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Chapter 34 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

An odd Way of opening a Letter

“Has any of you heard of Dubrosc on the route?” I inquired of my comrades.

No; nothing had been heard of him since the escape of Lincoln.

“Faix, Captain,” said the Irishman, “it’s meself that thinks Mister Dubrosc won’t throuble any ov us any more. It was a purty lick that same, ayquil to ould Donnybrook itself.”

“It is not easy to kill a man with a single blow of a clubbed rifle,” observed Clayley; “unless, indeed, the lock may have struck into his skull. But we are still living, and I think that is some evidence that the deserter is dead. By the way, how has the fellow obtained such influence as he appeared to have among them, and so soon, too?”

“I think, Lieutenant,” replied Raoul, “Monsieur Dubrosc has been here before.”

“Ha! say you so?” I inquired, with a feeling of anxiety.

“I remember, Captain, some story current at Vera Cruz, about a Creole having married or run away with a girl of good family there. I am almost certain Dubrosc was the name; but it was before my time, and I am unacquainted with the circumstances, I remember, however, that the fellow was a gambler, or something of the sort; and the occurrence made much noise in the country.”

I listened with a sickening anxiety to every word of these details. There was a painful correspondence between them and what I already knew. The thought that this monster could be in any way connected with her was a disagreeable one. I questioned Raoul no further. Even could he have detailed every circumstance, I should have dreaded the relation.

Our conversation was interrupted by the creaking of a rusty hinge. The door opened, and several men entered. Our blinds were taken off, and, oh, how pleasant to look upon the light! The door had been closed again, and there was only one small grating, yet the slender beam through this was like the bright noonday sun. Two of the men carried earthen platters filled with frijoles, a single tortilla in each platter. They were placed near our heads, one for each of us.

“It’s blissid kind of yez, gentlemen,” said Chane; “but how are we goin’ to ate it, if ye plaze?”

“The plague!” exclaimed Clayley; “do they expect us to lick this up without either hands, spoons, or knives?”

“Won’t you allow us the use of our fingers?” asked Raoul, speaking to one of the guerilleros.

“No,” replied the man gruffly.

“How do you expect us to eat, then?”

“With your mouths, as brutes should. What else?”

“Thank you, sir; you are very polite.”

“If you don’t choose that, you can leave it alone,” added the Mexican, going out with his companions, and closing the door behind them.

“Thank you, gentlemen!” shouted the Frenchman after them, in a tone of subdued anger. “I won’t please you so much as to leave it alone. By my word!” he continued, “we may be thankful—it’s more than I expected from Yañez—that they’ve given us any. Something’s in the wind.” So saying, the speaker rolled himself on his breast, bringing his head to the dish.

“Och! the mane haythins!” cried Chane, following the example set by his comrade; “to make dacent men ate like brute bastes! Och! murder an’ ouns!”

“Come, Captain; shall we feed?” asked Clayley.

“Go on. Do not wait for me,” I replied.

Now was my time to read the note. I rolled myself under the grating, and, after several efforts, succeeded in gaining my feet. The window, which was not much larger than a pigeon-hole, widened inwards like the embrasure of a gun-battery. The lower slab was just the height of my chin; and upon this, after a good deal of dodging and lip-jugglery, I succeeded in spreading out the paper to its full extent.

“What on earth are you at, Captain?” inquired Cayley, who had watched my manoeuvres with some astonishment.

Raoul and the Irishman stopped their plate-licking and looked up.

“Hush! go on with your dinners—not a word!” I read as follows:

To-night your cords shall be cut, and you must escape as you best can afterwards. Do not take the road back, as you will be certain to be pursued in that direction; moreover, you run the risk of meeting other parties of the guerilla. Make for the National Road at San Juan or Manga de Clavo. Your posts are already advanced beyond these points. The Frenchman can easily guide you. Courage, Captain! Adieu!

P.S.—They waited for you. I had sent one to warn you; but he has either proved traitor or missed the road. Adieu! adieu!

“Good heavens!” I involuntarily exclaimed; “the man that Lincoln—.”

I caught the paper into my lips again, and chewed it into a pulp, to avoid the danger of its falling into the hands of the guerilla.

I remained turning over its contents in my mind. I was struck with the masterly style—the worldly cunning exhibited by the writer. There was something almost unfeminine about it. I could not help being surprised that one so young, and hitherto so secluded from the world, should possess such a knowledge of men and things. I was already aware of the presence of a powerful intellect, but one, as I thought, altogether unacquainted with practical life and action. Then there was the peculiarity of her situation.

Is she a prisoner like myself? or is she disguised, and perilling her life to save mine? or can she be—Patience! To-night may unravel the mystery.

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