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Vaca postponed his journey for another year. Next summer the Indians would return to the prickly pear plains and, if Castillo were still alive, then he should find that his comrades had not abandoned him. That Vaca himself and the two with him might be done away with for Indian "diversion," or by the blasts and want of another winter, was also a probability. But Vaca seems to have brooded little over his own dangers. His actions prove his words that he ever had trust that God would lead him "out from that captivity, and thus I always spoke of it to my companions."
Another year was passed in slavery, during which time Vaca led a pitifully hard life. Three times he ran away, so badly was he used, but each time he was pursued and taken back. In September of the following year — it was now 1534 — a third time the Spaniards met on the prickly pear plains. Escaping at last they fled west to the Avavares, whom Vaca had met farther east when a trader. At this village there was a sick native in one of the tents, and his tribesmen demanded that Vaca cure him. He restored the patient to health and was rewarded with a supply of meat and fruit. As the Indians told him that the country to the westward was cold and predicted from certain natural signs a severe winter, he counseled patience once more.
For eight months the white men continued with the Avavares, and the fame of the new Medicine Man was on every tongue. His companions were also called to the sick bed, since they might be supposed to partake of his talents. But it seems that neither Castillo nor Dorantes relished the r6le of physician. Castillo, indeed, went about his new occupation with shaking knees. He much doubted the approval of high heaven and feared, moreover, that his sins would weigh against his healing efforts. Vaca's sturdy soul knew no misgivings. He did not believe that he was dowered with mystic powers; yet he saw the sick rise up after he had blown upon them in the native fashion and made the sign of the cross over them in Christian manner. This was, to him, proof positive that God willed the preservation of himself and his friends and blessed his efforts accordingly.
When summer came (1535) the four Spaniards, turning southward, passed on to the Arbadaos. These Indians evidently lived in the great sand belt between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. They were kind, but food was scarce in their desert land, and while with them the Spaniards suffered more than ever the pangs of hunger. "In the course of a whole day we did not eat more than two handfuls of fruit, which was green and contained so much milky juice that our mouths were burnt by it." In their straits they were helped out by the purchase of two dogs, for which Vaca gave the skins which covered his nakedness. He made combs, bows and arrows, nets, and the mats which formed the walls of the savages' temporary dwellings, and traded these for whatever increase of food he could get and occasionally for skins. Sometimes he was set to scraping and softening hides, and he says that the days of his "greatest prosperity" were those when he was given skins to dress, for "I would scrape them a very great deal and eat the scraps, which would sustain me for two or three days." Sometimes a piece of meat was thrown to the fugitives and they ate it raw; for, if they had put it to roast, the first native happening along would have snatched it and devoured it. Vaca remarks slyly that "it appeared to us not well to expose it to this risk."
Having consumed the dogs, the Spaniards continued their journey southward, and soon crossed a river which appeared to them to be as wide as the Guadalquivir at Seville. It was the Rio Grande.
By this time the Miracle Man's fame had spread from tribe to tribe along his route. And his progress now became a triumphal march, with flocks of feathered Indians — sometimes to the number of four thousand — following in his train. His redskinned disciples greatly impeded his travel, for they all wished to touch him and his friends or some part of their clothing; and not a man of the thousands of them would eat a morsel of food until one of the Spaniards had blessed it. At the same time they hunted and dug for food along the march, killing hares, deer, opossums, gathering fruit, roots, and nuts. They never presumed to eat until they had fed their physician; nor to rest until they had erected houses for him and his three friends. Their women wove mats and blankets for the white men and made their moccasins. The natives from one village would go as far as the next; there they would proclaim to the astonished inhabitants Vaca's wondrous works, and, at the same time, plunder the village of everything worth taking. Vaca was grieved at this wholesale robbery but dared not attempt to check it. "In consolation," he says, "the plunderers told them that we were children of the sun and that we had power to heal the sick and to destroy; and other lies even greater than these, which none know how to tell better than they when they find it convenient. They bade them conduct us with great respect, advised that they should be careful to offend us in nothing, give us all they might possess, and endeavor to take us where people were numerous; and that wheresoever they arrive with us, they should rob and pillage the people of what they have, since this was customary."
The coast Indians had been hostile, but these were friendly, so the direct route to Panuco was abandoned. Turning westward now through Coahuila, and then northward, Vaca recrossed the Rio Grande west of the Pecos, struck it again at the mouth of the Conchos, and followed it to the vicinity of El Paso. And over all these leagues of wilderness the hordes of Indians continued with him. In one town Vaca performed a surgical operation with a conch-shell knife, cutting a flint arrowhead from a man's shoulder. The patient recovered; and the arrowhead was carried like a saint's relic, throughout the land, that men might marvel. From the region of El Paso, Vaca and his friends pressed westward over the arid plains of Chihuahua and crossed the Sierra Madre Mountains after many days of hard going. "The Indians," says Vaca, "ever accompanied us until they delivered us to