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Title: Out on the Pampas - Or, The Young Settlers
Author: Henty, G. A. (George Alfred), 1832-1902
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: Book Cover]

[Illustration: The Fight with the Puma.--_Page 59._]



OUT ON THE PAMPAS

OR

_THE YOUNG SETTLERS_


BY

G. A. HENTY


AUTHOR OF 'THE YOUNG FRANC-TIREURS,' 'THE YOUNG BUGLERS,'
'THE MARCH TO MAGDALA,' ETC. ETC.


WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY J. B. ZWECKER.



LONDON
GRIFFITH FARRAN & CO.
NEWBERY HOUSE, 39 CHARING CROSS ROAD


[_The Rights of Translation and Reproduction are Reserved._]


Transcriber's Note:
   Variations in hyphenation, capitalization, and spelling have been
   retained as in the original. Minor printer errors have been amended
   without note. Obvious typos have been amended and are listed at the
   end of the text. Table of Contents has been added. OE/oe ligatures
   have not been retained in this version.



Table of Contents.


CHAPTER I.
Mrs. Hardy's Resolution.

CHAPTER II.
The Start.

CHAPTER III.
A New Life.

CHAPTER IV.
The Pampas.

CHAPTER V.
The Settler's Home.

CHAPTER VI.
A Tale of the Mexican War.

CHAPTER VII.
Seth Continues His Narrative of the Mexican Adventure.

CHAPTER VIII.
Farm Work and Amusements.

CHAPTER IX.
Neighbourly Visits and Advice.

CHAPTER X.
The Lost Cattle.

CHAPTER XI.
Quiet Times.

CHAPTER XII.
A Steady Hand.

CHAPTER XIII.
The Indian Attack.

CHAPTER XIV.
Terrible News.

CHAPTER XV.
The Pampas on Fire.

CHAPTER XVI.
At the Stake.

CHAPTER XVII.
Rescued.

CHAPTER XVIII.
And Last.



OUT ON THE PAMPAS;

OR,

THE YOUNG SETTLERS.



CHAPTER I.

MRS. HARDY'S RESOLUTION.


'What are you thinking of, Frank?' Mrs. Hardy asked her husband one
evening, after an unusually long silence on his part.

'Well, my dear, I was thinking of a good many things. In the first
place, I think, I began with wondering what I should make of the boys;
and that led to such a train of thoughts about ourselves and our
circumstances, that I hardly knew where I was when you spoke to me.'

Mr. Hardy spoke cheerfully, but his wife saw at once that it was with an
effort that he did so. She put down the work upon which she was engaged,
and moved her chair nearer to his by the fire. 'It is a serious
question, Frank, about the boys. Charley is fifteen now, and Hubert
fourteen. I wonder myself sometimes what we shall do with them.'

'There seems no opening here in England for young fellows. The
professions are crowded, even if they were not altogether beyond our
means; and as to a clerkship, they had better have a trade, and stick to
it: they would be far happier, and nearly as well paid. The fact is,
Clara,' and here Mr. Hardy paused a little, as if to gain courage to say
what he feared would be very disagreeable to his wife,--'the fact is, we
are altogether too crowded here. The best thing for the children, by
far, and I think the best thing for ourselves, would be to emigrate.'

Mrs. Hardy gave a little sigh, but said nothing, and sat looking quietly
into the fire, as her husband went on: 'You see, my dear, I am just, and
only just earning enough for us to live upon. Nor is there any strong
probability of an increase of business. The boys, as you say, are
growing up, and I see no prospect of giving them a fair start in life.
Abroad it is altogether different: we can buy land and stock it for next
to nothing. We should live roughly, certainly; but at least there is no
fear for the future, and we should start our boys in life with a fair
certainty of success. Still, Clara, I do not of course mean that I have
made up my mind upon the subject. It is far too serious a matter to
decide upon hastily. I only threw out the suggestion; and if you, after
thinking it over, are against it, there is an end of the matter.'

Mrs. Hardy was silent for a little, and a tear sparkled on her cheek in
the fire-light; then she said, 'I am not surprised, Frank, at what you
have said. In fact I have expected it for some time. I have observed you
looking over books upon foreign countries, and have seen that you often
sat thoughtful and quiet. I guessed, therefore, what you had in your
mind. Of course, dear, as a woman, I shrink from the thought of leaving
all our friends and going to quite a strange country, but I don't think
that I am afraid of the hardships or discomfort. Thousands of other
women have gone through them, and there is no reason why I should not do
the same. I do think with you that it would be a good thing for the
boys, perhaps for the girls too; and that, when we have got over the
first hardships, we too should be happier and more free from care than
we are now. So you see, Frank, you will meet with no opposition from me;
and if, after deliberation, you really determine that it is the best
thing to do, I shall be ready to agree with you. But it is a hard
thought just at first, so please do not say any more about it to-night.'

Mr. Hardy was an architect, as his father had been before him. He had
not, however, entered the office at the usual age, but when eighteen had
gone out to the United States, to visit an uncle who had settled there.
After spending some time with him, the love of adventure had taken him
to the far west, and there he had hunted and shot for nearly three
years, till a letter, long delayed on the way, entreated him to return
to England, as his father's health was failing. He at once started for
England, and found that his father was in a feeble state of health, but
was still able to carry on the business. Frank saw, however, that he was
unequal to the work, and so entered the office, working hard to make up
for lost time. He was a good draughtsman, and was shortly able to take a
great burden off his father's shoulders.

He had not been long at home, however, before he fell in love with Clara
Aintree, the daughter of a clergyman; and his father making over to him
a share in the business, they were married just as Frank attained his
twenty-fourth year, his wife being about nineteen. Two years after the
marriage Mr. Hardy sen. died, and from that time Frank had carried on
the business alone.

B---- was a large provincial town, but it scarcely afforded remunerative
employment for an architect; and although Mr. Hardy had no competitor in
his business, the income which he derived from it was by no means a
large one, and the increasing expenses of his family rendered the
struggle, to make ends meet, yearly more severe. His father had been
possessed of a small private fortune, but had rashly entered into the
mania of railway speculation, and at his death had left about £3000 to
his son. This sum Frank Hardy had carefully preserved intact, as he had
foreseen that the time might come when it would, for his children's
sake, be advisable to emigrate. He had long looked forward to this, but
had abstained from taking any step until his sons were of an age to be
able to make themselves useful in a life in the bush or upon the
prairies.

Frank Hardy, at the time our story begins, was about forty. He was a
tall, active man, and the life he had led in America when young had
hardened his muscles, and given him the full use of every faculty.

Mrs. Hardy was five years younger than her husband, and scarcely looked
thirty years old. She was a high-spirited woman, well fitted to be her
husband's companion in the dangers and hardships of a settler's life.

The subject of emigration once started, was frequently continued, and
presently books and maps began to be consulted, and the advantages and
disadvantages of the various countries and colonies to be debated.
Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Hardy agreed that the Argentine Republic, in its
magnificent rivers, its boundless extent of fertile land, in its
splendid climate, its cheap labour, and its probable prospects, offered
the greatest advantages.

The decision once arrived at, it was determined to announce it to the
children, who had up to this time no idea of the great change decided
upon. Breakfast was over, and the boys, whose holidays had just begun,
were about to leave the table, when their father said: 'Wait a moment,
boys; there is something we want to talk to you about.'

The boys resumed their seats. 'Your mamma and I have been wondering what
you boys are to become, and we do not see any openings likely to occur
here. Now, what should you say to us all emigrating?'

'What, going abroad, papa!' they both exclaimed joyously.

'Yes, boys, settling in the back woods or in the prairies.'

'Oh that would be jolly,' Charley said, 'I know, papa, having fights
with Indians, and all that sort of thing. Oh it would be glorious!'

'Well, Charley,' his father said, smiling, 'I do not know that we shall
have fights with Indians, nor do I think it would be very jolly if we
did. But we should have to rough it, you know; you boys would have to
work hard, to help me in everything, and to look after the cattle and
sheep.'

'What fun! what fun!' the boys both shouted; 'we should like it of all
things in the world.'

'And what do you think of it, Maud and Ethel?' their mamma asked the
two little girls, who were looking very surprised, but rather doubtful
as to the pleasure of the fights with Indians which their brothers had
spoken so delightedly about. 'You will have to be two very useful little
women, and will have to help me just as the boys will have to help your
papa. Very likely we may not be able to get a servant there, and then we
shall have to do everything.'

'That will be fine, mamma,' said Maud, who was rather over twelve, while
her sister was just eleven. 'I don't think I could cook, but you should
cook, and I could scrub and do all the hard work, and Ethel could wash
up, and lay the table, and that sort of thing. That would be fine,
mamma.'

Ethel, who almost always agreed with her elder sister, did so now, and
the four young ones became quite uproarious in their plans for making
themselves useful. At last Mr. Hardy called for order.

'Now silence all, and listen to me. This affair is a serious business;
and although I hope and believe that we shall all enjoy our life very
much, still we must prepare for it, and look upon it in earnest, and not
as a sort of game. I have business here which I cannot finish before
another eight or nine months. Let us all make the most of our time
before we start. In the first place, the language of the people among
whom we are going is Spanish, and we must all learn to speak it well
before we leave. For the next three months we will work together at
grammar and exercises, and then I will try and get some Spanish teacher
to live in the house, and speak the language with us until we go. In the
next place, it will be well that you should all four learn to ride. I
have hired the paddock next to our garden, and have bought a pony, which
will be here to-day, for the girls. You boys have already ridden a
little, and I shall now have you taught in the riding school. I went
yesterday to Mr. Sarls, and asked him if he would allow me to make an
arrangement with his head gardener for you to go there to learn
gardening. He at once agreed; and I have arranged with the gardener that
you are both to be there every morning at six o'clock, and are to work
until nine. At nine you will come in to breakfast. From breakfast to
dinner you will have to yourselves, except upon the days you take riding
lessons; and I should wish you to spend this time at your usual studies,
except Latin, which will be of no use to you. From two till half-past
four you are to learn carpentering. I have made an agreement with Mr.
Jones to pay him so much to take you as a sort of apprentices for the
next nine months. In the evening we will all work together at Spanish.
It will be hard work; but if you want to be of any real use to me, it
is absolutely necessary that you should be able to use a spade and to do
rough carpentering. As the time draws on, too, I shall ask one of the
farmers near to let you go out with his men and get some notion of
ploughing. Well, what do you say to all that?'

Hubert looked a little downcast at this recital of the preparatory work
to be gone through, but Charley said at once, 'It sounds rather hard,
papa, but, as you say, we shall have to work hard out there, and it is
much better to accustom one's self to it at once; besides, of course, we
should be of no use at all to you unless we knew something about work.'

'And what are we to learn, mamma?' Maud asked.

'Not a very great deal, my dear,' Mrs. Hardy said. 'Spanish to begin
with, then cooking. I shall teach you, at any rate, to make simple
dishes and puddings, and to boil vegetables properly. I shall myself
practise until I am perfect, and then I shall teach you. Besides that,
it will be as well for you to learn to attend to poultry; and that is
all I know of at present, except that you must both take pains to
improve yourselves at sewing. We shall have to make everything for
ourselves out there.'

'I suppose we shan't do any more regular lessons, mamma?'

'Indeed you will, Maud. You do not imagine that your education is
finished, do you? and you cannot wish to grow almost as ignorant as the
poor Indians of the country. You will give up the piano, and learn
Spanish instead of French, but that will be all the difference; and I
shall expect you both to make as much progress as possible, because,
although I shall take you both out there, and shall teach you whenever I
find time, your lessons must of necessity be short and irregular. And
now you can all go out into the garden and talk the matter over.'

'But you have not told us yet where we are going to, papa,' Charley
said.

'We are going to farm upon the banks of one of the great South American
rivers,--probably the Parana, in the Argentine Republic.'

Mr. and Mrs. Hardy watched their children from the window. They went out
in a group to the summer-house in the corner of the garden, all talking
excitedly. Then Maud ran back again to the house, and in a minute or two
returned with the schoolroom atlas, and opening it upon the table, they
all clustered over it in eager consultation.

Mrs. Hardy turned to her husband with a smile. 'You will have to get up
the subject, Frank, so as to be able to answer the innumerable questions
you will be asked.'

'I shall always refer them to you.'

There was quite a talk in B---- when it was known that Mr. Hardy was
going to emigrate with his wife and family. He, and his father before
him, had been so long established in the town, that there were few
people who did not know him, more or less.

Emigration in the year 1851 was far less common than it is now, and the
interest was proportionately greater. Charley and Hubert became quite
popular characters among their late schoolfellows, who, whenever they
met them, would always stop to have a talk about the distant country to
which they were going. The boys, however, had now but little time for
talking; for upon the week after their father had first told them of his
intention, they had set-to regularly at the work he had laid down for
them. They rose every morning at five, had a slice of bread and a cup of
milk, and were off to the gardener's, where they worked hard until
half-past eight. Mr. Hardy had requested that they should be specially
instructed in the raising of vegetables, and in the planting and pruning
of fruit-trees. The culture of flowers could be of no utility. The
digging made the boys' backs ache at first, and blistered their hands,
but they stuck to it manfully, and soon became accustomed to the work,
returning to breakfast with glowing cheeks and tremendous appetites.

In the afternoon they might be seen in the carpenter's shop with their
coats and waistcoats off, working away with saw or plane.

Although both made good progress in both pursuits, yet their tastes
differed; Charley preferring the carpentering, while Hubert was the
gardener's most promising pupil. The former was therefore christened the
head carpenter by his sisters, while the latter was promoted to the post
of chief gardener.

Four or five months of this work made a visible difference in the boys'
appearance. They both widened out across the shoulders, their arms
became strong and muscular, and they looked altogether more healthy and
robust. Nor did their appearance belie them; for once when spending a
holiday in the cricket-field with their former schoolfellows, wrestling
matches being proposed after the game was over, they found that they
were able to overcome with ease boys whom they had formerly considered
their superiors in strength.

In the meantime Mr. Hardy had succeeded in obtaining the services of a
young Spanish lady, who had come to England to learn the language, as
governess; and of an evening the whole family worked at Spanish, and
made such progress that they were soon able to establish the rule that
no other language should be spoken at meal-times. The girls here soon
surpassed their brothers, as they had the advantage of morning lessons
in the language, besides which young children can always pick up a
language sooner than their elders; and they had many a hearty laugh at
the ridiculous mistakes Charley and Hubert made in their efforts to get
through a long sentence. In six months, however, all could speak with
tolerable fluency.

Maud and Ethel were as amused and as diligent at learning household work
as their brothers were in their departments, and might have been seen
every afternoon in the kitchen, in their little white pinafores, engaged
in learning the mysteries of cooking.

One day, after they had been so engaged for about four months, Mrs.
Hardy said at breakfast: 'I am going to try an experiment. I have given
the cook leave to go out for the day. Mr. and Mrs. Partridge are coming
to dinner, and I intend handing over the kitchen to the girls, and
letting them make their first essay. We are going to have soup, a leg of
mutton with potatoes and spinach, a dish of fried cutlets, and a cabinet
pudding. I shall tell Sarah to lift any saucepan you may want on or off
the fire, but all the rest I shall leave in your hands. The boys will
dine with us. The hour will be half-past five, punctually.'

The little girls' eyes flashed with pleasure, and they quite coloured up
at the thought of the importance and difficulty of the task before them.
At lunch the boys pretended to eat an extra quantity, saying that they
felt very doubtful about their dinner. In the afternoon Mrs. Hardy felt
strongly tempted to go into the kitchen to see how things were getting
on; but she restrained herself, resolving to let Maud and Ethel have
entirely their own way.

The dinner was a great success, although the soup was rather hot, from
Ethel, in her anxiety, having let too much pepper slip in; and the
cabinet pudding came up all over the dish, instead of preserving its
shape, it having stuck to the mould, and Maud having shaken it so
violently that it had come out with a burst and broken up into pieces,
which had caused a flood of tears on the part of the little cook. It did
not taste any the worse, however. And when the little girls came in to
dessert in their white frocks, looking rather shy, and very scorched in
the face, from their anxious peeping into pots to see that all was going
on well, they were received with a cheer by the boys; and their friends
were not a little astonished to hear that the dinner they had partaken
of had been entirely prepared and cooked by these little women.

After four months' gardening, Mr. Hardy placed the boys with a farmer
who lived a mile distant, and made an arrangement for them to breakfast
there, so that they now remained at work from six in the morning until
twelve. Here they obtained some idea of harnessing and driving horses,
of ploughing, and of the other farming operations.

They now only went four days a week to the carpenter's, for their papa
had one day said to them when they were alone with him before dinner:
'Do not put on your working clothes this afternoon, boys; I am going to
take you out with me, but do not say anything about it at dinner. I will
tell you why afterwards.'

Rather surprised, they did as he told them, wondering where they could
be going. Their father said nothing on the subject until they reached
the town, which was a quarter of a mile distant from their house. Then
he said: 'Now, boys, you know we are going out to a country of which a
great portion is still unsettled; and as land is a good deal cheaper at
a short distance from the inhabited parts, we shall perhaps have no one
within many miles of us. Now it is just possible that at first the
Indians may be disposed to be troublesome. I do not suppose that they
will, but it is just as well to be prepared for everything. There is no
reason why you boys should not be able to shoot as straightly as a man,
and I have therefore bought two carbines. They are the invention of an
American named Colt, and have a revolving breach, so that they fire six
shots each. There is a spare chamber to each, which is very quickly
shifted in place of the one discharged; so that each of you could fire
twelve shots in a very short time. They will carry up to five hundred
yards. They are a new invention, but all accounts agree that they are
an excellent one. I have obtained leave from Mr. Harcourt, who lives
three miles from here, to put up a target at the foot of some bare hills
on his property, and we will walk over there twice a week to practise. I
used to be considered a first-rate shot with a rifle when I was a young
man in America, and I have got down a rifle for my own use. I do not
want you to speak about what we are doing to your mamma, or indeed to
any one. We shall keep our rifles at a cottage near where we shoot, and
no one need know anything about it. It is not likely that we shall have
any trouble with the Indians, and it is of no use making your mamma
uncomfortable by the thought of the probability of such a thing.'

As Mr. Hardy spoke, the boys were ready to dance with delight, and this
was increased when they turned into the gunsmith's shop, and were shown
the arms which their father had bought for this expedition.

Mr. Hardy had already an excellent double-barrelled gun, and he had now
purchased a long and heavy rifle carrying a conical ball. In addition to
the boys' carbines, he had bought them each a light double-barrelled
gun. Besides these were two brace of Colt's revolving pistols. These
were all new; but there were in addition two or three second-hand
double-barrelled guns for the use of his servants, in case of necessity,
and three light rifles of the sort used for rook-shooting. Altogether,
it was quite an armoury. The carbines were in neat cases; and the boys
carried these and a box of cartridges, while Mr. Hardy took his rifle;
and so they started off to their shooting ground.

Here their father instructed them in the use of their revolving
carbines, and then, after some practice with caps only, allowed them to
fire a few shots each. The firing was certainly rather wild, owing to
the difficulty they felt at first of firing without shutting their eyes;
but after a few weeks' practice they became very steady, and in three or
four months could make pretty certain of a bull's-eye at three hundred
yards. Of all this Mrs. Hardy and the girls knew nothing; but there was
not the same secrecy observed with reference to their shot-guns. These
they took home with them, and Mr. Hardy said that he understood that the
plains of South America swarmed with game, and that, therefore, it was
well that the boys should learn how to shoot. He insisted, however, that
only one gun should be taken out at a time, to diminish the danger of
accidents. After that the boys took out their guns by turns when they
went to work of a morning, and many a dead blackbird soon attested to
their improving skill.



CHAPTER II.

THE START.


It was nearly a year after he had made up his mind to emigrate, before
Mr. Hardy was able to conclude all his arrangements. Then came the great
business of packing up. This is no trifling matter when a family of six
persons are going to make a move to a new country. Mr. Hardy had at
first thought of taking portable furniture with him, but had been told
by a friend who knew the country that every requisite could be obtained
at Buenos Ayres, the capital of the Argentine Republic, at a far less
price than he could convey such heavy articles from England. Still the
bulk of luggage was very large; and the boys, who had now left off their
farming and carpentering lessons, worked at home at packing-cases, and
had the satisfaction of turning their new acquirements to a useful
purpose. In addition to the personal baggage, Mr. Hardy was taking with
him ploughs and agricultural implements of English make, besides a good
stock of seeds of various kinds. These had been sent on direct by a
sailing ship, starting a fortnight before themselves. When their heavy
baggage was packed up, it too was sent off, so as to be put on board the
steamer by which they were to sail; and then came a long round of visits
to bid farewell to all their friends. This was a sad business; for
although the boys and their sisters were alike excited and delighted at
the thought of the life before them, still they could not but feel
sorrowful when the time came to leave all the friends they had known so
long, and the house they had lived in ever since they could remember.

This over, Mrs. Hardy and the children went to Liverpool, where they
were to embark; while Mr. Hardy remained behind for a day or two, to see
to the sale of the furniture of the house. The day after he joined the
family they embarked on board the _Barbadoes_, for Rio and Buenos Ayres.
Greatly were the girls amused at the tiny little cabin allotted to them
and their mother,--a similar little den being taken possession of by Mr.
Hardy and the boys. The smartness of the vessel, and the style of her
fittings, alike impressed and delighted them. It has not been mentioned
that Sarah, their housemaid, accompanied the party. She had been left
early an orphan, and had been taken as a nursemaid by Mrs. Hardy. As
time went on, and the little girls no longer required a nurse, she had
remained as housemaid, and having no friends, now willingly accompanied
them. Mr. Hardy had, to her great amusement, insisted upon her signing a
paper, agreeing, upon her master's paying her passage, to remain with
him for a year; at the end of which time she was to be at liberty to
marry or to leave them, should she choose.

Knowing the scarcity of young Englishwomen in the country that they were
going to, and the number of Englishmen doing well in the towns or as
farmers, Mr. Hardy had considered this precaution to be absolutely
necessary; as otherwise Sarah might have married and left them within a
month of her arrival. At the end of a year her so doing would not matter
so much, as by that time the party would be comfortably settled in their
new home; whereas during the necessary hardship at first, it would be a
great comfort having a faithful and reliable servant.

The last looks which the party cast toward England, as the Welsh coast
sank in the distance, were less melancholy than those of most emigrants.
The young people were all full of hope and excitement; while even Mrs.
Hardy felt but little disposed to give way to sorrow, as it had been
arranged that in three or four years, if all went well, she should bring
her daughters over to England to finish their education.

Very lovely was that first evening, and as they sat in a group together
upon deck, the little girls remarked that they did not think that the
sea was anything like as terrible as they had expected, and that they
did not feel the least sea-sick. Their father smiled: 'Wait a little, my
dears; there is an old proverb, "Don't halloo until you are out of the
wood."'

The next day was still perfectly calm; and when, towards evening, the
children were told that they were now fairly getting into the Bay of
Biscay, they could scarcely believe the intelligence.

'Why, one would think, Maud,' her father said, 'that you were
disappointed at its being calm, and that you really wanted a storm.'

'Oh, papa, I do think it would be great fun; it would be so curious not
to be able to walk about, and to see everything rolling and tumbling.
Don't you think so, boys?'

'Yes, I think so, Maud; great fun,' Charley said.

'Well, young people,' the captain, who had been standing by watching the
sun, now fast nearing the horizon, and who had overheard their remarks,
said, 'if it is any satisfaction to you, I can tell you that you are
very likely to have your wish gratified. But I question if you will like
it as much as you expect.'

'Ah, you expect wind, Captain Trevor?' Mr. Hardy said. 'I have been
thinking myself that the almost oppressive stillness of to-day, and the
look of the sunset, and these black clouds banking up in the south-west,
meant a change. What does the glass say?'

'It is falling very rapidly,' the captain answered. 'We are in for a
sou'-wester, and a stiff one too, or I am mistaken.'

Now that it appeared likely that their wishes were about to be
gratified, the young Hardys did not seem so pleased as they had
expected, although Charley still declared manfully that he was quite in
earnest, and that he did wish to see a real storm at sea.

As the sun set, the party still leaned against the bulwarks watching it,
and the great bank of clouds, which seemed every moment to be rising
higher and higher. There was still nearly a dead calm around them, and
the heavy beat of the paddles, as they lashed the water into foam, and
the dull thud of the engine, were the only sounds that broke the
stillness. Now and then, however, a short puff of wind ruffled the
water, and then died away again.

'Look at that great cloud, papa,' Hubert said; 'it almost looks as if it
were alive.'

'Yes, Hubert, it is very grand; and there is no doubt about there being
wind there.'

The great cloud bank appeared to be in constant motion. Its shape was
incessantly shifting and changing; now a great mass would roll upwards,
now sink down again; now the whole body would seem to roll over and over
upon itself; then small portions would break off from the mass, and sail
off by themselves, getting thinner and thinner, and disappearing at last
in the shape of fine streamers. Momentarily the whole of the heaving,
swelling mass rose higher and higher. It was very grand, but it was a
terrible grandeur; and the others were quite inclined to agree with
Ethel, who shrank close to her father, and put her hand in his, saying,
'I don't like that cloud, papa; it frightens me.'

At this moment Mrs. Hardy, who had been down below arranging her cabin,
came up to the group. 'What a dark cloud, Frank; and how it moves! Are
we going to have a storm, do you think?'

'Well, Clara, I think that we are in for a gale; and if you will take my
advice, you will go down at once while it is calm, and see that the
trunks, and everything that can roll about, are securely fastened up. I
will come down and help you. Boys, you had better go down and see that
everything is snug in our cabin.'

In a quarter of an hour the necessary arrangements were completed, but
even in that short time they could feel that a change was taking place.
There was now a steady but decided rolling motion, and the young ones
laughed as they found it difficult to walk steadily along the cabin.

Upon reaching the deck they saw that the smooth surface of the sea was
broken up by a long swell, that the wind now came in short but sharp
puffs, that the bank of clouds covered nearly half the sky, and that the
detached scud was now flying overhead. The previous stillness was gone;
and between the sudden gusts, the roar of the wind in the upper region
could be heard. The sun had set now, and a pall of deep blackness seemed
to hang from the cloud down to the sea; but at the line where cloud and
water touched, a gleam of dim white light appeared.

In preparation for the coming storm, the sailors had put on thick
waterproof coats. Many of the passengers had gone below, and those who
remained had followed the sailors' example, and had wrapped themselves
up in mackintoshes.

Every moment the gusts increased in frequency and power, and the regular
line of swell became broken up into confused white-headed waves. The
white gleam under the dark cloud grew wider and broader, and at last,
with a roar like that of a thousand wild beasts, the gale broke upon
them. Just before this, Mr. Hardy had taken Mrs. Hardy and the girls
below, promising the latter that they should come up later for a peep
out, if they still wished it. Charley and Hubert were leaning against
the bulwark when the gale struck them.

For a moment they were blinded and half choked by the force and fury of
the spray and wind, and crouched down behind their shelter to recover
themselves. Then, with a hearty laugh at their drenched appearance, they
made their way to the mainmast, and then, holding on by the belaying
pins, they were able to look fairly out on the gale. It was dark--so
dark that they could scarcely see as far as the foremast. Around, the
sea was white with foam; the wind blew so fiercely that they could
scarcely hear each other's voices, even when they shouted, and the
steamer laboured heavily against the fast rising sea. Here Mr. Hardy
joined them, and for some little time clung there, watching the
increasing fury of the gale; then, drenched and almost confused by the
strife of winds and water that they had been watching, they made their
way, with great difficulty, down into the cabin.

Here the feeling of sea-sickness, which the excitement of the scene had
kept off, increased rapidly; and they were glad to slip off their upper
clothes, and to throw themselves upon their berths before the paroxysm
of sickness came on.

When questioned afterwards as to the events of the next thirty-six
hours, the young Hardys were all obliged to confess that that time was
a sort of blank in their memory,--a sort of horrible nightmare, when one
moment they seemed to be on their heads, and the next upon their feet,
but never lying down in a comfortable position, when sometimes the top
of the cabin seemed under their feet, sometimes the floor over their
head. Then, for a change, everything would go round and round; the
noise, too, the groaning and the thumping and the cracking, the thud of
the waves and the thump of the paddles, and the general quivering, and
shaking, and creaking, and bewilderment;--altogether it was a most
unpleasant nightmare. They had all dim visions of Mr. Hardy coming in
several times to see after them, and to give them a cup of tea, and to
say something cheering to them; and all four had a distinct idea that
they had many times wished themselves dead.

Upon the second morning after the storm began, it showed some signs of
abating, and Mr. Hardy said to his sons, 'Now, boys, make an effort and
come upon deck; it's no use lying there; the fresh air will do you
good.' Two dismal groans were the only response to this appeal.

'Yes, I know that you both feel very bad, and that it is difficult to
turn out; still it is worth making the effort, and you will be very glad
of it afterwards. Come, jump up, else I shall empty the water-jug over
you. There, you need not take much trouble with your dressing,' he went
on, as the boys, seeing that he was in earnest, turned out of their
berths with a grievous moan. 'Just hold on by something, and get your
heads over the basin; I will empty the jugs on them. There, now you will
feel better; slip on your clothes and come up.'

It was hard work for Charley and Hubert to obey orders, for the ship
rolled so tremendously that they could only proceed with their dressing
by fits and starts, and were more than once interrupted by attacks of
their weary sea-sickness. However, their father stayed with them,
helping and joking with them until they were ready to go up. Then,
taking them by the arm, he assisted them up the stairs to the deck.

Miserable as the boys felt, they could not suppress an exclamation of
admiration at the magnificent scene before them. The sea was tossed up
in great masses of water, which, as they neared the ship, threatened to
overwhelm them, but which, as she rose on their summits, passed
harmlessly under her, hurling, however, tons of water upon her deck. The
wind was still blowing fiercely, but a rift in the clouds above, through
which the sun threw down a bright ray of light upon the tossing water,
showed that the gale was breaking.

The excitement of the scene, the difficulty of keeping their feet, and
the influence of the rushing wind, soon had the effect which their
father predicted. The boys' looks brightened, their courage returned;
and although they still had an occasional relapse of sickness, they felt
quite different beings, and would not have returned to the blank misery
of their cabins upon any consideration. They were soon able to eat a
piece of dry toast, which Mr. Hardy brought them up with a cup of tea at
breakfast-time, and to enjoy a basin of soup at twelve o'clock, after
which they pronounced themselves as cured.

By the afternoon the force of the wind had greatly abated, and although
a heavy sea still ran, the motion of the vessel was perceptibly easier.
The sun, too, shone out brightly and cheeringly, and Mr. Hardy was able
to bring the little girls, who had not suffered so severely as their
brothers, upon deck. Two more days of fine weather quite recruited all
the party; and great was their enjoyment as the _Barbadoes_ entered the
Tagus, and, steaming between its picturesque banks and past Cintra,
dropped her anchor off Lisbon.

As our object, however, is to relate the adventures of our young
settlers upon the Pampas of La Plate, we must not delay to describe the
pleasure they enjoyed in this their first experience in foreign lands,
nor to give an account of their subsequent voyage across the Atlantic,
or their admiration at the superb harbour of Rio. A few days' further
steaming and they arrived at the harbour of Buenos Ayres, where the two
great rivers, the Uruguay and the Parana, unite to form the wide sheet
of water called the River La Plate. It was night when the _Barbadoes_
dropped her anchor, and it was not until the morning that they obtained
their first view of their future home.

Very early were they astir, and as soon as it was broad daylight, all
four of the young ones were up on deck. Their first exclamation was one
of disappointment. The shores were perfectly flat, and, seen from the
distance at which they were anchored, little except the spires of the
churches and the roofs of a few of the more lofty houses could be seen.
After the magnificent harbour of Rio, this flat, uninteresting coast was
most disappointing.

'What a distance we are anchored from the shore!' Hubert said, when they
had recovered a little from their first feeling. 'It must be three or
four miles off.'

'Not so much as that, Hubert,' Maud, who was just a little fond of
contradicting, said; 'not more than two miles, I should think.'

Hubert stuck to his opinion; and as the captain came on deck they
referred the matter to him.

'The distance of objects across water is very deceiving,' he said. 'It
is from eight to nine miles to those buildings you see.'

Maud looked rather crestfallen, and Charley asked, 'Why do we anchor
such a long way off, captain?'

'Because the shore is so flat that there is no water for us to get in
any closer. In a couple of hours you will see boats coming out to fetch
you in; and unless it happens to be high tide, even these cannot get to
the beach, and you will have to land in carts.'

'In carts, Captain Trevor?' they all repeated; 'that will be a strange
way of landing.'

'Yes, it is,' the captain answered. 'I think that we can safely say that
the Argentine Republic is the only country in the world where the only
way to land at its chief city is in a cart.'

The captain's boat was by this time lowered, and he at once started for
shore with his papers. Soon after ten o'clock he returned, followed by a
number of boats. He brought also a letter to Mr. Hardy from an old
friend who had been settled for some years near Buenos Ayres, and whose
advice had decided him to fix upon that country as the scene of his
labours. It contained a warm welcome, and a hearty congratulation upon
their safe arrival. This letter had been written two or three days
previously, and had been left at the office of the steamship company. It
said, however, that the writer would hear of the arrival of the
steamer, and would have everything in readiness to take them out to his
place upon their landing.

Mr. Hardy had been in frequent communication with his friend from the
time that he had determined to emigrate, and Mr. Thompson's letters had
contained the warmest assurance of a welcome, and an invitation to make
his house their home until they had one of their own to go into; and now
this kind letter, coming off so instantly after their arrival, cheered
them all much, and made them feel less strange and to some extent at
home in the new country at once.



CHAPTER III.

A NEW LIFE.


Tide was fortunately high, and the boat containing the Hardys and the
lighter portion of their luggage was able to get up to the landing place
without the carts being called into use. As they approached the land
they were hailed in a hearty voice, and greetings were exchanged between
Mr. Hardy and his friend Mr. Thompson--a sunburnt-looking man with a
great beard--in a Panama hat and in a suit of spotless white.

'Why, Mrs. Hardy,' he said as they landed, 'you hardly look a day older
than you did when I last saw you--let me see--fourteen years ago, just
as this big fellow was beginning to walk. And now, if you please, we
will be off as soon as we can, for my estancia is fifteen miles away. I
have made the best arrangements I could for getting out; but roads are
not a strong point in this country, and we seldom trust ourselves in
wheeled vehicles far out of the town. You told me in your letters,
Hardy, that the young people could all ride. I have horses in any
number, and have got in two very quiet ones, with side-saddles, which I
borrowed from some neighbours for your girls; but if they prefer it,
they can ride in the trap with Mrs. Hardy.'

'Oh no, please,' Maud said; 'I had much rather ride.'

Ethel said nothing, and her mamma saw that she would rather go with her.
Accordingly, Mrs. Hardy, Ethel, Sarah, and some of the lighter bags were
packed into a light carriage, Mr. Thompson himself taking the reins, as
he said he could not trust them to any one but himself. Mr. Hardy, the
boys, and Maud mounted the horses prepared for them, and two of Mr.
Thompson's men stowed the heavier trunks into a bullock-cart, which was
to start at once, but which would not reach the estancia until late at
night.

As the party rode through the town, they were struck with the narrowness
and straightness of the streets, and at the generally European look of
everything; and Mr. Thompson told them that nearly half the population
of Buenos Ayres are European. The number of people upon horseback also
surprised our young travellers; but horses cost only thirty shillings or
two pounds, and grass is so abundant that the expense of their food is
next to nothing; consequently every one rides,--even shepherds look
after their sheep on horseback. The horses seemed very quiet, for in
front of most of the offices the horses of the merchants could be seen
fastened by a head rope to a ring, grooms not being considered a
necessity.

Once out the town, the riding horses broke into a canter; for the road
was so good that the horses in the light carriage were able to go along
at full speed. As they proceeded, they passed many houses of the rich
merchants of the place, and all were charmed with the luxuriance and
beauty of the gardens. Orange and lemon trees scented the air with their
delicious perfumes; bananas, tree ferns, and palms towered above them;
lovely butterflies of immense size, and bright little humming-birds,
flitted about among a countless variety of flowers. The delight of the
young ones was unbounded.

Presently they left the mansions and gardens behind, and drove out
fairly into the country.

Upon either side the plains stretched away as far as the eye could
reach, in some parts under the plough, but far more generally carpeted
with bright green grass and many-coloured wild-flowers. Everywhere could
be seen droves of horses and cattle, while dotted here and there over
the plain were the estancias of the proprietors.

It was a most delightful ride. The horses went very quietly, but the
boys found, to their surprise, that they would not trot, their pace
being a loose, easy canter. The last five miles of the distance were not
so enjoyable to the party in the carriage, for the road had now become a
mere track, broken in many places into ruts, into which the most careful
driving of Mr. Thompson could not prevent the wheels going with jolts
that threatened to shake its occupants from their places, and they felt
as if every bone in their bodies were broken by the time they drew up at
their host's estancia.

Here Mrs. Thompson came out to greet them. She had been a great friend
of Mrs. Hardy in their young days, and great was their pleasure at their
again meeting after so long a separation. Mr. Thompson had already
explained that his wife would have come over to meet them, but that at
the time he had left home it was not known that the _Barbadoes_ had
arrived. She was due, and, as a measure of precaution, the horses and
cart had for the last two days been in readiness, but the exact date of
her arrival was of course uncertain.

Mr. Thompson's estancia was a large and picturesque building. It was
entirely surrounded by a wide verandah, so that at all hours of the day
relief could be obtained from the glare of the sun. In front was an
extensive garden; and as Mr. Thompson had made it one of his first
objects when he built his house to plant a large number of tropical
trees and shrubs, these had now attained a considerable size, and
afforded a delicious shade. At a short distance behind the house were
the houses of the men, and the corrals, or enclosures, for the cattle.

The interior was handsomely furnished in the European style, except that
the floors were uncarpeted, and were composed of polished boards.
Everywhere were signs that the proprietor was a prosperous and wealthy
man. Mr. Thompson had only one son, a lad of about the same age as
Charles Hardy. To his care Mrs. Thompson now assigned the boys, while
she conducted Mrs. Hardy and her daughters to their rooms.

In half an hour the party re-assembled at dinner, to which they all did
ample justice, for their long row and ride had given them the keenest of
appetites. They were waited upon by an Italian man-servant; and Mrs.
Thompson said that there were a good many of this nation in Buenos
Ayres, and that, although they were not considered good hands for rough
work, they made excellent servants, many of them having been waiters in
hotels or stewards on board ship before coming out.

During dinner the conversation turned chiefly upon English friends and
affairs, and upon the events of the voyage. After it was over, George
Thompson proposed to the boys to take a stroll round the place before
it became dark. The gentlemen lit their cigars and took their seats
under the verandah; and the two ladies, with Maud and Ethel, went out
into the garden. The conversation of Mr. Hardy and his friend turned, of
course, upon the country, its position and prospects, and upon the
advantage which the various districts offered to new-comers. Presently
the dusk came on, followed rapidly by darkness, and in half an hour
Ethel came to summon them to tea. The boys had already come in, and were
full of delight at the immense herds of cattle they had seen. As they
sat down to the tea-table, covered with delicate English china, with a
kettle over a spirit-lamp in the centre, and lit with the subdued light
of two shaded moderator lamps, Maud said, 'It is not one bit like what I
expected, papa, after all you have told us about hardships and working;
it seems just like England, except the trees and flowers and
butterflies.'

'Do not be afraid, Maud,' her father said, laughing,--for her voice had
a tinge of disappointment in it,--'you won't be cheated out of your
hardship and your work, I promise you. Mrs. Thompson will tell you that
it was a very different sort of place when she first came here.'

'Yes, indeed,' Mrs. Thompson said, smiling; 'this was considered a very
lonely place when we first settled here. We had a little hut with two
rooms, and it was more than six months before I could get a woman
servant to come out, and then it was only one of our shepherds' wives,
who knew nothing of cooking, and who was only useful in drawing the
water and sweeping the floors. In time the country became more settled,
and there are stations now sixty or seventy miles beyond us.'

The next week was spent in riding over the estate, which consisted of
four square leagues,--that is to say, was six miles each way,--and in
examining the arrangements of the enclosures for the cattle. At the end
of that time Mr. Hardy started on a tour of inspection through the
provinces most likely to suit, provided with numerous letters of
introduction from his host. While he was away the boys were to assist
upon the estate, and to accustom themselves to the work and duties of
the life they were to lead. Into this they entered with the greatest
zest, and were in the saddle from morning till night, getting more and
more sunburnt from constant exposure, until, as Mr. Thompson told them,
they looked like two young guachos. The guachos are the natives of the
country. They are fine-looking men, with Spanish faces. Their dress is
very picturesque. They wear loose calzoncillas or drawers, worked and
fringed round the bottom. Above this is a sort of shawl, so arranged
that it has the effect of very loose trousers. These shawls are
generally of bright colours, woven in stripes, and sometimes of black
cloth edged with scarlet. The white calzoncillas show below this
garment, and above a coloured flannel shirt is worn. The boots are long
and are made of undressed leather. They wear a broad leathern belt, with
pockets in it; in this a knife, too, is always stuck. Upon fête days
they come out with gay silver ornaments upon themselves and their
horse-trappings. Their saddles are very clumsy and heavy, and are seldom
used by Europeans, who, as Mr. Hardy had done, generally bring English
saddles from home. After an absence of a month, Mr. Hardy returned with
the welcome news that he had made his choice, and had bought at the
public auction a tract of four square leagues, upon a river some twenty
miles to the south of the town of Rosario, and consequently only a few
days' journey from Buenos Ayres. Mr. Thompson looked a little grave when
he heard the location of the property, but he only said that he was very
glad that his friend had fixed upon a spot which would make it easy for
the families to see something of each other. After the first greetings
were over, Mr. Hardy proceeded to satisfy the curiosity of his hearers
as to the new property.

'It is six miles square,' he said, 'that is, about 25,000 acres, and I
bought it for about sixpence an acre. There is a good-sized stream runs
through it; there are a good many trees, considering that it is out on
the Pampas; there are several elevations which give a fine view over the
plain, and upon one of these our future home will stand. A small stream
falls into the larger one, and will, I think, be useful. There is an
abundance of game; ducks, geese, and swans swarm upon the river. I saw a
good many ostriches out on the plains. And, lastly, the soil appears to
be excellent. A great point is, that it is only distant twenty miles
from Rosario, a most rising town; so that the value of the land is sure
to increase yearly, as new settlers come around us.'

'That is a most important point,' Mr. Thompson said. 'Rosario is the
most rising town in the country, and the land around it is certain to be
very much sought after in a few years.'

'Are there any settlements near, Frank?' Mrs. Hardy asked.

'The next plot to ours belongs to three young Englishmen, and the ground
between us and Rosario is also principally occupied by English; so that
we shall have neighbours near, and I do not suppose that it will be long
before we have them all round us.'

'If the advantages of the place are so great, Frank, how is it that you
have got it so very cheaply? I understood from Mr. Thompson that land in
a rising neighbourhood, and that was likely to increase in value, was
worth two or three shillings, or even more, an acre.'

Mr. Hardy hesitated. 'Well, Clara, the land is at present upon the
extreme verge of the settlements, and the Indians are apt sometimes to
be a little troublesome, and to drive off a few horses or cattle. No
doubt the thing has been exaggerated; still there is something in it,
and the consequence is, people are rather afraid to bid, and I have got
this splendid tract of land for about £500; and, not improbably, in ten
years it may be worth ten times as much.'

'A great proportion of these Indian tales are built up upon very small
foundations,' Mr. Thompson said cheeringly; and Mrs. Hardy's face, which
had been a little serious, cleared up again, and in listening to her
husband's account of his travels, she forgot all about the Indians. The
boys, however, by no means did so; and as they were going to bed,
Charley said: 'I think there is some chance of a row with the Indians,
Hubert, for I noticed that Mr. Thompson looked grave when papa first
said where he had bought the land. Depend upon it, we shall have some
fun with them after all.' They would have thought it still more likely
had they heard the conversation between their father and Mr. Thompson
after the ladies had gone to bed.

'Why, my dear Hardy, how came you, with a wife and family, to think of
buying land so exposed to the Indian attacks? Every season, when they
come down, they sweep off the horses and cattle from the outlying
settlements, and murder the people if they get a chance. I look upon it
as madness.'

'There is a good deal in what you say, Thompson, and I thought the whole
matter over before I bought it. There is a risk--a great risk, if you
like; but I hear the Indians seldom attack the houses of the settlers if
they are well prepared and armed. They do occasionally, but very seldom.
I shall be well prepared and well armed, and have therefore no fear at
all for our personal safety. As to our animals, we must protect them as
well as we can, and take our chance. It is only for two or three years
at most. After that, we shall have settlements beyond and around us; and
if emigration keeps on, as I anticipate, and if, as I believe, Rosario
is to become a very large and important place, our land will eventually
be worth £1 an acre, at the very lowest. I shall take care not to invest
my whole capital in animals, so that I cannot be ruined in one blow. I
think that, at the end of five years, you will agree with me that I have
done wisely.'

'I have no doubt that your property will increase very much in value, as
you say, Hardy, and that, in the long run, your speculation will be a
very successful one; but it is a terrible risk, I think.'

'I do not think so, Thompson. We shall be a pretty strong party: we
shall have certainly two men besides ourselves. The boys could bring
down their man at three hundred yards, and I should do considerable
execution among a body of Indians at six or seven; so I have no
fear--not the least--in the world.'

In another two days Mr. Hardy and the boys, accompanied by Mr. Thompson,
went down to Buenos Ayres, and took up their quarters at the hotel for a
night. At parting, Mr. Thompson presented them with a couple of fine
dogs, which he had bred from English mastiffs: Mr. Hardy had brought a
brace of fine retrievers with him. Then, with a hearty adieu and much
hand-shaking, they said 'Good-bye' as the steamer moved off from the
shore. The heavy luggage was to follow in a sailing vessel upon the
following day.



CHAPTER IV.

THE PAMPAS.


The voyage up the river Parana was marked by no particular incident. The
distance to Rosario from Buenos Ayres is about two hundred and fifty
miles, which was performed by the steamer in about a day and a half. The
river is nearly twenty miles in breadth, and is completely studded by
islands. The scenery is flat and uninteresting, and the banks but poorly
wooded. Our travellers were therefore glad when they arrived at Rosario.
The boys were disappointed at the aspect of the town, which, although a
rising place, contained under a thousand inhabitants, and looked
miserably poor and squalid after Buenos Ayres. Here they were met by a
gentleman to whom Mr. Thompson had introduced Mr. Hardy, and with whom
he had stayed on his first visit to Rosario. He had brought horses for
themselves, and bullock-carts for their luggage.

'What! are these your boys, Mr. Hardy? I had not expected to have seen
such big fellows. Why, they will be men in no time.'

Charley and Hubert deserved Mr. Percy's commendation. They were now
sixteen and fifteen years old respectively, and were remarkably strong,
well-grown lads, looking at least a year older than they really were. In
a few minutes the luggage was packed in two bullock-carts, and they were
on their way out to Mr. Percy's station, which was about half-way to the
camp of Mr. Hardy. The word camp in the Pampas means station or
property; it is a corruption of the Spanish word _campos_, literally
plains or meadows.

Here they found that Mr. Percy had most satisfactorily performed the
commission with which Mr. Hardy had entrusted him. He had bought a
couple of the rough country bullock-carts, three pair of oxen accustomed
to the yoke, half a dozen riding horses, two milch cows, and a score of
sheep and cattle to supply the larder. He had hired four men,--a
stock-keeper named Lopez, who was called the capitaz or head man, a
tall, swarthy fellow, whose father was a Spaniard, and whose mother a
native woman; two labourers, the one a German, called Hans, who had been
some time in the colony, the other an Irishman, Terence Kelly, whose
face the boys remembered at once, as having come out in the same ship
with themselves. The last man was an American, one of those wandering
fellows who are never contented to remain anywhere, but are always
pushing on, as if they thought that the farther they went, the better
they should fare. He was engaged as carpenter and useful man, and there
were few things to which he could not turn his hand. Mr. Hardy was
pleased with their appearance; they were all powerful men, accustomed to
work. Their clothes were of the roughest and most miscellaneous kind, a
mixture of European and Indian garb, with the exception of Terence, who
still clung to the long blue-tailed coat and brass buttons of the 'ould
country.'

They waited the next day at Mr. Percy's station, and started the next
morning before daylight, as they had still ten miles to travel, and were
desirous of getting as early to the ground as possible.

The boys were in the highest spirits at being at last really out upon
the Pampas, and as day fairly broke, they had a hearty laugh at the
appearance of their cavalcade. There was no road or track of any kind,
and consequently, instead of following in a file, as they would have
done in any other country, the party straggled along in a confused body.
First came the animals--the sheep, bullocks, and cows. Behind these rode
Lopez, in his guacho dress, and a long whip in his hand, which he
cracked from time to time, with a report like that of a pistol--not
that there was any difficulty in driving the animals at a pace
sufficient to keep well ahead of the bullock-carts, for the sheep of the
Pampas are very much more active beasts than their English relations.
Accustomed to feed on the open plains, they travel over a large extent
of ground, and their ordinary pace is four miles an hour. When
frightened, they can go for many miles at a speed which will tax a good
horse to keep up with. The first bullock-cart was driven by Hans, who
sat upon the top of a heap of baggage, his head covered with a very old
and battered Panama hat, through several broad holes in which his red
hair bristled out in a most comic fashion, and over his blue flannel
shirt a large red beard flowed almost to his waist. Terence was walking
by the side of the second cart in corduroy breeches and gaiters and blue
coat, with a high black hat, battered and bruised out of all shape, on
his head. In his hand he held a favourite shillelah, which he had
brought with him from his native land, and with the end of which he
occasionally poked the ribs of the oxen, with many Irish ejaculations,
which no doubt alarmed the animals not a little. The Yankee rode
sometimes near one, sometimes by another, seldom exchanging a word with
any one. He wore a fur cap made of fox's skin; a faded blanket, with a
hole cut in the middle for the head to go through, fell from his
shoulders to his knees. He and Lopez each led a couple of spare horses.
The mastiffs trotted along by the horses, and the two fine retrievers,
Dash and Flirt, galloped about over the plains. The plain across which
they were travelling was a flat, broken only by slight swells, and a
tree here and there; and the young Hardys wondered not a little how
Lopez, who acted as guide, knew the direction he was to take.

After three hours' riding, Lopez pointed to a rather larger clump of
trees than usual in the distance, and said, 'That is the camp.'

'Hurrah,' shouted the boys. 'May we ride on, papa?'

'Yes, boys, I will ride on with you.' And off they set, leaving their
party to follow quietly.

'Mind how you gallop, boys: the ground is honeycombed with armadillo
holes; and if your horse treads in one, you will go over his head.'

'I don't think that I should do that,' Charley, who had a more than
sufficiently good opinion of himself, said; 'I can stick on pretty
tightly, and----' he had not time to finish his sentence, for his horse
suddenly seemed to go down on his head, and Charley was sent flying two
or three yards through the air, descending with a heavy thud upon the
soft ground.

He was up in a moment, unhurt, except for a knock on the eye against his
gun, which he was carrying before him; and after a minute's rueful
look, he joined heartily in the shouts of laughter of his father and
brother at his expense. 'Ah, Charley, brag is a good dog, but holdfast
is a better. I never saw a more literal proof of the saying. There, jump
up again, and I need not say look out for holes.'

They were soon off again, but this time at a more moderate pace. This
fall was not, by a very long way, the only one which they had before
they had been six months upon the plains; for the armadillos were most
abundant, and in the long grass it was impossible to see their holes. In
addition to the armadillos, the ground is in many places honeycombed by
the bischachas, which somewhat in size and appearance resemble rabbits,
and by a little burrowing owl.

The Hardys soon crossed a little stream, running east to fall into the
main stream, which formed the boundary of the property upon that side;
and Mr. Hardy told the boys that they were now upon their own land.
There was another hurrah, and then, regardless of the risk of falls,
they dashed up to the little clump of trees, which stood upon slightly
rising ground. Here they drew rein, and looked round upon the country
which was to be their home. As far as the eye could reach, a flat plain,
with a few slight elevations and some half dozen trees, extended. The
grass was a brilliant green, for it was now the month of September.
Winter was over, and the plain, refreshed by the rains, wore a bright
sheet of green, spangled with innumerable flowers. Objects could be seen
moving in the distance, and a short examination enabled Mr. Hardy to
decide that they were ostriches, to the delight of the boys, who
promised themselves an early hunt.

'Where have you fixed for the house, papa?' Hubert asked.

'There, where those three trees are growing upon the highest swell you
can see, about a mile and a half farther. We will go on at once; the
others will see us.'

Another ten minutes took them to the place Mr. Hardy had pointed out,
and the boys both agreed that nothing could be better.

At the foot of the slope, the river which formed the eastern boundary
flowed, distant a quarter of a mile or so from the top of the rise. To
the right another stream came down between the slope and another less
elevated rise beyond. This stream had here rather a rapid fall, and was
distant about three hundred yards from the intended site of the house.
The main river was thirty or forty yards across, and was now full of
water; and upon its surface the boys could see flocks of ducks, geese,
and other birds. In some places the bank was bare, but in others thick
clumps of bushes and brushwood grew beside it.

They now took off the saddles and bridles from their horses, and allowed
them to range as they pleased, knowing that the native horses were
accustomed to be let free, and that there was no fear of their straying
away. 'Now, boys,' Mr. Hardy said, 'let us begin by getting our first
dinner. You go straight down to the water; I will keep to the right. You
take Dash, I will take Flirt.'

In another ten minutes the reports of the guns followed close upon each
other, and the boys had the satisfaction of knocking down two geese and
eight ducks, which Dash brought ashore, besides others which escaped. In
five minutes more they heard a shout from their father, who had bagged
two more geese and three ducks. 'That will do, boys; we have got plenty
for the next day or two, and we must not alarm them by too much
slaughter.'

'Four geese and eleven ducks, papa, in five minutes,' the boys said,
when they joined Mr. Hardy; 'that is not bad shooting to begin with.'

'Not at all, boys. What with wild fowl and armadillos, I think that, at
a pinch, we could live for some time upon the produce of the estate.'

'You don't mean to say, papa, that they eat the armadillos?' Hubert said
with a look of suspicion.

'They do indeed, Hubert, and I am told that they are not at all bad
eating. Now let us go up to the rise again; our carts must be nearly
up.'

By the time they reached the three trees, they found that the rest of
the cavalcade was within a quarter of a mile, and in a few minutes they
came up.

The cattle and sheep required no attending. Immediately they found that
they were not required to go any farther, they scattered, and began to
graze. The oxen were unyoked from the carts, and all hands set-to to
unload the miscellaneous collection of goods which had been brought up.
Only the things which Mr. Hardy had considered as most indispensable for
present use had been brought on, for the steamer from Buenos Ayres did
not carry heavy goods, and the agricultural implements and other baggage
were to come up in a sailing vessel, and were not expected to arrive for
another week.

The carts contained three small portmanteaus with the clothes of Mr.
Hardy and the boys, and a large case containing the carbines, rifles,
and ammunition. There was a number of canisters with tea, coffee, sugar,
salt, and pepper; a sack of flour; some cooking pots and frying pans,
tin plates, dishes, and mugs; two sacks of coal and a quantity of
firewood; shovels, carpenter's tools, a sickle, the framework of a hut
with two doors and windows, three rolls of felt, a couple of dozen
wooden posts, and two large coils of iron wire. While the others were
busy unloading, the German had cut some turf and built a rough
fireplace, and had soon a bright fire blazing.

'Shall we pluck the ducks?' Charley asked.

'I reckon we can manage quicker than that,' the Yankee said; and taking
up one of the ducks, he cut off its head and pinions; in another minute
he had roughly skinned it, and threw it to the German, who cut it up and
put the pieces into the frying pan. A similar process was performed with
the other ducks, a little pepper and salt shaken over them, and in a
wonderfully short time the first batch was ready. All drew round and sat
down on the grass; the tin plates were distributed, but were only used
by Mr. Hardy and his sons, the others simply taking the joints into
their hands and cutting off pieces with their knives. The operation of
skinning the fowls had not been pleasant to look at, and would at any
other time have taken away the boys' appetites; but their long ride had
made them too hungry to be particular. The result of this primitive
cooking was pronounced to be excellent; and after drinking a mug of tea,
all felt ready for work.

'What is to be done first, papa?'

'The first thing is to get these posts into the ground, and to get up a
wire fence, so as to make an enclosure for the animals at night. We will
put in five posts each side, at ten yards apart; that will take eighteen
posts. With the others we can make a division to separate the sheep from
the cattle. Unless we do this, some of them may take it into their heads
to start off in the night and return to their old home.'

A spot was soon chosen between the house and the stream on the right.
The distance was soon measured and marked; and while Hans carried down
the heavy posts one by one on his shoulder, the others went to work. The
soil was soft and rich, and the holes were dug to the required depth in
a shorter time than would have been considered possible. The wire was
stretched and fastened, and before sunset everything was in readiness.
The animals were driven in, and the entrance, which was narrow, was
blocked up with brushwood from the river. Then followed another
half-hour's work in getting up a small shelter with the cases and some
of the felting, for Mr. Hardy and his sons. By this time all were really
tired, and were glad when Hans summoned them to another meal, this time
of one of the sheep. Then Mr. Hardy and the boys, taking their mugs of
tea, retired into the shelter prepared for them, and sat and talked over
the events of the day, and as to the work for to-morrow; and then,
wrapping themselves up in their blankets, laid down to sleep, listening
for some time dreamily to the hum of conversation of the men, who were
sitting smoking round the fire, and to the hoarse roar of the
innumerable frogs in the stream below.

In the morning they were up and abroad with daylight, and a cup of hot
coffee and a piece of bread prepared them for work. Mr. Hardy, his boys,
and the Yankee set-to upon the framework of the two huts; while the
others went down to the stream and cut a quantity of long, coarse
rushes, which they made into bundles, and brought up to the place of the
house in a bullock-cart. The framework for the huts, which were each
about fifteen feet square, was all ready fitted and numbered: it took,
therefore, a very short time to erect; and when one was done, Mr. Hardy
and the Yankee set-to to erect the other at a distance of from forty to
fifty yards, while Charley and Hubert drove in the nails and secured the
work already done.

By dinner-time the work was complete, and a perfect stack of rushes had
been raised in readiness. A great number of long rods had been cut from
the bushes, and as the most of them were as flexible and tough as
willows, they were well suited for the purpose.

After dinner the whole party united their labour to get one of the huts
finished. The rods were split in two, and were nailed at intervals
across the rafters of the roof. Upon them the long rushes were laid,
and over all the felt was nailed. The sides were treated in the same
way, except that the rushes were woven in and out between the wattles,
so as to make quite a close, compact wall, no felt being nailed on it.
The other house was treated in the same way; and it was not until the
third night that both huts were finished and ready for occupancy.

Mr. Hardy and his sons then took possession of the one near the brow of
the hill. This was to be merely a temporary abode, to be removed when
the house was built. The men had that lower down, and rather nearer to
the cattle. Beds of rushes were piled up in three corners, and the boys
thought that they had never passed such a delicious night as their first
in their new house. The next day Mr. Hardy told his boys that they
should take a holiday and ride over the place.

The press of work was over, and things would now settle down in a
regular way. Hans and Terence had taken a contract to dig the holes for
the posts of the strong fence which was to surround the house, including
a space of a hundred yards square. This precaution was considered to be
indispensable as a defence against the Indians. Seth, the Yankee, had
similarly engaged to dig a well close to the house. No supervision of
them was therefore necessary. Lopez was to accompany them. Each took a
double-barrelled gun and a revolver. The day was very fine--about as hot
as upon a warm day in June in England. Mr. Hardy proposed that they
should first ride westerly as far as the property extended, six miles
from the river; that they should then go to the south until they reached
that boundary, and should follow that to the river, by whose banks they
should return, and bring back a bag of wild fowl for the larder. Quite a
pack of dogs accompanied them,--the two mastiffs, the setters, and four
dogs, two of which belonged to Lopez, and the others to Hans and Seth:
these last, seeing that their masters had no intention of going out,
determined to join the party upon their own account.

These dogs were all mongrels of no particular breed, but were useful in
hunting, and were ready to attack a fox, an animal which swarms upon the
Pampas, and does great damage among the young lambs.

For the first three or four miles nothing was seen save the boundless
green plain, extending in all directions; and then, upon ascending a
slight rise, they saw in the dip before them two ostriches. Almost
simultaneously the creatures caught sight of their enemies, and went off
at a prodigious rate, followed by the dogs and horsemen. For a time
their pace was so fast that their pursuers gained but little upon them.
Presently, however, the dogs gained upon one of them, and, by their
barking and snapping at it, impeded its movements. The horsemen were
close together, and the boys had drawn out their revolvers to fire, when
their father cried, 'Don't fire, boys! Watch Lopez.'

At this moment the guacho took from the pommel of his saddle two balls
like large bullets, connected with a long cord. These he whirled round
his head, and launched them at the ostrich. They struck his legs, and
twined themselves round and round, and in another moment the bird was
down in the dust. Before Lopez could leap to the ground the dogs had
killed it, and the guacho pulled out the tail feathers and handed them
to Mr. Hardy. 'Is the flesh good?' Mr. Hardy asked.

'No, Senor; we can eat it when there is nothing else to be had, but it
is not good.'

'I am rather glad the other got away,' Hubert said. 'It seems cruel to
kill them merely for the sake of the feathers.'

'Yes, Hubert; but the feathers are really worth money,' Mr. Hardy said.
'I should be the last person to countenance the killing of anything
merely for the sake of killing; but one kills an ostrich as one would an
animal with valuable fur. But what is that?'

As he spoke the dogs halted in front of a patch of bush, barking
loudly. The retrievers and the native dogs kept at a prudent distance,
making the most furious uproar; but the mastiffs approached slowly, with
their coats bristling up, and evidently prepared for a contest with a
formidable antagonist. 'It must be a lion!' Lopez exclaimed. 'Get ready
your revolvers, or he may injure the dogs.'

The warning came too late. In another instant an animal leaped from the
thicket, alighting immediately in front of Prince and Flora. It was as
nearly as possible the same colour as the mastiffs, and perhaps hardly
stood so high; but he was a much heavier animal, and longer in the back.
The dogs sprang upon it. Prince, who was first, received a blow with its
paw, which struck him down; but Flora had caught hold. Prince in an
instant joined her, and the three were immediately rolling over and over
on the ground in a confused mass. Mr. Hardy and Lopez at once leapt from
their horses and rushed to the spot; and the former, seizing his
opportunity, placed his pistol close to the lion's ear, and terminated
the contest in an instant. The animal killed was a puma, called in South
America a lion; which animal, however, he resembles more in his colour
than in other respects. He has no mane, and is much inferior in power to
the African lion. They seldom attack men; but if assailed, are very
formidable antagonists. The present one was, Lopez asserted, a
remarkably large one.

Mr. Hardy's first care was to examine the dogs. Prince's shoulder was
laid open by the stroke of the claws, and both dogs had numerous
scratches. Flora had fortunately seized him by the neck, and he had thus
been unable to use his teeth.

Mr. Hardy determined to return home at once, in order to dress Prince's
shoulder; and leaving Lopez to skin the puma, the rest took their way
back. When they arrived the wounds of the dogs were carefully washed,
and a wet bandage was fastened with some difficulty upon Prince's wound.
Leaving all the dogs behind, with the exception of the retrievers, Mr.
Hardy and the boys started for a walk along the river, leading with them
a horse to bring back the game, as their former experience had taught
them that carrying half a dozen ducks and geese under a broiling sun was
no joke. They were longer this time than before in making a good bag;
and after-experience taught them that early in the morning or late in
the evening was the time to go down to the stream, for at these times
flights of birds were constantly approaching, and they could always rely
upon coming home laden after an hour's shooting. Upon the present
occasion, however, they did not do badly, but returned with a swan,
three geese, and twelve ducks, just in time to find the men preparing
for dinner.

The next morning the two bullock-carts were sent off with Hans and
Terence to Rosario, to fetch the posts for the fence, together with two
more coils of wire, which had been left there from want of room in the
carts when they came up. Charley was sent with them, in order that he
might find out if the sailing vessel had arrived with the ploughs and
heavy baggage. While he was away, Mr. Hardy and Hubert were occupied in
making a complete exploration of the property, and in erecting a
storehouse for the goods.

In five days Charley returned with the carts he had taken, and with four
others which he had hired at Rosario, bringing the heavy baggage, which
had come in the day after he had arrived there. The goods were placed
for the present in the new store, and then all hands set to work at the
fence. Hans and Terence had already dug the holes; and the putting in
the posts, ramming the earth tightly round them, and stretching the
wires, took them two days.

The usual defence in the outlying settlements against Indians is a ditch
six feet wide and as much deep; but a ditch of this width can be easily
leapt, both by men on horseback and on foot. The ditch, too, would
itself serve as a shelter, as active men could have no difficulty in
getting out of it, and could surround the house by creeping along the
bottom of the ditch, and then openly attack all round at once, or crawl
up unperceived by those who were upon the watch on the other side.

The fence had none of these disadvantages. It was six feet high. The
wires were placed at six inches apart for four feet from the bottom, and
at nine inches above that. Then the upper wires were not stretched quite
so tightly as the lower ones, rendering it extremely difficult to climb
over. In this way an attacking party would have no protection whatever,
and would, while endeavouring to climb the fence, be helplessly exposed
to the fire of those in the house. Those who got over, too, could
receive no assistance from their comrades without, while their retreat
would be completely cut off.

The gateway to the fence was an ordinary strong iron gate which Mr.
Hardy had bought at Rosario, and to which strong pointed palings, six
feet long, were lashed side by side, with intervals of six inches
between them. This was the finishing touch to the fortification; and all
felt when it was done that they could withstand the attack of a whole
tribe of Indians.

The carts were again sent off to Rosario to bring back some more wood,
from which to make the framework of the house. Hubert this time
accompanied them, as Mr. Hardy wished the boys to become as self-reliant
as possible. He was also to hire three peons, or native labourers.

Before he started, the plan of the future house was discussed and agreed
upon. In the middle was to be the general sitting-room, fifteen feet
square; upon one side was the kitchen, fifteen by ten and a half; upon
the other, the servants' bedroom, of the same size; behind were three
bedrooms, twelve feet by fifteen each, all opening from the
sitting-room. The house, therefore, was to form a block thirty-six feet
by thirty.

Upon the side next to the kitchen, and opening from it, a small square
tower with two storeys in it was to stand. It was to be ten feet square;
the lower room to be a laundry and scullery, and the one above,
approached by straight wooden steps, to be the storehouse. The roof was
to be flat, with a parapet three feet high. From this a clear view could
be had over the country for miles, and the whole circuit of the fence
commanded in case of attack. The walls of the house were to be of adobé
or mud, the internal partitions of sun-baked bricks.



CHAPTER V.

THE SETTLER'S HOME.


Just before commencing the house, Mr. Hardy heard that a sale of stock
was to take place at an estancia about twenty miles to the west of
Rosario, in consequence of the death of its owner. He therefore took
Lopez and the newly hired peons, and started. He was likely to be away
five days. The boys were to do what work they judged best in his
absence. They determined to set about brickmaking. Fortunately, Hans was
accustomed to the work, and knew the way that the natives of the country
set about it; the American Seth knew nothing about it, but he was always
willing to turn his hand to anything. First, a piece of ground was
cleared of grass, and was levelled for the reception of the bricks when
made; then some planks were knocked together so as to form a rough
table. Two brick moulds were made, these being larger than those used in
England. A piece of ground was chosen near. The turf was taken off, the
soil was dug up, and the peons drove the bullocks round and round upon
it, trampling it into a thick mud, some water being thrown in when
necessary.

As it was sufficiently trampled, Terence carried it in a trough and
emptied it on to the table close by, where Hans and Seth fashioned it in
the moulds, turning the bricks out on to a plank a foot wide and six
feet long. When this was full, the boys took each an end and carried it
off to the prepared ground, where they carefully removed the bricks with
two little slabs of wood, and placed them on the ground to dry,
returning with the empty plank to find another one filled for them. It
was hard work for all, and from eleven until three the heat was too
great to allow them to work at it; but they began with daylight, and
taking a nap during the heat of the day, were ready to work on again as
long as it was light.

The bricks were, of course, to be dried by the sun, as fuel was too
scarce for them to think of burning them; but this was of little
consequence, especially as they were to be used indoors, the heat of the
sun being quite sufficient to make very fair bricks without the use of
fire.

By the afternoon of the fifth day they had made a quantity of bricks
which would, they calculated, be ample for the construction of the
partition walls of their house.

The boys had just deposited the last brick upon the drying ground, and
were moving away, when Hubert cried, 'Stop, Charley, don't move a step.'

Started by the suddenness and sharpness of the cry, Charley stood
without moving, and was surprised to see his brother pick up one of the
wet bricks in both hands, and dash it upon the ground immediately in
front of where they were walking.

'I've killed him!' Hubert cried triumphantly; and Charley, looking down,
saw a snake of about three feet long writhing in the grass, his head
being completely driven into the ground under the force of the lump of
wet clay. Two or three stamps of their heavy boots completed the work.
And the men coming up to see what was the matter, Hans said that
Charley, who would have trodden upon the reptile in another instant had
not his brother called out, had had a very narrow escape, for that the
snake was the vivora de la crux, so called from a mark like a cross upon
his head, and that his bite was almost always mortal.

It was a pretty snake, with bands of red, white, and black upon his
body. Charley grew very pale at the thought of the narrow escape he had
had, and wrung his brother very hard by the hand; while Hubert was half
inclined to cry at the thoughts of what might have happened.

The sun was just setting when they saw a crowd of objects in the
distance; and the boys at once saddled their horses and rode off, to
meet their father and to assist to drive in the animals. They found,
upon reaching him, that he had bought a thousand sheep, fifty cattle,
and twenty horses; three of these last being remarkably well bred, and
fast, and bought specially for their own riding. Upon their arrival at
the house, the sheep were turned into the enclosure, the horses were
picketed, and the cattle left to roam at their will, as it was not
thought probable that they would attempt to return to their distant
homes, especially after two days' fatiguing march.

Mr. Hardy was very much pleased at the sight of the long rows of bricks
lying in front of the house, and gave great credit to all for the amount
of work which had been done during his few days' absence. The next
morning he assigned to every one their share of the future work. Lopez
and one of the peons went out with the horses, cattle, and sheep. After
a time it would not be necessary to have two men employed for this work,
as the cattle and horses, when they once became accustomed to their new
home, would never wander very far. Charley, Hubert, and Terence were to
take three yoke of oxen and the three ploughs, and to commence to get
the land in order for cultivation; the ground selected as a beginning,
being that lying below the house near the river. Mr. Hardy, Hans, and
the two peons were to work at the house, and Seth was to finish the
well, which, although begun, had been stopped during the press of more
urgent work, and the water required had been fetched from the stream in
a barrel placed in a bullock-cart. The way in which adobé or mud houses
are constructed is as follows:--The mud is prepared as for brick-making;
but instead of being made into bricks, it is made at once into the wall.
The foundation having been dug out and levelled, two boards are placed
on edge eighteen inches or two feet apart. These are kept in their
places by two pieces of wood nailed across them. The space between these
boards is filled with mud, in which chopped hay and rushes have been
mixed to bind it together. The boards are left for a day or two, while
the builders proceed with the other part of the wall. They are then
taken off, and the heat of the sun soon dries the wall into a mass
almost as hard as a brick. The boards are then put on again higher up,
and the process repeated until the walls have gained the desired height.

In a fortnight's time the walls were finished, and the bullock-carts
were despatched to Rosario to fetch lime, as Mr. Hardy had determined
to plaster the inside walls to keep in the dust, which is otherwise
continually coming off mud walls. By this time a considerable extent of
land was ploughed up, and this was now planted with maize, yam or sweet
potato, and pumpkins: a small portion, as an experiment, was also
planted with potato seeds, but the climate is almost too warm for the
potato to thrive.

Upon the return of the carts with the lime, the partition walls were
built with the bricks. The walls finished, all hands went to work at the
roof. This Mr. Hardy had intended to have had regularly thatched; but
during his last visit to Rosario he had heard that the Indians
frequently endeavoured in their attacks to set fire to the roofs, and he
therefore determined to use tiles. The carts had to make two journeys to
Rosario to get sufficient tiles and lath. But at last all was finished;
the walls were plastered inside and whitewashed out; the floor was
levelled, beaten down hard, and covered with a mixture of clay and lime,
which hardened into a firm, level floor.

It was exactly two months from the date of their arrival at the farm
that the doors were hung and the finishing touch put to the house, and
very pleased were they all as they gave three cheers for their new
abode. The tower, they all agreed, was an especial feature. It was
built of adobé up to the height of the other walls, but the upper storey
had been built of bricks two-thick and laid in mortar. The top had been
embattled; and the boys laughed, and said the house looked exactly like
a little dissenting chapel at home.

It was a joyful day when a fire was first lighted in the kitchen
chimney, which, with that in the sitting-room, was lined with bricks;
and the whole party sat down to a dinner of mutton and wild fowl of
three or four sorts.

The same evening Mr. Hardy told the boys that he should start the next
day to bring up their mamma and the girls, who were all getting very
impatient indeed to be out upon the Pampas. He explained to them that he
should bring up iron bedsteads with bedding, but that he relied upon
them to increase their stock of tables and benches, and to put up
shelves, which would do until regular cupboards and closets could be
made. Mr. Hardy thought that he should not be away much more than a
week, as, by making a long ride to Rosario, the next day he should catch
the boat, which left the following morning for Buenos Ayres; and as he
had already written to Mr. Thompson saying when he should probably
arrive, there would be no time lost. The next morning he started before
daylight, the last words of the boys being: 'Be sure, papa, to bring the
mosquito curtains for us all; they are getting worse and worse. We
hardly closed an eye all last night.'

Hot as the weather now was, the boys worked incessantly at their
carpentering for the next week, and at the end had the satisfaction of
seeing a large table for dining at in the sitting-room, and a small one
to act as a sideboard, two long benches, and two short ones. In their
mother and sisters' rooms there were a table and two benches, and a
table and a long flap to serve as a dresser in the kitchen. They had
also put up two long shelves in each of the bedrooms, and some nails on
the doors for dresses. They were very tired at the end of the week, but
they looked round with a satisfied look, for they knew they had done
their best. The next morning they were to ride to Rosario to meet the
party. The carts had gone off under the charge of Terence that day.

It was indeed a joyful meeting when Mr. and Mrs. Hardy and the girls
stepped off the steamer; but the first embrace was scarcely over when
the boys exclaimed simultaneously, 'Why, girls, what is the matter with
your faces? I should not have known you.'

'Oh, it's those dreadful mosquitoes; there were millions on board the
steamer last night I really thought we should have been eaten up. Didn't
you, mamma?'

'Well, my dear, I thought that they would perhaps leave something of us
till morning, but I felt almost inclined to go mad and jump overboard.
It was a dreadful night I do hope they are not so bad here, Frank?'

'No, Clara, they are nothing like so bad as they were last night; but
still, as we are so close to the river, they will, no doubt, be
troublesome, and I question whether the beds at the hotel have mosquito
curtains; but if you take my advice, and all sleep with the sheet over
your heads, you will manage to do pretty well. It is better to be hot
than to be bitten all over.'

In spite, however, of the expedient of the sheets, all the party passed
a bad night, and were quite ready to get up before daylight to start for
their ride to Mr. Percy's estancia. They were all to ride, with the
exception of Sarah, who took her place in one of the bullock-carts; and
they would therefore reach the estancia before the heat of the day
fairly set in. Terence having been told that Sarah was going to ride,
had cut some boughs, with which he made a sort of arbour over the cart
to shade her from the sun--a general method of the country, and at which
Sarah was much gratified. She had at first felt rather anxious at the
thought of going without her mistress; but Terence assured her: 'Sure,
miss, and it's meself, Terence Kelly, that will take care of ye; and no
danger shall come near your pretty face at all, at all; ye'll be quite
as safe as if ye were in the ould country. And as for the bastes, sure
and it's the quietest bastes they are, and niver thought of running away
since the day they were born.'

So Sarah took her place without uneasiness, and the others started at a
hand canter for Mr. Percy's estancia.

While at Mr. Thompson's, both Mrs. Hardy and the girls had ridden
regularly every day, so that all were quite at their ease on their
horses, and were able to talk away without ceasing of all that had
happened since they parted. The only caution Mr. Hardy had to give, with
a side-look at Charley, was, 'Look out for armadillo holes; because I
have known fellows who were wonderful at sticking on their horses, come
to grief at them.'

At which Hubert laughed; and Charley said, 'Oh papa!' and coloured up
and laughed, as was his way when his father joked him about his little
weaknesses.

They had not gone more than half way before they met Mr. Percy, who had
ridden thus far to welcome his guests, for English ladies are very
scarce out on the Pampas, and are honoured accordingly. One of the first
questions the girls asked after the first greetings were over, was,
'Have you many mosquitoes at your estancia, Mr. Percy?'

'Not many,' Mr. Percy said; 'I have no stream near, and it is only near
water that they are so very bad.'

After waiting during the heat of the day at Mr. Percy's, the boys rode
on home, as six guests were altogether beyond Mr. Percy's power of
accommodating.

The next morning the boys were up long before daylight, and went down to
the stream, where, as day broke, they managed to shoot a swan and five
wild ducks, and with these they returned to the house. Then they swept
the place with the greatest care, spread the table, arranged the
benches, set everything off to the best advantage, and then devoted
their whole energies to cooking a very excellent breakfast, which they
were sure the travellers would be ready for upon their arrival. This was
just ready, when, from the lookout on the tower, they saw the party
approaching. The breakfast was too important to be left, and they were
therefore unable to ride out to meet them. They were at the gate,
however, as they rode up.

'Hurrah, hurrah!' they shouted, and the girls set up a cheer in return.

The men ran up to take the horses, and in another minute the whole party
were in their new home. The girls raced everywhere wild with delight,
ascended to the lookout, clapped their hands at the sight of the sheep
and cattle, and could hardly be persuaded to take their things off and
sit down to breakfast.

Mrs. Hardy was less loud in her commendation of everything, but she was
greatly pleased with her new home, which was very much more finished and
comfortable than she had expected.

'This is fun, mamma, isn't it?' Maud said. 'It is just like a picnic.
How we shall enjoy it, to be sure! May we set-to at once after
breakfast, and wash up?'

'Certainly, Maud; Sarah will not be here for another two hours, and it
is as well that you should begin to make yourselves useful at once. We
shall all have to be upon our mettle, too. See how nicely the boys have
cooked the breakfast. These spatch-cock ducks are excellent, and the
mutton chops done to a turn. They will have a great laugh at us, if we,
the professed cooks, do not do at least as well.'

'Ah, but look at the practice they have been having, mamma.'

'Yes, Maud,' Hubert said; 'and I can tell you it is only two or three
things we can do well. Ducks and geese done like this, and chops and
steaks, are about the limits. If we tried anything else, we made an
awful mess of it: as to puddings, we never attempted them; and shall be
very glad of something in the way of bread, for we are heartily sick of
these flat, flabby cakes.'

'Why have you only whitewashed this high middle wall half-way up,
Frank?'

'In the first place, my dear, we fell short of whitewash; and, in the
next place, we are going to set to work at once to put a few light
rafters across, and to nail felt below them, and whitewash it so as to
make a ceiling. It will make the rooms look less bare, and, what is much
more important, it will make them a great deal cooler.'

'You get milk, I hope?'

'Yes,' Charley said; 'two of the cows of the last lot papa bought are
accustomed to be milked, and Hubert and I have done it up till now; but
we shall hand them over to you, and you girls will have to learn.'

Maud and Ethel looked at each other triumphantly. 'Perhaps we know more
than you think,' Ethel said.

'Yes,' Mrs. Hardy said; 'the girls are going to be two very useful
little women. I will tell you a secret. While you boys were at work of a
morning, the girls, as you know, often walked over to Mr. Williams the
farmer's, to learn as much as they could about poultry, of which he kept
a great many. Mrs. Williams saw how anxious they were to learn to be
useful, so she offered to teach them to milk, and to manage a dairy, and
make butter and cheese. And they worked regularly, till Mrs. Williams
told me she thought that they could make butter as well as she could.
It has been a great secret, for the girls did not wish even their papa
to know, so that it might be a surprise.'

'Very well done, little girls,' Mr. Hardy said; 'it is a surprise
indeed, and a most pleasant one. Mamma kept your secret capitally, and
never as much as whispered a word to me about it.'

The boys too were delighted, for they had not tasted butter since they
arrived, and they promised readily enough to make a rough churn with the
least possible delay.

By ten o'clock the carts arrived with Sarah and the luggage, and then
there was work for the afternoon, putting up the bedsteads, and getting
everything into order. The mosquito curtains were fitted to the beds,
and all felt gratified at the thought that they should be able to set
the little bloodsuckers at defiance. The next day was Sunday, upon
which, as usual, no work was to be done. After breakfast the benches
were brought in from the bedrooms, and the men assembling, Mr. Hardy
read prayers, offering up a special prayer for the blessing and
protection of God upon their household. Afterwards Mrs. Hardy and the
girls were taken over the place, and shown the storehouse, and the men's
tent, and the river, and the newly planted field.

'The ground is getting very much burnt up, papa,' Charley said. 'It was
damp enough when we put in the crops, and they are getting on capitally;
but I fear that they were sown too late, and will be burnt up.'

'Ah, but I have a plan to prevent that,' Mr. Hardy said. 'See if you can
think what it is.'

Neither of the boys could imagine.

'When I first described the place to you, I told you that there was a
main stream with a smaller one running into it, and that I thought that
this last would be very useful. I examined the ground very carefully,
and I found that the small stream runs for some distance between two
slight swells, which narrow in sharply to each other just below the
house. Now I find that a dam of not more than fifty feet wide and eight
feet high will make a sort of lake a quarter of a mile long, and
averaging fifty yards wide. From this the water will flow over the whole
flat by the river in front of the house and away to the left, and we
shall be able to irrigate at least three or four hundred acres of land.
Upon these we shall be able to raise four or five crops a year; and one
crop in particular, the alfalfa, a sort of lucern for fattening the
cattle in time of drought, when the grass is all parched up. At that
time cattle ordinarily worth only £3 can be sold, if fat, for £9 or £10.
So you see, boys, there is a grand prospect before us.'

The boys entered enthusiastically into the scheme, and the party went
at once to inspect the spot which Mr. Hardy had fixed upon for the dam.
This, it was agreed, should be commenced the very next day; and Mr.
Hardy said that he had no doubt, if the earth was properly puddled, or
stamped when wet, that it would keep the water from coming through.

In the afternoon Mrs. Hardy, Maud, and Ethel were taken a ride round the
property, and were fortunate enough to see some ostriches, to the great
delight of the girls.

At tea Mr. Hardy said: 'There is one very important point connected with
our place which has hitherto been unaccountably neglected. Do any of you
know what it is?'

The boys and their sisters looked at each other in great perplexity, and
in vain endeavoured to think of any important omission.

'I mean,' their father said at last, 'the place has no name. I suggest
that we fix upon one at once. It is only marked in the Government plan
as Lot 473. Now, what name shall it be?'

Innumerable were the suggestions made, but none met with universal
approbation. At last Mrs. Hardy said: 'I have heard in England of a
place called Mount Pleasant, though I confess I do not know where it is.
Now, what do you say to Mount Pleasant? It is a mount, and we mean it
to be a very pleasant place before we have done with it.'

The approval of the suggestion was general, and amid great applause it
was settled that the house and estate should hereafter go by the name of
'Mount Pleasant.'

In the morning the boys were at work at two wheelbarrows, for which Mr.
Hardy had brought out wheels and iron-work; and Mr. Hardy and the men
went down to the stream, and began to strip off the turf and to dig out
a strip of land five-and-twenty feet wide along the line where the dam
was to come. The earth was then wetted and puddled. When the barrows
were completed they were brought into work; and in ten days a dam was
raised eight feet high, three feet wide at the top, and twenty-five feet
wide at the bottom. In the middle a space of two feet wide was left,
through which the little stream at present ran. Two posts, with grooves
in them, were driven in, one upon either side of this; and thus the work
was left for a few days, for the sun to bake its surface, while the men
were cutting a trench for the water to run down to the ground to be
irrigated.

A small sluice was put at the entrance to this, to regulate the quantity
of water to be allowed to flow, and all was now in readiness to complete
the final operation of closing up the dam. A quantity of earth was
first collected and puddled, and piled on the top of the dam and on the
slopes by its side, so as to be in readiness, and Mrs. Hardy and the
girls came down to watch the operation.

First a number of boards two feet long, and cut to fit the grooves, were
slipped down into them, forming a solid wall, and then upon the upper
side of these the puddled earth was thrown down into the water, Terence
standing below in the stream and pounding down the earth with a rammer.
The success was complete: in a couple of hours' time the gap in the dam
was filled up, and they had the satisfaction of seeing the little stream
overflowing its banks and widening out above, while not a drop of water
made its escape by the old channel.

While this work had been going on, the boys had been engaged up at the
house. The first thing was to make a churn, then to put up some large
closets and some more shelves, and the bullock-carts had to be sent to
Rosario for a fresh supply of planks. This occupied them until the dam
was finished. The girls had tried their first experiment at butter, and
the result had been most satisfactory. The dinners, too, were pronounced
to be an immense improvement upon the old state of things.

Soon after the dam was finished, Hans, who had been too long a rover to
settle down, expressed his desire to leave; and as Mr. Hardy had
determined to lessen his establishment,--as, now that the heavy work was
over, it was no longer necessary to keep so many hands,--he offered no
objection to his leaving without the notice he had agreed to give. Wages
were high, and Mr. Hardy was desirous of keeping his remaining capital
in hand, in case of his sheep and cattle being driven off by the
Indians. One of the peons was also discharged, and there remained only
Lopez, Seth, Terence, and two peons.



CHAPTER VI.

A TALE OF THE MEXICAN WAR.


Mr. Hardy was rather surprised at Seth Harper, the Yankee, having
remained so long in his service, as the man had plainly stated, when
first engaged, that he thought it likely that he should not fix himself,
as he expressed it, for many weeks. However, he stayed on, and had
evidently taken a fancy to the boys; and was still more interested in
the girls, whose talk and ways must have been strange and very pleasant
to him after so many years' wandering as a solitary man. He was
generally a man of few words, using signs where signs would suffice, and
making his answers, when obliged to speak, as brief as possible. This
habit of taciturnity was no doubt acquired from a long life passed
either alone, or amid dangers where an unnecessary sound might have cost
him his life. To the young people, however, he would relax from his
habitual rule of silence. Of an evening, when work was over, they would
go down to the bench he had erected outside his hut, and would ask him
to tell them tales of his Indian experiences. Upon one of these
occasions Charley said to him: 'But of all the near escapes that you
have had, which was the most hazardous you ever had? which do you
consider was the narrowest touch you ever had of being killed?'

Seth considered for some time in silence, turned his plug of tobacco in
his mouth, expectorated two or three times, as was his custom when
thinking, and then said, 'That's not altogether an easy question to
answer. I've been so near wiped out such scores of times, that it ain't
no easy job to say which was the downright nearest. In thinking it over,
I conclude sometimes that one go was the nearest, sometimes that
another; it ain't no ways easy to say now. But I think that, at the
time, I never so much felt that Seth Harper's time for going down had
come, as I did in an affair near San Louis.'

'And how was that, Seth? Do tell us about it,' Maud said.

'It's rather a long story, that is,' the Yankee said.

'All the better, Seth,' Charley said; 'at least all the better as far as
we are concerned, if you don't mind telling it.'

'No, I don't mind, no how,' Seth answered. 'I'll just think it over, and
see where to begin.'

There was a silence for a few minutes, and the young Hardys composed
themselves comfortably for a good long sitting, and then Seth Harper
began his story.

'Better than five years back, in '47, I were fighting in Mexico. It
wasn't much regular up and down fighting we had, though we had some
toughish battles too, but it were skirmishing here, skirmishing there,
keeping one eye always open, for man, woman, and child hated us like
pison, and it was little mercy that a straggler might expect if he got
caught away from his friends. Their partisan chiefs, half-soldier
half-robber, did us more harm than the regulars, and mercy was never
given or asked between them and us. Me and Rube Pearson worked mostly
together. We had "fit" the Indians out on the prairies for years side by
side, and when Uncle Sam wanted men to lick the Mexicans, we concluded
to go in together. We 'listed as scouts to the "Rangers," that is, we
agreed to fight as much as we were wanted to fight, and to go on in
front as scouts, in which way we had many a little skrimmage on our own
account; but we didn't wear any uniform, or do drill, which couldn't
have been expected of us. We shouldn't have been no good as regulars,
and every one knew that there were no better scouts in the army than
Rube Pearson and Seth Harper. Lor', what a fellow Rube was, to be sure!
I ain't a chicken,' and the Yankee looked down at his own bony limbs,
'but I was a baby by the side of Rube. He were six feet four if he were
an inch, and so broad that he looked short unless you saw him by the
side of another man. I do believe Rube Pearson were the strongest man in
the world. I have heard,' Seth went on, meditating, 'of a chap called
Samson: folks say he were a strong fellow. I never came across any one
who had rightly met him, but a good many have heard speak of him. I
should like to have seen him and Rube in the grips. I expect Rube would
have astonished him. Rube came from Missouri,--most of them very big
chaps do. I shouldn't wonder if Samson did, though I never heard for
certain.'

The young Hardys had great difficulty to prevent themselves from
laughing aloud at Seth's idea on the subject of Samson. Charley,
however, with a great effort, steadied himself to say, 'Samson died a
great many years ago, Seth. His history is in the Bible.'

'Is it though?' Seth said, much interested. 'Well now, what did he do?'

'He carried away the gates of Gaza on his back, Seth.'

Seth remained thoughtful for some time. 'It all depends on how big the
gates were,' he said at last. 'That gate down there is a pretty
heavyish one, but Rube Pearson could have carried away two sich as that,
and me sitting on the top of them. What else did he do?'

'He was bound in new cords, and he broke them asunder, Seth.'

Seth did not appear to attach much importance to this, and inquired,
'Did he do anything else?'

'He killed three hundred men with the jawbone of an ass.'

'He killed----' Seth began, and then paused in sheer astonishment. Then
he looked sharply round: 'You're making fun of me, lad.'

'No, indeed, Seth,' Charley said; 'it is quite true.'

'What! that a man killed three hundred men with the jawbone of an ass?
It couldn't have been; it was sheer impossible,--unless they were all
asleep, and even then it would be an awful job.'

'I don't know how it was, Seth, but the Bible tells us, and so it must
be true. I think it was a sort of miracle.'

'Oh it was a miracle!' Seth said thoughtfully, and then remained silent,
evidently pondering in his own mind as to what a miracle was, but not
liking to ask.

'It was a very long time ago, Seth, and they were no doubt a different
people then.'

'Was it a very, very long time back?' Seth asked.

'Yes, Seth; a very, very, very long time.'

'Ah!' Seth said in a thoughtful but more satisfied tone, 'I understand
now. I expect it's that. It's the same thing among the Indians: they
have got stories of chiefs who died ever so long ago, who used to be
tremendous fellows,--traditions they call 'em. I don't expect they were
any braver than they are now; but a thing grows, you see, like a tree,
with age. Lor' bless 'em! if they tell such tales now about a Jew, what
will they do some day about Rube Pearson?'

The young Hardys could stand it no longer, but went off into a scream of
laughter, which even the surprised and offended looks of the ignorant
and simple-minded, but shrewd, Yankee could not check. So offended was
he, indeed, that no entreaties or explanations were sufficient to
mollify him, and the story was abruptly broken off. It was not for two
or three days that the boys' explanation and assurance sufficed; and
then, when Charley had explained the whole history of Samson to him, he
said:

'I have no doubt that it is all true, and I wish I could read it for
myself. I can just remember that my mother put a great store on her
Bible, and called it the good book. I can't read myself, and shouldn't
have time to do it if I could; so it's all one as far as that goes. I am
just a hunter and Indian fighter, and I don't know that for years I
have ever stopped so long under a roof as I have here. My religion is
the religion of most of us out on the prairies. Be honest and true to
your word. Stick to a friend to death, and never kill a man except in
fair fight. That's about all, and I hope it will do; at any rate, it's
too late for me to try and learn a new one now. I listen on a Sunday to
your father's reading, and I wish sometimes I had been taught; and yet
it's better as it is. A man who acted like that wouldn't be much good
for a rough life on the prairies, though I have no doubt it could be
done in the settlements. Now I must go on with my work. If you and the
others will come over to the hut this evening, I will go on with that
yarn I was just beginning.'

After tea the young Hardys went down to the hut, outside which they
found Seth awaiting their arrival. They were now comfortably seated, and
Seth, without further introduction, went on.

'One day our captain sent for Rube and me, and says, "I've got a job for
you two scouts. It's a dangerous one, but you won't like it any the
worse for that, I know."

'"Not a bit," said Rube with a laugh. He was the lightest-hearted
fellow, was Rube; always gay and jolly, and wouldn't have hurt a
squirrel, except in stand-up fight and as a matter of business.

'"What is it, Cap?" said I; "you've only got to give us the word, and
we're off."

'"I've had a message," he said, "from Colonel Cabra of their service,
that he is ready to turn traitor, and hand us over some correspondence
of Santa Anna, of which he has somehow got possessed. Being a traitor,
he won't trust any one, and the only plan we can hit upon is, that he
shall make a journey to San Miguel, thirty miles north of this, as if on
business. I am to make an expedition in that direction, and am to take
him prisoner. He will then hand over the papers. We shall bring him
here, and, after keeping him for a time, let him go on parole. No
suspicion will therefore at any future time arise against him, which
there might be if we met in any other way. The papers are very
important, and the affair must not be suffered to slip through. The
country between this and San Miguel is peaceful enough, but we hear that
El Zeres' band is out somewhere in that direction. He has something like
two hundred cut-throats with him of his own, and there is a rumour that
other bands have joined him. Now I want you to go on to-morrow to San
Miguel. Go in there after dusk, and take up your quarters at this
address: it is a small wine-shop in a street off the market. Get up as
Mexicans; it only requires a big cloak and a sombrero. You can both
speak Spanish well enough to pass muster. Stay all next day, and till
daybreak on the morning afterwards, and then ride back on this road. You
will find out in the first place whether Cabra has arrived, and in the
next place whether El Zeres is in the neighbourhood. I shall only bring
forty men, as I do not wish it to be supposed that I am going on more
than a mere scouting expedition. You understand?"

'"All right, Cap; we'll do it," I said, and we went off to our quarters.

'I can't say I altogether liked the job. It was a long way from
headquarters, and, do what they may, two men can't fight more than, say,
ten or a dozen. I was rather surprised to see by Rube's face that he
rather liked it; but I did not find out till late that night what it was
pleased him,--then the truth came out.

'"We had better start early, Seth," said he; "say at daybreak."

'"What for, Rube?" I said; "the Cap said we were to go in after dusk.
It's only thirty miles; we shan't want to start till three o'clock."

'Rube laughed. "I don't want to get there before dusk, but I want to
start at daybreak, and I'll tell you why. You remember Pepita?"

'"There," said I, "if I didn't think it had something to do with a
woman. You are always running after some one, Rube. They will get you
into a scrape some day."

'Rube laughed. "I am big enough to get out of it if it does, Seth; but
you know I did feel uncommon soft towards Pepita, and really thought of
marrying and taking her back to Missouri."

'"Only she wouldn't come, Rube?"

'"Just so, Seth," said he, laughing. "So we agreed we would be the best
friends; and she asked me, if ever I went out to San Miguel, to go and
see her. She said her father was generally out, but would be glad to see
me if he were in. She lives in a small hacienda, a league this side of
the town."

'I saw that it was of no use to argue, but I didn't like it. The Mexican
women hated us worse than the men did, and that warn't easy to do; and
many of our fellows had been murdered after being enticed by them to
out-of-the-way places. Still, in the present case, I did not see that
the girl could have expected that Rube would be there unless the rest of
us were near at hand, and I did not attempt to oppose Rube's wishes.

'So next morning off we started, and by ten o'clock we rode up to the
door of the place which Rube said answered to the description Pepita had
given him. It was a pretty place, with trees round it, and might have
been the residence of a small proprietor such as Pepita had described
her father to be. As we rode up to the door it opened, and I saw at once
that Rube were right, for a dark-eyed Mexican girl came out and looked
at us inquiringly.

'"What can I do for you, senors?" she asked.

'"Don't you remember me, Donna Pepita?" Rube said, laughing as he lifted
the sombrero which had shaded his face.

'The girl started violently. "Ah, Signor Americano, is it you? I might
have known, indeed," she said, smiling, "by your size, even wrapped up.
This, of course, is Signor Seth: you are always together. But come in,"
she said.

'"Who have you got inside, Donna Pepita?" Rube asked. "I know that I can
trust you, but I can't trust others, and I don't want it known I am
here."

'"The house is empty," Pepita said. "My father is out. There is only old
Jacinta at home."

'At this moment an old woman made her appearance at the door, and at a
word from Pepita took our horses, while Pepita signed to us to enter.

'"Excuse me, signora," I said. "We will go first and see our horses
stabled. It is our custom; one never knows when he may want them."

'I thought Pepita looked annoyed, but it was only for a moment, and
then she said something in one of the country dialects to the old woman.
She nodded her head, and went off round to the back of the house, we
leading our horses, and following her. The stables, I observed, were
singularly large and well kept for a house of its size; but, to my
surprise, instead of going to the long range of buildings, the old woman
led the way to a small shed.

'"Ain't these stables?" said I.

'She shook her head, and said in Spanish, "They were once, but we have
only two horses. Now they are used as a store for grain; the master has
the key."

'I could not contradict her, though I believed she was telling me a lie.
However, we fastened our horses up in the shed, put the pistols from our
holsters into our belts, and, taking our rifles in our hands, entered
the house.

'Pepita received us very warmly, and busied herself assisting the old
woman to get us something to eat; after which she and Rube began
love-making, and it really seemed as if the girl meant to change her
mind, and go back with Rube, after all. There was nothing, in fact, to
justify my feeling uneasy, except that, while Pepita had promised me
when I entered the house not to tell the old woman who we were, I was
convinced that she had done so by the glances of scowling hatred which
the old hag threw at us whenever she came into the room. Still I was
uneasy, and shortly made some excuse to leave the room and saunter round
and about the house, to assure myself that Pepita had spoken truly when
she had said that there was no one there except the old woman and
herself. I found nothing to excite the smallest suspicion, and was
therefore content to return to the room and to throw myself lazily down
and go off for a siesta, in the wakeful intervals of which I could hear
that Pepita had given way, and that the delighted Rube was arranging
with her how she should escape and join him when the army retired; for
of course neither had any idea that her father would consent to her
marrying one of the hated enemies of his country.

'At three o'clock I roused myself, and soon after the old woman came
into the room with some lemonade. I observed that Pepita changed colour,
but she said nothing, and a moment after, making some excuse, she left
the room. I was about to speak to Rube on the subject, when the window
was darkened with men. Five or six shots were fired at us, and with a
yell a crowd of Mexicans rushed into the room.

'As they appeared, Rube sprang up with the exclamation, "Trapped, by
thunder!" and then fell flat on his back, shot, I believed, through the
head.

'I rushed to my rifle, seized it, but before I could get it to my
shoulder it was knocked from my hand. Half a dozen fellows threw
themselves upon me, and I was a prisoner. I didn't try to resist when
they laid hands on me, because I knew I should have a knife in me at
once; and though I knew my life was not worth an hour's purchase--no,
nor five minutes'--after I was caught, still, upon the whole, it was as
well to live that five minutes as not.

'There was such a hubbub and a shouting at first that I couldn't hear a
word, but at last I picked up that they were a party of the band of El
Zeres, who was in the neighbourhood, and had been fetched by a boy that
traitress Pepita had despatched for them directly we arrived. Pepita
herself was wife of one of the other chiefs of the band. Much fun was
made of poor Rube and myself about our courting. I felt mad with myself
for having been caught so foolishly. I couldn't feel angry with Rube,
with him lying dead there, but I was angry with myself for having
listened to him. I oughtn't to have allowed him to have his own way. I
warn't in love, and I ought to have known that a man's head, when he's
after a gal, is no more use than a pumpkin. While I was thinking this
out in my mind I had my eyes fixed upon poor Rube, whom no one thought
of noticing, when all of a sudden I gave quite a start, for I saw him
move. I couldn't see his face, but I saw a hand stealing gradually out
towards the leg of a man who stood near. Then there was a pause, and
then the other hand began to move. It wasn't at all like the aimless way
that the arms of a badly hit man would move, and I saw at once that Rube
had been playing "possum" all along.'

'Doing what, Seth?' Ethel asked.

'Just pretending to be dead. I held my breath, for I saw he had come to
the conclusion that he could not be overlooked much longer, and was
going to make a move.

'In another minute there was a crash and a shout as the two men fell to
the ground with their legs knocked clean from under them, catching hold
of other men and dragging them down with them. From the midst of the
confusion Rube leapt to his feet and made a rush for the window; one man
he levelled with a blow of his fist; another he caught up as if he had
been a baby, and hurling him against two others, brought them on the
ground together, and then leaping over their bodies, dashed through the
window before the Mexicans had recovered from their astonishment. I
could have laughed out loud at the yell of rage and amazement with which
they set off in pursuit; but two or three of them remained to guard me,
and I might have got a knife in my ribs, so I kept quiet. I did just
feel so glad to see Rube was alive, that I hardly remembered that it
warn't likely that either he or I would be so long, for I did not for a
moment expect that he would make good his escape. The odds were too
great against it, especially in broad daylight. Even on horseback it
would be next to impossible. No one but Rube would have attempted such a
thing; but he never stopped to think about odds or chances when his
dander was up. In less than no time I heard a shot or two, then there
was a silence for a time, then a shout of triumph. I knew it was all
over, and that Rube was taken again.

'He told me afterwards that he had made a dash round to the stable,
where he had found seven or eight Mexicans looking after the horses;
that he had knocked down one or two who were in his way, had leapt upon
the nearest animal, and had made off at the top of his speed, but that a
dozen others were after him in an instant; and seeing that he would be
lassoed and thrown from his horse, he had stopped and thrown up his arms
in token of surrender. Rube's hands were bound tightly behind him, and
he was led back into the room.

'He gave a loud laugh when he saw me: "That was a boy's trick; wasn't
it, Seth? But I couldn't have helped it if I had been shot a minute
afterwards. There were those fellows' legs moving about me just as if I
was a log of wood. The thoughts came across me, 'A good sharp rap above
the ankle and over you'd go;' and when I'd once thought of it, I was
obliged to do it. It was fun, though, Seth; wasn't it?"

'"It was, as you say, Rube, a boy's trick, and just at present is hardly
the time for that. But don't let us say anything we don't want
overheard, Rube; some of these fellows may understand."

'"Right you are, Seth. I am main sorry, old hoss, that I've got you into
this scrape, but I expect we shall get out again somehow. I don't think
Rube Pearson is going to be wiped out yet."

'I hoped not too. I warn't a bit tired of life, but I did not see my way
out of it. However, I had one comfort: I knew if any two men could get
out of an ugly mess, those two men were Rube and I.

'We were now told to sit down on the ground in one corner of the room,
two fellows taking up their station by our sides. Then there was a hot
discussion about our fate, which warn't exactly pleasant to listen to.
Some were in favour of hanging us at once, but the majority were for
taking us to the main body under El Zeres himself, because the chief
would be so glad to have us in his power. He had frequently vowed
vengeance against us, for we were known as the most active scouts in the
army, and had led troops in his pursuit many a time, and had once or
twice come very near to catching him. He had vowed solemnly to his
patron saint, that if we fell into his hands he would put us to death
with unheard-of tortures: and as El Zeres was rather celebrated that
way,--and it was the anticipation of an unusual treat which decided the
majority to reserve us,--it warn't altogether pleasant to listen to. But
we put a good face on the matter, for it would never have done to let
those Mexican varmints see that two backwoodsmen who had "fit" them and
beaten them time after time, were afraid to die when their time came.
Presently there was a little stir, and Pepita came into the room. I
rather think that, though the girl hated us like pison, she didn't like
to come into the room where one of us was, she thought, laying dead. Now
she came in, looking, I will say for her, uncommonly pretty. She came
straight up to us, and looked us full in the face. I paid no attention
to her, but Rube nodded quite cheerfully.

'"Well, signora, so you were making fools of us, after all! Well, I
ain't the first chap that's been fooled by a pretty woman; that's one
comfort, anyhow. I suppose our engagement is to be considered at an end,
eh?" and he laughed.

'"American dog!" the girl said, with her eyes flashing with rage, "did
you think you were so good-looking that the women of the nation you
tread upon are all to lose their hearts to you? We are Mexicans, and we
hate you!" and she stamped her foot with passion.

'Rube laughed unconcernedly. "Well, signora, after what you now permit
me to see of you, I am really thankful that you are so kind and lenient.
Thunder! what a fate mine would have been if you had taken it into your
head to marry me!"

'There was a general laugh among the men at the cool way in which Rube
treated the girl, and the enraged Pepita struck him a box on the ear. It
was a hearty one; but Rube's face hardly changed, and he said, still
smiling,

'"We have a custom in the States, Pepita, that when a gal boxes a man's
ears, he has a right to give her a kiss. You are reversing that; I had
the kisses this afternoon, and now I have got the box on the ear."

'There was again a roar of laughter among the Mexicans, and the enraged
woman drew a knife, and would have stabbed Rube to the heart had she not
been seized by the men standing round her and forced from the room. We
were kept in that room under a guard, so watchful that any attempt to
escape was out of the question, until three o'clock the next morning.
The horses were then saddled, and we were soon off, Rube and I riding in
the midst of the party with our hands tied before us, so that we could
just hold the bridle. We had found out from the conversation, that El
Zeres with his band was about twenty-five miles distant.

'Upon our ride, I found an opportunity for the first time since our
capture for a talk with Rube.

'"What do you think of it, Seth?"

'"Looks bad, Rube," I said. "If we find El Zeres in camp, I expect he
will make short work of us; if he is away, I suppose we shall get till
to-morrow morning. If we are to escape at all, it must be to-night."

'"Escape!" Rube said scoffingly; "of course we are going to escape. The
question is, Which one of all the ways open to us are we to choose?" and
he laughed merrily.

'"I don't quite see all the ways yet, Rube; however, we shall see what
sort of a place we are put in to-night, and can then come to some
conclusion. There comes the sun."

'It was about nine o'clock when we rode into camp; and as we approached
it, we acknowledged that a better place against a sudden surprise could
hardly have been chosen. The ground was flat for miles round; but the
site of the camp rose in a slight mound, of nearly circular form, and
perhaps one hundred yards across; the central part was thirty feet or so
above the general level. Round this the band of El Zeres was encamped.
Rube and I guessed them at four hundred strong. There was an attempt at
military order, for, by the bundles of wearing apparel, etc., it was
evident that the men slept round a series of bivouac fires, extending in
a circle round the foot of the mound. Within the line of fires the
horses were picketed in two rows. In the centre of the circle, upon the
highest point of the rise, was a small house. As we approached we could
see a stir in the camp: a party of men were mounting their horses as if
for an expedition.

'"I hope El Zeres is on the point of starting somewhere, Rube," I said,
"and that he is in too great a hurry to stop to amuse himself with us as
he has threatened: it will give us another day."

'"I hope so," Rube said; "it's hard if we don't manage to make tracks if
we get twenty-four hours."

'On reaching the camp we were ordered to alight; and upon its being
known who we were, there was as many shouts of triumph as if we had been
generals.

'"We are quite celebrated characters, Seth," Rube said, with his usual
laugh.

'"Ah," said I, "we could do without such celebrity just at present."

'"I don't know," Rube said. "If we were mere American soldiers, they
would cut our throats at once: as it is, they may keep us for a more
ceremonial killing."

'As we were talking, we were being led up towards the central hut, which
was evidently the abode of the chief. He was standing at the door,
tapping his riding-boot impatiently with a heavy whip; a man was holding
his horse in readiness. One of the other leaders was standing talking to
him. "Jehoshophat!" said I, "he is going out. We are safe for a while."

'El Zeres was a slight, wiry man, with a small wicked-looking eye, which
gave one the "squerms" to look at, and a thin mouth curved up in a cruel
smile. He was the savagest and most bloodthirsty of all the Mexican
partisans. The man with him was a tall, swarthy, ferocious-looking
villain.

'El Zeres looked at us for some time without a word. Then he said, "I've
got you at last; I've been on the lookout for you for a long time past."

'"It hasn't been our fault we haven't met before," said Rube; which was
true enough, for we had given him a close chase several times. El Zeres
only gave an evil smile, but the other Mexican exclaimed savagely, "You
dog, do you dare to answer?" and struck Rube across the face with all
his force with his heavy whip.

'Rube turned quite white, and then with a tremendous effort he broke the
cowhide thongs which fastened his hands--not new rope, mind you, but
cowhide--just as if it had been so much grass, and went right at the
fellow who had struck him. The Mexicans gave a cry of astonishment, and
threw themselves upon Rube, El Zeres shouting at the top of his voice,
"Don't draw a knife, don't draw a knife; I'll hang any man who injures
him."

'Rube had got the fellow by the throat with both hands, and though the
crowd of men who threw themselves upon him pulled him to the ground, he
never let go, but brought the man down too. I knew it was all over with
him. I was quite mad to join in and help; but though I tugged and
strained at my thongs till they cut right into my wrists, I could not
succeed. For a while they lay in a struggling mass on the ground, and
then Rube shook himself free of them for a moment and got to his feet. A
dozen men were upon him in a moment; but he was blind with rage, and
would not have minded if it had been a thousand. Those who came in front
went down, as if shot, before the blows of his fists; but others leapt
on him from behind, and then the struggle began again. I never saw such
a thing before, and never shall again. It was downright awful. They
could not hold his arms. Their weight, over and over again, got him upon
the ground, and over and over again he was up on his feet; but his arms,
somehow, they could not hold, and the work he did with them was awful.
Anything he hit went down, and when he could not hit he gripped. It was
like a terrier with rats: he caught 'em by the throat, and when he did,
it was all up with them. Some of them made a grab for their knives, but
they had no time to use them. In a moment their eyes would seem to start
from their heads; and then, as he threw 'em away, they fell in a dead
lump. How long this went on I can't say,--some minutes, though,--when a
Mexican snatched the lasso, which every Mexican carries, from the saddle
of El Zeres' horse, and dropped the noose over Rube's neck. In another
moment he was lying half strangled upon the ground, and a dozen hands
bound his hands behind him and his feet together with cowhide thongs.
Then they stood looking at him as if he was some devil. And no wonder.
Seven Mexicans lay dead on the ground, and many more were lying panting
and bleeding around. The Mexicans are an active race of men, but not
strong--nothing like an average American,--and Rube at any time was a
giant even among us scouts; and in his rage he seemed to have ten times
his natural strength. El Zeres had never moved; and except shouting to
his men not to use their knives, he had taken no part whatever in
it--watching the struggle with that cruel smile, as if it had only been
a terrier attacked by rats. When it was over he mounted his horse, and
said to one of his lieutenants who was standing near: "I must go now. I
leave these men in your charge, Pedro. Fasten that one's hands behind
him; then take them inside. Put them in the inner room. Clear my things
out. Take ten picked men, and don't let any one in or out till I return.
I shall be back before daybreak. I shall amuse myself to-day with
thinking how I shall try the nerves of these Americanos. I can promise
you all a handsome amusement of some sort, anyhow." And he rode off.

'I have often faced death, and ain't afraid of it; but the unruffled
face and the cruel smile of that man made my flesh creep on my bones, as
I thought of what Rube and I had got to go through the next day. And
now,' Seth said, breaking off, 'it's getting late, and I haven't talked
such a heap for years. I will finish my yarn another night.'

Very warm were the young Hardys in their thanks to Seth for this
exciting story from his own experience, and great was the discussion
among themselves that arose as to how the two Americans could possibly
have made their escape from their terrible predicament.



CHAPTER VII.

SETH CONTINUES HIS NARRATIVE OF THE MEXICAN ADVENTURE.


The next evening the young Hardys again took their seats by Seth, and,
without any delay, he went on with his story.

'After El Zeres had ridden off, the lieutenant, Pedro, selected ten from
the men around,--for pretty well the whole camp had gathered round
us,--and told them, in the first place, to clear the house of the
hammock and other belongings of El Zeres, and when this was done, to
carry Rube in. Bound and helpless as he was, there was a visible
repugnance on the part of the men to touch him, so great was the fear
which his tremendous strength had excited. However, six of them took him
up and carried him into the hut--for it was little more--and threw him
down like a log in the inner room. I walked in of my own accord, and sat
down on the ground near him. I heard Pedro give orders to some of the
men outside to take away the dead bodies and bury them, and for the
rest to go down to their camp fires. Then he entered the house with his
other four men.

'The house was just the ordinary Mexican hut. It contained two rooms, or
rather, one room partially divided into two, the inner compartment
forming the sleeping-room of the family. There was no door between the
rooms, nor was there any window; the light entering through the wide
opening into the outer room. The outer room had no regular windows, only
some chinks or loopholes, through which a certain amount of light could
come; but these were stopped up with straw, for the Mexicans are a
chilly people; and as the door was always open, plenty of light came in
through it. The house was not built of adobé, as are most Mexican huts,
but of stones, with the interstices plastered with mud.

'Never in my life did I feel that the game was up as I did when I sat
down there and looked round. The men were seated on the ground in the
next room, in full view of us, and every now and then one walked in to
look at us. Helpless as we were, they had an uneasy doubt of what we
might do. Rube still lay at full length on the ground. For a quarter of
an hour I did not speak, as I thought it best to let him cool and quiet
down a bit; and I thought and thought, but I couldn't, for the life of
me, think out any plan of getting clear away. At last I thought I would
stir Rube up. "How do you feel, Rube?" "Well, I feel just about tired
out," Rube said; "just as if I had walked a hundred miles right on end.
I've been a fool again, Seth, sure enough; but I've given some of them
goss, that's a comfort. I'll just take a sleep for a few hours, and then
we'll see about this business. Hollo, there!" he shouted in Spanish;
"water." For a while no one attended to him; but he continued to shout,
and I joined him, so that the men in the next room were obliged to leave
off their talk to do as we wanted them. One of them got up and took a
large copper pan, filled it with water from a skin, and placed it down
between us; and then giving me a hearty kick--even then he did not dare
kick Rube--went back to his pillow. It took some trouble and much
rolling over before we could get so as to get our mouths over the pan to
drink. When we had satisfied our thirst we rolled over again, made
ourselves as comfortable as we could under the circumstances,--which
warn't saying much,--and in a short time were both asleep, for we had
only been four hours in bed for two nights. I was pretty well accustomed
to sleep on the ground, and I slept without waking for nearly seven
hours; for when I did so, I saw at once it was nearly sunset. I can't
say it was an agreeable waking, that; for I felt as if my shoulders were
out of joint, and that I had two bands of red-hot iron round my wrists.
My first move was to roll over and have another drink. Then I sat up
and looked round. Rube was sitting up, looking at me. "So you are awake,
Seth?" "Yes," said I. "Are you all right now, Rube?" "As right as can
be," Rube said in his ordinary cheerful tone; "except that I feel as if
a fellow was sawing away at my ankles and wrists with a blunt knife."
"That's about the state of my wrists," I said. "I don't mind my wrists
so much," he said; "it's my feet bothers me. I shall be such a time
before I can walk." "You needn't bother about that, Rube," said I. "It
isn't much more walking your feet have got to do." "I hope they've got
more to do than they've ever done yet, old hoss," Rube said; "at any
rate, they've got a good thirty miles to do to-night." "Are you in
earnest, Rube?" said I. "Never more so," said he. "All we've got to do
is to get away, and then tramp it." "How do you mean to get away, Rube?"
"Easy enough," Rube said carelessly. "Get our hands loose first, then
our legs, then kill them fellows and make tracks." Now it ain't very
often that I larf out. I don't suppose I've larfed right out three times
since I was a boy; but Rube's coolness tickled me so, that I larfed out
like a hyæna. When I began, Rube he began; and when he larfed, it was
tremendous. I don't think Rube knew what I war larfin' at; but he told
me afterwards he larfed to see me larf, which, in all the time we had
been together, he hadn't seen. What made us larf worse, was that the
Mexicans were so startled that they seized their rifles and rushed to
the doorway, and stood looking at us as if we were wild beasts. Keeping
the guns pointed at us, they walked round very carefully, and felt our
cords to see that they were all right; and finding they were, went back
into the next room, savage and rather scared. Our larfing made them
terribly uneasy, I could see; and they had an idea we couldn't have
larfed like that, if we hadn't some idea of getting away. When we had
done I said: "Now Rube, tell me what you have planned out, that is, if
you're downright in arnest." "In arnest!" says he, almost angry; "of
course I'm in arnest. Do you think I'm going to be fool enough to stop
here to be frizzled and sliced by that El Zeres to-morrow? No, it's just
as I said: we must get our hands free; we must kill all these fellows,
and be off." "But how are we to get our hands free, Rube?" "That's the
only point I can't make out," he said. "If these fellows would leave us
alone, it would be easy enough; we could gnaw through each other's
thongs in ten minutes; but they won't let us do that. All the rest is
easy enough. Just think it over, Seth." I did think it over, but I did
not see my way to getting rid of our thongs. That done, the rest was
possible enough. If we could get hold of a couple of rifles and take
them by surprise, so as to clear off four or five before they could get
fairly on their legs, I had little doubt that we could manage the rest.
No doubt they would shut the door as it got later, and it was possible
that the row might not be heard. If that was managed, I was sure we
could crawl through the lines, and get off. Yes, it was straightforward
enough if we could but get rid of our cords. As I was thinking it over,
my eye fell upon the pan of water. An idea came across me. "I don't
know, Rube, that it would stretch them enough to slip our hands out, but
if we could wet these hide thongs by dipping them in water, we might
stretch them a bit, anyhow, and ease them." "That would be something,
Seth, anyhow." We shuffled by turn, next to the pan, and leant back so
that our wrists were fairly in the water. The water relieved the pain,
and I could feel the thongs give a little, but it was only a little;
they had been tied too carefully and well, to render it possible to
unloose them. We came to this conclusion after an hour's straining, and
at the cost of no little pain. We agreed it was no use, and sat thinking
over what was the next thing to do, and taking it by turns to cool our
wrists. We did not altogether give up hope, as we agreed that we must
try, in the short intervals between the visits of the Mexicans, to untie
the knots of each other's cords with our teeth. It was possible,
anyhow, for the knots would draw pretty easy now that the leather was
wet. Suddenly an idea struck me. I squeezed myself back to the wall, and
leant against it. "It's all right, Rube," said I; "our cords are as good
as off." "How's that?" said Rube. "This wall is made of rough stones,
Rube, and there are plenty of sharp edges sticking out through the mud.
They will cut through these wet thongs like knives." "Hoorah!" shouted
Rube at the top of his voice, with a yell that startled the Mexicans
from their seats again, and then he commenced thundering out one of the
songs the soldiers used to sing on the march. Several Mexicans came
running up from the camp to ask if anything was the matter, Rube's yell
having reached their ears. They were told it was only those mad
Americanos amusing themselves, and with many angry threats of the
different sort of yells we should give next day, they sauntered off
again. "That's rather a good thing," Rube said to me when he stopped
making a noise. "If any sound of the little fight we are going to have
here reaches the camp, they will put it down to us shouting for our
amusement." By this time it had become perfectly dark, and the guard
lighted a fire in the middle of the room in which they sat. A pile of
wood had been brought in for the purpose, and when the smoke had a
little abated, the door was shut and barred. Every three or four
minutes one of the men would take a lighted brand and come in to see
that we were not near to each other, and that all was secure. "What time
shall we begin, Seth?" Rube asked. "In another hour or so," I said; "by
eight. They will be gambling and quarrelling round the fire by nine
o'clock; and the talk, and the noise of the horses, will prevent them
hearing anything here. We must not think of going out for two hours
later, and even then they won't be all asleep; but we dare not put it
off later, for El Zeres may come back earlier than he said he should,
and if he does, it's all up with us. Let's arrange our plans for good, I
said, and then we can each sit up against a corner and pretend to go to
sleep. When I am going to cut my cord I will give a very little cough,
and then you do the same when you are free. We had better do that before
very long, for you will be a long time before you will get any feeling
in your feet. Rub them as hard as you can; but you can't do that till
you get the use of your hands. When you are quite ready, snore gently;
I'll answer in the same way if I am ready. Then we will keep quiet till
the fellow comes in again, and the moment he is gone let us both creep
forward: choose a time when the fire is burning low. You creep round
your side of the room; I will keep mine, till we meet in the corner
where the rifles are piled. We must then open the pans, and shake all
the powder out, and, when that is done, each take hold of one by the
barrel and hit. Do you quite understand and agree?" "Quite, Seth. Is
there anything else?" "Yes," I said; "you take the door, I will take the
corner where the arms are. We must try and keep them from coming within
arm's reach to use their knives; but if either of us are hard pressed he
must call, and the other must come to him." "All right, old hoss, I long
to be at work." "So do I," I said. "And now don't let's have any more
talk; shut your eyes, and keep quiet till I cough." The men were engaged
now in talking over the deeds in which they had been engaged, and so
revolting and cold-blooded were the atrocities of which they boasted,
that I longed for the time when Rube and I should fall upon them. In
half an hour I gave the signal. I had picked out a sharp stone in a
convenient position, and it was not a minute before I felt the coil of
cords loosen with a sudden jerk, and knew that I was free. I found my
hands were completely numbed, and it was a long time before I could
restore the circulation. It must have been a good half hour before Rube
gave the signal that he had got the cords that bound his ankles
loosened, as of course he could not begin at them until he had the free
use of his hands. As I had anticipated, the visits of our guards were
rather less frequent now that they believed us to be asleep.
Fortunately, the din and talk in the next room was now loud and
incessant, which enabled Rube to rub, and even stamp his feet a little.
In half an hour I heard a snore, which I answered. The moment the next
visit was over, I crawled to the door, and then, lying pretty nigh on my
stomach, crept round to where the rifles were piled. The fire was
burning low, and the guard were sitting so closely round it, that the
lower part of the room was in black shadow; so that, though I was
looking out for Rube, I didn't see him till he was close enough to touch
me. It was a delicate job opening all the pans, but we did it without
making as much noise as would scare a deer, and then, each taking a
rifle by the barrel, we were ready. Pedro was just telling a story of
how he had forced an old man to say where his money was hid, by
torturing his daughters before his eyes, and how, when he had told his
secret, and the money was obtained, he had fastened them up, and set the
house a-light,--a story which was received with shouts of approving
laughter. As he finished, down came the butt of Rube's rifle on his head
with a squelch, while mine did the same on the head of the next man. For
an instant there was a pause of astonishment, for no one knew exactly
what had happened; then there was a wild yell of surprise and fear, as
our rifles came down again with a crashing thud. All leapt to their
feet, the man I aimed my next blow at rolling over, and just escaping
it. Rube was more lucky, and just got his man as he was rising. "Hoorah!
Seth," he shouted, "five down out of eleven." We drew back now to our
posts as agreed on, and the Mexicans drawing their knives, made a rush
forward. They ain't cowards, the Mexicans--I will say that for them; and
when these fellows found they were caught like rats in a trap, they
fought desperately. They knew there was no mercy to expect from Rube and
me. They divided, and three came at each of us. Two went down as if they
were shot, and I was just whirling my rifle for another blow, when I
heard a crash, and then a shout from Rube, "Help, Seth!" I saw at once
what had happened. Rube's rifle, as he was making a blow at a man, had
struck a beam over his head, and the shock had made it fly from his
hands across the room. In another moment the two Mexicans were upon him
with their knives. He hit out wildly, but he got a gash across the
forehead and another on the arm in a moment. I made two strides across
the hut, and the Mexicans who were attacking me, instead of trying to
prevent me, made a rush to the corner where their rifles were, which I
had left unguarded. It was a fatal mistake. My gun came down crash upon
the head of one of Rube's assailants before he knew of my approach, and
another minute did for the second. As I turned from him the remaining
two Mexicans levelled at Rube, who had rushed across to pick up his gun,
and myself, and gave a cry as the flints fell and there was no report.
For a minute or two they fought desperately with the guns; but it was no
use, and it was soon over, and we stood the masters of the hut, with
eleven dead men round us. For they were dead every one, for we examined
them. The stocks of our guns had broken with the first blow, and the
rest had been given with the iron, and in no case had we to hit twice. I
don't say it was anything like Samson and the donkey's jaw-bone you were
telling me about, but it war very fair hitting. It was scarcely over
when we heard several men come running up outside. "Is anything the
matter, Pedro? We thought we heard a yell." "No, nothing," I said,
imitating Pedro's gruff voice, which I felt sure they would not know
through the door; "it's only these mad Americanos yelling." The men were
apparently quite satisfied with the explanation, for in a minute or two
we heard their voices receding, and then all became still. Presently we
opened the door and looked out. Many of the fires had begun to burn low,
but round others there was still a sound of laughing and singing.
"Another hour," Rube said, "and they will all be asleep." We threw some
more wood on the fire, took some tobacco and cigaret paper from the
pocket of one of the Mexicans, and sat down to smoke comfortably. We
were both plaguey anxious, and couldn't pretend we warn't, for at any
moment that rascal El Zeres might arrive, and then it would be all up
with us. At last we agreed that we could not stand it any longer, and
made up our minds to go outside and sit down against the wall of the hut
till it was safe to make a start, and then if we heard horses coming in
the distance we could make a move at once. We each took a hat and cloak,
a brace of pistols, and a rifle, and went out. There we sat for another
hour, till the camp got quiet enough to make the attempt. Even then we
could hear by the talking that many of the men were still awake, but we
dared not wait any longer, for we calculated that it must be near eleven
o'clock already. We chose a place where the fires had burned lowest, and
where everything was quiet, and, crawling along upon the ground, we were
soon down among the horses. We had been too long among the Indians to
have a bit of fear about getting through these fellows; and, lying on
our faces, we crawled along, sometimes almost touching them, for they
lay very close together, but making no more noise than two big snakes.
A quarter of an hour of this and we were through them, and far enough
out on the plain to be able to get up on to our feet and break into a
long stride. Ten more minutes and we broke into a run: there was no fear
now of our steps being heard. "Done them, by thunder!" Rube said; "won't
El Zeres curse?" We might have been a mile and a half from the camp,
when in the quiet night air we heard the sound of the howl of a dog. We
both stopped as if we were shot. "Thunder!" Rube exclaimed furiously,
"if we haven't forgot the bloodhound." I knew what Rube meant, for it
was a well-known matter of boast of El Zeres that no one could ever
escape him, for that his bloodhound would track them to the end of the
world. "There's only one thing to be done," I said; "we must go back and
kill that critter." "Wait, Seth," Rube said; "we don't know where the
darned brute is kept. He warn't up at the hut, and we might waste an
hour in finding him, and when we did, he ain't a critter to be wiped out
like a babby." "We must risk it, Rube," I said. "It's all up with us if
he's once put on our track." Rube made no answer, and we turned towards
the camp. We hadn't gone twenty yards, when Rube said, "Listen." I
listened, and sure enough I could hear out on the plain ahead a low
trampling. There was no need of any more talk. We ran forward as hard
as we could go, turning a little out of our course to let the horsemen
who were coming pass us. "In another quarter of an hour they'll know all
about it, Rube. It will take them as much more to get ready and put the
dog on the track. They'll have some trouble in getting him to take up
our scent with all that blood in the room. I should say we may fairly
reckon on three-quarters of an hour before they're well out of the
camp." "That's about it," Rube said. "They will have to tie the dog, so
as not to lose him in the darkness. They won't gain on us very fast for
the next two hours; we can keep this up for that at a pinch. After that,
if we don't strike water, we are done for." "We passed a stream
yesterday, Rube; how far was it back?" "About an hour after daylight.
Yes, nearly three hours from camp. But we are going faster now than we
did then. We ought to do it in two hours." After this, we didn't say any
more. We wanted all our breath. It was well for us we had both been
tramping half our lives, and that our legs had saved our necks more
times than once on the prairies. We were both pretty confident we could
run sixteen miles in two hours. But we dared not run straight. We knew
that if they found we were keeping a line, they would let the dog go
their best pace and gallop alongside; so we had to zigzag, sometimes
going almost back upon our own track. We did not do this so often as we
should have done if we had had more time.'

'But how did you know which way to go, Seth?' Hubert asked.

'We went by the stars,' Seth said. 'It was easier than it would have
been by day, for when the sun's right overhead, it ain't a very
straightforward matter to know how you are going; but there would be no
difficulty then to scouts like Rube and me. Well, we had run, may-be, an
hour and a quarter when we heard a faint, short bark far behind. "The
brute is on our trail," Rube said; "they haven't given us so much start
as I looked for. Another half hour and he will be at our heels sure
enough." I felt this was true, and felt very bad-like for a bit. In
another quarter of an hour the bark was a good bit nearer, and we
couldn't go no faster than we were going. All of a sudden I said to
Rube, "Rube, I've heard them dogs lose their smell if they taste blood.
Let's try it; it's our only chance. Here, give me a cut in the arm, I
can spare it better than you can; you lost a lot to-night from that
cut." We stopped a minute. I tore off the sleeve of my hunting shirt,
and then Rube gave me a bit of a cut on the arm. I let the blood run
till the sleeve was soaked and dripping, then Rube tore off a strip from
his shirt and bandaged my arm up tight. We rolled the sleeve in a ball
and threw it down, then took a turn, made a zigzag or two to puzzle the
brute, and then went on our line again. For another ten minutes we could
hear the barking get nearer and nearer, and then it stopped all of a
sudden. On we went, and it was half an hour again before we heard it,
and then it was a long way off. "I expect we're all right now, Seth,"
Rube said. "I guess we are," I said; "but the sooner we strike water,
the better I shall be pleased." It was nigh another half hour, and we
were both pretty nigh done, when we came upon the stream, and the dog
couldn't have been more than a mile off. It was a bit of a thing five or
six yards wide, and a foot or two deep in the middle. "Which way?" says
Rube. "Up's our nearest way, so we had better go down." "No, no," says
I; "they're sure to suspect that we shall try the wrong course to throw
them off, so let's take the right." Without another word up stream we
went, as hard as we could run. In a few minutes we heard the dog stop
barking, when we might have been half a mile up stream. "We must get out
of this, Rube," I said. "Whichever way they try with the dog, they are
safe to send horsemen both ways." "Which side shall we get out, Seth?"
"It don't matter," I said; "it's all a chance which side they take the
dog. Let's take our own side." Out we got; and we hadn't ran a quarter
of a mile before we heard a tramping of horses coming along by the
stream. We stopped to listen, for we knew if they had the dog with them,
and if he was on our side of the river, we were as good as dead. "If
they take the trail, Seth," Rube said, "it's all up with us. Don't let's
run any more. We are men enough to shoot the four first who come up, and
I only hope one of them may be El Zeres; that'll leave us a pistol each,
and we will keep them for ourselves. Better do that, by a long way, than
be pulled to pieces with hot pinchers." "A long way, Rube," I said.
"That's agreed, then. When I give the word, put the barrel against your
eye and fire; that's a pretty safe shot." As the Mexicans got to the
place where we had got out, we stopped and held our breath. There was no
pause,--on they went; another minute, and we felt certain they had
passed the spot. "Saved, by thunder!" Rube said; and we turned and went
off at a steady trot that we could keep up for hours. "How long shall we
get, do you think, Seth?" "That all depends how long they follow down
stream. They can't tell how far we are ahead. I should think they will
go two miles down; then they will cross the stream and come back; and if
they don't happen to be on the right side of the stream as they pass
where we got out, they will go up another two or three miles, and near
as much down, before they strike the trail. We're pretty safe of half
an hour's start, and we might get, if we're lucky, near an hour. We
ain't safe yet, Rube, by a long way. It's near thirty miles from
Pepita's to the camp. We've come sixteen of it good--eighteen I should
say; we have got another twelve to the road, and we ain't safe then. No;
our only chance is to come across a hacienda and get horses. There are a
good many scattered about; but it's so dark, we might pass within fifty
yards and not see it. There won't be a streak of daylight till four, and
it ain't two yet." "Not far off, Seth." By this time we had got our wind
again, and quickened up into a fast swing; but our work had told on us,
and we couldn't have gone much over seven miles an hour. Several times,
as we went on, we could hear a trampling in the dark, and knew that we
had scared some horses; but though we had a lasso we had brought with
us, we might as well have tried to catch a bird with it. In an hour we
heard the dog again, but it was a long way behind. There was nothing for
it now but hard running, and we were still seven miles from the road,
and even that didn't mean safety. I began to think we were going to lose
the race, after all. In another quarter of an hour we stopped suddenly.
"Thunder!" said Rube; "what's that?" Some animal, that had been lying
down, got up just in front of us. "It's a horse! Your lasso, Rube!"
Rube, however, had made a tremendous rush forward, and, before the
animal could stretch himself into a gallop, had got close, and grasped
him by the mane. "It's no go," Rube said, as the horse made a step
forward; "he's an old un, dead lame." "Don't leave go, Rube," I said.
"He'll do for our turn." He was a miserable old beast, but I felt that
he would do as well as the best horse in the world for us. Rube saw my
meaning, and in a minute we were both astride on his back. He tottered,
and I thought he'd have gone down on his head. Kicking weren't of no
good; so I out with my knife and gave him a prod, and off we went. It
weren't far, some two hundred yards or so, but it was the way I wanted
him, right across the line we were going. Then down he tumbled. "All
right," said I. "You've done your work, old man; but you mustn't lay
here, or they may light upon you and guess what's been up." So we lugged
him on to his feet, gave him another prod, which sent him limping off;
and on we went on our course, sure that we were at last safe, for we had
thrown the bloodhound altogether off our trail. For a mile or so we kept
right away from our course, for fear that they should keep straight on,
and, missing the scent, lead the dog across the trail, and so pick it up
again; then we turned and made straight for the road. "I don't think,
Rube," I said after a while, "that we shall strike the road far off
where we left it at Pepita's." "No, I expect not, Seth. We had better
bear a little more to the south, for they will most likely make for
Pepita's, and day will soon be breaking now." "We'd better not strike
the road at all, Rube; likely enough, they will follow it down for a few
miles in hopes of picking us up." "I hope they will," Rube said; "and I
expect so. Won't it be a lark, just?" "What do you mean, Rube?" "Mean?
Why, didn't the Cap tell us to leave San Miguel before daybreak, and to
ride to meet him? It warn't likely that he meant us to ride more than
ten miles or so; so that he will be within that distance of San Miguel
by an hour after daybreak, and will be at Pepita's half an hour later.
If them fellows ride on, they are safe to fall into as nice a trap
as----" "Jehoshophat!" said I. "You're right, Rube. Let's make tracks.
It can't be more than another four or five miles to the road, and day
will break in half an hour." "How strong do you reckon them, Seth?"
"Fifty or sixty," said I, "by the regular sound of the horses." "That's
about what I guessed," Rube said. "There are forty of our chaps, and
they will be fresh. We'll give 'em goss."

'We had now long ceased to hear the baying of the dog, which had been
most unpleasantly clear when we got off the old hoss that had done us
such a good turn. We made sure, too, that we were well ahead, for they
would likely wait an hour in trying to pick up the trail again. Daylight
came at last; and when it was light enough to see, we stopped and took a
look from a slight rise, and there, across the plain, we could see the
road just where we expected. Nothing was moving upon it, nor, looking
back, could we see any sign of the Mexicans. Away to the left, a mile or
so, we could see a clump of trees, and something like the roof of a
house among them. This, we had no doubt, was Pepita's. About a mile down
the road the other way was a biggish wood, through which the road ran.
"Let's make for that wood, Rube, and wait; the Cap will be up in another
half hour, and it ain't likely the Mexicans will be along much before
that. They're likely to stop for a drink at Pepita's." In another ten
minutes we were in shelter in the wood, taking care not to get upon the
road, in case the Mexicans should come along with the hound before our
men. We hadn't been there twenty minutes before we both heard a
trampling of horses; but it was a minute or two more before we could
decide which way they were coming. At last, to our great comfort, we
found it was the right way. Just before they came up, I had an idea I
caught a sound from the other way, but I couldn't have sworn to it. We
lay till the troop came fairly up, as it might be another party of
Mexicans; but it was all right, and we jumped out, with a cheer, into
the middle of them. Mighty surprised they were to see us, on foot, and
all dust and sweat. Rube's face, too, was tied up; and altogether we
didn't look quite ourselves. They all began to talk at once; but I held
up my hand urgent, and, when they saw it was something particular, they
shut up, and I said to the Cap: "Don't ask no questions, Cap; I'll tell
you all arterwards. El Zeres with about fifty of his men will be here in
about three minutes, I reckon. They've ridden thirty miles, and the
beasts ain't fresh; so it's your own fault if one gets away." The Cap
didn't waste a moment in words. He ordered half his men to ride back two
hundred yards, and to charge when they heard his whistle; and he and the
rest turned off into the wood, which was very thick, and screened 'em
from any one passing. Rube and I, not having horses, were no good for a
charge; so we went on in the wood, as near as we could guess, half-way
between them, so as to be ready to jump out and join in the skrimmage.
It all takes some time to tell, but it didn't take two minutes to do,
and in another minute we could hear the Mexicans close. On they came: we
knew now that they had passed the Cap, and we clutched our rifles tight
and peered out through the leaves. On they came, and we could see El
Zeres riding first, with the bloodhound trotting along by the side of
his horse. Just as he was opposite, we heard a loud, shrill whistle,
and the Mexicans halted with a look of uneasiness. They weren't left to
wonder long, for in a moment there was a trampling of horses, and down
came our fellows on both sides of them. Just before they got up we
stepped forward with our rifles up. "El Zeres!" Rube shouted; and
startled as the Mexican was, he looked round. He had just time to see
who it was, when Rube's ball hit him in the head, and down he went as
dead as a stone. The hound turned and came right at us with a deep growl
of rage. I sent a ball through his chest and rolled him over, and just
as I did so our fellows came down upon the Mexicans. It was a fierce
fight, for the Mexicans were in a trap, and knew that there was no mercy
for them. Rube and I sprang out, and paid a good many of 'em off for the
scare they had given us. We wiped them right out to the last man, losing
only six ourselves. I don't know as ever I see a better skrimmage while
it lasted. After it was over, Rube and I mounted two of their horses,
and rode on with the rest of them to San Miguel; but before we started
off we told our story to the Cap, and he sent a couple of men back with
a despatch to the general, asking for five hundred men to destroy El
Zeres' band at a blow. We stopped at Pepita's, and I never see a girl
have a much worse scare than we gave her. She made sure it was El
Zeres, and came running out to see if he had caught us; and when she
found that she had fallen into the hands of the Rangers, and that we
were among them, she was as white as a shirt in a minute. She was plucky
enough, though; for as soon as she could get her tongue, she cursed us
like a wild woman. I expect she made sure we should have shot her for
her treachery,--and a good many of our bands would have done so right on
end,--but the Rangers never touched women. However, she warn't to go
scot free; so we got fire, and set the house and stable in a blaze. As
we rode off Rube shouted out, "If you change your mind again about
coming with me to Missouri, you just drop me a line, Pepita." I thought,
as I looked at her, it was lucky for Rube she hadn't a rifle in her
hand; she'd have shot him if she had been hung for it a minute
afterwards. We rode on to San Miguel, took Col. Cabra prisoner, with his
papers, and sent him back under an escort. At dusk the same day we got
on our horses and rode back to where Pepita's house had stood, and where
our captain expected the troops he had sent for. In half an hour they
came up. They had a couple of hours to rest their horses, and then Rube
and I led them straight to the Mexican camp. No doubt they heard us
coming when we were close, but made sure it was El Zeres, and so didn't
disturb themselves; and it warn't till we had wheeled round and fairly
surrounded them that they smelt a rat. But it was too late then, for in
another minute we were down upon them, and I don't believe twenty out of
the whole lot got away. It was, altogether, one of the most successful
businesses in the whole war. And I think that's about all the story.'

'Oh, thank you very much, Seth. It is a most exciting story. And what
became of Rube?'

'Rube married a year after we got back to the States, and took up a
clearing and settled down. It was then I felt lonesome, and made up my
mind to go south for a while. I promised Rube that I would go and settle
down by him after a bit, and I've concluded that it's about time to do
so. I've saved a few hundred dollars out here, and I am going to start
to-morrow morning at daybreak to catch the steamer at Rosario. I shall
go up straight from Buenos Ayres to New Orleans, and a steamer will take
me up the river in three days to Rube's location. Good-bye, all of you.
I told your father this afternoon.'

There was a hearty leave-taking, and many expressions of regret at his
leaving; and after a shake of the hand, and many good wishes, the young
Hardys went up to the house, really sorry to part with their Yankee
friend.



CHAPTER VIII.

FARM WORK AND AMUSEMENTS.


Although but two months had elapsed since the ground was ploughed up and
planted, the progress made by the crop of maize and pumpkins was
surprising: the former, especially, was now nearly six feet high. This
rapid growth was the result of the extreme fertility of the virgin soil,
aided by the late abundant supply of water, and the heat of the sun. The
maize had given them all a great deal to do; for, when it was about six
inches high, it had to be thinned out so that the plants were nine or
ten inches apart. This had been done by the united strength of the
party, Mr. Hardy and the boys working for two hours each morning, and as
much in the evening. The girls also had assisted, and the peons had
worked the whole day, except from eleven to three, when the heat was too
great even for them. Many hands make light work, and in consequence the
whole ground under maize cultivation was thinned in little over a week.
Latterly the maize had grown so fast that the boys declared they could
almost see it grow, and, at the end of two months after sowing, it was
all in flower. The maize, or Indian corn, strongly resembles water
rushes in appearance, and the feathery blossom also resembles that of
the rush. Indian corn forms the main article of food in South America,
and in all but the northern states of North America. It is equally
useful and common in India, and in other tropical countries. Scarcely
less is it used in Italy, and other parts of southern Europe. It was
first introduced into Europe from the East by the great family of
Polenta, who ruled the important town of Ravenna for nearly two hundred
years. Ground maize is still called Polenta throughout Italy; and the
great family will live in the name of the useful cereal they introduced,
when all memory of their warlike deeds is lost except to the learned.

One evening when Mr. Hardy, with his wife and children, was strolling
down in the cool of the evening to look with pleasure upon the bright
green of their healthy and valuable crops, Hubert said:

'Isn't Indian corn, papa, the great yellow heads covered with grain-like
beads one sees in corn-dealers' shops in England?'

'Yes, Hubert.'

'Well, if that is so, I cannot make out how those long delicate stems
can bear the weight. They bend over like corn to every puff of wind. It
does not seem possible that they could bear a quarter of the weight of
their heavy yellow heads.'

'Nor could they, Hubert; but nature has made a wise and very
extraordinary provision for this difficulty. All other plants and trees
with which I am acquainted, have their fruits or seeds where the blossom
before grew. In maize it is placed in an entirely different part of the
plant. In a very short time you will see--indeed you may see now in most
of the plants--the stalk begin to thicken at a foot or eighteen inches
from the ground, and in a little time it will burst; and the head of
maize, so enveloped in leaves that it looks a mere bunch of them, will
come forth. It will for a time grow larger and larger, and then the
plant will wither and die down to the place from which the head springs.
The part that remains will dry up until the field appears covered with
dead stumps, with bunches of dead leaves at the top. Then it is ready
for the harvest.'

'What a strange plant, papa! I quite long for the time when the heads
will come out. What are you going to plant upon that bit of land you
have got ready for sowing now? It is about six acres.'

'I mean to plant cotton there, Hubert. I have sent to Buenos Ayres for
seeds of what are called Carolina Upland, and I expect them here in a
few days.'

'But it takes a great deal of labour, does it not, papa?'

'The calculation in the Northern States, Hubert, is that one man can
cultivate eight acres of cotton, assisted by his wife and children at
certain periods; and that as his labour is not always required, he can
with his family cultivate another eight or ten acres of other produce;
so that about half of a peon's labour will be required, and in the
hoeing and picking time we can all help.'

'Is not machinery required to separate the seeds from the cotton?'
Charley asked.

'It is not absolutely necessary, Charley, although it is of course
economical when the cultivation is carried on upon a large scale. The
variety I am going to try is sometimes called "bowed" Carolina, because
it used to be cleaned by placing it upon a number of strings stretched
very tight, which were struck with a sort of bow, and the vibration
caused the seed to separate from the cotton. I have a drawing of one of
these contrivances in a book up at the house, and when the time comes,
you boys shall make me one. It will be work for us to do indoors when
the weather is too hot to be out. Of course if I find that it succeeds,
and pays well, I shall take on more hands, get proper machinery, and
extend the cultivation. I intend to plant the rows rather wide apart, so
as to use the light plough with the ridge boards between them, instead
of hoeing, to save labour.'

'How much cotton do they get from an acre?' Mrs. Hardy asked.

'In the Southern States they expect twelve hundred pounds upon new
ground,--that is, twelve hundred pounds of pods, which make about three
hundred of cleaned cotton. When I have got the cotton fairly in the
ground, I mean to plant an acre or two of tobacco, and the same quantity
of sugar-cane, as an experiment. But before I do that, we must make a
garden up at the house: that is a really urgent need.'

'Couldn't we grow rice here, papa?'

'No doubt we could, Hubert; but I do not mean to try it. To succeed with
rice, we should have to keep the ground on which it grew in a state of
swamp, which would be very unhealthy. That is why I do not irrigate the
fields oftener than is absolutely necessary. Anything approaching
swampy, or even wet lands, in a climate like this, would be almost
certain to breed malaria. Besides, we should be eaten alive by
mosquitoes. No, I shall certainly not try rice. Other tropical
productions I shall some day give a trial to. Ginger, vanilla, and other
things would no doubt flourish here. I do not believe that any of them
would give an extraordinary rate of profit, for though land is cheap,
labour is scarce. Still it would be interesting, and would cause a
little variety and amusement in our work, which is always an important
point, and no doubt there would be generally some profit, though
occasionally we may make a total failure.'

Very often at daybreak the girls would go down with their brothers to
the river, and watch the waterfowl on its surface; they were so amusing
as they dabbled and played in the water, unsuspicious of danger. Their
favourites, though, were the beautiful scarlet flamingoes, with their
slender legs, and their long, graceful necks, and whose great employment
seemed to be to stand quiet in the water, where it was only two or three
inches deep, and to preen their glossy red feathers. Over and over again
the girls wished that they could get a few waterfowl, especially
flamingoes, to tame them, in order that they might swim on the dam pond
and come and be fed; and the boys had several talks with each other as
to the most practicable way of capturing some of them. At last they
thought of making a sort of enclosure of light boughs, with an entrance
into which birds could easily pass, but through which they could not
easily return, and to scatter grain up to and into the enclosure, to
entice the birds to enter. On explaining this plan to Mr. Hardy, he
said that he had no doubt that it would succeed in capturing birds, but
that when caught it would be impossible to tame full-grown wild fowl,
and that the only plan was to find their nests, and take the eggs or
very young birds. This they determined to do; and as the bushes close to
the river were too thick to permit an examination from the shore, they
started one morning early, and, going down to the river, entered it, and
waded along for a considerable distance. They discovered two swans'
nests, and several of different descriptions of ducks. In some the birds
were sitting upon their eggs, in others the young brood were just
hatched, and scuttled away into the bushes with the parent birds upon
being disturbed.

Charley and Hubert made no remark at breakfast upon the success of their
expedition; but when Charley went two days after to Rosario, he procured
from Mr. Percy, who kept a quantity of chickens, two sitting hens. These
were placed with their nests in the bullock-cart in a hamper; and Mrs.
Hardy, who had no idea of the purpose to which they were to be put, was
quite pleased, on their arrival at Mount Pleasant, at this addition to
the stock. Indeed it had been long agreed that they would keep hens as
soon as the maize was ripe. The next morning the boys went again, and
brought back twenty eggs of various kinds of wild duck, including four
swans' eggs,--to obtain which they had to shoot the parent birds, which
furnished the larder for days,--which they placed under the hens in
place of their own eggs, and then took the girls in triumph to see this
commencement of their tame duck project. The little girls were
delighted, and it was an immense amusement to them to go down constantly
to see if the eggs were hatched, as of course no one could tell how long
they had been sat upon previous to being taken. They had remarked that
four of the eggs were much larger than the others, but had no idea that
they were swans'. In the course of a few days six of the young ducklings
were hatched, and the hens were both so unhappy at their difficulty of
continuing to sit while they had the care of their young ones on their
mind, that one hen and all the little ones were removed to a distance
from the other's nest, and the whole of the eggs were put under the
remaining hen. The four swans and five more ducks were safely hatched,
when the hen refused to sit longer, and the remaining eggs were lost.
Now that the swans were safely hatched, the boys told their sisters what
they really were, and their delight was extreme.

In a few days they were all taken down to the dam, and soon found their
way into the water, to the great distress of their foster mother, who
was obliged to stand upon the bank calling in vain till the little ones
chose to come ashore. A hencoop was soon knocked together from an old
box, and this was placed near the dam, and ere long the hens became
accustomed to the fancy of their charges for the water, and would walk
about picking up insects while the little ones swam about on the pond.
Twice a day the girls went down to feed them with grain and bits of
boiled pumpkin,--for the pumpkins soon began to come into bearing,--and
the ducklings and cygnets, which last were at present but little larger
than the others, would swim rapidly towards them when they saw them, and
would feed greedily out of their hands.

It was not for some weeks later that the desire for young flamingoes was
gratified. The boys had been out for a ride, and coming upon the river
where it was wide, with flat sandy banks, round which the timber grew,
they determined to tie up their horses and enter the stream, to see if
they could get some more eggs. With some difficulty they made their way
through the bushes, and, getting into the water, waded along until a
turn in the river brought them in sight of the flat bank. There were
some twenty or thirty flamingoes upon it, for these birds are very
gregarious. Some were standing in the water as usual, but the boys could
not make out what some of the others were doing. On the flat shore were
several heaps of earth, and across them some of the birds were
apparently sitting with one leg straddling out each side. So comical was
their aspect, that the boys burst into a laugh, which so scared the
flamingoes that they all took flight instantly. The boys now waded up to
the spot, and then got ashore to see what these strange heaps were for.
To their great delight they found that they were nests, and upon the top
of several of them were eight or nine eggs carefully arranged. The legs
of the flamingo are so long, that the bird is unable to double them up
and sit upon his nest in the usual fashion. The hen bird therefore
scrapes together a pile of earth, on the top of which she lays her eggs,
and then places herself astride to keep them warm. The boys had an
argument whether they should take away two nests entire, or whether they
should take a few eggs from each nest; but they decided upon the former
plan, in order that each of the young broods might be hatched
simultaneously. Upon the boys reaching home with their treasure, their
sisters' delight was unbounded, and the hens were soon placed upon their
new charges, and, both being good sitters, took to them without much
difficulty.

When the young broods were hatched, the girls were greatly disappointed
at the appearance of little greyish, fluffy balls, instead of the lovely
red things they had expected, and were by no means consoled when their
father told them that it would be three or four years before they gained
their beautiful colour. However they became great pets, and were very
droll, with their long legs, and slender necks, and great curved bills.
They became extremely tame, and would, after a time, follow the girls
about, and stalk up to the house of their own accord to be fed, their
food always being placed in water, as they never feed by picking upon
the ground, for which, indeed, the peculiar construction of their beak
is entirely unfitted. They were perfectly fearless of the dogs, which,
on their part, were too well trained to touch them; and their funny way
and their extreme tameness were a source of constant amusement to the
whole family.

But we must now retrace our steps. After the important work of getting a
certain amount of land under cultivation, the next most urgent business
was the formation of a garden. The land inside the enclosure round the
house was first ploughed up, and then dug by hand, the turf being left
in front of the house to serve as a lawn. The rest was planted with
seeds brought from England,--peas, beans, tomatoes, vegetable marrows,
cucumbers, melons, and many others, some of which were natives of warm
climates, while others were planted in small patches as an experiment.
Fortunately, the well supplied an abundance of water, whose only
drawback was that, like most water upon the Pampas, it had a strong
saline taste, which was, until they had become accustomed to it, very
disagreeable to the Hardys. As the well had been dug close to the house
on the highest part of the slope, the water was conducted from the pump
by small channels all over the garden; and the growth of the various
vegetables was surprising. But long before these could come into
bearing, a welcome supply was afforded by the yams and Indian corn. The
yams resemble a sweet potato; and if the Indian corn is gathered green,
and the little corns nibbed off, boiled, and mixed with a little butter,
they exactly resemble the most delicate and delicious young peas.

The young potatoes, too, had come in, so that they had now an abundance
of vegetables, the only point in which they had before been deficient.
Their drink was the matè, which may be termed the national beverage of
Paraguay, Brazil, and the Argentine Republic. It is made from the leaves
of the matè yuba, a plant which grows in Paraguay and Brazil. The
natives generally drink it without sugar or milk, sucking it up from the
vessel in which it is made, through a small tube. It is, however,
greatly improved by the addition of sugar and milk, or, better still,
cream. This greatly softens the bitter taste which distinguishes it.
None of the party liked it at first; but as they were assured by those
in the country that they would like it when they became accustomed to
it, they persevered, and after a time all came to prefer it even to tea.

Occasionally one or other of the boys went over to Rosario with the
cart, and Mr. Hardy bought some hundreds of young fruit trees,--apple,
pear, plum, apricot, and peach,--some of which were planted in the
garden at the sides and in rear of the house, others in the open beyond
and round it; a light fence with one wire being put up to keep the
cattle from trespassing. Clumps of young palms, bananas, and other
tropical trees and shrubs, were also planted about for the future
adornment of the place. Fences were erected round the cultivated ground,
and an enclosure was made, into which the cattle were driven at night.
These fences were easily and cheaply made. The wire cost little more at
Rosario than it would have done in England, and the chief trouble was
bringing the posts, which were made of algaroba wood, from the town.
This wood grows abundantly upon the upper river, and is there cut down
and floated in great rafts down to Rosario. It is a tough wood, which
splits readily, and is therefore admirably suited for posts. It is of a
reddish colour, and has a pretty grain when polished. All the furniture
was made of it; and this, from constant rubbing by Sarah and the girls,
now shone brightly, and had a very good effect.

The ceilings were now put to the rooms, which were greatly improved in
appearance thereby, and the difference in temperature was very marked. A
very short time after the capture of the wild fowl's eggs, it was
unanimously agreed that chickens were indispensable, and a large
hen-house was accordingly built at a short distance from the dam, as it
was considered as well not to have any buildings, with the exception of
the men's hut, near the house. The hen-house was quickly built, as it
was a mere framework covered with felt, with bats across it for the
fowls to perch upon.

The floor was made, as that of the house had been, of lime and clay
beaten hard; and a small cut was made to the dam, by which water could,
at will, be turned over the floor to keep it clean and neat. The next
time the cart went to Rosario it brought back fifty fowls, which had
only cost a few dollars. Henceforth eggs and omelettes became a regular
part of the breakfast, and the puddings were notably improved.

The chickens gave very little trouble, as they foraged about for
themselves, finding an abundance of insects everywhere, and getting in
addition a few pots of Indian corn every morning. Maud and Ethel took it
by turns, week about, to take charge of the hen-house; and a great
pleasure was it to them to watch the numerous broods of young chickens,
and to hunt up the eggs which, in spite of the nests temptingly prepared
for them, the hens would frequently persist in laying in nests of their
own in the long grass.

The hens had, however, a numerous foe, who were a great trouble to their
young mistresses. These were the skunks, an animal of the weasel tribe,
but much resembling squirrels in appearance, and possessing a most
abominable smell; so much so, that the dogs, who would attack almost
anything, would run away from them. They were at first exceedingly
common, and created terrible depredations among the hens. The girls were
in despair, and called in their brothers to their assistance. The boys
shot a good many, for the animals were very tame and fearless; but their
number was so great that this method of destruction was of slight avail.
They then prepared traps of various kinds--some made by an elastic stick
bent down, with a noose at the end, placed at a small entrance left
purposely in the hen-house, so that, when the skunk was about to enter,
he touched a spring, and the stick released, flew into the air, carrying
the animal with it with the noose round its neck; other traps let fall a
heavy piece of wood, which crushed the invader; and in these ways the
skunks were pretty well got rid of, the most unpleasant work being the
removal of the body from the trap. This had to be effected by taking
hold of it with two pieces of wood, for the odour was so powerful, that
if the body was touched, the smell would remain on the hands for days.

They had now added another species of domestic animal to their stock,
but this was the boys' charge. Mr. Hardy, when the pumpkins began to
ripen, bought six pigs. They were of little trouble, for although a sty
was built for them, they were allowed to wander about as they pleased by
day, another wire being added to the fence round the cultivated land, to
keep them from trespassing. The crop of pumpkins was enormous; and Mr.
Hardy determined that no pigs should be killed for eighteen months, by
which time, as these animals increase rapidly, there would be quite a
large herd of them.

Although an immense deal of hard work was got through during the four
months which followed the completion of the house and the arrival of
Mrs. Hardy and her daughters, it must not be supposed that it was not
mingled with plenty of relaxation and amusement.

There were few days when one or other of the boys did not go out with
his gun for an hour either before sunrise or after sunset, seldom
failing to bring home a wild fowl or two of some kind or other. And
sometimes of an afternoon they would go out for a ride with their
sisters, and have a chase after an ostrich, or a run after the grey
foxes, which abounded, and were very destructive among the young lambs.
Once or twice during these rides the boys brought a puma to bay; but as
they always carried a ball in one of their barrels, with these and their
revolvers they soon despatched their unwelcome visitors.

They had contrived an apparatus with straps and a sort of little pocket,
in which the muzzle of the gun went, so that it hung from the saddle
down in front of their leg; the stock of the gun being secured by a
strap against the pommel of the saddle, at the other side of which was
their revolver-holster. This was an inconvenient way of carrying the gun
in some respects, as the strap had to be unfastened to get at it, and
the chance of a shot thereby lost; but they considered it preferable to
the mode they had at first adopted, of riding with their guns slung
behind them. This they gave up, because, with the utmost care, they
occasionally got a fall, when galloping, from the armadillo holes, and
the shock was greatly increased from the weight of the gun, besides the
risk to any one riding near, of the gun exploding. When riding quietly,
and upon the lookout for game, they carried the gun in readiness upon
their arms.

It was after one of these rides, when Hubert had brought down with a
bullet a swan which was making for his bed in the river, that Maud said
at tea:

'I wish we could shoot too; it would be a great amusement, and I should
enjoy my rides a good deal more if I knew that I could take a shot in
case a lion or a deer came out.'

'Well, girls,' Mr. Hardy said, 'I had always intended that you should
learn to shoot. We have had so much to do since you came here that I did
not think of it, and I had besides intended to wait until one of you
expressed a desire to learn. I brought out three light rook-shooting
rifles, on purpose, for you and your mamma, and you can begin to-morrow
morning if you like.'

'Oh, thank you, papa, thank you very, very much; that will be nice!'
both the girls exclaimed, clapping their hands in their excitement.

'And what do you say, mamma?' Mr. Hardy asked.

'No, thank you,' Mrs. Hardy said; 'I have plenty to do, and, with a
husband and two sons and two daughters to defend me, I do not consider
that it is essential. But I think that it will be a nice amusement for
the girls.'

And so next morning, and nearly every morning afterwards, the girls
practised with the light rifle at a mark, until in time their hands
became so steady, that at short distances of sixty or seventy yards they
could beat their brothers, who were both really good shots. This was
principally owing to the fact that the charge of powder used in these
rifles was so small, that there was scarcely any recoil to disturb the
aim. It was some time before they could manage to hit anything flying;
but they were very proud one evening when, having been out late with the
boys, a fat goose came along overhead, and the girls firing
simultaneously, he fell with both bullets in his body. After this, they,
too, carried their rifles out with them during their rides.

Any one who had known Maud and Ethel Hardy at home, would have scarcely
recognised them now in the sunburnt-looking lassies, who sat upon their
horses as if they had never known any other seat in their lives. Their
dress, too, would have been most curious to English eyes. They wore wide
straw hats, with a white scarf wound round the top to keep off the heat.
Their dresses were very short, and made of brown holland, with a
garibaldi of blue-coloured flannel. They wore red flannel
knickerbockers, and gaiters coming up above the knee, of a very soft,
flexible leather, made of deers' skin. These gaiters were an absolute
necessity, for the place literally swarmed with snakes, and they
constantly found them in the garden when going out to gather vegetables.
Most of these snakes were harmless; but as some of them were very
deadly, the protection of the gaiters was quite necessary. The girls did
not like them at first, especially as their brothers could not help
joking them a little, and Hubert said that they reminded him of two
yellow-legged partridges. However, they soon became accustomed to them,
and felt so much more comfortable about snakes afterwards, that they
would not have given them up upon any account.

The boys always wore high boots for the same reason, and had no fear
whatever of the snakes; but Mr. Hardy insisted that each of them should
always carry in a small inner pocket of their coats a phial of spirits
of ammonia, a small surgical knife, and a piece of whipcord; the same
articles being always kept in readiness at the house. His instructions
were, that in case of a bite, they should first suck the wound, then tie
the whipcord round the limb above the place bitten, and that they should
then cut deeply into the wound cross-ways, open it as much as possible,
and pour in some spirits of ammonia; that they should then pour the rest
of the ammonia into their water-bottle, which they always carried slung
over their shoulders, and should drink it off. If these directions were
instantly and thoroughly carried out, Mr. Hardy had little fear that the
bite, even of the deadliest snake, would prove fatal. In addition he
ordered, that in case of their being near home, they should, upon their
arrival, be made to drink raw spirits until they could not stand, and
that, if they were some distance away from home, and were together, the
one bitten should lie down while the other galloped at full speed to
take back a bottle of brandy, and order assistance to be sent. This
remedy is well known throughout India. Any one bitten by a poisonous
snake is made to drink spirits, which he is able to do without being
affected by them, to an extraordinary extent; a man who at ordinary
times could scarcely take a strong tumbler of spirits and water, being
able, when bitten, to drink a bottle of pure brandy without being in the
least affected by it. When the spirit does at last begin to take effect,
and the patient shows signs of drunkenness, he is considered to be safe,
the poison of the spirit having overcome the poison of the snake.



CHAPTER IX.

NEIGHBOURLY VISITS AND ADVICE.


It must not be supposed that the Hardys, during the whole of this time,
were leading a perfectly solitary life. Upon the contrary, they had a
great deal of sociable companionship. Within a range of ten miles there
were no less than four estancias owned by Englishmen, besides that of
their first friend Mr. Percy. A ride of twenty miles is thought nothing
of out on the Pampas. The estate immediately to the rear of their own
was owned by Senor Jaqueras, a native. The tract upon the east of his
property was owned by three young Englishmen, whose names were Herries,
Cooper, and Farquhar. They had all been in the army, but had sold out,
and agreed to come out and settle together.

The south-western corner of their property came down to the river
exactly opposite the part where the north-eastern corner of Mount
Pleasant touched it; their house was situated about four miles from the
Hardys. To the west of Senor Jaqueras, the estate was owned by two
Scotchmen, brothers of the name of Jamieson: their estancia was nine
miles distant. In the rear of the estate of Senor Jaqueras, and next to
that of Mr. Percy, were the properties of Messrs. Williams and Markham:
they were both about ten miles from Mount Pleasant. These gentlemen had
all ridden over to call upon the new-comers within a very few days of
Mr. Hardy's first arrival, and had offered any help in their power.

The Hardys were much pleased with their visitors, who were all young
men, with the frank, hearty manner natural to men free from the
restraints of civilised life. The visits had been returned in a short
time, and then for a while all communication with the more distant
visitors had ceased, for the Hardys were too busy to spare time upon
distant rides. One or other of the party at Canterbury, as the three
Englishmen had called their estancia, very frequently dropped in for a
talk, and Mr. Hardy and the boys often rode over there when work was
done. Canterbury was also a young settlement,--only four or five months,
indeed, older than Mount Pleasant,--so that its owners, like themselves,
had their hands full of work; but sometimes, when they knew that the
Hardys were particularly hard at work, one or two of them would come
over at daybreak and give their assistance. During the final week's
work, especially just before Mrs. Hardy's arrival, all three came over
and lent their aid, as did the Jamiesons.

As soon as Mrs. Hardy had arrived, all their neighbours came over to
call, and a very friendly intercourse was quickly established between
them. As there was no spare bed-room at Mount Pleasant, some hammocks
were made, and hooks were put into the sitting-room walls, so that the
hammocks could be slung at night and taken down in the morning. The
English party always rode back to Canterbury, as the distance was so
short, and the Jamiesons generally did the same; but Messrs. Percy,
Williams, and Markham usually came over in the afternoon, and rode back
again next morning.

When the press of work was over, the boys and their sisters often
cantered over to Canterbury to tea, and sometimes, but more seldom, to
the Jamiesons' estancia. The light-hearted young Englishmen were
naturally more to their fancy than the quiet and thoughtful Scotchmen.
The latter were, however, greatly esteemed by Mr. and Mrs. Hardy, who
perceived in them a fund of quiet good sense and earnestness.

Upon Sunday morning Mr. Hardy had service, and to this the whole of
their friends generally came. It was held early, so that the Jamiesons
and the Englishmen could ride back to their homes before the heat of
the day, the other three remaining to dine, and returning in the cool of
the evening. Canterbury was entirely a sheep and cattle farm. The owners
had five thousand sheep, and some hundreds of cattle; but they had
comparatively a good deal of time upon their hands, as stock and sheep
farming does not require so much personal care and supervision as must
be bestowed upon agricultural farms. The Jamiesons, on the contrary,
were entirely occupied in tillage: they had no sheep, and only a few
head of cattle.

Mr. Hardy was remarking upon this one day to Mr. Percy, who replied,
'Ah, the poor fellows are very unfortunate. They brought out a fair
capital, and had as large a stock of sheep and cattle as the Canterbury
party have. About six months, however, before you arrived,--yes, it's
just a year now,--the Indians swept down upon them, and carried off
every animal they had. They attacked the house, but the Jamiesons
defended themselves well; and the Indians were anxious to get off with
their booty, and so they beat a retreat. Pursuit was hopeless; every
horse had been driven off, and they had to walk six miles to the next
hacienda to give the news; and long before a party could be got
together, the Indians were beyond the possibility of pursuit. Two or
three hundred sheep and a dozen or two of the bullocks found their way
back, and these and their land was all that remained to the Jamiesons of
their capital, for they had invested all they had in their stock.
However, they looked affairs manfully in the face, sold their animals,
bought a couple of ploughs and draught bullocks, hired a peon or two,
and set to work with a will. They will get on but slowly for a time; but
I have no doubt that they will do well in the course of a few years. Men
with their pluck and perseverance are certain to get on. That puts me in
mind, Hardy, of a matter upon which I had intended to speak to you. We
are just getting now to the time of the year when Indian attacks are
most likely to take place. Sometimes they are quiet for a year or two,
then they are very troublesome again. Five or six years ago, just after
I first came out, we had terrible times with them. Vast numbers of
cattle were driven off: the sheep they less seldom take, because they
cannot travel so fast, but they do drive them off sometimes. A good many
shepherds were killed, and two or three estancias captured and burnt,
and the inmates murdered. You are now the farthest settler, and
consequently the most exposed. Your estancia is strong and well built,
and you are all well armed, and good shots. You are, I think, in that
respect safe, except from sudden surprise. The dogs are sure to give an
alarm; still I should sleep with everything in readiness.'

'Thank you, Percy; I shall take your advice. I expected it from what I
had heard when I bought the place; but from hearing nothing of Indians
all this time, I had almost forgotten it. I will prepare for defence
without the loss of a day. The house has only one vulnerable point,--the
doors and shutters. I will measure them this afternoon, and will get you
to take over a letter and forward it to Rosario by the first
opportunity, for some sheets of thin iron to cover them with.'

Mr. Percy promised to forward the letter the very next day by a
bullock-cart he was sending in, and also that the same cart should bring
them back. He said that if a conveyance were sent over in two days' time
for them, they would be in readiness at his place.

This conversation caused Mr. Hardy great uneasiness. It was a
possibility he had been quite prepared for; but he could not feel that
the danger was really at hand without an anxious feeling. His thousand
sheep had cost him £250, and his cattle as much more. The lambing season
had come and gone, and the flock of sheep had doubled in number. The
cattle, too, had greatly increased, and the sheep were nearly ready for
shearing. Altogether the value of the stock was over £1000. The loss
would not be absolute ruin, as he had still £600 of his original capital
in the bank at Buenos Ayres; but it would be a very serious loss.

Mr. Hardy had been alone with Mr. Percy when the conversation took
place; but he determined at once to take the boys into his entire
confidence. He therefore called to them to come out for a stroll down to
the dam, and told them word for word what Mr. Percy had related to him.

Charley's eyes brightened at the thought of the excitement of a fight
with Indians, for which when in England, eighteen months before, he had
longed; and his fingers tightened upon his gun as he said, 'All right,
papa, let them come.' Hubert's face grew a little paler, for he was not
naturally of so plucky or pugnacious a disposition as his brother.
However, he only said, 'Well, papa, if they do come, we shall all do our
best.'

'I am sure you will, my boy,' said his father kindly. 'But there is no
fear if it comes to fighting. We three, with our arms, can thrash a
hundred of them. What I am thinking of is our cattle, and not ourselves.
We will take good care against a sudden surprise; and it's more than a
whole tribe could do, to take Mount Pleasant if we are prepared.'

'Do you mean to tell mamma and the girls, papa?'

'I mean to tell them that it is necessary for a time to be on their
guard, that the girls are on no account to venture to ride out alone,
and that they must not stir out of the enclosure even as far as the
hen-house, without first of all going up to the top of the lookout to
see that all is clear. We must see that, in future, the sheep and cattle
and horses are all driven at night into their wire enclosures,--we have
not been very particular about the cattle lately,--and that the gates
are fastened and padlocked at night. It will puzzle them to get them
out. Our own three horses I will have in future kept within our own
enclosure, so that they may be always at hand, night or day. I bought
them with a special eye to Indians; they are all remarkably fast; and
whether we run away or pursue, can be relied on. And now, boys, come up
to the house, and I will open the mysterious box.'

The box of which Mr. Hardy spoke was a long case, which had never been
opened since their arrival. No entreaties of his children could induce
Mr. Hardy to say what were its contents, and the young ones had often
wondered and puzzled over what they could be. It had come, therefore, to
be known in the family as the mysterious box.

With greatly excited curiosity the boys now walked towards the house;
but there was a slight delay, for as they approached, Maud and Ethel
came running to meet them.

'Is anything the matter with the dam, papa? We have been watching you
having such a long talk with the boys. What is it all about?'

Mr. Hardy now told them as much as he thought proper of the state of
things, and gave them their instructions. The girls, who had no idea
there was any real danger, and who had besides an unlimited confidence
in their father and brothers, were disposed to look upon it as fun, and
Mr. Hardy had to speak quite seriously to be sure that his orders would
be strictly attended to. The boys then informed them that the mysterious
box was to be opened, and the whole party went up to the house.

The box had been placed in the storeroom on the upper floor of the
tower, and the boys took up screw-drivers and hammers to open it. The
latter tools were not necessary, as the case was very carefully screwed
up; and when the top was taken off, it was found that there was an
inside case of tin, soldered up. As the boys were cutting through this,
they expressed their opinion that, from the extreme care taken, the
contents must be very valuable. Still Mr. Hardy would give no clue; and
when the case was finally opened, the astonishment of all was unbounded
to find that it contained four dozen large rockets and a dozen
blue-lights. One dozen of these rockets were ordinary signal rockets,
but the rest were covered with strong tin cases.

'Fireworks!' they all exclaimed in intense surprise. 'What have you
brought fireworks all this way for, papa?'

'I will tell you, my dears. I knew that the Indians of the Pampas were
horse Indians, and the idea struck me, that as they could never have
seen rockets, they would be horribly scared at night by them. Rockets,
you know, are used in war; and even if the riders are not frightened, it
is quite certain that the horses would be horribly alarmed by one or two
of these rushing fiery things charging into their midst. I therefore had
them specially made for me by a pyrotechnist in London. One dozen, as
you see, are ordinary rockets of the largest size; they contain coloured
balls, which will give out a most brilliant light. One of them thrown
into the air, even where we believe any Indians to be, will light up the
plain, and give us a fair view of them. The other three dozen are loaded
with crackers. As you see, I have had a strong case of tin placed over
the ordinary case; and one of them striking a man, will certainly knock
him off his horse, and probably kill him. The roar, the rush, the train
of fire, and finally the explosion and the volley of crackers in their
midst, would be enough to frighten their horses altogether beyond
control. What do you think of my idea?'

'Capital, capital!' they all cried.

'But how, papa,' Hubert asked, 'will you manage to make your rockets go
straight at the Indians? All the rockets I ever saw went straight up
into the air.'

'Yes, Hubert, because they were pointed up. A rocket goes whichever way
it is pointed. Rockets in war are fired through a tube, or from a
trough. We will use the trough. Set to at once, boys, and make a trough
about four feet long, without ends. It must stand on legs high enough to
raise it above the level of the wall round the top of the tower. Let
there be two legs on the front end, and one leg behind; and this leg
behind must have a hinge, so that, when it stands upright, it will be
six or eight inches higher than the front, in case we want to fire at
anything close at hand. When we want to elevate the head of the rocket
to fire at anything at a distance, we pull the hind leg back, so that
that end is lower than the front. Put a spike at the end of the leg, to
let it have a firm hold on the floor.'

Charley thought a moment, and then said: 'I think, papa, it would be
firmer, and more easily managed, if we made two legs behind, with
another one sliding up and down between them, and with holes in it so
that it can be pegged up and down as we like.'

'That would be certainly better, Charley. Put your idea down upon paper,
and let me see exactly what you mean before you begin.'

Charley did so, and Mr. Hardy pronounced it to be excellent; and by
night the trough was finished, and placed in position at the top of the
lookout.

Mr. Hardy, in the course of the evening, explained to his wife that it
was possible the Indians might venture to make a dash to carry off some
of the cattle, and that, therefore, he had ordered the girls to be on
the lookout, and to adopt every precaution upon moving out. To them he
made an addition to his former instructions, namely, that not only
should they look out before leaving the enclosure, but that, if one went
out, the other should go up to the top of the tower every quarter of an
hour to see that everything was still clear, and that if both were out,
Sarah should do the same. The boys needed no instructions to load their
revolving carbines, and the pistols and a double-barrelled gun were
handed over both to Lopez and Terence, with instructions to carry them
always with them. Lopez required no orders on this score. He knew what
Indians were, and had a perfect horror of them. Their friends at
Canterbury were also put upon their guard, as their estates were also
very much exposed. Three days passed over, and then the light iron
plates arrived for the door and window-shutters. Before they were nailed
on, large holes were cut in them for firing through, corresponding slits
being cut in the woodwork. When they were fastened in their places, all
felt that Mount Pleasant could defy any number of assailants.

Orders were given to Terence, that in case of the dogs giving the alarm
at night, the occupants of the hut were to retire at once to the house;
to which he replied characteristically:

'Sure, your honour, I suppose I may stop for a bit and pepper the
blackguards till they get close to me.'

'Not at all, Terence; you are to retire at once to the house. When we
are once all together, we shall be able to decide, according to the
number of the enemy, as to whether we shall sally out and pepper them,
or stand upon the defensive.'

And so, every one having received their instructions in case of
emergency, things went on pretty much as before.



CHAPTER X.

THE LOST CATTLE.


A fortnight passed without the slightest incident or alarm. The rules
which Mr. Hardy had laid down were strictly observed. The sheep and
cattle were carefully secured at night; two or three of the native dogs
were fastened up, down at the fold; one of the mastiffs was kept at the
men's hut, while the other's kennel was placed by the house; the
retrievers, as usual, sleeping in-doors. A flagstaff was erected upon
the lookout, with a red flag in readiness to be run up to summon those
who might be away on the plain, and a gun was kept loaded to call
attention to the signal. The boys, when they went out for their rides,
carried their carbines instead of their guns. The girls fulfilled the
duties of lookouts, going up every half-hour from daybreak to dusk; and
the call of 'Sister Anne, do you see horsemen?' was invariably answered
in the negative. One day, however, Mr. Hardy had ridden over to
Canterbury to arrange with his friends about hiring shearers from
Rosario for the united flocks. The boys and Terence were in the fields
ploughing, at a distance of half a mile from the house, when they were
startled by the sound of a gun. Looking round, they saw both the girls
standing upon the tower: Maud had just fired the gun, and Ethel was
pulling up the flag.

'Be jabers! and the Indians have come at last!' Terence exclaimed, and
they all three started at a run.

Maud turned round and waved her hand to them, and then she and Ethel
continued looking over the plain. At this moment they were joined on the
tower by Mrs. Hardy and Sarah.

'It is all right,' Charley, who was of an unexcitable temperament, said.
'The Indians must be a long way off, or the girls would be waving to us
to make haste. Take it easy; we shall want to keep our hands steady.'

So they broke from the headlong speed at which they had started, into a
steady trot, which in five minutes brought them up to the house.

'What is it?' they exclaimed as they gained the top of the tower.

'Oh dear, oh dear!' Ethel said. 'They have got all the animals.'

'And I fear they have killed Gomez and Pedro,' Mrs. Hardy added.

It was too evidently true. At a distance of six miles the boys could see
a dark mass rapidly retreating, and numerous single specks could be seen
hovering round them. Two miles from the house a single horseman was
galloping wildly. The girls had already made him out to be Lopez.

The boys and Terence stood speechless with dismay. The Irishman was the
first to find his tongue.

'Och, the thundering villains!' he exclaimed; 'the hathen thieves! And
to think that not one of us was there to give them a bating.'

'What will papa say?' Hubert ejaculated.

Charley said nothing, but looked frowningly, with tightly closed lips,
after the distant mass, while his hands closed upon his carbine. 'How
was it, Maud?' he asked at length.

'I was down-stairs,' Maud said, 'when Ethel, who had just gone up,
called down, "Come up, Maud, quickly; I think that something's the
matter." I ran up the steps, and I saw our animals a long way off,
nearly four miles, and I saw a black mass of something going along fast
towards them from the left. They were rather nearer to us than the
cattle were, and were in one of the slopes of the ground, so that they
would not have been seen by any one with the cattle; then, as they got
quite near the animals, I saw a sudden stir. The beasts began to gallop
away, and three black specks--who, I suppose, were the men--separated
themselves from them and went off sideways. One seemed to get a start of
the other two. These were cut off by the black mass, and I did not see
anything more of them. Lopez got away; and though some of the others
rode after him for about a mile, they could not overtake him. Directly I
saw what it was, I caught up the gun and fired, and Ethel ran up the
flag. That's all I saw.'

Ethel confirmed her sister's account, merely adding that, seeing the two
bodies in the distance, one going very fast towards the other, she
suspected that something was wrong, and so called at once to Maud.

The animals were now quite out of sight, and the whole party went down
to meet Lopez, who was just riding up to the enclosure. He was very
pale, and his horse was covered with foam.

'Are the peons killed, Lopez?' was Mrs. Hardy's first question.

'I do not know, signora; but I should think so. The Indians caught them;
I heard a scream,' and the man shuddered. 'Santa Virgine'--and he
crossed himself piously--'what an escape! I will burn twenty pounds of
candles upon your altar.'

'How was it that you were surprised, Lopez?' Charley asked. 'You were so
particularly ordered to keep a good lookout.'

'Well, Signor Charles, I was keeping a good lookout, and it is lucky
that I was. I was farther away than I ought to have been,--I know that,
for the signor told me not to go far; but I knew that the rise that I
took them to was the highest in that direction, and that I could see for
miles away into the Indian country. So I got out there, and Pedro and
Gomez had got the sheep and cattle all well together, and there was no
fear of them straying, for the grass there is very good. So the men lay
down for their siesta, and I was standing by my horse looking over the
campo. Some of the beasts seemed uneasy, and I thought that there must
be a lion somewhere about. So I got on my horse, and just as I did so I
heard a noise; and looking behind, where I had never dreamt of them, I
saw a lot of Indians coming up at full gallop from the hollow. The
cattle went off at the same instant; and I gave a shout to the men, and
stuck my spurs into Carlos. It was a near touch of it, and they gave me
a hard chase for the first mile; but my horse was fresher than theirs,
and they gave it up.'

'How many Indians were there?' Charley asked.

'I don't know, Signor Charles. It was only those in front that I caught
sight of, and I never looked round after I started. Some of them had
firearms, for eight or ten of them fired after me as I made off, and the
arrows fell all round me.'

'What do you think, girls, about the number?'

The girls were silent, and then Ethel said: 'They were all in a lump,
Charley. One could not see them separately.'

'The lump seemed to be about the size that our cattle do when they are
close together at the same distance. Don't you think so, Ethel?' Maud
said.

'Yes,' Ethel thought that they were.

'Then there must be from a hundred to a hundred and fifty of them,'
Charley said. 'I wonder what papa will do! One of us had better ride off
at once and fetch him.'

'I will go,' Hubert said, moving away to saddle his horse.

'Stop, Hubert,' Charley said; 'I think you had better take Lopez's
horse. I don't know what papa may make up his mind to do, and it is
better to have your horse quite fresh.'

Hubert agreed at once, and was mounting, when Maud said: 'Wait a moment,
Hubert, I will run up to the lookout. I may see papa; it is nearly time
for him to be home.'

Hubert paused while Maud ran up to the house, and in a minute appeared
at the top of the tower. She stood for a moment looking across the
stream towards Canterbury, and then held up her hand. 'I can see him,'
she called out. 'He is a long way off, but he is coming.'

Hubert was about to alight again, when Mrs. Hardy said: 'You had better
ride to meet your papa, Hubert. He will be very much alarmed when he
sees the flag, and it will be a great satisfaction to him to know that
we at least are all safe.'

Hubert at once galloped off, while Maud continued to watch her father.
He was about two miles distant, and was riding quietly. Then for a
little while she lost sight of him. As he came up on the next rise, she
saw him suddenly stop his horse. She guessed that he was gazing at the
flag-staff, for there was not a breath of wind, and the flag drooped
straight down by the pole, so that it was difficult to distinguish it at
a distance. Then she was sure that he made it out, for he came on at a
furious gallop; and as he came nearer, she could see that he had taken
his gun from its place and was carrying it across his arm in readiness
for instant action. In a few minutes Hubert met him, and after a short
pause the two rode together back to the house at a canter.

Mr. Hardy paused at the men's hut to give Lopez a hearty rating for his
disobedience of orders in going so far out upon the plain. Then he came
up to the house. 'This is a bad affair, my dear,' he said cheerfully;
'but as long as we are all safe, we can thank God that it's no worse. We
shall get some of our beasts back yet, or I am mistaken. Ethel, run down
to Terence, and tell him to drive the bullocks that are down with the
ploughs into their enclosure, and to fasten the gate after them. Maud,
give all the horses a feed of Indian corn and some water. Boys, tell
Sarah to put some cold meat and bread into your hunting-bags. Load the
spare chambers of your carbines, and see that your water-gourds are
full.'

Mr. Hardy then retired with his wife--who had been looking on anxiously
while these orders were being given--into their own room, where they
remained about ten minutes. When they came back into the sitting-room
Mrs. Hardy was pale, but composed, and the children could see that she
had been crying.

'Your mamma and I have been talking the matter over, boys, and I have
told her that I must do my best to get some, at least, of our animals
back. I shall take you both with me. It is unfortunate that two of our
friends at Canterbury have ridden over early this morning to Mr.
Percy's, and will not be back until late to-night. Had they been at
home, they would, I know, have joined us. I thought at first of sending
over for Mr. Farquhar, who is at home, but I do not like losing the
time. I shall send Lopez over with a note, asking him to come and sleep
here to-night. We shall not be back till to-morrow. There is no fear of
another alarm to-day; still I shall be more comfortable in knowing that
you have some one with you. Do not go beyond the enclosure, girls, until
we return. Terence, too, is to remain inside, and can sleep in the house
to-night; so also can Lopez. You will therefore be well protected. Let
us have something to eat, and then in ten minutes we will be in the
saddle. Charley, fetch down three blue-lights, two signal rockets, and
two of the tin rockets. Maud, fill our pocket-flasks with brandy.
Hubert, you boys will each take your carbine and a revolver; I will
carry my long rifle, and the other two Colts.'

In ten minutes they were ready to mount, and after a final embrace, and
many a 'Be sure and take care of yourselves' from their mother and
sisters, they started off across the plain at a long, steady gallop.

'They have got just an hour's start, boys,' Mr. Hardy said. 'Your mother
said that it was exactly half an hour from the first alarm to my
arrival, and I was in the house a minute or two under that time. It is
about half past twelve now.'

'It is very fortunate, papa, that we had our horses safe up at the
house.'

'Yes, boys. If we had been obliged to wait until to-morrow morning
before starting, our chance of coming up would have been very slight. As
it is, we shall be up with them in three or four hours. The sheep cannot
go really fast more than twelve or fifteen miles, especially with their
heavy fleeces on.'

Half an hour's riding took them to the scene of the attack. As they
neared it, they saw two figures lying upon the grass. There was no
occasion to go near: the stiff and distorted attitudes were sufficient
to show that they were dead.

Mr. Hardy purposely avoided riding close to them, knowing that the
shocking sight of men who have met with a violent death is apt to shake
the nerves of any one unaccustomed to such a sight, however brave he may
be.

'They are evidently dead, poor fellows!' he said. 'It is no use our
stopping.'

Charley looked at the bodies with a fierce frown upon his face, and
muttered to himself, 'We'll pay them out for you, the cowardly
scoundrels.'

Hubert did not even glance towards them. He was a tender-hearted boy,
and he felt his face grow pale, and a strange feeling of sickness come
over him, even at the momentary glance which he had at first taken at
the rigid figures.

'I suppose you do not mean to attack them until night, papa?' Charley
asked.

'Well, boys, I have been thinking the matter over, and I have come to
the conclusion that it will be better to do so directly we get up to
them.'

'And do you think, papa, that we three will be able to thrash the lot of
them? They must be a poor, miserable set of cowards.'

'No, Charley; I do not think that we shall be able to thrash the lot, as
you say; but, with our weapons, we shall be able to give them a terrible
lesson. If we attack at night they will soon find out how few are our
numbers, and having no particular dread of our weapons, may rush at us,
and overpower us in spite of them. Another thing, boys, is, I want to
give them a lesson. They must know that they shan't come and murder and
steal on our place with impunity.'

Scarcely another word was exchanged for the next hour. At a long, steady
gallop they swept along. There was no difficulty in following the track,
for the long grass was trampled in a wide swathe. Several times, too,
exclamations of rage burst from the boys as they came across a dead
sheep, evidently speared by the savages because he could not keep up
with the others. After passing several of them, Mr. Hardy called to the
boys to halt, while he leapt off his horse by the side of one of the
sheep, and put his hand against its body and into its mouth.

'It's quite dead; isn't it, papa?' Hubert said.

'Quite, Hubert; I never thought it was alive.' And Mr. Hardy leapt upon
his horse again. 'I wanted to see how warm the body was. If we try again
an hour's ride ahead, we shall be able to judge, by the increased heat
of the body, as to how much we have gained on the Indians, and whether
they are far ahead. You see, boys, when I was a young man, I was out
many times in Texas against the Comanches and Apaches, who are a very
different enemy from these cowardly Indians here. One had to keep one's
eyes open there, for they were every bit as brave as we were. Don't push
on so fast, Charley. Spare your horse; you will want all he's got in him
before you have done. I think that we must be gaining upon them very
fast now. You see the dead sheep lie every hundred yards or so, instead
of every quarter of a mile. The Indians know well enough that it would
take a whole day out on the edge of the settlements to collect a dozen
men for pursuit, and would have no idea that three men would set off
alone; so I expect that they will now have slackened their pace a
little, to give the sheep breathing time.'

After another ten minutes' ride Mr. Hardy again alighted, and found a
very perceptible increase of warmth in the bodies of the sheep. 'I do
not think that they can have been dead much more than a quarter of an
hour. Keep a sharp lookout ahead, boys; we may see them at the top of
the next rise.'

Not a word was spoken for the next few minutes. Two or three slight
swells were crossed without any sign of the enemy; and then, upon
breasting a rather higher rise than usual, they saw a mass of moving
beings in the distance.

'Halt!' Mr. Hardy shouted, and the boys instantly drew rein. 'Jump off,
boys. Only our heads have shown against the sky. They can hardly have
noticed them. There, hold my horse; loosen the saddle-girths of yours
too, and let them breathe freely. Take the bridles out of their mouths.
It seemed to me, by the glimpse I got of our enemies, that they were
just stopping. I am going on to make sure of it.'

So saying, Mr. Hardy again went forward a short distance, going on his
hands and knees as he came on to the crest of the rise, in order that
his head might not show above the long grass. When he reached it, he saw
at once that his first impression had been correct. At a distance of a
little over a mile a mass of animals were collected, and round them were
scattered a number of horses, while figures of men were moving among
them.

'It is as I thought, boys,' he said when he rejoined his sons. 'They
have stopped for a while. The animals must all be completely done up;
they cannot have come less than thirty miles, and will require three or
four hours' rest, at the least, before they are fit to travel again. One
hour will do for our horses. Rinse their mouths out with a little water,
and let them graze if they are disposed: in half an hour we will give
them each a double handful of Indian corn.'

Having attended to their horses, which they hobbled to prevent their
straying, Mr. Hardy and the boys sat down and made a slight meal. None
of them felt very hungry, the excitement of the approaching attack
having driven away the keen appetite that they would have otherwise
gained from their ride; but Mr. Hardy begged the boys to endeavour to
eat something, as they would be sure to feel the want of food later.

The meal over, Mr. Hardy lit his favourite pipe, while the boys went
cautiously up the hill to reconnoitre. There was no change; most of the
animals were lying down, and there was little sign of movement. Two or
three Indians, however, were standing motionless and rigid by their
horses' sides, evidently acting as sentries. The boys thought that hour
the longest that they had ever passed. At last, however, their father
looked at his watch, shook the ashes out of his pipe and put it in his
pocket. 'Now, boys, it is five minutes to the hour. Examine your
carbines and revolvers, see that everything is in order, and that there
is no hitch. Tighten the saddle-girths and examine the buckles. See that
your ammunition and spare carbine chambers are ready at hand.'

In another five minutes the party were in their saddles.

'Now, boys, my last words. Don't ride ahead or lag behind: regulate your
pace by mine. Look out for armadillo holes,--they are more dangerous
than the Indians. Remember my orders: on no account use the second
chamber of your carbines unless in case of great urgency. Change the
chambers directly you have emptied them, but don't fire a shot until the
spare ones are charged again. Now, boys, hurrah for old England!'

'Hurrah!' the boys both shouted as they started at a canter up the rise.
As they caught sight of the Indians, everything was quiet as before; but
in another moment they saw the men on watch throw themselves on to their
horses' backs, figures leapt up from the grass and ran towards their
horses, and in little over a minute the whole were in motion.

'Surely they are not going to run away from three men!' Charley said in
a disgusted tone.

'They won't run far, Charley,' Mr. Hardy said quietly. 'By the time that
we are half-way to them they will see that we can have no one with us,
and then they will come on quickly enough.'

It was as Mr. Hardy said. Keen as had been the watch kept by the
Indians, in spite of their belief that no pursuing force could be sent
after them, it was some little time before they could get the weary
animals on their legs and in motion; and even at the easy canter at
which Mr. Hardy approached, he had neared them to within half a mile
before they were fairly off. A small party only continued to drive the
animals, and the rest of the Indians wheeling sharp round, and uttering
a wild war-cry, came back at full gallop towards the whites.

[Illustration: Onset of the Indians.--_Page 183._]

'Halt, boys--steady, dismount: take up your positions quietly. Don't
fire till I give you the word. I shall try my rifle first.'

The well-trained horses, accustomed to their masters firing from their
backs, stood as steady as if carved in stone, their heads turned
inquiringly towards the yelling throng of horsemen who were approaching.
Mr. Hardy and the boys had both dismounted, so that the horses were
between them and the Indians, the saddles serving as rests for their
firearms.

'Five hundred yards, Charley?' his father asked quietly.

'A little over, papa; nearly six, I should say.'

Mr. Hardy waited another ten seconds, and then his rifle cracked; and a
yell of astonishment and rage broke from the Indians, as one of their
chiefs, conspicuous from an old dragoon helmet, taken probably in some
skirmish with the soldiers, fell from his horse.

'Hurrah!' Charley cried. 'Shall we fire now, papa?'

'No, Charley,' Mr. Hardy said as he reloaded his rifle; 'wait till they
are four hundred yards off, then fire slowly. Count ten between each
shot, and take as steady an aim as possible. Now! Well done, two more of
the scoundrels down. Steady, Hubert, you missed that time: there, that's
better.'

The Indians yelled with rage and astonishment as man after man dropped
before the steady and, to them, mysterious fire which was kept up upon
them. Still they did not abate the rapidity of their charge.

'Done, papa,' Charley said as the two boys simultaneously fired their
last shot, when the leading Indians were about two hundred and fifty
yards distant.

'Change your chambers and mount,' Mr. Hardy said as he again took aim
with his rifle.

The enemy was not more than a hundred and fifty yards distant, when they
leapt into their saddles and started at a gallop.

'Steady, boys, keep your horses well in hand. Never mind their balls;
they could no more hit a man at this distance from the back of a horse
than they could fly. There is no chance of their catching us; there
won't be many horses faster than ours, and ours are a good deal fresher.
Keep a good lookout for holes.'

Both pursuers and pursued were now going over the ground at a tremendous
pace. The Indians had ceased firing, for most of those who had guns had
discharged them as Mr. Hardy and his sons had mounted, and it was
impossible to load at the speed at which they were going.

During the first mile of the chase Mr. Hardy had looked round several
times, and had said each time, 'We are holding our own, boys; they are a
good hundred yards behind; keep your horses in hand.'

At the end of another mile, his face brightened as he looked round. 'All
right, boys, they are tailing off fast. Three-quarters of them have
stopped already. There are not above a score of the best mounted
anywhere near us. Another mile and we will give them a lesson.'

The mile was soon traversed, and Mr. Hardy saw that only about twelve
Indians had maintained their distance.

'Now is the time, boys. When I say halt, draw up and jump off, but take
very steady aim always at the nearest. Don't throw away a shot. They are
only a hundred yards off, and the revolvers will tell. Don't try to use
the second chamber; there is no time for that. Use your pistols when you
have emptied your carbines. Halt!'

Not five seconds elapsed after the word was spoken before Charley's
carbine rang out. Then came the sharp cracks of the carbines and pistols
in close succession. The Indians hesitated at the tremendous fire which
was opened upon them, then halted. The delay was fatal to them. In
little over half a minute the eighteen shots had been fired. Five
Indians lay upon the plain; another, evidently a chief, had been carried
off across the saddle of one of his followers, who had leapt off when he
saw him fall; and two others were evidently wounded, and had difficulty
in keeping their seats.

'Now, boys, change your chambers, and take a shot or two after them,'
Mr. Hardy said as he again reloaded his rifle.

The boys, however, found by the time they were ready, that the flying
Indians were beyond any fair chance of hitting; but their father took a
long and steady aim with his deadly rifle, and upon its report a horse
and man went down. But the rider was in an instant upon his feet again,
soon caught one of the riderless horses which had galloped off with its
companions, and followed his comrades.

'Well done, boys,' Mr. Hardy said, with a hearty pat on their shoulders.
'You have done gallantly for a first fight, and I feel proud of you.'

Both boys coloured with pleasure.

'How many have we killed?'

'I think seven fell at our first attack, papa, and six here, counting
the one they carried off, besides wounded.'

'Thirteen. It is enough to make them heartily wish themselves back. Now
let us give the horses ten minutes' rest, and then we will stir them up
again. We must not lose time; it will be sunset in another
three-quarters of an hour.'

Half an hour's riding again brought them up to the Indians, who had
stopped within a mile of their former halting-place.

'The moon will be up by one o'clock, boys, and they mean to remain where
they are till then. Do you see that hollow that runs just this side of
where they are? No doubt there is a small stream there.'

This time the Indians made no move to retreat farther. They knew now
that their assailants were only three in number. They were armed,
indeed, with weapons which, in their terrible rapidity of fire, were
altogether beyond anything they had hitherto seen; but in the darkness
these would be of no avail against a sudden rush.

But if the Indians did not run away, neither did they, as before, attack
their assailants. Their horses had been placed in the middle of the
cattle, with a few Indians standing by them to keep them quiet. The rest
of the Indians were not to be seen, but Mr. Hardy guessed that they were
lying down in the long grass, or were concealed among the animals.

'The rascals have got a clever chief among them, boys. Except those
half-dozen heads we see over the horses' backs, there is nothing to see
of them. They know that if we go close, they can pick us off with their
guns and bows and arrows, without giving us a single fair shot at them.
Don't go any nearer, boys; no doubt there are many of their best shots
hidden in the grass.'

'We could scatter the cattle with a rocket, papa.'

'Yes, we could, Hubert, but we should gain nothing by it; they have got
men by their horses, and would soon get the herd together again. No, we
will keep that for the night. Hallo! to the right, boys, for your
lives.'

Not a moment too soon did Mr. Hardy perceive the danger. The chief of
the Indians, expecting another attack, had ordered twenty of his best
mounted men to separate themselves from the main body, and to hide
themselves in a dip of the ground near the place where the first attack
had taken place. They were to allow the whites to pass, and were then to
follow quietly, and fall suddenly upon them.

Complete success had attended the manoeuvre; and it was fortunate that
the party had no firearms, these having been distributed among the main
body with the cattle, for they were within forty yards of Mr. Hardy
before they were seen. It was, in fact, a repetition of the manoeuvre
which had proved so successful in their attack upon the cattle.

They were not immediately in the rear of Mr. Hardy, but rather to the
left. As Mr. Hardy and his sons turned to fly, a number of Indians
sprang upon their feet from among the grass, and discharged a volley of
guns and arrows at them. Fortunately the distance was considerable. One
of their arrows, however, struck Mr. Hardy's horse in the shoulder,
while another stuck in the rider's arm. Another went through the calf of
Hubert's leg, and stuck in the flap of the saddle.

There was no time for word or complaint. They buried their spurs in
their horses' sides, and the gallant animals, feeling that the occasion
was urgent, seemed almost to fly. In a mile they were able to break into
a steady gallop, the enemy being now seventy or eighty yards behind. Mr.
Hardy had already pulled the arrow from his arm, and Hubert now
extracted his. As he stooped to do so, his father, who had not noticed
that he was wounded, saw what he was doing.

'Hurt much, old man?'

'Not much,' Hubert said; but it did hurt a good deal nevertheless.

'I don't want to tire our horses any more, boys,' Mr. Hardy said; 'I
shall try and stop those rascals with one of my revolvers.'

So saying, he drew one of his pistols from his holster, and turning
round in his saddle, took a steady aim and fired.

At the same instant, however, his horse trod in a hole, and fell, Mr.
Hardy being thrown over its head with tremendous force. The boys reined
their horses hard in, and Hubert gave a loud cry as he saw his father
remain stiff and unmoved on the ground. The Indians set up a wild yell
of triumph.

'Steady, Hubert. Jump off. Pick up papa's pistol. Arrange the horses in
a triangle round him. That's right. Now don't throw away a shot.'

The nearest Indian was scarcely thirty yards off, when Charley's bullet
crashed into his brain. The three immediately following him fell in
rapid succession, another chief's arm sank useless to his side, while
the horse of another fell, shot through the brain.

Both the boys were pale, but their hands were as steady as iron. They
felt as if, with their father lying insensible under their protection,
they could not miss.

So terrible was the destruction which the continued fire wrought among
the leaders, that the others instinctively checked the speed of their
horses as they approached the little group, from which fire and balls
seemed to stream, and began to discharge arrows at the boys, hanging on
the other side of their horses, so that by their foes they could not be
seen, a favourite manoeuvre with the Indians. As the boys fired their
last barrels, they drew their revolvers from the holsters, and, taking
aim as the Indians showed a head or an arm under their horses' necks or
over their backs, their twelve barrels added to the Indians scattered
over the ground.

'Now, Hubert, give me the two last revolvers, and put the two fresh
chambers into the carbines.'

Seeing only one of their foes on the defence, the Indians again made a
rush forward. Charley shot the two first with a revolver, but the others
charged up, and he stooped a moment to avoid a spear, rising a little on
one side, and discharging with both hands his pistols at the Indians,
who were now close. 'Quick, Hubert,' he said, as he shot with his last
barrel an Indian who had just driven his spear into the heart of Mr.
Hardy's horse.

The animal fell dead as it stood, and the Indians with a yell charged
at the opening, but, as they did so, Hubert slipped a carbine into his
brother's hand, and the two again poured in the deadly fire which had so
checked the Indians' advance.

The continuation of the fire appalled the Indians, and the seven that
survived turned and fled.

'I will load, Hubert,' Charley said, trying to speak steadily. 'See to
papa at once. Empty one of the water-gourds upon his face and head.'

Hubert looked down with a cold shudder. Neither of the boys had dared to
think during that brief fight. They had had many falls before on the
soft turf of the Pampas, but no hurt had resulted, and both were more
frightened at the insensibility of their father than at the Indian
horde, which were so short a distance away, and which would no doubt
return in a few minutes in overwhelming force.

Great, then, was Hubert's delight, when, upon looking round, he saw that
Mr. Hardy had raised himself with his arms.

'What has happened?' he said in a confused manner.

'Are you hurt, papa?' Hubert asked, with tears of joy running down his
face; 'you frightened us both so dreadfully. Please drink a little
water, and I will pour a little over your face.'

Mr. Hardy drank some water, and Hubert dashed some more in his face.
'That will do, Hubert,' he said with a smile; 'you will drown me. There,
I am all right now. I was stunned, I suppose. There you are,' and he got
up on to his feet; 'you see I am not hurt. And now, where are the
Indians?'

'There, papa,' said the boys with pardonable triumph, as they pointed to
thirteen dead Indians.

Their father could not speak. He grasped their hands warmly. He saw how
great the danger must have been, and how gallantly his boys must have
borne themselves.

'The Indians may be back in a few minutes, papa. Your horse is dead, but
there is one of the Indians' standing by his dead master. Let us catch
him and shift the saddle.' The animal, when they approached it, made no
move to take flight, and they saw that his master's foot, as he fell,
had become entangled in the lasso, and the well-trained beast had stood
without moving. In three minutes the saddles were transferred, and the
party again ready for fight or flight.

'What next, papa?'

'We turned to the right, and rather towards home, when we started; so
the Indian halting-place is to the south-east of us, is it not?'

'Yes, papa; as near as may be,' Charley said, making out the points with
some difficulty on the pocket-compass, one of which they each carried,
as the danger of being lost upon the pathless Pampas is very great.

'We had ridden about two miles when I got my fall, so we are a mile to
the west of their camp. We will ride now a couple of miles due north.
The Indians are sure to send out a scout to see whether we have returned
home, and our track will lead them to believe that we have. It is dusk
now. We shall get three hours' rest before we have to move.'

It was perfectly dark before they reached their halting-place. The
saddles were again loosened, a little Indian corn, moistened with water,
given to the horses, and another slight meal taken by themselves. The
boys, by Mr. Hardy's orders, though sorely against their own wishes,
then lay down to get a couple of hours' sleep; while Mr. Hardy went back
about a hundred yards along the trail they had made on coming, and then
turned aside and sat down at a distance of a few yards to watch, in case
any Indian should have followed up their trail.

Here he sat for over two hours, and then returned to the boys. Charley
he found fast asleep. The pain of Hubert's wound had kept him awake. Mr.
Hardy poured some water over the bandage, and then, waking Charley, gave
them instructions as to the part they were to play.

Both of them felt rather uncomfortable when they heard that they were to
be separated from their father. They raised no objections, however, and
promised to obey his instructions to the letter. They then mounted their
horses,--Hubert having to be lifted up, for his leg was now very stiff
and sore,--and then began to retrace their steps, keeping a hundred
yards or so to the west of the track by which they had come.

They rode in single file, and they had taken the precaution of fastening
a piece of tape round their horses' nostrils and mouth, to prevent their
snorting should they approach any of their own species. The night was
dark, but the stars shone out clear and bright. At starting, Mr. Hardy
had opened his watch, and had felt by the hands that it was ten o'clock.
After some time he felt again.

It was just half an hour from the time of their starting.

'Now, boys, we are somewhere close to the place of your fight. In
another ten minutes we must separate.'

At the end of that time they again closed up.

'Now, boys, you see that bright star. That is nearly due east of us; go
on as nearly as you can guess for ten minutes, at a walk, as before. You
will then be within a mile of the enemy. Then get off your horses. Mind,
on no account whatever are you to leave their bridles, but stand with
one hand on the saddle, ready to throw yourself into it. Keep two
blue-lights, and give me one. Don't speak a word, but listen as if your
lives depended upon detecting a sound, as indeed they do. You are to
remain there until you see that I have fairly succeeded, and then you
are to dash in behind the cattle and fire off your revolvers, and shout
so as to quicken their pace as much as possible. I do not think there is
the least fear of the Indians following, the rockets will scare them too
much. When you have chased the herd for about two miles, draw aside half
a mile on their side, and then listen for the Indians passing in pursuit
of the cattle; wait ten minutes, and then blow your dog-whistle,--a
sharp, short note. If you hear Indians following you, or think there is
danger, blow twice, and go still farther to the right. God bless you,
boys. I don't think there is much fear of your falling upon any scouts;
they have been too badly cut up to-day, and must look upon our guns as
witches. I need not say keep together, and, if attacked, light a
blue-light and throw it down; ride a short way out of its circle of
light, and I will come straight to you through everything. Don't be
nervous about me. There is not the least danger.'

In another minute the boys lost sight of their father, and turning their
horses, proceeded in the direction he had ordered. Every now and then
they stopped to listen, but not a sound could they hear. Their own
horses' hoofs made no noise as they fell upon the soft turf.

At the end of the ten minutes, just as Charley was thinking of stopping,
they heard a sound which caused them to halt simultaneously. It was the
low baa of a sheep, and seemed to come from directly ahead of them.
Charley now alighted, and Hubert brought his horse up beside him,
keeping his place, however, in the saddle, but leaning forward on the
neck of his horse, for he felt that, if he got off, he should be unable
to regain his seat hurriedly in case of alarm.

'About a mile off, I should say, by the sound,' Charley whispered; 'and
just in the direction we expected.'

The spot Charley had chosen for the halt was a slight hollow, running
east and west; so that, even had the moon been up, they would not have
been visible except to any one in the line of the hollow.

Here, their carbines cocked and ready for instant use, they remained
standing for what appeared to them ages, listening with the most intense
earnestness for any sound which might tell of the failure or success of
their father's enterprise.

Mr. Hardy had ridden on for, as nearly as he could tell, two miles, so
that he was now to the south-west of the enemy; then, turning west, he
kept along for another mile, when he judged that he was, as nearly as
possible, a mile in their direct rear. He now advanced with the
greatest caution, every faculty absorbed in the sense of listening. He
was soon rewarded by the sound of the baaing of the sheep; and
dismounting and leading his horse, he gradually approached the spot. At
last, on ascending a slight rise, he fancied that he could make out a
black mass, at a distance of a quarter of a mile. Of this, however, he
was not certain; but he was sure, from an occasional sound, that the
herd was exactly in this direction and at about that distance.

He now left his horse, taking the precaution of tying all four legs, to
prevent his starting off at the sound of the rockets. He next set to
work to cut some turf, with which he formed a narrow sloping bank, with
a hollow for the rocket to rest in--calculating the exact distance, and
the angle required. During this operation he stopped every minute or two
and listened with his ear on the ground; but except a faint stamping
noise from the distant cattle, all was quiet.

All being prepared, Mr. Hardy took the signal rocket, and placing it at
a much higher angle than that intended for the others, struck a match
and applied it to the touch-paper. In a moment afterwards there was a
loud roar, and the rocket soared up, with its train of brilliant sparks
behind it, and burst almost over the Indian camp. Five or six balls of
an intense white light broke from it, and gradually fell towards the
ground, lighting up the whole surrounding plain.

A yell of astonishment and fear broke from the Indians, and in a moment
another rocket rushed out.

Mr. Hardy watched its fiery way with anxiety, and saw with delight that
its direction was true. Describing a slight curve, it rushed full at the
black mass, struck something, turned abruptly, and then exploded with a
loud report, followed instantly by a cracking noise, like a straggling
fusilade of musketry.

It had scarcely ceased before the third followed it, greeted, like its
predecessors, with a yell from the Indians.

Its success was equal to that of its predecessors, and Mr. Hardy was
delighted by the sound of a dull, heavy noise, like distant thunder, and
knew that the success was complete, and that he had stampeded the
cattle.

He now ran to his horse, which was trembling in every limb and
struggling wildly to escape, soothed it by patting it, loosed its bonds,
sprang into the saddle, and went off at full gallop in the direction by
which he had come. He had not ridden very far before he heard, in the
still night air, the repeated sound of firearms, and knew that the boys
were upon the trail of the cattle. Mr. Hardy had little fear of the
Indians pursuing them; he felt sure that the slaughter of the day by the
new and mysterious firearms, together with the effect of the rockets,
would have too much terrified and cowed them for them to think of
anything but flight. He was, however, much alarmed when, after a quarter
of an hour's riding, he heard a single sharp whistle at about a few
hundred yards' distance.

'Hurrah! papa,' the boys said as he rode up to them. 'They have gone by
at a tremendous rush--sheep and cattle and all. We started the moment we
saw your first rocket, and got up just as they rushed past, and we
joined in behind and fired, and yelled till we were hoarse. I don't
think they will stop again to-night.'

'Did you see or hear anything of the Indians, boys?'

'Nothing, papa. When the first rocket burst, we saw several dark figures
leap up from the grass--where they had been, no doubt, scouting--and run
towards the camp; but that was all. What are we to do now?'

'Ride on straight for home. We need not trouble about the animals; they
won't stop till they are back. We must go easily, for our horses have
done a very long day's work already. They have been between fifty and
sixty miles. I think that we had better ride on for another hour. By
that time the moon will be up, and we shall be able to see for miles
across the plain. Then we will halt till daybreak,--it will only be
three hours,--and the horses will be able to carry us in at a canter
afterwards.'

And so it was done. In an hour the moon was fairly up, and, choosing a
rise whence a clear view could be obtained, the horses were allowed to
feed, and Mr. Hardy and Hubert lay down to sleep, Charley taking the
post of sentry, with orders to wake the others at daybreak.

The day was just dawning when he aroused them. 'Wake up, papa. There are
some figures coming over the plain.'

Mr. Hardy and Hubert were on their feet in an instant. 'Where, Charley?'

'From the north, papa. They must have passed us in their pursuit of the
cattle, and are now returning,--empty-handed, anyhow; for there are only
seven or eight of them, and they are driving nothing before them.'

By this time all three were in the saddle again.

'Shall we attack them, papa?'

'No, boys; we have given them quite a severe lesson enough. At the same
time, we will move a little across, so that we can get a good sight of
them as they pass, and make sure that they have got nothing with them.'

'They are coming exactly this way, papa.'

'Yes, I see, Hubert; they are no doubt riding back upon their trail.
They will turn off quickly enough when they see us.'

But the new-comers did not do so, continuing straight forward.

'Get your carbines ready, boys; but don't fire till I tell you. They
must belong to some other party, and cannot know what has happened. No
doubt they take us for Indians.'

'I don't think they are Indians at all,' Hubert said, as the figures
rapidly approached.

'Don't you, Hubert? We shall soon see. Halloo!'

'Halloo! hurrah!!' came back to them; and in another five minutes they
were shaking hands heartily with their three friends from Canterbury,
the Jamiesons, and two or three other neighbouring settlers.

They told them that Farquhar, as soon as Lopez brought news of the
attack, had sent mounted men off to all the other settlements, begging
them to meet that night at Mount Pleasant. By nine o'clock they had
assembled, and, after a consultation, had agreed that the Indians would
be satisfied with their present booty, and that therefore no guard would
be necessary at their own estancias.

A good feed and four hours' rest had been given to their horses, and
when the moon rose they had started. Two hours after leaving they had
seen a dark mass approaching, and had prepared for an encounter; but it
had turned out to be the animals, who were going towards home at a
steady pace. There seemed, they said, to be a good many horses among
them.

Assured by this that some encounter or other had taken place with the
Indians, they had ridden on with much anxiety, and were greatly relieved
at finding Mr. Hardy and his boys safe.

The whole party now proceeded at a rapid pace towards home, which they
reached in four hours' riding. As they came in sight of the watch-tower,
Mr. Herries separated himself from the others, and rode thirty or forty
yards away to the left, returning to the others. This he repeated three
times, greatly to Mr. Hardy's surprise.

'What are you doing, Herries?' he asked.

'I am letting them know you are all well. We agreed upon that signal
before we started. They would be able to notice one separate himself
from the rest in that way as far as they could see us, and long before
they could make out any other sort of signal.'

In a short time three black spots could be seen upon the plain in the
distance. These the boys very shortly pronounced to be Mrs. Hardy and
the girls.

When they approached, the rest of the party fell back, to allow Mr.
Hardy and his sons to ride forward and have the pleasure of the first
meeting to themselves. Needless is it to tell with what a feeling of
delight and thankfulness Mrs. Hardy, Maud, and Ethel received them.
After the first congratulations, the girls observed that Mr. Hardy had
his arm bound up with a handkerchief.

'Are you hurt, papa?' they exclaimed anxiously.

'Nothing to speak of,--only an arrow in my arm. Old Hubert has got the
worst of it: he has had one through the calf of his leg.'

'Poor old Hubert!' they cried. And Hubert had some difficulty in
persuading the girls that he could wait on very fairly till he reached
home without its being bandaged or otherwise touched.

'And how did it all happen?' Mrs. Hardy asked.

'I will tell you all about it when we have had breakfast, my dear,' her
husband said. 'I have told our friends nothing about it yet, for it is a
long story, and one telling will do for it. I suppose the animals have
got back? How many are missing?'

'Lopez came in from counting them just as we started,' Mrs. Hardy said.
'He says there are only four or five cattle missing, and about a couple
of hundred sheep; and, do you know, in addition to our own horses, there
are a hundred and twenty-three Indian horses?'

'Hurrah!' the boys shouted delightedly. 'That is a triumph; isn't it,
papa?'

'It is indeed, boys; and explains, readily enough, how it was that there
was not the slightest attempt at pursuit. The Indian horses evidently
broke their lariats and joined in the stampede. I suppose Lopez has
driven them all into the enclosure?'

'Oh yes, papa. They went in by themselves with our own animals, and
Terence shut the gate at once.'

In another quarter of an hour they reached the house, received by Sarah
and Terence--the latter being almost beside himself with joy at his
master's safe return, and with vexation when he heard that there had
been a fight, and that he had not been able to take part in it.

Orders had been given to Sarah to prepare breakfast the instant the
returning party had been seen, and their signal of 'all safe' been made
out. It was now ready; but before sitting down to it, Mr. Hardy begged
all present to join in a short thanksgiving to God for their
preservation from extreme peril.

All knelt, and as they followed Mr. Hardy's words, they were sure, from
the emotion with which he spoke, that the peril, of the particulars of
which they were at present ignorant, had been indeed a most imminent
one.

This duty performed, all fell to with great heartiness to breakfast; and
when that was over, Mr. Hardy related the whole story. Very greatly were
Mrs. Hardy and the girls amazed at the thoughts of the great peril
through which their father and boys had passed, and at the account of
the defence by the boys when their father was lying insensible. Mrs.
Hardy could not restrain herself from sobbing in her husband's arms at
the thought of his fearful danger, while the girls cried sore and kissed
their brothers, and all their friends crowded round them and wrung their
hands warmly; while Terence sought relief by going out into the garden,
dancing a sort of jig, and giving vent to a series of wild war-whoops.

It was some time before all were sufficiently calm to listen to the
remainder of the story, which was received with renewed congratulations.

When it was all over, a council was held, and it was agreed that there
was no chance whatever of the Indians returning to renew the contest, as
they would be helpless on foot; but that if by a spy they found out that
their horses were there, they might endeavour to recover them. It was
therefore agreed that they should be driven over at once to Mr. Percy's,
there to remain until a purchaser was obtained for them. In the
afternoon the party dispersed, with many thanks from the Hardys for
their prompt assistance.



CHAPTER XI.

QUIET TIMES.


'After a storm comes a calm:' a saying true in the case of the Hardys,
as in that of most others. All their neighbours agreed that, after the
very severe loss of the Indians, and the capture of the whole of their
horses, there was no chance whatever of another attack, at any rate, for
many months. After that it was possible, and indeed probable, that they
would endeavour to take vengeance for their disastrous defeat; but that
at present they would be too crippled and disheartened to think of it.

The settlers were now, therefore, able to give their whole attention to
the farm. The first operation was the sheep-shearing. Four men had been
hired to do the shearing at Canterbury, and then to come over to Mount
Pleasant. Charley rode over to their neighbours' with Mrs. Hardy and his
sisters, Mr. Hardy and Hubert remaining at home--the latter laid up
with the wound in his leg.

It was an amusing sight to see three or four hundred sheep driven into
an enclosure, and then dragged out by the shearers. These men were paid
according to the number shorn, and were very expert, a good hand getting
through a hundred a day. They were rather rough, though, in their work,
and the girls soon went away from the shearing-place with a feeling of
pity and disgust, for the shearers often cut the sheep badly. Each man
had a pot of tar by his side, with which he smeared over any wound. A
certain sum was stopped from their pay for each sheep upon which they
made a cut of over a certain length; but although this made them careful
to a certain extent, they still wounded a great many of the poor
creatures.

A much more exciting amusement was seeing the branding of the cattle,
which took place after the shearing was over. The animals were let out,
one by one, from their enclosure, and, as they passed along a sort of
lane formed of hurdles, they were lassoed and thrown on to the ground.
The hot branding-iron was then clapped against their shoulder, and was
received by a roar of rage and pain. The lasso was then loosened, and
the animal went off at a gallop to join his companions on the plain.

Some caution was required in this process, for sometimes the animals,
upon being released, would charge their tormenters, who then had to make
a hasty leap over the hurdles; Terence, who stood behind them, being in
readiness to thrust a goad against the animals' rear, and this always
had the effect of turning them. For a few days after this the cattle
were rather wild, but they soon forgot their fright and pain, and
returned to their usual ways.

Mr. Hardy had by this time been long enough in the country to feel sure
of his position. He therefore determined to embark the rest of his
capital in agricultural operations. He engaged ten native peons, and
set-to to extend the land under tillage. The water-courses from the dam
were deepened and lengthened, and side channels cut, so that the work of
irrigation could be effectually carried on over the whole of the
low-lying land, the water being sufficient for the purpose for nearly
ten months in the year. Four ploughs were kept steadily at work, and the
ground was sown with alfalfa or lucern, as fast as it was got into
condition. Patches of Indian corn, pumpkins, and other vegetables, were
also planted. Mr. Hardy resolved that, until the country beyond him
became so settled that there could be little danger from Indian
incursions, he would not increase his stock of sheep and cattle, but
would each year sell off the increase.

He also decided upon entering extensively upon dairy operations. He had
already ascertained that a ready sale could be obtained, among the
European residents of Rosario and Buenos Ayres, of any amount of butter
and fresh cheeses that he could produce, and that European prices would
be readily given for them. Up to the present time, the butter made had
been obtained from the milk of two cows only, but he now determined to
try the experiment upon a large scale.

A dairy was first to be made. This was partially cut out of the side of
the slope, and lined with sun-baked bricks. Against the walls, which
projected above the ground, earth was piled, to make them of a very
considerable thickness. Strong beams were placed across the roof; over
these rafters was nailed felt, whitewashed upon both sides to keep out
insects. Upon this was placed a considerable thickness of rushes, and,
over all, puddled clay was spread a foot deep. Ventilation was given by
a wide chimney rising behind it, and light entered by two windows in
front. The whole of the interior was whitewashed.

In this way a dairy was obtained, which, from the thickness of its
walls, was cool enough for the purpose during the hottest weather.
Preparations were now made for breaking in the cows to be milked. A sort
of lane was made of two strong fences of iron wire. This lane was of
the shape of a funnel, narrowing at one end to little more than the
width of a cow. At the end of this was a gate, and attached to the gate
a light trough, filled with fresh alfalfa.

Half a dozen cows which had recently calved were now separated from the
herd, and driven into the wide end of the enclosure. One by one they
approached the narrow end, and when one had reached the extremity, and
had begun to devour the alfalfa, of which they are very fond, a bar was
let down behind her, so that she could now neither advance, retreat, or
turn round.

One of the boys now began cautiously and quietly to milk her, and the
cows in few cases offered any resistance. One or two animals were,
however, very obstreperous, but were speedily subdued by having their
legs firmly fastened to the posts behind. In a few days all were
reconciled to the process, and ere long would come in night and morning
to be milked, with as much regularity as English cows would have done.

The wives of the peons were now taught to milk; and more and more cows
were gradually added to the number, until in six months there were fifty
cows in full milk. Maud and Ethel had now no longer anything to do with
the house, Mrs. Hardy undertaking the entire management of that
department, while the girls had charge of the fowl-house and dairy.

The milk was made partly into butter, partly into fresh cheeses. These
were sent off once a week to catch the steamer for Buenos Ayres. Mr.
Hardy had a light cart made for one horse, and by this conveyance the
butter--starting as soon as the sun went down--arrived in Rosario in
time for the early boat to the capital. It was sent in large baskets
made of rushes, and packed in many layers of cool, fresh leaves; so that
it arrived at Buenos Ayres, forty hours after leaving Mount Pleasant,
perfectly fresh and good. The skim milk was given to the pigs, who had
already increased to quite a numerous colony.

Although they had been planted less than a year, the fruit trees round
the house had thriven in a surprising manner, and already bore a crop of
fruit more than sufficient for the utmost wants of the household.
Peaches and nectarines, apricots and plums, appeared at every meal,
either fresh, stewed, or in puddings, and afforded a very pleasant
change and addition to their diet. As Maud said one day, they would have
been perfectly happy had it not been for the frogs.

These animals were a very great nuisance. They literally swarmed. Do
what they would, the Hardys could not get rid of them. If they would but
have kept out of the house, no one would have minded them; indeed, as
they destroyed a good many insects, they would have been welcome
visitors in the garden; but this was just what they would not do. The
door always stood open, and they evidently considered that as an
invitation to walk in. There they would hide behind boxes, or get under
beds, and into water-jugs and baths, and, in fact, into every possible
corner. They would even get into boots; and these had always to be
shaken before being put on, in case frogs or insects should have taken
up their abode there.

It used at first to be quite a matter of difficulty to know what to do
with the frogs after they were caught; but after a time a covered basket
was kept outside the door, and into this the frogs were popped, and
taken once a day and emptied into the stream. At first they had got into
the well, and had proved a great nuisance; and they were only got rid of
by nearly emptying the well out with buckets, and by then building a
wall round its mouth, with a tightly-fitting lid.

Insects of all kinds were indeed a great pest, scorpions being by no
means uncommon, while large centipedes occasionally intruded into the
house. These creatures were a great trouble to the girls in their dairy,
for the frogs and toads would climb up the walls, and fall squash into
the milk-pans. The only way that they could be at all kept out was by
having the door sawn asunder three feet from the ground, so that the
lower half could be shut while the girls were engaged inside. However,
in spite of the utmost pains, the little ones would crawl in through
crevices, or leap in at the window; and at last the girls had to get
wicker-work covers made for all the pans; and as the natives are very
skilful at this work, they were thus enabled to keep the milk clean.
Almost as great a trouble as the frogs were the brocachas, who committed
terrible havoc in the garden and among the crops. They are about the
size, and have somewhat the appearance of hares, and burrow in immense
quantities in the Pampas. The only way to get rid of them was by puffing
the fumes of burning sulphur down into their holes; and it was quite a
part of the boys' regular work to go out with the machine for the
purpose, and to suffocate these troublesome creatures. Their holes,
however, are not so dangerous to horsemen as are those of the
armadillos, as the ground is always bare in their neighbourhood.

The armadillos are of three or four species, all of them small. The
peludo is about a foot in length, and has hair sticking out between his
scales. The muletas are smaller. Both are excellent eating; but the
girls were some time before they could bring themselves to touch them.
The matajo, in addition to the protection of his scales, is able to roll
himself into a ball at the approach of danger, and, clothed in his
impervious armour, is proof against any attacks except those of man.
These animals are so common, that the plain is in many cases quite
honey-combed with them.

The girls had a great scare the first time they came upon an iguana,
thinking that it was a crocodile. These great lizards are about five
feet long, and are ferocious-looking, but very harmless unless attacked.
Then they will defend themselves, and can inflict a sharp blow with
their tails, or a severe bite with their teeth. They are very common,
and the Indians eat them, and say that the meat is excellent; but the
young Hardys could never be persuaded to taste it. Thus matters
proceeded for some time without any noteworthy incident. Their circle of
acquaintances grew little by little. Several neighbouring plots had been
taken up; and although the new settlers had little time for making
visits, still the very fact of their presence near, gave a feeling of
companionship and security. Very frequently young men would arrive with
letters of introduction, and would stay a few days with them while they
inspected the country.

Their household, too, had received an increase. A young Englishman named
Fitzgerald, the son of some very old friend of the Hardys, had written
expressing a very strong desire to come out, and asking their advice in
the matter. Several letters had been exchanged, and at length, at Mr.
Fitzgerald's earnest request, Mr. Hardy agreed to receive his son for a
year, to learn the business of a Pampas farmer, before he embarked upon
his own account. A small room was accordingly cleared out for him, and
Mr. Hardy never had any reason to regret having received him. He was a
pleasant, light-hearted young fellow of about twenty years of age.

One change, however, had taken place which deserves mention. Sarah one
day came to her mistress, and with much blushing and hesitation said
that Terence Kelly had asked her to marry him.

Mrs. Hardy had long suspected that an attachment had sprung up between
the Irishman and her servant, so she only smiled and said, 'Well, Sarah,
and what did you say to Terence? The year you agreed to stop with us is
over, so you are at liberty to do as you like, you know.'

'Oh, ma'am, but I don't want to leave you. That is just what I told
Terence. "If master and mistress are willing that I shall marry you and
stay on with them as before, I won't say no, Terence; but if they say
that they would not take a married servant, then, Terence, we must stay
as we are."'

'I have no objection at all, Sarah, and I think I can answer for Mr.
Hardy having none. Terence is a very good, steady fellow, and I know
that Mr. Hardy has a high opinion of him; so you could not make a
marriage which would please us more. We should be very sorry to lose
you, but we could not in any case have opposed you marrying whom you
liked, and now we shall have the satisfaction of keeping you here with
us.'

And so it was settled; and a fortnight afterwards, Terence and Sarah had
two days' holiday, and went down to Buenos Ayres, where there was an
English church, and came back again man and wife. After that each went
back to work as usual, and the only change was, that Terence now took
his meals and lived in the house instead of down in the men's huts. By
this time they had begun to find out which of the crops peculiar to warm
countries would pay, and which would not, or rather--for they all paid
more or less--which was the most suitable.

The cotton crop had proved a success; the field had in time been covered
with cotton plants, which had burst first into a bright yellow blossom,
and had then been covered with many balls of white fluff. The picking
the cotton had been looked upon at first as great fun, although it had
proved hard work before it was finished. Its weight had rather exceeded
Mr. Hardy's anticipation. The process of cleaning the cotton from the
pods and seeds had proved a long and troublesome operation, and had
taken an immense time. Judging by the progress that they at first made
with it, they really began to despair of ever finishing it, but with
practice they became more adroit. Still it was found to be too great a
labour during the heat of the day, although carried on within doors. It
had been a dirty work too; the light particles of fluff had got
everywhere, and at the end of a couple of hours' work the party had
looked like a family of bakers. Indeed, before more than a quarter of
the quantity raised was cleaned, they were heartily sick of the job, and
the remainder was sold in the pod to an Englishman who had brought out
machinery, and was attempting to raise cotton near Buenos Ayres.
Although the profits had been considerable, it was unanimously
determined that the experiment should not be repeated, at any rate for
the present.

Mr. Hardy had not at first carried out his idea of planting a couple of
acres with tobacco and sugar-cane, the ground having been required for
other purposes. He had not, however, abandoned the idea; and about two
months before the marriage of Terence and Sarah, he had planted some
tobacco, which was, upon their return from Buenos Ayres, ready to be
picked.

The culture of tobacco requires considerable care. The ground is first
prepared with great care, and is well and thoroughly manured; but this
was not required in the present case, as the rich virgin soil needed no
artificial aid. It is then dug in beds something like asparagus beds,
about two feet wide, with a deep trench between each. The seeds are
raised in a seed-bed, and when nine or ten inches high, they are taken
up and carefully transplanted into the beds, two rows being placed in
each, and the plants being a foot apart.

There are various methods of cultivation, but this was the one adopted
by Mr. Hardy. The plants grew rapidly, the ground between them being
occasionally hoed, and kept free from weeds. When they were four feet
high the tops were nipped off, and any leaves which showed signs of
disease were removed. Each stem had from eight to ten leaves. When the
leaves began to turn rather yellow, Mr. Hardy announced that the time
for cutting had arrived, and one morning all hands were mustered to the
work. It consisted merely in cutting the stems at a level with the
earth, and laying the plants down gently upon the ground. By
breakfast-time the two acres were cleared. They were left all day to dry
in the sun, and a little before sunset they were taken up, and carried
up to one of the store-sheds, which had been cleared and prepared for
the purpose. Here they were placed in a heap on the ground, covered over
with raw hides and mats, and left for three days to heat. After this
they were uncovered, and hung up on laths from the roofs, close to each
other and yet sufficiently far apart to allow the air to circulate
between them. Here they remained until they were quite dry, and were
then taken down, a damp covering being chosen for the operation, as
otherwise the dry leaves would have crumbled to dust. They were again
laid in a heap, and covered up to allow them to heat once more. This
second heating required some days to accomplish, and this operation
required great attention, as the tobacco would have been worthless if
the plants had heated too much.

In ten days the operation was complete. The leaves were then stripped
off, the upper leaves were placed by themselves, as also the middle and
the lower leaves; the higher ones being of the finest quality. They were
then tied in bundles of twelve leaves each, and were packed in layers in
barrels, a great pressure being applied with a weighted lever, to press
them down into an almost solid mass. In all they filled three barrels,
the smallest of which, containing sixty pounds of the finest tobacco,
Mr. Hardy kept for his own use and that of his friends; the rest he sold
at Buenos Ayres at a profitable rate. The venture, like that of the
cotton, had proved a success, but the trouble and care required had been
very great, and Mr. Hardy determined in future to plant only sufficient
for his own use and that of the men employed upon the estate.

The next experiment which was perfected was that with the sugar-cane. In
this, far more than in the others, Mrs. Hardy and the girls took a
lively interest. Sugar had been one of the few articles of consumption
which had cost money, and it had been used in considerable quantities
for converting the fruit into fine puddings and preserves. It was not
contemplated to make sugar for sale, but only for the supply of the
house: two acres, therefore, was the extent of the plantation. Mr. Hardy
procured the cuttings from a friend who had a small sugar plantation
near Buenos Ayres.

The cultivation of sugar is simple. The land having been got in perfect
order, deep furrows were ploughed at a distance of five feet apart. In
these the cuttings, which are pieces of the upper part of the cane,
containing two or three knots, were laid at a distance of three feet
apart. The plough was then taken along by the side of the furrow, so as
to fill it up again and cover the cuttings. In sugar plantations the
rows of canes are close together, but Mr. Hardy had chosen this
distance, as it enabled his horse-hoe to work between them, and thus
keep the ground turned up and free from weeds, without the expense of
hard labour. In a short time the shoots appeared above the soil. In four
months they had gained the height of fourteen feet, and their glossy
stems showed that they were ready to cut.

'Now, Clara,' Mr. Hardy said, 'this is your manufacture, you know, and
we are only to work under your superintendence. The canes are ready to
cut: how do you intend to crush the juice out? because that is really an
important question.'

The young Hardys looked aghast at each other, for in the pressure of
other matters the question of apparatus for the sugar manufacture had
been quite forgotten.

'Have you really no idea how to do it, Frank?'

'No, really I have not, my dear. We have certainly no wood on the place
which would make the rollers; besides, it would be rather a difficult
business.'

Mrs. Hardy thought for a minute, and then said, 'I should think that the
mangle would do it.'

There was a general exclamation of 'Capital, mamma!' and then a burst of
laughter at the idea of making sugar with a mangle. The mangle in
question was part of a patent washing apparatus which Mr. Hardy had
brought with him from England, and consisted of two strong iron rollers,
kept together by strong springs, and turning with a handle.

'I do think that the mangle would do, Clara,' Mr. Hardy said, 'and we
are all much obliged to you for the idea. I had thought of the great
washing copper for boiling the sugar, but the mangle altogether escaped
me. We will begin to-morrow. Please get all the tubs scrubbed out and
scalded, and put out in the sun to dry.'

'How long will it take, papa?'

'Some days, Ethel; we must only cut the canes as fast as the boiler can
boil the juice down.'

The next day the work began. The canes were cut at a level with the
ground, the tops were taken off, and the canes cut into lengths of three
feet. They were then packed on a bullock-cart and taken up to the house.
They were next passed through the mangle, which succeeded admirably, the
juice flowing out in streams into the tub placed below to receive it.
When all the canes had been passed through the mangle, the screws were
tightened to increase the pressure, and they were again passed through;
by which time, although the juice was not so thoroughly extracted as it
would have been by a more powerful machine, the quantity that remained
was not important. As the tub was filled, the contents were taken to the
great copper, under which a fire was then lighted. The crushing of the
canes was continued until the copper was nearly full, when Mr. Hardy
ordered the cutting of the canes to be discontinued for the day. The
fire under the copper was fed with the crushed canes, which burnt very
freely. Mr. Hardy now added a small quantity of lime and some sheep's
blood, which last ingredient caused many exclamations of horror from
Mrs. Hardy and the young ones. The blood, however, Mr. Hardy informed
them, was necessary to clarify the sugar, as the albumen contained in
the blood would rise to the surface, bringing the impurities with it.
The fire was continued until the thermometer showed that the syrup was
within a few degrees of boiling, and the surface was covered with a
thick, dark-coloured scum. The fire was then removed, and the liquor
allowed to cool, the family now going about other work, as so large a
quantity of liquor would not be really cold until the next day.

The following morning the tap at the bottom of the boiler was turned,
and the syrup came out bright and clear,--about the colour of sherry
wine. The scum descended unbroken on the surface of the liquor; and when
the copper was nearly empty the tap was closed, and the scum and what
little liquor remained was taken out. The bright syrup was now again
poured into the boiler, the fire re-lighted, and the syrup was kept
boiling, to evaporate the water and condense the syrup down to the point
at which it would crystallize. It required many hours' boiling to effect
this, any scum which rose to the surface being carefully taken off with
a skimmer. At last it was found that the syrup on the skimmer began to
crystallize, and Mr. Hardy pronounced it to be fit to draw off into the
large washing tubs to crystallize. A fresh batch of canes was now
crushed, and so the process was repeated until all the canes were cut.
It took a fortnight altogether, but only five days of this were
actually occupied in cutting and crushing the canes. As the sugar
crystallized it was taken out,--a dark, pulpy-looking mass, at which the
young Hardys looked very doubtfully,--and was placed in a large sugar
hogshead, which had been procured for the purpose. In the bottom of this
eight large holes were bored, and these were stopped up with pieces of
plantain stalk. Through the porous substance of these stalks the
molasses or treacle slowly drained off. As the wet sugar was placed in
the cask, layers of slices of plantain stems were laid upon it, as the
spongy substance draws the dark colouring matter out from the sugar. The
plantain grows freely in South America, and Mr. Hardy had planted a
number of this graceful tree near his house; but these had not been
advanced enough to cut, and he had therefore procured a sufficient
quantity from a friend at Rosario. It was three months before the
drainage of the molasses quite ceased; and the Hardys were greatly
pleased, on emptying the hogshead and removing the plantain stems, to
find that their sugar was dry, and of a very fairly light colour. The
sugar-canes did not require planting again, as they will grow for many
years from the same roots; and although the canes from old stools, as
they are called, produce less sugar than those of the first year's
planting, the juice is clearer, and requires far less trouble to prepare
and refine. Before another year came round, the boys made a pair of
wooden rollers of eighteen inches in diameter. These were covered with
strips of hoop iron, nailed lengthways upon them at short intervals from
each other, thereby obtaining a better grip upon the canes, and
preventing the wood from being bruised and grooved. These rollers were
worked by a horse mill, which Mr. Hardy had ordered from England. It was
made for five horses, and did a great deal of useful work, grinding the
Indian corn into fine flour for home consumption and for sale to
neighbouring settlers, and into coarse meal, and pulping the pumpkins
and roots for the pigs and other animals.

Mr. Hardy also tried many other experiments, as the climate is suited to
almost every kind of plant and vegetable. Among them was the cultivation
of ginger, of the vanilla bean, of flax, hemp, and coffee. In all of
them he obtained more or less success; but the difficulty of obtaining
labour, and the necessity of devoting more and more attention to the
increasing flocks, herds, and irrigated land, prevented him from
carrying them out on a large scale. However, they served the purpose for
which he principally undertook them,--of giving objects of interest and
amusement to his children.



CHAPTER XII.

A STEADY HAND.


It was now more than eighteen months since the Hardys had been fairly
established at Mount Pleasant. A stranger who had passed along at the
time the house was first finished, would certainly fail to recognise it
now. Then it was a bare, uninviting structure, looking, as has been
said, like a small dissenting chapel built on the top of a gentle rise,
without tree or shelter of any kind. Now it appeared to rise from a mass
of bright green foliage, so rapidly had the trees grown, especially the
bananas and other tropical shrubs planted upon each side of the house.
At the foot of the slope were some sixty or seventy acres of cultivated
ground, while to the right were three or four large and strong wire
enclosures, in which the milch cows, the cattle, the sheep, and the pigs
were severally driven at night.

Everything was prospering beyond Mr. Hardy's most sanguine
expectations. More and more land was monthly being broken up and
irrigated. Large profits had been realized by buying lean cattle during
the dry season, fattening them upon alfalfa, and sending them down to
Rosario for sale. The pigs had multiplied astonishingly; and the profits
from the dairy were increasing daily, as more cows were constantly
added. The produce of Mount Pleasant was so valued at both Rosario and
Buenos Ayres, that the demand, at most remunerative prices, far exceeded
the supply.

Additions had been made to the number of peons, and the farm presented
quite an animated appearance.

The two years which had elapsed since the Hardys left England had
effected a considerable change in their appearance. Charley was now
eighteen,--a squarely-built, sturdy young fellow. From his life of
exposure in the open air, he looked older than he was. He had a strong
idea that he was now becoming a man; and Ethel had one day detected him
examining his cheeks very closely in the glass, to see if there were any
signs of whiskers. It was a debated question in his own mind whether a
beard would or would not be becoming to him. Hubert was nearly
seventeen: he was taller and slighter than his brother, but was younger
both in appearance and manners. He had all the restlessness of a boy,
and lacked somewhat of Charley's steady perseverance.

The elder brother was essentially of a practical disposition. He took a
lively interest in the affairs of the farm, and gave his whole mind to
it. If he went out shooting, he did so to get game for the table. He
enjoyed the sport, and entered heartily into it, but he did so in a
business sort of way.

Hubert was a far more imaginative boy. He stuck to the work of the farm
as conscientiously as his brother did, but his attention was by no means
of the same concentrated kind. A new butterfly, an uncommon insect,
would be irresistible to him; and not unfrequently, when he went out
with his gun to procure some game which Mr. Hardy had wanted upon the
arrival of some unexpected visitor, he would come back in a high state
of triumph with some curious little bird, which he had shot after a long
chase, the requirements of the household being altogether forgotten.

Maud was fifteen. Her constant out-of-door exercise had made her as
nimble and active as a young fawn. She loved to be out and about, and
her two hours of lessons with her mamma in the afternoon were a grievous
penance to her.

Ethel wanted three months of fourteen, and looked under twelve. She was
quite the home-bird of the family, and liked nothing better than taking
her work and sitting by the hour, quietly talking to her mother.

The time was now again approaching when the Indian forays were to be
expected. It was still a month earlier than the attack of the year
before, and Mr. Hardy, with the increased number of his men, had not the
least fear of any successful assault upon Mount Pleasant; but he
resolved, when the time came, to take every possible precaution against
attacks upon the animals. He ordered that the iron gates of the
enclosures should be padlocked at night, and that some of the native
dogs should be chained there as sentinels. He looked forward with some
little anxiety to the Indian moon, as it is called, because, when he had
ridden out with Lopez and two of their Canterbury friends to the scene
of the encounter a few days after it had taken place, they found that
the Indians had fled so precipitately upon the loss of their horses,
that they had not even buried the bodies of their friends, and that,
short as the time had been, the foxes had left nothing but a few bones
remaining of these. From the mocassins, however, and from other relics
of the Indians strewn about, Lopez had pronounced at once that two
tribes had been engaged in the fray: the one, inhabitants of the
Pampas,--a people which, although ready to murder any solitary whites,
seldom attack a prepared foe; and the other, of Indians from the west,
of a far more warlike and courageous character. The former tribe, Lopez
affirmed,--and the natives of the country agreed with him,--would not of
themselves have been likely to attempt a fresh attack upon antagonists
who had proved themselves so formidable, but the latter would be almost
certain to make some desperate attempt to wipe off the disgrace of their
defeat. Under these circumstances, although perfectly confident of their
power to beat off any attack, it was resolved that every precaution
should be taken when the time approached.

Late one afternoon, however, Mr. Fitzgerald had gone out for a ride with
Mr. Hardy. Charley had gone down to the dam with his gun on his
shoulder, and Hubert had ridden to a pool in the river at some distance
off, where he had the day before observed a wild duck, which he believed
to be a new sort. The cattle and flocks had just been driven in by Lopez
and two mounted peons at an earlier hour than usual, as Mr. Hardy had
that morning given orders that the animals were all to be in their
enclosures before dusk. The labourers in the fields below were still at
work ploughing. Ethel was in the sitting-room working with Mrs. Hardy,
while Maud was in the garden picking some fruit for tea.

Presently the occupants of the parlour were startled by a sharp cry from
Maud, and in another instant she flew into the room, rushed at a bound
to the fireplace, snatched down her light rifle from its hooks over the
mantel, and, crying, 'Quick, Ethel, your rifle!' was gone again in an
instant.

Mrs. Hardy and Ethel sprang to their feet, too surprised for the moment
to do anything, and then Mrs. Hardy repeated Maud's words, 'Quick,
Ethel, your rifle!'

Ethel seized it, and with her mother ran to the door. Then they saw a
sight which brought a scream from both their lips. Mrs. Hardy fell on
her knees and covered her eyes, while Ethel, after a moment's pause,
grasped the rifle, which had nearly fallen from her hands, and ran
forward, though her limbs trembled so that they could scarcely carry her
on.

The sight was indeed a terrible one. At a distance of two hundred yards,
Hubert was riding for his life. His hat was off, his gun was gone, his
face was deadly pale. Behind him rode three Indians. The nearest one was
immediately behind him, at a distance of scarce two horses' length; the
other two were close to their leader. All were evidently gaining upon
him.

Maud had thrown the gate open, and stood by the post with the barrel of
her rifle resting on one of the wires. 'Steady, Ethel, steady,' she said
in a hard, strange voice, as her sister joined her; 'Hubert's life
depends upon your aim. Wait till I fire, and take the man on the right.
Aim at his chest.'

The sound of Maud's steady voice acted like magic upon her sister; the
mist which had swum before her eyes cleared off; her limbs ceased to
tremble, and her hand grew steady. Hubert was now within a hundred
yards, but the leading Indian was scarce a horse's length behind. He had
his tomahawk already in his hand, in readiness for the fatal blow.
Another twenty yards and he whirled it round his head with a yell of
exultation.

'Stoop, Hubert, stoop!' Maud cried in a loud, clear voice; and
mechanically, with the wild war-whoop behind ringing in his ears, Hubert
bent forward on to the horse's mane. He could feel the breath of the
Indian's horse against his legs, and his heart seemed to stand still.

Maud and her rifle might have been taken for a statue, so immoveable and
rigid did she stand; and then, as the Indian's arm went back for the
blow, crack, and without a word or a cry the Indian fell back, struck
with the deadly little bullet in the centre of the forehead.

Not so silently did Ethel's bullet do its work. A wild cry followed the
report: for an instant the Indian reeled in his saddle, and then,
steadying himself, turned his horse sharp round, and with his companion
galloped off.

Hubert, as his horse passed through the gate and drew up, almost fell
from his seat; and it was with the greatest difficulty that he staggered
towards Maud, who had gone off in a dead faint as she saw him ride on
alone.

Ethel had sat down on the ground, and was crying passionately, and
Terence came running down from the house with a gun in his hand, pouring
out Irish threats and ejaculations after the Indians. These were changed
into a shout of triumph as Charley stepped from behind the hen-house, as
they passed at a short distance, and at the discharge of his double
barrels the unwounded Indian fell heavily from his horse.

Anxious as he was to assist his young mistresses, for Hubert was far too
shaken to attempt to lift Maud from the ground, Terence stood riveted to
the spot watching the remaining Indian. Twice he reeled in the saddle,
and twice recovered himself, but the third time, when he was distant
nearly half a mile, he suddenly fell off to the ground.

'I thought the murdering thief had got it,' muttered Terence to himself,
as he ran down to raise Maud, and with the assistance of Sarah to carry
her up to the house, against the door-way of which Mrs. Hardy was still
leaning, too agitated to trust herself to walk.

Hubert, now somewhat recovered, endeavoured to pacify Ethel, and the two
walked slowly up towards the house. In a minute or two Charley came
running up, and the peons were seen hurrying towards them. After a
silent shake of the hand to his brother, and a short 'Thank God!'
Charley, with his accustomed energy, took the command.

'Hubert, do you and Terence get all the arms loaded at once. Lopez, tell
the peons to hurry up the plough oxen, shut them in the enclosure, and
padlock all the gates. I will warn you if there's any danger. Then bring
all the men and women up here. I am going to run up the danger flag.
Papa is out somewhere on the plains.' So saying, and taking his Colt's
carbine, he ran up the stairs.

In a moment afterwards his voice was heard again. 'Hubert, Terence,
bring all the guns that are loaded up here at once,--quick, quick!' and
then he shouted loudly in Spanish, 'Come in all; come in for your
lives!' In another minute they joined him on the tower with Mr. Hardy's
long rifle, Hubert's carbine, and their double-barrelled shot-guns, into
each of which Terence dropped a bullet upon the top of the shot. Hubert
could scarcely help giving a cry. At a distance of a quarter of a mile,
Mr. Hardy and Fitzgerald were coming along, pursued by at least a dozen
Indians, who were thirty or forty yards in their rear. They were
approaching from behind the house, and would have to make a sweep to get
round to the entrance, which was on the right, on the side facing the
dam. This would evidently give their pursuers a slight advantage.

'They hold their own,' Charley said after a minute's silence; 'there is
no fear. Lopez!' he shouted, 'run and see that the outside as well as
the inside gates are open.'

It has been already said that a low wire fence had been placed at a
distance of a hundred yards beyond the inner enclosure, to protect the
young trees from the animals. It was composed of two wires, only a foot
apart, and was almost hidden by the long grass. It had a low gate,
corresponding in position to the inner one. Charley's quick eye saw at
once the importance of the position.

'I think you might use the long rifle now,' Hubert said; 'it might stop
them if they feel that they are in reach of our guns.'

'No, no,' Charley said, 'I don't want to stop them; don't show the end
of a gun above the wall.' Then he was silent until his father was within
three hundred yards. He then shouted at the top of his voice, 'Mind the
outside fence, mind the outside fence!'

Mr. Hardy raised a hand to show that he heard, and as he approached,
Charley shouted again, 'Sweep well round the fence, well round it, for
them to try and cut you off.'

Charley could see that Mr. Hardy heard, for he turned his horse's head
so as to go rather wide of the corner of the fence. 'Now, Hubert and
Terence, get ready; we shall have them directly.'

Mr. Hardy and his companion galloped past, with the Indians still fifty
yards behind them. Keeping twenty yards from the corner of the fence,
the fugitives wheeled round to the right, and the Indians, with a cry of
exultation, turned to the right also to cut them off. The low
treacherous wire was unnoticed, and in another moment men and horses
were rolling in a confused mass upon the ground.

'Now,' Charley said, 'every barrel we have;' and from the top of the
tower a rain of lead poured down upon the bewildered Indians. The
horses, frightened and wounded, kicked and struggled dreadfully, and did
almost as much harm to their masters as the deadly bullets of the
whites; and when the fire ceased, not more than half of them regained
their seats and galloped off, leaving the rest, men and horses, in a
ghastly heap. Seeing them in full retreat, the occupants of the tower
descended to receive Mr. Hardy and Fitzgerald, Terence much delighted at
having at last had his share in a skirmish.

'Well done, boys! Very well planned, Charley!' Mr. Hardy said as he
reined in his horse. 'That was a near escape.'

'Not as near a one as Hubert has had, by a long way, papa.'

'Indeed!' Mr. Hardy said anxiously. 'Let me hear all about it.'

'We have not heard ourselves yet,' Charley answered. 'It occurred only a
few minutes before your own. The girls behaved splendidly; but they are
rather upset now. If you will go up to the house to them, I will be up
directly, but there are a few things to see about first. Lopez,' he went
on, 'carry out what I told you before: get the men in from the ploughs
and see all secured. Tell them to hurry, for it will be dark soon. Kill
a couple of sheep and bring them up to the house; we shall be a large
party, and it may be wanted. Then let the peons all have supper. Come up
to the house in an hour for instructions. See yourself that the dogs are
fastened down by the cattle. Terence, take your place on the lookout,
and fire a gun if you see any one moving.'

Having seen that his various orders were obeyed, Charley went up to the
house. He found the whole party assembled in the sitting-room. Maud and
Ethel had quite recovered, although both looked pale. Mrs. Hardy,
absorbed in her attention to them, had fortunately heard nothing of her
husband's danger, until the firing from above, followed by a shout of
triumph, told her that any danger there was, had been defeated.

'Now, papa,' Charley said, 'you give us your account first.'

'I have not much to tell, Charley. Fitzgerald and I had ridden out some
distance,--five miles, I should say,--when the dogs stopped at a thicket
and put out a lion. Fitzgerald and I both fired with our left-hand
barrels, which were loaded with ball. The beast fell, and we got off to
skin him. Dash barked furiously, and we saw a couple of dozen Indians
coming up close to us. We stopped a moment to give them our barrels with
duck-shot, and then jumped into our saddles and rode for it.
Unfortunately, we had been foolish enough to go out without our
revolvers. They pressed us hard, but I was never in fear of their
actually catching us; my only alarm was, that one of us might repeat my
disaster of the armadillo hole. So I only tried to hold my own thirty or
forty yards ahead. I made sure that one or other of you would see us
coming, and I should have shouted loudly enough, I can tell you, to warn
you as I came up. Besides, I knew that, at the worst, the arms were
hanging above the fireplace, and that we only wanted time to run in,
catch them up, and get to the door, to be able to defend the house till
you could help us. And now, what is your story, Charley?'

'I have even less than you, papa. I was down at the dam, and then I went
into the hen-house, and I was just thinking that I could make a better
arrangement for the nests, when I heard an Indian war-yell between me
and the house. It was followed almost directly by two cracks, which I
knew were the girls' rifles. I rushed to the door and looked out, and I
saw two Indians coming along at full gallop. By the direction they were
taking, they would pass only a little way from the hen-house; so I
stepped back till I heard they were opposite, and then, going out, I
gave both barrels to the nearest to me, and stopped his galloping about
pretty effectually. When I reached the place, I saw that Hubert had had
a narrow squeak of it, for Maud had fainted, and Ethel was in a great
state of cry. But I had no time to ask many questions, for I ran up to
hoist the danger flag, and then saw you and Fitzgerald coming along with
the Indians after you. Now, Hubert, let's hear your story.'

'Well, papa, you know I said yesterday that I was sure that I had seen a
new duck, and this afternoon I rode out to the pools, in hopes that he
might still be there. I left my horse, and crept on very cautiously
through the reeds till I got sight of the water. Sure enough, there was
the duck, rather on the other side. I waited for a long half hour, and
at last he came over rather nearer. He dived at my first barrel, but as
he came up, I gave him my second. Flirt went in and brought him out. He
was new, sure enough,--two blue feathers under the eye----'

'Bother the duck, Hubert,' Charley put in. 'We don't care for his blue
feathers; we want to hear about the Indians.'

'Well, I am coming to the Indians,' Hubert said; 'but it was a new duck,
for all that; and if you like it, I will show it you. There!' And he
took it out of his pocket and laid it on the table. No one appeared to
have the slightest interest in it, or to pay any attention to it. So
Hubert went on: 'Well, after looking at the duck, I put it into my
pocket, and went out from the bushes to my horse. As I got to him, I
heard a yell, which nearly made me tumble down, it startled me so; and
not a hundred yards away, and riding to cut me off from home, were
thirty or forty Indians. I was not long, as you may guess, climbing into
my saddle, and bolted like a shot. I could not make straight for home,
but had to make a sweep to get round them. I was better mounted than all
of them, except three; but they kept gradually gaining on me, while all
the rest in turn gave up the chase: and, like papa, I had left my
revolver behind. Black Tom did his best, and I encouraged him to the
utmost; but I began to think that it was all up with me, for I was
convinced that they would catch me before I could get in. When I was
little more than three hundred yards from the gate, I saw Maud come
dashing down with her rifle towards the gate, and a little afterwards
Ethel came too. The Indians kept getting nearer and nearer, and I
expected every moment to feel the tomahawk. I could not think why the
girls did not fire, but I supposed that they did not feel sure enough of
their aim; and I had the consolation that the Indian nearest could not
be going to strike, or they would risk a shot. On I went: the Indian was
so close that I could feel his horse's breath, and the idea came across
my mind that the brute was trying to catch hold of the calf of my leg.
At a hundred yards I could see Maud's face quite plain, and then I felt
certain I was saved. She looked as steady as if she had been taking aim
at a mark, and the thought flashed across me of how last week she had
hit a small stone on a post, at eighty yards, first shot, when Charley
and I had missed it half a dozen times each. Then there was a frightful
yell, almost in my ear. Then I heard Maud cry out, "Stoop, Hubert,
stoop!" I was stooping before, but my head went down to the horse's
mane, I can tell you. And then there was the crack of the two rifles,
and a yell of pain. I could not look round, but I felt that the horse
behind me had stopped, and that I was safe. That's my story, papa.'

[Illustration: Hubert's Escape from the Indians.--_Page 242._]

A few more questions elicited from Mrs. Hardy all that she knew of it,
and then the warmest commendations were bestowed upon the girls. Ethel,
however, generously disclaimed all praise, as she said that she
should have done nothing at all had it not been for Maud's steadiness
and coolness.

'And now let us have our tea,' Mr. Hardy said; 'and then we can talk
over our measures for to-night.'

'Do you think that they will attack us, papa?' Ethel asked.

'Yes, Ethel, I think that most likely they will. As we came across the
plain, I noticed several other parties quite in the distance. There must
be a very strong body out altogether, and probably they have resolved
upon vengeance for their last year's defeat. They had better have left
it alone, for they have no more chance of taking this house, with us all
upon our guard, than they have of flying. There is one advantage in
it,--they will get such a lesson, that I do think we shall be perfectly
free from Indian attacks for the future.'

After tea Lopez came up for orders. 'You will place,' Mr. Hardy said,
'two peons at each corner of the outside fence. One of us will come
round every half hour to see that all is right. Their instructions are,
that in case they hear any movement, one is to come up to us immediately
with the news, and the other is to go round to tell the other sentries
to do the same. All this is to be done in perfect silence. I do not
want them to know that we are ready for their reception. Bring some
fresh straw up and lay it down here on the floor: the women can sleep
here.'

'What shall I do about your own horses, Signor?' Lopez asked.

Mr. Hardy thought a moment. 'I think you had better send them down to
the enclosure with the others; they might be driven off if they are left
up here, and I do not see that we can require them.'

'But what about the cattle, papa?' Charley asked. 'It would be a serious
loss if they were driven off, especially the milch cows. If you like, I
will go down with Terence, and we can take up our station among them. It
would be a strong post, for the Indians of course could not attack us on
horseback; and with my carbine, and Terence's gun, and a brace of
revolvers, I think we could beat them off easily enough, especially as
you would cover us with your guns.'

'I had thought of that plan, Charley; but it would be dangerous, and
would cause us up here great anxiety. I imagine, too, that as no doubt
their great object is vengeance, they will attack us first here, or they
may make an effort upon the cattle at the same time that they attack
here. They will not begin with the animals. They will find it a very
difficult business to break down the fence, which they must do to drive
them out; and while they are about it we shall not be idle, depend upon
it.'

The preparations were soon made, and it was agreed that Mr. Hardy and
Hubert should go the rounds alternately with Charley and Fitzgerald. As
a usual thing, the Indian attacks take place in the last hour or two of
darkness. Mr. Hardy thought, however, that an exception would be made in
the present case, in order that they might get as far as possible away
before any pursuit took place. The wives of the peons lay down to sleep
on the straw which had been thrown down for them. The men sat outside
the door, smoking their cigarettes and talking in low whispers. Mrs.
Hardy was in her room; Ethel kept her company, Maud dividing her time
between them and the top of the tower, where Mr. Hardy, Fitzgerald, and
the boys were assembled in the intervals between going their rounds.

At about ten o'clock there was a sharp bark from one of the dogs
fastened up by the fold, followed up by a general barking of all the
dogs on the establishment.

'There they are,' Mr. Hardy said. 'Charley, bring the mastiffs inside,
and order them, and the retrievers too, to be quiet. We do not want any
noise up here, to tell the Indians that we are on the watch. Now,
Fitzgerald, you go to the sentries behind the house, and I will go to
those in front, to tell them to fall back at once.'

This mission was, however, unnecessary, for the eight peons all arrived
in a minute or two, having fled from their posts at the first barking of
the dogs, and without obeying their orders to send round to each other
to give notice of their retreat.

Mr. Hardy was very angry with them, but they were in such abject fear of
the Indians that they paid little heed to their master's words, but went
and huddled themselves together upon the straw in the sitting-room,
remaining there without movement until all was over. Terence was now
recalled from the gate, which had been his post.

'Did you hear anything, Terence?'

'Sure, your honour, and I thought I heard a dull sound like a lot of
horses galloping in the distance. I should say that there were a great
many of them. It seemed to get a little louder, and then it stopped.'

'That was before the dogs began to bark, Terence?'

'About five minutes before, your honour.'

'Yes. I have no doubt that they all dismounted to make the attack on
foot. How quiet everything is!'

The general barking of the dogs had now ceased: sometimes one or another
gave a suspicious yelping bark, but between these no sound whatever was
audible. The door was now closed and barred; candles were lighted and
placed in every room, thick cloths having been hung up before the
loopholes in the shutters, to prevent a ray of light from escaping; and
the windows themselves were opened. Mr. Fitzgerald, the boys, and Maud
took their station on the tower, Mr. Hardy remaining with his wife and
Ethel, while Terence and Lopez kept watch in the other apartments. The
arrangements for the defence were, that Mr. Fitzgerald, Lopez, and
Terence should defend the lower part of the house. There were in all six
double-barrelled guns,--two to each of them; and three of the peons more
courageous than the others offered to load the guns as they were
discharged.

Mr. Hardy and the boys had their place on the tower, from which they
commanded the whole garden. They had the long rifle, the carbines, and
four revolvers. Mrs. Hardy and the girls took their place in the upper
room of the tower, where there was a light. Their rifles were ready in
case of necessity, but their principal duty was to load the spare
chambers of the carbines and pistols as fast as they were emptied, the
agreement being, that the girls should go up by turns to take the loaded
ones and bring down the empties. Sarah's place was her kitchen, where
she could hear all that was going on below, and she was to call up the
ladder in case aid was required. And so, all being in readiness, they
calmly awaited the attack.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE INDIAN ATTACK.


For nearly half an hour the occupants of the tower remained without
hearing the smallest sound. Then there was a slight jarring noise.

'They are getting over the fence,' Mr. Hardy whispered. 'Go down now
every one to his station. Keep the dogs quiet, and mind, let no one fire
until I give the signal.'

Over and over again the clinking noise was repeated. Cautious as the
Indians were, it was impossible even for them to get over that strange
and difficult obstacle without touching the wires with their arms.
Occasionally Mr. Hardy and the boys fancied that they could see dark
objects stealing towards the house through the gloom; otherwise all was
still.

'Boys,' Mr. Hardy said, 'I have changed my mind. There will be numbers
at the doors and windows, whom we cannot get at from here. Steal quietly
down-stairs, and take your position each at a window. Then, when the
signal is given, fire both your revolvers. Don't throw away a shot.
Darken all the rooms except the kitchen. You will see better to take aim
through the loopholes; it will be quite light outside. When you have
emptied your revolvers, come straight up here, leaving them for the
girls to load as you pass.'

Without a word, the boys slipped away. Mr. Hardy then placed on a round
shelf nailed to the flag-staff, at about eight feet from the ground, a
blue-light, fitting into a socket on the shelf. The shelf was made just
so large that it threw a shadow over the top of the tower, so that those
standing there were in comparative darkness, while everything around was
in bright light. There, with a match in his hand to light the
blue-light, he awaited the signal.

It was a long time coming,--so long that the pause grew painful, and
every one in the house longed for the bursting of the coming storm. At
last it came. A wild, long, savage yell from hundreds of throats rose on
the still night air, and, confident as they were in their position,
there was not one of the garrison but felt his blood grow cold at the
appalling ferocity of the cry. Simultaneously there was a tremendous
rush at the doors and windows, which tried the strength of frame and
bar. Then, as they stood firm, came a rain of blows with hatchet and
tomahawk.

Then came a momentary pause of astonishment. The weapons, instead of
splintering the wood, merely made deep dents, or glided off harmlessly.
Then the blows redoubled, and then a bright light suddenly lit up the
whole scene. As it did so, from every loophole a stream of fire poured
out, repeated again and again. The guns, heavily loaded with buck-shot,
told with terrible effect upon the crowded mass of Indians around the
windows, and the discharge of the four barrels from each of the three
windows of the room at the back of the house, by Fitzgerald, Lopez, and
Terence, for a while cleared the assailants from that quarter. After the
first yell of astonishment and rage, a perfect quiet succeeded to the
din which had raged there, broken only by the ring of the ramrods, as
the three men and their assistants hastily reloaded their guns, and then
hurried to the front of the house, where their presence was urgently
required.

Knowing the tremendous rush there would be at the door, Charley and
Hubert had posted themselves at its two loopholes, leaving the windows
to take care of themselves for the present. The first rush was so
tremendous that the door trembled on its posts, massive as it was; and
the boys, thinking that it would come in, threw the weight of their
bodies against it. Then with the failure of the first rush came the
storm of blows; and the boys stood with their pistols levelled through
the holes, waiting for the light which was to enable them to see their
foes.

As it came, they fired together, and two Indians fell. Again and again
they fired, until not an Indian remained standing opposite the fatal
door. Then each took a window, for there was one at each side of the
door, and these they held, rushing occasionally into the rooms on either
side to check the assailants there.

In this fight, Sarah had certainly the honour of first blood. She was a
courageous woman, and was determined to do her best in defence of the
house. As an appropriate weapon, she had placed the end of the spit in
the fire, and at the moment of the attack it was white-hot. Seeing the
shutter bend with the pressure of the Indians against it, she seized the
spit, and plunged it through the loophole with all her force. A fearful
yell followed, which rose even above the tremendous din around.

There was a lull so profound, after the discharge of the last barrels of
the boys' revolvers, as to be almost startling. Running up-stairs, they
fitted fresh chambers to their weapons, left the empty ones with their
sisters, and joined their father.

'That's right, boys; the attack is beaten off for the present. Now take
your carbines. There is a band of Indians down by the animals. I heard
their war-whoops when the others began, but the light hardly reaches so
far. Now look out, I am going to send up a rocket over them. The cows
are the most important; so, Charley, you direct all your shots at any
party there. Hubert, divide yours among the rest.'

In another moment the rocket flew up into the air, and, as the bright
light burst out, a group of Indians could be seen at the gateway of each
of the enclosures.

As the brilliant light broke over them, they scattered with a cry of
astonishment. Before the light faded, the twelve barrels had been fired
among them.

As the rocket burst, Mr. Hardy had gazed eagerly over the country, and
fancied that he could see a dark mass at a distance of half a mile. This
he guessed to be the Indians' horses.

By this time the blue-light was burning low, and Mr. Hardy, stretching
his hand up, lit another at its blaze, and planted the fresh one down
upon it. As he did so, a whizzing of numerous arrows showed that they
were watched. One went through his coat, fortunately without touching
him; another went right through his arm; and a third laid Charley's
cheek open from the lip to the ear.

'Keep your heads below the wall, boys,' their father shouted. 'Are you
hurt, Charley?'

'Not seriously, papa, but it hurts awfully;' and Charley stamped with
rage and pain.

'What has become of the Indians round the house?' Hubert asked. 'They
are making no fresh attack.'

'No,' Mr. Hardy said; 'they have had enough of it. They are only
wondering how they are to get away. You see the fence is exposed all
round to our fire, for the trees don't go within twenty yards of it.
They are neither in front nor behind the house, for it is pretty open in
both directions, and we should see them. They are not at this side of
the house, so they must be standing close to the wall between the
windows, and must be crowded among the trees and shrubs at the other
end. There is no window there, so they are safe as long as they stay
quiet.'

'No, papa,' Hubert said eagerly; 'don't you remember we left two
loopholes in each room, when we built it, on purpose, only putting in
pieces of wood and filling up the cracks with clay to keep out the
wind?'

'Of course we did, Hubert. I remember all about it now. Run down and
tell them to be ready to pull the wood out and to fire through when they
hear the next rocket go off. I am going to send another light rocket
over in the direction where I saw the horses; and directly I get the
line I will send off cracker-rocket after cracker-rocket as quickly as I
can at them. What with the fire from below among them, and the fright
they will get when they see the horses attacked, they are sure to make a
rush for it.'

In a minute Hubert came back with the word that the men below were
ready. In a moment a rocket soared far away to behind the house; and
just as its light broke over the plains, another one swept over in the
direction of a dark mass of animals, seen plainly enough in the
distance.

A cry of dismay burst from the Indians, rising in yet wilder alarm as
three shots were fired from the wall of the house into their crowded
mass. Again and again was the discharge repeated, and, with a yell of
dismay, a wild rush was made for the fence. Then the boys with their
carbines, and Mr. Hardy with the revolvers, opened upon them, every shot
telling in the dense mass who struggled to surmount the fatal railings.

Frenzied with the danger, dozens attempted to climb them, and, strong as
were the wires and posts, there was a cracking sound, and the whole side
fell. In another minute, of the struggling mass there remained only some
twenty motionless forms. Three or four more rockets were sent off in the
direction where the horses had been seen, and then another signal
rocket, whose light enabled them to see that the black mass was broken
up, and that the whole plain was covered with scattered figures of men
and animals, all flying at the top of their speed.

'Thank God, it is all over, and we are safe!' Mr. Hardy said solemnly.
'Never again will an Indian attack be made upon Mount Pleasant.'

'It is all over now, my dear,' he said to Mrs. Hardy as he went down the
stairs; 'they are off all over the country, and it will take them hours
to get their horses together again. Two of us have got scratched with
arrows, but no real harm is done. Charley's is only a flesh wound. Don't
be frightened,' he added quickly, as Mrs. Hardy turned pale and the
girls gave a cry at the appearance of Charley's face, which was
certainly alarming. 'A little warm water and a bandage will put it all
right.'

'Do you think it will leave a scar?' Charley asked rather dolorously.

'Well, Charley, I should not be surprised if it does; but it won't spoil
your beauty long, your whiskers will cover it: besides, a scar won in
honourable conflict is always admired by ladies, you know. Now let us go
down-stairs; my arm, too, wants bandaging, for it is beginning to smart
amazingly; and I am sure we all must want something to eat.'

The supper was eaten hurriedly, and then all but Terence, who, as a
measure of precaution, was stationed as watchman on the tower, were glad
to lie down for a few hours' sleep. At daybreak they were up and moving.

Mr. Hardy requested that neither his wife or daughters should go outside
the house until the dead Indians were removed and buried, as the sight
could not but be a most shocking one. Two of the peons were ordered to
put in the oxen and bring up two carts, and the rest of the men set
about the unpleasant duty of examining and collecting the slain.

These were even more numerous than Mr. Hardy had anticipated, and showed
how thickly they must have been clustered round the door and windows.
The guns had been loaded with buck-shot; two bullets he dropped down
each barrel in addition; and the discharge of these had been most
destructive, more especially those fired through the loopholes at the
end of the house. There no less than sixteen bodies were found, while
around the door and windows were thirteen others. All these were dead.
The guns having been discharged through loopholes breast-high, had taken
effect upon the head and body.

At the fence were fourteen. Of these, twelve were dead, another still
breathed, but was evidently dying, while one had only a broken leg.
Unquestionably several others had been wounded, but had managed to make
off. The bullets of revolvers, unless striking a mortal point, disable
a wounded man much less than the balls of heavier calibre. It was
evidently useless to remove the Indian who was dying; all that could be
done for him was to give him a little water, and to place a bundle of
grass so as to raise his head. Half an hour later he was dead. The other
wounded man was carried carefully down to one of the sheds, where a bed
of hay was prepared for him. Two more wounded men were found down by the
cattle enclosures, and these also Mr. Hardy considered likely to
recover. They were taken up and laid by their comrade. Three dead bodies
were found here. These were all taken in the bullock-carts to a spot
distant nearly half a mile from the house.

Here, by the united labour of the peons, a large grave was dug, six feet
wide, as much deep, and twelve yards long. In this they were laid side
by side, two deep; the earth was filled in, and the turf replaced. At
Hubert's suggestion, two young palm trees were taken out of the garden
and placed one at each end, and a wire fence was erected all round, to
keep off the animals.

It was a sad task; and although they had been killed in an attack in
which, had they been victorious, they would have shown no mercy, still
Mr. Hardy and his sons were deeply grieved at having caused the
destruction of so many lives.

It was late in the afternoon before all was done, and the party returned
to the house with lightened hearts, that the painful task was finished.
Here things had nearly resumed their ordinary aspect. Terence had washed
away the stains of blood; and save that many of the young trees had been
broken down, and that one side of the fence was levelled, no one would
have imagined that a sanguinary contest had taken place there so lately.

Mr. Hardy stopped on the way to examine the wounded men. He had acquired
a slight knowledge of rough surgery in his early life upon the prairies,
and he discovered the bullet at a short distance under the skin in the
broken leg. Making signs to the man that he was going to do him good,
and calling in Fitzgerald and Lopez, to hold the Indian if necessary, he
took out his knife, cut down to the bullet, and with some trouble
succeeded in extracting it. The Indian never flinched or groaned,
although the pain must have been very great, while the operation was
being performed. Mr. Hardy then carefully bandaged the limb, and
directed that cold water should be poured over it from time to time, to
allay the inflammation. Another of the Indians had his ankle-joint
broken: this was also carefully bandaged. The third had a bullet wound
near the hip, and with this Mr. Hardy could do nothing. His recovery or
death would depend entirely upon nature.

It may here be mentioned at once that all three of the Indians
eventually recovered, although two of them were slightly lamed for life.
All that care and attention could do for them was done; and when they
were in a fit condition to travel, their horses and a supply of
provisions were given to them. The Indians had maintained during the
whole time the stolid apathy of their race. They had expressed no thanks
for the kindness bestowed upon them. Only when their horses were
presented to them, and bows and arrows placed in their hands, with an
intimation that they were free to go, did their countenances change.

Up to that time it is probable that they believed that they were only
being kept to be solemnly put to death. Their faces lit up, and without
a word they sprang on to the horses' backs and dashed over the plains.

Ere they had gone three hundred yards they halted, and came back at
equal speed, stopping abruptly before the surprised and rather startled
group. 'Good man,' the eldest of them said, pointing to Mr. Hardy.
'Good,' he repeated, motioning to the boys. 'Good misses,' and he
included Mrs. Hardy and the girls; and then the three turned, and never
slackened their speed as long as they were in sight.

The Indians of the South American Pampas and Sierras are a very inferior
race to the noble-looking Comanches and Apaches of the North American
Prairies. They are generally short, wiry men, with long black hair. They
have flat faces, with high cheek bones. Their complexion is a dark
copper colour, and they are generally extremely ugly.

In the course of the morning after the fight Mr. Cooper rode over from
Canterbury, and was greatly surprised to hear of the attack. The Indians
had not been seen or heard of at his estate, and he was ignorant of
anything having taken place until his arrival.

For the next few days there was quite a levee of visitors, who came over
to hear the particulars, and to offer their congratulations. All the
outlying settlers were particularly pleased, as it was considered
certain that the Indians would not visit that neighbourhood again for
some time.

Shortly afterwards the government sales for the land beyond Mount
Pleasant took place. Mr. Hardy went over to Rosario to attend them, and
bought the plot of four square leagues immediately adjoining his own,
giving the same price that he had paid for Mount Pleasant. The
properties on each side of this were purchased by the two Edwards, and
by an Englishman who had lately arrived in the colony. His name was
Mercer: he was accompanied by his wife and two young children, and his
wife's brother, whose name was Parkinson. Mr. Hardy had made their
acquaintance at Rosario, and pronounced them to be a very pleasant
family. They had brought out a considerable capital, and were coming in
a week with a strong force to erect their house. Mr. Hardy had promised
them every assistance, and had invited Mrs. Mercer to take up her abode
at Mount Pleasant with her children, until the frame-house which they
had brought out could be erected,--an invitation which had been gladly
accepted.

There was great pleasure at the thought of another lady in the
neighbourhood; and Mrs. Hardy was especially pleased for the girls'
sake, as she thought that a little female society would be of very great
advantage to them.

The plots of land next to the Mercers and Edwards were bought, the one
by three or four Germans working as a company together, the other by Don
Martinez, an enterprising young Spaniard; so that the Hardys began to be
in quite an inhabited country. It is true that most of the houses would
be six miles off; but that is close, on the Pampas. There was a talk,
too, of the native overseer of the land between Canterbury and the
Jamiesons selling his ground in plots of a mile square. This would make
the country comparatively thickly populated. Indeed, with the exception
of Mr. Mercer, who had taken up a four-league plot, the other new
settlers had in no case purchased more than a square league. The
settlements would therefore be pretty thick together.

In a few days Mrs. Mercer arrived with her children. The boys gave up
their room to her,--they themselves, with Mr. Fitzgerald and four peons,
accompanying Mr. Mercer and the party he had brought with him, to assist
in erecting his house, and in putting up a strong wire fence, similar to
their own, for defence. This operation was finished in a week; and Mrs.
Mercer, to the regret of Mrs. Hardy and the girls, then joined her
husband. The house had been built near the northeast corner of the
property. It was therefore little more than six miles distant from Mount
Pleasant, and a constant interchange of visits was arranged to take
place.

Shortly afterwards Mr. Hardy suggested that the time had now come for
improving the house, and laid before his assembled family his plans for
so doing, which were received with great applause.

The new portion was to stand in front of the old, and was to consist of
a wide entrance-hall, with a large dining and drawing room upon either
side. Upon the floor above were to be four bed-rooms. The old
sitting-room was to be made into the kitchen, and was to be lighted by
a skylight in the roof. The present kitchen was to become a laundry, the
windows of that and the bedroom opposite being placed in the side-walls,
instead of being in front. The new portion was to be made of properly
baked bricks, and was to be surrounded by a wide verandah. Of the
present bed-rooms, two were to be used as spare rooms, one of the others
being devoted to two additional indoor servants whom it was now proposed
to keep.

It was arranged that the carts should at once commence going backwards
and forwards to Rosario, to fetch coal for the brickmaking, tiles, wood,
etc., and that an experienced brickmaker should be engaged, all the
hands at the farm being fully occupied. It would take a month or six
weeks, it was calculated, before all would be ready to begin building;
and then Mrs. Hardy and the girls were to start for a long promised
visit to their friends the Thompsons, near Buenos Ayres, so as to be
away during the mess and confusion of the building. An engagement was
made on the following week with two Italian women at Rosario, the one as
a cook, the other as general servant, Sarah undertaking the management
of the dairy during her mistress's absence.



CHAPTER XIV.

TERRIBLE NEWS.


Another two years passed over, bringing increased prosperity to the
Hardys. No renewal of the Indian attacks had occurred, and in
consequence an increased flow of emigration had taken place in their
neighbourhood. Settlers were now established upon all the lots for many
miles upon either side of Mount Pleasant; and even beyond the twelve
miles which the estate stretched to the south, the lots had been sold.
Mr. Hardy considered that all danger of the flocks and herds being
driven off had now ceased, and had therefore added considerably to their
numbers, and had determined to allow them to increase without further
sales, until they had attained to the extent of the supporting power of
the immense estate.

Two hundred acres of irrigated land were under cultivation; the dairy
contained the produce of a hundred cows; and, altogether, Mount Pleasant
was considered one of the finest and most profitable estancias in the
province.

The house was now worthy of the estate; the inside fence had been
removed fifty yards farther off, and the vegetable garden to a greater
distance, the enclosed space being laid out entirely as a pleasure
garden.

Beautiful tropical trees and shrubs, gorgeous patches of flowers, and
green turf surrounded the front and sides; while behind was a luxuriant
and most productive orchard.

The young Hardys had for some time given up doing any personal labour,
and were incessantly occupied in the supervision of the estate and of
the numerous hands employed: for them a long range of adobé huts had
been built at some little distance in the rear of the enclosure.

Maud and Ethel had during this period devoted much more time to their
studies, and the time was approaching when Mrs. Hardy was to return with
them to England, in order that they might pass a year in London under
the instruction of the best masters. Maud was now seventeen, and could
fairly claim to be looked upon as a young woman. Ethel still looked very
much younger than her real age: any one, indeed, would have guessed that
there was at least three years' difference between the sisters. In point
of acquirements, however, she was quite her equal, her much greater
perseverance more than making up for her sister's quickness.

A year previously Mr. Hardy had, at one of his visits to Buenos Ayres,
purchased a piano, saying nothing of what he had done upon his return;
and the delight of the girls and their mother, when the instrument
arrived in a bullock-cart, was unbounded. From that time the girls
practised almost incessantly; indeed, as Charley remarked, it was as bad
as living in the house with a whole boarding-school of girls.

After this Mount Pleasant, which had always been considered as the most
hospitable and pleasant estancia in the district, became more than ever
popular, and many were the impromptu dances got up. Sometimes there were
more formal affairs, and all the ladies within twenty miles would come
in. These were more numerous than would have been expected. The
Jamiesons were doing well, and in turn going for a visit to their native
country, had brought out two bright young Scotchwomen as their wives.

Mrs. Mercer was sure to be there, and four or five other English ladies
from nearer or more distant estancias. Some ten or twelve native ladies,
wives or daughters of native proprietors, would also come in, and the
dancing would be kept up until a very late hour. Then the ladies would
lie down for a short time, all the beds being given up to them, and a
number of shake-downs improvised; while the gentlemen would sit and
smoke for an hour or two, and then, as day broke, go down for a bathe in
the river.

These parties were looked upon by all as most enjoyable affairs; and as
eatables of all sorts were provided by the estate itself, they were a
very slight expense, and were of frequent occurrence. Only one thing Mr.
Hardy bargained for,--no wines or other expensive liquors were to be
drunk. He was doing well,--far, indeed, beyond his utmost
expectation,--but at the same time he did not consider himself justified
in spending money upon luxuries.

Tea, therefore, and cooling drinks made from fruits, after the custom of
the country, were provided in abundance for the dancers; but wine was
not produced. With this proviso, Mr. Hardy had no objection to his young
people having their dances frequently; and in a country where all were
living in a rough way, and wine was an unknown luxury, no one missed it.
In other respects the supper tables might have been admired at an
English ball. Of substantials there was abundance,--turkeys and fowls,
wild duck and other game. The sweets were represented by trifle, creams,
and blancmanges; while there was a superb show of fruit,--apricots,
peaches, nectarines, pine-apple, melons, and grapes. Among them were
vases of gorgeous flowers, most of them tropical in character, but with
them were many old English friends, of which Mr. Hardy had procured
seeds.

Their neighbours at Canterbury were still their most intimate friends:
they were shortly, however, to lose one of them. Mr. Cooper had heard
six months before of the death of his two elder brothers in rapid
succession, and he was now heir to his father's property, which was very
extensive. It had been supposed that he would at once return to England,
and he was continually talking of doing so; but he had, under one excuse
or other, put off his departure from time to time. He was very
frequently over at Mount Pleasant, and was generally a companion of the
boys upon their excursions.

'I think Cooper is almost as much here as he is at Canterbury,' Charley
said, laughing, one day.

Mrs. Hardy happened to glance at Maud, and noticed a bright flush of
colour on her cheeks. She made no remark at the time, but spoke to Mr.
Hardy about it at night.

'You see, my dear,' she concluded, 'we are still considering Maud as a
child, but other people may look upon her as a woman.'

'I am sorry for this,' Mr. Hardy said after a pause. 'We ought to have
foreseen the possibility of such a thing. Now that it is mentioned, I
wonder we did not do so before. Mr. Cooper has been here so much, that
the thing would have certainly struck us, had we not, as you say, looked
upon Maud as a child. Against Mr. Cooper I have nothing to say. We both
like him extremely. His principles are good, and he would, in point of
money, be of course an excellent match for our little girl. At the same
time, I cannot permit anything like an engagement. Mr. Cooper has seen
no other ladies for so long a time, that it is natural enough he should
fall in love with Maud. Maud, on the other hand, has only seen the
fifteen or twenty men who came here; she knows nothing of the world, and
is altogether inexperienced. They are both going to England, and may not
improbably meet people whom they may like very much better, and may look
upon this love-making in the Pampas as a folly. At the end of another
two years, when Maud is nineteen, if Mr. Cooper renew the acquaintance
in England, and both parties agree, I shall of course offer no
objection, and indeed should rejoice much at a match which would promise
well for her happiness.'

Mrs. Hardy thoroughly agreed with her husband, and so the matter rested
for a short time.

It was well that Mr. Hardy had been warned by his wife, for a week after
this, Mr. Cooper met him alone when he was out riding, and, after some
introduction, expressed to him that he had long felt that he had loved
his daughter, but had waited until she was seventeen before expressing
his wishes. He said that he had delayed his departure for England on
this account alone, and now asked permission to pay his addresses to
her, adding that he hoped that he was not altogether indifferent to her.

Mr. Hardy heard him quietly to the end.

'I can hardly say that I am unprepared for what you say, Mr. Cooper,
although I had never thought of such a thing until two days since. Then
your long delay here, and your frequent visits to our house, opened the
eyes of Mrs. Hardy and myself. To yourself, personally, I can entertain
no objection. Still, when I remember that you are only six-and-twenty,
and that for the last four years you have seen no one with whom you
could possibly fall in love, with the exception of my daughter, I can
hardly think that you have had sufficient opportunity to know your own
mind. When you return to England, you will meet young ladies very much
prettier and very much more accomplished than my Maud, and you may
regret the haste which led you to form an engagement out here. You shake
your head, as is natural that you should do; but I repeat, you cannot at
present know your own mind. If this is true of you, it is still more
true of my daughter. She is very young, and knows nothing whatever of
the world. Next month she proceeds to England with her mother, and for
the next two years she will be engaged upon finishing her education. At
the end of that time I shall myself return to England, and we shall then
enter into society. If at that time you are still of the same way of
thinking, and choose to renew our acquaintance, I shall be very happy,
in the event of Maud accepting you, to give my consent. But I must
insist that there shall be no engagement, no love-making, no
understanding of any sort or kind, before you start. I put it to your
honour as a gentleman, that you will make no effort to meet her alone,
and that you will say nothing whatever to her, to lead her to believe
that you are in love with her. Only, when you say good-bye to her, you
may say that I have told you that as the next two years are to be passed
in study, to make up for past deficiencies, I do not wish her to enter
at all into society, but that at the end of that time you hope to renew
the acquaintance.'

Mr. Cooper endeavoured in vain to alter Mr. Hardy's determination, and
was at last obliged to give the required promise.

Mr. and Mrs. Hardy were not surprised when, two or three days after
this, Mr. Cooper rode up and said that he had come to say good-bye, that
he had received letters urging him to return at once, and had therefore
made up his mind to start by the next mail from Buenos Ayres.

The young Hardys were all surprised at this sudden determination, but
there was little time to discuss it, as Mr. Cooper had to start the same
night for Rosario.

Very warm and earnest were the adieus; and the colour, which had rather
left Maud's face, returned with redoubled force as he held her hand, and
said very earnestly the words Mr. Hardy had permitted him to use.

Then he leapt into his saddle and galloped off, waving his hand, as he
crossed the river, to the group which were still standing in the
verandah watching him.

For a few days after this Maud was unusually quiet and subdued, but her
natural spirits speedily recovered themselves, and she was soon as
lively and gay as ever.

About a fortnight after the departure of Mr. Cooper, an event took place
which for a while threatened to upset all the plans which they had
formed for the future.

One or other of the girls were in the habit of frequently going over to
stay for a day or two with Mrs. Mercer.

One evening Hubert rode over with Ethel, and Mrs. Mercer persuaded the
latter to stay for the night; Hubert declining to do so, as he had
arranged with Charley to go over early to Canterbury to assist at the
branding of the cattle at that station.

In the morning they had taken their coffee, and were preparing for a
start, when, just as they were mounting their horses, one of the men
drew their attention to a man running at full speed towards the house
from the direction of Mr. Mercer's.

'What can be the matter?' Charley said. 'What a strange thing that a
messenger should come over on foot instead of on horseback!'

'Let's ride and meet him, Charley,' Hubert said; and putting spurs to
their horses, they galloped towards the approaching figure.

As they came close to him he stumbled and fell, and lay upon the ground,
exhausted and unable to rise.

The boys sprang from their horses with a feeling of vague uneasiness and
alarm.

'What is the matter?' they asked.

The peon was too exhausted to reply for a moment or two; then he gasped
out, 'Los Indios! the Indians!'

The boys gave a simultaneous cry of dread.

'What has happened? Tell us quick, man; are they attacking the
estancia?' The man shook his head.

'Estancia burnt. All killed but me,' he said.

The news was too sudden and terrible for the boys to speak. They stood
white and motionless with horror.

'All killed! Oh, Ethel, Ethel!' Charley groaned.

Hubert burst into tears. 'What will mamma do?'

'Come, Hubert,' Charley said, dashing away the tears from his eyes, 'do
not let us waste a moment. All hope may not be over. The Indians seldom
kill women, but carry them away, and she may be alive yet. If she is,
we will rescue her, if we go right across America. Come, man, jump up
behind me on my horse.'

The peon obeyed the order, and in five minutes they reached the gate.
Here they dismounted.

'Let us walk up to the house, Hubert, so as not to excite suspicion. We
must call papa out and tell him first, so that he may break it to mamma.
If she learn it suddenly, it may kill her.'

Mr. Hardy had just taken his coffee, and was standing at the door,
looking with a pleased eye upon the signs of comfort and prosperity
around him. There was no need, therefore, for them to approach nearer.
As Mr. Hardy looked round upon hearing the gate shut, Charley beckoned
to him to come down to them. For a moment he seemed puzzled, and looked
round to see if the signal was directed to himself. Seeing that no one
else was near him, he again looked at the boys, and Charley earnestly
repeated the gesture.

Mr. Hardy, feeling that something strange was happening, ran down the
steps and hurried towards them.

By the time he reached them, he had no need to ask questions. Hubert was
leaning upon the gate, crying as if his heart would break; Charley stood
with his hand on his lips, as if to check the sobs from breaking out,
while the tears streamed down his cheeks.

'Ethel?' Mr. Hardy asked.

Charley nodded, and then said, with a great effort, 'The Indians have
burnt the estancia; one of the men has escaped and brought the news. We
know nothing more. Perhaps she is carried off, not killed.'

Mr. Hardy staggered under the sudden blow. 'Carried off!' he murmured to
himself. 'It is worse than death.'

'Yes, papa,' Charley said, anxious to give his father's thoughts a new
turn. 'But we will rescue her, if she is alive, wherever they may take
her.'

'We will, Charley; we will, my boys,' Mr. Hardy said earnestly, and
rousing himself at the thought 'I must go up and break it to your
mother; though how I shall do so, I know not. Do you give what orders
you like for collecting our friends. First, though, let us question this
man. When was it?'

'Last night, Signor, at eleven o'clock. I had just laid down in my hut,
and I noticed that there were still lights down-stairs at the house,
when, all of a sudden, I heard a yell as of a thousand fiends, and I
knew the Indians were upon us. I knew that it was too late to fly, but I
threw myself out of the window, and laid flat by the wall, as the
Indians burst in. There were eight of us, and I closed my ears to shut
out the sound of the other's cries. Up at the house, too, I could hear
screams and some pistol-shots, and then more screams and cries. The
Indians were all round, everywhere, and I dreaded lest one of them
should stumble up against me. Then a sudden glare shot up, and I knew
they were firing the house. The light would have shown me clearly
enough, had I remained where I was; so I crawled on my stomach till I
came to some potato ground a few yards off. As I lay between the rows,
the plants covered me completely. In another minute or two the men's
huts were set fire to, and then I could hear a great tramping, as of
horses and cattle going away in the distance. They had not all gone, for
I could hear voices all night, and Indians were moving about everywhere,
in search of any one who might have escaped. They came close to me
several times, and I feared that they would tread on me. After a time
all became quiet; but I dared not move till daylight. Then, looking
about carefully, I could see no one, and I jumped up, and never stopped
running until you met me.'

Mr. Hardy now went up to the house, to break the sad tidings to his
wife. Charley ordered eight peons to saddle horses instantly, and, while
they were doing so, he wrote on eight leaves of his pocket-book: 'The
Mercers' house destroyed last night by Indians; the Mercers killed or
carried off. My sister Ethel with them. For God's sake, join us to
recover them. Meet at Mercer's as soon as possible. Send this note round
to all neighbours.'

One of these slips of paper was given to each peon, and they were told
to ride for their lives in different directions, for that Miss Ethel was
carried off by the Indians.

This was the first intimation of the tidings that had arrived, and a
perfect chorus of lamentation arose from the women, and of execrations
of rage from the men. Just at this moment Terence came running down from
the house. 'Is it true, Mister Charles? Sarah says that the mistress and
Miss Maud are gone quite out of their minds, and that Miss Ethel has
been killed by the Indians!'

'Killed or carried away, Terence; we do not know which yet.'

Terence was a warm-hearted fellow, and he set up a yell of lamentation
which drowned the sobs and curses of the natives.

'Hush, Terence,' Charley said. 'We shall have time to cry for her
afterwards: we must be doing now.'

'I will, Mister Charles; but you will let me go with you to search for
her. Won't you, now, Mister Charles?'

'Yes, Terence; I will take you with us, and leave Lopez in charge. Send
him here.'

Lopez was close. He, too, was really affected at the loss of his young
mistress; for Ethel, by her unvarying sweetness of temper, was a
favourite with every one.

'Lopez, you will remain here in charge. We may be away two days--we may
be away twenty. I know I can trust you to look after the place just as
if we were here.'

The capitaz bowed with his hand on his heart. Even the peasants of South
America preserve the grand manner and graceful carriage of their Spanish
ancestors. 'And now, Lopez, do you know of any of the Guachos in this
part of the country who have ever lived with the Indians, and know their
country at all?'

'Martinez, one of the shepherds at Canterbury, Signor Charles, was with
them for seven months; and Perez, one of Signor Jamieson's men, was
longer still.'

Charles at once wrote notes asking that Perez and Martinez might
accompany the expedition, and despatched them by mounted peons.

'And now, Lopez, what amount of charqui have we in store?'

'A good stock, Signor; enough for fifty men for a fortnight.'

Charqui is meat dried in the sun. In hot climates meat cannot be kept
for many hours in its natural state. When a bullock is killed,
therefore, all the meat which is not required for immediate use is cut
up into thin strips, and hung up in the sun to dry. After this process
it is hard and strong, and by no means palatable; but it will keep for
many months, and is the general food of the people. In large
establishments it is usual to kill several animals at once, so as to lay
in sufficient store of charqui to last for some time.

'Terence, go up to the house and see what biscuit there is. Lopez, get
our horses saddled, and one for Terence,--a good one,--and give them a
feed of maize. Now, Hubert, let us go up to the house, and get our
carbines and pistols.'

Mr. Hardy came out to meet them as they approached. 'How are mamma and
Maud, papa?'

'More quiet and composed now, boys. They have both gone to lie down.
Maud wanted sadly to go with us, but she gave way directly I pointed out
to her that her duty was to remain here by her mother's side. And now,
Charley, what arrangements have you made?'

Charley told his father what he had done.

'That is right. And now we will be off at once. Give Terence orders to
bring on the meat and biscuit in an hour's time. Let him load a couple
of horses, and bring a man with him to bring them back.'

'Shall we bring any rockets, papa?'

'It is not likely that they will be of any use, Hubert; but we may as
well take three or four of each sort. Roll up a poncho, boys, and fasten
it on your saddles. Put plenty of ammunition in your bags; see your
brandy flasks are full, and put out half a dozen bottles to go with
Terence. There are six pounds of tobacco in the storeroom; let him bring
them all. Hubert, take our water-skins; and look in the
storeroom,--there are three or four spare skins; give them to Terence:
some of our friends may not have thought of bringing theirs, and the
country may, for ought we know, be badly watered. And tell him to bring
a dozen coloured blankets with him.'

In a few minutes all these things were attended to, and then, just as
they were going out of the house, Sarah came up, her face swollen with
crying.

'Won't you take a cup of tea and just something to eat, sir? You've had
nothing yet, and you will want it. It is all ready in the dining-room.'

'Thank you, Sarah. You are right. Come, boys, try and make a good
breakfast. We must keep up our hearts, you know, and we will bring our
little woman back ere long.'

Mr. Hardy spoke more cheerfully, and the boys soon, too, felt their
spirits rising a little. The bustle of making preparations, the prospect
of the perilous adventure before them, and the thought that they should
assuredly, sooner or later, come up with the Indians, all combined to
give them hope. Mr. Hardy had little fear of finding the body of his
child under the ruins of the Mercers' house. The Indians never
deliberately kill white women, always carrying them off; and Mr. Hardy
felt confident that, unless Ethel had been accidentally killed in the
assault, this was the fate which had befallen her.

A hasty meal was swallowed, and then, just as they were starting, Mrs.
Hardy and Maud came out to say 'Good-bye,' and an affecting scene
occurred. Mr. Hardy and the boys kept up as well as they could, in order
to inspire the mother and sister with hope during their absence, and
with many promises to bring their missing one back, they galloped off.

They were scarcely out of the gate, when they saw their two friends from
Canterbury coming along at full gallop. Both were armed to the teeth,
and evidently prepared for an expedition. They wrung the hands of Mr.
Hardy and his sons.

'We ordered our horses the moment we got your note, and ate our
breakfast as they were being got ready. We made a lot of copies of your
note, and sent off half a dozen men in various directions with them.
Then we came on at once. Of course most of the others cannot arrive for
some time yet, but we were too anxious to hear all about it to delay,
and we thought that we might catch you before you started, to aid you in
your first search. Have you any more certain news than you sent us?'

'None,' Mr. Hardy said, and then repeated the relation of the survivor.

There was a pause when he had finished, and then Mr. Herries said:

'Well, Mr. Hardy, I need not tell you, if our dear little Ethel is
alive, we will follow you till we find her, if we are a year about it.'

'Thanks, thanks,' Mr. Hardy said earnestly. 'I feel a conviction that we
shall yet recover her.'

During this conversation they had been galloping rapidly towards the
scene of the catastrophe, and, absorbed in their thoughts, not another
word was spoken until they gained the first rise, from which they had
been accustomed to see the pleasant house of the Mercers. An exclamation
of rage and sorrow burst from them all, as only a portion of the chimney
and a charred post or two showed where it had stood. The huts of the
peons had also disappeared; the young trees and shrubs round the house
were scorched up and burnt by the heat to which they had been exposed,
or had been broken off from the spirit of wanton mischief.

With clenched teeth, and faces pale with rage and anxiety, the party
rode on past the site of the huts, scattered round which were the bodies
of several of the murdered peons. They halted not until they drew rein,
and leapt off in front of the house itself.

It had been built entirely of wood, and only the stumps of the corner
posts remained erect. The sun had so thoroughly dried the boards of
which it was constructed, that it had burnt like so much tinder, and the
quantity of ashes that remained was very small. Here and there, however,
were uneven heaps; and in perfect silence, but with a sensation of
overpowering dread, Mr. Hardy and his friends tied up their horses, and
proceeded to examine these heaps, to see if they were formed by the
remains of human beings.

Very carefully they turned them over, and as they did so, their
knowledge of the arrangements of the different rooms helped them to
identify the various articles. Here was a bed, there a box of
closely-packed linen, of which only the outer part was burnt, the
interior bursting into flames as they turned it over; here was the
storeroom, with its heaps of half-burnt flour where the sacks had stood.

In half an hour they were able to say with tolerable certainty that no
human beings had been burnt, for the bodies could not have been wholly
consumed in such a speedy conflagration.

Perhaps they have all been taken prisoners, Hubert suggested, as with a
sigh of relief they concluded their search, and turned from the spot.

Mr. Hardy shook his head. He was too well acquainted with the habits of
the Indians to think such a thing possible. Just at this moment, Dash,
who had followed them unnoticed during their ride, and who had been
ranging about uneasily while they had been occupied by the search, set
up a piteous howling. All started and looked round. The dog was standing
by the edge of the ditch which had been dug outside the fence. Its head
was raised high in air, and he was giving vent to prolonged and mournful
howls.

All felt that the terrible secret was there. The boys turned ghastly
pale, and they felt that not for worlds could they approach to examine
the dreadful mystery. Mr. Hardy was almost as much affected.

Mr. Herries looked at his friend, and then said gravely to Mr. Hardy,
'Do you wait here, Mr. Hardy; we will go on.'

As the friends left them the boys turned away, and leaning against their
horses, covered their eyes with their hands. They dared not look round.
Mr. Hardy stood still for a minute, but the agony of suspense was too
great for him. He started off at a run, came up to his friends, and with
them hurried on to the fence.

Not as yet could they see into the ditch. At ordinary times the fence
would have been an awkward place to climb over; now they hardly knew how
they scrambled over, and stood by the side of the ditch. They looked
down, and Mr. Hardy gave a short, gasping cry, and caught at the fence
for support.

Huddled together in the ditch was a pile of dead bodies, and among them
peeped out a piece of a female dress. Anxious to relieve their friend's
agonizing suspense, the young men leaped down into the ditch, and began
removing the upper bodies from the ghastly pile.

First were the two men employed in the house; then came Mr. Mercer; then
the two children and an old woman-servant; below them were the bodies of
Mrs. Mercer and her brother. There were no more. Ethel was not amongst
them.

When first he had heard of the massacre, Mr. Hardy had said, 'Better
dead than carried off;' but the relief to his feelings was so great as
the last body was turned over, and that it was evident that the child
was not there, that he would have fallen had not Mr. Herries hastened to
climb up and support him, at the same time crying out to the boys, 'She
is not here.'

Charley and Hubert turned towards each other, and burst into tears of
thankfulness and joy. The suspense had been almost too much for them,
and Hubert felt so sick and faint that he was forced to lie down for a
while, while Charley went forward to the others. He was terribly shocked
at the discovery of the murder of the entire party, as they had
cherished the hope that Mrs. Mercer at least would have been carried
off. As, however, she had been murdered, while it was pretty evident
that Ethel had been spared, or her body would have been found with the
others, it was supposed that poor Mrs. Mercer had been shot
accidentally, perhaps in the endeavour to save her children.

The bodies were now taken from the ditch, and laid side by side until
the other settlers should arrive. It was not long before they began to
assemble, riding up in little groups of twos and threes. Rage and
indignation were upon all their faces at the sight of the devastated
house, and their feelings were redoubled when they found that the whole
of the family, who were so justly liked and esteemed, were dead. The
Edwards and the Jamiesons were among the earliest arrivals, bringing the
Guacho Martinez with them. Perez, too, shortly after arrived from
Canterbury, he having been out on the farm when his master left.

Although all these events have taken some time to relate, it was still
early in the day. The news had arrived at six, and the messengers were
sent off half an hour later. The Hardys had set out before eight, and
had reached the scene of the catastrophe in half an hour. It was nine
o'clock when the bodies were found, and half an hour after this friends
began to assemble. By ten o'clock a dozen more had arrived, and several
more could be seen in the distance coming along at full gallop to the
spot.

'I think,' Mr. Hardy said, 'that we had better employ ourselves, until
the others arrive, in burying the remains of our poor friends.'

There was a general murmur of assent, and all separated to look for
tools. Two or three spades were found thrown down in the garden, where a
party had been at work the other day. And then all looked to Mr. Hardy.

'I think,' he said, 'we cannot do better than lay them where their house
stood. The place will never be the site of another habitation. Any one
who may buy the property, would choose another place for his house than
the scene of this awful tragedy. The gate once locked, the fence will
keep out animals for very many years.'

A grave was accordingly dug in the centre of the space once occupied by
the house. In this the bodies of Mr. Mercer and his family were laid.
And Mr. Hardy having solemnly pronounced such parts of the burial
service as he remembered over them, all standing by bareheaded, and
stern with suppressed sorrow, the earth was filled in over the spot
where a father, mother, brother, and two children lay together. Another
grave was at the same time dug near, and in this the bodies of the three
servants, whose remains had been found with the others were laid.

By this time it was eleven o'clock, and the number of those present had
reached twenty. The greater portion of them were English, but there were
also three Germans, a Frenchman, and four Guachos, all accustomed to
Indian warfare.

'How long do you think it will be before all who intend to come can join
us?' Mr. Hardy asked.

There was a pause; then one of the Jamiesons said:

'Judging by the time your message reached us, you must have sent off
before seven. Most of us, on the receipt of the message, forwarded it by
fresh messengers on farther; but of course some delay occurred in so
doing, especially as many of us may probably have been out on the plains
when the message arrived. The persons to whom we sent might also have
been out. Our friends who would be likely to obey the summons at once,
all live within fifteen miles or so. That makes thirty miles, going and
returning. Allowing for the loss of time I have mentioned, we should
allow five hours. That would bring it on to twelve o'clock.'

There was a general murmur of assent.

'In that case,' Mr. Hardy said, 'I propose that we eat a meal as hearty
as we can before starting. Charley, tell Terence to bring the horses
with the provisions here.'

The animals were now brought up, and Mr. Hardy found that, in addition
to the charqui and biscuit, Mrs. Hardy had sent a large supply of cold
meat which happened to be in the larder, some bread, a large stock of
tea and sugar, a kettle, and some tin mugs.

The cold meat and bread afforded an ample meal, which was much needed by
those who had come away without breakfast.

By twelve o'clock six more had arrived, the last comer being Mr. Percy.
Each new comer was filled with rage and horror upon hearing of the awful
tragedy which had been enacted.

At twelve o'clock exactly Mr. Hardy rose to his feet 'My friends,' he
said, 'I thank you all for so promptly answering to my summons. I need
say no words to excite your indignation at the massacre that has taken
place here. You know, too, that my child has been carried away. I
intend, with my sons and my friends from Canterbury, going in search of
her into the Indian country. My first object is to secure her, my second
to avenge my murdered friends. A heavy lesson, too, given the Indians in
their own country, will teach them that they cannot with impunity commit
their depredations upon us. Unless such a lesson is given, a life on the
plains will become so dangerous that we must give up our settlements. At
the same time, I do not conceal from you that the expedition is a most
dangerous one. We are entering a country of which we know nothing. The
Indians are extremely numerous, and are daily becoming better armed. The
time we may be away is altogether vague; for if it is a year, I do not
return until I have found my child. I know that there is not a man here
who would not gladly help to rescue Ethel,--not one who does not long to
avenge our murdered friends. At the same time, some of you have ties,
wives and children, whom you may not consider yourselves justified in
leaving, even upon an occasion like this. Some of you, I know, will
accompany me; but if any one feels any doubts, from the reasons I have
stated,--if any one considers that he has no right to run this
tremendous risk,--let him say so at once, and I shall respect his
feelings, and my friendship and goodwill will in no way be diminished.'

As Mr. Hardy ceased, his eye wandered round the circle of
stalwart-looking figures around him, and rested upon the Jamiesons. No
one answered for a moment, and then the elder of the brothers spoke,--

'Mr. Hardy, it was right and kind of you to say that any who might elect
to stay behind would not forfeit your respect and esteem, but I for one
say that he would deservedly forfeit his own. We have all known and
esteemed the Mercers. We have all known, and I may say, loved you and
your family. From you we have one and all received very great kindness
and the warmest hospitality. We all know and love the dear child who
has been carried away; and I say that he who stays behind is unworthy of
the name of a man. For myself and brother, I say that if we fall in this
expedition,--if we never set eyes upon our wives again,--we shall die
satisfied that we have only done our duty. We are with you to the
death.'

A loud and general cheer broke from the whole party as the usually quiet
Scotchman thus energetically expressed himself. And each man in turn
came up to Mr. Hardy and grasped his hand, saying, 'Yours till death.'

Mr. Hardy was too much affected to reply for a short time; then he
briefly but heartily expressed his thanks. After which he went on: 'Now
to business. I have here about three hundred pounds of charqui. Let
every man take ten pounds, as nearly as he can guess. There are also two
pounds of biscuit a man. The tea, sugar, and tobacco, the kettle, and
eighty pounds of meat, I will put on to a spare horse, which Terence
will lead. If it is well packed, the animal will be able to travel as
quickly as we can.'

There was a general muster round the provisions. Each man took his
allotted share. The remainder was packed in two bundles, and secured
firmly upon either side of the spare horse; the tobacco, sugar, and tea
being enveloped in a hide, and placed securely between them, and the
kettle placed at the top of all. Then, mounting their horses, the troop
sallied out; and, as Mr. Hardy watched them start, he felt that in fair
fight by day they could hold their own against ten times their number of
Indians.

Each man, with the exception of the young Hardys, who had their Colt's
carbines, had a long rifle; in addition to which all had pistols,--most
of them having revolvers, the use of which, since the Hardys had first
tried them with such deadly effect upon the Pampas, had become very
general among the English settlers. Nearly all were young, with the deep
sunburnt hue gained by exposure on the plains. Every man had his
poncho,--a sort of native blanket, used either as a cloak or for
sleeping in at will,--rolled up before him on his saddle. It would have
been difficult to find a more serviceable-looking set of men; and the
expression of their faces, as they took their last look at the grave of
the Mercers, boded very ill for any Indian who might fall into their
clutches.



CHAPTER XV.

THE PAMPAS ON FIRE.


The party started at a canter,--the pace which they knew their horses
would be able to keep up for the longest time,--breaking every half hour
or so into a walk for ten minutes, to give them breathing time. All were
well mounted on strong, serviceable animals; but these had not in all
cases been bought specially for speed, as had those of the Hardys. It
was evident that the chase would be a long one. The Indians had twelve
hours' start; they were much lighter men than the whites, and carried
less additional weight. Their horses, therefore, could travel as fast
and as far as those of their pursuers. The sheep would, it is true, be
an encumbrance; the cattle could scarcely be termed so; and it was
probable that the first day they would make a journey of fifty or sixty
miles, travelling at a moderate pace only, as they would know that no
instant pursuit could take place. Indeed, their strength, which the peon
had estimated at five hundred men, would render them to a certain extent
careless, as upon an open plain the charge of this number of men would
sweep away any force which could be collected short of obtaining a
strong body of troops from Rosario.

For the next two days it was probable that they would make as long and
speedy journeys as the animals could accomplish. After that, being well
in their own country, they would cease to travel rapidly, as no pursuit
had ever been attempted in former instances.

There was no difficulty in following the track. Mr. Mercer had possessed
nearly a thousand cattle and five thousand sheep, and the ground was
trampled in a broad, unmistakeable line. Once or twice Mr. Hardy
consulted his compass. The trail ran south-west by west.

There was not much talking. The whole party were too impressed with the
terrible scene they had witnessed, and the tremendously hazardous nature
of the enterprise they had undertaken, to indulge in general
conversation. Gradually, however, the steady rapid motion, the sense of
strength and reliance in themselves and each other, lessened the sombre
expression, and a general talk began, mostly upon Indian fights, in
which most of the older settlers had at one time or other taken a part.

Mr. Hardy took a part in and encouraged this conversation. He knew how
necessary, in an expedition of this sort, it was to keep up the spirits
of all engaged; and he endeavoured, therefore, to shake off his own
heavy weight of care, and to give animation and life to them all.

The spirits of the younger men rose rapidly, and insensibly the pace was
increased, until Mr. Hardy, as leader of the party, was compelled to
recall to them the necessity of saving their animals, many of which had
already come from ten to fifteen miles before arriving at the rendezvous
at the Mercers'.

After three hours' steady riding, they arrived at the banks of a small
stream. There Mr. Hardy called a halt, for the purpose of resting the
animals.

'I think,' he said, 'that we must have done five-and-twenty miles. We
will give them an hour's rest, and then do another fifteen. Some of them
have already done forty, and it will not do to knock them up the first
day.'

Girths were loosened, and the horses were at work cropping the sweet
grass near the water's edge. The whole party threw themselves down on a
sloping bank, pipes were taken out and lit, and the probable direction
of the chase discussed.

In a short time Charley rose, and saying, 'I will see if I can get
anything better than dried meat for supper,' exchanged his rifle for Mr.
Hardy's double-barrelled gun, which was carried by Terence, and
whistling for the retriever, strolled off up the stream. In ten minutes
the double-barrels were heard at a short distance, and a quarter of an
hour afterwards again, but this time faintly. Ten minutes before the
hour was up he appeared, wiping the perspiration from his face, with
seven and a half brace of plump duck.

'They were all killed in four shots,' he said, as he threw them down.
'They were asleep in the pools, and I let fly right into the middle of
them before they heard me.'

There was a general feeling of satisfaction at the sight of the birds,
which were tied in couples, and fastened on the horses.

In two minutes more they were again in the saddles, Hubert saying to his
father as they started, 'There is one satisfaction, papa, we can't miss
the way. We have only to ride far enough, and we must overtake them.'

Mr. Hardy shook his head. He knew enough of Indian warfare to be certain
that every artifice and manoeuvre would have to be looked for and
baffled; for even when believing themselves safe from pursuit, Indians
never neglect to take every possible precaution against it.

After riding for two hours longer, Mr. Hardy consulted the Guachos if
there were any stream near, but they said that it would be at least two
hours' riding before they reached another, and that that was a very
uncertain supply. Mr. Hardy therefore decided to halt at once, as the
men knew this part of the plain thoroughly, from hunting ostriches on
it, and from frequent expeditions in search of strayed cattle. They had
all lived and hunted at one time or another with the Indians. Many of
the Guachos take up their abode permanently with the Indians, being
adopted as members of the tribe, and living and dressing like the
Indians themselves. These visits are generally undertaken to avoid the
consequences of some little difficulty,--a man killed in a gambling
quarrel, or for rivalry in love. Sometimes they make their peace again,
satisfy the blood-relations with a bull, secure absolution readily
enough by confession and a gift of a small sum to the Church, and return
to their former life; but as often as not they remain with the Indians,
and even attain to the rank of noted chiefs among them.

The men who accompanied the expedition were all of the former class. All
had taken to the Pampas to escape the consequences of some crime or
other, but had grown perfectly sick of it, and had returned to civilised
life. In point of morals they were not, perhaps, desirable companions;
but they were all brave enough, thoroughly knew the country farther
inland, and, if not enthusiastic in the adventure, were yet willing
enough to follow their respective masters, and ready to fight for their
lives upon occasion.

Just as they halted, Mr. Herries thought that he caught sight of some
deer a short way ahead. He therefore started at once for a stalk,
several of the others going off in other directions. Mr. Herries
proceeded very cautiously, and the wind being fortunately towards him,
he was enabled to creep up tolerably close. The animals, which are
extremely shy, had, however, an idea that danger was about before he
could get within a fair shot. As he knew that they would be off in
another instant, he at once practised a trick which he had often found
to be successful.

He threw himself on his back, pulled a red handkerchief from his neck,
tied it to one of his boots so as to let it float freely in the air, and
then threw up both legs in the form of a letter V. Then he began moving
them slowly about, waving them to and fro. The deer, which were upon
the point of flight, paused to gaze at this strange object; then they
began to move in a circle, their looks still directed at this unknown
thing, to which they gradually kept approaching as they moved round it.
At last they were fairly in shot, and Herries, whose legs were beginning
to be very weary, sprang to his feet, and in another instant the
foremost of the deer lay quivering in death.

Taking it upon his shoulders, he proceeded to the camp, where his
arrival was hailed with acclamation. A fire was already alight, made of
grass and turf, the former being pulled up in handfuls by the roots, and
making a fierce but short-lived blaze. A large quantity had been
collected at hand, and the ducks were already cut up. Half a one was
handed to each; for every man is his own cook upon the Pampas.

The other hunters shortly returned, bringing in another of the little
deer; for the stag of the Pampas is of small size. They were speedily
skinned by the Guachos, and cut up, and all the party were now engaged
in roasting duck and venison steaks on their steel ramrods over the
fire.

When all were satisfied, a double handful of tea was thrown into the
kettle, which was already boiling, pipes were lighted, and a general
feeling of comfort experienced. The horses had been picketed close at
hand, each man having cut or pulled a heap of grass and placed it before
his beast; beside which, the picket ropes allowed each horse to crop the
grass growing in a small circle, of which he was the centre.

Mr. Hardy chatted apart for some time with the Guachos, anxious to know
as much as possible of the country into which he was entering. The
others chatted and told stories. Presently Mr. Hardy joined again in the
general conversation, and then, during a pause, said, 'Although, my
friends, I consider it most improbable that any Indians are in the
neighbourhood, still it is just possible that they may have remained, on
purpose to fall at night upon any party who might venture to pursue. At
any rate, it is right to begin our work in a business-like way. I
therefore propose that we keep watches regularly. It is now nine
o'clock. We shall be moving by five: that will make four watches of two
hours each. I should say that three men in a watch, stationed at fifty
yards from the camp upon different sides, would suffice.'

There was a general assent to the proposal.

'To save trouble,' Mr. Hardy went on, 'I suggest that we keep watch in
the alphabetical order of our names. Twelve of us will be on to-night,
and the next twelve to-morrow night.'

The proposal was at once agreed to; and the three who were first on duty
at once rose, and, taking their rifles, went off in various directions,
first agreeing that one of them should give a single whistle as a signal
that the watch was up, and that two whistles close together would be a
warning to retreat at once towards the centre.

The watch also ascertained which were the next three men to be roused,
and these and the succeeding watches agreed to lie next to each other,
in order that they might be roused without awakening their companions.

In a few minutes there was a general unrolling of ponchos, and soon
afterwards only sleeping figures could be seen by the dim light of the
smouldering fire. Mr. Hardy, indeed, was the only one of the party who
did not fall to sleep. Thoughts of the events of the last twenty-four
hours, of the best course to be adopted, and of the heavy responsibility
upon himself as leader of this perilous expedition, prevented him from
sleeping. He heard the watch return, rouse the relief, and lay down in
their places. In another half hour he himself rose, and walked out
towards the sentry.

It was a young man named Cook, one of the new settlers to the east of
Mount Pleasant. 'Is that you, Mr. Hardy?' he asked, as he approached. 'I
was just coming in to wake you.'

'What is it, Mr. Cook?'

'It strikes me, sir, that there is a strange light away to the
south-west. I have only noticed it the last few minutes, and thought it
was fancy, but it gets more distinct every minute.'

Mr. Hardy looked out anxiously into the gloom, and quickly perceived the
appearance that his friend alluded to.

For a minute or two he did not speak, and then, as the light evidently
increased, he said almost with a groan, 'It is what I feared they would
do: they have set the prairie on fire. You need not keep watch any
longer. We are as much separated from the Indians as if the ocean
divided us.'

Cook gave the two short whistles agreed upon to recall the other men on
guard, and then returned with Mr. Hardy to the rest of the party. Then
Mr. Hardy roused all his companions. Every man leapt up, rifle in hand,
believing that the Indians were approaching.

'We must be up and doing,' Mr. Hardy said cheerfully; 'the Indians have
fired the Pampas.'

There was a thrill of apprehension in the bosom of many present, who
had heard terrible accounts of prairie fires, but this speedily subsided
at the calm manner of Mr. Hardy.

'The fire,' he said, 'may be ten miles away yet. I should say that it
was, but it is difficult to judge, for this grass does not flame very
high, and the smoke drifts between it and us. The wind, fortunately, is
light, but it will be here in little over half an hour. Now, let the
four Guachos attend to the horses, to see they do not stampede. The rest
form a line a couple of yards apart, and pull up the grass by the roots,
throwing it behind them, so as to leave the ground clear. The wider we
can make it the better.'

All fell to work with hearty zeal. Looking over their shoulders, the sky
now appeared on fire. Flickering tongues of flame seemed to struggle
upwards. There was an occasional sound of feet, as herds of deer flew by
before the danger.

'How far will it go, papa, do you think?' Hubert asked his father, next
to whom he was at work.

'I should say that it would most likely stop at the stream where we
halted to-day, Hubert. The ground was wet and boggy for some distance on
the other side.'

The horses were now getting very restive, and there was a momentary
pause from work to wrap ponchos round their heads, so as to prevent
their seeing the glare.

The fire could not have been more than three miles distant, when the
space cleared was as wide as Mr. Hardy deemed necessary for safety. A
regular noise, something between a hiss and a roar, was plainly audible;
and when the wind lifted the smoke, the flames could be seen running
along in an unbroken wall of fire. Birds flew past over head with
terrified cries, and a close, hot smell of burning was very plainly
distinguishable.

Starting about half way along the side of the cleared piece of ground,
Mr. Hardy set the dry grass alight. For a moment or two it burned
slowly, and then, fanned by the wind, it gained force, and spread in a
semicircle of flame.

The horses were already unpicketed, and half of the party held them at a
short distance in the rear, while the rest stood in readiness to
extinguish the fire if it crossed the cleared space.

Over and over again the fire crept partially across,--for the clearing
had been done but roughly,--but it was speedily stamped out by the heavy
boots of the watchers.

The spectacle, as the fire swept away before the wind, was fine in the
extreme. The party seemed enclosed between two walls of fire. The main
conflagration was now fearfully close, burning flakes were already
falling amongst them, and the sound of the fire was like the hiss of the
surf upon a pebbly beach.

'Now,' Mr. Hardy said, 'forward with the horses. Every one to his own
animal. Put your ponchos over your own heads as well as your horses'.'

In another minute the party stood clustered upon the black and smoking
ground which the fire they had kindled had swept clear. There, for five
minutes, they remained without moving, unscorched by the raging element
around them, but half-choked with the smoke.

Then Mr. Hardy spoke: 'It is over now. You can look up.'

There was a general expression of astonishment as the heads emerged from
their wrappers, and the eyes recovered sufficiently from the effects of
the blinding smoke to look round. Where had the fire gone? Where,
indeed! The main conflagration had swept by them, had divided in two
when it reached the ground already burnt, and these columns, growing
farther and farther asunder as the newly-kindled fire had widened, were
already far away to the right and left, while beyond and between them
was the fire that they themselves had kindled, now two miles wide, and
already far in the distance.

These fires in the Pampas, although they frequently extend over a vast
tract of country, are seldom fatal to life. The grass rarely attains a
height exceeding three feet, and burns out almost like so much cotton. A
man on horseback, having no other method of escape, can, by blindfolding
his horse and wrapping his own face in a poncho, ride fearlessly through
the wall of fire without damage to horse or rider.

It was only, therefore, the young hands who had felt any uneasiness at
the sight of the fire; for the settlers were in the habit of regularly
setting fire to the grass upon their farms every year before the rains,
as the grass afterwards springs up fresh and green for the animals. Care
has to be taken to choose a calm day, when the flames can be confined
within bounds; but instances have occurred when fires so commenced have
proved most disastrous, destroying many thousands of animals.

'There is nothing to do but to remain where we are until morning,' Mr.
Hardy said. 'The horses had better be picketed, and then those who can
had better get a few hours more sleep. We shall want no more watch
to-night.' In a few minutes most of the party were again asleep; and the
young Hardys were about to follow their example, when Mr. Hardy came up
to them and said quietly, 'Come this way, boys; we are going to have a
council.'

The boys followed their father to where some eight or nine men were
sitting down at a short distance from the sleepers, and these the boys
made out, by the glow from their pipes, to consist of Herries and
Farquhar, the two Jamiesons, Mr. Percy, and the four Guachos.

'This is a terribly bad business,' Mr. Hardy began, when he and his sons
had taken their seats on the ground. 'I expected it, but it is a heavy
blow nevertheless.'

'Why, what is the matter, papa?' the boys exclaimed anxiously. 'Have we
lost anything?'

'Yes, boys,' Mr. Hardy said; 'we have lost what is at this moment the
most important thing in the world,--we have lost the trail.'

Charley and Hubert uttered a simultaneous exclamation of dismay as the
truth flashed across their minds. 'The trail was lost!' They had never
thought of this. In the excitement of the fire, it had never once
occurred to them that the flames were wiping out every trace of the
Indian track.

Mr. Hardy then went on, addressing himself to the others: 'Of course
this fire was lit with the especial intent of throwing us off the
scent. Have you any idea how far it is likely to have come?' he asked
the Guachos. 'That is, are you aware of the existence of any wide stream
or damp ground which would have checked it, and which must therefore be
the farthest boundary of the fire?'

The Guachos were silent a minute; then Perez said, 'The next stream is
fifteen miles farther; but it is small, and would not stop the fire
going with the wind. Beyond that there is no certain stream, as far as I
know of.'

'The ground rises, and the grass gets thinner and poorer thirty miles or
so on. I should say that they would light it this side of that,'
Martinez said. The other Guachos nodded assent.

'We took the bearings of the track by our compass,' Farquhar said.
'Could we not follow it on by compass across the burnt ground, and hit
it upon the other side?'

Mr. Percy and Mr. Hardy both shook their heads. 'I do not pretend to say
where the trail is gone,' the former said, 'but the one place where I am
quite sure it is not, is on the continuation of the present line.'

'No,' Mr. Hardy continued. 'As you say, Percy, there it certainly is
not. The Indians, when they got to some place which is probably about
half across the burnt ground, turned either to the right or left, and
travelled steadily in that direction, sending one or two of their number
in the old direction to light the grass, so as to sweep away all trace
of the trail. They may have gone to the right or to the left, or may
even have doubled back and passed us again at only a few miles'
distance. We have no clue whatever to guide us at present, except the
certainty that, sooner or later, the Indians will make for their own
camping-ground. That is the exact state of the affair.' And Mr. Hardy
repeated what he had just said in Spanish to the Guachos, who nodded
assent.

'And in which direction do the Guachos believe that their camping-ground
lies?' Mr. Jamieson asked after a pause; 'because it appears to me that
it is a waste of time to look for the trail, and that our only plan is
to push straight on to their villages, which we may reach before they
get there. And in that case, if we found them unguarded, we might seize
all their women, and hold them as hostages until they return. Then we
could exchange them for Ethel; and when we had once got her, we could
fight our way back.'

'Capital, capital!' the other English exclaimed. 'Don't you think so,
papa?' Hubert added, seeing that Mr. Hardy did not join in the general
approval.

'The plan is an admirably conceived one, but there is a great difficulty
in the way. I observed yesterday that the trail did not lead due south,
as it should have done if the Indians were going straight back to their
camping-ground. I questioned the Guachos, and they all agree with me on
the subject. The trail is too westerly for the camping-grounds of the
Pampas Indians; too far to the south for the country of the Flat-faces
of the Sierras. I fear that there is a combination of the two tribes, as
there was in the attack upon us, and that they went the first day in the
direction which would be most advantageous for both; and that, on
reaching their halting-place,--perhaps twenty or thirty miles from
here,--they made a division of their booty, and each tribe drew off
towards its own hunting-grounds. In this case we have first to find the
two trails, then to decide the terrible question, which party have taken
Ethel?'

Again the Guachos, upon this being translated to them, expressed their
perfect accordance with Mr. Hardy's views, and some surprise at his
ideas having been so identical with their own upon the subject.

As for the six young men, they were too dismayed at the unexpected
difficulties which had started up in their way to give any opinion
whatever. This uncertainty was terrible, and all felt that it would have
a most depressing effect upon themselves and upon the whole expedition;
for how could they tell, after journeying for hundreds of miles, whether
every step might not take them farther from the object of their search?

In this state of depression they remained for some minutes, when Perez
the Guacho said, in his broken English, 'Most tribe take most plunder,
most cattle, most sheep,--take girl.'

'Well thought of, Perez!' Mr. Hardy exclaimed warmly. 'That is the clue
for us, sure enough. As you say, the tribe who has furnished most men
will, as a matter of course, take a larger share of the booty; and
Ethel, being the only captive, would naturally go to the strongest
tribe.'

The rest were all delighted at this solution of a difficulty which had
before appeared insuperable, and the most lively satisfaction was
manifested.

The plans for the day were then discussed. Propositions were made that
they should divide into two parties, and go one to the right and the
other to the left until they arrived at unburnt ground, the edge of
which they should follow until they met. This scheme was, however, given
up, as neither party would have seen the trail inspected by the other,
and no opinion could therefore be formed as to the respective magnitude
of the parties who had passed,--a matter requiring the most careful
examination and comparison, and an accurate and practised judgment.

It was finally resolved, therefore, to keep in a body, and to proceed,
in the first place, to search for the trail of the party to the south. A
calculation was made, upon the supposition that the Indians had
travelled for another twenty-five miles upon their old course, and then
separated, each party making directly for home. To avoid all mistakes,
and to allow for a detour, it was determined to shape a direct course to
a point considerably to the east of that given by the calculation, to
follow the edge of the burnt ground until the trail was arrived at, and
then to cut straight across, in order to find and examine the trail of
the western Indians.

As this conclusion was arrived at, the first dawn of light appeared in
the east, and Mr. Hardy at once roused the sleepers.

He then gave them a brief account of the conclusions to which he had
arrived in the night, and of his reason for so doing. There was a
general expression of agreement, then the girths were tightened, and in
five minutes the troop was in motion.

How great was the change since the preceding evening! Then, as far as
the eye could reach stretched a plain of waving grass. Birds had called
to their mates, coveys of game had risen at their approach; deer had
been seen bounding away in the distance; ostriches had gazed for an
instant at the unusual sight of man, and had gone off with their heads
forward and their wings out-stretched before the wind.

Now, the eye wandered over a plain of dingy black, unbroken by a single
prominence, undisturbed by living creatures except themselves. As Hubert
remarked to his father, 'It looked as if it had been snowing black all
night.'

Both men and horses were anxious to get over these dreary plains, and
the pace was faster, and the halts less frequent, than they had been the
day before.

It was fortunate that the fire had not taken place at an earlier hour of
the evening, as the horses would have been weakened by want of food. As
it was, they had had five hours to feed after their arrival.

Both men and horses, however, suffered much from thirst; and the former
had good reason to congratulate themselves on having filled every
water-skin at the first halting-place of the preceding day. Clouds of
black impalpable dust rose as they rode along. The eyes, mouth, and
nostrils were filled with it, and they were literally as black as the
ground over which they rode.

Twice they stopped and drank, and sparingly washed out the nostrils and
mouths of the horses, which was a great relief to them, for they
suffered as much as did their masters, as also did Dash, who, owing to
his head being so near the ground, was almost suffocated; indeed, Hubert
at last dismounted, and took the poor animal up on to the saddle before
him.

At last, after four hours' steady riding, a gleam of colour was seen in
the distance, and in another quarter of an hour they reached the unburnt
plains, which, worn and parched as they were, looked refreshing indeed
after the dreary waste over which they had passed.

The Guachos, after a consultation among themselves, agreed in the
opinion that the little stream of which they had spoken was but a short
distance farther, and that, although the channel might be dry, pools
would no doubt be found in it. It was determined, therefore, to push on,
and half an hour's riding by the edge of the burnt grass brought them to
the spot, when, following the course of the channel, they soon came to a
pool, from which men and horses took a long drink.

At their approach an immense number of wild-duck rose, and, as soon as
the horses were picketed, Charley again started with the gun, taking
Terence with him to assist in bringing home the birds. They soon heard
his gun, and Terence presently returned with six brace of ducks and a
goose, and a request that another man would go back with him, for that
the birds were so abundant, and so apparently stupified from flying over
the smoke and flame, that he could bring in any quantity.

One of the Jamiesons and Herries therefore went out, and returned in
less than an hour with Charley, bringing between them four more geese
and eighteen brace of ducks.

Charley was greeted with a round of applause, and was soon at work with
his friends upon the meal which was now ready.

After breakfast there was a comparison of opinion, and it was at last
generally agreed that they had ridden nearly forty miles since daybreak,
and that they could not be far from the spot where the Indians ought to
have passed if they had kept the direction as calculated. It was also
agreed that it would be better to let the horses remain where they were
till late in the afternoon, when they might accomplish another fifteen
miles or so.

Mr. Hardy then proposed that those who were inclined should accompany
him on a walk along the edge of the burnt ground. 'We cannot be very far
off from the trail,' he said, 'if our calculations are correct; and if
we can find and examine it before it is time to start, we may be able
to-night to cross to the other side, and thus gain some hours.'

Herries, Farquhar, the two Jamiesons, Cook, and the young Hardys at once
volunteered for the walk, and, shouldering their rifles, started at a
steady pace.

They had not walked much over a mile, when a shout of pleasure broke
from them, as, upon ascending a slight rise, they saw in the hollow
below them the broad line of trampled grass, which showed that a large
body of animals had lately passed along. All hurried forward, and a
close and anxious examination took place.

Opinions differed a good deal as to the number that had passed; nor,
accustomed as they all were to seeing the tracks made by herds of cattle
and flocks of sheep, could they come to any approximate agreement on the
subject. Had the number been smaller, the task would have been easier;
but it is a question requiring extreme knowledge and judgment to decide
whether four hundred cattle and two thousand sheep, or six hundred
cattle and three thousand sheep, have passed over a piece of ground.

Mr. Hardy at last sent Charley back, accompanied by Mr. Cook, to request
Mr. Percy to come on at once with the Guachos to give their opinion.
Charley and his companions were to remain with the horses, and were to
request those not specially sent for to stay there also, as it would be
imprudent in the extreme to leave the horses without a strong guard.

Pending the arrival of Mr. Percy, Mr. Hardy and his friends followed up
the trail for some distance, so as to examine it both in the soft
bottoms and on the rises. They returned in half an hour to their
starting-place, and were shortly after joined by Mr. Percy and the
Guachos. Again a careful and prolonged examination took place, and a
tolerably unanimous opinion was at last arrived at, that a very large
number of animals had passed, apparently the larger half, but that no
positive opinion could be arrived at until a comparison was made with
the trail on the western side.

Although this conclusion was arrived at unanimously, it appeared to be
reluctantly conceded to by most of them, and the reason of this became
apparent as they were walking back towards the horses. 'I have little
doubt that the conclusion we have arrived at is correct,' Herries
remarked, 'although somehow I am sorry for it; for ever since our talk
last night I have made up my mind that she was most likely to be taken
to the west. I suppose because the Indians there are more warlike than
those of the Pampas, and therefore likely to have furnished a larger
contingent. Of course I had no reason for thinking so, but so it was.'

'That was just what I thought,' Hubert said; and the other Englishmen
admitted that they had all entertained a somewhat similar idea.

At four in the afternoon they were again in the saddle, having taken the
precaution of filling their water-skins, and of watering the horses the
last thing.

'How far do you think it is across, papa?' Hubert asked.

'It cannot be very far, Hubert. We are so much nearer the place where
the fire began, that I do not think it can have spread more than ten
miles or so across.'

Mr. Hardy's conjecture proved to be correct. An hour and a half's riding
brought them to the other side of the burnt prairie, striking a point
which they felt sure was to the south of the place where the trail would
have left it.

As they had done more than fifty miles since the morning, and the horses
were much distressed with the effect of the dust, it was resolved to
encamp at once. The horses received a little water, and were picketed
out to graze. The fire was soon lit, and the ducks cut up and spitted
upon the ramrods.

All were so much exhausted with the heat, the ashes, the fatigue, and
the want of sleep of the previous night, that, the tea and pipes
finished, and the watch posted, the rest laid down to sleep before the
sun had been an hour below the horizon.

All rose at daybreak, refreshed with their quiet night's rest, and were
soon in the saddle and on their way northward.

They had nearly an hour's ride before they came upon the trail.

There it was unmistakeably,--at first sight as broad and as much
trampled as the other; but, after a careful examination of it, there was
but one opinion, namely, that the number of animals who had passed was
decidedly less than those who had gone south.

One of the Guachos now told Mr. Hardy that he knew that at a short
distance further to the west there was a spring of water much used by
the Indians, and where he had no doubt they had halted on the night of
the fire. Finding that it was not more than half an hour's ride, Mr.
Hardy, after a brief consultation, determined to go over there to water
the horses and breakfast, before retracing their footsteps across the
burnt prairie.

In little over the time named they came to a small pool of bright
water, from which a little stream issued, running nearly due north
across the plain. After drinking heartily themselves, and filling the
water-skins and kettle, the horses were allowed to drink; and Dash
plunged in with the greatest delight, emerging his usual bright chestnut
colour, whereas he had gone into the water perfectly black.

After he had come out and had shaken himself, he commenced hunting
about, sniffing so violently that Hubert's attention was attracted to
him. Presently the dog ran forward a few paces and gave a sharp bark of
pleasure, and Hubert running forward, gave so loud a cry that all the
party rushed up.

Hubert could not speak. There, half buried in the ground, and pointing
west, was an Indian arrow, and round the head was twisted a piece of
white calico, with little blue spots upon it, which Mr. Hardy instantly
recognised as a piece of the dress Ethel had worn when she left home.

Surprise kept all quiet for a while, and then exclamations of pleasure
and excitement broke from all, while Mr. Hardy and his sons were greatly
affected at this proof of the recent presence of their lost one.

The arrow was deeply sunk in the ground, but it was placed at a spot
where the grass happened to be particularly short, so that any one
passing outward from the spring could hardly have failed to notice the
piece of calico upon the grass.

There was a perfect shower of congratulations; and it was some time
before they were recovered sufficiently to renew their preparations for
breakfast.

At last they sat down round the fire, all their faces radiant with
excitement.

Perez and Martinez, however, sat somewhat apart, talking in an animated
undertone to each other. They did not even approach the fire to roast
their food; and Mr. Hardy's attention being attracted by this
circumstance, he asked what they were talking so earnestly about.

Neither of them answered him, and he repeated the question. Then Perez
replied: 'Martinez and I think same. All trick; girl gone other way.'

Conversation and eating were alike suspended at these ominous words, and
each looked blankly into the others' faces.

Now that their attention was called to it, the whole circumstances of
the case rushed to their minds; and as they felt the probable truth of
what Perez said, their hopes fell to zero.

Mr. Percy was the first who, after a long silence, spoke. 'I am afraid,
Hardy, that what Perez says is right, and that we have been very nearly
thrown off the scent by a most transparent trick. Watched as Ethel must
have been, is it probable that she could have possessed herself of that
arrow, and have fastened a strip of her dress to it, without being
noticed? Still more impossible is it that she could have placed the
arrow where we found it. No one could have passed without noticing it;
so, unless we suppose that she was allowed to linger behind every one,
which is out of the question, the arrow could not have been put there by
her.'

'Too true, Percy,' Mr. Hardy said with a sigh, after a short silence;
'it is altogether impossible, and I should call it a clumsy artifice,
were it not that it deceived us all for a while. However, there is one
comfort; it decides the question as we had ourselves decided it: Ethel
is gone with the larger party to the south.'

Breakfast was continued, but with a very subdued feeling. Hubert had now
finished his, and, being a lad of restless habit, he took up the arrow
which lay beside him, and began toying with it.

First he untied the piece of stuff, smoothed it, and put it into his
pocket-book, while his eyes filled with tears; then he continued
listlessly twisting the arrow in his fingers, while he listened to the
conversation around him.

Presently his eyes fell upon the arrow. He started, a flush of
excitement rushed across his face, and his hands and lips trembled as he
closely examined the feather.

All gazed at him with astonishment.

'Oh, papa, papa,' he cried at last, 'I know this arrow!'

'Know the arrow!' all repeated.

'Yes, I am quite, quite sure I know it. Don't you remember, Charley, the
day that those wounded Indians started, as we were taking the quivers
down to them, I noticed that one arrow had two feathers which I had
never seen before, and could not guess what bird they came from. They
were light blue, with a crimson tip. I pulled one off to compare it with
my others. It is at home now. I remember that I chose the one I did,
because the other one had two of the little side feathers gone. This is
the feather, I can most solemnly declare, and you see the fellow one is
gone. That arrow belongs to one of the men we recovered.'

All crowded round to examine the arrow, and then Mr. Hardy said
solemnly, 'Thank God for His mercy, He has decided our way now.
Undoubtedly, as Hubert says, one of the men we aided is of the party,
and wishes to show his gratitude. So he has managed to get a piece of
Ethel's dress, and has tied it to this arrow, hoping that we should
recognise the feather. Thank God, there is no more doubt, and thank Him,
too, that Ethel has at least one friend near her.'

All was now joy and congratulation, and Hubert rubbed his hands, and
said triumphantly, 'There, Charley, you were always chaffing me, and
wanting to know what was the good of my collection, and now you see what
was the good. It has put us on the right trail for Ethel, and you will
never be able to laugh at me about my collection again.'



CHAPTER XVI.

AT THE STAKE.


It was on the evening of the fifth day after her capture by the Indians,
that Ethel Hardy rode into a wide valley in the heart of the mountains.
It was entered by a narrow gorge, through which ran a stream. Beyond
this the hill receded, forming a nearly circular basin a mile in
diameter, from the sides of which the rocks ascended almost
perpendicularly, so that the only means of entering it was through the
gorge. Clumps of trees were scattered everywhere about, and nearly in
the centre stood a large Indian village, numbering about three hundred
lodges, the population of which, consisting almost entirely of women and
children, came out with shrill cries of welcome to meet the returning
band. This was two hundred strong. Before them they drove about four
hundred cattle and fifteen hundred sheep. In the midst of the band Ethel
Hardy rode, apparently unwatched, and forming part of it.

The girl was very pale, and turned even more so at the wild yells of
triumph which rose around her, when those who had been left behind
learned how signal had been the success of their warriors, and heard
that the captive in their midst was one of the family which had
inflicted such terrible loss upon the tribe two years previously.
Fortunately she could not understand the volleys of threats and curses
which the women of the tribe heaped upon her, although she could not
mistake their furious ejaculations.

Ethel had cried at first until she could cry no more, and had now nerved
herself for the worst. She had heard that the Indians have neither mercy
nor pity for any one who may exhibit fear of death; she knew that no
entreaties or tears would move them in the slightest, but that courage
and firmness would at any rate command their respect and admiration. She
had therefore schooled herself to show no emotion when the time came;
and now, except that she had given an involuntary shudder at the sight
of the gesticulating throng, she betrayed no sign whatever of her
emotion, but looked round so calmly and unflinchingly, that the
violent abuse and gesticulations died away in a murmur of admiration of
the pale-faced child who looked so calmly on death.

[Illustration: Ethel's Capture by the Indians.--_Page 327._]

Nevertheless, as the troop drew up in front of the council hut, and
alighted, the women pressed round as usual to heap abuse upon the
prisoner; but one of the Indians stepped up to her, and waved them back,
and saying, 'She is the child of a great chief,' took her by the arm,
and handed her over to the care of the wife of one of the principal
chiefs. The selection was a good one; for the woman, who was young, was
known in the tribe as the Fawn for her gentle disposition. She at once
led the captive away to her lodge, where she bade her sit down, offered
her food, and spoke kindly to her in her low, soft, Indian tongue. Ethel
could not understand her, but the kindly tones moved her more than the
threats of the crowd outside had done, and she broke down in a torrent
of tears.

The Indian woman drew the girl to her as a mother might have done,
stroked her long fair hair, and soothed her with her low talk. Then she
motioned to a pile of skins in the corner of the hut; and when Ethel
gladly threw herself down upon them, the Indian woman covered her up as
she would have done a child, and with a nod of farewell tripped off to
welcome her husband and hear the news, knowing that there was no
possibility of the captive making her escape.

Exhausted with fatigue and emotion, Ethel's sobs soon ceased, and she
fell into a sound sleep.

Of that terrible catastrophe at the Mercers' she had but a confused
idea. They were sitting round the table talking, when, without the
slightest notice or warning, the windows and doors were burst in, and
dozens of dark forms leapt into the room. She saw Mr. Mercer rush to the
wall and seize his pistols, and then she saw no more. She was seized and
thrown over the shoulder of an Indian before she had time to do more
than leap to her feet. There was a confused whirl of sounds around
her,--shrieks, threats, pistol shots, and savage yells,--then the sounds
swam in her ears, and she fainted.

When she recovered consciousness, she found that she was being carried
on a horse before her captor, and that the air was full of a red glare,
which she supposed to arise from a burning house. On the chief, who
carried her, perceiving that she had recovered her senses, he called to
one of his followers, who immediately rode up, bringing a horse upon
which a sidesaddle had been placed. To this Ethel was transposed, and in
another minute was galloping along by the side of her captor.

Even now she could hardly persuade herself that she was not dreaming.
That instantaneous scene at the Mercers',--those confused sounds,--this
wild cavalcade of dark figures who rode round her,--could not surely be
real. Alas! she could not doubt it; and as the thought came across her,
What would they say at home when they heard it? she burst into an agony
of silent tears. Towards daybreak she was often startled to hear the
words, 'Hope, Ethel, hope!' in Spanish distinctly spoken close to her.
She turned hastily, but there rode the dark forms as usual. Still, she
felt sure that she was not mistaken. Her own name she had distinctly
heard; and although she could not form a conjecture who this unknown
friend could be, still it was a great consolation to her to feel that
she had at any rate one well-wisher among her enemies. He had told her
to hope, too; and Ethel's spirits, with the elasticity of youth, rose at
the word.

Why should she not hope? she thought. They were sure to hear it at home
next morning, even if no one escaped and took them the news earlier; and
she was certain that within a few hours of hearing it her father and
friends would be on their trail. Before the night fell, at latest, they
would be assembled. Twenty-four hours' start would be the utmost that
the Indians could possibly obtain, and her friends would travel as fast
or faster than they could, for they would be free from all encumbrances.
How far she was to be taken she could not say, but she felt sure that in
a week's travelling her friends would make up for the day lost at
starting. She knew that they might not be able to attack the Indians
directly they came up, for they could not be a very strong party,
whereas the Indians were several hundreds strong; but she believed that
sooner or later, in some way or other, her father and brothers would
come to her rescue. Ethel from that time forward did not doubt for a
moment. Trusting thus firmly in her friends, she gained confidence and
courage; and when the troops halted at nine in the morning, after nine
hours' riding, Ethel was able to look round with some sort of curiosity
and interest.

It was here that an incident occurred, which, although she knew it not
at the time, entirely altered her destination and prospects.

She was sitting upon the ground, when a man, who by his bearing appeared
to be the principal chief present, passed in earnest talk with another
chief. In the latter she recognised at once one of the wounded Indian
prisoners.

'Tawaina,' she said, leaping to her feet.

He paid no attention to her call, and she repeated it in a louder tone.

The principal chief stopped; Tawaina did the same. Then he walked slowly
towards the captive.

'Save me, Tawaina,' she said, 'and send me back again home.'

Tawaina shook his head.

'Not can,' he said. 'Tawaina friend. Help some time,--not now.' And he
turned away again.

'Does the Raven know the White Bird,' the chief asked him, 'that she
sings his name?'

Tawaina paused and said,--

'Tawaina knows her. Her father is the great white brave.'

The Indian chief gave a bound of astonishment and pleasure.

'The white brave with the shooting flames?'

Tawaina nodded.

The Raven's meeting with Ethel had been apparently accidental, but was
in reality intentional. Her actual captor was one of the chiefs,
although not the principal one, of the Pampas Indians; and in the
division of the spoil, preparations for which were going on, there was
no doubt that she would be assigned to that tribe, without any question
upon the part of the Raven's people.

Now, however, that the Stag knew who the prisoner was, he determined to
obtain her for his tribe. He therefore went direct to the chief of the
Pampas Indians, and asked that the white girl might fall to his tribe.

The chief hesitated.

'She is our only captive,' he said. 'The people will like to see her,
and she will live in the lodge of the Fox, who carried her off.'

'The Stag would like her for a slave to his wife. He will give fifty
bullocks and two hundred sheep to the tribe, and will make the Fox's
heart glad with a present.'

The offer appeared so large for a mere puny girl, that the chief
assented at once; and the Fox was content to take a gun, which proved
part of the spoil, for his interest in his captive.

The Indians of the Stag's tribe murmured to themselves at this costly
bargain upon the part of their chief. However, they expressed nothing of
this before him, and continued the work of counting and separating the
animals in proportion to the number of each tribe present,--the tribes
from the plains being considerably the more numerous.

Not until four o'clock were they again in motion, when each tribe
started direct for home.

In three hours' riding they reached the spring, and then the Stag
ordered a small tent of skins to be erected for Ethel's accommodation.

From this she came out an hour later to gaze upon the great wave of fire
which, kindled at a point far away by their scouts, now swept along
northward, passing at a distance of three or four miles from the spring.

It was when sitting gravely round the fire later on, that the Stag
deigned to enlighten his followers as to his reasons for giving what
seemed to them so great a price for a pale-faced child.

The delight of the Indians, when they found that they had the daughter
of their twice victorious enemy in their hands, was unbounded. Vengeance
is to the Indian even more precious than plunder; and the tribe would
not have grudged a far higher price even than had been paid for the
gratification of thus avenging themselves upon their enemy. The news
flew from mouth to mouth, and triumphant whoops resounded throughout the
camp; and Ethel inside her tent felt her blood run cold at the savage
exultation which they conveyed.

She was greatly troubled by the fire, for she saw that it must efface
all signs of the trail, and render the task of her friends long and
difficult, and she felt greatly depressed at what she looked upon as a
certain postponement of her rescue. She lay thinking over all this for
a long time, until the camp had subsided into perfect quiet. Then the
skins were slightly lifted near her head, and she heard a voice
whisper,--

'Me, Tawaina,--friend. Great chief come to look for girl. Two
trails,--eyes blinded. Tawaina make sign,--point way. Give piece dress
that great chief may believe.'

Ethel at once understood. She cautiously tore off a narrow strip from
the bottom of her dress, and put it under the skin to the speaker.

'Good,' he said. 'Tawaina friend. Ethel, hope.'

Greatly relieved by knowing that a clue would be now given to her
friends, and overpowered by fatigue, Ethel was very shortly fast asleep.

At daybreak they set off again, having thus thirty hours' start of their
pursuers. They travelled six hours, rested from eleven till three, and
then travelled again until dark. Occasionally a sheep lagged behind,
footsore and weary. He was instantly killed and cut up.

For four days was their rate of travelling, which amounted to upwards of
fifty miles a day, continued, and they arrived, as has been said, the
last evening at their village.

During all this time Ethel was treated with courtesy and respect. The
best portion of the food was put aside for her, the little tent of
skins was always erected at night, and no apparent watch was kept over
her movements.

The next morning she was awake early, and, had it not been for the
terrible situation in which she was placed, she would have been amused
by the busy stir in the village, and by the little copper-coloured
urchins at play, or going out with the women to collect wood or fetch
water. There was nothing to prevent Ethel from going out among them, but
the looks of scowling hatred which they cast at her made her draw back
again into the hut, after a long anxious look around.

It was relief at least to have halted, great as her danger undoubtedly
was. She felt certain now that hour by hour her father must be
approaching. He might even now be within a few miles. Had it not been
for the fire, she was certain that he would already have been up, but
she could not tell how long he might have been before he recovered the
trail.

Towards the middle of the day two or three Indians might have been seen
going through the village, summoning those whose position and rank
entitled them to a place at the council.

Soon they were seen approaching, and taking their seats gravely on the
ground in front of the hut of the principal chief. The women, the
youths, and such men as had not as yet by their feats in battle
distinguished themselves sufficiently to be summoned to the council,
assembled at a short distance off. The council sat in the form of a
circle, the inner ring being formed of the elder and leading men of the
tribe, while the warriors sat round them.

Struck by the hush which had suddenly succeeded to the noise of the
village, Ethel again went to the door. She was greatly struck by the
scene, and was looking wonderingly at it, when she felt a touch on her
shoulder, and on looking round saw the Fawn gazing pityingly at her, and
at the same time signing to her to come in.

The truth at once flashed across Ethel's mind. The council had met to
decide her fate, and she did not doubt for a moment what that decision
would be. She felt that all hope was over, and, retiring into the hut,
passed the time in prayer and in preparation for the fearful ordeal
which was at hand.

After the council had met, there was a pause of expectation, and the
Stag then rose.

'My brothers, my heart is very glad. The Great Spirit has ceased to
frown upon his children. Twice we went out, and twice returned
empty-handed, while many of our lodges were empty. The guns which shoot
without loading were too strong for us, and we returned sorrowful. Last
year we did not go out; the hearts of our braves were heavy. This year,
we said perhaps the Great Spirit will no longer be angry with his
children, and we went out. This time we have not returned empty-handed.
The lowing of cattle is in my ear, and I see many sheep. The white men
have felt the strength of our arms; and of the young men who went out
with me there is not one missing. Best of all, we have brought back a
captive, the daughter of the white chief of the flying fires and the
guns which load themselves. Let me hand her over to our women; they will
know how to make her cry; and we will send her head to the white chief,
to show that his guns cannot reach to the Indian country. Have I spoken
well?'

A murmur of assent followed the chief's speech; and supposing that no
more would be said upon the matter, the Stag was about to declare the
council closed, when an Indian sitting in the inner circle rose.

'My brothers, I will tell you a story. The birds once went out to attack
the nest of an eagle, but the eagle was too strong for them; and when
all had gone, he went out from his nest with his children, the young
eagles, and he found the raven and two other birds hurt and unable to
fly, and instead of killing them, as they might have done, the eagles
took them up to their nest, and nursed them and tended them until they
were able to fly, and then sent them home to their other birds. So was
it with Tawaina and his two friends.' And the speaker indicated with his
arm two Indians sitting at the outer edge of the circle. 'Tawaina fell
at the fence where so many of us fell, and in the morning the white men
took him and gave him water, and placed him in shelter, and bandaged his
wound; and the little White Bird and her sister brought him food and
cool drinks every day, and looked pitifully at him. But Tawaina said to
himself, The white men are only curing Tawaina, that when the time comes
they may see how an Indian can die. But when he was well, they brought
horses, and put a bow and arrows into our hands, and bade us go free. It
is only in the battle that the great white chief is terrible. He has a
great heart. The enemies he killed he did not triumph over. He laid them
in a great grave. He honoured them, and planted trees with drooping
leaves at their head and at their feet, and put a fence round that the
foxes might not touch their bones. Shall the Indian be less generous
than the white man? Even those taken in battle they spared and sent
home. Shall we kill the White Bird captured in her nest? My brothers
will not do so. They will send back the White Bird to the great white
chief. Have I spoken well?'

This time a confused murmur ran round the circle. Some of the younger
men were struck with this appeal to their generosity, and were in favour
of the Raven's proposition; the elder and more ferocious Indians were
altogether opposed to it.

Speaker succeeded speaker, some urging one side of the question, some
the other.

At last the Stag again rose. 'My brothers,' he said, 'my ears have heard
strange words, and my spirit is troubled. The Raven has told us of the
ways of the whites after a battle; but the Indians' ways are not as the
whites' ways, and the Stag is too old to learn new fashions. He looks
round, he sees many lodges empty, he sees many women who have no husband
to hunt game, he hears the voices of children who cry for meat. He
remembers his brothers who fell before the flying fire and the guns
which loaded themselves, and his eyes are full of blood. The great white
chief has made many wigwams desolate: let there be mourning in the house
of the white chief. Have I spoken well?'

The acclamations which followed this speech were so loud and general
that the party of the Raven was silenced, and the council at once broke
up.

A cry of exultation broke from the women when they heard the decision,
and all prepared for the work of vengeance before them.

At a signal from the Stag, two of the young Indians went to the hut and
summoned Ethel to accompany them. She guessed at once that her death was
decided upon, and, pale as marble, but uttering no cry or entreaty,
which she knew would be useless, she walked between them.

For a moment she glanced at the women around her, to see if there was
one look of pity or interest; but faces distorted with hate and
exultation met her eyes, and threats and imprecations assailed her ears.
The sight, though it appalled, yet nerved her with courage. A pitying
look would have melted her,--this rage against one so helpless as
herself nerved her; and, with her eyes turned upwards and her lips
moving in prayer, she kept along.

The Indians led her to a tree opposite the centre of the village, bound
her securely to it, and then retired.

There was a pause before the tragedy was to begin. Some of the women
brought faggots for the pile, others cut splinters to thrust under the
nails and into the flesh. The old women chattered and exulted over the
tortures they would inflict; a few of the younger ones stood aloof,
looking on pityingly.

The men of the tribe gathered in a circle, but took no part in the
preparations,--the torture of women was beneath them.

At last all was ready. A fire was lit near; the hags lit their
firebrands and advanced. The chief gave the signal, and with a yell of
exultation they rushed upon their victim, but fell back with a cry of
surprise, rudely thrust off by three Indians who placed themselves
before the captive.

The women retreated hastily, and the men advanced to know the reason of
this strange interruption. The Raven and his companions were unarmed.
The Indians frowned upon them, uncertain what course to pursue.

'My brothers,' the Raven said, 'I am come to die. The Raven's time is
come. He has flown his last flight. He and his brothers will die with
the little White Bird. The Raven and his friends are not dogs. They have
shed their blood against their enemies, and they do not know how to cry
out. But their time has come, they are ready to die. But they must die
before the little White Bird. If not, her spirit will fly to the Great
Spirit, and will tell him that the Raven and his friends, whom she had
sheltered and rescued, had helped to kill her; and the Great Spirit
would shut the gates of the happy hunting-grounds against them. The
Raven has spoken.'

There was a pause of extreme astonishment, followed by a clamour of
voices. Those who had before espoused the cause of the Raven again spoke
out loudly, while many of the others hesitated as to the course to be
pursued.

The Stag hastily consulted with two or three of his principal advisers,
and then moved forward, waving his hand to command silence. His
countenance was calm and unmoved, although inwardly he was boiling with
rage at this defiance of his authority. He was too politic a chief,
however, to show this. He knew that the great majority of the tribe was
with him; yet the employment of force to drag the Raven and his
companions from their post would probably create a division in the
tribe, the final results of which none could see, and for the
consequences of which he would, in case of any reverse, be held
responsible and looked upon with disapproval by both parties.

'The Raven and his friends have great hearts,' he said courteously.
'They are large enough to shelter the little White Bird. Let them take
her. Her life is spared. She shall remain with our tribe.'

The Raven inclined his head, and, taking a knife from a warrior near, he
cut the cords which bound Ethel, and, beckoning to the Fawn, handed the
astonished girl again into her charge, saying as he did so, 'Stop in
hut. Not go out; go out, bad.' And then, accompanied by his friends, he
retired without a word to one of their huts.

A perfect stillness had hung over the crowd during this scene; but when
it became known that Ethel was to go off unscathed, a murmur broke out
from the elder females, disappointed in their work of vengeance. But the
Stag waved his hand peremptorily, and the crowd scattered silently to
their huts, to talk over the unusual scene that had taken place.

The Raven and his friends talked long and earnestly together. They were
in no way deceived by the appearance of friendliness which the Stag had
assumed. They knew that henceforth there was bitter hatred between them,
and that their very lives were insecure. As to Ethel, it was, they knew,
only a short reprieve which had been granted her. The Stag would not
risk a division in the tribe for her sake, nor would attempt to bring
her to a formal execution; but the first time she wandered from the hut,
she would be found dead with a knife in her heart.

The Raven, however, felt certain that help was at hand. He and his
friends, who knew Mr. Hardy, were alone of the tribe convinced that a
pursuit would be attempted. The fact that no such attempt to penetrate
into the heart of the Indian country had ever been made, had lulled the
rest into a feeling of absolute security. The Raven, indeed, calculated
that the pursuers must now be close at hand, and that either on that
night or the next they would probably enter the gorge and make the
attack.

The result of the council was that he left his friends and walked in a
leisurely way back to his own hut, taking no notice of the hostile
glances which some of the more violent of the Stag's supporters cast
towards him.

On his entrance he was welcomed by his wife, a young girl whom he had
only married since his return from the expedition, and to whom, from
what he had learned of the position of women among the whites, he
allowed more freedom of speech and action than are usually permitted to
Indian women. She had been one of the small group who had pitied the
white girl.

'The Raven is a great chief,' she said proudly; 'he has done well. The
Mouse trembled, but she was glad to see her lord stand forth. The Stag
will strike, though,' she added anxiously. 'He will look for the blood
of the Raven.'

'The Stag is a great beast,' the Indian said sententiously; 'but the
Raven eat him at last.'

Then, sitting down upon a pile of skins, the chief filled his pipe, and
made signs to his wife to bring fire. Then he smoked in silence for some
time until the sun went down, and a thick darkness closed over the
valley.

At length he got up, and said to his wife, 'If they ask for the Raven,
say that he has just gone out; nothing more. He will not return till
daybreak; and remember,' and he laid his hand upon her arm to impress
the caution, 'whatever noise the Mouse hears in the night, she is not to
leave the hut till the Raven comes back to her.'

The girl bowed her head with an Indian woman's unquestioning obedience;
and then, drawing aside the skin which served as a door, and listening
attentively to hear if any one were near, the Raven went out silently
into the darkness.



CHAPTER XVII.

RESCUED.


In spite of their utmost efforts, Mr. Hardy's party had made slower
progress than they had anticipated. Many of the horses had broken down
under fatigue; and as they had no spare horses to replace them, as the
Indians had in like case done from those they had driven off from Mr.
Mercer, they were forced to travel far more slowly than at first. They
gained upon the Indians, however, as they could tell by the position of
the camping-ground for the night.

At three o'clock on the afternoon of the last day they passed the place
their enemy had left that morning; but although they kept on until long
after sunset, many of them having led their horses all day, they were
still more than thirty miles away from the mountains among which they
knew that the Indian village was situated.

None of the Guachos had ever been there, but they knew its situation and
general features by report. There had been no difficulty in following
the trail since they had struck it. The broad line of trodden ground,
and the frequent carcases of sheep, sufficiently told the tale.

That was a night of terrible anxiety to all. They knew that already
Ethel was in the Indian village, and they thought with a sickening dread
of what might happen the next day. Nothing, however, could be done. Many
of the party were already exhausted by their long day's walk under a
burning sun. It was altogether impossible to reach the village that
night.

Before lying down for the night, Mr. Hardy asked all the party to join
in a prayer for the preservation of his daughter during the following
day; and it was a strange and impressing sight to see the group of
sunburnt, travel-worn men standing uncovered while their leader offered
up an earnest prayer.

Mr. Hardy then said for that night it was unnecessary to keep watch as
usual. The Indians had pushed on, and could no longer dread pursuit, and
therefore there was no risk of a night attack. Besides which, there was
little chance of his sleeping. This proposition was a most acceptable
one, and in a very short time a perfect silence reigned in the camp.

Before daybreak they were again on the march, all on foot and leading
their horses, in order to spare them as much as possible should they be
required at night. Speed was now no object. It was, they knew, hopeless
to attack in broad daylight, as the Indians would be probably more than
a match for them, and Ethel's life would be inevitably sacrificed. They
walked, therefore, until within six or seven miles of the gorge, nearer
than which they dared not go, lest they might be seen by any straggling
Indian.

Their halting-place was determined by finding a stream with an abundance
of fresh grass on its banks. They dared not light a fire, but chewed
some of the tough charqui, and watched the distant cleft in the hills
which led to the ardently wished-for goal.

As evening fell they were all in the saddle, and were pleased to find
that the horses were decidedly fresher for their rest. They did not draw
rein until the ground became stony, and they knew that they must be at
the mouth of the gorge. Then they dismounted and picketed the horses.
Two of the Guachos were stationed with them as guards, and the rest went
stealthily forward,--the rockets being entrusted to the care of Terence,
who fastened them tightly together with a cord, and then hung them by a
loop, like a gun, over his shoulder, in order that he might have his
hands free.

It was still only eight o'clock,--dangerously early for a surprise; but
the whole party were quite agreed to risk everything, as no one could
say in what position Ethel might be placed, and what difference an hour
might make. Their plan was to steal quietly up to the first hut they
found, to gag its inmates, and compel one of them, under a threat of
instant death, to guide them to the hut in which Ethel was placed.

Suddenly Mr. Hardy was startled by a dark figure rising from a rock
against which he had almost stumbled, with the words, 'White man good.
Tawaina friend. Come to take him to child.'

Then followed a few hurried questions; and no words can express the
delight and gratitude of Mr. Hardy and his sons, and the intense
satisfaction of the others, on finding that Ethel was alive, and for the
present free from danger.

It was agreed to wait now for two hours, to give time for the Indians to
retire to rest; and while they waited, the Raven told them all that had
happened up to the arrival at the village, passing over the last day's
proceedings by saying briefly that Ethel had run a great risk of being
put to death, but that a delay had been obtained by her friends. Having
told his story, he said, 'Tawaina friend to great white chief. Gave
signal with arrow; save little White Bird to-day. But Tawaina
Indian,--not like see Indian killed. White chief promise not kill Indian
women and children?'

Mr. Hardy assured the Indian that they had no thought of killing women
and children.

'If can take little White Bird without waking village, not kill men?'
Tawaina asked again.

'We do not want to wake the village if we can help it, Tawaina; but I do
not see any chance of escaping without a fight. Our horses are all dead
beat, and the Indians will easily overtake us, even if we get a night's
start.'

'Mustn't go out on plain,' the Raven said earnestly. 'If go out on
plain, all killed. Indian two hundred and fifty braves,--eat up white
men on plain.'

'I am afraid that is true enough, Tawaina, though we shall prove very
tough morsels. Still we should fight at a fearful disadvantage in the
open. But what are we to do?'

'Come back to mouth of Canon,--hold that; can keep Indians off as long
as like. Indians have to make peace.'

'Capital!' Mr. Hardy said delightedly; for he had reviewed the position
with great apprehension, as he had not seen how it would be possible to
make good their retreat on their tired horses in the teeth of the
Indians. 'The very thing! As you say, we can hold the gorge for a month
if necessary, and, sooner or later, they will be sick of it, and agree
to let us retreat in quiet. Besides, a week's rest would set our horses
up again, and then we could make our retreat in spite of them.'

'One more thing,' the Raven said. 'When great chief got little White
Bird safe, Tawaina go away,--not fight one way, not fight other way.
When meet again, white chief not talk about to-night. Not great Indian
know Tawaina white chief's friend.'

'You can rely upon us all, Tawaina. They shall never learn from us of
your share in this affair. And now I think that it is time for us to be
moving forward. It will be past ten o'clock before we are there.'

Very quietly the troop crept along, Tawaina leading the way, until he
approached closely to the village. Here they halted for a moment.

'Only six of us will go in,' Mr. Hardy said; 'there will be less chance
of detection,--Jamieson, Percy, Herries, my boys, and myself. The others
take post close to the hut we see ahead. If you find that we are
discovered, be in readiness to support us. And Farquhar, two or three of
you get matches ready, and stick a blue-light into the straw roof of
the hut. We must have light, or we lose all the advantage of our
firearms. Besides, as we retreat we shall be in darkness, while they
will be in the glare.'

Thus speaking, Mr. Hardy followed his guide, the men he had selected
treading cautiously in his rear. Presently they stopped before one of
the huts, and pointing to the door, Tawaina said, 'Little White Bird
there;' and then gliding away, he was lost in the darkness.

Mr. Hardy cautiously pushed aside the skin and entered, followed by his
friends. It was perfectly dark, and they stood for a moment uncertain
what to do. Then they heard a low voice saying, 'Papa, is that you?'
while at the same instant they saw a gleam of light in the other corner
of the tent, and heard a rustling noise, and they knew that an Indian
had cut a slit in the hide walls and had escaped; and as Mr. Hardy
pressed his child to his heart, a terrific war-whoop rose on the air
behind the hut.

'Come,' Mr. Hardy said, 'keep together, and make a run of it.'

Ethel had laid down without taking off even her shoes, so strong had
been her hope of her father's arrival. She was therefore no impediment
to the speed of their retreat. For a short distance they were
unopposed.

The Indians, indeed, rushed from their huts like swarms of bees
disturbed by an intruder. Ignorant of the nature of the danger, and
unable to see its cause, all was for a minute wild confusion; and then,
guided by the war-whoop of the Indian who had given the alarm, all
hurried toward the spot, and as they did so, several saw the little
party of whites. Loud whoops gave the intimation of this discovery, and
a rush towards them was made.

'Now, your revolvers,' Mr. Hardy said. 'We are nearly out of the
village.'

Not as yet, however, were the Indians gathered thickly enough to stop
them. A few who attempted to throw themselves in the way were instantly
shot down, and in less time than it has occupied to read this
description they reached the end of the village. As they did so, a
bright flame shot up from the farthest hut, and the rest of the party
rushed out and joined them.

The Indians in pursuit paused at seeing this fresh accession of strength
to their enemies, and then, as they were joined by large numbers, and
the flame shooting up brightly enabled them to see how small was the
body of whites, they rushed forward again with fierce yells.

But the whites were by this time a hundred and fifty yards away, and
were already disappearing in the gloom.

'Stop!' Mr. Hardy cried. 'Steady with your rifles! Each man single out
an Indian. Fire!'

A yell of rage broke from the Indians as fourteen or fifteen of their
number fell, and a momentary pause took place again. And then, as they
were again reinforced, they continued the pursuit.

But the two hundred yards which the whites had gained was a long start
in the half a mile's distance to be traversed, and the whites well knew
that they were running for their lives; for once surrounded in the
plain, their case was hopeless.

Well was it, then, that Ethel was so accustomed to an out-of-door life.
Hope and fear lent speed to her feet, and running between her father and
brothers, she was able to keep up a speed equal to their own.

Scarce a word was spoken, as with clenched teeth and beating hearts they
dashed along. Only once Mr. Jamieson said, 'Can Ethel keep up?' and she
gasped out 'Yes.'

The whites had this great advantage in the race, that they knew that
they had only half a mile in all to run, and therefore put out their
best speed; whereas, although a few of the Indians saw the importance of
overtaking the fugitives on the plain, the greater portion believed that
their prey was safe in their hands, and made no great effort to close
with them at once. The whites, too, had the advantage of being
accustomed to walking exercise, whereas the Indians, almost living on
horseback, are seldom in the habit of using their feet. Consequently the
whites reached the narrow mouth of the gorge a full hundred and fifty
yards ahead of the main body of the pursuers, although a party of their
fastest runners was not more than half that distance in their rear.

There was a general ejaculation of thankfulness as the parties now
halted and turned to face the enemy.

It was now that the full advantage of Mr. Hardy's precaution of firing
the Indian hut had become manifest.

The fire had communicated to the next two or three dwellings, and a
broad flame rose up, against the glare of which the Indians stood out
distinctly, while the whites were posted in deep gloom.

'Now, boys,' Mr. Hardy said, 'pick off the first lot with your carbines,
while we load our rifles. Ethel, get behind that rock. Take shelter all
till the last moment. The arrows will soon be amongst us.'

Steadily as if firing at a mark the boys discharged their five shots
each; and as the enemy was not more than fifty yards off, every shot
told.

The rest of the leading band hesitated, and throwing themselves down,
waited until the others came up. There was a momentary pause, then a
volley of arrows and musket balls was discharged in the direction of
their hidden foe, and then, with a wild yell, the whole mass charged.

Not till they were within thirty yards was there a return shot fired;
but as they entered the narrow gorge, the whites leapt to their feet
with a cheer, and poured in a volley from twenty-four rifles.

The effect was terrible; and those in front who were unwounded
hesitated, but, pressed on from behind, they again rushed forward. Then,
as they closed, a desperate combat began.

The boys had hastily handed their carbines to Ethel to fit in the spare
chamber, and had taken their place by their father's side. The gorge was
so narrow that there was not room to stand abreast, and by previous
arrangement those who had no revolvers placed themselves in front,
clubbing their rifles, while those with revolvers fired between them.

Mr. Percy, one of the Jamiesons, and Herries stood a pace or two in the
rear, with their revolvers in hand, as a reserve.

For a few minutes the contest was terrific. The rush of the Indians
partially broke the line, and the whirl of gleaming hatchets, the heavy
crash of the blows with the rifles, the sharp incessant cracks of the
revolvers, the yells of the Indians, the short shouts of encouragement
from the English, and the occasional Irish cry of Terence, made up a
total of confusion and noise which was bewildering.

Scarce a shot of the whites was thrown away, and a heap of dead lay
across the pass.

Still the Indians pressed on.

The fight was more silent now, the cracks of the revolvers had ceased,
and the whites were fighting silently and desperately with their rifles.
They had not given way a foot, but the short panting breath told that
the tremendous exertion was telling, as they stood in a line at short
intervals, and their weapons rose and fell with a force and might that
the Indian hatchets could seldom stem or avert.

Not bloodless on their part had the fight been up to this time. Most of
them had received gashes more or less severe, and Martinez the Guacho
and Cook lay dead at their feet.

Charley and Hubert, upon emptying their revolvers, had fallen back and
taken their carbines, and now stood with the reserve upon a flat rock a
few paces in the rear, all burning with impatience to take part in the
strife.

At this moment they were joined by the two Guachos who had been left
with the horses, but who now, hearing the firing, had arrived to take
part in the fray.

At last Mr. Hardy judged that the time had come, and shouted,

'Take aim into the middle of the mass, and fire as quick as you can,
then all charge together. Now!'

In less than half a minute the four barrels of the Guachos' guns, and
the thirty shots from the revolvers, had been discharged into the
densely-packed throng; then the seven men leapt from the rock, and with
a cheer the whites threw themselves upon the Indians, already recoiling
and panic-struck by the tremendous and deadly fire.

The Indians in front, surprised and confused, were mown down by the long
rifles like grass before the mower, and those behind, after one moment's
hesitation, broke and fled; in another two minutes the fight was over,
and the Indians in full flight to their village.

After a few words of hearty congratulation, the whites threw themselves
on the ground, panting and exhausted, after their tremendous exertions.

Their first care, upon recovering a little, was to load their revolvers;
as for the rifles, there was not one, with the exception of those of the
three men who had formed the reserve, and the boys' carbines, which were
not disabled. The stocks were broken, the hammers wrenched off, and the
barrels twisted and bent.

The party now crowded round Ethel, with whom not a single word had yet
been exchanged since her rescue, and warm and hearty were the
congratulations and welcome bestowed upon her. There was then an
examination of wounds.

These had been many, and in some cases severe. Mr. Farquhar was
completely disabled by a deep wound in the shoulder. Mr. Percy had
received a fearful gash on the arm. Charley had one ear nearly cut off,
and the side of his face laid completely open with a sweeping blow. Four
others were seriously wounded, and six had less important wounds. All,
however, were too much elated with their success to make anything but
light of their hurts.

'You seem fated to have your beauty spoilt, Charley,' Mr. Hardy said, as
he bandaged up his son's face. 'A few more fights, and you will be as
seasoned with scars as any Chelsea pensioner.'

Charley joined in the general laugh at his own expense.

'Yes, papa, if I go on like this, I shall certainly get rid of my
looking-glass.'

'You have not lost the rockets, I hope, Terence?' Mr. Hardy asked.

'Sure and I've not, your honour. I put them down behind a big rock
before the little shindy began.'

'We will fire them off,' Mr. Hardy said. 'They will heighten the
impression, and make the Indians more anxious to come to terms, when
they see that we can reach their village. We will not let them off all
at once; but as we have four of each sort, we will send off a pair every
half-hour or so, as they may think, if we fire them all at once and then
stop, that we have no more left. We may as well give them a few shots,
too, with our carbines and the rifles that remain serviceable. They will
carry as far as half a mile if we give them elevation enough, and it is
well to impress them as much as possible.'

Mr. Hardy's suggestion was carried out. The first signal rocket showed
the village crowded with Indians, over whose heads the cracked rocket
slowly whizzed. The light of the next rocket did not disclose a single
person, and it was apparent that the place was deserted. The third
rocket happened to strike one of the roofs, and exploding there, set the
thatch on fire.

'Good!' Mr. Percy said. 'We shall have them asking for terms to-morrow.'

Four of the unwounded men were now placed as a guard at the mouth of the
gorge, the others retiring further into it, so as to be beyond the dead
Indians, who lay there literally in piles.

The morning broke over the white men occupied in the burial of their
two fallen companions, and upon the Indians assembled at a short
distance beyond the village. The men sat upon the ground in sullen
despair; the women wailed and wrang their hands.

Now that it was day, they could see how terrible had been their loss.
Upwards of sixty of their number were missing. The Stag had fallen, as
had several of the most valiant braves of the tribe.

Presently the Raven rose from the midst of the warriors. His absence the
preceding evening had not been noticed; and although all knew that he
had taken no part in the fight, this was considered natural enough, when
his advice to give up the captive had been rejected.

'My brothers,' he began, 'the Great Spirit is very angry. He has hidden
his face from his children. Yesterday he blinded their eyes and made
them foolish; last night he made them as water before the white men. Why
were the ears of the chiefs closed to the words of the Raven? If the
Raven had set out with the little White Bird, the great white chief
would have been glad, and the hatchet would have been buried in peace.
But the chiefs would not hear the words of the Raven. The Stag said,
Kill! and the war chiefs shouted, Kill! and where are they now? Their
wigwams are empty, and their women have none to bring in the deer for
food. The Great Spirit is angry.'

The Raven then took his seat; but, as he anticipated, no one rose to
speak after him. The depression was too general; and the fact that, had
the Raven's advice been followed, the evils would have been avoided, was
too manifest for any one to attempt to utter a word.

After a profound silence of some minutes' duration, the Raven again
rose.

'What will my brothers do? The flying fires will burn down our village,
and there is no retreat. The guns that shoot without loading carry very
far. We are as water before them. We are in the hands of the white
chief, and our bones will feed the crows. What will my brothers do?'

There was still a profound silence, and then he continued: 'The Raven is
a great chief, and he will tell them what to do. The Raven has stood by
the side of the little White Bird, and the great white chief will listen
to his voice. He will say, Let there be peace between us. The men who
would have harmed the little White Bird are dead; there is no more cause
of quarrel. Let us bury the hatchet. Take horses and cattle for your
journey, and forgive us if we have done wrong. If the white men were on
the plains, the Raven would say, Let my young man charge; but they hold
the pass, and the guns that shoot without loading are too strong. Have I
spoken well?'

There was a low murmur of applause. The feeling that the position of the
white men was impregnable was general; and they all felt convinced that
those terrible enemies would devise some unknown scheme which would end
in the total annihilation of the tribe.

The Raven's proposition was therefore unanimously assented to.

The Raven then laid aside his arms, and, attended by six of the
principal chiefs, carrying green boughs in token of amity, advanced
towards the mouth of the gorge. Mr. Hardy, with five of the whites, and
with Perez to interpret, advanced to meet him.

When the two groups met, the Raven commenced gravely, in the Indian
language: 'The white chief of the flying fire is mighty, and the Great
Spirit has blinded his children. They carried off the little White Bird,
but they did not harm her. Bad men would have harmed her, but the Raven
stood by her side. The great white chief has taken back his little White
Bird, and he has killed the men whom the Great Spirit blinded. Why
should there be any more war? The Indians are brave; they have cattle,
and sheep, and water. They can live out of reach of the white chiefs
guns, and can fight if the white chief comes out against them. The white
chief is strong, and he can defend the pass, but he cannot venture out
to attack. They are equal. There is no cause of quarrel any longer. Let
us bury the hatchet. The white chief's young men can take horses,--for
the Indians have many,--to take them back to their homes. They can take
cattle to eat. Let there be peace.'

This address of the Raven was a very politic one. He already knew that
Mr. Hardy was willing to grant terms, but he wished to show the other
chiefs that he supported the honour of the tribe by boasting of their
power and resources, and by making the peace as upon equal terms.

When the Guacho had translated their proposal, Mr. Hardy spoke, using
the phraseology which would be most intelligible to the Indians.

'The Raven is a great chief; he has spoken wisely. The little White Bird
has sung in the white chief's ear that the Raven stood by her side when
bad Indians would have hurt her. The bad Indians are dead. The Great
Spirit frowned upon them. The white chief has no quarrel with the Raven
and his friends. Let there be peace.'

A general expression of satisfaction pervaded both parties when it was
known that peace was arranged; and one of each side hurrying back with
the news, the rest went into the village, where, sitting down before
the principal hut, the pipe of peace was solemnly smoked.

The two parties then mingled amicably, mutually pleased at the
termination to the hostilities; and no one would have guessed that a few
hours before they had met in deadly strife. The Raven courteously
invited the whites to stop for a night at the village; but the
invitation was declined, as all were very anxious to return home.

Some Indians were despatched by the Raven, who had now naturally assumed
the position of chief of the tribe, to catch horses to take the place of
those which had broken down upon the journey. The offer of cattle was
declined, as they were confident that they should be able to procure
game. They took, however, as large a supply of fresh meat as their
horses could carry.

Mr. Hardy saw that the Raven wished to avoid any private conversation
with him. He therefore drew the boys aside, and made a proposal to them,
to which they cordially agreed.

As the horses were brought up, and the whole tribe assembled, he
advanced towards the Raven with one of the boys' carbines in his hand.

'The Raven is a great chief,' he said. 'He has a great heart, and stood
by the side of the little White Bird. But he has not a good rifle. The
white chief gives him a rifle which will shoot many times. Let him
promise that he will never use it in fight against the white men.'

This gift the Raven received with great pleasure, and readily gave the
required promise, adding, on behalf of his tribe, that the hatchet which
was buried should never again be dug up against the whites. An extra
chamber and all the spare ammunition was given to him, and a further
supply promised when he chose to send for it; instructions were also
given to him in the use of the weapon, then a solemn farewell was
exchanged, and the party of whites turned their faces towards home.



CHAPTER XVIII.

AND LAST.


With this memorable conflict, and the lesson taught to the Indians, that
even in the heart of their own country they could not consider
themselves secure from retaliations and from the vengeance of the white
settlers, the Indian troubles of the Hardys were over. Occasionally,
indeed, raids were made upon the outlying settlements, and the young
Hardys were summoned to beat off their savage foes. Upon the estate of
Mount Pleasant, however, hostile foot was not again placed. Occasionally
the Raven, with two or three of his braves, would pay a visit for a day
or two, and depart with presents of blankets, and such things as his
tribe needed. Upon the first of these visits Hubert questioned him
respecting the bird whose remarkable feather had been the means of
saving Ethel's life. At his next visit the chief brought two very
perfect skins of the bird. It turned out, to Hubert's great delight, to
be a new species; and one of them is now, with many other hitherto
unknown birds which had fallen to his gun, in the British Museum, with
the specific names of Hardiensis, in compliment to their discoverer. The
Raven's tribe honourably performed their agreement with Mr. Hardy, and
never joined in any subsequent attacks upon the whites. Being much
weakened by the loss of so many of their fighting men, they would
probably have been exterminated by hostile tribes; but Mr. Hardy
subsequently furnished them with a supply of military muskets, which he
had bought chiefly for the purpose, together with ammunition, and they
were then able to oppose a resolute front to their enemies, and to
support themselves by hunting. The Raven is now one of the most powerful
and respected chiefs upon the plains of the Pampas.

The return of the expedition, after the rescue of Ethel and the
chastisement of the Indians in the heart of their own country, caused
quite a sensation throughout the Republic. Of Mrs. Hardy's and Maud's
joy we need not speak, but the adventure was considered a matter of
congratulation and joy throughout the whole district. It was felt that a
signal blow had been struck to the Indians, and that for a long time
life and property would be secure. There was, in consequence, quite a
rush to the neighbourhood, and land was taken up and occupied in all
directions.

It was well for Mrs. Hardy and the girls that they were to sail by the
next mail for England. The effect of those terrible four days upon
Ethel, and of that week of anxiety upon her mother and sister, had so
shaken them, that the change, even if it had not been previously
determined upon, would have been imperatively necessary. It is not too
much to say that Mrs. Hardy and Maud had suffered even more than Ethel.
She at least had known and seen her danger, and was sustained, except
during that morning when she was fastened to the stake, with a strong
hope and belief of rescue. Those left behind could do nothing but
picture up scenes of horror, and pass their time in alternately praying
and weeping. They were all sadly shaken and nervous during the short
time that remained for them at Mount Pleasant; but the sea voyage and
the fresh breezes soon brought health and colour into their cheeks, and
none of them ever after felt any bad effects from that terrible week.

       *     *     *     *     *

And now our story is drawing to a close. The stormy period of the Mount
Pleasant settlement was over. The hard work, the difficulties and
dangers of the life of a new settler on the extreme edge of
civilisation, had been passed, and nothing remained but to continue to
devote attention and energy to the estate, and to reap the fruits of the
labour.

For two years after the departure of his wife and daughters Mr. Hardy
remained at his post. It was now nearly six years since he had left
England, and he longed to return to it. He felt that he could do so
without any uneasiness as to the future. Rosario was, according to his
anticipation, rising into a large and important town; the country was
fairly settled for leagues beyond the estate; land was rapidly rising in
value; and there was now no fear whatever of Indian attacks. His flocks
and herds had multiplied greatly, and were doubling every two years. The
income obtained by the sale of cattle fatted on the alfalfa, and upon
the sale of wool and other farm produce, was considerable. The dairy
alone brought in a large yearly amount. Charley was now twenty-two,
Hubert a year younger; both were as capable of managing the estate as he
was himself.

He one day, therefore, unfolded his plans to them. 'As you know, boys, I
am going to England shortly; and although I shall perhaps now and then
come over here, I shall make England my permanent home. You boys will
therefore jointly manage the estate. The income this year will reach
£1200, and would be much more did we not keep the greater portion of our
animals to increase our stock. I have now £2500 in the bank. After the
busy life I have led here, I could not remain inactive. My present
intention is to take a large farm upon a long lease with the option of
purchase. My object will be to obtain a farm of large acreage and poor
land, but improvable by better drainage and an outlay of capital. I
shall risk my £2500 in this, and also the income I draw from here for
the next two years. The profits will increase each year. I shall
therefore in two years have sunk £5000 in the farm,--a portion being
devoted to building a suitable house. You will, of course, during the
two years spend whatever money you may require; but, in fact, it is
impossible for you to spend much money here. At the end of two years I
propose that first you, Charley, as the elder, shall come home to
England for a year, and then that Hubert shall take his turn. You will
then stay a year here together, and again have each a year in England,
and so on regularly. From the end of this two years I shall draw half
the income of this estate, and you will take the other half between
you, to invest or use as you may think fit. At the end of six years I
calculate that the estate will be stocked with as many cattle and sheep
as it can support. Fifteen thousand cattle, say, and thirty thousand
sheep. You will then sell all your annual increase, and the profits will
be greater every year. At the end of ten years from this time, if, as I
think probable, you will have had enough of this life, we will sell the
estate. By that time it will be the centre of a populous district, the
land will be greatly increased in value, and will be equal to any in the
country,--so much so, indeed, that it will probably be out of the
question to find a purchaser for the whole. We could therefore break it
up to suit purchasers, dividing it into lots of one, two, three, or four
square miles, or a square league, and dividing the stock in proportion.
The house would, of course, go with the arable land and a mile or two of
pasture beyond it. My share of the yearly income I shall devote to
buying my estate. Say the price is £10,000. This I shall, with my income
from here and my income from the estate itself, probably be able to make
in ten years. The estate, with the £5000 I propose to risk in drainage,
etc., ought then to be worth £20,000. The value of this estate of fifty
thousand acres, with the flocks and herds, ought to be at least double
that amount; so that at the end of ten years I shall be a rich man. You,
with care, can certainly save £5000 each in the ten years, and will
receive another £10,000 each as your share of the estate. You will
consequently, boys, at the age of thirty-one and thirty-two, be able to
settle down in England in very comfortable circumstances. Your sisters
will of course be provided for out of my share. Do you approve of my
plans?'

The boys warmly expressed their satisfaction at the plan, and their
gratitude to their father for his intentions.

And so things were carried out.

Six months after Mr. Hardy's arrival in England, the boys heard of
Maud's marriage to Mr. Cooper, now, by the death of his father, a
wealthy country gentleman. Charley, during his first visit to England,
also married,--an example which Hubert followed the next year.

The two now took it by turn to manage the estate,--the one in England
always passing a considerable portion of his time at Mr. Hardy's, and
spending the rest in travelling.

Ethel was married the year after Hubert to a rising barrister in London.

Everything prospered at Mount Pleasant, and at the sale it was broken up
into lots and fetched rather a larger sum than Mr. Hardy had
calculated.

Mr. Hardy's own plan had been fully carried out, but by the end of the
ten years he began to wish for a quiet town life. He therefore made an
arrangement with Charley, whereby the latter, who had obtained some
money with his wife, has taken his place as master of the estate, and
has settled down into the life of a country gentleman, which exactly
suits him.

Hubert lives in London. His income is sufficient for his wants, he has
become a member of a number of scientific societies, and his collection
of the Fauna of the Pampas of America is considered to be unequalled.

The girls are very happy with the men of their choice; and Mr. and Mrs.
Hardy have always some of their children or grandchildren staying with
them, and often amuse the young ones with tales of how their fathers or
mothers fought the Indians on the Pampas of South America.



MORRISON AND GIBB, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.



Transcriber's Amendments:

Page 182: Appaches amended to Apaches.
Page 248: Hulbert's amended to Hubert's.





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