Relating to the 1750’s through the 1770’s
Once settled in the room, Bernice found herself wide awake. She therefore moved the lamp to the table beside the window, retrieved her traveling copy of the Scriptures, and sat to read at the chair. She read and enjoyed the breeze and the murmur of the night for almost two hours. During that time she twice noticed Worthington: first leaving the manor going north, and eventually returning from the south. He was attired in a long coat, tall boots, and carried a rifle of some sort by his side.
Soon after the sounds of the opening and closing of the doors downstairs subsided into the nighttime silence, there was a knock at her door. One of the servant girls asked for permission to enter, and promptly inquired if she had need of anything. At Bernice’s puzzled smile the servant said, “Mr. Worthington, asks, Mum. He guesses as the long trip and the excitement of the evening may be keeping you awake, and wants to make sure you are comfortable. May we bring you tea?”
“You are too kind. Perhaps I could use something warm to drink. But may I take it in the kitchen?” Bernice was finding it awkward to be waited upon. Years of the missionary life in Africa had had a definite effect on her views of the rules of society. The intricate class distinctions, arrayed as they were along honorifics, modulated by wealth, reinforced all the way down to the poorest of the poor by imitation, seemed so artificial now. The kitchen, among the honest laborers, was enough for her; did she need any more?
In that brief moment of musing, the servant girl signaled to someone down the hall and then returned her attention to Bernice with a smile and a curtsey. “Please come with me, Mum.”
When she got downstairs one of the kitchen maids was setting the small table as Mr. Worthington looked on. Once Bernice sat down they left and Worthington took the other chair. There was a small plate of hard cheese before him and a glass of sherry.
“I trust you are comfortable, doctor.”
“I am; everyone has been most kind.” She paused and looked into his eyes. There was an inviting calmness in them. “Mr. Worthington, how long have you known Lord Hallowstone?”
“My family has been at the service of this house for a long time.” He settled back into his chair and took a sip of the sherry. “But it goes much further back. If you want to pass the time, I will tell you the story.” Bernice nodded an eager ‘Yes’, and Worthington started. “In the year 1754 my father, Francisco Antonio Merecedor was a soldier in the Portuguese army of Commandant Gomes Freyre de Andrada, a veteran of the War of the Spanish Succession, and, at that time, captain of the Rio Grande do San Pedro military territory. I say soldier, really he was barely a youth, attached to the army that year, when he was but fourteen.
“By the treatise of 1750 the line of demarcation separating Portuguese and Spanish territory in South America was to be the Uruguay river. That necessitated the relocation of the seven Jesuit Misiones Orientales; they were to move west across the river into Portuguese territory. El Padre Luis Altamirano urged the Guarani natives to obey quietly, promising that they could start all over on the other side. But the natives had become prosperous under the Jesuit tenure, and they had suffered too much at the hands of the Portuguese slave traders to consider a new life in Portuguese lands. At the urging of one of their own, José Sepé Tiarayu, they rebelled. ‘This land has owners’, was his battle cry.
“Under the leadership of their Cacique Nicolau Nanguiru they waged a war of shadows against the Portuguese forces. They would strike suddenly and then vanish into the jungles, successfully cutting off the Portuguese supplies almost at will. The Portuguese could never catch them, and, as my father experienced more than once, whenever they thought they had surrounded them they found themselves striking at their own forces.
“The Guarani even attacked one of the forts on the Rio Pardo. Sepé Tiarayu was captured. But then, on the night before his execution, he was able to slip past the guards and escape. Gomes Freyre was forced to sign a truce. The Indians seemed impossible to defeat, at least with his present force. Of course he only intended to keep that truce as long as it took to organize a larger army.
“In December of 1755 they heard rumors that a combined Spanish Portuguese contingent of 3,000 men would be committed to the task. In January of 1756, in advance of the Spanish forces, a Spanish army captain, Raul Santiago De Soray arrived at their camp with letters of introduction from the commander of the Spanish forces José de Antonaegui, Governor of Buenos Aires.
“My father always paused as he told of his first encounter with the man, so impressed was his young mind. It was not just his imposing physical presence but the complete assurance with which he carried himself. It was he who interviewed Gomes Freyre not the other way around. And he then proceeded to speak with every man in that Portuguese army that had fought against the Guarani two years earlier. De Soray was particularly intrigued by my father’s recollections that, on the occasions they found themselves ambushing their own men, he had been sure he had heard the Indians hiding within the jungle’s undergrowth mocking the white men.
“No one had paid attention to young Antonio, everyone certain it was all a hallucination, the effect of the terror of the battle on one so young. De Soray asked the question that nobody else had, ‘What were they saying?’ And my father repeated to him their words. ‘In Portuguese?’ he asked. And it was then that my father realized that indeed he had heard them speak in Guarani but understood them in Portuguese.
“For a moment he felt the great man would dismiss him as a charlatan. But the Spaniard simply nodded and gave him a list of the supplies they would need. The Spaniard intended to venture into the jungle with a handful of men to seek out the leader of the rebellion. He wanted to give him and his people one more chance to surrender and move away. He was sure if they did not, they would be massacred, and then he said something that at the time puzzled my father greatly, about a promise he had made to Bishop Toral.
“With a dozen men they ventured into the jungle, De Soray leading the party as an expert scout. He could read the traces of the passage of men on the jungle floor. In the dark he steered them by the waxing and waning of the sounds of the jungle. On the third day, the band of Guarani he was following stopped their evasion. They waited at a clearing with a mixture of curiosity and disdain, disdain because here again were the white men bent on taking away all that was theirs, curiosity because these white men cut through the jungle like the Charrua.
“De Soray demanded to speak with Sepé Tiarayu. Bringing my father along, he stepped forward to the middle of the clearing. After minutes of argument among themselves, which my father realized he could understand, several of the Guarani warriors vanished into the jungle and returned two hours later with their Rebel leader.
“The Spaniard urged the noble Guarani to consider if not his own family the families of his people. At times the exchange was heated, insults thrown freely about. But the Guarani would not relent. Once again De Soray asked him why? ‘This land has owners,’ came the proud reply.
“‘And what makes you think you are those owners?’
“The proud Indian paused wordless for a moment. The Spaniard pressed again.
“‘What makes you think you are the owner of this land? Who gave its deed to you?’
“‘We have lived in it for generations, we have tilled its soil, hunted its prey, worshiped its god.’
“‘I thought you were good Christians; so also thinks your Jesuit benefactor.’
“‘We worship the same God who gave us this land.’ Tiarayu motioned vehemently at the ground at his feet.
“‘Forever? Did this God of yours give you this land forever? Tiarayu, has it never occurred to you that you are merely a tenant, that there are others with more ancient claims to these lands than you imagine?’
“The great Indian paced nervously to either side. Throughout the discussion, my father had observed the Spaniard glancing every so often back at the Rebel’s horse. One of those times he had made a comment under his breath, ‘A Spanish horse unshod. Yet, I know they have blacksmiths.’
“‘This land has owners.’ The Guarani finally answered intensely. ‘You do not belong here.’ He returned to his horse and rode away. His warriors remained there, guns and bows held up in defiance of the white men.
“The Spaniard led his men back to the Portuguese forces. By February, 150 Spanish soldiers, 1,670 men from Montevideo, and 1,200 Portuguese soldiers descended on San Miguel. Again the Guarani avoided a direct battle and exploited their knowledge of the jungle. The Spanish forces made it their first priority to hunt down Tiarayu.
“They followed him to the Batovi range, and Governor Viana split his men under the advice of De Soray, with the Spaniard leading half a column. They circled around the Guarani warriors and then, as they closed the jaws of the pincer, my father saw his nightmares repeated again. At every turn in the jungle they ran into their own men. Only De Soray’s command, not to fire except under direct orders, kept those soldiers from killing each other.
“The hunt continued for another hour. At the edge of a precipice they again ran upon a group of Portuguese soldiers, one man on horseback, fifteen on foot. The surprise was mutual. They immediately cried out that Tiarayu had circled back.
“‘What do you hear, Merecedor?’
“Startled, my father replied, ‘Guarani.’
“Santiago challenged them, demanding to know the name of their lieutenant. And they hesitated. ‘Fire!’ the Spaniard commanded drawing his own gun. But he fired at the horse, not the man.
“My father was the first of the soldiers to comply, and at his shot the Portuguese soldiers suddenly appeared as a squad of Guarani warriors; and the man on horseback was Sepé Tiarayu himself. Three warriors fell in the ensuing volley. Of my father’s troop only De Soray was hit by the indians’ return fire, twice, on chest and shoulder.”
Worthington interrupted his narrative as he regarded the doctor’s faraway look. “Yes, some of the details of the story sound fantastic, until you have seen what we have seen.” The doctor nodded and he went on.
“Tiarayu rode his wounded horse down the side of that precipice away from the foray but right into the path of Viana’s force. His horse stumbled in the field below. And Viana himself shot the rebel to death.
“After that, the forces of cacique Nanguiru were surrounded at the foot of mount Caibate. Almost 1,500 Guarani died in that battle. There were only 4 casualties on the Spanish-Portuguese side, one of them, supposedly, Raul Santiago De Soray.
“My father stayed behind with the Spaniard while the rest of the soldiers rushed into the jungle chasing the fleeing Guarani. Then the man he had assumed was mortally wounded, handed him his knife and directed him in removing the bullets from his wounds. Still bleeding, he stood up on his own strength, and together they dug an empty grave in the jungle floor, and marked it with his helmet. He then swore my father into secrecy.
“He did not hear from the Spaniard for over two years, until his commander received an unusual letter from the Portuguese court. In it he was informed that Francisco Antonio Merecedor’s French great-grandparents had bequeathed on him their modest property in Bordeaux, and with those a duty to serve the court of the King of France. Thus the young Portuguese soldier left his commission and relocated to France, where he met his benefactor.
“Raul Santiago De Soray, Conde de San Germán, had brokered the arrangement. For explanation, all he gave was, ‘You have a gift too important to risk on the consequences of the greed of man. Take your new found life and prosper in it. Learn as much as you can. The French dabble throughout the whole world. Take every opportunity you have, to expose yourself to every language they encounter.’
“‘Sir, how can I repay you?’ My father asked him.
“‘Your silence, and if I require it, your allegiance.’
“Six years later, the summer of 1762, the Spaniard reappeared. By that time my father was a porte arquebuse of the King of France. Securing permission from the King’s court, De Soray recruited my father to accompany him into Russia.
“Doctor, you know full well the constant see-saw that is played out among the nations for the advantage of power. In particular, how France and Russia have stood as rivals for decades, each seeking to be the controlling pole of Europe. Well, the revolution taking place then in Russia bothered De Soray. But he had found no evidence of overt interference sanctioned by the court of France. My father confirmed his assessment. Therefore he concluded another hand was at work. They spent half a year in Russia, with little to show for it except marginal evidence that Hesse-Cassel money may have been involved in support of the rebels. In that time my father learned to read, write, and speak Russian.
“They returned to France and parted ways. Four years later De Soray returned. The whole region of Languedoc had been under a siege of terror by a wild beast since the winter of 1764. The monster, for whose destruction a thousand crowns had been offered, was more formidable than any wolf ever seen in the region; some claimed it to be a hyena or a panther. But the human perspicacity it showed in avoiding its pursuers, its supernatural strength and speed, and the stench that could be smelled a mile away soon convinced the people of the province of Gévaudon that this was a loup-garoux, a gigantic wolf able to walk like a man. Not even Denneval, King Louis’ famous hunter, with his pack of bloodhounds could trap the beast.
“In the Fall of 1766 my father had led a hunt that found and killed a large wolf in the region. But the attacks resumed that winter. De Soray came to help. And so, in the summer of 1767 two hunting parties set out after the wolf: a monsieur Jean Chastel supported by a whole dragoon of soldiers, and a more modest party: my father and De Soray.
“The monster had shown a preference for devouring young women, often leaving their ravaged remains miles from their homes. Based on that information and working on the assumption that the beast was under the control of a Meneur des loupes, a sorcerer, De Soray located the lair of the man behind the monster. He had mapped the trail the wolf had followed from the points of attack to the place where each of those pitiable corpses had been found, and, like spokes of a wheel, they all pointed to a cluster of caves in the mountains of Sarlat.
“My father shot and killed the wolf; De Soray killed the sorcerer. Taking no chances, as soon as the wounds inflicted on the wolf took their toll on the sorcerer’s entranced acolyte, he burnt both their bodies. Chastel’s party found and killed an ordinary wolf a few days later, and they received all the honors.
“This was, as I said, in 1767. My father was 27 years old at the time. He helped the Spaniard a few more times at the beginning of the 70’s and then did not see him again. In 1797, almost thirty years later, someone knocked at the door of our cottage. I was seven years old, the youngest of my family, and I remember the visit. The man at the door introduced himself as Rosendo De Soray, Conde de San German, son of Raul Santiago De Soray. I remember him well. His dark hair and full beard, and his size; immediately reminding me of a woodprint of Hercules I had seen in one of my mother’s favorite books.
“He did not come to recruit my father for a dangerous adventure; in fact what he came to offer him was a gift, a blessing, a way out of France. You see, my father retired from his service to the King just before the great revolution. The veteran soldier had fallen in love with a young servant in the court. They settled in his property in Bordeaux and from there they saw their beloved France torn inside out by the reign of terror.
“The rumors that agents of a foreign government had been snatching aristocrats out of the grip of the Committee had filled him with the conviction that the Spaniard was still alive. And then this man appeared at his door. He came to request that my father move his family to Wales, to Anglesey, to manage his estate. And he asked him to teach me all he knew.
“Young as I was, I knew that meeting had made a deep impression on my father. He never told my mother why. But once I was of age he told me all he and De Soray had done together. Each year he taught me a new language and each year he reminded me of the oath of allegiance my family owed to the Comte de St. Germain. Since then we have cared for the Hallowstone estate.”
Worthington paused. The cheese at his plate was long gone, the sherry exhausted and Bernice was finally feeling sleepy. She thanked him for his hospitality and the confidence he had shown her. She felt completely at ease in the presence of this old soldier. If you can judge a man by the friends he keeps, the loyalty he elicits, Santiago De Soray was indeed a worthy man. Bernice returned to her room.