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   Chapter 9 No.9

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 10845

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Groping in Darkness.

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It is proper, at this point, to introduce some history of the movements of Mickey O'Rooney, after the separation between himself and his young friend. The latter, it will be remembered, left him sleeping upon the Apache blanket, at the bottom of the cave, while he, the lad, went off in pursuit of the wolf, which came so near leading him to destruction, but which, in the end, conducted him to freedom and safety.

The Irishman slept for several hours longer, as soundly as if he lay in his own bed at home. He was sorely in need of sleep, and, having convinced himself that there was no danger to be apprehended, he transferred all his anxiety over to his young friend while he sailed off into the land of dreams. When he awoke and recalled where he was, he spoke to Fred; but, receiving no reply, supposed he was asleep, and passed his hand about in quest of him. After groping several minutes in vacancy, he muttered:

"Be the powers! if he hasn't fell out of bed, as me brother Tom used to remark to the ould gintleman, after he'd kicked me out of the same. The fall ain't far enough to hurt him seriously, but these laddies have a way of getting hurt, where a man couldn't do it, if he tried."

After calling and searching further, he struck a match and held it up. A transient glimpse was gained of an area of several hundred feet, in which, it is needless to say, he saw nothing of his young friend.

"Be the powers! but he strayed away," added Mickey, somewhat impatiently. "He thought there was something that it would pay to chase, and he's gone off, and, of course, will be lost."

With a view to bringing him back, the Irishman called his name, whistled, and, after a time, fired his gun. The echoes were not so loud as when Fred had fired, but the racket was sufficient to make him confident it would reach the ears of the boy, if he were not asleep or injured.

Mickey, as will be seen, formed the right opinion of the action of his young friend, and hoped that he would be able to work his way back to camp, as they called it, without any mishap or assistance from him.

"He thinks there's another door that opens into the sunshine, and that isn't locked, and, if it is, he can pick the kay. He may work away till he becomes weary, and then he'll be back here, and we'll hare to contrive some other way, or it may be that good luck will lead him to the opening for which he sighs. Heaven grant that the same may be the case."

He waited, and watched, and hoped, as the hours passed by, until he began to believe that something serious had happened to him. At intervals he repeated his signals, but on no occasion was there anything like a response.

It was an odd juxtaposition of events that, at the very moment he uttered some of the calls, the despairing kid was doing the same thing, and, although each strained his ears to the utmost, yet neither suspected the truth.

The hours and the time passed on, until happening to look up at the opening, Mickey saw the prepared blanket slowly descending, just as Fred looked upon it from the ridge.

"I'm obliged to yees," he said, in an undertone, "but I don't find myself in pressing naad of the same. I have one here, but if ye insist on my taking that, I'll not quarrel with yees."

He resolved that when it came down within his reach he would cut the lasso, and take it, but before it reached the ground he had changed his mind.

He knew what the intention of the Apaches was, but he was not deceived for an instant.

"I'll not do anything at all," he muttered; "I'll not interfere, where it's so difficult to decide upon me duty, as the owld lady obsarved when the bear got her husband down. I'll let 'em think I'm aslaap, and see what they'll do."

And thus, as the reader already knows, the rolled-up blanket was lowered and raised again without molestation, almost grazing the upturned face of the Irishman as it did so.

"And the next will be one of the spalpeens himself. Begorrah! there he is this minute!"

Just as he anticipated, a short time after the blanket began its descent, enfolding the form of one of the swarthy warriors, the Irishman at once detecting the ruse.

His rifle was brought to his shoulder, but yielding to a whim, which he could hardly explain, he lowered it, without firing, resolved that he would do nothing at all, unless compelled to in self-defense. About this time an idea began to dawn upon him that silence and inaction upon his part might do himself more good than the most vigorous defense.

He might shoot the first Indian, and then the others would only keep themselves out of reach, and he would be no nearer escape than before. On the other hand, if he studiously forced himself into the background, they might begin to believe that he had discovered the means of exit which was unknown to them. He had no fear of not being able to keep out of their way, where he had such abundant room and where no light possibly could reach the interior and reveal his presence to a hundred searchers. If they chose to attempt to carry torches, then he could pick them off at his own convenience.

And so it came about that Mickey stood quietly by, and permitted the whole five Apaches to slide down the rope like so many monkeys, while he raised no hand in the way of protest. Not knowing how many the party numbered, he could

not conjecture how many were left when the five had come down, and the business stopped for the time, but he knew, as a matter of course, that they would not enter the cave without leaving reinforcements upon the surface.

By the time the last man landed, Mickey had moved back to a point a hundred yards away from where the group were gathered, where he was seated upon a large rock.

"If any of 'em undertakes to flash a bull's eye in me face, I kin dodge down behind the same," was the way in which the Irishman reasoned it.

At such a time, and in such a place, the faculty of hearing was about the only one that could be counted upon, and, sliding softly off the rock, Mickey applied his ear to the earth. If the Apaches were moving about, the noise made by their feet was so slight that he could not be certain whether they were actually branching out and groping for him, or whether they were the sounds produced by the natural shifting of the feet of a group of men standing together.

Matters stood thus for some time, when the last Indian suddenly came through the opening and plumped down upon the ground below, his start on this journey being such that he was probably considerably shaken up by the involuntary trip.

"Ye spalpeens must be more careful in coming down-stairs," muttered Mickey, who supposed that the whole thing was an accident, as in his own case.

But it was not long before he heard the voice of Fred Munson, calling from above, and, as each word was distinctly heard, there was no room for any misunderstanding of the situation. The Irishman was literally dumfounded.

"Be the powers! if it isn't the most wonderful thing that ever happened, as Mrs. Murphy remarked when Tim came home sober one night. That laddy, in hunting around, has struck upon some hole that leads out, and he's forgot, or else it was so hard to find his way back to me, he has gone round to that place, and now hollers down at me.

"Begorrah," added Mickey, a moment later, "it must be that he shoved that spalpeen overboard, and there isn't anybody left up there in the way of Apaches but one, and he ain't an Apache, but a gintleman named Fred Moonson. Here's to his health, and if this thing gets any more delightful, I'll have to give a whoop and yell, and strike up the Tipperary jig."

The exultant fellow had hard work to keep his spirits under control when he fairly understood the brilliant exploit that had been performed by his young friend.

"It is almost aqual to my gineral coorse," he he added; "but I must try and hold in till I can get the laddy by himself. Then I'll hammer him, out of pure love, as ye may say."

Mickey managed to contain himself, but did not attempt to reply to the direct call which was made upon him. That, in one sense, would have been fatal, as it would have "uncovered" his position. The Irishman was quick-witted, and it occurred to him that the last incident which had happened at the entrance to the cave might be turned to good account. If he continued to remain in the background, the Apaches were likely to conclude that he, too, was beyond their reach.

Thus matters stood until the signal was made to him, when he deemed it wise to make a cautious reply, merely to apprise the lad that he was there within call, and understood the situation through and through.

Mickey was very apprehensive when, some time after, he discovered that one of the Indians was ascending the rope. He was not so apprehensive when he came down again. The result of this repulse was much more decisive than Fred had supposed. The warriors seemed to suspect that they were throwing away time in attempting to outwit one who held such an immense advantage over them, and who was too wide-awake to permit them to steal a march upon him.

The delighted Irishman knew, from the sounds, that the redskins were moving away from the spot, not with the idea of staying away altogether, but that they might engage upon a little reconnoissance which might possibly open the way that they were so anxiously seeking. One of the redskins passed almost within arm's length of him, never suspecting, as a matter of course, that he was brought into such proximity to a mortal enemy. Mickey only breathed until assured that there was quite a distance between him and the Apaches.

"Now it begins to look as though there's a chance for me," he concluded; "and if me laddy will let down the lasso, I'll thry the bootiful experiment of shinning up it, though I much fear me that it will be the same as a greased pole."

He moved with the utmost circumspection toward the spot, being able to locate it by means of the moonlit opening overhead, and when he was near it he halted and listened.

"I don't obsarve that any one is loafing about here, getting in the way of honest folks."

Just then he ran plump against an Apache, whom he did not suspect was so near him.

The redskin uttered a grunt of anger, no doubt suspecting that it was one of his own friends.

As quick as lightning the Irishman drew back and struck a blow that stretched the warrior senseless.

"I'll tache ye to be grunting around here when a gintleman runs again ye. Ye ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Mickey had already strapped his rifle to his back, and, groping about, he felt the end of the lasso dangling in front of his face. The same instant he grasped it and began the ascent.

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