On the Pampas by G. A. Henty
Chapter X. The Lost Cattle.
A fortnight passed without the slightest incident or alarm. The rules which Mr. Hardy had laid down were strictly observed. The sheep and cattle were carefully secured at night; two or three of the native dogs were fastened up, down at the fold; one of the mastiffs was kept at the men's hut, while the other's kennel was placed by the house; the retrievers, as usual, sleeping indoors. A flagstaff was erected upon the lookout, with a red flag in readiness to be run up to summon those who might be away on the plain, and a gun was kept loaded to call attention to the signal. The boys, when they went out for their rides, carried their carbines instead of their guns. The girls fulfilled the duties of lookouts, going up every half-hour from daybreak to dusk; and the call of "Sister Anne, do you see horsemen?" was invariably answered in the negative. One day, however, Mr. Hardy had ridden over to Canterbury to arrange with his friends about hiring shearers from Rosario for the united flocks. The boys and Terence were in the fields plowing, at a distance of half a mile from the house, when they were startled by the sound of a gun. Looking round, they saw both the girls standing upon the tower: Maud had just fired the gun, and Ethel was pulling up the flag.
"Be jabers! and the Indians have come at last!" Terence exclaimed, and they all three started at a run. Maud turned round and waved her hand to them, and then she and Ethel continued looking over the plain. At this moment they were joined on the tower by Mrs. Hardy and Sarah.
"It is all right," Charley, who was of an unexcitable temperament, said. "The Indians must be a long way off, or the girls would be waving to us to make haste. Take it easy; we shall want to keep our hands steady."
So they broke from the headlong speed at which they had started into a steady trot, which in five minutes brought them up to the house.
"What is it?" they exclaimed as they gained the top of the tower.
"Oh, dear, oh, dear!" Ethel said. "They have got all the animals."
"And I fear they have killed Gomez and Pedro," Mrs. Hardy added.
It was too evidently true. At a distance of six miles the boys could see a dark mass rapidly retreating, and numerous single specks could be seen hovering round them. Two miles from the house a single horseman was galloping wildly. The girls had already made him out to be Lopez.
The boys and Terence stood speechless with dismay. The Irishman was the first to find his tongue,
"Och, the thundering villains!" he exclaimed; "the heathen thieves! And to think that not one of us was there to give them a bating."
"What will papa say?" Hubert ejaculated.
Charley said nothing, but looked frowningly, with tightly closed lips, after the distant mass, while his hands closed upon his carbine. "How was it, Maud?" he asked at length.
"I was downstairs," Maud said, "when Ethel, who had just gone up, called down, 'Come up, Maud, quickly; I think that something's the matter.' I ran up the steps, and I saw our animals a long way off, nearly four miles, and I saw a black mass of something going along fast toward them from the left. They were rather nearer to us than the cattle were, and were in one of the slopes of the ground, so that they would not have been seen by any one with the cattle; then, as they got quite near the animals, I saw a sudden stir. The beasts began to gallop away, and three black specks--who, I suppose, were the men--separated themselves from them and went off sideways. One seemed to get a start of the other two. These were cut off by the black mass, and I did not see anything more of them. Lopez got away; and though some of the others rode after him for about a mile, they could not overtake him. Directly I saw what it was, I caught up the gun and fired, and Ethel ran up the flag. That's all I saw."
Ethel confirmed her sister's account, merely adding that, seeing the two bodies in the distance, one going very fast toward the other, she suspected that something was wrong, and so called at once to Maud.
The animals were now quite out of sight, and the whole party went down to meet Lopez, who was just riding up to the enclosure. He was very pale, and his horse was covered with foam.
"Are the peons killed, Lopez?" was Mrs. Hardy's first question.
"I do not know, signora; but I should think so. The Indians caught them; I heard a scream," and the man shuddered. "Santa Virgine" --and he crossed himself piously--"what an escape! I will burn twenty pounds of candles upon your altar."
"How was it that you were surprised, Lopez?" Charley asked. "You were so particularly ordered to keep a good lookout."
"Well, Signor Charles, I was keeping a good lookout, and it is lucky that I was. I was further away than I ought to have been--I know that, for the signor told me not to go far; but I knew that the rise that I took them to was the highest in that direction, and that I could see for miles away into the Indian country. So I got out there, and Pedro and Gomez had got the sheep and cattle all well together, and there was no fear of them straying, for the grass there is very good. So the men lay down for their siesta, and I was standing by my horse looking over the campo. Some of the beasts seemed uneasy, and I thought that there must be a lion somewhere about. So I got on my horse, and just as I did so I heard a noise; and looking behind, where I had never dreamed of them, I saw a lot of Indians coming up at full gallop from the hollow. The cattle went off at the same instant; and I gave a shout to the men, and stuck my spurs into Carlos. It was a near touch of it, and they gave me a hard chase for the first mile; but my horse was fresher than theirs, and they gave it up."
"How many Indians were there?" Charley asked.
"I don't know, Signor Charles. It was only those in front that I caught sight of, and I never looked round after I started. Some of them had firearms, for eight or ten of them fired after me as I made off, and the arrow, fell all round me."
"What do you think, girls, about the number?"
The girls were silent, and then Ethel said: "They were all in a lump, Charley. One could not see them separately."
"The lump seemed to be about the size that our cattle do when they are close together at the same distance. Don't you think so, Ethel?" Maud said.
"Yes," Ethel thought that they were.
"Then there must be from a hundred to a hundred and fifty of them," Charley said.
"I wonder what papa will do! One of us had better ride off at once and fetch him."
"I will go," Hubert said, moving away to saddle his horse.
"Stop, Hubert," Charley said; "I think you had better take Lopez's horse. I don't know what papa may make up his mind to do, and it is better to have your horse quite fresh."
Hubert agreed at once, and was mounting, when Maud said: "Wait a moment, Hubert, I will run up to the lookout. I may see papa; it is nearly time for him to be home."
Hubert paused while Maud ran up to the house, and in a minute appeared at the top of the tower. She stood for a moment looking across the stream toward Canterbury, and then held up her hand. "I can see him," she called out. "He is a long way off, but he is coming."
Hubert was about to alight again, when Mrs. Hardy said: "You had better ride to meet your papa, Hubert. He will be very much alarmed when he sees the flag, and it will be a great satisfaction to him to know that we at least are all safe."
Hubert at once galloped off, while Maud continued to watch her father. He was about two miles distant, and was riding quietly. Then for a little while she lost sight of him. As he came up on the next rise she saw him suddenly stop his horse. She guessed that he was gazing at the flagstaff, for there was not a breath of wind, and the flag drooped straight down by the pole, so that it was difficult to distinguish it at a distance. Then she was sure that he made it out, for he came on at a furious gallop; and as he came nearer she could see that he had taken his gun from its place and was carrying it across his arm in readiness for instant action. In a few minutes Hubert met him, and after a short pause the two rode together back to the house at a canter.
Mr. Hardy paused at the men's hut to give Lopez a hearty rating for his disobedience of orders in going so far out upon the plain. Then he came up to the house. "This is a bad affair, my dear," he said cheerfully; "but as long as we are all safe we can thank God that it's no worse. We shall get some of our beasts back yet, or I am mistaken. Ethel, run down to Terence, and tell him to drive the bullocks that are down with the plows into their enclosure, and to fasten the gate after them. Maud, give all the horses a feed of Indian corn and some water. Boys, tell Sarah to put some cold meat and bread into your hunting-bags. Load the spare chambers of your carbines, and see that your water-gourds are full."
Mr. Hardy then retired with his wife--who had been looking on anxiously while these orders were being given--into their own room, where they remained about ten minutes. When they came back into the sitting-room Mrs. Hardy was pale, but composed, and the children could see that she had been crying.
"Your mamma and I have been talking the matter over, boys, and I have told her that I must do my best to get some, at least, of our animals back. I shall take you bath with me. It is unfortunate that two of our friends at Canterbury have ridden over early this morning to Mr. Percy's, and will not be back until late to-night. Had they been at home, they would, I know, have joined us. I thought at first of sending over for Mr. Farquhar, who is at home, but I do not like losing the time. I shall send Lopez over with a note, asking him to come and sleep here to-night. We shall not be back till to-morrow. There is no fear of another alarm to-day; still I shall be more comfortable in knowing that you have some one with you. Do not go beyond the enclosure, girls, until we return. Terence, too, is to remain inside, and can sleep in the house to-night; so also can Lopez. You will therefore be well protected. Let us have something to eat, and then in ten minutes we will be in the saddle. Charley, fetch down three blue-lights, two signal rockets, and two of the tin rockets. Maud, fill our pocket-flasks with brandy. Hubert, you boys will each take your carbine and a revolver; I will carry my long rifle, and the other two Colts." In ten minutes they were ready to mount, and after a final embrace, and many a "Be sure and take care of yourselves" from their mother and sisters, they started off across the plain at a long, steady gallop.
"They have got just an hour's start, boys," Mr. Hardy said. "Your mother said that it was exactly half an hour from the first alarm to my arrival, and I was in the house a minute or two under that time. It is about half-past twelve now."
"It is very fortunate, papa, that we had our horses safe up at the house."
"Yes, boys. If we had been obliged to wait until tomorrow morning before starting, our chance of coming up would have been very slight. As it is, we shall be up with them in three or four hours. The sheep cannot go really fast more than twelve or fifteen miles, especially with their heavy fleeces on."
Half an hour's riding took them to the scene of the attack. As they neared it they saw two figures lying upon the grass. There was no occasion to go near: the stiff and distorted attitudes were sufficient to show that they were dead.
Mr. Hardy purposely avoided riding close to them, knowing that the shocking sight of men who have met with a violent death is apt to shake the nerves of any one unaccustomed to such a sight, however brave he may be.
"They are evidently dead, poor fellows!" he said. "It is no use our stopping."
Charley looked at the bodies with a fierce frown upon his face, and muttered to himself. "We'll pay them out for you, the cowardly scoundrels."
Hubert did not even glance toward them. He was a tender-hearted boy and he felt his face grow pale and a strange feeling of sickness come over him, even at the momentary glance which he had at first taken at the rigid figures.
"I suppose you do not mean to attack them until night, papa?" Charley asked.
"Well, boys, I have been thinking the matter over, and I have come to the conclusion that it will be better to do so directly we get up to them."
"And do you think, papa, that we three will be able to thrash the lot of them? They must be a poor, miserable set of cowards."
"No, Charley; I do not think that we shall be able to thrash the lot, as you say; but with our weapons, we shall be able to give them a terrible lesson. If we attack at night they will soon find out how few are our numbers, and having no particular dread of our weapons, may rush at us, and overpower us in spite of them. Another thing, boys, is, I want to give them a lesson. They must know that they shan't come and murder and steal on our place with impunity."
Scarcely another word was exchanged for the next hour. At a long, steady gallop they swept along. There was no difficulty in following the track, for the long grass was trampled in a wide swath. Several times, too, exclamations of rage burst from the boys as they came across a dead sheep, evidently speared by the savages because he could not keep up with the others. After passing several of them, Mr. Hardy called to the boys to halt, while he leaped off his horse by the side of one of the sheep, and put his hand against its body and into its mouth.
"It's quite dead; isn't it, papa?" Hubert said.
"Quite, Hubert; I never thought it was alive." And Mr. Hardy leaped upon his horse again. "I wanted to see how warm the body was. If we try again an hour's ride ahead, we shall be able to judge, by the increased heat of the body, as to how much we have gained on the Indians, and whether they are far ahead. You see, boys, when I was young man, I was out many times in Texas against the Comanches and Apaches, who are a very different enemy from these cowardly Indians here. One had to keep one's eyes open there, for they were every bit as brave as we were. Don't push on so fast, Charley. Spare your horse; you will want all he's got in him before you have done. I think that we must be gaining upon them very fast now. You see the dead sheep lie every hundred yards or so, instead of every quarter of a mile. The Indians know well enough that it would take a whole day out on the edge of the settlements to collect a dozen men for pursuit, and would have no idea that three men would set off alone; so I expect that they will now have slackened their pace a little, to give the sheep breathing time."
After another ten minutes' ride Mr. Hardy again alighted, and found a very perceptible increase of warmth in the bodies of the sheep. "I do not think that they can have been dead much more than a quarter of an hour. Keep a sharp lookout ahead, boys; we may see them at the top of the next rise."
Not a word was spoken for the next few minutes. Two or three slight swells were crossed without any sign of the enemy; and then, upon breasting a rather higher rise than usual, they saw a mass of moving beings in the distance.
"Halt!" Mr. Hardy shouted, and the boys instantly drew rein. "Jump off, boys. Only our heads have shown against the sky. They can hardly have noticed them. There, hold my horse; loosen the saddle-girths of yours too, and let them breathe freely. Take the bridles out of their mouths. It seemed to me, by the glimpse I got of our enemies, that they were just stopping. I am going on to make sure of it."
So saying Mr. Hardy again went forward a short distance, going on his hands and knees as he came on to the crest of the rise, in order that his head might not show above the long grass. When he reached it he saw at once that his first impression had been correct. At a distance of a little over a mile a mass of animals were collected, and round them were scattered a number of horses, while figures of men were moving among them.
"It is as I thought, boys," he said when he rejoined his sons. "They have stopped for awhile. The animals must all be completely done up; they cannot have come less than thirty miles, and will require three or four hours' rest, at the least, before they are fit to travel again. One hour will do for our horses. Rinse their mouths out with a little water, and let them graze if they are disposed: in half an hour we will give them each a double handful of Indian corn."
Having attended to their horses, which they hobbled to prevent their straying, Mr. Hardy and the boys sat down and made a slight meal. None of them felt very hungry, the excitement of the approaching attack having driven away the keen appetite that they would have otherwise gained from their ride; but Mr. Hardy begged the boys to endeavor to eat something, as they would be sure to feel the want of food later.
The meal over, Mr. Hardy lit his favorite pipe, while the boys went cautiously up the hill to reconnoiter. There was no change; most of the animals were lying down, and there was little sign of movement. Two or three Indians, however, were standing motionless and rigid by their horses' sides, evidently acting as sentries. The boys thought that hour the longest that they had ever passed. At last, however, their father looked at his watch, shook the ashes out of his pipe and put it in his pocket. "Now, boys, it is five minutes to the hour. Examine your carbines and revolvers, see that everything is in order, and that there is no hitch. Tighten the saddle-girths and examine the buckles. See that your ammunition and spare carbine chambers are ready at hand."
In another five minutes the party were in their saddles.
"Now, boys, my last words. Don't ride ahead or lag behind: regulate your pace by mine. Look out for armadillo holes--they are more dangerous than the Indians. Remember my orders: on no account use the second chamber of your carbines unless in case of great urgency. Change the chambers directly you have emptied them, but don't fire a shot until the spare ones are charged again. Now, boys, hurrah for old England!"
"Hurrah!" the boys both shouted as they started at a canter up the rise. As they caught sight of the Indians everything was quiet as before; but in another moment they saw the men on watch throw themselves on to their horses' backs, figures leaped up from the grass and ran toward their horses, and in little over a minute the whole were in motion.
"Surely they are not going to run away from three men!" Charley said in a disgusted tone.
"They won't run far, Charley," Mr. Hardy said quietly. "By the time that we are halfway to them they will see that we can have no one with us, and then they will come on quickly enough."
It was as Mr. Hardy said. Keen as had been the watch kept by the Indians, in spite of their belief that no pursuing force could be sent after them, it was some little time before they could get the weary animals on their legs and in motion; and even at the easy canter at which Mr. Hardy approached, he had neared them to within half a mile before they were fairly off. A small party only continued to drive the animals, and the rest of the Indians, wheeling sharp round, and uttering a wild war-cry, came back at full gallop toward the whites.
"Halt, boys-steady, dismount: take up your positions quietly. Don't fire till I give you the word. I shall try my rifle first."
The well-trained horses, accustomed to their masters firing from their backs, stood as steady as if carved in stone, their heads turned inquiringly toward the yelling throng of horsemen who were approaching. Mr. Hardy and the boys had both dismounted, so that the horses were between them and the Indians, the saddles serving as rests for their firearms.
"Five hundred yards, Charley?" his father asked quietly.
"A little over, papa; nearly six, I should say."
Mr. Hardy waited another ten seconds, and then his rifle cracked; and a yell of astonishment and rage broke from the Indians, as one of their chiefs, conspicuous from an old dragoon helmet, taken probably in some skirmish with the soldiers, fell from his horse.
"Hurrah!" Charley cried. "Shall we fire now, papa?"
"No, Charley," Mr. Hardy said as he reloaded his rifle; "wait till they are four hundred yards off, then fire slowly. Count ten between each shot, and take as steady an aim as possible. Now! Well done, two more of the scoundrels down. Steady, Hubert, you missed that time: there, that's better"
The Indians yelled with rage and astonishment as man after man dropped before the steady and, to them, mysterious fire which was kept up upon them. Still they did not abate the rapidity of their charge.
"Done, papa," Charley said as the two boys simultaneously fired their last shot, when the leading Indians were about two hundred and fifty yards distant.
"Change your chambers and mount," Mr. Hardy said as he again took aim with his rifle.
The enemy was not more than a hundred and fifty yards distant, when they leaped into their saddles and started at a gallop.
"Steady, boys, keep your horses well in hand. Never mind their balls; they could no more hit a man at this distance from the back of a horse than they could fly. There is no chance of their catching us; there won't be many horses faster than ours, and ours are a good deal fresher. Keep a good lookout for holes."
Both pursuers and pursued were now going over the ground at a tremendous pace. The Indians had ceased firing, for most of those who had guns had discharged them as Mr. Hardy and his sons had mounted, and it was impossible to load at the speed at which they were going.
During the first mile of the chase Mr. Hardy had looked round several times, and had said each time, "We are holding our own, boys; they are a good hundred yards behind; keep your horses in hand."
At the end of another mile his face brightened as he looked round. "All right, boys, they are tailing off fast. Three-quarters of them have stopped already. There are not above a score of the best mounted anywhere near us. Another mile and we will give them a lesson."
The mile was soon traversed, and Mr. Hardy saw that only about twelve Indians had maintained their distance.
"Now is the time, boys. When I say halt, draw up and jump off, but take very steady aim always at the nearest. Don't throw away a shot. They are only a hundred yards off, and the revolvers will tell. Don't try to use the second chamber; there is no time for that. Use your pistols when you have emptied your carbines. Halt!"
Not five seconds elapsed after the word was spoken before Charley's carbine rang out. Then came the sharp cracks of the carbines and pistols in close succession. The Indians hesitated at the tremendous fire which was opened upon them, then halted. The delay was fatal to them. In little over half a minute the eighteen shots had been fired. Five Indians lay upon the plain; another, evidently a chief, had been carried off across the saddle of one of his followers, who had leaped off when he saw him fall; and two others were evidently wounded, and had difficulty in keeping their seats.
"Now, boys, change your chambers, and take a shot or two after them," Mr. Hardy said as he again reloaded his rifle.
The boys, however, found by the time they were ready that the flying Indians were beyond any fair chance of hitting; but their father took a long and steady aim with his deadly rifle, and upon its report a horse and man went down. But the rider was in an instant upon his feet again, soon caught one of the riderless horses which had galloped off with its companions, and followed his comrades.
"Well done, boys," Mr. Hardy said, with a hearty pat on their shoulders. "You have done gallantly for a first fight, and I feel proud of you."
Both boys colored with pleasure.
"How many have we killed?"
"I think seven fell at our first attack, papa, and six here, counting the one they carried off, besides wounded."
"Thirteen. It is enough to make them heartily wish themselves back. Now let us give the horses ten minutes' rest, and then we will stir them up again. We must not lose time; it will be sunset in another three-quarters of an hour."
Half an hour's riding again brought them up to the Indians, who had stopped within a mile of their former halting-place.
"The moon will be up by one o'clock, boys, and they mean to remain where they are till then. Do you see that hollow that runs just this side of where they are? No doubt there is a small stream there."
This time the Indians made no move to retreat further. They knew now that their assailants were only three in number. They were armed, indeed, with weapons which, in their terrible rapidity of fire, were altogether beyond anything they had hitherto seen; but in the darkness these would be of no avail against a sudden rush.
But if the Indians did not run away neither did they, as before, attack their assailants. Their horses had been placed in the middle of the cattle, with a few Indians standing by them to keep them quiet. The rest of the Indians were not to be seen, but Mr. Hardy guessed that they were lying down in the long grass, or were concealed among the animals.
"The rascals have got a clever chief among them, boys. Except those half-dozen heads we see over the horses' backs, there is nothing to see of them. They know that if we go close they can pick us off with their guns and bows and arrows, without giving us a single fair shot at them. Don't go any nearer, boys; no doubt there are many of their best shots hidden in the grass."
"We could scatter the cattle with a rocket, papa."
"Yes, we could, Hubert, but we should gain nothing by it; they have got men by their horses, and would soon get the herd together again. No, we will keep that for the night. Halloo! to the right, boys, for your lives."
Not a moment too soon did Mr. Hardy perceive the danger. The chief of the Indians, expecting another attack, had ordered twenty of his best mounted men to separate themselves from the main body, and to hide themselves in a dip of the ground near the place where the first attack had taken place. They were to allow the whites to pass, and were then to follow quietly, and fall suddenly upon them.
Complete success had attended the maneuver; and it was fortunate that the party had no firearms, these having been distributed among the main body with the cattle, for they were within forty yards of Mr. Hardy before they were seen. It was, in fact, a repetition of the maneuver which had proved so successful in their attack upon the cattle.
They were not immediately in the rear of Mr. Hardy, but rather to the left. As Mr. Hardy and his sons turned to fly, a number of Indians sprang upon their feet from among the grass, and discharged a volley of guns and arrows at them. Fortunately the distance was considerable. One of their arrows, however, struck Mr. Hardy's horse in the shoulder, while another stuck in the rider's arm. Another went through the calf of Hubert's leg, and stuck in the flap of the saddle.
There was no time for word or complaint. They buried their spurs in their horses' sides, and the gallant animals, feeling that the occasion was urgent, seemed almost to fly. In a mile they were able to break into a steady gallop, the enemy being now seventy or eighty yards behind. Mr. Hardy had already pulled the arrow from his arm, and Hubert now extracted his. As he stooped to do so his father, who had not noticed that he was wounded, saw what he was doing.
"Hurt much, old man?"
"Not much," Hubert said; but it did hurt a good deal nevertheless.
"I don't want to tire our horses any more, boys," Mr. Hardy said; "I shall try and stop those rascals with one of my revolvers."
So saying, he drew one of his pistols from his holster, and turning round in his saddle, took a steady aim and fired.
At the same instant, however, his horse trod in a hole and fell, Mr. Hardy being thrown over its head with tremendous force. The boys reined their horses hard in, and Hubert gave a loud cry as he saw his father remain stiff and unmoved on the ground. The Indians set up a wild yell of triumph.
"Steady, Hubert. Jump off. Pick up papa's pistol. Arrange the horses in a triangle round him. That's right. Now don't throw away a shot."
The nearest Indian was scarcely thirty yards off when Charley's bullet crashed into his brain. The three immediately following him fell in rapid succession, another chief's arm sank useless to his side, while the horse of another fell, shot through the brain.
Both the boys were pale, but their hands were as steady as iron. They felt as if, with their father lying insensible under their protection, they could not miss.
So terrible was the destruction which the continued fire wrought among the leaders that the others instinctively checked the speed of their horses as they approached the little group, from which fire and balls seemed to stream, and began to discharge arrows at the boys, hanging on the other side of their horses, so that by their foes they could not be seen, a favorite maneuver with the Indians. As the boys fired their last barrels they drew their revolvers from the holsters, and, taking aim as the Indians showed a head or an arm under their horses' necks or over their backs, their twelve barrels added to the Indians scattered over the ground.
"Now, Hubert, give me the two last revolvers, and put the two fresh chambers into the carbines."
Seeing only one of their foes on the defense, the Indians again made a rush forward. Charley shot the two first with a revolver, but the others charged up, and he stooped a moment to avoid a spear, rising a little on one side, and discharging with both hands his pistols at the Indians, who were now close. "Quick, Hubert," he said, as he shot with his last barrel an Indian who had just driven his spear into the heart of Mr. Hardy's horse.
The animal fell dead as it stood, and the Indians with a yell charged at the opening, but as they did so Hubert slipped a carbine into his brother's hand, and the two again poured in the deadly fire which had so checked the Indians' advance.
The continuation of the fire appalled the Indians, and the seven that survived turned and fled.
"I will load, Hubert," Charley said, trying to speak steadily. "See to papa at once. Empty one of the water-gourds upon his face and head."
Hubert looked down with a cold shudder. Neither of the boys had dared to think during that brief fight. They had had many falls before on the soft turf of the pampas, but no hurt had resulted, and both were more frightened at the insensibility of their father than at the Indian horde which were so short a distance away, and which would no doubt return in a few minutes in overwhelming force.
Great, then, was Hubert's delight, when upon looking round he saw that Mr. Hardy had raised himself with his arms.
"What has happened?" he said in a confused manner.
"Are you hurt, papa?" Hubert asked, with tears of joy running down his face; "you frightened us both so dreadfully. Please drink a little water, and I will pour a little over your face."
Mr. Hardy drank some water, and Hubert dashed some more in his face. "That will do, Hubert," he said with a smile; "you will drown me. There, I am all right now. I was stunned, I suppose. There you are," and he got up on to his feet; "you see I am not hurt. And now, where are the Indians?"
"There, papa," said the boys with pardonable triumph, as they pointed to thirteen dead Indians.
Their father could not speak. He grasped their hands warmly. He saw how great the danger must have been, and how gallantly his boys must have borne themselves.
"The Indians may be back in a few minutes, papa. Your horse is dead, but there is one of the Indians' standing by his dead master. Let us catch him and shift the saddle." The animal, when they approached it, made no move to take flight, and they saw that his master's foot, as he fell, had become entangled in the lasso, and the well-trained beast had stood without moving. In three minutes the saddles were transferred, and the party again ready for fight or flight.
"What next, papa?"
"We turned to the right, and rather toward home, when we started; so the Indian halting-place is to the southeast of us, is it not?"
"Yes, papa; as near as may be," Charley said, making out the points with some difficulty on the pocket compass, one of which they each carried, as the danger of being lost upon the pathless pampas is very great.
"We had ridden about two miles when I got my fall, so we are a mile to the west of their camp. We will ride now a couple of miles due north. The Indians are sure to send out a scout to see whether we have returned home, and our track will lead them to believe that we have. It is dusk now. We shall get three hours' rest before we have to move."
It was perfectly dark before they reached their halting-place. The saddles were again loosened, a little Indian corn, moistened with water, given to the horses, and another slight meal taken by themselves. The boys, by Mr. Hardy's orders, though sorely against their own wishes, then lay down to get a couple of hours' sleep; while Mr. Hardy went back about a hundred yards along the trail they had made on coming, and then turned aside and sat down at a distance of a few yards to watch, in case any Indian should have followed up their trail.
Here he sat for over two hours, and then returned to the boys. Charley he found fast asleep. The pain of Hubert's wound had kept him awake. Mr. Hardy poured some water over the bandage, and then, waking Charley, gave them instructions as to the part they were to play.
Both of them felt rather uncomfortable when they heard that they were to be separated from their father. They raised no objections, however, and promised to obey his instructions to the letter. They then mounted their horses--Hubert having to be lifted up, for his leg was now very stiff and sore--and then began to retrace their steps, keeping a hundred yards or so to the west of the track by which they had come.
They rode in single file, and they had taken the precaution of fastening a piece of tape round their horses' nostrils and mouth, to prevent their snorting should they approach any of their own species. The night was dark, but the stars shone out clear and bright. At starting Mr. Hardy had opened his watch, and had felt by the hands that it was ten o'clock. After some time he felt again.
It was just half an hour from the time of their starting.
"Now, boys, we are somewhere close to the place of your fight. In another ten minutes we must separate."
At the end of that time they again closed up.
"Now, boys, you see that bright star. That is nearly due east of us; go on as nearly as you can guess for ten minutes, at a walk, as before. You will then be within a mile of the enemy. Then get off your horses. Mind, on no account whatever are you to leave their bridles, but stand with one hand on the saddle, ready to throw yourself into it. Keep two blue-lights, and give me one. Don't speak a word, but listen as if your lives depended upon detecting a sound, as indeed they do. You are to remain there until you see that I have fairly succeeded and then you are to dash in behind the cattle and fire off your revolvers, and shout so as to quicken their pace as much as possible. I do not think there is the least fear of the Indians following, the rockets will scare them too much. When you have chased the herd for about two miles, draw aside half a mile on their side, and then listen for the Indians passing in pursuit of the cattle; wait ten minutes, and then blow your dog-whistle--a sharp, short note. If you hear Indians following you, or think there is danger, blow twice, and go still further to the right. God bless you, boys. I don't think there is much fear of your falling upon any scouts; they have been too badly cut up to-day, and must look upon our guns as witches. I need not say keep together, and, if attacked, light a blue-light and throw it down; ride a short way out of its circle of light, and I will come straight to you through everything. Don't be nervous about me. There is not the least danger."
In another minute the boys lost sight of their father, and turning their horses proceeded in the direction he had ordered. Every now and then they stopped to listen, but not a sound could they hear. Their own horses' hoofs made no noise as they fell upon the soft turf.
At the end of the ten minutes, just as Charley was thinking of stopping, they heard a sound which caused them to halt simultaneously. It was the low baa of a sheep, and seemed to come from directly ahead of them. Charley now alighted, and Hubert brought his horse up beside him, keeping his place, however, in the saddle, but leaning forward on the neck of his horse, for he felt that if he got off he should be unable to regain his seat hurriedly in case of alarm.
"About a mile off, I should say, by the sound," Charley whispered; "and just in the direction we expected."
The spot Charley had chosen for the halt was a slight hollow, running east and west; so that, even had the moon been up, they would not have been visible except to any one in the line of the hollow.
Here, their carbines cocked and ready for instant use, they remained standing for what appeared to them ages, listening with the most intense earnestness for any sound which might tell of the failure or success of their father's enterprise.
Mr. Hardy had ridden on for, as nearly as he could tell, two miles, so that he was now to the southwest of the enemy; then, turning west, he kept along for another mile, when he judged that he was, as nearly as possible, a mile in their direct rear. He now advanced with the greatest caution, every faculty absorbed in the sense of listening. He was soon rewarded by the sound of the baaing of the sheep; and dismounting and leading his horse, he gradually approached the spot. At last, on ascending a slight rise, he fancied that he could make out a black mass, at a distance of a quarter of a mile. Of this, however, he was not certain; but he was sure, from an occasional sound, that the herd was exactly in this direction, and at about that distance.
He now left his horse, taking the precaution of tying all four legs, to prevent his starting off at the sound of the rockets. He next set to work to cut some turf, with which he formed a narrow sloping bank, with a hollow for the rocket to rest in--calculating the exact distance, and the angle required. During this operation he stopped every minute or two and listened with his ear on the ground; but except a faint stamping noise from the distant cattle all was quiet.
All being prepared, Mr. Hardy took the signal rocket, and placing it at a much higher angle than that intended for the others, struck a match and applied it to the touch-paper. In a moment afterward there was a loud roar, and the rocket soared up, with its train of brilliant sparks behind it, and burst almost over the Indian camp. Five or six balls of an intense white light broke from it, and gradually fell toward the ground, lighting tip the whole surrounding plain.
A yell of astonishment and fear broke from the Indians, and in a moment another rocket rushed out.
Mr. Hardy watched its fiery way with anxiety, and saw with delight that its direction was true. Describing a slight curve, it rushed full at the black mass, struck something, turned abruptly, and then exploded with a loud report, followed instantly by a cracking noise, like a straggling fusillade of musketry.
It had scarcely ceased before the third followed it, greeted, like its predecessors, with a yell from the Indians.
Its success was equal to that of its predecessors, and Mr. Hardy was delighted by the sound of a dull, heavy noise, like distant thunder, and knew, that the success was complete, and that he had stampeded the cattle.
He now ran to his horse, which was trembling in every limb and struggling wildly to escape, soothed it by patting it, loosed its bonds, sprang into the saddle, and went off at full gallop in the direction by which he had come. He had not ridden very far before he heard, in the still night air, the repeated sound of firearms, and knew that the boys were upon the trail of the cattle. Mr. Hardy had little fear of the Indians pursuing them; he felt sure that the slaughter of the day by the new and mysterious firearms, together with the effect of the rockets, would have too much terrified and cowed them for them to think of anything but flight. He was, however, much alarmed when, after a quarter of a hour's riding, he heard a single sharp whistle at about a few hundred yards' distance.
"Hurrah! papa," the boys said as he rode up to them. "They have gone by at a tremendous rush--sheep and cattle and all. We started the moment we saw your first rocket, and got up just as they rushed past, and we joined in behind and fired, and yelled till we were hoarse. I don't think they will stop again to-night."
"Did you see or hear anything of the Indians, boys?"
"Nothing, papa. When the first rocket burst we saw several dark figures leap up from the grass--where they had been, no doubt, scouting--and run toward the camp but that was all. What are we to do now?"
"Ride on straight for home. We need not trouble about the animals; they won't stop till they are back. We must go easily, for our horses have done a very long day's work already. They have been between fifty and sixty miles. I think that we had better ride on for another hour. By that time the moon will be up, and we shall be able to see for miles across the plain. Then we will halt till daybreak--it will only be three hours--and the horses will be able to carry us in at a canter afterward."
And so it was done. In an hour the moon was fairly up, and, choosing a rise whence a clear view could be obtained, the horses were allowed to feed, and Mr. Hardy and Hubert lay down to sleep, Charley taking the post of sentry, with orders to wake the others at daybreak.
The day was just dawning when he aroused them. "Wake up, papa. There are some figures coming over the plain."
Mr. Hardy and Hubert were on their feet in an instant. "Where, Charley?"
"From the north, papa. They must have passed us in their pursuit of the cattle, and are now returning--empty-handed, anyhow; for there are only seven or eight of them, and they are driving nothing before them."
By this time all three were in the saddle again.
"Shall we attack them, papa?"
"No, boys; we have given them quite a severe lesson enough. At the same time, we will move a little across, so that we can get a good sight of them as they pass, and make sure that they have got nothing with them."
"They are coming exactly this way, papa."
"Yes, I see, Hubert; they are no doubt riding back upon their trail. They will turn off quickly enough when they see us."
But the newcomers did not do so, continuing straight forward.
"Get your carbines ready, boys; but don't fire till I tell you. They must belong to some other party, and cannot know what has happened. No doubt they take us for Indians."
"I don't think they are Indians at all," Hubert said as the figures rapidly approached.
"Don't you, Hubert? We shall soon see. Halloo!"
"Halloo! hurrah!" came back to them; and in another five minutes they were shaking hands heartily with their three friends from Canterbury, the Jamiesons, and two or three other neighboring settlers.
They told them that Farquhar, as soon as Lopez brought news of the attack, had sent mounted men off to all the other settlements, begging them to meet that night at Mount Pleasant. By nine o'clock they had assembled, and, after a consultation, had agreed that the Indians would be satisfied with their present booty, and that therefore no guard would be necessary at their own estancias.
A good feed and four hours' rest had been given to their horses, and when the moon rose they had started. Two hours after leaving they had seen a dark mass approaching, and had prepared for an encounter; but it had turned out to be the animals, who were going toward home at a steady pace. There seemed, they said, to be a good many horses among them.
Assured by this that some encounter or other had taken place with the Indians, they had ridden on with much anxiety, and were greatly relieved at finding Mr. Hardy and his boys safe.
The whole party now proceeded at a rapid pace toward home, which they reached in four hours' riding. As they came in sight of the watch-tower Mr. Herries separated himself from the others, and rode thirty or forty yards away to the left, returning to the others. This he repeated three times, greatly to Mr. Hardy's surprise.
"What are you doing, Herries?" he asked.
"I am letting them know you are all well. We agreed upon that signal before we started. They would be able to notice one separate himself from the rest in that way as far as they could see us, and long before they could make out any other sort of signal."
In a short time three black spots could be seen upon the plain in the distance. These the boys very shortly pronounced to be Mrs. Hardy and the girls.
When they approached the rest of the party fell back, to allow Mr. Hardy and his sons to ride forward and have the pleasure of the first meeting to themselves. Needless is it to tell with what a feeling of delight and thankfulness Mrs. Hardy, Maud, and Ethel received them. After the first congratulations the girls observed that Mr. Hardy had his arm bound up with a handkerchief.
"Are you hurt, papa?" they exclaimed anxiously.
"Nothing to speak of--only an arrow in my arm. Old Hubert has got the worst of it: he has had one through the calf of his leg."
"Poor old Hubert!" they cried. And Hubert had some difficulty in persuading the girls that he could wait on very fairly till he reached home without his being bandaged or otherwise touched.
"And how did it all happen?" Mrs. Hardy asked.
"I will tell you all about it when we have had breakfast, my dear," her husband said. "I have told our friends nothing about it yet, for it is a long story, and one telling will do for it. I suppose the animals have got back? How many are missing?"
"Lopez came in from counting them just as we started," Mrs. Hardy said. "He says there are only four or five cattle missing, and about a couple of hundred sheep; and, do you know, in addition to our own horses, there are a hundred and twenty-three Indian horses?"
"Hurrah!" the boys shouted delightedly, "That is a triumph; isn't it, papa?"
"It is indeed, boys; and explains readily enough how it was that there was not the slightest attempt at pursuit. The Indian horses evidently broke their lariats and joined in the stampede. I suppose Lopez has driven them all into the enclosure?"
"Oh, yes, papa. They went in by themselves with our own animals, and Terence shut the gate at once."
In another quarter of an hour they reached the house, received by Sarah and Terence--the latter being almost beside himself with joy at his master's safe return, and with vexation when he heard that there had been a fight, and that he had not been able to take part in it.
Orders had been given to Sarah to prepare breakfast the instant the returning party had been seen, and their signal of "all safe" been made out. It was now ready; but before sitting down to it Mr. Hardy begged all present to join in a short thanksgiving to God for their preservation from extreme peril.
All knelt, and as they followed Mr. Hardy's words, they were sure, from the emotion with which he spoke, that the peril, of the particulars of which they were at present ignorant, had been indeed a most imminent one.
This duty performed, all fell to with great heartiness to breakfast; and when that was over Mr. Hardy related the whole story. Very greatly were Mrs. Hardy and the girls amazed at the thoughts of the great peril through which their father and the boys had passed, and at the account of the defense by the boys when their father was lying insensible. Mrs. Hardy could not restrain herself from sobbing in her husband's arms at the thought of his fearful danger, while the girls cried sore and kissed their brothers, and all their friends crowded round them and wrung their hands warmly; while Terence sought relief by going out into the garden, dancing a sort of jig, and giving vent to a series of wild war-whoops.
It was some time before all were sufficiently calm to listen to the remainder of the story, which was received with renewed congratulations.
When it was all over a council was held, and it was agreed that there was no chance whatever of the Indians returning to renew the contest, as they would be helpless on foot; but that if by a spy they found out that their horses were there, they might endeavor to recover them. It was therefore agreed that they should be driven over at once to Mr. Percy's, there to remain until a purchaser was obtained for them. In the afternoon the party dispersed, with many thanks from the Hardys for their prompt assistance.