The Rebel Chief: A Tale of Guerilla Life

The Rebel Chief: A Tale of Guerilla Life

Author:
Gustave Aimard
Author:
Gustave Aimard
Format:
epub
language:
English

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Author: Aimard, Gustave, 1818-1883
Fiction
The Rebel Chief: A Tale of Guerilla Life

THE REBEL CHIEF

A TALE OF GUERILLA LIFE

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD

AUTHOR OF “THE BEE-HUNTERS,” “STRONGHAND,” “BUCCANEER CHIEF,”

&c. &c. &c.

LONDON
WARD AND LOCK, 158, FLEET STREET
MDCCCLXV.

CONTENTS.

I. LAS CUMBRES
II. THE TRAVELLERS
III. THE SALTEADORES
IV. EL RAYO
V. THE HACIENDA DEL ARENAL
VI. THROUGH THE WINDOW
VII. TO THE RANCHO
VIII. THE WOUNDED MAN
IX. A DISCOVERY
X. THE MEETING
XI. IN THE PLAIN
XII. POLITICAL
XIII. THE CONVENTION BONDS
XIV. THE HOUSE IN THE SUBURBS
XV. DON MELCHIOR
XVI. THE ASSAULT
XVII. AFTER THE BATTLE
XVIII. THE AMBUSH
XIX. COMPLICATIONS
XX. THE SURPRISE
XXI. THE PRISONERS
XXII. DON DIEGO
XXIII. THE SUPPER
XXIV. THE REVELATION
XXV. THE AVENGER
XXVI. SUNNY HOURS
XXVII. AN HONEST MAN
XXVIII. LOVE
XXIX. THE BOLD STROKE
XXX. THE SORTIE
XXXI. TRIUMPH
XXXII. EL PALO QUEMADO
XXXIII. SETTLEMENT OF ACCOUNTS
XXXIV. A SUPREME RESOLUTION
XXXV. JESÚS DOMÍNGUEZ
XXXVI. THE BEGINNING OF THE END
XXXVII. THE LAST BLOW
XXXVIII. FACE TO FACE
XXXIX. THE HATCHET

THE REBEL CHIEF.


CHAPTER I.

LAS CUMBRES.

No country in the world offers to the delighted traveller more charming landscapes than Mexico; among them all, that of Las Cumbres or the peak, is, without fear of contradiction, one of the most striking and most agreeably diversified.
Las Cumbres form a succession of defiles in the mountains, through which winds, with infinite meanderings, the road that runs to Puebla de los Ángeles (the town of the Angels), so called, because the angels, according to tradition, built the cathedral there. The road to which we allude, made by the Spaniards, runs along the side of the mountains with curves of extraordinary boldness, and is bordered on either side by an unbroken line of abrupt peaks, bathed in a bluish vapour at each turn of this road, which is, as it were, suspended over precipices clad with a luxurious vegetation. The scene changes, and grows more and more picturesque. The mountain peaks no longer rise behind one another, but gradually sink into the plain, while on the other hand, those left behind rise perpendicularly.
On July 2nd, 18—, about four in the afternoon, at the moment when the sun, already low on the horizon, only shed its beams obliquely on the earth, calcined by the heat of the mediodía, and when the rising breeze was beginning to refresh the parching atmosphere, two horsemen, well mounted, emerged from a thick clump of yuccas, bananas, and purpled flowered bamboos, and turned into a dusty road, which led by a series of successive inclines to a valley in which a limpid stream ran through the verdure, and kept up its pleasant freshness.
The travellers, probably struck by the unexpected sight of the grand landscape which was so suddenly unfolded before them, stopped their horses, and after gazing for some minutes admiringly at the picturesque arrangement of the mountains, they dismounted, took off their horses’ bridles, and sat down on the bank of the stream, with the evident intention of enjoying for a few minutes longer the effects of this admirable kaleidoscope, which is unique in the world.
Judging from the direction they were following, the travellers appeared to come from Orizaba, and to be going to Puebla de los Ángeles, whence they were at no great distance at the moment.
The two horsemen wore the attire of rich hacenderos, a costume which we have described too frequently to render a repetition necessary here: we will only mention one characteristic peculiarity rendered necessary by the slight degree of security on the roads at the time when our story takes place. Both were armed in a formidable manner, and carried with them a complete arsenal. In addition to the six-shot revolvers in their holsters, others were thrust through their belts. They carried in their hand a first-rate double barrel, turned out by Devismes, the celebrated Parisian gunsmith; and thus each was enabled to fire twenty-six rounds, without counting the machete, or straight sabre, hanging at their side, the triangular-bladed knife thrust into the right boot, and the lasso, or reata, coiled on the saddle, to which it was securely attached by a carefully riveted iron ring.
Certainly if men thus armed were endowed with a fair amount of courage, they might face without disadvantage even a considerable number of enemies. However, they did not seem to trouble themselves at all about the wild and solitary aspect of the spot where they were, and conversed gaily while half reclining on the green grass, and carelessly smoking their cigars—real Havana puros.
The elder of the riders was a man of from forty to forty-five years, though he did not seem more than thirty-six, above the middle height; he was elegantly, though powerfully built, his well knit limbs denoted great bodily strength, he had marked features, and an energetic and intelligent countenance; his black sparkling eyes, ever in motion, were soft, but at times emitted brilliant flashes, when they were animated, and they then gave his face a harsh and savage expression impossible to describe; he had a lofty and spacious forehead, and sensual lips; a beard black and tufted like that of an Ethiopian, and mixed with silvery threads—fell on his chest; a luxuriant head of hair, thrown back, covered his shoulders, and his bronzed complexion was of a brick colour. In short, judging from his appearance, he was one of those determined men who are invaluable in certain critical circumstances, because a friend runs no risk of being deserted by them. Although it was impossible to distinguish his nationality, his brusque, sharp gestures, and his quick imperative speech, seemed to give him a Southern origin.
His companion—who was much younger, for he did not appear above twenty-eight years of age—was tall, rather thin, and delicate looking, though not at all sickly; his elegant slim stature, and extremely small feet and hands, denoted high birth; his features were fine, his countenance pleasing and intelligent, and stamped with a great expression of gentleness; his blue eyes, light hair, and, above all, the whiteness of his complexion, caused him at once to be recognized as a European belonging to the temperate clime, recently landed in America.
We have said that the two travellers were conversing together, and the language they employed was French; the turn of their phrases, and the want of accent, led to the supposition that they were expressing themselves in their own language.
“Well, Count,” said the elder, “do you regret having followed my advice, and instead of being jolted over execrable roads, undertaking this journey on horseback in the company of your humble servant?”
“By Jove! I should be very difficult to please were it so,” the one to whom the title of count was given replied. “I have travelled through Switzerland, Italy, and the banks of the Rhine, like everybody else, and must confess that I never before saw such exquisite scenery as that which I have gazed on for the last few days—thanks to you.”
“You are a thousand times too polite: the scenery is really very fine, and remarkably diversified,” he added, with a sardonic expression which escaped his companion; “and yet,” he remarked with a stifled sigh, “I have seen finer, still.”
“Finer than this?” the count exclaimed, stretching out his arm, and describing a semicircle in the air; “Oh, sir, that is not possible.”
“You are young, my lord,” the first speaker resumed with a sad smile; “your tourist travels have only been child’s play. This attracts you by the contrast it forms to the other scenery, that is all; having never studied nature except from an opera stall, you did not suppose that it could hold such surprises in reserve for you; your enthusiasm has been suddenly raised to a diapason, which intoxicates you through the strangeness of the contrasts which are incessantly offered you; but if, like myself, you had wandered over the savannahs of the interior, the immense prairies over which the wild children of this country, whom civilisation has despoiled, roam in freedom—like myself, you would only have a smile of contempt for the scenery that surrounds us, and which at this moment you are admiring so conscientiously.”
“What you say may be true,” Mr. Oliver; “unfortunately I am not acquainted with the savannahs and prairies to which you refer, and probably shall never see them.”
“Why not?” the first speaker interposed quickly; “You are young, rich, strong, and free—at least I suppose so. What is there to prevent you attempting an excursion into the great American desert? You are in a capital position at this moment to carry out such an expedition; it is one of those journeys, reputed impossible, of which you will be able to speak with pride hereafter when you return to your own country.”
“I should like it,” the count answered with a tinge of melancholy; “unluckily that is impossible, for my journey must terminate at Mexico.”
“At Mexico?” Oliver repeated in surprise.
“Alas! Yes, sir, so it is; I am not my own master, and am now obeying the influence of stranger’s will. I have simply come to this country to be married.”
“Married! At Mexico! you, my lord?” Oliver exclaimed in astonishment.
“Yes,” very prosaically, “married to a woman I do not know, who does not know me either, and who doubtless feels no more love for me than I do for her: we are related—we were betrothed in the cradle, and now the moment has arrived to keep the promise made in our names by our parents—that is all.”
“But in that case the young lady is French?”
“Not at all: she is Spanish, and I believe a bit of a Mexican.”
“But you are a Frenchman?”
“Certainly, and from Touraine to boot,” he replied with a smile.
“That being so, allow me to ask, sir, how it happens that—”
“Oh, very naturally so; my story will not be long, and as you seem inclined to hear it, I will tell it you in a very few words. You know my name—I am Count Ludovic Mahiet de la Saulay; my family, which belongs to the Touraine, is one of the oldest in that province, and goes back to the first Francs; one of my ancestors, so it is said, was one of the leaders of King Clovis, who gave him, as a reward for his faithful and valiant services, vast prairies bordered by willows, from which my family afterwards derived its name. I do not tell you of this origin through any absurd feeling of pride. Though of noble birth, I have been educated, thank Heaven, in ideas of progress sufficiently wide for me to know the value of a title in the present age, and to recognize that true nobility dwells entirely in elevated sentiments. Still, I was obliged to tell you these details concerning my family in order that you might thoroughly understand how my ancestors—who always held high offices under the different dynasties that have succeeded each other in France—happened to have a younger branch of the family Spanish, while the elder remained French. At the epoch of the league, the Spaniards, summoned by the partisans of the Guises, with whom they had formed an alliance against King Henry IV., then only called King of Navarre, were quartered for a rather lengthened period in Paris. I ask your pardon, my dear Mr. Oliver, for thus entering into details which may appear to you very wearisome.”
“Pardon me, my lord, on the contrary, they greatly interest me; so pray go on.”
The young man bowed and resumed—
“Now, the Count de Saulay—alive at that time—was an impetuous partisan of the Guises, and a very intimate friend of the Duke of Mayence; the count had three children—two sons, who fought in the ranks of the army of the League, and a daughter who was maid of honour to the Duchess of Montpensier, the sister of the Duke of Mayence. The siege of Paris lasted a long time, it was even abandoned, then resumed by Henry IV, who eventually bought for ready money a city which he despaired of seizing, and which the Duc de Brissac, Governor of the Bastille for the league, sold him. Many of the officers serving under the Duke de Mendoza, Commander of the Spanish troops, and that general himself, had their families with them. In short, the younger son of my ancestor fell in love with one of the Spanish general’s nieces, asked her in marriage, and obtained her hand; while his sister consented, by the persuasion of the Duchess of Montpensier, to give hers to one of the general’s aides-de-camp. The artificial and politic duchess, thought by these alliances to keep the French nobility aloof from him whom she called, the Béarnais and the Huguenot, and retard his triumph if she did not render it impossible. As usually happens in such cases, her calculations proved to be false. The king re-conquered his kingdom, and those gentlemen most compromised in the troubles of the league, found themselves compelled to follow the Spaniards on their retreat, and leave France with them. My ancestor easily obtained his pardon of the king, who even deigned at a later date to give him an important command, and take his elder son into his service; but the younger, in spite of the entreaties and injunction of his father, never consented to return to France, and settled permanently in Spain. Still, though separated, the two branches of the family continued to maintain relations, and to intermarry. My grandfather married during the emigration a daughter of the Spanish branch: it is now my turn to contract a similar alliance. You see, my dear sir, that all this is very prosaic, and not at all interesting.”
“Then you are willing, with your eyes shut as it were, to marry a person you have never seen, and whom you do not even know?”
“What would you have? So matters are; my consent is useless in the affair; the engagement was solemnly made by my father, and I must honour his word. Besides,” he added with a smile, “my presence here proves to you that I did not hesitate to obey. Perhaps, had my will been free, I should not have contracted this union; unfortunately it did not depend on me, and I was obliged to conform to my father’s wishes. However, I must confess to you that having been brought up with the continual prospect of this marriage, and knowing it to be inevitable, I have gradually accustomed myself to the thought of contracting it, and the sacrifice is not so great to me as you might suppose.”
“No matter,” Oliver said with some degree of rudeness; “to the deuce with nobility and fortune if they impose such obligations—better a life of adventure in the desert and poor independence; at any rate you are your own master.”
“I am perfectly of your opinion; but for all that, I must bow my head. Now, will you permit me to ask you a question?”
“Of course, most readily—two if you like.”
“How is it that we—who met by accident at the French hotel in Veracruz, just after I had landed—have become so quickly and intimately attached?”
“As for that, it is impossible for me to answer. You pleased me at first sight, your manner attracted me. I offered you my services; you accepted them, and we started together for Mexico. That is the whole story. When we arrive there we shall separate, doubtless, never to meet again, and all will be settled.”
“Oh! Oh! Mr. Oliver, permit me to believe that you are mistaken; that, on the contrary, we shall meet frequently, and that our acquaintance will soon become a solid friendship.”
The other shook his head several times.
“My lord,” he said at length, “you are a gentleman, rich, and of good standing in the world; while I am but an adventurer, of whose past life you are ignorant, and whose name you scarce know, even supposing the one I bear at this moment is real; our positions are too different; there is between us a line of demarcation too distinctly traced for us ever to stand on a footing of suitable equality toward each other. So soon as we have re-entered civilisation, I feel—for I am older than you, and have a greater experience of the world—that I should soon become a burden to you; hence do not insist on this point, but let us both remain in our place. This, be convinced, will be better both for you and me. I am at this moment your guide rather than your friend, and this position is the only one that suits me: leave it to me.”
The count was preparing to reply; but Oliver sharply seized his arm.
“Silence,” he said; “listen—”
“I hear nothing,” the young man remarked at the end of a moment.
“That is true,” the other replied with a smile; “your ears are not like mine, open to every sound that troubles the silence of the desert; a carriage is rapidly coming up from the direction of Orizaba, and is following the same route as ourselves; you will soon see it appear, for I can perfectly distinguish the tinkling of the mule bells.”
“It is doubtless the Veracruz diligence, in which my servants and luggage are, and which we are only a few hours ahead of.”
“Perhaps it is; perhaps it is not. I should be surprised if it had caught us up so quickly.”
“What does it matter to us?” the count said.
“Nothing, that is true, if it is the diligence,” the other replied after a moment’s reflection; “at any rate it i

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