The aztec treasure house, p.9
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       The Aztec Treasure-House, p.9
 

          

  VII.

  THE FIGHT IN THE CANON.

  As we fled along the valley, and in a few moments heard the sound of theIndians pursuing us, my mind was chiefly occupied with considerations ofthe quality which we denominate fear. I perceived that this purelyoccasional passion had a very direct bearing upon my own especialscience of archaeology. I reflected that had I been engaged in building acity at the moment when that irritating flight of arrows fell amongus----the sting of one of which I still felt smarting upon myforehead----I should assuredly have ceased at once the building of thatcity, and should have moved rapidly away. And thus an excellentlywell-built city, that would have delighted archaeologists of the future,would have been lost to the world. Putting the matter yet more closely:here I had just found the sign for which I and my companions had beentoilsomely searching for a considerable time; the sign whichunquestionably would lead us to the most interesting archaeologicaldiscovery that ever had been made. And yet, instead of stopping tostudy this sign earnestly, that I might understand all the meaning ofit, I was hastening away from it with all possible speed; and for nobetter reason than that certain barbarians, whose knowledge ofarchaeology was not even rudimentary, were pursuing me that they mighttake my life--an imperfectly expressed concept, by-the-way; for life canbe taken only in the limited sense of depriving another of it; it cannotbe taken in the full sense of deprivation and acquisition combined.These several reflections so stirred my bile against the Indians inpursuit of us that I began to have a curiously blood-thirsty longing forour actual battling with them to begin; for I was possessed by a mostunscientific desire to balance our account by killing several of them.And I confess that this desire was increased as I looked at the deadbody of poor Dennis, lying limply across the fore-shoulders of Rayburn'shorse.

  It was with real satisfaction, therefore, that I obeyed Rayburn's orderto halt, that we might make ready for the fight to begin. The valley upwhich we had been riding had narrowed by this time into a strait wayshut in between high and nearly perpendicular walls; and the place thatRayburn had chosen for us to make our stand in was the mouth of a canonsetting off from the valley nearly at right angles. The walls of thiscanon came almost together above, far overhanging their bases, so thatassault from overhead was impossible; some fragments of fallen rock madea natural breastwork for us to fight behind; and a little stream ofpure, sweet water flowed at our feet. Had this place been made for usexpressly it could not better have suited our purposes; and finding itso opportunely put fresh heart into us. There was not, of course, ashadow of resemblance between the two, but, somehow, I fancied that theplace where we stood resembled my old class-room at Ann Arbor; and Iactually found myself repeating the opening sentence of the address thatI delivered when I was formally inducted into the Chair of TopicalLinguistics. I mention this fact not because it is of the slightestimportance in this present narrative, but because I think that it wellillustrates the tendency towards illogical association that is socurious a characteristic of the human mind.

  I was not able to observe this phenomenon attentively, for Rayburnhustled us all about so sharply that I had no available time just thenfor abstract thought. The mules and the horses and El Sabio were driveninto the canon, and we were ranged behind the fragments of rock almostin a moment. Each man had his Winchester and revolvers in readiness, anda couple of cases of cartridges had been broken out from the packs andput where we all had easy access to them. While this work was goingforward we could hear the Indians coming hotly up the valley, and wewere barely ready for them when the foremost of their party came insight.

  "Wait a little," said Rayburn, quietly. "They don't know which turnwe've taken, and they'll probably get into a bunch to do some talking,and then we can whack away right into the flock."

  While we were thus making ready I could see that Fray Antonio was ingreat distress of mind. He was a very brave man, and I know that hisstrong desire was to fight with the rest of us. And yet, just as theIndians showed themselves, he deliberately turned his back upon them andwalked away into the canon's depths. His very lips were white, and therewere beads of sweat upon his brow, and I saw that his fingers twitchedconvulsively. I know what he wanted to do, and I saw what he did. Ifever a man showed the high bravery of moral courage, Fray Antonio showedit then. Even Young, in whom I did not look for appreciation of braveryof that sort, said afterwards that it was the pluckiest thing he eversaw.

  As Rayburn had expected, the Indians halted--but keeping more undercover than he had counted upon--and held some sort of a council. But itdid not seem, from what we could see of their gestures, to relate to theway that we might have taken so much as to the canon in which weactually were concealed. They pointed towards the mouth of the canonrepeatedly, and it struck me that in their motions there was a curiousindication of dread or awe. One old man was especially vehement ingestures of this unaccountable nature; and when at last the younger menin the council seemed to revolt against his orders, this man, and allthe older men with him, retired down the valley whence they had come.

  THE FIGHT IN THE CANON]

  The young men, left to themselves, hesitated for a moment, and then witha cry--as though for their own encouragement--came charging towards usin a body. As we got a full view of them we perceived with muchsatisfaction that their only arms were bows and arrows and long spears,and that there were not more than twenty men in the lot. And thenRayburn gave the order to fire. I confess that my hand so trembled as Ipulled the trigger of my rifle that I was not at all surprised to findthat the man whom I had fired at--a very tall, powerful young fellow,who seemed to be in command--was not hit; but a man just behind himdropped, and I had a queer feeling in my throat, and certain oddsensations in my stomach, as I realized that I had shot him. Indeed, Iwas so engrossed with meditations upon the curious ease with which aman's life is let out of him, that I quite forgot for some seconds tocontinue firing. The others, luckily, conducted themselves in a morepractical manner; and the little whirlwind of balls which sped from theWinchesters made it wonderful, not that so many of the Indians fell deador wounded, as that any of them remained alive and unhurt. But eight ofthem did survive their charge in the face of the storm of bullets thatwe pelted at them; and these--headed by the tall fellow, who seemedbullet-proof--came rushing at us over our breastwork of rocks, shoutingand flourishing their long spears.

  I cannot say very accurately what happened during the next five minutesor so, for one of the Indians came directly at me, and before I could atall stop him--for I found that shooting at him with my revolver did himno harm at all; and this struck me as odd, for I had repeatedly hit themark while practising in the corral--he had prodded his spear throughthe fleshy part of my left arm. It hurt severely. He had aimed histhrust, doubtless, at my heart, and he certainly would have penetratedthat vital organ had I not at that moment slipped, and so disarrangedhis aim. He pulled the spear out of my arm, which action also gave megreat pain, and his manner indicated that he was about to thrust it intosome other part of me; which he surely could have done, for I was whollyat a loss as to what measures should be taken to assure my own safety.Indeed, I was very well convinced that my life was as good as ended, anda curious flash of thought went through me that I cannot coherentlyremember, but that was in the nature of a query as to whether or not ina future state the many scientific truths which as yet are butimperfectly understood will be wholly revealed to us.

  However, the opportunity that I confidently expected would be given tome in a moment to obtain an answer to this interesting question did notthen occur. Just as the Indian was lunging at me--I can see his uglyface now, as I close my eyes and let my thoughts turn backward to thatcritical moment--there was a flash of some bright object before me, andthen the Indian's entire head seemed to shut up suddenly, something likean opera-glass, and he went down to the ground like a stone. As Iturned, I saw that my deliverance had come from Pablo, and even in thatvery exciting moment I observed with astonishment that the weapon withwhich he had slain
the Indian was a great jagged sword--if the_maccuahuitl_ can be called a sword--such as the Aztecs used in ancienttimes. I could not then conveniently stop to question him whence he hadobtained that very interesting weapon, for there was another Indianalready close upon me; and I am pleased to say--for I do not wish thebelief to go abroad that scientific men are worse than useless inpractical emergencies--that, without assistance from Pablo or fromanybody else, I managed to pick up my rifle, and with the heavy ironbarrel of that weapon, used clubwise, I mashed the head of that Indianinto a perfect pulp. I know positively that I mashed it into a pulp, forI tried afterwards to measure it, and found that for craniologicalpurposes it was utterly valueless.

  Even had I required Pablo's aid in this encounter he could not possiblyhave given it to me, for he was himself just then very hotly engaged.Indeed, but for assistance that come to him from an unexpected quarterhis life assuredly would have been lost. He was in the act of haulingback to strike at the fellow facing him, and he did not at all know thathe was in imminent danger of a thrust in the back from a wounded wretchwho, having struggled upon his knees, was using what little life wasleft in him to deliver yet another blow. Just at this critical instantit was that Fray Antonio dashed into the thick of the fighting, andcovered Pablo's body with his own against this assault in the rear; sothat, as the Indian struck, the knife only cut through the monk's habitand slightly scratched his arm, instead of making a hole between Pablo'sshoulder-blades that would have let the life out of him. Young, who wasclose beside Pablo, saw what was going on, and checked it before furtherharm was done by turning quickly and shooting off the top of the woundedIndian's head; and then Fray Antonio retired out of the fighting inwhich, without himself striking a blow, he had taken so gallant a part.

  So far as I was concerned, the fight was at an end when I had socleverly mashed the head of my second assailant. No more Indians came atme, and as I looked around I perceived that this was for the excellentreason that there were no more to come. Two were just advancing onYoung; who had them covered with his revolver, and dropped them, oneafter the other, in less time than is required to tell about it. Theonly other survivor among the enemy--at least the only one able to keephis feet--was the tall young chief, and he and Rayburn were justfinishing the last round of what probably was as fine a fight as everwas fought. They were well matched in size and in weight; and if theIndian was any stronger than Rayburn, I can only say that he must havebeen a most wonderfully strong man. They were fighting on even terms;for the Indian was armed only with a short club, that he held in hisleft hand--and this left-handed method made him all the more awkward todeal with--while Rayburn, having emptied his revolver, was using as aclub its heavy barrel.

  As I caught sight of them, the Indian was in the act of springingforward and delivering a tremendous blow; but Rayburn most skilfullyparried this blow by throwing out his rifle, still retained in his lefthand, in such a manner and with such force that the Indian's arm--atthe same time striking and being struck with the iron barrel--was brokenjust above the wrist. He gave a yell of pain, as he well might; but hewas a plucky fellow, and instead of dropping his club he only shifted itto his right hand. He never had a chance to strike again with it; for inthat same instant Rayburn swung his revolver at arm's-length through theair and brought it down on his head with a sound so muffled and sohollow that I can liken it only to the staving-in of the head of a fullcask. For a moment, while Rayburn drew back to strike again, theIndian's body swayed heavily; and then all his muscles relaxed, and hefell heavily and limply to the ground--while his brains spurted out fromthe ghastly trench made by that mighty blow from back to front acrossthe entire top of his skull.

 
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