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The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 10996

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Sunlight and Hope.

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By clinging to the tail of the terrified wolf, Fred Munson had been assisted, dragged, and pulled from the Cimmerian gloom of the mountain cave into the glorious sunlight again. When the glare of light burst upon him, he let go of the queer aid to freedom, and the mystified animal skurried away with increased speed.

For a time the lad was so dazed and bewildered that he scarcely comprehended his good fortune. His eyes had been totally unaccustomed to light for so long a time that the retina was overpowered by the sudden flood of it and required time to accommodate itself to the new order of things. A few minutes were sufficient. And then, when he looked about and saw that he was indeed outside of the cave which had been such an appalling prison to him, Fred was fairly wild with joy.

It was all he could do to restrain himself from shouting, whooping and hurrahing at the top of his voice. It was only the recollection that there were a number of Apaches near at hand that sufficed to keep his voice toned down. But he danced and swung his arms, and threw himself here and there in a way that would have made a spectator certain that he was hilariously crazy. Not until he was thoroughly used up did he consent to pause and take a breathing spell. Then he gasped out, as well as he could, during his hurried breathing:

"Thank the good Lord! I knew He would not forget me. He let me hunt around for a while, long enough to make me feel I couldn't do anything, and then He stepped in. The wolf came. I didn't think I could make anything out of him, but I grabbed his tail. I held on and here I am. Thank the good Lord again."

When able to control himself still further, Fred made a survey of his surroundings. In the first place, he observed that the forenoon was only fairly under way, the sun having risen just high enough to be visible. The sky was clear of clouds and the day promised to be a beautiful one, without being oppressively warm.

"It is strange that I could not find the opening when the wolf scampered straight to it."

However, he did not stop to puzzle over the matter. It was sufficient to know and feel that he was back again in the busy, bustling world, saved from being buried in a living tomb.

An examination of the point where he had debouched from these Plutonian regions showed Fred that he was considerably below the general regions of the earth. He was in a sort of valley, surrounded by rocks and boulders, and the opening through which he had scrambled was situated sidewise, so that at a distance of ten feet it could not be seen. This accounted for the fact that none of the Indians knew any other means of ingress and egress excepting the opening in the roof of the cave. It was almost impossible to discover, except by accident or long continued and systematic search.

Fred's next thought was regarding Mickey O'Rooney, and he questioned himself as to the best means of reaching him, and assisting him to the same remarkably good fortune which had attended himself. The immediate suggestion, naturally, was to re-enter the cave and, after hunting up his old friend, conduct Mickey to the outer world, but it required only brief deliberation to convince him of the utter folly of such an attempt. In the first place, should he re-enter the cave, he would be lost again, not knowing in what direction to turn to find his friend and entirely unable to communicate with him by signal, as had been their custom when separated and looking for each other. Should he venture away from the tunnel to renew his search, it was scarcely possible that he could find his way back again. He would not only lose Mickey, but he would lose himself, with not the remotest chance of finding his way into the outer world again. So it was clearly apparent that, having been delivered from prison, it would not do for him to go back under any circumstances. He must remain where he was, and whatever assistance he could render his friend, must be given from the outside. How was this to be done?

To begin with, he felt the necessity of getting out of the circumscribing valley and of taking his bearings. He wished to learn where the opening through which he had fallen was situated. It was no difficult matter to work his way upward until he found himself up on a level with the main plateau. There, his view, although broken and interrupted in many directions, was quite extended in others, and his eye roamed over a large extent of that broken section of the country. He was utterly unable to recognize anything he saw, but he was confident that he was no great distance from the spot for which he was searching. It was only through the entrance that he could hold communication with Mickey, whenever the way should be left clear for him to do so. But he was fully mindful of the necessity for caution in every movement.

It was not to be supposed that the Apaches, having struck what might be called a gold-mine, intended to abandon it at the very time the richest of results were promised. And so, after long deliberation, the boy decided upon the direction in which the opening lay, and he made toward a small peak from which, in case his calculations were correct, he knew he would see it. Strange to say, his reckoning was correct in this instance; and when he stealthily made his way to the elevation and looked down over the slope, he saw the clump of bushes covering the "skylight," not

more than a hundred yards distant.

He saw something else, which was not quite so pleasant. Six Apache warriors were guarding the same entrance.

"I wonder if they think Mickey expects to make a jump up through there!" was the thought which came to Fred, as he peered down upon the savages, and counted them over several times. "I don't see what they are to gain by waiting there, unless they mean to go down pretty soon."

He could not be too careful in the vicinity of such characters, and, stretching out flat upon his face, he peeped over the top, taking the precaution first to remove his cap, and then to permit no more of his head than was indispensable to appear above the surface. The six redskins were lounging in as many different lazy attitudes. One seemed sound asleep, with his face turned to the ground, and looking like a warrior that had fallen from some balloon, and, striking on his stomach, lay just as he was flattened out. Another was half-sitting and half-reclining, smoking a pipe with a very long stem. His face was directly toward Fred, who noticed that his eyes were cast downward, as though he were gazing into the bowl of his pipe, while Fred could plainly see the ugly lips, as they parted at intervals and emitted their pulls in a fashion as indolent as that of some wealthy Turk. A third was seated a little further off, examining his rifle, which he had probably injured in some way, and which occupied his attention to the exclusion of everything else.

The bushes surrounding the opening had been torn away, although it was difficult to conceive what the Indians expected to accomplish by such an act, as it only served to make them plainer targets to the Irishman, whenever he chose to crack away from below.

The remaining trio of Apaches were occupied in some way with the cavern. They were stretched out upon the ground, with their heads close to the orifice, down which they seemed to be peering, and doing something, the nature of which the lad could not even guess.

"That don't look as though they had caught Mickey," he muttered, with a feeling of inexpressible relief; "for, if they had, they wouldn't be loafing around there."

Nothing of their horses could be seen, although he knew they must have a number of them somewhere in the neighborhood. An Apache or Comanche without his mustang would be like a soldier in battle without weapons.

"I'd like to find them," thought Fred, lowering his head, and looking back of him. "I'd take one and start all the others away, and then there would be fun."

The lad had it in his power to take an important step toward his return to his friends. Nothing was more likely than that a little search through the immediate neighborhood would discover the mustangs of his enemies, which, as a matter of course, were unguarded, the owners anticipating no trouble from any such source. Mounted upon the fleetest of prairie rangers, it would not require long to reach the open country, when he could speed away homeward.

But to do this required the abandonment of his friend, Mickey O'Rooney, who would not have been within the cavern at that minute but for his efforts to rescue him from the same prison. It was hard to tell in what way the lad expected to benefit him by staying, and yet nothing would have persuaded him to do otherwise.

"I may get a chance to do something for him, and if I should be gone and never see him again, I should blame myself forever. So I'll wait here and watch."

The three redskins on the edge of the opening remained occupied with something, but the curiosity of the lad continued unsatisfied until one of them raised up and moved backward several steps. Then Fred saw that he had a lasso in his hand, and was drawing it up from the cave. He pulled it up with one hand, while he caught and looped it with the other, until he had nearly a score of the coils in his grasp. This could not have been the cord which held the blanket when the shot of Mickey O'Rooney cut it and let the bundle drop, for that was much smaller, while this was sufficient to bear a weight of several hundred pounds, it having been used to lasso the fleet-footed and powerful mustangs of the prairies.

"They've been fishing with it," concluded the youngster; "but I don't believe that Mickey would bite. What are they going to do now?"

After drawing up the rope, the whole half dozen Apaches seemed to become very attentive. They gathered in a group and began discussing matters in their earnest fashion, gesticulating and grunting so loud that Fred distinctly heard them from where he lay. This discussion, however, speedily resulted in action.

Another of the blankets already described was very artistically doubled and folded into the resemblance of a man, and then the lasso was attached to it. The Apaches experimented with it for several minutes before putting it to the test, but at last everything was satisfactory, and it was launched. The aborigines seemed to comprehend what the trouble was with the other, and they avoided repeating the error.

When they began cautiously lowering the bundle, the six gathered as close to the margin as was prudent to await the result. Their interest was intense, for they had mapped out their programme, and much depended upon the result of this venture. But among the half dozen there was no one who was more nervously interested than Fred Munson, who felt that the fate of Mickey O'Rooney was trembling in the balance.

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