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country around is unbounded, and that I have already laid almost all the people under obligations to me?'
• Well, then,' exclaimed Ferdinando, with a sigh, 'I will tell you my story, though with little hope that you can in any way extricate me from my difficulty.
• You know the excellent widow Isabella D'Estremar, and her daughter Julia, who reside in the little white cottage, embowered in the orange grove by the narrow path near the foot of the mountain, and not far from your castle. I have seen you there once or twice, and have often heard them both speak in the most enthusiastic terms, not only of your general benevolence, but of your especial kindness to them in their humble though not entirely destitute condition. They were formerly in better, although not affluent, circumstances, during the life of the father and husband; and Julia had received the education and accomplishments appropriate to her sex and station. Soon after their retirement to the little cottage, I was pursuing my sports upon the mountains, when I came to a rivulet that ran brawling and sparkling down a wooded ravine, rejoicing in its own liquid music, and its covert of trees, like a wild bird warbling in its green protecting bower. I paused to enjoy the sweet sounds that seemed attuned to a harmony in my own bosom, amid the solemn stillness of the mountain height, rendered more impressive by the gentle shadow that brooded over its steep declivities, and the intense sunshine that slept upon the plain below.
• I loved such scenes with an absorbing but undefined passion, and my whole soul was gushing with sweet but inexplicable emotions. While under this magical influence, and just as I was penetrating the covert of trees to the rivulet, I beheld seated upon the opposite bank a beautiful maiden, with a book in one hand, which she was reading, and the other slightly raising her garments from the water, while she bathed her naked foot, of snowy whiteness and exquisite proportions, in the cool and gurgling stream. A sudden thrill penetrated my bosom, that made my heart beat audibly, and I stood for a few moments perfectly entranced. As soon as I could in the least command my overpowered senses and scattered reflections, I determined not to surprise her, or make her aware of my presence, until she should change her position. After waiting in perfect silence some minutes, persuading myself in the mean time, with much difficulty, that she could not hear the throbbing of my heart, she removed her foot, that seemed like white marble dropping crystals, from the sparkling water, and covering it, arose, apparently to depart. Though determined not to let her retire without seeing me, when I made the attempt to discover myself I seemed rooted immoveably to the spot, and could scarcely command strength enough to break a twig, whose rustling betrayed my approach to the startled damsel. The spell being now partly broken, my limbs recovered their functions, and I rushed toward her, reaching forth my arms, and imploring her not to be alarmed. As she turned her face toward me, hesitating whether to stop or go on, the rich auburn hair fell over her glowing cheeks and snowy shoulders, and from beneath their covert her dark flashing eyes poured their light with double fascination into my enraptured heart. You may say, perhaps, that it was this exquisite combination
of sweet natural influences which I had been enjoying, that rendered my heart at that moment so susceptible to her charms : perhaps it was so; yet you need but to know Julia D'Estremar, for it was she whom I had thus met, to feel that she is in all respects worthy of the intense love which I so suddenly conceived for her.
'I was not long in making known to her the emotions of my heart, nor in securing the entire affections of her own ; and as my father had always been exceedingly indulgent to all my wishes, I saw no bar to my complete happiness. Judge of my surprise and grief, then, when I tell you, that when, with an exulting and confident heart, I went to that parent, hitherto so kind, to inform him of my bliss, and reveal to him my wishes, I received his severe reproaches and flat refusal! He ridiculed what he called my silly romantic adventure ; said Julia was poor, and unfit to match with a young man of my pretensions ; and finally concluded by saying, that I must instantly abandon all future intercourse with her, for he had provided a match for me in the daughter of an old friend of his, a rich merchant of Tarragona, on the other side of the mountains. Indeed, so determined and precipitate is my father in this business, that, although it is now but three days since he first was informed of my ill-fated passion, he has already despatched a messenger to Tamagona, to request Don Antonio Tamara, the rich merchant, to bring his daughter Inez to the church at Bexar, to be married to me lomorrow. In fact, Don Antonio is doubtless now on his way hither, with his daughter and her rich dowry, and will reach here across the mountains early in the morning. You see, then, good Seignior, that I have great cause for unhappiness, inasmuch as I have to choose instantly between disobeying the kindest of parents, with the loss of my inberitance, and marrying one whom I cannot love, with the loss of one who is the idol of my heart.'
Indeed, my good young friend,' said the sympathizing Don Vincente, ‘you are in a strait, to be sure; but think you it is the poverty of Julia alone that prevents your father giving his consent to your marriage ?'
• This at first was no doubt the only cause,' replied Ferdinando; .but perhaps he has committed himself so far with Don Antonio, that he will now persist on that account.'
• Well, Ferdinando,' said Don Vincente, perhaps, after all, Don Antonio may be detained, and not arrive to-morrow; and if so, I will contrive some way to break off this unlucky engagement. How large was the dowry that Don Antonio was to give with his daughter ?!
• Ten thousand dollars,' replied Ferdinando. * This is a large sum, in the present state of my finances,' said Don Vincente, musing; but take comfort, Ferdinando: if all the other difficulties can be mastered, I will raise the same sum for a dowry to your beloved Julia.'
Noble benefactor !' exclaimed Ferdinando, 'I cannot accept so heavy an obligation from you, even to gain so rich a prize.'
Nay, I shall not ask your leave,' said Don Vincente, smiling ; 'it is Julia that is to accept the gift, not you.'
So saying, the good Don Vincente left the young lover, half hoping, half despairing, and made his way to the castle.
Night soon closed in, and heavy black clouds were drifting rapidly through the sky, at intervals covering and revealing the crescent moon, while the sultry wind howled around the battlements and towers of the castle, and the tops of the forest trees. It was a dismal night, and occasionally, as if by convulsive fits, the pattering rain, which fell in heavy drops, pressed from the clouds like big tears from some suppressed agony, rustled mournfully among the forest leaves, or beat fitfully against the bald projecting rocks.
Don Antonio Tamara pressed his daughter closer to his bosom, and cast frequent glances back upon his servant, who rode close behind, well armed, as the howling of the wind seemed to increase, and they approached the more desolate and gloomy passes of the mountain.
• Keep a good look out, Pedro,' said Don Antonio to his servant, and be ready with your pistols at a moment's warning; for I hear there have been of late frequent attacks of robbers upon wayfarers on these wild mountains, notwithstanding all the efforts of the worthy Alcayde d'Almanzor, and the good Don Vincente, to suppress them. Do not tremble so, Inez; I really do not suppose there is any danger, and no doubt the rumors are much exaggerated.'
Thus saying, Don Antonio and his little party descended a declivity in the rough road, into a kind of ravine, overbung on each side by large masses of rock, covered with a thick growth of dark evergreens, and presenting in every aspect a very forbidding appearance.
Don Antonio kept a sharp look-out, for he felt more apprehension than he was willing to acknowledge; and at a slight turn in the road, he thought he discovered some object moving among the clefts of the rocks above and just before him. He stopped suddenly, to assure himself of the fact, but all he could see was an indistinct, dark mass, which appeared immoveable, and which he concluded must be the shadow of a rock, or tree, or cloud, to which the turn in the road, or the fitfulness of the moonlight, bad given the appearance of motion. Thus assured, he proceeded a little farther, still keeping bis eye fixed on the suspicious-looking object, when suddenly he saw the gleam of the moonlight upon some weapon, and in an instant, the flash of a pistol threw a lurid glare through the ravine, and its sharp, spiteful sound reverberated among the hills. The warm blood gushed from the bosom of Don Antonio upon his daughter, who sat on the horse before him, and the animal was plunging with fright, when the dark figure jumped from the cliff into the road, seized the rein, and supporting the relaxing frame of the father, and the fainting form of the daughter, he gently laid them both upon the ground. All this was done with such rapidity, that the astonished Pedro, who rode up behind, had a pistol at his breast before he had time to discover what had happened.
• Peace, slave!' said the robber; 'I would not take human life unnecessarily; and I will spare yours, if you will promise me straightway to take this young damsel back to her home. All I wish is the money your master brought with him.'
Pedro was not a coward, but he had not self-possession to prepare
himself for danger in time, and his life was at the mercy
of another, before he could collect his scattered senses. Seeing his young mistress had fainted, and was lying on her father's bleeding bosom, with the struggling moonbeams rendering her pale face still more pallid and death-like, he promised every thing the robber required, gave up his weapons, and betook himself to assisting his captor in restoring her consciousness. While they both were thus engaged, slooping over the fair unconscious being, the mask which the robber wore partly fell off from his face, and gave Pedro a glimpse of his features. He hastily restored il to its position, but a glance taken at such a moment could not fail to make a deep impression. The robber was most assiduous in his efforts for the restoration of the maiden, and having finally succeeded, he placed her back upon the saddle, and turning their horses' heads the way they came, he bade both mistress and servant God speed to Tarragona. Much did the daughter plead for her father's body, but the bandit said they should not encumber themselves with it that night; but if they would send for it the next day, they would find it near the spot, carefully protected against farther injury. After Pedro and his mistress were fairly out of sight, the robber proceeded to gather up his booty, and rapidly disappeared through a by-path across the mountain.
Early the next morning, the alcayde began to prepare for the arrival of his friend Don Antonio, and for the approaching nuptials of
The day wore away till past noon, but brought no tidings of his friend and the bride with her rich dowry, and the worthy magistrate began to feel somewhat nettled and impatient. The good Don Vincente bad been some time in the village, and foreseeing what would be the feelings of the alcayde at this apparent slight and delay on the part of the rich merchant, thought it a good time to address him in behalf of Ferdinando and Julia. He had called at the widow's cottage, on his way to the village in the morning, and bestowed upon the fair Julia the same dowry that Don Antonio had promised to give his daughter. The alcayde entertained the highest respect for Don Vincente ; but when he saw him coming, he supposed that the benevolent cavalier was going to trouble him about the old business of the robbers, and he did not feel in an humor for it just at this
moment, when his mind was agitated by the non-appearance of Don Antonio. But Don Vincente knew very well what was passing in the mind of the worthy magistrate, and had sufficient sagacity to approach him with the most adroit and skilful address. He began by complimenting him upon the tact and judgment he had discovered in forming so advantageous an alliance for his son, and was indignant at the suspicion that had begun to be whispered about in the village, that the rich merchant was after all going to jilt them. He continued, by discussing various little points of etiquette and ceremony proper to be observed on such occasions, and occupied some time in general and desultory conversation ; and finally, after the impatience of the magistrate began to assume the character of indignation, he ended by adroitly insinuating, that there were other as good matches for his son as that with Don Antonio's daughter; and that for one, he should like to see the rich merchant mortified
by forming another as good an alliance for the young and gallant Ferdinando.
The alcayde, whose ruling passion was pride, and whose wrath waxed fiercer and fiercer every moment, began to feel almost willing in his heart that his son should marry the poor widow's daughter, in order to avenge his old friend's neglect; and was of course very easily persuaded to consent to it, when he found that she had a dowry of ten thousand dollars. Don Vincente, finding his triumph complete, hastened to the young lovers, and communicated his success, while the liveliest emotions of joy swelled his heart, and beamed in his open and benevolent countenance. The twain were at once united in wedlock; and it was universally remarked, that it was difficult to determine who were the happiest, the kind Don Vincente, or the youthful lovers.
As soon as the murder and robbery of the rich merchant Don Antonio was bruited abroad, Don Vincente hastened to the alcayde, manifesting the greatest consternation at the event, and the deepest interest in putting an effectual stop to all farther outrages of the kind. He offered at once to arm his servants and retainers, and to post them himself every night, as a patrol, under his own particular supervision, at the most dangerous passes of the mountains. The worthy magistrate was overwhelmed at this act of patriotic generosity; and as the troops of the government were at a great distance, and much needed in other quarters, he thankfully accepted the proffered aid, and vested Don Vincente with full power to protect the whole mountain region. He entered at once upon the discharge of his new duties with great zeal. He posted a great number of his retainers, thoroughly armed, at such parts of the mountain passes as he thought most needed protection, with strict orders for none of the parties to leave their posts, under any circumstances, even though they heard firing in other directions, lest the discipline and order of his arrangements should be disturbed. Thus night after night did he establish the patrol on the mountains, and was often observed himself to go from post to post, frequently depriving himself of sleep all night, in his zeal to render his plan of protection complete. But notwithstanding all these efforts and plans, the robberies and murders continued to increase in frequency, and the whole matter seemed involved in the most impenetrable mystery. Although the posts were changed nearly every night, the perpetrators appeared to know, as if by intuition, the parts that were left unguarded. In one or two instances, the noise of the affray between the robbers and the travellers was heard by some of the patrolling parties; but as it was beyond their beat, and the sounds might proceed from another patrol, their instructions from their master precluded their interference.
The mystery grew more extraordinary every day, and various conjectures were made as to the cause, by different persons, according to their fancy, their temperament, or their respective degrees of sagacity and information. Some of the more ignorant and superstitious began to surmise that some evil spirits, or perchance the Evil One himself, haunted the mountains; others, more enlightened, considered that they must be in human shape, as the tracks left behind exhibited no obliquity : some, who possessed fertility of invention,