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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Jaguar Hunt
By Jorge Isaacs (1837–1895)
 
From ‘María’: Translation of Rollo Ogden

THE FOLLOWING morning at daybreak I took the mountain road, accompanied by Juan Ángel, who was loaded down with presents sent by my mother to Luisa and the girls. Mayo followed us: his faithfulness was too much for his prudence, for he had received many injuries in expeditions of this sort, and was far too old to go upon them.  1
  Once across the bridge, we met José and his nephew Braulio, who were coming to find me. The former at once broached to me his plan for the hunt, which was to try for a shot at a famous jaguar of the neighborhood that had killed some of his lambs. He had followed the creature’s trail, and had discovered one of his lairs at the head-waters of the river, more than half a league above his cabin.  2
  Juan Ángel was in a cold sweat on hearing these details, and putting down on the fallen leaves the hamper which he was carrying, looked at us with staring eyes as if he were hearing of a plan to commit a murder.  3
  José kept on talking of his scheme of attack:—  4
  “You may cut off my ears if he gets away. Now we’ll see if that boastful Lucas is only the braggart they say. Tiburcio I’ll answer for. Have you got large bullets?”  5
  “Yes,” I replied, “and my long rifle.”  6
  “This will be a great day for Braulio. He wants very much to see you shoot; for I have told him that you and I consider shots very poor that do not hit a bear square between the eyes.”  7
  He laughed boisterously, clapping his nephew on the shoulder.  8
  “Well, let’s be off,” he continued; “but let the boy carry this garden-stuff to the Señora, and I’ll go back.” He caught up Juan Ángel’s hamper, saying, “Are these sweetmeats that María is sending for her cousin?”  9
  “That’s something my mother is sending Luisa.”  10
  “But what can be the matter with the girl? I saw her go by yesterday looking out of sorts. She was as white as a Castile rose-bud.”  11
  “She’s well again.”  12
  “Here, you young nigger, what are you doing here?” said José to Juan Ángel. “Be off with that bag, and come back quickly, for it won’t be safe for you to pass by here alone after a while. Not a word of this down at the house.”  13
  “Mind you come back!” I shouted to him after he had crossed the bridge. He disappeared in the reeds like a frightened partridge.  14
  Braulio was of about my age. Two months before, he had come from Antioquía to live with his uncle, and was already madly in love with his cousin Tránsito. The nephew’s face had all of that nobility which made that of the older man so interesting; but the most striking thing in it was a beautiful mouth, not bearded as yet, whose feminine smile was in strong contrast with the manly energy expressed in the other features. Of a gentle and yielding nature, he was an indefatigable worker, a real treasure for José, and just the husband for Tránsito.  15
  Luisa and the girls came out to welcome me at the door of the cabin, smiling and affectionate as ever. Frequent sight of me in the last few months had made the girls less timid with me. José himself in our hunting expeditions—that is, upon the field of battle—exercised a paternal authority over me; but this disappeared when he entered his house, as if our true and simple friendship were a secret.  16
  “At last! at last!” said Luisa, taking me by the arm to lead me into the humble parlor. “It’s all of seven days! We have counted them one by one.”  17
  The girls looked at me with mischievous smiles.  18
  “Dear me,” exclaimed Luisa, observing me more closely, “how pale you are! That won’t do. If you would only come oftener it would fatten you up like anything.”  19
  “And you, what do you think of me?” asked I of the girls.  20
  “Why,” replied Tránsito, “what must we think of you if by staying off there studying—”  21
  “We have had such lovely things for you,” interrupted Lucía. “We let the first melon of the new crop spoil, waiting for you; and last Thursday, thinking you were coming, we had such delicious cream for you—”  22
  “What a cunning flatterer she is!” said José. “Ah, Luisa,” he added, “there’s good judgment for you! we don’t understand such things. But he had a good reason for not coming,” he went on in a serious tone, “a good reason; and as you are soon going to invite him to spend a whole day with us—isn’t it so, Braulio?”  23
  “Yes, yes; please let us talk about that. When will that great day come, Señora Luisa? when will it, Tránsito?”  24
  She turned scarlet, and would not have lifted her eyes to look at her betrothed for all the gold in the world.  25
  “It will be a good while yet,” answered Luisa. “Don’t you see that we must first get your little house whitewashed, and the doors hung? It will be the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for she is Tránsito’s patron saint.”  26
  “And when is that?”  27
  “Don’t you know? Why, the twelfth of December. Haven’t these children told you that they want you to be their groomsman?”  28
  “No; and I shall not pardon Tránsito for her delay in giving me such good news.”  29
  “Well, I told Braulio that he ought to tell you, for my father used to say that was the way.”  30
  “I thank you for choosing me more than you can imagine; and when the time comes I’ll serve as godfather too.”  31
  Braulio cast a tender glance at his affianced, but she hastily went out, in her embarrassment taking Lucía with her to prepare the breakfast.  32
  My meals in José’s house were not like the one I described before: I was now but as one of the family; and without any table service excepting the one knife and fork which were always given to me, took my portion of beans, corn-meal mush, milk, and goat’s-flesh from Luisa’s hands, seated just as José and Braulio were, on a bench made of roots of the giant reed. Not without difficulty could I make them treat me in this way.  33
  Once at sunset, years afterwards, journeying through the mountains of José’s country, I saw happy laborers reach the cabin where I used to enjoy hospitality. After grace was said by the aged head of the family, they waited around the fireside for the supper which the dear old mother passed to them; one plate sufficed for every married couple; the children frisked about the room. And I could not bear to look upon the patriarchal scene, which reminded me of the last happy days of my youth.  34
  The breakfast was hearty as usual, seasoned with a conversation which revealed the eagerness of José and Braulio to begin the hunt. It must have been ten o’clock when all at last were ready, Lucas carrying the hamper which Luisa had made ready for us; and after José’s repeated coming and going, to collect and put in his great otter-skin pouch bunches of wadding and a variety of other things which had been forgotten, we set out.  35
  There were five hunters,—the mulatto Tiburcio, a peon from the Chagra hacienda, Lucas, José, Braulio, and I. We all had rifles; though those carried by Tiburcio and Lucas were flintlocks—most excellent, of course, according to their owners. José and Braulio carried lances also, with the blades very carefully set in the handles.  36
  Not a single available dog stayed at home; leashed two and two they swelled our expedition, whining with pleasure. Even the pet of Marta the cook, Palomo, whom the very hares knew to be stone-blind, offered his neck to be counted among the able-bodied dogs; but José sent him away with a zumba! followed by some mortifying reproaches.  37
  Luisa and the girls stayed behind; rather anxious, especially Tránsito, who well knew that her betrothed was going to run the greatest risk, since his fitness for the most dangerous post was indisputable.  38
  Pursuing a narrow and difficult path, we began to go up the north bank of the river. Its sloping channel—if such could be called the wooded bottom of the gorge, spotted with rocks upon whose summits, as upon the roof of a house, grew curled ferns and reeds with flowering climbing plants twisted about them—was obstructed at intervals with enormous bowlders, between which the current rushed swiftly, whitened with whirlpools and fantastic shapes of foam.  39
  We had gone a little more than half a league when José, pausing by the mouth of a broad chasm, dry and walled in by high cliffs, scrutinized some badly gnawed bones scattered over the sand; they were those of the lamb which had been thrown out the day before as bait to the fierce animal. With Braulio in advance, José and I went into the chasm up which the tracks led. Braulio after going on about a hundred yards paused, and without looking at us, motioned to us to stop. He listened to the murmurs of the forest; filled his chest with all the air it could possibly contain; looked up at the high arch formed above us by the cedars, and then went on with slow and noiseless steps. After a moment he paused again, went through a careful examination as before, and pointing out to us the scratches on the trunk of a tree growing out of the bottom of the chasm, said to us, after a fresh study of the tracks: “He went up here. It’s easy to see he’s full of meat and drink.”  40
  The chasm came to an end twenty yards farther on in a sharp wall, over the shoulder of which, we inferred from the hollowed place at its foot, the torrents poured in the rainy season. Against my advice we went back again to the river, and kept on up its course. In a little while Braulio found the tracks of the jaguar on the shingle, this time going down to the edge of the water. We must find out if the beast had gone across the river; or if as was most probable, hindered by the current (here very heavy and swift), he had kept on up the river along the bank where we were. Braulio strapped his rifle to his back, and waded across the stream; he had attached a rope to his belt, and José held the end of it so as to prevent a false step from causing his nephew to plunge over the cascade just at hand. We maintained a profound silence, repressing the impatient whining of the dogs.  41
  “Not a track here,” said Braulio, after examining the sand and the thicket. Just then he stood up, about to return to us, and poising himself on the top of a rock, motioned us to be quiet. He seized his rifle, threw it to his shoulder, aimed as if to shoot at something among the rocks at our side, leaned lightly forward, cool and quiet, and fired.  42
  “There he is!” he shouted, pointing to the bushes growing among the rocks, into which we could not see; then he leaped down to the water’s edge and added:—  43
  “Keep the rope taut! Let the dogs go up there!”  44
  The dogs seemed to understand what had happened. Scarcely had we loosed them when they disappeared in the gorges at our right, while José was helping Braulio across the river.  45
  “Keep quiet!” said Braulio as soon as he gained the bank; and while he was hurriedly loading his rifle he added, seeing me, “You come with me, young master.”  46
  The dogs were already close on the prey, and it seemed as if the brute was not finding it easy to get away, since the barking all came from one point. Braulio took a lance from José’s hand, saying to us two: “You go above and below to guard this pass, for the jaguar will double on his trail if he gets away from us where he is. Tiburcio will stay with you.”  47
  Then he said to Lucas, “We two will go round and come out on top of the hill.”  48
  With his usual sweet smile and with the coolest manner he finished loading his rifle.  49
  “It’s a dear little cat, and I hit him.” As he said this we separated. José, Tiburcio, and I climbed upon a convenient rock. Tiburcio kept looking at the priming of his rifle. José was all eyes. From where we were we could see all that was happening on the hill, and could guard the pass as requested, for there were but few trees intervening, though they were large ones.  50
  Of the six dogs, two were already hors de combat: one of them lying mangled at the feet of the fierce animal; the other, with entrails protruding between broken ribs, had come to find us, and giving forth the most heart-rending cries, died at the foot of the rock upon which we had climbed. With his side turned to a clump of oaks, his tail playing about like a serpent, his back erect, his eyes flaming, and his teeth bared, the jaguar was uttering hoarse cries; and as he threw his enormous head about, his ears made a noise something like castanets. As he turned about, worried by the dogs, who were not much injured although not wholly unharmed, we could see that his left flank was bleeding; he tried to lick it from time to time, but this only gave the pack an advantage in rushing at him.  51
  Braulio and Lucas appeared, emerging from the gorge and coming out upon the hill, though a little farther from the brute than we were; Lucas was livid. There was thus a triangle formed by the hunters and their game, so that both groups could fire at the same time without danger of injuring each other.  52
  “Let’s all fire together!” shouted José.  53
  “No, no: we shall hit the dogs!” replied Braulio; then he left his companion and was lost to our sight.  54
  I thought that a general volley would end the matter; but it was almost certain that some of the dogs would be killed, and if by any chance the jaguar should not be finished, it would be easy for him to play the mischief with us if all our weapons were discharged.  55
  Suddenly Braulio’s head appeared rising out of the gorge, a little behind the trees which protected the jaguar in the rear; his mouth was half opened with his panting, his eyes were dilated, his hair was flying. In his right hand he carried the couched lance, and with his left he was pushing away the twigs which prevented him from seeing clearly.  56
  We all stood silent; the very dogs appeared absorbed in the end of the adventure.  57
  At last José shouted, “At him! Kill-Lion, at him! Biter, Strangler, at him!”  58
  It would not do to give the jaguar a breathing-spell; and setting on the dogs would make Braulio’s risk smaller. The dogs renewed their attack all together. One more of them fell dead without a sound. The jaguar gave a horrible yell. Braulio was seen behind a clump of oaks nearer to us grasping the handle of the lance, from which the blade had been broken. The brute swung around in search of him. He shouted, “Fire, fire!” and leaped back at a single bound to the place where he had lost his lance-head. The jaguar followed him. Lucas had disappeared. Tiburcio turned olive color: he leveled and pulled the trigger; his gun flashed in the pan.  59
  José fired. The jaguar roared and bit at his flank again, and then sprang in pursuit of Braulio. The latter, turning his course behind the oaks, flung himself towards us to pick up the lance thrown to him by José.  60
  The beast was square in front of us. My rifle alone was available. I fired. The jaguar sank back, reeled, and fell.  61
  Braulio looked back instinctively to learn the effect of the last shot. José, Tiburcio, and I were all near him by that time, and together we gave a shout of triumph.  62
  The mouth of the brute was filled with bloody foam; his eyes were heavy and motionless, and in the last agony of death he convulsively stretched out his quivering legs, and whipped the leaves with his beautiful tail.  63
  “Good shot!—what a shot!” exclaimed Braulio, as he put his foot on the animal’s neck. “Right through the forehead! There’s a steady hand for you!”  64
  José with a rather unsteady voice (the poor fellow was thinking of his daughter), called out, wiping the sweat off his face with the flap of his shirt:—  65
  “Well, well, what a fat one! Holy Moses, what an animal! You son of a devil, I can kick you now and you never know it.” Then he looked sadly at the bodies of his three dogs, saying, “Poor Campanilla, she’s the one I’m most sorry for: what a beauty she was!”  66
  Then he caressed the others, which were panting and gasping with protruding tongues, as if they had only been running a stubborn calf into the corral.  67
  José held out to me his clean handkerchief, saying, “Sit down, my boy. We must get that skin off carefully, for it’s yours.”  68
  Then he called, “Lucas!”  69
  Braulio gave a great laugh, and finally said, “By this time he’s safe hidden in the hen-house down home.”  70
  “Lucas!” again shouted José, paying no attention to what his nephew was saying; but when he saw us both laughing he asked, “What’s the joke?”  71
  “Uncle, the boaster flew away as soon as I broke my lance.”  72
  José looked at us as if he could not possibly understand.  73
  “Oh, the cowardly scoundrel!”  74
  Then he went down by the river, and shouted till the mountains echoed his voice, “Lucas, you rogue!”  75
  “I’ve got a good knife here to skin him with,” said Tiburcio.  76
  “No, man, it isn’t that, but that wretch was carrying the hamper with our lunch, and this boy wants something to eat; and so do I, but I don’t see any prospect of much hereabouts.”  77
  But in fact the desired hamper was the very thing which marked the spot whence the fellow had fled as he dropped it. José brought it to us rejoicing, and proceeded to open it, meanwhile ordering Tiburcio to fill our cups with water from the river. The food was white and violet green-corn, fresh cheese, and nicely roasted meat; all this was wrapped up in banana leaves. Then there appeared in addition a bottle of wine rolled in a napkin, bread, cherries, and dried figs. These last articles José put one side, saying, “That’s a separate account.”  78
  The huge knives came out of their sheaths. José cut up the meat for us, and this with the corn made a dish fit for a king. We drank the wine, made havoc with the bread, and finished the figs and cherries, which were more to the taste of my companions than to mine. Corn-cake was not lacking,—that pleasant companion of the traveler, the hunter, and the poor man. The water was ice-cold. My best cigars ended the rustic banquet.  79
  José was in fine spirits, and Braulio had ventured to call me padrino. With wonderful dexterity Tiburcio flayed the jaguar, carefully taking out all the fat, which they say is excellent for I don’t know what not.  80
  After getting the jaguar’s skin with his head and paws into convenient bundles, we set out on our return to José’s cabin; he took my rifle on the same shoulder with his own, and went on ahead calling the dogs. From time to time he would stop to go over some feature of the chase, or to give vent to a new word of contempt for Lucas.  81
  Of course the women had been counting and recounting us from the moment we came in sight; and when we drew near the house they were still wavering between alarm and joy, since on account of our delay and the shots they had heard they knew we must have incurred some danger. It was Tránsito who came forward to welcome us, and she was perceptibly pale.  82
  “Did you kill him?” she called.  83
  “Yes, my daughter,” replied her father.  84
  They all surrounded us; even old Marta, who had in her hands a half-plucked capon. Lucía came up to ask me about my rifle, and as I was showing it to her she added in a low voice, “There was no accident, was there?”  85
  “None whatever,” I answered, affectionately tapping her lips with a twig I had in my hand.  86
  “Oh, I was thinking—”  87
  “Hasn’t that ridiculous Lucas come down this way?” asked José.  88
  “Not he,” replied Marta.  89
  José muttered a curse.  90
  “But where is what you killed?” finally asked Luisa, when she could make herself heard.  91
  “Here, aunt,” answered Braulio; and with the aid of his betrothed he began to undo the bundle, saying something to the girl which I could not hear. She looked at me in a very strange way, and brought out of the house a little bench for me, upon which I sat and looked on. As soon as the large and velvety skin had been spread out in the court-yard, the women gave a cry; but when the head rolled upon the grass they were almost beside themselves.  92
  “Why, how did you kill him? Tell us,” said Luisa. All looked a little frightened.  93
  “Do tell us,” added Lucía.  94
  Then José, taking the head of the jaguar in his hands, said, “The jaguar was just going to kill Braulio when the Señor gave him this ball.” He pointed to the hole in the forehead. All looked at me, and in each one of those glances there was recompense enough for an action which really deserved none. José went on to give the details of the expedition, meanwhile attending to the wounds of the dogs, and bewailing the loss of the three that had been killed. Braulio and Tiburcio wrapped up the skin.  95
  The women went back to their tasks, and I took a nap in the little parlor on the bed which Tránsito and Lucía had improvised for me upon one of the benches. My lullaby was the murmur of the river, the cries of the geese, the lowing of the cattle pastured on the hills near by, and the songs of the girls washing clothes in the brook. Nature is the most loving of mothers when grief has taken possession of our souls; and if happiness is our lot she smiles upon us.  96
 
 
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