Gaspar Ruiz by Joseph Conrad Page 1 of 59
By Joseph Conrad
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 books.
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 fortunes.
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.