The Rifle Rangers

Captain Mayne Reid

The Rifle Rangers
Adventures in South Mexico
By Captain Mayne Reid
Away over the dark, wild waves of the rolling Atlantic--away beyond the summer islands of the Western Ind--lies a lovely land. Its surface-aspect carries the hue of the emerald; its sky is sapphire; its sun is a globe of gold. It is the land of Anahuac!
The tourist turns his face to the Orient--the poet sings the gone glories of Greece--the painter elaborates the hackneyed pictures of Apennine and Alp--the novelist turns the skulking thief of Italy into a picturesque bandit, or, Don Quixote-like, betaking himself into the misty middle age, entertains the romantic miss and milliner's apprentice with stories of raven steeds, of plumed and impossible heroes. All-- painter, poet, tourist, and novelist--in search of the bright and beautiful, the poetic and the picturesque--turn their backs upon this lovely land.
Shall we? No! Westward, like the Genoese, we boldly venture--over the dark wild waves of the rolling Atlantic; through among the sunny islands of Ind--westward to the land of Anahuac. Let us debark upon its shores; let us pierce the secret depths of its forests; let us climb its mighty mountains, and traverse its table-plains.
Go with us, tourist! Fear not. You shall look upon scenes grand and gloomy, bright and beautiful. Poet! you shall find themes for poesy worthy its loftiest strains. Painter! for you there are pictures fresh from the hand of God. Writer! there are stories still untold by the author-artist--legends of love and hate, of gratitude and revenge, of falsehood and devotion, of noble virtue and ignoble crime--legends redolent of romance, rich in reality.
Thither we steer, over the dark wild waves of the rolling Atlantic; through the summer islands of the Western Ind; onward--onward to the shores of Anahuac!
Varied is the aspect of that picture-land, abounding in scenes that change like the tints of the opal. Varied is the surface which these pictures adorn. Valleys that open deep into the earth; mountains that lead the eye far up into heaven; plains that stretch to the horizon's verge, until the rim of the blue canopy seems to rest upon their limitless level; "rolling" landscapes, whose softly-turned ridges remind one of the wavy billows of the ocean.
Alas! word-painting can give but a faint idea of these scenes. The pen can but feebly portray the grand and sublime effect produced upon the mind of him who gazes down into the deep valleys, or glances upward to the mighty mountains of Mexico.
Though feeble be the effort, I shall attempt a series of sketches from memory. They are the panoramic views that present themselves during a single "Jornada."
I stand upon the shores of the Mexican Gulf. The waves lip gently up to my feet upon a beach of silvery sand. The water is pure and translucent, of azure blue, here and there crested with the pearly froth of coral breakers. I look to the eastward, and behold a summer sea that seems to invite navigation. But where are the messengers of commerce with their white wings? The solitary skiff of the savage "pescador" is making its way through the surf; a lone "polacca" beats up the coast with its half-smuggler crew; a "piragua" swings at anchor in a neighbouring cove: this is all! Far as eye or glass can reach, no other sail is in sight. The beautiful sea before me is almost unfurrowed by the keels of commerce.
From this I draw ideas of the land and its inhabitants--unfavourable ideas of their moral and material condition. No commerce--no industry-- no prosperity. Stay! What see I yonder? Perhaps I have been wronging them. A dark, tower-like object looms up against the horizon. It is the smoke of a steamer--sign of advanced civilisation--emblem of active life. She nears the shore. Ha! a foreign flag--the flag of another land trails over her taffrail; a foreign flag floats at her peak; foreign faces appear above her bulwarks, and foreign words issue from the lips of her commander. She is not of the land. My first conjecture was right.
She makes for the principal port. She lands a small parcel of letters and papers, a few bales of merchandise, half a dozen slightly-formed cadaverous men; and then, putting about, a gun is fired, and she is off again. She soon disappears away upon the wide ocean; and the waves once more roll silently in--their glistening surface broken only by the flapping of the albatross or the plunge of the osprey.
I direct my eyes northward. I behold a belt of white sand skirting the blue water. I turn towards the south, and in this direction perceive a similar belt. To both points it extends beyond the reach of vision-- hundreds of miles beyond--forming, like a ribbon of silver, the selvage of the Mexican Sea. It separates the turquoise
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