On the Pampas by G. A. Henty
Chapter VII. Seth Continues His Narrative of the Mexican Adventure.
The next evening the young Hardys again took their seats by Seth, and, without any delay, he went on with his story.
"After El Zeres had ridden off, the lieutenant, Pedro, selected ten from the men around--for pretty well the whole camp had gathered round us--and told them, in the first place, to clear the house of the hammock and other belongings of El Zeres, and when this was done to carry Rube in. Bound and helpless as he was, there was a visible repugnance on the part of the men to touch him, so great was the fear which his tremendous strength had excited. However, six of them took him up and carried him into the hut--for it was little more--and threw him down like a log in the inner room. I walked in of my own accord, and sat down on the ground near him. I heard Pedro give orders to some of the men outside to take away the dead bodies and bury them, and for the rest to go down to their campfires. Then he entered the house with his other four men.
"The house was just the ordinary Mexican hut. It contained two rooms, or rather, one room partially divided into two, the inner compartment forming the sleeping-room of the family. There was no door between the rooms, nor was there any window; the light entering through the wide opening into the outer room. The outer room had no regular windows, only some chinks or loopholes, through which a certain amount of light could come; but these were stopped up with straw, for the Mexicans are a chilly people; and as the door was always open, plenty of light came in through it. The house was not built of adobe, as are most Mexican huts, but of stones, with the interstices plastered with mud."
"Never in my life did I feel that the game was up as I did when I sat down there and looked round. The men were seated on the ground in the next room, in full view of us, and every now and then one walked in to look at us. Helpless as we were, they had an uneasy doubt of what we might do. Rube still lay at full length on the ground. For a quarter of an hour I did not speak, as I thought it best to let him cool and quiet down a bit; and I thought and thought, but I couldn't, for the life of me, think out any plan of getting clear away. At last I thought I would stir Rube up."
'How do you feel, Rube?'
'Well, I feel just about tired out,' Rube said; 'just as if I had walked a hundred miles right on end. I've been a fool again, Seth, sure enough; but I've given some of them goss, that's a comfort. I'll just take a sleep for a few hours, and then we'll see about this business. 'Hello, there!' he shouted in Spanish; 'water.' For awhile no one attended to him; but he continued to shout, and I joined him, so that the men in the next room were obliged to leave off their talk to do as we wanted them. One of them got up and took a large copper pan, filled it with water from a skin, and placed it down between us; and then giving me a hearty kick--even then he did not dare kick Rube--went back to his pillow. It took some trouble and much rolling over before we could get so as to get our mouths over the pan to drink. When we had satisfied our thirst we rolled over again, made ourselves as comfortable as we could under the circumstances--which warn't saying much--and in a short time were both asleep, for we had only been four hours in bed for two nights. I was pretty well accustomed to sleep on the ground, and I slept without waking for nearly seven hours; for when I did so I saw at once it was nearly sunset. I can't say it was an agreeable waking, that; for I felt as if my shoulders were out of joint, and that I had two bands of red-hot iron round my wrists. My first move was to roll over and have another drink. Then I sat up and looked round. Rube was sitting up, looking at me.
'So you are awake, Seth?'
'Yes,' said I. 'Are you all right now, Rube?'
'As right as can be,' Rube said in his ordinary cheerful tone; 'except that I feel as if a fellow was sawing away at my ankles and wrists with a blunt knife.'
'That's about the state of my wrists,' I said.
'I don't mind my wrists so much,' he said; 'it's my feet bothers me. I shall be such a time before I can walk.'
'You needn't bother about that, Rube,' said I. 'It isn't much more walking your feet have got to do.'
'I hope they've got more to do than they've ever done yet, old hoss,' Rube said; 'at any rate, they've got a good thirty miles to do to-night.'
'Are you in earnest, Rube?' said I.
'Never more so,' said he. 'All we've got to do is to get away, and then tramp it.'
'How do you mean to get away, Rube?'
'Easy enough,' Rube said carelessly. 'Get our hands loose first, then our legs, then kill them fellows and make tracks.'
Now it ain't very often that I larf out. I don't suppose I've larfed right out three times since I was a boy; but Rube's coolness tickled me so that I larfed out like a hyena. When I began, Rube he began; and when he larfed it was tremendous. I don't think Rube knew what I war larfin' at; but he told me afterward he larfed to see me larf, which, in all the time we had been together, he hadn't seen. What made us larf worse was that the Mexicans were so startled that they seized their rifles and rushed to the doorway, and stood looking at us as if we were wild beasts. Keeping the guns pointed at us, they walked round very carefully, and felt our cords to see that they were all right; and finding they were, went back into the next room, savage and rather scared. Our larfing made them terribly uneasy, I could see; and they had an idea we couldn't have larfed like that if we hadn't some idea of getting away. When we had done I said:
'Now, Rube, tell me what you have planned out, that is, if you're downright in arnest.'
'In arnest!' says he, almost angry; 'of course I'm in arnest. Do you think I'm going to be fool enough to stop here to be frizzled and sliced by that El Zeres to-morrow? 'No, it's just as I said: we must get our hands free; we must kill all these fellows, and be off.'
'But how are we to get our hands free, Rube?'
'That's the only point I can't make out,' he said. 'If these fellows would leave us alone, it would be easy enough; we could gnaw through each other's thongs in ten minutes; but they won't let us do that. All the rest is easy enough. Just think it over, Seth.'
I did think it over, but I did not see my way to getting rid of our thongs. That done, the rest was possible enough. If we could get hold of a couple of rifles and take them by surprise, so as to clear off four or five before they could get fairly on their legs, I had little doubt that we could manage the rest. No doubt they would shut the door as it got later, and it was possible that the row might not be heard. If that was managed, I was sure we could crawl through the lines and get off. Yes, it was straightforward enough if we could but get rid of our cords. As I was thinking it over my eye fell upon the pan of water. An idea came across me.
'I don't know, Rube, that it would stretch them enough to slip our hands out, but if we could wet these hide thongs by dipping them in water, we might stretch them a bit, anyhow, and ease them,'
'That would be something, Seth, anyhow.'
We shuffled by turn, next to the pan, and leaned back so that our wrists were fairly in the water. The water relieved the pain, and I could feel the thongs give a little, but it was only a little; they had been tied too carefully and well to render it possible to unloose them. We came to this conclusion after an hour's straining, and at the cost of no little pain. We agreed it was no use, and sat thinking over what was the next thing to do, and taking it by turns to cool our wrists. We did not altogether give up hope, as we agreed that we must try, in the short intervals between the visits of the Mexicans, to untie the knots of each other's cords with our teeth. It was possible, anyhow, for the knots would draw pretty easy now that the leather was wet. Suddenly an idea struck me. I squeezed myself back to the wall, and leaned against it.
'It's all right, Rube,' said I; 'our cords are as good as off.' 'How's that?' said Rube. 'This wall is made of rough stones, Rube, and there are plenty of sharp edges sticking out through the mud. They will cut through these wet thongs like knives.'
'Hoorah!' shouted Rube at the top of his voice, with a yell that startled the Mexicans from their seats again, and then he commenced thundering out one of the songs the soldiers used to sing on the march. Several Mexicans came running up from the camp to ask if anything was the matter, Rube's yell having reached their ears. They were told it was only those mad Americanos amusing themselves, and with many angry threats of the different sort of yells we should give next day, they sauntered off again.
'That's rather a good thing,' Rube said to me when he stopped making a noise. 'If any sound of the little fight we are going to have here reaches the camp, they will put it down to us shouting for our amusement.'
By this time it had become perfectly dark, and the guard lighted a fire in the middle of the room in which they sat. A pile of wood had been brought in for the purpose, and when the smoke had a little abated, the door was shut and barred. Every three or four minutes one of the men would take a lighted brand and come in to see that we were not near to each other, and that all was secure.
'What time shall we begin, Seth?' Rube asked.
'In another hour or so,' I said; 'by eight. They will be gambling and quarreling round the fire by nine o'clock; and the talk, and the noise of the horses, will prevent them hearing anything here. We must not think of going out for two hours later, and even then they won't be all asleep; but we dare not put it off later, for El Zeres may come back earlier than he said he should, and if he does it's all up with us. Let's arrange our plans for good,' I said, 'and then we can each sit up against a corner and pretend to go to sleep. When I am going to cut my cord I will give a very little cough, and then you do the same when you are free. We had better do that before very long, for you will be a long time before you will get any feeling in your feet. Rub them as hard as you can; but you can't do that till you get the use of your hands. When you are quite ready, snore gently; I'll answer in the same way if I am ready. Then we will keep quiet till the fellow comes in again, and the moment he is gone let us both creep forward: choose a time when the fire is burning low. You creep round your side of the room; I will keep mine, till we meet in the corner where the rifles are piled. We must then open the pans, and shake all the powder out, and, when that is done, each take hold of one by the barrel and hit. Do you quite understand and agree?'
'Quite, Seth. Is there anything else?'
'Yes,' I said; 'you take the door, I will take the corner where the arms are. We must try and keep them from coming within arm's reach to use their knives; but if either of us are hard pressed he must call, and the other must come to him.'
'All right, old hoss, I long to be at work.'
'So do I,' I said. 'And now don't let's have any more talk; shut your eyes, and keep quiet till I cough.'
The men were engaged now in talking over the deeds in which they had been engaged, and so revolting and cold-blooded were the atrocities of which they boasted that I longed for the time when Rube and I should fall upon them. In half an hour I gave the signal. I had picked out a sharp stone in a convenient position, and it was not a minute before I felt the coil of cords loosen with a sudden jerk, and knew that I was free. I found my hands were completely numbed, and it was a long time before I could restore the circulation. It must have been a good half-hour before Rube gave the signal that he had got the cords that bound his ankles loosened, as of course he could not begin at them until he had the free use of his hands. As I had anticipated, the visits of our guards were rather less frequent now that they believed us to be asleep. Fortunately, the din and talk in the next room was now loud and incessant, which enabled Rube to rub, and even stamp his feet a little. In half an hour I heard a snore, which I answered. The moment the next visit was over I crawled to the door, and then, lying pretty nigh on my stomach, crept round to where the rifles were piled.
The fire was burning low, and the guard were sitting so closely round it that the lower part of the room was in black shadow; so that, though I was looking out for Rube, I didn't see him till he was close enough to touch me. It was a delicate job opening all the pans, but we did it without making as much noise as would scare a deer, and then, each taking a rifle by the barrel, we were ready. Pedro was just telling a story of how he had forced an old man to say where his money was hid, by torturing his daughters before his eyes, and how, when he had told his secret, and the money was obtained, he had fastened them up, and set the house alight--a story which was received with shouts of approving laughter. As he finished down came the butt of Rube's rifle on his head with a squelch, while mine did the same on the head of the next man. For an instant there was a pause of astonishment, for no one knew exactly what had happened; then there was a wild yell of surprise and fear, as our rifles came down again with a crashing thud. All leaped to their feet, the man I aimed my next blow at rolling over, and just escaping it. Rube was more lucky, and just got his man as he was rising.
'Hoorah! Seth,' he shouted, 'five down out of eleven.'
We drew back now to our posts as agreed on, and the Mexicans drawing their knives, made a rush forward. They ain't cowards, the Mexicans--I will say that for them; and when these fellows found they were caught like rats in a trap, they fought desperately. They knew there was no mercy to expect from Rube and me. They divided, and three came at each of us. Two went down as if they were shot, and I was just whirling my rifle for another blow, when I heard a crash, and then a shout from Rube,
I saw at once what had happened. Rube's rifle, as he was making a blow at a man, had struck a beam over his head, and the shock had made it fly from his hands across the room. In another moment the two Mexicans were upon him with their knives. He hit out wildly, but he got a gash across the forehead and another on the arm in a moment. I made two strides across the hut, and the Mexicans who were attacking me, instead of trying to prevent me, made a rush to the corner where their rifles were, which I had left unguarded. It was a fatal mistake. My gun came down crash upon the head of one of Rube's assailants before he knew of my approach, and another minute did for the second. As I turned from him the remaining two Mexicans leveled at Rube, who had rushed across to pick up his gun, and myself, and gave a cry as the flints fell and there was no report. For a minute or two they fought desperately with the guns; but it was no use, and it was soon over, and we stood the masters of the hut, with eleven dead men round us. For they were dead every one, for we examined them. The stocks of our guns had broken with the first blow, and the rest had been given with the iron, and in no case had we to hit twice. I don't say it was anything like Samson and the donkey's jaw-bone you were telling me about, but it war very fair hitting. It was scarcely over when we heard several men come running up outside.
'Is anything the matter, Pedro? We thought we heard a yell.'
'No, nothing,' I said, imitating Pedro's gruff voice, which I felt sure they would not know through the door; 'it's only these mad Americanos yelling.'
The men were apparently quite satisfied with the explanation, for in a minute or two we heard their voices receding, and then all became still. Presently we opened the door and looked out. Many of the fires had begun to burn low, but round others there was still a sound of laughing and singing.
'Another hour,' Rube said, 'and they will all be asleep,'
We threw some more wood on the fire, took some tobacco and cigarette paper from the pocket of one of the Mexicans, and sat down to smoke comfortably. We were both plaguey anxious, and couldn't pretend we warn't, for at any moment that rascal El Zeres might arrive, and then it would be all up with us. At last we agreed that we could not stand it any longer, and made up our minds to go outside and sit down against the wall of the hut till it was safe to make a start, and then if we heard horses coming in the distance we could make a move at once. We each took a hat and cloak, a brace of pistols, and a rifle, and went out. There we sat for another hour, till the camp got quiet enough to make the attempt. Even then we could hear by the talking that many of the men were still awake, but we dared not wait any longer, for we calculated that it must be near eleven o'clock already. We chose a place where the fires had burned lowest, and where everything was quiet, and, crawling along upon the ground, we were soon down among the horses. We had been too long among the Indians to have a bit of fear about getting through these fellows; and, lying on our faces we crawled along, sometimes almost touching them, for they lay very close together, but making no more noise than two big snakes. A quarter of an hour of this and we were through them, and far enough out on the plain to be able to get up on to our feet and break into a long stride. Ten more minutes and we broke into a run: there was no fear now of our steps being heard.
'Done them, by thunder!' Rube said; 'won't El Zeres curse?'
We might have been a mile and a half from the camp, when in the quiet night air we heard the sound of the howl of a dog. We both stopped as if we were shot.
'Thunder!' Rube exclaimed furiously, 'if we haven't forgot the bloodhound.'
I knew what Rube meant, for it was a well-known matter of boast of El Zeres that no one could ever escape him, for that his bloodhound would track them to the end of the world.
'There's only one thing to be done,' I said; 'we must go back and kill that critter.'
'Wait, Seth,' Rube said; 'we don't know where the darned brute is kept. He warn't up at the hut, and we might waste an hour in finding him, and when we did, he ain't a critter to be wiped out like a babby.'
'We must risk it, Rube.' I said. 'It's all up with us if he's once put on our track.' Rube made no answer, and we turned toward the camp.
We hadn't gone twenty yards when Rube said, 'Listen.' I listened, and sure enough I could hear out on the plain ahead a low trampling. There was no need of any more talk. We ran forward as hard as we could go, turning a little out of our course to let the horsemen who were coming pass us.
'In another quarter of an hour they'll know all about it, Rube. It will take them as much more to get ready and put the dog on the track. They'll have some trouble in getting him to take up our scent with all that blood in the room. I should say we may fairly reckon on three-quarters of an hour before, they're well out of the camp.'
'That's about it,' Rube said. 'They will have to tie the dog, so as not to lose him in the darkness. They won't gain on us very fast for the next two hours; we can keep this up for that at a pinch. After that, if we don't strike water, we are done for.'
'We passed a stream yesterday, Rube; how far was it back?'
'About an hour after daylight. Yes, nearly three hours from camp. But we are going faster now than we did then. We ought to do it in two hours.'
"After this we didn't say any more. We wanted all our breath. It was well for us we had both been tramping half our lives, and that our legs had saved our necks more times than once on the prairies. We were both pretty confident we could run sixteen miles in two hours. But we dared not run straight. We knew that if they found we were keeping a line, they would let the dog go their best pace and gallop alongside; so we had to zigzag, sometimes going almost back upon our own track. We did not do this so often as we should have done if we had had more time."
"But how did you know which way to go, Seth," Hubert asked.
"We went by the stars," Seth said. "It was easier than it would have been by day, for when the sun's right overhead, it ain't a very straightforward matter to know how you are going; but there would be no difficulty then to scouts like Rube and me. Well, we had run, maybe, an hour and a quarter when we heard a faint, short bark far behind."
'The brute is on our trail,' Rube said; 'they haven't given us so much start as I looked for. Another half-hour and he will be at our heels sure enough.'
I felt this was true, and felt very bad-like for a bit. In another quarter of an hour the bark was a good bit nearer, and we couldn't go no faster than we were going. All of a sudden I said to Rube, 'Rube, I've heard them dogs lose their smell if they taste blood. Let's try it; it's our only chance. Here, give me a cut in the arm, I can spare it better than you can; you lost a lot to-night from that cut.'
We stopped a minute. I tore off the sleeve of my hunting shirt, and then Rube gave me a bit of a cut on the arm. I let the blood run till the sleeve was soaked and dripping, then Rube tore off a strip from his shirt and bandaged my arm up tight. We rolled the sleeve in a ball and threw it down, then took a turn, made a zigzag or two to puzzle the brute, and then went on our line again. For another ten minutes we could hear the barking get nearer and nearer, and then it stopped all of a sudden. On we went, and it was half an hour again before we heard it, and then it was a long way off.
'I expect we're all right now, Seth,' Rube said.
'I guess we are,' I said; 'but the sooner we strike water the better I shall be pleased.'
It was nigh another half-hour, and we were both pretty nigh done, when we came upon the stream, and the dog couldn't have been more than a mile off. It was a bit of a thing five or six yards wide, and a foot or two deep in the middle.
'Which way?' says Rube. 'Up's our nearest way, so we had better go down.'
'No, no,' says I; 'they're sure to suspect that we shall try the wrong course to throw them off, so let's take the right.'
Without another word up stream we went, as hard as we could run. In a few minutes we heard the dog stop barking, when we might have been half a mile up stream.
'We must get out of this, Rube,' I said. 'Whichever way they try with the dog, they are safe to send horsemen both ways.'
'Which side shall we get out, Seth?'
'It don't matter,' I said; 'it's all a chance which side they take the dog. Let's take our own side.'
Out we got; and we hadn't ran a quarter of a mile before we heard a tramping of horses coming along by the stream. We stopped to listen, for we knew if they had the dog with them, and if he was on our side of the river, we were as good as dead.
'If they take the trail, Seth,' Rube said, 'it's all up with us. Don't let's run any more. We are men enough to shoot the four first who come up, and I only hope one of them may be El Zeres; that'll leave us a pistol each, and we will keep them for ourselves. Better do that, by a long way, than be pulled to pieces with hot pincers.'
'A long way, Rube,' I said. 'That's agreed, then. When I give the word, put the barrel against your eye and fire; that's a pretty safe shot.'
As the Mexicans got to the place where we had got out, we stopped and held our breath. There was no pause--on they went; another minute, and we felt certain they had passed the spot.
'Saved, by thunder!' Rube said; and we turned and went off at a steady trot that we could keep up for hours. 'How long shall we get, do you think, Seth?'
'That all depends how long they follow down stream. They can't tell how far we are ahead. I should think they will go two miles down; then they will cross the stream and come back; and if they don't happen to be on the right side of the stream as they pass where we got out, they will go up another two or three miles, and near as much down, before they strike the trail. We're pretty safe of half an hour's start, and we might get, if we're lucky, near an hour. We ain't safe yet, Rube, by a long way. It's near thirty miles from Pepita's to the camp. We've come sixteen of it good--eighteen I should say; we have got another twelve to the road, and we ain't safe then. No; our only chance is to come across a hacienda and get horses. There are a good many scattered about; but it's so dark we might pass within fifty yards and not see it. There won't be a streak of daylight till four, and it ain't two yet.'
'Not far off, Seth.' By this time we had got our wind again, and quickened up into a fast swing; but our work had told on us, and we couldn't have gone much over seven miles an hour. Several times, as we went on, we could hear a trampling in the dark, and knew that we had scared some horses; but though we had a lasso we had brought with us, we might as well have tried to catch a bird with it. In an hour we heard the dog again, but it was a long way behind. There was nothing for it now but hard running, and we were still seven miles from the road, and even that didn't mean safety. I began to think we were going to lose the race, after all. In another quarter of an hour we stopped suddenly.
'Thunder!' said Rube; 'what's that?' Some animal, that had been lying down, got up just in front of us.
'It's a horse! Your lasso, Rube!' Rube, however, had made a tremendous rush forward, and, before the animal could stretch himself into a gallop, had got close, and grasped him by the mane.
'It's no go,' Rube said, as the horse made a step forward; 'he's an old un, dead lame.'
'Don't leave go, Rube,' I said. 'He'll do for our turn.' He was a miserable old beast, but I felt that he would do as well as the best horse in the world for us. Rube saw my meaning and in a minute we were both astride on his back. He tottered, and I thought he'd have gone down on his head. Kicking weren't of no good; so I out with my knife and gave him a prod, and off we went. It weren't far, some two hundred yards or so, but it was the way I wanted him, right across the line we were going. Then down he tumbled.
'All right,' said I. 'You've done your work, old man; but you mustn't lay here, or they may light upon you and guess what's been up.'
So we lugged him on to his feet, gave him another prod, which sent him limping off; and on we went on our course, sure that we were at last safe, for we had thrown the bloodhound altogether off our trail. For a mile or so we kept right away from our course, for fear that they should keep straight on, and, missing the scent, lead the dog across the trail, and so pick it up again; then we turned and made straight for the road.
'I don't think, Rube,' I said after awhile, 'that we shall strike the road far off where we left it at Pepita's.'
'No, I expect not, Seth. We had better bear a little more to the south, for they will most likely make for Pepita's, and day will soon be breaking now.'
'We'd better not strike the road at all, Rube; likely enough, they will follow it down for a few miles in hopes of picking us up.'
'I hope they will,' Rube said; 'and I expect so. Won't it be a lark, just?'
'What do you mean, Rube?'
'Mean? Why, didn't the Cap tell us to leave San Miguel before daybreak, and to ride to meet him? It warn't likely that he meant us to ride more than ten miles or so; so that he will be within that distance of San Miguel by an hour after daybreak, and will be at Pepita's half an hour later. If them fellows ride on, they are safe to fall into as nice a trap as--'
'Jehoshophat!' said I. 'You're right, Rube. Let's make tracks. It can't be more than another four or five miles to the road, and day will break in half an hour.'
'How strong do you reckon them, Seth?'
'Fifty or sixty,' said I, 'by the regular sound of the horses.'
'That's about what I guessed,' Rube said. 'There are forty of our chaps, and they will be fresh. We'll give 'em goss.'
"We had now long ceased to hear the baying of the dog, which had been most unpleasantly clear when we got off the old hoss that had done us such a good turn. We made sure, too, that we were well ahead, for they would likely wait an hour in trying to pick up the trail again. Daylight came at last; and when it was light enough to see we stopped and took a look from a slight rise, and there, across the plain, we could see the road just where we expected. Nothing was moving upon it, nor, looking back, could we see any sign of the Mexicans. Away to the left, a mile or so, we could see a clump of trees, and something like the roof of a house among them. This, we had no doubt, was Pepita's. About a mile down the road the other way was a biggish wood, through which the road ran."
'Let's make for that wood, Rube, and wait; the Cap will be up in another half-hour, and it ain't likely the Mexicans will be along much before that. They're likely to stop for a drink at Pepita's.'
In another ten minutes we were in shelter in the wood, taking care not to get upon the road, in case the Mexicans should come along with the hound before our men. We hadn't been there twenty minutes before we both heard a trampling of horses; but it was a minute or two more before we could decide which way they were coming. At last, to our great comfort, we found it was the right way. Just before they came up I had an idea I caught a sound from the other way, but I couldn't have sworn to it. We lay till the troop came fairly up, as it might be another party of Mexicans; but it was all right, and we jumped out, with a cheer, into the middle of them. Mighty surprised they were to see us, on foot, and all dust and sweat. Rube's face, too, was tied up; and altogether we didn't look quite ourselves. They all began to talk at once; but I held up my hand urgent, and when they saw it was something particular they shut up, and I said to the Cap: 'Don't ask no questions, Cap; I'll tell you all arterwards. El Zeres with about fifty of his men will be here in about three minutes, I reckon. They've ridden thirty miles, and the beasts ain't fresh; so it's your own fault if one gets away.'
The Cap didn't waste a moment in words. He ordered half his men to ride back two hundred yards, and to charge when they heard his whistle; and he and the rest turned off into the wood, which was very thick, and screened 'em from any one passing. Rube and I, not having horses, were no good for a charge; so we went on in the wood, as near as we could guess, halfway between them, so as to be ready to jump out and join in the skrimmage. It all takes some time to tell, but it didn't take two minutes to do, and in another minute we could hear the Mexicans close. On they came: we knew now that they had passed the Cap, and we clutched our rifles tight and peered out through the leaves. On they came, and we could see El Zeres riding first, with the bloodhound trotting along by the side of his horse. Just as he was opposite we heard a loud, shrill whistle, and the Mexicans halted with a look of uneasiness. They weren't left to wonder long, for in a moment there was a trampling of horses, and down came our fellows on both sides of them. Just before they got up we stepped forward with our rifles up.
'El Zeres!' Rube shouted, and startled as the Mexican was, he looked round. He had just time to see who it was, when Rube's ball hit him in the head, and down he went as dead as a stone. The hound turned and came right at us with a deep growl of rage. I sent a ball through his chest and rolled him over, and just as I did so our fellows came down upon the Mexicans. It was a fierce fight, for the Mexicans were in a trap, and knew that there was no mercy for them. Rube and I sprang out and paid a good many of 'em off for the scare they had given us. We wiped them right out to the last man, losing only six ourselves. I don't know as ever I see a better skrimmage while it lasted. After it was over Rube and I mounted two of their horses, and rode on with the rest of them to San Miguel; but before we started off we told our story to the Cap, and he sent a couple of men back with a dispatch to the general, asking for five hundred men to destroy El Zeres' band at a blow. We stopped at Pepita's, and I never see a girl have a much worse scare than we gave her. She made sure it was El Zeres, and came running out to see if he had caught us; and when she found that she had fallen into the hands of the Rangers, and that we were among them, she was as white as a shirt in a minute. She was plucky enough, though; for as soon as she could get her tongue she cursed us like a wild woman. I expect she made sure we should have shot her for her treachery--and a good many of our bands would have done so right on end--but the Rangers never touched women. However, she warn't to go scot free; so we got fire, and set the house and stable in a blaze.
As we rode off Rube shouted out, 'If you change your mind again about coming with me to Missouri, you just drop me a line, Pepita.'
"I thought, as I looked at her, it was lucky for Rube she hadn't a rifle in her hand; she'd have shot him if she had been hung for it a minute afterward. We rode on to San Miguel, took Colonel Cabra prisoner, with his papers, and sent him back under an escort. At dusk the same day we got on our horses and rode back to where Pepita's house had stood, and where our captain expected the troops he had sent for. In half an hour they came up. They had a couple of hours to rest their horses, and then Rube and I led them straight to the Mexican camp. No doubt they heard us coming when we were close, but made sure it was El Zeres, and so didn't disturb themselves; and it warn't till we had wheeled round and fairly surrounded them that they smelt a rat. But it was too late then, for in another minute we were down upon them, and I don't believe twenty out of the whole lot got away. It was, altogether, one of the most successful businesses in the whole war. And I think that's about all the story."
"Oh, thank you very much, Seth. It is a most exciting story. And what became of Rube?"
"Rube married a year after we got back to the States, and took up a clearing and settled down. It was then I felt lonesome, and made up my mind to go south for awhile. I promised Rube that I would go and settle down by him after a bit, and I've concluded that it's about time to do so. I've saved a few hundred dollars out here, and I am going to start to-morrow morning at daybreak to catch the steamer at Rosario. I shall go up straight from Buenos Ayres to New Orleans, and a steamer will take me up the river in three days to Rube's location. Good-by, all of you. I told your father this afternoon."
There was a hearty leave-taking, and many expressions of regret at his leaving; and after a shake of the hand, and many good wishes, the young Hardys went up to the house, really sorry to part with their Yankee friend.