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Chapter 55 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

An Adios

Clayley had now recovered, and I once more enjoyed the society of my light-hearted friend. But neither that nor the smiles of the hospitable Jalapenas could make me happy. My thoughts dwelt upon Guadalupe, and often was I harassed with the painful apprehension that I should never see her again. Better fortune, however, was in store for me.

One day Clayley and I were sitting over our wine, along with a gay party of friends, in the Fonda de Diligencias, the principal hotel of Jalapa, when Jack touched me on the shoulder, and whispered in my ear:

“Captain, there’s a Mexican wants to see ye.”

“Who is it?” I demanded, somewhat annoyed at the interruption.

“It’s the brother,” replied Jack, still speaking in a whisper.

“The brother! What brother?”

“Of the young ladies, Captain.”

I started from my chair, overturning a decanter and several glasses.

“Hilloa! what’s the matter?” shouted several voices in a breath.

“Gentlemen, will you excuse me?—one moment only—I—I—will—”

“Certainly! certainly!” cried my companions, all at once, wondering what was the matter.

The next moment I was in the ante-sala, embracing Narcisso. “And so you are all here! When did you arrive?”

“Yesterday, Captain. I came to town for you, but could not find you.”

“And they are well?—all well?”

“Yes, Captain. Papa expects you will come this evening, with the lieutenant and the other officer.”

“The other officer! Who, Narcisso!”

“I think he was with you on your first visit to La Virgen—un señor gordo.”

“Oh! the major! Yes, yes, we shall come; but where have you been since we met, Narcissito?”

“To Orizava. Papa has a tobacco-farm near Orizava; he always goes to it when he comes up here. But, Captain, we were so astonished to hear from your people that you had been a prisoner, and travelling along with us! We knew the guerillos had some American prisoners, but we never dreamt of its being you. Carambo! if I had known that!”

“But how came you, Narcisso, to be with the guerilla?”

“Oh! papa had many things to carry up the country; and he, with some other families, paid Colonel Cenobio for an escort—the country is so full of robbers.”

“Ah! sure. Tell me, Narcisso, how came I by this?”

I held out the dagger.

“I know not, Captain. I am ashamed to tell you that I lost it the day after you gave it to me!”

“Oh! never mind. Take it again, and say to your papa, I shall bring ‘el señor gordo’ (the fat gentleman) along with me.”

“You will know the way, Captain. Yonder is our house.” And the lad pointed to the white turrets of an aristocratic-looking mansion that appeared over the tree-tops, about a mile distant from the town.

“I shall easily find it.”

“Adieu, then, Captain; we shall be impatient till you arrive—hasta la tarde!” (till the evening).

So saying, the youth departed.

I communicated to Clayley the cause of my temporary withdrawal; and, seizing the earliest opportunity, we left our companions over their cups.

It was now near sundown, and we were about to jump into our saddles, when I recollected my promise to bring the major. Clayley proposed leaving him behind and planning an apology; but a hint that he might be useful in “keeping off” Don Cosmé and the señora caused the lieutenant suddenly to change his tactics, and we set out for Blossom’s quarters.

We had no difficulty in persuading “el señor gordo” to accompany us, as soon as he ascertained where we were going. He had never ceased to remember that dinner. Hercules was brought out and saddled, and we all three galloped off for the mansion of our friends.

After passing under the shadows, of green trees, and through copses filled with bright flowers, we arrived at the house, one of the fairest mansions it had ever been our fortune to enter. We were just in time to enjoy the soft twilight of an eternal spring—of a landscape siempre verde; and, what was more to the major’s mind, in time for a supper that rivalled the well-remembered dinner.

As I had anticipated, the major proved exceedingly useful during the visit. In his capacity of quarter-master he had already picked up a little Spanish—enough to hold Don Cosmé in check over the wine; while Clayley and myself, with “Lupé” and “Luz”, walked out into the verandah to “take a peep at the moon”. Her light was alluring, and we could not resist the temptation of a stroll through the gardens.

It was celestial night; and we dallied along dos y dos (two and two), under the pictured shadows of the orange-trees, and sat upon curiously-formed benches, and gazed upon the moon, and listened to the soft notes of the tropic night-birds.

The perils of the past were all forgotten, and the perils of the future—we thought not of them.

It was late when we said “buenas noches” to our friends, and we parted with a mutual “hasta la mañana.” It is needless to say that we kept our promise in the morning, and made another for the following morning, and kept that too; and so on till the awful bugle summoned us once more to the “route.”

The detail of our actions during these days would have no interest for the reader, though to us the most interesting part of our lives. There was a sameness—a monotony, it is true; but a monotony that both my friend and myself could have endured for ever.

I do not even remember the details. All I can remember is, that on the eve of our march I found myself “cornering” Don Cosmé, and telling him plainly, to his teeth, that I meant to marry one of his daughters; and that my friend—who had not yet learned the “lingo”, and had duly commissioned me as his “go-between”—would be most happy to take the other off his hands.

I remember very well, too, Don Cosmé’s reply, which was given with a half-smile, half-grin—somewhat cold, though not disagreeable in its expression. It was thus:

“Captain—when the war is over.”

Don Cosmé had no intention that his daughters should become widows before they had fairly been wives.

And we bade adieu once more to the light of love, and walked in the shadow of war; and we toiled up to the high tables of the Andes, and crossed the burning plains of Perote; and we forded the cold streams of Rio Frio, and climbed the snowy spurs of Popocatepec; and, after many a toilsome march, our bayonets bristled along the borders of the Lake Tezcoco. Here we fought—a death-struggle, too—for we knew there was no retreat. But our struggle was crowned with victory, and the starry flag waved over the ancient city of the Aztecs.

Neither my friend nor myself escaped unhurt. We were shot “all over”; but, fortunately, no bones were broken, and neither of us was converted into a cripple.

And then came the “piping times of peace”, and Clayley and I spent our days in riding out upon the Jalapa road, watching for that great old family-carriage, which, it had been promised, should come.

And it came rumbling along at length, drawn by twelve mules, and deposited its precious load in a palace in the Calle Capuchinas.

And shortly after, two officers in shining uniforms entered the portals of that same palace, sent up their cards, and were admitted on the instant. Ah! these were rare times! But rarer still—for it should only occur once in a man’s lifetime—was an hour spent in the little chapel of San Bernardo.

There is a convent—Santa Catarina—the richest in Mexico; the richest, perhaps, in the world. There are nuns there—beautiful creatures—who possess property (some of them being worth a million of dollars); and yet these children of heaven never look upon the face of man!

About a week after my visit to San Bernardo, I was summoned to the convent, and permitted—a rare privilege for one of my sex—to enter its sacred precincts. It was a painful scene. Poor “Mary of Mercy”! How lovely she looked in her snow-white vestments!—lovelier in her sorrow than I had ever seen her before. May God pour out the balm of oblivion into the heart of this erring but repentant angel!

I returned to New Orleans in the latter part of 1848. I was walking one morning along the Levée, with a fair companion on my arm, when a well-known voice struck on my ear, exclaiming:

“I’ll be dog-goned, Rowl, if it ain’t the cap’n!”

I turned, and beheld Raoul and the hunter. They had doffed the regimentals, and were preparing to “start” on a trapping expedition to the Rocky Mountains.

I need not describe our mutual pleasure at meeting, which was more than shared by my wife, who had often made me detail to her the exploits of my comrades. I inquired for Chane. The Irishman, at the breaking up of the “war-troops”, had entered one of the old regiments, and was at this time, as Lincoln expressed it, “the first sargint of a kump’ny.”

I could not permit my old ranging comrades to depart without a souvenir. My companion drew off a pair of rings, and presented one to each on the spot. The Frenchman, with the gallantry of a Frenchman, drew his upon his finger; but Lincoln, after trying to do the same, declared, with a comical grin, that he couldn’t “git the eend of his wipin’ stick inter it.” He wrapped it up carefully, however, and deposited it in his bullet-pouch.

My friends accompanied us to our hotel, where I found them more appropriate presents than the rings. To Raoul I gave my revolving pistols, not expecting to have any further use for them myself; and to the hunter, that which he valued more than any other earthly object, the major’s “Dutch gun”. Doubtless, ere this, the zündnadel has slain many a “grisly b’ar” among the wild ravines of the Rocky Mountains.

Courteous reader! I was about to write the word “adieu”, when “Little Jack” handed me a letter, bearing the Vera Cruz post-mark. It was dated, “La Virgen, November 1, 1849.” It concluded as follows:

“You were a fool for leaving Mexico, and you’ll never be half as happy anywhere else as I am here. You would hardly know the ‘ranche’—I mean the fields. I have cleared off the weeds, and expect next year to take a couple of hundred bales off the ground. I believe I can raise as good cotton here as in Louisiana; besides, I have a little corner for vanilla. It would do your heart good to see the improvements; and little Luz, too, takes such an interest in all I do. Haller, I’m the happiest man in creation.

“I dined yesterday with our old friend Cenobio; and you should have seen him when I told him the man he had in his company. I thought he would have split his sides. He’s a perfect old trump this Cenobio, notwithstanding his smuggling propensities.

“By the way, you have heard, I suppose, that our ‘other old friend’, the padre, has been shot. He took part with Paredes against the Government. They caught him at Queretaro, and shot him with a dozen or so of his ‘beauties’ in less than a squirrel’s jump.

“And now, my dear Haller, a last word. We all want you to come back. The house at Jalapa is ready for you, and Dona Joaquina says it is yours, and she wants you to come back.

“Don Cosmé, too—with whom it appears Lupé was the favourite—he wants you to come back. Old Cenobio, who is still puzzled about how you got the knife to cut through the adobes, he wants you to come back. Luz is fretting after Lupé, and she wants you to come back. And, last of all, I want you to come back. So ‘stand not on the order’ of your coming, but come at once.

“Yours for ever,—

“Edward Clayley.”

Reader, do you want me to come back?

The End.

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