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Title: The Treasure of Pearls - A Romance of Adventures in California
Author: Aimard, Gustave
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE TREASURE OF PEARLS

A Romance of Adventures in California

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD


AUTHOR OF "RED TRACK," "ADVENTURERS," "PEARL OF THE ANDES"

"TRAIL HUNTER," "PIRATES OF THE PRAIRIE," &C, &C.


LONDON: J. and R. MAXWELL

MILTON HOUSE, 4, SHOE LANE E. C.

GEORGE VICKERS, ANGEL COURT, STRAND

AND ALL BOOKSELLERS


(From the Collected Works 1863-1885)



CONTENTS.


         I. THE PIECES AND THE BOARD
        II. ENVY NO MAN HIS GRAVE
       III. THE PIRATE'S BEQUEST
        IV. A DESERT MYSTERY
         V. THE GODSEND
        VI. ANY PORT IN A STORM
       VII. A WAKING NIGHTMARE
      VIII. "THE LITTLE JOKER"
        IX. THE WAY LAYERS
         X. THE PEARL DIVER'S PRICE
        XI. THE TWO CAPTAINS OF THE "GOLETA"
       XII. THE ROUT COMPLETE
      XIII. INTERVENTION
       XIV. THE HAUL OF MILLIONS
        XV. THE PATHFINDER'S HONOUR
       XVI. A HAVEN WORSE THAN THE STORM
      XVII. THE PUREST OF PEARLS
     XVIII. OUT AND AWAY
       XIX. THE OLD, OLD FRIENDS
        XX. THE ANGELITO
       XXI. THE LANCERS' CHARGE
      XXII. THE PACT OF BLOOD
     XXIII. CANNON IS BROUGHT TO BEAR
      XXIV. THE UNWILLING VOLUNTEER
       XXV. THE LOYALTY OF THE APACHE
      XXVI. THE HARVEST OF THE KNIFE
     XXVII. THE TRUE CABALLERO
    XXVIII. THE BEST BAIT TO CATCH APACHES



THE TREASURE OF PEARLS



CHAPTER I.

THE PIECES AND THE BOARD.


We stand on Mexican soil. We are on the seaward skirt of its
westernmost State of Sonora, in the wild lands almost washed by the
Californian Gulf, which will be the formidable last ditch of the
unconquerable red men flying before the Star of the Empire.

Before us, the immensity of land; behind us, that of the Pacific Ocean.

O immeasurable stretches of verdure which form the ever-unknown
territory, the poetically entitled Far West, grand and attractive,
sweet and terrible, the natural trellis of so rich, beautiful, mighty,
and unkempt flora, that India has none of more vigour of production!

To an aeronaut's glance, these green and yellow plains would offer only
a vast carpet embroidered with dazzling flowers and foliage, almost as
gay and multicoloured, irregularly blocked out like the pieces of glass
in ancient church windows with the lead, by rivers torrential in the
wet season, rugged hollows of glistening quicksands and neck-deep mud
in summer, all of which blend with an unexampled brilliant azure on the
clear horizon.

It is only gradually, after the view has become inured to the
fascinating landscape, that it can make out the details: hills not to
be scorned for altitude, steep banks of rivers, and a thousand other
unforeseen impediments for the wretch fleeing from hostile animals or
fellow beings, which agreeably spoil the somewhat saddening sameness,
and are hidden completely from the general glance by the rank grass,
rich canes, and gigantic flower stalks.

Oh, for the time--the reader would find the patience--to enumerate
the charming products of this primitive nature, which shoots up and
athwart, hangs, swings, juts out, crosses, interlaces, binds, twines,
catches, encircles, and strays at random to the end of the naturalist's
investigation, describing majestic parabolas, forming grandiose
arcades, and finally completes the most splendid, aye, and sublime
spectacle that is given to any man on the footstool to admire for
superabundant contrasts, and enthralling harmonies.

The man in the balloon whom we imagine to be hovering over this mighty
picture, even higher up than the eagle of the Sierra Madre itself, who
sails in long circles above the bald-headed vulture about to descend on
a prey, which the king of the air disdains--this lofty viewer, we say,
would spy, on the afternoon when we guide the reader to these wilds
apparently unpeopled, more than one human creature wriggling like worms
in the labyrinth.

At one point some twenty men, white and yet swarthy, unlike in dress
but similarly armed to the teeth, were separately "worming" their
tortuous way, we repeat, through the _chaparral_ proper, or plantations
of the low branching live oak, as well as the gigantic ferns, mesquite,
cactus, nopal, and fruit laden shrubs, the oblong-leaved mahogany, the
bread tree, the fan-leaved abanico, the pirijao languidly swinging its
enormous golden fruit in clusters, the royal palm, devoid of foliage
along the stem, but softly nodding its high, majestically plumed head;
the guava, the banana, the intoxicating chirimoya, the cork oak, the
Peruvian tree, the war palm letting its resinous gum slowly ooze forth
to capture the silly moths, and even young snakes and lizards which
squirmed on the hardening gum like a platter of Palissy ware abruptly
galvanised into life.

These adventurers insinuated themselves through this tangle unseen and,
perhaps, unsuspected by one another, all tending to the same point,
probably the same rendezvous. A marked devil-may-care spirit, which
tempered the caution of men brought up in the desert, betokened that
they were master of the woods hereabouts, or, at least, only recognised
the Indian rovers as their contesting fellow tenants.

Elsewhere, a blundering stranger, of a fairness which startled the
pronghorn antelopes as much as a superstitious man would be at seeing a
sheeted form at midnight, tramped desperately as one who felt lost, but
nervously feared to delay whilst there was daylight, over the immense
spreads of dahlias, flaunting flowers each full of as much honey as
Hercules would care to drain at a draught, whiter than Chimborazo's
snow, or ruddier than the tiger lily's blood splashes; through thick
creepers which withered with the pressing circulation of boiling sap
like vegetable serpents around the trees, from which gorged reptiles,
not unlike these growing cords themselves, dangled, and now and then
half curled up, startling with his inexpert foot (in a boot cut and
torn by the bramble and splinters of the ironwood and lignum vitae
shattered in the _tornado_--a "twister," indeed)--animals of all sizes
and species, which leaped, flew, floundered, and crept aloof in the
chaos not unpierceable to them: forms on two, four, countless feet,
with long, broad, ample, or tiny wings, singing, calling, yelling,
howling up and down a scale of incredible extent, now softly seducing
the astray to follow, now taunting him and screaming for him to
forbear. If he were not maddened, he must have had a heart of steel.

Elsewhere still, a man was riding on a horse whose harness and
trappings smelt so strongly of the stable, that is, of human slavery,
that it alarmed the stupid, mournful-eyed bisons, the alligator as he
basked in the caking mire, the hideous iguana slothfully ascending
a wind cast trunk, that maneless lion the cougar, the panthers and
jaguars too lazy or too glutted with the night's raid to follow the
prey, the honey bear warily sniffing the flower which harboured a bee,
the sullen grizzly who looked out of a hilly den amazed at so impudent
an invader. Upon this horse, whose Spanish descent and state of born
thraldom was resented by the angry neigh of his never-lassoed brethren,
proudly careering in unnumbered _manadas_ upon endless courses, this
man was resolutely progressing, ruthlessly severing vines and floral
clumps with a splendid old broadsword, cool as only a Mexican can
remain in a felt sombrero and a voluminous blanket cloak; charging and
crushing, unless they quickened their retreat, the venomous cotejo, the
green lizard, the basilisk and tiny, yet awful, coral snakes, and never
swerving, though the tongue could almost attain what was unmuffled
of his face, the monstrous anaconda and its long, spotted kinsfolk.
This mounted Mexican took a line, not so straight as the footmen
were pursuing, which would bring him to the spot whither they were
converging.

Imagining that the one of the wayfarers who evinced an ignorance of
prairie life which made his existence each moment a greater miracle,
and that the horseman who, on the contrary, rode on as sturdily as a
postboy in a well-worn road, formed two sides of a triangle of which
the evident destination of the rider and the other Mexicans was the
final end, in about the centre of this fancied space, other human
objects of interest were visible to our aerial observer.

Toilsomely marching, one or the other of two men supporting alternately
the young girl who, singularly enough, was their companion in this
wilderness, the new trio formed a group which fluttered the almost
never-so-startled feathered inhabitants of that grove; curassows,
tanagers, noisy loros, hummingbirds as small as flies, hunting flies
as large as themselves, toucans that seemed overburdened with their
ultraliberal beaks, wood pigeons, fiery flamingoes, in striking
contrast with the black swans that clattered in the cane brake.

Behind them, in calm, contented chase, easy and active as the pretty
gray squirrels, which alone took the alarm and sprang away when he
noiselessly appeared, a shining copper-skinned Indian, with robust
limbs and graceful gait, an eye to charm and to command, moved like
a king who scorned to set his guards to punish the intruder, on his
domains, but stalked savagely onward to chastise them himself. The
plentiful scalp locks that fringed his leggings showed that he had left
many a skeleton of the paleface to bleach in the torrid sun, and that
the sex, the youth and the beauty of the gentle companion of the two
whites on whose track he so placidly proceeded, would not spare her a
single pang, far less obtain her immunity. On his Apollo-like bosom
was tattooed, in sepia and vermilion, a rattlesnake, the emblem not
merely of a tribe, but the sect of a tribe, the ring within the circle;
he belonged to the select band of the Southern Apaches, the Poison
Hatchets, initiated in the compounding of deadly salves and potent
potions, to cure the victim of which the united faculties of Europe
would be baffled. No doubt those arrows, of which the feathers bristled
in a full quiver, and his other weapons, were anointed with that venom
which makes such Indians shunned by all the prairie rovers.

Such was the panorama, sublime, enthralling and fearsome, and the
puppets which are presented to our imaginary gazer.

Leaving him to dissolve into the air whence we evolved him, we descend
to terra firma near the last party to which we directed attention.

The sun was at its zenith, which fact rendered the animation of so many
persons the more remarkable, since few are afoot in the heat of the day
in those regions.

Suddenly, with a slight hiss as of a living snake, an arrow sped
unerringly through a tuft of liquid embers, and laid low, after
one brief spasm of death, a huge dog which seemed a mongrel of
Newfoundlander and a wild wolf.

Shortly afterwards the branches which masked the poor animal's
stiffening body (on which the greedy flies began already to settle,
and towards which the tumblebugs were scrambling in their amazing
instinct), were parted by a trembling hand, and a white man
of Spanish-American extraction, showed his face streaming with
perspiration and impressed with terror and despair, to which, at the
discovery, was immediately added a profound sorrow.

"Snakebit! That is what detained Fracasador (the Breaker into Bits).
Come, arouse thee, good dog!" he said in Spanish, but instantly
perceiving the tip of the arrow shaft buried almost wholly in the broad
chest, he uttered a sigh of deep consternation, and added--

"Again the dart of death! We are still pursued by that remorseless
fiend."

Fracasador was certainly dead.

"After our horses, the dog! After the dog, ourselves! Brave Benito!
Poor Dolores, my poor child!"

He started, as the bushes rustled, but it was not an enemy who
appeared. It was the young woman whom he had named, and a youth in his
two-and-twentieth year at the farthest.

Benito was tall, well and stoutly built; his form even stylish, his
features fine and regular; his complexion seemed rather pale for a
native, from his silky hair, which came down disorderly on his square
shoulders, being of a jet black. Intelligence and unconquerable daring
shone in his large black eyes. On his visage sat a seldom seen blending
of courage, fidelity and frankness. In short, one of those men who win
at first sight, and can be trusted to the last.

Though his costume, reduced by the dilapidation of the thorns,
consisted of linen trousers caught in at the waist by a red China
crape _faja_ or sash, and a coarse "hickory" shirt, he resembled a
disguised prince, so much ease and distinction abounded in his bearing.
But, for that matter, throughout Spanish-America, it is impossible to
distinguish a noble from a common man, for they all express themselves
with the same elegance, employ language quite as nicely chosen, and
have equally courteous manners.

The girl whom he supported, almost carried in fact, was sleeping
without being fully unconscious, as happens to soldiers on a forced
march. Dolores was not over sixteen. Her beauty was exceptional, and
her modesty made her low melodious voice falter when she spoke. She was
graceful and dainty as an Andalusian. The profile so strongly resembled
that of the man who was leaning over the slain dog that it did not
require the remembrance that he had spoken of her as his child, for one
to believe that he had father and daughter under his ken.

"Don't wake her!" said the elder man, with a quick wave of the hand
to quell the other's surprise. "Let her not see the poor faithful
hound, Benito. And keep yourself, as I do, before her as a shield. The
cowardly foe to whom we owe the loss of our horses, our arms, and now
our loyal comrade is lurking in the thicket, may even--Oh, Holy Mother,
that should protect us from the heathen!--be this instant taking aim at
our poor, dear Dolores, with another missile from his accursed quiver."

"The villain!" cried Benito, darting a furious glance around. "Luckily,
she sleeps, Don José."

Indeed the elder Mexican could take the girl without awakening her out
of the other's arms, and, after a long kiss on her pure forehead, bear
her away from the dog's proximity into a covert where he laid her upon
the grass with precaution.

"Thank heaven for this sleep," said he, "it will make her temporarily
oblivious of her hunger."

Benito had taken the other's zarapé which he spread over the girl. That
blanket was their only appendage; beside the scanty covering which the
three wore, weapons, water bottle and food container, they had none.
A critical position this for the small party, weaponless and foodless
in the waste! A disarmed man is reckoned as dead in such a wild!
Struggling is impossible against the incalculable foes that either
crush a solitary adventurer by their mass, or deputize, so to say, some
such executioner as he whom we saw to have slain the dog, and we hear
to have rid the three Mexicans of their horses and equipments. The
story of how this deprivation came about is short and lamentable.



CHAPTER II.

ENVY NO MAN HIS GRAVE.


Don Benito Vázquez de Bustamente was the son of that General
Bustamente, twice president of the Mexican Republic. When his father,
cast down from power, was forced to flee with his family to take final
refuge at Guayaquil, the boy was only five or six years old. Suffering
with fever, which made the voyage dangerous for him, the child was
left at Guaymas in charge of a faithful adherent, who found no better
way of saving the son of the proscript from persecution than to take
him as one of his own little family up the San José Valley, where he
had a ranch. The boy remained there and grew up to the age when we
encountered him.

His rough but trusty guardian let the youth run wild, teaching him to
ride and shoot as the only needful accomplishments. Benito, falling
into the company of the remnant of purer-blooded Indians, supposed to
be the last of the original possessors of that region, relished their
vagabond life exceedingly. Not only did he spend weeks at a time in
hunts with them, with an occasional running fight with the Yaqui tribe,
and even the Apaches raiding Sonora; but, at the season for pearl
diving, accompanied them in their boats, not only in the Gulf, but down
the mainland and up the seacoast of the peninsula. La Paz he knew well,
and the Isles of Pearls were familiar in every cranny.

Now, when the news of his father's death in exile came to Benito, he
was a hunter and horseman doubled by seaman and pearl fisher, such as
that quarter of the world even seldom sees.

So little on land, both enemies and followers of the copresident lost
all trace of the son.

Moreover, in the land of revolution in permanency, the offspring of a
once ruler are personally to blame if they call dangerous attention on
themselves.

On shore, however, don Benito had noticed the daughter of a neighbour,
one don José Miranda, formerly in the navy. After a couple of years'
wedded life, the latter was left a widower with an only daughter, who
had become this charming Dolores, now slumbering under her father's
zarapé. Her education was confided to a poor sister of the captain,
who was about the only enemy young Bustamente had in his courtship.
Captain Miranda was very fond of the youth, and it was agreed ere long
that there should be a wedding at the _Noria de las Pasioneras_ (Well
house of the Passionflowers) as soon as Benito reached the age of
five-and-twenty.

But doña Maria Josefa had contrary marital projects. Her brother had so
many times talked of bestowing the bulk of his considerable fortune on
his beloved child, that the lady concluded, rightly or wrongly, that
she would be penniless when the niece married. Habituated, since a
great while back, to a very easy, not to say pampered existence at her
kinsman's expense, she beheld with terror the time coming when her host
would settle all his property on the girl, and constitute the strange
young man, who was so reserved about his origin, the steward for his
young wife. However, doña Maria Josefa was too sly and adroit to openly
oppose the paternal determination, and allow him to perceive the hate
she bore Benito and would be only too delighted to manifest.

Whenever she threw out hints of a better match for her niece than this
mysterious youth, they had fallen in deaf ears, and she fretted in
silence that boded no good prospects.

Nevertheless, some two years had known the young hearts formally
engaged without the serpent lifting her head to emit a truly alarming
hiss. At that time doña Maria Josefa introduced at her brother's a
hook-nosed gentleman, arrayed sumptuously, who rejoiced in a long name
which paraded pretensions to an illustrious lineage. This don Aníbal
Cristobal de Luna y Almagro de Cortez so displeased Benito and Dolores,
whilst not ingratiating himself deeply with don José, that his presence
would not have been tolerated, only for the young couple hopefully
supposing that the tall and bony scion of the first conqueror of Mexico
was a flame of Dolores' duenna, and as such would wed the dragon and
take her away from the hacienda to the beautiful and boundless domains
in Spain, upon which he expatiated in a shrill voice of enthusiasm.

Don Aníbal had excellent credentials from a banker's at Guaymas,
but, somehow, the gentlemen farmers received him with cold courtesy.
Besides, it having been remarked that those who offended him met with
injury, personal, like the being waylaid, or in their property, stock
being run off or outhouses fired, there sprang up a peculiar way of
treating the stranger for which the Spanish _morgue_, that counterpart
of English phlegm, is very well suited.

All at once, Benito received word that a messenger from his mother had
arrived at Guaymas, bearing the very good news that she expected to
obtain a revocation of the sentence of banishment against the brood of
Bustamente, and then he could publicly avow his name.

He had already imparted his secret to Captain Miranda.

The messenger had grievously suffered with seasickness, and was
unable to come up the valley. Miranda counselled Benito to go to him
therefore, and besides, as the formalities attending the settlement of
his estate upon his daughter, under the marriage contract, required
such legal owls as nestled alone in the port, he volunteered to
accompany the young man. Over and above all this pleasing arrangement,
as Dolores had never seen the city, of which the five thousand
inhabitants think no little--for after all it is the finest harbour in
the Gulf of California--he proposed she should be of the party.

Another reason, which he did not confide in anyone, acted as a
spur. A neighbour had told don José that, from a communication of
his majordomo, an expert in border warfare, he believed that the
illustrious don Aníbal de Luna was not wholly above complicity with a
troop of robbers who lately infested Sonora, and caused as much dread
and more damage, forasmuch as they were intelligently directed to the
best stores of plunder as the Indians themselves. This neighbour,
though he loved doña Josefa no more cordially than anybody else, still
deemed it dutiful to prevent Captain Miranda allowing a "gentleman of
the highway" to marry into his family.

Don José felt the caution more painfully, as his sister had plainly
let him know that the famous don Aníbal was not so much her worshipper
as her niece's. He might have thanked the _salteador_ to rid his house
of the old maid, but to allow one to court his daughter was another
matter. At the same time, as of such dubious characters are made the
"colonels" who buckler up a Mexican revolutionary pretender, don José
was scarcely less coldly civil to the hidalgo, though he hastened on
the preparations to withdraw his daughter from the swoop of the bird of
rapine.

Doña Maria Josefa drew a long face at the prospect of being left alone
at the hacienda, but she was too great a dependant on her brother, and
too hypocritical to trammel the undertaking.

The party set forth, then, under good and sufficient escort. But the
very foul fiend himself appeared to have taken all doña Maria Josefa's
evil wishes in hand to carry them out, to say nothing of the baulked
don Aníbal's.

Half the escort left without returning, at a mere alarm of the _Indios
bravos_ ("hostiles") being at La Palma, and massacring and firing
farmhouses wholesale. The rest were lost in the bush, were abandoned
dead or dying; the mules and horses were "stampeded" by unseen foes;
and finally a fatal bowman slew the two horses which had borne don José
and his daughter in their futile endeavour to regain the lost track;
and, to come to the present time, their dog, of whom the instinct had
preserved them more than once from death by thirst, had been despatched
by the same relentless demon.

Still, there was the contradictory consolation which the persistent
enemy afforded by these evidences of his bloodthirsty hunt. By a
singular anomaly of the human organisation, as long as man knows his
fellows are at hand, even though they be enemies, he does not feel
utterly stripped of hope. In the depth of his heart, the vaguest of
hope sustains and encourages him, though he may not reason about it.
But as soon as all human vestiges disappear, the imperceptible human
waif on the sea, alone with nature, trembles in full revelation of his
paltriness. The colossal surroundings daunt him, and he acknowledges it
is folly to struggle with the waves that multitudinously mount up to
swamp him from all sides.

Meanwhile, no further occasion to be fearful had been shown, the sun
went down, and shot up one short gleam ere the swift darkness shrouded
the sky. The howling of wild beasts rushing out to enjoy their time of
sport could be traced from the lair to the "licks" and springs.

But our disarmed _gente perdida_, the lost ones, durst not light a
fire; had they the means to scare the wolf away, it might have afforded
a mark for the unknown archer. Don José wept as he saw his daughter,
who pretended to sleep, to give him and her lover less uneasiness. But
sleep does not come under these circumstances to them who court it.

Indeed, only those who have undergone the horror of a night in the
untamed forest can imagine its poignancy. Lugubrious phantoms people
the glades, the wild beasts intone a devilish concert, the limbs of
trees seem to be animated into semblances of the really awakened
serpents, whose scales can be heard gliding with a slime softened hush
over the bending boughs. None but the experienced can reckon how many
ages are compressed in one second of this gruesome "fix," a nightmare
of the wakeful, during which the racked mind finds a distorted relish
in picturing the most monstrous lucubrations, particularly when the
faint yet tantalised appetite sets the brain palpitating with delirium.

After enduring this strain for some hours of the gloom, hope or
mere instinct of self-preservation caused Benito to suggest, as one
acquainted with hunters expedients, that the shelter existed by the
increasing danger of their position on the ground, was upon the summit
of a huge broken cottonwood tree. He assisted don José to mount to the
top, which he found tolerably solid, spite of wet and solar rot, passed
him up poor Dolores, and stood on guard at the base. He meant to have
kept awake, or, rather, had not the least idea that he should go off to
sleep, but famine had passed its acute stage, and fatigue collaborated
with it to lull him. The last look he gave upwards showed him vaguely,
like a St. Simon Stylites, the elder Mexican on the broad summit of
the stump, his daughter reclining on the bed of pith at his feet. Don
José was then praying, his face turned to the east, where no doubt he
trusted to behold a less unhappy sun than had last scorched them.

Suddenly don Benito started: something like a hot snake had run down
his cheek and buried itself in his bosom. At almost the same instant,
whilst he was awakening fully, a smart sting in the left shoulder,
preceded by a hissing, short and angry, made the young man utter an
exclamation rather in rage than pain.

The sun had risen; at least, he could see about him and be warmed
and vivified a little, through a fresh day commenced of intolerable
torments.

As he looked up, the repetition of the sensation of the reptile gliding
adown his face, but less warm and more slow this time, caused him to
apply his hand to the line traversed. He withdrew it speedily, and in
disgust--his fingers were smeared with blood!

"Oh, Don José!" he ejaculated. "Dolores, dear!"

Stupefied, speechless, like a statue, the girl upon the natural
pedestal was supporting the lifeless body of the old Mexican. An arrow
was broken off in his temple, and his beard, roughly sprouted out and
white with this week of hardship, was flooded with the blackening blood
of which Benito in his post below had received the drip.

The young man stared fiercely around, and instantly perceiving
something on the move in the thicket, sprang up the tree.

At the same time aimed at him to redeem the marksman for his first
failure, which had lodged the shaft in the young Mexican's shoulder
instead of his head or his heart; a second projectile of the same
description whizzed into the gap between his legs, opened by his leap,
and smote a knot so violently as to shiver into a dozen splinters.

Unable for want of strength to keep his hold, the youthful Mexican
slipped down to the ground. Then, facing about in frenzy of
indignation, as being so badgered by the unknown, he called out
savagely:

"Coward! Confront the last of your victims, if you have a drop of manly
blood!"

Because he had concluded his last shot serious, or from disdain for his
antagonist, or sheer recklessness--for it is not likely that a savage
so far forgot his training as to let such a white man's taunt sting him
into the imprudence--the Indian who had dogged the unfortunate trio
stalked out of the underwood, and only ceased his advance when a lance
length from the desperate man who had invoked him.

"_¡Presente!_" he said in Spanish, with a hoarse chuckle, as in one
glance he saw the insensible young female form beside the dead Mexican,
and don Benito's weak condition.

Indeed, the latter, instead of carrying out his implied threat,
tottered back and leaned against the cottonwood, just under one arrow,
and with the other shattered shaft bristling at his shoulder.

The red man chose to interpret this movement as a flattery for his
warlike appearance, for he smiled contentedly, and, drawing his long
knife, cried holding up three fingers of his left hand:

"La Garra de Rapina--the Claw of Rapine--will now take his harvest for
thrice five days' toil."

Benito sought to summon his failing powers, but a mist seemed to
spring up and becloud his gaze, through which he less and less clearly
saw the Indian's slow and cruel approach. Nevertheless, he was about
to make a snatch at hazard for the steel that rose over his bosom,
when a flash of fire from a gun so near that he almost saw the hither
extremity blind the redskin, preceded a shot that crashed through the
latter's skull. Benito, unable to check his own leap, received the
dead yet convulsed body in his arms, and the shock hurled him to the
ground. Neither rose! One was dead; the other within an ace of the same
impassable portals. It seemed to him, as he lost consciousness, that
there was a struggle in the brush.

When Benito reopened his eyes he believed all had been a dream, but,
on gazing anxiously about him, he saw the dead Indian by his side.
Above him, too, when he rose on his knees by an effort, the two silent
witnesses of his miraculous deliverance were still recumbent.

No trace of another living soul; nevertheless, the Indian's weapons had
all disappeared.

Suddenly, as he lifted himself to his feet, aching all over as if he
had been bastinadoed on every accessible place, he heard Dolores moan.
She was animated by the acute racking of hunger.

He gasped, "Food! Food for her!" and reeled to the greenest spot, where
he began to tear up the earth with his nails. At length he dislodged a
little stem of yucca, the somewhat tasty root which yields a species of
maniac.

When he returned to the tree, Dolores, horrified at seeing her father's
blood, had fallen off the tree top, rather than climbed down, and was
too insensible to hear his appeals. He dragged the Indian's body partly
aside, for to do so wholly was too weighty a task, and heaped leaves
over the other portion. He placed the root in Dolores' passive hands,
and was about to repeat his hoarse babble of hope, which he did not
feel at heart, when abruptly the arrow wound in his shoulder gave a
sharp, deep, scorching sensation, which filled him from head to sole
with fever and awe.

"Oh, heavens!" he groaned. "The arrow was poisoned! I shall die in
madness! I shall, perhaps, tear her, my dear Dolores, in my blind,
ungovernable rage!"

So feels the man whom hydrophobia has seized upon, as the latest
promptings of reason bid him hie aloof from his endangered fellows.

Benito laid his glances about him wildly; his recently dull eyes blazed
till his very features, already earthy, lit up, and he howled;

"Welcome, death! But anywhere save here!"

He trampled on the Indian corpse in his flight, and plunged into the
thorns as if bent on rending himself to shreds. He must have rushed
madly on for half an hour, the venom firing his thinned blood till
his veins ran flames, but as the wound on his left side affected that
portion of the frame disproportionately, he described a circle, and in
the end had almost returned to the spot where Dolores still rested in a
swoon.

At last, stumbling, groping, he fell, only to crawl a little way, then,
a slight mound opposing his hands and knees, he rolled upon it. His
head appeared to have been cleared by the Mazeppa-like course, and he
was, at least, conscious of the raised grass reminding him of a funeral
mound.

"A grave!" he breathed, dashing the sweat out of his eyes, "Yes, a
grave here will the last of the Bustamentes die!"

He stretched out at full length, he folded his arms, one of them
palsied already, and was beginning to pray, when his tone changed to
joy, or at least, profound hopefulness. He fell over on his side, then
rose to his knees, ran his band over the mound eagerly, and cried:

"God of mercy, deceive me not! The grave I coveted, is it not a
_cache?_ Thank God!"



CHAPTER III.

THE PIRATE'S BEQUEST.


The wanderer whose careless progress through the brake sufficiently
clearly revealed that he was a stranger of a bold heart and contempt
for customs different from his own, was, in fact, one of those
Englishmen who seem born to illustrate, in the nature of exceptions,
the formal character of his race.

Left an orphan in the fetters of a trustee who forgot he had ever
been young, and showed no sympathy with his charge, George Frederick
Gladsden had broken his bondage and run away from school at the age of
twelve. Reaching a Scotch port, after a long tramp, he shipped as boy
on a herring fisher, and so made his novitiate with Neptune. After that
initiation, very severe, he chose to become a sailor of that irregular
kind which is known as the _pier head jumping_. That is to say, instead
of duly entering on a vessel and book at the office in broad daylight,
"George" would lounge on the wharf till the very moment of her casting
off. Then, of course, the captain is happy to take anybody in the least
nautical or even able-bodied, who offers himself in lieu of one of
the regularly engaged mariners detained by accident, debt, or drink.
By this means Gladsden's trustee and kinsfolk could never prevent him
going wheresoever he willed, and it pleased this briny Arab to keep his
whereabouts a mystery, though, to amuse himself and annoy his guardian,
he would send him a letter from some dreadfully out-of-the-way port,
just to show he did exist, and to prevent the estate being locked up or
diverted under the law.

Meanwhile, the young roaming Englishman became so thorough a proficient
in the honourable calling, and had so much courage and intelligence
that, even in the merchant service, where the prizes are few and hotly
fought for, he must have obtained a supportable, if not a brilliant
position.

Unfortunately for himself he had an execrably fitful head, and was the
declared foe of Draconian discipline. If there had been pirates on
the seas he might even have joined them, only then to have enjoyed a
delightful existence of "Jack his own master."

Quarrelling with his latest skipper, a seal hunter, on the Lower
Californian coast, that Spaniard, rather alarmed at the turbulent mate,
was relieved when he accepted the offer of an Hermosillo planter to
become his manager, and not only broke the engagement between them,
but presented Gladsden with some dollars and his gun on their parting.
The Englishman promised well up in the country, but the fowl in the
swamp allured him into hunting trips with some Indians, and he turned
such a vagabond that the indolent Sonoran came to the conclusion
that, as the skipper of the seal fur cruiser had warned him, he had
contracted with a maniac.

One day, Gladsden and the Indians, turning their backs on the San
Miguel swamps, wandered off, the Englishman cared not whither. His
dusky comrades were soon displeased by his careless march, and a little
later, disgusted by his even resenting their counsels for him to take
precautions, since, not only were there other Indians "out," but one
of the most notorious salteadores who had ever troubled any part of
unquiet Mexico was overawing the whole of the tract between the San
Miguel and the San José. To which the mad Englishman replied, with a
calmness which startled the red men, though masters of self-repression,
that such daring traits aroused in him a lively curiosity, and the
strongest desire to face this very famous Matasiete, "the Slayer of
Seven," the terror of Sonora.

Seeing this obstinacy, our sly Yaquis solved the perplexity by
abandoning their burr one morning whilst he was still sleeping, and
leaving him only his gun and what powder and ball he carried. His horse
and other property they removed with them lest, in his folly, he should
only turn the valuables over to the redskins not of their tribe, or the
Mexican depredators.

For all of his maritime knowledge which helps the student of sky and
weather on land, Gladsden was in a quandary when thus thrown on his own
devices. As, however, he never wrangled with himself, he took up his
solitary march without any self-communing, and followed the impulse of
the moment.

Fortunately, game never failed him, and though the only flavouring was
gunpowder, the fare had not palled upon him up to his coming within our
circle of vision.

He was "loping" along, very like a sated wolf, listless, when he
unexpectedly, and by the purest chance, spied the gleaming body of an
Indian, stealing before him amongst the foliage, always in the thickest
parts.

His resolve awakening to give the Yaquis a lecture, with cuts of the
ramrod, upon the "Fault of Abandoning a Hunting Companion in the
Desert," he quickened his pace, but almost immediately perceived that
the savage was another guess sort of a bird, one more likely, armed for
war as he was, and determined of aspect as ever was a brave, to deal
out punishment than receive it unrequitingly.

In fact, the fierce, hungry, set face of the pursuer of the Mexican
protectors of doña Dolores would have sufficed to impress even a more
nonchalant person than our Englishman.

"Mischief in the wind," thought he.

And as a white man on seeing a man of another hue on the trail, at once
believes that the object of the chase is one of his own colour, he
turned to, and, having no other intentions to overrule, began to dog
the slayer of don José de Miranda as successfully and closely as he was
following the Mexicans. It was not to be expected that the foreigner
did not make blunders in this manhunt, so novel to him, but his very
incaution or missteps actually helped him, for the savage, unable to
believe that a man would dream of breaking a twig noisily in a wild
perhaps not devoid of certain enemies, attributed the two or three
alarming sounds in his rear to animals, from whom he had nothing to
dread.

In brief, Gladsden arrived at the halting place of the Mexicans in time
to see poor Benito make his stand, and hear the savage, as he disclosed
himself, utter the arrogant "_Presente_" as he bared his knife to
complete his triple tragedy.

The Englishman saw there was a flutter of a woman's dress that appealed
to his gallantry, the blood splashes from don José on the stump,
and the valiant but weak port of don Benito. He feared that to jump
towards the Apache would not stay that ugly knife, so he lifted the gun
which was Captain Saone's parting gift, and sent a bullet through the
warrior's head.

As quickly upon the echoes of the report, as if it had been a signal,
and, for that matter, the two men who bounded upon the marksman had
been afraid to "tackle" him whilst his firearm was "full"--a standing
item in prairie fighting--the Englishman was set upon by a man on
either side. Spite of his strength he was hurled off his feet, and
secured with a lariat and gagged with moss, all with a celerity
which proved that he had been overcome by bandits of no despicable
experience. When he was perfectly incapacitated from more than winking,
as one of the fellows remarked in a whisper, that facetious rogue
warily proceeded to inspect the result of the shot.

It had so laudably obeyed its impulsion, that the Mexican, after
one look at the Indian, felicitated himself on not having been so
precipitate as to draw that bullet on himself.

The spot was quiet, Benito, clotted red smearing his shoulder, seemed
as lifeless as the red man. The young girl and her father, whose blood
reddened her ragged dress, were equally among the lifeless, to all
cursory examination.

The Mexican picked up the weapons of the Indian, said: "A lone
Chiricahua Apache!" as he spurned the body out of wantonness, and
returned to his comrades.

"The captain will be gratified, Farruco," said he, pushing the Indian's
weapons within his sash; "there they all lie, in a heap, the don, the
daughter and their young companion, with the Chiricahua who was hired
to dog them to the death, slain by our chalky faced long shot here."

"If we cut his throat, Pepillo, then we shall make a clearance of the
whole cluster," returned Farruco, complacently, even laying his hand on
the buckhorn haft of a knife.

"A word to that! You are always for taking the crowning pleasure of a
running down! Am I to have no thanks even for having saved you from
running your hasty head against this heretic's gun? A thousand demons
shall not rob me of my prey! You have already grabbed his gun! I will
have the cutting of his throat."

The silenced object of this very pretty growing dispute looked up
calmly, but sufficiently interested, be sure, out of his gray eyes.

"One moment, let us throw dice for the pleasure!"

"Nonsense! We all know the top heaviness of your dice."

The other duly laughed at this allusion to a vantage which is not
always accepted as a compliment.

"Let us draw leaves--long or short!"

"I agree, Pepillo; there's a bayonet palm at your elbow."

The Mexican turned to gather a couple of leaves of different length,
when the captive saw the face of his comrade shine with a hellish
joy. Noiseless he drew out the Indian's tomahawk from his belt and in
another second he would have buried it in the back of the unsuspecting
bandit. The monstrous fondness for cruelty which impelled this wanton
murder was so repugnant to the Englishman that he, bound too tightly
for any other movement, rolled himself, by working his elbow and knee,
right against the feet thrown forward of the traitor. The shock was not
enough to make the blow fully miscarry, but the axe only cleft the
wretch's collarbone, glancing the flesh to one side along it on partial
withdrawal with an agony imparted which made the recipient yell. He
flung himself round, and drawing his knife at the same inappreciable
second of time, broke through the other's guard with the hatchet, and
buried the blade in his heart so forcibly that the hilt drove his
breath out of his lungs with a loud sound. Farruco pitched over upon
the Englishman, and died before he had ceased his groan of despair.

The wounded outlaw sat himself down, without any but self-concern, to
attend to his wound, to which he applied a dressing of chewed leaves.
Then studying the scene, he suddenly became conscious that the movement
of the loglike form of the prisoner between his assassin's legs had
saved his life, if, always granted, it were a curable wound.

Without a word, like a man who fears to hesitate in his formation
of a good but novel whim, lest he revokes its realisation to remain
consistent with his daily and worse nature, Pepillo, without wiping the
fatal knife, severed the leather thongs around Gladsden.

"One good turn," said he, sententiously, as becomes a Spaniard,
but prudently setting his foot on the gun of which the captive was
despoiled.

"Yes, he meant to split your skull, that's all," remarked the latter,
sitting up and chafing his limbs to restore the circulation. "He was a
pirate; and you have only anticipated his suspension at a yardarm."

Pepillo paid no attention to him. He had picked up the Indian's
hatchet, and seemed to be regarding with an antiquarian zeal the design
traced in an idle moment or two, now and then, with the hunting knife.
Then, contracting his brow more in terror than in pain, and turning
pale in the same increasing dread rather than from loss of blood, he
ejaculated:

"The villain! The assassin! It is a copper bronze hatchet! I am
poisoned! I shall die of lockjaw!" Then, noting the incredulous
expression of the bystander, who had, however, been sufficiently
sympathetic as to rise to his throbbing feet and lean towards the
sufferer, "I tell you, Pagan, that the Indian was one of the _Apaches
Emponzoñadores_--the sect of the Poison Hatchets, and I am--the Lord
and my patron saint forgive me--a dead man!"

Gladsden looked at the tomahawk, and, after the man's utterance,
thought the metal head gave out a sinister gleam. Then, recalling all
he ever knew of copper poisoning, he said:

"Let me attend to the cut," in a tone which made the sufferer see that
he was taken as the victim of terror rather more than mortal pain.

Still, as the gash was beyond his simple remedy, the Indian cataplasm
which should have allayed the fiery feeling which even augmented from
the first, Pepillo yielded to his late enemy like a child, with that
compliance of the Latin races under mortal injury.

A seafarer knows much about cuts, and so, at the first glance after
removing the herb poultice, Gladsden recognised that the cut, clean in
infliction, was aggravated shockingly.

"You see!" cried the Mexican, triumphantly, as far as the victory
over the other's disbelief was concerned, but with acute agony at his
certainty being confirmed; "Am I not a lost man?"

"In that case," replied the Englishman, taking up his gun and charging
it methodically out of Farruco's powder horn as the nearest, "I will go
and see about the wearer of that woman's dress whom I caught a glimpse
of yonder, when you and your mate all but anticipated my shot at that
screeching savage."

"Don't leave me!"

"But I must! Gallantry, my dear ex-captor."

"Leave me not!" reiterated Pepillo, who had supported himself with his
gun whilst the Englishman had looked at his hurt, "For the sake of my
widow and four little ones."

"A bandit with a family," observed Gladsden. "This is curious."

"Yes; who know not of my mode of life," appealed the salteador, falling
into a seated position and clasping his hands. "By the rules of our
band--for I am one of the Caballeros de la Noche, of Matasiete--all my
goods fall in to the gang! But my wife--my Angela! My little ones--my
angelitos! Have still more compassion, you greatly noble American of
the North, and hear my _viva voce_ testament in their behalf."

"Go on," was the reply. "Considering where the commissioner to take
oaths--who is only an Englishman, by the way, and no American of the
Northern States--where he has his office opened, and the improbability
of his traversing a wilderness of poisonous vermin of all descriptions
to file your testament, it is a pure formality. However," he added,
the while the dying robber divided his time between a disjointed
supplication and wrestlings against a pain that convulsed him severely
at intervals more and more closely recurrent, "will away your 'bacca
box and your knife and sash. I'll do my best to carry them to the
legatees."

"Listen to me," said Pepillo solemnly, and beckoning him to approach.
His voice was singular in sound; his features contorted, his clayey,
pale face streaming with cold, thick perspiration. "I have not always
been a ranger of the prairie. I was a sailor, like you are, as I caught
in your speech. Do you know the islands on the other coast of the Gulf
of California?"

"I have only sailed round to Guaymas."

"I will draw you the chart. Due north from Cantador Island I have a
treasure. Laugh not, raise no brow in derision. In coin, and emeralds,
gold, silver, and pearls, I have over a million dollars."

"Nonsense!"

"I am the last of the band of Colonel Dartois the Filibuster, and I
tell you I am the sole treasurer of the crew."

The Englishman was not acquainted with that adventurer, of much
notoriety in his day on the Pacific Coast, but the tone of the dying
man was sincere.

"Be quick, then, thou dying one, to give the clue," said he as if
convinced, whether so or not.



CHAPTER IV.

A DESERT MYSTERY.


Upon this enjoinder of so eminently practical a nature, and thoroughly
aware of the necessity of haste, the fallen Mexican rapidly drew with
his ramrod end, upon a space of earth smoothed by his foot in its
deerskin boot, like an antique tablet under the stylus, a map--rude,
but, to a navigator, plain and ample.

"At this point," said he, "a sunken reef trends north and south, with
a break at a little bow a quarter mile from the black rock that juts
out all but flush with its ripple. Deep water in 'the pot,' and there
we anchored to ride to a submerged buoy, so that the cankerworm would
not attack the metal or the borer the wood--a chest, bound with yellow
metal. If it shall have broke away, its weight would only have sunk it
deep in the oyster bed, all the shells there smashed to powdery scales
by the drags. A diver will find it for you, then."

"Now, swear to me!" he went on, forcing his weakening voice to keep
an even tenor. "Swear that one-half the contents of that hiding place
shall be Ignacio Santamaria's, my brother-in-law's, who will give
enough to his sister, my Angela. And the rest--be it yours, brave and
Christian heart."

Whether he was only fostering a delusion, or accepting a commission
that would enrich him, Gladsden nodded assent.

"But, swear!"

"I give you my word, as an English gentleman," said he, obstinately.

"I am content."

"And what is there stowed there away?" with a smile of his former
discredit, "Copper bolts?"

"Pearls! The choicest from Carmen Island to Acapulco."

"Well, that sounds natural enough. The next thing is, where shall I
find your brother Ignacio and the rest of the family, Master Pepillo
Santamaria?"

Poignant anguish rendered the other unconscious of external matter
for a period; he clutched his head with both hands as if to prevent
the bones flying asunder, then recovering his senses, as the paroxysm
quitted him, he said:

"You have not far to go for my brother. As for the dear ones, they are
at the old town of Guaymas. My brother is here--"

"Here! The devil!" looking round and falling on guard.

"At the Mound Tower." He pointed with a wavering finger to the
northeast. "Not two hours' ride, our rendezvous--a robber's
rendezvous--but have no fear! Ignacio is second of the band,--remember,
his sister's fortune is at stake! Call him out from among the crew--the
signal, our private signal, two meows of the catamount--Ignacio is
known as the _Gato de montes_, mark! Have mercy! Remember the pearls!
My wife--my little angels! Pity!"

Gladsden averted his gaze not to witness an agony which he could not
stay relieve or bid cease. When he looked on Pepillo again, he was dead.

As it threatened to come on dark, not only by the disappearance of the
sun, but by a storm, which the seaman divined, rather than perceived
in progress, he bent a silver coin, so as to make a species of pencil,
with the point at the double, and using some cigarette paper, copied
off, "in silver point," the map which the dead pirate, _cum_ pearl
fisher, _plus_ highwayman, had designed on the ground bedewed with his
blood. Whilst so employed, the Englishman repeated to himself, like a
scholar beating a lesson into his brain, the instructions connected
with this singular testament.

Recalling his intention before the robber's appeal had distracted him,
Gladsden, gun in hand, marched with a determination not to be cried
"halt!" to again, towards the huge cottonwood stump, by which he marked
the scene of the Mexican standing at bay against the Apache.

The latter's remains were there, a fresh made grave (covered with
stones and brambles to prevent the attack of the quadrupedal ghouls
to which the luckless red man was consigned, in most probability),
concealed don José de Miranda from the searcher's eyes. A fragment of
Dolores' attire was all that prevented Gladsden from supposing he had
been the prey of an illusion as to a woman having also occupied that
natural pedestal. To complete the puzzle a spade of North American make
was carelessly lying by the fresh mound.

"Hilli-ho! Ahoy there!" cried the Englishman, fortified against fear
of the bandits by the claim he had upon the lieutenant of the band,
and caring not a jot for Indians or others, since he had his gun in
shooting order.

But save the mocking of birds there was no rejoinder.

Afar he heard thunder, though.

"A mound tower must be prominent," he mused, "and this thicket in a
torrent rain and a tornado is worse accommodation than the toughest
highwayman must accord the bearer of an inheritance. I'll make for the
Mound Tower, and implore señor don El Sostenedor, of the most glorious
robber chief What's-his-name, for a corner of his stronghold, a chunk
of deer's meat, and a swig of pulque."

He returned to the two dead men, loaded his belt with such of their
weapons as completed, not to say replete, a portable arsenal, which an
Albanian janissary would have envied, and, with the same heedlessness
as to southwestern travelling precautions which had heretofore
distinguished him, stepped manfully away from the haunt of murder. Ere
he had taken half a dozen strides, he heard many a soft padded foot
in the bushes; the volunteer sextons of the prairie were flocking to
entomb the dead in their unscrupulous maw.

The thunder boomed more audible, and the eagle screamed defiance over
the lonely adventurer's head.



CHAPTER V.

THE GODSEND.


The inhabitants of the wilderness, red or white, black or yellow,
obliged often to "let go of all," as our sailor friend would word it,
and "get" (as he would probably say if his foolhardy behaviour allowed
him to live long enough in that region to acquire the cant language),
and pretty suddenly too, to follow the chase or avoid an ambush, are
necessitated to abandon their plunder and traps, using these words in
their legitimate sense. As, at the same time, they have no inclination
to renounce their property, they bank it, or, as the trappers say,
_cache_ it.

The model _cache_ is thus constructed: the first thing is to spread
blankets or buffalo robes around the chosen spot for the excavation,
which is scooped out in any desirable shape with knives and flat
stones; all the extracted ground, loam, sand, or whatever its nature,
being carefully put on the spreads. When the pit is sufficiently
capacious it is lined with buffalo hides to keep out damp, and the
valuables are deposited within, even packed up in hide, if necessary.
The earth is restored and trodden down, or rammed firmly with the
rifle butts, water is sometimes sprinkled on the top to facilitate
the settling, and upon the replaced sod to prevent it dying after the
injury to its roots. All the earth left over is carried to a running
water, or scattered to the four winds, so as to make the least
evidences of the concealment vanish. The _cache_ is generally so well
hidden that only the eye of an uncommonly gifted man can discover it.
Often, then, he only chances upon one that has been opened and emptied
by the owners, who, after that, of course, were easy in their second
operation. The contents of a well-constructed _cache_ may keep half a
dozen years without spoiling.

Benito Bustamente believed he had been led to die upon a _cache_.

To a man dropping of fatigue and famine such a find was of inestimable
value. It might reasonably offer him the primary necessities of which
he was denuded, and he would be revived, literally, on being furnished
with the means to fight his way to civilisation, where otherwise he and
Dolores, always hoping the young girl had not preceded him past the
bourne, must perish.

For a few instants, propped up on both hands, in a wistful attitude,
which I never saw in a pictorial representation of a human being, but
which was recalled to me by the pose of the bloodhound in Landseer's
picture of the trail of blood, in which floats a broken plume.

A moment of suspense!

He was swayed by indefinable sensations, fascinated, so as to be
fearful of breaking the spell.

When, at length, he mastered his emotion, he did not forget the duty
of an honest man constrained to invade the property of another, though
that other might be his enemy!

Trapper law is explicit; wanton breaking into a _cache_ is punishable
by death.

So he shaped out a square of the sod with a sharp mussel shell which
he spied glistening near him, and slowly removed that piece, anxiously
quivering in the act. Other turf he removed in the same manner, more
and more sure that it was a _cache_. This preliminary over, he paused
to take breath, and to enjoy the luxury of discounting a pleasure which
came as veritable life in the midst of death.

Then he resumed a task terrible for one exhausted by privations and
loss of blood. Many times he was forced to stop, his energy giving out.

Slow went on the work; no indications of his being correct arose to
corroborate his surmise. The shell broke, but then he used the two
fragments, held in his hand with such tenacity that they seemed to be
supplementary nails. Vain as was the toil, here lay, he still believed,
the sole chance of safety; if heaven smiled on his efforts, his darling
Dolores might yet be a happy woman. So he clung to this last chance
offered by happy hazard with that energy of despair, the immense power
of Archimedes, for which nothing is impossible.

The hole, of no contemptible size, yawned blankly before him. Nothing
augured success, and, whatever the indomitable energy of the young
man's character, he felt discouragement cast a new gloom over his soul.
His eyelids, red with fever, licked up the tear that ventured to soothe
them, and his lips cracked as he pressed them together.

"At least, here I dig a grave for don José, and my poor love," he said
wildly. "It shall be deep enough to baffle the wolf!"

He renewed his tearing at the soil, when suddenly the shells snapped
off, both pieces together, and his nails also scraping something of
a different material to the earth, turned back at their jagged ends,
but not at that supreme moment giving him the pain which at another
time the same accident must have caused. Some hairs were mingled with
the earth, and a scent different from that of the freshly bared ground
intoxicated him with its musk.

Disdaining the shattered mussel shell, he used his hands as scoops, and
presently unearthed a buffalo skin.

Instead of tugging at it with greedy relish to feast on the treasure it
doubtlessly muffled, Benito drew back his hands and stared with worse
tribulation than ever.

A _cache_--yes! A full one--who knew?

Long ago it might have been pillaged. With but one movement between
him and the verification or annihilation of his hopes the Mexican
hesitated. He was frightened.

His labour under difficulties had been so great, he had cherished
so many dreams and nursed so many chimeras, that he instinctively
dreaded the seeing them swiftly to flee, and leave him falling from his
crumbling anticipations into the frightful reality that closed in upon
him with inexorable jaws.

In the end, determined to do or die, for to that it had truly come,
Benito's trembling hands buried themselves in the buffalo robe,
clutched it irresistibly and hauled it up into his palpitating bosom.
His haggard eyes swam with joyful gush of many tears, so that he could
not see the sky to which he had raised them in gratitude.

Benito had fallen on a hunter's and trapper's store. Not only were
there traps and springes of several sorts, weapons, powder horns,
bullet bags, shot moulds, leaden bars, horse caparisons, hide for
lassoes, but eatables in hermetically sealed tins of modern make, not
then familiar to Mexicans, and liquor in bottles protected by homemade
wicker and leather plaiting.

He was stretching out his hands ravenously to the bottles and a role
of jerked beef, when it seemed to him that the voice of the Unseen
prompted him with "God! Thank God!" and repeating the words in a voice
unintelligible from stifling emotions, he fairly swooned across the pit
as if to defend it with his poor, worn, hard-tried body.

His face was serene when he unclosed his eyes anew. Soberly, by a great
control, he ate of some tinned meat and the crackers and swallowed as
slowly some cognac. The latter filled him with fire, and he could have
leaped into a treetop and crowed defiance to the vultures which were
sailing overhead as if baulked of their prey.

In that momentary calmness, he felt so strong and so rejoiced in
his self-command that his spirit seemed to spurn its casket. But
instantly, with the blood careering anew, the wound in his shoulder
smarted furiously, and all down that arm and up to his neck he felt a
strange and novel sensation; it was as if molten lead was in the veins,
scorching and making heavy the limb.

"The arrow! I am poisoned!" he muttered. "Oh, is this windfall come
merely to embitter my death?"

That taste of liquor made his mouth water, and there was suggested to
him by the sight of the brandy bottle that here was the remedy which
the wisest frontiersman and medicine man would have prescribed. He put
the cognac to his lips, and emptied the bottle.

Almost instantly he felt an aching in every pore away and beyond
that of the wound; his brain appeared to swell to bursting its cell,
and howling himself hoarse, he thought--though, in reality, his
inarticulate cries were strangled in his throat--he rolled upon the
ground, too weak to dance upon his feet, as he imagined he was doing.

This intoxication left him abruptly, and he fell insensible. But for
his stertorous breathing, which finally became regular and gentle, he
was as a corpse beside the greedy grave.

He woke up, lame in every bone, but clear-eyed, and the ringing in his
head abated. Either the remedy had succeeded, or constitution, for he
was able to set about his task with surprising vigour.

Thereupon, he chose out of the store a pair of revolvers, their
cartridges in quantity, two powder horns and bullets to fit the finest
rifle, a bowie knife and a cutlass, and a length of leather thong to
make a lasso, and a spade for the grave of don José, filled a game bag
with matches in metal boxes, sewing materials, and other odds and ends
for the traveller. Tobacco, too, he took, and was looking for paper to
make cigarettes, when a small book met his eyes.

It was stamped in gold, "London, Liverpool, and West State of Mexico
Agnas Caparrosas Mining Company." It was an account book of the company
--one of those enterprises to which, he had heard, his father had lent
a favourable attention. A pencil was attached to the book; he wrote on
a blank page the list of all the articles he took, signing:

"Require the payment of me.--I, BENITO VÁZQUEZ DE BUSTAMENTE."

As quickly as he could he replaced what he did not wish to be burdened
with, made the concealment good, and swept the grass with two buffalo
skins, which he had also taken for clothing. This duty of a thankful
and honourable man being accomplished, he darted back to where he
had left Dolores with a free and easy movement, of which he had not
believed himself ever again to be capable only a short time before.

He was amazed that a little food and spirit had restored him, and began
to fear the reaction.

His wits remained clear. He remembered very distinctly indeed his
confrontation of the savage who had been blasted as by a heavenly
thunderbolt. He was not surprised when he found that redskin where he
had rolled him. But what was his pain when he saw no trace of Dolores
but the same fragment of her dress which Gladsden was, soon after, also
to behold!

Sounds in the chaparral which reminded him of the four-footed
scavengers in rivalry of the carrion birds that circled above, urged
him to ply the spade, and he piously laid don José to his final rest.

Then, his rifle loaded, his frame fortified by the refreshment which
he took at intervals on his march, he went forward in the trail which
the abductor of the Mexican's daughter had been unable, so burdened, to
avoid making manifest, all his emotions, even gratitude to the chief,
set aside for the desire of vengeance on the remorseless foes to whom
he owed so many and distressful losses, and on whom he had not yet been
enabled to inflict any reprisal.

"Let me but overtake him, or them," thought he, "before the tempest
obliterates this track with its deluge, and I will flesh this sword, or
essay this new rifle on his vile carcass!"



CHAPTER VI.

ANY PORT IN A STORM.


Gladsden was groping along when he perceived the thorn thicket
changing into a prairie, only slightly interspersed with scrub. At the
same time, though underfoot, the scene cleared, the indications of
atmospheric perturbation increased in number and in ominous importance.
Already the material man triumphed over the romantic one, and our
Englishman thought considerably better of a solid refuge from the
tempest than to come up with the abductor of the Mexican girl. Spite of
its sinister aspect, therefore, his eyes were delighted when he saw,
outlined against the northeastern sky, sullenly blackening, a curiously
shaped tower. In a civilised country he would have ignobly supposed it
a factory shaft.

He knew nothing whatever about this pillar of sunbaked bricks, some
fifty feet in altitude, and, we repeat, cared nothing for the monument
from any point of view but its qualities as a shelter.

Nevertheless, an archaeologist would have given a fortune to have
studied this Nameless Tower, for the aboriginal held it too sacred
for mention in common parlance. It was slightly pyramidal; the north
side, not quite the true meridian, presented a right angle, presumably
to breast and divide the wind of winter prevalent at its erection,
while the rest was rounded trimly. The excellence of the work was
better shown in the cement, not mud, or ground gypsum, having resisted
the weather and particularly the sandy winds themselves, though they
had worn the _dobies_ (_adobes_, sun dried bricks) away deeply in
places, without making airholes through. There was nothing like a
window or depression save these natural pits, until the view reached
the ragged top, where a sort of lantern or cupola, so far as a few
vestiges indicated, had once crowned the edifice; there the floor of
this disappeared chamber had become the roof, and an orifice, perhaps
a loophole enlarged by rot, yawned like a deep set eye beside an arm
of metal terminating in a hook. Presumably the column was a priest's
watchtower, where a sacred fire was preserved in peace times to
imitate the sun. It is known, the ancient Mexicans adored the sun.
A beacon, too, in war times, for the fire and smoke signal code of
the American Indians is too complete to have been the invention of
yesterday. The entrance at the base cut in the rock utilised for nearly
all the foundation. Once blocked up, the watcher, remote from lances,
slingshots, and bowshots, could count the besiegers on this plain, and
telegraph their number to his friends at a distance. The metal arm may
have suspended a pulley block and rope by which provisions and even an
assistant could be hauled up to him.

The natives avoid the tower and its proximity. The white rovers deem
it uncanny, and, having no curiosity to gratify, also leave the spot
untroubled.

Gladsden regarded the tall mass with some uneasiness as he approached
sufficiently near to measure its dimensions and examine the emblems
stained, rather than painted, on the alabaster base stone. A colossal
half human, half bovine head, armed with terrible horns, and showing
long angular teeth in a ferocious grin, was prominent among these
designs.

All was so still that he hesitated to wake the echoes with a more or
less tolerable imitation of the wildcat, to which no response came,
or if from a distance such was raised, the approaching thunderpeals
overcame it.

He boldly plunged into the doorless passage, the way to which had been
to a more wary man suspiciously free from brambles.

A smell of smoke, and even of tobacco smoke, he thought, overcame that
of damp earth.

The only light was that which the doorway admitted, but several plates
of mica, backed rudely with metal, which time and damp had tarnished,
made the interior a little less sombre by their dull reflections. A
ladder of wood, all the fastenings of rawhide, could be distinguished
climbing like a twin snake up the wall; on high a grayish eye seemed to
look unwinkingly down: it was the light oozing in at the gap at the top.

There were red streaks on the wall: paintings in red pipe clay
partially effaced, or mementoes of slaughter, just as the spectator
chose to believe or fancy.

At the moment, the intruder was chiefly interested in the charcoal
under his feet, almost warm, certainly so fresh that he concluded that
others than he chose it for a refuge under stress of weather, no doubt
Master Pepillo's congeners.

Less courageous, he would have shrunk away without pondering over the
nature of his predecessors, possibly regular hosts of this lugubrious
domicile of owl and vulture.

Convinced that he was, for the time being, the sole tenant, Gladsden
resolved, however, to explore the portion unrevealed. To his hands
and feet the ladder presented no obstacle, and he ran up the rough
rattlings swiftly, spite of fatigue. It brought him into a species of
manhole under the roof, close to the gap, and yet shielded from its
draft by a jutting piece of wall.

"This will do," thought he, finding it dry and clean; "I will kill
a brace of birds frightened into stupidity by the oncoming storm,
roast them on that charcoal, and bring them up here for supper. If
the robbers surprise me, I will maintain that I was merely killing
time before the arrival of lieutenant Ignacio, and claim that
gentleman's friendship by reason of my charge from his brother. If I
am interrupted, I shall pull up the ladder, in trust that it will come
free, and sleep here, safe from prowling beasts and serpents."

Suddenly gloom fell on all the landscape, as if a mighty hand had
eclipsed the waning sun. The air was very much more thick and
oppressive, and there were innumerable though faint crepitations like
feeble snappings of electricity. To take the game he spoke of, before
the rainfall drowned them out of their nests, it was needful to hasten.
But he had not descended three rounds of the ladder, before he stopped
all of a piece. From every side, there was the sound of an arrival
of men, both on foot and ahorse. Instinctively he drew himself up,
arranged his form on the floor so as to project only his forehead and
eyes over the ledge where ended the means of ascension, and stared
below.

A number of persons, congratulating themselves on their reunion loudly
with the hyperbolic phrases of the Spanish ceremony of greeting,
clattered into the tower. Presently a light was struck, and a roaring
fire kindled. As the shaft thus became the chimney, Gladsden was forced
to cough, though he smothered the sound as much as possible, hoped, as
did the man who lighted the damp wood, that it would lose no time in
burning up clearly.

When he could protrude his face over the peephole again, he beheld a
dozen persons, swarthy, robust, richly clad as the prairie rovers,
or cattle thieves, armed to the teeth. Cruel of eye, malignant and
ferocious, he judged it highly imprudent to make their acquaintance,
unless Ignacio was the introducer.

Before very many sentences were uttered, every syllable of which came
to his ears direct, the overhearer was not allowed to cherish any error
as to their profession. They were the Gentlemen of the Night, the road
robbers, the scourges of Sonora, belonging to the squad (_cuadrilla_)
of Matasiete, "the Slayer of Seven."

The gestures of the Mexicans grew animated as they sat around the fire,
or leaned against the wall, which the gleams showed to be painted by
the Indians; now and then they clapped their unwashed but jewelled
hands to their weapons--at which moments the witness earnestly prayed
that they would join in a free fight and kill everyone to the last.
They were wrangling over the division of spoil, and perhaps the plunder
would have cost additional lives to those of its original proprietors,
when the advent of someone in authority caused the dispute to cease. It
was their captain.

He was not the heroic figure that Gladsden had imagined fit to rule
such desperadoes. He was tall, but lean, don Quixote with Punch's nose
and chin, rather the fox than the wolf, and though his features were
set stern and his voice was savage, doubts might be conceived as to his
own reliance on his bullying mode of government.

"At your differences again," he cried in a sharp voice, which now and
then ran up shrill and high, spite of himself, more to the resemblance
of the puppet show hero than ever. "_¡Caray!_ Why can't you pull
together like honourable gentlemen of the prairie?"

Two of the brigands began an explanation which their leader cut short
by replying to the less ruffianly of the two:

"Silence! I'll not be bothered by a single word! _¡Viva Dios!_ Here you
are hugging the fire like herders broiling a steak, without a thought
of our common safety. I have had to post sentries myself, and even they
grumbled at such important duty, just because there is a barrel of
water coming down. I tell you I heard a shot in the thicket, which was
not from any of our guns."

Another of the gang spoke up, with whom he judged it meet to argue. It
is due to the estimable captain Matasiete to say that the debater in
question was picking a fragment of buffalo beef out of a huge hollow
grinder, with an unpleasant long knife.

"It is true, Ricardo, that the red men do never approach the Owl Tower;
but what is that? Someday our secret haunt will be surprised and the
Yaquis will fall on us for profaning the old pile. Where is Ignacio?
Where is the lieutenant, I say?"

Neither he nor his brother had arrived, that was the answer, to Mr.
Gladsden's chagrin.

"Then will they get their boots choked with rain," remarked the
commander of these precious rogues, comfortably installing himself at
the fire, in the very manner which he had disapproved of in his men.
There was a flash of lightning. The thunder roared round the tower,
which bravely met the precursor shower, though it was of a drenching
nature to justify the repugnance of the salteadores to standing
sentinel in the open, whilst their luckier comrades enjoyed the shelter
and the fire.

There was silence within the tower: the bandits, drawing a little aloof
from their chief, in respect or lack of sympathy, prepared supper,
priced their property with a view of staking it in card play, or, as
far as two or three were concerned, lounged at the door, watching
the ground smoke after the wetting, and glancing tauntingly at their
brothers on guard, who shone with moisture in the chance ray from the
glorious fire.

The extreme heat around Gladsden, his fatigue and a dulness engendered
by the recent strain on his faculties, forced his eyes to close now and
then, and he was about falling into a torpor, when a commotion below
aroused him.

A man, clanking his huge spurs to rid them of mud and rotten leaves,
drenched almost through his blanket, splashed to the waist, his
tough leather breeches scored by wait-a-bit thorns, swearing at the
dog's weather, wringing out his hair, for he had lost his hat--this
individual, hailed amicably as "our dear Ignacio," but heedless of
the welcome in his vexation and a species of alarm, pushed aside his
comrades flocking round him, and, saluting the captain, basking in the
fire beams, said reproachfully:

"My brother not here? Then ill fares him! There are strangers in the
chaparral!"

"Strangers!" all the voices exclaimed, whilst weapons clattered their
scabbards.

From only this transient glance at don Ignacio, the Englishman made up
his mind that he would not trust him with his life.



CHAPTER VII.

A WAKING NIGHTMARE.


"Aye, strangers, and no jokers! But to my tale. Captain, in the first
place your Indian hireling has done his work well. He slew the don--the
youngster, I opine--and, as for the damsel, why I have had her on my
arm this half hour, till the storm forced me to _cache_ her!"

"Aha! Good!" said the captain, rubbing his hands on his nearly roasted
knees. "Albeit, I am sorry that the girl escaped. I'd as lief marry the
aunt to obtain the Miranda Hacienda, as wed the lass and be saddled
with the old lady."

"Well, she's next to dead. The Apache worried them sore, so that they
have had no food."

"And he? Did you _pay_ him, as I suggested?"

"I followed him up to administer the dose of lead, but I was
anticipated. Some strangers, I tell you, are roaming the desert, and
blew a tunnel through his head."

"And Pepillo?" questioned Ricardo.

"Either lying perdu till the storm abates, or gratified with the same
pill. It is a deuce of a heavy gun to carry a bullet so large and so
true."

"An American rifle?" queried the captain, uneasily, whilst Gladsden,
patting his gun silently, so conveyed to it the flattering fear with
which its prowess had inspired the depredators.

"It is this way," went on Ignacio, who saw that all eyes were bent on
him. "I struck the broad trail of the don and the Apache. I heard a
shot of an unknown piece, so I alighted, hoppled my mule, and, making a
circuit, entered the thicket afoot, going slow because of my spurs."

"Soon I came to a sort of glade, where a big tree stump stands. There
the Indian had sent an arrow through don José, and there the unknown
had sent a heavy bullet through him. All was quiet. No sign of the
young man, their guide. But the señorita, the heiress, lay as one dead
at the stump. I felt no pulse. Her eyes were closed. I took her up and
made for my mule, but, either I had missed my mark or had strayed.
No mule. Then, believing he would come here, since he has a sneaking
affection for your horses, captain, I tried to carry the girl on my own
way hither. She was light as a feather, but the thorns are a veritable
net to catch hummingbirds, and then, again, the storm about to break!
Faith, I hid her in a hollow tree, and hastened on. But I was overtaken
by the rain, and am as tattered as a _lepero_!"

"And Pepillo?"

"He was never born to be drowned in the deluge upon us," answered
lieutenant Ignacio, with no superabundance of fraternal affection, as
he sat at the fire, and overhauled the rent raiment. "We will fish for
him and the girl, in the day."

"But if she was spent, she will die of starvation," remarked Matasiete,
with a spark of humanity or of affection.

"Pshaw! As you say, you can, in the character of don Aníbal de Luna,
marry the old lady and so obtain the property; besides, I left my flask
of _aguardiente_ (firewater, or whiskey) in her cold pit, and that's
meat and drink, eh, gentlemen?"

A silence ensued, the others having nodded a double tribute to his
gallantry and the potency of raw spirits.

"I do not like the young man being out of your view," said Matasiete,
who had a small, carping spirit, "If he should not meet Pepillo and
Farruco--"

"Crawled off with an arrow in him to die in the bushes," was the reply.
"That Apache is one of the poisoners, you know, and nothing that will
not cure a rattlesnake bite, will subdue the venom of his wounds. A
good riddance whoever perforated his skull! And here's his health,"
holding up a horn of spirits on high as though he divined the actual
whereabouts of the avenger of don José de Miranda.

"There is Farruco still to come in," said the captain, yawning.

"Pah! He's under a stone like an iguana! If he eludes the rain as
cleverly as he does the leaden hail when we attack a caravan, methinks
he will turn up in the day as dry as the core of a miser's heart."

Meanwhile, the storm, which had but inadequately manifested its power
in the heralding blow and pour, now swept across the plain and buffeted
the tower. It began to rock, and the sentries, who set discipline at
defiance and had come into the shelter, were half afraid that they
had not taken the wiser course. Whatever their terror below, that of
Gladsden would have been more justifiable, for the loose stones atop
were moved at each gust, and some fell, both within and without. The
prospect of the lightning bolt flinging him scathed to the death, amid
ruins, upon the knot of robbers, was quite within reasonable surmise.

He wrapped his gun up beside him, so that its steel should not attract
the flame that seemed, when it played within his nook, to linger upon
him, and expected the worst between the two perils.

All at once, splitting the rolling thunder in its higher key, a
frightened voice cried out, "The horses! There is a stampede!"

Notwithstanding the pouring rain, half a dozen of the bandits rushed
out. But almost instantly returning, they gladly reported that the
agitation among the horses was caused, not so much by their fright at
the lightning, as by the mad gambols of Ignacio's mule, which, running
into the group tethered on the leeward of the tower, was plying tooth
and hoof in order to range himself near the horse to which he had taken
one of those devoted fancies not uncommon among the hybrids. Instead of
their forming a mass, rounded in shape, their tails outward, to meet
the rain, they half encircled the tower, accommodating themselves to
the wind, which was shifting to the southeast.

"The old tower holds firm," said Ignacio, his mouth full of beef, as he
plied a needle and fine deer's sinew for thread in the reparation of
his leggings.

"Only the gale shakes out a tooth of the old hag's head," said his
neighbour, on whom sundry fragments of the crumble had fallen.

"Ha!" ejaculated don Matasiete, abruptly, as he clapped his long hand
to his head, and then clutched the object which had struck him there,
and then rolled into the ashes. He had pulled it forth with amazing
alacrity. "Since when has this tower been built with cartridges?"

"What!" was the general cry, as all, like the speaker, looked upward.

"I tell you that this fell on my head. If it rains more of the like we
must dash out the fire, or we'll be blown higher than the eagle flies!"

Every man had drawn a weapon. Their ignorance of meteorology might be
great or little, but cartridges do not come with Mexican rain often
enough to be calmly accepted without an inquisition.

"The strangers!" cried the captain, prudently backing towards the wall
at the point furthest from the ladder's end. "Have they come in among
us?"

"Stuff! What man in his lightness of heart would leap thus into the
wolf's throat?"

"That's all very well put, Ricardo," rejoined the leader. "But they may
have preceded you, and not known that this is our lair. Just climb up
and see if, by any chance, we are receiving uninvited guests."

Ricardo, who was singled out, was a burly rogue, but he did not accept
this order. On the contrary he made a wry face and thrust his cheek
out with his tongue, which signified "go and do it yourself." This
incipient mutiny was clearly contagious, for all the bandits returned
their commander's interrogative look with another, defiant, stupid, or
complacent, pursuant to their natures.

Any child could have drawn the inference that the quarter whence
cartridges were showered might logically be expected to furnish a gun
or two. The figurative language of the western man ranking a packet of
lead and ball, or arrows, as the case varies of its being a white or
a red man who sends the message, as an equivalent for a challenge to
mortal combat--each bandit so interpreted the accident.

"Poltroons!" cried Matasiete. "Is there room, save on the platform
itself, for a troop of men? And would one man stand amid the lightning
on this rocking tower top! I tell you, if there is a man there it will
be in the nook where the ladder is suspended. One man! Well, where are
my brave fighting cocks now?"

One man, armed with such a gun as that cartridge of unusual calibre
promised, could very easily defend even that despicable nook against a
whole coop of gamecocks. So the hesitation to climb the ladder rather
augmented than diminished.

"Poltroons, eh?" observed Ignacio, to whom the incident perhaps came in
harmony with some project of his own. "If it is nothing uncommon to go
and see what owl has alighted in the tower top--an owl whose eggs are
cartridges, by the way--why don't you show your superior courage? Show
your hardly-too-often-distinguished daring, Captain, by going up and
wringing the neck of the fowl of evil omen yourself."

"G--go myself?" repeated Matasiete, whilst the robbers grinned more or
less audibly.

"Yes, go yourself," returned the impudent lieutenant, "the more
particularly as now that you have no impediment to seize the property
of don José de Miranda, you are going to marry richly and settle
down as a farming gentleman, and will have no more opportunities of
exhibiting your gallantry. Yes, go yourself! And, moreover, be quick
about it, or the strangers, whoever they may be, may come down in
impatience at your neglect of your duty of host and demand an account
of your reluctant hospitality, face to beard, themselves."

Matasiete did not number that defect among his of the sanguine dog
who perpetually lets go the substance to snap at the shadow. Whatever
the brilliancy of the prospect of obtaining the estate of Miranda, at
present that of losing the command of the salteadores was more at hand.
Besides, best knowing what valuables were sewn up in the hem of his
dress, or contained in his money belt, in case, by robbers' law, judged
a coward, and kicked out from their punctilious midst, stripped to the
skin, this property would be lost to him, the captain made an effort.

"Then I will show you that I never set a command which I would not have
executed myself!" spoken with a tremor, but loudly, to daunt the object
aimed at above. "I will mount, and not a cartridge, but the corpse
of anyone who has ventured to pry into our secrets, will shortly come
hustling down among ye!"

He made one bound to the ladder, put his knife between his teeth,
to prevent them chattering as much as to have the blade handy, and
ascended briskly with his long legs at the start.

It would be unjust to say that Gladsden, who had heard all this scene,
without caring to lean over and witness it lest the gleam of his eyes,
reflecting the fire rays, should betray him and draw a pistol shot, was
daunted by either the words of the redoubtable robber or his approach.
Any one man, or two or three, come to that, caused him no apprehension,
for he had all the advantages of position. But, after repulsing them,
how could he hope to hold out a long time without food or drink?

An idea of subterfuge had struck him, which was only feasible to a
seaman.

We observed that Matasiete had mounted the ladder briskly "at the
start." It is true. But, when he had some twenty feet yet of the ascent
to make, his action grew less commendable. He even framed an address,
in appeal, to be uttered in a whisper only loud enough for the unknown
occupant of the turret niche, full of promises or threats if he would
only keep quiet, and allow the investigator to return uninjured and
state there was an absence of ground for the alarm he had himself
unfortunately originated.

In the meantime the Englishman, attributing the slowness of this
upcomer's movement to his cowardice, believed he would be only too glad
to find no occasion for his long stay at the top of the ladder.

So he thrust his head out of the gap before mentioned, and examined the
metal arm socketed in the wall. It was not iron, but bronze, full three
feet long to the hook, a little thicker than the thumb. It was planted
solidly in a horizontal direction.

Without further reflection, hearing the respiration of captain
Matasiete, who had been goaded on by the whisperings ascending of his
men beginning to criticise his halt, Gladsden noiselessly pushed his
legs out, bent forward, seized the bronze bar with both hands with that
grip which enables the sailor to defy the squall to dislodge him from
the yard, and hung stiffly at arm's length over the void.

If the Mexican saw him in looking out of the window by one of the
less frequent electrical flashes, he intended to kick him under the
jaw, reenter, convert the body into a rampart, and fight whilst there
was a shot in the barrel, or till he had a chance to claim Ignacio's
safeguard. The lieutenant could but be grateful to a man who removed
his superior in his favour, and, moreover, brought him a fortune.

He had no more than assumed this trying position, being drenched to the
skin at the very first instant of exposure, before Matasiete at last,
with many misgivings pulling at his toes, lifted his head above the
flooring, and, with indescribable joy, saw there was no one there.

"Well, Captain?" was the half-ironical inquiry from below.

"There is no one, you asses!" was the polite reply, in a gleeful tone.

Gladsden sighed in relief as deep as the captain's.

"Stand from under!" added the latter, putting his knife in its sheath.
"I am coming down."

The Englishman was saved!

He prepared to return within his nook. The imminent danger was over.
The rain was unpleasant, and the uneasiness of horses beneath him,
which he heard whinnying as if they scented him, as was probable,
offered the chance of exciting the curiosity of a Mexican, who would
infallibly descry him if he looked up outside. So he wished to cut
short the feeling of fatigue which already attacked his wrists and
shoulders. But, at the first movement, what he believed a mere fancy
was confirmed as fact: the bar was set with an unalterable firmness
which spoke volumes for the mason of old, but the metal, in which too
much copper had been alloyed, or deteriorated by the weather, was
slowly bending, arching over the abyss!

No time was there to spare. He began by shifting his grip, moving one
hand inwards and bringing the outer up to it, to overcome the curve
in the rod. He looked to the socket to make sure that it still held,
when his anxious eyes met another pair in the very gap. They were the
Mexican robber's!

Matasiete had smelt the powder, at least, he had, in a final and idle
sweeping round of the visual ray, perceived the gun of the Englishman,
which he had, nevertheless, concealed with unusual and creditable care
in the angle of floor and wall.

Now, Matasiete placidly leaning on the sill of the window, so to call
it, fixed his ferocious eyes on Gladsden, gleaming with delight at
having so complete a chance to avenge on another his companions' taunts
of cowardice.

"The owl!" he said ironically.

"You devil!" returned Gladsden, in English, for in such critical
moments a man does not display his linguistical acquirements.

Devil, indeed! Matasiete drew his knife and slowly leaned outward in
order to slash the poor wretch's fingers to anticipate their relaxing
the grasp on the overdrooping bar.

The other made an offer to let go with one hand in the hope to get
at a pistol to blow out the fiend's brains at a snap shot, but the
impossibility of the feat was immediately so impressed upon him, that
he grasped with a double hold once more in deeper desperation.

"Oh! Any death but this waking nightmare!" he ejaculated, as a kind of
prayer.

Before his fingers should be pinched by his own weight, between the
metal and the brickwork, he thought, by a final spurt of strength, to
leap up and seize the grinning demon.

"No, you don't!" cried the captain, guessing his aim, and leaning well
out over him, gleaming steel in hand, "Thou shalt die like a dog."

He lifted his arm to strike. Gladsden shuddered in his anguish--his
grasp did not relax, rather was it cramped, but he was thrust by his
body coming sidewise to the wall, from that direction, and slid thus
perforce to the end of the bar downwards. He closed his eyes not to
see the knife and fiendish eyes, not to hear the devilish laugh, when
a sharp shot resounded below, a bullet shrieked beside his tingling
ear, and louder than the cry which the feeling of falling through space
wrung from the brave man, seemed the shriek of captain Matasiete,
"creased" through the prominent nose.

Gladsden descended, like a rock loosened from a sierra summit, upon the
plain below. Instead of the solid earth, however, he fell upon a warm
yielding substance--the backs of a couple of horses. Clutching the mane
of one at random--not the one on which he had landed, and of which he
all but broke the back and so left paralysed--he was instantly carried
away by the frightened steed.

Behind him, as he was borne helter-skelter over the prairie, converted
into a shallow lake, he heard the clamour of the Mexicans startled
by the shot, and later by a stampede in reality of their horses. It
seemed to him, stunned in a measure though he was, that in the thick of
the swarm of quadrupeds madly in flight like his own, but in another
direction, there was a figure, black and bowing its head between its
steed's ears, with a white object across the saddlebow.

But it was a mere glimpse! A new Mazeppa, he went careering on an
unchained thunderbolt over the prairie, whilst the old Tower quivered
in a fresh onset of the tempest.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE "LITTLE JOKER."


There rode a charming little sailing vessel in Guaymas Port. It flew
the Chilian flag, was about a hundred and twenty tons register, and was
named _La Burlonilla_, or "Little Joker," which might be interpreted
innocently, or as a tacit allusion to the pea used in "thimblerig."
She was so coquettish, so fine of run, so light and buoyant, and
yet carried a good spread of sail, that the experienced Gladsden
reckoned she would do her twelve knots an hour without shipping enough
water to drown the purser's cat. But there seemed to be some mystery
attending the ownership. The shipkeeper allowed no one to inspect her
closely, far less to board her, even threatening our Englishman with
a blunderbuss. He heard at the Heaven-and-Liberty Tavern that she
was consigned to don Stefano Garcia, kinsman of the general Garcia,
mixed up with the intrigues of Santa Anna, a rich merchant-banker, and
hide dealer. It was easy to make his acquaintance by constituting him
his banker, for a remittance of a goodly amount which came on, _via_
New York and Mexico, just when he most wanted funds to enable him to
ascertain what truth dwelt in Pepillo's story.

Besides, as an old resident of Sonora, he was just the man to help him
to find the relict of the _bandolero_ of captain Matasiete, though the
reason for this search he took care not to impart to señor Garcia.

With an affability which was even noticeably extreme, don Stefano
accepted the double trust, and begged his new client to come out to his
villa soon and dine with him--a pleasant habitude with bankers all the
world over.

Gladsden accepted the invitation. During the dinner--not bad for the
place--the guest learnt that the goleta commanded a fancy price, say,
twenty thousand dollars, and then would only be sold--not hired--if the
owner, a capricious Chilian, rejoicing in the numerous and sonorous
appellatives of don Aníbal Cristobal de Luna y Almagro de Cortes, had
not changed his intention of living upland on an estate which would
shortly become his through a marital alliance.

After the repast, five or six friends of the host came in, and among
them the bearer of the long titles, just taxing our pen again.

In token of pretensions to be regarded as an unofficial, but all the
more important representative of Chili, this dignitary wore a rich
costume trimmed with gold, an immense cocked hat, after the style
borne by Nelson's enemies who were admirals at Trafalgar, bullion
epaulettes that covered his upper arms, high boots coming up over
the knee, not to mention a colossal sabre. Under this accoutrement,
nevertheless, Gladsden thought no stranger was displayed; and, in
fact, before he spoke, he recognised the individual who had grinned
at him, like Quasimodo at Claude Frollo, dangling from the cathedral
turret, out of the gaplike window of the Indian tower. The master of
the _Little Joker_, the Chilian agent, was the captain of the Upper
Sonora ravagers--Matasiete himself. The crease across his nose was an
additional token.

Spite of his emotion, the Englishman hoped he had not betrayed the
act of quick identification, all the more as don Aníbal, etc., making
no sign of recognition, turned to chatting with the others without
paying the foreigner any more heed. From a glance which he intercepted
between the banker and the pretended Chilian, Gladsden was soon of
the impression that there was a complete understanding there. He even
jumped to the conclusion that the stranger in the Heaven-and-Liberty
Tavern had been instructed to volunteer the hint that had caused our
ever imprudent Briton to form acquaintance with the robber's banker.

"They are a deeper set than I imagined," thought he. "The rogue is a
pirate on land and sea. When there is no revolution in Mexico, and the
authorities attend a little to police matters, our salteador takes a
summersault aboard his dainty craft, and goes slaving, pirating, or, at
the least, pearl fishing. If these guests are out of the same cask, by
George! I am going to pass a pleasant evening!"

But there arose no question of the sale of the _Burlonilla_, or of
anything connected with business. That was put off till the morrow,
after the Spanish-American custom.

But there did come up a topic of general interest--gaming. The
American-Hispanics are inveterate gamblers; it is their dominant
passion. After having chatted and drank, amid the consumption of
innumerable cigars, someone proposed a _monte_, a suggestion thrown out
only to be caught at a bound with enthusiasm.

Other friends of don Stefano had dropped in, so that the Englishman
found more than a corporal's guard arrayed against him. The collection
now was composed of upwards of a score.

A table happened to have the orthodox green cloth upon it, where the
social "tiger" is prone to roam: new cards, sealed, of course, were
brought in, and the sport began.

Without being positively a player, Mr. Gladsden had the blood in his
veins of his grandfather, who was a noted card player, a contemporary
of Fox and Selwyn. Besides, he understood that he might offend if he
stood aloof.

The stakes were, at the outset, moderate, but gradually swelling, they
soon attained staggering proportions, some of the points running up
to a hundred and even a hundred and fifty ounces. The consequence was
that in less than a couple of hours almost all the tilters were cleaned
out, and had to become mere lookers-on. At midnight chance--if it were
chance--arranged it that only two players were facing each other: don
Aníbal of the Cortes Family, as he called himself at present, and Mr.
Gladsden. The gallery, as the surrounding bystanders of a game are
styled, cooped the pair in so that the European could not easily have
withdrawn. All the time the master of the goleta had been a loser, and
the Englishman having been luck favoured, was on the contrary supplied
with considerable funds, which elicited many a covetous glance.

"Why!" ejaculated the pretended Chilian, with admirably feigned
surprise, "We two are left facing one another."

"So we are!" returned Mr. Gladsden, thinking, with all the possible
mischances, he was more agreeably placed here _vis-à-vis_ with the
gentleman of the night, than clinging on a bar outside the top of a
tower fifty feet high.

"Shall we two go it alone, Captain?"

"I was just going to ask the favour, Captain."

The other "captain" nodded and grinned under his long hook nose, to the
banker and others at hand, as much as to say, "Now I have my gentleman
precisely in the corner I have been driving him to."

It was the Englishman's turn to cut.

"How's the play?" he inquired.

"Will you venture all?" the highwayman leader returned in a mocking way.

"Why should I not? You have so far afforded me so much hearty
entertainment that I am entirely at your disposal."

Don Aníbal made a grimace not unlike that when the marvellous shot had
allowed the last speaker to drop out of the swing of his _navaja_.

"Even in case I risk the whole heap?" resumed Matasiete, laying his
long fingers out on the pillar of gold coin before him.

"As your lordship desires, though it is a mistake."

"How so?"

"Because I am in luck's way lately," returned Mr. Gladsden,
significantly. "You always lose pitted against me."

"Do you really think that run will last?"

"I am willing to wager on it," was the reply, in the determined tone of
an Englishman to whom, indeed, a bet is the _ultima ratio_.

"_¡Caray!_" exclaimed the arch-bandit, piqued, "Your remark decides me,
all goes on the _dos de espadas_, two of spades. Is it a go?"

The Spanish-Americans are fine players, they lose or gain ever so large
sums without wincing. As the spectators uttered a cry of admiration for
him who was more or less their lion, Gladsden resolved to prove that he
could gamble as well as the best of them.

"Señor Don Aníbal, you'll excuse the rest," he said, impudently, like a
man who pretty well knew that he had not a friend in the crowd, as he
presented his adversary, in all senses of the word, with the cards; "do
you mind shuffling them yourself?"

"What for, Señor?" holding his hands away.

"Oh, it is not merely because I believe you _good at shuffling_, but
because things are getting serious, and it is important after all that
has taken place between us that you should be convinced that I play
fair, and that nothing but my better fortune thwarts you."

Don Stefano turned pale; several of the guests whispered to one
another, probably seeing that twenty to one on a ground of their
own choosing was rather contrary to the character of a blue-blooded
caballero. One of them even lifted up his voice, saying:

"He acts like a perfect gentleman."

Gladsden bowed to him, though he fully believed he recognised in him
the suggester on a memorable occasion that the author of the death of
the late Pepillo Santa Maria should be roasted alive.

Captain de Luna also bowed, but to his opponent, took the cards,
shuffled them, and presented them with grace. Gladsden laid the cards
on the board, and turning to no one in particular, said:

"Do me the honour to cut them, Señor."

Someone obeyed the request, and the English player began to deal. A
deathlike stillness reigned at once as by enchantment in the drawing
room so well peopled. Spite of their villainy, the spectators of the
coolness of the Englishman alone in the tiger's lair were impressed by
it in his favour, and, though the most of them, such as appertained
directly to Matasiete's band, at least, would have fallen on him
without reluctance on the road back to Guaymas, here they registered
a vow to let him have a good show of fun for his money without
interference.

Don Aníbal had staked on the two of spades; the other sought to produce
the five of clubs (_cinco de Bastos_) to win; in other words, that card
ought to come out of the pack to him before his adversary received the
one he called to appear. But after quite twenty of the parallelograms
of pasteboard had been thrown on the table one after another, neither
of the two cards designated had appeared; but everyone felt they were
on the nick.

At the moment when Gladsden was about to show the face of a card
between his fingers, the captain of banditti, and of the so-called
Chilian cutter, checked his action, saying--

"Stay half a minute, please."

"What's your pleasure?"

"Perhaps to give you one. Did not I hear don Stefano say something
about your looking out to buy a pleasure vessel?"

"I even thought that I might make a yacht of--"

"Of the goleta in the port, of the _Burlonilla_--of my vessel?"

"There is no other worth a biscuit, certainly! Why the question now?"
inquired the European with some surprise.

"I tell you what; if you will consent, I will add the _Little Joker_,
all standing, to my pile, against twenty-five thousand dollars. What do
you say to that proposition?"



CHAPTER IX.

THE WAY LAYERS.


"What do I say to that offer?" returned Gladsden; "That it is a queer
one, not to say a mad one! Señor, I am morally certain that you would
lose your ship."

"You mean, you refuse," triumphantly, whilst the auditors smiled
flatteringly on their leader for having "bluffed" the foreigner.

"Oh, no, since you insist on it," replied the latter, coldly, though he
felt his heart contract within him; "but since I have set out to show I
can play cards, I'll sell you the present turn up for ten thousand!"

"Don't! Don't do anything of the sort!" interrupted the host, turning
pale. "I'll give you fifteen thousand for it myself!"

"Thank you; but now, since an outsider has intervened, I must stick to
it myself."

"You are very right," remarked Captain Matasiete, with a scowl and an
angry glance at the banker; "for it is the right one."

Gladsden had tossed the card down without looking at it.

"Cinco de Basto!" exclaimed all the lookers-on in the one voice.
"Prodigious! What a splendid game!"

"You were right, right along, about your luck--_at cards_!" observed
don Aníbal, with the most genial smile he could beam with. "The _Little
Joker_ is yours."

Gladsden had truly won, for there was the requisite card before him. He
had been inwardly persuaded when he vaunted so boldly that he was bound
to lose, and had only accepted his mortal enemy's challenge out of
recklessness. The emotion he experienced in payment of his false glory
was so deep for a couple of moments that he was like one stunned, and
stared, still, with no possibility to get out a word.

In that brief interval the banker had conferred with the
bandit-gambler, and to some purpose, moreover, for the latter loudly
set to felicitating the Englishman on his continued good fortune; and,
as at the end of his speech don Stefano put before him the corner of a
sheet of paper, on which he had hastily written some lines, he went on
to say:

"Gaming debts must be settled in four-and-twenty hours. Here is the
transfer of my property in the Chilian goleta, the _Little Joker_, as
she floats at this moment, with all she holds, in consideration of the
sum of twenty-five thousand dollars, which I hereby acknowledge, before
all this honourable company, to have received!"

As Gladsden, from the tone and the railing glances of more than one
hearer of this pretty little presentation speech, conceived no doubt
whatever that he would never be let set foot on the deck of the
_Burlonilla_, even if he reached Guaymas intact, he made no to-do about
accepting the paper, and merely faltered a simple remonstrance at what
he had said being taken too seriously.

"Oh, don't be scrupulous," said don Stefano, with a kind of pride in
his friend, "the sum which our Chilian gentleman has lost against you,
though apparently no joking matter, is nothing to him in reality. I
know something of his pecuniary standing, and I assure you, if he will
pardon the breach of banking confidence, that don Aníbal Cristobal de
Luna y Almagro y Pizarro de Cortes has not suffered the least injury in
purse!"

He hardly had the title pat himself, but nobody noticed the error, or
cared to correct it.

It was, perhaps, pardonable in the loser, after all the fine words, to
be glum, but a mournfulness infested the entire assembly, and the few
gentlemen whom Gladsden charitably looked upon as innocent neighbours,
merchants, or planters, oozed away gradually. Then the remainder, in
more probability the allies or sworn adherents of the salteador leader,
went forth in a mass.

The banker offered to house the English guest till morning, and he
pretended to accept the offer, which had the result of precipitating
the farewell of don Aníbal, _alias_ Matasiete. Thereupon, alone with
don Stefano, the Englishman refused a nightcap of French brandy, and
as his servant, a man engaged at Guaymas, had entered to receive his
orders for the night, he seemed suddenly to have gone right round to
the other point of the compass, and said resolutely:

"Ruben, we are going at once back to town. While I come down and wait
at the gate, bring the mules!"

Don Stefano began a courteous remonstrance, but the Englishman, after
having stood undaunted among a score of bandits, was not going to
be prevailed on by one single opponent. So he smiled knowingly, and
replied,

"I never sleep in the house of a friend, or in a strange bed. I have
infallibly the nightmare--one of those bad sleeps, my dear banker, when
a man fires off his revolver, and lays about him with the leg of a
table so as to inflict damages that would make your quickest accountant
sit up overnight to reckon. You had better let me go."

Don Stefano still mumbled something.

"Perhaps I shall overtake our dear don Aníbal on the road, and if we do
meet the chances are that the time will be short for the rest of the
way to him, for I want to make myself very agreeable to your honourable
friend."

There was a mighty muster of servants, though it was better than three
in the morning, at the door, and Gladsden who saw that the two mules
were coming round in the courtyard, in charge of his faithful man,
seriously contemplated seizing don Stefano by the collar and holding
him as a buckler, whilst he cowed the domestics with his revolver and
rushed for the saddle. But his host made no sign, and so the Englishman
mounted and rode out into the road without any bar.

He reasoned, therefore, that he would be attacked on the highway by
the bandits on their return to cut his throat in the villa, since don
Stefano's servitors were above the business.

Hence he was rather relieved than startled, about an hour before
sunrise, when he heard a couple of gunshots not far ahead of him and
his man. The latter was so frightened, or so much of an accomplice in
the ambush, that he belabored his mule, turned and vanished in the
darkness, increasing his speed with a shout of terror as there rushed
after him a horseman who had just passed Gladsden with the dizzy
rapidity of a meteor, screaming, "_Muerte, hombre_--murder ahead man!"

Pretty well on the alert, and his eyes quite accustomed to the
darkness, to say nothing of the night breeze off the sea having blown
away the last trace of the long stay in the heated room, Gladsden
divined that the fugitive had been mistaken for himself, and had been
fired upon by his own chosen assassins.

There was a clump of trees ahead, from around which the fleeing
cavalier had come. On the instant, Gladsden imagined a trick. He flung
himself off his mule, to whose flank he applied a stroke of his whip,
which started it off not leisurely, and lay down, half across the road.
He had his revolver ready in his hand. There was a yellow stripe in his
riding cloak, which made him tolerably distinguishable in the gloom.

Way layers have good eyes. Two men, advancing on foot, speedily spied
this stumbling block, and were so flattered by that evidence, as they
conceived it, to the goodness of their aim, that they forbore to delay
to recharge their guns which they carried easily "at the trail."
One of them was more eager than the other to examine the prey, and
threw himself before the second. Gladsden judged this an excellent
opportunity to kill two birds with one bullet, on the expectation of
the missile perforating the foremost and then burying itself in his
comrade. He waited only long enough to see his teeth gleaming in a
savage and gleeful smile, and pulled the trigger.

The robber uttered a scream of pain and surprise, and fell back upon
his mate, who instinctively pushed him aside so that he measured his
length in the deep water cart furrows. The other, paralysed with fear,
was not at all disenchanted by seeing the supposed victim of their
double shots rise and present the revolver of which one chamber had
furnished a quietus to his friend, whilst he said, having seen the
man's face in the flash--

"Good morning, Master Ignacio, otherwise the lieutenant of our dear
acquaintance, don String of names, chief of the bandoleros, and skipper
of the _Little Joker_. If you will just give me the address of your
sister, so that I can deliver your last dying message, and that of
your dear brother, Pepillo, I shall require nothing further before I
rid me of your company!"

Ignacio gave a howl of rage which exemplified the reason for his
nickname of "the Mountain Cat," at facing the avowed witness of his
brother's decease, the probable slayer, but the revolver daunted him,
and the allusion to his sister riveted him to the spot, so that he did
not budge, even so much as an eye, to look at his companion who gave a
last groan in the rut.

As Mr. Gladsden had no notion of ever again bestowing so much of his
time on this nocturnal cavalier, he now designed to inform him about
the inheritance of his brother bandit. With a quick transition of
feeling, the hearer ejaculated a prayer, luckily short, and springing
on the speaker dragged him into the thicket at the roadside.

"Oh, gentleman!" he cried, "You must not be seen by the others. They
line the road to the town. You will surely be killed even running the
gauntlet, though we believed you would be stifled in your own bedroom
at don Stefano's, but you shall not be harmed now! I swear it!" he
added vehemently. "You are under the charge of the Saints; your escape
from our bullets showed that!"

Gladsden did not trouble just then to undeceive him in his conceit
about the horseman who had drawn the fire of the ambuscade.

"Come! You are not so bad a fellow, I grant!"

"And you are a brave heart, Señor. I watched you close while you played
the captain disguised."

"Oh, were you there? Now well, I won't say fraternal love would make
you help me, but there is a prospect of a bushel of pearls, for your
sister, the orphans, and yourself, and, in faith--as you would say--I
honestly believe you had better be my safe guide to the port! What say
you?"

"It's a bargain, Señor. Besides--" (here he could not help laughing
heartily, though in a low tone) "with me you can trick that humbug, the
captain, lovely!"

"In what way? Will he not burst with vexation if I slip past his dogs
unhurt?"

"He will with disappointment when you sail away in the _Burlonilla_."

"I believe that."

"And that you may do, with my help, if we are on the alert! I am the
chief officer of that barque."

"Which is no more Chilian than you are an honest man."

"Pardon me, Señor! I am honest on occasion, and I will deliver you up
the ship if I may still retain my post aboard."

"It strikes me, man, that it is you who are making conditions."

But the Englishman, who realised all the danger of his situation, had
not used an angry tone. The bold and merry rogue accordingly proceeded.

"¡Caramba! What is there strange in that? I save your life; you
safeguard my neck! Besides, on land, here, I am not afraid of our
judges; but on the sea, if the American naval officers catch us, I have
always counted it as certain that I should hang!"

"I am with you there!"

"Let me go with you, there, Señor! I will not only pilot you to the
town, but do so on the cutter, and take you to the pearl store, surely,
steadfastly, under your honour's direction!"

"Your cool impudence is much to my taste. See, day is peeping. Lead on!
And if we reach the town without having to burn powder or take the edge
off a knife, you have excellent hopes of being my lieutenant on the
cocky little craft."

"She's a beauty! But, silence! They come, and will tread on poor
Ricardo; so, away!"



CHAPTER X.

THE PEARL DIVER'S PRICE.


However placid our adventurous Englishman might seem to be, he was a
man, like another, to be dazzled by the play of his fancy, rendering
almost palpable to his mind all the jewelled dreams of _The Arabian
Nights_, where pearls and other sea gems play so brilliant a part, and
are measured out in bushels by the heroes of those prodigious tales.

Now that he owned a fleet vessel, nothing seemed easier than to realise
all these visions, and to succeed in obtaining the treasure indicated
by Pepillo, so that, like another Aladdin, his fortune would enable him
to eclipse even the dons of the European stock exchanges.

The first thing had been to obtain indisputable command of the ship. So
he went to the port governor, a military man, who was incorruptible,
and would, he could see, stand no nonsense from the robber chief and
his more or less public allies; Colonel Fontoro stamped the transfer
paper of the late owner of the _Burlonilla_, and authorised captain
Gladsden to defend his property against all illegal claimants.

There were a score of American or English sailors knocking about at
the port. Gladsden selected eight, added a North American Negro as a
colour line, a Chinaman for cook, a Karnak to help in the diving, and a
Valparaisan boy for the cabin. Ignacio he allowed to be his lieutenant
"on trial," but protected himself by giving the second mate, Jem
Holdfast, a Bristol man, a sealed order to take command in event of his
absence for twenty-four hours without notice, or the American acting
suspiciously.

There was a lack of the most important desideratum in his peculiar
quest, pearl divers; Ignacio did not pretend to be expert, like
his brother-in-law had been, spite of overmuch assurance in most
pretensions, and the Karnak was doubtful.

As those waters were wont to have furnished a bountiful harvest of
pearls to Spain--up to 1530 from the conquest, a million dollars worth
had been sent home officially, heaven only knowing what supplement
the tyrants had smuggled to the Jews of Barcelona, Cadiz, Lisbon,
and Oporto--Gladsden cherished the hope that he would pick up some
Indian, versed by innate inheritance, skilful and strong, if not any
too honest. Though the pearl fishery on the West Coast was practically
exhausted in the seventeenth century, still a few essay it "for their
own hand." It is not impossible that notable pearls are still picked
up, and secretly disposed of, as only the other day (1883, to be exact)
one was found in the Bay of Panama, so large as to rank among the few
celebrated gems of historical note.

The search for a diver was fruitless to Gladsden. The Indians, no
doubt, scented a little coolie catching in the wind, where so rakish a
vessel was concerned, and had no inclination to be carried to Ceylon
and set to work at coffee planting during an engagement of 99 years.

Besides, with so ugly an enemy, the captain of _bandoleros_ hatching a
scheme to recover his property, with which don Jorge Federico was more
and more delighted, so that he wondered it had ever been valued at only
twenty thousand dollars, he ought already to have sailed. He determined
to weigh, therefore, spite of his unsupplied want, obeying the rude
alternative.

On the eve, while the men were putting the finishing touches to the
seagoing trim, while captain Gladsden was in the cabin, lolling back in
a Windsor (Connecticut) chair, smoking and seeing Gladsden Hall rising
in a vast estate of new purchase like Chatsworth itself, the South
American page came to the doorsill, and announced the arrival alongside
of a strange gentleman, with the last provisions of fresh vegetables
and water.

Gladsden was in no good humour at the interruption, especially as he
conjectured that the newcomer was an emissary of the ex-skipper of the
pretty cotter. He was, therefore, about to rejoin that the cabin boy
and the uninvited caller might go to Hades in company, when the party
mentioned, probably of an impatient temperament, or too pressed by the
urgency of his case to stand on ceremony, caught the boy by the waist
belt, tossed him aside, and, leaping into the cabin, said as easily as
one could imagine and with a winning smile:--

"Be good enough to overlook the manner of my arrival, sir Captain, but
I _must_ speak with you."

Without any invitation he sat himself down on a locker, and pulling out
tobacco and paper from his sash at the waist, proceeded to roll up a
cigarette.

Rather taken aback by this abrupt intrusion, the Englishman took a long
stare at the speaker, who did not show in the least that the attention
was burdensome. Then he smiled, with a reflection which he did not
care just then to express. When the cigarette was made and lit, the
stranger, half hiding his handsome young face in a cloud of smoke,
leant towards his compulsory host with a somewhat mocking air, and
began:--

"Señor Capitán, I am of the opinion that, though you should reckon me
up by the hour together in the comprehensive style you are doing, that
would in no way enlighten you as to who I am."

"That is just where you are out, my friend," returned Gladsden, with
some Triumph. "It is I who know more about you than you do of me, or
rather it is you who are more in my debt than ever I hope I shall be in
yours."

It was the turn for the young Mexican to evince surprise, but he bore
the shock very well.

"There is an error, sir," he responded, after reflecting, whilst he
regarded the frank, hardy features over against him, repaying his
mocking air with a derisive expression which was full of fun, though.
"I have never seen you before."

"That is true, perhaps. At the time when we were face to face there was
the ugly head of a red Indian thrust between, a head, by the way, in
which I lodged a bullet, thanks to which your hair remains on yours."

"Oh!" exclaimed Benito Bustamente, in a gush of joy and amazement.
"Was it you whose shot rang in my ear like the voice of a delivering
archangel when that murderous savage's knife was hovering over my heart
in order to precipitate the death which his envenomed darts had failed
to inflict? How can I thank you?"

He sprang forward, let the cigar fly from his fine teeth, and seizing
the Englishman's hand, carried it effusively to his lips.

"Well, there, have done, do stop it, my good fellow!" said the other,
embarrassed, "I am heartily glad I saved the life of so graceful a
caballero, and more. I cannot say now, particularly, if your present
errand has anything to do with the occurrence which culminated in
placing you, mighty pale and 'gone' looking, at the mercy of that
scalping fiend."

"Something to do with it? All, all!" cried Benito.

They exchanged stories. When the Mexican explained how his despair had
goaded him into taking up the trail of Dolores, though ill fitted to
combat a horde of ruffians, the Englishman stayed him.

"I was on the same track," said he, "how singular! We might have fallen
foul of one another, and had a pretty mincing and slashing duet in the
thicket, that stormy night. Well, such a fatal blunder was not in the
books."

"Thank heaven! To proceed," went on Benito; "I found Dolores sheltered
from the rain in a hollow tree. She was like the dead, speechless,
inflexible, cold; but fortunately I carried the means of resuscitating
her. When she had been so revivified, I left her to await my return
with the steed I proposed stealing from a frightened herd which could
be seen by the lightning glare around the base of that Mound Tower. The
robbers were within the pile, I could move bodily; to my amazement, I
spied, on looking up, a man suspended as by a thread from the top of
the cylinder of brick. There, in another part, I recognised another
visage, hideous, demoniacally grinning, hovering over this doomed
wretch. A knife soon glittered in the hand of the cruel scoundrel. I
knew the peculiar profile, the thin lips, the chin and hooknose nearly
meeting. It was don Aníbal Cristobal de Luna, as he called himself,
the visitor at don José's, suspected then to be affiliated to the
salteador. I hesitated not a moment. I could not stay your fall, Señor,
but I was bound to revenge it, I fired with the untried gun, which
handsomely did its work, and the scream of don Aníbal, whose beauty I
had marred, was my reward and an alarm to his gang. But I had time to
select a horse, stampede the others, gallop to Dolores' refuge, place
her on the saddlebow, and flee round the terrified animals over the
prairie. When our flight became slower by fatigue, I lassoed a second
horse for Dolores, and we two rode easily on to Guaymas."

"Whilst I was carried away, heaven knows how far, luckily I fell in
with a couple of decent fellows, professional protectors of the cattle
from vermin, and they conducted me to the post, also whither they were
bearing their pelts. What a strange meeting! So your idea of humanity
was to shoot close to the ear of a man suspended fifty feet on high, so
as to startle him into the drop!" laughing. "Well, shake hands again,"
continued Gladsden, extending his hand.

"But you are alive?"

"I agree with you there. But if I had not fallen on something so soft
as a couple of horses, one of which obligingly bolted and took me out
of the robbers' camp, I should have been a pancake. All this thanks to
your _humanity_!"

Benito hardly understood this kind of jesting; but the ways of the
Anglo-Saxon are often incomprehensible to the Southern American, and he
did not stop to require an elucidation.

"We are quits, then; that is manifest!" said he.

"Which means we are both, with the very natural proneness of each man,
to overrate his vital value infinitely, under ceaseless obligation to
one another. What can I do for you?"

"Captain, you have been beating up Guaymas for a pearl fisher--a
diver of the rare old sort, who could go deeper and stay under longer
than the degenerate descendants of that almost forgotten man-fish
Miguelillo, of Tehuantepec, who, in 1620 or so, dived an incredible
number of fathoms, and brought up the 'Queen of the Gulf,' which
precious pearl, worthy of being called a 'Cleopatrina,' and dissolved
in an Imperator's cup, was, up to a few years ago, the largest gem in
the coronet of Our Lady in Saragossa Cathedral!"

"My learned friend, I want a diver, indeed. Only I mean to fish in
bulk; that is, draw up at one scoop a mass of pearls!"

"Did you never hear the men about the port mention one Benito Vázquez,
of the Upper Gulf?" went on the Mexican, without reference to this
announcement.

"Well, several did say that the person you name was the very man I was
feeling for. But no one had seen him for some time back."

"Benito Vázquez is Benito de Bustamente! Fond of the seas, acquainted
with an old Indian, one of the many who assert a descent from the early
kings, I know almost every inch of water, far below the surface, too,
from the mouth of the Gila to Cape Palmo. I am that diver!"

"Famous diver," said Gladsden. "My dear fellow, you will make my
expedition a short and surely successful one. You are the very man I
want. I won't say now, engage with me at a sum; but come, point out the
spot I seek, help me to drag up the sunken treasure, and as I live, I
shall turn my head whilst you dip with your cap into the chest."

"Are you speaking seriously, Captain?" demanded Benito, not surprised
at the sudden friendship he had excited, that not being an unexampled
event.

"Most seriously."

"Then our bargain is made. The conditions lie thus: ask me whatsoever
you will, my Englishman, and I will do my best to gratify it. On your
part, let me be accompanied on the voyage by my wife, doña Dolores de
Miranda."

"Is that all! Delighted to turn myself out of my cabin for the young
lady."

"Afterwards you will land me and her where I indicate."

"Right, but about your remuneration?"

"Not a seed of a pearl. I shall consider myself sufficiently rewarded,
if you loyally keep this arrangement, on which depends the happiness of
all my life."

"Señor Benito Vázquez de Bustamente," said Gladsden, rising and gravely
holding out his hand. "I read in some old newspaper which beguiled the
dreary watch, that your father, in resigning the Presidency of these
Mexican States, said: He retired with nothing but his family, whom
he would rear to be like himself, content with the grand but simple
ambition to be _good Mexicans_. You are worthy your father, who must
have been a fine gentleman! And I tell you, one such Mexican suffices
to make me reckon very little in the opposing balance a thousand
mongrels like that don Aníbal, the robber chief, and his citizen
allies. Bring the young lady aboard--she shall be the Queen of the Sea
here, my very sister!"

"By my soul!" cried the young Mexican: "You have a gallant heart, and I
anticipated little less from a seaman and an Englishman! So, the lady
is alongside at this very moment, in the dugout that I paddled out in,
awaiting the result of my pleading."

"Enough, the young lady shall have a stateroom, and even a sitting
room apart, for the carpenter can soon knock up a partition here.
No one but you and I, if I may be considered a guest now and then,
may enter there, and I never without you. It is needless to say that
Madam Bustamente shall be treated on my ship with all the respectful
consideration which is her due."

"Then the sooner we are off soundings the better. Both of us have
active enemies ashore."

"Not while my flag covers you. The fiery flag of England is one that
grasping fingers have been burnt again afore now, Señor. Now let's
bless the ship with the presence within her bulwarks of your life
companion, let's have her here."

Benito shook the generous foreigner's hand cordially, ran up the
companionway and vanished for a short moment, after which he returned,
preceding Dolores. She had even sooner and more completely than her
young mate recovered from the privations of the desert, and grief at
the loss of her only parent. Her beauty was exhilarating, and Gladsden
was really enchanted at her salutation, so fraught with modesty and
grace. Her soft, harmonious voice fluttered faintly in her answer to
his welcoming address, but she was soon encouraged to the top of her
heart, and even laughed at having been fearful up to then.

To think they were in some sort old friends; that this indolent captain
had been on the trail of her abductor, and had besides visited with
condign punishment the assassin of her father. It was as good as her
brightest dreams.



CHAPTER XI.

THE TWO CAPTAINS OF THE "GOLETA."


Whilst señora Bustamente was formally taking some refreshment, Gladsden
summoned Ignacio.

"Lieutenant," said he, sternly, "it is a honour for me to have Madam
Vázquez, the bride of Benito Vázquez, the pearl diver, to present to
you."

Ignacio bowed, and darted from his widely distended eyes an enormous
show of admiration at the young Mexican.

"The famous pearl fisher," murmured he; "the take will be rare and
splendid now."

"This lady," continued the master, "is our passenger, you are
answerable for her being treated with the utmost deference, and the
greatest attention by all the crew. We'll fashion a cabin for her
hereabouts. All the men are forbidden to enter here under any pretence
whatever. Do'ye hear, Master Ignacio?"

"Yes."

"Then what the mischief are you staring for?"

"Ha, Señora Vázquez?" he repeated. "Surely I behold with admiration
dazed eyes the incomparable daughter of the martial hacendero, don José
de Miranda."

"Eh! How now, what do you know of the lady?"

"Only that she was the chosen bride of his Excellency, don Aníbal
Cristobal."

"Eh? Why, of course!"

"And that illustrious scoundrel," went on the late lieutenant of
banditti, with a refreshing air of morality, "after having had the
poor don tracked to his death by the venomous Apache, to whom I owe my
brother's loss--one to him! A thousand devils pull at him--the captain
not my lamented Pepillo--after all that show of hatred to him who took
the lady out of his clutches, don Aníbal will not allow the double
removal unimpeded, I'll wager you a thousand ounces against one poor,
old, worn dollar, of the señorita and his dear _Burlonilla_."

"Indeed! We'll see about that."

The speaker marked a curious mixture of fear and doubt flit across the
visage of Ignacio.

Benito, seeing that he was only in the way of his young wife's settling
down in her new home, and having some neglected preparations to make
ashore, proposed a hasty return thither.

The captain all the less reluctantly coincided with his expressed
intention, as he had a confidential message to transmit to the British
vice-consul--a young Jewish gentleman on whom he believed he could rely
in such an emergency as impended.

In Benito's absence, captain Gladsden took further precautions.
Disliking a budding smile on the phiz of Ignacio, he ordered him below,
placing Bristol Jem at the head of affairs in his stead, and charged
the carpenter to hurry on his woodwork. The rest of the time was given
up to completing the readiness to start.

Going on 3 p.m. the Englishman was walking the deck under an umbrella,
when he perceived a boat pushing off from the wharf. It could not be
Benito, in this huge shallow punt, impelled by eight oars, in the bow
of which six armed men in uniform were standing, while at the stern
were seated two persons in gay array.

One was a stout dame, extravagantly caparisoned; the other, a tall
man in almost as brilliant and absurd an attire. The latter was not
altogether unfamiliar to the captain, and he smiled in anticipation of
the affair to be communicated.

Whilst the heavily laden embarkation bore down upon the cutter with a
leisure which was insulting, Gladsden ordered his ensign to be dipped
three times. Immediately he had the satisfaction of perceiving the flag
of the British consul execute the same movement. Benito had, therefore,
delivered his message, to which this courtesy was an acknowledgment.

Gladsden went below, and approaching the bulkhead, behind which doña
Dolores was ensconced, whispered to her:

"Lady! I have reason to suppose that a boat is coming hither with
persons on board whose intention is to seize on you and take you
to land in the absence of your husband. Now, you need not worry
yourself. Don't show any tokens of being here. I have answered for your
protection to don Benito, and I know quite how to take care of you, as
well as my craft, against all the desperadoes in the Intendencia of all
Sonora."

"Oh, do so, sir!" returned the young lady, a prey to deep emotion,
spite of the Englishman's confident and jesting accent, "And we shall
bless you! Out of the little window I, too, have espied the skiff
coming; and I have recognised my aunt and the pretender to my hand. I
would rather die than fall into their hands! Oh, why--oh, why is not
Benito here?"

"Don't be under any uneasiness," reiterated the other; "I shall keep my
pledge to your husband. Only, I say again, keep _perdue_, and do not
reveal your presence by any noise."

"I promise to obey you, sir Captain. You are a really good man! Heaven
will benefit you for the protection you accord me. I shall go on
praying for you and myself!"

"Very well; so pluck up, Señorita, and soon the fun will be over!"

He remounted to the deck. He glanced over the bay, and went to the stem
with his marine glass, looking over the oncoming "scow" contemptuously
to view the shore near the consul's habitation. A longboat, manned by
twelve oarsmen, and carrying the English flag at the stern, was seen to
quit the pier and steer for the _Burlonilla_, making good time.

The port was "getting lively."

Though things were going on nicely enough, Gladsden did not mean to
be taken unawares, and, not to be blamed for neglecting to take any
precaution, he had a cutlass and a brace of boarding pistols laid
handily on the sliding cover of the companionway. In those waters one
never knows how matters may turn out, and, to prevent the turning out
being unpleasant, a man is easiest when thoroughly on his guard.

Though the English representative's boat had left the shore some time
after the native one, it was not slow in overhauling it, outstripping
it without deigning to hail it or otherwise notice it, and ran
alongside the _Little Joker_ on the seaward side, while the other boat
was rather far away.

"Glad to see you, Mr. Lyons," said Gladsden, receiving the
deputy-consul, warmly.

"Yes, here I am, Captain. You can do anything you like with me, you
know. Only, as your messenger was in a hurry to be off, I am very
little informed upon passing matters, and I may be able to act better
in your interest if you acquaint me how things stand and move."

Gladsden briefly told the story.

"Is that all!" exclaimed deputy-consul Lyons, laughing finely, as Jews
do. "Don't you be alarmed, but let me deal with this fellow. The friend
of don Stefano must be a suspicious character, and that he is the chief
of the in-country night marchers, and also the doer of little piracies
with this same brigantine does not, therefore, startle me. But your
visitors are hailing you. You might receive them with that bulldog
sweetness of demeanour which characterise us British," he went on,
smiling shyly. "Before all, put away those weapons, quite useless. The
affair will finish with more of a display of brass than steel or lead."

"I will hope so, though it's a thing of indifference," replied the
master of the _Little Joker_. "Anyway, I rely on you."

"That's the best."

So the cabin boy removed the weapons, while his captain, accompanied by
the British sub-consul, strode to the gangway thrown open in the low
waist, arriving just in time to offer his hand to the lady passenger
of the shallop. Behind her the drolly accoutred sham Chilian commodore
scrambled aboard.

Doña Josefa de Miranda was of elephantine form, with her hair, neck,
ears, and arms literally laden with gems, gold eagles, and Mexican
coins, pierced and strung in the shape of collars and bracelets. A
thousand dollar China crape shawl showed all its florid pattern in
embroidery, spread on her broad shoulder. A figured muslin dress, much
too short, was caught in at what she probably flattered herself was a
waist, by a sash sprinkled with precious stones. A profusion of costly
rings shone on her gloved hands. It was manifest that don José de
Miranda in his flight had left some valuables which his kinswoman had
forestalled the executors in securing.

Nothing could be more repulsive in its uncomeliness than the swarthy
lineaments of this corpulent being, whose carping physiognomy and small
glistening coffee coloured eyes wore an expression of indescribable
spitefulness.

Close to her escort, captain Gladsden undoubtedly recognised the
scarred hook nose, hatchet face, and lank figure of his gambling
opponent. It was the same grotesque uniform which had been donned to
astonish the natives at the supper table of don Stefano.

When this precious pair came in upon the deck of the _Little Joker_,
the armed men attempted to follow. But Mr. Holdfast--whose enforced
stay in the fort, penniless, scornfully used by the Guaymasians, had
filled him with terrible detestation of all Mexicans in general, and
Western ones in particular--gleefully obeyed his orders by bidding
them keep their distance. At once the corporal seemed indisposed to
bow to this injunction, and seized the Turk's head at the end of the
rope guard of the gangplank, thus railed to assist the lady, the first
officer, without losing an atom of his habitual coolness, shoved the
skiff head off so roughly with his foot as to make the soldier lose his
balance and fall between the two gunnels into the water. This, to the
laughter of the seamen, who cherish an animosity towards soldiers, and,
furthermore, against the armed police, always seeking an excuse to be
manifested. Luckily, the soldier had kept his hold of the main ropes,
and hung long enough to be lifted up into the boat to the disapproval,
if a certain splash of a tail in the water not remote, signified
anything, of a shark which had immediately prepared to sup on him
instead of the cook's waste.

Meanwhile, without deigning to attach the least interest to this
suggestive episode, the massive dame, giving the new master of the
brigantine a lofty look, used her most cutting tone to demand,
haughtily, if she were addressing the commander of the bark.

"Yes, madam," replied Gladsden, bowing stiffly, "for which recent
coming into possession I am happy, because it procures me the honour of
receiving on my deck as weighty a personage as your ladyship appears to
be. To whom have I the favour of speaking?"

The proud woman announced herself, sonorously, as "Doña Maria Josefa
Dolores Miranda y Pedrosa y Saltabadil de la Cruz de Carbaneillo y
Merlusa." The hearer bowed deeply at each bead on the string, darting a
look aslant as if he feared the little brigantine was rather top-heavy
with all these names. Then she pointed to her companion, who had been
eyeing the ship's new crew with an annoyed face which was diverting
enough to anyone in the secret of his interest, like an exhibition of a
curious wild beast.

"This is--for you need save yourself the trouble to name an old
acquaintance--Don Aníbal Cristobal de Luna y Pizarro Almagro de
Cortes," took up the gibing captain, with a wink for the consulary
assistant. "It is rather crushing, besides, your ladyship, to have here
a descendant of three of the conquerors."

Don Aníbal was curling his moustache to keep his countenance. His
native impudence was oozing out at every pore.

"This gentleman," proceeded the important lady, "is my son-in-law,
hence his accompanying me."

"Your daughter must be a happy woman to be the mate of so brilliant an
officer, an admiral, at least, I suppose?"

"Well, the alliance will not come off for a little spell, within these
four-and-twenty hours, sir. To conduce to that beneficent result, you
see me here."

"I am fully aware, Señorita," returned Gladsden, getting tired of
keeping up the chaff, "that I would never have boasted the possession
of this craft but for don Aníbal, but, in compensation, I hardly
believe he comes to me to be furnished with a wife, unfortunately,
unless it be the _gunner's daughter_, to which alliance he is heartily
welcome to my consent. I am afraid he will go away a bachelor for all
the marriageable young ladies here."

It is lamentable to record that the sailors, who had been bandying
verbal bonbons with the soldiers, chafing on the shallop, raised a
laugh at the expense of Don Aníbal, who perfectly well understood, in
his other part of pirate, that to marry the gunner's daughter, is to be
bound, face down, on a cannon and there undergo a flogging. So he drew
himself up with a savage gleam in the eyes:

"Mind what you say, or I will have you to know that I am very rich, and
otherwise of good position. It will be easy for me to make you repent
any insolence to me or my friend. So, take my caution for it, you had
better be respectful, and not forget whom you are addressing."

Gladsden slapped the Panama on his head which he had so far held in
hand.

"If it comes to that, ma'am," he said, "you must allow me to remark,
with all the respect that you claim, and which I will show you inasmuch
as you are of the gentle sex, and for that reason solely, that you are
labouring under an error. You don't seem fairly to know whom you are
talking to! I am the captain and owner of this goleta, and, moreover,
I am a foreigner. My deck is the same thing as a piece of the country
under the colours of which I sail. However grand you may be over there,
on land, your power falls pretty flat on these planks. I have the
honour to present to you the deputy of Her Britannic Majesty's Consul
who will bear me out in my observation."



CHAPTER XII.

THE ROUT COMPLETE.


At this declaration of the modern "_Ego civis Romanus_," captain
Matasiete rather stepped behind the woman than otherwise, as a wary
warrior chooses a cotton bale for breastwork when bullets are likely to
fly.

"Tut, tut, tut! What is all this farrago to me? In plain words, I come
for my daughter whom you took off shore and have on this, I am afraid,
piratical craft. I summon you to restore my child straightway, or I'll
give you a tough bird to pick!"

Gladsden impudently looked from her to the salteador and then back
again, as if he were in doubt which was "the old bird" she offered for
plucking.

"And you will have me to deal with my fresh hand at ship ruling,
Señor," cried don Aníbal at last, having edged over, to the gangway,
and seeing the skiff drawn near enough for the soldiers, eager for the
fray under the taunts of the seamen, to haply clamber on board to his
aid.

The boatmen, whom he knew something of, and who might have numbered
more than one of the former crew of the _Little Joker_, could be relied
on to back up the musketeers, he believed.

"My young Captain, if you play the resistant, hang me if I shall not
bring you to reason and decorate a shark's tooth with fragments of your
hide! Even yet, you do not know of what I am capable! _Rayo de Dios_.
Mind yourself! Patience is not one of my virtues!"

The consul intimated to Gladsden that there was no necessity of an
outbreak of temper, as, while the brigantine's crew could lay out the
soldiers comfortably in a twinkling, his own boat's crew could eat up
the skiff's propelling force without salt.

"Will you answer me, sir," resumed the stout lady.

"Señorita," Gladsden responded, with all the self-possession possible,
"I do not know what you are driving at. I have nothing to do with
your bucket of tar--I mean your family affairs, and I do not want to
dip into it. If your kinswoman has left your agreeable society, I
daresay she had her grounds of action. It is no lookout of mine, and
I shall keep my fingers clear of it, I tell you. Whether you go around
rummaging for her or not, I shall pay no heed, so long as you do not
flounce about my ship, hardly of your burthen for such carasolling,
telling me your troubles. As for this gentleman," he went on, spinning
round so fiercely on Master Matasiete, with the new log line of
nominatives, "I warn him charitably that if he does not stick his long
cabbage cutter between his legs and scuttle off _instanter_, I will
hurl him, his names and titles, his long nose and long moustache, clean
over the side to regale the harbour scavenger. This little programme
being clearly laid down, I rather think you twain had better drop back
into your boat."

He thereupon turned his back on my lady as if to give his men the
order. She retreated a step, but, turning as red in the gills as a
turkey-cock, blurted out--

"Stay, stay, master Captain. You shall not slide out of it thus. I have
an order of the secretary of the colonel governor to take my dear child
back from any place whatever."

"Suppose you are good enough to let me inspect this warrant, madam?"
said Mr. Lyons, quietly.

"I have no objections. _You_ are not a boor. Your residence here has
civilised _you_. Is it not perfectly in order?"

"Beautifully inscribed, madam," replied the pro-consul; "only that writ
does not run here!"

"Why not, pray?" she exclaimed, haughtily, bridling up at the implied
slight to Mexico.

"Simply because the Port Governor himself has no right to issue search
warrants for foreign vessels, even though the application is backed
up by so noted a banker as don Stefano Garcia. In the first place,
your complaint ought to have been laid before me--from the moment
an Englishman is accused. I would have then opened an inquiry, and
if it appeared proper that the British shipping in port should be
examined I would have so advised Colonel Fontoro, and my chancellor
would have been charged to accompany you in the investigation. I
do not say that, on account of the somewhat slow movements of that
peculiar creature, the 'red tape worm,'" he added, smiling softly, "all
these indispensable regulations would not have tried your ladyship's
patience, but, I believe, our office is credited with more celerity
than your own government houses. At all events, as the forms have been
ignored, this order has no value. I also think you had better retire,
for this captain, as he notified you very kindly, has the right to
tumble you neck and crop over the board, and what little I know of him
makes it certain that he will not hesitate to carry out his warning if
either of you continue obstinately to stay here contrary to his will!"

It is impossible to depict the rage which swayed the stout woman as
she heard this speech, in a firm voice and peremptory tone. She flew
out against the speaker, the captain and all the grinning crew, to the
Chinese cook and cabin boy themselves, with all the strongest insults
and threats in her resonant Castilian tongue, to which had been added
the native additions not found in dictionaries of the Spanish Academy,
which glanced off blunted from the frigid Englishman, however.

The prudent captain of salteadores and pirates, as the case might
be, took care not to intervene while under don Jorge Federico's eye.
His own wandered after he had secured an open way to retreat, and he
managed, unseen by the others, to exchange a glance with Ignacio, whose
head just peeped up out of the fore hatch, where he was ensconced.

"This is all very well," cried the enormous virago at last, "I do
withdraw because you are all in the plot against me, and I have no
power, poor little weak woman (_afeniquita_) that I am to enforce my
rights! But I'll spend half my fortune to punish this outrage. Oh, that
the guns of the island would blow you over the little stars if you
seek to escape me. We shall meet again, you puppy; come, Don Aníbal
Cristobal de Luna y Pizarro y Amalgro de Cortes, follow me. I have
taken a vow that you shall be my son-in-law; and you shall wear that
title though it cost me my own name."

"You are not likely to lose yours by marriage," observed Mr. Gladsden,
accompanying her to the side opening. "At least, I'll back that opinion
roundly."

"Vulgar buffoon!" she exclaimed, shrugging her shoulders till her
jewels jingled like a head mule's bells. "Come, dear Don Aníbal; let us
leave this Indian canoe. I repeat that you shall be the husband of my
daughter."

The Mexican had stepped into the boat, spite of the rule to give
place to the dame, and omitted to offer his hand, as a fresh arrival
shocked his sight. It was Benito Vázquez Bustamente, coming off with
his baggage in a shore boat, managed by a couple of Indians, one young
enough to be the grandchild of the other. Both had those bloodshot eyes
which are the living tokens of a life as a pearl diver.

"You may bestow _your_ daughter on whom you like," interposed the young
Mexican, at one spring impatiently clearing the shallop and the ducking
heads of the startled soldiers, and alighting between the robber
captain and that of the _Burlonilla_, who seemed about to step into
the flat boat and cuff the Mexican even there. "But doña Dolores is
only your niece, and you lie after the most shameful pattern when you
pretend to the honour of being her mother."

This unexpected address so dumbfounded the huge señora, that she almost
fell back upon the soldier, and would have done so only that the prick
of a bayonet, "peaking up," broke into her absence of mind, due to the
consternation.

Amid a roar of laughter as she floundered upon the nearly crushed
soldier, trying to right her upon her feet, the shallop was pushed off,
and the Indians of Benito aiding the movement and from it glancing to
the brigantine's side, their little boat took its place, and began to
discharge the baggage which the pearl diver had collected to make his
wife's voyage more comfortable.

A little while after the deputy-consul, thanked warmly by all parties
concerned, entered his longboat, and was rapidly transported to land,
even before the infuriated don Aníbal and the lady whom he had so
feebly cavaliered arrived at the pier side. It seemed to him, as he
glanced amusedly into it, that a strange face had been added to the
crew, but his attention was immediately diverted by smoke beyond
the breakwater, denoting the coming of a steamer, and he forbore to
increase the humiliation of the two Mexicans by dwelling on them.

Not a quarter of an hour afterwards, as the steamer was signalled,
and showing her private emblem, was telegraphed to don Stefano Garcia
as the _Casta Susana_, of Acapulco, direct from the Sandwich Islands,
consigned to him, the goleta left the port, speeding under all sail,
right through the steamer's trailing smoke.

For one second this vapour eclipsed the _Burlonilla_, which seeing,
Matasiete standing on the pier head beside the baffled señora Maria
Josefa, remarked:

"There is nothing under canvas that can take that craft; but I will
have a try at it with steam. Will you come?"

"Anywhere!" cried the vindictive sister of don José de Miranda,
"Anywhere, if revenge only flourishes there."

"I think," muttered Ignacio to himself behind this worthy pair, "that
don Jorge Federico had far better have left me first officer of the
Burlonilla. At the same rank on board of the _Casta Susana_, methinks I
shall handle my brother's pearls before he does."



CHAPTER XIII.

INTERVENTION.


The _Burlonilla_ proved herself commendably swift. Had she been even a
faster sailer, captain Gladsden would have never dreamt of going out to
sea with a view of eluding anyone curious about the movements of the
eccentric young Englishman, after the disappearance of Ignacio being
reported to him. Search high and low, not a trace of the rogue. Spite
of the sharks at Guaymas, capitán don Jorge was so convinced that the
lieutenant of bandoleros was inevitably fated to adorn the gallows,
that he believed the rogue had reached land, or, as the vice-consul
could have given him a pointer, been taken into the scow of his famous
colleagues.

Without being aware that the steamer was at the command of those who
could be accounted his enemies, and would be sent in pursuit, or,
rather better to say, since Ignacio was the pilot, would strive to
anticipate him, the captain made all haste for the spot indicated on
Pepillo's plans.

Since Ignacio had but a vague surmise to go upon, the _Burlonilla_
passed Point St. Miguel without anything hostile arising, and soon
cast anchor at the second of the islets, in a chain which were named
after the knots in the rope girdle of St. Francis. But the seafarers,
men supremely practical, who do not fetch their similes from afar, had
also preferred to take the protuberances for a likeness to the knots in
a logline, call them, _Las Señales de la Cordonera de San Francisco_.
The good mission priests might protest, but the laws of the Medes and
Persians are easily effaceable as compared with a name down on a sea
chart.

Between the mainland, where a dreary haze hinted of the smoke of
sleeping volcanoes in the rocky ridge of the peninsula of old
California, and the string of isles, the brigantine was made secure by
stem and stern.

The mainland was rugged, and apparently admirably abundant with
vegetation.

There were giant palmettos tossing their feathery tops to every
cat's-paw, in isolated clumps, among a verdant screen of varied trees.

Alas, for the trickiness of Dame Nature. That luxuriance was
superficial, the verdancy that of worthless shrubs, cactus, and
prickly pear, briar, vine and beach, plum, thorn apple and Dead Sea
fruit. Behind that illusive foliage, sand, lava, stones, dust, formed
the melancholy waste in which the scanty, wild creatures live in
perpetual madness, induced by chronic thirst. Without irrigation, Lower
California is an Arabia Petrae.

But as Gladsden had no intention to settle, he was content with the
alluring, if deceptive, face of the country.

The first real annoyance was to find a small colony of Indian mongrels,
painfully carrying on the re-raking up of the shells of the abandoned
pearl fishery grounds. Their huts were picturesquely perched on rocks,
the leafy roofs ornamented with _gallinasos_, fowls, more than half
wild, which indolently hunted for food in the natural thatch of palm
and brush. These born pearl fishers had been there so long, that they
had laid out little gardens for ground and bush, fruit and vegetables,
defended by live cactus. Above patches of sugarcane glowed the golden
globes of orange and citron, amid deep green leaves.

As don Jorge Federico de Gladsden had come, not to scrape oyster
shells, but to haul up a mass of pearls in a submerged box without
desiring prying eyes to witness the operation, he allowed Benito to
get the observers out of the way by simply hiring the whole settlement
to go fishing at another point of the broken reef. From the brigantine
they could be seen, without their being able to watch the peculiar
fishing in which her crew were about to engage.

Fishing for pearls is a much more dangerous and difficult operation
than is generally supposed.

Each of the several _piraguas_, or pirogues, or dugout canoes, as you
please, had two men, stripped for diving, save an apology for bathing
drawers, girded on by a rope. This retains to the left side a leather
sheath for a heavy knife, not less than eighteen inches long and three
fingers wide, sharp as a razor, intended to battle with the sharks and
stripe backs, _pez manta_, a kind of galvanic ray of which the mere
contact paralyses the victim.

The worst kind of shark, the _tintorera_, that is to say, "the dyer,"
promenades the Pacific where human beings congregate, and comes up the
Gulf. One of the headlands on the east coast is named after this terror
of the pearl divers. The _tintorera_ owes its cognomen to a singular
peculiarity, which reveals his presence providentially to afar off.
Pores around his muzzle exude a luminous, gluey matter, which spreads
over the entire body and gives him a glowworm like effulgence. Over and
above this, the animal is next to blind, and consequently cannot go by
sight alone to any point desirable. While, too, other sharks, to seize
their prey, simply turn over on their sides, señor el Tintorera has to
roll belly up completely.

When there are any such _squaloid_ around the fishing place, no day
passes without there being "knots to untie," between the divers and the
tintoreras, as well as the _pez mantas_, and, almost always, the men
only cut clear after horrible struggles.

When the diver takes his "header," his fellow paddles the skiff forward
so as to accompany the plunger's diagonal immersion, whilst his rise
is, on the contrary, vertical. This is done to pick up the swimmer at
the very identical instant of his reaching the surface, his left arm
laden with oysters and his lungs eager to catch air. Then he climbs in,
takes the paddle, and manages similarly whilst his mate does the diving.

Good divers go very deep, the most famous can touch bottom at twelve
and even fifteen fathoms, and can stay under for seven or nine minutes,
but these are rare, the majority not surpassing four and five minutes,
which is very pretty. The mated divers keep on by turns until they
have brought up the requisite quantity of oysters. Their gains are
miserable, and those whom captain Gladsden engaged were delighted to
get a dollar a dozen. Many a shell has to be opened before any pearls
are found; ten or twelve per cent is a good proportion for the enriched
ones, and then again, many pearls are far from valuable. The basis
of the estimation is the orient, as much as to say the lustre of the
concentric layers, the "water," the roundness, and the size. Those
worth a couple of thousand dollars are found on the South American
coast, and still more seldom in "the Sea of Cortes," where we now are.

Whilst the hired Indians were engaged at this submarine toil, Benito
and the two red men, old acquaintances of his, who would not have
engaged themselves to another master, were searching the water at the
side of the brigantine first, and latter, farther and farther away,
accompanied by the yawl, two men pulling so that the two red men could
rest calmly till they relieved the Mexican at the watery work.

For a time there was a growing belief that Ignacio's brother had lied,
or that the chest had been burst by the waters churned up by the
_temporal_, as is named the terrible wind, the West Coast counterpart
for "the Norther" of Texas, or, at the best, moved it away into deep
water. But Benito and his copper acolytes were expert in judging the
aquatic "signs," and soon pronounced that the bluish tint that denoted
a pearl oyster bed, showed a bright bar from a break in its continuity.
The chest had dragged, but was not lost. Within an hour, all three
divers being down at once, the old Indian came up and uttered a joyous
shout on expelling his breath. He had a fragment of tarry rope. Next,
Benito struck the trail, and came up crying, as soon as he could speak,
that he had discovered the chest, the buoys had been eaten away by
marine creatures on the tooth of time, and the treasure coffer had
sunk, crushing into an oyster bed. The wounded oysters had exuded
their pearly fluid and coated the strange object beautifully, and the
shellfish had settled on it, but there it was in its lustrous and
lovely mantle.

The yawl returned to the brigantine with this good news. It was coming
on dark, so that nothing could be done till morning, but make ready a
drag and hauling and lifting tackle, the hooks of which the chief diver
and his aides undertook to attach, as confidently as others would work
on dry land in open air.

Doña Dolores, whom, as a young bride, her husband had allowed to
indulge in all her caprices--and heaven knows a Mexican girl, liberated
by wedlock, so to say, paradoxically, has an infinity of tastes to
gratify--had indulged in too much sweetmeat to have been a good sailor.
As a consequence she was glad of the suggestion of Gladsden that,
during the anchorage, she should remain on shore in the best hut of
the little settlement. With the things landed from the _Burlonilla_
the _haquel_ (little hut) was made tolerable lodgings--a relief to the
confinement of the brigantine's cabin.

The night was lovely, after a glorious sunset, when the reflections
of the sublime play of orange and vermilion suggested why the early
navigators were led to call those upper waters of the Gulf the Red Sea
(_Mar Rojo_), rather than because the united streams of the Gila and
Colorado pours, dyed with iron and copper, into the clearer blue.

In the deep, deep sky the stars glittered like diamonds of more than
mortal polish. There was a mingling of air off the peninsula fragrant
with wild flowers, of air off the Gulf, of tempered briny billows
bumping the rocks of Cape St. Lucas, and of hot, dry breath from the
mainland, rich with a honey like sweetness that cloyed. All was still,
all was lonely, and the sole cry, at long intervals, was that of the
lean coyote, stealing over the sands and mingling his starlight shadow
with those of the giant cacti, shaped like colossal men brandishing
maces and clubs, as he curiously regarded the brigantine. If a slight
breeze ran along the shore it almost musically clattered the oysters
clustered on rushes and mangroves, standing part submerged. Behind them
the mesquite and acacia, and back of all the sparse woods on the rising
slope: beyond that peaks well apart.

Once in the night watch the lookout reported a red fire gleam
southwards like a fallen star quenching itself in the Gulf, and twice
smoke was espied in the same quarter.

They knew it not, but it was Matasiete, after a search of San Luis
Gonzales Bay by daytime, pushing the steamer into the shoals around the
Islands of San Luis and Cantador. The double incentives of revenge and
greed made the amphibious rascal excessively daring.

In the morning, therefore, Gladsden coming on deck early to have a
tub in the brackish water drawn for his ultra-English custom, himself
beheld the chaste _Susana_, full steam on, steering for the knots of
the log line of St. Francis, and, logically, for himself.

It would have been hard to lose the prize just when he had verified its
existence, as well as one may believe in a pig--we mean a pearl in a
poke.

The _Burlonilla_ floated two guns and a swivel, and no deficiency of
small arms. The steamer had four ports, and canvas covered objects, one
at bow and one at stern, were no doubt the complement of her armament.
She came down to within two cables' length of the anchorage of the
goleta, blowing off steam noisily, not to say threateningly, and there
let her both bower chains run out. A kedge and hawser, let from the
stern, enabled her numerous crew to moor her so that her broadside
overawed the little brigantine. Before this manoeuvre, Gladsden was
fain to believe it was only one of the smugglers which often run up the
Gulf and await the result of the negotiation of the consignees and the
port officers before returning to Guaymas or elsewhere, and discharging
a cargo on which, thus, the Exchequer of Mexico is neatly defrauded and
the public deficit is kept from lessening.

With his glass captain Gladsden had recognised as the officer on the
steamer deck none other than the double traitor Ignacio. It needed
nothing more to understand that the newcomer would stick at nothing
on this desolate coast where the ship duel would have no seconds or
interferers.

He was ordering Mr. Holdfast, after having pointed out the Mexican
to him, to hurry all hands over breakfast with a little intimation
that some of them would dine in paradise if they did not beat off the
unwelcome visitor.

Suddenly the old Indian tutor and friend of Benito pointed shoreward.
The canoe of the pearl diver was putting off with him and doña Dolores.
Instantly, being a little nearer, and seeing the same sight, there was
a bustle on the quarterdeck of the _Susana_, and there appeared in
gorgeous array, even eclipsing that of the Chilian representative in
which he had last been admired, the celebrated don Aníbal Cristobal de
Luna.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE HAUL OF MILLIONS.


Soon a cutter was lowered, in which the Mexican got, with the radiant
Ignacio as his coxswain, and four oarsmen, while the moment it started
in pursuit, or as matters stood then, for the encounter of Benito's
little piragua, doña Maria Josefa de Miranda hoisted herself up the
stairs and lumbered to the side of the steamer to gloat over the
proceeding.

Gladsden saw that, though he had a boat got ready, the canoe must be
met before he could intervene, to say nothing of the probability of a
volley from the bow of the _Casta Susana_ checking his attempt in mid
career. If, besides, the pearl diver ran himself ashore, encumbered
with the young lady, he was almost sure to fall among the mesquite
brush under the pistols of the salteador and his lieutenant.

It was no question till the young Mexican and his wife were out of
peril, of attacking the formidable steamer.

Benito's red ally, who had whispered to his grandson and drawn a nod of
comprehension from the latter, had stripped himself, as did the youth,
for diving. All other eves were on the chase. They slipped over the
low board unnoticed, opposite the _Casta Susana_, and as silently took
to the water and swam away. It looked as if they deemed the impending
combat hopeless, and, like the rat, quitted the surely defeated ship.

In the meantime, poor Benito, recognising with whom he had to deal,
was plying the paddle manfully, whilst Dolores, falling on her knees
in the canoe, set ardently to praying, her hands clasped, and her
eyes on the profound sky. All at once, without giving a warning to
the girl, so that she was shaken in her devotions, Benito turned the
pirogue somewhat, evaded the Susamalis boat, and went straight to a
little rocky islet of some height, well covered with rushes and other
vegetation. It would mask him from the _Casta Susana's_ crew, though
leaving that vessel between him and his friends. Possibly, he had no
other aim than to deposit Dolores thereon, and stand in defence of her
against all comers.

The Mexicans began to cheer their captain, whose boat, clumsily turned,
resumed the hunt.

Very little could be seen now of the chase from the low-lying goleta,
and though Gladsden recklessly climbed up the rigging to get a view
over the thronged deck of the steamer, soon the piragua and the cutter
were veiled by the islet from all the spectators, friends and foes.

"Every man to the boats!" cried the Englishman. "Arm to the teeth, and,
cook, all the matches and tar; we'll board that beast of a smoky tub,"
appealing to the seamen's hatred of a steamer to fire their energy,
"take her or leave her a prey to the flames! Every man, active and
idlers, away!"

There was, indeed, a very fair prospect of the _Casta Susana_ being
taken by surprise, so enwrapt was the attention of all the people of
the Mexican, taking the cue of doña Maria Josefa, with interest and
anxiety.

But the _coup de main_ never came off. Halfway to the target, Gladsden
was startled to see her, previously riding, doubly secured, so stiffly,
nod, and begin to rock, then cant at such an incline whilst settling
down slowly, as to cause the Mexicans to catch hold of every near
object.

A great outcry arose.

It was repeated with anguish, as the careering continued as if a giant
hand was rolling her over. Then the black faces of the stokers and
engineer were seen as they came climbing up on deck to add themselves
to the no less terrified crew. The steamer's deck was at a slope
of forty-five, everybody clinging to the uppermost gunwale, save
the unlucky ones who had rolled to the down scuppers, in among the
rubbish which a Mexican captain allows to encumber his upper planks.
The swaying cannon above threatened to break loose and crush these
struggling wretches to marmalade, whilst their _vis-à-vis_, bursting
the port lids, ran out to the carriages and kissed the agitated water.
Poor Maria Josefa, grasping a sailor round the body whilst he hung
on the taut guy of the reeling smoke pipe, hovered over the knot of
writhing, fighting men trying to get a footing on a surface every
moment changing its centre of gravity.

At that direful instant the boat of Gladsden was slightly pulled down
on the opposite side to the steamer, and two dark heads succeeded two
pair of red arms, abruptly seizing the gunwale by chin and hands. In
the mouths of both were the formidable _navajas_, "gapped" by recent
rough usage and pointless.

"You, Diego? And young Diego?" cried the captain, assisting them on
board.

"Yes; you see um steamer go down, and you see um pirates go up pretty
soon dam quick! Old Diego and young Diego play swordfish--we scuttle
the steamer, see?"

In fact an ominous hissing seemed to indicate that the water rising
within the steamer, well on her side now, was menacing a blow up of
the boilers. The engineer and his mate fully foresaw this, and were
scrambling into a boat, jammed of its fall in the blocks.

"Heaven guard us!" was the shout on the ill-fated steamer. Some forty
men were seen preparing to launch the boats, or even leap into the
water, when a louder scream, though from one pair of lungs, was audible
over the clamour. Doña Maria Josefa, with the sailor on whom she would
not relax her grasp, had rolled like a ball across the perpendicular
decks, bounded over the bulwarks, now washed by the water, and splashed
out of sight.

As if her plunge had been arranged for the eliciting of a salute,
pistol shots from the rock islet announced that the pirates and Benito
were at firing range.

There was chaos.

The hissing steam, the splitting vessel, the straining yards and masts,
the knocking about of everything loose within the half-flooded hull,
the exclamations of the men in the water, some of whom mounted on
the drift, shouted out "shark!" no pen can do justice to, and to the
critical situation which doña Maria was the most prominent object, the
centre, the feminine hub of a wheel of frantic men.

The Englishman took the only course, however risky, towards desperadoes
who might not appreciate humanity. He rowed to the spot, reached the
centre, and after nearly capsizing the boat, dragged the woman safe
to the stern sheets. The heavy mass lay there, inert as a stranded
porpoise.

Shrieks, and the disappearance of men in the water, of whom no further
traces were yielded up but the ruddy bubbles which marked a shark's
wake, incited the _Burlonilla's_ crew to greater speed in their rescue.
But they would have been swamped by the concourse of frightened men,
whom not even the presentation of a cutlass or loaded pistol kept off;
luckily the steamer had finished her going down, having attained the
level which was her altered draught, while the compressed air buoyed
her. The Mexicans, seeing her deck become almost level, climbed upon
her in dread of the tintorera. Gladsden left these to count their
missing, whilst he conveyed his cargo, as prisoners, to his vessel,
where they were secured. He had the swivel trained for precaution on
the unfortunate _Casta Susana_, smokeless, fireless, waterlogged, and
retraced his course with a circuit to avoid the disabled foes, so as to
bear the too long delayed succour to his young friends.

Benito had run the canoe up a little cleft in the rocks, shoaled her on
a stretch of sand, taken out Dolores and placed her in a grotto. Before
her he rolled a stone, as a breakwater, gave her his revolver, and
stood on guard only with the pearl diver's knife, which, however, he
well knew how to swing and thrust, as well as cast--a siring enabling
this latter trick to be executed without the knife being lost.

Urged madly on by Matasiete, the noise on the other side of the islet
on his ship puzzling him, and giving him an earnest desire to wipe out
the present vexation and return to his post, the boat stove itself on
the rock. The water was not deep, the men could leap from stone to
stone or wade. The waders, two in number, trod on a stingray or an
electric fish, for they were heard to groan and seen to fall palsied in
their tracks.

The rest confronted Benito. He drew their fire, expressly to prevent
a shot being directed at his wife, and then met their charge in a
mass. As the mob enveloped him, Dolores fired the revolver twice, more
at random than with careful aim. One shot told, for a seaman left
the struggle to go on of itself, whilst he reeled aloof, and tumbled
off the rock into the water. Two more Benito gave a quantum of steel
to Ignacio and his commander were left alone to quell the dangerous
young Mexican. So far they had not been able to use their firearms
without the hazard of injuring their own. They drew off to fire with
deliberation, when the young wife, whose head had cleared after her
first shot, and who was made a heroine by seeing that the life of her
beloved perhaps rested on the true flight of the little globes of lead
in the revolver, let fly at Ignacio, whose backbone was broken by the
two shots. As he fell in a heap, the salteador chief, aghast at being
so quickly placed solitary before his foeman, wheeled round and fired
at the smoke oozing out of the young woman's cave. She screamed, for a
fragment of stone, cut off by the bullet, had fallen on her neck, and
she believed she was killed, supporting the delusion by swooning away.
Receiving no reply, therefore, to his heartrending call, Benito flew at
the murderer with so awful a countenance and so menacing a flourish of
the blood-smeared knife, that Matasiete did not pause to try to raise
his name to _Mata-ocho_, "the slayer of eight." He backed, and then
plunged into the bush.

"¡Hola, cobarde!" cried Benito, but the other made no reply.

There was a crashing of the bush wood, a splash, and all was silence.
The young Mexican heard his name behind him in a faint voice, and
renouncing vengeance at the appeal of love, went quickly to his wife.
Dame Dolores required nothing but his presence as a proof of his safety
to be recovered of her fright.

After making certain that the assailants were incapable of mischief,
the two who had been stunned by the fish surrendering with as much
alacrity as their confused senses permitted, the couple had the
satisfaction of being hailed from the boat of Gladsden.

It is regrettable to say that the latter, in his concentration of
thoughts upon the rescue of his friends, was deaf to his oarsmen
beguiling the time as they shot by the wreck, by supplying the words
to the notes of the key bugle in the hands of their shipkeeper. He was
playing a song popular at the period of the outbreak of the Gold Fever
in California, of which the chorus runs someway thus--applicably, the
singers fancied, to the situation:

"Oh, oh, _Susannah!_ don't you cry for me. I'm going to Califomy with
my washbowl on my knee."

The young couple were gaily taken off the islet, though the two
Mexicans were left there to regain their clearness of wits, whilst a
prolonged search was made all around it for the lost leader. The islet
did not contain him, there was little likelihood that he had gained the
mainland, though a sanguinary streak gave reason to the supposition
that he had at least essayed to do so. No doubt of it, he had been
devoured by a tintorera, unscrupulous about entombing the pretended
scion of three of the great conquerors of Spanish America. It must be
confessed that this tragic end caused no chagrin to the crew and extra
force of Guaymas riffraff who acted as marines on board the _Casta
Susana_. They blamed him for the whole of the disaster, and it was a
good thing for his consort in the expedition, doña Maria Josefa de
Miranda, that she was remote from the crew, exceedingly spiteful since
they had escaped a watery or a shagreen bound grave.

That lady had been completely changed in character by her bath in the
Gulf, a magic wrought by _Pacific_ water which may recommend it in the
future to the lovers of peaceful married life vexed by an irritating
aunt. She showed herself quite kind towards the pair, and blamed the
late don Aníbal for all her persecution.

Ignacio and his master having kept to themselves and carried away with
them the secret lure which had decoyed the _Casta Susana_ to lay her
ribs on the knots of the logline reef, the Mexicans displayed no desire
to linger. They filled their boats with provisions, loaded a raft to
be towed with other articles, and, the weather being fine, started off
to Whale Channel, intending to cross and coast along till picked up.
The peninsula was too sterile to afford so large a party any hope of
successful land marches to reach inhabitants. To have done with them:
they had to cut the raft adrift off Tiburón, and, parting company, the
three boats separately reached the port whence they sailed--having had
to live on tortoise and even cayman--_en route_.

Long before their arrival, Gladsden's vessel had transported Dolores,
her husband, and their aunt, fully reconciled, to Guaymas, where--as
their marriage had been so informally and unceremoniously performed by
a friendly priest--Father Serafino--they received the grand nuptial
benediction in the presence of a numerous assembly of the best society,
among whom Captain Gladsden had the honour of signing his name as
witness. It is needless to say that don Stefano Garcia, in considerable
trepidation--walking like a cat on hot cinders, as the proverb
goes--did not attend the ceremony.

Before the wrecked men of the _Casta Susana_ came to port the treasure
of pearls had been divided. There were other valuable stones, notably
emeralds, but the pearls were worthy all of Pepillo's eulogy; there
were perfect ones for shape and other qualities--the pears, the globes,
the flatcrown (tympani, or kettledrum shaped, as the ancient said), in
short, the choicest specimens imaginable of "the Pinnic stone."

Don Benito agreed to maintain the family of Pepillo and a sweetheart
of Ignacio out of his half share, amounting, as valued by Mr. Lyons
(who had his racial genius for estimating precious stones), to
£150,000, well overrunning Pepillo's rough casting up. Both he and
Gladsden placed a large sum in the bishop's hands for almsgiving; they
contributed towards the breakwater and so on, and then separated, each
in his own way to enjoy the filibuster's hoard, originally accumulated
to revolutionise Lower California as a preliminary to annexing it to
the United States.

Captain Gladsden sailed to San Francisco, where he disposed of the
_Little Joker_, and of some of the pearls, and travelled overland to
take steamship for England.

Don Benito accompanied his wife back to her paternal estate, which was
to be their happy home.



CHAPTER XV.

THE PATHFINDER'S HONOUR.


Here might the author stop, and, in sooth, he was going to write
the words "The End," glad that the episode of the pearl fisher had,
at least, the happy _finis_ so desired by the novel reader; but my
editor,[1] who was smoking a cigar at my elbow, in my sanctum, and who
had been interested enough in what I was dashing off to follow the
lines over my shoulder, checked my hand abruptly.

"Here, here!" he cried, as "The End" was on the point of flowing from
my pen. "Do you mean to tell us that you know nothing more of Benito
Vázquez, his bride and his friends?"

"But I do," I answered with a sigh, for a sad memory had been revived
by the unexpected inquiry. "But may I not leave the Pearl fisher rich
on his _hacienda_ in Sonora?"

"No," said my editor. "Why should you stop here? As long as you do know
something more about him, the tale is not told. Our readers, who have
become enwrapt in your hero--I may almost say your two heroes--will be
charmed, I warrant, to learn all they can further."

"Now, do you really think," I inquired, hesitatingly, "that this
continuation will not bore?"

"Far from that, since it will complete the opening. I must acknowledge
that your finish struck me as pulling up short. To conclude with, 'And
so they were wed, and all lived happy ever after,' is to be met with in
every novel and romance."

"Have your own way," I answered, "since you wish more, my dear friend,
I shall go on and give you the completion required, which, this time,
you may make up your mind to it will not be rounded off at the altar.
Only I would like everyone to know that you, and you alone, insisted
upon having it so."

"Very well," he said, laughing; "scribble away! I am sure we shall be
the gainers!"

And now, dear readers, having protected myself as regards you all, I
continue the story with the hope that the conclusion will interest you
as much as, I understand, the foregoing has pleased you.

Mr. Gladsden went to England to imitate his friend and comrade by
sacrificing to Hymen.

He married, and had two sons. They were still young when he lost
their beloved mother, and ere long, in accordance with that very
contra-French custom of keeping the children in leading strings which
pushes the British boy into life beyond the home, they dwelt remote
from him at school. He was, therefore, a lonely man. Politics had no
attraction to one still active, fox hunting was tame after his American
experience, and yachting was baby play to a genuine mariner.

Gladsden had already shown his remembrance of Mexico by investing
heavily in its Western Railway, and hence he was confidently
approached by the promoters of that link which should make it fully
transcontinental, and by the later projectors, who sought to establish
the line between Guaymas and that running down through the wild lands
to Santa Fe, El Paso, Topeka, and thus binding the cactus country to
that of wheat, corn, and cattle.

From joining the board of the latter companies to volunteering to go
out and investigate the causes of a prodigious slowness in building the
line was an affair of short duration. Mr. Gladsden's offer was gladly
accepted, and he started with alacrity, which proved how deep had been
his longing to break away from social trammels.

This time he proceeded overland from New York, and finally surveyed the
route of the Great Southern Pacific Railway as far as El Paso. There
a chance speech overheard in the Continental House, which enclosed
a reference to the rich land proprietor, don Benito de Bustamente,
changed his purpose to proceed still westwardly. He engaged a guide and
horses, and was, at the beginning of May, traversing the Sierra de las
Animas, or Mountains of All Souls.

On the twenty-fifth of that month, going on four of the afternoon, a
time clearly indicated by the disproportionately long shadows of the
trees on the sandy soil of the _savannah_, and the coppery red colour
of the sun, which appeared like a fiery disc at the level of the
lowermost branches, we see Gladsden and his guide mounted on native
horses. The superior wore for old acquaintance sake the costume of
Mexican rancheros, and his attendant the picturesque and typical garb
of the hunter of the West. They were both armed to the teeth, as a
matter of course, for, in this quarter, all honest men are exposed to
the three heads of the Southwestern Cerberus: that of the "rustlers,"
or white desperadoes; of the _bandoleros_, or Mexican thieves; and of
the wild Indians, none of them uniting with either of the others, but
true Ishmaels.

It was remarkable that the prairie guide, however, had acceded to the
progress of improvement in firearms, in lieu of the long and heavy
rifle so celebrated along the backbone of the continent in the hands of
the trapper and hunter, this man carried, like his employer, a finely
finished Winchester breech-loading and repeating rifle, much stronger
and larger than the general pattern.

The pair had just emerged from an immense forest of cedar, which had
never yet known the woodman's threat, though doomed ere long to feed a
locomotive engine's furnace, and were glad to cry halt at the skirts of
the covert. Then they trotted down to a pretty stream, which was one of
the sources of the Yaqui River, and bending so far to the westward as
to make an inexperienced explorer fancy it had something to do rather
with the San Miguel.

Indeed, the woodsman examined the muddy waters with serious heed for
a long time, and executed some mental calculations in that wonderful
untaught trigonometry of the frontiersman. Then, stopping his _broncho_
by a scarcely perceptible pressure of his knees, he bent gracefully
towards his employer, and said, as he smiled good-humouredly:

"Hyar you hev it, Mr. Gladsden; this ar the safe ford, though the
melting snow has set the sink pits filling, of which I war speaking
this noonday."

"Quite certain, eh, Oliver?" remarked the English gentleman.

"I wish I was as sartin sure I shell die with my har on," was the
other's laughing answer, showing magnificent teeth for a man of fifty,
which hard biscuit and harder deer meat, with plenty of "chaw" in
it, seemed nowise to have impaired. "Anybody but me mout go askew,
but I have known all these _tracks_ (he meant 'tracts,' for it was a
trackless wild, in plain truth), now an' agen, off an' on, for over
fifteen year."

"Pray overlook my offensive persistency, Oliver; but I cannot help
observing that I do not see any of the sites by which, according to my
informants at The Pass, I was to learn the exact position of a crossing
line in a treacherous stream. And I have been a sailor, too, and
accustomed to go any course, if I have reasonable bearings laid down
and visible."

"Oh, I never mind your being cornered, sir," went on the other, still
merry; "they forgot to tell you the distances in mapping out the pints.
You cannot see the Chinapa Peak even from here. But it's all one, Mr.
Gladsden; here is the point of the Yaqui. Yonder, I can see the smoke
of a _pueblo_--the village they call Fronteras, as they do half a dozen
such places within a crow's fly along the borderland. That reddish
haze is over the Río Bravo, whence we came. Now, to reach the road to
Arispe, you cross and you keep dead ahead, and you must strike it."

"Well, I must say, Oliver, that since I have had the pleasure of a
journey at your side, all your information has been as credible as
gospel. It is a long while since I was in the wilderness; but I did
have a taste of it once, and I am confident that on more than one
occasion already you have diverged from the apparently true course to
save me from something unpleasant. I conjecture my equipment, on which
I had no reason to spare money, excited the cupidity of some of the
loafers at El Paso, and that we were followed."

"Right you are! And I threw them out clean twice. And a couple of times
more, thar hev been injin 'signs' hot as cayenne. That's jest why I
say you had best git over the water now, rather than wait any longer,
though there will be less fear o' your hoss being carried off his
hoofs."

"Fifteen years ago, my friend," said Gladsden, who had not failed to
remark mentally, how little the speaker had dwelt on the cares he had
already exercised to preserve his charge from the "hostiles," white and
red, "I should have been so reckless as to say--since I should like our
having a parting meal together--let us sit here and eat away! But I
have no right to expose your life to peril, even if I had not two boys
at home for whom mine is still desirable. So, if you do not object, let
me show you that I have learnt prudence from your continual exercise of
it, and that our repast shall take place on the farther side of this
shallow, frothing, dirty-hued river."

"Nothing hinders me," answered the hunter. "Have things your own way.
Let us hie over before sundown."

He looked to the mustang's already terribly tight girths, shortening
the stirrup straps and caught up some of the trappings which dangled in
the Mexican style.

"Thar we 'do' the river," he said, pointing, "follow me step by step.
I ought to go before, but your saddleback is high, and you must triple
your blanket across your shoulders and neck, in case of a shot. If we
are fired on from the rear do not turn but fall flat on the horse's
neck. If we are fired on from your side, return the shot at anything
moving in the froth. If from my side, I'll deal with that. Leave your
hoss free to step in the steps of mine, for the crossing line is very
narrer, the bottom one mass of holes and quicksands, and the current
rushes like lightning where it does have free play; there is, moreover,
a gulf below with rapids that grind granite like chalk. The least
imprudence will send us, hoss and cavalyers, rolling along like Canady
thistle balls in a breeze. You hev your caution--no fooling, mark!"

All the hunter guide's mirthfulness had vanished, and the stern tone
made Mr. Gladsden start. We know he was incontestably brave, and that
he had gone through some such perils as now confronted him; but the
advance of civilisation in the southwest had given him an impression
that his former adventures were things of an irrecoverable past.

However, there was no time to meditate, for his guide had pushed his
horse into the water; and the other immediately followed it. They, too,
seemed imbued with consciousness of the situation being perilous, for,
though thirsty, they did not attempt to moisten their muzzles, albeit
the bridles, as Oliver directed, were slackened and the cruel Mexican
bits ceased their tyranny.

The passage was performed without accident, and soon the pair were on
the further bank in about the only break in a ragged, steep ledge.

"Hyar we kin stake out," said the guide, "and await moonrise for our
'forking off.' Meanwhile, that feast, if you still air set on it, sir."

They dismounted, the hunter went and drew water for the horses in an
india rubber saddle bag, whilst the Englishman lifted off a huge double
sack from the back of his saddle, which is called the _alforjas_, and
took out a deer ham and a plover already cooked, a piece of Dutch
cheese so hard as almost to turn the knife, some green fruit, bananas,
guavas, and chirimoyas which they had picked on the way to eat as a
kind of salad, and lastly, some army biscuit.

By the time the guide had completed his duties, the spread was laid.
A very sober man, as most of these borderers are except when they
'break out' and indulge in a week's heavy and uninterrupted drinking,
much as seamen of 'temperance ships' do after a rough voyage, Oliver
merely added as much brandy, of which they had a couple of flasks full,
as would settle the mud in the water freshly drawn. They both drew
knives as sharp as their appetites, and fell on the victuals without
losing breath in a further word in addition to a brief but feeling
grace which the Englishman uttered, and to which the American, whom
the innovation reminded of the same religious practice, vague from its
early occurrence in his life, said a hearty "Amen."

We take the moment, when this agreeable occupation rewards them both
for a long, fatiguing ride, to trace their portraits.

Gladsden had become a trifle portlier, and had lost his sunburns. He
was less quick to move, but more irresistible in action than ever. In
brief, the hussar was now a heavy cavalrist, whom even these few weeks
in the Southwest had improved in mind, wind, and limb. His sight was
dimmer, but he had no need of glasses to shoot well and straight.

His companion was a man apparently in the prime of life, but he must
have been twenty years older than the three decades which seemed, to
the casual observer, to sit so lightly on his broad shoulders. He was
rather tall than medium, and the absence of superfluous flesh, and the
unusual length of his limbs would make him look like a giant among the
small statured Mexicans and squat horse Indians, mostly bowlegged. His
neck was short and muscular, and, thus, his head had a small aspect,
like Hercules; the features were cold if not stern, and his cast of
countenance was devoid of muscular play, except when one of his merry
moods was on him. Vigour and rigour distinguished him on active duty.

Under a broad forehead, his somewhat deep set eyes, crowned with
bushy brows, were of a changeable nature, for, while almost blue when
he was calm, anger caused them to become dull brown, and they could
dart flashes like those of felines, they were very movable and were
continually examining things around, save when he was addressing
anyone, whereupon they were straight, frank, and steadfast. His long
brown hair, saturated with bear's grease--for your frontiersman has a
sneaking respect for the toilet--and hence almost black, streamed long
and freely out from beneath a homemade hat of mountain sheep wool and
covered his shoulders.

His two names denoted the extent of his ranging ground, for he was
generally known among his own race as "Oregon Ol.," and by the Indians
of the Mexican border as "the Ocelot," that being the wild cat of the
Mexicans (Ocelolt, in Aztec), a trifle less than the jaguar, but,
muscularly speaking, very powerful and no joke for ferocious courage.

In the same way as this well-known guide possessed several names, he
could boast various reputations. The United States Army officers wrote
him down as kindly, never downhearted in sun or snow, skilful, honest
to a button's worth, disinterested, knowing woodcraft thoroughly,
always ready, aye, even to help a friend out of pocket, canteen, or
with his wits, bold to temerity when boldness was the best card,
"reliable," and sticking to his man, friend or foe, to the last gasp.

For the redskins, Oliver was quite other game: he inspired
superstitious terror blended with admiration; no one ever succeeded in
contests of cunning with him; implacable towards anyone who sought to
injure or even annoy him, he would pursue the molester or molesters,
one or many, to their final hiding place, cutting off stragglers,
reducing the band like a man devouring a bunch of grapes, one by one,
and knifing the last at his lone campfire. "That will teach them,"
he would say, when reproached by new coming dragoon officers, at the
forts, who thought it unseemly for a white man to decorate his leggings
with human hair like the reds. He meant that his punishment was to
save, by its recital filling the Indians with dread, many another white
man on the debatable ground, brother hunter, comrade trapper, emigrant,
settler, pioneer, railway prospector.

We say "brother" hunter and "comrade" trapper, for Oregon Oliver only
_shot_ animals; to him, any other means of obtaining fur and feather
would have been ignoble.

Up to some five years back he had been in the habit of transmitting
money, acquired by the sale of peltries, by piloting wealthy foreigners
over the hunting grounds in fashion, and by schooling army officers
in frontier warfare, to some relation in the Eastern States, who had
succeeded his parents as the embodiment of the ideal of home; but death
having removed this claim, as he generously conceived it to be, upon
his purse, he had no need to toil as formerly he did, and he led an
easy life, following for the most part his own sweet free will, over
the ten thousand miles which separate Southern America from the Polar
Seas.

These two men, as opposite in nature and station as well could be, had
made acquaintance in the most natural manner.

Mr. Gladsden wanted a guide into Sonora, and the colonel at Fort
Fillmore, with whom he had been quail shooting, had recommended "the
champion guide."

Once on the road to Arispe, studded with hamlets, all of them, perhaps,
increased in importance since Gladsden's previous stay in Sonora, a
conductor was superfluous. At least he was under that impression.

Hunters never dally with a meal; a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes
at the most suffice, then, if there be more time to spare, there is a
chat amid tobacco smoke. Thus acted our two adventurers.

The rest of the provender was restored to the alforjas, and Oliver
filled a sweet corncob pipe, whilst Mr. Gladsden selected an excellent
regalia in a prettily carved Guayaquil wood box. As soon as they were
both under a cloud, they mused for a while in silence.

When the English gentleman broke this stillness, it was in the
heartiest tone of good fellowship. It was to pay a compliment again
upon the experienced guide and genial companion.

"All right," said the man from Oregon, "you are doing me justice: I hev
done my level best. As long as all turns out well, and you have no dirt
to cast on me, thar's no bone splinters in my meat."

"Oliver, you _are_ a thorough white man," went on Mr. Gladsden,
uttering the _acme_ of western flattery, "all but the liver, and I'd
eat that of the rogue I ever caught defaming you or your class!"

It was a savage way of putting it, which was not unfitting the scene.

"At home with a shoal of old servants about me, I would not lie down
with the confidence that I feel in the desert beside you."

"You are painting it on mighty thick," was the caustic answer,
"but you do not know enough of me to see that I am not any
meet-every-next-minute kind of critter. Young in years, I was then
aged by tussle and bustle. So, drop this flattery right thar which I
shed, like a wild duck the spray of a waterfall. I hev carried out my
engagement to a T, and that's all said and done."

"Stop a bit! I shall send you out some special present from England
yet, over and above the mere pay. You have a rough mind, mate," said
Mr. Gladsden, laughing.

"Not a jot, no! I am a plain man. It is all very well for you city
folks when somebody has done you a good turn to talk of shining
rewards, with the _idee_ that you thereby put him in a lariat to folly
you for the futur', but, how shu'd you! You are about wrong every time!
You foun' this coon pooty nigh sweeped out of existence, for when a
hunter has lost mules, fixin's, _and_ rifle, all through them durn'd
red thieves--Soo or Pawnee--he is an or'nary cuss on'y fit for the
Injin boys to switch. Then you begun operations by forcing on me this
harnsum shooting iron, which has made me take back all my ripping out
agen new fangled machinery in firearms. It's a 'stonisher!"--and he
patted the wondrous weapon affectionately. "Think o' that, a marvel in
_herself_, and an outfit in keeping to boot, and all gift-free! It's
lordly, that's what it is, though I don't pass out well in knowledge of
your lords an' sich. But I am off on a false trail. As I was sayin',
the man who swallers promises and who likes praise is a hireling help
and never a friend or _compadre_."

"But I take it, we do part friends as we have journeyed, eh?" asked Mr.
Gladsden, offering his hand with unhesitating trustfulness.

"You bet!" replied Oliver, grasping the hand so hastily that one could
see that he would not have given any pain by delay for the world. "You
were recommended to me by a gentleman whom I hold as of prime vally.
I hev seen the Colonel, when we were floundering in the snows of the
Sierrar, give up his rags and his last drink of coffee to a poor
mixed blood teamster! Why, I'd die for that man, and that man's dog
e'enamost! I am ready to die for you, as his friend. And that's why it
rode rough on me to have you want to break loose at the bank of this
river, and plunge alone into the yaller bellies' district. You mout as
well ask me to lead a blind man safe over forty rod of rough ground to
the brink of a precipice, and then let go his hand, a-saying: 'Now, let
her slide, old dark-y!"

"At all events, you have fully done your task. But why do you
again hint of danger? I give you my word that I have pricked up
my ears--which is more than our horses have done--and yet not the
slightest--"

"Go on talking, and louder," whispered Oliver, significantly.

The Englishman hardly understood, but he obeyed the sudden mysterious
injunction, whilst his interrupter continued with a vast relish to
puff at his pipe, of which the smoke ascended thickly, and at regular
periods. Gladsden listened, and stealthily gazed around, but to no
avail. He then glanced at the American, who preserved the same ease
of demeanour, and smoked as for a wager, his back to the stream, from
which a sound of the turbulent ripple arose; the tobacco glowed in the
pipe head, and dully illumined his brooding countenance. It struck
the observer, however, that Oliver's left hand was scarcely sensibly
lowering upon his rifle, which, of course, was near at his side.

Suddenly, with an action as rapid as thought, that weapon was picked
up and levelled at the shoulder upon a bush, very thick with foliage,
about a hundred and fifty paces afar, and instantly fired. There rose a
little smoke from the touchhole plate, but no shot resounded.

Instantly a dark-complexioned man in hunter's attire bounded out of the
shrub with a whoop of triumph, and pointed his gun at the couple in
camp. But before the Englishman could do anything, his safe conductor,
whose features assumed an expression of scornfulness, pulled the
trigger of the breechloader a second time, and the unfailing bullet
dashed into the brain of the stranger even as he was about to shoot.

All this passed in less time than it takes to write it.

Up went the man's hands, so that his gun fell just a little before he
measured his length on the ground, and curled himself up; no cry, no
second spasm; he was slain straightway.

"Thought hisself a smart Aleck, I reckon," remarked the hunter, with
continual contempt. "You'll crawl, sneak, and squirm no more."

"If your rifle had snapped again, you or I would have been keeled
over," remarked the Englishman.

"Great Scott!"[2] ejaculated the other, surprised, and laughing
heartily, though not aloud. "You ain't a-going to say you were took in,
too? Well, I never! It must a'been a 'tarnal choice dodge."

"What do you mean?"

"No great witchcraft. Look here! This man here's a half-breed--Apache
and Mexican, I judge. Well, he's been dogging us ever so long, mayhap
from The Pass. Anyhow, I thought he got over the water by the False
Ford, by the devil's luck, and, anyhow again, I see him lodge himself
right plum' centre in that bush. Cou'dn't _sight_ him thar no more nor
a fat dog in an Injin village. But I was fixed in the fact that thar he
lay, aiming at me or you. So, to fetch him out slick, I resarved some
'bacca smoke in my mouth, and when I clicked my nail on the breech, I
just let the smoke blow off's if it come out of the gun, d'ye see? Lor,
how the idiot was sucked in, I reckon! He riz up a-whooping his triumph
over the old Oregonian, a-thinking me without a load in! So I had a
right fa'r shot."

He went up to his victim and turned out his pockets, and transferred
his arms to his girdle.

"He's half Apache and half greaser, as I opined," he pronounced on
coming back. "So it would puzzle a Supreme Court lawyer to tell whether
he is scouting on account o' copper colour or yaller belly. Jest bit
the horses, sir. In either case we must file ahead, an' not let his
gang catch on to us. Thar's Tiger Cat and his Apaches on the war path,
I heerd, and Oneleg Pedrillo, the champion this-side rustler, never
smokes the pipe of peace. I am saying nothing, make your notch, of the
loafers who may have followed us, full of the prospect of a rich haul,
for I rally b'lieve thar's an impression at The Pass that you are an
English Prince of the blood r'yal examining the United States to see
how far South you want to annex it to Canada, though you ain't out with
a four-mule team."

Mr. Gladsden did not laugh at the rhodomontade, while preparing the
steeds.

The sight of the corpse, so lately a vigorous man springing out of
cover to take his life, had in one little instant made him comprehend
on what dangerous ground he groped his, perhaps, henceforth hourly
threatened way.



[1] Of the Paris weekly newspaper in which this romance had delighted
the insatiable reader.

[2] Gen. Winfield Scott, a hero of the War of 1812, and that with
Mexico, is an idol in the American Walhalla. His name becomes an
invocation only partially playfully used by the frontier army officers,
their men, and the hunters.



CHAPTER XVI.

A HAVEN WORSE THAN THE STORM.


What a difference between this rough country, where the earth was full
of pits as a prairie dogs' village, and that old European soil teeming
with hotels and inns, where the wealthy traveller could count upon a
smiling welcome.

Mr. Gladsden's surprise was tempered with awe. All his ideas were
perturbed. His notions of the true and false were upset. His education
turned against him, and the instinct of self-preservation made him
greet with joy all that he had acquired now of utility in that
adventurous passage in his life which he had begun to deplore, and
which he took the utmost care his growing sons should never know in
detail.

He congratulated himself on having been prompted not to neglect
physical experience in favour of the moral, and to fill his mind with
practical learning. Intelligence was an important factor, but it had to
be backed up by strength and skill to be a conqueror in the desert.

If ever he had felt the European aristocrat's conceit over the Western
Americans, he withdrew any injurious depreciation, for he saw clearly
that this New World belonged to the clear head and strong arm, and that
there was no more desirable comrade than this embodiment beside him of
the Great Republic, who had supplemented his inborn powers with the
savage's sharpness, strategy, and address.

In other days, he had lightly confronted similar perils from sheer
ignorance of their extent; but now, drawn back into the terrible
whirlpool from the metropolitan centre of refinement, he felt his
heart squeezed by a sudden weight; he was no longer sure of himself
as danger, hydra-headed, appeared under new, frightful and multiplied
forms.

It was in vain that he sought to recover the plenitude of his
judgment. Nothing but the extreme stubbornness which was his racial
characteristic, enabled him to master the strange emotions which he
experienced, but, if he had lacked for daring and impulse of pride not
to show the white feather before a man who he esteemed near enough
of his kin to constitute a judge, this determined him to impress
favourably at any cost.

While he was fortifying his will, Oliver had completed the preparations
for a flight, taking it for granted that his obligation was not
discharged till, this time, the English gentleman owned he was
perfectly safe.

They mounted, and gradually increasing the pace, went on for upwards of
three hours without exchanging one syllable or tightening the rein.

They kept the source stream of the Yaqui on the north, racing through
woodland where the guide eluded the branches with miraculous dexterity,
and selected "lanes" through which his companion could ride, with
lowered head and knees pressed in, without too much risk of an accident
like Absalom's.

About ten o'clock they came out on the plain, broken with isolated
wooded patches. The night was clear, warm and starry. The cold and
pale spring moon shed a saddening light, confusing the ground objects,
and impressing the prominences of the landscape with an aspect both
fantastic and solemn.

Soon there loomed up a definite form on the horizon. A light gleamed
and then glimmered in the midst of a thicket of tulipwood and
magnolias. Towards this beacon Oregon Ol. directed their way.

"We are running rusty," he said, "hyar we kin ile up."

Soon the chaparral began to "hedge" away on both sides, and a rather
large building gladdened the sight of the Englishman. Oliver showed no
tokens of being similarly charmed.

This edifice, built of mud bricks, sunbaked, and whitened with
limewash, was pierced with six mere loophole windows high up on the
front; it ranked midway between the ranch and the hacienda, that is,
the shanty and the grange house. Like all Mexican dwellings, it had a
broad verandah sustained by pillars before the doorway, and a sodded
flat roof in the Italian mode. All around it was a defiant wall in live
cactus.

Altogether, as the Englishman thought, a most agreeable and picturesque
habitation.

When the pair of horsemen were only a few strides away, the American
pulled in a little, and, bending towards his companion at his knee,
muttered:

"A regular whiskey hole I am taking you into, sir. But thar's no place
else whar we kin halt for rest. Don't show disgust or astonishment at
anything; let me have all 'the say,' and you kin lay high that we shell
sleep as peaceably in that air den as in the best railroad hotel on the
Great Pacific."

"The horses seem strong on their legs still. Why should we not press on
to that village of which I perceive the roofs on the skyline, shining
as if snow coated them? Is it not Fronteras?"

"Nothing of the sort! Fronteras is the other side of the water--that
streak of olive green with reddish shadow. That is no town, but a
village of no account, a cluster of peons' cabins around the farmhouse.
The sheep dogs would have to be beaten off from springing on our
horses, and the labourers don't like _hereticos_, anyhow. No, our
safety and comfort says: Camp down hyar."

"Nuther item: we have twice crossed a warm, broad trail of Apaches, I
calc'late, over a hundred strong, smelling like p'ison of war paint,
and I go into cover when thar air so heavy odds. Yes, this child do.
Yonder hacienda is called that of the _Ojo Agotado_, the exhausted
spring, or we plainsmen and mountain men say: 'the Gi'n-out.' We shall
not be received frien'ly thar. I say agen. Here, though, I can rely on
being taken in cheerily, for the host would have lost his ears only I
came along by the oak tree where he had been nailed up by them--little
friskiness on the part of the ragamuffin warriors of One-leg Pedrillo's
gang. Don't you fret; the Rancho Verde will house us, and you
pertickler, first-chop, as the Chinee says."

"I do not understand, but I am wholly in your hands."

"That's the best place to put yourself. You kin offer me a testimonial
in a gold frame hereafter."

They moved on once more at a good pace. As they approached their goal
the light of guidance seemed to spread out. Soon they could make out
that an immense glare flamed from the open portals as from a crater,
and they heard singing, whistling on war whistles, shouts, wild
laughter, all jumbled up with the shrill twang of a guitar, of which
the far from harmonious notes blended more or less satisfactorily with
the rumble of a tambourine.

"Having a jamboree," said the hunter, drawing rein at the blazing
doorway.

"Some unfort'nat' has lost his ducats. Uncle's swarming with robbers
tonight."

The ground was hard as flint, and the clatter of the horses' hoofs had
attracted to the mudsill (for the doorstep was embedded in the earth
of the floor) a stout knave of some forty years, with a sullen eye, a
ferocious mien, and cars as tattered as a fighting dog's. His peculiar
complexion, yellowish, and muddy, and oily hair, denoted him to be
no regular blooded white. This burly rogue, stiffly standing in the
entrance, eyed the strangers sullenly without speaking.

The American uttered the religious greeting customary among the
Mexicans, to which the regular counter speech was grumblingly accorded,
and, alighting, he subjoined:

"Well, _Tío Camote_ (Uncle Sweet-potato), _hosquillo_ as ever! Ay,
even more gloomy! But how much longer air you going to keep an old
companyero at the head of his nag? Don't you see with half an eye that
my pard. an' me have rattled along as if your granddad Old Horny was at
our hosses' tails, and that we want food and sleep as much as they do
to bury their muzzles in oats?"

"Why!" ejaculated the individual, who, by the rule of contrary which
pervades the popular idea of fun, had been nicknamed "_Sweet_ Potato,"
"Heaven forgive me, but, as true as I am a sinner, we have here Señor
Don Olivero. Just overlook my not having recognised your señory at the
first peep."

"So I will, Aluino,--so I will! Only get the animals into the stables
right smart."

"Like a shot, Señor," said the changed man with alacrity, and taking
both bridles with no more pride than a hostler.

"Half a minute, uncle," interposed the hunter, taking him by one of the
split cars playfully, and yet with significance. "I want you to keep in
mind, Potato of Sweetness," he continued, "that your brother trusts the
intire consarn to you,--cattle, harness, bags, and inn'ards,--the whole
consarn, you savey?"

"Yo sabe," was the reply, tranquilly made, but the half-breed made a
wry face which did not beautify its everyday expression.

"Now, that's talking. You know me right down to my boots. So, git you
gone, but don't go to sleep, for I have something to talk about."

"In ten minutes I shall be at your señorship's orders."

"Good boy, Uncle Al!"

The hotelkeeper went away grumbling louder and louder, with the horses
for the _corral_ (enclosure).

"Stick your pistols in your belt, and follow me. You air going to see
no end of a curious circus," resumed Oliver to his companion. "Keep
cool, and a little swagger does no harm. These here tough men and rough
men must think you no tenderfoot; I rayther guess they'll figger me up
first pop, as raised right hyar on the plantation."

"I hope you'll be content with me," returned Mr. Gladsden; "I have made
up my mind. I am not going to back out, but sail right over the bar,
whatever the quantity of broken glass."

He laughed quietly, and assumed the bearing which he believed he had
worn at the time he was clad in red flannel shirt and corduroy trousers
tucked into cowhide boots when up the country, not a thousand miles
from that spot, fifteen years before.

"That looks the ticket. I believe we are going to see some fun."

With that they entered the tavern with steady foot.

The uproar that hailed their entrance seemed louder than before.
Neither of them, however, was affected by the malevolent greeting, but
strode to a heavy table, hewn into shape with the broad axe, where they
installed themselves, and proceeded to take a disdainful survey of the
patrons of the drinking den. For their part they devoured the intruders
with most ravenous eyes.

A pen dipped in vitriol would not adequately describe this vile haunt
of all the scum of the border. The dozen guests were men of all mixed
castes and hues, with hangdog faces and in squalid rags. They were
sodden already with the coarse liquor. The muddy, smoky, ignoble room
was furnished with massive benches, stools, and tables, soaked with
blood and spilt beverages. The bar had two 'tenders, men as sturdy as
Camote himself, who carried pistols in hip pockets and long knives
in sheaths at the back of their necks, more as if they were besieged
behind the counter than anything else, so precious was the poison
they served out. Their patrons sang, shouted, yelled, quarrelled,
all through thick cigar smoke, played with greasy cards and yellowed
dice, whilst one resumed pulling at his _heaca's_ homemade strings.
The gamblers, however, pulled out handfuls of gold and silver from the
secret pouches in their bedraggled and tattered garments, worn from
choice of slovenliness.

The scene was illumined by several smoky wicks swimming like decaying
serpents in as foul green oil, in open lamps as antique in fashion as
those now and again dug up in Old Spain. Each man had his own bottle,
and the aguardiente, tepache, rum, and Californian wine, labelled
falsely "Catalonia," flowed so profusely that someone was gurgling at
them constantly.

Such was this palace of prairie pleasures.

The arrival of strangers had considerable effect. Far from benevolent
squints, we repeat, were directed upon them fixedly, while murmurs of
evil augury began to be heard. The objects of this growing ill feeling
replied by the most complete indifference to the provocations which
were more and more emphasized.

"Warm," remarked Oliver sententiously.

"We are in a hot box," rejoined Mr. Gladsden.

"Yes, I reckoned it would be a mixed lot, 'stead o' which, they are all
of a gang. All the _honest_ ruffians have been cleared out."

As Camote did not hasten in, Oliver rose, went up to the counter, threw
down a dollar, took up a bottle at hazard, spite of the nearer bar
'tender's scowls, and returned. He clapped it on the table, knocked
off the ring of glass round the mouth and its cork a-flying, with a
dexterous cut of the back of his knife, and poured out brimmers of
wine for himself and his friend in the pannikin which, like a gold
prospector, he always carried at his waist, and in the silver mounted
cup cover of Mr. Gladsden's brandy pistol.

"Here's to well-out-of-this!" he murmured in English.

"I concur," added Gladsden heartily, and they drank.

"The music is over. The dance is going to begin," said Oliver, putting
his tin cup up in place.

Indeed, the guitar, so noisy, was silenced. The player, a tall,
haggard, lengthened rascal, who seemed to have been once hanged and
pulled out by the feet, suspended the instrument carefully up on the
walls and advanced in a swaggering way towards the latest comers, his
hat outrageously cocked on one side, as much to cover a patch whence a
portion of the scalp had been removed as to look rakish, resting one
fist upon his bony, prominent hip, and the other hand on the steel hilt
of a very fine old rapier of enormous length. On gazing most closely
at Oliver, who happened to be the nearer to him, when he stopped in an
insolent attitude, he remarked the additional pistol and knife in his
belt acquired by right of conquest from the spy whom he had shot, and,
after a moment's hesitation, his colour coming again more deeply, he
cried, _ex abrupto_:

"Flames of purgatory! Gentlemen, I never knew of greater impudence than
for you to present yourselves, after having murdered my brother-in-arms
La Gallina."

"Caballero, what do you mean by that?" returned the American, as much
surprised as all the auditors by this denunciation.

"Do you think I do not recognise the Chicken heart's pistol of two
shots, by the handle nicked with cuts for the men he has slain? Was it
not mine first, and did we not exchange firearms when we became sworn
comrades in life to death?"

"Caballero," said the hunter again, with killing politeness, "I believe
I did shoot some skunk that came prowling round me at suppertime. But,
the fact is, I hate to be riled when I am eating, _or drinking,_ and
I'll put a bullet out of the same barrel into anyone who repeats the
annoyance. You hear me?"

"Shoot me!" cried the bandit in a furious voice, as he drew the long
blade. "A thousand demons."

"Yes, you! Right away too, you candidate for the gallows," rejoined the
hunter, rising.

"We'll see about that,--¡Caray!"

"I guess _you_ won't see much of it, though the principal body
consarned!"

Already the hunter had jumped forward to seize the fellow by the neck
and the sword belt; he raised the bag of bones as easily as if he had
been a toy balloon, and getting him "on the swing," by an irresistible
motion, forced him to fly twenty feet aloof.

"Excuse me not telling you, gentlemen, your friend was coming," he
remarked, sarcastically.

The bandit almost flattened against the doorpost, and fell senseless
just outside the opening, only his long arms within.

"Some folks air so dull, a man's obleeged to give them a warning,"
added the Oregonian, resuming his seat.

This feat had been executed so quickly that the spectators remained
motionless with amazement; but on their anger enlivening them they
sprang up, every man of them, and rushed towards the strangers with
drawn swords and knives, yelling for blood and death.

The very brutality and causelessness of this fresh attack made it the
more mortal and savage. These drunken vagrants were too much on their
guard against each other, and, besides, knew their own opponents'
abilities too well to fight among themselves, so that to fall upon
strangers was always deemed more profitable. It was not, therefore,
so much to avenge their fallen comrades as to obey the sanguinary
instincts which the rudely fabricated alcohol had inflamed, that they
renewed this charge. They cared very little whether Gallina or his
blood companion had been killed by the men before them, they fought
merely for the pleasure of bloodspilling. Such a conflict of twelve to
two was one of those merry byplays which varied the joys of debauchery,
and would afford them foundation for bragging at the refreshment bar
during the fandango. These men, moreover, being mongrels, hated the
pure whites inveterately, and to exterminate them would be an excessive
pleasure.

But as such barroom squabbles are common occurrences in the life of
a hunter, always incurred by him when he comes to the outposts of
civilisation, they did not daunt Oregon Oliver in the slightest degree.
The storm he had raised by the summary correction of the spoil-feast
did not make him blench. No more was his companion appalled. The
present peril had transformed the gentleman. His features beamed
with that glow of battle which irradiates the pages of Froissart when
he speaks of the English knights travelling as far as Spain to war
in fratricidal struggles which in no way really interested them. He
even smiled, and aided his associate with charming readiness in his
defensive preparations. These were neither long nor difficult to carry
out.

They merely overturned the solid table on its side, one end against
a cask, the other against the sidewall, their backs to the rear of
the den of thieves. Kneeling behind this barricade they were sure not
to be surrounded, had enough elbow play, and could await the issue
complacently enough. The banditti had barked their shins against the
table, and recoiled on being faced by the two men, shielded from the
knee to the chin, with flashing eyes between four revolver muzzles.
They consulted in an undertone for a few instants.

"They see the tables are turned indeed!" observed Mr. Gladsden.

Meanwhile the cause of this disturbance, the tall varlet, had scrambled
to his feet, clinging to the doorpost; he was bruised all along his
body by the shock, and he came in among his fellows limping, foaming
with pain and rage, and aching for revenge.

"You are pretty mates o' mine to shrink!" he sneered, "Afeard of a
couple of Yankees!"

"Who's afeard?" retorted the precious crew, pushing one another.

"It looks so," went on he, with a grin of pain. "You are ten to two,
and you plot and plan together when I, at least, pitched into them
alone. If this be not fear it is an extreme prudence, which is its
sister. Are you not bound to avenge La Gallina's death?"

"Yes, we are bound to avenge a comrade's death; but just count the
shots in those pepperboxes. It is not the question of our getting
killed, but of smashing those, our enemies. We're in a lump here, in
the open, and they are covered. I conjecture our order of battle is
very defective."

"Right he is," chorused the fellows of this orator.

"You are a flock of prairie hens! Haven't you firearms as well?"

"You won't see that they have those cursed repeating rifles also at
their backs! Besides, these Yanks have longer heads than us. Ah, if the
Captain were here! He knows all the tricks of the norteamericanos, and
can match their cards at any game."

"That's very true; but _El Manco_ (the Maimed) is not at hand. He is
not due yet. We must do our own work--so, have at them with what heart
ye may!"

"Oh, we're choking with our hearts, Valentacho; but we don't care to be
shot down like buffalo."

"Well, if it comes to that--if I must show you the lead again, here!
Lo! I lead; only, let's have you stick to me."

"Like wax! Lead on."

"It's understood?"

"Plain as the Creed!"

"Then forward! And death to the gabachos--curse them!" yelled the tall
rogue, waving his rapier as high as the ceiling would permit.

They all rushed forward with exceeding fury.

"Take heed!" muttered Oliver; "Two shots apiece, and fire low!"

Four shots of the revolvers stretched two Mexicans on the floor never
to rise again; another brace that had been "winged," removed themselves
out of the room altogether, probably to find the nearest surgeon. But
the fillip had been given to flagging spirits; the rogues were excited
by the pistols' flash and smoke. Their rage redoubled, and they fell
upon the edge of the oaken rampart and tried to chop down the two
whites within.

It was a horrible medley with the firearms spitting fire in all
directions, as hands were jostled and the eager ruffians interfered
with one another's movements.

Acting on Oliver's advice, the two besieged men wasted no more powder.
Their rampart was the higher by three or four dead bodies hanging,
bent in the middle, over the edge, and, standing up now, they met the
contestants' machetes with their scarcely less long hunting knives.

The robbers fairly howled with impotent rage, having never met such a
provoking resistance. Valentacho was the most persistent of any. He
clung to the table with one hand, trying to pull it over on its top,
snarling like a wild animal, and showering blows of the cutlass on the
foe too active to receive one of them save on their own blades.

"See here!" cried Oliver, "You that's so n'isy! Wasn't that first
lesson good enough? Don't you know I'm keeping school here? Yes, Oregon
Ol. is the schoolmaster right down hyar in Sonora, and it looks like
I'll have to send you home on one e-tarnal holiday!"

The bandit ceased to yell, and, leaning forward, managed to clutch
the _frazada_ (blanket) of the speaker, which he had rolled round his
left arm, _more Hispanico_, and drew him towards him, in order that he
might, shortening his sword, stab him through and through.

"You are a liar, dog!" said he, fiercely, through his gritting teeth;
"'Tis you who are about to die!"

With an upward sweep of his right hand, in which he had reversed his
revolver and seized it by the barrel, Oliver dashed the coming rapier
aside, and, with a downward blow of the pistol thus converted into a
hammer, he visited the Mexican's skull so violently with a concussion
to the brain that the outlaw let go the grasp on the blanket and of his
sword, and fell back among his comrades without even a groan. No ox
could have been felled more swiftly.

The defeated and horrified rabble melted away in disorder. They had
had their dose. They would have been only too glad to leave the scene
of combat, but for shame's sake, and the dread of their captain not
finding them at this tryst.

Oliver kicked away the cask which had prevented a flank attack, stepped
clear from the corpses and his defences, and quietly going up to the
bar, behind which the keepers had tranquilly watched as much of the
action as the smoke permitted, he said:

"Another bottle! As for you _gentecilla_, clear away your dead, and sit
you down and clear up your glasses, too. If any man goes out without
finishing his liquor to my health, I'll not leave a mouth on him if a
rifle be any utility in my claws."

The cowed mob obeyed the double order grudgingly but faithfully.
The smoke was wafted out and up the hole in the roof, which was the
chimney, and a little order reigned in the barroom. But still the
landlord did not believe it healthy to make his appearance, though his
place was surely here. The two visitors took their seats at another
table, almost in the midst of the prairie depredators, but no one
interrupted their conversation this time, and the other customers,
without conferring with one another, soon glided out of the Rancho
Verde, and finally all had disappeared.

"We've a clean ship, Oliver," said Mr. Gladsden; "our merry associates
have vacated this hall of rosy light."

"We kin histe in our nightcaps, then," replied the guide. "With such
a gap made in One-leg's band, always provided it is his cuadrilla,
we need not fear they will come in the night to serenade us. By the
way, that endless fellow has left his guitar. Shall I play something
skippy?"

"You can play what you please," returned the Englishman. "Only I vote
for a dance tune. It is my belief that we shall not want for dancers."

Indeed, there was a clatter of horses' hoofs, without.

"Correct you air, Injin!" said Oliver, lending his ear interestedly.
"Put fresh cartridges in! There seems an agreement by all hands that we
shall not be let sleep in peace this night!"



CHAPTER XVII.

THE PUREST OF PEARLS.


By the noise of the cavalcade it could be calculated to be numerous.

Uncle Sweet Potato, who had so completely kept to himself whilst the
scuffle had lasted, now appeared suddenly at the ranch door, with the
alacrity of a man close to whose rear a red-hot branding iron was being
approached. At the same time, the riders stopped their horses there.

Tío Camote had closed the thick door smartly, and held a colloquy
through a small wicket in its centre, in a language which was not known
to Mr. Gladsden. On the other hand, Oliver had started as the dialogue
progressed, and bending towards his companion, said in his ear:

"Indians! Hostile Indians, Apaches!--_Mimbres_ Apaches!" he concluded,
as the speech revealed more and more particularities. "All men--they
are 'bad'--I can smell they are charcoal'd--blackened for war! I tell
'er what, mighty slim chance but in strategem agen sich a powerful
squad to whop. That's the voice of an old acquaintance--big chief--ah,
he's head chief now! We hev swapped hosses, an' we've exchanged shots,
but never draw'd blood, an' we may be considered neutrals on Spanish
territory, but all the same, be on your guard. That fool is too much
afeard on 'em not to let 'em in. Our hosses are not worth a red cent's
purchase apiece, wuss luck! Those 'Paches are as fond of hoss flesh as
a Spanish gal of peanut candy. Still, if in a wuss squeeze than afore,
you reckon on me pulling you out clean."

"I am puzzled again. Is the Indian a friend or foe?"

"Both or neither. But, lor', in the wildest parts, I have gone to
sleep with my heels to the same fire as my deadliest enemy, and woke
up--well, I still live. It's 'cordin' to sarkimstances; and this here
is a pertickler sarkimstance--crammed with liveliness to the lid, like
a tin o' them Italian sprats."

"Serious! Worse than before."

"Jess so. But don't show any surprise; keep _your_ tongue out of the
tongue fire, and don't gainsay me in any way."

"I'm your puppet again."

"You'll not repent it."

"I am convinced of that."

"Hush, right thar! He's going to let them in. And they're big fool
Injin enough to git off their hosses, wharon they'm as easy of movement
as an eagle, and come down to common ground, whar they waddle like
geese. These hoss Ingins are no beauties, seen so, hobbling up to a bar
in a doggery, but they air fond o'white man's pison, and no two ways
about that."

Indeed, Camote, who probably was not insured and preferred running the
risk of being butchered in his house to being certainly baked when
it should be fired over his head for his resistance to the command
to open, bowed in the chiefs of the new customers' party, and their
bodyguard.

These six or eight red men silently placed themselves on the floor
by one of the tables in a squatting position near the door, pulled
out every man a tomahawk pipe which they filled with _morrichee_, or
sacred tobacco, which proved that they were members of an upper class,
past masters in the council lodges, lit up and set to smoking, without
any observations, though the pools of blood, and the shattered and
bullet perforated furniture, revealed that there had recently been a
disturbance there. They even betrayed no token of having perceived the
two other persons at their table, and the men behind the bar, who were
exchanging dubious, uneasy glances, whilst they felt gooseflesh under
their scalp.

But the American knew that a secret, quick glance had "counted" them,
for he whispered:

"We're reckoned up, and they don't stomach _our_ looks. Tell 'ee, sir,
they don't like close shooting and tough chawing."

After a few moments, one of the Indians smote the table with his
hatchet pipe. Tío Camote ran over to the spot, with the most obsequious
of hotelkeepers' smiles on his lips.

"Heap big drink!"

"Mezcal!" uttered the savages.

"Sí, sí, sí, Señor Camicho" (for _cacique_, Aztec for chieftain), was
the celeritous answer, as the ranchero hastened to set half a dozen
bottles of spirit and some horn cups on the bench, to be nearer their
reach than the table, before them.

They filled up and drank with a gusto that proved they had overcome the
counsels of their wise men not to let the firewater be their tempter.
They resumed smoking and the puffs crossed one another in the dreariest
silence. Yet this silence was more appalling than the riot of the late
brawlers in the Green Ranch.

These Apache chiefs were attired much like their leader and resembled
him in build, being picked warriors, or rather, more probably, chiefs
who had attained rank for fighting and marauding alone. They were
large men for Apaches, and but for their legs being bowed by life on
horseback from boyhood up, would have overtopped six feet. They were
well built too, and their features not ignoble, though rapacity moulded
the prominent traits, as well as could be ascertained beneath the
streaks of grey, blue, yellow and red plastered on in accordance with
laws or convention, in what space was left by a prodigious smearing
with the war colour in preeminence, black. As there were no signs of
mourning, they had so far been perfectly successful in their incursion
into Sonora, and had not lost a man. Their large dark eyes, deep and
gloomy, sparkled now and anon with cunning.

Taking one as an example, he wore his hair gathered up so as to form
a kind of pad on the top of his head, a very good idea for defence;
some pendent plaits were not his own hair and had buffalo hair twined
in them, too; to each was hung at the end some little charm, pebble
fangs, precious stone in the rough, gold or silver nugget, and so on.
A long line of eagle and vulture feathers, varied in hue, possibly
dyed, stood up on his head and out from him right down his back, whence
the line flowed free quite to his neck. Through the actual topknot,
a long eagle feather, in special signification of commandership, was
stuck slantingly. This one in particular whom we are depicting, had
mounted a pair of buffalo horns adorned with ribbons and human hair,
very fair or bleached, not unlike the headgear of the ancient Britons.
Being out on the warpath, he had laid aside collar of claws, porcupine
quills and teeth, and bracelets, so that the war jacket of deerskin,
beautifully dressed, gathered in at the waist by a simple thong, looked
plain indeed. His buckskin breeches were ornamented with embroidery,
and his stockings of American make were decorated similarly by the
patient squaws. His moccasins were bright with beadwork and quite clear
of entanglement, though it seemed otherwise, from the artfully arranged
knee knot of dangling feathers and animal tails.

For weapons they had the tomahawk pipe of bronze, and scalping knife,
one or two bows and arrows, the lustre of the black strings showing
human hair was twisted in them as a trophy; the guns were not very
good, being cast-off army pieces, for which they had powder horns and
bullet bags, quite old fashioned. Their spears were left without;
they had rawhide whips hanging by a loop to the wrist, and ornamented
usefully with a war whistle for the issue of commands, more clearly
sounded and distantly heard than by voice, a system known among the
Southern Indians from time out of mind though only of recent years
adopted by European armies.

Strange and picturesque to the Englishman, though their odour of smoke
and rancid grease and horses would have been less unendurable in the
open air, Gladsden owned that they were manly fellows enough who
inspired reasonable respect and almost consideration.

Unfortunately for appearances, whatever their nation may have been
in ancient days, now these Apaches are about the most plundering,
murderous, ferocious rovers of the Southwest, especially hating all the
whites. Liars and thieves, they are a scourge who must be crushed out
by the civilisation to which they will not truly bow the knee.

Whilst these unpleasant guests smoked and drank, our friends pretended
to doze. Camote would have liked to have shut up shop; but he was
not the man, with only two assistants, to undertake to clear out the
horde before he retired to his virtuous pillow. The mere prospective
of a wrangle with these ugly customers made his hair imprudently rise
like a cockatoo's crest. He sat up on his counter, with dangling legs
that swung in concord with his agitation, with folded arms to look
undaunted, but not losing sight of the reds. He smoked cigarette after
cigarette, and gulped large draughts of _pulque_ by way of consolation
and to nourish his patience.

Meanwhile the night advanced; the stars were paling away in the
celestial depths, and the moon "downing." It was nearly three in the
morning, and yet the humbler Indians and the numerous horses without
hardly betrayed their proximity by a sound. For upwards of three hours
the Apaches had gone on smoking and imbibing without their hard heads
giving way or any tongue being loosened.

All of a sudden the chief, who wore the odd diadem of horns, shook the
ashes out of his pipe on his left thumbnail, and spoke in a loud enough
voice, though he still stared into vacancy. At the words, the American
ranger started slightly, opened his eyes fully, and in a measure made a
nod of courtesy.

"My brother the Ocelot," said the chief, "seems to be pretty much worn
out to sleep so soundly. Were his eyes not sealed with sleep, he must
have taken notice that a friend has come into the lodge of the 'Spanish
Dog,' and has seated himself not far from the Hunter of the North,
along with several braves of his grand nation."

"Resting the sight ain't sleeping, not by a long heap! No, Tiger Cat,
the Ocelot never owns on to being wore out, I opine. If the Ocelot
wa'n't staring at the chiefs, 'tis jest 'cause he has seen 'em, most on
'em, afore now, ginerally when thar was smoke in the air, blood drops
as plenty as rain up North, and ha'r in rich plenty--you could stuff a
buffalo hide plump out. The Ocelot knows his place in this part of the
kentry--he don't shove his claws into no chief's mush and milk. He sort
o' keeps low till a question aimed at him, hits him fa'r and squar';
that's the kind of ginuine Ocelot, this Ocelot air."

"_Wagh!_ The hunter speaks well," remarked the Apache, wagging his
head with apparent satisfaction, "there's no split in his tongue.
_Bueno_--good!"

"No, _sir!_ 'Tis a straight, whole, single tongue."

"The Wacondah has opened a slit in his bosom for the smoke of his heart
to steal forth pure. His sayings fall sweet and soft on the ear of the
Mimbres Apaches, for they are the words of a friend. Let the Ocelot
talk on. It is so long since the Mimbres heard the music of his voice
that the papoose that was at the back of the squaw now stands alone,
so high,"--making an imaginary line in the air with a wave of the pipe
hatchet,--"and plays at shooting with bow and arrow at the dogs. But
his whole heart has not sprung forward to shake hands with his brother.
His face is carved out of white flint. Is there no smile? Is he not
glad to see the best warriors on the Apache roving ground? Is he not
surprised to see them here?"

"Considering, chief," returned Oregon O., nudging with his knee that
of the Englishman under the table, quite imperceptibly, "considering
the Ocelot knew the Apaches were 'warm' round here, and that a call
was down in the programme of the dance, the Ocelot has no grounds for
opening his eyes any wider."

"U-wagh!" ejaculated the chief, evincing some astonishment himself,
"The Apache chiefs were expected by the great pale hunter?"

"They jess was," answered the other laconcially.

"Arrrh!" sighed the Indian with pretended awe and an insinuating smile.
"The hunter has met _the Book medicine men_ (preachers, missionaries)
in the land of the beaver and white bear--he has been initiated into
their lodge--he has a heap big medicine, he knows everything."

"The chief is making merry, he is no longer straight with his friend.
Whether I carry good or bad medicine, it don't help me much in this
nick, as my brother ought to know."

"The Tiger Cat has been 'playing--,' with the Spaniards!" said the
Apache, with an emphasis on the English word he used, which caused
the hotelkeeper to shrink, "And a cloud has settled on his mind. He
cannot make out what the white hunter is driving at. He looks. He see
_Nada_--nothing."

"If one of them stirs a finger towards me, shoot into the mass,"
whispered Oliver, rising leisurely, to his comrade.

He left the table, and strode up to the Indians, among whom he stopped,
his back to the edge of the table they disdained, leaning on his rifle,
of which the beauty and value (for a breechloader is a miracle to their
eyes) made their nervous tongues lick their thin upper lip and thick
lower one like a snake when the game is presented.

"See here, chief," said he, "the Ocelot has hearing as fine as they
make 'em, and the faintest sounds tell their story in his ear. Did I
not know you and your cavalyada were down to'rds the Smoking Mountain,
and have I not heard the amble of those mules out thar, a-toting a
litter between them? In that litter is a white woman. I'm atter her,
for her family's sake--what's the price of the captive?"

The Indians exchanged a look of amazement, but they were not
disconcerted. Indeed, Tiger Cat answered without wincing:

"Who can make (dead) meat of the white hunter? Beside the Ocelot, the
Tiger Cat is a prairie cricket."

"Speak out plain, then, chief. If you have the woman along with you,
guarded by your _soldiers_ (the young warriors) so carefully, it is to
claim much price. What's the figure?"

"The Ocelot has all the wit of the palefaces, all the cunning of the
red men. The Tiger Cat does not debate. He has a captive of worth--ay,
'the purest of pearl' is worth her weight in dressed buffalo robes.
But the prize is his. Why should the Ocelot hunger for the prey of the
Tiger Cat?"

"You'll jess let me back out about now, chief," said Oregon Oliver,
negligently. "If we cannot trade, we'll take the back paths apart from
one another, and no bad blood."

He half turned as if to go away, but not without a glance of sympathy
in bitterness at the certainly strange palanquin, draped with Navajo
waterproof blankets, suspended elastically between two mules, now
visible to him without.

But the wily redskin was evidently perplexed. The guides who have
intimate relations with the United States army always are looked upon
peculiarly by the Indians who have been thrashed by the blue cape
coats. He detained the hunter by gently plucking at his blanket.

"The Ocelot bounds away too quickly," he observed, as if offended. "Has
anger flamed up between us brothers?"

"Ne'er a flame," replied the other, who was far from seeking a quarrel
just then and there, with such overpowering odds in his disfavour, "but
when we can't trade, let's sleep on it; we'll see it sure 'nuff, how
the _dicker_ promises."

"The white hunter has a stranger friend with him," remarked the Apache,
with the abrupt change of conversation which is natural to men of no
great conversational powers, and perhaps to let his interlocutor see
that the previous subject was exhausted; "he is no hunter; I daresay he
is a chief of many gold buttons."

He alluded to the quantity of eagle buttons which adorn the uniform of
the United States officers, who, of course, dress up as if for parade,
in "talks" with the savages.

"You are out thar', chief; he is no friend of mine, no military
ossifer; only some traveller coming over the mountains to get into
Greaser land."

"And you are his guide?"

"Who says so?"

"The Tiger Cat's eyes are sharp; he sees what goes on over the prairie
and plains. Did not the hunter's ten-shoot gun (he could express only
so many units by twice throwing up his extended hand) speak, and some
mixed blooded dog bite the river bank?"

"It is so! I struck a _coup_ (French Canadian hunter word for a stroke
of war, a blow). It's nothing to crow over; it's nothing to _cache_.
When a mosquito stings, you slap, don't you? Same when a mestizo buzzes
close; you can have his topknot as much as you like. But why," added
he, repeating the other's phrase, "why does the Tiger Cat hanker after
the Ocelot's dead?"

"The Tiger Cat kills his own game. What he says, he says to let the
paleface hunter see that he has eyes upon the land and the river. Now,"
he concluded, releasing the flap of the blanket, "my brother can go,
and sleep, if he be ready to drop."

Oliver went back to his seat, carelessly enough to all appearances.

"What's that about a woman," inquired Mr. Gladsden, eagerly in a low
voice.

"A guess of mine that hit to the centre spot. Those red devils have
something in a hoss-barrow of which they are taking pertickler care,
and they wouldn't show her up here, so I guessed it war a captive.
Now, the captive they spare and tender 'so fash' (fashion), you bet
yer life, she's something first quality and all the hair on. Besides,
you hear him call her 'La Perla Purísima,' and that's the name you
don't hear every Spanish gal wear. Though, I will say this for them,
that where I durn a Mexican man half a hundred times for bad gifts, I
bless a Mexican female critter once at least. The one's a tough knot,
not wuth the burning, and won't make saddletree, picket peg, or good
arrow-wood, but the gals, most offen, is good stuff, and I'm a-telling
you."

"A captive, a young girl, fair, pure; oh heaven! In the power of these
demons!" groaned Gladsden.

"Don't shake the table! I've done all my uttermost: I made him think
her family are already on her trail, that she's worth a huge ransom.
If they've protected her so far, by the biggest of marvels in my
'sperience, why not a little longer; tell we kin git clar of this
infarnal 'tanglement, and can swoop on 'em at our advantage? Daring
is a prime hoss to mount, to show off afore the crowd in front of the
hotel, but give me patience when I've got to hunt the red scalpers.
Patience, sir! We've got fifteen shots to spare in each of our
Winchesters, and the extra one in afore them; to say nothing of our
five-shooters. Oh," he added, with a bitter and contemptuous look at
the Mexicans, "if there was only enough manhood for one in them three,
durn their greasy pelts!"

Unfortunately, granting that they overcame the Apache headmen within
the four brick walls, there were many without who could set fire to the
ranch and consume them like toads in a forest conflagration, while they
would be as far from rescuing the invisible captive as ever.

All fell into silence again, save that the three Mexicans, nestling
towards one another, ventured to converse in an undertone. The Apaches
continued to imbibe and smoke their gleaming hatchet calumets. This
dreary and onerous situation lasted for all of an hour after the
hunter's parley with the red men, till they had finished their liquor
and let their pipes die out.

The pale dawning light not merely appeared outside, but began to change
the colour of the glow from the nearly exhausted lamps. At the same
time the fresh morning air began battling with the fumes of spirits and
tobacco.

Suddenly the similarly silent Indians on the exterior awoke. There
were cautious signals exchanged; the horses, too, participated in the
growing agitation, and shifted uneasily.

Two Apaches appeared at the doorway and gave an alarm to the chiefs,
who had pricked up their cars, but only then deigned to rise at full
length. They spoke together. All but two left the house, and almost
instantly a figure draped in blankets was dragged over the sill.
Flinging off the hands clutching her wrists with an indignant outburst
which made the wraps to fall, the white men and the Mexicans beheld a
graceful apparition unveiled.

It was quite a young girl for age, but being precocious, like all
tropical creatures, a woman in development, she looked only too lovely
in such a miserably unfit scene, fragile yet exuberant, with fine, tiny
hands and feet, and narrow waist, black eyes, fair creamy skin and
carnation lips; her very step seemed not to press the ground. In her
ears and around her neck were pearls of unwonted dimensions; but it was
evidently her character and her beauty which had won her the title of
"La Perla Purísima."

At the same moment a distant fusillade was audible.

"Follow, and do as I do!" shouted Oliver, taking his decision with that
swiftness of the prairie expert, which is, perhaps, the predominant
trait that most bewilders the savages, trained to do no act without the
warrant of magical manifestations.

With all possible speed he flung himself forward and dashed the
Indian to the right of him as far aloof as the walls, at the same
time throwing his left arm in a backhanded way around the Mexican
señorita's waist so that, in drawing her forward, she was immediately
pushed behind him.

Gladsden--on whom the sight of the lovely girl had had a profound
effect--had also sprung forward, and not exactly imitating the
hunter, pushed with his gun muzzle at a second Apache, and, whether
intentionally or not, firing at the same instant, a hole was actually
blown through the wretch, who leaped up in the air convulsively and
so received a terrible cut of the hatchet of Tiger Cat, aimed at his
slayer.

"You've made your _coo'!_ Now kick the rest of them right clean out!"
roared Oliver, stooping to avoid a pistol shot, and, in rising with
a heavy stool in his hand, breaking the collarbone of the man who
had shot. "Now thar, Caballeros of the bluest blood," he shouted
derisively, "do something, only do something, if you want to sleep
another night in your hide!"

But already the two remaining Apaches had recoiled into the doorway,
encumbered with the dead body of their brother whose scalp they wished
to save, and Tiger Cat alone really confronted the whites.

This seeing, Tío Camote broke the spell of terror that had converted
him into a mere statue on his counter, and snatching a cutlass from
between two casks, smacked the boards with it to make an encouraging
noise, calling out to his aids:

"Upon them, and second those valorous foreigners!"

Tiger Cat, enraged at the captive being so swiftly snatched out of
his power, levelled a gun at the poor frightened thing over Oliver's
shoulder. But already Gladsden had the Apache on the flank, and being
too near him to use his rifle as a club, shifted it into his left hand,
and dealt the redskin a terrible fisticuff. Staggered at this unusual
blow from a weapon not in Indian war practice, the chief reeled and
fell into the embrace of the white hunter.

"Whoopee," he cried, "I hev the varmint in my hug. Shut the door, you
dog-goned greasers, and pile every mortal thing agen it!"

He hugged the chief so tightly that his breastbone cracked, and his
arms, pinioned to his side, were numbed to the very finger, so that he
let the smoking gun drop.

"Just pick his we'pins out of his girdle, and mind that pison hatchet
pipe, the least scratch means death!" said the ranger.

The Mexicans, inspired by this successful skirmish, had banged the
solid door to, and added a table and three full barrels to its
fastenings.

"Pooty!" exclaimed the man from Oregon at last drawing breath. "Let me
have a yard or two of leather rope, d'ye hyar?" raising his voice, as
there was a rising din without and a chopping on the door.

Presently the chief was securely bound and flung down on the ground
where he was attached to the ring of a trapdoor leading to a small wine
vault, or rather cave into which, to presume from the air of them, the
three Mexicans would have liked to creep.

The external noise ceased. There were but two or three sharp whistles
of command, and a gentle creeping away of the troop, as it were.

"Some enemy of theirs exchanged shots with their pickets," interpreted
Oliver, "and as he is in force and resolutely coming on, they have gone
into 'cover.' If they are the pirates of the prairie, we are no better
off than before, but we are 'all hunk,' quite safe, _sereno_, missee,"
he said, turning kindly to the young girl, "if they are Mexican
soldiers or your friends."

She had joined her hands fervently; then, at the mention of friends,
more clearly comprehending her comparative safety, she uttered her
thanks in a torrent of eloquence, and the sweetest voice in the
world. All the time of her speaking, stray shots punctuated her flow
of gratitude, so to say. Undoubtedly Oliver was right; some foes of
the Apaches were giving them quite enough occupation to prevent them
attempting to learn the fate even of their principal chief.

"Yes, they are my friends, my father, too, oh, I am sure my father
is at the head of them!" cried the young girl, forgetting all her
captivity, and its ignominies in her revulsion to joy. "Open the door
to them."

"Stop! Nothing of the sort," interposed the hunter, peremptorily.
"Those are not the old muskets of peons, nor the captured French rifles
of the Mexican soldiery. Bide! Bide and we shall bimeby sec about
welcoming our deliverers."

And whilst Gladsden sought to console the little beauty whose face had
become gloomy again, the hunter began to scold the Mexicans for their
cowardice.

"But," observed Gladsden, more and more perplexed as he examined the
young lady, "La Perla Purísima, while very charming, is not a name.
Pray who are you, Señorita?"

"But," said she with a pout, "La Perla is my name, the truth, whilst
Purísima is the flattery. I was christened La Perla from the main
incident in my father's early life--"

"Indeed, indeed! And your father?"

"You are, insooth, a stranger, Señor, not to recognise the daughter of
the very richest hacendero and proprietor in all Upper Sonora. I am,
Señor, Perla Dolores de Bustamente y Miranda!"

"Dolores!" roared our Englishman, with the delightful leap of the
puzzled brain when a solution is afforded. "Why I knew you all along by
the likeness to your mother!"

And enfolding her in his arms he gave her an affectionate embrace,
only a little less painful than that which had rendered the Tiger Cat
_hors de combat_, and kissed her on both cheeks, whilst to her further
astonishment, tears streamed from his eyes.

"Dolores! My dear little girl," continued Mr. Gladsden, when he could
speak tolerably calmly, "Did you never hear your father and mother
mention an Englishman? But there, I am sure they put my name into your
prayers, when you were yet in your cradle!"

"The Englishman! Oh, the English caballero!" cried the daughter of the
pearl fisher, clapping her hands together in enthusiastic glee. "Yes,
don Jorge Federico."

"George, it is! How trippingly my name comes off your honey tongue."

"That is easily accounted for, Señor, as it is my brother's."

"What! You have a brother! And they named their boy after me! Well,
upon my soul! Here, you Oliver, if you don't take back your general
denunciation of the Mexican race, we are no longer friends. At least,
gratitude is not so ephemeral among them. So, don Benito never has
forgotten his old comrade?"

The young lady touched the pearls in her ear and at her neck
significantly to imply that the story of the filibuster's treasure was
one familiar to her.

"You are one of our saints, Señor?"

"Sit down, on my knee! Heaven bless you; I have children of my own,
too! And tell me all about your home, your excellent parents, and your
good, brave, handsome brother. I'll wager a fortune he is brave and
handsome."

"Hush!" interrupted the hunter. "Draw the girl out of a line with that
wicket in the door. Someone has ridden right up to it, jingling with
we'pins. More war talk!"



CHAPTER XVIII.

OUT AND AWAY.


At this same instant a bang on the oak from a large pistol butt--so
high up that it revealed it was held in the hand of a giant or a man on
horseback, who had his reasons for not dismounting--fairly shook the
massive door.

"Landlord, go challenge the newcomer," said Oliver.

Tío Camote, however reluctant, was forced to obey. A second blow
quickened his step, and he even smiled as if the peculiarity of its
stroke were a well-known signal. He, therefore, opened the trap pretty
trustfully.

A long hooknose, scarred in the middle, and a pair of gleaming eyes in
a rather bloated face appeared at the little square hole.

"It is I, the captain," said a harsh voice with a shrill twang,
testily. "We have brushed the brown skins afar, and we want
refreshment."

"The captain," cried Sweet Potato, falling back.

"Well," said Oliver, "who's the captain?"

"Pedrillo! El Manco!" breathed the innkeeper, in awe.

"Speak up, you ass!"

"Captain Pedrillo el Manco," repeated the bar tender.

"Oh, One-leg Pete," said the hunter, with as much scorn as they
displayed apprehension and respect. "Don't let me see e'en a one of ye
touch that door."

He turned to Gladsden and the young Mexican, who was pale again, but
courageous.

"You hev seen that the 'Paches even kin spare a young woman of beauty
when their greed is keen. But, I tell 'ee, sir, I would rather all was
back where we began to play the game, and yon helpless redskin up in
arms afore us, than have this poor lady in the power of that villain
who waits without, and is likely to wait till doomsday before I let
him in. He's cruel, merciless, wuss than a Digger Injin, and words can
paint no blacker! But he is a fool! He thinks he and his herd have
driven away the Poison Hatchets when their first chief is here! If the
Injin will forgive this humiliation, which I doubt, hang me but I'll
cut his thongs, set him on his feet agen, and we'll charge this scum of
the brimstone pot between us and the Apaches."

"First, let those greasers know that if they breathe a signal to their
kindred thieves, you will silence the spokesman forever."

"One moment," said Gladsden. "This captain with the seared hooknose?
Tell me more of him. In the same way that this young lady's face called
up the figures of the past most sweet in my memory, that peculiar phiz
reminded me of the most disagreeable scoundrel I ever came athwart the
foot of. What's he like?"

"A hardened man-devil. He lost a leg, so that he always sticks in the
saddle."

"A leg gone! How, how?"

"Chawed off by an alligator in some Texan _bieyoo_ (bayou), so they
give out."

"I have it! It is an old acquaintance! Only, he lost his leg by a shark
bite, I presume."

"All's one. Well, if you ever knew him, then you knew the biggest
scamp unhung! And now keep those cowards silent. If we do not answer
the bandit, he will think Camote was pushed forward as a decoy by some
Apaches within hyar, and will be dumfounded."

After a pause the knocking at the door of the ranch was resumed, but as
in one of the pauses, the angry solicitor of admission heard the "hee,
hee, ha, yah," of an Indian song, due to the imitative skill of Oregon
Oliver, he withdrew.

Taking advantage of this lull in the attack on the portals, the hunter
went back to the prostrate Indian chief, who had been chewing a bitter
cud, and squatted down on his hams in the Indian mode, at his head.

"Now, then, Cat, what have you got on your notched stick (record) to
tell off?"

The Apache looked up out of his indifferent and impassible demeanour.

"The white ranger is a great chief," said he. "Not many would have
snatched the pearl from among the head chiefs of the Poison Hatchets,
whose slightest blow is death. I say, he is a warrior. He has come to
hear me sing my death song; not to gabble to him like an old squaw. I
am ready to begin."

"Partly you're correct, chief. I am not come to chatter like the
mockingbird. But I prefer hearing your song of triumph to that of death
and mourning. Have you heard the voice of the wolf-with-the-leg-off at
the door of this mud lodge? Do you not know the voice of that dog, the
captain of Salteadores?"

"Yes, the Tiger Cat has killed many of the foxes that follow that
_ladrón_ (thief), by walking upon them!" answered the Apache
disdainfully.

"To the point, then. If I free you hand and foot, will you lend us your
hand to help us shake the ground clear of these varmint? I'll give you
a revolver to boot! And, more, you shall have one of these broken guns
(the repeating rifles which bend at the barrel end) which speaks all
one's fingers times hand-running, with ammunition to feed her up as
long as you run buffalo on the plains."

It was an enormous bribe. But the Apache was true to his wounded pride,
and his inveterate hatred of the whites.

"The warriors that swing the poison hatchets," he replied, "lie wait in
all the thickets around about the forest. In a little while they will
fall on the Spanish, and then they will hear their chief singing his
death song, mingled with their whoop of triumph."

"All right," said the other, rising. "I thought it neighbourly to give
you a chance. Sing away to your own pitch pipe."

He went over to Gladsden, who leant on the counter, whilst doña Perla,
on the other side of the room, contemplated the scene curiously. The
discovery that one of the strangers was the hero of her childhood's
romance, had filled her with complete confidence, and she thought no
more of prayer.

"Tiger Cat is a stubborn knot," said Oliver. "I can't squeeze anything
out'n him. He's never spared anyone, and when we quit this house I
propose to set fire to it over his head. He has burned many a Christian
alive, and it's sauce for the goose to roast him, too."

He said this so naturally that Gladsden knew he was not threatening
wantonly, and so firmly that he forbore to argue with him.

"I am quite right in saying that the Apaches will never leave this
place till they know the fate of their chief. They will soon attack
the robbers. When they close we will sally out, trust to luck to seize
three hosses for ourselves and the little doña, or to reach cover. At
the last moment, since Tío Camote has been false and useless to me, I
shall broach a cask or two, which will make a glorious bonfire, and the
Apaches will only have their chief in a _puchero_ (stew), with mezcal
sauce!"

Nature now clamoured for sleep and food. Oliver seemed able to do
without the former, but he never refused solid sustenance when
available, like all the wanderers whose life is an irregular
alternation of feasts and fasts.

Camote produced some sausage and corn cakes, as well as deer meat,
of which doña Perla partook. Gladsden and she dozed off, neither of
them heeding the continual popping of shots at long range between
the Apaches and the robbers. At about eleven o'clock, when the heat
was perceptible in the closed-in room without large windows or other
proper vent than the narrow smoke hole aloft, Oliver made a sign for
attention. The landlord was eating and drinking noisily near the Apache
prisoner, tantalising him with all a coward's cruelty. His two aids
had disappeared under the counter, asleep deeply, if their mellifluous
nasal breathing afforded a sure indication.

At the back of the ranch there was audible a scratching at the ground.
Some living thing was trying to burrow into the house. At the same time
the fusillade of the Indians assumed a more regular form. Under cover
of the guns the bowmen had advanced, and the twang of the string once
or twice came to the ear to prove that they had pushed on near the
dwelling.

It was provoking to see nothing of the skirmish, protracted
vexatiously, like all such warfare.

Suddenly Oliver took up a large empty cask and placed it on the counter.

"Keep watch thar, whar the critter is boring, and blow out the brains
of any head that presents itself, for we have none but enemies hyar."

He jumped on the counter, clambered upon the barrels, and with his
hunting knife proceeded to make a gap in the roof. When the sky
appeared there, he enlarged the hole and venturesomely pulled himself
up through it, crawling down on the flat roof. It was composed of sods,
among which stray seeds had sprouted.

All the field, hitherto one of conjecture, was exposed to his
experienced view. After one sweep of his vision, he came down to the
floor, and relieved Gladsden's anxiety which had sprung up the moment
he was left entirely alone for the first time since they quitted El
Paso.

"They are all at hide-and-seek," he said, with a chuckle. "They do not
make the bark fly (cut the skin) once in a twenty shoots! It's tie
and tie in such shooting--why did their pap trust them with firearms?
Ne'erless, the 'Pach air working to get into the ranch, and they will
rush the greasers back. One-leg has ridden off and hidden, I guess. I
can't see his hoss nowhar. As for the cattle of the Ingins, they are
in two caballadoes--one yonder a good piece, and t'other nearer at
hand. We kin strike for them with some chance. There's on'y young men
guarding them--and we're good for six a piece _sich!_ Wrap the little
señorita up thick, mind, so she may not be _hurted_ by a flying bullet,
and we'll shine out galorious when we make our break out. When I say
'Out!' out we git!"

While the Englishman arranged the blankets and buffalo hides of the
fallen Apaches as bucklers about doña Perla, the hunter went to the
back of the room where the scratching had changed to the scooping out
of earth; a piece of stone had been substituted for the scalp knife.

Oliver, though time was so precious, waited patiently at the edge
of the floor and walls. At last, the earth of the former moved as
if a mole was making its tunnel, and then a brown hand emerged from
the crumbling clods of packed mud. On that hand the hunter's knife
descended and severed two fingers as it was instantly withdrawn. The
savage had the immense self-control not to utter a sound of pain, in
shame at having put his hand so incautiously into the trap.

"He will trouble no more," said Oliver, wiping the knife on the leg of
Uncle Potato's breeches as the nearest rag. "At least not before we
will git out of the way to receive him."

He went across the room, and, this time, removing the barricade, boldly
applied his eye to the wicket.

"Now's the time," said he, instantly.

In fact a volley and the hustling of darts and arrows passed the very
door, followed by a rush of softly shod feet as the Apaches at last
charged the Mexicans.

"Out!" shouted Oliver, flinging the door open. "And you come, too,
unless you like to be boiled in your own spirits."

For with one kick beating in a full cask, he fired the pouring alcohol
with the nearest lamp, and pushed Gladsden and the daughter of don
Benito out of the door. A vast sheet of flame rose in their rear,
and while Camote leaped through it, a fearful explosion in that
circumscribed apartment denoted that another cask had burst, and was
contributing to the flames. The innkeeper's assistants were unable to
pass the burning fluid, and their appeals for help made the pinioned
warrior smile with fiendish glee.

He began his death song in a strong voice, though the blazing liquor,
red, violet, and blue, gradually rolled towards him in his helpless
state, with little or no smoke to muffle the rays.

Through half a dozen stragglers the three fugitives made their way,
the hunter literally bearing them down before his rush, whilst the
Englishman was as little impeded by half carrying the Mexican maiden
on his left arm. However, the cluster of horses was reached, held in
the usual manner by all the bridles being passed over one, which two
youthful warriors, who had probably never fleshed the scalping knife,
were chafing at being detained there to hold. Besides them a stalwart
Indian, whose flattened features hinted at the admixture of African
blood, was on guard. Luckily he had fired all but his last shot in
the skirmishing, and he had only one arrow left in hand. With that he
sprang forward to meet the flying trio, using it as a stabbing weapon.

Generously renouncing the use of his firearms, with that sometimes
imprudent pride of the Caucasian who loves to win at fair play, the
hunter flew at him with merely his own steel blade.

Whilst Gladsden smote the two striplings to the right and left, and was
choosing two of the startled and frightened horses for the girl and
himself, Oliver was engaged in a terrible, deadly, and pitiless combat
with his sworn enemy. They had grappled one another with veritable
hooks of steel, and sought mutually to overthrow and stab. Their eyes
flashed fire, they wasted their breath in taunts and revelations of the
many deeds of mischief and death which they had respectively wrought
among their opposing people, till their bated breath came but feebly
through their grinding teeth. But for their speech in broken accents,
they were scarcely human--mere wild beasts bent on rending and tearing
one another till "the heart was bare."

"Oh, you air Mr. Rough-on-the-Herdsman, you air?" hissed Oregon Oliver,
tightening a hug which the grizzly would not have disdained to borrow.
"Well, Mr. Death-to-the-Cowboys, how like you that? You've 'rubbed out'
three solitary trappers, ha' you? How's that for a rub?--And that,
and, still again, that!" And hurling the wretch to the earth under the
curveting mustangs' unshod hoofs, he nearly beat the last breath out
of his wretched and bleeding body. In a moment he rose, this time not
ashamed to tear away the reeking scalp of the Indian who had in his
boasts touched on a painful chord.

"I bet my life," muttered he, seizing a horse by the nostrils, and
dragging his head down irresistibly, "that señor Murder-the-Vaqueros
will wipe out no more lone trappers, durn his carcass--would he were
roasting alongside his chief! Innyhow, he can't fall, scalpless, in
among his brethren in the happy hunting grounds!"

All three were mounted now, a task which would have been far more
difficult only for the horses which Mr. Gladsden had selected being
by chance stolen from the Mexicans, and, hence, rather pleased than
alarmed at instinctively recognising hands more familiar than their
last masters'.

The two Apache boys were crawling away for refuge in the corral cactus;
thence to recover from the blows, and hurl insults and stones.

In a glance, Oliver saw their only chance was to run the gauntlet
between the burning house and those of the Apache's rearguard, who had
already stopped, ceased to pepper the hidden bandits, and looked back
towards the horses in such wild agitation.

"_Hep-la!_" cried Oliver to the herd, applying his heavy hand to the
rump of the two or three that were within reach, "And away! _'Vantay!_
(advance) Git!"

The horses preceded the three, but the latter's mounts participated
in the fever of escape, all the more as the heat, the smell, and the
flames of the Green Ranch had struck their olfactory and visual organs
with that terrifying influence of fire upon the equine race.

"Let 'em rip!" cried the hunter; "They'll not shoot in the midst, lest
they hurt a hoss. They're outrageous fond of horses, these 'Pach!"

As the furious cavalcade trampled by the Ranch door, the Englishman
fired a hurried shot within. Immediately, the chant of the Apache,
which was audible above the crackling and hissing of the flames, ceased
short.

"You are a good old hoss!" ejaculated Oliver, who divined the humanity
which prompted the merciful bullet, though incapable of such foolish
leniency, or, at least, inexcusable waste of ammunition himself. "He
desarved all he was gitting; but, na'theless, it's better you had it
off your conscience. He's a green gilly," he added, under his breath,
eyeing his pupil approvingly; "but for sand--you bet thar's a heap of
sand, thar. If it war writing paper from hyar to his sprouting ground,
jest take him up by the heel and sprinkle him out over the hull spread,
and there'd be enough to cover an old bull on the last squar' foot!
He's made of grit, he is _that!_"

On the roof of the building they had perceived the blanched faces of
the two bartenders. There they lay, after having been pursued up the
gap in the ceiling by the fiery tongues, afraid to move, and so attract
the Apache's view.

As for Camote, he had vanished into a nook no doubt planned for some
such eventuality, deep enough to require digging out.

As soon as the fugitives were surely out of range, first of the Apaches
and, then, of the bandits, sufficiently engaged by the latter to bestow
no more than a couple of random shots on the adventurers, they began to
pull rein hard. While actually looking back, there was nothing to see
but the column of flame and blue smoke from the Green Ranch. But after
having resumed their course, they heard a dull boom, like a cannon
report, of which the muzzle was in a cave.

"The heavy mud roof has fallen in," remarked Oliver; "the chiefs scalp
is safe, and the spreeing den of the Sonora bandoleros will never house
them no more."

When the horses they rode were cured of their panic by kindly
"horse-talk" of which the hunter was profuse, and when the rattle of
the stampeded troop had died away utterly, the commonly dense stillness
of the wilderness fell upon all around.

"Those niggers will go on yelling and pelting one another till their
powder gives out," remarked Oliver. "There'll be scarcely half a dozen
strokes to count, but, however, blood has been spilt, and so while they
are scrimmaging we can canter on."

Thus reassured, doña Perla smiled again. In a few words she acquainted
the hunter with such landmarks around her father's estate as to enable
him to direct their course as straight as the _mottes_ or "islands"
of woodland in the prairie permitted. But if the Mexican lady and the
Englishman argued well of the profound solitude, the Oregonian did not
lay aside his watchfulness. Leading the van, three horse lengths, his
rifle across the saddlebow, bent forward so that the animal's head
shielded his bosom, and his eyes peered over the ears, he retained all
that wariness demanded in Northern Mexico, where the axiom reigns:
_Homo homine lupus_, not to be translated as it was done by an
excellent trapper friend of the author's, a squawman who had wedded an
Indian woman and so became an ally of the tribe:--"Don't feed _loups_
(wolves) with hominy," but, "Man is a devouring wolf to his brother."



CHAPTER XIX.

THE OLD, OLD FRIENDS.


Between seven and eight o'clock in the evening the two guardsmen of
La Perla Purísima were still riding with her in a somewhat melancholy
mood. They had even feared her indications were wrong, particularly as
they had met none of their native woodcutters, employed by the Mission
of San Fernando, or of the hacienda of the young lady's father, at
the magnificent remuneration of half a dozen dollars per month, the
insignificant rations in supplement being not worth considering. As a
consequence the loan of an _ounce_, which vast amount they never dream
of repaying, constitutes them serfs for life. Whatever the causes, not
one of these slaves appeared in the land, where a carrion crow or two,
that evidence of a settled county, now and then was visible, having
perceived even so far away the battlefield contested by border ruffians
and the Indian raiders.

"Queer," remarked Oliver, shaking his head, and redoubling his
precautions, whilst relaxing the pace for the same reasons, though they
stood in need of food and rest at the earliest moment.

Their horses, too, which the Indians had ridden with that recklessness
to their manner born, were suffering from thirst and enforced fast.

It came on dark, too, "a nigger of a night," grumbled the hunter, and
not a star in the sky. Thick clouds, charged with electricity, coursed
overhead like antelopes in fright, urged by a gale that increased
continually, and the rumble of far-off thunder warned them that a storm
was imminent and shelter needful.

Still they rode on, doggedly, step by step, or rather, _paso entre
paso_ which is the Spanish for intermingling steps, taken, indeed,
by the horses shrinking together hoof locked and trying to "hump up"
their backs in alarm, when suddenly the pioneer's mount, lifting its
hanging head and wagging its ears briskly, uttered a derisive neigh. So
does the noble animal often express his lordly contempt for the humble
by-brother, the mule.

Indeed, not far aside on the northeast or left, they heard the quick
amble of some quadruped. In a few instants there appeared a shadow,
which approached with a daring or simplicity which perplexed the
hunter, already grasping his gun.

The hail of the oncomer was in Spanish, a religious greeting
appropriate to the vesper hour, to which, involuntarily and through
well-schooled habit, the sweet fresh voice of the Mexican maiden
straightway responded.

"It is Father Serafino," she added in explanation. "Our Lady of
Guadalupe be thanked!" The name vaguely struck the Englishman as
familiar, once upon a time, and he extended his hand to check the
movement of Oliver, despite the recognition, to be wholly in readiness
to fire.

Meanwhile the priest, for it was one, bestriding a fine Spanish mule of
unusual size and docility, had come up.

As well as the murkiness would allow one to discern, he was a man
of about fifty, but his broad brow was smooth as a youth's; sweet
intelligence dwelt in the blue eyes which were shaded by long lashes
under brown brows regularly traced. His face was perfectly cleanly
shaven, and his long hair, only slightly threaded with silver, came
down on his shoulders, and framed an oval visage. His voice was
melodious, but not devoid of manliness. Altogether, the attractive and
sterling man was a worthy successor of the brothers who accompanied the
mailclad knights in their inroads from Mexico to San Francisco. His
simple costume was composed of a black gown buttoned all the way and
gathered in by a broad band; his sombrero had been lost in his ride,
made in haste.

This same precipitation impelled him to be brief in his story and in
his congratulations to the señorita for having been saved from the
spoilers.

"Though there will be great joy at the house," he said, "there will
still remain mourning, my daughter."

"My father! My mother!"

"All these are well, and so your brother, but he and his wife and they
all in grief--an arrow, at random, entered an upper window and slew
the babe in its cradle. The will of heaven be done in all things! The
little angel, at least, will not be exposed to the horrors which I fear
still are poised ere soon descending."

He closed his sentence with so sad an air that all gazed at him, afraid
to question.

"Yea, terrible events are in preparation, of which the swoop of the
Apaches on the farm and the taking away of the heiress form no adequate
examples. At least, when they strike, they fly, and are gone like the
hawk. But a danger on the very hearth is arising. In short, friends of
my little daughter here, listen; the Yaqui Indians, the Christians,
the converts, the semi-civilised, whom we employ throughout Sonora as
peons, field hands or labourers, have seen in the too often successful
raids of the wild brethren active slurs on their tameness. The ease
with which this last band of Apaches overcame the servants of don
Benito has set them plotting, I know, to revolt against him, and
against other masters, alas, not so kind, fair and punctual in payment
of their pittance as your father, my poor child."

"Of them, who is going to be uneasy, father?" responded La Perla, with
the confident, arrogant smile of the daughter of the ruling race. "Have
not these poor dogs many a time in my young life, brooded, ay, and
yelped of an attack, but between the menace and its execution, what a
distance!"

"That is the saying of a child, gentlemen," continued Father Serafino.
"She mistakes this time. Acknowledging the good Indians to have been
treated badly of late, they are out of patience. They are in active
rebellion. All the Indians who were on our Mission have disappeared.
Last night," he added in a whisper, "of my two brothers who went
over to the farms of Bella Vista and the Palmero, to inquire news,
one only returned," this in a still lower tone so that the girl
could not possibly overhear, "the outbreakers had carried them by
storm--massacred every living creature and danced round the blazing
buildings, one of those pagan dances whose memories I had hoped we had
banished from their darkened brains. The surviving brother, hiding in
the thicket till he could secure a stray horse, heard their council
swear to destroy the white man and all his works throughout Sonora and
retreat to the Northern Deserts to live free and wild in the abominable
practices of their ancestors. They talked even of attacking Ures, and
said all the Indians in the pueblos would join them. What will the
hundred soldiers at Ures do? I tell you, gentlemen, such is the general
situation."

"It's a tight nip," agreed Oliver.

"Terrible!" added the Englishman, shuddering to think of the poor
father, his friend, ignorant still of the happy fate of his child, and
exposed to the overwhelming storm of the revolted serfs.

"It is good and bad, too," resumed the priest, "that the neighbours and
kinsmen of don Benito will be flocking there to celebrate the ascension
to heaven of his grandchild. Good, that so many heads of family should
be under one roof, but bad that their own homes should be without
commanders at such an emergency."

"The Indians," said Oliver authoritatively, "will move in a mass, for
they have not been trained as individual warriors; hence they will
attack this house, which contains all they hate, their masters. My vote
is: on to don Benito's!"

The priest bowed at this utterance of a man of warfare. The English
gentleman approved, if only out of eagerness to place doña Perla in her
mother's arms.

"I'll show you the way!" said Father Serafino, smiting his mule with
his slipper. "On to the Hacienda of Monte Tesoro, then."

"The Treasure Hill!" Don Benito had erected his chief farmhouse as a
memorial of the haul in the Gulf of California.

They tailed away at once in a new order; the mule leading at a good
pace, spite of the obscurity which little impeded one very familiar
with the ground, bringing up the rear, ever and anon looking steadily
behind him.

It was the middle of the night, amid falling raindrops of great size,
that the little troop beheld the loopholed walls of an enclosure round
the grounds of an imposing mansion rise up into view. All the gates and
doors were wide open, and every window blazed with light. A number of
peons, brandishing torches, rushed out to welcome those they took to be
belated guests. But as soon as the illumination fell upon the beauteous
face of the daughter of the proprietor, they sent up a ringing shout
which revealed how deeply endeared was that master and all his kith and
kin.

The farmhouse itself was engirt, and all its approaches encumbered
by at least a hundred shanties (_chozas_) and mud brick cabins, of
miserable aspect, scattered at haphazard, and used for the abodes
of the house servants and farm labourers. At the present juncture,
though, the misery was gilded, since every hut glowed with light, and
out of the doorways poured the jingling of tambourines, the banging
of _tambores_ or drums, and laughter; songs and shouts mingled with
the tinkling and strumming of stringed instruments, in wild, thrilling
native waltzes.

Though there were women and children squatting and sprawling in the
clear space between the cabins, mounted peons, swinging flambeaux, were
racing to and fro, at the risk of trampling on them.

On triumphantly and joyously entering the courtyard (_patio_), the
strangers beheld a no less singular and picturesque spectacle.

Around great piles of burning wood, which would have roasted mastodons,
whole trees being required to feed them, a multitude were revelling,
swilling, and cramming, whilst a few in tatters, Indians as their
complexion showed, were pacing the ancient steps, which so scandalised
Father Serafino, and which were the ceremonial performances of the
Yaquis, perhaps as old as the creed he so sturdily supported.

Through this carousing throng, spite of the spell which the
announcement of the recovery of the maiden by the reverend father
exercised tolerably potently, the horsemen made but new progress.

By the time they arrived at the wide portals, these were choked up by
a party of gentlemen, in the front of whom, even had he not called out
his daughter's name with indescribable joy, the Englishman recognised
his former shipmate.

Yes, truly, the well-preserved gentleman who embraced La Perla was
none other than our don Benito Vázquez de Bustamente, son of the
General-President of Mexico, now proprietor of Monte Tesoro and many
another estate as rich, the pearl diver of old.

When the hacendero looked on the group behind his daughter, glancing
affectionately at the _padre_ who was so close and old an acquaintance,
and curiously and not very kindly at the American whose position he
recognised, and whose buckskin frock was stained with blood from the
fresh lank scalp thrust into his belt until he should have time to cure
it, and comb out the clotted hair into fringe for ornament, he finally
rested his gaze as if spellbound on the fair complexioned European.

"Papa," said the Purest of Pearls, suddenly remembering that she stood
in the place of a mistress of ceremonies, "I have the happiness to
present to you the oldest of your friends, to whom I owe, as you have
often told me, the bliss of being rich, with my mama. I now present
him, too, as having reappeared in our world after many years--mine own
lifetime, in faith, in order to save my life!"

"Don Jorge!" shouted the Mexican, rushing forward and, not to be
repelled by an attempt only to clasp his hand, enfolding the bashful
Briton in a powerful embrace.

"My dear old Benito!" and the Englishman could say not a word in
surplus.

"Gentlemen," said the hacendero, turning to his countrymen, without
caring to conceal the tears of delight upon his black moustache and
beard, "I have the signal honour to introduce to you the noblest heart
that ever beat in the breast of a man! My friend of friends, don Jorge
Federico Gladsden."

Every head was politely bent.

"The honour falls on me," observed Gladsden. "As for the rescue of
your child, it was a providential casualty that brought her across
my path--the rest is all the work of this keen, resolute, prompt and
fearless American whom I, too, call my friend in the same full sense in
which don Benito uses it towards your humble servant."

So saying, he caught hold of the hand of the hunter and squeezed it so
heartily that the latter quite forgot a little rising pain at having
been rather unjustly omitted in the young lady's presentation.

"And now," said the master, "let me lead you to my wife, and my son and
daughter, whom, unfortunately, we cannot relieve of grief at their loss
as you have done of his parents, by the restoration of our treasured
one."

"Your son! How time flies!" murmured Gladsden, "Though, for the matter
of that, I have a couple of torments of my own. Only, less fortunate
than you, my friend, I lost their mother long ago."

They had entered the house, where a silence ran before them and seemed
gradually to begin to diminish the merrymaking clamour.

"Yes," said the priest, with a sigh, "time is fleeting and death cometh
as swiftly, and who of us can be certain of having ample opportunity to
accomplish his duty--the task which heaven sets unto him?"

The solemnity of the accent deepened a gloom already befalling the
guests.

"The _padre_ is right," broke in Oregon Oliver, whose impatience at
the loss of time in ceremony was augmenting, "jest let out that you
are coming to save the house from the scalper and pison hatchets! What
you've had was the _blazing_ (marking a tree with a chop to denote it
chosen for felling), the next call, the murderous minded Apaches mean
to fell the trunk from the topmost switch to the lowest bough."

All the gentlemen withdrew into a side room, where the priest imparted
his tragic intelligence. There was terrible anxiety, since the farming
gentlemen had left their homesteads at the mercy of their peons thus
denounced as treacherous.

"Well, Señores caballeros," said Benito, "since you look to me, I say
with our norteamericano (Oliver) that, under such circumstances, the
determination we are driven into is the best, I have four hundred peons
on this farm. Of the lot, I can rely on three hundred, for one reason
and another. I know the bulk of them as I do my own children. Against
the hundred, or near a hundred and fifty, since some off strange
plantations have flocked here, ostensibly for the junketing, we can pit
my gentlemen friends, our relations. Each of them is the value of five
or six wild Indians. You see, gentlemen, I rate you very low! Now you
require rest, a change of dress--."

"No, no," said the Englishman and his guide with one breath.

"Pardon me, a short rest is requisite. By that time I shall have made
my preparation, and then we may put the finishing touches on our plan
of battle."

"And doña Dolores?" queried Mr. Gladsden.

"My daughter has gone to inform her that we have the honour and
pleasure, at last," he said, reproachfully, "to see under the roof
always bound to shelter him, our foremost of friends and benefactors.
After your repose, doña Dolores will have the honour to receive you."

The Englishman and his companion were led away separately by servants
bearing silver lamps. The former was conducted through several
corridors into a chamber, where the steward ordered another massive
silver lamp on a table to be lit. Whilst a third peon held the lamp
up on high, the other two noiselessly and rapidly prepared a bath of
rosewater in the next room. During their preparations, two others
arrived in haste with a choice of clothes, the underlinen very fine,
and from the first Paris houses.

Meanwhile Gladsden looked about him.

The room was quite large, having two small windows and one glazed door
-opening into a garden. On the whitened walls were pictures in gold
frames, such as are painted in a mechanical way for Northern dealers
to send in quantity to New Orleans, Santa Fe, and Mexico, for sale by
torchlight. They represented, after good and popular masters, scenes of
religion, battle, hunting, history, &c, and were hung without order. At
all events, they regaled the sight by their vivid colour. In one corner
was a folding sleeping chair, on which were thrown splendid skins and
furs and fine blankets, to be arranged as the sleeper fancied. The
furniture was completed by a massive mahogany centre table, a square
table against the wall near the chairbed, two openwork armchairs, and
some Indian wickerwork footstools. There was a pedestal of marble for a
religious image, but the statue had been removed to figure in the hall
devoted to the ceremony of the Angelito.

Whatever the English guest had said against his need for repose when
danger threatened, he had no sooner returned from his bath in fresh
habiliments, to find on the table a tasteful spread of preserved fruit,
smoking chocolate of fine savour and much thickness, and light pastry,
to say nothing of some cold turkey and ham with golden hued corn bread,
then he did not blame his host for the insistence on overruling him.
Lighting a cigarette, he reclined on the couch-chair, and soon sank
into a blessed state of physical enjoyment less and less appreciated,
of course, as his overtasked brain and frame lent themselves gratefully
to slumber.

When he awoke, a couple of hours only thence, he saw the table again
covered with eatables, but a great deal more substantial. It was laid
for three. A couple of superior servants were just finishing the
decoration with vases of spring flowers, and so deftly doing their
work, that it was not any noisy blunder on their part that had aroused
him. He did not like to inquire of them who were going to be his
guests. Luckily, he was not long left on tenterhooks.

The door opened, and don Benito, showing himself, made way courteously
for Oliver to precede him. The American was clad in a Mexican dress,
jingling and shining with silver buttons, and really would have made
many a black-eyed damsel's heartache at a dance in his new but not
altogether unaccustomed array.

With fine forethought, Benito had arranged to take supper--or whatever
name this midnight meal deserved--with his old friend and the other
deliverer of his beloved daughter.

After appeasing hunger--for Gladsden's had revived, and Oregon Ol.
never seemed at a loss to eat when anything was on the board--they
conferred seriously.

The hacendero had made his servants and the Indians who were truly
converts kiss the cross and swear to die for their master--about the
only binding oath to impose on such gentry. A hundred of the least
dubious were to be clad in a kind of uniform so as to look like
soldiers.

"Your friend, our friend, will lead them. These North Americans
have persuasive methods and a spirit which converts the timid into
_guerreadores_--heroes even, which we do not possess, or we should not
be the yearly prey of the Comanches."

"As to leading them," said Oliver, eating a tortilla smeared with
marmalade with the gusto of a schoolboy, "I shall rather git on behind
them; and how they will charge when they know I shall shoot the first
that turns back on my toes!"

"If this is North American persuasion," began Gladsden, laughing.

"Jest another time. In brief, don Olivero will take his five score
sham soldiers out of the secret gate in the _corral_ which, by the
way, you may not know, every rich landed proprietor has in order in a
country of revolution; and he will go and ambush a quarter of a league
away. Meanwhile, we shall establish our watches so as not to be taken
by surprise. If the ambuscade be discovered, don Olivero will signal
me by two rockets--red and white. If we, however, as is more likely,
are first attacked, we shall notify him, in await, by sending up two
rockets--white and red. Then will he lead, or follow his chivalry, and
take the red rabble in the rear as they envelope my farm. They will
imagine the lancers and dragoons have come from Ures or Hermosillo, and
recoil on our enclosure. We will rally out, and we'll mince them up
into bits as fine as that poor Matasiete was chewed by the sharks of
the Gulf of California; eh, you remember him, don Jorge?"

"Decidedly! He lives in my remembrance all the more lively, because I
cannot have been mistaken in my impression that I saw him only this
early morning."

"Saw don Aníbal, as he called himself? Saw the gallant of my late
aunt, Josefa Maria--and only this morning! Impossible! You are still
dreaming!"

"My friend! As truly as your bullet creased that hooknose, I saw it at
the wicket in the door of the Green Ranch Tavern. Don Matasiete, whose
garland of names I cannot recall in full, was not entombed in the maw
of the tintoreras, but escaped with the loss of a limb. In pleasant
allusion to that disaster he is called 'The Dismembered' even now,
and he is that One-leg Peter, or Pedrillo el Manco, who, it appears,
revives on this frontier all the old tales of rascally doing for which,
in former days, he was so famous. What's bred in the blood won't come
out with the loss of a limb, you see."

"An enemy like that! So near me, and often! How, then, is it that I
have never been injured by him or his band?"

"Really," answered Mr. Gladsden, perplexed, "I am at a loss to enter
into the mind of such rascals. Mayhap he is reserving you for a top off
to his career of scoundrelism."

The repast being ended, don Benito conducted his old and his new friend
to present them to his wife and family.

Neither they nor the other ladies had been informed of the terrible
disaster in suspense; and, as far as they were concerned, as well even
as some of the younger gentlemen from the neighbourhood, the festival
of the Angelito was still proceeding.



CHAPTER XX.

THE ANGELITO.


The hall into which the strangers were ushered by the host offered a
most strange and striking aspect.

It was magnificently furnished, and gorgeously illuminated by numerous
crystal chandeliers, crowded with rose wax tapers, and hung from the
ceiling. The walls had been covered with rare and thick old tapestry
of exquisite work. The richness of the sculptured furniture in oak,
mahogany, black walnut, and ebony, surpassed in solidity anything seen
abroad. The very catches, bolts, hinges, and locks, were in cut silver.
The whole floor was covered with very fine palm matting, or _petate_.

Two carpet covered platforms were erected, one at each end of this
hall, wherein some three hundred persons were looking at the principal
stage, and the sole one tenanted since, at a command from don Benito,
the musicians had vacated the other, intended only for them.

This second dais was arranged as an alcove, curtained in. Religious
emblems, in gold and jewels, decorated the depths. The poor little
child, victim of the Apache's missiles, powdered and rouged, was
propped up in a draped chair, clad in white satin and lace, and covered
with flowers, many more fading blooms strewing the floor.

The mother of this grandchild of don Benito was seated near her little
one.

She was a very young wife, of scarcely more years than doña Perla;
of equally rare beauty, but of corpselike pallor from her vigils and
sorrow, which, was rendered the more palpable by her cheeks being
thickly reddened with paint. Her fixed eyes, circled with black, gazed
into vacancy with wild feverishness. She tried to wear a calmly joyful
smile; but often a painful spasm convulsed her features, set her lips
quivering, her limbs shivering, and shook muffled sobs from her bosom.

About her were seated ladies, mostly young and fair, who were
attempting not to console the poor mother, but to cheer her up, as
their belief dictated.

The other guests were grouped around, chatting, smoking, and taking
refreshment from sideboards.

Don Benito saw, and perhaps in a measure comprehended, the reproving,
or, at least, pained look in the eyes of both the European and the
American shocked at such a scene when they were so full of perturbation
for the impending conflict.

"Conduct the reverend Father Serafino hither," he said to a servant.

A handsome and haughty youth, whom Mr. Gladsden recognised at once
by his resemblance to his father, came up to the newcomer, and
affectionately threw himself into his arms. It was don Jorge, the
bereaved father, though quite a boy in Mr. Gladsden's opinion.

"Caballero," said he; "nothing but your coming, the dearest, oldest
friend of my father, could have given me this moment's distraction
in my grief over my firstborn. Yours was the kindness that united
my father and mother. However can we repay the obligation we, their
children, lie beneath?"

"By showing me as much affection as I shall do to you, Jorge, my boy.
Upon my word, if I required any reward, I have it now amply, by shaking
the hand of so promising a namesake."

The young mother made an effort, smiled dolefully, and let her burning
hand rest in Mr. Gladsden's, while he kissed her equally heated
forehead, and then threw a few of the already wilting spring flowerets
upon the lap of the little corpse.

During this, Father Serafino had come into the hall. Instantly on
seeing him all chatter ceased, and on every side the ladies and
gentlemen respectfully saluted him.

Meanwhile, Gladsden turned sorrowfully to a lady in black and rose
satin, covered with jewelry, in whom he well knew again, spite of a
loss of slenderness, the graceful Dolores who had been his passenger on
the _Little Joker_.

Her emotion was too full for words as she clasped his proffered hand in
both hers, shining with rings, among which emeralds and pearls gleamed,
due to that hoard he had inherited and shared with this noble family.

They had no leisure for a conversation, as the priest, at the
suggestion of the host, had slowly mounted the musicians' platform, and
now said in a sympathetic but firm voice:--

"Young mother, retire now into your private apartments and there give
way way to your woes. Go, and in praying forget not, together with your
blessed babe, all those who are within the precincts of this house,
inasmuch as an unexampled danger menaces them. And you, my sisters," he
continued, addressing the other ladies, "accompany your kinswoman and
friend, console her and join in her prayers. Your place is no longer
here."

The young mother rose with a sudden sob, and in an instant her face
was flooded with tears. Her mother stepped in between her and the
dead child whereupon, as though that interposition and eclipsing of
her lost treasure had broken a binding link, don Jorge's wife swooned
away in the arms of her friends. They all clustered round, and she and
her mother were borne away in their midst, amid softened wailing and
muttered sympathy.

The rest of the guests not in the secret were overwhelmed by stupor;
and, indeed, had anyone but the priest thus put an end to the important
ceremony, they would have loudly protested and even hushed him up.

"My brethren," resumed he, in a clear, full voice, "hearken to my
words and gather up all your courage. Throughout this entire province,
the Yaqui Indians have broken their bondage. They threaten Ures
and Hermosillo; already they have overswarmed I know not how many
farms--those houses are smouldering, their people are stiffening after
indescribable tortures! I come hither to warn our friend that Monte
Tesoro is the object of the rebels' march. Tonight, the attack will
come, peradventure in one short hour! Brethren, verily I bid ye not
forget that the enemies who threaten ye are ferocious pagans from
whom you can expect no mercy! Resist them you must, forasmuch as in
resisting them you preserve the people and the habitations deeper in
the land, as well as all the women and youth providentially here.
Thankful am I that the heavenly Hand hath guided me hither to warn
you of the wrath let loose, to cheer you in your tribulations! Hence,
silenced be merriment! Cessation to all frivolous feasting! On our
knees, brethren, and let us all beseech the good and merciful Power,
without whom man is as naught, to make ye invincible."

It was a still more singular sight, more grand and impressive, when the
gay guests knelt in that glittering hall, redolent with flowers, smoke
of funeral meats, and incense, whilst the only upright thing was the
baby corpse in its chair of state, seeming to smile with a blushing
face, like an infant prince receiving homage.

When the Mexican gentlemen rose, their eyes were sparkling with
courage, enthusiasm, and resolution.

"¡Alerta! ¡Alerta!" arose without, as the principal note and the only
intelligible one in the clamour, more and more loud.

And "¡Alerta!" shouted an old majordomo, bursting into the hall with
his white hair streaming. "Oh, master! The Indians approach! The
revolted peons are pursuing a track of blood and fire! The pueblos, as
far as the eye can reach, are ablaze. The hosts will be at our stockade
in an hour! Already the patio is crowded with a throng of fugitives!"

It was overabundant confirmation of the priest's announcement.

"There is my place, amongst these unfortunates," observed he. "You do
your duty in your own way, whilst I console the fugitives, heal the
wounded, and pray for those who fall."

"Gentlemen," cried don Benito, "I assume command of my faithful
tenantry, and I swear that the revolted redskins shall find my body the
next barrier behind my hacienda walls."

"Courage and hope!" said Father Serafino.

Mr. Gladsden rose to go with the American in his sortie, since he had
not sufficient acquaintance with Spanish to carry on conversation with
the besieged, strangers all to him as well.

"Since we are still to travel in a team," said Oliver, gladdened by
this arrangement, "put yourself inside a uniform like me. They've made
me a brigadier general, at the least," he added, facetiously admiring
himself in a well gold-laced coat.

Whilst the Englishman was apparelling himself in much such another
suit, he continued:--

"Thar hev been six score men picked out for my band. The don says these
hev had a brush with the smoke skins, and with wild cats, and can be
relied on. I don't vally them a dollar per ton myself, Hows'ever, we
shan't be shot by them in the back, as they are only trusted with long
sticking poles, being rigged out as _lancers_--about all the _heroes_
we shall find them, I opine."

"The lance is the Mexican national weapon," remarked Mr. Gladsden.

"I trust more to a dozen cowpunchers among 'em--the _vaqueros_ do know
how to swing the lasso, and that's a fact. Are you ready?"

"Your lieutenant is ready, Captain."

"Call me 'colonel.' They are all captains in my squad, I b'lieve. You
have come out a full-grown shiner. I feel like the big dog with a new
brass collar--how's your feel, too?"

In plain words, the pair looked a handsome and portentous couple in
their metamorphosis into Mexican officers. On going out they found don
Benito in the vestibule. He, too, had donned an old, but carefully
preserved, brilliant costume of his father's as President-General, and
was as the sun to a star in his superior effulgence beside them. A
black servant was holding a golden salver, with a decanter and glasses
rimmed with gold, at his elbow, grinning with awe and admiration at his
master being so superbly caparisoned.

"A parting cup," said the hacendero, "and away! We have no time for
coquetting."

"A loving cup," said Gladsden, tasting the cup, whilst Oliver refused
his.

"I have head enough as it is," he remarked, in excuse. "You are drefful
good, I will say that; but I am not overly grasping for liquor when
thar is a monstracious kickin' out in prospect. After the slaying of
the wild cattle, don, then I am 'on' for my share o' the b'ar steaks
and honey."

On going out into the courtyard they at once perceived the great
change. All the bonfires were beaten out, song and dance had been
hushed, and the gates were closed and barricaded. In the gloom could
only be distinguished the shadowy sentinels watching immovably in the
loops and gaps in the wall, and at peepholes in the palisades. As Monte
Tesoro was an eminence, these vigiladores could see fairly over the
whole plain. Oliver pointed out that, to both east and west, there was
a ruddy, tawny tinge.

"Villages burning. The enemy is coming on."

They crossed one immense corral, and then a still larger enclosure,
wherein the hundred and twenty sham lancers were awaiting, each man
standing by his horse, the bridle in the left hand, ready to vault into
the saddle like real troopers. Two peons held a couple of very fine
animals, completely harnessed and decked out, of which they presented
the reins to Oliver and the Englishman.

Don Benito paused. With him were several of the elders of his guests;
all wore grave expressions. Everyone was armed.

"Out!" said he.

He stepped over to the stockade, scrutinising it attentively for a
space, then, stooping a trifle, he bore his weight on one particular
pile, whereupon, all of a sudden, a piece of the palisade opened
widely, like the secret door that it was, quite noiselessly, and left
a broad gangway. Oliver waved his hand, signifying "come on!" and held
up three fingers, meaning "three at a time!"--sign language being
universal on the border where so many tongues are intermixed. The
horsemen passed him in review, three abreast, each leading his mount.

As, strangely enough, the hoofs drew no sound whatever from contact
with the soil, Mr. Gladsden stooped and examined the feet of his own
steed, upon which act all the enigma was solved. Like the old wars
man he was, Oliver had hinted that he wanted his troop with muffled
hoofs, and the delicate trick over which King Lear was ecstatic, had
been performed by swathing them in strips of blanket around cotton wool
pads.

The Englishman was the very last to march forth, still shaking the
hands of don Benito and his young namesake.

"Go with God!" said the sire, fervently; "You hold our fate in your
brave hands. You alone can save us."

"Keep up your spirits," was the rejoinder. "That friend of mine is no
common man, and, in any case, we are going to do our best. If I never
return, mind, as that scrap of writing I dashed off, records, I leave
my sons especially to you as a second father, and to you, Jorge, as an
elder brother."

As he mounted, and moved on to join his comrades, the secret door swung
to, and all dissolution of continuity in the barrier disappeared.

There was a ditch to leap, and its sloping front to slide down. There
the squadron formed. Oliver had taken to his side the oldest _tigrero_,
or "vermin" eradicator of the farm, as his pilot.

"Follow!" said the American, curtly, between this hunter and Gladsden,
"By threes, follow!"



CHAPTER XXI.

THE LANCERS' CHARGE.


The forlorn hope started off at full gallop behind the trio, in a
flight through the obscurity which was as lugubrious as fantastic.
The sweet and sadly wan moonbeams stretched the cavaliers' shadows
immeasurably over the land. Every detail of the landscape took gaunt
aspects. The trees, waving white and grey beards of Spanish moss,
and endless creepers in loops and knots, seemed spectres that were
stationed to catch and hang the riders. No such headlong course could
have been performed by any but such Mexican centaurs. It lasted over an
hour, till Oliver reined in and called out--

"Pull up!"

"_Alto! ¡Alto!_" was reiterated down the line, till the column was all
in quiescence on the edge of a boundless virgin forest.

"Where are we?" inquired Gladsden.

"Three leagues from the farm," answered Oliver, after the Tigrero had
given him a clue. "I thought more. We have turned the main body of the
insurgents, and are on their rear if they are about to fall on the big
farm. I am going to cache the squad under the leaves, and go on the
scout myself."

"Had you not better send one of these, who are so familiar with the
country?" remonstrated the Englishman. "Your place as commander--"

"Tush! There are too many lives at stake for me to hesitate to risk
mine. I kin never make by big throws onless I hev sartin news. That Old
Silvano could be trusted to see all that I shall see, but he hasn't
a passle (_parcelle_, particle, used in that sense by the Canadian
French trappers) o' jedgment, and on jedgment depends the ha'r o' them
Spanish in the hacienda. I do this scout," said he shortly. "If I know
anything, I b'lieve it's scouting."

"Since things are so, go ahead."

Oliver alighted, gave some orders, delegated his authority to the
Englishman with Silvano as his sub., and glided into the woods. Though
there was no underbush, he was lost to the view almost instantly, so
instinctively did he cover his body by the trunks.

During his absence, the Mexicans rode under the branches, and dozed
in the saddle, with pickets thrown out upon all sides. Gladsden let
himself be absorbed in his reflections, marvelling that after a brief
period, he, the English gentleman of wealth, could be in the heart
of an unexplored wood, on the borders of a desert, guarded by a band
of men complete strangers not ten hours before, and exposed to being
overwhelmed by a whole army of revolted slaves.

In the midst of his reverie, without any warning, a hand was abruptly
slapped on his knee, and a jesting voice said--

"How many mile in'ard of the Land of Nod?"

"I was not asleep, Oliver," cried Gladsden, indignantly, as, however,
he opened his eyes, and blinked them in a way that belied his denial.

The scout had returned and come right up to his side so stealthily that
he had not been aroused. But the tiger slayer had perceived him, and
was smiling slightly at the practical joke which was, also, a lesson.

"Well, what's the news?"

"Things are a good deal as I s'posed," he answered. "Thar are something
like three or four thousand of the critters, and sich a rabble! Very
few have firearms, and, likely enough, no powder, and, if powder, no
ball, so that they will top the loading with stones and gravel and blow
their blamed topknots off at the first pull. The others hev come out
powerful with spears, sheep shearers divided and the blades thong'd on
to poles, scythes, reaping hooks, and all kind o' things ugly to look
at of which they have made we'pins. Some 'stonishing black niggers are
the head men of gangs. They are in a valley there away, on a road. They
have no flankers out, and no look out, for they have no idee they mout
be _attackted_."

"So we can manoeuvre without any apprehension of being discovered, you
mean, Ol.?"

"Jess so, gineral! One of them mountain howitzer our army promenades
with could pepper 'em up sure from hyar."

"Where's their left?"

"On a little village half a league tharabouts."

"And their right?"

"On a little cluster of shanties that Old Silvano says is called Rancho
Nuevo--nigh enough to be seen in the crack o' day from hyar."

"Can the signal rockets of the hacienda be seen from the two points you
mention, and the road occupied by the mass of the rebels?"

"For why not? They are three high p'ints over the sink they are in."

"This looks promising enough."

"What! Do you think to cut up three or four thousand niggers?"

"My dear Oliver, I am sure that you have your idea in your head fully
matured, and that we have nothing to do but put it into execution."

"I don't know rightly about that. In any event, I am going to execute
what the army men call a divarsion. If the innymy accept it as
divarting, I'm satisfied. I should give it another name, myself, but
thar! Thar's no 'counting for tastes. Besides the bulk of the Yaquis,
thar is a long straggling train, with the plunder, the fat, cowardly,
and cunning, who are drinking and singing, _and_ dancing like all
possessed. They are coming almost dead to'rds us, and we hev no more
'n time to receive them properly. If we turn them back, scattered,
they wilt not be in condition to reinforce the army. That's the first
article on the bill o' fare."

He beckoned the tiger hunter to him.

"Capitano," said he, "pick out your bullwhackers, and add to them
enough more to make about forty strong. Them's your _cuadrilla_, savvy!
Thar's a right smart sprinkle of cattle straying over the plain,
bewildered, whom those barbarians hev scared, some--well, into a fever.
Lasso a dozen in a herd, tie up and throw down, and send one to report
progress. Meanwhile, collect a heap of fat (resinous) candlewood. Cook
away--_cuca_, cap'en!"

Silvano, delighted with his rank, and beaming with smiles to the
eyebrow, soon departed with one-third or so of the little party. The
rest were divided into two troops, of which the American and Gladsden
took the leadership. The mufflers were removed from the hoofs as
useless, and each troop was arranged in three ranks, twelve, fifteen,
and eighteen in a line. Thus in order, they moved off under the trees,
tall ones whose boughs only sprang out at an altitude of great degree,
and parting at a silent signal, ranged themselves one each side of a
track through the woodland, dignified by the title of road. They were
stationed one above the other.

Two hours had passed in these dispositions.

The moon had gone down lower and lower in the heavens, till, in the
end, it dropped beneath the eyeline, and opaque shadows enveloped the
country and blended all objects into one mass. In the stillness of a
cemetery, the two cavalcades, no longer visible to one another, awaited
the forthcoming enemy.

Wild Indians detest this hour, under the influence of a belief that
the soul of a warrior killed in the dark spell before dawn is doomed
to dwell everlastingly in gloom; but the converted peons had had this
superstition modified or obliterated altogether.

At all events, there was soon heard a confused murmur, which changed
speedily into a blending of shouting, monotonous chanting, and
occasional shots, while yellow flares crossed the darkest glades of the
pine woods.

In twenty minutes, the vanguard of a tumultuous gathering of brown
and black skinned men, women, and youths, filled the track. They were
almost naked, or merely attired in fragments of clothes to which they
had never been accustomed, some bearing torches, some crucibles from
mines, filled with oil and coarse wicks, and others candles of great
length taken from chapels.

They were allowed to pass unchallenged.

After them the more active insurgents, drunken, frenzied, hoarse, tired
with a long march, but demoniacal with their features twitching in
insatiable passion, surged up in a tolerable order, brandishing and
clashing their weapons, mostly of the improvised nature hinted at by
the scout in his description.

All of a sudden, the harsh croak of a sandhill crane was audible in
the thicket to the north of the road where Oliver had posted himself.
Immediately the man at the side of Gladsden imitated the clatter of
the beak of the same bird clearing it of the debris of a gobbled frog,
by tapping his pistol barrel on his lance shaft. The next instant
there was a rush of horses to the side of the forest track, and "_Viva
Mejico!_" resounded full throated from Oregon Ol.

"_Y Libertad!_" was the completion of the signal and war cry from the
followers of Gladsden, as they, too, set spurs to their steeds.

"Mexico and liberty!"

Simultaneously, therefore, the two companies burst upon the column of
Indians, cutting through and leaving a layer upon layer of pierced
mortality like in the track of a tornado. Having crossed, they made
a circuit, and, coming out on the road once more, one higher up, and
the other lower down the line of the previous charges, completed the
surprise of the insurgents.

"Wheel, face forward in chase!" was the next command.

In half an hour, the riders came into the rendezvous agreed upon,
having effectually frightened that column, and sent the surviving
members reeling and flying in panic through the woods, back whence they
came.

Five only of the Mexicans were missing. The wounds received were
unimportant. The horses were breathed; the cavaliers allowed to
congratulate themselves and their leaders. Oliver had a devoted
following now, for these Mexicans are too unused to easy triumphs not
to idolise the commander who gluts them with such a feast of vanity.

The collected horsemen rode off, slowly groping, to the appointed
place on the open ground where Silvano and the herders were to have
secured the semi-wild cattle. It was a little less dark, the false
dawn, in fact, and thus Gladsden, though not so accustomed to the night
marching as the rest, could see the horsemen of the Tigrero forming a
wide circle; in the centre were several strange objects, writhing and
beckoning to the stars. They were long-horned, thin, wiry cattle, of
the breed of old which never will fatten in Mexican pastures, fleet as
antelopes, savage as tigers. By dexterous casts of the lariat, they had
been roped, hurled to the ground, and secured there, heels in the air.
They were daunted but disdained to bow, mutely protesting by glaring
eyes, full of congested blood, and twitching of the tails. A little way
off, a heap of resinous wood was formed.

"Prime!" ejaculated the hunter, perceiving all this almost as clearly
as by day. "Don Benny shall give you a silver medal, old coon."

He issued instructions which were forthwith carried out with delighted
comprehension. The cattle were allowed to rise, but still held, half
choked and much hampered with the leather ropes, whilst some active
hands bound fat branches to their long horns, so that they soon assumed
an apologetic appearance of stags adorned with magnificent antlers,
which was amusing. Overcoming their humiliation on being anew on all
fours, the beasts began to chafe. Bushes of prickly nopals were made
for attaching to the animals' tails and hind quarters, like the pendent
goads to the bulls in the arena.

When the cattle were finally supplied with these prickles and the
wooden headgear, they were released of their trammels, and driven
forward before a crescent shaped formation of the horsemen, increasing
the pace perforce in order to keep up with them. Presently, the sparks
which had been applied to rags round the gummy wood, were fanned
into perceptible flames. By the time these living candelabra and
their remorseless goaders saw the hill of the hacienda loom up, the
frightened cattle were adorned with long streamers of flame. But as
they were broadened out into a line, one beside another, there was no
scare to make them turn back, and their only instinctive hope was to
continue their mad charge.

A deep hubbub as of bees around the hive was audible over and above the
bellowing of these fiery cattle, and a vivid glare seemed to encircle
the hacienda.

All at once, a yellow streak rose up in the sky, and a white star shone
over the buildings and enclosures, and the multitude surging up against
the pickets. Then the sky was striped luminously once more, but, this
time, a rosy glare surrounded a red star.

"Now we come whooping!" shouted Oliver, participating, like even the
Englishman, in the excitement of this frantic race at the heels of the
terrified bearers of the flames, forming a line of fire of continuous
aspect to the Yaquis in the hollow. "Level your lance--no! Draw rein!
Draw rein! And swerve to the left! What in thunder is that cry behind
us--on the sword hand? Great Jehosaphat! whar the Old Harry have _they_
sprung up from! Apaches, by the living thingumbob! Apaches!"

In plain earnest, the "hugh-ug-hugh!" of the Apaches rang out of the
pine forest, with an intonation of joy as if the sight of the rockets
and the disclosures thereby of the farm which had already been their
mark for massacre and pillage, had delighted them beyond control.

Then was heard, too, in a voice quite as gleeful and fiendish, the
vociferation of a number of white men, in Spanish and in English.

"_¡Viva!_ The Rustlers! _Los Ruidores_ of Captain Pedrillo forever!"

"The Rustlers!" repeated Oregon Ol., in perfect stupefaction. "Open
your airth and swaller me! The 'Pache' and the skunks they exchanged
shots with--that shed their blood--'malgamated, by gum! Take me into a
gully an' bury me! I'm licked!"

Meanwhile, not having the reasons for a halt that had checked the
Mexicans in the very commencement of a charge, the cattle infuriated
with the falling sparks from the wood beginning to become detached from
their horns, and blinded with the smarting smoke, tore down the incline
into the very vale where the Yaquis were crowded. Certainly their onset
would create a consternation, preventing any attention being bestowed
upon Oliver's little party, as it obeyed his earnest injunction and
wheeled off into an island of trees.

In ten minutes, as the dawn grew upon the scene, they could very well
discern, boldly emerging from the piney woods, not only some of the
stragglers of the column the Mexicans had discomfited, but two bodies
of mounted men, together over their own number, whom Oliver recognised
as the Apaches and the banditti, whom they had left at daggers drawn,
or, more exactly, at long shots with each other.

To explain this unparalleled occurrence in border records, the union of
two hostile forces in brotherly ties for active operation, we must turn
back a few pages.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE PACT OF BLOOD.


Behind the fugitives, the rattle of dropping shots had gone on for an
hour so that Oregon Oliver's prophecy of the possible duration of such
skirmishing bid fair to be verified.

The Indians mode of warfare is to force a retrograde movement by the
gradual concentration of fire, and at the moment a retreat is begun,
whatever the cause--strategetic or from pure weakness or cowardice--a
charge is made by the best warriors in a body, whooping and brandishing
their weapons.

Knowing something of how resistless was such a rush, our old
acquaintance Don Aníbal, _alias_ The Slayer of Seven, was in no
humour for awaiting one. Already, from the glimpse he had of the
young Mexican girl borne away among the stampeded horses, his desire
for retaliation on don Benito had inspired him with a novel idea; he
hoped, against all precedent, to unite the Apaches with him in the same
purpose.

It was, indeed, our old acquaintance, the reader will see, perfectly
unscrupulous by what means he obtained his ends.

The miracle to which he owed the preservation of his rascally life had
been a lesson only for the time being.

When, plunging off the islet into the Gulf in order to elude the
infuriated husband of doña Dolores, the pirate was swimming for an
offing, he became the aim of more than one shark. Twice he escaped
being swallowed more or less in the maw of the most swift, for each
time he had swerved on one side as it blindly turned back downward for
the terrible bite. But, when so near the shore as to hope for full
immunity from this living danger at least, one of the tintoreras,
fearless of the shoaling water, flew forward like a flash of lightning,
and, amid an eddy of the churning water, poor Matasiete was seized
by the leg, and suffered the anguish of its being torn from half the
thigh. His scream was stifled as he was dragged down, and when he
arose, he was cast upon the strand. With the strength of infernal pain
and the madness of despair he not only dragged himself up under cover
of the mangroves, but twisted his cravat as a tourniquet around the
severed limb. Then he fainted away.

It was not until the morning that the pearl fishers were attracted to
him by his piteous groans. They had been so generously paid by Mr.
Gladsden after his securing the treasure that they took great care of
the dismembered Mexican, believing him one of the brigantine crew,
in which belief he took heed not to disturb them in his rare lucid
moments. They rewarded themselves by stripping him and cutting off his
silver buttons, and after a few weeks, changing their fishing ground,
left him in their best hut. Fever had gone, but he was as weak as a
child, and for some months seemed able only to crawl about. Thus he had
ample time for repentance even of so long a career of guilt.

He was penitent in his helplessness, and had such a man as Father
Serafino encountered him then, he might never have recurred to
his former life. But no one came near the crippled hermit but sea
otter hunters, and pearl and whale fishers, and they were rough,
unsympathetic souls, who only landed to buy, or take by force, the
vegetables which he raised.

In this way, chained to the spot by his loss of limb, with the
perpetual presence of the reef where that treasure had been drawn up,
to embitter his thoughts and his dreams, Matasiete nursed projects
of vengeance, not merely against the Englishman and don Benito, but
against all human kind.

At last, nearly four years in this almost solitary existence having
passed, and his little hoard of earnings by the supply of green meat to
the whalers swelling out so that he feared he would be robbed, he took
advantage of the offer of an officer of a British man-of-war, surveying
the Gulf, to transport him to Guaymas.

People and things had changed there; the prospect of the railways
connecting the port with the United States and Mexico City had
galvanised it into a life he had never known before. Most of his
associates had disappeared; but he found Don Stefano Garcia humbly
"clerking it" in a merchant's, and very reticent about a fortnight
in the chain gang, which punishment he had undergone for some little
playfulness in his banking business.

Wary, tenacious, exacting, the returned salteador fastened himself
upon the clerk and blackmailed him almost daily, spending the extorted
money in the sailors' drinking dens. At last, seeing that his Old Man
of the Sea was doomed to be his destruction, Garcia made an effort,
gave the robber a large sum of money once for all, and started him for
the northern interior. The former rover of the Sierras had expressed a
desire to resume the old life of freedom, tempered with depredation and
debauchery.

Soon, indeed, to the nucleus of a few chosen scoundrels with whom
he had beguiled the intervals between revels and card play in the
Guaymas groggeries, with stories of the merry life on the prairies, the
captain added the floating scum of Upper Sonora. But this time he did
not hesitate to venture into New Mexico and run off cattle from the
American settlers. Thus he acquired a wider fame than before, and on
both sides of the border the One-legged Rustler had a price set on his
head.

About a year before, he had an accession to his band in the person
of no less than the ex-banker, don Stefano Garcia. That estimable
gentleman, from forgery to forgery, had contrived to bring the
credulous foreign firm that employed him to bankruptcy, and, well
supplied with funds, thus shamefully acquired, was encountered by his
old associate gambling it away in the Green Ranch. They were scandalous
rogues, born to travel in harness, and Garcia at once stepped into the
lieutenancy of the formidable band. Too corpulent to be agile, except
in the dance, in which he excelled like most Mexicans, he preferred to
win by astuteness, and was no more daring when his neck was concerned
than El Manco himself.

It was he who earnestly approved his superior's idea of stopping the
desultory fighting and becoming friends with the Apaches. For one knew
as well as the other that they were wolves whose hide would cost dear,
and then be worthless.

The Apaches, as we have elsewhere remarked, are about the most
ferocious and barbarous nation in the great Southwest. Neither Sioux
nor Pawnees attain their perfection in cruelty, and they are matchless
as the Comanches in horse stealing.

They are tyrants of the wilderness, in short, who see no life worth
living without murder, pillage, torture, and conflagrations. They make
no nice distinctions in attacking any beings, white, red, or mixed
blood, merely out of an implacable hatred for those born beyond their
pale. It is said that when other supply of foemen fall short, they will
quarrel among themselves and cross knives in the council lodge itself
for the sheer relish of bloodshedding.

Such were the demons to whom the Mexican Ishmael wanted to propose a
temporary alliance to attack and carry by storm the hacienda of don
Benito de Bustamente.

All at once, therefore, Captain Pedrillo bid one of his men sound a
bugle in imitation of the notes of the cry used by the Apaches for
"cease firing!" and, immediately, one of his lieutenants, risking
his life, sprang from behind a tree towards the red man, waving a
blanket in a peculiar manner which kept it flat but undulating in the
air, whilst he shouted "_Paz_--peace!" As a rule, such overtures are
disregarded by Indians in combat, but the incertitude about their
beloved chief made them accept it. Their missiles were no longer heard
whistling, and, in a few minutes spent in consultation, one of the
subchiefs leaped into the clear ground, and waved a white buffalo robe.

With bravado, in order to indicate that fear had nothing to do with
this offering and assent to the truce, both parties showed themselves.

On the one side, more than a hundred red men appeared, bristling with
spears and arrows held on the bow, or displaying guns and hatchets.
On the other, upon an earthwork hastily thrown up with knives, the
ruffians presented themselves, to the number of sixty at least
enveloped in their zarapés, coiled up to protect vital parts of the
body, their heads shaded with _sombreros_, or capped with skins of
animals, still showing their teeth and claws; their guns and their
machetes gleamed brightly. Both seemed tough morsels, and though
the Indians uttered no comments on the parade, their glances among
themselves expressed the same sentiment of admiration which the
Mexicans muttered.

The _alférez_ and the Apache chief slowly advanced, step for step, so
as to meet midway between the lines; as they came on nearer and nearer,
they threw down weapon after weapon so as, at last, when they stood
within arm's length, to be totally disarmed, in all appearance. No
doubt both had a concealed knife, for treachery is always suspected in
prairie warfare.

When they actually met, and the Mexican spokesman had repeated his
mission to propose peace, on the grounds that there was no quarrel
between the noble Apaches and the bandits, who were in no way connected
with those infernal North American heretics who had intruded within the
Rancho Verde, the Indian made a sign to his friends. Instantly, in a
majestic manner, several chiefs came forward towards him, a movement
imitated by Pedrillo and his subleaders, and soon the two groups were
facing one another.

Profoundly distrustful, though no weapons were visible, both parties
fully aware of the rascality of either, the Apaches nevertheless
recognised that the pair of fugitives who had slain their chief
after beating the Rustlers in the barroom, and were speeding away
on re-stolen horses, were no friends of the Mexicans. The proposal,
therefore, that the two forces should unite in their mutual hate for
the strangers, by whose deeds both suffered, was congenial. Always
repulsed when they attacked the fortified houses of the rich farmers,
the Indians hoped for better results if they were aided by men
accustomed to fight on foot and to manage a siege.

Consequently, not ten minutes of explanation had passed before the half
dozen principals were seated in a circle in the centre of the clearing
before the smoking ruins of Tío Camote's luckless hostelry, with the
calumet circulating for a council.

One little detail had been promptly debated and settled; apart from the
bloodshed due to Mr. Gladsden and his hunter guide, five of the Apaches
had been slain by Mexican bullets, while only three of the bandits had
lost their lives in the skirmish. Now, inasmuch as the code "a life
for a life," rules the savage practice, the Rustlers owed two lives to
the Apaches, who could not, with a debt of blood unpaid, enter into
alliance with the debtors.

With a sharklike grin, the worthy Captain Pedrillo removed this
difficulty.

"There are four of my men, Chief Iron Shirt," said he, leaning towards
the successor of Tiger Cat, "rank weeds, unruly, who have secreted
unfair shares of plunder, and who contemplate desertion to go to Ures,
and, perhaps, betray me and their valiant comrades to the police. I
will arrange, on our march, to send them away as a detached scouting
party, and your young men may take and wear their scalps at their
girdles. Four scalps for two lives! Applaud my generosity!"

"It is a bargain," said the Apaches, grimly enjoying the joke.

Iron Shirt was a notorious villain, having twice at least mingled with
the Cheyennes and passed himself off for one of them in order to obtain
from the United States agent arms and ammunition which he meant, even
as he received them with protestations of lip service, to essay upon
the very official who gave them. Hence he was the man particularly to
appreciate double-dealing and applaud it when he was not the dupe. He
derived his singular but veritable appellation--for he is like other
characters in our narrative, a figure in border annals--not from his
ever wearing a shirt of mail, but from his good fortune in escaping
body wounds. He attributed it to his "medicine," but the white hunters
thought him very dexterous in the use of the small shield which Indian
cavalry carry, and which, while not defying a rifle ball, will fend off
an arrow and stop a revolver bullet.

The pipe of council went twice around the ring, till Pedrillo spoke
again from his elevated perch on the horse, the others squatting in the
Indian fashion.

"My Apache brothers are great warriors," he said, "so I am wishful to
prove my esteem for them by having them join me, or taking me and my
band in conjunction with them," changing the form of offer on seeing
the Indian wince in wounded pride, "to make complete the successful
_coup_ which they have already struck at the hacienda of the Treasure
Hill. This time, my red brothers will return to their villages, not
merely with a few horses and one paleface girl, but with a long train
of mules packed with booty and fifty women to sew their clothes, fetch
water and cook their meals. The scalps are of no value to us, and they
will be the Apaches' prize! As for the plunder of the rich farm, we
divide it fairly between us. What does the chief say?"

Each of the Apaches answered in order of rank "it is good! The chief
says we will fall on the hacienda in concert, and the plunder will be
equally shared among the warriors."

The settlement of details was made whilst this favourable decision
upon the preliminaries was carried to the subordinates, interestedly
awaiting. General satisfaction was manifested, but the wary bandits and
red men took care not to mingle or fraternize, save with arms at hand,
even where several recognised acquaintances and hailed them cordially.

There was no doubt, as happens with more important treaty makers in
Europe, each contracting party reserved in secret the right to keep
none of the pledges given and to seize the spoil the moment he felt
strong enough to defy the consequences of such treachery.

Meanwhile, Pedrillo called for a keg of spirits saved from the wreck of
the ranch, and all drank to cement the negotiation.

Tío Camote had emerged from his retreat, and his two bartenders, more
frightened than hurt when the roof collapsed with them, saw the unburnt
stores of his tavern shared between the allies, as a commencement
of their active brotherhood, without too much resentment. Forced to
enlist actively among the banditti lest the rear guard of the Apaches
immolated him on the smouldering ruins, where their greatest chief was
inextricably buried to appease his manes, Uncle Sweet Potato still
wondered that he lived and breathed with his head thatched as nature
provided. As for his assistants, they were highwaymen when out of a
situation, and they entered the ranks again under Pedrillo's colours
without demur.

Just before sunset, the troops, united in sentiment though divided, as
independently pursuing their respective purposes in a parallel course
solely by accident, took up the ride towards Monte Tesoro. As they had
no doubt that the fugitives would be lodged, for Doña Perla's sake, in
her father's house, they had no reason to try to overtake them.

The first interruption to the rapid progress of the two troops, and at
the same time the first intimation they had of the revolt of the peons,
was their riding into the midst of the column shattered by the sham
lancers of Oregon Oliver. The severed portions of this column, like one
of those fabulous serpents which had the power of healing its wounds,
and joining its segments, had rallied into one mass. The leaders were
hesitating on the course to take when the Mexicans appeared, and they
feared a renewal of the disaster. Fortunately, before the panic was
revived, the Apaches delighted them, for they saw friends in men of
their colour if not of their race. An understanding was soon arrived
at. Needless to say, Pedrillo and Garcia congratulated themselves on
having such allies, and the prospect of overcoming not merely the farm
of don Benito, but of many another, made their faces radiant with
smiles.

Thus reinforced, the squadrons resumed the advance, followed closely by
the peons, who derived much enheartenment from such warlike adherents,
and, passing the detachment from Monte Tesoro still ensconced in the
pine and cedar woods, the throng poured into the valley with loud
clamour echoed by the assembled rebels. This joyous uproar did not
tend to reassure the beleaguered Mexicans, though its cause was not
perceptible.



CHAPTER XXIII.

CANNON IS BROUGHT TO BEAR.


Long and patiently had the environed garrison been awaiting the token
of well faring with the adventurers who had so daringly left that
shelter.

Only in the end of the night had the sudden, and, for the moment,
inexplicable apparition of the cattle on which had been imposed that
fiery burden, seemed to reveal the operations of their friends.

The charge of the furious and panic-stricken creatures, whose hides
were singed and smoked with a nauseating odour, was unresisted by
the rebels, huddled together just out of gunshot of the farm, in the
obscurity. Nevertheless, as soon as the true nature of this attack was
clear, and the more active Indians had speared those animals which had
not broken their necks and extinguished the flames in the ditch, the
alarm calmed down. It was at this juncture that don Benito, at the
head of a hundred horsemen, galloped out of the corral and executed
a terrible slashing and hewing, sweeping round amid carnage, and
returning with insignificant loss. The moral effect was even greater
than the material, for those of the insurgents who had previously
thought nothing of rushing up to the farmhouse, and firing a shot at
random amid tipsy threats and obscene imprecations, withdrew to a safe
distance, and vociferated for the self-constituted leaders to evince
their genius.

It was as don Benito's troop returned within the defences that they
heard, to their dismay, the well-known war cry of the Apaches only
too recently impressed on the hearing of all, and the shout of their
newfound robber allies.

Of Oliver, the Englishman, and their followers, no intelligence
whatever. It is only doing the master of the farm justice, as well as
his family, to say that deep distress was added to that they felt in
their plight with the fear that their daring friends had all fallen
into some trap of the cunning savages now foremost in opposition.

The aurora appeared, and the whole valley was revealed, full of the
rebels, amongst whom was added, as well as the sixty marauders who
held captain Pedrillo as chief, the full hundred Apaches, whose proud
and domineering carriage defined them from the Yaquis born under the
yoke which these had never experienced. Besides, before the heat of the
day forced both besiegers and besieged to take a siesta, the already
enormous concourse was swollen by the last fragments of the dispersed
column finding their way thither, burdened with plunder.

All the morning had passed in rash and irregular attacks on the houses,
but when they were not repulsed, the few score Indians who clambered
over the stockade were cut down by the horsemen inside. Twice the
Apaches had charged up to the walls, but, apparently, merely to test
the watchfulness of the inmates and the range of their firearms, for
they made no assault on the palisades, to pull and hack at which, or
even more to alight and clamber over, would have been ignoble in a
horse Indian.

Still no sign of the party that had sallied forth.

Successful in that sally of their own, the Mexican gentlemen wished
to retaliate on the Apaches in particular for the insult implied in
their departing from their war custom of never charging an enclosure or
building of any kind. But don Benito reminded them of the ladies who
would be undefended if the horsemen were cut off, and pointed to the
swarms of carousing Indians blackening the rising ground, where they
had mounted to watch the farm with lustful gaze.

Little by little, after Pedrillo and his mongrels had quieted the
hatred of the revolted Yaquis for anyone who reminded them of the
superior race, he obtained a kind of rule over their leaders, only less
potent than that which they had promptly accorded the Apaches. Iron
Shirt was an idol. The fact of his having but three days before swept
down upon that same stronghold still defying their hosts, and snatched
the proprietor's daughter and the cream of the horses merrily away,
sufficed to make each of these warriors to be followed by a tag-rag of
open-eyed Yaquis wherever they strayed in the wide encampment.

The food and liquor were placed under guard; the drunkards, who were
plunged in stupor, were bundled into the hollows out of the way, the
horse thieves who had been racing about were pulled off the bare backs,
and made to squat down and await orders for their superabundant energy
to be more profitably expended. The weapons were served out anew, with
some discrimination as to the bearer, so that the strong were no longer
puzzled with arms for which light-handed urchins sufficed, and the
youths disembarrassed of immense spears like Goliath's, and clubs that
the famous giant races of the Hidden Cities could alone have swung.

The women and children, too, were pushed back, and set to cooking
and other menial offices, which must have bewildered them as to the
advantages of revolution.

Therefore, Oliver and his associates soon beheld the impassible barrier
spread out broadly between them, and the surrounded fort became during
the day more and more formidable by these evidences of discipline.

Happily their neighbourhood was not suspected. The column defeated on
the previous night was composed of ignorant boors, who thought not at
all by day to give an intelligible account of the lancers, who, indeed,
having charged them from the ambush, were not well examined in the
hurry-scurry.

"What are they waiting for?" queried Mr. Gladsden, impatiently. "Surely
not for more reinforcements, when they are already a hundred to one!"

"That's the answer," said the white hunter. "Yon long string of naked
copperskins dragging that shining object at their tail."

"A cannon?"

"Yes! Two shots o' that and thar will be a hole in the farmhouse that a
herd of buffalo might traverse. Good night to our hidalgo if they get
that piece trained on the house. When a bullet hits those grey blocks,
hewn out of the volcano pumice stone, it will crumble like glass, and
no two ways about it. The _casa_ is a case."

"And can we do nothing, absolutely nothing? Can we not even pierce that
multitude, and enter among our friends and die with them."

"Well, I like a gentleman that has boys in the tender leaf still,
a-talking of dying anywhar's and so airly yit. Ef you hanker to run the
resk o' dying, that's a man's talk, and you can volunteer to come along
with me."

"Come along with you, Oliver?"

"Yes. If that cannon fires twice into that house, I tell 'ee, thar'll
be nothing but the worst kind of smashed fruit that ever figgered in an
old aunty's preserve pots. They may fire her off once, but not twice,
if I hev' the right sort of luck in my idee. I think this sport hes
gone quite far enough."

By this time Mr. Gladsden had become reconciled to Oliver having
"idees."

"I am with you," he simply said, "and the more desperate the
enterprise, the better it bids to quiet my blood, which is at boiling
point."

"You'll hev' all the despiritness you want," answered the Oregonian.

Then, turning to the Mexicans, who had waited the conclusion of their
dialogue restlessly, he continued:

"Whar's them skyrockets? Hand 'em here, Silvano. Keep close as you hev'
done all along. When you see those fireworks cavorting (curvetting)
around that big camp right smart, you sail in down the hill and stick
every red nigger till you are right up to the house, if your heart
backs your breastbone so far. And mark! Your government offers two
hundred and fifty dollars for Injin scalps, and you kin have my share
this trip, and welkim!"

His speech was received with enthusiasm, notably the peroration. He
illustrated his intention to make scalps by throwing off his uniform
coat, cutting his shirtsleeves off at the shoulder, and removing the
spurs which he had donned for the ride. Then he took up a handful of
live oak leaves, bruised them, and dyed his bared arms, neck and face
with the juice to a brown hue. At his suggestion, the Englishman left
his arms free and disguised his fairness of hue in the same manner.

"Do you see that rising ground up which they are toiling with that big
gun? That's our aim. Come on!"

"In the midst of them?"

"Plum centre."

Which was all the reply the query elicited.

The Yaquis occupied the further side of a long valley, almost in an
unbroken mass. These who elsewhere completed an environment of the
hacienda were in groups, which changed position at fancy, and were less
warlike than the main body. The rear was left to a natural guard; the
inaccessibility of the hill, where, too, a barranca, or deep chasm,
with perpendicular sides, caused by a torrent suddenly cutting its
way to a subterranean reservoir, almost at right angles, divided the
incline.

The watch, as is common with a sudden gathering, was nobody's business.

The Apaches and the Mexican half-breeds, self-constituted chiefs, were
now scattered among the Yaquis, teaching the handling of weapons and
promising them all manner of delights when the farm should be captured.

Oregon Ol. and his associate struck from the wood which concealed their
companions, away at first from the valley, but on arriving fairly upon
the north side, they advanced parallel with its crest, every now and
then perceiving a flag waving on top of the hacienda. The ground was
so rough that they had alternations of leaps and creeps over obstacles
of which the hunter made light, but which delayed the Englishman. On
reaching the gorge, the former paused to admit of the other coming up.

"Thar's our route," said the hunter, pointing down into this open
tunnel and along its incline upward, "We kin settle down to a long
scramble, but all the way thar'll be no alarms; those rum soakers
haven't a good eye among the heap."

"That is the more gratifying, as there are enough of them to convert us
into a pair of pincushions with their arrows."

Nevertheless, he could not help a shiver of repugnance to adventuring
at such a risk.

"I do not say we could do it by night, for down thar the twilight
allers dwells, save whar the line of sun glare travels at the bottom.
But thar is no other road."

They spent a few moments in further disguise, removing or staining
with red oxides every part of their remaining attire and exposed skin
which would not favour the supposition to a chance observer that they
were Indians floundering in the abyss where they had blundered during
intoxication. They were armed only with knives and revolvers, but each
carried one of the rockets.

They proceeded to descend the steep up and down side with all the
precaution requisite. Difficult was not the word for their task, for
none but a maniac or a lover or such as these staking all on the
chance of being infinite service to their fellows, would have hazarded
themselves.

The descent was a series of slides, checked by dwarf shrubs and rocks
of all imaginable forms, cut, ground, polished, jagged by the water
and sand; now and then, without any warnings, there were cracks and
holes three or four yards wide at the remote bottom of which was
to be heard a melancholy soughing and roaring as of raging demons
or oppressed souls. Out of several, a thick, noisome, warm vapour
sluggishly oozed. Once, when they had hardly succeeded in crossing a
part of which the rim was of crumbling sand, Oliver had made a remark
on the judiciousness of his comrade awaiting him there, but the answer
was so stern and impregnated with such resolution that he never again
remonstrated.

At last the centre of the trough was attained.

But here the chaos of sand, shrubs, and rocks, became next to
inextricable, and to proceed up through the hindrances, varying each
instant in material but not in degree, would have been pronounced
simply preposterous by the most exacting.

Nevertheless, Oliver was a man whom nothing could stop in his purpose,
for he twined in and out, crawled as supple as a serpent, thought
nothing of his hands and knees exposed to the adamantine sands and
the harsh catclaw bushes that would have frightened the half-naked
savages, and if ofttimes he was compelled to retrace his steps when he
had ventured into a non-egress, it was only the better to resume his
unwearied way.

"I'm no hog," growled he once, when he paused to suck a more than
usually deep briar scratch which he believed poisonous, "and I know
when I hev' my fill o' sich 'snaking,' but it's got to be did.
Besides," looking up from the semiobscurity to the top of the gorge
where the sky glowed the more gorgeously by contrast, "night must not
catch us no farther up, and agen," sniffing like an old sailor, "ain't
thar rain in the air?"

"I am stifled with the sulphur reeking out of these cracks," returned
his companion; "on this roof of Old Nick's kitchen, I really am not
aware I have a nose upon me for weather scenting."

Oliver grunted as a kind of quiet laugh, and on he scrambled.

At the same time that one would have deemed all his faculties absorbed
in picking the course and caring for his own safety, the hunter found
time, not merely to caution his comrade, but to intervene at moments
of peril. This constant attention in safekeeping once even almost led
to his losing his life or limbs, for in choosing for himself the wider
part of a crack, the edge gave way altogether, and but for Gladsden
clutching by the side, with a little fold of the skin, too, in the
grasp, the hunter must have fallen within the crust.

"Thank'ee, pard.!" observed the guide, wincing comically; "That time
you grabbed flesh and ha'r. A little more of sich a grip, an' you'd
hev' had to leave me behind, sot here; on my hind legs, a-howling!"

At last, after nearly twice the three hours assigned too rashly for the
whole effort had been spent in scaling the anfractuosities at which
a mountain sheep would have baulked, they had at all events ascended
the barranca and were under the centre of the part of the hill where
the Yaquis had dragged an old forty-pounder, brought over by the
conquerors, and for long rusting at some farm in the neighbourhood.
Their rejoicing at the accomplishment of their work coincided so
closely with that of the two white men that the latter smiled to be so
indirectly cheered.

Stopping to take breath, they looked back with relief and pride at the
horrible gulfy path which they had overcome, darkening into blackness
with the failing light.

Whilst the cannon was placed on some logs so that it could be trained
on the hacienda, to the level of which this hill almost rose,
the Yaquis were silent, so interested were they in the operation
superintended by Lieutenant Garcia, inflated into abnormal pomposity by
becoming the cynosure.

"Up!" said Oliver in this silence.

They had the abrupt side to climb when they would be beside the amateur
artillerists. After what they had overcome this affair was merely one
of time. The brink of the barranca was armed by stony mounds and the
wrecks of half a dozen pines of the giant species, which must have been
an imposing sight for miles around before the lightning or the tempest
shattered them. Ensconced in this natural barricade, not more than
three hundred feet from the nearest of the foe, they could easily take
the repose they deserved, whilst studying the scene and the actors.

On their front, to the right, the hacienda and its corrals, into
which they could gaze across the gully; farther away the forest where
the Mexican detachment lay. Beside them, the hill covered with the
insurgents, and more and still more of them in the vales. Disseminated
thus, they seemed a veritable swarm of locusts, such as covers the
plains of Arizona and Colorado.

They recognised without difficulty Captain Pedrillo on his horse, with
his wooden leg sticking out and twitching free of the stirrup; the
Apache chiefs, knowing nothing about ordnance, left the Mexicans to
manage the loading of the cannon with blasting powder. A pile of the
powder cans, some partly open and some altogether stove in and lidless,
with all the carelessness of the inexperienced, stood near the piece
on its wooden frame; at that distance the Englishman could even see
the brand on the tins of the sun in glory of the Rayo del Sol Mining
Company, from the works of which, by Regulus Pueblo, they had been
taken by its truant ore carriers.

Darkness fell, deeper than usually, which confirmed Oliver in his
forecast as to a tempest approaching, but the peons worked on at the
clumsy pedestal of the cannon by the flare of torches.

Seeing that the piece would surely be in place, Captain Pedrillo, Iron
Shirt, and the Apache subchiefs went into a large tent on the brow
of the hill. It was open on the face towards the hacienda above, and
consequently they were no longer visible to the two adventurers, who
could see only the guard of Indians at the same point.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE UNWILLING VOLUNTEER.


It had fallen a very black night, we say. Not a star peeped out among
the heavy clouds grazing the treetops and rim of the bowl in the centre
of which Monte Tesoro flaunted its defiant colours. In the northward,
long peals of thunder rolled without any lightning being visible.

Whether from the effect of the atmosphere, or by the presentiment
of the assault by the multitude of besiegers being imminent, a kind
of gloom seemed to reign in the hacienda; the courts were deserted,
the sentries were almost unseen, and their "all's well" but feebly
re-echoed along the barriers. Not one light sparkled at an aperture to
cheer the two watchers on the hill in the heart of the hostile camp.

On the other hand, without, at fires kindled far enough away not to
expose the crowds encircling them to gunshot, the rebels noisily kept
holiday, shouting and cheering and singing.

In the tent, formed of curtains and carpets thrown over supports of
tree stems, erected with all the ingenuity of a people expert by
tradition in hut building, the three chiefs of the allied foes of
Sonora were in conference.

Each had already gained a hold on the masses,--the Apache by having
shown with his handful of warriors that the Mexicans could be bearded
in their houses; the Mexican by his notorious feud with the farmer
gentry; and Juan, the Yaqui, by having accumulated these hordes, after
having excited them to throw off the yoke.

Furthermore, the latter had brought the cannon and suggested its
employment against the farm building; and Iron Shirt had distinguished
himself in all the charges up to the very pickets, harassing the
Mexicans till they were no doubt weary from want of rest.

All the tendency of their conversation was towards taunting the
one-legged robber chieftain for his backwardness in the attack.

Suddenly the Mexican, who had borne the innuendoes with deep
philosophy, as he smoked a cigarette or two, lifted his head, and
listening, said:

"I know that step! It is my spy's! Now, perhaps, I shall show you what
manner of man is el Manco."

There was a slight exchange of questions and answers between the guards
of the tent, and then the three leaders beheld a dark figure's outlines
against the sky.

It was a peon, apparently.

"Speak," said Captain Pedrillo, as the Indian bowed low, "we three are
one to hear you."

"Your Excellency," began the slave in a low, clear voice, eking out his
story with signs, which were clearer to the comprehension of Iron Shirt
than his speech, "I have penetrated the farm even to the gardens."

"Ah!" cried the peon leader and the robber in a breath, whilst the
Apache's eyes gleamed transiently and gleefully.

"I have found a secret gate in the palisade. One or two men, even
mounted ones, would not be remarked, for the watches are worn out by
the day's guard. In truth, a mounted man would be thought, once within
the corral, one of their officers. Thence, one can ride into the garden
where the ladies take the air. I am sure," added he, with ferocity,
"that if we had half a dozen of us in their midst, while our brothers
attacked the hacienda on all sides, that the defenders would be so
distracted by their shrieks and the war whoops that we would master the
place in a twinkling."

"You hear?" said the Mexican, complacently. "We might have hammered our
fists sore on the gate and made no headway. But thanks to my emissary,
Juan--"

"Diego--."

"Diego, then; we can have the cursed proprietors at a disadvantage. He
shall lead a small force into the heart of the fortress during this
night. Then let the sound of our cannon, hurling its huge balls into
the doomed dwelling, be their signal to seize the women enjoying the
shade and shelter, and ours to assail the same from every quarter."

The Apache was not enthusiastic, and the peon was suspicious.

"He was a servant there," explained Captain Pedrillo, hastily, noticing
how little his agent and his project were approved. "Don Benito had him
flogged for some peccadillo, and he has loved him, thirsted to show his
love for the family ever since."

The rebel leader grinned at the sarcasm; it opened an old sore.

"That is different," said he. "Diego, you are welcome now; and yet," he
went on, "Diego is Indian, yes; peon, yes; but Yaqui, no!"

"It is true, I am not a Yaqui," answered the other, with some pride,
"but I am a Mayo. My people hunted over this ground, hither and
thither, from the sea to the Aztec's land, from the Smoking Mountain to
the Pimas' cornfields; but now, their bow is broken, their gold gilds
the spurs of the Spaniard. Diego stands alone; the last of the Mayos is
the pointing dog of the Yaquis, the Apaches, and the Foe-to-all-men."

He locked his hands, and, bowing, remained like a statue before the
trio.

"Good!" said the Apache, "We are born diverse, but hatred makes us
brothers. I will bring a chosen band to the secret gate."

"And I," said the peon leader, "will set my brothers on the alert to
attack the farm at every point."

"And I will manage the great gun," said Pedrillo, pleased at how patly
things were falling. "Here upon the hill--"

"Out of shot?" sneered Juan. "No! Your Mexicans can manage the cannon.
You are the gentleman to handle the ladies with gloves; you, Captain,
will accompany the spy."

"But I cannot move out of the saddle."

"But you heard Diego say a mounted man will be taken for one of their
own officers--"

"Still--"

"It is well," interrupted Iron Shirt; "my brother the Yaqui prepares to
hurl his brothers on the pickets, whilst I and mine await at the gate.
The captain will go with the Mayo, and when the big gun is fired, we
all set to our work. It is spoken, the council is broken up."

He rose. The Yaqui bowed, accustomed already to yield immediately to
the superior ever-free Indian, and the Mexican concealed his disgust at
being overruled.

There was a brief silence, during which Diego quitted the tent, though
remaining still in view, just outside, apparently regarding the
stronghold and not listening to the chiefs.

The storm was fast approaching, for the lightning was visible, and the
thunder was borne on gusts which gave a damp feeling, though no rain
had fallen yet.

"Just the night for a surprise," remarked the Yaqui, assuming to the
best of his ability the air of one experienced in warfare.

"It is good," added the Apache, examining his weapons, conscientiously.

The Mexican looked from one to the other with diminishing hesitation.

"Good or not," said he, abruptly, "I see no harm in our taking
precautions."

The Apache paid no attention; he was fine edging his knife on a small
piece of Arkansas whetstone which he carried in a satchel at his side
among other little tools and his talismans. The Yaqui, however, looked
over at the speaker inquiringly.

"I want a few of my men to come with me. They know my ways--I know
theirs."

Juan consulted Iron Shirt with a glance and then nodded carelessly.

"Let me have Garcia before me, my alférez."

He stepped to the opening, and blew a silver whistle hanging by a chain
of the same metal around his long neck. Presently, the Mexican whom he
thus summoned came striding to his commander.

"Stefano," said the latter, loudly enough for the others to hear, "I
believe you are devoted to me?"

"I ought to be," was the answer, "for I should have been hanged three
months ago but for your honour plucking me out of the calaboose of
Concha Village. Since then I have been your trustiest lieutenant, I
take it."

"You have. Well, I am going on a forlorn hope, but a brave man thinks
nothing of risking his life when the reward is great. I am going almost
alone into the hacienda, with our Apache brothers, under the guidance
of our faithful peon yonder."

"Ah!" cried the ex-banker, incredulously.

"I shall be in the heart of the fortalice, in the gardens, where the
ladies recreate out of the reach of arrows, but not safe from the ball
from our cannon. Now, as a gallant gentleman, Stefano, do not, in
aiming at the house, fling your ball in among the dames."

"I won't, Captain, all the less likely, as I mean to aim at the
building low down. The ball will play prettily with the foundation
stone and the don's imported Spanish wines--more the pity."

"Then, if the ladies are safe," began the Mexican, relieved partly of
his fears, "there's no more to be said."

"The house is my mark, rest tranquil, your Excellency."

"Very well," sighed Pedrillo, drawing his false leg out of the hole
which he had deeply drilled in the earth in his agitation. "I no longer
have any uneasiness. Now, let me have six men for my expedition."

"You can have six rogues, who will go anywhere under the leadership of
La Chupa--"

"Stay; no, I would rather have your kinsman, Zagal, to be at their
head."

"My cousin? This is a grievous slur on a caballero to choose his
kinsman as a kind of hostage, but 'tis wartime and we must act like
warriors. Zagal shall accompany you, Captain, as you please. Have no
fear that I shall scalp him with a cannon shot," said Garcia with a
laugh. "He owes me forty odd dollars, to be paid out of our plunder of
the hacienda. Your honour is safe next him."

This arrangement completed, the captain had to go forth. He looked to a
brace of revolvers in his sword belt, to the sabre that it should play
freely, put on a _poncho_, lined with India-rubber against the rain,
and hobbled altogether from the tent. The peon guide awaited him, and
lent him his shoulder on his lame side till he had mounted his horse.
Already the Indians, to the number of fifty, were in the saddle; they
had removed everything of a light colour or that glittered, and had
chosen whole-coloured horses with a dark skin.

"Hasten down the hill," said Pedrillo, as his half a dozen rogues
galloped up into the troop, "the storm will be on us in ten minutes,
confound it! And all nocturnal excursions!"

Indeed, they were hardly out of the hollow, and mounting the slope
which gradually brought them to the level of the farmhouse, before they
were deluged with rain. Fortunately the lightning was flashing on the
other side of the pine forest, where the detachment from the besieged
were gladly sheltering themselves, and no glimmer fell upon the
cavalcade. The Apaches' bodies cast off the wet like ducks' plumage,
whilst the thick blankets of the Mexicans were as serviceable as the
chief salteador's waterproof.

The ditch was brimming with water, so much so as to be on the overflow
at one or two places where the peons bad wantonly breached it, and
the rippling of the waste water was quite noisy. Two of the Indians
swam the moat as easily as beavers, plied their hatchets dexterously
in the mud till a shelving landing place was formed, and there the
troop executed a passage. To ride up to the very stockade, of which the
height prevented even a horseman being perceived from the house, though
not from a sentinel on the enclosure, was no difficult task.

All remained as gloomy as silent. Beyond doubt, the falling rain had
pelted the watchmen into nooks.

Suddenly three figures started up under the very heads of the foremost
horses.

"Stay," said Diego, "they are peons. Yaqui?"

"Yaqui!" was the answer.

"What news?"

"Nothing."

"Where is the gate I found, and which I cannot surely lay my hand upon
now in the wet?"

"Here."



CHAPTER XXV.

THE LOYALTY OF THE APACHE.


"This is the gate," said the Mayo Indian, touching the palisades. "See,
it moves at a pressure. Now, who comes?"

The captain shuddered, he knew not why, as the secret piece in the
stockade yawned ajar.

"We await," said Iron Shirt, laconically, pointing to his followers,
who were huddling up against the long wall, and taking advantage of
every irregularity in its line.

"You await? Here?" cried the robber, astounded, "You never mean to
say you are not going to accompany me now that you see the way is
unimpeded?"

"Here we await," replied the Apache, firmly, "till we hear the war cry
of the Foe-to-all-Men. When the Legless Man sends up the whoop for
reinforcements, the Apaches will dash in and succour him."

"But, chief--"

"The chief has spoken, and his tongue is tired of talk."

"Well, if it is no avail remonstrating with the great warrior," replied
Pedrillo, grumbling to himself, "hang him for an obstinate red devil!
On, come on," he added, to his own five men and their corporal, as
reluctant as himself, on seeing the Apaches leave them to their own
valour, and he pushed them before him roughly with his horse's shoulder.

The Mexicans had all dismounted, not having his reason for keeping
in the saddle, and noiselessly stole in at the opening after the
redskinned pilot.

The little party was within the corral.

"To mark the place of this gate," said the salteador, "two of you
remain here."

"Good," said Diego, who pushed the gate shut, whereupon so neatly was
it contrived that, particularly in such absence of light, the joining
place of the edges was not perceptible.

"Deuce take you--what's that for?" cried the robber, suspiciously.

"Not to arouse observations if a keen eye follows the line of the
fences," replied the Mayo. "Your men plainly denote the spot, if we
must retreat."

"That is true," rejoined the valiant captain, but not in a tone of
assurance, whilst his men looked downhearted at one another, and
enviously at the couple left behind.

However, with the Apaches at hand, a retreat without striking a blow
would probably have caused a dispute which would have imperilled their
unholy alliance; and had as the prospect was, at least the Mexicans
might show a fellow countryman quarter, while the Indians would surely
not spare the turncoat whites.

After all, so far the smoothness of the entry promised fairly, and to
have to do with twenty gentlewomen was no formidable matter.

"On!" said he, impatiently, twitching up his wooden leg so that it
seemed to point the way.

They crossed the enclosure, and reached the second wall without a
challenge, over a ground eight inches deep in water, in the depressions
caused by horses' hoofs, and rude cartwheels.

Diego scrambled up the pickets like a cat. He almost instantly dropped
down, and said, in an ordinary tone--

"Not a head along the wall far or near."

"They have drawn in their sentries," said Zagal, a quick-eyed,
nimble half-breed, "or they have fallen back under the verandah for
protection. It's quite right of them. I would not put a dog out this
weather."

"Bah," returned the captain, eager to believe the coast was clear of
sharpshooters, and well defended by his waterproof, "war dogs should
disregard the rain. As I cannot leap my horse over those pikes, suppose
you find the gate."

The Mayo had already groped along the corral, and unexpectedly the
gate was opened by him. With a few strokes of his knife he had cut the
rawhide thongs that served as fastenings and were relaxed by the wet.

"Let two of you stay here," said Pedrillo, before following the others
through.

Then he pushed his horse between the main post and the gate held half
open by Diego.

He and his three trusty rogues were before the house, which loomed up
large at the end of the long, wide enclosure.

The thunder was dying away, and the swishing of the rain in the puddles
and against the palisades seemed lessening in intensity. Certainly, the
sentries were removed, and the building was silent as a mausoleum.

Nevertheless, they durst not directly cross the open spaces, but
skirted the stockade until they could move forward in the cover of
outbuildings which favoured a zigzag advance.

In this manner they attained a brick wall, where Diego halted them with
his uplifted hand.

"The garden," he whispered.

By all these movements an hour and a half had elapsed. They were so
close to the house that the windows were seen to be outlined here and
there by the glow around the edges of the sashes and, through insect
protectors of gauze, from subdued lights within.

All seemed asleep.

"We might have taken the hacienda," observed Captain Pedrillo, vexedly.
"But those poltroon redskins hung back."

"Nay," replied the Mayo, shaking his head. "They are on their guard
within, never fear. There is only one weak point, and that I am showing
to your honour."

With his knife, the Indian's tool of all work, he severed the wooden
bolt of a door in the wall, and burst it open from a hasp within by a
steady pressure of the shoulder. He drew on one side, after pushing it
open, in respect. The glimpse within was purely of a black den where
wet vines and nodding plants glistened dully of the pouring shower.

"Thank you," said the captain, "for myself and band. But just you go in
and scout about first. So far we have done a deed of daring; to run our
heads into the wolf's very jaws smacks of rashness."

Diego plunged into the doorway in a cautious manner.

"What do you think of all this, Zagal?" inquired the Mexican chief
quickly.

"That we ought to have carried fifty pounds of that blasting powder
each man, and we could have blown the hacienda into mud pies! What a
chance to miss!"

"Very true," said the captain, pretending to see the venture in the
same way. "I wish we had the affair to begin all over again: I should
act in a very different way."

In the next instant the Indian reappeared.

"The garden is deserted. Not so much as a horned owl drowned out of its
nest," he said.

"Ah!" sighed Pedrillo, like a martyr; "Let us go on. Only one of you
remain at this post, his foot in the doorway, holding the door close,
but not letting it shut, on his life."

The horseman, the Indian, and the two other Mexicans then invaded
the garden. Pedrillo shook with eager heroism so that his steed
participated in the tremor. It was a night, and the garden a place to
inspire terror, even in the breast least timid, one must grant.

The garden was a maze designed after some labyrinth in a Spanish palace
grounds, and rendered more bewildering by the luxuriant growth of the
plants and shrubbery chosen to form the intervolutions.

It angered El Manco very much that Zagal would not regard the affair
with his own eyes, but persisted in cherishing the plan.

"What a splendid spot for an ambush," said he. "The keenest eye cannot
perceive any of us, even your Excellency on the horse's back."

"So be it," answered the captain testily. "Take your nestling places,
then, at least till after this clearing-off shower. What a swamping!
'Sdeath of my life! I do not blame the men of don Benito for keeping
indoors."

Diego pointed out a species of alcove of verdure into which he backed
his horse, equally grateful for shelter in the worst torrent of all
that had fallen.

Diego, grinning and showing shark teeth, stood at the mouth of this
bay, lashed by the swinging vines and lianas, eyeing the sky and
listening attentively to all sounds, quiet as a statue.

After that waterspout, the tempest fled with haste, sweeping away all
the gloomy clouds.

Out of the sky of deep blue suddenly sparkled a myriad of stars. The
moon, too, presented a pale face in a watery vapour, which gave an
effect of mirage as if it had a misty partner and the two were slowly
dancing.

The atmosphere became of singular limpidity, and the smallest leaves
and the flower cups so tiny that only the hummingbirds' bills could
pierce their hollow, were discernible at a distance. Thousands of
gnats and mosquitoes swarmed out of their retreats and played in the
moonlight like motes in the solar beams. The earth began to smoke with
vapour, and the flowers exhaled oppressive wealth of perfumes.

The captain, galvanised by the fresh morning breeze, for it must have
been about three o'clock, was about to call his men for a consultation,
when on each side of him he felt a figure rise, and in each of his
leather cheeks was pressed the muzzle of a pistol. At the same time,
his arms were grasped and pressed down by his sides. Another pair of
hands seized each leg, real and fictitious, and lifting him up, he was
held in the air like a puppet, whilst the traitorous Diego drew the
horse out from under him. Then his unknown seizers lowered him to the
ground, in the softness of which his stump was deeply embedded, and a
low but firm voice muttered in his ear:

"No nonsense, or you are a dead man before being justly hanged!"

Some stifled oaths and cries, at the same time as a scuffle, betokened
that his followers were being mastered in the like manner. Only the
horrid grating of a knife along a bone, and a deep groan or two proved
that Zagal or another had offered such a manful resistance as their
captain well heeded not to attempt.

Two men took the salteador between them, bending like a sack of grain,
and carried him, heels first, in that ignominious attitude, through the
maze, which was no puzzle to them, into the house over the porch and in
at a window from the verandah. The room into which he was transported
was that where Mr. Gladsden had been entertained. Don Benito, his son,
and another gentleman, chiefs of the defensive operations, were there
seated. Two lamps, burning low, were quickly turned up on the arrival
of the prisoner, evidently expected. His carriers were two Mexicans
of strong build, armed to the teeth, who set him in an armchair,
confronting their master, and stood, one each side of him, pistols
still in hand.

For a moment don Benito and his captive looked at one another. Hatred
and anguish at having been thus placed before his old enemy gave the
former don Aníbal the impudence not to quail.

"My so-called captain," said the hacendero, "you are my prisoner."

"By the cursedest treachery," returned Pedrillo, bitterly and really
burning with indignation.

"Which trick has only prevented you attempting a more shameful deed
against women and children of your own race--a race that repudiates
such as you, though."

"I am a volunteer frontier guard," rejoined the freelance, still more
impudently. "If it were not for my band doing soldierly duty along the
border, your houses, your sheep, your cattle, your families would not
be safe."

"Trash!" returned don Benito. "You are an ally of the redskin
murderers, not their repressor."

"This is the first time I have ever been hand in hand with them," went
on Pedrillo, pleading direct to the third Mexican whom he knew to be
a rich proprietor. "They have forced me to act with them. When one is
among wolves, he must howl with them."

"A wolf howls with wolves, but a dog dies battling with them," retorted
señor Bustamente.

Diego entered the room at this juncture.

"Well?" demanded the hacendero.

"One dead with his own knife in his heart; one wounded with a pistol
shot which went off in the folds of his blanket, the other safe and
sound," reported the false guide.

"This Indian will bear me out that I entered on the mad enterprise
reluctantly," began the bandolero in a less firm voice.

"This Indian Diego knows you of old, and I advise you not to require
a character from him. In the time when you resumed your old craft of
piracy and attacked me in the Gulf, this Indian and his father scuttled
your steamer, effectually executing that diversion which prevented your
crew from overwhelming my brave friend."

Captain Pedrillo rewarded the Mayo with a malignant look. If he had
only have suspected this before when he had him in his camp. Whilst he
ground his teeth and jerked his stump nervously, his judge pursued:

"I have had you decoyed out of your forces that the savages may
not have the benefit of your cultured cunning. You deserve death a
hundredfold for warring against Mexico, and that death should be the
traitor's--that by the ignoble rope. But I have no hangman's noose
here; you are going to be honoured with the soldier's fate--you shall
only be shot!"

"Beware!" said Pedrillo, stoutly, though his heart sank; "This house is
surrounded by a multitude like the waves of a sea. When the assault is
made for which the signal is the crushing shot of an enormous cannon
being levelled hereon under cover of the stormy darkness, you will be
inundated by the sands of a desert storm. My murder will be avenged on
each of you, your wives, your daughters and your sons and servants,
over and over again!"

"Thanks for the caution, but we mean to sell our lives and our dear
ones' honour most dearly. Meanwhile, you will be shot. Take the carrion
hence to the room where Father Serafino will try to soften his hard
heart, and then lead him out to execution."

The cold, stern sentence annihilated the salteador's insolence. His
hands dropped and hung each side of the armchair, whilst he murmured in
deep terror.

"You have robbed me before of my ship, of my bravest men, and now would
have my blood! It is of evil omen to you!"

He trembled, and his eyes seemed to be moistened; clearly his ferocious
soul was weakening, and fear had stricken him to the heart. The two
peons bore him away between them, like an automatic figure, of which
the limbs of flesh and bone were no more vivified than that of wood.
In this supine, hopeless state, the priest could in no way prevail on
him. Half an hour was entirely wasted in unavailing pleading. Then came
the guard to carry out the prostrated miscreant to meet his doom at the
dawn of that day when he anticipated he should have the farm at his
mercy.

Without resistance, ceasing to tremble but still a weakling, the once
dreaded bandit allowed himself to be propped up against the palisade.
By the morn's early light his figure, firmly set by his wooden leg
being fixed in the wet ground, his back against the wood, his head
on one shoulder, his eyes closed, his white lips muttering nothing
intelligible, could all be seen by the Indians and his followers
upon the other eminence. Thence, too, could be discerned the firing
party of peons, five in number, ranged at a few paces, before don
Benito, who was to give the word. The miserable aspect of the lame
man, like a buzzard with a broken and trailing wing, pitiable despite
its loathsomeness, made the Mexican see that he was judicious in not
hanging the robber; the sight of the single leg twitching in the death
struggle in air would have appealed to humanity, and Pedrillo el Manco
would become an exalted legend among the reprobates of the province.

All was ready.

A gleam of sunlight irradiated the corral, and glistened on the wet
pickets, and yellowed the waxen face of the wretch condemned to death.

Don Benito looked at the five gun barrels just catching the sunbeam,
and was about to give the order for them to fire, when a totally
unforeshadowed interposition occurred.

When, during the night, the Apaches at the secret gate had heard the
scuffle within the enclosure, which denoted how the Mexicans had fallen
on the unfortunate companions of Pedrillo, they were off at full speed
without delay, clearing the moat at a tremendous bound. Two of the
robbers succeeded in passing through the postern, but were overtaken
and cut down on the brink of the ditch. After that, during the trial of
Captain Pedrillo, the environs of the hacienda had not been disturbed.
At the present moment all eyes within the corral were directed on the
culprit so soon to expiate his crimes. Nevertheless, the sentries
would not have permitted a numerous body of enemies to have approached
unchallenged. But it was another matter as regarded a solitary Apache,
who, now hanging by the side of his war pony, now leading it, now
crawling on alone before, and whistling softly for it to join him, came
up to the palisade totally unseen and unexpected. In fact, how could
the two hundred peons and Mexicans in the farm enclosure fear anything
from a solitary red man?

Thus had Iron Shirt, for it was the chief who devoted himself to a
desperate enterprise, reached the outside of the stockade just where
the bullets, sure to perforate the wood around the death-awaiting
bandolero, would salute the unsuspected bystander painfully. The
woodwork rose some fourteen feet high, effectually masking him and his
equally as steadily moving steed. He stopped the latter, vaulted on his
back like a circus rider, stood up, and all of a sudden the startled
Mexicans beheld the plumed head, the black painted face, and the long
arm of the Apache above the pointed posts, just over the cowering
bandit's form.

"Fire!" cried don Benito.

But even as he spoke the red arm was extended downwards, the steellike
fingers clutched the shoulder of Captain Pedrillo, and he was lifted
up with what was a prodigious expenditure of force, albeit he was the
lighter by a limb than most men, clear of the low aim of the peons.
Then, caught in both arms of the savage, standing on his horse, the
Mexican was transferred to the farther side of the barricade.

It was the deed of an instant, this snatching aloof of the victim.

Fifty eager men, shaking off their stupefaction, sprang to the
stockade, and leaping upon shelves, placed there for the purpose,
fired on the disappearing pony, burdened with the double charge, but
gallantly bounding away.

At the same time, to draw off a second volley from their gallant chief,
a number of Apaches, and the rebels who ran up the incline as far as
the verge of the ditch, shot arrows and bullets into the corral. The
Mexicans were compelled to drop down and retire.

True to the chivalric creed that a chief's scalp is to be rescued at
any cost, Iron Shirt had saved his brother commander.



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE HARVEST OF THE KNIFE.


With similar fortitude, the American and his associate had resisted the
rain in the best shelter the rocks afforded. At least, the relentless
downpour had prevented any completion of the mounting of the piece,
and it was not till full day, after the Apache chief had triumphantly
brought the Mexican back to the encampment, amid the _vivas_ of the
rebels, that Garcia's cannoneers had obtained the fitting elevation.

This done, the robber lieutenant applied his cigar, after having puffed
it into active incandescence, to the piece of slow match stuck in the
rusty touchhole, and embedded there with ample powder to ensure the
ignition.

Gladsden gave the hunter an appealing look, but the latter's face was
immobile as a statue's. He had, therefore, to control his throbbing
heart as best he might, whilst the match spluttered and hissed like
a serpent, and lessened in length. All eyes were fastened upon the
farmhouse, and the unutterably deep silence which pervaded the
thousands of enemies to the beset handful was most impressive.

Hardly had a few seconds, which seemed minutes to all concerned, fled
away, than the spark reached the powder; there was a faint flash, then
a much brighter and broader one, and with a gush of flame, as at the
opening of an iron furnace door, the old gun awoke from its centuries'
repose, with the roar of a menagerie lion that was at last released
from captivity.

Through the rolling smoke the huge round stone, which had been chosen
for bullet, sped noisily in an arc of trajectory which gave señor
Stefano much credit, and crashed into the farmhouse a little below the
roof edge, knocking three little bits of windows into one broad gap.

An immense shout of savage joy hailed this result, and even the
bystanders, injured by the splinters of the logs, smashed by the recoil
of the gun, forgot their hurts in the success.

Gladsden had leaned forward out of the covert, and seemed on the verge
of seeking to avenge this hurling of death in amid the Mexican's home;
but the American placed both hands on his shoulders, and dragged him
back and downwards.

"Wait!" said he, grimly. "Before they fire a second ball, our turn to
play comes in. They will leave powder round loose, will they? I'll show
'em! You jes' hold your hosses--I'll show 'em to shoot at women and
children."

Indeed, there was plenty of time for the planning and execution of
a countermeasure, for the remounting of the forty pounder, though
cheerfully, even merrily, performed, was a lengthy labour.

Mr. Gladsden, chafing at his impotence, fixed his eyes on the
farmhouse, where the great hole seemed to reproach him for this
inaction. There did appear at its edges what seemed men at that
distance, but the Yaquis immediately showered stones and darts on these
repairers, who shortly retired.

The unfortunate victims of the bombardment would have no choice but to
put the women in the cellars and perish in the ruins, or sally out at a
disadvantage when the cannon rendered the place quite untenable.

In the meantime, Oliver, calculating with much exactitude the time
required by the Mexicans and their assistants to replace the gun on
its rests, was splitting a length of old pine in halves; this done, he
hollowed out the centre with his knife, and soon had a pair of troughs
which served very fairly as rocket tubes. As soon as he had finished,
his jogging the elbow of the Englishman for him to look, set the latter
to comprehend in part the hunter's intention.

He aided him eagerly to lay the rockets in the hollow of the wood,
itself supported firmly between the stones, the mouth directed with
all the care he would have given a shot on which life depended at the
powder canisters.

It is true that several horses and men came between the mark and
the two projectiles, but their iron heads would make light of such
obstacles, perhaps.

Enthusiastic at the great result of the first discharge, many of the
Yaquis swarmed up the slope to see the second discharge more closely,
and, spite of orders from the guard of the robber captain, they
clustered so as to almost impede the smiling cannoneer in his second
essay.

Three of the Apaches on their horses on one side, and half a dozen
Mexicans charged them slowly to bear them back. An opening was made
thereby, a vista from the two watchers, even to the cannon and its
ammunition pile.

"It is the time! Touch off!" whispered Oliver.

The Englishman gave him a fusee out of his cigar lights box, and
kindled one himself simultaneously. The two, with one and the same
movement, clapped them to the rocket matches, which they had pinched
off short, and blew at the flames to accelerate the burning.

Engrossed in the application of the fire to the cannon, none of the
enemy heard this slight crepitation, or saw the thin sparks on the
barranca's crest.

Almost immediately the match was blazing within each case, and,
covering the two whites with a shower of sparks, the rockets, slowly
at first, but soon far distancing the initial velocity, traversed the
intervening space, and deflecting towards the ground, rushed noisily
through the little group of robbers, Apaches, Yaquis and leaders,
into the very heap of powder. The explosion occurred, but, not in the
least pausing, the rockets continued an erratic flight, ploughing up
the ground, ricocheting, separating, crossing and joining, diffusing
silver and ruddy golden fireballs, and thus careering among the amazed
multitude till the cases fell as blackened coals.

Meanwhile, the powder which was loose had flared up and frightened the
horses; then the open tins burst and showered the ground with flaring
rain. The full tins went off like bombs, and one of them, dislocating
the arrangement of timber under the gun, upset the whole pile. The
cannon, of which the match had been uninterruptedly burning, went off
whilst thus overturned, and the stone ball, perforating a herd of the
Yaquis, split in three pieces, which fell upon the upturned, curious
faces of their fellows beneath the hill.

"I'm inclined to b'lieve," remarked Oliver, drawing his revolver, "that
the folks on the farm hev' seen our rockets go off at last."

Whilst the smoke was enshrouding the hill top, and the ground still
quaking, the mounted men who had not been unsaddled, using both hands
to restrain their terrified steeds, and the unhurt savages flying to
and fro and against one another in great consternation, the rockets
had been truly taken for their signal of action by both the Mexican
parties, however far divided.

Out of the wood debouched the mounted Mexicans, shaking their
banneretted lances as if they were reeds, and shouting "Mexico
forever!" As they came on, well thinned out, their swiftness gave them
the appearance of a much more numerous column.

"The soldiers! The soldiers from Ures!" screamed the Yaquis in the
hollow. "Look out for yourselves! The lancers are coming!"

On seeing them in confusion, and shrinking back from all sides so as
to form a serried mass under the walls of the hacienda, don Benito and
don Jorge, each at the head of a troop, dashed out of the corral at the
main portal and the secret one, and executed a dreadful double charge
to the cry of "Down with the rebels!"

The shock of the pretended lancers and the hacendero's followers on
opposite sides of the insurgents' agitated ranks, occasioned a combat;
but when the horsemen, with spear or cutlass, were intermingled with
the footmen, it became slaughter. Neither side craved for mercy, and
they fought as only men can fight who were either masters who feared to
lose the upper hand of subjects, or slaves who were seeking reprisals
for wrongs inflicted on anterior generations.

Whenever the swaying of the mob brought a mass near the hacienda or its
stockade, all the defenders within, to whom were added the women, armed
with obsolete firearms, musketry, and blunderbusses, fired upon them,
and added not inconsiderably to the dismay and butchery.

In the interval, on the summit of the hill, where the smoke still
lingered from the explosions, the salteadores had sought to punish the
rocket dischargers, whom they had perceived in the rocks and under the
pine stumps. It is true that the Englishman had most imprudently stood
up in order to see what really was the extent of the damage done. The
Apaches, at a word from Iron Shirt, had descended the hill towards the
hacienda, rallying their own comrades preparatory to a prudent drawing
off with all the livestock which might be added to their previously
collected droves. They considered the battle lost to them on seeing
the immovable Yaquis struck with panic, an emotion which extended
with marvellous rapidity even to those on the other side of the farm,
entirely unaffected by actual danger.

Stunned by the cannon report, a noise too great of its kind to have
ever come within their experience, the banditti's horses were found to
be unmanageable, and they had alighted, all but their maimed leader,
whose steed was less incapable of guidance, to punish the authors of
the disaster which had turned the tide.

Three times they made a rush at the natural bulwarks in full belief
that they could hurl the paltry opposition over, a-down the ravine; but
each time their retreat was marked by a line of corpses. So near a mark
was fatal to the heavy thirty-eight calibre repeaters.

"This is the second time you are running agen this snag," taunted the
hunter, with that bitter loquacity common to him and Indians in the
fever of combat, "but come on agen! Bless you, that's on'y an appetiser
to the pie to foller! Thar's roast ribs the next dish! Come and sweep
the platter--only two tender chickens left, and plenty of gravy! Do
come now, while the offer is open! Did any gentleman say, 'Mercy!'
Well, I'm not sparing white skunks today! P'raps you're only drawing
our fire--loafing round tell we haven't a cartridge left! Yes, do walk
up for a grapple and a hug--we are only the worst kickers you ever
seen, that's all."

All this sarcasm was echoed by Pedrillo; his fury was indescribable, to
say nothing of the effects of the native brandy which had been given
him as a remedy after his prostration under the fear of death. When
he recognised the Englishman, all the pent up rage of fifteen years
inspired him, and his _absent leg_ ached again as lively as when it
had been torn off by the shark. The _gringo_, who had sunk his ship,
after having run away with his bride and his cruiser; who had taken the
treasure which the law of robbers assigned to the captain in good part;
this impudent spoilsport again had marred the consummation of vengeance
upon his fellow foe, don Benito. He cast all prudence aside; he himself
advanced with his surviving men prominently.

"We'll bury them in the dry _arroyo_!" he yelled, foaming at the
mouth, and his wooden leg beating the horse's shoulder in his feverish
convulsions. "Down with them."

What was their surprise to see the two men leap disdainfully over their
breastwork, and stride towards the eight or ten Mexicans with revolver
and knife in hand, spurning the dead and wounded due to the same
well-plied weapons.

The bandits slackened their pace, but the mounted leader, still
continuing, advanced beyond them. They resumed their charge. But
already that separation had resolved Gladsden. Forgetting that he
had been enjoined to keep side by side with the American as long as
they faced the Rustlers, and, when the chance-medley came, to stand
back to back with him, he sprang quickly onward. The now frightened
Pedrillo aimed at him a terrible sweeping blow of a long sword, such
another as the hapless _guitarero_ had employed in the tavern. And,
though Gladsden parried it partially with his knife, the glancing blade
cleft his left shoulder. Stung by the pain, the Englishman dropped the
knife out of the hand, already benumbed by the cut, and seizing the
protruding wooden leg of the luckless Terror of the Border, applied
himself with such extraordinary vigour to tearing the wretch out of the
saddle, that leg, man or saddle, was bound to come. It was the leg gave
way at its straps, while Pedrillo was howling with agony and clinging
to the saddlebow, leaning with all his might contrariwise to the tug.
On the unexpected release, the captain fell heavily over the horse and
lay senseless on the ground, which he had reached headfirst. Gladsden
caught the flying reins, and bounded upon the steed; as it flew forward
in fright, two of the salteadores were shouldered aside, and the
captain trodden upon by the hinder hoof; but he made no move, never
so much as groaned, he had died as much from fright as anguish. This
magnificent feat of _arms_, if the seizure of the nether limb could be
so denominated, completely demoralised the robbers.

But some of the most courageous Yaquis, and an Apache who had lost a
kinsman in the explosion as well as a war pony, which he more or less
greatly prized, saw the white men victorious and the Rustlers about to
fly, with a deeper chagrin and enmity. They collected, by a common
impulse, and hemmed in the pair. At their first shot, Gladsden was
unhorsed, the animal falling dead under him; had it not reared at the
smart of an arrow, the succeeding missiles, which entered its breast,
must have riddled the rider. He and the American once more stood
together with only that warm carcase as their buckler to some thirty
foes.

Neither hugged any delusion as to the future. It was materially
impossible that with their cartridges all spent, they could
successfully resist so many inveterate foes, who, too, would, at any
moment, be reinforced without stint from the Yaquis on the hill.

Indeed, thereupon commenced, with the rush of the Indians, one of those
unequal contests which are common on the border, and which, when a
worthy poet shall arise, will show posterity at what a waste of gallant
hearts civilisation has executed its conquests.

Mute, sombre, back to back so closely that the penetrating lance would
have spitted the pair, never recoiling so much as a hand's breadth,
plying the hunting knife for the one, and the sword of Pedrillo in his
victor's grasp for the other, the unflinching couple, like a Janus
animated, held out against the ever-onsetting foe.

Any other enemies must have been impressed with admiration.

Their bared arms were hacked and slit; the left of Gladsden hung
disabled; but, on that side, Oliver's formidable right hand was
performing miracles of valour and dexterity enough for both. They
streamed with blood, which matted their locks and soaked their clothes,
dangling in tatters through which their fair skin momently gleamed in
glaring contrast with that of their dusky foes until dyed ruddy like
the rest.

"How goes it, pard.?" queried Oliver, in a kind of lull in the rain
of cuts, and blows, and thrusts which nothing but the very frenzy of
the Indians, each to deal the stroke, prevented being fatal a hundred
times. "I'm gitting my second wind myself and can go on carving till
morning!"

There was no response to the jest; but the Oregonian felt the firm body
that had been ever so long a rock of support, slowly weighing upon him.
Then, alarmed for the very first time, or rather instantly inspired
with sympathy and wild indignation at the injustice of so brave a man
succumbing under the blows of such ignoble creatures, he lifted his
voice as an appeal to the rectifier of such abuses, in his restricted
mind:

"Cuss ye, for a heap of dirty niggers!" he vociferated. "Six at a time
we'd have butchered you up harnsum! Whoop-ho! Will no one of the colour
of a white man let us have ten minutes to recruit; when we'll thrash
them all agen, honest Injin!"

A deep, hoarse laugh at the speech, not at all understood, was the
reply.

But a cry of terror was elsewhere audible.

"Something's coming, my _cahooter_ (partner)," said Oliver, redoubling
his gigantic sweeps of the buffalo-butchering knife. "And never more
was a friend welcome! Don't you lose your grip yet!"

Indeed, without being able to discern the features of the knot of
combatants on the hill, under the blue canopy of floating smoke, all
silent since the two whites had exhausted their ammunition, and the
close ring of their assailants forbade their employing firearms, don
Benito and his son, with a score of best riders, had taken the cow path
and somehow climbed the incline. Coming upon the crest at a little
distance from the barranca, they formed column, four abreast, and raced
to the spot of the hand-to-hand struggle.

"Viva Mexico!" was their continuous war cry, with the ancient "Rally
around Spain!"

"Oh, _viva_ anything in the way of a 'Co,'" muttered Oliver, receiving
his spent and insensible friend on his arm, and depositing him behind
the horse's body at his feet. "You're like the sogers, you've come when
the Injins took the scalps."

Happily the attackers turned at this fresh incident.

Opening out so as to allow the hind ranks to rush forward and form a
line with the rest, the cavalry fell upon the Indians, and sabred them
in the first dash past. As soon as they could wheel, which was done on
the edge of the barranca by sharp reining in and spinning round whilst
the horse's fore hoofs were in air, they returned at full speed. But,
already, the Yaquis had renounced their wish to finish with the two
whites and fled, flinging away their weapons not to encumber their
flight.

Alone, wounded, but stubborn, the Apache kneeling, took aim with his
envenomed hatchet at the head of Oregon Oliver, intending to cast
it ere he should be trampled under the Mexicans. The hunter could
do nothing, his brain swam, his eyes closed with their last vision
comprising the exultant visage of the malicious red man; his knife
slipped out of his gore-smeared and stiffening hand; he reeled, and
then, like a giant pine uprooted by a "norther," fell upon the body of
his comrade as if to be his shield to the very last. There was just a
moan, like a puma's that had defended its cub to the death.

At the same instant, the tomahawk whizzed forward and would have
infallibly fleshed itself in him ere he finally rested; but Benito
had buried his spurs in his steed, which took a prodigious leap. The
hatchet gashed the Mexican's leg, even as he stooped forward and drove
his reeking blade to the cross hilt in the bosom of the redskin.

Don Jorge dismounted, and hastened to lift up the two white men, one
after the other, and force some brandy down their throats. Meanwhile
two of their friends had ridden after his father, who was seen to have
lost control of his steed.

A silence fell on the hill, broken only by moans of the wounded and
calls for water.

All at once there rose a loud cheering at the farmhouse; on its roof
the ladies had collected and were waving scarves and veils. And, as
an explanation, there was shortly wafted over the valley the music
of a cavalry band, strong in brass and kettledrum, playing a lively
_Arragonese jota_. The gay notes grated on the nerves of the Mexicans
on the hill, collected round the sad group of the two whites and don
Benito, whom they had assisted off his horse.

"The dragoons from the town," observed one of the party. "That crowns
the day. In an hour there will not be one Yaqui within view of a
telescope."

In fact, the valley was already strewn with plunder, and the dead and
the wounded not capable of flight, but of living Indians hardly a
hundred. The revolt was over. Then the field was again animated after
this transient desertion, for Father Serafino, with peons carrying
handbarrows, came forth to attend to the wounded. Upon improvised
litters of lances, the European, Oliver, and Benito, all mute and quiet
for want of strength, were tenderly transported down the hill and up
into the hacienda hall.

The little hero of the Angelito was displaced from his throne, the
decorations removed, and the room became a hospital. The ladies had
assumed a simple dress befitting their suddenly imposed duty, and were
obeying the orders of the father, who had a knowledge of surgery, like
all missionaries.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE TRUE CABALLERO.


Four days after the defeat of the insurgents, in his own bedroom of
the Hacienda of the Monte Tesoro, don Benito Vázquez de Bustamente lay
extended on the couch, pale and weak. His dulled eyes were half shut,
and only at long intervals did they let gleams of consciousness escape.
Near him were kneeling his daughter and his wife; their daughter-in-law
being too ill from her loss and the emotion of the conflict in which
all dear to her were involved, to participate in this additional scene
of sorrow.

Sad and silent, don Jorge, Oliver, and the English gentleman, the
latter's arm in a sling, and both the paler from profuse bloodletting,
stood by the bedside. At an altar reared in the room, Father Serafino
was just finishing prayers, to which the servants of the estate,
kneeling in the corridors, had fervently responded.

At length the prostrate don seemed to revive, for his cheeks were
tinged with fugitive purple, and his opening eyes were clear.

"Weeping? Why do you weep?" he asked of his wife, who was sobbing,
her head muffled in her black lace _rebozo_, "If my life has not been
long, it comprises more years of unalloyed bliss than most men enjoy.
This day, the Giver of all those boons calleth me unto Him. His will be
done! Have I not been permitted to struggle against the poison which,
twice menacing my life, only this time overcomes me, so slowly that my
affairs are in order, I can thank those who contributed to the victory
which has saved Sonora from a deluge of blood and fire, and I can bid
you all farewell until we shall meet anew, never to part again, in
the ever-during felicity above. Yea, truly," went on don Benito, with
increased fervour, "heaven has been kinder and more merciful than I
merited, since not only has it preserved all those who lie closest on
my bosom, but my final farewells can be made them with a clear voice,
and my latest hour is cheered with the presence of the friend so
cherished of my early years. He came in time to save my darling--and,
with his valorous companion, to save us all. Embrace me, my friend,"
he continued, to Gladsden, as he extended his arms with an effort, "to
thee I owe all those long, long happy days which have been mine on this
oft dolorous earth."

Gladsden ran his sound arm round him, and held him up against his bosom
for a moment. Both of them had tears in their eyes. Then he lowered him
gently back upon the pillow. For upwards of an hour still he spoke with
them, encouraging, consoling, and preparing them as much as possible
for the painful separation. Suddenly he sat up, with his eyes loftily
directed, and in a clear voice they heard him call out--

"Lord God of my fathers, as I have borne myself like them, as a
Christian gentleman of the pure strain, receive my soul!" and fell,
like a log, dead.

All were kneeling now, and many a sob broke forth, with echoes, along
the corridor, out to the very patio where the faithful peons mourned.

Two days afterwards, the American hunter, repulsing any reward but a
watch from doña Perla, a silver mounted revolver from her brother, and
an Indian scarf, enriched with pearls, inwrought by doña Dolores, the
donor, for display on holidays, or "for a sweetheart" (at which he
smiled), started, jauntily as ever, on the best horse on the farm of
Treasure Hill to return to the American army posts.

"Not a mossle of fear," he replied to Gladsden at his stirrups to the
last moment, "did you not hear that Apache, whom don Benito slashed,
call me 'Comes-Whooping-with-Fire'--a good enough Injin name to keep
this big chief clear of bruises till the next fall buffalo surround.
You'll hev' a letter from me in the Frisco post office by the time you
git round to Californy."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE BEST BAIT TO CATCH APACHES.


The farewell to the American was still "warm," when don Jorge, spite of
his grief, begged Mr. Gladsden to await his return, as he felt bound to
"go up the country" to make sure the rebellion was over. He had spoken
in such a matter-of-fact way that the Englishman shared with his wife
and sister, and don Benito's widow, much wonder at his absence being
protracted. To have clearly known the reason, and to see him again,
they would have been compelled to follow him to the very border of
Sonora and Arizona.

The _Sierra de Pájaros_, a broken side piece of the Sierra Madre, may
be said to divide on its double water shed the feeders of the Yaqui
River and the San Pedro, which courses north and west to supply the
Gila. It has the most picturesque and striking aspect of any mountains
in those regions, of old forests and cloud-capped peaks. Under the
majestic bluffs, the ruins of ancient Spanish settlements crumble away,
and the mysterious Pimas Indians prowl.

Nothing so rests the sight and rejoices the heart of wayworn
adventurers, saddened and wearied by the sandy and salty plains, as
these verdant heights. Almost ignored, and perhaps not mapped down in
ordinary atlases, this Sierra preserves to this very day its primeval
wildness; only very few "traces," formed more often by wild beasts than
woodsmen, vaguely and widely apart appears in the brush. Very hard to
penetrate, and then to move about in with certainty, none but Indians
and hunters care to have anything to do with its mazes.

Nevertheless, not far from the Cascade of the Cave, a solitary hunter
was tranquilly making a meal. It was don Jorge. In Europe, things
are different, for we are astonished at a soldier making a good meal
before the battle, and a condemned criminal regaling on the eve of
execution. Nevertheless, the care of the body is logical and conforms
to natural laws. If joy or grief is allowed to cut the appetite short,
the physique weakens, and the mind being counteracted upon, again
deters the body, and illness, if not death, is the consequence of this
deplorable folly. I prefer the hunter's habit.

Don Jorge finished his ration, and proceeded to smoke cigarettes, in a
lounging attitude, which recreation he certainly deserved if only to
remark the tired state of three excellent horses, which were picketed
near him, and which, alternately shifted on and off from whilst in
gallop (a fact not remarkable among Mexicans), had borne him almost
without check to this remote spot.

No investigation of the desert which his eyrie commanded, had answered
his expectations, and he was soon after his third cigarette deep in a
slumber _pierna suelta_, or with legs at ease, as his countrymen say.

There was not a breath in the air; the heat was overpowering, so that
the birds were sleeping with heads under the wing, and the wild beasts
could almost be heard panting and lolling out their tongues in their
lairs.

Only one continuous sound disturbed the profound calm, and that was the
noise of those infinitely little beings which never, anywhere, cease to
accomplish their mysterious missions.

Two hours thus passed, with don Jorge slumbering, his face hidden by
his handkerchief and sombrero to keep off the sun and the gnats, of
which myriads played catch-who-can with the sand flies.

All of a sudden the horses, which had stopped grazing and had been
motionless with lowered heads, as if also taking a nap, shuddered all
over, and abruptly tossed their manes and pointed their ears. With
their fineness of hearing they were aware of some suspicious sounds.
One of them, whose lariat allowed the approach, stalked up to his
master and uttered a soft and plaintive whinny, as if demanding help.
However soundly a ranger sleeps, he must be able to wake up immediately
and with all his senses clear, and the son of don Benito did so at
once. The next moment, turning over on his breast, too wary to rise on
his feet, he had his rifle in hand, ready for action.

Listening and staring was of no avail. There was nothing far or near to
justify the animals in their still evident fears.

It might be a jaguar or a grizzly only that they scented, if not a
hostile man, but, in any case, don Jorge took his safeguards. He hid
his horses in the brush, and, crawling to the very brink of the bluff,
scrutinised the plain, his finger on the trigger, his ears well opened.

But a quarter of an hour passed, whilst he remained as if moulded out
of the clay and merely drying there.

But unexpectedly a tiny black spot under a shining speck which
ever accompanied it, flashed on the view afar out of a straggling
timberland. Soon the watcher could be sure it was a mounted man, his
rifle gleaming, speeding towards him in the maddest haste. He had been
clearing obstacles or bursting through them without any daintiness as
to his garments, for they were torn by the thorns into tatters, and no
doubt the swaying from side to side was as much weakness from loss of
blood as the mere dodging to avoid a pursuer's missiles. No one else
was perceptible to the young Mexican; but there must have been enemies
in the woodland, running along parallel with the fugitive, for, turning
without an anticipatory gesture, and stopping his horse with a terrible
tug of the Mexican bit, he fired two shots into the cover, bent low,
and rode on once more.

"'Tis a white man," observed don Jorge, knitting his brow, "a hunter!
Oh, my gracious saint!" he ejaculated, at the height of amazement and
pain, "It is none other than don Olivero! I thought he had taken the
regular route for the Pass, whilst the Apaches, with our stock, struck
off for this trail, and they have met him! I do not need that plumed
head to recognise he is the prey of the Apaches now."

He sprang up, regardless of being spied now, and quickly but
comprehensively studied the scene.

Oregon Oliver's last two shots had galled the Indians into unusual
daring. Three of them, on excellent horses, which the young hacendero
might have known as his own, left the wood and sought to keep the
hunter in the open, whilst gradually bearing down upon him. As they
flanked him it was not easy for him to escape falling victim to one of
the three when they saw fit to stop and fire or even risk a snap shot
in mid-career.

The Mexican's rifle would not carry that distance. To mount and ride as
far around as the steepness of the mountain sides compelled was equally
as nugatory.

Instantly a new idea struck him, and he was carrying it out. Drawing
his cutlass he severed the lariats of all three horses close to the
picket pin, unfastened the other ends at the hobbled hoofs, and spliced
the three into one long rope. Securing the last loop round a basalt
column which a whale's rush would not have shaken, he flung the loose
coils over the edge of the cliff, and, ere the end had fallen into the
perpendicular, his machete between his teeth, the brave quick-witted
youth was sliding down into the abyss.

There were some twenty feet to drop at the last thong, but he had
remarked the crumbling sandstone to be a soft bed and he let go without
a pause.

Meanwhile, the American swinging about like a drunken man, seemed in
a despairing state. Either his ammunition was exhausted at last, or
his only hope was to reserve his final cartridge for the hand-to-hand
encounter, but a matter of moments.

The emboldened Apaches, at a signal from Iron Shirt, who formed the
point of the angle of which they were the opening ends, and of which
the hunted white marked the closing base's centre, began closing in.

But at the instant when they levelled their guns under their horses'
necks, as they rode suspended on the off side in precaution of the
dreaded breechloader, the sudden appearance of the Mexican, like a
spider on its thread, sliding down the face of the bluff, only remarked
by the Apache chief, in whose direct front the feat was performed, gave
the latter a start and he uttered an outcry despite himself. The two
savages, surprised in turn, suspended their shots, and all three, as
well as Oliver, none slackening their headlong pace, however, gazed at
the man fallen from the clouds, and after striking the soft, dry ground
with a force that sent up a cloud of sand, rebounding and dashing
towards them, his bright steel waving overhead and his fresh young
voice shouting:

"_Amigo_! Friend, it is I who am here, praise to God!"

"Well, I'm durned!" roared the ranger.

But, not accustomed to let even so extreme a surprise alter any plan
he had traced out, he only thought to profit by the brief but deep
confusion of the enemies. With a nimbleness that perfectly revealed how
assumed was his air of lassitude and despair, he sat up in the saddle
and fired two shots, one to the right, one to the left, by a graceful
turn of the hips which a queen of the ballet could not have surpassed,
controlling his steed simply by the pressure of his knees.

Spite of the emergency, don Jorge could not repress a cry of admiration.

One of the Apaches, his horse's throat cut by the same bullet that
penetrated his head beyond, fell in a heap under the side of the
animal, also thrown and floundering in the death agony. The other,
perforated in the eye by the lead scattering along his own gun which
had split the ball, emitted a horrid scream, as he was borne, still
held by the horsehair loop which detained his foot to the crupper, and
which is there placed to enable the rider to hang alongside the pony,
back towards the thicket, where his brains would soon be knocked out by
the masterless mustang.

Iron Shirt was dismayed. He lifted his horse in order to turn and seek
the covert. But already the unerring marksman was covering him, and
he held his horse rearing, afraid to fire his last load with two foes
before him, and to expose himself in the riding away.

"Spare him!" cried don Jorge, hoarsely, "Murderer of my father,
murderer of my little son, I--I, alone, must have his life!"

"Lucky you spoke," returned Oliver, firing.

The horse of the chief, struck in the shoulder, roared with pain, so
intense was the anguish whilst being tortured with the bit, wrenched
its head away and fell forward, ere rolling on one side.

The Apache did not lose his command of sense at the disaster, for he
leaped clear. But his shield, his lance, and his gun were flung from
him, and before he could reach the latter, don Jorge had made a series
of prodigious bounds, like a tiger, and placed his foot on it. The
baffled Indian sprang back as rapidly and seized his spear and shield.

But instantly, careless of ammunition, and fearful lest the lance, cast
as a javelin, would transfix the Mexican only armed with a sword, the
hunter fired again. The spear, split in half, was left a mere stump in
the redskin's feverish, quivering grasp.

"That's the style to draw teeth, I judge," remarked the American,
throwing himself off his horse, and approaching the pair.

His last weapon was a machete, and this Iron Shirt, protected by his
round shield, drew as he advanced on don Jorge.

"I thank you," said the latter. "Steel to steel! This is my heart's
desire!"

"You are going to get a licking, chief," said Oliver, grimly, as he
pulled out a corncob pipe, filled it and lit it with unshaking fingers.

"So thar ain't no 'casion to thank me for the promise which I give not
to interfere. Fair play's a jewel, and you kin wear in your ear all the
jewel you'll win in this hyar tussle."

The Apache wasted no breath in a rejoinder. His lips were parted only
for a smile, the set grin of a man who had no hope but to inflict all
the pain he could on an antagonist before he met his inevitable death.
He had on his mind not only the recent striking down of his aids, but
the death of others in the past and on the Sonoran plains, due to the
American who had shown himself to the Apache caravan only, it was
now clear, to draw off a detachment. Like the red man his hatred was
insatiable, even that slaughter in which he had distinguished himself
seemed no way to wipe out the final collapse on the heap of slain.
But for don Benito, Oliver would have been "rubbed out!" The thought
was intolerable, and, we see, all alone, he had devoted himself to
harassing the Indians in their retreat, and lured away the chief.
The scalp of so renowned a hunter would have been a more magnificent
trophy than the herd of cattle, to show in the Apache town when the old
fathers should demand their lost sons.

Meanwhile, the two men were facing one another, broadsword in hand.

For his age Jorge was endowed with unwonted powers, but his frame had
not fully set, and he had an antagonist whose vigour surpassed the
common, too. Nevertheless, the Mexican was not dismayed, and the hunter
took care not to betray any apprehension he felt as to the result of
the terrible duel. If Jorge smiled, it was because he relied on his
skill and agility. On the farm he had joined in all the wrestling and
knife play of the Vaqueros, and Old Silvano had passed him as a pupil
to whom there was nothing more he could teach. Therefore, the youth,
gifted with lofty courage and unalterable coolness, believed himself
capable of struggling with advantage.

As a kind of chivalrous signal, the Indian slapped his shield
resonantly.

They mutually advanced till their forward feet almost touched. For a
moment their blades clashed and then the red man, shouting with savage
joy, delivered a terrific cut. But the air alone was severed, the agile
Mexican having shifted his position with great celerity. Their first
encounter was merely a test of one another's style, on which would be
founded the passage of arms itself. They fell to it anew, but this
time also, don Jorge showed incredible quickness; he eluded the blows,
parried them or fenced them off with all that dexterity which a Mexican
should exhibit in the management of a weapon which is to him what the
_navaja_ is to the Spanish peasant. With giddy rapidity he spun round
the savage; and when he got a cut in, as the phraseology of such sport
has it, it was a telling one. The shield, however tough the buffalo
hide, could not long resist such hearty strokes; sliced off into tissue
thinness, cleft, gaping wider and wider with its own tension, Iron
Shirt suddenly cast it at the young man to bewilder him and at the same
time darted forward. But the Mexican, who uses his blanket sometimes
in just the same way as a blind, is taught to keep his eyes on his
opponent's, and the ferocious gleam in the Apache's had warned him; he
received the charge firmly; parried the cut with excellent precision,
though the rush brought the two heaving breasts in contact, and as the
Indian receded, lest he should be grappled, he struck in turn. The
blow, from the handle turning in the grasp a little paralysed by the
late ward, came flat on the savage's shoulder and, diverted upwards,
removed his car as clean as if done by a surgeon. Iron Shirt yelled
with fury.

"You will never more hear an infant wail, pierced by your coward
arrows!" hissed don Jorge, leaning forward. "Come again, and I will
sunder the other!"

More hideously than before this third meeting ensued. No longer so
much on the defensive and aggressive, but bent on leaving his mark,
the Mexican gave two cuts for the other's each one. All of them left
a bleeding trace. One would have concluded that he meant to hack the
redskin's surface into a chessboard. The slashed face of the Apache had
lost human semblance; the gashes already were swollen, and his eyes
were sealing with blood; he groaned with tantalised rage, however, more
than pain, whilst the Mexican, anticipating his victory ever since he
had made mincemeat of the buckler, redoubled his hail of steel. Now it
was the Apache chief who only stood on guard.

"There!" cried don Jorge, taking his cutlass in both hands, and
pressing forward so that their knees knocked, "That is to avenge my
father!"

On receiving this irresistible chopping blow, which beat down his
jagged edged blade, Iron Shirt lifted up a yell of spite and despair.
The steel cleft through all, top knot, frontal bone and brow, and,
opening his arms, he reeled, half turning, and fell without a stir
on the blood-besprinkled sands, the machete left in the wound, so
inextricably had it been driven there.

Oliver approached, and at the same time bending over the stiffening
body and patting the panting conqueror on the shoulder, he said:

"Ef them doggoned 'Paches was to have seen this fight they would not
cross into Mexico for a year, I reckon. You've fout him squar' and
fa'r, a riggler stand-up fight, and you're a credit to the father,
whose wiping out don't count one for them red niggers now, nohow."

They sat down there to rest, and Oliver related his adventure.

"Ef I on'y had had an idee that the old man's loss preyed upon you
in that sor o' way we mout ha' got up some pootier trick o' war! But
you've sarved him A-one and you are entitled to his scalp to hang over
your fireplace."

Rejecting this trophy, and only despoiling the Indian chief of his
weapons, and adding to the prize those of the other Apaches, whose hair
the hunter had no scruples to remove, they climbed the mountain to the
horses which came at the hacendero's calls. After spending some hours
together in conversation, which they promised to renew, "who knows
when?" as the Spaniards say--they parted, Oliver resuming his route.

When don Jorge returned home, his revenge sated, he found the English
gentleman, who then broke away with a great effort from the entreaties
of the rich widow and her family. He felt the need of loneliness on
the ocean to take the edge off his acute sorrow. But the memory, thus
mournfully renewed, of his youthful friendship, so fatally cut short,
dwells piously cherished in "the heart of heart," and there will
flourish till he, too, reposes his adventurous body in the grave.

However, as an author may anticipate as well as record, we may be
allowed to suggest that there is nothing contrary to logic in the
hope that, if ever doña Perla and her mother act on Mr. Gladsden's
urgent invitation, often renewed by letter, for them to visit him in
England, the Gladsden juniors will have to draw lots for the Mexican
heiress. Sure is it that they will find nowhere a happier choice, be it
for wealth, beauty, or rare goodness, than in this true "Treasure of
Pearls."

THE END.





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