Charles James Lever.

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monished me to hasten away ; and I crept to my place, and
lay down beside the now almost extinguished embers of our
fire.

"What a good thought was that of the pilgrimage," said
I, as I drew my cloak around me ; and 1 remembered that
" Chico's " beads, and his " book of offices," were still among
my effects in the saddle-bags, and would greatly favour my
assumption of the pious character. I then tried to recall
some of my forgotten Latin. From this I reverted to
thoughts of Donna Maria herself, and half wondered at the
rapid strides we had accomplished in each other's confidence.
At last I fell asleep, to dream of every incongruity and in-
coherency that ever haunted a diseased brain. Nunneries,
with a crocodile for the Abbess, gave way to scenes in the
Placers, where Nuns were gold-washing, and Friars riding
down cataracts on caymans. From such pleasant realities a
rough shake of Fra Miguel aroused me, as he cried, " When
a man laughs so heartily in his sleep, he may chance to keep
all the grave thoughts for his waking. Rise up, Senhor ; the
day is breaking. Let us profit by the cool hours to make
our journey."

As day was breaking we set out for Bexar, in the manner
I had suggested : Donna Maria riding, the Friar and myself,
one either side of her, on foot. Resolved upon winning, so
far as might be, Fra Miguel's confidence, I addressed my con-
versation almost exclusively to him, rarely speaking a word
to my fair companion, and then only upon the commonest
questions of the way.

As none of us had eaten since the day previous, nor was
there any baiting-place till we reached Bexar, it was necessary
to make the best of our way thither with all speed. The
Fra knew the road perfectly, and by his skill in detecting the



270 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

marks on trees, the position of certain rocks, and the course
of the streams, gave me some insight into the acute qualities
necessary for a prairie traveller. These themes, too, furnished
the greater portion of our conversation, which I am free to
own offered many a long interval of dreary silence. The
Fra's thoughts dwelt gloomily on his late disaster, while
Donna Maria and myself were condemned to the occasional
exchange of a chance remark, or some question about the
road.

Once or twice Fra Miguel questioned me on the subject of
my own history ; but ere I had proceeded any length in
detailing my veracious narrative, an accidental word, or
remark, would show that he was inattentive to what I was
speaking, and only occupied by his own immediate reflec-
tions.

Why, then, trouble myself with biographical inventions,
which failed to excite any interest ? and so I relapsed into a
silence plodding and moody as his own.

At length the path became too narrow for us all to go
abreast, and as my duties were to guide Gharry by the bridle,
I became the companion of Maria by force of circumstances ;
still Fra Miguel kept up close behind, and however abstracted
at other times, he now showed himself " wide awake " on the
subject of our intercourse. Denied the pleasure of talking
to each other, we could at least exchange glances ; and this
was a privilege no surveillance, however rigid, could deny us.
These are small and insignificant details, which were of little
moment at the time, and led to even less for the future ; but
I record them as the first stirrings of love in a heart which
might have been deemed too intent upon its own cares to
admit of others ; and here let me observe that the taste for
stratagem the little wiles and snares inspired by a first
passion are among the strongest incentives to its origin. It
was the secrecy of our meeting at night, the little difficulties
of our intercourse by day, the peril of discovery as we spoke
together, the danger of detection as we exchanged glances,
that by giving us a common object, suggested a common feel-
ing. Both engaged in the same warfare, how could we avoid
sympathizing with each other. Then, there was that little
" dash of romance " about our first meeting, so auxiliary to
tlie tender passion ; and, again, we were wandering, side by
side, in a silent forest, with only one other near us. Would
we could have disposed of him, too ! I shame to say it, but,
in honest truth, I often wished that he had followed the
Mexican !



" A NIGHT IN A FOREST OP TEXAS." 271

We halted during the great heat of the day, and the Fra
once more " rigging " out his capote, for a hammock, Donna
Maria lay down for the siesta, while I cut grass for Charry,
and rubbed her down. Long fasting had made us all more
disposed to silence, so that a few monosyllables were all that
passed. When the time came to resume the road, I am proud
to say that the Fra bore his privations with less equanimity
than did we. His sighs grew heavy and frequent ; any
accidental interruption on the road evoked unmistakable
signs of irritation ; he even expostulated with certain saints,
whose leaden images decorated his sombrero, as to the precise
reasons for which his present sufferings were incurred, and
altogether, as hunger pinched, showed a more rebellious
spirit than his holy discourses of the preceding evening
could have led me to suspect.

One time, he charged his calamities to the score of having
eaten turtle, which was only half fish, on a Friday ; at
another, it was upon that unlucky day the journey had been
begun ; then, he remembered that the Mexican was only a half-
breed, who possibly, if baptized at all, was only an irregular
kind of a Christian, admitted into the fold by some stray
missionary more trapper than priest. Then, he bethought
him that his patron, Saint Michel of Pavia, was of an un-
certain humour, and often tormented his votaries, by way of
trying their fidelity. These various doubts assumed the form
of open grumblings, which certainly inspired very different
sentiments in Donna Maria and myself than edification. As
evening closed in, and darkness favoured us, these ghostly
lamentations afforded us many a low, quiet laugh ; a soft
pressure of the hand, which now, by mere accident of course,
she had let fall near me, would sometimes show how we con-
curred in our sentiments, till at length, as the thicker gloom
of night fell around, such was our unanimity, that her hand
remained clasped in my own without any further attempt to
remove it.

If the Fra's gratitude burst forth eloquently as we came in
sight of some spangled lights glittering through the gloom,
our sensations were far more akin to disappointment.

" Bexar, at last! praised be St. Michel !" exclaimed he.
" It has been a long and dreary journey." Here I pressed
Donna Maria's hand, and she returned the pressure.

" Two days of disaster and sore suffering ! " Another
squeeze of the Senhora's fingers.

"A time I shall never forget," muttered he.

" Nor I," whispered I, to my fair companion.



272 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAtf.

"A season of trouble and distress ! " quoth the Fra.

" Of love and happiness ! " muttered I.

" And now, my worthy young friend," said he, addressing
me, " as we are so soon to part for yonder is Bexar how
shall we best show our gratitude ? Would you like a
' novena ' to ' Our Lady of Tears,' whose altar is here ? or,
shall we vow a candle to St. Nicomede of Terapia ? "

" Thanks, holy Father, there is no need for either ; mine
was a slight service, more than requited by the pleasure of
travelling in your company, and that of this pious maiden.
I have learned many a goodly lesson by the way, and will
think over them as I wander on my future pilgrimage."

" And whither may that tend, Seiihor ? "

" To the shrine of ' Our Lady of Sorrows,' at Aguaverde,
by the help of St. Francis."

" Aguaverde !" exclaimed Fra Miguel, with a voice that
bespoke anything rather than pleasure ; " it is a long and a
dangerous journey, young man ! "

" The greater the merit, Father ! "

" Trackless wastes, and deep rivers ; hostile Indians, and
even more cruel half-breeds. These are some of the perils,"
said he, in a voice of warning ; but a gentle pressure from
the Senhora's fingers was more than an answer to such
terrors.

" You can make your penance here, young man, at the
Convent of the missions. There are holy men who will give
you all good counsel ; and I will myself speak to them for
you."

I was about to decline this polite intervention, when a
quiet gesture from Donna Maria arrested my words, and
made me accept the offer, with thanks.

Thus chatting, we reached the suburbs of Bexar, and soon
entered the main street of that town ; and here let me record
a strange feature of the life of this land, which, although one
that I soon, became accustomed to, had a most singular aspect
to my eyes on first acquaintance. It was a hot and sultry
night of June ; the air as dry and parched as of a summer
day in our English climate, and we found that the whole
population had their beds disposed along the streets, and
were sleeping for the benefit of the cool night air al fresco.
There was no moon, nor any lamp-light, but by the glimmer-
ing stars we could see this strange encampment, which barely
left a passage in the middle for the mule carts.

Some of the groups were irresistibly droll : here was an
old lady, with a yellow-and-red handkerchief round her head,



"A NIGHT IN A FOREST OP TEXAS." 273

snoring away, while a negro wench waved a plantain bough
to and fro to keep off the musquitoes, which thronged the
spot from the inducement of a little glimmering lamp to the
Virgin over the bed. There was a thin lanthorn-jawed old
fellow sipping his chocolate before he resigned himself to
sleep. Now and then there would be a faint scream and a
muttered apology, as some one, feeling his way to his nest,
had fallen over the couch of a sleeper. Mothers were nursing
babies, nurses were singing others to rest; social spirits
were recalling the last strains of recent convivialities ; while
others, less genially given, were uttering their " Carambas"
in all the vindictive anger of broken slumber. Now and
then a devotional attitude might be detected, and even some
little glimpses caught of some fair form making her toilet for
the night, and throwing back her dishevelled hair, to peer at
the passing strangers.

Such were the scenes that even a brief transit presented :
a longer sojourn, and a little more light, had doubtless dis-
covered still more singular ones.

We halted at the gate of a large gloomy-looking building,
which the Friar informed me was the " Venta Nazionale," the
chief inn of the town ; and by dint of much knocking, and
various interlocutions between Fra Miguel and a black, four
stones high, the gates were at length opened. Faint,
hungry, and tired, I had hoped that we should have supped
in company, and thus recompensed me for my share of the
successful issue of the journey ; but the Fra, giving his orders
hastily, wished me an abrupt " good night," and led his niece
up the narrow stairs, leaving me and my mare in the gloomy
entrance, like things whose services were no longer needed.

" This may be Texan gratitude, Fra Miguel," said I to
myself, " but certainly you never brought it from your own
country." Meanwhile the negro, alter lighting the others
upstairs, returned to where I was, and perhaps not impressed
by any high notions of my quality, or too sleepy to think
much about the matter, sat down on a stone bench, and
looked very much as if about to compose himself to another
doze. I was in no mood of gentleness, and so bestowing a
hearty kick upon my black " brother," I told him to show me
the way to the stable at oncr> , The answer to this somewhat
rude summons was a strange one, he gave a kind of grin
that showed all his teeth, ard made a species of hissing noise,
like " Cheet, cheet," said rapidly a performance I had never
witnessed before, nor, for certain reasons, have I any fancy to
witness again.

T



274 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAW.

" Do you hear me, black fellow ? " cried I, tapping his bullet-
head with the end of my heavy whip, pretty much as one does
a tavern-table to summon the waiter.

" Cheet, cheet, cheet," cried he again, but with redoubled
energy.

" Confound your jargon," said I, angrily, " get up out of
that, and lead the way to the stable." This speech I accom-
panied by another admonition from my foot, given, I am free
to own, with all the irritable impatience of a thirty hours'
fast.

The words had scarcely passed my lips, ere the fellow
sprang to his legs, and with a cry like the scream of an
infuriated beast, dashed at me. I threw out my arm as a
guard, but stooping beneath it, he plunged a knife into my
side and fled. I heard the heavy bang of the great door re-
sound as he rushed out, and then fell to the ground, welter-
ing in my blood !

I made a great effort to cry out, but my voice failed me ;
the blood ran fast from my wound, and a chill, sickening
sensation crept over, that I thought must be " death." " 'Tis
hard to die thus," was the thought that crossed me, and it
was the last effort of consciousness, ere I swooned into insen-
sibility.



275



CHAPTER XXII.

THE LAZARETTO OF BBXAB.

KiND-HEAKTBD reader; you who have sympathized with so
many of the rubs that Fortune has dealt us ; who have
watched us with a benevolent interest in our warfare with an
adverse destiny ; who have marked our struggles, and wit-
nessed our defeats ; will surely compassionate our sad fate
when we tell you that when the curtain next rises on our
drama, it presents us no longer what we had been !

Con Cregan, the light-hearted vagrant, paddling his lone
canoe down life's stream in joyous merriment, himself suf-
ficing to himself, his eyes ever upward as his hopes were on-
ward, his crest an eagle's, and his motto " higher," was no
more. He had gone vanished, been dissipated into thin
air ; and in his place there sat, too weak to walk, a poor
emaciated creature, with shaven head and shrunken limbs, a
very wreck of humanity, pale, sallow, and miserable as fever
and flannel could paint him.

Yes, gentle reader, under the shade of a dwarf fig-tree, in
the Leper Hospital of Bexar, I sat, attired in a whole suit of
flannel, of a pale brown tint, looking like a faded flea ; all
my gay spirits fled, and my very identity merged into the
simple fact that I was known as " Convalescent, No. 303,"
an announcement which, for memory's sake perhaps, was
stamped upon the front of my nightcap.

Few people are fortunate enough not to remember the
strange jumble of true and false, the incoherent tissue of fact
and fancy which assails the first moments of recovery from
illness. It is a pitiable period, with its thronging thoughts,
all too weighty for the light brain that should bear them.
You follow your ideas like an ill-mounted horseman in a
hunt ; no sooner have you caught a glimpse of the game than
it is lost again : on you go, wearied by the pace but never
cheered by success ; often tumbling into a slough, missing
your way, and mistaking the object of pursuit ; such are the
casualties in either case, and they are not enviable ones.

Now, lest I should seem to be a character of all others I
detest, a grumbler without cause, let me ask the reader to sit

T 2



276 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

beside me for a few seconds on this bench, and look with me
at the prospect around him. Yonder, that large white build-
ing, with grated windows, gaol-like and sad, is the Leper
Hospital of Bexar, an institution originally intended for the
sick of that one malady, but, under the impression of its
being contagious, generously extended to those labouring
under any other disease. The lepers are that host who sit
in groups upon the grass, at cards or dice, or walk in little
knots of two and three. Their shambling gait and crippled
figures the terrible evidence of their malady twisted limbs,
contorted into every horrible variety of lameness, hands with
deficient fingers, faces without noses, are the ordinary sym-
bols. The voices, too, are either husky and unnatural, or
reduced to a thin reedy treble, like the wail of an infant.
Worse than all, far more awful to contemplate, to him ex-
posed to such compamc - i, +heir minds would appear
more diseased than even their bodies ; some, evincing this
aberration by traits of ungovernable passion, some, by the
querulous irritability of peevish childhood, and some by the
fatuous vacuity of idiocy ; and here am I, gazing upon all
this, and speculating, by the aid of a little bit of broken
looking-glass, how long it is probable that I shall retain the
" regulation " number of the human features.

Ah, you gentlemen of England, who live at home at ease,
may smile at such miseries ; but let me tell you, that how-
ever impertinent you might deem him Avho told you " to
follow your nose," the impossibility of compliance is a yet
heavier infliction, and it was with a trembling eagerness that
each morning, as 1 awoke, I consulted the map of my face,
to be sure that I was master of each geographical feature.

While all who may break a leg or cut a blood-vessel are
reckoned fit subjects to expose to the risk of this contagion,
the most guarded measures are adopted to protect the world
without the walls from every risk. Not only is every leper
denied access to his friends and family, but even written
communication is refused him, while sentinels are stationed
at short intervals around the grounds, with orders to firo
upon any who should attempt an escape.

Here then was I in a gaol, with the danger of a horrible
disease superadded. Algebraically, my case stood thus:
Letting the letter P represent a prison, L the leprosy, and N
my nose, P + L N, being equal to any given number of
deaths by torture. Such was my case, such my situation ;
while of the past, by what chain of events I came to be thus
a prisoner, I knew nothing. A little memoir at the head of



THE LAZARETTO OF BEXAK. 277

my bed set forth that I was " a case of punctured wound in
the thorax," with several accessory advantages, not over in-
telligible by my ignorance, but which I guessed to imply, that
if the doctor didn't finish me off at once, there was every
chance of my slipping away by a lingering malady some
one of those " chest affections " that make the fortunes of
doctors, but are seldom so profitable to the patients.

One fact was, however, very suggestive. It was above
four months since the date of my admission to the hospital,
a circumstance that vouched for the gravity of my illness,
as well as showing what a number of events might have
occurred in the interval.

Four months ! and where was Donna Maria now ? Had
she forgotten me forgotten the terrible scene on the Col-
lorado forgotten the starlit night in the forest ? Had they
left me without any interest in my future deserted me,
wounded perhaps dying ? a sad return for the services I
had rendered them ! That Fra Miguel should have done this
would have caused me no surprise ; but the Senhora she
who sprang by a bound into intimacy with me, and called
me " brother ! " Alas ! if this were so, what faith could be
placed in woman ?

In vain I sought information on these points from those
around me. My Spanish was not the very purest Castilian,
it is true ; but here, another and greater obstacle to know-
ledge existed no one cared anything for the past and very
little for the future the last event that held a place in their
memory was the day of their admission the fell malady was
the centre round which all thoughts revolved, and I was re-
garded as a kind of visionary when asking about circum-
stances that occurred before I entered the hospital. There
were vague and shadowy rumours about me and my adven-
ture, so much I could find out ; but whatever these were,
scarcely two agreed on not one cared. Some said I had
killed a priest others averred it was a negro a few opined
that I had done both ; and an old mulatto woman, with a
face like a target, the bull's eye being represented by where
the nose ought to be, related a more connected narrative
about my having stolen a horse, and being overtaken by a
negro slave of the owner, who rescued the animal and stabbed
me.

All the stories tallied in one particular, which was in
representing me as a fellow of the most desperate character
and determination, and who cared as little for shedding blood
as spilling water traits, I am bound to acknowledge, which



278 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREOAN.

never appeared to lower me in general esteem. Of course,
all inquiries as to my horse, poor Gharry my precious
saddle-bags, my rifle, my bowie-knife, and my "harpers-
ferry," would have proved less than useless actually absurd.
The patients would have reckoned such questions as little
vagaries of mental wandering, and the servants of the house
never replied to anything.

My next anxiety was, when I should be at liberty? The
doctor, when I asked him, gave a peculiar grin, and said,
" We cannot spare you, amigo; we shall want to look at your
pericardium one of these days. I say it is perforated Don
Emanuel says not. Time will tell who's right."

"You mean when I'm dead, Senhor, of course? " cried I,
not fancying the chance of resolving the difficulties by being
carved alive.

" Of course I do," said he. " Yours is a very instructive
case ; and I shall take care that your heart and a portion of
the left lung be carefully injected, and preserved in the
museum."

" May you live a thousand years ! " said I, bowing my
gratitude, while a chill crept over me that I thought I should
have fainted.

I have already mentioned that sentries were placed at
intervals round the walls, to prevent escape, a precaution
which, were one to judge from the desolate and crippled
condition of the inmates, savoured of over care. A few were
able to crawl along upon crutches, the majority were utterly
helpless, while the most active were only capable of creeping
up the bank which formed the boundary of the grounds, to
look down into the moat beneath, a descent of some twenty
feet, but which, to imaginations such as theirs, was a gulf
like the crater of a volcano.

Whenever a little group, then, would station themselves on
the " heights," as they were called, and gaze timidly into the
depths below, the guards, far from dispersing them, saw that
no better lesson could be administered than what their own
fears suggested, and prudently left them to the admonitions
of their terrors. I remembered this fact, and resolved to
profit by it. If death were to be my lot, it could not come
anywhere with more horrors than here ; so that happen what
might, I resolved to make an effort at escape. The sentry's
bullet had few terrors for one who saw himself surrounded
by such objects of suffering and misery, and who daily ex-
pected to be one of their number. Were the leap to kill me,
a circumstance that in my weak and wounded condition I



THE LAZARETTO OF BEXAB. 279

judged far from unlikely, it was only anticipating a few days
and what days were they !

Such were my calculations, made calmly and with reflec-
tion. Not that I was weary of life ; were the world but
open to me, I felt I should resume all my former zest in its
sayings and doings : nay, I even fancied that the season of
privation would give a higher colour to my enjoyment of it ;
and I know that the teachings of adversity are not the least
useful accessories of him whose wits must point the road to
fortune. True is it, the emergencies of life evoke the facul-
ties, and develop the resources, as the storm and the ship-
wreck display the hardy mariner. Who knows, Con, but
good luck may creep in even through a punctured wound in
the thorax !

As the day closed, the patients were always recalled by a
bell, and patrol parties of soldiers went round to see if by
accident any yet lingered without the walls. The performance
of duty was, however, most slovenly, since, as I have already
said, escape never occurred to those whose apathy of mind
and infirmity of body had made them indifferent to every-
thing. I lingered, then, in a distant alley as the evening
began to fall, and when the bell rung out its dismal summons,
I trembled to think was it the last time I should ever hear
it ! It was a strange thrill of mingled hope and terror.
Where should I be the next evening at that hour ! Free,
and at liberty a wanderer wherever fancy might lead me,
or the occupant of some narrow bed beneath the earth, sleep-
ing the sleep that knows no waking ? and, if so, who could
less easily be missed than him who had neither friend, nor
family, nor fortune. I felt that my departure, like that of



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 28 of 50)