Hatatitla and Iltshi (cont’d)

Hatatitla and Iltshi – cont’d

Although modern versions of the Winnetou trilogy (of which I shall give an example in the final part) no longer include the variety of horses Old Shatterhand rode in the various stories that make up Karl May’s version, they nevertheless deserve a place in history; especially ‘Swallow’, the mustang with unequalled courage.

~~~

Then, down inside the valley of New Venango:

When we reached the bottom of the valley, we climbed back in the saddles. I wanted to bid my farewells because I assumed that they would head for the residential building, while I headed for the store, but Forster interrupted:

“Leave that be, man! We’ll accompany you to the store, because I still have a little business with you!”

I didn’t mind the company of the boy a while longer, but wasn’t in the mood to ask Forster anything about this little business. I didn’t have to wait much longer to find out what it was. When we arrived at the “Store and Boarding House”, as the large crayon writing on the log cabin’s door identified it, he grabbed Swallow’s reins when I had dismounted.

“I’ll buy this horse off you, how much do you ask?”

“I don’t sell it!”

“I’ll offer two hundred dollars.”
 I laughed in the negative.

“Two hundred and fifty!”

“Don’t bother, sir!”

“Three hundred!”

“He’s not for sale!”

“Three hundred and whatever you take away from the store!”

“Do you really believe that a prairie man sells his horse, without which he might perish?”

“Then I’ll give you mine on top!”

“Keep your nag; I wouldn’t want to trade a single hair from my hat for it!”

“But I have to have this horse,” he insisted impatiently. “I like him!”

“I believe you; but you won’t have him. You are too poor to pay for him.”

“Too poor?!” he exclaimed and gave me a glance that was designed to intimidate me. “Haven’t you heard that I am Emery Forster? Anyone who knows me knows that I am wealthy enough to buy a thousand such mustangs!”

“Your purse doesn’t interest me. If you can afford to buy a good horse, see the horse dealer; now let go of mine!”

“You impertinent fellow! A chap like you, with feet that are poking out of his shoes like this, should be grateful that he’s being offered the money for new boots so readily; he would at least obtain them in an honest manner for once!”

“Emery Forster watch your tongue, or you might learn in an honest manner that this fellow, who in your opinion is more than adequately paid for with a single bullet, can come up with such a currency quick smart!”

“Oho, my boy! This is not the wide-open prairie where every tramp can do as he pleases. In New Venango, I’m the lord and master, and whosoever doesn’t comply with my directions will be brought to his senses by other means. I have given you my last offer. Will I get the horse for it or not?”

Every other man of the West would by then have replied with a weapon; his behaviour caused me slight amusement, instead of annoyance, and moreover, I was compelled to greater self-control on account of the boy’s presence.

“No,” I replied calmly. “Let him go!”

I reached for the reins in his hand. He pushed me aside so that I stumbled backward, and jumped in the saddle.

“Now then, I’ll show you that Emery Forster knows how to buy a horse, even when he’s been refused. Here is mine, it’s yours. I’ll foot the store bill, and you can collect the money whenever you wish! Come, Harry; we’re finished here!”

[But the stallion is not bought that easily]:

[…]When I arrived at the fence that surrounded the yard I heard a soft snort, the source of which I immediately recognised.

My stallion wouldn’t let anyone lead him into a stable. They had to leave him outside and tied him to the veranda, because the animal could then easily be observed. I cautiously sneaked along the darkened areas of the yard to the low masonry wall where the posts of the veranda were anchored. I was next to my horse and noticed that Harry lay in a hammock. He was in the process of arguing a point with Forster. While I kept my gaze on the group on the veranda, I fixed my duffle bag to the back of Swallow’s saddle. The good animal hadn’t let them take his leather gear off either; had I whistled after Forster rode away with him, he would have thrown the man and returned to me.

And when the valley is ablaze:

[…]there was an explosion as if the Earth beneath us had broken apart. The ground shook, and when I looked in the direction of the thunderclap, I saw with trepidation that near the upper reaches of the valley, where the second oilrig had been active, a glowing fire spout shot about fifteen metres into the night air. It burst wide at its apex and splashed back down to Earth where it flowed across the sloping ground with frightening speed. At the same time, an acrid and burning odour rose into my air passages, and the air seemed to be filled with liquid gaseous fire.

I knew this terrifying phenomenon only too well, because I had witnessed it in its entire horror in the Kanawha Valley. With one leap, I was among the gathering on the veranda.

“Extinguish all lights, quickly, lights out! The drill hit oil and you have neglected to keep flames away from the vicinity. Now the gases have ignited and are spreading. Lights out or the entire valley will go up in flames in two minutes!” I shouted.

I jumped from one of the burning lamps to another, but in the rooms on the first floor the lamps were also lit, and over at the store, lights were visible as well. In addition, the flood of splashing oil that spread across the upper parts of the valley, had reached the river, the only thing that mattered at that moment was to do everything to save myself.

“Save yourselves, people! Run, for God’s sake! Go to higher ground!” I screamed.

Not concerning myself with anyone else any further, I pulled Harry up and into the saddle with me. The boy misinterpreted my action and, obviously not recognising the magnitude of the danger, used all his strength to fight my grip; but as sometimes happened in such dire moments, the physical strength became intensified and so his exertions paled under my force that held him. In a flying gallop, Swallow carried us downriver, his instinct made reins and spurs superfluous.

The cliff path on which we had descended earlier from the prairie couldn’t be reached anymore because the stream of fire had already engulfed it. Downriver was our only hope; but I hadn’t noticed anything like a road and, on the contrary, saw only narrow cliffs where the river foamed through the exit.

“Tell me,” I cried in fearful panic, “is there a way that leads out of the valley?”

“No, no!” he moaned amidst desperate attempts to free himself. “Let me go, I tell you, let me go. I don’t need you, I can take care of myself!”

Of course I couldn’t let him do this and concentrated my attention towards the narrowing horizon formed by the sheer cliffs of the box canyon walls. Suddenly, I felt pressure against my midriff and, at the same time, the boy yelled:

“What do you want with me? Let me go; release me or I’ll push your own knife between your ribs!”

I saw the blade flash in his hand; he had pulled my own bowie knife. I had no time for a lengthy argument but, instead, quickly grasped both of his wrists and clamped them tightly with my free hand.

The peril grew with every second. The glowing stream had reached the storerooms, the barrels exploded like canons and added volume to the growing sea of fire. The atmosphere was burning hot and suffocating; I felt as if I was being boiled in a pot of hot water, yet still the heat rose and I seemed to be burning inside. My consciousness threatened to fail; but this was a matter of life and death, not only mine but that of the boy’s also.

“Come on, Swallow, run, run, Swall…!”

The terrible heat burnt away the word; I couldn’t speak any longer. But it wasn’t necessary, because this good, magnificent animal raced along at near-impossible speed. As far as I could make out, there was no way out on this side of the river. The flames illuminated the cliff walls clearly to see that we couldn’t climb them, and so into the water, into the water…over to the other side!

I quickly pressed my legs into the horse’s sides…one leap of the courageous mustang and the waves washed over us. I felt new energy, new life pulse through my veins, but the horse had disappeared below me. No matter; to the other side, the other side! Swallow had been faster than the burning liquid; but right then it rolled downriver towards me with flames licking high into the night sky, fed by the oil that had been allowed to drain away into the water. Another minute, perhaps another moment and it would reach me. The boy clung to me unconsciously; I swam like I’d never swum in my life before, I leapt through the water driven by maddening panic. The inferno flickered through the water right down to the bed of the river. Fear, deep mortal fear shook me…there was a snort beside me: “Swallow, you loyal, brave animal…is it you?” There was the bank—back in the saddle—I couldn’t—as if my marrow had petrified—Lord Almighty have mercy, I can’t stay here—again; success! “Swallow, away…away…wherever you like…but out of this hellish inferno!”

And on we went, but I had no idea where to; I didn’t ask. It seemed that molten metal, instead of my eyes, lay in their sockets and the light that entered through them burned my brain; my tongue lay heavy and dry between my lips; my body felt like a smouldering sponge that would break apart any moment. The horse under me snorted and moaned with human-like sounds; he ran, jumped, he climbed and leapt over rocks, crevices, ledges, and jagged edges with tiger, and snake-like movements. With my right arm I held onto his neck, my left still held onto the boy. Another leap, a long, terrible leap—finally, finally the cliff was behind us—another few hundred steps away from the fire and into the prairie, and Swallow stopped; I sank to the ground.

The terror, the exertion was too great and kept me from falling unconscious. I slowly struggled to my feet, threw my arms around my loyal, irreplaceable animal who was shaking all over and, among uncontrollable sobs, kissed it with an ardour more suggestive of a lover’s passion for the love of his life.

“Swallow, you delightful thing; I thank you, you’ve saved me, you’ve kept us both from perishing. This hour will never be forgotten!”

Cont’d

More: Winnetou II, Lulu.com

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