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Chapter 12 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

A Mexican Dinner

“Pasan adentro, Señores,” said Don Cosmé, drawing aside the curtain of the rancho, and beckoning us to enter.

“Ha!” exclaimed the major, struck with the coup-d’oeil of the interior.

“Be seated, gentlemen. Ya vuelvo.” (I will return in an instant.)

So saying, Don Cosmé disappeared into a little porch in the back, partially screened from observation by a close network of woven cane.

“Very pretty, by Jove!” said Clayley, in a low voice.

“Pretty indeed!” echoed the major, with one of his customary asseverations.

“Stylish, one ought rather to say, to do it justice.”

“Stylish!” again chimed in the major, repeating his formula.

“Rosewood chairs and tables,” continued Clayley; “a harp, guitar, piano, sofas, ottomans, carpets knee-deep—whew!”

Not thinking of the furniture, I looked around the room strangely bewildered.

“Ha! Ha! what perplexes you, Captain?” asked Clayley.


“Ah! the girls you spoke of—the nymphs of the pond; but where the deuce are they?”

“Ay, where?” I asked, with a strange sense of uneasiness.

“Girls! what girls?” inquired the major, who had not yet learned the exact nature of our aquatic adventure.

Here the voice of Don Cosmé was heard calling out—

“Pepe! Ramon! Francisco! bring dinner. Anda! anda!” (Be quick!)

“Who on earth is the old fellow calling?” asked the major, with some concern in his manner. “I see no one.”

Nor could we; so we all rose up together, and approached that side of the building that looked rearward.

The house, to all appearance, had but one apartment—the room in which we then were. The only point of this screened from observation was the little veranda into which Don Cosmé had entered; but this was not large enough to contain the number of persons who might be represented by the names he had called out.

Two smaller buildings stood under the olive-trees in the rear; but these, like the house, were transparent, and not a human figure appeared within them. We could see through the trunks of the olives a clear distance of a hundred yards. Beyond this, the mezquite and the scarlet leaves of the wild maguey marked the boundary of the forest.

It was equally puzzling to us whither the girls had gone, or whence “Pepe, Ramon, and Francisco” were to come.

The tinkling of a little bell startled us from our conjectures, and the voice of Don Cosmé was heard inquiring:

“Have you any favourite dish, gentlemen?”

Someone answered, “No.”

“Curse me!” exclaimed the major, “I believe he can get anything we may call for—raise it out of the ground by stamping his foot or ringing a bell. Didn’t I tell you?”

This exclamation was uttered in consequence of the appearance of a train of well-dressed servants, five or six in number, bringing waiters with dishes and decanters. They entered from the porch; but how did they get into it? Certainly not from the woods without, else we should have seen them as they approached the cage.

The major uttered a terrible invocation, adding in a hoarse whisper, “This must be the Mexican Aladdin!”

I confess I was not less puzzled than he. Meantime the servants came and went, going empty, and returning loaded. In less than half an hour the table fairly creaked under the weight of a sumptuous dinner. This is no figure of speech. There were dishes of massive silver, with huge flagons of the same metal, and even cups of gold!

“Señores, vamos á comer” (Come, let us eat, gentlemen), said Don Cosmé, politely motioning us to be seated. “I fear that you will not be pleased with my cuisine—it is purely Mexican—estilo del pais.”

To say that the dinner was not a good one would be to utter a falsehood, and contradict the statement of Major George Blossom, of the U.S. quarter-master’s department, who afterwards declared that it was the best dinner he had ever eaten in his life.

Turtle-soup first.

“Perhaps you would prefer julienne or vermicelli, gentlemen?” inquired the Don.

“Thank you; your turtle is very fine,” replied I, necessarily the interpreter of the party.

“Try some of the aguacate—it will improve the flavour of your soup.”

One of the waiters handed round a dark, olive-coloured fruit of an oblong shape, about the size of a large pear.

“Ask him how it is used, Captain,” said the major to me.

“Oh, I beg your pardon, gentlemen. I had forgotten that some of our edibles may be strange to you. Simply pare off the rind, and slice it thus.”

We tried the experiment, but could not discover any peculiar improvement in the flavour of the soup. The pulp of the aguacate seemed singularly insipid to our northern palates.

Fish, as with us, and of the finest quality, formed the second course.

A variety of dishes were now brought upon the table; most of them new to us, but all piquant, pleasant to the taste, and peculiar.

The major tried them all, determined to find out which he might like best—a piece of knowledge that he said would serve him upon some future occasion.

The Don seemed to take a pleasure in helping the major, whom he honoured by the title of “Señor Coronel.”

“Puchero, Señor Coronel?”

“Thank you, sir,” grunted the major, and tried the puchero.

“Allow me to help you to a spoonful of molé.”

“With pleasure, Don Cosmé.”

The molé suddenly disappeared down the major’s capacious throat.

“Try some of this chilé relleno.”

“By all means,” answered the major. “Ah, by Jove! hot as fire!—whew!”

“Pica! Pica!” answered Don Cosmé, pointing to his thorax, and smiling at the wry faces the major was making. “Wash it down, Señor, with a glass of this claret—or here, Pepe! Is the Johannisberg cool yet? Bring it in, then. Perhaps you prefer champagne, Señores?”

“Thank you; do not trouble yourself, Don Cosmé.”

“No trouble, Capitan—bring champagne. Here, Señor Coronel, try the guisado de pato.”

“Thank you,” stammered the major; “you are very kind. Curse the thing! how it burns!”

“Do you think he understands English?” inquired Clayey of me in a whisper.

“I should think not,” I replied.

“Well, then, I wish to say aloud that this old chap’s a superb old gent. What say you, Major? Don’t you wish we had him on the lines?”

“I wish his kitchen were a little nearer the lines,” replied the other, with a wink.

“Señor Coronel, permit me—”

“What is it, my dear Don?” inquired the major.

“Pasteles de Moctezuma.”

“Oh, certainly. I say, lads, I don’t know what the plague I’m eating—it’s not bad to take, though.”

“Señor Coronel, allow me to help you to a guana steak.”

“A guana steak!” echoed the major, in some surprise.

“Si, Señor,” replied Don Cosmé, holding the steak on his fork.

“A guana steak! Do you think, lads, he means the ugly things we saw at Lobos.”

“To be sure—why not?”

“Then, by Jove, I’m through! I can’t go lizards. Thank you, my dear Don Cosmé; I believe I have dined.”

“Try this; it is very tender, I assure you,” insisted Don Cosmé.

“Come, try it, Major, and report,” cried Clayey.

“Good—you’re like the apothecary that poisoned his dog to try the effect of his nostrums. Well,”—with an oath—“here goes! It can’t be very bad, seeing how our friend gets it down. Delicious, by Jupiter! tender as chicken—good, good!”—and amidst sundry similar ejaculations the major ate his first guana steak.

“Gentlemen, here is an ortolan pie. I can recommend it—the birds are in season.”

“Reed-birds, by Jove!” said the major, recognising his favourite dish.

An incredible number of these creatures disappeared in an incredibly short time.

The dinner dishes were at length removed, and dessert followed: cakes and creams, and jellies of various kinds, and blancmange, and a profusion of the most luxurious fruits. The golden orange, the ripe pine, the pale-green lime, the juicy grape, the custard-like cherimolla, the zapoté, the granadilla, the pitahaya, the tuna, the mamay; with dates, figs, almonds, plantains, bananas, and a dozen other species of fruits, piled upon salvers of silver, were set before us: in fact, every product of the tropical clime that could excite a new nerve of the sense of taste. We were fairly astonished at the profusion of luxuries that came from no one knew where.

“Come, gentlemen, try a glass of curaçoa. Señor Coronel, allow me the pleasure.”

“Sir, your very good health.”

“Señor Coronel, would you prefer a glass of Majorca?”

“Thank you.”

“Or perhaps you would choose Pedro Ximenes. I have some very old Pedro Ximenes.”

“Either, my dear Don Cosmé—either.”

“Bring both, Ramon; and bring a couple of bottles of the Madeira—sello verde,” (green seal).

“As I am a Christian, the old gentleman’s a conjuror!” muttered the major, now in the best humour possible.

“I wish he would conjure up something else than his infernal wine bottles,” thought I, becoming impatient at the non-appearance of the ladies.

“Café, Señores?” A servant entered.

Coffee was handed round in cups of Sèvres china.

“You smoke, gentlemen? Would you prefer a Havanna? Here are some sent me from Cuba by a friend. I believe they are good; or, if you would amuse yourself with a cigaritto, here are Campeacheanos. These are the country cigars—puros, as we call them. I would not recommend them.”

“A Havanna for me,” said the major, helping himself at the same time to a fine-looking “regalia.”

I had fallen into a somewhat painful reverie.

I began to fear that, with all his hospitality, the Mexican would allow us to depart without an introduction to his family; and I had conceived a strong desire to speak with the two lovely beings whom I had already seen, but more particularly with the brunette, whose looks and actions had deeply impressed me. So strange is the mystery of love! My heart had already made its choice.

I was suddenly aroused by the voice of Don Cosmé, who had risen, and was inviting myself and comrades to join the ladies in the drawing-room.

I started up so suddenly as almost to overturn one of the tables.

“Why, Captain, what’s the matter!” said Clayley. “Don Cosmé is about to introduce us to the ladies. You’re not going to back out?”

“Certainly not,” stammered I, somewhat ashamed at my gaucherie.

“He says they’re in the drawing-room,” whispered the major, in a voice that betokened a degree of suspicion; “but where the plague that is, Heaven only knows! Stand by, my boys!—are your pistols all right?”

“Pshaw, Major! for shame!”

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