A Drama in Mexico
|A Drama in Mexico (1851)
by , translated by W. H. G. Kingston
FROM GUAJAN TO ACAPULCO
On the 18th of October, 1825, the Asia, a high-built Spanish ship, and the Constanzia, a brig of eighteen guns, cast anchor off the island of Guajan, one of the Mariannas. The crews of these vessels, badly-fed, ill-paid, and harassed with fatigue during the six months occupied by their passage from Spain, had been secretly plotting a mutiny.
The spirit of insubordination more especially exhibited itself on board the Constanzia, commanded by Captain Don Orteva, a man of iron will, whom nothing could bend. The brig had been impeded in her progress by several serious accidents, so unforseen that they could alone, it was evident, have been caused by intentional malice. The Asia, commanded by Don Roque de Guzuarte, had been compelled consequently to put into port with her. One night the compass was broken, no one knew how; on another the shrouds of the foremast gave way as if they had been cut, and the mast with all its rigging fell over the side. Lastly, during important maneuvers, on two occasions the rudder-ropes broke in the most unaccountable manner.
Don Orteva had especially to keep an eye on two men of his crew - his lieutenant Martinez and Jose the captain of the maintop. Lieutenant Martinez, who had already compromised his character as an officer by joining in the cabals of the forecastle, had in consequence been several times under arrest, and during his imprisonment, the midshipman Pablo had done duty as lieutenant of the Constanzia.
Young Pablo was one of those gallant natures whose generosity prompts them to dare anything. He was an orphan who, saved and brought up by Captain Orteva, would readily have given his life for that of his benefactor.
The evening before they were to leave Guajan, Lieutenant Martinez went to a low tavern, where he met several petty officers, and seamen of both ships.
"Comrades!" exclaimed Martinez, "thanks to the accidents which so opportunely happened, the ship and the brig were compelled to put into port, and I have been enabled to come here that I might discuss secretly with you some important matters!"
"Bravo!" replied the party of men, with one voice.
"Speak, lieutenant," exclaimed several of the sailors, "and let us hear your plans."
"This is my scheme," answered Martinez. "As soon as we shall have made ourselves masters of the two vessels, we will steer a course for the coast of Mexico. You must know that the new Confederation possesses no ships of war; she will, therefore, be eager to buy our ships without asking questions, and not only shall we regularly receive our pay for the future, but the price we obtain for the ships will be fairly divided among us."
"And what shall be the signal for acting in concert on board the two ships?" asked Jose the topman.
"A rocket fired from the Asia," answered Martinez; "that shall be the moment for action. We are ten to one, and the officers of the ship and the brig will be made prisoners before they will have time to know what is happening."
"When shall we look out for the signal?" asked one of the boatswain's mates of the Constanzia.
"In a few days hence, when we shall be off the island of Mindanao."
"But the Mexicans, will they not receive our ships with' cannon shots?" inquired Jose in a hesitating tone. "If I mistake not, the Confederation has issued a decree to prohibit any Spanish ships from entering her harbors, and instead of gold it will be iron and lead they will be sending on board us!"
"Don't trouble yourself about that, Jose. We will let them know who we are from a distance," answered Martinez.
"How is that to be done?"
"By hoisting the Mexican colors at the gaffs of our ships;" and saying this. Lieutenant Martinez displayed before the eyes of the mutineers, a green, white, and red flag.
The exhibition of this emblem of Mexican independence was received with gloomy silence.
"Do you already regret the flag of Spain?" cried the lieutenant in a mocking tone. "Very well, let those who feel such regrets at once separate from us, and pleasantly continue the voyage under the orders of Captain Don Roque, or Commander Don Orteva. As for us, who do not wish any longer to obey them, we shall soon find the means of rendering them helpless."
"We'll stick by you," cried the whole party with one accord.
During this time Don Orteva was sadly troubled with sinister forebodings. He was well aware how completely fallen was the Spanish navy; that insubordination had greatly contributed to its destruction. On the other hand his patriotism would not allow him to reflect calmly on the successive reverses which had overtaken his country, to which, as it seemed to him, the revolt of the Mexican States had put the finishing stroke. He was frequently in the habit of conversing with the midshipman Pablo on these serious matters, and he especially took a satisfaction in talking to him of the former supremacy of the Spanish navy in every part of the ocean.
"My boy," said he one day, "we have no longer discipline among our sailors. There are, especially, signs of mutiny on board this vessel; and it is possible - indeed I have a foreboding - that some abominable treason will deprive me of life! But you will avenge me, will you not? You will at the same time avenge Spain; for will not the blow which strikes me, be really aimed at her?"
"I swear it, Captain Orteva!" answered Pablo.
"Do not make yourself the enemy of anyone on board the brig, but remember when the day comes, my boy - that unhappy time - the best mode of serving one's country is first to watch, and then to chastise, the wretched beings who would betray her."
"I promise you that I will die!" answered the midshipman, "yes, that I will die, should it be necessary, to punish the traitors!"
Pablo went below. Martinez remained alone on the poop and turned his eyes toward the Asia, which was sailing to leeward of the brig. The evening was magnificent, and presaged one of those lovely nights in the tropics which are both fresh and calm.
The lieutenant endeavored to ascertain in the gloom who were the men on watch. He recognized Jose and those sailors with whom he had held the meeting at the island of Guajan. Martinez immediately approached the man at the helm. He spoke two words to him in a low voice, and that was all. But it might have been observed that the helm was put a little more a-weather than before, so that the brig sensibly drew nearer the larger ship.
Contrary to the usual custom on board ship, Martinez paced up and down on the lee side, in order that he might obtain an uninterrupted view of the Asia. Restless and agitated, he kept turning a speaking-trumpet round and round in his hand.
Suddenly a report was heard on board the ship.
At this signal Martinez leaped on to the hammock-nettings, and in a loud voice, "All hands on deck!" he cried. "Brail up the courses!"
At that moment Don Orteva, followed by his officers, came out of his cabin, and addressing himself to the lieutenant, "Why was that order given?"
At this moment some fresh reports were heard from on board the Asia.
Don Orteva, turning to the few men who remained near him, "Stand by me, my brave lads!" he cried. And advancing towards Martinez, "Seize that officer!" he exclaimed.
"Death to the commander!" replied Martinez.
Pablo and two officers drew their swords and held their pistols in their hands. Some seamen, led by the honest boatswain Jacopo, were rushing to their support, but, quickly stopped by the mutineers, were disarmed and rendered incapable of giving assistance.
The marines and the crew, drawn up across the entire width of the deck, advanced towards their officers. The men who had remained staunch to their duty, driven into a corner of the poop, had but one course to take - it was to throw themselves on the mutineers. Don Orteva pointed the muzzle of his pistol at Martinez.
At that moment a rocket was seen to rise from the deck of the Asia.
"Our friends have succeeded!" cried Martinez.
The bullet from Don Orteva's pistol was lost in space. The captain crossed swords with the lieutenant, but, overwhelmed by numbers and severely wounded, he was borne to the deck. His officers in a few seconds shared his fate.
Blue lights were now let off in the rigging of the brig, and replied to by others from the Asia. The mutiny had at the same moment broken out and proved triumphant on board the ship. Lieutenant Martinez was master of the Constanzia, and his prisoners were thrust pell mell into the main cabin.
"To the yard-arm with them!" shouted several of the most savage.
"Trice them up, trice them up! Dead men tell no tales!"
Lieutenant Martinez, at the head of these bloodthirsty mutineers, was rushing towards the main cabin, but the rest of the crew strongly objected to so cruel a massacre, and the officers were saved.
"Bring Don Orteva up on deck," cried Martinez.
His orders were obeyed; and the captain was bound to the rail of the brig, concealed by the mainsail. While there he was heard to shout out to his lieutenant, "Oh, you scoundrel! You base traitor!"
Martinez, losing all control over himself, leaped on the poop with an axe in his hand. Being prevented from reaching the captain, with a single vigorous stroke he cut the main sheet. The main boom, forced violently by the wind, struck the hapless Don Orteva on the head, and he fell lifeless on the deck.
A cry of horror rose from the crew of the brig.
"His death was accidental!" exclaimed Lieutenant Martinez. "Heave the body overboard!"
The two vessels, keeping close together, ran towards the coast of Mexico. The next morning an island was seen abeam. The boats of the Asia and Constanzia were lowered, and the officers, with the exception of the midshipman Pablo and Jacopo the boatswain, who had both submitted to Martinez, were landed on its desert shore. But a few days subsequently they were all happily taken off by an English whaler and conveyed to Manilla.
Some weeks after the events which have been described, the two vessels anchored in the Bay of Monterey, on the coast of Old California. Martinez, going on shore, informed the military governor of the port of his intentions. He offered to carry to Mexico the two Spanish vessels with their stores and guns, and to place their crews at the command of the Confederation. In return, all he asked was that the Mexican government should pay the whole of the wages due to them since they quitted Spain.
In reply to these overtures, the governor said that he had not sufficient authority to treat with him. He recommended Martinez to sail for Mexico, where he could himself easily settle the matter. The lieutenant followed this advice, and leaving the Asia at Monterey, after a month devoted to pleasure on shore, he again sailed in the Constanzia. Pablo, Jacopo, and Jose formed part of the crew of the brig, which with a fair wind under all sail, made the best of her way for the port of Acapulco.
FROM ACAPULCO TO CIGUALAN
Of the four ports which Mexico possesses on the side of the Pacific Ocean, namely, San Blas, Zacatula, Tehuantepec, and Acapulco, the last offers the greatest accommodation to shipping. The town, it is true, is badly built and unhealthy, but the anchorage is secure, and the harbor can easily contain a hundred vessels. Lofty cliffs shelter the ships at anchor from every wind, and form so tranquil a basin, that a stranger arriving by land looks down upon what he may suppose to be a lake surrounded by mountains.
Acapulco was at this time protected by three forts flanking it on the right side, while the entrance was defended by a battery of seven guns which could, when necessary, cross their fire at a right angle with those of Fort San Diego. That fort, armed with thirty pieces of artillery, completely commanded the harbor, and would inevitably have sent to the bottom any craft which might have attempted to force an entrance into the port.
The town had therefore nothing to fear, notwithstanding which, a universal panic seized the inhabitants three months after the events which have just been related.
It happened thus: A ship was signaled approaching the port. So completely did the people of Acapulco doubt the intentions of the stranger, that nothing would make them believe that she came as a friend. That which the new Confederation mostly feared, and not without reason, was to be again brought under the dominion of Spain. This was because, notwithstanding that a treaty of commerce had been signed with Great Britain, and a charge d'affaires had arrived from London, which court had acknowledged the Republic, the Mexican Government did not possess a single ship to protect their coast. However that might be, the strange vessel was evidently some hardy adventurer, which the northwesterly gales, blustering on their shores from the autumnal equinox to the spring, had probably driven hither with shivered canvas.
If this was not the case, the people of Acapulco could not tell what to think, and at all events they were making every possible preparation to resist the expected attack of the stranger, when the suspicious vessel ran up to her peak the flag of Mexican independence!
Having got to about half cannon-shot from the port, the Constanzia, whose name could be clearly read on her counter, suddenly came to an anchor, her sails were furled, and a boat, which was at once lowered, pulled rapidly towards the harbor.
Lieutenant Martinez, having disembarked from her, proceeded at once to the governor, to whom he explained the circumstances which brought him to the place. The latter highly approved of the resolution taken by the lieutenant to join the Mexicans, and assured him that General Guadalupe, President of the Confederation, would certainly agree to purchase the two vessels.
No sooner was the news known in the town than the people broke out into transports of joy. The whole population turned out to admire the first vessel of the Mexican navy, and saw in their new possession, with this proof of the disorganization prevailing in the Spanish service, the means of more completely defeating all fresh attempts which might be made by their former and much hated oppressors to overcome them.
Martinez returned on board the brig. Some hours afterwards the Constanzia was anchored in the port, and her crew were quartered among the inhabitants of Acapulco. When, however, Martinez called over the roll of his followers, neither Pablo nor Jacopo answered to their names. They had both disappeared!
The following day two horsemen set out from Acapulco on the deserted and mountainous road for Mexico City. The horsemen were Martinez and Jose. The sailor was well acquainted with the road. He had on numerous occasions climbed these mountains of Anahuac. So well did he know it, that although an Indian guide had offered his services they had been declined.
"Let us ride faster!" said Martinez, sticking his spurs into his horse's flanks. "I have my doubts about this disappearance of Pablo and Jacopo. Can they mean to make the bargain for themselves, and rob us of our shares?"
"By St. Jago! they won't be very far wrong there," sulkily replied the seaman. "It will be a case of thieves robbing thieves, such as we are."
"How many days will it take us to reach Mexico?"
"Four or five, lieutenant - a mere walk; but not so fast; you surely see what a steep hill there is before us."
In reality they had reached the first slopes which form the sides of the mountains rising above the wide plains.
"Our horses are not shod," said the seaman, pulling up, "and their hoofs will soon be worn out on these granite rocks."
"Let us push on," exclaimed Martinez, setting the example. "Our horses come from the farms of Southern Mexico, and in their journeys across the Savannahs they are unaccustomed to these inequalities in the ground. Let us profit therefore by the evenness of the road, and make the best of our way out of these vast solitudes, which are not formed to put us in good spirits."
"Does Lieutenant Martinez feel any remorse?" asked Jose, shrugging his shoulders.
Martinez fell back into perfect silence, and the two travelers made their steeds move on at a rapid trot. The sun had sunk beneath the horizon when they reached the village of Cigualan. The village is composed of a few huts inhabited by poor Indians, who are generally known as tame Indians - that is to say, they cultivate the soil.
The two Spaniards were received with but scant hospitality. The Indians recognized them as belonging to the nation of their ancient oppressors, and showed themselves but little inclined to render them assistance. This was in consequence of the fact, that two other travelers had a short time before passed through the village, and had laid violent hands on the small amount of available food which they could discover. The lieutenant and his comrade paid no attention to these circumstances, which indeed appeared to them nothing extraordinary.
In a short time they secured food, and dined, as men do after a long journey, with sharp appetites. The repast finished, they stretched themselves on the ground with their daggers in their hands; they then, notwithstanding the hardness of their couches, and the incessant biting of the mosquitos, overcome by fatigue, quickly fell asleep.
During the night Martinez frequently started up and, in an agitated voice, repeated the names of Jacopo and Pablo, whose disappearance so completely occupied his mind.
FROM CIGUALAN TO CUERNAVACA
The next morning at daybreak, the horses were saddled and bridled. The travelers, taking a worn-away path which wound like a serpent before them, directed their course towards the east, where the sun was just then seen ascending above the mountain tops.
"When shall we get over the mountains, Jose?"
"By to-morrow evening, lieutenant, and from their summit - although too far off it is true - we shall perceive the end of our journey, that golden town of Mexico. Do you know what I am thinking of, lieutenant?"
Martinez did not reply.
"I ask myself what can have become of the officers of the ship and brig which we abandoned on the desert island."
Martinez trembled. "I do not know," he answered sullenly.
"I most heartily hope that all those great persons have died of hunger," continued Jose," or perhaps when we landed them, some of them may have tumbled into the sea, and there is on those shores a kind of shark - the tintorea, who never lets anybody escape him. Holy Mary! should Captain Don Orteva have come to life he may have the chance of being swallowed up by a fish. But, happily, his head was struck by the mainboom, and by the noise it made must have been completely crushed."
"Hold your tongue!" replied Martinez.
The sailor rode on with closed mouth. "See what curious scruples this man has," said Jose to himself; he then added in his usual voice, "On my return I shall settle down in this charming country of Mexico, where one can enjoy, without stint, these beautiful ananas and bananas, and where one can eat off plates of gold and silver."
"Was it for this you mutinied?" asked Martinez.
"Why not, lieutenant? it was an affair of dollars."
"Ah!" exclaimed Martinez with disgust.
"And you, why did you mutiny?" inquired Jose.
"I! It was an affair of wounded honor. The lieutenant wished to be revenged on his captain."
"Ah!" exclaimed Jose with contempt.
There was not much difference between these two men whatever were their motives.
"Hold!" cried Martinez, pulling up short, "what do I see down there?"
Jose rode towards the edge of the cliff. "I can see no one," he replied.
"I saw a man suddenly disappear," repeated Martinez.
"I did see him," replied the lieutenant impatiently.
"Very well, look for him at your leisure," and Jose continued to ride on.
Martinez proceeded towards a clump of mangroves, the branches of which, taking root as they touched the ground, formed an impenetrable thicket. The lieutenant dismounted. It was a perfect solitude. Suddenly he perceived a spiral form moving about in the shade. It was a small species of serpent, the head held fast under a piece of rock, while the hinder part twisted about as if it had been galvanized.
"There has been someone here," cried the lieutenant. Guilty and superstitious, he looked around in every direction. He began to tremble. "Who, who can they be?" he murmured.
"Well! what is the matter?" asked Jose, who had now rejoined him.
"It is nothing," answered Martinez; "let us go on."
The evening approached. Martinez followed some paces behind his guide Jose, and the latter, not without difficulty, found his way in the midst of the increasing darkness.
Looking out for a practicable path, swearing now at a stump against which he ran, now at the branch of a tree which struck him, threatening to put out the excellent cigar he was smoking, the lieutenant let his horse follow that of his companion. Useless remorse agitated him, and he gave himself up to the melancholy forebodings with which he was oppressed.
The night had now completely set in. The travelers pushed forward. They traversed without stopping, the little villages of Contepec and Iguala, and at length arrived at the town of Tasco. Here, little as they relished their food, their hunger was satisfied, and fatigue made even Martinez and Jose sleep until an hour after sunrise the next morning.
The lieutenant was the first to awake. "Let us start, Jose," he cried out.
The two Spaniards hastened to the stable, ordered their horses to be saddled, filled their saddle-bags with cakes of maize, grenadas, and dried meat, for among the mountains they would run a great risk of finding nothing to eat. The bill paid, they mounted their beasts and took the road once more.
"Have we nothing to fear among these solitudes?" asked Martinez.
"Nothing, excepting it may be a Mexican dagger!"
"That is true," answered Martinez, "the Indians of these elevated regions are still attached to the use of the dagger."
"Yes, indeed," replied the seaman, laughing. "What a number of words they have to designate their favorite arm - estoqe, verdugo, puna, anchillo, beldoque, navaja. The names come as quickly to their lips as the dagger does to their hands. Very well! so much the better. Holy Mary! at least we shall not have to fear those invisible balls from long carbines. I do not know anything more provoking than not to be able to discover the wretch who has killed one!"
"Who are the Indians who inhabit these mountains?" asked Martinez.
"Indeed, lieutenant, who can count the different races which have multiplied so rapidly in this El Dorado of Mexico? Just consider the various crosses, which I have studied carefully, with the intention of some day making an advantageous marriage. We here find the Mestisa, born of a Spaniard and an Indian woman; the Castisa, of a Castilian woman and a Spaniard; the Mulatto, of a Spanish woman and a Negro; the Monisque, born of a Mulatto woman and a Spaniard; the Albino, of a Monisque woman and a Spaniard; the Tintinclaire, of a Tornatras man and a Spanish woman; the Lovo, born of an Indian woman and a Negro; the Caribujo, of an Indian woman and a Lovo; the Barsino, born of a Coyote and a Mulatto woman; the Grifo, born of a Negress and a Lovo; the Albarazado, born of a Coyote and an Indian woman; the Chanesa, born of a Metis and an Indian man; the Mechino, born of a Lovo and a Coyote!"
Jose spoke the truth; the mixture of races in this country causes wonderful difficulties to anthropological students. Notwithstanding this learned conversation of the seaman, Martinez continually fell again into his previous taciturnity; he indeed sometimes pushed on ahead of his companion, whose presence seemed to annoy him.
In a short time two torrents crossed the road before them. The lieutenant pulled up at the first, disappointed on seeing that its bed was dry, for he had reckoned on watering his horse at it.
"Here we are, in a fix, lieutenant, without food and without water!" exclaimed Jose. "Never mind; follow me. We will look among these rocks and cliffs for the tree which is called the 'ahuehuelt,' which advantageously takes the place of the wisps of straw which decorate the fronts of inns. Under its shade one can always enjoy a cool draught, and, in a word, it is not only what some call water, but it is the wine of the desert."
The horsemen hunted about, and before long discovered the tree in question, but the promised fountain had been emptied, and they discovered it must have been visited only a short time previously.
"It is singular," observed Jose.
"It is indeed singular," said Martinez, growing pale. "Let us push forward."
The country now assumed an extremely rugged aspect. Gigantic peaks rose up before them, their basaltic summits stopping the clouds wafted by the winds from the Pacific. Doubling a large rock there appeared high above them the Fort of Cochicalcho, built by the ancient Mexicans on a spot elevated nineteen thousand feet above the sea. The travelers directed their course towards the base of this vast cone, which was crowned by tottering rocks and crumbling ruins.
After having dismounted and fastened their horses to the trunk of a tree, Martinez and Jose, wishing to ascertain the direction of their road, climbed up to the summit of the cone, assisted by the ruggedness of the sides.
Night now coming on made the outline of objects appear very indistinct, and assume the most fantastic forms. The old fort did not ill-resemble an enormous bison, crouching down, its head immovable; but as Martinez looked at the figure, his disordered imagination made him fancy that he saw the body of the monstrous animal move. He did not, however, say anything lest he should lay himself open to the railleries of the unscrupulous Jose. The latter hastily made his way round a part of the hill, and after he had disappeared for some time behind some broken fragments, he summoned his companion with the loudness of his "Saint Iagos!" and "Saint Marias!"
All of a sudden, an enormous night-bird, uttering a hoarse shriek, slowly rose on its outstretched wings.
Martinez stopped short; a vast mass of rock was seen to shake about thirty feet above him, then a portion of the mass became detached, and, shattering everything in its passage with the rapidity of a cannon-ball, came crashing downwards, and was engulfed in the abyss below.
"Santa Maria!" cried the seaman. "Hello, lieutenant, what has happened?"
"Here!" The two Spaniards joined each other.
"What a fearful avalanche descended on us!" exclaimed the seaman. Martinez followed him without saying a word, and the two soon regained the lower plateau.
Here a large furrow marked the passage of the rock.
"Santa Maria!" exclaimed Jose. "Look here! Our two horses have disappeared - crushed dead!"
"It is too true!" said Martinez.
"See here!" The tree to which the two animals had been fastened had been indeed carried away with them.
"If we had been under it!" philosophically observed the seaman, with a shrug of his shoulder.
Martinez was seized with a violent feeling of terror. "The serpent! - the fountain! - the avalanche!" he murmured.
Then he turned his haggard eyes on Jose.
"How is it that you do not speak to me of Captain Orteva?" he cried, his lips contracted with anger.
Jose drew back. "Oh, do not talk nonsense, lieutenant! Let us give the finishing stroke to our poor steeds and then push on. It will not do to stop here while the old mountain is combing her hair."
The two Spaniards proceeded on their road without saying a word, and in the middle of the night they arrived at Cuernavaca; but it was impossible to procure horses, so the next morning they directed their course on foot towards the heights of Popocatepetl.
FROM CUERNAVACA TO POPOCATEPETL
The temperature was cold and the country was devoid of vegetation. These inaccessible heights belonged to the icy zones, known as the cold territory. Already the fir trees of the foggy regions showed their withered outlines among the last oaks of these lofty elevations, and springs became more and more rare among the rugged rocks, consisting chiefly of porphyry and granite.
After six long hours the lieutenant and his companion began to drag themselves forward with difficulty, tearing their hands against rough masses of rock, and cutting their feet on the sharp stones in their path. At length fatigue compelled them to sit down. Jose occupied himself in preparing something to eat "What a cursed idea not to have taken the ordinary road!" he murmured.
They both, however, hoped to find at Aracopistla - a village completely shut in among the mountains - the means of transport to enable them to reach the end of their journey. But, after all, they might deceive themselves, and meet with the same want of accommodation and hospitality which they had encountered at Cuernavaca. They must, however, at all events, get there.
The road was fearfully parched and dry; on every side fathomless precipices were to be seen in the sides of the mountains, and rocks appeared ready to fall on the heads of the travelers. To regain the chief road it was necessary to cross a portion of these mountains at a height of five thousand four hundred feet, near a rock known by the Indians as the "smoking rock," for it still exhibited signs of recent volcanic action. Dark chasms yawned on every side. Since the last journey of the seaman Jose some fresh outbreaks had completely changed the appearance of these solitudes, so that he could not recognize them; thus he completely lost himself among the inaccessible cliffs. He stopped to listen to some rumbling sounds which came issuing forth here and there from the cliffs.
"I can do no more!" at length cried Jose, sinking to the ground with fatigue.
"Push on!" cried Martinez with feverish impatience.
Some claps of thunder reverberated amid the gorges of Popocatepetl. "Now may Satan take me, for I may count myself among the lost souls!"
"Rise up and push on," roughly exclaimed Martinez.
He compelled Jose to get up, and the sailor stumbled forward. "And not a human being to guide us," murmured Jose.
"So much the better," observed the lieutenant gruffly as he moved forward.
"You do not know, then, that every year a thousand murders are committed in Mexico, and how many in the environs nobody can calculate!" said Jose.
"So much the better," answered Martinez.
Large drops of rain began to fall on the rocks around them, brightened by the last fading light in the sky.
"The points we lately saw so clearly around us, where are they now?" asked the lieutenant.
"Mexico is on the left, Puebla on the right," replied Jose, "if we could see anything, but nothing can now be distinguished."
It became fearfully dark. "Before us should be the mountain of Icetacihualt, and in the ravine at its base a good road; but what if we should not reach it!"
"Push on!" cried the lieutenant.
The thunder claps were now repeated with extreme violence among the mountains. The rain and the wind, which had hitherto been silent, increased the loudness of the echoes. Jose went swearing on at every step. Lieutenant Martinez, pale and silent, gazed with sinister looks at his companion, whom he regarded as an accomplice he would gladly get rid of.
Suddenly a flash of lightning illuminated the obscurity. The seaman and the lieutenant were on the edge of an abyss.
Martinez hurried up to Jose, and after the last clap of thunder he said to him, "Jose, I am afraid!"
"Do you dread the storm?"
"I do not dread the storm in the sky, Jose; but I fear the storm which agitates my breast!"
"Oh, you are still thinking of Don Orteva! Come on, lieutenant! you make me laugh," answered Jose. He, however, did not laugh, as Martinez surveyed him with his haggard eyes,
A terrible clap of thunder burst over them.
"Hold your tongue! hold your tongue!" cried Martinez, who appeared to be no longer master of himself.
"The night is a favorable one for preaching to me!" replied the seaman. "If you have any fear, lieutenant, shut up your eyes and your ears."
"It seems to me," cried Martinez, "that I see the captain - Don Orteva - with his head crushed - there, there!"
A dark shadow, illuminated the next moment by a flash of lightning, arose within twenty feet of the lieutenant and his companion.
At the same instant Jose saw close to him Martinez, his countenance pale and distorted with passion, his hand grasping a dagger.
"What is there!" he cried out.
A flash of lightning environed them both.
"What! Kill me!" cried Jose. The next moment he fell, a corpse, and Martinez fled in the midst of the tempest, his bloody weapon in his hand.
A few moments afterwards two men hung over the dead body of the seaman, saying, "This is one of them!"
Martinez fled like a madman across the dark solitudes; his head uncovered, regardless of the rain, which came down in torrents.
"Kill! kill!" he shrieked out, stumbling over the slippery rocks.
Suddenly he heard a hoarse sound in the depths beneath his feet. He stopped, knowing that it was the roaring of a torrent.
It was the little river Ixtolucca, which rushed on five hundred feet below him. Some paces off, over the torrent, was thrown a bridge formed of ropes. It was secured on both sides by some piles driven into the rock. The bridge oscillated in the wind like a thread extended in space.
Clinging to the ropes, Martinez made his way across the bridge, and by a great effort he reached the opposite bank.
There, a shadow rose before him.
Martinez retreated, without saying a word, towards the bank he had just left.
There, another human form appeared.
Martinez fell upon his knees in the middle of the bridge, his hands clasped in despair.
"Martinez, I am Pablo!" said a voice.
"Martinez, I am Jacopo!" said another voice.
"You are a traitor! You shall die!"
"You are a murderer! You shall die!"
Two loud blows were heard, the piles which secured the ropes at the extremity of the bridge fell beneath the ax. A horrible shriek rent the air, and Martinez, his hands extended, was precipitated into the abyss.
A league higher up, the midshipman and the boatswain rejoined each other, after having passed by a ford the river Ixtolucca.
"I have avenged Don Orteva!" said Jacopo. "And I," replied Pablo, "have avenged Spain!"
It was thus that the navy of the Mexican Confederation had its origin. The two Spanish ships, delivered up by the traitors, were taken possession of by the new Republic, and became the nucleus of that small fleet which fought unsuccessfully for Texas and California, against the fleet of the United States of America.
|This is a translation and has a separate copyright status from the original text. The license for the translation applies to this edition only.|