The Gambler

The Gambler

~~~

Excerpt from: The Travels of Winnetou & Shatterhand

During our ride it became evident what good horses were capable of accomplishing. I was worried for the immigrants; we therefore drove our horses on quite considerably. We believed that they would be able to rest once we had arrived at the hacienda. Consequently, we reached the boundary of the estate already in the afternoon of the next day. The two boys on frothing horses, of course, while ours were as dry and lively as if we were only starting out on our lengthy ride.

We followed the lead of the stream and soon saw the walls that surrounded the burned-down buildings. No one prevented us from entering. Nevertheless, I hesitated to ride into the yard. Winnetou immediately understood me and said:

“My brother Old Shatterhand may search alone at first. Red men attacked the hacienda. If someone is here and sees the four of us at the same time, he might mistake us for Yuma and flee, so that we cannot make enquiries, and won’t receive any information.”

I rode into the yard on my own. It contained a chaos of blackened wall ruins; I searched them but found not a soul. I turned back in the hope of finding someone outside the walls. As soon as I turned the south-west corner, I spotted a white man slowly approaching. He wore a long, dark frock, which gave him almost the appearance of a cleric, and he stopped in surprise when he saw me.

“Buenas dias!” I greeted in Spanish. “Do you belong to this hacienda, senor?”

“Yes,” he replied while he scrutinized me with a piercing gaze.

“Who is the owner?”

“Senor Melton.”

“Ah, after all! I am looking for him. He is an acquaintance of mine.”

“Then I’m sorry that you won’t meet him here. He and senor Timoteo Pruchillo, the former owner of the property, rode to Ures, to legalize the purchase.”

“But his friends are still here?”

“The senores Weller? No. They went up to the Fuente de la Roca.”

“And the German workers?”

“The two senores are leading them up there, where they are being expected by the Yuma Indians. You must be a friend of senor Melton, because you’re asking about these people. May I ask who…”

I remained at his side as he continued on his way. We were rounding the corner of the wall, and he saw the three Indians, stopped, cut himself short mid-sentence, stared at the Apache with a start, and then shouted in English:

“Winnetou! All devils! Satan incarnate has led him here!”

During the last remark he turned and ran away, leapt across the creek with a long, daring jump, and then like a hunted animal raced across the ash-covered forest floor from which the stumps of the burned trees and bushes rose. Winnetou had also seen him, and heard his words. He drove his horse into a gallop, raced past me, and careened across the water, without saying anything, to follow the fleeing man. The Apache had undoubtedly recognized him, and had obviously made his acquaintance in a way that seemed to suggest it was advisable to apprehend him.

But that was a difficult task. During the fast ride, the countless stumps of the burned-down forest were almost indistinguishable from the thick ash cover, because they were of the same, grey colour, and could easily cause the horse to fall, or injure its feet, so that it would become unrideable. Winnetou realized it, especially since it had already stumbled a few times. He stopped it, jumped down and continued the pursuit on foot.

Had I known who the man was, and that we ought to have secured him at all costs, I would have easily rendered him immobile with a bullet to his leg during the first few moments; but in the given situation I had to leave it be, especially since I was aware of the fact that Winnetou would do likewise, should he deem it necessary. He was an excellent runner; I knew that it was impossible to catch him; we had had cause to run for our lives once before. However, he was at a disadvantage in the prevailing situation, because not only his rifle, but also the rest of his gear was obstructing his movements, while the other was not carrying anything, and under the circumstances, being driven by great fear, developed a speed that would ordinarily not have been possible. Winnetou wasn’t able to make up the man’s head start as quickly as he wished. But I knew that he would catch him during a lengthy pursuit, because he possessed the kind of staying power the other could not match.

The race went up a burned, naked hill behind the hacienda. The fugitive arrived on the top a whole minute ahead of the Apache, and then disappeared on the far side. When Winnetou reached the height, I could see that, initially, he wanted to continue, but changed his mind, cast a glance across the terrain to estimate the distance, and then put his rifle to his cheek to aim. He wanted to shoot, yet lowered his rifle again, made a reflexive movement with his arm as if to say: “No, I won’t,” turned around and came back down the hill. When he reached his horse, which hadn’t moved from where he had left it, he remounted and crossed the creek to return to us.

“Winnetou prefers to let him go,” he said. “On the other side of the hill there is forest that didn’t burn; he would reach it ahead of me, and then I would no longer be able to see him.”

“My brother would certainly catch him,” I replied.

“Yes, I would capture him, but that would take a long time, perhaps more than a day, since I would be forced to follow his trail, which would slow me down. And the matter isn’t worth wasting so much time over.”

“My brother wanted to shoot. Why didn’t he do it?”

“Because I wanted to only wound him, but the distance was too great to get a clear shot. I would definitely have hit him, but it could have been in a dangerous spot, and I didn’t want to kill him; although I know of some of the bad things he had done, they aren’t grave enough for me to have the right to kill him.”

“My brother knows the man?”

“Yes. My friend Shatterhand has probably not seen him before, but he knows his name. He belongs to the palefaces who call themselves Mormons; he belongs to the Saints of the Latter Days, but his conduct in the past, as well as in the present, is that of a very dangerous human being. He is a murderer, on top of everything else; but since he hasn’t killed any of my brothers, I must let him live.”

“And yet you’ve gone after him! You must therefore have been of the opinion that it would be of an advantage to us to catch him.”

“Yes, those were my thoughts the moment I saw him. If he is here on the hacienda, then he most certainly is Melton’s ally; he knows Melton’s plans and secrets, and we might have been successful in forcing him to tell us.”

“Had I known that, then he wouldn’t have escaped; I would have apprehended him while we were talking, or with a bullet forced him to stay. Who is this man you call dangerous, and even a murderer?”

“I don’t know his actual name; he is usually called ‘The Gambler’.”

“‘The Gambler’! Ah! I’ve indeed heard more than enough about him. You know that Melton has a brother, infamous for cheating in card games. He shot dead an officer and two soldiers in Fort Uintah. I hunted him down to Fort Edward, where I caught him and delivered him into custody; but he escaped soon after. ‘The Gambler’ was closely associated with that Melton brother. For years they’ve conducted their shady dealings together, and there is indeed talk about not only theft and robbery, but also murder and bloodshed. I know two or three cases in which I consider ‘The Gambler’ to be guilty of a crime. So, the scoundrel is here! Which means, of course, that he’s in cahoots with Melton, whom he would have met through the brother, and it is a shame that he managed to escape.”

“Shall we go after him? Old Shatterhand will find his trail just as easily as I would; he cannot get away from us.”

“I’m convinced of that; but Winnetou has correctly pointed out that catching him would cost us too much time, which we require for more pressing priorities. ‘The Gambler’ mistook me for a close acquaintance of Melton, and has consequently given me information that he now regrets having divulged. I must convey it to my red brother.”

I reported what I had heard. When I concluded, he said in his customary, reflective manner:

“The Wellers have travelled to the Fuente de la Roca with the immigrants, and Melton has ridden to Ures with the hacendado. What are Old Shatterhand’s fellow countrymen supposed to do at the Fuente?”

Advertisements