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Title: Our Home in the Silver West - A Story of Struggle and Adventure
Author: Stables, Gordon, 1840-1910
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Our Home in the Silver West - A Story of Struggle and Adventure" ***

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[Illustration: The Figure Springs into the Air--See page 129.]



[Illustration: THE BOYS OWN BOOKSHELF]

OUR HOME IN THE SILVER WEST

A Story of Struggle and Adventure

BY

GORDON STABLES, C.M., M.D., R.N.

AUTHOR OF 'THE CRUISE OF THE SNOWBIRD,' 'WILD ADVENTURES ROUND THE POLE,'
ETC., ETC.

THE RELIGIOUS TRACT SOCIETY

56, Paternoster Row; 65, St. Paul's Churchyard and 164 Piccadilly



Richard Clay and Sons, Limited,
London and Bungay.



CONTENTS.

CHAPTER                                           PAGE
     I.  The Highland Feud.                         11
    II.  Our Boyhood's Life.                        23
   III.  A Terrible Ride.                           30
    IV.  The Ring and the Book.                     44
     V.  A New Home in the West.                    54
    VI.  The Promised Land at Last.                 64
   VII.  On Shore at Rio.                           77
  VIII.  Moncrieff Relates His Experiences.         86
    IX.  Shopping and Shooting.                     96
     X.  A Journey That Seems Like a Dream.        106
    XI.  The Tragedy at the Fonda.                 115
   XII.  Attack by Pampa Indians.                  125
  XIII.  The Flight and the Chase.                 134
   XIV.  Life on an Argentine Estancia.            146
    XV.  We Build our House and Lay Out Gardens.   155
   XVI.  Summer in the Silver West.                165
  XVII.  The Earthquake.                           175
 XVIII.  Our Hunting Expedition.                   185
   XIX.  In the Wilderness.                        197
    XX.  The Mountain Crusoe.                      209
   XXI.  Wild Adventures on Prairie and Pampas.    221
  XXII.  Adventure With a Tiger.                   231
 XXIII.  A Ride for Life.                          244
  XXIV.  The Attack on the Estancia.               255
   XXV.  The Last Assault.                         266
    XXV  Farewell to the Silver West.              279



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

                                                    PAGE
The Figure Springs into the Air             Frontispiece
Orla thrusts his Muzzle into my Hand                  10
Ray lay Stark and Stiff                               18
'Look! He is Over!'                                   33
He pointed his Gun at me                              41
'I'll teach ye!'                                      74
Fairly Noosed                                         99
'Ye can Claw the Pat'                                138
Comical in the Extreme                               195
Tries to steady himself to catch the Lasso           203
Interview with the Orang-outang                      214
On the same Limb of the Tree                         236
The Indians advanced with a Wild Shout               268



[Illustration: Orla thrusts his Muzzle into my Hand]



OUR HOME IN THE SILVER WEST


CHAPTER I.

THE HIGHLAND FEUD.


Why should I, Murdoch M'Crimman of Coila, be condemned for a period of
indefinite length to the drudgery of the desk's dull wood? That is the
question I have just been asking myself. Am I emulous of the honour and
glory that, they say, float halo-like round the brow of the author? Have I
the desire to awake and find myself famous? The fame, alas! that authors
chase is but too often an _ignis fatuus_. No; honour like theirs I crave
not, such toil is not incumbent on me. Genius in a garret! To some the
words may sound romantic enough, but--ah me!--the position seems a sad
one. Genius munching bread and cheese in a lonely attic, with nothing
betwixt the said genius and the sky and the cats but rafters and tiles! I
shudder to think of it. If my will were omnipotent, Genius should never
shiver beneath the tiles, never languish in an attic. Genius should be
clothed in purple and fine linen, Genius should---- 'Yes, aunt, come in;
I'm not very busy yet.'

My aunt sails into my beautiful room in the eastern tower of Castle
Coila.

'I was afraid,' she says, almost solemnly, 'I might be disturbing your
meditations. Do I find you really at work?'

'I've hardly arrived at that point yet, dear aunt. Indeed, if the truth
will not displease you, I greatly fear serious concentration is not very
much in my line. But as you desire me to write our strange story, and as
mother also thinks the duty devolves on me, behold me seated at my table
in this charming turret chamber, which owes its all of comfort to your
most excellent taste, auntie mine.'

As I speak I look around me. The evening sunshine is streaming into my
room, which occupies the whole of one story of the tower. Glance where I
please, nothing is here that fails to delight the eye. The carpet beneath
my feet is soft as moss, the tall mullioned windows are bedraped with the
richest curtains. Pictures and mirrors hang here and there, and seem part
and parcel of the place. So does that dark lofty oak bookcase, the great
harp in the west corner, the violin that leans against it, the
_jardinière_, the works of art, the arms from every land--the shields, the
claymores, the spears and helmets, everything is in keeping. This is my
garret. If I want to meditate, I have but to draw aside a curtain in
yonder nook, and lo! a little baize-covered door slides aside and admits
me to one of the tower-turrets, a tiny room in which fairies might live,
with a window on each side giving glimpses of landscape--and landscape
unsurpassed for beauty in all broad Scotland.

But it was by the main doorway of my chamber that auntie entered, drawing
aside the curtains and pausing a moment till she should receive my
cheering invitation. And this door leads on to the roof, and this roof
itself is a sight to see. Loftily domed over with glass, it is at once a
conservatory, a vinery, and tropical aviary. Room here for trees even, for
miniature palms, while birds of the rarest plumage flit silently from
bough to bough among the oranges, or lisp out the sweet lilts that have
descended to them from sires that sang in foreign lands. Yonder a
fountain plays and casts its spray over the most lovely feathery ferns.
The roof is very spacious, and the conservatory occupies the greater part
of it, leaving room outside, however, for a delightful promenade. After
sunset coloured lamps are often lit here, and the place then looks even
more lovely than before. All this, I need hardly say, was my aunt's
doing.

I wave my hand, and the lady sinks half languidly into a fauteuil.

'And so,' I say, laughingly, 'you have come to visit Genius in his
garret.'

My aunt smiles too, but I can see it is only out of politeness.

I throw down my pen; I leave my chair and seat myself on the bearskin
beside the ample fireplace and begin toying with Orla, my deerhound.

'Aunt, play and sing a little; it will inspire me.'

She needs no second bidding. She bends over the great harp and lightly
touches a few chords.

'What shall I play or sing?'

'Play and sing as you feel, aunt.'

'I feel thus,' my aunt says, and her fingers fly over the strings,
bringing forth music so inspiriting and wild that as I listen, entranced,
some words of Ossian come rushing into my memory:

'The moon rose in the East. Fingal returned in the gleam of his arms. The
joy of his youth was great, their souls settled as a sea from a storm.
Ullin raised the song of gladness. The hills of Inistore rejoiced. The
flame of the oak arose, and the tales of heroes were told.'

Aunt is not young, but she looks very noble now--looks the very
incarnation of the music that fills the room. In it I can hear the
battle-cry of heroes, the wild slogan of clan after clan rushing to the
fight, the clang of claymore on shield, the shout of victory, the wail for
the dead. There are tears in my eyes as the music ceases, and my aunt
turns once more towards me.

'Aunt, your music has made me ashamed of myself. Before you came I
recoiled from the task you had set before me; I longed to be out and away,
marching over the moors gun in hand and dogs ahead. Now I--I--yes, aunt,
this music inspires me.'

Aunt rises as I speak, and together we leave the turret chamber, and,
passing through the great conservatory, we reach the promenade. We lean on
the battlement, long since dismantled, and gaze beneath us. Close to the
castle walls below is a well-kept lawn trending downwards with slight
incline to meet the loch which laps over its borders. This loch, or lake,
stretches for miles and miles on every side, bounded here and there by
bare, black, beetling cliffs, and in other places

               'O'erhung by wild woods thickening green,

a very cloudland of foliage. The easternmost horizon of this lake is a
chain of rugged mountains, one glance at which would tell you the season
was autumn, for they are crimsoned over with blooming heather. The season
is autumn, and the time is sunset; the shadow of the great tower falls
darkling far over the loch, and already crimson streaks of cloud are
ranged along the hill-tops. So silent and still is it that we can hear the
bleating of sheep a good mile off, and the throb of the oars of a boat far
away on the water, although the boat itself is but a little dark speck.
There is another dark speck, high, high above the crimson clouds. It comes
nearer and nearer; it gets bigger and bigger; and presently a huge eagle
floats over the castle, making homeward to his eyrie in the cliffs of Ben
Coila.

The air gets cooler as the shadows fall; I draw the shawl closer round my
aunt's shoulders. She lifts a hand as if to deprecate the attention.

'Listen, Murdoch,' she says. 'Listen, Murdoch M'Crimman.'

She seldom calls me by my name complete.

'I may leave you now, may I not?'

'I know what you mean, aunt,' I reply. 'Yes; to the best of my ability I
will write our strange story.'

'Who else would but you, Murdoch M'Crimman, chief of the house of Crimman,
chief of the clan?'

I bow my head in silent sorrow.

'Yes, aunt; I know. Poor father is gone, and I _am_ chief.'

She touches my hand lightly--it is her way of taking farewell. Next moment
I am alone. Orla thrusts his great muzzle into my hand; I pat his head,
then go back with him to my turret chamber, and once more take up my pen.

                   *       *       *       *       *

A blood feud! Has the reader ever heard of such a thing? Happily it is
unknown in our day. A blood feud--a quarrel 'twixt kith and kin, a feud
oftentimes bequeathed from bleeding sire to son, handed down from
generation to generation, getting more bitter in each; a feud that not
even death itself seems enough to obliterate; an enmity never to be
forgotten while hills raise high their heads to meet the clouds.

Such a feud is surely cruel. It is more, it is sinful--it is madness. Yet
just such a feud had existed for far more than a hundred years between our
family of M'Crimman and the Raes of Strathtoul.

There is but little pleasure in referring back to such a family quarrel,
but to do so is necessary. Vast indeed is the fire that a small spark may
sometimes kindle. Two small dead branches rubbing together as the wind
blows may fire a forest, and cause a conflagration that shall sweep from
end to end of a continent.

It was a hundred years ago, and forty years to that; the head of the house
of Stuart--Prince Charles Edward, whom his enemies called the
Pretender--had not yet set foot on Scottish shore, though there were
rumours almost daily that he had indeed come at last. The Raes were
cousins of the M'Crimmans; the Raes were head of the clan M'Rae, and their
country lay to the south of our estates. It was an ill-fated day for both
clans when one morning a stalwart Highlander, flying from glen to glen
with the fiery cross waving aloft, brought a missive to the chief of
Coila. The Raes had been summoned to meet their prince; the M'Crimman had
been _solicited_. In two hours' time the straths were all astir with
preparations for the march. No boy or man who could carry arms, 'twixt the
ages of sixteen and sixty, but buckled his claymore to his side and made
ready to leave. Listen to the wild shout of the men, the shrill notes of
bagpipes, the wailing of weeping women and children! Oh, it was a stirring
time; my Scotch blood leaps in all my veins as I think of it even now.
Right on our side; might on our side! We meant to do or die!

        'Rise! rise! lowland and highland men!
           Bald sire to beardless son, each come and early.
        Rise! rise! mainland and island men,
           Belt on your claymores and fight for Prince Charlie.
                Down from the mountain steep--
                Up from the valley deep--
        Out from the clachan, the bothy and shieling;
                Bugle and battle-drum,
                Bid chief and vassal come,
        Loudly our bagpipes the pibroch are pealing.'

M'Crimman of Coila that evening met the Raes hastening towards the lake.

'Ah, kinsman,' cried M'Crimman, 'this is indeed a glorious day! I have
been summoned by letter from the royal hands of our bold young prince
himself.'

'And I, chief of the Raes, have been summoned by cross. A letter was none
too good for Coila. Strathtoul must be content to follow the pibroch and
drum.'

'It was an oversight. My brother must neither fret nor fume. If our prince
but asked me, I'd fight in the ranks for him, and carry musket or pike or
pistol.'

[Illustration: Ray lay Stark and Stiff]

'It's good being you, with your letter and all that. Kinsman though you
be, I'd have you know, and I'd have our prince understand, that the Raes
and Crimmans are one and the same family, and equal where they stand or
fall.'

'Of that,' said the proud Coila, drawing himself up and lowering his
brows, 'our prince is the best judge.'

'These are pretty airs to give yourself, M'Crimman! One would think your
claymore drank blood every morning!'

'Brother,' said M'Crimman, 'do not let us quarrel. I have orders to see
your people on the march. They are to come with us. I must do my duty.'

'Never!' shouted Rae. 'Never shall my clan obey your commands!'

'You refuse to fight for Charlie?'

'Under your banner--yes!'

'Then draw, dog! Were you ten times more closely related to me, you should
eat your words or drown them in your blood!'

Half an hour afterwards the M'Crimmans were on the march southwards, their
bold young chief at their head, banners streaming and pibroch ringing!
but, alas! their kinsman Rae lay stark and stiff on the bare hillside.

There and then was established the feud that lasted so long and so
bitterly. Surrounded by her vassals and retainers, loud in their wailing
for their departed chief, the widowed wife had thrown herself on the body
of her husband in a paroxysm of wild, uncontrollable grief.

But nought could restore life and animation to that lowly form. The dead
chief lay on his back, with face up-turned to the sky's blue, which his
eyes seemed to pierce. His bonnet had fallen off, his long yellow hair
floated on the grass, his hand yet grasped the great claymore, but his
tartans were dyed with blood.

Then a brother of the Rae approached and led the weeping woman gently
away. Almost immediately the warriors gathered and knelt around the
corpse and swore the terrible feud--swore eternal enmity to the house of
Coila--'to fight the clan wherever found, to wrestle, to rackle and rive
with them, and never to make peace

                   'While there's leaf on the forest
                      Or foam on the river.'

We all know the story of Prince Charlie's expedition, and how, after
victories innumerable, all was lost to his cause through disunions in his
own camps; how his sun went down on the red field of Culloden Moor; how
true and steadfast, even after defeat, the peasant Highlanders were to
their chief; and how the glens and straths were devastated by fire and
sword; and how the streams ran red with the innocent blood of old men and
children, spilled by the brutal soldiery of the ruthless duke.

The M'Crimmans lost their estates. The Raes had never fought for Charlie.
Their glen was spared, but the hopes of M'Rae--the young chief--were
blighted, for after years of exile the M'Crimman was pardoned, and fires
were once more lit in the halls of Castle Coila.

Long years went by, many of the Raes went abroad to fight in foreign lands
wherever good swords were needed and lusty arms to wield them withal; but
those who remained in or near Strathtoul still kept up the feud with as
great fierceness as though it had been sworn but yesterday.

Towards the beginning of the present century, however, a strange thing
happened. A young officer of French dragoons came to reside for a time in
Glen Coila. His name was Le Roi. Though of Scotch extraction, he had never
been before to our country. Now hospitality is part and parcel of the
religion of Scotland; it is not surprising, therefore, that this young son
of the sword should have been received with open arms at Coila, nor that,
dashing, handsome, and brave himself, he should have fallen in love with
the winsome daughter of the then chief of the M'Crimmans. When he sought
to make her his bride explanations were necessary. It was no uncommon
thing in those days for good Scotch families to permit themselves to be
allied with France; but there must be rank on both sides. Had a
thunderbolt burst in Castle Coila then it could have caused no greater
commotion than did the fact when it came to light that Le Roi was a direct
descendant of the chief of the Raes. Alas! for the young lovers now. Le
Roi in silence and sorrow ate his last meal at Castle Coila. Hospitality
had never been shown more liberally than it was that night, but ere the
break of day Le Roi had gone--never to return to the glen _in propriâ
personâ_. Whether or not an aged harper who visited the castle a month
thereafter was Le Roi in disguise may never be known; but this, at least,
is fact--that same night the chief's daughter was spirited away and seen
no more in Coila.

There was talk, however, of a marriage having been solemnized by
torchlight, in the little Catholic chapel at the foot of the glen, but of
this we will hear more anon, for thereby hangs a tale.

In course of time Coila presented the sad spectacle of a house without a
head. Who should now be heir? The Scottish will of former chiefs notified
that in event of such an occurrence the estates should pass 'to the
nearest heirs whatever.'

But was there no heir of direct descent? For a time it seemed there would
be or really was. To wit, a son of Le Roi, the officer who had wedded into
the house of M'Crimman.

Now our family was brother-family to the M'Crimmans. M'Crimmans we were
ourselves, and Celtic to the last drop of blood in our veins.

Our claim to the estate was but feebly disputed by the French Rae's son.
His father and mother had years ago crossed the bourne from which no
traveller ever returns, and he himself was not young. The little church or
chapel in which the marriage had been celebrated was a ruin--it had been
burned to the ground, whether as part price of the terrible feud or not,
no one could say; the priest was dead, or gone none knew whither; and old
Mawsie, a beldame, lived in the cottage that had once been the Catholic
manse.

Those were wild and strange times altogether in this part of the Scottish
Highlands, and law was oftentimes the property of might rather than
right.

At the time, then, our story really opens, my father had lived in the
castle and ruled in the glens for many a long year. I was the first-born,
next came Donald, then Dugald, and last of all our one sister Flora.

What a happy life was ours in Glen Coila, till the cloud arose on our
horizon, which, gathering force amain, burst in storm at last over our
devoted heads!



CHAPTER II.

OUR BOYHOOD'S LIFE.


On our boyhood's life--that, I mean, of my brothers and myself--I must
dwell no longer than the interest of our strange story demands, for our
chapters must soon be filled with the relation of events and adventures
far more stirring than anything that happened at home in our day.

And yet no truer words were ever spoken than these--'the boy is father of
the man.' The glorious battle of Waterloo--Wellington himself told us--was
won in the cricket field at home. And in like manner our greatest pioneers
of civilisation, our most successful emigrants, men who have often
literally to lash the rifle to the plough stilts, as they cultivate and
reclaim the land of the savage, have been made and manufactured, so to
speak, in the green valleys of old England, and on the hills and moors of
bonnie Scotland.

Probably the new M'Crimman of Coila, as my father was called on the lake
side and in the glens, had mingled more, far more, in life than any chief
who had ever reigned before him. He would not have been averse to drawing
the sword in his country's cause, had it been necessary, but my brothers
and I were born in peaceful times, shortly after the close of the war with
Russia. No, my father could have drawn the claymore, but he could also use
the ploughshare--and did.

There were at first grumblers in the clans, who lamented the advent of
anything that they were pleased to call new-fangled. Men there were who
wished to live as their forefathers had done in the 'good old
times'--cultivate only the tops of the 'rigs,' pasture the sheep and
cattle on the upland moors, and live on milk and meal, and the fish from
the lake, with an occasional hare, rabbit, or bird when Heaven thought fit
to send it.

They were not prepared for my father's sweeping innovations. They stared
in astonishment to see the bare hillsides planted with sheltering spruce
and pine trees; to see moss and morass turned inside out, drained and made
to yield crops of waving grain, where all was moving bog before; to see
comfortable cottages spring up here and there, with real stone walls and
smiling gardens front and rear, in place of the turf and tree shielings of
bygone days; and to see a new school-house, where English--real
English--was spoken and taught, pour forth a hundred happy children almost
every weekday all the year round.

This was 'tempting Providence, and no good could come of it;' so spoke the
grumblers, and they wondered indeed that the old warlike chiefs of
M'Crimman did not turn in their graves. But even the grumblers got fewer
and further between, and at last long peace and plenty reigned contentedly
hand in hand from end to end of Glen Coila, and all around the loch that
was at once the beauty and pride of our estate.

Improvements were not confined to the crofters' holdings; they extended to
the castle farm and to the castle itself. Nothing that was old about the
latter was swept away, but much that was new sprang up, and rooms long
untenanted were now restored.

A very ancient and beautiful castle was that of Coila, with its one huge
massive tower, and its dark frowning embattled walls. It could be seen
from far and near, for even the loch itself was high above the level of
the sea. I speak of it, be it observed, in the past tense, solely because
I am writing of the past--of happy days for ever fled. The castle is still
as beautiful--nay, even more so, for my aunt's good taste has completed
the improvements my father began.

I do not think any one could have come in contact with father, as I
remember him during our early days at Coila, without loving and respecting
him. He was our hero--my brothers' and mine--so tall, so noble-looking, so
handsome, whether ranging over the heather in autumn with his gun on his
shoulder, or labouring with a hoe or rake in hand in garden or meadow.

Does it surprise any one to know that even a Highland chieftain, descended
from a long line of warriors, could handle a hoe as deftly as a claymore?
I grant he may have been the first who ever did so from choice, but was he
demeaned thereby? Assuredly not; and work in the fields never went half so
cheerfully on as when father and we boys were in the midst of the
servants. Our tutor was a young clergyman, and he, too, used to throw off
his black coat and join us.

At such times it would have done the heart of a cynic good to have been
there; song and joke and hearty laugh followed in such quick succession
that it seemed more like working for fun than anything else.

And our triumph of triumphs was invariably consummated at the end of
harvest, for then a supper was given to the tenants and servants. This
supper took place in the great hall of the castle--the hall that in
ancient days had witnessed many a warlike meeting and Bacchanalian feast.

Before a single invitation was made out for this event of the season every
sheaf and stook had to be stored and the stubble raked, every rick in the
home barn-yards had to be thatched and tidied; 'whorls' of turnips had to
be got up and put in pits for the cattle, and even a considerable portion
of the ploughing done.

'Boys,' my father would say then, pointing with pride to his lordly stacks
of grain and hay, 'Boys,

                          '"Peace hath her victories,
                  No less renowned than war."

And now,' he would add, 'go and help your tutor to write out the
invitations.'

So kindly-hearted was father that he would even have extended the right
hand of peace and fellowship to the Raes of Strathtoul. The head of this
house, however, was too proud; yet his pride was of a different kind from
father's. It was of the stand-aloof kind. It was even rumoured that Le
Roi, or Rae, had said at a dinner-party that my good, dear father brought
disgrace on the warlike name of M'Crimman because he mingled with his
servants in the field, and took a very personal interest in the welfare of
his crofter tenantry.

But my father had different views of life from this semi-French Rae of
Strathtoul. He appreciated the benefits and upheld the dignity, and even
sanctity, of honest labour. Had he lived in the days of Ancient Greece, he
might have built a shrine to Labour, and elevated it to the rank of
goddess. Only my father was no heathen, but a plain, God-fearing man, who
loved, or tried to love, his neighbour as himself.

If our father was a hero to us boys, not less so was he to our darling
mother, and to little Sister Flora as well. So it may be truthfully said
that we were a happy family. The time sped by, the years flew on without,
apparently, ever a bit of change from one Christmas Day to another. Mr.
Townley, our tutor, seemed to have little ambition to 'better himself,' as
it is termed. When challenged one morning at breakfast with his want of
desire to push,

'Oh,' said Townley, 'I'm only a young man yet, and really I do not wish to
be any happier than I am. It will be a grief to me when the boys grow
older and go out into the world and need me no more.'

Mr. Townley was a strict and careful teacher, but by no means a hard
taskmaster. Indoors during school hours he was the pedagogue all over. He
carried etiquette even to the extent of wearing cap and gown, but these
were thrown off with scholastic duties; he was then--out of doors--as
jolly as a schoolboy going to play at his first cricket-match.

In the field father was our teacher. He taught us, and the 'grieve,' or
bailiff, taught us everything one needs to know about a farm. Not in
headwork alone. No; for, young as we were at this time, my brothers and I
could wield axe, scythe, hoe, and rake.

We were Highland boys all over, in mind and body, blood and bone.
I--Murdoch--was fifteen when the cloud gathered that finally changed our
fortunes. Donald and Dugald were respectively fourteen and thirteen, and
Sister Flora was eleven.

Big for our years we all were, and I do not think there was anything on
dry land, or on the water either, that we feared. Mr. Townley used very
often to accompany us to the hills, to the river and lake, but not
invariably. We dearly loved our tutor. What a wonderful piece of
muscularity and good-nature he was, to be sure, as I remember him! Of both
his muscularity and good-nature I am afraid we often took advantage. Flora
invariably did, for out on the hills she would turn to him with the utmost
_sang-froid_, saying, 'Townley, I'm tired; take me on your back.' And for
miles Townley would trudge along with her, feeling her weight no more than
if she had been a moth that had got on his shoulders by accident. There
was no tiring Townley.

To look at our tutor's fair young face, one would never have given him the
credit of possessing a deal of romance, or believed it possible that he
could have harboured any feeling akin to love. But he did. Now this is a
story of stirring adventure and of struggle, and not a love tale; so the
truth may be as well told in this place as further on--Townley loved my
aunt. It should be remembered that at this time she was young, but little
over twenty, and in every way she was worthy to be the heroine of a
story.

Townley, however, was no fool. Although he was admitted to the
companionship of every member of our family, and treated in every respect
as an equal, he could not forget that there was a great gulf fixed between
the humble tutor and the youngest sister of the chief of the M'Crimmans.
If he loved, he kept the secret bound up in his own breast, content to
live and be near the object of his adoration. Perhaps this hopeless
passion of Townley's had much to do with the formation of his history.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Those dear old days of boyhood! Even as they were passing away we used to
wish they would last for ever. Surely that is proof positive that we were
very happy, for is it not common for boys to wish they were men? We never
did.

For we had everything we could desire to make our little lives a pleasure
long drawn out. Boys who were born in towns--and we knew many of these,
and invited them occasionally to visit us at our Highland home--we used to
pity from the bottom of our hearts. How little they knew about country
sports and country life!

One part of our education alone was left to our darling mother--namely,
Bible history. Oh, how delightful it used to be to listen to her voice as,
seated by our bedside in the summer evenings, she told us tales from the
Book of Books! Then she would pray with us, for us, and for father; and
sweet and soft was the slumber that soon visited our pillows.

Looking back now to those dear old days, I cannot help thinking that the
practice of religion as carried on in our house was more Puritanical in
its character than any I have seen elsewhere. The Sabbath was a day of
such solemn rest that one lived as it were in a dream. No food was cooked;
even the tables in breakfast-room and dining-hall were laid on Saturday;
no horse left the stables, the servants dressed in their sombrest and
best, moved about on tiptoe, and talked in whispers. We children were
taught to consider it sinful even to think our own thoughts on this holy
day. If we boys ever forgot ourselves so far as to speak of things
secular, there was Flora to lift a warning finger and with terrible
earnestness remind us that this was God's day.

From early morn to dewy eve all throughout the Sabbath we felt as if our
footsteps were on the boundaries of another world--that kind, loving
angels were near watching all our doings.

I am drawing a true picture of Sunday life in many a Scottish family, but
I would not have my readers mistake me. Let me say, then, that ours was
not a religion of fear so much as of love. To grieve or vex the great Good
Being who made us and gave us so much to be thankful for would have been a
crime which would have brought its own punishment by the sorrow and
repentance created in our hearts.

Just one other thing I must mention, because it has a bearing on events to
be related in the next chapter. We were taught then never to forget that a
day of reckoning was before us all, that after death should come the
judgment. But mother's prayers and our religion brought us only the most
unalloyed happiness.



CHAPTER III.

A TERRIBLE RIDE.


I have but to gaze from the window of the tower in which I am writing to
see a whole fieldful of the daftest-looking long-tailed, long-maned ponies
imaginable. These are the celebrated Castle Coila ponies, as full of
mischief, fun, and fire as any British boy could wish, most difficult to
catch, more difficult still to saddle, and requiring all the skill of a
trained equestrian to manage after mounting. As these ponies are to-day,
so they were when I was a boy. The very boys whom I mentioned in the last
chapter would have gone anywhere and done anything rather than attempt to
ride a Coila pony. Not that they ever refused, they were too courageous
for that. But when Gilmore led a pony round, I know it needed all the
pluck they could muster to put foot in stirrup. Flora's advice to them was
not bad.

'There is plenty of room on the moors, boys,' she would say, laughing; and
Flora always brought out the word 'boys' with an air of patronage and
self-superiority that was quite refreshing. 'Plenty of room on the moors,
so you keep the ponies hard at the gallop, till they are quite tired.
Mind, don't let them trot. If you do, they will lie down and tumble.'

Poor Archie Bateman! I shall never forget his first wild scamper over the
moorland. He would persist in riding in his best London clothes, spotless
broad white collar, shining silk hat, gloves, and all. Before mounting he
even bent down to flick a little tiny bit of dust off his boots.

The ponies were fresh that morning. In fact, the word 'fresh' hardly
describes the feeling of buoyancy they gave proof of. For a time it was as
difficult to mount one as it would be for a fly to alight on a top at full
spin. We took them to the paddock, where the grass and moss were soft.
Donald, Dugald, and I held Flora's fiery steed _vi et armis_ till she got
into the saddle.

'Mind to keep them at it, boys,' were her last words, as she flew out and
away through the open gateway. Then we prepared to follow. Donald, Dugald,
and I were used to tumbles, and for five minutes or more we amused
ourselves by getting up only to get off again. But we were not hurt.
Finally we mounted Archie. His brother was not going out that morning, and
I do believe to this day that Archie hoped to curry favour with Flora by a
little display of horsemanship, for he had been talking a deal to her the
evening before of the delights of riding in London.

At all events, if he had meant to create a sensation he succeeded
admirably, though at the expense of a portion of his dignity.

No sooner was he mounted than off he rode. Stay, though, I should rather
say that no sooner did we mount him than off he was carried. That is a way
of putting it which is more in accordance with facts, for we--Donald,
Dugald, and I--mounted him, and the pony did the rest, he, Archie, being
legally speaking _nolens volens_. When my brothers and I emerged at last,
we could just distinguish Flora waiting on the horizon of a braeland, her
figure well thrown out against the sky, her pony curveting round and
round, which was Flora's pet pony's way of keeping still. Away at a
tangent from the proper line of march, Archie on his steed was being
rapidly whirled. As soon as we came within sight of our sister, we
observed her making signs in Archie's direction and concluded to follow.
Having duly signalled her wishes, Flora disappeared over the brow of the
hill. Her intention was, we afterwards found out, to take a cross-cut and
intercept, if possible, the mad career of Archie's Coila steed.

'Hurry up, Donald,' I shouted to my nearest brother; 'that pony is mad. It
is making straight for the cliffs of Craigiemore.'

On we went at furious speed. It was in reality, or appeared to be, a race
for life; but should we win? The terrible cliffs for which Archie's pony
was heading away were perpendicular bluffs that rose from a dark slimy
morass near the lake. Fifty feet high they were at the lowest, and pointed
unmistakably to some terrible convulsion of Nature in ages long gone by.
They looked like hills that had been sawn in half--one half taken, the
other left.

Our ponies were gaining on Archie's. The boy had given his its head, but
it was evident he was now aware of his danger and was trying to rein in.
Trying, but trying in vain. The pony was in command of the situation.

On--on--on they rush. I can feel my heart beating wildly against my ribs
as we all come nigher and nigher to the cliffs. Donald's pony and Dugald's
both overtake me. Their saddles are empty. My brothers have both been
unhorsed. I think not of that, all my attention is bent on the rider
ahead. If he could but turn his pony's head even now, he would be saved.
But no, it is impossible. They are on the cliff. There! they are over it,
and a wild scream of terror seems to rend the skies and turn my blood to
water.

[Illustration: 'Look! He is Over!']

But lo! I, too, am now in danger. My pony has the bit fast between his
teeth. He means to play at an awful game--follow my leader! I feel dizzy;
I have forgotten that I might fling myself off even at the risk of broken
bones. I am close to the cliff--I--hurrah! I am saved! Saved at the very
moment when it seemed nothing could save me, for dear Flora has dashed in
front of me--has cut across my bows, as sailors would say, striking my
pony with all the strength of her arm as she is borne along. Saved, yes,
but both on the ground. I extricate myself and get up. Our ponies are all
panting; they appear now to realize the fearfulness of the danger, and
stand together cowed and quiet. Poor Flora is very pale, and blood is
trickling from a wound in her temple, while her habit is torn and soiled.
We have little time to notice this; we must ride round and look for the
body of poor Archie.

It was a ride of a good mile to reach the cliff foot, but it took us but a
very short time to get round, albeit the road was rough and dangerous. We
had taken our bearings aright, but for a time we could see no signs of
those we had come to seek. But presently with her riding-whip Flora
pointed to a deep black hole in the slimy bog.

'They are there!' she cried; then burst into a flood of tears.

We did the best we could to comfort our little sister, and were all
returning slowly, leading our steeds along the cliff foot, when I stumbled
against something lying behind a tussock of grass.

The something moved and spoke when I bent down. It was poor Archie, who
had escaped from the morass as if by a miracle.

A little stream was near; it trickled in a half-cataract down the cliffs.
Donald and Dugald hurried away to this and brought back Highland
bonnetfuls of water. Then we washed Archie's face and made him drink. How
we rejoiced to see him smile again! I believe the London accent of his
voice was at that moment the sweetest music to Flora she had ever heard in
her life.

'What a pwepostewous tumble I've had! How vewy, _vewy_ stoopid of me to be
wun away with!'

Poor Flora laughed one moment at her cousin and cried the next, so full
was her heart. But presently she proved herself quite a little woman.

'I'll ride on to the castle,' she said, 'and get dry things ready. You'd
better go to bed, Archie, when you come home; you are not like a Highland
boy, you know. Oh, I'm so glad you're alive! But--ha, ha, ha! excuse
me--but you do look _so_ funny!' and away she rode.

We mounted Archie on Dugald's nag and rode straight away to the lake. Here
we tied our ponies to the birch-trees, and, undressing, plunged in for a
swim. When we came out we arranged matters thus: Dugald gave Archie his
shirt, Donald gave him a pair of stockings, and I gave him a cap and my
jacket, which was long enough to reach his knees. We tied the wet things,
after washing the slime off, all in a bundle, and away the procession went
to Coila. Everybody turned out to witness our home-coming. Well, we did
look rather motley, but--Archie was saved.

My own adventures, however, had not ended yet. Neither my brothers nor
Flora cared to go out again that day, so in the afternoon I shouldered my
fishing rod and went off to enjoy a quiet hour's sport.

What took my footsteps towards the stream that made its exit from the
loch, and went meandering down the glen, I never could tell. It was no
favourite stream of mine, for though it contained plenty of trout, it
passed through many woods and dark, gloomy defiles, with here and there a
waterfall, and was on the whole so overhung with branches that there was
difficulty in making a cast. I was far more successful than I expected to
be, however, and the day wore so quickly away that on looking up I was
surprised to find that the sun had set, and I must be quite seven miles
from home. What did that matter? there would be a moon! I had Highland
legs and a Highland heart, and knew all the cross-cuts in the country
side. I would try for that big trout that had just leapt up to catch a
moth. It took me half an hour to hook it. But I did, and after some pretty
play I had the satisfaction of landing a lovely three-pounder. I now
reeled up, put my rod in its canvas case, and prepared to make the best of
my way to the castle.

It was nearly an hour since the sun had gone down like a huge crimson
ball in the west, and now slowly over the hills a veritable facsimile of
it was rising, and soon the stars came out as gloaming gave place to
night, and moonlight flooded all the woods and glen.

The scene around me was lovely, but lonesome in the extreme, for there was
not a house anywhere near, nor a sound to break the stillness except now
and then the eerisome cry of the brown owl that flitted silently past
overhead. Had I been very timid I could have imagined that figures were
creeping here and there in the flickering shadows of the trees, or that
ghosts and bogles had come out to keep me company. My nearest way home
would be to cross a bit of heathery moor and pass by the neglected
graveyard and ruined Catholic chapel; and, worse than all, the ancient
manse where lived old Mawsie.

I never believed that Mawsie was a witch, though others did. She was said
to creep about on moonlight nights like a dry aisk,[1] so people said,
'mooling' among heaps of rubbish and the mounds over the graves as she
gathered herbs to concoct strange mixtures withal. Certainly Mawsie was no
beauty; she walked 'two-fold,' leaning on a crutch; she was gray-bearded,
wrinkled beyond conception; her head was swathed winter and summer in
wraps of flannel, and altogether she looked uncanny. Nevertheless, the
peasant people never hesitated to visit her to beg for herb-tea and oil to
rub their joints. But they always chose the daylight in which to make
their calls.

'Perhaps,' I thought, 'I'd better go round.' Then something whispered to
me, 'What! you a M'Crimman, and confessing to fear!'

That decided me, and I went boldly on. For the life of me, however, I
could not keep from mentally repeating those weird and awful lines in
Burns' 'Tam o' Shanter,' descriptive of the hero's journey homewards on
that unhallowed and awful night when he forgathered with the witches:

              'By this time he was 'cross the ford
              Whare in the snaw the chapman smo'red;[2]
              And past the birks[3] and meikle stane
              Whare drunken Charlie brak's neck-bane;
              And through the furze and by the cairn
              Where hunters found the murdered bairn,
              And near the thorn, aboon the well,
              Where Mungo's mither hanged hersel',
              When glimmering through the groaning trees,
              Kirk Alloway seemed in a bleeze.'

I almost shuddered as I said to myself, 'What if there be lights
glimmering from the frameless windows of the ruined chapel? or what if old
Mawsie's windows be "in a bleeze"?'

Tall, ghostly-looking elder-trees grew round the old manse, which people
had told me always kept moving, even when no breath of wind was blowing.

If I had shuddered before, my heart stood still now with a nameless dread,
for sure enough, from both the 'butt' and the 'ben' of the so-called
witch's cottage lights were glancing.

What could it mean? She was too old to have company, almost an invalid,
with age alone and its attendant infirmities--so, at least, people said.
But it had also been rumoured lately that Mawsie was up to doings which
were far from canny, that lights had been seen flitting about the old
churchyard and ruin, and that something was sure to happen. Nobody in the
parish could have been found hardy enough to cross the glen-foot where
Mawsie lived long after dark. Well, had I thought of all this before, it
is possible that I might have given her house a wide berth. It was now too
late. I felt like one in a dream, impelled forward towards the cottage. I
seemed to be walking on the air as I advanced.

To get to the windows, however, I must cross the graveyard yard and the
ruin. This last was partly covered with tall rank ivy, and, hearing sounds
inside, and seeing the glimmer of lanterns, I hid in the old porch, quite
shaded by the greenery.

From my concealment I could notice that men were at work in a vault or pit
on the floor of the old chapel, from which earth and rubbish were being
dislodged, while another figure--not that of a workman--was bending over
and addressing them in English. It was evident, therefore, those people
below were not Highlanders, for in the face of the man who spoke I was
able at a glance to distinguish the hard-set lineaments of the villain
Duncan M'Rae. This man had been everything in his time--soldier,
school-teacher, poacher, thief. He was abhorred by his own clan, and
feared by every one. Even the school children, if they met him on the
road, would run back to avoid him.

Duncan had only recently come back to the glen after an absence of years,
and every one said his presence boded no good. I shuddered as I gazed,
almost spellbound, on his evil countenance, rendered doubly ugly in the
uncertain light of the lantern. Suppose he should find me! I crept closer
into my corner now, and tried to draw the ivy round me. I dared not run,
for fear of being seen, for the moonlight was very bright indeed, and
M'Rae held a gun in his hand.

After a time, which appeared to be interminable, I heard Duncan invite the
men into supper, and slowly they clambered up out of the pit, and the
three prepared to leave together.

All might have been well now, for they passed me without even a glance in
my direction; but presently I heard one of the men stumble.

'Hullo!' he said; 'is this basket of fish yours, Mr. Mac?'

'No,' was the answer, with an imprecation that made me quake. 'We are
watched!'

In another moment I was dragged from my place of concealment, and the
light was held up to my face.

'A M'Crimman of Coila, by all that is furious! And so, youngster, you've
come to watch? You know the family feud, don't you? Well, prepare to meet
your doom. You'll never leave here alive.'

He pointed his gun at me as he spoke.

'Hold!' cried one of the men. 'We came from town to do a bit of honest
work, but we will not witness murder.'

'I only wanted to frighten him,' said M'Rae, lowering his gun. 'Look you,
sir,' he continued, addressing me once more, 'I don't want revenge, even
on a M'Crimman of Coila. I'm a poacher; perhaps I'm a distiller in a quiet
way. No matter, you know what an oath is. You'll swear ere you leave here,
not to breathe a word of what you've seen. You hear?'

'I promise I won't,' I faltered.

He handled his fowling-piece threateningly once again. Verily, he had just
then a terribly evil look.

'I swear,' I said, with trembling lips.

His gun was again lowered. He seemed to breathe more freely--less
fiercely.

'Go, now,' he said, pointing across the moor. 'If a poor man like myself
wants to hide either his game or his private still, what odds is it to a
M'Crimman of Coila?'

How I got home I never knew. I remember that evening being in our front
drawing-room with what seemed a sea of anxious faces round me, some of
which were bathed in tears. Then all was a long blank, interspersed with
fearful dreams.

It was weeks before I recovered consciousness. I was then lying in bed. In
at the open window was wafted the odour of flowers, for it was a summer's
evening, and outside were the green whispering trees. Townley sat beside
the bed, book in hand, and almost started when I spoke.

[Illustration: He pointed his Gun at me]

'Mr. Townley!'

'Yes, dear boy.'

'Have I been long ill?'

'For weeks--four, I think. How glad I am you are better! But you must keep
very, _very_ quiet. I shall go and bring your mother now, and Flora.'

I put out my thin hand and detained him.

'Tell me, Mr. Townley,' I said, 'have I spoken much in my sleep, for I
have been dreaming such foolish dreams?'

Townley looked at me long and earnestly. He seemed to look me through and
through. Then he replied slowly, almost solemnly,

'Yes, dear boy, you have spoken _much_.'

I closed my eyes languidly. For now I knew that Townley was aware of more
than ever I should have dared to reveal.

-----

  [1] Triton.

  [2] Smothered.

  [3] Birch-trees.



CHAPTER IV.

THE RING AND THE BOOK.


My return to health was a slow though not a painful one. My mind, however,
was clear, and even before I could partake of food I enjoyed hearing
sister play to me on her harp. Sometimes aunt, too, would play. My mother
seldom left the room by day, and one of my chief delights was her stories
from Bible life and tales of Bible lands.

At last I was permitted to get up and recline in fauteuil or on sofa.

'Mother,' I said one day, 'I feel getting stronger, but somehow I do not
regain spirits. Is there some sorrow in your heart, mother, or do I only
imagine it?'

She smiled, but there were tears in her eyes.

'I'm sure we are all very, _very_ happy, Murdoch, to have you getting well
again.'

'And, mother,' I persisted, 'father does not seem easy in mind either. He
comes in and talks to me, but often I think his mind is wandering to other
subjects.'

'Foolish child! nothing could make your father unhappy. He does his duty
by us all, and his faith is fixed.'

One day they came and told me that the doctor had ordered me away to the
seaside. Mother and Flora were to come, and one servant; the rest of our
family were to follow.

It was far away south to Rothesay we went, and here, my cheeks fanned by
the delicious sea-breezes, I soon began to grow well and strong again. But
the sorrow in my mother's face was more marked than ever, though I had
ceased to refer to it.

The rooms we had hired were very pleasant, but looked very small in
comparison with the great halls I had been used to.

Well, on a beautiful afternoon father and my brothers arrived, and we all
had tea out on the shady lawn, up to the very edge of which the waves were
lapping and lisping.

I was reclining in a hammock chair, listening to the sea's soft, soothing
murmur, when father brought his camp-stool and sat near me.

'Murdoch, boy,' he said, taking my hand gently, almost tenderly, in his,
'are you strong enough to bear bad news?'

My heart throbbed uneasily, but I replied, bravely enough, 'Yes, dear
father; yes.'

'Then,' he said, speaking very slowly, as if to mark the effect of every
word, 'we are--never--to return--to Castle Coila!'

I was calm now, for, strange to say, the news appeared to be no news at
all.

'Well, father,' I answered, cheerfully, 'I can bear that--I could bear
anything but separation.'

I went over and kissed my mother and sister.

'So this is the cloud that was in your faces, eh? Well, the worst is over.
I have nothing to do now but get well. Father, I feel quite a man.'

'So do we both feel men,' said Donald and Dugald; 'and we are all going to
work. Won't that be jolly?'

In a few brief words father then explained our position. There had arrived
one day, some weeks after the worst and most dangerous part of my illness
was over, an advocate from Aberdeen, in a hired carriage. He had, he
said, a friend with him, who seemed, so he worded it, 'like one risen
from the dead.'

His friend was helped down, and into father's private room off the hall.

His friend was the old beldame Mawsie, and a short but wonderful story she
had to tell, and did tell, the Aberdeen advocate sitting quietly by the
while with a bland smile on his face. She remembered, she said with many a
sigh and groan, and many a doleful shake of head and hand, the marriage of
Le Roi the dragoon with the Miss M'Crimman of Coila, although but a girl
at the time; and she remembered, among many other things, that the
priest's books were hidden for safety in a vault, where he also kept all
the money he possessed. No one knew of the existence of this vault except
her, and so on and so forth. So voluble did the old lady become that the
advocate had to apply the _clôture_ at last.

'It is strange--if true,' my father had muttered. 'Why,' he added, 'had
the old lady not spoken of this before?'

'Ah, yes, to be sure,' said the Aberdonian. 'Well, that also is strange,
but easily explained. The shock received on the night of the fire at the
chapel had deprived the poor soul of memory. For years and years this
deprivation continued, but one day, not long ago, the son of the present
claimant, and probably rightful heir, to Coila walked into her room at the
old manse, gun in hand. He had been down shooting at Strathtoul, and
naturally came across to view the ruin so intimately connected with his
father's fate and fortune. No sooner had he appeared than the good old
dame rushed towards him, calling him by his grandfather's name. Her memory
had returned as suddenly as it had gone. She had even told him of the
vault. 'Perhaps,' continued he, with a meaning smile,

           '"'Tis the sunset of life gives her mystical lore,
           And coming events cast their shadow before."'

A fortnight after this visit a meeting of those concerned took place at
the beldame's house. She herself pointed to the place where she thought
the vault lay, and with all due legal formality digging was commenced, and
the place was found not far off. At first glance the vault seemed empty.
In one corner, however, was found, covered lightly over with withered
ferns, many bottles of wine and--a box. The two men of law, Le Roi's
solicitor and M'Crimman's, had a little laugh all to themselves over the
wine. Legal men will laugh at anything.

'The priest must have kept a good cellar on the sly,' one said.

'That is evident,' replied the other.

The box was opened with some little difficulty. In it was a book--an old
Latin Bible. But something else was in it too. Townley was the first to
note it. Only a silver ring such as sailors wear--a ring with a little
heart-shaped ruby stone in it. Book and ring were now sealed up in the
box, and next day despatched to Edinburgh with all due formality. The best
legal authorities the Scotch metropolis could boast of were consulted on
both sides, but fate for once was against the M'Crimmans of Coila. The
book told its tale. Half-carelessly written on fly-leaves, but each duly
dated and signed by Stewart, the priest, were notes concerning many
marriages, Le Roi's among the rest.

Even M'Crimman himself confessed that he was satisfied--as was every one
else save Townley.

'The book has told one tale--or rather its binding has,' said Townley;
'but the ring may yet tell another.'

All this my father related to me that evening as we sat together on the
lawn by the beach of Rothesay.

When he had finished I sat silently gazing seawards, but spoke not. My
brothers told me afterwards that I looked as if turned to stone. And,
indeed, indeed, my heart felt so. When father first told me we should go
back no more to Coila I felt almost happy that the bad news was no worse;
but now that explanations had followed, my perplexity was extreme.

One thing was sure and certain--there was a conspiracy, and the events of
that terrible night at the ruin had to do with it. The evil man Duncan
M'Rae was in it. Townley suspected it from words I must have let fall in
my delirium; but, worst of all, my mouth was sealed. Oh, why, why did I
not rather die than be thus bound!

It must be remembered that I was very young, and knew not then that an
oath so forced upon me could not be binding.

Come weal, come woe, however, I determined to keep my word.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The scene of our story changes now to Edinburgh itself. Here we had all
gone to live in a house owned by aunt, not far from the Calton Hill. We
were comparatively poor now, for father, with the honour and Christian
feeling that ever characterized him, had even paid up back rent to the new
owner of Coila Castle and Glen.

That parting from Coila had been a sad one. I was not there--luckily for
me, perhaps; but Townley has told me of it often and often.

'Yes, Murdoch M'Crimman,' he said, 'I have been present at the funeral of
many a Highland chief, but none of these impressed me half so much as the
scene in Glen Coila, when the carriage containing your dear father and
mother and Flora left the old castle and wound slowly down the glen. Men,
women, and little ones joined in procession, and marched behind it, and so
followed on and on till they reached the glen-foot, with the bagpipes
playing "Farewell to Lochaber." This affected your father as much, I
think, as anything else. As for your mother, she sat silently weeping, and
Flora dared hardly trust herself to look up at all. Then the parting! The
chief, your father, stood up and addressed his people--for "his people" he
still would call them. There was not a tremor in his voice, nor was
there, on the other hand, even a spice of bravado. He spoke to them
calmly, logically. In the old days, he said, might had been right, and
many a gallant corps of heroes had his forefathers led from the glen, but
times had changed. They were governed by good laws, and good laws meant
fair play, for they protected all alike, gentle and simple, poor as well
as rich. He bade them love and honour the new chief of Coila, to whom, as
his proven right, he not only heartily transferred his lands and castle,
but even, as far as possible, the allegiance of his people. They must be
of good cheer, he said; he would never forget the happy time he had spent
in Coila, and if they should meet no more on this earth, there was a
Happier Land beyond death and the grave. He ended his brief oration with
that little word which means so much, "Good-bye." But scarcely would they
let him go. Old, bare-headed, white-haired men crowded round the carriage
to bless their chief and press his hand; tearful women held children up
that he might but touch their hair, while some had thrown themselves on
the heather in paroxysms of a grief which was uncontrollable. Then the
pipes played once more as the carriage drove on, while the voices of the
young men joined in chorus--

   "Youth of the daring heart, bright be thy doom
       As the bodings that light up thy bold spirit now.
   But the fate of M'Crimman is closing in gloom,
       And the breath of the grey wraith hath passed o'er his brow."

'When,' added Townley, 'a bend of the road and the drooping birch-trees
shut out the mournful sight, I am sure we all felt relieved. Your father,
smiling, extended his hand to your mother, and she fondled it and wept no
more.'

                   *       *       *       *       *

For a time our life, to all outward seeming, was now a very quiet one.
Although Donald and Dugald were sent to that splendid seminary which has
given so many great men and heroes to the world, the 'High School of
Edinburgh,' Townley still lived on with us as my tutor and Flora's.

What my father seemed to suffer most from was the want of something at
which to employ his time, and what Townley called his 'talent for
activity.' 'Doing nothing' was not father's form after leading so
energetic a life for so many years at Coila. Like the city of Boston in
America, Edinburgh prides itself on the selectness of its society. To
this, albeit we had come down in the world, pecuniarily speaking, our
family had free _entrée_. This would have satisfied some men; it did not
satisfy father. He missed the bracing mountain air, he missed the freedom
of the hills and the glorious exercise to which he had been accustomed.

He missed it, but he mourned it not. His was the most unselfish nature one
could imagine. Whatever he may have felt in the privacy of his own
apartment, however much he may have sorrowed in silence, among us he was
ever cheerful and even gay. Perhaps, on the whole, it may seem to some
that I write or speak in terms too eulogistic. But it should not be
forgotten that the M'Crimman was my father, and that he is--gone. _De
mortuis nil nisi bonum._

The ex-chief of Coila was a gentleman. And what a deal there is in that
one wee word! No one can ape the gentleman. True gentlemanliness must
come from the heart; the heart is the well from which it must
spring--constantly, always, in every position of life, and wherever the
owner may be. No amount of exterior polish can make a true gentleman.
The actor can play the part on the stage, but here he is but acting, after
all. Off the stage he may or may not be the gentleman, for then he must
not be judged by his dress, by his demeanour in company, his calmness, or
his ducal bow, but by his actions, his words, or his spoken thoughts.

                 'Chesterfields and modes and rules
                   For polished age and stilted youth.
                 And high breeding's choicest school
                   Need to learn this deeper truth:
                 That to act, whate'er betide,
                   Nobly on the Christian plan,
                 This is still the surest guide
                   How to be a gentleman.'

About a year after our arrival in Edinburgh, Townley was seated one day
midway up the beautiful mountain called Arthur's Seat. It was early
summer; the sky was blue and almost cloudless; far beneath, the city of
palaces and monuments seemed to sleep in the sunshine; away to the east
lay the sea, blue even as the sky itself, except where here and there a
cloud shadow passed slowly over its surface. Studded, too, was the sea
with many a white sail, and steamers with trailing wreaths of smoke.

The noise of city life, faint and far, fell on the ear with a hum hardly
louder than the murmur of the insects and bees that sported among the wild
flowers.

Townley would not have been sitting here had he been all by himself, for
this Herculean young parson never yet set eye on a hill he meant to climb
without going straight to the top of it.

'There is no tiring Townley.' I have often heard father make that remark;
and, indeed, it gave in a few words a complete clue to Townley's
character.

But to-day my aunt Cecilia was with him, and it was on her account he was
resting. They had been sitting for some time in silence.

'It is almost too lovely a day for talking,' she said, at last.

'True; it is a day for thinking and dreaming.'

'I do not imagine, sir, that either thinking or dreaming is very much in
your way.'

He turned to her almost sharply.

'Oh, indeed,' he said, 'you hardly gauge my character aright, Miss
M'Crimman.'

'Do I not?'

'No, if you only knew how much I think at times; if you only knew how much
I have even dared to dream--'

There was a strange meaning in his looks if not in his words. Did she
interpret either aright, I wonder? I know not. Of one thing I am sure, and
that is, my friend and tutor was far too noble to seem to take advantage
of my aunt's altered circumstances in life to press his suit. He might be
her equal some day, at present he was--her brother's guest and domestic.

'Tell me,' she said, interrupting him, 'some of your thoughts; dreams at
best are silly.'

He heaved the faintest sigh, and for a few moments appeared bent only on
forming an isosceles triangle of pebbles with his cane.

Then he put his fingers in his pocket.

'I wish to show you,' he said, 'a ring.'

'A ring, Mr. Townley! What a curious ring! Silver, set with a ruby heart.
Why, this is the ring--the mysterious ring that belonged to the priest,
and was found in his box in the vault.'

'No, that is not _the_ ring. _The_ ring is in a safe and under seal. That
is but a facsimile. But, Miss M'Crimman, the ring in question did not, I
have reason to believe, belong to the priest Stewart, nor was it ever worn
by him.'

'How strangely you talk and look, Mr. Townley!'

'Whatever I say to you now, Miss M'Crimman, I wish you to consider
sacred.'

The lady laughed, but not lightly.

'Do you think,' she said, 'I can keep a secret?'

'I do, Miss M'Crimman, and I want a friend and occasional adviser.'

'Go on, Mr. Townley. You may depend on me.'

'All we know, or at least all he will tell us of Murdoch's--your
nephew's--illness, is that he was frightened at the ruin that night. He
did not lead us to infer--for this boy is honest--that the terror partook
of the supernatural, but he seemed pleased we did so infer.'

'Yes, Mr. Townley.'

'I watched by his bedside at night, when the fever was at its hottest. I
alone listened to his ravings. Such ravings have always, so doctors tell
us, a foundation in fact. He mentioned this ring over and over again. He
mentioned a vault; he mentioned a name, and starting sometimes from uneasy
slumber, prayed the owner of that name to spare him--to shoot him not.'

'And from this you deduce----'

'From this,' said Townley, 'I deduce that poor Murdoch had seen that ring
on the left hand of a villain who had threatened to shoot him, for some
potent reason or another, that Murdoch had seen that vault open, and that
he has been bound down by sacred oath not to reveal what he did see.'

'But oh, Mr. Townley, such oath could not, cannot be binding on the boy.
We must----'

'No, we must _not_, Miss M'Crimman. We must not put pressure on Murdoch at
present. We must not treat lightly his honest scruples. _You_ must leave
_me_ to work the matter out in my own way. Only, whenever I need your
assistance or friendship to aid me, I may ask for it, may I not?'

'Indeed you may, Mr. Townley.'

Her hand lay for one brief moment in his; then they got up silently and
resumed their walk.

Both were thinking now.



CHAPTER V.

A NEW HOME IN THE WEST.


To-night, before I entered my tower-room study and sat down to continue
our strange story, I was leaning over the battlements and gazing
admiringly at the beautiful sunset effects among the hills and on the
lake, when my aunt came gliding to my side. She always comes in this
spirit-like way.

'May I say one word,' she said, 'without interrupting the train of your
thoughts?'

'Yes, dear aunt,' I replied; 'speak as you please--say what you will.'

'I have been reading your manuscript, Murdoch, and I think it is high time
you should mention that the M'Raes of Strathtoul were in no degree
connected with or voluntarily mixed up in the villainy that banished your
poor father from Castle Coila.'

'It shall be as you wish,' I said, and then Aunt Cecilia disappeared as
silently as she had come.

Aunt is right. Nor can I forget that--despite the long-lasting and
unfortunate blood-feud--the Strathtouls were and are our kinsmen. It is
due to them to add that they ever acted honourably, truthfully; that there
was but one villain, and whatever of villainy was transacted was his. Need
I say his name was Duncan M'Rae? A M'Rae of Strathtoul? No; I am glad and
proud to say he was not. I even doubt if he had any right or title to the
name at all. It may have been but an _alias_. An _alias_ is often of the
greatest use to such a man as this Duncan; so is an _alibi_ at times!

I have already mentioned the school in the glen which my father the chief
had built. M'Rae was one of its first teachers. He was undoubtedly clever,
and, though he had not come to Coila without a little cloud on his
character, his plausibility and his capability prevailed upon my father to
give him a chance. There used at that time to be services held in the
school on Sunday evenings, to which the most humbly dressed peasant could
come. Humble though they were, they invariably brought their mite for the
collection. It was dishonesty--even sacrilegious dishonesty--in Duncan to
appropriate such moneys to his use, and to falsify the books. It is
needless to say he was dismissed, and ever after he bore little good-will
to the M'Crimmans of Coila.

He had now to live on his wits. His wits led him to dishonesty of a
different sort--he became a noted poacher. His quarrels with the
glen-keepers often led to ugly fights and to bloodshed, but never to
Duncan's reform. He lived and lodged with old Mawsie. It suited him to do
so for several reasons, one of which was that she had, as I have already
said, an ill-name, and the keepers were superstitious; besides, her house
was but half a mile from a high road, along which a carrier passed once a
week on his way to a distant town, and Duncan nearly always had a
mysterious parcel for him.

The poacher wanted a safe or store for his ill-gotten game. What better
place than the floor of the ruined church? While digging there, to his
surprise he had discovered a secret vault or cell; the roof and sides had
fallen in, but masons could repair them. Such a place would be invaluable
in his craft if it could be kept secret, and he determined it should be.
After this, strange lights were said to be seen sometimes by belated
travellers flitting among the old graves; twice also a ghost had been met
on the hill adjoining--some _thing_ at least that disappeared immediately
with eldritch scream.

It was shortly after this that Duncan had imported two men to do what they
called 'a bit of honest work.' Duncan had lodged and fed them at Mawsie's;
they worked at night, and when they had done the 'honest work,' he took
them to Invergowen and shipped them back to Aberdeen.

But the poacher's discovery of the priest's Bible turned his thoughts to a
plan of enriching himself far more effectually and speedily than he ever
could expect to do by dealing in game without a licence.

At the same time Duncan had found the poor priest's modest store of wine.
A less scientific villain would have made short work with this, but the
poacher knew better at present than to 'put an enemy in his mouth to steal
away his brains;' besides, the vault would look more natural, when
afterwards 'discovered,' with a collection of old bottles of wine in it.

To forge an entry on one of the fly-leaves of the book was no difficult
task, nor was it difficult to deal with Mawsie so as to secure the end he
had in view in the most natural way. Once again his villain-wit showed its
ascendency. A person of little acumen would have sought to work upon the
old lady's greed--would have tried to bribe her to say this or that, or to
swear to anything. But well Duncan knew how treacherous is the aged
memory, and yet how easily acted on. He began by talking much about the Le
Roi marriage which had taken place when she was a girl. He put words in
the old lady's mouth without seeming to do so; he manufactured an
artificial memory for her, and neatly fitted it.

'Surely, mother,' he would say, 'you remember the marriage that took place
in the chapel at midnight--the rich soldier, you know, Le Roi, and the
bonnie M'Crimman lady? You're not so _very_ old as to forget that.'

'Heigho! it's a long time ago, _ma yhillie og_, a long time ago, and I was
young.'

'True, but old people remember things that happened when they were young
better than more recent events.'

They talked in Gaelic, so I am not giving their exact words.

'Ay, ay, lad--ay, ay! And, now that you mention it, I do remember it
well--the lassie M'Crimman and the bonnie, bonnie gentleman.'

'Gave you a guinea--don't you remember?'

'Ay, ay, the dear man!'

'Is this it?' continued Duncan, holding up a golden coin.

Her eyes gloated over the money, her birdlike claw clutched it; she
'crooned' over it, sang to it, rolled it in a morsel of flannel, and put
it away in her bosom.

A course of this kind of tuition had a wonderful effect on Mawsie. After
the marriage came the vault, and she soon remembered all that. But
probably the guinea had more effect than anything else in fixing her mind
on the supposed events of the past.

You see, Duncan was a psychologist, and a good one, too. Pity he did not
turn his talents to better use.

The poacher's next move was to hurry up to London, and obtain an interview
with the chief of Strathtoul's son. He seldom visited Scotland, being an
officer of the Guards--a soldier, as his grandfather had been.

Is it any wonder that Duncan M'Rae's plausible story found a ready
listener in young Le Roi, or that he was only too happy to pay the poacher
a large but reasonable sum for proofs which should place his father in
possession of fortune and a fine estate?

The rest was easy. A large coloured sketch was shown to old Mawsie as a
portrait of the Le Roi who had been married in the old chapel in her
girlhood. It was that of his grandson, who shortly after visited the manse
and the ruin.

Duncan was successful beyond his utmost expectations. Only 'the wicked
flee when no man pursueth' them, and this villain could not feel easy
while he remained at home. Two things preyed on his mind--first, the
meeting with myself at the ruin; secondly, the loss of his ring. Probably
had the two men not interfered that night he would have made short work of
me. As for the ring, he blamed his own carelessness for losing it. It was
a dead man's ring; would it bring him ill-luck?

So he fled--or departed--put it as you please; but, singular to say, old
Mawsie was found dead in her house the day _after_ he had been seen to
take his departure from the glen. It was said she had met her death by
premeditated violence; but who could have slain the poor old crone, and
for what reason? It was more charitable and more reasonable to believe
that she had fallen and died where she was found. So the matter had been
allowed to rest. What could it matter to Mawsie?

Townley alone had different and less charitable views about the matter.
Meanwhile Townley's bird had flown. But everything comes to him who can
wait, and--there was no tiring Townley.

                   *       *       *       *       *

A year or two flew by quickly enough. I know what that year or two did for
me--_it made me a man!_

Not so much in stature, perhaps--I was young, barely seventeen--but a man
in mind, in desire, in ambition, and in brave resolve. Do not imagine that
I had been very happy since leaving Coila; my mind was racked by a
thousand conflicting thoughts that often kept me awake at night when all
others were sunk in slumber. Something told me that the doings of that
night at the ruin had undone our fortunes, and I was bound by solemn
promise never to divulge what I had seen or what I knew. A hundred times
over I tried to force myself to the belief that the poacher was only a
poacher, and not a villain of deeper dye, but all in vain.

Time, however, is the _edax rerum_--the devourer of all things, even of
grief and sorrow. Well, I saw my father and mother and Flora happy in
their new home, content with their new surroundings, and I began to take
heart. But to work I must go. What should I do? What should I be? The
questions were answered in a way I had little dreamt of.

One evening, about eight o'clock, while passing along a street in the new
town, I noticed well-dressed mechanics and others filing into a hall,
where, it was announced, a lecture was to be delivered--

                       'A NEW HOME IN THE WEST.'

Such was the heading of the printed bills. Curiosity led me to enter with
others.

I listened entranced. The lecture was a revelation to me. The 'New Home in
the West' was the Argentine Republic, and the speaker was brimful of his
subject, and brimful to overflowing with the rugged eloquence that goes
straight to the heart.

There was wealth untold in the silver republic for those who were healthy,
young, and willing to work--riches enough to be had for the digging to buy
all Scotland up--riches of grain, of fruit, of spices, of skins and wool
and meat--wealth all over the surface of the new home--wealth _in_ the
earth and bursting through it--wealth and riches everywhere.

And beauty everywhere too--beauty of scenery, beauty of woods and wild
flowers; of forest stream and sunlit skies. Why stay in Scotland when
wealth like this was to be had for the gathering? England was a glorious
country, but its very over-population rendered it a poor one, and poorer
it was growing every day.

                 'Hark! old Ocean's tongue of thunder,
                   Hoarsely calling, bids you speed
                 To the shores he held asunder
                   Only for these times of need.
                 Now, upon his friendly surges
                   Ever, ever roaring "Come,"
                 All the sons of hope he urges
                   To a new, a richer home.

                 There, instead of festering alleys,
                   Noisome dirt and gnawing dearth,
                 Sunny hills and smiling valleys
                   Wait to yield the wealth of earth.
                 All she seeks is human labour,
                   Healthy in the open air;
                 All she gives is--every neighbour
                   Wealthy, hale, and happy There!'

Language like this was to me simply intoxicating. I talked all next day
about what I had heard, and when evening came I once more visited the
lecture-hall, this time in company with my brothers.

'Oh,' said Donald, as we were returning home, 'that is the sort of work we
want.'

'Yes,' cried Dugald the younger; 'and that is the land to go to.'

'You are so young--sixteen and fifteen--I fear I cannot take you with me,'
I put in.

Donald stopped short in the street and looked straight in my face.

'So _you_ mean to go, then? And you think you can go without Dugald and
me? Young, are we? But won't we grow out of that? We are not town-bred
brats. Feel my arm; look at brother's lusty legs! And haven't we both got
hearts--the M'Crimman heart? Ho, ho, Murdoch! big as you are, you don't go
without Dugald and me!'

'That he sha'n't!' said Dugald, determinedly.

'Come on up to the top of the craig,' I said; 'I want a walk. It is only
half-past nine.'

But it was well-nigh eleven before we three brothers had finished
castle-building.

Remember, it was not castles in the air, either, we were piling up. We had
health, strength, and determination, with a good share of honest ambition;
and with these we believed we could gather wealth. The very thoughts of
doing so filled me with a joy that was inexpressible. Not that I valued
money for itself, but because wealth, if I could but gain it, would enable
me to in some measure restore the fortunes of our fallen house.

We first consulted father. It was not difficult to secure his acquiescence
to our scheme, and he even told mother that it was unnatural to expect
birds to remain always in the parent nest.

I have no space to detail all the outs and ins of our arguments; suffice
it to say they were successful, and preparations for our emigration were
soon commenced. One stipulation of dear mother's we were obliged to give
in to--namely, that Aunt Cecilia should go with us. Aunt was very wise,
though very romantic withal--a strange mixture of poetry and common-sense.
My father and mother, however, had very great faith in her. Moreover, she
had already travelled all by herself half-way over the world. She had
therefore the benefit of former experiences. But in every way we were fain
to admit that aunt was eminently calculated to be our friend and mentor.
She was and is clever. She could talk philosophy to us, even while darning
our stockings or seeing after our linen; she could talk half a dozen
languages, but she could talk common-sense to the cook as well; she was
fitted to mix in the very best society, but she could also mix a salad.
She played entrancingly on the harp, sang well, recited Ossian's poems by
the league, had a beautiful face, and the heart of a lion, which well
became the sister of a chief.

It is only fair to add that it was aunt who found the sinews of war--our
war with fortune. She, however, made a sacrifice to our pride in promising
to consider any and all moneys spent upon us as simply loans, to be repaid
with interest when we grew rich, if not--and this was only an honest
stipulation--worked off beforehand.

But poor dear aunt, her love of travel and adventure was quite wonderful,
and she had a most childlike faith in the existence and reality of the El
Dorado we were going in search of.

The parting with father, mother, and Flora was a terrible trial. I can
hardly think of it yet without a feeling akin to melancholy. But we got
away at last amid prayers and blessings and tears. A hundred times over
Flora had begged us to write every week, and to make haste and get ready a
place for her and mother and father and all in our new home in the West,
for she would count the days until the summons came to follow.

Fain would honest, brawny Townley have gone with us. What an acquisition
he would have proved! only, he told me somewhat significantly, he had work
to do, and if he was successful he might follow on. I know, though, that
parting with Aunt Cecilia almost broke his big brave heart.

There was so much to do when we arrived in London, from which port we were
to sail, so much to buy, so much to be seen, and so many people to visit,
that I and my brothers had little time to revert even to the grief of
parting from all we held dear at home.

We did not forget to pay a visit to our forty-second cousins in their
beautiful and aristocratic mansion at the West End. Archie Bateman was our
favourite. My brothers and I were quite agreed as to that. The other
cousin--who was also the elder--was far too much swamped in _bon ton_ to
please Highland lads such as we were.

But over and over again Archie made us tell him all we knew or had heard
of the land we were going to. The first night Archie had said,

'Oh, I wish I were going too!'

The second evening his remark was,

'Why _can't_ I go?'

But on the third and last day of our stay Archie took me boldly by the
hand--

'Don't tell anybody,' he said, 'but I'm going to follow you very soon.
Depend upon that. I'm only a younger son. Younger sons are nobodies in
England. The eldest sons get all the pudding, and we have only the dish to
scrape. They talk about making me a barrister. I don't mean to be made a
barrister; I'd as soon be a bumbailiff. No, I'm going to follow you,
cousin, so I sha'n't say good-bye--just _au revoir_.'

And when we drove away from the door, I really could not help admiring the
handsome bold-looking English lad who stood in the porch waving his
handkerchief and shouting,

'_Au revoir--au revoir._'



CHAPTER VI.

THE PROMISED LAND AT LAST.


'There is nothing more annoyin' than a hitch at the hin'eren'. What think
you, young sir?'

'I beg pardon,' I replied, 'but I'm afraid I did not quite understand
you.'

I had been standing all alone watching our preparations for dropping down
stream with the tide. What a wearisome time it had been, too!

The Canton was advertised to sail the day before, but did not. We were
assured, however, she would positively start at midnight, and we had gone
to bed expecting to awake at sea. I had fallen asleep brimful of all kinds
of romantic thoughts. But lo! I had been awakened early on the dark
morning of this almost wintry day with the shouting of men, the rattling
of chains, and puff-puff-puffing of that dreadful donkey-engine.

'Oh yes, we'll be off, sure enough, about eight bells.'

This is what the steward told us after breakfast, but all the forenoon had
slipped away, and here we still were. The few people on shore who had
stayed on, maugre wind and sleet, to see the very, _very_ last of friends
on board, looked very worn and miserable.

But surely we were going at last, for everything was shipped and
everything was comparatively still--far too still, indeed, as it turned
out!

'I said I couldn't stand a hitch at the hin'eren', young sir--any trouble
at the tail o' the chapter.'

I looked up--I _had_ to look up, for the speaker was a head and shoulders
bigger than I--a broad-shouldered, brawny, brown-bearded Scotchman. A
Highlander evidently by his brogue, but one who had travelled south, and
therefore only put a Scotch word in here and there when talking--just, he
told me afterwards, to make better sense of the English language.

'Do I understand you to mean that something has happened to delay the
voyage?'

'I dinna care whether you understand me or not,' he replied, with almost
fierce independence, 'but we're broken down.'

It was only too true, and the news soon went all over the ship--spread
like wild-fire, in fact. Something had gone wrong in the engine-room, and
it would take a whole week to make good repairs.

I went below to report matters to aunt and my brothers, and make
preparations for disembarking again.

When we reached the deck we found the big Scot walking up and down with
rapid, sturdy strides; but he stopped in front of me, smiling. He had an
immense plaid thrown Highland-fashion across his chest and left shoulder,
and clutched a huge piece of timber in his hand, which by courtesy might
have been called a cane.

'You'll doubtless go on shore for a spell?' he said. 'A vera judicious
arrangement. I'll go myself, and take my mither with me. And are these
your two brotheries, and your sister? How d'ye do, miss?'

He lifted his huge tam-o'-shanter as he made these remarks--or, in other
words, he seized it by the top and raised it into the form of a huge
pyramid.

'My aunt,' I said, smiling.

'A thousand pa_rr_dons, ma'am!' he pleaded, once more making a pyramid of
his 'bonnet,' while the colour mounted to his brow. 'A thousand
pa_rr_dons!'

Like most of his countrymen, he spoke broader when taken off his guard or
when excited. At such times the _r_'s were thundered or rolled out.

Aunt Cecilia smiled most graciously, and I feel sure she did not object to
be mistaken for our sister.

'It seems,' he added, 'we are to be fellow-passengers. My name is
Moncrieff, and if ever I can be of the slightest service to you, pray
command me.'

'You mentioned your mother,' said aunt, by way of saying something. 'Is
the old--I mean, is she going with you?'

'What else, what else? And you wouldn't be wrong in calling her "old"
either. My mither's no' a spring chicken, but--she's a marvel. Ay,
mither's a marvel.'

'I presume, sir, you've been out before?'

'I've lived for many years in the Silver West. I've made a bit of money,
but I couldn't live a year longer without my mither, so I just came
straight home to take her out. I think when you know my mither you'll
agree with me--she's a marvel.'

On pausing here for a minute to review a few of the events of my past
life, I cannot agree with those pessimists who tell us we are the victims
of chance; that our fates and our fortunes have nothing more certain to
guide them to a good or a bad end than yonder thistle-down which is the
sport of the summer breeze.

When I went on board the good ship Canton, had any one told me that in a
few days more I would be standing by the banks of Loch Coila, I would have
laughed in his face.

Yet so it was. Aunt and Donald stayed in London, while I and Dugald formed
the strange resolve of running down and having one farewell glance at
Coila. I seemed impelled to do so, but how or by what I never could say.

No; we did not go near Edinburgh. Good-byes had been said, why should we
rehearse again all the agony of parting?

Nor did we show ourselves to many of the villagers, and those who did see
us hardly knew us in our English dress.

Just one look at the lake, one glance at the old castle, and we should be
gone, never more to set foot in Coila.

And here we were close by the water, almost under shadow of our own old
home. It was a forenoon in the end of February, but already the
larch-trees were becoming tinged with tender green, a balmy air went
whispering through the drooping silver birches, the sky was blue, flecked
only here and there with fleecy clouds that cast shadow-patches on the
lake. Up yonder a lark was singing, in adjoining spruce thickets we could
hear the croodle of the ringdove, and in the swaying branches of the elms
the solemn-looking rooks were already building their nests. Dugald and I
were lying on the moss.

'Spring always comes early to dear Coila,' I was saying; 'and I'm so glad
the ship broke down, just to give me a chance of saying "Good-bye" to the
loch. You, Dugald, did say "Good-bye" to it, you know, but I never had a
chance.

Ahem! We were startled by the sound of a little cough right behind us--a
sort of made cough, such as people do when they want to attract
attention.

Standing near us was a gentleman of soldierly bearing, but certainly not
haughty in appearance, for he was smiling. He held a book in his hand, and
on his arm leant a beautiful young girl, evidently his daughter, for both
had blue eyes and fair hair.

Dugald and I had started to our feet, and for the life of me I could not
help feeling awkward.

'I fear,' I stammered, 'we are trespassing. But--but my brother and I ran
down from London to say good-bye to Coila. We will go at once.'

'Stay one moment,' said the gentleman. 'Do not run away without
explaining. You have been here before?'

'We are the young M'Crimmans of Coila, sir.'

I spoke sadly--I trust not fiercely.

'Pardon me, but something seemed to tell me you were. We are pleased to
meet you. Irene, my daughter. It is no fault of ours--at least, of
mine--that your family and the M'Raes were not friendly long ago.'

'But my father _would_ have made friends with the chief of Strathtoul,' I
said.

'Yes, and mine had old Highland prejudices. But look, yonder comes a
thunder-shower. You _must_ stay till it is over.'

'I feel, sir,' I said, 'that I am doing wrong, and that I have done wrong.
My father, even, does not know we are here. _He_ has prejudices now,
too,'

'Well,' said the officer, laughing, 'my father is in France. Let us both
be naughty boys. You must come and dine with me and my daughter, anyhow.
Bother old-fashioned blood-feuds! We must not forget that we are living in
the nineteenth century.'

I hesitated a moment, then I glanced at the girl, and next minute we were
all walking together towards the castle.

We did stop to dinner, nor did we think twice about leaving that night.
The more I saw of these, our hereditary enemies, the more I liked them.
Irene was very like Flora in appearance and manner, but she had a greater
knowledge of the world and all its ways. She was very beautiful. Yes, I
have said so already, but somehow I cannot help saying it again. She
looked older than she really was, and taller than most girls of fourteen.

'Well,' I said in course of the evening, 'it _is_ strange my being here.'

'It is only the fortune of war our both being here,' said M'Rae.

'I wonder,' I added, 'how it will all end!'

'If it would only end as I should wish, it would end very pleasantly
indeed. But it will not. You will write filially and tell your good father
of your visit. He will write cordially, but somewhat haughtily, to thank
us. That will be all. Oh, Highland blood is very red, and Highland pride
is very high. Well, at all events, Murdoch M'Crimman--if you will let me
call you by your name without the "Mr."--we shall never forget your visit,
shall we, darling?'

I looked towards Miss M'Rae. Her answer was a simple 'No'; but I was much
surprised to notice that her eyes were full of tears, which she tried in
vain to conceal.

I saw tears in her eyes next morning as we parted. Her father said
'Good-bye' so kindly that my whole heart went out to him on the spot.

'I'm not sorry I came,' I said; 'and, sir,' I added, 'as far as you and I
are concerned, the feud is at an end?'

'Yes, yes; and better so. And,' he continued, 'my daughter bids me say
that she is happy to have seen you, that she is going to think about you
very often, and is so sorrowful you poor lads should have to go away to a
foreign land to seek your fortune while we remain at Coila. That is the
drift of it, but I fear I have not said it prettily enough to please
Irene. Good-bye.'

We had found fine weather at Coila, and we brought it back with us to
London. There was no hitch this time in starting. The Canton got away
early in the morning, even before breakfast. The last person to come on
board was the Scot, Moncrieff. He came thundering across the plank gangway
with strides like a camel, bearing something or somebody rolled in a
tartan plaid.

Dugald and I soon noticed two little legs dangling from one end of the
bundle and a little old face peeping out of the other. It was his mother
undoubtedly.

He put her gently down when he gained the deck, and led her away amidships
somewhere, and there the two disappeared. Presently Moncrieff came back
alone and shook hands with us in the most friendly way.

'I've just disposed of my mither,' he said, as if she had been a piece of
goods and he had sold her. 'I've just disposed of the poor dear creature,
and maybe she won't appear again till we're across the bay.'

'You did not take the lady below?'

'There's no' much of the lady about my mither, though I'm doing all I can
to make her one. No; I didn't take her below. Fact is, we have state
apartments, as you might say, for I've rented the second lieutenant's and
purser's cabins. There they are, cheek-by-jowl, as cosy as wrens'-nests,
just abaft the cook's galley amidships yonder.'

'Well,' I said, 'I hope your mother will be happy and enjoy the voyage.'

'Hurrah!' shouted the Scot; 'we're off at last! Now for a fair wind and a
clear sea to the shores of the Silver West. I'll run and tell my mither
we're off.'

That evening the sun sank on the western waves with a crimson glory that
spoke of fine weather to follow. We were steaming down channel with just
enough sail set to give us some degree of steadiness.

Though my brothers and I had never been to sea before, we had been used to
roughing it in storms around the coast and on Loch Coila, and probably
this may account for our immunity from that terror of the ocean,
_mal-de-mer_. As for aunt, she was an excellent sailor. The saloon, when
we went below to dinner, was most gay, beautifully lighted, and very
home-like. The officers present were the captain, the surgeon, and one
lieutenant. The captain was president, while the doctor occupied the chair
of _vice_. Both looked thorough sailors, and both appeared as happy as
kings. There seemed also to exist a perfect understanding between the
pair, and their remarks and anecdotes kept the passengers in excellent
good humour during dinner.

The doctor had been the first to enter, and he came sailing in with aunt,
whom he seated on his right hand. Now aunt was the only young lady among
the passengers, and she certainly had dressed most becomingly. I could not
help admiring her--so did the doctor, but so also did the captain.

When he entered he gave his surgeon a comical kind of a look and shook his
head.

'Walked to windward of me, I see!' he said. 'Miss M'Crimman,' he added,
'we don't, as a rule, keep particular seats at table in this ship.'

'Don't believe a word he says, Miss M'Crimman!' cried the doctor. 'Look,
he's laughing! He never is serious when he smiles like that. Steward, what
is the number of this chair?'

'Fifteen, sir.'

'Fifteen, Miss M'Crimman, and you won't forget it; and this table-napkin
ring, observe, is Gordon tartan, green and black and orange.'

'Miss M'Crimman,' the captain put in, as if the doctor had not said a
word, 'to-morrow evening, for example, you will have the honour to sit on
my right.'

'Honour, indeed!' laughed the doctor.

'The honour to sit on my right. You will find I can tell much better
stories than old Conserve-of-roses there; and I feel certain you will not
sit anywhere else all the voyage!'

'Ah, stay one moments!' cried a merry-looking little Spaniard, who had
just entered and seated himself quietly at the table; 'the young lady weel
not always sit dere, or dere, for sometime she weel have de honour to sit
at my right hand, for example, eh, capitan?'

There was a hearty laugh at these words, and after this, every one seemed
on the most friendly terms with every one else, and willing to serve every
one else first and himself last. This is one good result that accrues from
travelling, and I have hardly ever yet known a citizen of the world who
could be called selfish.

There were three other ladies at table to-night, each of whom sat by her
husband's side. Though they were all in what Dr. Spinks afterwards termed
the sere and yellow leaf, both he and the good captain really vied with
each other in paying kindly attention to their wants.

So pleasantly did this our first dinner on board pass over that by the
time we had risen from our seats we felt, one and all, as if we had known
each other for a very long time indeed.

Next came our evening concert. One of the married ladies played
exceedingly well, and the little Spanish gentleman sang like a minor Sims
Reeves.

'Your sister sings, I feel sure,' he said to me.

'My aunt plays the harp and sings,' I answered.

'And the harp--you have him?'

'Yes.'

'Oh, bring him--bring him! I do love de harp!'

While my aunt played and sang, it would have been difficult to say which
of her audience listened with the most delighted attention. The doctor's
face was a study; the captain looked tenderly serious; Captain Bombazo,
the black-moustachioed Spaniard, was animation personified; his dark eyes
sparkled like diamonds, his very eyelids appeared to snap with pleasure.
Even the stewards and stewardess lingered in the passage to listen with
respectful attention, so that it is no wonder we boys were proud of our
clever aunt.

When she ceased at last there was that deep silence which is far more
eloquent than applause. The first to break it was Moncrieff.

'Well,' he said, with a deep sigh, 'I never heard the like o' that
afore!'

The friendly relations thus established in the saloon lasted all the
voyage long--so did the captain's, the doctor's, and little Spanish
officer's attentions to my aunt. She had made a triple conquest; three
hearts, to speak figuratively, lay at her feet.

Our voyage was by no means a very eventful one, and but little different
from thousands of others that take place every month.

Some degree of merriment was caused among the men, when, on the fourth
day, big Moncrieff led his mother out to walk the quarter-deck leaning on
his arm. She was indeed a marvel. It would have been impossible even to
guess at her age; for though her face was as yellow as a withered lemon,
and as wrinkled as a Malaga rasin, she walked erect and firm, and was
altogether as straight as a rush. She was dressed with an eye to comfort,
for, warm though the weather was getting, her cloak was trimmed with fur.
On her head she wore a neat old-fashioned cap, and in her hand carried a
huge green umbrella, which evening and morning she never laid down except
at meals.

[Illustration: 'I'll teach ye!']

This umbrella was a weapon of offence as well as defence. We had proof of
that on the very first day, for as he passed along the deck the second
steward had the bad manners to titter. Next moment the umbrella had
descended with crushing force on his head, and he lay sprawling in the lee
scuppers.

'I'll teach ye,' she said, 'to laugh at an auld wife, you gang-the-gate
swinger.'

'Mither! mither!' pleaded Moncrieff, 'will you never be able to behave
like a lady?'

The steward crawled forward crestfallen, and the men did not let him
forget his adventure in a hurry.

'Mither's a ma_rr_vel,' Moncrieff whispered to me more than once that
evening, for at table no 'laird's lady' could have behaved so well, albeit
her droll remarks and repartee kept us all laughing. After dinner it was
just the same--there were no bounds to her good-nature, her excellent
spirits and comicality. Even when asked to sing she was by no means taken
aback, but treated us to a ballad of five-and-twenty verses, with a chorus
to each; but as it told a story of love and war, of battle and siege, of
villainy for a time in the ascendant, and virtue triumphant at the end, it
really was not a bit wearisome; and when Moncrieff told us that she could
sing a hundred more as good, we all agreed that his mother was indeed a
marvel.

I have said the voyage was uneventful, but this is talking as one who has
been across the wide ocean many times and oft. No long voyage can be
uneventful; but nothing very dreadful happened to mar our passage to Rio
de Janeiro. We were not caught in a tornado; we were not chased by a
pirate; we saw no suspicious sail; no ghostly voice hailed us from aloft
at the midnight hour; no shadowy form beckoned us from a fog. We did not
even spring a leak, nor did the mainyard come tumbling down. But we _did_
have foul weather off Finisterre; a man _did_ fall overboard, and was duly
picked up again; a shark _did_ follow the ship for a week, but got no
corpse to devour, only the contents of the cook's pail, sundry bullets
from sundry revolvers, and, finally, a red-hot brick rolled in a bit of
blanket. Well, of course, a man fell from aloft and knocked his shoulder
out--a man always does--and Mother Carey's chickens flew around our stern,
boding bad weather, which never came, and shoals of porpoises danced
around us at sunset, and we saw huge whales pursuing their solitary path
through the bosom of the great deep, and we breakfasted off flying fish,
and caught Cape pigeons, and wondered at the majestic flight of the
albatross; and we often saw lightning without hearing thunder, and heard
thunder without seeing lightning; and in due course we heard the thrilling
shout from aloft of 'Land ho!' and heard the officer of the watch sing
out, 'Where away?'

And lo and behold! three or four hours afterwards we were all on deck
marvelling at the rugged grandeur of the shores of Rio, and the wondrous
steeple-shaped mountain that stands sentry for ever and ever and ever at
the entrance to the marvellous haven.

When this was in sight, Moncrieff rushed off into the cabin and bore his
mother out.

He held the old lady aloft, on one arm, shouting, as he pointed
landwards--

'Look, mither, look! the Promised Land! Our new home in the Silver West!'



CHAPTER VII.

ON SHORE AT RIO.


It was well on in the afternoon when land was sighted, but so accurately
had the ship been navigated for all the long, pleasant weeks of our voyage
that both the captain and his first officer might easily have been excused
for showing a little pride in their seamanship. Your British sailor,
however, is always a modest man, and there was not the slightest approach
to bombast. The ship was now slowed, for we could not cross the bar that
night.

At the dinner-table we were all as merry as schoolboys on the eve of a
holiday. Old Jenny, as Moncrieff's mother had come to be called, was in
excellent spirits, and her droll remarks not only made us laugh, but
rendered it very difficult indeed for the stewards to wait with anything
approaching to _sang-froid_. Moncrieff was quietly happy. He seemed
pleased his mother was so great a favourite. Aunt, in her tropical toilet,
looked angelic. The adjective was applied by our mutual friend Captain
Roderigo de Bombazo, and my brothers and I agreed that he had spoken the
truth for once in a way. Did he not always speak the truth? it may be
asked. I am not prepared to accuse the worthy Spaniard of deliberate
falsehood, but if everything he told us was true, then he must indeed have
come through more wild and terrible adventures, and done more travelling
and more fighting, than any lion-hunter that ever lived and breathed.

He was highly amusing nevertheless, and as no one, with the exception of
Jenny, ever gave any evidence of doubting what he said and related
concerning his strange career, he was encouraged to carry on; and even the
exploits of Baron Munchausen could not have been compared to some of his.
I think it used to hurt his feelings somewhat that old Jenny listened so
stolidly to his relations, for he used to cater for her opinion at times.

'Ah!' Jenny would say, 'you're a wonderful mannie wi' your way o't! And
what a lot you've come through! I wonder you have a hair in your heed!'

'But the señora believes vot I say?'

'Believe ye? If a' stories be true, yours are no lees, and I'm not goin'
ahint your back to tell ye, sir.'

Once, on deck, he was drawing the long-bow, as the Yankees call it, at a
prodigious rate. He was telling how, once upon a time, he had caught a
young alligator; how he had tamed it and fed it till it grew a monster
twenty feet long; how he used to saddle it and bridle it, and ride through
the streets of Tulcora on its back--men, women, and children screaming and
flying in all directions; how, armed only with his good sabre, he rode it
into a lake which was infested with these dread saurians; how he was
attacked in force by the awful reptiles, and how he had killed and wounded
so many that they lay dead in dozens next day along the banks.

'Humph!' grunted old Jenny when he had finished.

The little captain put the questions,

'Ah! de aged señora not believe! De aged señora not have seen much of de
world?'

Jenny had grasped her umbrella.

'Look here, my mannie,' she said, 'I'll gie ye a caution; dinna you refer
to my age again, or I'll "aged-snorer" you. If ye get the weight o' my
gingham on your shou'ders, ye'll think a coo has kick't ye--so mind.'

And the Spanish captain had slunk away very unlike a lion-hunter, but he
never called Jenny old again.

To-night, however, even before we had gone below, Jenny had given proofs
that she was in an extra good temper, for being a little way behind
Bombazo--as if impelled by some sudden and joyous impulse--she lifted that
everlasting umbrella and hit him a friendly thwack that could be heard
from bowsprit to binnacle.

'Tell as mony lees the nicht as ye like, my mannie,' she cried, 'and I'll
never contradict ye, for I've seen the promised land!'

'And so, captain, you must stay at Rio a whole week?' said my aunt at
dessert.

'Yes, Miss M'Crimman,' replied the captain. 'Are you pleased?'

'I'm delighted. And I propose that we get up a grand picnic in "the
promised land," as good old Jenny calls it.'

And so it was arranged. Bombazo and Dr. Spinks, having been at Rio de
Janeiro before, were entrusted with the organization of the 'pig-neeg,' as
Bombazo called it, and held their first consultation on ways and means
that very evening. Neither I nor my brothers were admitted to this
meeting, though aunt was. Nevertheless, we felt confident the picnic would
be a grand success, for, to a late hour, men were hurrying fore and aft,
and the stewards were up to their eyes packing baskets and making
preparations, while from the cook's gally gleams of rosy light shot out
every time the door was opened, to say nothing of odours so appetising
that they would have awakened Van Winkle himself.

Before we turned in, we went on deck to have a look at the night. It was
certainly full of promise. We were not far from the shore--near enough to
see a long line of white which we knew was breakers, and to hear their
deep sullen boom as they spent their fury on the rocks. The sky was
studded with brilliant stars--far more bright, we thought them, than any
we ever see in our own cold climate. Looking aloft, the tall masts seemed
to mix and mingle with the stars at every roll of the ship. The moon, too,
was as bright as silver in the east, its beams making strange quivering
lines and crescents in each approaching wave. And somewhere--yonder among
those wondrous cone-shaped hills, now bathed in this purple moonlight--lay
the promised land, the romantic town of Rio, which to-morrow we should
visit.

We went below, and, as if by one accord, my brothers and I knelt down
together to thank the Great Power on high who had guided us safely over
the wide illimitable ocean, and to implore His blessing on those at home,
and His guidance on all our future wanderings.

Early next morning we were awakened by a great noise on deck, and the dash
and turmoil of breaking water. The rudder-chains, too, were constantly
rattling as the men at the wheel obeyed the shouts of the officer of the
watch.

'Starboard a little!'

'Starboard it is, sir!'

'Easy as you go! Steady!'

'Steady it is, sir!'

'Port a little! Steady!'

Then came a crash that almost flung us out of our beds. Before we gained
the deck of our cabin there was another, and still another. Had we run on
shore? We dreaded to ask each other.

But just then the steward, with kindly thought, drew back our curtain and
reassured us.

'We're only bumping over the bar, young gentlemen--we'll be in smooth
water in a jiffey.'

We were soon all dressed and on deck. We were passing the giant hill
called Sugar Loaf, and the mountains seemed to grow taller and taller, and
to frown over us as we got nearer.

Once through the entrance, the splendid bay itself lay spread out before
us in all its silver beauty. Full twenty miles across it is, and
everywhere surrounded by the grandest hills imaginable. Not even in our
dreams could we have conceived of such a noble harbour, for here not only
could all the fleets in the world lie snug, but even cruise and manoeuvre.
Away to the west lay the picturesque town itself, its houses and public
buildings shining clear in the morning sun, those nearest nestling in a
beauty of tropical foliage I have never seen surpassed.

My brothers and I felt burning to land at once, but regulations must be
carried out, and before we had cleared the customs, and got a clean bill
of health, the day was far spent. Our picnic must be deferred till
to-morrow.

However, we could land.

As they took their seats in the boat and she was rowed shoreward, I
noticed that Donald and Dugald seemed both speechless with delight and
admiration; as for me, I felt as if suddenly transported to a new world.
And such a world--beauty and loveliness everywhere around us! How should I
ever be able to describe it, I kept wondering--how give dear old mother
and Flora any notion, even the most remote, of the delight instilled into
our souls by all we saw and felt in this strange, strange land! Without
doubt, the beauty of our surroundings constitutes one great factor in our
happiness, wherever we are.

When we landed--indeed, before we landed--while the boat was still
skimming over the purple waters, the green mountains appearing to mingle
and change places every moment as we were borne along, I felt conquered,
if I may so express it, by the enchantment of my situation. I gave in my
allegiance to the spirit of the scene, I abandoned all thoughts of being
able to describe anything, I abandoned myself to enjoyment. _Laisser
faire_, I said to my soul, is to live. Every creature, every being here
seems happy. To partake of the _dolce far niente_ appears the whole aim
and object of their lives.

And so I stepped on shore, regretting somewhat that Flora was not here,
feeling how utterly impossible it would be to write that 'good letter'
home descriptive of this wondrous medley of tropical life and loveliness,
but somewhat reckless withal, and filled with a determination to give full
rein to my sense of pleasure. I could not help wondering, however, if
everything I saw was real. Was I in a dream, from which I should presently
be rudely awakened by the rattle and clatter of the men hauling up ashes,
and find myself in bed on board the Canton? Never mind, I would enjoy it
were it even a dream.

What a motley crowd of people of every colour! How jolly those negroes
look! How gaily the black ladies are dressed! How the black men laugh!
What piles of fruit and green stuff! What a rich, delicious, warm aroma
hovers everywhere!

An interpreter? You needn't ask _me_. I'm not in charge. Ask my aunt here;
but she herself can talk many languages. Or ask that tall brawny Scot, who
is hustling the darkies about as if South America all belonged to him.

'A carriage, Moncrieff? Oh, this is delightful! Auntie, dear, let me help
you on board. Hop in, Dugald. Jump, Donald. No, no, Moncrieff, I mean to
have the privilege of sitting beside the driver. Off we go. Hurrah! Do you
like it, Donald? But aren't the streets rough! I won't talk any more; I
want to watch things.'

I wonder, though, if Paradise itself was a bit more lovely than the
gardens we catch glimpses of as we drive along?

How cool they look, though the sun is shining in a blue and cloudless sky!
What dark shadows those gently waving palm-trees throw! Look at those
cottage verandahs! Look, oh, look at the wealth of gorgeous flowers--the
climbing, creeping, wreathing flowers! What colours! What fantastic
shapes! What a merry mood Nature must have been in when she framed them
so! And the perfume from those fairy gardens hangs heavy on the air; the
delicious balmy breeze that blows through the green, green palm-leaves is
not sufficient to waft away the odour of that orange blossom. Behold those
beautiful children in groups, on terraces and lawns, at windows, or in
verandahs--so gaily are they dressed that they themselves might be
mistaken for bouquets of lovely flowers!

I wonder what the names of all those strange blossom-bearing shrubs are.
But, bah! who would bother about names of flowers on a day like this? The
butterflies do not, and the bees do not. Are those really butterflies,
though--really and truly? Are they not gorgeously painted fans, waved and
wafted by fairies, themselves unseen?

The people we meet chatter gaily as we pass, but they do not appear to
possess a deal of curiosity; they are too contented for anything. All life
here must be one delicious round of enjoyment. And nobody surely ever dies
here; I do not see how they could.

'Is this a cave we are coming to, Moncrieff? What is that long row of
columns and that high, green, vaulted roof, through which hardly a ray of
sunshine can struggle? Palm-trees! Oh, Moncrieff, what glorious palms! And
there is life upon life there, for the gorgeous trees, not apparently
satisfied with their own magnificence of shape and foliage, must array
themselves in wreaths of dazzling orchids and festoons of trailing
flowers. The fairies _must_ have hung those flowers there? Do not deny it,
Moncrieff!'

And here, in the Botanical Gardens, imagination must itself be dumb--such
a wild wealth of all that is charming in the vegetable and animal
creation.

'Donald, go your own road. Dugald, go yours; let us wander alone. We may
meet again some day. It hardly matters whether we do or not. I'm in a
dream, and I don't think I want to awaken for many a long year.'

I go wandering away from my brothers, away from every one.

A fountain is sending its spray aloft till the green drooping branches of
the bananas and those feathery tree-ferns are everywhere spangled with
diamonds. I will rest here. I wish I could catch a few of those wondrous
butterflies, or even one of those fairylike humming-birds--mere sparks of
light and colour that flit and buzz from flower to flower. I wish I
could--that I--I mean--I--wish--'

'Hullo! Murdoch. Where are you? Why, here he is at last, sound asleep
under an orange-tree!'

It is my wild Highland brothers. They have both been shaking me by the
shoulders. I sit up and rub my eyes.

'Do you know we've been looking for you for over an hour?'

'Ah, Dugald!' I reply, 'what is an hour, one wee hour, in a place like
this?'

We must now go to visit the market-place, and then we are going to the
hotel to dine and sleep.

The market is a wondrously mixed one, and as wondrously foreign and
strange as it is possible to conceive. The gay dresses of the women--some
of whom are as black as an ebony ball; their gaudy head-gear; their
glittering but tinselled ornaments; their round laughing faces, in which
shine rows of teeth as white perhaps as alabaster; the jaunty men folks;
the world of birds and beasts, all on the best of terms with themselves,
especially the former, arrayed in all the colours of the rainbow; the
world of fruit, tempting in shape, in beauty, and in odour; the world of
fish, some of them beautiful enough to have dwelt in the coral caves of
fairyland beneath the glittering sea--some ugly, even hideous enough to be
the creatures of a demon's dream, and some, again, so odd-looking or so
grotesque as to make one smile or laugh outright;--the whole made up a
picture that even now I have but to close my eyes to see again!

When night falls the streets get for a time more crowded; side-paths
hardly exist--at all events, the inhabitants show their independence by
crowding along the centre of the streets. Not much light to guide them,
though, except where from open doors or windows the rays from lamps shoot
out into the darkness.

Away to the hotel. A dinner in a delightfully cool, large room, a punkah
waving overhead, brilliant lights, joy on all our faces, a dessert fit to
set before a king. Now we shall know how those strange fruits taste, whose
perfume hung around the market to-day. To bed at last in a room scented
with orange-blossoms, and around the windows of which the sweet
stephanotis clusters in beauty--to bed, to sleep, and dream of all we have
done and seen.

We awaken--at least, I do--in the morning with a glad sensation of
anticipated pleasure. What is it? Oh yes, the picnic!

But it is no ordinary picnic. It lasts for three long days and nights,
during which we drive by day through scenes of enchantment apparently, and
sleep by night under canvas, wooed to slumber by the wind whispering in
the waving trees.

'Moncrieff,' I say on the second day, 'I should like to live here for ever
and ever and ever.'

'Man!' replies Moncrieff, 'I'm glad ye enjoy it, and so does my mither
here. But dinna forget, lads, that hard work is all before us when we
reach Buenos Ayres.'

'But I will, and I _shall_ forget, Moncrieff,' I cry. 'This country is
full of forgetfulness. Away with all thoughts of work; let us revel in the
sunshine like the bees, and the birds, and the butterflies.'

'Revel away, then,' says Moncrieff; and dear aunt smiles languidly.

On the last day of 'the show,' as Dugald called it, and while our mule
team is yet five good miles from town, clouds dark and threatening bank
rapidly up in the west. The driver lashes the beasts and encourages them
with shout and cry to do their speedy utmost; but the storm breaks over us
in all its fury, the thunder seems to rend the very mountains, the rain
pours down in white sheets, the lightning runs along the ground and looks
as if it would set the world on fire; the wind goes tearing through the
trees, bending the palms like reeds, rending the broad banana-leaves to
ribbons; branches crack and fall down, and the whole air is filled with
whirling fronds and foliage.

Moncrieff hastily envelopes his mother in that Highland plaid till nought
is visible of the old lady save the nose and one twinkling eye. We laugh
in spite of the storm. Louder and louder roars the thunder, faster and
faster fly the mules, and at last we are tearing along the deserted
streets, and hastily draw up our steaming steeds at the hotel door. And
that is almost all I remember of Rio; and to-morrow we are off to sea once
more.



CHAPTER VIII.

MONCRIEFF RELATES HIS EXPERIENCES.


Our life at sea had been like one long happy dream. That, at all events,
is how it had felt to me. 'A dream I could have wished to last for aye.' I
was enamoured of the ocean, and more than once I caught myself yearning to
be a sailor. There are people who are born with strange longings, strange
desires, which only a life on the ever-changing, ever-restless waves
appears to suit and soothe. To such natures the sea seems like a mother--a
wild, hard, harsh mother at times, perhaps, but a mother who, if she
smiles but an hour, makes them forget her stormy anger of days or weeks.

But the dream was past and gone. And here we had settled down for a spell
at Buenos Ayres. We had parted with the kindly captain and surgeon of the
Canton, with many a heartily expressed hope of meeting again another day,
with prayers on their side for our success in the new land, with kindliest
wishes on ours for a pleasant voyage and every joy for them.

Dear me! What a very long time it felt to look back to, since we had
bidden them 'good-bye' at home! How very old I was beginning to feel! I
asked my brothers if their feelings were the same, and found them
identical. Time had been apparently playing tricks on us.

And yet we did not look any older in each other's eyes, only just a little
more serious. Yes, that was it--_serious_. Even Dugald, who was usually
the most light-hearted and merry of the three of us, looked as if he fully
appreciated the magnitude of what we had undertaken.

Here we were, three--well, young men say, though some would have called us
boys--landed on a foreign shore, without an iota of experience, without
much knowledge of the country apart from that we had gleaned from books or
gathered from the conversations of Bombazo and Moncrieff. And yet we had
landed with the intention, nay, even the determination, to make our way in
the new land--not only to seek our fortunes, but to find them.

Oh, we were not afraid! We had the glorious inheritance of courage,
perseverance, and self-reliance. Here is how Donald, my brother, argued
one night:

'Look, here, Murdo,' he said. 'This _is_ a land of milk and honey, isn't
it? Well, we're going to be the busy bees to gather it. It _is_ a silver
land, isn't it? Well, we're the boys to tap it. Fortunes _are_ made here,
and _have_ been made. What is done once can be done five hundred times.
Whatever men dare they can do. _Quod erat demonstrandum._'

'_Et nil desperandum_,' added Dugald.

'I'm not joking, I can tell you, Dugald, I'm serious now, and I mean to
remain so, and stick to work--aren't you, Murdo?'

'I am, Donald.'

Then we three brothers, standing there, one might say, on the confines of
an unknown country, with all the world before us, shook hands, and our
looks, as we gazed into each other's eyes, said--if they said
anything--'We'll do the right thing one by the other, come weal, come
woe.'

Aunt entered soon after.

'What are you boys so serious about?' she said, laughing merrily, as she
seated herself on the couch. 'You look like three conspirators.'

'So we are, aunt. We're conspiring together to make our fortunes.'

'What! building castles in the air?'

'Oh, no, no, _no_,' cried Donald, 'not in the air, but on the earth. And
our idols are not going to have feet of clay, I assure you, auntie, but of
solid silver.'

'Well, we shall hope for the best. I have just parted with Mr. Moncrieff,
whom I met down town. We have had a long walk together and quite a nice
chat. He has made me his confidant--think of that!'

'What! you, auntie?'

'Yes, me. Who else? And that sober, honest, decent, Scot is going to take
a wife. It was so good of him to tell _me_. We are all going to the
wedding next week, and I'm sure I wish the dear man every happiness and
joy.'

'So do we, aunt.'

'And oh, by the way, he is coming to dine here to-night, and I feel sure
he wants to give you good advice, and that means me too, of course.'

'Of course, auntie, you're one of us.'

Moncrieff arrived in good time, and brought his mother with him.

'Ye didn't include my mither in the invitation, Miss M'Crimman,' said the
Scot; 'but I knew you meant her to come. I've been so long without the
poor old creature, that I hardly care to move about without her now.'

'Poor old creature, indeed!' Mrs. Moncrieff was heard to mumble. 'Where,'
she said to a nattily dressed waiter, 'will you put my umbrella?'

'I'll take the greatest care of it, madam,' the man replied.

'Do, then,' said the little old dame, 'and I may gi'e ye a penny, though I
dinna mak' ony promises, mind.'

A nicer little dinner was never served, nor could a snugger room for such
a _tête-à-tête_ meal be easily imagined. It was on the ground floor, the
great casement windows opening on to a verandah in a shady garden, where
grass was kept green and smooth as velvet, where rare ferns grew in
luxurious freedom with dwarf palms and drooping bananas, and where
stephanotis and the charming lilac bougainvillea were still in bloom.

When the dessert was finished, and old Jenny was quite tired talking, it
seemed so natural that she should curl up in an easy-chair and go off to
sleep.

'I hope my umbrella's safe, laddie,' were her last words as her son
wrapped her in his plaid.

'As safe as the Union Bank,' he replied.

So we left her there, for the waiter had taken coffee into the verandah.

Aunt, somewhat to our astonishment, ordered cigars, and explained to
Moncrieff that she did not object to smoking, but _did_ like to see men
happy.

Moncrieff smiled.

'You're a marvel as well as my mither,' he said.

He smoked on in silence for fully five minutes, but he often took the
cigar from his mouth and looked at it thoughtfully; then he would allow
his eyes to follow the curling smoke, watching it with a smile on his face
as it faded into invisibility, as they say ghosts do.

'Mr. Moncrieff,' said aunt, archly, 'I know what you are thinking about.'

Moncrieff waved his hand through a wreath of smoke as if to clear his
sight.

'If you were a man,' he answered, 'I'd offer to bet you couldn't guess my
thoughts. I was not thinking about my Dulcinea, nor even about my mither;
I was thinking about you and your britheries--I mean your nephews.'

'You are very kind, Mr. Moncrieff.'

'I'm a man of the wo_rrr_ld, though I wasn't aye a man of the wo_rrr_ld. I
had to pay deep and dear for my experience, Miss M'Crimman.'

'I can easily believe that; but you have benefited by it.'

'Doubtless, doubtless; only it was concerning yourselves I was about to
make an observation or two.'

'Oh, thanks, do. You are so kind.'

'Never a bit. This is a weary wo_rrr_ld at best. Where would any of us
land if the one didn't help the other? Well then, there you sit, and woman
of the wo_rrr_ld though you be, you're in a strange corner of it. You're
in a foreign land now if ever you were. You have few friends. Bah! what
are all your letters of introduction worth? What do they bring you in? A
few invitations to dinner, or to spend a week up country by a wealthy
_estanciero_, advice from this friend and the next friend, and from a
dozen friends maybe, but all different. You are already getting puzzled.
You don't know what to do for the best. You're stopping here to look about
you, as the saying is. You might well ask me what right have I to advise
you. The right of brotherhood, I may answer. By birth and station you may
be far above me, but--you are friends--you are from dear auld Scotland.
Boys, you are my brothers!'

'And I your sister!' Aunt extended her hand as she spoke, and the worthy
fellow 'coralled' it, so to speak, in his big brown fist, and tears sprang
to his eyes.

He pulled himself up sharp, however, and surrounded himself with smoke, as
the cuttle-fish does with black water, and probably for the same
reason--to escape observation.

'Now,' he said, 'this is no time for sentiment; it is no land for
sentiment, but for hard work. Well, what are you going to do? Simply to
say you're going to make your fortune is all fiddlesticks and folly. How
are you going to begin?'

'We were thinking--' I began, but paused.

'_I_ was thinking--' said my aunt; then she paused also.

Moncrieff laughed, but not unmannerly.

'I was thinking,' he said. '_You_ were thinking; _he_, _she_, or _it_ was
thinking. Well, my good people, you may stop all your life in Buenos Ayres
and conjugate the verb "to think"; but if you'll take my advice you will
put a shoulder to the wheel of life, and try to conjugate the verb "to
do".'

'We all want to _do_ and act,' said Donald, energetically.

'Right. Well, you see, you have one thing already in your favour. You have
a wee bit o' siller in your pouch. It is a nest egg, though; it is not to
be spent--it is there to bring more beside it. Now, will I tell you how I
got on in the world? I'm not rich, but I am in a fair way to be
independent. I am very fond of work, for work's sake, and I'm thirty years
of age. Been in this country now for over fourteen years. Had I had a nest
egg when I started, I'd have been half a millionaire by now. But, wae's
me! I left the old country with nothing belonging to me but my crook and
my plaid.'

'You were a shepherd before you came out, then?' said aunt.

'Yes; and that was the beauty of it. You've maybe heard o' Foudland, in
Aberdeenshire? Well, I came fra far ayant the braes o' Foudland. That's,
maybe, the way my mither's sae auldfarrent. There, ye see, I'm talkin'
Scotch, for the very thought of Foudland brings back my Scotch tongue. Ay,
dear lady, dear lady, my father was an honest crofter there. He owned a
bit farm and everything, and things went pretty well with us till death
tirled at the door-sneck and took poor father away to the mools. I was
only a callan o' some thirteen summers then, and when we had to leave the
wee croft and sell the cows we were fain to live in a lonely shieling on
the bare brae side, just a butt and a ben with a wee kailyard, and barely
enough land to grow potatoes and keep a little Shetland cowie. But, young
though I was, I could herd sheep--under a shepherd at first, but finally
all by myself. I'm not saying that wasn't a happy time. Oh, it was, lady!
it was! And many a night since then have I lain awake thinking about it,
till every scene of my boyhood's days rose up before me. I could see the
hills, green with the tints of spring, or crimson with the glorious
heather of autumn; see the braes yellow-tasselled with the golden broom
and fragrant with the blooming whins; see the glens and dells, the silver,
drooping birch-trees, the grand old waving pines, the wimpling burns, the
roaring linns and lochs asleep in the evening sunset. And see my mither's
shieling, too; and many a night have I lain awake to pray I might have her
near me once again.'

'And a kind God has answered that prayer!'

'Ay, Miss M'Crimman, and I'll have the sad satisfaction of one day closing
her een. Never mind, we do our duty here, and we'll all meet again in the
great "Up-bye." But, dear boys, to continue my story--if story I dare call
it. Not far from the hills where I used to follow Laird Glennie's sheep,
and down beside a bonnie wood and stream, was a house, of not much
pretension, but tenanted every year by a gentleman who used to paint the
hills and glens and country all round. They say he got great praise for
his pictures, and big prices as well. I used often to arrange my sheep and
dogs for him into what he would call picturesque groups and attitudes.
Then he painted them and me and dogs and all. He used to delight to listen
to my boyish story of adventure, and in return would tell me tales of
far-off lands he had been in, and about the Silver Land in particular.
Such stories actually fired my blood. He had sown the seeds of ambition in
my soul, and I began to long for a chance of getting away out into the
wide, wide world, and seeing all its wonders, and, maybe, becoming a great
man myself. But how could a penniless laddie work his way abroad?
Impossible.

'Well, one autumn a terrible storm swept over the country. It began with a
perfect hurricane of wind, then it settled down to rain, till it became a
perfect "spate." I had never seen such rain, nor such tearing floods as
came down from the hills.

'Our shieling was a good mile lower down the stream than the artist's
summer hut. It was set well up the brae, and was safe. But on looking out
next day a sight met my eyes that quite appalled me. All the lowlands and
haughs were covered with a sea of water, down the centre of which a mighty
river was chafing and roaring, carrying on its bosom trees up-torn from
their roots, pieces of green bank, "stooks" of corn and "coles" of hay,
and, saddest of all, the swollen bodies of sheep and oxen. My first
thought was for the artist. I ran along the bank till opposite his house.
Yes, there it was flooded to the roof, to which poor Mr. Power was
clinging in desperation, expecting, doubtless, that every moment would be
his last, for great trees were surging round the house and dashing against
the tiles.

'Hardly knowing what I did, I waved my plaid and shouted. He saw me, and
waved his arm in response. Then I remembered that far down stream a man
kept a boat, and I rushed away, my feet hardly seeming to touch the
ground, till I reached--not the dwelling, that was covered, but the bank
opposite; and here, to my delight, I found old M'Kenzie seated in his
coble. He laughed at me when I proposed going to the rescue of Mr. Power.

'"Impossible!" he said. "Look at the force of the stream."

'"But we have not to cross. We can paddle up the edge," I insisted.

'He ventured at last, much to my joy. It was hard, dangerous work, and
often we found it safest to land and haul up the boat along the side.

'We were opposite the artist's hut at length, hardly even the chimney of
which was now visible. But Power was safe as yet.

'At the very moment our boat reached him the chimney disappeared, and with
it the artist. The turmoil was terrible, for the whole house had
collapsed. For a time I saw nothing, then only a head and arm raised above
the foaming torrent, far down stream. I dashed in, in spite of M'Kenzie's
remonstrances, and in a minute more I had caught the drowning man. I must
have been struck on the head by the advancing boat. That mattered
little--the sturdy old ferryman saved us both; and for a few days the
artist had the best room in mither's shieling.

'And this, dear lady, turned out to be--as I dare say you have guessed--my
fairy godfather. He went back to Buenos Ayres, taking me as servant. He is
here now. I saw him but yesterday, and we are still the fastest friends.

'But, boys, do not let me deceive you. Mr. Power was not rich; all he
could do for me was to pay my passage out, and let me trust to Providence
for the rest.

'I worked at anything I could get to do for a time, principally holding
horses in the street, for you know everybody rides here. But I felt sure
enough that one day, or some day, a settler would come who could value the
services of an honest, earnest Scottish boy.

'And come the settler did. He took me away, far away to the west, to a
wild country, but one that was far too flat and level to please me, who
had been bred and born among the grand old hills of Scotland.

'Never mind, I worked hard, and this settler--a Welshman he
was--appreciated my value, and paid me fairly well. The best of it was
that I could save every penny of my earnings.

'Yes, boys, I roughed it more than ever you'll have to do, though remember
you'll have to rough it too for a time. You don't mind that, you say.
Bravely spoken, boys. Success in the Silver Land rarely fails to fall to
him who deserves it.

'Well, in course of time I knew far more about sheep and cattle-raising
than my master, so he took me as a partner, and since then I have done
well. We changed our quarters, my partner and I. We have now an excellent
steading of houses, and a grand place for the beasts.'

'And to what qualities do you chiefly attribute your success?' said my
aunt.

'Chiefly,' replied Moncrieff, 'to good common-sense, to honest work and
perseverance. I'm going back home in a week or two, as soon as I get
married and my mither gets the "swimming" out of her head. She says she
still feels the earth moving up and down with her; and I don't wonder, an
auld body like her doesn't stand much codging about.

'Well, you see, boys, that I, like yourselves, had one advantage to begin
with. You have a bit o' siller--I got a fairy godfather. But if I had a
year to spare I'd go back to Scotland and lecture. I'd tell them all my
own ups and downs, and I'd end by saying that lads or young men, with
plenty of go in them and willingness to work, will get on up country here
if they can once manage to get landed. Ay, even if they have hardly one
penny to rattle against another.

'Now, boys, do you care to go home with me? Mind it is a wild border-land
I live on. There are wild beasts in the hill jungles yet, and there are
wilder men--the Indians. Yes, I've fought them before, and hope to live to
fight them once again.'

'I don't think _we'll_ fear the Indians _very_ much,' said my bold brother
Donald.

'And,' I added, 'we are so glad you have helped us to solve the problem
that we stood face to face with--namely, how to begin to do something.'

'Well, if that is all, I'll give you plenty to do. I've taken out with me
waggon-loads of wire fencing as well as a wife. Next week, too, I expect a
ship from Glasgow to bring me seven sturdy Scotch servant men that I
picked myself. Every one of them has legs like pillar post-offices, hands
as broad as spades, and a heart like a lion's. And, more than all this, we
are trying to form a little colony out yonder, then we'll be able to hold
our own against all the reeving Indians that ever strode a horse. Ah!
boys, this Silver Land has a mighty future before it! We have just to
settle down a bit and work with a will and a steady purpose, then we'll
fear competition neither with Australia nor the United States of America
either.

'But you'll come. That's right. And now I have you face to face with fate
and fortune.

                   "Now's the day and now's the hour,
                   See the front of battle lower."

Yes, boys, the battle of life, and I would not give a fig for any lad who
feared to face it.

'Coming, mither, coming. That's the auld lady waking up, and she'll want a
cup o' tea.'



CHAPTER IX.

SHOPPING AND SHOOTING.


We all went to Moncrieff's wedding, and it passed off much the same way as
do weddings in other parts of the world. The new Mrs. Moncrieff was a very
modest and charming young person indeed, and a native of our sister
island--Ireland. I dare say Moncrieff loved his wife very much, though
there was no extra amount of romance about his character, else he would
hardly have spoken about his wife and a truck-load of wire fencing in the
self-same sentence. But I dare say this honest Scot believed that wire
fencing was quite as much a matter of necessity in the Silver West as a
wife was.

As for my brothers and me, and even aunt, we were impatient now--'burning'
bold Donald called it--to get away to this same Silver West and begin the
very new life that was before us.

But ships do not always arrive from England exactly to a day; the vessel
in which Moncrieff's men, dogs, goods, and chattels were coming was
delayed by contrary winds, and was a whole fortnight behind her time.

Meanwhile we restrained ourselves as well as we could, and aunt went
shopping. She had set her heart upon guanaco robes or ponchos for each of
us; and though they cost a deal of money, and were, according to
Moncrieff, a quite unnecessary expense, she bought them all the same.

'They will last for ever, you know,' was aunt's excuse for the
extravagance.

'Yes,' he said, 'but we won't. Besides,' he added, 'these ponchos may
bring the Gaucho malo (the bad Gaucho) round us.'

'All the better,' persisted aunt. 'I've heard such a deal about this
Gaucho malo that I should very much like to see a live specimen.'

Moncrieff laughed.

'I much prefer _dead_ specimens,' he said, with that canny twinkle in his
eye. 'That's the way I like to see them served up. It is far the safest
plan.'

We were very fond of aunt's company, for she really was more of a sister
to us than our auntie; but for all that we preferred going shopping with
Moncrieff. The sort of stores he was laying in gave such earnest of future
sport and wild adventure.

Strange places he took us to sometimes--the shop of a half-caste Indian,
for instance, a fellow from the far south of Patagonia. Here Moncrieff
bought quite a quantity of ordinary ponchos, belts, and linen trousers of
great width with hats enough of the sombrero type to thatch a rick. This
mild and gentle savage also sold Moncrieff some dozen of excellent lassoes
and bolas as well. From the way our friend examined the former, and tried
the thong-strength of the latter, it was evident he was an expert in the
use of both. Bolas may be briefly described as three long leather thongs
tied together at one end, and having a ball at the free end of each. On
the pampas, these balls are as often as not simply stones tied up in bits
of skin; but the bolas now bought by Moncrieff were composed of shining
metal, to prevent their being lost on the pampas. These bolas are waved
round the heads of the horsemen hunters when chasing ostriches, or even
pumas. As soon as the circular motion has given them impetus they are
dexterously permitted to leave the hand at a tangent, and if well thrown
go circling round the legs, or probably neck of the animal, and bring it
to the ground by tripping it up, or strangling it.

The lasso hardly needs any description.

'Can you throw that thing well?' said Dugald, his eyes sparkling with
delight.

'I think I can,' replied Moncrieff. 'Come to the door and see me lasso a
dog or something.'

Out we all went.

'Oh!' cried Dugald, exultingly, 'here comes little Captain Bombazo,
walking on the other side of the street with my aunt. Can you lasso him
without hurting auntie?'

'I believe I can,' said Moncrieff. 'Stand by, and let's have a good try.
Whatever a man dares he can do. Hoop là!'

The cord left the Scotchman's hand like a flash of lightning, and next
moment Bombazo, who at the time was smiling and talking most volubly, was
fairly noosed.

The boys in the street got up a cheer. Bombazo jumped and struggled, but
Moncrieff stood his ground.

'He must come,' he said, and sure enough, greatly to the delight of the
town urchins, Moncrieff rounded in the slack of the rope and landed the
captain most beautifully.

'Ah! you beeg Scot,' said Bombazo, laughing good-humouredly. 'I would not
care so mooch, if it were not for de lady.'

'Oh, she won't miss you, Bombazo.'

'On the contraire, she veel be inconsolabeel.'

'Ha, ha, ha!' laughed Moncrieff. 'What a tall opinion of yourself you
have, my little friend!'

Bombazo drew himself up, but it hardly added an inch to his height, and
nothing to his importance.

Saddles of the pampas pattern the semi-savage had also plenty of, and
bridles too, and Moncrieff gave a handsome order.

A more respectable and highly civilized saddler's store was next visited,
and real English gear was bought, including two charming ladies' saddles
of the newest pattern, and a variety of rugs of various kinds.

Off we went next to a wholesale grocer's place. Out came Moncrieff's
great note-book, and he soon gave evidence that he possessed a wondrous
memory, and was a thorough man of business. He kept the shopman hard at it
for half an hour, by which time one of the pyramids of Egypt, on a small
scale, was built upon the counter.

[Illustration: Fairly Noosed]

'Now for the draper's, and then the chemist's,' said our friend. From the
former--a Scot, like himself--he bought a pile of goods of the better
sort, but from their appearance all warranted to wear a hundred years.

His visit to the druggist was of brief duration.

'Is my medicine chest filled?'

'Yes, sir, all according to your orders.'

'Thanks; send it, and send the bill.'

'Never mind about the bill, Mr. Moncrieff. You'll be down here again.'

'Send the bill, all the same. And I say, Mr. Squills--'

'Yes, sir.'

'Don't forget to deduct the discount.'

But Moncrieff's shopping was not quite all over yet, and the last place he
went to was a gunsmith's shop.

And here I and my brothers learned a little about Silver West shooting,
and witnessed an exhibition that made us marvel.

Moncrieff, after most careful examination, bought half a dozen good
rifles, and a dozen fowling pieces. It took him quite a long time to
select these and the ammunition.

'You have good judgment, sir,' said the proprietor.

'I require it all,' said Moncrieff. 'But now I'd look at some revolvers.'

He was shown some specimens.

'Toys--take them away.'

He was shown others.

'Toys again. Have you nothing better?'

'There is nothing better made.'

'Very well. Your bill please. Thanks.'

'If you'll wait one minute,' the shopkeeper said, 'I should feel obliged.
My man has gone across the way to a neighbour gunsmith.'

'Couldn't I go across the way myself?'

'No,' and the man smiled. 'I don't want to lose your custom.'

'Your candour is charming. I'll wait.'

In a few minutes the man returned with a big basket.

'Ah! these are beauties,' cried Moncrieff. 'Now, can I try one or two?'

'Certainly.'

The man led the way to the back garden of the premises. Against a wall a
target was placed, and Moncrieff loaded and took up his position. I
noticed that he kept his elbow pretty near his side. Then he slowly raised
the weapon.

Crack--crack--crack! six times in all.

'Bravo!' cried the shopkeeper. 'Why, almost every shot has hit the spot.'

Moncrieff threw the revolver towards the man as if it had been a
cricket-ball.

'Take off the trigger,' he said.

'Off the trigger, sir?'

'Yes,' said Moncrieff, quietly; 'I seldom use the trigger.'

The man obeyed. Then he handed back the weapon, which he had loaded.

Moncrieff looked one moment at the target, then the action of his arm was
for all the world like that of throwing stones or cracking a whip.

He seemed to bring the revolver down from his ear each time.

Bang--bang--bang! and not a bullet missed the bull's-eye.

'How is it done?' cried Dugald, excitedly.

'I lift the hammer a little way with my thumb and let it go again as I get
my aim--that is all. It is a rapid way of firing, but I don't advise you
laddies to try it, or you may blow off your heads. Besides, the aim,
except in practised hands like mine, is not so accurate. To hit well it is
better to raise the weapon. First fix your eye on your man's
breast-button--if he has one--then elevate till you have your sight
straight, and there you are, and there your Indian is, or your "Gaucho
malo."'

Moncrieff pointed grimly towards the ground with his pistol as he spoke,
and Dugald gave a little shudder, as if in reality a dead man lay there.

'It is very simple, you see.'

'Oh, Mr. Moncrieff,' said Dugald, 'I never thought you were so terrible a
man!'

Moncrieff laughed heartily, finished his purchases, ordering better
cartridges, as these, he said, had been badly loaded, and made the weapon
kick, and then we left the shop.

'Now then, boys, I'm ready, and in two days' time hurrah for the Silver
West! Between you and me, I'm sick of civilization.'

And in two days' time, sure enough, we had all started.

The train we were in was more like an American than an English one. We
were in a very comfortable saloon, in which we could move about with
freedom.

Moncrieff, as soon as we had rattled through the streets and found
ourselves out in the green, cool country, was brimful of joy and spirits.
Aunt said he reminded her of a boy going off on a holiday. His wife, too,
looked 'blithe' and cheerful, and nothing could keep his mother's tongue
from wagging.

Bombazo made the old lady a capital second, while several other settlers
who were going out with us--all Scotch, by the way--did nothing but smile
and wonder at all they saw. We soon passed away for a time beyond the
region of trees into a rich green rolling country, which gave evidence of
vast wealth, and sport too. Of this latter fact Dugald took good notice.

'Oh, look!' he would cry, pointing to some wild wee lake. 'Murdoch!
Donald! wouldn't you like to be at the lochside yonder, gun in hand?'

And, sure enough, all kinds of feathered game were very plentiful.

But after a journey of five hours we left the train, and now embarked on a
passenger steamer, and so commenced our journey up the Paraná. Does not
the very name sound musical? But I may be wrong, according to some, in
calling the Paraná beautiful, for the banks are not high; there are no
wild and rugged mountains, nor even great forests; nevertheless, its very
width, its silent moving power, and its majesticness give it a beauty in
my eye that few rivers I know of possess. We gazed on it as the sunset lit
up its wondrous waters till an island we were passing appeared to rise
into the sky and float along in the crimson haze. We gazed on it again ere
we retired for the night. The stars were now all out, and the river's dark
bosom was studded here and there with ripples and buttons of light; but
still it was silent, as if it hid some dark mysterious secret which it
must tell only to the distant ocean.

We slept very soundly this night, for the monotonous throb-throb of the
engine's great pulse and the churning rush of the screw not only wooed us
to slumber, but seemed to mingle even with our dreams.

All night long, then, we were on the river, and nearly all next day as
well. But the voyage appeared to my brothers and me to be all too short.
We neared Rosario about sunset, and at last cast anchor. But we did not
land. We were too snug where we were, and the hotel would have had far
fewer charms.

To-night we had a little impromptu concert, for several of Moncrieff's
friends came on board, and, strange to say, they were nearly all Scotch.
So Scotch was spoken, Scotch songs were sung, and on deck, to the wild
notes of the great bagpipes, Scotch reels and strathspeys were danced.
After that,

              'The nicht drave on wi' songs and clatter,'

till it was well into the wee short hours of the morning.

At Rosario we stopped for a day--more, I think, because Moncrieff wished
to give aunt and his young wife a chance of seeing the place than for any
business reason. Neither my brothers nor I were very much impressed by it,
though it is a large and flourishing town, built somewhat on Philadelphia
principles, in blocks, and, like Philadelphia, gridironed all over with
tramway lines. It is a good thing one is able to get off the marble
pavements into the cars without having far to go, for the streets are at
times mere sloughs of despond. It is the same in all new countries.

Rosario lies in the midst of a flat but fertile country, on the banks of
the Paraná. The hotel where we lodged was quite Oriental in its
appearance, being built round a beautiful square, paved with marble, and
adorned with the most lovely tropical shrubs, flowers, and climbing
plants.

There seems to be a flea in Rosario, however--just one flea; but he is a
most ubiquitous and a most insatiably blood-thirsty little person. The
worst of it is that, night or day, you are never perfectly sure where he
may be. It is no use killing him either--that is simply labour thrown
away, for he appears to come to life again, and resumes his evil courses
as merrily as before.

Fifty times a day did I kill that flea, and Dugald said he had slain him
twice as often; but even as Dugald spoke I could have vowed the lively
_pulex_ was thoroughly enjoying a draught of my Highland blood inside my
right sock.

Although none of our party shed tears as we mounted into the train, still
the kindly hand-shakings and the hearty good-byes were affecting enough;
and just as the train went puffing and groaning away from the station they
culminated in one wild Highland hurrah! repeated three times thrice, and
augmented by the dissonance of a half-ragged crew of urchins, who must
needs wave their arms aloft and shout, without the faintest notion what it
was all about.

We were now _en route_ for Cordoba, westward ho! by Frayle Muerto and
Villa Neuva.



CHAPTER X.

A JOURNEY THAT SEEMS LIKE A DREAM.


It was towards sunset on the day we had left Rosario, and we had made what
our guard called a grand run, though to us it was a somewhat tedious one.
Moncrieff had tucked his mother up in the plaid, and she had gone off to
sleep on the seat 'as gentle as "ewe lammie,"' according to her son. My
aunt and the young bride were quietly talking together, and I myself was
in that delightful condition called "twixt sleeping and waking,' when
suddenly Dugald, who had been watching everything from the window, cried,
'Oh, Donald, look here. What a lovely changing cloud!'

Had Moncrieff not been busy just then--very earnestly busy
indeed--discussing the merits of some sample packets of seeds with one of
his new men, he might have come at once and explained the mystery.

It was indeed a lovely cloud, and it lay low on the north-western horizon.
But we had never before seen so strange a cloud, for not only did it
increase in length and breadth more rapidly than do most clouds, but it
caught the sun's parting rays in quite a marvellous manner. When first we
looked at it the colour throughout was a bluish purple; suddenly it
changed to a red with resplendent border of fiery orange. Next it
collapsed, getting broader and rounder, and becoming a dark blue, almost
approaching to black, while the border beneath was orange-red. But the
glowing magnificence of the colour it is impossible to describe in words;
and the best artist would have failed to reproduce it even were he ten
times a Turner.

At this moment, and just as the cloud was becoming elongated again,
Moncrieff came to our side. His usually bright face fell at once as soon
as he glanced at it.

'Locusts!' He almost gasped the word out.

'Locusts!' was re-echoed from every corner of the carriage; and
immediately all eyes were strained in the direction of our 'lofty golden
cloud.'

As we approached nearer to it, and it came nearer to us, even the light
from the setting sun was obscured, and in a short time we were in the
cloud, and apparently part of it. It had become almost too dark to see
anything inside our carriage, owing to that dense and awful fog of insect
life. We quickly closed the windows, for the loathsome insects were now
pattering against the glass, and many had already obtained admittance,
much to the horror of young Mrs. Moncrieff, though aunt took matters easy
enough, having seen such sights before.

The train now slowly came to a standstill. Something--no one appeared to
know what--had happened on ahead of us, and here we must wait till the
line was clear. Even Moncrieff's mother had awakened, and was looking out
with the rest of us.

'Dearie me! Dearie me!' she exclaimed. 'A shower o' golochs! The very
licht o' day darkened wi' the fu'some craiters. Ca' you this a land o'
milk and honey? Egyptian darkness and showers o' golochs!'

We descended and walked some little distance into the country, and the
sight presented to our astonished gaze I, for one, will not forget to my
dying day. The locusts were still around us, but were bearing away
southward, having already devastated the fields in this vicinity. But they
fell in hundreds and thousands around us; they struck against our hands,
our faces, and hats; they got into our sleeves, and even into our pockets;
and we could not take a step without squashing them under foot.

Only an hour before we had been passing through a country whose green
fertility was something to behold once and dream about for ever. Evidence
of wealth and contentment had been visible on all sides. Beautiful,
home-looking, comfortable _estancias_ and out-buildings, fat, sleek cattle
and horses, and flocks of beautiful sheep, with feathered fowls of every
description. But here, though there were not wanting good farmsteadings,
all was desolation and threatened famine; hardly a green blade or leaf was
left, and the woebegone looks of some of the people we met wandering
aimlessly about, dazed and almost distracted, were pitiful to behold. I
was not sorry when a shriek from the engine warned us that it was time to
retrace our slippery footsteps.

'Is this a common occurrence?' I could not help asking our friend
Moncrieff.

He took me kindly by the arm as he replied,

'It's a depressing sight to a youngster, I must allow; but we should not
let our thoughts dwell on it. Sometimes the locusts are a terrible plague,
but they manage to get over even that. Come in, and we'll light up the
saloon.'

For hours after this the pattering continued at the closed windows,
showing that the shower of golochs had not yet ceased to fall. But with
lights inside, the carriage looked comfortable and cheerful enough, and
when presently Moncrieff got out Bombazo's guitar and handed it to him,
and that gentleman began to sing, we soon got happy again, and forgot even
the locusts--at least, all but Moncrieff's mother did. She had gone to
sleep in a corner, but sometimes we heard her muttering to herself, in her
dreams, about the 'land o' promise,' 'showers of golochs,' and 'Egyptian
darkness.'

The last thing I remember as I curled up on the floor of the saloon, with
a saddle for a pillow and a rug round me--for the night had grown bitterly
cold--was Bombazo's merry face as he strummed on his sweet guitar and sang
of tresses dark, and love-lit eyes, and sunny Spain. This was a delightful
way of going to sleep; the awakening was not quite so pleasant, however,
for I opened my eyes only to see a dozen of the ugly 'golochs' on my rug,
and others asquat on the saddle, washing their faces as flies do. I got up
and went away to wash mine.

The sun was already high in the heavens, and on opening a window and
looking out, I found we were passing through a woodland country, and that
far away in the west were rugged hills. Surely, then, we were nearing the
end of our journey.

I asked our mentor Moncrieff, and right cheerily he replied,

'Yes, my lad, and we'll soon be in Cordoba now.'

This visit of ours to Cordoba was in reality a little pleasure trip, got
up for the special delectation of our aunt and young Mrs. Moncrieff. It
formed part and parcel of the Scotchman's honeymoon, which, it must be
allowed, was a very chequered one.

If the reader has a map handy he will find the name Villa Maria thereon, a
place lying between Rosario and Cordoba. This was our station, and there
we had left all heavy baggage, including Moncrieff's people. On our return
we should once more resume travelling together westward still by Mercedes.
And thence to our destination would be by far and away the most eventful
portion of the journey.

'Look out,' continued Moncrieff, 'and behold the rugged summits of the
grand old hills.'

'And these are the Sierras?'

'These are the Sierras; and doesn't the very sight of mountains once again
fill your heart with joy? Don't you want to sing and jump--'

'And call aloud for joy,' said his mother, who had come up to have a peep
over our shoulders. 'Dearie me,' she added, 'they're no half so bonny and
green as the braes o' Foudland.'

'Ah! mither, wait till you get to our beautiful home in Mendoza. Ye'll be
charmed wi' a' you see.'

'I wish,' I said, 'I was half as enthusiastic as you are, Moncrieff.'

'You haven't been many days in the Silver Land. Wait, lad, wait! When once
you've fairly settled and can feel at home, man, you'll think the time as
short as pleasure itself. Days and weeks flee by like winking, and every
day and every week brings its own round o' duty to perform. And all the
time you'll be makin' money as easy as makin' slates.'

'Money isn't everything,' I said.

'No, lad, money isn't everything; but money is a deal in this wo_rrr_ld,
and we mustn't forget that money puts the power in our hands to do others
good, and that I think is the greatest pleasure of a'. And you know,
Murdoch, that if God does put talents in our hands He expects us to make
use of them.'

'True enough, Moncrieff,' I said.

'See, see! that is Cordoba down in the hollow yonder, among the hills.
Look, mither! see how the domes and steeples sparkle in the mornin's
sunshine. Yonder dome is the cathedral, and further off you see the
observatory, and maybe, mither, you'll have a peep through a telescope
that will bring the moon so near to you that you'll be able to see the
good folks thereon ploughin' fields and milkin' kye.'

We stayed at Cordoba for four days. I felt something of the old pleasant
languor of Rio stealing over me again as I lounged about the handsome
streets, gazed on the ancient churches and convent, and its world-renowned
University, or climbed its _barranca_, or wandered by the Rio Balmeiro,
and through the lovely and romantic suburbs. In good sooth, Cordoba is a
dreamy old place, and I felt better for being in it. The weather was all
in our favour also, being dry, and neither hot nor cold, although it was
now winter in these regions. I was sorry to leave Cordoba, and so I feel
sure was aunt, and even old Jenny.

Then came the journey back to Villa Maria, and thence away westward to
Villa Mercedes. The railway to the latter place had not long been opened.

It seems all like a beautiful halo--that railway ride to the _Ultima
Thule_ of the iron horse--and, like a dream, it is but indistinctly
remembered. Let me briefly catch the salient points of this pleasant
journey.

Villa Maria we reach in the evening. The sun is setting in a golden haze;
too golden, for it bodes rain, and presently down it comes in a steady
pour, changing the dust of the roads into the stickiest of mud, and
presently into rivers. Moncrieff is here, there, and everywhere, seeing
after his manifold goods and chattels; but just as the short twilight is
deepening into night, he returns 'dressed and dry,' as he calls it, to the
snug little room of the inn, where a capital dinner is spread for us, and
we are all hungry. Even old Jenny, forgetting her troubles and travels,
makes merry music with knife and fork, and Bombazo is all smiles and
chatter. It rains still; what of that? It will drown the mosquitoes and
other flying 'jerlies.' It is even pleasant to listen to the rattle of the
rain-drops during the few lulls there were in the conversation. The sound
makes the room inside seem ever so much more cosy. Besides, there is a
fire in the grate, and, to add to our enjoyment, Bombazo has his guitar.

Even the landlord takes the liberty of lingering in the room, standing
modestly beside the door, to listen. It is long, he tells us, since he has
had so cheerful a party at his house.

Aileen, as Moncrieff calls his pretty bride, is not long in discovering
that the innkeeper hails from her own sweet Isle of Sorrow, and many
friendly questions are asked on both sides.

Bed at last. A bright morning, the sun coming up red and rosy through an
ocean of clouds more gorgeous than ever yet was seen in tame old England.

We are all astir very early. We are all merry and hungry. Farewells are
said, and by and by off we rattle. The train moves very slowly at first,
but presently warms to her work and settles down to it. We catch a glimpse
of a town some distance off, and nearer still the silver gleam of a river
reflecting the morning sun. By and by we are on the river bridge, and
over it, and so on and away through an open pampa. Such, at least, I call
it. Green swelling land all around, with now and then a lake or loch
swarming with web-footed fowl, the sight of which makes Dugald's eyes
water.

We pass station after station, stopping at all. More woods, more pampa;
thriving fields and fertile lands; _estancias_, flocks of sheep, herds of
happy cattle. A busy, bustling railway station, with as much noise around
it as we find at Clapham Junction; another river--the Rio Cuarto, if my
memory does not play me false; pampas again, with hills in the distance.
Wine and water-melons at a station; more wine and more water-melons at
another.

After this I think I fall asleep, and I wonder now if the wine and the
water-melons had anything to do with that. I awake at last and rub my
eyes. Bombazo is also dozing; so is old Jenny. Old Jenny is a marvel to
sleep. Dugald is as bright as a humming bird; he says I have lost a
sight.

'What was the sight?'

'Oh, droves upon droves of real wild horses, wilder far than our ponies at
Coila.'

I close my eyes again. Dear old Coila! I wish Dugald had not mentioned the
word. It takes me back again in one moment across the vast and mighty
ocean we have crossed to our home, to father, mother, and Flora.

Before long we are safe at Villa Mercedes. Not much to see here, and the
wind blows cold from west and south.

We are not going to lodge in the town, however. We are independent of
inns, if there are any, and independent of everything. We are going under
canvas.

Already our pioneers have the camp ready in a piece of ground sheltered by
a row of lordly poplars; and to-morrow morning we start by road for the
far interior.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Another glorious morning! There is a freshness in the air which almost
amounts to positive cold, and reminds one of a November day in Scotland.
Bombazo calls it bitterly cold, and my aunt has distributed guanaco
ponchos to us, and has adorned herself with her own. Yes, adorned is the
right word to apply to auntie's own travelling toilet; but we brothers
think we look funny in ours, and laugh at each other in turn. Moncrieff
sticks to the Highland plaid, but the sight of a guanaco poncho to old
Jenny does, I verily believe, make her the happiest old lady in all the
Silver Land. She is mounted in the great canvas-covered waggon, which is
quite a caravan in every respect. It has even windows in the sides and
real doorways, and is furnished inside with real sofas and Indian-made
chairs, to say nothing of hammocks and tables and a stove. This caravan is
drawn by four beautiful horses, and will be our sitting-room and
dining-room by day, and the ladies' boudoir and bedroom for some time to
come.

Away we rattle westwards, dozens of soldiers, half-bred Chilians, Gauchos,
and a crowd of dark-eyed but dirty children, giving us a ringing cheer as
we start.

What a cavalcade it is, to be sure! Waggons, drays, carts, mules, and
horses. All our imported Scotchmen are riding, and glorious fellows they
look. Each has a rifle slung across his shoulder, belts and sheath knives,
and broad sombrero hat. The giant Moncrieff himself is riding, and looks
to me the bravest of the brave. I and each of my brothers have undertaken
to drive a cart or waggon, and we feel men from hat to boots, and as proud
all over as a cock with silver spurs.

We soon leave behind us those tall, mysterious-looking poplar trees. So
tall are they that, although when we turned out not a breath of wind was
blowing on the surface of the ground, away aloft their summits were waving
gently to and fro, with a whispering sound, as if they were talking to
unseen spirits in the sky.

We leave even the _estancias_ behind. We are out now on the lonesome
rolling plain. Here and there are woods; away, far away, behind us are the
jagged summits of the everlasting hills. By and by the diligence, a
strange-looking rattle-trap of a coach--a ghost of a coach, I might call
it--goes rattling and swaying past us. Its occupants raise a feeble cheer,
to which we respond with a three times three; for we seem to like to hear
our voices.

After this we feel more alone than ever. On and on and on we jog. The road
is broad and fairly good; our waggons have broad wheels; this retards our
speed, but adds to our comfort and that of the mules and horses.

Before very long we reach a broad river, and in we plunge, the horsemen
leading the van, with the water up to their saddle-girths. I give the
reins of my team to my attendant Gaucho, and, running forward, jump on
board the caravan to keep the ladies company while we fight the ford. But
the ladies are in no way afraid; they are enjoying themselves in the front
of the carriage, which is open. Old Jenny is in an easy-chair and buried
to the nose in her guanaco robe. She is muttering something to herself,
and as I bend down to listen I can catch the words: 'Dearie me! Dearie me!
When'll ever we reach the Land o' Promise? Egyptian darkness! Showers of
golochs! Chariots and horsemen! Dearie me! Dearie me!'

But we are over at last, and our whole cavalcade looks sweeter and fresher
for the bath.

Presently we reach a corral, where two men beckon to Moncrieff. They are
wild and uncouth enough in all conscience; their baggy breeches and
ponchos are in sad need of repair, and a visit to a barber would add to
the respectability of their appearance. They look excited, wave their
arms, and point southwards. But they talk in a strange jargon, and there
are but two words intelligible to me. These, however, are enough to set my
heart throbbing with a strange feeling of uneasiness I never felt before.

'_Los Indios! Los Indios!_'

Moncrieff points significantly to his armed men and smiles. The Gauchos
wave their arms in the air, rapidly opening and shutting their hands in a
way that to me is very mysterious. And so they disappear.



CHAPTER XI.

THE TRAGEDY AT THE FONDA.


I could not help wondering, as I glanced at aunt whether she had heard and
understood the meaning of those wild Gauchos' warning. If she did she made
no sign. But aunt is a M'Crimman, and the sister of a bold Highland chief.
She would not _show_ fear even if she _felt_ it. Yes, the brave may feel
fear, but the coward alone is influenced by it.

Old Jenny had gone to sleep, so I said good-bye to aunt, nodded to Aileen,
and went back to my waggon once more.

We made good progress that day, though we did not hurry. We stopped to
feed our cattle, and to rest and feed ourselves. The jolting had been
terrible on some parts of the road. But now the sun was getting very low
indeed, and as we soon came to a piece of high, hard ground, with a view
of the country round us for miles, we determined to bivouac for the
night.

The horses and mules were hobbled and turned off to graze under the charge
of sentry Gauchos. No fear of their wandering off far. They were watered
not an hour ago, and would be fresh by daybreak.

Now, Moncrieff had been too long in the wilds to neglect precautions while
camping out. I had taken an early opportunity to-day to interview our
leader concerning the report that Indians were abroad.

'Ah!' he answered, 'you heard and understood what that half-breed said,
then?'

'Just a word or two. He appeared to give us a warning of some kind. Is it
of any account?'

'Well, there's always some water where the stirkie drowns; there's always
some fire where you see smoke; and it is better to be sure than sorry.'

I could elicit no more information from my canny countryman than that. I
said nothing to any one, not even my brothers. Why should I cause them the
slightest alarm, and speak a word that might tend to make them sleep less
soundly?

However, as soon as the halt was made, I was glad to see that Moncrieff
took every precaution against a surprise. The caravan was made the centre
of a square, the waggons being 'laggered' around it. The fire was lit and
the dinner cooked close beside a sheltering _barranca_, and as soon as
this meal was discussed the fire was extinguished.

                     'Then came still evening on,'

and we all gathered together for prayer. Even the Gauchos were summoned,
though I fear paid but little attention, while Moncrieff, standing
bare-headed in the midst of us, read a chapter from the Book by the pale
yellow light of the western sky. Then, still standing--

'Brothers, let us pray,' he said.

Erect there, with the twilight shadows falling around him, with open eyes
and face turned skywards, with the sunset's after-glow falling on his hard
but comely features, his plaid depending from his broad shoulders, I could
not help admiring the man. His prayer--and it was but brief--had all the
trusting simplicity of a little child's, yet it was in every way the
prayer of a man communing with his God; in every tone thereof was breathed
belief, reliance, gratitude, and faith in the Father.

As he finished, Dugald pressed my arm and pointed eastwards, smiling. A
star had shone out from behind a little cloud, and somehow it seemed to
me as if it were an angel's eye, and that it would watch over us all the
live-long night. Our evening service concluded with that loveliest of
hymns, commencing--

                   'O God of Bethel, by whose hand
                     Thy children still are fed;
                   Who through this weary wilderness
                     Hath all our fathers led.'

He gave it out in the old Scotch way, two lines at a time, and to the tune
'Martyrdom.'

It was surely appropriate to our position and our surroundings, especially
that beautiful verse--

                 'Oh, spread Thy covering wings around,
                   Till all our wanderings cease,
                 And at our Father's loved abode
                   Our souls arrive in peace.'

We now prepared for rest. The sentries were set, and in a short time all
was peace and silence within our camp. More than once during the night the
collies--dogs brought out by Moncrieff's men--gave an uneasy bark or two,
their slumbers being probably disturbed by the cry of some night bird, or
the passing of a prowling fox.

So, wrapped in our guanaco robes--the benefit of which we felt now--my
brothers and I slept sweetly and deeply till the sun once more rose in the
east.

Soon all was bustle and stir again.

Thus were our days spent on the road, thus our evenings, and eke our
nights. And at the end of some days we were still safe and sound, and
happy. No one sick in the camp; no horse or mule even lame; while we were
all hardening to travel already.

So far, hardly anything had happened to break the even tenour of our
journey. Our progress, however, with so much goods and chattels, and over
such roads, was necessarily slow; yet we never envied the lumbering
diligence that now and then went rattling past us.

We saw many herds of wild horses. Some of these, led by beautiful
stallions, came quite close to us. They appeared to pity our horses
and mules, condemned to the shafts and harness, and compelled to work
their weary lives away day after day. Our beasts were slaves. They were
free--free as the breezes that blew over the pampas and played with
their long manes, as they went thundering over the plains. We had seen
several ostriches, and my brothers and I had enjoyed a wild ride or
two after them. Once we encountered a puma, and once we saw an
armadillo. We had never clapped eyes on a living specimen before, but
there could be no mistaking the gentleman in armour. Not that he gave us
much time for study, however. Probably the creature had been asleep as
we rounded the corner of a gravel bank, but in one moment he became
alive to his danger. Next moment we saw nothing but a rising cloud of
dust and sand; lo! the armadillo was gone to the Antipodes, or somewhere
in that direction--buried alive. Probably the speed with which an
armadillo--there are several different species in the Silver
West--disappears at the scent of any one belonging to the _genus homo_,
is caused by the decided objection he has to be served up as a side-dish.
He is excellent eating--tender as a chicken, juicy as a sucking-pig, but
the honour of being roasted whole and garnished is one he does not crave.

Riding on ahead one day--I had soon got tired of the monotony of driving,
and preferred the saddle--at a bend of the road I came suddenly upon two
horsemen, who had dismounted and were lying on a patch of sward by the
roadside. Their horses stood near. Both sprang up as I appeared, and quick
as lightning their hands sought the handles of the ugly knives that
depended in sheaths from their girdles. At this moment there was a look in
the swarthy face of each that I can only describe as diabolical. Hatred,
ferocity, and cunning were combined in that glance; but it vanished in a
moment, and the air assumed by them now was one of cringing humility.

'The Gaucho malo,' I said to myself as soon as I saw them. Their horses
were there the nobler animals. Bitted, bridled, and saddled, the latter
were in the manner usual to the country, the saddle looking like a huge
hillock of skins and rags; but rifles were slung alongside, to say nothing
of bolas and lasso. The dress of the men was a kind of nondescript garb.
Shawls round the loins, tucked up between their legs and fastened with a
girdle, did duty as breeches; their feet were encased in _potro_ boots,
made of the hock-skin of horses, while over their half-naked shoulders
hung ponchos of skin, not without a certain amount of wild grace.

Something else as well as his rifle was lashed to the saddle of one of
these desert gipsies, and being new to the country, I could not help
wondering at this--namely, a guitar in a case of skin.

With smiles that I knew were false one now beckoned me to alight, while
the other unslung the instrument and began to tune it. The caravan must
have been fully two miles behind me, so that to some extent I was at the
mercy of these Gauchos, had they meant mischief. This was not their plan
of campaign, however.

Having neighed in recognition of the other horses, my good nag stood as
still as a statue; while, with my eyes upon the men and my hand within
easy distance of my revolver, I listened to their music. One sang while
the other played, and I must confess that the song had a certain
fascination about it, and only the thought that I was far from safe
prevented me from thoroughly enjoying it. I knew, as if by instinct,
however, that the very fingers that were eliciting those sweet sad tones
were itching to clutch my throat, and that the voice that thrilled my
senses could in a moment be changed into a tiger yell, with which men like
these spring upon their human prey.

On the whole I felt relieved when the rumble of the waggon wheels fell
once more on my ears. I rode back to meet my people, and presently a halt
was made for the midday feed.

If aunt desired to feast her eyes on the Gaucho malo she had now a chance.
They played to her, sang to her, and went through a kind of wild dance for
her especial delectation.

'What romantic and beautiful blackguards they are!' was the remark she
made to Moncrieff.

Moncrieff smiled, somewhat grimly, I thought.

'It's no' for nought the cland[4] whistles,' he said in his broadest,
canniest accents.

These Gauchos were hunting, they told Moncrieff. Had they seen any Indians
about? No, no, not an Indian. The Indians were far, far south.

Aunt gave them some garments, food, and money; and, with many bows and
salaams, they mounted their steeds and went off like the wind.

I noticed that throughout the remainder of the day Moncrieff was unusually
silent, and appeared to wish to be alone. Towards evening he beckoned to
me.

'We'll ride on ahead,' he said, 'and look for a good bit of
camping-ground.'

Then away we both went at a canter, but in silence.

We rode on and on, the ground rising gently but steadily, until we stopped
at last on a high plateau, and gazed around us at the scene. A more bleak
and desolate country it would be impossible to imagine. One vast and
semi-desert plain, the eye relieved only by patches of algarrobo bushes,
or little lakes of water. Far ahead of us the cone of a solitary mountain
rose on the horizon, and towards this the sun was slowly declining. Away
miles in our rear were the waggons and horses struggling up the hill. But
silence as deep as death was everywhere. Moncrieff stretched his arm
southwards.

'What do you see yonder, Murdo?' he said.

'I see,' I replied, after carefully scanning the rolling plain, 'two
ostriches hurrying over the pampas.'

'Those are not ostriches, boy. They are those same villain Gauchos, and
they are after no good. I tell you this, that you may be prepared for
anything that may happen to-night. But look,' he added, turning his
horse's head; 'down here is a corral, and we are sure to find water.'

We soon reached it. Somewhat to our surprise we found no horses anywhere
about, and no sign of life around the little inn or _fonda_ except one
wretched-looking dog.

As we drew up at the door and listened the stillness felt oppressive.
Moncrieff shouted. No human voice responded; but the dog, seated on his
haunches, gave vent to a melancholy howl.

'Look,' I said, 'the dog's paws are red with blood. He is wounded.'

'It isn't _his_ blood, boy.'

The words thrilled me. I felt a sudden fear at my heart, born perhaps of
the death-like stillness. Ah! it was indeed a death-like stillness, and
the stillness of death itself as well.

Moncrieff dismounted. I followed his example, and together we entered the
_fonda_.

We had not advanced a yard when we came on an awesome sight--the dead body
of a Gaucho! It lay on its back with the arms spread out, the face hacked
to pieces, and gashes in the neck. The interior of the hut was a chaos of
wild confusion, the little furniture there was smashed, and evidently
everything of value had been carried away. Half buried in the _débris_ was
the body of a woman, and near it that of a child. Both were slashed and
disfigured, while pools of blood lay everywhere about. Young though I was,
I had seen death before in several shapes, but never anything so ghastly
and awful as this.

A cold shudder ran through my frame and seemed to pierce to the very
marrow of my bones. I felt for a few moments as if in some dreadful
nightmare, and I do not hesitate to confess that, M'Crimman and all as I
am, had those Gauchos suddenly appeared now in the doorway, I could not
have made the slightest resistance to their attack. I should have taken my
death by almost rushing on the point of their terrible knives. But
Moncrieff's calm earnest voice restored me in a moment. At its tones I
felt raised up out of my coward self, and prepared to face anything.

'Murdoch,' he said, 'this is a time for calm thought and action.'

'Yes,' I answered; 'bid me do anything, and I will do it. But come out of
this awful place. I--I feel a little faint.'

Together we left the blood-stained _fonda_, Moncrieff shutting the door
behind him.

'No other eye must look in there,' he said. 'Now, Murdoch, listen.'

He paused, and I waited; his steadfast eyes bent on my face.

'You are better now? You are calm, and no longer afraid?'

'I am no longer afraid.'

'Well, I can trust _you_, and no one else. Led by those evil fiends whom
we saw to-day, the Indians will be on us to-night in force. I will prepare
to give them a warm reception--'

'And I will assist,' I hastened to say.

'No, Murdoch, you will not be here to help us at the commencement. I said
the Indians would attack in _force_, because they know our numbers. Those
_malo_ men have been spying on us when we little thought it. They know our
strength to a gun, and they will come in a cloud that nothing can
withstand, or that nothing could withstand in the open. But we will
entrench and defend ourselves till your return.'

'My return!'

'Twelve miles from here,' he went on, 'is a fort. It contains two officers
and over a score soldiers. In two hours it will be dusk, in an hour after
that the moon rises. 'Twixt twilight and moonrise you must ride to that
fort and bring assistance. Depend upon it, we can defend ourselves till
you come with your men, and you must attack the savages in the rear. You
understand?'

'Perfectly. But had I not better ride away at once?'

'No, the Indians would waylay you. You never would reach the frontier
fort. Even if you did escape from the chase, the knowledge that the troops
were coming would prevent them from attacking to-night.'

'And you want them to attack to-night?'

'I wish them to attack to-night. We may never be able to give a good
account of them again, but all depends on your success.'

In a short time the first waggons came up. They would have stopped, but
Moncrieff beckoned them onwards. When the last waggon had gone we mounted
our horses and slowly followed. At a stream not far distant we watered,
and once more continued our journey.

The road now rose rapidly, till in half an hour we were on high ground,
and here the halt was made. I could breathe more easily now we had left
that blood-stained hollow, though well I knew the sight I had witnessed
would not leave my thoughts for years to come.

Everything was done as quietly and orderly as if no cloud were hovering
over us, so soon to burst. The big fire was lit as usual, supper cooked,
prayers said, and the fire also lit in the ladies' caravan, for the nights
were cold and raw now.

The night began to fall. Moncrieff and I had kept our secret to ourselves
hitherto, but we could no longer conceal from any one that there was
danger in the air. Yet the news seemed to astonish no one, not even aunt.

'Dear brother,' she said to our leader, 'I read it in your face all the
afternoon.'

It was almost dusk now, and work was commenced in earnest. Spades were got
out, and every man worked like a slave to entrench the whole position. The
strength that I was to leave behind me was seven-and-twenty men all told,
but this included ten Gauchos. Nevertheless, behind trenches, with plenty
of guns, revolvers, and ammunition, they were powerful enough to defend
the position against hundreds of badly-armed Indians. Not far off was a
patch of wood which stretched downwards into a rocky ravine. Luckily it
lay on the north side of the road, and hither, as soon as it was dark
enough, every horse and mule was led and secured to the trees. Nor even in
this extremity of danger were their wants forgotten, for grass mixed with
grains was placed in front of each.

My horse was now led round. Each hoof was encased in a new and strong
_potro_ boot, secured by thongs around the legs.

'You must neither be heard nor seen,' said Moncrieff, as he pointed to
these. 'Now, good-night, boy; God be wi' ye, and with us all!'

'Amen!' I responded, earnestly.

Then away I rode in silence, through the starlight; but as I looked back
to the camp my heart gave an uneasy throb. Should I ever see them alive
again?

-----

  [4] Cland, a kind of hawk.



CHAPTER XII.

ATTACK BY PAMPA INDIANS.


So lonesome a ride in the darkness of night, through a country wild and
bleak, with danger lurking perhaps on either side of me, might easily have
daunted a bolder heart than mine.

Something of the unspeakable feeling of dread I had experienced in the
_fonda_ while surrounded by those awful corpses came back to me now. I
tried to banish it, but failed. My nervousness became extreme, and
appeared to increase rather than diminish as I left the camp farther and
farther behind me. It was almost a superstitious fear that had gotten
possession of my soul. It was fear of the unseen; and even at this
distance of time I can only say I would willingly face death in open day a
hundred times over rather than endure for an hour the terrors I suffered
that night. Every bush I saw I took for a figure lurking by the roadside,
while solitary trees I had to pass assumed the form and shape and even
movement of an enemy on horseback riding silently down to meet me. Again
and again I clutched my revolver, and even now I cannot tell what power
prevented me from firing at my phantom foes. Over and over again I reined
up to listen, and at such times the wind whispering through the tall grass
sounded to me like human voices, while the cry of birds that now and then
rose startlingly close to me, made my heart beat with a violence that in
itself was painful.

Sometimes I closed my eyes, and gave the horse his head, trying to carry
my thoughts back to the lights of the camp, or forward to the fort which I
hoped soon to reach.

I had ridden thus probably five good miles, when I ventured to look behind
me, and so great had been the strain on my nerves that the sight I now
witnessed almost paralyzed me.

It was the reflection as of a great fire on the brow of the hill where my
people were beleaguered.

'The camp is already attacked, and in flames,' I muttered. Whither should
I ride now--backwards or forwards?

While I yet hesitated the flames appeared to wax fiercer and fiercer, till
presently--oh, joy!--a big round moon gradually shook itself clear of a
cloud and began slowly to climb the eastern sky.

All fear fled now. I muttered a prayer of thankfulness, dashed the spurs
into my good horse's sides, and went on at the gallop.

The time seemed short after this, and almost before I knew I came right
upon the fort, and was challenged by the sentry.

'_Amigo!_' I yelled. '_Amigo! Angleese!_'

I dare say I was understood, for soon after lights appeared on the
ramparts, and I was hailed again, this time in English, or for what passed
as English. I rode up under the ramparts, and quickly told my tale.

In ten minutes more I was received within the fort. A tumble-down place I
found it, but I was overjoyed to be in it, nevertheless. In the principal
room most of the men were playing games, and smoking and talking, while
the commandant himself lounged about with a cigarette in his mouth.

He considered for a minute or two--an age it appeared to me--ere he
answered. Yes; he would come, and take with him fifteen soldiers, leaving
the rest to guard the fort. I could have embraced him, so joyful did I
feel on hearing these words.

How long would he be? One hour, no more. For arms had to be cleaned, and
ammunition to be got ready; and the men must feed.

A whole hour! No wonder I sighed and looked anxious. Why, every minute was
precious to my poor beleaguered friends. It would be long past midnight
ere I reached the camp again, for these men would not be mounted. Yet I
saw the good little commander was doing his best, not only to expedite
matters, but to treat me with kindness and hospitality. He brought forth
food and wine, and forced me to eat and drink. I did so to please him; but
when he proposed a game to pass the time, I began to think the man was
crazed. He was not. No; but possessed a soldierly virtue which I could not
boast of--namely, patience.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The work of entrenchment was soon completed after my departure; then there
was nothing more to be done except to appoint the men to their quarters,
place sentinels on the highest of the waggons, and wait.

Ah, but this waiting is a weary thing under circumstances like the
present--waiting and watching, not knowing from what quarter the attack
will come, what form it will take, or when it will commence.

Except in the chief caravan itself, where Moncrieff and Donald sat for a
time to keep up the hearts of the ladies, no lights were lit.

There was no singing to-night, hardly a smile on any face, and no one
spoke much above a whisper. Poor old Jenny had gone to sleep, as usual.

'Wake me,' had been her last words. 'Wake me, laddie, when the Philistines
are upon us.'

'The old lady's a marvel!' Moncrieff had whispered to aunt.

Moncrieff was doing all he could to keep conversation alive, though,
strange to say, Bombazo seldom spoke. Surely he could not be afraid.
Moncrieff had his suspicions. Brave as my aunt was, the waiting made her
nervous.

'Hark!' she would say every now and then; or, 'Listen! What was that?'

'Only the cry of a burrowing owl,' Moncrieff might have to answer; or,
'Only the yap of a prowling fox.' Oh, the waiting, the weary waiting!

The moon rose at last, and presently it was almost as light as day.

'Will they come soon, think you?' whispered poor Aileen.

'No, darling; not for hours yet. Believe me there is no danger. We are
well prepared.'

'Oh, Alec, Alec!' she answered, bursting into tears; 'it is you I fear
for, not myself. Let me go with you when they come. I would not then be
afraid; but waiting here--oh, it is the waiting that takes all the heart
out of me.'

'Egyptian darkness!' murmured the old lady in her sleep. Then in louder,
wilder key, 'Smite them!' she exclaimed. 'Smite this host of the
Philistines from Gideon to Gaza.'

'Dear old mither, she's dreaming,' said Moncrieff. 'But, oh, we'll laugh
at all this by to-morrow night, Aileen, my darling.'

One hour, two hours went slowly, painfully past. The moon mounted higher
and higher, and shone clearer and clearer, but not yet on all the plains
were there signs of a mounted Indian.

Yet even at that moment, little though our people knew it, swarthy forms
were creeping stealthily through the pampas grass, with spears and guns at
trail, pausing often to glance towards the camp they meant so soon to
surprise and capture.

The moon gets yet brighter. Moncrieff is watching. Shading his eyes from
the light, he is gazing across the marsh and listening to every sound. Not
a quarter of a mile away is a little marshy lake. From behind it for
several minutes he has heard mournful cries. They proceed from the
burrowing owls; but they must have been startled! They even fly towards
the camp, as if to give warning of the approach of the swarthy foe.

Suddenly from the edge of the lake a sound like the blast of a trumpet is
heard; another and another, and finally a chorus of trumpet notes; and
shortly after a flock of huge flamingoes are seen wheeling in the moonlit
air.

'It is as I thought,' says Moncrieff; 'they are creeping through the
grass. Hurry round, Dugald, and call the men quietly to quarters.'

Moncrieff himself, rifle in hand, climbs up to the top of the waggon.

'Go down now,' he tells the sentry. 'I mean to fire the first shot.'

He lies down to wait and watch. No bloodhound could have a better eye.
Presently he sees a dark form raise itself near a tussock of grass. There
is a sharp report, and the figure springs into the air, then falls dead on
the pampas.

No need for the foe to conceal themselves any longer. With a wild and
unearthly scream, that the very earth itself seems to re-echo, they spring
from their hiding and advance at the double towards the fort--for fort it
is now. As they come yelling on they fire recklessly towards it. They
might as well fire in the air.

Moncrieff's bold Doric is heard, and to some purpose, at this juncture.

'Keep weel down, men! Keep weel to cove_rrr_! Fire never a shot till he
has the o_rr_der. Let every bullet have its billet. Ready!
Fire-_r_-_r_-_r_!'

Moncrieff rattled out the _r_'s indefinitely, and the rifles rattled out
at the same time. So well aimed was the volley that the dark cloud seemed
staggered. The savages wavered for a time, but on they came again,
redoubling their yells. They fired again, then, dropping their guns,
rushed on towards the breastwork spears in hand. It was thus that the
conflict commenced in dread earnest, and the revolvers now did fearful
execution. The Indians were hurled back again and again, and finally they
broke and sought cover in the bush. Their wounded lay writhing and crying
out close beneath the rampart, and among these were also many who would
never move more in this world.

On seeing the savages take to the bush, Moncrieff's anxiety knew no
bounds. The danger of their discovering the horses was extreme. And if
they did so, revenge would speedily follow defeat. They would either drive
them away across the pampas, or in their wrath slaughter them where they
stood.

What was to be done to avert so great a catastrophe? A forlorn hope was
speedily formed, and this my two brothers volunteered to lead. On the
first shout heard down in the hollow--indicating the finding of our
horses--Donald, Dugald, and fifteen men were to rush out and turn the
flank of the swarthy army if they could, or die in the attempt.

Meanwhile, however, the enemy appeared bent on trying cunning and
desperate tactics. They were heard cutting down the bushes and smaller
trees, and not long afterwards it looked as if the whole wood was
advancing bodily up towards the breastwork on that side.

A rapid and no doubt effective fire was now kept up by Moncrieff and his
men. This delayed the terrible _dénoûment_, but it was soon apparent that
if some more strategic movement was not made on our part it could not
wholly thwart it.

At all hazards that advancing wood must be checked, else the horrors of
fire would be the prelude to one of the most awful massacres that ever
took place on the lonely pampas.

'How is the wind?' asked Moncrieff, as if speaking to himself.

'It blows from the wood towards the camp,' said Dugald, 'but not quite in
a line. See, I am ready to rush out and fire that pile.'

'No, Dugald,' cried Donald; 'I am the elder--I will go.'

'Brother, I spoke first.'

'Yes,' said Moncrieff, quietly, 'Dugald must go, and go now. Take five
men, ten if you want them.'

'Five will do--five Gauchos,' said Dugald.

It was wise of Dugald to choose Gauchos. If the truth must be told,
however, he did so to spare more valuable lives. But these wild plainsmen
are the bravest of the brave, and are far better versed in the tactics of
Indian warfare than any white man could be.

Dugald's plan would have been to issue out and make a bold rush across the
open space of seventy and odd yards that intervened between the moving
pile of brushwood and the camp. Had this been done, every man would have
been speared ere he got half across.

The preparations for the sally were speedily made. Each man had a revolver
and knife in his belt, and carried in his hands matches, a bundle of _pob_
(or tarred yarn), and a small cask of petroleum oil. They issued from the
side of the camp farthest from the wood, and, crawling on their faces,
took advantage of every tussock of grass, waving thistle, or hemlock bush
in their way. Meanwhile a persistent fire was kept up from behind the
breastwork, which, from the screams and yells proceeding from the savages,
must have been doing execution.

Presently, close behind the bush and near the ground, Moncrieff could see
Dugald's signal, the waving of a white handkerchief, and firing
immediately ceased.

Almost immediately afterwards smoke and flames ran all along the wood and
increased every moment. There was a smart volley of revolver firing, and
in a minute more Dugald and his Gauchos were safe again within the fort.

'Stand by now, lads, to defend the ramparts!' cried Moncrieff; 'the worst
is yet to come.'

The worst was indeed to come. For under cover of the smoke the Indians now
made ready for their final assault. In the few minutes of silence that
elapsed before the attack, the voice of a Gaucho malo was heard haranguing
his men in language that could not but inflame their blood and passions.
He spoke of the riches, the wealth of the camp, of the revenge they were
going to have on the hated white man who had stolen their hunting fields,
and driven them to the barren plains and mountains to seek for food with
the puma and the snake, and finally began to talk of the pale-face
prisoners that would become their possession.

'Give them another volley, men,' said Moncrieff, grimly. 'Fire low through
the smoke.'

It would have been better, probably, had our leader waited.

Little need to precipitate an onslaught that could have but one
ending--unless indeed assistance arrived from the fort.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The long, long hour of waiting came to an end at last, and the commander
and myself left the frontier fort at the head of the men.

How terribly tedious the march back seemed! The officer would keep talking
as cheerfully as if going to a concert or evening party. I hardly
answered, I hardly heard him. I felt ashamed of my anxiety, but still I
could not help it. I was but a young soldier.

At last we are within sight, ay, and hearing, of the camp, and the events
of the next hour float before my memory now as I write, like the shadowy
pantomime of some terrible dream.

First we see smoke and fire, but hear no sound. All must be over, I
think--tragedy and massacre, all--and the camp is on fire.

Even the commander of our little force takes a serious view of the case
now. He draws his sword, looks to his revolver, and speaks to his men in
calm, determined tones.

For long minutes the silence round the camp is unbroken, but suddenly
rifles ring out in the still air, and I breathe more freely once again.
Then the firing ceases, and is succeeded by the wild war-cries of the
attacking savages, and the hoarse, defiant slogan of the defending Scots.

'Hurrah!' I shout, 'we are yet in time. Oh, good sir, hurry on! Listen!'

Well might I say listen, for now high above the yell of savages and ring
of revolvers rises the shriek of frightened women.

I can stand this no longer. I set spur to my horse, and go dashing on
towards the camp.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE FLIGHT AND THE CHASE.


The very last thing I had seen that cool Argentine commander do, was to
light a fresh cigarette with the stump of the old one. The next time I saw
him, he was standing by his wounded horse, in the moonlight, with a spear
wound in his brow, but smoking still.

The onslaught of the savages had been for a while a terrible one, but the
soldiers came in time, and the camp was saved.

Hardly knowing what I did--not knowing till this day how I did it--I had
put my good steed at the breastwork, and, tired though he was, he fairly
cleared it. Next I remember hewing my way, sword in hand, through a crowd
of spear-armed savages, finding myself close to the ladies' caravan, and
next minute inside it.

A single glance showed me all were safe. Aileen lay pale and motionless on
the sofa. Near her, revolver in hand, stood my brave aunt, and by the
stove was old Jenny herself.

'Oh, bless you, dear boy!' cried auntie. 'How glad we are to see you!'

"Deed are we, laddie!' chimed old Jenny; 'but--' and she grinned as she
spoke, 'they rievin' Philistines will be fools if they come this road
again. I've gi'en some o' them het [hot] hurdies. Ha, ha! I'm makin' a
drap mair for them in case they come again.'

'Poor thing!' I think; 'she has gone demented.'

There was no time now, however, to ask for explanation; for although the
Indians had really been driven off, the chase, and, woe is me, the
slaughter, had commenced.

And I shudder even yet when I think of that night's awful work on the
moonlit pampas. Still, the sacrifice of so many redskins was calculated to
insure our safety. Moreover, had our camp fallen into the hands of those
terrible Indians, what a blood-blotted page would have been added to the
history of the Silver West!

It is but just and fair to Moncrieff, however, to say that he did all in
his power to stay the pursuit; but in vain. The soldiers were just
returning, tired and breathless, from a fruitless chase after the now
panic-stricken enemy, when a wild shout was heard, and our Gauchos were
seen riding up from the woods, brandishing the very spears they had
captured from the Indians, and each one leading a spare horse.

The _soldados_ welcomed them with a shout. Next minute each was mounted
and galloping across the pampas in one long extended line.

They were going to treat the Indians to a taste of their own tactics, for
between each horse a lasso rope was fastened.

All our men who were safe and unwounded now clambered into the waggon to
witness the pursuit. Nothing could exceed the mad grandeur of that
charge--nothing could withstand that wild rash. The Indians were mowed
down by the lasso lines, then all we could see was a dark commingled mass
of rearing horses, of waving swords and spears, and struggling, writhing
men.

Yells and screams died away at last, and no sound was now heard on the
pampas except the thunder of the horses' hoofs, as our people returned to
the camp, and occasionally the trumpet-like notes of the startled
flamingoes.

As soon as daylight began to appear in the east the ramparts were razed,
and soon after we were once more on the move, glad to leave the scene of
battle and carnage.

From higher ground, at some distance, I turned and looked back. Already
the air was darkened by flocks of pampas kites, among them many
slow-winged vultures, and I knew the awful feast that ever follows
slaughter had already commenced.

We had several Gauchos killed and one of our own countrymen, but many more
were wounded, some severely enough, so that our victory had cost us dear,
and yet we had reason to be thankful, and my only surprise to this day is
that we escaped utter annihilation.

It would be anything but fair to pass on to other scenes without
mentioning the part poor old Jenny played in the defence of the caravan.

Jenny was not demented--not she. Neither the fatigue of the journey, the
many wonders she had witnessed, including the shower of golochs, nor the
raid upon the camp had deprived Moncrieff's wonderful mither of her wits.
I have said there was a stove burning in the caravan. As soon, then, as
Jenny found out that they were fortifying or entrenching the camp, and
that the Philistines, as she called them, might be expected at any moment,
she awoke to a true sense of the situation. The first thing she did was to
replenish the fire, then she put the biggest saucepan on top of the stove,
and as soon as it commenced to boil she began 'mealing in,' as she called
it.

'Oatmeal would have been best,' she told my aunt; 'but, after a',' she
added, 'Indian meal, though it be but feckless stuff, is the kind o' kail
they blackamoors are maist used to.'

Aunt wondered what she meant, but was silent, and, indeed, she had other
things to think about than Jenny and her strange doings, for Aileen
required all her attention.

[Illustration: 'Ye can Claw the Pat']

When, however, the fight had reached its very fiercest, when the camp
itself was enveloped in smoke, and the constant cracking of revolvers, the
shrieks of the wounded men and clashing of weapons would have daunted a
less bold heart than Jenny's--the old lady took her saucepan from the
stove and stationed herself by the front door of the caravan. She had not
long to wait. Three of the fiercest of the Indian warriors had sprung to
the _coupé_ and were half up,

                'But little kenned they Jenny's mettle,
                Or dreamt what lay in Jenny's kettle.'

With eyes that seemed to flash living fire, her grey hair streaming over
her shoulders, she must have looked a perfect fury as she rushed out and
deluged the up-turned faces and shoulders of the savages with the boiling
mess. They dropped yelling to the ground, and Jenny at once turned her
attention to the back door of the van, where already one of the leading
Gaucho malos--aunt's beautiful blackguards of the day before--had gained
footing. This villain she fairly bonneted with the saucepan.

'Your brithers have gotten the big half o' the kail,' she cried, 'and ye
can claw the pat.'

It was not till next evening that aunt told Moncrieff the brave part old
Jenny had played. He smiled in his quiet way as he patted his mother's
hand.

'Just as I told ye, Miss M'Crimman,' he said; 'mither's a ma_rrr_vel!'

But where had the bold Bombazo been during the conflict? Sword and
revolver in hand, in the foremost ranks, and wherever the battle raged the
fiercest? Nay, reader, nay. The stern truth remains to be told. During all
the terrible tulzie Bombazo had never once been either seen or heard. Nor
could he be anywhere found after the fight, nor even after the camp was
struck, though search was made for him high and low.

Some one suggested that he might have been overcome by fear, and might
have hidden himself. Moncrieff looked incredulous. What! the bold Bombazo
be afraid--the hero of a hundred fights, the slayer of lions, the terror
of the redskins, the brave hunter of pampas and prairie? Captain Rodrigo
de Bombazo hide himself? Yet where could he be? Among the slain? No. Taken
prisoner? Alas! for the noble redman. Those who had escaped would hardly
have thought of taking prisoners. Bombazo's name was shouted, the wood was
searched, the waggons overhauled, not a stone was left unturned,
figuratively speaking, yet all in vain.

But, wonderful to relate, what _men_ failed to do a _dog_ accomplished. An
honest collie found Bombazo--actually scraped him up out of the sand,
where he lay buried, with his head in a tussock of grass. It would be
unfair to judge him too harshly, wrong not to listen to his vouchsafed
explanation; yet, sooth to say, to this very day I believe the little man
had hidden himself after the manner of the armadillos.

'Where is my sword?' he shouted, staggering to his feet. 'Where is the
foe?'

The Scotchmen and even the Gauchos laughed in his face. He turned from
them scornfully on his heel and addressed Moncrieff.

'Dey tried to keel me,' he cried. 'Dey stunned me and covered me up wit'
sand. But here I am, and now I seek revenge. Ha! ha! I will seek
revenge!'

Old Jenny could stand it no longer.

'Oh, ye shameless sinner!' she roared. 'Oh, ye feckless fusionless winner!
Let me at him. _I'll_ gie him revenge.'

There was no restraining Jenny. With a yell like the war cry of a clucking
hen, she waved her umbrella aloft, and went straight for the hero.

The blow intended for his head alighted lower down. Bombazo turned and
fled, pursued by the remorseless Jenny; and not even once did she miss her
aim till the terror of the redskins, to save his own skin, had taken
refuge beneath the caravan.

                   *       *       *       *       *

As at sea, so in travelling. Day after day, amid scenes that are for ever
new, the constantly recurring adventure and incident suffice to banish
even thoughts of the dead themselves. But neither seafarers nor travellers
need be ashamed of this; it is only natural. God never condemns His
creatures to constant sorrow. The brave fellows, the honest Scot and the
Gauchos, that we had laid side by side in one grave in the little
burying-place at the frontier fort, were gone beyond recall. No amount of
sorrowing could bring them back. We but hoped they were happier now than
even we were, and so we spoke of them no more; and in a week's time
everything about our caravan and camp resumed its wonted appearance, and
we no longer feared the Indians.

One Gaucho, however, had escaped, and there was still the probability he
might seek for revenge some other day.

We have left the bleak pampas land, although now and then we come to bare
prairie land but scantily furnished with even bushes, and destitute of
grass; houses and _estancias_ become more frequent, and _fondas_ too, but
nothing like that fearful _fonda_ in the prairie--the scene of the
massacre.

We have passed through San Lui--too wretched a place to say much about;
and even La Paz and Santa Rosa; and on taking her usual seat one forenoon
in front of the caravan, old Jenny's eyes grew bright and sparkling with
very delight.

'Saw anybody ever the like o' that?' she cried, as she raised both her
hands and eyes cloudwards. But it was not the clouds old Jenny was
marvelling at--for here we were in the Province of Mendoza, and a
measurable distance from the beautiful city itself; and instead of the
barren lands we had recently emerged from, beheld a scene of such natural
loveliness and fertility, that we seemed to have suddenly dropped into a
new world.

The sky was blue and almost cloudless; winter though it was, the fields
were clad in emerald green; the trees, the vineyards, the verandahed
houses, the comfortable dwellings, the cattle, the sheep, and flocks of
poultry--all testified to the fact that in summer this must indeed be a
paradise.

'What do you think of all this, mither?' said Moncrieff, with a happy
smile. He was riding close to the caravan _coupé_.

'Think o' it, laddie! Loshie me, laddie! it beats the braes o' Foudlan'!
It is surely the garden o' Eden we're coming to at last.'

It was shortly after this that Moncrieff went galloping on ahead. We could
see him miles and miles away, for the road was as straight as one of the
avenues in some English lord's domains. Suddenly he disappeared. Had the
earth swallowed him up? Not quite. He had merely struck into a side path,
and here we too turned with our whole cavalcade; and our road now lay away
across a still fertile but far more open country. After keeping to this
road for miles, we turned off once more and headed for the distant
mountains, whose snow-clad, rugged tops formed so grand a horizon to the
landscape.

On we journey for many a long hour, and the sun goes down and down in the
west, and sinks at last behind the hills; and oh, with what ineffably
sweet tints and shades of pink and blue and purple his farewell rays paint
the summits!

Twilight is beginning to fall, and great bats are flitting about. We come
within sight of a wide and well-watered valley; and in the very centre
thereof, and near a broad lagoon which reminds us somewhat of dear old
Coila, stands a handsome _estancia_ and farmyard. There are rows and rows
of gigantic poplar-trees everywhere in this glen, and the house
itself--mansion, I might almost say--lies in the midst of a cloud of trees
the names of which we cannot even guess. There was altogether such a
home-like look about the valley, that I knew at once our long, long
journey was over, and our weary wanderings finished for a time. There was
not a very great deal of romance in honest Moncrieff's nature, but as he
pointed with outstretched arm to the beautiful _estancia_ by the lake, and
said, briefly, 'Mither, there's your hame!' I felt sure and certain those
blue eyes of his were moist with tears, and that there was the slightest
perceptible waver in his manly voice.

But, behold! they have seen us already at the _estancia_.

There is a hurrying and scurrying to and fro, and out and in. We notice
this, although the figures we see look no larger than ants, so clear and
transparent is even the gloaming air in this wonderful new land of ours.

By and by we see these same figures on horseback, coming away from the
farm, and hurrying down the road towards us. One, two, three, six! Why,
there must be well-nigh a score of them altogether. Nearer and nearer they
come, and now we see their arms wave. Nearer still, and we hear them
shout; and now at length they are on us, with us, and around us, waving
their caps, laughing, talking, and shaking hands over and over again--as
often as not twice or thrice with the same person. Verily they are half
delirious with joy and wholly hysterical.

What volleys of questions have to be asked and answered! What volumes of
news to get and to give! What hurrying here and there and up and down to
admire the new horses and mules, the new waggons and caravan--to admire
everything! while the half-frightened looks those sturdy, sun-browned,
bearded men cast at auntie and Aileen were positively comical to witness!

Then, when the first wave of joyous excitement had partially expended
itself--

'Stand back, boys!' shouted Moncrieff's partner, a bold-faced little
Welshman, with hair and beard just on the turn; 'stand back, my lads, and
give them one more little cheer.'

But was it a little cheer? Nay, but a mighty rattling cheer--a cheer that
could have issued only from brave British throats; a cheer that I almost
expected to hear re-echoed back from the distant mountains.

Ah! but it _was_ echoed back. Echoed by us, the new-comers, and with
interest too, our faithful Gauchos swelling the chorus with their shrill
but not unmusical voices.

But look! more people are coming down the road. The welcome home is not
half over yet. Yonder are the lads and lasses, English, Irish, Castilian
and Scotch, who have no horses to ride. Foremost among them is a
Highlander in tartan trews and bagpipes. And if the welcome these give us
is not altogether so boisterous it is none the less sincere.

In another hour we are all safe at home. All and everything appears to us
very strange at first, but we soon settle down, and if we marvelled at the
outside of Moncrieff's mansion, the interior of it excites our wonder to
even a greater degree. Who could have credited the brawny Scot with so
much refinement of taste? The rooms were large, the windows were bowers,
and bowers of beauty too, around which climbed and trailed--winter though
it was--flowers of such strange shapes and lovely colours that the best of
our floral favourites in this country would look tame beside them. None of
the walls were papered, but all were painted, and many had pictures in
light, airy and elegant frames. The furniture too was all light and
elegant, and quite Oriental in appearance. Oriental did I say? Nay, but
even better; it was Occidental. One room in particular took my aunt's
fancy. This was to be the boudoir, and everything in it was the work of
Indian hands. It opened on to a charming trellised verandah, and thence
was a beautiful garden which to-night was lit up with coloured lanterns,
and on the whole looked like a scene in some Eastern fairy tale.

'And would you believe it, Aileen,' said Moncrieff, when he was done
showing us round the rooms; 'would you believe it, auntie, when I came
here first my good partner and I had no place to live in for years but a
reed shanty, a butt and a ben, mither mine, with never a stick of
furniture in it, and neither a chair nor stool nor table worth the
name?'

'That is so, Miss M'Crimman,' said the partner, Mr. Jones. 'And I think my
dear friend Moncrieff will let the ladies see the sort of place we lived
in.'

'This way, then, ladies,' said the big Scot. He seized a huge naphtha lamp
as he spoke, and strode before them through the garden. Arrived at the end
of it they came to a strange little hut built apparently of mud and
straw.

With little ceremony he kicked open the rickety door, and made them enter.
Both aunt and Aileen did so, marvelling much to find themselves in a room
not ten feet wide, and neither round nor square. The roof was blackened
rafters and straw, the floor was hardened clay. A bed--a very rude
one--stood in one corner. It was supported by horses' bones; the table in
the centre was but a barrel lid raised on crossed bones.

'Won't you sit down, ladies?' said Moncrieff, smiling.

He pointed to a seat as he spoke. It was formed of horses' skulls.

Aunt smiled too, but immediately after looked suddenly serious, gathered
her dress round her with a little shudder, and backed towards the door.

'Come away,' she said; 'I've seen enough.'

What she had seen more particularly was an awful-looking crimson and grey
spider as big as a soft-shell crab. He was squatting on a bone in one
corner, glaring at her with his little evil eyes, and moving his
horizontal mandibles as if he would dearly like to eat her.



CHAPTER XIV.

LIFE ON AN ARGENTINE ESTANCIA.


I verily believe that Britons, whether English, Irish, or Scotch, are all
born to wander, and born colonists. There really seems to be something in
the very air of a new land, be it Australia, America, or the Silver West,
that brings all their very best and noblest qualities to the surface, and
oftentimes makes men--bold, hardy, persevering men--of individuals who,
had they stayed in this old cut-and-dry country, would never have been
anything better than louts or Johnnie Raws. I assure the reader that I
speak from long experience when I make these remarks, and on any Saturday
evening when I happen to be in London, and see poor young fellows coming
home to garrets, perhaps with their pittance in their pockets, I feel for
them from the very depths of my soul. And sometimes I sigh and murmur to
myself----

'Oh dear me!' I say, 'if my purse were only half as big as my heart,
wouldn't I quickly gather together a thousand of these white slaves and
sail merrily off with them to the Land of the Silver West! And men would
learn to laugh there who hardly ever smiled before, and tendons would wax
wiry, and muscles hard, and pale faces grow brown with the tints of
health. And health would mean work, and work would mean wealth, and--but,
heigho! what is the good of dreaming? Only some day--yes, _some_ day--and
what a glorious sunrise it will be for this empire--Government will see
its way to grant free passages to far-off lands, in which there is peace
and plenty, work and food for all, and where the bread one eats is never
damped by falling tears. God send that happy day! And send it soon!

It is the memory of our first months and years of a downright pleasant
life that makes me write like this. We poor lads--my brothers and I--poor,
but determined, found everything so enjoyable at our new home in the
Silver West that oftentimes we could not help wishing that thousands of
toiling mortals from Glasgow and other great overcrowded cities would only
come out somehow and share our posy. For really, to put it in plain and
simple language, next to the delight of enjoying anything oneself, should
it only be an apple, is the pleasure of seeing one's neighbour have a
bite.

Now here is a funny thing, but it is a fact. The air of Mendoza is so
wonderfully dry and strong and bracing that it makes men of boys in a very
short time, and makes old people young again. It might not smooth away
wrinkles from the face, or turn grey hair brown, or even make two hairs
grow where only one grew before; but it does most assuredly rejuvenate the
heart, and shakes all the wrinkles out of that. Out here it is no uncommon
thing for the once rheumatic to learn to dance, while stiff-jointed
individuals who immigrated with crutches under their arms, pitch these
crutches into the irrigation canals, and take to spades and guns instead.

It is something in the air, I think, that works these wondrous changes,
though I am sure I could not say what. It may be oxygen in double doses,
or it may be ozone, or even laughing gas; but there it is, and whosoever
reads these lines and doubts what I say, has only to take flight for the
beautiful province of Mendoza, and he shall remain a sceptic no longer.

Well, as soon as we got over the fatigues of our long journey, and began
to realize the fact that we were no longer children of the desert, no
longer nomads and gipsies, my brothers and I set to work with a hearty
good-will that astonished even ourselves. In preparing our new homes we,
and all the other settlers of this infant colony as well, enjoyed the same
kind of pleasure that Robinson Crusoe must have done when he and his man
Friday set up house for themselves in the island of Juan Fernandez.

Even the labourers or 'hands' whom Moncrieff had imported had their own
dwellings to erect, but instead of looking upon this as a hardship, they
said that this was the fun of the thing, and that it was precisely here
where the laugh came in.

Moreover they worked for themselves out of hours, and I dare say that is
more than any of them would have done in the old country.

Never once was the labour of the _estancia_ neglected, nor the state of
the aqueducts, nor Moncrieff's flocks and herds, nor his fences.

Some of these men had been ploughmen, others shepherds, but every one of
them was an artisan more or less, and it is just such men that do
well--men who know a good deal about country life, and can deftly use the
spade, the hoe, the rake, the fork, as well as the hammer, the axe, the
saw, and the plane. Thanks to the way dear father had brought us up, my
brothers and I were handy with all sorts of tools, and we were rather
proud than otherwise of our handicraft.

I remember that Dugald one day, as we sat at table, after looking at his
hands--they had become awfully brown--suddenly said to Moncrieff,

'Oh, by the by, Brother Moncrieff, there is one thing that I'm ready to
wager you forgot to bring out with you from England.'

'What was that?' said Moncrieff, looking quite serious.

'Why, a supply of kid gloves, white and coloured.'

We all laughed.

'My dear boy,' said this huge brother of ours, 'the sun supplies the kid
gloves, and it strikes me, lad, you've a pair of coloured ones already.'

'Yes,' said Dugald, 'black-and-tan.'

'But, dear laddies,' old Jenny put in, 'if ye really wad like mittens,
I'll shortly shank a curn for ye.'

'Just listen to the old braid Scotch tongue o' that mither o'
moine--"shortly shank a curn."[5] Who but an Aberdonian could understand
that?'

But indeed poor old Jenny was a marvel with her 'shank,' as she called her
knitting, and almost every third day she turned off a splendid pair of
rough woollen stockings for one or other of her bairns, as she termed us
generically. And useful weather-defiant articles of hosiery they were too.
When our legs were encased in these, our feet protected by a pair of
double-soled boots, and our ankles further fortified by leather gaiters,
there were few snakes even we were afraid to tackle.

The very word 'snake,' or 'serpent,' makes some people shudder, and it is
as well to say a word or two about these ophidians here, and have done
with them. I have, then, no very wild adventures to record concerning
those we encountered on our _estancias_. Nor were either my brothers or
myself much afraid of them, for a snake--this is my firm belief--will
never strike a human being except in self-defence; and, of all the
thousands killed annually in India itself by ophidians, most of the
victims have been tramping about with naked feet, or naked legs at least.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Independent of the pure, wholesome, bracing air, there appeared to us to
be another peculiarity in the climate which is worthy of note. It is
_calmative_. There is more in that simple sentence than might at first be
imagined, and the effect upon settlers might be best explained by giving
an example: A young man, then, comes to this glorious country fresh from
all the excitement and fever of Europe, where people are, as a rule,
overcrowded and elbowing each other for a share of the bread that is not
sufficient to feed all; he settles down, either to steady work under a
master, or to till his own farm and mind his own flocks. In either case,
while feeling labour to be not only a pleasure, but actually a luxury,
there is no heat of blood and brain; there is no occasion to either chase
or hurry. Life now is not like a game of football on Rugby lines--all
scurry, push, and perspiration. The new-comer's prospects are everything
that could be desired, and--mark this--_he does not live for the future
any more than the present_. There is enough of everything around him
_now_, so that his happiness does not consist in building upon the far-off
_then_, which strugglers in this Britain of ours think so much about. The
settler then, I say, be he young or old, can afford to enjoy himself
to-day, certain in his own mind that to-morrow will provide for itself.

But this calmness of mind, which really is a symptom of glorious health,
never merges into the dreamy laziness and ignoble activity exhibited by
Brazilians in the east and north of him.

My brothers and I were happily saved a good deal of business worry in
connection with the purchase of our _estancia_, so, too, were the new
settlers, for Moncrieff, with that long Scotch head of his, had everything
cut and dry, as he called it, so that the signing of a few papers and the
writing of a cheque or two made us as proud as any Scottish laird in the
old country.

'You must creep before you walk,' Moncrieff told us; 'you mustn't go like
a bull at a gate. Just look before you "loup."'

So we consulted him in everything.

Suppose, for instance, we wanted another mule or horse, we went to
Moncrieff for advice.

'Can you do without it?' he would say. 'Go home and settle that question
between you, and if you find you can't, come and tell me, and I'll let you
have the beast as cheap as you can buy it anywhere.'

Well, we started building our houses. Unlike the pampas, Mendoza _can_
boast of stone and brick, and even wood, though round our district a deal
of this had been planted. The woods that lay on Moncrieff's colony had
been reared more for shelter to the flocks against the storms and tempests
that often sweep over the country.

In the more immediate vicinity of the dwelling-houses, with the exception
of some splendid elms and plane-trees, and the steeple-high solemn-looking
poplar, no great growth of wood was encouraged. For it must be remembered
we were living in what Moncrieff called uncanny times. The Indians[6] were
still a power in the country, and their invasions were looked for
periodically. The State did not then give the protection against this foe
it does now. True, there existed what were called by courtesy frontier
forts; they were supposed to billet soldiers there, too, but as these men
were often destitute of a supply of ammunition, and spent much of their
time playing cards and drinking the cheap wines of the country, the
settlers put but little faith in them, and the wandering pampa Indians
treated them with disdain.

Our houses, then, for safety's sake, were all built pretty close together,
and on high ground, so that we had a good view all over the beautiful
valley. They could thus be more easily defended.

Here and there over the _estancias_, _puestos_, as they were called, were
erected for the convenience of the shepherds. They were mere huts, but,
nevertheless, they were far more comfortable in every way than many a
crofter's cottage in the Scottish Highlands.

Round the dwellings of the new settlers, which were built in the form of a
square, each square, three in all, having a communication, a rampart and
ditch were constructed. The making of these was mere pastime to these
hardy Scots, and they took great delight in the work, for not only would
it enable them to sleep in peace and safety, but the keeping of it in
thorough decorative repair, as house agents say, would always form a
pleasant occupation for spare time.

The mansion, as Moncrieff's beautiful house came to be called, was
similarly fortified, but as it stood high in its grounds the rampart did
not hide the building. Moreover, the latter was partially decorated inside
with flowers, and the external embankment always kept as green as an
English lawn in June.

The ditches were wide and deep, and were so arranged that in case of
invasion they could be filled with water from a natural lake high up on
the brae lands. For that matter they might have been filled at any time,
or kept filled, but Moncrieff had an idea--and probably he was right--that
too much stagnant, or even semi-stagnant water near a house rendered it
unhealthy.

As soon as we had bought our claims and marked them out, each settler's
distinct from the other, but ours--my brothers' and mine--all in one lot,
we commenced work in earnest. There was room and to spare for us all about
the Moncrieff mansion and farmyard, we--the M'Crimmans--being guests for a
time, and living indoors, the others roughing it as best they could in the
out-houses, some of which were turned into temporary huts.

Nothing could exceed the beauty of Moncrieff's _estancia_. It was miles
and miles in extent, and more like a lovely garden than anything else. The
fields were all square. Round each, in tasteful rows, waved noble trees,
the weird and ghostly poplar, whose topmost branches touched the clouds
apparently, the wide-spreading elm, the shapely chestnut, the dark,
mysterious cypress, the fairy-leaved acacia, the waving willow and sturdy
oak. These trees had been planted with great taste and judgment around the
fields, and between all stretched hedges of laurel, willow, and various
kinds of shrubs. The fields themselves were not without trees; in fact,
trees were dotted over most of them, notably chestnuts, and many species
of fruit trees.

But something else added to the extreme beauty of these fields, namely,
the irrigation canals--I prefer the word canals to ditches. The highest of
all was very deep and wide, and was supplied with water from the distant
hills and river, while in its turn it supplied the whole irrigation system
of the _estancia_. The plan for irrigating the fields was the simplest
that could be thought of, but it was quite as perfect as it was simple.

Add to the beauty of the trees and hedges the brilliancy of trailing
flowers of gorgeous hues and strange, fantastic shapes; let some of those
trees be actually hanging gardens of beauty; let flowers float ever on the
waters around the fields, and the fields themselves be emerald green--then
imagine sunshine, balmy air, and perfume everywhere, and you will have
some idea of the charm spread from end to end of Moncrieff's great
_estancia_.

But there was another kind of beauty about it which I have not yet
mentioned--namely, its flocks and herds and poultry.

A feature of the strath, or valley, occupied by this little Scoto-Welsh
colony was the sandhills or dunes.

'Do you call those sandhills?' I said to Moncrieff one day, shortly after
our arrival. 'Why, they are as green and bonnie as the Broad Hill on the
links of Aberdeen.'

Moncrieff smiled, but looked pleased.

'Man!' he replied, 'did you ever hear of the proverb that speaks about
making mountains of mole-hills? Well, that's what I've done up yonder.
When my partner and I began serious work on these fields of ours, those
bits of hills were a constant trouble and menace to us. They were just as
big then, maybe, as they are now--about fifty feet high at the highest,
perhaps, but they were bare sandy hillocks, constantly changing shape and
even position with every big storm, till a happy thought struck my
partner, and we chose just the right season for acting on it. We got the
Gauchos to gather for us pecks and bushels of all kinds of wild seed,
especially that of the long-rooted grasses, and these we sowed all over
the mole-hills, as we called them, and we planted bushes here and there,
and also in the hollows, and, lo! the mole-hills were changed into fairy
little mountains, and the bits o' glens between into bosky dells.'

'Dear Brother Moncrieff,' I said, 'you are a genius, and I'm so glad I met
you. What would I have been without you?'

'Twaddle, man! nonsensical havers and twaddle! If you hadn't met me you
would have met somebody else; and if you hadn't met him, you would have
foregathered wi' experience; and, man, experience is the best teacher in
a' the wide worruld.'

In laying out and planning our farm, my brothers and I determined,
however, not to wait for experience of our own, but just take advantage of
Moncrieff's. That would sustain us, as the oak sustains the ivy.

-----

  [5] 'Shortly shank a curn'--speedily knit a few pairs.

  [6] Since then the Indians have been swept far to the south,
      and so hemmed in that the provinces north of their
      territory are as safe from invasion as England
      itself.--G. S.



CHAPTER XV.

WE BUILD OUR HOUSE AND LAY OUT GARDENS.


About a hundred yards to the left of the buildings erected for the new
colony and down near the lake, or laguna, was an elevated piece of ground
about an acre in extent. It was bounded on two sides by water, which would
thus form for it a kind of natural protection in case of Indian invasion.
It really was part and parcel of Moncrieff's claim or land, and at an
early date in his career, thinking probably it might come in handy some
day for a site on which to build, he had taken considerable pains to plant
it with rows of beautiful trees, especially on the sides next the water
and facing the west.

My brothers and I arranged to have this, and Moncrieff was well pleased to
have us so near to him. A more excellent position for a house could hardly
be, and we determined it should be a good substantial one, and of as great
architectural beauty as possible.

Having therefore laid out our farm proper, and stocked it with sheep and
cattle, positioned our shepherds, and installed our labourers and general
servants under the charge of a _capataz_, or working bailiff, we turned
our attention to the erection of our house, or mansion, as Dugald grandly
called it.

'Of course you will cut your coat according to your cloth,' said
Moncrieff, as he came one evening into the room we had set apart for our
private study. He had found us to-night with our heads all together over
a huge sheet of paper on which we were planning out our house.

'Oh yes,' said Donald, 'that we must do.'

'But,' said Dugald, 'we do not expect to remain all our lives downright
poor settlers.'

'That I am sure you won't.'

'Well, I propose building a much bigger house than we really want, so that
when we do get a bit rich we can furnish it and set up--set up--'

'Set up a carriage and pair, eh?' said Donald, who was very matter of
fact--'a carriage and pair, Dugald, a billiard-room, Turkey carpets, woven
all in one piece, a cellar of old wine, a butler in black and flunkeys in
plush--is that your notion?'

Donald and I laughed, and Dugald looked cross.

Moncrieff did not laugh: he had too much tact, and was far too
kind-hearted to throw cold water over our young brother's ambitions and
aspirations.

'And what sort of a house do you propose?' he said to us.

As he spoke he took a chair at Dugald's side of the table and put his arm
gently across the boy's shoulders. There was very much in this simple act,
and I feel sure Dugald loved him for it, and felt he had some one to
assist his schemes.

'Oh,' replied Donald, 'a small tasteful cottage. That would suit well for
the present, I think. What do you think, Murdoch?'

'I think with you,' I replied.

After having heard Moncrieff speaking so much about cutting coats
according to cloth and looking before 'louping,' and all the rest of it,
we were hardly prepared to hear him on the present occasion say boldly,

'And _I_ think with Dugald.'

'Bravo, Moncrieff!' cried Dugald. 'I felt sure--'

'Bide a wee, though, lad. Ca' canny.[7] Now listen, the lot o' ye. Ye see,
Murdoch man, your proposed cottage would cost a good bit of money and
time and trouble, and when you thought of a bigger place, down that
cottage must come, with an expense of more time and more trouble, even
allowing that money was of little object. Besides, where are you going to
live after your cottage is knocked down and while your mansion is
building? So I say Dugald is right to some extent. Begin building your big
house bit by bit.'

'In wings?'

'Preceesely, sirs; ye can add and add as you like, and as you can afford
it.'

It was now our time to cry, 'Bravo, Moncrieff!'

'I wonder, Donald, we didn't think of this plan.'

'Ah,' said Moncrieff, 'ye canna put young he'ds on auld shoulders, as my
mither says.'

So Moncrieff's plan was finally adopted--we would build our house wing by
wing.

It took us weeks, however, to decide in what particular style of
architecture it should be built. Among the literature which Moncrieff had
brought out from England with him was a whole library in itself of the
bound volumes of good magazines; and it was from a picture in one of these
that we finally decided what our Coila Villa should be like, though, of
course, the plan would be slightly altered to suit circumstances of
climate, &c. It was to be--briefly stated--a winged bungalow of only one
story, with a handsome square tower and portico in the centre, and
verandahs nearly all round. So one wing and the tower was commenced at
once. But bricks were to be made, and timber cut and dried and fashioned,
and no end of other things were to be accomplished before we actually set
about the erection.

To do all these things we appointed a little army of Gauchos, with two or
three handy men-of-all-work from Scotland.

Meanwhile our villa gardens were planned and our bushes and trees were
planted.

Terraces, too, were contrived to face the lake, and Dugald one evening
proposed a boat-house and boat, and this was carried without a dissentient
voice.

Dugald was extremely fond of our sister Flora. We only wondered that he
now spoke about her so seldom. But if he spoke but little of her he
thought the more, and we could see that all his plans for the
beautification and adornment of the villa had but one end and object--the
delight and gratification of its future little mistress.

Dear old Dugald! he had such a kind lump of a heart of his own, and never
took any of our chaff and banter unpleasantly. But I am quite sure that as
far as he himself was concerned he never would have troubled himself about
even the boat-house or the terraced gardens either, for every idle hour
that he could spare he spent on the hill, as he called it, with his dog--a
lovely Irish setter--and his gun.

I met him one morning going off as usual with Dash, the setter, close
beside the little mule he rode, and with his gun slung over his back.

'Where away, old man?' I said.

'Only to a little laguna I've found among the hills, and I mean to have a
grand bag to-day.'

'Well, you're off early!'

'Yes; there is little to be done at home, and there are some rare fine
ducks up yonder.'

'You'll be back to luncheon?'

'I'll try. If not, don't wait.'

'Not likely; ta-ta! Good luck to you! But you really ought to have a
Gaucho with you.'

'Nonsense, Murdoch! I don't need a groom. Dash and old Tootsie, the mule,
are all I want.'

It was the end of winter, or rather beginning of spring, but Moncrieff had
not yet declared close time, and Dugald managed to supply the larder with
more species of game than we could tell the names of. Birds, especially,
he brought home on his saddle and in his bag; birds of all sizes, from
the little luscious dove to the black swan itself; and one day he actually
came along up the avenue with a dead ostrich. He could ride that mule of
his anywhere. I believe he could have ridden along the parapet of London
Bridge, so we were never surprised to see Dugald draw rein at the lower
sitting-room window, within the verandah. He was always laughing and merry
and mischievous-looking when he had had extra good luck; but the day he
landed that ostrich he was fairly wild with excitement. The body of it was
given to the Gauchos, and they made very merry over it: invited their
friends, in fact, and roasted the huge bird whole out of doors. They did
so in true Patagonian fashion--to wit, the ostrich was first trussed and
cleaned, a roaring fire of wood having been made, round stones were made
almost red-hot. The stones were for stuffing, though this kind of stuffing
is not very eatable, but it helps to cook the bird. The fire was then
raked away, and the dinner laid down and covered up. Meanwhile the
Gauchos, male and female, girls and boys, had a dance. The ubiquitous
guitars, of course, were the instruments, and two of these made not a bad
little band. After dinner they danced again, and wound up by wishing
Dugald all the good luck in the world, and plenty more ostriches. The
feathers of this big game-bird were carefully packed and sent home to
mother and Flora.

Well, we had got so used to Dugald's solitary ways that we never thought
anything of even his somewhat prolonged absence on the hill, for he
usually dropped round when luncheon was pretty nearly done. There was
always something kept warm for 'old Dugald,' as we all called him, and I
declare it did every one of us good to see him eat. His appetite was
certainly the proverbial appetite of a hunter.

On this particular day, however, old Dugald did not return to luncheon.

'Perhaps,' said Donald, 'he is dining with some of the shepherds, or
having "a pick at a priest's," as he calls it.'

'Perhaps,' I said musingly. The afternoon wore away, and there were no
signs of our brother coming, so I began to get rather uneasy, and spoke to
Donald about it.

'He may have met with an accident,' I said, 'or fifty things may have
happened.'

'Well,' replied Donald, 'I don't suppose fifty things have happened; but
as you seem a bit anxious, suppose we mount our mules, take a Gaucho with
us, and institute a search expedition?'

'I'm willing,' I cried, jumping up, 'and here's for off!'

There was going to be an extra good dinner that day, because we expected
letters from home, and our runner would be back from the distant
post-office in good time to let us read our epistles before the gong
sounded and so discuss them at table.

'Hurry up, boys; don't be late, mind!' cried aunt, as our mules were
brought round to the portico, and we were mounted.

'All right, auntie dear!' replied Donald, waving his hand; 'and mind those
partridges are done to a turn; we'll be all delightfully hungry.'

The Gaucho knew all Dugald's trails well, and when we mentioned the small
distant laguna, he set out at once in the direction of the glen. He made
so many windings, however, and took so many different turns through bush
and grass and scrub, that we began to wonder however Dugald could have
found the road.

But Dugald had a way of his own of getting back through even a cactus
labyrinth. It was a very simple one, too. He never 'loaded up,' as he
termed it; that is, he did not hang his game to his saddle till he meant
to start for home; then he mounted, whistled to Dash, who capered and
barked in front of the mule, permitted the reins to lie loosely on the
animal's neck, and--there he was! For not only did the good beast take him
safely back to Coila, as we called our _estancia_, but he took him by the
best roads; and even when he seemed to Dugald's human sense to be going
absolutely and entirely wrong, he never argued with him.

              'Reason raise o'er instinct, if you can;
              In this 'tis God directs, in that 'tis man.'

'You are certain he will come this way, Zambo?' I said to our Gaucho.

'Plenty certain, señor. I follow de trail now.'

I looked over my saddle-bow; so did Donald, but no trail could we
see--only the hard, yellow, sandy gravel.

We came at last to the hilly regions. It was exceedingly quiet and still
here; hardly a creature of any kind to be seen except now and then a kite,
or even condor, the latter winging his silent way to the distant
mountains. At times we passed a biscacha village. The biscacha is not a
tribe of Indians, but, like the coney, a very feeble people, who dwell in
caves or burrow underground, but all day long may be seen playing about
the mounds they raise, or sitting on their hind legs on top of them. They
are really a species of prairie-dog. With them invariably live a tribe of
little owls--the burrowing owls--and it seems to be a mutual understanding
that the owls have the principal possession of these residential chambers
by day, while the biscachas occupy them by night. This arrangement answers
wonderfully well, and I have proved over and over again that they are
exceedingly fond of each other. The biscachas themselves are not very
demonstrative, either in their fun or affection, but if one of them be
killed, and is lying dead outside the burrow, the poor owl often exhibits
the most frantic grief for the murder of his little housekeeper, and will
even show signs of a desire to attack the animal--especially if a
dog--which has caused his affliction.

Donald and I, with our guide, now reached the land of the giant cacti. We
all at home here in Britain know something of the beauty of the common
prickly cactus that grows in window-gardens or in hot-houses, and
surprises us with the crimson glory of its flowers, which grow from such
odd parts of the plant; but here we were in the land of the cacti. Dugald
knew it well, and used to tell us all about them; so tall, so stately, so
strange and weird, that we felt as if in another planet. Already the bloom
was on some of them--for in this country flowers soon hear the voice of
spring--but in the proper season nothing that ever I beheld can surpass
the gorgeous beauty of these giant cacti.

The sun began to sink uncomfortably low down on the horizon, and my
anxiety increased every minute. Why did not Dugald meet us? Why did we not
even hear the sound of his gun, for the Gaucho told us we were close to
the laguna?

Presently the cacti disappeared behind us, and we found ourselves in open
ground, with here and there a tall, weird-looking tree. How those
trees--they were not natives--had come there we were at first at a loss to
understand, but when we reached the foot of a grass-grown hill or sand
dune, and came suddenly on the ruins of what appeared a Jesuit hermitage
or monastery, the mystery was explained.

On rounding a spur of this hill, lo! the lake; and not far from the foot
of a tree, behold! our truant brother. Beside him was Dash, and not a
great way off, tied to a dwarf algaroba tree, stood the mule. Dugald was
sitting on the ground, with his gun over his arm, gazing up into the
tree.

'Dugald! Dugald!' I cried.

But Dugald never moved his head. Was he dead, or were these green sand
dunes fairy hillocks, and my brother enchanted?

I leapt off my mule, and, rifle in hand, went on by myself, never taking
my eyes off my brother, and with my heart playing pit-a-pat against my
ribs.

'Dugald!' I said again.

He never moved.

'Dugald, speak!'

He spoke now almost in a stage whisper:

'A lion in the tree. Have you your rifle?'

I beckoned to my brother to come on, and at the same moment the monster
gave voice. I was near enough now to take aim at the puma; he was lying in
a cat-like attitude on one of the highest limbs. But the angry growl and
the moving tail told me plainly enough he was preparing to spring, and
spring on Dugald. It was the first wild beast I had ever drawn bead upon,
and I confess it was a supreme moment; oh, not of joy, but,--shall I say
it?--fear.

What if I should miss!

But there was no time for cogitation. I raised my rifle. At the self-same
moment, as if knowing his danger, the brute sprang off the bough. The
bullet met him in mid-air, and--_he fell dead at Dugald's feet_.

The ball had entered the neck and gone right on and through the heart. One
coughing roar, an opening and shutting of the terrible jaws--which were
covered with blood and froth--and a few convulsive movements of the hind
legs, and all was over.

'Thank Heaven, you are saved, dear old Dugald!' I cried.

'Yes,' said Dugald, getting up and coolly stretching himself; 'but you've
been a precious long time in coming.'

'And you were waiting for us?'

'I couldn't get away. I was sitting here when I noticed the lion. Dash and
I were having a bit of lunch. My cartridges are all on the mule, so I've
been staring fixedly at that monster ever since. I knew it was my only
chance. If I had moved away, or even turned my head, he would have had me
as sure as--'

'But, I say,' he added, touching the dead puma with his foot, '_isn't_ he
a fine fellow? What a splendid skin to send home to Flora!'

This shows what sort of a boy Brother Dugald was; and now that all danger
was past and gone, although I pretended to be angry with him for his
rashness, I really could not help smiling.

'But what a crack shot you are, Murdoch!' he added; 'I had no idea--I--I
really couldn't have done much better myself.'

'Well, Dugald,' I replied, 'I may do better next time, but to tell the
truth I aimed at the beast _when he was on the branch_.'

'And hit him ten feet below it. Ha! ha! ha!'

We all laughed now. We could afford it.

The Gaucho whipped the puma out of his skin in less than a minute, and off
we started for home.

I was the hero of the evening; though Dugald never told them of my funny
aim. Bombazo, who had long since recovered his spirits, was well to the
front with stories of his own personal prowess and narrow escapes; but
while relating these he never addressed old Jenny, for the ancient and
humorsome dame had told him one day that 'big lees were thrown awa' upon
her.'

What a happy evening we spent, for our Gaucho runner had brought

                         'Good news from Home!'

-----

  [7] 'Ca' Canny' = Drive slowly.



CHAPTER XVI.

SUMMER IN THE SILVER WEST.


Though it really was not so very long since we had said farewell to our
friends in Scotland and the dear ones at home, it seemed an age. So it is
no wonder, seeing that all were well, our letters brought us joy. Not for
weeks did we cease to read them over and over again and talk about them.
One of mine was from Archie Bateman, and, much to my delight and that of
my brothers, he told us that he had never ceased worrying his father and
mother to let him come out to the Silver West and join us, and that they
were yielding fast. He meant, he said, to put the screw on a little harder
soon, by running away and taking a cruise as far as Newcastle-on-Tyne in a
coal-boat. He had no doubt that this would have the desired effect of
showing his dearly-beloved _pater et mater_ that he was in downright
earnest in his desire to go abroad. So we were to expect him next
summer--'that is,' he added, 'summer in England, and winter with you.'

Another letter of mine was from Irene M'Rae. I dare say there must have
been a deal of romance about me even then, for Irene's delightful little
matter-of-fact and prosaic letter gave me much pleasure, and I--I believe
I carried it about with me till it was all frayed at every fold, and I
finally stowed it away in my desk.

Flora wrote to us all, with a postscript in addition to Dugald. And we
were to make haste and get rich enough to send for pa and ma and her.

I did not see Townley's letter to aunt, but I know that much of it related
to the 'Coila crime,' as we all call it now. The scoundrel M'Rae had
disappeared, and Mr. Townley had failed to trace him. But he could wait.
He would not get tired. It was as certain as Fate that as soon as the
poacher spent his money--and fellows like him could not keep money
long--he would appear again at Coila, to extort more by begging or
threatening. Townley had a watch set for him, and as soon as he should
appear there would be an interview.

'It would,' the letter went on, 'aid my case very much indeed could I but
find the men who assisted him to restore the vault in the old ruin. But
they, too, are spirited away, apparently, and all I can do fails to find
them. But I live in hope. The good time is bound to come, and may Heaven
in justice send it soon!'

Moncrieff had no letters, but I am bound to say that he was as much
delighted to see us happy as if we were indeed his own brothers, and our
aunt his aunt, if such a thing could have been possible.

But meanwhile the building of our Coila Villa moved on apace, and only
those situated as we were could understand the eager interest we took in
its gradual rise. At the laying of the foundation-stone we gave all the
servants and workmen, and settlers, new and old, an entertainment. We had
not an ostrich to roast whole this time, but the supper placed before our
guests under Moncrieff's biggest tent was one his cook might well have
been proud of. After supper music commenced, only on this special and
auspicious occasion the guitars did not have it all their own way, having
to give place every now and then to the inspiring strains of the Highland
bagpipes. That was a night which was long remembered in our little
colony.

While the villa was being built our furniture was being made. This, like
that in Moncrieff's mansion, was all, or mostly, Indian work, and
manufactured by our half-caste Gauchos. The wood chiefly used was
algaroba, which, when polished, looked as bright as mahogany, and quite as
beautiful. This Occidental furniture, as we called it, was really very
light and elegant, the seats of the couches, fauteuils and sofas, and
chairs being worked with thongs, or pieces of hardened skin, in quite a
marvellous manner.

We had fences to make all round our fields, and hedges to plant, and even
trees. Then there was the whole irrigation system to see to, and the land
to sow with grain and lucerne, after the soil had been duly ploughed and
attended to. All this kept us young fellows very busy indeed, for we
worked with the men almost constantly, not only as simple superintendents,
but as labourers.

Yes, the duties about an _estancia_, even after it is fairly established,
are very varied; but, nevertheless, I know of no part of the world where
the soil responds more quickly or more kindly to the work of the tiller
than it does in the Silver West. And this is all the more wonderful when
we consider that a great part of the land hereabouts is by nature barren
in the extreme.

                   *       *       *       *       *

I do not think I am wrong in saying that sheep, if not first introduced
into the _estancias_ of the Silver West by the Scotch, have at all events
been elevated to the rank of a special feature of produce in the country
by them. Moncrieff had done much for the improvement of the breed, not
only as regards actual size of body, but in regard to the texture of the
wool; and it was his proudest boast to be able to say that the land of his
adoption could already compare favourably with Australia itself, and that
in the immediate future it was bound to beat that island.

It is no wonder, therefore, that we all looked forward to our first great
shearing as a very busy time indeed. Our great wool harvest was, indeed,
one of the principal events of the year. Moncrieff said he always felt
young again at the sheep-shearing times.

Now there are various styles of wool harvesting. Moncrieff's was simple
enough. Preparations were made for it, both out-doors and in, at least a
fortnight beforehand. Indoors, hams, &c., were got ready for cooking, and
the big tent was erected once more near and behind the mansion, for extra
hands to the number of twenty at least were to be imported; several
neighbour settlers--they lived ten miles off, and still were
neighbours--were coming over to lend a hand, and all had to eat, and most
had to sleep, under canvas.

If sheep-shearing prospects made Moncrieff young again, so they did his
mother. She was here, there, and everywhere; now in parlour or
dining-room, in kitchen and scullery, in out-houses and tent, giving
orders, leading, directing, ay, and sometimes even driving, the servants,
for few of the Gauchos, whether male or female, could work with speed
enough to please old Jenny.

Well, the sheds had to be cleared out, and a system of corralling adopted
which was only called for during times like these. Then there were the
weighing machines to be seen to; the tally tables and all the packing and
pressing machinery--which on this large _estancia_ was carried almost to
perfection--had all to be got into the very best working order imaginable.
For, in the matter of sheep-shearing, Moncrieff was fastidious to a
degree.

The sheep were washed the day before. This was hard work, for no animal I
know of is more obstinate than a sheep when it makes up its mind to be
so.

So the work commenced, and day after day it went merrily on. Moncrieff did
not consider this a very large shearing, and yet in six days' time no less
than 11,000 sheep were turned away fleeceless.

And what a scene it was, to be sure!

I remember well, when quite a little lad, thinking old Parson McGruer's
shearing a wonderful sight. The old man, who was very fat and podgy, and
seldom got down to breakfast before eleven in the morning, considered
himself a sheep farmer on rather a large scale. Did he not own a flock of
nearly six hundred--one shepherd's work--that fed quietly on the
heath-clad braes of Coila? One shepherd and two collies; and the collies
did nearly all the duty in summer and a great part of it in winter. The
shepherd had his bit of shieling in a clump of birch-trees at the
glen-foot, and at times, crook in hand, his Highland plaid dangling from
his shoulder, he might be seen slowly winding along the braes, or
standing, statue-like, on the hill-top, his romantic figure well defined
against the horizon, and very much in keeping with the scene. I never yet
saw the minister's shepherd running. His life was almost an idyllic one in
summer, when the birks waved green and eke, or in autumn, when the hills
were all ablaze with the crimson glory of the heather. To be sure, his pay
was not a great deal, and his fare for the most part consisted of oatmeal
and milk, with now and then a slice of the best part of a 'braxied' sheep.
Here, in our home in the Silver West, how different! Every _puestero_ had
a house or hut as good as the minister's shepherd; and as for living, why,
the worthy Mr. McGruer himself never had half so well-found a table. Our
dogs in the Silver West lived far more luxuriously than any farm servant
or shepherd, or even gamekeeper, 'in a' braid Scotland.'

But our shepherds had to run and to ride both. Wandering over miles upon
miles of pasturage, sheep learn to be dainty, and do not stay very long in
any one place; so it is considered almost impossible to herd them on foot.
It is not necessary to do so; at all events, where one can buy a horse for
forty shillings, and where his food costs _nil_, or next to _nil_, one
usually prefers riding to walking.

But it was a busy time in May even at the Scotch minister's place when
sheep-shearing came round. The minister got up early then, if he did not
do so all the year round again. The hurdles were all taken to the
river-side, or banks of the stream that, leaving Loch Coila, went
meandering through the glen. Here the sheep were washed and penned, and
anon turned into the enclosures where the shearers were. Lads and lasses
all took part in the work in one capacity or another. The sun would be
brightly shining, the 'jouking burnie' sparkling clear in its rays; the
glens and hills all green and bonnie; the laughing and joking and lilting
and singing, and the constant bleating of sheep and lambs, made altogether
a curious medley; but every now and then Donald the piper would tune his
pipes and make them 'skirl,' drowning all other sounds in martial melody.

But here on Moncrieff's _estancia_ everything was on a grander scale.
There was the same bleating of sheep, the same laughing, joking, lilting,
singing, and piping; the same hurry-scurry of dogs and men; the same
prevailing busy-ness and activity; but everything was multiplied by
twenty.

McGruer at home in Coila had his fleeces thrust into a huge sack, which
was held up by two stalwart Highlanders. Into this not only were the
fleeces put, but also a boy, to jump on them and pack them down. At the
_estancia_ we had the very newest forms of machinery to do everything.

Day by day, as our shearing went on, Moncrieff grew gayer and gayer, and
on the final morning he was as full of life and fun as a Harrow schoolboy
out on the range. The wool harvest had turned out well.

It had not been so every year with Moncrieff and his partner. They had had
many struggles to come through--sickness had at one time more than
decimated the flocks. The Indians, though they do not as a rule drive away
sheep, had played sad havoc among them, and scattered them far and wide
over the adjoining pampas, and the pampero[8] had several times destroyed
its thousands, before the trees had grown up to afford protection and
shelter.

I have said before that Moncrieff was fond of doing things in his own
fashion. He was willing enough to adopt all the customs of his adopted
country so long as he thought they were right, but many of the habits of
his native land he considered would engraft well with those of Mendoza.
Moncrieff delighted in dancing--that is, in giving a good hearty rout,
and he simply did so whenever there was the slightest excuse. The cereal
harvest ended thus, the grape harvest also, and making of the wine and
preserves, and so of course did the shearing.

The dinner at the mansion itself was a great success; the supper in the
marquee, with the romp to follow, was even a greater. Moncrieff himself
opened the fun with Aunt Cecilia as a partner, Donald and a charming
Spanish girl completing the quartette necessary for a real Highland reel.
The piper played, of course (guitars were not good enough for this sort of
thing), and I think we must have kept that first 'hoolichin' up for nearly
twenty minutes. Then Moncrieff and aunt were fain to retire
'for-fochten.'[9]

Well Moncrieff might have been 'for-fochten,' but neither Donald nor his
Spanish lassie were half tired. Nor was the piper.

'Come on, Dugald,' cried Donald, 'get a partner, lad. Hooch!'

'Hooch!' shouted Dugald in response, and lo and behold! he gaily led
forth--whom? Why, whom but old Jenny herself? What roars of laughter there
was as, keeping time to a heart-stirring strathspey, the litle lady
cracked her thumbs and danced, reeling, setting, and deeking! roars of
laughter, and genuine hearty applause as well.

Moncrieff was delighted with his mother's performance. It was glorious, he
said, and so true to time; surely everybody would believe him now that
mither was a downright ma_r-r-r-_vel. And everybody did.

During the shearing Donald and I had done duty as clerks; and very busy we
had been kept. As for Dugald, it would have been a pity to have parted him
and his dear gun, so the work assigned to him was that of lion's
provider--we, the shearing folk, being the lion.

For a youth of hardly sixteen Dugald was a splendid shot, and during the
shearing he really kept up his credit well. Moncrieff objected to have
birds killed when breeding; but in this country, as indeed in any other
where game is numerous, there are hosts of birds that do not, for various
reasons, breed or mate every season. These generally are to be found
either singly and solitary, as if they had some great grief on their minds
that they desired to nurse in solitude, or in small flocks of gay young
bachelors. Dugald knew such birds well, and it was from the ranks of these
he always filled the larder.

To the supply thus brought daily by Dugald were added fowls, ducks, and
turkeys from the _estancia's_ poultry-yard, to say nothing of joints of
beef, mutton, and pork. Nor was it birds alone that Dugald's seemingly
inexhaustible creels and bags were laden with, but eggs of the swan[10]
and the wild-duck and goose, with--to serve as tit-bits for those who
cared for such desert delicacies--cavies, biscachas, and now and then an
armadillo. If these were not properly appreciated by the new settlers, the
eyes of the old, and especially the Gauchos, sparkled with anticipation of
gustatory delight on beholding them.

For some days after the shearing was over comparative peace reigned around
and over the great _estancia_. But nevertheless preparations were being
made to send off a string of waggons to Villa Mercedes. The market at
Mendoza was hardly large enough to suit Moncrieff, nor were the prices so
good as could be obtained in the east. Indeed, Moncrieff had purchasing
agents from Villa Mercedes to meet his waggons on receipt of a telegram.

So the waggons were loaded up--wool, wine, and preserves, as well as
raisins.

To describe the vineyards at our _estancia_ would take up far too much
space. I must leave them to the reader's imagination; but I hardly think I
am wrong in stating that there are no grapes in the world more delicious
or more viniferous than those that grow in the province of Mendoza. The
usual difficulty is not in the making of wine, but in the supply of
barrels and bottles. Moncrieff found a way out of this; and in some hotels
in Buenos Ayres, and even Monte Video, the Château Moncrieff had already
gained some celebrity.

The manufacture of many different kinds of preserves was quite an industry
at the _estancia_, and one that paid fairly well. There were orangeries as
well as vineries; and although the making of marmalade had not before been
attempted, Moncrieff meant now to go in for it on quite a large scale.
This branch was to be superintended by old Jenny herself, and great was
her delight to find out that she was of some use on the estate, for
'really 'oman,' she told aunt, 'a body gets tired of the stockin'--shank,
shank, shank a' day is hard upon the hands, though a body maun do
something.'

Well, the waggons were laden and off at last. With them went Moncrieff's
Welsh partner as commander, to see to the sale, and prevent the Gauchos
and drivers generally from tapping the casks by the way. The force of men,
who were all well armed, was quite sufficient to give an excellent account
of any number of prowling Indians who were likely to put in an
appearance.

And now summer, in all its glory, was with us. And such glory! Such glory
of vegetable life, such profusion of foliage, such wealth of colouring,
such splendour of flowers! Such glory of animal life, beast and bird and
insect! The flowers themselves were not more gay and gorgeous than some of
these latter.

Nor were we very greatly plagued with the hopping and blood-sucking
genera. Numerous enough they were at times, it must be confessed, both by
day and night; but somehow we got used to them. The summer was wearing to
a close, the first wing of our Coila Villa was finished and dry, the
furniture was put in, and as soon as the smell of paint left we took
possession.

This was made the occasion for another of Moncrieff's festive gatherings.
Neighbours came from all directions except the south, for we knew of none
in this direction besides the wild Pampean Indians, and they were not
included in the invitation. Probably we should make them dance some other
day.

About a fortnight after our opening gathering, or 'house-warming,' as
Moncrieff called it, we had a spell of terribly hot weather. The heat was
of a sultry, close description, difficult to describe: the cattle, sheep,
and horses seemed to suffer very much, and even the poor dogs. These last,
by the way, we found it a good plan to clip. Long coats did not suit the
summer season.

One evening it seemed hotter and sultrier than ever. We were all seated
out in the verandah, men-folk smoking, and aunt and Aileen fanning
themselves and fighting the insects, when suddenly a low and ominous
rumbling was heard which made us all start except Moncrieff.

Is it thunder? No; there is not at present a cloud in the sky, although a
strange dark haze is gathering over the peaks on the western horizon.

'Look!' said Moncrieff to me. As he spoke he pointed groundwards. Beetles
and ants and crawling insects of every description were heading for the
verandah, seeking shelter from the coming storm.

The strange rumbling grew louder!

It was not coming from the sky, but from the earth!

-----

  [8] Pampero, a storm wind that blows from the south.

  [9] For-fochten = worn out. The term usually applies to
      barn-yard roosters, who have been settling a quarrel, and
      pause to pant, with their heads towards the ground.

  [10] Swans usually commence laying some time before either
       ducks or geese; but much depends upon the season.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE EARTHQUAKE.


With a rapidity that was truly alarming the black haze in the west crept
upwards over the sky, the sun was engulfed in a few minutes, and before
half an hour, accompanied by a roaring wind and a whirl of dust and
decayed leaves, the storm was with us and on us, the whole _estancia_
being enveloped in clouds and darkness.

The awful earth sounds still continued--increased, in fact--much to the
terror of every one of us. We had retreated to the back sitting-room.
Moncrieff had left us for a time, to see to the safety of the cattle and
the farm generally, for the Gauchos were almost paralyzed with fear, and
it was found afterwards that the very shepherds had left their flocks and
fled for safety--if safety it could be called--to their _puestos_.

Yet Gauchos are not as a rule afraid of storms, but--and it is somewhat
remarkable--an old Indian seer had for months before been predicting that
on this very day and night the city of Mendoza would be destroyed by an
earthquake, and that not only the town but every village in the province
would be laid low at the same time.

It is difficult to give the reader any idea of the events of this dreadful
night. I can only briefly relate my own feelings and experiences. As we
all sat there, suddenly a great river of blood appeared to split the dark
heavens in two, from zenith to horizon. It hung in the sky for long
seconds, and was followed by a peal of thunder of terrific violence,
accompanied by sounds as if the whole building and every building on the
estate were being rent and riven in pieces. At the self-same moment a
strange, dizzy, sleepy feeling rushed through my brain. I could only see
those around me as if enshrouded in a blue-white mist. I tried to rise
from my chair, but fell back, not as I thought into a chair but into a
boat. Floor and roof and walls appeared to meet and clasp. My head swam. I
was not only dizzy but deaf apparently, not too deaf, however, to hear the
wild, unearthly, frightened screams of twenty at least of our Gaucho
servants, who were huddled together in the centre of the garden. It was
all over in a few seconds: even the thunder was hushed and the wind no
longer bent the poplars or roared through the cloud-like elm-trees. A
silence that could be felt succeeded, broken only by the low moan of
terror that the Gauchos kept up; a silence that soon checked even that
sound itself; a silence that crept round the heart, and held us all
spellbound; a silence that was ended at last by terrible thunderings and
lightnings and earth-tremblings, with all the same dizzy, sleepy,
sickening sensations that had accompanied the first shock. I felt as if
chaos had come again, and for a time felt also as if death itself would
have been a relief.

But this shock passed next, and once more there was a solemn silence, a
drear stillness. And now fear took possession of every one of us, and a
desire to flee away somewhere--anywhere. This had almost amounted to
panic, when Moncrieff himself appeared in the verandah.

'I've got our fellows to put up the marquee,' he said, almost in a
whisper. 'Come--we'll be safer there. Mither, I'll carry you. You're not
afraid, are you?'

'Is the worruld comin' tae an end?' asked old Jenny, looking dazed as her
son picked her up. 'Is the worruld comin' tae an end, _and the marmalade
no made yet_?'

In about an hour after this the storm was at its worst. Flash followed
flash, peal followed peal: the world seemed in flames, the hills appeared
to be falling on us. The rain and hailstones came down in vast sheets, and
with a noise so great that even the thunder itself was heard but as a
subdued roar.

We had no light here--we needed none. The lightning, or the reflection of
it, ran in under the canvas on the surface of the water, which must have
been inches deep. The hail melted as soon as it fell, and finally gave
place to rain alone; then the water that flowed through the tent felt
warm, if not hot, to the touch. This was no doubt occasioned by the force
with which it fell to the ground. The falling rain now looked like cords
of gold and silver, so brightly was it illuminated by the lightning.

While the storm was still at its height suddenly there was a shout from
one of the Gauchos.

'Run, run! the tent is falling!' was the cry.

It was only too true. A glance upwards told us this. We got into the open
air just in time, before, weighted down by tons of water, the great
marquee came groundwards with a crash.

But though the rain still came down in torrents and the thunder roared and
rattled over and around us, no further shock of earthquake was felt. Fear
fled then, and we made a rush for the house once more. Moncrieff reached
the casement window first, with a Gaucho carrying a huge lantern. This man
entered, but staggered out again immediately.

'The ants! the ants!' he shouted in terror.

Moncrieff had one glance into the room, as if to satisfy himself. I took
the lantern from the trembling hands of the Gaucho and held it up, and the
sight that met my astonished gaze was one I shall never forget. The whole
room was in possession of myriads of black ants of enormous size; they
covered everything--walls, furniture, and floor--with one dense and awful
pall.

The room looked strange and mysterious in its living, moving covering.
Here was indeed the blackness of darkness. Yes, and it was a darkness too
that could be felt. Of this I had a speedy proof of a most disagreeable
nature. I was glad to hand the lantern back and seek for safety in the
rain again.

Luckily the sitting-room door was shut, and this was the only room not
taken possession of.

After lights had been lit in the drawing-room the storm did not appear
quite so terrible; but no one thought of retiring that night. The vague
fear that something more dreadful still might occur kept hanging in our
minds, and was only dispelled when daylight began to stream in at the
windows.

By breakfast-time there was no sign in the blue sky that so fearful a
storm had recently raged there. Nor had any very great violence been done
about the farmyards by the earthquake.

Many of the cattle that had sought shelter beneath the trees had been
killed, however; and in one spot we found the mangled remains of over one
hundred sheep. Here also a huge chestnut-tree had been struck and
completely destroyed, pieces of the trunk weighing hundreds of pounds
being scattered in every direction over the field.

Earthquakes are of common occurrence in the province of Mendoza, but
seldom are they accompanied by such thunder, lightning, and rain as we had
on this occasion. It was this demonstration, coupled with the warning
words of the Indian seer, which had caused the panic among our worthy
Gaucho servants. But the seer had been a false prophet for once, and as
the Gauchos seized him on this same day and half drowned him in the lake,
there was but little likelihood that he would prophesy the destruction of
Mendoza again.

Mendoza had been almost totally destroyed already by an awful earthquake
that occurred in 1861. Out of a population of nearly sixteen thousand
souls no less than thirteen thousand, we are told, were killed--swallowed
up by the yawning earth. Fire broke out afterwards, and, as if to
increase the wretchedness and sad condition of the survivors, robbers from
all directions--even from beyond the Andes--flocked to the place to loot
and pillage it. But Mendoza is now built almost on the ashes of the
destroyed city, and its population must be equal to, even if it does not
exceed, its former aggregate.

                   *       *       *       *       *

With the exception of a few losses, trifling enough to one in Moncrieff's
position, the whole year was a singularly successful one. Nor had my
brothers nor I and the other settlers any occasion to complain, and our
prospects began to be very bright indeed.

Nor did the future belie the present, for ere another year had rolled over
our heads we found ourselves in a fair way to fortune. We felt by this
time that we were indeed old residents. We were thoroughly acclimatized:
healthy, hardy, and brown. In age we were, some would say, mere lads; in
experience we were already men.

Our letters from home continued to be of the most cheering description,
with the exception of Townley's to aunt. He had made little if any
progress in his quest. Not that he despaired. Duncan M'Rae was still
absent, but sooner or later--so Townley believed--poverty would bring him
to bay, and _then_--

Nothing of this did my aunt tell me at the time. I remained in blissful
ignorance of anything and everything that our old tutor had done or was
doing.

True, the events of that unfortunate evening at the old ruin sometimes
arose in my mind to haunt me. My greatest sorrow was my being bound down
by oath to keep what seemed to me the secret of a villain--a secret that
had deprived our family of the estates of Coila, had deprived my
parents--yes, that was the hard and painful part. For, strange as it may
appear, I cared nothing for myself. So enamoured had I become of our new
home in the Silver West, that I felt but little longing to return to the
comparative bleakness and desolation of even Scottish Highland scenery. I
must not be considered unpatriotic on this account, or if there was a
decay of patriotism in my heart, the fascinating climate of Mendoza was to
blame for it. I could not help feeling at times that I had eaten the
lotus-leaf. Had we not everything that the heart of young men could
desire? On my own account, therefore, I felt no desire to turn the good
soldier M'Rae away from Coila, and as for Irene--as for bringing a tear to
the eyes of that beautiful and engaging girl, I would rather, I thought,
that the dark waters of the laguna should close over my head for ever.

Besides, dear father was happy. His letters told me that. He had even come
to like his city life, and he never wrote a word about Coila.

Still, the oath--the oath that bound me! It was a dark spot in my
existence.

_Did_ it bind me? I remember thinking that question over one day. Could an
oath forced upon any one be binding in the sight of Heaven? I ran off to
consult my brother Moncrieff. I found him riding his great bay mare, an
especial favourite, along the banks of the highest _estancia_ canal--the
canal that fed the whole system of irrigation. Here I joined him, myself
on my pet brown mule.

'Planning more improvements, Moncrieff?' I asked.

He did not speak for a minute or two.

'I'm not planning improvements,' he said at last, 'but I was just thinking
it would be well, in our orra[11] moments, if we were to strengthen this
embankment. There is a terrible power o' water here. Now supposing that
during some awful storm, with maybe a bit shock of earthquake, it were to
burst here or hereabouts, don't you see that the flood would pour right
down upon the mansion-house, and clean it almost from its foundations?'

'I trust,' I said, 'so great a catastrophe will not occur in our day.'

'It would be a fearful accident, and a judgment maybe on my want of
forethought.'

'I want to ask you a question,' I said, 'on another subject, Moncrieff.'

'You're lookin' scared, laddie. What's the matter?'

I told him as much as I could.

'It's a queer question, laddie--a queer question. Heaven give me help to
answer you! I think, as the oath was to keep a secret, you had best keep
the oath, and trust to Heaven to set things right in the end, if it be for
the best.'

'Thanks, Moncrieff,' I said; 'thanks. I will take your advice.'

That very day Moncrieff set a party of men to strengthen the embankment;
and it was probably well he did so, for soon after the work was finished
another of those fearful storms, accompanied as usual by shocks of
earthquake, swept over our valley, and the canal was filled to
overflowing, but gave no signs of bursting. Moncrieff had assuredly taken
time by the forelock.

One day a letter arrived, addressed to me, which bore the London
post-mark.

It was from Archie, and a most spirited epistle it was. He wanted us to
rejoice with him, and, better still, to expect him out by the very first
packet. His parents had yielded to his request. It had been the voyage to
Newcastle that had turned the scale. There was nothing like pluck, he
said; 'But,' he added, 'between you and me, Murdoch, I would not take
another voyage in a Newcastle collier, not to win all the honour and glory
of Livingstone, Stanley, Gordon-Cumming, and Colonel Frederick Burnaby put
in a bushel basket.'

I went tearing away over the _estancia_ on my mule, to find my brothers
and tell them the joyful tidings. And we rejoiced together. Then I went
off to look for Moncrieff, and he rejoiced, to keep me company.

'And mind you,' he said, 'the very day after he arrives we'll have a
dinner and a kick-up.'

'Of course we will,' I said. 'We'll have the dinner and fun at Coila
Villa, which, remember, can now boast of two wings besides the tower.'

'Very well,' he assented, 'and after that we can give another dinner and
rout at my diggings. Just a sort of return match, you see?'

'But I don't see,' I said; 'I don't see the use of two parties.'

'Oh, but I do, Murdoch. We must make more of a man than we do of a
nowt[12] beast. Now you mind that bull I had sent out from England--Towsy
Jock that lives in the Easter field?--well, I gave a dinner when he came.
£250 I paid for him too.'

'Yes, and I remember also you gave a dinner and fun when the prize ram
came out. Oh, catch you not finding an excuse for a dinner! However, so be
it: one dinner and fun for a bull, two for Archie.'

'That's agreed then,' said Moncrieff.

Now, my brothers and I and a party of Gauchos, with the warlike Bombazo
and a Scot or two, had arranged a grand hunt into the guanaco country; but
as dear old Archie was coming out so soon we agreed to postpone it, in
order that he might join in the fun. Meanwhile we commenced to make all
preparations.

They say that the principal joy in life lies in the anticipation of
pleasure to come. I think there is a considerable amount of truth in this,
and I am sure that not even bluff old King Hal setting out to hunt in the
New Forest could have promised himself a greater treat than we did as we
got ready for our tour in the land of the guanaco, and country of the
condor.

We determined to be quite prepared to start by the time Archie was due.
Not that we meant to hurry our dear cockney cousin right away to the wilds
as soon as he arrived. No; we would give him a whole week to 'shake
down,' as Moncrieff called it, and study life on the _estancia_.

And, indeed, life on the _estancia_, now that we had become thoroughly
used to it, was exceedingly pleasant altogether.

I cannot say that either my brothers or I were ever much given to lazing
in bed of a morning in Scotland itself. To have done so we should have
looked upon as bad form; but to encourage ourselves in matutinal sloth in
a climate like this would have seemed a positive crime.

Even by seven in the morning we used to hear the great gong roaring
hoarsely on Moncrieff's lawn, and this used to be the signal for us to
start and draw aside our mosquito curtains. Our bedrooms adjoined, and all
the time we were splashing in our tubs and dressing we kept up an
incessant fire of banter and fun. The fact is, we used to feel in such
glorious form after a night's rest. Our bedroom windows were very large
casements, and were kept wide open all the year round, so that virtually
we slept in the open air. We nearly always went to bed in the dark, or if
we did have lights we had to shut the windows till we had put them out,
else moths as big as one's hand, and all kinds and conditions of insect
life, would have entered and speedily extinguished our candles. Even had
the windows been protected by glass, this insect life would have been
troublesome. In the drawing and dining rooms we had specially prepared
blinds of wire to exclude these creatures, while admitting air enough.

The mosquito curtains round our beds effectually kept everything
disagreeable at bay, and insured us wholesome rest.

But often we were out of bed and galloping over the country long before
the gong sounded. This ride used to give us such appetites for breakfast,
that sometimes we had to apologize to aunt and Aileen for our apparent
greediness. We were out of doors nearly all day, and just as often as not
had a snack of luncheon on the hills at some settler's house or at an
outlying _puesto_.

Aunt was now our housekeeper, but nevertheless so accustomed had we and
Moncrieff and Aileen become to each other's society that hardly a day
passed without our dining together either at his house or ours.

The day, what with one thing and another, used to pass quickly enough, and
the evening was most enjoyable, despite even the worry of flying and
creeping insects. After dinner my brothers and I, with at times Moncrieff
and Bombazo, used to lounge round to see what the servants were doing.

They had a concert, and as often as not some fun, every night with the
exception of Sabbath, when Moncrieff insisted that they should retire
early.

At many _estancias_ wine is far too much in use--even to the extent of
inebriety. Our places, however, owing to Moncrieff's strictness, were
models of temperance, combined with innocent pleasures. The master, as he
was called, encouraged all kinds of games, though he objected to gambling,
and drinking he would not permit at any price.

One morning our post-runner came to Coila Villa in greater haste than
usual, and from his beaming eyes and merry face I conjectured he had a
letter for me.

I took it from him in the verandah, and sent him off round to the kitchen
to refresh himself. No sooner had I glanced at its opening sentences than
I rushed shouting into the breakfast-room.

'Hurrah!' I cried, waving the letter aloft. 'Archie's coming, and he'll be
here to-day. Hurrah! for the hunt, lads, and hurrah! for the hills!'

-----

  [11] Orra = leisure, idle. An orra-man is one who does all
       kinds of odd jobs about a farm.

  [12] Nowt = cattle.



CHAPTER XVIII.

OUR HUNTING EXPEDITION.


If not quite so exuberant as the welcome that awaited us on our arrival in
the valley, Archie's was a right hearty one, and assuredly left our cousin
nothing to complain of.

He had come by diligence from Villa Mercedes, accomplishing the journey,
therefore, in a few days, which had occupied us in our caravan about as
many weeks.

We were delighted to see him looking so well. Why, he had even already
commenced to get brown, and was altogether hardy and hearty and manlike.

We were old _estancieros_, however, and it gave us unalloyed delight to
show him round our place and put him up to all the outs and ins of a
settler's life.

Dugald even took him away to the hills with him, and the two of them did
not get home until dinner was on the table.

Archie, however, although not without plenty of pluck and willingness to
develop into an _estanciero_ pure and simple, had not the stamina my
brothers and I possessed, but this only made us all the more kind to him.
In time, we told him, he would be quite as strong and wiry as any of us.

'There is one thing I don't think I shall ever be able to get over,' said
Archie one day. It may be observed that he did not now talk with the
London drawl; he had left both his cockney tongue and his tall hat at
home.

'What is it you do not think you will ever get over, Arch?' I asked.

'Why, the abominable creepies,' he answered, looking almost miserable.

'Why,' he continued, 'it isn't so much that I mind being bitten by
mosquitoes--of which it seems you have brutes that fly by day, and gangs
that go on regular duty at night--but it is the other abominations that
make my blood run positively cold. Now your cockroaches are all very well
down in the coal-cellar, and centipedes are interesting creatures in glass
cases with pins stuck through them; but to find cockroaches in your boots
and centipedes in your bed is rather too much of a good thing.'

'Well,' said Dugald, laughing, 'you'll get used to even that. I don't
really mind now what bites me or what crawls over me. Besides, you know
all those creepie-creepies, as you call them, afford one so excellent an
opportunity of studying natural history from the life.'

'Oh, bother such life, Dugald! My dear cousin, I would rather remain in
blissful ignorance of natural history all my life than have even an earwig
reposing under my pillow.  Besides, I notice that even your Yahoo
servants--'

'I beg your pardon, cousin; Gaucho, not Yahoo.'

'Well, well, Gaucho servants shudder, and even run from our common bedroom
creepies.'

'Oh! they are nothing at all to go by, Archie. They think because a thing
is not very pretty it is bound to be venomous.'

'But does not the bite of a centipede mean death?'

'Oh dear no. It isn't half as bad as London vermin.'

'Then there are scorpions. Do they kill you? Is not their bite highly
dangerous?'

'Not so bad as a bee's sting.'

'Then there are so many flying beetles.'

'Beauties, Archie, beauties. Why, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed
like some of these.'

'Perhaps not. But then, Solomon or not Solomon, how am I to know which
sting and which don't?'

'_Experientia docet_, Archie.'

Archie shuddered.

'Again, there are spiders. Oh, they do frighten me. They're as big as
lobsters. Ugh!'

'Well, they won't hurt. They help to catch the other things!'

'Yes, and that's just the worst of it. First a lot of creepies come in to
suck your blood and inject poison into your veins, to say nothing of half
scaring a fellow to death; and then a whole lot of flying creepies, much
worse than the former, come in to hunt them up; and bats come next, to say
nothing of lizards; and what with the buzzing and singing and hopping and
flapping and beating and thumping, poor _me_ has to lie awake half the
night, falling asleep towards morning to dream I'm in purgatory.'

'Poor _you_ indeed!' said Dugald.

'You have told me, too, I must sleep in the dark, but I want to know what
is the good of that when about one half of those flying creepies carry a
lamp each, and some of them two. Only the night before last I awoke in a
fright. I had been dreaming about the great sea-serpent, and the first
thing I saw was a huge creature about as long as a yard stick wriggling
along my mosquito curtains.'

'Ah! How could you see it in the dark?'

'Why, the beggar carried two lamps ahead of him, and he had a smaller chap
with a light. Ugh!'

'These were some good specimens of the _Lampyridæ_, no doubt.'

'Well, perhaps; but having such a nice long name doesn't make them a bit
less hideous to me. Then in the morning when I looked into the glass I
didn't know myself from Adam. I had a black eye that some bug or other
had given me--I dare say he also had a nice long name. I had a lump on my
brow as large as a Spanish onion, and my nose was swollen and as big as a
bladder of lard. From top to toe I was covered with hard knots, as if I'd
been to Donnybrook Fair, and what with aching and itching it would have
been a comfort to me to have jumped out of my skin.'

'Was that all?' I said, laughing.

'Not quite. I went to take up a book to fling at a monster spider in the
corner, and put my hand on a scorpion. I cracked him and crushed the
spider, and went to have my bath, only to find I had to fish out about
twenty long-named indescribables that had committed suicide during the
night. Other creepies had been drowned in the ewer. I found earwigs in my
towels, grasshoppers in my clothes, and wicked-looking little beetles even
in my hairbrushes. This may be a land flowing with milk and honey and all
the rest of it, Murdoch, but it is also a land crawling with
creepie-creepies.'

'Well, anyhow,' said Dugald, 'here comes your mule. Mount and have a ride,
and we'll forget everything but the pleasures of the chase. Come, I think
I know where there is a jaguar--an immense great brute. I saw him killing
geese not three days ago.'

'Oh, that will be grand!' cried Archie, now all excitement.

And five minutes afterwards Dugald and he were off to the hills.

But in two days more we would be off to the hills in earnest.

For this tour we would not of our own free-will have made half the
preparations Moncrieff insisted on, and perhaps would hardly have provided
ourselves with tents. However, we gave in to his arrangements in every
way, and certainly we had no cause to repent it.

The guide--he was to be called our _cacique_ for the time being--that
Moncrieff appointed had been a Gaucho malo, a pampas Cain. No one ever
knew half the crimes the fellow had committed, and I suppose he himself
had forgotten. But he was a reformed man and really a Christian, and it is
difficult to find such an anomaly among Gauchos. He knew the pampas well,
and the Andes too, and was far more at home in the wilds than at the
_estancia_. A man like this, Moncrieff told us, was worth ten times his
weight in gold.

And so it turned out.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The summer had well-nigh gone when our caravan at length left Moncrieff's
beautiful valley. The words 'caravan at length' in the last sentence may
be understood in two ways, either as regards space or time. Ours was no
caravan on wheels. Not a single wheeled waggon accompanied us, for we
should cross deserts, and pass through glens where there would be no road,
perhaps hardly even a bridle-path. So the word caravan is to be understood
in the Arab sense of the word. And it certainly was a lengthy one. For we
had a pack mule for every two men, including our five Gauchos.

Putting it in another way, there were five of us Europeans--Donald,
Dugald, Archie Bateman, Sandie Donaldson, and myself; each European had a
horse and a Gaucho servant, and each Gaucho had a mule.

Bombazo meant to have come; he said so to the very last, at all events,
but an unfortunate attack of toothache confined him to bed. Archie, who
had no very exalted idea of the little Spanish captain's courage, was rude
enough to tell us in his hearing that he was 'foxing.' I do not pretend to
understand what Archie meant, but I feel certain it was nothing very
complimentary to Bombazo's bravery.

'Dear laddies,' old Jenny had said, 'if you think you want onybody to darn
your hose on the road, I'll gang wi' ye mysel'. As for that feckless loon
Bombazo, the peer[13] body is best in bed.'

Our arms consisted of rifles, shot-guns, the bolas, and lasso. Each man
carried a revolver as well, and we had also abundance of fishing tackle.
Our tents were only three in all, but they were strong and waterproof, a
great consideration when traversing a country like this.

We were certainly prepared to rough it, but had the good sense to take
with us every contrivance which might add to our comfort, so long as it
was fairly portable.

Archie had one particular valise of his own that he declared contained
only a few nicknacks which no one ought to travel without. He would not
gratify us by even a peep inside, however, so for a time we had to be
content with guessing what the nicknacks were. Archie got pretty well
chaffed about his Gladstone bag, as he called it.

'You surely haven't got the tall hat in it,' said Dugald.

'Of course you haven't forgotten your nightcap,' said Donald.

'Nor your slippers, Archie?' I added.

'And a dressing-gown would be indispensable in the desert,' said Sandie
Donaldson.

Archie only smiled to himself, but kept his secret.

What a lovely morning it was when we set out! So blue was the sky, so
green the fields of waving lucerne, so dense the foliage and flowers and
hedgerows and trees, it really seemed that summer would last for many and
many a month to come.

We were all fresh and happy, and full of buoyant anticipation of pleasures
to come. Our very dogs went scampering on ahead, barking for very joy. Of
these we had quite a pack--three pure Scotch collies, two huge
bloodhound-mastiffs, and at least half a dozen animals belonging to our
Gauchos, which really were nondescripts but probably stood by greyhounds.
These dogs were on exceedingly good terms with themselves and with each
other--the collies jumping up to kiss the horses every minute by way of
encouragement, the mastiffs trotting steadily on ahead cheek-by-jowl, and
the hounds everywhere--everywhere at once, so it appeared.

Being all so fresh, we determined to make a thorough long day's journey of
it. So, as soon as we had left the glen entirely and disappeared among the
sand dunes, we let our horses have their heads, the _capataz_ Gaucho
riding on ahead on a splendid mule as strong as a stallion and as lithe as
a Scottish deerhound.

Not long before our start for the hunting grounds men had arrived from the
Chilian markets to purchase cattle. The greatest dainty to my mind they
had brought with them was a quantity of _Yerba maté_, as it is called. It
is the dried leaves of a species of Patagonian ilex, which is used in this
country as tea, and very delightful and soothing it is. This was to be our
drink during all our tour. More refreshing than tea, less exciting than
wine, it not only seems to calm the mind but to invigorate the body. Drunk
warm, with or without sugar, all feeling of tiredness passes away, and one
is disposed to look at the bright side of life, and that alone.

We camped the first night on high ground nearly forty miles from our own
_estancia_. It was a long day's journey in so rough a country, but we had
a difficulty earlier in the afternoon in finding water. Here, however, was
a stream as clear as crystal, that doubtless made its way from springs in
the _sierras_ that lay to the west of us at no very great distance. Behind
these jagged hills the sun was slowly setting when we erected our tents.
The ground chosen was at some little distance from the stream, and on the
bare gravel. The cacti that grew on two sides of us were of gigantic
height, and ribboned or edged with the most beautiful flowers. Our horses
and mules were hobbled and led to the stream, then turned on to the grass
which grew green and plentiful all along its banks.

A fire was quickly built and our great stewpan put on. We had already
killed our dinner in the shape of a small deer or fawn which had crossed
our path on the plains lower down. With biscuits, of which we had a
store, some curry, roots, which the Gauchos had found, and a handful or
two of rice, we soon had a dinner ready, the very flavour of which would
have been enough to make a dying man eat.

The dogs sat around us and around the Gauchos as we dined, and, it must be
allowed, behaved in a most mannerly way; only the collies and mastiffs
kept together. They must have felt their superiority to those mongrel
greyhounds, and desired to show it in as calm and dignified a manner as
possible.

After dinner sentries were set, one being mounted to watch the horses and
mules. We were in no great fear of their stampeding, but we had promised
Moncrieff to run as little risk of any kind as possible on this journey,
and therefore commenced even on this our first night to be as good as our
word.

The best Gauchos had been chosen for us, and every one of them could talk
English after a fashion, especially our bold but not handsome _capataz_,
or _cacique_ Yambo. About an hour after dinner the latter began serving
out the _maté_. This put us all in excellent humour and the best of
spirits. As we felt therefore as happy as one could wish to be, we were
not surprised when the _capataz_ proposed a little music.

'It is the pampas fashion, señor,' he said to me.

'Will you play and sing?' I said.

'Play and sing?' he replied, at once producing his guitar, which lay in a
bag not far off. '_Si_, señor, I will play and sing for you. If you bid
me, I will dance; every day and night I shall cook for you; when de
opportunity come I will fight for you. I am your servant, your slave, and
delighted to be so.'

'Thank you, my _capataz_; I have no doubt you are a very excellent
fellow.'

'Oh, señor, do not flatter yourself too mooch, too very mooch. It is not
for the sake of you young señors I care, but for the sake of the dear
master.'

'Sing, _capataz_,' I said, 'and talk after.'

To our surprise, not one but three guitars were handed out, and the songs
and melodies were very delightful to listen to.

Then our Sandie Donaldson, after handing his cup to be replenished, sang,
_Ye banks and braes_ with much feeling and in fine manly tenor. We all
joined in each second verse, while the guitars gave excellent
accompaniment. One song suggested another, and from singing to
conversational story-telling the transition was easy. To be sure, neither
my brothers nor I nor Archie had much to tell, but some of the experiences
of the Gauchos, and especially those of our _capataz_, were thrilling in
the extreme, and we never doubted their truth.

But now it was time for bed, and we returned to the tents and lit our
lamps.

Our beds were the hard ground, with a rug and guanaco robe, our saddles
turned upside down making as good a pillow as any one could wish.

We had now the satisfaction of knowing something concerning the contents
of that mysterious grip-sack of Archie's. So judge of our surprise when
this wonderful London cousin of ours first produced a large jar of what he
called mosquito cream, and proceeded to smear his face and hands with the
odorous compound.

'This cream,' he said, 'I bought at Buenos Ayres, and it is warranted to
keep all pampas creepies away, or anything with two wings or four, six
legs or sixty. Have a rub, Dugald?'

'Not I,' cried Dugald. 'Why, man, the smell is enough to kill bees.'

Archie proceeded with his preparations. Before enshrouding himself in his
guanaco mantle he drew on a huge waterproof canvas sack and fastened it
tightly round his chest. He next produced a hooped head-dress. I know no
other name for it.

'It is an invention of my own,' said Archie, proudly, 'and is, as you see,
composed of hoops of wire--'

'Like a lady's crinoline,' said Dugald.

'Well, yes, if you choose to call it so, and is covered with mosquito
muslin. This is how it goes on, and I'm sure it will form a perfect
protection.'

He then inserted his head into the wondrous muslin bladder, and the
appearance he now presented was comical in the extreme. His body in a
sack, his head in a white muslin bag, nothing human-looking about him
except his arms, that, encased in huge leather gloves, dangled from his
shoulders like an immense pair of flippers.

We three brothers looked at him just for a moment, then simultaneously
exploded into a perfect roar of laughter. Sandie Donaldson, who with the
_capataz_ occupied the next tent, came rushing in, then all the Gauchos
and even the dogs. The latter bolted barking when they saw the apparition,
but the rest joined the laughing chorus.

And the more we looked at Archie the more we laughed, till the very sand
dunes near us must have been shaken to their foundations by the
manifestation of our mirth.

'Laugh away, boys,' said our cousin. 'Laugh and grow fat. I don't care how
I look, so long as my dress and my cream keep the creepies away.'

-----

  [13] Peer = poor.

[Illustration: Comical in the Extreme]



CHAPTER XIX.

IN THE WILDERNESS.


Some days afterwards we found ourselves among the mountains in a region
whose rugged grandeur and semi-desolation, whose rock-filled glens, tall,
frowning precipices, with the stillness that reigned everywhere around,
imparted to it a character approaching even to sublimity.

The _capataz_ was still our guide, our foremost man in everything; but
close beside him rode our indefatigable hunter, Dugald.

We had already seen pumas, and even the terrible jaguar of the plains; we
had killed more than one rhea--the American ostrich--and deer in
abundance. Moreover, Dugald had secured about fifty skins of the most
lovely humming-birds, with many beetles, whose elytra, painted and adorned
by Nature, looked like radiant jewels. All these little skins and beetles
were destined to be sent home to Flora. As yet, however, we had not come
in contact with the guanaco, although some had been seen at a distance.

But to-day we were in the very country of the guanaco, and pressing
onwards and ever upwards, in the hopes of soon being able to draw trigger
on some of these strange inhabitants of the wilderness.

Only this morning Dugald and I had been bantering each other as to who
should shoot the first.

'I mean to send my first skin to Flora,' Dugald had said.

'And I my first skin to Irene,' I said.

On rounding the corner of a cliff we suddenly came in sight of a whole
herd of the creatures, but they were in full retreat up the glen, while
out against the sky stood in bold relief a tall buck. It was the trumpet
tones of his voice ringing out plaintively but musically on the still
mountain air that had warned the herd of our approach.

Another long ride of nearly two hours. And now we must have been many
thousands of feet above the sea level, or even the level of the distant
plains.

It is long past midday, so we determine to halt, for here, pure, bubbling
from a dark green slippery rock, is a spring of water as clear as crystal
and deliciously cool. What a treat for our horses and dogs! What a treat
even for ourselves!

I notice that Dugald seems extra tired. He has done more riding to-day
than any of us, and made many a long _détour_ in search of that guanaco
which he has hitherto failed to find.

A kind of brotherly rivalry takes possession of me, and I cannot help
wishing that the first guanaco would fall to my rifle. The Gauchos are
busy preparing the stew and boiling water for the _maté_, so shouldering
my rifle, and carelessly singing to myself, I leave my companions and
commence sauntering higher up the glen. The hill gets very steep, and I
have almost to climb on my hands and knees, starting sometimes in dread as
a hideous snake goes wriggling past me or raises head and body from behind
a stone, and hisses defiance and hate almost in my face. But I reach the
summit at last, and find myself on the very edge of a precipice.

Oh, joy! On a little peak down beneath, and not a hundred yards away,
stands one of the noblest guanacos I have ever seen. He has heard
something, or scented something, for he stands there as still as a statue,
with head and neck in the air sniffing the breeze.

How my heart beats! How my hand trembles! I cannot understand my anxiety.
Were I face to face with a lion or tiger I could hardly be more nervous. A
thousand thoughts seem to cross my mind with a rush, but uppermost of all
is the fear that, having fired, I shall miss.

He whinnies his warning now: only a low and undecided one. He is evidently
puzzled; but the herd down in the bottom of the cañon hear it, and every
head is elevated. I have judged the distance; I have drawn my bead. If my
heart would only keep still, and there were not such a mist before my
eyes! Bang! I have fired, and quickly load again. Have I missed? Yes--no,
no; hurrah! hurrah! yonder he lies, stark and still, on the very rock on
which he stood--my first guanaco!

The startled herd move up the cañon. They must have seen their leader
drop.

I am still gazing after them, full of exultation, when a hand is laid on
my shoulder, and, lo! there stands Dugald laughing.

'You sly old dog,' he says, 'to steal a march on your poor little brother
thus!'

For a moment I am startled, mystified.

'Dugald,' I say, 'did I really kill that guanaco?'

'No one else did.'

'And you've only just come--only just this second? Well, I'm glad to hear
it. It was after all a pure accident my shooting the beast. I _did_ hold
the rifle his way. I _did_ draw the trigger----'

'Well, and the bullet did the rest, boy. Funny, you always kill by the
merest chance! Ah, Murdoch, you're a better shot than I am, for all you
won't allow it.'

Wandering still onwards and still upwards next day, through lonely glens
and deep ravines, through cañons the sides of which were as perpendicular
as walls, their flat green or brown bottoms sometimes scattered with huge
boulders, casting shadows so dark in the sunlight that a man or horse
disappeared in them as if the earth had opened and swallowed him up, we
came at length to a dell, or strath, of such charming luxuriance that it
looked to us, amid all the barrenness of this dreary wilderness, like an
oasis dropped from the clouds, or some sweet green glade where fairies
might dwell.

I looked at my brother. The same thought must have struck each of us, at
the same moment--Why not make this glen our _habitat_ for a time?

'Oh!' cried Archie, 'this is a paradise!'

'Beautiful! lovely!' said Dugald. 'Suppose now--'

'Oh, I know what you are going to say,' cried Donald.

'And I second the motion,' said Sandie Donaldson.

'Well,' I exclaimed, 'seeing, Sandie, that no motion has yet been made--'

'Here is the motion, then,' exclaimed Dugald, jumping out of his saddle.

It was a motion we all followed at once; and as the day was getting near
its close, the Gauchos set about looking for a bit of camping-ground at
once. As far as comfort was concerned, this might have been chosen almost
anywhere, but we wanted to be near to water. Now here was the mystery: the
glen was not three miles long altogether, and nowhere more than a mile
broad; all along the bottom it was tolerably level and extremely well
wooded with quite a variety of different trees, among which pines, elms,
chestnuts, and stunted oak-trees were most abundant; each side of the glen
was bounded by rising hills or braes covered with algorroba bushes and
patches of charmingly-coloured cacti, with many sorts of prickly shrubs,
the very names of which we could not tell. Curious to say, there was very
little undergrowth; and, although the trees were close enough in some
places to form a jungle, the grass was green beneath. But at first we
could find no water. Leaving the others to rest by the edge of the
miniature forest, Dugald and I and Archie set out to explore, and had not
gone more than a hundred yards when we came to a little lake. We bent
down and tasted the water; it was pure and sweet and cool.

'What a glorious find!' said Dugald. 'Why, this place altogether was
surely made for us.'

We hurried back to tell the news, and the horses and mules were led to the
lake, which was little more than half an acre in extent. But not satisfied
with drinking, most of the dogs plunged in; and horses and mules followed
suit.

'Come,' cried Donald, 'that is a sort of motion I will willingly second.'
He commenced to undress as he spoke. So did we all, and such splashing and
dashing, and laughing and shouting, the birds and beasts in this romantic
dale had surely never witnessed before.

Dugald was an excellent swimmer, and as bold and headstrong in the water
as on the land. He had left us and set out to cross the lake. Suddenly we
saw him throw up his arms and shout for help, and we--Donald and I--at
once commenced swimming to his assistance. He appeared, however, in no
danger of sinking, and, to our surprise, although heading our way all the
time, he was borne away from us one minute and brought near us next.

When close enough a thrill of horror went through me to hear poor Dugald
cry in a feeble, pleading voice,

'Come no nearer, boys: I soon must sink. Save yourselves: I'm in a
whirlpool.'

It was too true, though almost too awful to be borne. I do not know how
Donald felt at that moment, but as for myself I was almost paralyzed with
terror.

'Back, back, for your lives!' shouted a voice behind us.

It was our Gaucho _capataz_. He was coming towards us with powerful
strokes, holding in one hand a lasso. Instead of swimming on with us when
he saw Dugald in danger, he had gone ashore at once and brought the
longest thong.

We white men could have done nothing. We knew of nothing to do. We should
have floated there and seen our dear brother go down before our eyes, or
swam recklessly, madly on, only to sink with him.

Dugald, weak as he had become, sees the Gaucho will make an attempt to
save him, and tries to steady himself to catch the end of the lasso that
now flies in his direction.

But to our horror it falls short, and Dugald is borne away again, the
circles round which he is swept being now narrower.

The Gaucho is nearer. He is perilously near. He will save him or perish.

Again the lasso leaves his hand. Dugald had thrown up his hands and almost
leapt from the water. He is sinking. Oh, good Gaucho! Oh, good _capataz_,
surely Heaven itself directed that aim, for the noose fell over our
brother's arms and tightened round the chest!

In a few minutes more we have laid his lifeless body on the green bank.

Lifeless only for a time, however. Presently he breathes, and we carry him
away into the evening sunshine and place him on the soft warm moss. He
soon speaks, but is very ill and weak; yet our thanks to God for his
preservation are very sincere. Surely there is a Providence around one
even in the wilderness!

We might have explored our glen this same evening, perhaps we really ought
to have done so, but the excitement caused by Dugald's adventure put
everything else out of our heads.

In this high region, the nights were even cold enough to make a position
near the camp fire rather a thing to be desired than otherwise. It was
especially delightful, I thought, on this particular evening to sit around
the fire and quietly talk. I reclined near Dugald, who had not yet quite
recovered. I made a bed for him with extra rugs; and, as he coughed a good
deal, I begged of him to consider himself an invalid for one night at
least; but no sooner had he drunk his mug of _maté_ than he sat up and
joined in the conversation, assuring us he felt as well as ever he had in
his life.

[Illustration: Tries to steady himself to catch the Lasso]

It was a lovely evening. The sky was unclouded, the stars shining out very
clear, and looking very near, while a round moon was rising slowly over
the hill-peaks towards the east, and the tall dark pine-trees were casting
gloomy shadows on the lake, near which, in an open glade, we were
encamped. I could not look at the dark waters without a shudder, as I
thought of the danger poor Dugald had so narrowly escaped. I am not sure
that the boy was not always my mother's favourite, and I know he was
Flora's. How could I have written and told them of his fearful end? The
very idea made me creep nearer to him and put my arm round his shoulder. I
suppose he interpreted my thoughts, for he patted my knee in his brotherly
fond old fashion.

Our Gaucho _capataz_ was just telling a story, an adventure of his own, in
the lonely pampas. He looked a strange and far from comely being, with his
long, straggling, elf-like locks of hair, his low, receding forehead, his
swarthy complexion, and high cheek bones. The mark of a terrible spear
wound across his face and nose did not improve his looks.

'Yes, señors,' he was saying, 'that was a fearful moment for me.' He threw
back his poncho as he spoke, revealing three ugly scars on his chest. 'You
see these, señors? It was that same tiger made the marks. It was a
keepsake, ha! ha! that I will take to de grave with me, if any one should
trouble to bury me. It was towards evening, and we were journeying across
the pampa. We had come far that day, my Indians and me. We felt
tired--sometimes even Indians felt tired on de weary wide pampa. De sun
has been hot all day. We have been chased far by de white settlers. Dey
not love us. Ha! ha! We have five score of de cattle with us. And we have
spilt blood, and left dead and wounded Indians plenty on de pampa. Never
mind, I swear revenge. Oh, I am a bad man den. Gaucho malo, mucho malo,
Nandrin, my brother _cacique_, hate me. I hate him. I wish him dead. But
de Indians love him all de same as me. By and by de sun go down, down,
down, and we raise de _toldo_[14] in de cañon near a stream. Here grow
many ombu-trees. The young señors have not seen this great tree; it is de
king of the lonely pampa. Oh, so tall! Oh, so wide! so spreading and
shady! Two, three ombu-trees grow near; but I have seen de great tiger
sleep in one. My brother _cacique_ have seen him too. When de big moon
rise, and all is bright like de day, and no sound make itself heard but de
woo-hoo-woo of de pampa owl, I get quietly up and go to de ombu-tree. I
think myself much more brave as my brother _cacique_. Ha! ha! he think
himself more brave as me. When I come near de ombu-trees I shout. Ugh! de
scream dat comes from de ombu-tree make me shake and shiver. Den de
terrible tiger spring down; I will not run, I am too brave. I shoot. He
not fall. Next moment I am down--on my back I lie. One big foot is on me;
his blood pour over my face. He pull me close and more close to him. Soon,
ah, soon, I think my brother _cacique_ will be chief--I will be no more.
De tiger licks my arm--my cheek. How he growl and froth! He is now going
to eat me. But no! Ha! ha! my brother _cacique_ have also leave de camp to
come to de ombu-tree. De tiger see him. P'r'aps he suppose his blood more
sweet as mine. He leave poor me. Ha! ha! he catch my brother _cacique_ and
carry him under de shade of de ombu-tree. By and by I listen, and hear my
brother's bones go crash! crash! crash! De tiger is enjoying his supper!'

'But, _capataz_,' I said, with a shudder, 'did you make no attempt to save
your brother chief?'

'Not much! You see, he all same as dead. Suppose I den shoot, p'r'aps I
kill him for true; 'sides, I bad Gaucho den; not love anybody mooch. Next
day I kill dat tiger proper, and his skin make good ponchos. Ha! ha!'

Many a time during the Gaucho's recital he had paused and looked uneasily
around him, for ever and anon the woods re-echoed with strange cries. We
white men had not lived long enough in beast-haunted wildernesses to
distinguish what those sounds were, whether they proceeded from bird or
beast.

As the _capataz_ stopped speaking, and we all sat silent for a short time,
the cries were redoubled. They certainly were not calculated to raise our
spirits: some were wild and unearthly in the extreme, some were growls of
evident anger, some mere groanings, as if they proceeded from creatures
dying in pain and torment, while others again began in a low and most
mournful moan, rising quickly into a hideous, frightened, broken, or
gurgling yell, then dying away again in dreary cadence.

I could not help shuddering a little as I looked behind me into the
darkness of the forest. The whole place had an uncanny, haunted sort of
look, and I even began to wonder whether we might not possibly be the
victims of enchantment. Would we awaken in the morning and find no trees,
no wood, no water, only a green cañon, with cliffs and hills on every
side?

'Look, look!' I cried, starting half up at last. 'Did none of you see
that?'

'What is it? Speak, Murdoch!' cried Archie; 'your face is enough to
frighten a fellow.'

I pressed my hand to my forehead.

'Surely,' I said, 'I am going to be ill, but I thought I could distinctly
see a tall grey figure standing among the trees.'

We resumed talking, but in a lower, quieter key. The events of the
evening, our strange surroundings, the whispering trees, the occasional
strange cries, and the mournful beauty of the night, seemed to have cast a
glamour over every heart that was here; and though it was now long past
our usual hour for bed, no one appeared wishful to retire.

All at once Archie grasped me by the shoulder and glanced fearfully into
the forest behind me. I dared scarcely turn my head till the click of
Yambo's revolver reassured me.

Yes, there was the figure in grey moving silently towards us.

'Speak, quick, else I fire!' shouted our _capataz_.

'_Ave Maria!_'

Yambo lowered the revolver, and we all started to our feet to confront the
figure in grey.

-----

  [14] Toldo = a tent.



CHAPTER XX.

THE MOUNTAIN CRUSOE.


The figure in grey--the grey was a garment of skin, cap, coat, breeches,
and even boots, apparently all of the same material--approached with
extended hand. We could see now it was no ghost who stood before us, but a
man of flesh and blood. Very solid flesh, too, judging from the cheeks
that surmounted the silvery beard. The moon shone full on his face, and a
very pleasant one it was, with a bright, merry twinkle in the eye.

'Who are you?' said I.

'Nay, pardon me,' was the bold reply, 'but the question would come with
greater propriety from my lips. I need not ask it, however. You are right
welcome to my little kingdom. You are, I can see, a party of roving
hunters. Few of your sort have ever come here before, I can tell you.'

'And you?' I said, smiling.

'_I_ am--but there, what need to give myself a name? I have not heard my
name for years. Call me Smith, Jones, Robinson; call me a hunter, a
trapper, a madman, a fool--anything.'

'A hermit, anyhow,' said Dugald.

'Yes, boy, a hermit.'

'And an Englishman?'

'No; I am a Portuguese by birth, but I have lived in every country under
the sun, and here I am at last. Have I introduced myself sufficiently?'

'No,' I said; 'but sit down. You have,' I continued, 'only introduced
yourself sufficiently to excite our curiosity. Yours must be a strange
story.'

'Oh, anybody and everybody who lives for over fifty years in the world as
I have done has a strange story, if he cared to tell it. Mine is too long,
and some of it too sad. I have been a soldier, a sailor, a traveller; I
have been wealthy, I have been poor; I have been in love--my love left
_me_. I forgot _her_. I have done everything except commit crime. I have
not run away from anywhere, gentlemen. There is no blood on my hands. I
can still pray. I still love. She whom I love is here.'

'Oh!' cried Dugald, 'won't you bring the lady?'

The hermit laughed.

'She _is_ here, there, all around us. My mistress is Nature. Ah! boys,' he
said, turning to us with such a kind look, 'Nature breaks no hearts; and
the more you love her, the more she loves you, and leads you
upwards--always upwards, never down.'

It was strange, but from the very moment he began to talk both my brothers
and I began to like this hermit. His ways and his manners were quite
irresistible, and before we separated we felt as if we had known him all
our lives.

He was the last man my brothers and I saw that night, and he was the first
we met in the morning. He had donned a light cloth poncho and a broad
sombrero hat, and really looked both handsome and picturesque.

We went away together, and bathed, and I told him of Dugald's adventure.
He looked interested, patted my brother's shoulder, and said:

'Poor boy, what a narrow escape you have had!

'The stream,' he continued, 'that flows through this strange glen rises in
the hills about five miles up. It rises from huge springs--you shall see
them--flows through the woods, and is sucked into the earth in the middle
of that lake. I have lived here for fifteen years. Walk with me up the
glen. Leave your rifles in your tents; there is nothing to hurt.'

We obeyed, and soon joined him, and together we strolled up the path that
led close by the banks of a beautiful stream. We were enchanted with the
beauty displayed everywhere about us, and our guide seemed pleased.

'Almost all the trees and shrubs you see,' he said, 'I have planted, and
many of the beautiful flowers--the orchids, the climbers, and creepers,
all are my pets. Those I have not planted I have encouraged, and I believe
they all know me.'

At this moment a huge puma came bounding along the path, but stopped when
he saw us.

'Don't be afraid, boys,' said the hermit. 'This, too, is a pet. Do not be
shy, Jacko. These are friends.'

The puma smelt us, then rubbed his great head against his master's leg,
and trotted along by his side.

'I have several. You will not shoot while you live here? Thanks. I have a
large family. The woods are filled with my family. I have brought them
from far and near, birds and beasts of every kind. They see us now, but
are shy.'

'I say, sir,' said Dugald, 'you are Adam, and this is Paradise.'

The hermit smiled in recognition of the compliment, and we now approached
his house.

'I must confess,' I said, 'that a more Crusoe-looking establishment it has
never been my luck to behold.'

'You are young yet,' replied the hermit, laughing, 'although you speak so
like a book.

'Here we are, then, in my compound. The fence, you see, is a very open
one, for I desire neither to exclude the sunshine nor the fresh air from
my vegetables. Observe,' he continued, 'that my hut, which consists of one
large room, stands in the centre of a gravel square.'

'It is strange-looking gravel!' said Dugald.

'It is nearly altogether composed of salt. My house is built of stone, but
it is plastered with a kind of cement I can dig here in the hills. There
is not a crevice nor hollow in all the wall, and it is four feet thick.
The floor is also cemented, and so is the roof.'

'And this,' I remarked, 'is no doubt for coolness in summer.'

'Yes, and warmth in winter, if it comes to that, and also for cleanliness.
Yonder is a ladder that leads to the roof. Up there I lounge and think,
drink my _maté_ and read. Oh yes, I have plenty of books, which I keep in
a safe with bitter-herb powder--to save them, you know, from literary ants
and other insects who possess an ambition to solve the infinite. Observe
again, that I have neither porch nor verandah to my house, and that the
windows are small. I object to a porch and to climbing things on the same
principle that I do to creeping, crawling creatures. The world is wide
enough for us all. But they must keep to their side of the house at night,
and I to mine. And mine is the inside. This is also the reason why most of
the gravel is composed of salt. As a rule, creepies don't like it.'

'Oh, I'm glad you told us that,' said Archie; 'I shall make my mule carry
a bushel of it. I'm glad you don't like creepies, sir.'

'But, boy, I _do_. Only I object to them indoors. Walk in. Observe again,
as a showman would say, how very few my articles of furniture are. Notice,
however, that they are all scrupulously clean. Nevertheless, I have every
convenience. That thong-bottomed sofa is my bed. My skins and rugs are
kept in a bag all day, and hermetically sealed against the prying
probosces of insectivora. Here is my stove, yonder my kitchen and
scullery, and there hangs my armoury. Now I am going to call my servant.
He is a Highlander like yourselves, boys; at any rate, he appears to be,
for he never wears anything else except the kilt, and he talks a language
which, though I have had him for ten years, I do not yet understand.
Archie, Archie, where are you?'

'Another Archie!' said Dugald, 'and a countryman, too?'

'He is shy of strangers. Archie, boy! He is swinging in some tree-top, no
doubt.'

'What a queer fellow he must be! Wears nothing but the kilt, speaks
Gaelic, swings in tree-tops, and is shy! A _rara avis_ indeed.'

'Ah! here he comes. Archie, spread the awning out of doors, lay the table,
bring a jug of cold _maté_ and the cigars.'

Truly Archie was a curious Highlander. He was quite as tall as our Archie,
and though the hermit assured us he was only a baby when he bought him in
Central Africa for about sevenpence halfpenny in Indian coin, he had now
the wrinkled face of an old man of ninety--wrinkled, wizened, and weird.
But his eye was singularly bright and young-looking. In his hand he
carried a long pole from which he had bitten all the bark, and his only
dress was a little petticoat of skunk skin, which the hermit called his
kilt. He was, in fact, an African orang-outang.

'Come and shake hands with the good gentlemen, Archie.'

Archie knitted his brows, and looked at us without moving. The hermit
laughingly handed him a pair of big horn-rimmed spectacles. These he put
on with all the gravity of some ancient professor of Sanscrit, then looked
us all over once again.

We could stand this no longer, and so burst into a chorus of laughing.

'Don't laugh longer than you can help, boys. See, Archie is angry.'

Archie was. He showed a mouth full of fearful-looking fangs, and fingered
his club in a way that was not pleasant.

'Archie, you may have some peaches presently.'

[Illustration: Interview with the Orang-outang]

Archie grew pleasant again in a moment, and advanced and shook hands with
us all round, looking all the time, however, as if he had some silent
sorrow somewhere.  I confess he wrung our hands pretty hard. Neither my
brother nor I made any remark, but when it came to Archie's turn--

'Honolulu!' he shouted, shaking his fingers, and blowing on them. 'I
believe he has made the blood come!'

'I suppose,' said Dugald, laughing, 'he knows you are a namesake.'

Off went the great baboon, and to our intense astonishment spread the
awning, placed table and camp-stools under it, and fetched the cold _maté_
with all the gravity and decorum of the chief steward on a first-class
liner.

I looked at my brothers, and they looked at me.

'You seem all surprised,' the hermit said, 'but remember that in olden
times it was no rare thing to see baboons of this same species waiting at
the tables of your English nobility. Well, I am not only a noble, but a
king; why should not I also have an anthropoid as a butler and valet?'

'I confess,' I said, 'I for one am very much surprised at all I have seen
and all that has happened since last night, and I really cannot help
thinking that presently I shall awake and find, as the story-books say, it
is all a dream.'

'You will find it all a very substantial dream, I do assure you, sir. But
help yourself to the _maté_. You will find it better than any imported
stuff.'

'Archie! Archie! Where are you?'

'Ah! ah! Yah, yah, yah!' cried Archie, hopping round behind his master.

'The sugar, Archie.'

'Ah, ah, ah! Yah, yah!'

'Is that Gaelic, Dugald?' said our Archie.

'Not quite, my cockney cousin.'

'I thought not.'

'Why?' said Dugald.

'It is much more intelligible.'

The hermit laughed.

'I think, Dugald,' he said, 'your cousin has the best of you.'

He then made us tell him all our strange though brief history, as the
reader already knows it. If he asked us questions, however, it was
evidently not for the sake of inquisitiveness, but to exchange
experiences, and support the conversation. He was quite as ready to impart
as to solicit information; but somehow we felt towards him as if he were
an elder brother or uncle; and this only proves the hermit was a perfect
gentleman.

'Shall you live much longer in this beautiful wilderness?' asked Donald.

'Well, I will tell you all about that,' replied the hermit. 'And the all
is very brief. When I came here first I had no intention of making a long
stay.  I was a trapper and hunter then pure and simple, and sold my skins
and other odds and ends which these hills yield--and what these are I must
not even tell to you--journeying over the Andes with mules twice every
year for that purpose.  But gradually, as my trees and bushes and all the
beauty of this wild garden-glen grew up around me, and so many of God's
wild children came to keep me company, I got to love my strange life. So
from playing at being a hermit, I dare say I have come to be one in
reality. And now, though I have money--much more than one would
imagine--in the Chilian banks, I do not seem to care to enter civilized
life again. For some years back I have been promising myself a city
holiday, but I keep putting it off and off.  I should not wonder if it
never comes, or, to speak more correctly, I should wonder if it ever came.
Oh, I dare say I shall die in my own private wilderness here, with no one
to close my eyes but old Archie.'

'Do you still go on journeys to Chili?'

'I still go twice a year. I have strong fleet mules. I go once in summer
and once in winter.'

'Going in winter across the Andes! That must be a terribly dreary
journey.'

'It is. Yet it has its advantages. I never have to flee from hostile
Indians then. They do not like the hills in winter.'

'Are you not afraid of the pampas Indians?'

'No, not at all. They visit me occasionally here, but do not stay long. I
trust them, I am kind to them, and I have nothing they could find to
steal, even if they cared to be dishonest. But they are _not_. They are
good-hearted fellows in their own way.'

'Yes,' I said, 'very much in their own way.'

'My dear boy,' said the hermit, 'you do not know all. A different policy
would have made those Indians the sworn friends, the faithful allies and
servants of the white man. They would have kept then to their own
hunting-grounds, they would have brought to you wealth of skins, and
wealth of gold and silver, too, for believe me, they (the Indians) have
secrets that the white trader little wots of. No, it is the dishonest,
blood-stained policy of the Republic that has made the Indian what he
is--his hand against every man, every man's hand against him.'

'But they even attack you at times, I think you gave us to understand?'

'Nay, not the pampas or pampean Indians: only prowling gipsy tribes from
the far north. Even they will not when they know me better. My fame is
spreading as a seer.'

'As a seer?'

'Yes, a kind of prophet. Do not imagine that I foster any such folly, only
they will believe that, living here all alone in the wilds, I must have
communication with--ha! ha! a worse world than this.'

As we rose to go the hermit held out his hand.

'Come and see me to-night,' he said; 'and let me advise you to make this
glen your headquarters for a time. The hills and glens and bush for
leagues around abound in game. Then your way back lies across a pampa
north and east of here; not the road you have come.'

'By the by,' said Archie, 'before we go, I want to ask you the question
which tramps always put in England: "Are the dogs all safe?"'

'Ah,' said the hermit, smiling, 'I know what you mean. Yes, the dogs are
safe. My pet pumas will not come near you. I do not think that even my
jaguars would object to your presence; but for safety's sake Archie shall
go along with you, and he shall also come for you in the evening. Give him
these peaches when you reach camp. They are our own growing, and Archie
dotes upon them.'

So away back by the banks of the stream we went, our strange guide, club
in hand, going hopping on before. It did really seem all like a scene of
enchantment.

We gave Archie the peaches, and he looked delighted.

'Good-bye, old man,' said Dugald, as he presented him with his.

'Speak a word or two of Gaelic to him,' said our Archie.

Sandie Donaldson was indeed astonished at all we told him.

'I suppose it's all right,' he said, 'but dear me, that was an
uncanny-looking creature you had hirpling on in front of you!'

In the evening, just as we had returned from a most successful guanaco
hunt, we found Donaldson's uncanny creature coming along the path.

'I suppose he means us to dine with him,' I remarked.

'Ah, ah, ah! Yah, ah, yah!' cried the baboon.

'Well, will you come, Sandie?'

Sandie shook his head.

'Not to-night,' said Sandie. 'Take care of yourselves, boys. Mind what the
old proverb says: "They need a lang spoon wha sup wi' the deil."'

We found the hermit at his gate, and glad he seemed to see us.

'I've been at home all the afternoon,' he said, 'cooking your dinner. Most
enjoyable work, I can assure you. All the vegetables are fresh, and even
the curry has been grown on the premises. I hope you are fond of
armadillo; that is a favourite dish of mine. But here we have roast ducks,
partridges, and something that perhaps you have never tasted before,
roast or boiled. For bread we have biscuit; for wine we have _maté_ and
milk. My goats come every night to be milked. Archie does the milking as
well as any man could. Ah, here come my dogs.'

Two deerhounds trotted up and made friends with us.

'I bought them from a roving Scot two years ago while on a visit to
Chili.'

'How about the pumas? Don't they--'

'No, they come from the trees to sleep with Rob and Rory. Even the jaguars
do not attempt to touch them. Sit down; you see I dine early. We will have
time before dusk to visit some of my pets. I hope they did not keep you
awake.'

'No, but the noise would have done so, had we not known what they were.'

Conversation never once flagged all the time we sat at table. The hermit
himself had put most of the dishes down, but Archie duly waited behind his
master's chair, and brought both the _maté_ and the milk, as well as the
fruit. This dessert was of the most tempting description; and not even at
our own _estancia_ had I tasted more delicious grapes. But there were many
kinds of fruit here we had never even seen before. As soon as we were done
the waiter had _his_ repast, and the amount of fruit he got through
surprised us beyond measure. He squatted on the ground to eat. Well, when
he commenced his dinner he looked a little old gentleman of somewhat spare
habit; when he rose up--by the aid of his pole--he was decidedly plump,
not to say podgy. Even his cheeks were puffed out; and no wonder, they
were stuffed with nuts to eat at his leisure.

'I dare say Archie eats at all odd hours,' I said.

'No, he does not,' replied the hermit. 'I never encouraged him to do so,
and now he is quite of my way of thinking, and never eats between meals.
But come, will you light a cigarette and stroll round with me?'

'We will stroll round without the cigarette,' I said.

'Then fill your pockets with nuts and raisins; you must do something.'

'Feed the birds, Archie.'

'Ah, ah, ah! Yah, ah! Yah, yah!'

'The birds need not come to be fed; there is enough and to spare for them
in the woods, but they think whatever we eat must be extra nice.  We have
all kinds of birds except the British sparrow. I really hope you have not
brought him.  They say he follows Englishmen to the uttermost parts of the
world.'

We waited for a moment, and wondered at the flocks of lovely bright-winged
doves and pigeons and other birds that had alighted round the table to
receive their daily dole, then followed our hermit guide, to feast our
eyes on other wonders not a whit less wonderful than all we had seen.



CHAPTER XXI.

WILD ADVENTURES ON PRAIRIE AND PAMPAS.


If I were to describe even one half of the strange creatures we saw in the
hermit's glen, the reader would be tired before I had finished, and even
then I should not have succeeded in conveying anything like a correct
impression of this floral wilderness and natural menagerie.

It puzzled me to know, and it puzzles me still, how so many wild creatures
could have been got together in one place.

'I brought many of them here,' the hermit told us, 'but the others came,
lured, no doubt, by the water, the trees, and the flowers.'

'But was the water here when you arrived?'

'Oh yes, else I would not have settled down here. The glen was a sort of
oasis even then, and there were more bushes and trees than ever I had seen
before in one place. The ducks and geese and swans, in fact, all the
web-footed fraternity, had been here before me, and many birds and beasts
besides--the biscachas, the armadilloes, the beetle-eating pichithiego,
for instance--the great ant-eater, and the skunk--I have banished that,
however--wolves, foxes, kites, owls, and condors. I also found peccaries,
and some deer. These latter, and the guanaco, give me a wide berth now.
They do not care for dogs, pumas, and jaguars. Insects are rather too
numerous, and I have several species of snakes.'

Archie's--_our_ Archie's--face fell.

'Are they?' he began, 'are they very--'

'Very beautiful? Yes; indeed, some are charming in colour. One, for
example, is of the brightest crimson streaked with black.'

'I was not referring to their beauty; I meant were they dangerous?'

'Well, I never give them a chance to bite me, and I do not think they want
to; but all snakes are to be avoided and left severely alone.'

'Or killed, sir?'

'Yes, perhaps, if killed outright; for the pampan Indians have an idea
that if a rattlesnake be only wounded, he will come back for revenge. But
let us change the subject. You see those splendid butterflies? Well, by
and by the moths will be out; they are equally lovely, but when I first
came here there were very few of either. They followed the flowers, and
the humming-birds came next, and many other lovely gay-coloured little
songsters. I introduced most of the parrots and toucans. There are two up
there even now. They would come down if you were not here.'

'They are very funny-looking, but very pretty,' said Dugald. 'I could stop
and look at them for hours.'

'But we must proceed. Here are the trees where the parrots mostly live.
Early as it is, you see they are retiring.'

What a sight! What resplendency of colour and beauty! Such bright metallic
green, lustrous orange, crimson and bronze!

'Why do they frequent this particular part of the wood?' said Dugald.

'Ah, boy,' replied the hermit, 'I see you want to know everything. Don't
be ashamed of that; you are a true naturalist at heart. Well, the parrots
like to be by themselves, and few of my birds care to live among them.
You will notice, too, that yonder are some eucalyptus trees, and farther
up some wide-spreading, open-branched trees, with flowers creeping and
clinging around the stems. Parrots love those trees, because while there
they have sunshine, and because birds of prey cannot easily tell which is
parrot and which is flower or flame-coloured lichen.'

'That is an advantage.'

'Well, yes; but it is an advantage that also has a disadvantage, for our
serpents are so lovely that even they are not easily seen by the parrots
when they wriggle up among the orchids.'

'Can the parrots defend themselves against snakes?'

'Yes, they can, and sometimes even kill them. I have noticed this, but as
a rule they prefer to scare them off by screaming. And they can scream,
too. "As deaf as an adder," is a proverb; well, I believe it was the
parrot that first deafened the adder, if deaf it be.'

'Have you many birds of prey?'

'Yes, too many. But, see here.'

'I see nothing.'

'No, but you soon shall. Here in the sunniest bank, and in this sunniest
part of the wood, dwell a family of that remarkable creature the blind
armadillo, or pichithiego. I wonder if any one is at home.'

As he spoke, the hermit knelt down and buried his hands in the sand, soon
bringing to the surface a very curious little animal indeed, one of the
tenderest of all armadilloes.

It shivered as it cuddled into the hermit's arms.

Dugald laughed aloud.

'Why,' he cried, 'it seems to end suddenly half-way down; and that droll
tail looks stuck on for fun.'

'Yes, it is altogether a freak of Nature, and the wonder to me is how,
being so tender, it lives here at all. You see how small and delicate a
thing it is. They say it is blind, but you observe it is not; although
the creatures live mostly underground. They also say that the
_chlamyphorus truncatus_--which is the grand name for my wee
friend,--carries its young under this pink or rosy shell jacket, but this
I very much doubt. Now go to bed, little one.

'I have prettier pets than even these, two species of agoutis, for
instance, very handsome little fellows indeed, and like rats in many of
their ways and in many of their droll antics. They are not fond of
strangers, but often come out to meet me in my walks about the woods. They
live in burrows, but run about plentifully enough in the open air,
although their enemies are very numerous. Even the Indians capture and eat
them, as often raw as not.

'You have heard of the peccary. Well, I have never encouraged these wild
wee pigs, and for some years after I came, there were none in the woods.
One morning I found them, however, all over the place in herds. I never
knew where they came from, nor how they found us out. But I do know that
for more than two years I had to wage constant war with them.'

'They were good to eat?'

'They were tolerably good, especially the young, but I did not want for
food; and, besides, they annoyed my wee burrowing pets, and, in fact, they
deranged everything, and got themselves thoroughly hated wherever they
went.'

'And how did you get rid of them?'

'They disappeared entirely one night as if by magic, and I have never seen
nor heard one since. But here we are at my stable.'

'I see no stable,' I said.

'Well, it is an enclosure of half an acre, and my mules and goats are
corralled here at night.'

'Do not the pumas or jaguars attempt to molest the mules or goats?'

'Strange to say, they do not, incredible as it may seem. But come in, and
you will see a happy family.'

'What are these?' cried Dugald. 'Dogs?'

'No, boy, one is a wolf, the other two are foxes. All three were suckled
by one of my dogs, and here they are. You see, they play with the goats,
and are exceedingly fond of the mules. They positively prefer the company
of the mules to mine, although when I come here with their foster-dam, the
deerhound, they all condescend to leave this compound and to follow me
through the woods.

'Here come my mules. Are they not beauties?'

We readily admitted they were, never having seen anything in size and
shape to equal them.

'Now, you asked me about the jaguars. Mine are but few; they are also very
civil; but I do believe that one of these mules would be a match even for
a jaguar. If the jaguar had one kick he would never need another. The
goats--here they come--herd close to the mules, and the foxes and wolf are
sentinels, and give an alarm if even a strange monkey comes near the
compound. Ah, here come my pet toucans!'

These strange-beaked birds came floating down from a tree to the number of
nearly a dozen, nor did they look at all ungainly, albeit their beaks are
so wondrously large.

'What do they eat?'

'Everything; but fruit is the favourite dish with them. But look up. Do
you see that speck against the cloud yonder, no bigger in appearance than
the lark that sings above the cornfields in England? See how it circles
and sweeps round and round. Do you know that bird is a mile above us?'

'That is wonderful!'

'And what think you it is doing? Why, it is eyeing you and me. It is my
pet condor. The only bird I do not feed; but the creature loves me well
for all that. He is suspicious of your presence. Now watch, and I will
bring him down like an arrow.'

The hermit waved a handkerchief in a strange way, and with one fell
downward swoop, in a few seconds the monster eagle had alighted near us.

Well may the condor be called 'king of the air,' I thought, for never
before had I seen so majestic a bird. He was near us now, and scrutinizing
us with that bold fierce eye of his, as some chieftain in the brave days
of old might have gazed upon spies that he was about to order away to
execution. I believed then--and I am still of the same opinion--that there
was something akin to pity and scorn in his steadfast looks, as if we had
been brought here for his especial delectation and study.

'Poor wretched bipeds!' he seemed to say; 'not even possessed of feathers,
no clothes of their own, obliged to wrap themselves in the hair and skins
of dead quadrupeds. No beaks, no talons; not even the wings of a miserable
bat. Never knew what it was to mount and soar into the blue sky to meet
the morning sun; never floated free as the winds far away in the realms of
space; never saw the world spread out beneath them like a living panorama,
its woods and forests mere patches of green or purple, its lakes like
sheets of shimmering ice, its streams like threads of spiders' webs before
the day has drunk the dew, its very deserts dwarfed by distance till the
guanacos and the ostriches[15] look like mites, and herds of wild horses
appear but crawling ants. Never knew what it was to circle round the
loftiest summits of the snow-clad voiceless Andes, while down in the
valleys beneath dark clouds rolled fiercely on, and lightnings played
across the darkness; nor to perch cool and safe on peak or pinnacle, while
below on earth's dull level the hurricane Pampero was levelling house and
hut and tree; or the burning breath of the Zonda was sweeping over the
land, scorching every flower and leaf, drinking every drop of dew,
draining even the blood of moving beings till eyes ache and brains reel,
till man himself looks haggard, wild, and worn, and the beasts of the
forest, hidden in darkling caves, go mad and rend their young.'

The hermit returned with us to our camping-ground just as great bats began
to circle and wheel around, as butterflies were folding their wings and
going to sleep beneath the leaves, and the whole woodland glen began to
awake to the screaming of night-birds, to the mournful howling of strange
monkeys, and hoarse growl of beasts of prey.

We sat together till far into the night listening to story after story of
the wild adventures of our new but nameless hero, and till the moon--so
high above us now that the pine-trees no longer cast their shadows across
the glade--warned us it was time to retire.

'Good night, boys all,' said the hermit; 'I will come again to-morrow.'

He turned and walked away, his _potro_ boots making no sound on the sward.
We watched him till the gloom of the forest seemed to swallow him up.

'What a strange being!' said Archie, with a sigh.

'And what a lonely life to lead!' said Donald.

'Ah!' said Dugald, 'you may sigh as you like, Archie, and say what you
please, I think there is no life so jolly, and I've half a mind to turn
hermit myself.'

We lived in the glen for many weeks. No better or more idyllic
headquarters could possibly have been found or even imagined, while all
around us was a hunter's paradise. We came at last to look upon the
hermit's dell as our home, but we did not bivouac there every night. There
were times when we wandered too far away in pursuit of the guanaco, the
puma, jaguar, or even the ostrich, which we found feeding on plains at no
great distance from our camp.

It was a glorious treat for all of us to find ourselves on these miniature
pampas, across which we could gallop unfettered and free.

Under the tuition of Yambo, our _capataz_, and the other Gauchos, we
became adepts in the use of both bolas and lasso. Away up among the
beetling crags and in the deep, gloomy caverns we had to stalk the
guanacos as the Swiss mountaineer stalks the chamois. Oh, our adventures
among the rocks were sometimes thrilling enough! But here on the plains
another kind of tactics was pursued. I doubt if we could have ridden near
enough to the ostriches to bola them, so our plan was to make _détours_ on
the pampas until we had outflanked, encircled, and altogether puzzled our
quarry. Then riding in a zigzag fashion, gradually we narrowed the ring
till near enough to fire. When nearer still the battue and stampede
commenced, and the scene was then wild and confusing in the extreme. The
frightened whinny or neigh of the guanacos, the hoarse whirr of the flying
ostriches, the shouts of the Gauchos, the bark and yell of dogs, the
whistling noise of lasso or bolas, the sharp ringing of rifle and
revolver--all combined to form a medley, a huntsman's chorus which no one
who has once heard it and taken part in it is likely to forget.

When too far from the camp, then we hobbled our horses at the nearest spot
where grass and water could be found, and after supping on broiled guanaco
steak and ostrich's gizzard--in reality right dainty morsels--we would
roll ourselves in our guanaco robes, and with saddles for pillows go
quietly to sleep. Ah, I never sleep so soundly now as I used to then
beneath the stars, fanned by the night breeze; and although the dews lay
heavy on our robes in the morning, we awoke as fresh as the daisies and as
happy as puma cubs that only wake to play.

We began to get wealthy ere long with a weight of skins of birds and
beasts. Some of the most valuable of these were procured from a species of
otter that lived in the blackest, deepest pools of a stream we had fallen
in with in our wanderings. The Gauchos had a kind of superstitious dread
of the huge beast, whom they not inappropriately termed the river tiger.

We had found our dogs of the greatest use in the hills, especially our
monster bloodhound-mastiffs. These animals possessed nearly all the
tracking qualities of the bloodhound, with more fierceness and speed than
the mastiff, and nearly the same amount of strength. Their courage, too,
and general hardiness were very great.

Among our spoils we could count the skins of no less than fifteen splendid
pumas. Several of these had shown fight. Once, I remember, Archie had
leapt from his horse and was making his way through a patch of bush on the
plains, in pursuit of a young guanaco which he had wounded. He was all
alone: not even a dog with him; but Yambo's quick ear had detected the
growl of a lion in that bit of scrub, and he at once started off three of
his best dogs to the scene of Archie's adventure. Not two hundred yards
away myself, but on high ground, I could see everything, though powerless
to aid. I could see Archie hurrying back through the bush. I could see the
puma spring, and my poor cousin fall beneath the blow--then the death
struggle began. It was fearful while it lasted, which was only the
briefest possible time, for, even as I looked, the dogs were on the puma.
The worrying, yelling, and gurgling sounds were terrible. I saw the puma
on its hind legs, I saw one dog thrown high in the air, two others on the
wild beast's neck, and next moment Yambo himself was there, with every
other horseman save myself tearing along full tilt for the battle-field.

Yambo's long spear had done the work, and all the noise soon ceased.
Though stunned and frightened, Archie was but little the worse. One dog
was killed. It seemed to have been Yambo's favourite. I could not help
expressing my astonishment at the exhibition of Yambo's grief. Here was a
man, once one of the cruellest and most remorseless of desert wanderers,
whose spear and knife had many a time and oft drunk human blood, shedding
tears over the body of his poor dog! Nor would he leave the place until he
had dug a grave, and, placing the bleeding remains therein, sadly and
slowly covered them up.

But Yambo would meet his faithful hound again in the happy hunting-grounds
somewhere beyond the sky. That, at least, was Yambo's creed, and who
should dare deny him the comfort and joy the thought brings him!

                   *       *       *       *       *

It was now the sweetest season of all the year in the hills--the Indian
summer. The fierce heat had fled to the north, fled beyond the salt plains
of San Juan, beyond the wild desert lands of Rioja and arid sands of
Catamarca, lingering still, perhaps, among the dreamland gardens of
Tucuman, and reaching its eternal home among the sun-kissed forests of
leafy Brazil and Bolivia. The autumn days were getting shorter, the sky
was now more soft, the air more cool and balmy, while evening after
evening the sun went down amidst a fiery magnificence of colouring that
held us spellbound and silent to behold.

A month and more in the hermit's glen! We could hardly believe it. How
quickly the time had flown! How quickly time always does fly when one is
happy!

And now our tents are struck, our mules are laden. We have but to say
good-bye to the solitary being who has made the garden in the wilderness
his home, and go on our way.

'Good-bye!'

'Good-bye!'

Little words, but sometimes _so_ hard to say.

We had actually begun to like--ay, even to love the hermit, and we had not
found it out till now. But I noticed tears in Dugald's eye, and I am not
quite sure my own were not moist as we said farewell.

We glanced back as we rode away to wave our hands once more. The hermit
was leaning against a tree. Just then the sun came struggling out from
under a cloud, the shadow beneath the tree darkened and darkened, till it
swallowed him up.

And we never saw the hermit more.

-----

  [15] The _Rhea Americana_.



CHAPTER XXII.

ADVENTURE WITH A TIGER.


Two years more have passed away, four years in all, since we first set
foot in the Silver West. What happy, blithesome years they had been, too!
Every day had brought its duties, every duty its pleasures as well. During
all this time we could not look back with regret to one unpleasant hour.
Sometimes we had endured some crosses as well, but we brothers bore them,
I believe, without a murmur, and Moncrieff without one complaining word.

'Boys,' he would say, quietly, 'nobody gets it all his own way in this
world. We must just learn to take the thick wi' the thin.'

Moncrieff was somewhat of a proverbial philosopher; but had he been
entrusted with the task of selecting proverbs that should smooth one's
path in life, I feel sure they would have been good ones.

Strath Coila New, as we called the now green valley in which our little
colony had been founded, had improved to a wonderful extent in so brief a
time. The settlers had completed their houses long ago; they, like
ourselves, had laid out their fields and farms and planted their
vineyards; the hedges were green and flowering; the poplar-trees and
willows had sprung skywards as if influenced by magic--the magic of a
virgin soil; the fields were green with waving grain and succulent
lucerne; the vines needed the help of man to aid them in supporting their
wondrous wealth of grapes; fruit grew everywhere; birds sang everywhere,
and to their music were added sounds even sweeter still to our ears--the
lowing of herds of sleek fat cattle, the bleating armies of sheep, the
home-like noise of poultry and satisfied grunting of lazy pigs. The latter
sometimes fed on peaches that would have brought tears of joy to the eyes
of many an English market gardener.

Our villa was complete now; wings and tower, and terraced lawns leading
down to the lake, close beside which Dugald had erected a boat-house that
was in itself like a little fairy palace. Dugald had always a turn for the
romantic, and nothing would suit him by way of a boat except a gondola.
What an amount of time and taste he had bestowed on it too! and how the
Gaucho carpenters had worked and slaved to please him and make it
complete! But there it was at last, a thing of beauty, in all
conscience--prows and bows, cushioned seats, and oars, and awnings, all
complete.

It was his greatest pleasure to take auntie, Aileen, and old Jenny out to
skim the lake in this gondola, and sit for long happy hours reading or
fishing.

Even Bombazo used to form an item in these pleasant little excursions. He
certainly was no use with an oar, but it was the 'bravo' captain's delight
to dress as a troubadour and sit twanging the light guitar under the
awnings, while Aileen and auntie plied the oars.

Dugald was still our mighty hunter, the fearless Nimrod of hill and strath
and glen. But he was amply supported in all his adventures by Archie, who
had wonderfully changed for the better. He was brown and hard now, an
excellent horseman, and crack shot with either the revolver or rifle.

Between the two of them, though ably assisted by a Gaucho or two, they had
fitted up the ancient ruined monastery far away among the hills as a kind
of shooting-box, and here they spent many a day, and many a night as
well. Archie had long since become acclimatized to all kinds of
creepies--they no longer possessed any terrors for him.

The ruin, as I have before hinted, must have, at some bygone period,
belonged to the Jesuits; but so blown up with sand was it when Dugald took
possession that the work of restoration to something like its pristine
form had been a task of no little difficulty. The building stood on a
slight eminence, and at one side grew a huge ombu-tree. It was under this
that the only inhabitable room lay. This room had two windows, one on each
side, facing each other, one looking east, the other west. Neither glass
nor frames were in these windows, and probably had not existed even in the
Jesuits' time. The room was cooler without any such civilized
arrangements.

It was a lonesome, eerie place at the very best, and that weird looking
ombu-tree, spreading its dark arms above the grey old walls, did not
detract from the air of gloom that surrounded it. Sometimes Archie said
laughingly that the tree was like a funeral pall. Well, the half-caste
Indians of the _estancias_ used to give this ruin a wide berth; they had
nasty stories to tell about it, stories that had been handed down through
generations. There were few indeed of even the Gauchos who would have
cared to remain here after night-fall, much less sleep within its walls.
But when Dugald's big lamp stood lighted on the table, when a fire of wood
burned on the low hearth, and a plentiful repast, with bowls of steaming
fragrant _maté_, stood before the young men, then the room looked far from
uncomfortable.

There was at each side a hammock hung, which our two hunters slept in on
nights when they had remained too long on the hill, or wanted to be early
at the chase in the morning.

'Whose turn is it to light the fire to-night?' said Dugald, one winter
evening, as the two jogged along together on their mules towards the ruin.

'I think it is mine, cousin. Anyhow, if you feel lazy I'll make it so.'

'No, I'm not lazy, but I want to take home a bird or two to-morrow that
auntie's very soul loveth, so if you go on and get supper ready I shall go
round the red dune and try to find them.'

'You won't be long?'

'I sha'n't be over an hour.'

Archie rode on, humming a tune to himself. Arrived at the ruin, he cast
the mule loose, knowing he would not wander far away, and would find juicy
nourishment among the more tender of the cacti sprouts.

Having lit a roaring fire, and seen it burn up, Archie spread asunder some
of the ashes, and placed thereon a huge pie-dish--not an empty one--to
warm. Meanwhile he hung a kettle of water on the hook above the fire, and,
taking up a book, sat down by the window to read by the light of the
setting sun until the water should boil.

A whole half-hour passed away. The kettle had rattled its lid, and Archie
had hooked it up a few links, so that the water should not be wasted. It
was very still and quiet up here to-night, and very lonesome too. The sun
had just gone down, and all the western sky was aglow with clouds, whose
ever-changing beauty it was a pleasure to watch. Archie was beginning to
wish that Dugald would come, when he was startled at hearing a strange and
piercing cry far down below him in the cactus jungle. It was a cry that
made his flesh quiver and his very spine feel cold. It came from no human
lips, and yet it was not even the scream of a terror-struck mule. Next
minute the mystery was unravelled, and Dugald's favourite mule came
galloping towards the ruin, pursued by an enormous tiger, as the jaguar is
called here.

[Illustration: On the same Limb of the Tree]

Just as he had reached the ruin the awful beast had made his spring. His
talons drew blood, but the next moment he was rolling on the ground with
one eye apparently knocked out, and the foam around his fang-filled mouth
mixed with blood; and the mule was over the hills and safe, while the
jaguar was venting his fume and fury on Archie's rugs, which, with his
gun, he had left out there.

There is no occasion to deny that the young man was almost petrified with
fear, but this did not last long: he must seek for safety somehow,
somewhere. To leave the ruin seems certain death, to remain is impossible.
Look, the tiger even already has scented him; he utters another fearful
yell, and makes direct for the window. The tree! the tree! Something seems
to utter those words in his ear as he springs from the open window. The
jaguar has entered the room as Archie, with a strength he never knew he
possessed, catches a lower limb and hoists himself up into the tree. He
hears yell after yell; now first in the ruin, next at the tree foot, and
then in the tree itself. Archie creeps higher and higher up, till the
branches can no longer bear him, and after him creeps death in the most
awful form imaginable. Already the brute is so close that he sees his
glaring eye and hears his awful scenting and snuffling. Archie is
fascinated by that tiger's face so near him--on the same limb of the tree,
he himself far out towards the point. This must be fascination. He feels
like one in a strange dream, for as the time goes by and the tiger springs
not, he takes to speculating almost calmly on his fate, and wondering
where the beast will seize him first, and if it will be very painful; if
he will hear his own bones crash, and so faint and forget everything. What
fangs the tiger has! How broad the head, and terribly fierce the grin! But
how the blood trickles from the wound in the skull! He can hear it
pattering on the dead leaves far beneath.

Why doesn't the tiger spring and have it over? Why does--but look, look,
the brute has let go the branch and fallen down, down with a crash, and
Archie hears the dull thud of the body on the ground.

Dead--to all intents and purposes. The good mule's hoof had cloven the
skull.

'Archie! Archie! where on earth are you? Oh, Archie!'

It is Dugald's voice. The last words are almost a shriek.

Then away goes fear from Archie's heart, and joy unspeakable takes its
place.

'Up here, Dugald,' he shouts, 'safe and sound.'

I leave the reader to guess whether Dugald was glad or not to see his
cousin drop intact from the ombu-tree, or whether or not they enjoyed
their pie and _maté_ that evening after this terrible adventure.

'I wonder,' said Archie, later on, and just as they were preparing for
hammock, 'I wonder, Dugald, if that tiger has a wife. I hope she won't
come prowling round after her dead lord in the middle of the night.'

'Well, anyhow, Archie, we'll have our rifles ready, and Dash will give us
ample warning, you know. So good-night.'

'Good-night. Don't be astonished if you hear me scream in my sleep. I feel
sure I'll dream I'm up in that dark ombu-tree, and perhaps in the clutches
of that fearsome tiger.'

                   *       *       *       *       *

About a month after the above related adventure the young men had another
at that very ruin, which, if not quite so stirring, was at all events far
more mysterious.

It happened soon after a wild storm, a kind of semi-pampero, had swept
over the glen with much thunder and lightning and heavy rains. It had
cleared the atmosphere, however, which previously had been hazy and close.
It had cooled it as well, so that one afternoon, Dugald, addressing
Archie, said,

'What do you say to an early morning among the birds to-morrow, cousin?'

'Oh, I'm ready, Dugald, if you are,' was the reply.

'Well, then, off you trot to the kitchen, and get food ready, and I'll see
to the shooting tackle and the mules.'

When Dugald ran over to say good-night to Moncrieff and Aileen before they
started, he met old Jenny in the door.

'Dear laddie,' she said, when she heard he was bound for the hills, 'I
hope nae ill will come over ye; but I wot I had an unco' ugly dream last
night. Put your trust in Providence, laddie. And ye winna forget to say
your prayers, will ye?'

'That we won't, mother. Ta, ta!'

Moncrieff saw Dugald to his own gate. With them went Wolf, the largest
bloodhound-mastiff.

'Dreams,' said Moncrieff, 'may be neither here nor there; but you'll be
none the worse for taking Wolf.'

'Thank you,' said Dugald; 'he shall come, and welcome.'

The sun had quite set before they reached the ruin, but there was a
beautiful after-glow in the west--a golden haze beneath, with a kind of
crimson blush over it higher up. When they were on a level with the ruin,
the two windows of which, as already stated, were opposite to each other,
Archie said, musingly,

'Look, Dugald, what a strange and beautiful light is streaming through the
windows!'

'Yes,' replied Dugald, 'but there is something solemn, even ghostly, about
it. Don't you think so?'

'True; there always is something ghostly about an empty ruin, I think. Are
you superstitious?'

'No; but--see. What was that? Why, there is some one there! Look to your
rifle, Archie. It was an Indian, I am certain.'

What had they seen? Why, only the head and shoulders of a passing figure
in the orange light of the two windows. It had appeared but one
moment--next it was gone. Rifles in left hand, revolvers in right, they
cautiously approached the ruin and entered. Never a soul was here. They
went out again, and looked around; they even searched the ombu-tree, but
all in vain.

'Our eyes must have deceived us,' said Dugald.

'I think,' said Archie, 'I have a theory that might explain the mystery.'

'What is it, then?'

'Well, that was no living figure we saw.'

'What! You don't mean to say, Archie, it was a ghost?'

'No, but a branch of that ghostly ombu-tree moved by a passing wind
between us and the light.'

As he spoke they rounded the farthest off gable of the ruin, and there
both stopped as suddenly as if shot. Close beside the wall, with some rude
digging tools lying near, was a newly-opened grave!

'This is indeed strange,' said Dugald, remembering old Jenny's warning and
dream; 'I cannot make it out.'

'Nor can I. However, we must make the best of it.'

By the time supper was finished they had almost forgotten all about it.
Only before lying down that night--

'I say, Archie,' said Dugald, 'why didn't we think of it?'

'Think of what?'

'Why, of putting Wolf the mastiff on the track. If there have been Indians
here he would have found them out.'

'It will not be too late to-morrow, perhaps.'

Dugald lay awake till it must have been long past midnight. He tried to
sleep, but failed, though he could tell from his regular breathing that
nothing was disturbing Archie's repose. It was a beautiful night outside,
and the light from a full moon streamed in at one window and fell on the
form of good Wolf, who was curled up on the floor; the other window was
shaded by the branches of the ombu-tree. No matter how calm it might be in
the valley below, away up here there was always a light breeze blowing,
and to-night the whispering in the tree at times resembled the sound of
human voices. So thought Dugald. Several times he started and listened,
and once he felt almost sure he heard footsteps as of people moving
outside. Then again all sounds--if sounds there had been--ceased, and
nothing was audible save the sighing wind in the ombu-tree. Oh, that
strange waving ombu-tree! He wondered if it really had some dark secret to
whisper to him, and had chosen this silent hour of night to reveal it.

Hark, that was a sound this time! The mournful but piercing cry of a
night-bird. 'Chee-hee-ee! chee-hee-ee!' It was repeated farther up the
hill. But could the dog be deceived? Scarcely; and growling low as if in
anger, Wolf had arisen and stood pointing towards the ombu-shaded window.

With one accord both Dugald and Archie, seizing their revolvers and
jumping from their hammocks, ran out just in time to see a tall figure
cross a patch of moonlit sward and disappear in the cactus jungle.

Both fired in the direction, but of course aimlessly, and it was with the
greatest difficulty they succeeded in keeping the great dog from following
into the bush.

They were disturbed no more that night; and daylight quite banished their
fears, though it could not dispel the mystery of the newly-dug grave.

Indeed, they could even afford to joke a little over the matter now.

'There is something in it, depend upon that,' said Dugald, as the two
stood together looking into the hole.

'There doesn't seem to be,' said Archie, quizzingly.

'And I mean to probe it to the bottom.'

'Suppose you commence now, Dugald. Believe me, there is no time like the
present. Here are the tools. They look quite antediluvian. Do you think
now that it really was a flesh-and-blood Indian we saw here; or was it the
ghost of some murdered priest? And has he been digging down here to
excavate his own old bones, or have a peep to see that they are safe?'

'Archie,' said Dugald, at last, as if he had not listened to a word of his
companion's previous remarks, 'Archie, we won't go shooting to-day.'

'No?'

'No, we will go home instead, and bring Moncrieff and my brothers here. I
begin to think this is no grave after all.'

'Indeed, Dugald, and why?'

'Why, simply for this reason: Yambo has told me a wonderful blood-curdling
story of two hermit priests who lived here, and who had found treasure
among the hills, and were eventually murdered and buried in this very
ruin. According to the tradition the slaughtering Indians were themselves
afterwards killed, and since then strange appearances have taken place
from time to time, and until we made a shooting-box of the ruin no Gauchos
could be found bold enough to go inside it, nor would any Indian come
within half a mile of the place. That they have got more courageous now we
had ample evidence last night.'

'And you think that--'

'I think that Indians are not far away, and that--but come, let us saddle
our mules and be off.'

It was high time, for at that very moment over a dozen pairs of fierce
eyes were watching them from the cactus jungle. Spears were even poised
ready for an attack, and only perhaps the sight of that ferocious-looking
dog restrained them.

No one could come more speedily to a conclusion than Moncrieff. He hardly
waited to hear Dugald's story before he had summoned Yambo, and bade him
get ready with five trusty Gauchos to accompany them to the hills.

'Guns, señor?'

'Ay, guns, Yambo, and the other dog. We may have to draw a trigger or two.
Sharp is the word, Yambo!'

In two hours more, and just as the winter's sun was at its highest, we all
reached the cactus near the old monastic ruin. Here a spear flew close
past Moncrieff's head. A quick, fierce glance of anger shot from the eyes
of this buirdly Scot. He called a dog, and in a moment more disappeared in
the jungle. A minute after there was the sharp ring of a revolver, a
shriek, a second shot, and all was still. Presently Moncrieff rode back,
looking grim, but calm and self-possessed.

There was no one near the ruin when we advanced, but the Indians had been
here. The grave was a grave no longer in shape, but a huge hole.

'Set to work, Yambo, with your men. They have saved us trouble. Dugald and
Archie and Donald, take three men and the dogs and scour the bush round
here. Then place sentinels about, and post yourselves on top of the red
dune.'

Yambo and his men set to work in earnest, and laboured untiringly for
hours and hours, but without finding anything. A halt was called at last
for rest and refreshment; then the work was commenced with greater heart
than ever.

I had ridden away to the red dune to carry food to my brothers and the
dogs and the sentinels.

The day was beginning already to draw to a close. The sky all above was
blue and clear, but along the horizon lay a bank of grey rolling clouds,
that soon would be changed to crimson and gold by the rays of the setting
sun. Hawks were poised high in the air, and flocks of kites were slowly
winging their way to the eastward.

From our position on the summit of the red dune we had a most extended
view on all sides. We could even see the tall waving poplars of our own
_estancias_, and away westward a vast rolling prairie of pampa land,
bounded by the distant _sierras_. My eyes were directed to one level and
snow-white patch in the plain, which might have been about three square
miles in extent, when suddenly out from behind some dunes that lay beyond
rode a party of horsemen. We could tell at a glance they were Indians, and
that they were coming as fast as fleet horses could carry them, straight
for the hill on which we stood. There was not a moment to lose, so,
leaping to the back of my mule, I hurried away to warn our party.



CHAPTER XXIII.

A RIDE FOR LIFE.


'Moncrieff!' I cried, as soon as I got within hail, 'the Indians will be
on us in less than half an hour!'

'Then, boy,' replied Moncrieff, 'call in your brothers and the men; they
cannot hold the dune. We must fight them here, if it be fighting they
mean. Hurry back, I have something to show you.'

We had all returned in less than ten minutes. Greatly to our astonishment,
we found no one in the pit now, but we heard voices beneath, and I hurried
in and down.

They had found a cave; whether natural or not we could not at present say.
At one side lay a heap of mouldering bones, in the opposite corner a huge
wooden chest. Moncrieff had improvised a torch, and surely Aladdin in his
cave could not have been more astonished at what he saw than we were now!
The smoky light fell on the golden gleam of nuggets! Yes, there they were,
of all shapes and sizes. Moncrieff plunged his hand to the bottom of the
box and stirred them up as he might have done roots or beans.

This, then, was the secret the ruin had held so long--the mystery of the
giant ombu-tree.

That the Indians in some way or other had got scent of this treasure was
evident, and as these wandering savages care little if anything for gold
on their own account, it was equally evident that some white man--himself
not caring to take the lead or even appear--was hounding them on to find
it, with the promise doubtless of a handsome reward.

Not a moment was there to be lost now. The treasure must be removed. An
attempt was first made to lift the chest bodily. This was found to be
impossible owing to the decayed condition of the wood. The grain-sacks,
therefore, which formed a portion of the Gaucho's mule-trappings, were
requisitioned, and in a very short time every gold nugget was carried out
and placed in safety in a corner of our principal room in the
hunting-box.

The beasts were placed for safety in another room of the ruin, a trench
being dug before the door, which could be commanded from one of our
windows.

'How many horsemen did you count?' said Moncrieff to me.

'As near as I could judge,' I replied, 'there must be fifty.'

'Yes, there may be a swarm more. One of you boys must ride to-night to the
_estancia_ and get assistance. Who volunteers?'

'I do,' said Dugald at once.

'Then it will be well to start without delay before we are surrounded.
See, it is already dusk, and we may expect our Indian friends at any
moment. Mount, lad, and Heaven preserve you!'

Dugald hardly waited to say another word. He saw to the revolvers in his
saddle-bows, slung his rifle over his shoulder, sprang to the saddle, and
had disappeared like a flash.

And now we had but to wait the turn of events--turn how they might.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Dugald told us afterwards that during that memorable ride to the
_estancia_ he felt as if the beast beneath him was a winged horse instead
of his own old-fashioned and affectionate mule. Perhaps it was fear that
lent him such speed, and possibly it was fear transmitted even from his
rider. Times without number since we had come out to our new home in the
Silver West my brother had shown what sort of stuff he was made of, but a
ride like this is trying to a heart like oak or nerves like steel, and a
young man must be destitute of soul itself not to feel fear on such an
occasion. Besides, the very fact of flying from unseen foes adds to the
terror.

Down through the cactus jungle he went, galloping in and out and out and
in, himself hardly knowing the road, trusting everything to the sagacity
of the wondrous mule. Oftentimes when returning from a day on the hills,
tired and weary, he had thought the way through this strange green
bushland interminably long; but now, fleetly though he was speeding on, he
thought it would never, never end, that he would never, never come out
into the open braeland, and see, miles away beneath him, the twinkling
lights of the _estancia_. Many an anxious glance, too, did he cast around
him or into the gloomiest shades of the jungle, more than once imagining
he saw dusky figures therein with long spears ready to launch at him.

He is out at last, however; but the path is now loose and rough and stony.
After riding for some hundred yards he has to cut across at right angles
to the jungle he has left. To his horror, a dozen armed Indians at that
very moment leave the cactus, and with levelled spears and wild shouts
dash onward to intercept him. This is indeed a ride for life, for to his
immediate left is a precipice full twenty feet in height. He must gain the
end of this before he can put even a yard of actual distance betwixt
himself and the savages who are thirsting for his life. More than once he
has half made up his mind to dare the leap, but the venture is far too
great.

Nearer and nearer sweep the Indians. Dugald is close at the turning-point
now, but he sees the foremost savage getting the deadly lasso ready. He
must shoot, though he has to slacken speed slightly to take better aim.

He fires. Down roll horse and man, and Dugald is saved.

They have heard that rifle-shot far away on the _estancia_. Quick eyes are
turned towards the braelands, and, dusk though it is, they notice that
something more than usual is up. Five minutes afterwards half a dozen
armed horsemen thunder out to meet Dugald. They hear his story, and all
return to alarm the colony and put the whole place in a state of defence.
Then under the guidance of Dugald they turn back once more--a party of
twenty strong now--towards the hills, just as the moon, which is almost
full, is rising and shining through between the solemn steeple-like
poplars.

To avoid the jungle, and a probable ambuscade, they have to make a long
_détour_, but they reach the ruin at last, to find all safe and sound. The
Indians know that for a time their game is played, and they have lost; and
they disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as they came leaving not a
trace behind.

The gold is now loaded on the backs of the mules, and the journey home
commenced.

As they ride down through the giant cacti two huge vultures rise with
flapping wings and heavy bodies at no great distance. It was into that
very thicket that Moncrieff rode this morning. It was there he fired his
revolver. The vultures had been disturbed at a feast--nothing more.

Great was the rejoicing at the safe return of Moncrieff and his party from
the hills. Our poor aunt had been troubled, indeed, but Aileen was
frantic, and threw herself into her husband's arms when she saw him in
quite a passion of hysterical joy.

Now although there was but little if any danger of an attack to-night on
the _estancias_, no one thought of retiring to bed. There was much to be
done by way of preparation, for we were determined not to lose a horse,
nor even a sheep, if we could help it. So we arranged a code of signals by
means of rifle-shots, and spent the whole of the hours that intervened
betwixt the time of our return and sunrise in riding round the farms and
visiting even distant _puestos_.

My brothers and I and Moncrieff lay down when day broke to snatch a few
hours of much-needed rest.

It was well on in the forenoon when I went over to Moncrieff's mansion. I
had already been told that strangers had arrived from distant _estancias_
bringing evil tidings. The poor men whom I found in the drawing-room with
Moncrieff had indeed brought dreadful news. They had escaped from their
burned _estancias_ after seeing their people massacred by savages before
their eyes. They had seen others on the road who had suffered even worse,
and did not know what to do or where to fly. Many had been hunted into the
bush and killed there. Forts had been attacked further south, and even the
soldiers of the republic in some instances had been defeated and scattered
over the country.

The year, indeed, was one that will be long remembered by the citizens of
the Argentine Republic. Happily things have now changed for the better,
and the Indians have been driven back south of the Rio Negro, which will
for ever form a boundary which they must not cross on pain of death.

More fugitives dropped in that day, and all had pitiful, heartrending
stories to tell.

Moncrieff made every one welcome, and so did we all, trying our very best
to soothe the grief and anguish they felt for those dear ones they would
never see more on earth.

And now hardly a day passed that did not bring news of some kind of the
doings of the Indians. Success had rendered them bold, while it appeared
to have cowed for a time the Government of this noble republic, or, at
all events, had confused and paralyzed all its action. Forts were overcome
almost without resistance. Indeed, some of them were destitute of the
means of resisting, the men having no proper supply of ammunition.
_Estancia_ after _estancia_ on the frontier had been raided and burned,
with the usual shocking barbarities that make one shudder even to think
of.

It was but little likely that our small but wealthy colony would escape,
for the fact that we were now possessed of the long-buried treasure--many
thousands of pounds in value--must have spread like wild-fire.

One morning Moncrieff and I started early, and rode to a distant
_estancia_, which we were told had been attacked and utterly destroyed,
not a creature being left alive about the place with the exception of the
cattle and horses, which the Indians had captured. We had known this
family. They had often attended Moncrieff's happy little evening parties,
and the children had played in our garden and rowed with us in the
gondola.

Heaven forbid I should attempt to draw a graphic picture of all we saw!
Let it be sufficient to say that the rumours which had reached us were all
too true, and that Moncrieff and I saw sights which will haunt us both
until our dying day.

The silence all round the _estancia_ when we rode up was eloquent,
terribly eloquent. The buildings were blackened ruins, and it was painful
to notice the half-scorched trailing flowers, many still in bloom,
clinging around the wrecked and charred verandah. But everywhere about, in
the out-buildings, on the lawn, in the garden itself, were the remains of
the poor creatures who had suffered.

                   'Alas! for love of this were all,
                       And none beyond, O earth!'

Moncrieff spoke but little all the way back. While standing near the
verandah I had seen him move his hand to his eyes and impatiently brush
away a tear, but after that his face became firm and set, and for many a
day after this I never saw him smile.

                   *       *       *       *       *

At this period of our strange family story I lay down my pen and lean
wearily back in my chair. It is not that I am tired of writing. Oh, no!
Evening after evening for many and many a long week I have repaired up
here to my turret chamber--my beautiful study in our Castle of Coila--and
with my faithful hound by my feet I have bent over my sheets and
transcribed as faithfully as I could events as I remember them. But it is
the very multiplicity of these events as I near the end of my story that
causes me to pause and think.

Ah! here comes aunt, gliding into my room, pausing for a moment, curtain
in hand, half apologetically, as she did on that evening described in our
first chapter.

'No, auntie, you do not disturb me. Far from it. I was longing for your
company.'

She is by my side now, and looking down at my manuscript.

'Yes,' she says many times--nodding assent to every sentence, and ever
turning back the pages for reference--'yes, and now you come near the last
events of this story of the M'Crimmans of Coila. Come out to the castle
roof, and breathe the evening air, and I will talk.'

We sit there nearly an hour. Aunt's memory is better even than mine, and I
listen to her without ever once opening my lips. Then I lead her back to
the tower, and point smilingly to the harp.

She has gone at last, and I resume my story.

                   *       *       *       *       *

We, Moncrieff and I, saw no signs of Indians during our long ride that
day. We had gone on this journey with our lives in our hands. The very
daringness and dash of it was probably our salvation. The enemy were
about--they might be here, there, anywhere. Every bush might conceal a
foe, but they certainly made no appearance.

All was the same apparently about our _estancias_; _but_ I wondered a
little that my brothers had not come out to meet me as usual, and that
faithful, though plain-faced Yambo looked at me strangely, and I thought
pityingly, as he took my mule to lead away to the compound.

I went straight away through our gardens, and entered the drawing-room by
the verandah window.

I paused a moment, holding the casement in my hand. Coming straight out of
the glare of the evening sunset, the room appeared somewhat dark, but I
noticed Dugald sitting at the table with his face bent down over his hand,
and Donald lying on the couch.

'Dugald!'

He started up and ran towards me, seizing and wringing my hand.

'Oh, Murdoch,' he cried, 'our poor father!'

'You have had a letter--he is ill?'

'He is ill.'

'Dugald,' I cried, 'tell me all! Dugald--is--father--dead?'

No reply.

I staggered towards the table, and dropped limp and stricken and helpless
into a chair.

I think I must have been ill for many, many days after this sad news. I
have little recollection of the events of the next week--I was engrossed,
engulfed in the one great sorrow. The unexpected death of so well-beloved
a father in the meridian of life was a terrible blow to us all, but more
so to me, with all I had on my mind.

'And so, and so,' I thought, as I began to recover, 'there is an end to my
bright dreams of future happiness--_the_ dream of all my dreams, to have
father out here among us in our new home in the Silver West, and all the
dark portions of the past forgotten. Heaven give me strength to bear it!'

I had spoken the last words aloud, for a voice at my elbow said--

'Amen! Poor boy! Amen!'

I turned, and--_there stood Townley_.

'You wonder to see me here,' he said, as he took my hand. 'Nay, but nobody
should ever wonder at anything I do. I am erratic. I did not come over
before, because I did not wish to influence your mind. You have been ill,
but--I'm glad to see you weeping.'

I did really sob and cry then as if my very heart would burst and break.

                   *       *       *       *       *

I was well enough in a day or two to hear the rest of the news. Townley,
who was very wise, had hesitated to tell me everything at once.

But if anything could be called joyful news now surely this was--mother
and Flora were at Villa Mercedes, and would be here in a day or two.
Townley had come on before, even at considerable personal risk, to break
the news to us, and prepare us all. Mother and sister were waiting an
escort, not got up specially for them certainly, but that would see to
their safety. It consisted of a large party of officers and men who were
passing on to the frontiers to repel, or try to repel, the Indian
invasion.

                   *       *       *       *       *

We all went to meet mother and sister at the far-off cross roads. There
was quite a large and very well-armed party of us, and we encamped for
three days near an _estancia_ to await their coming.

It was on the morning of the fourth day that one of the Gauchos reported
an immense cloud of dust far away eastwards on the Mendoza road.

'They might be Indians,' he added.

'Perhaps,' said Moncrieff, 'but we will risk it.'

So camp was struck and off we rode, my brothers and I forming the
vanguard, Moncrieff and Archie bringing up the rear. How my heart beat
with emotion when the first horsemen of the advancing party became visible
through the cloud of dust, and I saw they were soldiers!

On we rode now at the gallop.

Yes, mother was there, and sister, and they were well. Our meeting may be
better imagined than described.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Both mother and Flora were established at the _estancia_, and so days and
weeks flew by, and I was pleased to see them smile, though mother looked
sad, so sad, yet so beautiful, just as she had ever looked to me.

Dugald was the first to recover anything approaching to a chastened
happiness. He had his darling sister with him. He was never tired taking
her out and showing her all the outs-and-ins and workings of our new
home.

It appeared to give him the chiefest delight, however, to see her in the
gondola.

I remember him saying one evening:

'Dear Flora! What a time it seems to look back since we parted in old
Edina. But through all these long years I have worked for you and thought
about you, and strange, I have always pictured you just as you are now,
sitting under the gondola awnings, looking piquant and pretty, and on just
such a lovely evening as this. But I didn't think you would be so big,
Flora.'

'Dear stupid Dugald!' replied Flora, blushing slightly because Archie's
eyes were bent on her in admiration, respectful but unconcealable. 'Did
you think I would always remain a child?'

'You'll always be a child to me, Flo,' said Dugald.

But where had the Indians gone?

Had our bold troops beaten them back? or was the cloud still floating over
the _estancia_, and floating only to burst?



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE ATTACK ON THE ESTANCIA.


Shortly after we had all settled down at the _estancia_, and things began
to resume their wonted appearance, albeit we lived in a state of constant
preparation to repel attack, an interview took place one day in
Moncrieff's drawing-room, at which, though I was not present, I now know
all that happened.

To one remark of Townley's my mother replied as follows:

'No, Mr. Townley, I think with you. I feel even more firmly, I believe,
than you do on the subject, for you speak with, pardon me, some little
doubt or hesitancy. Our boy's conscience must not be tampered with, not
for all the estates in the world. Much though I love Coila, from which
villainy may have banished us, let it remain for ever in the possession of
the M'Rae sooner than even hint to Murdoch that an oath, however imposed,
is not binding.'

'Yes,' said Townley, 'you are right, Mrs. M'Crimman; but the present
possessor of Coila, the younger Le Roi, or M'Rae, as he was called before
his father's death, has what he is pleased to call broader views on the
subject than we have.'

'Mr. Townley, the M'Rae is welcome to retain his broad views, and we will
stick to the simple faith of our forefathers. The M'Rae is of French
education.'

'Yes, and at our meeting, though he behaved like a perfect
gentleman--indeed, he is a gentleman--'

'True, in spite of the feud I cannot forget that the M'Raes are distant
relatives of the M'Crimmans. He must, therefore, be a gentleman.'

'"My dear sir," he said to me, "I cannot conceive of such
folly"--superstitious folly, he called it--"as that which your young
friend Murdoch M'Crimman is guilty of. Let him come to me and say boldly
that the ring found in the box and in the vault was on the finger of
Duncan--villain he is, at all events--on the night he threatened to shoot
him, and I will give up all claim to the estates of Coila; but till he
does so, or until you bring me other proof, I must be excused for
remaining where I am."'

'Then let him,' said my mother quietly.

'Nay, but,' said Townley, 'I do not _mean_ to let him. It has become the
one dream of my existence to see justice and right done to my dear old
pupil Murdoch, and I think I begin to see land.'

'Yes?'

'I believe I do. I waited and watched untiringly. Good Gilmore, who still
lives in Coila, watched for me too. I knew one thing was certain--namely,
that the ex-poacher Duncan M'Rae would turn up again at the castle. He
did. He went to beg money from the M'Rae. The M'Rae is a man of the world;
he saw that this visit of Duncan's was but the beginning of a never-ending
persecution. He refused Duncan's request point-blank. Then the man changed
flank and breathed dark threatenings. The M'Rae, he hinted, had better not
make him (Duncan) his enemy. He (M'Rae) was obliged to him for the house
and position he occupied, but the same hand that _did_ could _undo_. At
this juncture the M'Rae had simply rung the bell, and the ex-poacher had
to retire foiled, but threatening still. It was on that same day I
confronted him and told him all I knew. Then I showed him the spurious
ring, which, as I placed it on my finger, even he could not tell from the
original. Even this did not overawe him, but when I ventured a guess that
this very ring had belonged to a dead man, and pretended I knew more than
I did, he turned pale. He was silent for a time--thinking, I suppose. Then
he put a question which staggered me with its very coolness, and,
clergyman though I am, I felt inclined at that moment to throttle the man
where he stood. Would we pay him handsomely for turning king's evidence on
himself and confessing the whole was a conspiracy, and would we save him
from the legal penalty of the confessed crime?

'I assure you, Mrs. M'Crimman, that till then I had leaned towards the
belief that, scoundrel though this Duncan be, some little spark of
humanity remained in his nature, and that he might be inclined to do
justice for justice's sake. I dare say he read my answer in my eyes, and
he judged too that for the time being I was powerless to act. Could he
have killed me then, I know he would have done so. Once more he was silent
for a time. He did not dare to repeat his first question, but he put
another, "Have you any charge to make against me about _anything_?" He
placed a terribly-meaning emphasis on that word "anything." I looked at
him. I was wondering whether he really had had anything to do with the
death of old Mawsie, and if the ring of which I had the facsimile on my
finger had in reality belonged to a murdered man. Seeing me hesitate, he
played a bold card; it was, I suppose, suggested to him by the appearance
at that moment of the village policeman walking calmly past the window of
the little inn where we sat. He knocked, and beckoned to him, while I sat
wondering and thinking that verily the man before me was cleverer by far
than I. On the entrance of the policeman--"This gentleman, policeman," he
said, quietly and slowly, "makes or insinuates charges against me in
private which now in your presence I dare him to repeat." Then turning to
me--"The ball is with you," he said. And what could I reply? Nothing. I do
believe that at that very moment even the worthy village policeman
noticed and pitied my position, for he turned to Duncan, and, nodding,
made this remark in Gaelic: "I know Mr. Townley as a gentleman, and I know
you, Duncan M'Rae, to be something very different. If Mr. Townley makes no
charge against you it is no doubt because he is not prepared with proofs.
But, Duncan, boy, if you like to remain in the glen for a few days, I'm
not sure there isn't a charge or two I could rub up against you myself."

'I left the room with the policeman. Now I knew that, although foiled,
Duncan did not consider himself beaten. I had him watched therefore, and
followed by a detective. I wanted to find out his next move. It was
precisely what I thought it would be. He had heard of our poor chief
M'Crimman's death, remember. Well, a day or two after our conversation in
the little inn at Coila, Duncan presented himself at the M'Rae's
advocate's office and so pleaded his case--so begged and partially hinted
at disclosures and confessions--that this solicitor, not possessed of the
extraordinary pride and independence of the M'Rae--'

'A pride and independence, Mr. Townley,' said my aunt, 'which the M'Raes
take from their relatedness to our family.'

'That is true,' said my mother.

'Well, I was going to say,' continued Townley, 'that Duncan so far
overcame the advocate that this gentleman thought it would be for his
client's interest to accede in part to his demands, or rather to one of
them--viz., to pay him a sum of money to leave the country for ever. But
this money was not to be paid until he had taken his passage and was about
to sail for some--any--country, not nearer than the United States of
America, Mr. Moir's--the advocate's--clerk was to see him on board ship,
and see him sail.'

'And did he sail?' said my aunt, as Townley paused and looked at her.

'Yes, in a passenger ship, for Buenos Ayres.'

'I see it all now,' said my aunt. 'He thinks that no charge can be made
against him there for conspiracy or crime committed at home.'

'Yes, and he thinks still further: he thinks that he will be more
successful with dear Murdoch than he was with either the M'Rae or
myself.'

There was a few minutes' pause, my aunt being the first to break the
silence.

'What a depth of well-schemed villainy!' was the remark she made.

Moncrieff had listened to all the conversation without once putting in a
word. Now all he said was--

'Dinna forget, Miss M'Crimman, the words o' the immortal Bobbie Burns:

               "The best laid schemes o' mice and men
                                     Gang aft agley,
               And leave us naught but grief and pain
                                     For promised joy."'

                   *       *       *       *       *

To the fear and fever consequent upon the depredations committed by the
Indians there succeeded a calmness and lull which the canny Moncrieff
thought almost unnatural, considering all that had gone before. He took
pains to find out whether, as had been currently reported, our Argentine
troops had been victorious all along the frontier line. He found that the
report, like many others, had been grossly exaggerated. If a foe retires,
a foe is beaten by the army which _sees_ that foe retire. This seems too
often to be the logic of the war-path. In the present instance, however,
the Indians belonged to races that lived a nomad life. They were
constantly advancing and retreating. When they chose to advance in this
particular year there was not a sufficient number of cavalry to oppose
them, nor were the soldiers well mounted. The savages knew precisely on
what part of the stage to enter, and they did not think it incumbent on
them to previously warn our Argentine troops. Indeed, they, like sensible
savages, rather avoided a conflict than courted one. It was not conflict
but cattle they were after principally; then if at any time strategy
directed retreat, why, they simply turned their horses' heads to the
desert, the pampas, or mountain wilds, and the troops for a time had seen
the last of them.

I think Moncrieff would have made a capital general, for fancied security
never sent him to sleep. What had happened once might happen again, he
thought, and his _estancias_ were big prizes for Indians to try for,
especially as there was plenty to gain by success, and little to lose by
defeat.

I have said that our Coila Villa was some distance from the fortified
Moncrieff houses. It was now connected with the general rampart and
ditches. It was part and parcel of the whole system of fortification; so
my brothers and I might rest assured it would be defended, if ever there
was any occasion.

'It seems hard,' said Townley to Moncrieff one day, 'that you should be
put to so much trouble and expense. Why does not the Government protect
its settlers?'

'The Government will in course of time,' replied Moncrieff. 'At present,
as we lie pretty low down in the western map, we are looked upon as rich
pioneers, and left to protect ourselves.'

They were riding then round the _estancias_, visiting outlying _puestos_.

'You have your rockets and red-lights for night signals, and your flags
for day use?' Moncrieff was saying to each _puestero_ or shepherd.

'We have,' was the invariable reply.

'Well, if the Indians are sighted, signal at once, pointing the fan in
their direction, then proceed to drive the flocks towards the _estancias_.
There,' continued Moncrieff, 'there is plenty of corraling room, and we
can concentrate a fire that will, I believe, effectually hold back these
raiding thieves.'

One day there came a report that a fort had been carried by a cloud of
Indians.

This was in the forenoon. Towards evening some Gauchos came in from a
distant _estancia_. They brought the old ugly story of conflagration and
murder, to which Moncrieff and his Welsh partner had long since become
used.

But now the cloud was about to burst over our _estancia_. We all ate our
meals together at the present awful crisis, just, I think, to be company
to each other, and to talk and keep up each other's heart.

But to-day Moncrieff had ordered an early dinner, and this was ominous.
Hardly any one spoke much during the meal. A heaviness was on every heart,
and if any one of us made an effort to smile and look cheerful, others saw
that this was only assumed, and scarcely responded.

Perhaps old Jenny spoke more than all of us put together. And her remarks
at times made us laugh, gloomy though the situation was.

'They reeving Philistines are coming again, are they? Well, laddie, if the
worst should happen I'll just treat them to a drap parridge.'

'What, mither?'

'A drap parridge, laddie. It was boiled maize I poured ower the shoulders
o' them in the caravan. But oatmeal is better, weel scalded. Na, na,
naething beats a drap parridge. Bombazo,' she said presently,'you've been
unco quiet and douce for days back, I hope you'll no show the white
feather this time and bury yoursel' in the moold like a rabbit.'

Poor Bombazo winced, and really, judging from his appearance, he had been
ill at ease for weeks back. There was no singing now, and the guitar lay
unheeded in its case.

'Do not fear for me, lady. I am burning already to see the foe.'

'Weel, Bombazo man, ye dinna look vera warlike. You're unco white about
the gills already, but wae worth the rigging o' you if ye dinna fecht. My
arm is strong to wield the auld ginghamrella yet.'

'Hush, mither, hush!' said Moncrieff.

Immediately after dinner Moncrieff beckoned to Townley, and the two left
the room and the house together.

'You think the Indians will come to-night?' said Townley, after a time.

'I know they will, and in force too.'

'Well, I feel like an idler. You, General Moncrieff, have not appointed me
any station.'

Moncrieff smiled.

'I am now going to do so,' he said, 'and it is probably the most important
position and trust on the _estancia_.'

They walked up as far as the great canal while they conversed.

Arrived there, Moncrieff pointed to what looked like a bundle of
brushwood.

'You see those branches?'

'Yes.'

'And you see that wooden lock or huge doorway?'

'I do.'

'Well, my friend, the brushwood conceals a sentry-box. It overlooks the
whole _estancia_. It conceals something else, a small barrel of gunpowder,
which you are to hang to the hook yonder on the wooden lock, and explode
the moment you have the signal.'

'And the signal will be?'

'A huge rocket sent up from either my _estancia_ house or Coila Villa.
There may be several, but you must act when you see the first. There is
fuse enough to the bomb to give you time to escape, and the bomb is big
enough to burst the lock and flood the whole ditch system in and around
the _estancia_. You are to run as soon as you fire. Further on you will
find another brushwood place of concealment. Hide there. Heaven forbid I
should endanger a hair of your head! Now you know your station!'

'I do,' said Townley, 'and thankful I am to think I can be of service in
this great emergency.'

Before dark all the most valuable portion of our stock was safely
corraled, and silence, broken only by the occasional lowing of the cattle
or the usual night sounds of farm life, reigned around and over the
_estancia_.

Later on Townley stole quietly out, and betook himself to his station.

Still later on Yambo rode in and right up to the verandah of our chief
sitting-room. The horse he bestrode was drenched in sweat. He had seen
Indians in force; they were even now advancing. He had ridden for his
life.

The order 'Every man to his quarters!' was now given.

The night which was to be so terrible and so memorable in the annals of
Moncrieff's _estancia_ had begun. It was very still, and at present very
dark. But by and by the moon would rise.

'A rocket, sir!' we heard Archie shout from his post as sentinel; 'a
rocket from the south-western _puesto_.'

We waited, listening, starting almost at every sound. At length in the
distance we could plainly hear the sound of horses' hoofs on the road, and
before many minutes the first _puestero_ rode to the gate and was
admitted. The men from the other _puestos_ were not far behind; and, all
being safe inside, the gates were fastened and fortified by triple bars of
wood.

All along the ditches, and out for many yards, was spread such a thorny
spikework of pointed wood as to defy the approach of the cleverest Indian
for hours at least.

While we waited I found time to run round to the drawing-room. There was
no sign of fear on any face there, with the exception perhaps of that of
poor Irish Aileen. And I could well believe her when she told me it was
not for herself she cared, but for her 'winsome man.'

I was talking to them as cheerfully as I could, when I heard the sound of
a rifle, and, waving them good-bye, I rushed off to my station.

Slowly the moon rose, and before many minutes the whole _estancia_ was
flooded with its light. And how we thanked Heaven for that light only
those who have been situated as we were now can fully understand.

Up it sailed between the dark whispering poplars. Never had these trees
seemed to me more stately, more noble. Towering up into the starry sky,
they seemed like sentinels set to guard and defend us, while their taper
fingers, piercing heavenwards, carried our thoughts to One who never
deserts those who call on Him in faith in their hour of need.

The moon rose higher and higher, and its light--for it was a full
moon--got still more silvery as it mounted towards its zenith. But as yet
there was no sign that a foe as remorseless and implacable as the tiger of
the jungle was abroad on the plains.

A huge fire had been erected behind the mansion, and about ten o'clock the
female servants came round our lines with food, and huge bowls of steaming
_maté_.

Almost immediately after we were at our quarters again.

I was stationed near our own villa. Leaning over a parapet, I could not
help, as I gazed around me, being struck with the exceeding beauty of the
night. Not far off the lake shone in the moon's rays like a silver mirror,
but over the distant hills and among the trees and hedges was spread a
thin blue gauzy mist that toned and softened the whole landscape.

As I gazed, and was falling into a reverie, a puff of white smoke and a
flash not fifty yards away, and the ping of a bullet close to my ear,
warned me that the attack had commenced.

There had been no living thing visible just before then, but the field on
one side of our villa was now one moving mass of armed Indians, rushing on
towards the ditch and breastwork.

At the same moment all along our lines ran the rattle of rifle-firing.
That savage crowd, kept at bay by the spikework, made a target for our men
that could hardly be missed. The war-cry, which they had expected to
change in less than a minute to the savage shout of victory, was mingled
now with groans and yells of anger and pain.

But this, after all, was not the main attack. From a red signal-light far
along the lines I soon discovered that Moncrieff was concentrating his
strength there, and I hastened in that direction with five of my best men.
The Indians were under the charge of a _cacique_ on horseback, whose
shrill voice sounded high over the din of battle and shrieks of the
wounded. He literally hurled his men like seas against the gates and
ramparts here.

But all in vain. Our fellows stood; and the _cacique_ at length withdrew
his men, firing a volley or two as they disappeared behind the hedges.

There was comparative silence for a space now. It was soon broken,
however, by the thunder of Indian cavalry. The savages were going to
change their tactics.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE LAST ASSAULT.


Never before, perhaps, in all the annals of Indian warfare had a more
determined attack been made upon a settler's _estancia_. The _cacique_ or
_caciques_ who led the enemy seemed determined to purchase victory at any
cost or hazard. Nor did the principal _cacique_ hesitate to expose himself
to danger. During the whole of the first onset he moved about on horseback
close in the rear of his men, and appeared to bear a charmed life. The
bullets must have been whizzing past him as thick as flies. Moncrieff
himself tried more than once to bring him down, but all in vain.

During the final assault he was equally conspicuous; he was here, there,
and everywhere, and his voice and appearance, even for a moment, among
them never failed to cause his men to redouble their efforts.

It was not, however, until far on into the night that this last and awful
charge was made.

The savage foe advanced with a wild shout all along the line of rampart
that connected the Moncrieff main _estancia_ with our villa. This was
really our weakest part.

[Illustration: The Indians advanced with a Wild Shout]

The assault was made on horseback. We heard them coming thundering on some
time before we saw them and could fire. They seemed mad, furious; their
tall feather-bedecked spears were waved high in air; they sat like huge
baboons on their high saddles, and their very horses had been imbued with
the recklessness of their riders, and came on bounding and flying over our
frail field of spikes. It was to be all spear work till they came to close
quarters; then they would use their deadly knives.

Hardly had the first sound of the horses' hoofs reached our ears ere one,
two, three rockets left Coila Villa; and scarcely had they exploded in the
air and cast their golden showers of sparks abroad, before the roar of an
explosion was heard high up on the braeland that shook the houses to their
very foundations--and then--there is the awful rush of foaming, seething
water.

Nothing could withstand that unexpected flood; men and horses were floated
and washed away, struggling and helpless, before it.

Just at the time when the last assault was nearly at its grim close I felt
my arm pulled, and looking quickly round found Yambo at my side. He still
clutched me by the arm, but he was waving his blood-stained sword in the
direction of Moncrieff's house, and I could see by the motions of his
mouth and face he wished me to come with him.

Something had occurred, something dreadful surely, and despite the
excitement of battle a momentary cold wave of fear seemed to rush over my
frame.

Sandie Donaldson was near me. This bold big fellow had been everywhere
conspicuous to-night for his bravery. He had fought all through with
extraordinary intrepidity.

Wherever I had glanced that night I had seen Sandie, the moon shining down
on the white shirt and trousers he wore, and which made him altogether so
conspicuous a figure, as he took aim with rifle or revolver, or dashed
into a crowd of spear-armed Indians, his claymore hardly visible, so
swiftly was it moved to and fro. I grasped his shoulder, pointed in the
direction indicated by Yambo, and on we flew.

As soon as we had rounded the wing of an outbuilding and reached
Moncrieff's terraced lawn, the din of the fight we had just left became
more indistinct, but we now heard sounds that, while they thrilled us with
terror and anger, made us rush on across the grass with the speed of the
panther.

They were the voices of shrieking women, the crashing of glass and
furniture, and the savage and exultant yell of the Indians.

Looking back now to this episode of the night, I can hardly realize that
so many terrible events could have occurred in so brief a time, for, from
the moment we charged up across the lawn not six minutes could have
elapsed ere all was over. It is like a dream, but a dream every turn of
which has been burned into my memory, to remain while life shall last.
Yonder is a tall _cacique_ hurrying out into the bright moonlight from
under the verandah. He bears in his arms the inanimate form of my dear
sister Flora. Is it really _I_ myself who rush up to meet him? Have _I_
fired that shot that causes the savage to reel and fall? Is it I who lift
poor Flora and lay her in the shade of a mimosa-tree? It must be I, yet
every action seems governed by instinct; I am for the time being a strange
psychological study. It is as if my soul had left the body, but still
commanded it, standing aside, ruling every motion, directing every blow
from first to last, and being implicitly obeyed by the other _ego_, the
_ego_-incorporate. There is a crowd, nay, a cloud even it seems, around
me; but see, I have cut my way through them at last: they have fallen
before me, fallen at my side--fallen or fled. I step over bodies, I enter
the room, I stumble over other bodies. Now a light is struck and a lamp is
lit, and standing beside the table, calm, but very pale, I see my aunt
dimly through the smoke. My mother is near her--my own brave mother. Both
have revolvers in their hands; and I know now why bodies are stretched on
the floor. One glance shows me Aileen, lying like a dead thing in a
chair, and beside her, smoothing her brow, chafing her hands, Moncrieff's
marvellous mother.

But in this life the humorous is ever mixed up with the tragic or sad, for
lo! as I hurry away to join the fight that is still going on near the
verandah I almost stumble across something else. Not a body this time--not
quite--only Bombazo's ankles sticking out from under the sofa. I could
swear to those striped silk socks anywhere, and the boots are the boots of
Bombazo. I administer a kick to those shins, and they speedily disappear.
I am out on the moonlit lawn now, and what do I see? First, good brave
Yambo, down on one knee, being borne backwards, fierce hands at his
throat, a short knife at his chest. The would-be assassin falls; Yambo
rises intact, and together we rush on further down to where, on a terrace,
Donaldson has just been overpowered. But see, a new combatant has come
upon the scene; several revolver shots are fired in quick succession. A
tall dark figure in semi-clerical garb is cutting right and left with a
good broadsword. And now--why, now it is all over, and Townley stands
beside us panting.

Well might he pant--he had done brave work. But he had come all too late
to save Sandie. He lies there quietly enough on the grass. His shirt is
stained with blood, and it is his own blood this time.

Townley bends over and quietly feels his arm. No pulse there. Then he
breathes a half audible prayer and reverently closes the eyes.

I am hurrying back now to the room with Flora.

'All is safe, mother, now. Flora is safe. See, she is smiling: she knows
us all. Oh, Heaven be praised, she is safe!'

We leave Townley there, and hurry back to the ramparts.

The stillness alone would have told us that the fight was finished and the
victory won.

A few minutes after this, standing high up on the rampart there,
Moncrieff is mustering his people. One name after another is called. Alas!
there are many who do not answer, many who will never answer more, for our
victory has been dearly bought.

Four of our Scottish settlers were found dead in the trench; over a dozen
Gauchos had been killed. Moncrieff and his partner were both wounded,
though neither severely. Archie and Dugald were also badly cut, and
answered but faintly and feebly to the roll-call. Sandie we know is dead,
and Bombazo is--under the sofa. So I thought; but listen.

'Captain Rodrigo de Bombazo!'

'Here, general, here,' says a bold voice close behind me, and Bombazo
himself presses further to the front.

I can hardly believe my eyes and ears. Could those have been Bombazo's
boots? Had I really kicked the shins of Bombazo? Surely the events of the
night had turned my brain. Bombazo's boots indeed! Bombazo skulk and hide
beneath a sofa! Impossible. Look at him now. His hair is dishevelled;
there is blood on his brow. He is dressed only in shirt and trousers, and
these are marked with blood; so is his right arm, which is bared over the
elbow, and the sword he carries in his hand. Bold Bombazo! How I have
wronged him! But the silk striped socks? No; I cannot get over that.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Barely a month before the events just narrated took place at the
_estancias_ of Moncrieff there landed from a sailing ship at the port of
Buenos Ayres a man whose age might have been represented by any number of
years 'twixt thirty and forty. There were grey hairs on his temples, but
these count for nothing in a man whose life has been a struggle with
Fortune and Fate. The individual in question, whom his shipmates called
Dalston, was tall and tough and wiry. He had shown what he was and what he
could do in less than a week from the time of his joining. At first he
had been a passenger, and had lived away aft somewhere, no one could tell
exactly where, for he did not dine in the saloon with the other
passengers, and he looked above messing with the stewards. As the mate and
he were much together it was supposed that Dalston made use of the first
officer's cabin. The ship had encountered dirty weather from the very
outset; head winds and choppy seas all the way down Channel, so that she
was still 'kicking about off the coast'--this is how the seamen phrased
it--when she ought to have been crossing the Bay or stretching away out
into the broad Atlantic. She fared worse by far when she reached the Bay,
having met with a gale of wind that blew most of her cloth to ribbons,
carried away her bowsprit, and made hurdles of her bulwarks both forward
and amidships. Worse than all, two men were blown from aloft while trying
to reef a sail during a squall of more than hurricane violence. I say
blown from aloft, and I say so advisedly, for the squall came on after
they had gone up, a squall that even the men on deck could not stand
against, a squall that levelled the very waves, and made the sea away to
leeward--no one could see to windward--look like boiling milk.

The storm began to go down immediately after the squall, and next day the
weather was fine enough to make sail, and mend sail. But the ship was
short-handed, for the skipper had made no provision against loss by
accident. He was glad then when the mate informed him that the 'gentleman'
Dalston was as good as any two men on board.

'Send him to me,' said the skipper.

'Good morning. Ahem, I hear, sir, you would be willing to assist in the
working of the ship. May I ask on what terms?'

'Certainly,' said Dalston. 'I'm going out to the Argentine, to buy a bit
of land; well, naturally, money is some object to me. You see?'

'I understand.'

'Well, my terms are the return of my passage money and civility.'

'Agreed; but why do you mention civility?'

'Because I've heard you using rather rough language to your men. Now, if
you forgot yourself so far as to call me a bad name I'd----'

He paused, and there was a look in his eyes the captain hardly relished.

'Well! What would you do?'

'Why, I'd--retire to my cabin.'

'All right then, I think we understand each other.'

So Dalston was installed, and now dined forward. He became a favourite
with his messmates. No one could tell a more thrilling and adventuresome
yarn than Dalston, no one could sing a better song than himself or join
more heartily in the chorus when another sang, and no one could work more
cheerily on deck, or fly more quickly to tack a sheet.

Smyth had been the big man in the forecastle before Dalston's day. But
Smyth was eclipsed now, and I dare say did not like his rival. One day,
near the quarter-deck, Smyth called Dalston an ugly name. Dalston's answer
was a blow which sent the fellow reeling to leeward, where he lay
stunned.

'Have you killed him, Dalston?' said the captain.

'Not quite, sir; but I could have.'

'Well, Dalston, you are working for two men now; don't let us lose another
hand, else you'll have to work for three.'

Dalston laughed.

Smyth gathered himself up and slunk away, but his look was one Dalston
would have cause to remember.

This good ship--Sevenoaks she was called, after the captain's wife's
birthplace--had a long and a rough passage all along. The owners were
Dutchmen, so it did not matter a very great deal. There was plenty of
time, and the ship was worked on the cheap. Perhaps the wonder is she
kept afloat at all, for at one period of the voyage she leaked so badly
that the crew had to pump three hours out of every watch. Then she crossed
a bank on the South American coast, and the men said she had sucked in a
bit of seaweed, for she did not leak much after this.

The longest voyage has an end, however, and when the Sevenoaks arrived at
Buenos Ayres, Dalston bade his messmates adieu, had his passage money duly
returned, and went on shore, happy because he had many more golden
sovereigns to rattle than he had expected.

Dalston went to a good hotel, found out all about the trains, and next day
set out, in company with a waiter who had volunteered to be his escort, to
purchase a proper outfit--only light clothes, a rifle, a good revolver,
and a knife or two to wear in his belt, for he was going west to a rough
country.

In the evening, after the waiter and he had dined well at another hotel:

'You go home now,' said Dalston; 'I'm going round to have a look at the
town,'

'Take care of yourself,' the waiter said.

'No fear of me,' was the laughing reply.

But that very night he was borne back to his inn, cut, bruised, and
faint.

And robbed of all his gold.

'Who has done this?' said the waiter, aghast at his friend's appearance.

'Smyth!' That was all the reply.

Dalston lay for weeks between life and death. Then he came round almost at
once, and soon started away on his journey. The waiter--good-natured
fellow--had lent him money to carry him to Mendoza.

But Dalston's adventures were not over yet.

He arrived at Villa Mercedes well and hopeful, and was lucky enough to
secure a passage in the diligence about to start under mounted escort to
Mendoza. After a jolting ride of days, the like of which he had never been
used to in the old country, the ancient-looking coach had completed
three-quarters of the journey, and the rest of the road being considered
safe the escort was allowed to go on its way to the frontier.

They had not departed two hours, however, before the travellers were
attacked, the driver speared, and the horses captured. The only passenger
who made the slightest resistance was Dalston. He was speedily
overpowered, and would have been killed on the spot had not the _cacique_
of the party whom Dalston had wounded interfered and spared his life.

Spared his life! But for what? He did not know. Some of the passengers
were permitted to go free, the rest were killed. He alone was mounted on
horseback, his legs tied with thongs and his horse led by an Indian.

All that night and all next day his captors journeyed on, taking, as far
as Dalston could judge, a south-west course. His sufferings were extreme.
His legs were swollen, cut, and bleeding; his naked shoulders--for they
had stripped him almost naked--burned and blistered with the sun; and
although his tongue was parched and his head drooping wearily on his
breast, no one offered him a mouthful of water.

He begged them to kill him. Perhaps the _cacique_, who was almost a white
man, understood his meaning, for he grinned in derision and pointed to his
own bullet-wounded arm. The _cacique_ knew well there were sufferings
possible compared to which death itself would be as pleasure.

When the Indians at last went into camp--which they did but for a
night--he was released, but guarded; a hunk of raw guanaco meat was thrown
to him, which he tried to suck for the juices it contained.

Next day they went on and on again, over a wild pampa land now, with here
and there a bush or tussock of grass or thistles, and here and there a
giant ombu-tree. His ankles were more painful than ever, his shoulders
were raw, the horse he rode was often prodded with a spear, and he too
was wounded at the same time. Once or twice the _cacique_, maddened by the
pain of his wound, rushed at Dalston with uplifted knife, and the wretched
prisoner begged that the blow might fall.

Towards evening they reached a kind of hill and forest land, where the
flowering cacti rose high above the tallest spear. Then they came to a
ruin. Indians here were in full force, horses dashed to and fro, and it
was evident from the bustle and stir that they were on the war-path, and
soon either to attack or be attacked.

The prisoner was now roughly unhorsed and cruelly lashed to a tree, and
left unheeded by all. For a moment or two he felt grateful for the shade,
but his position after a time became painful in the extreme. At night-fall
all the Indians left, and soon after the sufferings of the poor wretch
grew more dreadful than pen can describe. He was being slowly eaten alive
by myriads of insects that crept and crawled or flew; horrid spiders with
hairy legs and of enormous size ran over his neck and naked chest,
loathsome centipedes wriggled over his shoulders and face and bit him, and
ants covered him black from head to feet. Towards dusk a great jaguar went
prowling past, looked at him with green fierce eyes, snarled low, and went
on. Vultures alighted near him, but they too passed by; they could wait.
Then it was night, and many of the insect pests grew luminous. They
flitted and danced before his eyes till tortured nature could bear no
more, and insensibility ended his sufferings for a time.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The Indians must have thought that, although their attack on our
_estancia_ had failed, we were too weak or too frightened to pursue them.
They did not know Moncrieff. Wounded though he was, he had issued forth
from behind the ramparts with thirty well-armed and splendidly-mounted
men. They followed the enemy up for seven long hours, and succeeded in
teaching them such a lesson that they have never been seen in that
district since.

Towards noon we were riding homewards, tired and weary enough now, when
Donald suggested our visiting the old Jesuit ruin, and so we turned our
horses' heads in that direction.

Donald had ridden on before, and as I drew near I heard him cry, 'Oh,
Moncrieff, come quickly! Here is some poor fellow lashed to the
ombu-tree!'



CHAPTER XXV

FAREWELL TO THE SILVER WEST.


We cut the man's cords of thongs, we spread rugs on the grass and laid him
gently down, then bathed his poor body with wine, and poured a little down
his throat.

In about half an hour the wretched being we had thought dead slowly raised
himself on his elbow and gazed at _me_ as well as his swollen eyes would
permit him. His lips moved as if to speak, but no intelligible sound
escaped them. The recollection dawned on my mind all at once, and in that
sadly-distorted face I discovered traces of the man who had wrought us so
much sorrow and evil.

I took his hand in mine.

'Am I right?' I said. 'Are you Duncan M'Rae?'

He nodded drowsily, closed his eyes again, and lay back.

We cut branches from the ombu-tree, tied them together with the thongs
that had bound the victim's limbs, and so made a litter. On this we placed
rugs and laid the man; and between two mules he was borne by the Gauchos
slowly homewards to the _estancias_. Poor wretch! he had expected to come
here all but a conqueror, and in a position to dictate his own terms--he
arrived a dying man.

Our _estancia_ for many weeks was now turned almost into a hospital, for
even those Indians who had crept wounded into the bush, preferring to die
at the sides of hedges to falling into our hands, we had brought in and
treated with kindness, and many recovered.

All the dead we could find we buried in the humble little graveyard on the
braeside. We buried them without respect of nationality, only a few feet
of clay separating the white man's grave from that of his Indian foe.

'It matters little,' said Moncrieff. 'where one rests,

                "For still and peaceful is the grave,
                  Where, life's vain tumults past,
                The appointed house, by Heaven's decree,
                  Receives us all at last."'

Both Dugald and Archie made excellent patients, and Flora and Aileen the
best of nurses. But _the_ nurse over even these was old Jenny. She was
hospital superintendent, and saw to all the arrangements, even making the
poultices and spreading the salves and plasters with her own hands.

'My mither's a ma_rr_vel at he_rr_bs!' said Moncrieff over and over again,
when he saw the old lady busy at work.

There was one patient, and only one, whom old Jenny did not nurse. This
was Duncan himself. For him Townley did all his skill could suggest, and
was seldom two consecutive hours away from the room where he lay.

In spite of all this it was evident that the ex-poacher was sinking fast.

Then came a day when Moncrieff, Archie, and myself were called into the
dying man's apartment, and heard him make the fullest confession of all
his villainy, and beg for our forgiveness with the tears roiling down his
wan, worn face.

Yes, we forgave him willingly.

May Heaven forgive him too!

At the time of his confession he was strong enough to read over and sign
the document that Townley placed before him. He told Townley too the
addresses of the men who had assisted him in the old vault at the ruined
kirk in Coila.

And Duncan had seemed brighter and calmer for several days after this. But
he told us he had no desire to live now.

Then, one morning the change came, and so he sank and died.

                   *       *       *       *       *

It was several months before we could make up our minds to leave 'Our Home
in the Silver West.' Indeed, there was considerable preparation to be made
for the long homeward voyage that was before us; besides, Townley had no
inclination to hurry matters now that he felt sure of victory.

Victory was not even yet a certainty, however. The estate of Coila was
well worth fighting for. Was there not the possibility, the bare
possibility, that the solicitors or advocates of Le Roi, or the M'Rae, who
now held the castle and glen, might find some fatal flaw in the evidence
which Townley had spent so much time and care in working out and
collecting?

It was not at all probable. In fact, despite the blood-feud, that ancient
family folly, I believed that M'Rae would act the part of a gentleman.

'If,' said Townley to me one day, as we walked for almost the last time in
the beautiful gardens around Moncrieff's mansion-house, 'we have anything
to fear, I believe it is from the legal advisers of the present
"occupier"'--Townley would not say 'owner'--'of the estate. These men, you
know, Murdoch, can hardly expect to be _our_ advocates. They are well
aware that if they lose hold of Coila now the title-deeds thereof will
never again rest in the fireproof safes of their offices.'

'I am afraid,' I said, 'you have but a poor opinion of Edinburgh
advocates.'

'Not so, Murdoch, not so. But,' he added, meaningly 'I have lived longer
in life than you, and I have but a poor opinion of human nature.'

'I suppose,' I said, 'that the M'Rae will know nothing of what is coming
till our arrival on Scottish shores!'

'On the contrary,' answered Townley; 'although it may really seem like
playing into our opponent's hands, I have written a friendly letter to the
M'Rae, and have told him to be prepared; that I have irrefragable
evidence--mind, I do not particularize--that you, Murdoch M'Crimman, are
the true and only proprietor of the estates of Coila. I want him to see
and feel that I am treating him as the man of honour I believe him to be,
and that the only thing we really desire is justice to all concerned.'

I smiled, and could not help saying, 'Townley, my best of friends, what an
excellent advocate you would have made!'

Townley smiled in turn.

'Say, rather,' he replied, 'what an excellent detective I should have
made! But, after all, Murdoch, it may turn out that there is a spice of
selfishness in all I am doing.'

'I do not believe a word of it, Townley.'

Townley only laughed, and looked mysterious.

'Hold on a little,' he said; 'don't be too quick to express your
judgment.'

'I will wait, then,' I answered; 'but really I cannot altogether
understand you.'

                   *       *       *       *       *

Perhaps nothing shows true physical courage better than the power to say
'Farewell' apparently unmoved. It is a kind of courage, however, that is
very rare indeed, and all sorts of stratagems have been adopted to soften
the grief of parting. I am not sure that I myself was not guilty of
adopting one of these on the morning we left that pleasant home by the
lake.

'I'm not going to say "farewell" at all,' I insisted, as I shook hands
with Irish Aileen and poor old Jenny, Moncrieff's 'marvellous mither.'
'I'm coming out again to see you all as soon as ever I can get settled. Do
you think I could leave this beautiful country entirely, without spending
at least a few more years in it? Not I! And even if I do succeed in
getting old Coila back once more--even that, mind, is uncertain--I sha'n't
quite give up Coila New. So _au revoir_, Moncrieff; _au revoir_!'

Then, turning to Jenny, '_Au revoir_, Jenny,' I said.

'Guid-bye, laddie, and God be wi' ye. I canna speak French. I've tried a
word or twa mair than once, and nearly knocked my jaws out o' the joint;
so I'll just say "Guid-bye." Lang, lang ere you can come back to Coila New
puir old Jenny's bones will be in the mools.'

I felt a big lump in my throat just then, and was positively grateful when
Bombazo strutted up dressed in full uniform.

'_A dios_', he said; 'my friend, _a dios_. And now you have but to say the
word, and if you have the least fear of being molested by Indians, my
trusty sword is at your service, and I will gladly escort you as far as
Villa Mercedes.'

It is needless to say that I declined this truly heroic offer.

Our party--the departing one--consisted of mother, aunt, Townley, Archie,
and myself. My sister and my brothers came many miles on the road with us;
then we bade them good-bye, and I felt glad when that was over.

But Moncrieff's convoy was a truly Scottish one. He and his good men never
thought of turning back till they had seen us safely on board the train,
and rapidly being whirled away southwards.

As long as I could see this honest settler he was waving his broad bonnet
in the air, and--I felt sure of this--commending us all to a kind
Providence.

The vessel in which we took passage was a steamer that bore us straight to
the Clyde. Our voyage was a splendid one; in fact, I believe we were all
just a little sorry when it was finished.

Landing there in the Broomielaw on a cold forenoon in early spring would
have possessed but little of interest for any of us--so full were our
minds with the meeting that was before us, the meeting of M'Crimman and
M'Rae--only we received a welcome that, being all so unexpected, caused
tears of joy to spring to my eyes. For hardly was the gangway thrust on
board from the quay ere more than twenty sturdy Highlanders, who somehow
had got possession of it, came rushing and shouting on board. I knew every
face at once, though some were changed--with illness, years, or sorrow.

Perhaps few such scenes had ever before been witnessed on the Broomielaw,
for those men were arrayed in the full Scottish costume and wore the
M'Crimman tartan, and their shouts of joy might have been heard a good
half-mile off, despite the noises of the great city.

How they had heard of our coming it never occurred to me to inquire.
Suffice it to say that here they were, and I leave the reader to guess the
kind of welcome they gave us.

No, nothing would satisfy them short of escorting us to our hotel.

Our carriages, therefore, to please these kindly souls from Coila, were
obliged to proceed but slowly, for five pipers marched in front, playing
the bold old air of 'The March of the Cameron Men,' while the rest, with
drawn claymores, brought up the rear.

On the very next day Townley, Archie, and I received a message from M'Rae
himself, announcing that he would gladly meet us at the Royal Hotel in
Edinburgh. We were to bring no advocate with us, the letter advised; if
any dispute arose, then, and not till then, would be the time to call in
the aid of the law.

I confess that I entered M'Rae's room with a beating heart. How would he
receive us?

We found him quietly smoking a cigar and gazing out of the window.

But he turned with a kindly smile towards us as soon as we entered, and
the next minute we were all seated round the table, and business--_the_
business--was entered into.

M'Rae listened without a word. He never even moved a muscle while Townley
told all his long story, or rather read it from paper after paper, which
he took from his bag. The last of these papers was Duncan's own
confession, with Archie's signature and mine as witnesses alongside
Moncrieff's.

He opened his lips at last.

'This is your signature, and you duly attest all this?'

He put the question first to Archie and then to me.

Receiving a reply in the affirmative, it was but natural that I should
look for some show of emotion in M'Rae's face. I looked in vain. I have
never seen more consummate coolness before nor since. Indeed, it was a
coolness that alarmed me.

And when he rose from the table after a few minutes of apparently
engrossing thought, and walked directly towards a casket that stood on the
writing-table, I thought that after all our cause was lost.

In that casket, I felt sure, lay some strange document that should utterly
undo all Townley's work of years.

M'Rae is now at the table. He opens the casket, and for a moment looks
critically at its contents.

I can hear my heart beating. I'm sure I look pale with anxiety.

Now M'Rae puts his hand inside and quietly takes out--a fresh cigar.

Then, humming a tune the while, he brings the casket towards Townley, and
bids him help himself.

Townley does as he is told, but at the same time bursts into a hearty
laugh.

'Mr. M'Rae,' he says, 'you are the coolest man that ever I met. I do
believe that if you were taken out to be shot--'

'Stay,' said M'Rae, 'I _was_ once. I was tried for a traitor--tried for a
crime in France called "Treason," that I was as guiltless of as an unborn
babe--and condemned.'

'And what did you do?'

'Some one on the ground handed me a cigar, and--I lit it.

'Nay, my dear friends, I have lost my case here. Indeed, I never, it would
seem, had one.

'M'Crimman,' he continued, shaking me by the hand, 'Coila is yours.'

'Strathtoul,' I answered, 'is our blood feud at an end?'

'It is,' was the answer; and once again hand met hand across the table.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Need I tell of the home-coming of the M'Crimmans of Coila? Of the clansmen
who met us in the glen and marched along with us? Of the cheering strains
of music that re-echoed from every rock? Of the flags that fluttered over
and around our Castle Coila? Of the bonfires that blazed that night on
every hill, and cast their lurid light across the darkling lake? Or of the
tears my mother shed when, looking round the tartan drawing-room, the
cosiest in all the castle, she thought of father, dead and gone? No, for
some things are better left to the reader's imagination.

                   *       *       *       *       *

I throw down my pen with a sigh of relief.

I think I have finished my story; my noble deerhound thinks so too. He
gets slowly up from the hearthrug, conies towards me, and places his
honest head on my arm, but his eyes are fixed on mine.

It is not patting that he wants, nor petting either.

'Come out now, master,' he seems to say, speaking with soft brown eyes and
wagging tail; 'come out, master; mount your fleetest horse, and let us
have a glorious gallop across the hills. See how the sun shines and
glitters on grass, on leaves and lake! While you have been writing there
day after day, I, your faithful dog, have been languishing. Come, master,
come!'

And we go together.

When I return, refreshed, and run up stairs to the room in the tower, I
find dear auntie there. She has been reading my manuscript.

'There is,' she says, 'only one addition to make.'

'Name it, auntie,' I say; 'it is not yet too late.'

But she hesitates.

'It is almost a secret,' she says at last, bending down and smoothing the
deerhound.

'A secret, auntie? Ha, ha!' I laugh. 'I have it, auntie! I have it!'

And I kiss her there and then.

'It is Townley's secret and yours. He has proposed, and you are to--'

But auntie has run out of the room.

And now, come to think of it, there is something to add to all this.

Can you guess _my_ secret, reader mine?

Irene, my darling Irene and I, Murdoch M'Crimman, are also to be--

But, there, you have guessed my secret, as I guessed auntie's.

And just let me ask this: Could any better plan have been devised of
burying the hatchet betwixt two rival Highland clans, and putting an end
for ever to a blood feud?

THE END.



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