On the Pampas by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIII. The Indian Attack.
For nearly half an hour the occupants of the tower remained without hearing the smallest sound. Then there was a slight jarring noise.
"They are getting over the fence," Mr. Hardy whispered. "Go down now every one to his station. Keep the dogs quiet, and mind, let no one fire until I give the signal."
Over and over again the clinking noise was repeated. Cautious as the Indians were, it was impossible even for them to get over that strange and difficult obstacle without touching the wires with their arms. Occasionally Mr. Hardy and the boys fancied that they could see dark objects stealing toward the house through the gloom; otherwise all was still.
"Boys," Mr. Hardy said, "I have changed my mind. There will be numbers at the doors and windows, whom we cannot get at from here. Steal quietly downstairs, and take your position each at a window. Then, when the signal is given, fire both your revolvers. Don't throw away a shot. Darken all the rooms except the kitchen. You will see better to take aim through the loopholes; it will be quite light outside. When you have emptied your revolvers, come straight up here, leaving them for the girls to load as you pass."
Without a word the boys slipped away. Mr. Hardy then placed on a round shelf nailed to the flagstaff, at about eight feet from the ground, a blue-light, fitting into a socket on the shelf. The shelf was made just so large that it threw a shadow over the top of the tower, so that those standing there were in comparative darkness, while everything around was in bright light. There, with a match in his hand to light the blue-light, he awaited the signal.
It was a long time coming--so long that the pause grew painful, and every one in the house longed for the bursting of the coming storm. At last it came. A wild, long, savage yell from hundreds of throats rose on the still night air, and, confident as they were in their position, there was not one of the garrison but felt his blood grow cold at the appalling ferocity of the cry. Simultaneously there was a tremendous rush at the doors and windows, which tried the strength of frame and bar. Then, as they stood firm, came a rain of blows with hatchet and tomahawk.
Then came a momentary pause of astonishment. The weapons, instead of splintering the wood, merely made deep dents, or glided off harmlessly. Then the blows redoubled, and then a bright light suddenly lit up the whole scene. As it did so, from every loophole a stream of fire poured out, repeated again and again. The guns, heavily loaded with buckshot, told with terrible effect upon the crowded mass of Indians around the windows, and the discharge of the four barrels from each of the three windows of the room at the back of the house, by Fitzgerald, Lopez, and Terence, for awhile cleared the assailants from that quarter. After the first yell of astonishment and rage, a perfect quiet succeeded to the din which had raged there, broken only by the ring of the ramrods, as the three men and their assistants hastily reloaded their guns, and then hurried to the front of the house, where their presence was urgently required.
Knowing the tremendous rush there would be at the door, Charley and Hubert had posted themselves at its two loopholes, leaving the windows to take care of themselves for the present. The first rush was so tremendous that the door trembled on its posts, massive as it was; and the boys, thinking that it would come in, threw the weight of their bodies against it. Then with the failure of the first rush came the storm of blows; and the boys stood with their pistols leveled through the holes, waiting for the light which was to enable them to see their foes.
As it came they fired together, and two Indians fell. Again and again they fired, until not an Indian remained standing opposite the fatal door. Then each took a window, for there was one at each side of the door, and these they held, rushing occasionally into the rooms on either side to check the assailants there.
In this fight Sarah had certainly the honor of first blood. She was a courageous woman, and was determined to do her best in defense of the house. As an appropriate weapon, she had placed the end of the spit in the fire, and at the moment of the attack it was white-hot. Seeing the shutter bend with the pressure of the Indians against it, she seized the spit, and plunged it through the loophole with all her force. A fearful yell followed, which rose even above the tremendous din around.
There was a lull so profound after the discharge of the last barrels of the boys' revolvers as to be almost startling. Running upstairs, they fitted fresh chambers to their weapons, left the empty ones with their sisters, and joined their father.
"That's right, boys; the attack is beaten off for the present. Now take your carbines. There is a band of Indians down by the animals. I heard their war-whoops when the others began, but the light hardly reaches so far. Now look out, I am going to send up a rocket over them. The cows are the most important; so, Charley, you direct all your shots at any party there. Hubert, divide yours among the rest."
In another moment the rocket flew up into the air, and as the bright light burst out a group of Indians could be seen at the gateway of each of the enclosures. As the brilliant light broke over them they scattered with a cry of astonishment. Before the light faded the twelve barrels had been fired among them.
As the rocket burst Mr. Hardy had gazed eagerly over the country, and fancied that he could see a dark mass at a distance of half a mile. This he guessed to be the Indians' horses.
By this time the blue-light was burning low, and Mr. Hardy, stretching his hand up, lit another at its blaze, and planted the fresh one down upon it. As he did so a whizzing of numerous arrows showed that they were watched. One went through his coat, fortunately without touching him; another went right through his arm; and a third laid Charley's cheek open from the lip to the ear.
"Keep your heads below the wall, boys," their father shouted. "Are you hurt, Charley?"
"Not seriously, papa, but it hurts awfully;" and Charley stamped with rage and pain.
"What has become of the Indians round the house?" Hubert asked. "They are making no fresh attack."
"No," Mr. Hardy said; "they have had enough of it. They are only wondering how they are to get away. You see the fence is exposed all round to our fire, for the trees don't go within twenty yards of it. They are neither in front nor behind the house, for it is pretty open in both directions, and we should see them. They are not at this side of the house, so they must be standing close to the wall between the windows, and must be crowded among the trees and shrubs at the other end. There is no window there, so they are safe as long as they stay quiet."
"No, papa," Hubert said eagerly; "don't you remember we left two loopholes in each room, when we built it, on purpose, only putting in pieces of wood and filling up the cracks with clay to keep out the wind?"
"Of course we did, Hubert. I remember all about it now. Run down and tell them to be ready to pull the wood out and to fire through when they hear the next rocket go off. I am going to send another light rocket over in the direction where I saw the horses; and directly I get the line I will send off cracker-rocket after cracker-rocket as quickly as I can at them. What with the fire from below among them, and the fright they will get when they see the horses attacked, they are sure to make a rush for it."
In a minute Hubert came back with the word that the men below were ready. In a moment a rocket soared far away to behind the house; and just as its light broke over the plains another one swept over in the direction of a dark mass of animals, seen plainly enough in the distance.
A cry of dismay burst from the Indians, rising in yet wilder alarm as three shots were fired from the wall of the house into their crowded mass. Again and again was the discharge repeated, and with a yell of dismay a wild rush was made for the fence. Then the boys with their carbines, and Mr. Hardy with the revolvers, opened upon them, every shot telling in the dense mass who struggled to surmount the fatal railings.
Frenzied with the danger, dozens attempted to climb them, and, strong as were the wires and posts, there was a cracking sound, and the whole side fell. In another minute, of the struggling mass there remained only some twenty motionless forms. Three or four more rockets were sent off in the direction where the horses had been seen, and then another signal rocket, whose light enabled them to see that the black mass was broken up, and that the whole plain was covered with scattered figures of men and animals, all flying at the top of their speed.
"Thank God, it is all over, and we are safe!" Mr. Hardy said solemnly. "Never again will an Indian attack be made upon Mount Pleasant. It is all over now, my dear," he said to Mrs. Hardy as he went down the stairs; "they are off all over the country, and it will take them hours to get their horses together again. Two of us have got scratched with arrows, but no real harm is done. Charley's is only a flesh wound. Don't be frightened," he added quickly, as Mrs. Hardy turned pale and the girls gave a cry at the appearance of Charley's face, which was certainly alarming. "A little warm water and a bandage will put it all right."
"Do you think it will leave a scar?" Charley asked rather dolorously.
"Well, Charley, I should not be surprised if it does; but it won't spoil your beauty long, your whiskers will cover it: besides, a scar won in honorable conflict is always admired by ladies, you know. Now let us go downstairs; my arm, too, wants bandaging, for it is beginning to smart amazingly; and I am sure we all must want something to eat."
The supper was eaten hurriedly, and then all but Terence, who, as a measure of precaution, was stationed as watchman on the tower, were glad to lie down for a few hours' sleep. At daybreak they were up and moving.
Mr. Hardy requested that neither his wife nor daughters should go outside the house until the dead Indians were removed and buried, as the sight could not but be a most shocking one. Two of the peons were ordered to put in the oxen and bring up two carts, and the rest of the men set about the unpleasant duty of examining and collecting the slain.
These were even more numerous than Mr. Hardy had anticipated, and showed how thickly they must have been clustered round the door and windows. The guns had been loaded with buckshot; two bullets he dropped down each barrel in addition; and the discharge of these had been most destructive, more especially those fired through the loopholes at the end of the house. There no less than sixteen bodies were found, while around the door and windows were thirteen others. All these were dead. The guns, having been discharged through loopholes breast-high, had taken effect upon the head and body.
At the fence were fourteen. Of these twelve were dead, another still breathed, but was evidently dying, while one had only a broken leg. Unquestionably several others had been wounded, but had managed to make off. The bullets of revolvers, unless striking a mortal point, disable a wounded man much less than the balls of heavier caliber. It was evidently useless to remove the Indian who was dying; all that could be done for him was to give him a little water, and to place a bundle of grass so as to raise his head. Half an hour later he was dead. The other wounded man was carried carefully down to one of the sheds, where a bed of hay was prepared for him. Two more wounded men were found down by the cattle enclosures, and these also Mr. Hardy considered likely to recover. They were taken up and laid by their comrade. Three dead bodies were found here. These were all taken in the bullock carts to a spot distant nearly half a mile from the house.
Here, by the united labor of the peons, a large grave was dug, six feet wide, as much deep, and twelve yards long. In this they were laid side by side, two deep; the earth was filled in, and the turf replaced. At Hubert's suggestion, two young palm trees were taken out of the garden and placed one at each end, and a wire fence was erected all round, to keep off the animals.
It was a sad task; and although they had been killed in an attack in which, had they been victorious, they would have shown no mercy, still Mr. Hardy and his sons were deeply grieved at having caused the destruction of so many lives.
It was late in the afternoon before all was done, and the party returned to the house with lightened hearts, that the painful task was finished. Here things had nearly resumed their ordinary aspect. Terence had washed away the stains of blood; and save that many of the young trees had been broken down, and that one side of the fence was leveled, no one would have imagined that a sanguinary contest had taken place there so lately.
Mr. Hardy stopped on the way to examine the wounded men. He had acquired a slight knowledge of rough surgery in his early life upon the prairies, and he discovered the bullet at a short distance under the skin in the broken leg. Making signs to the man that he was going to do him good, and calling in Fitzgerald and Lopez to hold the Indian if necessary, he took out his knife, cut down to the bullet, and with some trouble succeeded in extracting it. The Indian never flinched or groaned, although the pain must have been very great while the operation was being performed. Mr. Hardy then carefully bandaged the limb, and directed that cold water should be poured over it from time to time, to allay the inflammation. Another of the Indians had his ankle-joint broken: this was also carefully bandaged. The third had a bullet wound near the hip, and with this Mr. Hardy could do nothing. His recovery or death would depend entirely upon nature.
It may here be mentioned at once that all three of the Indians eventually recovered, although two of them were slightly lamed for life. All that care and attention could do for them was done; and when they were in a fit condition to travel their horses and a supply of provisions were given to them. The Indians had maintained during the whole time the stolid apathy of their race. They had expressed no thanks for the kindness bestowed upon them. Only when their horses were presented to them, and bows and arrows placed in their hands, with an intimation that they were free to go, did their countenances change.
Up to that time it is probable that they believed that they were only being kept to be solemnly put to death. Their faces lit up, and without a word they sprang on to the horses' backs, and dashed over the plains.
Ere they had gone three hundred yards they halted, and came back at equal speed, stopping abruptly before the surprised and rather startled group. "Good man," the eldest of them said, pointing to Mr. Hardy. "Good," he repeated, motioning to the boys. "Good misses," and he included Mrs. Hardy and the girls; and then the three turned-and never slackened their speed as long as they were in sight.
The Indians of the South American pampas and sierras are a very inferior race to the noble-looking Comanches and Apaches of the North American prairies. They are generally short, wiry men, with long black hair. They have flat faces, with high cheek bones. Their complexion is a dark copper color, and they are generally extremely ugly.
In the course of the morning after the fight Mr. Cooper rode over from Canterbury, and was greatly surprised to hear of the attack. The Indians had not been seen or heard of at his estate, and he was ignorant of anything having taken place until his arrival.
For the next few days there was quite a levee of visitors, who came over to hear of the particulars, and to offer their congratulations. All the outlying settlers were particularly pleased, as it was considered certain that the Indians would not visit that neighborhood again for some time.
Shortly afterward the government sales for the land beyond Mount Pleasant took place. Mr. Hardy went over to Rosario to attend them, and bought the plot of four square leagues immediately adjoining his own, giving the same price that he had paid for Mount Pleasant. The properties on each side of this were purchased by the two Edwards, and by an Englishman who had lately arrived in the colony. His name was Mercer: he was accompanied by his wife and two young children, and his wife's brother, whose name was Parkinson. Mr. Hardy had made their acquaintance at Rosario, and pronounced them to be a very pleasant family. They had brought out a considerable capital, and were coming in a week with a strong force to erect their house. Mr. Hardy had promised them every assistance, and had invited Mrs. Mercer to take up her abode at Mount Pleasant with her children, until the frame house which they had brought out could be erected--an invitation which had been gladly accepted.
There was great pleasure at the thought of another lady in the neighborhood; and Mrs. Hardy was especially pleased for the girls' sake, as she thought that a little female society would be of very great advantage to them.
The plots of land next to the Mercers and Edwards were bought, the one by three or four Germans working as a company together, the other by Don Martinez, an enterprising young Spaniard; so that the Hardys began to be in quite an inhabited country. It is true that most of the houses would be six miles off; but that is close, on the pampas. There was a talk, too, of the native overseer of the land between Canterbury and the Jamiesons selling his ground in plots of a mile square. This would make the country comparatively thickly populated. Indeed, with the exception of Mr. Mercer, who had taken up a four-league plot, the other new settlers had in no case purchased more than a square league. The settlements would therefore be pretty thick together.
In a few days Mrs. Mercer arrived with her children. The boys gave up their room to her--they themselves, with Mr. Fitzgerald and four peons, accompanying Mr. Mercer and the party he had brought with him, to assist in erecting his house, and in putting up a strong wire fence, similar to their own, for defense. This operation was finished in a week; and Mrs. Mercer, to the regret of Mrs. Hardy and the girls, then joined her husband. The house had been built near the northeast corner of the property. It was therefore little more than six miles distant from Mount Pleasant, and a constant interchange of visits was arranged to take place.
Shortly afterward Mr. Hardy suggested that the time had now come for improving the house, and laid before his assembled family his plans for so doing, which were received with great applause.
The new portion was to stand in front of the old, and was to consist of a wide entrance-hall, with a large dining and drawing-room upon either side. Upon the floor above were to be four bedrooms. The old sitting-room was to be made into the kitchen, and was to be lighted by a skylight in the roof. The present kitchen was to become a laundry, the windows of that and the bedroom opposite being placed in the side walls, instead of being in front. The new portion was to be made of properly baked bricks, and was to be surrounded by a wide veranda. Of the present bedrooms, two were to be used as spare rooms, one of the others being devoted to two additional indoor servants whom it was now proposed to keep.
It was arranged that the carts should at once commence going backward and forward to Rosario, to fetch coal for the brickmaking, tiles, wood, etc., and that an experienced brickmaker should be engaged, all the hands at the farm being fully occupied. It would take a month or six weeks, it was calculated, before all would be ready to begin building; and then Mrs. Hardy and the girls were to start for a long promised visit to their friends the Thompsons, near Buenos Ayres, so as to be away during the mess and confusion of the building. An engagement was made on the following week with two Italian women at Rosario, the one as a cook, the other as general servant, Sarah undertaking the management of the dairy during her mistress' absence.