« PreviousContinue »
vices, for an untimely intrusion. By your good leave, therefore, we will help to defend these ladies against the robbers,—and as we are men of honour, it shall be left to your own discretion, whether you will bestow them upon us hereafter."
As the young gentleman spoke this with an air of great modesty and sincerity, the Hidalgo thought fit to accept of the assistance that was offered; whereupon they began to consult together on the steps which should be adopted in such an extremity. Accordingly, it was concerted to send for the two traitorous servants, one by one, into the chamber, where, as soon as they entered, they were seized, and bound hand and foot before they could think of any resistance. The wretched men, finding themselves in this dreary plight, and that their lives were at command, began readily to confess all they knew of the plot; adding several particulars which had not been touched upon by Spinello. Amongst other news, it came out
that the banditti had deposited their arms in readiness in a certain hollow oak, which stood in the rear of the house; whereupon the Hidalgo made a vow, inwardly, to cut down that dangerous tree, as he had done before by the chestnuts.
It was towards midnight, when Spinello, with his comrades, approached for the execution of their design. The night was very boisterous, with frequent gusts of wind, that drove the low black clouds with great rapidity across the sky. Thus every now and then there was a short bright glance of the moon, followed, at a few minutes interval, by the most profound shadows; and, by the help of those snatches of light, the desperate Gines led on his fellows, who were about half a dozen in all, towards the hollow tree.
Now it happened, just as he came up, that a fresh cloud came over the face of the moon, so that the mark he aimed at was quite swallowed up in the gloom. Groping his way, therefore, with his hands, he began to feel about the ragged stem for the entry to the magazine; but he had no sooner thrust his arms into the opening, than they were seized by some person who was concealed within the hollow trunk.
I know not whether Gines recalled, at this moment, his superstition about a tree, but he set up a loud yell of dismay. The Hidalgo, who lay close by in ambush, with his party, instantly discharged a well-aimed volley at the rest of the banditti, who finding themselves betrayed, and without arms, took at once to their heels, leaving two that were miserably wounded, upon the grass. By this time, Spinello, recovering his courage, made a desperate struggle to get away; but, before he could disengage his arms, the Hidalgo came up with his assistants, and the robber was quickly overcome and secured. Of the other two men, one was already dead, the bullet having lodged in his breast: as for the second, his leg-bone was broken by a ball just above the ankle joint, and it happened that this was the very same rogue who had gossipped with Gines upon the chestnutbough.
It was a dreadful sight to behold the countenance of the latter, when he was dragged into the chamber, and how he foamed and gnashed his teeth at the two desponding varlets, who had been double traitors, he supposed, to both masters. Although he was so securely bound, those wretched men could not look upon him without an extreme trembling; however, when he was informed of the true cause of the discovery, he raved no more, remarking only, to the other robber, that his misgiving about the chestnut tree had been justified by the event.
The Hidalgo repairing afterwards, with the two young gentlemen, into the presence of his two daughters, there ensued many compliments between them, and joyful congratulations on the conclusion of the danger. At last, the Hidalgo growing more and more pleased with the graceful manners and conversation of his guests, his heart warmed towards them, and he began to wish that they were all but his sons.
"Gentlemen," he said, "a late welcome is better than none at all, and especially when it comes maturely from the heart. Pray accept of this apology for my tardiness, and for your great services I will try to make amends to you on the spot. Your gallantry and agreeable bearing persuade me that you are truly the honourable young persons that you have named to me; and I rejoice, therefore, for my own sake as well as yours, that my daughters remain at my disposal. If you are willing then, to accept of each other, I foresee no difficulties— that is to say, provided you can both agree in your election, as readily as my other two robbers."
It would be hard to declare whether the two ladies were most happy or confused by this unexpected proposal; they therefore made off, with fewer words than blushes, to their own