Charles James Lever.

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Loose chips of iron for the bears ! thought I ; did ever
mortal hear such a barbarian ! " You don't fancy, friend, I
came here to supply you with lead and powder, to be used upon
myself, too! I supposed, when you asked me to come out
into the bush, that you had everything a gentleman ought to
have for such a purpose."

" Well, I never seed the like of that ! " exclaimed he,
striking the ground with the butt end of his piece. " If we
don't stand at four guns' length

"We'll do no such thing, friend," said I, shouldering my


piece, and advancing towards him. " I never meant to offend
you ; nor have you any object in wounding, mayhap, killing
me. Let me have something to eat ; I'll pay for it freely, and
go my ways."

" What on airth, is it, eh ? " said he, looking puzzled.
" Why, that's one of Colt's rifles ! you'd have picked me down
at two hundred yards, sure as my name is Gabriel."

" I know it," said I, cooly ; " and how much the better or
the happier should I have been, had I done so ? " I watched
the fellow's pasty countenance as though I could read what
passed in the muddy bottom of his mind.

"If it were not for something of this kind," added I,
sorrowfully, " I should not be here to-day. You know New
Orleans ? " he nodded " well, perhaps you know Ebenezer

"The senator?"

" The same ! " I made the pantomime of presenting a
pistol, and then of a man falling "just so. His brothers
have taken up the pursuit, and so I came down into this
quarter till the smoke cleared off!"

" He was a plumper at a hundred and twenty yards. I
seen him double up Gideon Millis, of Ohio."

" Ah ! 1 could recount many a thing of the kind to you,"
said I, leading the way towards the hut, " but my throat is so
dry, and I feel so confoundedly weary just now -"

" That's cider," said he, pointing to the crock.

I didn't wait for a more formal invitation, but carried it to
my lips, and so held it for full a couple of minutes.

*' Ye wor drouthy, that's a fact!" said he, peei'ing into
the low watermark of the vessel.

" You hav'n't got any more bread? " said I, appropriating
his own.

"If I hadn't, ye'd not have got that so easy, lad!" said he,
with a grin.

" And now for my mare ; you see she's a good one "

"Good as if she belonged to a richer master!" said he,
with a peculiar leer of the eye. "I know her well ! Knowecl
her a foal ! Ah, Gharry, Miss ! do you forget the way to take
off your saddle with your teeth ? " and he patted the creature
with a nearer approach to kindness than I believed he was
capable of.

I will not dwell upon the little arts I employed to con-
ciliate my friend Gabriel, nor stop to say how I managed to
procure some Indian corn-meal for my horse, and the addition
of a very tough piece of dried beef to my owu meagre break-


fast. I conclude the reader will be as eager to escape from his
society as I was myself; nor had I ever thrown him into such,
unprofitable acquaintanceship, were there other means of
explaining how first I wandered from the right path, and by
what persuasions I was influenced in not returning to it.

If Gabriel's history was not very entertaining, it was at
least short, so far as its catastrophe went. He was a Ken-
tucky "bounty man," who had taken into his head to fight a
duel with a companion witli whom he was returning from J^ew
York. He killed his antagonist, buried him, and was wend-
ing his way homeward with the watch and other property of
the deceased, to restore to his friends, when he was arrested
at Little Rock, and conveyed to gaol. He was tried, found
guilty, and sentenced to death, but made his escape the night
before the execution was to have taken place. His adven-
tures from the Arkansas river till the time he found himself
in Texas were exciting in a high degree, and, even with his
own telling, not devoid of deep interest. Since his location in
the One-star Republic, he had tried various things, but all
had failed with him. His family, who followed him, died off
by the dreadful intermittents of the bush, leaving him alone
to doze through the remainder of existence between the half-
consciousness of his fall and the stupid insensibility of
debauch. There was but one theme could stir the dark
embers of his nature ; and when he had quitted that, the
interest of life seemed to have passed away, and he relapsed
into his dreamy indifference to both present and future.

How he contrived to eke out subsistence was difficult to
conceive. To the tavern he had been almost the only cus-
tomer, and in succession consumed the little stores his poor
wife had managed to accumulate. He appeared to feel a
kind of semi-consciousness that if "bears did not fall in his
way," during the winter it might go hard with him ; and he
pointed to four mounds of earth behind the log-hut, and said
that "the biggest would soon be alongside of 'em."

As the heat of midday was too great to proceed in, I learned
from him thus much of his own story, and some particulars of
the road to Bexar, whither I had now resolved on proceeding,
since, according to his opinion, that afforded me a far better
chance of coming up with the expedition than by following
their steps to Austin.

" Had you come a few hours earlier to day," said he, " you
could have joined company with a Friar who is travelling to
Bexar; but you'll easily overtake him, as he travels with a
little waggon and a sick woman. They are making a pilgrim-


age to the saints there for her health. They have two lazy-
mules and a half-breed driver, that wont work miracles on the
roads, whatever the Virgin may after! You'll soon come up
with them, if Gharry's like what she used to be."

This intelligence was far from displeasing to me. I longed
for some companionship ; and that of a Friar, if not very
promising as to amusement, had at least the merit of safety
no small charm in such a land as I then sojourned in. I
learned besides that he was an Irishman, who had come out
as a missionary among the Choctaws, and that he was well
versed in prairie life, that he spoke many of the Indian
dialects, and knew the various trails of these pathless wilds
like any trapper of them all.

Such a fellow-traveller would be indeed a prize ; and as
I saddled my mare to follow him, I felt lighter at heart than
I had done for a long time previous. "And his name?"
said L

" It is half-Mexican by this. They call him Fra Miguel
up at Bexar."

" Now then for Fra Miguel ! " cried I, springing into my
saddle ; and with a frank " Good-bye," took the road to Bexar.

I rode along with a light heart, my way leading through a
forest of tall beech and alder trees, whose stems were en-
circled by the twining tendrils of the " Liana," which often-
times spanned the space overhead, and tempered the noonday
sun by its delicious shade. Birds of gay plumage and strange
note hopped from branch to branch, while hares and rabbits
sat boldly on the grassy road, and scarcely cared to move at
my approach. The crimsoned-winged bustard the swallow-
tailed woodpecker, with his snowy breast and that most
beautiful of all, the lazuli finch, whose colour would shame
the blue waters of the Adriatic, chirped and fluttered on
every side. The wild squirrel, too, swung by his tail and
jerked himself from bough to bough, in all the confidence of
unmolested liberty ; while even the deer, timid without
danger, stood and gazed at me as I went, doubtless con-
gratulating themselves that they Avere not born to be beasts
of burden.

There was so much novelty to me in all around, that the
monotonous character of the scene never wearied ; for,
although as far as human companionship was concerned,
nothing could be more utterly solitary and desolate, yet
the abundance of animal life, the bright tints of plumage,
and the strange concert of sound, afforded an unceasing in-


Occasionally I came upon the charred fragments of fire-
wood, with other signs indicative of a bivouac, showing
where some hunting party had halted; but these, with a
chance wheel-track, were all the evidence that travellers had
ever passed that way. The instincts of the human heart are,
after all, linked to companionship, and, although it was but a
few hours since I had parted with " mine host " of Brazos, I
began to conceive a most anxious desire for the society of a
fellow-traveller. I had pushed " Charcoal " for some time in
the hope of overtaking the Friar, but not only without suc-
cess, but even without coming upon any recent tracks that
should show where the party passed. I could not have mis-
taken the road, since there was but one through the forest ;
and at last I became uneasy lest I should not reach some
place of shelter for the night, and obtain refreshment for
myself and my horse. From the time that these thoughts
crossed my mind, all relish for the scene and its strange
associations departed. A scarlet jay might have perched
upon my saddle-bow unmolested; a " whip-poor-will" might
have chanted her note from my hat or my holsters un-
minded ; the antlered stags did indeed graze me as they
went, without my once remembering that I was the owner of
one of " Colt's " " sharp bores," so intent I had grown upon
the topic of personal safety. What, if I had gone astray?
What, if I fell in with the Choctaws, who often came within
a few miles of Austin ? What if " Charcoal " fell lame, or
even tired ? What if but why enumerate all the suspi-
cions that when chased away on one side invariably came
back on the other ? There was not an incident, from a
sprained ankle to actual starvation, that I did not rehearse ;
and, like that respected authority who spent his days specu-
lating what he should do " if he met a white bear," I threw
myself into so many critical situations and embarrassing
conjectures, that my head ached with overtaxed ingenuity to
escape from them.

^Esop'a fables have much to answer for. The attributing
the gift of speech to animals by way of characterizing their
generic qualities, takes a wondrous hold upon the mind; and
as for me, I held " imaginary conversations" with every-
thing that flew or bounded past. From the green lizard
that scaled the shining cork trees to the lazy toad that
flopped heavily into the water, I had a word for all ay, and
thought they answered me, too.

Some, I fancied, chirped pleasantly and merrily, as though
to say, " Go it, Con, my hearty ' Charry' has stride and


wind for many a mile yet." Some, with a wild scream,
would seem to utter a cry of surprise at the pace, as if say-
ing, " Ruffle my feathers, if Con's not in a hurry." An old
owl, with a horseshoe wig, looked shocked at my impetuosity,
and shook his wise head in grave rebuke ; while a fat asth-
matic frog nearly choked with emotion as I hurled the small
pebbles into his bath of duck-weed. How strange would
life be, reduced to such companionship, thought I. Would
one gradually sink down to the level of this animal existence,
such as it appears now, or would one elevate the inferior
animal to some equality of intelligence ?

The solitude which a short time previous had suggested I
know not how many ! bright imaginings, presented now the
one sad, unvarying reflection desolation ; and it had almost
become a doubtful point whether I should not at once turn
my horse's head and make for Upper Brazos and its gruff
host of the log-house, rather than brave a night " al fresco "
in the forest. It was just at the moment that this question
became mooted in my mind, that I perceived the faint track
of a wheel on the short grass of the pathway. I dismounted
and examined it closely, and soon discovered its counterpart
on the other side of the road, and with a little further search
I could detect the foot-marks of two horses evidently un-

Inspired with fresh courage by these signs, I spurred
Gharry to a sharper stride, and for above two hours rode
on, each turning of the road suggesting the hope of coming
up with the Friar, who evidently journeyed at a brisker pace
than I had anticipated. The sailor's adage says that " a
stern chase is a long chase," and so it is, whether it be on
land or sea whether the pursuit be to overtake a flying
Frenchman or Fortune !

The sun had sunk beneath the tops of the tall trees, and
only streamed through, in chance lines of light, upon the
road, when suddenly I found myself upon the verge of an
abrupt descent, at the bottom of which ran a narrow but
rapid river. These great fissures, by which the mountain
streams descend to join the larger rivers, are very common
in Texas and throughout the region which borders on the
Rocky Mountains, and form one of the greatest impediments
to travelling in these tracts.

As I gazed upon the steep descent, to have scrambled down
which, even on foot, would have been dangerous and difficult
enough, I remembered that I had passed, about half an hour
before, a spot where the road " forked " off into two separate


directions, and at once resumed my march to this place,
where I had the satisfaction of perceiving that the grass was
yet rising under the recent passage of a waggon. A short and
sharp canter down, a gentle slope brought mo once more in
sight of the stream, and, of what was far nearer to my hopes,
the long looked-for party with the Friar.

The scene I now beheld was sufficiently striking for a
picture. About fifty feet beneath where I stood, and on the
bank of a boiling, foaming torrent, was a waggon, drawn by
two large horses : a covering of canvas formed an awning over
head, and curtains of the same material closed the sides. A
large, powerful-looking Mexican stood beating the stream
with a great pole, while the Friar, with his robes tucked up so
as to display a pair of enormous naked legs, assisted in this
singular act of flagellation, from time to time addressing a hasty
prayer to a small image, which I perceived he had hung up
against the canvas covering. The noise of the rushing water,
and the crashing sound of the sticks, prevented my hearing
the voices, which were most volubly exerted all the while,
and which, by accustoming myself to the din, I at last per-
ceived were used in exhorting the horses to courage. The
animals, however, gave no token of returning confidence, nor
showed the slightest inclination to advance. On the con-
trary, whenever led forward a pace or two, they invariably
sprang back with a bound that threatened . to smash their
tackle or upset the waggon ; nor was it without much caressing
and encouragement that they would stand quiet again. Mean-
while, the Friar's exertions were redoubled at every moment,
and both his prayers and his thrashings became more ani-
mated. Indeed, it was curious to watch with what agility
his bulky figure alternated from the work of beating the
water to gesticulating before " the Virgin." Now, as I
looked, a small corner of the canvas curtain was moved
aside, and a hand appeared, which even without the largo
straw fan it carried, might have been pronounced a female
one. This, however, was speedily withdrawn on some obser-
vation from the Friar, and the curtain was closed rigidly as

All my conjectures as to this singular proceeding being in
vain, I resolved to join the party, towards whom I perceived
the road led by a slightly circuitous descent.

Cautiously wending my way down this slope, which grew
steeper as I advanced, I had scarcely reached the river side,
when I was perceived by the party. Both the Friar and his
follower ceased their performance on the instant, and cast


their eyes upwards to the road with a glance that showed
they were on " the look-out " for others. They even changed
their position to have a better view of the path, and seemed
as if unable to persuade themselves that 1 could be alone.
To my salutation, which I made by courteously removing my
bat and bowing low, they offered no return, and looked as
I really believe they were far too much surprised at my
sudden appearance to afford me any signs of welcome. As
I came nearer, I could see that the Friar made the circuit of
the waggon, and, as if casually, examined the curtains, and
then, satisfied " that all was right," took his station by the
head of his beasts, and waited for my approach.

" Good day, Senhor Caballero," said the Friar, in Spanish,
while the Mexican looked at the lock of his long-barrelled
rifle, and retired a couple of paces, with a gesture of guarded

" Good evening, rather, Father," said I, in English. " I
have ridden hard to come up with you for the last twenty

" From the States ? " said the Friar, approaching me, but
with no peculiar evidences of pleasure at hearing his native

" From your own country, Fra Miguel," said I, boldly ; " an

" And how are you travelling here ? " said he, still preserving
his previous air of caution and reserve.

"A mistake of the road ! " said I, confidently ; for already
I had invented my last biographical sketch. " I was on the
way to Austin, whither I had despatched my servants and
baggage, when accidentally taking the turn to Upper Brazos
instead of the lower one, I found myself some twenty miles
off' my track before I knew of it. I should have turned back
when I discovered my error, but that I heard that a Friar, :i
countryman too, had just set out towards Bexar. This intelli-
gence at once determined me to continue my way, which I
rejoice to find has been so far successful."

To judge from the "Padre's" face, the pleasure did not
appear reciprocal. He looked at me and the wagon alter-
nately, and then he cast his eyes towards the Mexican, who,
understanding nothing of English, was evidently holding
himself ready for any measures of a hostile character.

" Going to Austin! " at last said the Friar. " You are a
merchant, then ? "

"No," said I, smiling superciliously; "I am a mere
traveller for pleasure, my object being to make a tour of the


prairies, and by some of the Mexican cities, before my return
to Europe."

" Heaven guide and protect you," said he fervently, with
rv wave of his hand like leave-taking. " This is not a land
to wander in after night-fall. You are well mounted, and a
good rider ; push on then, my son, and you'll reach Bexar
before the moon sets."

" If that be your road, Father," said I, " as speed is no
object with me, I'd rather join company with you than pro-
ceed alone."

" Ahem ! " said he, looking confused ; " I am going to
Bexar, it is true, Senhor ! but my journey is of the slowest ;
the waggon is heavy, and a sick companion whom it contains
cannot travel fast. Go, then, ' con Dios ! ' and we may meet
again at our journey's end."

" My mare has got quite enough of it ! " said I ; my desire
to remain with him being ti'ebled by his exertions to get rid
of me. " When I overtook you, I was determining to dis-
mount and spare my beast; so that your pace will not in the
least inconvenience me."

The Padre, instead of replying to me, addressed some words
to the Mexican in Spanish, which, whatever they were, the
other only answered by a sharp slap of his palm on the stock
of his rifle, and a very significant glance at his girdle, where
a large bowie knife glittered in all the freedom of its un-
sheathed splendoui-. As if not noticing this pantomime, I
drew forth my " Harper's Ferry pistol " from the holster, and
examined the priming. A little bit of display I had the satis-
faction to perceive was not thrown away on either the Friar
or the layman. At a word from the former, however, the
latter began once again his operations with the pole; thsr
Friar resuming his place beside the cattle, as if totally for-
getful of my presence there.

" May I ask the object of this proceeding, Father," said I,
" which, unless it be a ' devotional exercise,' is perfectly un-
accountable to me."

The Padre looked at me without speaking ; but the sly
drollery of his eye showed that he would have had no objec-
tion to bandy a jest with me, were the time and place more
fitting. " I perceive," said he, at length, " that you have not
journeyed in this land, or you would have known that at this
season the streams abound with caymans and alligators,
and that when the cattle have been once attacked by them,
they have no courage to cross a river after. Their instinct,
however, teaches them that beating the waters ensures safety,


and many a Mexican horse will not go knee deep without this
ceremony being performed."

" I see that your cattle are unusually tired in the present
case," said I, " for you have been nigh half an hour here to
my own knowledge."

" Look at that black mare's fore leg, and you'll see why,"
said he, pointing to a deep gash which laid bare the white
tendons for some inches in length, while a deep pool of blood
flowed around the animal's hoof.

A cry from the Mexican here broke in upon our colloquy,
as throwing down his pole, he seized his rifle, and dropped
upon one knee in the attitude of defence.

" What is it, Sancho ? " cried the Friar.

A few words of guttural followed, and the Padre said it
was a large alligator that had just carried off a chiguire, a
wild pig, under the water with him. This stream is a tribu-
tary of the Colloredo, along the banks of which these creatures'
eggs are found in thousands !

My blood ran cold at the horrid thought of being attacked
by such animals, and I readily volunteered my assistance at
the single-stick exercise of my companion.

The Friar accepted my offer without much graciousness,
but rather as that of an unwelcome guest, who could not be
easily got rid of.




THE Friar ceased his efforts, and calling the Mexican to one
side, whispered something in a low, cautious manner. The
other seemed to demur and hesitate, but, after a brief space,
appeared to yield ; when, replacing the poles beside the waggon,
he turned the horses' heads toward the road by which they had
just come.

" We are about to try a ford some miles farther up the
stream," said the Padre, " and so, we commend you to the
Virgin, and wish you a prosperous journey."

" All roads are alike to me, holy Father," said I, with a
coolness that cost me something to assume.

" Then take the shortest, and you'll be soonest at your
journey's end," said he, gruffly.

" Who can say that ? " rejoined I ; " it's no difficult matter
to lose one's way in a dense forest, where the tracks are

" There is but one path, and it cannot be mistaken," said
he, in the same tone.

" It has one great disadvantage, Father," said I.

"What is that?"

" There is no companionship on it ; and, to say truth, I
have too much of the Irishman in me to leave good company
for the pleasure of travelling all alone."

" Methinks you have very little of the Irishman about you,
in another respect," said he, with a sneer of no doubtful

" How so ? " siad I, eagerly.

" In volunteering your society when it is not sought for,
young gentleman," said he, with a look of steadfast effrontery ;
" at least, I can say, such were not the habits of the land as
I remember it some forty years ago."

" Ah, holy Father, it has grown out of many a barbarous
custom since your time ; the people have given up drinking
and faction-fighting, and you may travel fifty miles a day for
a week together and never meet with a friar."


" Peace be with you ! " said he, waving his hand, but with a
gesture it was easy to see boded more passion than patience.

I hesitated for a second what to do ; and, at last, feeling
that another word might perhaps endanger the victory I had
won, I dashed spurs into the mare's flanks, and, with tie
shout the ostler had recommended, rushed her at the stream.
Over she went, " like a bird," lighting on the opposite bank
with her hind legs " well up," and the next moment plunged
into the forest.

Scarcely, however, had I proceeded fifty paces than I drew
up. The dense wood effectually shut out the river from my
view, and even masked the sounds of the rushing water. A
suspicion dwelt on my mind, that the Friar was not going
back, and that he had merely concerted this plan with the
Mexican the easier to disembarrass himself of my company.
The seeming pertinacity of his purpose suggested an equal

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 26 of 50)