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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 9987

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


A Daring Exploit.

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A veteran Comanche warrior could not have advanced with greater skill than did young Munson approach the unconscious Apache. The warriors who had taken this little business in hand seemed to have cleared away the treacherous ground surrounding the opening, so that it was not likely to give way beneath their weight, even when they advanced close to the edge. The single redskin who remained seemed to have shifted his position more for the purpose of relieving himself from his cramped posture than anything else.

He was standing erect, about a foot away from the edge, with the lasso in both hands, looking down into the cavern of gloom below, listening and watching, with the sense of touch also on the alert. His blanket and rifle lay at one side, out of the way, but where they could be reached at a single leap, if necessary. The end of the lasso was still fastened to the rock, but the savage held it loosely, so that the slightest twitch upon it would become known to him on the instant.

It is not often that an Indian can be taken off the guard. Years of danger have made the senses of the savages preternaturally acute, and they are as distant as the timid antelope of the plains. But, for all that, there was a boy within a dozen yards of a swarthy warrior whose senses were on the alert, and yet had failed to detect his proximity.

Fred gazed upon him with the fixed intensity of the jungle tiger stealing upon his prey. With his right hand resting upon the hilt of his revolver, he never removed his eyes from the muscular figure of the Apache, bending over the entrance to the cavern.

"Shall I shoot, or push him over?"

"SHALL I SHOOT OR PUSH HIM OVER?"

This was the question the lad kept revolving in his mind, as he advanced step by step. With the pistol he could bury two or three balls in the body of the redskin before he could suspect where they came from, and thus completely clear the path before him. But there were doubts in the way. The revolver might miss fire, in which case all hope would be gone. In a hand-to-hand tussle the Apache would be more than a match for a dozen such lads. True, the weapon had not failed when he pulled the trigger in the cave, but there was no certainty that it would not do so when he most needed it.

Then, too, he felt a natural repugnance against stealing upon a foe in this fashion, and shooting him in the back. It had a cowardly look, even when certain that the threatened party would have done precisely the same thing, had the opportunity come in his way.

"I will push him over, if he don't make me shoot him."

But to do this necessitated a much closer approach. He must literally be within "striking distance." Could he place himself there without discovery? If the redskin were asleep, or if his mind was occupied with something of a different nature, or if there were some extraneous noise, the case would be different. The blowing of the wind, the murmur of a waterfall (such as Fred had heard when lying upon the ground in the same spot) would have been a most fortunate diversion. But there was nothing of the kind. There was a dead calm, not a breath of air stirring, and the day was hot.

Fred had approached within twenty feet, and still the Apache did not stir. How vivid and indelibly his appearance was impressed upon the vision of the boy! He could never forget it. The redskin, although of powerful build, was anything but pleasing in appearance, even when viewed from the rear.

His blanket being thrown aside, he was naked, with the exception of a breech-cloth. His feet were of large size, encased in shabby moccasins, while frowsy leggins dangled between the knee and ankle. His body, from the breech-cloth to the shoulders, was splashed and daubed with a half dozen kinds of paint, while his black, thin hair straggled about his shoulders and was smeared in the same fashion. Like most of the Indians of the Southwest, he wore no scalp-lock, but allowed his hair to hang like a woman's, not even permitting it to be gathered with a band, nor ornamenting it with the customary stained eagle-feathers. His arms were also bare, with the exception of the wrists, around which were tied bracelets, which, no doubt, he considered very attractive. The boy could fancy what a repulsive face he possessed.

Step by step, inch by inch, the young hero made his way, his eyes fixed upon the savage with a burning intensity, until it seemed that he would burn him through and through. And the Apache heard him not, although they were no more than ten feet apart.

"He will hear the thumping of my heart," was the constant fear of the boy.

Slowly lifting one foot, he put in on the ground as softly as if it were held in a slipper of eiderdown. He was treading upon a thin growth of grass, interspersed plentifully with gravel, but he never once looked to see what he was stepping upon. Indeed, he could not remove his eyes from the o

ne central figure of his thoughts and vision.

One obstruction, no matter how slight-the turning of a pebble, a slip, even the most trivial, and the Apache would turn like lightning, and be upon him in a flash. Two more steps were taken, and only eight feet separated the lad and the Indian, and still the latter remained all unconscious of what was going on. Fred's heart was throbbing violently, but he retained control of himself. He felt that the critical moment was close at hand. A slight advance more, and the attempt was to be made.

He grasped the handle of the revolver more firmly than ever, but he raised his foot for another step, feeling that the distance was still too great. At this juncture the Indian moved!

He stepped one pace backward directly toward the boy, and he looked up and away. But not behind him. The glance was a mere casual one. He had heard nothing, and he expected to see nothing, when he looked off in the manner mentioned.

The Apache remained standing in this attitude for a minute. Then he stepped forward and resumed his former position on the edge of the opening, still clinging to the lasso, as if in constant expectation of some signal.

During this little episode Fred remained as motionless as if cast in bronze. His eyes were still centred upon the Indian, and he partially drew his revolver from the girdle he wore about his body, with the expectation of using it. But when his foe gave his attention to the cave below, the lad softly shoved the weapon back in its place, and again raised his foot.

The movement was slow and painful, but it was accomplished successfully. Only a single step more remained to place him where he wanted to be. That taken, and one bound was all that he needed to make. Finally, and for the last time during the advance, the right foot ascended from the ground, was poised for a few seconds in the air, and then came down with the same care as before. But it touched a loose pebble which turned with the lightest imaginable noise.

As quick as a flash the Apache raised his head, looked in front, and then darted his vision from left to right, when his keen eyes detected something crouching behind him.

At the very instant of the discovery, Fred concentrated all his energies in one effort, and bounded forward like a catapult. The distance was precisely what it should have been, and, as he threw out his hands, he struck the Indian squarely in the back with the whole momentum of the body. In fact, the daring boy nearly overdid the matter. He not only came near driving the Apache to the other side of the opening, but he came equally near plunging himself down it. As it was, the victim, taken completely off his guard, was thrown against the other side, where his wonderful dexterity enabled him to throw out his hands and check his downward descent.

Fred, after his narrow escape from going down into the cave, scrambled back to his place, and saw the Indian struggling upon the opposite side, with a good prospect of saving himself. "That won't do," was his thought, as he ran round the opening so as to bring himself directly before him. "I don't want you up here."

Thrusting his pistol almost against his painted forehead, he fairly shouted:

"Get down-let go, or I'll shoot!"

Whether the Apache possessed much knowledge of the English tongue can only be conjectured, but the gestures accompanying the command were so expressive that he could not fail to take in the whole meaning. The Indian, no doubt, considered it preferable to drop down into the pit rather than run against the bullet. At any rate, he released his hold, and down he went.

As he drooped into the gloom he made a clutch at the lasso, doubtless for the purpose of creeping up unawares upon the lad, who, by a strange providence, had so suddenly become his master. But the Indian, although a pretty good athlete, had not practiced that sort of thing, and he failed altogether, going down to join his comrades much the same as if he had dropped from a balloon.

Fred proved himself equal to the emergency. The moment he saw that he was relieved from the presence of his enemy, he darted back to the other side of the opening, caught hold of the lasso, and hurriedly drew it up out of reach of those below.

"There! they can't come crawling up that when I ain't thinking," he said, when the end of the thong was in his hand.

He coiled the whole thing up at his feet, and then, with a feeling of relief and pleasure which cannot be described, he looked about to see whether he was alone. Alone he was, and master of the situation. Where there had been six daring Apache warriors a half-hour before, not one was now visible. All were in the cave. Five had gone willingly, while it looked very much as if the sixth had not been so willing. At any rate, they were all beyond the power of injuring Fred Munson, who, after considering over the matter, concluded that he had done a pretty good thing.

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