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The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 11369

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Fishing for a Prize.

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It is no easy task, even for a trained athlete, to climb forty or fifty feet of rope. The majority of men, if put to the test of making their way out of that cave by shinning up the long lariat suspended from the opening above, would have failed altogether.

Remembering how well his hearing had served him under somewhat similar circumstances, young Munson, watching so anxiously for the appearance of his friend, pressed his ear against the tough, untanned rope and listened. He could hear the scraping of the hands and the friction of the limbs against the rope, working steadily and in such a manner as to show that the man was succeeding well in the excelsior business and was sure to reach the top in time, if his strength held out.

"I guess that's Mickey O'Rooney climbing up," muttered the boy, "and yet I can't tell till I get a sight of him. It may be an Apache, and I'd better get ready, for I don't mean to have any of them creeping up on me."

Fred did not wish to cut the rope, as that would have ended the operations, so he concluded to resort to his weapon. There were two or three chambers of the revolver undischarged and he did not believe that it would be necessary to use them. The simple presentation of the muzzle had accomplished his purpose some hours before, and there was little doubt that it would do the same thing again.

The sky was absolutely free from clouds, and the moon, near her full, shed such a light over the scene that the lad almost dreaded the result.

While all remained profoundly dark in the cave, at the moment the man reached the surface and was brought into relief against the sky beyond, he would be distinctly visible to any one who might be looking upward, and half a dozen rifles pointed and fired at that juncture could scarcely fail of fatal results. The lad's misgivings increased as the man neared the top. When he again applied his ear to the lariat, he could understand that the fellow was working hard, and could only be a few feet below him.

"There's nothing like being ready," he concluded, as he straightened up, and, rising to his feet, stood, pistol in hand, ready for the issue.

He stepped back several feet, where his vision was entirely unobstructed.

"If it's an Indian, he won't have a chance of showing anything more than his head, and if he don't take that out of the way in a hurry, I'll let a ray of moonlight through it."

He stood thus, as rigid as a statue, fully appreciating the difficulties of his position and the fatal consequences of allowing himself to be outwitted.

"Mickey, is that you?" he asked, in a cautions whisper, a moment later.

As he asked the question he noticed that work upon the rope instantly ceased.

"It's Mickey," he said to himself, "but he doesn't think it safe to speak."

Then to him: "All right old boy, come ahead, and you may do the speaking after you land. Come ahead-you're near the top."

Again the toiling climber resumed his labor, and he was within a foot or two of the opening. One more hitch and he would emerge into the moonlight.

"Come old fellow, give me your hand," he added; "you've had pretty hard work."

Just then the bronzed face of an Apache Indian, smeared with paint and contorted with eager passion, slowly rose in the moonlight. The exhausted warrior, feeling that the critical moment was at hand, when all depended upon prompt and decisive work, made furious efforts to clamber out of the cavern before the lad who held the key of the situation could prevent.

Although Fred had contemplated this issue, and had prepared for it, yet he had become so thoroughly imbued with the belief that it was Mickey O'Rooney who was toiling upward that he was almost entirely thrown off his guard. Because of this, the cunning Apache would have secured his foothold and clambered out upon the daring lad, but for one thing. He had done, tremendous work in climbing a rope for such a distance, and his strength was nearly gone when he reached the open air.

Before he could reap the reward of all this labor, Fred recovered. Whipping out his revolver as before, he shoved it directly into his face, and said: "You ain't wanted here, and you'd better leave mighty quick!"

The warrior made a clutch at the weapon so close to him, but his exhaustion caused a miscalculation, and he failed altogether. He was supporting himself at this moment by one hand, and he acted as if the single effort to secure the pistol was to decide the whole thing. He failed in that, and gave up.

Instead of letting go and going to the bottom in one plunge, he began sliding downward, his head vanishing from sight almost as suddenly as if the lasso had been cut. It is generally easier to go down than up hill, and the work of twenty minutes was undone in a twinkling. A rattling descendo, and the Apache was down the rope again, standing at the bottom of the cave, and Fred was again master of the situation.

"Goodness!" exclaimed the lad, when he realized this gratifying state of affairs, "I had no idea that that was an Indian; but I ought to have suspected it when I called to him and he didn't make any answer. That stops that little sort of thing; but I don't know when Mickey is going to get a chance at the rope."

The lad was disheartened by this great disappointment, for it looked very much as if the redskins would guard all approaches to the lower end of the lasso, and his friend be shut out from all participation in the chance that he was so confident was placed at his disposal.

"I don't know what they can do with the rope," thought the lad, as he carefully

took it in hand, "but then it's no use to them, and I may as well keep it out of their reach while I can."

He gently pulled it, to test whether it was free.

No one at that juncture seemed to have hold of it, and, fearful that it would not remain so, the lad gave it a sudden jerk, which brought it far beyond the reach of any one who might be gathered on the sand below.

"That upsets all my calculations," said Fred, with a sigh. "The chance of getting out of here is poorer than ever. I am afraid Mickey is in a scrape where there ain't much show of his helping himself!"

The lad remembered, however, that his friend still had one resort-the last one-at his command. When it became absolutely apparent that no other way was open, he would make the plunge down the stream, and risk all in the single effort to dive from the inside to the outside of the cave.

"I don't want him to try that, just yet," added Fred, as he lay upon the ground, carefully considering the matter; "for I think that will wind up the whole thing."

The boy seemed to be considering every phase of the question, and he debated with himself for a long time whether he couldn't do something for his friend. He thought of going back to the entrance by which he had escaped-thanks to the assistance of the wolf-reenter it, without going to a distance which would cause any danger of losing his way, and signal to him. The great obstacle to this was that, as he could readily see from the distance he had gone over since emerging therefrom, it would be utterly impossible to send a signal so far, through such a chamber of sound as the cave had proven itself to be. There remained the same probability that the Apaches would hear it as soon as Mickey, and they would be stupid beyond their kind if they had not already gained a correct idea of the situation.

Still, it was possible to see how the Irishman could succeed. Men placed in fully as desperate situations as he had pulled through by showing nerve and readiness of resource when the critical moment should arrive.

Mickey O'Rooney possessed originality and pluck. He had acquired considerable experience and knowledge of Indian "devilments" on his way across the plains, and, if the Apaches comprehended the situation, it was not to be supposed that he was not posted fully as well. If he could see no chance of getting a pull at the rope, he could easily keep out of the way of the redskins. He had no fear of meeting any of them singly, and if he could arrange it so as to encounter them one after another, and at his own convenience, he might clear the track in that fashion.

As it was, therefore, Fred Munson could only await for the issue of events. He was powerless to do anything until the sign should be made by his friend at the other end of the rope.

For fully two hours things remained in statu quo. The lad lay upon the ground close to the opening, listening, looking and thinking so intently that there was no danger of his falling asleep. The profound stillness remained unbroken during all that time. The murmur of the cascade had a faint, distant sound, as if it came from the ocean, many long leagues away, but there was nothing more-not even a signal from Mickey, who, if he had any plans, was working them with admirable secrecy. At the end of that time the lad concluded that it would be best to lower the lasso again.

"If he is down there, he must have a chance to get hold of the rope, or he can't come up here," was the reasonable conclusion of the lad, who passed it downward slowly and in perfect silence.

Fully a score of theories flitted through his head as he lay thus speculating upon the situation down below. At one time he was sure that it was useless to attempt to help his friend in that style. A half-dozen Apaches would not permit a single white to climb into safety immediately before their eyes, especially when they could cover him with their rifles if he should succeed in giving them the slip at the start. Then it appeared anything but reasonable to suppose that the Indians would remain directly below him, waiting for their chance to try their fortune in the trapeze line again. More likely they would scatter and hunt separately for the outlet which had permitted their intended victim to gain his safety. They could expect to gain nothing by remaining, and they were too shrewd to do so.

When the matter presented itself in this shape, Fred was ready to call down to Mickey, instructing him to grasp the lasso, and ascend without further delay. Too much precious time was being wasted. Fortunately, however, before he acted upon this theory, enough doubts arose to prevent his carrying it out.

He had had enough experience with the rope to know how to gauge it very well, and he lowered it until the other end was within two or three feet of the bottom. Having placed it thus within easy reach, he let it pass over his hand, holding it so delicately poised that the slightest disturbance was sure to be detected. He was in the position of the fisherman who is angling for some plump piscatorial prize, which requires the most skillful kind of persuasion to induce him to nibble the hook.

For a half-hour nothing touched it, and then Fred fancied that he felt a slight jerk. He made no response, but instantly became all attention and waited. A second later the jerk was repeated so distinctly that there could be no mistake. The lad gave it a twitch in reply, and then all remained still for a short time. Suddenly the thong was snapped from his hand, and instantly became taut.

Fred applied his ear as before. Yes; some one was climbing up the rope again.

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