Charles James Lever.

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suppose there must have been a little more than the ordinary
enthusiasm in the manner I pressed my lips upon it, for she
blushed, and a little murmur ran round the circle. The next
moment we were whirling along in the waltz ; I, at least, lost
to everything, save the proud pleasure of what I deemed my


triumph. The music suddenly changed to the fandango, of
which dance I was a perfect master ; and now the graceful
elegance of my partner, and the warm plaudits of the com-
pany called forth my utmost exertions. As for her, she was
the most bewitching representative of her native measure it
is possible to conceive, her changeful expression following
every movement of the dance ; now, retiring in shrinking
bashfulness, now, advancing with proud and haughty mien,
now, enticing to pursuit by looks of languishment, now, as if
daring all advances, her flashing eyes would almost sparkle
with defiance.

What a terrible battery was this to open upon the defence-
less breastwork of a poor Irishman! How withstand the
showering grape-shot of dark glances ? how resist the
assault of graces that lurked in every smile and every gesture?
Alas ! I never attempted a defence ; I surrendered not " at,"
but "without," discretion, and tearing off the great embroid-
ered scarf which I wore, all heavy with its gold fringe, I
passed it round her taper waist in a very transport of enthu-

While a buzz of approbation ran round the circle, I heard
the words uttered on all sides, " Destago ! " "A forfeit ! '*

" I'll try his gallantry," said the girl, as darting back from
my arms, she retired to the very verge of the circle, and hold-
ing up the rich prize, gazed at it with wondering eyes : and
now, exclamations of praise and surprise at the beauty of the
tissue broke from all in turn.

" The muchacha should keep the ' capotillo,' " said an old
lynx-eyed duenna, with a fan as large as a fire-board.

" A Caballero rich as that should give her a necklace of
real pearls," said another.

" I'd choose a mustang, with a saddle and trappings all
studded with silver," mutter a third in her ear.

" I'll have none of these," said the girl musing ; " I must
bethink me well if I cannot find something I shall like to
look at with pleasure, when mere dress and finery would
have lost their charm. I must have that which Avill remind
me of this evening a long time hence, and make me think of
him who made its happiness ; and now what shall it be ? "

" His heart's blood, if that will content you ! " cried the
mountaineer, as springing from his seat he tore the scarf from
her hands, and dashed it on the gi-onnd, trampling it beneath
his feet, and tearing it to very rags.

" A fight a fight ! " shouted out a number of voices ; and
now the crowd closed in upon the dancing space, and a

z 2


hundred tongues mingled in wild altercation. Although a
few professed themselves indignant that a stranger sbould be
thus insulted, I saw plainly that the majority were with their
countryman, whom they agreed in regarding as a most out-
raged and injured individual. To my great astonishment, I
discovered that my friend Seth took the same view of the
matter, and was even more energetic than the others in repro-
bation of my conduct.

" Don't you see," cried he to me, "that you have taken his
sweetheart from him ? The muchacha has done all this to
provoke his jealousy."

(t Oui, oi," said a thin miserable-looking Frenchman, " vons
acez tire la loufeille ; II jaut payer la vin."

In all probability, had not the crowd separated us most
effectually, these comments and counsels had been all uttered
"after the fact; " for I dashed forward to strike ray antago-
nist, and was only held back by main force, as Seth whispered
in my ear, " Take it coolly, lad ; it must be a fight, now, and
don't unsteady your hand by flying into a passion."

Meanwhile the noise and confusion waxed louder and
louder, and from the glances directed towards me there was
very little doubt how strongly public opinion pronounced
against me.

"No, no! " broke in Seth in reply to some speech whose
purport I could only guess at, for I did not hear the words
" that would be a downright shame. Let the lad have fair
play. There's a pretty bit of ground outside the garden, for
either sword or pistol-work, whichever you choose it to be.
I'll not stand anything else."

Another very fiery discussion ensued upon this ; the end of
which was, that I was led away by Seth and one of his com-
rades to my room, with the satisfactory assurance that at the
very first dawn of day I was to meet the Mexican peasant in
single combat.

"You have two good hours of sleep before you, "said Seth,
as we entered my room, " and my advice is, don't lose a
minute of them."

It has been a mystery to me, up to the very hour I am
writing in, how far my friend Seth Chiseller's conduct on this
occasion accorded with good faith. Certainly, it would have
been impossible for anyone to have evinced a more chivalrous
regard for my honour, and a more contemptuous disdain for
my life, than the aforesaid Seth. He advanced full one
hundred reasons for a deadly combat; the results of which,
he confessed, were speculative matters of a most dreamy in-


difference. Now, although it has almost become an axiom in
these affairs that there is nothing like a bold decided friend,
yet even these qualities may be carried to excess ; and so I
began to experience.

There was a vindictiveness in the way he expatiated upon
the gross character of the insult I had received, the palpable
openness of the outrage, that showed the liveliest suscepti-
bility on the score of my reputation ; and thus it came to pass,
I suppose, from that spirit of divergence and contradiction so
native to the human heart, that the stronger Seth's argument
ran in favour of a most bloody retribution, the more inge-
nious grew my casuistry on the side of mercy : till, grown
weary of my sophistry, he finished the discussion by saying
" Take your own road, then ; and if you prefer a stiletto under
the ribs to the chance of a sabre-cut, it's your own affair, not

" How so ? why should I have to fear such ? "

' : You don't think that the villano will suffer a fellow to
take his muchacha from him, and dance with her the entire
evening before a whole company, without his revenge ? No !
no ! they have different notions on that score, as you'll soon

" Then what is to be done ? "

''I have told you already, and I tell you once more:
meet him to-morrow ; the time is not very distant now.
You tell me that you are a fair swordsman : now these chaps
have but one attack and one guard. I'll put you up to both ;
and if you are content to take a slight sabre-cut about the
left shoulder, I'll show you how to run him through the body."

"And then?"

"Why then," said he, turning his tobacco about in his
mouth, " I guess you'd better run for it. There'll be no time
to lose. Mount your beast, and ride for the Guajuaqualla
road ; but don't follow it long, or you'll soon be overtaken.
Tarn tiie boost loose, and take to the mountains, where, when
you've struck the miner's track, you'll soon reach the town
in safety."

Overborne by arguments and reasons many of which Seth
strengthened by the pithy apothegm of " Bethink ye where
ye are, boy ! This is not England, nor Ireland neither ! "
all my scruples vanished, and I set about the various arrange-
ments in a spirit of true activit\-. The time was brief; since,
besides taking a lesson in the broad-sword, I had to make my
will. The reader will probably srnile at the notion of Con
Cregan leaving a testament behind him ; but the over-scrupu-


lous Seth would Lave it so, and assured me, with much
feeling, that it would " save a world of trouble hereafter, if
anything were to go a bit ugly."

I therefore bequeathed to the worthy Seth my mustang and
his equipments of saddle, holsters, and cloak-bag : my rifle
and pistols, and bowie-knife were also to become his, as well
as all my movables of every kind. 1 only stipulated that, in
the event of the " ugly " termination alluded to, he would
convey the letter with his own hands to Guajuaqualla, a
pledge he gave with the greater readiness that a reward was
to be rendered for the service. There was some seventy
dollars in my bag which, Seth said, need not be mentioned
in the will, as they would be needed for the funeral. " It's
costly hereabouts," said he, growing quite lively on the theme.
" They put ye in a great basket, all decked with flowers, and
they sticks two big oranges or lemons in your hands ; and
the chaps as carry you are dressed like devils or angels, I
don't much know which, and they do make such a cry !
my eye for it, but if you wasn't dead, you'd not lie there long
and listen to 'em ! "

Now, although the subject was not one half so amusing to
me as it seemed to Seth, I felt that strange fascination which
ever attaches to a painful theme ; and asked a variety of
questions about the grave, and the ceremonies, and the
masses, reminding my executor that, as a good Catholic, I
hoped I should have the offices of the church in all liberality.

" Don't distress yourself about that," said he, " I'll learn a
lot of prayers in Latin myself ' just to help you on,' as a
body might say but, as I live, there goes the chaps to the
' Molino;' " and he pointed to a group of about a dozen or
more, who, wrapped up in their large cloaks, took the way
slowly and silently through the tall wet grass at the bottom
of the garden.

I have ever been too candid with ray kind reader to con-
ceal anything from him. Let him not, therefore, I beg,
think the worse of me, if I own that, at the sight of that
procession, a strange and most uncomfortable feeling per-
vaded me. There seemed something so purpose-like in their
steady regular tramp. There was a look of cold determina-
tion in their movement that chilled me to the heart. " Only
to think ! " muttered I, " how they have left their beds on
this raw damp morning, at the risk of colds, catarrhs, and
rheumatism, all to murder a poor young fellow who never
injured one of them ! "

Not a thought had I for the muchacha the cause of all


my trouble ; my faculties were limited to a little routine, of
which I myself was the centre, and I puzzled my brain in
thinking over the human anatomy, and trying to remember
all I had ever heard of the most fatal localities, and where
one could be carved and sliced with the fullest impunity.

" Come along!" said Seth, " we've no time to lose we
must look out for a cheap mustang to wait for you on the
Guajuaqualla road, and I have to fetch my sword, for this
thing of yours is full eight inches too short." Seth now
took my arm, and I felt myself involuntarily throwing a
glance at the little objects I owned about the room as it
were a farewell look.

" What are you searching for ? " said he, as I inserted my
hand into my breast-pocket.

" It's all right," said I ; " I wanted to see that I had the
Senhora's letter safe. If if anything you understand me

" Yes, yes ; I'll look to it. They sha'n't bury you Avith
it ; " said he, with a diabolical grin, which made me posi-
tively detest him for the moment.

If Mr. Chiseller was deficient in the finer sympathies of
our nature, he was endowed with a rare spirit of practical
readiness. The "mustang" was found in the very first
stable we entered, and hired for a day's pleasure so he
called it for the sum of two crowns. A mountain lad was
despatched to hold him for my coming, at a certain spot on
the road. The sabre was fetched from his chamber, and in
less than five minutes we were on our way to the Molino,
fully equipped and " ready for the fray."

" Don't forget what I told you about the face guard al-
ways keep the hilt of your weapon straight between your
eyes, and hold the elbow low." /This he kept repeating con-
tinually as we went along, till I found myself muttering the
words after him mechanically without attaching the slightest
meaning to them. " The villain is a strong muscular chap,
and perhaps he'll be for breaking down your guard by mere
force, and cleaving you down with a stroke. If he tries it,
you've only to spring actively to one side and give him your
point, anywhere about the chest." From this he proceeded
to discuss a hundred little subtleties and stratagems the
Mexicans are familiar with so that at last I regretted, from
the very bottom of my soul, that the gage of battle had not
fallen upon Seth himself, so much more worthy in every way
of the distinction.

If I seemed full of attention to all he was saying, my


thoughts, in truth be it spoken, were travelling a vastly
different road. I was engaged in the performance of a little
mental catechism, which ran somewhat in this wise: " If
yon escape this peril, Master Con, will it not be wise to
eschew fandangoes in future ; or, at least, not indulge in
them with other men's sweethearts? Beware, besides, of
horse- dealers, of Xeres and Paquaretta ; and, above all, of
such indiscretions as may make the ' Seth Chisellers ' of this
world your masters ! " Ay, there was the sum and substance
of my sorrows; that unlucky step about " Charry" and the
lottery-ticket placed me in a situation from which there was
no issue. I now saw, what many have seen before, and many
will doubtless see again, that crime has other penalties be-
sides legal ones, and that the difficulty of conforming to an
assumed good character, with even one lapse from the path
of honesty, is very considerable.

" Are you attending to me, lad ? " cried Seth, impatiently,
" I was telling you about the cross-guard for the head."

" I have not heard one word of it,'' said T, frankly ; " nor
is it of the least consequence. All the talk in the world
couldn't make a swordsman, still less would a few passing
hints like those you give me. If the villano be the better
man, there's an end of the matter."

Seth, less convinced by my reasonings than offended at
them, spoke no more, and we approached the Molino in
silence. As we neared the spot, we perceived the party
seated in a little arbour, and by their gestures, as well as
by a most savoury odour of garlic, evidently eating their

" The fellows are jolly," said Seth: " had we not better
follow their example ? Here is a nice spot, and a table just
at hand." At the same time he called out, " Muchacho, pan
el vino en la mesa, and we'll think of somewhat to eat."

I tried to play indifferent, and seem at my ease, but it was
no use. The vicinity of the other group, and, in particular,
of a certain broad-shouldered member of it, whom I could
detect through the leaves, and who certainly did not cat with
the air of a man who felt it to be his last breakfast, spoiled
all my efforts, and nipped them even as they budded.

" You don't eat,'* said Seth; " look at the villano yonder."

" I see him," said T, curtly.

" See how he lays in his prog ! "

" Let him show that he can be as dexterous with the broad-
sword as with a carving-knife," said I with a tremendous


"Egad! I'll tell him that," cried Seth, jumping up, and
hastening across the garden. I had not long to wait for the
effect of the speech. Scarcely had Chiseller uttered a few-
words, than the whole party arose, and such a volley of
" Maledicion ! " and "Caramba!" and other like terms I
never heard before or since.

" I knew that would make 'em blaze up," said he ; " they're
all ready now follow me." I obeyed, and walked after him
into a little paddock, which, from the marks of feet and other
signs, seemed to be a spot not chosen for the first time for
such an amusement. The others entered by an opposite gate,
and, taking off their cloaks, folded them carefully and laid
them on the benches. They were armed to the very teeth,
and really did look amazingly like the- troop of brigands
Drury Lane would produce in a new melodrama.

One of the party advanced towards Seth to arrange pre-
liminaries, while the rest lighted their cigars, and began
smoking an example I deemed it wise to imitate ; at least,
it looked cool.

As I sat, affecting to admire the landscape, and totally
careless of what was going on behind me, I overheard Seth
in a warm altercation on the subject of my sabre, which the
villano's friend insisted was at least eight or nine inches too
long. Seth, however, was equally obstinate in asserting that
I had always used it, had fought repeated duels with it ; and if
we could not call the principals as witnesses, it was for certain
cogent reasons that need not be mentioned. How I chuckled
at this bit of boastfulness ! how I prayed that it might terrify
the enemy ! Nothing of the kind : the semi-savage stepped
out into the circle, with his shirt-sleeves rolled up to the shoul-
der, displaying an arm whose muscular development was like
knotted cordage. As if to give a foretaste of what he in-
tended for me, he clove down the stout branch of an elm-tree
with a single stroke, and with the ease of a man slicing a
cheese. Never did I think so meanly of a fandango as at
that moment ; never was I in a mood less lenient to female
coquetry !

" All's ready, Con, my hearty," whispered Seth, leaning
over my shoulder ; " here's the tool."

If I had followed the instinct then strongest, I should have
treated my " friend " Seth to the first of my maiden sword.
But for him but it was too late for regrets ; and already the
group had retired, leaving the villano standing in a position
of formidable defence alone in the circle.

I can remember that I walked calmly and slowly forward


to the spot assigned me. I can remember the word being
given to draw swords ; and I even yet can see the flashing
steel as it glistened, and hear the clang of the scabbards as
we flung them from us ; but of the encounter itself I have
only the vaguest impression. Cuts, thrusts, parries, advances
and retirings, feints and guards, are all blended up with the
exclamations of the bystanders, as, in praise or censure, they
followed the encounter. At last, without knowing why, after
a warm rally, my antagonist uttered a faint cry, and totter-
ing a few paces back, let fall his sword, and sank heavily to
the earth. I sprang forward in dread anxiety, but two of
the others held me back, while they cried out, " Basta Basta,
Senhor ! " I tried to force my way past them, but they held
me fast ; and all that I could see was one of the group take
up the villano's arm, and let it go again, when it fell heavily
to the ground with a dull ba"ng I shall never forget ! They
then threw his cloak over him, and I saw him no more.

" What are ye waitin' for, lad ? " whispered Seth. " Tou
don't want to attend his funeral, I reckon ? "

"Is he is he ?" I couldn't get the word out for


" By course he is, and so will you be if ye don't make a
bolt of it."

I have some recollection of an angry altercation between
Seth and myself I refusing, and he insisting on my instant
flight ; but it ended somehow in my finding myself gallop-
ing along the Guajuaqualla road at a furious pace, and, to my
extreme surprise, feeling now as eager about my safety as
before I had been indifferent to it.

I became conscious of this from the sense of uneasiness I
experienced as each horseman neared me, and the danger of
pursuit aroused in me the instinct of self-preservation.

A rude sign-post at the foot of a rugged mountain path
apprised me where the "miners' trail" led off" to Guajua-
qualla; so, dismounting from my "mustang," now wearied
and blown by a pretty sharp pace for above seven miles, I
turned the animal loose, and set off on foot. I know of no
descent so great in life as from the " saddle " to the " sole ! "
from the inspiriting pleasure of being carried along at will,
to the plodding slowness of mere pedestrianism. In the one
case you " shoot your sorrows flying," in the other, they jog
alongside of you all the way, halting with you when you lie
down at noon, and taking share of the spring from which
your parched lips are refreshed. Like an underbred acquaint-
ance, they will not be denied ; they are always " going your


way ; " and in their cruel civility they insist on bearing you

At a little cabaret of the very humblest ordei% I obtained
some breakfast, and made purchase of a stock of bread and
a gourd of wine, as I learned that nothing was to be had be-
fore I reached " Sanchez," the hut of an old miner, which
was reckoned halfway to Guajuaqualla. This done, again I
set forth on my journey.

The scenery was wild without being grand. There was
bareness and desolation, but no sublimity. It was evidently
a tract of such inferior fertility that few in a land so rich as
this would select it for a resting-place ; and accordingly I
came upon no signs of habitation other than the shealings
the shepherds raise at certain seasons when migrating with
their flocks among the mountains.

It was exactly the character of landscape likely to increase
and thicken the gloom of sad thoughts ; and, indeed, mine
wanted little assistance. This last exploit left a weight like
lead upon my heart. All my sophistry about self-defence and
wounded honour, necessity, and the like, could not cover the
fact that I had taken away a man's life in a foolish brawl,
from the very outset of which the whole fault lay on my side.

" So much," said I, " for trying to be a ' gentleman.'
Every step in this disastrous pursuit would seem to have a
penalty attached to it; and, after all, I am just as far from
the goal as when I set out."

That day seemed a year in length ; and were I to attempt
to chronicle it, the reader would confess himself convinced
before I had half finished ; so that, for both our sakes, I'll not
" file my bill of particulars," as my respected father would
have said, but at once come to the hour when the sun ap-
proached the horizon, and yet not anything like a human
dwelling came in sight ; and I still plodded along, sad and
weary, and anxious for rest. If the events which I am about
to record have little in them of extraordinary interest, they
at least were the turning-points in my humble destiny, and,
therefore, kind reader, with your permission, we'll give them
a chapter to themselves.




I HAD walked now for nearly twelve hours without discover-
ing any appearance of Sanchez' cabin, in which I had hoped
to pass the night. My prairie experience assured me that I
had not lost the " trail," and yet if any light were burning for
miles around, the elevated spot on which I stood should make
it visible. Although much fatigued, there was nothing for it
but to proceed, and, at length, I found myself in a narrow
valley, which Seth had heard described as the situation in
which the miner's hut stood. It was dark and gloomy, but
the hope that I was nearing the spot cheered me, and I
walked on, footsore and tired as I was. Once or twice I
thought I heard the bark of a dog. I stopped to listen. I
shouted aloud, I whistled, but to no end. After an interval,
however, the sounds were repeated, and now, I could detect,
not the bark but the low plaintive wail of an animal
seemingly in pain. As it not unfrequently happens that the
sheep-dogs are attacked by wolves, it immediately occurred
to me such might be the present case : so I looked to the
caps of my revolver, and hastened on in the direction of the

The wailing sounds grew fuller and louder as I advanced,
and now I could distinguish that they were the cries of au
animal in grief, and riot of one in bodily pain. I increased
iny speed to the utmost, and suddenly I felt the warm tongue
of a dog touch my hand, and his tail brush my legs, in sign
of friendly welcome. I stopped to pat and caress him, but
the poor creature uttered another cry, so full of sorrow, that
all other thoughts were routed on the instant.

He now preceded me, tm-ning at each moment as if to see
that I followed, and whining in a low faint tone, as before.
We had not long proceeded thus, when he stopped suddenly,
and set up a cry the most shrill and heart-tlmlling. I saw
that we were in front of a miserable shealing, the door of
which lay open ; but all was dark within. I struck a light
with my flint, and lighted a little taper. To my surprise, the
hut contained several articles of furniture ; but I had not

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 35 of 50)