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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 10680

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Mining and Countermining

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Fred expected every moment to catch the dull crack of the rifle from the subterranean regions as a signal that Mickey O'Rooney had neither closed his eyes to the impending peril, nor had given way to despair at the trying position in which he was placed. But the stillness remained unbroken, while the lasso was steadily paid out by the dusky hands of the swarthy warrior, whose motions were closely watched by the others.

Lower and lower it descended as the coils lying at his knees were steadily unwound, until the disturbed lad was certain the bottom of the cavern was nearly reached, and still all was silent as the tomb.

"I'm sure I would hear his gun if he fired it," he said, worried and distressed by what was taking place before his eyes; "and if I did not, I could tell by the way they acted whenever he pulled trigger. What can he be doing?"

The lad thought it possible that his friend was absent in some distant part of the cave hunting for him, and was, therefore, totally unaware of the flank movement that was under way. It could not be that he was still asleep; he had no fears on that score. It might be, too, that the Irishman had arrived at the conclusion that the situation had grown so desperate as to warrant him in the dernier resorte he had fixed upon. If such was the case, then, as Mickey himself might have said, "the jig was up."

Two or three coils still remained upon the ground when the Apache stopped lowering the lasso, and, looking in the faces of his companions, said something.

"It has either reached the bottom of the cave, or else Mickey has fired at it," said Fred, who became more excited than ever.

He had caught no sound resembling a shot, and he concluded that it must be the former, as was really the case. In a few seconds the Indian began drawing up the lasso again, and a short time thereafter the roll of blanket was brought to the surface. It was carefully examined by all the group. The dirt on it proved that it had rested on the bottom of the cave, but there were no marks to show that it had received any attention at the hands of any one there.

There were grunts of pleasure, as this fact was gathered by the redskins. The experiments had been satisfactory and they were prepared to venture upon the more dangerous and decisive one-the one which they intended should bring matters to a focus.

Fred was in doubt what this plan was to be until he saw the blanket unfolded and as carefully wrapped around the form of one of the Apaches, encasing him from head to foot. Great pains were taken to hide his head and feet from view, the warrior lying upon his back, and suffering himself to be "done up" with as much thoroughness as if he were a choice sample of dry-goods. Viewed from a disinterested stand-point, the wonder was how he was to breathe in such wrappings.

"They have tried the blanket, and finding that was not disturbed, they're going to send down one of their number, thinking that if Mickey does see it he'll believe it is the same blanket, and won't fire at it, because he didn't fire at the other."

It looked very venturesome upon the part of the warrior thus to enter the lion's den. But while, as a rule, the Indians of the Southwest are treacherous and cowardly, there are occasional instances in which they show an intrepidity equal to that of the most daring white scouts.

When everything was arranged to the satisfaction of all, three of the most stalwart Apaches braced themselves, with the lasso grasped between them, while a fourth carefully piloted the body over the edge of the opening, and began slowly lowering it to the bottom.

The bravest man, placed in the position of the enwrapped redskin could not have avoided some tremor, when he knew that he was hanging in midair, in plain view of the rifleman who had separated the thong which supported the blanket in the first attempt. The Indian must have experienced strange emotions; but if he did, he gave no evidence. He remained as passive as a log, his purpose being to imitate the appearance of the first bundle.

"Now, if Mickey let's that go down without sending a bullet through it, he hasn't got one half the sense that I think he has."

Fred was hasty and impatient at the seeming success which marked everything that the red-skins undertook. He looked and listened for some evidence that the Irishman was "there;" but no dull, subterranean report told him of the fatal rifle-shot, while the three Apaches continued steadily lowering their comrade with as much coolness and deliberation as if not the slightest particle of danger threatened. Minute after minute passed, and the lad was in deep despair. It could not be, he was compelled to think, that Mickey O'Rooney was anywhere in the vicinity. He must be a long distance away, searching for his young friend, not knowing, and, perhaps, not caring about the Apaches. He might consider that, within the darkness of the cave, they all had an equal advantage, and he could hold his own against each and every one. There was no denying that the defender had a vast advantage over those who might come into his "castle," provided he was really aware of their movements, but it was this doubt that caused the boy his uneasiness.

"He must be near the bot

tom," he concluded, when this paying-out process had continued some minutes longer, and he thought he saw very little of the lasso left.

Such was the fact. Only a few seconds more passed, when there was a general loosening up on the part of the redskins, as in the case of men who have just finished a laborious job. They looked into each others faces, and there were guttural exclamations, as if they were congratulating themselves upon what had been accomplished.

"And, now, what next?" asked the disgusted watcher. "Good luck seems to go with everything they undertake, and I suppose they'll bring Mickey up by the heels."

But such was not the sequel, and probably not the expectation of the Apaches. They had succeeded in planting a man in the breach, and their purpose was to follow him, as they speedily proved. The behavior of the group around the opening showed that the Indians were holding communication with their ally below, probably by a system of signals with the lasso, such as the man in the diving-bell employs when below the surface. These, too, must have been satisfactory, for, in a very brief time thereafter, the decisive operations were taken up and continued.

There was considerable of the lasso still left above ground-more than Fred imagined-and this was secured about a jutting point in a rock near at hand. It was fixed so immovably that it could not fail. "I wonder if they mean to roll that thing in upon Mickey's head, or what is it?"

They speedily showed what their intentions were. In less than a minute after the lasso was fastened, one of the Apaches caught hold of it and slid down through the opening so rapidly, that it looked as if he had lost his hold and dropped out of sight. A second did precisely the same thing; then a third, fourth and fifth, until only one warrior was left above ground.

"Oh! I hope he'll go," whispered Fred to himself; "and then I can do something big."

But the Apaches had evidently concluded that it would be an imprudent arrangement not to leave any of their friends on guard-not because they expected any interference from outside parties, but to provide against accident. If the lasso should fail them at a critical moment, they would be in a bad predicament, cut off from all means of getting out, as the skylight was the only avenue known to them, while, if a comrade remained above, all such danger would be escaped. Their purpose had been to send the five warriors down into the cave to attend to the case of the parties there.

The redskins were now down below and the whole thing was put in shape for operations to begin. All that remained was to find their man, and Fred could not tell what the prospects of success were in that direction; but he was almost ready to believe that they were all that the Indians could ask. The sixth Apache, who remained visible, took matters very comfortably. He stretched himself flat upon the ground, with his head hanging almost in the opening, so that he could catch every sound that came up from below. It was plain that he expected to be called upon to render important service, and he did not intend to let a signal escape him.

The hour that succeeded made little change in the situation. The action of this redskin showed that he occasionally received and sent messages-most probably by the subterranean telegraph-but he shifted his position very little. While he was thus engaged, Fred Munson was intently occupied with another scheme, and he had speedily wrought himself into a high pitch of excitement.

"I believe I can do it," he muttered, more than once, as he revolved the desperate scheme in his mind; but, whatever his plan was, he waited in the hope that fortune would appear more propitious.

When the Apache had sat thus for some time, he changed his position. He had been lying with his side toward the lad, but now he sat up, with his back to him, and as close to the edge of the opening as was prudent, while he held the lasso in his hand, like the fisherman on the bank of a stream, who patiently waits and is sensitive to the slightest nibbling at the other end of his line.

He had scarcely settled himself in this position when Fred Munson changed his own. Rising from the ground where he had lain so long, he stepped over the ridge, and advanced directly toward the redskin, who harbored no suspicion that there was any of his race in his neighborhood. The plan the lad had resolved upon required nerve, resolution and quickness. He stepped as lightly as was consistent with speed until he had passed half the distance, when he began to slacken his gait and to proceed with greater caution than ever.

All depended upon his ability to keep from being heard or detected. Of course, he had no wish to engage in a fight with one of these fierce warriors, but he was prepared, even for that. His hand rested upon the hilt of his revolver, so that he could whip it out at an instant's warning and discharge it, as he meant to do if necessary.

It was while he was yet some distance from the redskin that Fred felt that his position was one of frightful peril. His foe had his rifle within easy reach, and, if he turned too soon, he could pick off his young assailant before he should arrive within striking distance,-but each moment raised the hopes of the lad.

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