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Chapter 2 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

An Adventure among the Creoles of New Orleans

In the “fall” of 1846 I found myself in the city of New Orleans, filling up one of those pauses that occur between the chapters of an eventful life—doing nothing. I have said an eventful life. In the retrospect of ten years, I could not remember as many weeks spent in one place. I had traversed the continent from north to south, and crossed it from sea to sea. My foot had pressed the summits of the Andes, and climbed the Cordilleras of the Sierra Madre. I had steamed it down the Mississippi, and sculled it up the Orinoco. I had hunted buffaloes with the Pawnees of the Platte, and ostriches upon the pampas of the Plata: to-day, shivering in the hut of an Esquimaux—a month after, taking my siesta in an aery couch under the gossamer frondage of the corozo palm. I had eaten raw meat with the trappers of the Rocky Mountains, and roast monkey among the Mosquito Indians; and much more, which might weary the reader, and ought to have made the writer a wiser man. But, I fear, the spirit of adventure—its thirst—is within me slakeless. I had just returned from a “scurry” among the Comanches of Western Texas, and the idea of “settling down” was as far from my mind as ever.

“What next? what next?” thought I. “Ha! the war with Mexico.”

The war between the United States and that country had now fairly commenced. My sword—a fine Toledo, taken from a Spanish officer at San Jacinto—hung over the mantel, rusting ingloriously. Near it were my pistols—a pair of Colt’s revolvers—pointing at each other in sullen muteness. A warlike ardour seized upon me, and clutching, not the sword, but my pen, I wrote to the War Department for a commission; and, summoning all my patience, awaited the answer.

But I waited in vain. Every bulletin from Washington exhibited its list of new-made officers, but my name appeared not among them. In New Orleans—that most patriotic of republican cities—epaulettes gleamed upon every shoulder, whilst I, with the anguish of a Tantalus, was compelled to look idly and enviously on. Despatches came in daily from the seat of war, filled with newly-glorious names; and steamers from the same quarter brought fresh batches of heroes—some legless, some armless, and others with a bullet-hole through the cheek, and perhaps the loss of a dozen teeth or so; but all thickly covered with laurels.

November came, but no commission. Impatience and ennui had fairly mastered me. The time hung heavily upon my hands.

“How can I best pass the hour? I shall go to the French opera, and hear Calve.”

Such were my reflections as I sat one evening in my solitary chamber. In obedience to this impulse, I repaired to the theatre; but the bellicose strains of the opera, instead of soothing, only heightened my warlike enthusiasm, and I walked homeward, abusing, as I went, the president and the secretary-at-war, and the whole government—legislative, judicial, and executive. “Republics are ungrateful,” soliloquised I, in a spiteful mood. “I have ‘surely put in strong enough’ for it; my political connections—besides, the government owes me a favour—”

“Cl’ar out, ye niggers! What de yer want?”

This was a voice that reached me as I passed through the dark corner of the Faubourg Tremé. Then followed some exclamations in French; a scuffle ensued, a pistol went off, and I heard the same voice again calling out:

“Four till one! Injuns! Murder! Help, hyur!”

I ran up. It was very dark; but the glimmer of a distant lamp enabled me to perceive a man out in the middle of the street, defending himself against four others. He was a man of giant size, and flourished a bright weapon, which I took to be a bowie-knife, while his assailants struck at him on all sides with sticks and stilettoes. A small boy ran back and forth upon the banquette, calling for help.

Supposing it to be some street quarrel, I endeavoured to separate the parties by remonstrance. I rushed between them, holding out my cane; but a sharp cut across the knuckles, which I had received from one of the small men, together with his evident intention to follow it up, robbed me of all zest for pacific meditation; and, keeping my eye upon the one who had cut me, I drew a pistol (I could not otherwise defend myself), and fired. The man fell dead in his tracks, without a groan. His comrades, hearing me re-cock, took to their heels, and disappeared up a neighbouring alley.

The whole scene did not occupy the time you have spent in reading this relation of it. One minute I was plodding quietly homeward; the next, I stood in the middle of the street; beside me a stranger of gigantic proportions; at my feet a black mass of dead humanity, half doubled up in the mud as it had fallen; on the banquette, the slight, shivering form of a boy; while above and around were silence and darkness.

I was beginning to fancy the whole thing a dream, when the voice of the man at my side dispelled this illusion.

“Mister,” said he, placing his arms akimbo, and facing me, “if ye’ll tell me yur name, I ain’t a-gwine to forgit it. No, Bob Linkin ain’t that sorter.”

“What! Bob Lincoln? Bob Lincoln of the Peaks?”

In the voice I had recognised a celebrated mountain trapper, and an old acquaintance, whom I had not met for several years.

“Why, Lord save us from Injuns! it ain’t you, Cap’n Haller? May I be dog-goned if it ain’t! Whooray!—whoop! I knowed it warn’t no store-keeper fired that shot. Haroo! whar are yur, Jack?”

“Here I am,” answered the boy, from the pavement.

“Kum hyur, then. Ye ain’t badly skeert, air yur?”

“No,” firmly responded the boy, crossing over.

“I tuk him from a scoundrelly Crow thet I overhauled on a fork of the Yellerstone. He gin me a long pedigree, that is, afore I kilt the skunk. He made out as how his people hed tuk the boy from the Kimanches, who hed brought him from somewhar down the Grande. I know’d it wur all bamboozle. The boy’s white—American white. Who ever seed a yeller-hided Mexikin with them eyes and ha’r? Jack, this hyur’s Cap’n Haller. If yur kin iver save his life by givin’ yur own, yur must do it, de ye hear?”

“I will,” said the boy resolutely.

“Come, Lincoln,” I interposed, “these conditions are not necessary. You remember I was in your debt.”

“Ain’t worth mentioning Cap; let bygones be bygones!”

“But what brought you to New Orleans? or, more particularly, how came you into this scrape?”

“Wal, Cap’n, bein’ as the last question is the most partickler, I’ll gin yur the answer to it fust. I hed jest twelve dollars in my pouch, an’ I tuk a idee inter my head thet I mout as well double it. So I stepped into a shanty whar they wur a-playin’ craps. After bettin’ a good spell, I won somewhar about a hundred dollars. Not likin’ the sign I seed about, I tuk Jack and put out. Wal, jest as I was kummin’ roun’ this hyur corner, four fellers—them ye seed—run out and jumped me, like so many catamounts. I tuk them for the same chaps I hed seed parley vooin’ at the craps-table; an’ tho’t they wur only jokin’, till one of them gin me a sockdolloger over the head, an’ fired a pistol. I then drewed my bowie, an’ the skrimmage begun; an’ thet’s all I know about it, cap’n, more’n yurself.

“Let’s see if it’s all up with this’n,” continued the hunter, stooping. “I’deed, yes,” he drawled out; “dead as a buck. Thunder! ye’ve gin it him atween the eyes, plum. He is one of the fellers, es my name’s Bob Linkin. I kud sw’ar to them mowstaches among a million.”

At this moment a patrol of night gendarmes came up; and Lincoln, and Jack, and myself were carried off to the calaboose, where we spent the remainder of the night. In the morning we were brought before the recorder; but I had taken the precaution to send for some friends, who introduced me to his worship in a proper manner. As my story corroborated Lincoln’s, and his mine, and “Jack’s” substantiated both; and as the comrades of the dead Creole did not appear, and he himself was identified by the police as a notorious robber, the recorder dismissed the case as one of “justifiable homicide in self-defence”; and the hunter and I were permitted to go our way without further interruption.


Note. Craps is a game of dice.

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