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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 11491

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Strange Experiences.

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Young Munson was destined to learn ultimately that he had undertaken an impossible task. The hunter, in the flush and excitement attending the pursuit of game, can form no correct idea of the distance passed, and so he, in attempting to run the shadowy wolf to earth, had traveled twice as far as he supposed. The case is altogether different when the hunter starts to return. It is then that the furlongs become miles, and the wearied pursuer feels disgusted with the enthusiasm which led him so far away from headquarters.

When the lad was certain that he had labored far enough on the back track to take him fully to the camp-fire, he really had not gone more than one-half the distance. Worse than this, he saw, from the nature of the ground, that he was "off soundings." Several times he was forced to leap over openings, or rents, similar to that into which he had stumbled, and the broadening out of the cave made it out of his power to confine his path to anything like reasonable limits. The appearance of unexpected obstructions directly in his way compelled numerous detours, with the inevitable result of disarranging the line he intended to pursue, and causing his course to be a zigzag one of the most marked character.

There were no landmarks to afford him the least guidance. In short, he was like the ill-fated steamer caught on a dangerous coast by an impenetrable fog, where no observations can be made, and the captain is compelled to "go it blind." He was forcibly reminded of this difficulty by unexpectedly finding himself face to face with the side of the cavern. When he thought that he was pursuing the right direction, here was evidence that he was at least going at right angles, and, to all intents and purposes, he might as well have been going in exactly the opposite course.

"Well, things are getting mixed," he exclaimed, more amused than frightened at this discovery. "I never tramped over such a place before, and if I ever get out of this, I'll never try it again."

But there was little cause for mirth, and when he had struggled an hour longer, something like despair began to creep into his heart. Worse than all, he became aware that his torch was nearly exhausted, and, under the most favorable circumstances, could not last more than an hour longer.

While toiling in this manner, he had continued to signal to Mickey in his usual manner, but with no other result than that of awakening the same deafening din of echoes. By this time he was utterly worn out. He had been traveling for hours, or, rather, working, for nearly every step was absolute labor, so precipitous was the ground and so frequent were his detours. He had accomplished nothing. When he expected to find himself in the immediate vicinity of the campfire, there were no signs of it, and the loudest shout he could make to his friend brought no reply.

This fact filled the mind of Fred with a hundred misgivings. He had given up the belief that it was possible for Mickey to remain asleep all this time. He was sure the night had passed, and, great as was the capacity of the Irishman in the way of slumber, he could not remain unconscious all the time. And then nothing seemed more probable than that he was placed for ever beyond the power of response. If a dozen Indians quietly let themselves down through the opening during the darkness of the night, they could easily discover the sleeping figure, and dispatch him before he could make any kind of resistance.

It was this fear of the Indians being in the cave that made the lad apprehensive every time he gave utterance to his signals. He believed they were as likely to reach the ears of the Apaches as those of Mickey, and his faith of the extraordinary shrewdness of those people was such that he did not doubt but that, by some means or other, they would learn the true signal with which to reply. As yet, however, no such attempt had been made, so far as his ears informed him, but his misgivings were none the less on that account. What was the use of their taking the trouble to answer when he was walking directly into their hands? There was a cowering, shrinking sensation from his own noise, caused by the expectation that a half-dozen crouching figures would leap up and swoop down upon him.

The darkness remained impenetrable, and, as Fred toiled forward, he was continually recalling the words of Byron, which he had read frequently when at school, and had learned to recite for his father. He found himself repeating them, and there was no doubt that he realized more vividly than do boys generally of his age the meaning of the author:

"The world was void:

The populous and powerful was a lump,

Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless;

A lump of death, a chaos of hard clay.

The rivers, lakes and ocean, all stood still,

And nothing stirr'd within their silent depths."

Such fancies as these were not calculated to make him feel particularly comfortable while carrying the torch. Such a person in such a situation makes an especially inviting target of himself, and, although Fred dreaded to see it burn itself out, when the chances were that he was likely to be in sore need of the same, yet he had wrought himself up to such a pitch that he more than once meditated extinguishing it altogether, with the purpose of putting himself on an equality with those of his enemies who might be prowling in the night around him.

"I wonder whether Mickey would be more likely to hear my pistol than a shout or whistle?" he said, as he drew the weapon from his belt and held it up to inspect it in the light of the flaring torch. "It seems to be all right, although

there's no telling how long since it has been loaded. Here goes."

With this, he pointed the muzzle toward the cavern and pulled the trigger.

The response was as prompt as though he had charged the chamber but a short time before, proving not only that the weapon was of the best quality, but that the ammunition was equally so, and the slight moisture that characterized the atmosphere of the cave had not been sufficient to injure the charge. It seemed as if he had fired a cannon, the echoes rolling, doubling, and repeating on themselves in the most bewildering and terrifying fashion.

Fred could not understand how it was that such a pandemonium of sound could escape filling the subterranean world from one end to the other, and so he sat down on a ledge of rock to listen for some reply from his friend.

It was several seconds before the trickeries of nature, in the way of echoes, terminated and matters settled down to their natural quiet. And then, when quiet came again, it was like that of a tomb-deep, profound, and impressive. The bent and listening ear could detect nothing that could be supposed to resemble the noise of the cascade, which had excited his wonder when he was stretched out upon the ground directly above it.

"This must be about forty miles round," he said to himself, when he had waited for the reply until convinced that it was not forthcoming, "and I have strayed away altogether."

The luxury of rest was so great, after his long, wearying toil, that he concluded that he might as well spend a half hour in that fashion as in any other. The echoes and pains of his bruises had departed,-or, more properly, perhaps they were consolidated with the aches and pains following upon the overtaxing of his limbs.

"Oh, dear! How tired I am!" he sighed, as he stretched out his limbs. "It seems to me that I won't be able to walk again for a week. I must rest awhile."

His fatigue was so great that he was not conscious of any desire for food or rest.

"Maybe I will need that torch more after a time than I do now," he added, as he looked listlessly at it. "It seems good for a half hour yet, and I don't want it." With this he thrust the burning end in the sand at his feet, and held it there until it was entirely extinguished, and he was wrapped again in the same impenetrable darkness. So far as possible, he had become accustomed to this dreadful state of affairs. He had been viewing and breathing the atmospheric blackness for many hours, although it may be doubted whether one who had spent so much of his life in the sunshine could ever become accustomed to the total deprivation of it.

Fred had assumed an easy position, where he could lay his head back, and, straightening out his legs, he made up his mind to enjoy the rest which he needed so badly. When a lad is thoroughly and completely tired, it is difficult for him to think of anything else; and although, while walking, the fugitive was tormented by all manner of wild fancies and fears, yet when his efforts ceased, something like a reaction followed, and he sighed for rest, content to wait until he should be forced to face the difficulties again.

When he closed his eyes all sorts of lights danced before him, and strange, indescribable noises filled the air. It seemed that impish figures were frolicking all around, sometimes grinning in his face, and then skurrying far away through the aisles of the gloom. At last he slept. The slumber was sweet and dreamless, carrying him through the entire night, and affording him the very rest and refreshment which he so sorely needed.

This sleep was nearly completed when Fred was aroused by some animal licking his face. He arose with a start of exclamation and terror, and the animal growled and darted back several feet. A pair of gleaming eyes flashed in the darkness-the same pair which he had seen before. The wolf had come back to him.

Fred drew his revolver with the purpose of giving him a shot, when he reflected that it would be wisdom not to kill the animal until he was forced to do it in self defense. So he shoved the weapon back in its place, where it could be seized at a moment's warning, and sat still. In a few moments the wolf ventured softly up to him, and preparing to begin his feast. The boy, yielding to a strange whim, threw out his arms and made a grab at him.

The affrighted creature made a leap to escape the embrace, and Fred grasped his tail with both hands. This made the wolf wild with terror, and away he leaped. The boy hung on, running with might and main in his efforts to keep up. The brute, not knowing what he had in tow, was only intent upon getting away, and he plunged ahead as furiously as if a blazing torch was tied to his tail. Fred was fully imbued with the "spirit of the occasion," and resolved not to part company with his guide, unless the caudal appendage should detach itself from its owner. The wolf was naturally much more fleet of foot, but his efforts of speed only increased that of the lad, who, still clinging to his support, labored with might and main.

Away, away they went!

Now he was down on his knees; then clambering up again; then banging against the rocks-still onward, until he found himself flat on his face, still holding to his support, while the wolf was clutching and clawing to get away. They were in such a narrow passage way that Fred could not rise. Unclasping one hand, he held on with the other, while he worked along after him. For a long time this savage scratching, struggling and toiling continued, and then, all at once, Fred was dazzled by the overpowering flood of light.

He had escaped from the cave in the mountain, and was in the outside world again.

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