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- THE VALIANT RUNAWAYS - 10/26 -
sailed away they certainly looked, under the heavy shadow of the banks and the black-blue of the sky, like an army of men swimming with the desperate haste of terror, their heads alone above water.
"Now!" cried Anastacio, "to the mountains."
They had brought only pack-horses. There was nothing to do but run, and Anastacio, driving his entire following ahead of him, sped to cover. It was not twenty minutes before they heard a sharp volley of musketry, and if their breath had not been short they would have laughed aloud at the success of Roldan's strategy. The sky was turning grey as they reached the straggling outposts of the forest on the mountain. The firing had ceased. Their ruse had doubtless been discovered.
"We will hide for twenty-four hours and rest," Anastacio said to Roldan, who was the only person he condescended to hold converse with, although he allowed Adan to sun himself in his presence. "By that time, too, I shall know their numbers. If they are many I'll draw them into the mountains and fire from ambush. If few, they shall have open fight."
"You will let us see it?" asked Roldan, eagerly. "Of course I cannot fight my own people; but I don't want to be sent to the pueblo, and I do want to see a fight."
Anastacio hesitated. "Bueno," he said, "I owe you much. You give me the word of the California don that unless I am killed you will not run away?"
"I promise. There is nothing else to do. That is to say, I promise not to run away before this battle is over."
"That is what I mean," said Anastacio, curtly. "Now we will sleep."
He disposed his men in the forest above a narrow, rocky canon into which the enemy would hardly venture. Roldan volunteered to keep watch with the two sentinels, and returned with them to the outskirts of the forest. The enemy was marching steadily across the valley. After a time they halted, and lay down for a time. Early in the afternoon they resumed march, then halted again within a mile of the mountain, sending two scouts ahead. By this time Anastacio had joined his sentinels, and all four hid in the underforest between the great trees.
The scouts, keeping as much under cover as was possible, crept up the lower spur of the mountain, their glance describing a constant half- circle. When they were within a few feet of the fugitives, Anastacio raised his bow and discharged two arrows in rapid succession. One buried itself in the jugular of the foremost scout, and he huddled down among the soft leaves without a cry. The other, equally well aimed, entered the shoulder of the second scout, where it quivered violently for a few seconds, then was torn forth and flung to the ground with a cry of defiance. The Californian, disregarding his wound, raised himself to his full height and pointed his pistol. But vaguely: the quiet, feathery young redwoods told no tales. Then his eye fell upon his dead brother. He turned and fled.
"They will not enter the forest," said Anastacio; "and when I am ready they will fight, not before. Have you pencil and paper, senor?"
Roldan produced a treasured note-book that a relative had brought him from Boston.
"Write," said the chief; and he dictated:--
SENOR DON CAPITAN,--At noon to-morrow we fight in the valley near the eight oak trees and the two madronos. Do you wish to fight sooner you can come into the mountains. It will be better for us. ANASTACIO.
He tore out the leaf, crawled down the mountain as non-apparently as a python, and pinned it high on an outstanding redwood, then returned and told his sentinels to sleep, replacing them with others.
That evening Anastacio called Roldan to him.
"I fear treachery," he said. "Who can trust five hundred men that have learned too much? And the white men, they have better brains than mine. I watch to-night. Will you watch with me, senor?--that I can sleep before morning and rest for the fight."
"I will," said Roldan, enthusiastically. "And Adan also?"
"It matters not."
When the dusk was so thick in the aisles that every moving frond looked like a man looming suddenly, one of the sentinels returned with the news that the paper had been taken from the tree, and that the Californians had pitched tents, and to all appearance were at rest for the night.
It was not likely that the enemy would venture into the forest at night. They were not a large body, they were not pressed for time, nor were they the heroes of many wars. The Indians were comparatively safe until morning; nevertheless, Anastacio was too good a general to relax vigilance. When night came he and the two boys went down the mountain and sent the outpost back to sleep. They ventured out where the trees grew far apart, and the brilliant stars of California illumined the great valley like so many thousand watch-fires.
The three sat down side by side, their gaze directed steadily downward and outward.
"Why do you fight at all?" asked Roldan. "You could stay in these mountains until the Californians were dust, and not be caught."
"And live like hunted beasts. I like the valley; the sun in winter, the cool mountains in summer. If I am victor to-morrow, all the Indians in California will call me chief. They will run here from every Mission and hacienda, and from every hill and mountain, like little ones to their good father; and we will drive the priests out of the country, and make the hidalgos, the caballeros, the soft silk-dressed donas our friends or our slaves--as they wish. California belongs to us. The Great Spirit put us here, not the white man. If it was for them why did they not grow out of the earth as we did? Why were we put here at all if our land was not for us? We were happy until these priests came to drive us mad making boots and mud bricks and wine all day, driven like dogs to the kennel, flogged when we wanted to lie in the sun--"
"But, Anastacio," interrupted Roldan, who had listened to this strange outburst with the vague consciousness that the soul of an expiring race had opened its lips for a brief moment, "you are far more clever than most Indians. If it were not for the priests you would be no better than the most ignorant of them."
"If I am clever now, senor, was I not clever in the beginning? You do not make cake out of bran. The Great Spirit sent his light into me and said: 'Thou shalt be a great chief.' I could have done as well and better without the priests. What good did it do me to read and tell my beads and make chocolate? Was I happy at the Mission? Not for one moon, senor. I felt as if I had a wild beast chained in me that choked and panted for the free life of my youth, of my fathers. I ran away from the Mission twenty-three times--and was brought back and flogged. Many times I would have crushed my head with a stone had it not been that all the other Indians of the Mission ran to me like dogs, and that I could make them tremble with a word and obey with a look. I knew that the Great Spirit had given me what these poor creatures had not, and that one day I would give California to them again. It has begun."
"But we have better things to eat and drink and more comfortable houses and clothes than you have in your pueblos. I like what the priests call 'civilisation.'"
"It is for the white man, not for the Indian with a skin like the earth and a heart like the wild-cat. If we did not know of fine bread and thin wine and heavy shoes and cursed bags about our legs we should not want them. Padre Flores says that he and the other priests came here to make us happy. Why not let us be happy in our own way? We needed no teaching."
Years after, Roldan, who grew to know the world well and many men, recalled the conversation of that night, and meditated upon the strange workings of the human mind: the fundamental philosophy of life differs little in the brain of the savage and the brain of the student-thinker.
"We are told that we must progress, grow better," he said.
"Hundreds and hundreds of years Indians lived and died here before the priests came. All legends say they were happy. Now they 'progress,' and suffer--in the body and in the spirit. One life is for us, another for you. Should the white man have many children and children's children until all the mountains and valleys of California are his, then will all the Indians die, even though they are treated well for they are slaves-- no more. Are they happy? For what were they made? To be slaves and die from the earth before they are threescore and ten, to be no more remembered than the beasts of the field?"
"I hope you'll win to-morrow," cried Roldan, his young mind moved to pity, and profoundly disturbed. "You can never get California away from the Spaniard, and I can't wish you to; but you might, if you rallied all the Indians to you, become powerful enough to live in the way you like best, and I hope you will. Why should men say: 'I am better than you; I will make you like myself?' How do we know? I have ridden like the wind, and coliared a bull with the best vaquero in the Californias, but I am afraid my mind has had fifteen years of siesta. Now--well, I shall be governor of the Californias one day, and then I shall send all the Indians back to the mountains."
Anastacio put out his hand, and the two civilisations decreed by Nature to stand apart from the beginning to the end of time clasped in brief friendship.
"I will be your friend," said the Indian, "and the white man need not despise the friendship of a great chief. California is a fair land. Others will come to it besides the Spaniard. If Anastacio has thousands of Indians to run to his call they will fight when he bids them."
"Caramba! you are right," exclaimed Roldan. "Those Americans--"
"American boys?" asked Adan, eagerly.
"Now," said Anastacio, "I sleep. Awake me when the sky turns grey."
He stretched himself out and slept at once. The boys drew close together and speculated upon the fateful morrow. They agreed to remain close together, out of sight of the enemy, but where they could watch the Indian forces. If Anastacio fell they would flee at once.
The small Californian force--it numbered little over two hundred men--
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