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In The Hands Of
The Cave Dwellers

BY G. A. HENTY [1900]

Chapter Titles.

Chapter 4
A Great Ranch

Antonio had indeed been charged to make light of the fight in the pass.

"My father is almost sure to mount and ride out to meet me," Juan said to him before starting. "You can say we had a skirmish with some brigands in the hills, and that I have a slight flesh wound in the shoulder, but do not say more about it until he has started to meet you. Then you can do to the huts and break the news of the death of Lopez and Pedro to their wives, but keep them from going anywhere near the house till I arrive. I don't wish my mother to know anything about it till I see her. If she heard that two of the men had been killed she would at once imagine that I had been badly wounded and that you were concealing the truth from her. Of course, you will tell them, Antonio, that I am bringing a friend with me."

Senor Sarasta and his daughter came up. Will Harland reined in his horse a little so as to allow his companion to meet his friends alone. Juan checked his horse and dismounted as they came up to them, and they, too, leaped from their horses.

"Welcome home again, Juan!: his father said, embracing him in Spanish fashion; while the girl killed him with warm affection.

"So I hear from Antonio that you have had trouble on the way and have lost some blood."

"'Tis only a flesh wound, sir, but just at present it is smarting a good deal. Riding over those mountains is not the best thing in the world, even for a trifling wound. Now I wish to introduce you to my friend, Do William Harland, and American gentleman, who has done me vital service, as I will presently relate to you."

Will had also dismounted, and was standing by his horse, some fifteen yards away. Juan's father walked across to him, and, lifting his sombrero, said:

"As a friend of my son, senor, I welcome you most warmly, the more so since he tells me that you have rendered him a signal service, though of what nature I am not aware, but in any case, as his friend you are mine, and I beg you to consider my house as your own. This is my daughter, Donna Clara."

Will removed his sombrero and bowed deeply, while the girl made a ceremonious salute.

"Now let us mount and ride on," Senor Sarasta said. "Your mother will be anxiously expecting you, Juan. We have been looking for you the past two days. But where are your other two men?"

"I am sorry to say, father, that they were both killed," Juan replied.

"Killed!" the haciendero repeated; while the girl uttered an exclamation of horror.

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"Why, Antonio only spoke of the attack upon you as a trifle!"

"I told him to do so, sir. I did not wish for you or my mother to be alarmed. She might will have imagined that the wound was much more serious than he reported; but it was a serious affair. We were ambushed by a party of nine men in the upper part of the pass in the hills beyond Monterey. The two men were killed by their first fire. We took to the rocks. My friend here shot their leader and one of the men. I shot another, but should not have been much further use, for one of them fired almost at the same instant that I did, and his bullet cut my arm from the elbow to the shoulder. It is not at all a serious wound, but it disabled the arm for a time. However, the fall of their leader settled the affair. The other six men, finding that they could not get away without a certainty of being shot, surrendered, coming out one by one and throwing down their weapons in the road and then going down the pass singly. I was obliged to let them go, for they were still superior to us in number, and we could no more show ourselves out of shelter than they could. Some at least of us might have fallen had the fight gone on."

"Well, let us mount," the don said. "You must tell me all about it later on. The first thing to do is to have your wound seen to. Padre Hidalgo is a famous hand at such matters."

"Well, senor," he went on to Will, as they cantered along, "I can quite understand now that the service that you rendered to my son is a valuable one, for had you not shot the leader of these rascals, to say nothing of some of the others, the fight might have terminated very differently."

"That is certainly so," Juan said, "but that was not the service to which I alluded. Don William and I made our first acquaintance in the streets of San Diego after nightfall. I was returning through the quarter by the port when I was attacked suddenly by four cut-thoats. I was defending myself as well as I could, but should certainly have been killed had not this gentleman, who was an entire stranger to me, ran up and leveled one of my assailants to the ground with a blow from a stick he carried, and broke the wrist of another. The third, turning to defend himself, I disposed of, and the other ran away."

"By the saints! you seem to have had a hot time of it, Juan, and , indeed, we have all good reason to be most grateful to your preserver. Senor Harland, my obligations to you are infinite - such as I can never repay."

"Really, senor, you are making more of the matter than it is worth," Will said earnestly. "I was going quietly along when I heard shouts and exclamations, and felt that someone was being attacked. I ran forward, and, seeing four men attacking one, had no difficulty in deciding who were the aggressors, and without hesitation joined in. As I took them by surprise, and, in fact, disposed of two of them before they could attack me, while almost at the same moment Juan killed another, the affair was over almost before it began.

It was not a quarter of a minute from the time I came up to that in which the fourth man was running off at top speed. I have already benefited very largely by the affair, having gained thereby the friendship of your son, the hospitality of his friend, Senor Guzman, and the opportunity of make this journey and paying you a visit. As to the affair in the mountain, I was defending my own life also, and our success was as important to me as to him."

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“It is well for you to make light of it, sir, but whether the first affair lasted a quarter of a minute or a quarter of an hour, the result was the same. Your quickness and courage in thus plunging into a street fray on behalf of a stranger saved my son's life, as doubtless did the shot that killed the leader of the party attacking you. It is strange, indeed, that he should have met with two such adventures in course of a week. Possibly, Juan, the one was a sequel to the other, and those engaged in it may have been the comrades of the men who attacked you at San Diego, and who thus assaulted you to obtain revenge for their mishap there."

"That was so, father. Both attacks were the work of one man, who, I am happy to say, will trouble me no more, as he was the leader of the second attack - the man whom Senor Harland shot."

"But who is the man, and what could have been his motive for thus attacking you?"

"I only suspected the first time, father, and until I looked at the man Harland had shot I was not sure of it. Happily none of the men who acted for him are likely to open their lips on the matter, and no one else will have a suspicion. Had it been otherwise we might have had a good deal of trouble over it, for the man was Captain Enriques Melos."

Sarasta looked grave.

"As you say, that would lead to serious trouble were it known, although, clearly, you were not to blame in the matter; but what was the reason of his enmity against you?"

"He was a suitor for Donna Christina Guzman's hand, father."

"Ah, ah, that explains it! Well, we will think no more of it at present; but what did you do with the body?"

"We piled rocks over it; there is no fear of his being discovered, and as he certainly would not have mentioned to anyone his intention of murdering me on my way home, no search is likely to be made in that direction."

"That is well. Of course I received your letter, Juan, and sent off a messenger at once to Senor Guzman, giving my and your mother's hearty consent to the match, which indeed pleased us much."

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Two or three minutes later they arrived at the hacienda, in front of which a number of servants employed in the gardens and stables had gathered to welcome their young master back after his nine months' absence. As they dismounted, Donna Sarasta appeared at the door. Juan ran up the steps and tenderly embraced her; Senor Sarasta then led Will up.

"Your first welcome, my dear, should have been given to this gentleman, Senor William Harland, for had it not been for him you would not have Juan by your side now. He has twice saved his life."

"Twice saved his life!" Donna Sarasta exclaimed incredulously, "Is it possible, Philip?"

"It is quite true," her husband said gravely, "Had it not been for him Juan would never have returned to us. Do not be alarmed; the danger is over, for the author of these attacks has fallen by Don William's rifle."

The lady held out both hands to Will. The tears were streaming down her cheeks.

"Senor," she said, "I cannot thank you now. Remember that it is our only son's life that you have saved. Think of what we should have felt had he not returned, and our men had brought us news of his death. May the Blessed Virgin reward you and bless you! Give my your arm, Philip, I am faint."

Her husband and son supported her into the house and placed her on a couch.

"Look after your mother, Clara," the Mexican said, as two female attendants came in.

"Sancho, go and call Father Hidalgo down from his study. Doubtless he is unaware that my son has returned. Tell him that he is to bring bandages and salves, for there is a wound to be dressed. He will find my son in the dining-room. Do one of you fetch basins of hot water and sponges there. Now, Senor Harland, I will lead you to your room. Doubtless a bath will be agreeable to you after your journey."

Will was glad to be out of the way during this family meeting, and willingly followed his host, who took him to a large chamber on the first floor. A bath stood ready to be filled, with towels and all conveniences.

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"I told them to put a suit of Juan's clothes in readiness. I did not know whether they would fit, but I have no doubt they will do so. They will save you the trouble of opening your bag till evening. And now, if you will excuse me, I will go down and look at the boy's wound."

"We'', luck favoured me, indeed," Will said to himself, as he looked round the room before proceeding to undress, "A fortnight ago there was I, a runaway lad without plans, in a strange country, with nothing but my kitbag and some ninety pounds to rely upon. Now I am in clover, with a good friend, a welcome assured as long as I choose to stay here, and an amount of gratitude that seems to be almost ridiculous, considering that it is all the result of my interfering in a street row, just as I might have done in any other port. At any rate, I shall have some new experiences to tell about when I get home. I shall certainly like the senor; he has been so long here that he has shaken off the indolent air and the formal constraint that almost all these Spanish people have, and is much more like an American than an Englishman. The mere fact of his having settled in this out-of-the-way valley is proof that he has a lot of go and pluck.

"Of course I can't tell much about his wife yet; she is naturally upset at the thought of Juan's danger. As to his sister, she is ever so much prettier than his sweetheart, though certainly Christina Guzman is pretty, too. She hardly said a word after her first welcome to him - I suppose she was too upset to talk, and will brighten up when she finds that Juan's wounds are really trifling. Well, I expect I shall have a jolly time of it here, and get some shooting and hunting. It will be great fun among all these herds of wild cattle. The first thing to do will be to learn to ride properly. I should not like to have all these Mexican fellows laughing at me. At any rate, I have learned something on our way here. I will get Juan to go out alone with me for abut till I can be sure of sticking on. From what he was saying, some of their horses must be brutes to set, especially those who jump straight up into the air, and keep on doing it until they get rid of their riders."

Having taken a bath and dressed very leisurely, he went downstairs again, feeling pleased that Juan's clothes fitted him so well, and that it was not necessary for him to get out his own, for, although new, they would certainly not look so well after their journey in the kit-bag as did the spotless white garments that had been provided for him.

He found Clara alone in the patio. This hacienda, like most of its kind, was a large square building with a courtyard in its centre. In this case the patio had been transformed into a shady little garden, with orange-trees, bananas, and other tropical productions. Grapevines climbed round the light pillars that supported the veranda that surrounded it, and covered its rood with a mass of foliage dotted with great purple brunches of grapes. Two of three little fountains were half-hidden among the trees, and the air was heavy with the scent of the orange and citron flowers.

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"My father and mother will be down directly, senor." she said; "the bell will ring for the mid-day meal in a few minutes."

"What a lovely little garden this is!" Will said cheerfully, for he saw that the girl was nervous and embarrassed. "You would not see anything like this in the east, even under glass."

The girl was silent for a few moments, and then broke out:

"I hope you do not think me ungrateful, senor, that I have said nothing to thank you for what you did for my brother, but it was not that. It was because I felt that if I were to say a word I should break out crying. We love each other dearly, Juan and I, and it was so awful to think that I might never have seen him all again;" and she stopped, with her eyes full of tears.

"I quite understand, " he said; "and, indeed, I have been very much more than sufficiently thanked by your father and mother. As for my share in the matter, it was really not worth talking about. I am a sailor, you know, and I am sorry to say that sailors when in port are often in the habit of getting into rows, and I have half a dozen times at least, when in foreign ports, taken part in a scrimmage when I saw drunken sailors engaged in a broil with others, and have had to fight very much harder than I did at San Diego, where, in point of face, so far as I was concerned, there was really no fighting at all. I do not say that your brother might not have come off very badly if I had not happened to come along, but there was really no shadow of a risk to myself. A couple of blows and it was all over; and I do hope that no one will say any more in the way of thanking me."

At this moment Senor Sarasta, his wife and Juan, all came out together.

"Well, Juan, how do you feel now?" Will asked, well pleased at their arrival.

"I feel a different man altogether," the young Mexican replied. "A warm bath first and then the padre's salves have done wonders for me and in a week I shall have forgotten all about it."

The rest of the day was spent in sauntering or sitting in the gardens round the house. They were of the Spanish fashion, containing but few flowers except those borne by the fruit-trees, and resembling shrubberies and orchards rather than gardens, shad being the principal object aimed at. During the afternoon Will told his friend of his desire to become a good horseman.

"I will put you in charge of Antonio; we have no better rider on the ranch. He will put you though a course, beginning with comparatively well-broken bronchos, until you can set the worst buckers on the plains; but you must not mind a few heavy falls at first."

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"I shall not mind that a bit, Juan. Sailors have the knack of falling lightly."

"Ah, well, he will choose a spot where the grass is long and the ground soft for your lessons, and I can tell you it makes a good deal of difference whether you come off on ground like that or on a spot where there is next to no grass, and the ground is as hard as a brick. I have no doubt that in the course of two or three weeks you will, if you stick to it, be able to ride almost anything."

"You need not be afraid of my not sticking to it, Juan. I certainly should not like to look like a fool to your vaqueros, still less before your mother and sister."

Accordingly next morning Will's lessons began in a meadow close to the stream, and half a mile away from the house. At first he was thrown an innumerable number of times, for he had told Antonio to bring with him some fairly restive horses.

"It is of no use my spending my time on quiet animals," he said. "I have just had a week's riding on one of them. I may as well begin with a fairly bad one at once; it only means a few more throws. I have got to learn to hold on, and the sooner I begin that the better."

"With beginners we sometimes put a strap from them to hold on by, senor."

Will shook his head. "I don't want anything of that sort," he said. "I want to be able to stick on by my knees."

"It is more by properly balancing yourself than by holding on," the man said. "If you always keep your balance you will come straight down again into the saddle, no matter how high he throws you, and there is no doubt that the tighter you hold on by your knees the more heavy are the throws that you will get."

"I can understand that, Antonio. Now I am ready to begin."

Will had expected to find it difficult, but he was fairly astounded by the rapidity and variety of the tricks by which he was again and again thrown off. After a time Antonio urged him to give it up for the day, but he insisted on continuing until he was so absolutely exhausted that he could do no more.

"Well, senor," the man said, "you have done wonderfully will for a beginner, and I will guarantee that in another week you will be able to ride any ordinary horse, and in a month you will be able to mount fearlessly any animal that you may come across, except, of course, a few brutes that scarcely a vaquero on the ranch would care to back."

Antonio's opinion was justified. It was ten days before Juan was able to ride again, and by that time William Harland was so far accustomed to the saddle that he was able to accompany him and his father on their excursions to visit the herds and see that all was going on well. He did not, however, give up his lessons with Antonio, devoting three or fours hours a day to the work, and at the end of the month he was able to sit any ordinary bucker without difficulty. After that he practiced for an hour a day on vicious animals, and at the end of three months Antonio said:

"Now, senor, I can do no more for you; that brute that you have been riding the last week is the terror of the ranch, and after sitting him as you have done for the last three days, without his being able to get rid of you once, you can ride anything without fear."

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