A Set of Six
A revolutionary war raises many strange characters 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
preserved in history; so that, vanishing from men's active memories, they still exist in
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 humble
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 unmistakable. 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 loading 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