IT HAPPENED once, after there had been a desperate encounter between the Spaniards and Araucanians, that Don Alonso de Ercilla went out late at night to meditate on the lessons of the battle-field strewn with the bodies of those who had been well and brave but a few hours before. The night was dark and gloomy, and yet he thought he discerned indistinctly a form moving from place to place, quietly and noiselessly as a spirit might move; and anon there came from it sighs and groans dismal to hear. Bending down, and hiding himself in the long grass, he tracked the figure, not without some fear at heart; but clasping his trusty sword, he came swiftly upon it. Then it rose erect, and addressed him in humble, timorous accents: "Señor, Señor, have pity on me; I am but a woman, and never have I offended you! If my misery does not move you to spare me, at least consider that there is no glory to be gained by killing a woman--or rather, slay me, but first let me fulfil my work." Then Don Ercilla asked her what it was had brought her there. And she in dolorous tones answered, "Never was grief like mine; I loved him with true love and purest constancy, and to-day he was taken from me, and slain. Let me but seek the body of him who was my soul, and let me lay it in a decent grave, and then take my life, lay my body beside his, for so great is my grief that I dread living without him more than lying beside him in death."
Don Ercilla was greatly moved by her sorrow, but still he had his duty as a soldier to consider; she might have come to spy the situation of the Spanish camp, under the idea that, as a woman, she would be less easily suspected; and her grief might be assumed in order to induce him to release her. Yet his compassion swayed him at last, so he let her live, and moreover assisted her in her search, leading her to relieve her oppressed heart by pouring out all her story.
"Woe is me!" she said, "for no relief is possible for me, no rest till death. He is gone, and if I open now the old wounds by thinking of him, it is but in the hope that in the violent effort I may sink and die.
"Know then, that I am Tegualda, daughter of the Cacique Brancol. Vain of the attentions that were paid me through many young years, I refused to listen to the suits of any of the young Caciques whom my father presented to me; nor when they danced or wrestled before me would I regard them with favour.
"One day my father took me to the shady thicket where gentle Gualebo pours its limpid stream into the floods of broad Itata with a soothing murmur, and where the sunlight playing through the thick foliage of the breeze-shaken trees, diapered the perfumed air.
"Scarcely had we sat down, when there entered on the plain that spread away before us a band of youths, earnest and silent. At a sign from Brancol various games began, in which each exerted himself to the utmost only to win a glance from me. To me, however, it was a greater pleasure to stand detached from them all, and while they ran, and fought, and showed strange feats of endurance, rather than gratify them by a look, to rest my eyes on the murmuring stream, watching the polished stones, now bathed in snow-like foam, now piercing, black and stark through the mimic waves; or on the waving trees, flinging their lithesome limbs in every graceful attitude, now wide apart, now interlaced in one another's thrall; or on the far-off sky, sparkling and peering through the leafy shade; on any thing rather than on the contending youths; and thus I sat there, disdaining all interest in the games, and, as I deemed, fancy-free, when all at once a loud cry rose from the contending throng: this was no unusual occurrence, but it was so exulting and prolonged that I could not choose but ask the cause. The youth who stood nearest me made answer, 'Did you not observe, Señora, how the brave Mareguano has won the victory over every other combatant? and now when, with joyous haste, we were leading him to receive the conqueror's wreath from your hand, to gird his temples in token that he is the first and bravest of our company--all at once that handsome lad yonder, wearing green and scarlet for his device, suddenly confronted him, and at their first contest laid him low on the green sward. Mareguano no sooner regained his feet than he required to be allowed another trial; but as this is against all our rules, it was refused him. So the stranger youth comes to be crowned by you, unless you, whose power is absolute over us, suffer them to renew the contest.'
"As he spoke the shouting crowd led him up to me; but before I could take the wreath to crown him, he placed himself modestly before me on his knees, and thus spoke:--
"'Lady, I seek one favour, though I be a stranger, and have no claim to your regard, yet I have the boldness to prefer my request, having no greater desire than to live and die in your service. Let me then have your permission to try another fall with Mareguano; ay, and another and another, even to a hundred, till he is satisfied of my superiority; for here striving in your presence, I know I am certain to come off with greater and greater glory in every trial.'
"And I, who cared little about the matter, carelessly granted what he asked.
"On the instant the two darted off to meet each other: then came a prolonged struggle, fought out with desperate resolve; now lithely bending, now strained to their utmost height, they wrestled for a long space, grasping each other in such iron fashion that it would seem they scarce could breathe; at last the stranger youth ended the contest by seizing Mareguano round the body, then lifting him high in the air, and flinging him headlong on the ground.
"No sooner had he accomplished the feat than the assembled people, delighted at this exhibition of manly strength, bore him along in triumph to receive his reward at my hand.
"When I looked at him, kneeling before me again, flushed with success, praised and applauded by all around, yet waiting for my word, as if he prized it more than all the rest, I felt a new emotion take possession of me, I perceived an interest in him which I had never experienced for any of the others, and it was with difficulty I could command myself sufficiently to conceal what I felt. However, I rose with all the dignity I could summon, placed the crown on his brow, and announced that the prize I held for the next contest was a ring ornamented with a fine emerald, and that it was for the winner in the race immediately to follow. I could not help saying it in such a way as to betray I expected it would be on him I should have to confer it. Nor was I mistaken.
"The competitors, forty in number, were ranged in a long row, panting with anxiety to start. The signal scarcely given, the whole forty set off as one man, and so swiftly that their feet scarcely seemed to touch the sand; but Crepino (such was the name of the young stranger) pursued the sport with so much ardour that he distanced the very wind, and touched the red Palio  before the others were near it. But I, when he was brought back to me, was more troubled than before; so that when I handed him the ring, I gave him as it were my liberty enclosed in it. And he no sooner had received the ring than, holding it still before me, said,--
"'Señora, I pray you accept it of me; for though it be but little to offer to you, yet it is offered with entire devotion, and the favour you will confer on me in accepting it will be so great, that it will make me rich, and shall so strengthen and animate me, that there will thenceforth be no undertaking so arduous that I shall not be able to accomplish it; and so you will have added the bravest heart and the stoutest arm to the Araucanian band.'
"I could not but accept what was so gracefully proffered; and now, the games being concluded, the meeting was broken up, and I had to return home with my father.
"For three weeks I concealed what I felt, that I might not appear to change too suddenly from what had been a life-long resolve. But I could not overcome the desire to see him again. When next my father, therefore, urged me to make my choice among the young Caciques, I told him that I had resolved to attend to his bidding, and that my choice had fallen on Crepino, who was of honourable name, brave, well-mannered, and well-grown.
"My father was all rejoiced at this announcement, and, kissing me on the forehead, he confirmed my choice; he told me how on Crepino of all the others his own heart yearned, and how Crepino himself had sued for me, and yet had urged him in no way to overrule my will.
"With joyful haste the nuptial ceremonies were performed over us, and all was mirth and gladness. That was but one short month ago, and to-day your people have slain him who was all my joy; and all our hopes of happiness are poured out like water on the ground. What comfort is there for so great misery! There is nothing left to hope for now, since earth contains no good which could be measured against such a grief!
"Now, therefore, let me seek my lord, and bury him; for it is not meet that his dear body should fall a prey to voracious beasts and birds."
Don Ercilla was so much moved by her recital that he no longer doubted her, but helped her to search for Crepino's body. When the morning dawned they found it, stark and cold, and disfigured by a cannon-ball. Tegualda's agony revived when she came in sight of his shattered form. She threw herself on him, placed her heart on his heart, and her lips on his, that so she might perchance yet call back the life; and then she struck her face, and tore her long dark hair, and pressed her fingers tightly round her throat, and threw herself again upon the ground, not knowing what she did for very grief. Don Ercilla looked on compassionating, knowing it was but distressing her to interfere till the first violence of her agony was past. Then, at peril of treachery towards him, alone in their midst, he bade her make a signal to call her people, and ordered them to bear away Crepino's body in decent order.
Then he composed her mantle round her, and, supporting her, gently led her along behind it till they reached the sierra where her own people dwelt, and then he delivered her over to her father's keeping.