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The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 9594

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


A Strange Guide.

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"Well, if he doesn't beat any one I ever heard of!"

Mickey O'Rooney and Fred Munson were stretched on the Apache blanket, carefully watching the eyes of the wild beast whenever they showed themselves, and had been talking in guarded tones. The Irishman had been silent for several minutes, when the lad asked him a question and received no answer. When the thing was repeated several times, he crawled over to his friend, and, as he expected, found him sound asleep.

This was not entirely involuntary upon the part of Mickey. He had shown himself, on more than one occasion, to be a faithful sentinel, when serious danger threatened; but he believed that there was nothing to be feared on the present occasion, and, as he was sorely in need of sleep, he concluded to indulge while the opportunity was given him.

"Sleep away, old fellow," said Fred. "You seem to want it so bad that I won't wake you up again."

The boy's curiosity having been thoroughly aroused, all tendency to slumber upon his part had departed, and he determined that if there was any way by which he could profit any by that wolf, he would do it.

"He may hang around here for a day or two," he mused, as he heard the faint tappings upon the sand, "thinking all the time that he'll get a chance to make a meal off of us. So he will, if we don't keep a bright look-out. It seems to me that he might be driven out."

The more he reflected upon this suggestion of his own, the more reasonable did it become. His plan was to drive out the wolf, to compel him to show up, as a card player might say. Considering the dread which all wild animals have of fire, the plan was simple, and would have occurred to anyone.

"The camp-fire seems to be all out, but there must be some embers under the ashes. Mickey threw down his torch somewhere near here."

Carefully raking off the ashes with a stick, he found plenty of coals beneath. These were brought together, and some of the twigs laid over, the heat causing them at once to burst into a crackling flame. This speedily radiated enough light for his purpose, which was simply to find one of those "fat" pieces of pine, which make the best kind of torches. A few minutes search brought forth the one he needed, and then, shoving his revolver down in his belt, he was ready.

The light revealed the large beautiful Apache blanket, stretched out upon the ground, while the Irishman lay half upon it and half upon the earth, sleeping as soundly as if in his bed at home. Beyond him and in every direction was the blackness of night. But, looking to his right, he discovered the two eyes staring at him and glowing like balls of fire.

The animal was evidently puzzled at the sight before him. Fred dreaded a shot from the Indians above, and, as soon as he had his torch ready and had taken all his bearings, he drew the ashes over the spluttering flame. Save for the torch, all was again wrapped in impenetrable gloom.

The glowing orbs were still discernible, and, holding the smoking torch above his head, Fred began moving slowly toward them. The animal did not stir until the lad was within twenty feet, when the latter concluded that it would be a good thing for him, also, to take a rest.

"Wonder if he's been trained not to be afraid of torches," mused the little fellow. "I hope he hasn't, and I hope too there won't be any trouble in scaring him."

The lad dreaded another possibility,-that his torch might be suddenly extinguished. If that should go out, leaving them in utter darkness, the wolf would immediately rise to a superior plane, and speedily demonstrate who was master of the situation.

Fred swung the torch several times around his head, until it was fanned into a bright flame, after which he resumed his advance upon his foe. At the very first step the beast vanished. He had wheeled about and made off in a twinkling.

The lad pressed onward at the same deliberate gait, watching carefully for the reappearance of the guiding orbs. It was not long before they were observed a dozen yards or so further on. The wolf was manifestly retreating. He had no fancy for that terrible torch bearing down on him, and he was falling back by forced marches. This being precisely what Fred desired, he was greatly encouraged.

"He is making his way out, and after awhile he will reach the place, and away he'll go. If he's a wolf or fox, the hole may be so small that Mickey can't squeeze through, but I think I can follow one of the animals anywhere."

After going some distance further, Fred noticed that the animal was not proceeding in a straight line. He would appear on his right, where he would stare at the advancing torch until it was quite close, when he would scamper off to

the left, and go through the same performance.

"He knows the route better than I do, so I won't try to disturb him," reflected the boy as he followed up his advantage, with high hopes of discovering the secret which was so important to himself and friend. "I won't crowd him too hard, either, for I may scare him off the track and fail."

The wolf was evidently a prey to curiosity-the same propensity which has caused the death of many bipeds and quadrupeds. The action of the torch puzzled him, no doubt. He had seen fire before, and probably had been burnt-so he knew enough to give it a wide berth; but it is doubtful whether he ever saw a flaring torch held over the head of a boy and solemnly bearing down upon him.

Fred's absorbing interest in the whole affair made him wholly unmindful of the distance he was traveling. He had already advanced several hundred yards, and had no idea that he was so far away from his slumbering friend. The fact was that the singular cave was only one among a thousand similar ones found among the wilds of the West and Southwest. Its breadth was not great, but the distance which it ran back into the mountains was amazing.

The wolf was leading the lad a long distance from the camp, and, what was more important (and which fact, unfortunately, Fred had failed to notice), the route was anything but a direct one. It could not have been more sinuous or winding. The course of the cavern, in reality, was as winding as that of the ravine in which he had effected his escape from the Apaches, and from which it seemed he had irrevocably strayed. Had he attempted to make his return, he would have found it impossible to rejoin Mickey O'Rooney, unless the two should call and signal to each other.

However, the attention of the lad was taken up so entirely with the task he had laid hold of, and which seemed in such a fair way of accomplishment, that he took no note of his danger. The wolf was leading him forward as the ignis fatuus lures the wearied traveler through swamps and thickets to renewed disappointment.

"He has some way of reaching the outer world which the Indians haven't been able to find. Of course not; for, if they knew, they would have been in here long ago. They wouldn't stay fooling around that opening, where they're likely to get a shot from Mickey when they ain't expecting it. Now, if the wolf will only behave himself, all will come out all right."

Fearful of being caught with an extinguished torch, the lad kept up the practice of swinging it rapidly round his head every few minutes. When he ceased each performance, the flame was so bright that he was able to penetrate the darkness much further upon every hand.

On one or two of these occasions he caught a glimpse of the creature as it bounded away into the darkness. In shape and action it was so much like the mountain wolves which had besieged him some nights before that all doubts were removed. He knew it was one of those terrible animals beyond question.

"Wonder how it is he's alone? It wasn't long after I saw that old fellow the other night, when there was about fifty of them under the tree. One of them is enough for me, if he doesn't give us the slip. Maybe he has come in to find out how the land lies, and is going back to report to the rest."

Fred could not help reflecting every few minutes on the terrible situation in which he would be should his torch fail, and the other bring a pack of ravenous creatures about him. They would make exceedingly short work of a dozen like him.

"It seems good for hours yet," he said as he held it before him, and examined it for the twentieth time.

The stick was a piece of a limb about as thick as his arm, and fully a yard in length. It felt as heavy as lignum vitae, and, by looking at the end held in his hand and that which was burning, it could be seen that it was literally surcharged with resin-so much so that, after being cut, it had overflowed, and was sticky on the outside. No doubt this, with others, had been gathered for that express purpose, and there was no reason to doubt its capacity.

As Fred advanced he caught occasional glimpses of the jagged overhanging rocks, which in some places were wet, the water dripping down upon him as he passed. The fact, too, that more than once both sides of the cave were visible at the same time, told him that the dimensions of their prison were altogether different from what he had supposed.

"There must be an end of this somewhere," he muttered, beginning to suspect that he had gone quite a distance, "and I'm getting tired of this tramping. I hope the wolf hasn't gone beyond the door he came in by, and I hope he has nearly reached it, for it will take me some time before I can find my way back to Mick."

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