Weekly Times Saturday, May 27, 1939
This article is titled: The Men With Dead Hands
Like the sound of drums far below the earth came the first stirrings of the earth monster. The Incans, like most other Indians of South America, implicitly believe that God sleeps beneath the earth in the form of a snake. When he turns over, the earth is shaken and riven, and an earthquake occurs. Fetishes appeared in every hand, prayers were offered up, and still the moaning went on, accompanied by subterranean rumblings and crashings.
From the mountains above great stones and boulders rolled down. One of the adobe houses was crushed to powder. Then came the first shake. Buildings rocked at our backs, and dust flew. The ground heaved and rocked, shaking under our feet. The first shake didn't do much damage, but the second shook half the houses down.
We were in the midst of rescuing the dead and wounded when the third tremble threw me forward. There was a crack like that of an immense gun, and a cleft appeared in the earth almost at my feet. The old crone, who had been standing with me, gave a yell like that of a damned soul as the crevice yawned at her feet. Hysteria got her, and before I could stop her she threw herself into the gaping earth crater! Madness swept the tribe.
One after another they leaped down that awful gap, while the rumbling, heaving, and cracking of the 'quake echoed about us. The earth shivered again, and the gap closed up, as if by magic, imprisoning the bodies far below the earth.
Shaken to my soul, I could do nothing but dig my fingers into the trembling earth and cling on for life. Had a fortune depended on it, I couldn't have moved, or got to a safer place at that moment. The shakes diminished gradually. Peace descended upon the valley, and I rose to my feet to find but a handful of Indians where before had been a thriving village. The laments for the dead filled the air, and we all took a hand in restoring some order out of the chaos. I worked like a demon myself. Any task that would take my mind off what had occurred was welcome.
"Quick! Senor We must be safe before El Norte strikes us! Nothing can live in that devilish wind," cried the head of the tribe, glancing up at a blood-red moon.
"Los caballos!" screamed a woman in 'Spanish, pointing overhead. I look
ed up. Sweeping down the mountainside were a herd of wild horses, led
by one flaming-eyed stallion, and converging on the village.
Women and children scattered out of the way of the stampede, while we men prepared to head off the fear-maddened herd. Slipping, sliding, and leaping down the mountain with the sure-footedness of goats, they galloped into our compound. Terrified by the earthquakes and the warning of the coming wind they were seeking shelter. We drove them into a natural corral and penned them there.
Some of them whinnied in fright and hurled themselves on the- barbed wire, tearing hide and flesh. It . was all we could do to keep them from leaping the barbed barrier and running amok in the village.
THEN, with a shriek, came the first breath of the Northern! Trees bent like bows in its icy breath. Sand spurted up into a myriad whirls, and dust clouds obscured the face of the moon. Throwing my cloak over my head "I lay there while sand thumped on my body with heavy, battering blows. Dust came through my llama wool cloak, and half choked me. Around the gale tore and shrieked, and whirled roof-tops, mud bricks, and trees in its fiendish grip. Half stifled by the beat of my cloak and its airlessness, I peeped out. Nothing but whirling dust and sand that got into my eyes and up my nostrils was to be seen.
Dimly I could see the crouching figures of the Indians clinging to stones and tough shrubs to avoid being blown away. The wind caught my cloak, bellied it out, and lifted me Like a child's toy. Through the air I was flung, to land exhausted and breathless on a pile of sand that had drifted into a bank against the walls of one of the stone buildings.
In this refuge I waited, thanking God that the old Incas had built solidly. Years of battering by winds and earthquakes hadn't succeeded in battering these houses down. With a Little luck, they would protect me.
In the compound, I could hear the squeals of frightened horses above the roar of the wind, then my ears caught the sound of pounding hooves. A great white stallion rounded the bend of the stone houses and stood for a moment, his mane blown about by the winds, dust clouds eddying round him. I was wondering how he managed to stand upright in the tearing wind when I heard a voice shriek: "II Norte! The ghost horse!"
THE horses in the compound set up an unearthly screeching, and human voices screamed in fear while that white stallion pounded over the village. I watched him disappear into the whirling sand, and then the wind dropped, suddenly. The moaning of the gale passed on to the south, and the air was still. From their hiding-places frightened Indians crept out, and to me.
"You saw him, Senor? The ghost horse?" they demanded.
"I certainly saw a big white stallion, but it must have been one of those we penned in the corral, and
which got out!" I replied.
A young man crept up to me.
"Senor," he whispered, "there was no white stallion among those wild horses which stampeded into the village. That was the ghost horse. El Norte, which you saw. Now, Senor, do you believe, or still call us foolish and ignorant?"
"It must have been one of those that broke from the corral!" I said. Nothing would make me say anything else. It was strange, that that one stallion should have survived that terrible storm, for we found every horse in the compound smothered by dust when later we went to look. In this way does the ghost horse legend survive in South America! The Indians were badly scared. They buried the bodies of their dead and those of the smothered horses in one big pit.