On the Pampas by G. A. Henty
Chapter XVII. Rescued.
In spite of their utmost efforts Mr. Hardy's party had made slower progress than they had anticipated. Many of the horses had broken down under fatigue; and as they had no spare horses to replace them as the Indians had in like case done from those they had driven off from Mr. Mercer, they were forced to travel far more slowly than at first. They gained upon the Indians, however, as they could tell by the position of the camping ground for the night.
At three o'clock on the afternoon of the last day they passed the place their enemy had left that morning; but although they kept on until long after sunset, many of them having led their horses all day, they were still more than thirty miles away from the mountains among which they knew that the Indian village was situated,
None of the Gauchos had ever been there, but they knew its situation and general features by report. There had been no difficulty in following the trail since they had struck it. The broad line of trodden ground and the frequent carcasses of sheep sufficiently told the tale.
That was a night of terrible anxiety to all. They knew that already Ethel was in the Indian village, and they thought with a sickening dread of what might happen the next day. Nothing, however, could be done. Many of the party were already exhausted by their long day's walk under a burning sun. It was altogether impossible to reach the village that night.
Before lying down for the night, Mr. Hardy asked all the party to join in a prayer for the preservation of his daughter during the following day; and it was a strange and impressing sight to see the group of sunburned, travel-worn men standing uncovered while their leader offered up an earnest prayer.
Mr. Hardy then said for that night it was unnecessary to keep watch as usual. The Indians had pushed on and could no longer dread pursuit, and therefore there was no risk of a night attack. Besides which, there was little chance of his sleeping. This proposition was a most acceptable one, and in a very short time a perfect silence reigned in the camp.
Before daybreak they were again on the march, all on foot and leading their horses, in order to spare them as much as possible should they be required at night. Speed was now no object. It was, they knew, hopeless to attack in broad daylight, as the Indians would be probably more than a match for them, and Ethel's life would be inevitably sacrificed. They walked, therefore, until within six or seven miles of the gorge, nearer than which they dared not go, lest they might be seen by any straggling Indian.
Their halting-place was determined by finding a stream with an abundance of fresh grass on its banks. They dared not light a fire, but chewed some of the tough charqui, and watched the distant cleft in the hill which led to the ardently wished-for goal.
As evening fell they were all in the saddle, and were pleased to find that the horses were decidedly fresher for their rest. They did not draw rein until the ground became stony, and they knew that they must be at the mouth of the gorge. Then they dismounted and picketed the horses. Two of the Gauchos were stationed with them as guards, and the rest went stealthily forward--the rockets being interested to the care of Terence, who fastened them tightly together with a cord, and then hung them by a loop, like a gun, over his shoulder, in order that he might have his hands free.
It was still only eight o'clock--dangerously early for a surprise; but the whole party were quite agreed to risk everything, as no one could say in what position Ethel might be placed, and what difference an hour might make. Their plan was to steal quietly up to the first hut they found, to gag its inmates, and compel one of them, under a threat of instant death, to guide them to the hut in which Ethel was placed.
Suddenly Mr. Hardy was startled by a dark figure rising from a rock against which he had almost stumbled, with the words: "White man good. Tawaina friend. Come to take him to child."
Then followed a few hurried questions; and no words can express the delight and gratitude of Mr. Hardy and his sons, and the intense satisfaction of the others, on finding that Ethel was alive and for the present free from danger.
It was agreed to wait now for two hours, to give time for the Indians to retire to rest; and while they waited the Raven told them all that had happened up to the arrival at the village, passing over the last day's proceedings by saying briefly that Ethel had run a great risk of being put to death, but that a delay had been obtained by her friends. Having told his story, he said, "Tawaina friend to great white chief. Gave signal with arrow; save little White Bird to-day. But Tawaina Indian--not like see Indian killed. White chief promise not kill Indian women and children?"
Mr. Hardy assured the Indian that they had no thought of killing women and children.
"If can take little White Bird without waking village, not kill men?" Tawaina asked again.
"We do not want to wake the village if we can help it, Tawaina; but I do not see any chance of escaping without a fight. Our horses are all dead beat, and the Indians will easily overtake us, even if we get a night's start."
"Mustn't go out on plain," the Raven said earnestly. "If go out on plain, all killed. Indian two hundred and fifty braves--eat up white men on plain."
"I am afraid that is true enough, Tawaina, though we shall prove very tough morsels. Still we should fight at a fearful disadvantage in the open. But what are we to do?"
"Come back to mouth of canyon--hold that; can keep Indians off as long as like. Indians have to make peace."
"Capital!" Mr. Hardy said delightedly; for he had reviewed the position with great apprehension, as he had not seen how it would be possible to make good their retreat on their tired horses in the teeth of the Indians. "The very thing! As you say, we can hold the gorge for a month if necessary, and sooner or later they will be sick of it, and agree to let us retreat in quiet. Besides, a week's rest would set our horses up again, and then we could make our retreat in spite of them."
"One more thing," the Raven said. "When great chief got little White Bird safe, Tawaina go away--not fight one way, not fight other way. When meet again, white chief not talk about to-night. Not great Indian know Tawaina white chief's friend."
"You can rely upon us all, Tawaina. They shall never learn from us of your share in this affair. And now I think that it is time for us to be moving forward. It will be past ten o'clock before we are there."
Very quietly the troop crept along, Tawaina leading the way, until he approached closely to the village. Here they halted for a moment.
"Only six of us will go in," Mr. Hardy said; "there will be less chance of detection--Jamieson, Percy, Herries, my boys, and myself. The others take post close to the hut we see ahead. If you find that we are discovered, be in readiness to support us. And, Farquhar, two or three of you get matches ready, and stick a blue light into the straw roof of the hut. We must have light, or we lose all the advantage of our firearms. Besides, as we retreat we shall be in darkness, while they will be in the glare."
Thus speaking, Mr. Hardy followed his guide, the men he had selected treading cautiously in his rear. Presently they stopped before one of the huts, and pointing to the door, Tawaina said, "Little White Bird there;" and then gliding away, he was lost in the darkness.
Mr. Hardy cautiously pushed aside the skin and entered, followed by his friends. It was perfectly dark, and they stood for a moment uncertain what to do. Then they heard a low voice saying, "Papa, is that you?" while at the same instant they saw a gleam of light in the other corner of the tent, and heard a rustling noise, and they knew that an Indian had cut a slit in the hide walls and had escaped; and as Mr. Hardy pressed his child to his heart, a terrific war-whoop rose on the air behind the hut.
"Come," Mr. Hardy said, "keep together, and make a run of it."
Ethel had lain down without taking off even her shoes, so strong had been her hope of her father's arrival. She was therefore no impediment to the speed of their retreat. For a short distance they were unopposed. The Indians, indeed, rushed from their huts like swarms of bees disturbed by an intruder. Ignorant of the nature of the danger, and unable to see its cause, all was for a minute wild confusion; and then guided by the war-whoop of the Indian who had given the alarm, all hurried toward the spot, and as they did so, several saw the little party of whites. Loud whoops gave the intimation of this discovery and a rush toward them was made.
"Now, your revolvers," Mr. Hardy said. "We are nearly out of the village."
Not as yet, however, were the Indians gathered thickly enough to stop them. A few who attempted to throw themselves in the way were instantly shot down, and in less time than it has occupied to read this description they reached the end of the village. As they did so a bright flame shot up from the furthest hut, and the rest of the party rushed out and joined them. The Indians in pursuit paused at seeing this fresh accession of strength to their enemies, and then, as they were joined by large numbers, and the flame shooting up brightly enabled them to see how small was the body of whites, they rushed forward again with fierce yells.
But the whites were by this time a hundred and fifty yards away, and were already disappearing in the gloom.
"Stop!" Mr. Hardy cried. "Steady with your rifles! Each man single out an Indian. Fire!"
A yell of rage broke from the Indians as fourteen or fifteen of their number fell, and a momentary pause took place again. And then, as they were again reinforced, they continued the pursuit.
But the two hundred yards which the whites had gained was a long start in the half a mile's distance to be traversed, and the whites well knew that they were running for their lives; for once surrounded in the plain, their case was hopeless.
Well was it, then, that Ethel was so accustomed to an out-of-door life. Hope and fear lent speed to her feet, and running between her father and brothers, she was able to keep up a speed equal to their own.
Scarce a word was spoken, as with clinched teeth and beating hearts they dashed along. Only once Mr. Jamieson said, "Can Ethel keep up?" and she gasped out "Yes."
The whites had this great advantage in the race, that they knew that they had only half a mile in all to run, and therefore put out their best speed; whereas, although a few of the Indians saw the importance of overtaking the fugitives on the plain, the greater portion believed that their prey was safe in their hands, and made no great effort to close with them at once. The whites, too, had the advantage of being accustomed to walking exercise, whereas the Indians, almost living on horseback, are seldom in the habit of using their feet. Consequently the whites reached the narrow mouth of the gorge a full hundred and fifty yards ahead of the main body of the pursuers, although a party of their fastest runners was not more than half that distance in their rear.
There was a general ejaculation of thankfulness as the parties now halted and turned to face the enemy.
It was now that the full advantage of Mr. Hardy's precaution of firing the Indian hut had become manifest.
The fire had communicated to the next two or three dwellings, and a broad flame rose up, against the glare of which the Indians stood out distinctly, while the whites were posted in deep gloom.
"Now, boys," Mr. Hardy said, "pick off the first lot with your carbines, while we load our rifles. Ethel, get behind that rock. Take shelter all till the last moment. The arrows will soon be among us."
Steadily as if firing at a mark the boys discharged their five shots each; and as the enemy was not more than fifty yards off, every shot told.
The rest of the leading band hesitated, and throwing themselves down, waited until the others came up. There was a momentary pause, then a volley of arrows and musket halls was discharged in the direction of their hidden foe, and then, with a wild yell, the whole mass charged.
Not till they were within thirty yards was there a return shot fired; but as they entered the narrow gorge, the whites leaped to their feet with a cheer, and poured in a volley from twenty-four rifles,
The effect was terrible; and those in front who were unwounded hesitated, but, pressed on from behind, they again rushed forward. Then, as they closed, a desperate combat began.
The boys had hastily handed their carbines to Ethel to fit in the spare chamber, and had taken their place by their father's side. The gorge was so narrow that there was not room to stand abreast, and by previous arrangement those who had no revolvers placed themselves in front, clubbing their rifles, while those with revolvers fired between them.
Mr. Percy, one of the Jamiesons, and Herries stood a pace or two in the rear, with their revolvers in hand, as a reserve.
For a few minutes the contest was terrific. The rush of the Indians partially broke the line, and the whirl of gleaming hatchets, the heavy crash of the blows with the rifles, the sharp incessant cracks of the revolvers, the yells of the Indians, the short shouts of encouragement from the English, and the occasional Irish cry of Terence, made up a total of confusion and noise which was bewildering.
Scarce a shot of the whites was thrown away, and a heap of dead lay across the pass.
Still the Indians pressed on.
The fight was more silent now, the cracks of the revolvers had ceased, and the whites were fighting silently and desperately with their rifles. They had not given way a foot, but the short panting breath told that the tremendous exertion was telling, as they stood in a line at short intervals, and their weapons rose and fell with a force and might that the Indian hatchets could seldom stem or avert.
Not bloodless on their part had the fight been up to this time. Most of them had received gashes more or less severe, and Martinez the Gaucho and Cook lay dead at their feet.
Charley and Hubert, upon emptying their revolvers, had fallen back and taken their carbines, and now stood with the reserve upon a flat rock a few paces in the rear, all burning with impatience to take part in the strife.
At this moment they were joined by the two Gauchos who had been left with the horses, but who now, hearing the firing, had arrived to take part in the fray.
At last Mr. Hardy judged that the time had come, and shouted:
"Take aim into the middle of the mass, and fire as quick as you can, then all charge together. Now!"
In less than half a minute the four barrels of the Gauchos' guns, and the thirty shots from the revolvers, had been discharged into the densely packed throng; then the seven men leaped from the rock, and with a cheer the whites threw themselves upon the Indians, already recoiling and panic-struck by the tremendous and deadly fire.
The Indians in front, surprised and confused, were mown down by the long rifles like grass before the mower, and those behind, after one moment's hesitation, broke and fled; in another two minutes the fight was over, and the Indians in full flight to their village. After a few words of hearty congratulation the whites threw themselves on the ground, panting and exhausted, after their tremendous exertions.
Their first care, upon recovering a little, was to load their revolvers; as for the rifles, there was not one, with the exception of those of the three men who had formed the reserve, and the boys' carbines, which were not disabled. The stocks were broken, the hammers wrenched off, and the barrels twisted and bent.
The party now crowded round Ethel, with whom not a single word had yet been exchanged since her rescue, and warm and hearty were the congratulations and welcome bestowed upon her. There was then an examination of wounds.
These had been many, and in some cases severe. Mr. Farquhar was completely disabled by a deep wound in the shoulder. Mr. Percy had received a fearful gash on the arm. Charley had one ear nearly cut off, and the side of his face laid completely open with a sweeping blow. Four others were seriously wounded, and six had less important wounds. All, however, were too much elated with their success to make anything but light of their hurts.
"You seem fated to have your beauty spoiled, Charley," Mr. Hardy said, as he bandaged up his son's face. "A few more fights, and you will be as seasoned with scars as any Chelsea pensioner."
Charley joined in the general laugh at his own expense.
"Yes, papa, if I go on like this, I shall certainly get rid of my looking-glass."
"You have not lost the rockets, I hope, Terence?" Mr. Hardy asked.
"Sure and I've not, your honor. I put them down behind a big rock before the little shindy began."
"We will fire them off," Mr. Hardy said. "They will heighten the impression, and make the Indians more anxious to come to terms, when they see that we can reach their village. We will not let them off all at once; but as we have four of each sort, we will send off a pair every half hour or so, as they may think, if we fire them all at once and then stop, that we have no more left. We may as well give them a few shots, too, with our carbines and the rifles that remain serviceable. They will carry as far as half a mile if we give them elevation enough, and it is well to impress them as much as possible."
Mr. Hardy's suggestion was carried out. The first signal rocket showed the village crowded with Indians, over whose heads the cracked rocket slowly whizzed. The light of the next rocket did not disclose a single person, and it was apparent that the place was deserted. The third rocket happened to strike one of the roofs, and exploding there, set the thatch on fire.
"Good!" Mr. Percy said. "We shall have them asking for terms to-morrow."
Four of the unwounded men were now placed as a guard at the mouth of the gorge, the others retiring further into it, so as to be beyond the dead Indians, who lay there literally in piles.
The morning broke over the white men occupied in the burial of their two fallen companions, and upon the Indians assembled at a short distance beyond the village. The men sat upon the ground in sullen despair; the women wailed and wrung their hands.
Now that it was day, they could see how terrible had been their loss. Upward of sixty of their number were missing. The Stag had fallen, as had several of the most valiant braves of the tribe.
Presently the Raven rose from the midst of the warriors. His absence the preceding evening had not been noticed; and although all knew that he had taken no part in the fight, this was considered natural enough, when his advice to give up the captive had been rejected.
"My brothers," he began, "the Great Spirit is very angry. He has hidden his face from his children. Yesterday he blinded their eyes and made them foolish; last night he made them as water before the white men. Why were the ears of the chiefs closed to the words of the Raven? If the Raven had set out with the little White Bird, the great white chief would have been glad, and the hatchet would have been buried in peace. But the chiefs would not hear the words of the Raven. The Stag said, Kill! and the war chiefs shouted, Kill! and where are they now? Their wigwams are empty, and their women have none to bring in the deer for food. The Great Spirit is angry."
The Raven then took his seat; but, as he anticipated, no one rose to speak after him. The depression was too general; and the fact that, had the Raven's advice been followed, the evils would have been avoided, was too manifest for any one to attempt to utter a word.
After a profound silence of some minutes' duration, the Raven again rose.
"What will my brothers do? The flying fires will burn down our village, and there is no retreat. The guns that shoot without loading carry very far. We are as water before them. We are in the hands of the white chief, and our bones will feed the crows. What will my brothers do?"
There was still a profound silence, and then he continued: "The Raven is a great chief, and he will tell them what to do. The Raven has stood by the side of the little White Bird, and the great white chief will listen to his voice. He will say, Let there be peace between us. The men who would have harmed the Little White Bird are dead; there is no more cause of quarrel. Let us bury the hatchet. Take horses and cattle for your journey, and forgive us if we have done wrong. If the white men were on the plains, the Raven would say, Let my young men charge; but they hold the pass, and the guns that shoot without loading are too strong. Have I spoken well?"
There was a low murmur of applause. The feeling that the position of the white men was impregnable was general; and they all felt convinced that those terrible enemies would devise some unknown scheme which would end in the total annihilation of the tribe.
The Raven's proposition was therefore unanimously assented to.
The Raven then laid aside his arms, and attended by six of the principal chiefs, carrying green boughs in token of amity, advanced toward the mouth of the gorge. Mr. Hardy, with five of the whites, and with Perez to interpret, advanced to meet him.
When the two groups met the Raven commenced gravely, in the Indian language: "The white chief of the flying fire is mighty, and the Great Spirit has blinded his children. They carried off the little White Bird, but they did not harm her. Bad men would have harmed her, but the Raven stood by her side. The great white chief has taken back his little White Bird, and he has killed the men whom the Great Spirit blinded. Why should there be any more war? The Indians are brave; they have cattle, and sheep, and water. They can live out of reach of the white chief's guns, and can fight if the white chief comes out against them. The white chief is strong, and he can defend the pass, but he cannot venture out to attack. They are equal. There is no cause of quarrel any longer. Let us bury the hatchet. The white chief's young men can take horses--for the Indians have many--to take them back to their homes. They can take cattle to eat. Let there be peace."
This address of the Raven was a very politic one. He already knew that Mr. Hardy was willing to grant terms, but he wished to show the other chiefs that he supported the honor of the tribe by boasting of their power and resources, and by making the peace as upon equal terms.
When the Gaucho had translated their proposal, Mr. Hardy spoke, using the phraseology which would be most intelligible to the Indians.
"The Raven is a great chief; he has spoken wisely. The little White Bird has sung in the white chief's ear that the Raven stood by her side when bad Indians would have hurt her. The bad Indians are dead. The Great Spirit frowned upon them. The white chief has no quarrel with the Raven and his friends. Let there be peace."
A general expression of satisfaction pervaded both parties when it was known that peace was arranged; and one of each side hurrying back with the news, the rest went into the village, where, sitting down before the principal hut, the pipe of peace was solemnly smoked.
The two parties then mingled amicably, mutually pleased at the termination to the hostilities; and no one would have guessed that a few hours before they had met in deadly strife. The Raven courteously invited the whites to stop for a night at the village; but the invitation was declined, as all were very anxious to return home.
Some Indians were dispatched by the Raven, who had now naturally assumed the position of chief of the tribe, to catch horses to take the place of those which had broken down upon the journey. The offer of cattle was declined, as they were confident that they should be able to procure game. They took, however, as large a supply of fresh meat as their horses could carry.
Mr. Hardy saw that the Raven wished to avoid any private conversation with him. He therefore drew the boys aside, and made a proposal to them, to which they cordially agreed.
As the horses were brought up, and the whole tribe assembled, he advanced toward the Raven with one of the boys' carbines in his hand.
"The Raven is a great chief," he said. "He has a great heart, and stood by the side of the little White Bird. But he has not a good rifle. The white chief gives him a rifle which will shoot many times. Let him promise that he will never use it in fight against the white men."
This gift the Raven received with great pleasure, and readily gave the required promise, adding, on behalf of his tribe, that the hatchet which was buried should never again be dug up against the whites. An extra chamber and all the spare ammunition was given to him, and a further supply promised when he chose to send for it; instructions were also given to him in the use of the weapon, then a solemn farewell was exchanged, and the party of whites turned their faces toward home.