Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vol. IV: Literature of the Republic, Part I., Constitutional period, 17881820
The Escape of Berrian and Martha
By Timothy Flint (17801840)
[Born in North Reading, Mass., 1780. Died in Salem, Mass., 1840. Francis Berrian, or the Mexican Patriot. 1826.]
AS soon as the twilight disappeared, I stole out to the little stable, where my horse was penned every night. I saddled him unobserved, and carried out my holster of pistols. I then returned, took my supper as usual, and despatched Arci from the cabin, complaining that I was ill, and wished to retire early to rest. The moment she was gone, I was out and mounted, and riding under the covert of the trees and shrubs to the entrance of the valley. Fortunately, it was a night peculiarly favorable to my purpose. It was sultry and thick with smoky mist. Fleecy pillars of clouds were spread over the sky, that emitted frequent and brilliant flashes of lightning. I was stationed under a thick shade, that entirely concealed both me and my horse, and yet so near the pass, that, when the sentinel moved, I could see his whole figure by the lightning, and even its gleams upon his tomahawk. I waited in this position until nearly midnight, when I saw the sentinel move off in the direction of the village. Shortly after I heard the trample of two horses, rapidly approaching the pass. The lightning still gleamed in the distance, and my heart palpitated so loudly, that other sounds became indistinct to my ear. It was only a moment before I saw, by the lightning, the gigantic and terrible figure of Menko, and a female figure, apparently bound fast to her horse, and seemingly struggling to disengage herself, and to speak. He had the bridle of her horse in his hand, and both horses disappeared beyond the cabin of the pass. My blood boiled, and the glow at my heart seemed to endow me with gigantic prowess. It occurred to me, that it was prudent to follow them at such a distance, as neither to be seen nor heard. Accordingly I waited until I supposed they were half a mile in advance of me. I then followed them, not meaning to overtake them, until both they and myself were beyond the apprehension of any interference from any of the inmates of the valley. I continued to ride on behind them, sometimes so near, that, by the diminishing flashes of lightning, I could barely distinguish their figures in the obscurity, and then falling back, through fear of being myself observed, until I judged that we were ten miles from the valley. I there came upon a prairie, a level table plain, a little distance from the commencement of which I had learned, by previous information, that the roads parted, the one leading in the direction of Santa Fé, and the other towards the country of the Apaches. Here I put my horse to his full speed, and soon was near enough to be heard by Menko. He stopped, and though the moon, struggling through clouds, threw an uncertain light upon objects, I observed him fasten his own horse, and that which he led, to a small tree. I did the same thing. We both dismounted and cautiously approached each other in the darkness. At the distance of ten paces, he uttered a sharp and fierce cry of interrogation in Comanche and Spanish, asking who I was and what I wanted? I had studied my reply, and I made it in Comanche. Leave your prisoner and be off. I had scarcely pronounced the words, before I received the shot of his carbine through my clothes, slightly grazing my shoulder, and in an instant his tomahawk whistled past my head. I made an unavailing shot in return with my yager. Before I could disengage my pistols from the holster, we were struggling together in deadly grasp, each aiming to despatch the other with the dirk. I had once been the champion of the ring, but he lifted me from the ground, and threw me to the earth. Though under him, I had the command of his arms and held them fast. I comprehended that he was so much my superior in strength, that unless I availed myself of superior coolness and dexterity, he would be sure to destroy me. His was the struggling of an infuriated demon, and my policy was to entangle his arms, and parry his efforts to draw his dirk, until he should exhaust himself in putting forth his brute strength. I received severe bruises, and felt his horrid teeth fixed in my arms and elsewhere, but I still held to the defensive, and let him struggle on. He somehow contrived to disengage his dirk from his bosom, and gave me a cut in the arm; but I had soon the satisfaction to discover that his strength was sinking in exhaustion, and that his efforts were growing more feeble. I availed myself of a momentary slackening of his hold of me, and summoning my yet unwasted powers, I threw him off me, and was uppermost in my turn. In a moment he received my dirk in his bosom. He uttered the yell of a fury, and disengaged himself from me, as though I had been but an infant. He made a deadly thrust, which, had I not parried, would have been mortal. As it was, I was severely wounded in the arm by which I warded off the thrust. This was his expiring effort. He fell with a convulsive sob, and was still.
I was covered with blood, both his and my own. I felt it trickling from my wounds, but equally felt that they were not mortal. I ran to the captive, who sat on her horse at a little distance from the combat. A handkerchief was so passed over her face, that she was only able to utter the hoarse and scarcely audible sounds of distress. I tore away the handkerchief, unbound her pinioned arms, cut away the rope by which she was bound to the horse, and made myself known to her. Her terror and the agony of her situation took from her for some moments the power of reply. I placed her gently on the grass, and made all the efforts that the case admitted, to calm her terrors and her agitation; and I made her comprehend the danger of pursuit from the valley, and that no time was to be lost. Her first words were scarcely articulate thanks to the Virgin for her deliverance, and her next were inquiries if I had received wounds in the affray. I answered that I was slightly wounded, but begged her to think of nothing but escape; and, as soon as she was able, to mount her horse and fly toward Santa Fé. To be in preparation for this flight, I took the horse of the savage that I had slain, and brought him to mine. The horse was literally loaded with the money of the ransom, and with bars of bullion. I apportioned this among the three horses, and encouraged the young lady to mount her horse again. She uttered earnest and vehement exclamations, indicating mingled terror and thankfulness, and promised to exert her best strength to fly. To mount and be off was but the work of a moment, and I felt no compunction to leave the wretch that I had slain, to the burial of the carrion vultures.