Gaspar the Gaucho
by Mayne Reid
THE GRAN CHACO.
CHAPTER FIVE. A
CHAPTER SIX. AN
OLD ENEMY IN A
VALDEZ THE “VAQUEANO.”
CHAPTER EIGHT. A
CHAPTER NINE. A
PARTY NOT TO BE
COME THEY NOT?
RODE THE SHOD
OBSTRUCTED BY A
ONE. A SHOULDER
OUT OF JOINT.
FOUR. CAUGHT IN
FIVE. A RUSH FOR
EIGHT. SAVED BY
ONE. TASTE AFTER
TWO. STOPPED BY
THREE. A FISH
FIVE. UNDER THE
SIX. A CHAT
ON THE SALITRAL.
TWO. PICKING UP
THREE. IN THE
FOUR. AN INDIAN
SIX. A DEAD MAN
CHAPTER FIFTY. A
ONE. A DISPENSER
TWO. A FRIEND
THREE. A DELUDED
FIVE. AN UNLUCKY
EIGHT. VA CON
NINE. FRIENDS OR
Gaspar the Gaucho, by Captain Mayne Reid.
This is another excellent book by the inventor of the Wild West
genre. Set in South America, in Paraguay, the hero and his band of
friends have many an adventure, just in the course of one voyage, or
undertaking. They frequently get themselves into dangerous and risky
situations, but always by their superior bush-craft manage to get
themselves out of them after having practically died, or at least
having seen their horses die.
This is a good book, a vintage one from the Victorian era. The
author learnt his bushcraft during the American-Mexican War, and has
given us several books whose subject and manner arose from what he
learnt in that war.
GASPAR THE GAUCHO, BY CAPTAIN MAYNE REID.
CHAPTER ONE. THE GRAN CHACO.
Spread before you a map of South America. Fix your eye on the point
of confluence between two of its great riversthe Salado, which runs
south-easterly from the Andes mountains, and the Parana coming from the
north; carry your glance up the former to the town of Salta, in the
ancient province of Tucuman; do likewise with the latter to the point
where it espouses the Paraguay; then up this to the Brazilian frontier
fort of Coimbra; finally draw a line from the fort to the
aforementioned towna line slightly curved with its convexity towards
the Cordillera of the Andesand you will thus have traced a boundary
embracing one of the least known, yet most interesting, tracts of
territory in either continent of America, or, for that matter, in the
world. Within the limits detailed lies a region romantic in its past as
mysterious in its present; at this hour almost as much a terra
incognita as when the boats of Mendoza vainly endeavoured to reach
it from the Atlantic side, and the gold-seekers of Pizarro's following
alike unsuccessfully attempted its exploration from the Pacific. Young
reader, you will be longing to know the name of this remarkable region;
know it, then, as the Gran Chaco.
No doubt you may have heard of it before, and, if a diligent student
of geography, made some acquaintance with its character. But your
knowledge of it must needs be limited, even though it were as extensive
as that possessed by the people who dwell upon its borders; for to them
the Gran Chaco is a thing of fear, and their intercourse with it one
which has brought them, and still brings, only suffering and sorrow.
It has been generally supposed that the Spaniards of Columbus's time
subdued the entire territory of America, and held sway over its
red-skinned aborigines. This is a historical misconception. Although
lured by a love of gold, conjoined with a spirit of religious
propagandism, the so-called Conquistadores overran a large
portion of both divisions of the continent, there were yet extensive
tracts of each never entered, much less colonised, by themterritories
many times larger than England, in which they never dared set foot. Of
such were Navajoa in the north, the country of the gallant Goajiros in
the centre, the lands of Patagonia and Arauco in the south, and notably
the territory lying between the Cordilleras of the Peruvian Andes and
the rivers Parana and Paraguay, designated El Gran Chaco.
This vast expanse of champaign, large enough for an empire, remains
to the present time not only uncolonised, but absolutely unexplored.
For the half-dozen expeditions that have attempted its exploration,
timidly entering and as hastily abandoning it, scarce merit
And equally unsuccessful have been all efforts at religious
propagandism within its borders. The labours of the padres, both
Jesuit and Franciscan, have alike signally failed; the savages of the
Chaco refusing obedience to the cross as submission to the sword.
Three large riversthe Salado, Vermejo, and Pilcomayocourse
through the territory of the Chaco; the first forming its southern
boundary, the others intersecting it. They all take their rise in the
Andes Mountains, and after running for over a thousand miles in a
south-easterly direction and nearly parallel courses, mingle their
waters with those of the Parana and Paraguay. Very little is known of
these three great streams, though of late years the Salado has received
some exploration. There is a better acquaintance with its upper
portion, where it passes through the settled districts of Santiago and
Tucuman. Below, even to the point where it enters the Parana, only a
strong military expedition may with safety approach its banks, by
reason of their being also traversed by predatory bands of the savages.
Geographical knowledge of the Vermejo is still less, and of the
Pilcomayo least of all; this confined to the territory of their upper
waters, long since colonised by the Argentine States and the Republic
of Bolivia, and now having many towns in it. But below, as with the
Salado, where these rivers enter the region of the Chaco, they become
as if they were lost to the geographer; even the mouth of the Pilcomayo
not being known for certain, though one branch of it debouches into the
Paraguay, opposite the town of Assuncion, the capital of Paraguay
itself! It enters the river of this name by a forked or deltoid
channel, its waters making their way through a marshy tract of country
in numerous slow flowing riachos, whose banks, thickly overgrown
with a lush sedgy vegetation, are almost concealed from the eye of the
Although the known mouth of the Pilcomayo is almost within gun-shot
of Assuncionthe oldest Spanish settlement in this part of South
America no Paraguayan ever thinks of attempting its ascent, and the
people of the town are as ignorant of the land lying along that river's
shores as on the day when the old naturalist, Azara, paddles his
periagua some forty miles against its obstructing current. No
scheme of colonisation has ever been designed or thought of by them;
for it is only near its source, as we have seen, that settlements
exist. In the Chaco no white man's town ever stood upon its banks, nor
church spire flung shadow athwart its unfurrowed waves.
It may be asked why this neglect of a territory, which would seem so
tempting to the colonist? For the Gran Chaco is no sterile tract, like
most parts of the Navajo country in the north, or the plains of
Patagonia and the sierras of Arauco in the south. Nor is it a humid,
impervious forest, at seasons inundated, as with some portions of the
Amazon valley and the deltas of the Orinoco.
Instead, what we do certainly know of the Chaco shows it the very
country to invite colonisation; having every quality and feature to
attract the settler in search of a new home. Vast verdant savannas
natural clearingsrich in nutritious grasses, and groves of tropical
trees, with the palm predominating; a climate of unquestionable
salubrity, and a soil capable of yielding every requisite for man's
sustenance as the luxury of life. In very truth, the Chaco may be
likened to a vast park or grand landscape garden, still under the
culture of the Creator!
But why not also submitted to the tillage of man? The answer is
easy: because the men who now hold it will not permit intrusion on
their domainto them hereditaryand they are hunters, not
agriculturists. It is still in the possession of its red-skinned
owners, the original lords of its soil, these warlike Indians, who have
hitherto defied all attempts to enslave or subdue them, whether made by
soldier, miner, or missionary. These independent savages, mounted upon
fleet steeds, which they manage with the skill of Centaurs, scour the
plains of the Chaco, swift as birds upon the wing. Disdaining fixed
residence, they roam over its verdant pastures and through its perfumed
groves, as bees from flower to flower, pitching their toldos,
and making camp in whatever pleasant spot may tempt them. Savages
though called, who would not envy them such a charming insouciant
existence? Do not you, young reader?
I anticipate your answer, Yes. Come with me, then! Let us enter
the Gran Chaco, and for a time partake of it!
CHAPTER TWO. PARAGUAY'S DESPOT.
Notwithstanding what I have said of the Chaco remaining uncolonised
and unexplored, I can tell of an exception. In the year 1836, one
ascending the Pilcomayo to a point about a hundred miles from its
mouth, would there see a house, which could have been built only by a
white man, or one versed in the ways of civilisation. Not that there
was anything very imposing in its architecture; for it was but a wooden
structure, the walls of bamboo, and the roof a thatch of the palm
called cubertaso named from the use made of its fronds in
covering sheds and houses. But the superior size of this dwelling, far
exceeding that of the simple toldos of the Chaco Indians; its
ample verandah pillared and shaded by a protecting roof of the same
palm leaves; and, above all, several well-fenced enclosures around it,
one of them containing a number of tame cattle, others under
tillagewith maize, manioc, the plantain, and similar tropical
productsall these insignia evinced the care and cultivating hand of
some one else than an aboriginal.
Entering the house, still further evidence of the white man's
presence would be observed. Furniture, apparently home-made, yet neat,
pretty, and suitable; chairs and settees of the cana brava, or
South American bamboo; bedsteads of the same, with beds of the elastic
Spanish moss, and ponchos for coverlets; mats woven from fibres
of another species of palm, with here and there a swung hammock. In
addition, some books and pictures that appeared to have been painted on
the spot; a bound volume of music, with a violin and guitarall
speaking of a domestic economy unknown to the American Indian.
In some of the rooms, as also in the outside verandah, could be
noticed objects equally unlike the belongings of the aboriginal:
stuffed skins of wild beasts and birds; insects impaled on strips of
palm bark; moths, butterflies, and brilliant scarabaei; reptiles
preserved in all their repulsive ugliness, with specimens of ornamental
woods, plants, and minerals; a singular paraphernalia, evidently the
product of the region around. Such a collection could only belong to a
naturalist, and that naturalist could be no other than a white man.
He was; his name Ludwig Halberger.
The name plainly speaks his nationalitya German. And such was he;
a native of the then kingdom of Prussia, born in the city of Berlin.
Though not strange his being a naturalistsince the taste for and
study of Nature are notably peculiar to the German peopleit was
strange to find Prussian or other European having his home in such an
out-of-the-way place. There was no civilised settlement, no other white
man's dwelling, nearer than the town of Assuncion; this quite a hundred
miles off, to the eastward. And north, south, and west the same for
more than five times the distance. All the territory around and
between, a wilderness, unsettled, unexplored, traversed only by the
original lords of the soil, the Chaco Indians, who, as said, have
preserved a deadly hostility to the paleface, ever since the keels of
the latter first cleft the waters of the Parana.
To explain, then, how Ludwig Halberger came to be domiciled there,
so far from civilisation, and so high up the Pilcomayoriver of
mysterious noteit is necessary to give some details of his life
antecedent to the time of his having established this solitary
estancia. To do so a name of evil augury and ill repute must needs
be introducedthat of Dr Francia, Dictator of Paraguay, who for more
than a quarter of a century ruled that fair land verily with a rod of
iron. With this same demon-like tyrant, and the same almost heavenly
country, is associated another name, and a reputation as unlike that of
Jose Francia as Hyperion to the Satyr, and which justice to a godlike
humanity forbids me to pass over in silence. I speak of Amade, or, as
he is better known, Aime Bonplandcognomen appropriate to this
most estimable manknown to all the world as the friend and
fellow-traveller of Humboldt; more still, his assistant and
collaborates in those scientific researches, as yet unequalled for
truthfulness and extentthe originator and discoverer of much of that
learned lore, which, with modesty unparalleled, he has allowed his more
energetic and more ambitious compagnon de voyage to have credit
Though no name sounds more agreeably to my ears than that of Aime
Bonpland, I cannot here dwell upon it, nor write his biography, however
congenial the theme. Some one who reads this may find the task both
pleasant and profitable; for though his bones slumber obscurely on the
banks of the Parana, amidst the scenes so loved by him, his name will
one day have a higher niche in Fame's temple than it has hitherto
held perhaps not much lower than that of Humboldt himself. I here
introduce it, with some incidents of his life, as affecting the first
character who figures in this my tale. But for Aime Bonpland, Ludwig
Halberger might never have sought a South American home. It was in
following the example of the French philosopher, of whom he had
admiringly read, that the Prussian naturalist made his way to the La
Plata and up to Paraguay, where Bonpland had preceded him. But first to
give the adventures of the latter in that picturesque land, of which a
short account will suffice; then afterwards to the incidents of my
Retiring from the busy world, of which he seems to have been
somewhat weary, Bonpland took up his residence on the banks of the Rio
Parana; not in Paraguayan territory, but that of the Argentine
Republic, on the opposite side of the river. There settled down, he did
not give his hours to idleness; nor yet altogether to his favourite
pursuit, the pleasant though somewhat profitless one of natural
history. Instead, he devoted himself to cultivation, the chief object
of his culture being the yerba de Paraguay, which yields the
well-known mate, or Paraguayan tea. In this industry he was
eminently successful. His amiable manners and inoffensive character
attracted the notice of his neighbours, the Guarani Indiansa peaceful
tribe of proletarian habitsand soon a colony of these collected
around him, entering his employ, and assisting him in the establishment
of an extensive yerbale, or tea-plantation, which bid fair to become
The Frenchman was on the high-road to fortune, when a cloud
appeared, coming from an unexpected quarter of the skythe north. The
report of his prosperity had reached the ears of Francia, Paraguay's
then despot and dictator, who, with other strange theories of
government, held the doctrine that the cultivation of yerba was a
right exclusively Paraguayanin other words, belonging solely to
himself. True, the French colonist, his rival cultivator, was not
within his jurisdiction, but in the state of Corrientes, and the
territory of the Argentine Confederation. Not much, that, to Dr
Francia, accustomed to make light of international law, unless it were
supported by national strength and backed by hostile bayonets. At the
time Corrientes had neither of these to deter him, and in the dead hour
of a certain night, four hundred of his myrmidonsthe noted
quarteleroscrossed the Parana, attacked the tea-plantation of
Bonpland, and after making massacre of a half-score of his Guarani
peons, carried himself a prisoner to the capital of Paraguay.
The Argentine Government, weak with its own intestine strife,
submitted to the insult almost unprotestingly. Bonpland was but a
Frenchman and foreigner; and for nine long years was he held captive in
Paraguay. Even the English charge d'affaires, and a Commission
sent thither by the Institute of France, failed to get him free! Had he
been a lordling, or some little viscomte, his forced residence
in Paraguay would have been of shorter duration. An army would have
been despatched to extradite him. But Aime Bonpland was only a
student of Natureone of those unpretending men who give the world all
the knowledge it has, worth havingand so was he left to languish in
captivity. True, his imprisonment was not a very harsh one, and rather
partook of the character of parole d'honneur. Francia was aware
of his wonderful knowledge, and availed himself of it, allowing his
captive to live unmolested. But again the amiable character of the
Frenchman had an influence on his life, this time adversely. Winning
for him universal respect among the simple Paraguayans, it excited the
envy of their vile ruler; who once again, and at night, had his
involuntary guest seized upon, carried beyond the confines of his
territory, and landed upon Argentine soilbut stripped of everything
save the clothes on his back!
Soon after, Bonpland settled near the town of Corrientes, where,
safe from further persecution, he once more entered upon agricultural
pursuits. And there, in the companionship of a South American ladyhis
wifewith a family of happy children, he ended a life that had lasted
for fourscore years, innocent and unblemished, is it had been useful,
heroic, and glorious.
CHAPTER THREE. THE HUNTER-NATURALIST.
In some respects similar to the experience of Aime Bonpland was that
of Ludwig Halberger. Like the former, an ardent lover of Nature, as
also an accomplished naturalist, he too had selected South America as
the scene of his favourite pursuits. On the great river Paranabetter,
though erroneously, known to Europeans as the La Platahe would find
an almost untrodden field. For although the Spanish naturalist, Azara,
had there preceded him, the researches of the latter were of the olden
time, and crude imperfect kind, before either zoology or botany had
developed themselves into a science.
Besides, the Prussian was moderately fond of the chase, and to such
a man the great pampas region, with its pumas and jaguars, its
ostriches, wild horses, and grand guazuti stags, offered an
irresistible attraction. There he could not only indulge his natural
taste, but luxuriate in them.
He, too, had resided nine years in Paraguay, and something more.
But, unlike Bonpland, his residence there was voluntary. Nor did he
live alone. Lover of Nature though he was, and addicted to the chase,
another kind of love found its way to his heart, making himself a
captive. The dark eyes of a Paraguayan girl penetrated his breast,
seeming brighter to him than the plumage of the gaudiest birds, or the
wings of the most beautiful butterflies.
El Gilero the blondeas these swarthy complexioned people
were wont to call the Teutonic strangerfound favour in the eyes of
the young Paraguayense, who reciprocating his honest love, consented to
become his wife; and became it. She was married at the age of fourteen,
he being over twenty.
So young for a bride! many of my readers will exclaim. But that is
rather a question of race and climate. In Spanish America, land of
feminine precocity, there is many a wife and mother not yet entered on
For nigh ten years Halberger lived happily with his youthful
esposa; all the happier that in due time a son and daughterthe
former resembling himself, the latter a very image of her
motherenlivened their home with sweet infantine prattle. And as the
years rolled by, a third youngster came to form part of the family
circlethis neither son nor daughter, but an orphan child of the
Senora's sister deceased. A boy he was, by name Cypriano.
The home of the hunter-naturalist was not in Assuncion, but some
twenty miles out in the campo. He rarely visited the capital,
except on matters of business. For a business he had; this of somewhat
unusual character. It consisted chiefly in the produce of his gun and
insect-net. Many a rare specimen of bird and quadruped, butterfly and
beetle, captured and preserved by Ludwig Halberger, at this day adorns
the public museums of Prussia and other European countries. But for the
dispatch and shipment of these he would never have cared to show
himself in the streets of Assuncion; for, like all true naturalists, he
had no affection for city life. Assuncion, however, being the only
shipping port in Paraguay, he had no choice but repair thither whenever
his collections became large enough to call for exportation.
Beginning life in South America with moderate means, the Prussian
naturalist had prospered: so much, as to have a handsome house, with a
tract of land attached, and a fair retinue of servants; these last, all
Guanos, a tribe of Indians long since tamed and domesticated. He had
been fortunate, also, in securing the services of a gaucho,
named Gaspar, a faithful fellow, skilled in many callings, who acted as
his mayor-domo and man of confidence.
In truth, was Ludwig Halberger in the enjoyment of a happy
existence, and eminently prosperous. Like Aime Bonpland, he was fairly
on the road to fortune; when, just as with the latter, a cloud
overshadowed his life, coming from the self-same quarter. His wife,
lovely at fourteen, was still beautiful at twenty-four, so much as to
attract the notice of Paraguay's Dictator. And with Dr Francia to covet
was to possess, where the thing coveted belonged to any of his own
subjects. Aware of this, warned also of Francia's partiality by
frequent visits with which the latter now deigned to honour him, Ludwig
Halberger saw there was no chance to escape domestic ruin, but by
getting clear out of the country. It was not that he doubted the
fidelity of his wife; on the contrary, he knew her to be true as she
was beautiful. How could he doubt it, since it was from her own lips he
first learnt of the impending danger?
Away from Paraguay, thenaway anywherewas his first and
quickly-formed resolution, backed by the counsels of his loyal partner
in life. But the design was easier than its execution; the last not
only difficult, but to all appearance impossible. For it so chanced
that one of the laws of that exclusive landan edict of the Dictator
himselfwas to the point prohibitive; forbidding any foreigner who
married a native woman to take her out of the country, without having a
written permission from the Executive Head of the State. Ludwig
Halberger was a foreigner, his wife native born, and the Head of the
State Executive, as in every other sense, was Jose Gaspar Francia!
The case was conclusive. For the Prussian to have sought permission
to depart, taking his wife along with him, would have been more than
follymadnesshastening the very danger he dreaded.
Flight, then? But whither, and in what direction? To flee into the
Paraguayan forests could not avail him, or only for a short respite.
These, traversed by the cascarilleros and gatherers of yerba,
all in the Dictator's employ and pay, would be no safer than the
streets of Assuncion itself. A party of fugitives, such as the
naturalist and his family, could not long escape observation; and seen,
they would as surely be captured and carried back. The more surely from
the fact that the whole system of Paraguayan polity under Dr Francia's
regime was one of treachery and espionage, every individual in the land
finding it to his profit to do dirty service for El Supremoas they
styled their despotic chief.
On the other side there was the river, but still more difficult
would it be to make escape in that direction. All along its bank, to
the point where it enters the Argentine territory, had Francia
established his military stations, styled guardias, where
sentinels kept watch at all hours, by night as in the day. For a boat
to pass down, even the smallest skiff, without being observed by some
of these Argus-eyed videttes, would have been absolutely impossible;
and if seen as surely brought to a stop, and taken back to Assuncion.
Revolving all these difficulties in his mind, Ludwig Halberger was
filled with dismay, and for a long time kept in a state of doubt and
chilling despair. At length, however, a thought came to relieve hima
plan of flight, which promised to have a successful issue. He would
flee into the Chaco!
To the mind of any other man in Paraguay the idea would have
appeared preposterous. If Francia resembled the frying-pan, the Chaco
to a Paraguayan seemed the fire itself. A citizen of Assuncion would no
more dare to set foot on the further side of that stream which swept
the very walls of his town, than would a besieging soldier on the
glacis of the fortress he besieged. The life of a white man caught
straying in the territory of El Gran Chaco would not have been worth
a withey. If not at once impaled on an Indian spear held in the hand of
Tova or Guaycuru, he would be carried into a captivity little
preferable to death.
For all this, Ludwig Halberger had no fear of crossing over to the
Chaco side, nor penetrating into its interior. He had often gone
thither on botanising and hunting expeditions. But for this apparent
recklessness he had a reason, which must needs here be given. Between
the Chaco savages and the Paraguayan people there had been intervals of
peacetiempos de pazduring which occurred amicable
intercourse; the Indians rowing over the river and entering the town to
traffic off their skins, ostrich feathers, and other commodities. On
one of these occasions the head chief of the Tovas tribe, by name
Naraguana, having imbibed too freely of guarape, and in some way
got separated from his people, became the butt of some Paraguayan boys,
who were behaving towards him just as the idle lads of London or the
gamins of Paris would to one appearing intoxicated in the streets.
The Prussian naturalist chanced to be passing at the time; and seeing
the Indian, an aged man, thus insulted, took pity upon and rescued him
from his tormentors.
Recovering from his debauch, and conscious of the service the
stranger had done him, the Tovas chief swore eternal friendship to his
generous protector, at the same time proffering him the freedom of the
The incident, however, caused a rupture between the Tovas tribe and
the Paraguayan Government, terminating the tiempo de paz, which
had not since been renewed. More unsafe than ever would it have been
for a Paraguayan to set foot on the western side of the river. But
Ludwig Halberger knew that the prohibition did not extend to him; and
relying on Naraguana's proffered friendship, he now determined upon
retreating into the Chaco, and claiming the protection of the Tovas
Luckily, his house was not a great way from the river's bank, and in
the dead hour of a dark night, accompanied by wife and childrentaking
along also his Guano servants, with such of his household effects as
could be conveniently carried, the faithful Caspar guiding and managing
allhe was rowed across the Paraguay and up the Pilcomayo. He had been
told that at some thirty leagues from the mouth of the latter stream,
was the tolderia of the Tovas Indians. And truly told; since
before sunset of the second day he succeeded in reaching it, there to
be received amicably, as he had anticipated. Not only did Naraguana
give him a warm welcome but assistance in the erection of his dwelling;
afterwards stocking his estancia with horses and cattle caught
on the surrounding plains. These tamed and domesticated, with their
progeny, are what anyone would have seen in his corrals in the
year 1836, at the time the action of our tale commences.
CHAPTER FOUR. HIS NEAREST NEIGHBOURS.
The house of the hunter-naturalist was placed at some distance from
the river's bank, its site chosen with an eye to the picturesque; and
no lovelier landscape ever lay before the windows of a dwelling. From
its front onesor, better still, the verandah outside themthe eye
commands a view alone limited by the power of vision: verdant savannas,
mottled with copses of acacia and groves of palm, with here and there
single trees of the latter standing solitary, their smooth stems and
gracefully-curving fronds cut clear as cameos against the azure sky.
Nor is it a dead level plain, as pampas and prairies are
erroneously supposed always to be. Instead, its surface is varied with
undulations; not abrupt as the ordinary hill and dale scenery, but
gently swelling like the ocean's waves when these have become crestless
after the subsidence of a storm.
Looking across this champaign from Halberger's house at almost any
hour of the day, one would rarely fail to observe living creatures
moving upon it. It may be a herd of the great guazuti deer, or
the smaller pampas roe, or, perchance, a flock of rheas
the South American ostrichstalking along tranquilly or in flight,
with their long necks extended far before, and their plumed tails
streaming train-like behind them. Possibly they may have been
affrighted by the tawny puma, or spotted jaguar, seen skulking through
the long pampas grass like gigantic cats. A drove of wild horses, too,
may go careering past, with manes and tails showing a wealth of hair
which shears have never touched; now galloping up the acclivity of a
ridge; anon disappearing over its crest to re-appear on one farther off
and of greater elevation. Verily, a scene of Nature in its wildest and
most interesting aspect!
Upon that same plain, Ludwig Halberger and his people are accustomed
to see others than wild horsessome with men upon their backs, who sit
them as firmly as riders in the ring; that is, when they do sit
them, which is not always. Often may they be seen standing erect upon
their steeds, these going in full gallop! True, your ring-rider can do
the same; but then his horse gallops in a circle, which makes it a mere
feat of centrifugal and centripetal balancing. Let him try it in a
straight line, and he would drop off like a ripe pear from the tree. No
curving course needs the Chaco Indian, no saddle nor padded platform on
the back of his horse, which he can ride standing almost as well as
seated. No wonder, then, these savagesif savages they may be
calledhave obtained the fanciful designation of centaursthe Red
Centaurs of the Chaco.
Those seen by Ludwig Halberger and his family are the Tovas,
already introduced. Their village, termed tolderia, is about ten
miles off, up the river. Naraguana wished the white man to have fixed
his residence nearer to him, but the naturalist knew that would not
answer. Less than two leagues from an Indian encampment, and still more
if a permanent dwelling-place, which this tolderia is, would
make the pursuit of his calling something more than precarious. The
wild birds and beastsin short, all the animated creationdislike the
proximity of the Indian, and flee his presence afar.
It may seem strange that the naturalist still continues to form
collections, so far from any place where he might hope to dispose of
them. Down the Pilcomayo he dares not take them, as that would only
bring him back to the Paraguay river, interdict to navigation, as ever
jealously guarded, and, above all, tabooed to himself. But he has no
thought, or intention, to attempt communicating with the civilised
world in that way; while a design of doing so in quite another
direction has occurred to him, and, in truth, been already all
arranged. This, to carry his commodities overland to the Rio Vermejo,
and down that stream till near its mouth; then again overland, and
across the Parana to Corrientes. There he will find a shipping port in
direct commerce with Buenos Ayres, and so beyond the jurisdiction of
Naraguana has promised him not only an escort of his best braves,
but a band of cargadores (carriers) for the transport of his
freight; these last the slaves of his tribe. For the aristocratic Tovas
Indians have their bondsmen, just as the Caffres, or Arab merchants of
Nearly three years have elapsed since the naturalist became
established in his new quarters, and his collection has grown to be a
large one. Safely landed in any European port, it would be worth many
thousands of dollars; and thither he wishes to have it shipped as soon
as possible. He has already warned Naraguana of his wish, and that the
freight is ready; the chief, on his part, promising to make immediate
preparations for its transport overland.
But a week has passed over, and no Naraguana, nor any messenger from
him, has made appearance at the estancia. No Indian of the Tovas
tribe has been seen about the place, nor anywhere near it; in short, no
redskin has been seen at all, save the guanos, Halberger's own
male and female domestics.
Strange all this! Scarce ever has a whole week gone by without his
receiving a visit from the Tovas chief, or some one of his tribe; and
rarely half this time without Naraguana's own son, by name Aguara,
favouring the family with a call, and making himself as agreeable as
savage may in the company of civilised people.
For all, there is one of that family to whom his visits are anything
but agreeable; in truth, the very reverse. This Cypriano, who has
conceived the fancy, or rather feels conviction, that the eyes of the
young Tovas chief rest too often, and too covetously, on his pretty
cousin, Francesca. Perhaps, except himself, no one has noticed this,
and he alone is glad to count the completion of a week without any
Indian having presented himself at his uncle's establishment.
Though there is something odd in their prolonged non-appearance,
still it is nothing to be alarmed about. On other occasions there had
been intervals of absence as long, and even longer, when the men of the
tribe were away from their tolderia, on some foraging or hunting
expedition. Nor would Halberger have thought anything of it; but for
the understanding between him and the Tovas chief, in regard to the
transport of his collections. Naraguana had never before failed in any
promise made to him. Why should he in this?
A sense of delicacy hinders the naturalist from riding over to the
Tovas town, and asking explanation why the chief delays keeping his
word. In all such matters, the American Indian, savage though styled,
is sensitive as the most refined son of civilisation; and, knowing
this, Ludwig Halberger waits for Naraguana to come to him.
But when a second week has passed, and a third, without the Tovas
chief reporting himself, or sending either message or messenger, the
Prussian becomes really apprehensive, not so much for himself, as the
safety of his red-skinned protector. Can it be that some hostile band
has attacked the Tovas tribe, massacred all the men, and carried off
the women? For in the Chaco are various communities of Indians, often
at deadly feud with one another. Though such conjecture seems
improbable, the thing is yet possible; and to assure himself, Halberger
at length resolves upon going over to the tolderia of the Tovas.
Ordering his horse saddled, he mounts, and is about to ride off alone,
when a sweet voice salutes him, saying:
Papa! won't you take me with you?
It is his daughter who speaks, a girl not yet entered upon her
In welcome, Francesca. Come along! is his answer to her query.
Then stay till I get my pony. I sha'n't be a minute.
She runs back towards the corrals, calling to one of the servants to
saddle her diminutive steed. Which, soon brought round to the front of
the house, receives her upon its back.
But now another, also a soft, sweet voice, is heard in exhortation.
It is that of Francesca's mother, entering protest against her husband
either going alone, or with a companion so incapable of protecting him.
Dear Ludwig, take Caspar with you. There may be dangerwho knows?
Let me go, tio? puts in Cypriano, with impressive
eagerness, his eyes turned towards his cousin as though he did not at
all relish the thought of her visiting the Tovas village without his
being along with her.
And me, too? also requests Ludwig, the son, who is two years older
than his sister.
No, neither of you, rejoins the father. Ludwig, you would not
leave your mother alone? Besides, remember I have set both you and
Cypriano a lesson, which you must learn off to-day. There is nothing to
fear, querida! he adds, addressing himself to his wife. We are
not now in Paraguay, but a country where our old Friend Francia and his
satellites dare not intrude on us. Besides, I cannot spare the good
Caspar from some work I have given him to do. Bah! 'Tis only a bit of a
morning's trot there and back; and if I find there's nothing wrong,
we'll be home again in little ever a couple of hours. So adios!
With a wave of his hand he moves off, Francesca giving her tiny
roadster a gentle touch of the whip, and trotting by his side.
The other three, left standing in the verandah, with their eyes
follow the departing equestrians, the countenance of each exhibiting an
expression that betrays different emotions in their minds, these
differing both as to the matter of thought and the degree of intensity.
Ludwig simply looks a little annoyed at having to stay at home when he
wanted to go abroad, but without any great feeling of disappointment;
whereas Cypriano evidently suffers chagrin, so much that he is not
likely to profit by the appointed lesson. With the Senora herself it is
neither disappointment nor chagrin, but a positive and keen
apprehension. A daughter of Paraguay, brought up to believe its ruler
all powerful over the earth, she can hardly realise the idea of there
being a spot where the hand of El Supremo cannot reach and punish
those who have thwarted his wishes or caprices. Many the tale has she
heard whispered in her ear, from the cradle upwards, telling of the
weird power of this wicked despot, and the remorseless manner in which
he has often wielded it. Even after their escape into the chaco, where,
under the protection of the Tovas chief, they might laugh his enmity to
scorn, she has never felt the confidence of complete security. And now,
that an uncertainty has arisen as to what has befallen Naraguana and
his people, her fears became redoubled and intensified. Standing in the
trellissed verandah, her eyes fixed upon the departing forms of her
husband and daughter, she has a heaviness at the heart, a presentiment
of some impending danger, which seems so near and dreadful as to cause
shivering throughout her frame.
The two youths, observing this, essay to reassure herone in filial
duty, the other with affection almost as warm.
Alas! in vain. As the crown of the tall hat worn by her husband,
goes down behind the crest of a distant ridge, Francesca's having
sooner disappeared, her heart sinks at the same time; and, making a
sign of the cross, she exclaims in desponding accents:
Madre de Dios! We may ne'er see them more!
CHAPTER FIVE. A DESERTED VILLAGE.
Riding at a gentle amble, so that his daughter on her small palfrey
may easily keep up with him, Halberger in due time arrives at the
Indian village; to his surprise seeing it is no more a village, or only
a deserted one! The toldos of bamboo and palm thatch are still
standing, but untenantedevery one of them!
Dismounting, he steps inside them, one after the other, but finds
each and all unoccupiedneither man, woman, nor child within; nor
without, either in the alleys between, or on the large open space
around which the frail tenements are set, that has served as a
loitering-place for the older members of the tribe, and a play-ground
for the younger.
The grand council room, called malocca, he also enters with
like result; no one is inside itnot a soul to be seen anywhere,
either in the streets of the village or on the plain stretching around!
He is alarmed as much as surprised; indeed more, since he has been
anticipating something amiss. But by degrees, as he continues to make
an examination of the place, his apprehensions became calmed down,
these having been for the fate of the Indians themselves. His first
thought he had entertained while conjecturing the cause of their long
absence from the estancia, was that some hostile tribe had
attacked them, massacred the men, and carried captive the women and
children. Such tragical occurrences are far from uncommon among the red
aborigines of America, Southern or Northern. Soon, however, his fears
on this score are set at rest. Moving around, he detects no traces of a
struggle, neither dead bodies nor blood. If there had been a fight the
corpses of the fallen would surely still be there, strewing the plain;
and not a toldo would be standing or seeninstead, only their
As it is, he finds the houses all stripped of their furniture and
domestic utensils; these evidently borne off not as by marauders, but
taken away in a systematic manner, as when a regular move is made by
these nomadic people. He sees fragments of cut sipos and bits of
raw-hide thongthe overplus left after packing.
Though no longer alarmed for the safety of the Indians, he is,
nevertheless, still surprised and perplexed. What could have taken them
away from the tolderia, and whither can they have gone? Strange,
too, Naraguana should have left the place in such unceremonious
fashion, without giving him, Halberger, notice of his intention! Their
absence on this occasion cannot be accounted for by any hunting or
foraging expedition, nor can it be a foray of war. In any of these
cases the women and children would have been left behind. Beyond doubt,
it is an absolute abandonment of the place; perhaps with no intention
of returning to it; or not for a very long time.
Revolving these thoughts through his mind, Halberger climbs back
into his saddle, and sits further reflecting. His daughter, who has not
dismounted, trots up to his side, she, too, in as much wonderment as
himself; for, although but a very young creature, almost a child in
age, she has passed through experiences that impart the sageness of
years. She knows of all the relationships which exist between them and
the Tovas tribe, and knows something of why her father fled from his
old home; that is, she believes it to have been through fear of El
Supremo, the bogie of every Paraguayan child, boy or girl. Aware of
the friendship of the Tovas chief, and the protection he has extended
to them, she now shares her father's surprise, as she had his
They exchange thoughts on the subjectthe child equally perplexed
with the parent; and after an interval passed in conjecturing, all to
no purpose, Halberger is about to turn and ride home again, when it
occurs to him he had better find out in what direction the Indians went
away from their village.
There is no difficulty in discovering this; the trail of their
ridden horses, still more that of their pack animals, is easily found
and followed. It leads out from the village at the opposite end from
that by which they themselves entered; and after following it for a
mile or so along the river's bank, they see that it takes an abrupt
turn across the pampa. Up to this point it has been quite
conspicuous, and is also beyond; for although it is anything but
recent, no rain has since fallen, and the hoof-prints of the horses can
be here and there distinguished clean cut on the smooth sward, over
which the mounted men had gone at a gallop. Besides, there is the broad
belt of trodden grass where the pack animals toiled more slowly along;
and upon this bits of broken utensils, with other useless articles,
have been dropped and abandoned, plainly proclaiming the character of
Here Halberger would halt, and turn back, but for a remembrance
coming into his mind which hinders, at the same time urging him to
continue on. In one of his hunting excursions he had been over this
ground before, and remembers that some ten miles further on a tributary
stream flows into the Pilcomayo. Curious to know whether the departing
Tovas have turned up this tributary, or followed the course of the main
river, he determines to proceed. For glancing skyward, he sees that the
sun is just crossing the meridian, and knows he will have no lack of
time before darkness can overtake him. The circumstances and events, so
strange and startling, cause him to forget that promise made to his
wifesoon to be back at the estancia.
Spurring his horse, and calling on Francesca to follow, he starts
off again at a brisk gallop; which is kept up till they draw bridle on
the bank of the influent stream.
This, though broad, is but shallow, with a selvedge of soft ooze on
either side; and on that where they have arrived the mud shows the
track of several hundred horses. Without crossing over, Halberger can
see that the Indian trail leads on along the main river, and not up the
Again he is on the balance, to go backwith the intention of
returning next day, accompanied by Caspar, and making further search
for the missing Indianswhen an object comes under his eye, causing
him to give a start of surprise.
It is only the track of a horse; and strange that this should
surprise him, among hundreds. But the one on which he has fixed his
attention differs from all the rest in being the hoof-print of a
shod horse, while the others are as Nature made them. Still even
this difference would not make so much impression upon him were the
tracks of the same age. Himself skilled as any Indian in the
reading of pampas sign, at a glance he sees they are not. The
hoof-marks of the Tovas horses in their travelling train are all quite
three weeks old; while the animal having the iron on its heels, must
have crossed over that stream within the week.
Its rider, whoever he was, could not have been in the company of the
departing Tovas; and to him now regarding the tracks, it is only a
question as to whether he were a white man, or Indian.
Everything is against his having been the former, travelling in a
district tabooed to the palefaces, other than Halberger and
hiseverything, save the fact of his being on the back of a shod
horse; while this alone hinders the supposition of the animal being
bestridden by an Indian.
For a long while the hunter-naturalist, with Francesca by his side,
sits in his saddle contemplating the shod hoof-prints in a reverie of
reflection. He at length thinks of crossing the tributary stream, to
see if these continue on with the Indian trail, and has given his horse
the spur, with a word to his daughter to do likewise, when voices reach
his ear from the opposite side, warning him to pull in again. Along
with loud words and ejaculations there is laughter; as of boys at play,
only not stationary in one place, but apparently moving onward, and
drawing nearer to him.
On both sides of the branch stream, as also along the banks of the
river, is a dense growth of tropical vegetationmostly underwood, with
here and there a tall moriche palm towering above the humbler
shrubs. Through this they who travel so gleefully are making their way;
but cannot yet be seen from the spot where Halberger has halted. But
just on the opposite bank, where the trail goes up from the ford, is a
bit of treeless sward, several acres in extent, in all likelihood, kept
clear of undergrowth by the wild horses and other animals on their way
to the water to drink. It runs back like an embayment into the
close-growing scrub, and as the trail can be distinguished debouching
at its upper end, the naturalist has no doubt that these joyous gentry
are approaching in that direction.
And so are theya singular cavalcade, consisting of some thirty
individuals on horseback; for all are mounted. Two are riding side by
side, some little way ahead of the others, who follow also in twosthe
trail being sufficiently wide to admit of the double formation. For the
Indians of pampa and prairieunlike their brethren of the
forest, do not always travel single file. On horseback it would
string them out too far for either convenience or safety. Indeed, these
horse Indians not unfrequently march in column, and in line.
With the exception of the pair spoken of as being in the advance,
all the others are costumed, and their horses caparisoned, nearly
alike. Their dress is of the simplest and scantiest kinda hip-cloth
swathing their bodies from waist to mid-thigh, closely akin to the
breech-clout of the Northern Indian, only of a different material.
Instead of dressed buckskin, the loin covering of the Chaco savage is a
strip of white cotton cloth, some of wool in bands of bright colour
having a very pretty effect. But, unlike their red brethren of the
North, they know nought of either leggings or moccasin. Their mild
climate calls not for such covering; and for foot protection against
stone, thorn, or thistle, the Chaco Indian rarely ever sets sole to the
groundhis horse's back being his home habitually.
Those now making way through the wood show limbs naked from thigh to
toe, smooth as moulded bronze, and proportioned as if cut by the chisel
of Praxiteles. Their bodies above also nude; but here again differing
from the red men of the prairies. No daub and disfigurement of chalk,
charcoal, vermilion, or other garish pigment; but clear skins showing
the lustrous hue of health, of bronze or brown amber tint, adorned only
with some stringlets of shell beads, or the seeds of a plant peculiar
to their country.
All are mounted on steeds of small size, but sinewy and perfect in
shape, having long tails and flowing manes; for the barbarism of the
clipping shears has not yet reached these barbarians of the Chaco.
Nor yet know they, or knowing, they use not saddle. A piece of
ox-hide, or scrap of deer-skin serves them for its substitute; and for
bridle a raw-hide rope looped around the under jaw, without head-strap,
bittless, and single reined, enabling them to check or guide their
horses, as if these were controlled by the cruellest of curbs, or the
jaw-breaking Mameluke bitt.
As they file forth two by two into the open ground, it is seen that
there is some quality and fashion common to all; to wit, that they are
all youthsnot any of them over twentyand that they wear their hair
cropped in front, showing a square line across the forehead, but left
untouched on the crown and back of the head. There it falls in full
profuseness, reaching to the hips, and in the case of some mingling
with the tails, of their horses.
Two, however, are notably different from the rest; they riding in
the advance, with a horse's length or so of interval between them and
their following. One of the two differs only in the style of his dress;
being an Indian as the others, and, like them, quite a youth, to all
appearance the youngest of the party. Yet also their chief, by reason
of his richer and grander dress; his attire being of the most
picturesque and costly kind worn by the Chaco savages. Covering his
body, from the breast to half-way down his thighs, is a sort of
loosely-fitting tunic of white cotton stuff. Sleeveless, it leaves his
arm bare from nigh the shoulder to the wrist, around which glistens a
bracelet with the sheen of solid gold. His limbs also are bare, save a
sort of gartering below the knee, of shell and bead embroidery. On his
head is a fillet band ornamented in like manner, with bright plumes,
set vertically around itthe tail-feathers of the guacamaya,
one of the most superb of South American parrots. But the most
distinctive article of his apparel is his manta, a sort of cloak
of the poncho kind, hanging loosely behind his back, but
altogether different from the well-known garment of the gauchos, which
is usually woven from wool. That on the shoulders of the young Indian
is of no textile fabric, but the skin of a fawn, tanned and bleached to
the softness and whiteness of a dress kid glove, the outward side being
elaborately feather-worked in flowers and patterns, the feathers
obtained from many a bird of gay plumage.
Of form perfectly symmetrical, the young Indian, save for his
complexion, would seem a sort of Apollo, or Hyperion on horseback;
while he who rides alongside him, withal that his skin is white, or
once was, might well be likened to the Satyr. A man over thirty years
of age, tall, and of tough, sinewy frame, with a countenance of the
most sinister cast, dressed gaucho fashion, with the wide petticoat
breeches lying loose about his limbs, a striped poncho over his
shoulders, and a gaudy silken kerchief tied turban-like around his
temples. But no gaucho he, nor individual of any honest calling:
instead, a criminal of deepest dye, experienced in every sort of
villainy. For this man is Rufino Valdez, well-known in Assuncion as one
of Francia's familiars, and more than suspected of being one of his
most dexterous assassins.
CHAPTER SIX. AN OLD ENEMY IN A NEW
Could the hunter-naturalist but know what has really occurred in the
Tovas tribe, and the nature of the party now approaching, he would not
stay an instant longer on the banks of that branch stream; instead,
hasten back home with his child fast as their animals could carry them,
and once at the estancia, make all haste to get away from it, taking
every member of his family along with him. But he has no idea that
anything has happened hostile to him or his, nor does he as yet see the
troop of travellers, whose merry voices are making the woods ring
around them: for, on the moment of his first hearing them, they were at
a good distance, and are some considerable time before coming in sight.
At first, he had no thought of retreating, nor making any effort to
place himself and his child in concealment. And for two reasons: one,
because ever since taking up his abode in the Chaco, under the
protection of Naraguana, he has enjoyed perfect security, as also the
consciousness of it. Therefore, why should he be alarmed now? As a
second reason for his not feeling so, an encounter with men, in the
mood of those to whom he is listening, could hardly be deemed
dangerous. It may be but the Tovas chief and his people, on return to
the town they had abandoned; and, in all likelihood, it is they. So,
for a time, thinks he.
But, again, it may not be; and if any other Indiansif a band of
Anguite, or Guaycurus, both at enmity with the Tovasthen would they
be also enemies to him, and his position one of great peril. And now
once more reflecting on the sudden, as unexplained, disappearance of
the latter from their old place of residenceto say the least, a
matter of much mysterybethinking himself, also, that he is quite
twenty miles from his estancia, and for any chances of retreat, or
shifts for safety, worse off than if he were alone, he at length, and
very naturally, feels an apprehension stealing over him. Indeed, not
stealing, nor coming upon him slowly, but fast gathering, and in full
force. At all events, as he knows nothing of who or what the people
approaching may be, it is an encounter that should, if possible, be
avoided. Prudence so counsels, and it is but a question how this can
best be done. Will they turn heads round, and go galloping back? Or
ride in among the bushes, and there remain under cover till the Indians
have passed? If these should prove to be Tovas, they could discover
themselves and join them; if not, then take the chances of travelling
behind them, and getting back home unobserved.
The former course he is most inclined to; but glancing up the bank,
for he is still on the water's edge, he sees that the sloping path he
had descended, and by which he must return, is exposed to view from the
opposite side of the stream, to a distance of some two hundred yards.
To reach the summit of the slope, and get under cover of the trees
crowning it, would take some time. True, only a minute or two; but that
may be more than he can spare, since the voices seem now very near, and
those he would shun must show themselves almost immediately. And to be
seen retreating would serve no good purpose; instead, do him a damage,
by challenging the hostility of the Indians, if they be not Tovas. Even
so, were he alone, well-horsed as he believes himself to beand in
reality ishe would risk the attempt, and, like enough, reach his
estancia in safety. But encumbered with Francesca on her diminutive
steed, he knows they would have no chance in a chase across the
pampa, with the red Centaurs pursuing. Therefore, not for an
instant, or only one, entertains he thought of flight. In a second he
sees it would not avail them, and decides on the other
alternativeconcealment. He has already made a hasty inspection of the
ground near by, and sees, commencing at no great distance off, and
running along the water's edge, a grove of sumac trees which,
with their parasites and other plants twining around their stems and
branches, form a complete labyrinth of leaves. The very shelter he is
in search of; and heading his horse towards it, at the same time
telling Francesca to follow, he rides in by the first opening that
offers. Fortunately he has struck upon a tapir path, which makes
it easier for them to pass through the underwood, and they are soon,
with their horses, well screened from view. Perhaps, better would it
have been for them had they continued on, without making any stop,
though not certain this, for it might have been all one in the end. As
it is, still in doubt, half under the belief that he may be retreating
from an imaginary dangerrunning away from friends instead of foesas
soon as well within the thicket, Halberger reins up again, at a point
where he commands a view of the ford as it enters on the opposite side
of the stream. A little glade gives room for the two animals to stand
side by side, and drawing Francesca's pony close up to his saddle-flap,
he cautions her to keep it there steadily, as also to be silent
herself. The girl needs not such admonition. No simple child she,
accustomed only to the safe ways of cities and civilised life; but one
knowing a great deal of that which is savage; and young though she is,
having experienced trials, vicissitudes and dangers. That there is
danger impending over them now, or the possibility of it, she is quite
as conscious as her father, and equally observant of caution;
therefore, she holds her pony well in hand, patting it on the neck to
keep it quiet.
They have not long to stay before seeing what they half expected to
seea party of Indians. Just as they have got well fixed in place,
with some leafy branches in front forming a screen over their faces, at
the same time giving them an aperture to peep through, the dusky
cavalcade shows its foremost files issuing out from the bushes on the
opposite side of the stream. Though still distantat least, a quarter
of a mileboth father and daughter can perceive that they are Indians;
mounted, as a matter of course, for they could not and did not, expect
so see such afoot in the Chaco. But Francesca's eyes are sharper
sighted than those of her father, and at the first glance she makes out
morenot only that it is a party of Indians, but these of the Tovas
tribe. The feathered manta of the young chief, with its bright
gaudy sheen, has caught her eye, and she knows whose shoulders it
should be covering.
Yes, father, she says, in whisper, as soon as sighting it. They
are the Tovas! See yonder! one of the two leadingthat's Aguara.
Oh! then, we've nothing to fear, rejoins her father, with a
feeling of relief. So, Francesca, we may as well ride back out and
meet them. I suppose it is, as I've been conjecturing; the tribe is
returning to its old quarters. I wonder where they've been, and why so
long away. But we shall now learn all about it. And we'll have their
company with us, as far as their talderia; possibly all the way
home, as, like enough, Naraguana will come on with us to the estancia.
In either caseha! what's that. As I live, a white man riding
alongside Aguara! Who can he be?
Up to this, Halberger has neither touched his horse nor stirred a
step; no more she, both keeping to the spot they had chosen for
observation. And both now alike eagerly scan the face of the man,
supposed to be white.
Again the eyes of the child, or her instincts, are keener and
quicker than those of the parent; or, at all events, she is the first
to speak, announcing a recognition.
Oh, papa! she exclaims, still in whispers, it's that horrid man
who used to come to our house at Assuncionhim mamma so much
dislikedthe Senor Rufino.
Hish! mutters the father, interrupting both with speech and
gesture; then adds, keep tight hold of the reins; don't let the pony
budge an inch!
Well may he thus caution, for what he now sees is that he has good
reason to fear; a man he knows to be his bitter enemyone who, during
the years of his residence in Paraguay, had repeatedly been the cause
of trouble to him, and done many acts of injury and insultthe last
and latest offered to his young wife. For it was Rufino Valdez who had
been employed by the Dictator previously to approach her on his behalf.
And now Ludwig Halberger beholds the base villain in company with
the Tovas Indianshis own friends, as he had every reason to suppose
them riding side by side with the son of their chief! What can it
Halberger's first thought is that Valdez may be their prisoner; for
he, of course, knows of the hostility existing between them and the
Paraguayans, and remembers that, in his last interview with Naraguana,
the aged cacique was bitter as ever against the Paraguayan people. But
no; there is not the slightest sign of the white man being guarded,
bound, or escorted. Instead, he is riding unconstrained, side by side
with the young Tovas chief, evidently in amicable relationsthe two
engaged in a conversation to all appearance of the most confidential
Again Halberger asks, speaking within himself, what it can mean? and
again reflecting endeavours to fathom the mystery: for so that strange
juxtaposition appears to him. Can it be that the interrupted treaty of
peace has been renewed, and friendship re-established between Naraguana
and the Paraguayan Dictator? Even now, Valdez may be on a visit to the
Tovas tribe on that very erranda commissioner to arrange new terms of
intercourse and amity? It certainly appears as if something of the kind
had occurred. And what the Prussian now sees, taken in connection with
the abandonment of the village alike matter of mysteryleads him to
more than half-suspect there has. For again comes up the question, why
should the Tovas chief have gone off without giving him warning? So
suddenly, and not a word! Surely does it seem as if there has been
friendship betrayed, and Naraguana's protection withdrawn. If so, it
will go hard with him, Halberger; for well knows he, that in such a
treaty there would be little chance of his being made an object of
special amnesty. Instead, one of its essential claims would sure be,
the surrendering up himself and his family. But would Naraguana be so
base? No; he cannot believe it, and this is why he is as much surprised
as puzzled at seeing Valdez when he now sees him.
In any case things have a forbidding look, and the man's presence
there bodes no good to him. More like the greatest evil; for it may be
death itself. Even while sitting upon his horse, with these reflections
running through his mindwhich they do, not as related, but with the
rapidity of thought itselfhe feels a presentiment of that very thing.
Nay, something more than a presentiment, something worsealmost the
certainty that his life is near its end! For as the complete Indian
cohort files forth from among the bushes, and he takes note of how it
is composedabove all observing the very friendly relations between
Valdez and the young chiefhe knows it must affect himself to the full
danger of his life. Vividly remembers he the enmity of Francia's
familiar, too deep and dire to have been given up or forgotten. He
remembers, too, of Valdez being noted as a skilled rastrero, or
guidehis reputed profession. Against such a one the step he has taken
to conceal himself is little likely to serve him. Are not the tracks of
his horse, with those of the pony, imprinted in the soft mud by the
water's edge where they had halted? These will not be passed over by
the Indians, or Valdez, without being seen and considered. Quite recent
too! They must be observed, and as sure will they be followed up to
where he and his child are in hiding. A pity he has not continued along
the tapir path, still further and far away! Alas! too late now;
the delay may be fatal.
In a very agony of apprehension thus reflecting, Ludwig Halberger
with shoulders stooped over his saddle-bow and head bent in among the
branches, watches the Indian cavalcade approaching the stream's bank;
the nearer it comes, the more certain he that himself and his child are
in deadliest danger.
CHAPTER SEVEN. VALDEZ THE VAQUEANO.
To solve the seeming enigma of Rufino Valdez travelling in the
company of the Tovas Indians, and on friendly terms with their young
chieffor he is soit will be necessary to turn back upon time, and
give some further account of the vaqueano himself, and his
villainous master; as also to tell why Naraguana and his people
abandoned their old place of abode, with other events and circumstances
succeeding. Of these the most serious has been the death of Naraguana
himself. For the aged cacique is no more; having died only a few days
after his latest visit paid to his palefaced protege.
Nor were his last moments spent at the tolderia, now
abandoned. His death took place at another town of his people some two
hundred miles from this, and farther into the interior of the Chaco; a
more ancient residence of the Tovas tribein short, their Sacred
city and burying-place. For it is the custom of these Indians when any
one of them diesno matter when, where, and how, whether by the fate
of war, accident in the chase, disease, or natural decayto have the
body borne to the sacred town, and there deposited in a cemetery
containing the graves of their fathers. Not graves, as is usual,
underground; but scaffolds standing high above itsuch being the mode
of Tovas interment.
Naraguana's journey to this hallowed spothis last in lifehad
been made not on horseback, but in a litera, borne by his
faithful braves. Seized with a sudden illness, and the presentiment
that his end was approaching, with a desire to die in the same place
where he had been born, he gave commands for immediate removal
thithernot only of himself, but everything and even body belonging to
his tribe. It was but the work of a day; and on the next the old
settlement was left forsaken, just as the hunter-naturalist has found
Had the latter been upon the banks of that branch stream just three
weeks before, he would there have witnessed one of those spectacles
peculiar to the South American pampas; as the prairies of the North.
That is the crossing of a river by an entire Indian tribe, on the move
from one encampment, or place of residence, to another. The men on
horseback swimming or wading their horses; the women and children
ferried over in skin boatsthose of the Chaco termed pelotas
with troops of dogs intermingled in the passage; all amidst a
fracas of shouts, the barking of dogs, neighing of horses, and
shrill screaming of the youngsters, with now and then a peal of merry
laughter, as some ludicrous mishap befalls one or other of the party.
No laugh, however, was heard at the latest crossing of that stream by
the Tovas. The serious illness of their chief forbade all thought of
merriment; so serious, that on the second day after reaching the sacred
town he breathed his last; his body being carried up and deposited upon
that aerial tomb where reposed the bleaching bones of many other
caciques his predecessors.
His sudden seizure, with the abrupt departure following, accounts
for Halberger having had no notice of all thisNaraguana having been
delirious in his dying moments, and indeed for some time before. And
his death has caused changes in the internal affairs of the Tovas
tribe, attended with much excitement. For the form of government among
these Chaco savages is more republican than monarchical; each new
cacique having to receive his authority not from hereditary right, but
by election. His son, Aguara, however, popular with the younger
warriors of the tribe, carried the day, and has become Naraguana's
Even had the hunter-naturalist been aware of these events, he might
not have seen in them any danger to himself. For surely the death of
Naraguana would not affect his relations with the Tovas tribe; at least
so far as to losing their friendship, or bringing about an
estrangement. Not likely would such have arisen, but for certain other
events of more sinister bearing, transpiring at the same period; to
recount which it is necessary for us to return still further upon time,
and again go back to Paraguay and its Dictator.
Foiled in his wicked intent, and failing to discover whither his
intended victims had fled, Francia employed for the finding of them one
of his minionsthis man of most ill repute, Rufino Valdez. It did not
need the reward offered to secure the latter's zeal; for, as stated, he
too had his own old grudge against the German, brought about by a still
older and more bitter hostility to Halberger's right hand manGaspar,
the gaucho. With this double stimulus to action, Valdez entered upon
the prosecution of his search, after that of the soldiers had failed.
At first with confident expectation of a speedy success; for it had not
yet occurred to either him or his employer that the fugitives could
have escaped clear out of the country; a thing seemingly impossible
with its frontiers so guarded. It was only after Valdez had explored
every nook and corner of Paraguayan territory in search of them, all to
no purpose, that Francia was forced to the conclusion, they were no
longer within his dominions. But, confiding in his own interpretation
of international law, and the rights of extradition, he commissioned
his emissary to visit the adjacent States, and there continue inquiry
for the missing ones. That law of his own making, already referred to,
led him to think he could demand the Prussian's wife to be returned to
Paraguay, whatever claim he might have upon the Prussian himself.
For over two years has Rufino Valdez been occupied in this bootless
quest, without finding the slightest trace of the fugitives, or word as
to their whereabouts. He has travelled down the river to Corrientes,
and beyond to Buenos Ayres, and Monte Video at the La Plata's mouth.
Also up northward to the Brazilian frontier fort of Coimbra; all the
while without ever a thought of turning his steps towards the Chaco!
Not so strange, though, his so neglecting this noted ground; since
he had two sufficient reasons. The first, his fear of the Chaco
savages, instinctive to every Paraguayan; the second, his want of
faith, shared by Francia himself, that Halberger had fled thither.
Neither could for a moment think of a white man seeking asylum in the
Gran Chaco; for neither knew of the friendship existing between the
hunter-naturalist and the Tovas chief.
It was only after a long period spent in fruitless inquiries, and
while sojourning at Coimbra that the vaqueano first found traces
of those searched for; there learning from some Chaco Indians on a
visit to the fortthat a white man with his wife, children, and
servants, had settled near a tolderia of the Tovas, on the banks
of the Pilcomayo river. Their description, as given by these
Indianswho were not Tovas, but of a kindred tribeso exactly
answered to the hunter-naturalist and his family, that Valdez had no
doubt of its being they. And hastily returning to Paraguay, he
communicated what he had been told to the man for whom he was acting.
El Supremo, overjoyed at the intelligence, promised to double the
reward for securing the long-lost runaways. A delicate and difficult
matter still; for there was yet the hostility of the Tovas to contend
against. But just at this crisis, as if Satan had stepped in to assist
his own sort, a rumour reaches Assuncion of Naraguana's death; and as
the rancour had arisen from a personal affront offered to the chief
himself, Francia saw it would be a fine opportunity for effecting
reconciliation, as did also his emissary. Armed with this confidence,
his old enmity to Halberger and gaucho, ripe and keen as ever, Valdez
declared himself willing to risk his life by paying a visit to the
Tovas town, and, if possible, induce these Indians to enter into a new
treatyone of its terms to be their surrendering up the white man, who
had been so long the guest of their deceased cacique.
Fully commissioned and furnished with sufficient fundsgold coin
which passes current among the savages of the Chaco, as with civilised
peoplethe plenipotentiary had started off, and made his way up the
Pilcomayo, till reaching the old town of the Tovas. Had Halberger's
estancia stood on the river's bank, the result might have been
different. But situated at some distance back, Valdez saw it not in
passing, and arrived at the Indian village to find it, as did the
hunter-naturalist himself, deserted. An experienced traveller and
skilled tracker, however, he had no difficulty in following the trail
of the departed people, on to their other town; and it was the track of
his horse on the way thither, Halberger has observed on the edge of the
influent streamas too well he now knows.
CHAPTER EIGHT. A COMPACT BETWEEN
What the upshot of Valdez's errand as commissioner to the Tovas
tribe may be told in a few words. That he has been successful, in some
way, can be guessed from his being seen in close fellowship with him
who is now their chief. For, otherwise, he would not be there with them
or only as a prisoner. Instead, he is, as he appears, the accepted
friend of Aguara, however false the friendship. And the tie which has
knit them together is in keeping with the character of one, if not
both. All this brought about without any great difficulty, or only such
as was easily overcome by the Paraguayan plenipotentiary. Having
reached the Tovas townthat where the tribe is now in permanent
residenceonly a day or two after Naraguana's death, he found the
Indians in the midst of their lamentations; and, through their hearts
rendered gentle by grief, received friendly reception. This, and the
changed regime, offered a fine opportunity for effecting his
purpose, of which the astute commissioner soon availed himself. The
result, a promise of renewal of the old peace treaty; which he has
succeeded in obtaining, partly by fair words, but as much by a profuse
expenditure of the coin with which Francia had furnished him. This
agreed to by the elders of the tribe; since they had to be consulted.
But without a word said about their late chiefs protegethe
hunter-naturalistor aught done affecting him. For the Paraguayan soon
perceived, that the sagamores would be true to the trust
Naraguana had left; in his last coherent words enjoining them to
continue protection to the stranger, and hold him, as his, unharmed.
So far the elders in council; and the astute commissioner,
recognising the difficulty, not to say danger, of touching on this
delicate subject, said nothing to them about it.
For all, he has not left the matter in abeyance, instead, has spoken
of it to other ears, where he knew he would be listened to with more
safety to himselfthe ears of Aguara. For he had not been long in the
Tovas town without making himself acquainted with the character of the
new cacique, as also his incliningsespecially those relating to
Francesca Halberger. And that some private understanding has been
established between him and the young Tovas chief is evident from the
conversation they are now carrying on.
You can keep the muchachita at your pleasure, says Valdez,
having, to all appearance, settled certain preliminaries. All my
master wants is, to vindicate the laws of our country, which this man
Halberger has outraged. As you know yourself, Senor Aguara, one of our
statutes is that no foreigner who marries a Paraguayan woman may take
her out of the country without permission of the Presidentour
executive chief. Now this man is not one of our people, but a
strangera gringofrom far away over the big waters; while the
Senora, his wife, is Paraguayan, bred and born. Besides, he stole her
away in the night, like a thief, as he is.
Naraguana would not tamely have listened to such discourse. Instead,
the old chief, loyal to his friendship, would have indignantly repelled
the allegations against his friend and protege. As it is, they fall
upon the ear of Naraguana's son without his offering either rebuke or
Still, he seems in doubt as to what answer he should make, or what
course he ought to pursue in the business between them.
What would you have me do, Senor Rufino? he asks in a patois of
Spanish, which many Chaco Indians can speak; himself better than
common, from his long and frequent intercourse with Halberger's family.
What want you?
I don't want you to do anything, rejoins the vaqueano. If
you're so squeamish about giving offence to him you call your father's
friend, you needn't take any part in the matter, or at all compromise
yourself. Only stand aside, and allow the law I've just spoken of to
Let our President send a party of his soldiers to arrest those
runaways, and carry them back whence they came. Now that you've
proposed to renew the treaty with us, and are hereafter to be our
alliesand, I hope, fast friendsit is only just and right you should
surrender up those who are our enemies. If you do, I can say, as his
trusted representative, that El Supremo will heap favours, and bestow
rich presents on the Tovas tribe; above all, on its young caciqueof
whom I've heard him speak in terms of the highest praise.
Aguara, a vain young fellow, eagerly drinks in the fulsome flattery,
his eyes sparkling with delight at the prospect of the gifts thus
promised. For he is as covetous of wealth as he is conceited about his
But, he says, thinking of a reservation, would you want us to
surrender them all? Father, mother
No, not all, rejoins the ruffian, interrupting. There is one, he
continues, looking askant at the Indian, with the leer of a demon,
one, I take it, whom the young Tovas chief would wish to retain as an
ornament to his court. Pretty creature the nina was, when I last
saw her; and I have no doubt still is, unless your Chaco sun has made
havoc with her charms. She had a cousin about her own age, by name
Cypriano, who was said to be very fond of her; and rumour had it around
Assuncion, that they were being brought up for one another.
Aguara's brow blackens, and his dark Indian eyes seem to emit sparks
Cypriano shall never have her! he exclaims in a tone of angry
How can you help it, amigo? interrogates his tempter. That is,
supposing the two are inclined for one another. As you know, her father
is not only a paleface, but a gringo, with prejudices of blood
far beyond us Paraguayans, who are half-Indian ourselves. Ah! and proud
of it too. Being such, he would never consent to give his daughter in
marriage to a red manmake a squaw of her, as he would
scornfully call it. No, not even though it were the grandest cacique in
the Chaco. He would see her dead first.
Indeed! exclaims the Indian, with a disdainful toss of the head.
Indeed, yes, asseverates Valdez. And whether they remain under
your protection, or be taken back to Paraguay, 'twill be all the same
as regards the senorita. There's but one way I know of to hinder her
from becoming the wife of her cousin Cypriano, and that is
What? impatiently asks Aguara.
To separate them. Let father, mother, son, and nephew be taken back
to where they belong; the nina to stay behind.
But how can that be done?
You mean without your showing your hand in it? asks Valdez, in a
I do. For know, Senor Rufino, that, though I'm now chief of our
tribe, and those we have with us here will do as I bid themobey me in
anythingstill the elders have control, and might make trouble if I
did aught to injure the friend of my late father. I am not free, and
dare not act as you propose.
Carramba! you needn't act at all, as I've already told you.
Only stand aside, and let others do the acting. 'Twill be easy enough.
But give your consent to my bringing a pack of our Paraguayan wolves to
this fold your father has so carefully shepherded, and I'll answer for
sorting out the sheep we want to take, and leaving the lamb you wish
left. Then you and yours can come opportunely up, too late for
protecting the old ram and dam, but in time to rescue the bleating
lambkin, and bear her away to a place of safety. Your own toldo, Senor
Aguara; where, take my word for't, no one will ever come to inquire
after, much less reclaim her. You consent?
Speak low! cautions the wily Indian, casting a glance over his
shoulders as one willing to do a wicked deed, but without desiring it
known. Don't let them hear us. You have my consent.
CHAPTER NINE. A RED-HANDED RUFFIAN.
Just as the young cacique has yielded to the tempter, surrendering
his last scruple of conscience, his horse dips hoof in the stream, that
of the Paraguayan plunging into it at the same time. Knowing the ford
well, and that it is shallow, with a firm bottom, they ride boldly on;
their followers straggled out behind, these innocent of the foul
conspiracy being hatched so near; still keeping up their rollicky
mirth, and flinging about jeux d'esprit as the spray drops are
tossed from the fetlocks of their wading horses.
It is a popular though erroneous belief, that the red men of America
are of austere and taciturn habit. The older ones may be at times, but
even these not always. Instead, as a rule they are given to jocularity
and fun; the youth brimful of it as the street boys of any European
city. At least one half of their diurnal hours is spent by them in play
and pastimes; for from those of the north we have borrowed both Polo
and La Crosse; while horse-racing is as much their sport as ours; and
Not strange, then, that the jeunesse doree of the Tovas,
escorting their youthful cacique, and seeing him occupied with the
paleface who has been on a visit to their town, take no heed of what
passes between these two, but abandon themselves to merriment along the
march. No more is it strange that Aguara, engrossed with the subject of
conversation between him and the vaqueano, leaves them free to
Nothing occurs to change the behaviour either of the two who are in
front, or those following, until the horses of the former have forded
the stream, and stepped out on the bank beyond. Then the Paraguayan, as
said, a skilled tracker and cunning as a fox, chancing to lower his
eyes to the ground, observes upon it several hoof-marks of a horse.
These at once fix his attention; for not only are they freshto all
appearance made but the moment beforebut the horse that made them
must have been shod.
While in the act of verifying this observation, other hoof-prints
come under his eye, also shod, but much smaller, being the tracks of a
pony. Recent too, evidently made at the same time as the horse's. He
has no need to point them out to the young Indian, who, trained to such
craft from infancy upward, has noted them soon as he, and with equally
quick intuitiveness is endeavouring to interpret their significance.
Succeeding in this: for both the horse's track and that of the pony
are known to, and almost instantly recognised by him. He has not lived
two years in proximity to the estancia of Ludwig Halberger, all the
while in friendly intercourse with the naturalist and his family,
without taking note of everything; and can tell the particular track of
every horse in its stables. Above all is he familiar with the
diminutive hoof-marks of Francesca's pretty pony, which he has more
than once trailed across the campo, in the hope of having a word
with its rider. Perceiving them now, and so recently made, he gives out
an ejaculation of pleased surprise; then looks around, as though
expecting to see the pony itself, with its young mistress upon its
back. There is no one in sight, however, save the vaqueano and
his own followers; the latter behind, halted by command, some of them
still in the water, so that they may not ride over the shod-tracks, and
All this while Halberger and his child are within twenty paces of
the spot, and seated in their saddles, as when they first drew up side
by side. Screened by the trees, they see the Indians, themselves
unobserved, while they can distinctly hear every word said. Only two of
the party speak aloud, the young cacique and his paleface companion;
their speech, of course, relating to the newly-discovered sign.
After dismounting, and for a few seconds examining it, Valdez leaps
back into his saddle with a show of haste, as if he would at once start
off upon the trail of horse and pony.
There have been only the two herethat's plain, he says. Father
and daughter, you think? What a pity we didn't get up in time to bid
`good-day' to them! 'Twould have simplified matters much. You'd then
have had your young chick to carry to the cage you intend for it,
without the mother bird to make any bother or fluttering in your face;
while I might have executed my commission sooner than expected.
Carramba! he continues after a short while spent in
considering. They can't have gone very far as yet. You say it's quite
twenty miles to the place where the gringo has his headquarters.
If so, and they've not been in a great hurry to get homewhich like
enough the girl would, since her dear Cypriano don't appear to be
alongwe may come up with them by putting on speed. Let us after them
at once! What say you?
The young Indian, passive in the hands of the older and more
hardened sinner, makes neither objection nor protest. Instead, stung by
the allusion to dear Cypriano, he is anxious as the other to come up
with the pony and its rider. So, without another word, he springs back
upon his horse, declaring his readiness to ride on.
With eyes directed downward, they keep along the return tracks;
having already observed that these come no farther than the ford, and
turn back by the water's edge
Aha! exclaims the vaqueano, pulling up again ere he has
proceeded three lengths of his horse; they've left the trail here, and
turned off up stream! That wouldn't be their route home, would it?
No, answers Aguara. Their nearest way's along the river, down as
far as our old tolderia. After that
Sh! interrupts the Paraguayan, leaning over, and speaking in a
cautious whisper, Did you not hear something? Like the chinking of a
bitt curb? I shouldn't wonder if they're in among those bushes. Suppose
you stay here and keep watch along the bank, while I go and beat up
that bit of cover?
Just as it please you, assents the young cacique, unresistingly.
Give me two or three of your fellows along. Not that I have any
fear to encounter the gringo alonepoor weak creature, still
wearing his green spectacles, I suppose. Far from it. But still there's
no harm in having help, should he attempt to give trouble. Besides,
I'll want some one to look after the muchachita!
Take as many as you wish.
Oh! two will be sufficient; that pair nearest us.
He points to the foremost file of the troop, two who are a little
older than their friends, as also of more hardened and sinister aspect.
For, short as has been his stay among them, the subtle emissary has
taken the measure of many members of the tribe; and knows something of
the two he thus designates. His gold has made them his friends and
allies; in short, gained them over to him as good for anything he may
call upon them to do.
Aguara having signified assent, a gesture brings them up; and, at a
whispered word from the vaqueano himself, they fall in behind
Heading his horse for the sumac thicket he is soon at its
edge, there seeing what rejoices himthe tracks of both horse and pony
passing into it. He has reached the spot where Halberger turned in
along the tapir path. Parting the leaves with a long spearfor
he is so armedhe rides in also, the two Indians after. And just as
the tails of their horses disappear among the leaves, Aguara, who has
kept his place, hears another horse neighing within the thicket at a
point farther off. Then there is a quick trampling of hooves, followed
by a hurried rush, and the swishing of bent branches, as the
vaqueano and his two aides dash on through the sumacs.
The young cacique and his followers continuing to listen, soon after
hear shoutsthe voices of men in angry exclamationmingling with them
the shriller treble of a girl's. Then a shot, quick followed by a
second, and a third; after which only the girl's voice is heard, but
now in lamentation. Soon, however, it is hushed, and all
overeverything silent as before.
The young Tovas chief sits upon his horse with heart audibly
beating. He has no doubtcannot haveas to who were the pursued ones;
no more, that they have been overtaken. But with what result? Has the
vaqueano killed both father and daughter? Or were the shots fired
by Halberger, killing Valdez himself and the two who went with him? No;
that cannot be; else why should the girl's lamenting cries be heard
afterwards? But then again, why have they ceased so suddenly?
While thus anxiously conjecturing, he again hears the trampling of
horses among the trees; this time evidently in return towards him. And
soon after sees the horses themselves, with their ridersfour of them.
Three are the same as late left him, but looking differently. The
Paraguayan has one arm hanging down by his side, to all appearance
broken, with blood dripping from the tips of his fingers; while the
steel blade of his spear, borne in the other, is alike reddened. And
there is blood elsewherestreaming down the breast of one of the young
Indians who seems to have difficulty in keeping upon his horse's back.
The fourth individual in the returning cavalcade is a young girl, with
a cloth tied over her head, as if to hinder her from crying out; seated
upon the back of a pony, this led by the Indian who is still unhurt.
At a glance, Aguara sees it is Francesca Halberger, though he needs
not seeing her to know that. For he had already recognised her
voicewell knew it, even in its wailing.
Her fatherwhat of him? he asks, addressing Valdez, soon as the
latter is up to him, and speaking in undertone.
No matter what, rejoins the ruffian, with a demoniac leer. The
father is my affair, and he has come very near making it an ugly one
for me. Look at this! he continues, indicating the left arm which
hangs loose by his side. And at that! he adds, glancing up to the
point of his spear.
Blood on both, as you see. So, Senor Aguara, you may draw your
deductions. Your affair is yonder, he nods towards the muffled figure
on the pony's back; and you can now choose between taking her home to
her motherher handsome cousin as wellor carrying her to your
home, as the queen that is to be of the Tovas.
The young cacique is not slow in deciding which course to pursue.
The allusion to the handsome cousin again excites his jealousy and
his ire. Its influence is irresistible, as sinister; and when he and
his followers take departure from that spotwhich they do almost on
the instantit is to recross the stream, and head their horses
homeward Francesca Halberger carried captive along with them.
CHAPTER TEN. GASPAR, THE GAUCHO.
Over the broad undulating plain which extends between Halberger's
house and the deserted tolderia of the Tovas, a horseman is seen
proceeding in the direction of the latter. He is a man about middle
age, of hale, active appearance, in no way past his prime. Of medium
size, or rather above it, his figure though robust is well
proportioned, with strong sinewy arms and limbs lithe as a panther's,
while his countenance, notwithstanding the somewhat embrowned skin, has
a pleasant, honest expression, evincing good nature as a habitually
amiable temper, at the same time that his features show firmness and
decision. A keenly glancing eye, coal-black, bespeaks for him both
courage and intelligence; while the way in which he sits his horse,
tells that he is not new to the saddle; instead, seeming part of it.
His garb is peculiar, though not to the country which claims him as a
native. Draping down from his shoulders and spreading over the hips of
his horse is a garment of woollen fabric, woven in stripes of gaudy
colours, alternating white, yellow, and red, of no fit or fashion, but
simply kept on by having his head thrust through a slit in its centre.
It is a ponchothe universal wrap or cloak of every one who
dwells upon the banks of the La Plata or Parana. Under is another
garment, of white cotton stuff, somewhat resembling Zouave breeches,
and called calzoneras, these reaching a little below his knees;
while his feet and ankles are encased in boots of his own manufacture,
seamless, since each was originally the skin of a horse's leg, the hoof
serving as heel, with the shank shortened and gathered into a pucker
for the toe. Tanned and bleached to the whiteness of a wedding glove,
with some ornamental stitching and broidery, it furnishes a foot gear,
alike comfortable and becoming. Spurs, with grand rowels, several
inches in diameter, attached to the heels of these horse-hide boots,
give them some resemblance to the greaves and ankle armour of mediaeval
All this has he whose dress we are describing; while surmounting his
head is a broad-brimmed hat with high-peaked crown and plume of
rheas feathersunderneath all a kerchief of gaudy colour, which
draping down over the nape of his neck protects it from the fervid rays
of the Chaco sun. It is a costume imposing and picturesque; while the
caparison of his horse is in keeping with it. The saddle, called
recado, is furnished with several coverings, one upon another, the
topmost, coronilla, being of bright-coloured cloth elaborately
quilted; while the bridle of plaited horse-hair is studded with silver
joints, from which depend rings and tassels, the same ornamenting the
breast-piece and neck straps attaching the martingale, in short, the
complete equipment of a gaucho. And a gaucho he isGaspar, the
hero of our tale.
It has been already said, that he is in the service of Ludwig
Halberger. So is he, and has been ever since the hunter-naturalist
settled in Paraguay; in the capacity of steward, or as there called
mayor-domo; a term of very different signification from the
major-domo or house-steward of European countries, with dress and
duties differing as well. No black coat, or white cravat, wears he of
Spanish America, no spotless stockings, or soft slipper shoes. Instead,
a costume more resembling that of a Cavalier, or Freebooter; while the
services he is called upon to perform require him to be not only a
first-class horseman, but able to throw the lazo, catch a wild cow or
colt, and tame the latterin short, take a hand at anything. And at
almost anything Gaspar can; for he is man-of-all-work to the
hunter-naturalist, as well as his man of confidence.
Why he is riding away from the estancia at such an hourfor it is
afternoonmay be guessed from what has gone before. For it is on that
same day, when Halberger and his daughter started off to visit the
Indian village; and as these had not returned soon as promised, the
anxiety of the wife, rendered keen by the presentiment which had
oppressed her at their parting, became at length unbearable; and to
relieve it Gaspar has been despatched in quest of them.
No better man in all the pampas region, or South America itself,
could have been sent on such an errand. His skill as a tracker is not
excelled by any other gaucho in the Argentine States, from which he
originally came; while in general intelligence, combined with courage,
no one there, or elsewhere, could well be his superior. As the Senora
said her last words to him at parting, and listened to his in return,
she felt reassured. Gaspar was not the man to make delay, or come back
without the missing one. On this day, however, he deviates from his
usual habit, at the same time from the route he ought to takethat
leading direct to the Indian village, whither he knows his master and
young mistress to have gone. For while riding along going at a gentle
canter, a cock ostrich starts up before his horse, and soon after the
hen, the two trotting away over the plain to one side. It so chances
that but the day before his master had given him instructions to catch
a male ostrich for some purpose of natural historythe first he should
come across. And here was one, a splendid bird, in full flowing
plumage. This, with an observation made, that the ostriches seem less
shy than is usual with these wary creatures, and are moving away but
slowly, decides him to take after and have a try at capturing the cock.
Unloosing his bolas from the saddle-bow, where he habitually
carries this weapon, and spurring his horse to a gallop, off after them
Magnificently mounted, for a gaucho would not be otherwise, he
succeeds in his intent, after a run of a mile or so, getting close
enough to the birds to operate upon them with his bolas. Winding
these around his head and launching them, he has the satisfaction of
seeing the cock ostrich go down upon the grass, its legs lapped
together tight as if he had hard spliced them.
Riding on up to the great bird, now hoppled and without any chance
to get away from him, he makes things more sure by drawing out his
knife and cutting the creature's throat. Then releasing the bolas, he returns them to the place from which he had taken themon the horn
of his recado. This done, he stands over the dead rhea,
I wonder what particular part of this beautyit is a beauty, by
the way, and I don't remember ever having met with a finer bird of the
breedbut if I only knew which one with identical parts the master
wants, it would save me some trouble in the way of packing, and my
horse no little of a load. Just possible the dueno only cares
for the tail-feathers, or the head and beak, or it may be but the legs.
Well, as I can't tell which, there's but one way to make sure about
itthat is, to take the entire carcase along with me. So, go it must.
Saying this, he lays hold of a leg, and drags the ostrich nearer to
his horse, which all the time stands tranquilly by: for a gaucho's
steed is trained to keep its place, without need of any one having care
Carramba! he exclaims, raising the bird from the ground,
what a weight the thing is! Heavy as a quarter of beef! Now I think
on't, it might have been better if I'd let the beast alone, and kept on
without getting myself into all this bother. Nay, I'm sure it would
have been wiser. What will the Senora say, when she knows of my thus
dallying trifling with the commands she gave me? Bah! she won't know
anything about itand needn't. She will, though, if I stand dallying
here. I mustn't a minute longer. So up, Senor Avertruz, and lie there.
At which, he hoists the ostrichby the gauchos called avertruz
to the croup of his recado; where, after a rapid manipulation
of cords, the bird is made fast, beyond all danger of dropping off.
This done, he springs upon his horse's back, and then looks out to
see which direction he should now take. A thing not so easily
determined; for in the chase after it, the ostrich had made more than
one double; and, although tolerably familiar with the topography of
that plain, the gaucho is for the time no little confused as to his
whereabouts. Nor strange he should be; since the palm-groves scattered
over it are all so much alike, and there is no high hill, nor any great
eminence, to guide him. Ridges there are, running this way and that;
but all only gentle undulations, with no bold projection, or other
land-mark that he can remember.
He begins to think he is really strayed, lost; and, believing so, is
angry with himself for having turned out of his pathas the path of
his duty. Angry at the ostrich, too, that tempted him.
Avertruz, maldito! he exclaims, terms in the gaucho
vernacular synonymous with ostrich, be hanged! adding, as he
continues to gaze hopelessly around, I wish I'd let the long-legged
brute go its way. Like as not, it'll hinder me going mine, till too
late. And if so, there'll be a pretty tale to tell! Santissima!
whatever am I to do? I don't even know the way back to the house;
though that wouldn't be any good if I did. I daren't go there without
taking some news with me. Well; there's only one thing I can do; ride
about, and quarter the pampa, till I see something that'll set me back
upon my road.
In conformity with this intention, he once more puts his horse in
motion, and strikes off over the plain; but he does not go altogether
without a guide, the sun somewhat helping him. He knows that his way to
the Indian village is westward, and as the bright luminary is now
beginning to descend, it points out that direction, so taking his
bearings by it, he rides on. Not far, however, before catching sight of
another object, which enables him to steer his course with greater
precision. This a tree, a grand vegetable giant of the species called
ombu, known to every gauchobeloved, almost held sacred by him, as
affording shade to his sun-exposed and solitary dwelling. The one
Gaspar now sees has no house under its wide-spreading branches; but he
has himself been under them more than once while out on a hunt, and
smoked his cigarrito in their shade. As his eye lights upon it,
a satisfied expression comes over his features, for he knows that the
tree is on the top of a little loma, or hill, about half-way
between the estancia and the Indian town, and nearly in the direct
He needs nothing more to guide him now; but instead of riding
towards the tree, he rather turns his back upon it, and starts off in a
different direction. This because he had already passed the ombu
before coming across the ostrich.
Soon again he is back upon the path from which he had strayed, and
proceeds along it without further interruption, riding at a rapid pace
to make up for the lost time.
Still, he is far from being satisfied with himself. Although he may
have done that which will be gratifying to his master, there is a
possibility of its displeasing his mistress. Most certainly will it do
this, should he not find the missing ones, and have to go home without
them. But he has no great fear of that; indeed, is not even uneasy. Why
should he be? He knows his master's proclivities, and believes that he
has come across some curious and rare specimens, which take time to
collect or examine, and this it is which has been retarding his return.
Thus reflecting, he continues on, every moment expecting to meet them.
But as there is neither road nor any regular path between the two
places, he needs to keep scanning the plain, lest on their return he
may pass them unobserved.
But he sees nothing of them till reaching the tolderia, and
there only the hoof-marks of his master's horse, with those of his
young mistress's pony, both conspicuous in the dust-covered ground by
the doors of the toldos. But on neither does he dwell, for he,
too, as were the others, is greatly surprised to find the place
desertedindeed alarmed, and for a time sits in his saddle as one
Only a short while, for he is not the man to give way to long
irresolution, and recovering himself, he rides rapidly about, from
toldo to toldo, all over the town, at the same time shouting
and calling out his master's name.
For answer, he only has the echoes of his own voice, now and then
varied with the howl of a wolf, which, prowling around like himself no
doubt wonders, as he, at the place being abandoned.
After a hurried examination of the houses, and seeing there is no
one within them, just as Halberger had done, he strikes off on the
trail of the departed inhabitants; and with the sun still high enough
to light up every track on it, he perceives those made by the
dueno's horse, and the more diminutive hoof-prints alongside them.
On he goes following them up, and in a gallop, for they are so fresh
and clear he has no need to ride slowly. On in the same gait for a
stretch of ten miles, which brings him to the tributary stream at the
crossing-place. He rides down to the water's edge, there to be sorely
puzzled at what he seessome scores of other horse-tracks recently
made, but turning hither and thither in crowded confusion.
It calls for all his skill as a rastrero, with some
considerable time, to unwind the tangled skein. But he at length
succeeds, so far as to discover that the whole horse troop, to
whomsoever belonging, have recrossed the ford; and crossing it himself,
he sees they have gone back up the Pilcomayo river. Among them is one
showing a shod hoof; but he knows that has not been made by his
master's horse, the bar being larger and broader, with the claw more
deeply indented. Besides, he sees not the pony's tracksthough they
are or were thereand have been trodden out by the ruck of the other
animals trampling after.
The gaucho here turns back; though he intends following the trail
further, when he has made a more careful examination of the sign on the
other side of the stream; and recrossing, he again sets to scrutinising
it. This soon leading him to the place where Halberger entered the
sumac grove. Now the gaucho, entering it also, and following the
slot along the tapir path, at a distance of some three
hundred yards from the crossing, comes out into an open glade, lit up
by the last rays of the setting sun, which fall slantingly through the
trees standing around. There a sight meets his eye, causing the blood
at one moment to run cold through his veins, in the next hot as boiling
lava; while from his lips issue exclamations of mingled astonishment
and indignation. What he sees is a horse, saddled and with the bridle
also on, standing with neck bent down, and head drooped till the
nostrils almost touch the earth. But between them and the ground is a
figure extended at full stretch; the body of a man to all appearance
dead; which at a glance the gaucho knows to be that of his master!
CHAPTER ELEVEN. A SILENT
Another sun is rising over the Chaco, and its rays, red as the
reflection from a fire, begin to glitter through the stems of the
palm-trees that grow in scattered topes upon the plains bordering the
Pilcomayo. But ere the bright orb has mounted above their crowns, two
horsemen are seen to ride out of the sumac grove, in which
Ludwig Halberger vainly endeavoured to conceal himself from the
assassin Valdez and his savage confederates.
It is not where any of these entered the thicket that the horsemen
are coming out, but at a point some half-mile further up the branch
stream, and on its higher bank, where it reaches the general level of
the upper plain. Here the sumac trees cover the whole slope from
the water's edge to the crest of the bordering ridge, on this ending
abruptly. Though they stand thinly, and there is room enough for two
horsemen to ride abreast, these are not doing so, but one ahead, and
leading the other's horse by a raw-hide rope attached to the bitt ring.
In this manner they have ascended the slope, and have now the great
plain before them; treeless, save here and there a tope of palms or a
scattering of willows around some spot where there is water; but the
taller timber is behind them, and soon as they arrive at its edge, he
riding ahead reins up his horse, the other stopping at the same time.
There is still a belt of bushes between them and the open ground, of
stunted growth, but high enough to hinder their view. To see over them,
the leading horseman stands up in his stirrups, and looks out upon the
plain, his glances directed all around it. These, earnestly
interrogative, tell of apprehension, as of an enemy he might expect to
be there, in short, making a reconnaissance to see if the coast be
That he judges it so is evinced by his settling back into his
saddle, and moving on across the belt of bushes; but again, on the
skirt of this and before issuing out of it, he draws bridle, and once
more makes a survey of the plain.
By this time, the sun having mounted higher in the heavens, shines
full upon his face, showing it of dark complexion, darker from the
apprehension now clouding it; but of honest cast, and one which would
otherwise be cheerful, since it is the face of Caspar, the gaucho.
Who the other is cannot be easily told, even with the bright sun
beaming upon him; for his hat, broad-brimmed, is slouched over his
forehead, concealing most part of his countenance. The head itself,
oddly, almost comically, inclined to one side, droops down till the
chin nigh touches his breast. Moreover, an ample cloak, which covers
him from neck to ankles, renders his figure as unrecognisable as his
face. With his horse following that of the gaucho, who leads him at
long halter's reach, he, too, has halted in the outer selvedge of the
scrub; still maintaining the same relative position to the other as
when they rode out from the sumacs, and without speaking word or
making gesture. In fact, he stirs not at all, except such motion as is
due to the movement of his horse; but beyond that he neither raises
head nor hand, not even to guide the animal, leaving it to be lead
Were the gaucho of warlike habits, and accustomed to making
predatory expeditions, he might be taken as returning from one with a
captive, whom he is conducting to some safe place of imprisonment. For
just like this his silent companion appears, either fast strapped to
his own saddle, or who, conquered and completely subdued, has resigned
all thoughts of resistance and hopes of escape. But Caspar is
essentially a man of peace, which makes it improbable that he, behind,
is his prisoner.
Whatever the relationship between them, the gaucho for the present
pays no attention to the other horseman, neither speaks to nor turns
his eye toward him; for these are now all upon the plain, scanning it
from side to side, and all round as far as he can command view of it.
He is not himself silent, however, though the words to which he gives
utterance are spoken in a low tone, and by way of soliloquy, thus:
'Twill never do to go back by the river's bank. Whoever the devils
that have done this dastardly thing, they may be still prowling about,
and to meet them would be for me to get served the same as they've
served him, that's sure; so I'd best take another route, though it be a
bit round the corner. Let me see. I think I know a way that should lead
tolerably straight to the estancia without touching the river or going
anywheres near it. I mustn't even travel within sight of it. If the
Tovas have had any hand in this ugly businessand, by the Virgin, I
believe they have, however hard it is to think sosome of them may
still be near, and possibly a party gone back to their old tolderia. I'll have to give that a wide berth anyhow; so to get across this open
stretch without being seen, if there be anyone on it to see me, will
need manoeuvring. As it is, there don't appear to be a soul, that's so
Again he sweeps the grassy expanse with searching glance, his face
brightening up as he observes a flock of ostriches on one side, on the
other a herd of deerthe birds stalking leisurely along, the beasts
tranquilly browsing. Were there Indians upon the plain, it would not be
so. Instead, either one or the other would show excitement. The
behaviour of the dumb creatures imparting to him a certain feeling of
confidence, he says, continuing the soliloquy:
I think I may venture it. Nay, I must; and there's no help for't.
We have to get home somehowand soon. Ah! the Senora! poor lady! What
will she be thinking by this time? And what when we get back? Valga
me Dios! I don't know how I shall ever be able to break it to her,
or in what way! It will sure drive her out of her senses, and not much
wonder, either. To lose one of them were enough, but both, andWell,
no use dwelling on it now; besides, there's no time to be lost. I must
start off at once; and, maybe, as I'm riding on, I'll think of some
plan to communicate the sad news to the Senora, without giving her too
sudden a shock. Pobrecita!
At the pitying exclamation he gives a last interrogative glance over
the plain; then, with a word to his horse, and a touch of the spur, he
moves out into the open, and on; the other animal following, as before,
its rider maintaining the same distance and preserving the self-same
attitude, silent and gestureless as ever!
CHAPTER TWELVE. SKULKING BACK.
While the gaucho and his silent companion were still in halt by the
edge of the sumac wood, another horseman could be seen
approaching the place, but on the opposite side of the stream, riding
direct down to the ford. Descried at any distance, his garb, with the
caparison of his horsethe full gaucho panoply of bitted bridle,
breast-plate, recado, and caronillawould tell he is not
an Indian. Nor is he; since this third traveller, so early on the road,
is Rufino Valdez. As commissioner to the Tovas tribe, he has executed
the commission with which he was entrusted, with something besides; and
is now on return to make report to his master, El Supremo, leaving the
latter to take such other steps as may deem desirable.
The vaqueano has passed the preceding night with the Indians
at their camp, leaving it long before daybreak, though Aguara, for
certain reasons, very much wished him to return with them to their
town, and proposed it. A proposal, for reasons of his own, the cunning
Paraguayan declined, giving excuses that but ill satisfied the young
cacique, and which he rather reluctantly accepted. He could not,
however, well refuse to let Valdez go his way. The man was not a
prisoner moreover, his promise to be soon back, as the bearer of rich
presents, was an argument irresistible; and influenced by this, more
than aught else, Aguara gave him permission to depart.
The young chief's reasons for wishing to detain him were of a kind
altogether personal. Much as he likes the captive he is carrying with
him, he would rather she had been made captive by other means, and in a
less violent manner. And he is now returning to his tribe, not so
triumphantly, but with some apprehension as to how he will be received
by the elders. What will they say when the truth is told them,all the
details of the red tragedy just enacted? He would lay the blame, where
most part of it properly belongs, on the shoulders of the Paraguayan,
and, indeed, intends doing so. But he would rather have the latter with
him to meet the storm, should there be such, by explaining in his own
way, why he killed the other white man. For Valdez had already said
something to them of an old hostility between himself and the
hunter-naturalist, knowing that the Tovas, as well as other Chaco
Indians, acknowledge the rights of the vendetta.
But just for the reason Aguara desires to have him along with him,
is the vaqueano inclined to die opposite course; in truth,
determined upon it. Not for the world would he now return to the Tovas
town. He has too much intelligence for that, or too great regard for
his safety his very life, which he believes, and with good cause,
would be more than risked, were he again to show himself among a people
whose hospitality he has so outraged. For he knows he as done this, and
that there will surely be that storm of which the young cacique is
apprehensivea very tempest of indignation among the elders and
friends of the deceased Naraguana, when they hear of the fate which has
befallen the harmless stranger, so long living under their late chiefs
protection. Therefore, notwithstanding the many promises he has made,
not the slightest thought of performing any of them, or even going back
on that trail, has Rufino Valdez. Instead, as he rides down the ford of
the stream he is thinking to himself, it will be the last time he will
have to wade across it, gleeful at the thought of having so well
succeeded in what brought him over it at all. Pondering on something
besides, another deed of infamy yet to be done, but for which he will
not have to come so far up the Pilcomayo.
In spite of his self-gratulation, and the gleams of a joy almost
Satanic, which now and then light up his dark sinister countenance, he
is not without some apprehensions; this is made manifest by his
behaviour as he rides along. Although making what haste he can, he does
not rush on in a reckless or careless manner. On the contrary, with due
caution, at every turn of the path, stopping and making survey of each
new reach before entering upon it. This he did, as the ford opened to
his view, keeping under cover of the bushes, till assured there was no
one there; then, striking out into the open ground, and riding rapidly
for it. And while wading across the stream, his eyes are not upon the
water, but sweeping the bank up and down with glances of keen scrutiny.
As he sees no one there, nor the sign of anyone having beenfor it
is not yet daylight, and too dark for him to note the tracks of
Gaspar's horsehe says with a satisfied air, They're not likely to be
coming after the missing pair at so early an hour. Besides, it's too
soon. They'll hardly be setting them down as lost till late last night,
and so couldn't have tracked them on here yet.
Riding up out of the water, he once more draws rein by its edge, and
sits regarding the sumac grove with an expression in his eyes
I've half a mind to go up in there, he mutters, and see how
things stand. I wasn't altogether satisfied with the way we left them,
and there's just a possibility he may be still alive. The girl gave so
much trouble in getting them parted, I couldn't be quite sure of having
killed him outright. If not, he might manage to crawl away, or they
coming after in search of himCarrai! I'll make sure now. It
can only delay me a matter of ten minutes, and, he adds glancing up at
the blade of his spear, if need be, another thrust of this.
Soon as forming his devilish resolve, the assassin gives his horse a
prick of the spur, and passes on towards the sumac grove,
entering at the same place as before, like a tiger skulking back to the
quarry it has killed, and been chased away from.
Once inside the thicket, he proceeds along the tapir path,
groping his way in the darkness. But he remembers it well, as well he
may; and without going astray arrives at a spot he has still better
reason to recall; that where, but a little more than twelve hours
before, he supposes himself to have committed murder! Delayed along the
narrow tortuous track, some time has elapsed since his entering among
the sumacs. Only a short while, but long enough to give him a
clearer light, for the day has meanwhile dawned, and the place is less
shadowed, for it is an open spot where the sanguinary struggle took
It is sufficiently clear for him, without dismounting, to
distinguish objects on the ground, and note, which at a glance he does,
that one he expected to see is not to be seen. No murdered man there;
no body, living or dead!
CHAPTER THIRTEEN. A PARTY NOT TO BE
For some seconds, Rufino Valdez is in a state of semi-bewilderment,
from his lips proceeding exclamations that tell of surprise, but more
chagrin. Something of weird terror, too, in the expression upon his
sallow, cadaverous face, as the grey dawn dimly lights it up.
Mil demonios! he mutters, gazing distractedly on the
ground. What does this mean? Is it possible the gringo's got
away? Possible? Ay, certain. And his animal, too! Yes, I remember we
left that, fools as we were, in our furious haste. It's all clear, and,
as I half anticipated, he's been able to climb on the horse, and's off
home! There by this time, like enough.
With this double adjuration, he resolves upon dismounting, to make
better inspection of the place, and, if possible, assure himself
whether his victim has really survived the murderous attack. But just
as he has drawn one foot out of the stirrup and is balancing on the
other, a sound reaches his ear, causing him to reseat himself in the
saddle, and sit listening. Only a slight noise it was, but one in that
place of peculiar significance, being the hoof-stroke of a horse.
Good! he ejaculates in a whisper, it must be his.
Hearkening a little longer, he hears the sound again, apparently
further off, and as his practised ear tells him, the distance
It must be his horse, he reiterates, still continuing to listen.
And who but he on the animal's back? Going off? Yes; slowly enough. No
wonder at that. Ha! he's come to a halt. What's the best thing for me
He sits silently considering, but only for a few seconds; then
glancing around the glade, in which yester eve he had shed innocent
blood, at the same time losing some of his own, he sees another break
among the bushes, where the tapir path goes out again. Faint as
the light still is, it shows him some horse-tracks, apparently quite
fresh, leading off that way.
He stays not for more, but again plying the spur, re-enters the
thicket, not to go back to the ford, but on in the opposite direction.
The tapir path takes him up an acclivity, from the stream's edge
to the level of the higher plain, and against it he urges his horse to
as much speed as the nature of the ground will permit. He has thrown
away caution now, and presses forward without fear, expecting soon to
see a man on horseback, but so badly crippled as to be easily
overtaken, and as easily overcome.
What he does see, on reaching the summit of the slope, is something
very differenttwo horses instead of one, with a man upon the back of
each! And though one may be wounded and disabled, as he knows him to
be, the other is not so, as he can well see. Instead, a man in full
health, strength, and vigour, one Rufino Valdez fears as much as hates,
though hating him with his whole heart. For it is Gaspar, the gaucho,
once his rival in the affections of a Paraguayan girl, and successful
in gaining them.
That the vaqueano's fear now predominates over his antipathy
is evident from his behaviour. Instead of dashing on after to overtake
the horsemen, who, with backs towards him, are slowly retiring, he
shows only a desire to shun them. True, there would be two to one, and
he has himself but a single arm availablehis left, broken and
bandaged, being now in a sling. But then only one of the two would be
likely to stand against him, the other being too far gone for light.
Indeed, Halbergerfor Valdez naturally supposes it to be hesits
drooped in his saddle, as though he had difficulty in keeping to it.
Not that he has any idea of attacking them does the vaqueano
take note of this, nor has he the slightest thought of attempting to
overtake them. Even knew he that the wounded man were about to drop
dead, he knows the other would be more than his match, with both his
own arms sound and at their best, for they have been already locked in
deadly strife with those of the gaucho, who could have taken his life,
but generously forebore. Not for the world would Rufino Valdez again
engage in single combat with Caspar Mendez, and soon as setting eyes on
the latter he draws bridle so abruptly that his horse starts back as if
he had trodden upon a rattlesnake.
Quieting the animal with some whispered words, he places himself
behind a thick bush, and there stays all of a tremble, the only thing
stedfast about him being his gaze, fixed upon the forms of the
departing travellers. So carefully does he screen himself, that from
the front nothing is visible to indicate the presence of anyone there,
save the point of a spear, with dry blood upon the blade, projecting
above the bushes, and just touching the fronds of a palm-tree, its
ensanguined hue in vivid contrast with the green of the leaves, as
guilt and death in the midst of innocence and life!
Not till they have passed almost out of his sight, their heads
gradually going down behind the culms of the tall pampas grass, does
Rufino Valdez breathe freely. Then his nerves becoming braced by the
anger which burns withina fierce rage, from the old hatred of
jealousy, interrupted by this new and bitter disappointment, the
thwarting of a scheme, so far successful, but still only half
accomplishedhe gives utterance to a string of blasphemous anathemas,
with threats, in correspondence.
Carajo! he cries, winding up with the mildest of his
profane exclamations. Ride on, senores, and get soon home! While
there, be happy as you best may. Ha, ha! there won't be much merriment
in that nest now, with the young chick out of itpet bird of the
flock; nor long before the whole brood be called upon to forsake it.
Soon as I can get to Assuncion and back with a dozen of our
quarteleros, ah! won't there be a wiping out of old scores then? If
that young fool, Naraguana's son, hadn't shown so chicken-hearted, I
might have settled them now; gone home with captives, too, instead of
empty-handed. Well, it won't be so long to wait. Let me see. Three days
will take me to Assuncionless if this animal under me wasn't so near
worn out; three more to return with the troop. Say a week in all; at
the end of which, if there be a man named Caspar Mendez in the land of
the living, it won't be he whose head I see out yonder. That will be
off his shoulders, or if on them only to help hold in its place the
loop-end of my lazo. But I must make haste. For what if
Halberger have recognised me? I don't think he did or could; 'twas too
dark. If he have, whatay, what? Of course they'll know that wasn't
likely to be the last of it, and that there's something more to come.
They'd be simpletons not to think so; and thinking it, still greater
fools if they don't take some steps to flee away from this new roost
they've been perching upon. But whither can they? The young Tovas chief
is compromised with themdead declared as their enemy so long as he
keeps that pretty creature captive in his toldo; and there are others
of the tribe will stand by me, I know. The glass beads and other
glistening baubles will secure the young, while a few golden onzas
skilfully distributed will do the same for the sagamores. No
fear then, no failure yet! With the Tovas on my side, there isn't a
spot in the Chaco to shelter them. So, caballeros! you can keep
on. In a week from this time, I hope to hold an interview with you,
less distant and more satisfactory to myself.
After delivering this quaint rigmarole, he sits watching them till
their heads finally sink below the sea of grass, the rheas feathers in
Caspar's high crowned hat being the last to disappear, as it were
waving back defiance and to the death!
Soon as they are out of sight, and he no longer fears an encounter
with his old enemy, Valdez turns to the consideration of some other
things which have appeared strange to him. At first, why they are
riding so slowly, for as long as seen they were proceeding in a
walking-gait rarely witnessed upon the pampas, and never where the
horseman is a gaucho; for he gallops if it were but to the stream,
within a stone's throw of his solitary cabin, to fetch a jar of water!
Nothing in that, he mutters, now I come to think of it. Only
natural they should be going at snail's pace. Carrai! the wonder
is the gringo being able for even that, or go at all. I thought
I'd given him his quietus, for surely I sent my spear right
through his ribs! It must have struck button, or buckle, or something,
and glinted off. Mad fool of me, when I had him down, not to make sure
of my work! Well, it's no use blubbering about it now. Next time I'll
take better care how the thing's done.
After a short pause, he resumes his strain of interrogative
conjecture now on another matter, which has also struck him as being
Why are they going off that way, I wonder? It isn't their direct
route homeward, surely? I don't know the exact spot where the gringo
has established himself; but didn't Aguara say the nearest way to it is
along the river's bank, down to their old tolderia? If so,
certainly they're making a round about. Ha! I fancy I know the reason;
natural, too, as the other. The Senor Ludwig must have known they were
Tovas who attacked him, and under the belief that they've gone on to
their former place of abode, dreads a second encounter with them. No
wonder he should, having found them such treacherous alliesenemies
instead of friends. Ha, ha, ha! won't that puzzle him? Of course, he
hasn't yet heard of Naraguana's deathcouldn'tthey all said so.
Well, it's a bit of good luck for me their going that round. My road
lies direct down the river, and now I may proceed upon it without fear
of being spied by them. That would never do just yet. They shall have
sight of me soon enoughsooner than they'll like it. And this reminds
me I mustn't waste any more time here; it's too precious. Now off, and
home to El Supremo, who'll jump with very joy at the news I have for
Giving his horse a touch of the spur, he heads him along the high
bank, still keeping within the skirt of timber, and riding slowly
through the tangle of obstructing bushes; but at length getting out
upon the old trail, where it goes down to the ford, he turns along it,
in the opposite direction, towards the deserted tolderia. And
now, with nothing further to obstruct him, he plies the spur
vigorously, and keeps on at full gallop, not looking ahead, however,
but with eyes all the while scanning the plain to his left,
apprehensively, as fearing there to see a tall black hat, with a bunch
of ostrich feathers floating above it.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN. WHY COME THEY NOT?
A night of dread suspense has been passed at the estancia of Ludwig
Halberger. No one there has thought of sleep. Even the dark-skinned
domesticsfaithful Guano Indianstouched with sympathy for the
senora, their mistress, do not retire to rest. Instead, retainers all,
outside the house as within, sit up throughout the night, taking part
with her in the anxious vigil.
As the hours drag wearily along, the keener become her
apprehensions; that presentiment of the morning, which during all the
day has never left her, now pressing upon her spirit with the weight of
woe itself. She could scarce be sadder, or surer that some terrible
mischance had happened to her husband and daughter, had she seen it
with her own eyes. And were both to be brought back dead, 'twould be
almost what she is anticipating.
In vain her son Ludwig, an affectionate lad, essays to cheer her. Do
his best to assign or invent reasons for their prolonged absence, he
cannot chase the dark shadow from her brow, nor lift the load off her
heart. And Cypriano, who dearly loves his aunt, has no more success.
Indeed, less, since almost as much does he need cheering himself. For
although Francesca's fate is a thing of keen inquietude to the brother,
it is yet of keener to the cousin. Love is the strongest of the
But youth, ever hopeful, hinders them from despairing; and despite
their solicitude, they find words of comfort for her who hears them
without being comforted.
Keep up heart, mother! says Ludwig, feigning a cheerfulness he far
from feels. 'Twill be all right yet, and we'll see them home to-morrow
morningif not before. You know that father has often stayed out all
Never alone, she despondingly answers. Never with Francesca. Only
when Gaspar was along with him.
Well, Gaspar's with him now, no doubt; and that'll make all safe.
He's sure to have found them. Don't you think so, Cypriano?
Oh! yes, mechanically rejoins the cousin, in his heart far from
thinking it so, but the reverse. Wherever they've gone he'll get upon
their tracks; and as Gaspar can follow tracks, be they ever so slight,
he'll have no difficulty with those of uncle's horse.
He may follow them, says the senora, heaving a sigh, but whither
will they lead him to. Alas, I fear
Have no fear, tia! interrupts the nephew, with alacrity, an
idea occurring to him. I think I know what's detaining themat least,
it's very likely.
What? she asks, a spark of hopefulness for an instant lighting up
her saddened eyes; Ludwig, at the same time, putting the question.
Well, replies Cypriano, proceeding to explain, you know how uncle
takes it, when he comes across a new object of natural history, or
anything in the way of a curiosity. It makes him forget everything
else, and everybody too. Suppose while riding over the campo he chanced
upon something of that sort, and stayed to secure it? It may have been
too big to be easily brought home.
No, no! murmurs the senora, the gleam of hope departing suddenly
as it had sprung up. It cannot be that.
But it can, and may, persists the youth, for there's something I
haven't yet told you, tiaa thing which makes it more
Again she looks to him inquiringly, as does Ludwig, both listening
with all ears for the answer.
The thing I'm speaking of is an ostrich.
Why an ostrich? your uncle could have no curiosity about that. He
sees them every day.
True, but it's not every day he can catch them. And it was only
yesterday I heard him tell Caspar he wanted one, a cock bird, for some
purpose or other, though what, he didn't say. Now, it's likely, almost
certain, that while on their way to the tolderia, or coming
back, he has seen one, given chase to it, leaving Francesca somewhere
to wait for him. Well, tia, you know what an ostrich is to
chase? Now lagging along as if you could easily throw the noose round
its neck, then putting on a fresh spurt'twould tempt any one to keep
on after it. Uncle may have got tantalised in that very way, and
galloped leagues upon leagues without thinking of it. To get back to
Francesca, and then home, would take all the time that's passed yet. So
don't let us despair.
The words well meant, and not without some show of reason, fail,
however, to bring conviction to the senora. Her heart is too sad, the
presentiment too heavy on it, to be affected by any such sophistry. In
return, she says despairingly
No, sobrino! that's not it. It your uncle had gone after an
ostrich, you forget that Caspar has gone after him. If he had found
them, they'd all have been back before this. Ay de mi! I know
they'll never be backnever more!
Nay, mamma! don't say that, breaks in Ludwig, flinging his arms
around her neck, and kissing the tears from her cheek. What Cypriano
says appears to me probable enough, and likely to be true. But if it
isn't, I think I can tell what is.
Again the sorrowing mother looks inquiringly up; Cypriano, in turn,
My idea, pursues Ludwig, is that they went straight on to the
tolderia, and are there stilldetained against their will.
Cypriano starts, saying. What makes you think that, cousin?
Because of Naraguana. You know how the old Indian's given to
drinking guarape. Every now and then he gets upon a carousal,
and keeps it up for days, sometimes weeks. And he may be at that now,
which would account for none of them having been to see us lately. If
that's the reason, the silly old fellow might just take it into his
head to detain father and Francesca. Not from any ill will, but only
some crazy notion of his own. Now, isn't that likely enough?
But Gaspar? they wouldn't detain him. Nor would he dare stay, after
what I said to him at parting.
It is the senora who speaks, for Cypriano is now all absorbed in
thoughts which fearfully afflict him.
Gaspar couldn't help himself, mamma, any more than father or
sister. If the chief be as I've saidintoxicatedall the other
Indians will be the same, sure enough; and Gaspar would have to stay
with them, if they wished it. Now, it's my opinion they have wished it,
and are keeping all of them there for the night. No doubt, kindly
entertaining them, in their own rough way, however much father and
Francesca may dislike it, and Gaspar growl at it. But it'll be all
right. So cheer up, madre mia! We'll see them home in the
morningby breakfast time, or before it.
Alas! Ludwig's forecast proves a failure; as his mother too surely
expected it would. Morning comes, but with it no word of the missing
ones. Nor is any sign seen of them by anxious eyes, that from earliest
daybreak have been scanning the plain, which stretches away in front of
the estancia. Nothing moves over it but the wild creatures, its
denizens; while above it, on widely extended wings, soars a flock of
black vulturesill omen in that moment of doubt and fear.
And so passes the hour of breakfast, with other hours, on till it is
mid-day, but still no human being appears upon the plain. 'Tis only
later, when the sun began to throw elongated shadows, that one is seen
there, upon horseback, and going in a gallop; but he is heading from
the house, and not toward it. For the rider is Cypriano himself,
who, no longer able to bear the torturing suspense, has torn himself
away from aunt and cousin, to go in search of his uncle and another
cousin the last dearer than all.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN. A TEDIOUS JOURNEY.
It yet wants full two hours of sunset, as the gaucho and his
companion come within sight of the estancia. Still, so distant,
however, that the house appears not bigger than a dove-cota mere
fleck of yellow, the colour of the cana brava, of which its
walls are constructedhalf hidden by the green foliage of the trees
standing around it. The point from which it is viewed is on the summit
of a low hill, at least a league off, and in a direct line between the
house itself and the deserted Indian village. For although the
returning travellers have not passed through the latter place, but, for
reasons already given, intentionally avoided it, the route they had
taken, now nearer home, has brought them back into that, between it and
A slow journey they have made. It is all of eight hours since, at
earliest sunrise, they rode out from among the sumac trees on
the bank of the branch stream; and the distance gone over cannot be
much more than twenty miles. Under ordinary circumstances the gaucho
would have done it in two hours, or less.
As it is, he has had reasons for delaying, more than one. First, his
desire to make the journey without being observed; and to guard against
this, he has been zig-zagging a good deal, to take advantage of such
cover as was offered by the palm-groves and scattered copses of
A second cause retarding him has been the strange behaviour of his
travelling companion, whose horse he has had to look after all along
the way. Nothing has this rider done for himself, nor is yet doing;
neither guides the horse, nor lays hand upon the bridle-rein, which,
caught over the saddle-bow, swings loosely about. He does not even urge
the animal on by whip or spur. And as for word, he has not spoken one
all day, neither to the gaucho, nor in soliloquy to himself! Silent he
is, as when halted by the edge of the sumac wood, and in exactly
the same attitude; the only change observable being his hat, which is a
little more slouched over his face, now quite concealing it.
But the two causes assigned are not the only ones why they have been
so long in reaching the spot where they now are. There is a third
influencing the gaucho. He has not wished to make better speed. Nor
does he yet desire it, as is evident by his actions. For now arrived on
the hill's top, within sight of home, instead of hastening on towards
it he brings his horse to a dead halt, the other, as if mechanically,
stopping too. It is not that the animals are tired, and need rest. The
pause is for a different purpose; of which some words spoken by the
gaucho to himself, give indication. Still in the saddle, his face
turned towards the distant dwelling, with eyes intently regarding it,
Under that roof are three hearts beating anxiously now, I know.
Soon to be sadder, though; possibly, one of them to break outright.
Pobere senora! what will she say when she hearswhen she sees
this? Santissima! 'twill go wellnigh killing her, if it don't
While speaking, he has glanced over his shoulder at the other
horseman, who is half a length behind. But again facing to the house,
and fixing his gaze upon it, he continues:
And Cyprianopoor lad! He'll have his little heart sorely tried,
too. So fond of his cousin, and no wonder, such a sweet chiquitita. That will be a house of mourning, when I get home to it!
Once more he pauses in his muttered speech, as if to consider
something. Then, looking up at the sun, proceeds:
It'll be full two hours yet before that sets. Withal I must wait
for its setting. 'Twill never do to take him home in broad daylight.
No; she mustn't see him thus, and sha'n'tif I can help it. I'll stop
here till it's dark, and, meanwhile, think about the best way of
breaking it to her. Carramba! that will be a scene! I could
almost wish myself without eyes, rather than witness it. Ah! me! It'll
be enough painful to listen to their lamentations.
In conformity with, the intention just declared, he turns his
horse's head towards a grand ombugrowing not far offthe same
which, the day before, guided him back to his lost wayand riding on
to it pulls up beneath its spreading branches. The other horse,
following, stops too. But the man upon his back stays there, while the
gaucho acts differently; dismounting, and attaching the bridles of both
horses to a branch of the tree. Then he stretches himself along the
earth, not to seek sleep or rest, but the better to give his thoughts
to reflection, on that about which he has been speaking.
He has not been many minutes in his recumbent attitude before being
aroused from it. With his ears so close to the ground, sounds are
carried to him from afar, and one now reaching them causes him first to
start into a sitting posture, and then stand upon his feet. It is but
the trample of a horse, and looking in the direction whence it comes
sees the animal itself, and its rider soon is seen, recognising both.
Cypriano! he mechanically exclaims, adding, Pobrecito!
He's been impatient; anxious; too much to stay for my return, and now's
It is Cypriano, approaching from the direction of the house whence
he has but lately started, and at great speed, urged on by the anxiety
which oppresses him. But he is not heading for the ombu,
instead, along the more direct path to the Indian town, which would
take him past the tree at some three hundred yards' distance.
He does not pass it, nevertheless. Before he has got half-way up the
hill, Caspar, taking the bridle of his own horse from the branch, leaps
into the saddle, and gallops down to meet him. The gaucho has a reason
for not hailing him at a distance, or calling him to come under the
ombu, till he first held speech with him.
Caspar! shouts the youth excitedly, soon as he catches sight of
the other coming towards him. What news? Oh? you've not found them! I
see you haven't!
Calm yourself, young master! rejoins the gaucho, now close up to
him; I have found themthat is, one of them.
Only onewhich? half distractedly interrogates the youth.
Your unclebut, alas
Deaddead! I know it by the way you speak. But my cousin! Where is
she? Still living? Say so, Caspar! Oh, say but that!
Come senorito, be brave; as I know you are. It may not be so bad
for the nina, your cousin. I've no doubt she's still alive,
though I've not been successful in finding her. As for your uncle, you
must prepare yourself to see something that'll pain you. Now, promise
me you'll bear it bravelysay you will, and come along with me!
At this Gaspar turns his horse, and heads him back for the ombu, the other silently following, stunned almost beyond the power of
speech. But once under the tree, and seeing what he there sees, it
returns to him. Then the gaucho is witness to an exhibition of grief
and rage, both wild as ever agitated the breast of a boy.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN. DEAD!
Once more the sun is going down over the pampa, but still nothing
seen upon it to cheer the eyes of the Senora Halberger, neither those
first missing, nor they who went after. One after another she has seen
them depart, but in vain looks for their return.
And now, as she stands with eyes wandering over that grassy
wilderness, she can almost imagine it a maelstrom or some voracious
monster, that swallows up all who venture upon it. As the purple of
twilight assumes the darker shade of night, it seems to her as though
some unearthly and invisible hand were spreading a pall over the plain
to cover her dear ones, somewhere lying dead upon it.
She is in the verandah with her son, and side by side they stand
gazing outward, as long as there is light for them to see. Even after
darkness has descended they continue to strain their eyes mechanically,
but despairingly, she more hopeless and feeling more forlorn than ever.
All gone but Ludwig! for even her nephew may not return. Where Caspar,
a strong man and experienced in the ways of the wilderness, has failed
to find the lost ones, what chance will there be for Cypriano? More
like some cruel enemy has made captives of them all, killing all, one
after the other, and he, falling into the same snare, has been
sacrificed as the rest!
Dark as is this hour of her apprehension, there is yet a darker one
in store for her; but before it there is to be light, with joyalas!
short-lived as that bright, garish gleam of sun which often precedes
the wildest burst of a storm. Just as the last ray of hope has forsaken
her, a house-dog, lying outstretched by the verandah starts to its feet
with a growl, and bounding off into the darkness, sets up a sonorous
Both mother and son step hastily forward to the baluster rail, and
resting hands on it, again strain their eyes outward, now as never
before, at the same time listening as for some signal sound, on the
hearing of which hung their very lives.
Soon they both hear and see what gives them gladness unspeakable,
their ears first imparting it by a sound sweeter to them than any
music, for it is the tread of horses' hoofs upon the firm turf of the
plain; and almost in the same instant they see the horses themselves,
each with a rider upon its back.
The exclamation that leaps from the mother's lips is the cry of a
heart long held in torture suddenly released, and without staying to
repeat it, she rushes out of the verandah and on across the patch of
enclosed groundnot stopping till outside the palings which enclose
it. Ludwig following, comes again by her side, and the two stand with
eyes fixed on the approaching forms, there now so near that they are
able to make out their number.
But this gives them surprise, somewhat alarming them afresh. For
there are but three where there should be four.
It must be your father and Francesca, with Caspar, says the
senora, speaking in doubt. Cypriano has missed them all, I suppose.
But he'll come too
No, mother, interrupts Ludwig, Cypriano is there. I can see a
white horse, that must be his.
Gaspar then; he it is that's behind.
She says this with a secret hope it may be so.
It don't look like as if Gaspar was behind, returns Ludwig,
hesitating in his speech, for his eyes, as his heart, tell him there is
still something amiss. Two of them, he continues, are men, full
grown, and the third is surely Cypriano.
They have no time for further discussion or conjectureno occasion
for it. The three shadowy figures are now very near, and just as the
foremost pulls up in front of the palings, the moon bursting forth from
behind a cloud flashes her full light upon his face, and they see it is
Gaspar. The figures farther off are lit up at the same time, and the
senora recognises them as her husband and nephew. A quick searching
glance carried behind to the croups of their horses shows her there is
no one save those seated in the saddle.
Where is Francesca? she cries out in agonised accents. Where is
No one makes answer; not any of them speaks. Gaspar, who is nearest,
but hangs his head, as does his master behind him.
What means all this? is her next question, as she dashes past the
gaucho's horse, and on to her husband, as she goes crying out, Where
is Francesca? What have you done with my child?
He makes no reply, nor any gesturenot even a word to acknowledge
her presence! Drawing closer she clutches him by the knee, continuing
her distracted interrogatories.
Husband! why are you thus silent? Ludwig, dear Ludwig, why don't
you answer me? Ah! now I know. She is deaddead!
Not she, but he, says a voice close to her earthat
of Gaspar, who has dismounted and stepped up to her.
Alas! senora, my master, your husband.
O Heavens! can this be true? as she speaks, stretching her arms up
to the inanimate form, still in the saddlefor it is fast tied
thereand throwing them around it; then with one hand lifting off the
hat, which falls from her trembling fingers, she gazes on a ghastly
face, and into eyes that return not her gaze. But for an instant, when,
with a wild cry, she sinks back upon the earth, and lies silent,
motionless, the moonbeams shimmering upon her cheeks, showing them
white and bloodless, as if her last spark of life had departed!
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN. ON THE TRAIL.
It is the day succeeding that on which the hunter-naturalist was
carried home a corpse, sitting upright in his saddle. The sun has gone
down over the Gran Chaco, and its vast grassy plains and green
palm-groves are again under the purple of twilight. Herds of stately
quazutis and troops of the pampas roebuckbeautiful
creatures, spotted like fawns of the fallow-deermove leisurely
towards their watering-places, having already browsed to satiety on
pastures where they are but rarely disturbed by the hunter, for here no
sound of horse nor baying of molossian ever breaks the stillness of the
early morn, and the only enemies they have habitually to dread are the
red puma and yellow jaguar, throughout Spanish America respectively,
but erroneously, named lion (leon) and tiger (tigre), from
a resemblance, though a very slight one, which these, the largest of
the New World's felidae, bear to their still grander congeners
of the Old.
The scene we are about to depict is upon the Pilcomayo's bank, some
twenty miles above the old tomeria of the Tovas Indians, and
therefore thirty from the house of Ludwig Halbergernow his no more,
but a house of mourning. The mourners, however, are not all in it, for
by a camp-fire freshly kindled at the place we speak of; two of them
are seen seated. One is the son of the murdered man, the other his
nephew; while not far off is a third individual, who mourns almost as
much as either. Need I say it is Caspar, the gaucho?
Or is it necessary to give explanation of their being thus far from
home so soon after that sad event, the cause of their sorrow? No. The
circumstances speak for themselves; telling than to be there on an
errand connected with that same crime; in short, in pursuit of the
Who these may be they have as yet no definite knowledge. All is but
blind conjectures, the only thing certain being that the double crime
has been committed by Indians; for the trail which has conducted to the
spot they are now on, first coming down the river's bank to the branch
stream, then over its ford and back again, could have been made only by
a mounted party of red men.
But of what tribe? That is the question which puzzles them. Not the
only one, however. Something besides causes them surprise, equally
perplexing them. Among the other hoof-marks, they have observed some
that must have been made by a horse with shoes on; and as they know the
Chaco Indians never ride such, the thing strikes them as very strange.
It would not so much, were the shod-tracks only traceable twice along
the trail; that is, coming down the river and returning up again, for
they might suppose that one of the savages was in possession of a white
man's horse, stolen from some of the settlements, a thing of no
uncommon occurrence. But then they have here likewise observed a third
set of these tracks, of older date, also going up, and a fourth,
freshest of all, returning down again; the last on top of everything
else, continuing on to the old tolderia, as they have noticed
all the way since leaving it.
And in their examination of the many hoof-marks by the force of the
tributary stream, up to the sumac thicketand along the
tapir path to that blood-stained spot which they have just
visitedthe same tracks are conspicuous amid all the others, telling
that he who rode the shod horse has had a hand in the murder, and
likely a leading one.
It is the gaucho who has made most of these observations, but about
the deductions to be drawn from them, he is, for the time, as much at
fault as either of his younger companions.
They have just arrived at their present halting-place, their first
camp since leaving the estancia; from which they parted a little
before mid-day: soon as the sad, funeral rites were over, and the body
of the murdered man laid in its grave. This done at an early hour of
the morning, for the hot climate of the Chaco calls for quick
The sorrowing wife did nought to forbid their departure. She had her
sorrows as a mother, too; and, instead of trying to restrain, she but
urged them to take immediate action in searching for her lost child.
That Francesca is still living they all believe, and so long as
there seemed a hopeeven the slightestof recovering her, the
bereaved mother was willing to be left alone. Her faithful Guanos would
be with her.
It needed no persuasive argument to send the searchers off. In their
own minds they have enough motive for haste; and, though in each it
might be different in kind, as in degree, with all it is sufficiently
strong. Not one of them but is willing to risk his life in the pursuit
they have entered upon; and at least one would lay it down rather than
fail in finding Francesca, and restoring her to her mother.
They have followed thus far on the track of the abductors, but
without any fixed or definite plan as to continuing. Indeed, there has
been no time to think of one, or anything else; all hitherto acting
under that impulse of anxiety for the girl's fate which they so keenly
feel. But now that the first hurried step has been taken, and they can
go no further till another sun lights up the trail, calmer reflection
comes, admonishing them to greater caution in their movements. For they
who have so ruthlessly killed one man would as readily take other
lives their own. What they have undertaken is no mere question of
skill in taking up a trail, but an enterprise full of peril; and they
have need to be cautious how they proceed upon it.
They are so acting now. Their camp-fire is but a small one, just
sufficient to boil a kettle of water for making the mate, and
the spot where they have placed it is in a hollow, so that it may not
be seen from afar. Besides, a clump of palms screens it on the western
side, the direction in which the trail leads, and therefore the
likeliest for them to apprehend danger.
Soon as coming to a stop, and before kindling the fire Gaspar has
gone all around, and made a thorough survey of the situation. Then,
satisfied it is a safe one, he undertakes the picketing of their
horses, directing the others to set light to the faggots; which they
have done, and seated themselves beside.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN. WHO RODE THE SHOD
While waiting for the gaucho to rejoin them by the fire the two
youths are not silent, but converse upon the event which saddens and
still mystifies them. For up till this moment they have not seen
anything, nor can they think of aught to account for the calamity which
has befallen themthe double crime that has been committed. No more
can they conceive who have been the perpetrators; though Cypriano all
along has had his suspicions. And now for the first time he
communicates them to his cousin, saying
It's been the work of Tovas Indians.
Impossible, Cypriano! exclaims Ludwig in surprise. Why should
they murder my poor father? What motive could they have had for it?
Motive enough; at least one of them had.
One! who mean you?
Aguara! But why he of all the others? And for what?
For what? Simply to get possession of your sister.
Ludwig starts, showing greater astonishment than ever.
Cypriano! he exclaims; what do you mean?
Just what I've said, cousin. You're perhaps not aware of what I've
myself known for long; that the chief's son has been fixing his eyes on
The scoundrel! cries Ludwig, with increasing indignation, for the
first time apprised of the fact thus made known to him. Unobservant of
such things generally, it had never occurred to him to reflect on what
had long been patent to the jealous eyes of Cypriano. Besides, the
thing seemed so absurd, even preposterousa red-skinned savage
presuming to look upon his sister in the light of a sweetheart, daring
to love herthat the son of the Prussian naturalist, with all the
prejudices of race, could not be otherwise than incredulous of it.
Are you sure of that? he questions, still doubting. Sure of what
you've said, Cypriano?
Quite sure, is the confident rejoinder; more than once I've
observed Aguara's free behaviour towards my cousin; and once would have
thrashed the impudent redskin, but for uncle interfering. He was afraid
it might get us into trouble with Naraguana.
But did father himself know of it? I mean about Aguara and
No. I rather think not. And I disliked telling him.
All this is new light to Ludwig, and turns his thoughts into the
same channel of suspicion where those of Cypriano have been already
running. Still, whatever he may think of Naraguana's son, he cannot
bring himself to believe that Naraguana has been guilty. His father's
friend, and hitherto their protector!
It cannot be! he exclaims; surely it cannot be!
It may be for all that, and in my opinion is. Ah! cousin, there's
no telling how an Indian will act. I never knew one who didn't turn
treacherous when it served his purpose. Whether the old chief has been
so or not, I'm quite sure his son has. Take my word for it, Ludwig,
it's the Tovas Indians who've done this deed, and it will be with them
we'll have to deal.
But whither can they have gone? and why went they off so suddenly
and secretly, without letting father or any of us know. All that
certainly seems strange.
Not so strange when we think of what's happened since. My idea is,
it's been all a planned thing. Aguara got his father to agree to his
carrying off Francesca; and the old chief, controlled by the young one,
let him take his way. Fearing to face uncle he first went off, taking
the whole tribe along; and they're now, no doubt, residing in some
distant part of the Chaco, where they suppose we'll never go after
them. But Francesca will be there too; and we must follow and find
heray, if we have to lay down our lives when she's found. Shall we
Yes; shall and will! is Ludwig's rejoinder in a tone of
determination; their dialogue getting interrupted by Gaspar coming back
to the camp-fire, and saying
Now, senoritos! It's high time we had some supper.
On making this announcement the gaucho himself sets about preparing
their evening repast. It requires no great effort of culinary skill;
since the more substantial portion of it has been already cooked, and
is now presented in the shape of a cold shoulder of mutton, with a cake
of corn bread, extracted from a pair of alparejas, or
saddle-bags. In the Chaco there are sheepthe Indians themselves
breeding themwhile since settling there the hunter-naturalist had not
neglected either pastoral or agricultural pursuits. Hence the meal from
which came that cake of maize-bread.
With these two pieces de resistance nothing remains but to
make a cup of Paraguay tea, for which Gaspar has provided all the
materials, viz., an iron kettle for boiling water, cups of cocoa-nut
shell termed matesfor this is the name of the vessel, not the
beverageand certain tubes, the bombillas, to serve as spoons;
the Paraguayan tea being imbibed, not in the ordinary way, but sucked
up through these bombillas. All the above implements, with a
little sugar for sweetening; and, lastly, the yerba itself, has
the thoughtful gaucho brought along. No milk, however; the lacteal
fluid not being deemed a necessary ingredient in the cup which cheers
the Paraguayan people, without intoxicating them.
Gasparas all gauchos, skilled in the concoction of itin a short
time has the three mates brimful of the brew. Then the
bombillas are inserted, and the process of sucking commences;
suspended only at intervals while the more substantial mutton and
maize-bread are being masticated.
Meanwhile, as a measure of security, the camp-fire has been
extinguished, though they still keep their places around its embers.
And while eating, converse; Cypriano imparting to Gaspar the suspicions
he has already communicated to his cousin.
It is no new idea to the gaucho; instead, the very one his own
thoughts have been dwelling upon. For he, too, had long observed the
behaviour of the young Tovas chief towards the daughter of his dueno. And what has now occurred seems to coincide with thatall except the
supposed treachery of Naraguana. A good judge of character, as most
gauchos are, Gaspar cannot think of the aged cacique having turned
traitor. Still, as Ludwig, he is at a loss what to think. For why
should the Tovas chief have made that abrupt departure from his late
abiding place? The reason assigned by Cypriano is not, to his view,
satisfactory; though he cannot imagine any other. So, they finish their
suppers and retire to rest, without having arrived at any certain
conclusion, one way or the other.
With heads rested upon their saddles, and their ponchos wrapped
around them, they seek sleep, Ludwig first finding it; next Cypriano,
though he lies long awakekept so by torturing thoughts. But tired
nature at length overpowers him, and he too sinks into slumber.
The gaucho alone surrenders not to the drowsy god; but, repelling
his attacks, still lies reflecting. Thus run his reflectionsas will
be seen, touching near the truth:
Carramba! I can think of but one man in all the world who
had an interest in the death of my dear master. One there was who'd
have given a good deal to see him deadthat's El Supremo. No doubt he
searched high and low for us, after we gave him the slip. But then, two
years gone by since! One would think it enough to have made him almost
forget us. Forgive, no! that wouldn't be Senor Jose Francia. He never
forgives. Nor is it likely he has forgotten, either, what the dueno
did. Crossing him in his vile purpose, was just the sort of thing to
stick in his crop for the remainder of his life; and I shouldn't wonder
if it's his hand has been here. Odd, those tracks of a shod horse; four
times back and forward! And the last of them, by their look, must have
been made as late as yesterdaysome time in the early morning, I
should say. Beyond the old tolderia, downward, they've gone. I
wish I'd turned a bit that way as we came up, so as to be sure of it.
Well, I'll find that out, when we get back from this pursuit; which I
very much fear will prove a wild goose chase.
For a time he lies without stirring, or moving a muscle, on his
back, with eyes seemingly fixed upon the stars, like an ancient
astrologer in the act of consulting them for the solution of some deep
mystery hidden from mortal ken. Then, as if having just solved it, he
gives a sudden start, exclaiming:
Sangre de Crista! that's the explanation of all, the whole
affair; murder, abduction, everything.
His words, though only muttered, awaken Cypriano, still only
What is it, Gaspar? questions the youth.
Oh, nothing, senorito; only a mosquito that took a fancy to
stick its bill into the bridge of my nose. But I've given Master
Zancudo his quietus; and he won't trouble me again.
Though the gaucho thinks he has at last got the clue to what has
been mystifying them, like all skilled tacticians he intends for a time
keeping it to himself. So, saying no more, he leaves his young
companion to return to his slumbers: which the latter soon does.
Himself now more widely awake than ever, he follows up the train of
thought Cypriano had interrupted.
It's clear that Francia has at length found out our whereabouts. I
wonder he didn't do so long ago; and have often warned the dueno
of the danger we were in. Of course, Naraguana kept him constantly
assured; and with war to the knife between the Tovas and Paraguayans,
no wonder my poor master was too careless and confident. But something
has happened lately to affect their relations. The Indians moving so
mysteriously away from their old place shows it. And these shod-tracks
tell, almost for sure, that some white man has been on a visit to them,
wherever they are now. Just as sure about this white man being an
emissary from El Supremo. And who would his emissary be? Who sent on
such an errand so likely as him?
The emphasis on the him points to some one not yet mentioned, but
whom the gaucho has in his mind. Soon, however, he gives the name,
The scoundrel who bestrode that horseand a thorough scoundrel
toois Rufino Valdez. Assassin, besides! It's he who has murdered my
master. I'd lay my life on it.
After arriving at this conclusion, he adds:
What a pity I didn't think of this before! If but yesterday
morning! He must have passed along the trail going back, and alone? Ah!
the chance I've let escape me! Such an opportunity for settling old
scores with Senor Rufino! Well, he and I may meet yet; and if we do,
one of us will have to stay on the spot where that encounter takes
place, or be carried from it feet foremost. I think I know which would
go that way, and which the other.
Thus predicating, the gaucho pulls his poncho around his shoulders,
and composes himself for sleep; though it is some time before he
succeeds in procuring it.
But Morpheus coming to his aid, proves too many for the passions
which agitate him; and he at length sinks into a profound slumber, not
broken till the curassows send up their shrill criesas the crowing of
Chanticleerto tell that another day is dawning upon the Chaco.
CHAPTER NINETEEN. THE LOST BALL.
Travellers on such an errand as that which is carrying the gaucho
and his youthful companions across the Chaco, do not lie abed late; and
they are up and stirring as the first streak of blue-grey light shows
itself above the horizon.
Again a tiny fire is kindled; the kettle hung over it; and the
mates, with the bombillas, called into requisition.
The breakfast is just as was their suppercold mutton, corn bread,
and yerba tea.
By the time they have despatched it, which they do in all haste, it
is clear enough to permit of their taking up the trail they have been
following. So, saddling their horses, they return to, and proceed along
As hitherto, it continues up the bank of the Pilcomayo, and at
intervals they observe the tracks of Francesca's pony, where they have
not been trampled out by the other horses behind. And, as on the
preceding day, they see the hoof-marks of the shod animal, both going
and returning the return track evidently the more recently made. They
notice them, however, only up to a certain pointabout twenty miles
beyond the crossing-place of that tributary stream, now so full of sad
interest to them. Here, in a grove of algarobias, they come upon
the spot where those they are in pursuit of must have made their night
bivouac; this told by some fragments of food lying scattered around,
and the grass burnt in two placeslarge circular discs where their
camp-fires had been kindled. The fires are out, and the ashes cold now;
for that must have been two nights before.
Dismounting, they too make halt by the algarobia
grovepartly to breathe their horses, which have been all the morning
kept at top speed, through their anxiety to overtake the Indiansbut
more for the sake of giving examination to the abandoned camp, in the
hope that something left there may lead to further elucidation of the
crime and its causes; possibly enable them to determine, beyond doubt,
who have been its perpetrators.
At first nothing is found to give them the slightest clue; only the
ashes and half-burned faggots of the fires, with some bits of sipos
which have been cut from creeping plants entwining the trees
overhead the corresponding pieces, in all likelihood, having been
used as rope tackle for some purpose the gaucho cannot guess. These,
and the fragments of food already referred to, with some bones of birds
clean picked, and the shells of a half-score ostrich eggs, are all the
debris they can discover.
But none of these items give any indication as to who made bivouac
there; beyond the fact, already understood and unquestioned, that they
were Indians, with the further certainty of their having stayed on the
spot over-night; this shown by the grass pressed down where their
bodies had lain astretch; as also the circular patches browsed bare by
their horses, around the picket pins which had held them.
Indians certainly; but of what tribe there is nothing on that spot
to tellneither sign nor token.
So concluding, Cypriano and Ludwig have climbed back into their
saddlesthe former terribly impatient to proceedbut Gaspar still
stays afoot, holding his horse by the bridle at long reach, and leading
the animal about from place to place, as if not yet satisfied with the
search they have made. For there are spots where the grass is long, and
the ground rough, overgrown also with weeds and bushes. Possibly among
these he may yet discover something.
And something he does discovera globe-shaped object lying half-hid
among the weeds, about the size and colour of a cricket ball. This to
you, young reader; for Gaspar knows nothing of your national game. But
he knows everything about balls of another kindthe bolasthat
weapon, without which a South American gaucho would feel as a crusader
of the olden time lacking half his armour.
And it is a bola that lies before him; though one of a
peculiar kind, as he sees after stooping and taking it up. A round
stone covered with cow's skin; this stretched and sewed over it tight
as that on a tennis ball.
But to the bola there is no cord attached, nor mark of where
one has ever been. For there never has been such, as Gaspar at a glance
perceives. Well knows the gaucho that the ball he holds in his hand has
not been one of a pair strung togetheras with the ordinary bolas
nor of three in like manner united, as is sometimes the case; but a
bola, for still it is a bola, of a sort different from
either, both in its make and the mode of using it, as also the effect
it is designed to produce.
What is it, Gaspar? simultaneously interrogate the two, as they
see him so closely examining the thing he has picked up. At the same
time they turn their horses' heads towards him.
Una bola perdida.
Ah! a ball the Indians have left behindlost, you mean.
No, senoritos; I don't mean that, exactly. Of course, the
redskins have left it behind, and so lost it. But that isn't the reason
of my calling it a bola perdida.
Why, then, Caspar? asks Ludwig, with the hereditary instincts of
the savant, like his father, curious about all such things. Why
do you call it a lost ball?
Because that's the name we gauchos give it, and the name by which
it is known among those who make use of itthese Chaco Indians.
And pray, what do they use it for? I never heard of the thing. What
is its purpose?
One for which, I hope, neither it nor any of its sort will ever be
employed upon us. The Virgin forbid! For it is no child's toy, I can
assure you, senoritos; but a most murderous weapon. I've
witnessed its effects more than onceseen it flung full thirty yards,
and hit a spot not bigger than the breadth of my hand; the head of a
horse, crushing in the animal's skull as if done by a club of
quebracha. Heaven protect me, and you too, muchachos, from
ever getting struck by a bola perdida!
But why a lost ball? asks Ludwig, with curiosity still
Oh! that's plain enough, answers the gaucho. As you see, when
once launched there's no knowing where it may roll to; and often gets
lost in the long grass or among bushes; unlike the ordinary bolas, which stick to the thing aimed atthat is, if thrown as they should
What do you make of its being found here? interrogates Cypriano,
more interested about the ball in a sense different from the curiosity
felt by his cousin.
Much, answers Caspar, looking grave, but without offering
explanation; for he seems busied with some calculation, or conjecture.
Indeed! simultaneously exclaim the others, with interest
rekindled, Cypriano regarding him with earnest glance.
Yes, indeed, young masters, proceeds the gaucho. The thing I now
hold in my hand has once, and not very long ago, been in the hands of a
A Tovas! exclaims Cypriano, excitedly. What reason have you for
The best of all reasons. Because, so far as is known to me, no
other Chaco Indians but they use the bola perdida. That ball has
been handled, mislaid, and left here behind by a Tovas traitor. You are
right, senorito, he adds, speaking to Cypriano. Whoever may
have murdered my poor master, your uncle, Aguara is he who has carried
off your cousin.
Let us on! cries Cypriano, without another word. O, Ludwig! he
adds, we mustn't lose a moment, nor make the least delay. Think of
dear Francesca in the power of that savage beast. What may he not do
Ludwig needs no such urging to lead him on. His heart of brother is
boiling with rage, as that of son almost broken by grief; and away ride
they along the trail, with more haste and greater earnestness than
CHAPTER TWENTY. OBSTRUCTED BY A
In their fresh spurt, the trackers had not proceeded very far when
compelled to slacken speed, and finally come to a dead stop. This from
something seen before them upon the plain which threatens to bar their
further progressat least in the course they are pursuing.
The thing thus obstructing causes them neither surprise nor alarm,
only annoyance; for it is one with which they all are familiara
biscachera, or warren of biscachas.
It is scarce possible to travel twenty miles across the plains
bordering the La Plata or Parana, without coming upon the burrows of
this singular rodent; a prominent and ever-recurring feature in the
scenery. There the biscacha, or viscachaas it is
indifferently speltplays pretty much the same part as the rabbit in
our northern lands. It is, however, a much larger animal, and of a
quite different species or genusthe lagostoinus trichodactylus. In shape of head, body, and other respects, it more resembles a
gigantic rat; and, like the latter, it has a long tapering tail, which
strengthens the resemblance. But, unlike either rabbit or rat, its hind
feet are furnished with but three toes; hence its specific name,
trichodactylus. The same scarcity of toes is a characteristic of
the agoutis, capivaras, and so called Guinea pigs, all of
which are cousins-german of the biscacha.
The latter makes its burrows very much in the same manner as the
North-American marmot (Arctomys Ludoviciana), better known by the
name of prairie dog; only that the subterranean dwellings of the
biscacha are larger, from the needs of a bigger-bodied animal. But,
strange to say, in these of the pampa there exists the same queer
companionship as in those of the prairiea bird associating with the
quadrupeda species of owl, the Athene cunicularia. This shares
occupation with the biscacha, as does the other, an allied
species, with the prairie dog. Whether the bird be a welcome recipient
of the beast's hospitality, or an intruder upon it, is a question still
undetermined; but the latter seems the more probable, since, in the
stomachs of owls of the northern species, are frequently found prairie
dog pups; a fact which seems to show anything but amicable relations
between these creatures so oddly consorting.
There is yet another member of these communities, apparently quite
as much out of placea reptile; for snakes also make their home in the
holes both of biscacha and prairie dog. And in both cases the
reptile intruder is a rattlesnake, though the species is different. In
these, no doubt, the owls find their staple of food.
Perhaps the most singular habit of the biscacha is its
collecting every loose article which chances to be lying near, and
dragging all up to its burrow; by the mouth of which it forms a heap,
often as large as the half of a cart-load dumped carelessly down. No
matter what the thing bestick, stone, root of thistle, lump of
indurated clay, bone, ball of dry dungall seem equally suitable for
these miscellaneous accumulations. Nothing can be dropped in the
neighbourhood of a biscacha hole but is soon borne off, and
added to its collection of bric-a-brac. Even a watch which had
slipped from the fob of a travelleras recorded by the naturalist.
Darwinwas found forming part of one; the owner, acquainted with the
habits of the animal, on missing the watch, having returned upon his
route, and searched every biscacha mound along it, confident
that in some one of them he would find the missing articleas he did.
The districts frequented by these three-toed creatures, and which
seem most suitable to their habits, are those tracts of campo
where the soil is a heavy loam or clay, and the vegetation luxuriant.
Its congener, the agouti, affects the arid sterile plains of
Patagonia, while the biscacha is most met with on the fertile
pampas further north; more especially along the borders of those
far-famed thickets of tall thistlesforests they might almost be
calledupon the roots of which it is said to feed. They also make
their burrows near the cardonales, tracts overgrown by the
cardoon; also a species of large malvaceous plant, though quite
different from the pampas thistles.
Another singular fact bearing upon the habits of the biscacha
may here deserve mention. These animals are not found in the Banda
Oriental, as the country lying east of the Uruguay river is called; and
yet in this district exist conditions of soil, climate, and vegetation
precisely similar to those on its western side. The Uruguay river seems
to have formed a bar to their migration eastward; a circumstance all
the more remarkable, since they have passed over the Parana, a much
broader stream, and are common throughout the province of Entre Rios,
as it name imports, lying between the two.
Nothing of all this occupies the thoughts of the three trackers, as
they approach the particular biscachera which has presented
itself to their view, athwart their path. Of such things they neither
think, speak, nor care. Instead, they are but dissatisfied to see it
there; knowing it will give them some trouble to get to the other side
of it, besides greatly retarding their progress. If they ride right
across it at all, they must needs go at a snail's pace, and with the
utmost circumspection. A single false step made by any of their horses
might be the dislocation of a joint, or the breaking of a leg. On the
pampa such incidents are far from rare; for the burrows of the
biscachas are carried like galleries underground, and therefore
dangerous to any heavy quadruped so unfortunate as to sink through the
surface turf. In short, to ride across a biscachera would be on
a par with passing on horseback through a rabbit warren.
Caspita! is the vexed exclamation of the gaucho, as he
reins up in front of the obstruction, with other angry words appended,
on seeing that it extends right and left far as the verge of vision,
while forward it appears to have a breadth of at least half a league.
We can't gallop across that, he adds, nor yet go at even a decent
walk. We must crawl for it, muchachos, or ride all the way
round. And there's no knowing how far round the thing might force us;
leagues likely. It looks the biggest biscachera I ever set eyes
The final ejaculation is drawled out with a prolonged and bitter
emphasis, as he again glances right and left, but sees no end either
Ill luck it is, he continues, after completing his reconnaissance.
Satan's own luck our coming upon this. A whole country covered with
traps! Well, it won't help us any making a mouth about it; and I think
our best way will be to strike straight across.
I think so too, says Cypriano, impatient to proceed.
Let us on into it, then. But, hijos mios; have a care how
you go. Look well to the ground before you, and keep your horses as far
from the holes as you can. Where there's two near together steer
midways between, giving both the widest berth possible. Every one of
them's a dangerous pitfall. Caspita! what am I prattling about?
Let me give you the lead, and you ride after, track for track.
So saying, he heads his horse in among the rubbish heaps, each with
its hole yawning adjacent: the others, as admonished, close following,
and keeping in his tracks.
They move onward at a creeping pace, every now and then forced to
advance circuitously, but taking no heed of the creatures upon whose
domain they have so unceremoniously intruded. In truth, they have no
thought about these, nor eyes for them. Enough if they can avoid
intrusion into their dwellings by a short cut downwards.
Nor do the biscachas seem at all alarmed at the sight of such
formidable invaders. They are anything but shy creatures; instead, far
more given to curiosity; so much that they will sit squatted on their
hams, in an upright attitude, watching the traveller as he passes
within less than a score yards of them, the expression on their faces
being that of grave contemplation. Only, if he draw too familiarly
near, and they imagine him an enemy, there is a scamper off, their
short fore-legs giving them a gait also heightening their resemblance
As a matter of course, such confidence makes them an easy prey to
the biscacha catcher; for there are men who follow taking them
as a profession. Their flesh is sweet and good to eat, while their
skins are a marketable commodity; of late years forming an article of
export to England, and other European countries.
Heeding neither the quadrupeds, nor the birds, their fellow-tenants
of the burrowthe latter perched upon the summits of the mounds, and
one after another flying off with a defiant screech as the horsemen
drew nearthese, after an hour spent in a slow but diligent advance,
at length, and without accident, ride clear of the biscachera,
and out upon the smooth open plain beyond it.
Soon as feeling themselves on firm ground, every spur of the party
is plied; and they go off at a tearing pace, to make up for the lost
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE. A SHOULDER OUT
When Gaspar, on first sighting the biscachera, poured forth
vials of wrath upon it, he little dreamt that another burrow of similar
kind, and almost at the very same hour, was doing him a service by
causing not only obstruction, but serious damage to the man he regards
as his greatest enemy.
This second warren lay at least a hundred miles from the one they
have succeeded in crossing, in a direction due east from the latter,
and on the straight route for the city of Assuncion.
Let us throw aside circumlocution, and at once give account of the
On this same day, and, as already said, almost the same hour, when
the trackers are brought up by the biscachera, a single horseman
is seen with head turned towards the Paraguay, and making as if to
reach this river; from which he is distant some eighteen or twenty
miles. He rides at a rapid rate; and that he has been doing so for a
long continuance of time, can be told by the lagging gait of his horse,
and the sweat saturating the animal's coat from neck to croup. For all,
he slackens not the pace; instead, seems anxious to increase it, every
now and then digging his spurs deep, and by strokes of a spear shaft he
carries in his hands, urging his roadster onward. Anyone witness to his
acting in this apparently frantic fashion, would suppose him either
demented, or fleeing from pursuers who seek nothing less than his life.
But as the plain over which he rides is smooth, level, and treeless for
long leagues to his rear as also to right and left, and no pursuer nor
aught of living thing visible upon it, the latter, at least, cannot be
the case. And for the former, a glance at the man's face tells that
neither is insanity the cause of his cruel behaviour to his horse.
Rufino Valdezfor he is the hastening horsemanif bad, is by no means
Superfluous to say, what the errand pressing him to such speed. In
soliloquy he has himself declared it: hastening to communicate news
which he knows will be welcome to the Paraguayan tyrant, and afterwards
return to Halberger's estancia with a party of those hireling
soldiersquaintly termed cuarteleros from their living in
barracks, or cuartels.
With this sinister purpose in view, and the expectation of a rich
reward, the vaqueano has given his roadster but little rest
since parting from the Tovas' camp; and the animal is now nigh broken
down. Little recks its rider. Unlike a true gaucho, he cares not what
mischance may befall his steed, so long as it serves his present
necessity. If it but carry him to the Paraguay, it may drop down dead
on the river's bank, for aught he will want, or think of it afterwards.
Thus free from solicitude about his dumb companion, he spurs and
flogs the poor creature to the best speed it is able to make. Not much
this; for every now and then it totters in its steps, and threatens
going to grass, in a way different from what it might wish.
About twenty miles, the vaqueano mutters to himself, with a
glance, cast inquiringly ahead. It can't be more than that to the
river itself. Question is, whether I can make it anywheres near
Assuncion. I'm not sure about this trail; evidently only a cattle run.
It may lead me too much above or below. In any case, he adds, I must
bring out near one of the guardias, so thick along the bank, and
the soldiers of the post will ferry me across. From there I'll have a
good road to the town.
So consoling himself, he keeps on; no longer paying much attention
to the doubtful cattle track, but rather taking guidance from the sun.
This going down is directly behind his back, and so tells him the due
course east, as well as west; for it is eastward he wishes to go. Now,
near the horizon, it casts an elongated shadow of himself and his
animal, far to the front; and after this he rides, as though following
in the footsteps of some giant on horseback!
The sun soon after setting, the shadow changes, veering round to his
rear. But it is now made by the moon, which is also low in the sky;
only before his face, instead of behind his back. For it would be the
season of harvestwere such known in the Chacoand the moon is at her
full, lighting up the campo with a clearness unknown to northern
Were it otherwise, Rufino Valdez might have halted here, and been
forced to stay in the Chaco for another night. But tempted by the
bright moonlight, and the thought of his journey so near an end, he
resolves differently; and once more pricking his tired, steed with
spurs long since blood-clotted, he again forces it into a gallop.
But the pace is only for a short while sustained. Before going much
further he feels his horse floundering between his legs; while a glance
to the ground shows him he is riding through a biscachera!
Absorbed in thoughtperhaps perfecting some wicked schemehe had
not noticed the burrow till now. Now he sees itholes and heaps all
around himat the same time hearing the screeches of the owls, as the
frightened birds fly up out of his path.
He is about to draw bridle, when the reins are suddenly jerked from
his graspby his horse, which has gone headlong to the ground! At the
same instant he hears a sound, like the cracking of a dead stick
snapped crosswise. It is not that, but the shank of his horse, broken
above the pastern joint! It is the last sound he hears then, or for
some time after; he himself sustaining damage, though of a different
kindthe dislocation of a shoulder-bladethat of the arm already
injuredwith a shock which deprives him of his senses.
Long lies he upon that moonlit plain, neither hearing the cries of
the night birds nor seeing the great ratlike quadrupeds that, in their
curiosity, come crowding close to, and go running around him!
And though consciousness at length returns, he remains in that same
place till morning's lightand for the whole of another day and
night leaving the spot, and upon it his broken-legged horse, himself
to limp slowly away, leaning upon his guilty spear, as one wounded on a
battle-field, but one who has been fighting for a bad cause.
He reaches Assuncionthough not till the third day afterand there
gets his broken bones set. But for Gaspar Mendez, there may have been
luck in that shoulder-blade being put out of joint.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO. THE
After passing the biscachera, the trackers have not proceeded
far, when Caspar again reins up with eyes lowered to the ground. The
others seeing this, also bring their horses to a stand; then watch the
gaucho, who is apparently engaged with a fresh inspection of the trail.
Have you found anything else? asks Cypriano.
No, senorito. Instead, I've lost something.
What? inquire both, in a breath.
I don't any longer see the tracks of that shod horse. I mean the
big one we know nothing about. The pony's are here, but as for the
other, they're missing.
All three now join in a search for them, riding slowly along the
trail, and in different directions backward and forward. But after some
minutes thus passed, their search proves fruitless; no shod hoof-print,
save that of the pony, to be seen.
This accounts for it, mutters Caspar, giving up the quest, and
speaking as to himself.
Accounts for what? demands Cypriano, who has overheard him.
The return tracks we saw on the other side of the camp ground. I
mean the freshest of them, that went over the ford of the stream.
Whoever rode that horse, whether red or white man, has parted from the
Indians at their camping-place, no doubt after staying all night with
them. Ha! there's something at the back of all this; somebody behind
Aguara and his Indiansthat very somebody I've been guessing at.
Heto a dead certainty.
The last sentences are not spoken aloud; for as yet he has not
confided his suspicions about Francia and Valdez to his youthful
No matter about this shod horse and his back-track, he continues,
once more heading his own animal to the trail. We've now only to do
with those that have gone forward, and forward let us haste.
While speaking he strikes his ponderous spurs against his horse's
ribs, setting him into a canter, the others starting off at the same
For nearly an hour they continue this rate of speed, the conspicuous
trail enabling them to travel rapidly and without interruption. It
still carries them up the Pilcomayo, though not always along the
river's immediate bank. At intervals it touches the water's edge, at
others parting from it; the deflections due to bluffs which here and
there impinge upon the stream, leaving no room for path between it and
When nearing one of these, of greater elevation than common, Gaspar
again draws his horse to a halt; though it cannot be the cliff which
has caused him to do so. His eyes are not on it, but turned on a tree,
which stands at some distance from the path they are pursuing, out upon
the open plain. It is one of large size, and light green foliage, the
leaves pinnate, bespeaking it of the order leguminosae. It is in
fact one of the numerous species of mimosas, or sensitive
plants, common on the plains and mountains of South America, and
nowhere in greater number, or variety, than in the region of the Gran
Ludwig and Cypriano have, in the meantime, also drawn up; and
turning towards the tree at which Caspar is gazing, they see its long
slender branches covered with clusters of bright yellow flowers, these
evidently the object of his attention. There is something about them
that calls for his closer scrutiny; since after a glance or two, he
turns his horse's head towards the tree, and rides on to it.
Arrived under its branches, he raises his hand aloft, plucks off a
spray of the flowers, and dismounting, proceeds to examine it with
curious minuteness, as if a botanist endeavouring to determine its
genus or species! But he has no thought of this; for he knows the tree
well, knows it to possess certain strange properties, one of which has
been his reason for riding up to it, and acting as he now does.
The other two have also drawn near; and dismounting, hold their
horses in hand while they watch him with wondering eyes. One of them
What now, Caspar? Why are you gathering those flowers? It is
Cypriano who speaks, impatiently adding, Remember, our time is
True, master, gravely responds the gaucho; but however precious
it is, we may soon have to employ it otherwise than in taking up a
trail. If this tree tells truth, we'll have enough on our hands to take
care of ourselves, without thinking of Indians.
What mean you? both interrogated together.
Come hither, senoritos, and set your eyes on these flowers!
Thus requested they comply, leading their horses nearer to the tree.
Well? exclaims Cypriano, I see nothing in them; that is, nothing
that strikes me as being strange.
But I do, says Ludwig, whose father had given him some instruction
in the science of botany. I observe that the corollas are well nigh
closed, which they should not be at this hour of the day, if the tree
is in a healthy condition. It's the uinay; I know it well. We
have passed several on the way as we started this morning, but I
noticed none with the flowers thus shrivelled up.
Stand still a while, counsels Gaspar, and watch them.
They do as desired, and see what greatly surprises them. At least
Cypriano is surprised; for the young Paraguayan, unlike his half-German
cousin, unobservant of Nature generally, has never given a thought to
any of its particular phenomena; and that now presented to his gaze is
one of the strangest. For while they stand watching the uinay,
its flowers continue to close their corollas, the petals assuming a
shrunk, withered appearance.
The gaucho's countenance seems to take its cue from them, growing
graver as he stands contemplating the change.
Por Dios! he at length exclaims, if that tree be speaking
truth, and I never knew of the uinay telling lies, we'll have a
storm upon us within twenty minutes' time; such a one as will sweep us
out of our saddles, if we can't get under shelter. Ay, sure it's going
to be either a temporal or tormenta! And this is not the
where to meet it. Here we'd be smothered in a minute, if not blown up
into the sky. Stay! I think I know of a place near by, where we may
take refuge before it's down upon us. Quick, muchachos! Mount,
and let us away from here. A moment lost, and it may be too late;
Leaping back into their saddles, all three again go off in a gallop;
no longer upon the Indian trail, but in a somewhat different direction,
the gaucho guiding and leading.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE. THE CAPTIVE
Just about the same time that the party of trackers had turned to
take departure from the barometer-tree, a cavalcade of a very different
kind, and composed of a greater number of individuals, is moving over
the plain, some forty or fifty miles distant. It is the party being
tracked; Aguara and his band of young braves on return to the
tolderia of their tribe; the one now become their permanent place
More than one change has taken place in the Indian cohort since it
passed over the same ground going downward. In number it is still the
same; but one of them does not sit erect upon his horse; instead, lies
bent across the animal's back, like a sack of corn. There he is fast
tied to keep him from tailing off, for he could do nothing to prevent
thisbeing dead! He it was who came forth from the sumac grove
wounded by Halberger's bullet, and the wound has proved fatal; this
accounting for the pieces of sipos seen at their camping-place.
Another change in the composition of the party is, that the white
man, Valdez, is no longer with it. Just as Gaspar had conjectured, from
seeing the return tracks of his horse, he had parted company with the
Indians at their first encampment, on the night after the murder.
Another and very different individual, has taken his place at the head
of the troop. The daughter of the murdered man who now rides by the
side of the young Tovas chief!
Though a captive, she is not bound. They have no fear of her
attempting to escape; nor does she even think of it. Though ever so
well mounted, she knows such an attempt would be idle, and on her
diminutive roadster, which she still rides, utterly hopeless.
Therefore, since the moment of being made captive, no thought of
escaping by flight had even entered her mind.
With her long yellow hair hanging dishevelled over her shoulders,
her cheeks white as lilies, and an expression of utter woe in her eyes,
she sits her saddle seemingly regardless of where she is going, or
whether she fall off and get trampled under the hoofs of the horses
coming behind. It alone, her pony might wander at will; but alongside
Aguara's horse it keeps pace with the latter, its meek, submissive
look, seeming to tell of its being as much a prisoner as its mistress.
Beyond the bereavement she has suffered by her father's deathfor
she saw him struck down, and believes him to be deadno ill-treatment
has been offered her: not even insult. Instead, the young cacique has
been making efforts to gain her good will! He pretends innocence of any
intent to take her father's life, laying it all on the shoulders of
Valdez. Giving reasons too, not without some significance, and an air
of probability. For was not the vaqueano an old enemy of her
father, while they were resident in Paraguay? The young Tovas chief has
learnt this from Valdez himself, and does not fail to speak of it to
his prisoner. Further, he pretends it was on account of this very crime
the vaqueano has committed, that he parted company with themin
short, fled, fearing punishment had he accompanied them back to their
In this manner the wily Indian does all he can to mislead his
captive, as they journey along together.
Captive, he does not call her; in this also feigning pretence. He
tells her that the reason for their not taking her direct to the
estancia is, because of a party of Guaycurus, their enemies, being
out on the war path, and it was to discover the whereabouts of these he
and his followers were out scouting, when the sad mischance, as he
flippantly terms it, arose. That having learnt where the hostile
Indians were, he had needs return at once and report to the warriors of
his tribe; thus the excuse for his not seeing her to her home. They
could not leave her alone in the wilderness, and therefore of necessity
she was going with them to their town; afterwards to be taken back to
the estanciato her mother. With such false tales, cunningly
conceived, does he endeavour to beguile the ears of his captive.
For all that they are not believed; scarcely listened to. She, to
whom they are told, has reasons for discrediting them. Though but a
child in years, Francesca Halberger is not childish in understanding.
The strange experiences and perils through which she, and all related
to her, had passed, have given her the discernment of a more mature
age; and well comprehends she her present situation, with other
misfortunes that have led to it. She is not ignorant of the young
chief's partiality for herself; more than once made manifest to her in
signs unmistakableby acts as well as words. Besides, what he is not
aware of, she had overheard part of the speech which passed between him
and the vaqueano, as the latter was entering the sumac
grove, to do that deed which has left her without a father. Instead,
therefore, of Aguara's words deceiving her into a false confidence,
they but strengthen the feeling of repulsion she has all along had for
him. Whether listening or not, she makes no reply to what he says, nor
even deigns to look at him. Sitting listless, dejected, with her eyes
habitually bent upon the ground, she rides on as one who has utterly
abandoned herself to despair. Too sad, too terribly afflicted with what
is past, she appears to have no thoughts about the future, no hopes.
Or, if at intervals one arises in her mind, it rests not on him now by
her side, but her father. For as yet she knows not that Naraguana is
If somewhat changed the personnel of the Indian troop, much
more is it altered in the general aspect and behaviour of those who
compose ita very contrast to what was exhibited on their way
downward. No longer mirthful, making the welkin ring with their jests
and loud laughter; instead, there is silence upon their lips, sadness
in their hearts, and gloomeven fearon their faces. For they are
carrying home one of their number a corpse, and dread telling the tale
of it. What will the elders say, when they hear what has occurred? What
The feeling among Aguara's followers may be learnt from a dialogue,
carried on between two of them who ride in the rear of the troop. They
have been speaking of their paleface captive, and extolling her charms,
one of them saying how much their young cacique is to be envied his
good luck, in possession of such a charming creature.
After all, it may bring him into trouble, suggests the more sage
of the speakers, adding, ay, and ourselves as wellevery one of us.
How that, inquires the other.
Well; you know, if Naraguana had been living, he would never have
But Naraguana is not living, and who is to gainsay the will of
Aguara? He's now our chief, and can do as he likes with this captive
girl, or any other. Can't he?
No; that he can't. You forget the elders. Besides, you don't seem
to remember the strong friendship that existed between our old cacique
and him the vaqueano has killed. I've heard say that Naraguana,
just before his death, in his last words, left a command we should all
stand by the palefaced stranger, her father, and protect him and his
against every enemy, as long as they remained in the Chaco. Strange
protection we've given him! Instead, help to the man who has been his
murderer! And now returning home, with his daughter a captive! What
will our people think of all this? Some of them, I know, were as much
the white man's friend almost as Naraguana himself. Besides, they won't
like the old cacique's dying injunction having been thus disregarded. I
tell you, there'll be trouble when we get back.
No fear. Our young chief is too popular and powerful. He'll not
find any one to oppose his will; which, as I take it, is to make this
little paleface his wife, and our queen. Well, I can't help envying
him; she's such a sweet thing. But won't the Tovas maidens go mad with
jealousy! I know onethat's Nacena
The dialogue is interrupted by a shout heard from one who rides near
the front of the troop. It is a cry as of alarm, and is so understood
by all; at the same time all comprehending that the cause is something
seen afar off.
In an instant every individual of the party springs up from his
sitting posture, and stands erect upon the back of his horse, gazing
out over the plain. The corpse alone lies still; the captive girl also
keeping her seat, to all seeming heedless of what has startled them,
and caring not what new misfortune may be in store for her. Her cup of
sorrow is already full, and she recks not if it run over.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR. CAUGHT IN A
At the crisis described, the Indian party is no longer travelling
upon the Pilcomayo's bank, nor near it. They have parted from it at a
point where the river makes one of its grand curves, and are now
crossing the neck of the peninsula embraced within its windings. This
isthmus is in width at least twenty miles, and of a character
altogether different from the land lying along the river's edge. In
short, a sterile, treeless expanse, or travesiafor such there are
in the Chaconot barren because of infertility in the soil, but from
the want of water to fertilise it. Withal, it is inundated at certain
periods of the year by the river's overflow, but in the dry season
parched by the rays of a tropical sun. Its surface is then covered with
a white efflorescence, which resembles a heavy hoar frost; this, called
salitre, being a sort of impure saltpetre, left after the
evaporation and subsidence of the floods.
They have entered this cheerless waste, and are about midway across
it, when the cry of alarm is heard; he who gave utterance to it being
older than the others, and credited with greater knowledge of things.
That which had caught his attention, eliciting the cry, is but a
phenomenon of Nature, though not one of an ordinary kind; still, not so
rare in the region of the Chaco; since all of them have more than once
witnessed it. But the thing itself is not yet apparent save to him who
has shouted, and this only by the slightest sign giving portent of its
approach. For it is, in truth, a storm.
Even after the alarmist has given out his warning note, and stands
on his horse's hips, gazing off in a certain direction, the others,
looking the same way, can perceive nothing to account for his strange
behaviour. Neither upon the earth, nor in the heavens, does there
appear anything that should not be there. The sun is coursing through a
cloudless sky, and the plain, far as eye can reach, is without animate
object upon it; neither bird nor beast having its home in the
salitre. Nothing observable on that wide, cheerless waste, save the
shadows of themselves and their horses, cast in dark silhouette
across the hoary expanse, and greatly elongated; for it is late in the
afternoon, and the sun almost down to the horizon.
What is it? asks Aguara, the first to speak, addressing himself to
the Indian who gave out the cry. You appear to apprehend danger?
And danger there is, chief, returns the other. Look yonder! He
points to the level line between earth and sky, in the direction
towards which they are travelling. Do you not see something?
Not that brown-coloured stripe just showing along the sky's edge,
low, as if it rested on the ground?
Ah, yes; I see that. Only a little mist over the river, I should
Not that, chief. It's a cloud, and one of a sort to be dreaded.
See! it's rising higher, and, it I'm not mistaken, will ere long cover
the whole sky.
But what do you make of it? To me it looks like smoke.
No; it isn't that either. There's nothing out that way to make
fire neither grass nor trees; therefore, it can't be smoke.
What, then? You appear to know!
I do. 'Tis dust.
Dust! A drove of wild horses? Or may they be mounted? Ah! you think
it's a party of Guaycurus?
No, indeed. But something we may dread as muchay, morethan
them. If my eyes don't deceive me, that's a tormenta.
Ha! exclaims the young cacique, at length comprehending. A
tormenta, you think it is?
The others of the band mechanically mutter the same word, in like
tones of apprehension. For although slow to perceive the sign, even yet
but slightly perceptible, all of them have had experience of the
I do, chief, answers he interrogated. Am now sure of it.
While they are still speaking itthe cloudmounts higher against
the blue background of sky, as also becomes more extended along the
line of the horizon. Its colour, too, has sensibly changed, now
presenting a dun yellowish appearance, like that mixture of smoke and
mist known as a London fog. But it is somewhat brighter, as though it
hung over, half-concealing and smothering, the flames of some grand
And as they continue regarding it, red corruscations begin to shoot
through its opaque mass, which they can tell to be flashes of
lightning. Yet all this while, upon the spot where they have pulled up
the sun is shining serenely, and the air still and tranquil as if gale
or breeze had never disturbed it!
But it is a stillness abnormal, unnatural, accompanied by a
scorching heat, with an atmosphere so close as to threaten suffocation.
This, however, lasts but a short while. For in less than ten minutes
after the cloud was first descried, a wind reaches them blowing
directly from it at first, in puffs and gusts, but cold as though laden
with sleet, and so strong as to sweep several of them from the backs of
their horses. Soon after all is darkness above and around them.
Darkness as of night; for the dust has drifted over the sun, and its
disc is no longer visiblehaving disappeared as in a total eclipse,
but far more suddenly.
It is too late for them to retreat to any place of shelter, were one
ever so near, which there is not. And well know they the danger of
being caught in that exposed spot; so well that the scene now exhibited
in their ranks is one of fright and confusion.
Terrified exclamations are sent up on all sides, but only one voice
of warning, this from him who had first descried the cloud.
From your horses! he calls out, take shelter behind them, and
cover your faces with your jergas! If you don't you'll be
His counsel acts as a command; though it is not needed, all of them,
as himself, sensible of the approaching peril. In a trice they have
dropped to the ground, and plucking the pieces of skins which serve
them as saddles, from the backs of their horses, muffle up their faces
as admonished. Then each clutching the halter of his own, and holding
it so as to prevent the animal changing position, they await the
onslaught of the storm.
Meanwhile, Aguara has not been inactive. Instead of having seized
the pony's bridle-rein, he has passed round to the rear of the troop,
leading his captive along with him; for the wind strikes them in front.
There in the lee of all, better sheltered, he dismounts, flings his
arms around the unresisting girl, and sets her afoot upon the ground.
He does all this gently, as though he were a friend or brother! For he
has not lost hope he may yet win her heart.
Star of my life, he says to her, speaking in the Tovas tongue,
which she slightly understands. As you see we're in some danger, but
it will soon pass. Meanwhile, we must take steps to guard against it.
So, please to lie down, and this will protect you.
While speaking, he takes the plumed cloak from his shoulders and
spreads it over those of the captive, at the same time covering her
head with it, as if it were a hood. Then he gently urges her to lie on
To all she submits mechanically, and without offering opposition;
though she little cares about the dust-stormwhether it blind or
altogether destroy her.
Soon after it is on and over them in all its fury, causing their
horses to cower and kick, many screaming in affright or from the pain
they have to endure. For not only does the tormenta carry dust
with it, but sand, sticks, and stones, some of the latter so large and
sharp as often to inflict severe wounds. Something besides in that now
assailing them; which sweeping across the salitral has lifted
the sulphureous efflorescence, that beats into their eyes bitter and
blinding as the smoke of tobacco. But for having muffled up their
faces, more than one of the party would leave that spot sightless, if
not smothered outright.
For nearly an hour the tempest continues, the wind roaring in their
ears, and the dust and gravel clouting against their naked skins, now
and then a sharp angled pebble lacerating them. At times the blast is
so strong they have difficulty in keeping their places; still more in
holding their horses to windward. And all the while there is lightning
and thunder, the last loud and rolling continuously. At length the
wind, still keenly cold, is accompanied by a sleety rain, which pours
upon them in torrents, chill as if coming direct from the snowy slopes
of the Cordillerasas in all likelihood it does.
They know that this is a sign of the tormenta approaching its
end, which soon after arrives; terminating almost as abruptly as it had
begun. The dust disappears from the sky, that which has settled on the
ground now covering its surface with a thick coating of mudconverted
into this by the rainwhile the sun again shines forth in all its
glory, in a sky bright and serene as if cloud had never crossed it!
The tormenta is over, or has passed on to another part of the
great Chaco plain.
And now the Tovas youths, their naked skins well washed by the
shower, and glistening like bronze fresh from the furnacesome of
them, however, bleeding from the scratches they have receivedspring
upon their feet, re-adjust the jergas on the backs of their
horses, and once more remount.
Then their young chief, by the side of the captive girl, having
returned to his place at their head, they forsake that spot of painful
experience, and continue their journey so unexpectedly interrupted.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE. A RUSH FOR
It is scarce necessary to say, that the storm that over took the
Indian party was the same of which the barometer-tree had given warning
to Gaspar and his young companions. But although many a long league
separated the Indians from those following upon their trail, and it
would take the latter at least another day to reach the spot where the
former had met the tormenta, both were beset by it within less
than half-an-hour of the same time. The Indians first, of course, since
it came from the quarter towards which all were travelling, and
therefore in the teeth of pursuers as pursued.
But the trackers were not called upon to sustain its shock, as those
they were tracking up. Instead of its coming upon them in an exposed
situation, before its first puffs became felt they were safe out of
harm's way, having found shelter within the interior of a cavern. It
was this Gaspar alluded to when saying, he knew of a place that would
give them an asylum. For the gaucho had been twice over this ground
beforeonce on a hunting excursion in the company of his late master;
and once at an earlier period of his life on an expedition of less
pleasant remembrance, when, as a captive himself, he was carried up the
Pilcomayo by a party of Guaycuru Indians, from whom he was fortunate in
His knowledge of the cave's locality, however, was not obtained
during his former and forced visit to the district they are now
traversing; but in that made along with the hunter-naturalist; who,
partly out of curiosity, but more for geological investigation, had
entered and explored it.
It's by the bank of a little arroyo that runs into the
Pilcomayo, some three or four miles above the big river. And, as I take
it, not much further from where we are now. But we must make a
cross-cut to reach it in the quickest time.
This Gaspar says as they part from the barometer-tree. Following out
his intention he heads his horse towards the open plain, and forsakes
the Indian trail, the others following his lead.
They now go in full gallop, fast as their horses can carry them; for
they have no longer any doubts about the coming on of a tormenta. The forecast given them by the flowers of the uinay is
gradually being made good by what they seea dun yellowish cloud
rising against the horizon ahead. The gaucho well understands the sign,
soon as he sees this recognising it as the dreaded dust-storm.
It approaches them just as it had done the Indians. First the
atmosphere becoming close and hot as the interior of an oven; then
suddenly changing to cold, with gusts of wind, and the sky darkening as
though the sun were eclipsed.
But, unlike the others, they are not exposed to the full fury of the
blast; neither are they in danger of being blinded by the sulphureous
dust, nor pelted with sticks and stones. Before the storm has thus
developed itself they reach the crest of the cliff overhanging the
arroyo; and urging their horses down a sloping path remembered by
Gaspar, they get upon the edge of the stream itself. Then, turning up
it, and pressing on for another hundred yards, they arrive at the
cavern's mouth, just as the first puff of the chilly wind sweeps down
the deep rut-like valley through which the arroyo runs.
In time! exclaims the gaucho. Thanks to the Virgin, we're in
time! with not a second to spare, he adds, dismounting, and leading
his horse into the arching entrance, the others doing the same.
Once inside, however, they do not give way to inaction; for Gaspar
well knows they are not yet out of danger.
Come, muchachos, he cries to them, soon as they have
disposed of their animals, there's something more to be done before we
can call ourselves safe. A tormenta's not a thing to be trifled
with. There isn't corner or cranny in this cave the dust wouldn't reach
to. It could find its way into a corked bottle, I believe. Carramba! there it comes!
The last words are spoken as a whiff of icy wind, now blowing
furiously down the ravine, turns into the cavern's mouth, bringing with
it both dust and dry leaves.
For a moment the gaucho stands in the entrance gazing out; the
others doing likewise. Little can they see; for the darkness is now
almost opaque, save at intervals, when the ravine is lit up by jets of
forked and sheet lightning. But much do they hear; the loud bellowing
of wind, the roaring of thunder, and the almost continuous crashing of
trees, whose branches break off as though they were but brittle glass.
And the stream which courses past close to the cave's mouth, now a tiny
mulct, will soon be a raging, foaming torrent, as Gaspar well knows.
They stay not to see that, nor aught else. They have other work
before themthe something of which the gaucho spoke, and to which he
now hastily turns, crying out
Your ponchos, my lads! Get them, quick! We must close up the
entrance with them, otherwise we'll stand a good chance of being
Neither needs urging to haste. Young as they are, they too have had
experience of a tormenta. More than once they have witnessed it,
remembering how in their house, near Assuncion, it drove the dust
through the keyholes of me doors, finding its way into every crack and
crevice, making ridges across the floor, just as snow in northern
landsof which, however, they know nothing, save from what they have
read, or been told by one who will tell them of such things no more.
In a few seconds' time, three ponchosfor each possesses oneare
snatched from the cantles of their saddles, and as speedily spread
across the entrance of the cavejust covering it, with not an inch to
spare. With like speed and dexterity, they join them together, in a
rough but firm stitching done by the nimble fingers of the gauchohis
thread a strip of thong, and for needle the sharp terminal spine of the
pita plantone of which he finds growing near by. They attach them
at top by their knife blades stuck into seams of the stratified rock,
and at bottom by stones laid along the border; these heavy enough to
keep them in place against the strongest gust of wind.
All this done, they breathe freely, now feeling secure; and after a
last look at the screen to assure himself of its being reliable, the
gaucho turns to his companions, quietly remarking, Now, muchachos, I fancy we need have no more fear of Mr Tormenta.
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX. AN UNWELCOME
As they are now in the midst of amorphous darkness, it might be
imagined nothing could be done but keep their place, or go groping idly
about. Not so, however. Gaspar has no intention of letting the time
pass in such an unprofitable manner; instead, he at once resumes
speech, and along with it action.
Now, young masters, he says, making a movement towards the place
where they had left their horses, since we are shut up here, I don't
see why we shouldn't make ourselves as comfortable as we can under the
circumstances; and the best way to begin will be with what's usually
the winding up of a day's workthat's supper. Our bit of rough riding
has given me the appetite of a wolf, and I feel as if I could eat one
red-raw. Suppose we have another set-to at the shoulder of mutton? What
say you, senoritos?
They answer in the affirmative, both being as hungry as himself.
We sha'n't have to eat in darkness either, he proceeds. Luckily,
I've brought with me a bit of candlebest wax at that. A costly affair
it was when whole; being one of a pair I had to pay for when my poor
mother died, to be used at her funeral, and for which the rascally
padres charged me five pesos a-piecebecause consecrated,
as they called out. As they stood me so much, I thought I might as well
save the stumps; which I did, and have got one of them here. Starting
out, it occurred to me we might some time need it, as you see we do
now; so I slipped it into my saddle-bags.
While speaking, he has moved on to his horse, and got beside him
without much straying; for his former visit to the cavern has made him
familiar with its topography, and he could go anywhere through it
without a glimmer of light to guide him. Plunging his hand into his
ample alparejas, and rummaging about for a short while, he gets
hold of the bit of unburnt candlesouvenir of a melancholy ceremony,
which, however, he had long ceased to mourn over, since his mother has
been dead for many years.
He has drawn it out; removed the scrap of buckskin in which it was
wrapped; and with flint and steel is proceeding to strike a light, when
a sound reaches his ears that causes him to suspend operations, and
stand intently listening for its repetition.
Simultaneously has it been heard by the other two, as also by the
three horses; these last, on hearing it, showing their affright by a
series of snorts, while they dance about over the floor of the cavern.
For it is a sound which, heard in any part of tropical America, whether
on sunlit plain or in shady forest, strikes terror to the heart of all
who hear it, be it man, bird, or beast. No living creature in that land
but dreads the cry of the jaguar.
El tigre! exclaims Gaspar in a subdued tone, his voice
half-drowned by a second roar from the great feline, this time louder
and more prolonged.
Where is it? they ask one another hurriedly, and in whispers,
fearing to speak out. For loud as is the creature's voice as it
reverberates through the hollow cavity, what with the bellowing of the
wind and the trampling of their horses' hoofs on the hard rock, it is
impossible to tell whence it came, and whether the jaguar be outside
the cavern or within. About this there is a difference of opinion among
them, but only for an instantall three agreeing, as for the third
time the terrifying note is sounded. Then they believe it to have come
from outside. But again they as quickly differ, at hearing a fourth
repetition of it; this as certainly seeming to have been uttered inside
the cavern. Once more changing their minds, when, for the fifth time,
the beast gives out its grand roar; since along with it they hear
another sound as of some heavy body hurling itself against the screen
of spread ponchos, too solid to be mistaken for a puff of wind. Beyond
doubt, it is the tiger seeking admittance to the cave!
Though but a few minutes have elapsed since its first fierce note
fell upon their ears, they have not stood idly listening. Instead, all
three have groped the way to their horses, got hold of their guns, and
returned to take stand near the entrance. Gaspar, moreover, has lit the
stump of candle, and stuck it upon a projecting point of rock; for he
knows the tigre, like other cats, can see in the darkness, and
would thus have the advantage of them.
Soon again it treats them to another bit of trumpeting, this time
more angrily intoned, as if demanding shelter from the storm, and no
doubt as much surprised as puzzled at the strange obstruction debarring
entrance to the cavein all likelihood its lair.
They have stationed themselves in a line facing the screen, and with
guns cocked stand ready to fire at the beast, should it persist in its
intention to enter. But now, with the light shining upon the ponchos,
they see what appears to be its body pressing against these from the
outside, though quickly withdrawn, as if the creature recoiled from a
thing that awes while perplexing it.
Hadn't we better fire at it through the ponchos? Some one of us may
Cypriano makes the suggestion.
No, dissents Gaspar, we might all miss that way; and if we did,
'twould drive the tigre mad, and then
He is interrupted by another cry from the jaguar; this a fierce
scream, showing the animal already maddened enough, or, at all events,
madly impatient, and determined no longer to endure exclusion from the
cave. For while still continuing that cry, it bounds up against the
screen, plucking the knives from their places, tossing off the stones,
and laying the entrance open. A gust of wind entering blows out the
candle, and all is again darkness. But not silence; for there are
noises close to where they stand, which they know must proceed from the
jaguar, though different from its former utterances, and to them quite
incomprehensiblea succession of growls, snorts, and coughs, as if the
beast were being suffocated; while at the same time a heavy body seems
to be tumbling and struggling over the floor of the cavern!
By Saint Jago! cries Gaspar, first to comprehend what it means,
the brute's caught in our ponchos! He's baggedsmothered up! Fire
into him! Aim where you hear the noise. Tira!
At the word, their three guns go off together; and then, to make
sure, another shot additional from the double barrelled piece of
Cypriano; Ludwig's gun being the rifle that belonged to his father,
found where the latter had fallen.
And sure work have their shots made of it. For as they stand in the
darkness listening, they hear neither growl, nor snort, nor coughing;
but, instead, only the wailing of wind and the rumbling of thunder.
Dead as a door-nail! pronounces Gaspar, feeling his way to where
he had stuck the bit of bees'-wax, and once more setting it alight.
Then returning towards the entrance, he sees that he has in everything
rightly conjectured. For there, enveloped in the ponchos, with its
claws stuck fast into the close-woven fabric of wool, lies the great
spotted catnot at full stretch, but doubled up into a shapeless lump,
as it had worked itself in its efforts to get free! Though all their
shots had hit it, some of the bullets passing through its body, a
quivering throughout its frame tells that life is not yet extinct. But
it is extinguished instantly after, by Gaspar laying hold of one of the
knives, and giving el tigre the coup de grace by a cut
across its throat; as he does so, saying
That's for your impudenceintruding yourself on three hungry
travellers about sitting down to supper!
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN. BETWEEN
TORRENT AND TIGER.
Having dragged the dead beast out of their ponchos, they are about
to re-adjust these as before, when it strikes them there is no longer
any need for closing the cave's mouth. The first blast of the
tormenta having blown over, the dust borne upon it is now in less
volume; while the wind, rushing direct down the ravine, carries
everything along with itonly an occasional whiff seeking entrance
into the cave.
For the matter of our being blinded, remarks the gaucho in
perceiving this, we needn't trouble about shutting the door again.
Though if I'm not greatly out in my reckoning, there's something else
may need keeping outa thing more dangerous than dust.
What thing? he is asked.
Another tigre. I never knew one of these spotted beauties to
be about alone. They always hunt in couples; and where there's a
female, the male is sure to be with her. As you see, it's the lady
we've closed accounts with, and for certain the gentleman isn't
far-off. Out in that storm, he'll be in the same way making for this
snug shelter. So we may look for his worship to present himself at any
Ludwig and Cypriano turn their eyes towards the entrance, as though
they expected even then to behold the dreaded intruder.
To keep him out, pursues Gaspar in a more serious vein, 'twill be
no use putting up the ponchos. We can't trust to the old Tom entangling
himself, as did his esposa. That was all an accident. And yet
we're not safe if we leave the entrance open. As we've got to stay here
all night, and sleep here, we daren't close an eye so long as he's
ranging about. Instead, we'd have to lie awake, and on the alert.
Why can't we wall it up with those stones? Cypriano thus
interrogates, pointing to some scattered boulders lying about the
cave large blocks that have broken off from its roof, and fallen upon
Not a bad idea, rejoins Gaspar, and one quite practicable, he
adds, with his eye taking in the dimensions of the cavern's mouth, but
little larger than an ordinary stable door. You're right, Senor
Cypriano; we can do that.
Without further speech, they set about the work; first rolling the
larger masses of stalactite towards the entrance to form the foundation
of the wall. But before having got half-a-dozen of them fixed in their
places, a sound reaches their ears which causes them suddenly to
desist; for all three recognise it as coming from the throat of a
jaguar! Not a loud roar, or scream, such as they heard when that lying
dead first made its presence known, but a sort of sniff or snort, as
when it was struggling, half-choked by the ponchos. Soon, however, as
they stand listening, the snorting changes into a long low growl,
ending in a gruff bark; as of a watch-dog awakened by some slight
noise, for which he is not sure of its being worth his while to forsake
his kennel, or spring upon his feet.
Not thus doubtful are they. Instead, the sounds now heard excite and
terrify them as much as any that preceded; for they can tell that tiger
Number 2 is, as themselves, within the cave!
Por Dios! exclaims Gaspar, in a low tone of voice, it's
the old Tom sure, and inside too! Ha! that accounts for our not being
certain about the she. Both were yelling at the same time, answering
one another. Where can the brute be?
They turn their eyes toward the back of the cavern, but in the dim
glimmer can see nothing like a tiger. They only hear noises of
different kinds, made by their horses, then freshly affrighted, once
more sniffing the air and moving uneasily about.
Your guns! cries Gaspar in hurried accents; get them loaded
again! If the tigre attack us, as it's almost sure to do, our
knives will be of little use. Viva, muschachos!
All together again lay hold of their guns; but where is the
ammunition? Stowed in a pair of holsters on the pommel of Cypriano's
saddle, as they well knowpowder, balls, percussion-caps, everything.
And where is the horse himself; for, left loose, he has moved off to
another part of the cavern?
Cypriano taking the candle in hand, they go in search of him. Soon
to see that the frightened animal has taken refuge in an angular
embayment between two projecting buttresses of rock, where he stands
cowering and trembling.
They are about to approach him, going cautiously and with timid
steps, when, lo! on a ledge between, they perceive a long yellow body
with black spots lying astretch at one end of it, a pair of eyes giving
back the light of their candle, with a light almost as brilliant, and
at intervals flashing like fire. It is the jaguar.
The sight brings them suddenly to a stand, even causing them to
retreat a step or two. For the ledge on which the tigre crouches
is directly between them and Cypriano's horse, and to approach the
latter they must pass right under the former; since it is upon a sort
of shelf, several feet above the level of the ground. They at once see
there is no hope of reaching the needed ammunition without tempting the
attack of the tiger; which, by their movements, is becoming at every
moment more infuriated, and already seems about to spring upon them.
Instinctively, almost mechanically, they move further away, having
abandoned the idea of defending themselves with the guns, and fallen
back on their only other weapons, the knives. Ludwig counsels
retreating altogether out of the cave, and leaving their horses behind.
Outside, the wind no longer rages, and the dust seems to have blown
past. They but hear the pattering of rain, with peals of thunder, and
the swish of the stream, now swollen. But nothing of these need they
fear. To the course counselled Cypriano objects, as also Caspar;
fearing for their horses, almost sure to be sacrificed to the fury of
the enraged jaguar. And where would they be then? Afoot in the midst of
the Chaco, helpless as shipwrecked sailors on a raft in mid-ocean!
For a while they remain undecided; only a short while, when they are
made aware of that which speedily brings them to a decision, and
without any will of their own. In putting space between themselves and
the dangerous beast, they have retreated quite up to the cavern's
entrance. There, looking out, they see that egress is debarred them.
The stream, swollen by the rain, still pouring down as in a deluge, has
lipped up to the level of the cave's mouth, and rushes past in an
impetuous torrent, crested, and carrying huge rocks, with the trunks
and broken branches of trees upon its seething current. Neither man nor
horse might dare ford it now. They are caught between a torrent and a
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT. SAVED BY A
To be shut up in a room with a royal Bengal tiger, or what amounts
to the same a cave of small dimensions, is a situation which no one
will covet. Nor would it be much improved were the tyrant of the
Asiatic jungles transformed into a jaguarthe despot of the American
tropical forests. For, although the latter be smaller, and less
powerful than the former, in an encounter with man it is equally fierce
and dangerous. As regards size, the male jaguar often reaches the
measurement of an Indian tigress; while its strength is beyond all
proportion to its bulk. Humboldt has made mention of one that dragged
the carcase of a horse it had killed across a deep, difficult ravine,
and up to the top of a hill; while similar feats have been recorded by
Von Tschudi, Darwin, and D'Orbigny.
Familiar with its character and capabilities, no wonder, then, that
our gaucho and his companions should feel fear, as they take in the
perils besetting them. For there is no knowing how long the jaguar will
keep its patience, or its place; and when it shifts they may look out
for squalls. They can still see it on the ledge; for although the
light is feeble, with some dust floating about, through this its
glaring eyeballs, as twin stars through a thin stratum of cloud, gleam
coal-like and clear. They can see its jaws, too, at intervals open to
emit that cry of menace, exposing its blood-red palate, and white
serrature of teetha sight horrifying to behold! All the while its
sinewy tail oscillates from side to side, now and then striking the
rock, and breaking off bits of stalactites, that fall in sparkling
fragments on the floor. At each repetition of its growl the horses show
fresh affright, and dance madly about. For the instinct of the dumb
animals seems to admonish them, they are caged with a dangerous
companionthey and it alike unable to part company. Their masters know
this, and knowing it, are all the more alarmed. A fight is before them;
and there appears no chance of shunning ita hand-to-hand fight, their
short-bladed knives against the sharp teeth and claws of a jaguar!
For a time they stand irresolute, even Gaspar himself not knowing
what to do. Not for long, however. It would not be the gaucho to
surrender to despair. Instead, a thought seems suddenly to have
occurred to him a way of escape from their dilemmaas evinced by his
behaviour, to the others yet incomprehensible.
Parting from them, he glides off in the direction of his horse;
which happens to be nearest, like Cypriano's cowering in a crevice of
the rock. Soon beside it, he is again seen to plunge his hand into the
alparejas, and grope about, just as when searching for the stump of
And now he draws forth something very similara packet with a skin
covering, tied with a bit of string. Returning to them, and removing
the wrapper, he exposes to view a half-dozen little rolls, in shape
somewhat like regalia cigars, sharp-pointed at one end, and barbed as
At a glance, both boys see what they are. They have not been brought
up in a country where bull-fighting, as in all Spanish America, is the
principal pastime, without having become acquainted with most matters
relating to it. And what Gaspar has brought before their eyes are some
torterillas, or spitting-devils, used, along with the
banderillas for rousing the fury of the bull while being goaded by
the picadores round the arena, before the matador makes
his final assault. Gaspar, who in early life has played picador
himself in the bull-fights of San Rosario, knows how to manufacture all
the implements pertaining to the funcion de toros, and has
usually kept a stock of torterillas on hand, chiefly for the
amusement of the Tovas youths, who were accustomed to visit the
Often, while dwelling at Assuncion, had he witnessed the wonder and
delight with which the savages who came there regarded all sorts of
fireworks; and it had occurred to him that, in the event of their
encountering strange Indians, some spitting-devils might prove of
service. So, at starting out on their present expedition, just as with
the bit of wax candle, he had tossed a packet of them into his
He does not give this explanation till afterwards. Now there is no
time for talking; he must act, and instantly. But how he intends
acting, or what he means to do with the torterillas, neither of
his youthful comrades can tell or guess.
They are not kept long in ignorance. Snatching the candle from
Cypriano, who has been carrying itwith this in one hand and a
torterilla in the otherhe moves off in the direction of the
ledge, where luckily the jaguar still lies astretch. Possibly the
reports of the guns have cowed it to keeping its place. Whether or no,
it has kept it without change of attitude or position; though at
intervals giving utterance to long low growls, with an occasional bark
Advancing cautiously, and in silence, the gaucho gets within six
paces of it. This he deems near enough for his purpose; which, by this
time, the others comprehend. It is to cast the torterilla at the
tiger, and, if possible, get the barbed point to penetrate the
creature's skin, and there stick.
He makes the attempt, and succeeds. First having put the primed end
into the candle's flame, and set the fuse on fire, he launches the
Devil with such sure aim, that it is seen to fix itself in the
jaguar's back, just over the right shoulder.
The brute, feeling the sting, starts to its feet with an angry
scream; this instantly changing to a cry of affright, as the caked
powder catches fire, and fizzing up, envelopes it in a shower of
sparks. Not a second longer stays it on the ledge, but bounding off
makes for the cave's mouth, as if Satan himself had taken hold of its
tail. So sudden and unexpected is its retreat, that Ludwig and
Cypriano, to get out of the way, go tumbling over the stones; while
Gaspar comes nigh doing the same; in the scramble dropping the candle,
and of course extinguishing it. But the light goes out only with the
jaguar itself; the brute bounding on with the sparks like the tail of a
comet streaming behind, illumining the whole cavern, and causing the
stalactites to glitter and sparkle, as if its roof were frosted with
In an instant after, all is darkness; simultaneously with the light
going out, a sound reaching their ears, as of some solid body, falling
heavily upon waterwhich they know to be the tiger plunging into the
stream. That puts out the spitting-devil, and no doubt along with it,
or soon after, the life of the animal it had so affrighted; for even
the king of American beasts could not escape being drowned in that
foaming, seething flood.
Soon as satisfied that the enemy is hors de combat, and the
coast clear, Gaspar gropes about for the candle, and finding, once more
lights it. Then in his usual fashion, winding up with some quaint
remark, he says:
No more caterwauling to-night, I fancy, unless the kittens be about
too. If they be, it'll give us a bit of sport, drowning them. Now,
senoritos! I think we may sit down to supper, without fear of being
again baulked of our mate and mutton.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE. A ROCK-BOUND
As the darkness, due to the storm, has now been succeeded by the
more natural darkness of night, the trackers, for this day, cannot
proceed further, were they ever so eager. Besides, there is another bar
to their continuing; one still more directly obstructive, even
forbidding their exit from the cave. This, the arroyo, which now
in full flood fills the ravine up to the cliff's base, there leaving no
path for either man or horse. That by which they approached is covered
beyond fording depth, with a current so swift as to sweep the strongest
animal from its feet, even were it an elephant. And to attempt reaching
the opposite side by swimming, would only result in their getting
carried down to be drowned to a certainty, or have the life crushed out
of them on the rocks below.
Gaspar knowing all this, does not dream of making any such rash
experiment. On the contrary, as he has signified, he designs them to
remain all night in the cavern. Indeed, there is no alternative, as he
observes, explaining how egress is forbidden, and assuring them that
they are, in point of fact, as much prisoners as though the doors of a
jail were shut and locked upon them.
Their imprisonment, however, need not last till the morning; so far
as the flood is concerned. And this he also makes known to them,
himself aware that the waters in the arroyo, will subside as
rapidly as they had risen. It is one of those short rivulets, whose
floods are over almost as soon as the rain which causes them. Looking
out again near the hour of midnight, they see his prediction verified.
The late swollen and fast-rushing stream has become reduced to nearly
its normal dimensions, and runs past in gentle ripple, while the moon
shining full upon it, shows not a flake of foam.
They could even now pass out of the cave, and on up the cliff where
they came down, if they desired to do so. More, they might with such a
clear moon, return to the river's bank and continue on along the trail
they had forsaken. A trail so plain as it, could be followed in a light
far more faint; at least, so think they. So believing, Cypriano, as
ever impatient to get on, is greatly inclined to this course, and
chafes at the irksomeness of delay. But Gaspar objects, giving his
If we were to go on now, he says, it wouldn't better us a bit.
All we'd gain by it would be the league or so from this to the river.
Once there, and attempting to travel up its bank, we'd find scores of
little creeks that run into it, in full freshet, and have to swim our
horses across them. That would only lose time, instead of gaining it.
Now, by daybreak, they'll all be down again, when we can travel
straight on without being delayed by so many stoppages. I tell you,
Senor Cypriano, if we start now, it'll be only to find the old saying
true, `More haste, worse speed.'
He to whom this speech is addressed perceives the application of the
adage, and admitting it, yields the point.
Besides, adds the gaucho, by way of clinching his argument, we've
got to spend part of the night somewhere, and have some sleep. If we
keep on without that, it may end in our breaking dead down, which would
be worse than being a little behind time. We all stand in need of rest
now. Speaking for myself, I want it badly; and I'm sure so does Master
Ludwig and you too, senorito! If we were to leave the cave, and
seek for it anywhere outside, we'd find the ground soaking wet, and,
like enough, every one of us get laid up with a spell of rheumatics.
Here we'll be as snug as a biscacha in its hole; and, I take it,
will sleep undisturbed by the squalling of any more cats.
As Cypriano makes no further opposition, it is decided that they
remain in the cave till morning.
The little incident as above, with the conversation which
accompanies it, does not take place immediately after the tiger had
been disposed of; for they have eaten supper since. By good luck, some
sticks were found in the cave, half-burnt faggots, the remains of a
fire no doubt left by a party of Indian hunters, who had also spent a
night there. With these they were enabled to boil their kettle, and
make a mate of their favourite yerba tea; while the
knuckle of mutton and some cakes of corn bread still left, needed no
cooking. It is after all this was over, and they had been some time
conversing on the many strange incidents which occurred to them
throughout the day, that they became aware of the flood having fallen,
and escape from their rock-bound prison possible. Then succeeded the
At its termination, as nothing more can be done, and all feeling
fatigued, to go to rest is naturally the next move. Their horses have
already been attended to by the removal of the riding gear, while some
rough grass found growing against the cliff, near the cave's entrance
outside, has been cut and carried in to them.
A slight grooming given to the animals, and it but remains to make
their own beds. This done, by simply spreading their jergas and
caronillas along the flinty stalagmites, each having his own
recado for a pillow. Their ponchos, long since pulled apart, and
the dust cuffed out of them, are to serve for what they really
areblankets; a purpose to which at night they are put by all gauchos
and most Argentinosas much as they are used during day time for cloak
Each wrapping himself up in his own, all conversation ceases, and
sleep is sought with closed eyes. This night it is found by them in a
succession somewhat changed. As on that preceding, Ludwig is first
asleep; but almost instantly after it is Gaspar, not Cypriano, who
surrenders to the drowsy god; filling the hollow cavity with his
snoring, loud as that often heard to proceed from the nostrils of a
tapir. He well knows they are safe within that rock-bound chamber;
besides that he is tired dead down with the day's exertion; hence his
so soon becoming oblivious.
Cypriano is the last to yield. But he, too, at length gives way, and
all is silent within the cavern, save the crump-crump of the horses
munching their coarse provender, with now and then a hoof striking the
hard rock. But louder than all is that raucous reverberation sent up by
the slumbering gaucho.
CHAPTER THIRTY. THE SACRED TOWN.
While the pursuing party is peacefully reposing upon the stalagmites
of the cavern, that pursued reaches its destinationthe Sacred town
of the Tovas.
The tolderia, so named, stands upon a level plain, near the
shore of a large and beautiful lake, whose numerous low-lying islets,
covered with a thick growth of the moriche, have the appearance
of palm-groves growing direct out of the water itself.
A belt of the same stately trees borders the lake all around, broken
here and there by projecting headlands; while away over the adjacent
campo, on the higher and drier ground, are seen palms of other and
different species, both fan-leaved and pinnate, growing in copses or
larger montes, with evergreen shrubs and trees of deciduous foliage
At some three or four hundred yards from the lake's edge, a high
hill rises abruptly above the plainthe only elevation within many
miles. Thus isolated, it is visible from afar, and forms a conspicuous
feature of the landscape; all the more remarkable on account of its
singular shape, which is the frustrum of a cone. Though its sides are
of steep pitch, they are thickly wooded to the summit; trees of large
size standing upon its table-like top. But something more than trees
stand there; the scaffolds upon which are laid the bodies of the Tovas
dead; hundreds of which may be seen in all stages of decay, or
shrivelled and desiccated by the dry winds and sun of the Chaco till
they resemble Egyptian mummies. For it is the Cemetery Hill, a spot
hallowed in the hearts of these Indians, and so giving the title of
Sacred to this particular place, as the town adjacent to it. The
latter is situated just under the hill, between its base and the shore
of the lake. No grand city, as might be supposed from such a
high-sounding name, but simply a collection of palm and bamboo
toldos, or huts, scattered about without any design or order; each
owner having been left free to select the site of his frail tenement,
since among the Tovas municipal regulations are of the simplest and
most primitive character. True, some dwellings, grander and more
pretentious than the common, are grouped around an open space; in the
centre of which is one much larger than any of the others, its
dimensions equalling a dozen of them. This is not a dwelling, however,
but the Malocca, or House of Parliament. Perhaps, with greater
propriety, it might be called Congress Chamber, since, as already
hinted at, the polity of the Tovas tribe is rather republican than
Strange, as sad, that in this republic of redskins, and so-called
savages, should exist the same political contradiction as among some
other republican communities, having the name of civilised. For
although themselves individually free, the Tovas Indians do not believe
in the doctrine that all men should be so; or, at all events, they do
not act up to it. Instead, their practice is the very opposite, as
shown by their keeping numbers of slaves. Of these they have hundreds,
most of them being Indians of other tribes, their enemies, whom they
have made captive in battle. But to the Tovas master it signifies
little what be the colour of his bondman's skin, whether white or red;
and many of the former, women as well as men, may be seen doing
drudgery in this same Sacred townits hewers of wood and drawers of
water. These are also captives, the spoil of predatory incursions
across the Salado into the settlements of Santiago, Salto, and Tucuman.
Most of these slaves, employed in the care of cattle, live apart
from their masters, in a sort of suburb, where the dwellings are of a
less permanent character than the ordinary toldos, besides being
differently constructed. They more resemble the tents, or wigwams, of
the North-American Indians; being simply a number of poles set in a
circle, and tied together at the tops; the hides of horses covering
them, instead of the buffalo skins which serve a similar purpose on the
It may seem strange that captives with white skins, thus left
unguarded, do not make their escape. But no; those so kept do not even
seek or desire it. Long in captivity, they have become Indianised,
lost all aspirations for liberty, and grown contented with their lot;
for the Tovas are not hard taskmasters.
On the night of that same day, when the tormenta overtook
them, Aguara and his party approach the Sacred town, which is about
twenty miles from the edge of the salitral, where the trail
parts from the latter, going westward. The plain between is no more of
saline or sterile character; but, as on the other side, showing a
luxuriant vegetation, with the same picturesque disposal of palm-groves
and other tropical trees.
The hour is latenigh to midnightas the captive train passes
under the shadow of the Cemetery Hill, making round to where the
tolderia stands; for both lake and town are on the west side of the
Well may the young cacique feel something of fear, his face showing
it, as he glances up to that elevated spot where he so late laid the
corpse of his father. Were that father living, he, the son, would not
be passing there with the daughter of Ludwig Halberger as his captive.
Even as it is, he can fancy the spirit of the deceased cacique hovering
over the hill, and looking frowningly, reproachfully, down upon him!
As if to escape from such imaginary frowns, he gives the lash to his
horse; and setting the animal into a gallop, rides on alonehaving
first placed the captive under the charge of one of his followers.
On reaching the tolderia, however, he does not go direct to
his own dwelling, which is the largest of those adjacent to the
malocca. Nor yet enters he among the toldos; but, instead,
makes a wide circuit around them, taking care not to awake those
sleeping within. The place for which he is making is a sort of half
hut, half cave, close in to the base of the hill, with trees
overshadowing, and a rocky background of cliff.
Arrived in front of this solitary dwelling, he dismounts, and,
drawing aside the horse's skin which serves as a swing door, calls
Presently a woman appears in the openingif woman she could be
called. For it is a hag of most repulsive appearance; her face half
hidden by a tangle of long hair, black, despite old age indicated by a
skin shrivelled and wrinkled as that of a chameleon. Add to this a pair
of dark grey eyes, deep sunken in their sockets, for all gleaming
brilliantly, and you have the countenance of Shebothasorceress of the
Tovas tribeone of cast as sinister as ever presented itself in a
She speaks not a word in answer to the friendly salutation of the
cacique; but stands silent in bent, obeisant attitude, with her skinny
arms crossed over her breast, as it waiting to hear what he would
further say. His words are by way of command:
Shebotha! I've brought back with me a captivea young girl of the
palefaces. You must take charge of her, and keep her here in your hut.
She's not yet come up, but will presently. So get things ready to
Shebotha but bends lower, with an inclination of the head, to imply
that his instructions will be attended to. Then he adds
No one must see, or converse with her; at least, not for a time.
And you mustn't admit any one inside your toldo, except the
witless white creature, your slave. About him it don't signify. But
keep out all others, as I know you can. You understand me, Shebotha?
She makes answer in the affirmative, but, as before, only by a nod.
Enough! is the young chief's satisfied rejoinder, as he vaults
back upon his horse, and rides off to meet the captive train, which he
knows must be now near.
That night, as for other nights and days succeeding, Francesca
Halberger has this horrid hag for a hostess, or rather the keeper of
her prison; since the unhappy girl is in reality kept and guarded as a
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE. TASTE AFTER
Long before daylight penetrates the interior of the cavern, or shows
its first streak on the sky outside, the trackers are up and active.
A hasty breakfast is prepared; but, as the mutton bone is now quite
bare, they have to fall back on another kind of flesh-meat, which the
provident Caspar has brought along. This is charqui, or as it is
called by English-speaking people jerked beef; in all likelihood a
sailor's pseudonym, due to some slight resemblance, between the English
word jerked, and the Guarani Indian one charqui, as pronounced
by South American people.
Charqui is simply beef cut into long, thin strips, then hung
over a rope or rail, and exposed to a hot sunin the absence of this,
to a firetill the juices are thoroughly dried out of it. Thus
prepared, it will keep for weeks, indeed months.
The reason for so preserving it, is the scarcity of salt, which in
the districts where charqui prevails, is difficult to be got at,
and, in consequence, dear. Most of the beef imported from the La Plata,
under the name of jerked beef, is not charqui, but simply meat
cured with salt. Beef is preserved by a similar process throughout most
parts of Spanish America, as in Mexico, and California, and for the
same reason; but in these countries it is termed tasajo, and
Charqui is by no means a dainty viand; not nice either to the
nose or palate. Those portions of it which have not had sufficient sun
in the drying process, become tainted, and the odour is anything but
agreeable. For all, it serves a purpose in those countries where salt
is a scarce commodity; and cookedas all Spanish Americans cook
itwith a plentiful seasoning of onions, garlic, and chili, the
gamey flavour ceases to be perceptible. Above all, it is a boon to
the traveller who has a long journey to make through the uninhabited
wilderness, with no inns nor post-houses at which he may replenish his
spent stock of provisions. Being dry, firm, and light, it can be
conveniently carried in haversack, or saddle-bags.
By Caspar's foresight, there is a packet of it in Ludwig's
alparejas, where all the other provisions are stowed; and a piece
cut from one of the strips, about the length of a Bologna sausage,
makes breakfast for all three. Of the Paraguay tea they have a good
store, the yerba being a commodity which packs in small space.
Their morning meal is dismissed with slight ceremony; and soon as
eaten, they recaparison their horses; then leading them out of the
cavern, mount, and are off. As the arroyo has long since shrunk
to its ordinary level, and the path along the base of the bluff is dry
as when trodden by them in their rush for shelter from the storm, they
have no difficulty in getting out. So on they ride up the steep
acclivity to the cliff's crest; which last is on a level with the pampa
But on reaching it, a sight meets their eyesit is now daylight
causing a surprise to Ludwig and Cypriano; but to Gaspar something
moresomething akin to dismay. For the sage gaucho mentally sees
further than either of his less experienced companions; and that now
observed by him gives token of a new trouble in store for them. The
plain is no longer a green grassy savanna, as when they galloped across
it on the afternoon preceding, but a smooth expanse, dark brown in
colour, its surface glittering under the red rays of the rising sun,
whose disc is as yet but half visible above the horizon!
Santos Dios! exclaims the gaucho, as he sits in his saddle,
contemplating the transformation, to him no mystery. I thought it
would be so.
How very strange! remarks Ludwig.
Not at all strange, senorito; but just as it should be, and
as we might have expected.
But what has caused it?
Oh, cousin, answered Cypriano, who now comprehends all. Can't you
see? I do.
Why, that the dust has settled down over the plain; and the rain
coming after, has converted it into mud.
Quite right, Senor Cypriano, interposes Gaspar; but that isn't
the worst of it.
Both turn their eyes upon him, wondering what worse he can allude
to. Cypriano interrogates:
Is it some new danger, Gaspar?
Not exactly a danger, but almost as bad; a likelihood of our being
We'll no longer have track or trace to guide us, if this abominable
sludge extend to the river; as I daresay it does. There we'll find the
trail blind as an owl at noontide. As you see, the thing's nearly an
inch thick all over the ground. 'Twould smother up the wheel-ruts of a
His words, clearly understood by both his young companions, cause
them renewed uneasiness. For they can reason, that if the trail be
obliterated, their chances of being able to follow the route taken by
the abductors will be reduced to simple guessing; and what hope would
there be searching that way over the limitless wilderness of the Chaco?
Well? says Gaspar, after they had remained for some moments gazing
over the cheerless expanse which extends to the very verge of their
vision, it won't serve any good purpose, our loitering here. We may as
well push on to the river, and there learn the worstif worst it's to
With this, the Spanish synonym for Come along! the gaucho gives
his horse a dig in the ribs, with spur rowels of six inches diameter,
and starts off at a swinging pace, the others after.
And now side by side go all three, splashing and spattering through
the mortar-like mud, which, flung up in flakes by their horses' hoofs,
is scattered afar in every direction.
Half an hour of quick cantering brings them back upon the
Pilcomayo's bank; not where they had parted from it, but higher up,
near the mouth of the arroyo. For Gaspar did not deem it
necessary to return to that prophetic tree, whose forecast has proved
so unfailing. To have gone back thither would have been a roundabout of
several miles, since they had made a cross-cut to reach the cavern; and
as on the way they had seen nothing of the Indian trail, it must needs
have continued up the river.
But now, having reached this, they cannot tell; for here, as on all
the plain over which they have passed, is spread the same coating of
half-dried dirt, fast becoming drier and firmer as the ascending
tropical sun, with strengthened intensity, pours his hot beams upon it.
It has smothered up the Indian's trail as completely as it snow several
inches deep lay upon it. No track there, no sign to show, that either
horses or men ever passed up the Pilcomayo's bank.
Caspita! exclaims the gaucho, in spiteful tone. It is as I
anticipated; blind as an old mule with a tapojo over its eyes.
May the fiends take that tormenta!
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO. STOPPED BY A
For a time the trackers remain at halt, but without forsaking their
saddles, pondering upon what course they should pursue, or rather, what
direction they ought to take.
Only a short while are they undecided. It seems good as certain that
the Indians have kept to the river, for some distance further on, at
all events. Therefore, it will be time enough to enter upon a more
prolonged deliberation, when they come to a point where this certainty
ceases. Thus reflecting, they start off afresh, with their horses'
heads as before.
Going at good speed as ever, in a few minutes they arrive at the
confluence of the arroyo with the greater river; the former here
running between banks less bluffy than above, where it passes the
cavern. Still they are of sufficient elevation to make a sharp descent
towards the channel of the stream, and a corresponding ascent on its
opposite side. But instead of an impediment, the trackers find this an
advantage; giving them evidence that the Indians have gone across the
arroyo. For their horses' tracks are distinctly traceable on the
steep faces of both banks; the dust either not having settled there, or
been washed off by the rain which fell after.
Without difficulty they themselves ride across; for the
rapid-running stream has returned to its ordinary dimensions, and is
now quite shallow, with a firm gravelly bed. Once on its western side,
however, and up to the level of the campo beyond, they are again
at fault; in fact, have reached the point spoken of where all certainty
is at an end. Far as they can see before them, the surface is smeared
with mud, just as behind, and no sign of a trail visible anywhere. Like
enough the Indians have still continued on along the river, but that is
by no means sure. They may have turned up the arroyo, or struck
off across the pampa, on some route known to them, and perhaps leading
more direct to whatever may be their destination.
It is all conjecture now; and upon this they must rely. But the
weight of probability is in favour of the pursued party having kept to
the river, and Gaspar is of this opinion. After riding some distance up
the western bank of the arroyo, and seeing no trail or track
there, he again returns to where they had crossed, saying:
I think we may safely stick to the river. I'm acquainted with its
course for at least thirty leagues further up. At about half that
distance from here it makes a big elbow, and just there, I remember, an
old Indian path strikes off from it, to cross a traveria. Ha!
that's good as sure to be the route these redskins have taken. For now,
I think of it, the path was a big, broad road, and must have been
much-travelled by Indians of some kind or other. So, muchachos;
we can't do better than keep on to where it parts from the water's
edge. Possibly on the traveria, which chances to be a
salitral as well, we may find the ground clear of this detestable
stuff, and once more hit off the rastro of these murderous
His young companions, altogether guided by his counsels, of course
offer no objection; and off they again go up the bank of the broad deep
Nor less swiftly do they speed, but fast as ever. For they are not
impeded by the necessity of constantly keeping their eyes upon the
earth, to see if there be hoof-marks on it. There are none; or if any,
they are not distinguishable through the thick stratum of slime spread
over all the surface. But although going at a gallop, they do not get
over much ground; being every now and then compelled to pull
upmeeting obstructions they had not reckoned upon. These in the shape
of numerous little streamlets, flowing into the river, most of them
still in freshet from the late rain. One after another they ford them,
none being so deep as to call for swimming. But they at length come
upon one of greater depth and breadth than any yet passed, and with
banks of such a character as to bring them to a dead stop, with the
necessity of considering whether it can be crossed at all. For it is a
watercourse of the special kind called riachos, resembling the
bayous of Louisiana, whose sluggish currents run in either
direction, according to the season of the year, whether it be
flood-time or during the intervals of drought.
At a glance, Gaspar perceives that the one now barring their onward
progress is too deep to be waded; and if it be possible to pass over
it, this must be by swimming. Little would they regard that, nor any
more would their animals; since the pampas horse can swim like an
otter, or capivara. But, unfortunately, this particular
riacho is of a kind which forbids even their swimming it; as almost
at the same glance, the gaucho observes, with a grunt expressing his
discontent. On the stream's further shore, the bank, instead of being
on a level with the water surface, or gently shelving away from it,
rises abruptly to a height of nigh six feet, with no break, far as can
be seen, either upward or downward. Any attempt to swim a horse to the
other side, would result in his being penned up, as within the
lock-gates of a canal!
It is plainly impossible for them to cross over there; and, without
waiting to reflect further, the gaucho so pronounces it; saying to the
others, who have remained silently watching him:
Well, we've got over a good many streams in our morning's ride, but
this one beats us. We can't set foot on the other sidenot here, at
Why? demands Cypriano.
Because, as you can see, senorito, that water's too deep for
But what of that? We can swim it, can't we?
True, we could; all that and more, so far as the swimming goes. But
once in there, how are we to get out again? Look at yonder bank.
Straight up as a wall, and so smooth a cat couldn't climb it, much less
our horses; and no more ourselves. If 'twere a matter of wading we
might; but, as I can see, all along yonder edge it's just as deep as in
mid-stream; and failing to get out, we'd have to keep on plunging
about, possibly in the end to go under. Carramba! we mustn't
attempt to make a crossing here.
Where then? demands Cypriano, in torture at this fresh delay,
which may last he knows not how long.
Well, rejoins the gaucho, reflectingly, I think I know of a place
where we may manage it. There's a ford which can't be very far from
this; but whether it's above or below, for the life of me I can't tell,
everything's so changed by that detestable tormenta, and the
ugly coat of plaster it has laid over the plain! Let me see, he adds,
alternately turning his eyes up stream and down, I fancy it must be
above; and now I recollect there was a tall tree, a quebracha,
not far from the ford. Ha! he exclaims, suddenly catching sight of it,
there's the bit of timber itself! I can tell it by that broken branch
on the left side. You see that, don't you, hijos mios?
They do see the top of a solitary tree with one branch broken off,
rising above the plain at about two miles' distance; and they can tell
it to be the well-known species called quebrachaan
abbreviation of quebrahacha, or axe-breaker, so named from the
hardness of its wood.
Whether it be by wading or swimming, Gaspar remarks in
continuance, we'll get over the riacho up yonder, not far from
that tree. So, let's on to it, senoritos!
Without another word, they all wheel their horses about, and move
off in the direction of the quebracha.
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE. A FISH DINNER
As they make towards the tree, which has erst served others than
themselves as a guide to the crossing-place, the nature of the ground
hinders their going at great speed. Being soft and somewhat boggy, they
are compelled to creep slowly and cautiously over it.
But at length they get upon a sort of ridge slightly elevated above
the general level, though still unsafe for fast travelling. Along this,
however, they can ride abreast, and without fear of breaking through.
As they proceed onward, Gaspar gives them some further information
about the ford they are making for.
We can easily wade it, he says, if this awkward and ill-timed
dust-storm hasn't changed it, as everything else. When poor dear master
and I went acrossthat would be about six months agothe water wasn't
quite up to our stirrups; but, like as not, last night's downpour has
raised it too, and we'll have a swim for it. Well, that won't matter
much. There, at all events, we can get the horses out; as the bank
slopes off gently. So there'll be no fear of our being stuck or sent
floundering in the stream. A regular Indian road, crosses the riacho
there, and has worn a rut running down to the channel on both sides.
His hearers are pleased at this intelligence; Cypriano signifying so
by the laconic rejoinder
Then follows an interval of silence; after which Gaspar, as if some
new thought had occurred to him, suddenly exclaims
Santos Dios! I'd forgotten that.
Forgotten what? both inquire, with a surprised, but not
apprehensive look; for the gaucho's words were not in this tone.
Something, he answers, which we ought to find at this very
crossing-place. A bit of good luck it's being here.
And what do you expect from it? questions Cypriano.
I expect to learn whether we're still on the right track, or have
strayed away from it. We've been going by guesswork long enough; but,
if I don't greatly mistake we'll there see something to tell us whether
our guesses have been good or bad. If the redskins have come up the
river at all, it's pretty sure they also have crossed the riacho
at this very ford, and we should there see some traces of them. Sure to
find them on the sloping banks, as we did by the arroyo. That
will count a score in our favour.
By the time he has ceased speaking, they have reached the
quebracha; and, soon as under its shadow, Gaspar again reins up,
telling the others to do the same. It is not that he has any business
with the beacon tree, as with that which served them for a barometer;
but simply, because they are once more within sight of the streamout
of view since they left its bank below. The ford is also before their
eyes, visible over the tops of some low bordering bushes.
But what has now brought the gaucho to a stop is neither the stream,
nor its crossing-place; but a flock of large birds wading about in the
water, at the point where he knows the ford to be. Long-legged
creatures they are, standing as on stilts, and full five feet high,
snow-white in colour, all but their huge beaks, which are jet black,
with a band of naked skin around their necks, and a sort of pouch like
a pelican's, this being of a bright scarlet. For they are garzones
soldados, or soldier-cranes, so-called from their red throats
bearing a fancied resemblance to the facings on the collar of a
soldier's coat, in the uniform of the Argentine States.
Bueno! is the pleased exclamation which proceeds from the
gaucho's lips, as he sits contemplating the cranes. We sha'n't have
any swimming to do here; the rain don't seem to have deepened the ford
so much as a single inch. You see those long-legged gentry; it barely
wets their feet. So much the better, since it ensures us against
getting our own wetted, with our baggage to the boot. Stay! he adds,
speaking as if from some sudden resolve, let's watch the birds a bit.
I've a reason.
Thus cautioned, the others hold their horses at rest, all with their
eyes fixed upon the soldier-cranes; which still unconscious of
intruders in such close proximity, continue the occupation in which
they were engaged when first seenthat of fishing.
Every now and then one darts its long bayonet-like beak into the
water, invariably drawing it out with a fish between the mandibles;
this, after a short convulsive struggle, and a flutter or two of its
tail fins, disappearing down the crane's capacious throat.
Having their breakfast, observes the gaucho, or, I should rather
call it dinner, he adds, with a glance upward to the sky. And the
height of that sun reminds me of its being high time for us to do
something in the same line, if I hadn't been already reminded of it by
a hollow I feel here. He places his spread palm over the pit of his
stomach, and then continues, So we may as well dine now; though, sad
to say, we haven't a morsel to make a meal upon but that juiceless
charqui. Santissima! what am I thinking about? I verily believe my
brains have got bemuddled, like everything else. Nothing but charqui, indeed! Ha! we'll dine more daintily, if I know what's what. Here,
senoritos! back your horses behind those bushes. Quick, gently.
While speaking, he turns his own out of the path, and rides
crouchingly to the rear of the bushes indicated, thus putting a screen
between himself and the soldier-cranes.
Following his example, the others do likewise, but without the
slightest idea of what he is going to be after next.
Cypriano inquiring, receives the very unsatisfactory answer
And they do see; first himself dismounting and tying his bridle to a
branch; then detaching his lazo from its ring in the saddle-tree, and
carefully adjusting its coils over his left arm. This done, he
separates from them, as he walks away, speaking back in a whisper:
Keep your ground, young masters, till I return to you, and if you
can help it, don't let the horses make any noise, or budge an inch. For
As they promise all this, he parts from them, and is soon out of
sight; their last glance showing him to be making for the ford, going
with bent body and crouched gait, as cat or cougar stealing upon its
For some ten minutes or so, they neither see nor hear more of him;
and can only conjecture that the design he has so suddenly conceived,
has something to do with the garzones. So believing, curiosity
prompts them to have another peep at these piscatory birds; which by
standing up in their stirrupsfor they are still seated in the
saddlethey can. Looking over the tops of the bushes, they see that
the cranes continue fishing undisturbed, and seemingly unaware of an
enemy being near, or that danger threatens them.
But not much longer are they left to enjoy this feeling of security.
While the two youths are still regarding them, first one, then another,
is observed to elevate its head to the full height of its long slender
neck; while here and there throughout the flock are heard cries of
warning or alarm; the frightened ones letting fall the fish already in
their beaks, while those not quite so much scared, suddenly swallow
them. But in another instant, all, as if by one impulse, give out a
simultaneous scream; then, rising together, spread their broad,
sail-like wings, and go flapping away.
No, not all. One stays in the riacho; no longer to look after
fish, but with both wings outspread over the surface of the stream,
beating the water into frothas it does so, all the while drawing
nearer and nearer to the nether bank! But its movements are convulsive
and involuntary, as can be told by something seen around its neck
resembling a rope. And a rope it is; the youths knowing it to be the
lazo they late saw coiled over Caspar's arm, knowing also that he
is at the other end of it. He is hauling it in, hand over hand, till
the captured bird, passing under the high bank, disappears from their
Soon, however, to re-appear; but now carried under the gaucho's arm.
He cries out as he approaches them:
Viva! muchachitos! Give me congratulation, as I intend
giving you a good dinner. If we can call charqui flesh, as I
suppose we must, then we shall have fish, flesh, and fowl, all the
three courses. So we'll dine sumptuously, after all.
Saying which, he draws out his knife, and cuts open the crane's
crop, exposing to view several goodly-sized fish, fresh as if just
cleared from a draw-net! They are of various sorts; the riverine waters
of South America being noted for their wonderful multiplicity of both
genera and species. The Amazon and its tributaries, are supposed to
contain at least three thousand distinct species; a fact upon which the
American naturalist, Agassizsomewhat of an empiric, by the wayhas
founded a portion of his spurious fame, on the pretence of being its
discoverer. It was pointed out by a real naturalist, Alfred Wallace,
ten years before Agassiz ever set eyes on the Amazon; and its record
will be found in the appendix to Wallace's most interesting work
relating to this, the grandest of rivers.
In the La Plata, and its confluent streams, are also many genera and
species; a question that gives Gaspar not the slightest concern, while
contemplating those he has just made the garzon disgorge.
Instead, he but thinks of putting them to the broil. So, in ten minutes
after they are frizzling over a fire; in twenty more, to be stowed away
in other stomachs than that of the soldier-crane.
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR. ATTACKED BY
Gaspar's promise to give them a dinner of the three orthodox
courses fish, flesh, and fowlwas only meant in a jocular sense. For
the flesh, their stock of charqui is not drawn upon; and as to
fowl, the soldier-crane would be a still more unpalatable morsel. So it
results in their dining simply upon fish; this not only without sauce,
but swallowed at second-hand!
While they are occupied in the eating it, the gaucho, seeming more
cheerful than usual, says:
I've a bit of good news for you, hijos mios.
Indeed! what? is their eager inquiry.
That we are still upon the right road. The redskins have gone past
here, as I supposed they would.
You've discovered fresh traces of them, then?
I have ever so many scratches of their horses' feet, where they
slipped in stepping down to the stream. Quite plain they are; I could
distinguish them some way off, and with half an eye, as I was hauling
in the soldado. Good news, I call it; since we won't have to
take the back-track anyhow. What's before us remains to be seen.
Possibly, on the other side we may light on something else, to tell the
direction they've taken. So, we'd better lose no time, but cross over.
Hurriedly finishing their primitive repast, they spring back upon
their recados, and ride down to the ford.
Once in the water, they find it not quite so shallow, as they had
supposed from seeing the garzones wading about with but the
slightest portion of their shanks below the surface. For at the bottom
is a substratum of mud; a soft slimy ooze, firm enough to support the
light birds, but through which the heavier quadrupeds, further weighted
with themselves and their baggage, sink to their bellies.
Gaspar is surprised at finding the ford in this condition. It was
not so when he passed over it before, and he can only account for the
change by the dust from the tormenta having been blown in large
quantities into the stream, then carried down by the current, and
settling over the shallow crossing-place.
Whatever the cause, they find it awkward work to wade through the
sticky slime. Still, they might have accomplished the crossing without
accident, and doubtless would have done so, but for an impediment of
another kindone not only altogether unexpected, but far more to be
dreaded than any danger of their going head and ears over into the
ooze. For just as they have reached mid-stream, and are splashing and
floundering on, Gaspar, who is riding ahead, and shouting back
directions to the others, all at once finds his attention fully
occupied in looking to himself, or rather to his horse. For the animal
has come to a stop, suddenly and without any restraint of the rein, and
stands uttering strange snorts, while quivering throughout every fibre
of its frame!
Glancing over his shoulder, the gaucho sees that the other horses
have also halted, and are behaving in a precisely similar manner, their
riders giving utterance to excited exclamations. Ludwig looks a picture
of astonishment; while, strange to say, on Cypriano's countenance the
expression is more one of alarm! And the same on the face of the gaucho
himself; for he, as the young Paraguayan comprehends the situation, and
well knows what has brought their horses so abruptly to a halt.
What is it, Gaspar? questions Ludwig, now also alarmed at seeing
the others so.
Eels! ejaculates the gaucho.
Eels! Surely you're jesting? queries the incredulous youth.
No, indeed, is the hurried rejoinder. I only wish it were a jest.
It's not, but a dire, dangerous earnest. Santissima! he cries
out, in addition, as a shock like that of a galvanic battery causes him
to shake in his saddle, that's a lightning eel, for sure!
They're all round us, in scores, hundreds, thousands! Spur your horses!
Force them forward, anyway! On out of the water! A moment wasted, and
While speaking, he digs the spurs into his own animal, with his
voice also urging it onward; they doing the same.
But spur and shout as they may, the terrified quadrupeds can scarce
be got to stir from the spot where first attacked by the electric eels.
For it is by these they are assailed, though Gaspar has given them a
slightly different name.
And just as he has said, the slippery creatures seem to be all
around them, coiling about the horses' legs, brushing against their
bellies, at intervals using the powerful, though invisible, weapon with
which Nature has provided them; while the scared quadrupeds, instead of
dashing onward to get clear of the danger, only pitch and plunge about,
at intervals standing at rest, as if benumbed, or shaking as though
struck by palsyall three of them, breathing hard and loud, the smoke
issuing from their nostrils, with froth which falls in flakes,
whitening the water below.
Their riders are not much less alarmed: they too sensibly feeling
themselves affected by the magnetic influence. For the subtle current
passing through the bodies of their horses, in like manner, and almost
simultaneously enters their own. All now aware that they are in real
danger, are using their utmost efforts to get out of it by spurring,
shouting to their animals, and beating them with whatever they can lay
their hands on.
It is a desperate strife, a contest between them and the quadrupeds,
as they strive to force the latter forward, and from out of the
perilous place. Fortunately, it does not last long, or the end would be
fatal. After a short time, two of the three succeeded in reaching the
bank: these Gaspar and Cypriano; the gaucho, as he feels himself on
firm ground, crying out:
Thank the Lord for our deliverance!
But scarce has the thanksgiving passed his lips, when, turning face
towards the stream, he sees what brings the pallor back into his
cheeks, and a trembling throughout his frame, as if he were still under
the battery of the electric eels. Ludwig, lagging behind, from being
less able to manage his mount, is yet several yards from the shore, and
what is worse, not drawing any nearer to it. Instead, his horse seems
stuck fast in the mud, and is making no effort to advance; but totters
on his limbs as though about to lose them! And the youth appears to
have lost all control not only of the animal but himself; all energy to
act, sitting lollingly in his saddle, as if torpid, or half-asleep!
At a glance Gaspar perceives his danger, knowing it of no common
kind. Both horse and rider are as powerless to leave that spot, as if
held upon it in the loop of a lazo, with its other end clutched
in the hands of a giant.
But a lazo may also release them; and at this thought
occurring to him opportunely, the gaucho plucks his own from the horn
of his recado, and with a wind or two around his head, casts its
running noose over that of the imperilled youth. It drops down over his
shoulders, settling around both his arms, and tightening upon them, as
Gaspar, with a half wheel of his horse, starts off up the sloping
acclivity. In another instant, Ludwig is jerked clean out of his
saddle, and falls with a splash upon the water. Not to sink below its
surface, however; but be drawn lightly along it, till he is hoisted
high, though not dry, upon the bank.
But the gaucho's work is still unfinished; the horse has yet to be
rescued from his dangerous situation; a task, even more difficult than
releasing his rider. For all, it is not beyond the skill of Gaspar, nor
the strength of his own animal. Hastily unloosing his long, plaited
rope from the body of the boy, and readjusting the loop, he again
flings it forth; this time aiming to take in, not the head of Ludwig
horse, but the pommel and cantle of his high-back saddle. And just as
aimed, so the noose is seen to fall, embracing both. For Gaspar knows
how to cast a lasso, and his horse how to act when it is cast; the
well-trained animal, soon as he sees the uplifted arm go down again,
sheering round without any guidance of rein, and galloping off in the
In the present case, his strength proves sufficient for the demand
made upon it, though this is great; and the debilitated animal in the
water, which can do nought to help itself, is dragged to the dry land
nearly as much dead as alive.
But all are saved, horses as well as riders. The unseen, but
dangerous, monsters are deprived of the prey they had come so near
making capture of; and Gaspar again, even more fervently than before,
cries out in gratitude
Thank the Lord for our deliverance!
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE. UNDER THE CAROB
An attack by electric eels, however ludicrous the thing may seem, is
not so looked upon by those whose ill luck it has been to experience
it. That these slippery creatures possess a most dangerous power, and
know how to exert it, there is ample evidence in the accounts given of
them by many a truthful traveller.
More than enough of it have had our heroes; for while escaping with
their lives, they have not got off altogether scathelessneither
themselves, nor their horses. For, though now beyond reach of their
mysterious assailants, the latter stand cowering and quivering,
evidently disabled for that day, at least. To continue the journey upon
them, while they are in this condition, is plainly impossible. But
their riders do not think of it; they, too, feeling enfeebledLudwig
actually ill. For the electricity still affects them all, and it may be
some time before their veins will be freed from its influence.
Nolens volens, for a time they must stay where they are,
however they may chafe at this fresh haltas before, a forced one. But
the gaucho, with spirits ever buoyant, puts the best face upon it,
saying, After all, we won't lose so much time. By this, our horses
would have been pretty well done up, anyhow, after such a hard day's
work, floundering through so much mud and crossing so many streams.
Even without this little bit of a bother, we'd have had to stop soon
somewhere to rest them. And what better place than here? Besides, as
you see, the sun's wearing well down, and it's only a question of three
or four hours at most. We can make that up by an earlier start, and a
big day's journey, to-morrow; when it's to be hoped we'll meet with no
such obstructions as have beset us to-day.
Gaspar is not using arguments; for no one wishes to dispute with
him. Only speaking words of comfort; more especially addressing them to
Cypriano, who is, as ever, the impatient one. But he, as the gaucho
himself, sees the impossibility of proceeding further, till they and
their animals have had a spell of rest.
For the purpose of obtaining this, they go in search of a suitable
camping-place; which they soon find within a grove of algarobias, at some three or four hundred yards' distance from the ford. The trees
cover the sides of a little mound, or hillock; none growing upon its
summit, which is a grassy glade. And as the dust has either not settled
on it, or been washed off by the rain, the herbage is clean and green,
so too the foliage of the trees overshadowing it.
The very place for a comfortable camp, says Gaspar, after
inspecting itthe others agreeing with him to the echo.
Having returned to the ford for their horses, and led them up to the
chosen ground, they are proceeding to strip the animals of their
respective caparisons, when, lo! the alparejas, and other
things, which were attached to the croup of Ludwig's saddle, and should
still be on it, are not there! All are goneshaken off, no doubt,
while the animal was plunging about in the streamand with as little
uncertainty now lying amidst the mud at its bottom.
As in these very saddle-bags was carried their commissariat
yerba, charqui, maize-bread, onions, and everything, and as over the
cantle-peak hung their kettle, skillet, mates and bombillas, the loss is a lamentable one; in short, leaving them without a morsel
to eat, or a vessel to cook with, had they comestibles ever so
At first they talk of going back to the ford, and making search for
the lost chattels. But it ends only in talk; they have had enough of
that crossing-place, so dangerously beset by those demonios, as
Gaspar in his anger dubs the electric eels. For though his courage is
as that of a lion, he does not desire to make further acquaintance with
the mysterious monsters. Besides, there is no knowing in what
particular spot the things were dropped; this also deterring them from
any attempt to enter upon a search. The stream at its crossing-place is
quite a hundred yards in width, and by this time the articles of metal,
as the heavily-weighted saddle-bags, will have settled down below the
surface, perhaps trampled into its slimy bed by the horse himself in
his convulsive struggles. To seek them now would be like looking for a
needle in a stack of straw. So the idea is abandoned; and for this
night they must resign themselves to going supperless.
Fortunately, none of the three feels a-hungered; their dinner being
as yet undigested. Besides, Gaspar is not without hope that something
may turn up to reprovision them, ere the sun goes down. Just possible,
the soldier-cranes may come back to the ford, and their fishing, so
that another, with full crop, may fall within the loop of his lazo.
Having kindled a firenot for cooking purposes, but to dry their
ponchos, and other apparel saturated in the crossing of the
streamthey first spread everything out; hanging them on improvised
clothes-horses, constructed of cana bravaa brake of which
skirts the adjacent stream. Then, overcome with fatigue, and still
suffering from the effects of the animal electricity, they stretch
themselves alongside the fire, trusting to time for their recovery.
Nor trust they in vain. For, sooner than expected, the volatile
fluid or whatever it may bepasses out of their veins, and their
nervous strength returns; even Ludwig saying he is himself again,
though he is not quite so yet.
And their animals also undergo a like rapid recovery, from browsing
on the leaves and bean-pods of the algarobias; a provender
relished by all pampas horses, as horned cattle, and nourishing to
both. More than this, the fruit of this valuable tree when ripe, is fit
food for man himself, and so used in several of the Argentine States.
This fact suggesting itself to Gasparas he lies watching the
horses plucking off the long siliques, and greedily devouring themhe
We can make a meal on the algarobia beans, if nothing
better's to be had. And for me, it wouldn't be the first time by
scores. In some parts where I've travelled, they grind them like maize,
and bake a very fair sort of bread out of their meal.
Why, Gaspar! exclaims Ludwig, recalling some facts of which he had
heard his father speak, you talk as if you had travelled in the Holy
Land, and in New Testament times! These very trees, or others of a
similar genus, are the ones whose fruit was eaten by Saint John the
Baptist. You remember that passage, where it is said: `his meat was
locusts and wild honey.' Some think the locusts he ate were the insects
of that name; and it may be so, since they are also eaten by Arabs, and
certain other tribes of Asiatic and African people. But, for my part, I
believe the beans of the `locust tree' are meant; which, like this, is
a species of acacia that the Arabs call carob; evidently the
root from which we take our word algarobia.
Gaspar listens, both patiently and pleased, to this learned
dissertation. For he is rejoiced to perceive, that the thoughts of his
young companion are beginning to find some abstraction and
forgetfulness, of that upon which they have been so long sadly
dwelling. Cypriano, too, appears to take an interest in the subject of
discourse; and to encourage it the gaucho rejoins, in gleeful tones:
Well, Senor Ludwig; I don't know much about those far-away
countries you speak of, for I've not had any great deal of schooling.
But I do know, that algarobia beans are not such bad eating;
that is if properly prepared for it. In the States of Santiago and
Tucuman, which are the places I spoke of having travelled through, the
people almost live on them; rich and poor, man as well as beast. And we
may be glad to make breakfast on them, if not supper; though I still
trust something more dainty may drop upon us. I'm not so hopeful as to
expect manna, like that which rained down upon Moses; but there's many
an eatable thing to be had in this Chaco wilderness, toofor those who
know how to look for it. Ay Dios! he adds, after a pause, with
his eyes turned towards the ford, those long-legged gentry don't seem
to care about coming back there. No doubt, the screams of that fellow I
throttled have frightened them off for good. So I suppose we must give
the birds up, for this night anyhow. Just possible, in the morning
they'll be as hungry as ourselves, and pay their fishing-ground a very
Saying this, the gaucho relapses into silence, the others also
ceasing to converse. They all feel a certain lethargy, which calls for
repose; and for a while all three lie without speaking a word, their
heads resting on their recadosthe only sound heard being the
crump-crump of their horses' teeth grinding the algarobia pods
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX. A CHAT ABOUT
The silence of the camp is not of long continuance; Gaspar being the
first to break it. For the gaucho, having a stronger stomach, and
consequently a quicker digestion than the others, feels some incipient
sensations of hunger.
I only wish, he says, we could get hold of one of the brutes that
battered us so in the stream. If we could, it would furnish us with a
supper fit for a king.
What! exclaims Ludwig, raising his head in surprise, one of the
electric eels? Is it that you're speaking of, Gaspar?
Ay, senorito; just that.
Surely you wouldn't eat it, would you?
Wouldn't I? If I had one here now, you'd soon see.
But are they really good to eat?
Good to eat! I should think they are; and if you could but taste
them yourself, senorito, you'd say so. A lightning eel's about
the daintiest morsel I ever stuck teeth into; though they do have their
dwelling-place in mud, and as some say, feed upon it. Before cooking
them, however, something needs being done. You must cut away a portion
of their flesh; the spongy part, which it's said gives them power to
make their lightning play. In that lies the dangerous stuff, whatever
sort of thing it is.
But what are they like, Gaspar? I've never seen one.
It is Ludwig who still interrogates; but to his last question
Cypriano, not Gaspar, gives the answer, saying:
Oh, cousin! Do you mean to say you've never seen an electric eel?
Indeed do I. I've heard father speak of them often, and I know them
by their scientific name, gymnotus. I believe there are plenty
of them in the rivers of Paraguay; but, as it chances, I never came
across one, either dead or alive.
I have, says Cypriano, come across more than one, and many times.
But once I well remember; for an awkward circumstance it was to
How so, sobrino?
Ah! that's a tale I never told you, Ludwig; but I'll tell it now,
if you wish.
Oh I do wish it.
Well, near the little village where, as you know, I was born, and
went to school before coming to live with uncle at Assuncion, there was
a pond full of these fish. We boys used to amuse ourselves with them;
sending in dogs and pigs, whenever we had the chance, to see the scare
they would get, and how they scampered out soon as they found what
queer company they'd got into. Cruel sport it was, I admit. But one day
we did what was even worse than frightening either dogs or pigs; we
drove an old cow in, with a long rope round her horns, the two ends of
which we fastened to trees on the opposite sides of the pond, so that
she had only a little bit of slack to dance about upon. And dance about
she did, as the eels electrified her on every side; till at last she
dropped down exhausted, and, I suppose, dead; since she went right
under the water, and didn't come up again. I shall never forget her
pitiful, ay, reproachful look, as she stood up to the neck, with her
head craned out, as if making an appeal to us to save her, while we
only laughed the louder. Poor thing! I can now better understand the
torture she must have endured.
But is that the awkward circumstance you've spoken of?
Oh, no. It was altogether another affair; and for me, as all
the others, a more serious one. I hadn't come to the end of the
adventure the unpleasant part of itwhich was the chastisement we
all got, by way of reward for our wickedness.
Chastisement! Who gave it to you?
Our worthy schoolmaster. It so chanced the old cow was his; the
only one he had at the time giving milk. And he gave us such a
thrashing! Ah! I may well say, I've a lively recollection of it; so
lively, I might truly think the punishment then received was enough,
without the additional retribution the eels have this day inflicted on
Cypriano's narration ended, his cousin, after a pause, again appeals
to Gaspar to give him a description of the creatures forming the topic
of their conversation. To which the gaucho responds, saying:
Well, Senor Ludwig, if you want to know what a lightning eel is
like, take one of the common kindwhich of course you've seena
full-sized one; make that about ten times as thick as it is, without
adding much to its length, and you'll have the thing, near as I can
think it. So much for the reptile's bulk; though there are some both
bigger round, and longer from head to tail. As for its colour, over the
back it's a sort of olive greenjust like yerba leaves when
they've been let stand a day or two after plucking. On the throat, and
under the belly, it's paler, with here and there some blotches of red.
I may tell you, however, that the lightning-eels change colour same as
some of the lizards; partly according to their age, but as much from
the sort of water they're found inwhether it be a clear running
stream, or a muddy stagnant pond, such as the one Senor Cypriano has
spoken of. Besides, there are several kinds of them, as we gauchos
know; though, I believe, the naturalutas are not aware of the
fact. The most dangerous sort, and no doubt the same that's just
attacked us, have broad heads, and wide gaping mouths full of sharp
teeth, with flat tails and a pair of fins close to the nape of the
neck. Carramba! they're ugly devils to look at, and still uglier
to have dealings with; that is, when one's in the water alongside
themas we ourselves know. Still they don't always behave so bad, as
these did to-day. When I crossed this stream before, with the dueno, neither he nor I felt the slightest shock to tell of eels being in it.
I suppose it's the tormenta that's set them a stirring. Like
enough, there's some connection between their lightning and that of the
sky. If so, that's what has quickened the brutes, and made them so mad.
Well, he adds, as if drawing his account to a conclusion, mad as they
are, I'd like to have one frizzling over this fire.
But who eats them, Gaspar? interrogates Ludwig, still incredulous
on the question of their being a fit article of diet. I've never heard
of their being eaten, nor brought to market like other fish.
Hundreds, thousands of people eat them, hijo mio. They're in
great request in some places; ay, all over the country. Both whites and
Indians relish them; but more especially the redskins. Some tribes
prefer them to any other food, be it fish, flesh, or fowl; and make a
regular business of catching them.
Ah! how are they caught?
There are various ways; but the usual one is by spearing them.
Sometimes the slippery fellows glide out of their mud beds and come to
the surface of the water, as it were to amuse themselves by having a
look round. Then the fisherman gets a chance at them, without any
searching, or trouble. He is armed with a long pole of cana brava, one end having an iron point barbed like a spear. This, he launches at
them, just as I've heard say whalers do their harpoons. For, if he kept
the shaft in his hands, he'd catch it from their lightning, and get
strokes that would stagger him. Still, he doesn't let go altogether; as
there's a cord attached to the spear, and with that he can haul in the
fish, if he has struck it. But he must have a care to keep his cord out
of the water; if it gets wetted he'll have a fit of the trembles upon
him, sure. For it's a factand a curious one you'll say, senoritos
that a dry cord won't conduct the eel's lightning, while a wet one
It is a fact, says Ludwig, endorsing the statement. I've
heard father speak of it.
Very singular, observes Cypriano.
And I can tell you of another fact, pursues the gaucho, that
you'll say is still more singular. Would you believe, that from one of
these fish a man may strike sparks, just as by a flint and steelay,
and kindle a fire with them? I know it's an old story, about fish
having what's called phosphorus in them; but it isn't everybody who
knows that real fire can be got out of the lightning-eels.
But can that be done, Gaspar? asks Ludwig.
Certainly it can. I've seen it done. And he who did it was your own
dear father, Senor Ludwig. It was one day when we were out on a ramble,
and caught one of the eels in a pool, where it had got penned up by the
water having dried around it. The dueno took out a piece of
wire, and with one end tickled the eel; the other end being stuck into
some gunpowder, which was wrapped loosely in a piece of paper. The
powder flashed and set the paper ablaze, as also some leaves and dry
sticks we'd laid around it. Soon we had a fire; and on that same fire
we broiled the eel itself, and ate it. Por dios! I only wish we
had one broiling over this fire. I'd want no better thing for supper.
So ended the chat about electric eels, the subject seeming
exhausted. Then the conversation changing to other and less interesting
topics, was soon after brought to a close. For the darkness was now
down, and as their ponchos, and other softer goods had become
thoroughly dry, there was no reason why they should not go to rest for
the night. But since the soldier-cranes had declined coming backby
this time no doubt roosted in some far-off craneryand no other
source of food supply offering, they must needs go to bed supperless,
as they did. Their appetites were not yet sufficiently sharp, to have
an inordinate craving for meat.
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN. NOTHING FOR
Under the shadow of the algarobias the trackers sleep
undisturbed. Ludwig, however, has troubled dreams, in which gymnoti
play a conspicuous part. He imagines himself still floundering amidst
these monsters, assailed from all sides by their galvanic batteries,
and that they have dragged him down into the mud, where he is fast
getting asphyxiated. When in his last gasp, as it were, he is relieved,
by awaking from his uneasy slumbers; which he does suddenly, and with a
Finding it has been all a dream, and glad to think it so, he says
nothing; and the others not having heard his half-stifled cry, soon
again falls asleep. This time his slumber is lighter, as also more
profound; and, on the whole, he has a tolerable night's rest; in the
morning feeling fairly refreshed, as likewise do Cypriano and Gaspar.
All three are astir a good half-hour before there is any sign of
day; and their camp-fire is rekindled. This not for culinary
purposessince they have nothing to be cookedbut rather because the
air is chilly cold, as it often is in the tropics, and they need to
warm themselves before setting about aught else.
When warmed, however, they begin to think of breakfast, as also to
talk about it. What is it to be, or of what consist, are the questions
which interest them without being easily answered. There are the
algarobia beans; but their skillet has been lost along with the
kettle, and there is left them no utensil in which these legumes might
be boiled. True, they can roast them in the ashes; but Gaspar still
clings to the hope that something more toothful may turn up. As the
early dawn is the best time to find wild animals abroad, both birds and
quadrupedsthe best also for approaching themthe gaucho feels pretty
confident either one or other will stray within reach of their guns,
bolas, or lazos.
In the end it proves that his confidence has not been misplaced.
Just as the first red rays of the Aurora are reflected from the tops of
the trees around their camp, more faintly lighting up the lower level
of the pampa beyond, Gaspar, peering through a break between the
branches of the algarobias, sees a brace of large birds moving
about over the plain. Not soldier-cranes, though creatures with necks
and legs quite as long; for they are rheas.
Gracios a Dios! is the gaucho's gratified exclamation at
sight of them; continuing in low tone and speaking over his shoulder,
A couple of avestruz!
The others, gliding up to him, and looking through the leaves, also
behold the birds, seeing them from head to foot. For they are out upon
the open ground, striding to and fro, now and then pausing to pick up
some morsel of food, or it may be but a pebble to aid in the digestion
of what they have already eaten. While thus engaged, they are gradually
drawing nearer to the bank of the riacho, as also the edge of
the algarobia grove in which the trackers are encamped. Their
proximity to the latter most interests those in the camp, and all three
instantly lay hold of their guns, which luckily have been reloaded, two
of them with ball. Gaspar, foremost of the trio, has got his barrel
through the branches, and, seeing that the rheas are now within
bullet-range, is about to blaze away at the one nearest, which chances
to be the cock bird, when the latter, suddenly elevating its head, and
uttering a loud hiss succeeded by a snort, as from a badly-blown
trumpet, turns tail and makes off over the plain; its mate turning
simultaneously, and legging it alongside. All this to the surprise of
the gaucho; who knows that he has not exposed his person and sees that
neither have the others, nor yet made any noise to account for the
behaviour of the birds.
What can have frightened them? is the question he would ask, when
casting his eyes upward he perceives what has done ittheir smoke of
their camp-fire! The blue stream ascending over the tops of the trees,
as if out of a chimney, had just then, for the first time, been caught
sight of by the ostriches, sending them off in quick scare. Nor strange
it should, being a spectacle to which the wild denizens of the Chaco
are not accustomed, or only familiar with as denoting an enemy
neartheir greatest enemy, man.
Maldita sea! exclaims the gaucho, as the birds show their
backs to him, an exclamation morally the reverse of that he uttered on
seeing them with heads turned the opposite way. That confounded fire!
what a pity we kindled it! the thing's done us out of our breakfast.
The negative ejaculation comes from his perceiving that the
ostriches, instead of rushing onwards in long rapid strides, as they
had started, are gradually shortening step and slackening the pace. And
while he continues looking after them, they again come to a stop, and
stand gazing back at the dark blue pillar of smoke rising spirally
against the lighter blue background of sky. But now they appear to
regard it less with alarm than curiosity; and even this after a time
wearing off, they once more lower their beaks, and return to browsing,
just as a couple of common geese, or rather a goose and gander. For
all, they do not yet seem quite tranquillised, every now and then their
heads going up with a suddenness, which tells that their former feeling
of security is not restored; instead, replaced by uneasy suspicions
that things are not as they ought to be.
Our guns will be of no use now, says Gaspar, laying his own aside.
I know the nature of avestruz well enough to say for certain,
that, after the scare they've had they'll stay shy for several hours,
and 'twill be impossible to approach them; that is, near enough for the
longest-range gun we've got. And to run them down with our horses would
be to lose a day's journey at least. We can't afford that, for the sake
of a bit of breakfast. No, 'twould never do. We'll have to go without,
or else, after all, break our fast upon these beans.
Saying which, he glances up to the algarobias, from which the
long siliques droop down in profusion, more plentiful than tempting to
Caspita! he resumes, after a pause, once more bending his
eyes covetously upon the birds, and as if an idea had suddenly occurred
to him, I think I know of a way by which we may circumvent these two
How? eagerly asks Cypriano.
By going at themgarzoneando.
Garzoneando! exclaims Ludwig in echo. Good Gaspar,
whatever do you mean by that?
You'll see, young master, soon as I've made things ready for it.
And your cousin here, he's the fittest for the part to be played. I'd
undertake it myself, but I'm a bit too bulky to counterfeit a creature
of such slender proportions as the garzon soldado; while Senor
Cypriano's figure will just suit to a nicety.
Neither of the two youths has the slightest idea of what the gaucho
designs doing; but, accustomed to his quaint, queer ways, and knowing
that whatever he intends is pretty sure to be something of service to
themas likely to have a successful issuethey await his action with
patience and in silence.
CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT. A COUNTERFEIT
Gaspar allows no time to be lost, but instantly commences taking
measures for the garzoneandowhatever that may be. As yet
neither of his young companions has been told what it is, though they
soon begin to have a guess.
While they stand watching, they see him once more plunge his hand
into those capacious saddle-bags, where for a time it rummages about.
When drawn out again, it is seen to grasp a folded bundle of soft
goods, which, on being shaken open, shows to be a shirt. No common
cotton thing, however, but an affair of the finest linen, snow-white,
with an embroidered bosom and ruffles; in short, his gala shirt, such
as are worn by gauchos when they appear at fiestas and
A pity to use my best camisa for such a purpose, he
observes, while in the act of unfolding it. Still it won't likely get
much damage; and a wash, with a bit of starch, will set it all right
Then turning to Cypriano, he adds, Now, senorito; be good enough to
strip off everything, and draw this over your shoulders.
Without a word of protest, or objection, the young Paraguayan does
as requested, and is soon inside the holiday shirt; his own having been
laid aside, as also his jaqueta, calzoneras, and every other
article of dress worn by him.
Meanwhile, Gaspar has been engaged getting ready several other
things for the change of costume intended; one of these being a silk
handkerchief of a bright scarlet colour, also taken out of the
inexhaustible alparejas. This he ties about Cypriano's neck, not
as an ordinary cravat, but loosely folded, so as to expose a breadth of
several inches all round.
The gaucho's next move is to snatch from off the fire one of the
faggots still only half consumed; from which with his knife he scrapes
the red coal, leaving the surface black, at the same time paring the
stick to a sharp point. With some wet gunpowder he further blackens it;
then placing the thick end against Cypriano's forehead, he binds it
fast with a piece of raw-hide thong, the last carried around and firmly
knotted at the back of the neck.
A few more touches and the toilet is complete; transforming Cypriano
into what, at a distance, might be supposed a soldier-crane! At all
events, the ostriches will so suppose him, as Gaspar knows; for he is
but copying a scheme often practised by South American Indians for the
capture of these shy birds.
Muy bien! he exclaims, as he stands contemplating his
finished task. By my word, muchacho mio, you look the character
to perfection. And if you act it cleverly, as I know you can and will,
we'll make breakfast on something better than beans. Now, senorito;
you're in costume to go garzoneando.
Long ere this, Cypriano has come to comprehend what is required of
him, and is quite eager to have a try at the ruse so cunningly
contrived. Declaring himself ready to start out, it but remains to be
decided what weapon he ought to take with him. For they have the three
kindsgun, bolas, and lazo; and in the use of the two
last he is almost as skilled as the gaucho himself.
The gun might be the readiest and surest, remarks Gaspar; and it
will be as well to have one with you, in case of your not getting a
good chance to cast either of the others. But just now the less noise
that's made the better. Who knows, but that some of these traitorous
redskins may be still straggling about? Hearing shots they'd be sure to
come up to us; which we don't want, though ever so much wishing to come
up with them. Therefore, I say, use either the balls or the rope.
All the same to me, observes the young Paraguayan. Which do you
think the better?
The bolas, decidedly. I've known the lazo slip over
an ostrich's head, after the noose had been round its neck. But once
the cord of the bolas gets a turn round the creature's shanks,
it'll go to grass without making another stride. Take this set of mine.
As you see, they're best boliadores, and you can throw them with
The weapon which the gaucho hands to him differs from the ordinary
bolas, in having a longer stretch of cord between the balls; but
Cypriano is himself as well acquainted with this kind as with the
other, and can cast them as skilfully. Taking hold of the weapon, along
with his double-barrelled gun, and concealing both as he best can under
the gaucho's shirt, he starts off upon the stalk; for he now knows what
he has to do, without any further instruction from Gaspar. It is simply
a question of getting near enough to one of the birds to make capture
of it with the boliadores; or, failing this, bring it down with
a bulletone barrel of his gun being loaded with ball.
As he goes off, Caspar and Ludwig looking after him can see that his
chances of success are good. For by this the rheas have pretty
well recovered from their scare, and are again tranquilly striding
about. Moreover, they have moved somewhat nearer to the bank of the
riacho, where a bordering of leafy evergreens offers to the stalker
cover of the best kind. Taking advantage of it, he, in the guise of a
garzon, steps briskly on, and steals in among the bushes. There he
is for a time unseen, either by those watching him from the summit of
the knoll, or the creatures being stalked. The latter have already
noticed the counterfeit, but without showing any signs of fear; no
doubt supposing it to be what it pretendsa bird as themselves, with
neck and legs as long as their own. But no enemy; for often have they
passed over that same plain, and fed in a friendly way alongside
soldier-cranesscores of them. Even when this solitary specimen again
appears by the skirting of the scrub within less than twenty paces of
them, they do not seem at all alarmed, though possibly a little
surprised at its being there all alone.
Nor do they make any attempt to stir from the spot, till a movement
on the part of the garzon, with some gestures that seem odd to
them, excite their suspicions afresh; then raising their heads, and
craning out their long necks, they regard it with wondering glances.
Only for an instant; when seeming at last to apprehend danger, the
birds utter a hiss, as if about to beat a retreat.
For one of them it is too late, the cock, which chances to be
nearest the bushes, and who before he can lift a leg feels both
embraced by something which lashes them tightly together; while at the
same time something else hits him a hard heavy blow, bowling him over
upon the grass, where he lies stunned and senseless.
Bueno! Bravo! simultaneously shout Gaspar and Ludwig, the
two together rushing down from the hillock, and on for the prostrate
rhea; while the counterfeit crane comes forth from the bushes to
meet them, as he draws near, saying:
I could have shot the hen, but for what you said, Gaspar, about
making a noise.
No matter for the hen, rejoins the gaucho. We don't want her just
now. This beauty will not only give us enough meat for breakfast, but
provide dinners and suppers for at least a couple of days to come.
So saying, he draws his knife across the rhea's throat, to
make sure before releasing its legs from the thong. After which the
boliadores are detached; and the huge carcase, almost as heavy as
that of a fatted calf, is carried in triumph to the camp.
CHAPTER THIRTY NINE. THE AVESTRUZ.
Soon after the trio of trackers have re-entered the algarobia
grove, a frizzling, sputtering noise is heard therein; while an
appetising odour spreads all around, borne afar on the balmy breeze of
the morning. Both the sound and the smell proceed from some choice
tit-bits which Gaspar has taken from the body of the great
birdchiefly slices from the thigh bone and breast.
By the time Cypriano has doffed the masquerading dress, and resumed
his proper travelling costume, the cooking is done, and breakfast
While eating it, by way of accompaniment they naturally converse
about the bird. Not the particular one which exclusively forms their
repast, but of ostriches in general, and more especially those of South
America commonly called rheas; though to the gauchos better
known by the name avestruz.
Both the boys are pretty well acquainted with these birds and their
habits; Cypriano having several times taken part in their chase; while
Ludwig best knows them in a scientific sense. Still there are many of
their ways, and strange ones, of which neither one nor the other has
ever heard, but that Gaspar has been witness to with his own eyes. It
is the gaucho, therefore, who imparts most of the information, the
others being little more than listeners.
Though the thing isn't generally known, he says, there are
several distinct kinds of avestruz in different parts of the
country. Of myself I've seen three. First, a very small sort, not much
bigger than a turkey cock. It's darker coloured than the kind we're
eating, with shorter legs and feathered further down. It don't lay so
many eggs either; but, strange to say, they are almost as big as those
of the other sort, only differently shaped, and with a tinge of blue on
the shell. It I saw when I once went on an expedition with the Buenos
Ayres army down south to the plains of Patagonia. There the climate is
much colder than up here, and the avestruz petise, as the bird's
called, seems to like that best; since it's never seen on the warm
pampas farther north. On the other hand, the sort we have here, which
is the biggest of all, never strays down to these very cold districts,
but goes all over the Chaco country, where it's hottest. The
third kind I've seen is in bulk about midways between the two; but it's
a very rare bird, and I believe not known to the learned
naturalistas. Isn't that so, Senor Ludwig?
Indeed, yes. I never heard of a third species, though father has
told me of the avestruz petise; which, as you say, is only found
far south, ranging from the Rio Negro to the Straits of Magellan.
Well, continues Gaspar, resuming his account, I'm sure of there
being there sorts; though I don't know much about the other two, only
this we've met here. Of them I ought to know a good deal, having hunted
them as often as there are days in the year. One thing there's been no
end of disputation about; and that is whether several hens lay their
eggs in the same nest. Now, I can say for certain they do. I've seen
several go to the same nest, one after the other, and on the same day
too. What should take them there if not to lay their eggs? True, they
drop them about everywhere, in a very loose, careless way; as can be
told by their being seen scattered all over the campo, and far
from any nest. What this is for I cannot myself tell; though I've heard
some gauchos say that these stray eggshuachos we call
themare laid here and there for the young birds to feed upon. But
that can't be so, since the huachos are never found pecked or
broken, but always whole, whether they be fresh or addled. I think it's
more likely that the hens drop these stray eggs because they have no
nest in which to put them; that where they have laid their others being
already full. Besides, there is the cock sitting upon it; who won't let
any of them come near, once he has taken to hatching?
Is it true, then, that the cock does the hatching? interrogates
Quite trueall of it; and he's got a good many eggs to cover. I've
counted over fifty in one nest. That of itself shows no single hen
could have laid them; for, as it would take her a long time, the first
ones would be rotten before the last came. As for the cock when
sitting, he's as cross as an old duck doing the same, but ten
times more dangerous to go near. I've known of a gaucho getting a kick
from one he'd started from off the nest, almost as hard as if it had
been given by a mule. And to hear them hiss then! Ah! that was nothing
we've just heard from this fellow.
Is it true they can swim, Gaspar? again questions Ludwig.
Like swans. No, I'm wrong there, for nothing can be more unlike. So
far as the swimming goes, the avestruz can do it, but in quite a
different way from swans. They swim with their bodies under water, and
only their shoulders, with the head and neck, above. It's a funny sight
to see a flock of them crossing one of the big rivers; and scores of
times I've been eye-witness to that bit of comicality. Carramba!
a curious bird, the avestruz is altogether, and a useful one, as
we've now good reason to know. So, senoritos, let us be thankful
to Providence that there's such a plenty of them on these pampas, and above all, for guiding the steps of this fine specimen, as to
place it so directly and opportunely in our way.
The discourse about ostriches is brought to a close with the
breakfast upon that which had led to it; both, along with the incident
of the bird's capture, having occupied little more time than is here
taken in telling of them. So little, indeed, that the sun's disc is not
yet all above the horizon, when, having completed the repast, the
trackers start up from their seats around the fire, and proceed to
caparisoning their animals.
Nor do they spend many moments at this. Ever mindful of what has
brought them thitherno mere excursion for pleasure's sake, but an
expedition forced upon them through sad, painful necessitythey waste
not a second that can be saved. Quickly, therefore, their horses are
got under saddle, and bridled, with every article of their
impedimenta fixed and fastened in its respective place, besides,
something on the croup of Ludwig recado, which was not hitherto
there. Where the lost traps had been carried, are now seen the two
thigh-bones of the cock ostrich, with most of the flesh still adhering,
each as large as a leg of mutton. There is a heart, liver, and gizzard
also stowed away in a wrap of a vihao, or wild plantain leaves,
which, tied in a secure packet, dangles alongside; the whole, as Gaspar
declared, enough to keep them provisioned for at least a couple of
But although everything seems in readiness, they are not yet
prepared to take a final departure from the place. A matter remains to
be determined, and one of the utmost importancebeing no less than the
direction in which they should go. They have thought of it the night
before, but not till darkness had come down upon them. Still
unrecovered from the excitement consequent on the attack of the
gymnoti, and afterwards occupied in drying their wet garments, with
other cares of the occasion, even Gaspar had failed during daylight to
examine the nether side of the ford at its outcoming, where he supposed
he might hit upon the trail they were in search of. It was not because
he had forgotten it, but that, knowing they would stay there all night,
he also knew the tracks, if any, would keep till the morning.
Morning having arrived, from earliest daybreak and before, as is
known, they have been otherwise occupied; and only now, at the moment
of moving off, do they find time to look for that which must decide
their future course and the route they are to take.
With a parting glance at the place of bivouac, and each leading his
own horse, they move out of the algarobia grove, and on down to
the edge of the riacho, stopping at the spot where they came
But not a moment spend they there, in the search for hoof-marks
other than those of their own horses. They see others soon as arrived
at the stream's edge; scores of them, and made by the same animals they
have been all along tracking. Not much in this it might appear; since
unfortunately, these hoof-marks can be distinguished no farther than to
the summit of the sloping bank. Beyond they are covered up, as
elsewhere, by the mud. But Gaspar's keen eye is not to be thus baffled;
and a joyful ejaculation escaping his lips tells he has discovered
something which gives him gladness. On Cypriano asking what it is, he
Just what we're wanting to find out; the route the redskins have
taken after parting from this place. Thanks to the Virgin, I know the
way they went now, as well as if I'd been along with them.
How do you know that? questions Cypriano, who with Ludwig has been
examining the Indian trail down by the water's edgeapart from the
gaucho, who had followed it up to the summit of the slope.
Come hither! he calls out. Look there! he adds as they get
beside him, You see that these tracks have the toes all turned down
stream; which tells me the horses did the same, and, I should say, also
their riders. Yes! Soon as out of the water they turned down; proof
good as positive that they've gone along the riacho this side,
and back again to the big river. So it's no use our delaying longer
here; there's nothing farther to be learnt, or gained by it.
So says Gaspar; but Cypriano, and also Ludwig, think otherwise. Both
have a wishindeed, an earnest desireonce more to look upon the
tracks of the pony on which they know Francesca to have been mounted.
And communicating this to the gaucho, he holds their horses while they
return to search for them.
To their satisfaction they again beheld the diminutive hoof-marks;
two or three of which have escaped being trampled out by the horses
that came behind. And after regarding them for a time with sad glances,
Ludwig turns away sighing, while his cousin gives utterance to what
more resembles a curse, accompanied by words breathing vengeance
against the abductors.
Rejoining the gaucho, all three mount into their saddles; and,
without further dallying, ride off down the riacho, to make back
for the main river.
But, again upon the latter's bank, they find the trail blind as
before, with nothing to guide them, save the stream itself. To the
gaucho, however, this seems sufficient, and turning his horses's head
upward, he cries out
Now, muchachos mios! we must on to the salitral!
And on for this they ride; to reach the point where it commences,
just as the sun's lower limb touches, seeming to rest on the level line
of the horizon.
And now, having arrived on the edge of the salitral, they
make halt, still keeping to their saddles, with eyes bent over the
waste which stretches far beyond and before them. Greater than ever is
the gloom in their looks as they behold the sterile tract, which should
have shown snow-white, all black and forbidding. For the salitral, as all the rest of the campo, is covered with a stratum of mud, and
the travesia across it has been altogether obliterated.
Gaspar only knows the place where it begins; this by the bank of the
river which there also commences its curve, turning abruptly off to the
south. He thinks the route across the salitral is due westward,
but he is not sure. And there is no sign of road now, not a trace to
indicate the direction. Looking west, with the sun's disc right before
their faces, they see nothing but the brown bald expanse, treeless as
cheerless, with neither break nor bush, stick nor stone, to relieve the
monotony of its surface, or serve as a land-mark for the traveller. And
the same thing both to the right and left, far as their eyes can reach;
for here the river, after turning off, has no longer a skirting of
trees; its banks beyond being a low-lying saline marshin short, a
part of the salitral. To ride out upon that wilderness waste, to
all appearance endless, with any chance or hope of finding the way
across it, would be like embarking in an open boat, and steering
straight for the open ocean.
Not on that night, anyhow, do they intend making the attempt, as the
darkness will soon be down upon them. So dismounting from their horses,
they set about establishing a camp.
But when established they take little delight in its occupation. Now
more than ever are they doubtful and dejected; thinking of that
terrible travesia, of which all traces are lost, and none may be
found beyond. To Cypriano no night since their starting out seemed so
long as this.
Little dream they, while seated around their camp-fire, or lying
sleepless alongside it, that the tract of country they so much dread
entering upon, will, in a few hours' time, prove their best friend.
Instead of sending them further astray it will put them once more on
the lost trail, with no longer a likelihood of their again losing it.
Unaware of this good fortune before them, they seek rest with
feelings of the utmost despondency, and find sleep only in short
CHAPTER FORTY. ON THE SALITRAL.
Next morning the trackers are up at an early hourthe earlier
because of their increased anxietyand after break fasting on broiled
ostrich leg, make ready to recommence their journey.
Nolens volens, they must embark upon that brown, limitless
expanse, which looks unattractive in the light of the rising sun as it
did under that of the setting.
In their saddles, and gazing over it before setting out, Gaspar
Hijos mios; we can't do better than head due westward. That
will bring us out of the salitral, somewhere. Luckily there's a
sun in the sky to hold us to a straight course. If we hadn't that for a
guide, we might go zig-zagging all about, and be obliged to spend a
night amidst the saltpetre; perhaps three or four of them. To do so
would be to risk our lives; possibly lose them. The thirst of itself
would kill us, for there's never drinkable water in a salitral.
However, with the sun behind our backs, and we'll take care to keep it
so, there won't be much danger of our getting bewildered. We must make
haste, though. Once it mounts above our heads, I defy Old Nick himself
to tell east from west. So let's put on the best speed we can take out
of the legs of our animals.
With this admonition, and a word to his horse, the gaucho goes off
at a gallop; the others starting simultaneously at the same pace, and
all three riding side by side. For on the smooth, open surface of the
salitral there is no need for travelling single file. Over it a
thousand horsemenor ten thousand for that mattermight march
abreast, with wide spaces between.
Proceeding onward, they leave behind them three distinct traces of a
somewhat rare and original kindthe reverse of what would be made by
travellers passing over ground thinly covered with snow, where the
trail would be darker than the surrounding surface. Theirs, on the
contrary, is lighter colouredin point of fact, quite white, from the
saltpetre tossed to the top by the hooves of their galloping horses.
The gaucho every now and then casts a glance over his shoulder, to
assure himself of the sun's disc being true behind their backs; and in
this manner they press on, still keeping up the pace at which they had
They have made something more than ten miles from the point where
they entered upon the salitral; and Gaspar begins to look
inquiringly ahead, in the hope of sighting a tree, ridge, rock, or
other land-mark to tell where the travesia terminates. His
attention thus occupied, he for awhile forgets what has hitherto been
engaging itthe position of the sun.
And when next he turns to observe the great luminary, it is only to
see that it is no longer thereat least no longer visible. A mass of
dark cloud has drifted across its disc, completely obscuring it. In
fact, it was the sudden darkening of the sky, and, as a consequence,
the shadow coming over the plain before his face, which prompted him to
turn roundrecalling the necessity of caution as to their course.
Santos Dios! he cries out, his own brow becoming shadowed
as the sky; our luck has left us, and
And what? asks Cypriano, seeing that the gaucho hesitates, as if
reluctant to say why fortune has so suddenly forsaken them. There's a
cloud come over the sun; has that anything to do with it?
Everything, senorito. If that cloud don't pass off again, we're as
good as lost. And, he adds, with eyes still turned to the east, his
glance showing him to feel the gravest apprehension, I am pretty sure
it won't pass offfor the rest of this day at all events. Mira!
It's moving along the horizonstill rising up and spreading out!
The others also perceive this, they too, having halted, and faced to
Santissima! continues the gaucho in the same serious tone,
we're lost as it is now!
But how lost? inquires Ludwig, who, with his more limited
experience of pampas life, is puzzled to understand what the gaucho
means. In what way?
Just because there's no may. That's the very thing we've
lost, senorito. Look around! Now, can you tell east from west, or north
from south? No, not a single point of the compass. If we only knew one,
that would be enough. But we don't, and, therefore, as I've said, we're
lostdead, downright lost; and, for anything beyond this, we'll have
to go a groping. At a crawl, too, like three blind cats.
Nothing of the sort! breaks in Cypriano, who, a little apart from
the other two, has been for the last few seconds to all appearance
holding communion with himself. Nothing of the sort, he repeats
riding towards them with a cheerful expression. We'll neither need to
go groping, Gaspar, nor yet at a crawl. Possibly, we may have to
slacken the pace a bit; but that's all.
Both Ludwig and the gaucho, but especially the latter, sit regarding
him with puzzled looks. For what can he mean? Certainly something which
promises to release them from their dilemma, as can be told by his
smiling countenance and confident bearing. In fine, he is asked to
explain himself, and answering, says:
Look back along our trail. Don't you see that it runs straight?
We do, replies Gaspar, speaking for both. In a dead right line,
thank the sun for that; and I only wish we could have had it to direct
us a little longer, instead of leaving us in the lurch as it has done.
But go on, senorito! I oughtn't to have interrupted you.
Well, proceeds the young Paraguayan, there's no reason why we
shouldn't still travel in that same right linesince we can.
Ha! ejaculates the gaucho, who has now caught the other's meaning,
I see the whole thing. Bravo, Senor Cypriano! You've beaten me in the
craft of the pampas. But I'm not jealousno. Only proud to think my
own pupil has shown himself worthy of his teacher. Gracias a Dios!
During all this dialogue, Ludwig is silent, seated in his saddle, a
very picture of astonishment, alike wondering at what his cousin can
mean, and the burst of joyous enthusiasm it has elicited from the
gaucho's lips. His wonder is brought to an end, however, by Cypriano
turning round to him, and giving the explanation in detail.
Don't you see, sobrino mio, that one of us can stay by the
end of the trail we've already made, or two for that matter, while the
third rides forward. The others can call after to keep him in a
straight line and to the course. The three of us following one another,
and the last giving the directions from our trail behind, we can't
possibly go astray. Thanks to that white stuff, our back-tracks can be
seen without difficulty, and to a sufficient distance for our purpose.
Long before Cypriano has reached the end of his explanatory
discourse, Ludwig, of quick wit too, catches his meaning, and with an
enthusiasm equalling that of the gaucho, cries out:
Viva, sobrino mio! You're a genius!
Not a moment more is lost or spent upon that spot; Ludwig being the
one chosen to lead off, the gaucho following, with a long space between
them, while the rear is brought up by Cypriano himself; who for this
go, and not Gaspar, acts as guide and director.
CHAPTER FORTY ONE. TRAVELLING
An odd spectacle the trio of trackers would afford to anyone seeing
them on the salitral now, without knowing what they are at; one
riding directly in the wake and on the track of the other, with over a
hundred yards between each pair. And, as all are going at full gallop,
it might be supposed that the foremost is fleeing from the other
twoone of the pursuers having a blown horse and fallen hopelessly
Nor do they proceed in silence. Instead, the hindmost is heard to
utter loud shouts which the one midway repeats, as if in echo; while he
ahead alone says nothing. Even this would strengthen the supposition of
its being a chase; the pursued party speechless from the intensity of
his fears, and the effort he is making to escape his pursuers.
One near enough, however, to note the expression upon the faces of
all three, and hear the words spoken, would know that the three
galloping horsemen, though oddly apart, are in friendly communication
with one another. Since in their shouts, though loud, is nothing to
tell of hostility or anger. Nor yet any great variety of speechonly
the two words, right and left; these uttered at short but irregular
intervals, first by the hindmost, then taken up by the one riding
midway, and passed on to him who leads; the last, as he hears them,
shaping his course in accordance.
In this quaint fashion they have proceeded several leagues, when the
leader, Ludwig, is seen to swerve suddenly to the left, without any
direction having reached him from behind; this, too, at an angle of
full fifty degrees.
Right! calls Cypriano from the rear, the tone of his voice telling
of surprise, while the same is visible on his face.
Gaspar repeats the word in like accent of astonishment. Cypriano
once more vociferating, Right! to the right!
But, although Ludwig must have heard them both, to neither gives he
ear, nor pays the slightest attention to the directions called out to
him. Instead, he still holds on in the new course, which he seems to
have chosen for himself.
Has his horse shied, and escaped from his control? That is the first
thought of the other two, who by this time have both reined up, and sit
looking after him. Then a more painful apprehension forces itself upon
them; he may have gone astray in another sense, than from the track he
should have taken. Is he still under the influence of the animal
electricity, which might account for his seemingly eccentric behaviour?
For eccentric it certainly appears, if not something worseas indeed
they half-suspect it to be.
While they continue watching him, they see, as well as hear, what
goes far towards confirming their suspicions. For after galloping some
two or three hundred yards, and without once looking back, he suddenly
pulls up, raises the hat from his head, and holding it aloft, waves it
round and round, all the while uttering cries as of one in a frenzy!
Pobrecito! mutters Gaspar to himself, the excitement has
been too much for him. So long on the strainno wonder. Ay de mi
? Another of that poor family doomedand to worse than death!
At the same time Cypriano is reflecting in a somewhat similar
fashion, though he makes no remark. The strange exhibition saddens him
beyond the power of speech. His cousin has gone crazed!
They had headed their horses, and were about to ride rapidly after,
when they saw him stop; and now moving gently forward with their eyes
on him, they see him replace the cap upon his head, and bend downward,
with gaze given to the ground. Some new fancy dictated by a disordered
brain, think they. What will he do next? What will they see?
And what do they see on drawing nearer to him? That which
makes both of them feel foolish enough; at the same time that it
rejoices them to think they have been the victims of a self-deception.
For before they are quite up to the spot where he has halted, they
perceive a large space of whitish colour, where the surface mud has
been tossed and mixed up with the substratum of saltpetreall done by
the hoofs of horses, as even at a distance they can tell.
Come along here, you laggards! cries Ludwig in a tone of triumph;
I've something to show you. Feast your eyes upon this!
While speaking he nods to the ground by his horse's head, indicating
the disturbed tract; then, adding as he raises his hand, and points
And on that!
The that he refers to is a white list leading away westward as far
as they can seeevidently the trail taken by those they are in pursuit
Long ere this, both Gaspar and Cypriano have full comprehension of
what perplexed while alarming them. But neither says a word of the
suspicions they had entertained concerning him. Each in his own mind
has resolved never to speak of them, the gaucho, as he comes up again,
Bravo! then adding with an air of gracious humility, So, Senor
Ludwig, you, too, have beaten me! Beaten us all! You've set us on the
right trail now; one which, if I mistake not, will conduct us to the
end of our journey, without need of sunshine, or any other
And that end, interposes Cypriano, will be in a town or camp of
Tovas Indians, at the tent of the scoundrel Aguara; then, adding
excitedly, Oh! that I were there now!
Have patience, hijo mio, counsels Gaspar; you'll be there
in good time, and that very soon. For, from something I remember, I
don't think we've much more journey to make. But before proceeding
further, let us take a look at this curious thing here, and see what we
can make of it. Besides, our animals need breathing a bit.
So saying, he dismounts, as do the others; and leaving their horses
to stand at rest, all three commence examination of the tract which
shows stirred and trampled.
They see hoof-marks of horsesscores of themall over the ground
for the space of several perches, and pointed in every direction; among
them also the foot-prints of men, with here and there smooth spots as
if where human bodies had reclined. That both men and horses had been
there is evident, and that they had gone off by the trace running
westward, equally so. But how they came thither is a question not so
easily answered; since the same halting-place shows no track of either
horse or man leading towards it!
Odd all this might appear, indeed inexplicable, to one unacquainted
with the nature of a dust-storm, or unaware of the incidents which have
preceded. But to Gaspar, the gaucho, everything is as clear as
daylight; and, after a short inspection of the sign, he thus
truthfully interprets it:
The redskins had just got thus far, when the tormenta came
on. It caught them here, and that's why we see these smooth patches;
they lay down to let it blow by. Well; there's one good turn it's done
us: we now know the exact time they passed this spot; or, at all
events, when they were on it. That must have been just after we entered
the cave, and were engaged with the tigreI mean it Number 1.
No doubt by the time we tackled the old Tom, they were off again. As,
you see, muchachos, some little rain has sprinkled that trail
since they passed over it, which shows they went away in the tail of
that terrific shower. So, he adds, turning round, and stepping back
towards his horse, there's nothing more to be done but ride off after
them; which we may now do as rapidly as our animals can carry us.
At this they all remount, and setting their horses' heads to the
Indian trail, proceed upon it at a brisk pace; no longer travelling
tandem, but broadly abreast.
CHAPTER FORTY TWO. PICKING UP
From their new point of departure, the trackers have no difficulty
about the direction; this traced out for them, as plain as if a row of
finger-posts, twenty yards apart, were set across the salitral.
For at least a league ahead they can distinguish the white list, where
the saline efflorescence has been turned up, and scattered about by the
hoofs of the Indian horses.
They can tell by the trail that over this portion of their route the
party they are in pursuit of has not ridden in any compact or regular
order, but straggled over a wide space; so that, here and there, the
tracks of single horses show separate and apart. In the neighbourhood
of an enemy the Indians of the Chaco usually march under some sort of
formation; and Gaspar, knowing this, draws the deduction that those who
have latest passed over the salitral must have been confident
that no enemy was neareither in front or following them. Possibly,
also, their experience of the tormenta, which must have been
something terrible on that exposed plain, had rendered them careless as
to their mode of marching.
Whatever the cause, they now, taking up their trail, do not pause to
speculate upon it, nor make any delay. On the contrary, as hounds that
have several times lost the scent, hitherto faint, but once more
recovered, and now fresher and stronger than ever, they press on with
ardour not only renewed, but heightened.
All at once, however, a shout from Cypriano interrupts the rapidity
of their progressin short, bringing them to a halthe himself
suddenly reigning up as he gives utterance to it. Gaspar and Ludwig
turn simultaneously towards him for an explanation. While their glances
hitherto have been straying far forward, he has been giving his
habitually to the ground more immediately under his horse's head, and
to both sides of the broad trail; his object being to ascertain if
among the many tracks of the Indians' horses, those of Francesca's pony
are still to be seen.
And sure enough he sees the diminutive hoof-marks plainly
imprintednot at one particular place, but every here and there as
they go galloping along. It is not this, however, which elicited his
cry, and caused him to come so abruptly to a stop. Instead, something
which equally interests, while more surely proclaiming the late
presence of the girl, in that place, with the certainty of her being
carried along a captive. He has caught sight of an object which lies
glistening among the white powder of the salitrewhitish
itself, but of a more lustrous sheen. Pearlsa string of them, as it
proves upon closer inspection! At a glance he recognises an ornament
well-known to him, as worn by his girlish cousin; Ludwig also, soon as
he sees it, crying out:
It's sister's necklet!
Gaspar, too, remembers it; for pearls are precious things in the
eyes of a gaucho, whose hat often carries a band of such, termed the
Cypriano, flinging himself from his saddle, picks the necklace up,
and holds it out for examination. It is in no way injured, the string
still unbroken, and has no doubt dropped to the ground by the clasp
coming undone. But there are no traces of a struggle having taken
place, nor sign that any halt had been made on that spot. Instead, the
pony's tracks, there distinctly visible, tell of the animal having
passed straight on without stop or stay. In all likelihood, the catch
had got loosened at the last halting-place in that conflict with the
storm, but had held on till here.
Thus concluding, and Cypriano remounting, they continue onward along
the trail, the finding of the pearls having a pleasant effect upon
their spirits. For it seems a good omen, as if promising that they may
yet find the one who had worn them, as also be able to deliver her from
Exhilarated by the hope, they canter briskly on; and for several
leagues meet nothing more to interrupt them; since that which next
fixes their attention, instead of staying, but lures them onwardthe
tops of tall trees, whose rounded crowns and radiating fronds tell that
they are palms.
It still lacks an hour of sunset, when these begin to show over the
brown waste, and from this the trackers know they are nearing the end
of the travesia. Cheered by the sight, they spur their horses to
increased speed, and are soon on the edge of the salitral;
beyond, seeing a plain where the herbage is green, as though no
dust-storm had flown over it. Nor had there, for the tormenta,
like cyclones and hurricanes, is often local, its blast having a
Riding out upon this tractmore pleasant for a travellerthey make
a momentary halt, but still remaining in their saddles, as they gaze
inquiringly over it.
And here Cypriano, recalling a remark which Gaspar had made at their
last camping-place, asks an explanation of it. The gaucho had expressed
a belief, that from something he remembered, they would not have much
further to go before arriving at their journey's end.
Why did you say that? now questions the young Paraguayan.
Because I've heard the old cacique, Naraguana, speak of a
place where they buried their dead. Strange my not thinking of that
sooner; but my brains have been so muddled with what's happened, and
the hurry we've been in all along, I've forgotten a good many things.
He said they had a town there too, where they sometimes went to live,
but oftener to die. I warrant me that's the very place they're in now;
and, from what I understood him to say, it can't be very far t'other
side this salitral. He spoke of a hill rising above the town,
which could be seen a long way off: a curious hill, shaped something
like a wash-basin turned bottom upwards. Now, if we could only sight
At this he ceases speaking, and elevates his eyes, with an
interrogative glance which takes in all the plain ahead, up to the
horizon's verge. Only for a few seconds is he silent, when his voice is
again heard, this time in grave, but gleeful, exclamation:
Por todos Santos! there's the hill itself!
The others looking out behold a dome-shaped eminence, with a flat,
table-like top recognisable from the quaint description Gaspar has just
given of it, though little more than its summit is visible above the
plainfor they are still several miles distant from it.
We must go no nearer to it now, observes the gaucho, adding, in a
tone of apprehension, we may be too near already. Caspita! Just
look at that!
The last observation refers to the sun, which, suddenly shooting out
from the clouds hitherto obscuring it, again shows itself in the sky.
Not now, however, as in the early morning hours, behind their backs,
but right in front of them, and low down, threatening soon to set.
Vayate! he continues to ejaculate in a tone of mock scorn,
apostrophising the great luminary, no thanks to you now, showing
yourself when you're not needed. Instead, I'd thank you more if you'd
kept your face hid a bit longer. Better for us if you had.
Why better? asks Cypriano, who, as well as Ludwig, has been
listening with some surprise to the singular monologue. What harm can
the sun do us now more than ever?
Because now, more than ever, he's shining inopportunely, both as to
time and place.
In what way?
In a way to show us to eyes we don't want to see us just yet. Look
at that hill yonder. Supposing now, just by chance, any of the Indians
should be idling upon it, or they have a vidette up there. Bah! what am
I babbling about? He couldn't see us if they had; not here, unless
through a telescope, and I don't think the Tovas are so far civilised
as to have that implement among their chattels. For all, we're not safe
on this exposed spot, and the sooner we're off it the better. Some of
them may be out scouting in this direction. Come, let us get under
cover, and keep so till night's darkness gives us a still safer screen
against prying eyes. Thanks to the Virgin! yonder's the very place for
He points to a clump of trees, around the stems of which appears a
dense underwood; and, soon as signalling this, he rides toward and into
it, the others after him.
Once inside the copse, and for the time feeling secure against
observation, they hold a hasty counsel as to which step they ought next
to take. From the sight of that oddly-shaped hill, and what Caspar
remembers Naraguana to have said, they have no doubt of its being the
same referred to by the old chief, and that the sacred town of the
Tovas is somewhere beside it. So much they feel sure of, their doubts
being about the best way for them to approach the place and enter the
town, as also the most proper time. And with these doubts are, of
course, mingled many fears; though with these, strange to say, Ludwig,
the youngest and least experienced of the three, is the least troubled.
Under the belief, as they all are, that Naraguana is still living, his
confidence in the friendship of the aged cacique has throughout
remained unshaken. When the latter shall be told of all that has
transpired; how his palefaced friend and protege met his death by the
assassin's handhow the daughter of that friend has been carried off
surely he will not refuse restitution, even though it be his own people
who have perpetrated the double crime?
Reasoning thus, Ludwig counsels their riding straight on to the
Indian town, and trusting to the good heart of Naraguanathrowing
themselves upon his generosity, Cypriano is equally eager to reach the
place, where he supposes his dear cousin Francesca to be pining as a
prisoner; but holds a very different opinion about the prudence of the
step, and less believes in the goodness of Naraguana. To him all
Indians seem treacherousTovas Indians more than anyfor before his
mental vision he has ever the image of Aguara, and can think of none
As for the gaucho, though formerly one of Naraguana's truest
friends, from what has happened, his faith in the integrity of the old
Tovas chief is greatly shaken. Besides, the caution, habitual to men of
his calling and kind, admonishes him against acting rashly now, and he
but restates his opinion: that they will do best to remain under cover
of the trees, at least till night's darkness comes down. Of course this
is conclusive, and it is determined that they stay.
Dismounting, they make fast their horses to some branches, and sit
down beside themen bivouac. But in this camp they kindle no
fire, nor make any noise, conversing only in whispers. One passing the
copse could hear no sound inside it, save the chattering of a flock of
macaws, who have their roosting-place amid the tops of its tallest
CHAPTER FORTY THREE. IN THE SACRED
That same sun which became so suddenly obscured over the salitral, to shine again in the later hours of the afternoon, is once more about
to withdraw its light from the Chacothis time for setting. Already
appears its disc almost down upon the horizon; and the strangely-shaped
hill, which towers above the Tovas town, casts a dark shadow over the
plain eastward, to the distance of many miles. The palms skirting the
lake reflect their graceful forms far over the water, whose surface,
undisturbed by the slightest breath of air, shows smooth and shining as
a mirror; broken, however, here and there, where water-fowl disport
themselves upon it. Among these may be observed the great musk duck,
misnamed Muscovy, and the black-necked swan; both indigenous to the
Chaco; while in the shallower places along shore, and by the edges of
the islets, appear various species of long-legged waders, standing
still, or stalking about as if on stilts; the most conspicuous of all
being the scarlet flamingo, side by side with the yet taller garzon, already known to us as soldier-crane.
A scene of tranquil yet picturesque beautyperhaps no fairer on
earth is the landscape lying around the Sacred Town of the Tovas.
And on this same day and hour, a stranger entering within the
precincts of the place itself might not observe anything to contrast
with the tranquillity of the scene outside. Among the toldos he
would see children at play, and, here and there, seated by their doors
young girls engaged in various occupations; some at basket work, others
weaving mats from the fibres of split palm leaves, still others
knitting redes, or hammocks. Women of more mature age are busied
with culinary cares, preparing the evening repast over fires kindled in
the open air; while several are straining out the honey of the wild
bee, called tosimi, which a party of bee-hunters, just returned
to the tolderia, has brought home.
A few of the men may also be observed moving about, or standing in
groups on the open ground adjoining the malocca; but at this
hour most of them are on horseback out upon the adjacent plain, there
galloping to and fro, gathering their flocks and herds, and driving
them towards the corrals; these flocks and herds composed of
horned cattle, sheep, and goatsthe Tovas Indians being somewhat of a
pastoral people. No savages they, in the usual sense of the term, nor
yet is hunting their chief occupation. This they follow now and then,
diversifying the chase by a warlike raid into the territory of some
hostile tribe, or as often some settlement of the palefaces. For all
civilisation of a certain kind has made progress among them; having its
origin in an early immigration from Peru, when the Children of the
Sun were conquered by Pizarro and his conquistadores. At that
time many Peruvians, fleeing from the barbarous cruelty of their
Spanish invaders, sought asylum in the Chaco, there finding it; and
from these the Tovas and other tribes have long ago learnt many of the
arts of civilised life; can spin their own thread, and sew skilfully as
any sempstress of the palefaces; weave their own cloth, dress and dye
it in fast colours of becoming patterns; in short, can do many kinds of
mechanical work, which no white artisan need feel ashamed to
acknowledge as his own. Above all, are they famed for the
feather-work, or plume embroideryan art peculiarly Indian which,
on their first becoming acquainted with it, astonished the rough
soldiers of Cortez and Pizarro, as much as it delighted them.
To this day is it practised among several of the South American
tribes, notably those of the Gran Chaco, while the Tovas particularly
excel in it. But perhaps the highest evidence of these Indians having
some civilisation, is their form of government, which is in reality
Republican. For their cacique, or chief, although sometimes
allowed to rule by hereditary succession, is more often chosen by the
sub-chiefs and warriors; in short, elected just as the President of a
This gives the key to Aguara's doubts and fears on returning to the
Sacred Town with Francesca Halberger as his captive. Nor are the latter
yet allayed, despite three days having elapsed since his return. Though
he has done all in his power to conceal from his people the true facts
in relation to her father's death, still certain details of the tragedy
have leaked out; and it has become known to most, that the
hunter-naturalist is not only dead, but died by the hand of an
assassin. This last, however, they suppose to have been the other white
man late on a visit to themValdez the vaqueano. For the same
tale which Aguara had told to his captive on the way, he has repeated,
with some variations, to the elders of the tribe assembled in council
within the malocca. So far not much of a fiction; only that part
accounting for the death of the young brave who fell to Halberger's
bulleta stray shot, while the latter was defending himself against
And the daughter of the murdered man has been brought back with
them, not as a prisoner, but because it was inconvenient to take her
direct to her own home. She can and will be sent thither at the first
opportunity which offers. So promises the deceitful son of Naraguana to
those of the tribe who would call him to account.
Meanwhile, the girl has been entrusted to the charge and safe
keeping of Shebotha, a sort of mystery woman, or sorceress, of much
power in the community; though, as all know, under the influence of
Aguara himself. But he has not dared to take the youthful captive to
his own toldo, or even hint at so doing; instead, he still keeps
his wicked purpose to himself, trusting to time and Shebotha for its
accomplishment. According to his own way of thinking, he can well
afford to wait. He has no thought that anyone will ever come after the
captive girl; much less one with power to release her. It is not
probable, and from a knowledge possessed only by himself, scarcely
possible. Her father is dead, her mother doomed to worse than death, as
also her brother and that other relativehis own rival. For before
parting with him, Rufino Valdez had said what amounted to so much; and
possibly by this time the Senora Halberger, with what remained of her
family, would be on the way back to Paraguay; not returning
voluntarily, but taken back by the vaqueano. With this beliefa
false one, as we knowthe young Tovas chief feels secure of his
victim, and therefore refrains from any act of open violence, as likely
to call down upon him the censure of his people. Though popular with
the younger members of the tribe, he is not so much in favour with the
elders as to fly in the face of public opinion; for were these aware of
what has really taken place, it would go ill with him. But as yet they
are not; silence having been enjoined on the youths who accompanied him
in that ill-starred expedition, which they, for their own sakes, have
hitherto been careful to keep.
For all, certain facts have come to light in disjointed, fragmentary
form, with deductions drawn from them, which go hard against the
character of the young cacique; and as the hours pass others are
added, until discontent begins to show itself among the older and more
prominent men of the tribe, chiefly those who were the friends of his
father. For these were also friends of her father, now alike
fatherless, though made so by a more cruel fate. Low murmurings are
here and there heard, which speak of an intent to prosecute inquiry on
the subject of Halberger's assassinationeven to the carrying it into
Paraguay. Now that they have re-entered into amity with Paraguay's
Dictator, they may go thither, though the purpose be a strange one; to
arraign the commissioner who acted in restoring the treaty!
With much whispering and murmurs around, it is not strange that the
young cacique, while dreaming of future pleasures, should also
have fears for that future. His own passion, wild as wicked, has
brought him into danger, and a storm seems brewing that, sooner or
later, may deprive him of his chieftainship.
CHAPTER FORTY FOUR. AN INDIAN BELLE.
If the Tovas chief be in danger of receiving punishment from his
people for carrying into captivity the daughter of his father's friend,
there is also danger to the captive herself from another and very
different source. Just as the passion of love has been the cause of her
being brought to the Sacred Town of the Tovas, that of jealousy is like
to be the means of her there finding an early grave.
The jealous one is an Indian girl, named Nacena, the daughter of a
sub-chief, who, like Naraguana himself, was an aged man held in high
regard; and, as the deceased cacique, now also sleeping his last
sleep in one of their scaffold tombs.
Despite her bronzed skin, Nacena is a beautiful creature; for the
brown is not so deep as to hinder the crimson blush showing its tint
upon her cheeks; and many a South American maiden, boasting the blue
blood of Andalusia, has a complexion less fair than she. As on this
same evening she sits by the shore of the lake, on the trunk of a
fallen palm-tree, her fine form clad in the picturesque Indian garb,
with her lovely face mirrored in the tranquil water, a picture is
presented on which no eye could look, nor thought dwell, without a
feeling of delight; and, regarding her thus, no one would believe her
to be other than what she isthe belle of the Tovas tribe.
Her beauty had not failed to make impression upon the heart of
Aguara, long before his having become cacique. He has loved her
too, in days gone by, ere he looked upon the golden-haired paleface.
Both children then, and little more yet; for the Indian girl is only a
year or two older than the other. But in this southern clime, the
precocity already spoken of is not confined to those whose skins are
called white, but equally shared by the red.
Nacena has been beloved by the son of Naraguana, and knew, or at
least believed it. But she better knows, that she has been deceived by
him, and is now slighted, about to be cast aside for another. That
other will, ere long, be chieftainess of the Tovas tribe, while she
She has reflected thus far, when the bitter thought overpowering
causes her to start to her feet, a cry escaping her lips as if it came
from a heart cleft in twain.
Nothing of this, however, shows in her face. The expression upon it
is rather that of anger, as a jaguarete of her native plains,
whose rage has been aroused by the arrow of the Indian hunter suddenly
piercing its side. Hitherto silent, she is now heard to speak; but,
though alone, the words to which she gives utterance are not in
soliloquy: instead, as if spoken to some one who is near, though
unseen. It is an apostrophe meant for no mortal ears, but addressed to
the Divinity of the lake!
Spirit of the Waters! she cries, with arms outstretched and head
aloft, hear my prayer! Tell me if it be true! Will he make her his
She is silent for a second or two, as though expecting a reply, and
listening for it. It comes, but not from the deity addressed. Out of
her own heart she has the answer.
He will; yes, surely will! Else, why has he brought her hither? A
false tale he has told in the council of the elders; false as himself!
Where are his words, his vows, made to me with lips that gave kisses?
Perjuredbrokengone as his love, given to another! And I am soon to
see her his queen, salute her as mine, and attend upon her as one of
her waiting maids! Never! No, Spirit of the Waters! Rather than do
that, I shall go to you; be one of your attendants, not hers. Rather
than that, thou shalt take me to thy bosom!
High-sounding speeches from an Indian girl, scarce fifteen years of
age? But love's eloquence is not confined to age, race, or rank, no
more than that of jealousy. Both passions may burn in the breast of the
savage maiden, as in the heart of the high-born ladyperhaps tearing
it more. Not strange they should find like expression on the lips.
Why not now? continues Nacena in a tone that tells of despair,
while the cloud upon her brow is seen to grow darker. Ah! why not? No
need waiting longer; I know all. A leap from yonder rock, and all would
be over, my suspense, as my sufferings.
For a moment she stands with eyes fixed upon a rocky promontory,
which juts out into the lake near by. Its head overhangs the water,
three fathoms deep, as she knows. Many the time has she sprung from
that projecting point to swim, naiad-like, underneath it. But the
plunge she now meditates is not for swimming, but to sink!
No! she exclaims, after a pause, as she withdraws her gaze from
the rock, the expression upon her face changing back to that of the
jaguarete! No, Spirit of the Waters! not yet. Nacena fears not to
die, but that is not the death for the daughter of a Tovas chief. If
wronged, she must resent it, and will. Revenge first, and the deceiver
shall first die. After that, O Spirit, thou canst take me; Nacena will
no longer care to live.
As she says this, the sad look returns to her countenance, replacing
that of anger; and for a time she stands with head drooped down to her
bosom, and arms hanging listlessly by her sidea very picture of
At length, she is about to leave the spot, when a footstep warns her
of one making approach; and, turning, she sees who it is. A youth, but
to manhood grown, and wearing the insignia of a sub-chief. Though many
years older than herself, he is her brother.
Sister! he says, coming up to her, and closely scanning her face,
you have thoughts that trouble you. I would know what they are.
Oh, nothing, she rejoins, with an effort to appear calm. I've
only been looking over the lake, at the birds out yonder. How they
enjoy themselves this fine evening!
But you're not enjoying yourself, Nacena; nor haven't been for some
time past. I've noticed that; and more, I know the reason.
She starts at his words; not to turn pale, but with the blood
mantling into her brown cheeks. Still she is silent.
You need neither deny, nor declare it, he continues. 'Tis all
known to me, save one thing. That alone I wish to ask you about. I must
have an answer, and a truthful one. As your brother I demand it,
She fixes her eyes upon him, in a look half-frightened, then timidly
What thing, Kaolin?
Has he deceived you?
Deceived! she echoes, the blush upon her cheeks mounting up to her
brow, and becoming deeper red. Brother! Had any one but you asked that
question, I wouldDeceived! No; your sister would die before that
could have been. As you seem to know all, I will no longer conceal the
truth from you. You speak of Aguara. I loved him; ah! love him still.
And he told me my love was returned; spoke it solemnly; vowed it. Now I
know his words were false, and he was but beguiling me.
Then he has trifled with you, exclaims the brother, his
indignation now beyond bounds. You, my sister, the daughter of a Tovas
chief, of birth and blood equal to his own! But he shall repent it, and
soon. The time has not come; it will ere long. Enough now, Nacena. Not
a word to anyone of what has passed between us. Be patient and wait.
For your wrongs, I promise, you snail have revenge.
And with this threat, he turns away; leaving her on the lake's edge,
as he found her.
Soon as he is out of sight, and his footfall beyond hearing, she
reseats herself on the trunk of the palm; and, supporting her head upon
her hands, gives way to weepinga very cataract of tears.
It seems to relieve her from the tumult of emotions late harassing
her heart, and after a time she looks up with an expression in her eyes
different from all that have preceded. It is of hope; as can be told by
the words which fall in low murmuring from her lips:
After all I may be mistaken. Can I? If so, and he is still true,
then I am wronging him, and Kaolin may commit a crime that will bring
both punishment and repentance. Oh, that I knew the truth! But surely,
Shebotha knows, and can tell it me. She will, for the reward I shall
offer her. This night she has promised to meet me on the hill, and
She breaks off abruptly, and with countenance again clouding over.
For the words I shall learn the worst are on her lips, and the
thought in her mind.
It is hope's last spark, love-lighted from embers nearly
extinguished, still flickering, faint, and vainly struggling to burn
CHAPTER FORTY FIVE. AN ELEVATED
Just as the last glimmer of twilight is taking departure from the
plain, the three who had sought concealment under the roosting-place of
macaws, slip quietly out of the copse, and ride away from it, leaving
the noisy birds, now silent, behind them.
There is yet light enough to enable them to take bearings by the
hill, which, as they have rightly conjectured, rises over the Tovas
town; and, heading direct towards it, after a couple of hours spent in
riding at a brisk pace, they arrive at the rocky steep forming a
periphery to its base. As there is now a clear moonlight, caution
dictates their again getting under cover; which they do by drawing
their horses close in to the adjacent cliff, whose shadow sufficiently
conceals them. But it is not intended to stay long there. At their last
halting-place they had considered everything, and decided upon the
steps to be taken; so far as they can, from what is known to them. If
the circumstances change, or turn out different from what they are
expecting, they must be guided in their action accordingly.
Still in the belief of Naraguana being alive, Ludwig is again of the
opinion that they should push on to the town without further delay. The
place cannot now be far-off; for at the hill's base they have struck a
broad and much-travelled trail denoting the proximity of a settlement.
Cypriano is undecided, but Gaspar, as before, goes strongly against
proceeding directly onward.
You speak of delay, Senor Ludwig, he says; but in this case, the
old adage, `More haste less speed,' might be true, as it often is.
Besides, what would we gain by entering their town now? It isn't likely
we should accomplish anything to-night. You forget the hour it isnigh
unto midnight. And as the custom of most Chaco Indians is early to bed
and early to rise, we'd no doubt find every redskin of them asleep,
with only their dogs to receive us. Carrai! A nice reception
that would be! Like as not some scores of half-famished curs to fall
upon us perhaps drag us out of our saddles. Whereas, in the morning
all would be different, with the people up to protect us from such an
assault. But whether we enter at night, or by day, I still stick to the
belief, that it will be better to do so by stealth; at least, one of us
should first slip in that way, and learn how the land lies. In any
case, we ought to have a squint at this Sacred Town, before trusting
ourselves within its wallsif walls it have. From the look of things
here, I fancy it lies on the other side of this hill. By climbing the
hill now, and staying on its top till daybreak, we'll get a god view of
the town, which will, no doubt, be right under us. We can see all
through the streets, and what's going on in them. That will give us a
hint of how to act afterwards, and if things look favourable, we might
then ride boldly in; which, after all, may be the best way of
introducing ourselvesonly it should be done in the daylight.
Cypriano sees that the gaucho's reasoning is correct; and Ludwig
also acknowledging it to be so, it is finally decided that they ascend
the hill, and remain upon its summit for the rest of that night.
But now comes a question not hitherto asked, or thought of. How is
the ascent to be made, and where is there a path practicable for making
it? Not only is it steep, but its sides are thickly overgrown with
trees, and between their trunks a dense tangle of underwood.
It must be on its summit, they have their burying-ground, observes
Gaspar, gazing upward. Yes; Naraguana spoke of its being on the top of
a hill, and there's no other hill near. If that be the case, and they
carry their dead up, there'll sure be some sort of a road for their
funeral processions. That would likely be on the other side, straight
up from the town. But I warrant there's a trail starts from this side
too, and runs right over the hill. Let's ride along a bit, and see if
The gaucho's conjecture is correct, as they soon discover. Before
they have ridden three score lengths of their horses, keeping close
along the base of the hill, they perceive an opening in the timber
which skirts it, marked by certain insignia denoting the entrance to a
much-frequented path. For though narrow, it shows well trampled and
trodden. Diverging abruptly from the broad road running on round the
hill, it strikes in under a tall cotton tree, a ceiba, this
conspicuous from being bent over, as if half-blown down. The path
enters between its trunk and a gigantic pita plant (agave
), whose stiff spinous leaves almost bar up the entrance as with an iron
That's the way we've got to go, says Gaspar, pointing to it, at
the same time setting his horse's head in the direction of the ceiba
; then adding, as he nods towards the pita plant; have a care of
your heads, hijos mios! Look out for this queer customer on the
left, or you may get your soft cheeks scratched a bit.
On delivering the admonition he ducks his own head, and passing
under the thorny leaves of the agave, commences the ascent of
Cypriano and Ludwig do likewise; and all three are soon climbing the
steep, one behind the other, now in silence, the only sounds heard
being the hoof-strokes of the horses, with their hard breathing as they
strain up the acclivity.
A quarter of an hour's tough climbing carries them up the wooded
slope, and out upon the open summit, where they have a spectacle before
their eyes peculiar, as it is original. As already said, the hill is
table-topped, and being also dome-shaped the level surface is circular,
having a diameter of some three or four hundred yards. Nothing strange
in this, however, since hills of the kind, termed mesas, are
common throughout most parts of Spanish America, and not rare in the
Gran Chaco. All three are familiar with such eminences. But what they
are not familiar withand indeed none of them have ever seen
beforeare some scores of queer-looking structures standing all over
the summit, with alley-like spaces between! Scaffolds they appear, each
having two stages, one above the other, such as might be used in the
erection of a two-storey house!
And scaffolds they are, though not employed in any building
purposes; instead, for that of burial. They are the tombs on which are
deposited the bodies of the Tovas dead; or those of them that during
life were dignitaries in the tribe.
On this elevated cemetery the moon is shining brightly, though
obliquely, throwing the shadows of the scaffolds aslant, so that each
has its counterpart on the smooth turf by its side, dark as itself, but
magnified in the moonlight. Gaspar and his companions can see that
these singular mausoleums are altogether constructed of timber, the
supporting posts being trunks of the Cocoyol palm, the lower
staging of strong canes, the cana brava, laid side by side,
while the upper one, or roof, is a thatch of the leaves of another
species of palmthe cuberta.
After contemplating them for an instant, Gaspar says: This is the
burying-ground Naraguana spoke to me about, beyond a doubt. And not
such a bad sort of place either to take one's final rest in, after
life's worries are over. I shouldn't much object to being laid out in
that style myself. Only I'd need friends to live after me, and keep the
structure in repair; otherwise the frail thing might some day come
tumbling down, and my poor bones along with it.
At the conclusion of this quaint speech, he gives the rein to his
horse, and moves on among the tombs, making for the opposite side of
the cemetery, the others following in silence. For from the brow of the
hill on its westward side, they expect to look down upon the Indian
It must be on t'other side, observes the gaucho, as they proceed.
I remember the old chief saying the tolderia was west of the
When half-way across he again reins up, halting his horse alongside
one of the scaffolds, conspicuous among the rest by its larger size, as
also a certain freshness about the timbers of which it is constructed;
some chips scattered around the supports, where these have been chopped
and barked, telling of recent erection. It is not this, however, has
prompted Gaspar to make stop beside it; but simply that he there sees a
place suitable for the stalling of their horses. There is no need to
take the animals on to the other side, but better leave them there, and
themselves go forward afoot.
Thus reflecting, all three dismount, and attach their horses to the
corner posts of the scaffold, each choosing one for his own. Then, with
cautious steps, they continue to the outer edge of the circle, and
pushing through some trees that skirt it, look to the plain below. Sure
enough, there is the thing they expected to seean Indian town or
tolderia. A large lake lies beyond, on whose tranquil surface the
moon makes a mirror, as if it were glass. But their eyes rest only upon
the town, their ears bent to catch any sound that may come up from it.
It is not long till sounds do ascend, the barking of dogs, with now
and then the lowing of cattle, and neighing of horses; but no human
voice, nothing to tell that the place is inhabited by man. For there is
no smoke from the houses, no lights anywhere, everybody seeming to be
Nothing strange in all this; nor do they looking down from the hill
think it so. Instead, things are just as they should be and as Caspar
anticipated they would. For it is now the midnight hour, and since red
men must have rest as well as white ones, the Tovas have all retired to
their beds or hammocks.
So concluding, and satisfied with what they seereflecting further
that nothing more can be done till morningthe gaucho and his
companions go back to their horses, with the intention of taking off
the saddles, and otherwise disposing of them for the night.
It was at first proposed to keep them tied to the scaffold-posts,
but on a second inspection of the place, Gaspar sees it is not the best
one either for their animals or themselves to pass the night in. Should
they go to rest under the scaffold, while asleep, their horses turning
restive might pull down the posts, and bring rattling about their ears
the bones of some dead cacique! Besides, the ground underneath
is not nice to repose upon; being without herbage and trampled all
over, some parts seeming freshly turned up. The gaucho would prefer a
patch of soft grass to lay his limbs along, and this very thing he has
noticed while they were out on the brow of the eminence overlooking the
town. Here a grand fig-tree had attracted his attention, under its
branches seeming the most proper place for them to encamp. Its
far-spreading and umbrageous boughs drooping back to the ground and
there taking rootas the Indian banyan of which it is the New
World representative enclosed a large space underneath. It would not
only give them a shelter from the dews of the night, but concealment
from the eyes of anyone who might chance to be passing that way.
With these manifest advantages in favour of the ground under the
fig-tree as a camping-place, and the disadvantages of that beneath the
scaffold, the latter is without further ado forsaken, and the former
taken possession of.
As no camp-fire can be safely kindled, nor food cooked, they must go
to sleep supperless.
Fortunately none of them is a-hungered, all having made a hearty
meal while within the macaw's grove. There they had polished off
the grand drumsticks of the ostrich, by good luck already roasted. So
caring not for supper, after having disposed of their horses by tying
them to branches of the fig-tree, they stretch themselves along the
ground, and seek repose, which on this night they all need, as much as
on any other since starting upon their long-protracted expedition.
Still, they do not intend to be all asleep at the same time. In such
a place, with the danger of being found in it, that would never do. One
of the three must remain awake and on watch; so it is arranged that
they take the duty of sentinel in turns. As the present hour appears to
be the one calling for keenest vigilance, Caspar volunteers for the
first turn of guard; and the other two wrapping their ponchos around
them, and resting their heads upon their recados, with a mutual
Buenas noches! become silent, if not asleep.
CHAPTER FORTY SIX. A DEAD MAN
Whether his young companions be sleeping or awake, the gaucho does
not stay by their side; but, almost as soon as seeing them disposed
along the earth, slips out from under the fig-tree, and facing towards
the central part of the cemetery, walks off in that direction. His
object is to revisit the scaffold lately left by them, and make a more
detailed examination of it. Not that he cares aught about the structure
itself. It is not the first time for him to have seen similar
burying-places of the Chaco Indians, and he knows as much about them as
he cares to know. Nor is his object, in returning to this particular
one, of a very definite character; but rather because a vague idea or
instinct has come into his mind which prompts him to the acta sort of
presentiment that he may there see something to throw light on much of
what has been all along mystifying him. To go thither will in no way
interfere with his duties as a sentinel, since he can perform these
equally well or better by moving about. Besides, it will help to
beguile the time, as also make him familiar with the ground they have
got upona familiarity that may hereafter prove of service to them. As
already stated, he had observed that the scaffold is of recent
erection, telling that the man or woman laid upon it cannot have been
very long dead. He had, moreover, noticed, while attaching his bridle
to one of the uprights, that a series of notches was cut in the post,
evidently to facilitate ascent. In all likelihood, the surviving
relatives of the deceased are in the habit of coming thither at
periodical intervals, to adorn the tomb with flowers or other tokens of
affectionate memory; perhaps bring votive offerings to the spirit which
presides over that consecrated spot. But whatever the purpose of the
notches, the gaucho knows they will enable him to climb up with ease,
and see what rests upon the platform.
Approaching the catafalque with silent tread, he stands for a time
gazing at it without making any movement to mount up. Not from
curiosity does he so regard it; but something akin to awe has stolen
over his spirit, and he almost fears further to intrude on the
sacredness of the place. Besides, the act requires caution. What if
some of the Indians given to nocturnal straying should chance to come
that way, and see him up those stairs, desecrating the abode of the
dead? Even were there no other reason for his fearing to be found in
that place, the act itself would make him liable to
punishmentpossibly no less than death! For among the Tovas, as many
other tribes of South American Indiansinfidels though they are
calledthe tombs of their dead are held as sacred as those of the
Spanish Christians who so designate them.
Notwithstanding all this, Gaspar the gaucho is not to be baulked in
his design. He has not come to the bottom of that curious catafalque,
to go away again without seeing what is above. And though he stands
hesitating, it is only for a short while, finally making up his mind to
Ascend he does; laying hold of one of the notched corner posts, and
climbing the primitive ladder, as it were, set ready and awaiting him.
As the moon is by this far down in the sky, its beams are not
obstructed by the roof thatch, but fall obliquely upon the floor of the
platform beneath. There, lying at full length, the gaucho perceives a
form, easily recognisable as that of a human being, though swathed in
various kinds of cloths, which cover it from head to foot. The body of
a man, moreover, as can be told by its size and shape; while beside,
and arranged around it, are certain insignia proclaiming it to be that
of some distinguished chieftain of the Tovas. There are spears,
shields, macanas, lazoes, bolasamong them the bola perdida, some of these weapons placed upon the platform alongside the corpse,
others suspended from the beams and poles supporting the thatch of the
roof. There is horse-gear as wellthe multifarious trappings which
appertain to the caparison of a gaucho's steedrecado, carona,
caronilla, jerga, with Mameluke bitts and spurs of immensely large
rowels; for all these are possessed by the higher order of pampas
Indians, and notably their chiefsproperty they have picked up in some
plundering expedition, where gauchos themselves have been their
Just such a thought passes through the mind of gaucho Gaspar, as his
eyes rest on the grand array displayed on the cacique's tomb.
For that it is the tomb of a cacique, and one of grand note, he
has not a doubt, seeing such a selection of trophies. In addition to
the war weapons and implements of the chase, there are articles of
dress and adornment; bracelets of gold, bead necklets and belts, with
coronets of bright-coloured plumes; while most conspicuous of all is a
large feather-embroidered manta, covering the corpse from head
to foot, even concealing the face.
Still there is nothing in all this to astonish Gaspar Mendez, or in
any way give him a surprise. He has seen the like before, and often
among the Auracanian Indians, who are kindred with the tribes of the
Chaco. He but makes the reflection, how silly it is in these savages
thus to expose such fine commodities to the weather, and let them go to
loss and decayall to satisfy a heathen instinct of superstition! And
thus reflecting, he would in all probability have lowered himself back
to the ground, but for that presentiment still upon him. It influences
him to remain a moment longer balancing himself upon the notched
upright, and gazing over the platform. Just then the moon getting clear
of some cirrhus clouds, and shining brighter than ever, lights up an
object hitherto unnoticed by him, but one he recognises as an old
acquaintance. He starts on beholding a felt hat of the Tyrolese
pattern, which he well remembers to have seen worn by his master, the
hunter-naturalist, and by him given to the aged cacique of the
Tovas as a token of friendship. And now he feels the presentiment which
has been upon him all explained and fulfilled. Springing up on the
platform, and uncovering the face of the corpse, he beholdsNaraguana!
CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN. GASPAR
Naraguana dead! exclaims the gaucho, as standing upon the scaffold
he gazes upon the form at his feet. Santissima! this is
But is it certainly the old cacique? he adds, again
stooping down and raising the selvedge of feather cloth, which had
fallen back over the face. Once more exposed to view, the features
deeply-furrowed with agefor Naraguana was a very old manand now
further shrivelled by the dry winds of the Chaco, with the skin drawn
tight over high-cheek bones, and hollow, sightless sockets, where once
shone pair of eyes coal-black and keenall this under the pale
moonlight, presents a spectacle at once weird-like and ghastly, as if
of a death's head itself!
Still it is the face of Naraguana, as at a glance the gaucho
perceives, muttering, Yes; it's the old chief, sure enough. Dead, and
dried up like a mummy! Died of old age, no doubt. Well, he continues,
in graver tone, by whatever way he may have come to his end, no
greater misfortune could have befallen us. Carrai! it's Satan's
Having thus delivered himself, he stands for a while on the
platform, but no longer looking at the corpse, nor any of the relics
around it. Instead, his eyes are turned towards the tree, under whose
shadow his youthful comrades are reclining, and as he supposes asleep.
On that side is the moon, and as her light falls over his face, there
can be seen upon it an expression of great anxiety and paingreater
than any that has marked it since that moment, when in the sumac
grove he bent over the dead body of his murdered master.
But the troubled look now overspreading his features springs not
from grief, nor has anger aught to do with it. Instead, it is all
apprehension. For now, as though a curtain had been suddenly lifted
before his eyes, he sees beyond it, there perceiving for himself and
his companions danger such as they had not yet been called upon to
encounter. All along the route their thoughts were turned to Naraguana,
and on him rested their hopes. Naraguana can do nothing for them now.
No! reflects the gaucho, despairingly; we can expect no help from
him. And who else is there to give it? Who, besides, would have the
power to serve us, even if the will be not wanting? No one, I fear.
Mil Diablos! it's a black look-out, nowthe very blackest!
Again facing round to the corpse, and fixing his eyes upon the still
uncovered face, he seems to examine it as though it were a trail upon
the pampas, in order to discover what tale it may tell. And just for a
like purpose does he now scrutinise the features of the dead cacique, as appears by his soliloquy succeeding.
Yes; I understand it all noweverything. He's been dead some
timeat least two or three weeks. That explains their leaving the
other town in such haste, and coming on here. Dead, or deadly sick,
before he left it, the old chief would have himself to think of, and so
sent no word to us at the estancia. No blame to him for not
doing so. And now that the young one's in power, with a fool's head and
a wolf's heart, what may we expect from him? Ah, what? In a matter like
this, neither grace nor mercy. I know he loves the muchachita,
with such love as a savage maypassionately, madly. All the worse for
her, poor thing! And all the poorer chance for us to get her away from
him. Por Dios! it does look dark.
After a pause, he continues:
His making her a captive and bringing her on here, I can quite
understand; that's all natural enough, since his father being dead,
there's no longer any one to hinder him doing as he likes. It's only
odd his chancing to meet master out that day, so far from home. One
would suppose he'd been watching the estancia, and saw them as
they went away from it. But then, there were no strange tracks about
the place, nor anywhere near it. And I could discover none by the old
tolderia that seemed at all fresh, excepting those of the shod
horse. But whoever rode him didn't seem to have come anywhere near the
house; certainly not on this side. For all that, he might have
approached it from the other, and then ridden round, to meet the
Indians afterwards at the crossing of the stream. Well, I shall give
the whole ground a better examination once we get back.
Get back! he exclaims, repeating his words after a pause, and in
changed tone. Shall we ever get back? That's the question now, and a
very doubtful one it is. But, he adds, turning to descend from the
scaffold, it won't help us any on the road my remaining up here. If
the old cacique's body still had the breath in it, may be it
might. But as it hasn't the sooner I bid good-bye to it the better.
Adios, Naraguana! Pasa V. buena noche!
Were death itself staring him in the face, instead of seeing it as
he does in the face of another man, Gaspar the gaucho, could not forego
a jest, so much delights he to indulge in his ludicrous humour.
After unburdening himself as above, he once more closes his arms
around the notched post, and lowers himself from the platform.
But again upon the ground, and standing with face toward the
fig-tree, the gravity of its expression is resumed, and he seems to
hesitate about returning to the place of bivouac, where his youthful
companions are now no doubt enjoying the sweets of a profound slumber.
A pity to disturb them! he mutters to himself; and with such a
tale as I have now to tell. But it must be told, and at once. Now that
everything's changed, new plans must be thought of, and new steps
taken. If we're to enter the Indian town at all, it will have to be in
a different way from what we intended. Caspita! how the luck's
turned against us!
And with this desponding reflection, he moves off from the scaffold;
and, making his way among the mausoleums, once more approaches the spot
where the South American banyan casts its sombre shadow over them.
CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT. BREAKING BAD
Caspar has been mistaken in supposing the other two asleep. One of
them isLudwig, who sleeps soundly, and to all appearance peacefully.
Not that he is indifferent to the seriousness of the situation, or less
anxious about the upshot, than Cypriano. He but slumbers, because he is
naturally of a more somnolent habit than his cousin, as also, being the
weaker of the two, from the effects of a journey so long sustained, and
travelling at such a pace. Moreover, he is not even yet quite recovered
from the damage done him by the gymnoti; their electricity still acting
on his nervous system, and producing a certain lassitude.
There is yet another reason why Ludwig has let himself go to
sleepone of a moral nature. As is known, he still adheres to his
belief in the fidelity of Naraguana, and, so believing, is least of
them all apprehensive about the result. At this moment he may be
dreaming of the old cacique, though little dreams he that his
dead body is so near!
Altogether different is it with Cypriano. This night there is no
sleep for him, nor does he think of taking any. Though he lay down
alongside his cousin, wrapping himself in his poncho, he did not long
remain recumbent. Instead, soon starting to his feet again, he has been
pacing to and fro under the fig-tree, wondering where Gaspar has gone.
For, as known, the gaucho had slipped off without making noise, or
Missing him, the young Paraguayan would call out his name. But he
fears to raise his voice, lest it reach other ears than those for which
it was intended. Reflecting, moreover, that Gaspar is pretty sure to
have some good reason for absenting himself, and that his absence will
not likely be for long, he awaits his return in silence. Therefore,
when the gaucho in coming back draws nigh to the fig-tree, he sees a
form within the periphery of its shadow, that of Cypriano, standing
ready to receive him. The latter first speaks, asking: Where have you
Oh! only taking a turn among the tombs.
And you've seen something among them to make you uneasy?
Why do you say that, Senorito?
Because I can see it in your countenance. The gaucho, as he
approaches, has the moon full upon his face, and by her light the other
has observed the troubled look.
What is it? the youth goes on to ask, in a tone of eager anxiety,
all the more from seeing that the other hesitates to give the
explanation. You've discovered somethinga new danger threatens us?
Come, Gaspar, you may as well tell me of it at once.
I intend telling you, hijo mio. I was only waiting till we
were all three together. For now, I think, we'll have to rouse Master
Ludwig. You've conjectured aright, as I'm sorry to say. I have
seen something that's not as we would wish it. Still, it may not be so
bad as I've been making it.
Notwithstanding this hopeful proviso, Cypriano is himself now really
alarmed; and, impatient to learn what the new danger is, he stoops down
over his cousin, takes hold of his arm, and shakes him out of his
Ludwig, starting to his feet, confusedly inquires why he has been
disturbed. Then Gaspar, coming close to them, so that he need not speak
in a loud voice, gives an account of what he has discovered, with his
own views relating to it.
As he himself did, both the boys at once comprehend the changed
situation, with a like keen sense of the heightened danger to result
from it. Naraguana's death has extinguished all hope of help from him.
It may be both the cause and forecast of their own!
Their prospects are now gloomy indeed; but they do not idly dwell on
them, or give way to utter despondency. That would be unavailing;
besides, there is no time for it. Something must be done to meet the
altered circumstances. But what? A question to which none of them makes
an immediate answer, since none can.
For awhile all three stand silent, considering. Only a short while,
when Gaspar is again stirred to activity, by reflecting that even now
they are not safe. One of their horses, frightened by an owl that has
flapped its wings close to its face, has snorted, striking the hard
ground with his hoof, and making a noise that reverberates throughout
the cemetery, echoing among the scaffolds. What if he should set to
neighing, in answer to that which now and then comes up from the town
below? The thing is too probable, and the result manifest. A single
neigh might betray them; for what would horses be doing up there upon
the sacred hill? So would any Indian ask who should chance to hear it.
We must muffle our animals, says Caspar. And what's more, take
them back to the other side, where we came up. There we can better
conceal them among the bushes. Besides, if it should come to our being
under the necessity of a speedy retreat, we'll be nearer to the
back-track, and have a fairer chance of getting off. Senoritos! get
your jergas, and wrap them round your horses' heads.
He sets the example by so disposing of his own; and, accustomed to
quick action in matters of the kind, all three soon have their animals
tapado. Then, leading them across to where the path ascends on the
opposite side, they place them under cover of some thick bushes growing
near by, Caspar saying:
They'll be safe enough here, I take it; at all events till the
morning. Then we may move them elsewhere, and if we're to have a run
for it, remember, hijos mios, 'twill be a race for our lives.
There's no Naraguana now to stand between us and that young wolf, who I
fear has got the dear little lamb in his clutches, so fast we'll have
The effect of his words are such, upon those listening to them, that
he suddenly interrupts himself in what he was about to say, and in
changed tone continues: Carramba! we'll rescue her yet,
Naraguana, or no Naraguana. It can be done without him, and I think I
know the way.
In saying so, Caspar is practising a slight deception, his object
being to cheer his young companions, over whom his last speech seemed
to cast the gloom of despair. For he has as yet thought of no way, nor
conceived any definite plan of action. When asked by Cypriano to
explain himself, he is silent; and appealed to, he answers by evasion.
The truth is, that up to the instant of his finding Naraguana's body
upon the scaffold, he too had been trusting all to what the latter
would do for them; and no more than Ludwig could he believe the good
old chief to have turned traitor to the palefaced friend so long under
his protection, much less connived at his assassination. Now, the
gaucho knows he has had no hand either in the murder of his master, or
the abduction of that master's daughter. These events must have
occurred subsequent to his death, and, while they were in the act of
occurrence, Naraguana was sleeping his last sleep under his plumed
manta upon that elevated platform. His son and successorfor
Gaspar doubts not that Aguara has succeeded him in the
chieftainshipis answerable for the deed of double crime, whoever may
have been his aiders and abettors.
Of course, this makes the case all the more difficult to deal with,
since the new cacique, by this time established in full
plenitude of power, will have it all his own way, and can carry things
with a high hand, as he most surely will. To make appeal to him for the
restitution of the captive would be manifestly idle, like asking a
tiger to surrender the prey it holds between its teeth or in its claws.
The gaucho has no thought of so appealing, any more than either of the
others. And no more than they has he formed a plan of future action.
Only now, after their disposal of the horses, is his brain busy in the
conception of some scheme suited to the changed circumstances; and
hence, on Cypriano asking him to tell the way he knew of, he but
replies evasively, saying:
Be patient, Senorito! Wait till we've got things a little snug,
then I'll take pleasure in telling you. But we mustn't remain here. On
the other side of this queer cemetery, where the road runs down to the
tolderiaas I've no doubt there is suchthat will be the place
for us to spend the night in. There we can see and hear what passes on
the plain, and should any one stray up we'll be warned of it, either by
our eyes or ears, in good time to get out of their way. So let us cross
over. And we must step silently, he adds, pointing to the cacique's
scaffold tomb, lest we disturb the sleep of old Naraguana, up yonder.
With this facetious remark, made partly in the indulgence of his
usual humour, but as much to raise the spirits of his young companions,
he strides off among the odd structures, making direct for the other
side of the cemetery, Ludwig and Cypriano following in single file.
CHAPTER FORTY NINE. GASPAR MEANS
As they might truly anticipate, the gaucho's conjecture proves to be
correct. A road runs up to the summit of the hill on its western side;
not direct, but somewhat zigzagged, in consequence of the slope on that
face being steeper, and the ground more rocky and uneven. Withal, it is
much wider than that by which they ascended, the latter being only a
path leading out to the uninhabited pampa: while the former is the main
thoroughfare between town and cemetery. It debouches on the level
summit through a slight hollow, or defile, possibly due to the wear and
tear of travel, continued through the long ages. Many a funeral
procession, and from the most remote time, may have wound its way up
that steep slope, passing between two cliffs, which, like the posterns
of some grand gateway, mark the entrance to this elevated burial-place.
They do not go direct to the point where the town road enters the
cemetery ground, but first back to the fig-tree to get their guns,
ponchos, and some other articles left under it in their haste to put
the horses in a better place of security. Having recovered the weapons
and chattels, they proceed in search of the road. It is easily found,
as all the paths between the separate scaffolds run into it. The point
where it comes up out of the defile is but a short distance from the
fig-tree; and on reaching this point they take their stand under the
cliff; the one on the right hand side: for the moon being behind this,
its shadow is projected more than half across the causeway of the road,
so giving them a safe spot to stand in.
But they do not remain long upon their feet. Gaspar, observing a low
bench of rock at the cliff's base behind them, repeats a Spanish
synonym of the old saw, It's as cheap sitting as standing; and with
this drops down upon the ledge, the others doing likewise.
The spot thus chosen is in every way answerable for the object they
have in view. They are right over the Indian town, and can see into its
streets, so far as is permitted by the moon's declining light. It
commands, moreover, a view of the road, for a good reach below, to the
first angle of the zigzag, and no one could ascend beyond that point
without being seen by them so long as there is light; while there is no
danger of being themselves seen. One passing up, even when opposite the
place where they are seated, would not perceive them; since, in
addition to the shadowing cliff, there is a thick scrub between them
and the travelled track, effectually screening them.
The advantages of the position are apparent to all; and, soon as
settled in it, Cypriano once more calls upon Gaspar to make known the
plan he has hinted at.
Thus again challenged, the gaucho, who has meanwhile been doing his
best to trace out some course of action, responds, speaking in a slow,
meditative way. For as yet he has but a vague idea of what ought to be
Well, he says, there's but one plan I can think of as at all
likely to be successful. It may be, if dexterously managed; and I dare
say we can so manage it.
He pauses, seeming to deliberate within himself; which the two
youths perceiving, refrain to ask further questions, leaving him to
continue at his own time.
Which at length he does, with the odd observation:
One of us must become an Indian.
Become an Indian! exclaims Ludwig. What mean you by that,
I mean counterfeit a redskin; get disguised as one, and so steal
into their town.
Ah! now, I understand. But that will be a dangerous thing to do,
Gaspar. If caught
Of course it will be dangerous, interrupts the gaucho. If caught,
whoever of us it be, would no doubt get his skull crushed in by a
macana, or maybe his body burnt over a slow fire. But as you see
everything's dangerous for us now, one may as well risk that danger as
any other. As to counterfeiting an Indian, I propose taking the part
myself; and I should be able to play it pretty well, having, as you
both know, had some experience in that line. It was by a trick of the
same sort I got off from the Guaycurus when I was their prisoner up the
Pilcomayo; and if I hadn't done it neatly, you shouldn't now see me
How did you manage it? queries Ludwig mechanically, or rather, to
know how he intended doing it now.
Well, I borrowed the costume of an ugly savage, who was set to keep
guard over me, having first taken a loan of his hardwood club. The club
I returned to him, in a way he wouldn't have wished had he been awake.
But he was silly enough to go to sleep, and was sleeping when I took
itah! and slept on after I returned itever after. His dress I kept,
and wore for more than a weekin short, till I got back to Paraguay,
for I was over a week on the road. It fitted me well; so well, that
with some colouring stuff I found in the fellow's pouch, I was able to
paint Indian, pass among the tents of the Guaycurus, and through a
crowd of the savages themselves, without one of them suspecting the
trick. In that way I slipped out of their camp and off. So, by
something of the same I may be able to get the dear little nina
out of this town of the Tovas.
Oh! do it, Gaspar! exclaims Cypriano; do that, and all I have
will be yours.
Yes! all we both have, adds Ludwig; all there is at the
estancia. But rescue sister, and I'm sure my mother will make you
welcome to everything.
Ta-ta! returns the gaucho, in a tone of reproach at being
thus bargained with; gentle, however, as he knows it is from their
anxiety about Francesca. Why, hijos mios, what are you speaking
of? Promises to me,a bribe for but doing my duty! 'Twill be a far day
before Gaspar Mendez will need that for service done to either friend
or relative of his dear dead masteray, to the laying down of my life.
Carramba! are we not all embarked in the same boat, to swim or sink
together? But we sha'n't sink yet; not one of us. No; we shall swim out
of this sea of troubles, and triumphantly. Cease despairing, then; for
after all there mayn't be so much danger. Though Naraguana be dead,
there's one above him, above all, up there in Heaven, who will not
forsake us in this our extremity. Let us kneel and pray to Him.
And they do kneel; Ludwig, as called upon by Gaspar repeating the
Lord's prayer, with a solemnity befitting the occasion.
CHAPTER FIFTY. A MIDNIGHT
Rising from their knees, and resuming their seats upon the ledge,
they return to the subject of discourse, interrupted by their
devotional interlude; Caspar declaring it his fixed intention to
disguise himself as an Indian, and so seek entrance into the town. No
matter what the danger, he is ready to risk it.
The others consenting, the next question that comes before them is,
how the disguise is to be got up. About this there seems a difficulty
to Ludwig, and also to Cypriano; though recalling the transformation of
the latter into a soldier-crane, so quickly done by the deft hands of
the gaucho, they doubt not that he will also find the ways and means
for transforming himself into a redskin.
If we only had a Tovas Indian here, he says, as I had that sleepy
Guaycuru, I'd not be long in changing clothes with him. Well, as we
can't borrow a dress, I must see what can be done to make one. Good
luck, there's no great quantity of cloth in a Tovas suit, and the
stitching isn't much. All that's needed is a bit of breech-clout, which
I can make out of the tail of my shirt; then the poncho over my
shoulders, that will cover everything.
But the colour of your skin, Gaspar! Wouldn't that betray you?
Ludwig thus interrogates, not thinking how easily the dexterous
gaucho can alter his complexion, nor recalling what he has said about
his having done so to disguise himself as a Guaycuru.
It might, returns Gaspar; and no doubt would, if I left it as it
is; which I don't intend doing. True, my face is not so fair as to need
much darkening, beyond what the sun has done for it. I've seen some
Tovas Indians with cheeks nigh as white as my own, and so have you,
senoritos. As for my arms, legs, and body, they'll require a little
browning, but as it so happens I've got the stuff to give it them.
After the service rendered me by a coat of that colour, you may trust
this gaucho never to go on any expedition over the pampas without a
cake of brown paint stowed away in some corner of his alparejas.
For the poncho, it won't be out of place. As you know, there are many
of the common kind among the Tovas Indians, worn and woven by them;
with some of better sort, snatched, no doubt, from the shoulders of
some poor gaucho, found straying too far from the settlements.
But, Gaspar, says Ludwig, still doubting the possibility of the
scheme; surely such a disguise as you speak of will never do? In the
daylight they'd see through it.
Ah! in the daylight, yes, they might. But I don't intend giving
them that chance. If I enter their town at all, and I see no other way
for it, that entry must be made in the darkness. I propose making it
to-morrow evening, after the sun's gone down, and when it's got to be
late twilight. Then they'll all be off guard, engaged in driving their
animals into the corrales, and less likely to notice any one
strolling about the streets.
But supposing you get safe into the place, and can go about without
attracting attention, what will you do? questions Ludwig.
What can you? is the form in which Cypriano puts it.
Well, senoritos, that will depend on circumstances, and a good deal
on the sort of luck in store for us. Still you mustn't suppose I'm
trusting all to chance. Gaspar Mendez isn't the man to thrust his hand
into a hornet's nest, without a likelihoodnay, a certainty, of
drawing some honey out of it.
Then you have such certainty now? interrogates Cypriano, a gleam
of hope irradiating his countenance. For the figurative words lead him
to believe that the gaucho has not yet revealed the whole of his
Of course I have, is Gaspar's rejoinder. If I hadn't we might as
well give everything up, and take the back-track home again. We won't
do that, while there's a chance left for taking the muchachita
along with us.
Never! exclaims Cypriano, with determined emphasis. If I have to
go into their town myself, and die in it, I'll do that rather than
return without my cousin.
Be calm, hijo mio! counsels Gaspar in a soothing tone,
intended to curb the excitement of the fiery youth; I don't think
there will be any need for you either to enter the town, or lay down
your life in it. Certainly neither, unless my plan get spoiled by the
ill luck that's been so long hanging about us. It isn't much of a plan
after all; only to find one of the Indians, to whom I did a service
when they were living at their old place. I cured the man of a
complaint, which, but for the medicine I administered, would have
carried him off to the happy hunting groundswhere just then he didn't
wish to go. That medicine wasn't mine either. I had it from the
dueno. But the sick man gave me credit for it all the same, and
swore if I ever stood in need of his services, I could count upon
receiving them, sure. From what I saw of him afterwards, and we came to
know one another pretty well, I think I can. If ever there was a
redskin to be trusted it's he. Besides, he's one of some authority in
the tribea sort of sub-chief.
I know another, breaks in Ludwig, as if suddenly recollecting;
one who'd help us tooif we could only have a word with him. That's
Nacena's brother, Kaolin.
Cypriano casts at his cousin a glance of peculiar meaningsomething
like surprise. Not because the latter has made mention of an Indian
girl and her brother, both known to himself; but his giving the girl's
name first, as though she were uppermost in his thoughts. And she is;
though that is a secret the young naturalist has hitherto kept close
locked within his own breast.
Without noticing the glance of scrutiny bent upon him, he proceeds
to explain himself.
You may remember, Kaolin and I were the best of friends. He often
went fishing with me, or rather I went with him. And I'm sure he'd
stand by me now, in spite of Aguara.
So much the better, rejoins Caspar. If my man fail me, we can
fall back upon yours. What I propose doing, then, is this. We must keep
quiet, and of course concealed, all day to-morrow till after sunset. We
can employ ourselves in the preparation of my masquerading costume.
When it comes on twilight, or a little later, I can slip down among
those toldos, and go sauntering about, like any other redskin,
till I find my old patient. He being a big fellow, there shouldn't be
much difficulty in doing that. When found I'll make appeal to him, to
help us in getting the nina out of he has it on his tongue to
say Aguara's clutches, but thinking of the effect of such a phrase
falling upon Cypriano's ears, he concludes with the words, whatever
place they're keeping her in.
Caspar's scheme thus at length declared, seeming feasible
enoughand indeed the only one which any of them can think of as at
all practicablethe other two signify assent to it; and its execution,
or the attempt, is finally determined upon.
Going on to discuss the steps next best to be taken, they are
interrupted by the sound of footstepssome one ascending from below!
The footfall is a light one, but distinct enough for them to tell, that
whoever makes it is continuing on towards them, though yet unseen. As
already said, the causeway is in part overshadowed by the cliff, and
within this shadow keeps the person approaching. For all, on the
footsteps drawing near, there is light enough for them to make out a
figure; the better from its being clad in a drapery of white, loose and
flowing, as though the wearer were a woman.
And so is she, or, to speak more correctly, a girl; her sex and age
revealed to them, as at a certain point she steps to the off side of
the path, and the moonlight falling upon her, exposes to their view a
face beautiful as youthful.
Gaspar and Cypriano both recognise the face, but say nothing.
Different Ludwig, who at the first glance got of it, unable to restrain
himself, mechanically mutters the name
CHAPTER FIFTY ONE. A DISPENSER OF
Fortunately Ludwig's exclamation has been uttered in a subdued tone
of voice; but lest in his agitation he may speak louder, the gaucho
grasps him by the arm, and cautions silence, enjoining the same on
For several seconds not another word passes between them, all three
remaining motionless, and silent as sphinxes.
Meanwhile the Indian girl having come opposite the place where they
are seated, passes onward with cautious step and eyes that interrogate
the ground in front, as if she anticipated seeing some one; like a
young hind that has stolen timidly out of the covert, on hearing the
call-bleat of the stag.
Soon she is far enough beyond to give them an opportunity of
exchanging speech without her overhearing it; and of this the gaucho
avails himself, whispering
She's keeping an appointment with her lover, I suppose.
He little thinks of the painful effect his words have produced upon
Ludwig, as he adds
We'll do best to let her go on to their place of meeting, which is
no doubt somewhere near. She must return this way, and then we can have
our interview with her. But where's the amante! A laggard,
to let the girl be on the ground before him! That wasn't my way,
whenSee! she's coming to a stop.
And to a stop she comes, just where the sloping path passes out at
the upper end of the defile, entering among the scaffolds. There
standing erect, she glances inquiringly around, her gaze ranging along
the open spaces between the structures and the shadows underneath them.
For a minute or two she remains in this attitude, without changing
it, or making the slightest noiseevidently looking for a form or
listening for a footstep. But neither seeing the one, nor hearing the
other, she at length calls out a name; at first timidly, but after an
interval in bolder tone, Shebotha!
Not her lover after all! mutters Gaspar, who remembers the name
thus pronounced, while Ludwig is relieved at hearing it, he also
knowing something of the sorceress.
Only that old hag! the gaucho goes on; I wonder now what the
young sprout can be wanting with her, up here and at this hour of the
night! Some mischief between them, I haven't a doubt.
His conjectures are suddenly brought to a close by a new noise now
reaching their ears; a sort of scraping or shuffling, diversified by
grunts and coughsall coming up from below. Turning their eyes that
way, they see ascending what appears to be a human figure, but stooped
forward so as more to resemble a creature crawling on all fours. At the
same instant the Indian girl has caught sight of it; and standing
poised on the platform's edge, she silently awaits its approach,
knowing the bent form to be Shebotha's.
Scrambling on up the steep, at intervals stopping to take breath,
while she intermittently gives out hoarse grunts, the hag passes by
them, at length reaching the spot where the girl stands awaiting her.
Stopping by the side of the latter, both are now seen face to face in
the full moonlight; and never did moon shine upon faces or figures more
contrasting. On the one side age indicated by a spare body, thin skinny
arms, features furrowed with wrinkles, of most repulsive aspect, and
eyes sparkling with a sinister light; on the other, youth, with all its
witching charms, a figure lithe and graceful as any palm growing on the
plain below, features of classic type, and a face exquisitely
beautiful, despite its tint of bronze, the eyes bright with the glow of
a burning passion. For it is this last that has brought the girl
Only a second or two do they remain silent, till the sorceress
recovers breath; for it is she who breaks the silence, saying:
Nacena wants to speak with Shebotha? On what subject?
Need I tell you, Shebotha; you know!
I know that the sister of Kaolin is in love with our young
cacique. That is no secret to others, any more than to me.
Oh! do not say that! I thought no one knew of it but
But everybody, interrupts the unfeeling hag. And what if they do?
Nacena is beautiful, the belle of our tribe, and need fear no rival;
not even her with the eyes of blue, and the tresses of gold, who sleeps
under Shebotha's roof. Nacena is jealous of the paleface captive; she
has no cause.
O, good Shebotha! cries the young girl, in passionate tone, her
heart heaving with rekindled hope, can you assure me of that? If so,
you shall have all I can give you; my armlets, neck ornaments,
mantas, hamacas, everything. Fear not my rewarding you well!
Nacena is generous, rejoins the sorceress, her eyes sparkling with
pleasure at such a wholesale proffer of chattels. She shall have that
assurance; for Shebotha can give it without fail. See this!
While speaking, she has drawn out, from under the skin robe that
covers her bony breast, what appears to be a small horn, converted into
a phial with bottom and stopper.
In this, she says, holding it up to the light, is a fluid, one
drop of which, given to Aguara will turn his heart whichever way
Shebotha wishes it turned; make him love whomsoever she wants him to
love; and that will be as Nacena wants it.
Oh! it is good of you, Mam Shebotha so good! How shall I ever
enough thank or reward you?
No matter about thanks, responds the hag with a knowing leer;
Shebotha likes better the reward. And what you've promised will
content her. But promises, as Nacena herself knows, are sometimes badly
kept, and should have something to secure them, by way of earnest. What
can you give me now?
The girl glances down to her breast, upon which lie several
pendants, sustained by a massive chain of gold passing around her neck.
Then she holds out her arms to show bracelets upon the wrists, beset
with pearls and precious stones, that no doubt once clasped other
wrists than hers those of palefaced doncellas dwelling in
Santiago or Salta. Unclasping the armlets, one after another, she
delivers them to Shebotha.
But the avaricious beldame is not yet satisfied. With her eyes upon
the chain necklet and its glittering attachments, she nods towards it,
as much as to say, That too. And it, also, is detached; and handed
over to her. Then her greedy eyes go to the fillet around the girl's
temples, and an embroidered belt which encircles her waist. But these,
though pretty ornaments, are not of great intrinsic value; and as
Shebotha has in view a further levy of blackmail at a future time, she
can then take them too.
For the present she appears content, all the more as she gloats over
the treasure, which for a while she feasts her eyes upon without
speaking. Then slipping the various articles, one after another, into
the bosom of her dress, she resumes speech, saying
Shebotha has other spells besides that spoken of; one powerful
above all, which puts to sleepah! a sleep from which the sleeper
never awakes. If the other should fail to act, and Aguara
But you said it could not fail, breaks in the girl, her
countenance again clouding over. Is there a doubt, Mam Shebotha?
There's always uncertainty in these things, rejoins the sorceress;
and in the love-spell more than any other. As you know, love is
the strongest passion, and therefore the most difficult to control.
All this, by way of making safe her bargain, for well knows she her
spell will not bring back Aguara's love, lost to Nacena; and as the
bulk of the reward promised will depend upon this, she has yet another
proposal to make that may ensure its payment. She acts as one who would
hedge a bet, and drawing closer to the victim of her delusion, she
If Nacena should ever want the paleface put to sleep by that other
spell, Shebotha will administer it.
As the fiendish suggestion is spoken in a whisper, the three
listeners do not hear what it is. They can only guess by the behaviour
of the young girl that some offer has been made which she indignantly
rejects. This can be told by her rejoinder, and the air in which she
No! she exclaims, starting back with an expression of horror upon
her countenance. Never, never! If Aguara be untrue to me, it is no
fault of the paleface. I know that; and have no vengeance for her. But
for himah! if he have deceived me, it is not she, but he should
suffer punishment. And punished he shall beby my brother.
Oh! your brother! returns the sorceress with a sneer, evidently in
anger at having her offer so rejected. If Kaolin can right your
wrongs, let him. And she adds, making to move off, I suppose you
haven't any more need for me, or my services.
If she haven't I have, cries Gaspar, springing out from the place
of concealment and seizing hold of the hag, while at the same instant
Cypriano flings his arms around the Indian girl.
Come, Mam Shebotha! continues the gaucho, it's my turn to have a
talk with you.
She makes an effort to escape, and would cry out; but cannot, with
his sinewy fingers around her throat.
Stop your struggling! he commands, giving her a shake till her old
bones crackle at every joint. A cry, a word from you above a whisper,
and I'll close your windpipe so that you'll never grunt through it
again. Come, muchachos! Let's to the other side! One of you
bring on the girl. Vamos!
Raising the hag in his arms he bears her off, with no more care for
her comfort than if she were a trapped wolf. Nacena is borne more
tenderly in Ludwig's arms, into which she has been transferred, by a
sort of tacit understanding between him and his cousinthe latter
walking alongside. No threat hears the girl, nor needs it to enforce
silence. For she is no more apprehensive of injury, now knowing him who
carries her as her brother's old playfellow. Above all, does she feel
reassured, on hearing whispered in her ear
Have no fear, Nacena! Am not I the bosom friend of your brother?
I will not deceive you.
Does she note the earnestness of his words, and the significant
emphasis given to those last pronounced? Whether or not, she refrains
making rejoinder: but suffers herself to be borne on through the
scaffold tombs without resistance, and silent as the forms reposing
CHAPTER FIFTY TWO. A FRIEND
Straight across the cemetery goes Gaspar, with Shebotha in his arms,
nor stops he till back on the spot where the path leads down to the
outer plain. Arriving there, he deposits his living burden upon the
earth; not gently, but dumping her down with a rude violence, as though
it were a bunch of faggots. Still he does not let her out of his arms
altogether; but with a threat, once more warning her to be silent,
retains fast hold of her, till Cypriano has brought him a lazo
from the saddle of one of the horses near by. Looping this round the
body of the sorceress, and taking a few turns of it about her arms and
ankles, he spreads his poncho over her head, then knots the rope around
her neck, and so muffles her beyond the chance of either hearing or
making herself heard. All this done, he again raises her from the
ground, and carrying her some distance back among the scaffolds, he
binds her to a corner post of one with the end of the lazo yet
unused. His purpose in thus disposing of her is not clear to his
companions, both of whom he has left in charge of the Indian girl; who,
on her part, makes no attempt to escape. Instead, released from
Ludwig's arms, she stands silently by his side, neither trembling nor
showing sign of fear. Why should she, with those words of friendly
assurance which have been once more whispered in her ear?
And now Gaspar getting back to where they stand, and speaking in the
Tovas tongue sufficiently well to be understood by her, says to
Muchacha mia! you see who we are, and know all three of us.
We know you, Nacenaeven to your tenderest secret; which has been
revealed to us in the dialogue just held between yourself and Mam
Shebotha. Every word of that we've heard, with the lies she's been
telling you. And let me tell you, that of all the wicked impostor's
promises, there's but one she could have keptthat to rid you of her
you deem a rival. And she could only have done that by doing murder;
which was what she meant by her sleeping draught.
The young girl shudders listening to what she knows is but the
'Twas good of you to reject the foul proposal, goes on the gaucho,
and indignantly, as we know you did. We saw and heard it all. And now,
I have a proposal to offer, which you won't reject; I'm sure you won't,
She makes no rejoinder, but stands waiting to receive it.
It is, he continues, that you can still rid yourself of that
rival, not by doing wrong, but right and justice. With your help we
shall take her away to a place where Aguara will never more set eyes
upon her. But as I've said, we stand in need of your assistance, and
you must give it.
You will, you will! interposes Cypriano, in tones of earnest
Yes, dear Nacena, follows Ludwig, in tenderer tones; I'm sure you
will. Remember, she is my sister, and that you yourself have a
Had they but known it, there was no need for all this petitioning.
Even while Gaspar was speaking, and long before he had finished, the
Indian girl, with the quick, subtle instinct of her race, divined what
they were aiming atthe very end she herself desires, and might have
proposed to them. The same instinct, however, prompts her to feign
ignorance of it, as evinced by her interrogative rejoinder:
How can Nacena assist you? In what way?
By helping us to get the paleface out of her prison. It is Gaspar
who speaks. She is imprisoned, is she not?
And where is she kept? further questions the gaucho.
Cypriano trembles as he listens for the answer. He fears, half
expecting it to be, In the toldo of the cacique.
It is a relief to him, when Nacena, pointing towards the dark object
bound to the scaffold-post, says: She has charge of the paleface
Bueno! ejaculates Gaspar with delight in his eyes, as in
those of Cypriano. Nothing could be better than that. And now that we
have Shebotha here, no one will be guarding the prisonerwill there?
Alas, yes! responds the Indian girl, her words with their tone
telling that she has entered into the spirit of their enterprise.
Who? interrogates Gaspar. What is heif it be a man?
Yes, a man. A white man, like yourselves; one who has been long
with our tribea captive taken many years ago from some of the
countries south. He is Shebotha's own slave, and watches over the
paleface when she is out of the toldo.
Again the gaucho ejaculates, Bueno! adding, in sotto
voce, to his two companions, It seems better still; a bit of rare
good luck; that is, if this white man, whoever he be, isn't grown
Indianised, as I've known some to be. Then to the girl. Shebotha's
slave, you say? In that case, he should be wanting to regain his
liberty, and we may give him the chance. If need be, we can take him
along, too. You understand, Nacena?
Then you agree to assist us?
Say yes! urges Cypriano.
My sister, Nacena! adds Ludwig.
In response to their united appeals, she points to the sorceress,
Her vengeance is to be dreaded. If I do as you wish me, Shebotha
Won't hurt a hair of your head, says Gaspar, interrupting. Nor
can't. She'll not be near enough to do you any injury. That worthy
woman is on the eve of a long journey, to be made in our company, if
you agree to assist us in getting the paleface away. You do agree to
it, amiga mia?
The girl fully comprehending, and relieved at the thought of the
dreaded sorceress being taken out of the way, at length not only
signifies assent to their scheme, but embraces it with alacrity. Its
success will be to her advantage as theirs, ridding her of that rival
feared, and it may be, restoring to her the affections of him on whom
she has fixed her own.
And now that confidence is established between her and her captors,
she gives them a full account of how things stand in the tolderia, and the place where the captive is confined. Having heard which,
Gaspar counsels her how to act, as a last word, saying
Tell this white man, who has charge of the nina, he need no
longer be a prisoner himself, nor Shebotha's slave. Say to him, that
men of his own race and colour are near, ready to rescue and take him
back to his people, wherever they may be. Surely that will be enough to
gain him to our side, and get his help also.
Nacena hesitates for a time; then answering, says
No, not enough, I fear.
The white man is not in his senses. He has lost them long ago. The
little left him is given to Shebotha. He fears her, as all our people
do; but he more than any. She has surely left him with commands to keep
a close watch. He does not disobey her; and it may be impossible for me
to speak with the paleface, much more get her away from him.
Caspita! exclaims Gaspar, his countenance again turning
grave. There will be a difficulty there, I see it; if the man's
crazed, as you say he is, Nacena. You think he won't let you speak with
the prisoner, unless you have permission from Shebotha?
He will notI am sure he will not.
In that case all may be idle, and our scheme go for nought. Por
Dios! what's to be done?
Pressing his head between his hands, the gaucho stands considering,
while the other three in silence await the result. His deliberation is
not for long; a bright idea has flashed across his brain, and with his
countenance also recovering brightness, he exclaims
Gracios a Dios! I know how it can be managed; I think I
Ludwig and Cypriano have it on their tongues to inquire what he
means. But before either can say a word, he is off and away in a rush
toward the scaffold-post to which Shebotha is tied.
Reaching it, he is seen with arms outstretched and in rapid play, as
though he were setting her free. Far from that, however, is his
intention. He but undoes the knot around her neck, and raising the
poncho, clutches at something which encircles her throat. He had
noticed this something while throttling her when first caught; it had
rattled between his fingers as the beads of a rosary, and he knew it to
be such, with a slight differencethe beads being human teeth! A
remembrance, moreover, admonishes him that this ghastly necklace was
worn by the sorceress, not for adornment, but to inspire dread. It is,
in fact, one of her weapons of weird mystery and power, and an idea has
occurred to him that it may now be used as an instrument against
Having detached it from her neck, and replaced the poncho upon her
head, he returns to where he had left the others, and holding out the
string of teeth, says to Nacena
Take this. Present it to the crazy paleface; tell him Shebotha sent
it as a token authorising you to act for her; and, if he be not
altogether out of his wits, I warrant it'll get you admission to the
presence of the paleface. For anything beyond, you will best know how
to act of yourself.
The girl grasps the hideous symbol, a gleam of intelligence lighting
up her swarth but beautiful face. For she, too, anticipates the effect
it will have on Shebotha's slave, from actual knowledgenot by
guessing, as with Gaspar.
Knowing herself now at liberty and free to depart, without saying
another word, she turns her back upon them; and gliding away with the
agile, stealthy step peculiar to her race, soon passes beyond their
They stand looking after her, till her dark figure disappears amid
the shadows of the scaffolds. But they have no doubt of her
fidelityno fear that she will fail to do what she can for the
fulfilment of her promise. The keeping it is secured by her own
interested motives: for the passion impelling her to act on their
behalf, though purely selfish, can be trusted as truth itself.
CHAPTER FIFTY THREE. A DELUDED
Midnight's hour is past, the moon has gone down, and in the Indian
town there is darkness and silence. Every one is asleep, or seems to
be; since no light shines either in toldo or tent, neither can a
human figure be seen in the streets, or anywhere around.
At some distance from the houses, however, among thickly-standing
trees, and close into the base of the hill, is the quaint
dwelling-place of Shebothahalf cave, half hutand inside this
flickers a faint light, from a dip candle of crude beeswax, with a wick
of the fibre of the pita plant. By its red flame, mingled with
much smoke, a collection of curious objects is dimly discernible; not
articles of furniture, for these are few, but things appertaining to
the craft in which Shebotha is supposed to have skilldemonology.
There are the bones and skins of monkeys, with those of snakes,
lizards, and other reptiles; teeth of the alligator and jaguar; the
proboscis-like snouts of the tapir and tamanoir, or great
ant-bear, with a variety of other like oddities, furnished by the
indigenous creatures of the Chaco in every department of the zoological
worldbirds, quadrupeds, insects, reptiles, and fishes.
This motley conglomeration is for the most part arranged against the
inner wall of the hut, and opposite the entrance, so as to be
observable by any one looking in at the door, or even passing by it.
For its purpose is to impress the superstitious victims of Shebotha's
craft with a belief in her witching ways. And to give this a more
terrifying and supernatural character, a human skull, representing a
death's head, with a pair of tibia for crossbones underneath, is fixed
centrally and prominently against the wall.
The same light that so faintly illuminates this paraphernalia of
repulsive objects, also shines upon one that is pleasingthis the
figure of a young girl, with a face wonderfully fair. For she is
At the hour spoken of she is the sole occupant of the hut; its
owner, Shebotha, being abroad. For it is the self-same hour and instant
when the sorceress has the rosary of teeth snatched so rudely from her
neck. She is seated on the edge of a catre, or cane bedstead, of
the pallet kind, her head buried in her hands, through the white
fingers of which her long golden tresses fall in rich profusion,
scattered over and mingling with the fur of the great pampas wolf which
serves as a sort of mattress for the bed.
The candle has burnt down into the socket of its rude stick, but at
intervals flares up, with a crackling, sputtering noise; as it it does
so, showing upon her features that same sad look as when she was being
carried hither, a captive; only that her face is now paler, and the
expression upon it telling of a despair deeper and more settled. She
has slept but little from the day of her entrance under Shebotha's
roof, and no great deal since she last lay on her own bed at home. What
sleep she now gets is only in short snatches; when tired nature can no
longer continue the struggle with thoughts all the while torturing her.
No wonder at sweet slumber being thus long denied her, with such
memories to keep her awake! In fancy, ever before her seems the face of
her father with that look of agony she last saw upon it, as he lay upon
the ground, weltering in his gore. And in fancy also, she beholds the
ruffian, Valdez, standing above the prostrate form, waving over it his
blood-stained spear, a very demon exultant!
But her painful thoughts are not all of the past. She has doubts and
fears also for the future, dark as she reflects on her own situation,
and what will be done to her; but still darker when she thinks of those
left behind and far away. What will become of her dear mother and
brother? What of himdear, ah! perhaps dearer than eitherher
handsome cousin? For Cypriano's affection for her is fully
Not strange then the sadness overspreading her features, nor the
weight of woe in her heart; as she dwells on the fate that may be his
and theirs. For she knows they are all in dangergreat and certain
danger; has known it ever since seeing Valdez, the vaqueano,
consorting with the Tovas Indians, and on friendly terms with their
chief. Oft had she asked herself the question whither he went
afterwards! Did he return to Paraguay, or go direct to the estancia, there to complete his diabolical workbegun by murder, to end in the
same with other crimes? In any case he would not likely leave them
unharmed, as the captive girl too truly apprehends.
With such terrible thoughts to agitate her breast, no wonder she
should be awake while everyone around seems slumbering. But on this
night, and at this hour, something besides hinders her from seeking
repose; that being the absence of Shebotha, which, for certain reasons,
makes her more than ordinarily apprehensive. In truth, she is greatly
alarmed by it. Never before has the sorceress been out of her toldo
to stay for any continued time; above all, never during the hours of
night. Why should she be absent now, and so long?
While asking herself these questions, the captive has not the
slightest intention to take advantage of Shebotha's absence, and make
trial to escape. Well knows she that would be idle, and she could not
get away if she tried. For though the owner of the hut is off watch,
there is one on ita man sitting, or squatted, just outside the door.
No red man, but one with a white skin; himself a prisoner, and who
possibly once, as she, felt distressed by his captivity. It may have
been this very feeling which has made him what he now isa witless
idiot, resigned to his fate. In any case, he seems to be contented as
Shebotha's slave; and, perhaps ignorant of there being any better,
serves her with a fidelity worthy of a better mistress. No watch-dog at
that toldo's door were more to be trusted than he.
She inside has no intention, nor ever had, of tempting him to be
untrue to his trust. Even could he be induced to let her pass out, what
purpose would it serve? She could not make her way home; and he is not
the sort of man to see her safe through more than two hundred miles of
wilderness. The idea is too hopeless to be entertained, and she does
not for an instant entertain it.
The thoughts that now occupy her mind are not of how she may escape
from her captivity, but dwelling upon a theme altogether different. She
is thinking who will be the next one to darken the door of the hut;
fearing it may be neither Shebotha herself, nor yet her slave, but the
man who is master of bothAguara!
True, the young cacique has not as yet offered her either
outrage or insult; instead still approaches her with courtesy, and a
pretence of friendship. For all, somethingit may be
instinctadmonishes her that he is acting under a mask, which he may
at any moment cast aside, revealing the monster, as she believes him to
be. And with sufficient reason, recalling that tragedy which deprived
her of a father; and sure, despite all his protestations, that Aguara
played a willing part in it.
While thus apprehensively reflecting, she hears footsteps, as of
some one approaching the place. The sound causes her to start to her
feet, and stand listening, with a heightened expression of fear upon
her face. For, although the footfall is distant, and only
distinguishable as such by the rustle it makes among the dead leaves,
she can tell it is not that of Shebotha, with whose halting gait and
shuffling step her ear has grown familiar. Whose, then? Who would be
coming to the hut at that time of nightnow morningsave Shebotha
herself? None but she, and those of her belonging, dare do so either by
night or by day? For the toldo of the sorceress is a sort of
sanctuary, tabooed to the people of the tribe, and no one may enter or
approach its sacred precincts, without having her permission, or being
bidden by her. Yes; one may, and canAguara.
Still darker shows the fear upon the face of the captive girl, as
she thinks of this special privilege accorded to the cacique, of
which she has been made aware. It must be he who is drawing near, and
with him a danger she has long vaguely apprehended.
For some seconds she remains intently listening, her young heart
pulsing audibly within her breast. It beats easier as the footfall
draws nigher, and she can tell it is not that of a man. The tread is
too light and elastic. It cannot be Aguara who approaches.
She is still surer of its not being he, as the footsteps, having
come close up to the hut, cease to be heard, and in their place a
different sound enters through the open doora feminine voice speaking
in soft, dulcet tones.
The speech is not addressed to the captive herself, but to him who
watches outside. After an interchange of ordinary salutation, and an
inquiry by the watcher as to what is wantedthis evidently in tone of
surprisethe soft voice responds, I want to speak with the little
You cannot. Shebotha forbids it. No one may enter here without her
But I have more than her permissionher commands. She has sent me
with a message to the paleface. At this moment Mam Shebotha has a
matter elsewhere, and could not come herself.
You may be speaking the truth, but how am I to know? questions the
man, as he regards the intruder with an incredulous stare. I don't go
so far as to say you are telling a lie. All I say is, that the thing
isn't at all likely. Mam Shebotha's not the sort to trust her affairs
to such a chiquitita as you.
You know me, don't you?
Oh, yes; you are Kaolin's sisterher they call the belle of the
tribe; your name's Nacena.
It is so; and surely you'll believe me? The sister of Kaolin would
not speak false. You cannot suppose I am deceiving you?
Ah! he rejoins, with his words heaving a sigh, it is often those
who are most beautiful who most deceive.
Possibly the memory of some such deception, an experience of times
long past, has been awakened within him. It embitters his speech as he
I can'tI won't believe youthough you are Kaolin's sister, and
ever so fair to look upon.
But you will, when you look upon this.
She draws out the string of teeth snatched from the neck of the
sorceress, and holds it up to his eyes, adding
That I bring from Shebotha herself. She gave it me to show you as a
sign that I have her permission to speak with the palefacenay, her
command, as I've said. Now!
At sight of the hideous symbol, which he instantly recognises, his
incredulity is at an end. For he knows how jealously the sorceress
guards this token, and that no one could have obtained it from her
without some special purpose, or to do a service to herself. What it
may be he questions not, nor longer forbids entrance to the hut, but
nods towards the door, as much as to say
You can go in.
CHAPTER FIFTY FOUR. AN UNLOOKED-FOR
Though the dialogue between Nacena and Shebotha's slave was in the
Tovas tongue, she who has overheard them inside the hut has sufficient
acquaintance with it to make out that the Indian girl is seeking an
interview with herself. But for what purpose, she has not the most
distant idea, and cannot conceive why it should specially be sought at
that strange hour, when everybody else is abed. She knows Nacena by
name, as by sight; having on many occasions seen her at the old
tolderia. But the two have never had acquaintance, nor held
conversation; the sister of Kaolin always seeming shy with her, and
never visiting the estancia, as did the other girls of the
tribe. More than this, she remembers that whenever of late she by
chance met the savage maiden, she had observed a scowl upon the
latter's face, which she could not help fancying was meant for herself.
Nor had her fancy been astray; since in reality for her was that black
look. Though for what reason Francesca could not tell, having never
that she could think of done aught that should give offence to Kaolin's
sister. Besides, was not Kaolin himself the bosom friend of her brother
Ludwig? Still, recalling that scowl so often seen upon Nacena's
countenance with a suspicion, purely intuitive, of what may have
caused itnot strange she should deem the visit of the Indian girl
boding no good to her, but instead something of ill.
As the latter steps inside the toldo, however, and the light
falls upon her face, the captive can there see no sign of malice, nor
token of hostility. Instead, it is lit up by a smile which seems rather
to speak of friendship and protection. And, in truth, such are among
the sentiments now moving the Indian girl to action. At the prospect of
being for ever rid of a rival she sees so helpless, the feeling of
jealousy has passed away out of her heart, as its frown from her face,
and she approaches the captive with the air of one who has both the
wish and the power to give liberty. She is the first to speak, asking
Do you wish to be free?
Why do you ask that? is the interrogative rejoinder, in a tone
distrustful. For that smile may be but to deceive.
Because Nacena has it in her power to give you freedom if you
Desire it! exclaims the captive. Nacena is but mocking me, she
adds, involuntarily falling into the figurative mode of speech peculiar
to the American Indian. Indeed, I do desire it. But how could Nacena
set me at liberty?
By taking the paleface to her people.
They are far awayhundreds of miles. Would Nacena herself take me
No. That is not needed. The paleface is mistaken. Her friends are
not far away, but near. They wait for her to come out to them.
The captive gives a start of surprise, the light of hope and joy,
long absent from her eyes, rekindling in them, as another light breaks
Of whom does Nacena speak?
Of your brother the fair-haired youth, your cousin the dark
Paraguayan, and the gaucho who has guided them hither. All three are
close to the tolderia, on the other side of the hillas I've
said, expecting you. Nacena has spoken with them, and promised she will
conduct you to where they are. White sister! she adds, in a tone of
unmistakeable sincerity, at the same time drawing closer to the
captive, and tenderly taking her by the hand, do not show distrust,
but let Nacena keep her word. She will restore you to your friends,
your brother; ah! to one who waits for you with anxiety keener than
At the last words the captive bends upon her would-be deliverer a
bewildered, wondering look. Is it possible Nacena has knowledge of her
tenderest secret? It must be so; but how can she have learnt it? Surely
Cyprianowhom she says she has seen outside and spoken with surely,
he could not have revealed it; would not! Francesca forgets that the
Indian girl was for years a near neighbour to her father's estancia
; and though never visiting there, with the keen intuition of her race
was like enough to have learnt, that the relationship between her
cousin and herself had something in it beyond mere cousinly affection.
While she is still cogitating as to how Nacena could have come to
this knowledge, and wondering the while, the latter bleaks in upon her
wonderment, and once more urges her to flight, again speaking of him
who is near and dear, so anxiously expecting her.
It needs not such pressing appeal. For the captive girl, her
surprise once past, is but too willing to embrace the opportunity so
unexpectedly offered, and by one so unlikely to offer it. Therefore,
without further hesitation, she signifies acceptance, saying, I will
trust you, Nacena. You have called me your white sister, and I believe
you sincere. You would not speak so if you meant me harm. Take me where
you will; I am ready to go with you.
Saying which, she holds out her hand, as if offering to be led.
The Indian girl taking it, turns her face for the door, and is about
to step towards it, when she remembers the watcher without; and
obstruction she had for the time forgotten. Will he bar their exit? A
cloud comes over her brow, as she asks herself the question; for,
mentally answering it, she thinks he most probably will.
The other observing her hesitation, and quite comprehending it,
makes no inquiry about the cause. That is already declared in the
dialogue lately overheard by her; and as he outside is likely to be
listening, the two now take counsel together, speaking in whispers.
Nacena, from a better knowledge of the situation, is of course the
chief adviser, and it ends in her determining to show a bold front, and
pass out as if already armed with Shebotha's permission. If
interrupted, they can then make a rush for it. In short, after a
hurried consultation, they can think of no other way, much less a
better one. For by the shuffling of footsteps, and a wheezing
noiseShebotha's slave being afflicted with asthmathey can tell that
he is close by the entrance.
Soon as resolved how to act, the Indian girl, still holding the
captive by the hand, leads her on to the door; and, passing over the
threshold side by side, they present themselves to the sentry, Nacena
In going in I forgot to tell you my errand from Mam Shebotha. She
bade me bring the paleface to where she is herself. You see, I am
You cannot take her out of the toldo, rejoins the man in a
tone of dogged denial. You must not; Shebotha would kill me if I
But I have Shebotha's command to do so.
How am I to know that?
You forget what I have said, and what I've given you.
She points to the strange rosary, which he had taken from her, and
still retainspossibly as a voucher against any mistake that may
No, I don't, he rejoins, holding the string up before her eyes,
and shaking it till the teeth rattle. There it is; but withal, I can't
allow her, the paleface, to go with you. It might be as much as my life
But what is your life worth without liberty?
It is not Nacena who puts this question, but the paleface herself;
speaking to him in her native tongue, as his. He gives a sudden start
on hearing it, and regards the young girl with a stare of astonishment,
rubbing his eyes as though just awakened from a long-continued sleep.
Aheh! he exclaims, excitedly. What's that? Liberty, did you
say? Liberty? Mine's gone long ago. I'm but a poor slaveShebotha's
slave. I can never be free again; no, never!
You may be free nowthis very momentif you wish it.
If I wish it! Ha, ha, ha! That's a good joke! If I wish it! Only
show me the way, and let Mam Shebotha go to
Never mind Mam Shebotha. Listen to me, who am of the same race and
people as yourself. There are some of them now near, who have come to
take me home to my friends. You must have friends too, whom you left
long ago. Why should you not go back to them?
Carramba! he cries out, as if the sound of his native
tongue had brought back to remembrance one of its most common
exclamations, and along with it a desire to return to the place where
he last heard it spoken. Why should I not? If you say you'll take me,
Ah! I'll not only take you, but be glad of your company. Nos
It is still Francesca who speaks, and at the last words, pronounced
in a tone of half encouragement, half command, she stretches out her
hand, and taking hold of that of her late jailer, leads him off, as a
rough pampas colt just tamed and gentled.
Nacena, astonished at the spirit shown by the little paleface, and
delighted with a success which may prove advantageous to herself, says
not a word; but steps off forward in front of the other twomaking
mute pantomimic signs to guide them in the direction they are to go.
CHAPTER FIFTY FIVE. AN UNLUCKY
Soon as Nacena had started on return to the town, the gaucho and his
companions commence making preparations to descend from the hill. Not
by the road leading down to the tolderia, but the path by which
they came up. For before her parting with them the Indian girl and
Gaspar had held further speech; she imparting to him additional
information of how things stood in the tribe; he, in turn, giving her
more detailed instructions how to act, in the event of her being able
to obtain an interview with the paleface captive, and to get her off
from the place where confined. In the programme arranged between them,
the final part to be played by Nacena would be her conducting her
charge round to the other side of the hill, where the rescuers would be
in waiting to receive her. Delivered to them, the action of the Indian
girl would be at end, so far as that affair was concerned, while theirs
had yet to be considered.
The place where they were to await her was, of course, mutually
understoodby the entrance to the uphill path, under the great
ceiba tree. Nacena knew it well, having oft traversed that path,
reclined in the shadow of the tree, and played under it from the
earliest days of childhood. For it was a pretty spot, much-frequented
by the younger members of the community when out for promenade on the
plain, or nutting among the palm-groves that studded it. A sort of
rendezvous, or stopping place, from the two routes to the town here
diverging; the shorter, though by far the more difficult, being that
over the Cemetery Hill. Of the roundabout one, Gaspar, of course, had
no knowledge. But he knew the ceiba, and the way back to it, all
that they needed. The girl had trodden both, hundreds of times, and was
acquainted with their every reach and turning. She would come anyhow,
and no fear of her not finding the way; their only fear was of her
Least of all has Ludwig this apprehension; instead, full confidence
that the Indian will will bring Francesca back with her. Strange this;
but stranger still, that, while overjoyed with the thought of his
sister being delivered from captivity, his joy should have a tinge of
sadness in it, like a mingling of shadow and sun. This due to his
suspicion of the motives actuating her who has promised to be his
sister's deliverer. Nacena is not their friend for mere friendship's
sake; nor his, because of the former fellowship between him and her own
brother. Instead, jealousy is her incentive, and what she is doing,
though it be to their benefit, is but done for the thwarting of Aguara.
Though Ludwig has expressed his opinion that they will soon see
Francesca, he is silent about these suspicions. There is no time to
speak of them if he would. For in a few seconds after Nacena's
separating from them, Gaspar gives the signal for action, and all three
become engaged in getting ready their horses for a return to the plain.
Por Dios! mutters the gaucho, while slipping on his bridle.
I don't much fancy remaining longer in this melancholy place. Though
high and airy, it mayn't be wholesome. If, after all, that brown beauty
should change her mind, and play us false, we'd be in a bad predicament
up herea regular trap, with no chance of retreating from it. So the
sooner we're back to the bottom of the hill, the safer 'twill be. There
we'll at least have some help from the speed of our horses, if in the
end we have to run for it. Let us get below at once!
Having by this finished adjusting his bridle, he hands the rein to
You hold this, senorito, while I go after Shebotha. Botheration
take that old hag! She'll be a bother to us, to say nothing of the
extra weight for our poor horses. After all, she's not very heavyonly
a bag of bones.
But, Gaspar; are you in earnest about our taking her along with
us? asks Cypriano.
How are we to help it, hijo mio! If we leave her here, she'd
be back in the town before we could get started; that is, if we have
the good luck to get started at all. I needn't point out what would be
the upshot of that. Pursuit, as a matter of course, pell mell, and
immediate. True, we might leave her tied to the post, and muffled as
she is. But then she'd be missed by to-morrow morning, if not sooner,
and they'd be sure to look for her up here. No likelier place for such
as she, among these scaffolds; except tied to a scaffold of another
sort, and in a somewhat different style.
The gaucho pauses, partly to enjoy his own jest, at which he is
grinning, and partly to consider whether Shebotha can be disposed of in
any other way.
Cypriano suggests another, asking
Why couldn't we take her in among these trees, and tie her to one
of them? There's underwood thick enough to conceal her from the eyes of
anyone passing by, and with the muffle over her head, as now, she
couldn't cry out that they'd hear her.
'Twould never do, rejoins Gaspar, after an instant of reflection.
Hide her as we might, they'd find her all the same. These redskins,
half-naked though they are, can glide about among bushes, even thorny
ones, like slippery snakes. So many of them, they'd beat every bit of
thicket within leagues, in less than no time. Besides, you forget their
dogs. Scores they haveay, hundreds, some of them keen-scented as
beagles. Carrai! they'd smell the nasty witch half-a-mile off,
and so discover her whereabouts to their masters.
True, returns Cypriano, seeing the plan he has proposed would not
do. In that way they would find her, no doubt.
And if they didn't, interposed Ludwig, speaking from a sentiment
of humanity, it would be dreadful.
Dreadful! what do you mean? asks Cypriano, looking puzzled. For
them not to find her is just what we want.
Ah, cousin! how would it be for her? Tied to a tree, with no
hope no chance of getting loosed from itshe'd die of hunger or
thirst miserably perish. Wicked as Shebotha is, we'd be worse than
she if we left her to such a fate as that, to say nothing of our
bringing it upon her. Ay, and for doing so we'd deserve the same
ourselves, or something as bad.
Well, Senor Ludwig, rejoins the gaucho, with an air of submission
rather than conviction, you may be right in what you say, and I'm not
the man to deny it. But there need be no difference of opinion on that
point. Leaving Shebotha tied to a tree wouldn't do on any account, for
the reasons I've stated. It mightmost likely would, and, as you say,
it oughtend in ourselves getting tied to trees or stakes, with a
bundle of faggots between our legs set to the tune of a slow fire.
But, he adds, after a second or two spent considering, there's only
one other way I can think of to deal with the witch, if we're not to
take her with us.
What's the other? asks Cypriano, seeing that the gaucho hesitates
to declare it.
Why, knock her on the head, or draw the blade of a cuchilla
across her throat, and so stop her grunting at once and for ever. The
old wretch deserves no better fate and hanging's too good for her. But
they'd find her dead body all the same; though not with a tongue in it
to tell who stopped her wind, or, what's of more consequence, how and
which way we went off. Besides, I dare say, the Senor Ludwig wouldn't
agree to our getting disembarrassed of her in that fashion.
Oh! no, no! ejaculates the humane youth, horrified at the thought
of such cruelty, anything but that, Caspar.
Well, there isn't anything but what I propose doingthat is,
taking her along. I'm willing to accommodate her on the croup of my
recado, and will show her all the gallantry she deserves. If you're
jealous, Senor Ludwig, you may have her behind you; and as your horse
is the lightest laden, that might be best. When we're crossing back
over that riacho where you left your saddle-bags, if you're
tired of riding double, you can drop her down among the lightning-eels,
and let them play their batteries upon her old bones till every joint
of them cracks asunder.
Were it not for the gravity of the situation, Gaspar's young
companions would be greatly amused at his quaint rhodomontade. But as
both are too anxious about the future, and in no humour for a jest,
Ludwig only answers with a faint smile; while Cypriano, alone thinking
of Francesca, has somewhat impatiently listened to it. Having hold of
the bridle-rein which the gaucho has handed to him, on the latter
ceasing to speak, he says in urgent tone
Bring her along, then, good Gaspar; and be quick about it! As
you've said, we should get down to the plain as soon as possible.
The admonition is not needed, for Gaspar does not waste time over
his jokes, nor allow them to interfere with his action. And while
delivering the last sally, he has been looking to his horse-gear, to
see that his recade is in a proper condition to receive her who
is to be his double.
Satisfied it will do, he strides off to where Shebotha is tied; and
in a few seconds returns bearing the sorceress in his arms, as though
she were but a bundle of rags.
Hoisting her up to his horse's withers, and with a stern threat and
a shake, telling her to stay there, he springs upon the saddle behind
her. It would not be their relative positions, then riding double, were
they starting out on a long journey. But it will do for the half-mile
or so, to the bottom of the hill, and for that short distance it seems
idle either to bind her to his own body or to the saddle. So thinks
Gaspar; but in this the gaucho, with all his prudent sagacity, is for
once incautious to a fault. As they are groping their way down the
steep slope, zig-zagging among the tree trunks that stand thickly on
both sides of the path, a troop of ring-tailed monkeys asleep in their
tops, having their slumbers disturbed by the clink-clink of the hoofs
against stones, set up a lugubrious howling. All the three horses are
affrighted by the unearthly noise, but Gaspar's more than any; so much,
that rearing erect upon its hind legs, with the ground so uneven, the
animal loses balance, and stumbles over on its side.
As the gaucho gathers himself, stunned and somewhat dazed by the
fall, 'tis to learn that for that night his riding double is at an end,
with Shebotha sharing the saddle; for the sorceress is no longer to be
CHAPTER FIFTY SIX. AN INFURIATED
There is no mystery about Shebotha's disappearance nor aught out of
the way save in the adroitness with which the aged crone contrived to
effect her escape. Soon as touching the ground, and feeling herself
free from the arms hitherto holding her on horseback, she has darted
into the underwood, and off; not even rising erect to her feet, but on
all fours, and silently as a snake. For although the hillside is so
thickly overgrown with thorny scrub that a pointer would with
difficulty quarter it, the supple old savage worms her way through,
without making any more noise than would a badger just got out of the
barrel, and away from the dogs that have been baiting it.
In her retreat, she does not proceed for any great distance in a
direct line, nor long continue crawling through the tangle of bushes.
She is acquainted with every inch of that wooded slope, and all the
paths traversing it, even to the tiniest trace of bird or quadruped;
and soon coming into one of these, she at length stands upright. But
not to stay there for any time, only long enough to give a glance to
the right and left, in order that she may assure herself as to which of
the two she had best take. Deciding in an instant, she is off again in
crouched attitude, but with the agility of youth itself. Up the hill
she goes, back towards the Cemetery. And one who saw her ascending
before seeing her now, would with difficulty believe it to be the same
person. Then, however, she was taking it leisurely, with no particular
call for haste nor the taxing of her strength; now there is a motive
for her making speed, with every exertion in her power. Indeed, more
than one; for she is urged by two of the strongest passions that can
agitate the human breastcupidity and vengeance. While depriving her
of her ghastly necklace, Gaspar had taken the occasion to possess
himself of the more elegant and valuable ornaments stripped from the
person of Nacena; not with any thought to appropriate them to himself,
but the intention of restoring them to their rightful owner, when the
latter should re-appear to claim them. Coming back, and bringing with
her the captive, the Indian girl would well deserve restitution of her
Thwarted in her infernal schemes, stung to fury by their failure,
Shebotha goes panting up the hill; but, despite her hard breathing,
without stopping to take breath. Nor rests she on reaching the summit,
but glides on across the Cemetery, finding her way through the wooden
structures as one who knows every scaffold there, and whose bones are
mouldering upon it.
It is not from fear of being followed that she is now so hastening
her steps. She knows that they from whom she has escaped will not
return thither. For although hindered from hearing their conversation
with Nacena, and so becoming acquainted with their plans, if not fully
comprehending, she at least surmises them. For, having recognised the
gaucho and his companionsall three of themwhat purpose could they
have there other than to release the paleface girl she has in her
charge? And from the fact of their having themselves released Nacena
let her go without further detention than would be required to come to
an understandingshe concludes that this has been come to, and the
Indian girl consented to aid them in their intended rescue. But it will
not be successful if she, Shebotha, can prevent it; and desperately
bent on doing so, she rushes on through the scaffolds, and down the
road to the tolderia, as if some danger threatened her from
Arriving by the door of her own hut, she utters an exclamation of
surprise at not there seeing her slave. Still another, after having
called out his name, and received no answer. Her astonishment is
complete and her rage at full height, when, having stepped up to the
threshold of the toldo, she sees there is no one inside. The
beeswax dip, burnt low and flickering in the socket, faintly lights up
the hideous objects of her craft and calling; but shows no form of
It is only a mechanical act her entering within the hut, and
proceeding on to its inner apartment; for she is quite as sure it, too,
will be found emptyas she finds it.
Almost instantly returning to the door, she stands gazing out into
the darkness. Were there a light in front, her eyes would be seen to
glare in their sunken sockets with the brightness of fire-balls; while
in her breast is burning the fury of a concentrated vengeance. Once
again she calls out the name of her slave, but as before getting no
answer; and now sure that he, too, has either betrayed her, or been
himself betrayed, she glides silently out of the toldo, and off
towards that in which sleeps Aguara.
Soon she reaches its door, which she finds wide open; for it is
within the tropics, and the night is a warm one. Craning her head
inside, and listening for a second or two, she can tell by his
breathing that the cacique is asleep. A slumber abruptly broken
by her calling out
Son of Naraguana, awake!
Shebotha! he exclaims, recognising her shrill treble. What is
it? he adds, raising his head over the edge of his hamaca.
Arise, Aguara! and make all haste. Know that there are enemies
near, and treason in your tribe. You've been betrayed, and so has
Betrayed! How? he asks in wonderment, but without leaving the
hammock. Who are these enemies you speak of? Who the traitors?
You'll learn that in time, chief. It may be enough for you now to
know, that your paleface captive has escaped.
Escaped! he cries out, bounding down upon the floor, and coming
forward to the entrance. The paleface escaped, you say? Are you
speaking truth, Mam Shebotha?
Come to my toldo, and see for yourself.
No, that's not needed, if you say she's gone. Tell me how, when,
and whither. Be quick!
In hurried phrase she recounts the incidents which have occurred to
her and Nacena on the Cemetery Hill, adding her conjectures as to what
may have transpired since, and may still be in the act of occurrence.
Among these last are her suspicions, well founded as we know, that
Kaolin's sister has aided the paleface to escape; and that her own
slave, who should have hindered, has not only connived at it, but taken
himself away as well. In short, the cage is empty, and the bird with
its keeper both flown!
What direction the fugitives have taken, is a question to which the
sorceress can give answer without the need of any doubtful surmise or
conjecture. She knows it as well as if she herself had appointed the
place of rendezvous, given by Gaspar to the Indian girl. For while
riding double with the gaucho, she had heard him speak of it to his
companions; heard, despite the poncho spread over her ears, the word
ceiba, with others, which told of their intention to stay by that
The cacique knows the noted spot, as well as Nacena herself,
he too having oft played beneath its shade, or climbed up its grand
trunk and disported himself among its branches, when more of a boy than
he is now.
But he reflects not on these past times, so full of innocence and
happiness. Instead, wild with rage, and wretched as he is angry, he
stays not to reflect at all; but hastily, and little better than
half-dressed, he rushes forth from his toldo, calling loudly for
Meanwhile, the sorceress has aroused others of the tribe; several of
whom, in obedience to their chief's command, start off for the
corrals to procure the horses necessary for a pursuit of the
Aguara's is on the ground first; and, without waiting for companion
or attendant of any kind, he vaults upon the animal's back, and goes
off at a gallop along the path, which, after turning around close to
the hill, at about a mile's distance, farther on passes the ceiba
CHAPTER FIFTY SEVEN. THE CAPTIVE
Impossible to describe the feelings of Caspar, when having recovered
his feet after the tumble out of his recado, he finds that
Shebotha has got away from him. It is some consolation to know that
neither himself nor his horse has received serious injury. Still not
sufficient to satisfy him, nor allay the wild exasperation burning
within his breast, which seeks to vent itself in a string of
maledictions poured plenteously from his lips.
As the hag, however, has surely succeeded in getting off, and it
would be idle to attempt pursuing through the thick scrub, his
anathemas hurled after her are all in vain: and, at thought of this, he
soon ceases to pronounce them. For the reflection quick follows, that
he and his companions have now something else to think abouttheir own
safety, doubly endangered by Shebotha's escape.
Mil demonios! is his last exclaim of the kind, after
getting his horse upright again and himself back into the saddle,
who'd have believed the old beldame had so much suppleness in her
joints? But it's no joking matter. Only to think of it! Everything
looking so bright, and now Satan's luck once more back upon usbad, if
not worse, than ever! Well, we mustn't dilly-dally here. If there's
still a chance left us, we'll have to look for it down below, by that
big cotton tree.
Saying which, he again gives the rein to his horse, and continues
the descent of the hill, the others head and tail close after.
On reaching the said cotton tree, however, Gaspar changes his mind
about that spot being the best for their temporary abiding place. Since
its being arranged as a rendezvous with Nacena, the circumstances have
sadly altered, and, on reflection, he deems it better, as do the
others, to keep on along the road towards the tolderiaat least
for some little distance. There can be no harm in that, nor danger of
their going astray. The path is a plain one, much trampled by horses
and cattle, and, notwithstanding the darkness of the night, easily
discernible. If fortune so far favour them, that the captive will be
coming that way, under the guidance of the Indian girl, the sooner
these be met the more chance for all eventually getting safe off,
rescuers as rescued.
So concluding, they make scarce a moment's halt by the ceiba;
but, passing under its umbrageous branches, head their horses along the
trail leading to the town.
At this moment were it daylight, or even a clear moonlight, one
placed upon the brow of the hill fronting south-eastward, and looking
down to the level plain by its base, would behold two separate parties
moving upon it, but in opposite directions, so that, if they continue
to advance, they must meet. One party is mounted, the other afoot; the
former being Gaspar and his two companions, while the latter is also
composed of three individualsNacena, Francesca, and Shebotha's slave.
The two girls, going in a half-run, are side by side, and ahead of the
man; who, less free of foot, has fallen behind them to a distance of
some twenty or thirty paces. Nacena, who knows the way, guides the
escaping captive, and has hold of her by the hand. They are now not
more than half-a-mile from the mounted party, coming the opposite way,
and in a few minutes should meet it, if nothing prevent. Already within
hailing distance, they might hear one another's voices; but neither
being aware of this mutual proximity, all advance in silencethe trio
on horseback proceeding at a slow pace for caution's sake, lest the
tread of their animals should betray them.
But if their own be not heard afar, there are other hoofs making a
noise to disturb the stillness of the night. Just as the Indian girl
has whispered to her paleface protegee some words of cheer,
saying that her friends are now no great way off, she is startled by
the hoof-stroke of a horse, which her practised ear tells her to be
ridden; while the rapid repetition of the sound denotes the animal
going in a gallop.
Suddenly she stops, and listens. Clearer rings the tramptramp,
as nearer the horseman approaches. Coming up behind, from the direction
of the town, who can it be but one in pursuit of them? And if a
pursuer, what other than Aguara?
Still Nacena is in doubt, and deems it strange. As they stole away
from Shebotha's hut, and through the straggling suburb of the
tolderia, all was darkness and silence, everybody seeming asleep.
Who or what could have awakened the cacique, and apprised him of
the flight of his captive?
In asking herself these questions, Kaolin's sister is under the
belief, that the sorceress is herself still a prisoner, in the keeping
of that stalwart and redoubtable gaucho. Hence her surprise at their
being pursued, with the uncertainty that they are so, and the further
doubt of the pursuer being Aguara.
He it is, notwithstanding; and as yet pursuing alone. For although
soon can be heard the hoof-strokes of other horses than his also
following, these are faint and far-off. He himself hears them; knows it
is a party of his young braves pressing on after, but will not wait for
them to come up. For he hopes to overtake the fugitives, ere they can
reach the place of rendezvous Shebotha has spoken of, and recover his
captive before she can fling herself into the arms of protecting
In this hope, alas! he is not disappointed. Dashing on through the
darkness along a road with every foot of which both he and his horse
are familiar, he first comes up with the half-witted creature lagging
behind, soon as beside him putting the question
Where is the paleface, your prisoner?
The man, frightened at seeing it is the cacique, in his
confusion hesitates to make reply. But Aguara does not wait for it. He
hears voices aheadsoft and sweet, though raised in tones of
alarmand knows she must be there. Giving his horse's head a wrench,
so as to shave close past the delinquent jailer, he raises his
macana, and dealing a downward blow, strikes the latter to the
earth: then hastens on after the others.
Nacena now knows for certain that they are pursued, as also who is
the pursuer. She has heard the question asked by Aguara, recognising
his voice; heard also the dull thud of his club as it descended on the
skull of the unfortunate man; and now again hears the trampling of
hoofs renewed and drawing nearer. She has still hold of Francesca's
hand, and for a moment debates within herself what is best to be done,
and whether she should not release it, and turning show front to the
Too late for that, or aught else likely to be of service either to
herself or protegee. Before any resolve reaches her the
cacique, is by their side; and flinging himself from his horse,
grasps both by the wrists, wrenching asunder their joined hands. Then
turning upon the Indian girl with a cry of ragea curse in the Tovas
tonguehe strikes her with his shut fist, inflicting a blow which
sends her reeling to the earth. Before she can regain her feet he is
once more upon his horse, and heading back for the tolderiahis
recovered captive in his arms!
CHAPTER FIFTY EIGHT. VA CON DIOS.
In a rush Aguara goes, fast as his animal can be urged by heel and
voice. For, while so roughly separating the two girls, these had
shouted in alarm, and his ear had caught other cries raised at a
distance, and as if responsive. Now he hears them again; men's voices,
and mingling with them the trampling of hoofsclearly several horses
coming on in a gallop. She, he has in his arms, hears them too, but
listens not in silence or unresisting. Instead, she struggles and
shrieks, calling Help, help! with the names Ludwig, Cypriano,
She is heard by all three; for it is they who responded to the cries
of herself and Nacena, knowing who gave utterance to them. Near they
are now, and riding as in a race; they, too, pressing their horses to
utmost speed. But the darkness is against them, as their ignorance of
the ground, with which the man pursued is familiar. By this, at every
step, they are obstructed; and but for the screams of Francesca, still
continued, might as well abandon the chase for any chance they have of
And overtake him they never would, nor could, were fortune not in
their favour. An accident it may appear; at the same time seeming a
divine retribution for wronga very Nemesis in the path of the wicked
Aguara. On returning past the spot where he had struck down Shebotha's
slave, he sees the unfortunate man stretched along the ground, and, to
all appearance, still insensible. Nought cares he for that, but his
horse does; and, at sight of the prostrate form, the animal, with a
snort of affright, shies to one side, and strikes off in a new
direction. Going at so swift a pace, and in such a dim light, in a few
bounds it enters among some bushes, where it is brought up standing.
Before its rider can extricate it, a strong hand has hold of it by the
head, with a thumb inserted into its nostrils, while the fingers of
another are clutching at his own throat. The hand on the horse's muzzle
is that of Caspar the gaucho, the fingers that grope to get a gripe on
the rider's neck being those of Cypriano.
It is a crisis in the life of the young Tovas cacique,
threatening either death or captivity. But subtle as all Indians are,
and base as any common fellow of his tribe, instead of showing a bold
front, he eludes both, by letting go the captive girl, himself slipping
to the ground, and, snake like, gliding off among the bushes.
On the other side of his horse, which he has also abandoned,
Francesca falls into the arms of her brother, who embraces her with
wild delight. Though not wilder, nor half so thrilling, as that which
enraptures the ear of Cyprianoto whose arms she is on the instant
But it is not a time for embraces, however affectionate, nor words
to be wasted in congratulation. So Gaspar tells them, while urging
instant departure from that perilous spot.
Our lucky star's gone up again, he says, with a significant nod to
Aguara's horse, which he has still hold of. There is now four of us;
and as I take it this brisk little musteno is fairly our
property, there'll be no need for any of us riding doubleto say
nothing of one having a witch behind his back. Without such
incumbrance, it'll be so much the better for the saving of time; which
at this present moment presses, with not the hundredth part of a second
to spare. So hijos mios, and you, hija mia querida, let
us mount and be off!
While the gaucho is yet thus jocularly delivering himself, Cypriano
has lifted his cousin, Francesca, to the back of the cacique's
abandoned steed; on which he well knows she can keep her seat, were it
the wildest that ever careered across campo. Then he remounts
his own, the other two taking to their saddles at the same time.
A word about the route, and all four start together; not to go back
along the trail towards the ceiba tree, but striking straight
out for the open plain, in a direction which Gaspar conjectures to be
the right one.
They would willingly diverge from it to ascertain whether the poor
creature clubbed by Aguara be dead or still living; and, if the latter,
take him along. But Gaspar urges the danger of delay; above all, being
burdened with a man not only witless, but now in all likelihood
disabled by a wound which would make the transporting him an absolute
Ludwig and his sister are more desirous to turn aside, and learn how
it is with Nacena. But again the gaucho, no: greatly given to
sentiment, objects. Luckily, as if to relieve them from all anxiety,
just then they hear a voice, which all recognise as that of the Tovas
belle, calling out in tolerably pure Castilian:
Va con Dios!
Standing up in his stirrups, with a shout and counter salute, the
gaucho returns the valediction; then, spurring forward and placing
himself at the head of the retreating party, they ride on, with no
thought of again halting so long as their horses can keep their feet.
CHAPTER FIFTY NINE. FRIENDS OR FOES?
The solitary estancia which for two years had been the happy
home of Ludwig Halberger and his family, but late the abode of deepest
sorrow, is once more revisited by a gleam of joy. For the rescuing
party has returned to it, bringing Francesca back safe and still
unharmed. In the tumult of gratified emotions at recovering her lost
child,or rather children, for she had begun to think them all for
ever gone from her the widow almost forgets that she is widowed.
Only for a brief moment, however. The other great bereavement has
been too recent to remain long out of her thoughts, and soon returns to
them in its full afflicting bitterness.
But she has no time to dwell upon it now. The tale of actual
experience which the rescuers have brought back, with Caspar's surmises
added, has given her a full and clear comprehension of everything; not
only explaining the tragic event already past, but foreshadowing other
and further dangers yet to come, and which may, at any moment, descend
upon herself and the dear ones still left to her.
She has no longer any doubts as to the hand that has dealt her such
a terrible blow; neither of the man who actually committed the murder,
nor of him who instigated it. For Francesca's recognition of Valdez has
confirmed all the gaucho's conjectures.
And the Dictator of Paraguay is not the man to leave unfinished
either his cruel deeds or designs. Surely will he further prosecute
them, either by hastening himself to the estancia, or sending
thither his myrmidons. Yes, at any hour, any minute, a party of these
may appear approaching it from the east, while in like short time the
pursuing Tovas, headed by their enraged cacique, may show
themselves coming from the west.
No wonder that the moments of mutual congratulation between the
Senora Halberger and those just returned to her are brief, and but
little joyful. The fugitives have reached home, but not to find it a
refuge. For them it is no more a place of safety; instead, the most
perilous in which they could now or ever after sojourn. But where are
they to go whither further flee? In all the Chaco there is not a spot
that can shelter them from such pursuers as they are expecting!
It is now near noon of the fourth day since they left the Sacred
Town of the Tovas, and in the interval they had been riding hard and
fast, day and night, scarce allowing themselves either sleep or rest.
But, fast as they have travelled, they know that Aguara, with his
braves, will not be far behind; and although less than an hour has
elapsed since their arrival at the estancia, Gaspar has already
made preparations for their departure from it. Assisted by the faithful
Guano Indians, who of course are to accompany them in their flight, he
has caught up and caparisoned fresh horses, with the mules belonging to
the establishment. Still the question remains unansweredWhither are
they to go? Throughout all the vicissitudes of his eventful life, never
had the gaucho one so perplexing him, or fraught with such fears.
In the hope of finding an answer, and the better to reflect upon it,
he has drawn a little apart from the house, with the hurry and bustle
going on around it. A slight eminence, not far off in front, gives a
commanding view of the campo; and, taking stand upon its top, he
first casts a sweeping glance around the horizon, then fixes it only in
one directionthat southwards, towards the old tolderia. For,
although expecting enemies both from east and west, he knows that,
coming from either side, they will most likely approach by the
Pilcomayo's bank; the former by the trail leading up the river, the
latter by the same going down. It is not the first time for him to be
standing on that elevated spot. Every ten minutes since their return to
the estancia, he has been upon it, gazing out in the same way,
and for the self-same purpose. Still, as yet, he observes nothing to
add to his apprehensions, already keen enough. No living thingmuch
less human beingstirs over the wide expanse of green grassy plain.
For it is near the meridian hour, and the tropical sun, pouring its
fervid rays vertically down, has forced both birds and quadrupeds
inside the cooler shadow of their coverts. Only two of the former are
seena brace of urubus, or king vultures, soaring in circles
aloftbeautiful birds, but less emblematic of life than death. A bad
omen he might deem their presence; and worse, if he but saw what they
see. For, from their more elevated position, they command a view of the
plain to a much greater distance, and see mounted men upon it; not a
single party, but three distinct groups of them, leagues distant from
each other, though all round for the estancia. They are
approaching it by separate routes, and from different quarters of the
compass; one party coming up the Pilcomayo's bank, and making straight
for the old tolderia, a second moving towards the same place on
the down-river trail; while the third, away from the river, and out
upon the open plain, is heading more direct for the estancia
itself. The first cohort, which is the smallest, is composed of some
forty or fifty horsemen, riding by twos; their regular formation on
the march, but more the uniformity in their dress, arms, and
accoutrements, telling them to be soldiers. For such they really
arethe cuarteleros of Paraguay, with Rufino Valdez riding at
their head; not as their commanding officer, but in the exercise of his
more proper and special calling of vaqueano, or guide. Ghastly
and pallid, with his arm supported in a sling, he is on the way back to
Halberger's estancia, to complete the ruffian's task assigned to
him by the Dictator of Paraguay, and make more desolate the home he had
already enough ruined. But for his mischance in the biscachera,
the rescuers would have found it empty on their return, and instead of
a lost daughter, it would have been the mother missing.
The second band of horsemen, coming from the opposite quarter and
down the river, is no other than the pursuing party of Tovas, with
Aguara at their head. They are mostly young men, the cacique's
particular friends and partisans, nearly a hundred in number, all armed
with bolas and long spears. Hastily summoned together, they had
started in pursuit soon as they could catch up their horses; but with
all their speed the rescuing party had so far kept ahead, as to have
arrived at the estancia some time before them. But they are
pressing on for it now, fast as their horses can carry them, urged
forward by their leader, who, in his rage, is not only determined to
retake the escaped captive, but kill cousin, brother, all who aided in
The third party, also approaching from the west, but by a route
leading direct to the house, with the river far southward on their
right, is, as the second, composed entirely of Tovas Indians. But,
instead of them being the youths of the tribe, they are, for the most
part, men of mature age, though a young man is at their head, and
acting as their commander. There is a girl riding by his side, a
beautiful girl, at a glance recognisable as Nacenahe himself being
her brother, Kaolin.
They and their party are also pursuing. Though not to retake, the
paleface captive; instead, to protect herthe object of their pursuit
being Aguara himself. For soon as the latter had started off on his
reckless chasebraving public opinion, and defying the opposition of
the eldersa revolution had arisen in the tribe; while a council
meeting, hastily called in the malocca, had, with almost
unanimous vote, deposed him from the chieftainship, and chosen Kaolin
cacique in his stead. Needless to say, that to all this Nacena was
a consenting party. And something moresince she gave the cue to her
brother, who was chief instigator in the revolt. That blow which laid
her along the earth, with the cause for which it was given, had severed
the last link of love that bound her to Aguara, and for him her heart
is now full of hate and burning with vengeance. While pressing on in
pursuit of his escaped captive, little dreams the deposed cacique
of the Tovas, either that he has been deposed of his chieftainship or
that others are pursuing him.
But his pursuers are not now behind him; instead, in front, or, at
all events, nearer to the estancia than he. For Kaolin's
followers, availing themselves of a route known to one of their
numbera shorter cut across the pampashave passed the party
led by Aguara, and will be the first to arrive at the objective point
aimed at by both.
And they are first sighted by Gaspar, though the gaucho has not been
looking in their direction, little expectant of pursuers to come from
that quarter. The urubus have guided him, or rather their
shadows gliding over the grassy sward; these, as the birds making them,
having suddenly passed away towards the west. Following them with his
eyes, he sees what causes him to exclaim
Santos Dios! we are lost. Too latetoo late; 'tis all over
with us now!
His cry, sent up in accent of deepest despair, brings Ludwig and
Cypriano to his side: and the three stand watching the dark cohort
advancing towards them. None of them speaks or thinks of retreat. That
would be idle, and any attempt at escape must surely result in failure;
while to resist would but hasten the disaster impending over them.
Convinced of this, they no longer contemplate either flight or
resistance, but stand in sullen silence to await the approach of the
pursuers, for such they suppose them to be. Deeming them avengers also,
as well they may, recalling their last encounter with the young Tovas
Never did mistaken men more rejoice at their mistake than do they,
when, on the band of Indian braves galloping up to the ground, they
behold at its head, and evidently in command of it, not the cacique
Aguara, but the sub-chief, Kaolin, and beside him his sister Nacena!
She who aided them in effecting the escape of the captive, and, as a
last word, bade them God speed, would not be with pursuers who are
Nor is she, as they soon learn; instead, along with friends who come
but to give comfort and protection!
CHAPTER SIXTY. SPEEDY RETRIBUTION.
Short time stays Kaolin and his party by the estancia: for
the newly-elected chief of the Tovas is a man of ready resolves and
quick action, and soon as his story is told, with that of the others
heard in return, he again mounts, and makes ready for the marchthis
time to be directed towards the old tolderia. He knows that his
rival cacique must come that way, as also the other enemy of
whom Caspar has given him information, and who may be expected as soon,
if not sooner, than Aguara himself.
The gaucho goes along with him, as so would Cypriano and Ludwig, but
that Caspar forbids it; urging them to remain at the estancia as
company, and, if need be, protection, for the senora and nina. Thus influenced, they both stay.
Straight off over the pampa rides Kaolin, at the head of his
hundred stalwart warriors, his sister still by his side. She also had
been counselled to remain behind, an advice she disdainfully rejected.
The revenge burning in her breast will not let her rest, till she has
seen her false lover, her insulter, laid low.
Her brother, too, and all his band of braves, are alike eager for
the conflict to come. It was not so before their arrival at the
estancia. Then they only thought of dealing with their deposed
cacique and his youthful followers, foolish as himself; nor dreamt
they aught of danger. But now, with the prospect of meeting another and
very different enemy, more dangerous and more hated, their savage
nature is roused within them to an ire uncontrollable. By chance,
Kaolin himself has a special dislike for the vaqueano Valdez;
while as to the others, despite the restored treaty forced upon them by
Aguara, their friendship has not been restored with it; and they urge
their horses forward, burning for an encounter with the cuarteleros
Though the gaucho rides at the head of the quick marching party, and
alongside their leader, it is not to guide them. They know the ground
as well, and better than he; for oft and many a time have they
quartered that same campo, in pursuit of gama, guazuti,
Kaolin directs his march in a straight course for the old
tolderia, though not now designing to go so far. His objective
point for the present is a high bluff which hems in the valley of the
Pilcomayo, and from which a view may be obtained of the river for long
leagues upward and downward, as of the deserted village, at no great
distance off upon its bank. Through a ravine that cuts this bluff
transversely, the latter can alone be reached from the elevated plain
over which they are advancing.
Arrived at the upper end of the gorge, they do not go down it.
Instead, commanding his warriors to make halt, Kaolin himself
dismounts; and signing the gaucho to keep him company, the two step
crouchingly forward and upward to the outer edge of the cliff.
Soon as reaching it they get sight of what they had more than half
expected to see: two bands of men mounted and upon the march, one with
the horses' heads directed down the stream, the other up it. The first,
as can be seen at a glance, is the pursuing party of Tovas youths led
by Aguara; while the sun shining upon gilt buttons, with the glittering
of lance blades and barrels of guns, tells the other to be a troop of
soldiers, beyond doubt the looked for cuarteleros! Both are at
about a like distance from the abandoned town, heading straight for it;
and while Kaolin and the gaucho continue watching them they ride in
among the toldos from opposite sides, meeting face to face on
the open space by the malocca.
At sight of one another the two sets come to a sudden halt; and, for
a second or two, seem engaged in a mutual and suspicious
reconnaissance. But their distrust is of short continuance; for there
is a rogue at the head of each, and these, as if instinctively
recognising one another, are seen to advance and shake hands, while
their followers mutually mingle and fraternise.
Amicable relations being thus established between them, the men on
both sides are observed to dismount, as if they intended to make stay
in the tolderia. A movement, which puzzles Kaolin and the
gaucho, who were about going back to the gorge with the design of
taking steps for defending it. Instead, they remain upon the cliff's
crest to watch the enemy below.
And they continue watching there till the sun goes down, and the
purple of twilight spreads itself over the plain bordering the
Pilcomayo; this succeeded by a mist rising from the river, and
shrouding the deserted village in its murky embrace. But before night's
darkness is altogether on they see a mounted troop, filing by twos, out
from among the toldos, with lances carried aloft, and pennons
floating over their headssurely the cuarteleros. There is just
light enough left to show two men in the lead, dressed differently from
these following. One of these resplendent in a feather-embroidered
manta, Kaolin recognises as his rival Aguara; while the gaucho
identifies the other as his oldest, deadliest, and most dangerous
enemy, Valdez, the vaqueano.
They remain not a moment longer on the cliff; for, eager as Gaspar
Mendez may be to rid himself of that enemy, he is not more so than the
Indian to send to his long account the man who insulted his sister. Now
more than ever determined upon avenging her wrongs, he rushes back to
his braves, and hurriedly puts them in ambush near the head of the
gorge, at a point where the defile is narrowest; himself taking stand
on a ledge, which commands the pass, in such manner, that with his long
spear he can reach across it from side to side.
At length has the opportunity arrived for the angry brother to take
the retribution he has resolved uponNacena herself being a witness to
it. For she is near by, standing on a higher bench behind, in posed
attitude, with her features hard set and lips compressed, as one about
to be spectator to a sad and painful scene. But if she feel sadness, it
is not for the death now threatening Aguara. That blow had changed her
fond love to bitterest resentment; and instead of doing aught, or
saying word, to stay her brother's hand, she but by her presence and
silence incites him to the deed of vengeance.
It is soon and quickly done. Scarce has the ambuscade been set, when
the trampling of horses heard down the defile tells of a cavalcade
coming up, and presently the foremost files appear rounding an angle of
rock. Dim as is the light, the horseman leading can be told to be the
young Tovas cacique, while the one immediately in his rear is
recognisable as Rufino Valdez. At sight of the latter the gaucho, who
is close to Kaolin, feeling all his old hatred revived, and recalling,
too, the murder of his beloved master, with difficulty restrains
himself from springing down and commencing the conflict. He is
prevented by a sign from Kaolin; who, on the instant, after leaning
forward lounges out with his spear. A wild cry tells that it has
pierced the body of Aguara; then drawn instantly back and given a
second thrust, it passes through that of the vaqueanoboth
dropping from their horses dead, as if by a bullet through the brain!
The soldiers coming on behind are brought to a sudden stop; scarce
comprehending why, till they hear the wild Tovas war-cry raised above
their heads, at the same time being saluted with a shower of bolas
peridas rained down from the rocks, these terrible missiles
crushing in every skull with which they came into contact.
The scared cuarteleros stay for no more; but, with a cry of
treason, turn their horses' heads, and hurry back down the ravine. Nor
stop they at the tolderia; but still under the belief of having
been betrayed, continue their retreat down the river, and on toward
Paraguay, leaving over a dozen of them dead in that dark defile.
As for the followers of Aguara, they make no show of fight. Now that
their leader is no more, there is no cause of quarrel between them and
the warriors of the tribe, and not a hand is raised to avenge their
young cacique. For on learning the full character of his
designs, and his complicity with the cruel vaqueano, all
acknowledge that both men have but met the death they deserved.
CHAPTER SIXTY ONE. CONCLUSION.
After a day's rest at their old tolderia, the two parties of
Tovas, now united in amity, set out on return to their Sacred Town. And
along with them goes the Senora Halberger, with all the members of her
familyincluding the Guano Indian domestics, and, needless to say, not
leaving Gaspar Mendez behind. And, alike idle to declare, that they go
not as captives; but guests, to be honoured and better cared for than
ever before. Better protected, too; for, as ever do they need
protection; now more than ever likely to be under the ban of the
Paraguayan despot. That solitary estancia would no longer be a
safe place of residence for them, and they well know it.
Perfect safety they find at the Sacred Town, and hospitality too,
great as when Naraguana himself dispensed it. For is not Kaolin now
caciquehe who saved them from death and destruction?
Kindly he extends his protection, and generously bestows his
hospitality. But they do not for long need the former, nor are they
called upon to abuse the latter by a too protracted stay. Shortly after
their arrival at the Sacred Town, they get news which, though of death,
gives them joy, as it only could and should; since it is the death of
that man who has been the cause of all their miseries. Jose Francia,
feared far and wide throughout Paraguay, and even beyond its borders,
has at length paid the debt due by all men, whether bad or good. But
although dead, strange to say, in the land he so long ruled with hard
ruthless hand, still dreaded almost as much as when living; his cowed
and craven subjects speaking of him with trembling lips and bated
breath, no more as El Supremo, but El Defunto!
The Senora Halberger believes she may now return to her native
country, without fear of further persecution from him. But Caspar
thinks otherwise; deeming it still unsafe, and pointing out the danger
of their being called to account for what they were not guilty ofthe
slaughter of the cuarteleros in the defile. In fine, he urges
her to make her future home in the Argentine States; a pleasanter land
to live in, besides being a land of liberty, and, above all, the
orthodox country of his own class and kind, the gauchos.
Observing the justness of his arguments, she consents to follow his
advice; and to the Argentine States they all go, journeying across many
great rivers and through hundreds of miles of wilderness. But they are
not permitted to travel either unprotected or alone; for Kaolin
accompanies them, with a band of his best bravesNacena also forming
one of the escort.
The Tovas cacique sees them over the Salado river, and within
safe distance of the outlying settlements of San Rosario, there leaving
them. But when he parts company, to return to the Sacred Town, his
sister returns not with him. Though as a brother he be dear to her, she
has found one dearer, with whom she prefers to stay. And does stay,
Kaolin himself consenting; since the dearer one is his own friend and
former playmate. The gentle Ludwig has at length succeeded in winning
the heart of the savage maidenstill whole, despite the tearing of a
misplaced passion, long since passed away.
Our tale could be prolonged, and the characters who have figured in
it followed further; but not through scenes of the same exciting
character as those already detailed. Instead, the record of their after
life, though not devoid of stirring incident, is more signalised by
scenes of peace and prosperity. The reader will be satisfied with a
peep at it, obtained some ten years later than the date of their
settling down in the Argentine States. A traveller at this time passing
from San Rosario to the German Colonies recently established on the
Salado river, near the old but abandoned missionary settlement of Santa
Fe, could not fail to observe a grand estancia; a handsome
dwelling-house with outbuildings, corrals for the enclosure of
cattle, and all the appurtenances of a first-class ganaderia, or
grazing establishment. Should he ask to whom it belongs, he would have
for answer, The Senora Halberger; and if curiosity led him to inquire
further, he might be told that this lady, who is una viuda, is
but the nominal head of the concern, which is rather owned conjointly
by her son and nephew, living along with her. Both married though; the
latter, Senor Cypriano, to her daughter and his own cousin; while the
former, Senor Ludwig, has for his wife an Indian woman; with possibly
the remark added, that this Indian woman is as beautiful and
accomplished as though she were a white.
Were the traveller to deviate a little from his route, and approach
near enough to the house, he might see the members of this double
though united family, surrounded by several pretty children of both
sexes, strolling about in happy harmony, and with that freedom from
care which speaks of wealth, at the same time telling of its having
been honestly acquired.
Whether or not such a tableau be presented to the traveller's eye,
one man who should figure in it would sure be seen moving about the
place. For he is the mayor-domo of the estate, and if not actual
master, the manager of all. As in that old estancia near the
northern bank of the Pilcomayo, so in this new and grander one on the
southern side of the Salado, everything is entrusted, as safely it may
be, to GASPAR, THE GAUCHO.