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´╗┐Title: Gaspar the Gaucho - A Story of the Gran Chaco
Author: Reid, Mayne, 1818-1883
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Gaspar the Gaucho - A Story of the Gran Chaco" ***

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Gaspar the Gaucho, by Captain Mayne Reid.

________________________________________________________________________
This is another excellent book by the inventor of the Wild West genre.
Set in South America, in Paraguay, the hero and his band of friends have
many an adventure, just in the course of one voyage, or undertaking.
They frequently get themselves into dangerous and risky situations, but
always by their superior bush-craft manage to get themselves out of them
after having practically died, or at least having seen their horses die.

This is a good book, a vintage one from the Victorian era.  The author
learnt his bushcraft during the American-Mexican War, and has given us
several books whose subject and manner arose from what he learnt in that
war.

________________________________________________________________________
GASPAR THE GAUCHO, BY CAPTAIN MAYNE REID.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE GRAN CHACO.

Spread before you a map of South America.  Fix your eye on the point of
confluence between two of its great rivers--the Salado, which runs
south-easterly from the Andes mountains, and the Parana coming from the
north; carry your glance up the former to the town of Salta, in the
ancient province of Tucuman; do likewise with the latter to the point
where it espouses the Paraguay; then up this to the Brazilian frontier
fort of Coimbra; finally draw a line from the fort to the aforementioned
town--a line slightly curved with its convexity towards the Cordillera
of the Andes--and you will thus have traced a boundary embracing one of
the least known, yet most interesting, tracts of territory in either
continent of America, or, for that matter, in the world.  Within the
limits detailed lies a region romantic in its past as mysterious in its
present; at this hour almost as much a _terra incognita_ as when the
boats of Mendoza vainly endeavoured to reach it from the Atlantic side,
and the gold-seekers of Pizarro's following alike unsuccessfully
attempted its exploration from the Pacific.  Young reader, you will be
longing to know the name of this remarkable region; know it, then, as
the "Gran Chaco."

No doubt you may have heard of it before, and, if a diligent student of
geography, made some acquaintance with its character.  But your
knowledge of it must needs be limited, even though it were as extensive
as that possessed by the people who dwell upon its borders; for to them
the Gran Chaco is a thing of fear, and their intercourse with it one
which has brought them, and still brings, only suffering and sorrow.

It has been generally supposed that the Spaniards of Columbus's time
subdued the entire territory of America, and held sway over its
red-skinned aborigines.  This is a historical misconception.  Although
lured by a love of gold, conjoined with a spirit of religious
propagandism, the so-called _Conquistadores_ overran a large portion of
both divisions of the continent, there were yet extensive tracts of each
never entered, much less colonised, by them--territories many times
larger than England, in which they never dared set foot.  Of such were
Navajoa in the north, the country of the gallant Goajiros in the centre,
the lands of Patagonia and Arauco in the south, and notably the
territory lying between the Cordilleras of the Peruvian Andes and the
rivers Parana and Paraguay, designated "El Gran Chaco."

This vast expanse of champaign, large enough for an empire, remains to
the present time not only uncolonised, but absolutely unexplored.  For
the half-dozen expeditions that have attempted its exploration, timidly
entering and as hastily abandoning it, scarce merit consideration.

And equally unsuccessful have been all efforts at religious propagandism
within its borders.  The labours of the _padres_, both Jesuit and
Franciscan, have alike signally failed; the savages of the Chaco
refusing obedience to the cross as submission to the sword.

Three large rivers--the Salado, Vermejo, and Pilcomayo--course through
the territory of the Chaco; the first forming its southern boundary, the
others intersecting it.  They all take their rise in the Andes
Mountains, and after running for over a thousand miles in a
south-easterly direction and nearly parallel courses, mingle their
waters with those of the Parana and Paraguay.  Very little is known of
these three great streams, though of late years the Salado has received
some exploration.  There is a better acquaintance with its upper
portion, where it passes through the settled districts of Santiago and
Tucuman.  Below, even to the point where it enters the Parana, only a
strong military expedition may with safety approach its banks, by reason
of their being also traversed by predatory bands of the savages.

Geographical knowledge of the Vermejo is still less, and of the
Pilcomayo least of all; this confined to the territory of their upper
waters, long since colonised by the Argentine States and the Republic of
Bolivia, and now having many towns in it.  But below, as with the
Salado, where these rivers enter the region of the Chaco, they become as
if they were lost to the geographer; even the mouth of the Pilcomayo not
being known for certain, though one branch of it debouches into the
Paraguay, opposite the town of Assuncion, the capital of Paraguay
itself!  It enters the river of this name by a forked or _deltoid_
channel, its waters making their way through a marshy tract of country
in numerous slow flowing _riachos_, whose banks, thickly overgrown with
a lush sedgy vegetation, are almost concealed from the eye of the
explorer.

Although the known mouth of the Pilcomayo is almost within gun-shot of
Assuncion--the oldest Spanish settlement in this part of South America--
no Paraguayan ever thinks of attempting its ascent, and the people of
the town are as ignorant of the land lying along that river's shores as
on the day when the old naturalist, Azara, paddles his _periagua_ some
forty miles against its obstructing current.  No scheme of colonisation
has ever been designed or thought of by them; for it is only near its
source, as we have seen, that settlements exist.  In the Chaco no white
man's town ever stood upon its banks, nor church spire flung shadow
athwart its unfurrowed waves.

It may be asked why this neglect of a territory, which would seem so
tempting to the colonist?  For the Gran Chaco is no sterile tract, like
most parts of the Navajo country in the north, or the plains of
Patagonia and the sierras of Arauco in the south.  Nor is it a humid,
impervious forest, at seasons inundated, as with some portions of the
Amazon valley and the deltas of the Orinoco.

Instead, what we do certainly know of the Chaco shows it the very
country to invite colonisation; having every quality and feature to
attract the settler in search of a new home.  Vast verdant savannas--
natural clearings--rich in nutritious grasses, and groves of tropical
trees, with the palm predominating; a climate of unquestionable
salubrity, and a soil capable of yielding every requisite for man's
sustenance as the luxury of life.  In very truth, the Chaco may be
likened to a vast park or grand landscape garden, still under the
culture of the Creator!

But why not also submitted to the tillage of man?  The answer is easy:
because the men who now hold it will not permit intrusion on their
domain--to them hereditary--and they are hunters, not _agriculturists_.
It is still in the possession of its red-skinned owners, the original
lords of its soil, these warlike Indians, who have hitherto defied all
attempts to enslave or subdue them, whether made by soldier, miner, or
missionary.  These independent savages, mounted upon fleet steeds, which
they manage with the skill of Centaurs, scour the plains of the Chaco,
swift as birds upon the wing.  Disdaining fixed residence, they roam
over its verdant pastures and through its perfumed groves, as bees from
flower to flower, pitching their _toldos_, and making camp in whatever
pleasant spot may tempt them.  Savages though called, who would not envy
them such a charming _insouciant_ existence?  Do not you, young reader?

I anticipate your answer, "Yes."  Come with me, then!  Let us enter the
"Gran Chaco," and for a time partake of it!



CHAPTER TWO.

PARAGUAY'S DESPOT.

Notwithstanding what I have said of the Chaco remaining uncolonised and
unexplored, I can tell of an exception.  In the year 1836, one ascending
the Pilcomayo to a point about a hundred miles from its mouth, would
there see a house, which could have been built only by a white man, or
one versed in the ways of civilisation.  Not that there was anything
very imposing in its architecture; for it was but a wooden structure,
the walls of bamboo, and the roof a thatch of the palm called
_cuberta_--so named from the use made of its fronds in covering sheds
and houses.  But the superior size of this dwelling, far exceeding that
of the simple _toldos_ of the Chaco Indians; its ample verandah pillared
and shaded by a protecting roof of the same palm leaves; and, above all,
several well-fenced enclosures around it, one of them containing a
number of tame cattle, others under tillage--with maize, manioc, the
plantain, and similar tropical products--all these insignia evinced the
care and cultivating hand of some one else than an aboriginal.

Entering the house, still further evidence of the white man's presence
would be observed.  Furniture, apparently home-made, yet neat, pretty,
and suitable; chairs and settees of the _cana brava_, or South American
bamboo; bedsteads of the same, with beds of the elastic Spanish moss,
and _ponchos_ for coverlets; mats woven from fibres of another species
of palm, with here and there a swung hammock.  In addition, some books
and pictures that appeared to have been painted on the spot; a bound
volume of music, with a violin and guitar--all speaking of a domestic
economy unknown to the American Indian.

In some of the rooms, as also in the outside verandah, could be noticed
objects equally unlike the belongings of the aboriginal: stuffed skins
of wild beasts and birds; insects impaled on strips of palm bark; moths,
butterflies, and brilliant scarabaei; reptiles preserved in all their
repulsive ugliness, with specimens of ornamental woods, plants, and
minerals; a singular paraphernalia, evidently the product of the region
around.  Such a collection could only belong to a _naturalist_, and that
naturalist could be no other than a white man.  He was; his name Ludwig
Halberger.

The name plainly speaks his nationality--a German.  And such was he; a
native of the then kingdom of Prussia, born in the city of Berlin.

Though not strange his being a naturalist--since the taste for and study
of Nature are notably peculiar to the German people--it was strange to
find Prussian or other European having his home in such an
out-of-the-way place.  There was no civilised settlement, no other white
man's dwelling, nearer than the town of Assuncion; this quite a hundred
miles off, to the eastward.  And north, south, and west the same for
more than five times the distance.  All the territory around and
between, a wilderness, unsettled, unexplored, traversed only by the
original lords of the soil, the Chaco Indians, who, as said, have
preserved a deadly hostility to the paleface, ever since the keels of
the latter first cleft the waters of the Parana.

To explain, then, how Ludwig Halberger came to be domiciled there, so
far from civilisation, and so high up the Pilcomayo--river of mysterious
note--it is necessary to give some details of his life antecedent to the
time of his having established this solitary _estancia_.  To do so a
name of evil augury and ill repute must needs be introduced--that of Dr
Francia, Dictator of Paraguay, who for more than a quarter of a century
ruled that fair land verily with a rod of iron.  With this same
demon-like tyrant, and the same almost heavenly country, is associated
another name, and a reputation as unlike that of Jose Francia as
Hyperion to the Satyr, and which justice to a godlike humanity forbids
me to pass over in silence.  I speak of Amade, or, as he is better
known, _Aime_ Bonpland--cognomen appropriate to this most estimable
man--known to all the world as the friend and fellow-traveller of
Humboldt; more still, his assistant and collaborates in those scientific
researches, as yet unequalled for truthfulness and extent--the
originator and discoverer of much of that learned lore, which, with
modesty unparalleled, he has allowed his more energetic and more
ambitious _compagnon de voyage_ to have credit for.

Though no name sounds more agreeably to my ears than that of Aime
Bonpland, I cannot here dwell upon it, nor write his biography, however
congenial the theme.  Some one who reads this may find the task both
pleasant and profitable; for though his bones slumber obscurely on the
banks of the Parana, amidst the scenes so loved by him, his name will
one day have a higher niche in Fame's temple than it has hitherto held--
perhaps not much lower than that of Humboldt himself.  I here introduce
it, with some incidents of his life, as affecting the first character
who figures in this my tale.  But for Aime Bonpland, Ludwig Halberger
might never have sought a South American home.  It was in following the
example of the French philosopher, of whom he had admiringly read, that
the Prussian naturalist made his way to the La Plata and up to Paraguay,
where Bonpland had preceded him.  But first to give the adventures of
the latter in that picturesque land, of which a short account will
suffice; then afterwards to the incidents of my story.

Retiring from the busy world, of which he seems to have been somewhat
weary, Bonpland took up his residence on the banks of the Rio Parana;
not in Paraguayan territory, but that of the Argentine Republic, on the
opposite side of the river.  There settled down, he did not give his
hours to idleness; nor yet altogether to his favourite pursuit, the
pleasant though somewhat profitless one of natural history.  Instead, he
devoted himself to cultivation, the chief object of his culture being
the "yerba de Paraguay," which yields the well-known _mate_, or
Paraguayan tea.  In this industry he was eminently successful.  His
amiable manners and inoffensive character attracted the notice of his
neighbours, the Guarani Indians--a peaceful tribe of proletarian
habits--and soon a colony of these collected around him, entering his
employ, and assisting him in the establishment of an extensive
"yerbale," or tea-plantation, which bid fair to become profitable.

The Frenchman was on the high-road to fortune, when a cloud appeared,
coming from an unexpected quarter of the sky--the north.  The report of
his prosperity had reached the ears of Francia, Paraguay's then despot
and dictator, who, with other strange theories of government, held the
doctrine that the cultivation of "yerba" was a right exclusively
Paraguayan--in other words, belonging solely to himself.  True, the
French colonist, his rival cultivator, was not within his jurisdiction,
but in the state of Corrientes, and the territory of the Argentine
Confederation.  Not much, that, to Dr Francia, accustomed to make light
of international law, unless it were supported by national strength and
backed by hostile bayonets.  At the time Corrientes had neither of these
to deter him, and in the dead hour of a certain night, four hundred of
his myrmidons--the noted _quarteleros_--crossed the Parana, attacked the
tea-plantation of Bonpland, and after making massacre of a half-score of
his Guarani _peons_, carried himself a prisoner to the capital of
Paraguay.

The Argentine Government, weak with its own intestine strife, submitted
to the insult almost unprotestingly.  Bonpland was but a Frenchman and
foreigner; and for nine long years was he held captive in Paraguay.
Even the English _charge d'affaires_, and a Commission sent thither by
the Institute of France, failed to get him free!  Had he been a
lordling, or some little _viscomte_, his forced residence in Paraguay
would have been of shorter duration.  An army would have been despatched
to "extradite" him.  But Aime Bonpland was only a student of Nature--one
of those unpretending men who give the world all the knowledge it has,
worth having--and so was he left to languish in captivity.  True, his
imprisonment was not a very harsh one, and rather partook of the
character of _parole d'honneur_.  Francia was aware of his wonderful
knowledge, and availed himself of it, allowing his captive to live
unmolested.  But again the amiable character of the Frenchman had an
influence on his life, this time adversely.  Winning for him universal
respect among the simple Paraguayans, it excited the envy of their vile
ruler; who once again, and at night, had his involuntary guest seized
upon, carried beyond the confines of his territory, and landed upon
Argentine soil--but stripped of everything save the clothes on his back!

Soon after, Bonpland settled near the town of Corrientes, where, safe
from further persecution, he once more entered upon agricultural
pursuits.  And there, in the companionship of a South American lady--his
wife--with a family of happy children, he ended a life that had lasted
for fourscore years, innocent and unblemished, is it had been useful,
heroic, and glorious.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE HUNTER-NATURALIST.

In some respects similar to the experience of Aime Bonpland was that of
Ludwig Halberger.  Like the former, an ardent lover of Nature, as also
an accomplished naturalist, he too had selected South America as the
scene of his favourite pursuits.  On the great river Parana--better,
though erroneously, known to Europeans as the La Plata--he would find an
almost untrodden field.  For although the Spanish naturalist, Azara, had
there preceded him, the researches of the latter were of the olden time,
and crude imperfect kind, before either zoology or botany had developed
themselves into a science.

Besides, the Prussian was moderately fond of the chase, and to such a
man the great _pampas_ region, with its pumas and jaguars, its
ostriches, wild horses, and grand _guazuti_ stags, offered an
irresistible attraction.  There he could not only indulge his natural
taste, but luxuriate in them.

He, too, had resided nine years in Paraguay, and something more.  But,
unlike Bonpland, his residence there was voluntary.  Nor did he live
alone.  Lover of Nature though he was, and addicted to the chase,
another kind of love found its way to his heart, making himself a
captive.  The dark eyes of a Paraguayan girl penetrated his breast,
seeming brighter to him than the plumage of the gaudiest birds, or the
wings of the most beautiful butterflies.

"_El Gilero_" the blonde--as these swarthy complexioned people were wont
to call the Teutonic stranger--found favour in the eyes of the young
Paraguayense, who reciprocating his honest love, consented to become his
wife; and became it.  She was married at the age of fourteen, he being
over twenty.

"So young for a bride!" many of my readers will exclaim.  But that is
rather a question of race and climate.  In Spanish America, land of
feminine precocity, there is many a wife and mother not yet entered on
her teens!

For nigh ten years Halberger lived happily with his youthful _esposa_;
all the happier that in due time a son and daughter--the former
resembling himself, the latter a very image of her mother--enlivened
their home with sweet infantine prattle.  And as the years rolled by, a
third youngster came to form part of the family circle--this neither son
nor daughter, but an orphan child of the Senora's sister deceased.  A
boy he was, by name Cypriano.

The home of the hunter-naturalist was not in Assuncion, but some twenty
miles out in the "_campo_."  He rarely visited the capital, except on
matters of business.  For a business he had; this of somewhat unusual
character.  It consisted chiefly in the produce of his gun and
insect-net.  Many a rare specimen of bird and quadruped, butterfly and
beetle, captured and preserved by Ludwig Halberger, at this day adorns
the public museums of Prussia and other European countries.  But for the
dispatch and shipment of these he would never have cared to show himself
in the streets of Assuncion; for, like all true naturalists, he had no
affection for city life.  Assuncion, however, being the only shipping
port in Paraguay, he had no choice but repair thither whenever his
collections became large enough to call for exportation.

Beginning life in South America with moderate means, the Prussian
naturalist had prospered: so much, as to have a handsome house, with a
tract of land attached, and a fair retinue of servants; these last, all
"Guanos," a tribe of Indians long since tamed and domesticated.  He had
been fortunate, also, in securing the services of a _gaucho_, named
Gaspar, a faithful fellow, skilled in many callings, who acted as his
_mayor-domo_ and man of confidence.

In truth, was Ludwig Halberger in the enjoyment of a happy existence,
and eminently prosperous.  Like Aime Bonpland, he was fairly on the road
to fortune; when, just as with the latter, a cloud overshadowed his
life, coming from the self-same quarter.  His wife, lovely at fourteen,
was still beautiful at twenty-four, so much as to attract the notice of
Paraguay's Dictator.  And with Dr Francia to covet was to possess,
where the thing coveted belonged to any of his own subjects.  Aware of
this, warned also of Francia's partiality by frequent visits with which
the latter now deigned to honour him, Ludwig Halberger saw there was no
chance to escape domestic ruin, but by getting clear out of the country.
It was not that he doubted the fidelity of his wife; on the contrary,
he knew her to be true as she was beautiful.  How could he doubt it,
since it was from her own lips he first learnt of the impending danger?

Away from Paraguay, then--away anywhere--was his first and
quickly-formed resolution, backed by the counsels of his loyal partner
in life.  But the design was easier than its execution; the last not
only difficult, but to all appearance impossible.  For it so chanced
that one of the laws of that exclusive land--an edict of the Dictator
himself--was to the point prohibitive; forbidding any foreigner who
married a native woman to take her out of the country, without having a
written permission from the Executive Head of the State.  Ludwig
Halberger was a foreigner, his wife native born, and the Head of the
State Executive, as in every other sense, was Jose Gaspar Francia!

The case was conclusive.  For the Prussian to have sought permission to
depart, taking his wife along with him, would have been more than
folly--madness--hastening the very danger he dreaded.

Flight, then?  But whither, and in what direction?  To flee into the
Paraguayan forests could not avail him, or only for a short respite.
These, traversed by the _cascarilleros_ and gatherers of yerba, all in
the Dictator's employ and pay, would be no safer than the streets of
Assuncion itself.  A party of fugitives, such as the naturalist and his
family, could not long escape observation; and seen, they would as
surely be captured and carried back.  The more surely from the fact that
the whole system of Paraguayan polity under Dr Francia's regime was one
of treachery and espionage, every individual in the land finding it to
his profit to do dirty service for "El Supremo"--as they styled their
despotic chief.

On the other side there was the river, but still more difficult would it
be to make escape in that direction.  All along its bank, to the point
where it enters the Argentine territory, had Francia established his
military stations, styled _guardias_, where sentinels kept watch at all
hours, by night as in the day.  For a boat to pass down, even the
smallest skiff, without being observed by some of these Argus-eyed
videttes, would have been absolutely impossible; and if seen as surely
brought to a stop, and taken back to Assuncion.

Revolving all these difficulties in his mind, Ludwig Halberger was
filled with dismay, and for a long time kept in a state of doubt and
chilling despair.  At length, however, a thought came to relieve him--a
plan of flight, which promised to have a successful issue.  He would
flee into the Chaco!

To the mind of any other man in Paraguay the idea would have appeared
preposterous.  If Francia resembled the frying-pan, the Chaco to a
Paraguayan seemed the fire itself.  A citizen of Assuncion would no more
dare to set foot on the further side of that stream which swept the very
walls of his town, than would a besieging soldier on the _glacis_ of the
fortress he besieged.  The life of a white man caught straying in the
territory of "El Gran Chaco" would not have been worth a withey.  If not
at once impaled on an Indian spear held in the hand of "Tova" or
"Guaycuru," he would be carried into a captivity little preferable to
death.

For all this, Ludwig Halberger had no fear of crossing over to the Chaco
side, nor penetrating into its interior.  He had often gone thither on
botanising and hunting expeditions.  But for this apparent recklessness
he had a reason, which must needs here be given.  Between the Chaco
savages and the Paraguayan people there had been intervals of
peace--_tiempos de paz_--during which occurred amicable intercourse; the
Indians rowing over the river and entering the town to traffic off their
skins, ostrich feathers, and other commodities.  On one of these
occasions the head chief of the Tovas tribe, by name Naraguana, having
imbibed too freely of _guarape_, and in some way got separated from his
people, became the butt of some Paraguayan boys, who were behaving
towards him just as the idle lads of London or the _gamins_ of Paris
would to one appearing intoxicated in the streets.  The Prussian
naturalist chanced to be passing at the time; and seeing the Indian, an
aged man, thus insulted, took pity upon and rescued him from his
tormentors.

Recovering from his debauch, and conscious of the service the stranger
had done him, the Tovas chief swore eternal friendship to his generous
protector, at the same time proffering him the "freedom of the Chaco."

The incident, however, caused a rupture between the Tovas tribe and the
Paraguayan Government, terminating the _tiempo de paz_, which had not
since been renewed.  More unsafe than ever would it have been for a
Paraguayan to set foot on the western side of the river.  But Ludwig
Halberger knew that the prohibition did not extend to him; and relying
on Naraguana's proffered friendship, he now determined upon retreating
into the Chaco, and claiming the protection of the Tovas chief.

Luckily, his house was not a great way from the river's bank, and in the
dead hour of a dark night, accompanied by wife and children--taking
along also his Guano servants, with such of his household effects as
could be conveniently carried, the faithful Caspar guiding and managing
all--he was rowed across the Paraguay and up the Pilcomayo.  He had been
told that at some thirty leagues from the mouth of the latter stream,
was the _tolderia_ of the Tovas Indians.  And truly told; since before
sunset of the second day he succeeded in reaching it, there to be
received amicably, as he had anticipated.  Not only did Naraguana give
him a warm welcome but assistance in the erection of his dwelling;
afterwards stocking his _estancia_ with horses and cattle caught on the
surrounding plains.  These tamed and domesticated, with their progeny,
are what anyone would have seen in his _corrals_ in the year 1836, at
the time the action of our tale commences.



CHAPTER FOUR.

HIS NEAREST NEIGHBOURS.

The house of the hunter-naturalist was placed at some distance from the
river's bank, its site chosen with an eye to the picturesque; and no
lovelier landscape ever lay before the windows of a dwelling.  From its
front ones--or, better still, the verandah outside them--the eye
commands a view alone limited by the power of vision: verdant savannas,
mottled with copses of acacia and groves of palm, with here and there
single trees of the latter standing solitary, their smooth stems and
gracefully-curving fronds cut clear as cameos against the azure sky.
Nor is it a dead level plain, as _pampas_ and prairies are erroneously
supposed always to be.  Instead, its surface is varied with undulations;
not abrupt as the ordinary hill and dale scenery, but gently swelling
like the ocean's waves when these have become crestless after the
subsidence of a storm.

Looking across this champaign from Halberger's house at almost any hour
of the day, one would rarely fail to observe living creatures moving
upon it.  It may be a herd of the great _guazuti_ deer, or the smaller
_pampas_ roe, or, perchance, a flock of _rheas_--the South American
ostrich--stalking along tranquilly or in flight, with their long necks
extended far before, and their plumed tails streaming train-like behind
them.  Possibly they may have been affrighted by the tawny puma, or
spotted jaguar, seen skulking through the long pampas grass like
gigantic cats.  A drove of wild horses, too, may go careering past, with
manes and tails showing a wealth of hair which shears have never
touched; now galloping up the acclivity of a ridge; anon disappearing
over its crest to re-appear on one farther off and of greater elevation.
Verily, a scene of Nature in its wildest and most interesting aspect!

Upon that same plain, Ludwig Halberger and his people are accustomed to
see others than wild horses--some with men upon their backs, who sit
them as firmly as riders in the ring; that is, when they do _sit_ them,
which is not always.  Often may they be seen standing erect upon their
steeds, these going in full gallop!  True, your ring-rider can do the
same; but then his horse gallops in a circle, which makes it a mere feat
of centrifugal and centripetal balancing.  Let him try it in a straight
line, and he would drop off like a ripe pear from the tree.  No curving
course needs the Chaco Indian, no saddle nor padded platform on the back
of his horse, which he can ride standing almost as well as seated.  No
wonder, then, these savages--if savages they may be called--have
obtained the fanciful designation of centaurs--the "Red Centaurs of the
Chaco."

Those seen by Ludwig Halberger and his family are the "Tovas," already
introduced.  Their village, termed _tolderia_, is about ten miles off,
up the river.  Naraguana wished the white man to have fixed his
residence nearer to him, but the naturalist knew that would not answer.
Less than two leagues from an Indian encampment, and still more if a
permanent dwelling-place, which this _tolderia_ is, would make the
pursuit of his calling something more than precarious.  The wild birds
and beasts--in short, all the animated creation--dislike the proximity
of the Indian, and flee his presence afar.

It may seem strange that the naturalist still continues to form
collections, so far from any place where he might hope to dispose of
them.  Down the Pilcomayo he dares not take them, as that would only
bring him back to the Paraguay river, interdict to navigation, as ever
jealously guarded, and, above all, tabooed to himself.  But he has no
thought, or intention, to attempt communicating with the civilised world
in that way; while a design of doing so in quite another direction has
occurred to him, and, in truth, been already all arranged.  This, to
carry his commodities overland to the Rio Vermejo, and down that stream
till near its mouth; then again overland, and across the Parana to
Corrientes.  There he will find a shipping port in direct commerce with
Buenos Ayres, and so beyond the jurisdiction of Paraguay's Dictator.

Naraguana has promised him not only an escort of his best braves, but a
band of _cargadores_ (carriers) for the transport of his freight; these
last the slaves of his tribe.  For the aristocratic Tovas Indians have
their bondsmen, just as the Caffres, or Arab merchants of Africa.

Nearly three years have elapsed since the naturalist became established
in his new quarters, and his collection has grown to be a large one.
Safely landed in any European port, it would be worth many thousands of
dollars; and thither he wishes to have it shipped as soon as possible.
He has already warned Naraguana of his wish, and that the freight is
ready; the chief, on his part, promising to make immediate preparations
for its transport overland.

But a week has passed over, and no Naraguana, nor any messenger from
him, has made appearance at the _estancia_.  No Indian of the Tovas
tribe has been seen about the place, nor anywhere near it; in short, no
redskin has been seen at all, save the _guanos_, Halberger's own male
and female domestics.

Strange all this!  Scarce ever has a whole week gone by without his
receiving a visit from the Tovas chief, or some one of his tribe; and
rarely half this time without Naraguana's own son, by name Aguara,
favouring the family with a call, and making himself as agreeable as
savage may in the company of civilised people.

For all, there is one of that family to whom his visits are anything but
agreeable; in truth, the very reverse.  This Cypriano, who has conceived
the fancy, or rather feels conviction, that the eyes of the young Tovas
chief rest too often, and too covetously, on his pretty cousin,
Francesca.  Perhaps, except himself, no one has noticed this, and he
alone is glad to count the completion of a week without any Indian
having presented himself at his uncle's establishment.

Though there is something odd in their prolonged non-appearance, still
it is nothing to be alarmed about.  On other occasions there had been
intervals of absence as long, and even longer, when the men of the tribe
were away from their _tolderia_, on some foraging or hunting expedition.
Nor would Halberger have thought anything of it; but for the
understanding between him and the Tovas chief, in regard to the
transport of his collections.  Naraguana had never before failed in any
promise made to him.  Why should he in this?

A sense of delicacy hinders the naturalist from riding over to the Tovas
town, and asking explanation why the chief delays keeping his word.  In
all such matters, the American Indian, savage though styled, is
sensitive as the most refined son of civilisation; and, knowing this,
Ludwig Halberger waits for Naraguana to come to him.

But when a second week has passed, and a third, without the Tovas chief
reporting himself, or sending either message or messenger, the Prussian
becomes really apprehensive, not so much for himself, as the safety of
his red-skinned protector.  Can it be that some hostile band has
attacked the Tovas tribe, massacred all the men, and carried off the
women?  For in the Chaco are various communities of Indians, often at
deadly feud with one another.  Though such conjecture seems improbable,
the thing is yet possible; and to assure himself, Halberger at length
resolves upon going over to the _tolderia_ of the Tovas.  Ordering his
horse saddled, he mounts, and is about to ride off alone, when a sweet
voice salutes him, saying:--

"Papa! won't you take me with you?"

It is his daughter who speaks, a girl not yet entered upon her teens.

"In welcome, Francesca.  Come along!" is his answer to her query.

"Then stay till I get my pony.  I sha'n't be a minute."

She runs back towards the corrals, calling to one of the servants to
saddle her diminutive steed.  Which, soon brought round to the front of
the house, receives her upon its back.

But now another, also a soft, sweet voice, is heard in exhortation.  It
is that of Francesca's mother, entering protest against her husband
either going alone, or with a companion so incapable of protecting him.
She says:--

"Dear Ludwig, take Caspar with you.  There may be danger--who knows?"

"Let me go, _tio_?" puts in Cypriano, with impressive eagerness, his
eyes turned towards his cousin as though he did not at all relish the
thought of her visiting the Tovas village without his being along with
her.

"And me, too?" also requests Ludwig, the son, who is two years older
than his sister.

"No, neither of you," rejoins the father.  "Ludwig, you would not leave
your mother alone?  Besides, remember I have set both you and Cypriano a
lesson, which you must learn off to-day.  There is nothing to fear,
_querida_!" he adds, addressing himself to his wife.  "We are not now in
Paraguay, but a country where our old Friend Francia and his satellites
dare not intrude on us.  Besides, I cannot spare the good Caspar from
some work I have given him to do.  Bah!  'Tis only a bit of a morning's
trot there and back; and if I find there's nothing wrong, we'll be home
again in little ever a couple of hours.  So _adios!  Vamos_, Francesca!"

With a wave of his hand he moves off, Francesca giving her tiny roadster
a gentle touch of the whip, and trotting by his side.

The other three, left standing in the verandah, with their eyes follow
the departing equestrians, the countenance of each exhibiting an
expression that betrays different emotions in their minds, these
differing both as to the matter of thought and the degree of intensity.
Ludwig simply looks a little annoyed at having to stay at home when he
wanted to go abroad, but without any great feeling of disappointment;
whereas Cypriano evidently suffers chagrin, so much that he is not
likely to profit by the appointed lesson.  With the Senora herself it is
neither disappointment nor chagrin, but a positive and keen
apprehension.  A daughter of Paraguay, brought up to believe its ruler
all powerful over the earth, she can hardly realise the idea of there
being a spot where the hand of "El Supremo" cannot reach and punish
those who have thwarted his wishes or caprices.  Many the tale has she
heard whispered in her ear, from the cradle upwards, telling of the
weird power of this wicked despot, and the remorseless manner in which
he has often wielded it.  Even after their escape into the chaco, where,
under the protection of the Tovas chief, they might laugh his enmity to
scorn, she has never felt the confidence of complete security.  And now,
that an uncertainty has arisen as to what has befallen Naraguana and his
people, her fears became redoubled and intensified.  Standing in the
trellissed verandah, her eyes fixed upon the departing forms of her
husband and daughter, she has a heaviness at the heart, a presentiment
of some impending danger, which seems so near and dreadful as to cause
shivering throughout her frame.

The two youths, observing this, essay to reassure her--one in filial
duty, the other with affection almost as warm.

Alas! in vain.  As the crown of the tall hat worn by her husband, goes
down behind the crest of a distant ridge, Francesca's having sooner
disappeared, her heart sinks at the same time; and, making a sign of the
cross, she exclaims in desponding accents:--

"_Madre de Dios_!  We may ne'er see them more!"



CHAPTER FIVE.

A DESERTED VILLAGE.

Riding at a gentle amble, so that his daughter on her small palfrey may
easily keep up with him, Halberger in due time arrives at the Indian
village; to his surprise seeing it is no more a village, or only a
deserted one!  The toldos of bamboo and palm thatch are still standing,
but untenanted--every one of them!

Dismounting, he steps inside them, one after the other, but finds each
and all unoccupied--neither man, woman, nor child within; nor without,
either in the alleys between, or on the large open space around which
the frail tenements are set, that has served as a loitering-place for
the older members of the tribe, and a play-ground for the younger.

The grand council room, called _malocca_, he also enters with like
result; no one is inside it--not a soul to be seen anywhere, either in
the streets of the village or on the plain stretching around!

He is alarmed as much as surprised; indeed more, since he has been
anticipating something amiss.  But by degrees, as he continues to make
an examination of the place, his apprehensions became calmed down, these
having been for the fate of the Indians themselves.  His first thought
he had entertained while conjecturing the cause of their long absence
from the _estancia_, was that some hostile tribe had attacked them,
massacred the men, and carried captive the women and children.  Such
tragical occurrences are far from uncommon among the red aborigines of
America, Southern or Northern.  Soon, however, his fears on this score
are set at rest.  Moving around, he detects no traces of a struggle,
neither dead bodies nor blood.  If there had been a fight the corpses of
the fallen would surely still be there, strewing the plain; and not a
_toldo_ would be standing or seen--instead, only their ashes.

As it is, he finds the houses all stripped of their furniture and
domestic utensils; these evidently borne off not as by marauders, but
taken away in a systematic manner, as when a regular move is made by
these nomadic people.  He sees fragments of cut _sipos_ and bits of
raw-hide thong--the overplus left after packing.

Though no longer alarmed for the safety of the Indians, he is,
nevertheless, still surprised and perplexed.  What could have taken them
away from the _tolderia_, and whither can they have gone?  Strange, too,
Naraguana should have left the place in such unceremonious fashion,
without giving him, Halberger, notice of his intention!  Their absence
on this occasion cannot be accounted for by any hunting or foraging
expedition, nor can it be a foray of war.  In any of these cases the
women and children would have been left behind.  Beyond doubt, it is an
absolute abandonment of the place; perhaps with no intention of
returning to it; or not for a very long time.

Revolving these thoughts through his mind, Halberger climbs back into
his saddle, and sits further reflecting.  His daughter, who has not
dismounted, trots up to his side, she, too, in as much wonderment as
himself; for, although but a very young creature, almost a child in age,
she has passed through experiences that impart the sageness of years.
She knows of all the relationships which exist between them and the
Tovas tribe, and knows something of why her father fled from his old
home; that is, she believes it to have been through fear of El Supremo,
the "bogie" of every Paraguayan child, boy or girl.  Aware of the
friendship of the Tovas chief, and the protection he has extended to
them, she now shares her father's surprise, as she had his
apprehensions.

They exchange thoughts on the subject--the child equally perplexed with
the parent; and after an interval passed in conjecturing, all to no
purpose, Halberger is about to turn and ride home again, when it occurs
to him he had better find out in what direction the Indians went away
from their village.

There is no difficulty in discovering this; the trail of their ridden
horses, still more that of their pack animals, is easily found and
followed.  It leads out from the village at the opposite end from that
by which they themselves entered; and after following it for a mile or
so along the river's bank, they see that it takes an abrupt turn across
the _pampa_.  Up to this point it has been quite conspicuous, and is
also beyond; for although it is anything but recent, no rain has since
fallen, and the hoof-prints of the horses can be here and there
distinguished clean cut on the smooth sward, over which the mounted men
had gone at a gallop.  Besides, there is the broad belt of trodden grass
where the pack animals toiled more slowly along; and upon this bits of
broken utensils, with other useless articles, have been dropped and
abandoned, plainly proclaiming the character of the cavalcade.

Here Halberger would halt, and turn back, but for a remembrance coming
into his mind which hinders, at the same time urging him to continue on.
In one of his hunting excursions he had been over this ground before,
and remembers that some ten miles further on a tributary stream flows
into the Pilcomayo.  Curious to know whether the departing Tovas have
turned up this tributary, or followed the course of the main river, he
determines to proceed.  For glancing skyward, he sees that the sun is
just crossing the meridian, and knows he will have no lack of time
before darkness can overtake him.  The circumstances and events, so
strange and startling, cause him to forget that promise made to his
wife--soon to be back at the _estancia_.

Spurring his horse, and calling on Francesca to follow, he starts off
again at a brisk gallop; which is kept up till they draw bridle on the
bank of the influent stream.

This, though broad, is but shallow, with a selvedge of soft ooze on
either side; and on that where they have arrived the mud shows the track
of several hundred horses.  Without crossing over, Halberger can see
that the Indian trail leads on along the main river, and not up the
branch stream.

Again he is on the balance, to go back--with the intention of returning
next day, accompanied by Caspar, and making further search for the
missing Indians--when an object comes under his eye, causing him to give
a start of surprise.

It is only the track of a horse; and strange that this should surprise
him, among hundreds.  But the one on which he has fixed his attention
differs from all the rest in being the hoof-print of a _shod_ horse,
while the others are as Nature made them.  Still even this difference
would not make so much impression upon him were the tracks of the same
_age_.  Himself skilled as any Indian in the reading of _pampas_ sign,
at a glance he sees they are not.  The hoof-marks of the Tovas horses in
their travelling train are all quite three weeks old; while the animal
having the iron on its heels, must have crossed over that stream within
the week.

Its rider, whoever he was, could not have been in the company of the
departing Tovas; and to him now regarding the tracks, it is only a
question as to whether he were a _white_ man, or Indian.  Everything is
against his having been the former, travelling in a district tabooed to
the palefaces, other than Halberger and his--everything, save the fact
of his being on the back of a _shod_ horse; while this alone hinders the
supposition of the animal being bestridden by an Indian.

For a long while the hunter-naturalist, with Francesca by his side, sits
in his saddle contemplating the shod hoof-prints in a reverie of
reflection.  He at length thinks of crossing the tributary stream, to
see if these continue on with the Indian trail, and has given his horse
the spur, with a word to his daughter to do likewise, when voices reach
his ear from the opposite side, warning him to pull in again.  Along
with loud words and ejaculations there is laughter; as of boys at play,
only not stationary in one place, but apparently moving onward, and
drawing nearer to him.

On both sides of the branch stream, as also along the banks of the
river, is a dense growth of tropical vegetation--mostly underwood, with
here and there a tall _moriche_ palm towering above the humbler shrubs.
Through this they who travel so gleefully are making their way; but
cannot yet be seen from the spot where Halberger has halted.  But just
on the opposite bank, where the trail goes up from the ford, is a bit of
treeless sward, several acres in extent, in all likelihood, kept clear
of undergrowth by the wild horses and other animals on their way to the
water to drink.  It runs back like an embayment into the close-growing
scrub, and as the trail can be distinguished debouching at its upper
end, the naturalist has no doubt that these joyous gentry are
approaching in that direction.

And so are they--a singular cavalcade, consisting of some thirty
individuals on horseback; for all are mounted.  Two are riding side by
side, some little way ahead of the others, who follow also in twos--the
trail being sufficiently wide to admit of the double formation.  For the
Indians of _pampa_ and prairie--unlike their brethren of the forest, do
not always travel "single file."  On horseback it would string them out
too far for either convenience or safety.  Indeed, these horse Indians
not unfrequently march in column, and in line.

With the exception of the pair spoken of as being in the advance, all
the others are costumed, and their horses caparisoned, nearly alike.
Their dress is of the simplest and scantiest kind--a hip-cloth swathing
their bodies from waist to mid-thigh, closely akin to the "breech-clout"
of the Northern Indian, only of a different material.  Instead of
dressed buckskin, the loin covering of the Chaco savage is a strip of
white cotton cloth, some of wool in bands of bright colour having a very
pretty effect.  But, unlike their red brethren of the North, they know
nought of either leggings or moccasin.  Their mild climate calls not for
such covering; and for foot protection against stone, thorn, or thistle,
the Chaco Indian rarely ever sets sole to the ground--his horse's back
being his home habitually.

Those now making way through the wood show limbs naked from thigh to
toe, smooth as moulded bronze, and proportioned as if cut by the chisel
of Praxiteles.  Their bodies above also nude; but here again differing
from the red men of the prairies.  No daub and disfigurement of chalk,
charcoal, vermilion, or other garish pigment; but clear skins showing
the lustrous hue of health, of bronze or brown amber tint, adorned only
with some stringlets of shell beads, or the seeds of a plant peculiar to
their country.

All are mounted on steeds of small size, but sinewy and perfect in
shape, having long tails and flowing manes; for the barbarism of the
clipping shears has not yet reached these barbarians of the Chaco.

Nor yet know they, or knowing, they use not saddle.  A piece of ox-hide,
or scrap of deer-skin serves them for its substitute; and for bridle a
raw-hide rope looped around the under jaw, without head-strap, bittless,
and single reined, enabling them to check or guide their horses, as if
these were controlled by the cruellest of curbs, or the jaw-breaking
Mameluke bitt.

As they file forth two by two into the open ground, it is seen that
there is some quality and fashion common to all; to wit, that they are
all youths--not any of them over twenty--and that they wear their hair
cropped in front, showing a square line across the forehead, but left
untouched on the crown and back of the head.  There it falls in full
profuseness, reaching to the hips, and in the case of some mingling with
the tails, of their horses.

Two, however, are notably different from the rest; they riding in the
advance, with a horse's length or so of interval between them and their
following.  One of the two differs only in the style of his dress; being
an Indian as the others, and, like them, quite a youth, to all
appearance the youngest of the party.  Yet also their chief, by reason
of his richer and grander dress; his attire being of the most
picturesque and costly kind worn by the Chaco savages.  Covering his
body, from the breast to half-way down his thighs, is a sort of
loosely-fitting tunic of white cotton stuff.  Sleeveless, it leaves his
arm bare from nigh the shoulder to the wrist, around which glistens a
bracelet with the sheen of solid gold.  His limbs also are bare, save a
sort of gartering below the knee, of shell and bead embroidery.  On his
head is a fillet band ornamented in like manner, with bright plumes, set
vertically around it--the tail-feathers of the _guacamaya_, one of the
most superb of South American parrots.  But the most distinctive article
of his apparel is his _manta_, a sort of cloak of the _poncho_ kind,
hanging loosely behind his back, but altogether different from the
well-known garment of the gauchos, which is usually woven from wool.
That on the shoulders of the young Indian is of no textile fabric, but
the skin of a fawn, tanned and bleached to the softness and whiteness of
a dress kid glove, the outward side being elaborately feather-worked in
flowers and patterns, the feathers obtained from many a bird of gay
plumage.

Of form perfectly symmetrical, the young Indian, save for his
complexion, would seem a sort of Apollo, or Hyperion on horseback; while
he who rides alongside him, withal that his skin is white, or once was,
might well be likened to the Satyr.  A man over thirty years of age,
tall, and of tough, sinewy frame, with a countenance of the most
sinister cast, dressed gaucho fashion, with the wide petticoat breeches
lying loose about his limbs, a striped _poncho_ over his shoulders, and
a gaudy silken kerchief tied turban-like around his temples.  But no
gaucho he, nor individual of any honest calling: instead, a criminal of
deepest dye, experienced in every sort of villainy.  For this man is
Rufino Valdez, well-known in Assuncion as one of Francia's familiars,
and more than suspected of being one of his most dexterous _assassins_.



CHAPTER SIX.

AN OLD ENEMY IN A NEW PLACE.

Could the hunter-naturalist but know what has really occurred in the
Tovas tribe, and the nature of the party now approaching, he would not
stay an instant longer on the banks of that branch stream; instead,
hasten back home with his child fast as their animals could carry them,
and once at the estancia, make all haste to get away from it, taking
every member of his family along with him.  But he has no idea that
anything has happened hostile to him or his, nor does he as yet see the
troop of travellers, whose merry voices are making the woods ring around
them: for, on the moment of his first hearing them, they were at a good
distance, and are some considerable time before coming in sight.  At
first, he had no thought of retreating, nor making any effort to place
himself and his child in concealment.  And for two reasons: one, because
ever since taking up his abode in the Chaco, under the protection of
Naraguana, he has enjoyed perfect security, as also the consciousness of
it.  Therefore, why should he be alarmed now?  As a second reason for
his not feeling so, an encounter with men, in the mood of those to whom
he is listening, could hardly be deemed dangerous.  It may be but the
Tovas chief and his people, on return to the town they had abandoned;
and, in all likelihood, it is they.  So, for a time, thinks he.

But, again, it may not be; and if any other Indians--if a band of
Anguite, or Guaycurus, both at enmity with the Tovas--then would they be
also enemies to him, and his position one of great peril.  And now once
more reflecting on the sudden, as unexplained, disappearance of the
latter from their old place of residence--to say the least, a matter of
much mystery--bethinking himself, also, that he is quite _twenty_ miles
from his estancia, and for any chances of retreat, or shifts for safety,
worse off than if he were alone, he at length, and very naturally, feels
an apprehension stealing over him.  Indeed, not stealing, nor coming
upon him slowly, but fast gathering, and in full force.  At all events,
as he knows nothing of who or what the people approaching may be, it is
an encounter that should, if possible, be avoided.  Prudence so
counsels, and it is but a question how this can best be done.  Will they
turn heads round, and go galloping back?  Or ride in among the bushes,
and there remain under cover till the Indians have passed?  If these
should prove to be Tovas, they could discover themselves and join them;
if not, then take the chances of travelling behind them, and getting
back home unobserved.

The former course he is most inclined to; but glancing up the bank, for
he is still on the water's edge, he sees that the sloping path he had
descended, and by which he must return, is exposed to view from the
opposite side of the stream, to a distance of some two hundred yards.
To reach the summit of the slope, and get under cover of the trees
crowning it, would take some time.  True, only a minute or two; but that
may be more than he can spare, since the voices seem now very near, and
those he would shun must show themselves almost immediately.  And to be
seen retreating would serve no good purpose; instead, do him a damage,
by challenging the hostility of the Indians, if they be not Tovas.  Even
so, were he alone, well-horsed as he believes himself to be--and in
reality is--he would risk the attempt, and, like enough, reach his
estancia in safety.  But encumbered with Francesca on her diminutive
steed, he knows they would have no chance in a chase across the _pampa_,
with the red Centaurs pursuing.  Therefore, not for an instant, or only
one, entertains he thought of flight.  In a second he sees it would not
avail them, and decides on the other alternative--concealment.  He has
already made a hasty inspection of the ground near by, and sees,
commencing at no great distance off, and running along the water's edge,
a grove of _sumac_ trees which, with their parasites and other plants
twining around their stems and branches, form a complete labyrinth of
leaves.  The very shelter he is in search of; and heading his horse
towards it, at the same time telling Francesca to follow, he rides in by
the first opening that offers.  Fortunately he has struck upon a _tapir_
path, which makes it easier for them to pass through the underwood, and
they are soon, with their horses, well screened from view.  Perhaps,
better would it have been for them had they continued on, without making
any stop, though not certain this, for it might have been all one in the
end.  As it is, still in doubt, half under the belief that he may be
retreating from an imaginary danger--running away from friends instead
of foes--as soon as well within the thicket, Halberger reins up again,
at a point where he commands a view of the ford as it enters on the
opposite side of the stream.  A little glade gives room for the two
animals to stand side by side, and drawing Francesca's pony close up to
his saddle-flap, he cautions her to keep it there steadily, as also to
be silent herself.  The girl needs not such admonition.  No simple child
she, accustomed only to the safe ways of cities and civilised life; but
one knowing a great deal of that which is savage; and young though she
is, having experienced trials, vicissitudes and dangers.  That there is
danger impending over them now, or the possibility of it, she is quite
as conscious as her father, and equally observant of caution; therefore,
she holds her pony well in hand, patting it on the neck to keep it
quiet.

They have not long to stay before seeing what they half expected to
see--a party of Indians.  Just as they have got well fixed in place,
with some leafy branches in front forming a screen over their faces, at
the same time giving them an aperture to peep through, the dusky
cavalcade shows its foremost files issuing out from the bushes on the
opposite side of the stream.  Though still distant--at least, a quarter
of a mile--both father and daughter can perceive that they are Indians;
mounted, as a matter of course, for they could not and did not, expect
so see such afoot in the Chaco.  But Francesca's eyes are sharper
sighted than those of her father, and at the first glance she makes out
more--not only that it is a party of Indians, but these of the Tovas
tribe.  The feathered _manta_ of the young chief, with its bright gaudy
sheen, has caught her eye, and she knows whose shoulders it should be
covering.

"Yes, father," she says, in whisper, as soon as sighting it.  "They are
the Tovas!  See yonder! one of the two leading--that's Aguara."

"Oh! then, we've nothing to fear," rejoins her father, with a feeling of
relief.  "So, Francesca, we may as well ride back out and meet them.  I
suppose it is, as I've been conjecturing; the tribe is returning to its
old quarters.  I wonder where they've been, and why so long away.  But
we shall now learn all about it.  And we'll have their company with us,
as far as their _talderia_; possibly all the way home, as, like enough,
Naraguana will come on with us to the estancia.  In either case--ha!
what's that.  As I live, a white man riding alongside Aguara!  Who can
_he_ be?"

Up to this, Halberger has neither touched his horse nor stirred a step;
no more she, both keeping to the spot they had chosen for observation.
And both now alike eagerly scan the face of the man, supposed to be
white.

Again the eyes of the child, or her instincts, are keener and quicker
than those of the parent; or, at all events, she is the first to speak,
announcing a recognition.

"Oh, papa!" she exclaims, still in whispers, "it's that horrid man who
used to come to our house at Assuncion--him mamma so much disliked--the
Senor Rufino."

"Hish!" mutters the father, interrupting both with speech and gesture;
then adds, "keep tight hold of the reins; don't let the pony budge an
inch!"

Well may he thus caution, for what he now sees is that he has good
reason to fear; a man he knows to be his bitter enemy--one who, during
the years of his residence in Paraguay, had repeatedly been the cause of
trouble to him, and done many acts of injury and insult--the last and
latest offered to his young wife.  For it was Rufino Valdez who had been
employed by the Dictator previously to approach her on his behalf.

And now Ludwig Halberger beholds the base villain in company with the
Tovas Indians--his own friends, as he had every reason to suppose them--
riding side by side with the son of their chief!  What can it mean?

Halberger's first thought is that Valdez may be their prisoner; for he,
of course, knows of the hostility existing between them and the
Paraguayans, and remembers that, in his last interview with Naraguana,
the aged cacique was bitter as ever against the Paraguayan people.  But
no; there is not the slightest sign of the white man being guarded,
bound, or escorted.  Instead, he is riding unconstrained, side by side
with the young Tovas chief, evidently in amicable relations--the two
engaged in a conversation to all appearance of the most confidential
kind!

Again Halberger asks, speaking within himself, what it can mean? and
again reflecting endeavours to fathom the mystery: for so that strange
juxtaposition appears to him.  Can it be that the interrupted treaty of
peace has been renewed, and friendship re-established between Naraguana
and the Paraguayan Dictator?  Even now, Valdez may be on a visit to the
Tovas tribe on that very errand--a commissioner to arrange new terms of
intercourse and amity?  It certainly appears as if something of the kind
had occurred.  And what the Prussian now sees, taken in connection with
the abandonment of the village alike matter of mystery--leads him to
more than half-suspect there has.  For again comes up the question, why
should the Tovas chief have gone off without giving him warning?  So
suddenly, and not a word!  Surely does it seem as if there has been
friendship betrayed, and Naraguana's protection withdrawn.  If so, it
will go hard with him, Halberger; for well knows he, that in such a
treaty there would be little chance of his being made an object of
special amnesty.  Instead, one of its essential claims would sure be,
the surrendering up himself and his family.  But would Naraguana be so
base?  No; he cannot believe it, and this is why he is as much surprised
as puzzled at seeing Valdez when he now sees him.

In any case things have a forbidding look, and the man's presence there
bodes no good to him.  More like the greatest evil; for it may be death
itself.  Even while sitting upon his horse, with these reflections
running through his mind--which they do, not as related, but with the
rapidity of thought itself--he feels a presentiment of that very thing.
Nay, something more than a presentiment, something worse--almost the
certainty that his life is near its end!  For as the complete Indian
cohort files forth from among the bushes, and he takes note of how it is
composed--above all observing the very friendly relations between Valdez
and the young chief--he knows it must affect himself to the full danger
of his life.  Vividly remembers he the enmity of Francia's _familiar_,
too deep and dire to have been given up or forgotten.  He remembers,
too, of Valdez being noted as a skilled _rastrero_, or guide--his
reputed profession.  Against such a one the step he has taken to conceal
himself is little likely to serve him.  Are not the tracks of his horse,
with those of the pony, imprinted in the soft mud by the water's edge
where they had halted?  These will not be passed over by the Indians, or
Valdez, without being seen and considered.  Quite recent too!  They must
be observed, and as sure will they be followed up to where he and his
child are in hiding.  A pity he has not continued along the _tapir_
path, still further and far away!  Alas! too late now; the delay may be
fatal.

In a very agony of apprehension thus reflecting, Ludwig Halberger with
shoulders stooped over his saddle-bow and head bent in among the
branches, watches the Indian cavalcade approaching the stream's bank;
the nearer it comes, the more certain he that himself and his child are
in deadliest danger.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

VALDEZ THE "VAQUEANO."

To solve the seeming enigma of Rufino Valdez travelling in the company
of the Tovas Indians, and on friendly terms with their young chief--for
he is so--it will be necessary to turn back upon time, and give some
further account of the _vaqueano_ himself, and his villainous master; as
also to tell why Naraguana and his people abandoned their old place of
abode, with other events and circumstances succeeding.  Of these the
most serious has been the death of Naraguana himself.  For the aged
cacique is no more; having died only a few days after his latest visit
paid to his palefaced protege.

Nor were his last moments spent at the _tolderia_, now abandoned.  His
death took place at another town of his people some two hundred miles
from this, and farther into the interior of the Chaco; a more ancient
residence of the Tovas tribe--in short, their "Sacred city" and
burying-place.  For it is the custom of these Indians when any one of
them dies--no matter when, where, and how, whether by the fate of war,
accident in the chase, disease, or natural decay--to have the body borne
to the sacred town, and there deposited in a cemetery containing the
graves of their fathers.  Not graves, as is usual, underground; but
scaffolds standing high above it--such being the mode of Tovas
interment.

Naraguana's journey to this hallowed spot--his last in life--had been
made not on horseback, but in a _litera_, borne by his faithful braves.
Seized with a sudden illness, and the presentiment that his end was
approaching, with a desire to die in the same place where he had been
born, he gave commands for immediate removal thither--not only of
himself, but everything and even body belonging to his tribe.  It was
but the work of a day; and on the next the old settlement was left
forsaken, just as the hunter-naturalist has found it.

Had the latter been upon the banks of that branch stream just three
weeks before, he would there have witnessed one of those spectacles
peculiar to the South American pampas; as the prairies of the North.
That is the crossing of a river by an entire Indian tribe, on the move
from one encampment, or place of residence, to another.  The men on
horseback swimming or wading their horses; the women and children
ferried over in skin boats--those of the Chaco termed _pelotas_--with
troops of dogs intermingled in the passage; all amidst a _fracas_ of
shouts, the barking of dogs, neighing of horses, and shrill screaming of
the youngsters, with now and then a peal of merry laughter, as some
ludicrous mishap befalls one or other of the party.  No laugh, however,
was heard at the latest crossing of that stream by the Tovas.  The
serious illness of their chief forbade all thought of merriment; so
serious, that on the second day after reaching the sacred town he
breathed his last; his body being carried up and deposited upon that
aerial tomb where reposed the bleaching bones of many other caciques--
his predecessors.

His sudden seizure, with the abrupt departure following, accounts for
Halberger having had no notice of all this--Naraguana having been
delirious in his dying moments, and indeed for some time before.  And
his death has caused changes in the internal affairs of the Tovas tribe,
attended with much excitement.  For the form of government among these
Chaco savages is more republican than monarchical; each new cacique
having to receive his authority not from hereditary right, but by
election.  His son, Aguara, however, popular with the younger warriors
of the tribe, carried the day, and has become Naraguana's successor.

Even had the hunter-naturalist been aware of these events, he might not
have seen in them any danger to himself.  For surely the death of
Naraguana would not affect his relations with the Tovas tribe; at least
so far as to losing their friendship, or bringing about an estrangement.
Not likely would such have arisen, but for certain other events of more
sinister bearing, transpiring at the same period; to recount which it is
necessary for us to return still further upon time, and again go back to
Paraguay and its Dictator.

Foiled in his wicked intent, and failing to discover whither his
intended victims had fled, Francia employed for the finding of them one
of his minions--this man of most ill repute, Rufino Valdez.  It did not
need the reward offered to secure the latter's zeal; for, as stated, he
too had his own old grudge against the German, brought about by a still
older and more bitter hostility to Halberger's right hand man--Gaspar,
the gaucho.  With this double stimulus to action, Valdez entered upon
the prosecution of his search, after that of the soldiers had failed.
At first with confident expectation of a speedy success; for it had not
yet occurred to either him or his employer that the fugitives could have
escaped clear out of the country; a thing seemingly impossible with its
frontiers so guarded.  It was only after Valdez had explored every nook
and corner of Paraguayan territory in search of them, all to no purpose,
that Francia was forced to the conclusion, they were no longer within
his dominions.  But, confiding in his own interpretation of
international law, and the rights of extradition, he commissioned his
emissary to visit the adjacent States, and there continue inquiry for
the missing ones.  That law of his own making, already referred to, led
him to think he could demand the Prussian's wife to be returned to
Paraguay, whatever claim he might have upon the Prussian himself.

For over two years has Rufino Valdez been occupied in this bootless
quest, without finding the slightest trace of the fugitives, or word as
to their whereabouts.  He has travelled down the river to Corrientes,
and beyond to Buenos Ayres, and Monte Video at the La Plata's mouth.
Also up northward to the Brazilian frontier fort of Coimbra; all the
while without ever a thought of turning his steps towards the Chaco!

Not so strange, though, his so neglecting this noted ground; since he
had two sufficient reasons.  The first, his fear of the Chaco savages,
instinctive to every Paraguayan; the second, his want of faith, shared
by Francia himself, that Halberger had fled thither.  Neither could for
a moment think of a white man seeking asylum in the Gran Chaco; for
neither knew of the friendship existing between the hunter-naturalist
and the Tovas chief.

It was only after a long period spent in fruitless inquiries, and while
sojourning at Coimbra that the _vaqueano_ first found traces of those
searched for; there learning from some Chaco Indians on a visit to the
fort--that a white man with his wife, children, and servants, had
settled near a _tolderia_ of the Tovas, on the banks of the Pilcomayo
river.  Their description, as given by these Indians--who were not
Tovas, but of a kindred tribe--so exactly answered to the
hunter-naturalist and his family, that Valdez had no doubt of its being
they.  And hastily returning to Paraguay, he communicated what he had
been told to the man for whom he was acting.

"El Supremo," overjoyed at the intelligence, promised to double the
reward for securing the long-lost runaways.  A delicate and difficult
matter still; for there was yet the hostility of the Tovas to contend
against.  But just at this crisis, as if Satan had stepped in to assist
his own sort, a rumour reaches Assuncion of Naraguana's death; and as
the rancour had arisen from a personal affront offered to the chief
himself, Francia saw it would be a fine opportunity for effecting
reconciliation, as did also his emissary.  Armed with this confidence,
his old enmity to Halberger and gaucho, ripe and keen as ever, Valdez
declared himself willing to risk his life by paying a visit to the Tovas
town, and, if possible, induce these Indians to enter into a new
treaty--one of its terms to be their surrendering up the white man, who
had been so long the guest of their deceased cacique.

Fully commissioned and furnished with sufficient funds--gold coin which
passes current among the savages of the Chaco, as with civilised
people--the plenipotentiary had started off, and made his way up the
Pilcomayo, till reaching the old town of the Tovas.  Had Halberger's
estancia stood on the river's bank, the result might have been
different.  But situated at some distance back, Valdez saw it not in
passing, and arrived at the Indian village to find it, as did the
hunter-naturalist himself, deserted.  An experienced traveller and
skilled tracker, however, he had no difficulty in following the trail of
the departed people, on to their other town; and it was the track of his
horse on the way thither, Halberger has observed on the edge of the
influent stream--as too well he now knows.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

A COMPACT BETWEEN SCOUNDRELS.

What the upshot of Valdez's errand as commissioner to the Tovas tribe
may be told in a few words.  That he has been successful, in some way,
can be guessed from his being seen in close fellowship with him who is
now their chief.  For, otherwise, he would not be there with them or
only as a prisoner.  Instead, he is, as he appears, the accepted friend
of Aguara, however false the friendship.  And the tie which has knit
them together is in keeping with the character of one, if not both.  All
this brought about without any great difficulty, or only such as was
easily overcome by the Paraguayan plenipotentiary.  Having reached the
Tovas town--that where the tribe is now in permanent residence--only a
day or two after Naraguana's death, he found the Indians in the midst of
their lamentations; and, through their hearts rendered gentle by grief,
received friendly reception.  This, and the changed _regime_, offered a
fine opportunity for effecting his purpose, of which the astute
commissioner soon availed himself.  The result, a promise of renewal of
the old peace treaty; which he has succeeded in obtaining, partly by
fair words, but as much by a profuse expenditure of the coin with which
Francia had furnished him.  This agreed to by the elders of the tribe;
since they had to be consulted.  But without a word said about their
late chiefs protege--the hunter-naturalist--or aught done affecting him.
For the Paraguayan soon perceived, that the _sagamores_ would be true
to the trust Naraguana had left; in his last coherent words enjoining
them to continue protection to the stranger, and hold him, as his,
unharmed.

So far the elders in council; and the astute commissioner, recognising
the difficulty, not to say danger, of touching on this delicate subject,
said nothing to them about it.

For all, he has not left the matter in abeyance, instead, has spoken of
it to other ears, where he knew he would be listened to with more safety
to himself--the ears of Aguara.  For he had not been long in the Tovas
town without making himself acquainted with the character of the new
cacique, as also his inclinings--especially those relating to Francesca
Halberger.  And that some private understanding has been established
between him and the young Tovas chief is evident from the conversation
they are now carrying on.

"You can keep the _muchachita_ at your pleasure," says Valdez, having,
to all appearance, settled certain preliminaries.  "All my master wants
is, to vindicate the laws of our country, which this man Halberger has
outraged.  As you know yourself, Senor Aguara, one of our statutes is
that no foreigner who marries a Paraguayan woman may take her out of the
country without permission of the President--our executive chief.  Now
this man is not one of our people, but a stranger--_a gringo_--from far
away over the big waters; while the Senora, his wife, is Paraguayan,
bred and born.  Besides, he stole her away in the night, like a thief,
as he is."

Naraguana would not tamely have listened to such discourse.  Instead,
the old chief, loyal to his friendship, would have indignantly repelled
the allegations against his friend and protege.  As it is, they fall
upon the ear of Naraguana's son without his offering either rebuke or
protest.

Still, he seems in doubt as to what answer he should make, or what
course he ought to pursue in the business between them.

"What would you have me do, Senor Rufino?" he asks in a patois of
Spanish, which many Chaco Indians can speak; himself better than common,
from his long and frequent intercourse with Halberger's family.  "What
want you?"

"I don't want you to do anything," rejoins the _vaqueano_.  "If you're
so squeamish about giving offence to him you call your father's friend,
you needn't take any part in the matter, or at all compromise yourself.
Only stand aside, and allow the law I've just spoken of to have
fulfilment."

"But how?"

"Let our President send a party of his soldiers to arrest those
runaways, and carry them back whence they came.  Now that you've
proposed to renew the treaty with us, and are hereafter to be our
allies--and, I hope, fast friends--it is only just and right you should
surrender up those who are our enemies.  If you do, I can say, as his
trusted representative, that El Supremo will heap favours, and bestow
rich presents on the Tovas tribe; above all, on its young cacique--of
whom I've heard him speak in terms of the highest praise."

Aguara, a vain young fellow, eagerly drinks in the fulsome flattery, his
eyes sparkling with delight at the prospect of the gifts thus promised.
For he is as covetous of wealth as he is conceited about his personal
appearance.

"But," he says, thinking of a reservation, "would you want us to
surrender them all?  Father, mother--"

"No, not all," rejoins the ruffian, interrupting.  "There is one," he
continues, looking askant at the Indian, with the leer of a demon, "one,
I take it, whom the young Tovas chief would wish to retain as an
ornament to his court.  Pretty creature the _nina_ was, when I last saw
her; and I have no doubt still is, unless your Chaco sun has made havoc
with her charms.  She had a cousin about her own age, by name Cypriano,
who was said to be very fond of her; and rumour had it around Assuncion,
that they were being brought up for one another."

Aguara's brow blackens, and his dark Indian eyes seem to emit sparks of
fire.

"Cypriano shall never have her!" he exclaims in a tone of angry
determination.

"How can you help it, amigo?" interrogates his tempter.  "That is,
supposing the two are inclined for one another.  As you know, her father
is not only a paleface, but _a gringo_, with prejudices of blood far
beyond us Paraguayans, who are half-Indian ourselves.  Ah! and proud of
it too.  Being such, he would never consent to give his daughter in
marriage to a red man--make a _squaw_ of her, as he would scornfully
call it.  No, not even though it were the grandest cacique in the Chaco.
He would see her dead first."

"Indeed!" exclaims the Indian, with a disdainful toss of the head.

"Indeed, yes," asseverates Valdez.  "And whether they remain under your
protection, or be taken back to Paraguay, 'twill be all the same as
regards the senorita.  There's but one way I know of to hinder her from
becoming the wife of her cousin Cypriano, and that is--"

"What?" impatiently asks Aguara.

"To separate them.  Let father, mother, son, and nephew be taken back to
where they belong; the _nina_ to stay behind."

"But how can that be done?"

"You mean without your showing your hand in it?" asks Valdez, in a
confidential whisper.

"I do.  For know, Senor Rufino, that, though I'm now chief of our tribe,
and those we have with us here will do as I bid them--obey me in
anything--still the elders have control, and might make trouble if I did
aught to injure the friend of my late father.  I am not free, and dare
not act as you propose."

"_Carramba_! you needn't act at all, as I've already told you.  Only
stand aside, and let others do the acting.  'Twill be easy enough.  But
give your consent to my bringing a pack of our Paraguayan wolves to this
fold your father has so carefully shepherded, and I'll answer for
sorting out the sheep we want to take, and leaving the lamb you wish
left.  Then you and yours can come opportunely up, too late for
protecting the old ram and dam, but in time to rescue the bleating
lambkin, and bear her away to a place of safety.  Your own toldo, Senor
Aguara; where, take my word for't, no one will ever come to inquire
after, much less reclaim her.  You consent?"

"Speak low!" cautions the wily Indian, casting a glance over his
shoulders as one willing to do a wicked deed, but without desiring it
known.  "Don't let them hear us.  _You have my consent_."



CHAPTER NINE.

A RED-HANDED RUFFIAN.

Just as the young cacique has yielded to the tempter, surrendering his
last scruple of conscience, his horse dips hoof in the stream, that of
the Paraguayan plunging into it at the same time.  Knowing the ford
well, and that it is shallow, with a firm bottom, they ride boldly on;
their followers straggled out behind, these innocent of the foul
conspiracy being hatched so near; still keeping up their rollicky mirth,
and flinging about _jeux d'esprit_ as the spray drops are tossed from
the fetlocks of their wading horses.

It is a popular though erroneous belief, that the red men of America are
of austere and taciturn habit.  The older ones may be at times, but even
these not always.  Instead, as a rule they are given to jocularity and
fun; the youth brimful of it as the street boys of any European city.
At least one half of their diurnal hours is spent by them in play and
pastimes; for from those of the north we have borrowed both Polo and La
Crosse; while horse-racing is as much their sport as ours; and archery
more.

Not strange, then, that the _jeunesse doree_ of the Tovas, escorting
their youthful cacique, and seeing him occupied with the paleface who
has been on a visit to their town, take no heed of what passes between
these two, but abandon themselves to merriment along the march.  No more
is it strange that Aguara, engrossed with the subject of conversation
between him and the _vaqueano_, leaves them free to their frollicking.

Nothing occurs to change the behaviour either of the two who are in
front, or those following, until the horses of the former have forded
the stream, and stepped out on the bank beyond.  Then the Paraguayan, as
said, a skilled tracker and cunning as a fox, chancing to lower his eyes
to the ground, observes upon it several hoof-marks of a horse.  These at
once fix his attention; for not only are they fresh--to all appearance
made but the moment before--but the horse that made them must have been
_shod_.

While in the act of verifying this observation, other hoof-prints come
under his eye, also shod, but much smaller, being the tracks of a pony.
Recent too, evidently made at the same time as the horse's.  He has no
need to point them out to the young Indian, who, trained to such craft
from infancy upward, has noted them soon as he, and with equally quick
intuitiveness is endeavouring to interpret their significance.

Succeeding in this: for both the horse's track and that of the pony are
known to, and almost instantly recognised by him.  He has not lived two
years in proximity to the estancia of Ludwig Halberger, all the while in
friendly intercourse with the naturalist and his family, without taking
note of everything; and can tell the particular track of every horse in
its stables.  Above all is he familiar with the diminutive hoof-marks of
Francesca's pretty pony, which he has more than once trailed across the
_campo_, in the hope of having a word with its rider.  Perceiving them
now, and so recently made, he gives out an ejaculation of pleased
surprise; then looks around, as though expecting to see the pony itself,
with its young mistress upon its back.  There is no one in sight,
however, save the _vaqueano_ and his own followers; the latter behind,
halted by command, some of them still in the water, so that they may not
ride over the shod-tracks, and obliterate them.

All this while Halberger and his child are within twenty paces of the
spot, and seated in their saddles, as when they first drew up side by
side.  Screened by the trees, they see the Indians, themselves
unobserved, while they can distinctly hear every word said.  Only two of
the party speak aloud, the young cacique and his paleface companion;
their speech, of course, relating to the newly-discovered "sign."

After dismounting, and for a few seconds examining it, Valdez leaps back
into his saddle with a show of haste, as if he would at once start off
upon the trail of horse and pony.

"There have been only the two here--that's plain," he says.  "Father and
daughter, you think?  What a pity we didn't get up in time to bid
`good-day' to them!  'Twould have simplified matters much.  You'd then
have had your young chick to carry to the cage you intend for it,
without the mother bird to make any bother or fluttering in your face;
while I might have executed my commission sooner than expected."

"_Carramba_!" he continues after a short while spent in considering.
"They can't have gone very far as yet.  You say it's quite twenty miles
to the place where the _gringo_ has his headquarters.  If so, and
they've not been in a great hurry to get home--which like enough the
girl would, since her dear Cypriano don't appear to be along--we may
come up with them by putting on speed.  Let us after them at once!  What
say you?"

The young Indian, passive in the hands of the older and more hardened
sinner, makes neither objection nor protest.  Instead, stung by the
allusion to "dear Cypriano," he is anxious as the other to come up with
the pony and its rider.  So, without another word, he springs back upon
his horse, declaring his readiness to ride on.

With eyes directed downward, they keep along the return tracks; having
already observed that these come no farther than the ford, and turn back
by the water's edge--

"Aha!" exclaims the _vaqueano_, pulling up again ere he has proceeded
three lengths of his horse; "they've left the trail here, and turned off
up stream!  That wouldn't be their route home, would it?"

"No," answers Aguara.  "Their nearest way's along the river, down as far
as our old _tolderia_.  After that--"

"Sh!" interrupts the Paraguayan, leaning over, and speaking in a
cautious whisper, "Did you not hear something?  Like the chinking of a
bitt curb?  I shouldn't wonder if they're in among those bushes.
Suppose you stay here and keep watch along the bank, while I go and beat
up that bit of cover?"

"Just as it please you," assents the young cacique, unresistingly.

"Give me two or three of your fellows along.  Not that I have any fear
to encounter the _gringo_ alone--poor weak creature, still wearing his
green spectacles, I suppose.  Far from it.  But still there's no harm in
having help, should he attempt to give trouble.  Besides, I'll want some
one to look after the _muchachita_!"

"Take as many as you wish."

"Oh! two will be sufficient; that pair nearest us."

He points to the foremost file of the troop, two who are a little older
than their friends, as also of more hardened and sinister aspect.  For,
short as has been his stay among them, the subtle emissary has taken the
measure of many members of the tribe; and knows something of the two he
thus designates.  His gold has made them his friends and allies; in
short, gained them over to him as good for anything he may call upon
them to do.

Aguara having signified assent, a gesture brings them up; and, at a
whispered word from the _vaqueano_ himself, they fall in behind him.

Heading his horse for the _sumac_ thicket he is soon at its edge, there
seeing what rejoices him--the tracks of both horse and pony passing into
it.  He has reached the spot where Halberger turned in along the _tapir_
path.  Parting the leaves with a long spear--for he is so armed--he
rides in also, the two Indians after.  And just as the tails of their
horses disappear among the leaves, Aguara, who has kept his place, hears
another horse neighing within the thicket at a point farther off.  Then
there is a quick trampling of hooves, followed by a hurried rush, and
the swishing of bent branches, as the _vaqueano_ and his two aides dash
on through the _sumacs_.

The young cacique and his followers continuing to listen, soon after
hear shouts--the voices of men in angry exclamation--mingling with them
the shriller treble of a girl's.  Then a shot, quick followed by a
second, and a third; after which only the girl's voice is heard, but now
in lamentation.  Soon, however, it is hushed, and all over--everything
silent as before.

The young Tovas chief sits upon his horse with heart audibly beating.
He has no doubt--cannot have--as to who were the pursued ones; no more,
that they have been overtaken.  But with what result?  Has the
_vaqueano_ killed both father and daughter?  Or were the shots fired by
Halberger, killing Valdez himself and the two who went with him?  No;
that cannot be; else why should the girl's lamenting cries be heard
afterwards?  But then again, why have they ceased so suddenly?

While thus anxiously conjecturing, he again hears the trampling of
horses among the trees; this time evidently in return towards him.  And
soon after sees the horses themselves, with their riders--four of them.
Three are the same as late left him, but looking differently.  The
Paraguayan has one arm hanging down by his side, to all appearance
broken, with blood dripping from the tips of his fingers; while the
steel blade of his spear, borne in the other, is alike reddened.  And
there is blood elsewhere--streaming down the breast of one of the young
Indians who seems to have difficulty in keeping upon his horse's back.
The fourth individual in the returning cavalcade is a young girl, with a
cloth tied over her head, as if to hinder her from crying out; seated
upon the back of a pony, this led by the Indian who is still unhurt.

At a glance, Aguara sees it is Francesca Halberger, though he needs not
seeing her to know that.  For he had already recognised her voice--well
knew it, even in its wailing.

"Her father--what of him?" he asks, addressing Valdez, soon as the
latter is up to him, and speaking in undertone.

"No matter what," rejoins the ruffian, with a demoniac leer.  "The
father is my affair, and he has come very near making it an ugly one for
me.  Look at this!" he continues, indicating the left arm which hangs
loose by his side.  "And at that!" he adds, glancing up to the point of
his spear.

"Blood on both, as you see.  So, Senor Aguara, you may draw your
deductions.  Your affair is yonder," he nods towards the muffled figure
on the pony's back; "and you can now choose between taking her home to
her mother--her handsome cousin as well--or carrying her to _your_ home,
as the queen that is to be of the Tovas."

The young cacique is not slow in deciding which course to pursue.  The
allusion to the "handsome cousin" again excites his jealousy and his
ire.  Its influence is irresistible, as sinister; and when he and his
followers take departure from that spot--which they do almost on the
instant--it is to recross the stream, and head their horses homeward--
Francesca Halberger carried captive along with them.



CHAPTER TEN.

GASPAR, THE GAUCHO.

Over the broad undulating plain which extends between Halberger's house
and the deserted _tolderia_ of the Tovas, a horseman is seen proceeding
in the direction of the latter.  He is a man about middle age, of hale,
active appearance, in no way past his prime.  Of medium size, or rather
above it, his figure though robust is well proportioned, with strong
sinewy arms and limbs lithe as a panther's, while his countenance,
notwithstanding the somewhat embrowned skin, has a pleasant, honest
expression, evincing good nature as a habitually amiable temper, at the
same time that his features show firmness and decision.  A keenly
glancing eye, coal-black, bespeaks for him both courage and
intelligence; while the way in which he sits his horse, tells that he is
not new to the saddle; instead, seeming part of it.  His garb is
peculiar, though not to the country which claims him as a native.
Draping down from his shoulders and spreading over the hips of his horse
is a garment of woollen fabric, woven in stripes of gaudy colours,
alternating white, yellow, and red, of no fit or fashion, but simply
kept on by having his head thrust through a slit in its centre.  It is a
_poncho_--the universal wrap or cloak of every one who dwells upon the
banks of the La Plata or Parana.  Under is another garment, of white
cotton stuff, somewhat resembling Zouave breeches, and called
_calzoneras_, these reaching a little below his knees; while his feet
and ankles are encased in boots of his own manufacture, seamless, since
each was originally the skin of a horse's leg, the hoof serving as heel,
with the shank shortened and gathered into a pucker for the toe.  Tanned
and bleached to the whiteness of a wedding glove, with some ornamental
stitching and broidery, it furnishes a foot gear, alike comfortable and
becoming.  Spurs, with grand rowels, several inches in diameter,
attached to the heels of these horse-hide boots, give them some
resemblance to the greaves and ankle armour of mediaeval times.

All this has he whose dress we are describing; while surmounting his
head is a broad-brimmed hat with high-peaked crown and plume of _rheas_
feathers--underneath all a kerchief of gaudy colour, which draping down
over the nape of his neck protects it from the fervid rays of the Chaco
sun.  It is a costume imposing and picturesque; while the caparison of
his horse is in keeping with it.  The saddle, called _recado_, is
furnished with several coverings, one upon another, the topmost,
_coronilla_, being of bright-coloured cloth elaborately quilted; while
the bridle of plaited horse-hair is studded with silver joints, from
which depend rings and tassels, the same ornamenting the breast-piece
and neck straps attaching the martingale, in short, the complete
equipment of a _gaucho_.  And a gaucho he is--Gaspar, the hero of our
tale.

It has been already said, that he is in the service of Ludwig Halberger.
So is he, and has been ever since the hunter-naturalist settled in
Paraguay; in the capacity of steward, or as there called _mayor-domo_; a
term of very different signification from the _major-domo_ or
house-steward of European countries, with dress and duties differing as
well.  No black coat, or white cravat, wears he of Spanish America, no
spotless stockings, or soft slipper shoes.  Instead, a costume more
resembling that of a Cavalier, or Freebooter; while the services he is
called upon to perform require him to be not only a first-class
horseman, but able to throw the lazo, catch a wild cow or colt, and tame
the latter--in short, take a hand at anything.  And at almost anything
Gaspar can; for he is man-of-all-work to the hunter-naturalist, as well
as his man of confidence.

Why he is riding away from the estancia at such an hour--for it is
afternoon--may be guessed from what has gone before.  For it is on that
same day, when Halberger and his daughter started off to visit the
Indian village; and as these had not returned soon as promised, the
anxiety of the wife, rendered keen by the presentiment which had
oppressed her at their parting, became at length unbearable; and to
relieve it Gaspar has been despatched in quest of them.

No better man in all the pampas region, or South America itself, could
have been sent on such an errand.  His skill as a tracker is not
excelled by any other gaucho in the Argentine States, from which he
originally came; while in general intelligence, combined with courage,
no one there, or elsewhere, could well be his superior.  As the Senora
said her last words to him at parting, and listened to his in return,
she felt reassured.  Gaspar was not the man to make delay, or come back
without the missing one.  On this day, however, he deviates from his
usual habit, at the same time from the route he ought to take--that
leading direct to the Indian village, whither he knows his master and
young mistress to have gone.  For while riding along going at a gentle
canter, a cock "ostrich" starts up before his horse, and soon after the
hen, the two trotting away over the plain to one side.  It so chances
that but the day before his master had given him instructions to catch a
male ostrich for some purpose of natural history--the first he should
come across.  And here was one, a splendid bird, in full flowing
plumage.  This, with an observation made, that the ostriches seem less
shy than is usual with these wary creatures, and are moving away but
slowly, decides him to take after and have a try at capturing the cock.
Unloosing his _bolas_ from the saddle-bow, where he habitually carries
this weapon, and spurring his horse to a gallop, off after them he goes.

Magnificently mounted, for a gaucho would not be otherwise, he succeeds
in his intent, after a run of a mile or so, getting close enough to the
birds to operate upon them with his _bolas_.  Winding these around his
head and launching them, he has the satisfaction of seeing the cock
ostrich go down upon the grass, its legs lapped together tight as if he
had hard spliced them.

Riding on up to the great bird, now hoppled and without any chance to
get away from him, he makes things more sure by drawing out his knife
and cutting the creature's throat.  Then releasing the _bolas_, he
returns them to the place from which he had taken them--on the horn of
his _recado_.  This done, he stands over the dead _rhea_, thus
reflecting:--

"I wonder what particular part of this beauty--it is a beauty, by the
way, and I don't remember ever having met with a finer bird of the
breed--but if I only knew which one with identical parts the master
wants, it would save me some trouble in the way of packing, and my horse
no little of a load.  Just possible the _dueno_ only cares for the
tail-feathers, or the head and beak, or it may be but the legs.  Well,
as I can't tell which, there's but one way to make sure about it--that
is, to take the entire carcase along with me.  So, go it must."

Saying this, he lays hold of a leg, and drags the ostrich nearer to his
horse, which all the time stands tranquilly by: for a gaucho's steed is
trained to keep its place, without need of any one having care of it.

"_Carramba_!" he exclaims, raising the bird from the ground, "what a
weight the thing is!  Heavy as a quarter of beef!  Now I think on't, it
might have been better if I'd let the beast alone, and kept on without
getting myself into all this bother.  Nay, I'm sure it would have been
wiser.  What will the Senora say, when she knows of my thus dallying--
trifling with the commands she gave me?  Bah! she won't know anything
about it--and needn't.  She will, though, if I stand dallying here.  I
mustn't a minute longer.  So up, Senor Avertruz, and lie there."

At which, he hoists the ostrich--by the gauchos called "_avertruz_"--to
the croup of his _recado_; where, after a rapid manipulation of cords,
the bird is made fast, beyond all danger of dropping off.

This done, he springs upon his horse's back, and then looks out to see
which direction he should now take.  A thing not so easily determined;
for in the chase after it, the ostrich had made more than one double;
and, although tolerably familiar with the topography of that plain, the
gaucho is for the time no little confused as to his whereabouts.  Nor
strange he should be; since the palm-groves scattered over it are all so
much alike, and there is no high hill, nor any great eminence, to guide
him.  Ridges there are, running this way and that; but all only gentle
undulations, with no bold projection, or other land-mark that he can
remember.

He begins to think he is really strayed, lost; and, believing so, is
angry with himself for having turned out of his path--as the path of his
duty.  Angry at the ostrich, too, that tempted him.

"_Avertruz, maldito_!" he exclaims, terms in the gaucho vernacular
synonymous with "ostrich, be hanged!" adding, as he continues to gaze
hopelessly around, "I wish I'd let the long-legged brute go its way.
Like as not, it'll hinder me going mine, till too late.  And if so,
there'll be a pretty tale to tell!  _Santissima_! whatever am I to do?
I don't even know the way back to the house; though that wouldn't be any
good if I did.  I daren't go there without taking some news with me.
Well; there's only one thing I can do; ride about, and quarter the
pampa, till I see something that'll set me back upon my road."

In conformity with this intention, he once more puts his horse in
motion, and strikes off over the plain; but he does not go altogether
without a guide, the sun somewhat helping him.  He knows that his way to
the Indian village is westward, and as the bright luminary is now
beginning to descend, it points out that direction, so taking his
bearings by it, he rides on.  Not far, however, before catching sight of
another object, which enables him to steer his course with greater
precision.  This a tree, a grand vegetable giant of the species called
_ombu_, known to every gaucho--beloved, almost held sacred by him, as
affording shade to his sun-exposed and solitary dwelling.  The one
Gaspar now sees has no house under its wide-spreading branches; but he
has himself been under them more than once while out on a hunt, and
smoked his _cigarrito_ in their shade.  As his eye lights upon it, a
satisfied expression comes over his features, for he knows that the tree
is on the top of a little _loma_, or hill, about half-way between the
estancia and the Indian town, and nearly in the direct route.

He needs nothing more to guide him now; but instead of riding towards
the tree, he rather turns his back upon it, and starts off in a
different direction.  This because he had already passed the _ombu_
before coming across the ostrich.

Soon again he is back upon the path from which he had strayed, and
proceeds along it without further interruption, riding at a rapid pace
to make up for the lost time.

Still, he is far from being satisfied with himself.  Although he may
have done that which will be gratifying to his master, there is a
possibility of its displeasing his mistress.  Most certainly will it do
this, should he not find the missing ones, and have to go home without
them.  But he has no great fear of that; indeed, is not even uneasy.
Why should he be?  He knows his master's proclivities, and believes that
he has come across some curious and rare specimens, which take time to
collect or examine, and this it is which has been retarding his return.
Thus reflecting, he continues on, every moment expecting to meet them.
But as there is neither road nor any regular path between the two
places, he needs to keep scanning the plain, lest on their return he may
pass them unobserved.

But he sees nothing of them till reaching the _tolderia_, and there only
the hoof-marks of his master's horse, with those of his young mistress's
pony, both conspicuous in the dust-covered ground by the doors of the
_toldos_.  But on neither does he dwell, for he, too, as were the
others, is greatly surprised to find the place deserted--indeed alarmed,
and for a time sits in his saddle as one half-dazed.

Only a short while, for he is not the man to give way to long
irresolution, and recovering himself, he rides rapidly about, from
_toldo_ to _toldo_, all over the town, at the same time shouting and
calling out his master's name.

For answer, he only has the echoes of his own voice, now and then varied
with the howl of a wolf, which, prowling around like himself no doubt
wonders, as he, at the place being abandoned.

After a hurried examination of the houses, and seeing there is no one
within them, just as Halberger had done, he strikes off on the trail of
the departed inhabitants; and with the sun still high enough to light up
every track on it, he perceives those made by the _dueno's_ horse, and
the more diminutive hoof-prints alongside them.

On he goes following them up, and in a gallop, for they are so fresh and
clear he has no need to ride slowly.  On in the same gait for a stretch
of ten miles, which brings him to the tributary stream at the
crossing-place.  He rides down to the water's edge, there to be sorely
puzzled at what he sees--some scores of other horse-tracks recently
made, but turning hither and thither in crowded confusion.

It calls for all his skill as a _rastrero_, with some considerable time,
to unwind the tangled skein.  But he at length succeeds, so far as to
discover that the whole horse troop, to whomsoever belonging, have
recrossed the ford; and crossing it himself, he sees they have gone back
up the Pilcomayo river.  Among them is one showing a shod hoof; but he
knows that has not been made by his master's horse, the bar being larger
and broader, with the claw more deeply indented.  Besides, he sees not
the pony's tracks--though they are or were there--and have been trodden
out by the ruck of the other animals trampling after.

The gaucho here turns back; though he intends following the trail
further, when he has made a more careful examination of the sign on the
other side of the stream; and recrossing, he again sets to scrutinising
it.  This soon leading him to the place where Halberger entered the
_sumac_ grove.  Now the gaucho, entering it also, and following the
_slot_ along the _tapir_ path, at a distance of some three hundred yards
from the crossing, comes out into an open glade, lit up by the last rays
of the setting sun, which fall slantingly through the trees standing
around.  There a sight meets his eye, causing the blood at one moment to
run cold through his veins, in the next hot as boiling lava; while from
his lips issue exclamations of mingled astonishment and indignation.
What he sees is a horse, saddled and with the bridle also on, standing
with neck bent down, and head drooped till the nostrils almost touch the
earth.  But between them and the ground is a figure extended at full
stretch; the body of a man to all appearance dead; which at a glance the
gaucho knows to be that of his master!



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

A SILENT FELLOW-TRAVELLER.

Another sun is rising over the Chaco, and its rays, red as the
reflection from a fire, begin to glitter through the stems of the
palm-trees that grow in scattered topes upon the plains bordering the
Pilcomayo.  But ere the bright orb has mounted above their crowns, two
horsemen are seen to ride out of the _sumac_ grove, in which Ludwig
Halberger vainly endeavoured to conceal himself from the assassin Valdez
and his savage confederates.

It is not where any of these entered the thicket that the horsemen are
coming out, but at a point some half-mile further up the branch stream,
and on its higher bank, where it reaches the general level of the upper
plain.  Here the _sumac_ trees cover the whole slope from the water's
edge to the crest of the bordering ridge, on this ending abruptly.
Though they stand thinly, and there is room enough for two horsemen to
ride abreast, these are not doing so, but one ahead, and leading the
other's horse by a raw-hide rope attached to the bitt ring.

In this manner they have ascended the slope, and have now the great
plain before them; treeless, save here and there a tope of palms or a
scattering of willows around some spot where there is water; but the
taller timber is behind them, and soon as they arrive at its edge, he
riding ahead reins up his horse, the other stopping at the same time.

There is still a belt of bushes between them and the open ground, of
stunted growth, but high enough to hinder their view.  To see over them,
the leading horseman stands up in his stirrups, and looks out upon the
plain, his glances directed all around it.  These, earnestly
interrogative, tell of apprehension, as of an enemy he might expect to
be there, in short, making a reconnaissance to see if the "coast be
clear."

That he judges it so is evinced by his settling back into his saddle,
and moving on across the belt of bushes; but again, on the skirt of this
and before issuing out of it, he draws bridle, and once more makes a
survey of the plain.

By this time, the sun having mounted higher in the heavens, shines full
upon his face, showing it of dark complexion, darker from the
apprehension now clouding it; but of honest cast, and one which would
otherwise be cheerful, since it is the face of Caspar, the gaucho.

Who the other is cannot be easily told, even with the bright sun beaming
upon him; for his hat, broad-brimmed, is slouched over his forehead,
concealing most part of his countenance.  The head itself, oddly, almost
comically, inclined to one side, droops down till the chin nigh touches
his breast.  Moreover, an ample cloak, which covers him from neck to
ankles, renders his figure as unrecognisable as his face.  With his
horse following that of the gaucho, who leads him at long halter's
reach, he, too, has halted in the outer selvedge of the scrub; still
maintaining the same relative position to the other as when they rode
out from the _sumacs_, and without speaking word or making gesture.  In
fact, he stirs not at all, except such motion as is due to the movement
of his horse; but beyond that he neither raises head nor hand, not even
to guide the animal, leaving it to be lead unresistingly.

Were the gaucho of warlike habits, and accustomed to making predatory
expeditions, he might be taken as returning from one with a captive,
whom he is conducting to some safe place of imprisonment.  For just like
this his silent companion appears, either fast strapped to his own
saddle, or who, conquered and completely subdued, has resigned all
thoughts of resistance and hopes of escape.  But Caspar is essentially a
man of peace, which makes it improbable that he, behind, is his
prisoner.

Whatever the relationship between them, the gaucho for the present pays
no attention to the other horseman, neither speaks to nor turns his eye
toward him; for these are now all upon the plain, scanning it from side
to side, and all round as far as he can command view of it.  He is not
himself silent, however, though the words to which he gives utterance
are spoken in a low tone, and by way of soliloquy, thus:--

"'Twill never do to go back by the river's bank.  Whoever the devils
that have done this dastardly thing, they may be still prowling about,
and to meet them would be for me to get served the same as they've
served him, that's sure; so I'd best take another route, though it be a
bit round the corner.  Let me see.  I think I know a way that should
lead tolerably straight to the estancia without touching the river or
going anywheres near it.  I mustn't even travel within sight of it.  If
the Tovas have had any hand in this ugly business--and, by the Virgin, I
believe they have, however hard it is to think so--some of them may
still be near, and possibly a party gone back to their old _tolderia_.
I'll have to give that a wide berth anyhow; so to get across this open
stretch without being seen, if there be anyone on it to see me, will
need manoeuvring.  As it is, there don't appear to be a soul, that's so
far satisfactory."

Again he sweeps the grassy expanse with searching glance, his face
brightening up as he observes a flock of ostriches on one side, on the
other a herd of deer--the birds stalking leisurely along, the beasts
tranquilly browsing.  Were there Indians upon the plain, it would not be
so.  Instead, either one or the other would show excitement.  The
behaviour of the dumb creatures imparting to him a certain feeling of
confidence, he says, continuing the soliloquy:--

"I think I may venture it.  Nay, I must; and there's no help for't.  We
have to get home somehow--and soon.  Ah! the Senora! poor lady!  What
will she be thinking by this time?  And what when we get back?  _Valga
me Dios_!  I don't know how I shall ever be able to break it to her, or
in what way!  It will sure drive her out of her senses, and not much
wonder, either.  To lose one of them were enough, but both, and--Well,
no use dwelling on it now; besides, there's no time to be lost.  I must
start off at once; and, maybe, as I'm riding on, I'll think of some plan
to communicate the sad news to the Senora, without giving her too sudden
a shock.  _Pobrecita_!"

At the pitying exclamation he gives a last interrogative glance over the
plain; then, with a word to his horse, and a touch of the spur, he moves
out into the open, and on; the other animal following, as before, its
rider maintaining the same distance and preserving the self-same
attitude, silent and gestureless as ever!



CHAPTER TWELVE.

SKULKING BACK.

While the gaucho and his silent companion were still in halt by the edge
of the _sumac_ wood, another horseman could be seen approaching the
place, but on the opposite side of the stream, riding direct down to the
ford.  Descried at any distance, his garb, with the caparison of his
horse--the full gaucho panoply of bitted bridle, breast-plate, _recado_,
and _caronilla_--would tell he is not an Indian.  Nor is he; since this
third traveller, so early on the road, is Rufino Valdez.  As
commissioner to the Tovas tribe, he has executed the commission with
which he was entrusted, with something besides; and is now on return to
make report to his master, El Supremo, leaving the latter to take such
other steps as may deem desirable.

The _vaqueano_ has passed the preceding night with the Indians at their
camp, leaving it long before daybreak, though Aguara, for certain
reasons, very much wished him to return with them to their town, and
proposed it.  A proposal, for reasons of his own, the cunning Paraguayan
declined, giving excuses that but ill satisfied the young cacique, and
which he rather reluctantly accepted.  He could not, however, well
refuse to let Valdez go his way.  The man was not a prisoner moreover,
his promise to be soon back, as the bearer of rich presents, was an
argument irresistible; and influenced by this, more than aught else,
Aguara gave him permission to depart.

The young chief's reasons for wishing to detain him were of a kind
altogether personal.  Much as he likes the captive he is carrying with
him, he would rather she had been made captive by other means, and in a
less violent manner.  And he is now returning to his tribe, not so
triumphantly, but with some apprehension as to how he will be received
by the elders.  What will they say when the truth is told them,--all the
details of the red tragedy just enacted?  He would lay the blame, where
most part of it properly belongs, on the shoulders of the Paraguayan,
and, indeed, intends doing so.  But he would rather have the latter with
him to meet the storm, should there be such, by explaining in his own
way, why he killed the other white man.  For Valdez had already said
something to them of an old hostility between himself and the
hunter-naturalist, knowing that the Tovas, as well as other Chaco
Indians, acknowledge the rights of the _vendetta_.

But just for the reason Aguara desires to have him along with him, is
the _vaqueano_ inclined to die opposite course; in truth, determined
upon it.  Not for the world would he now return to the Tovas town.  He
has too much intelligence for that, or too great regard for his safety--
his very life, which he believes, and with good cause, would be more
than risked, were he again to show himself among a people whose
hospitality he has so outraged.  For he knows he as done this, and that
there will surely be that storm of which the young cacique is
apprehensive--a very tempest of indignation among the elders and friends
of the deceased Naraguana, when they hear of the fate which has befallen
the harmless stranger, so long living under their late chiefs
protection.  Therefore, notwithstanding the many promises he has made,
not the slightest thought of performing any of them, or even going back
on that trail, has Rufino Valdez.  Instead, as he rides down the ford of
the stream he is thinking to himself, it will be the last time he will
have to wade across it, gleeful at the thought of having so well
succeeded in what brought him over it at all.  Pondering on something
besides, another deed of infamy yet to be done, but for which he will
not have to come so far up the Pilcomayo.

In spite of his self-gratulation, and the gleams of a joy almost
Satanic, which now and then light up his dark sinister countenance, he
is not without some apprehensions; this is made manifest by his
behaviour as he rides along.  Although making what haste he can, he does
not rush on in a reckless or careless manner.  On the contrary, with due
caution, at every turn of the path, stopping and making survey of each
new reach before entering upon it.  This he did, as the ford opened to
his view, keeping under cover of the bushes, till assured there was no
one there; then, striking out into the open ground, and riding rapidly
for it.  And while wading across the stream, his eyes are not upon the
water, but sweeping the bank up and down with glances of keen scrutiny.

As he sees no one there, nor the sign of anyone having been--for it is
not yet daylight, and too dark for him to note the tracks of Gaspar's
horse--he says with a satisfied air, "They're not likely to be coming
after the missing pair at so early an hour.  Besides, it's too soon.
They'll hardly be setting them down as lost till late last night, and so
couldn't have tracked them on here yet."

Riding up out of the water, he once more draws rein by its edge, and
sits regarding the _sumac_ grove with an expression in his eyes
strangely repulsive.

"I've half a mind to go up in there," he mutters, "and see how things
stand.  I wasn't altogether satisfied with the way we left them, and
there's just a possibility he may be still alive.  The girl gave so much
trouble in getting them parted, I couldn't be quite sure of having
killed him outright.  If not, he might manage to crawl away, or they
coming after in search of him--_Carrai_!  I'll make sure now.  It can
only delay me a matter of ten minutes, and," he adds glancing up at the
blade of his spear, "if need be, another thrust of this."

Soon as forming his devilish resolve, the assassin gives his horse a
prick of the spur, and passes on towards the _sumac_ grove, entering at
the same place as before, like a tiger skulking back to the quarry it
has killed, and been chased away from.

Once inside the thicket, he proceeds along the _tapir_ path, groping his
way in the darkness.  But he remembers it well, as well he may; and
without going astray arrives at a spot he has still better reason to
recall; that where, but a little more than twelve hours before, he
supposes himself to have committed murder!  Delayed along the narrow
tortuous track, some time has elapsed since his entering among the
_sumacs_.  Only a short while, but long enough to give him a clearer
light, for the day has meanwhile dawned, and the place is less shadowed,
for it is an open spot where the sanguinary struggle took place.

It is sufficiently clear for him, without dismounting, to distinguish
objects on the ground, and note, which at a glance he does, that one he
expected to see is not to be seen.  No murdered man there; no body,
living or dead!



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

A PARTY NOT TO BE PURSUED.

For some seconds, Rufino Valdez is in a state of semi-bewilderment, from
his lips proceeding exclamations that tell of surprise, but more
chagrin.  Something of weird terror, too, in the expression upon his
sallow, cadaverous face, as the grey dawn dimly lights it up.

"_Mil demonios_!" he mutters, gazing distractedly on the ground.  "What
does this mean?  Is it possible the _gringo's_ got away?  Possible?  Ay,
certain.  And his animal, too!  Yes, I remember we left that, fools as
we were, in our furious haste.  It's all clear, and, as I half
anticipated, he's been able to climb on the horse, and's off home!
There by this time, like enough."

With this double adjuration, he resolves upon dismounting, to make
better inspection of the place, and, if possible, assure himself whether
his victim has really survived the murderous attack.  But just as he has
drawn one foot out of the stirrup and is balancing on the other, a sound
reaches his ear, causing him to reseat himself in the saddle, and sit
listening.  Only a slight noise it was, but one in that place of
peculiar significance, being the hoof-stroke of a horse.

"Good!" he ejaculates in a whisper, "it must be his."

Hearkening a little longer, he hears the sound again, apparently further
off, and as his practised ear tells him, the distance increasing.

"It must be his horse," he reiterates, still continuing to listen.  "And
who but he on the animal's back?  Going off?  Yes; slowly enough.  No
wonder at that.  Ha! he's come to a halt.  What's the best thing for me
to do?"

He sits silently considering, but only for a few seconds; then glancing
around the glade, in which yester eve he had shed innocent blood, at the
same time losing some of his own, he sees another break among the
bushes, where the _tapir_ path goes out again.  Faint as the light still
is, it shows him some horse-tracks, apparently quite fresh, leading off
that way.

He stays not for more, but again plying the spur, re-enters the thicket,
not to go back to the ford, but on in the opposite direction.  The
_tapir_ path takes him up an acclivity, from the stream's edge to the
level of the higher plain, and against it he urges his horse to as much
speed as the nature of the ground will permit.  He has thrown away
caution now, and presses forward without fear, expecting soon to see a
man on horseback, but so badly crippled as to be easily overtaken, and
as easily overcome.

What he does see, on reaching the summit of the slope, is something very
different--two horses instead of one, with a man upon the back of each!
And though one may be wounded and disabled, as he knows him to be, the
other is not so, as he can well see.  Instead, a man in full health,
strength, and vigour, one Rufino Valdez fears as much as hates, though
hating him with his whole heart.  For it is Gaspar, the gaucho, once his
rival in the affections of a Paraguayan girl, and successful in gaining
them.

That the _vaqueano's_ fear now predominates over his antipathy is
evident from his behaviour.  Instead of dashing on after to overtake the
horsemen, who, with backs towards him, are slowly retiring, he shows
only a desire to shun them.  True, there would be two to one, and he has
himself but a single arm available--his left, broken and bandaged, being
now in a sling.  But then only one of the two would be likely to stand
against him, the other being too far gone for light.  Indeed,
Halberger--for Valdez naturally supposes it to be he--sits drooped in
his saddle, as though he had difficulty in keeping to it.  Not that he
has any idea of attacking them does the _vaqueano_ take note of this,
nor has he the slightest thought of attempting to overtake them.  Even
knew he that the wounded man were about to drop dead, he knows the other
would be more than his match, with both his own arms sound and at their
best, for they have been already locked in deadly strife with those of
the gaucho, who could have taken his life, but generously forebore.  Not
for the world would Rufino Valdez again engage in single combat with
Caspar Mendez, and soon as setting eyes on the latter he draws bridle so
abruptly that his horse starts back as if he had trodden upon a
rattlesnake.

Quieting the animal with some whispered words, he places himself behind
a thick bush, and there stays all of a tremble, the only thing stedfast
about him being his gaze, fixed upon the forms of the departing
travellers.  So carefully does he screen himself, that from the front
nothing is visible to indicate the presence of anyone there, save the
point of a spear, with dry blood upon the blade, projecting above the
bushes, and just touching the fronds of a palm-tree, its ensanguined hue
in vivid contrast with the green of the leaves, as guilt and death in
the midst of innocence and life!

Not till they have passed almost out of his sight, their heads gradually
going down behind the culms of the tall pampas grass, does Rufino Valdez
breathe freely.  Then his nerves becoming braced by the anger which
burns within--a fierce rage, from the old hatred of jealousy,
interrupted by this new and bitter disappointment, the thwarting of a
scheme, so far successful, but still only half accomplished--he gives
utterance to a string of blasphemous anathemas, with threats, in
correspondence.

"_Carajo_!" he cries, winding up with the mildest of his profane
exclamations.  "Ride on, senores, and get soon home!  While there, be
happy as you best may.  Ha, ha! there won't be much merriment in that
nest now, with the young chick out of it--pet bird of the flock; nor
long before the whole brood be called upon to forsake it.  Soon as I can
get to Assuncion and back with a dozen of our _quarteleros_, ah! won't
there be a wiping out of old scores then?  If that young fool,
Naraguana's son, hadn't shown so chicken-hearted, I might have settled
them now; gone home with captives, too, instead of empty-handed.  Well,
it won't be so long to wait.  Let me see.  Three days will take me to
Assuncion--less if this animal under me wasn't so near worn out; three
more to return with the troop.  Say a week in all; at the end of which,
if there be a man named Caspar Mendez in the land of the living, it
won't be he whose head I see out yonder.  That will be off his
shoulders, or if on them only to help hold in its place the loop-end of
my _lazo_.  But I must make haste.  For what if Halberger have
recognised me?  I don't think he did or could; 'twas too dark.  If he
have, what--ay, what?  Of course they'll know that wasn't likely to be
the last of it, and that there's something more to come.  They'd be
simpletons not to think so; and thinking it, still greater fools if they
don't take some steps to flee away from this new roost they've been
perching upon.  But whither can they?  The young Tovas chief is
compromised with them--dead declared as their enemy so long as he keeps
that pretty creature captive in his toldo; and there are others of the
tribe will stand by me, I know.  The glass beads and other glistening
baubles will secure the young, while a few golden onzas skilfully
distributed will do the same for the _sagamores_.  No fear then, no
failure yet!  With the Tovas on my side, there isn't a spot in the Chaco
to shelter them.  So, _caballeros_! you can keep on.  In a week from
this time, I hope to hold an interview with you, less distant and more
satisfactory to myself."

After delivering this quaint rigmarole, he sits watching them till their
heads finally sink below the sea of grass, the rheas feathers in
Caspar's high crowned hat being the last to disappear, as it were waving
back defiance and to the death!

Soon as they are out of sight, and he no longer fears an encounter with
his old enemy, Valdez turns to the consideration of some other things
which have appeared strange to him.  At first, why they are riding so
slowly, for as long as seen they were proceeding in a walking-gait
rarely witnessed upon the pampas, and never where the horseman is a
gaucho; for he gallops if it were but to the stream, within a stone's
throw of his solitary cabin, to fetch a jar of water!

"Nothing in that," he mutters, "now I come to think of it.  Only natural
they should be going at snail's pace.  _Carrai_! the wonder is the
_gringo_ being able for even that, or go at all.  I thought I'd given
him his _quietus_, for surely I sent my spear right through his ribs!
It must have struck button, or buckle, or something, and glinted off.
Mad fool of me, when I had him down, not to make sure of my work!  Well,
it's no use blubbering about it now.  Next time I'll take better care
how the thing's done."

After a short pause, he resumes his strain of interrogative conjecture
now on another matter, which has also struck him as being strange.

"Why are they going off that way, I wonder?  It isn't their direct route
homeward, surely?  I don't know the exact spot where the _gringo_ has
established himself; but didn't Aguara say the nearest way to it is
along the river's bank, down to their old _tolderia_?  If so, certainly
they're making a round about.  Ha!  I fancy I know the reason; natural,
too, as the other.  The Senor Ludwig must have known they were Tovas who
attacked him, and under the belief that they've gone on to their former
place of abode, dreads a second encounter with them.  No wonder he
should, having found them such treacherous allies--enemies instead of
friends.  Ha, ha, ha! won't that puzzle him?  Of course, he hasn't yet
heard of Naraguana's death--couldn't--they all said so.  Well, it's a
bit of good luck for me their going that round.  My road lies direct
down the river, and now I may proceed upon it without fear of being
spied by them.  That would never do just yet.  They shall have sight of
me soon enough--sooner than they'll like it.  And this reminds me I
mustn't waste any more time here; it's too precious.  Now off, and home
to El Supremo, who'll jump with very joy at the news I have for him."

Giving his horse a touch of the spur, he heads him along the high bank,
still keeping within the skirt of timber, and riding slowly through the
tangle of obstructing bushes; but at length getting out upon the old
trail, where it goes down to the ford, he turns along it, in the
opposite direction, towards the deserted _tolderia_.  And now, with
nothing further to obstruct him, he plies the spur vigorously, and keeps
on at full gallop, not looking ahead, however, but with eyes all the
while scanning the plain to his left, apprehensively, as fearing there
to see a tall black hat, with a bunch of ostrich feathers floating above
it.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

WHY COME THEY NOT?

A night of dread suspense has been passed at the estancia of Ludwig
Halberger.  No one there has thought of sleep.  Even the dark-skinned
domestics--faithful Guano Indians--touched with sympathy for the senora,
their mistress, do not retire to rest.  Instead, retainers all, outside
the house as within, sit up throughout the night, taking part with her
in the anxious vigil.

As the hours drag wearily along, the keener become her apprehensions;
that presentiment of the morning, which during all the day has never
left her, now pressing upon her spirit with the weight of woe itself.
She could scarce be sadder, or surer that some terrible mischance had
happened to her husband and daughter, had she seen it with her own eyes.
And were both to be brought back dead, 'twould be almost what she is
anticipating.

In vain her son Ludwig, an affectionate lad, essays to cheer her.  Do
his best to assign or invent reasons for their prolonged absence, he
cannot chase the dark shadow from her brow, nor lift the load off her
heart.  And Cypriano, who dearly loves his aunt, has no more success.
Indeed, less, since almost as much does he need cheering himself.  For
although Francesca's fate is a thing of keen inquietude to the brother,
it is yet of keener to the cousin.  Love is the strongest of the
affections.

But youth, ever hopeful, hinders them from despairing; and despite their
solicitude, they find words of comfort for her who hears them without
being comforted.

"Keep up heart, mother!" says Ludwig, feigning a cheerfulness he far
from feels.  "'Twill be all right yet, and we'll see them home to-morrow
morning--if not before.  You know that father has often stayed out all
night."

"Never alone," she despondingly answers.  "Never with Francesca.  Only
when Gaspar was along with him."

"Well, Gaspar's with him now, no doubt; and that'll make all safe.  He's
sure to have found them.  Don't you think so, Cypriano?"

"Oh! yes," mechanically rejoins the cousin, in his heart far from
thinking it so, but the reverse.  "Wherever they've gone he'll get upon
their tracks; and as Gaspar can follow tracks, be they ever so slight,
he'll have no difficulty with those of uncle's horse."

"He may follow them," says the senora, heaving a sigh, "but whither will
they lead him to.  Alas, I fear--"

"Have no fear, _tia_!" interrupts the nephew, with alacrity, an idea
occurring to him.  "I think I know what's detaining them--at least, it's
very likely."

"What?" she asks, a spark of hopefulness for an instant lighting up her
saddened eyes; Ludwig, at the same time, putting the question.

"Well," replies Cypriano, proceeding to explain, "you know how uncle
takes it, when he comes across a new object of natural history, or
anything in the way of a curiosity.  It makes him forget everything
else, and everybody too.  Suppose while riding over the campo he chanced
upon something of that sort, and stayed to secure it?  It may have been
too big to be easily brought home."

"No, no!" murmurs the senora, the gleam of hope departing suddenly as it
had sprung up.  "It cannot be that."

"But it can, and may," persists the youth, "for there's something I
haven't yet told you, _tia_--a thing which makes it more probable."

Again she looks to him inquiringly, as does Ludwig, both listening with
all ears for the answer.

"The thing I'm speaking of is an ostrich."

"Why an ostrich? your uncle could have no curiosity about that.  He sees
them every day."

"True, but it's not every day he can catch them.  And it was only
yesterday I heard him tell Caspar he wanted one, a cock bird, for some
purpose or other, though what, he didn't say.  Now, it's likely, almost
certain, that while on their way to the _tolderia_, or coming back, he
has seen one, given chase to it, leaving Francesca somewhere to wait for
him.  Well, _tia_, you know what an ostrich is to chase?  Now lagging
along as if you could easily throw the noose round its neck, then
putting on a fresh spurt--'twould tempt any one to keep on after it.
Uncle may have got tantalised in that very way, and galloped leagues
upon leagues without thinking of it.  To get back to Francesca, and then
home, would take all the time that's passed yet.  So don't let us
despair."

The words well meant, and not without some show of reason, fail,
however, to bring conviction to the senora.  Her heart is too sad, the
presentiment too heavy on it, to be affected by any such sophistry.  In
return, she says despairingly--

"No, _sobrino_! that's not it.  It your uncle had gone after an ostrich,
you forget that Caspar has gone after him.  If he had found them, they'd
all have been back before this.  _Ay de mi_!  I know they'll never be
back--never more!"

"Nay, mamma! don't say that," breaks in Ludwig, flinging his arms around
her neck, and kissing the tears from her cheek.  "What Cypriano says
appears to me probable enough, and likely to be true.  But if it isn't,
I think I can tell what is."

Again the sorrowing mother looks inquiringly up; Cypriano, in turn,
becoming listener.

"My idea," pursues Ludwig, "is that they went straight on to the
_tolderia_, and are there still--detained against their will."

Cypriano starts, saying.  "What makes you think that, cousin?"

"Because of Naraguana.  You know how the old Indian's given to drinking
_guarape_.  Every now and then he gets upon a carousal, and keeps it up
for days, sometimes weeks.  And he may be at that now, which would
account for none of them having been to see us lately.  If that's the
reason, the silly old fellow might just take it into his head to detain
father and Francesca.  Not from any ill will, but only some crazy notion
of his own.  Now, isn't that likely enough?"

"But Gaspar? they wouldn't detain him.  Nor would he dare stay, after
what I said to him at parting."

It is the senora who speaks, for Cypriano is now all absorbed in
thoughts which fearfully afflict him.

"Gaspar couldn't help himself, mamma, any more than father or sister.
If the chief be as I've said--intoxicated--all the other Indians will be
the same, sure enough; and Gaspar would have to stay with them, if they
wished it.  Now, it's my opinion they have wished it, and are keeping
all of them there for the night.  No doubt, kindly entertaining them, in
their own rough way, however much father and Francesca may dislike it,
and Gaspar growl at it.  But it'll be all right.  So cheer up, _madre
mia_!  We'll see them home in the morning--by breakfast time, or before
it."

Alas!  Ludwig's forecast proves a failure; as his mother too surely
expected it would.  Morning comes, but with it no word of the missing
ones.  Nor is any sign seen of them by anxious eyes, that from earliest
daybreak have been scanning the plain, which stretches away in front of
the estancia.  Nothing moves over it but the wild creatures, its
denizens; while above it, on widely extended wings, soars a flock of
black vultures--ill omen in that moment of doubt and fear.

And so passes the hour of breakfast, with other hours, on till it is
mid-day, but still no human being appears upon the plain.  'Tis only
later, when the sun began to throw elongated shadows, that one is seen
there, upon horseback, and going in a gallop; but he is heading _from_
the house, and not _toward_ it.  For the rider is Cypriano himself, who,
no longer able to bear the torturing suspense, has torn himself away
from aunt and cousin, to go in search of his uncle and another cousin--
the last dearer than all.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

A TEDIOUS JOURNEY.

It yet wants full two hours of sunset, as the gaucho and his companion
come within sight of the estancia.  Still, so distant, however, that the
house appears not bigger than a dove-cot--a mere fleck of yellow, the
colour of the _cana brava_, of which its walls are constructed--half
hidden by the green foliage of the trees standing around it.  The point
from which it is viewed is on the summit of a low hill, at least a
league off, and in a direct line between the house itself and the
deserted Indian village.  For although the returning travellers have not
passed through the latter place, but, for reasons already given,
intentionally avoided it, the route they had taken, now nearer home, has
brought them back into that, between it and the estancia.

A slow journey they have made.  It is all of eight hours since, at
earliest sunrise, they rode out from among the _sumac_ trees on the bank
of the branch stream; and the distance gone over cannot be much more
than twenty miles.  Under ordinary circumstances the gaucho would have
done it in two hours, or less.

As it is, he has had reasons for delaying, more than one.  First, his
desire to make the journey without being observed; and to guard against
this, he has been zig-zagging a good deal, to take advantage of such
cover as was offered by the palm-groves and scattered copses of
_quebracho_.

A second cause retarding him has been the strange behaviour of his
travelling companion, whose horse he has had to look after all along the
way.  Nothing has this rider done for himself, nor is yet doing; neither
guides the horse, nor lays hand upon the bridle-rein, which, caught over
the saddle-bow, swings loosely about.  He does not even urge the animal
on by whip or spur.  And as for word, he has not spoken one all day,
neither to the gaucho, nor in soliloquy to himself!  Silent he is, as
when halted by the edge of the _sumac_ wood, and in exactly the same
attitude; the only change observable being his hat, which is a little
more slouched over his face, now quite concealing it.

But the two causes assigned are not the only ones why they have been so
long in reaching the spot where they now are.  There is a third
influencing the gaucho.  He has not wished to make better speed.  Nor
does he yet desire it, as is evident by his actions.  For now arrived on
the hill's top, within sight of home, instead of hastening on towards it
he brings his horse to a dead halt, the other, as if mechanically,
stopping too.  It is not that the animals are tired, and need rest.  The
pause is for a different purpose; of which some words spoken by the
gaucho to himself, give indication.  Still in the saddle, his face
turned towards the distant dwelling, with eyes intently regarding it, he
says:--

"Under that roof are three hearts beating anxiously now, I know.  Soon
to be sadder, though; possibly, one of them to break outright.  _Pobere
senora_! what will she say when she hears--when she sees this?
_Santissima_! 'twill go wellnigh killing her, if it don't quite!"

While speaking, he has glanced over his shoulder at the other horseman,
who is half a length behind.  But again facing to the house, and fixing
his gaze upon it, he continues:--

"And Cypriano--poor lad!  He'll have his little heart sorely tried, too.
So fond of his cousin, and no wonder, such a sweet _chiquitita_.  That
will be a house of mourning, when I get home to it!"

Once more he pauses in his muttered speech, as if to consider something.
Then, looking up at the sun, proceeds:

"It'll be full two hours yet before that sets.  Withal I must wait for
its setting.  'Twill never do to take him home in broad daylight.  No;
she mustn't see him thus, and sha'n't--if I can help it.  I'll stop here
till it's dark, and, meanwhile, think about the best way of breaking it
to her.  _Carramba_! that will be a scene!  I could almost wish myself
without eyes, rather than witness it.  Ah! me!  It'll be enough painful
to listen to their lamentations."

In conformity with, the intention just declared, he turns his horse's
head towards a grand _ombu_--growing not far off--the same which, the
day before, guided him back to his lost way--and riding on to it pulls
up beneath its spreading branches.  The other horse, following, stops
too.  But the man upon his back stays there, while the gaucho acts
differently; dismounting, and attaching the bridles of both horses to a
branch of the tree.  Then he stretches himself along the earth, not to
seek sleep or rest, but the better to give his thoughts to reflection,
on that about which he has been speaking.

He has not been many minutes in his recumbent attitude before being
aroused from it.  With his ears so close to the ground, sounds are
carried to him from afar, and one now reaching them causes him first to
start into a sitting posture, and then stand upon his feet.  It is but
the trample of a horse, and looking in the direction whence it comes
sees the animal itself, and its rider soon is seen, recognising both.

"Cypriano!" he mechanically exclaims, adding, "_Pobrecito_!  He's been
impatient; anxious; too much to stay for my return, and now's coming
after."

It is Cypriano, approaching from the direction of the house whence he
has but lately started, and at great speed, urged on by the anxiety
which oppresses him.  But he is not heading for the _ombu_, instead,
along the more direct path to the Indian town, which would take him past
the tree at some three hundred yards' distance.

He does not pass it, nevertheless.  Before he has got half-way up the
hill, Caspar, taking the bridle of his own horse from the branch, leaps
into the saddle, and gallops down to meet him.  The gaucho has a reason
for not hailing him at a distance, or calling him to come under the
_ombu_, till he first held speech with him.

"Caspar!" shouts the youth excitedly, soon as he catches sight of the
other coming towards him.  "What news?  Oh? you've not found them!  I
see you haven't!"

"Calm yourself, young master!" rejoins the gaucho, now close up to him;
"I have found them--that is, one of them."

"Only one--which?" half distractedly interrogates the youth.

"Your uncle--but, alas--"

"Dead--dead!  I know it by the way you speak.  But my cousin!  Where is
she?  Still living?  Say so, Caspar!  Oh, say but that!"

"Come senorito, be brave; as I know you are.  It may not be so bad for
the _nina_, your cousin.  I've no doubt she's still alive, though I've
not been successful in finding her.  As for your uncle, you must prepare
yourself to see something that'll pain you.  Now, promise me you'll bear
it bravely--say you will, and come along with me!"

At this Gaspar turns his horse, and heads him back for the _ombu_, the
other silently following, stunned almost beyond the power of speech.
But once under the tree, and seeing what he there sees, it returns to
him.  Then the gaucho is witness to an exhibition of grief and rage,
both wild as ever agitated the breast of a boy.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

DEAD!

Once more the sun is going down over the pampa, but still nothing seen
upon it to cheer the eyes of the Senora Halberger, neither those first
missing, nor they who went after.  One after another she has seen them
depart, but in vain looks for their return.

And now, as she stands with eyes wandering over that grassy wilderness,
she can almost imagine it a maelstrom or some voracious monster, that
swallows up all who venture upon it.  As the purple of twilight assumes
the darker shade of night, it seems to her as though some unearthly and
invisible hand were spreading a pall over the plain to cover her dear
ones, somewhere lying dead upon it.

She is in the verandah with her son, and side by side they stand gazing
outward, as long as there is light for them to see.  Even after darkness
has descended they continue to strain their eyes mechanically, but
despairingly, she more hopeless and feeling more forlorn than ever.  All
gone but Ludwig! for even her nephew may not return.  Where Caspar, a
strong man and experienced in the ways of the wilderness, has failed to
find the lost ones, what chance will there be for Cypriano?  More like
some cruel enemy has made captives of them all, killing all, one after
the other, and he, falling into the same snare, has been sacrificed as
the rest!

Dark as is this hour of her apprehension, there is yet a darker one in
store for her; but before it there is to be light, with joy--alas!
short-lived as that bright, garish gleam of sun which often precedes the
wildest burst of a storm.  Just as the last ray of hope has forsaken
her, a house-dog, lying outstretched by the verandah starts to its feet
with a growl, and bounding off into the darkness, sets up a sonorous
baying.

Both mother and son step hastily forward to the baluster rail, and
resting hands on it, again strain their eyes outward, now as never
before, at the same time listening as for some signal sound, on the
hearing of which hung their very lives.

Soon they both hear and see what gives them gladness unspeakable, their
ears first imparting it by a sound sweeter to them than any music, for
it is the tread of horses' hoofs upon the firm turf of the plain; and
almost in the same instant they see the horses themselves, each with a
rider upon its back.

The exclamation that leaps from the mother's lips is the cry of a heart
long held in torture suddenly released, and without staying to repeat
it, she rushes out of the verandah and on across the patch of enclosed
ground--not stopping till outside the palings which enclose it.  Ludwig
following, comes again by her side, and the two stand with eyes fixed on
the approaching forms, there now so near that they are able to make out
their number.

But this gives them surprise, somewhat alarming them afresh.  For there
are but _three_ where there should be _four_.

"It must be your father and Francesca, with Caspar," says the senora,
speaking in doubt.  "Cypriano has missed them all, I suppose.  But he'll
come too--"

"No, mother," interrupts Ludwig, "Cypriano is there.  I can see a white
horse, that must be his."

"Gaspar then; he it is that's behind."

She says this with a secret hope it may be so.

"It don't look like as if Gaspar was behind," returns Ludwig, hesitating
in his speech, for his eyes, as his heart, tell him there is still
something amiss.  "Two of them," he continues, "are men, full grown, and
the third is surely Cypriano."

They have no time for further discussion or conjecture--no occasion for
it.  The three shadowy figures are now very near, and just as the
foremost pulls up in front of the palings, the moon bursting forth from
behind a cloud flashes her full light upon his face, and they see it is
Gaspar.  The figures farther off are lit up at the same time, and the
senora recognises them as her husband and nephew.  A quick searching
glance carried behind to the croups of their horses shows her there is
no one save those seated in the saddle.

"Where is Francesca?" she cries out in agonised accents.  "Where is my
daughter?"

No one makes answer; not any of them speaks.  Gaspar, who is nearest,
but hangs his head, as does his master behind him.

"What means all this?" is her next question, as she dashes past the
gaucho's horse, and on to her husband, as she goes crying out, "Where is
Francesca?  What have you done with my child?"

He makes no reply, nor any gesture--not even a word to acknowledge her
presence!  Drawing closer she clutches him by the knee, continuing her
distracted interrogatories.

"Husband! why are you thus silent?  Ludwig, dear Ludwig, why don't you
answer me?  Ah! now I know.  She is dead--dead!"

"Not _she_, but _he_," says a voice close to her ear--that of Gaspar,
who has dismounted and stepped up to her.

"He! who?"

"Alas! senora, my master, your husband."

"O Heavens! can this be true?" as she speaks, stretching her arms up to
the inanimate form, still in the saddle--for it is fast tied there--and
throwing them around it; then with one hand lifting off the hat, which
falls from her trembling fingers, she gazes on a ghastly face, and into
eyes that return not her gaze.  But for an instant, when, with a wild
cry, she sinks back upon the earth, and lies silent, motionless, the
moonbeams shimmering upon her cheeks, showing them white and bloodless,
as if her last spark of life had departed!



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

ON THE TRAIL.

It is the day succeeding that on which the hunter-naturalist was carried
home a corpse, sitting upright in his saddle.  The sun has gone down
over the Gran Chaco, and its vast grassy plains and green palm-groves
are again under the purple of twilight.  Herds of stately _quazutis_ and
troops of the _pampas_ roebuck--beautiful creatures, spotted like fawns
of the fallow-deer--move leisurely towards their watering-places, having
already browsed to satiety on pastures where they are but rarely
disturbed by the hunter, for here no sound of horse nor baying of
molossian ever breaks the stillness of the early morn, and the only
enemies they have habitually to dread are the red puma and yellow
jaguar, throughout Spanish America respectively, but erroneously, named
lion (_leon_) and tiger (_tigre)_, from a resemblance, though a very
slight one, which these, the largest of the New World's _felidae_, bear
to their still grander congeners of the Old.

The scene we are about to depict is upon the Pilcomayo's bank, some
twenty miles above the old _tomeria_ of the Tovas Indians, and therefore
thirty from the house of Ludwig Halberger--now his no more, but a house
of mourning.  The mourners, however, are not all in it, for by a
camp-fire freshly kindled at the place we speak of; two of them are seen
seated.  One is the son of the murdered man, the other his nephew; while
not far off is a third individual, who mourns almost as much as either.
Need I say it is Caspar, the gaucho?

Or is it necessary to give explanation of their being thus far from home
so soon after that sad event, the cause of their sorrow?  No.  The
circumstances speak for themselves; telling than to be there on an
errand connected with that same crime; in short, in pursuit of the
criminals.

Who these may be they have as yet no definite knowledge.  All is but
blind conjectures, the only thing certain being that the double crime
has been committed by Indians; for the trail which has conducted to the
spot they are now on, first coming down the river's bank to the branch
stream, then over its ford and back again, could have been made only by
a mounted party of red men.

But of what tribe?  That is the question which puzzles them.  Not the
only one, however.  Something besides causes them surprise, equally
perplexing them.  Among the other hoof-marks, they have observed some
that must have been made by a horse with shoes on; and as they know the
Chaco Indians never ride such, the thing strikes them as very strange.
It would not so much, were the shod-tracks only traceable twice along
the trail; that is, coming down the river and returning up again, for
they might suppose that one of the savages was in possession of a white
man's horse, stolen from some of the settlements, a thing of no uncommon
occurrence.  But then they have here likewise observed a third set of
these tracks, of older date, also going up, and a fourth, freshest of
all, returning down again; the last on top of everything else,
continuing on to the old _tolderia_, as they have noticed all the way
since leaving it.

And in their examination of the many hoof-marks by the force of the
tributary stream, up to the _sumac_ thicket--and along the _tapir_ path
to that blood-stained spot which they have just visited--the same tracks
are conspicuous amid all the others, telling that he who rode the shod
horse has had a hand in the murder, and likely a leading one.

It is the gaucho who has made most of these observations, but about the
deductions to be drawn from them, he is, for the time, as much at fault
as either of his younger companions.

They have just arrived at their present halting-place, their first camp
since leaving the _estancia_; from which they parted a little before
mid-day: soon as the sad, funeral rites were over, and the body of the
murdered man laid in its grave.  This done at an early hour of the
morning, for the hot climate of the Chaco calls for quick interment.

The sorrowing wife did nought to forbid their departure.  She had her
sorrows as a mother, too; and, instead of trying to restrain, she but
urged them to take immediate action in searching for her lost child.

That Francesca is still living they all believe, and so long as there
seemed a hope--even the slightest--of recovering her, the bereaved
mother was willing to be left alone.  Her faithful Guanos would be with
her.

It needed no persuasive argument to send the searchers off.  In their
own minds they have enough motive for haste; and, though in each it
might be different in kind, as in degree, with all it is sufficiently
strong.  Not one of them but is willing to risk his life in the pursuit
they have entered upon; and at least one would lay it down rather than
fail in finding Francesca, and restoring her to her mother.

They have followed thus far on the track of the abductors, but without
any fixed or definite plan as to continuing.  Indeed, there has been no
time to think of one, or anything else; all hitherto acting under that
impulse of anxiety for the girl's fate which they so keenly feel.  But
now that the first hurried step has been taken, and they can go no
further till another sun lights up the trail, calmer reflection comes,
admonishing them to greater caution in their movements.  For they who
have so ruthlessly killed one man would as readily take other lives--
their own.  What they have undertaken is no mere question of skill in
taking up a trail, but an enterprise full of peril; and they have need
to be cautious how they proceed upon it.

They are so acting now.  Their camp-fire is but a small one, just
sufficient to boil a kettle of water for making the _mate_, and the spot
where they have placed it is in a hollow, so that it may not be seen
from afar.  Besides, a clump of palms screens it on the western side,
the direction in which the trail leads, and therefore the likeliest for
them to apprehend danger.

Soon as coming to a stop, and before kindling the fire Gaspar has gone
all around, and made a thorough survey of the situation.  Then,
satisfied it is a safe one, he undertakes the picketing of their horses,
directing the others to set light to the faggots; which they have done,
and seated themselves beside.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

WHO RODE THE SHOD HORSE?

While waiting for the gaucho to rejoin them by the fire the two youths
are not silent, but converse upon the event which saddens and still
mystifies them.  For up till this moment they have not seen anything,
nor can they think of aught to account for the calamity which has
befallen them--the double crime that has been committed.  No more can
they conceive who have been the perpetrators; though Cypriano all along
has had his suspicions.  And now for the first time he communicates them
to his cousin, saying--

"It's been the work of Tovas Indians."

"Impossible, Cypriano!" exclaims Ludwig in surprise.  "Why should they
murder my poor father?  What motive could they have had for it?"

"Motive enough; at least one of them had."

"One! who mean you?"

"Aguara."

"Aguara!  But why he of all the others?  And for what?"

"For what?  Simply to get possession of your sister."

Ludwig starts, showing greater astonishment than ever.

"Cypriano!" he exclaims; "what do you mean?"

"Just what I've said, cousin.  You're perhaps not aware of what I've
myself known for long; that the chief's son has been fixing his eyes on
Francesca."

"The scoundrel!" cries Ludwig, with increasing indignation, for the
first time apprised of the fact thus made known to him.  Unobservant of
such things generally, it had never occurred to him to reflect on what
had long been patent to the jealous eyes of Cypriano.  Besides, the
thing seemed so absurd, even preposterous--a red-skinned savage
presuming to look upon his sister in the light of a sweetheart, daring
to love her--that the son of the Prussian naturalist, with all the
prejudices of race, could not be otherwise than incredulous of it.

"Are you sure of that?" he questions, still doubting.  "Sure of what
you've said, Cypriano?"

"Quite sure," is the confident rejoinder; "more than once I've observed
Aguara's free behaviour towards my cousin; and once would have thrashed
the impudent redskin, but for uncle interfering.  He was afraid it might
get us into trouble with Naraguana."

"But did father himself know of it?  I mean about Aguara and Francesca?"

"No.  I rather think not.  And I disliked telling him."

All this is new light to Ludwig, and turns his thoughts into the same
channel of suspicion where those of Cypriano have been already running.
Still, whatever he may think of Naraguana's son, he cannot bring himself
to believe that Naraguana has been guilty.  His father's friend, and
hitherto their protector!

"It cannot be!" he exclaims; "surely it cannot be!"

"It may be for all that, and in my opinion is.  Ah! cousin, there's no
telling how an Indian will act.  I never knew one who didn't turn
treacherous when it served his purpose.  Whether the old chief has been
so or not, I'm quite sure his son has.  Take my word for it, Ludwig,
it's the Tovas Indians who've done this deed, and it will be with them
we'll have to deal."

"But whither can they have gone? and why went they off so suddenly and
secretly, without letting father or any of us know.  All that certainly
seems strange."

"Not so strange when we think of what's happened since.  My idea is,
it's been all a planned thing.  Aguara got his father to agree to his
carrying off Francesca; and the old chief, controlled by the young one,
let him take his way.  Fearing to face uncle he first went off, taking
the whole tribe along; and they're now, no doubt, residing in some
distant part of the Chaco, where they suppose we'll never go after them.
But Francesca will be there too; and we must follow and find her--ay,
if we have to lay down our lives when she's found.  Shall we not,
cousin?"

"Yes; shall and will!" is Ludwig's rejoinder in a tone of determination;
their dialogue getting interrupted by Gaspar coming back to the
camp-fire, and saying--

"Now, _senoritos_!  It's high time we had some supper."

On making this announcement the gaucho himself sets about preparing
their evening repast.  It requires no great effort of culinary skill;
since the more substantial portion of it has been already cooked, and is
now presented in the shape of a cold shoulder of mutton, with a cake of
corn bread, extracted from a pair of _alparejas_, or saddle-bags.  In
the Chaco there are sheep--the Indians themselves breeding them--while
since settling there the hunter-naturalist had not neglected either
pastoral or agricultural pursuits.  Hence the meal from which came that
cake of maize-bread.

With these two _pieces de resistance_ nothing remains but to make a cup
of "Paraguay tea," for which Gaspar has provided all the materials,
viz., an iron kettle for boiling water, cups of cocoa-nut shell termed
_mates_--for this is the name of the vessel, not the beverage--and
certain tubes, the _bombillas_, to serve as spoons; the Paraguayan tea
being imbibed, not in the ordinary way, but sucked up through these
_bombillas_.  All the above implements, with a little sugar for
sweetening; and, lastly, the _yerba_ itself, has the thoughtful gaucho
brought along.  No milk, however; the lacteal fluid not being deemed a
necessary ingredient in the cup which cheers the Paraguayan people,
without intoxicating them.

Gaspar--as all gauchos, skilled in the concoction of it--in a short time
has the three _mates_ brimful of the brew.  Then the _bombillas_ are
inserted, and the process of sucking commences; suspended only at
intervals while the more substantial mutton and maize-bread are being
masticated.

Meanwhile, as a measure of security, the camp-fire has been
extinguished, though they still keep their places around its embers.
And while eating, converse; Cypriano imparting to Gaspar the suspicions
he has already communicated to his cousin.

It is no new idea to the gaucho; instead, the very one his own thoughts
have been dwelling upon.  For he, too, had long observed the behaviour
of the young Tovas chief towards the daughter of his _dueno_.  And what
has now occurred seems to coincide with that--all except the supposed
treachery of Naraguana.  A good judge of character, as most gauchos are,
Gaspar cannot think of the aged cacique having turned traitor.  Still,
as Ludwig, he is at a loss what to think.  For why should the Tovas
chief have made that abrupt departure from his late abiding place?  The
reason assigned by Cypriano is not, to his view, satisfactory; though he
cannot imagine any other.  So, they finish their suppers and retire to
rest, without having arrived at any certain conclusion, one way or the
other.

With heads rested upon their saddles, and their ponchos wrapped around
them, they seek sleep, Ludwig first finding it; next Cypriano, though he
lies long awake--kept so by torturing thoughts.  But tired nature at
length overpowers him, and he too sinks into slumber.

The gaucho alone surrenders not to the drowsy god; but, repelling his
attacks, still lies reflecting.  Thus run his reflections--as will be
seen, touching near the truth:

"_Carramba_!  I can think of but one man in all the world who had an
interest in the death of my dear master.  One there was who'd have given
a good deal to see him dead--that's El Supremo.  No doubt he searched
high and low for us, after we gave him the slip.  But then, two years
gone by since!  One would think it enough to have made him almost forget
us.  Forgive, no! that wouldn't be Senor Jose Francia.  He never
forgives.  Nor is it likely he has forgotten, either, what the _dueno_
did.  Crossing him in his vile purpose, was just the sort of thing to
stick in his crop for the remainder of his life; and I shouldn't wonder
if it's his hand has been here.  Odd, those tracks of a shod horse; four
times back and forward!  And the last of them, by their look, must have
been made as late as yesterday--some time in the early morning, I should
say.  Beyond the old _tolderia_, downward, they've gone.  I wish I'd
turned a bit that way as we came up, so as to be sure of it.  Well, I'll
find that out, when we get back from this pursuit; which I very much
fear will prove a wild goose chase."

For a time he lies without stirring, or moving a muscle, on his back,
with eyes seemingly fixed upon the stars, like an ancient astrologer in
the act of consulting them for the solution of some deep mystery hidden
from mortal ken.  Then, as if having just solved it, he gives a sudden
start, exclaiming:

"_Sangre de Crista_! that's the explanation of all, the whole affair;
murder, abduction, everything."

His words, though only muttered, awaken Cypriano, still only
half-asleep.

"What is it, Gaspar?" questions the youth.

"Oh, nothing, _senorito_; only a mosquito that took a fancy to stick its
bill into the bridge of my nose.  But I've given Master _Zancudo_ his
quietus; and he won't trouble me again."

Though the gaucho thinks he has at last got the clue to what has been
mystifying them, like all skilled tacticians he intends for a time
keeping it to himself.  So, saying no more, he leaves his young
companion to return to his slumbers: which the latter soon does.
Himself now more widely awake than ever, he follows up the train of
thought Cypriano had interrupted.

"It's clear that Francia has at length found out our whereabouts.  I
wonder he didn't do so long ago; and have often warned the _dueno_ of
the danger we were in.  Of course, Naraguana kept him constantly
assured; and with war to the knife between the Tovas and Paraguayans, no
wonder my poor master was too careless and confident.  But something has
happened lately to affect their relations.  The Indians moving so
mysteriously away from their old place shows it.  And these shod-tracks
tell, almost for sure, that some white man has been on a visit to them,
wherever they are now.  Just as sure about this white man being an
emissary from El Supremo.  And who would his emissary be?  Who sent on
such an errand so likely as _him_?"

The emphasis on the "him" points to some one not yet mentioned, but whom
the gaucho has in his mind.  Soon, however, he gives the name, saying:

"The scoundrel who bestrode that horse--and a thorough scoundrel too--is
Rufino Valdez.  Assassin, besides!  It's he who has murdered my master.
I'd lay my life on it."

After arriving at this conclusion, he adds:

"What a pity I didn't think of this before!  If but yesterday morning!
He must have passed along the trail going back, and alone?  Ah! the
chance I've let escape me!  Such an opportunity for settling old scores
with Senor Rufino!  Well, he and I may meet yet; and if we do, one of us
will have to stay on the spot where that encounter takes place, or be
carried from it feet foremost.  I think I know which would go that way,
and which the other."

Thus predicating, the gaucho pulls his poncho around his shoulders, and
composes himself for sleep; though it is some time before he succeeds in
procuring it.

But Morpheus coming to his aid, proves too many for the passions which
agitate him; and he at length sinks into a profound slumber, not broken
till the curassows send up their shrill cries--as the crowing of
Chanticleer--to tell that another day is dawning upon the Chaco.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

THE "LOST BALL."

Travellers on such an errand as that which is carrying the gaucho and
his youthful companions across the Chaco, do not lie abed late; and they
are up and stirring as the first streak of blue-grey light shows itself
above the horizon.

Again a tiny fire is kindled; the kettle hung over it; and the _mates_,
with the _bombillas_, called into requisition.

The breakfast is just as was their supper--cold mutton, corn bread, and
_yerba_ tea.

By the time they have despatched it, which they do in all haste, it is
clear enough to permit of their taking up the trail they have been
following.  So, saddling their horses, they return to, and proceed along
it.

As hitherto, it continues up the bank of the Pilcomayo, and at intervals
they observe the tracks of Francesca's pony, where they have not been
trampled out by the other horses behind.  And, as on the preceding day,
they see the hoof-marks of the shod animal, both going and returning--
the return track evidently the more recently made.  They notice them,
however, only up to a certain point--about twenty miles beyond the
crossing-place of that tributary stream, now so full of sad interest to
them.  Here, in a grove of _algarobias_, they come upon the spot where
those they are in pursuit of must have made their night bivouac; this
told by some fragments of food lying scattered around, and the grass
burnt in two places--large circular discs where their camp-fires had
been kindled.  The fires are out, and the ashes cold now; for that must
have been two nights before.

Dismounting, they too make halt by the _algarobia_ grove--partly to
breathe their horses, which have been all the morning kept at top speed,
through their anxiety to overtake the Indians--but more for the sake of
giving examination to the abandoned camp, in the hope that something
left there may lead to further elucidation of the crime and its causes;
possibly enable them to determine, beyond doubt, who have been its
perpetrators.

At first nothing is found to give them the slightest clue; only the
ashes and half-burned faggots of the fires, with some bits of _sipos_--
which have been cut from creeping plants entwining the trees overhead--
the corresponding pieces, in all likelihood, having been used as rope
tackle for some purpose the gaucho cannot guess.  These, and the
fragments of food already referred to, with some bones of birds clean
picked, and the shells of a half-score ostrich eggs, are all the
_debris_ they can discover.

But none of these items give any indication as to who made bivouac
there; beyond the fact, already understood and unquestioned, that they
were Indians, with the further certainty of their having stayed on the
spot over-night; this shown by the grass pressed down where their bodies
had lain astretch; as also the circular patches browsed bare by their
horses, around the picket pins which had held them.

Indians certainly; but of what tribe there is nothing on that spot to
tell--neither sign nor token.

So concluding, Cypriano and Ludwig have climbed back into their
saddles--the former terribly impatient to proceed--but Gaspar still
stays afoot, holding his horse by the bridle at long reach, and leading
the animal about from place to place, as if not yet satisfied with the
search they have made.  For there are spots where the grass is long, and
the ground rough, overgrown also with weeds and bushes.  Possibly among
these he may yet discover something.

And something he does discover--a globe-shaped object lying half-hid
among the weeds, about the size and colour of a cricket ball.  This to
you, young reader; for Gaspar knows nothing of your national game.  But
he knows everything about balls of another kind--the _bolas_--that
weapon, without which a South American gaucho would feel as a crusader
of the olden time lacking half his armour.

And it is a _bola_ that lies before him; though one of a peculiar kind,
as he sees after stooping and taking it up.  A round stone covered with
cow's skin; this stretched and sewed over it tight as that on a tennis
ball.

But to the _bola_ there is no cord attached, nor mark of where one has
ever been.  For there never has been such, as Gaspar at a glance
perceives.  Well knows the gaucho that the ball he holds in his hand has
not been one of a pair strung together--as with the ordinary _bolas_--
nor of three in like manner united, as is sometimes the case; but a
_bola_, for still it is a _bola_, of a sort different from either, both
in its make and the mode of using it, as also the effect it is designed
to produce.

"What is it, Gaspar?" simultaneously interrogate the two, as they see
him so closely examining the thing he has picked up.  At the same time
they turn their horses' heads towards him.

"_Una bola perdida_."

"Ah! a ball the Indians have left behind--lost, you mean."

"No, _senoritos_; I don't mean that, exactly.  Of course, the redskins
have left it behind, and so lost it.  But that isn't the reason of my
calling it a _bola perdida_."

"Why, then, Caspar?" asks Ludwig, with the hereditary instincts of the
_savant_, like his father, curious about all such things.  "Why do you
call it a lost ball?"

"Because that's the name we gauchos give it, and the name by which it is
known among those who make use of it--these Chaco Indians."

"And pray, what do they use it for?  I never heard of the thing.  What
is its purpose?"

"One for which, I hope, neither it nor any of its sort will ever be
employed upon us.  The Virgin forbid!  For it is no child's toy, I can
assure you, _senoritos_; but a most murderous weapon.  I've witnessed
its effects more than once--seen it flung full thirty yards, and hit a
spot not bigger than the breadth of my hand; the head of a horse,
crushing in the animal's skull as if done by a club of _quebracha_.
Heaven protect me, and you too, _muchachos_, from ever getting struck by
a _bola perdida_!"

"But why a _lost_ ball?" asks Ludwig, with curiosity still unsatisfied.

"Oh! that's plain enough," answers the gaucho.  "As you see, when once
launched there's no knowing where it may roll to; and often gets lost in
the long grass or among bushes; unlike the ordinary _bolas_, which stick
to the thing aimed at--that is, if thrown as they should be."

"What do you make of its being found here?" interrogates Cypriano, more
interested about the ball in a sense different from the curiosity felt
by his cousin.

"Much," answers Caspar, looking grave, but without offering explanation;
for he seems busied with some calculation, or conjecture.

"Indeed!" simultaneously exclaim the others, with interest rekindled,
Cypriano regarding him with earnest glance.

"Yes, indeed, young masters," proceeds the gaucho.  "The thing I now
hold in my hand has once, and not very long ago, been in the hands of a
Tovas Indian!"

"A Tovas!" exclaims Cypriano, excitedly.  "What reason have you for
thinking so?"

"The best of all reasons.  Because, so far as is known to me, no other
Chaco Indians but they use the _bola perdida_.  That ball has been
handled, mislaid, and left here behind by a Tovas traitor.  You are
right, _senorito_," he adds, speaking to Cypriano.  "Whoever may have
murdered my poor master, your uncle, Aguara is he who has carried off
your cousin."

"Let us on!" cries Cypriano, without another word.  "O, Ludwig!" he
adds, "we mustn't lose a moment, nor make the least delay.  Think of
dear Francesca in the power of that savage beast.  What may he not do
with her?"

Ludwig needs no such urging to lead him on.  His heart of brother is
boiling with rage, as that of son almost broken by grief; and away ride
they along the trail, with more haste and greater earnestness than ever.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

OBSTRUCTED BY A "BISCACHERA."

In their fresh "spurt," the trackers had not proceeded very far when
compelled to slacken speed, and finally come to a dead stop.  This from
something seen before them upon the plain which threatens to bar their
further progress--at least in the course they are pursuing.

The thing thus obstructing causes them neither surprise nor alarm, only
annoyance; for it is one with which they all are familiar--a
_biscachera_, or warren of _biscachas_.

It is scarce possible to travel twenty miles across the plains bordering
the La Plata or Parana, without coming upon the burrows of this singular
rodent; a prominent and ever-recurring feature in the scenery.  There
the _biscacha_, or _viscacha_--as it is indifferently spelt--plays
pretty much the same part as the rabbit in our northern lands.  It is,
however, a much larger animal, and of a quite different species or
genus--the _lagostoinus trichodactylus_.  In shape of head, body, and
other respects, it more resembles a gigantic rat; and, like the latter,
it has a long tapering tail, which strengthens the resemblance.  But,
unlike either rabbit or rat, its hind feet are furnished with but three
toes; hence its specific name, _trichodactylus_.  The same scarcity of
toes is a characteristic of the _agoutis, capivaras_, and so called
"Guinea pigs," all of which are cousins-german of the _biscacha_.

The latter makes its burrows very much in the same manner as the
North-American marmot (_Arctomys Ludoviciana)_, better known by the name
of "prairie dog;" only that the subterranean dwellings of the _biscacha_
are larger, from the needs of a bigger-bodied animal.  But, strange to
say, in these of the pampa there exists the same queer companionship as
in those of the prairie--a bird associating with the quadruped--a
species of owl, the _Athene cunicularia_.  This shares occupation with
the _biscacha_, as does the other, an allied species, with the prairie
dog.  Whether the bird be a welcome recipient of the beast's
hospitality, or an intruder upon it, is a question still undetermined;
but the latter seems the more probable, since, in the stomachs of owls
of the northern species, are frequently found prairie dog "pups;" a fact
which seems to show anything but amicable relations between these
creatures so oddly consorting.

There is yet another member of these communities, apparently quite as
much out of place--a reptile; for snakes also make their home in the
holes both of _biscacha_ and prairie dog.  And in both cases the reptile
intruder is a rattlesnake, though the species is different.  In these,
no doubt, the owls find their staple of food.

Perhaps the most singular habit of the _biscacha_ is its collecting
every loose article which chances to be lying near, and dragging all up
to its burrow; by the mouth of which it forms a heap, often as large as
the half of a cart-load dumped carelessly down.  No matter what the
thing be--stick, stone, root of thistle, lump of indurated clay, bone,
ball of dry dung--all seem equally suitable for these miscellaneous
accumulations.  Nothing can be dropped in the neighbourhood of a
_biscacha_ hole but is soon borne off, and added to its collection of
_bric-a-brac_.  Even a watch which had slipped from the fob of a
traveller--as recorded by the naturalist.  Darwin--was found forming
part of one; the owner, acquainted with the habits of the animal, on
missing the watch, having returned upon his route, and searched every
_biscacha_ mound along it, confident that in some one of them he would
find the missing article--as he did.

The districts frequented by these three-toed creatures, and which seem
most suitable to their habits, are those tracts of _campo_ where the
soil is a heavy loam or clay, and the vegetation luxuriant.  Its
congener, the _agouti_, affects the arid sterile plains of Patagonia,
while the _biscacha_ is most met with on the fertile pampas further
north; more especially along the borders of those far-famed thickets of
tall thistles--forests they might almost be called--upon the roots of
which it is said to feed.  They also make their burrows near the
_cardonales_, tracts overgrown by the cardoon; also a species of large
malvaceous plant, though quite different from the pampas thistles.

Another singular fact bearing upon the habits of the _biscacha_ may here
deserve mention.  These animals are not found in the Banda Oriental, as
the country lying east of the Uruguay river is called; and yet in this
district exist conditions of soil, climate, and vegetation precisely
similar to those on its western side.  The Uruguay river seems to have
formed a bar to their migration eastward; a circumstance all the more
remarkable, since they have passed over the Parana, a much broader
stream, and are common throughout the province of Entre Rios, as it name
imports, lying between the two.

Nothing of all this occupies the thoughts of the three trackers, as they
approach the particular _biscachera_ which has presented itself to their
view, athwart their path.  Of such things they neither think, speak, nor
care.  Instead, they are but dissatisfied to see it there; knowing it
will give them some trouble to get to the other side of it, besides
greatly retarding their progress.  If they ride right across it at all,
they must needs go at a snail's pace, and with the utmost
circumspection.  A single false step made by any of their horses might
be the dislocation of a joint, or the breaking of a leg.  On the pampa
such incidents are far from rare; for the burrows of the _biscachas_ are
carried like galleries underground, and therefore dangerous to any heavy
quadruped so unfortunate as to sink through the surface turf.  In short,
to ride across a _biscachera_ would be on a par with passing on
horseback through a rabbit warren.

"_Caspita_!" is the vexed exclamation of the gaucho, as he reins up in
front of the obstruction, with other angry words appended, on seeing
that it extends right and left far as the verge of vision, while forward
it appears to have a breadth of at least half a league.

"We can't gallop across that," he adds, "nor yet go at even a decent
walk.  We must crawl for it, _muchachos_, or ride all the way round.
And there's no knowing how far round the thing might force us; leagues
likely.  It looks the biggest _biscachera_ I ever set eyes on.
_Carra-i-i_!"

The final ejaculation is drawled out with a prolonged and bitter
emphasis, as he again glances right and left, but sees no end either
way.

"Ill luck it is," he continues, after completing his reconnaissance.
"Satan's own luck our coming upon this.  A whole country covered with
traps!  Well, it won't help us any making a mouth about it; and I think
our best way will be to strike straight across."

"I think so too," says Cypriano, impatient to proceed.

"Let us on into it, then.  But, _hijos mios_; have a care how you go.
Look well to the ground before you, and keep your horses as far from the
holes as you can.  Where there's two near together steer midways
between, giving both the widest berth possible.  Every one of them's a
dangerous pitfall.  _Caspita_! what am I prattling about?  Let me give
you the lead, and you ride after, track for track."

So saying, he heads his horse in among the rubbish heaps, each with its
hole yawning adjacent: the others, as admonished, close following, and
keeping in his tracks.

They move onward at a creeping pace, every now and then forced to
advance circuitously, but taking no heed of the creatures upon whose
domain they have so unceremoniously intruded.  In truth, they have no
thought about these, nor eyes for them.  Enough if they can avoid
intrusion into their dwellings by a short cut downwards.

Nor do the _biscachas_ seem at all alarmed at the sight of such
formidable invaders.  They are anything but shy creatures; instead, far
more given to curiosity; so much that they will sit squatted on their
hams, in an upright attitude, watching the traveller as he passes within
less than a score yards of them, the expression on their faces being
that of grave contemplation.  Only, if he draw too familiarly near, and
they imagine him an enemy, there is a scamper off, their short fore-legs
giving them a gait also heightening their resemblance to rats.

As a matter of course, such confidence makes them an easy prey to the
_biscacha_ catcher; for there are men who follow taking them as a
profession.  Their flesh is sweet and good to eat, while their skins are
a marketable commodity; of late years forming an article of export to
England, and other European countries.

Heeding neither the quadrupeds, nor the birds, their fellow-tenants of
the burrow--the latter perched upon the summits of the mounds, and one
after another flying off with a defiant screech as the horsemen drew
near--these, after an hour spent in a slow but diligent advance, at
length, and without accident, ride clear of the _biscachera_, and out
upon the smooth open plain beyond it.

Soon as feeling themselves on firm ground, every spur of the party is
plied; and they go off at a tearing pace, to make up for the lost time.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

A SHOULDER OUT OF JOINT.

When Gaspar, on first sighting the _biscachera_, poured forth vials of
wrath upon it, he little dreamt that another burrow of similar kind, and
almost at the very same hour, was doing him a service by causing not
only obstruction, but serious damage to the man he regards as his
greatest enemy.

This second warren lay at least a hundred miles from the one they have
succeeded in crossing, in a direction due east from the latter, and on
the straight route for the city of Assuncion.

Let us throw aside circumlocution, and at once give account of the
incident.

On this same day, and, as already said, almost the same hour, when the
trackers are brought up by the _biscachera_, a single horseman is seen
with head turned towards the Paraguay, and making as if to reach this
river; from which he is distant some eighteen or twenty miles.  He rides
at a rapid rate; and that he has been doing so for a long continuance of
time, can be told by the lagging gait of his horse, and the sweat
saturating the animal's coat from neck to croup.  For all, he slackens
not the pace; instead, seems anxious to increase it, every now and then
digging his spurs deep, and by strokes of a spear shaft he carries in
his hands, urging his roadster onward.  Anyone witness to his acting in
this apparently frantic fashion, would suppose him either demented, or
fleeing from pursuers who seek nothing less than his life.  But as the
plain over which he rides is smooth, level, and treeless for long
leagues to his rear as also to right and left, and no pursuer nor aught
of living thing visible upon it, the latter, at least, cannot be the
case.  And for the former, a glance at the man's face tells that neither
is insanity the cause of his cruel behaviour to his horse.  Rufino
Valdez--for he is the hastening horseman--if bad, is by no means mad.

Superfluous to say, what the errand pressing him to such speed.  In
soliloquy he has himself declared it: hastening to communicate news
which he knows will be welcome to the Paraguayan tyrant, and afterwards
return to Halberger's _estancia_ with a party of those hireling
soldiers--quaintly termed _cuarteleros_ from their living in barracks,
or _cuartels_.

With this sinister purpose in view, and the expectation of a rich
reward, the _vaqueano_ has given his roadster but little rest since
parting from the Tovas' camp; and the animal is now nigh broken down.
Little recks its rider.  Unlike a true gaucho, he cares not what
mischance may befall his steed, so long as it serves his present
necessity.  If it but carry him to the Paraguay, it may drop down dead
on the river's bank, for aught he will want, or think of it afterwards.

Thus free from solicitude about his dumb companion, he spurs and flogs
the poor creature to the best speed it is able to make.  Not much this;
for every now and then it totters in its steps, and threatens going to
grass, in a way different from what it might wish.

"About twenty miles," the _vaqueano_ mutters to himself, with a glance,
cast inquiringly ahead.  "It can't be more than that to the river
itself.  Question is, whether I can make it anywheres near Assuncion.
I'm not sure about this trail; evidently only a cattle run.  It may lead
me too much above or below.  In any case," he adds, "I must bring out
near one of the _guardias_, so thick along the bank, and the soldiers of
the post will ferry me across.  From there I'll have a good road to the
town."

So consoling himself, he keeps on; no longer paying much attention to
the doubtful cattle track, but rather taking guidance from the sun.
This going down is directly behind his back, and so tells him the due
course east, as well as west; for it is eastward he wishes to go.  Now,
near the horizon, it casts an elongated shadow of himself and his
animal, far to the front; and after this he rides, as though following
in the footsteps of some giant on horseback!

The sun soon after setting, the shadow changes, veering round to his
rear.  But it is now made by the moon, which is also low in the sky;
only before his face, instead of behind his back.  For it would be the
season of harvest--were such known in the Chaco--and the moon is at her
full, lighting up the _campo_ with a clearness unknown to northern
lands.

Were it otherwise, Rufino Valdez might have halted here, and been forced
to stay in the Chaco for another night.  But tempted by the bright
moonlight, and the thought of his journey so near an end, he resolves
differently; and once more pricking his tired, steed with spurs long
since blood-clotted, he again forces it into a gallop.

But the pace is only for a short while sustained.  Before going much
further he feels his horse floundering between his legs; while a glance
to the ground shows him he is riding through a _biscachera_!

Absorbed in thought--perhaps perfecting some wicked scheme--he had not
noticed the burrow till now.  Now he sees it--holes and heaps all around
him--at the same time hearing the screeches of the owls, as the
frightened birds fly up out of his path.

He is about to draw bridle, when the reins are suddenly jerked from his
grasp--by his horse, which has gone headlong to the ground!  At the same
instant he hears a sound, like the cracking of a dead stick snapped
crosswise.  It is not that, but the shank of his horse, broken above the
pastern joint!  It is the last sound he hears then, or for some time
after; he himself sustaining damage, though of a different kind--the
dislocation of a shoulder-blade--that of the arm already injured--with a
shock which deprives him of his senses.

Long lies he upon that moonlit plain, neither hearing the cries of the
night birds nor seeing the great ratlike quadrupeds that, in their
curiosity, come crowding close to, and go running around him!

And though consciousness at length returns, he remains in that same
place till morning's light--and for the whole of another day and night--
leaving the spot, and upon it his broken-legged horse, himself to limp
slowly away, leaning upon his guilty spear, as one wounded on a
battle-field, but one who has been fighting for a bad cause.

He reaches Assuncion--though not till the third day after--and there
gets his broken bones set.  But for Gaspar Mendez, there may have been
luck in that shoulder-blade being put out of joint.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

THE BAROMETER-TREE.

After passing the _biscachera_, the trackers have not proceeded far,
when Caspar again reins up with eyes lowered to the ground.  The others
seeing this, also bring their horses to a stand; then watch the gaucho,
who is apparently engaged with a fresh inspection of the trail.

"Have you found anything else?" asks Cypriano.

"No, _senorito_.  Instead, I've lost something."

"What?" inquire both, in a breath.

"I don't any longer see the tracks of that shod horse.  I mean the big
one we know nothing about.  The pony's are here, but as for the other,
they're missing."

All three now join in a search for them, riding slowly along the trail,
and in different directions backward and forward.  But after some
minutes thus passed, their search proves fruitless; no shod hoof-print,
save that of the pony, to be seen.

"This accounts for it," mutters Caspar, giving up the quest, and
speaking as to himself.

"Accounts for what?" demands Cypriano, who has overheard him.

"The return tracks we saw on the other side of the camp ground.  I mean
the freshest of them, that went over the ford of the stream.  Whoever
rode that horse, whether red or white man, has parted from the Indians
at their camping-place, no doubt after staying all night with them.  Ha!
there's something at the back of all this; somebody behind Aguara and
his Indians--that very somebody I've been guessing at.  He--to a dead
certainty."

The last sentences are not spoken aloud; for as yet he has not confided
his suspicions about Francia and Valdez to his youthful comrades.

"No matter about this shod horse and his back-track," he continues, once
more heading his own animal to the trail.  "We've now only to do with
those that have gone forward, and forward let us haste."

While speaking he strikes his ponderous spurs against his horse's ribs,
setting him into a canter, the others starting off at the same pace.

For nearly an hour they continue this rate of speed, the conspicuous
trail enabling them to travel rapidly and without interruption.  It
still carries them up the Pilcomayo, though not always along the river's
immediate bank.  At intervals it touches the water's edge, at others
parting from it; the deflections due to "bluffs" which here and there
impinge upon the stream, leaving no room for path between it and their
bases.

When nearing one of these, of greater elevation than common, Gaspar
again draws his horse to a halt; though it cannot be the cliff which has
caused him to do so.  His eyes are not on it, but turned on a tree,
which stands at some distance from the path they are pursuing, out upon
the open plain.  It is one of large size, and light green foliage, the
leaves pinnate, bespeaking it of the order _leguminosae_.  It is in fact
one of the numerous species of _mimosas_, or sensitive plants, common on
the plains and mountains of South America, and nowhere in greater
number, or variety, than in the region of the Gran Chaco.

Ludwig and Cypriano have, in the meantime, also drawn up; and turning
towards the tree at which Caspar is gazing, they see its long slender
branches covered with clusters of bright yellow flowers, these evidently
the object of his attention.  There is something about them that calls
for his closer scrutiny; since after a glance or two, he turns his
horse's head towards the tree, and rides on to it.

Arrived under its branches, he raises his hand aloft, plucks off a spray
of the flowers, and dismounting, proceeds to examine it with curious
minuteness, as if a botanist endeavouring to determine its genus or
species!  But he has no thought of this; for he knows the tree well,
knows it to possess certain strange properties, one of which has been
his reason for riding up to it, and acting as he now does.

The other two have also drawn near; and dismounting, hold their horses
in hand while they watch him with wondering eyes.  One of them cries
out--

"What now, Caspar?  Why are you gathering those flowers?"  It is
Cypriano who speaks, impatiently adding, "Remember, our time is
precious."

"True, master," gravely responds the gaucho; "but however precious it
is, we may soon have to employ it otherwise than in taking up a trail.
If this tree tells truth, we'll have enough on our hands to take care of
ourselves, without thinking of Indians."

"What mean you?" both interrogated together.

"Come hither, _senoritos_, and set your eyes on these flowers!"

Thus requested they comply, leading their horses nearer to the tree.

"Well?" exclaims Cypriano, "I see nothing in them; that is, nothing that
strikes me as being strange."

"But I do," says Ludwig, whose father had given him some instruction in
the science of botany.  "I observe that the corollas are well nigh
closed, which they should not be at this hour of the day, if the tree is
in a healthy condition.  It's the _uinay_; I know it well.  We have
passed several on the way as we started this morning, but I noticed none
with the flowers thus shrivelled up."

"Stand still a while," counsels Gaspar, "and watch them."

They do as desired, and see what greatly surprises them.  At least
Cypriano is surprised; for the young Paraguayan, unlike his half-German
cousin, unobservant of Nature generally, has never given a thought to
any of its particular phenomena; and that now presented to his gaze is
one of the strangest.  For while they stand watching the _uinay_, its
flowers continue to close their corollas, the petals assuming a shrunk,
withered appearance.

The gaucho's countenance seems to take its cue from them, growing graver
as he stands contemplating the change.

"_Por Dios_!" he at length exclaims, "if that tree be speaking truth,
and I never knew of the _uinay_ telling lies, we'll have a storm upon us
within twenty minutes' time; such a one as will sweep us out of our
saddles, if we can't get under shelter.  Ay, sure it's going to be
either a _temporal_ or _tormenta_!  And this is not the where to meet
it.  Here we'd be smothered in a minute, if not blown up into the sky.
Stay!  I think I know of a place near by, where we may take refuge
before it's down upon us.  Quick, _muchachos_!  Mount, and let us away
from here.  A moment lost, and it may be too late; _vamonos_!"

Leaping back into their saddles, all three again go off in a gallop; no
longer upon the Indian trail, but in a somewhat different direction, the
gaucho guiding and leading.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

THE CAPTIVE TRAIN.

Just about the same time that the party of trackers had turned to take
departure from the barometer-tree, a cavalcade of a very different kind,
and composed of a greater number of individuals, is moving over the
plain, some forty or fifty miles distant.  It is the party being
tracked; Aguara and his band of young braves on return to the _tolderia_
of their tribe; the one now become their permanent place of abode.

More than one change has taken place in the Indian cohort since it
passed over the same ground going downward.  In number it is still the
same; but one of them does not sit erect upon his horse; instead, lies
bent across the animal's back, like a sack of corn.  There he is fast
tied to keep him from tailing off, for he could do nothing to prevent
this--being dead!  He it was who came forth from the _sumac_ grove
wounded by Halberger's bullet, and the wound has proved fatal; this
accounting for the pieces of _sipos_ seen at their camping-place.

Another change in the composition of the party is, that the white man,
Valdez, is no longer with it.  Just as Gaspar had conjectured, from
seeing the return tracks of his horse, he had parted company with the
Indians at their first encampment, on the night after the murder.
Another and very different individual, has taken his place at the head
of the troop.  The daughter of the murdered man who now rides by the
side of the young Tovas chief!

Though a captive, she is not bound.  They have no fear of her attempting
to escape; nor does she even think of it.  Though ever so well mounted,
she knows such an attempt would be idle, and on her diminutive roadster,
which she still rides, utterly hopeless.  Therefore, since the moment of
being made captive, no thought of escaping by flight had even entered
her mind.

With her long yellow hair hanging dishevelled over her shoulders, her
cheeks white as lilies, and an expression of utter woe in her eyes, she
sits her saddle seemingly regardless of where she is going, or whether
she fall off and get trampled under the hoofs of the horses coming
behind.  It alone, her pony might wander at will; but alongside Aguara's
horse it keeps pace with the latter, its meek, submissive look, seeming
to tell of its being as much a prisoner as its mistress.

Beyond the bereavement she has suffered by her father's death--for she
saw him struck down, and believes him to be dead--no ill-treatment has
been offered her: not even insult.  Instead, the young cacique has been
making efforts to gain her good will!  He pretends innocence of any
intent to take her father's life, laying it all on the shoulders of
Valdez.  Giving reasons too, not without some significance, and an air
of probability.  For was not the _vaqueano_ an old enemy of her father,
while they were resident in Paraguay?  The young Tovas chief has learnt
this from Valdez himself, and does not fail to speak of it to his
prisoner.  Further, he pretends it was on account of this very crime the
_vaqueano_ has committed, that he parted company with them--in short,
fled, fearing punishment had he accompanied them back to their town.

In this manner the wily Indian does all he can to mislead his captive,
as they journey along together.

Captive, he does not call her; in this also feigning pretence.  He tells
her that the reason for their not taking her direct to the _estancia_
is, because of a party of Guaycurus, their enemies, being out on the war
path, and it was to discover the whereabouts of these he and his
followers were out scouting, when the sad mischance, as he flippantly
terms it, arose.  That having learnt where the hostile Indians were, he
had needs return at once and report to the warriors of his tribe; thus
the excuse for his not seeing her to her home.  They could not leave her
alone in the wilderness, and therefore of necessity she was going with
them to their town; afterwards to be taken back to the _estancia_--to
her mother.  With such false tales, cunningly conceived, does he
endeavour to beguile the ears of his captive.

For all that they are not believed; scarcely listened to.  She, to whom
they are told, has reasons for discrediting them.  Though but a child in
years, Francesca Halberger is not childish in understanding.  The
strange experiences and perils through which she, and all related to
her, had passed, have given her the discernment of a more mature age;
and well comprehends she her present situation, with other misfortunes
that have led to it.  She is not ignorant of the young chief's
partiality for herself; more than once made manifest to her in signs
unmistakable--by acts as well as words.  Besides, what he is not aware
of, she had overheard part of the speech which passed between him and
the _vaqueano_, as the latter was entering the _sumac_ grove, to do that
deed which has left her without a father.  Instead, therefore, of
Aguara's words deceiving her into a false confidence, they but
strengthen the feeling of repulsion she has all along had for him.
Whether listening or not, she makes no reply to what he says, nor even
deigns to look at him.  Sitting listless, dejected, with her eyes
habitually bent upon the ground, she rides on as one who has utterly
abandoned herself to despair.  Too sad, too terribly afflicted with what
is past, she appears to have no thoughts about the future, no hopes.
Or, if at intervals one arises in her mind, it rests not on him now by
her side, but her father.  For as yet she knows not that Naraguana is
dead.

If somewhat changed the _personnel_ of the Indian troop, much more is it
altered in the general aspect and behaviour of those who compose it--a
very contrast to what was exhibited on their way downward.  No longer
mirthful, making the welkin ring with their jests and loud laughter;
instead, there is silence upon their lips, sadness in their hearts, and
gloom--even fear--on their faces.  For they are carrying home one of
their number a corpse, and dread telling the tale of it.  What will the
elders say, when they hear what has occurred?  What do?

The feeling among Aguara's followers may be learnt from a dialogue,
carried on between two of them who ride in the rear of the troop.  They
have been speaking of their paleface captive, and extolling her charms,
one of them saying how much their young cacique is to be envied his good
luck, in possession of such a charming creature.

"After all, it may bring him into trouble," suggests the more sage of
the speakers, adding, "ay, and ourselves as well--every one of us."

"How that," inquires the other.

"Well; you know, if Naraguana had been living, he would never have
allowed this."

"But Naraguana is not living, and who is to gainsay the will of Aguara?
He's now our chief, and can do as he likes with this captive girl, or
any other.  Can't he?"

"No; that he can't.  You forget the elders.  Besides, you don't seem to
remember the strong friendship that existed between our old cacique and
him the _vaqueano_ has killed.  I've heard say that Naraguana, just
before his death, in his last words, left a command we should all stand
by the palefaced stranger, her father, and protect him and his against
every enemy, as long as they remained in the Chaco.  Strange protection
we've given him!  Instead, help to the man who has been his murderer!
And now returning home, with his daughter a captive!  What will our
people think of all this?  Some of them, I know, were as much the white
man's friend almost as Naraguana himself.  Besides, they won't like the
old cacique's dying injunction having been thus disregarded.  I tell
you, there'll be trouble when we get back."

"No fear.  Our young chief is too popular and powerful.  He'll not find
any one to oppose his will; which, as I take it, is to make this little
paleface his wife, and our queen.  Well, I can't help envying him; she's
such a sweet thing.  But won't the Tovas maidens go mad with jealousy!
I know one--that's Nacena--"

The dialogue is interrupted by a shout heard from one who rides near the
front of the troop.  It is a cry as of alarm, and is so understood by
all; at the same time all comprehending that the cause is something seen
afar off.

In an instant every individual of the party springs up from his sitting
posture, and stands erect upon the back of his horse, gazing out over
the plain.  The corpse alone lies still; the captive girl also keeping
her seat, to all seeming heedless of what has startled them, and caring
not what new misfortune may be in store for her.  Her cup of sorrow is
already full, and she recks not if it run over.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

CAUGHT IN A DUST-STORM.

At the crisis described, the Indian party is no longer travelling upon
the Pilcomayo's bank, nor near it.  They have parted from it at a point
where the river makes one of its grand curves, and are now crossing the
neck of the peninsula embraced within its windings.  This isthmus is in
width at least twenty miles, and of a character altogether different
from the land lying along the river's edge.  In short, a sterile,
treeless expanse, or "travesia"--for such there are in the Chaco--not
barren because of infertility in the soil, but from the want of water to
fertilise it.  Withal, it is inundated at certain periods of the year by
the river's overflow, but in the dry season parched by the rays of a
tropical sun.  Its surface is then covered with a white efflorescence,
which resembles a heavy hoar frost; this, called _salitre_, being a sort
of impure saltpetre, left after the evaporation and subsidence of the
floods.

They have entered this cheerless waste, and are about midway across it,
when the cry of alarm is heard; he who gave utterance to it being older
than the others, and credited with greater knowledge of things.  That
which had caught his attention, eliciting the cry, is but a phenomenon
of Nature, though not one of an ordinary kind; still, not so rare in the
region of the Chaco; since all of them have more than once witnessed it.
But the thing itself is not yet apparent save to him who has shouted,
and this only by the slightest sign giving portent of its approach.  For
it is, in truth, a storm.

Even after the alarmist has given out his warning note, and stands on
his horse's hips, gazing off in a certain direction, the others, looking
the same way, can perceive nothing to account for his strange behaviour.
Neither upon the earth, nor in the heavens, does there appear anything
that should not be there.  The sun is coursing through a cloudless sky,
and the plain, far as eye can reach, is without animate object upon it;
neither bird nor beast having its home in the _salitre_.  Nothing
observable on that wide, cheerless waste, save the shadows of themselves
and their horses, cast in dark _silhouette_ across the hoary expanse,
and greatly elongated; for it is late in the afternoon, and the sun
almost down to the horizon.

"What is it?" asks Aguara, the first to speak, addressing himself to the
Indian who gave out the cry.  "You appear to apprehend danger?"

"And danger there is, chief," returns the other.  "Look yonder!"  He
points to the level line between earth and sky, in the direction towards
which they are travelling.  "Do you not see something?"

"No, nothing."

"Not that brown-coloured stripe just showing along the sky's edge, low,
as if it rested on the ground?"

"Ah, yes; I see that.  Only a little mist over the river, I should say."

"Not that, chief.  It's a cloud, and one of a sort to be dreaded.  See!
it's rising higher, and, it I'm not mistaken, will ere long cover the
whole sky."

"But what do you make of it?  To me it looks like smoke."

"No; it isn't that either.  There's nothing out that way to make fire--
neither grass nor trees; therefore, it can't be smoke."

"What, then?  You appear to know!"

"I do.  'Tis _dust_."

"Dust!  A drove of wild horses?  Or may they be mounted?  Ah! you think
it's a party of Guaycurus?"

"No, indeed.  But something we may dread as much--ay, more--than them.
If my eyes don't deceive me, that's a _tormenta_."

"Ha!" exclaims the young cacique, at length comprehending.  "A
_tormenta_, you think it is?"

The others of the band mechanically mutter the same word, in like tones
of apprehension.  For although slow to perceive the sign, even yet but
slightly perceptible, all of them have had experience of the danger.

"I do, chief," answers he interrogated.  "Am now sure of it."

While they are still speaking it--the cloud--mounts higher against the
blue background of sky, as also becomes more extended along the line of
the horizon.  Its colour, too, has sensibly changed, now presenting a
dun yellowish appearance, like that mixture of smoke and mist known as a
"London fog."  But it is somewhat brighter, as though it hung over,
half-concealing and smothering, the flames of some grand conflagration.

And as they continue regarding it, red corruscations begin to shoot
through its opaque mass, which they can tell to be flashes of lightning.
Yet all this while, upon the spot where they have pulled up the sun is
shining serenely, and the air still and tranquil as if gale or breeze
had never disturbed it!

But it is a stillness abnormal, unnatural, accompanied by a scorching
heat, with an atmosphere so close as to threaten suffocation.

This, however, lasts but a short while.  For in less than ten minutes
after the cloud was first descried, a wind reaches them blowing directly
from it at first, in puffs and gusts, but cold as though laden with
sleet, and so strong as to sweep several of them from the backs of their
horses.  Soon after all is darkness above and around them.  Darkness as
of night; for the dust has drifted over the sun, and its disc is no
longer visible--having disappeared as in a total eclipse, but far more
suddenly.

It is too late for them to retreat to any place of shelter, were one
ever so near, which there is not.  And well know they the danger of
being caught in that exposed spot; so well that the scene now exhibited
in their ranks is one of fright and confusion.

Terrified exclamations are sent up on all sides, but only one voice of
warning, this from him who had first descried the cloud.

"From your horses!" he calls out, "take shelter behind them, and cover
your faces with your _jergas_!  If you don't you'll be blinded
outright."

His counsel acts as a command; though it is not needed, all of them, as
himself, sensible of the approaching peril.  In a trice they have
dropped to the ground, and plucking the pieces of skins which serve them
as saddles, from the backs of their horses, muffle up their faces as
admonished.  Then each clutching the halter of his own, and holding it
so as to prevent the animal changing position, they await the onslaught
of the storm.

Meanwhile, Aguara has not been inactive.  Instead of having seized the
pony's bridle-rein, he has passed round to the rear of the troop,
leading his captive along with him; for the wind strikes them in front.
There in the lee of all, better sheltered, he dismounts, flings his arms
around the unresisting girl, and sets her afoot upon the ground.  He
does all this gently, as though he were a friend or brother!  For he has
not lost hope he may yet win her heart.

"Star of my life," he says to her, speaking in the Tovas tongue, which
she slightly understands.  "As you see we're in some danger, but it will
soon pass.  Meanwhile, we must take steps to guard against it.  So,
please to lie down, and this will protect you."

While speaking, he takes the plumed cloak from his shoulders and spreads
it over those of the captive, at the same time covering her head with
it, as if it were a hood.  Then he gently urges her to lie on the
ground.

To all she submits mechanically, and without offering opposition; though
she little cares about the dust-storm--whether it blind or altogether
destroy her.

Soon after it is on and over them in all its fury, causing their horses
to cower and kick, many screaming in affright or from the pain they have
to endure.  For not only does the _tormenta_ carry dust with it, but
sand, sticks, and stones, some of the latter so large and sharp as often
to inflict severe wounds.  Something besides in that now assailing them;
which sweeping across the _salitral_ has lifted the sulphureous
efflorescence, that beats into their eyes bitter and blinding as the
smoke of tobacco.  But for having muffled up their faces, more than one
of the party would leave that spot sightless, if not smothered outright.

For nearly an hour the tempest continues, the wind roaring in their
ears, and the dust and gravel clouting against their naked skins, now
and then a sharp angled pebble lacerating them.  At times the blast is
so strong they have difficulty in keeping their places; still more in
holding their horses to windward.  And all the while there is lightning
and thunder, the last loud and rolling continuously.  At length the
wind, still keenly cold, is accompanied by a sleety rain, which pours
upon them in torrents, chill as if coming direct from the snowy slopes
of the Cordilleras--as in all likelihood it does.

They know that this is a sign of the _tormenta_ approaching its end,
which soon after arrives; terminating almost as abruptly as it had
begun.  The dust disappears from the sky, that which has settled on the
ground now covering its surface with a thick coating of mud--converted
into this by the rain--while the sun again shines forth in all its
glory, in a sky bright and serene as if cloud had never crossed it!

The _tormenta_ is over, or has passed on to another part of the great
Chaco plain.

And now the Tovas youths, their naked skins well washed by the shower,
and glistening like bronze fresh from the furnace--some of them,
however, bleeding from the scratches they have received--spring upon
their feet, re-adjust the _jergas_ on the backs of their horses, and
once more remount.

Then their young chief, by the side of the captive girl, having returned
to his place at their head, they forsake that spot of painful
experience, and continue their journey so unexpectedly interrupted.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

A RUSH FOR SHELTER.

It is scarce necessary to say, that the storm that over took the Indian
party was the same of which the barometer-tree had given warning to
Gaspar and his young companions.  But although many a long league
separated the Indians from those following upon their trail, and it
would take the latter at least another day to reach the spot where the
former had met the _tormenta_, both were beset by it within less than
half-an-hour of the same time.  The Indians first, of course, since it
came from the quarter towards which all were travelling, and therefore
in the teeth of pursuers as pursued.

But the trackers were not called upon to sustain its shock, as those
they were tracking up.  Instead of its coming upon them in an exposed
situation, before its first puffs became felt they were safe out of
harm's way, having found shelter within the interior of a cavern.  It
was this Gaspar alluded to when saying, he knew of a place that would
give them an asylum.  For the gaucho had been twice over this ground
before--once on a hunting excursion in the company of his late master;
and once at an earlier period of his life on an expedition of less
pleasant remembrance, when, as a captive himself, he was carried up the
Pilcomayo by a party of Guaycuru Indians, from whom he was fortunate in
making escape.

His knowledge of the cave's locality, however, was not obtained during
his former and forced visit to the district they are now traversing; but
in that made along with the hunter-naturalist; who, partly out of
curiosity, but more for geological investigation, had entered and
explored it.

"It's by the bank of a little _arroyo_ that runs into the Pilcomayo,
some three or four miles above the big river.  And, as I take it, not
much further from where we are now.  But we must make a cross-cut to
reach it in the quickest time."

This Gaspar says as they part from the barometer-tree.  Following out
his intention he heads his horse towards the open plain, and forsakes
the Indian trail, the others following his lead.

They now go in full gallop, fast as their horses can carry them; for
they have no longer any doubts about the coming on of a _tormenta_.  The
forecast given them by the flowers of the _uinay_ is gradually being
made good by what they see--a dun yellowish cloud rising against the
horizon ahead.  The gaucho well understands the sign, soon as he sees
this recognising it as the dreaded dust-storm.

It approaches them just as it had done the Indians.  First the
atmosphere becoming close and hot as the interior of an oven; then
suddenly changing to cold, with gusts of wind, and the sky darkening as
though the sun were eclipsed.

But, unlike the others, they are not exposed to the full fury of the
blast; neither are they in danger of being blinded by the sulphureous
dust, nor pelted with sticks and stones.  Before the storm has thus
developed itself they reach the crest of the cliff overhanging the
_arroyo_; and urging their horses down a sloping path remembered by
Gaspar, they get upon the edge of the stream itself.  Then, turning up
it, and pressing on for another hundred yards, they arrive at the
cavern's mouth, just as the first puff of the chilly wind sweeps down
the deep rut-like valley through which the _arroyo_ runs.

"In time!" exclaims the gaucho.  "Thanks to the Virgin, we're in time!
with not a second to spare," he adds, dismounting, and leading his horse
into the arching entrance, the others doing the same.

Once inside, however, they do not give way to inaction; for Gaspar well
knows they are not yet out of danger.

"Come, _muchachos_," he cries to them, soon as they have disposed of
their animals, "there's something more to be done before we can call
ourselves safe.  A _tormenta's_ not a thing to be trifled with.  There
isn't corner or cranny in this cave the dust wouldn't reach to.  It
could find its way into a corked bottle, I believe.  _Carramba_! there
it comes!"

The last words are spoken as a whiff of icy wind, now blowing furiously
down the ravine, turns into the cavern's mouth, bringing with it both
dust and dry leaves.

For a moment the gaucho stands in the entrance gazing out; the others
doing likewise.  Little can they see; for the darkness is now almost
opaque, save at intervals, when the ravine is lit up by jets of forked
and sheet lightning.  But much do they hear; the loud bellowing of wind,
the roaring of thunder, and the almost continuous crashing of trees,
whose branches break off as though they were but brittle glass.  And the
stream which courses past close to the cave's mouth, now a tiny mulct,
will soon be a raging, foaming torrent, as Gaspar well knows.

They stay not to see that, nor aught else.  They have other work before
them--the something of which the gaucho spoke, and to which he now
hastily turns, crying out--

"Your ponchos, my lads!  Get them, quick!  We must close up the entrance
with them, otherwise we'll stand a good chance of being smothered.
_Vaya_!"

Neither needs urging to haste.  Young as they are, they too have had
experience of a _tormenta_.  More than once they have witnessed it,
remembering how in their house, near Assuncion, it drove the dust
through the keyholes of me doors, finding its way into every crack and
crevice, making ridges across the floor, just as snow in northern
lands--of which, however, they know nothing, save from what they have
read, or been told by one who will tell them of such things no more.

In a few seconds' time, three ponchos--for each possesses one--are
snatched from the cantles of their saddles, and as speedily spread
across the entrance of the cave--just covering it, with not an inch to
spare.  With like speed and dexterity, they join them together, in a
rough but firm stitching done by the nimble fingers of the gaucho--his
thread a strip of thong, and for needle the sharp terminal spine of the
_pita_ plant--one of which he finds growing near by.  They attach them
at top by their knife blades stuck into seams of the stratified rock,
and at bottom by stones laid along the border; these heavy enough to
keep them in place against the strongest gust of wind.

All this done, they breathe freely, now feeling secure; and after a last
look at the screen to assure himself of its being reliable, the gaucho
turns to his companions, quietly remarking, "Now, _muchachos_, I fancy
we need have no more fear of Mr Tormenta."



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

AN UNWELCOME INTRUDER.

As they are now in the midst of amorphous darkness, it might be imagined
nothing could be done but keep their place, or go groping idly about.
Not so, however.  Gaspar has no intention of letting the time pass in
such an unprofitable manner; instead, he at once resumes speech, and
along with it action.

"Now, young masters," he says, making a movement towards the place where
they had left their horses, "since we are shut up here, I don't see why
we shouldn't make ourselves as comfortable as we can under the
circumstances; and the best way to begin will be with what's usually the
winding up of a day's work--that's supper.  Our bit of rough riding has
given me the appetite of a wolf, and I feel as if I could eat one
red-raw.  Suppose we have another set-to at the shoulder of mutton?
What say you, _senoritos_?"

They answer in the affirmative, both being as hungry as himself.

"We sha'n't have to eat in darkness either," he proceeds.  "Luckily,
I've brought with me a bit of candle--best wax at that.  A costly affair
it was when whole; being one of a pair I had to pay for when my poor
mother died, to be used at her funeral, and for which the rascally
_padres_ charged me five _pesos_ a-piece--because consecrated, as they
called out.  As they stood me so much, I thought I might as well save
the stumps; which I did, and have got one of them here.  Starting out,
it occurred to me we might some time need it, as you see we do now; so I
slipped it into my saddle-bags."

While speaking, he has moved on to his horse, and got beside him without
much straying; for his former visit to the cavern has made him familiar
with its topography, and he could go anywhere through it without a
glimmer of light to guide him.  Plunging his hand into his ample
_alparejas_, and rummaging about for a short while, he gets hold of the
bit of unburnt candle--souvenir of a melancholy ceremony, which,
however, he had long ceased to mourn over, since his mother has been
dead for many years.

He has drawn it out; removed the scrap of buckskin in which it was
wrapped; and with flint and steel is proceeding to strike a light, when
a sound reaches his ears that causes him to suspend operations, and
stand intently listening for its repetition.

Simultaneously has it been heard by the other two, as also by the three
horses; these last, on hearing it, showing their affright by a series of
snorts, while they dance about over the floor of the cavern.  For it is
a sound which, heard in any part of tropical America, whether on sunlit
plain or in shady forest, strikes terror to the heart of all who hear
it, be it man, bird, or beast.  No living creature in that land but
dreads the cry of the jaguar.

"_El tigre_!" exclaims Gaspar in a subdued tone, his voice half-drowned
by a second roar from the great feline, this time louder and more
prolonged.

"Where is it?" they ask one another hurriedly, and in whispers, fearing
to speak out.  For loud as is the creature's voice as it reverberates
through the hollow cavity, what with the bellowing of the wind and the
trampling of their horses' hoofs on the hard rock, it is impossible to
tell whence it came, and whether the jaguar be outside the cavern or
within.  About this there is a difference of opinion among them, but
only for an instant--all three agreeing, as for the third time the
terrifying note is sounded.  Then they believe it to have come from
outside.  But again they as quickly differ, at hearing a fourth
repetition of it; this as certainly seeming to have been uttered inside
the cavern.  Once more changing their minds, when, for the fifth time,
the beast gives out its grand roar; since along with it they hear
another sound as of some heavy body hurling itself against the screen of
spread ponchos, too solid to be mistaken for a puff of wind.  Beyond
doubt, it is the tiger seeking admittance to the cave!

Though but a few minutes have elapsed since its first fierce note fell
upon their ears, they have not stood idly listening.  Instead, all three
have groped the way to their horses, got hold of their guns, and
returned to take stand near the entrance.  Gaspar, moreover, has lit the
stump of candle, and stuck it upon a projecting point of rock; for he
knows the _tigre_, like other cats, can see in the darkness, and would
thus have the advantage of them.

Soon again it treats them to another bit of trumpeting, this time more
angrily intoned, as if demanding shelter from the storm, and no doubt as
much surprised as puzzled at the strange obstruction debarring entrance
to the cave--in all likelihood its lair.

They have stationed themselves in a line facing the screen, and with
guns cocked stand ready to fire at the beast, should it persist in its
intention to enter.  But now, with the light shining upon the ponchos,
they see what appears to be its body pressing against these from the
outside, though quickly withdrawn, as if the creature recoiled from a
thing that awes while perplexing it.

"Hadn't we better fire at it through the ponchos?  Some one of us may
hit it."

Cypriano makes the suggestion.

"No," dissents Gaspar, "we might all miss that way; and if we did,
'twould drive the _tigre_ mad, and then--"

He is interrupted by another cry from the jaguar; this a fierce scream,
showing the animal already maddened enough, or, at all events, madly
impatient, and determined no longer to endure exclusion from the cave.
For while still continuing that cry, it bounds up against the screen,
plucking the knives from their places, tossing off the stones, and
laying the entrance open.  A gust of wind entering blows out the candle,
and all is again darkness.  But not silence; for there are noises close
to where they stand, which they know must proceed from the jaguar,
though different from its former utterances, and to them quite
incomprehensible--a succession of growls, snorts, and coughs, as if the
beast were being suffocated; while at the same time a heavy body seems
to be tumbling and struggling over the floor of the cavern!

"By Saint Jago!" cries Gaspar, first to comprehend what it means, "the
brute's caught in our ponchos!  He's bagged--smothered up!  Fire into
him!  Aim where you hear the noise.  _Tira_!"

At the word, their three guns go off together; and then, to make sure,
another shot additional from the double barrelled piece of Cypriano;
Ludwig's gun being the rifle that belonged to his father, found where
the latter had fallen.

And sure work have their shots made of it.  For as they stand in the
darkness listening, they hear neither growl, nor snort, nor coughing;
but, instead, only the wailing of wind and the rumbling of thunder.

"Dead as a door-nail!" pronounces Gaspar, feeling his way to where he
had stuck the bit of bees'-wax, and once more setting it alight.  Then
returning towards the entrance, he sees that he has in everything
rightly conjectured.  For there, enveloped in the ponchos, with its
claws stuck fast into the close-woven fabric of wool, lies the great
spotted cat--not at full stretch, but doubled up into a shapeless lump,
as it had worked itself in its efforts to get free!  Though all their
shots had hit it, some of the bullets passing through its body, a
quivering throughout its frame tells that life is not yet extinct.  But
it is extinguished instantly after, by Gaspar laying hold of one of the
knives, and giving _el tigre_ the _coup de grace_ by a cut across its
throat; as he does so, saying--

"That's for your impudence--intruding yourself on three hungry
travellers about sitting down to supper!"



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

BETWEEN TORRENT AND TIGER.

Having dragged the dead beast out of their ponchos, they are about to
re-adjust these as before, when it strikes them there is no longer any
need for closing the cave's mouth.  The first blast of the _tormenta_
having blown over, the dust borne upon it is now in less volume; while
the wind, rushing direct down the ravine, carries everything along with
it--only an occasional whiff seeking entrance into the cave.

"For the matter of our being blinded," remarks the gaucho in perceiving
this, "we needn't trouble about shutting the door again.  Though if I'm
not greatly out in my reckoning, there's something else may need keeping
out--a thing more dangerous than dust."

"What thing?" he is asked.

"Another _tigre_.  I never knew one of these spotted beauties to be
about alone.  They always hunt in couples; and where there's a female,
the male is sure to be with her.  As you see, it's the lady we've closed
accounts with, and for certain the gentleman isn't far-off.  Out in that
storm, he'll be in the same way making for this snug shelter.  So we may
look for his worship to present himself at any moment."

Ludwig and Cypriano turn their eyes towards the entrance, as though they
expected even then to behold the dreaded intruder.

"To keep him out," pursues Gaspar in a more serious vein, "'twill be no
use putting up the ponchos.  We can't trust to the old Tom entangling
himself, as did his _esposa_.  That was all an accident.  And yet we're
not safe if we leave the entrance open.  As we've got to stay here all
night, and sleep here, we daren't close an eye so long as he's ranging
about.  Instead, we'd have to lie awake, and on the alert."

"Why can't we wall it up with those stones?"  Cypriano thus
interrogates, pointing to some scattered boulders lying about the cave--
large blocks that have broken off from its roof, and fallen upon the
floor.

"Not a bad idea," rejoins Gaspar, "and one quite practicable," he adds,
with his eye taking in the dimensions of the cavern's mouth, but little
larger than an ordinary stable door.  "You're right, Senor Cypriano; we
can do that."

Without further speech, they set about the work; first rolling the
larger masses of stalactite towards the entrance to form the foundation
of the wall.  But before having got half-a-dozen of them fixed in their
places, a sound reaches their ears which causes them suddenly to desist;
for all three recognise it as coming from the throat of a jaguar!  Not a
loud roar, or scream, such as they heard when that lying dead first made
its presence known, but a sort of sniff or snort, as when it was
struggling, half-choked by the ponchos.  Soon, however, as they stand
listening, the snorting changes into a long low growl, ending in a gruff
bark; as of a watch-dog awakened by some slight noise, for which he is
not sure of its being worth his while to forsake his kennel, or spring
upon his feet.

Not thus doubtful are they.  Instead, the sounds now heard excite and
terrify them as much as any that preceded; for they can tell that tiger
Number 2 is, as themselves, _within the cave_!

"_Por Dios_!" exclaims Gaspar, in a low tone of voice, "it's the old Tom
sure, and inside too!  Ha! that accounts for our not being certain about
the she.  Both were yelling at the same time, answering one another.
Where can the brute be?"

They turn their eyes toward the back of the cavern, but in the dim
glimmer can see nothing like a tiger.  They only hear noises of
different kinds, made by their horses, then freshly affrighted, once
more sniffing the air and moving uneasily about.

"Your guns!" cries Gaspar in hurried accents; "get them loaded again!
If the _tigre_ attack us, as it's almost sure to do, our knives will be
of little use.  _Viva, muschachos_!"

All together again lay hold of their guns; but where is the ammunition?
Stowed in a pair of holsters on the pommel of Cypriano's saddle, as they
well know--powder, balls, percussion-caps, everything.  And where is the
horse himself; for, left loose, he has moved off to another part of the
cavern?

Cypriano taking the candle in hand, they go in search of him.  Soon to
see that the frightened animal has taken refuge in an angular embayment
between two projecting buttresses of rock, where he stands cowering and
trembling.

They are about to approach him, going cautiously and with timid steps,
when, lo! on a ledge between, they perceive a long yellow body with
black spots lying astretch at one end of it, a pair of eyes giving back
the light of their candle, with a light almost as brilliant, and at
intervals flashing like fire.  It is the jaguar.

The sight brings them suddenly to a stand, even causing them to retreat
a step or two.  For the ledge on which the _tigre_ crouches is directly
between them and Cypriano's horse, and to approach the latter they must
pass right under the former; since it is upon a sort of shelf, several
feet above the level of the ground.  They at once see there is no hope
of reaching the needed ammunition without tempting the attack of the
tiger; which, by their movements, is becoming at every moment more
infuriated, and already seems about to spring upon them.  Instinctively,
almost mechanically, they move further away, having abandoned the idea
of defending themselves with the guns, and fallen back on their only
other weapons, the knives.  Ludwig counsels retreating altogether out of
the cave, and leaving their horses behind.  Outside, the wind no longer
rages, and the dust seems to have blown past.  They but hear the
pattering of rain, with peals of thunder, and the swish of the stream,
now swollen.  But nothing of these need they fear.  To the course
counselled Cypriano objects, as also Caspar; fearing for their horses,
almost sure to be sacrificed to the fury of the enraged jaguar.  And
where would they be then?  Afoot in the midst of the Chaco, helpless as
shipwrecked sailors on a raft in mid-ocean!

For a while they remain undecided; only a short while, when they are
made aware of that which speedily brings them to a decision, and without
any will of their own.  In putting space between themselves and the
dangerous beast, they have retreated quite up to the cavern's entrance.
There, looking out, they see that egress is debarred them.  The stream,
swollen by the rain, still pouring down as in a deluge, has lipped up to
the level of the cave's mouth, and rushes past in an impetuous torrent,
crested, and carrying huge rocks, with the trunks and broken branches of
trees upon its seething current.  Neither man nor horse might dare ford
it now.  They are caught between a torrent and a tiger!



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

SAVED BY A SPITTING-DEVIL.

To be shut up in a room with a royal Bengal tiger, or what amounts to
the same a cave of small dimensions, is a situation which no one will
covet.  Nor would it be much improved were the tyrant of the Asiatic
jungles transformed into a jaguar--the despot of the American tropical
forests.  For, although the latter be smaller, and less powerful than
the former, in an encounter with man it is equally fierce and dangerous.
As regards size, the male jaguar often reaches the measurement of an
Indian tigress; while its strength is beyond all proportion to its bulk.
Humboldt has made mention of one that dragged the carcase of a horse it
had killed across a deep, difficult ravine, and up to the top of a hill;
while similar feats have been recorded by Von Tschudi, Darwin, and
D'Orbigny.

Familiar with its character and capabilities, no wonder, then, that our
gaucho and his companions should feel fear, as they take in the perils
besetting them.  For there is no knowing how long the jaguar will keep
its patience, or its place; and when it shifts they may "look out for
squalls."  They can still see it on the ledge; for although the light is
feeble, with some dust floating about, through this its glaring
eyeballs, as twin stars through a thin stratum of cloud, gleam coal-like
and clear.  They can see its jaws, too, at intervals open to emit that
cry of menace, exposing its blood-red palate, and white serrature of
teeth--a sight horrifying to behold!  All the while its sinewy tail
oscillates from side to side, now and then striking the rock, and
breaking off bits of stalactites, that fall in sparkling fragments on
the floor.  At each repetition of its growl the horses show fresh
affright, and dance madly about.  For the instinct of the dumb animals
seems to admonish them, they are caged with a dangerous companion--they
and it alike unable to part company.  Their masters know this, and
knowing it, are all the more alarmed.  A fight is before them; and there
appears no chance of shunning it--a hand-to-hand fight, their
short-bladed knives against the sharp teeth and claws of a jaguar!

For a time they stand irresolute, even Gaspar himself not knowing what
to do.  Not for long, however.  It would not be the gaucho to surrender
to despair.  Instead, a thought seems suddenly to have occurred to him--
a way of escape from their dilemma--as evinced by his behaviour, to the
others yet incomprehensible.

Parting from them, he glides off in the direction of his horse; which
happens to be nearest, like Cypriano's cowering in a crevice of the
rock.  Soon beside it, he is again seen to plunge his hand into the
_alparejas_, and grope about, just as when searching for the stump of
candle.

And now he draws forth something very similar--a packet with a skin
covering, tied with a bit of string.  Returning to them, and removing
the wrapper, he exposes to view a half-dozen little rolls, in shape
somewhat like regalia cigars, sharp-pointed at one end, and barbed as
arrows.

At a glance, both boys see what they are.  They have not been brought up
in a country where bull-fighting, as in all Spanish America, is the
principal pastime, without having become acquainted with most matters
relating to it.  And what Gaspar has brought before their eyes are some
_torterillas_, or spitting-devils, used, along with the _banderillas_
for rousing the fury of the bull while being goaded by the _picadores_
round the arena, before the _matador_ makes his final assault.  Gaspar,
who in early life has played _picador_ himself in the bull-fights of San
Rosario, knows how to manufacture all the implements pertaining to the
_funcion de toros_, and has usually kept a stock of _torterillas_ on
hand, chiefly for the amusement of the Tovas youths, who were accustomed
to visit the _estancia_.

Often, while dwelling at Assuncion, had he witnessed the wonder and
delight with which the savages who came there regarded all sorts of
fireworks; and it had occurred to him that, in the event of their
encountering strange Indians, some "spitting-devils" might prove of
service.  So, at starting out on their present expedition, just as with
the bit of wax candle, he had tossed a packet of them into his
saddle-bags.

He does not give this explanation till afterwards.  Now there is no time
for talking; he must act, and instantly.  But how he intends acting, or
what he means to do with the _torterillas_, neither of his youthful
comrades can tell or guess.

They are not kept long in ignorance.  Snatching the candle from
Cypriano, who has been carrying it--with this in one hand and a
_torterilla_ in the other--he moves off in the direction of the ledge,
where luckily the jaguar still lies astretch.  Possibly the reports of
the guns have cowed it to keeping its place.  Whether or no, it has kept
it without change of attitude or position; though at intervals giving
utterance to long low growls, with an occasional bark between.

Advancing cautiously, and in silence, the gaucho gets within six paces
of it.  This he deems near enough for his purpose; which, by this time,
the others comprehend.  It is to cast the _torterilla_ at the tiger,
and, if possible, get the barbed point to penetrate the creature's skin,
and there stick.

He makes the attempt, and succeeds.  First having put the primed end
into the candle's flame, and set the fuse on fire, he launches the
"Devil" with such sure aim, that it is seen to fix itself in the
jaguar's back, just over the right shoulder.

The brute, feeling the sting, starts to its feet with an angry scream;
this instantly changing to a cry of affright, as the caked powder
catches fire, and fizzing up, envelopes it in a shower of sparks.  Not a
second longer stays it on the ledge, but bounding off makes for the
cave's mouth, as if Satan himself had taken hold of its tail.  So sudden
and unexpected is its retreat, that Ludwig and Cypriano, to get out of
the way, go tumbling over the stones; while Gaspar comes nigh doing the
same; in the scramble dropping the candle, and of course extinguishing
it.  But the light goes out only with the jaguar itself; the brute
bounding on with the sparks like the tail of a comet streaming behind,
illumining the whole cavern, and causing the stalactites to glitter and
sparkle, as if its roof were frosted with real diamonds!

In an instant after, all is darkness; simultaneously with the light
going out, a sound reaching their ears, as of some solid body, falling
heavily upon water--which they know to be the tiger plunging into the
stream.  That puts out the "spitting-devil," and no doubt along with it,
or soon after, the life of the animal it had so affrighted; for even the
king of American beasts could not escape being drowned in that foaming,
seething flood.

Soon as satisfied that the enemy is _hors de combat_, and the coast
clear, Gaspar gropes about for the candle, and finding, once more lights
it.  Then in his usual fashion, winding up with some quaint remark, he
says:--

"No more caterwauling to-night, I fancy, unless the kittens be about
too.  If they be, it'll give us a bit of sport, drowning them.  Now,
_senoritos_!  I think we may sit down to supper, without fear of being
again baulked of our _mate_ and mutton."



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

A ROCK-BOUND SLEEPING ROOM.

As the darkness, due to the storm, has now been succeeded by the more
natural darkness of night, the trackers, for this day, cannot proceed
further, were they ever so eager.  Besides, there is another bar to
their continuing; one still more directly obstructive, even forbidding
their exit from the cave.  This, the _arroyo_, which now in full flood
fills the ravine up to the cliff's base, there leaving no path for
either man or horse.  That by which they approached is covered beyond
fording depth, with a current so swift as to sweep the strongest animal
from its feet, even were it an elephant.  And to attempt reaching the
opposite side by swimming, would only result in their getting carried
down to be drowned to a certainty, or have the life crushed out of them
on the rocks below.

Gaspar knowing all this, does not dream of making any such rash
experiment.  On the contrary, as he has signified, he designs them to
remain all night in the cavern.  Indeed, there is no alternative, as he
observes, explaining how egress is forbidden, and assuring them that
they are, in point of fact, as much prisoners as though the doors of a
jail were shut and locked upon them.

Their imprisonment, however, need not last till the morning; so far as
the flood is concerned.  And this he also makes known to them, himself
aware that the waters in the _arroyo_, will subside as rapidly as they
had risen.  It is one of those short rivulets, whose floods are over
almost as soon as the rain which causes them.  Looking out again near
the hour of midnight, they see his prediction verified.  The late
swollen and fast-rushing stream has become reduced to nearly its normal
dimensions, and runs past in gentle ripple, while the moon shining full
upon it, shows not a flake of foam.

They could even now pass out of the cave, and on up the cliff where they
came down, if they desired to do so.  More, they might with such a clear
moon, return to the river's bank and continue on along the trail they
had forsaken.  A trail so plain as it, could be followed in a light far
more faint; at least, so think they.  So believing, Cypriano, as ever
impatient to get on, is greatly inclined to this course, and chafes at
the irksomeness of delay.  But Gaspar objects, giving his reasons.

"If we were to go on now," he says, "it wouldn't better us a bit.  All
we'd gain by it would be the league or so from this to the river.  Once
there, and attempting to travel up its bank, we'd find scores of little
creeks that run into it, in full freshet, and have to swim our horses
across them.  That would only lose time, instead of gaining it.  Now, by
daybreak, they'll all be down again, when we can travel straight on
without being delayed by so many stoppages.  I tell you, Senor Cypriano,
if we start now, it'll be only to find the old saying true, `More haste,
worse speed.'"

He to whom this speech is addressed perceives the application of the
adage, and admitting it, yields the point.

"Besides," adds the gaucho, by way of clinching his argument, "we've got
to spend part of the night somewhere, and have some sleep.  If we keep
on without that, it may end in our breaking dead down, which would be
worse than being a little behind time.  We all stand in need of rest
now.  Speaking for myself, I want it badly; and I'm sure so does Master
Ludwig and you too, _senorito_!  If we were to leave the cave, and seek
for it anywhere outside, we'd find the ground soaking wet, and, like
enough, every one of us get laid up with a spell of rheumatics.  Here
we'll be as snug as a _biscacha_ in its hole; and, I take it, will sleep
undisturbed by the squalling of any more cats."

As Cypriano makes no further opposition, it is decided that they remain
in the cave till morning.

The little incident as above, with the conversation which accompanies
it, does not take place immediately after the tiger had been disposed
of; for they have eaten supper since.  By good luck, some sticks were
found in the cave, half-burnt faggots, the remains of a fire no doubt
left by a party of Indian hunters, who had also spent a night there.
With these they were enabled to boil their kettle, and make a _mate_ of
their favourite _yerba_ tea; while the "knuckle" of mutton and some
cakes of corn bread still left, needed no cooking.  It is after all this
was over, and they had been some time conversing on the many strange
incidents which occurred to them throughout the day, that they became
aware of the flood having fallen, and escape from their rock-bound
prison possible.  Then succeeded the discussion recorded.

At its termination, as nothing more can be done, and all feeling
fatigued, to go to rest is naturally the next move.  Their horses have
already been attended to by the removal of the riding gear, while some
rough grass found growing against the cliff, near the cave's entrance
outside, has been cut and carried in to them.

A slight grooming given to the animals, and it but remains to make their
own beds.  This done, by simply spreading their _jergas_ and
_caronillas_ along the flinty stalagmites, each having his own _recado_
for a pillow.  Their ponchos, long since pulled apart, and the dust
cuffed out of them, are to serve for what they really are--blankets; a
purpose to which at night they are put by all gauchos and most
Argentinos--as much as they are used during day time for cloak or
greatcoat.

Each wrapping himself up in his own, all conversation ceases, and sleep
is sought with closed eyes.  This night it is found by them in a
succession somewhat changed.  As on that preceding, Ludwig is first
asleep; but almost instantly after it is Gaspar, not Cypriano, who
surrenders to the drowsy god; filling the hollow cavity with his
snoring, loud as that often heard to proceed from the nostrils of a
tapir.  He well knows they are safe within that rock-bound chamber;
besides that he is tired dead down with the day's exertion; hence his so
soon becoming oblivious.

Cypriano is the last to yield.  But he, too, at length gives way, and
all is silent within the cavern, save the "crump-crump" of the horses
munching their coarse provender, with now and then a hoof striking the
hard rock.  But louder than all is that raucous reverberation sent up by
the slumbering gaucho.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

THE "SACRED TOWN."

While the pursuing party is peacefully reposing upon the stalagmites of
the cavern, that pursued reaches its destination--the "Sacred town" of
the Tovas.

The _tolderia_, so named, stands upon a level plain, near the shore of a
large and beautiful lake, whose numerous low-lying islets, covered with
a thick growth of the _moriche_, have the appearance of palm-groves
growing direct out of the water itself.

A belt of the same stately trees borders the lake all around, broken
here and there by projecting headlands; while away over the adjacent
_campo_, on the higher and drier ground, are seen palms of other and
different species, both fan-leaved and pinnate, growing in copses or
larger "montes," with evergreen shrubs and trees of deciduous foliage
interspersed.

At some three or four hundred yards from the lake's edge, a high hill
rises abruptly above the plain--the only elevation within many miles.
Thus isolated, it is visible from afar, and forms a conspicuous feature
of the landscape; all the more remarkable on account of its singular
shape, which is the frustrum of a cone.  Though its sides are of steep
pitch, they are thickly wooded to the summit; trees of large size
standing upon its table-like top.  But something more than trees stand
there; the scaffolds upon which are laid the bodies of the Tovas dead;
hundreds of which may be seen in all stages of decay, or shrivelled and
desiccated by the dry winds and sun of the Chaco till they resemble
Egyptian mummies.  For it is the "Cemetery Hill," a spot hallowed in the
hearts of these Indians, and so giving the title of "Sacred" to this
particular place, as the town adjacent to it.  The latter is situated
just under the hill, between its base and the shore of the lake.  No
grand city, as might be supposed from such a high-sounding name, but
simply a collection of palm and bamboo _toldos_, or huts, scattered
about without any design or order; each owner having been left free to
select the site of his frail tenement, since among the Tovas municipal
regulations are of the simplest and most primitive character.  True,
some dwellings, grander and more pretentious than the common, are
grouped around an open space; in the centre of which is one much larger
than any of the others, its dimensions equalling a dozen of them.  This
is not a dwelling, however, but the _Malocca_, or House of Parliament.
Perhaps, with greater propriety, it might be called "Congress Chamber,"
since, as already hinted at, the polity of the Tovas tribe is rather
republican than monarchical.

Strange, as sad, that in this republic of redskins, and so-called
savages, should exist the same political contradiction as among some
other republican communities, having the name of civilised.  For
although themselves individually free, the Tovas Indians do not believe
in the doctrine that all men should be so; or, at all events, they do
not act up to it.  Instead, their practice is the very opposite, as
shown by their keeping numbers of slaves.  Of these they have hundreds,
most of them being Indians of other tribes, their enemies, whom they
have made captive in battle.  But to the Tovas master it signifies
little what be the colour of his bondman's skin, whether white or red;
and many of the former, women as well as men, may be seen doing drudgery
in this same Sacred town--its hewers of wood and drawers of water.
These are also captives, the spoil of predatory incursions across the
Salado into the settlements of Santiago, Salto, and Tucuman.

Most of these slaves, employed in the care of cattle, live apart from
their masters, in a sort of suburb, where the dwellings are of a less
permanent character than the ordinary _toldos_, besides being
differently constructed.  They more resemble the tents, or wigwams, of
the North-American Indians; being simply a number of poles set in a
circle, and tied together at the tops; the hides of horses covering
them, instead of the buffalo skins which serve a similar purpose on the
northern prairies.

It may seem strange that captives with white skins, thus left unguarded,
do not make their escape.  But no; those so kept do not even seek or
desire it.  Long in captivity, they have become "Indianised," lost all
aspirations for liberty, and grown contented with their lot; for the
Tovas are not hard taskmasters.

On the night of that same day, when the _tormenta_ overtook them, Aguara
and his party approach the Sacred town, which is about twenty miles from
the edge of the _salitral_, where the trail parts from the latter, going
westward.  The plain between is no more of saline or sterile character;
but, as on the other side, showing a luxuriant vegetation, with the same
picturesque disposal of palm-groves and other tropical trees.

The hour is late--nigh to midnight--as the captive train passes under
the shadow of the Cemetery Hill, making round to where the _tolderia_
stands; for both lake and town are on the west side of the hill.

Well may the young cacique feel something of fear, his face showing it,
as he glances up to that elevated spot where he so late laid the corpse
of his father.  Were that father living, he, the son, would not be
passing there with the daughter of Ludwig Halberger as his captive.
Even as it is, he can fancy the spirit of the deceased cacique hovering
over the hill, and looking frowningly, reproachfully, down upon him!

As if to escape from such imaginary frowns, he gives the lash to his
horse; and setting the animal into a gallop, rides on alone--having
first placed the captive under the charge of one of his followers.

On reaching the _tolderia_, however, he does not go direct to his own
dwelling, which is the largest of those adjacent to the _malocca_.  Nor
yet enters he among the _toldos_; but, instead, makes a wide circuit
around them, taking care not to awake those sleeping within.  The place
for which he is making is a sort of half hut, half cave, close in to the
base of the hill, with trees overshadowing, and a rocky background of
cliff.

Arrived in front of this solitary dwelling, he dismounts, and, drawing
aside the horse's skin which serves as a swing door, calls out:--

"Shebotha!"

Presently a woman appears in the opening--if woman she could be called.
For it is a hag of most repulsive appearance; her face half hidden by a
tangle of long hair, black, despite old age indicated by a skin
shrivelled and wrinkled as that of a chameleon.  Add to this a pair of
dark grey eyes, deep sunken in their sockets, for all gleaming
brilliantly, and you have the countenance of Shebotha--sorceress of the
Tovas tribe--one of cast as sinister as ever presented itself in a
doorway.

She speaks not a word in answer to the friendly salutation of the
cacique; but stands silent in bent, obeisant attitude, with her skinny
arms crossed over her breast, as it waiting to hear what he would
further say.  His words are by way of command:

"Shebotha!  I've brought back with me a captive--a young girl of the
palefaces.  You must take charge of her, and keep her here in your hut.
She's not yet come up, but will presently.  So get things ready to
receive her."

Shebotha but bends lower, with an inclination of the head, to imply that
his instructions will be attended to.  Then he adds--

"No one must see, or converse with her; at least, not for a time.  And
you mustn't admit any one inside your _toldo_, except the witless white
creature, your slave.  About him it don't signify.  But keep out all
others, as I know you can.  You understand me, Shebotha?"

She makes answer in the affirmative, but, as before, only by a nod.

"Enough!" is the young chief's satisfied rejoinder, as he vaults back
upon his horse, and rides off to meet the captive train, which he knows
must be now near.

That night, as for other nights and days succeeding, Francesca Halberger
has this horrid hag for a hostess, or rather the keeper of her prison;
since the unhappy girl is in reality kept and guarded as a prisoner.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

TASTE AFTER POWDER.

Long before daylight penetrates the interior of the cavern, or shows its
first streak on the sky outside, the trackers are up and active.

A hasty breakfast is prepared; but, as the mutton bone is now quite
bare, they have to fall back on another kind of flesh-meat, which the
provident Caspar has brought along.  This is _charqui_, or as it is
called by English-speaking people "jerked beef;" in all likelihood a
sailor's pseudonym, due to some slight resemblance, between the English
word "jerked," and the Guarani Indian one _charqui_, as pronounced by
South American people.

_Charqui_ is simply beef cut into long, thin strips, then hung over a
rope or rail, and exposed to a hot sun--in the absence of this, to a
fire--till the juices are thoroughly dried out of it.  Thus prepared, it
will keep for weeks, indeed months.

The reason for so preserving it, is the scarcity of salt, which in the
districts where _charqui_ prevails, is difficult to be got at, and, in
consequence, dear.  Most of the beef imported from the La Plata, under
the name of "jerked beef," is not _charqui_, but simply meat cured with
salt.  Beef is preserved by a similar process throughout most parts of
Spanish America, as in Mexico, and California, and for the same reason;
but in these countries it is termed _tasajo_, and sometimes _cecina_.

_Charqui_ is by no means a dainty viand; not nice either to the nose or
palate.  Those portions of it which have not had sufficient sun in the
drying process, become tainted, and the odour is anything but agreeable.
For all, it serves a purpose in those countries where salt is a scarce
commodity; and cooked--as all Spanish Americans cook it--with a
plentiful seasoning of onions, garlic, and chili, the "gamey" flavour
ceases to be perceptible.  Above all, it is a boon to the traveller who
has a long journey to make through the uninhabited wilderness, with no
inns nor post-houses at which he may replenish his spent stock of
provisions.  Being dry, firm, and light, it can be conveniently carried
in haversack, or saddle-bags.

By Caspar's foresight, there is a packet of it in Ludwig's _alparejas_,
where all the other provisions are stowed; and a piece cut from one of
the strips, about the length of a Bologna sausage, makes breakfast for
all three.  Of the Paraguay tea they have a good store, the _yerba_
being a commodity which packs in small space.

Their morning meal is dismissed with slight ceremony; and soon as eaten,
they recaparison their horses; then leading them out of the cavern,
mount, and are off.  As the _arroyo_ has long since shrunk to its
ordinary level, and the path along the base of the bluff is dry as when
trodden by them in their rush for shelter from the storm, they have no
difficulty in getting out.  So on they ride up the steep acclivity to
the cliff's crest; which last is on a level with the pampa itself.

But on reaching it, a sight meets their eyes--it is now daylight--
causing a surprise to Ludwig and Cypriano; but to Gaspar something
more--something akin to dismay.  For the sage gaucho mentally sees
further than either of his less experienced companions; and that now
observed by him gives token of a new trouble in store for them.  The
plain is no longer a green grassy savanna, as when they galloped across
it on the afternoon preceding, but a smooth expanse, dark brown in
colour, its surface glittering under the red rays of the rising sun,
whose disc is as yet but half visible above the horizon!

"_Santos Dios_!" exclaims the gaucho, as he sits in his saddle,
contemplating the transformation, to him no mystery.  "I thought it
would be so."

"How very strange!" remarks Ludwig.

"Not at all strange, _senorito_; but just as it should be, and as we
might have expected."

"But what has caused it?"

"Oh, cousin," answered Cypriano, who now comprehends all.  "Can't you
see?  I do."

"See what?"

"Why, that the dust has settled down over the plain; and the rain coming
after, has converted it into mud."

"Quite right, Senor Cypriano," interposes Gaspar; "but that isn't the
worst of it."

Both turn their eyes upon him, wondering what worse he can allude to.
Cypriano interrogates:--

"Is it some new danger, Gaspar?"

"Not exactly a danger, but almost as bad; a likelihood of our being
again delayed."

"But how?"

"We'll no longer have track or trace to guide us, if this abominable
sludge extend to the river; as I daresay it does.  There we'll find the
trail blind as an owl at noontide.  As you see, the thing's nearly an
inch thick all over the ground.  'Twould smother up the wheel-ruts of a
loaded _carreta_."

His words, clearly understood by both his young companions, cause them
renewed uneasiness.  For they can reason, that if the trail be
obliterated, their chances of being able to follow the route taken by
the abductors will be reduced to simple guessing; and what hope would
there be searching that way over the limitless wilderness of the Chaco?

"Well?" says Gaspar, after they had remained for some moments gazing
over the cheerless expanse which extends to the very verge of their
vision, "it won't serve any good purpose, our loitering here.  We may as
well push on to the river, and there learn the worst--if worst it's to
be.  _Vamonos_!"

With this, the Spanish synonym for "Come along!" the gaucho gives his
horse a dig in the ribs, with spur rowels of six inches diameter, and
starts off at a swinging pace, the others after.

And now side by side go all three, splashing and spattering through the
mortar-like mud, which, flung up in flakes by their horses' hoofs, is
scattered afar in every direction.

Half an hour of quick cantering brings them back upon the Pilcomayo's
bank; not where they had parted from it, but higher up, near the mouth
of the _arroyo_.  For Gaspar did not deem it necessary to return to that
prophetic tree, whose forecast has proved so unfailing.  To have gone
back thither would have been a roundabout of several miles, since they
had made a cross-cut to reach the cavern; and as on the way they had
seen nothing of the Indian trail, it must needs have continued up the
river.

But now, having reached this, they cannot tell; for here, as on all the
plain over which they have passed, is spread the same coating of
half-dried dirt, fast becoming drier and firmer as the ascending
tropical sun, with strengthened intensity, pours his hot beams upon it.
It has smothered up the Indian's trail as completely as it snow several
inches deep lay upon it.  No track there, no sign to show, that either
horses or men ever passed up the Pilcomayo's bank.

"_Caspita_!" exclaims the gaucho, in spiteful tone.  "It is as I
anticipated; blind as an old mule with a _tapojo_ over its eyes.  May
the fiends take that _tormenta_!"



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

STOPPED BY A "RIACHO."

For a time the trackers remain at halt, but without forsaking their
saddles, pondering upon what course they should pursue, or rather, what
direction they ought to take.

Only a short while are they undecided.  It seems good as certain that
the Indians have kept to the river, for some distance further on, at all
events.  Therefore, it will be time enough to enter upon a more
prolonged deliberation, when they come to a point where this certainty
ceases.  Thus reflecting, they start off afresh, with their horses'
heads as before.

Going at good speed as ever, in a few minutes they arrive at the
confluence of the _arroyo_ with the greater river; the former here
running between banks less "bluffy" than above, where it passes the
cavern.  Still they are of sufficient elevation to make a sharp descent
towards the channel of the stream, and a corresponding ascent on its
opposite side.  But instead of an impediment, the trackers find this an
advantage; giving them evidence that the Indians have gone across the
_arroyo_.  For their horses' tracks are distinctly traceable on the
steep faces of both banks; the dust either not having settled there, or
been washed off by the rain which fell after.

Without difficulty they themselves ride across; for the rapid-running
stream has returned to its ordinary dimensions, and is now quite
shallow, with a firm gravelly bed.  Once on its western side, however,
and up to the level of the _campo_ beyond, they are again at fault; in
fact, have reached the point spoken of where all certainty is at an end.
Far as they can see before them, the surface is smeared with mud, just
as behind, and no sign of a trail visible anywhere.  Like enough the
Indians have still continued on along the river, but that is by no means
sure.  They may have turned up the _arroyo_, or struck off across the
pampa, on some route known to them, and perhaps leading more direct to
whatever may be their destination.

It is all conjecture now; and upon this they must rely.  But the weight
of probability is in favour of the pursued party having kept to the
river, and Gaspar is of this opinion.  After riding some distance up the
western bank of the _arroyo_, and seeing no trail or track there, he
again returns to where they had crossed, saying:--

"I think we may safely stick to the river.  I'm acquainted with its
course for at least thirty leagues further up.  At about half that
distance from here it makes a big elbow, and just there, I remember, an
old Indian path strikes off from it, to cross a _traveria_.  Ha! that's
good as sure to be the route these redskins have taken.  For now, I
think of it, the path was a big, broad road, and must have been
much-travelled by Indians of some kind or other.  So, _muchachos_; we
can't do better than keep on to where it parts from the water's edge.
Possibly on the _traveria_, which chances to be a _salitral_ as well, we
may find the ground clear of this detestable stuff, and once more hit
off the _rastro_ of these murderous robbers."

His young companions, altogether guided by his counsels, of course offer
no objection; and off they again go up the bank of the broad deep river.

Nor less swiftly do they speed, but fast as ever.  For they are not
impeded by the necessity of constantly keeping their eyes upon the
earth, to see if there be hoof-marks on it.  There are none; or if any,
they are not distinguishable through the thick stratum of slime spread
over all the surface.  But although going at a gallop, they do not get
over much ground; being every now and then compelled to pull up--meeting
obstructions they had not reckoned upon.  These in the shape of numerous
little streamlets, flowing into the river, most of them still in freshet
from the late rain.  One after another they ford them, none being so
deep as to call for swimming.  But they at length come upon one of
greater depth and breadth than any yet passed, and with banks of such a
character as to bring them to a dead stop, with the necessity of
considering whether it can be crossed at all.  For it is a watercourse
of the special kind called _riachos_, resembling the _bayous_ of
Louisiana, whose sluggish currents run in either direction, according to
the season of the year, whether it be flood-time or during the intervals
of drought.

At a glance, Gaspar perceives that the one now barring their onward
progress is too deep to be waded; and if it be possible to pass over it,
this must be by swimming.  Little would they regard that, nor any more
would their animals; since the pampas horse can swim like an otter, or
_capivara_.  But, unfortunately, this particular _riacho_ is of a kind
which forbids even their swimming it; as almost at the same glance, the
gaucho observes, with a grunt expressing his discontent.  On the
stream's further shore, the bank, instead of being on a level with the
water surface, or gently shelving away from it, rises abruptly to a
height of nigh six feet, with no break, far as can be seen, either
upward or downward.  Any attempt to swim a horse to the other side,
would result in his being penned up, as within the lock-gates of a
canal!

It is plainly impossible for them to cross over there; and, without
waiting to reflect further, the gaucho so pronounces it; saying to the
others, who have remained silently watching him:--

"Well, we've got over a good many streams in our morning's ride, but
this one beats us.  We can't set foot on the other side--not here, at
all events."

"Why?" demands Cypriano.

"Because, as you can see, _senorito_, that water's too deep for wading."

"But what of that?  We can swim it, can't we?"

"True, we could; all that and more, so far as the swimming goes.  But
once in there, how are we to get out again?  Look at yonder bank.
Straight up as a wall, and so smooth a cat couldn't climb it, much less
our horses; and no more ourselves.  If 'twere a matter of wading we
might; but, as I can see, all along yonder edge it's just as deep as in
mid-stream; and failing to get out, we'd have to keep on plunging about,
possibly in the end to go under.  _Carramba_! we mustn't attempt to make
a crossing here."

"Where then?" demands Cypriano, in torture at this fresh delay, which
may last he knows not how long.

"Well," rejoins the gaucho, reflectingly, "I think I know of a place
where we may manage it.  There's a ford which can't be very far from
this; but whether it's above or below, for the life of me I can't tell,
everything's so changed by that detestable _tormenta_, and the ugly coat
of plaster it has laid over the plain!  Let me see," he adds,
alternately turning his eyes up stream and down, "I fancy it must be
above; and now I recollect there was a tall tree, a _quebracha_, not far
from the ford.  Ha!" he exclaims, suddenly catching sight of it,
"there's the bit of timber itself!  I can tell it by that broken branch
on the left side.  You see that, don't you, _hijos mios_?"

They do see the top of a solitary tree with one branch broken off,
rising above the plain at about two miles' distance; and they can tell
it to be the well-known species called _quebracha_--an abbreviation of
_quebrahacha_, or "axe-breaker," so named from the hardness of its wood.

"Whether it be by wading or swimming," Gaspar remarks in continuance,
"we'll get over the _riacho_ up yonder, not far from that tree.  So,
let's on to it, _senoritos_!"

Without another word, they all wheel their horses about, and move off in
the direction of the _quebracha_.



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

A FISH DINNER AT SECOND-HAND.

As they make towards the tree, which has erst served others than
themselves as a guide to the crossing-place, the nature of the ground
hinders their going at great speed.  Being soft and somewhat boggy, they
are compelled to creep slowly and cautiously over it.

But at length they get upon a sort of ridge slightly elevated above the
general level, though still unsafe for fast travelling.  Along this,
however, they can ride abreast, and without fear of breaking through.

As they proceed onward, Gaspar gives them some further information about
the ford they are making for.

"We can easily wade it," he says, "if this awkward and ill-timed
dust-storm hasn't changed it, as everything else.  When poor dear master
and I went across--that would be about six months ago--the water wasn't
quite up to our stirrups; but, like as not, last night's downpour has
raised it too, and we'll have a swim for it.  Well, that won't matter
much.  There, at all events, we can get the horses out; as the bank
slopes off gently.  So there'll be no fear of our being stuck or sent
floundering in the stream.  A regular Indian road, crosses the _riacho_
there, and has worn a rut running down to the channel on both sides."

His hearers are pleased at this intelligence; Cypriano signifying so by
the laconic rejoinder--

"_Esta bueno_."

Then follows an interval of silence; after which Gaspar, as if some new
thought had occurred to him, suddenly exclaims--

"_Santos Dios_!  I'd forgotten that."

"Forgotten what?" both inquire, with a surprised, but not apprehensive
look; for the gaucho's words were not in this tone.

"Something," he answers, "which we ought to find at this very
crossing-place.  A bit of good luck it's being here."

"And what do you expect from it?" questions Cypriano.

"I expect to learn whether we're still on the right track, or have
strayed away from it.  We've been going by guesswork long enough; but,
if I don't greatly mistake we'll there see something to tell us whether
our guesses have been good or bad.  If the redskins have come up the
river at all, it's pretty sure they also have crossed the _riacho_ at
this very ford, and we should there see some traces of them.  Sure to
find them on the sloping banks, as we did by the _arroyo_.  That will
count a score in our favour."

By the time he has ceased speaking, they have reached the _quebracha_;
and, soon as under its shadow, Gaspar again reins up, telling the others
to do the same.  It is not that he has any business with the beacon
tree, as with that which served them for a barometer; but simply,
because they are once more within sight of the stream--out of view since
they left its bank below.  The ford is also before their eyes, visible
over the tops of some low bordering bushes.

But what has now brought the gaucho to a stop is neither the stream, nor
its crossing-place; but a flock of large birds wading about in the
water, at the point where he knows the ford to be.  Long-legged
creatures they are, standing as on stilts, and full five feet high,
snow-white in colour, all but their huge beaks, which are jet black,
with a band of naked skin around their necks, and a sort of pouch like a
pelican's, this being of a bright scarlet.  For they are _garzones
soldados_, or "soldier-cranes," so-called from their red throats bearing
a fancied resemblance to the facings on the collar of a soldier's coat,
in the uniform of the Argentine States.

"_Bueno_!" is the pleased exclamation which proceeds from the gaucho's
lips, as he sits contemplating the cranes.  "We sha'n't have any
swimming to do here; the rain don't seem to have deepened the ford so
much as a single inch.  You see those long-legged gentry; it barely wets
their feet.  So much the better, since it ensures us against getting our
own wetted, with our baggage to the boot.  Stay!" he adds, speaking as
if from some sudden resolve, "let's watch the birds a bit.  I've a
reason."

Thus cautioned, the others hold their horses at rest, all with their
eyes fixed upon the soldier-cranes; which still unconscious of intruders
in such close proximity, continue the occupation in which they were
engaged when first seen--that of fishing.

Every now and then one darts its long bayonet-like beak into the water,
invariably drawing it out with a fish between the mandibles; this, after
a short convulsive struggle, and a flutter or two of its tail fins,
disappearing down the crane's capacious throat.

"Having their breakfast," observes the gaucho, "or, I should rather call
it dinner," he adds, with a glance upward to the sky.  "And the height
of that sun reminds me of its being high time for us to do something in
the same line, if I hadn't been already reminded of it by a hollow I
feel here."  He places his spread palm over the pit of his stomach, and
then continues, "So we may as well dine now; though, sad to say, we
haven't a morsel to make a meal upon but that juiceless _charqui.
Santissima_! what am I thinking about?  I verily believe my brains have
got bemuddled, like everything else.  Nothing but _charqui_, indeed!
Ha! we'll dine more daintily, if I know what's what.  Here, _senoritos_!
back your horses behind those bushes.  Quick, gently."

While speaking, he turns his own out of the path, and rides crouchingly
to the rear of the bushes indicated, thus putting a screen between
himself and the soldier-cranes.

Following his example, the others do likewise, but without the slightest
idea of what he is going to be after next.

Cypriano inquiring, receives the very unsatisfactory answer--

"You'll see."

And they do see; first himself dismounting and tying his bridle to a
branch; then detaching his lazo from its ring in the saddle-tree, and
carefully adjusting its coils over his left arm.  This done, he
separates from them, as he walks away, speaking back in a whisper:--

"Keep your ground, young masters, till I return to you, and if you can
help it, don't let the horses make any noise, or budge an inch.  For
yourselves, _silencio_!"

As they promise all this, he parts from them, and is soon out of sight;
their last glance showing him to be making for the ford, going with bent
body and crouched gait, as cat or cougar stealing upon its prey.

For some ten minutes or so, they neither see nor hear more of him; and
can only conjecture that the design he has so suddenly conceived, has
something to do with the _garzones_.  So believing, curiosity prompts
them to have another peep at these piscatory birds; which by standing up
in their stirrups--for they are still seated in the saddle--they can.
Looking over the tops of the bushes, they see that the cranes continue
fishing undisturbed, and seemingly unaware of an enemy being near, or
that danger threatens them.

But not much longer are they left to enjoy this feeling of security.
While the two youths are still regarding them, first one, then another,
is observed to elevate its head to the full height of its long slender
neck; while here and there throughout the flock are heard cries of
warning or alarm; the frightened ones letting fall the fish already in
their beaks, while those not quite so much scared, suddenly swallow
them.  But in another instant, all, as if by one impulse, give out a
simultaneous scream; then, rising together, spread their broad,
sail-like wings, and go flapping away.

No, not all.  One stays in the _riacho_; no longer to look after fish,
but with both wings outspread over the surface of the stream, beating
the water into froth--as it does so, all the while drawing nearer and
nearer to the nether bank!  But its movements are convulsive and
involuntary, as can be told by something seen around its neck resembling
a rope.  And a rope it is; the youths knowing it to be the _lazo_ they
late saw coiled over Caspar's arm, knowing also that he is at the other
end of it.  He is hauling it in, hand over hand, till the captured bird,
passing under the high bank, disappears from their view.

Soon, however, to re-appear; but now carried under the gaucho's arm.

He cries out as he approaches them:--

"_Viva! muchachitos_!  Give me congratulation, as I intend giving you a
good dinner.  If we can call _charqui_ flesh, as I suppose we must, then
we shall have fish, flesh, and fowl, all the three courses.  So we'll
dine sumptuously, after all."

Saying which, he draws out his knife, and cuts open the crane's crop,
exposing to view several goodly-sized fish, fresh as if just cleared
from a draw-net!  They are of various sorts; the riverine waters of
South America being noted for their wonderful multiplicity of both
genera and species.  The Amazon and its tributaries, are supposed to
contain at least three thousand distinct species; a fact upon which the
American naturalist, Agassiz--somewhat of an empiric, by the way--has
founded a portion of his spurious fame, on the pretence of being its
discoverer.  It was pointed out by a real naturalist, Alfred Wallace,
ten years before Agassiz ever set eyes on the Amazon; and its record
will be found in the appendix to Wallace's most interesting work
relating to this, the grandest of rivers.

In the La Plata, and its confluent streams, are also many genera and
species; a question that gives Gaspar not the slightest concern, while
contemplating those he has just made the _garzon_ disgorge.  Instead, he
but thinks of putting them to the broil.  So, in ten minutes after they
are frizzling over a fire; in twenty more, to be stowed away in other
stomachs than that of the soldier-crane.



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

ATTACKED BY GYMNOTI.

Gaspar's promise to give them a dinner of the three orthodox courses--
fish, flesh, and fowl--was only meant in a jocular sense.  For the
flesh, their stock of _charqui_ is not drawn upon; and as to fowl, the
soldier-crane would be a still more unpalatable morsel.  So it results
in their dining simply upon fish; this not only without sauce, but
swallowed at second-hand!

While they are occupied in the eating it, the gaucho, seeming more
cheerful than usual, says:--

"I've a bit of good news for you, _hijos mios_."

"Indeed! what?" is their eager inquiry.

"That we are still upon the right road.  The redskins have gone past
here, as I supposed they would."

"You've discovered fresh traces of them, then?"

"I have ever so many scratches of their horses' feet, where they slipped
in stepping down to the stream.  Quite plain they are; I could
distinguish them some way off, and with half an eye, as I was hauling in
the _soldado_.  Good news, I call it; since we won't have to take the
back-track anyhow.  What's before us remains to be seen.  Possibly, on
the other side we may light on something else, to tell the direction
they've taken.  So, we'd better lose no time, but cross over."

Hurriedly finishing their primitive repast, they spring back upon their
_recados_, and ride down to the ford.

Once in the water, they find it not quite so shallow, as they had
supposed from seeing the _garzones_ wading about with but the slightest
portion of their shanks below the surface.  For at the bottom is a
substratum of mud; a soft slimy ooze, firm enough to support the light
birds, but through which the heavier quadrupeds, further weighted with
themselves and their baggage, sink to their bellies.

Gaspar is surprised at finding the ford in this condition.  It was not
so when he passed over it before, and he can only account for the change
by the dust from the _tormenta_ having been blown in large quantities
into the stream, then carried down by the current, and settling over the
shallow crossing-place.

Whatever the cause, they find it awkward work to wade through the sticky
slime.  Still, they might have accomplished the crossing without
accident, and doubtless would have done so, but for an impediment of
another kind--one not only altogether unexpected, but far more to be
dreaded than any danger of their going head and ears over into the ooze.
For just as they have reached mid-stream, and are splashing and
floundering on, Gaspar, who is riding ahead, and shouting back
directions to the others, all at once finds his attention fully occupied
in looking to himself, or rather to his horse.  For the animal has come
to a stop, suddenly and without any restraint of the rein, and stands
uttering strange snorts, while quivering throughout every fibre of its
frame!

Glancing over his shoulder, the gaucho sees that the other horses have
also halted, and are behaving in a precisely similar manner, their
riders giving utterance to excited exclamations.  Ludwig looks a picture
of astonishment; while, strange to say, on Cypriano's countenance the
expression is more one of alarm!  And the same on the face of the gaucho
himself; for he, as the young Paraguayan comprehends the situation, and
well knows what has brought their horses so abruptly to a halt.

"What is it, Gaspar?" questions Ludwig, now also alarmed at seeing the
others so.

"Eels!" ejaculates the gaucho.

"Eels!  Surely you're jesting?" queries the incredulous youth.

"No, indeed," is the hurried rejoinder.  "I only wish it were a jest.
It's not, but a dire, dangerous earnest.  _Santissima_!" he cries out,
in addition, as a shock like that of a galvanic battery causes him to
shake in his saddle, "that's a _lightning eel_, for sure!  They're all
round us, in scores, hundreds, thousands!  Spur your horses!  Force them
forward, anyway!  On out of the water!  A moment wasted, and we're
lost!"

While speaking, he digs the spurs into his own animal, with his voice
also urging it onward; they doing the same.

But spur and shout as they may, the terrified quadrupeds can scarce be
got to stir from the spot where first attacked by the electric eels.
For it is by these they are assailed, though Gaspar has given them a
slightly different name.

And just as he has said, the slippery creatures seem to be all around
them, coiling about the horses' legs, brushing against their bellies, at
intervals using the powerful, though invisible, weapon with which Nature
has provided them; while the scared quadrupeds, instead of dashing
onward to get clear of the danger, only pitch and plunge about, at
intervals standing at rest, as if benumbed, or shaking as though struck
by palsy--all three of them, breathing hard and loud, the smoke issuing
from their nostrils, with froth which falls in flakes, whitening the
water below.

Their riders are not much less alarmed: they too sensibly feeling
themselves affected by the magnetic influence.  For the subtle current
passing through the bodies of their horses, in like manner, and almost
simultaneously enters their own.  All now aware that they are in real
danger, are using their utmost efforts to get out of it by spurring,
shouting to their animals, and beating them with whatever they can lay
their hands on.

It is a desperate strife, a contest between them and the quadrupeds, as
they strive to force the latter forward, and from out of the perilous
place.  Fortunately, it does not last long, or the end would be fatal.
After a short time, two of the three succeeded in reaching the bank:
these Gaspar and Cypriano; the gaucho, as he feels himself on firm
ground, crying out:--

"Thank the Lord for our deliverance!"

But scarce has the thanksgiving passed his lips, when, turning face
towards the stream, he sees what brings the pallor back into his cheeks,
and a trembling throughout his frame, as if he were still under the
battery of the electric eels.  Ludwig, lagging behind, from being less
able to manage his mount, is yet several yards from the shore, and what
is worse, not drawing any nearer to it.  Instead, his horse seems stuck
fast in the mud, and is making no effort to advance; but totters on his
limbs as though about to lose them!  And the youth appears to have lost
all control not only of the animal but himself; all energy to act,
sitting lollingly in his saddle, as if torpid, or half-asleep!

At a glance Gaspar perceives his danger, knowing it of no common kind.
Both horse and rider are as powerless to leave that spot, as if held
upon it in the loop of a _lazo_, with its other end clutched in the
hands of a giant.

But a _lazo_ may also release them; and at this thought occurring to him
opportunely, the gaucho plucks his own from the horn of his _recado_,
and with a wind or two around his head, casts its running noose over
that of the imperilled youth.  It drops down over his shoulders,
settling around both his arms, and tightening upon them, as Gaspar, with
a half wheel of his horse, starts off up the sloping acclivity.  In
another instant, Ludwig is jerked clean out of his saddle, and falls
with a splash upon the water.  Not to sink below its surface, however;
but be drawn lightly along it, till he is hoisted high, though not dry,
upon the bank.

But the gaucho's work is still unfinished; the horse has yet to be
rescued from his dangerous situation; a task, even more difficult than
releasing his rider.  For all, it is not beyond the skill of Gaspar, nor
the strength of his own animal.  Hastily unloosing his long, plaited
rope from the body of the boy, and readjusting the loop, he again flings
it forth; this time aiming to take in, not the head of Ludwig horse, but
the pommel and cantle of his high-back saddle.  And just as aimed, so
the noose is seen to fall, embracing both.  For Gaspar knows how to cast
a lasso, and his horse how to act when it is cast; the well-trained
animal, soon as he sees the uplifted arm go down again, sheering round
without any guidance of rein, and galloping off in the opposite
direction.

In the present case, his strength proves sufficient for the demand made
upon it, though this is great; and the debilitated animal in the water,
which can do nought to help itself, is dragged to the dry land nearly as
much dead as alive.

But all are saved, horses as well as riders.  The unseen, but dangerous,
monsters are deprived of the prey they had come so near making capture
of; and Gaspar again, even more fervently than before, cries out in
gratitude--

"Thank the Lord for our deliverance!"



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

UNDER THE CAROB TREES.

An attack by electric eels, however ludicrous the thing may seem, is not
so looked upon by those whose ill luck it has been to experience it.
That these slippery creatures possess a most dangerous power, and know
how to exert it, there is ample evidence in the accounts given of them
by many a truthful traveller.

More than enough of it have had our heroes; for while escaping with
their lives, they have not got off altogether scatheless--neither
themselves, nor their horses.  For, though now beyond reach of their
mysterious assailants, the latter stand cowering and quivering,
evidently disabled for that day, at least.  To continue the journey upon
them, while they are in this condition, is plainly impossible.  But
their riders do not think of it; they, too, feeling enfeebled--Ludwig
actually ill.  For the electricity still affects them all, and it may be
some time before their veins will be freed from its influence.

_Nolens volens_, for a time they must stay where they are, however they
may chafe at this fresh halt--as before, a forced one.  But the gaucho,
with spirits ever buoyant, puts the best face upon it, saying, "After
all, we won't lose so much time.  By this, our horses would have been
pretty well done up, anyhow, after such a hard day's work, floundering
through so much mud and crossing so many streams.  Even without this
little bit of a bother, we'd have had to stop soon somewhere to rest
them.  And what better place than here?  Besides, as you see, the sun's
wearing well down, and it's only a question of three or four hours at
most.  We can make that up by an earlier start, and a big day's journey,
to-morrow; when it's to be hoped we'll meet with no such obstructions as
have beset us to-day."

Gaspar is not using arguments; for no one wishes to dispute with him.
Only speaking words of comfort; more especially addressing them to
Cypriano, who is, as ever, the impatient one.  But he, as the gaucho
himself, sees the impossibility of proceeding further, till they and
their animals have had a spell of rest.

For the purpose of obtaining this, they go in search of a suitable
camping-place; which they soon find within a grove of _algarobias_, at
some three or four hundred yards' distance from the ford.  The trees
cover the sides of a little mound, or hillock; none growing upon its
summit, which is a grassy glade.  And as the dust has either not settled
on it, or been washed off by the rain, the herbage is clean and green,
so too the foliage of the trees overshadowing it.

"The very place for a comfortable camp," says Gaspar, after inspecting
it--the others agreeing with him to the echo.

Having returned to the ford for their horses, and led them up to the
chosen ground, they are proceeding to strip the animals of their
respective caparisons, when, lo! the _alparejas_, and other things,
which were attached to the croup of Ludwig's saddle, and should still be
on it, are not there!  All are gone--shaken off, no doubt, while the
animal was plunging about in the stream--and with as little uncertainty
now lying amidst the mud at its bottom.

As in these very saddle-bags was carried their commissariat--_yerba,
charqui_, maize-bread, onions, and everything, and as over the
cantle-peak hung their kettle, skillet, _mates_ and _bombillas_, the
loss is a lamentable one; in short, leaving them without a morsel to
eat, or a vessel to cook with, had they comestibles ever so abundant!

At first they talk of going back to the ford, and making search for the
lost chattels.  But it ends only in talk; they have had enough of that
crossing-place, so dangerously beset by those _demonios_, as Gaspar in
his anger dubs the electric eels.  For though his courage is as that of
a lion, he does not desire to make further acquaintance with the
mysterious monsters.  Besides, there is no knowing in what particular
spot the things were dropped; this also deterring them from any attempt
to enter upon a search.  The stream at its crossing-place is quite a
hundred yards in width, and by this time the articles of metal, as the
heavily-weighted saddle-bags, will have settled down below the surface,
perhaps trampled into its slimy bed by the horse himself in his
convulsive struggles.  To seek them now would be like looking for a
needle in a stack of straw.  So the idea is abandoned; and for this
night they must resign themselves to going supperless.

Fortunately, none of the three feels a-hungered; their dinner being as
yet undigested.  Besides, Gaspar is not without hope that something may
turn up to reprovision them, ere the sun goes down.  Just possible, the
soldier-cranes may come back to the ford, and their fishing, so that
another, with full crop, may fall within the loop of his _lazo_.

Having kindled a fire--not for cooking purposes, but to dry their
ponchos, and other apparel saturated in the crossing of the stream--they
first spread everything out; hanging them on improvised clothes-horses,
constructed of _cana brava_--a brake of which skirts the adjacent
stream.  Then, overcome with fatigue, and still suffering from the
effects of the animal electricity, they stretch themselves alongside the
fire, trusting to time for their recovery.

Nor trust they in vain.  For, sooner than expected, the volatile fluid--
or whatever it may be--passes out of their veins, and their nervous
strength returns; even Ludwig saying he is himself again, though he is
not quite so yet.

And their animals also undergo a like rapid recovery, from browsing on
the leaves and bean-pods of the _algarobias_; a provender relished by
all pampas horses, as horned cattle, and nourishing to both.  More than
this, the fruit of this valuable tree when ripe, is fit food for man
himself, and so used in several of the Argentine States.

This fact suggesting itself to Gaspar--as he lies watching the horses
plucking off the long siliques, and greedily devouring them--he says:--

"We can make a meal on the _algarobia_ beans, if nothing better's to be
had.  And for me, it wouldn't be the first time by scores.  In some
parts where I've travelled, they grind them like maize, and bake a very
fair sort of bread out of their meal."

"Why, Gaspar!" exclaims Ludwig, recalling some facts of which he had
heard his father speak, "you talk as if you had travelled in the Holy
Land, and in New Testament times!  These very trees, or others of a
similar genus, are the ones whose fruit was eaten by Saint John the
Baptist.  You remember that passage, where it is said: `his meat was
locusts and wild honey.'  Some think the locusts he ate were the insects
of that name; and it may be so, since they are also eaten by Arabs, and
certain other tribes of Asiatic and African people.  But, for my part, I
believe the beans of the `locust tree' are meant; which, like this, is a
species of acacia that the Arabs call _carob_; evidently the root from
which we take our word _algarobia_."

Gaspar listens, both patiently and pleased, to this learned
dissertation.  For he is rejoiced to perceive, that the thoughts of his
young companion are beginning to find some abstraction and
forgetfulness, of that upon which they have been so long sadly dwelling.
Cypriano, too, appears to take an interest in the subject of discourse;
and to encourage it the gaucho rejoins, in gleeful tones:

"Well, Senor Ludwig; I don't know much about those far-away countries
you speak of, for I've not had any great deal of schooling.  But I do
know, that _algarobia_ beans are not such bad eating; that is if
properly prepared for it.  In the States of Santiago and Tucuman, which
are the places I spoke of having travelled through, the people almost
live on them; rich and poor, man as well as beast.  And we may be glad
to make breakfast on them, if not supper; though I still trust something
more dainty may drop upon us.  I'm not so hopeful as to expect manna,
like that which rained down upon Moses; but there's many an eatable
thing to be had in this Chaco wilderness, too--for those who know how to
look for it.  _Ay Dios_!" he adds, after a pause, with his eyes turned
towards the ford, "those long-legged gentry don't seem to care about
coming back there.  No doubt, the screams of that fellow I throttled
have frightened them off for good.  So I suppose we must give the birds
up, for this night anyhow.  Just possible, in the morning they'll be as
hungry as ourselves, and pay their fishing-ground a very early visit."

Saying this, the gaucho relapses into silence, the others also ceasing
to converse.  They all feel a certain lethargy, which calls for repose;
and for a while all three lie without speaking a word, their heads
resting on their _recados_--the only sound heard being the "crump-crump"
of their horses' teeth grinding the _algarobia_ pods into pulp.



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

A CHAT ABOUT ELECTRIC EELS.

The silence of the camp is not of long continuance; Gaspar being the
first to break it.  For the gaucho, having a stronger stomach, and
consequently a quicker digestion than the others, feels some incipient
sensations of hunger.

"I only wish," he says, "we could get hold of one of the brutes that
battered us so in the stream.  If we could, it would furnish us with a
supper fit for a king."

"What!" exclaims Ludwig, raising his head in surprise, "one of the
electric eels?  Is it that you're speaking of, Gaspar?"

"Ay, _senorito_; just that."

"Surely you wouldn't eat _it_, would you?"

"Wouldn't I?  If I had one here now, you'd soon see."

"But are they really good to eat?"

"Good to eat!  I should think they are; and if you could but taste them
yourself, _senorito_, you'd say so.  A lightning eel's about the
daintiest morsel I ever stuck teeth into; though they do have their
dwelling-place in mud, and as some say, feed upon it.  Before cooking
them, however, something needs being done.  You must cut away a portion
of their flesh; the spongy part, which it's said gives them power to
make their lightning play.  In that lies the dangerous stuff, whatever
sort of thing it is."

"But what are they like, Gaspar?  I've never seen one."

It is Ludwig who still interrogates; but to his last question Cypriano,
not Gaspar, gives the answer, saying:

"Oh, cousin!  Do you mean to say you've never seen an electric eel?"

"Indeed do I.  I've heard father speak of them often, and I know them by
their scientific name, _gymnotus_.  I believe there are plenty of them
in the rivers of Paraguay; but, as it chances, I never came across one,
either dead or alive."

"I have," says Cypriano, "come across more than one, and many times.
But once I well remember; for an awkward circumstance it was to myself."

"How so, _sobrino_?"

"Ah! that's a tale I never told you, Ludwig; but I'll tell it now, if
you wish."

"Oh I do wish it."

"Well, near the little village where, as you know, I was born, and went
to school before coming to live with uncle at Assuncion, there was a
pond full of these fish.  We boys used to amuse ourselves with them;
sending in dogs and pigs, whenever we had the chance, to see the scare
they would get, and how they scampered out soon as they found what queer
company they'd got into.  Cruel sport it was, I admit.  But one day we
did what was even worse than frightening either dogs or pigs; we drove
an old cow in, with a long rope round her horns, the two ends of which
we fastened to trees on the opposite sides of the pond, so that she had
only a little bit of slack to dance about upon.  And dance about she
did, as the eels electrified her on every side; till at last she dropped
down exhausted, and, I suppose, dead; since she went right under the
water, and didn't come up again.  I shall never forget her pitiful, ay,
reproachful look, as she stood up to the neck, with her head craned out,
as if making an appeal to us to save her, while we only laughed the
louder.  Poor thing!  I can now better understand the torture she must
have endured."

"But is that the awkward circumstance you've spoken of?"

"Oh, no.  _It_ was altogether another affair; and for me, as all the
others, a more serious one.  I hadn't come to the end of the adventure--
the unpleasant part of it--which was the chastisement we all got, by way
of reward for our wickedness."

"Chastisement!  Who gave it to you?"

"Our worthy schoolmaster.  It so chanced the old cow was his; the only
one he had at the time giving milk.  And he gave us such a thrashing!
Ah!  I may well say, I've a lively recollection of it; so lively, I
might truly think the punishment then received was enough, without the
additional retribution the eels have this day inflicted on me."

Cypriano's narration ended, his cousin, after a pause, again appeals to
Gaspar to give him a description of the creatures forming the topic of
their conversation.  To which the gaucho responds, saying:--

"Well, Senor Ludwig, if you want to know what a lightning eel is like,
take one of the common kind--which of course you've seen--a full-sized
one; make that about ten times as thick as it is, without adding much to
its length, and you'll have the thing, near as I can think it.  So much
for the reptile's bulk; though there are some both bigger round, and
longer from head to tail.  As for its colour, over the back it's a sort
of olive green--just like _yerba_ leaves when they've been let stand a
day or two after plucking.  On the throat, and under the belly, it's
paler, with here and there some blotches of red.  I may tell you,
however, that the lightning-eels change colour same as some of the
lizards; partly according to their age, but as much from the sort of
water they're found in--whether it be a clear running stream, or a muddy
stagnant pond, such as the one Senor Cypriano has spoken of.  Besides,
there are several kinds of them, as we gauchos know; though, I believe,
the _naturalutas_ are not aware of the fact.  The most dangerous sort,
and no doubt the same that's just attacked us, have broad heads, and
wide gaping mouths full of sharp teeth, with flat tails and a pair of
fins close to the nape of the neck.  _Carramba_! they're ugly devils to
look at, and still uglier to have dealings with; that is, when one's in
the water alongside them--as we ourselves know.  Still they don't always
behave so bad, as these did to-day.  When I crossed this stream before,
with the _dueno_, neither he nor I felt the slightest shock to tell of
eels being in it.  I suppose it's the _tormenta_ that's set them a
stirring.  Like enough, there's some connection between their lightning
and that of the sky.  If so, that's what has quickened the brutes, and
made them so mad.  Well," he adds, as if drawing his account to a
conclusion, "mad as they are, I'd like to have one frizzling over this
fire."

"But who eats them, Gaspar?" interrogates Ludwig, still incredulous on
the question of their being a fit article of diet.  "I've never heard of
their being eaten, nor brought to market like other fish."

"Hundreds, thousands of people eat them, _hijo mio_.  They're in great
request in some places; ay, all over the country.  Both whites and
Indians relish them; but more especially the redskins.  Some tribes
prefer them to any other food, be it fish, flesh, or fowl; and make a
regular business of catching them."

"Ah! how are they caught?"

"There are various ways; but the usual one is by spearing them.
Sometimes the slippery fellows glide out of their mud beds and come to
the surface of the water, as it were to amuse themselves by having a
look round.  Then the fisherman gets a chance at them, without any
searching, or trouble.  He is armed with a long pole of _cana brava_,
one end having an iron point barbed like a spear.  This, he launches at
them, just as I've heard say whalers do their harpoons.  For, if he kept
the shaft in his hands, he'd catch it from their lightning, and get
strokes that would stagger him.  Still, he doesn't let go altogether; as
there's a cord attached to the spear, and with that he can haul in the
fish, if he has struck it.  But he must have a care to keep his cord out
of the water; if it gets wetted he'll have a fit of the trembles upon
him, sure.  For it's a fact--and a curious one you'll say, _senoritos_--
that a dry cord won't conduct the eel's lightning, while a wet one
will."

"It _is_ a fact," says Ludwig, endorsing the statement.  "I've heard
father speak of it."

"Very singular," observes Cypriano.

"And I can tell you of another fact," pursues the gaucho, "that you'll
say is still more singular.  Would you believe, that from one of these
fish a man may strike sparks, just as by a flint and steel--ay, and
kindle a fire with them?  I know it's an old story, about fish having
what's called phosphorus in them; but it isn't everybody who knows that
real fire can be got out of the lightning-eels."

"But can that be done, Gaspar?" asks Ludwig.

"Certainly it can.  I've seen it done.  And he who did it was your own
dear father, Senor Ludwig.  It was one day when we were out on a ramble,
and caught one of the eels in a pool, where it had got penned up by the
water having dried around it.  The _dueno_ took out a piece of wire, and
with one end tickled the eel; the other end being stuck into some
gunpowder, which was wrapped loosely in a piece of paper.  The powder
flashed and set the paper ablaze, as also some leaves and dry sticks
we'd laid around it.  Soon we had a fire; and on that same fire we
broiled the eel itself, and ate it.  _Por dios_!  I only wish we had one
broiling over this fire.  I'd want no better thing for supper."

So ended the chat about electric eels, the subject seeming exhausted.
Then the conversation changing to other and less interesting topics, was
soon after brought to a close.  For the darkness was now down, and as
their ponchos, and other softer goods had become thoroughly dry, there
was no reason why they should not go to rest for the night.  But since
the soldier-cranes had declined coming back--by this time no doubt
roosted in some far-off "cranery"--and no other source of food supply
offering, they must needs go to bed supperless, as they did.  Their
appetites were not yet sufficiently sharp, to have an inordinate craving
for meat.



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

NOTHING FOR BREAKFAST.

Under the shadow of the _algarobias_ the trackers sleep undisturbed.
Ludwig, however, has troubled dreams, in which gymnoti play a
conspicuous part.  He imagines himself still floundering amidst these
monsters, assailed from all sides by their galvanic batteries, and that
they have dragged him down into the mud, where he is fast getting
asphyxiated.  When in his last gasp, as it were, he is relieved, by
awaking from his uneasy slumbers; which he does suddenly, and with a
terrified cry.

Finding it has been all a dream, and glad to think it so, he says
nothing; and the others not having heard his half-stifled cry, soon
again falls asleep.  This time his slumber is lighter, as also more
profound; and, on the whole, he has a tolerable night's rest; in the
morning feeling fairly refreshed, as likewise do Cypriano and Gaspar.

All three are astir a good half-hour before there is any sign of day;
and their camp-fire is rekindled.  This not for culinary purposes--since
they have nothing to be cooked--but rather because the air is chilly
cold, as it often is in the tropics, and they need to warm themselves
before setting about aught else.

When warmed, however, they begin to think of breakfast, as also to talk
about it.  What is it to be, or of what consist, are the questions which
interest them without being easily answered.  There are the _algarobia_
beans; but their skillet has been lost along with the kettle, and there
is left them no utensil in which these legumes might be boiled.  True,
they can roast them in the ashes; but Gaspar still clings to the hope
that something more toothful may turn up.  As the early dawn is the best
time to find wild animals abroad, both birds and quadrupeds--the best
also for approaching them--the gaucho feels pretty confident either one
or other will stray within reach of their guns, bolas, or lazos.

In the end it proves that his confidence has not been misplaced.  Just
as the first red rays of the Aurora are reflected from the tops of the
trees around their camp, more faintly lighting up the lower level of the
pampa beyond, Gaspar, peering through a break between the branches of
the _algarobias_, sees a brace of large birds moving about over the
plain.  Not soldier-cranes, though creatures with necks and legs quite
as long; for they are _rheas_.

"_Gracios a Dios_!" is the gaucho's gratified exclamation at sight of
them; continuing in low tone and speaking over his shoulder, "A couple
of _avestruz_!"

The others, gliding up to him, and looking through the leaves, also
behold the birds, seeing them from head to foot.  For they are out upon
the open ground, striding to and fro, now and then pausing to pick up
some morsel of food, or it may be but a pebble to aid in the digestion
of what they have already eaten.  While thus engaged, they are gradually
drawing nearer to the bank of the _riacho_, as also the edge of the
_algarobia_ grove in which the trackers are encamped.  Their proximity
to the latter most interests those in the camp, and all three instantly
lay hold of their guns, which luckily have been reloaded, two of them
with ball.  Gaspar, foremost of the trio, has got his barrel through the
branches, and, seeing that the _rheas_ are now within bullet-range, is
about to blaze away at the one nearest, which chances to be the cock
bird, when the latter, suddenly elevating its head, and uttering a loud
hiss succeeded by a snort, as from a badly-blown trumpet, turns tail and
makes off over the plain; its mate turning simultaneously, and legging
it alongside.  All this to the surprise of the gaucho; who knows that he
has not exposed his person and sees that neither have the others, nor
yet made any noise to account for the behaviour of the birds.

"What can have frightened them?" is the question he would ask, when
casting his eyes upward he perceives what has done it--their smoke of
their camp-fire!  The blue stream ascending over the tops of the trees,
as if out of a chimney, had just then, for the first time, been caught
sight of by the ostriches, sending them off in quick scare.  Nor strange
it should, being a spectacle to which the wild denizens of the Chaco are
not accustomed, or only familiar with as denoting an enemy near--their
greatest enemy, man.

"_Maldita sea_!" exclaims the gaucho, as the birds show their backs to
him, an exclamation morally the reverse of that he uttered on seeing
them with heads turned the opposite way.  "That confounded fire! what a
pity we kindled it! the thing's done us out of our breakfast.  Stay!
no."

The negative ejaculation comes from his perceiving that the ostriches,
instead of rushing onwards in long rapid strides, as they had started,
are gradually shortening step and slackening the pace.  And while he
continues looking after them, they again come to a stop, and stand
gazing back at the dark blue pillar of smoke rising spirally against the
lighter blue background of sky.  But now they appear to regard it less
with alarm than curiosity; and even this after a time wearing off, they
once more lower their beaks, and return to browsing, just as a couple of
common geese, or rather a goose and gander.  For all, they do not yet
seem quite tranquillised, every now and then their heads going up with a
suddenness, which tells that their former feeling of security is not
restored; instead, replaced by uneasy suspicions that things are not as
they ought to be.

"Our guns will be of no use now," says Gaspar, laying his own aside.  "I
know the nature of _avestruz_ well enough to say for certain, that,
after the scare they've had they'll stay shy for several hours, and
'twill be impossible to approach them; that is, near enough for the
longest-range gun we've got.  And to run them down with our horses would
be to lose a day's journey at least.  We can't afford that, for the sake
of a bit of breakfast.  No, 'twould never do.  We'll have to go without,
or else, after all, break our fast upon these beans."

Saying which, he glances up to the _algarobias_, from which the long
siliques droop down in profusion, more plentiful than tempting to him.

"_Caspita_!" he resumes, after a pause, once more bending his eyes
covetously upon the birds, and as if an idea had suddenly occurred to
him, "I think I know of a way by which we may circumvent these two tall
stalkers."

"How?" eagerly asks Cypriano.

"By going at them--_garzoneando_."

"_Garzoneando_!" exclaims Ludwig in echo.  "Good Gaspar, whatever do you
mean by that?"

"You'll see, young master, soon as I've made things ready for it.  And
your cousin here, he's the fittest for the part to be played.  I'd
undertake it myself, but I'm a bit too bulky to counterfeit a creature
of such slender proportions as the _garzon soldado_; while Senor
Cypriano's figure will just suit to a nicety."

Neither of the two youths has the slightest idea of what the gaucho
designs doing; but, accustomed to his quaint, queer ways, and knowing
that whatever he intends is pretty sure to be something of service to
them--as likely to have a successful issue--they await his action with
patience and in silence.



CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

A COUNTERFEIT CRANE.

Gaspar allows no time to be lost, but instantly commences taking
measures for the _garzoneando_--whatever that may be.  As yet neither of
his young companions has been told what it is, though they soon begin to
have a guess.

While they stand watching, they see him once more plunge his hand into
those capacious saddle-bags, where for a time it rummages about.  When
drawn out again, it is seen to grasp a folded bundle of soft goods,
which, on being shaken open, shows to be a shirt.  No common cotton
thing, however, but an affair of the finest linen, snow-white, with an
embroidered bosom and ruffles; in short, his gala shirt, such as are
worn by gauchos when they appear at _fiestas_ and _fandangoes_.

"A pity to use my best _camisa_ for such a purpose," he observes, while
in the act of unfolding it.  "Still it won't likely get much damage; and
a wash, with a bit of starch, will set it all right again."

Then turning to Cypriano, he adds, "Now, senorito; be good enough to
strip off everything, and draw this over your shoulders."

Without a word of protest, or objection, the young Paraguayan does as
requested, and is soon inside the holiday shirt; his own having been
laid aside, as also his _jaqueta, calzoneras_, and every other article
of dress worn by him.

Meanwhile, Gaspar has been engaged getting ready several other things
for the change of costume intended; one of these being a silk
handkerchief of a bright scarlet colour, also taken out of the
inexhaustible _alparejas_.  This he ties about Cypriano's neck, not as
an ordinary cravat, but loosely folded, so as to expose a breadth of
several inches all round.

The gaucho's next move is to snatch from off the fire one of the faggots
still only half consumed; from which with his knife he scrapes the red
coal, leaving the surface black, at the same time paring the stick to a
sharp point.  With some wet gunpowder he further blackens it; then
placing the thick end against Cypriano's forehead, he binds it fast with
a piece of raw-hide thong, the last carried around and firmly knotted at
the back of the neck.

A few more touches and the toilet is complete; transforming Cypriano
into what, at a distance, might be supposed a soldier-crane!  At all
events, the ostriches will so suppose him, as Gaspar knows; for he is
but copying a scheme often practised by South American Indians for the
capture of these shy birds.

"_Muy bien_!" he exclaims, as he stands contemplating his finished task.
"By my word, _muchacho mio_, you look the character to perfection.  And
if you act it cleverly, as I know you can and will, we'll make breakfast
on something better than beans.  Now, senorito; you're in costume to go
_garzoneando_."

Long ere this, Cypriano has come to comprehend what is required of him,
and is quite eager to have a try at the ruse so cunningly contrived.
Declaring himself ready to start out, it but remains to be decided what
weapon he ought to take with him.  For they have the three kinds--gun,
_bolas_, and _lazo_; and in the use of the two last he is almost as
skilled as the gaucho himself.

"The gun might be the readiest and surest," remarks Gaspar; "and it will
be as well to have one with you, in case of your not getting a good
chance to cast either of the others.  But just now the less noise that's
made the better.  Who knows, but that some of these traitorous redskins
may be still straggling about?  Hearing shots they'd be sure to come up
to us; which we don't want, though ever so much wishing to come up with
them.  Therefore, I say, use either the balls or the rope."

"All the same to me," observes the young Paraguayan.  "Which do you
think the better?"

"The _bolas_, decidedly.  I've known the _lazo_ slip over an ostrich's
head, after the noose had been round its neck.  But once the cord of the
_bolas_ gets a turn round the creature's shanks, it'll go to grass
without making another stride.  Take this set of mine.  As you see,
they're best _boliadores_, and you can throw them with surer aim."

The weapon which the gaucho hands to him differs from the ordinary
_bolas_, in having a longer stretch of cord between the balls; but
Cypriano is himself as well acquainted with this kind as with the other,
and can cast them as skilfully.  Taking hold of the weapon, along with
his double-barrelled gun, and concealing both as he best can under the
gaucho's shirt, he starts off upon the stalk; for he now knows what he
has to do, without any further instruction from Gaspar.  It is simply a
question of getting near enough to one of the birds to make capture of
it with the _boliadores_; or, failing this, bring it down with a
bullet--one barrel of his gun being loaded with ball.

As he goes off, Caspar and Ludwig looking after him can see that his
chances of success are good.  For by this the _rheas_ have pretty well
recovered from their scare, and are again tranquilly striding about.
Moreover, they have moved somewhat nearer to the bank of the _riacho_,
where a bordering of leafy evergreens offers to the stalker cover of the
best kind.  Taking advantage of it, he, in the guise of a _garzon_,
steps briskly on, and steals in among the bushes.  There he is for a
time unseen, either by those watching him from the summit of the knoll,
or the creatures being stalked.  The latter have already noticed the
counterfeit, but without showing any signs of fear; no doubt supposing
it to be what it pretends--a bird as themselves, with neck and legs as
long as their own.  But no enemy; for often have they passed over that
same plain, and fed in a friendly way alongside soldier-cranes--scores
of them.  Even when this solitary specimen again appears by the skirting
of the scrub within less than twenty paces of them, they do not seem at
all alarmed, though possibly a little surprised at its being there all
alone.

Nor do they make any attempt to stir from the spot, till a movement on
the part of the _garzon_, with some gestures that seem odd to them,
excite their suspicions afresh; then raising their heads, and craning
out their long necks, they regard it with wondering glances.  Only for
an instant; when seeming at last to apprehend danger, the birds utter a
hiss, as if about to beat a retreat.

For one of them it is too late, the cock, which chances to be nearest
the bushes, and who before he can lift a leg feels both embraced by
something which lashes them tightly together; while at the same time
something else hits him a hard heavy blow, bowling him over upon the
grass, where he lies stunned and senseless.

"_Bueno!  Bravo_!" simultaneously shout Gaspar and Ludwig, the two
together rushing down from the hillock, and on for the prostrate _rhea_;
while the counterfeit crane comes forth from the bushes to meet them, as
he draws near, saying:--

"I could have shot the hen, but for what you said, Gaspar, about making
a noise."

"No matter for the hen," rejoins the gaucho.  "We don't want her just
now.  This beauty will not only give us enough meat for breakfast, but
provide dinners and suppers for at least a couple of days to come."

So saying, he draws his knife across the _rhea's_ throat, to make sure
before releasing its legs from the thong.  After which the _boliadores_
are detached; and the huge carcase, almost as heavy as that of a fatted
calf, is carried in triumph to the camp.



CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

THE AVESTRUZ.

Soon after the trio of trackers have re-entered the _algarobia_ grove, a
frizzling, sputtering noise is heard therein; while an appetising odour
spreads all around, borne afar on the balmy breeze of the morning.  Both
the sound and the smell proceed from some choice tit-bits which Gaspar
has taken from the body of the great bird--chiefly slices from the thigh
bone and breast.

By the time Cypriano has doffed the masquerading dress, and resumed his
proper travelling costume, the cooking is done, and breakfast declared
ready.

While eating it, by way of accompaniment they naturally converse about
the bird.  Not the particular one which exclusively forms their repast,
but of ostriches in general, and more especially those of South America
commonly called _rheas_; though to the gauchos better known by the name
_avestruz_.

Both the boys are pretty well acquainted with these birds and their
habits; Cypriano having several times taken part in their chase; while
Ludwig best knows them in a scientific sense.  Still there are many of
their ways, and strange ones, of which neither one nor the other has
ever heard, but that Gaspar has been witness to with his own eyes.  It
is the gaucho, therefore, who imparts most of the information, the
others being little more than listeners.

"Though the thing isn't generally known," he says, "there are several
distinct kinds of _avestruz_ in different parts of the country.  Of
myself I've seen three.  First, a very small sort, not much bigger than
a turkey cock.  It's darker coloured than the kind we're eating, with
shorter legs and feathered further down.  It don't lay so many eggs
either; but, strange to say, they are almost as big as those of the
other sort, only differently shaped, and with a tinge of blue on the
shell.  It I saw when I once went on an expedition with the Buenos Ayres
army down south to the plains of Patagonia.  There the climate is much
colder than up here, and the _avestruz petise_, as the bird's called,
seems to like that best; since it's never seen on the warm pampas
farther north.  On the other hand, the sort we have here, which is the
biggest of all, never strays down to these very cold districts, but goes
all over the _Chaco_ country, where it's hottest.  The third kind I've
seen is in bulk about midways between the two; but it's a very rare
bird, and I believe not known to the learned _naturalistas_.  Isn't that
so, Senor Ludwig?"

"Indeed, yes.  I never heard of a third species, though father has told
me of the _avestruz petise_; which, as you say, is only found far south,
ranging from the Rio Negro to the Straits of Magellan."

"Well," continues Gaspar, resuming his account, "I'm sure of there being
there sorts; though I don't know much about the other two, only this
we've met here.  Of them I ought to know a good deal, having hunted them
as often as there are days in the year.  One thing there's been no end
of disputation about; and that is whether several hens lay their eggs in
the same nest.  Now, I can say for certain they do.  I've seen several
go to the same nest, one after the other, and on the same day too.  What
should take them there if not to lay their eggs?  True, they drop them
about everywhere, in a very loose, careless way; as can be told by their
being seen scattered all over the _campo_, and far from any nest.  What
this is for I cannot myself tell; though I've heard some gauchos say
that these stray eggs--_huachos_ we call them--are laid here and there
for the young birds to feed upon.  But that can't be so, since the
_huachos_ are never found pecked or broken, but always whole, whether
they be fresh or addled.  I think it's more likely that the hens drop
these stray eggs because they have no nest in which to put them; that
where they have laid their others being already full.  Besides, there is
the cock sitting upon it; who won't let any of them come near, once he
has taken to hatching?"

"Is it true, then, that the cock does the hatching?" interrogates
Ludwig.

"Quite true--all of it; and he's got a good many eggs to cover.  I've
counted over fifty in one nest.  That of itself shows no single hen
could have laid them; for, as it would take her a long time, the first
ones would be rotten before the last came.  As for the cock when
sitting, he's as cross as an old duck doing the same, but _ten_ times
more dangerous to go near.  I've known of a gaucho getting a kick from
one he'd started from off the nest, almost as hard as if it had been
given by a mule.  And to hear them hiss then!  Ah! that was nothing
we've just heard from this fellow."

"Is it true they can swim, Gaspar?" again questions Ludwig.

"Like swans.  No, I'm wrong there, for nothing can be more unlike.  So
far as the swimming goes, the _avestruz_ can do it, but in quite a
different way from swans.  They swim with their bodies under water, and
only their shoulders, with the head and neck, above.  It's a funny sight
to see a flock of them crossing one of the big rivers; and scores of
times I've been eye-witness to that bit of comicality.  _Carramba_! a
curious bird, the _avestruz_ is altogether, and a useful one, as we've
now good reason to know.  So, _senoritos_, let us be thankful to
Providence that there's such a plenty of them on these _pampas_, and
above all, for guiding the steps of this fine specimen, as to place it
so directly and opportunely in our way."

The discourse about ostriches is brought to a close with the breakfast
upon that which had led to it; both, along with the incident of the
bird's capture, having occupied little more time than is here taken in
telling of them.  So little, indeed, that the sun's disc is not yet all
above the horizon, when, having completed the repast, the trackers start
up from their seats around the fire, and proceed to caparisoning their
animals.

Nor do they spend many moments at this.  Ever mindful of what has
brought them thither--no mere excursion for pleasure's sake, but an
expedition forced upon them through sad, painful necessity--they waste
not a second that can be saved.  Quickly, therefore, their horses are
got under saddle, and bridled, with every article of their _impedimenta_
fixed and fastened in its respective place, besides, something on the
croup of Ludwig _recado_, which was not hitherto there.  Where the lost
traps had been carried, are now seen the two thigh-bones of the cock
ostrich, with most of the flesh still adhering, each as large as a leg
of mutton.  There is a heart, liver, and gizzard also stowed away in a
wrap of a _vihao_, or wild plantain leaves, which, tied in a secure
packet, dangles alongside; the whole, as Gaspar declared, enough to keep
them provisioned for at least a couple of days.

But although everything seems in readiness, they are not yet prepared to
take a final departure from the place.  A matter remains to be
determined, and one of the utmost importance--being no less than the
direction in which they should go.  They have thought of it the night
before, but not till darkness had come down upon them.  Still
unrecovered from the excitement consequent on the attack of the
_gymnoti_, and afterwards occupied in drying their wet garments, with
other cares of the occasion, even Gaspar had failed during daylight to
examine the nether side of the ford at its outcoming, where he supposed
he might hit upon the trail they were in search of.  It was not because
he had forgotten it, but that, knowing they would stay there all night,
he also knew the tracks, if any, would keep till the morning.

Morning having arrived, from earliest daybreak and before, as is known,
they have been otherwise occupied; and only now, at the moment of moving
off, do they find time to look for that which must decide their future
course and the route they are to take.

With a parting glance at the place of bivouac, and each leading his own
horse, they move out of the _algarobia_ grove, and on down to the edge
of the _riacho_, stopping at the spot where they came across.

But not a moment spend they there, in the search for hoof-marks other
than those of their own horses.  They see others soon as arrived at the
stream's edge; scores of them, and made by the same animals they have
been all along tracking.  Not much in this it might appear; since
unfortunately, these hoof-marks can be distinguished no farther than to
the summit of the sloping bank.  Beyond they are covered up, as
elsewhere, by the mud.  But Gaspar's keen eye is not to be thus baffled;
and a joyful ejaculation escaping his lips tells he has discovered
something which gives him gladness.  On Cypriano asking what it is, he
makes answer--

"Just what we're wanting to find out; the route the redskins have taken
after parting from this place.  Thanks to the Virgin, I know the way
they went now, as well as if I'd been along with them."

"How do you know that?" questions Cypriano, who with Ludwig has been
examining the Indian trail down by the water's edge--apart from the
gaucho, who had followed it up to the summit of the slope.

"Come hither!" he calls out.  "Look there!" he adds as they get beside
him, "You see that these tracks have the toes all turned down stream;
which tells me the horses did the same, and, I should say, also their
riders.  Yes!  Soon as out of the water they turned down; proof good as
positive that they've gone along the _riacho_ this side, and back again
to the big river.  So it's no use our delaying longer here; there's
nothing farther to be learnt, or gained by it."

So says Gaspar; but Cypriano, and also Ludwig, think otherwise.  Both
have a wish--indeed, an earnest desire--once more to look upon the
tracks of the pony on which they know Francesca to have been mounted.
And communicating this to the gaucho, he holds their horses while they
return to search for them.

To their satisfaction they again beheld the diminutive hoof-marks; two
or three of which have escaped being trampled out by the horses that
came behind.  And after regarding them for a time with sad glances,
Ludwig turns away sighing, while his cousin gives utterance to what more
resembles a curse, accompanied by words breathing vengeance against the
abductors.

Rejoining the gaucho, all three mount into their saddles; and, without
further dallying, ride off down the _riacho_, to make back for the main
river.

But, again upon the latter's bank, they find the trail blind as before,
with nothing to guide them, save the stream itself.  To the gaucho,
however, this seems sufficient, and turning his horses's head upward, he
cries out--

"Now, _muchachos mios_! we must on to the _salitral_!"

And on for this they ride; to reach the point where it commences, just
as the sun's lower limb touches, seeming to rest on the level line of
the horizon.

And now, having arrived on the edge of the _salitral_, they make halt,
still keeping to their saddles, with eyes bent over the waste which
stretches far beyond and before them.  Greater than ever is the gloom in
their looks as they behold the sterile tract, which should have shown
snow-white, all black and forbidding.  For the _salitral_, as all the
rest of the campo, is covered with a stratum of mud, and the _travesia_
across it has been altogether obliterated.

Gaspar only knows the place where it begins; this by the bank of the
river which there also commences its curve, turning abruptly off to the
south.  He thinks the route across the _salitral_ is due westward, but
he is not sure.  And there is no sign of road now, not a trace to
indicate the direction.  Looking west, with the sun's disc right before
their faces, they see nothing but the brown bald expanse, treeless as
cheerless, with neither break nor bush, stick nor stone, to relieve the
monotony of its surface, or serve as a land-mark for the traveller.  And
the same thing both to the right and left, far as their eyes can reach;
for here the river, after turning off, has no longer a skirting of
trees; its banks beyond being a low-lying saline marsh--in short, a part
of the _salitral_.  To ride out upon that wilderness waste, to all
appearance endless, with any chance or hope of finding the way across
it, would be like embarking in an open boat, and steering straight for
the open ocean.

Not on that night, anyhow, do they intend making the attempt, as the
darkness will soon be down upon them.  So dismounting from their horses,
they set about establishing a camp.

But when established they take little delight in its occupation.  Now
more than ever are they doubtful and dejected; thinking of that terrible
_travesia_, of which all traces are lost, and none may be found beyond.
To Cypriano no night since their starting out seemed so long as this.

Little dream they, while seated around their camp-fire, or lying
sleepless alongside it, that the tract of country they so much dread
entering upon, will, in a few hours' time, prove their best friend.
Instead of sending them further astray it will put them once more on the
lost trail, with no longer a likelihood of their again losing it.

Unaware of this good fortune before them, they seek rest with feelings
of the utmost despondency, and find sleep only in short snatches.



CHAPTER FORTY.

ON THE SALITRAL.

Next morning the trackers are up at an early hour--the earlier because
of their increased anxiety--and after break fasting on broiled ostrich
leg, make ready to recommence their journey.

_Nolens volens_, they must embark upon that brown, limitless expanse,
which looks unattractive in the light of the rising sun as it did under
that of the setting.

In their saddles, and gazing over it before setting out, Gaspar says--

"_Hijos mios_; we can't do better than head due westward.  That will
bring us out of the _salitral_, somewhere.  Luckily there's a sun in the
sky to hold us to a straight course.  If we hadn't that for a guide, we
might go zig-zagging all about, and be obliged to spend a night amidst
the saltpetre; perhaps three or four of them.  To do so would be to risk
our lives; possibly lose them.  The thirst of itself would kill us, for
there's never drinkable water in a _salitral_.  However, with the sun
behind our backs, and we'll take care to keep it so, there won't be much
danger of our getting bewildered.  We must make haste, though.  Once it
mounts above our heads, I defy Old Nick himself to tell east from west.
So let's put on the best speed we can take out of the legs of our
animals."

With this admonition, and a word to his horse, the gaucho goes off at a
gallop; the others starting simultaneously at the same pace, and all
three riding side by side.  For on the smooth, open surface of the
_salitral_ there is no need for travelling single file.  Over it a
thousand horsemen--or ten thousand for that matter--might march abreast,
with wide spaces between.

Proceeding onward, they leave behind them three distinct traces of a
somewhat rare and original kind--the reverse of what would be made by
travellers passing over ground thinly covered with snow, where the trail
would be darker than the surrounding surface.  Theirs, on the contrary,
is lighter coloured--in point of fact, quite white, from the saltpetre
tossed to the top by the hooves of their galloping horses.

The gaucho every now and then casts a glance over his shoulder, to
assure himself of the sun's disc being true behind their backs; and in
this manner they press on, still keeping up the pace at which they had
started.

They have made something more than ten miles from the point where they
entered upon the _salitral_; and Gaspar begins to look inquiringly
ahead, in the hope of sighting a tree, ridge, rock, or other land-mark
to tell where the _travesia_ terminates.  His attention thus occupied,
he for awhile forgets what has hitherto been engaging it--the position
of the sun.

And when next he turns to observe the great luminary, it is only to see
that it is no longer there--at least no longer visible.  A mass of dark
cloud has drifted across its disc, completely obscuring it.  In fact, it
was the sudden darkening of the sky, and, as a consequence, the shadow
coming over the plain before his face, which prompted him to turn
round--recalling the necessity of caution as to their course.

"_Santos Dios_!" he cries out, his own brow becoming shadowed as the
sky; "our luck has left us, and--"

"And what?" asks Cypriano, seeing that the gaucho hesitates, as if
reluctant to say why fortune has so suddenly forsaken them.  "There's a
cloud come over the sun; has that anything to do with it?"

"Everything, senorito.  If that cloud don't pass off again, we're as
good as lost.  And," he adds, with eyes still turned to the east, his
glance showing him to feel the gravest apprehension, "I am pretty sure
it won't pass off--for the rest of this day at all events.  _Mira_!
It's moving along the horizon--still rising up and spreading out!"

The others also perceive this, they too, having halted, and faced to
eastward.

"_Santissima_!" continues the gaucho in the same serious tone, "_we're
lost as it is now_!"

"But how lost?" inquires Ludwig, who, with his more limited experience
of pampas life, is puzzled to understand what the gaucho means.  "In
what way?"

"Just because there's _no may_.  That's the very thing we've lost,
senorito.  Look around!  Now, can you tell east from west, or north from
south?  No, not a single point of the compass.  If we only knew one,
that would be enough.  But we don't, and, therefore, as I've said, we're
lost--dead, downright lost; and, for anything beyond this, we'll have to
go a groping.  At a crawl, too, like three blind cats."

"Nothing of the sort!" breaks in Cypriano, who, a little apart from the
other two, has been for the last few seconds to all appearance holding
communion with himself.  "Nothing of the sort," he repeats riding
towards them with a cheerful expression.  "We'll neither need to go
groping, Gaspar, nor yet at a crawl.  Possibly, we may have to slacken
the pace a bit; but that's all."

Both Ludwig and the gaucho, but especially the latter, sit regarding him
with puzzled looks.  For what can he mean?  Certainly something which
promises to release them from their dilemma, as can be told by his
smiling countenance and confident bearing.  In fine, he is asked to
explain himself, and answering, says:--

"Look back along our trail.  Don't you see that it runs straight?"

"We do," replies Gaspar, speaking for both.  "In a dead right line,
thank the sun for that; and I only wish we could have had it to direct
us a little longer, instead of leaving us in the lurch as it has done.
But go on, senorito!  I oughtn't to have interrupted you."

"Well," proceeds the young Paraguayan, "there's no reason why we
shouldn't still travel in that same right line--since we can."

"Ha!" ejaculates the gaucho, who has now caught the other's meaning, "I
see the whole thing.  Bravo, Senor Cypriano!  You've beaten me in the
craft of the pampas.  But I'm not jealous--no.  Only proud to think my
own pupil has shown himself worthy of his teacher.  _Gracias a Dios_!"

During all this dialogue, Ludwig is silent, seated in his saddle, a very
picture of astonishment, alike wondering at what his cousin can mean,
and the burst of joyous enthusiasm it has elicited from the gaucho's
lips.  His wonder is brought to an end, however, by Cypriano turning
round to him, and giving the explanation in detail.

"Don't you see, _sobrino mio_, that one of us can stay by the end of the
trail we've already made, or two for that matter, while the third rides
forward.  The others can call after to keep him in a straight line and
to the course.  The three of us following one another, and the last
giving the directions from our trail behind, we can't possibly go
astray.  Thanks to that white stuff, our back-tracks can be seen without
difficulty, and to a sufficient distance for our purpose."

Long before Cypriano has reached the end of his explanatory discourse,
Ludwig, of quick wit too, catches his meaning, and with an enthusiasm
equalling that of the gaucho, cries out:--

"_Viva, sobrino mio_!  You're a genius!"

Not a moment more is lost or spent upon that spot; Ludwig being the one
chosen to lead off, the gaucho following, with a long space between
them, while the rear is brought up by Cypriano himself; who for this go,
and not Gaspar, acts as guide and director.



CHAPTER FORTY ONE.

TRAVELLING TANDEM.

An odd spectacle the trio of trackers would afford to anyone seeing them
on the _salitral_ now, without knowing what they are at; one riding
directly in the wake and on the track of the other, with over a hundred
yards between each pair.  And, as all are going at full gallop, it might
be supposed that the foremost is fleeing from the other two--one of the
pursuers having a blown horse and fallen hopelessly behind!

Nor do they proceed in silence.  Instead, the hindmost is heard to utter
loud shouts which the one midway repeats, as if in echo; while he ahead
alone says nothing.  Even this would strengthen the supposition of its
being a chase; the pursued party speechless from the intensity of his
fears, and the effort he is making to escape his pursuers.

One near enough, however, to note the expression upon the faces of all
three, and hear the words spoken, would know that the three galloping
horsemen, though oddly apart, are in friendly communication with one
another.  Since in their shouts, though loud, is nothing to tell of
hostility or anger.  Nor yet any great variety of speech--only the two
words, "right" and "left;" these uttered at short but irregular
intervals, first by the hindmost, then taken up by the one riding
midway, and passed on to him who leads; the last, as he hears them,
shaping his course in accordance.

In this quaint fashion they have proceeded several leagues, when the
leader, Ludwig, is seen to swerve suddenly to the left, without any
direction having reached him from behind; this, too, at an angle of full
fifty degrees.

"Right!" calls Cypriano from the rear, the tone of his voice telling of
surprise, while the same is visible on his face.

Gaspar repeats the word in like accent of astonishment.  Cypriano once
more vociferating, "Right! to the right!"

But, although Ludwig must have heard them both, to neither gives he ear,
nor pays the slightest attention to the directions called out to him.
Instead, he still holds on in the new course, which he seems to have
chosen for himself.

Has his horse shied, and escaped from his control?  That is the first
thought of the other two, who by this time have both reined up, and sit
looking after him.  Then a more painful apprehension forces itself upon
them; he may have gone astray in another sense, than from the track he
should have taken.  Is he still under the influence of the animal
electricity, which might account for his seemingly eccentric behaviour?
For eccentric it certainly appears, if not something worse--as indeed
they half-suspect it to be.

While they continue watching him, they see, as well as hear, what goes
far towards confirming their suspicions.  For after galloping some two
or three hundred yards, and without once looking back, he suddenly pulls
up, raises the hat from his head, and holding it aloft, waves it round
and round, all the while uttering cries as of one in a frenzy!

"_Pobrecito_!" mutters Gaspar to himself, "the excitement has been too
much for him.  So long on the strain--no wonder.  _Ay de mi_?  Another
of that poor family doomed--and to worse than death!"

At the same time Cypriano is reflecting in a somewhat similar fashion,
though he makes no remark.  The strange exhibition saddens him beyond
the power of speech.  His cousin has gone crazed!

They had headed their horses, and were about to ride rapidly after, when
they saw him stop; and now moving gently forward with their eyes on him,
they see him replace the cap upon his head, and bend downward, with gaze
given to the ground.  Some new fancy dictated by a disordered brain,
think they.  What will he do next?  What will they see?

And what _do_ they see on drawing nearer to him?  That which makes both
of them feel foolish enough; at the same time that it rejoices them to
think they have been the victims of a self-deception.  For before they
are quite up to the spot where he has halted, they perceive a large
space of whitish colour, where the surface mud has been tossed and mixed
up with the substratum of saltpetre--all done by the hoofs of horses, as
even at a distance they can tell.

"Come along here, you laggards!" cries Ludwig in a tone of triumph;
"I've something to show you.  Feast your eyes upon this!"

While speaking he nods to the ground by his horse's head, indicating the
disturbed tract; then, adding as he raises his hand, and points
outward--

"And on that!"

The "that" he refers to is a white list leading away westward as far as
they can see--evidently the trail taken by those they are in pursuit of.

Long ere this, both Gaspar and Cypriano have full comprehension of what
perplexed while alarming them.  But neither says a word of the
suspicions they had entertained concerning him.  Each in his own mind
has resolved never to speak of them, the gaucho, as he comes up again,
crying out--

"Bravo!" then adding with an air of gracious humility, "So, Senor
Ludwig, you, too, have beaten me!  Beaten us all!  You've set us on the
right trail now; one which, if I mistake not, will conduct us to the end
of our journey, without need of sunshine, or any other contrivance."

"And that end," interposes Cypriano, "will be in a town or camp of Tovas
Indians, at the tent of the scoundrel Aguara;" then, adding excitedly,
"Oh! that I were there now!"

"Have patience, _hijo mio_," counsels Gaspar; "you'll be there in good
time, and that very soon.  For, from something I remember, I don't think
we've much more journey to make.  But before proceeding further, let us
take a look at this curious thing here, and see what we can make of it.
Besides, our animals need breathing a bit."

So saying, he dismounts, as do the others; and leaving their horses to
stand at rest, all three commence examination of the tract which shows
stirred and trampled.

They see hoof-marks of horses--scores of them--all over the ground for
the space of several perches, and pointed in every direction; among them
also the foot-prints of men, with here and there smooth spots as if
where human bodies had reclined.  That both men and horses had been
there is evident, and that they had gone off by the trace running
westward, equally so.  But how they came thither is a question not so
easily answered; since the same halting-place shows no track of either
horse or man leading towards it!

Odd all this might appear, indeed inexplicable, to one unacquainted with
the nature of a dust-storm, or unaware of the incidents which have
preceded.  But to Gaspar, the gaucho, everything is as clear as
daylight; and, after a short inspection of the "sign," he thus
truthfully interprets it:--

"The redskins had just got thus far, when the _tormenta_ came on.  It
caught them here, and that's why we see these smooth patches; they lay
down to let it blow by.  Well; there's one good turn it's done us: we
now know the exact time they passed this spot; or, at all events, when
they were on it.  That must have been just after we entered the cave,
and were engaged with the _tigre_--I mean it Number 1.  No doubt by the
time we tackled the old Tom, they were off again.  As, you see,
_muchachos_, some little rain has sprinkled that trail since they passed
over it, which shows they went away in the tail of that terrific shower.
So," he adds, turning round, and stepping back towards his horse,
"there's nothing more to be done but ride off after them; which we may
now do as rapidly as our animals can carry us."

At this they all remount, and setting their horses' heads to the Indian
trail, proceed upon it at a brisk pace; no longer travelling tandem, but
broadly abreast.



CHAPTER FORTY TWO.

PICKING UP PEARLS.

From their new point of departure, the trackers have no difficulty about
the direction; this traced out for them, as plain as if a row of
finger-posts, twenty yards apart, were set across the _salitral_.  For
at least a league ahead they can distinguish the white list, where the
saline efflorescence has been turned up, and scattered about by the
hoofs of the Indian horses.

They can tell by the trail that over this portion of their route the
party they are in pursuit of has not ridden in any compact or regular
order, but straggled over a wide space; so that, here and there, the
tracks of single horses show separate and apart.  In the neighbourhood
of an enemy the Indians of the Chaco usually march under some sort of
formation; and Gaspar, knowing this, draws the deduction that those who
have latest passed over the _salitral_ must have been confident that no
enemy was near--either in front or following them.  Possibly, also,
their experience of the _tormenta_, which must have been something
terrible on that exposed plain, had rendered them careless as to their
mode of marching.

Whatever the cause, they now, taking up their trail, do not pause to
speculate upon it, nor make any delay.  On the contrary, as hounds that
have several times lost the scent, hitherto faint, but once more
recovered, and now fresher and stronger than ever, they press on with
ardour not only renewed, but heightened.

All at once, however, a shout from Cypriano interrupts the rapidity of
their progress--in short, bringing them to a halt--he himself suddenly
reigning up as he gives utterance to it.  Gaspar and Ludwig turn
simultaneously towards him for an explanation.  While their glances
hitherto have been straying far forward, he has been giving his
habitually to the ground more immediately under his horse's head, and to
both sides of the broad trail; his object being to ascertain if among
the many tracks of the Indians' horses, those of Francesca's pony are
still to be seen.

And sure enough he sees the diminutive hoof-marks plainly imprinted--not
at one particular place, but every here and there as they go galloping
along.  It is not this, however, which elicited his cry, and caused him
to come so abruptly to a stop.  Instead, something which equally
interests, while more surely proclaiming the late presence of the girl,
in that place, with the certainty of her being carried along a captive.
He has caught sight of an object which lies glistening among the white
powder of the _salitre_--whitish itself, but of a more lustrous sheen.
Pearls--a string of them, as it proves upon closer inspection!  At a
glance he recognises an ornament well-known to him, as worn by his
girlish cousin; Ludwig also, soon as he sees it, crying out:--

"It's sister's necklet!"

Gaspar, too, remembers it; for pearls are precious things in the eyes of
a gaucho, whose hat often carries a band of such, termed the _toquilla_.

Cypriano, flinging himself from his saddle, picks the necklace up, and
holds it out for examination.  It is in no way injured, the string still
unbroken, and has no doubt dropped to the ground by the clasp coming
undone.  But there are no traces of a struggle having taken place, nor
sign that any halt had been made on that spot.  Instead, the pony's
tracks, there distinctly visible, tell of the animal having passed
straight on without stop or stay.  In all likelihood, the catch had got
loosened at the last halting-place in that conflict with the storm, but
had held on till here.

Thus concluding, and Cypriano remounting, they continue onward along the
trail, the finding of the pearls having a pleasant effect upon their
spirits.  For it seems a good omen, as if promising that they may yet
find the one who had worn them, as also be able to deliver her from
captivity.

Exhilarated by the hope, they canter briskly on; and for several leagues
meet nothing more to interrupt them; since that which next fixes their
attention, instead of staying, but lures them onward--the tops of tall
trees, whose rounded crowns and radiating fronds tell that they are
palms.

It still lacks an hour of sunset, when these begin to show over the
brown waste, and from this the trackers know they are nearing the end of
the _travesia_.  Cheered by the sight, they spur their horses to
increased speed, and are soon on the edge of the _salitral_; beyond,
seeing a plain where the herbage is green, as though no dust-storm had
flown over it.  Nor had there, for the _tormenta_, like cyclones and
hurricanes, is often local, its blast having a well-defined border.

Riding out upon this tract--more pleasant for a traveller--they make a
momentary halt, but still remaining in their saddles, as they gaze
inquiringly over it.

And here Cypriano, recalling a remark which Gaspar had made at their
last camping-place, asks an explanation of it.  The gaucho had expressed
a belief, that from something he remembered, they would not have much
further to go before arriving at their journey's end.

"Why did you say that?" now questions the young Paraguayan.

"Because I've heard the old _cacique_, Naraguana, speak of a place where
they buried their dead.  Strange my not thinking of that sooner; but my
brains have been so muddled with what's happened, and the hurry we've
been in all along, I've forgotten a good many things.  He said they had
a town there too, where they sometimes went to live, but oftener to die.
I warrant me that's the very place they're in now; and, from what I
understood him to say, it can't be very far t'other side this
_salitral_.  He spoke of a hill rising above the town, which could be
seen a long way off: a curious hill, shaped something like a wash-basin
turned bottom upwards.  Now, if we could only sight that hill."

At this he ceases speaking, and elevates his eyes, with an interrogative
glance which takes in all the plain ahead, up to the horizon's verge.
Only for a few seconds is he silent, when his voice is again heard, this
time in grave, but gleeful, exclamation:--

"_Por todos Santos_! there's the hill itself!"

The others looking out behold a dome-shaped eminence, with a flat,
table-like top recognisable from the quaint description Gaspar has just
given of it, though little more than its summit is visible above the
plain--for they are still several miles distant from it.

"We must go no nearer to it now," observes the gaucho, adding, in a tone
of apprehension, "we may be too near already.  _Caspita_!  Just look at
that!"

The last observation refers to the sun, which, suddenly shooting out
from the clouds hitherto obscuring it, again shows itself in the sky.
Not now, however, as in the early morning hours, behind their backs, but
right in front of them, and low down, threatening soon to set.

"_Vayate_!" he continues to ejaculate in a tone of mock scorn,
apostrophising the great luminary, "no thanks to you now, showing
yourself when you're not needed.  Instead, I'd thank you more if you'd
kept your face hid a bit longer.  Better for us if you had."

"Why better?" asks Cypriano, who, as well as Ludwig, has been listening
with some surprise to the singular monologue.  "What harm can the sun do
us now more than ever?"

"Because now, more than ever, he's shining inopportunely, both as to
time and place."

"In what way?"

"In a way to show us to eyes we don't want to see us just yet.  Look at
that hill yonder.  Supposing now, just by chance, any of the Indians
should be idling upon it, or they have a vidette up there.  Bah! what am
I babbling about?  He couldn't see us if they had; not here, unless
through a telescope, and I don't think the Tovas are so far civilised as
to have that implement among their chattels.  For all, we're not safe on
this exposed spot, and the sooner we're off it the better.  Some of them
may be out scouting in this direction.  Come, let us get under cover,
and keep so till night's darkness gives us a still safer screen against
prying eyes.  Thanks to the Virgin! yonder's the very place for our
purpose."

He points to a clump of trees, around the stems of which appears a dense
underwood; and, soon as signalling this, he rides toward and into it,
the others after him.

Once inside the copse, and for the time feeling secure against
observation, they hold a hasty counsel as to which step they ought next
to take.  From the sight of that oddly-shaped hill, and what Caspar
remembers Naraguana to have said, they have no doubt of its being the
same referred to by the old chief, and that the sacred town of the Tovas
is somewhere beside it.  So much they feel sure of, their doubts being
about the best way for them to approach the place and enter the town, as
also the most proper time.  And with these doubts are, of course,
mingled many fears; though with these, strange to say, Ludwig, the
youngest and least experienced of the three, is the least troubled.
Under the belief, as they all are, that Naraguana is still living, his
confidence in the friendship of the aged _cacique_ has throughout
remained unshaken.  When the latter shall be told of all that has
transpired; how his palefaced friend and protege met his death by the
assassin's hand--how the daughter of that friend has been carried off--
surely he will not refuse restitution, even though it be his own people
who have perpetrated the double crime?

Reasoning thus, Ludwig counsels their riding straight on to the Indian
town, and trusting to the good heart of Naraguana--throwing themselves
upon his generosity, Cypriano is equally eager to reach the place, where
he supposes his dear cousin Francesca to be pining as a prisoner; but
holds a very different opinion about the prudence of the step, and less
believes in the goodness of Naraguana.  To him all Indians seem
treacherous--Tovas Indians more than any--for before his mental vision
he has ever the image of Aguara, and can think of none other.

As for the gaucho, though formerly one of Naraguana's truest friends,
from what has happened, his faith in the integrity of the old Tovas
chief is greatly shaken.  Besides, the caution, habitual to men of his
calling and kind, admonishes him against acting rashly now, and he but
restates his opinion: that they will do best to remain under cover of
the trees, at least till night's darkness comes down.  Of course this is
conclusive, and it is determined that they stay.

Dismounting, they make fast their horses to some branches, and sit down
beside them--_en bivouac_.  But in this camp they kindle no fire, nor
make any noise, conversing only in whispers.  One passing the copse
could hear no sound inside it, save the chattering of a flock of macaws,
who have their roosting-place amid the tops of its tallest trees.



CHAPTER FORTY THREE.

IN THE SACRED TOWN.

That same sun which became so suddenly obscured over the _salitral_, to
shine again in the later hours of the afternoon, is once more about to
withdraw its light from the Chaco--this time for setting.  Already
appears its disc almost down upon the horizon; and the strangely-shaped
hill, which towers above the Tovas town, casts a dark shadow over the
plain eastward, to the distance of many miles.  The palms skirting the
lake reflect their graceful forms far over the water, whose surface,
undisturbed by the slightest breath of air, shows smooth and shining as
a mirror; broken, however, here and there, where water-fowl disport
themselves upon it.  Among these may be observed the great musk duck,
misnamed "Muscovy," and the black-necked swan; both indigenous to the
Chaco; while in the shallower places along shore, and by the edges of
the islets, appear various species of long-legged waders, standing
still, or stalking about as if on stilts; the most conspicuous of all
being the scarlet flamingo, side by side with the yet taller _garzon_,
already known to us as "soldier-crane."

A scene of tranquil yet picturesque beauty--perhaps no fairer on earth--
is the landscape lying around the Sacred Town of the Tovas.

And on this same day and hour, a stranger entering within the precincts
of the place itself might not observe anything to contrast with the
tranquillity of the scene outside.  Among the _toldos_ he would see
children at play, and, here and there, seated by their doors young girls
engaged in various occupations; some at basket work, others weaving mats
from the fibres of split palm leaves, still others knitting _redes_, or
hammocks.  Women of more mature age are busied with culinary cares,
preparing the evening repast over fires kindled in the open air; while
several are straining out the honey of the wild bee, called _tosimi_,
which a party of bee-hunters, just returned to the _tolderia_, has
brought home.

A few of the men may also be observed moving about, or standing in
groups on the open ground adjoining the _malocca_; but at this hour most
of them are on horseback out upon the adjacent plain, there galloping to
and fro, gathering their flocks and herds, and driving them towards the
_corrals_; these flocks and herds composed of horned cattle, sheep, and
goats--the Tovas Indians being somewhat of a pastoral people.  No
savages they, in the usual sense of the term, nor yet is hunting their
chief occupation.  This they follow now and then, diversifying the chase
by a warlike raid into the territory of some hostile tribe, or as often
some settlement of the palefaces.  For all civilisation of a certain
kind has made progress among them; having its origin in an early
immigration from Peru, when the "Children of the Sun" were conquered by
Pizarro and his _conquistadores_.  At that time many Peruvians, fleeing
from the barbarous cruelty of their Spanish invaders, sought asylum in
the Chaco, there finding it; and from these the Tovas and other tribes
have long ago learnt many of the arts of civilised life; can spin their
own thread, and sew skilfully as any sempstress of the palefaces; weave
their own cloth, dress and dye it in fast colours of becoming patterns;
in short, can do many kinds of mechanical work, which no white artisan
need feel ashamed to acknowledge as his own.  Above all, are they famed
for the "feather-work," or plume embroidery--an art peculiarly Indian--
which, on their first becoming acquainted with it, astonished the rough
soldiers of Cortez and Pizarro, as much as it delighted them.

To this day is it practised among several of the South American tribes,
notably those of the Gran Chaco, while the Tovas particularly excel in
it.  But perhaps the highest evidence of these Indians having some
civilisation, is their form of government, which is in reality
Republican.  For their _cacique_, or chief, although sometimes allowed
to rule by hereditary succession, is more often chosen by the sub-chiefs
and warriors; in short, elected just as the President of a Republic.

This gives the key to Aguara's doubts and fears on returning to the
Sacred Town with Francesca Halberger as his captive.  Nor are the latter
yet allayed, despite three days having elapsed since his return.  Though
he has done all in his power to conceal from his people the true facts
in relation to her father's death, still certain details of the tragedy
have leaked out; and it has become known to most, that the
hunter-naturalist is not only dead, but died by the hand of an assassin.
This last, however, they suppose to have been the other white man late
on a visit to them--Valdez the _vaqueano_.  For the same tale which
Aguara had told to his captive on the way, he has repeated, with some
variations, to the elders of the tribe assembled in council within the
_malocca_.  So far not much of a fiction; only that part accounting for
the death of the young brave who fell to Halberger's bullet--a stray
shot, while the latter was defending himself against Valdez.

And the daughter of the murdered man has been brought back with them,
not as a prisoner, but because it was inconvenient to take her direct to
her own home.  She can and will be sent thither at the first opportunity
which offers.  So promises the deceitful son of Naraguana to those of
the tribe who would call him to account.

Meanwhile, the girl has been entrusted to the charge and safe keeping of
Shebotha, a sort of "mystery woman," or sorceress, of much power in the
community; though, as all know, under the influence of Aguara himself.
But he has not dared to take the youthful captive to his own _toldo_, or
even hint at so doing; instead, he still keeps his wicked purpose to
himself, trusting to time and Shebotha for its accomplishment.
According to his own way of thinking, he can well afford to wait.  He
has no thought that anyone will ever come after the captive girl; much
less one with power to release her.  It is not probable, and from a
knowledge possessed only by himself, scarcely possible.  Her father is
dead, her mother doomed to worse than death, as also her brother and
that other relative--his own rival.  For before parting with him, Rufino
Valdez had said what amounted to so much; and possibly by this time the
Senora Halberger, with what remained of her family, would be on the way
back to Paraguay; not returning voluntarily, but taken back by the
_vaqueano_.  With this belief--a false one, as we know--the young Tovas
chief feels secure of his victim, and therefore refrains from any act of
open violence, as likely to call down upon him the censure of his
people.  Though popular with the younger members of the tribe, he is not
so much in favour with the elders as to fly in the face of public
opinion; for were these aware of what has really taken place, it would
go ill with him.  But as yet they are not; silence having been enjoined
on the youths who accompanied him in that ill-starred expedition, which
they, for their own sakes, have hitherto been careful to keep.

For all, certain facts have come to light in disjointed, fragmentary
form, with deductions drawn from them, which go hard against the
character of the young _cacique_; and as the hours pass others are
added, until discontent begins to show itself among the older and more
prominent men of the tribe, chiefly those who were the friends of his
father.  For these were also friends of her father, now alike
fatherless, though made so by a more cruel fate.  Low murmurings are
here and there heard, which speak of an intent to prosecute inquiry on
the subject of Halberger's assassination--even to the carrying it into
Paraguay.  Now that they have re-entered into amity with Paraguay's
Dictator, they may go thither, though the purpose be a strange one; to
arraign the commissioner who acted in restoring the treaty!

With much whispering and murmurs around, it is not strange that the
young _cacique_, while dreaming of future pleasures, should also have
fears for that future.  His own passion, wild as wicked, has brought him
into danger, and a storm seems brewing that, sooner or later, may
deprive him of his chieftainship.



CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.

AN INDIAN BELLE.

If the Tovas chief be in danger of receiving punishment from his people
for carrying into captivity the daughter of his father's friend, there
is also danger to the captive herself from another and very different
source.  Just as the passion of love has been the cause of her being
brought to the Sacred Town of the Tovas, that of jealousy is like to be
the means of her there finding an early grave.

The jealous one is an Indian girl, named Nacena, the daughter of a
sub-chief, who, like Naraguana himself, was an aged man held in high
regard; and, as the deceased _cacique_, now also sleeping his last sleep
in one of their scaffold tombs.

Despite her bronzed skin, Nacena is a beautiful creature; for the brown
is not so deep as to hinder the crimson blush showing its tint upon her
cheeks; and many a South American maiden, boasting the blue blood of
Andalusia, has a complexion less fair than she.  As on this same evening
she sits by the shore of the lake, on the trunk of a fallen palm-tree,
her fine form clad in the picturesque Indian garb, with her lovely face
mirrored in the tranquil water, a picture is presented on which no eye
could look, nor thought dwell, without a feeling of delight; and,
regarding her thus, no one would believe her to be other than what she
is--the belle of the Tovas tribe.

Her beauty had not failed to make impression upon the heart of Aguara,
long before his having become _cacique_.  He has loved her too, in days
gone by, ere he looked upon the golden-haired paleface.  Both children
then, and little more yet; for the Indian girl is only a year or two
older than the other.  But in this southern clime, the precocity already
spoken of is not confined to those whose skins are called white, but
equally shared by the red.

Nacena has been beloved by the son of Naraguana, and knew, or at least
believed it.  But she better knows, that she has been deceived by him,
and is now slighted, about to be cast aside for another.  That other
will, ere long, be chieftainess of the Tovas tribe, while she--

She has reflected thus far, when the bitter thought overpowering causes
her to start to her feet, a cry escaping her lips as if it came from a
heart cleft in twain.

Nothing of this, however, shows in her face.  The expression upon it is
rather that of anger, as a _jaguarete_ of her native plains, whose rage
has been aroused by the arrow of the Indian hunter suddenly piercing its
side.  Hitherto silent, she is now heard to speak; but, though alone,
the words to which she gives utterance are not in soliloquy: instead, as
if spoken to some one who is near, though unseen.  It is an apostrophe
meant for no mortal ears, but addressed to the Divinity of the lake!

"Spirit of the Waters!" she cries, with arms outstretched and head
aloft, "hear my prayer!  Tell me if it be true!  Will he make her his
wife?"

She is silent for a second or two, as though expecting a reply, and
listening for it.  It comes, but not from the deity addressed.  Out of
her own heart she has the answer.

"He will; yes, surely will!  Else, why has he brought her hither?  A
false tale he has told in the council of the elders; false as himself!
Where are his words, his vows, made to me with lips that gave kisses?
Perjured--broken--gone as his love, given to another!  And I am soon to
see her his queen, salute her as mine, and attend upon her as one of her
waiting maids!  Never!  No, Spirit of the Waters!  Rather than do that,
I shall go to you; be one of your attendants, not hers.  Rather than
that, thou shalt take me to thy bosom!"

High-sounding speeches from an Indian girl, scarce fifteen years of age?
But love's eloquence is not confined to age, race, or rank, no more
than that of jealousy.  Both passions may burn in the breast of the
savage maiden, as in the heart of the high-born lady--perhaps tearing it
more.  Not strange they should find like expression on the lips.

"Why not now?" continues Nacena in a tone that tells of despair, while
the cloud upon her brow is seen to grow darker.  "Ah! why not?  No need
waiting longer; I know all.  A leap from yonder rock, and all would be
over, my suspense, as my sufferings."

For a moment she stands with eyes fixed upon a rocky promontory, which
juts out into the lake near by.  Its head overhangs the water, three
fathoms deep, as she knows.  Many the time has she sprung from that
projecting point to swim, naiad-like, underneath it.  But the plunge she
now meditates is not for swimming, but to sink!

"No!" she exclaims, after a pause, as she withdraws her gaze from the
rock, the expression upon her face changing back to that of the
_jaguarete_!  "No, Spirit of the Waters! not yet.  Nacena fears not to
die, but that is not the death for the daughter of a Tovas chief.  If
wronged, she must resent it, and will.  Revenge first, and the deceiver
shall first die.  After that, O Spirit, thou canst take me; Nacena will
no longer care to live."

As she says this, the sad look returns to her countenance, replacing
that of anger; and for a time she stands with head drooped down to her
bosom, and arms hanging listlessly by her side--a very picture of
despair.

At length, she is about to leave the spot, when a footstep warns her of
one making approach; and, turning, she sees who it is.  A youth, but to
manhood grown, and wearing the insignia of a sub-chief.  Though many
years older than herself, he is her brother.

"Sister!" he says, coming up to her, and closely scanning her face, "you
have thoughts that trouble you.  I would know what they are."

"Oh, nothing," she rejoins, with an effort to appear calm.  "I've only
been looking over the lake, at the birds out yonder.  How they enjoy
themselves this fine evening!"

"But you're not enjoying yourself, Nacena; nor haven't been for some
time past.  I've noticed that; and more, I know the reason."

She starts at his words; not to turn pale, but with the blood mantling
into her brown cheeks.  Still she is silent.

"You need neither deny, nor declare it," he continues.  "'Tis all known
to me, save one thing.  That alone I wish to ask you about.  I must have
an answer, and a truthful one.  As your brother I demand it, Nacena."

She fixes her eyes upon him, in a look half-frightened, then timidly
asks:

"What thing, Kaolin?"

"Has he deceived you?"

"Deceived!" she echoes, the blush upon her cheeks mounting up to her
brow, and becoming deeper red.  "Brother!  Had any one but you asked
that question, I would--Deceived!  No; your sister would die before that
could have been.  As you seem to know all, I will no longer conceal the
truth from you.  You speak of Aguara.  I loved him; ah! love him still.
And he told me my love was returned; spoke it solemnly; vowed it.  Now I
know his words were false, and he was but beguiling me."

"Then he has trifled with you," exclaims the brother, his indignation
now beyond bounds.  "You, my sister, the daughter of a Tovas chief, of
birth and blood equal to his own!  But he shall repent it, and soon.
The time has not come; it will ere long.  Enough now, Nacena.  Not a
word to anyone of what has passed between us.  Be patient and wait.  For
your wrongs, I promise, you snail have revenge."

And with this threat, he turns away; leaving her on the lake's edge, as
he found her.

Soon as he is out of sight, and his footfall beyond hearing, she reseats
herself on the trunk of the palm; and, supporting her head upon her
hands, gives way to weeping--a very cataract of tears.

It seems to relieve her from the tumult of emotions late harassing her
heart, and after a time she looks up with an expression in her eyes
different from all that have preceded.  It is of hope; as can be told by
the words which fall in low murmuring from her lips:

"After all I may be mistaken.  Can I?  If so, and he is still true, then
I am wronging him, and Kaolin may commit a crime that will bring both
punishment and repentance.  Oh, that I knew the truth!  But surely,
Shebotha knows, and can tell it me.  She will, for the reward I shall
offer her.  This night she has promised to meet me on the hill, and
then, then--"

She breaks off abruptly, and with countenance again clouding over.  For
the words "I shall learn the worst" are on her lips, and the thought in
her mind.

It is hope's last spark, love-lighted from embers nearly extinguished,
still flickering, faint, and vainly struggling to burn on.



CHAPTER FORTY FIVE.

AN ELEVATED GRAVEYARD.

Just as the last glimmer of twilight is taking departure from the plain,
the three who had sought concealment under the roosting-place of macaws,
slip quietly out of the copse, and ride away from it, leaving the noisy
birds, now silent, behind them.

There is yet light enough to enable them to take bearings by the hill,
which, as they have rightly conjectured, rises over the Tovas town; and,
heading direct towards it, after a couple of hours spent in riding at a
brisk pace, they arrive at the rocky steep forming a periphery to its
base.  As there is now a clear moonlight, caution dictates their again
getting under cover; which they do by drawing their horses close in to
the adjacent cliff, whose shadow sufficiently conceals them.  But it is
not intended to stay long there.  At their last halting-place they had
considered everything, and decided upon the steps to be taken; so far as
they can, from what is known to them.  If the circumstances change, or
turn out different from what they are expecting, they must be guided in
their action accordingly.

Still in the belief of Naraguana being alive, Ludwig is again of the
opinion that they should push on to the town without further delay.  The
place cannot now be far-off; for at the hill's base they have struck a
broad and much-travelled trail denoting the proximity of a settlement.
Cypriano is undecided, but Gaspar, as before, goes strongly against
proceeding directly onward.

"You speak of delay, Senor Ludwig," he says; "but in this case, the old
adage, `More haste less speed,' might be true, as it often is.  Besides,
what would we gain by entering their town now?  It isn't likely we
should accomplish anything to-night.  You forget the hour it is--nigh
unto midnight.  And as the custom of most Chaco Indians is early to bed
and early to rise, we'd no doubt find every redskin of them asleep, with
only their dogs to receive us.  _Carrai_!  A nice reception that would
be!  Like as not some scores of half-famished curs to fall upon us--
perhaps drag us out of our saddles.  Whereas, in the morning all would
be different, with the people up to protect us from such an assault.
But whether we enter at night, or by day, I still stick to the belief,
that it will be better to do so by stealth; at least, one of us should
first slip in that way, and learn how the land lies.  In any case, we
ought to have a squint at this Sacred Town, before trusting ourselves
within its walls--if walls it have.  From the look of things here, I
fancy it lies on the other side of this hill.  By climbing the hill now,
and staying on its top till daybreak, we'll get a god view of the town,
which will, no doubt, be right under us.  We can see all through the
streets, and what's going on in them.  That will give us a hint of how
to act afterwards, and if things look favourable, we might then ride
boldly in; which, after all, may be the best way of introducing
ourselves--only it should be done in the daylight."

Cypriano sees that the gaucho's reasoning is correct; and Ludwig also
acknowledging it to be so, it is finally decided that they ascend the
hill, and remain upon its summit for the rest of that night.

But now comes a question not hitherto asked, or thought of.  How is the
ascent to be made, and where is there a path practicable for making it?
Not only is it steep, but its sides are thickly overgrown with trees,
and between their trunks a dense tangle of underwood.

"It must be on its summit, they have their burying-ground," observes
Gaspar, gazing upward.  "Yes; Naraguana spoke of its being on the top of
a hill, and there's no other hill near.  If that be the case, and they
carry their dead up, there'll sure be some sort of a road for their
funeral processions.  That would likely be on the other side, straight
up from the town.  But I warrant there's a trail starts from this side
too, and runs right over the hill.  Let's ride along a bit, and see if
there be."

The gaucho's conjecture is correct, as they soon discover.  Before they
have ridden three score lengths of their horses, keeping close along the
base of the hill, they perceive an opening in the timber which skirts
it, marked by certain insignia denoting the entrance to a
much-frequented path.  For though narrow, it shows well trampled and
trodden.  Diverging abruptly from the broad road running on round the
hill, it strikes in under a tall cotton tree, a _ceiba_, this
conspicuous from being bent over, as if half-blown down.  The path
enters between its trunk and a gigantic _pita_ plant (_agave_), whose
stiff spinous leaves almost bar up the entrance as with an iron gate.

"That's the way we've got to go," says Gaspar, pointing to it, at the
same time setting his horse's head in the direction of the _ceiba_; then
adding, as he nods towards the _pita_ plant; "have a care of your heads,
_hijos mios_!  Look out for this queer customer on the left, or you may
get your soft cheeks scratched a bit."

On delivering the admonition he ducks his own head, and passing under
the thorny leaves of the _agave_, commences the ascent of the hill.

Cypriano and Ludwig do likewise; and all three are soon climbing the
steep, one behind the other, now in silence, the only sounds heard being
the hoof-strokes of the horses, with their hard breathing as they strain
up the acclivity.

A quarter of an hour's tough climbing carries them up the wooded slope,
and out upon the open summit, where they have a spectacle before their
eyes peculiar, as it is original.  As already said, the hill is
table-topped, and being also dome-shaped the level surface is circular,
having a diameter of some three or four hundred yards.  Nothing strange
in this, however, since hills of the kind, termed _mesas_, are common
throughout most parts of Spanish America, and not rare in the Gran
Chaco.  All three are familiar with such eminences.  But what they are
not familiar with--and indeed none of them have ever seen before--are
some scores of queer-looking structures standing all over the summit,
with alley-like spaces between!  Scaffolds they appear, each having two
stages, one above the other, such as might be used in the erection of a
two-storey house!

And scaffolds they are, though not employed in any building purposes;
instead, for that of burial.  They are the tombs on which are deposited
the bodies of the Tovas dead; or those of them that during life were
dignitaries in the tribe.

On this elevated cemetery the moon is shining brightly, though
obliquely, throwing the shadows of the scaffolds aslant, so that each
has its counterpart on the smooth turf by its side, dark as itself, but
magnified in the moonlight.  Gaspar and his companions can see that
these singular mausoleums are altogether constructed of timber, the
supporting posts being trunks of the _Cocoyol_ palm, the lower staging
of strong canes, the _cana brava_, laid side by side, while the upper
one, or roof, is a thatch of the leaves of another species of palm--the
_cuberta_.

After contemplating them for an instant, Gaspar says: "This is the
burying-ground Naraguana spoke to me about, beyond a doubt.  And not
such a bad sort of place either to take one's final rest in, after
life's worries are over.  I shouldn't much object to being laid out in
that style myself.  Only I'd need friends to live after me, and keep the
structure in repair; otherwise the frail thing might some day come
tumbling down, and my poor bones along with it."

At the conclusion of this quaint speech, he gives the rein to his horse,
and moves on among the tombs, making for the opposite side of the
cemetery, the others following in silence.  For from the brow of the
hill on its westward side, they expect to look down upon the Indian
town.

"It must be on t'other side," observes the gaucho, as they proceed.  "I
remember the old chief saying the _tolderia_ was west of the hill."

When half-way across he again reins up, halting his horse alongside one
of the scaffolds, conspicuous among the rest by its larger size, as also
a certain freshness about the timbers of which it is constructed; some
chips scattered around the supports, where these have been chopped and
barked, telling of recent erection.  It is not this, however, has
prompted Gaspar to make stop beside it; but simply that he there sees a
place suitable for the stalling of their horses.  There is no need to
take the animals on to the other side, but better leave them there, and
themselves go forward afoot.

Thus reflecting, all three dismount, and attach their horses to the
corner posts of the scaffold, each choosing one for his own.  Then, with
cautious steps, they continue to the outer edge of the circle, and
pushing through some trees that skirt it, look to the plain below.  Sure
enough, there is the thing they expected to see--an Indian town or
_tolderia_.  A large lake lies beyond, on whose tranquil surface the
moon makes a mirror, as if it were glass.  But their eyes rest only upon
the town, their ears bent to catch any sound that may come up from it.

It is not long till sounds do ascend, the barking of dogs, with now and
then the lowing of cattle, and neighing of horses; but no human voice,
nothing to tell that the place is inhabited by man.  For there is no
smoke from the houses, no lights anywhere, everybody seeming to be
asleep.

Nothing strange in all this; nor do they looking down from the hill
think it so.  Instead, things are just as they should be and as Caspar
anticipated they would.  For it is now the midnight hour, and since red
men must have rest as well as white ones, the Tovas have all retired to
their beds or hammocks.

So concluding, and satisfied with what they see--reflecting further that
nothing more can be done till morning--the gaucho and his companions go
back to their horses, with the intention of taking off the saddles, and
otherwise disposing of them for the night.

It was at first proposed to keep them tied to the scaffold-posts, but on
a second inspection of the place, Gaspar sees it is not the best one
either for their animals or themselves to pass the night in.  Should
they go to rest under the scaffold, while asleep, their horses turning
restive might pull down the posts, and bring rattling about their ears
the bones of some dead _cacique_!  Besides, the ground underneath is not
nice to repose upon; being without herbage and trampled all over, some
parts seeming freshly turned up.  The gaucho would prefer a patch of
soft grass to lay his limbs along, and this very thing he has noticed
while they were out on the brow of the eminence overlooking the town.
Here a grand fig-tree had attracted his attention, under its branches
seeming the most proper place for them to encamp.  Its far-spreading and
umbrageous boughs drooping back to the ground and there taking root--as
the Indian _banyan_ of which it is the New World representative--
enclosed a large space underneath.  It would not only give them a
shelter from the dews of the night, but concealment from the eyes of
anyone who might chance to be passing that way.

With these manifest advantages in favour of the ground under the
fig-tree as a camping-place, and the disadvantages of that beneath the
scaffold, the latter is without further ado forsaken, and the former
taken possession of.

As no camp-fire can be safely kindled, nor food cooked, they must go to
sleep supperless.

Fortunately none of them is a-hungered, all having made a hearty meal
while within the _macaw's_ grove.  There they had polished off the grand
"drumsticks" of the ostrich, by good luck already roasted.  So caring
not for supper, after having disposed of their horses by tying them to
branches of the fig-tree, they stretch themselves along the ground, and
seek repose, which on this night they all need, as much as on any other
since starting upon their long-protracted expedition.

Still, they do not intend to be all asleep at the same time.  In such a
place, with the danger of being found in it, that would never do.  One
of the three must remain awake and on watch; so it is arranged that they
take the duty of sentinel in turns.  As the present hour appears to be
the one calling for keenest vigilance, Caspar volunteers for the first
turn of guard; and the other two wrapping their ponchos around them, and
resting their heads upon their _recados_, with a mutual _Buenas noches_!
become silent, if not asleep.



CHAPTER FORTY SIX.

A DEAD MAN IDENTIFIED.

Whether his young companions be sleeping or awake, the gaucho does not
stay by their side; but, almost as soon as seeing them disposed along
the earth, slips out from under the fig-tree, and facing towards the
central part of the cemetery, walks off in that direction.  His object
is to revisit the scaffold lately left by them, and make a more detailed
examination of it.  Not that he cares aught about the structure itself.
It is not the first time for him to have seen similar burying-places of
the Chaco Indians, and he knows as much about them as he cares to know.
Nor is his object, in returning to this particular one, of a very
definite character; but rather because a vague idea or instinct has come
into his mind which prompts him to the act--a sort of presentiment that
he may there see something to throw light on much of what has been all
along mystifying him.  To go thither will in no way interfere with his
duties as a sentinel, since he can perform these equally well or better
by moving about.  Besides, it will help to beguile the time, as also
make him familiar with the ground they have got upon--a familiarity that
may hereafter prove of service to them.  As already stated, he had
observed that the scaffold is of recent erection, telling that the man
or woman laid upon it cannot have been very long dead.  He had,
moreover, noticed, while attaching his bridle to one of the uprights,
that a series of notches was cut in the post, evidently to facilitate
ascent.  In all likelihood, the surviving relatives of the deceased are
in the habit of coming thither at periodical intervals, to adorn the
tomb with flowers or other tokens of affectionate memory; perhaps bring
votive offerings to the spirit which presides over that consecrated
spot.  But whatever the purpose of the notches, the gaucho knows they
will enable him to climb up with ease, and see what rests upon the
platform.

Approaching the catafalque with silent tread, he stands for a time
gazing at it without making any movement to mount up.  Not from
curiosity does he so regard it; but something akin to awe has stolen
over his spirit, and he almost fears further to intrude on the
sacredness of the place.  Besides, the act requires caution.  What if
some of the Indians given to nocturnal straying should chance to come
that way, and see him up those stairs, desecrating the abode of the
dead?  Even were there no other reason for his fearing to be found in
that place, the act itself would make him liable to punishment--possibly
no less than death!  For among the Tovas, as many other tribes of South
American Indians--infidels though they are called--the tombs of their
dead are held as sacred as those of the Spanish Christians who so
designate them.

Notwithstanding all this, Gaspar the gaucho is not to be baulked in his
design.  He has not come to the bottom of that curious catafalque, to go
away again without seeing what is above.  And though he stands
hesitating, it is only for a short while, finally making up his mind to
ascend.

Ascend he does; laying hold of one of the notched corner posts, and
climbing the primitive ladder, as it were, set ready and awaiting him.

As the moon is by this far down in the sky, its beams are not obstructed
by the roof thatch, but fall obliquely upon the floor of the platform
beneath.  There, lying at full length, the gaucho perceives a form,
easily recognisable as that of a human being, though swathed in various
kinds of cloths, which cover it from head to foot.  The body of a man,
moreover, as can be told by its size and shape; while beside, and
arranged around it, are certain insignia proclaiming it to be that of
some distinguished chieftain of the Tovas.  There are spears, shields,
_macanas_, lazoes, bolas--among them the _bola perdida_, some of these
weapons placed upon the platform alongside the corpse, others suspended
from the beams and poles supporting the thatch of the roof.  There is
horse-gear as well--the multifarious trappings which appertain to the
caparison of a gaucho's steed--recado, carona, caronilla, jerga, with
Mameluke bitts and spurs of immensely large rowels; for all these are
possessed by the higher order of pampas Indians, and notably their
chiefs--property they have picked up in some plundering expedition,
where gauchos themselves have been their victims.

Just such a thought passes through the mind of gaucho Gaspar, as his
eyes rest on the grand array displayed on the _cacique's_ tomb.  For
that it is the tomb of a _cacique_, and one of grand note, he has not a
doubt, seeing such a selection of trophies.  In addition to the war
weapons and implements of the chase, there are articles of dress and
adornment; bracelets of gold, bead necklets and belts, with coronets of
bright-coloured plumes; while most conspicuous of all is a large
feather-embroidered _manta_, covering the corpse from head to foot, even
concealing the face.

Still there is nothing in all this to astonish Gaspar Mendez, or in any
way give him a surprise.  He has seen the like before, and often among
the Auracanian Indians, who are kindred with the tribes of the Chaco.
He but makes the reflection, how silly it is in these savages thus to
expose such fine commodities to the weather, and let them go to loss and
decay--all to satisfy a heathen instinct of superstition!  And thus
reflecting, he would in all probability have lowered himself back to the
ground, but for that presentiment still upon him.  It influences him to
remain a moment longer balancing himself upon the notched upright, and
gazing over the platform.  Just then the moon getting clear of some
cirrhus clouds, and shining brighter than ever, lights up an object
hitherto unnoticed by him, but one he recognises as an old acquaintance.
He starts on beholding a felt hat of the Tyrolese pattern, which he
well remembers to have seen worn by his master, the hunter-naturalist,
and by him given to the aged _cacique_ of the Tovas as a token of
friendship.  And now he feels the presentiment which has been upon him
all explained and fulfilled.  Springing up on the platform, and
uncovering the face of the corpse, he beholds--Naraguana!



CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN.

GASPAR DESPONDENT.

"Naraguana dead!" exclaims the gaucho, as standing upon the scaffold he
gazes upon the form at his feet.  "_Santissima_! this is strange!"

"But is it certainly the old _cacique_?" he adds, again stooping down
and raising the selvedge of feather cloth, which had fallen back over
the face.  Once more exposed to view, the features deeply-furrowed with
age--for Naraguana was a very old man--and now further shrivelled by the
dry winds of the Chaco, with the skin drawn tight over high-cheek bones,
and hollow, sightless sockets, where once shone pair of eyes coal-black
and keen--all this under the pale moonlight, presents a spectacle at
once weird-like and ghastly, as if of a death's head itself!

Still it is the face of Naraguana, as at a glance the gaucho perceives,
muttering, "Yes; it's the old chief, sure enough.  Dead, and dried up
like a mummy!  Died of old age, no doubt.  Well," he continues, in
graver tone, "by whatever way he may have come to his end, no greater
misfortune could have befallen us.  _Carrai_! it's Satan's own luck!"

Having thus delivered himself, he stands for a while on the platform,
but no longer looking at the corpse, nor any of the relics around it.
Instead, his eyes are turned towards the tree, under whose shadow his
youthful comrades are reclining, and as he supposes asleep.  On that
side is the moon, and as her light falls over his face, there can be
seen upon it an expression of great anxiety and pain--greater than any
that has marked it since that moment, when in the _sumac_ grove he bent
over the dead body of his murdered master.

But the troubled look now overspreading his features springs not from
grief, nor has anger aught to do with it.  Instead, it is all
apprehension.  For now, as though a curtain had been suddenly lifted
before his eyes, he sees beyond it, there perceiving for himself and his
companions danger such as they had not yet been called upon to
encounter.  All along the route their thoughts were turned to Naraguana,
and on him rested their hopes.  Naraguana can do nothing for them now.

"No!" reflects the gaucho, despairingly; "we can expect no help from
him.  And who else is there to give it?  Who, besides, would have the
power to serve us, even if the will be not wanting?  No one, I fear.
_Mil Diablos_! it's a black look-out, now--the very blackest!"

Again facing round to the corpse, and fixing his eyes upon the still
uncovered face, he seems to examine it as though it were a trail upon
the pampas, in order to discover what tale it may tell.  And just for a
like purpose does he now scrutinise the features of the dead _cacique_,
as appears by his soliloquy succeeding.

"Yes; I understand it all now--everything.  He's been dead some time--at
least two or three weeks.  That explains their leaving the other town in
such haste, and coming on here.  Dead, or deadly sick, before he left
it, the old chief would have himself to think of, and so sent no word to
us at the _estancia_.  No blame to him for not doing so.  And now that
the young one's in power, with a fool's head and a wolf's heart, what
may we expect from him?  Ah, what?  In a matter like this, neither grace
nor mercy.  I know he loves the _muchachita_, with such love as a savage
may--passionately, madly.  All the worse for her, poor thing!  And all
the poorer chance for us to get her away from him.  _Por Dios_! it does
look dark."

After a pause, he continues:

"His making her a captive and bringing her on here, I can quite
understand; that's all natural enough, since his father being dead,
there's no longer any one to hinder him doing as he likes.  It's only
odd his chancing to meet master out that day, so far from home.  One
would suppose he'd been watching the _estancia_, and saw them as they
went away from it.  But then, there were no strange tracks about the
place, nor anywhere near it.  And I could discover none by the old
_tolderia_ that seemed at all fresh, excepting those of the shod horse.
But whoever rode him didn't seem to have come anywhere near the house;
certainly not on this side.  For all that, he might have approached it
from the other, and then ridden round, to meet the Indians afterwards at
the crossing of the stream.  Well, I shall give the whole ground a
better examination once we get back."

"Get back!" he exclaims, repeating his words after a pause, and in
changed tone.  "Shall we ever get back?  That's the question now, and a
very doubtful one it is.  But," he adds, turning to descend from the
scaffold, "it won't help us any on the road my remaining up here.  If
the old _cacique's_ body still had the breath in it, may be it might.
But as it hasn't the sooner I bid good-bye to it the better.  _Adios_,
Naraguana!  _Pasa V. buena noche_!"

Were death itself staring him in the face, instead of seeing it as he
does in the face of another man, Gaspar the gaucho, could not forego a
jest, so much delights he to indulge in his ludicrous humour.

After unburdening himself as above, he once more closes his arms around
the notched post, and lowers himself from the platform.

But again upon the ground, and standing with face toward the fig-tree,
the gravity of its expression is resumed, and he seems to hesitate about
returning to the place of bivouac, where his youthful companions are now
no doubt enjoying the sweets of a profound slumber.

"A pity to disturb them!" he mutters to himself; "and with such a tale
as I have now to tell.  But it must be told, and at once.  Now that
everything's changed, new plans must be thought of, and new steps taken.
If we're to enter the Indian town at all, it will have to be in a
different way from what we intended.  _Caspita_! how the luck's turned
against us!"

And with this desponding reflection, he moves off from the scaffold;
and, making his way among the mausoleums, once more approaches the spot
where the South American banyan casts its sombre shadow over them.



CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT.

BREAKING BAD NEWS.

Caspar has been mistaken in supposing the other two asleep.  One of them
is--Ludwig, who sleeps soundly, and to all appearance peacefully.  Not
that he is indifferent to the seriousness of the situation, or less
anxious about the upshot, than Cypriano.  He but slumbers, because he is
naturally of a more somnolent habit than his cousin, as also, being the
weaker of the two, from the effects of a journey so long sustained, and
travelling at such a pace.  Moreover, he is not even yet quite recovered
from the damage done him by the gymnoti; their electricity still acting
on his nervous system, and producing a certain lassitude.

There is yet another reason why Ludwig has let himself go to sleep--one
of a moral nature.  As is known, he still adheres to his belief in the
fidelity of Naraguana, and, so believing, is least of them all
apprehensive about the result.  At this moment he may be dreaming of the
old _cacique_, though little dreams he that his dead body is so near!

Altogether different is it with Cypriano.  This night there is no sleep
for him, nor does he think of taking any.  Though he lay down alongside
his cousin, wrapping himself in his poncho, he did not long remain
recumbent.  Instead, soon starting to his feet again, he has been pacing
to and fro under the fig-tree, wondering where Gaspar has gone.  For, as
known, the gaucho had slipped off without making noise, or saying word.

Missing him, the young Paraguayan would call out his name.  But he fears
to raise his voice, lest it reach other ears than those for which it was
intended.  Reflecting, moreover, that Gaspar is pretty sure to have some
good reason for absenting himself, and that his absence will not likely
be for long, he awaits his return in silence.  Therefore, when the
gaucho in coming back draws nigh to the fig-tree, he sees a form within
the periphery of its shadow, that of Cypriano, standing ready to receive
him.  The latter first speaks, asking: "Where have you been, Gaspar?"

"Oh! only taking a turn among the tombs."

"And you've seen something among them to make you uneasy?"

"Why do you say that, Senorito?"

"Because I can see it in your countenance."  The gaucho, as he
approaches, has the moon full upon his face, and by her light the other
has observed the troubled look.

"What is it?" the youth goes on to ask, in a tone of eager anxiety, all
the more from seeing that the other hesitates to give the explanation.
"You've discovered something--a new danger threatens us?  Come, Gaspar,
you may as well tell me of it at once."

"I intend telling you, _hijo mio_.  I was only waiting till we were all
three together.  For now, I think, we'll have to rouse Master Ludwig.
You've conjectured aright, as I'm sorry to say.  I _have_ seen something
that's not as we would wish it.  Still, it may not be so bad as I've
been making it."

Notwithstanding this hopeful proviso, Cypriano is himself now really
alarmed; and, impatient to learn what the new danger is, he stoops down
over his cousin, takes hold of his arm, and shakes him out of his
slumbers.

Ludwig, starting to his feet, confusedly inquires why he has been
disturbed.  Then Gaspar, coming close to them, so that he need not speak
in a loud voice, gives an account of what he has discovered, with his
own views relating to it.

As he himself did, both the boys at once comprehend the changed
situation, with a like keen sense of the heightened danger to result
from it.  Naraguana's death has extinguished all hope of help from him.
It may be both the cause and forecast of their own!

Their prospects are now gloomy indeed; but they do not idly dwell on
them, or give way to utter despondency.  That would be unavailing;
besides, there is no time for it.  Something must be done to meet the
altered circumstances.  But what?  A question to which none of them
makes an immediate answer, since none can.

For awhile all three stand silent, considering.  Only a short while,
when Gaspar is again stirred to activity, by reflecting that even now
they are not safe.  One of their horses, frightened by an owl that has
flapped its wings close to its face, has snorted, striking the hard
ground with his hoof, and making a noise that reverberates throughout
the cemetery, echoing among the scaffolds.  What if he should set to
neighing, in answer to that which now and then comes up from the town
below?  The thing is too probable, and the result manifest.  A single
neigh might betray them; for what would horses be doing up there upon
the sacred hill?  So would any Indian ask who should chance to hear it.

"We must muffle our animals," says Caspar.  "And what's more, take them
back to the other side, where we came up.  There we can better conceal
them among the bushes.  Besides, if it should come to our being under
the necessity of a speedy retreat, we'll be nearer to the back-track,
and have a fairer chance of getting off.  Senoritos! get your jergas,
and wrap them round your horses' heads."

He sets the example by so disposing of his own; and, accustomed to quick
action in matters of the kind, all three soon have their animals
"tapado."  Then, leading them across to where the path ascends on the
opposite side, they place them under cover of some thick bushes growing
near by, Caspar saying:

"They'll be safe enough here, I take it; at all events till the morning.
Then we may move them elsewhere, and if we're to have a run for it,
remember, _hijos mios_, 'twill be a race for our lives.  There's no
Naraguana now to stand between us and that young wolf, who I fear has
got the dear little lamb in his clutches, so fast we'll have great--"

The effect of his words are such, upon those listening to them, that he
suddenly interrupts himself in what he was about to say, and in changed
tone continues: "_Carramba_! we'll rescue her yet, Naraguana, or no
Naraguana.  It can be done without him, and I think I know the way."

In saying so, Caspar is practising a slight deception, his object being
to cheer his young companions, over whom his last speech seemed to cast
the gloom of despair.  For he has as yet thought of no way, nor
conceived any definite plan of action.  When asked by Cypriano to
explain himself, he is silent; and appealed to, he answers by evasion.
The truth is, that up to the instant of his finding Naraguana's body
upon the scaffold, he too had been trusting all to what the latter would
do for them; and no more than Ludwig could he believe the good old chief
to have turned traitor to the palefaced friend so long under his
protection, much less connived at his assassination.  Now, the gaucho
knows he has had no hand either in the murder of his master, or the
abduction of that master's daughter.  These events must have occurred
subsequent to his death, and, while they were in the act of occurrence,
Naraguana was sleeping his last sleep under his plumed _manta_ upon that
elevated platform.  His son and successor--for Gaspar doubts not that
Aguara has succeeded him in the chieftainship--is answerable for the
deed of double crime, whoever may have been his aiders and abettors.

Of course, this makes the case all the more difficult to deal with,
since the new _cacique_, by this time established in full plenitude of
power, will have it all his own way, and can carry things with a high
hand, as he most surely will.  To make appeal to him for the restitution
of the captive would be manifestly idle, like asking a tiger to
surrender the prey it holds between its teeth or in its claws.  The
gaucho has no thought of so appealing, any more than either of the
others.  And no more than they has he formed a plan of future action.
Only now, after their disposal of the horses, is his brain busy in the
conception of some scheme suited to the changed circumstances; and
hence, on Cypriano asking him to tell the way he knew of, he but replies
evasively, saying:

"Be patient, Senorito!  Wait till we've got things a little snug, then
I'll take pleasure in telling you.  But we mustn't remain here.  On the
other side of this queer cemetery, where the road runs down to the
_tolderia_--as I've no doubt there is such--that will be the place for
us to spend the night in.  There we can see and hear what passes on the
plain, and should any one stray up we'll be warned of it, either by our
eyes or ears, in good time to get out of their way.  So let us cross
over.  And we must step silently," he adds, pointing to the _cacique's_
scaffold tomb, "lest we disturb the sleep of old Naraguana, up yonder."

With this facetious remark, made partly in the indulgence of his usual
humour, but as much to raise the spirits of his young companions, he
strides off among the odd structures, making direct for the other side
of the cemetery, Ludwig and Cypriano following in single file.



CHAPTER FORTY NINE.

GASPAR MEANS MASQUERADING.

As they might truly anticipate, the gaucho's conjecture proves to be
correct.  A road runs up to the summit of the hill on its western side;
not direct, but somewhat zigzagged, in consequence of the slope on that
face being steeper, and the ground more rocky and uneven.  Withal, it is
much wider than that by which they ascended, the latter being only a
path leading out to the uninhabited pampa: while the former is the main
thoroughfare between town and cemetery.  It debouches on the level
summit through a slight hollow, or defile, possibly due to the wear and
tear of travel, continued through the long ages.  Many a funeral
procession, and from the most remote time, may have wound its way up
that steep slope, passing between two cliffs, which, like the posterns
of some grand gateway, mark the entrance to this elevated burial-place.

They do not go direct to the point where the town road enters the
cemetery ground, but first back to the fig-tree to get their guns,
ponchos, and some other articles left under it in their haste to put the
horses in a better place of security.  Having recovered the weapons and
chattels, they proceed in search of the road.  It is easily found, as
all the paths between the separate scaffolds run into it.  The point
where it comes up out of the defile is but a short distance from the
fig-tree; and on reaching this point they take their stand under the
cliff; the one on the right hand side: for the moon being behind this,
its shadow is projected more than half across the causeway of the road,
so giving them a safe spot to stand in.

But they do not remain long upon their feet.  Gaspar, observing a low
bench of rock at the cliff's base behind them, repeats a Spanish synonym
of the old saw, "It's as cheap sitting as standing;" and with this drops
down upon the ledge, the others doing likewise.

The spot thus chosen is in every way answerable for the object they have
in view.  They are right over the Indian town, and can see into its
streets, so far as is permitted by the moon's declining light.  It
commands, moreover, a view of the road, for a good reach below, to the
first angle of the zigzag, and no one could ascend beyond that point
without being seen by them so long as there is light; while there is no
danger of being themselves seen.  One passing up, even when opposite the
place where they are seated, would not perceive them; since, in addition
to the shadowing cliff, there is a thick scrub between them and the
travelled track, effectually screening them.

The advantages of the position are apparent to all; and, soon as settled
in it, Cypriano once more calls upon Gaspar to make known the plan he
has hinted at.

Thus again challenged, the gaucho, who has meanwhile been doing his best
to trace out some course of action, responds, speaking in a slow,
meditative way.  For as yet he has but a vague idea of what ought to be
done.

"Well," he says, "there's but one plan I can think of as at all likely
to be successful.  It may be, if dexterously managed; and I dare say we
can so manage it."

He pauses, seeming to deliberate within himself; which the two youths
perceiving, refrain to ask further questions, leaving him to continue at
his own time.

Which at length he does, with the odd observation:--

"One of us must become an Indian."

"Become an Indian!" exclaims Ludwig.  "What mean you by that, Gaspar?"

"I mean counterfeit a redskin; get disguised as one, and so steal into
their town."

"Ah! now, I understand.  But that will be a dangerous thing to do,
Gaspar.  If caught--"

"Of course it will be dangerous," interrupts the gaucho.  "If caught,
whoever of us it be, would no doubt get his skull crushed in by a
_macana_, or maybe his body burnt over a slow fire.  But as you see
everything's dangerous for us now, one may as well risk that danger as
any other.  As to counterfeiting an Indian, I propose taking the part
myself; and I should be able to play it pretty well, having, as you both
know, had some experience in that line.  It was by a trick of the same
sort I got off from the Guaycurus when I was their prisoner up the
Pilcomayo; and if I hadn't done it neatly, you shouldn't now see me
here."

"How did you manage it?" queries Ludwig mechanically, or rather, to know
how he intended doing it now.

"Well, I borrowed the costume of an ugly savage, who was set to keep
guard over me, having first taken a loan of his hardwood club.  The club
I returned to him, in a way he wouldn't have wished had he been awake.
But he was silly enough to go to sleep, and was sleeping when I took
it--ah! and slept on after I returned it--ever after.  His dress I kept,
and wore for more than a week--in short, till I got back to Paraguay,
for I was over a week on the road.  It fitted me well; so well, that
with some colouring stuff I found in the fellow's pouch, I was able to
paint Indian, pass among the tents of the Guaycurus, and through a crowd
of the savages themselves, without one of them suspecting the trick.  In
that way I slipped out of their camp and off.  So, by something of the
same I may be able to get the dear little _nina_ out of this town of the
Tovas."

"Oh! do it, Gaspar!" exclaims Cypriano; "do that, and all I have will be
yours."

"Yes! all we both have," adds Ludwig; "all there is at the _estancia_.
But rescue sister, and I'm sure my mother will make you welcome to
everything."

"_Ta-ta_!" returns the gaucho, in a tone of reproach at being thus
bargained with; gentle, however, as he knows it is from their anxiety
about Francesca.  "Why, _hijos mios_, what are you speaking of?
Promises to me,--a bribe for but doing my duty!  'Twill be a far day
before Gaspar Mendez will need that for service done to either friend or
relative of his dear dead master--ay, to the laying down of my life.
_Carramba_! are we not all embarked in the same boat, to swim or sink
together?  But we sha'n't sink yet; not one of us.  No; we shall swim
out of this sea of troubles, and triumphantly.  Cease despairing, then;
for after all there mayn't be so much danger.  Though Naraguana be dead,
there's one above him, above all, up there in Heaven, who will not
forsake us in this our extremity.  Let us kneel and pray to Him."

And they do kneel; Ludwig, as called upon by Gaspar repeating the Lord's
prayer, with a solemnity befitting the occasion.



CHAPTER FIFTY.

A MIDNIGHT PROMENADER.

Rising from their knees, and resuming their seats upon the ledge, they
return to the subject of discourse, interrupted by their devotional
interlude; Caspar declaring it his fixed intention to disguise himself
as an Indian, and so seek entrance into the town.  No matter what the
danger, he is ready to risk it.

The others consenting, the next question that comes before them is, how
the disguise is to be got up.  About this there seems a difficulty to
Ludwig, and also to Cypriano; though recalling the transformation of the
latter into a soldier-crane, so quickly done by the deft hands of the
gaucho, they doubt not that he will also find the ways and means for
transforming himself into a redskin.

"If we only had a Tovas Indian here," he says, "as I had that sleepy
Guaycuru, I'd not be long in changing clothes with him.  Well, as we
can't borrow a dress, I must see what can be done to make one.  Good
luck, there's no great quantity of cloth in a Tovas suit, and the
stitching isn't much.  All that's needed is a bit of breech-clout, which
I can make out of the tail of my shirt; then the poncho over my
shoulders, that will cover everything."

"But the colour of your skin, Gaspar!  Wouldn't that betray you?"

Ludwig thus interrogates, not thinking how easily the dexterous gaucho
can alter his complexion, nor recalling what he has said about his
having done so to disguise himself as a Guaycuru.

"It might," returns Gaspar; "and no doubt would, if I left it as it is;
which I don't intend doing.  True, my face is not so fair as to need
much darkening, beyond what the sun has done for it.  I've seen some
Tovas Indians with cheeks nigh as white as my own, and so have you,
senoritos.  As for my arms, legs, and body, they'll require a little
browning, but as it so happens I've got the stuff to give it them.
After the service rendered me by a coat of that colour, you may trust
this gaucho never to go on any expedition over the pampas without a cake
of brown paint stowed away in some corner of his _alparejas_.  For the
poncho, it won't be out of place.  As you know, there are many of the
common kind among the Tovas Indians, worn and woven by them; with some
of better sort, snatched, no doubt, from the shoulders of some poor
gaucho, found straying too far from the settlements."

"But, Gaspar," says Ludwig, still doubting the possibility of the
scheme; "surely such a disguise as you speak of will never do?  In the
daylight they'd see through it."

"Ah! in the daylight, yes, they might.  But I don't intend giving them
that chance.  If I enter their town at all, and I see no other way for
it, that entry must be made in the darkness.  I propose making it
to-morrow evening, after the sun's gone down, and when it's got to be
late twilight.  Then they'll all be off guard, engaged in driving their
animals into the _corrales_, and less likely to notice any one strolling
about the streets."

"But supposing you get safe into the place, and can go about without
attracting attention, what will you do?" questions Ludwig.

"What can you?" is the form in which Cypriano puts it.

"Well, senoritos, that will depend on circumstances, and a good deal on
the sort of luck in store for us.  Still you mustn't suppose I'm
trusting all to chance.  Gaspar Mendez isn't the man to thrust his hand
into a hornet's nest, without a likelihood--nay, a certainty, of drawing
some honey out of it."

"Then you have such certainty now?" interrogates Cypriano, a gleam of
hope irradiating his countenance.  For the figurative words lead him to
believe that the gaucho has not yet revealed the whole of his scheme.

"Of course I have," is Gaspar's rejoinder.  "If I hadn't we might as
well give everything up, and take the back-track home again.  We won't
do that, while there's a chance left for taking the _muchachita_ along
with us."

"Never!" exclaims Cypriano, with determined emphasis.  "If I have to go
into their town myself, and die in it, I'll do that rather than return
without my cousin."

"Be calm, _hijo mio_!" counsels Gaspar in a soothing tone, intended to
curb the excitement of the fiery youth; "I don't think there will be any
need for you either to enter the town, or lay down your life in it.
Certainly neither, unless my plan get spoiled by the ill luck that's
been so long hanging about us.  It isn't much of a plan after all; only
to find one of the Indians, to whom I did a service when they were
living at their old place.  I cured the man of a complaint, which, but
for the medicine I administered, would have carried him off to the happy
hunting grounds--where just then he didn't wish to go.  That medicine
wasn't mine either.  I had it from the _dueno_.  But the sick man gave
me credit for it all the same, and swore if I ever stood in need of his
services, I could count upon receiving them, sure.  From what I saw of
him afterwards, and we came to know one another pretty well, I think I
can.  If ever there was a redskin to be trusted it's he.  Besides, he's
one of some authority in the tribe--a sort of sub-chief."

"I know another," breaks in Ludwig, as if suddenly recollecting; "one
who'd help us too--if we could only have a word with him.  That's
Nacena's brother, Kaolin."

Cypriano casts at his cousin a glance of peculiar meaning--something
like surprise.  Not because the latter has made mention of an Indian
girl and her brother, both known to himself; but his giving the girl's
name first, as though she were uppermost in his thoughts.  And she is;
though that is a secret the young naturalist has hitherto kept close
locked within his own breast.

Without noticing the glance of scrutiny bent upon him, he proceeds to
explain himself.

"You may remember, Kaolin and I were the best of friends.  He often went
fishing with me, or rather I went with him.  And I'm sure he'd stand by
me now, in spite of Aguara."

"So much the better," rejoins Caspar.  "If my man fail me, we can fall
back upon yours.  What I propose doing, then, is this.  We must keep
quiet, and of course concealed, all day to-morrow till after sunset.  We
can employ ourselves in the preparation of my masquerading costume.
When it comes on twilight, or a little later, I can slip down among
those _toldos_, and go sauntering about, like any other redskin, till I
find my old patient.  He being a big fellow, there shouldn't be much
difficulty in doing that.  When found I'll make appeal to him, to help
us in getting the _nina_ out of--" he has it on his tongue to say
"Aguara's clutches," but thinking of the effect of such a phrase falling
upon Cypriano's ears, he concludes with the words, "whatever place
they're keeping her in."

Caspar's scheme thus at length declared, seeming feasible enough--and
indeed the only one which any of them can think of as at all
practicable--the other two signify assent to it; and its execution, or
the attempt, is finally determined upon.

Going on to discuss the steps next best to be taken, they are
interrupted by the sound of footsteps--some one ascending from below!
The footfall is a light one, but distinct enough for them to tell, that
whoever makes it is continuing on towards them, though yet unseen.  As
already said, the causeway is in part overshadowed by the cliff, and
within this shadow keeps the person approaching.  For all, on the
footsteps drawing near, there is light enough for them to make out a
figure; the better from its being clad in a drapery of white, loose and
flowing, as though the wearer were a woman.

And so is she, or, to speak more correctly, a girl; her sex and age
revealed to them, as at a certain point she steps to the off side of the
path, and the moonlight falling upon her, exposes to their view a face
beautiful as youthful.

Gaspar and Cypriano both recognise the face, but say nothing.  Different
Ludwig, who at the first glance got of it, unable to restrain himself,
mechanically mutters the name--

"Nacena!"



CHAPTER FIFTY ONE.

A DISPENSER OF SPELLS.

Fortunately Ludwig's exclamation has been uttered in a subdued tone of
voice; but lest in his agitation he may speak louder, the gaucho grasps
him by the arm, and cautions silence, enjoining the same on Cypriano.

For several seconds not another word passes between them, all three
remaining motionless, and silent as sphinxes.

Meanwhile the Indian girl having come opposite the place where they are
seated, passes onward with cautious step and eyes that interrogate the
ground in front, as if she anticipated seeing some one; like a young
hind that has stolen timidly out of the covert, on hearing the
call-bleat of the stag.

Soon she is far enough beyond to give them an opportunity of exchanging
speech without her overhearing it; and of this the gaucho avails
himself, whispering--

"She's keeping an appointment with her lover, I suppose."

He little thinks of the painful effect his words have produced upon
Ludwig, as he adds--

"We'll do best to let her go on to their place of meeting, which is no
doubt somewhere near.  She must return this way, and then we can have
_our_ interview with her.  But where's the _amante_!  A laggard, to let
the girl be on the ground before him!  That wasn't my way, when--See!
she's coming to a stop."

And to a stop she comes, just where the sloping path passes out at the
upper end of the defile, entering among the scaffolds.  There standing
erect, she glances inquiringly around, her gaze ranging along the open
spaces between the structures and the shadows underneath them.

For a minute or two she remains in this attitude, without changing it,
or making the slightest noise--evidently looking for a form or listening
for a footstep.  But neither seeing the one, nor hearing the other, she
at length calls out a name; at first timidly, but after an interval in
bolder tone, "Shebotha!"

"Not her lover after all!" mutters Gaspar, who remembers the name thus
pronounced, while Ludwig is relieved at hearing it, he also knowing
something of the sorceress.

"Only that old hag!" the gaucho goes on; "I wonder now what the young
sprout can be wanting with her, up here and at this hour of the night!
Some mischief between them, I haven't a doubt."

His conjectures are suddenly brought to a close by a new noise now
reaching their ears; a sort of scraping or shuffling, diversified by
grunts and coughs--all coming up from below.  Turning their eyes that
way, they see ascending what appears to be a human figure, but stooped
forward so as more to resemble a creature crawling on all fours.  At the
same instant the Indian girl has caught sight of it; and standing poised
on the platform's edge, she silently awaits its approach, knowing the
bent form to be Shebotha's.

Scrambling on up the steep, at intervals stopping to take breath, while
she intermittently gives out hoarse grunts, the hag passes by them, at
length reaching the spot where the girl stands awaiting her.  Stopping
by the side of the latter, both are now seen face to face in the full
moonlight; and never did moon shine upon faces or figures more
contrasting.  On the one side age indicated by a spare body, thin skinny
arms, features furrowed with wrinkles, of most repulsive aspect, and
eyes sparkling with a sinister light; on the other, youth, with all its
witching charms, a figure lithe and graceful as any palm growing on the
plain below, features of classic type, and a face exquisitely beautiful,
despite its tint of bronze, the eyes bright with the glow of a burning
passion.  For it is this last that has brought the girl thither.

Only a second or two do they remain silent, till the sorceress recovers
breath; for it is she who breaks the silence, saying:--

"Nacena wants to speak with Shebotha?  On what subject?"

"Need I tell you, Shebotha; you know!"

"I know that the sister of Kaolin is in love with our young _cacique_.
That is no secret to others, any more than to me."

"Oh! do not say that!  I thought no one knew of it but--"

"But everybody," interrupts the unfeeling hag.  "And what if they do?
Nacena is beautiful, the belle of our tribe, and need fear no rival; not
even her with the eyes of blue, and the tresses of gold, who sleeps
under Shebotha's roof.  Nacena is jealous of the paleface captive; she
has no cause."

"O, good Shebotha!" cries the young girl, in passionate tone, her heart
heaving with rekindled hope, "can you assure me of that?  If so, you
shall have all I can give you; my armlets, neck ornaments, _mantas,
hamacas_, everything.  Fear not my rewarding you well!"

"Nacena is generous," rejoins the sorceress, her eyes sparkling with
pleasure at such a wholesale proffer of chattels.  "She shall have that
assurance; for Shebotha can give it without fail.  See this!"

While speaking, she has drawn out, from under the skin robe that covers
her bony breast, what appears to be a small horn, converted into a phial
with bottom and stopper.

"In this," she says, holding it up to the light, "is a fluid, one drop
of which, given to Aguara will turn his heart whichever way Shebotha
wishes it turned; make him love whomsoever she wants him to love; and
that will be as Nacena wants it."

"Oh! it is good of you, Mam Shebotha so good!  How shall I ever enough
thank or reward you?"

"No matter about thanks," responds the hag with a knowing leer;
"Shebotha likes better the reward.  And what you've promised will
content her.  But promises, as Nacena herself knows, are sometimes badly
kept, and should have something to secure them, by way of earnest.  What
can you give me now?"

The girl glances down to her breast, upon which lie several pendants,
sustained by a massive chain of gold passing around her neck.  Then she
holds out her arms to show bracelets upon the wrists, beset with pearls
and precious stones, that no doubt once clasped other wrists than hers--
those of palefaced _doncellas_ dwelling in Santiago or Salta.
Unclasping the armlets, one after another, she delivers them to
Shebotha.

But the avaricious beldame is not yet satisfied.  With her eyes upon the
chain necklet and its glittering attachments, she nods towards it, as
much as to say, "That too."  And it, also, is detached; and handed over
to her.  Then her greedy eyes go to the fillet around the girl's
temples, and an embroidered belt which encircles her waist.  But these,
though pretty ornaments, are not of great intrinsic value; and as
Shebotha has in view a further levy of blackmail at a future time, she
can then take them too.

For the present she appears content, all the more as she gloats over the
treasure, which for a while she feasts her eyes upon without speaking.
Then slipping the various articles, one after another, into the bosom of
her dress, she resumes speech, saying--

"Shebotha has other spells besides that spoken of; one powerful above
all, which puts to sleep--ah! a sleep from which the sleeper never
awakes.  If the other should fail to act, and Aguara--"

"But you said it could not fail," breaks in the girl, her countenance
again clouding over.  "Is there a doubt, Mam Shebotha?"

"There's always uncertainty in these things," rejoins the sorceress;
"and in the _love-spell_ more than any other.  As you know, love is the
strongest passion, and therefore the most difficult to control."

All this, by way of making safe her bargain, for well knows she her
spell will not bring back Aguara's love, lost to Nacena; and as the bulk
of the reward promised will depend upon this, she has yet another
proposal to make that may ensure its payment.  She acts as one who would
hedge a bet, and drawing closer to the victim of her delusion, she
says--

"If Nacena should ever want the paleface put to sleep by that other
spell, Shebotha will administer it."

As the fiendish suggestion is spoken in a whisper, the three listeners
do not hear what it is.  They can only guess by the behaviour of the
young girl that some offer has been made which she indignantly rejects.
This can be told by her rejoinder, and the air in which she delivers it.

"No!" she exclaims, starting back with an expression of horror upon her
countenance.  "Never, never!  If Aguara be untrue to me, it is no fault
of the paleface.  I know that; and have no vengeance for her.  But for
him--ah! if he have deceived me, it is not she, but he should suffer
punishment.  And punished he shall be--by my brother."

"Oh! your brother!" returns the sorceress with a sneer, evidently in
anger at having her offer so rejected.  "If Kaolin can right your
wrongs, let him."  And she adds, making to move off, "I suppose you
haven't any more need for me, or my services."

"If she haven't I have," cries Gaspar, springing out from the place of
concealment and seizing hold of the hag, while at the same instant
Cypriano flings his arms around the Indian girl.

"Come, Mam Shebotha!" continues the gaucho, "it's my turn to have a talk
with you."

She makes an effort to escape, and would cry out; but cannot, with his
sinewy fingers around her throat.

"Stop your struggling!" he commands, giving her a shake till her old
bones crackle at every joint.  "A cry, a word from you above a whisper,
and I'll close your windpipe so that you'll never grunt through it
again.  Come, _muchachos_!  Let's to the other side!  One of you bring
on the girl.  _Vamos_!"

Raising the hag in his arms he bears her off, with no more care for her
comfort than if she were a trapped wolf.  Nacena is borne more tenderly
in Ludwig's arms, into which she has been transferred, by a sort of
tacit understanding between him and his cousin--the latter walking
alongside.  No threat hears the girl, nor needs it to enforce silence.
For she is no more apprehensive of injury, now knowing him who carries
her as her brother's old playfellow.  Above all, does she feel
reassured, on hearing whispered in her ear--

"Have no fear, Nacena!  Am not I the bosom friend of your brother?  _I
will not deceive you_."

Does she note the earnestness of his words, and the significant emphasis
given to those last pronounced?  Whether or not, she refrains making
rejoinder: but suffers herself to be borne on through the scaffold tombs
without resistance, and silent as the forms reposing upon them.



CHAPTER FIFTY TWO.

A FRIEND UNEXPECTED.

Straight across the cemetery goes Gaspar, with Shebotha in his arms, nor
stops he till back on the spot where the path leads down to the outer
plain.  Arriving there, he deposits his living burden upon the earth;
not gently, but dumping her down with a rude violence, as though it were
a bunch of faggots.  Still he does not let her out of his arms
altogether; but with a threat, once more warning her to be silent,
retains fast hold of her, till Cypriano has brought him a _lazo_ from
the saddle of one of the horses near by.  Looping this round the body of
the sorceress, and taking a few turns of it about her arms and ankles,
he spreads his poncho over her head, then knots the rope around her
neck, and so muffles her beyond the chance of either hearing or making
herself heard.  All this done, he again raises her from the ground, and
carrying her some distance back among the scaffolds, he binds her to a
corner post of one with the end of the _lazo_ yet unused.  His purpose
in thus disposing of her is not clear to his companions, both of whom he
has left in charge of the Indian girl; who, on her part, makes no
attempt to escape.  Instead, released from Ludwig's arms, she stands
silently by his side, neither trembling nor showing sign of fear.  Why
should she, with those words of friendly assurance which have been once
more whispered in her ear?

And now Gaspar getting back to where they stand, and speaking in the
Tovas tongue sufficiently well to be understood by her, says to Nacena--

"_Muchacha mia_! you see who we are, and know all three of us.  We know
you, Nacena--even to your tenderest secret; which has been revealed to
us in the dialogue just held between yourself and Mam Shebotha.  Every
word of that we've heard, with the lies she's been telling you.  And let
me tell you, that of all the wicked impostor's promises, there's but one
she could have kept--that to rid you of her you deem a rival.  And she
could only have done that by doing murder; which was what she meant by
her sleeping draught."

The young girl shudders listening to what she knows is but the truth.

"'Twas good of you to reject the foul proposal," goes on the gaucho,
"and indignantly, as we know you did.  We saw and heard it all.  And
now, I have a proposal to offer, which you won't reject; I'm sure you
won't, Nacena."

She makes no rejoinder, but stands waiting to receive it.

"It is," he continues, "that you can still rid yourself of that rival,
not by doing wrong, but right and justice.  With your help we shall take
her away to a place where Aguara will never more set eyes upon her.  But
as I've said, we stand in need of your assistance, and you must give
it."

"You will, you will!" interposes Cypriano, in tones of earnest appeal.

"Yes, dear Nacena," follows Ludwig, in tenderer tones; "I'm sure you
will.  Remember, she is my sister, and that you yourself have a
brother!"

Had they but known it, there was no need for all this petitioning.  Even
while Gaspar was speaking, and long before he had finished, the Indian
girl, with the quick, subtle instinct of her race, divined what they
were aiming at--the very end she herself desires, and might have
proposed to them.  The same instinct, however, prompts her to feign
ignorance of it, as evinced by her interrogative rejoinder:--

"How can Nacena assist you?  In what way?"

"By helping us to get the paleface out of her prison."  It is Gaspar who
speaks.  "She is imprisoned, is she not?"

"She is."

"And where is she kept?" further questions the gaucho.

Cypriano trembles as he listens for the answer.  He fears, half
expecting it to be, "In the _toldo_ of the _cacique_."

It is a relief to him, when Nacena, pointing towards the dark object
bound to the scaffold-post, says: "She has charge of the paleface
captive."

"_Bueno_!" ejaculates Gaspar with delight in his eyes, as in those of
Cypriano.  "Nothing could be better than that.  And now that we have
Shebotha here, no one will be guarding the prisoner--will there?"

"Alas, yes!" responds the Indian girl, her words with their tone telling
that she has entered into the spirit of their enterprise.

"Who?" interrogates Gaspar.  "What is he--if it be a man?"

"Yes, a man.  A white man, like yourselves; one who has been long with
our tribe--a captive taken many years ago from some of the countries
south.  He is Shebotha's own slave, and watches over the paleface when
she is out of the _toldo_."

Again the gaucho ejaculates, "_Bueno_!" adding, in _sotto voce_, to his
two companions, "It seems better still; a bit of rare good luck; that
is, if this white man, whoever he be, isn't grown Indianised, as I've
known some to be."  Then to the girl.  "Shebotha's slave, you say?  In
that case, he should be wanting to regain his liberty, and we may give
him the chance.  If need be, we can take him along, too.  You
understand, Nacena?"

"I do."

"Then you agree to assist us?"

"Say yes!" urges Cypriano.

"_My_ sister, Nacena!" adds Ludwig.

In response to their united appeals, she points to the sorceress,
saying--

"Her vengeance is to be dreaded.  If I do as you wish me, Shebotha--"

"Won't hurt a hair of your head," says Gaspar, interrupting.  "Nor
can't.  She'll not be near enough to do you any injury.  That worthy
woman is on the eve of a long journey, to be made in our company, if you
agree to assist us in getting the paleface away.  You do agree to it,
_amiga mia_?"

The girl fully comprehending, and relieved at the thought of the dreaded
sorceress being taken out of the way, at length not only signifies
assent to their scheme, but embraces it with alacrity.  Its success will
be to her advantage as theirs, ridding her of that rival feared, and it
may be, restoring to her the affections of him on whom she has fixed her
own.

And now that confidence is established between her and her captors, she
gives them a full account of how things stand in the _tolderia_, and the
place where the captive is confined.  Having heard which, Gaspar
counsels her how to act, as a last word, saying--

"Tell this white man, who has charge of the _nina_, he need no longer be
a prisoner himself, nor Shebotha's slave.  Say to him, that men of his
own race and colour are near, ready to rescue and take him back to his
people, wherever they may be.  Surely that will be enough to gain him to
our side, and get his help also."

Nacena hesitates for a time; then answering, says--

"No, not enough, I fear."

"But why?"

"The white man is not in his senses.  He has lost them long ago.  The
little left him is given to Shebotha.  He fears her, as all our people
do; but he more than any.  She has surely left him with commands to keep
a close watch.  He does not disobey her; and it may be impossible for me
to speak with the paleface, much more get her away from him."

"_Caspita_!" exclaims Gaspar, his countenance again turning grave.
"There will be a difficulty there, I see it; if the man's crazed, as you
say he is, Nacena.  You think he won't let you speak with the prisoner,
unless you have permission from Shebotha?"

"He will not--I am sure he will not."

"In that case all may be idle, and our scheme go for nought.  _Por
Dios_! what's to be done?"

Pressing his head between his hands, the gaucho stands considering,
while the other three in silence await the result.  His deliberation is
not for long; a bright idea has flashed across his brain, and with his
countenance also recovering brightness, he exclaims--

"_Gracios a Dios_!  I know how it can be managed; I think I know."

Ludwig and Cypriano have it on their tongues to inquire what he means.
But before either can say a word, he is off and away in a rush toward
the scaffold-post to which Shebotha is tied.

Reaching it, he is seen with arms outstretched and in rapid play, as
though he were setting her free.  Far from that, however, is his
intention.  He but undoes the knot around her neck, and raising the
poncho, clutches at something which encircles her throat.  He had
noticed this something while throttling her when first caught; it had
rattled between his fingers as the beads of a rosary, and he knew it to
be such, with a slight difference--the beads being human teeth!  A
remembrance, moreover, admonishes him that this ghastly necklace was
worn by the sorceress, not for adornment, but to inspire dread.  It is,
in fact, one of her weapons of weird mystery and power, and an idea has
occurred to him that it may now be used as an instrument against
herself.

Having detached it from her neck, and replaced the poncho upon her head,
he returns to where he had left the others, and holding out the string
of teeth, says to Nacena--

"Take this.  Present it to the crazy paleface; tell him Shebotha sent it
as a token authorising you to act for her; and, if he be not altogether
out of his wits, I warrant it'll get you admission to the presence of
the paleface.  For anything beyond, you will best know how to act of
yourself."

The girl grasps the hideous symbol, a gleam of intelligence lighting up
her swarth but beautiful face.  For she, too, anticipates the effect it
will have on Shebotha's slave, from actual knowledge--not by guessing,
as with Gaspar.

Knowing herself now at liberty and free to depart, without saying
another word, she turns her back upon them; and gliding away with the
agile, stealthy step peculiar to her race, soon passes beyond their
sight.

They stand looking after her, till her dark figure disappears amid the
shadows of the scaffolds.  But they have no doubt of her fidelity--no
fear that she will fail to do what she can for the fulfilment of her
promise.  The keeping it is secured by her own interested motives: for
the passion impelling her to act on their behalf, though purely selfish,
can be trusted as truth itself.



CHAPTER FIFTY THREE.

A DELUDED JAILER.

Midnight's hour is past, the moon has gone down, and in the Indian town
there is darkness and silence.  Every one is asleep, or seems to be;
since no light shines either in _toldo_ or tent, neither can a human
figure be seen in the streets, or anywhere around.

At some distance from the houses, however, among thickly-standing trees,
and close into the base of the hill, is the quaint dwelling-place of
Shebotha--half cave, half hut--and inside this flickers a faint light,
from a dip candle of crude beeswax, with a wick of the fibre of the
_pita_ plant.  By its red flame, mingled with much smoke, a collection
of curious objects is dimly discernible; not articles of furniture, for
these are few, but things appertaining to the craft in which Shebotha is
supposed to have skill--demonology.  There are the bones and skins of
monkeys, with those of snakes, lizards, and other reptiles; teeth of the
alligator and jaguar; the proboscis-like snouts of the _tapir_ and
_tamanoir_, or great ant-bear, with a variety of other like oddities,
furnished by the indigenous creatures of the Chaco in every department
of the zoological world--birds, quadrupeds, insects, reptiles, and
fishes.

This motley conglomeration is for the most part arranged against the
inner wall of the hut, and opposite the entrance, so as to be observable
by any one looking in at the door, or even passing by it.  For its
purpose is to impress the superstitious victims of Shebotha's craft with
a belief in her witching ways.  And to give this a more terrifying and
supernatural character, a human skull, representing a death's head, with
a pair of tibia for crossbones underneath, is fixed centrally and
prominently against the wall.

The same light that so faintly illuminates this paraphernalia of
repulsive objects, also shines upon one that is pleasing--this the
figure of a young girl, with a face wonderfully fair.  For she is
Francesca Halberger.

At the hour spoken of she is the sole occupant of the hut; its owner,
Shebotha, being abroad.  For it is the self-same hour and instant when
the sorceress has the rosary of teeth snatched so rudely from her neck.
She is seated on the edge of a _catre_, or cane bedstead, of the pallet
kind, her head buried in her hands, through the white fingers of which
her long golden tresses fall in rich profusion, scattered over and
mingling with the fur of the great pampas wolf which serves as a sort of
mattress for the bed.

The candle has burnt down into the socket of its rude stick, but at
intervals flares up, with a crackling, sputtering noise; as it it does
so, showing upon her features that same sad look as when she was being
carried hither, a captive; only that her face is now paler, and the
expression upon it telling of a despair deeper and more settled.  She
has slept but little from the day of her entrance under Shebotha's roof,
and no great deal since she last lay on her own bed at home.  What sleep
she now gets is only in short snatches; when tired nature can no longer
continue the struggle with thoughts all the while torturing her.  No
wonder at sweet slumber being thus long denied her, with such memories
to keep her awake!  In fancy, ever before her seems the face of her
father with that look of agony she last saw upon it, as he lay upon the
ground, weltering in his gore.  And in fancy also, she beholds the
ruffian, Valdez, standing above the prostrate form, waving over it his
blood-stained spear, a very demon exultant!

But her painful thoughts are not all of the past.  She has doubts and
fears also for the future, dark as she reflects on her own situation,
and what will be done to her; but still darker when she thinks of those
left behind and far away.  What will become of her dear mother and
brother?  What of him--dear, ah! perhaps dearer than either--her
handsome cousin?  For Cypriano's affection for her is fully
reciprocated.

Not strange then the sadness overspreading her features, nor the weight
of woe in her heart; as she dwells on the fate that may be his and
theirs.  For she knows they are all in danger--great and certain danger;
has known it ever since seeing Valdez, the _vaqueano_, consorting with
the Tovas Indians, and on friendly terms with their chief.  Oft had she
asked herself the question whither he went afterwards!  Did he return to
Paraguay, or go direct to the _estancia_, there to complete his
diabolical work--begun by murder, to end in the same with other crimes?
In any case he would not likely leave them unharmed, as the captive girl
too truly apprehends.

With such terrible thoughts to agitate her breast, no wonder she should
be awake while everyone around seems slumbering.  But on this night, and
at this hour, something besides hinders her from seeking repose; that
being the absence of Shebotha, which, for certain reasons, makes her
more than ordinarily apprehensive.  In truth, she is greatly alarmed by
it.  Never before has the sorceress been out of her _toldo_ to stay for
any continued time; above all, never during the hours of night.  Why
should she be absent now, and so long?

While asking herself these questions, the captive has not the slightest
intention to take advantage of Shebotha's absence, and make trial to
escape.  Well knows she that would be idle, and she could not get away
if she tried.  For though the owner of the hut is off watch, there is
one on it--a man sitting, or squatted, just outside the door.  No red
man, but one with a white skin; himself a prisoner, and who possibly
once, as she, felt distressed by his captivity.  It may have been this
very feeling which has made him what he now is--a witless idiot,
resigned to his fate.  In any case, he seems to be contented as
Shebotha's slave; and, perhaps ignorant of there being any better,
serves her with a fidelity worthy of a better mistress.  No watch-dog at
that _toldo's_ door were more to be trusted than he.

She inside has no intention, nor ever had, of tempting him to be untrue
to his trust.  Even could he be induced to let her pass out, what
purpose would it serve?  She could not make her way home; and he is not
the sort of man to see her safe through more than two hundred miles of
wilderness.  The idea is too hopeless to be entertained, and she does
not for an instant entertain it.

The thoughts that now occupy her mind are not of how she may escape from
her captivity, but dwelling upon a theme altogether different.  She is
thinking who will be the next one to darken the door of the hut; fearing
it may be neither Shebotha herself, nor yet her slave, but the man who
is master of both--Aguara!

True, the young _cacique_ has not as yet offered her either outrage or
insult; instead still approaches her with courtesy, and a pretence of
friendship.  For all, something--it may be instinct--admonishes her that
he is acting under a mask, which he may at any moment cast aside,
revealing the monster, as she believes him to be.  And with sufficient
reason, recalling that tragedy which deprived her of a father; and sure,
despite all his protestations, that Aguara played a willing part in it.

While thus apprehensively reflecting, she hears footsteps, as of some
one approaching the place.  The sound causes her to start to her feet,
and stand listening, with a heightened expression of fear upon her face.
For, although the footfall is distant, and only distinguishable as such
by the rustle it makes among the dead leaves, she can tell it is not
that of Shebotha, with whose halting gait and shuffling step her ear has
grown familiar.  Whose, then?  Who would be coming to the hut at that
time of night--now morning--save Shebotha herself?  None but she, and
those of her belonging, dare do so either by night or by day?  For the
_toldo_ of the sorceress is a sort of sanctuary, tabooed to the people
of the tribe, and no one may enter or approach its sacred precincts,
without having her permission, or being bidden by her.  Yes; one may,
and can--Aguara.

Still darker shows the fear upon the face of the captive girl, as she
thinks of this special privilege accorded to the _cacique_, of which she
has been made aware.  It must be he who is drawing near, and with him a
danger she has long vaguely apprehended.

For some seconds she remains intently listening, her young heart pulsing
audibly within her breast.  It beats easier as the footfall draws
nigher, and she can tell it is not that of a man.  The tread is too
light and elastic.  It cannot be Aguara who approaches.

She is still surer of its not being he, as the footsteps, having come
close up to the hut, cease to be heard, and in their place a different
sound enters through the open door--a feminine voice speaking in soft,
dulcet tones.

The speech is not addressed to the captive herself, but to him who
watches outside.  After an interchange of ordinary salutation, and an
inquiry by the watcher as to what is wanted--this evidently in tone of
surprise--the soft voice responds, "I want to speak with the little pale
free."

"You cannot.  Shebotha forbids it.  No one may enter here without her
permission."

"But I have more than her permission--her commands.  She has sent me
with a message to the paleface.  At this moment Mam Shebotha has a
matter elsewhere, and could not come herself."

"You may be speaking the truth, but how am I to know?" questions the
man, as he regards the intruder with an incredulous stare.  "I don't go
so far as to say you are telling a lie.  All I say is, that the thing
isn't at all likely.  Mam Shebotha's not the sort to trust her affairs
to such a _chiquitita_ as you."

"You know me, don't you?"

"Oh, yes; you are Kaolin's sister--her they call the belle of the tribe;
your name's Nacena."

"It is so; and surely you'll believe me?  The sister of Kaolin would not
speak false.  You cannot suppose I am deceiving you?"

"Ah!" he rejoins, with his words heaving a sigh, "it is often those who
are most beautiful who most deceive."

Possibly the memory of some such deception, an experience of times long
past, has been awakened within him.  It embitters his speech as he
continues--

"I can't--I won't believe you--though you are Kaolin's sister, and ever
so fair to look upon."

"But you will, when you look upon this."

She draws out the string of teeth snatched from the neck of the
sorceress, and holds it up to his eyes, adding--

"That I bring from Shebotha herself.  She gave it me to show you as a
sign that I have her permission to speak with the paleface--nay, her
command, as I've said.  Now!"

At sight of the hideous symbol, which he instantly recognises, his
incredulity is at an end.  For he knows how jealously the sorceress
guards this token, and that no one could have obtained it from her
without some special purpose, or to do a service to herself.  What it
may be he questions not, nor longer forbids entrance to the hut, but
nods towards the door, as much as to say--

"You can go in."



CHAPTER FIFTY FOUR.

AN UNLOOKED-FOR DELIVERER.

Though the dialogue between Nacena and Shebotha's slave was in the Tovas
tongue, she who has overheard them inside the hut has sufficient
acquaintance with it to make out that the Indian girl is seeking an
interview with herself.  But for what purpose, she has not the most
distant idea, and cannot conceive why it should specially be sought at
that strange hour, when everybody else is abed.  She knows Nacena by
name, as by sight; having on many occasions seen her at the old
_tolderia_.  But the two have never had acquaintance, nor held
conversation; the sister of Kaolin always seeming shy with her, and
never visiting the _estancia_, as did the other girls of the tribe.
More than this, she remembers that whenever of late she by chance met
the savage maiden, she had observed a scowl upon the latter's face,
which she could not help fancying was meant for herself.  Nor had her
fancy been astray; since in reality for her was that black look.  Though
for what reason Francesca could not tell, having never that she could
think of done aught that should give offence to Kaolin's sister.
Besides, was not Kaolin himself the bosom friend of her brother Ludwig?
Still, recalling that scowl so often seen upon Nacena's countenance--
with a suspicion, purely intuitive, of what may have caused it--not
strange she should deem the visit of the Indian girl boding no good to
her, but instead something of ill.

As the latter steps inside the _toldo_, however, and the light falls
upon her face, the captive can there see no sign of malice, nor token of
hostility.  Instead, it is lit up by a smile which seems rather to speak
of friendship and protection.  And, in truth, such are among the
sentiments now moving the Indian girl to action.  At the prospect of
being for ever rid of a rival she sees so helpless, the feeling of
jealousy has passed away out of her heart, as its frown from her face,
and she approaches the captive with the air of one who has both the wish
and the power to give liberty.  She is the first to speak, asking
abruptly--

"Do you wish to be free?"

"Why do you ask that?" is the interrogative rejoinder, in a tone
distrustful.  For that smile may be but to deceive.

"Because Nacena has it in her power to give you freedom if you desire
it."

"Desire it!" exclaims the captive.  "Nacena is but mocking me," she
adds, involuntarily falling into the figurative mode of speech peculiar
to the American Indian.  "Indeed, I do desire it.  But how could Nacena
set me at liberty?"

"By taking the paleface to her people."

"They are far away--hundreds of miles.  Would Nacena herself take me to
them?"

"No.  That is not needed.  The paleface is mistaken.  Her friends are
not far away, but near.  They wait for her to come out to them."

The captive gives a start of surprise, the light of hope and joy, long
absent from her eyes, rekindling in them, as another light breaks upon
her.

"Of whom does Nacena speak?"

"Of your brother the fair-haired youth, your cousin the dark Paraguayan,
and the gaucho who has guided them hither.  All three are close to the
_tolderia_, on the other side of the hill--as I've said, expecting you.
Nacena has spoken with them, and promised she will conduct you to where
they are.  White sister!" she adds, in a tone of unmistakeable
sincerity, at the same time drawing closer to the captive, and tenderly
taking her by the hand, "do not show distrust, but let Nacena keep her
word.  She will restore you to your friends, your brother; ah! to one
who waits for you with anxiety keener than all!"

At the last words the captive bends upon her would-be deliverer a
bewildered, wondering look.  Is it possible Nacena has knowledge of her
tenderest secret?  It must be so; but how can she have learnt it?
Surely Cypriano--whom she says she has seen outside and spoken with--
surely, he could not have revealed it; would not!  Francesca forgets
that the Indian girl was for years a near neighbour to her father's
_estancia_; and though never visiting there, with the keen intuition of
her race was like enough to have learnt, that the relationship between
her cousin and herself had something in it beyond mere cousinly
affection.

While she is still cogitating as to how Nacena could have come to this
knowledge, and wondering the while, the latter bleaks in upon her
wonderment, and once more urges her to flight, again speaking of him who
is near and dear, so anxiously expecting her.

It needs not such pressing appeal.  For the captive girl, her surprise
once past, is but too willing to embrace the opportunity so unexpectedly
offered, and by one so unlikely to offer it.  Therefore, without further
hesitation, she signifies acceptance, saying, "I will trust you, Nacena.
You have called me your white sister, and I believe you sincere.  You
would not speak so if you meant me harm.  Take me where you will; I am
ready to go with you."

Saying which, she holds out her hand, as if offering to be led.

The Indian girl taking it, turns her face for the door, and is about to
step towards it, when she remembers the watcher without; and obstruction
she had for the time forgotten.  Will he bar their exit?  A cloud comes
over her brow, as she asks herself the question; for, mentally answering
it, she thinks he most probably will.

The other observing her hesitation, and quite comprehending it, makes no
inquiry about the cause.  That is already declared in the dialogue
lately overheard by her; and as he outside is likely to be listening,
the two now take counsel together, speaking in whispers.

Nacena, from a better knowledge of the situation, is of course the chief
adviser, and it ends in her determining to show a bold front, and pass
out as if already armed with Shebotha's permission.  If interrupted,
they can then make a rush for it.  In short, after a hurried
consultation, they can think of no other way, much less a better one.
For by the shuffling of footsteps, and a wheezing noise--Shebotha's
slave being afflicted with asthma--they can tell that he is close by the
entrance.

Soon as resolved how to act, the Indian girl, still holding the captive
by the hand, leads her on to the door; and, passing over the threshold
side by side, they present themselves to the sentry, Nacena saying:

"In going in I forgot to tell you my errand from Mam Shebotha.  She bade
me bring the paleface to where she is herself.  You see, I am taking
her."

"You cannot take her out of the _toldo_," rejoins the man in a tone of
dogged denial.  "You must not; Shebotha would kill me if I permitted
it."

"But I have Shebotha's command to do so."

"How am I to know that?"

"You forget what I have said, and what I've given you."

She points to the strange rosary, which he had taken from her, and still
retains--possibly as a voucher against any mistake that may arise.

"No, I don't," he rejoins, holding the string up before her eyes, and
shaking it till the teeth rattle.  "There it is; but withal, I can't
allow her, the paleface, to go with you.  It might be as much as my life
is worth."

"But what is your life worth without liberty?"

It is not Nacena who puts this question, but the paleface herself;
speaking to him in her native tongue, as his.  He gives a sudden start
on hearing it, and regards the young girl with a stare of astonishment,
rubbing his eyes as though just awakened from a long-continued sleep.

"Ah--eh!" he exclaims, excitedly.  "What's that?  Liberty, did you say?
Liberty?  Mine's gone long ago.  I'm but a poor slave--Shebotha's slave.
I can never be free again; no, _never_!"

"You may be free now--this very moment--if you wish it."

"If I wish it!  Ha, ha, ha!  That's a good joke!  If I wish it!  Only
show me the way, and let Mam Shebotha go to--"

"Never mind Mam Shebotha.  Listen to me, who am of the same race and
people as yourself.  There are some of them now near, who have come to
take me home to my friends.  You must have friends too, whom you left
long ago.  Why should you not go back to them?"

"_Carramba_!" he cries out, as if the sound of his native tongue had
brought back to remembrance one of its most common exclamations, and
along with it a desire to return to the place where he last heard it
spoken.  "Why should I not?  If you say you'll take me, I will."

"Ah!  I'll not only take you, but be glad of your company.  _Nos
vamos_!"

It is still Francesca who speaks, and at the last words, pronounced in a
tone of half encouragement, half command, she stretches out her hand,
and taking hold of that of her late jailer, leads him off, as a rough
pampas colt just tamed and gentled.

Nacena, astonished at the spirit shown by the little paleface, and
delighted with a success which may prove advantageous to herself, says
not a word; but steps off forward in front of the other two--making mute
pantomimic signs to guide them in the direction they are to go.



CHAPTER FIFTY FIVE.

AN UNLUCKY TUMBLE.

Soon as Nacena had started on return to the town, the gaucho and his
companions commence making preparations to descend from the hill.  Not
by the road leading down to the _tolderia_, but the path by which they
came up.  For before her parting with them the Indian girl and Gaspar
had held further speech; she imparting to him additional information of
how things stood in the tribe; he, in turn, giving her more detailed
instructions how to act, in the event of her being able to obtain an
interview with the paleface captive, and to get her off from the place
where confined.  In the programme arranged between them, the final part
to be played by Nacena would be her conducting her charge round to the
other side of the hill, where the rescuers would be in waiting to
receive her.  Delivered to them, the action of the Indian girl would be
at end, so far as that affair was concerned, while theirs had yet to be
considered.

The place where they were to await her was, of course, mutually
understood--by the entrance to the uphill path, under the great _ceiba_
tree.  Nacena knew it well, having oft traversed that path, reclined in
the shadow of the tree, and played under it from the earliest days of
childhood.  For it was a pretty spot, much-frequented by the younger
members of the community when out for promenade on the plain, or nutting
among the palm-groves that studded it.  A sort of rendezvous, or
stopping place, from the two routes to the town here diverging; the
shorter, though by far the more difficult, being that over the Cemetery
Hill.  Of the roundabout one, Gaspar, of course, had no knowledge.  But
he knew the _ceiba_, and the way back to it, all that they needed.  The
girl had trodden both, hundreds of times, and was acquainted with their
every reach and turning.  She would come anyhow, and no fear of her not
finding the way; their only fear was of her coming unaccompanied.

Least of all has Ludwig this apprehension; instead, full confidence that
the Indian will will bring Francesca back with her.  Strange this; but
stranger still, that, while overjoyed with the thought of his sister
being delivered from captivity, his joy should have a tinge of sadness
in it, like a mingling of shadow and sun.  This due to his suspicion of
the motives actuating her who has promised to be his sister's deliverer.
Nacena is not their friend for mere friendship's sake; nor his, because
of the former fellowship between him and her own brother.  Instead,
jealousy is her incentive, and what she is doing, though it be to their
benefit, is but done for the thwarting of Aguara.

Though Ludwig has expressed his opinion that they will soon see
Francesca, he is silent about these suspicions.  There is no time to
speak of them if he would.  For in a few seconds after Nacena's
separating from them, Gaspar gives the signal for action, and all three
become engaged in getting ready their horses for a return to the plain.

"_Por Dios_!" mutters the gaucho, while slipping on his bridle.  "I
don't much fancy remaining longer in this melancholy place.  Though high
and airy, it mayn't be wholesome.  If, after all, that brown beauty
should change her mind, and play us false, we'd be in a bad predicament
up here--a regular trap, with no chance of retreating from it.  So the
sooner we're back to the bottom of the hill, the safer 'twill be.  There
we'll at least have some help from the speed of our horses, if in the
end we have to run for it.  Let us get below at once!"

Having by this finished adjusting his bridle, he hands the rein to
Cypriano, adding--

"You hold this, senorito, while I go after Shebotha.  Botheration take
that old hag!  She'll be a bother to us, to say nothing of the extra
weight for our poor horses.  After all, she's not very heavy--only a bag
of bones."

"But, Gaspar; are you in earnest about our taking her along with us?"
asks Cypriano.

"How are we to help it, _hijo mio_!  If we leave her here, she'd be back
in the town before we could get started; that is, if we have the good
luck to get started at all.  I needn't point out what would be the
upshot of that.  Pursuit, as a matter of course, pell mell, and
immediate.  True, we might leave her tied to the post, and muffled as
she is.  But then she'd be missed by to-morrow morning, if not sooner,
and they'd be sure to look for her up here.  No likelier place for such
as she, among these scaffolds; except tied to a scaffold of another
sort, and in a somewhat different style."

The gaucho pauses, partly to enjoy his own jest, at which he is
grinning, and partly to consider whether Shebotha can be disposed of in
any other way.

Cypriano suggests another, asking--

"Why couldn't we take her in among these trees, and tie her to one of
them?  There's underwood thick enough to conceal her from the eyes of
anyone passing by, and with the muffle over her head, as now, she
couldn't cry out that they'd hear her."

"'Twould never do," rejoins Gaspar, after an instant of reflection.
"Hide her as we might, they'd find her all the same.  These redskins,
half-naked though they are, can glide about among bushes, even thorny
ones, like slippery snakes.  So many of them, they'd beat every bit of
thicket within leagues, in less than no time.  Besides, you forget their
dogs.  Scores they have--ay, hundreds, some of them keen-scented as
beagles.  _Carrai_! they'd smell the nasty witch half-a-mile off, and so
discover her whereabouts to their masters."

"True," returns Cypriano, seeing the plan he has proposed would not do.
"In that way they would find her, no doubt."

"And if they didn't," interposed Ludwig, speaking from a sentiment of
humanity, "it would be dreadful."

"Dreadful! what do you mean?" asks Cypriano, looking puzzled.  "For them
_not_ to find her is just what we want."

"Ah, cousin! how would it be for _her_?  Tied to a tree, with no hope--
no chance of getting loosed from it--she'd die of hunger or thirst--
miserably perish.  Wicked as Shebotha is, we'd be worse than she if we
left her to such a fate as that, to say nothing of our bringing it upon
her.  Ay, and for doing so we'd deserve the same ourselves, or something
as bad."

"Well, Senor Ludwig," rejoins the gaucho, with an air of submission
rather than conviction, "you may be right in what you say, and I'm not
the man to deny it.  But there need be no difference of opinion on that
point.  Leaving Shebotha tied to a tree wouldn't do on any account, for
the reasons I've stated.  It might--most likely would, and, as you say,
it ought--end in ourselves getting tied to trees or stakes, with a
bundle of faggots between our legs set to the tune of a slow fire.
But," he adds, after a second or two spent considering, "there's only
one other way I can think of to deal with the witch, if we're not to
take her with us."

"What's the other?" asks Cypriano, seeing that the gaucho hesitates to
declare it.

"Why, knock her on the head, or draw the blade of a _cuchilla_ across
her throat, and so stop her grunting at once and for ever.  The old
wretch deserves no better fate and hanging's too good for her.  But
they'd find her dead body all the same; though not with a tongue in it
to tell who stopped her wind, or, what's of more consequence, how and
which way we went off.  Besides, I dare say, the Senor Ludwig wouldn't
agree to our getting disembarrassed of her in that fashion."

"Oh! no, no!" ejaculates the humane youth, horrified at the thought of
such cruelty, "anything but that, Caspar."

"Well, there isn't anything but what I propose doing--that is, taking
her along.  I'm willing to accommodate her on the croup of my _recado_,
and will show her all the gallantry she deserves.  If you're jealous,
Senor Ludwig, you may have her behind you; and as your horse is the
lightest laden, that might be best.  When we're crossing back over that
_riacho_ where you left your saddle-bags, if you're tired of riding
double, you can drop her down among the lightning-eels, and let them
play their batteries upon her old bones till every joint of them cracks
asunder."

Were it not for the gravity of the situation, Gaspar's young companions
would be greatly amused at his quaint rhodomontade.  But as both are too
anxious about the future, and in no humour for a jest, Ludwig only
answers with a faint smile; while Cypriano, alone thinking of Francesca,
has somewhat impatiently listened to it.  Having hold of the bridle-rein
which the gaucho has handed to him, on the latter ceasing to speak, he
says in urgent tone--

"Bring her along, then, good Gaspar; and be quick about it!  As you've
said, we should get down to the plain as soon as possible."

The admonition is not needed, for Gaspar does not waste time over his
jokes, nor allow them to interfere with his action.  And while
delivering the last sally, he has been looking to his horse-gear, to see
that his _recade_ is in a proper condition to receive her who is to be
his double.

Satisfied it will do, he strides off to where Shebotha is tied; and in a
few seconds returns bearing the sorceress in his arms, as though she
were but a bundle of rags.

Hoisting her up to his horse's withers, and with a stern threat and a
shake, telling her to stay there, he springs upon the saddle behind her.
It would not be their relative positions, then riding double, were they
starting out on a long journey.  But it will do for the half-mile or so,
to the bottom of the hill, and for that short distance it seems idle
either to bind her to his own body or to the saddle.  So thinks Gaspar;
but in this the gaucho, with all his prudent sagacity, is for once
incautious to a fault.  As they are groping their way down the steep
slope, zig-zagging among the tree trunks that stand thickly on both
sides of the path, a troop of ring-tailed monkeys asleep in their tops,
having their slumbers disturbed by the clink-clink of the hoofs against
stones, set up a lugubrious howling.  All the three horses are
affrighted by the unearthly noise, but Gaspar's more than any; so much,
that rearing erect upon its hind legs, with the ground so uneven, the
animal loses balance, and stumbles over on its side.

As the gaucho gathers himself, stunned and somewhat dazed by the fall,
'tis to learn that for that night his riding double is at an end, with
Shebotha sharing the saddle; for the sorceress is no longer to be seen!



CHAPTER FIFTY SIX.

AN INFURIATED FEMALE.

There is no mystery about Shebotha's disappearance nor aught out of the
way save in the adroitness with which the aged crone contrived to effect
her escape.  Soon as touching the ground, and feeling herself free from
the arms hitherto holding her on horseback, she has darted into the
underwood, and off; not even rising erect to her feet, but on all fours,
and silently as a snake.  For although the hillside is so thickly
overgrown with thorny scrub that a pointer would with difficulty quarter
it, the supple old savage worms her way through, without making any more
noise than would a badger just got out of the barrel, and away from the
dogs that have been baiting it.

In her retreat, she does not proceed for any great distance in a direct
line, nor long continue crawling through the tangle of bushes.  She is
acquainted with every inch of that wooded slope, and all the paths
traversing it, even to the tiniest trace of bird or quadruped; and soon
coming into one of these, she at length stands upright.  But not to stay
there for any time, only long enough to give a glance to the right and
left, in order that she may assure herself as to which of the two she
had best take.  Deciding in an instant, she is off again in crouched
attitude, but with the agility of youth itself.  Up the hill she goes,
back towards the Cemetery.  And one who saw her ascending before seeing
her now, would with difficulty believe it to be the same person.  Then,
however, she was taking it leisurely, with no particular call for haste
nor the taxing of her strength; now there is a motive for her making
speed, with every exertion in her power.  Indeed, more than one; for she
is urged by two of the strongest passions that can agitate the human
breast--cupidity and vengeance.  While depriving her of her ghastly
necklace, Gaspar had taken the occasion to possess himself of the more
elegant and valuable ornaments stripped from the person of Nacena; not
with any thought to appropriate them to himself, but the intention of
restoring them to their rightful owner, when the latter should re-appear
to claim them.  Coming back, and bringing with her the captive, the
Indian girl would well deserve restitution of her trinkets.

Thwarted in her infernal schemes, stung to fury by their failure,
Shebotha goes panting up the hill; but, despite her hard breathing,
without stopping to take breath.  Nor rests she on reaching the summit,
but glides on across the Cemetery, finding her way through the wooden
structures as one who knows every scaffold there, and whose bones are
mouldering upon it.

It is not from fear of being followed that she is now so hastening her
steps.  She knows that they from whom she has escaped will not return
thither.  For although hindered from hearing their conversation with
Nacena, and so becoming acquainted with their plans, if not fully
comprehending, she at least surmises them.  For, having recognised the
gaucho and his companions--all three of them--what purpose could they
have there other than to release the paleface girl she has in her
charge?  And from the fact of their having themselves released Nacena--
let her go without further detention than would be required to come to
an understanding--she concludes that this has been come to, and the
Indian girl consented to aid them in their intended rescue.  But it will
not be successful if she, Shebotha, can prevent it; and desperately bent
on doing so, she rushes on through the scaffolds, and down the road to
the _tolderia_, as if some danger threatened her from behind.

Arriving by the door of her own hut, she utters an exclamation of
surprise at not there seeing her slave.  Still another, after having
called out his name, and received no answer.  Her astonishment is
complete and her rage at full height, when, having stepped up to the
threshold of the _toldo_, she sees there is no one inside.  The beeswax
dip, burnt low and flickering in the socket, faintly lights up the
hideous objects of her craft and calling; but shows no form of human
being!

It is only a mechanical act her entering within the hut, and proceeding
on to its inner apartment; for she is quite as sure it, too, will be
found empty--as she finds it.

Almost instantly returning to the door, she stands gazing out into the
darkness.  Were there a light in front, her eyes would be seen to glare
in their sunken sockets with the brightness of fire-balls; while in her
breast is burning the fury of a concentrated vengeance.  Once again she
calls out the name of her slave, but as before getting no answer; and
now sure that he, too, has either betrayed her, or been himself
betrayed, she glides silently out of the _toldo_, and off towards that
in which sleeps Aguara.

Soon she reaches its door, which she finds wide open; for it is within
the tropics, and the night is a warm one.  Craning her head inside, and
listening for a second or two, she can tell by his breathing that the
_cacique_ is asleep.  A slumber abruptly broken by her calling out--

"Son of Naraguana, awake!"

"Shebotha!" he exclaims, recognising her shrill treble.  "What is it?"
he adds, raising his head over the edge of his _hamaca_.

"Arise, Aguara! and make all haste.  Know that there are enemies near,
and treason in your tribe.  You've been betrayed, and so has Shebotha!"

"Betrayed!  How?" he asks in wonderment, but without leaving the
hammock.  "Who are these enemies you speak of?  Who the traitors?"

"You'll learn that in time, chief.  It may be enough for you now to
know, that your paleface captive has escaped."

"Escaped!" he cries out, bounding down upon the floor, and coming
forward to the entrance.  "The paleface escaped, you say?  Are you
speaking truth, Mam Shebotha?"

"Come to my _toldo_, and see for yourself."

"No, that's not needed, if you say she's gone.  Tell me how, when, and
whither.  Be quick!"

In hurried phrase she recounts the incidents which have occurred to her
and Nacena on the Cemetery Hill, adding her conjectures as to what may
have transpired since, and may still be in the act of occurrence.  Among
these last are her suspicions, well founded as we know, that Kaolin's
sister has aided the paleface to escape; and that her own slave, who
should have hindered, has not only connived at it, but taken himself
away as well.  In short, the cage is empty, and the bird with its keeper
both flown!

What direction the fugitives have taken, is a question to which the
sorceress can give answer without the need of any doubtful surmise or
conjecture.  She knows it as well as if she herself had appointed the
place of rendezvous, given by Gaspar to the Indian girl.  For while
riding double with the gaucho, she had heard him speak of it to his
companions; heard, despite the poncho spread over her ears, the word
_ceiba_, with others, which told of their intention to stay by that
tree.

The _cacique_ knows the noted spot, as well as Nacena herself, he too
having oft played beneath its shade, or climbed up its grand trunk and
disported himself among its branches, when more of a boy than he is now.

But he reflects not on these past times, so full of innocence and
happiness.  Instead, wild with rage, and wretched as he is angry, he
stays not to reflect at all; but hastily, and little better than
half-dressed, he rushes forth from his _toldo_, calling loudly for his
horse.

Meanwhile, the sorceress has aroused others of the tribe; several of
whom, in obedience to their chief's command, start off for the _corrals_
to procure the horses necessary for a pursuit of the fugitives.

Aguara's is on the ground first; and, without waiting for companion or
attendant of any kind, he vaults upon the animal's back, and goes off at
a gallop along the path, which, after turning around close to the hill,
at about a mile's distance, farther on passes the _ceiba_ tree.



CHAPTER FIFTY SEVEN.

THE CAPTIVE RECAPTURED.

Impossible to describe the feelings of Caspar, when having recovered his
feet after the tumble out of his _recado_, he finds that Shebotha has
got away from him.  It is some consolation to know that neither himself
nor his horse has received serious injury.  Still not sufficient to
satisfy him, nor allay the wild exasperation burning within his breast,
which seeks to vent itself in a string of maledictions poured
plenteously from his lips.

As the hag, however, has surely succeeded in getting off, and it would
be idle to attempt pursuing through the thick scrub, his anathemas
hurled after her are all in vain: and, at thought of this, he soon
ceases to pronounce them.  For the reflection quick follows, that he and
his companions have now something else to think about--their own safety,
doubly endangered by Shebotha's escape.

"_Mil demonios_!" is his last exclaim of the kind, after getting his
horse upright again and himself back into the saddle, "who'd have
believed the old beldame had so much suppleness in her joints?  But it's
no joking matter.  Only to think of it!  Everything looking so bright,
and now Satan's luck once more back upon us--bad, if not worse, than
ever!  Well, we mustn't dilly-dally here.  If there's still a chance
left us, we'll have to look for it down below, by that big cotton tree."

Saying which, he again gives the rein to his horse, and continues the
descent of the hill, the others head and tail close after.

On reaching the said cotton tree, however, Gaspar changes his mind about
that spot being the best for their temporary abiding place.  Since its
being arranged as a rendezvous with Nacena, the circumstances have sadly
altered, and, on reflection, he deems it better, as do the others, to
keep on along the road towards the _tolderia_--at least for some little
distance.  There can be no harm in that, nor danger of their going
astray.  The path is a plain one, much trampled by horses and cattle,
and, notwithstanding the darkness of the night, easily discernible.  If
fortune so far favour them, that the captive will be coming that way,
under the guidance of the Indian girl, the sooner these be met the more
chance for all eventually getting safe off, rescuers as rescued.

So concluding, they make scarce a moment's halt by the _ceiba_; but,
passing under its umbrageous branches, head their horses along the trail
leading to the town.

At this moment were it daylight, or even a clear moonlight, one placed
upon the brow of the hill fronting south-eastward, and looking down to
the level plain by its base, would behold two separate parties moving
upon it, but in opposite directions, so that, if they continue to
advance, they must meet.  One party is mounted, the other afoot; the
former being Gaspar and his two companions, while the latter is also
composed of three individuals--Nacena, Francesca, and Shebotha's slave.
The two girls, going in a half-run, are side by side, and ahead of the
man; who, less free of foot, has fallen behind them to a distance of
some twenty or thirty paces.  Nacena, who knows the way, guides the
escaping captive, and has hold of her by the hand.  They are now not
more than half-a-mile from the mounted party, coming the opposite way,
and in a few minutes should meet it, if nothing prevent.  Already within
hailing distance, they might hear one another's voices; but neither
being aware of this mutual proximity, all advance in silence--the trio
on horseback proceeding at a slow pace for caution's sake, lest the
tread of their animals should betray them.

But if their own be not heard afar, there are other hoofs making a noise
to disturb the stillness of the night.  Just as the Indian girl has
whispered to her paleface _protegee_ some words of cheer, saying that
her friends are now no great way off, she is startled by the hoof-stroke
of a horse, which her practised ear tells her to be ridden; while the
rapid repetition of the sound denotes the animal going in a gallop.

Suddenly she stops, and listens.  Clearer rings the "tramp--tramp," as
nearer the horseman approaches.  Coming up behind, from the direction of
the town, who can it be but one in pursuit of them?  And if a pursuer,
what other than Aguara?

Still Nacena is in doubt, and deems it strange.  As they stole away from
Shebotha's hut, and through the straggling suburb of the _tolderia_, all
was darkness and silence, everybody seeming asleep.  Who or what could
have awakened the _cacique_, and apprised him of the flight of his
captive?

In asking herself these questions, Kaolin's sister is under the belief,
that the sorceress is herself still a prisoner, in the keeping of that
stalwart and redoubtable gaucho.  Hence her surprise at their being
pursued, with the uncertainty that they are so, and the further doubt of
the pursuer being Aguara.

He it is, notwithstanding; and as yet pursuing alone.  For although soon
can be heard the hoof-strokes of other horses than his also following,
these are faint and far-off.  He himself hears them; knows it is a party
of his young braves pressing on after, but will not wait for them to
come up.  For he hopes to overtake the fugitives, ere they can reach the
place of rendezvous Shebotha has spoken of, and recover his captive
before she can fling herself into the arms of protecting friends.

In this hope, alas! he is not disappointed.  Dashing on through the
darkness along a road with every foot of which both he and his horse are
familiar, he first comes up with the half-witted creature lagging
behind, soon as beside him putting the question--

"Where is the paleface, your prisoner?"

The man, frightened at seeing it is the _cacique_, in his confusion
hesitates to make reply.  But Aguara does not wait for it.  He hears
voices ahead--soft and sweet, though raised in tones of alarm--and knows
she must be there.  Giving his horse's head a wrench, so as to shave
close past the delinquent jailer, he raises his _macana_, and dealing a
downward blow, strikes the latter to the earth: then hastens on after
the others.

Nacena now knows for certain that they are pursued, as also who is the
pursuer.  She has heard the question asked by Aguara, recognising his
voice; heard also the dull thud of his club as it descended on the skull
of the unfortunate man; and now again hears the trampling of hoofs
renewed and drawing nearer.  She has still hold of Francesca's hand, and
for a moment debates within herself what is best to be done, and whether
she should not release it, and turning show front to the pursuer.

Too late for that, or aught else likely to be of service either to
herself or _protegee_.  Before any resolve reaches her the _cacique_, is
by their side; and flinging himself from his horse, grasps both by the
wrists, wrenching asunder their joined hands.  Then turning upon the
Indian girl with a cry of rage--a curse in the Tovas tongue--he strikes
her with his shut fist, inflicting a blow which sends her reeling to the
earth.  Before she can regain her feet he is once more upon his horse,
and heading back for the _tolderia_--his recovered captive in his arms!



CHAPTER FIFTY EIGHT.

VA CON DIOS.

In a rush Aguara goes, fast as his animal can be urged by heel and
voice.  For, while so roughly separating the two girls, these had
shouted in alarm, and his ear had caught other cries raised at a
distance, and as if responsive.  Now he hears them again; men's voices,
and mingling with them the trampling of hoofs--clearly several horses
coming on in a gallop.  She, he has in his arms, hears them too, but
listens not in silence or unresisting.  Instead, she struggles and
shrieks, calling "Help, help!" with the names "Ludwig, Cypriano,
Gaspar!"

She is heard by all three; for it is they who responded to the cries of
herself and Nacena, knowing who gave utterance to them.  Near they are
now, and riding as in a race; they, too, pressing their horses to utmost
speed.  But the darkness is against them, as their ignorance of the
ground, with which the man pursued is familiar.  By this, at every step,
they are obstructed; and but for the screams of Francesca, still
continued, might as well abandon the chase for any chance they have of
overtaking him.

And overtake him they never would, nor could, were fortune not in their
favour.  An accident it may appear; at the same time seeming a divine
retribution for wrong--a very Nemesis in the path of the wicked Aguara.
On returning past the spot where he had struck down Shebotha's slave, he
sees the unfortunate man stretched along the ground, and, to all
appearance, still insensible.  Nought cares he for that, but his horse
does; and, at sight of the prostrate form, the animal, with a snort of
affright, shies to one side, and strikes off in a new direction.  Going
at so swift a pace, and in such a dim light, in a few bounds it enters
among some bushes, where it is brought up standing.  Before its rider
can extricate it, a strong hand has hold of it by the head, with a thumb
inserted into its nostrils, while the fingers of another are clutching
at his own throat.  The hand on the horse's muzzle is that of Caspar the
gaucho, the fingers that grope to get a gripe on the rider's neck being
those of Cypriano.

It is a crisis in the life of the young Tovas _cacique_, threatening
either death or captivity.  But subtle as all Indians are, and base as
any common fellow of his tribe, instead of showing a bold front, he
eludes both, by letting go the captive girl, himself slipping to the
ground, and, snake like, gliding off among the bushes.

On the other side of his horse, which he has also abandoned, Francesca
falls into the arms of her brother, who embraces her with wild delight.
Though not wilder, nor half so thrilling, as that which enraptures the
ear of Cypriano--to whose arms she is on the instant after transferred.

But it is not a time for embraces, however affectionate, nor words to be
wasted in congratulation.  So Gaspar tells them, while urging instant
departure from that perilous spot.

"Our lucky star's gone up again," he says, with a significant nod to
Aguara's horse, which he has still hold of.  "There is now four of us;
and as I take it this brisk little _musteno_ is fairly our property,
there'll be no need for any of us riding double--to say nothing of one
having a witch behind his back.  Without such incumbrance, it'll be so
much the better for the saving of time; which at this present moment
presses, with not the hundredth part of a second to spare.  So _hijos
mios_, and you, _hija mia querida_, let us mount and be off!"

While the gaucho is yet thus jocularly delivering himself, Cypriano has
lifted his cousin, Francesca, to the back of the _cacique's_ abandoned
steed; on which he well knows she can keep her seat, were it the wildest
that ever careered across _campo_.  Then he remounts his own, the other
two taking to their saddles at the same time.

A word about the route, and all four start together; not to go back
along the trail towards the _ceiba_ tree, but striking straight out for
the open plain, in a direction which Gaspar conjectures to be the right
one.

They would willingly diverge from it to ascertain whether the poor
creature clubbed by Aguara be dead or still living; and, if the latter,
take him along.  But Gaspar urges the danger of delay; above all, being
burdened with a man not only witless, but now in all likelihood disabled
by a wound which would make the transporting him an absolute
impossibility.

Ludwig and his sister are more desirous to turn aside, and learn how it
is with Nacena.  But again the gaucho, no: greatly given to sentiment,
objects.  Luckily, as if to relieve them from all anxiety, just then
they hear a voice, which all recognise as that of the Tovas belle,
calling out in tolerably pure Castilian:--

"_Va con Dios_!"

Standing up in his stirrups, with a shout and counter salute, the gaucho
returns the valediction; then, spurring forward and placing himself at
the head of the retreating party, they ride on, with no thought of again
halting so long as their horses can keep their feet.



CHAPTER FIFTY NINE.

FRIENDS OR FOES?

The solitary _estancia_ which for two years had been the happy home of
Ludwig Halberger and his family, but late the abode of deepest sorrow,
is once more revisited by a gleam of joy.  For the rescuing party has
returned to it, bringing Francesca back safe and still unharmed.  In the
tumult of gratified emotions at recovering her lost child,--or rather
children, for she had begun to think them all for ever gone from her--
the widow almost forgets that she is widowed.

Only for a brief moment, however.  The other great bereavement has been
too recent to remain long out of her thoughts, and soon returns to them
in its full afflicting bitterness.

But she has no time to dwell upon it now.  The tale of actual experience
which the rescuers have brought back, with Caspar's surmises added, has
given her a full and clear comprehension of everything; not only
explaining the tragic event already past, but foreshadowing other and
further dangers yet to come, and which may, at any moment, descend upon
herself and the dear ones still left to her.

She has no longer any doubts as to the hand that has dealt her such a
terrible blow; neither of the man who actually committed the murder, nor
of him who instigated it.  For Francesca's recognition of Valdez has
confirmed all the gaucho's conjectures.

And the Dictator of Paraguay is not the man to leave unfinished either
his cruel deeds or designs.  Surely will he further prosecute them,
either by hastening himself to the _estancia_, or sending thither his
myrmidons.  Yes, at any hour, any minute, a party of these may appear
approaching it from the east, while in like short time the pursuing
Tovas, headed by their enraged _cacique_, may show themselves coming
from the west.

No wonder that the moments of mutual congratulation between the Senora
Halberger and those just returned to her are brief, and but little
joyful.  The fugitives have reached home, but not to find it a refuge.
For them it is no more a place of safety; instead, the most perilous in
which they could now or ever after sojourn.  But where are they to go--
whither further flee?  In all the Chaco there is not a spot that can
shelter them from such pursuers as they are expecting!

It is now near noon of the fourth day since they left the Sacred Town of
the Tovas, and in the interval they had been riding hard and fast, day
and night, scarce allowing themselves either sleep or rest.  But, fast
as they have travelled, they know that Aguara, with his braves, will not
be far behind; and although less than an hour has elapsed since their
arrival at the _estancia_, Gaspar has already made preparations for
their departure from it.  Assisted by the faithful Guano Indians, who of
course are to accompany them in their flight, he has caught up and
caparisoned fresh horses, with the mules belonging to the establishment.
Still the question remains unanswered--Whither are they to go?
Throughout all the vicissitudes of his eventful life, never had the
gaucho one so perplexing him, or fraught with such fears.

In the hope of finding an answer, and the better to reflect upon it, he
has drawn a little apart from the house, with the hurry and bustle going
on around it.  A slight eminence, not far off in front, gives a
commanding view of the _campo_; and, taking stand upon its top, he first
casts a sweeping glance around the horizon, then fixes it only in one
direction--that southwards, towards the old _tolderia_.  For, although
expecting enemies both from east and west, he knows that, coming from
either side, they will most likely approach by the Pilcomayo's bank; the
former by the trail leading up the river, the latter by the same going
down.  It is not the first time for him to be standing on that elevated
spot.  Every ten minutes since their return to the _estancia_, he has
been upon it, gazing out in the same way, and for the self-same purpose.
Still, as yet, he observes nothing to add to his apprehensions, already
keen enough.  No living thing--much less human being--stirs over the
wide expanse of green grassy plain.  For it is near the meridian hour,
and the tropical sun, pouring its fervid rays vertically down, has
forced both birds and quadrupeds inside the cooler shadow of their
coverts.  Only two of the former are seen--a brace of _urubus_, or "king
vultures," soaring in circles aloft--beautiful birds, but less
emblematic of life than death.  A bad omen he might deem their presence;
and worse, if he but saw what they see.  For, from their more elevated
position, they command a view of the plain to a much greater distance,
and see mounted men upon it; not a single party, but three distinct
groups of them, leagues distant from each other, though all round for
the _estancia_.  They are approaching it by separate routes, and from
different quarters of the compass; one party coming up the Pilcomayo's
bank, and making straight for the old _tolderia_, a second moving
towards the same place on the down-river trail; while the third, away
from the river, and out upon the open plain, is heading more direct for
the _estancia_ itself.  The first cohort, which is the smallest, is
composed of some forty or fifty horsemen, riding "by twos;" their
regular formation on the march, but more the uniformity in their dress,
arms, and accoutrements, telling them to be soldiers.  For such they
really are--the _cuarteleros_ of Paraguay, with Rufino Valdez riding at
their head; not as their commanding officer, but in the exercise of his
more proper and special calling of _vaqueano_, or guide.  Ghastly and
pallid, with his arm supported in a sling, he is on the way back to
Halberger's _estancia_, to complete the ruffian's task assigned to him
by the Dictator of Paraguay, and make more desolate the home he had
already enough ruined.  But for his mischance in the _biscachera_, the
rescuers would have found it empty on their return, and instead of a
lost daughter, it would have been the mother missing.

The second band of horsemen, coming from the opposite quarter and down
the river, is no other than the pursuing party of Tovas, with Aguara at
their head.  They are mostly young men, the _cacique's_ particular
friends and partisans, nearly a hundred in number, all armed with
_bolas_ and long spears.  Hastily summoned together, they had started in
pursuit soon as they could catch up their horses; but with all their
speed the rescuing party had so far kept ahead, as to have arrived at
the _estancia_ some time before them.  But they are pressing on for it
now, fast as their horses can carry them, urged forward by their leader,
who, in his rage, is not only determined to retake the escaped captive,
but kill cousin, brother, all who aided in her escape.

The third party, also approaching from the west, but by a route leading
direct to the house, with the river far southward on their right, is, as
the second, composed entirely of Tovas Indians.  But, instead of them
being the youths of the tribe, they are, for the most part, men of
mature age, though a young man is at their head, and acting as their
commander.  There is a girl riding by his side, a beautiful girl, at a
glance recognisable as Nacena--he himself being her brother, Kaolin.

They and their party are also pursuing.  Though not to retake, the
paleface captive; instead, to protect her--the object of their pursuit
being Aguara himself.  For soon as the latter had started off on his
reckless chase--braving public opinion, and defying the opposition of
the elders--a revolution had arisen in the tribe; while a council
meeting, hastily called in the _malocca_, had, with almost unanimous
vote, deposed him from the chieftainship, and chosen Kaolin _cacique_ in
his stead.  Needless to say, that to all this Nacena was a consenting
party.  And something more--since she gave the cue to her brother, who
was chief instigator in the revolt.  That blow which laid her along the
earth, with the cause for which it was given, had severed the last link
of love that bound her to Aguara, and for him her heart is now full of
hate and burning with vengeance.  While pressing on in pursuit of his
escaped captive, little dreams the deposed _cacique_ of the Tovas,
either that he has been deposed of his chieftainship or that others are
pursuing him.

But his pursuers are not now behind him; instead, in front, or, at all
events, nearer to the _estancia_ than he.  For Kaolin's followers,
availing themselves of a route known to one of their number--a shorter
cut across the _pampas_--have passed the party led by Aguara, and will
be the first to arrive at the objective point aimed at by both.

And they are first sighted by Gaspar, though the gaucho has not been
looking in their direction, little expectant of pursuers to come from
that quarter.  The _urubus_ have guided him, or rather their shadows
gliding over the grassy sward; these, as the birds making them, having
suddenly passed away towards the west.  Following them with his eyes, he
sees what causes him to exclaim--

"_Santos Dios_! we are lost.  Too late--too late; 'tis all over with us
now!"

His cry, sent up in accent of deepest despair, brings Ludwig and
Cypriano to his side: and the three stand watching the dark cohort
advancing towards them.  None of them speaks or thinks of retreat.  That
would be idle, and any attempt at escape must surely result in failure;
while to resist would but hasten the disaster impending over them.
Convinced of this, they no longer contemplate either flight or
resistance, but stand in sullen silence to await the approach of the
pursuers, for such they suppose them to be.  Deeming them avengers also,
as well they may, recalling their last encounter with the young Tovas
chief.

Never did mistaken men more rejoice at their mistake than do they, when,
on the band of Indian braves galloping up to the ground, they behold at
its head, and evidently in command of it, not the _cacique_ Aguara, but
the sub-chief, Kaolin, and beside him his sister Nacena!  She who aided
them in effecting the escape of the captive, and, as a last word, bade
them "God speed," would not be with pursuers who are hostile.

Nor is she, as they soon learn; instead, along with friends who come but
to give comfort and protection!



CHAPTER SIXTY.

SPEEDY RETRIBUTION.

Short time stays Kaolin and his party by the _estancia_: for the
newly-elected chief of the Tovas is a man of ready resolves and quick
action, and soon as his story is told, with that of the others heard in
return, he again mounts, and makes ready for the march--this time to be
directed towards the old _tolderia_.  He knows that his rival _cacique_
must come that way, as also the other enemy of whom Caspar has given him
information, and who may be expected as soon, if not sooner, than Aguara
himself.

The gaucho goes along with him, as so would Cypriano and Ludwig, but
that Caspar forbids it; urging them to remain at the _estancia_ as
company, and, if need be, protection, for the _senora_ and _nina_.  Thus
influenced, they both stay.

Straight off over the _pampa_ rides Kaolin, at the head of his hundred
stalwart warriors, his sister still by his side.  She also had been
counselled to remain behind, an advice she disdainfully rejected.  The
revenge burning in her breast will not let her rest, till she has seen
her false lover, her insulter, laid low.

Her brother, too, and all his band of braves, are alike eager for the
conflict to come.  It was not so before their arrival at the _estancia_.
Then they only thought of dealing with their deposed _cacique_ and his
youthful followers, foolish as himself; nor dreamt they aught of danger.
But now, with the prospect of meeting another and very different enemy,
more dangerous and more hated, their savage nature is roused within them
to an ire uncontrollable.  By chance, Kaolin himself has a special
dislike for the _vaqueano_ Valdez; while as to the others, despite the
restored treaty forced upon them by Aguara, their friendship has not
been restored with it; and they urge their horses forward, burning for
an encounter with the _cuarteleros_ of Paraguay.

Though the gaucho rides at the head of the quick marching party, and
alongside their leader, it is not to guide them.  They know the ground
as well, and better than he; for oft and many a time have they quartered
that same _campo_, in pursuit of _gama, guazuti_, and ostrich.

Kaolin directs his march in a straight course for the old _tolderia_,
though not now designing to go so far.  His objective point for the
present is a high bluff which hems in the valley of the Pilcomayo, and
from which a view may be obtained of the river for long leagues upward
and downward, as of the deserted village, at no great distance off upon
its bank.  Through a ravine that cuts this bluff transversely, the
latter can alone be reached from the elevated plain over which they are
advancing.

Arrived at the upper end of the gorge, they do not go down it.  Instead,
commanding his warriors to make halt, Kaolin himself dismounts; and
signing the gaucho to keep him company, the two step crouchingly forward
and upward to the outer edge of the cliff.

Soon as reaching it they get sight of what they had more than half
expected to see: two bands of men mounted and upon the march, one with
the horses' heads directed down the stream, the other up it.  The first,
as can be seen at a glance, is the pursuing party of Tovas youths led by
Aguara; while the sun shining upon gilt buttons, with the glittering of
lance blades and barrels of guns, tells the other to be a troop of
soldiers, beyond doubt the looked for _cuarteleros_!  Both are at about
a like distance from the abandoned town, heading straight for it; and
while Kaolin and the gaucho continue watching them they ride in among
the _toldos_ from opposite sides, meeting face to face on the open space
by the _malocca_.

At sight of one another the two sets come to a sudden halt; and, for a
second or two, seem engaged in a mutual and suspicious reconnaissance.
But their distrust is of short continuance; for there is a rogue at the
head of each, and these, as if instinctively recognising one another,
are seen to advance and shake hands, while their followers mutually
mingle and fraternise.

Amicable relations being thus established between them, the men on both
sides are observed to dismount, as if they intended to make stay in the
_tolderia_.  A movement, which puzzles Kaolin and the gaucho, who were
about going back to the gorge with the design of taking steps for
defending it.  Instead, they remain upon the cliff's crest to watch the
enemy below.

And they continue watching there till the sun goes down, and the purple
of twilight spreads itself over the plain bordering the Pilcomayo; this
succeeded by a mist rising from the river, and shrouding the deserted
village in its murky embrace.  But before night's darkness is altogether
on they see a mounted troop, filing by twos, out from among the
_toldos_, with lances carried aloft, and pennons floating over their
heads--surely the _cuarteleros_.  There is just light enough left to
show two men in the lead, dressed differently from these following.  One
of these resplendent in a feather-embroidered _manta_, Kaolin recognises
as his rival Aguara; while the gaucho identifies the other as his
oldest, deadliest, and most dangerous enemy, Valdez, the _vaqueano_.

They remain not a moment longer on the cliff; for, eager as Gaspar
Mendez may be to rid himself of that enemy, he is not more so than the
Indian to send to his long account the man who insulted his sister.  Now
more than ever determined upon avenging her wrongs, he rushes back to
his braves, and hurriedly puts them in ambush near the head of the
gorge, at a point where the defile is narrowest; himself taking stand on
a ledge, which commands the pass, in such manner, that with his long
spear he can reach across it from side to side.

At length has the opportunity arrived for the angry brother to take the
retribution he has resolved upon--Nacena herself being a witness to it.
For she is near by, standing on a higher bench behind, in posed
attitude, with her features hard set and lips compressed, as one about
to be spectator to a sad and painful scene.  But if she feel sadness, it
is not for the death now threatening Aguara.  That blow had changed her
fond love to bitterest resentment; and instead of doing aught, or saying
word, to stay her brother's hand, she but by her presence and silence
incites him to the deed of vengeance.

It is soon and quickly done.  Scarce has the ambuscade been set, when
the trampling of horses heard down the defile tells of a cavalcade
coming up, and presently the foremost files appear rounding an angle of
rock.  Dim as is the light, the horseman leading can be told to be the
young Tovas _cacique_, while the one immediately in his rear is
recognisable as Rufino Valdez.  At sight of the latter the gaucho, who
is close to Kaolin, feeling all his old hatred revived, and recalling,
too, the murder of his beloved master, with difficulty restrains himself
from springing down and commencing the conflict.  He is prevented by a
sign from Kaolin; who, on the instant, after leaning forward lounges out
with his spear.  A wild cry tells that it has pierced the body of
Aguara; then drawn instantly back and given a second thrust, it passes
through that of the _vaqueano_--both dropping from their horses dead, as
if by a bullet through the brain!

The soldiers coming on behind are brought to a sudden stop; scarce
comprehending why, till they hear the wild Tovas war-cry raised above
their heads, at the same time being saluted with a shower of _bolas
peridas_ rained down from the rocks, these terrible missiles crushing in
every skull with which they came into contact.

The scared _cuarteleros_ stay for no more; but, with a cry of treason,
turn their horses' heads, and hurry back down the ravine.  Nor stop they
at the _tolderia_; but still under the belief of having been betrayed,
continue their retreat down the river, and on toward Paraguay, leaving
over a dozen of them dead in that dark defile.

As for the followers of Aguara, they make no show of fight.  Now that
their leader is no more, there is no cause of quarrel between them and
the warriors of the tribe, and not a hand is raised to avenge their
young _cacique_.  For on learning the full character of his designs, and
his complicity with the cruel _vaqueano_, all acknowledge that both men
have but met the death they deserved.



CHAPTER SIXTY ONE.

CONCLUSION.

After a day's rest at their old _tolderia_, the two parties of Tovas,
now united in amity, set out on return to their Sacred Town.  And along
with them goes the Senora Halberger, with all the members of her
family--including the Guano Indian domestics, and, needless to say, not
leaving Gaspar Mendez behind.  And, alike idle to declare, that they go
not as captives; but guests, to be honoured and better cared for than
ever before.  Better protected, too; for, as ever do they need
protection; now more than ever likely to be under the ban of the
Paraguayan despot.  That solitary _estancia_ would no longer be a safe
place of residence for them, and they well know it.

Perfect safety they find at the Sacred Town, and hospitality too, great
as when Naraguana himself dispensed it.  For is not Kaolin now
_cacique_--he who saved them from death and destruction?

Kindly he extends his protection, and generously bestows his
hospitality.  But they do not for long need the former, nor are they
called upon to abuse the latter by a too protracted stay.  Shortly after
their arrival at the Sacred Town, they get news which, though of death,
gives them joy, as it only could and should; since it is the death of
that man who has been the cause of all their miseries.  Jose Francia,
feared far and wide throughout Paraguay, and even beyond its borders,
has at length paid the debt due by all men, whether bad or good.  But
although dead, strange to say, in the land he so long ruled with hard
ruthless hand, still dreaded almost as much as when living; his cowed
and craven subjects speaking of him with trembling lips and bated
breath, no more as "El Supremo," but "El Defunto!"

The Senora Halberger believes she may now return to her native country,
without fear of further persecution from him.  But Caspar thinks
otherwise; deeming it still unsafe, and pointing out the danger of their
being called to account for what they were not guilty of--the slaughter
of the _cuarteleros_ in the defile.  In fine, he urges her to make her
future home in the Argentine States; a pleasanter land to live in,
besides being a land of liberty, and, above all, the orthodox country of
his own class and kind, the _gauchos_.

Observing the justness of his arguments, she consents to follow his
advice; and to the Argentine States they all go, journeying across many
great rivers and through hundreds of miles of wilderness.  But they are
not permitted to travel either unprotected or alone; for Kaolin
accompanies them, with a band of his best braves--Nacena also forming
one of the escort.

The Tovas _cacique_ sees them over the Salado river, and within safe
distance of the outlying settlements of San Rosario, there leaving them.
But when he parts company, to return to the Sacred Town, his sister
returns not with him.  Though as a brother he be dear to her, she has
found one dearer, with whom she prefers to stay.  And does stay, Kaolin
himself consenting; since the dearer one is his own friend and former
playmate.  The gentle Ludwig has at length succeeded in winning the
heart of the savage maiden--still whole, despite the tearing of a
misplaced passion, long since passed away.

Our tale could be prolonged, and the characters who have figured in it
followed further; but not through scenes of the same exciting character
as those already detailed.  Instead, the record of their after life,
though not devoid of stirring incident, is more signalised by scenes of
peace and prosperity.  The reader will be satisfied with a peep at it,
obtained some ten years later than the date of their settling down in
the Argentine States.  A traveller at this time passing from San Rosario
to the German Colonies recently established on the Salado river, near
the old but abandoned missionary settlement of Santa Fe, could not fail
to observe a grand _estancia_; a handsome dwelling-house with
outbuildings, _corrals_ for the enclosure of cattle, and all the
appurtenances of a first-class _ganaderia_, or grazing establishment.
Should he ask to whom it belongs, he would have for answer, "The Senora
Halberger;" and if curiosity led him to inquire further, he might be
told that this lady, who is _una viuda_, is but the nominal head of the
concern, which is rather owned conjointly by her son and nephew, living
along with her.  Both married though; the latter, Senor Cypriano, to her
daughter and his own cousin; while the former, Senor Ludwig, has for his
wife an Indian woman; with possibly the remark added, that this Indian
woman is as beautiful and accomplished as though she were a white.

Were the traveller to deviate a little from his route, and approach near
enough to the house, he might see the members of this double though
united family, surrounded by several pretty children of both sexes,
strolling about in happy harmony, and with that freedom from care which
speaks of wealth, at the same time telling of its having been honestly
acquired.

Whether or not such a tableau be presented to the traveller's eye, one
man who should figure in it would sure be seen moving about the place.
For he is the _mayor-domo_ of the estate, and if not actual master, the
manager of all.  As in that old _estancia_ near the northern bank of the
Pilcomayo, so in this new and grander one on the southern side of the
Salado, everything is entrusted, as safely it may be, to GASPAR, THE
GAUCHO.





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