Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Twenty Nine. El Coyote at Home

Calhoun took his departure from the breakfast-table, almost as abruptly as his cousin; but, on leaving the sala instead of returning to his own chamber, he sallied forth from the house.

Still suffering from wounds but half healed, he was nevertheless sufficiently convalescent to go abroad—into the garden, to the stables, the corrals—anywhere around the house.

On the present occasion, his excursion was intended to conduct him to a more distant point. As if under the stimulus of what had turned up in the conversation—or perhaps by the contents of the letter that had been read—his feebleness seemed for the time to have forsaken him; and, vigorously plying his crutch, he proceeded up the river in the direction of Fort Inge.

In a barren tract of land, that lay about half way between the hacienda and the Fort—and that did not appear to belong to any one—he arrived at the terminus of his limping expedition. There was a grove of mezquit, with, some larger trees shading it; and in the midst of this, a rude hovel of “wattle and dab,” known in South-Western Texas as a jacalé.

It was the domicile of Miguel Diaz, the Mexican mustanger—a lair appropriate to the semi-savage who had earned for himself the distinctive appellation of El Coyote (“Prairie Wolf.”)

It was not always that the wolf could be found in his den—for his jacalé deserved no better description. It was but his occasional sleeping-place; during those intervals of inactivity when, by the disposal of a drove of captured mustangs, he could afford to stay for a time within the limits of the settlement, indulging in such gross pleasures as its proximity afforded.

Calhoun was fortunate in finding him at home; though not quite so fortunate as to find him in a state of sobriety. He was not exactly intoxicated—having, after a prolonged spell of sleep, partially recovered from this, the habitual condition of his existence.

“H’la ñor!” he exclaimed in his provincial patois, slurring the salutation, as his visitor darkened the door of the jacalé. “P’r Dios! Who’d have expected to see you? Sientese! Be seated. Take a chair. There’s one. A chair! Ha! ha! ha!”

The laugh was called up at contemplation of that which he had facetiously termed a chair. It was the skull of a mustang, intended to serve as such; and which, with another similar piece, a rude table of cleft yucca-tree, and a couch of cane reeds, upon which the owner of the jacalé was reclining, constituted the sole furniture of Miguel Diaz’s dwelling.

Calhoun, fatigued with his halting promenade, accepted the invitation of his host, and sate down upon the horse-skull.

He did not permit much time to pass, before entering upon the object of his errand.

“Señor Diaz!” said he, “I have come for—”

“Señor Americano!” exclaimed the half-drunken horse-hunter, cutting short the explanation, “why waste words upon that? Carrambo! I know well enough for what you’ve come. You want me to wipe out that devilish Irlandes!”


“Well; I promised you I would do it, for five hundred pesos—at the proper time and opportunity. I will. Miguel Diaz never played false to his promise. But the time’s not come, ñor capitan; nor yet the opportunity, Carajo! To kill a man outright requires skill. It can’t be done—even on the prairies—without danger of detection; and if detected, ha! what chance for me? You forget, ñor capitan, that I’m a Mexican. If I were of your people, I might slay Don Mauricio; and get clear on the score of its being a quarrel. Maldita! With us Mexicans it is different. If we stick our macheté into a man so as to let out his life’s blood, it is called murder; and you Americanos, with your stupid juries of twelve honest men, would pronounce it so: ay, and hang a poor fellow for it. Chingaro! I can’t risk that. I hate the Irlandes as much as you; but I’m not going to chop off my nose to spite my own face. I must wait for the time, and the chance—carrai, the time and the chance.”

“Both are come!” exclaimed the tempter, bending earnestly towards the bravo. “You said you could easily do it, if there was any Indian trouble going on?”

“Of course I said so. If there was that—”

“You have not heard the news, then?”

“What news?”

“That the Comanches are starting on the war trail.”

“Carajo!” exclaimed El Coyote, springing up from his couch of reeds, and exhibiting all the activity of his namesake, when roused by the scent of prey. “Santissima Virgen! Do you speak the truth, ñor capitan?”

“Neither more nor less. The news has just reached the Fort. I have it on the best authority—the officer in command.”

“In that case,” answered the Mexican reflecting!—“in that case, Don Mauricio may die. The Comanches can kill him. Ha! ha! ha!”

“You are sure of it?”

“I should be surer, if his scalp were worth a thousand dollars, instead of five hundred.”

“It is worth that sum.”

“What sum?”

“A thousand dollars.”

“You promise it?”

“I do.”

“Then the Comanches shall scalp him, ñor capitan. You may return to Casa del Corvo, and go to sleep with confidence that whenever the opportunity arrives, your enemy will lose his hair. You understand?”

“I do.”

“Get ready your thousand pesos.”

“They wait your acceptance.”

“Carajo! I shall earn them in a trice. Adios! Adios!”

“Santissima Virgen!” exclaimed the profane ruffian, as his visitor limped out of sight. “What a magnificent fluke of fortune! A perfect chiripé. A thousand dollars for killing the man I intended to kill on my own account, without charging anybody a single claco for the deed!

“The Comanches upon the war trail! Chingaro! can it be true? If so, I must look up my old disguise—gone to neglect through these three long years of accursed peace. Viva la guerra de los Indios! Success to the pantomime of the prairies!”