—the air as heavy as lead. Every
body was gloomy, in spite of repeated efforts to be cheerful. And yet when the
hour for the siesta came, nobody, not even the children, seemed to care for
sleep. All were restless and ill at ease. Suddenly Wilson exclaimed:
"Royston, come out, will you?
Hang the sun! I can't kick my heels indoors any more. Let's get our nags, and
have a gallop over the Llanos."
Before long we were mounted: I on
my black horse from the south, Wilson on a splendid sorrel mustang, with very
evident marks of the Arabian blood derived from the Spanish jennets. We had our
rifles slung, and heavy Mexican knives in our belts—an indispensable precaution
on those prairies. And Wilson had his lasso at his saddle-bow, as well as the
bolas which he always carried.
"There's a brindled bull astray,"
said he, "that has puzzled the vaqueros; perhaps I shall get a sight of him, and
if I get the noose over his horns I'll forgive him if he gets off again. And
then there's a flock of pronghorns, you know, our American antelopes, driven in
by thirst. Shy as they are, we may get a crack at them. Come along!"
And he spurred out of the corral.
I followed, and we were soon careering, side by side, over the. boundless sea of
grass. The brisk motion did us good, and stimulated our nerves a bit; and my
companion shot an antelope, and slung him behind his saddle, and we hit on the
tracks of the lost bull. After a sharp gallop we suddenly reined up. There lay
the poor bull on the parched plain—dead, but still warm. It had died of thirst.
A dozen ugly vultures rose screaming from the carcass. They had been pecking at
the eyes and protruding tongue.
"Pah!" cried Wilson; "I hate the
vulture's very name, but they are useful scavengers. Come along. Poor brindle!
we have come too late to save the truant."
We rode homeward. Once or twice
Wilson saw some shadows, far off, against the extreme horizon, and pronounced
them to be mounted Indians.
"The dogs are after no harm; most
likely chasing game that is running for the rivers, mad for the want of water,"
At last we reined up our horses
on the edge of the low hill, carpeted with blossomed shrubs, which overlooked
the fair white house and sweet shady garden which formed Wilson's home.
"How pretty!" I exclaimed,
"Can you wonder," said Wilson,
"that I am anxious not to leave it to the torch of the savage? What on earth are
It was not I that was doing any
thing remarkable. It was my horse that began to shiver, and to snort and pant,
and spread his nostrils to the air, and show every sign of distress. I sprang to
"What ails the brute?" cried
Wilson. "By Heaven! mine is trembling, too, in every limb."
And he, too, dismounted. The
horses, dark with heat drops, with flanks quivering, limbs shaking, showed every
sign of extreme terror. They pressed, whinnying, close to us, and then trembled
till they could hardly stand. What was that? A groan, deep and thrilling as if
it came from the agony of Nature herself—a sound as of a tortured Titan on the
rock—came moaning sullenly past. It deepened: it swelled into a roar. The horses
were down, cowering like frightened spaniels. And then we felt the solid earth
heave and swell like surging water beneath is, and a swift shiver made the
ground reel, and we dropped to our hands and knees. The earthquake! It was come
in its terrors. What was that in the valley beneath? A great fissure was gaping
in the earth, like the mouth of some devouring monster, stretching, widening
fast—fast—quicker than I can describe it. We saw the dark chasm yawn like huge
jaws hungry for prey. Then another shock came: we were prostrate, sickened, and
giddy. The moans of the horses at our side were the only sounds audible. Crash!
I saw the dust rise thickly where the huts of the herdsmen had fallen in. I saw
the stout stockade give way like straws in a whirlwind, and the horses and the
few cattle left, crouching huddled up together. But the house stood firm, with
its fair white walls of hewn stone, though the trees around were snapping and
breaking, the shrubs torn up, the ground bursting as if a mine had exploded.
There were loud shrieks. I saw the fluttering garments of women, the fairy
figures of the two children in the veranda, the outstretched arms, the wild
gestures, and I heard the despairing cry for aid. But fast toward the house
extended the dreadful chasm, yawning, widening, splitting asunder the firm earth
with giant force: its huge jaws opened as if to devour the home and its inmates.
The sight gave new strength to the husband and father. He sprang up, though his
feet could hardly cling to the heaving ground. I caught his arm and held him
"Let me go!" he cried; "they call
me. Let me go, or—"
In his madness, in his bitter
despair, he would have struck me with his hunting-knife had I not released him.
And yet by that momentary restraint I saved his life, worthless as the boon may
have seemed to him, for in the next instant we were both flung helpless to the
ground by a more violent shock. I glanced up; I saw the house quiver and reel; I
saw the chasm open and swallow it up, with all its living inmates, and I pressed
my hands upon my eyes to shut out the horrid sight. When the last shock passed
away I looked again. The fissure had closed, all but a narrow rift, nearly
choked with broken fragments of the ruins. Trees, bushes, earth, and stones lay
tossed about in confusion. Nothing was unaltered. A few instants had changed the
face of all familiar objects. Wilson lay beside me, senseless and livid. The
horses were still in their ague-fit of fear. Two men only were standing unharmed
where the huts of the herdsmen had stood. They were my guide and the Indian
peon. Poor Wilson! he lay long ill of a brain-fever at San Juan de los Llanos,
and when he recovered he was a broken man. The bodies of the dear ones he had
lost were never seen more by mortal eye. His despair has done the work of years
upon him, has made him what you see. The band is wailing its last tune. Shall we
walk? And, old fellow, just one more cigar!
THE BATTLE OF NEWBERN.
page 229 we reproduce two of the sketches sent
us by our artist, Mr. Angelo Wiser, with the Burnside Expedition. One of them
represents the LANDING OF OUR TROOPS below the forts of Newbern, our gun-boats
shelling the woods; the other, the
BOMBARDMENT OF NEWBERN by the gun-boats,
showing a distant view of the burning city. We gave a full account of the battle
in our last paper, to which we refer.
page 225 we show a
BOMB-PROOF BATTERY AT
NEWBERN, taken by our troops under General Burnside, from a sketch by
Mr. Wiser. The battery is so strong, and the shelter for the gunners so
thorough, that it seems incredible that our gallant fellows should have taken it
with so little loss.