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Chapter 50 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

A Very Short Trial

During all this time shots were ringing over me. I could hear the shouts and cheering of men, the trampling of heavy hoofs, and the clashing of sabres. I knew that some strange deliverance had reached us. I knew that a skirmish was going on above me, but I could see nothing. I was below the level of the cliff.

I lay in a terrible suspense, listening. I dared not change my posture—I dared not move. The weight of the Jarocho’s body had hitherto held my feet securely in the notch; but that was gone, and my ankles were still tied. A movement and my legs might fall off the limb and drag me downward. I was faint, too, from the protracted struggle for life and death, and I hugged the tree and held on like a wounded squirrel.

The shots seemed less frequent, the shouts appeared to recede from the cliffs. Then I heard a cheer—an Anglo-Saxon cheer—an American cheer, and the next moment a well-known voice rang in my ears.

“By the livin’ catamount, he’s hyur yit! Whooray—whoop! Niver say die! Hold on, Cap’n, teeth an’ toenail! Hyur, boys! clutch on, a lot o’ yer! Quick!—hook my claws, Nat! Now pull—all thegether!—Hooray!”

I felt a strong hand grasping the collar of my coat, and the next moment I was raised from my perch and landed upon the top of the cliff.

I looked around upon my deliverers. Lincoln was dancing like a lunatic, uttering his wild, half-Indian yells. A dozen men, in the dark-green uniform of the “mounted rifles”, stood looking on and laughing at this grotesque exhibition. Close by another party were guarding some prisoners, while a hundred others were seen in scattered groups along the ridge, returning from the pursuit of the Jarochos, whom they had completely routed.

I recognised Twing, and Hennessy, and Hillis, and several other officers whom I had met before. We were soon en rapport, and I could not have received a greater variety of congratulations had it been the hour after my wedding.

Little Jack was the guide of the rescue.

After a moment spent in explanation with the major, I turned to look for Lincoln. He was standing close by, holding in his hands a piece of lazo, which he appeared to examine with a strange and puzzled expression. He had recovered from his burst of wild joy and was “himself again.”

“What’s the matter, Bob?” I inquired, noticing his bewildered look.

“Why, Cap’n, I’m a sorter bamfoozled yeer. I kin understan’ well enuf how the feller; irked yer inter the tree afore he let go. But how did this hyur whang kum cuf? An’ whar’s the other eend?”

I saw that he held in his hand the noose of the lazo which he had taken from my ankles, and I explained the mystery of how it had “kum cut”. This seemed to raise me still higher in the hunter’s esteem. Turning to one of the riflemen, an old hunter like himself, he whispered—I overheard him:

“I’ll tell yer what it is, Nat: he kin whip his weight in wild-cats or grizzly b’ars any day in the year—he kin, or my name ain’t Bob Linkin.”

Saying this, he stepped forward on the cliff and looked over; and then he examined the tree, and then the piece of lazo, and then the tree again, and then he commenced dropping pebbles down, as if he was determined to measure every object, and fix it in his memory with a proper distinctness.

Twing and the others had now dismounted. As I turned towards them Clayley was taking a pull at the major’s pewter—and a good long pull, too. I followed the lieutenant’s example, and felt the better for it.

“But how did you find us, Major?”

“This little soldier,” said he, pointing to Jack, “brought us to the rancho where you were taken. From there we easily tracked you to a large hacienda.”

“Ha! you routed the guerilla, then?”

“Routed the guerilla! We saw no guerilla.”

“What! at the hacienda?”

“Peons and women; nothing more. Yes, there was, too—what am I thinking about? There was a party there that routed us; Thornley and Hillis here have both been wounded, and are not likely to recover—poor fellows!”

I looked towards these gentlemen for an explanation. They were both laughing, and I looked in vain.

“Hennessy, too,” said the major, “has got a stab under the ribs.”

“Och, by my soul have I, and no mistake!” cried the latter.

“Come, Major—an explanation, if you please.”

I was in no humour to enjoy this joke. I half divined the cause of their mirth, and it produced in me an unaccountable feeling of annoyance, not to say pain.

“Be my faith, then, Captain,” said Hennessy, speaking for the major, “if ye must know all about it, I’ll tell ye myself. We overhauled a pair of the most elegant crayteurs you ever clapped eyes upon; and rich—rich as Craysus—wasn’t they, boys?”

“Oh, plenty of tin,” remarked Hillis.

“But, Captain,” continued Hennessy, “how they took on to your ‘tiger’! I thought they would have eaten the little chap, body, bones, and all.”

I was chafing with impatience to know more, but I saw that nothing worth knowing could be had in that quarter. I determined, therefore, to conceal my anxiety, and find an early opportunity to talk to Jack.

“But beyond the hacienda?” I inquired, changing the subject.

“We trailed you down stream to the cañon, where we found blood upon the rocks. Here we were at fault, when a handsome, delicate-looking lad, known somehow or other to your Jack, came up and carried us to the crossing above, where the lad gave us the slip, and we saw no more of him. We struck the hoofs again where he left us, and followed them to a small prairie on the edge of the woods, where the ground was strangely broken and trampled. There they had turned back, and we lost all trace.”

“But how, then, did you come here?”

“By accident altogether. We were striking to the nearest point on the National Road when that tall sergeant of yours dropped down upon us out of the branches of a tree.”

“Whom did you see, Jack?” I whispered to the boy, after having drawn him aside.

“I saw them all, Captain.”


“They asked where you were, and when I told them—”


“They appeared to wonder—”


“And the young ladies—”

“And the young ladies?”

“They ran round, and cried, and—”

Jack was the dove that brought the olive-branch.

“Did they say where they were going?” I inquired, after one of those sweet waking dreams.

“Yes, Captain, they are going up the country to live.”


“I could not recollect the name—it was so strange.”

“Jalapa? Orizava? Cordova? Puebla? Mexico?”

“I think it was one of them, but I cannot tell which. I have forgotten it, Captain.”

“Captain Haller!” called the voice of the major; “here a moment, if you please. These are some of the men who were going to hang you, are they not?”

Twing pointed to five of the Jarachos who had been captured in the skirmish.

“Yes,” replied I, “I think so; yet I could not swear to their identity.”

“By the crass, Major, I can swear to ivery mother’s son av thim! There isn’t a scoundhrel among thim but has given me rayzon to remimber him, iv a harty kick in the ribs might be called a rayzon. Oh! ye ugly spalpeens! kick me now, will yez?—will yez jist be plazed to trid upon the tail av my jacket?”

“Stand out here, my man,” said the major.

Chane stepped forward, and swore away the lives of the five Jarochos in less than as many minutes.

“Enough!” said the major, after the Irishman had given his testimony. “Lieutenant Claiborne,” continued he, addressing an officer the youngest in rank, “what sentence?”

“Hang!” replied the latter in a solemn voice.

“Lieutenant Hillis?”

“Hang!” was the reply.

“Lieutenant Clayley?”

“Hang!” said Clayley in a quick and emphatic tone.

“Captain Hennessy?”

“Hang them!” answered the Irishman.

“Captain Haller?”

“Have you determined, Major Twing?” I asked, intending, if possible, to mitigate this terrible sentence.

“We have no time, Captain Haller,” replied my superior, interrupting me, “nor opportunity to carry prisoners. Our army has reached Plan del Rio, and is preparing to attack the pass. An hour lost, and we may be too late for the battle. You know the result of that as well as I.”

I knew Twing’s determined character too well to offer further opposition, and the Jarochos were condemned to be hung.

The following extract from the major’s report of the affair will show how the sentence was carried out:

We killed five of them, and captured as many more, but the leader escaped. The prisoners were tried, and sentenced to be hung. They had a gallows already rigged for Captain Haller and his companions, and for want of a better we hanged them upon that.

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