The Thirty Gang
THAT is quite true, señor. Every man must be his own judge as to the kind of gun he should use.
There are fashions in guns, and in the way of carrying them, too, and no doubt those styles are different in different places. But any one who follows any fashion that does not suit his own needs is unwise, even if it be only a question of shoes or hat. And in the matter of a gun—if he lets fashion force him into carrying a gun unfit for his own build and his own wants he is a fool.
So, señor, since you and your partner find your .30 repeaters best for you, take them with you on your gold-hunt up the Rio Caroní. As I have told you, this Venezuela of ours is a .44 country; but if you brought plenty of ammunition from your North America you need not care for that.
Como? How is that? You have two thousand rounds for the rifles alone? Valgame Dios! I have known revolutionists to capture half the towns on this Orinoco with less. You will not use a quarter of them, unless you stay in the Caroní bush much longer than you now expect; and you will find that so many cartridges are most infernally heavy to carry. Still, it is better to have too many than too few.
Besides, if you decide later to lighten your load you can do so at a good profit. You have only to tell the Indians up there that you have cartridges of .30 caliber to trade, and very soon you will be visited by brown men bringing little bags of gold. They will buy every cartridge you are willing to sell—and your rifles also, if you are careless enough to part with them.
Oh, no, señor, those Indios themselves will not use the cartridges. They are bow-and-arrow men, having no guns except a few long muzzle-loading small bores. But they will buy your thirties because they know they can trade them in turn to the Cuadrilla Treinta, as we call it—La Cuadrilla de Treinta—"The Thirty Gang." Have I not told you of that mysterious band, which from time to time crosses the whole length of the unknown Guayana highlands in order to buy cartridges of .30 caliber?
They are Indians all; Indians of the Maquiritare nation, and descendants of the old fighting Caribs who held this land when the first white men came; Indians who live in the jungled mountains from which spring the rivers Caura and Ventuari, and in which only two white men ever walk. One of those white men is I, Loco León, the only blond Spaniard in all the back bush of Venezuela, and, therefore, much whiter than any other white to be found there. The other is Black White—El Blanco Negro—the North American whose skin and whose mind both were turned black years ago by a Maquiritare maiden, and who consequently is white only in name.
It is for him, for Black White, that those Indios cross the cruel Parima mountains and buy cartridges. By some secret trade-route of their own they go all the way to the river Cuyuni, in Guayana Inglesa (British Guiana), where men hunt diamonds and gold; and from those gold-hunters, who have ways of getting cartridges in spite of the laws, they buy those bullets—always of caliber .30.
That is why the Cuyuni men call them the "Thirty Gang." And because the Thirty Gang pays high and always has plenty of gold, though no man has ever learned where they find it, some of those Cuyuni men have smuggled in rifles as well as cartridges for sale to the brown men. And Black White, the renegade who brought into the Maquiritare land the first high-power rifle ever seen there, now has about him a little force so well-armed and so wily that I do not believe the whole federal army of Venezuela could ever capture him if it tried.
I learned of those guns in a rather odd way, and since that time I have puzzled more than once over what then came about; or, rather, over the thing that Black White then did. To any one not acquainted with White, as I am, it might not seem so strange. But I know him to be a madman: a man ruined, heart and soul, by the terrible secret drink of the Caribs which was given him by the Maquiritare girl whom he had made his plaything and whom he then intended to abandon; a man who was heartless enough before that time, and who since then has been bitter against man, woman, and God. And to think that such a man——
But let me begin at the beginning. This ron anciado has a way of making the tongue wag off sidewise, unless one takes enough to keep it well oiled. Tobalito! Here, muchacho! Another bottle of the same, and charge it to my account. And bring fresh glasses for three!