When the hair begins to whiten, when one sits during the long winter evenings by the fireplace, the fire sparkles in the hearth, the rain whips the windows, and the wind roars with mysterious murmurs in the dark corridors, the soul, saddened by the often poignant realities of the present, returns with a painful pleasure to the smiling years of youth, alas, passed away forever.
Head in hand, gaze wandering in the wave, we listen to the almost indistinct chords of a melody that passes, carried on the wet wing of the night breeze, and awakens in the heart of the heart the memories so dear to the first youth.
Then, absorbing oneself in oneself, forgetting the present to think only of the past, one sees, as through a prism, unfolding one’s memories in a radiant kaleidoscope.
Few men have had a more rugged existence than mine, more mingled with events of every kind, gay and sad, happy or terrible. Also, few men have such a rich collection of memories.
Among these memories, there is one that is stubbornly engraved in the depths of my heart.
This memory is here: it is a very simple and touching story at the same time. Whatever may have happened over thirty years ago, they have remained in my memory as if they were from yesterday.
That was towards the end of 1835. After a long run in Oregon, where I had let myself be carried away more than I should have done in pursuit of the bison, which I do not know for what reason, that year were very rare on the hunting grounds of the Comanche Indians, in the company of whom I hunted; I was disappointed in my failure to return to the Indian village, where usually I spent the winter, when I was getting ready for one evening, about an hour before sunset, just as I was getting ready for the night. to set foot on shore to establish my night camp, two gunshots broke out a short distance from where I was; cries of pain were heard; there was a great noise in the bushes;
The habit of desert life gives man a decision in acts and ideas, which are rarely encountered in civilized life.
This is easy to understand: in the desert, the senses are constantly awake and kept alert by the instinct of conservation that dominates all other interests.
On seeing this man fleeing, his features rifled, his rifle still smoking in his hand, I immediately suspected that a crime had been committed, and that this individual was the culprit.
Without thinking again, I shoulder my rifle, and at the moment the stranger passed me about two hundred yards away, I let go of the relaxation.
The horse rolled thunderstruck on the ground, dragging in its fall its rider, who lay unconscious.
It had barely been two minutes since the stranger had emerged from the forest until the bullet hit his horse in the heart.
After reloading my rifle, I galloped towards the spot where the man I was so abruptly, or, to put it, so brutally stopped in his race.
Arrived near him, I dismounted, and, taking a pistol at my belt, in order to be ready for any event, I leaned over the body.
One glance is enough for me to recognize in the individual lying at my feet, who was beginning to regain consciousness, one of the most ill-famed prowlers in the prairie, a garb of the worst kind, of Mexican origin, mixed, however, with Indian blood, whose real name was Pedro Omnès, but to whom the numerous assassinations of which he had been guilty had earned two significant nicknames, which he was given in turn, and to which he replied with a cynical pride, for he had almost forgotten his real name.
The first of these nicknames was “Cuchillo”, that is to say knife; the second, even more terrible, is “Matasiete,” which literally means the one who murdered seven.
Besides, the physique of the personage perfectly corresponded to his morale; he was a man of five feet two inches at most, stocky, vigorously robust, with broad shoulders, arms of excessive length, on which protruded hard muscles like ropes; his hair, planted very low on his forehead, was black, flat, oily, and fell in disorder on his shoulders; his gray eyes, round, sunken in the orbit, far away from the nose, were always in motion, without ever fixing themselves on the person to whom he addressed himself; he had prominent cheekbones, flat ears, distant from the head; his nose fell in the beak of a bird of prey on a widely split mouth, without lips, and armed with sharp white teeth; his chin was square and prominent; his beardless face, sown here and there with a few tufts of a wispy hair of a fawn hue, was pale and greenish like a carafe of lemonade. There was something viscous in this man that made him look like a reptile, and which caused to those who brought together an indefinable and irresistible impression of disgust.
Such was the individual whom I had known for a long time already, and in whose presence chance had put me so singularly.
-Eh, señor! he said with a sneer, “you have a strange way of greeting people in passing! Why on earth did you kill my horse?
“Because I did not want to kill you yourself,” I replied.
-Good! he continued, making a movement to get up; but that will not happen that way, please.
-What we will see later; in the meantime, please leave me alone, if you do not want me to shoot you in the head.
-Good! Why so? We never had anything to unravel together; I do not blame you.
-Perhaps. Tell me first what are these two shots I just heard?
-Good! he went on, -good! was his favorite phrase, and he used it continually, -you heard two gunshots?
-Yes, and what is more, it is you who drew them.
-Who told you that?
-No, but I’m sure.
-Good! Here is a reasoning, for example; and then after? You’re not in charge of policing the meadow, I suppose?
“You are mistaken, friend Matasiete; every honest man is charged by his conscience to prevent a murder or robbery, no matter where he is.
-Good! You have funny ideas, you; you are French, Don Gustavo; what does it matter to you that I owe a death more or less? These are affairs between Mexicans; you do not have to see it. Do you want us to arrange?
One more word, and I burn you, rascal! But, enough caused; here come several people, with whom you will probably have to settle a rather confusing account.
In fact, at that moment, a dozen people were emerging from the forest cover and advancing towards the place where Matasiete and I had stopped.
The bandit turned his head towards the newcomers, and he grumbled between his teeth:
‘Come! Good! It will be fun! After all, die to die, since we have to finish there, as much immediately as later. expect; who knows?
And, leaning his back against the body of his horse, he rummaged in his pocket, took out some paper and tobacco, twisted a cigarette, beat the lighter, and began to smoke with unflappable composure, after to have said with shrugging:
-You really needed to take care of my things, you!