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Chapter 17 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

One Way of Taming a Bull

Pushing through the jungle, we ascended the eminence. A brilliant picture opened before us. The storm had suddenly lulled, and the tropical sun shone down upon the flowery surface of the earth, bathing its verdure in a flood of yellow light. It was several hours before sunset, but the bright orb had commenced descending towards the snowy cone of Orizava, and his rays had assumed that golden red which characterises the ante-twilight of the tropics. The short-lived storm had swept the heavens, and the blue roof of the world was without a cloud. The dark masses had rolled away over the south-eastern horizon, and were now spending their fury upon the dyewood forests of Honduras and Tabasco.

At our feet lay the prairie, spread before us like a green carpet, and bounded upon the farther side by a dark wall of forest-trees. Several clumps of timber grew like islands on the plain, adding to the picturesque character of the landscape.

Near the centre of the prairie stood a small rancho, surrounded by a high picket fence. This we at once recognised as the “corral” mentioned by Don Cosmé.

At some distance from the inclosure thousands of cattle were browsing upon the grassy level, their spotted flanks and long upright horns showing their descent from the famous race of Spanish bulls. Some of them, straggling from the herd, rambled through the “mottes”, or lay stretched out under the shade of some isolated palm-tree. Ox-bells were tinkling their cheerful but monotonous music. Hundreds of horses and mules mingled with the herd; and we could distinguish a couple of leather-clad vaqueros (herdsmen) galloping from point to point on their swift mustangs.

These, as we appeared upon the ridge, dashed out after a wild bull that had just escaped from the corral.

All five—the vaqueros, the mustangs, and the bull—swept over the prairie like wind, the bull bellowing with rage and terror; while the vaqueros were yelling in his rear, and whirling their long lazos. Their straight black hair floating in the wind—their swarthy, Arab-like faces—their high Spanish hats—their red leather calzoneros, buttoned up the sides—their huge jingling spurs, and the ornamental trappings of their deep saddles—all these, combined with the perfect manège of their dashing steeds, and the wild excitement of the chase in which they were engaged, rendered them objects of picturesque interest; and we halted a moment to witness the result.

The bull came rushing past within fifty paces of where we stood, snorting with rage, and tossing his horns high in the air—his pursuers close upon him. At this moment one of the vaqueros launched his lazo, which, floating gracefully out, settled down over one horn. Seeing this, the vaquero did not turn his horse, but sat facing the bull, and permitted the rope to run out. It was soon carried taut; and, scarcely checking the animal, it slipped along the smooth horn and spun out into the air. The cast was a failure.

The second vaquero now flung his lazo with more success. The heavy loop, skilfully projected, shot out like an arrow, and embraced both horns in its curving noose. With the quickness of thought the vaquero wheeled his horse, buried his spurs deep into his flanks, and, pressing his thighs to the saddle, galloped off in an opposite direction. The bull dashed on as before. In a moment the lariat was stretched. The sudden jerk caused the thong to vibrate like a bowstring, and the bull lay motionless on the grass. The shock almost dragged the mustang upon his flanks.

The bull lay for some time where he had fallen; then, making an effort, he sprang up, and looked around him with a bewildered air. He was not yet conquered. His eye, flashing with rage, rolled around until it fell upon the rope leading from his horns to the saddle; and, suddenly lowering his head, with a furious roar he rushed upon the vaquero.

The latter, who had been expecting this attack, drove the spurs into his mustang, and started in full gallop across the prairie. On followed the bull, sometimes shortening the distance between him and his enemy, while at intervals the lazo, tightening, would almost jerk him upon his head.

After running for a hundred yards or so, the vaquero suddenly wheeled and galloped out at right angles to his former course. Before the bull could turn, himself the rope again tightened with a jerk and flung him upon his side. This time he lay but an instant, and, again springing to his feet, he dashed off in fresh pursuit.

The second vaquero now came up, and, as the bull rushed past, launched his lazo after, and snared him around one of the legs, drawing the noose upon his ankle.

This time the bull was flung completely over, and with such a violent shock that he lay as if dead. One of the vaqueros then rode cautiously up, and, bending over in the saddle, unfastened both of the lariats, and set the animal free.

The bull rose to his feet, and, looking around in the most cowed and pitiful manner, walked quietly off, driven unresistingly towards the corral.

We commenced descending into the place, and the vaqueros, catching a glimpse of our uniforms, simultaneously reined up their mustangs with a sudden jerk. We could see from their gestures that they were frightened at the approach of our party. This was not strange, as the major, mounted upon his great gaunt charger, loomed up against the blue sky like a colossus. The Mexicans, doubtless, had never seen anything in the way of horseflesh bigger than the mustangs they were riding; and this apparition, with the long line of uniformed soldiers descending the hill, was calculated to alarm them severely.

“Them fellers is gwine to put, Cap’n,” said Lincoln, touching his cap respectfully.

“You’re right, Sergeant,” I replied; “and without them we might as well think of catching the wind as one of these mules.”

“If yer’ll just let me draw a bead on the near mustang, I kin kripple him ’ithout hurtin’ the thing thet’s in the saddle.”

“It would be a pity. No, Sergeant,” answered I. “I might stop them by sending forward the guide,” I continued, addressing myself rather than Lincoln; “but no, it will not do; there must be the appearance of force. I have promised. Major, would you have the goodness to ride forward, and prevent those fellows from galloping off?”

“Lord, Captain!” said the major, with a terrified look, “you don’t think I could overtake such Arabs as them? Hercules is slow—slow as a crab!”

Now, this was a lie, and I knew it! for Hercules, the major’s great, raw-boned steed, was as fleet as the wind.

“Then, Major, perhaps you will allow Mr Clayley to make trial of him,” I suggested. “He is light weight. I assure you that, without the assistance of these Mexicans, we shall not be able to catch a single mule.”

The major, seeing that all eyes were fixed upon him, suddenly straightened himself up in his stirrups, and, swelling with courage and importance, declared, “If that was the case, he would go himself.” Then, calling upon “Doc” to follow him, he struck the spurs into Hercules, and rode forward at a gallop.

It proved that this was just the very course to start the vaqueros, as the major had inspired them with more terror than all the rest of our party. They showed evident symptoms of taking to their heels, and I shouted to them at the top of my voice:

“Alto! somos amigos!” (Halt! we are friends).

The words were scarcely out of my mouth when the Mexicans drove the rowels into their mustangs, and galloped off as if for their lives in the direction of the corral.

The major followed at a slashing pace, Doc bringing up the rear; while the basket which the latter carried over his arm began to eject its contents, scattering the commissariat of the major over the prairie. Fortunately, the hospitality of Don Cosmé had already provided a substitute for this loss.

After a run of about half a mile Hercules began to gain rapidly upon the mustangs, whereas Doc was losing distance in an inverse ratio. The Mexicans had got within a couple of hundred yards of the rancho, the major not over a hundred in their rear, when I observed the latter suddenly pull up, and, jerking the long body of Hercules round, commence riding briskly back, all the while looking over his shoulder towards the in closure.

The vaqueros did not halt at the corral, as we expected, but kept across the prairie, and disappeared among the trees on the opposite side.

“What the deuce has got into Blossom?” inquired Clayley; “he was clearly gaining upon them. The old bloat must have burst a blood-vessel.”

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