The Scalp Hunters, A Romance of Northern Mexico, by Captain Mayne Reid.
This is very much in the cowboys and Indians genre, and there can be no doubt that the author knew exactly what he was writing about, and had lived through similar experiences.
It was quite a hard book to transcribe, though the copy used was nice and clean, because of the very large number of Mexican-Spanish words and phrases. There was also a great deal of speech by people whose grammar and words were supposed to indicate a lower education. Hence it was not at all easy to present the book as the author would have liked, but we think that at last we have got it just about right.
On writing this book Reid had the general public in mind. It was one of his first. It was not until later that he adopted a more peaceful style and wrote for a boy readership, saying that in those books there was not a single passage that a boy could not read aloud to his mother or his sister. This book falls just outside that scope.
THE SCALP HUNTERS, A ROMANCE OF NORTHERN MEXICO, BY CAPTAIN MAYNE REID.
THE WILD WEST.
Unroll the world's map, and look upon the great northern continent of America. Away to the wild west, away toward the setting sun, away beyond many a far meridian, let your eyes wander. Rest them where golden rivers rise among peaks that carry the eternal snow. Rest them there.
You are looking upon a land whose features are un-furrowed by human hands, still bearing the marks of the Almighty mould, as upon the morning of creation; a region whose every object wears the impress of God's image. His ambient spirit lives in the silent grandeur of its mountains, and speaks in the roar of its mighty rivers: a region redolent of romance, rich in the reality of adventure.
Follow me, with the eye of your mind, through scenes of wild beauty, of savage sublimity.
I stand in an open plain. I turn my face to the north, to the south, to the east, and to the west; and on all sides behold the blue circle of the heavens girdling around me. Nor rock, nor tree, breaks the ring of the horizon. What covers the broad expanse between? Wood? water? grass? No; flowers. As far as my eye can range, it rests only on flowers, on beautiful flowers!
I am looking as on a tinted map, an enamelled picture brilliant with every hue of the prism.
Yonder is golden yellow, where the helianthus turns her dial-like face to the sun. Yonder, scarlet, where the malva erects its red banner. Here is a parterre of the purple monarda, there the euphorbia sheds its silver leaf. Yonder the orange predominates in the showy flowers of the asclepia; and beyond, the eye roams over the pink blossoms of the cleome.
The breeze stirs them. Millions of corollas are waving their gaudy standards. The tall stalks of the helianthus bend and rise in long undulations, like billows on a golden sea.
They are at rest again. The air is filled with odours sweet as the perfumes of Araby or Ind. Myriads of insects flap their gay wings: flowers of themselves. The bee-birds skirr around, glancing like stray sunbeams; or, poised on whirring wings, drink from the nectared cups; and the wild bee, with laden limbs, clings among the honeyed pistils, or leaves for his far hive with a song of joy.
Who planted these flowers? Who hath woven them into these pictured parterres? Nature. It is her richest mantle, richer in its hues than the scarfs of Cashmere.
This is the "weed prairie." It is misnamed. It is "the garden of God."
The scene is changed. I am in a plain as before, with the unbroken horizon circling around me. What do I behold? Flowers? No; there is not a flower in sight, but one vast expanse of living verdure. From north to south, from east to west, stretches the prairie meadow, green as an emerald, and smooth as the surface of a sleeping lake.
The wind is upon its bosom, sweeping the silken blades. They are in motion; and the verdure is dappled into lighter and darker shades, as the shadows of summer clouds flitting across the sun.
The eye wanders without resistance. Perchance it encounters the dark hirsute forms of the buffalo, or traces the tiny outlines of the antelope. Perchance it follows, in pleased wonder, the far-wild gallop of a snow-white steed.
This is the "grass prairie," the boundless pasture of the bison.
The scene changes. The earth is no longer level, but treeless and verdant as ever. Its surface exhibits a succession of parallel undulations, here and there swelling into smooth round hills. It is covered with a soft turf of brilliant greenness. These undulations remind one of the ocean after a mighty storm, when the crisped foam has died upon the waves, and the big swell comes bowling in. They look as though they had once been such waves, that by an omnipotent mandate had been transformed to earth and suddenly stood still.
This is the "rolling prairie."
Again the scene changes. I am among greenswards and bright flowers; but the view is broken by groves and clumps of copse-wood. The frondage is varied, its tints are vivid, its outlines soft and graceful. As I move forward, new landscapes open up continuously: views park-like and picturesque. Gangs of buffalo, herds of antelope, and droves of wild horses, mottle the far vistas. Turkeys run into the coppice, and pheasants whirr up from the path.
Where are the owners of these lands, of these flocks and fowls? Where are the houses, the palaces, that should appertain to these lordly parks? I look forward, expecting to see the turrets of tall mansions spring up over the groves. But no. For hundreds of miles around no chimney sends forth its smoke. Although with a cultivated aspect, this region is only trodden by the moccasined foot of the hunter, and his enemy, the Red Indian.
These are the mottes—the "islands" of the prairie sea.
I am in the deep forest. It is night, and the log fire throws out its vermilion glare, painting the objects that surround our bivouac. Huge trunks stand thickly around us; and massive limbs, grey and giant-like, stretch out and over. I notice the bark. It is cracked, and clings in broad scales crisping outward. Long snake-like parasites creep from tree to tree, coiling the trunks as though they were serpents, and would crush them! There are no leaves overhead. They have ripened and fallen; but the white Spanish moss, festooned along the branches, hangs weeping down like the drapery of a deathbed.
Prostrate trunks, yards in diameter and half-decayed, lie along the ground. Their ends exhibit vast cavities where the porcupine and opossum have taken shelter from the cold.
My comrades, wrapped in their blankets, and stretched upon the dead leaves, have gone to sleep. They lie with their feet to the fire, and their heads resting in the hollow of their saddles. The horses, standing around a tree, and tied to its lower branches, seem also to sleep. I am awake and listening. The wind is high up, whistling among the twigs and causing the long white streamers to oscillate. It utters a wild and melancholy music. There are few other sounds, for it is winter, and the tree-frog and cicada are silent. I hear the crackling knots in the fire, the rustling of dry leaves swirled up by a stray gust, the "coo-whoo-a" of the white owl, the bark of the raccoon, and, at intervals, the dismal howling of wolves. These are the nocturnal voices of the winter forest. They are savage sounds; yet there is a chord in my bosom that vibrates under their influence, and my spirit is tinged with romance as I lie and listen.
The forest in autumn; still bearing its full frondage. The leaves resemble flowers, so bright are their hues. They are red and yellow, and golden and brown. The woods are warm and glorious now, and the birds flutter among the laden branches. The eye wanders delighted down long vistas and over sunlit glades. It is caught by the flashing of gaudy plumage, the golden green of the paroquet, the blue of the jay, and the orange wing of the oriole. The red-bird flutters lower down in the coppice of green pawpaws, or amidst the amber leaflets of the beechen thicket. Hundreds of tiny wings flit through the openings, twinkling in the sun like the glancing of gems.
The air is filled with music: sweet sounds of love. The bark of the squirrel, the cooing of mated doves, the "rat-ta-ta" of the pecker, and the constant and measured chirrup of the cicada, are all ringing together. High up, on a topmost twig, the mocking-bird pours forth his mimic note, as though he would shame all other songsters into silence.
I am in a country of brown barren earth and broken outlines. There are rocks and clefts and patches of sterile soil. Strange vegetable forms grow in the clefts and hang over the rocks. Others are spheroidal in shape, resting upon the surface of the parched earth. Others rise vertically to a great height, like carved and fluted columns. Some throw out branches, crooked, shaggy branches, with hirsute oval leaves. Yet there is a homogeneousness about all these vegetable forms, in their colour, in their fruit and flowers, that proclaims them of one family. They are cacti. It is a forest of the Mexican nopal. Another singular plant is here. It throws out long, thorny leaves that curve downward. It is the agave, the far-famed mezcal-plant of Mexico. Here and there, mingling with the cacti, are trees of acacia and mezquite, the denizens of the desert-land. No bright object relieves the eye; no bird pours its melody into the ear. The lonely owl flaps away into the impassable thicket, the rattlesnake glides under its scanty shade, and the coyote skulks through its silent glades.
I have climbed mountain after mountain, and still I behold peaks soaring far above, crowned with the snow that never melts. I stand upon beetling cliffs, and look into chasms that yawn beneath, sleeping in the silence of desolation. Great fragments have fallen into them, and lie piled one upon another. Others hang threatening over, as if waiting for some concussion of the atmosphere to hurl them from their balance. Dark precipices frown me into fear, and my head reels with a dizzy faintness. I hold by the pine-tree shaft, or the angle of the firmer rock.
Above, and below, and around me, are mountains piled on mountains in chaotic confusion. Some are bald and bleak; others exhibit traces of vegetation in the dark needles of the pine and cedar, whose stunted forms half-grow, half-hang from the cliffs. Here, a cone-shaped peak soars up till it is lost in snow and clouds. There, a ridge elevates its sharp outline against the sky; while along its side, lie huge boulders of granite, as though they had been hurled from the hands of Titan giants!
A fearful monster, the grizzly bear, drags his body along the high ridges; the carcajou squats upon the projecting rock, waiting the elk that must pass to the water below; and the bighorn bounds from crag to crag in search of his shy mate. Along the pine branch the bald buzzard whets his filthy beak; and the war-eagle, soaring over all, cuts sharply against the blue field of the heavens.
These are the Rocky Mountains, the American Andes, the colossal vertebras of the continent!
Such are the aspects of the wild west; such is the scenery of our drama.
Let us raise the curtain, and bring on the characters.
THE PRAIRIE MERCHANTS.
"New Orleans, April 3rd, 18—
"Dear Saint Vrain—Our young friend, Monsieur Henry Haller, goes to Saint Louis in 'search of the picturesque.' See that he be put through a 'regular course of sprouts.'
"Charles Saint Vrain, Esquire, Planters' Hotel, Saint Louis."
With this laconic epistle in my waistcoat pocket, I debarked at Saint Louis on the 10th of April, and drove to the "Planters'."
After getting my baggage stowed and my horse (a favourite I had brought with me) stabled, I put on a clean shirt, and, descending to the office, inquired for Monsieur Saint Vrain.
He was not there. He had gone up the Missouri river several days before.
This was a disappointment, as I had brought no other introduction to Saint Louis. But I endeavoured to wait with patience the return of Monsieur Saint Vrain. He was expected back in less than a week.
Day after day I mounted my horse, I rode up to the "Mounds" and out upon the prairies. I lounged about the hotel, and smoked my cigar in its fine piazza. I drank sherry cobblers in the saloon, and read the journals in the reading-room.
With these and such like occupations, I killed time for three whole days.
There was a party of gentlemen stopping at the hotel, who seemed to know each other well. I might call them a clique; but that is not a good word, and does not express what I mean. They appeared rather a band of friendly, jovial fellows. They strolled together through the streets, and sat side by side at the table-d'hote, where they usually remained long after the regular diners had retired. I noticed that they drank the most expensive wines, and smoked the finest cigars the house afforded.
My attention was attracted to these men. I was struck with their peculiar bearing; their erect, Indian-like carriage in the streets, combined with a boyish gaiety, so characteristic of the western American.
They dressed nearly alike: in fine black cloth, white linen, satin waistcoats, and diamond pins. They wore the whisker full, but smoothly trimmed; and several of them sported moustaches. Their hair fell curling over their shoulders; and most of them wore their collars turned down, displaying healthy-looking, sun-tanned throats. I was struck with a resemblance in their physiognomy. Their faces did not resemble each other; but there was an unmistakable similarity in the expression of the eye; no doubt, the mark that had been made by like occupations and experience.
Were they sportsmen? No: the sportsman's hands are whiter; there is more jewellery on his fingers; his waistcoat is of a gayer pattern, and altogether his dress will be more gaudy and super-elegant. Moreover, the sportsman lacks that air of free-and-easy confidence. He dares not assume it. He may live in the hotel, but he must be quiet and unobtrusive. The sportsman is a bird of prey; hence, like all birds of prey, his habits are silent and solitary. They are not of his profession.
"Who are these gentlemen?" I inquired from a person who sat by me, indicating to him the men of whom I have spoken.
"The prairie men."
"The prairie men!"
"Yes; the Santa Fe traders."
"Traders!" I echoed, in some surprise, not being able to connect such "elegants" with any ideas of trade or the prairies.
"Yes," continued my informant. "That large, fine-looking man in the middle is Bent—Bill Bent, as he is called. The gentleman on his right is young Sublette; the other, standing on his left, is one of the Choteaus; and that is the sober Jerry Folger."
"These, then, are the celebrated prairie merchants?"
I sat eyeing them with increased curiosity. I observed that they were looking at me, and that I was the subject of their conversation.
Presently, one of them, a dashing-like young fellow, parted from the group, and walked up to me.
"Were you inquiring for Monsieur Saint Vrain?" he asked.
"Yes, that is the name."
I pulled out my note of introduction, and banded it to the gentleman, who glanced over its contents.
"My dear friend," said he, grasping me cordially, "very sorry I have not been here. I came down the river this morning. How stupid of Walton not to superscribe to Bill Bent! How long have you been up?"
"Three days. I arrived on the 10th."
"You are lost. Come, let me make you acquainted. Here, Bent! Bill! Jerry!"
And the next moment I had shaken hands with one and all of the traders, of which fraternity I found that my new friend, Saint Vrain, was a member.
"First gong that?" asked one, as the loud scream of a gong came through the gallery.
"Yes," replied Bent, consulting his watch. "Just time to 'licker.' Come along!"
Bent moved towards the saloon, and we all followed, nemine dissentiente.
The spring season was setting in, and the young mint had sprouted—a botanical fact with which my new acquaintances appeared to be familiar, as one and all of them ordered a mint julep. This beverage, in the mixing and drinking, occupied our time until the second scream of the gong summoned us to dinner.
"Sit with us, Mr Haller," said Bent; "I am sorry we didn't know you sooner. You have been lonely."
And so saying, he led the way into the dining-room, followed by his companions and myself.
I need not describe a dinner at the "Planters'," with its venison steaks, its buffalo tongues, its prairie chickens, and its delicious frog fixings from the Illinois "bottom." No; I would not describe the dinner, and what followed I am afraid I could not.
We sat until we had the table to ourselves. Then the cloth was removed, and we commenced smoking regalias and drinking madeira at twelve dollars a bottle! This was ordered in by someone, not in single bottles, but by the half-dozen. I remembered thus far well enough; and that, whenever I took up a wine-card, or a pencil, these articles were snatched out of my fingers.
I remember listening to stories of wild adventures among the Pawnees, and the Comanches, and the Blackfeet, until I was filled with interest, and became enthusiastic about prairie life. Then someone asked me, would I not like to join them in "a trip"? Upon this I made a speech, and proposed to accompany my new acquaintances on their next expedition: and then Saint Vrain said I was just the man for their life; and this pleased me highly. Then someone sang a Spanish song, with a guitar, I think, and someone else danced an Indian war-dance; and then we all rose to our feet, and chorused the "Star-spangled Banner"; and I remember nothing else after this, until next morning, when I remember well that I awoke with a splitting headache.
I had hardly time to reflect on my previous night's folly, when the door opened, and Saint Vrain, with half a dozen of my table companions, rushed into the room. They were followed by a waiter, who carried several large glasses topped with ice, and filled with a pale amber-coloured liquid.
"A sherry cobbler, Mr Haller," cried one; "best thing in the world for you: drain it, my boy. It'll cool you in a squirrel's jump."
I drank off the refreshing beverage as desired.
"Now, my dear friend," said Saint Vrain, "you feel a hundred per cent, better! But, tell me, were you in earnest when you spoke of going with us across the plains? We start in a week; I shall be sorry to part with you so soon."
"But I was in earnest. I am going with you, if you will only show me how I am to set about it."
"Nothing easier: buy yourself a horse."
"I have got one."
"Then a few coarse articles of dress, a rifle, a pair of pistols, a—"
"Stop, stop! I have all these things. That is not what I would be at, but this: You, gentlemen, carry goods to Santa Fe. You double or treble your money on them. Now, I have ten thousand dollars in a bank here. What should hinder me to combine profit with pleasure, and invest it as you do?"
"Nothing; nothing! A good idea," answered several.
"Well, then, if any of you will have the goodness to go with me, and show me what sort of merchandise I am to lay in for the Santa Fe market, I will pay his wine bill at dinner, and that's no small commission, I think."
The prairie men laughed loudly, declaring they would all go a-shopping with me; and, after breakfast, we started in a body, arm-in-arm.
Before dinner I had invested nearly all my disposable funds in printed calicoes, long knives, and looking-glasses, leaving just money enough to purchase mule-waggons and hire teamsters at Independence, our point of departure for the plains.
A few days after, with my new companions, I was steaming up the Missouri, on our way to the trackless prairies of the "Far West."
THE PRAIRIE FEVER.
After a week spent in Independence buying mules and waggons, we took the route over the plains. There were a hundred waggons in the caravan, and nearly twice that number of teamsters and attendants. Two of the capacious vehicles contained all my "plunder;" and, to manage them, I had hired a couple of lathy, long-haired Missourians. I had also engaged a Canadian voyageur named Gode, as a sort of attendant or compagnon.
Where are the glossy gentlemen of the Planters' Hotel? One would suppose they had been left behind, as here are none but men in hunting-shirts and slouch hats. Yes; but under these hats we recognise their faces, and in these rude shirts we have the same jovial fellows as ever. The silky black and the diamonds have disappeared, for now the traders flourish under the prairie costume. I will endeavour to give an idea of the appearance of my companions by describing my own; for I am tricked out very much like themselves.
I wear a hunting-shirt of dressed deerskin. It is a garment more after the style of an ancient tunic than anything I can think of. It is of a light yellow colour, beautifully stitched and embroidered; and the cape, for it has a short cape, is fringed by tags cut out of the leather itself. The skirt is also bordered by a similar fringe, and hangs full and low. A pair of "savers" of scarlet cloth cover my limbs to the thigh; and under these are strong jean pantaloons, heavy boots, and big brass spurs. A coloured cotton shirt, a blue neck-tie, and a broad-brimmed Guayaquil hat, complete the articles of my everyday dress. Behind me, on the cantle of my saddle, may be observed a bright red object folded into a cylindrical form. That is my "Mackinaw," a great favourite, for it makes my bed by night and my greatcoat on other occasions. There is a small slit in the middle of it, through which I thrust my head in cold or rainy weather; and I am thus covered to the ankles.
As I have said, my compagnons de voyage are similarly attired. There may be a difference of colour in the blanket or the leggings, or the shirt may be of other materials; but that I have described may be taken as a character dress.
We are all somewhat similarly armed and equipped. For my part, I may say that I am "armed to the teeth." In my holsters I carry a pair of Colt's large-sized revolvers, six shots each. In my belt is another pair of the small size, with five shots each. In addition, I have a light rifle, making in all twenty-three shots, which I have learned to deliver in as many seconds of time. Failing with all these, I carry in my belt a long shining blade known as a "bowie knife." This last is my hunting knife, my dining knife, and, in short, my knife of all work. For accoutrements I have a pouch and a flask, both slung under the right arm. I have also a large gourd canteen and haversack for my rations. So have all my companions.
But we are differently mounted. Some ride saddle mules, others bestride mustangs, while a few have brought their favourite American horses. I am of this number. I ride a dark-brown stallion, with black legs, and muzzle like the withered fern. He is half-Arab, and of perfect proportions. He is called Moro, a Spanish name given him by the Louisiana planter from whom I bought him, but why I do not know. I have retained the name, and he answers to it readily. He is strong, fleet, and beautiful. Many of my friends fancy him on the route, and offer large prices for him; but these do not tempt me, for my Moro serves me well. Every day I grow more and more attached to him. My dog Alp, a Saint Bernard that I bought from a Swiss emigre in Saint Louis, hardly comes in for a tithe of my affections.
I find on referring to my note-book that for weeks we travelled over the prairies without any incident of unusual interest. To me the scenery was interest enough; and I do not remember a more striking picture than to see the long caravan of waggons, "the prairie ships," deployed over the plain, or crawling slowly up some gentle slope, their white tilts contrasting beautifully with the deep green of the earth. At night, too, the camp, with its corralled waggons, and horses picketed around, was equally a picture. The scenery was altogether new to me, and imbued me with impressions of a peculiar character. The streams were fringed with tall groves of cottonwood trees, whose column-like stems supported a thick frondage of silvery leaves. These groves meeting at different points, walled in the view, so dividing the prairies from one another, that we seemed to travel through vast fields fenced by colossal hedges.
We crossed many rivers, fording some, and floating our waggons over others that were deeper and wider. Occasionally we saw deer and antelope, and our hunters shot a few of these; but we had not yet reached the range of the buffalo. Once we stopped a day to recruit in a wooded bottom, where the grass was plentiful and the water pure. Now and then, too, we were halted to mend a broken tongue or an axle, or help a "stalled" waggon from its miry bed.
I had very little trouble with my particular division of the caravan. My Missourians turned out to be a pair of staunch hands, who could assist one another without making a desperate affair of every slight accident.
The grass had sprung up, and our mules and oxen, instead of thinning down, every day grew fatter upon it. Moro, therefore, came in for a better share of the maize that I had brought in my waggons, and which kept my favourite in fine travelling condition.
As we approached the Arkansas, we saw mounted Indians disappearing over the swells. They were Pawnees; and for several days clouds of these dusky warriors hung upon the skirts of the caravan. But they knew our strength, and kept at a wary distance from our long rifles.
To me every day brought something new, either in the incidents of the "voyage" or the features of the landscape.
Gode, who has been by turns a voyageur, a hunter, a trapper, and a coureur du bois, in our private dialogues had given me an insight into many an item of prairie-craft, thus enabling me to cut quite a respectable figure among my new comrades. Saint Vrain, too, whose frank, generous manner had already won my confidence, spared no pains to make the trip agreeable to me. What with gallops by day and the wilder tales by the night watch-fires, I became intoxicated with the romance of my new life. I had caught the "prairie-fever!"
So my companions told me, laughing. I did not understand them then. I knew what they meant afterwards. The prairie fever! Yes. I was just then in process of being inoculated by that strange disease. It grew upon me apace. The dreams of home began to die within me; and with these the illusory ideas of many a young and foolish ambition.
My strength increased, both physically and intellectually. I experienced a buoyancy of spirits and a vigour of body I had never known before. I felt a pleasure in action. My blood seemed to rush warmer and swifter through my veins, and I fancied that my eyes reached to a more distant vision. I could look boldly upon the sun without quivering in my glance.
Had I imbibed a portion of the divine essence that lives, and moves, and has its being in those vast solitudes? Who can answer this?
A RIDE UPON A BUFFALO BULL.
We had been out about two weeks when we struck the Arkansas "bend," about six miles below the Plum Buttes. Here our waggons corralled and camped. So far we had seen but little of the buffalo; only a stray bull, or, at most, two or three together, and these shy. It was now the running season, but none of the great droves, love-maddened, had crossed us.
"Yonder!" cried Saint Vrain; "fresh hump for supper!"
We looked north-west, as indicated by our friend.
Along the escarpment of a low table, five dark objects broke the line of the horizon. A glance was enough: they were buffaloes.
As Saint Vrain spoke, we were about slipping off our saddles. Back went the girth buckles with a sneck, down came the stirrups, up went we, and off in the "twinkling of a goat's eye."
Half a score or so started; some, like myself, for the sport; while others, old hunters, had the "meat" in their eye.
We had made but a short day's march; our horses were still fresh, and in three times as many minutes, the three miles that lay between us and the game were reduced to one. Here, however, we were winded. Some of the party, like myself, green upon the prairies, disregarding advice, had ridden straight ahead; and the bulls snuffed us on the wind. When within a mile, one of them threw up his shaggy front, snorted, struck the ground with his hoof, rolled over, rose up again, and dashed off at full speed, followed by his four companions.
It remained to us now either to abandon the chase or put our horses to their mettle and catch up. The latter course was adopted, and we galloped forward. All at once we found ourselves riding up to what appeared to be a clay wall, six feet high. It was a stair between two tables, and ran right and left as far as the eye could reach, without the semblance of a gap.
This was an obstacle that caused us to rein up and reflect. Some wheeled their horses, and commenced riding back, while half a dozen of us, better mounted, among whom were Saint Vrain and my voyageur Gode, not wishing to give up the chase so easily, put to the spur, and cleared the scarp.
From this point it caused us a five miles' gallop, and our horses a white sweat, to come up with the hindmost, a young cow, which fell, bored by a bullet from every rifle in the party.
As the others had gained some distance ahead, and we had meat enough for all, we reined up, and, dismounting, set about "removing the hair." This operation was a short one under the skilful knives of the hunters. We had now leisure to look back, and calculate the distance we had ridden from camp.
"Eight miles, every inch!" cried one.
"We're close to the trail," said Saint Vrain, pointing to some old waggon tracks that marked the route of the Santa Fe traders.
"If we ride into camp, we shall have to ride back in the morning. It will be sixteen extra miles for our cattle."
"Let us stay here, then. Here's water and grass. There's buffalo meat; and yonder's a waggon load of 'chips.' We have our blankets; what more do we want?"
"I say, camp where we are."
In a minute the girth buckles flew open, our saddles were lifted off, and our panting horses were cropping the curly bunches of the prairie grass, within the circles of their cabriestos.
A crystal rivulet, the arroyo of the Spaniards, stole away southward to the Arkansas. On the bank of this rivulet, and under one of its bluffs, we chose a spot for our bivouac. The bois de vache was collected, a fire was kindled, and hump steaks, spitted on sticks, were soon sputtering in the blaze. Luckily, Saint Vrain and I had our flasks along; and as each of them contained a pint of pure Cognac, we managed to make a tolerable supper. The old hunters had their pipes and tobacco, my friend and I our cigars, and we sat round the ashes till a late hour, smoking and listening to wild tales of mountain adventure.
At length the watch was told off, the lariats were shortened, the picket-pins driven home, and my comrades, rolling themselves up in their blankets, rested their heads in the hollow of their saddles, and went to sleep.
There was a man named Hibbets in our party, who, from his habits of somnolency, had earned the sobriquet of "Sleepy-head." For this reason the first watch had been assigned to him, being the least dangerous, as Indians seldom made their attacks until the hour of soundest sleep—that before daybreak.
Hibbets had climbed to his post, the top of the bluff, where he could command a view of the surrounding prairie.
Before night had set in, I had noticed a very beautiful spot on the bank of the arroyo, about two hundred yards from where my comrades lay. A sudden fancy came into my head to sleep there; and taking up my rifle, robe, and blanket, at the same time calling to "Sleepy-head" to awake me in case of alarm, I proceeded thither.
The ground, shelving gradually down to the arroyo, was covered with soft buffalo grass, thick and dry—as good a bed as was ever pressed by sleepy mortal. On this I spread my robe, and, folding my blanket around me, lay down, cigar in mouth, to smoke myself asleep.
It was a lovely moonlight, so clear that I could easily distinguish the colours of the prairie flowers—the silver euphorbias, the golden sunflowers, and the scarlet malvas, that fringed the banks of the arroyo at my feet. There was an enchanting stillness in the air, broken only by an occasional whine from the prairie wolf, the distant snoring of my companions, and the "crop, crop" of our horses shortening the crisp grass.
I lay a good while awake, until my cigar burnt up to my lips (we smoke them close on the prairies); then, spitting out the stump, I turned over on my side, and was soon in the land of dreams.
I could not have been asleep many minutes when I felt sensible of a strange noise, like distant thunder, or the roaring of a waterfall. The ground seemed to tremble beneath me.
"We are going to have a dash of a thunder-shower," thought I, still half-dreaming, half-sensible to impressions from without; and I drew the folds of my blanket closer around me, and again slept.
I was awakened by a noise like thunder—indeed, like the trampling of a thousand hoofs, and the lowing of a thousand oxen! The earth echoed and trembled. I could hear the shouts of my comrades; the voices of Saint Vrain and Gode, the latter calling out—
"Sacr-r-re! monsieur; prenez garde des buffles!"
I saw that they had drawn the horses, and were hurrying them under the bluff.
I sprang to my feet, flinging aside my blanket. A fearful spectacle was before me. Away to the west, as far as the eye could reach, the prairie seemed in motion. Black waves rolled over its undulating outlines, as though some burning mountain were pouring down its lava upon the plains. A thousand bright spots flashed and flitted along the moving surface like jets of fire. The ground shook, men shouted, horses reared upon their ropes, neighing wildly. My dog barked, and bowled, running around me!
For a moment I thought I was dreaming; but no, the scene was too real to be mistaken for a vision. I saw the border of a black wave within ten paces of me, and still approaching! Then, and not till then, did I recognise the shaggy crests and glaring eyeballs of the buffalo!
"Oh, God; I am in their track. I shall be trampled to death!"
It was too late to attempt an escape by running. I seized my rifle and fired at the foremost of the band. The effect of my shot was not perceptible. The water of the arroyo was dashed in my face. A huge bull, ahead of the rest, furious and snorting, plunged through the stream and up the slope. I was lifted and tossed high into the air. I was thrown rearwards, and fell upon a moving mass. I did not feel hurt or stunned. I felt myself carried onward upon the backs of several animals, that, in the dense drove, ran close together. These, frightened at their strange burden, bellowed loudly, and dashed on to the front. A sudden thought struck me, and, fixing on that which was most under me, I dropped my legs astride of him, embracing his hump, and clutching the long woolly hair that grew upon his neck. The animal "routed" with extreme terror, and, plunging forward, soon headed the band.
This was exactly what I wanted; and on we went over the prairie, the bull running at top speed, believing, no doubt, that he had a panther or a catamount between his shoulders.
I had no desire to disabuse him of this belief, and, lest he should deem me altogether harmless, and come to a halt, I slipped out my bowie, which happened to be handy, and pricked him up whenever he showed symptoms of lagging. At every fresh touch of the spur he roared out, and ran forward at a redoubled pace.
My danger was still extreme. The drove was coming on behind with the front of nearly a mile. I could not have cleared it had the bull stopped and left me on the prairie.
Nothwithstanding the peril I was in, I could not resist laughing at my ludicrous situation. I felt as one does when looking at a good comedy.
We struck through a village of prairie dogs. Here I fancied the animal was about to turn and run back. This brought my mirth to a sudden pause; but the buffalo usually runs in a bee-line, and fortunately mine made no exception to the law. On he went, sinking to the knees, kicking the dust from the conical hills, snorting and bellowing with rage and terror.
The Plum Buttes were directly in the line or our course. I had seen this from the start, and knew that if I could reach them I would be safe. They were nearly three miles from the bluff where we had bivouacked, but in my ride I fancied them ten.
A small one rose over the prairie, several hundred yards nearer than the main heights. Towards this I pricked the foaming bull in a last stretch, and he brought me cleverly within a hundred yards of its base.
It was now time to take leave of my dusky companion. I could have slaughtered him as I leaned over his back. My knife rested upon the most vulnerable part of his huge body. No! I could not have slain that buffalo for the Koh-i-noor.
Untwisting my fingers from his thick fleece, I slipped down over his tail, and without as much as saying "Goodnight!" ran with all my speed towards the knoll. I climbed up; and sitting down upon a loose boulder of rock, looked over the prairie.
The moon was still shining brightly. My late companion had halted not far from where I had left him, and stood glaring back with an air of extreme bewilderment. There was something so comical in the sight that I yelled with laughter as I sat securely on my perch.
I looked to the south-west. As far as the eye could see, the prairie was black, and moving. The living wave came rolling onward and toward me; but I could now observe it in safety. The myriads of glancing eyes, sparkling like phosphoric gleams, no longer flashed terror.
The drove was still half a mile distant. I thought I saw quick gleams, and heard the report of firearms away over its left border; but I could not be certain. I had begun to think of the fate of my comrades, and this gave me hopes that they were safe.
The buffaloes approached the butte on which I was seated; and, perceiving the obstacle, suddenly forked into two great belts, and swept right and left around it. What struck me at this moment as curious was, that my bull, my particular bull, instead of waiting till his comrades had come up, and falling in among the foremost, suddenly tossed up his head, and galloped off as if a pack of wolves had been after him. He ran towards the outside of the band. When he had reached a point that placed him fairly beyond the flank, I could see him closing in, and moving on with the rest.
This strange tactic of my late companion puzzled me at the time, but I afterwards learned that it was sound strategy on his part. Had he remained where I had parted with him, the foremost bulls coming up would have mistaken him for an individual of some other tribe, and would certainly have gored him to death.
I sat upon the rock for nearly two hours, silently watching the sable stream as it poured past. I was on an island in the midst of a black and glittering sea. At one time I fancied I was moving, that the butte was sailing onward, and the buffaloes were standing still. My head swam with dizziness, and I leaped to my feet to drive away the strange illusion.
The torrent rolled onward, and at length the hindmost went straggling past. I descended from the knoll, and commenced groping my way over the black, trodden earth. What was lately a green sward now presented the aspect of ground freshly ploughed, and trampled by droves of oxen.
A number of white animals, resembling a flock of sheep, passed near me. They were wolves hanging upon the skirts of the herd.
I pushed on, keeping to the southward. At length I heard voices; and, in the clear moonlight, could see several horsemen galloping in circles over the plain. I shouted "Hollo!" A voice answered mine, and one of the horsemen came galloping up; it was Saint Vrain.
"Why, bless me, Haller!" cried he, reining up, and bending from his saddle to get a better view of me, "is it you or your ghost? As I sit here, it's the man himself, and alive!"
"Never in better condition," I replied.
"But where did you come from? the clouds? the sky? where?" And his questions were echoed by the others, who at this moment were shaking me by the hand, as if they had not seen me for a twelvemonth.
Gode seemed to be the most perplexed man of the party.
"Mon Dieu! run over; tramp by von million buffles, et ne pas mort! 'Cr-r-re matin!"
"We were hunting for your body, or rather, the fragments of it," said Saint Vrain. "We had searched every foot of the prairie for a mile round, and had almost come to the conclusion that the fierce brutes had eaten you up."
"Eat monsieur up! No! tre million buffles no him eat. Mon Dieu! Ha, Sleep-head!"
This exclamation of the Canadian was addressed to Hibbets, who had failed to warn my comrades of where I lay, and thus placed me in such a dangerous predicament.
"We saw you tossed in the air," continued Saint Vrain, "and fall right into the thick of them. Then, of course, we gave you up. But how, in Heaven's name, have you got clear?"
I related my adventure to my wondering comrades.
"Par Dieu!" cried Gode, "un garcon tres bizarre: une aventure tres merveilleuse!"
From that hour I was looked upon as a "captain" on the prairies.
My comrades had made good work of it, as a dozen dark objects that lay upon the plain testified. They had found my rifle and blankets, the latter trodden into the earth.
Saint Vrain had still a few drops in his flask; and after swallowing these, and again placing the guard, we returned to our prairie couches and slept out the night.
IN A BAD FIX.
A few days afterwards, another adventure befell me; and I began to think that I was destined to become a hero among the "mountain men." A small party of the traders, myself among the number, had pushed forward ahead of the caravan. Our object was to arrive at Santa Fe a day or two before the waggons, in order to have everything arranged with the Governor for their entrance into that capital. We took the route by the Cimmaron.
Our road, for a hundred miles or so, lay through a barren desert, without game, and almost without water. The buffalo had already disappeared, and deer were equally scarce. We had to content ourselves with the dried meat which we had brought from the settlements. We were in the deserts of the artemisia. Now and then we could see a stray antelope bounding away before us, but keeping far out of range. They, too, seemed to be unusually shy.
On the third day after leaving the caravan, as we were riding near the Cimmaron, I thought I observed a pronged head disappearing behind a swell in the prairie. My companions were sceptical, and none of them would go with me; so, wheeling out of the trail, I started alone. One of the men, for Gode was behind, kept charge of my dog, as I did not choose to take him with me, lest he might alarm the antelopes. My horse was fresh and willing; and whether successful or not, I knew that I could easily overtake the party by camping-time.
I struck directly towards the spot where I had seen the object. It appeared to be only half a mile or so from the trail. It proved more distant—a common illusion in the crystal atmosphere of these upland regions.
A curiously-formed ridge, a couteau des prairies on a small scale, traversed the plain from east to west. A thicket of cactus covered part of its summit. Towards this thicket I directed myself.
I dismounted at the bottom of the slope, and leading my horse silently up among the cacti plants, tied him to one of their branches. I then crept cautiously through the thorny leaves towards the point where I fancied I had seen the game. To my joy, not one antelope, but a brace of those beautiful animals were quietly grazing beyond; but, alas! too far off for the range of my rifle. They were fully three hundred yards distant, upon a smooth, grassy slope. There was not even a sage bush to cover me, should I attempt to approach them. What was to be done?
I lay for several minutes, thinking over the different tricks known in hunter-craft for taking the antelope. Should I imitate their call? Should I hoist my handkerchief, and try to lure them up? I saw that they were too shy; for, at short intervals, they threw up their graceful heads and looked inquiringly around them. I remembered the red blanket on my saddle. I could display this upon the cactus bushes; perhaps it would attract them.
I had no alternative, and was turning to go back for the blanket, when, all at once, my eye rested upon a clay-coloured line running across the prairie beyond where the animals were feeding. It was a break in the surface of the plain, a buffalo road, or the channel of an arroyo; in either case the very cover I wanted, for the animals were not a hundred yards from it, and were getting still nearer to it as they fed.
Creeping back out of the thicket, I ran along the side of the slope towards a point where I had noticed that the ridge was depressed to the prairie level. Here, to my surprise, I found myself on the banks of a broad arroyo, whose water, clear and shallow, ran slowly over a bed of sand and gypsum.
The banks were low, not over three feet above the surface of the water, except where the ridge impinged upon the stream. Here there was a high bluff; and, hurrying round its base, I entered the channel, and commenced wading upward.
As I had anticipated, I soon came to a bend where the stream, after running parallel to the ridge, swept round and canoned through it. At this place I stopped, and looked cautiously over the bank. The antelopes had approached within less than rifle range of the arroyo; but they were yet far above my position. They were still quietly feeding and unconscious of danger. I again bent down and waded on.
It was a difficult task proceeding in this way. The bed of the creek was soft and yielding, and I was compelled to tread slowly and silently lest I should alarm the game; but I was cheered in my exertions by the prospect of fresh venison for my supper.
After a weary drag of several hundred yards, I came opposite to a small clump of wormwood bushes growing out of the bank. "I may be high enough," thought I; "these will serve for cover."
I raised my body gradually until I could see through the leaves. I was in the right spot.
I brought my rifle to a level, sighted for the heart of the buck, and fired. The animal leaped from the ground, and fell back lifeless.
I was about to rush forward and secure my prize, when I observed the doe, instead of running off as I had expected, go up to her fallen partner and press her tapering nose to his body. She was not more than twenty yards from me; and I could plainly see that her look was one of inquiry and bewilderment. All at once she seemed to comprehend the fatal truth; and throwing back her head, commenced uttering the most piteous cries, at the same time running in circles around the body.
I stood wavering between two minds. My first impulse had been to reload and kill the doe; but her plaintive voice entered my heart, disarming me of all hostile intentions. Had I dreamt of witnessing this painful spectacle, I should not have left the trail. But the mischief was now done. "I have worse than killed her," thought I; "it will be better to despatch her at once."
Actuated by these principles of a common, but to her fatal, humanity, I rested the butt of my rifle and reloaded. With a faltering hand I again levelled the piece and fired.
My nerves were steady enough to do the work. When the smoke floated aside, I could see the little creature bleeding upon the grass, her head resting against the body of her murdered mate.
I shouldered my rifle, and was about to move forward, when to my astonishment, I found that I was caught by the feet. I was held firmly, as if my legs had been screwed in a vice!
I made an effort to extricate myself; another, more violent, and equally unsuccessful; and, with a third, I lost my balance, and fell back upon the water.
Half-suffocated, I regained my upright position, but only to find that I was held as fast as ever.
Again I struggled to free my limbs. I could neither move them backward nor forward, to the right nor to the left; and I became sensible that I was gradually going down. Then the fearful truth flashed upon me: I was sinking in a quicksand.
A feeling of horror came over me. I renewed my efforts with the energy of desperation. I leant to one side, then to the other, almost wrenching my knees from their sockets. My feet remained fast as ever. I could not move them an inch.
The soft, clinging sand already overtopped my horseskin boots, wedging them around my ankles, so that I was unable to draw them off; and I could feel that I was still sinking, slowly but surely, as though some subterranean monster were leisurely dragging me down! This very thought caused me a fresh thrill of horror, and I called aloud for help. To whom? There was no one within miles of me—no living thing. Yes! the neigh of my horse answered me from the hill, mocking my despair.
I bent forward as well as my constrained position would permit, and, with frenzied fingers, commenced tearing up the sand. I could barely reach the surface; and the little hollow I was able to make filled up almost as soon as it had been formed.
A thought occurred to me. My rifle might support me, placed horizontally. I looked around for it. It was not to be seen. It had sunk beneath the sand.
Could I throw my body flat, and prevent myself from sinking deeper? No. The water was two feet in depth. I should drown at once.
This last last hope left me as soon as formed. I could think of no plan to save myself. I could make no further effort. A strange stupor seized upon me. My very thoughts became paralysed. I knew that I was going mad. For a moment I was mad!
After an interval my senses returned. I made an effort to rouse my mind from its paralysis, in order that I might meet death, which I now believed to be certain, as a man should.
I stood erect. My eyes had sunk to the prairie level, and rested upon the still bleeding victims of my cruelty. My heart smote me at the sight. Was I suffering a retribution of God?
With humble and penitent thoughts I turned my face to heaven, almost dreading that some sign of omnipotent anger would scowl upon me from above. But no! The sun was shining as brightly as ever, and the blue canopy of the world was without a cloud.
I gazed upward, and prayed with an earnestness known only to the hearts of men in positions of peril like mine.
As I continued to look up, an object attracted my attention. Against the sky I distinguished the outlines of a large bird. I knew it to be the obscene bird of the plains, the buzzard vulture. Whence had it come? Who knows? Far beyond the reach of human eye it had seen or scented the slaughtered antelopes, and on broad, silent wing was now descending to the feast of death.
Presently another, and another, and many others, mottled the blue field of the heavens, curving and wheeling silently earthward. Then the foremost swooped down upon the bank, and after gazing around for a moment, flapped off towards its prey.
In a few seconds the prairie was black with filthy birds, which clambered over the dead antelopes, and beat their wings against each other, while they tore out the eyes of the quarry with their fetid beaks.
And now came gaunt wolves, sneaking and hungry, stealing out of the cactus thicket, and loping, coward-like, over the green swells of the prairie. These, after a battle, drove away the vultures, and tore up the prey, all the while growling and snapping vengefully at each other.
"Thank Heaven! I shall at least be saved from this!"
I was soon relieved from the sight. My eyes had sunk below the level of the bank. I had looked my last on the fair green earth. I could now see only the clayey walls that contained the river, and the water that ran unheeding by me.
Once more I fixed my gaze upon the sky, and with prayerful heart endeavoured to resign myself to my fate.
In spite of my efforts to be calm, the memories of earthly pleasures, and friends, and home came over me, causing me at intervals to break into wild paroxysms, and make fresh, though fruitless, struggles.
Again I was attracted by the neighing of my horse.
A thought entered my mind, filling me with fresh hopes. "Perhaps my horse—"
I lost not a moment. I raised my voice to its highest pitch, and called the animal by name. I knew that he would come at my call. I had tied him but slightly. The cactus limb would snap off. I called again, repeating words that were well known to him. I listened with a bounding heart. For a moment there was silence. Then I heard the quick sounds of his hoofs, as though the animal were rearing and struggling to free himself. Then I could distinguish the stroke of his heels in a measured and regular gallop.
Nearer came the sounds; nearer and clearer, until the gallant brute appeared upon the bank above me. There he halted, and, flinging back his tossed mane, uttered a shrill neigh. He was bewildered, and looked to every side, snorting loudly.
I knew that, having once seen me, he would not stop until he had pressed his nose against my cheek, for this was his usual custom. Holding out my hands, I again uttered the magic words.
Now glancing downward, he perceived me, and stretching himself, sprang out into the channel. The next moment I held him by the bridle.
There was no time to be lost. I was still going down; and my armpits were fast nearing the surface of the quicksand.
I caught the lariat, and, passing it under the saddle-girths, fastened it in a tight, firm knot. I then looped the trailing end, making it secure around my body. I had left enough of the rope, between the bit-ring and the girths, to enable me to check and guide the animal, in case the drag upon my body should be too painful.
All this while the dumb brute seemed to comprehend what I was about. He knew, too, the nature of the ground on which he stood, for during the operation he kept lifting his feet alternately to prevent himself from sinking.
My arrangements were at length completed; and with a feeling of terrible anxiety I gave my horse the signal to move forward. Instead of going off with a start, the intelligent animal stepped away slowly, as though he understood my situation. The lariat tightened, I felt my body moving, and the next moment experienced a wild delight, a feeling I cannot describe, as I found myself dragged out of the sand!
I sprang to my feet with a shout of joy. I rushed up to my steed, and throwing my arms around his neck, kissed him. He answered my embrace with a low whimper, that told me I was understood.
I looked for my rifle. Fortunately, it had not sunk deeply, and I soon found it. My boots were behind me, but I stayed not to look for them, being smitten with a wholesome dread of the place where I had left them.
It was sundown before I reached camp, where I was met by the inquiries of my wondering companions. "Did you come across the 'goats'?" "Where's your boots?" "Whether have you been hunting or fishing?"
I answered all these questions by relating my adventures; and that night I was again the hero of the camp-fire.
After a week's climbing through the Rocky Mountains, we descended into the Valley of the Del Norte, and arrived at the capital of New Mexico, the far-famed Santa Fe. Next day the caravan itself came in, for we had lost time on the southern route; and the waggons, travelling by the Raton Pass, had made a good journey of it.
We had no difficulty about their entrance into the country, with the proviso that we paid five hundred dollars of "Alcavala" tax upon each waggon. This was a greater extortion than usual; but the traders were compelled to accept the impost.
Santa Fe is the entrepot of the province, and the chief seat of its trade. On reaching it we halted, camping without the walls.
Saint Vrain, several other proprietaires, and myself, took up our quarters at the Fonda, where we endeavoured, by means of the sparkling vintage of El Paso, to make ourselves oblivious of the hardships we had endured in the passage of the plains.
The night of our arrival was given to feasting and making merry.
Next morning I was awakened by the voice of my man Gode, who appeared to be in high spirits, singing a snatch of a Canadian boat-song.
"Ah, monsieur!" cried he, seeing me awake, "to-night—aujourd'hui—une grande fonction—one bal—vat le Mexicain he call fandango. Tres bien, monsieur. You vill sure have grand plaisir to see un fandango Mexicain?"
"Not I, Gode. My countrymen are not so fond of dancing as yours."
"C'est vrai, monsieur; but von fandango is tres curieux. You sall see ver many sort of de pas. Bolero, et valse, wis de Coona, and ver many more pas, all mix up in von puchero. Allons! monsieur, you vill see ver many pretty girl, avec les yeux tres noir, and ver short—ah! ver short—vat you call em in Americaine?"
"I do not know what you allude to."
"Cela! Zis, monsieur," holding out the skirt of his hunting-shirt; "par Dieu! now I have him—petticoes; ver short petticoes. Ah! you sall see vat you sall see en un fandango Mexicaine.
"'Las ninas de Durango Commigo bailandas, Al cielo saltandas, En el fandango—en el fan-dang—o.'
"Ah! here comes Monsieur Saint Vrain. Ecoutez! He never go to fandango. Sacre! how monsieur dance! like un maitre de ballet. Mais he be de sangre—blood Francais. Ecoutez!
"'Al cielo saltandas, En el fandango—en el fan-dang—.'"
"Trot over to the cantina, and beg, borrow, buy, or steal, a bottle of the best Paso."
"Sall I try steal 'im, Monsieur Saint Vrain?" inquired Gode, with a knowing grin.
"No, you old Canadian thief! Pay for it. There's the money. Best Paso, do you hear?—cool and sparkling. Now, voya! Bon jour, my bold rider of buffalo bulls I still abed, I see."
"My head aches as if it would split."
"Ha, ha, ha! so does mine; but Gode's gone for medicine. Hair of the dog good for the bite. Come, jump up!"
"Wait till I get a dose of your medicine."
"True; you will feel better then. I say, city life don't agree with us, eh?"
"You call this a city, do you?"
"Ay, so it is styled in these parts: 'la ciudad de Santa Fe;' the famous city of Santa Fe; the capital of Nuevo Mexico; the metropolis of all prairiedom; the paradise of traders, trappers, and thieves!"
"And this is the progress of three hundred years! Why, these people have hardly passed the first stages of civilisation."
"Rather say they are passing the last stages of it. Here, on this fair oasis, you will find painting, poetry, dancing, theatres, and music, fetes and fireworks, with all the little amorous arts that characterise a nation's decline. You will meet with numerous Don Quixotes, soi-disant knights-errant, Romeos without the heart, and ruffians without the courage. You will meet with many things before you encounter either virtue or honesty. Hola! muchacho!"
"Que es, senor?"
"Bring us a couple of tazas, then—dos tazas, do you hear? and quick— aprisa! aprisa!"
"Ah! here comes le voyageur Canadien. So, old Nor'-west! you've brought the wine?"
"Vin delicieux, Monsieur Saint Vrain! equal to ze vintage Francais."
"He is right, Haller! Tsap—tsap! delicious you may say, good Gode. Tsap—tsap! Come, drink! it'll make you feel as strong as a buffalo. See! it seethes like a soda spring! like 'Fontaine-qui-bouille'; eh, Gode?"
"Oui, monsieur; ver like Fontaine-qui-bouille. Oui."
"Drink, man, drink! Don't fear it: it's the pure juice. Smell the flavour; taste the bouquet. What wine the Yankees will one day squeeze out of these New Mexican grapes!"
"Why? Do you think the Yankees have an eye to this quarter?"
"Think! I know it; and why not? What use are these manikins in creation? Only to cumber the earth. Well, mozo, you have brought the coffee?"
"Ya, esta, senor."
"Here! try some of this; it will help to set you on your feet. They can make coffee, and no mistake. It takes a Spaniard to do that."
"What is this fandango Gode has been telling me about?"
"Ah! true. We are to have a famous one to-night. You'll go, of course?"
"Out of curiosity."
"Very well, you will have your curiosity gratified. The blustering old grampus of a Governor is to honour the ball with his presence; and it is said, his pretty senora; that I don't believe."
"He's too much afraid lest one of these wild Americanos might whip her off on the cantle of his saddle. Such things have been done in this very valley. By Saint Mary! she is good-looking," continued Saint Vrain, in a half-soliloquy, "and I knew a man—the cursed old tyrant! only think of it!"
"The way he has bled us. Five hundred dollars a waggon, and a hundred of them at that; in all, fifty thousand dollars!"
"But will he pocket all this? Will not the Government—?"
"Government! no, every cent of it. He is the Government here; and, with the help of this instalment, he will rule these miserable wretches with an iron rod."
"And yet they hate him, do they not?"
"Him and his. And they have reason."
"It is strange they do not rebel."
"They have at times; but what can they do? Like all true tyrants, he has divided them, and makes them spend their heart's hatred on one another."
"But he seems not to have a very large army; no bodyguard—"
"Bodyguard!" cried Saint Vrain, interrupting me; "look out! there's his bodyguard!"
"Indios bravos! les Navajoes!" exclaimed Gode, at the same instant.
I looked forth into the street. Half a dozen tall savages, wrapped in striped serapes, were passing. Their wild, hungry looks, and slow, proud walk at once distinguished them from "Indios manzos," the water-drawing, wood-hewing pueblos.
"Are they Navajoes?" I asked.
"Oui, monsieur, oui!" replied Gode, apparently with some excitement. "Navajoes!"
"There's no mistaking them," added Saint Vrain.
"But the Navajoes are the notorious enemies of the New Mexicans! How come they to be here? Prisoners?"
"Do they look like prisoners?"
They certainly showed no signs of captivity in either look or gesture. They strode proudly up the street, occasionally glancing at the passers with an air of savage and lordly contempt.
"Why, then, are they here? Their country lies far to the west."
"That is one of the secrets of Nuevo Mexico, about which I will enlighten you some other time. They are now protected by a treaty of peace, which is only binding upon them so long as it may suit their convenience to recognise it. At present they are as free here as you or I; indeed, more so, when it comes to that. I wouldn't wonder it we were to meet them at the fandango to-night."
"I have heard that the Navajoes are cannibals."
"It is true. Look at them this minute! See how they gloat upon that chubby little fellow, who seems instinctively to fear them. Lucky for the urchin it's broad daylight, or he might get chucked under one of those striped blankets."
"Are you in earnest, Saint Vrain?"
"By my word, I am not jesting! If I mistake not, Gode's experience will confirm what I have said. Eh, voyageur?"
"C'est vrai, monsieur. I vas prisonnier in le nation; not Navagh, but l'Apache—moch de same—pour tree mons. I have les sauvages seen manger—eat—one—deux—tree—tree enfants rotis, like hump rib of de buffles. C'est vrai, messieurs, c'est vrai."
"It is quite true; both Apaches and Navajoes carry off children from the valley, here, in their grand forays; and it is said by those who should know, that most of them are used in that way. Whether as a sacrifice to the fiery god Quetzalcoatl, or whether from a fondness lor human flesh, no one has yet been able to determine. In fact, with all their propinquity to this place, there is little known about them. Few who have visited their towns have had Gode's luck to get away again. No man of these parts ever ventures across the western Sierras."
"And how came you, Monsieur Gode, to save your scalp?"
"Pourquoi, monsieur, je n'ai pas. I not haves scalp-lock: vat de trappare Yankee call 'har,' mon scalp-lock is fabrique of von barbier de Saint Louis. Voila monsieur!"
So saying, the Canadian lifted his cap, and along with it what I had, up to this time, looked upon as a beautiful curling head of hair, but which now proved to be only a wig!
"Now, messieurs!" cried he, in good humour, "how les sauvages my scalp take? Indien no have cash hold. Sacr-r-r!"
Saint Vrain and I were unable to restrain our laughter at the altered and comical appearance of the Canadian.
"Come, Gode! the least you can do after that is to take a drink. Here, help yourself!"
"Tres-oblige, Monsieur Saint Vrain. Je vous remercie." And the ever-thirsty voyageur quaffed off the nectar of El Paso, like so much fresh milk.
"Come, Haller! we must to the waggons. Business first, then pleasure; such as we may find here among these brick stacks. But we'll have some fun in Chihuahua."
"And you think we shall go there?"
"Certainly. They do not want the fourth part of our stuff here. We must carry it on to the head market. To the camp! Allons!"
In the evening I sat in my room waiting for Saint Vrain. His voice reached me from without—
"'Las ninas de Durango Commigo bailandas, Al cielo—!'
"Ha! Are you ready, my bold rider?"
"Not quite. Sit down a minute and wait."
"Hurry, then! the dancing's begun. I have just come that way. What! that your ball-dress? Ha! ha! ha!" screamed Saint Vrain, seeing me unpack a blue coat and a pair of dark pantaloons, in a tolerable state of preservation.
"Why, yes," replied I, looking up; "what fault do you find? But is that your ball-dress?"
No change had taken place in the ordinary raiment of my friend. The fringed hunting-shirt and leggings, the belt, the bowie, and the pistols, were all before me.
"Yes, my dandy; this is my ball-dress: it ain't anything shorter; and if you'll take my advice, you'll wear what you have got on your back. How will your long-tailed blue look, with a broad belt and bowie strapped round the skirts? Ha! ha! ha!"
"But why take either belt or bowie? You are surely not going into a ball-room with your pistols in that fashion?"
"And how else should I carry them? In my hands?"
"Leave them here."
"Ha! ha! that would be a green trick. No, no. Once bit, twice shy. You don't catch this 'coon going into any fandango in Santa Fe without his six-shooters. Come, keep on that shirt; let your leggings sweat where they are, and buckle this about you. That's the costume du bal in these parts."
"If you assure me that my dress will be comme il faut, I'm agreed."
"It won't be with the long-tailed blue, I promise you."
The long-tailed blue was restored forthwith to its nook in my portmanteau.
Saint Vrain was right. On arriving at the room, a large sala in the neighbourhood of the Plaza, we found it filled with hunters, trappers, traders, and teamsters, all swaggering about in their usual mountain rig. Mixed among them were some two or three score of the natives, with an equal number of senoritas, all of whom, by their style of dress, I recognise as poblanas, or persons of the lower class,—the only class, in fact, to be met with in Santa Fe.
As we entered, most of the men had thrown aside their serapes for the dance, and appeared in all the finery of embroidered velvet, stamped leather, and shining "castletops." The women looked not less picturesque in their bright naguas, snowy chemisettes, and small satin slippers. Some of them flounced it in polka jackets; for even to that remote region the famous dance had found its way.
"Have you heard of the electric telegraph?"
"Can you tell me what a railroad is?"
"Ah! senor, la polka, la polka! cosa buenita, tan graciosa! vaya!"
The ball-room was a long, oblong sala with a banquette running all round it. Upon this the dancers seated themselves, drew out their husk cigarettes, chatted, and smoked, during the intervals of the dance. In one corner half a dozen sons of Orpheus twanged away upon harp, guitar, and bandolin; occasionally helping out the music with a shrill half-Indian chant. In another angle of the apartment, puros, and Taos whisky were dealt out to the thirsty mountaineers, who made the sala ring with their wild ejaculations. There were scenes like the following:—
"Hyar, my little muchacha! vamos, vamos, ter dance! Mucho bueno! Mucho bueno? Will ye?"
This is from a great rough fellow of six feet and over, addressed to a trim little poblana.
"Mucho bueno, Senor Americano!" replies the lady.
"Hooraw for you! Come along! Let's licker fust! You're the gal for my beaver. What'll yer drink? Agwardent or vino?"
"Copitita de vino, senor." (A small glass of wine, sir.)
"Hyar, yer darned greaser! Set out yer vino in a squ'll's jump! Now, my little un', hyar's luck, and a good husband!"
"Gracias, Senor Americano!"
"What! you understand that? You intende, do yer?"
"Hooraw, then! Look hyar, little 'un, kin yer go the b'ar dance?"
"Yer don't understan' it! Hyar it is; thisa-way;" and the clumsy hunter began to show off before his partner, in an imitation of the grizzly bear.
"Hollo, Bill!" cries a comrade, "yer'll be trapped if yer don't look sharp."
"I'm dog-gone, Jim, if I don't feel queery about hyar," replies the hunter, spreading his great paw over the region of the heart.
"Don't be skeert, man; it's a nice gal, anyways."
"Hooray for old Missouri!" shouts a teamster.
"Come, boys! Let's show these yer greasers a Virginny break-down. 'Cl'ar the kitchen, old folks, young folks.'"
"Go it hoe and toe! 'Old Virginny nebir tire!'"
"Viva el Gobernador! Viva Armijo! Viva! viva!"
An arrival at this moment caused a sensation in the room. A stout, fat, priest-like man entered, accompanied by several others, it was the Governor and his suite, with a number of well-dressed citizens, who were no doubt the elite of New Mexican society. Some of the new-comers were militaires, dressed in gaudy and foolish-looking uniforms that were soon seen spinning round the room in the mazes of the waltz.
"Where is the Senora Armijo?" I whispered to Saint Vrain.
"I told you as much. She! she won't be out. Stay here; I am going for a short while. Help yourself to a partner, and see some tun. I will be back presently. Au revoir!"
Without any further explanation, Saint Vrain squeezed himself through the crowd and disappeared.
I had been seated on the banquette since entering the sala, Saint Vrain beside me, in a retired corner of the room. A man of peculiar appearance occupied the seat next to Saint Vrain, but farther into the shadow of a piece of furniture. I had noticed this man as we entered, and noticed, too, that Saint Vrain spoke to him; but I was not introduced, and the interposition of my friend prevented me from making any further observation of him until the latter had retired. We were now side by side; and I commenced a sort of angular reconnaissance of a face and figure that had somewhat strangely arrested my attention. He was not an American; that was evident from his dress; and yet the face was not Mexican. Its outlines were too bold for a Spanish face, though the complexion, from tan and exposure, was brown and swarth. His face was clean-shaven except his chin, which carried a pointed, darkish beard. The eye, if I saw it aright under the shadow of a slouched brim, was blue and mild; the hair brown and wavy, with here and there a strand of silver. These were not Spanish characteristics, much less Hispano-American; and I should have at once placed my neighbour elsewhere, but that his dress puzzled me. It was purely a Mexican costume, and consisted of a purple manga, with dark velvet embroidery around the vent and along the borders. As this garment covered the greater part of his person, I could only see that underneath was a pair of green velveteen calzoneros, with yellow buttons, and snow-white calzoncillos puffing out along the seams. The bottoms of the calzoneros were trimmed with stamped black leather; and under these were yellow boots, with a heavy steel spur upon the heel of each. The broad peaked strap that confined the spur, passing over the foot, gave to it that peculiar contour that we observe in the pictures of armed knights of the olden time. He wore a black, broad-brimmed sombrero, girdled by a thick band of gold bullion. A pair of tags of the same material stuck out from the sides: the fashion of the country.
The man kept his sombrero slouched towards the light, as I thought or suspected, for the concealment of his face. And vet it was not an ill-favoured one. On the contrary, it was open and pleasing; no doubt had been handsome beforetime, and whatever caused its melancholy expression had lined and clouded it. It was this expression that had struck me on first seeing the man.
Whilst I was making these observations, eyeing him cross-wise all the while, I discovered that he was eyeing me in a similar manner, and with an interest apparently equal to my own. This caused us to face round to each other, when the stranger drew from under his manga a small beaded cigarero, and, gracefully holding it out to me, said—
"Quiere a fumar, caballero?" (Would you smoke, sir?)
"Thank you, yes," I replied in Spanish, at the same time taking a cigar from the case.
We had hardly lit our cigarettes when the man again turned to me with the unexpected question—
"Will you sell your horse?"
"Not for a good price?"
"Not for any price."
"I would give five hundred dollars for him."
"I would not part with him for twice the amount."
"I will give twice the amount."
"I have become attached to him: money is no object."
"I am sorry to hear it. I have travelled two hundred miles to buy that horse."
I looked at my new acquaintance with astonishment, involuntarily repeating his last words.
"You must have followed us from the Arkansas, then?"
"No, I came from the Rio Abajo."
"The Rio Abajo! You mean from down the Del Norte?"
"Then, my dear sir, it is a mistake. You think you are talking to somebody else, and bidding for some other horse."
"Oh, no! He is yours. A black stallion with red nose and long full tail, half-bred Arabian. There is a small mark over the left eye."
This was certainly the description of Moro; and I began to feel a sort of superstitious awe in regard to my mysterious neighbour.
"True," replied I; "that is all correct; but I bought that stallion many months ago from a Louisiana planter. If you have just arrived from two hundred miles down the Rio Grande, how, may I ask, could you have known anything about me or my horse?"
"Dispensadme, caballero! I did not mean that. I came from below to meet the caravan, for the purpose of buying an American horse. Yours is the only one in the caballada I would buy, and, it seems, the only one that is not for sale!"
"I am sorry for that; but I have tested the qualities of this animal. We have become friends. No common motive would induce me to part with him."
"Ah, senor! it is not a common motive that makes me so eager to purchase him. If you knew that, perhaps—" he hesitated a moment; "but no, no, no!" and after muttering some half-coherent words, among which I could recognise the "Buenos noches, caballero!" the stranger rose up with the same mysterious air that had all along characterised him, and left me. I could hear the tinkling of the small bells upon the rowels of his spurs, as he slowly warped himself through the gay crowd, and disappeared into the night.
The vacated seat was soon occupied by a dusky manola, whose bright nagua, embroidered chemisette, brown ankles, and small blue slippers, drew my attention. This was all I could see of her, except the occasional flash of a very black eye through the loophole of the rebozo tapado. By degrees, the rebozo became more generous, the loophole expanded, and the outlines of a very pretty and very malicious little face were displayed before me. The end of the scarf was adroitly removed from the left shoulder; and a nude, plump arm, ending in a bunch of small jewelled fingers, hung carelessly down.
I am tolerably bashful; but at the sight of this tempting partner, I could hold in no longer, and bending towards her, I said in my best Spanish, "Do me the favour, miss, to waltz with me."
The wicked little manola first held down her head and blushed; then, raising the long fringes of her eyes, looked up again, and wits a voice as sweet as that of a canary-bird, replied—
"Con gusto, senor." (With pleasure, sir.)
"Nos vamos!" cried I, elated with my triumph; and pairing off with my brilliant partner, we were soon whirling about in the mazy.
We returned to our seats again, and after refreshing with a glass of Albuquerque, a sponge-cake, and a husk cigarette, again took the floor. This pleasurable programme we repeated some half-dozen times, only varying the dance from waltz to polka, for my manola danced the polka as if she had been a born Bohemian.
On one of my fingers was a fifty-dollar diamond, which my partner seemed to think was muy buenito. As her igneous eyes softened my heart, and the champagne was producing a similar effect upon my head, I began to speculate on the propriety of transferring the diamond from the smallest of my fingers to the largest of hers, which it would, no doubt, have fitted exactly. All at once I became conscious of being under the surveillance of a large and very fierce-looking lepero, a regular pelado, who followed us with his eyes, and sometimes in persona, to every part of the room. The expression of his swarth face was a mixture of jealousy and vengeance, which my partner noticed, but, as I thought, took no pains to soften down.
"Who is he?" I whispered, as the man swung past us in his chequered serape.
"Esta mi marido, senor," (It is my husband, sir), was the cool reply.
I pushed the ring close up to the root of my finger, shutting my hand upon it tight as a vice.
"Vamos a tomar otra copita!" (Let us take another glass of wine!) said I, resolving to bid my pretty poblana, as soon as possible, a good-night.
The Taos whisky had by this time produced its effect upon the dancers. The trappers and teamsters had become noisy and riotous. The leperos, who now half-filled the room, stimulated by wine, jealousy, old hatreds, and the dance, began to look more savage and sulky. The fringed hunting-shirts and brown homespun frocks found favour with the dark-eyed majas of Mexico, partly out of a respect for, and a fear of, courage, which is often at the bottom of a love like theirs.
Although the trading caravans supplied almost all the commerce of Santa Fe, and it was clearly the interest of its inhabitants to be on good terms with the traders, the two races, Anglo-American and Hispano-Indian, hated each other thoroughly; and that hate was now displaying itself on one side in bullying contempt, on the other in muttered carrajos and fierce looks of vengeance.
I was still chatting with my lively partner. We were seated on the banquette where I had introduced myself. On looking casually up, a bright object met my eyes. It appeared to be a naked knife in the hands of su marido who was just then lowering over us like the shadow of an evil spirit. I was favoured with only a slight glimpse of this dangerous meteor, and had made up my mind to "'ware steel," when someone plucked me by the sleeve, and turning, I beheld my quondam acquaintance of the purple magna.
"Dispensadme, senor," said he, nodding graciously, "I have just learned that the caravan is going on to Chihuahua."
"True, there is no market here for our goods."
"You go on then, of course?"
"Certainly, I must."
"Will you return this way, senor?"
"It is very likely; I have no other intention at present."
"Perhaps then you might be willing to part with your horse? You will find many as good in the great valley of the Mississippi."
"Neither is likely."
"But, senor, should you be inclined to do so, will you promise me the refusal of him?"
"Oh! that I will promise you, with all my heart."
Our conversation was here interrupted by a huge, gaunt, half-drunken Missourian, who, tramping rudely upon the stranger's toes, vociferated—
"Ye—up, old greaser! gi' mi a char."
"Y porque?" (And why?) demanded the Mexican, drawing in his feet, and looking up with astonished indignation.
"I'm tired jumpin'. I want a seat, that's it, old hoss."
There was something so bullying and brutal in the conduct of this man, that I felt called upon to interfere.
"Come!" said I, addressing him, "you have no right to deprive this gentleman of his seat, much less in such a fashion."
"Eh, mister? who asked you to open yer head? Ye—up, I say!" and at the word, he seized the Mexican by the corner of his manga, as if to drag him from his seat.
Before I had time to reply to this rude speech and gesture, the stranger leaped to his feet, and with a well-planted blow felled the bully upon the floor.
This seemed to act as a signal for bringing several other quarrels to a climax. There was a rush through all parts of the sala, drunken shouts mingled with yells of vengeance, knives glanced from their sheaths, women screamed, pistols flashed and cracked, filling the rooms with smoke and dust. The lights went out, fierce struggles could be heard in the darkness, the fall of heavy bodies amidst groans and curses, and for five minutes these were the only sounds.
Having no cause to be particularly angry with anybody, I stood where I had risen, without using either knife or pistol, my frightened maja all the while holding me by the hand. A painful sensation near my left shoulder caused me suddenly to drop my partner; and with that unaccountable weakness consequent upon the reception of a wound, I felt myself staggering towards the banquette. Here I dropped into a sitting posture, and remained till the struggle was over, conscious all the while that a stream of blood was oozing down my back, and saturating my undergarments.
I sat thus till the struggle had ended. A light was brought, and I could distinguish a number of men in hunting-shirts moving to-and-fro with violent gesticulations. Some of them were advocating the justice of the "spree," as they termed it; while others, the more respectable of the traders, were denouncing it. The leperos with the women, had all disappeared, and I could perceive that the Americanos had carried the day. Several dark objects lay along the floor: they were bodies of men dead or dying! One was an American, the Missourian who had been the immediate cause of the fracas; the others were pelodos. I could see nothing of my late acquaintance. My fandanguera, too—con su marido— had disappeared; and on glancing at my left hand, I came to the conclusion that so also had my diamond ring!
"Saint Vrain! Saint Vrain!" I called, seeing the figure of my friend enter at the door.
"Where are you, H., old boy. How is it with you? all right, eh?"
"Not quite, I tear."
"Good heavens! what's this? why, you're stabbed in the hump ribs! Not bad, I hope. Off with your shirt and let's see."
"First, let us to my room."
"Come, then, my dear boy, lean on me—so, so!"
The fandango was over.
SEGUIN THE SCALP-HUNTER.
I have had the pleasure of being wounded in the field of battle. I say pleasure. Under certain circumstances, wounds are luxuries. How different were the feelings I experienced while smarting under wounds that came by the steel of the assassin!
My earliest anxiety was about the depth of my wound. Was it mortal? This is generally the first question a man puts to himself, after discovering that he has been shot or stabbed. A wounded man cannot always answer it either. One's life-blood may be spurting from an artery at each palpitation, while the actual pain felt is not worth the pricking of a pin.
On reaching the Fonda, I sank exhausted on my bed. Saint Vrain split my hunting-shirt from cape to skirt, and commenced examining my wound. I could not see my friend's face as he stood behind me, and I waited with impatience.
"Is it deep?" I asked.
"Not deep as a draw-well, nor wide as a waggon-track," was the reply. "You're quite safe, old fellow; thank God, and not the man who handled that knife, for the fellow plainly intended to do for you. It is the cut of a Spanish knife, and a devilish gash it is. Haller, it was a close shave. One inch more, and the spine, my boy! but you're safe, I say. Here, Gode! that sponge!"
"Sacre!" muttered Gode, with true Gallic aspirate, as he handed the wet rag.
I felt the cold application. Then a bunch of soft raw cotton, the best dressing it could have, was laid over the wound, and fastened by strips. The most skilful surgeon could have done no more.
"Close as a clamp," added Saint Vrain, as he fastened the last pin, and placed me in the easiest position. "But what started the row? and how came you to cut such a figure in it? I was out, thank God!"
"Did you observe a strange-looking man?"
"What! with the purple manga?"
"He sat beside us?"
"Ha! No wonder you say a strange-looking man; stranger than he looks, too. I saw him, I know him, and perhaps not another in the room could say that. Ay, there was another," continued Saint Vrain, with a peculiar smile; "but what could have brought him there is that which puzzles me. Armijo could not have seen him: but go on."
I related to Saint Vrain the whole of my conversation with the stranger, and the incidents that led to the breaking up of the fandango.
"It is odd—very odd! What could he want with your horse? Two hundred miles, and offers a thousand dollars!"
"Capitaine!" (Gode had called me captain ever since the ride upon the buffalo), "if monsieur come two hunred mile, and vill pay un mille thousan dollar, he Moro like ver, ver moch. Un grand passion pour le cheval. Pourquoi: vy he no like him ver sheep? vy he no steal 'im?"
I started at the suggestion, and looked towards Saint Vrain.
"Vith permiss of le capitaine, I vill le cheval cache," continued the Canadian, moving towards the door.
"You need not trouble yourself, old Nor'-west, as far as that gentleman is concerned. He'll not steal your horse; though that's no reason why you should not fulfil your intention, and 'cache' the animal. There are thieves enough in Santa Fe to steal the horses of a whole regiment. You had better fasten him by the door here."
Gode passed to the door and disappeared.
"Who is he?" I asked, "this man about whom there seems to be so much that is mysterious?"
"Ah! if you knew. I will tell you some queer passages by and by, but not to-night. You have no need of excitement. That is the famous Seguin—the Scalp-hunter."
"Ay! you have heard of him, no doubt; at least you would, had you been much among the mountains."
"I have. The ruffian! the wholesale butcher of innocent—"
A dark waif danced against the wall: it was the shadow of a man. I looked up. Seguin was before me!
Saint Vrain on seeing him enter had turned away, and stood looking out of the window.
I was on the point of changing my tirade into the apostrophic form, and at the same time ordering the man out of my sight, when something in his look influenced me to remain silent. I could not tell whether he had heard or understood to whom my abusive epithets had been applied; but there was nothing in his manner that betrayed his having done so. I observed only the same look that had at first attracted me—the same expression of deep melancholy.
Could this man be the hardened and heartless villain I had heard of, the author of so many atrocities?
"Sir," said he, seeing that I remained silent, "I deeply regret what has happened to you. I was the involuntary cause of your mishap. Is your wound a severe one?"
"It is not," I replied, with a dryness of manner that seemed somewhat to disconcert him.
"I am glad of that," he continued, after a pause. "I came to thank you for your generous interference. I leave Santa Fe in ten minutes. I must bid you farewell."
He held forth his hand. I muttered the word "farewell," but without offering to exchange the salutation. The stories of cruel atrocity connected with the name of this man came into my mind at the moment, and I felt a loathing for him. His arm remained in its outstretched position, while a strange expression began to steal over his countenance, as he saw that I hesitated.
"I cannot take your hand," I said at length.
"And why?" he asked, in a mild tone.
"Why? It is red, red! Away, sir, away!"
He fixed his eyes upon me with a sorrowful look. There was not a spark of anger in them. He drew his hand within the folds of his manga, and uttering a deep sigh, turned and walked slowly out of the room.
Saint Vrain, who had wheeled round at the close of this scene, strode forward to the door, and stood looking after him. I could see the Mexican, from where I lay, as he crossed the quadrangular patio. He had shrugged himself closely in his manga, and was moving off in an attitude that betokened the deepest dejection. In a moment he was out of sight, having passed through the saguan, and into the street.
"There is something truly mysterious about that man. Tell me, Saint Vrain—"
"Hush-sh! look yonder!" interrupted my friend, pointing through the open door.
I looked out into the moonlight. Three human forms were moving along the wall, towards the entrance of the patio. Their height, their peculiar attitudes, and the stealthy silence of their steps, convinced me they were Indians. The next moment they were lost under the dark shadows of the saguan.
"Who are they?" I inquired.
"Worse enemies to poor Seguin than you would be, if you knew him better. I pity him if these hungry hawks overtake him in the dark. But no; he's worth warning, and a hand to help him, if need be. He shall have it. Keep cool, Harry! I will be back in a jiffy."
So saying, Saint Vrain left me; and the moment after I could see his light form passing hastily out of the gate.