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Our Home in the Silver West - A Story of Struggle and Adventure
by Gordon Stables
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Yambo's long spear had done the work, and all the noise soon ceased. Though stunned and frightened, Archie was but little the worse. One dog was killed. It seemed to have been Yambo's favourite. I could not help expressing my astonishment at the exhibition of Yambo's grief. Here was a man, once one of the cruellest and most remorseless of desert wanderers, whose spear and knife had many a time and oft drunk human blood, shedding tears over the body of his poor dog! Nor would he leave the place until he had dug a grave, and, placing the bleeding remains therein, sadly and slowly covered them up.

But Yambo would meet his faithful hound again in the happy hunting-grounds somewhere beyond the sky. That, at least, was Yambo's creed, and who should dare deny him the comfort and joy the thought brings him!

* * * * *

It was now the sweetest season of all the year in the hills—the Indian summer. The fierce heat had fled to the north, fled beyond the salt plains of San Juan, beyond the wild desert lands of Rioja and arid sands of Catamarca, lingering still, perhaps, among the dreamland gardens of Tucuman, and reaching its eternal home among the sun-kissed forests of leafy Brazil and Bolivia. The autumn days were getting shorter, the sky was now more soft, the air more cool and balmy, while evening after evening the sun went down amidst a fiery magnificence of colouring that held us spellbound and silent to behold.

A month and more in the hermit's glen! We could hardly believe it. How quickly the time had flown! How quickly time always does fly when one is happy!

And now our tents are struck, our mules are laden. We have but to say good-bye to the solitary being who has made the garden in the wilderness his home, and go on our way.

'Good-bye!'

'Good-bye!'

Little words, but sometimes so hard to say.

We had actually begun to like—ay, even to love the hermit, and we had not found it out till now. But I noticed tears in Dugald's eye, and I am not quite sure my own were not moist as we said farewell.

We glanced back as we rode away to wave our hands once more. The hermit was leaning against a tree. Just then the sun came struggling out from under a cloud, the shadow beneath the tree darkened and darkened, till it swallowed him up.

And we never saw the hermit more.

——-

[15] The Rhea Americana.



CHAPTER XXII.

ADVENTURE WITH A TIGER.

Two years more have passed away, four years in all, since we first set foot in the Silver West. What happy, blithesome years they had been, too! Every day had brought its duties, every duty its pleasures as well. During all this time we could not look back with regret to one unpleasant hour. Sometimes we had endured some crosses as well, but we brothers bore them, I believe, without a murmur, and Moncrieff without one complaining word.

'Boys,' he would say, quietly, 'nobody gets it all his own way in this world. We must just learn to take the thick wi' the thin.'

Moncrieff was somewhat of a proverbial philosopher; but had he been entrusted with the task of selecting proverbs that should smooth one's path in life, I feel sure they would have been good ones.

Strath Coila New, as we called the now green valley in which our little colony had been founded, had improved to a wonderful extent in so brief a time. The settlers had completed their houses long ago; they, like ourselves, had laid out their fields and farms and planted their vineyards; the hedges were green and flowering; the poplar-trees and willows had sprung skywards as if influenced by magic—the magic of a virgin soil; the fields were green with waving grain and succulent lucerne; the vines needed the help of man to aid them in supporting their wondrous wealth of grapes; fruit grew everywhere; birds sang everywhere, and to their music were added sounds even sweeter still to our ears—the lowing of herds of sleek fat cattle, the bleating armies of sheep, the home-like noise of poultry and satisfied grunting of lazy pigs. The latter sometimes fed on peaches that would have brought tears of joy to the eyes of many an English market gardener.

Our villa was complete now; wings and tower, and terraced lawns leading down to the lake, close beside which Dugald had erected a boat-house that was in itself like a little fairy palace. Dugald had always a turn for the romantic, and nothing would suit him by way of a boat except a gondola. What an amount of time and taste he had bestowed on it too! and how the Gaucho carpenters had worked and slaved to please him and make it complete! But there it was at last, a thing of beauty, in all conscience—prows and bows, cushioned seats, and oars, and awnings, all complete.

It was his greatest pleasure to take auntie, Aileen, and old Jenny out to skim the lake in this gondola, and sit for long happy hours reading or fishing.

Even Bombazo used to form an item in these pleasant little excursions. He certainly was no use with an oar, but it was the 'bravo' captain's delight to dress as a troubadour and sit twanging the light guitar under the awnings, while Aileen and auntie plied the oars.

Dugald was still our mighty hunter, the fearless Nimrod of hill and strath and glen. But he was amply supported in all his adventures by Archie, who had wonderfully changed for the better. He was brown and hard now, an excellent horseman, and crack shot with either the revolver or rifle.

Between the two of them, though ably assisted by a Gaucho or two, they had fitted up the ancient ruined monastery far away among the hills as a kind of shooting-box, and here they spent many a day, and many a night as well. Archie had long since become acclimatized to all kinds of creepies—they no longer possessed any terrors for him.

The ruin, as I have before hinted, must have, at some bygone period, belonged to the Jesuits; but so blown up with sand was it when Dugald took possession that the work of restoration to something like its pristine form had been a task of no little difficulty. The building stood on a slight eminence, and at one side grew a huge ombu-tree. It was under this that the only inhabitable room lay. This room had two windows, one on each side, facing each other, one looking east, the other west. Neither glass nor frames were in these windows, and probably had not existed even in the Jesuits' time. The room was cooler without any such civilized arrangements.

It was a lonesome, eerie place at the very best, and that weird looking ombu-tree, spreading its dark arms above the grey old walls, did not detract from the air of gloom that surrounded it. Sometimes Archie said laughingly that the tree was like a funeral pall. Well, the half-caste Indians of the estancias used to give this ruin a wide berth; they had nasty stories to tell about it, stories that had been handed down through generations. There were few indeed of even the Gauchos who would have cared to remain here after night-fall, much less sleep within its walls. But when Dugald's big lamp stood lighted on the table, when a fire of wood burned on the low hearth, and a plentiful repast, with bowls of steaming fragrant mate, stood before the young men, then the room looked far from uncomfortable.

There was at each side a hammock hung, which our two hunters slept in on nights when they had remained too long on the hill, or wanted to be early at the chase in the morning.

'Whose turn is it to light the fire to-night?' said Dugald, one winter evening, as the two jogged along together on their mules towards the ruin.

'I think it is mine, cousin. Anyhow, if you feel lazy I'll make it so.'

'No, I'm not lazy, but I want to take home a bird or two to-morrow that auntie's very soul loveth, so if you go on and get supper ready I shall go round the red dune and try to find them.'

'You won't be long?'

'I sha'n't be over an hour.'

Archie rode on, humming a tune to himself. Arrived at the ruin, he cast the mule loose, knowing he would not wander far away, and would find juicy nourishment among the more tender of the cacti sprouts.

Having lit a roaring fire, and seen it burn up, Archie spread asunder some of the ashes, and placed thereon a huge pie-dish—not an empty one—to warm. Meanwhile he hung a kettle of water on the hook above the fire, and, taking up a book, sat down by the window to read by the light of the setting sun until the water should boil.

A whole half-hour passed away. The kettle had rattled its lid, and Archie had hooked it up a few links, so that the water should not be wasted. It was very still and quiet up here to-night, and very lonesome too. The sun had just gone down, and all the western sky was aglow with clouds, whose ever-changing beauty it was a pleasure to watch. Archie was beginning to wish that Dugald would come, when he was startled at hearing a strange and piercing cry far down below him in the cactus jungle. It was a cry that made his flesh quiver and his very spine feel cold. It came from no human lips, and yet it was not even the scream of a terror-struck mule. Next minute the mystery was unravelled, and Dugald's favourite mule came galloping towards the ruin, pursued by an enormous tiger, as the jaguar is called here.



Just as he had reached the ruin the awful beast had made his spring. His talons drew blood, but the next moment he was rolling on the ground with one eye apparently knocked out, and the foam around his fang-filled mouth mixed with blood; and the mule was over the hills and safe, while the jaguar was venting his fume and fury on Archie's rugs, which, with his gun, he had left out there.

There is no occasion to deny that the young man was almost petrified with fear, but this did not last long: he must seek for safety somehow, somewhere. To leave the ruin seems certain death, to remain is impossible. Look, the tiger even already has scented him; he utters another fearful yell, and makes direct for the window. The tree! the tree! Something seems to utter those words in his ear as he springs from the open window. The jaguar has entered the room as Archie, with a strength he never knew he possessed, catches a lower limb and hoists himself up into the tree. He hears yell after yell; now first in the ruin, next at the tree foot, and then in the tree itself. Archie creeps higher and higher up, till the branches can no longer bear him, and after him creeps death in the most awful form imaginable. Already the brute is so close that he sees his glaring eye and hears his awful scenting and snuffling. Archie is fascinated by that tiger's face so near him—on the same limb of the tree, he himself far out towards the point. This must be fascination. He feels like one in a strange dream, for as the time goes by and the tiger springs not, he takes to speculating almost calmly on his fate, and wondering where the beast will seize him first, and if it will be very painful; if he will hear his own bones crash, and so faint and forget everything. What fangs the tiger has! How broad the head, and terribly fierce the grin! But how the blood trickles from the wound in the skull! He can hear it pattering on the dead leaves far beneath.

Why doesn't the tiger spring and have it over? Why does—but look, look, the brute has let go the branch and fallen down, down with a crash, and Archie hears the dull thud of the body on the ground.

Dead—to all intents and purposes. The good mule's hoof had cloven the skull.

'Archie! Archie! where on earth are you? Oh, Archie!'

It is Dugald's voice. The last words are almost a shriek.

Then away goes fear from Archie's heart, and joy unspeakable takes its place.

'Up here, Dugald,' he shouts, 'safe and sound.'

I leave the reader to guess whether Dugald was glad or not to see his cousin drop intact from the ombu-tree, or whether or not they enjoyed their pie and mate that evening after this terrible adventure.

'I wonder,' said Archie, later on, and just as they were preparing for hammock, 'I wonder, Dugald, if that tiger has a wife. I hope she won't come prowling round after her dead lord in the middle of the night.'

'Well, anyhow, Archie, we'll have our rifles ready, and Dash will give us ample warning, you know. So good-night.'

'Good-night. Don't be astonished if you hear me scream in my sleep. I feel sure I'll dream I'm up in that dark ombu-tree, and perhaps in the clutches of that fearsome tiger.'

* * * * *

About a month after the above related adventure the young men had another at that very ruin, which, if not quite so stirring, was at all events far more mysterious.

It happened soon after a wild storm, a kind of semi-pampero, had swept over the glen with much thunder and lightning and heavy rains. It had cleared the atmosphere, however, which previously had been hazy and close. It had cooled it as well, so that one afternoon, Dugald, addressing Archie, said,

'What do you say to an early morning among the birds to-morrow, cousin?'

'Oh, I'm ready, Dugald, if you are,' was the reply.

'Well, then, off you trot to the kitchen, and get food ready, and I'll see to the shooting tackle and the mules.'

When Dugald ran over to say good-night to Moncrieff and Aileen before they started, he met old Jenny in the door.

'Dear laddie,' she said, when she heard he was bound for the hills, 'I hope nae ill will come over ye; but I wot I had an unco' ugly dream last night. Put your trust in Providence, laddie. And ye winna forget to say your prayers, will ye?'

'That we won't, mother. Ta, ta!'

Moncrieff saw Dugald to his own gate. With them went Wolf, the largest bloodhound-mastiff.

'Dreams,' said Moncrieff, 'may be neither here nor there; but you'll be none the worse for taking Wolf.'

'Thank you,' said Dugald; 'he shall come, and welcome.'

The sun had quite set before they reached the ruin, but there was a beautiful after-glow in the west—a golden haze beneath, with a kind of crimson blush over it higher up. When they were on a level with the ruin, the two windows of which, as already stated, were opposite to each other, Archie said, musingly,

'Look, Dugald, what a strange and beautiful light is streaming through the windows!'

'Yes,' replied Dugald, 'but there is something solemn, even ghostly, about it. Don't you think so?'

'True; there always is something ghostly about an empty ruin, I think. Are you superstitious?'

'No; but—see. What was that? Why, there is some one there! Look to your rifle, Archie. It was an Indian, I am certain.'

What had they seen? Why, only the head and shoulders of a passing figure in the orange light of the two windows. It had appeared but one moment—next it was gone. Rifles in left hand, revolvers in right, they cautiously approached the ruin and entered. Never a soul was here. They went out again, and looked around; they even searched the ombu-tree, but all in vain.

'Our eyes must have deceived us,' said Dugald.

'I think,' said Archie, 'I have a theory that might explain the mystery.'

'What is it, then?'

'Well, that was no living figure we saw.'

'What! You don't mean to say, Archie, it was a ghost?'

'No, but a branch of that ghostly ombu-tree moved by a passing wind between us and the light.'

As he spoke they rounded the farthest off gable of the ruin, and there both stopped as suddenly as if shot. Close beside the wall, with some rude digging tools lying near, was a newly-opened grave!

'This is indeed strange,' said Dugald, remembering old Jenny's warning and dream; 'I cannot make it out.'

'Nor can I. However, we must make the best of it.'

By the time supper was finished they had almost forgotten all about it. Only before lying down that night—

'I say, Archie,' said Dugald, 'why didn't we think of it?'

'Think of what?'

'Why, of putting Wolf the mastiff on the track. If there have been Indians here he would have found them out.'

'It will not be too late to-morrow, perhaps.'

Dugald lay awake till it must have been long past midnight. He tried to sleep, but failed, though he could tell from his regular breathing that nothing was disturbing Archie's repose. It was a beautiful night outside, and the light from a full moon streamed in at one window and fell on the form of good Wolf, who was curled up on the floor; the other window was shaded by the branches of the ombu-tree. No matter how calm it might be in the valley below, away up here there was always a light breeze blowing, and to-night the whispering in the tree at times resembled the sound of human voices. So thought Dugald. Several times he started and listened, and once he felt almost sure he heard footsteps as of people moving outside. Then again all sounds—if sounds there had been—ceased, and nothing was audible save the sighing wind in the ombu-tree. Oh, that strange waving ombu-tree! He wondered if it really had some dark secret to whisper to him, and had chosen this silent hour of night to reveal it.

Hark, that was a sound this time! The mournful but piercing cry of a night-bird. 'Chee-hee-ee! chee-hee-ee!' It was repeated farther up the hill. But could the dog be deceived? Scarcely; and growling low as if in anger, Wolf had arisen and stood pointing towards the ombu-shaded window.

With one accord both Dugald and Archie, seizing their revolvers and jumping from their hammocks, ran out just in time to see a tall figure cross a patch of moonlit sward and disappear in the cactus jungle.

Both fired in the direction, but of course aimlessly, and it was with the greatest difficulty they succeeded in keeping the great dog from following into the bush.

They were disturbed no more that night; and daylight quite banished their fears, though it could not dispel the mystery of the newly-dug grave.

Indeed, they could even afford to joke a little over the matter now.

'There is something in it, depend upon that,' said Dugald, as the two stood together looking into the hole.

'There doesn't seem to be,' said Archie, quizzingly.

'And I mean to probe it to the bottom.'

'Suppose you commence now, Dugald. Believe me, there is no time like the present. Here are the tools. They look quite antediluvian. Do you think now that it really was a flesh-and-blood Indian we saw here; or was it the ghost of some murdered priest? And has he been digging down here to excavate his own old bones, or have a peep to see that they are safe?'

'Archie,' said Dugald, at last, as if he had not listened to a word of his companion's previous remarks, 'Archie, we won't go shooting to-day.'

'No?'

'No, we will go home instead, and bring Moncrieff and my brothers here. I begin to think this is no grave after all.'

'Indeed, Dugald, and why?'

'Why, simply for this reason: Yambo has told me a wonderful blood-curdling story of two hermit priests who lived here, and who had found treasure among the hills, and were eventually murdered and buried in this very ruin. According to the tradition the slaughtering Indians were themselves afterwards killed, and since then strange appearances have taken place from time to time, and until we made a shooting-box of the ruin no Gauchos could be found bold enough to go inside it, nor would any Indian come within half a mile of the place. That they have got more courageous now we had ample evidence last night.'

'And you think that—'

'I think that Indians are not far away, and that—but come, let us saddle our mules and be off.'

It was high time, for at that very moment over a dozen pairs of fierce eyes were watching them from the cactus jungle. Spears were even poised ready for an attack, and only perhaps the sight of that ferocious-looking dog restrained them.

No one could come more speedily to a conclusion than Moncrieff. He hardly waited to hear Dugald's story before he had summoned Yambo, and bade him get ready with five trusty Gauchos to accompany them to the hills.

'Guns, senor?'

'Ay, guns, Yambo, and the other dog. We may have to draw a trigger or two. Sharp is the word, Yambo!'

In two hours more, and just as the winter's sun was at its highest, we all reached the cactus near the old monastic ruin. Here a spear flew close past Moncrieff's head. A quick, fierce glance of anger shot from the eyes of this buirdly Scot. He called a dog, and in a moment more disappeared in the jungle. A minute after there was the sharp ring of a revolver, a shriek, a second shot, and all was still. Presently Moncrieff rode back, looking grim, but calm and self-possessed.

There was no one near the ruin when we advanced, but the Indians had been here. The grave was a grave no longer in shape, but a huge hole.

'Set to work, Yambo, with your men. They have saved us trouble. Dugald and Archie and Donald, take three men and the dogs and scour the bush round here. Then place sentinels about, and post yourselves on top of the red dune.'

Yambo and his men set to work in earnest, and laboured untiringly for hours and hours, but without finding anything. A halt was called at last for rest and refreshment; then the work was commenced with greater heart than ever.

I had ridden away to the red dune to carry food to my brothers and the dogs and the sentinels.

The day was beginning already to draw to a close. The sky all above was blue and clear, but along the horizon lay a bank of grey rolling clouds, that soon would be changed to crimson and gold by the rays of the setting sun. Hawks were poised high in the air, and flocks of kites were slowly winging their way to the eastward.

From our position on the summit of the red dune we had a most extended view on all sides. We could even see the tall waving poplars of our own estancias, and away westward a vast rolling prairie of pampa land, bounded by the distant sierras. My eyes were directed to one level and snow-white patch in the plain, which might have been about three square miles in extent, when suddenly out from behind some dunes that lay beyond rode a party of horsemen. We could tell at a glance they were Indians, and that they were coming as fast as fleet horses could carry them, straight for the hill on which we stood. There was not a moment to lose, so, leaping to the back of my mule, I hurried away to warn our party.



CHAPTER XXIII.

A RIDE FOR LIFE.

'Moncrieff!' I cried, as soon as I got within hail, 'the Indians will be on us in less than half an hour!'

'Then, boy,' replied Moncrieff, 'call in your brothers and the men; they cannot hold the dune. We must fight them here, if it be fighting they mean. Hurry back, I have something to show you.'

We had all returned in less than ten minutes. Greatly to our astonishment, we found no one in the pit now, but we heard voices beneath, and I hurried in and down.

They had found a cave; whether natural or not we could not at present say. At one side lay a heap of mouldering bones, in the opposite corner a huge wooden chest. Moncrieff had improvised a torch, and surely Aladdin in his cave could not have been more astonished at what he saw than we were now! The smoky light fell on the golden gleam of nuggets! Yes, there they were, of all shapes and sizes. Moncrieff plunged his hand to the bottom of the box and stirred them up as he might have done roots or beans.

This, then, was the secret the ruin had held so long—the mystery of the giant ombu-tree.

That the Indians in some way or other had got scent of this treasure was evident, and as these wandering savages care little if anything for gold on their own account, it was equally evident that some white man—himself not caring to take the lead or even appear—was hounding them on to find it, with the promise doubtless of a handsome reward.

Not a moment was there to be lost now. The treasure must be removed. An attempt was first made to lift the chest bodily. This was found to be impossible owing to the decayed condition of the wood. The grain-sacks, therefore, which formed a portion of the Gaucho's mule-trappings, were requisitioned, and in a very short time every gold nugget was carried out and placed in safety in a corner of our principal room in the hunting-box.

The beasts were placed for safety in another room of the ruin, a trench being dug before the door, which could be commanded from one of our windows.

'How many horsemen did you count?' said Moncrieff to me.

'As near as I could judge,' I replied, 'there must be fifty.'

'Yes, there may be a swarm more. One of you boys must ride to-night to the estancia and get assistance. Who volunteers?'

'I do,' said Dugald at once.

'Then it will be well to start without delay before we are surrounded. See, it is already dusk, and we may expect our Indian friends at any moment. Mount, lad, and Heaven preserve you!'

Dugald hardly waited to say another word. He saw to the revolvers in his saddle-bows, slung his rifle over his shoulder, sprang to the saddle, and had disappeared like a flash.

And now we had but to wait the turn of events—turn how they might.

* * * * *

Dugald told us afterwards that during that memorable ride to the estancia he felt as if the beast beneath him was a winged horse instead of his own old-fashioned and affectionate mule. Perhaps it was fear that lent him such speed, and possibly it was fear transmitted even from his rider. Times without number since we had come out to our new home in the Silver West my brother had shown what sort of stuff he was made of, but a ride like this is trying to a heart like oak or nerves like steel, and a young man must be destitute of soul itself not to feel fear on such an occasion. Besides, the very fact of flying from unseen foes adds to the terror.

Down through the cactus jungle he went, galloping in and out and out and in, himself hardly knowing the road, trusting everything to the sagacity of the wondrous mule. Oftentimes when returning from a day on the hills, tired and weary, he had thought the way through this strange green bushland interminably long; but now, fleetly though he was speeding on, he thought it would never, never end, that he would never, never come out into the open braeland, and see, miles away beneath him, the twinkling lights of the estancia. Many an anxious glance, too, did he cast around him or into the gloomiest shades of the jungle, more than once imagining he saw dusky figures therein with long spears ready to launch at him.

He is out at last, however; but the path is now loose and rough and stony. After riding for some hundred yards he has to cut across at right angles to the jungle he has left. To his horror, a dozen armed Indians at that very moment leave the cactus, and with levelled spears and wild shouts dash onward to intercept him. This is indeed a ride for life, for to his immediate left is a precipice full twenty feet in height. He must gain the end of this before he can put even a yard of actual distance betwixt himself and the savages who are thirsting for his life. More than once he has half made up his mind to dare the leap, but the venture is far too great.

Nearer and nearer sweep the Indians. Dugald is close at the turning-point now, but he sees the foremost savage getting the deadly lasso ready. He must shoot, though he has to slacken speed slightly to take better aim.

He fires. Down roll horse and man, and Dugald is saved.

They have heard that rifle-shot far away on the estancia. Quick eyes are turned towards the braelands, and, dusk though it is, they notice that something more than usual is up. Five minutes afterwards half a dozen armed horsemen thunder out to meet Dugald. They hear his story, and all return to alarm the colony and put the whole place in a state of defence. Then under the guidance of Dugald they turn back once more—a party of twenty strong now—towards the hills, just as the moon, which is almost full, is rising and shining through between the solemn steeple-like poplars.

To avoid the jungle, and a probable ambuscade, they have to make a long detour, but they reach the ruin at last, to find all safe and sound. The Indians know that for a time their game is played, and they have lost; and they disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as they came leaving not a trace behind.

The gold is now loaded on the backs of the mules, and the journey home commenced.

As they ride down through the giant cacti two huge vultures rise with flapping wings and heavy bodies at no great distance. It was into that very thicket that Moncrieff rode this morning. It was there he fired his revolver. The vultures had been disturbed at a feast—nothing more.

Great was the rejoicing at the safe return of Moncrieff and his party from the hills. Our poor aunt had been troubled, indeed, but Aileen was frantic, and threw herself into her husband's arms when she saw him in quite a passion of hysterical joy.

Now although there was but little if any danger of an attack to-night on the estancias, no one thought of retiring to bed. There was much to be done by way of preparation, for we were determined not to lose a horse, nor even a sheep, if we could help it. So we arranged a code of signals by means of rifle-shots, and spent the whole of the hours that intervened betwixt the time of our return and sunrise in riding round the farms and visiting even distant puestos.

My brothers and I and Moncrieff lay down when day broke to snatch a few hours of much-needed rest.

It was well on in the forenoon when I went over to Moncrieff's mansion. I had already been told that strangers had arrived from distant estancias bringing evil tidings. The poor men whom I found in the drawing-room with Moncrieff had indeed brought dreadful news. They had escaped from their burned estancias after seeing their people massacred by savages before their eyes. They had seen others on the road who had suffered even worse, and did not know what to do or where to fly. Many had been hunted into the bush and killed there. Forts had been attacked further south, and even the soldiers of the republic in some instances had been defeated and scattered over the country.

The year, indeed, was one that will be long remembered by the citizens of the Argentine Republic. Happily things have now changed for the better, and the Indians have been driven back south of the Rio Negro, which will for ever form a boundary which they must not cross on pain of death.

More fugitives dropped in that day, and all had pitiful, heartrending stories to tell.

Moncrieff made every one welcome, and so did we all, trying our very best to soothe the grief and anguish they felt for those dear ones they would never see more on earth.

And now hardly a day passed that did not bring news of some kind of the doings of the Indians. Success had rendered them bold, while it appeared to have cowed for a time the Government of this noble republic, or, at all events, had confused and paralyzed all its action. Forts were overcome almost without resistance. Indeed, some of them were destitute of the means of resisting, the men having no proper supply of ammunition. Estancia after estancia on the frontier had been raided and burned, with the usual shocking barbarities that make one shudder even to think of.

It was but little likely that our small but wealthy colony would escape, for the fact that we were now possessed of the long-buried treasure—many thousands of pounds in value—must have spread like wild-fire.

One morning Moncrieff and I started early, and rode to a distant estancia, which we were told had been attacked and utterly destroyed, not a creature being left alive about the place with the exception of the cattle and horses, which the Indians had captured. We had known this family. They had often attended Moncrieff's happy little evening parties, and the children had played in our garden and rowed with us in the gondola.

Heaven forbid I should attempt to draw a graphic picture of all we saw! Let it be sufficient to say that the rumours which had reached us were all too true, and that Moncrieff and I saw sights which will haunt us both until our dying day.

The silence all round the estancia when we rode up was eloquent, terribly eloquent. The buildings were blackened ruins, and it was painful to notice the half-scorched trailing flowers, many still in bloom, clinging around the wrecked and charred verandah. But everywhere about, in the out-buildings, on the lawn, in the garden itself, were the remains of the poor creatures who had suffered.

'Alas! for love of this were all, And none beyond, O earth!'

Moncrieff spoke but little all the way back. While standing near the verandah I had seen him move his hand to his eyes and impatiently brush away a tear, but after that his face became firm and set, and for many a day after this I never saw him smile.

* * * * *

At this period of our strange family story I lay down my pen and lean wearily back in my chair. It is not that I am tired of writing. Oh, no! Evening after evening for many and many a long week I have repaired up here to my turret chamber—my beautiful study in our Castle of Coila—and with my faithful hound by my feet I have bent over my sheets and transcribed as faithfully as I could events as I remember them. But it is the very multiplicity of these events as I near the end of my story that causes me to pause and think.

Ah! here comes aunt, gliding into my room, pausing for a moment, curtain in hand, half apologetically, as she did on that evening described in our first chapter.

'No, auntie, you do not disturb me. Far from it. I was longing for your company.'

She is by my side now, and looking down at my manuscript.

'Yes,' she says many times—nodding assent to every sentence, and ever turning back the pages for reference—'yes, and now you come near the last events of this story of the M'Crimmans of Coila. Come out to the castle roof, and breathe the evening air, and I will talk.'

We sit there nearly an hour. Aunt's memory is better even than mine, and I listen to her without ever once opening my lips. Then I lead her back to the tower, and point smilingly to the harp.

She has gone at last, and I resume my story.

* * * * *

We, Moncrieff and I, saw no signs of Indians during our long ride that day. We had gone on this journey with our lives in our hands. The very daringness and dash of it was probably our salvation. The enemy were about—they might be here, there, anywhere. Every bush might conceal a foe, but they certainly made no appearance.

All was the same apparently about our estancias; but I wondered a little that my brothers had not come out to meet me as usual, and that faithful, though plain-faced Yambo looked at me strangely, and I thought pityingly, as he took my mule to lead away to the compound.

I went straight away through our gardens, and entered the drawing-room by the verandah window.

I paused a moment, holding the casement in my hand. Coming straight out of the glare of the evening sunset, the room appeared somewhat dark, but I noticed Dugald sitting at the table with his face bent down over his hand, and Donald lying on the couch.

'Dugald!'

He started up and ran towards me, seizing and wringing my hand.

'Oh, Murdoch,' he cried, 'our poor father!'

'You have had a letter—he is ill?'

'He is ill.'

'Dugald,' I cried, 'tell me all! Dugald—is—father—dead?'

No reply.

I staggered towards the table, and dropped limp and stricken and helpless into a chair.

I think I must have been ill for many, many days after this sad news. I have little recollection of the events of the next week—I was engrossed, engulfed in the one great sorrow. The unexpected death of so well-beloved a father in the meridian of life was a terrible blow to us all, but more so to me, with all I had on my mind.

'And so, and so,' I thought, as I began to recover, 'there is an end to my bright dreams of future happiness—the dream of all my dreams, to have father out here among us in our new home in the Silver West, and all the dark portions of the past forgotten. Heaven give me strength to bear it!'

I had spoken the last words aloud, for a voice at my elbow said—

'Amen! Poor boy! Amen!'

I turned, and—there stood Townley.

'You wonder to see me here,' he said, as he took my hand. 'Nay, but nobody should ever wonder at anything I do. I am erratic. I did not come over before, because I did not wish to influence your mind. You have been ill, but—I'm glad to see you weeping.'

I did really sob and cry then as if my very heart would burst and break.

* * * * *

I was well enough in a day or two to hear the rest of the news. Townley, who was very wise, had hesitated to tell me everything at once.

But if anything could be called joyful news now surely this was—mother and Flora were at Villa Mercedes, and would be here in a day or two. Townley had come on before, even at considerable personal risk, to break the news to us, and prepare us all. Mother and sister were waiting an escort, not got up specially for them certainly, but that would see to their safety. It consisted of a large party of officers and men who were passing on to the frontiers to repel, or try to repel, the Indian invasion.

* * * * *

We all went to meet mother and sister at the far-off cross roads. There was quite a large and very well-armed party of us, and we encamped for three days near an estancia to await their coming.

It was on the morning of the fourth day that one of the Gauchos reported an immense cloud of dust far away eastwards on the Mendoza road.

'They might be Indians,' he added.

'Perhaps,' said Moncrieff, 'but we will risk it.'

So camp was struck and off we rode, my brothers and I forming the vanguard, Moncrieff and Archie bringing up the rear. How my heart beat with emotion when the first horsemen of the advancing party became visible through the cloud of dust, and I saw they were soldiers!

On we rode now at the gallop.

Yes, mother was there, and sister, and they were well. Our meeting may be better imagined than described.

* * * * *

Both mother and Flora were established at the estancia, and so days and weeks flew by, and I was pleased to see them smile, though mother looked sad, so sad, yet so beautiful, just as she had ever looked to me.

Dugald was the first to recover anything approaching to a chastened happiness. He had his darling sister with him. He was never tired taking her out and showing her all the outs-and-ins and workings of our new home.

It appeared to give him the chiefest delight, however, to see her in the gondola.

I remember him saying one evening:

'Dear Flora! What a time it seems to look back since we parted in old Edina. But through all these long years I have worked for you and thought about you, and strange, I have always pictured you just as you are now, sitting under the gondola awnings, looking piquant and pretty, and on just such a lovely evening as this. But I didn't think you would be so big, Flora.'

'Dear stupid Dugald!' replied Flora, blushing slightly because Archie's eyes were bent on her in admiration, respectful but unconcealable. 'Did you think I would always remain a child?'

'You'll always be a child to me, Flo,' said Dugald.

But where had the Indians gone?

Had our bold troops beaten them back? or was the cloud still floating over the estancia, and floating only to burst?



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE ATTACK ON THE ESTANCIA.

Shortly after we had all settled down at the estancia, and things began to resume their wonted appearance, albeit we lived in a state of constant preparation to repel attack, an interview took place one day in Moncrieff's drawing-room, at which, though I was not present, I now know all that happened.

To one remark of Townley's my mother replied as follows:

'No, Mr. Townley, I think with you. I feel even more firmly, I believe, than you do on the subject, for you speak with, pardon me, some little doubt or hesitancy. Our boy's conscience must not be tampered with, not for all the estates in the world. Much though I love Coila, from which villainy may have banished us, let it remain for ever in the possession of the M'Rae sooner than even hint to Murdoch that an oath, however imposed, is not binding.'

'Yes,' said Townley, 'you are right, Mrs. M'Crimman; but the present possessor of Coila, the younger Le Roi, or M'Rae, as he was called before his father's death, has what he is pleased to call broader views on the subject than we have.'

'Mr. Townley, the M'Rae is welcome to retain his broad views, and we will stick to the simple faith of our forefathers. The M'Rae is of French education.'

'Yes, and at our meeting, though he behaved like a perfect gentleman—indeed, he is a gentleman—'

'True, in spite of the feud I cannot forget that the M'Raes are distant relatives of the M'Crimmans. He must, therefore, be a gentleman.'

'"My dear sir," he said to me, "I cannot conceive of such folly"—superstitious folly, he called it—"as that which your young friend Murdoch M'Crimman is guilty of. Let him come to me and say boldly that the ring found in the box and in the vault was on the finger of Duncan—villain he is, at all events—on the night he threatened to shoot him, and I will give up all claim to the estates of Coila; but till he does so, or until you bring me other proof, I must be excused for remaining where I am."'

'Then let him,' said my mother quietly.

'Nay, but,' said Townley, 'I do not mean to let him. It has become the one dream of my existence to see justice and right done to my dear old pupil Murdoch, and I think I begin to see land.'

'Yes?'

'I believe I do. I waited and watched untiringly. Good Gilmore, who still lives in Coila, watched for me too. I knew one thing was certain—namely, that the ex-poacher Duncan M'Rae would turn up again at the castle. He did. He went to beg money from the M'Rae. The M'Rae is a man of the world; he saw that this visit of Duncan's was but the beginning of a never-ending persecution. He refused Duncan's request point-blank. Then the man changed flank and breathed dark threatenings. The M'Rae, he hinted, had better not make him (Duncan) his enemy. He (M'Rae) was obliged to him for the house and position he occupied, but the same hand that did could undo. At this juncture the M'Rae had simply rung the bell, and the ex-poacher had to retire foiled, but threatening still. It was on that same day I confronted him and told him all I knew. Then I showed him the spurious ring, which, as I placed it on my finger, even he could not tell from the original. Even this did not overawe him, but when I ventured a guess that this very ring had belonged to a dead man, and pretended I knew more than I did, he turned pale. He was silent for a time—thinking, I suppose. Then he put a question which staggered me with its very coolness, and, clergyman though I am, I felt inclined at that moment to throttle the man where he stood. Would we pay him handsomely for turning king's evidence on himself and confessing the whole was a conspiracy, and would we save him from the legal penalty of the confessed crime?

'I assure you, Mrs. M'Crimman, that till then I had leaned towards the belief that, scoundrel though this Duncan be, some little spark of humanity remained in his nature, and that he might be inclined to do justice for justice's sake. I dare say he read my answer in my eyes, and he judged too that for the time being I was powerless to act. Could he have killed me then, I know he would have done so. Once more he was silent for a time. He did not dare to repeat his first question, but he put another, "Have you any charge to make against me about anything?" He placed a terribly-meaning emphasis on that word "anything." I looked at him. I was wondering whether he really had had anything to do with the death of old Mawsie, and if the ring of which I had the facsimile on my finger had in reality belonged to a murdered man. Seeing me hesitate, he played a bold card; it was, I suppose, suggested to him by the appearance at that moment of the village policeman walking calmly past the window of the little inn where we sat. He knocked, and beckoned to him, while I sat wondering and thinking that verily the man before me was cleverer by far than I. On the entrance of the policeman—"This gentleman, policeman," he said, quietly and slowly, "makes or insinuates charges against me in private which now in your presence I dare him to repeat." Then turning to me—"The ball is with you," he said. And what could I reply? Nothing. I do believe that at that very moment even the worthy village policeman noticed and pitied my position, for he turned to Duncan, and, nodding, made this remark in Gaelic: "I know Mr. Townley as a gentleman, and I know you, Duncan M'Rae, to be something very different. If Mr. Townley makes no charge against you it is no doubt because he is not prepared with proofs. But, Duncan, boy, if you like to remain in the glen for a few days, I'm not sure there isn't a charge or two I could rub up against you myself."

'I left the room with the policeman. Now I knew that, although foiled, Duncan did not consider himself beaten. I had him watched therefore, and followed by a detective. I wanted to find out his next move. It was precisely what I thought it would be. He had heard of our poor chief M'Crimman's death, remember. Well, a day or two after our conversation in the little inn at Coila, Duncan presented himself at the M'Rae's advocate's office and so pleaded his case—so begged and partially hinted at disclosures and confessions—that this solicitor, not possessed of the extraordinary pride and independence of the M'Rae—'

'A pride and independence, Mr. Townley,' said my aunt, 'which the M'Raes take from their relatedness to our family.'

'That is true,' said my mother.

'Well, I was going to say,' continued Townley, 'that Duncan so far overcame the advocate that this gentleman thought it would be for his client's interest to accede in part to his demands, or rather to one of them—viz., to pay him a sum of money to leave the country for ever. But this money was not to be paid until he had taken his passage and was about to sail for some—any—country, not nearer than the United States of America, Mr. Moir's—the advocate's—clerk was to see him on board ship, and see him sail.'

'And did he sail?' said my aunt, as Townley paused and looked at her.

'Yes, in a passenger ship, for Buenos Ayres.'

'I see it all now,' said my aunt. 'He thinks that no charge can be made against him there for conspiracy or crime committed at home.'

'Yes, and he thinks still further: he thinks that he will be more successful with dear Murdoch than he was with either the M'Rae or myself.'

There was a few minutes' pause, my aunt being the first to break the silence.

'What a depth of well-schemed villainy!' was the remark she made.

Moncrieff had listened to all the conversation without once putting in a word. Now all he said was—

'Dinna forget, Miss M'Crimman, the words o' the immortal Bobbie Burns:

"The best laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft agley, And leave us naught but grief and pain For promised joy."'

* * * * *

To the fear and fever consequent upon the depredations committed by the Indians there succeeded a calmness and lull which the canny Moncrieff thought almost unnatural, considering all that had gone before. He took pains to find out whether, as had been currently reported, our Argentine troops had been victorious all along the frontier line. He found that the report, like many others, had been grossly exaggerated. If a foe retires, a foe is beaten by the army which sees that foe retire. This seems too often to be the logic of the war-path. In the present instance, however, the Indians belonged to races that lived a nomad life. They were constantly advancing and retreating. When they chose to advance in this particular year there was not a sufficient number of cavalry to oppose them, nor were the soldiers well mounted. The savages knew precisely on what part of the stage to enter, and they did not think it incumbent on them to previously warn our Argentine troops. Indeed, they, like sensible savages, rather avoided a conflict than courted one. It was not conflict but cattle they were after principally; then if at any time strategy directed retreat, why, they simply turned their horses' heads to the desert, the pampas, or mountain wilds, and the troops for a time had seen the last of them.

I think Moncrieff would have made a capital general, for fancied security never sent him to sleep. What had happened once might happen again, he thought, and his estancias were big prizes for Indians to try for, especially as there was plenty to gain by success, and little to lose by defeat.

I have said that our Coila Villa was some distance from the fortified Moncrieff houses. It was now connected with the general rampart and ditches. It was part and parcel of the whole system of fortification; so my brothers and I might rest assured it would be defended, if ever there was any occasion.

'It seems hard,' said Townley to Moncrieff one day, 'that you should be put to so much trouble and expense. Why does not the Government protect its settlers?'

'The Government will in course of time,' replied Moncrieff. 'At present, as we lie pretty low down in the western map, we are looked upon as rich pioneers, and left to protect ourselves.'

They were riding then round the estancias, visiting outlying puestos.

'You have your rockets and red-lights for night signals, and your flags for day use?' Moncrieff was saying to each puestero or shepherd.

'We have,' was the invariable reply.

'Well, if the Indians are sighted, signal at once, pointing the fan in their direction, then proceed to drive the flocks towards the estancias. There,' continued Moncrieff, 'there is plenty of corraling room, and we can concentrate a fire that will, I believe, effectually hold back these raiding thieves.'

One day there came a report that a fort had been carried by a cloud of Indians.

This was in the forenoon. Towards evening some Gauchos came in from a distant estancia. They brought the old ugly story of conflagration and murder, to which Moncrieff and his Welsh partner had long since become used.

But now the cloud was about to burst over our estancia. We all ate our meals together at the present awful crisis, just, I think, to be company to each other, and to talk and keep up each other's heart.

But to-day Moncrieff had ordered an early dinner, and this was ominous. Hardly any one spoke much during the meal. A heaviness was on every heart, and if any one of us made an effort to smile and look cheerful, others saw that this was only assumed, and scarcely responded.

Perhaps old Jenny spoke more than all of us put together. And her remarks at times made us laugh, gloomy though the situation was.

'They reeving Philistines are coming again, are they? Well, laddie, if the worst should happen I'll just treat them to a drap parridge.'

'What, mither?'

'A drap parridge, laddie. It was boiled maize I poured ower the shoulders o' them in the caravan. But oatmeal is better, weel scalded. Na, na, naething beats a drap parridge. Bombazo,' she said presently,'you've been unco quiet and douce for days back, I hope you'll no show the white feather this time and bury yoursel' in the moold like a rabbit.'

Poor Bombazo winced, and really, judging from his appearance, he had been ill at ease for weeks back. There was no singing now, and the guitar lay unheeded in its case.

'Do not fear for me, lady. I am burning already to see the foe.'

'Weel, Bombazo man, ye dinna look vera warlike. You're unco white about the gills already, but wae worth the rigging o' you if ye dinna fecht. My arm is strong to wield the auld ginghamrella yet.'

'Hush, mither, hush!' said Moncrieff.

Immediately after dinner Moncrieff beckoned to Townley, and the two left the room and the house together.

'You think the Indians will come to-night?' said Townley, after a time.

'I know they will, and in force too.'

'Well, I feel like an idler. You, General Moncrieff, have not appointed me any station.'

Moncrieff smiled.

'I am now going to do so,' he said, 'and it is probably the most important position and trust on the estancia.'

They walked up as far as the great canal while they conversed.

Arrived there, Moncrieff pointed to what looked like a bundle of brushwood.

'You see those branches?'

'Yes.'

'And you see that wooden lock or huge doorway?'

'I do.'

'Well, my friend, the brushwood conceals a sentry-box. It overlooks the whole estancia. It conceals something else, a small barrel of gunpowder, which you are to hang to the hook yonder on the wooden lock, and explode the moment you have the signal.'

'And the signal will be?'

'A huge rocket sent up from either my estancia house or Coila Villa. There may be several, but you must act when you see the first. There is fuse enough to the bomb to give you time to escape, and the bomb is big enough to burst the lock and flood the whole ditch system in and around the estancia. You are to run as soon as you fire. Further on you will find another brushwood place of concealment. Hide there. Heaven forbid I should endanger a hair of your head! Now you know your station!'

'I do,' said Townley, 'and thankful I am to think I can be of service in this great emergency.'

Before dark all the most valuable portion of our stock was safely corraled, and silence, broken only by the occasional lowing of the cattle or the usual night sounds of farm life, reigned around and over the estancia.

Later on Townley stole quietly out, and betook himself to his station.

Still later on Yambo rode in and right up to the verandah of our chief sitting-room. The horse he bestrode was drenched in sweat. He had seen Indians in force; they were even now advancing. He had ridden for his life.

The order 'Every man to his quarters!' was now given.

The night which was to be so terrible and so memorable in the annals of Moncrieff's estancia had begun. It was very still, and at present very dark. But by and by the moon would rise.

'A rocket, sir!' we heard Archie shout from his post as sentinel; 'a rocket from the south-western puesto.'

We waited, listening, starting almost at every sound. At length in the distance we could plainly hear the sound of horses' hoofs on the road, and before many minutes the first puestero rode to the gate and was admitted. The men from the other puestos were not far behind; and, all being safe inside, the gates were fastened and fortified by triple bars of wood.

All along the ditches, and out for many yards, was spread such a thorny spikework of pointed wood as to defy the approach of the cleverest Indian for hours at least.

While we waited I found time to run round to the drawing-room. There was no sign of fear on any face there, with the exception perhaps of that of poor Irish Aileen. And I could well believe her when she told me it was not for herself she cared, but for her 'winsome man.'

I was talking to them as cheerfully as I could, when I heard the sound of a rifle, and, waving them good-bye, I rushed off to my station.

Slowly the moon rose, and before many minutes the whole estancia was flooded with its light. And how we thanked Heaven for that light only those who have been situated as we were now can fully understand.

Up it sailed between the dark whispering poplars. Never had these trees seemed to me more stately, more noble. Towering up into the starry sky, they seemed like sentinels set to guard and defend us, while their taper fingers, piercing heavenwards, carried our thoughts to One who never deserts those who call on Him in faith in their hour of need.

The moon rose higher and higher, and its light—for it was a full moon—got still more silvery as it mounted towards its zenith. But as yet there was no sign that a foe as remorseless and implacable as the tiger of the jungle was abroad on the plains.

A huge fire had been erected behind the mansion, and about ten o'clock the female servants came round our lines with food, and huge bowls of steaming mate.

Almost immediately after we were at our quarters again.

I was stationed near our own villa. Leaning over a parapet, I could not help, as I gazed around me, being struck with the exceeding beauty of the night. Not far off the lake shone in the moon's rays like a silver mirror, but over the distant hills and among the trees and hedges was spread a thin blue gauzy mist that toned and softened the whole landscape.

As I gazed, and was falling into a reverie, a puff of white smoke and a flash not fifty yards away, and the ping of a bullet close to my ear, warned me that the attack had commenced.

There had been no living thing visible just before then, but the field on one side of our villa was now one moving mass of armed Indians, rushing on towards the ditch and breastwork.

At the same moment all along our lines ran the rattle of rifle-firing. That savage crowd, kept at bay by the spikework, made a target for our men that could hardly be missed. The war-cry, which they had expected to change in less than a minute to the savage shout of victory, was mingled now with groans and yells of anger and pain.

But this, after all, was not the main attack. From a red signal-light far along the lines I soon discovered that Moncrieff was concentrating his strength there, and I hastened in that direction with five of my best men. The Indians were under the charge of a cacique on horseback, whose shrill voice sounded high over the din of battle and shrieks of the wounded. He literally hurled his men like seas against the gates and ramparts here.

But all in vain. Our fellows stood; and the cacique at length withdrew his men, firing a volley or two as they disappeared behind the hedges.

There was comparative silence for a space now. It was soon broken, however, by the thunder of Indian cavalry. The savages were going to change their tactics.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE LAST ASSAULT.

Never before, perhaps, in all the annals of Indian warfare had a more determined attack been made upon a settler's estancia. The cacique or caciques who led the enemy seemed determined to purchase victory at any cost or hazard. Nor did the principal cacique hesitate to expose himself to danger. During the whole of the first onset he moved about on horseback close in the rear of his men, and appeared to bear a charmed life. The bullets must have been whizzing past him as thick as flies. Moncrieff himself tried more than once to bring him down, but all in vain.

During the final assault he was equally conspicuous; he was here, there, and everywhere, and his voice and appearance, even for a moment, among them never failed to cause his men to redouble their efforts.

It was not, however, until far on into the night that this last and awful charge was made.

The savage foe advanced with a wild shout all along the line of rampart that connected the Moncrieff main estancia with our villa. This was really our weakest part.



The assault was made on horseback. We heard them coming thundering on some time before we saw them and could fire. They seemed mad, furious; their tall feather-bedecked spears were waved high in air; they sat like huge baboons on their high saddles, and their very horses had been imbued with the recklessness of their riders, and came on bounding and flying over our frail field of spikes. It was to be all spear work till they came to close quarters; then they would use their deadly knives.

Hardly had the first sound of the horses' hoofs reached our ears ere one, two, three rockets left Coila Villa; and scarcely had they exploded in the air and cast their golden showers of sparks abroad, before the roar of an explosion was heard high up on the braeland that shook the houses to their very foundations—and then—there is the awful rush of foaming, seething water.

Nothing could withstand that unexpected flood; men and horses were floated and washed away, struggling and helpless, before it.

Just at the time when the last assault was nearly at its grim close I felt my arm pulled, and looking quickly round found Yambo at my side. He still clutched me by the arm, but he was waving his blood-stained sword in the direction of Moncrieff's house, and I could see by the motions of his mouth and face he wished me to come with him.

Something had occurred, something dreadful surely, and despite the excitement of battle a momentary cold wave of fear seemed to rush over my frame.

Sandie Donaldson was near me. This bold big fellow had been everywhere conspicuous to-night for his bravery. He had fought all through with extraordinary intrepidity.

Wherever I had glanced that night I had seen Sandie, the moon shining down on the white shirt and trousers he wore, and which made him altogether so conspicuous a figure, as he took aim with rifle or revolver, or dashed into a crowd of spear-armed Indians, his claymore hardly visible, so swiftly was it moved to and fro. I grasped his shoulder, pointed in the direction indicated by Yambo, and on we flew.

As soon as we had rounded the wing of an outbuilding and reached Moncrieff's terraced lawn, the din of the fight we had just left became more indistinct, but we now heard sounds that, while they thrilled us with terror and anger, made us rush on across the grass with the speed of the panther.

They were the voices of shrieking women, the crashing of glass and furniture, and the savage and exultant yell of the Indians.

Looking back now to this episode of the night, I can hardly realize that so many terrible events could have occurred in so brief a time, for, from the moment we charged up across the lawn not six minutes could have elapsed ere all was over. It is like a dream, but a dream every turn of which has been burned into my memory, to remain while life shall last. Yonder is a tall cacique hurrying out into the bright moonlight from under the verandah. He bears in his arms the inanimate form of my dear sister Flora. Is it really I myself who rush up to meet him? Have I fired that shot that causes the savage to reel and fall? Is it I who lift poor Flora and lay her in the shade of a mimosa-tree? It must be I, yet every action seems governed by instinct; I am for the time being a strange psychological study. It is as if my soul had left the body, but still commanded it, standing aside, ruling every motion, directing every blow from first to last, and being implicitly obeyed by the other ego, the ego-incorporate. There is a crowd, nay, a cloud even it seems, around me; but see, I have cut my way through them at last: they have fallen before me, fallen at my side—fallen or fled. I step over bodies, I enter the room, I stumble over other bodies. Now a light is struck and a lamp is lit, and standing beside the table, calm, but very pale, I see my aunt dimly through the smoke. My mother is near her—my own brave mother. Both have revolvers in their hands; and I know now why bodies are stretched on the floor. One glance shows me Aileen, lying like a dead thing in a chair, and beside her, smoothing her brow, chafing her hands, Moncrieff's marvellous mother.

But in this life the humorous is ever mixed up with the tragic or sad, for lo! as I hurry away to join the fight that is still going on near the verandah I almost stumble across something else. Not a body this time—not quite—only Bombazo's ankles sticking out from under the sofa. I could swear to those striped silk socks anywhere, and the boots are the boots of Bombazo. I administer a kick to those shins, and they speedily disappear. I am out on the moonlit lawn now, and what do I see? First, good brave Yambo, down on one knee, being borne backwards, fierce hands at his throat, a short knife at his chest. The would-be assassin falls; Yambo rises intact, and together we rush on further down to where, on a terrace, Donaldson has just been overpowered. But see, a new combatant has come upon the scene; several revolver shots are fired in quick succession. A tall dark figure in semi-clerical garb is cutting right and left with a good broadsword. And now—why, now it is all over, and Townley stands beside us panting.

Well might he pant—he had done brave work. But he had come all too late to save Sandie. He lies there quietly enough on the grass. His shirt is stained with blood, and it is his own blood this time.

Townley bends over and quietly feels his arm. No pulse there. Then he breathes a half audible prayer and reverently closes the eyes.

I am hurrying back now to the room with Flora.

'All is safe, mother, now. Flora is safe. See, she is smiling: she knows us all. Oh, Heaven be praised, she is safe!'

We leave Townley there, and hurry back to the ramparts.

The stillness alone would have told us that the fight was finished and the victory won.

A few minutes after this, standing high up on the rampart there, Moncrieff is mustering his people. One name after another is called. Alas! there are many who do not answer, many who will never answer more, for our victory has been dearly bought.

Four of our Scottish settlers were found dead in the trench; over a dozen Gauchos had been killed. Moncrieff and his partner were both wounded, though neither severely. Archie and Dugald were also badly cut, and answered but faintly and feebly to the roll-call. Sandie we know is dead, and Bombazo is—under the sofa. So I thought; but listen.

'Captain Rodrigo de Bombazo!'

'Here, general, here,' says a bold voice close behind me, and Bombazo himself presses further to the front.

I can hardly believe my eyes and ears. Could those have been Bombazo's boots? Had I really kicked the shins of Bombazo? Surely the events of the night had turned my brain. Bombazo's boots indeed! Bombazo skulk and hide beneath a sofa! Impossible. Look at him now. His hair is dishevelled; there is blood on his brow. He is dressed only in shirt and trousers, and these are marked with blood; so is his right arm, which is bared over the elbow, and the sword he carries in his hand. Bold Bombazo! How I have wronged him! But the silk striped socks? No; I cannot get over that.

* * * * *

Barely a month before the events just narrated took place at the estancias of Moncrieff there landed from a sailing ship at the port of Buenos Ayres a man whose age might have been represented by any number of years 'twixt thirty and forty. There were grey hairs on his temples, but these count for nothing in a man whose life has been a struggle with Fortune and Fate. The individual in question, whom his shipmates called Dalston, was tall and tough and wiry. He had shown what he was and what he could do in less than a week from the time of his joining. At first he had been a passenger, and had lived away aft somewhere, no one could tell exactly where, for he did not dine in the saloon with the other passengers, and he looked above messing with the stewards. As the mate and he were much together it was supposed that Dalston made use of the first officer's cabin. The ship had encountered dirty weather from the very outset; head winds and choppy seas all the way down Channel, so that she was still 'kicking about off the coast'—this is how the seamen phrased it—when she ought to have been crossing the Bay or stretching away out into the broad Atlantic. She fared worse by far when she reached the Bay, having met with a gale of wind that blew most of her cloth to ribbons, carried away her bowsprit, and made hurdles of her bulwarks both forward and amidships. Worse than all, two men were blown from aloft while trying to reef a sail during a squall of more than hurricane violence. I say blown from aloft, and I say so advisedly, for the squall came on after they had gone up, a squall that even the men on deck could not stand against, a squall that levelled the very waves, and made the sea away to leeward—no one could see to windward—look like boiling milk.

The storm began to go down immediately after the squall, and next day the weather was fine enough to make sail, and mend sail. But the ship was short-handed, for the skipper had made no provision against loss by accident. He was glad then when the mate informed him that the 'gentleman' Dalston was as good as any two men on board.

'Send him to me,' said the skipper.

'Good morning. Ahem, I hear, sir, you would be willing to assist in the working of the ship. May I ask on what terms?'

'Certainly,' said Dalston. 'I'm going out to the Argentine, to buy a bit of land; well, naturally, money is some object to me. You see?'

'I understand.'

'Well, my terms are the return of my passage money and civility.'

'Agreed; but why do you mention civility?'

'Because I've heard you using rather rough language to your men. Now, if you forgot yourself so far as to call me a bad name I'd——'

He paused, and there was a look in his eyes the captain hardly relished.

'Well! What would you do?'

'Why, I'd—retire to my cabin.'

'All right then, I think we understand each other.'

So Dalston was installed, and now dined forward. He became a favourite with his messmates. No one could tell a more thrilling and adventuresome yarn than Dalston, no one could sing a better song than himself or join more heartily in the chorus when another sang, and no one could work more cheerily on deck, or fly more quickly to tack a sheet.

Smyth had been the big man in the forecastle before Dalston's day. But Smyth was eclipsed now, and I dare say did not like his rival. One day, near the quarter-deck, Smyth called Dalston an ugly name. Dalston's answer was a blow which sent the fellow reeling to leeward, where he lay stunned.

'Have you killed him, Dalston?' said the captain.

'Not quite, sir; but I could have.'

'Well, Dalston, you are working for two men now; don't let us lose another hand, else you'll have to work for three.'

Dalston laughed.

Smyth gathered himself up and slunk away, but his look was one Dalston would have cause to remember.

This good ship—Sevenoaks she was called, after the captain's wife's birthplace—had a long and a rough passage all along. The owners were Dutchmen, so it did not matter a very great deal. There was plenty of time, and the ship was worked on the cheap. Perhaps the wonder is she kept afloat at all, for at one period of the voyage she leaked so badly that the crew had to pump three hours out of every watch. Then she crossed a bank on the South American coast, and the men said she had sucked in a bit of seaweed, for she did not leak much after this.

The longest voyage has an end, however, and when the Sevenoaks arrived at Buenos Ayres, Dalston bade his messmates adieu, had his passage money duly returned, and went on shore, happy because he had many more golden sovereigns to rattle than he had expected.

Dalston went to a good hotel, found out all about the trains, and next day set out, in company with a waiter who had volunteered to be his escort, to purchase a proper outfit—only light clothes, a rifle, a good revolver, and a knife or two to wear in his belt, for he was going west to a rough country.

In the evening, after the waiter and he had dined well at another hotel:

'You go home now,' said Dalston; 'I'm going round to have a look at the town,'

'Take care of yourself,' the waiter said.

'No fear of me,' was the laughing reply.

But that very night he was borne back to his inn, cut, bruised, and faint.

And robbed of all his gold.

'Who has done this?' said the waiter, aghast at his friend's appearance.

'Smyth!' That was all the reply.

Dalston lay for weeks between life and death. Then he came round almost at once, and soon started away on his journey. The waiter—good-natured fellow—had lent him money to carry him to Mendoza.

But Dalston's adventures were not over yet.

He arrived at Villa Mercedes well and hopeful, and was lucky enough to secure a passage in the diligence about to start under mounted escort to Mendoza. After a jolting ride of days, the like of which he had never been used to in the old country, the ancient-looking coach had completed three-quarters of the journey, and the rest of the road being considered safe the escort was allowed to go on its way to the frontier.

They had not departed two hours, however, before the travellers were attacked, the driver speared, and the horses captured. The only passenger who made the slightest resistance was Dalston. He was speedily overpowered, and would have been killed on the spot had not the cacique of the party whom Dalston had wounded interfered and spared his life.

Spared his life! But for what? He did not know. Some of the passengers were permitted to go free, the rest were killed. He alone was mounted on horseback, his legs tied with thongs and his horse led by an Indian.

All that night and all next day his captors journeyed on, taking, as far as Dalston could judge, a south-west course. His sufferings were extreme. His legs were swollen, cut, and bleeding; his naked shoulders—for they had stripped him almost naked—burned and blistered with the sun; and although his tongue was parched and his head drooping wearily on his breast, no one offered him a mouthful of water.

He begged them to kill him. Perhaps the cacique, who was almost a white man, understood his meaning, for he grinned in derision and pointed to his own bullet-wounded arm. The cacique knew well there were sufferings possible compared to which death itself would be as pleasure.

When the Indians at last went into camp—which they did but for a night—he was released, but guarded; a hunk of raw guanaco meat was thrown to him, which he tried to suck for the juices it contained.

Next day they went on and on again, over a wild pampa land now, with here and there a bush or tussock of grass or thistles, and here and there a giant ombu-tree. His ankles were more painful than ever, his shoulders were raw, the horse he rode was often prodded with a spear, and he too was wounded at the same time. Once or twice the cacique, maddened by the pain of his wound, rushed at Dalston with uplifted knife, and the wretched prisoner begged that the blow might fall.

Towards evening they reached a kind of hill and forest land, where the flowering cacti rose high above the tallest spear. Then they came to a ruin. Indians here were in full force, horses dashed to and fro, and it was evident from the bustle and stir that they were on the war-path, and soon either to attack or be attacked.

The prisoner was now roughly unhorsed and cruelly lashed to a tree, and left unheeded by all. For a moment or two he felt grateful for the shade, but his position after a time became painful in the extreme. At night-fall all the Indians left, and soon after the sufferings of the poor wretch grew more dreadful than pen can describe. He was being slowly eaten alive by myriads of insects that crept and crawled or flew; horrid spiders with hairy legs and of enormous size ran over his neck and naked chest, loathsome centipedes wriggled over his shoulders and face and bit him, and ants covered him black from head to feet. Towards dusk a great jaguar went prowling past, looked at him with green fierce eyes, snarled low, and went on. Vultures alighted near him, but they too passed by; they could wait. Then it was night, and many of the insect pests grew luminous. They flitted and danced before his eyes till tortured nature could bear no more, and insensibility ended his sufferings for a time.

* * * * *

The Indians must have thought that, although their attack on our estancia had failed, we were too weak or too frightened to pursue them. They did not know Moncrieff. Wounded though he was, he had issued forth from behind the ramparts with thirty well-armed and splendidly-mounted men. They followed the enemy up for seven long hours, and succeeded in teaching them such a lesson that they have never been seen in that district since.

Towards noon we were riding homewards, tired and weary enough now, when Donald suggested our visiting the old Jesuit ruin, and so we turned our horses' heads in that direction.

Donald had ridden on before, and as I drew near I heard him cry, 'Oh, Moncrieff, come quickly! Here is some poor fellow lashed to the ombu-tree!'



CHAPTER XXV

FAREWELL TO THE SILVER WEST.

We cut the man's cords of thongs, we spread rugs on the grass and laid him gently down, then bathed his poor body with wine, and poured a little down his throat.

In about half an hour the wretched being we had thought dead slowly raised himself on his elbow and gazed at me as well as his swollen eyes would permit him. His lips moved as if to speak, but no intelligible sound escaped them. The recollection dawned on my mind all at once, and in that sadly-distorted face I discovered traces of the man who had wrought us so much sorrow and evil.

I took his hand in mine.

'Am I right?' I said. 'Are you Duncan M'Rae?'

He nodded drowsily, closed his eyes again, and lay back.

We cut branches from the ombu-tree, tied them together with the thongs that had bound the victim's limbs, and so made a litter. On this we placed rugs and laid the man; and between two mules he was borne by the Gauchos slowly homewards to the estancias. Poor wretch! he had expected to come here all but a conqueror, and in a position to dictate his own terms—he arrived a dying man.

Our estancia for many weeks was now turned almost into a hospital, for even those Indians who had crept wounded into the bush, preferring to die at the sides of hedges to falling into our hands, we had brought in and treated with kindness, and many recovered.

All the dead we could find we buried in the humble little graveyard on the braeside. We buried them without respect of nationality, only a few feet of clay separating the white man's grave from that of his Indian foe.

'It matters little,' said Moncrieff. 'where one rests,

"For still and peaceful is the grave, Where, life's vain tumults past, The appointed house, by Heaven's decree, Receives us all at last."'

Both Dugald and Archie made excellent patients, and Flora and Aileen the best of nurses. But the nurse over even these was old Jenny. She was hospital superintendent, and saw to all the arrangements, even making the poultices and spreading the salves and plasters with her own hands.

'My mither's a marrvel at herrbs!' said Moncrieff over and over again, when he saw the old lady busy at work.

There was one patient, and only one, whom old Jenny did not nurse. This was Duncan himself. For him Townley did all his skill could suggest, and was seldom two consecutive hours away from the room where he lay.

In spite of all this it was evident that the ex-poacher was sinking fast.

Then came a day when Moncrieff, Archie, and myself were called into the dying man's apartment, and heard him make the fullest confession of all his villainy, and beg for our forgiveness with the tears roiling down his wan, worn face.

Yes, we forgave him willingly.

May Heaven forgive him too!

At the time of his confession he was strong enough to read over and sign the document that Townley placed before him. He told Townley too the addresses of the men who had assisted him in the old vault at the ruined kirk in Coila.

And Duncan had seemed brighter and calmer for several days after this. But he told us he had no desire to live now.

Then, one morning the change came, and so he sank and died.

* * * * *

It was several months before we could make up our minds to leave 'Our Home in the Silver West.' Indeed, there was considerable preparation to be made for the long homeward voyage that was before us; besides, Townley had no inclination to hurry matters now that he felt sure of victory.

Victory was not even yet a certainty, however. The estate of Coila was well worth fighting for. Was there not the possibility, the bare possibility, that the solicitors or advocates of Le Roi, or the M'Rae, who now held the castle and glen, might find some fatal flaw in the evidence which Townley had spent so much time and care in working out and collecting?

It was not at all probable. In fact, despite the blood-feud, that ancient family folly, I believed that M'Rae would act the part of a gentleman.

'If,' said Townley to me one day, as we walked for almost the last time in the beautiful gardens around Moncrieff's mansion-house, 'we have anything to fear, I believe it is from the legal advisers of the present "occupier"'—Townley would not say 'owner'—'of the estate. These men, you know, Murdoch, can hardly expect to be our advocates. They are well aware that if they lose hold of Coila now the title-deeds thereof will never again rest in the fireproof safes of their offices.'

'I am afraid,' I said, 'you have but a poor opinion of Edinburgh advocates.'

'Not so, Murdoch, not so. But,' he added, meaningly 'I have lived longer in life than you, and I have but a poor opinion of human nature.'

'I suppose,' I said, 'that the M'Rae will know nothing of what is coming till our arrival on Scottish shores!'

'On the contrary,' answered Townley; 'although it may really seem like playing into our opponent's hands, I have written a friendly letter to the M'Rae, and have told him to be prepared; that I have irrefragable evidence—mind, I do not particularize—that you, Murdoch M'Crimman, are the true and only proprietor of the estates of Coila. I want him to see and feel that I am treating him as the man of honour I believe him to be, and that the only thing we really desire is justice to all concerned.'

I smiled, and could not help saying, 'Townley, my best of friends, what an excellent advocate you would have made!'

Townley smiled in turn.

'Say, rather,' he replied, 'what an excellent detective I should have made! But, after all, Murdoch, it may turn out that there is a spice of selfishness in all I am doing.'

'I do not believe a word of it, Townley.'

Townley only laughed, and looked mysterious.

'Hold on a little,' he said; 'don't be too quick to express your judgment.'

'I will wait, then,' I answered; 'but really I cannot altogether understand you.'

* * * * *

Perhaps nothing shows true physical courage better than the power to say 'Farewell' apparently unmoved. It is a kind of courage, however, that is very rare indeed, and all sorts of stratagems have been adopted to soften the grief of parting. I am not sure that I myself was not guilty of adopting one of these on the morning we left that pleasant home by the lake.

'I'm not going to say "farewell" at all,' I insisted, as I shook hands with Irish Aileen and poor old Jenny, Moncrieff's 'marvellous mither.' 'I'm coming out again to see you all as soon as ever I can get settled. Do you think I could leave this beautiful country entirely, without spending at least a few more years in it? Not I! And even if I do succeed in getting old Coila back once more—even that, mind, is uncertain—I sha'n't quite give up Coila New. So au revoir, Moncrieff; au revoir!'

Then, turning to Jenny, 'Au revoir, Jenny,' I said.

'Guid-bye, laddie, and God be wi' ye. I canna speak French. I've tried a word or twa mair than once, and nearly knocked my jaws out o' the joint; so I'll just say "Guid-bye." Lang, lang ere you can come back to Coila New puir old Jenny's bones will be in the mools.'

I felt a big lump in my throat just then, and was positively grateful when Bombazo strutted up dressed in full uniform.

'A dios', he said; 'my friend, a dios. And now you have but to say the word, and if you have the least fear of being molested by Indians, my trusty sword is at your service, and I will gladly escort you as far as Villa Mercedes.'

It is needless to say that I declined this truly heroic offer.

Our party—the departing one—consisted of mother, aunt, Townley, Archie, and myself. My sister and my brothers came many miles on the road with us; then we bade them good-bye, and I felt glad when that was over.

But Moncrieff's convoy was a truly Scottish one. He and his good men never thought of turning back till they had seen us safely on board the train, and rapidly being whirled away southwards.

As long as I could see this honest settler he was waving his broad bonnet in the air, and—I felt sure of this—commending us all to a kind Providence.

The vessel in which we took passage was a steamer that bore us straight to the Clyde. Our voyage was a splendid one; in fact, I believe we were all just a little sorry when it was finished.

Landing there in the Broomielaw on a cold forenoon in early spring would have possessed but little of interest for any of us—so full were our minds with the meeting that was before us, the meeting of M'Crimman and M'Rae—only we received a welcome that, being all so unexpected, caused tears of joy to spring to my eyes. For hardly was the gangway thrust on board from the quay ere more than twenty sturdy Highlanders, who somehow had got possession of it, came rushing and shouting on board. I knew every face at once, though some were changed—with illness, years, or sorrow.

Perhaps few such scenes had ever before been witnessed on the Broomielaw, for those men were arrayed in the full Scottish costume and wore the M'Crimman tartan, and their shouts of joy might have been heard a good half-mile off, despite the noises of the great city.

How they had heard of our coming it never occurred to me to inquire. Suffice it to say that here they were, and I leave the reader to guess the kind of welcome they gave us.

No, nothing would satisfy them short of escorting us to our hotel.

Our carriages, therefore, to please these kindly souls from Coila, were obliged to proceed but slowly, for five pipers marched in front, playing the bold old air of 'The March of the Cameron Men,' while the rest, with drawn claymores, brought up the rear.

On the very next day Townley, Archie, and I received a message from M'Rae himself, announcing that he would gladly meet us at the Royal Hotel in Edinburgh. We were to bring no advocate with us, the letter advised; if any dispute arose, then, and not till then, would be the time to call in the aid of the law.

I confess that I entered M'Rae's room with a beating heart. How would he receive us?

We found him quietly smoking a cigar and gazing out of the window.

But he turned with a kindly smile towards us as soon as we entered, and the next minute we were all seated round the table, and business—the business—was entered into.

M'Rae listened without a word. He never even moved a muscle while Townley told all his long story, or rather read it from paper after paper, which he took from his bag. The last of these papers was Duncan's own confession, with Archie's signature and mine as witnesses alongside Moncrieff's.

He opened his lips at last.

'This is your signature, and you duly attest all this?'

He put the question first to Archie and then to me.

Receiving a reply in the affirmative, it was but natural that I should look for some show of emotion in M'Rae's face. I looked in vain. I have never seen more consummate coolness before nor since. Indeed, it was a coolness that alarmed me.

And when he rose from the table after a few minutes of apparently engrossing thought, and walked directly towards a casket that stood on the writing-table, I thought that after all our cause was lost.

In that casket, I felt sure, lay some strange document that should utterly undo all Townley's work of years.

M'Rae is now at the table. He opens the casket, and for a moment looks critically at its contents.

I can hear my heart beating. I'm sure I look pale with anxiety.

Now M'Rae puts his hand inside and quietly takes out—a fresh cigar.

Then, humming a tune the while, he brings the casket towards Townley, and bids him help himself.

Townley does as he is told, but at the same time bursts into a hearty laugh.

'Mr. M'Rae,' he says, 'you are the coolest man that ever I met. I do believe that if you were taken out to be shot—'

'Stay,' said M'Rae, 'I was once. I was tried for a traitor—tried for a crime in France called "Treason," that I was as guiltless of as an unborn babe—and condemned.'

'And what did you do?'

'Some one on the ground handed me a cigar, and—I lit it.

'Nay, my dear friends, I have lost my case here. Indeed, I never, it would seem, had one.

'M'Crimman,' he continued, shaking me by the hand, 'Coila is yours.'

'Strathtoul,' I answered, 'is our blood feud at an end?'

'It is,' was the answer; and once again hand met hand across the table.

* * * * *

Need I tell of the home-coming of the M'Crimmans of Coila? Of the clansmen who met us in the glen and marched along with us? Of the cheering strains of music that re-echoed from every rock? Of the flags that fluttered over and around our Castle Coila? Of the bonfires that blazed that night on every hill, and cast their lurid light across the darkling lake? Or of the tears my mother shed when, looking round the tartan drawing-room, the cosiest in all the castle, she thought of father, dead and gone? No, for some things are better left to the reader's imagination.

* * * * *

I throw down my pen with a sigh of relief.

I think I have finished my story; my noble deerhound thinks so too. He gets slowly up from the hearthrug, conies towards me, and places his honest head on my arm, but his eyes are fixed on mine.

It is not patting that he wants, nor petting either.

'Come out now, master,' he seems to say, speaking with soft brown eyes and wagging tail; 'come out, master; mount your fleetest horse, and let us have a glorious gallop across the hills. See how the sun shines and glitters on grass, on leaves and lake! While you have been writing there day after day, I, your faithful dog, have been languishing. Come, master, come!'

And we go together.

When I return, refreshed, and run up stairs to the room in the tower, I find dear auntie there. She has been reading my manuscript.

'There is,' she says, 'only one addition to make.'

'Name it, auntie,' I say; 'it is not yet too late.'

But she hesitates.

'It is almost a secret,' she says at last, bending down and smoothing the deerhound.

'A secret, auntie? Ha, ha!' I laugh. 'I have it, auntie! I have it!'

And I kiss her there and then.

'It is Townley's secret and yours. He has proposed, and you are to—'

But auntie has run out of the room.

And now, come to think of it, there is something to add to all this.

Can you guess my secret, reader mine?

Irene, my darling Irene and I, Murdoch M'Crimman, are also to be—

But, there, you have guessed my secret, as I guessed auntie's.

And just let me ask this: Could any better plan have been devised of burying the hatchet betwixt two rival Highland clans, and putting an end for ever to a blood feud?

THE END.



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