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ADVENTURES ON THE FRONTIER OF TEXAS AND MEXICO.
BY CHARLES WINTERFIELD,
It would have amused one—had there But no! your heart beats very loudnot been something in its exhibition too there is no voice from that great driving strong and fierce to be laughed at—to chaos! The silent majesty of motion ! witness the unavailing, champing, foam- the mute Power that whirls, through ing fury of the Colonel, as the retreating burning mazes, the fire-dance of stars, is figure of his enemy was lost in the dark seen and felt in the sublimity of strength ness. He fired his gun twice after him, in such a scene. even when he was far enough out of When we were a short distance from view. Then stamping and shouting, he the house, I heard the quick patter of dashed the butt of his precious six feet pursuing. Before I could look be. shooter" against the ground, to the evident hind, the boy, John, throwing himself peril of its strength. He was rushing rapidly past in a bounding somerset, was back, swearing he intended to make his standing face to face a few paces in front way to the old madame, and speak his of us. mind to her, in no very measured terms, Get out of my way!" growled the about harboring and encouraging a vil. Colonel furiously, striking at him. “You lain like Agatone, to the peril and an hell-cat-you skunk-you musk-rat ! noyance of her neighbors, when the you smell of Mexicans; and if you are great gate of the court was slammed white, that only makes it worse! A heavily in his face, and the bolts drawn. white boy to permit his carcase to be He dashed his broad shoulders against it kicked and cuffed about like a slunk pig, like a mad buffalo, and bellowed and by the Mexicans! You ought to go and roared in his baffled wrath, about as mu. starve with the wolves first? I'd pick a sically as that animal would have done, buzzard's bones with my teeth rather! when, in its blind fury, it had crushed its Don't get in my reach, or I'll stamp you horns against some sturdy oak, behind into the earth!" which its subtle assailant—the bunter The boy-who seemed desperately had glided. But it all would not avail! afraid of the bear in his surly moodsThe massive gate was no more to be by leaping and rolling together, down moved than would the strong oak have the hill, had placed himself far enough been. And after expending his strength out of reach in an instant. in what the western men call “ rearing But, Kurnal,” he said, from his safe and charging," until he was perfectly position, in cowed, whining accents," I exhausted, he listened to my entreaties, jist comed to tell yerand consented to start for home. The “ You lie, you bat ! you have lied to man was dreadfully excited, and stag. me and to the Mexicans both! I don't gered as we descended the hill. The want to hear you. Clear out, 1 say!” night had been very dark when I came And he jerked his gun up to his face. over ; but “glimpses of the moon” vis The woods fairly trembled to his angry ited us now, occasionally, through rifted roar. The boy, quick as lightning, threw clouds, which, in vast, gloomy and rag- himself on the ground, and, rolling off ged masses, were careering as if-pos. the last bank, the next moment we heard sessed by the winged life of fear-they the splash of his strugglings with the fled across the heavens silently from dark rapid waters. some weird foe. There has always been Colonel, the boy will drown: see something awful to me in the noiseless what your stupid anger has done!" hurrying of these black mighty phan “ Drown! There's no hope of that; toms. Haste--hasłe! faster-faster! they you'd as well talk of drowning a mink. seem to say, as one huge shape rushes I wish there was some chance for it!” upon another-and yet no sound! The By this time I had reached the bank ear expects it! you listen for the crash! the boy had been standing on, and which
overlooked the bed of the river. By the “ The red wolf says, whoo-ooh! whoo-ah! faint light on the ripples, I could distin The robber says, whoo-ooh! whoo-ooh! guish a small black object, about thirty Look out! look out! a trigger's thar; paces below me, which seemed to be Look out! it will be pulled on you!" moving rapidly down the middle of the
I suspected what the warning meant current. With a splash, it instantly dis at once, and endeavored to stop the Coloappeared under the water as I came in nel, who was hurrying towards the log view; and though I ran down the edge again, with the exclamation, “ Pish! it's of the stream for some distance, and nothing but a wolf and that cursed boy called to him eagerly, I could hear and again !”—but it was too late. Just as see nothing more. I felt somewhat he stepped into the moonlight, a long alarmed for the boy's life ; for the river, phizz-ziz and a bright flash, from the besides being deep and swift, was full of dense shadows on the other side, were sharp snags.
followed by a heavy thumping report, The Colonel called after me with a such as a Mexican fusee always makes. jeering “ Haw! haw! you are throwing The Colonel sprang back with the exaway trouble and losing sweat for no clamation, “ Ha! it blowed, did it!” thing there! I tell you, you green-horn, while I, who was somewhat prepared by a hundred men couldn't drown him in my previous suspicions, fired instantly that river !”
at the flash! The Colonel started down I stopped to wait till he should come the log at a run, but the same drizzling up—for the log we were to cross on was rain which had dampened the powder of some distance farther down. Just before the assassin and made the gun hang fire, he joined me, I thought I could distin- had made the log slippery; and his headguish the sound of snapping twigs on long leaps had carried him more than the other side, but the gloom under the half across the trembling bridge, when heavy forest was too impenetrable to his foot slipped and he was plunged into distinguish anything. I said nothing the water." I followed without an inabout it, thinking it might be some wild stants reflection, and with perhaps more animal, and we walked on. I remon- instinctive caution, and reached the other strated angrily with him about the brutal side in safety. The Colonel shouted to impolicy of his treatment of the boy, for' me, sputtering the mud and water from be evidently had something of importance his mouth—- Follow that fellow, I'm to communicate—but I might as well safe—or will be when I get out!" It have spent my breath to the trees; for occurred to me that he was quite able to he seemed to have forgotten the very take care of himself, so I followed at full existence of John, and I could get nothing speed in the direction of the retreating out of him but threats and curses about footsteps. It was too late though-and Agatone and old Madame Cavillo. We after nearly knocking the side of my face had now arrived at the log. I have be- off against a tree, and having my head fore spoken of this perilous passage ; nearly jerked from my shoulders by and going down it from this side was thorny vines it was impossible to guard worse than climbing it from the other. against in the dark, I halted pretty much We stopped, and the Colonel, who was out of breath, and nothing the wiser for accustomed to the passage, proposed to my chase, though something the worsego first and show me how to cross. for I could feel hot drops trickling down While we stood for a moment to sling my neck, and the sting of the sharp our guns over our shoulders, we were thorns that had been dragged across it. startled by a stealthy rustle and cracking After a short time I heard the Colonel in the woods beyond. The moon had approaching, plunging and tearing just thrown a pale gleam of light upon through the bushes like a worried bear our figures and upon the log. We both through cane-brakes. By the time he stepped instantly back into the shade and reached me, he was pretty well done up; listened breathlessly. The low howl of the sudden ducking had very thoroughly, a wolf very close to us swung dismally cooled him off, and he now began to feel out on the stillness.
We drew our the bruises he had received, and the reacbreaths again; at the same moment we tion of the various excitements of the heard a voice which I recognized for evening, and for a little while was comJohn's, and which seemed to be some paratively tame. It now occurred to me, distance off, singing :
for the first time, to wonder what had
you hit ?”
become of Texas. I asked the Colonel “Oh, jest sneakin' around! Anything what he thought of it. He answered me, er stirrin'?” between his long pantings, “ Pooh! never “I tell you, boy, yes; I have just mind Texas !" Three or four pants and taken a pop at Agatone. One of his men a long-drawn breath-—" That cursed Ag- took one at me down on the log. Did atone !"-pant—" thought he had me!” you hear the gun?” Panting—“. Too much occupied with “ Jest as usual ; one er them yaller hugging that fat—" Long breaths again stinks can't hit a bluff-side! I hearn the
Set him there to plug me on that log, gun—thought thar were sumthen out. did he !" Still louder and hoarser, catch Who is this?” turning to me. ing his breath—“Ooh! I could tear him Oh, that's Kentuck; we're going to with my teeth!” A longer pause- make something of him; he stands pow. “ Texas wouldn't hear the guns, and der well, but wants a heap of practice.” don't know anything about it-I must “He! he! gin us yer feelers, Kentuck; stop and rest!" Down he dropped upon we'll work the buttermilk outen yer! a log. If that gun hadn't blowed, I'd Glad yer come! From old Tennersee 'аv been a gone'er, sure! Why didn't myself, and them's close sisterine yer
know. Turn that meat thar, Kern! You “ I did my best, you know.”
keeps mighty triflin' fires; but you poor Yes, yes; but why wa’n't your best creaturs where live in houses can't have better ?”
a fire like men oughter. Squat yourYou are unreasonable as usual, man. selves, boys, and make yerselves at It was all guess-work, in the dark !" home while I'm er'eatin'; I ain't tuck no
“ Yes, he'll come out as soon as he thin' since yester evenin', and then I gets tired of the dance, and the girl, and tuck it raw dry, 'cause a fire wa’n’t safe!" the liquor. You and he must start to “ Fresh signs ?” asked the Colonel, as morrow at day-break and bring Hays. he stooped and cut a great slice from the Well hunt this Agatone this time to the venison ham which was spitted before death, or I'll leave the country! No I the fire. won't-I'll catch him. We can't help I could'er almost smelt 'em!” said catching him; Hays and the Bravo are Bill, as he went through the same maperfect bloodhounds. I'll follow him næuvre. across the Rio Grande but I'll have him ! " I found
coffee, Kern, though yer I'll kill my horse !--I'll walk till my feet does keep it in a cussed sly place. Mexigive out—then I'll crawl on my knees cans bad, are they? Mighty bad thing, across the desert prairie and chaw snails havin' people livin' 'bout, jest ter thieve.” to live on-but I'll have him! Hell ! But the Colonel's jaws were too busy I'll hunt him into its black jaws but I'll by this time for farther talk, and he lap his heart's blood !” And, calling down merely nodded his head. Bill, who had a terrible imprecation on his own head if now, too, cut off a slice of meat weighhe didn't do all this, he sprang to his ing about a pound from the ham, and feet and said, abruptly,
passed it on, with a significant look, to “ Come on."
me, then seized upon the quart-cup of There was something absolutely im- coffee, which was simmering hot, and posing in the tameless cataract of passion commenced in solemn silence his meal. ihis man's nature exhibited ; and had it Now, amidst the deep stillness, broken not been so thoroughly bestialized, it only by the doleful sound of the voices would have been almost sublime. of night without, and the crashing of
We reached the house without another their heavy grinders, let us take good word being spoken between us. We look at Bill Johnson-the boy, as the were astonished to see, through the Colonel called him. And a rough seeming chinks, the blaze of a cheerful fire. As customer was he-worth taking a second we entered, the figure of a very tall per- look at-especially if you felt any temptsonage met us. I heard a drawling voice ation to cross his track. He was upward say,
of six feet four in height; an angular, * How are yer, Kern ?”
Joose-jointed figure, that looked as if it “ Bill Johnson! Blood and blazes! had been thrown together by a pitchfork, Glad to see you, old fellow! What and did not care whether it stayed thrown brought you here? Just the boy I together or not; his bones, though, were wanted !"
prodigiously massive, and his hand felt
to me like lead. There was not the six- hate was greedy as an eagle's mawtieth part of a grain of surplus flesh upon whose face was mild and simple as a him. His tendons, muscles, and even country boy's—whose heart was frank veins, were as rigorously defined as if as any maiden’s, and quite as free of they had been cut in granite. Upon his guile—who worshiped God wide, massy shoulders was set a very sciously in daily walk and converse with small head, with a fleece of close-curled his grandeur, yet would have laughed at black hair. His features were small and all religions ! Such was Bill Johnson ; well-shaped, with a full, frank black and so are many others of those majestic eye; his skin, stretched so tight as it natures, whose souls grow like the shawas over the bones, reminded me, in dows of the mountain ridge they walk color and consistence, of a drum-head. beneath—" wild above rule or art" He was dressed in a black, greasy buck. rugged but sublime! And yet that man's skin suit, “a world too wide,” which hand was red, and many a ruthless blow appeared as though it had weathered a of retributive vengeance it had struck. thousand storms, and kept pace with the Society would shudder at the bare recital progressive tanning of his own cuticle. of many a deed he had smiled in doing. In a word, sun and winds, perils by Yet, while in your “ fenced cities” you flood and field, and starvation, all toge- have the gallows your huge castellated ther, had hardened the man into a perfect prisons, your houses of discipline, your whalebone state! He had lain aside his narrow cells where, shut from the free wolf-skin cap and bullet-pouch, and in air and holy sun, the wretched sinner the belt of his hunting-shirt were stuck against your laws must tell the weary four or five knives of different sizes and seconds on through years, until the inlengths, and a brace of long rifle-pistols. ward light goes out and death strikes The chargers of alligators' teeth hung at twice--you should not find fault with his breast, along with the coiled wire these men, to whom "conscience is as tube-picker. Of beard, he had none : for a law :" you have given them none; whether he had plucked it out, as the and since the systems you boast of, and Indians do, or never had one, I cannot have framed in pride, offer you no altertell. But such as he is—this was Bill native but to make justice an executioner, Johnson, the guide, hunter, trapper- blame them not if, as they have no ideal the man who knew, as well as he knew incorporation on which to throw the the features of “Old Sue,” his rifle, every blame-to which they can say, on your peak along the chain of the Rocky shadowy head be the blood of this man; Mountains—who visited Astoria merely we wash our hands of it—they should as a pleasure-jaunt to see the boys, and more honestly take the retribution into hug his old friends the grizzly bears, their own hands, and each man for himwho luxuriated his summers at the self be the executioner of its stern law. Steamboat Springs, with his head upon You cannot judge of the fierce wrongs the lap of his Delilah—a captured Black- which heat their strong passions to the feet squaw !—who took Santa Fé as fever-thirst for blood and vengeance. It “mine inn” on his way to spend the is a battle for life-forever-on these winter on the pampas of California—who desolate wilds, of man to man, eye to was proof against wind, and hail, and all eye, and foot to foot. Yet they have a tornadoes, and joyed
code—though a relentless and martial « On the snow-wreath to battle with the their natures, and the circumstances of
one it be-written in the constitution of wolf”
their position. whose hide could glance the arrow of a
“ Trust me--each state must have its poliSioux-whose eye would see the condor cies-first, and rifle bring him from his icy
Kingdoms have edicts-cities have their peaks—whose spring was agile as the charterslong-fleeced goat's—whose foot was tire And even the wild outlaw, in his forest less as the Huron runner's—who could walks, outstarve the raven, and look greasy Keeps yet some touch of civil disci. where the jackalls died--whose fist could pline."* crush a puma's skull-whose stab was By this code they are most sacredly quicker than the thought of death-whose bound. This common law of conscience
* Old Play
and of individual rights needs no wily to take my blanket, and go out to sleep counselor to distort its meaning and con under a tree ! Nothing less than the found its sense; but each one, with the fanning of the strong wings of the moun. majesty of nature looking down upon tain wind, laden with the perfumes of him from her eternal hills, and under the the flowery plains, can lull to sleep these broad gaze of the great eye of heaven, spoiled luxurious children of the wilds. manfully and stoutly, of his own respon Just before day we were waked by sibility, interprets for himself, and is his the arrival of Texas, who made his apown executive!
pearance accompanied by quite a char“ Ye'r goin' to see after him some, in acteristic retinue. It consisted of the the mornin', Kern ?" For the hone was lieutenant, his wife and Davis. The picked pretty clean by this time. woman, very drunk, was mounted on
“I tell you we are, Bill! The boys horseback, and was with difficulty held will bring Hays and ten men; and now in her seat by the husband, who walked we've got you, I wouldn't take a hun. on one side and Davis on the other. On dred mules for the chance !"
the shoulder of this last personage her “I don't care, but I'll be thar. Yer hand was caressingly rested, while she know, Kern, thar's sumthen between us : leaned over his face gabbling and stamit's time it war fixed-don't like such mering idiotically her maudlin affection. things ter stand long; but they don't I had noticed at the Fandango a bottle spile much in my keepin'. Agatone run'd filled with a clear, pale liquor, which I agin ther wrong sawyer when he run'd had ascertained to be common American agin Bill Johnson !"
whisky; the movements of which, along “ That he did, Bill.”
with those of the small tin cup accom. “ But who'r yer goin' ter send on the panying it, had appeared to excite a high trail, at day-break ?"
degree of interest on the part of the “Oh, the Tonquoway! you know him.” females present. These warm-blooded “ He'll do. Let's quile up."
dames had preferred “whisky,” as the And with the word he spread his huf more volatile and fiery drink, to the “ Pulfalo-robe on the floor, and said, as he qua,” their national beverage. I observed threw himself upon it
the men to drink but seldom, while the “ Don't like this 'ere sleepin' twixt women kept the cup and bottle constantly walls! Too close--can't breathe free! active among them. Indeed, it is prokinder strangulates a man! Don't see verbial to those familiar with the general how yer can stand it, Kern !”
characteristics of a Mexican population, - Oh, a man can get used to a heap o' that the women are more loose and lithings, Bill!”
centious than the men. It is not at all We were all soon stretched upon our astonishing, therefore, that the race should respective pallets, and I was nearly asleep, be so miserably degenerate. The most when Bill, who had been tossing from hideously revolting object I know of is side to side, sniffing, drawing long a drunken woman. Man may brutalize breaths, and seeming to be very restless, himself very far-may be prepared even suddenly jumped to his feet, took up his to sell his “ birth-right;" but so long as blanket and walked out of the door, God's signature of “angel” signed in the grumbling and muttering as he went : calm purity of woman's brow appeals to
“ Cussed hole! 'nough to smother a him mute and untarnished, he is safeground-hog! Wouldn't sleep thar fer a there is everything to hope for him. But hundred beaver pelts !"
to think of a nation whose women are I nearly burst my sides with smothered most lecherous, most debauched !-need laughter at the idea of a man's fearing we be surprised at anything in such a he'd be “strangulated” in a log-house, people ?_ And a beautiful woman as this with both doors open, or rather, with no was! To see her lolling her tonguedoor at all. But I fully appreciated Bill's simpering with dripping lips-blinking uneasiness after six or eight months' and leering her open shame upon this tour on the prairies, and recollect being tinseled miscreant—with dark large eyes compelled to do the same thing the first that might have won back a soul even time I slept in a house afterward. A into him, had they been lit with the sense of suffocation came over me as soft, lustrous flame of innocent joy! soon as I lay down-though the room was very open; and after trying in vain “Oh, what a mansion have the vices got, to sleep for several hours, I was obliged Which for their habitation chose out thee!"