“Now Carreras, under the guise
of politics and liberalism, was a scoundrel of the
deepest dye, and the unhappy state of Mendoza was the
prey of thieves, robbers, traitors and murderers, who
formed his party. He was under a noble exterior
a man without heart, pity, honour, or conscience.
Tie aspired to nothing but tyranny, and though he would
have made use of Gaspar Ruiz for his nefarious designs,
yet he soon became aware that to propitiate the Chilian
Government would answer his purpose better. I
blush to say that he made proposals to our Government
to deliver up on certain conditions the wife and child
of the man who had trusted to his honour, and that
this offer was accepted.
“While on her way to Mendoza
over the Pequena pass she was betrayed by her escort
of Carreras’ men, and given up to the officer
in command of a Chilian fort on the upland at the
foot of the main Cordillera range. This atrocious
transaction might have cost me dear, for as a matter
of fact I was a prisoner in Gaspar Ruiz’ camp
when he received the news. I had been captured
during a reconnaissance, my escort of a few troopers
being speared by the Indians of his bodyguard.
I was saved from the same fate because he recognised
my features just in time. No doubt my friends
thought I was dead, and I would not have given much
for my life at any time. But the strong man treated
me very well, because, he said, I had always believed
in his innocence and had tried to serve him when he
was a victim of injustice.
“‘And now,’ was
his speech to me, ’you shall see that I always
speak the truth. You are safe.’
“I did not think I was very
safe when I was called up to go to him one night.
He paced up and down like a wild beast, exclaiming,
“He walked up to me clenching
his fists. ‘I could cut your throat.’
“‘Will that give your
wife back to you?’ I said as quietly as I could.
“‘And the child!’
he yelled out, as if mad. He fell into a chair
and laughed in a frightful, boisterous manner.
‘Oh, no, you are safe.’
“I assured him that his wife’s
life was safe too; but I did not say what I was convinced
of that he would never see her again.
He wanted war to the death, and the war could only
end with his death.
“He gave me a strange, inexplicable
look, and sat muttering blankly. ’In their
hands. In their hands.’
“I kept as still as a mouse
before a cat. Suddenly he jumped up. ’What
am I doing here?’ he cried; and opening the door,
he yelled out orders to saddle and mount. ‘What
is it?’ he stammered, coming up to me. ’The
Pequena fort; a fort of palisades! Nothing.
I would get her back if she were hidden in the very
heart of the mountain.’ He amazed me by
adding, with an effort: ’I carried her
off in my two arms while the earth trembled.
And the child at least is mine. She at least is
“Those were bizarre words; but I had no time
“‘You shall go with me;’
he said violently. ’I may want to parley,
and any other messenger from Ruiz, the outlaw, would
have his throat cut.’
“This was true enough.
Between him and the rest of incensed mankind there
could be no communication, according to the customs
of honour-able warfare.
“In less than half an hour we
were in the saddle, flying wildly through the night.
He had only an escort of twenty men at his quarters,
but would not wait for more. He sent, however,
messengers to Peneleo, the Indian chief then ranging
in the foothills, directing him to bring his warriors
to the uplands and meet him at the lake called the
Eye of Water, near whose shores the frontier fort
of Pequena was built.
“We crossed the lowlands with
that untired rapidity of movement which had made Gaspar
Ruiz’ raids so famous. We followed the lower
valleys up to their precipitous heads. The ride
was not without its dangers. A cornice road on
a perpendicular wall of basalt wound itself around
a buttressing rock, and at last we emerged from the
gloom of a deep gorge upon the upland of Peena.
“It was a plain of green wiry
grass and thin flowering bushes; but high above our
heads patches of snow hung in the folds and crevices
of the great walls of rock. The little lake was
as round as a staring eye. The garrison of the
fort were just driving in their small herd of cattle
when we appeared. Then the great wooden gates
swung to, and that four-square enclosure of broad
blackened stakes pointed at the top and barely hiding
the grass roofs of the huts inside, seemed deserted,
empty, without a single soul.
“But when summoned to surrender,
by a man who at Gaspar Ruiz’ order rode fearlessly
forward, those inside answered by a volley which rolled
him and his horse over. I heard Ruiz by my side
grind his teeth. ’It does not matter,’
he said. ‘Now you go.’
“Torn and faded as its rags
were, the vestiges of my uniform were recognised,
and I was allowed to approach within speaking distance;
and then I had to wait, because a voice clamouring
through a loophole with joy and astonishment would
not allow me to place a word. It was the voice
of Major Pajol, an old friend. He, like my other
comrades, had thought me killed a long time ago.
“‘Put spurs to your horse,
man!’ he yelled, in the greatest excitement;
‘we will swing the gate open for you.’
“I let the reins fall out of
my hand and shook my head. ’I am on my
honour,’ I cried.
“‘To him!’ he shouted, with infinite
“‘He promises you your life.’
“’Our life is our own.
And do you, Santierra, advise us to surrender to that
“‘No!’ I shouted.
’But he wants his wife and child, and he can
cut you off from water.’
“’Then she would be the
first to suffer. You may tell him that. Look
here this is all nonsense: we shall
dash out and capture you.
“‘You shall not catch me alive,’
I said firmly.
“‘For God’s sake,’
I continued hastily, ‘do not open the gate.’
And I pointed at the multitude of Peneleo’s
Indians who covered the shores of the lake.
“I had never seen so many of
these savages together. Their lances seemed as
numerous as stalks of grass. Their hoarse voices
made a vast, inarticulate sound like the murmur of
“My friend Pajol was swearing
to himself. ‘Well, then go to
the devil!’ he shouted, exasperated. But
as I swung round he repented, for I heard him say
hurriedly, ’Shoot the fool’s horse before
he gets away.
“He had good marksmen.
Two shots rang out, and in the very act of turning
my horse staggered, fell and lay still as if struck
by lightning. I had my feet out of the stirrups
and rolled clear of him; but I did not attempt to
rise. Neither dared they rush out to drag me
“The masses of Indians had begun
to move upon the fort. They rode up in squadrons,
trailing their long chusos; then dismounted out of
musket-shot, and, throwing off their fur mantles, advanced
naked to the attack, stamping their feet and shouting
in cadence. A sheet of flame ran three times
along the face of the fort without checking their steady
march. They crowded right up to the very stakes,
flourishing their broad knives. But this palisade
was not fastened together with hide lashings in the
usual way, but with long iron nails, which they could
not cut. Dismayed at the failure of their usual
method of forcing an entrance, the heathen, who had
marched so steadily against the musketry fire, broke
and fled under the volleys of the besieged.
“Directly they had passed me
on their advance I got up and rejoined Gaspar Ruiz
on a low ridge which jutted out upon the plain.
The musketry of his own men had covered the attack,
but now at a sign from him a trumpet sounded the ‘Cease
fire.’ Together we looked in silence at
the hopeless rout of the savages.
“‘It must be a siege,
then,’ he muttered. And I detected him wringing
his hands stealthily.
“But what sort of siege could
it be? Without any need for me to repeat my friend
Pajol’s message, he dared not cut the water off
from the besieged. They had plenty of meat.
And, indeed, if they had been short, he would have
been too anxious to send food into the stockade had
he been able. But, as a matter of fact, it was
we on the plain who were beginning to feel the pinch
“Peneleo, the Indian chief,
sat by our fire folded in his ample mantle of guanaco
skins. He was an athletic savage, with an enormous
square shock head of hair resembling a straw beehive
in shape and size, and with grave, surly, much-lined
features. In his broken Spanish he repeated,
growling like a bad-tempered wild beast, that if an
opening ever so small were made in the stockade his
men would march in and get the senora not
“Gaspar Ruiz, sitting opposite
him, kept his eyes fixed on the fort night and day
as it were, in awful silence and immobility. Meantime,
by runners from the lowlands that arrived nearly every
day, we heard of the defeat of one of his lieutenants
in the Maipu valley. Scouts sent afar brought
news of a column of infantry advancing through distant
passes to the relief of the fort. They were slow,
but we could trace their toilful progress up the lower
valleys. I wondered why Ruiz did not march to
attack and destroy this threatening force, in some
wild gorge fit for an ambuscade, in accordance with
his genius for guerrilla warfare. But his genius
seemed to have abandoned him to his despair.
“It was obvious to me that he
could not tear himself away from the sight of the
fort. I protest to you, senores, that I was moved
almost to pity by the sight of this powerless strong
man sitting on the ridge, indifferent to sun, to rain,
to cold, to wind; with his hands clasped round his
legs and his chin resting on his knees, gazing gazing gazing.
“And the fort he kept his eyes
fastened on was as still and silent as himself.
The garrison gave no sign of life. They did not
even answer the desultory fire directed at the loopholes.
“One night, as I strolled past
him, he, without changing his attitude, spoke to me
unexpectedly ‘I have sent for a gun,’ he
said. ’I shall have time to get her back
and retreat before your Robles manages to crawl up
“He had sent for a gun to the plains.
“It was long in coming, but
at last it came. It was a seven-pounder field-gun.
Dismounted and lashed crosswise to two long poles,
it had been carried up the narrow paths between two
mules with ease. His wild cry of exultation at
daybreak when he saw the gun escort emerge from the
valley rings in my ears now.
“But, senores, I have no words
to depict his amazement, his fury, his despair and
distraction, when he heard that the animal loaded with
the gun-carriage had, during the last night march,
somehow or other tumbled down a precipice. He
broke into menaces of death and torture against the
escort. I kept out of his way all that day, lying
behind some bushes, and wondering what he would do
now. Retreat was left for him; but he could not
“I saw below me his artillerist
Jorge, an old Spanish soldier, building up a sort
of structure with heaped-up saddles. The gun,
ready-loaded was lifted on to that, but in the act
of firing the whole thing collapsed and the shot flew
high above the stockade.
“Nothing more was attempted.
One of the ammunition mules had been lost too, and
they had no more than six shots to fire; amply enough
to batter down the gate, providing the gun was well
laid. This was impossible without it being properly
mounted. There was no time nor means to construct
a carriage. Already every moment I expected to
hear Robles’ bugle-calls echo amongst the crags.
“Peneleo, wandering about uneasily,
draped in his skins, sat down for a moment near me
growling his usual tale.
“’Make an entrada a
hole. If make a hole, bueno. If not
make a hole, them vamos we must go
“After sunset I observed with
surprise the Indians making preparations as if for
another assault. Their lines stood ranged in the
shadows mountains. On the plain in front of the
fort gate I saw a group of men swaying about in the
“I walked down the ridge disregarded.
The moonlight in the clear air of the uplands was
as bright as day, but the intense shadows confused
my sight, and I could not make out what they were
doing. I heard voice Jorge, artillerist, say
in a queer, doubtful tone, ’It is loaded, senores.’
“Then another voice in that
group pronounced firmly the words, ’Bring the
riata here.’ It was the voice of Gaspar
“A silence fell, in which the
popping shots of the besieged garrison rang out sharply.
They too had observed the group. But the distance
was too great, and in the spatter of spent musket-balls
cutting up the ground, the group opened, closed, swayed,
giving me a glimpse of busy stooping figures in its
midst. I drew nearer, doubting whether this was
a weird vision, a suggestive and insensate dream.
“A strangely stifled voice commanded,
‘Haul the hitches tighter.’
“‘Si, senor,’ several
other voices answered in tones of awed alacrity.
“Then the stifled voice said:
‘Like this. I must be free to breathe.’
“Then there was a concerned
noise of many men together. ’Help him up,
hombres. Steady! Under the other arm.’
“That deadened voice, ordered:
‘Bueno! Stand away from me, men.’
“I pushed my way through the
recoiling circle, and heard once more that same oppressed
voice saying earnestly: ’Forget that I am
a living man, Jorge. Forget me altogether, and
think of what you have to do.’
“’Be without fear, senor.
You are nothing to me but a gun carriage, and I shall
not waste a shot.’
“I heard the spluttering of
a port-fire, and smelt the saltpetre of the match.
I saw suddenly before me a nondescript shape on all
fours like a beast, but with a man’s head drooping
below a tubular projection over the nape of the neck,
and the gleam of a rounded mass of bronze on its back.
“In front of a silent semicircle
of men it squatted alone with Jorge behind it and
a trumpeter motionless, his trumpet in his hand, by
“Jorge, bent double, muttered,
port-fire in hand: ’An inch to the left,
senor. Too much. So. Now, if you let
yourself down a little by letting your elbows bend,
“He leaped aside, lowering his
port-fire, and a burst of flame darted out of the
muzzle of the gun lashed on the man’s back.
“Then Gaspar Ruiz lowered himself
slowly. ‘Good shot?’ he asked.
“‘Full on, senor.’
“‘Then load again.’
“He lay there before me on his
breast under the darkly glittering bronze of his monstrous
burden, such as no love or strength of man had ever
had to bear in the lamentable history of the world.
His arms were spread out, and he resembled a prostrate
penitent on the moonlit ground.
“Again I saw him raised to his
hands and knees, and the men stand away from him,
and old Jorge stoop, glancing along the gun.
“’Left a little.
Right an inch. Por Dios, senor, stop this
trembling. Where is your strength?’
“The old gunner’s voice
was cracked with emotion. He stepped aside, and
quick as lightning brought the spark to the touch-hole.
cried tearfully; but Gaspar Ruiz lay for a long time
silent, flattened on the ground.
“‘I am tired,’ he
murmured at last. ‘Will another shot do
“‘Without doubt,’ said Jorge, bending
down to his ear.
“‘Then load,’ I heard
him utter distinctly. ‘Trumpeter!’
“‘I am here, senor, ready for your word.’
“’Blow a blast at this
word that shall be heard from one end of Chile to
the other,’ he said, in an extraordinarily strong
voice. ’And you others stand ready to cut
this accursed riata, for then will be the time for
me to lead you in your rush. Now raise me up,
and, you, Jorge be quick with your aim.’
“The rattle of musketry from
the fort nearly drowned his voice. The palisade
was wreathed in smoke and flame.
“‘Exert your force forward
against the recoil, mi amo,’ said the
old gunner shakily. ‘Dig your fingers into
the ground. So. Now!’
“A cry of exultation escaped
him after the shot. The trumpeter raised his
trumpet nearly to his lips, and waited. But no
word came from the prostrate man. I fell on one
knee, and heard all he had to say then.
he whispered, lifting his head a little, and turning
his eyes towards me in his hopelessly crushed attitude.
“‘The gate hangs only by the splinters,’
“Gaspar Ruiz tried to speak,
but his voice died out in his throat, and I helped
to roll the gun off his broken back. He was insensible.
“I kept my lips shut, of course.
The signal for the Indians to attack was never given.
Instead, the bugle-calls of the relieving force, for
which my ears had thirsted so long, burst out, terrifying
like the call of the Last Day to our surprised enemies.
“A tornado, senores, a real
hurricane of stampeded men, wild horses, mounted Indians,
swept over me as I cowered on the ground by the side
of Gaspar Ruiz, still stretched out on his face in
the shape of a cross. Peneleo, galloping for
life, jabbed at me with his long chuso in passing for
the sake of old acquaintance, I suppose. How I
escaped the flying lead is more difficult to explain.
Venturing to rise on my knees too soon, some soldiers
of the 17th Taltal regiment, in their hurry to get
at something alive, nearly bayonetted me on the spot.
They looked very disappointed too when some officers
galloping up drove them away with the flat of their
“It was General Robles with
his staff. He wanted badly to make some prisoners.
He, too, seemed disappointed for a moment. ‘What?
Is it you?’ he cried. But he dismounted
at once to embrace me, for he was an old friend of
my family. I pointed to the body at our feet,
and said only these two words:
“He threw his arms up in astonishment.
“’Aha! Your strong
man! Always to the last with your strong man.
No matter. He saved our lives when the earth
trembled enough to make the bravest faint with fear.
I was frightened out of my wits. But he no!
Que guape! Where’s the hero who got
the best of him? Ha! ha! ha! What killed
“‘His own strength general,’ I answered.”