Part 1 out of 6
This etext was prepared by Judy Boss, Omaha, NE
Note: I have made the following changes to the text:
PAGE LINE ORIGINAL CHANGED TO
45 25 Commander-in Commander-in-
155 35 "'I "I
253 20 Ferand Feraud
283 5 "Vostri anelli." "'Vostri anelli.'"
A SET OF SIX
Les petites marionnettes
Font, font, font,
Trois petits tours
Et puis s'en vont.
- NURSERY RHYME
MISS M. H. M. CAPES
[page intentionally blank]
THE six stories in this volume are the result of some
three or four years of occasional work. The dates of
their writing are far apart, their origins are various.
None of them are connected directly with personal ex-
periences. In all of them the facts are inherently
true, by which I mean that they are not only possible
but that they have actually happened. For instance,
the last story in the volume, the one I call Pathetic,
whose first title is Il Conde (misspelt by-the-by) is an
almost verbatim transcript of the tale told me by a very
charming old gentleman whom I met in Italy. I don't
mean to say it is only that. Anybody can see that it is
something more than a verbatim report, but where he
left off and where I began must be left to the acute dis-
crimination of the reader who may be interested in the
problem. I don't mean to say that the problem is
worth the trouble. What I am certain of, however,
is that it is not to be solved, for I am not at all clear
about it myself by this time. All I can say is that the
personality of the narrator was extremely suggestive
quite apart from the story he was telling me. I heard
a few years ago that he had died far away from his be-
loved Naples where that "abominable adventure" did
really happen to him.
Thus the genealogy of Il Conde is simple. It is
not the case with the other stories. Various strains
contributed to their composition, and the nature of
many of those I have forgotten, not having the habit of
making notes either before or after the fact. I mean
the fact of writing a story. What I remember best
about Gaspar Ruiz is that it was written, or at any rate
begun, within a month of finishing Nostromo; but
apart from the locality, and that a pretty wide one (all
the South American Continent), the novel and the
story have nothing in common, neither mood, nor in-
tention and, certainly, not the style. The manner for
the most part is that of General Santierra, and that
old warrior, I note with satisfaction, is very true to
himself all through. Looking now dispassionately at
the various ways in which this story could have been
presented I can't honestly think the General super-
fluous. It is he, an old man talking of the days of his
youth, who characterizes the whole narrative and
gives it an air of actuality which I doubt whether I
could have achieved without his help. In the mere
writing his existence of course was of no help at all,
because the whole thing had to be carefully kept within
the frame of his simple mind. But all this is but a
laborious searching of memories. My present feeling
is that the story could not have been told otherwise.
The hint for Gaspar Ruiz the man I found in a book
by Captain Basil Hall, R.N., who was for some time,
between the years 1824 and 1828, senior officer of a
small British Squadron on the West Coast of South
America. His book published in the thirties obtained a
certain celebrity and I suppose is to be found still in
some libraries. The curious who may be mistrusting
my imagination are referred to that printed document,
Vol. II, I forget the page, but it is somewhere not far
from the end. Another document connected with this
story is a letter of a biting and ironic kind from a friend
then in Burma, passing certain strictures upon "the
gentleman with the gun on his back" which I do not
intend to make accessible to the public. Yet the gun
episode did really happen, or at least I am bound to
believe it because I remember it, described in an ex-
tremely matter-of-fact tone, in some book I read in my
boyhood; and I am not going to discard the beliefs of
my boyhood for anybody on earth.
The Brute, which is the only sea-story in the volume,
is, like Il Conde, associated with a direct narrative and
based on a suggestion gathered on warm human lips.
I will not disclose the real name of the criminal ship
but the first I heard of her homicidal habits was from
the late Captain Blake, commanding a London ship
in which I served in 1884 as Second Officer. Captain
Blake was, of all my commanders, the one I remember
with the greatest affection. I have sketched in his
personality, without however mentioning his name,
in the first paper of The Mirror of the Sea. In his
young days he had had a personal experience of the
brute and it is perhaps for that reason that I have put
the story into the mouth of a young man and made of it
what the reader will see. The existence of the brute
was a fact. The end of the brute as related in the story
is also a fact, well-known at the time though it really
happened to another ship, of great beauty of form and
of blameless character, which certainly deserved a
better fate. I have unscrupulously adapted it to the
needs of my story thinking that I had there something
in the nature of poetical justice. I hope that little
villainy will not cast a shadow upon the general honesty
of my proceedings as a writer of tales.
Of The Informer and An Anarchist I will say next
to nothing. The pedigree of these tales is hopelessly
complicated and not worth disentangling at this dis-
tance of time. I found them and here they are. The
discriminating reader will guess that I have found them
within my mind; but how they or their elements came
in there I have forgotten for the most part; and for the
rest I really don't see why I should give myself away
more than I have done already.
It remains for me only now to mention The Duel, the
longest story in the book. That story attained the
dignity of publication all by itself in a small illustrated
volume, under the title, "The Point of Honour." That
was many years ago. It has been since reinstated in
its proper place, which is the place it occupies in this
volume, in all the subsequent editions of my work.
Its pedigree is extremely simple. It springs from a
ten-line paragraph in a small provincial paper published
in the South of France. That paragraph, occasioned
by a duel with a fatal ending between two well-known
Parisian personalities, referred for some reason or other
to the "well-known fact" of two officers in Napoleon's
Grand Army having fought a series of duels in the
midst of great wars and on some futile pretext. The
pretext was never disclosed. I had therefore to invent
it; and I think that, given the character of the two offi-
cers which I had to invent, too, I have made it suffi-
ciently convincing by the mere force of its absurdity.
The truth is that in my mind the story is nothing but a
serious and even earnest attempt at a bit of historical
fiction. I had heard in my boyhood a good deal of the
great Napoleonic legend. I had a genuine feeling that
I would find myself at home in it, and The Duel is the
result of that feeling, or, if the reader prefers, of that
presumption. Personally I have no qualms of con-
science about this piece of work. The story might
have been better told of course. All one's work might
have been better done; but this is the sort of reflection
a worker must put aside courageously if he doesn't
mean every one of his conceptions to remain for ever a
private vision, an evanescent reverie. How many of
those visions have I seen vanish in my time! This one,
however, has remained, a testimony, if you like, to my
courage or a proof of my rashness. What I care to re-
member best is the testimony of some French readers
who volunteered the opinion that in those hundred
pages or so I had managed to render "wonderfully"
the spirit of the whole epoch. Exaggeration of kind-
ness no doubt; but even so I hug it still to my breast,
because in truth that is exactly what I was trying to cap-
ture in my small net: the Spirit of the Epoch -- never
purely militarist in the long clash of arms, youthful,
almost childlike in its exaltation of sentiment -- naively
heroic in its faith.
1920. J. C.
A SET OF SIX
A SET OF SIX
A REVOLUTIONARY war raises many strange charac-
ters out of the obscurity which is the common lot of
humble lives in an undisturbed state of society.
Certain individualities grow into fame through their
vices and their virtues, or simply by their actions, which
may have a temporary importance; and then they
become forgotten. The names of a few leaders alone
survive the end of armed strife and are further pre-
served in history; so that, vanishing from men's active
memories, they still exist in books.
The name of General Santierra attained that cold
paper-and-ink immortality. He was a South American
of good family, and the books published in his lifetime
numbered him amongst the liberators of that continent
from the oppressive rule of Spain.
That long contest, waged for independence on one
side and for dominion on the other, developed in the
course of years and the vicissitudes of changing fortune
the fierceness and inhumanity of a struggle for life. All
feelings of pity and compassion disappeared in the
growth of political hatred. And, as is usual in war, the
mass of the people, who had the least to gain by the
issue, suffered most in their obscure persons and their
General Santierra began his service as lieutenant in
the patriot army raised and commanded by the famous
San Martin, afterwards conqueror of Lima and liberator
of Peru. A great battle had just been fought on the
banks of the river Bio-Bio. Amongst the prisoners
made upon the routed Royalist troops there was a
soldier called Gaspar Ruiz. His powerful build and his
big head rendered him remarkable amongst his fellow-
captives. The personality of the man was unmistak-
able. Some months before he had been missed from
the ranks of Republican troops after one of the many
skirmishes which preceded the great battle. And now,
having been captured arms in hand amongst Royalists,
he could expect no other fate but to be shot as a deserter.
Gaspar Ruiz, however, was not a deserter; his mind
was hardly active enough to take a discriminating view
of the advantages or perils of treachery. Why should
he change sides? He had really been made a prisoner,
had suffered ill-usage and many privations. Neither
side showed tenderness to its adversaries. There came
a day when he was ordered, together with some other
captured rebels, to march in the front rank of the Royal
troops. A musket had been thrust into his hands.
He had taken it. He had marched. He did not want
to be killed with circumstances of peculiar atrocity for
refusing to march. He did not understand heroism
but it was his intention to throw his musket away at
the first opportunity. Meantime he had gone on load-
ing and firing, from fear of having his brains blown out
at the first sign of unwillingness, by some non-
commissioned officer of the King of Spain. He tried to
set forth these elementary considerations before the
sergeant of the guard set over him and some twenty
other such deserters, who had been condemned sum-
marily to be shot.
It was in the quadrangle of the fort at the back of
the batteries which command the roadstead of Val-
paraiso. The officer who had identified him had gone
on without listening to his protestations. His doom
was sealed; his hands were tied very tightly together
behind his back; his body was sore all over from the
many blows with sticks and butts of muskets which had
hurried him along on the painful road from the place of
his capture to the gate of the fort. This was the only
kind of systematic attention the prisoners had received
from their escort during a four days' journey across a
scantily watered tract of country. At the crossings of
rare streams they were permitted to quench their thirst
by lapping hurriedly like dogs. In the evening a few
scraps of meat were thrown amongst them as they
dropped down dead-beat upon the stony ground of the
As he stood in the courtyard of the castle in the
early morning, after having been driven hard all night,
Gaspar Ruiz's throat was parched, and his tongue felt
very large and dry in his mouth.
And Gaspar Ruiz, besides being very thirsty, was
stirred by a feeling of sluggish anger, which he could
not very well express, as though the vigour of his spirit
were by no means equal to the strength of his body.
The other prisoners in the batch of the condemned
hung their heads, looking obstinately on the ground.
But Gaspar Ruiz kept on repeating: "What should I
desert for to the Royalists? Why should I desert?
Tell me, Estaban!"
He addressed himself to the sergeant, who happened
to belong to the same part of the country as himself.
But the sergeant, after shrugging his meagre shoulders
once, paid no further attention to the deep murmuring
voice at his back. It was indeed strange that Gaspar
Ruiz should desert. His people were in too humble
a station to feel much the disadvantages of any form
of government. There was no reason why Gaspar Ruiz
should wish to uphold in his own person the rule of
the King of Spain. Neither had he been anxious to
exert himself for its subversion. He had joined the
side of Independence in an extremely reasonable and
natural manner. A band of patriots appeared one
morning early, surrounding his father's ranche, spearing
the watch-dogs and hamstringing a fat cow all in the
twinkling of an eye, to the cries of "Viva la Libertad!"
Their officer discoursed of Liberty with enthusiasm and
eloquence after a long and refreshing sleep. When
they left in the evening, taking with them some of
Ruiz, the father's, best horses to replace their own
lamed animals, Gaspar Ruiz went away with them,
having been invited pressingly to do so by the eloquent
Shortly afterwards a detachment of Royalist troops
coming to pacify the district, burnt the ranche, carried
off the remaining horses and cattle, and having thus
deprived the old people of all their worldly possessions,
left them sitting under a bush in the enjoyment of the
inestimable boon of life.
GASPAR RUIZ, condemned to death as a deserter,
was not thinking either of his native place or of his
parents, to whom he had been a good son on account
of the mildness of his character and the great strength
of his limbs. The practical advantage of this last
was made still more valuable to his father by his
obedient disposition. Gaspar Ruiz had an acquiescent
But it was stirred now to a sort of dim revolt by
his dislike to die the death of a traitor. He was not a
traitor. He said again to the sergeant: "You know
I did not desert, Estaban. You know I remained
behind amongst the trees with three others to keep
the enemy back while the detachment was running
Lieutenant Santierra, little more than a boy at the
time, and unused as yet to the sanguinary imbecilities
of a state of war, had lingered near by, as if fascinated
by the sight of these men who were to be shot pres-
ently -- "for an example" -- as the Commandante had
The sergeant, without deigning to look at the
prisoner, addressed himself to the young officer with
a superior smile.
"Ten men would not have been enough to make
him a prisoner, mi teniente. Moreover, the other three
rejoined the detachment after dark. Why should he,
unwounded and the strongest of them all, have failed to
"My strength is as nothing against a mounted man
with a lasso," Gaspar Ruiz protested, eagerly. "He
dragged me behind his horse for half a mile."
At this excellent reason the sergeant only laughed
contemptuously. The young officer hurried away after
Presently the adjutant of the castle came by. He
was a truculent, raw-boned man in a ragged uniform.
His spluttering voice issued out of a flat yellow face.
The sergeant learned from him that the condemned
men would not be shot till sunset. He begged then
to know what he was to do with them meantime.
The adjutant looked savagely round the courtyard
and, pointing to the door of a small dungeon-like
guardroom, receiving light and air through one heavily
barred window, said: "Drive the scoundrels in there."
The sergeant, tightening his grip upon the stick he
carried in virtue of his rank, executed this order with
alacrity and zeal. He hit Gaspar Ruiz, whose move-
ments were slow, over his head and shoulders. Gaspar
Ruiz stood still for a moment under the shower of
blows, biting his lip thoughtfully as if absorbed by a
perplexing mental process -- then followed the others
without haste. The door was locked, and the adjutant
carried off the key.
By noon the heat of that vaulted place crammed
to suffocation had become unbearable. The prisoners
crowded towards the window, begging their guards for
a drop of water; but the soldiers remained lying in
indolent attitudes wherever there was a little shade
under a wall, while the sentry sat with his back against
the door smoking a cigarette, and raising his eyebrows
philosophically from time to time. Gaspar Ruiz had
pushed his way to the window with irresistible force.
His capacious chest needed more air than the others;
his big face, resting with its chin on the ledge, pressed
close to the bars, seemed to support the other faces
crowding up for breath. From moaned entreaties they
had passed to desperate cries, and the tumultuous howl-
ing of those thirsty men obliged a young officer who
was just then crossing the courtyard to shout in order
to make himself heard.
"Why don't you give some water to these prisoners?"
The sergeant, with an air of surprised innocence,
excused himself by the remark that all those men were
condemned to die in a very few hours.
Lieutenant Santierra stamped his foot. "They are
condemned to death, not to torture," he shouted.
"Give them some water at once."
Impressed by this appearance of anger, the soldiers
bestirred themselves, and the sentry, snatching up his
musket, stood to attention.
But when a couple of buckets were found and filled
from the well, it was discovered that they could not be
passed through the bars, which were set too close. At
the prospect of quenching their thirst, the shrieks of
those trampled down in the struggle to get near the
opening became very heartrending. But when the
soldiers who had lifted the buckets towards the window
put them to the ground again helplessly, the yell of dis-
appointment was still more terrible.
The soldiers of the army of Independence were not
equipped with canteens. A small tin cup was found,
but its approach to the opening caused such a com-
motion, such yells of rage and pain in the vague mass
of limbs behind the straining faces at the window, that
Lieutenant Santierra cried out hurriedly, "No, no -- you
must open the door, sergeant."
The sergeant, shrugging his shoulders, explained
that he had no right to open the door even if he had
had the key. But he had not the key. The adjutant
of the garrison kept the key. Those men were giving
much unnecessary trouble, since they had to die at sun-
set in any case. Why they had not been shot at once
early in the morning he could not understand.
Lieutenant Santierra kept his back studiously to the
window. It was at his earnest solicitations that the
Commandante had delayed the execution. This favour
had been granted to him in consideration of his dis-
tinguished family and of his father's high position
amongst the chiefs of the Republican party. Lieutenant
Santierra believed that the General commanding would
visit the fort some time in the afternoon, and he ingenu-
ously hoped that his naive intercession would induce
that severe man to pardon some, at least, of those crim-
inals. In the revulsion of his feeling his interference
stood revealed now as guilty and futile meddling. It ap-
peared to him obvious that the general would never even
consent to listen to his petition. He could never save
those men, and he had only made himself responsible for
the sufferings added to the cruelty of their fate.
"Then go at once and get the key from the adjutant,"
said Lieutenant Santierra.
The sergeant shook his head with a sort of bashful
smile, while his eyes glanced sideways at Gaspar Ruiz's
face, motionless and silent, staring through the bars at
the bottom of a heap of other haggard, distorted, yelling
His worship the adjutant de Plaza, the sergeant
murmured, was having his siesta; and supposing that
he, the sergeant, would be allowed access to him, the
only result he expected would be to have his soul
flogged out of his body for presuming to disturb his
worship's repose. He made a deprecatory movement
with his hands, and stood stock-still, looking down
modestly upon his brown toes.
Lieutenant Santierra glared with indignation, but
hesitated. His handsome oval face, as smooth as a
girl's, flushed with the shame of his perplexity. Its
nature humiliated his spirit. His hairless upper lip
trembled; he seemed on the point of either bursting
into a fit of rage or into tears of dismay.
Fifty years later, General Santierra, the venerable
relic of revolutionary times, was well able to remem-
ber the feelings of the young lieutenant. Since he
had given up riding altogether, and found it difficult
to walk beyond the limits of his garden, the general's
greatest delight was to entertain in his house the
officers of the foreign men-of-war visiting the harbour.
For Englishmen he had a preference, as for old com-
panions in arms. English naval men of all ranks
accepted his hospitality with curiosity, because he had
known Lord Cochrane and had taken part, on board the
patriot squadron commanded by that marvellous sea-
man, in the cutting out and blockading operations be-
fore Callao -- an episode of unalloyed glory in the wars
of Independence and of endless honour in the fighting
tradition of Englishmen. He was a fair linguist, this
ancient survivor of the Liberating armies. A trick of
smoothing his long white beard whenever he was short
of a word in French or English imparted an air of
leisurely dignity to the tone of his reminiscences.
"YES, my friends," he used to say to his guests,
"what would you have? A youth of seventeen sum-
mers, without worldly experience, and owing my
rank only to the glorious patriotism of my father, may
God rest his soul. I suffered immense humiliation,
not so much from the disobedience of that subordinate,
who, after all, was responsible for those prisoners; but
I suffered because, like the boy I was, I myself dreaded
going to the adjutant for the key. I had felt, before,
his rough and cutting tongue. Being quite a common
fellow, with no merit except his savage valour, he made
me feel his contempt and dislike from the first day I
joined my battalion in garrison at the fort. It was only
a fortnight before! I would have confronted him sword
in hand, but I shrank from the mocking brutality of his
"I don't remember having been so miserable in my
life before or since. The torment of my sensibility
was so great that I wished the sergeant to fall dead at
my feet, and the stupid soldiers who stared at me to
turn into corpses; and even those wretches for whom
my entreaties had procured a reprieve I wished dead
also, because I could not face them without shame. A
mephitic heat like a whiff of air from hell came out of
that dark place in which they were confined. Those at
the window who had heard what was going on jeered at
me in very desperation: one of these fellows, gone mad
no doubt, kept on urging me volubly to order the soldiers
to fire through the window. His insane loquacity made
my heart turn faint. And my feet were like lead. There
was no higher officer to whom I could appeal. I had
not even the firmness of spirit to simply go away.
"Benumbed by my remorse, I stood with my back
to the window. You must not suppose that all this
lasted a long time. How long could it have been? A
minute? If you measured by mental suffering it was
like a hundred years; a longer time than all my life has
been since. No, certainly, it was not so much as a
minute. The hoarse screaming of those miserable
wretches died out in their dry throats, and then sud-
denly a voice spoke, a deep voice muttering calmly.
It called upon me to turn round.
"That voice, senores, proceeded from the head of
Gaspar Ruiz. Of his body I could see nothing. Some
of his fellow-captives had clambered upon his back.
He was holding them up. His eyes blinked without
looking at me. That and the moving of his lips was
all he seemed able to manage in his overloaded state.
And when I turned round, this head, that seemed more
than human size resting on its chin under a multitude
of other heads, asked me whether I really desired to
quench the thirst of the captives.
"I said, 'Yes, yes!' eagerly, and came up quite
close to the window. I was like a child, and did not
know what would happen. I was anxious to be com-
forted in my helplessness and remorse.
"'Have you the authority, Senor teniente, to re-
lease my wrists from their bonds?' Gaspar Ruiz's
head asked me.
"His features expressed no anxiety, no hope; his
heavy eyelids blinked upon his eyes that looked past
me straight into the courtyard.
"As if in an ugly dream, I spoke, stammering:
'What do you mean? And how can I reach the bonds
on your wrists?'
"'I will try what I can do,' he said; and then that
large staring head moved at last, and all the wild faces
piled up in that window disappeared, tumbling down.
He had shaken his load off with one movement, so
strong he was.
"And he had not only shaken it off, but he got free
of the crush and vanished from my sight. For a
moment there was no one at all to be seen at the
window. He had swung about, butting and shoulder-
ing, clearing a space for himself in the only way he could
do it with his hands tied behind his back.
"Finally, backing to the opening, he pushed out to
me between the bars his wrists, lashed with many turns
of rope. His hands, very swollen, with knotted veins,
looked enormous and unwieldy. I saw his bent back.
It was very broad. His voice was like the muttering
of a bull.
"'Cut, Senor teniente. Cut!'
"I drew my sword, my new unblunted sword that
had seen no service as yet, and severed the many turns
of the hide rope. I did this without knowing the why
and the wherefore of my action, but as it were com-
pelled by my faith in that man. The sergeant made as
if to cry out, but astonishment deprived him of his
voice, and he remained standing with his mouth open
as if overtaken by sudden imbecility.
"I sheathed my sword and faced the soldiers. An
air of awestruck expectation had replaced their usual list-
less apathy. I heard the voice of Gaspar Ruiz shouting
inside, but the words I could not make out plainly. I
suppose that to see him with his arms free augmented
the influence of his strength: I mean by this, the spiritual
influence that with ignorant people attaches to an excep-
tional degree of bodily vigour. In fact, he was no more
to be feared than before, on account of the numbness of
his arms and hands, which lasted for some time.
"The sergeant had recovered his power of speech.
'By all the saints!' he cried, 'we shall have to get a
cavalry man with a lasso to secure him again, if he is
to be led to the place of execution. Nothing less than
a good enlazador on a good horse can subdue him.
Your worship was pleased to perform a very mad thing.'
"I had nothing to say. I was surprised myself,
and I felt a childish curiosity to see what would hap-
pen next. But the sergeant was thinking of the diffi-
culty of controlling Gaspar Ruiz when the time for
making an example would come.
"'Or perhaps,' the sergeant pursued, vexedly, 'we
shall be obliged to shoot him down as he dashes out
when the door is opened.' He was going to give
further vent to his anxieties as to the proper carrying
out of the sentence; but he interrupted himself with a
sudden exclamation, snatched a musket from a soldier,
and stood watchful with his eyes fixed on the window.
"GASPAR RUIZ had clambered up on the sill, and sat
down there with his feet against the thickness of the
wall and his knees slightly bent. The window was
not quite broad enough for the length of his legs.
It appeared to my crestfallen perception that he
meant to keep the window all to himself. He seemed
to be taking up a comfortable position. Nobody inside
dared to approach him now he could strike with his
"'Por Dios!' I heard the sergeant muttering at my
elbow, 'I shall shoot him through the head now, and
get rid of that trouble. He is a condemned man.'
"At that I looked at him angrily. 'The general
has not confirmed the sentence,' I said -- though I knew
well in my heart that these were but vain words. The
sentence required no confirmation. 'You have no
right to shoot him unless he tries to escape,' I added,
"'But sangre de Dios!' the sergeant yelled out,
bringing his musket up to the shoulder, 'he is escaping
"But I, as if that Gaspar Ruiz had cast a spell
upon me, struck the musket upward, and the bullet
flew over the roofs somewhere. The sergeant dashed
his arm to the ground and stared. He might have
commanded the soldiers to fire, but he did not. And
if he had he would not have been obeyed, I think, just
"With his feet against the thickness of the wall
and his hairy hands grasping the iron bar, Gaspar
sat still. It was an attitude. Nothing happened for a
time. And suddenly it dawned upon us that he was
straightening his bowed back and contracting his arms.
His lips were twisted into a snarl. Next thing we per-
ceived was that the bar of forged iron was being bent
slowly by the mightiness of his pull. The sun was
beating full upon his cramped, unquivering figure. A
shower of sweat-drops burst out of his forehead.
Watching the bar grow crooked, I saw a little blood
ooze from under his finger-nails. Then he let go. For
a moment he remained all huddled up, with a hanging
head, looking drowsily into the upturned palms of his
mighty hands. Indeed he seemed to have dozed off.
Suddenly he flung himself backwards on the sill, and
setting the soles of his bare feet against the other
middle bar, he bent that one, too, but in the opposite
direction from the first.
"Such was his strength, which in this case relieved
my painful feelings. And the man seemed to have
done nothing. Except for the change of position in
order to use his feet, which made us all start by its
swiftness, my recollection is that of immobility. But
he had bent the bars wide apart. And now he could
get out if he liked; but he dropped his legs inwards,
and looking over his shoulder beckoned to the soldiers.
'Hand up the water,' he said. 'I will give them all a
"He was obeyed. For a moment I expected man
and bucket to disappear, overwhelmed by the rush of
eagerness; I thought they would pull him down with
their teeth. There was a rush, but holding the bucket
on his lap he repulsed the assault of those wretches by
the mere swinging of his feet. They flew backwards at
every kick, yelling with pain; and the soldiers laughed,
gazing at the window.
"They all laughed, holding their sides, except the
sergeant, who was gloomy and morose. He was afraid
the prisoners would rise and break out -- which would
have been a bad example. But there was no fear of
that, and I stood myself before the window with my
drawn sword. When sufficiently tamed by the strength
of Gaspar Ruiz they came up one by one, stretching
their necks and presenting their lips to the edge of the
bucket which the strong man tilted towards them from
his knees with an extraordinary air of charity, gentleness,
and compassion. That benevolent appearance was of
course the effect of his care in not spilling the water
and of his attitude as he sat on the sill; for, if a man
lingered with his lips glued to the rim of the bucket
after Gaspar Ruiz had said 'You have had enough,'
there would be no tenderness or mercy in the shove of
the foot which would send him groaning and doubled
up far into the interior of the prison, where he would
knock down two or three others before he fell himself.
They came up to him again and again; it looked as if
they meant to drink the well dry before going to their
death; but the soldiers were so amused by Gaspar
Ruiz's systematic proceedings that they carried the
water up to the window cheerfully.
"When the adjutant came out after his siesta there
was some trouble over this affair, I can assure you.
And the worst of it was that the general whom we
expected never came to the castle that day."
The guests of General Santierra unanimously ex-
pressed their regret that the man of such strength
and patience had not been saved.
"He was not saved by my interference," said the
General. "The prisoners were led to execution half an
hour before sunset. Gaspar Ruiz, contrary to the
sergeant's apprehensions, gave no trouble. There was no
necessity to get a cavalry man with a lasso in order to
subdue him, as if he were a wild bull of the campo. I
believe he marched out with his arms free amongst the
others who were bound. I did not see. I was not there.
I had been put under arrest for interfering with the
prisoner's guard. About dusk, sitting dismally in my
quarters, I heard three volleys fired, and thought that I
should never hear of Gaspar Ruiz again. He fell with
the others. But we were to hear of him nevertheless,
though the sergeant boasted that as he lay on his face
expiring or dead in the heap of the slain, he had slashed
his neck with a sword. He had done this, he said, to
make sure of ridding the world of a dangerous traitor.
"I confess to you, senores, that I thought of that
strong man with a sort of gratitude, and with some
admiration. He had used his strength honourably.
There dwelt, then, in his soul no fierceness correspond-
ing to the vigour of his body."
GASPAR RUIZ, who could with ease bend apart the
heavy iron bars of the prison, was led out with others
to summary execution. "Every bullet has its billet,"
runs the proverb. All the merit of proverbs consists
in the concise and picturesque expression. In the
surprise of our minds is found their persuasiveness. In
other words, we are struck and convinced by the shock.
What surprises us is the form, not the substance.
Proverbs are art -- cheap art. As a general rule they
are not true; unless indeed they happen to be mere
platitudes, as for instance the proverb, "Half a loaf is
better than no bread," or "A miss is as good as a mile."
Some proverbs are simply imbecile, others are immoral.
That one evolved out of the naive heart of the great
Russian people, "Man discharges the piece, but God
carries the bullet," is piously atrocious, and at bitter
variance with the accepted conception of a compassion-
ate God. It would indeed be an inconsistent occupa-
tion for the Guardian of the poor, the innocent, and the
helpless, to carry the bullet, for instance, into the heart
of a father.
Gaspar Ruiz was childless, he had no wife, he had
never been in love. He had hardly ever spoken to a
woman, beyond his mother and the ancient negress of
the household, whose wrinkled skin was the colour of
cinders, and whose lean body was bent double from age.
If some bullets from those muskets fired off at fifteen
paces were specifically destined for the heart of Gaspar
Ruiz, they all missed their billet. One, however,
carried away a small piece of his ear, and another a
fragment of flesh from his shoulder.
A red and unclouded sun setting into a purple ocean
looked with a fiery stare upon the enormous wall
of the Cordilleras, worthy witnesses of his glorious
extinction. But it is inconceivable that it should have
seen the ant-like men busy with their absurd and
insignificant trials of killing and dying for reasons that,
apart from being generally childish, were also im-
perfectly understood. It did light up, however, the
backs of the firing party and the faces of the condemned
men. Some of them had fallen on their knees, others
remained standing, a few averted their heads from the
levelled barrels of muskets. Gaspar Ruiz, upright, the
burliest of them all, hung his big shock head. The low
sun dazzled him a little, and he counted himself a dead
He fell at the first discharge. He fell because he
thought he was a dead man. He struck the ground
heavily. The jar of the fall surprised him. "I am not
dead apparently," he thought to himself, when he heard
the execution platoon reloading its arms at the word of
command. It was then that the hope of escape dawned
upon him for the first time. He remained lying
stretched out with rigid limbs under the weight of two
bodies collapsed crosswise upon his back.
By the time the soldiers had fired a third volley
into the slightly stirring heaps of the slain, the sun had
gone out of sight, and almost immediately with the
darkening of the ocean dusk fell upon the coasts of the
young Republic. Above the gloom of the lowlands the
snowy peaks of the Cordilleras remained luminous and
crimson for a long time. The soldiers before marching
back to the fort sat down to smoke.
The sergeant with a naked sword in his hand strolled
away by himself along the heap of the dead. He was
a humane man, and watched for any stir or twitch of
limb in the merciful idea of plunging the point of his
blade into any body giving the slightest sign of life.
But none of the bodies afforded him an opportunity for
the display of this charitable intention. Not a muscle
twitched amongst them, not even the powerful muscles
of Gaspar Ruiz, who, deluged with the blood of his
neighbours and shamming death, strove to appear more
lifeless than the others.
He was lying face down. The sergeant recognized
him by his stature, and being himself a very small man,
looked with envy and contempt at the prostration of so
much strength. He had always disliked that particular
soldier. Moved by an obscure animosity, he inflicted a
long gash across the neck of Gaspar Ruiz, with some
vague notion of making sure of that strong man's death,
as if a powerful physique were more able to resist the
bullets. For the sergeant had no doubt that Gaspar
Ruiz had been shot through in many places. Then he
passed on, and shortly afterwards marched off with his
men, leaving the bodies to the care of crows and
Gaspar Ruiz had restrained a cry, though it had
seemed to him that his head was cut off at a blow; and
when darkness came, shaking off the dead, whose weight
had oppressed him, he crawled away over the plain on
his hands and knees. After drinking deeply, like a
wounded beast, at a shallow stream, he assumed an
upright posture, and staggered on light-headed and
aimless, as if lost amongst the stars of the clear night.
A small house seemed to rise out of the ground before
him. He stumbled into the porch and struck at the
door with his fist. There was not a gleam of light.
Gaspar Ruiz might have thought that the inhabitants
had fled from it, as from many others in the neigh-
bourhood, had it not been for the shouts of abuse that
answered his thumping. In his feverish and enfeebled
state the angry screaming seemed to him part of a
hallucination belonging to the weird, dreamlike feeling
of his unexpected condemnation to death, of the thirst
suffered, of the volleys fired at him within fifteen paces,
of his head being cut off at a blow. "Open the door!"
he cried. "Open in the name of God!"
An infuriated voice from within jeered at him:
"Come in, come in. This house belongs to you. All
this land belongs to you. Come and take it."
"For the love of God," Gaspar Ruiz murmured.
"Does not all the land belong to you patriots?"
the voice on the other side of the door screamed on.
"Are you not a patriot?"
Gaspar Ruiz did not know. "I am a wounded man,"
he said, apathetically.
All became still inside. Gaspar Ruiz lost the hope of
being admitted, and lay down under the porch just
outside the door. He was utterly careless of what
was going to happen to him. All his consciousness
seemed to be concentrated in his neck, where he felt a
severe pain. His indifference as to his fate was genuine.
The day was breaking when he awoke from a feverish
doze; the door at which he had knocked in the dark
stood wide open now, and a girl, steadying herself
with her outspread arms, leaned over the threshold.
Lying on his back, he stared up at her. Her face was
pale and her eyes were very dark; her hair hung down
black as ebony against her white cheeks; her lips were
full and red. Beyond her he saw another head with
long grey hair, and a thin old face with a pair of
anxiously clasped hands under the chin.
"I KNEW those people by sight," General Santierra
would tell his guests at the dining-table. "I mean
the people with whom Gaspar Ruiz found shelter.
The father was an old Spaniard, a man of property
ruined by the revolution. His estates, his house in
town, his money, everything he had in the world had
been confiscated by proclamation, for he was a bitter foe
of our independence. From a position of great dignity
and influence on the Viceroy's Council he became of
less importance than his own negro slaves made free
by our glorious revolution. He had not even the means
to flee the country, as other Spaniards had managed to
do. It may be that, wandering ruined and houseless,
and burdened with nothing but his life, which was left
to him by the clemency of the Provisional Government,
he had simply walked under that broken roof of old
tiles. It was a lonely spot. There did not seem to be
even a dog belonging to the place. But though the roof
had holes, as if a cannon-ball or two had dropped
through it, the wooden shutters were thick and tight-
closed all the time.
"My way took me frequently along the path in
front of that miserable rancho. I rode from the fort to
the town almost every evening, to sigh at the window
of a lady I was in love with, then. When one is young,
you understand. . . . She was a good patriot, you
may believe. Caballeros, credit me or not, political
feeling ran so high in those days that I do not believe
I could have been fascinated by the charms of a woman
of Royalist opinions. . . ."
Murmurs of amused incredulity all round the table
interrupted the General; and while they lasted he
stroked his white beard gravely.
"Senores," he protested, "a Royalist was a monster
to our overwrought feelings. I am telling you this in
order not to be suspected of the slightest tenderness
towards that old Royalist's daughter. Moreover, as you
know, my affections were engaged elsewhere. But I
could not help noticing her on rare occasions when with
the front door open she stood in the porch.
"You must know that this old Royalist was as crazy
as a man can be. His political misfortunes, his total
downfall and ruin, had disordered his mind. To show
his contempt for what we patriots could do, he affected
to laugh at his imprisonment, at the confiscation of his
lands, the burning of his houses, and at the misery
to which he and his womenfolk were reduced. This
habit of laughing had grown upon him, so that he
would begin to laugh and shout directly he caught
sight of any stranger. That was the form of his
"I, of course, disregarded the noise of that madman
with that feeling of superiority the success of our cause
inspired in us Americans. I suppose I really despised
him because he was an old Castilian, a Spaniard born,
and a Royalist. Those were certainly no reasons to
scorn a man; but for centuries Spaniards born had
shown their contempt of us Americans, men as well
descended as themselves, simply because we were what
they called colonists. We had been kept in abasement
and made to feel our inferiority in social intercourse.
And now it was our turn. It was safe for us patriots
to display the same sentiments; and I being a young
patriot, son of a patriot, despised that old Spaniard, and
despising him I naturally disregarded his abuse, though
it was annoying to my feelings. Others perhaps would
not have been so forbearing.
"He would begin with a great yell -- 'I see a patriot.
Another of them!' long before I came abreast of
the house. The tone of his senseless revilings, mingled
with bursts of laughter, was sometimes piercingly shrill
and sometimes grave. It was all very mad; but I
felt it incumbent upon my dignity to check my
horse to a walk without even glancing towards the
house, as if that man's abusive clamour in the porch
were less than the barking of a cur. Always I rode by
preserving an expression of haughty indifference on my
"It was no doubt very dignified; but I should have
done better if I had kept my eyes open. A military
man in war time should never consider himself off
duty; and especially so if the war is a revolutionary
war, when the enemy is not at the door, but within
your very house. At such times the heat of passionate
convictions passing into hatred, removes the re-
straints of honour and humanity from many men and
of delicacy and fear from some women. These last,
when once they throw off the timidity and reserve of
their sex, become by the vivacity of their intelligence
and the violence of their merciless resentment more
dangerous than so many armed giants."
The General's voice rose, but his big hand stroked
his white beard twice with an effect of venerable calm-
ness. "Si, Senores! Women are ready to rise to the
heights of devotion unattainable by us men, or to sink
into the depths of abasement which amazes our mas-
culine prejudices. I am speaking now of exceptional
women, you understand. . . ."
Here one of the guests observed that he had never
met a woman yet who was not capable of turning out
quite exceptional under circumstances that would en-
gage her feelings strongly. "That sort of superiority
in recklessness they have over us," he concluded,
"makes of them the more interesting half of man-
The General, who bore the interruption with gravity,
nodded courteous assent. "Si. Si. Under circum-
stances. . . . Precisely. They can do an infinite
deal of mischief sometimes in quite unexpected ways.
For who could have imagined that a young girl, daughter
of a ruined Royalist whose life was held only by the
contempt of his enemies, would have had the power
to bring death and devastation upon two flourishing
provinces and cause serious anxiety to the leaders
of the revolution in the very hour of its success!"
He paused to let the wonder of it penetrate our
"Death and devastation," somebody murmured in
surprise: "how shocking!"
The old General gave a glance in the direction of
the murmur and went on. "Yes. That is, war --
calamity. But the means by which she obtained the
power to work this havoc on our southern frontier seem
to me, who have seen her and spoken to her, still more
shocking. That particular thing left on my mind a
dreadful amazement which the further experience of life,
of more than fifty years, has done nothing to diminish."
He looked round as if to make sure of our attention,
and, in a changed voice: "I am, as you know, a re-
publican, son of a Liberator," he declared. "My in-
comparable mother, God rest her soul, was a French-
woman, the daughter of an ardent republican. As a
boy I fought for liberty; I've always believed in the
equality of men; and as to their brotherhood, that, to
my mind, is even more certain. Look at the fierce
animosity they display in their differences. And what
in the world do you know that is more bitterly fierce
than brothers' quarrels?"
All absence of cynicism checked an inclination to
smile at this view of human brotherhood. On the
contrary, there was in the tone the melancholy natural
to a man profoundly humane at heart who from duty,
from conviction, and from necessity, had played his
part in scenes of ruthless violence.
The General had seen much of fratricidal strife.
"Certainly. There is no doubt of their brotherhood,"
he insisted. "All men are brothers, and as such know
almost too much of each other. But" -- and here in
the old patriarchal head, white as silver, the black eyes
humorously twinkled -- "if we are all brothers, all the
women are not our sisters."
One of the younger guests was heard murmuring
his satisfaction at the fact. But the General continued,
with deliberate earnestness: "They are so different!
The tale of a king who took a beggar-maid for a partner
of his throne may be pretty enough as we men look upon
ourselves and upon love. But that a young girl,
famous for her haughty beauty and, only a short time
before, the admired of all at the balls in the Viceroy's
palace, should take by the hand a guasso, a common
peasant, is intolerable to our sentiment of women and
their love. It is madness. Nevertheless it happened.
But it must be said that in her case it was the madness
of hate -- not of love."
After presenting this excuse in a spirit of chivalrous
justice, the General remained silent for a time. "I
rode past the house every day almost," he began again,
"and this was what was going on within. But how it
was going on no mind of man can conceive. Her
desperation must have been extreme, and Gaspar Ruiz
was a docile fellow. He had been an obedient soldier.
His strength was like an enormous stone lying on the
ground, ready to be hurled this way or that by the hand
that picks it up.
"It is clear that he would tell his story to the people
who gave him the shelter he needed. And he needed
assistance badly. His wound was not dangerous, but
his life was forfeited. The old Royalist being wrapped
up in his laughing madness, the two women arranged a
hiding-place for the wounded man in one of the huts
amongst the fruit trees at the back of the house. That
hovel, an abundance of clear water while the fever
was on him, and some words of pity were all they could
give. I suppose he had a share of what food there was.
And it would be but little: a handful of roasted corn,
perhaps a dish of beans, or a piece of bread with a few
figs. To such misery were those proud and once
wealthy people reduced."
GENERAL SANTIERRA was right in his surmise. Such
was the exact nature of the assistance which Gaspar
Ruiz, peasant son of peasants, received from the
Royalist family whose daughter had opened the door of
their miserable refuge to his extreme distress. Her
sombre resolution ruled the madness of her father and
the trembling bewilderment of her mother.
She had asked the strange man on the doorstep,
"Who wounded you?"
"The soldiers, senora," Gaspar Ruiz had answered,
in a faint voice.
"Deserter," he gasped, leaning against the wall
under the scrutiny of her black eyes. "I was left for
dead over there."
She led him through the house out to a small hut of
clay and reeds, lost in the long grass of the overgrown
orchard. He sank on a heap of maize straw in a corner,
and sighed profoundly.
"No one will look for you here," she said, looking
down at him. "Nobody comes near us. We, too, have
been left for dead -- here."
He stirred uneasily on his heap of dirty straw, and
the pain in his neck made him groan deliriously.
"I shall show Estaban some day that I am alive yet,"
He accepted her assistance in silence, and the many
days of pain went by. Her appearances in the hut
brought him relief and became connected with the
feverish dreams of angels which visited his couch;
for Gaspar Ruiz was instructed in the mysteries of his
religion, and had even been taught to read and write a
little by the priest of his village. He waited for her
with impatience, and saw her pass out of the dark hut
and disappear in the brilliant sunshine with poignant
regret. He discovered that, while he lay there feeling
so very weak, he could, by closing his eyes, evoke her
face with considerable distinctness. And this discovered
faculty charmed the long, solitary hours of his convales-
cence. Later on, when he began to regain his strength,
he would creep at dusk from his hut to the house and
sit on the step of the garden door.
In one of the rooms the mad father paced to and
fro, muttering to himself with short, abrupt laughs. In
the passage, sitting on a stool, the mother sighed and
moaned. The daughter, in rough threadbare clothing,
and her white haggard face half hidden by a coarse
manta, stood leaning against the side of the door.
Gaspar Ruiz, with his elbows propped on his knees and
his head resting in his hands, talked to the two women
in an undertone.
The common misery of destitution would have made
a bitter mockery of a marked insistence on social differ-
ences. Gaspar Ruiz understood this in his simplicity.
From his captivity amongst the Royalists he could give
them news of people they knew. He described their
appearance; and when he related the story of the battle
in which he was recaptured the two women lamented the
blow to their cause and the ruin of their secret hopes.
He had no feeling either way. But he felt a great
devotion for that young girl. In his desire to appear
worthy of her condescension, he boasted a little of his
bodily strength. He had nothing else to boast of.
Because of that quality his comrades treated him with
as great a deference, he explained, as though he had
been a sergeant, both in camp and in battle.
"I could always get as many as I wanted to follow
me anywhere, senorita. I ought to have been made an
officer, because I can read and write."
Behind him the silent old lady fetched a moaning
sigh from time to time; the distracted father muttered
to himself, pacing the sala; and Gaspar Ruiz would
raise his eyes now and then to look at the daughter of
He would look at her with curiosity because she was
alive, and also with that feeling of familiarity and awe
with which he had contemplated in churches the
inanimate and powerful statues of the saints, whose
protection is invoked in dangers and difficulties. His
difficulty was very great.
He could not remain hiding in an orchard for ever
and ever. He knew also very well that before he had
gone half a day's journey in any direction, he would be
picked up by one of the cavalry patrols scouring the
country, and brought into one or another of the camps
where the patriot army destined for the liberation of
Peru was collected. There he would in the end be
recognized as Gaspar Ruiz -- the deserter to the Royal-
ists -- and no doubt shot very effectually this time.
There did not seem any place in the world for the
innocent Gaspar Ruiz anywhere. And at this thought
his simple soul surrendered itself to gloom and re-
sentment as black as night.
They had made him a soldier forcibly. He did not
mind being a soldier. And he had been a good soldier
as he had been a good son, because of his docility and
his strength. But now there was no use for either.
They had taken him from his parents, and he could no
longer be a soldier -- not a good soldier at any rate.
Nobody would listen to his explanations. What in-
justice it was! What injustice!
And in a mournful murmur he would go over the
story of his capture and recapture for the twentieth
time. Then, raising his eyes to the silent girl in the
doorway, "Si, senorita," he would say with a deep sigh,
"injustice has made this poor breath in my body quite
worthless to me and to anybody else. And I do not
care who robs me of it."
One evening, as he exhaled thus the plaint of his
wounded soul, she condescended to say that, if she were
a man, she would consider no life worthless which held
the possibility of revenge.
She seemed to be speaking to herself. Her voice
was low. He drank in the gentle, as if dreamy sound
with a consciousness of peculiar delight of something
warming his breast like a draught of generous wine.
"True, Senorita," he said, raising his face up to hers
slowly: "there is Estaban, who must be shown that I
am not dead after all."
The mutterings of the mad father had ceased long
before; the sighing mother had withdrawn somewhere
into one of the empty rooms. All was still within as
well as without, in the moonlight bright as day on the
wild orchard full of inky shadows. Gaspar Ruiz saw
the dark eyes of Dona Erminia look down at him.
"Ah! The sergeant," she muttered, disdainfully.
"Why! He has wounded me with his sword," he
protested, bewildered by the contempt that seemed to
shine livid on her pale face.
She crushed him with her glance. The power of her
will to be understood was so strong that it kindled in
him the intelligence of unexpressed things.
"What else did you expect me to do?" he cried, as
if suddenly driven to despair. "Have I the power to do
more? Am I a general with an army at my back? --
miserable sinner that I am to be despised by you at
"SEnORES," related the General to his guests,
"though my thoughts were of love then, and therefore
enchanting, the sight of that house always affected me
disagreeably, especially in the moonlight, when its
close shutters and its air of lonely neglect appeared
sinister. Still I went on using the bridle-path by the
ravine, because it was a short cut. The mad Royalist
howled and laughed at me every evening to his complete
satisfaction; but after a time, as if wearied with my
indifference, he ceased to appear in the porch. How
they persuaded him to leave off I do not know. How-
ever, with Gaspar Ruiz in the house there would have
been no difficulty in restraining him by force. It was
now part of their policy in there to avoid anything
which could provoke me. At least, so I suppose.
"Notwithstanding my infatuation with the brightest
pair of eyes in Chile, I noticed the absence of the old
man after a week or so. A few more days passed. I
began to think that perhaps these Royalists had gone
away somewhere else. But one evening, as I was
hastening towards the city, I saw again somebody in the
porch. It was not the madman; it was the girl. She
stood holding on to one of the wooden columns, tall and
white-faced, her big eyes sunk deep with privation and
sorrow. I looked hard at her, and she met my stare
with a strange, inquisitive look. Then, as I turned
my head after riding past, she seemed to gather courage
for the act, and absolutely beckoned me back.
"I obeyed, senores, almost without thinking, so great
was my astonishment. It was greater still when I heard
what she had to say. She began by thanking me for
my forbearance of her father's infirmity, so that I felt
ashamed of myself. I had meant to show disdain, not
forbearance! Every word must have burnt her lips,
but she never departed from a gentle and melancholy
dignity which filled me with respect against my will.
Senores, we are no match for women. But I could
hardly believe my ears when she began her tale. Provi-
dence, she concluded, seemed to have preserved the
life of that wronged soldier, who now trusted to my
honour as a caballero and to my compassion for his
"'Wronged man,' I observed, coldly. 'Well, I think
so, too: and you have been harbouring an enemy of
"'He was a poor Christian crying for help at our
door in the name of God, senor,' she answered, simply.
"I began to admire her. 'Where is he now?' I
"But she would not answer that question. With
extreme cunning, and an almost fiendish delicacy, she
managed to remind me of my failure in saving the lives
of the prisoners in the guardroom, without wounding
my pride. She knew, of course, the whole story.
Gaspar Ruiz, she said, entreated me to procure for him
a safe-conduct from General San Martin himself. He
had an important communication to make to the com-
"Por Dios, senores, she made me swallow all that,
pretending to be only the mouthpiece of that poor man.
Overcome by injustice, he expected to find, she said, as
much generosity in me as had been shown to him by
the Royalist family which had given him a refuge.
"Ha! It was well and nobly said to a youngster
like me. I thought her great. Alas! she was only
"In the end I rode away very enthusiastic about the
business, without demanding even to see Gaspar Ruiz,
who I was confident was in the house.
"But on calm reflection I began to see some dif-
ficulties which I had not confidence enough in myself to
encounter. It was not easy to approach a commander-
in-chief with such a story. I feared failure. At last I
thought it better to lay the matter before my general-
of-division, Robles, a friend of my family, who had
appointed me his aide-de-camp lately.
"He took it out of my hands at once without any
"'In the house! of course he is in the house,' he said
contemptuously. 'You ought to have gone sword in
hand inside and demanded his surrender, instead of
chatting with a Royalist girl in the porch. Those
people should have been hunted out of that long ago.
Who knows how many spies they have harboured right
in the very midst of our camps? A safe-conduct from
the Commander-in-Chief! The audacity of the fellow!
Ha! ha! Now we shall catch him to-night, and then
we shall find out, without any safe-conduct, what
he has got to say, that is so very important. Ha!
"General Robles, peace to his soul, was a short, thick
man, with round, staring eyes, fierce and jovial. Seeing
my distress he added:
"'Come, come, chico. I promise you his life if he
does not resist. And that is not likely. We are not
going to break up a good soldier if it can be helped. I
tell you what! I am curious to see your strong man.
Nothing but a general will do for the picaro -- well, he
shall have a general to talk to. Ha! ha! I shall go
myself to the catching, and you are coming with me, of
"And it was done that same night. Early in the
evening the house and the orchard were surrounded
quietly. Later on the General and I left a ball we were
attending in town and rode out at an easy gallop. At
some little distance from the house we pulled up. A
mounted orderly held our horses. A low whistle
warned the men watching all along the ravine, and we
walked up to the porch softly. The barricaded house
in the moonlight seemed empty.
"The General knocked at the door. After a time a
woman's voice within asked who was there. My chief
nudged me hard. I gasped.
"'It is I, Lieutenant Santierra,' I stammered out, as
if choked. 'Open the door.'
"It came open slowly. The girl, holding a thin
taper in her hand, seeing another man with me, began
to back away before us slowly, shading the light with
her hand. Her impassive white face looked ghostly. I
followed behind General Robles. Her eyes were fixed
on mine. I made a gesture of helplessness behind my
chief's back, trying at the same time to give a reassur-
ing expression to my face. None of us three uttered
"We found ourselves in a room with bare floor and
walls. There was a rough table and a couple of stools
in it, nothing else whatever. An old woman with her
grey hair hanging loose wrung her hands when we
appeared. A peal of loud laughter resounded through
the empty house, very amazing and weird. At this the
old woman tried to get past us.
"'Nobody to leave the room,' said General Robles
"I swung the door to, heard the latch click, and
the laughter became faint in our ears.
"Before another word could be spoken in that
room I was amazed by hearing the sound of distant
"I had carried in with me into the house a vivid im-
pression of a beautiful clear moonlight night, without a
speck of cloud in the sky. I could not believe my ears.
Sent early abroad for my education, I was not familiar
with the most dreaded natural phenomenon of my
native land. I saw, with inexpressible astonishment, a
look of terror in my chief's eyes. Suddenly I felt giddy.
The General staggered against me heavily; the girl
seemed to reel in the middle of the room, the taper fell
out of her hand and the light went out; a shrill cry of
'Misericordia!' from the old woman pierced my ears.
In the pitchy darkness I heard the plaster off the walls
falling on the floor. It is a mercy there was no ceiling.
Holding on to the latch of the door, I heard the grinding
of the roof-tiles cease above my head. The shock was
"'Out of the house! The door! Fly, Santierra, fly!'
howled the General. You know, senores, in our country
the bravest are not ashamed of the fear an earthquake
strikes into all the senses of man. One never gets used
to it. Repeated experience only augments the mastery
of that nameless terror.
"It was my first earthquake, and I was the calmest of
them all. I understood that the crash outside was
caused by the porch, with its wooden pillars and tiled
roof projection, falling down. The next shock would
destroy the house, maybe. That rumble as of thunder
was approaching again. The General was rushing
round the room, to find the door perhaps. He made a
noise as though he were trying to climb the walls, and I
heard him distinctly invoke the names of several saints.
'Out, out, Santierra!' he yelled.
"The girl's voice was the only one I did not hear.
"'General,' I cried, I cannot move the door. We
must be locked in.'
"I did not recognize his voice in the shout of male-
diction and despair he let out. Senores, I know many
men in my country, especially in the provinces most
subject to earthquakes, who will neither eat, sleep, pray,
nor even sit down to cards with closed doors. The dan-
ger is not in the loss of time, but in this -- that the
movement of the walls may prevent a door being opened
at all. This was what had happened to us. We were
trapped, and we had no help to expect from anybody.
There is no man in my country who will go into a house
when the earth trembles. There never was -- except
one: Gaspar Ruiz.
"He had come out of whatever hole he had been
hiding in outside, and had clambered over the timbers of
the destroyed porch. Above the awful subterranean
groan of coming destruction I heard a mighty voice
shouting the word 'Erminia!' with the lungs of a giant.
An earthquake is a great leveller of distinctions. I
collected all my resolution against the terror of the
scene. 'She is here,' I shouted back. A roar as of a
furious wild beast answered me -- while my head swam,
my heart sank, and the sweat of anguish streamed like
rain off my brow.
"He had the strength to pick up one of the heavy
posts of the porch. Holding it under his armpit like a
lance, but with both hands, he charged madly the rock-
ing house with the force of a battering-ram, bursting
open the door and rushing in, headlong, over our pros-
trate bodies. I and the General picking ourselves up,
bolted out together, without looking round once till we
got across the road. Then, clinging to each other, we
beheld the house change suddenly into a heap of form-
less rubbish behind the back of a man, who staggered
towards us bearing the form of a woman clasped in his
arms. Her long black hair hung nearly to his feet. He
laid her down reverently on the heaving earth, and the
moonlight shone on her closed eyes.
"Senores, we mounted with difficulty. Our horses
getting up plunged madly, held by the soldiers who had
come running from all sides. Nobody thought of catch-
ing Gaspar Ruiz then. The eyes of men and animals
shone with wild fear. My general approached Gaspar
Ruiz, who stood motionless as a statue above the girl.
He let himself be shaken by the shoulder without
detaching his eyes from her face.
"'Que guape!' shouted the General in his ear. 'You
are the bravest man living. You have saved my life.
I am General Robles. Come to my quarters to-morrow
if God gives us the grace to see another day.'
"He never stirred -- as if deaf, without feeling, in-
"We rode away for the town, full of our relations, of
our friends, of whose fate we hardly dared to think.
The soldiers ran by the side of our horses. Everything
was forgotten in the immensity of the catastrophe over-
taking a whole country."
. . . . . . .
Gaspar Ruiz saw the girl open her eyes. The raising
of her eyelids seemed to recall him from a trance. They
were alone; the cries of terror and distress from homeless
people filled the plains of the coast remote and immense,
coming like a whisper into their loneliness.
She rose swiftly to her feet, darting fearful glances
on all sides. "What is it?" she cried out low, and peer-
ing into his face. "Where am I?"
He bowed his head sadly, without a word.
". . . Who are you?"
He knelt down slowly before her, and touched the
hem of her coarse black baize skirt. "Your slave," he
She caught sight then of the heap of rubbish that
had been the house, all misty in the cloud of dust.
"Ah!" she cried, pressing her hand to her forehead.
"I carried you out from there," he whispered at her
"And they?" she asked in a great sob.
He rose, and taking her by the arms, led her gently
towards the shapeless ruin half overwhelmed by a land-
slide. "Come and listen," he said.
The serene moon saw them clambering over that
heap of stones, joists and tiles, which was a grave.
They pressed their ears to the interstices, listening for
the sound of a groan, for a sigh of pain.
At last he said, "They died swiftly. You are alone."
She sat down on a piece of broken timber and put
one arm across her face. He waited -- then approaching
his lips to her ear: "Let us go," he whispered.
"Never -- never from here," she cried out, flinging her
arms above her head.
He stooped over her, and her raised arms fell upon
his shoulders. He lifted her up, steadied himself and
began to walk, looking straight before him.
"What are you doing?" she asked, feebly.
"I am escaping from my enemies," he said, never
once glancing at his light burden.
"With me?" she sighed, helplessly.
"Never without you," he said. "You are my
He pressed her close to him. His face was grave
and his footsteps steady. The conflagrations bursting
out in the ruins of destroyed villages dotted the plain
with red fires; and the sounds of distant lamentations,
the cries of Misericordia! Misericordia! made a desolate
murmur in his ears. He walked on, solemn and col-
lected, as if carrying something holy, fragile, and
The earth rocked at times under his feet.
WITH movements of mechanical care and an air of
abstraction old General Santierra lighted a long and
"It was a good many hours before we could send a
party back to the ravine," he said to his guests. "We
had found one-third of the town laid low, the rest
shaken up; and the inhabitants, rich and poor, reduced
to the same state of distraction by the universal disaster.
The affected cheerfulness of some contrasted with the
despair of others. In the general confusion a number of
reckless thieves, without fear of God or man, became a
danger to those who from the downfall of their homes
had managed to save some valuables. Crying 'Miseri-
cordia' louder than any at every tremor, and beating
their breast with one hand, these scoundrels robbed the
poor victims with the other, not even stopping short of
"General Robles' division was occupied entirely in
guarding the destroyed quarters of the town from the
depredations of these inhuman monsters. Taken up
with my duties of orderly officer, it was only in the
morning that I could assure myself of the safety of my
own family. My mother and my sisters had escaped
with their lives from that ballroom, where I had left
them early in the evening. I remember those two
beautiful young women -- God rest their souls -- as if I
saw them this moment, in the garden of our destroyed
house, pale but active, assisting some of our poor neigh-
bours, in their soiled ball-dresses and with the dust of
fallen walls on their hair. As to my mother, she had a
stoical soul in her frail body. Half-covered by a costly
shawl, she was lying on a rustic seat by the side of an
ornamental basin whose fountain had ceased to play for
ever on that night.
"I had hardly had time to embrace them all with
transports of joy when my chief, coming along, dis-
patched me to the ravine with a few soldiers, to bring in
my strong man, as he called him, and that pale girl.
"But there was no one for us to bring in. A land-
slide had covered the ruins of the house; and it was
like a large mound of earth with only the ends of some
timbers visible here and there -- nothing more.
"Thus were the tribulations of the old Royalist couple
ended. An enormous and unconsecrated grave had
swallowed them up alive, in their unhappy obstinacy
against the will of a people to be free. And their
daughter was gone.
"That Gaspar Ruiz had carried her off I understood
very well. But as the case was not foreseen, I had no
instructions to pursue them. And certainly I had no
desire to do so. I had grown mistrustful of my inter-
ference. It had never been successful, and had not even
appeared creditable. He was gone. Well, let him go.
And he had carried off the Royalist girl! Nothing
better. Vaya con Dios. This was not the time to
bother about a deserter who, justly or unjustly, ought to
have been dead, and a girl for whom it would have been
better to have never been born.
"So I marched my men back to the town.
"After a few days, order having been re-established,
all the principal families, including my own, left for
Santiago. We had a fine house there. At the same
time the division of Robles was moved to new canton-
ments near the capital. This change suited very well
the state of my domestic and amorous feelings.
"One night, rather late, I was called to my chief. I
found General Robles in his quarters, at ease, with his
uniform off, drinking neat brandy out of a tumbler --
as a precaution, he used to say, against the sleepless-
ness induced by the bites of mosquitoes. He was a good
soldier, and he taught me the art and practice of war.
No doubt God has been merciful to his soul; for his mo-
tives were never other than patriotic, if his character
was irascible. As to the use of mosquito nets, he consid-
ered it effeminate, shameful -- unworthy of a soldier.
"I noticed at the first glance that his face, already
very red, wore an expression of high good-humour.
"'Aha! Senor teniente,' he cried, loudly, as I saluted
at the door. 'Behold! Your strong man has turned
"He extended to me a folded letter, which I saw was
superscribed 'To the Commander-in-Chief of the Re-
"'This,' General Robles went on in his loud voice,
'was thrust by a boy into the hand of a sentry at the
Quartel General, while the fellow stood there thinking of
his girl, no doubt -- for before he could gather his wits
together the boy had disappeared amongst the market
people, and he protests he could not recognize him to
save his life.'
"'My chief told me further that the soldier had given
the letter to the sergeant of the guard, and that ulti-
mately it had reached the hands of our generalissimo.
His Excellency had deigned to take cognizance of it
with his own eyes. After that he had referred the
matter in confidence to General Robles.
"The letter, senores, I cannot now recollect textually.
I saw the signature of Gaspar Ruiz. He was an auda-
cious fellow. He had snatched a soul for himself out of
a cataclysm, remember. And now it was that soul
which had dictated the terms of his letter. Its tone
was very independent. I remember it struck me at
the time as noble -- dignified. It was, no doubt, her
letter. Now I shudder at the depth of its duplicity.
Gaspar Ruiz was made to complain of the injustice
of which he had been a victim. He invoked his previ-
ous record of fidelity and courage. Having been saved
from death by the miraculous interposition of Provi-
dence, he could think of nothing but of retrieving his
character. This, he wrote, he could not hope to do
in the ranks as a discredited soldier still under suspicion.
He had the means to give a striking proof of his fidelity.
He had ended by proposing to the General-in-Chief
a meeting at midnight in the middle of the Plaza be-
fore the Moneta. The signal would be to strike fire
with flint and steel three times, which was not too con-
spicuous and yet distinctive enough for recognition.
"San Martin, the great Liberator, loved men of
audacity and courage. Besides, he was just and com-
passionate. I told him as much of the man's story as I
knew, and was ordered to accompany him on the ap-
pointed night. The signals were duly exchanged. It
was midnight, and the whole town was dark and silent.
Their two cloaked figures came together in the centre of
the vast Plaza, and, keeping discreetly at a distance, I
listened for an hour or more to the murmur of their
voices. Then the General motioned me to approach;
and as I did so I heard San Martin, who was courteous
to gentle and simple alike, offer Gaspar Ruiz the hospi-
tality of the headquarters for the night. But the sol-
dier refused, saying that he would be not worthy of that
honour till he had done something.
"'You cannot have a common deserter for your
guest, Excellency,' he protested with a low laugh, and
stepping backwards merged slowly into the night.
"The Commander-in-Chief observed to me, as we
turned away: 'He had somebody with him, our friend
Ruiz. I saw two figures for a moment. It was an un-
"I, too, had observed another figure join the vanishing
form of Gaspar Ruiz. It had the appearance of a short
fellow in a poncho and a big hat. And I wondered
stupidly who it could be he had dared take into his con-
fidence. I might have guessed it could be no one but
that fatal girl -- alas!
"Where he kept her concealed I do not know. He
had -- it was known afterwards -- an uncle, his mother's
brother, a small shopkeeper in Santiago. Perhaps it
was there that she found a roof and food. Whatever she
found, it was poor enough to exasperate her pride and
keep up her anger and hate. It is certain she did not
accompany him on the feat he undertook to accomplish
first of all. It was nothing less than the destruction of a
store of war material collected secretly by the Spanish au-
thorities in the south, in a town called Linares. Gaspar
Ruiz was entrusted with a small party only, but they
proved themselves worthy of San Martin's confidence.
The season was not propitious. They had to swim
swollen rivers. They seemed, however, to have gal-
loped night and day out-riding the news of their foray,
and holding straight for the town, a hundred miles
into the enemy's country, till at break of day they rode
into it sword in hand, surprising the little garrison.
It fled without making a stand, leaving most of its
officers in Gaspar Ruiz' hands.
"A great explosion of gunpowder ended the con-
flagration of the magazines the raiders had set on fire
without loss of time. In less than six hours they were
riding away at the same mad speed, without the loss of
a single man. Good as they were, such an exploit is
not performed without a still better leadership.
"I was dining at the headquarters when Gaspar
Ruiz himself brought the news of his success. And it
was a great blow to the Royalist troops. For a proof he
displayed to us the garrison's flag. He took it from
under his poncho and flung it on the table. The man
was transfigured; there was something exulting and
menacing in the expression of his face. He stood
behind General San Martin's chair and looked proudly
at us all. He had a round blue cap edged with silver
braid on his head, and we all could see a large white
scar on the nape of his sunburnt neck.
"Somebody asked him what he had done with the
captured Spanish officers.
"He shrugged his shoulders scornfully. 'What a
question to ask! In a partisan war you do not burden
yourself with prisoners. I let them go -- and here are
"He flung a bunch of them on the table upon the
flag. Then General Robles, whom I was attending there,
spoke up in his loud, thick voice: 'You did! Then, my
brave friend, you do not know yet how a war like ours
ought to be conducted. You should have done -- this.'
And he passed the edge of his hand across his own
"Alas, senores! It was only too true that on both
sides this contest, in its nature so heroic, was stained by
ferocity. The murmurs that arose at General Robles'
words were by no means unanimous in tone. But the
generous and brave San Martin praised the humane
action, and pointed out to Ruiz a place on his right
hand. Then rising with a full glass he proposed a
toast: 'Caballeros and comrades-in-arms, let us drink
the health of Captain Gaspar Ruiz.' And when we had
emptied our glasses: 'I intend,' the Commander-in-
Chief continued, 'to entrust him with the guardianship
of our southern frontier, while we go afar to liberate our
brethren in Peru. He whom the enemy could not stop
from striking a blow at his very heart will know how
to protect the peaceful populations we leave behind us
to pursue our sacred task.' And he embraced the silent
Gaspar Ruiz by his side.
"Later on, when we all rose from table, I approached
the latest officer of the army with my congratulations.
'And, Captain Ruiz,' I added, 'perhaps you do not mind
telling a man who has always believed in the upright-
ness of your character what became of Dona Erminia on
"At this friendly question his aspect changed. He
looked at me from under his eyebrows with the heavy,
dull glance of a guasso -- of a peasant. 'Senor teniente,'
he said, thickly, and as if very much cast down, 'do not
ask me about the senorita, for I prefer not to think
about her at all when I am amongst you."
"He looked, with a frown, all about the room, full of
smoking and talking officers. Of course I did not
"These, senores, were the last words I was to hear him
utter for a long, long time. The very next day we em-
barked for our arduous expedition to Peru, and we only
heard of Gaspar Ruiz' doings in the midst of battles of
our own. He had been appointed military guardian of
our southern province. He raised a partida. But his
leniency to the conquered foe displeased the Civil
Governor, who was a formal, uneasy man, full of
suspicions. He forwarded reports against Gaspar Ruiz
to the Supreme Government; one of them being that
he had married publicly, with great pomp, a woman of
Royalist tendencies. Quarrels were sure to arise be-
tween these two men of very different character. At last
the Civil Governor began to complain of his inactivity
and to hint at treachery, which, he wrote, would be not
surprising in a man of such antecedents. Gaspar Ruiz
heard of it. His rage flamed up, and the woman ever
by his side knew how to feed it with perfidious words.
I do not know whether really the Supreme Government
ever did -- as he complained afterwards -- send orders for
his arrest. It seems certain that the Civil Governor
began to tamper with his officers, and that Gaspar Ruiz
discovered the fact.
"One evening, when the Governor was giving a
tertullia, Gaspar Ruiz, followed by six men he could
trust, appeared riding through the town to the door of
the Government House, and entered the sala armed, his
hat on his head. As the Governor, displeased, ad-
vanced to meet him, he seized the wretched man round
the body, carried him off from the midst of the appalled
guests, as though he were a child, and flung him down
the outer steps into the street. An angry hug from
Gaspar Ruiz was enough to crush the life out of a giant;
but in addition Gaspar Ruiz' horsemen fired their
pistols at the body of the Governor as it lay motionless
at the bottom of the stairs.