Table of Content

Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Sixty Seven. Los Indios!

The chased equestrian is within three hundred yards of the bluff, over which the tree towers. She once more glances behind her.

“Dios me amparé!” (God preserve me.)

God preserve her! She will be too late!

The foremost of her pursuers has lifted the lazo from his saddle horn: he is winding it over his head!

Before she can reach the head of the pass, the noose will be around her neck, and then—

And then, a sudden thought flashes into her mind—thought that promises escape from the threatened strangulation.

The cliff that overlooks the Alamo is nearer than the gorge, by which the creek bottom must be reached. She remembers that its crest is visible from the jacalé.

With a quick jerk upon the rein, she diverges from her course; and, instead of going on for the alhuehueté, she rides directly towards the bluff.

The change puzzles her pursuers—at the same time giving them gratification. They well know the “lay” of the land. They understand the trending of the cliff; and are now confident of a capture.

The leader takes a fresh hold of his lazo, to make more sure of the throw. He is only restrained from launching it, by the certainty she cannot escape.

“Chingaro!” mutters he to himself, “if she go much farther, she’ll be over the precipice!”

His reflection is false. She goes farther, but not over the precipice. With another quick pull upon the rein she has changed her course, and rides along the edge of it—so close as to attract the attention of the “Tejanos” below, and elicit from Zeb Stump that quaint exclamation—only heard upon extraordinary occasions—

“Geesus Geehosofat!”

As if in answer to the exclamation of the old hunter—or rather to the interrogatory with which he has followed it up—comes the cry of the strange equestrian who has shown herself on the cliff.

“Los Indios! Los Indios!”

No one who has spent three days in Southern Texas could mistake the meaning of that phrase—whatever his native tongue. It is the alarm cry which, for three hundred years, has been heard along three thousand miles of frontier, in three different languages—“Les Indiens! Los Indios! the Indians!”

Dull would be the ear, slow the intellect, that did not at once comprehend it, along with the sense of its associated danger.

To those who hear it at the jacalé it needs no translation. They know that she, who has given utterance to it, is pursued by Indians—as certain as if the fact had been announced in their own Saxon vernacular.

They have scarce time to translate it into this—even in thought—when the same voice a second time salutes their ears:—“Tejanos! Cavalleros! save me! save me! Los Indios! I am chased by a troop. They are behind me—close—close—”

Her speech, though continued, is no longer heard distinctly. It is no longer required to explain what is passing upon the plain above.

She has cleared the first clump of tree tops by scarce twenty yards, when the leading savage shoots out from the same cover, and is seen, going in full gallop, against the clear sky.

Like a sling he spins the lazo loop around his head. So eager is he to throw it with sure aim, that he does not appear to take heed of what the fugitive has said—spoken as she went at full speed: for she made no stop, while calling out to the “Tejanos.” He may fancy it has been addressed to himself—a final appeal for mercy, uttered in a language he does not understand: for Isidora had spoken in English.

He is only undeceived, as the sharp crack of a rifle comes echoing out of the glen,—or perhaps a little sooner, as a stinging sensation in his wrist causes him to let go his lazo, and look wonderingly for the why!

He perceives a puff of sulphureous smoke rising from below.

A single glance is sufficient to cause a change in his tactics. In that glance he beholds a hundred men, with the gleam of a hundred gun barrels!

His three followers see them at the same time; and as if moved by the same impulse, all four turn in their tracks, and gallop away from the cliff—quite as quickly as they have been approaching it.

“’Tur a pity too,” says Zeb Stump, proceeding to reload his rifle. “If ’t hedn’t a been for the savin’ o’ her, I’d a let ’em come on down the gully. Ef we ked a captered them, we mout a got somethin’ out o’ ’em consarnin’ this queer case o’ ourn. Thur aint the smell o’ a chance now. It’s clur they’ve goed off; an by the time we git up yander, they’ll be hellurd.”

The sight of the savages has produced another quick change in the tableau formed in front of the mustanger’s hut—a change squally sudden in the thoughts of those who compose it.

The majority who deemed Maurice Gerald a murderer has become transformed into a minority; while those who believed him innocent are now the men whose opinions are respected.

Calhoun and his bullies are no longer masters of the situation; and on the motion of their chief the Regulator Jury is adjourned. The new programme is cast in double quick time. A score of words suffice to describe it. The accused is to be carried to the settlement—there to be tried according to the law of the land.

And now for the Indians—whose opportune appearance has caused this sudden change, both of sentiment and design. Are they to be pursued? That of course. But when? Upon the instant? Prudence says, no.

Only four have been seen. But these are not likely to be alone. They may be the rear-guard of four hundred?

“Let us wait till the woman comes down,” counsels one of the timid. “They have not followed her any farther. I think I can hear her riding this way through the gulley. Of course she knows it—as it was she who directed us.”

The suggestion appears sensible to most upon the ground. They are not cowards. Still there are but few of them, who have encountered the wild Indian in actual strife; and many only know his more debased brethren in the way of trade.

The advice is adopted. They stand waiting for the approach of Isidora.

All are now by their horses; and some have sought shelter among the trees. There are those who have an apprehension: that along with the Mexican, or close after her, may still come a troop of Comanches.

A few are otherwise occupied—Zeb Stump among the number. He takes the gag from between the teeth of the respited prisoner, and unties the thongs hitherto holding him too fast.

There is one who watches him with a strange interest, but takes no part in the proceeding. Her part has been already played—perhaps too prominently. She shuns the risk of appearing farther conspicuous.

Where is the niece of Don Silvio Mortimez? She has not yet come upon the ground! The stroke of her horse’s hoof is no longer heard! There has been time—more than time—for her to have reached the jacalé!

Her non-appearance creates surprise—apprehension—alarm. There are men there who admire the Mexican maiden—it is not strange they should—some who have seen her before, and some who never saw her until that day.

Can it be, that she has been overtaken and captured? The interrogatory passes round. No one can answer it; though all are interested in the answer.

The Texans begin to feel something like shame. Their gallantry was appealed to, in that speech sent them from the cliff, “Tejanos! Cavalleros!”

Has she who addressed it succumbed to the pursuer? Is that beauteous form in the embrace of a paint-bedaubed savage?

They listen with ears intent,—many with pulses that beat high, and hearts throbbing with a keen anxiety.

They listen in vain.

There is no sound of hoof—no voice of woman—nothing, except the champing of bitts heard close by their side!

Can it be that she is taken?

Now that the darker design is stifled within their breasts, the hostility against one of their own race is suddenly changed into a more congenial channel.

Their vengeance, rekindled, burns fiercer than ever—since it is directed against the hereditary foe.

The younger and more ardent—among whom are the admirers of the Mexican maiden—can bear the uncertainty no longer. They spring into their saddles, loudly declaring their determination to seek her—to save her, or perish in the attempt.

Who is to gainsay them? Her pursuers—her captors perhaps—may be the very men they have been in search of—the murderers of Henry Poindexter!

No one opposes their intent. They go off in search of Isidora—in pursuit of the prairie pirates.

Those who remain are but few in number; though Zeb Stump is among them.

The old hunter is silent, as to the expediency of pursuing the Indians. He keeps his thoughts to himself: his only seeming care is to look after the invalid prisoner—still unconscious—still guarded by the Regulators.

Zeb is not the only friend who remains true to the mustanger in his hour of distress. There are two others equally faithful. One a fair creature, who watches at a distance, carefully concealing the eager interest that consumes her. The other, a rude, almost ludicrous individual, who, close by his side, addresses the respited man as his “masther.” The last is Phelim, who has just descended from his perch among the parasites of an umbrageous oak—where he has for some time stayed—a silent spectator of all that has been transpiring. The change of situation has tempted him back to earth, and the performance of that duty for which he came across the Atlantic.

No longer lies our scene upon the Alamo. In another hour the jacalé is deserted—perhaps never more to extend its protecting roof over Maurice the mustanger.

 Table of Content