Charles James Lever.

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paniment of portmanteau and cloak, was also to have the
leathern purse of the " craft," with its massive silver lock,
and a goodly ballast of doubloons within. Two days' pro-
visions, and a gourd of brandy, completed an equipment
which to my eyes was more than the wealth of an empire.

"Are you content? " asked she, as she finished the cata-

I seized her hand, and kissed it with a warm devotion.

" Now for the reverse of the medal. You may be over-
taken ; pursuit is almost certain; it may be successful ; if so,
you must tear the letter I shall give you to fragments, so
small that all detection of its contents may be impossible.
Sell your life dearly : this I counsel you, since a horrible
death would be reserved for you if taken prisoner. Above
all, don't betray me."

" I swear it ! " said I, solemnly, as I held up my hand in
evidence of the oath.

" Should you, however, escaping all peril, reach Guajua-
qualla in safety, you will deliver this letter to the Senlior
Estavan Glares, a well-known banker of that town. He will
present you with any reward you think sufficient for your
services, the peril of which cannot be estimated beforehand.
This done and here, mark me ! I expect your perfect fidelity
all tie is severed between us. You are never to speak of
me so long as I live ; nor, if by any sun of Fortune we
should chance to meet again in life, are you to recognize me.
You need be at no loss for the reasons of this request : the
position in which I am here placed the ignominy of an
unjust sentence, as great as the shame of the heaviest guilt
will tell you why I stipulate for this. Are we agreed?"

" We are. When do I set out ? "

" To-morrow, by daybreak ; leave this a little before your
usual time, pass out of the village, and, taking the path that
skirts the beech wood, make for the Indian ground you
know the spot at the cedar tree, close to that you will find
your horse all ready the letter is here." Now for the first
time her voice trembled slightly, and for an instant or two
she seemed irresolute. " My mind is sometimes so shaken by
suffering," said she, " that I scarcely dare to trust its guid-
ance ; and even now I feel as if the confidence I am about to

place in an utter stranger, in an "

" Outcast, you would say," said I, finish in

g what she fal-


tered at. " Do not fear, then, one humbled as I have been
can take offence at an epithet."

" JNor is it one such as 1 am, who have the right to confer
it," said she, wiping the heavy drops from her eyes : " Good-
bye, for ever! since, if you keep your pledge, we are never
to meet again." She gave me her hand, which I kissed twice,
and then turning away, she passed into the house ; and before
I even knew that she was gone, I was standing alone in
the garden, wondering if what had just occurred could be

If my journey was not without incident and adventure,
neither were they of a character which it is necessary I should
inflict upon my reader, who doubtless ere this has felt all the
wearisome monotony of prairie life by reflection. Enough
that I say, after an interesting mistake of the " trail," which
led me above a hundred miles astray ! I crossed the Conchos
River within a week, and reached Chihuahua, a city of con-
siderable size, and far more pretensions than any I had yet
seen in the " Far West."

Built on the narrow gorge of two abrupt mountains, the
little town consists of one great staggling street, which
occupies each side of a torrent that descends in a great
tumbling mass of foam and spray along its rocky course. It
was the time of the monthly market or fair when I arrived,
and the streets were crowded with peasants and muleteers in
every imaginable costume. The houses were mostly built
with projecting balconies, from which gay-coloured carpets
and bright draperies hung down, while female figures sat
lounging and smoking their cigarettes above the aspect of
the place was at once picturesque and novel. Great wooden
waggons of melons and cucumbers, nuts, casks of olive oil and
wine ; bales of bright scarlet cloth, in the dye of which they
excel ; pottery ware ; droves of mustangs, fresh caught and
capering in all their native wildness ; flocks of white goats,
from the Cerzo Gorde, whose wool is almost as fine as the
Llama's ; piles of firearms from Birmingham and Liege,
around which groups of admiring Indians were always
gathered ; parroquets and scarlet jays, in cages ; richly-
ornamented housings for mule teams ; brass-mounted saddles,
and a mass of other articles, littered and blocked up the
way, so that all passage was extremely difficult.

Before I approached the city, I had been canvassing with
myself, how best I might escape from the prying inquisitive-
ness to which every stranger is exposed on entering a new
community. I might have spared myself the trouble, for I


found that I was perfectly unnoticed in the motley throng
with which I mingled.

My strong-boned, high-bred mustang, indeed, called forth
many a compliment as I rode past ; but none had any eye,
nor even a word, for the rider. At last, as I was approaching
the inn, I beheld a small knot of men, whose dress and looks
were not unfamiliar to me ; and in a moment after, I remem-
bered that they were the Yankee horse-dealers I had met
with at Austin, some years before. As time had changed
me far more than them, I trusted to escape recognition, not
being by any means desirous of renewing the acquaintance. I
ought to say, that besides my Mexican costume, I wore a very
imposing pair of black moustaches and beard, the growth of
two years at " La Noria," so that detection was not very easy.

While I was endeavouring to push my way between two
huge hampers of tomatos and lemons, one of this group,
whom I at once recognized as Seth Chiseller, laid his hand
on my beast's shoulder, and said, in Spanish, " The mustang
is for sale ? "

"No, Sefihor," said I, with a true Mexican flourish; "he
and all mine stand at your disposal, but I would not sell him."

Not heeding much the hackneyed courtesy of my speech, he
passed his hands along the animal's legs, feeling his tendqns,
and grasping his neat pasterns. Then, proceeding to the
hocks, he examined them carefully ; after which he stepped a
pace or two backwards, the better to survey him, when he
said, " Move him along in a gentle trot."

" Excuse me, Sefihor, I came here to buy, not to sell. This
animal I do not mean to part with."

" Not if I were to offer you five hundred dollars ? " said
he, still staring at the beast.

" Not if you were to say a thousand, Seiihor," said I,
haughtily; "and now pray let me pass into the court, for we
are both in need of refreshment."

" He an't no Mexican, that 'ere chap," whispered one of
the group to Chiseller.

" He sits more like a Texan," muttered another.

" He'll be the devil, or a Choctaw outright, but Seth will
have his beast out of him," said another with a laugh ; and
with this the group opened to leave me a free passage into
the inn-yard.

All the easy assurance I could put on did not convince
myself that my fears were not written in my face as I rode
forward. To be sure I did swagger to the top of my bent ;
and as I flung myself from the saddle, I made my rifle,


my brass scabbard, my sabretache, and ray spurs per-
form a crash that drew many a dark eye to the windows, and
set many a fan fluttering in attractive coquetry.

" What a handsome Caballero ! how graceful and well-
looking ! " I thought I could read in their flashing glances ;
and how pleasant was such an imaginary amende for the
neglect I had Buffered hitherto.

Having commended my beast to the hands of the ostler,
I entered the inn with all the swaggering assurance of my
supposed calling ; but, in good earnest, with anything but an
easy heart at the vicinity of Seth and his followers. The
public room into which I passed was crowded with the
dealers of the fair, in busy and noisy discussion of their
several bargains ; and had I been perfectly free of all per-
sonal anxieties, the study of their various countenances,
costumes, and manners, had been most amusing, combining
as they did every strange nationality, from the pale-faced,
hatchet-featured New Englander, to the full-eyed, swarthy
descendant of old Spain ; thp mongrel Frenchman of New
Orleans, with the half-breed uf the prairies, more savage in
feature than the Pawnee himself; the shining negro, the
sallow Yankee, the Jew from the Havannah, and the bucca-
neer-like sailor, who commanded his sloop, and accompanied
him as a species of body-guard were all studies in their
way, and full of subject for after-thought.

In this motley assemblage it may easily be conceived that
I mingled unnoticed, and sat down to my mess of " frijoles
with garlic " without even a passing observation. As I ate
on, however, I was far from pleased by remarking that Seth
and another had taken their seats at a table right opposite,
and kept their eyes full on me, with what, in better society,
had been a most impudent stare. I affected not to perceive
this, and even treated myself to a flask of French wine, with
the air of a man revelling in undisturbed enjoyment ; but all
the rich bouquet, all the delicious flavour were lost upon me;
the sense of some impending danger overpowered all else,
and let me look which way I would, Seth and his buff-leather
jacket, his high boots, immense spurs, and enormous horse
pistols, rose up before me like a vision.

I read in the changeful expression of his features, the
struggle between doubt and conviction as to whether he had
seen me before. I saw what was passing in his mind, and I
tried a thousand little arcs and devices to mystify him. If I
drank my wino, I always threw out the last drops of each glass
upon the floor; when I smoked, I rolled my cigar between


iny palms, and patted and squeezed it in genuine Mexican
fashion. I turned up the points of my moustache like a true
hidalgo, and played Spaniard to the very top of my bent.

Not only did these airs seem not to throw him off the scent,
but I remarked that he eyed me more suspiciously, and often
conversed in whispers with his companion. My anxiety had
now increased to a sense of fever, and I saw that if nothing
else should do so, agitation alone would betray me. I
accordingly arose, and called the waiter to show me to a

It was not without difficulty that one could be had, and
that was a miserable little cell, whitewashed, and with no
other furniture than a mattress and two chairs. At least,
however, I was alone ; I was relieved from the basilisk glances
of that confounded horse-dealer, and I threw myself down on
my mattress in comparative ease of mind, when suddenly I
heard a smart tap at the door, and a voice called out, with a
very Yankee accent, " I say, friend, I want a word with you."

I replied, in Spanish, that if any one wanted me, they must
wait till I had taken my " siesta."

" Take your siesta another time, and open your door at
once ; or mayhap I'll do it myself! "

" Well, sir," said I, as I threw it open, and feigning a look
of angry indignation, the better to conceal my fear , " what
is so very urgently the matter, that a traveller cannot take
his rest, without being disturbed in this fashion ? "

" Hoity-toity ! what a pucker you're in, boy ! " said he,
shutting the door behind him; " and we old friends, too ! "

" When, or where, have we ever met before ? " asked I,

" For the 'where,' it was up at Austin, in Texas; for iLe
' when, ' something like three years bygone."

I shook my head, with a saucy smile of incredulity.

"Nay, nay, don't push me farther than I want to go, Lai.
Let bygones be bygones, and tell me what's the pricp of your
beast, yonder."

" I'll not sell the mustang," said I, stoutly.

'I Ay, but you will, boy! and to me, too'! And it's S,;h
Chiseller says it ! "

" No man can presume to compel another to part with his
horse against his will, I suppose ? " said I, affecting a cool-
ness I did not feel.

" There's many a stranger thing than tliat happens in these
wild parts. I've known a chap ride away with a beast just
without any question at all ! "


" That was a robbery ! " exclaimed I, in an effort at
virtuous indignation.

" It warii't far off from it," responded Seth ; " but there's a
reward for the fellow's apprehension, and there it be ! " and
as he spoke he threw a printed handbill on the table, of which
all that I could read with my swimming eyes were the words,
" One Hundred Dollars Reward," " a mare called Char-
coal," " taking the down trail towards the San Jose."

" There was no use in carrying that piece of paper so far,"
said I, pitching it contemptuously away.

" And why so, lad ? " asked he, peering inquisitively at me.

" Because this took place in Texas, and here we are in

" Mayhap, in strict law that might be something," said he,
calmly ; " but were I to chance upon him, why shouldn't I
pass a running-knot over his wrists, and throw him behind
me on one of my horses? Who's to say 'You shan't?' or
who's to stop a fellow that can ride at the head of thirty well
mounted lads, with Colt's revolvers at the saddle-bow tell
me that, boy ! "

" In the first place," said I, " the fellow who would let
himself be taken and slung on your crupper, like a calf for
market, deserves nothing better ; and particularly so long as
he owned a four-barrelled pistol like this ! " and here I
drew the formidable weapon from my breast, and held it
presented towards him, in a manner that it is rarely agreeable
to confront.

" Put down your irons, lad," said he, with the very slightest
appearance of agitation in his manner, " we'll come to terms
without burning powder."

" I ask for nothing better," said I, putting up my weapon;
"but I'll not stand being threatened."

He gave a short dry laugh, as though the conceit of my
speech amused him, and said, " Now to business I want that

"You shall have him, Seth," said I, "the day he reaches
Guajuaqualla, whither I am bound in all haste."

" I am a going north," said Seth, gruffly, " and not in that

" You can send one of your people along with me, to fetch
him back."

" Better to leave him with me now, and take a hack for the
journey," said he. This was rather too much for my temper;
and I ventured to say that he who was to receive a present
should scarcely dictate the conditions accompanying it.


" It's a ransom, boy a forfeit not a present," said he,

"Let us see if you can enforce it, then," said I, instinctively
grasping the weapon within my coat breast.

"There, now, you're angry again! " said he, with his im-
perturbable smile ; " if we're to have a deal together, let us
do it like gentlemen."

Now probably a more ludicrous caricature of that character
could not have been drawn than either in the persons, the
manners, or the subject of the transaction in hand ; but the
word was talismanic, and no sooner had he uttered it than I
became amenable to his very slightest suggestion.

" Let me have the beast 1 want him ; and I see your
holsters and saddle-bags have a jingle in them that tells
me dollars are plenty with you ; and as to this" he threw
the piece of paper offering the reward at his feet " the man
who says anything about it will have to account with Seth
Chiseller that's all."

" How far is it from this to Guajuaqualla? "

" About a hundred and twenty miles by the regular road,
but there's a trail the miners follow makes it forty less. Not
that I would advise you to try that line ; the runaway niggers
and the half-breeds are always loitering about there, and
they're over ready with the bowie knife, if tempted by a
dollar or two."

Our conversation now took an easy, almost a friendly tone.
Seth knew the country and its inhabitants perfectly, and
became freely communicative in discussing them, and all his
dealings with them.

"Let us have a flask of ' Aguadente,' " said he, at last,
" and then we'll join the fandango in the court beneath."

Both propositions were sufficiently to my taste ; and by way
of showing that no trace of any ill-feeling lingered in my
mind, I ordered an excellent supper and two flasks of the
best Amontillado.

Seth expanded, under the influence of the grape, into a
most agreeable companion. His personal adventures had
been most numerous, and many of them highly exciting ; and
although a certain Yankee suspiciousness of every man and
his motives tinged all he said, there was a hearty tone of good-
nature about him vastly different from what I had given him
credit for.

The Amontillado being discussed, Seth ordered some Mexi-
can " Paquaretta," of delicious flavour, of which every glass
seemed to inspire one with brighter views of life ; nor is it


any wonder if my fancy converted the rural belles of the court-
yard into beauties of the first order.

The scene was a very picturesque one. A trellised passage,
roofed Avith spi'eading vines in full bearing, ran around the
four sides of the building, in the open space of which the
dancers were assembled. Gay lamps of painted paper and
rude pine-torches lit up the whole, and gave to the party-
coloured and showy costumes an elegance and brilliancy
which the severer test of daylight might have been ungener-
ous enough to deny. The olive-brown complexion the flash-
ing dark eyes the graceful gestures the inspiriting music
the merry voices the laughter- were all too many ingredients
of pleasure to put into that little crucible, the human heart,
and not amalgamate into something very like enchantment,
a result to which the Paquaretta perhaps contributed.

Into this gay throng Seth and I descended, like men deter-
mined, in Mexican phrase, to " take pleasure by both horns."
It was at the very climax of the evening's amusement we
entered. The dance was the Mexican fandango, which is
performed in this wise : a lady stepping into the circle, after
displaying her attractions in a variety of graceful evolutions,
makes the "tour " of the party in search of the Caballero she
desires to take as her partner. It is at his option either to
decline the honour by a gesture of deferential humility, or
accepting it, he gives her some part of his equipment his
hat, his scarf, or his embroidered riding-glove, to be after-
wards redeemed as a forfeit ; the great amusement of the
scene consisting in the strange penalties exacted, which are
invariably awarded with a scrupulous attention to the peculiar
temperament of the sufferer. Thus, a miserly fellow is certain
to be mulcted of his money ; an unwieldy mass of fears and
terrors is condemned to some feat of horsemanship ; a gour-
mand is sentenced to a dish of the least appetizing nature, and
so on : each is obliged to an expiation which is certain to
amuse the bystanders. While these are the "blanks " in the
lottery, the prizes consist in the soft seductive glances of eyes
that have lost nothing of Castilian fire in their transplanting
beyond seas in the graceful gestures of a partner to whom
the native dance is like an expressive language, and whoso
motions are more eloquent than words in being, perhaps, the
favoured of her whose choice has made you the hidalgo of the
evening : and all these, even without the aid of Paquaretta,
are no slight distinctions.

Were the seductions less attractive, it is not a man whose
Irish blood has been set a-glo\vingwith Spanish wine, who is


best fitted to resist them, nor assuredly ought Cou Cregan to
be selected for such self-denial. I stood in the circle with
wondering admiration, delighted with everything. Oh happy
age ! glorious hour of the balmy night ! excellent grape-juice!
how much of delicious enjoyment do I owe you all three ! I
suppose it is the case with every one, but I know it to be with
me, that wherever I am, or however situated, I immediately
single out some particular object for my especial predilection.
If it be a landscape, I nt once pitch upon the spot for a cottage,
a temple, or a villa ; if it be a house, I instantly settle in my
mind the room I would take as my own, the window I would
sit beside, the very chair I'd take to lounge in ; if it be a
garden, I fix upon the walk among whose embowering blos-
soms I would always be found : and so, if the occasion be one
of festive enjoyment, I have a quick eye to catch her whose
air and appearance possess highest attractions for me. Xot
always for me the most beautiful whose faultless outlines a
sculptor would like to chisel ; but one whose fair form and
loveliness are suggestive of the visions one has had in boy-
hood, filling up, in rich colours, the mind-drawn picture we
have so often gazed on, and made the heroine of a hundred
little love-stories, only known to one's own heart. And, oh
dear ! are not these about the very best of our adventures ?
At least, if they be not, they are certainly those we look back
on with fewest self-reproaches.

In a mood of this kind it was that my eye rested upon a
slightly formed but graceful girl, whose dark eyes twice or
thrice had met my own, and been withdrawn again with a
kind of indolent reluctance as I fancied very flattering to
me. She wore the square piece of scarlet cloth on her head,
so fashionable among the Mexican peasantry, the corners of
which hung down with heavy gold tassels among the clusters
of her raven locks ; a yellow scarf, of the brightest hue, was
gracefully thrown over one shoulder, and served to heighten
the brilliancy of her olive tint ; her jupe, short and looped up
with a golden cord, displayed a matchless instep and ankle.
There was an air of pride "fierte," even, in the position
of the foot, as she stood, that harmonized admirably with the
erect carriage of her head, and the graceful composure of her
crossed arms, made her a perfect picture. Nor was I quitx*
certain that she did not know this herself: certain is it, her
air, her attitude, her every gesture, were in the most com-
plete "keeping" with her costume.

She was not one of the dancers, but stood among the spec-
tators ; and, if I wore to pronounce from the glances she


bestowed upon the circle, not one of the most admiring there ;
her features either wearing an expression of passive indiffe-
rence, or changing to a half smile of scornful contempt. As,
with an interest which increased at each moment, I watched
her movements, I saw that her scarf was gently pulled by a
hand from behind : she turned abruptly, and, with a gesture
of almost ineffable scorn, said some few words, and then
moved proudly away to another part of the " court."

Through the vacant spot she had quitted I was able to see
him who had addressed her. He was a young powerfully
built fellow, in the dress of a mountaineer ; and though evi-
dently of the peasant class, his dress and arms evinced that
he was well to do in the world. The gold drop of his
sombrero, the rich bullion tassels of his sash, the massive
spurs of solid silver, being all evidences of wealth. Not
even the tan-coloured hue of his dark face could mask the
flush of anger upon it as the girl moved off; and his black
eyes, as they followed, glowed like fire. To my amazement
his glance was next bent upon me, and that, with an expres-
sion of hatred there was no mistaking. At first, I thought it
might have been mere fancy on my part ; then, I explained it
as the unvanished cloud still lingering on his features ; but
at last I saw plainly that the insulting looks were meant for
myself. Let me look which side I would, let me occupy my
attention how I might, the fellow's swarthy sullen face never
turned from me for an instant.

I suppose something must have betrayed to my companion
what was passing within me, for Seth whispered in my ear,
" Take no notice of him he's a Ranchero, and they are
always bad 'uns to deal with."

" But what cause of quarrel can he have with me ? " said
I ; " we never saw each other before."

" Don't you see what it is ? " said Seth ; " it's the much-
achrt, she's his sweetheart, and she's been a looking too long
this way to please him."

" Well, if the girl has got such good taste ! " said I, with a
saucy laugh, " he ought to prize her the more for it.*'

" She is a neat 'un, that's a fact," muttered Seth ; and at
the same instant the girl walked proudly up to where I stood,
and making a low curtsey before me, held out her hand. I

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 34 of 50)