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Chapter 16 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

The Scout continued, with a Variety of Reflections

Love is a rose growing upon a thorny bramble. There is jealousy in the very first blush of a passion. No sooner has a fair face made its impress on the heart than hopes and fears spring up in alternation. Every action, every word, every look is noted and examined with a jealous scrutiny; and the heart of the lover, changing like the chameleon, takes its hues from the latest sentiment that may have dropped from the loved one’s lips. And then the various looks, words, and actions, the favourable with the unfavourable, are recalled, and by a mental process classified and marshalled against each other, and compared and balanced with as much exactitude as the pros and contras of a miser’s bank-book; and in this process we have a new alternation of hopes and fears.

Ah, love! we could write a long history of thy rise and progress; but it is doubtful whether any of our readers would be a jot the wiser for it. Most of them ere this have read that history in their own hearts.

I felt and knew that I was in love. It had come like a thought, as it comes upon all men whose souls are attuned to vibrate under the mystical impressions of the beautiful. And well I knew she was beautiful. I saw its unfailing index in those oval developments—the index, too, of the intellectual; for experience had taught me that intellect takes a shape; and that those peculiarities of form that we admire, without knowing why, are but the material illustrations of the diviner principles of mind.

The eye, too, with its almond outline, and wild, half-Indian, half Arab expression—the dark tracery over the lip, so rarely seen in the lineaments of her sex—even these were attractions. There was something picturesque, something strange, something almost fierce, in her aspect; and yet it was this indefinable something, this very fierceness, that had challenged my love. For I must confess mine is not one of those curious natures that I have read of, whose love is based only upon the goodness of the object. That is not love.

My heart recognised in her the heroine of extremes. One of those natures gifted with all the tenderness that belongs to the angel idea—woman; yet soaring above her sex in the paralysing moments of peril and despair. Her feelings, in relation to her sister’s cruelty to the gold-fish, proved the existence of the former principle; her actions, in attempting my own rescue when battling with the monster, were evidence of the latter. One of those natures that may err from the desperate intensity of one passion, that knows no limit to its self-sacrifice short of destruction and death. One of those beings that may fall—but only once.

“What would I not give—what would I not do—to be the hero of such a heart?”

These were my reflections as I quitted the house.

I had noted every word, every look, every action, that could lend me a hope; and my memory conjured up, and my judgment canvassed, each little circumstance in its turn.

How strange her conduct at bidding adieu! How unlike her sister! Less friendly and sincere; and yet from this very circumstance I drew my happiest omen.

Strange—is it not? My experience has taught me that love and hate for the same object can exist in the same heart, and at the same time. If this be a paradox, I am a child of error.

I believed it then; and her apparent coldness, which would have rendered many another hopeless, produced with me an opposite effect.

Then came the cloud—the thought of Don Santiago—and a painful feeling shot through my heart.

“Don Santiago, a naval officer, young, handsome. Bah! hers is not a heart to be won by a face.”

Such were my reflections and half-uttered expressions as I slowly led my soldiers through the tangled path.

Don Santiago’s age and his appearance were the creations of a jealous fancy. I had bidden adieu to my new acquaintances knowing nothing of Don Santiago beyond the fact that he was an officer on board the Spanish ship of war, and a relation of Don Cosmé.

“Oh, yes! Don Santiago is on board! Ha! there was an evident interest. Her look as she said it; her manner—furies! But he is a relation, a cousin—a cousin—I hate cousins!”

I must have pronounced the last words aloud, as Lincoln, who walked in my rear, stepped hastily up, and asked:

“What did yer say, Cap’n?”

“Oh! nothing, Sergeant,” stammered I, in some confusion.

Notwithstanding my assurance, I overheard Lincoln whisper to his nearest comrade:

“What ther old Harry hes got into the cap?”

He referred to the fact that I had unconsciously hooked myself half a dozen times on the thorny claws of the pita-plant, and my overalls began to exhibit a most tattered condition.

Our route lay through a dense chaparral—now crossing a sandy spur, covered with mezquite and acacia; then sinking into the bed of some silent creek, shaded with old cork-trees, whose gnarled and venerable trunks were laced together by a thousand parasites. Two miles from the rancho we reached the banks of a considerable stream, which we conjectured was a branch of the Jamapa River.

On both sides a fringe of dark forest-trees flung out long branches extending half-way across the stream. The water flowed darkly underneath.

Huge lilies stood out from the banks—their broad, wax-like leaves trailing upon the glassy ripple.

Here and there were pools fringed with drooping willows and belts of green tulé. Other aquatic plants rose from the water to the height of twenty feet; among which we distinguished the beautiful “iris”, with its tall, spear-like stem, ending in a brown cylinder, like the pompon of a grenadier’s cap.

As we approached the banks the pelican, scared from his lonely haunt, rose upon heavy wing, and with a shrill scream flapped away through the dark aisles of the forest. The cayman plunged sullenly into the sedgy water; and the “Sajou” monkey, suspended by his prehensile tail from some overhanging bough, oscillated to and fro, and filled the air with his hideous, half-human cries.

Halting for a moment to refill the canteens, we crossed over and ascended the opposite bank. A hundred paces farther on the guide, who had gone ahead, cried out from an eminence, “Mira la caballada!” (Yonder’s the drove!)

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