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- On the Pampas - 30/47 -
Presently the occupants of the parlor were startled by a sharp cry from Maud, and in another instant she flew into the room, rushed at a bound to the fireplace, snatched down her light rifle from its hooks over the mantel, and crying, "Quick, Ethel, your rifle!" was gone again in an instant.
Mrs. Hardy and Ethel sprang to their feet, too surprised for the moment to do anything, and then Mrs. Hardy repeated Maud's words, "Quick, Ethel, your rifle!"
Ethel seized it, and with her mother ran to the door. Then they saw a sight which brought a scream from both their lips. Mrs. Hardy fell on her knees and covered her eyes, while Ethel, after a moment's pause, grasped the rifle, which had nearly fallen from her hands, and ran forward, though her limbs trembled so that they could scarcely carry her on.
The sight was indeed a terrible one. At a distance of two hundred yards Hubert was riding for his life. His hat was off, his gun was gone, his face was deadly pale. Behind him rode three Indians. The nearest one was immediately behind him, at a distance of scarce two horses' length; the other two were close to their leader. All were evidently gaining upon him.
Maud had thrown the gate open, and stood by the post with the barrel of her rifle resting on one of the wires. "Steady, Ethel, steady," she said in a hard, strange voice, as her sister joined her; "Hubert's life depends upon your aim. Wait till I fire, and take the man on the right. Aim at his chest."
The sound of Maud's steady voice acted like magic upon her sister; the mist which had swum before her eyes cleared off; her limbs ceased to tremble, and her hand grew steady. Hubert was now within a hundred yards, but the leading Indian was scarce a horse's length behind. He had his tomahawk already in his hand, in readiness for the fatal blow. Another twenty yards and he whirled it round his head with a yell of exultation.
"Stoop, Hubert, stoop!" Maud cried in a loud, clear voice; and mechanically, with the wild war-whoop behind ringing in his ears, Hubert bent forward on to the horse's mane. He could feel the breath of the Indian's horse against his legs, and his heart seemed to stand still.
Maud and her rifle might have been taken for a statue, so immovable and rigid did she stand; and then as the Indian's arm went back for the blow, crack, and without a word or a cry the Indian fell back, struck with the deadly little bullet in the center of the forehead.
Not so silently did Ethel's bullet do its work. A wild cry followed the report: for an instant the Indian reeled in his saddle, and then, steadying himself, turned his horse sharp round, and with his companion galloped off.
[Illustration: HUBERT'S ESCAPE FROM THE INDIANS]
Hubert, as his horse passed through the gate and drew up, almost fell from his seat; and it was with the greatest difficulty that he staggered toward Maud, who had gone off in a dead faint as she saw him ride on alone.
Ethel had sat down on the ground, and was crying passionately, and Terence came running down from the house with a gun in his hand, pouring out Irish threats and ejaculations after the Indians. These were changed into a shout of triumph as Charley stepped from behind the henhouse, as they passed at a short distance, and at the discharge of his double barrels the unwounded Indian fell heavily from his horse.
Anxious as he was to assist his young mistresses, for Hubert was far too shaken to attempt to lift Maud from the ground, Terence stood riveted to the spot watching the remaining Indian. Twice he reeled in the saddle, and twice recovered himself, but the third time, when he was distant nearly half a mile, he suddenly fell off to the ground.
"I thought the murdering thief had got it," muttered Terence to himself, as he ran down to raise Maud, and with the assistance of Sarah to carry her up to the house, against the doorway of which Mrs. Hardy was still leaning, too agitated to trust herself to walk.
Hubert, now somewhat recovered, endeavored to pacify Ethel, and the two walked slowly up toward the house. In a minute or two Charley came running up, and the peons were seen hurrying toward them. After a silent shake of the hand to his brother, and a short "Thank God!" Charley, with his accustomed energy, took the command.
"Hubert, do you and Terence get all the arms loaded at once. Lopez, tell the peons to hurry up the plow oxen, shut them in the enclosure, and padlock all the gates. I will warn you if there's any danger. Then bring all the men and women up here. I am going to run up the danger flag. Papa is out somewhere on the plains." So saying, and taking his Colt's carbine, he ran up the stairs.
In a moment afterward his voice was heard again. "Hubert, Terence, bring all the guns that are loaded up here at once--quick, quick!" and then he shouted loudly in Spanish, "Come in all; come in for your lives!" In another minute they joined him on the tower with Mr. Hardy's long rifle, Hubert's carbine, and their double-barreled shotguns, into each of which Terence dropped a bullet upon the top of the shot. Hubert could scarcely help giving a cry. At a distance of a quarter of a mile Mr. Hardy and Fitzgerald were coming along, pursued by at least a dozen Indians, who were thirty or forty yards in their rear. They were approaching from behind the house, and would have to make a sweep to get round to the entrance, which was on the right, on the side facing the dam. This would evidently give their pursuers a slight advantage.
"They hold their own," Charley said after a minute's silence; "there is no fear. Lopez!" he shouted, "run and see that the outside as well as the inside gates are open."
It has been already said that a low wire fence had been placed at a distance of a hundred yards beyond the inner enclosure, to protect the young trees from the animals. It was composed of two wires, only a foot apart, and was almost hidden by the long grass. It had a low gate, corresponding in position to the inner one. Charley's quick eye saw at once the importance of the position.
"I think you might use the long rifle now," Hubert said; "it might stop them if they feel that they are in reach of our guns."
"No, no," Charley said, "I don't want to stop them; don't show the end of a gun above the wall." Then he was silent until his father was within three hundred yards. He then shouted at the top of his voice, "Mind the outside fence, mind the outside fence!"
Mr. Hardy raised a hand to show that he heard, and as he approached, Charley shouted again, "Sweep well round the fence, well round it, for them to try and cut you off."
Charley could see that Mr. Hardy heard, for he turned his horse's head so as to go rather wide of the corner of the fence. "Now, Hubert and Terence, get ready; we shall have them directly."
Mr. Hardy and his companion galloped past, with the Indians still fifty yards behind them. Keeping twenty yards from the corner of the fence, the fugitives wheeled round to the right, and the Indians, with a cry of exultation, turned to the right also to cut them off. The low treacherous wire was unnoticed, and in another moment men and horses were rolling in a confused mass upon the ground.
"Now," Charley said, "every barrel we have;" and from the top of the tower a rain of lead poured down upon the bewildered Indians. The horses, frightened and wounded, kicked and struggled dreadfully, and did almost as much harm to their masters as the deadly bullets of the whites; and when the fire ceased not more than half of them regained their seats and galloped off, leaving the rest, men and horses, in a ghastly heap. Seeing them in full retreat, the occupants of the tower descended to receive Mr. Hardy and Fitzgerald, Terence much delighted at having at last had his share in a skirmish.
"Well done, boys! Very well planned, Charley!" Mr. Hardy said as he reined in his horse. "That was a near escape."
"Not as near a one as Hubert has had, by a long way, papa."
"Indeed!" Mr. Hardy said anxiously. "Let me hear all about it."
"We have not heard ourselves yet," Charley answered. "It occurred only a few minutes before your own. The girls behaved splendidly; but they are rather upset now. If you will go up to the house to them, I will be up directly, but there are a few things to see about first. Lopez," he went on, "carry out what I told you before: get the men in from the plows and see all secured. Tell them to hurry, for it will be dark soon. Kill a couple of sheep and bring them up to the house; we shall be a large party, and it may be wanted. Then let the peons all have supper. Come up to the house in an hour for instructions. See yourself that the dogs are fastened down by the cattle. Terence, take your place on the lookout, and fire a gun if you see any one moving."
Having seen that his various orders were obeyed, Charley went up to the house. He found the whole party assembled in the sitting-room. Maud and Ethel had quite recovered, although both looked pale. Mrs. Hardy, absorbed in her attention to them, had fortunately heard nothing of her husband's danger until the firing from above, followed by a shout of triumph, told her that any danger there was had been defeated.
"Now, papa," Charley said, "you give us your account first."
"I have not much to tell, Charley. Fitzgerald and I had ridden out some distance--five miles, I should say--when the dogs stopped at a thicket and put out a lion. Fitzgerald and I both fired with our left-hand barrels, which were loaded with ball. The beast fell, and we got off to skin him. Dash barked furiously, and we saw a couple of dozen Indians coming up close to us. We stopped a moment to give them our barrels with duck-shot, and then jumped into our saddles and rode for it. Unfortunately, we had been foolish enough to go out without our revolvers. They pressed us hard, but I was never in fear of their actually catching us; my only alarm was that one of us might repeat my disaster of the armadillo hole. So I only tried to hold my own thirty or forty yards ahead. I made sure that one or other of you would see us coming, and I should have shouted loudly enough, I can tell you, to warn you as I came up. Besides, I knew that at the worst the arms were hanging above the fireplace, and
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