Emerson Bennett.

Forest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier online

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that shortly we were to have something to break our long
fast. But when some five minutes had passed away,
without the re-appearance of either Paula or her father, we
all began to grow impatient ; and going to the door, I
opened it, and discovered it was only a ruse of the girl to
effect her own and her father's escape for the door merely
opened into a vestibule, which led into a garden the
house itself being built rather after the English than the
Spanish style.

" Well, the escape was a trivial thing in itself, and, after
a few playful comments from my comrades, the subject was
dropped and the incident forgotten, we having enough
before us of a more serious nature to occupy our minds.

" I pass over the siege for that is a matter of history.
The American army, as the world knows, was victorious ;
and after three or four days hard fighting on both sides,
the Mexicans capitulated, and were allowed to march out
of the city with the honors of war.

"A few days after this event, the Rangers were mus-
tered out of service, and I found myself once more master
of my time and person. I lingered about the town for a
few days longer, and then set off with a train for Camargo,
on my return to the United States.

"I pass over several little incidents, which might or
might not interest you, but which have no bearing on the
story it is my purpose to relate. About twelve or fifteen


miles from Mier, the train halted late one hot afternoon ;
and being told that a small party of our men had ridden
on to Mier, and might easily be overtaken, I resolved to
push on alone for that purpose.

" The road, somewhat hilly, and passing over an almost
barren waste of country, I knew to be dangerous, from the
prowling bands of robbers and guerrillas that infested it ;
and had I not felt certain of overtaking the party in
advance before nightfall, I should ndt have attempted it

" But as fortune would have it, I got benighted without
overtaking my comrades ; and in one of the most gloomy
and dismal places on the route a deep, dark hollow,
between two steep hills I found myself suddenly jerked
from my horse to the ground, by means of a lasso, which
had been thrown over my head with unerring aim, and
which, falling over my arms, so completely pinioned them
to my body, as to prevent my drawing a single weapon in
my defence.

"Scarcely had I struck the ground, when two men
sprung upon me, and I could see the bright blades of
their weapons gleam in the dim light.

" ' For God's sake, gentlemen, do not murder me !' I
cried in Spanish, though with little hope that my prayer
would be heeded for I had seen more than one cross on
my route, to note the spot where some solitary traveler


had fallen a victim to these so-called knights of the

" ' Who are you V gruffly demanded one of the two, as
he determinedly put his hand upon my throat and raised
his knife, as I believed, for the fatal stoke.

" ' Why don't you finish him, Guido ?' said a voice at a
short distance from me ; and glancing my eyes in the direc-
tion of the speaker, I dimly perceived three or four figures
grouped together, one of whom had my horse by the bit.
' Why don't you finish him, I say ? what is it to you who
or what he is ?'

" ' Why, if he's a gentleman,' returned Guido, as he
deliberately brought the point of the sharp weapon down
upon my naked throat, ' who knows but he might pay us a
handsome ransom for his life 1'

" I caught at the suggestion, and instantly replied :

" ' I will I will ! I am a gentleman of means, and will
pay you any ransom that we may agree upon, at any place
convenient to both.'

" ' Fools I why do you dally? dead men tell no tales !>
cried another voice behind me, which not only sounded like
that of a woman, but which, strangely enough, I fancied
was not altogether unfamiliar to me.

" ' Can it be possible that one of the gentler sex decrees
me to death ?' said I ; while the ruffian, whose hand and



knife were upon my throat, seemed to wait for some reply
before the completion of his bloody work.

" ' Hold, Guido stay your hand 1' said the same femi-
nine voice. ' Who are you, sir ?' was next addressed
to me.

" Instantly the truth flashed upon me. I had heard that
voice before it was a woman's and that woman had had
reason to remember me gratefully.

" ' If it is Paula who asks that question, I am the officer
who saved her father at the storming of Monterey,' was
my reply to the interrogation.

"'Ha! is it so indeed ?' said the same voice. 'Back,
there, Pablo and Guido !' and as the ruffians released their
hold of me, a woman's face was brought close to mine,
and that face I could see was Paula's. ' It is true !' she
proceeded after a close scrutiny of my features ; ' this gen-
tleman did save my father, and for that act is now free.
Seiior Cabellero,' she continued, addressing me, ' accept
my regrets for the trouble we have given you, and my con-
gratulations that nothing more serious has occurred !
Arise, sir you are free. Mount your horse and away,
with a God-speed and without question ! and when you
relate this adventure to your friends, tell them you found
gratitude even in the breast of Paula Mendolez, the Guer-
rilla Queen.'


" ' Thanks, fair lady a thousand thanks for my life I*
said I, as I started to my feet, though even then fearful
of a treacherous stab from the sullen and disappointed

"'Away!' said Paula, sternly; 'and let us never meet
again for though we part as friends now, we should next
meet as foes. We are quits now. You saved my father's
life, and I have saved yours. Adios !*

" It needed no special urging to get me into the saddle ;
and finding myself clear of the robbers, and once more
under way, I drove the spurs into my horse ; and, in less
than an hour, the foam-covered beast stood panting beside
my comrades in the town of Mier.

"Such, gentlemen, is in brief the story I promised,"
concluded the captain, refilling his glass. " I see you all
look as if you would ask for more facts but I have none
to give. Who Paula Mendolez really was, and what
became of her, I know no more than you. I only know
we met and parted in the manner I have stated, and that
I still feel very grateful to her for having my head on my
shoulders to-night, to tell you the story. Fill up, gentle-
men, and here is to the very good health of the Guerrilla

" So you would like to know how I first became ac-
quainted with my bride ?" said an old friend of mine, by the
name of George Carson, whom I met on his bridal tour.
" Well, ' thereby hangs a tale ;' and as the story is both
romantic and tragic, and has a moral, you shall have it.

" Shortly after the ' gold fever' broke out in California,"
pursued my friend, " I was, as you know, among the first
to venture into that then almost unknown region, with a
view to amassing wealth, by what I at that time regarded
as the very simple process of digging up gold by tbe
bushel. I arrived out there, -as you also know, with a
select party of friends, and forthwith we set off for the
mines. Having fixed upon a locality, we all went to work
in high spirits, and continued together about a month ; by
which time we had made the not very agreeable discovery
that c all is not gold that glitters ;' and that, even in the
gold regions, there is an immense amount of earth which
has nothing in it that can glitter.

" Up to the time named, though working industriously,


we had not cleared the expenses of living to say nothing
of the expenses of our outward voyage and consequently
we all began to grow querulous and argumentative. One
said the gold was here, and another said it was thepe, and
a third that it was nowhere at least in a sufficient quantity
to pay for the trouble of unearthing it. Gold was there,
without question, for we had actually seen some but not
in such chunks as we had grappled in our dreams and
though we all felt satisfied that if we had the mines at
home, and could get our board for a dollar a week, we
might make a respectable living by digging and washing
it, yet we were by no means satisfied we could do the same
in California.

" But then, if we could believe the stories of strangers,
who occasionally passed through our camp, there were
solid veins of solid gold in every place except where we
were ; and as nearly every man of us had an idea that he
knew best how to find solid veins, we divided our party
into pairs, and set off ' prospecting' for these wonder-
ful localities. My partner and I, not finding ours very
readily, soon began to differ in opinion ; and at length he
went one way, and I another. After searching for a day
or two longer, I fortunately fixed upon a spot which turned
out the golden ore to some considerable profit ; and* I
began and continued to work alone for a week luckily


shooting game enough in the vicinity to supply the most
pressing wants of nature.

" My solitary camp was none of the pleasantest, however,
especially at night ; and though now doing well exceed-
ingly, and flattering myself that I should some day be a
gentleman of means, it was not with the same regret that
Robinson Crusoe discovered the ' tracks in the sand,' that
I one day found myself joined by a young and rather deli-
cate-looking stranger, with black hair and eyes, and pale,
classical, intellectual features.

" Henry Gordon for such was his name was a native
of New England, who had come hither to get rich simply,
as he expressed it, that he might put himself on an
equality with a young and beautiful heiress, whose merce-
nary parents were decidedly opposed to their only daughter
throwing herself away upon one in indigent circumstances.
He was about four-and-twenty years of age, had received
a good education, and was refined in manner and senti-
ment ; and the more I saw of him, the better I liked him,
and consequently, the more I reflected upon the purse pride
of human nature, which could not regard one man, while
in the image of his Maker, as good as another, simply
because he had not the same amount of this world's dross,
of the yellow dust we were so industriously seeking.

"Henry Gordon and I continued together for several
weeks one or the other of us going below to obtain the


necessary articles for subsistence, after the game had be-
come so scarce as to require too much of our time in pro-
curing it; and during this period I became greatly
attached to him, and deeply sympathized with all his

" ' Shall I ever become rich and get back to my native
land ?' he would frequently say, in a desponding mood ;
'shall I ever look upon my dear Agnes as her equal in
wealth ? and shall I find her true to the lonely wanderer ?
She promised to be true she promised to wait for me
wait years for me, if necessary. I believe she sincerely
loved me, and had none of the selfish feelings of her
parents ; but oh ! it is so long to wait ! And I am so
unhappy here ! so miserable I This labor is not fitted to
one of my delicate organization ; and I sometimes think
I shall find my grave in California, and breathe my last
breath among strangers, afar from her for whose sake I
came hither.'

" I encouraged him as well as I could, and bade him not
despair. I told him we were doing well where we were ;
and though it might take a long time to get rich by
digging gold, yet I thought that a sufficient capital might
soon be realized, to enable him to start in some kind of
business, by which he could make money faster, and easier,
and more congenial to his feelings ; and as wealth would


suddenly be acqufred by some, I saw no reason why he and
I might not be among the fortunate few.

" The hard work of the mines, however, and exposure to
the weather to heats, and damps, and sudden changes,
and the irregular fare of the mountains did not agree
with him. Somewhat sickly when he came, he grew paler
and more sickly every day ; and at last he fell quite ill, and
was obliged to suspend his labors. I attended him as well
as I could ; and he recovered so as to be able to leave the
mines, but not to resume his occupation there.

"All this time he was much mentally depressed, and
continually talked of his Agnes, but in a tone of deeper
despondency than ever, and sometimes praying that he
might live to return, if only to see her again ere bidding
adieu to earth.

"'If I cannot acquire wealth,' he would say 'If I
cannot win her if we cannot unitedly pass through the
vale of life together then the next happiness I pray for,
is, that I may die in her native clime, and be buried where
she may sometimes look upon my solitary grave V

"At last, after thanking me, with tearful eyes, for all
the kindness I had shown to him, he bade me farewell ;
and taking with him his hardly-earned gold, he set off for
San Francisco.

" Months passed on, and I continued among the moun-
tains, changing my locality from time to time, and on the


whole, meeting with very fair success, till the rainy season
set in ; when, flattering myself that, with the capital I now
had, I could do better in some more congenial pursuit, I
set off for San Francisco also..

" Shortly after my arrival there, as I was passing down
the principal street, which then consisted of mere shanties
and booths, a familiar voice hailed me ; and as I turned
around, Henry Gordon bounded up and grasped me by
the hand.

"'My dear fellow,' he said, 'I am so delighted to see
you ! for I had begun to fear that you had got sick and
perished among the mines. But you are looking remark-
ably well, and I hope you have been prosperous according
to your deserts !'

" I replied that I had no reason to complain, and that it
gave me great pleasure to be able to congratulate him in
return upon his healthy appearance.

"'Yes/ he rejoined, 'I am better than ever, in every
way mentally, physically, and pecuniarily. I have got
my health, my energies, and my hopes, and am now on the
fair road to fortune and happiness. I came down here
with the little means I had, set quickly to work in a small
way, buying and selling, and, being favored by fortune, am
now worth my thousands. Do you see that large shanty
yonder ?' pointing down the street. ' Well, that and all it

contains is mine. Come, my friend, you shall make your



home with me ; and if you wish to start in business, I will
put you in the way to make a fortune.'

" ' And what of Agnes V said I, as I accompanied him
to his new business home, where I found a couple of clerks
busy in disposing of goods at rates which I fancied might
make any man wealthy in a very short time.

" ' Ah ! good news of her !' he said, with sparkling eyes ;
' better news than I had hoped ; for I have received a
letter from her, in reply to mine, in which she states that
her father has been unfortunate in business, and is now
reduced to want. Carson, this is glorious news to me !
and it will be the proudest and happiest day of my life,
when I shall once more reach my native land, and take her
hand, and assure her mercenary parents that now the poor
outcast can give her riches beyond their wildest dreams of
wealth ! Oh, George, I must get rich very rich ! My
ambition now aspires to the position of a millioiiare, that I
may build a palace for my Agnes, and lord it over the
purse-proud fools who despised me in my day of poverty,
and thought me beneath them, merely because I had not
the talisman I now possess ! Oh, it will be a glorious
triumph for Agnes and me !'

"'But have a care, Gordon,' returned I; ' do not seek
too much ! Remember the fable of the golden eggs !'

" ' Oh, I will be cautious ! and yet I will be bold !' he
rejoined, with spirit and pride. ' Aladdin's lamp is in my


baud ! and I will grow rich very rich ! and yet a year
from this shall see me homeward bound ! Come, let us
crack a bottle of wine together, and drink a toast to my
glorious Agnes I After that we will talk over your pros-
pects ; for you must grow rich also, and go back with me,
and enjoy my triumph! You were my first and only
friend here,' he added, with faltering voice and tearful
eyes ; ' and, save Agnes, you shall be first in my heart
there for Henry Gordon is one who can never forget a

" I remained in San Francisco several months, making
my home with Gordon, and entering into various specula-
tions, some of which proved successful, and some other-
wise ; so that, at the end of the period named, I found, on
summing up, I had come out about even the only money
I had really made being what I had dug from the earth.

" He, however, had been more prosperous for, like the
* fabled Midas, every thing he touched seemed turned to
gold. In consequence of this repeated good fortune, he
grew more sanguine, and venturesome to a degree that
startled me, for I was afraid some unlucky venture might
ruin him. But whenever I warned him, he laughed at my
fears, and frequently replied :

" ' Have I not often told you that I hold the lamp of
Aladdin ?

" Another thing gave me not a little uneasiness : the


more he acquired, the more he seemed to want ; and
though he now possessed far beyond what at first his most
sanguine hopes had told him he could obtain, yet he
seemed as far as ever from arriving at the ultimate of his
desires ; and eager to gain, by any and every means, he
began to resort to the gambling hells, (which now loomed
thickly up around us, with the blasting and desolating
power of the deadly upas,) and there he staked largely
and excitedly, and rode, as it seemed, a triumphant con-
queror even over the very fates themselves.

" Finding I had not bettered my condition in the settle-
ment, I finally resolved upon a return to the mines ; and
with many an earnest word of caution to my now sanguine
friend, I took leave of him. As my story, however, relates
more directly to him than myself, I pass over the interval
of my absence, which was several months.

" On my return to town, I sought the quarters of Henry
Gordon with no little anxiety. I found his place of busi-
ness looking less thriving than usual ; but he himself, as I
had feared, was not there. On my inquiring for him, I
was directed to a large and magnificent saloon or golden-
paved hell which had of late become his constant resort.

"I did not seek him there immediately for I had
business which took me another way; but the following
evening, observing the place in question brilliantly lighted
up, I ventured in ; and there, one among a large crowd



which surrounded a faro bank, I discovered my friend,
betting heavily, and all eyes turned upon him. He stood
in such a position that the light shone clear and full upon
his features ; and it was with a start of surprise, and a
pang of sorrow, that I now looked upon his pale, almost
ghastly face, with its compressed lips, knitted brows, and
eager, fiery eyes, which he kept fixed upon the cards in the
hands of the dealer. His fortune had turned I could see
that plainly ; and with the wild, maddened desperation of
one conscious of the fact and that, if he could not re-
cover, by a bold stroke, what he had lost, he was a ruined
man he was now staking his all upon what proved liter-
ally to be the chance of life and death.

" Spell-bound by his singular appearance, I stood, for a
few minutes, gazing sadly upon his altered countenance,
and secretly cursing the vice which had become his bane.
At length, just as I was about to push forward to him, to
drag him away from his doom, he staggered back, and
pressed his convulsively-working fingers to his forehead,
while large beads of perspiration gathered upon his
agonized features. The next moment I heard him ex-
claim in a voice of despair, whose tones seem yet to ring
in my ears :

" ' Oh, my God ! I am a ruined man

"The crowd made way for him to pass a few with

looks of compassion, but more with smiles of derision



for these were the men who had sought his ruin, and could
glory in their success.

" I pushed eagerly forward, and grasped his hand.

" ' My dear fellow,' said I, ' come with me.'

"At first he did not recognize me, but threw me from
him with violence, saying :

" ' Begone, fiend ! I am ruined already what more
would you have ?'

"'Henry,' returned I, soothingly, "do you not know
your friend, George Carson ?'

" He swept his fingers quickly across his eyes, as if
brushing awav a mist, and replied, in a hollow, agonized
voice :

" 'George Carson, is this you ! I thought it was another
I took you for the fiend in human shape, who first
tempted me to my destruction ! George,' he pursued,
hurriedly, grasping my arm, and dragging me apart from
the crowd ' George, I am a ruined man ruined for this
world and the next I I have lost all all every thing !
fortune hope happiness my Agnes !'

" ' But you can easily retrieve all, Henry, if vou will but
keep away from these dens of iniquity.'

"'No! no!' he somewhat wildly rejoined; 'it is too
late ! too late ! too late ! George, I am glad you are here.
I wanted to see a friend, but never expected to again.
Here take this ring and if you ever return to the States,


seek out Agnes Waltham, and tell her it came from me,
with my blessing 1'

" ' What means this strange language, Henry ?' said I,
beginning to grow alarmed : ' surely you will take it back

" ' I may not live,' he muttered, turning aside his face.
' Promise me, if I do not live, and you ever return, you
will seek out Agnes, and give her that ring, with my
blessing ! promise me, George Carson, in God's holy
name !'

" 'I do, Henry I solemnly promise! But surely you
have some covert meaning to these strange words ! Come !
you must come with me ! I will not leave you for a single
moment, till you are calmer and more like yourself.'

" 'But you have promised me, George, have you not?
sworn to me, if any thing should happen, that you will
give that ring to Agnes, with my blessing ?'

" ' I have promised, Henry I have sworn. So come !
let us leave this scene of vice.'

" ' One moment !' he said ; and turning quickly on his
heel, he pushed eagerly into the crowd, which had again
closed around the faro bank.

"Almost the next moment I was startled by the report
of a pistol, followed by exclamations of horror ; and with
a presentiment of the worst, I bounded forward, just in
time to see them raising poor Henry Gordon from the


table, upon which he had fallen shot through the brain
by his own hand literally the gambler's victim sacri-
ficed on the very altar of unholy desires I

" I kept my promise," concluded my friend, " and gave
the ring to Agnes Waltham and another on her wedding
day for the first love of Henry Gordon is now the wife
of him who rejoiced in his prosperity, grieved over his
fatal vice, and bitterly mourned his untimely end."

ACCIDENTALLY meeting one day with an old school-mate,
whom I had lost sight of for a number of years, I learned
in the first few minutes of our conversation that he had
been a traveling colporteur, but had lately married and
settled in the West, turned storekeeper, and was now on
a visit to some of his friends at the East.

To some very natural inquiries which I made, he replied
by telling me the following thrilling and romantic incident :

"The life of a colporteur," he began, " is a very hard and
trying one. Traveling from place to place, as he does,
through the more thinly-peopled sections of the country ;
imitating his Great Master so far as to be with the poor
always ; selling his religious works where he can giving
them away where money is wanting and he sees a chance
of their doing good ; holding meetings in the wilderness,
perhaps a hundred miles from any regular church or pastor;
visiting the sick ; officiating for the dead ; endeavoring to
console the mourner ; exposed to heat and cold, sunshine



and storm ; sometimes riding the whole day without food,
and .often passing the night in the most unhealthy and
wretched quarters ; continually meeting with incidents and
accidents of the most disagreeable nature ; now receiving
the blessings of the good, and anon the bitter curses of the
bad : all this, my friend, is very trying to one poor human

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Online LibraryEmerson BennettForest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier → online text (page 17 of 22)