On the southern slope of the main tableland which divides the waters of the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers in Texas, lies the old Spanish land grant of "Agua Dulce," and the rancho by that name. Twice within the space of fifteen years was an appeal to the sword taken over the ownership of the territory between these rivers. Sparsely settled by the descendants of the original grantees, with an occasional American ranchman, it is to-day much the same as when the treaty of peace gave it to the stronger republic.
This frontier on the south has undergone few changes in the last half century, and no improvements have been made. Here the smuggler against both governments finds an inviting field. The bandit and the robber feel equally at home under either flag. Revolutionists hatch their plots against the powers that be; sedition takes on life and finds adherents eager to bear arms and apply the torch.
Within a dozen years of the close of the century just past, this territory was infested by a band of robbers, whose boldness has had few equals in the history of American brigandage. The Bedouins of the Orient justify their freebooting by accounting it a religious duty, looking upon every one against their faith as an Infidel, and therefore common property. These bandits could offer no such excuse, for they plundered people of their own faith and blood. They were Mexicans, a hybrid mixture of Spanish atrocity and Indian cruelty. They numbered from ten to twenty, and for several months terrorized the Mexican inhabitants on both sides of the river. On the American side they were particular never to molest any one except those of their own nationality. These they robbed with impunity, nor did their victims dare to complain to the authorities, so thoroughly were they terrified and coerced.
The last and most daring act of these marauders was the kidnapping of Don Ramon Mora, owner of the princely grant of Agua Dulce. Thousands of cattle and horses ranged over the vast acres of his ranch, and he was reputed to be a wealthy man. No one ever enjoyed the hospitality of Agua Dulce but went his way with an increased regard for its owner and his estimable Castilian family. The rancho lay back from the river probably sixty miles, and was on the border of the chaparral, which was the rendezvous of the robbers. Don Ramon had a pleasant home in one of the river towns. One June he and his family had gone to the ranch, intending to spend a few weeks there. He had notified cattle-buyers of this vacation, and had invited them to visit him there either on business or pleasure.
One evening an unknown vaquero rode up to the rancho and asked for Don Ramon. That gentleman presenting himself, the stranger made known his errand: a certain firm of well-known drovers, friends of the ranchero, were encamped for the night at a ranchita some ten miles distant. They regretted that they could not visit him, but they would be pleased to see him. They gave as an excuse for not calling that they were driving quite a herd of cattle, and the corrals at this little ranch were unsafe for the number they had, so that they were compelled to hold outside or night-herd. This very plausible story was accepted without question by Don Ramon, who well understood the handling of herds. Inviting the messenger to some refreshment, he ordered his horse saddled and made preparation to return with this pseudo vaquero. Telling his family that he would be gone for the night, he rode away with the stranger.
There were several thickety groves, extending from the main chaparral out for considerable distance on the prairie, but not of as rank a growth as on the alluvial river bottoms. These thickets were composed of thorny underbrush, frequently as large as fruit trees and of a density which made them impenetrable, except by those thoroughly familiar with the few established trails. The road from Agua Dulce to the ranchita was plain and well known, yet passing through several arms of the main body of the chaparral. Don Ramon and his guide reached one of these thickets after nightfall. Suddenly they were surrounded by a dozen horsemen, who, with oaths and jests, told him that he was their prisoner. Relieving Don Ramon of his firearms and other valuables, one of the bandits took the bridle off his horse, and putting a rope around the animal's neck, the band turned towards the river with their captive. Near morning they went into one of their many retreats in the chaparral, fettering their prisoner. What the feelings of Don Ramon Mora were that night is not for pen to picture, for they must have been indescribable.
The following day the leader of these bandits held several conversations with him, asking in regard to his family, his children in particular, their names, number, and ages. When evening came they set out once more southward, crossing the Rio Grande during the night at an unused ford. The next morning found them well inland on the Mexican side, and encamped in one of their many chaparral rendezvous. Here they spent several days, sometimes, however, only a few of the band being present. The density of the thickets on the first and second bottoms of this river, extending back inland often fifty miles, made this camp and refuge almost inaccessible. The country furnished their main subsistence; fresh meat was always at hand, while their comrades, scouting the river towns, supplied such comforts as were lacking.
Don Ramon's appeals to his captors to know his offense and what his punishment was to be were laughed at until he had been their prisoner a week. One night several of the party returned, awoke him out of a friendly sleep, and he was notified that their chief would join them by daybreak, and then he would know what his offense had been. When this personage made his appearance, he ordered Don Ramon released from his fetters. Every one in camp showed obeisance to him. After holding a general conversation with his followers, he approached Don Ramon, the band forming a circle about the prisoner and their chief.
"Don Ramon Mora," he began, with mock courtesy, "doubtless you consider yourself an innocent and abused person. In that you are wrong. Your offense is a political one. Your family for three generations have opposed the freedom of Mexico. When our people were conquered and control was given to the French, it was through the treachery of such men as you. Treason is unpardonable, Senor Mora. It is useless to enumerate your crimes against human liberty. Living as you do under a friendly government, you have incited the ignorant to revolution and revolt against the native rulers. Secret agents of our common country have shadowed you for years. It is useless to deny your guilt. Your execution, therefore, will be secret, in order that your co-workers in infamy shall not take alarm, but may meet a similar fate."
Turning to one of the party who had acted as leader at the time of his capture, he gave these instructions: "Be in no hurry to execute these orders. Death is far too light a sentence to fit his crime. He is beyond a full measure of justice." There was a chorus of "bravos" when the bandit chief finished this trumped-up charge. As he turned from the prisoner, Don Ramon pleadingly begged, "Only take me before an established court that I may prove my innocence."
"No! sentence has been passed upon you. If you hope for mercy, it must come from there," and the chief pointed heavenward. One of the band led out the arch-chief's horse, and with a parting instruction to "conceal his grave carefully," he rode away with but a single attendant.
As they led Don Ramon back to his blanket and replaced the fetters, his cup of sorrow was full to overflowing. Oddly enough the leader, since sentence of death had been pronounced upon his victim, was the only one of the band who showed any kindness. The others were brutal in their jeers and taunts. Some remarks burned into his sensitive nature as vitriol burns into metal. The bandit leader alone offered little kindnesses.
Two days later, the acting chief ordered the irons taken from the captive's feet, and the two men, with but a single attendant, who kept a respectful distance, started out for a stroll. The bandit chief expressed his regret at the sad duty which had been allotted him, and assured Don Ramon that he would gladly make his time as long as was permissible.
"I thank you for your kindness," said Don Ramon, "but is there no chance to be given me to prove the falsity of these charges? Am I condemned to die without a hearing?"
"There is no hope from that source."
"Is there any hope from any source?"
"Scarcely," replied the leader, "and still, if we could satisfy those in authority over us that you had been executed as ordered, and if my men could be bribed to certify the fact if necessary, and if you pledge us to quit the country forever, who would know to the contrary? True, our lives would be in jeopardy, and it would mean death to you if you betrayed us."
"Is this possible?" asked Don Ramon excitedly.
"The color of gold makes a good many things possible."
"I would gladly give all I possess in the world for one hour's peace in the presence of my family, even if in the next my soul was summoned to the bar of God. True, in lands and cattle I am wealthy, but the money at my command is limited, though I wish it were otherwise."
"It is a fortunate thing that you are a man of means. Say nothing to your guards, and I will have a talk this very night with two men whom I can trust, and we will see what can be done for you. Come, senor, don't despair, for I feel there is some hope," concluded the bandit.
The family of Don Ramon were uneasy but not alarmed by his failure to return to them the day following his departure. After two days had passed, during which no word had come from him, his wife sent an old servant to see if he was still at the ranchita. There the man learned that his master had not been seen, nor had there been any drovers there recently. Under the promise of secrecy, the servant was further informed that, on the very day that Don Ramon had left his home, a band of robbers had driven into a corral at a ranch in the monte a remudo of ranch horses, and, asking no one's consent, had proceeded to change their mounts, leaving their own tired horses. This they did at noonday, without so much as a hand raised in protest, so terrified were the people of the ranch.
On the servant's return to Agua Dulce, the alarm and grief of the family were pitiful, as was their helplessness. When darkness set in Senora Mora sent a letter by a peon to an old family friend at his home on the river. The next night three men, for mutual protection, brought back a reply. From it these plausible deductions were made:--
That Don Ramon had been kidnapped for a ransom; that these bandits no doubt were desperate men who would let nothing interfere with their plans; that to notify the authorities and ask for help might end in his murder; and that if kidnapped for a ransom, overtures for his redemption would be made in due time. As he was entirely at the mercy of his captors, they must look for hope only from that source. If reward was their motive, he was worth more living than dead. This was the only consolation deduced. The letter concluded by advising them to meet any overture in strict confidence. As only money would be acceptable in such a case, the friend pledged all his means in behalf of Don Ramon should it be needed.
These were anxious days and weary nights for this innocent family. The father, no doubt, would welcome death itself in preference to the rack on which he was kept by his captors. Time is not considered valuable in warm climates, and two weary days were allowed to pass before any conversation was renewed with Don Ramon.
Then once more the chief had the fetters removed from his victim's ankles, with the customary guard within call. He explained that many of the men were away, and it would be several days yet before he could know if the outlook for his release was favorable. From what he had been able to learn so far, at least fifty thousand dollars would be necessary to satisfy the band, which numbered twenty, five of whom were spies. They were poor men, he further explained, many of them had families, and if they accepted money in a case like this, self-banishment was the only safe course, as the political society to which they belonged would place a price on their heads if they were detected.
"The sum mentioned is a large one," commented Don Ramon, "but it is nothing to the mental anguish that I suffer daily. If I had time and freedom, the money might be raised. But as it is, it is doubtful if I could command one fifth of it."
"You have a son," said the chief, "a young man of twenty. Could he not as well as yourself raise this amount? A letter could be placed in his hands stating that a political society had sentenced you to death, and that your life was only spared from day to day by the sufferance of your captors. Ask him to raise this sum, tell him it would mean freedom and restoration to your family. Could he not do this as well as you?"
"If time were given him, possibly. Can I send him such a letter?" pleaded Don Ramon, brightening with the hope of this new opportunity.
"It would be impossible at present. The consent of all interested must first be gained. Our responsibility then becomes greater than yours. No false step must be taken. To-morrow is the soonest that we can get a hearing with all. There must be no dissenters to the plan or it fails, and then--well, the execution has been delayed long enough."
Thus the days wore on.
The absence of the band, except for the few who guarded the prisoner, was policy on their part. They were receiving the news from the river villages daily, where the friends of Don Ramon discussed his absence in whispers. Their system of espionage was as careful as their methods were cruel and heartless. They even got reports from the ranch that not a member of the family had ventured away since its master's capture. The local authorities were inactive. The bandits would play their cards for a high ransom.
Early one morning after a troubled night's rest, Don Ramon was awakened by the arrival of the robbers, several of whom were boisterously drunk. It was only with curses and drawn arms that the chief prevented these men from committing outrages on their helpless captive.
After coffee was served, the chief unfolded his plot to them, with Don Ramon as a listener to the proceedings. Addressing them, he said that the prisoner's offense was not one against them or theirs; that at best they were but the hirelings of others; that they were poorly paid, and that it had become sickening to him to do the bloody work for others. Don Ramon Mora had gold at his command, enough to give each more in a day than they could hope to receive for years of this inhuman servitude. He could possibly pay to each two thousand dollars for his freedom, guaranteeing them his gratitude, and pledging to refrain from any prosecution. Would they accept this offer or refuse it? As many as were in favor of granting his life would deposit in his hat a leaf from the mesquite; those opposed, a leaf from the wild cane which surrounded their camp.
The vote asked for was watched by the prisoner as only a man could watch whose life hung in the balance. There were eight cane leaves to seven of the mesquite. The chief flew into a rage, cursed his followers for murderers for refusing to let the life blood run in this man, who had never done one of them an injury. He called them cowards for attacking the helpless, even accusing them of lack of respect for their chief's wishes. The majority hung their heads like whipped curs. When he had finished his harangue, one of their number held up his hand to beg the privilege of speaking.
"Yes, defend your dastardly act if you can," said the chief.
"Capitan," said the man, making obeisance and tapping his breast, "there is an oath recorded here, in memory of a father who was hanged by the French for no other crime save that he was a patriot to the land of his birth. And you ask me to violate my vow! To the wind with your sympathy! To the gallows with our enemies!" There was a chorus of "bravos" and shouts of "Vivi el Mejico," as the majority congratulated the speaker.
When the chief led the prisoner back to his blanket, he spoke hopefully to Don Ramon, explaining that it was the mescal the men had drunk which made them so unreasonable and defiant. Promising to reason with them when they were more sober, he left Don Ramon with his solitary guard. The chief then returned to the band, where he received the congratulations of his partners in crime on his mock sympathy. It was agreed that the majority should be won over at the next council, which they would hold that evening.
The chief returned to his prisoner during the day, and expressed a hope that by evening, when his followers would be perfectly sober, they would listen to reason. He doubted, however, if the sum first named would satisfy them, and insisted that he be authorized to offer more. To this latter proposition Don Ramon made answer, "I am helpless to promise you anything, but if you will only place me in correspondence with my son, all I possess, everything that can be hypothecated shall go to satisfy your demands. Only let it be soon, for this suspense is killing me."
An hour before dark the band was once more summoned together, with Don Ramon in their midst. The chief asked the majority if they had any compromise to offer to his proposition of the morning, and received a negative answer. "Then," said he, "remember that a trusting wife and eight children, the eldest a lad of twenty, the youngest a toddling tot of a girl, claim a husband and a father's love at the hands of the prisoner here. Are you such base ingrates that you can show no mercy, not even to the innocent?"
The majority were abashed, and one by one fell back in the distance. Finally a middle-aged man came forward and said, "Give us five thousand dollars in gold apiece, the money to be in hand, and the prisoner may have his liberty, all other conditions made in the morning to be binding."
"Your answer to that, Don Ramon?" asked the chief.
"I have promised my all. I ask nothing but life. I may have friends who will assist. Give me an opportunity to see what can be done."
"You shall have it," replied the chief, "and on its success depends your liberty or the consequences."
Going amongst the band, he ordered them to meet again in three days at one of their rendezvous near Agua Dulce; to go by twos, visit the river towns on the way, to pick up all items of interest, and particularly to watch for any movement of the authorities.
Retaining two of his companions to act as guards, the others saddled their horses and dispersed by various routes. The chief waited until the moon was well up, then abandoned their camp of the last ten days and set out towards Agua Dulce. To show his friendship for his victim, he removed all irons, but did not give freedom to Don Ramon's horse, which was led, as before.
It was after midnight when they recrossed the river to the American side, using a ford known to but a few smugglers. When day broke they were well inland and secure in the chaparral. Another night's travel, and they were encamped in the place agreed upon. Reports which the members of the band brought to the chief showed that the authorities had made no movement as yet, so evidently this outrage had never been properly reported.
Don Ramon was now furnished paper and pencil, and he addressed a letter to his son and family. The contents can easily be imagined. It concluded with an appeal to secrecy, and an order to observe in confidence and honor any compact made, as his life and liberty depended on it. When this missive had passed the scrutiny of the bandits, it was dispatched by one of their number to Senora Mora. It was just two weeks since Don Ramon's disappearance, a fortnight of untold anguish and uncertainty to his family.
The messenger reached Agua Dulce an hour before midnight, and seeing a light in the house, warned the inmates of his presence by the usual "Ave Maria," a friendly salutation invoking the blessings of the saints on all within hearing. Supposing that some friend had a word for them, the son went outside, meeting the messenger.
"Are you the son of Don Ramon Mora?" asked the bandit.
"I am," replied the young man; "won't you dismount?"
"No. I bear a letter to you from your father. One moment, senor! I have within call half a dozen men. Give no alarm. Read his instructions to you. I shall expect an answer in half an hour. The letter, senor."
The son hastened into the house to read his father's communication. The bandit kept a strict watch over the premises to see that no demonstration was made against him. When the half hour was nearly up, the son came forward and tendered the answer. Passing the compliments of the moment, the man rode away as airily as though the question were of hearts instead of life. The reply was first read by Don Ramon, then turned over to the chief. It would require a second letter, which was to be called for in four days. Things were now nearing the danger point. They must be doubly vigilant; so all but the chief and two guards scattered out and watched every movement. Two or three towns on the river were to have special care. Friends of the family lived in these towns. They must be watched. The officers of the law were the most to be feared. Every bit of conversation overheard was carefully noted, with its effects and bearing.
At the appointed time, another messenger was sent to the ranch, but only a part of the band returned to know the result. The sum which the son reported at his command was very disappointing. It would not satisfy the leaders, and there would be nothing for the others. It was out of the question to consider it. The chief cursed himself for letting his sympathy get the better of him. Why had he not listened to the majority and been true to an accepted duty? He called himself a woman for having acted as he had--a man unfit to be trusted.
Don Ramon heard these self-reproaches of the chief with a heavy heart, and when opportunity occurred, he pleaded for one more chance. He had many friends. There had not been time enough to see them all. His lands and cattle had not been hypothecated. Give him one more chance. Have mercy.
"I was a fool," said the chief, "to listen to a condemned man's hopes, but having gone so far I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb." Turning to Don Ramon, he said, "Write your son that if twice the sum named in his letter is not forthcoming within a week, it will be too late."
The chief now became very surly, often declaring that the case was hopeless; that the money could never be raised. He taunted his captive with the fact that he had always considered himself above his neighbors, and that now he could not command means enough to purchase the silence and friendship of a score of beggars! His former kindness changed to cruelty at every opportunity; and he took delight in hurling his venom on his helpless victim.
Dispatching the letter, he ordered the band to scatter as before, appointing a meeting place a number of days hence. After the return of the messenger, he broke camp in the middle of the night, not forgetting to add other indignities to the heavy irons already on his victim. During the ensuing time they traveled the greater portion of each night. To the prisoner's questions as to where they were he received only insulting replies. His inquiries served only to suggest other cruelties. One night they set out unusually early, the chief saying that they would recross the river before morning, so that if the ransom was not satisfactory, the execution might take place at once. On this night the victim was blindfolded. After many hours of riding--it was nearly morning when they halted--the bandage was removed from his eyes, and he was asked if he knew the place.
"Yes, it is Agua Dulce."
The moon shone over its white stone buildings, quietly sleeping in the still hours of the night, as over the white, silent slabs of a country churchyard. Not a sound could be heard from any living thing. They dismounted and gagged their prisoner. Tying their horses at a respectable distance, they led their victim toward his home. Don Ramon was a small man, and could offer no resistance to his captors. They cautioned him that the slightest resistance would mean death, while compliance to their wishes carried a hope of life.
Cautiously and with a stealthy step, they advanced like the thieves they were, their victim in the iron grasp of two strong guards, while a rope with a running noose around his neck, in the hands of the chief, made their gag doubly effective. A garden wall ran within a few feet of the rear of the house, and behind it they crouched. The only sound was the labored breathing of their prisoner. Hark! the cry of a child is heard within the house. Oh, God! it is his child, his baby girl. Listen! The ear of the mother has heard it, and her soothing voice has reached his anxious ear. His wife--the mother of his children--is now bending over their baby's crib. The muscles of Don Ramon's arms turn to iron. His eyes flash defiance at the grinning fiends who exult at his misery. The running noose tightens on his neck, and he gasps for breath. As they lead him back to his horse, his brain seems on fire; he questions his own sanity, even the mercy of Heaven.
When the sun arose that morning, they were far away in one of the impenetrable thickets in which the country abounded. Since his capture Don Ramon had suffered, but never as now. Death would have been preferable, not that life had no claims upon him, but that he no longer had hopes of liberty. The uncertainty was unbearable. The bandits exercised caution enough to keep all means of self-destruction out of his reach. Hardened as they were, they noticed that their last racking of the prisoner had benumbed even hope.
Sleep alone was kind to him, though he usually awoke to find his dreams a mockery. That night the answer to the second demand would arrive. A number of the band came in during the day and brought the rumor that the governor of the State had been notified of their high-handed actions. It was thought that a company of Texas Rangers would be ordered to the Rio Grande. This meant action, and soon. When the reply came from the son of Don Ramon, he was notified to have the money ready at a certain abandoned ranchita, though the amount, now increased, was not as large as was expected. It required two days longer for the delivery, which was to be made at midnight, and to be accompanied by not over two messengers.
At this juncture, a squad of ten Texas Rangers disembarked at the nearest point on the railroad to this river village. The emergency appeal, which had finally reached the governor's ear, was acted upon promptly, and though the men seemed very few in number, they were tried, experienced, fearless Rangers, from the crack company of the State. There was no waste of time after leaving the train. The little command set out apparently for the river home of Don Ramon, distant nearly a hundred miles. After darkness had set in, the captain of the squad cut his already small command in two, sending a lieutenant with four men to proceed by way of Agua Dulce ranch, the remainder continuing on to the river. The captain refused them even pack horse or blanket, allowing them only their arms. He instructed them to call themselves cowboys, and in case they met any Mexicans, to make inquiries for a well-known American ranch which was located in the chaparral. With a few simple instructions from his superior, the lieutenant and squad rode away into the darkness of a June night.
It was in reality the dark hour before dawn when they reached Agua Dulce. As secretly as possible the lieutenant aroused Don Ramon's wife and sought an interview with her. Speaking Spanish fluently, he explained his errand and her duty to put him in possession of all the facts in the case. Bewildered, as any gentlewoman would be under the circumstances, she reluctantly told the main facts. This officer treated Senora Mora with every courtesy, and was eventually rewarded when she requested him and his men to remain her guests until her son should return, which would be before noon. She explained that he would bring a large sum of money with him, which was to be the ransom price of her husband, and which was to be paid over at midnight within twenty miles of Agua Dulce. This information was food and raiment to the Ranger.
The senora of Agua Dulce sent a servant to secrete the Ranger's horses in a near-by pasture, and with saddles hidden inside the house, before the people of the ranch or the sun arose, five Rangers were sleeping under the roof of the Casa primero.
It was late in the day when the lieutenant awoke to find Don Ramon, Jr., ready to welcome and join in furnishing any details unknown to his mother. The commercial instincts of the young man sided with the Rangers, but the mother--thank God!--knew no such impulses and thought of nothing save the return of her husband, the father of her brood. The officer considered only duty--being an unknown quantity to him. He assured his hostess that if she would confide in them, her husband would be returned to her with all dispatch. Concealing such things as he considered advisable from both mother and son, he outlined his plans. At the appointed time and place the money should be paid over and the compact adhered to to the letter. He reserved to himself and company, however, to furnish any red light necessary.
An hour after dark, a messenger, Don Ramon, Jr., and five Rangers set out to fulfill all contracts pending and understood. The abandoned ranchita in the monte--the meeting point--had been at one time a stone house of some pretensions, where had formerly lived its builder, a wealthy, eccentric recluse. It had in previous years, however, been burned, so that now only crumbling walls remained, a gloomy, isolated, though picturesque ruin, standing in an opening several acres in extent, while trails, once in use, led to and from it.
When the party arrived within two miles of the meeting point, an hour in advance of the appointed time, a halt was called. Under the direction of the lieutenant, the son and his companion were to proceed by an old trail, forsaking the regular pathway leading from Agua Dulce to the old ranch. The Ranger squad tied their horses and followed a respectful distance behind, near enough, however, to hear in case any guards might halt them. They were carefully cautioned not even to let Don Ramon, if he were present, know that rescue from another quarter was at hand. When the two sighted the ruin they noticed a dim light within the walls. Then, without a single challenge, they dashed up to the old house, amid a clatter of hoofs, and shouts of welcome from the bandits.
The messengers were unarmed, and once inside the house were made prisoners, ironed, and ordered into a corner, where crouched Don Ramon Mora, now enfeebled by mental racking and physical abuse. The meeting of father and son will be spared the reader, yet in the young man's heart was a hope that he dared not communicate.
The night was warm. A fire flickered in the old fireplace, and around its circle gathered nine bandits to count and gloat over the blood money of their victim, as a miser might over his bags of gold. The bottle passed freely round the circle, and with toast and taunt and jeer the counting of the money was progressing. Suddenly, and with as little warning as if they had dropped down from among the stars, five Texas Rangers sprang through windows and doors, and without a word a flood of fire frothed from the mouths of ten six-shooters, hurling death into the circle about the fire. There was no cessation of the rain of lead until every gun was emptied, when the men sprang back, each to his window or door, where a carbine, carefully left, awaited his hand to complete the work of death. In the few moments that elapsed, the smoke arose and the fire burned afresh, revealing the accuracy of their aim. As they reentered to review their work, two of the bandits were found alive and untouched, having thrown themselves in a corner amid the confusion of smoke in the onslaught. Thus they were spared the fate of the others, though the ghastly sight of seven of their number, translated from life into death, met their terrorized gaze. Human blood streamed across the once peaceful hearth, while brains bespattered life-sized figures in bas-relief of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child which adorned the broad columns on either side of the ample fireplace. In the throes of death, one bandit had floundered about until his hand rested in the fire, producing a sickening smell from the burning flesh.
As Don Ramon was released, he stood for a few moments half dazed, looking in bewilderment at the awful spectacle before him. Then as the truth gradually dawned upon him,--that this sacrifice of blood meant liberty to himself,--he fell upon his knees among the still warm bodies of his tormentors, his face raised to the Virgin in exultation of joy and thanksgiving.