but this joyful state was but of short duration. Doubt soon took the place of certainty. Between herself and her lover more than one misunderstanding had arisen, all the result of imperious circumstances. She was no longer loved—this was her reflection. The distant proof she had for a while believed in—the affair of Aguas Calientes—was perhaps only a wild freak on the part of the Colonel; and if he no longer loved her, it was because he loved another.

Moreover, her messenger would have to traverse a country disturbed by civil war, and there was every chance of his failing to accomplish his mission. This doubt also added to the torture she was undergoing.

Overcome by such sad thoughts, and at times devoured by black and bitter jealousy, her heart was lacerated to the extreme of endurance. Her cheek had paled to the hue of the lily; while the purple circle round her eyes told of the mental agony the young Creole was enduring.

In this condition was she when Don Mariano set out on the journey from Oajaca—only three days after the departure of the messenger Gaspar.

The fond father beheld with apprehension the extreme melancholy that had taken possession of his daughter; and, convinced of the inutility of the efforts he had already made to cure her of her passion for Don Rafael—by representing the latter as unworthy of her—he had altogether changed his tactics in that regard. He now endeavoured to extenuate the faults of the Colonel; and, in the place of an accuser, became his benevolent champion.

“The nobility and frankness of his character,” Don Mariano would say, “is enough to set aside all suspicion of his perfidy. His silence may be explained by the events through which he has been involuntarily borne, and by the political relationships that surround him.”

Gertrudis smiled sadly at the words of her father, but her heart was not the less torn with grief.

In this unpleasant state of mind they passed three days, while journeying from Oajaca to the borders of the lake Ostuta. On the route they had met with no particular adventures nor encountered any obstacle; though from rumours that reached them from time to time—of the sanguinary deeds perpetrated by the ferocious Arroyo—they could not help experiencing a certain amount of apprehension.

It was on the third evening of the journey that they reached the Ostuta river and had halted upon its banks at the spot already described. During the night Don Mariano, rendered uneasy by hearing certain confused noises in the adjoining forest, had despatched one of the trustiest of his servants in the direction of the crossing, with directions to reconnoitre the place.

Two hours afterwards the domestic returned, with the report, that, near the ford he had seen numerous fires blazing along the bank of the river and on both sides of the ford. These could be no other than the fires of Arroyo’s camp: since they had heard several times along their route, that the brigand was encamped at the crossing of the Ostuta.

The servant added, that in returning from his reconnaissance he was under the belief that some one had followed him, as dogging his steps through the forest. It was for this reason that Don Mariano had caused the fires of his bivouac to be extinguished, and had so suddenly taken his departure from the place.

By going some distance down the river, and making the circuit of the lake into which it flowed, the servant of Don Mariano believed he could find a crossing, by which they might reach the hacienda of San Carlos on a different road. Although this détour would make their journey nearly one day longer, it would still be preferable to falling into the company of Arroyo and his brigands.

Among all the places in America, sacred to the worship of the native races, perhaps none enjoys a greater celebrity than the lake of Ostuta, and the mountain which rises up out of the bosom of its waters.

The mountain is called Monopostiac, or the Cerro encantado (enchanted hill). It has long been the locale of Indian tradition; and the singularly lugubrious aspect of the lake and its surrounding scenery would seem to justify the legendary stories of which it has been made the scene. It was to the borders of this lake, that the necessity of seeking his own and his daughter’s safety, was now conducting Don Mariano de Silva.

The journey proved long and arduous. The feebleness of Gertrudis would not permit her to travel fast, even in her easy litera; and the bad state of the roads, which would scarce admit the passage of the mules, contributed to retard their advance.

It was near midnight before they came within sight of the lake,—its sombre waters suddenly appearing through an opening in the trees. At the point where they approached, it was bordered by a thick forest, whose dark shadowy foliage promised them an impenetrable asylum where they might pass the night safe from discovery or pursuit.

In this forest Don Mariano resolved to make halt, and wait until the light of day might enable him to discover the crossing, by which, as his servant had assured him, they might reach the by-road leading to the hacienda of San Carlos.