Table of Content

Chapter 11 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

Don Cosmé Rosales

“Yur safe, Cap’n!” It was Lincoln’s voice. Around me stood a dozen of the men, up to their waists. Little Jack, too, (his head and forage-cap just appearing above the surface of the water), stood with his eighteen inches of steel buried in the carcase of the dead reptile. I could not help smiling at the ludicrous picture.

“Yes, safe,” answered I, panting for breath; “safe—you came in good time, though!”

“We heern yur shot, Cap’n,” said Lincoln, “an’ we guessed yur didn’t shoot without somethin’ ter shoot for; so I tuk half a dozen files and kim up.”

“You acted right, sergeant; but where are the—”

I was looking towards the edge of the tank where I had last seen the girls. They had disappeared.

“If yez mane the faymales,” answered Chane, “they’re vamosed through the threes. Be Saint Patrick, the black one’s a thrump anyhow! She looks for all the world like them bewtiful crayoles of Dimmerary.”

Saying this, he turned suddenly round, and commenced driving his bayonet furiously into the dead cayman, exclaiming between the thrusts:

“Och, ye divil! bad luck to yer ugly carcase! You’re a nate-looking baste to interfere with a pair of illigant craythers! Be the crass! he’s all shill, boys. Och, mother o’ Moses! I can’t find a saft spot in him!”

We climbed out upon the parapet, and the soldiers commenced wiping their wet guns.

Clayley appeared at this moment, filing round the pond at the head of the detachment. As I explained the adventure to the lieutenant, he laughed heartily.

“By Jove! it will never do for a despatch,” said he; “one killed on the side of the enemy, and on ours not a wound. There is one, however, who may be reported ‘badly scared’.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Why, who but the bold Blossom?”

“But where is he?”

“Heaven only knows! The last I saw of him, he was screening himself behind an old ruin. I wouldn’t think it strange if he was off to camp—that is, if he believes he can find his way back again.”

As Clayley said this, he burst into a loud yell of laughter.

It was with difficulty I could restrain myself; for, looking in the direction indicated by the lieutenant, I saw a bright object, which I at once recognised as the major’s face.

He had drawn aside the broad plantain-leaves, and was peering cautiously through, with a look of the most ludicrous terror. His face only was visible, round and luminous, like the full moon; and, like her, too, variegated with light and shade, for fear had produced spots of white and purple over the surface of his capacious cheeks.

As soon as the major saw how the “land lay”, he came blowing and blustering through the bushes like an elephant; and it now became apparent that he carried his long sabre drawn and nourishing.

“Bad luck, after all!” said he as he marched round the pond with a bold stride. “That’s all—is it?” he continued, pointing to the dead cayman. “Bah! I was in hopes we’d have a brush with the yellow-skins.”

“No, Major,” said I, trying to look serious, “we are not so fortunate.”

“I have no doubt, however,” said Clayley with a malicious wink, “but that we’ll have them here in a squirrel’s jump. They must have heard the report of our guns.”

A complete change became visible in the major’s bearing. The point of his sabre dropped slowly to the ground, and the blue and white spots began to array themselves afresh on his great red cheeks.

“Don’t you think, Captain,” said he, “we’ve gone far enough into the cursed country? There’s no mules in it—I can certify there’s not—not a single mule. Had we not better return to camp?”

Before I could reply, an object appeared that drew our attention, and heightened the mosaic upon the major’s cheeks.

A man, strangely attired, was seen running down the slope towards the spot where we were standing.

“Guerillas, by Jove!” exclaimed Clayley, in a voice of feigned terror; and he pointed to the scarlet sash which was twisted around the man’s waist.

The major looked round for some object where he might shelter himself in case of a skirmish. He was sidling behind a high point of the parapet, when the stranger rushed forward, and, throwing both arms about his neck, poured forth a perfect cataract of Spanish, in which the word gracias (thanks) was of frequent occurrence.

“What does the man mean with his grashes?” exclaimed the major, struggling to free himself from the Mexican.

But the latter did not hear him, for his eyes at that moment rested upon my dripping habiliments; and dropping the major, he transferred his embrace and gracias to me.

“Señor Capitan,” he said, still speaking in Spanish, and hugging me like a bear, “accept my thanks. Ah, sir! you have saved my children; how can I show you my gratitude?”

Here followed a multitude of those complimentary expressions peculiar to the language of Cervantes, which ended by his offering me his house and all it contained.

I bowed in acknowledgment of his courtesy, apologising for being so ill prepared to receive his “hug”, as I observed that my saturated vestments had wet the old fellow to the skin.

I had now time to examine the stranger, who was a tall, thin, sallow old gentleman, with a face at once Spanish and intelligent. His hair was white and short, while a moustache, somewhat grizzled, shaded his lips. Jet-black brows projected over a pair of keen and sparkling eyes. His dress was a roundabout of the finest white linen, with waistcoat and pantaloons of the same material—the latter fastened round the waist by a scarf of bright red silk. Shoes of green morocco covered his small feet, while a broad Guayaquil hat shaded his face from the sun.

Though his costume was transatlantic—speaking in reference to Old Spain—there was that in his air and manner that bespoke him a true hidalgo.

After a moment’s observation I proceeded, in my best Spanish, to express my regret for the fright which the young ladies—his daughters, I presumed—had suffered.

The Mexican looked at me with a slight appearance of surprise.

“Why, Señor Capitan,” said he, “your accent!—you are a foreigner?”

“A foreigner! To Mexico, did you mean?”

“Yes, Señor. Is it not so?”

“Oh! of course,” answered I, smiling, and somewhat puzzled in turn.

“And how long have you been in the army, Señor Capitan?”

“But a short time.”

“How do you like Mexico, Señor?”

“I have seen but little of it as yet.”

“Why, how long have you been in the country, then?”

“Three days,” answered I; “we landed on the 9th.”

“Por Dios! three days, and in our army already!” muttered the Spaniard, throwing up his eyes in unaffected surprise.

I began to think I was interrogated by a lunatic.

“May I ask what countryman you are?” continued the old gentleman.

“What countryman? An American, of course!”

“An American?”

“Un Americano,” repeated I, for we were conversing in Spanish.

“Y son esos Americanos?” (And are these Americans?) quickly demanded my new acquaintance.

“Si, Señor,” replied I.

“Carrambo!” shouted the Spaniard, with a sudden leap, his eyes almost starting from their sockets.

“I should say, not exactly Americans,” I added. “Many of them are Irish, and French, and Germans, and Swedes, and Swiss; yet they are all Americans now.”

But the Mexican did not stay to hear my explanation. After recovering from the first shock of surprise, he had bounded through the grove; and with a wave of his hand, and the ejaculation “Esperate!” (wait!) disappeared among the plantains. The men, who had gathered around the lower end of the basin, burst out into a roar of laughter, which I did not attempt to repress. The look of terrified astonishment of the old Don had been too much for my own gravity, and I could not help being amused at the conversation that ensued among the soldiers. They were at some distance, yet I could overhear their remarks.

“That Mexikin’s an unhospitable cuss!” muttered Lincoln, with an expression of contempt.

“He might av axed the captain to dhrink, after savin’ such a pair of illigant craythers,” said Chane.

“Sorra dhrap’s in the house, Murt; the place looks dry,” remarked another son of the Green Isle.

“Och! an’ it’s a beautiful cage, anyhow,” returned Chane; “and beautiful birds in it, too. It puts me in mind of ould Dimmerary; but there we had the liquor, the raal rum—oshins of it, alanna!”

“That ’ere chap’s a greelye, I strongly ’spect,” whispered one, a regular down-east Yankee.

“A what?” asked his companion.

“Why, a greelye—one o’ them ’ere Mexikin robbers.”

“Arrah, now! did yez see the rid sash?” inquired an Irishman.

“Thim’s captin’s,” suggested the Yankee. “He’s a captin or a kurnel; I’ll bet high on that.”

“What did he say, Nath, as he was running off?”

“I don’t know ’zactly—somethin’ that sounded mighty like ’spearin’ on us.”

“He’s a lanzeer then, by jingo!”

“He had better try on his spearin’,” said another; “there’s shootin’ before spearin’—mighty good ground, too, behind this hyur painted wall.”

“The old fellow was mighty frindly at first; what got into him, anyhow?”

“Raoul says he offered to give the captain his house and all the furnishin’s.”

“Och, mother o’ Moses! and thim illigant girls, too!”

“Ov coorse.”

“By my sowl! an’ if I was the captain, I’d take him at his word, and lave off fightin’ intirely.”

“It is delf,” said a soldier, referring to the material of which the parapet was constructed.

“No, it ain’t.”

“It’s chaney, then.”

“No, nor chaney either.”

“Well, what is it?”

“It’s only a stone wall painted, you greenhorn!”

“Stone-thunder! it’s solid delf, I say.”

“Try it with your bayonet, Jim.”

Crick—crick—crick—crinell! reached my ears. Turning round, I saw that one of the men had commenced breaking off the japanned work of the parapet with his bayonet.

“Stop that!” I shouted to the man.

The remark of Chane that followed, although uttered sotto voce, I could distinctly hear. It was sufficiently amusing.

“The captain don’t want yez to destroy what’ll be his own some day, when he marries one of thim young Dons. Here comes the owld one, and, by the powers! he’s got a big paper; he’s goin’ to make over the property!”

Laughing, I looked round, and saw that the Don was returning, sure enough. He hurried up, holding out a large sheet of parchment.

“Well, Señor, what’s this?” I inquired.

“No soy Mexicano—soy Español!” (I am no Mexican—I am a Spaniard), said he, with the expression of a true hidalgo.

Casting my eye carelessly over the document, I perceived that it was a safeguard from the Spanish consul at Vera Cruz, certifying that the bearer, Don Cosmé Rosales, was a native of Spain.

“Señor Rosales,” said I, returning the paper, “this was not necessary. The interesting circumstances under which we have met should have secured you good treatment, even were you a Mexican and we the barbarians we have been represented. We have come to make war, not with peaceful citizens, but with a rabble soldiery.”

“Es verdad (Indeed). You are wet, Señor? you are hungry?”

I could not deny that I was both the one and the other.

“You need refreshment, gentlemen; will you come to my house?”

“Permit me, Señor, to introduce you to Major Blossom—Lieutenant Clayley—Lieutenant Oakes: Don Cosmé Rosales, gentlemen.”

My friends and the Don bowed to each other. The major had now recovered his complacency.

“Vamonos, caballeros!” (Come on, gentlemen), said the Don, starting towards the house.

“But your soldiers, Capitan?” added he, stopping suddenly.

“They will remain here,” I rejoined.

“Permit me to send them some dinner.”

“Oh! certainly,” replied I; “use your own pleasure, Don Cosmé, but do not put your household to any inconvenience.”

In a few minutes we found our way to the house, which was neither more nor less than the cage-looking structure already described.

 Table of Content