CH. II -- Don Raphael's consultation with his company, and their adventures as they were preparing to leave the wood.

 

WHEN Don Raphael had finished the narrative of his adventurous life, which, with all the other qualities of a romance, had the tediousness, Don Alphonso, according to the laws of good breeding, swore himself black in the face that he had been prodigiously entertained. After the usual exchange of compliments, Signor Ambrose put in his oar, with an admonitory hint to the partner of his exploits and peregrinations. Consider, Don Raphael, that the sun is setting. It would not be amiss, methinks, to take counsel on what we are to do. You are in the right, answered his comrade, we must determine on the place of our destination. For my own part, replied Lamela, I am of opinion that we should get upon the road again without loss of time, reach Requena to-night, and enter upon the territory of Valencia to-morrow, where we will go to work full tilt at our old trade. I have some prognosticating twitches, which tell me that we shall strike some good strokes in that quarter. His colleague, from ample experience of his infallibility in such prophecies, voted on his side of the question. As for Don Alphonso and myself, having nothing to do but to follow the lead of these two worthy gentlemen, we waited, in silent acquiescence, the issue of this momentous debate.

Thus it was determined that we should take the direction of Requena; and all hands were piped to make the necessary arrangements. We made our meal after the same fashion as in the morning, and the horse was laden with the bottle, and with the remnant of our provisions. After a time, the approach of night seemed to promise us that darkness so friendly, and even so necessary, to the safety of our retreat; and we were beginning our march through the wood: but before we had gone a hundred paces, a light among the trees gave us a subject of anxious speculation. What can be the meaning of that? said Don Raphael; these surely must be blood-hounds of the police from Cuença, uncoupled and eager for the sport, with a fresh scent of us in this forest, and in full cry after their game. I am of a very different opinion, said Ambrose; they are more likely to be benighted travellers taking shelter in the thicket till daybreak. But there is no trusting to conjecture: I will examine into the real truth. Stay you here all three of you; I will be back again instantly. No sooner said than done; he stole, just as if he had been used to it, towards the light, which was not far off; no brute or human thief of forest or city could have done it better. With a gentle removal of the leaves and branches which obstructed his passage, the whole scene was laid open to his silent contemplation; and it afforded sufficient food. On the grass, round about a lighted candle with a clod for its candlestick, were seated four men, just finishing a meat pie, and hugging a pretty large bottle, which was at its last gasp, after having sustained their alternate embraces for successive rounds. At some paces from these gentry, he espied a lady and gentleman tied to the trees, and a little further off, a carriage with two mules richly caparisoned. He determined at once in his own mind that the fellows carousing on the ground were banditti; and the tenor of their talk assured him that he had not belied their trade by his conjecture. The four cut-throats all avowed a like desire of possessing the female who had fallen into their hands; and they were proposing to draw lots for her. Lamela, having made himself master of the business, came back to us, and gave an exact account of all he had seen and heard.

My friends, said Don Alphonso on his recital, that lady and gentleman whom the robbers have tied to trees, are probably persons of the first condition. Shall we suffer scoundrels like these to triumph over their honour and take away their lives? Put yourselves under my direction: let us assail the desperate outlaws, and they will perish under our attack. With all my heart, said Don Raphael. It is all one to me, I had just as soon engage on the right side as on the wrong. Ambrose, for his part, protested that he wished for nothing better than to lend a hand in so moral an enterprise, as it promised to combine much profit with some share of honour. And indeed, if a man may speak a good word for himself, danger stood better recommended than usual to my comprehension; all the boiling courage of knighthood, pledged up to the knuckles of the chin on the behalf of female innocence, was oozing out at every pore of this chivalrous person. But, if we are to state facts in the spirit of history rather than of romance, the danger was more in imagination than in reality. Lamela having brought us word that the arms of the robbers were all piled up at the distance of ten or twelve paces out of their reach, there was no difficulty in securing the mastery of the field. We tied our horses to a tree, and drew near, as softly as possible, to the spot where the robbers were seated. They were debating with some impetuosity, and their vociferous argument was all in favour of our covert attack. We got possession of their arms before they had any suspicion of us. But the enemy was nearer than they imagined: too near to miss aim, and they were all stretched lifeless on the ground.

During the conflict the candle went out, so that we proceeded in our business by guess-work. We were not remiss, however, in unbinding the prisoners, of whom fear had got such complete possession, that they had not their wits enough about them to thank us for what we had done for them. It must be allowed that they could not at first distinguish whether they were to consider us as their deliverers, or as a fresh gang who had taken them out of one furnace to cast them hissing into another. But we recovered their spirits by the assurance, that we should lodge them safely in a public-house which Ambrose mentioned as not being more than half a mile off, whence they might take all necessary measures to pursue their journey in whatever direction they thought proper. After these words of comfort, which seemed to sink deep, we placed them in their carriage, and conducted them out of the wood, holding their mules by the bridle. Our clerical friends instituted a ghostly visitation to the pockets of the vanquished banditti. Our next step was to recover Don Alphonso's horse. We also took to ourselves the steeds of the robbers, waiting as they were to be released from the trees to which they were tied near the field of battle. With this extensive cavalcade we followed brother Anthony, mounted on one of the mules, and conducting the carriage to the inn, whither we did not arrive in less than two hours, though he had pledged his credit that the distance from the wood was very short.

We knocked roughly at the door. Every living creature was napping, except the fleas. The landlord and landlady got on their clothes in a hurry, and were not at all annoyed at finding their rest disturbed by the arrival of an equipage, which promised to do more for the good of the house than it eventually did. The whole inn was lighted up in an instant. Don Alphonso and the stage-bred son of Lucinda lent their assistance to the gentleman and lady in alighting from the carriage, and acted as their ushers in leading the way to the room prepared for them by the landlord. Compliments flew backwards and forwards like shuttlecocks; but we were not a little astonished at discovering the Count de Polan himself and his daughter Seraphina, in the persons we had just rescued. It would be difficult to represent by words the surprise of that lady, as well as of Don Alphonso, when they recognized each other's features. The count took no notice of it, his attention being engrossed by other matters. He set about relating to us in what manner the robbers had attacked him, and how they secured his daughter and himself, after having killed his postilion, a page, and a valet-de-chambre. He ended with declaring how deeply he felt his obligation; and that if we would call upon him at Toledo, where he should be in a month, we should judge for ourselves whether he felt as a grateful heart ought to feel.

His lordship's daughter was not backward in her acknowledgments for her timely rescue; and as we were of opinion, that is, Raphael and myself, that we should do a good turn to Don Alphonso by giving him an opportunity of a minute's private parley with the young widow, we contrived to keep the Count de Polan in play. Lovely Seraphina, said Don Alphonso to the lady in a low voice, I no longer lament over the lot which obliges me to live like a man banished from civil society, since I have been so fortunate as to assist in the important service just rendered you. What then! answered she, with a sigh, is it you who have saved my life and honour? Is it to you that we are so indebted, myself equally with my father? Ah! Don Alphonso, why were you the instrument of my brother's death? She said no more upon the subject; but he conceived clearly by these words, and by the tone in which they were pronounced, that if he was over head and ears in love with Seraphina, she was equally out of her depth in the same passion.

 

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