I spoke to the lieutenant in regard to the matter, but he was very decided in his refusal, saying that the boy must stay in camp, and if necessary, he should put him under guard.
Ned bore his disappointment with wonderful fortitude, I thought, for he made no remark, even when I spoke of the "guard" hinted at, except to say that "he wished it was all over;" a wish that I echoed from the bottom of my heart.
It was with a feeling of relief that I saw the guides start to once more reconnoitre the Indian camp.
Everything had been prepared in our own camp for an immediate movement— the guard had been detailed, horses saddled and bridled, ready for use, if needed, ammunition distributed, and every detail faithfully executed.
The lieutenant and myself were lying on the ground, conversing together in low tones and waiting for the return of the guides, when suddenly the sharp, clear ring of a rifle from the other side of the spur, broke upon the evening air, followed by a confused noise and straggling discharge of firearms.
What did it mean?
The next instant, as though with one thought, every man, rifle in hand, was rushing pell-mell in the direction of the sound.
The Lieutenant and myself, among the first to reach the point of rocks, saw Jerry hurrying towards us, bearing in his arms a female form, clothed in white. Quicker than a flash, the soldiers, as though divining the situation by instinct, formed a line that completely shielded him from the weapons of Indians.
Seeing me, he rushed towards me and thrust the girl into my arms, saying, in an excited manner.
"Take keer o' her, while I go back and give the red devils, hell!"
Taking the girl in my arms, I found it to be indeed Juanita, alive, and Apparantly unharmed. I carried her to camp, when, finding she had fainted, I laid her on some blankets and hurried back to the assistance of the party.
Before I could reach it, the Indians, completely surprised, had fled; and the soldiers were in possession of the camp and a large portion of their stock.
While hastening towards it, I saw Hal and Ned, who, as soon as they discovered me, came running towards me, and the next moment, Hal was in my arms, sobbing as though his heart would break, while Ned, the tears running in a stream down his cheeks, could only jump up and down, like a little child, exclaiming,—
"Oh! I'm so glad! I'm so glad!"
As soon as Hal could speak he blubbered out,—
I informed him she was safe in camp, and off the two started to find her; and when, a short time afterwards, I reached camp myself, I found she had recovered from her swoon, and was anxiously watching my return.
Her first question was for her father, and when I assured her that he was well, but extremely anxious on her account, she said,—
"Ah! but I never expected to see him again on this earth."
"But didn't I tell you you would?" inquired Hal.
"Yes," responded the girl, "you did; but I heard you and Anastacio—"
"By the way, where is Anastacio?" interrupted I. Poor fellow! He had been entirely forgotton by us; but, in a short time, the two guides appeared, escorting him between them.
There being no longer any reason why we should not enjoy the brightness and warmth of a camp-fire, we soon had one briskly burning, and by its ruddy light, I was enabled to see the faces of the rescued prisoners. I could scarcely believe that so great a change could have been made, in so short a time, as had been wrought in Juanita, during her captivity. Instead of the plump, rosy-cheeked, smiling senorita who entertained us so charmingly at Fort Davis, I saw a pale, wan-looking young lady, prematurely old, and so weak, as to be scarcely able to stand alone.
Hal, on the contrary, declared that he was "tougher than a knot," and "dirtier than any greaser," a statement, which we readily believed when he informed us "that he hadn't washed for ten days."
I ordered supper prepared at once. The Lieutenant came in soon after, and reported that three of the Indians had been killed, and two, badly wounded. Besides this, fifteen animals had been captured, and all the camp equipage of the savages.
Looking around for Ned, he soon discovered him, and said,—
"You young rascal, you! I told you to stay in camp, and the first one I saw over there, was you." Then, in a kinder tone, he inquired if he was much hurt?
Hurt! it was the first intimation I had that he had been hurt; and for a moment, my heart almost jumped into my throat, notwithstanding the boy insisted it was nothing.
An examination showed that an arrow had penetrated the fleshy part of his arm above the elbow, but without inflicting serious injury. The wound was soon dressed, supper eaten, Juanita made as comfortable as possible for the night, and then we gathered about the camp-fire to hear Tom Pope, relate the story of the capture, as follows:—
"Me'n Jerry, started from here, and crawled through the grass and underbrush, till we got pretty close to the varmints' camp. We seed ten or a dozen of 'em layin' about, some doin' one thing and some another. All of a suddent we seed the gal, there, crawl out of the 'wickey-up.' She looked round as though she wanted to see somebody, for she started and walked out a little ways. Jest then, a big buck Injun, got up and follered her, but she walked on, right towards us, till she was within a dozen feet of where me'n Jerry lay hid.
"The Injun told her in Spanish, to go back, and took her by the shoulder to make her do it. Quicker'n lightnin', Jerry made a spring, and, afore the Injun see him, he give him a blow with the butt of his rifle, that stunned him, and grabbed the gal and run.
"The Injun give a kind of grunt as he fell. One of the others started to see what was the matter, I s'pose, so I let Mertilda," patting his rifle, "talk to him, and he laid right down without speakin' a word."
"As soon as the Injuns in camp heard Mertilda speak, eight or ten of 'em jumped up and started towards us. But yer see, Jerry'd got so fur, they couldn't stop him. The sojers was right on to 'em, and give 'em 'Hail Columby,' and no mistake.
"That's my report, Lieutenant. That youngster there," pointing to Ned, "is real grit. I seed the arrer strike him, and he a-pullin' of it out, runnin' towards 'em all the time. Jest as sure's yer live, yer can call Tom Pope a liar, if Jerry Vance didn't save that gal's life; 'cause, if we'd ever attacked the Injuns in camp, the first thing they'd 'a' done, would ha' been to killed the prisoners. I know the Apaches some, I reckon."
A consultation was now held as to the best manner of getting Juanita to the fort comfortably, and it was decided to construct a "mountain-litter." This was done the next morning, by procuring two stout poles, about twenty feet in length, and lashing them firmly to two short pieces of wood about three feet long and six feet apart: we then stretched a blanket between the poles, so as to form a comfortable bed. Two steady mules were selected and harnessed between the poles, in the front and rear of the bed, thus making a comfortable carriage.
Breakfast over, Juanita was placed in the carriage, and we started for the fort, travelling slowly and making frequent halts. Ned scarcely mentioned his wound; and, during the four days consumed on the trip, we were all delighted to see that Juanita was daily recovering her bloom, and buoyancy of spirits.
Upon reaching Fillmore, I dispatched Anastacio at once to Fort Bliss, informing Colonel Magoffin, of the result of our expedition, and asking him to send an ambulance through to Chihuahua with Juanita, in charge of Anastacio.
Two days later, the colonel's own carriage, with four good road-mules, arrived, with an invitation, asking Juanita to accept his hospitality at Fort Bliss, and promising that Anastacio should accompany her, to her father's hacienda.
Juanita decided to leave on the following morning; and, during the afternoon, I was surprised to learn, that Hal had ridden up to Las Cruces, six miles above the fort; but, shortly after his return, I noticed upon Juanita's finger, a little gold ring, that I had not seen before, so I ventured pleasantly to refer to it, in the course of conversation that evening, and was informed, with many blushes, that it was-only a memento, of their trip through the Apache country.
In the morning, however, I almost had a pitched battle with Hal, to prevent him from accompanying Juanita to her home; and it was only through compromising, and permitting him to ride a few miles in the carriage with her, that I avoided it.
We all bade her good-by, with hearts filled to overflowing with thankfulness, for her release from the hands of her cruel captors; and, wishing her all manner of good luck, and a happy reunion with her father, the carriage drove off, but not until Hal had climbed in and taken the vacant seat by her side.
When he returned, a few hours later, his face radiant with happiness, I made up my mind that it would not be his fault, if he did not again see the young lady, before many months had elapsed.
During the evening I was aroused from the revery into which I had fallen, by an unusual disturbance in camp; and, on proceeding to ascertain the cause, found that Hal, had been endeavoring to thrash Patsey. On calling the delinquents before me, I was informed by Hal, that Patsey had spoken insultingly of Juanita, an offence that he had at once resented by attempting to chastise him.
Upon inquiring as to the words used, Patsey said,—
"Sure, sur, I only axed him did Juanita look as tickled as he did, and he come at me wid his phists, so he did; but he'll be aisy about sthriking me the nixt time. Dye'r moind that, noo, yer honor!"
"He'd no business to call her Juanita," angrily exclaimed Hal.
"Phat would I call her, thin?" asked Patsey.
"Call her by her proper name, the Senorita Ortiz," said Hal, with much dignity.
"And phat, would I be givin' her that jaw-crackin' name fur, when her name's Juanita?"
"But her name isn't Juanita to her inferiors, only to her intimate friends," explained Hal.
"Infariors, sure! Ain't an Irishman as good as a Mexican, any day? An', if yez think I'm your infarior, jest come out here and thry it, sure; that's all, Master Hal."
I stopped the controversy at once, by telling Hal that Patsey had no intention of offending, and there was no occasion for his attempt to chastise him.
"Oh, he won't thry it again, sur, niver fear," interrupted Patsey. "If he does," declared he in a tone intended only for Hal's ear, "I'll break ivery bone in his body, so I will."
After Patsey had gone, I did not reprimand Hal, only sent him to his tent; for, judging from his crestfallen air, he had suffered physically as well as mentally in the encounter.
We remained in camp the next day, visiting the officers at the fort, and taking our farewell of them, with many regrets. Nor did we forget a generous reminder to Tom Pope, to whose keen observation, quick wit, daring bravery, and perseverance we owed, in so large a degree, the success of our expedition.
The following morning, we crossed the Rio Grande and found ourselves in the celebrated Mesilla valley, one of the most fertile and productive, in the Territory of New Mexico.
The town itself has a population of about one thousand souls, and was first settled in 1850, by colonists from Chihuahua. All land in this portion of the territory is cultivated by irrigation; and, as this was the first time Hal had ever seen it practiced to any extent, he asked permission to remain behind in town a little while, to witness the operation. Ned also expressed a desire to see it, and, after consulting Jerry, I assented to their request, believing with him, "that they'd find mighty hard work to git inter any scrape in such a God-forsaken town as that was, anyhow."
We crossed the valley, and then ascended the high lands west of the town, through which our road lay, expecting to make our camp about sixteen miles from the river, and get an early start in the morning, to enable us to reach Cook's Springs, the following night.
As we rode along, I noticed that the distant range of blue mountains before us, seemed to have risen from the earth, and to be reposing upon the line of flickering heat that marked the horizon, and, in a short time, that groups of trees and huge rocks appeared, standing high in air, like islands in mid ocean.
Calling Jerry's attention to their singular appearance, he pronounced it a mirage, which I watched with great curiosity; for it was the first time I had ever seen the phenomenon.
In a little while, the long line of trees connected themselves at each end, with the land below, and then we saw, a beautiful lake, with its white-capped waves gently driven before the breeze, rippling and dancing in the bright sunlight, like living things of life and beauty. The picture grew larger and larger as we rode, changing into a mighty ocean, with a grand old rocky shore, which appeared to be indented with scores of little bays and bayous, upon the banks of which, grew great live-oaks, their umbrageous tops casting a shade so refreshing, that it was with the greatest difficulty I could be persuaded that the scene was not a reality.
I could only console myself, however, with the wish that the boys were along to enjoy it with me; but they were in Mesilla, and Jerry was so accustomed to sights of the kind, that he merely gave the beautiful picture a passing glance, regarding it as one of the matter-of-course things, to be met with on a trip like ours.
We went into camp about four o'clock; and, just at twilight, the guard that had been stationed back on the road about a quarter of a mile, came riding furiously in, his swarthy face almost white from fright, shouting at the top of his voice,—
"Los Indios! los Indios! Los Apaches!"
In an instant the quiet camp became a scene of the utmost confusion. Jerry's first thought was for the animals; mine, for the absent boys. I stationed the men at what I deemed the best points for defense; and Jerry, as soon as he had secured the mules, hastened to my side. We then called the Mexican who had given the alarm, and found that the fellow had really not seen anything, but had heard strange noises, that he believed came from Apaches.
Jerry volunteered to ride back and ascertain, if possible, the cause of the disturbance. He had scarcely been gone five minutes, before one of the Mexicans rushed towards me, saying,—
"Don Jerry is shouting to El Senor from the rise of ground out back upon the road."
Springing upon my horse I rode rapidly toward the spot where he stood, when the sight that met my gaze, almost convulsed me with laughter.
Coming up the road were the boys. Ned was mounted upon his pony, and trying to lead Hal's mule. Like most Spanish mules, the animal had a will of its own, and would not be led; but on the contrary, pulled back so strongly upon the lariat, which Ned had attached to the pommel of his saddle, that the pony could scarcely move a step.
Hal's coat was off, his face black with dust and sweat, and he, tugging at a lariat drawn tightly over his shoulder, at the end of which was a small black bear, scarcely more than a cub. The animal insisted upon squatting on his haunches, and in that position, Hal was dragging him through the dust, the creature all the while expressing his disapprobation by low, snarling growls of defiance, and a vigorous shaking of himself between each growl.
The strange medley of noises caused by the boys, the snarling bear, and the obstinate mule, had been heard in the still twilight for a long distance, by the guard, and mistaken for the approach of a party of Apaches.
"I wish you'd take this devilish bear," said Hal.
"And won't you take this plaguy mule?" exclaimed Ned.
Both looked so harassed and tired, that, although Jerry and I could not help laughing at their ludicrous situation, we nevertheless pitied them.
"Where in the world did you get that bear, Hal?" said I.
"Get him? I bought him of a Mexican at Mesilla, and I'm going to take him to California with me for a pet. He's tame."
"Well," exclaimed Ned, "if you don't get him along faster than you have to-day, you'll die of old age before you get there. We've been ever since eleven o'clock getting here, and I'm so hungry and tired I can hardly sit on my horse."
"Pooh!" retorted Hal; "this is nothing. You ought to be taken prisoner by the Apaches if you want to know what 'tis to be hungry and tired."
"How much did you pay for him?" inquired I.
"Only fifteen dollars," answered Hal.
"What's that?" ejaculated Jerry. "Fifteen dollars! Wall, I dunno which is the biggest fool, you or the bar. The greaser that swindled yer, ought to be thrashed; and I've a notion of goin' back and doin' it, for I've felt like thrashin' somebody for a good while. The bar ain't wuth fifteen cents, and won't be nothin' but a bother. Mebbe though he might be good for 'fresh,' if we git hard up."
"He won't be any bother, and you shan't use him for meat. He's just as tame as he can be. See here, now," said Hal, approaching the bear, and attempting to put his hand upon its head. But Bruin snapped so viciously that the boy jumped back in dismay, exclaiming, "Poor fellow! he's awful tired, I suppose!"
"Yes," said Jerry; "he'll be wus tired, though, afore you git him to Californy. You'll have to lead him, every step of the way. He shan't be hitched to no wagon, for the mules has got all the load they want to draw, now. But I reckon we'd better be gettin' back to camp, or the men'll think, we've been took by the 'Paches."
Supper was soon dispatched, after we reached camp, the events of the day talked over, we "turned in," and in a short time were fast asleep.
In the middle of the night we were awakened by the most agonizing yells and screams.
Springing to my feet, I recognized Patsey's voice, and, as I hurried in the direction of the sounds, I met the boy, half dead with fright, rushing towards my tent.
As soon as he recognized me, he fell upon his knees, and, crossing himself, besought me, in heartrending tones; to "protict him, for the Blissed Vargin's sake. The divil himself, your honor, has intered the camp, and he got into bed wid me, to ate me up intirely!"
All the time the boy was howling, and holding one hand under his arm, while he danced a hornpipe and protested, that, if I'd save him this time, he'd "niver stale another cint's worth as long as he lived, sure!"
The whole camp was roused, but no one appeared to understand the cause of Patsey's outbreak, and Hal finally suggested that he'd been dreaming.
"Dramin', is it! I wish it had been dramin' I wuz. Boo! hoo! Didn't I sae him wid me own eyes, shure?"
After we had partially quieted him he was able to tell us, that, as he was "slapin' paceably, he all ov a suddint felt somethin' in bed wid him, that wuz swallowin' him intirely. A big black thing wuz lyin' right by the side ov him, and wuz jest a-suckin' him in whole, for he had his arrm in his throat clane up to his ilbow!"
"It's that cub of a bear!" exclaimed Ned, interrupting Patsey's story.
At the sound of the word "bear," all of Patsey's fears returned, with renewed power, and he again commenced calling for "protiction," in frantic tones.
Going to the wagon under which Patsey had spread his blanket for the night, we found that Hal had tied the bear near it. Getting rested from the fatigue of his forced journey, the animal had crawled beneath the wagon, and, attracted by the warmth of the blankets, placed himself by the side of the sleeping boy, and, finding his hand uncovered, commenced licking it.
Patsey, thus awakened, had seen the creature's glaring eyes and shaggy black coat, and, not knowing in his fright what it was, concluded his Satanic Majesty had come for him, on account of his many sins and transgressions.
Order was at last restored, and we retired once more, to be awakened some hours later by Jerry's voice calling the men to prepare for the day's journey. Our breakfast was soon cooked and eaten, and Hal having finally induced Jerry, to permit him to tie his bear to the hind wagon, we were on the road an hour before sunrise, encamping that night at Cook's Springs, and the next afternoon reaching the Membris River about three o'clock, where, with good water, and plenty of grass and wood, we made a very pleasant camp.
Immediately upon our arrival, Hal and Ned went out hunting; and in less than an hour returned with three fine, fat turkeys, which were soon cooking after the most approved style, in one of the large camp-kettles that adorned our fire.
Supper over, Jerry suggested that, as some repairs were necessary to one of the wagons, we should remain in camp, and make them the following day. This suggestion was received with so much pleasure by the boys, I at once determined to adopt it.
Hal proposed a hunting expedition for the morning, leaving Jerry and myself to attend to the wagon.
This we agreed to; and, about sunrise, the boys started, confident of their ability to furnish us with a fine quantity of game before night.
As they mounted their ponies, Jerry gave them the following advice:—
"Be keerful ter keep yer eyes and ears open; foller the course of the river, and don't git out'er sight of it, whatever yer do. There's three kind 'er game in this country, yer want ter steer clear of, sartin: them's Injins, bars, and painters. And be keerful to git back afore sundown, whatever else you do."
"I shan't steer clear of 'painters' or bears, you bet," said Hal. "If I see one, I shall go for it, and as for Indians, I've had quite enough experience to know how to handle them, without any advice from you, Mr. Jerry. I guess we can take care of ourselves;" and away they rode.
"That boy knows less, for a fellow that thinks he knows so much, than anybody I ever see. Why, he don't know nothin', compared ter Ned, if he does talk ten times as much. I used ter think, when I was a boy, thet the feller thet hed the longest tongue, knowed the most; but them's the ones that don't know nothin'; and he's one of 'em, sartin," said Jerry.
I ventured to remark that Hal was a boy yet, and that we ought not to expect too much wisdom in one so young as he.
"But ain't t'other a boy, ez well?" inquired Jerry; "and hain't he got ten times as much sense? However, less go and look at that wagon, and see what's got ter be done to it."
The repairs kept Jerry and myself busy during the forenoon; and, after they were finished, Jerry proposed that we should take our rifles, and see if we couldn't get some game on our own account.
This suggestion met my cordial approval; and, after giving directions concerning the camp, Jerry and myself started across the prairie, intending to strike the river some miles above, and follow its course down; hoping, in this way, to fall in with the boys, on their return.
We rode along for several miles without seeing any game, save a few antelope, and they at such a distance, that Jerry though it not best to follow them; and, after a time, decided to make our way to the river and follow it down to camp.
It was a beautiful day: such a one as always brings peace and quiet to the most restless mind. I felt its effects most sensibly, and remarked to Jerry, that I rarely had seen so perfect a day in any country, and it seemed almost too bad, that so lovely a section could be given over to the possession of savages and wild beasts.
"'Tis, sartin," he replied; "both on 'em thrive here. I'm thinkin', though, 'twon't be many years afore white men'll git in here, and then the Injuns and painters, and sich like'll, hev to leave it. Why, there's lots o' gold jest above here. I've known plenty of scouts that hev brung it in. The white folks'll git hold of it one of these days, and then the country'll fill up like Californy.
"Yer see thet little mountain right ahead of us, don't yer? Wall, I r'member thet place. There's a narrer pass through thet hill, thet we've got ter go through. I've been in it once afore, and it's a mighty pokerish place, I tell yer: however, we'll git along all right, I reckon."
In a short time we reached the entrance to the canon, which was indeed a narrow pass. Huge rocks, hundreds of feet high, towered above and upon each side of us, their dark, moss-grown surface rendering the narrow passage so gloomy, that, in spite of myself, I felt a cold shiver run over me, that gave me an involuntary sensation of danger, which I could not throw off.
Turning to Jerry, I said, "Isn't there any danger here?"
"Danger!" repeated Jerry, "of course there's danger, everywhere in this country. We ain't out of danger a minute. Ha! ha! ha!" and he laughed so loudly, that the rocks above us caught the sound and hurled it against the opposite side of the canon, where it seemed to be detained for a moment by some overhanging cliff, and then sent back, reverberating and re-echoing, now faint and indistinct, then clear and well-defined, to again die away in the distance, to once more approach nearer and nearer, louder and louder, until finally catching upon the sharp edge of some far-jutting crag, it shivered into a dozen, startlingly distinct peals of laughter, that seemed to my terrified senses like the shouts of demons, exulting at our temerity in venturing within their own well-chosen realms.
So terrifying was the effect upon me, that, for a few moments, I could not persuade myself that it was but an echo I heard. The blood surged to my heart and receeded so suddenly, that I was hardly able to sit erect upon my horse. As soon as I could speak, I said,—
"Come, let us go back, Jerry. I want to get out of this, as soon as I can."
"We've got ter git ter camp, an' this's the nearest way; but, ef you're afraid, we'll turn back. That warn't nothin' ter hurt, though, it did sound kind er skeery. Ther shortest way's always ther best in this country, so let's go ahead," said Jerry.
"I don't know that we are any more likely to meet danger in this canon than we are out of it," said I; "but it's one of the most dismal and sunless places I ever was in."
"Well, 'twon't be many minutes afore we're out on the plains agin, so we'll ride along kind er midlin fast;" and, putting spurs to our horses, we soon emerged from the gloomy defile, out into the bright sunshine again.
Once clear of the shadows, I seemed to overcome the forebodings of danger, that had so oppressed me in the canon; and, in a few moments, the unpleasant sensations produced by the echo, entirely disappeared.
While thus riding along, the sound of a rifle-shot, a long distance away, fell upon our ears.
"That's them boys, for sartin," said Jerry. "They're in better luck than we be, for they've seen somethin' to shoot at,—an' so do I," continued he in a lower tone, pointing towards a little knoll a short distance away from the trail we were following.
I knew in an instant, from the tone of his voice, that he had made an unpleasant discovery, and was satisfied it was Indians. Still I looked, and saw, upon the top of the knoll, in bold relief against the sky, two Indians sitting upon their ponies.
One of them held a hand in the air above his head, which Jerry at once said, was the Apache way of asking for a parley.
"We'll hev ter give it to 'em, though we must be mighty keerful," continued he, "'cause it's next to sartin, thet therain't no two on 'em out there alone. We'll find thet out for ourselves, though, afore we're many hours older. Keep your eyes wide open, and your finger on the trigger o' yer rifle, and we'll go and see what they want."
Upon coming up with them, they each extended, an exceedingly dirty hand, with finger-nails that looked almost like bear's claws After shaking hands with them, Jerry proceeded to have a talk in Spanish. This gave me an excellent opportunity to examine their personal appearance; one, that I did not neglect.
They were small in stature, with short, ugly faces, very dark complexions, little, snapping black eyes, low foreheads, with coarse, stringy, faded hair, that hung far down their backs, carrying in their faces that nameless, but unmistakable impress of treachery and low cunning, that constitutes so large a part of the Apache character.
Around their bodies was wrapped an old blanket, so filthy, it was almost impossible to detect any trace of its original color, which had undoubtedly been blue. Each carried a bow and arrows, but was destitute of either leggins or moccasins, although mounted upon very respectable-looking ponies.
After a short interview, which terminated with our presenting them all the tobacco we had, with a shake of the hands we parted.
As they rode away, Jerry said: "I wish them boys was well in camp."
"You don't anticipate any trouble with these fellows?" inquired I. "What did they say?"
"Say? why, they said they was particular friends of the Americans," replied Jerry. "Just what they all say; but they're treacherous cusses, and either one of 'em, would shake with one hand and scalp with t'other one, ef they got a chance. That little black cuss called himself El Chico,—that means The small,—and said he belonged to the copper-mines band, and hailed us to see if he couldn't get a little terbacker; but all he wanted, was to see how we was armed, and if we had any larger party. I filled him chock full, you bet; and mebbe we shan't see 'em again, though it's likely we shall. I see one of 'em eyin' that rifle o'your'n pretty sharp, and he didn't like the look of it much: I could see that."
We had ridden nearly a mile from the place of the interview, when Jerry exclaimed, "There they be again, sure'n shootin';" and, pointing to the mouth of a small aroya, that made back from the river, I discovered six Apaches, coming towards us as fast as their horses would bring them.
We were within a quarter of a mile of a small mound, upon the top of which was a peculiar sandstone formation, not unlike, in shape, a huge bottle; and I suggested to Jerry, that we should ride to the top of this mound, and, sheltering our horses behind the rock, await their approach on foot.
The suggestion seemed to be a good one, for it was no sooner made than adopted, and we had barely time to reach the desired location, ere they were upon us.
"Steady," said Jerry; "let me give 'em one;" and taking deliberate aim' he fired, killing one of the ponies, thereby forcing its rider to mount behind one of the others; but on they came towards us, as fast as their horses could bring them.
"Now's your' time,—fire!" said Jerry.
I brought my rifle to my face and blazed away; seemingly, however, without effect.
"That won't do. If you can't shoot surer'n that, you'd better load and let me do it," said Jerry.
The Indians were now so close that several of their arrows fell about us, two or three striking the rock behind and shivering to pieces, and enabling us to recognize among them, the two who had hailed us but a short time before.
"The treacherous cusses," said Jerry. "I'll pay them fellows off, afore I git through with 'em, or my name ain't Jerry Vance, sartin."
The Indians appeared to be in no hurry to come within range of our rifles, but kept well out of the way, occasionally coming furiously to wards us, and as we raised our rifles to our faces, they would hastily throw themselves over upon the sides of their animals for protection, and ride rapidly away.
"They ain't goin' to hurt us much in this way," said I to Jerry.
"No; but they're going to tire us out, for it'll soon be dark, and we've got neither water nor food here; besides them fellers' eyes arc like cats',—they kin see ez well in the dark, ez we kin in the daytime. We kin hold 'em safe enuff now, but we must git a way from here before dark. There goes for El Chico," said Jerry, suddenly bringing his rifle to his face; and the next instant, an Indian fell heavily from his horse, and was instantly caught up from the ground by one of his companions, thrown across the horse before him and the party once more galloped out of range.
"I reckon we'd better mount and ride slowly towards camp," said Jerry. "Ef we do we shall get there some time ter-night, but ef we stay here we shan't, that's sartin."
"Do you suppose they'll follow us?" inquired I.
"Sartin sure," responded Jerry; "but I reckon by good engineerin' we kin keep 'em off, so that their arrers won't hurt us much: it's a mighty lucky thing they ain't got no firearms."
We immediately mounted our horses and rode out upon the plain. The instant the Indians saw us they began whooping and yelling, as though we had done the very thing, they most desired; but Jerry was strong in the opinion that it was our best course and we continued on.
Every few minutes they would make a rush towards us, and we would turn and bring our rifles up; and then they would wheel and rapidly ride away out of possible range, when we would continue our course towards camp.
We made but little progress; and, after riding a couple of miles in this way, determined to make a stand, in hopes of inducing some of them to advance within rifle-range; but they were too wary to be caught in this manner, although they would approach much nearer than they had done before.
While we were debating as to the best course to pursue, we were startled by the report of a rifle-shot, far in the rear of the Indians, who, upon hearing the sound, rode rapidly away to the right, just as a party of four persons came in sight.
They were soon near enough for us to distinguish Hal and Ned among the number, and we at once rode towards them, glad enough to know they were safe. Their companions proved to be a Mr. Mastin, with his Mexican servant, on his way from the copper-mines to Mesilla.
He had fallen in with the boys, and, upon their invitation, was accompanying them to our camp; but, having heard the sound of our rifles, and anticipating an encounter, had hurried on to join us.
We were delighted to meet with the boys, safe and sound, and made good time towards camp, which we reached just about sundown.
We found Mr. Mastin a very intelligent American; and, as he informed us, the discoverer and part owner of the Pino Alto gold-mines, about fifty miles above, near the Santa Rita del Cobre. He had resided many years in the country, and was thoroughly acquainted with the Apaches, and familiar with their habits and customs.
We succeeded in making a very comfortable meal, notwithstanding our ill luck in procuring game; and, after supper was over, we seated ourselves around the camp-fire to hear Mr. Mastin discourse upon Apaches.
He had once met Mangas Colorado, the head chief of the tribe, who was called Red Sleeve, from the fact that he never failed to besmear his arms to the elbow, in the blood of his victims.
He described him as over six feet in height, with an enormously large head, a broad, bold forehead, large, aquiline nose, huge mouth, and broad, heavy chin. His eyes were small, but very brilliant, and, when under excitement, flashed like fire, although his demeanor was like that of a cast-iron man.
He said that Mangas was undoubtedly one of the ablest statesmen, as well as the most influential and sagacious of all the Chiefs of the Indian tribes of the southwest; and related many anecdotes illustrative of his character,—incidents that had come under his own observation,—which entertained us until a late hour, and gave us an insight into Apache life, that was both amusing and instructive.
Notwithstanding we had all been so much interested in Mr. Mastin's conversation, the boys begged him to tell them one more story before they retired; and, as he seemed perfectly willing to comply with their request, we filled our pipes and again gathered about him, while he related the following:—
"A couple of years ago, I had occasion to visit a rancheria of Pinal Apaches in the mountains just north of the copper mines.
"While there, my attention was called to one of the warriors, a tall, well-proportioned and very dignified Indian, about forty years of age. He weighed nearly two hundred pounds, and, with his broad shoulders, deep chest, and splendid muscle, was one of the finest-formed men I ever saw, as well as one of the ugliest; for his face was certainly the most hideous I ever beheld, being terribly disfigured by a broad, livid scar, that extended from the corner of his mouth to his ear. Notwithstanding this, the fellow was a great dandy, spending many hours each day in greasing and arranging his long coarse hair, which he ornamented with plates of silver, bits of gaudy-colored cloth, bright feathers, and tinsel. Every hair was scrupulously plucked from his brows and eyelashes, and the lids of his eyes were painted a bright vermilion, giving to his face the expression of a demon rather than anything human.
"That he was hideously ugly, and never known to smile, were two indisputable facts; while it was equally sure that there was no greater favorite with the Apache belles, no braver warrior, more sagacious counselor, mighty hunter, or expert thief in the whole tribe.
"I learned that his name was Cadette, and that he obtained it in the following manner:—
"Upon the headwaters of the Rio Gila, in Arizona, is a vast forest, that has been the hunting-ground, as well as the home of the Apaches for centuries. Here they have never been disturbed by the visits of the 'White Eyes,' as they term all Americans.
"Occasionally a party of hardy prospectors, lured by reports of fabulous quantities of gold and silver in the possession of these Indians, would venture within the gloomy recesses of this unexplored region; but few of them ever returned.
"One day, while passing near the banks of the river, Cadette discovered the footprints of a very large lion in the sand. Though armed with no weapon but his spear, he at once determined to follow the trail. This he decided, after a careful examination, to have been made some four hours previous, in the early morning. It led towards a dense jungle, some two or three miles down the river, which he concluded was the creature's lair.
"As he drew near the thicket, he dismounted from his pony and approached the jungle with great caution. At this place, the river was quite narrow and very deep, and upon its bank stood a large cedar, whose wide, spreading branches, extending far over the stream, afforded him an excellent opportunity to examine the interior of the thicket.
"Into this tree the Indian climbed, and crawled out upon a large limb directly over the river, which he fancied would enable him to obtain a view of the supposed lair.
"While he was peering into the jungle, he became suddenly conscious of a movement in the thick branches over his head. Looking up, he discovered, lying upon a large limb about ten feet above him, a panther. The animal was preparing to spring; and, in an instant, like a flash, it sprang towards him.
"Almost as quick as thought itself, Cadette dropped from the limb into the water beneath, just as the panther landed upon the spot he had so recently vacated.
"Once in the water, the Indian swam silently and expeditiously beneath the surface, until he was some distance down the stream and out of sight of the tree, when he landed under the shelter of the bank.
"Just then a slight noise attracted his attention, and he discovered his enemy, partially concealed in the tall bottom grass, and evidently determined that his prey should not escape so easily.
"Cadette was brave, but he fully realized that an unarmed Apache, courageous as he might be, was no match for a panther; and the wary Indian began to look about him for some means of retreat from his unpleasant situation. While he was doing this, the creature worked himself into a position between the Indian and the river, thus effectually cutting off his only hope of escape.
"What should he do? The panther was not twenty feet away from him: he well knew that the animal could reach him at a single bound. Keeping his eye fixed steadily upon the crouching form, the Indian began to slowly retreat backwards.
"While he was retreating before the stealthy, cat-like approach of the panther, the most piercing cries, as of some human being in terrible agony, filled the air, startling the Indian, and causing the panther to rise from its crouching position, and listen intently for a moment with well-erected ears, and tail gently lashing the earth. The cries were repeated. The next moment the great creature turned, and slowly moved away in the direction from whence the noise came, while Cadette hastily returned to the foot of the tree where he had left his spear.
"After securing his weapon, he started for the place where he had left his pony; but, to his surprise, the animal was not there. Following its trail, he soon came upon bear tracks, and concluded that his horse had been attacked by the bear, and in his agony had uttered the cries that had so startled him, and attracted the attention of the panther.
"Continuing his search, he found the dead body of his pony upon the ground. Near it was the panther, crouched, as though about to make a spring; while, at a short distance, standing erect upon his hind-legs, with his back against a large rock, was a huge cinnamon bear, evidently at bay.
"The Indian crept cautiously forward, and concealed himself behind a great stone, from whence he could watch the approaching combat.
"The panther lay close to the ground, with his eyes fixed intently upon the bear, his huge fore-paws nervously contracted, while the long claws grappled the rocks and gravel. Occasionally he uttered a low menacing growl that showed his gleaming white teeth and blood-red tongue, from which the saliva fell in great drops.
"Meanwhile, the bear remained on the defensive, apparantly fearing to move from his position, lest his more nimble adversary should take advantage of him.
"The savage creatures maintained their relative positions, eyeing one another for several minutes. Then the panther gave a tremendous leap, and grappled the bear. It was a frightful contest: each animal uttering the most piercing cries, biting, hugging, and tearing one another as they rolled over and over in the dust.
"It was evident to the Indian that this fearful struggle could last but a short time; and soon the animals, as if by mutual agreement, separated, and, moving a short distance from one another, lay down and began to lick their wounds.
"While thus engaged, the panther became by some means, aware of Cadette's presence. As though angry at such an interruption, he turned, and, with a fierce growl, sprang towards him, instead of the bear.
"Unexpected as was the movement, it did not find the Indian unprepared. Planting the handle of his spear firmly in the earth, he so adroitly held it that the panther alighted upon its sharp iron head, which passed directly through the creature's heart; not, however, before the maddened animal had dealt Cadette the blow that crushed his face, and inflicted a wound the scar of which, had so terribly disfigured him for life.
"As soon as the Indian recovered from the effect of the blow, he succeeded in withdrawing his spear from the carcass of the panther, and went in search of the bear, who had retreated to some distance, and was engaged in licking the wounds he had received in his encounter with the panther.
"Cadette at once attacked the creature so vigorously with his spear, that he soon succeeded in killing him; and, although suffering great pain, managed to remove the skin from both animals; and, taking them upon his back, bore them in triumph to the rancheria, more than twenty miles distant, as trophies of his prowess in the chase."
After thanking Mr. Mastin for a very pleasant evening, we all retired, and were soon asleep, nor did we awake the next morning until the sun was far up in the heavens.
Breakfast over, we bid our guest a hearty farewell; and, with good wishes for our safe arrival upon the Pacific Coast, he left us to pursue our journey still further into the Apache country.
It was after we were comfortably seated about our camp-fire, in the evening, that I bethought myself that we had not as yet, heard Hal's story of his capture and adventures with the Apaches. So I called him, with the request he would narrate what had befallen him, from the time he left our camp at Dead-Man's Hole until his release by us in the Sacramento Mountains.
Hal, who had evidently been expecting the invitation for some time, at once seated himself, and, with Jerry, Ned and myself as listeners, commenced as follows:—
"When Anastacio and I started for Fort Davis, we hadn't been on the road fifteen minutes, before five Indians set upon us, from a thicket by the road side.
"They followed up the attack so briskly, that before we had time to think, they had our revolvers, and our hands tied behind us. They then took our horses and mounted us upon two of their own. We travelled over the roughest, hardest country I ever saw in my life, until daybreak, when they stopped at a spring to water.
"Here they stripped us of most of our clothes, and made us ride bare-backed until noon, when they stopped for a few minutes. I noticed that, whenever they halted, one of them always rode to the top of the highest hill near, and remained on the lookout there, until we were ready to start again.
"Before we had been long at this last place, the lookout signaled, and, in about an hour, eight more Indians joined us, with Juanita.
"She was very tired and terribly frightened, but when she saw me she just cried for joy, and I tried to comfort her as much as I could; but, while I was talking to her, a great, greasy-looking fellow came up to me, and, taking me by the collar, pulled me away, and, putting the muzzle of my own revolver to my head, made signs that, if I dared to speak "—
Here Patsey came running up, yelling at the top of his voice,—
"The bear's goned! The bear's goned!" Hal and Ned jumped to their feet, exclaiming,—"Which way did he go?" and, without waiting for a reply, darted off in search of him.
"I hope they won't git the critter: he ain't nothin' but a cussid nuisance, no how," said Jerry, as Hal disappeared in the gloaming.
"It's so dark they won't be very likely to," was my reply.
"I 'spect the Irishman had a hand in startin' him," continued Jerry. "He's owed the critter a grudge ever since he tarred his clo'es so, the other night."
"How was that, Jerry?" inquired I.
"Why, yer see the boy had been a-proddin' the critter with a sharp stick; and, arter he got through, he was a-standin' by the wagon, and the bar made a jump and ketched him right by his trousers-leg. This kind er scart the feller, and he made a leap, and left the biggest part of his breeches in the critter's mouth. Ned laughed, and told him, that one bar(e) in camp was enough, and he'd better go an' mend up—thar he is, now," pointing towards one of the wagons.
I called him, and he came towards me, looking decidedly guilty. I said to him, "Patsey, how did the bear get away?"
"He runned away, sure, sur."
"Yes; but how did he get loose?"
"He aited the rope aff, I suppose, sure. I seed him goin', and thought it'd be no harm to spake to the boys, sur."
"That was all right, Patsey; but you didn't turn him loose, did you?"
"I turn him loose, sur! Phat would I be doin' that fur?"
"Well, why didn't you go out and help find him?"
"I was afraid, sur;" examining the huge rent in his pantaloons.
"Afraid!" said I. "What under the sun was you afraid of? your bare legs?"
"Will, sur, I didn't know what the quinisquences might be if two bears (bares) happened to mate in the woods."
Just here Jerry gave one of his peculiar chuckles; and, seeing that I got but little information from the boy, I dismissed him with the remark, that, when we got to Tucson, he should have a suit of clothes.
"That'll suit me, your honor," was the reply, as he moved briskly off.
The boys soon returned, after an unsuccessful search for the bear.
Hal was disposed to blame everybody but himself for the escape, while Ned, with whom the bear had never been a great favorite, was inclined to laugh at the matter, to Hal's great disgust.
His ill nature reached its culminating point, however, when Jerry suggested, that, "if he lied fifteen dollars more to git rid of, he'd better bury it than give it for a cussid, good-for-nothin' bar, that warn't nothin' but a infernal nuisance to everybody, anyway."
Hal accepted the gauntlet thus thrown down by Jerry, and was about to reply in no very polite language, when I changed the conversation, by requesting him to finish the narrative of his visit to the Apaches; and, after a little hesitation, he resumed his story as follows:—
"The Indian told me, that, if I spoke to Juanita again, he'd send a bullet through my head; so Anastacio said, for the Indian spoke in Spanish.
"I didn't talk to her any more for several hours, but rode all the afternoon by her side. When we got to the top of the bluff from which we could see the Rio Grande, Juanita cried, and said that her home was there, and Anastacio felt so bad for her that he led her horse all the way after that.
"When we got to the river, instead of crossing, the Indians rode into it; and they made us all wade through the water for three or four miles, though the whole party came out on the same side. From here we struck into the prairie again; and, after riding for two or three hours, we camped.
"Juanita was so tired, she dropped to sleep as soon as we stopped; but Anastacio and I kept awake, and saw the Indians cast a mule, and open his veins and suck the warm blood from them. After this, they cut off portions of the flesh and roasted it over the coals, and made motions to us, that, if we wanted any, we must cook for ourselves.
"We were both hungry, but we couldn't eat mule meat, then, although we had to come to it in a little time.
"We started by daybreak the next morning; and Juanita became so exhausted, that, before night, she asked me two or three times to kill her. Finally, she appealed to Anastacio; and I heard him promise her, on a little cross she wore around her neck, that, if worse came to worse, he would do it.
"That day one of the Indians killed an antelope, and we all ate heartily of it, but Anastacio. He took the meat they gave to him, and saved it for Juanita. He carried it in his hand all day, and walked beside her horse, telling her stories in Spanish, and trying to cheer her. He was as kind to her as he could be, during the whole seventeen days we were together.
"One night we slept in a great cave in a mountain,[Probably the Waco Mountain, thirty miles east of El Paso.] where there were four or five deep pools, of nice, clear water. Juanita was so delighted at the sight of them that she sat on the brink of one and put her feet in it, to 'rest them,' she said. When the Indians saw her do this, one of them struck her with his quirt [A small, heavy whip.] over the shoulders.
"Anastacio sprang at him like a wild beast, and I believe would have killed him, but the other Indians took him off. They seemed greatly amused at the fight; but said they were only saving us for their squaws to torture, after they got us home.
"After this they made us all walk; although Juanita's feet and ankles were swelled so terribly that she could scarcely move: whenever Anastacio got the chance though, he carried her in his arms.
"One day one of the Indians brought her some fresh mule's blood to drink, and, because she wouldn't take it, he threw it in her face, and told her in Spanish, that, when they got to their village, he should make her his squaw. This made her cry terribly; and I heard Anastacio tell her he'd certainly kill her, before the Indians should have her. After that I thought she seemed happier, and repeatedly said, if she could only see her dear old father once more, she should be glad to die.
"We all suffered terribly from fatigue and thirst; for, after they thought Juanita was going to drown herself in the pool, they were very cross to us, and used to make us do all their work about the camp. If we refused, they stuck sharp-pointed knives into us, and struck us with their quirts; though, after Anastacio made the fuss, they didn't strike Juanita any more.
"The night you rescued us was the first time they hadn't put a guard out, since we were captured.
"You see, they always sent one of their party back a mile or two, to watch the trail, so as to avoid being surprised; but they had got so near home, they didn't dream of being pursued, I suppose.
"That day Anastacio told me they were talking of having a big dance when they got to the village, and he was going to kill Juanita before we reached it. He cried about it, and wanted to know if I supposed the Blessed Virgin would forgive him if he did it. We'd just been talking about it, when we heard the crack of Tom's rifle, and saw the Indians run towards the wood.
"I tell you what it was, when I heard that shot, I felt that it wasn't an Indian's gun (it didn't sound a bit like one), and my heart jumped right up into my mouth.
"The Indians appeared so anxious about Juanita, that they seemed to forget Anastacio and I, when they heard the rifle. We both run for the hut, and saw that she wasn't there, and supposed the Indians had taken her. Then we heard the soldiers' guns, and run towards them; and, the next I knew, I met Ned, and was hugging and kissing him just like a girl, I was so glad to see him. I tell you 'twas jolly, though; and, when I found that Juanita was all right, I felt like dancing and crying in the same minute.
"One thing is certain: you saved Anastacio from killing Juanita, for she never would have gone into that village alive."
"Wall, youngster," said Jerry, "I've heered you through; and now I'd like ter know what you think of the 'Paches; 'cause, you see, we've got ter travel a good many hundred miles through their country, and I'd like ter hev your opinion of 'em."
"Why, I think they are a cruel, cowardly, treacherous tribe, as Mr. Mastin said; and the dirtiest things I ever saw."
"Tell me, Jerry, do you know much about them?" interrupted I. "If you do, tell us something of their character and habits, as you've seen them."
"Wall, I've been through their country seven times, and I've met a heap of 'em, one way and another; but I hain't got no better opinion of 'em than Mr. Mastin hed. They're the smartest, wickedest and cunningest, Injins I ever seed. A Comanche ain't a touch to 'em, and I've never yet seed a white man smart enuff to beat 'em."
"You don't exactly mean that, do you, Jerry?" inquired I.
"That's exactly what I do mean: no more and no less," was the reply. "You'll hev a chance ter see for yourself, afore we git through this trip, I'm thinkin, or you'll be the only man thet ever travelled through their country that hain't; that's my idee, sartin. Why, the cusses'll telegraph to one another all over the country, and know just what's goin' on a hundred miles away.
"Americans can't understand 'em, and never will. No one ever saw a white man look at a country as a 'Pache does: he'll see everything. Ther ain't a ravine, gully, rock, bush, or tree, a foot high, thet he don't hev his eye on. Now, a white man don't look at a country in that way, does he?
"Jest ez likely ez not, there's a Injin within a dozen yards of us; but we wouldn't think it."
"A dozen yards of us!" exclaimed Hal, looking around; "why, where could he hide, I'd like to know?"
"That's jest it, youngster. We might go within ten feet of him, and never see him. Why, I've knowed 'em to hide behind a brown-bush, clump er cactus, or a rock, so mighty cunnin' thet ther ain't one scout in fifty would see 'em, let alone a stranger.
"They'll kiver therselves with grass, and lay on the ground all day, without movin', waitin' for a party to pass. I've been within ten foot of one myself, and seed him, too, and thought 'twas a part of the rock he was lying agin.
"I tell yer, them fellers's smarter'n a whip! They be, sartin, now."
"Well," said Ned, who had been listening attentively to Jerry's description of the Apache character, "if I'd had any idea these Indians were half as smart as you say they are, I'd rather have stayed in Texas than started on the trip."
"I wouldn't," declared Hal. "I've had about as much experience with 'em as anybody in the party, and I don't believe they're half as smart as you make 'em out. At any rate, I wouldn't be afraid to put my brain against theirs."
"Put your what, youngster?" inquired Jerry, in such an incredulous tone, that we all burst into a hearty laugh, in the midst of which Hal retired, leaving Jerry, Ned, and myself to continue the Apache question alone.
"You may depend on't, we ain't a-goin' ter git through this blasted country without more'n one brush with them fellers; and my way is ter keep our ears and eyes open, our rifles and pistols well loaded, and meet 'em when they come;—for come they will, sartin," said Jerry.
"Well, you must adopt such precautions and make such rules as you think proper," was my reply. "We'll all obey them."
"I'll set ther guard ter-night, and yer may ez well turn in now, 'cause we must make a early start."
We had hardly been on the road an hour the next day, before we observed one of the remarkable signal-smokes (used by the Apaches to give warning of the approach of strangers into their country), suddenly shoot up into the air from a spur of the mountains several miles distant.
Although the morning was windy, the smoke arose in a straight column to a great height, then spread out like a huge umbrella at the top, and, in the twinkling of an eye, was gone.
"That means 'look out,' plain enuff, don't it?" asked Jerry. "That's what I call telegraphin'. Now, putty soon you'll see some more answerin' of 'em."
"Do you know what that means?" inquired Ned.
"That means, 'Strangers is comin'.' If they'd repeated it three or four times, it would have said, 'The party's a big one, and wants watchin'.' But they're so fur off, I reckon they'll send two or three spies in ter see how many thar is of us, afore we shall hear from 'em. Hilloa! there they go," continued he, pointing to three more of the signals that were suddenly sent up in different directions. "We're in amongst 'em, sure, boys; so let's keep our eyes open."
Notwithstanding we maintained the utmost vigilance during the entire day's journey, we saw nothing of Indians, or any signs indicating their presence; but, upon camping at night, we so disposed our wagons, that we should be able to make a vigorous resistance in case of attack. The guard was posted, to be relieved every two hours. Our camp was on an open plain, with no shrubbery save an occasional brown-bush or yucca near us; and we retired, feeling as safe as we had any time since crossing the Rio Grande.
The night passed quietly; and, just as the grey dawn began to make objects visible about camp, I awoke.
I saw the guard sitting over the smoldering fire, the mules hitched to the wagon-wheels as usual, and the remainder of the party wrapped in their blankets, apparantly sleeping soundly; so I determined to take another nap before rising.
While thus lying, half awake and half asleep, I dreamily turned my eyes towards a small bush that stood a few yards from the place where I was lying, and, to my horror, discovered a pair of bright eyes peering at me from between the branches.
My first thought, that it was some animal, was speedily dissipated by discovering the fingers of a human hand holding aside the branches so as to give its owner an uninterrupted view of our camp; and it required but little stretch of the imagination to plainly see the features of a swarthy, ugly face behind them.
In an instant I remembered the conversation with Jerry the day previous, and decided that it must be the face of an Apache spy, and that I had better remain quiet; knowing, that, if my surmise was correct, we need not fear an attack from him or his companions, at that time.
I lay for some moments,—it seemed hours,—spell-bound, watching the face, but not daring to move even an eyelid, lest the discovery of the fact that I was awake, should be the signal for my own destruction. I expected every moment to hear the twang of a bow-string, and feel the head of an arrow penetrate my flesh; for I felt confident the spy was not alone.
I remember watching the eyes, so steadily gleaming from between the boughs, and comparing them to those of a tiger, about to spring upon its prey, and then, I found myself speculating as to whether a flint arrow-head would cause more pain than an iron one.
While these thoughts were passing through my mind, I noticed the branches almost imperceptibly resume their natural position and the eyes disappear from view.
My first impulse was to spring to my feet and alarm the camp. Then I bethought myself of the well-known cunning of the Apaches, and determined to remain quiet for a few moments, lest a ruse had been adopted to ascertain if their presence had been discovered.
Just at this moment, the guard, who had been sitting over the dying embers of the camp-fire, arose, drew his coat closer about him to shield him from the chill morning air, and, after taking a look around, again sat down. As he did so, I saw the branches once more cautiously pushed aside, and two pairs of eyes, instead of one, survey the scene.
What should I do? A cold sweat started from every pore of my body, and my heart almost ceased to beat, as I realized that the least movement of either of my sleeping companions might precipitate upon us a foe, of whose numbers I could form no estimate.
Conscious that I had acted wisely in doing nothing myself to hasten it, I felt equally certain I could have done nothing to avert it.
There I lay waiting, I knew not for what. The suspense became terrible. It seemed as though every moment had become a long hour,—as though I dared not breathe, lest the breath should be my last.
Suddenly, I felt that the boughs had again resumed their natural position, and the eyes were gone. Yes! they were there no longer. Once more I breathed freely.
Why I did not instantly arouse the camp, I cannot tell. I waited several minutes, then quietly cocked my rifle beneath my blankets, and touched Jerry on the shoulder. The instant he felt it, he started; but my low "s-h" apprised him of danger, and he again resumed his old position.
In a low tone, I told him what I had seen. He waited a few moments and then aroused the camp.
No one was aware, that, during the night, Indians had been so near us, nor did the camp show any evidence that they had entered it; but the ground in the vicinity of the bush, which had concealed the foe revealed very plainly the track of four moccasined feet. Although we found it difficult to tell in what direction they had gone, yet it was quite evident that we might, at any time, expect a visit from our Apache friends, and our only course was to be ready when they appeared.
Hal and Ned were disposed, at first, to imagine that the visitors of the night previous were the creation of a dream; but the sight of their footprints in the sand, soon dissipated that theory, while they plainly told them the necessity of greater caution.
Breakfast dispatched, we got under way once more; and, during the next three or four days crossed several spurs of the Burro and Pelloncillo ranges of mountains, and over that portion of the great Madre Plateau, that lies along the thirty-second parallel,—but saw no Indians.
This fact gave Hal a good opportunity to laugh at what he termed my vision; nor did he fail to improve the opportunity.
Jerry and I often consulted together, and wondered why it was that we heard nothing more from the spies that had visited us; for, as Jerry wisely said, "If they'd come along and have it out with us, one way or t'other, he wouldn't keer; but ter keep us always expectin' 'em, is what wears a feller out. By'm by, when we git keerless, they'll ketch us nappin', and then, God help us, that's all."
Our route, the next day, passed through a fertile cienega,[Valley.] thence over an alkali plain. It was while crossing this latter, that I met with an adventure, the most desperate we encountered on the trip. Our route carried us over this vast plain, strongly impregnated with alkali, and sparsely covered with dwarfed mesquite with an occasional cluster of yuccas, scarce two feet in height; and was so level, we could see for miles over it in any direction.
The road was thickly covered from five to six inches deep, with an impalpable dust, so fine that the lightest footstep, or breath of air, sent it in clouds above our heads. So dense was it, that it completely enveloped our whole party, making it impossible for us to distinguish one another, at a distance even of three or four feet.
Jerry and myself had been riding a few rods in advance of the wagons; but he returned to them for the purpose of giving some order, while I continued on. So open was the plain, that it seemed impossible for any foe to be concealed upon its surface; and we naturally abated somewhat, the vigilance we should have maintained, had we been passing through a rocky canon, or wooded defile. We therefore rode carefully along, shrouded in dust, but not dreaming of danger.
Suddenly, without the least warning, three or four muskets, and a shower of arrows, were discharged upon us from a spot not twenty yards away.
A clap of thunder from a clear sky would not have astonished me more.
The thought, that Hal or Ned might have been killed, passed like a flash of lightning through my mind; for the dust was so dense, I could not distinguish friend from foe; but I heard Jerry shout, "Adelante! Adelante hombres!" and forgetting for the moment that I was already in the advance, in obedience to the order, I spurred my horse forward, just as the Apache war-whoop sounded, apparantly upon all sides of me.
The spot selected for the ambush was at a point where the road passed though a large body of prickly-pear, the terrible thorns of which, in connection with the sharp-pointed leaves of the Spanish-bayonet, formed a natural chevaux-de-frise that no living creature could penetrate.
I soon discovered this; and, in the expectation of reaching the train, turned my horse's head and rode blindly back through the thick dust, although unable to see more than a few feet from me in any direction.
Suddenly I found myself surrounded by Indians. One stout, sinewy fellow, naked, with the exception of a breechcloth, seized my horse by the bits, and by main strength, forced him back upon his haunches, and in the twinkling of an eye, I lay upon my back in the dust of the road, deprived of my weapons, with an Apache, whose nude body had been well smeared with grease, sitting squarely astride me, with a knee upon each arm.
It was impossible for me to move; and I gave myself up for lost, as I noticed the wicked, fiendish expression upon the hideously painted face of the savage, and heard him mutter a malediction in Spanish through his closed teeth. The next instant, the welcome crack of three or four rifles greeted my ears. The Indian gave a start, and I saw the blood spurt from his side.
He gnashed his teeth, uttered a harsh, fierce exclamation of rage, and seized my throat with one hand, while he made a desperate attempt, with the other, to grasp my knife, which, in the struggle, had fortunately fallen just beyond his reach.
As he stretched forward, I felt his hold upon my throat relax; and, making a tremendous effort, I succeeded in pitching him over my head; then, springing to my feet, ran like a race-horse in the direction of the shots just fired; and, the next moment, was with Jerry and the boys.
I was so excited and bewildered, that, for a few seconds, I could hardly realize what had passed. I soon learned, however, that, immediately upon the attack being made, Jerry had halted the wagons, and, as he was unable in the dense dust to form any estimate of the number of the foe, was advancing with the men on foot, at the time they so opportunely fired the volley which rid me of my foe.
The Apaches left two dead bodies upon the ground; and we, three horses, while ever after I followed the advice I had so frequently given Hal and Ned, and kept with the wagons.
My adventure furnished a fruitful theme for conversation around the camp-fire for many nights. Jerry, Hal, Ned, Patsey, and even the Mexican teamsters had a theory as to the course they should pursue under the same circumstances; and I believe it is an unsettled question to this day, whether I did right in turning back instead of riding forward, after I heard the order given.
The evening of the succeeding day brought us to the entrance of the Apache Pass, the only canon through which we could cross the Chirichui range of mountains, that for many years had been the home of Cochise's band of Apaches, one of the worst that ever infested the country. Here, it was necessary to exercise the greatest caution; for the place was notoriously the most dangerous upon the entire route.
Extra guards were sent out, the animals securely corralled, each man required to sleep upon his arms, and every precaution taken to enable us to repel an attack at a moment's notice.
The night passed without any alarm, and Jerry chuckled at the thought that we should probably get through without being molested. Just as we were starting, however, it was found that one of our wagons required repairs, that would cause a delay of several hours. As the water was good and the grass luxuriant, we concluded to run the risk of an attack, and to remain for the day where we were and give our animals, which were sent to graze a limit a mile from camp, a much-needed rest.
Jerry undertook the repair of the wagon; and, as the day was bright, the boys determined to do some washing.
I had thrown myself upon my blanket, and was lazily admiring the beauties of an Arizona landscape, when Patsey approached me, and, pulling off his brimless hat, said, "Ef yer plase, sur, the byze wants to git some sooap."
"What is it, Patsey?" said I.
"It's the sooap, sur. Where'll the byze git the sooap ter wash wid?"
"Tell them to take a spade, and go and dig some," was my reply.
Patsey looked at me a moment, as though half inclined to think I had suddenly taken leave of my senses, and then exclaimed, in tones of astonishment,—
"Dig sooap! Where'll they go to dig it, shure?"
"Right there," said I, pointing to a small palmilla,[The palmilla is a species of palm, known as the soap-plant, whose roots, when bruised in water, make a very thick and remarkably soft and white lather. The plant is much used by the natives for cleansing clothes, and is far superior to any manufactured soap for scouring woolens. It also makes an admirable shampoo mixture.] numbers of which were growing all about us.
Patsey looked in the direction indicated; and, seeing nothing that resembled soap, regarded me attentively for a moment, and then wheeled and darted away.
Presently I saw the three boys coming towards me, and Ned laughingly remarked that he and Hal wanted some soap to wash their shirts with.
I answered, that I had just sent them word by Patsey, to go and dig some.
Evidently Ned was as much surprised at my answer as Patsey had been; but he mustered courage enough to inquire where he should find it.
"There, there, and there!" replied I, pointing in rapid succession to the plants that were growing around us. Ned stood spell-bound for a moment, and then slowly turned towards Hal and Patsey, who were standing at a little distance.
As he approached them, Patsey caught him by the arm, and, with a most knowing look on his broad, Irish face, exclaimed, "Didn't I tell yez the boss wuz crazy, an' I wouldn't git my new clo'es, any how?"
Wishing them to learn the merits of this truly wonderful plant that grows so common throughout this region, I rose from the ground. Patsey beat a hurried retreat, taking refuge with Jerry, saying, the "Boss had gone as crazy as a bidbug, wid his diggin' sooap and givin' clo'es away, to be shure."
Sending Ned for a spade, I soon unearthed one of the large bulbous roots, which I divided into pieces, and, accompanying the boys to the spring, practically demonstrated its remarkable saponaceous qualities, leaving them delighted with the experiment; but had hardly returned to my blanket again when I was startled by the report of two rifles, that came from below us, near the base of the mountains where our animals were grazing.
However commonplace this incident may appear to the reader, to us it was the tocsin of danger. Before the lofty crags above us had ceased to reverberate the echoes, every man was on the alert.
The boys came running to the spot where I stood, their bare arms dripping with soap-suds, while the men rushed to the wagons to procure their firearms and ammunition.
Before we had time to fully equip ourselves, the sight of one of the herders, rapidly approaching, told the story. He rode near enough to make himself heard, then, checking his horse so suddenly as to almost throw him upon his haunches, he brandished his revolver and shouted,—
"Los Indios! Los Apaches!" and, turning, rode rapidly in the direction whence he came.
Jerry sprang upon a horse; and shouting, "Take care er the camp!" rode rapidly in the direction of the herd.
Telling Hal and Ned to climb the rocks and report what they saw, I ordered the wagons to be drawn up in a line parallel with the foot of the bluff, thus improvising a sort of corral.
The boys, by this time, had discovered eight or ten Indians following the herders, who were driving the animals towards camp. I immediately rode out to assist them. At the moment I reached the plain, a little puff of white smoke rose on the air, far to the rear of the herders. A second after, I saw a riderless horse galloping wildly towards the herd, where he was lost to view. I urged my horse forward; and, by our combined exertions, the animals were safely brought into camp and corralled.
These secured, we turned our attention to the Indians, who were coming down upon us like a whirlwind.
"Don't a man fire till I give the word," said Jerry; "and remember not to throw away a bullet."
The Indians had paused upon the plain, nearly half a mile from our camp; and, sitting upon their horses, were evidently considering the best plan of attack. Suddenly, two of their number turned, and rode back towards the spot where we had first seen them.
"What can they be going back for?" asked Hal, who, rifle in hand, was standing by Jerry's side, evidently anxious for an opportunity to wipe out old scores.
"What are they going back for?" repeated Jerry; "why, to scalp that poor cuss they shot, I reckon. Judge," continued he, turning toward me, "jest you try a crack at them fellers with yer new-fashioned 'dust-raiser,' will yer?" pointing to my Sharpe's carbine.
"I don't believe that I can reach them: it will only be throwing away a cartridge, to make the attempt," replied I.
"Well, jest try it," continued he; "'cause, if yer could hit one of 'em, they'd leave mighty sudden, and save us considerable trouble."
"Yes, you can reach 'em," said Ned. "I wish you would try."
Dismounting, and resting the carbine over the back of my horse, I took careful, deliberate aim, and fired.
That the bullet did reach them, and they were badly frightened, was evident from the suddenness with which they wheeled, and galloped over the plain, in an opposite direction.
The next moment, Jerry grasped my shoulder, and shouted, "You hit one of the devils, sartin."
Bringing my glass to bear, I saw one of the Indians reel in his saddle, then recover himself a little, again waver, and finally fall to the ground, while his horse continued on with the remainder of the party, who, after riding some distance, stopped.
In a little time, they were joined by the two who had previously left them. Then three of their number rode towards the spot where their fallen comrade lay; and, securing his body, one of them took it before him on the horse, and the whole party galloped off.
"That ere shot of yourn was a good one," said Jerry. "Tit for tat is my rule for them varmints; an' we're even with 'em on this arternoon's work. I reckon we'd better take a shovel along, an' bury that poor feller that's a-lyin' there."
"Certainly, Jerry; but wouldn't it be better to bring the body in, and bury it here?" asked I.
"We don't want the men to see it, ef we kin help it. It allus makes 'em skeery; for there ain't nobody that wants to be cut and hacked to pieces, ef they be dead, as them red devils have sarved that poor Mexican, sartin."
Directing Patsey to bring a shovel, Jerry and I started on our sad errand. After riding about a mile, we came upon the body of the dead man, stretched upon the green grass, naked, scalped, and terribly mutilated.
For a few moments we sat upon our horses, silently gazing upon the horrible spectacle, too much shocked to speak. The silence was broken by Jerry, who exclaimed,—
"Ef them 'Paches ain't devils, then thar ain't no use of havin' any, that's all I've got to say. A pictur like that ain't a very appetizin' thing for a Traveller that's like to git ketched the same way, any day; so I reckon we'd better git it under kiver."
A grave was soon dug; and, wrapping the poor mutilated body in my saddle-blanket, we laid it within the narrow walls, and hastily covered it from sight; then, remounting oar horses, silently rode back to camp.
No question was asked upon our return, and neither Jerry nor myself felt much like talking; for the scene we had just witnessed impressed upon us more strongly than words could have done, the responsibility as well as constant watchfulness and care necessary in travelling through a country so full of peril.
The miserable fate of poor Gonzales seemed to throw a gloom over the entire camp; for it forced all to realize how beset with danger was every step we took, and how easily it might have been one of us, lying cold in death, instead of the poor Mexican.
We retired early, after taking every precaution possible to guard against surprise, and I soon fell asleep, but was aroused a few hours later, by terrific screams and howls from Patsey, who was capering around the camp in the most ridiculous manner, executing as many singular and grotesque gyrations as an Apache in celebrating the scalp-dance. The entire camp was roused: even the guards rushed in from their posts to ascertain the cause of the disturbance.
Neither Jerry, Hal, nor Ned could discover the cause of Patsey's terror; for, in response to our many inquiries, he would only scratch his leg through the rent in his trousers, and constantly jump up and down, as though standing upon a hot griddle, all the while howling at the top of his lungs.
Becoming, at last, thoroughly angry, I seized the boy by the collar, and gave him such a shaking that I finally succeeded in getting an answer to the question, as to what was the matter.
"Mather!" roared Patsey. "Mather enuff, God knows! Shnakes is the mather!" making a desperate dive down into the leg of his pants. "I'm bited to death wid a shnake, so I am. Can't yez all sae I'm a did mon?"
Now, as far as appearances went, Patsey was a long way from being a dead man, for he still indulged in more lively contortions than a corpse was ever known to execute; each movement accompanied by a yell almost loud enough to wake the dead.
An examination revealed the fact, that the boy had heedlessly spread his blanket over the entrance to the home of a colony of large black ants, and the little fellows, angry at his presumption, had attacked him, in the most spiteful manner, through the rents in his trousers. Patsey, awakened out of a sound sleep by their stings, and remembering Ned's adventure in the Organos mountains, had fancied himself the unfortunate victim of a like attack. We finally succeeded in convincing him that he was not dead, nor likely to die; and then, the camp resumed its usual quiet.
Early in the morning, before we were ready to start, Jerry called my attention to several "bighorns,"—or, more properly speaking, Rocky-Mountain sheep,—that stood perched upon a high cliff which overhung our camp several hundred feet in the air. As these were the first we had seen upon the route, I at once called Hal and Ned to witness the sight, who immediately proposed to make the attempt to capture one.
Jerry assured them it was impossible; for it would take hours to reach the spot where they stood, or even to get within rifle-range of them. This fact alone would prevent starting on a hunt, as we were exceedingly anxious to get through the pass without being obliged to spend another night in so dangerous a locality.
This animal is somewhat larger than the common sheep, is covered with brownish hair instead of wool, and is chiefly remarkable for its huge spiral horns, resembling those of a sheep, but frequently three feet in length, and from four to six inches in diameter at the base.
It is very agile; and, secluding itself among the most inaccessible mountain-crags, delights in capering upon the very verge of the most frightful precipices, and skipping from rock to rock across yawning chasms hundreds of feet in depth.
I have been assured by old hunters, that, if pursued, it will leap from a cliff into the valley a hundred feet below, where, alighting upon its huge horns, it springs to its feet, uninjured, its neck being so thick and strong, that it endures the greatest shock without injury.
This animal more closely resembles the chamois than any other species found upon this continent, and is almost as difficult to capture.
After leaving the pass and coming out upon the open plain, west of the mountains, we saw, in the distance, a wild ox.
Now the boys had, for some time, fancied that they were very expert in the use of the lasso; and, upon seeing this ox, became seized with the insane desire to capture him with that weapon, after the most-approved style of the Mexican lazador. Remonstrance was in vain. They knew they could do it; and away they went on their ponies, eager for the sport, leaving the remainder of the party to watch them from a distance.
Upon their approaching near to the old fellow, he threw up his head, elevated his tail, brandished his long horns, and, with a loud bellow of defiance, started directly for them. The boys evidently had not anticipated this, for they slackened their pace at the sight, riding very slowly towards him.
As they approached, he commenced shaking his head, pawing the earth, and bellowing furiously. Then he began to move slowly around in a circle, throwing clouds of dust high in the air, and almost making the ground shake with his angry bellowings; finally turning, however, he galloped slowly away over the plain.
Away went the ox, and away went the boys after him: it was a run for life on the one side; on the other, a chase for glory.
Hal, who was a short distance in advance of Ned, anxious to get his rope first over the horns, finally made a cast with his lasso. At the same moment, his pony stumbled, and away went Hal over his head, landing some feet nearer the ox than he expected to do when he made the cast.
Ned, who was just behind, now thundered past with lasso in hand, ready raised to take advantage of Hal's mishap. He threw it; but the noose fell short of the object aimed at, and encircled a stout yucca, that would stand directly in the way.
And now the ox, as though understanding the misfortunes that had befallen his pursuers, turned, and made a furious charge in the direction of the already discomforted lazadors. Seeing him coming towards them, with lolling tongue, protruding eyes, and angry bellowings, they began to realize, that, in their case at least, discretion was the better part of valor. Both turned and fled, leaving pony, lasso, and their courage, behind them.
The race now assumed another phrase: it was for safety on the one side, and revenge on the other.
On came the boys, Ned in the lead, on his pony, and Hal bringing up the rear on foot; behind them, the ox, whose bellowing each moment grew louder and more furious. Suddenly, Hal disappeared behind a clump of mesquite; but the ox kept on in his efforts to overtake Ned, whose pony was straining every nerve to reach the wagons in advance of his pursuer.
When the animal came within rifle-range, Jerry quietly stepped out and shot him through the head. Ned rode up breathless, upon his panting pony, and said to one of the Mexicans,—
"Say, Juan, how do you throw a lasso? I thought I knew all about it; but I reckon I don't."
Hal soon came in, his hands full of thorns, his eyes full of dust, and his clothes much the worse for his encounter with the ground, protesting, however, that, if his pony hadn't stumbled, he should have had the old fellow, sure.