“Hate to go back without anything,” said Frank, so I afterwards heard. “Strange we can’t see a rabbit now, when we saw dozens on the way to the Tanks.”
“That’s because we didn’t have a gun,” said Henry.
“You don’t believe the rabbits knew we weren’t armed then and know we are now?”
“Hunters tell bigger stories than that about ‘Brer Rabbit.’ Not one has bobbed up since we got our guns.”
Suddenly from the flat surface of the plain, not twenty yards from where the boys stood, where nothing but bunch-grass and low shrubbery grew, sixteen Indians sprang up to full height, like so many Jacks-in-a-box.
ON THE DESERT WITHOUT WATER
The boys were frightened. Their hearts leaped into their throats, and it was difficult for them to restrain an impulse to turn and run; but a soldierly instinct brought them to a “ready,” with eyes fixed upon the probable enemy.
“Quick, Henry! shoot!” exclaimed Frank, intending to reserve his own fire.
The younger sergeant raised his double-barrelled shot-gun to his shoulder and pulled both triggers. Down went the sixteen Indians as if the bird-shot had been fatal to all. The plain became in an instant as objectless as it was a moment before.
“Load, Henry, and, backward, march!” said Frank, ready to fire whenever a head showed above the grass, and at the same time moving as rapidly as possible towards the camp-fire.
“How! how! how!” was chorused from the direction of the Indians, and several naked brown arms were stretched upward, holding rifles horizontally in the air.
“That means peace,” said Henry. “They aren’t going to fire. Let’s answer. How! how! how!”
“How! how! how!” Frank joined in, and at once the sixteen redmen sprang to their feet, apparently none the worse for Henry’s double charge of bird-shot at short range. They held their weapons above their heads, and continuing to utter their friendly “How!” rapidly advanced towards the boys.
“They aren’t playing us a trick, are they, Frank?” asked Henry, in an anxious tone.
“No,” replied the elder boy, after snatching a glance to the rear. “The lieutenant and soldiers are saddling. The Indians dare not harm us on an open plain in sight of a mounted force.”
The boys stopped, and the redmen came up and began shaking hands in a most friendly manner, over and over again, repeating “How!” many times. They were clad in loose and sleeveless cotton shirts, all ragged and dirty, with no other clothing. The one who appeared to be chief was distinguished by the possession of three shirts, worn one above the other. Each man possessed several hares and field-rats, held against his waist by tucking the heads under his belt.
The boy sergeants and their strange guests reached the camp-fire, and the hand-shaking and exchange of amicable civilities went on for some time. The chief approached me and, placing a finger on one of my shoulder-straps, asked, in mongrel Spanish: