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A Set of Six

the guard set over him and some twenty other such deserters, who had been condemned
summarily to be shot.
It was in the quadrangle of the fort at the back of the batteries which command the
roadstead of Valparaiso. 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 halting-place.
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 ham-stringing 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 officer.
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.
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