Table of Content

Chapter 23 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

The Cocuyo

A night-ride through the golden tropical forest, when the moon is bathing its broad and wax-like frondage—when the winds are hushed and the long leaves hang drooping and silent—when the paths conduct through dark aisles and arbours of green vine-leaves, and out again into bright and flowery glades—is one of those luxuries that I wish we could obtain without going beyond the limits of our own land.

But no. The romance of the American northern forest—the romance that lingers around the gnarled limbs of the oak, and the maple, and the elm—that sighs with the wintry wind high up among the twigs of the shining sycamore—that flits along the huge fallen trunks—that nestles in the brown and rustling leaves—that hovers above the bold cliff and sleeps upon the grey rock—that sparkles in the diamond stalactites of the frost, or glides along the bosom of the cold black river—is a feeling or a fancy of a far different character.

These objects—themselves the emblems of the stony and iron things of nature—call up associations of the darker passions: strange scenes of strife and bloodshed; struggles between red and white savages; and struggles hardly less fierce with the wild beasts of the forest. The rifle, the tomahawk, and the knife are the visions conjured up, while the savage whoop and the dread yell echo in your ear; and you dream of war.

Far different are the thoughts that suggest themselves as you glide along under the aromatic arbours of the American southern forest, brushing aside the silken foliage, and treading upon the shadows of picturesque palms.

The cocuyo lights your way through the dark aisles, and the nightingale cheers you with his varied and mimic song. A thousand sights and sounds, that seem to be possessed of some mysterious and narcotic power, lull you into silence and sleep—a sleep whose dream is love.

Clayey and I felt this as we rode silently along. Even the ruder hearts of our companions seemed touched by the same influence.

We entered the dark woods that fringed the arroyo, and the stream was crossed in silence. Raoul rode in advance, acting as our guide.

After a long silence Clayey suddenly awoke from his reverie and straightened himself up in the saddle.

“What time is it, Captain?” he inquired.

“Ten—a few minutes past,” answered I, holding my watch under the moonlight.

“I wonder if the Don’s in bed yet.”

“Not likely: he will be in distress; he expected us an hour ago.”

“True, he will not sleep till we come; all right then.”

“How all right then?”

“For our chances of a supper; a cold pasty, with a glass of claret. What think you?”

“I do not feel hungry.”

“But I do—as a hawk. I long once more to sound the Don’s larder.”

“Do you not long more to see—”

“Not to-night—no—that is until after supper. Everything in its own time and place; but a man with a hungry stomach has no stomach for anything but eating. I pledge you my word, Haller, I would rather at this moment see that grand old stewardess, Pepe, than the loveliest woman in Mexico, and that’s ‘Mary of the Light’.”


“That is, until after I have supped. Then my feelings will doubtless take a turn.”

“Ah! Clayey, you can never love!”

“Why so, Captain?”

“With you, love is a sentiment, not a passion. You regard the fair blonde as you would a picture or a curious ornament.”

“You mean to say, then, that my love is ‘all in my eye’?”

“Exactly so, in a literal sense. I do not think it has reached your heart, else you would not be thinking of your supper. Now, I could go for days without food—suffer any hardship; but, no—you cannot understand this.”

“I confess not. I am too hungry.”

“You could forget—nay, I should not be surprised if you have already forgotten—all but the fact that your mistress is a blonde, with bright golden hair. Is it not so?”

“I confess, Captain, that I should make but a poor portrait of her from memory.”

“And, were I a painter, I could throw her features upon the canvas as truly as if they were before me. I see her face outlined upon these broad leaves—her dark eyes burning in the flash of the cocuyo—her long black hair drooping from the feathery fringes of the palm—and her—”

“Stop! You are dreaming, Captain! Her eyes are not dark—her hair is not black.”

“What! Her eyes not dark?—as ebony, or night!”

“Blue as a turquoise!”

“Black! What are you thinking of?”

“‘Mary of the Light’.”

“Oh, that is quite a different affair!” and my friend and I laughed heartily at our mutual misconceptions.

We rode on, again relapsing into silence. The stillness of the night was broken only by the heavy hoof bounding back from the hard turf, the jingling of spurs, or the ringing of the iron scabbard as it struck against the moving flanks of our horses.

We had crossed the sandy spur, with its chaparral of cactus and mezquite, and were entering a gorge of heavy timber, when the practised eye of Lincoln detected an object in the dark shadow of the woods, and communicated the fact to me.

“Halt!” cried I, in a low voice.

The party reined up at the order. A rustling was heard in the bushes ahead.

“Quien viva?” challenged Raoul, in the advance.

“Un amigo,” (A friend), was the response.

I sprang forward to the side of Raoul and called out:

“Acercate! acercate!” (Come near!)

A figure moved out of the bushes, and approached.

“Está el Capitan?” (Is it the captain?)

I recognised the guide given me by Don Cosmé.

The Mexican approached, and handed me a small piece of paper. I rode into an opening, and held it up to the moonlight; but the writing was in pencil, and I could not make out a single letter.

“Try this, Clayley. Perhaps your eyes are better than mine.”

“No,” said Clayley, after examining the paper. “I can hardly see the writing upon it.”

“Esperate mi amo!” (Wait, my master), said the guide, making me a sign. We remained motionless.

The Mexican took from his head his heavy sombrero, and stepped into a darker recess of the forest. After standing for a moment, hat in hand, a brilliant object shot out from the leaves of the palma redonda. It was the cocuyo—the great firefly of the tropics. With a low, humming sound it came glistening along at the height of seven or eight feet from the ground. The man sprang up, and with a sweep of his arm jerked it suddenly to the earth. Then, covering it with his hat, and inverting his hand, he caught the gleaming insect, and presented it to me with the ejaculation:

“Ya!” (Now!)

“No muerde,” (It does not bite), added he, as he saw that I hesitated to touch the strange, beetle-shaped insect.

I took the cocuyo in my hand, the green, golden fire flashing from its great round eyes. I held it up before the writing, but the faint glimmer was scarcely discernible upon the paper.

“Why, it would require a dozen of these to make sufficient light,” I said to the guide.

“No, Señor; uno basti—asi;” (No, sir; one is enough—thus); and the Mexican, taking the cocuyo in his fingers, pressed it gently against the surface of the paper. It produced a brilliant light, radiating over a circle of several inches in diameter!

Every point in the writing was plainly visible.

“See, Clayley!” cried I, admiring this lamp of Nature’s own making. “Never trust the tales of travellers. I have heard that half a dozen of these insects in a glass vessel would enable you to read the smallest type. Is that true?” added I, repeating what I had said in Spanish.

“No, Señor; ni cincuenta,” (No, sir; nor fifty), replied the Mexican.

“And yet with a single cocuyo you may. But we are forgetting—let us see what’s here.”

I bent my head to the paper, and read in Spanish:

“I have made known your situation to the American commander.”

There was no signature nor other mark upon the paper.

“From Don Cosmé?” I inquired, in a whisper to the Mexican.

“Yes, Señor,” was the reply.

“And how did you expect to reach us in the corral?”

“Asi,” (So), said the man, holding up a shaggy bull’s hide, which he carried over his arm.

“We have friends here, Clayley. Come, my good fellow, take this!” and I handed a gold eagle to the peon.


The tinkling of canteens, the jingling of sabres, and the echo of bounding hoofs recommenced. We were again in motion, filing on through the shadowy woods.

 Table of Content