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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 10130

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Alone in the Gloom.

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Before Fred could complete the sentence his foot struck an obstruction and he was precipitated headlong over and down a chasm which had escaped his notice. He fell with such violence that he was knocked senseless.

When he recovered he was in darkness, his torch having been extinguished. The smell of the burning resin recalled him to himself, and it required but a moment for him to remember the accident which had befallen him. For a time he scarcely dared to stir, fearing that he might pitch headlong over some precipice. He felt of his face and hands, but could detect nothing like blood. The boy had received quite a number of severe bruises, however, and when he ventured to stir there were sharp, stinging pains in his shoulders, neck and legs.

"Thank God I am alive!" was his fervent ejaculation, after he had taken his inventory. "But I don't know where I am or how I can get back again. I wonder what has become of the torch."

He could find nothing of his flambeau, although he was confident that it was near at hand. Fred believed that he had fallen about twenty feet, striking upon his chest and shoulders. At this juncture, he thought of the wolf which had drawn him into the mishap, and he turned his head so suddenly to look for him that the sharp pain in his neck caused him to cry out. But nothing of the beast was to be seen.

"Maybe he went over here ahead of me, and got killed," he thought; "but I don't think that can be, for a wolf is a good deal spryer than a boy can be, and he wouldn't have tumbled down as I did."

Fred recollected that he had several matches about him, and he carefully struck one upon the rock beside him. The tiny flame showed that he had stumbled into a rocky pit. It was a dozen feet in length, some three or four in width, and, when he stood erect, his head was level with the surface of the ground above. In consequence, it would be a very easy matter for him to climb out whenever he chose to do so; but above all things he was desirous of regaining his torch. Just as the match between his fingers burned out, he caught sight of it, lying a short distance away.

"It's queer what became of that wolf," he said to himself, as he recovered the precious fagot and painfully climbed up out of the pit. "Maybe he thought I was killed, and went off to tell the rest of his friends, so that they can all have a feast over me. I must fire up the torch as soon as I can, for I'm likely to need it."

This did not prove a very difficult matter, on account of the fatness of the torch, which ignited readily, and quickly spread into the same thick, smoking flame as before. But Fred noted that it was about half burned up, and he could not expect it to hold out many hours longer, as it had already done good service.

"I wish I could see the wolf again," he said to himself, looking longingly around in the darkness, "for I believe he entered the cave somewhere near here, and it was a great pity that I had the accident just at the moment I was about to learn all about it."

He moved carefully about the cave, and soon found that he had reached the furtherest limit. Less than twenty feet away it terminated, the jagged walls shutting down, and offering an impassable barrier to any further progress in that direction.

All that he could do, after completing his search, was to turn back in quest of his friend Mickey. The belief that he was in the immediate neighborhood of the outlet delayed the lad's return until he could assure himself that it was impossible to find that for which he was hunting, and which had been the means of his wandering so far away from camp.

Fred occupied fully an hour in the search. Here and there he observed scratches upon the surface of the rocks in some places. He was confident that they had been made by the feet of the wolves; but in spite of these encouraging signs, he was baffled in his main purpose, and how the visitor made his way in and out of the cave remained an impenetrable mystery.

"Too bad, too bad!" he muttered, with a great sigh. "I shall have to give it up, after all. I only wish Mickey was here to help me. I will call to him, so that he will be sure to hear."

As has been intimated in another place, the two friends had a code of signals understood by both. When they were separated by quite a distance, and one wished to draw the other to him, he had a way of placing two of his fingers against his tongue, and emitting a shrill screech which might well be taken for the scream of a locomotive whistle, so loud and piercing was its character.

When the lad uttered his signal, he was startled by the result. A hundred echoes were awakened within the cavern, and the uproar fairly deafened him. It seemed to him that ten thousand little imps were perched all around the cavern, with their fingers thrust in their mouths, waiting for him to start the tumult, when they joined in, with an effect that was overwhelming and overpowering.

"Good gracious!" he gasped, "I neve

r heard anything like that. I thought all the rocks were going to tumble down upon my head, and I believe some must have been loosened."

He looked apprehensively at the dark, jagged points overhead. But they were as grim and motionless as they had been during the many long years that had rolled over them.

"Mickey must have heard that, if he is anywhere within twenty miles," he concluded.

But, if such was the case, he sent back no answering signal, as was his invariable custom, when that of his friend reached him. Fred listened long and attentively, but caught no reply.

"I guess I'll have to try it again," he added, with a mingled laugh and shudder. "I think these walls can stand a little more such serenading."

He threw his whole soul in the effort, and the screeching whistle that he sent out was frightful, followed, as it was, by the innumerable echoes. It seemed as if the walls took up the wave of sound as if it were a foot-ball and hurled it back and forth, from side to side, and up and down, in furious sport. The dread of losing his torch alone prevented the lad from throwing it down and clapping his hands to his ears, to shut out the horrid din. Some of the distant echoes, coming in after the others were exhausted, gave an odd, dropping character to the volleys of sound.

Had the expected reply of Mickey been the same as the call to him, the lad would have been deceived thereby, for the echoes, as will be understood, were precisely the same as answering whistles, uttered in the same manner. But Fred understood that, if the Irishman heard him, he would reply with a series of short signals, such as are heard on some railroads when danger is detected. But none such came, and he knew, therefore, that the ears which he intended to reach were not reached at all.

"I don't understand that," he mused, perplexedly, "unless he's asleep yet. When I left him, it didn't seem as though he'd wake up in a week. Perhaps he can hear me better if I shout."

A similar racket was produced when the boy strained his lungs, but his straining ear could detect no other result. It never once occurred to Fred that he and his friend were separated by such a distance that they could not communicate by sound or signal. And yet such was the case, he having traveled much further than he suspected.

Having been forced to the disheartening conclusion that it was impossible to find the outlet by which the wolf had escaped, Fred had but one course left. That was, to find his way back to the camp-fire in the shortest time and by the best means at his command. If the mountain would not go to Mohammed, then Mohammed would have to go to the mountain.

The lad began to feel that a great deal of responsibility was on his shoulders. The remembrance of Mickey O'Rooney going to sleep was alarming to him. He looked upon him as one regards a sentinel who sinks into slumber when upon duty. Knowing the cunning of the redskins, Fred feared that they would discover the fact, and descend into the cave in such numbers that escape would be out of the question.

And then again, suppose that their enemies did not disturb them, what was to be their fate? The venison in the possession of the Irishman could not last a great deal longer, and, when that was gone, no means of obtaining food would be left. What were the two prisoners then to do?

Mickey had hinted to Fred what his intention was, but the lad felt very little faith in its success. It appeared like throwing life away to make such a foolhardy attempt to reach the outside as diving into a stream of water from which there was no withdrawal, and the length of whose flow beneath the rock could only be conjectured, with all the chances against success. But Fred recalled in what a marked manner Providence had favored him in the past, and he could but feel a strong faith that He would still hold him in his remembrance. "I wouldn't have believed I could go through all that I have had in the last few days; and yet God remembered me, and I am sure He will not forget me so long as I try to do His will."

On the eve of starting he fancied he heard a slight rustling on his right, and he paused, hoping that the wolf would show himself again; but he could not discern anything, and concluded that it was the dropping of a stone or fragment of earth. The lad was further pleased to find, upon examination, that the revolver in his possession was uninjured by his fall. In short, the only one that had received any injuries was himself, and his were not of a serious character, being simply bruises, the effects of which would wear off in a short time.

"I hate to leave here without seeing that wolf," he said, as he stood hesitating, with his torch in hand. "He may be sneaking somewhere among these rocks, popping in and out whenever he has a chance; and if I could only get another sight of him, I would stick to him till he told me his secret."

He awaited awhile longer, but the hope was an illusive one, and he finally started on his return to camp.

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