“What are those?” said Emma presently, pointing to some animals that were half hidden by a clump of wild bananas. I looked and saw that they were two of the mules which the brigands had cut loose from the diligence. There could be no mistake about this, for the harness still hung to them.
“Can you ride?” I asked.
She nodded her head. Then we set to work. Having caught the mules without difficulty, I took off their superfluous harness and put her on the back of one of them, mounting the other myself. There was no time to lose, and we both of us knew it. Just as we were starting I heard a voice behind me calling “senor.” Drawing the pistol from my pocket, I swung round to find myself confronted by a Mexican.
“No shoot, senor,” he said in broken English, for this man had served upon an American ship, “Me driver, Antonio. My mate go down there,” and he pointed to the precipice; “he dead, me not hurt. You run from bad men, me run too, for presently they come look. Where you go?”
“To Mexico,” I answered.
“No get Mexico, senor; bad men watch road and kill you with machete so,” and he made a sweep with his knife, adding “they not want you live tell soldiers.”
“Listen,” said Emma. “Do you know the hacienda, Concepcion, by the town of San Jose?”
“Yes, senora, know it well, the hacienda of Senor Gomez; bring you there to-morrow.”
“Then show the way,” I said, and we started towards the hills.
All that day we travelled over mountains as fast as the mules could carry us, Antonio trotting by our side. At sundown, having seen nothing more of the brigands, who, I suppose, took it for granted that we were dead or were too idle to follow us far, we reached an Indian hut, where we contrived to buy some wretched food consisting of black frijole beans and tortilla cakes. That night we slept in a kind of hovel made of open poles with a roof of faggots through which the water dropped on us, for it rained persistently for several hours. To be more accurate, Emma slept, for my nerves were too shattered by the recollection of our adventure with the brigands to allow me to close my eyes.
I could not rid my mind of the vision of that coach, broken like an eggshell, and of those shattered shapes within it that this very morning had been men full of life and plans, but who to-night were—what? Nor was it easy to forget that but for the merest chance I might have been one of their company wherever it was gathered now. To a man with a constitutional objection to every form of violence, and, at any rate in those days, no desire to search out the secrets of Death before his time, the thought was horrible.
Leaving the shelter at dawn I found Antonio and the Indian who owned the hut conversing together in the reeking mist with their serapes thrown across their mouths, which few Mexicans leave uncovered until after the sun is up. Inflammation of the lungs is the disease they dread more than any other, and the thin night air engenders it.