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   Chapter 13 No.13

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 22205

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


In the Nick of Time.

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Leaving his mustang in charge of Fred, the Irishman turned to the right, and followed the stream into the rocks. The course was so winding that he speedily disappeared from sight. The boy, who was compelled to sit still and await his return, at perhaps the most dangerous portion of the road, felt anything but comfortable over the erratic proceeding of his friend. But, fortunately, the latter had been gone but a short time when he reappeared, hurrying forward as if somebody was at his heels.

"It's all right," he remarked, as he sprang into the saddle, took up the reins, and started on. "I think the Apaches are there, though I can't be sartin; but I found out what I wanted to l'arn."

Then he explained that he followed up the stream to the place where it came from beneath the rocks, which formed a part of the wall of the cave, where a curious fact attracted his attention. In its passage beneath the stone the tunnel widened and flattened, so that, where it shot forth to the sunlight again, its width was some twenty feet, and its depth only a few inches. The appearance it presented was very much like that of the gates of a mill-pond when they have been slightly raised to allow a discharge of water beneath. Through the passage-way thus afforded no living person could have forced his way; and, had Mickey O'Rooney attempted it, nothing in the world could have saved him from drowning. The Irishman himself realized it, and was thankful enough that he had refrained from making the desperate attempt.

The two continued their sweeping gallop for several hours, during which they did not catch a glimpse of Indians, but they were alarmed by hearing the reports of guns at no great distance on the right. The firing was irregular, sometimes several shots being heard together, and then they were more of a dropping character. This showed that a fight of some kind was going on, but as to its precise nature they could only conjecture. It might be that a party of Comanches and Apaches, or Kiowas, or hunters were enjoying a hot time, but the two friends were glad to get out of the neighborhood as speedily as possible. At noon they enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that they had made good and substantial progress on the way home. There was an abundance of grass and water, and when the sun was overhead they went into camp.

"I'm as hungry as a panther that has been fasting for a month," said Mickey, as he dismounted; "and I haven't got a mouthful of food lift. There ain't any use of a chap starving to death to accommodate anybody else, and I don't mane to do the same."

Fred Munson's hunger was scarcely less than his, but the boy would have been willing to have undergone still more, rather than incur the risk that was now inevitable. But Mickey saw nothing to be gained by such a course and contended that they should give their attention to the wants of their bodies, before they were weakened by fasting and fatigue.

Mickey promised not to be absent long, and then started in search of provender. Game was abundant in that part of the world, and he was confident that much time would not be required to bring down some toothsome dainty.

"He has an uncomfortable way of running off and leaving a fellow alone," muttered Fred, as he watched the vanishing figure of his friend. "I haven't anything but my revolver, and only two shots left in that, and it seems to me that this is about the worst place we could stop."

The point where they camped was in the pass, which, at that point, widened considerably. The right wall curved far inward in a semi-circular shape, the opposite remaining the same, the gorge looking as if an immense slice had been scooped out of its northern boundary. The rocks on every hand ranged from a dozen to a hundred feet in height, with numerous openings, through which a horseman could easily pick his way. The tops were covered with vegetation, the greater portion of which was vigorous and dense.

Fred found himself standing in an immense amphitheatre, as one can imagine how the gladiators of Rome stood in the Coliseum, when an audience of over a hundred thousand were seated and looking down upon them. He could not but note the helpless situation a party of men would be in if caught where he was.

"If a company of United States Cavalry should camp here, and the Indians opened on them from the rocks above, they would have to stand and be shot down, one after another, or else run the gauntlet and be picked off in the same way."

The appearance of the ground showed that the spot was a favorite camping-site of the Indians. Fred, for a time, suspected that it was the place where Lone Wolf and his band had spent the first night out from New Boston; but an examination showed that it did not correspond in many points. The remains of charred wood, of bleaching bones and ashes proved that many a camp-fire had been kindled. And, in all probability, every one of them had warmed the shins and toasted the food of the red cut-throats of that section.

The two mustangs were tethered near one side of the space where there was grass and water, and the lad set about it to select a proper place in which to build their camp-fire. There was no trouble in determining this; but, when he started to gather wood, he was surprised to discover that there was much less than he supposed. The former tenants of the place had cleared it up pretty thoroughly.

"There is plenty of wood over yonder," he said to himself, looking in the direction taken by Mickey O'Rooney; "and where there is so much growing there must be some upon the ground. I'll go over and gather some, and have the fire all ready when he comes back."

It was quite a walk from where he stood to the side of the semicircular widening of the pass, and as he went over it he was surprised to find it greater than it appeared. When he picked his way between the rocks, and began clambering among the trees and vegetation, he concluded that he was fully two hundred yards from where the mustangs were grazing.

However, he did not allow himself to lose any time in speculation and wonderment, but set to work at once to gather wood with which to kindle a fire in readiness for the return of Mickey. There was enough around him to afford all he needed and he was engaged in leisurely collecting an armful when he was startled by the rattling of the leaves behind him.

The wood was dropped on the instant, and the alarmed lad wheeled about to face his new danger. Instead of two or three Indians, as he had anticipated, he saw an enormous grizzly bear, about a dozen feet in the rear, coming directly toward him, with very little doubt of his purpose.

Fred had no thought of anything of this character, and for a time he was paralyzed with terror, unable to speak or stir. These precious seconds were improved by the huge animal, which continued lumbering heavily forward toward the boy. Bruin had his jaws apart and his red tongue lolling out, while a guttural grunt was occasionally heard, as if the beast was anticipating the crunching of the tender flesh and bones of the lad.

Before the latter was within reach, however, he had recovered his usual activity, and, with a bound and a yell of terror, Fred started in the direction of the clearing, where he had left the mustangs, and where he had intended to kindle the camp-fire. But the enormous, bulky creature, although swinging along in his awkward fashion, still made good speed, and gained so rapidly upon the boy that he almost abandoned hope of escape.

At this critical moment Fred thought of his revolver, and he whipped it out in a twinkling. Whirling about, he took quick aim and discharged both barrels almost in the face of the brute. Then, flinging the pistol against his leather nose, he turned back and continued his flight at the utmost bent of his speed. Both bullets struck the brute and wounded him, but not fatally, nor, indeed, enough to check his advance.

WHIRLING ABOUT HE TOOK QUICK AIM.

The grizzly bear, as found in his native wilds, is killed with extreme difficulty, and the only thing that seemed to affect the monster in the present instance was the flash of the pistol in his eyes. He paused, and, rearing on his hind legs, snorted, snuffed, and pawed his nose as if the bullets were splinters which he was seeking to displace. Then, with an angry growl, he dropped on all fours and resumed his pursuit of the author of his confusion and hurts. The wounds incensed the brute, and he plunged along at a faster rate than before, gaining so rapidly that there could be no doubt as to the result.

Being without any weapon at all, there seemed but one hope for Fred, and that was to reach his mustang in time to mount and avail himself of his speed. For a hundred feet or so he ran down a rapid slope, between the trees and rocks, until he reached the camping site, where he had a run of a couple of hundred yards across a comparatively level plain to reach the point where his animal was awaiting him.

In going down this wooded slope, the smaller size of the boy gave him considerable advantage. Yet, so well did the grizzly succeed that he reached the spot less than twenty feet in his rear, and, heading directly for him, at once proceeded to decrease the distance still further. This placed the question of escape by superior speed upon the part of the lad as among the impossibilities, and it began to look very much as if his race were run.

At this juncture, as if all the fates had combined against him, Fred, while glancing backward over his shoulder, stumbled and fell. He sprang up as hastily as possible, but the loss of ground was irreparable. As he looked back he saw that the colossal beast was so close that it seemed that one sweep of his paw would smite the terrified fugitive from the face of the earth.

It was a critical moment indeed, and the crack of the rifle from the wood, which the pursuer and pursued had just left, was not a breath of time too soon. Aimed by one who knew the vulnerable points of such a creature, and by someone whose skill was unsurpassed, the leaden messenger crashed its way through bone and muscle to the seat of life. The brute, which was ready to fall upon and devour the young fugitive, pitched heavily forward and rolled upon the ground in the throes of death.

Fred did not realize his delivery until he had gone some distance further and looked back and saw the black mass motionless upon the ground. After some hesitation, he then turned and walked distrustfully back to where it lay.

He found the beast stone-dead, a rill of blood from beneath the fore-leg showing where some one's bullet had done the business. The lad recalled the sound of the gun which had reached his ear.

"That was the best shot for me that Mickey ever made," he muttered, looking around for his friend.

But he was nowhere to be seen.

"Mickey must always have his fun," added Fred after failing to detect him. "Instead of coming out at once and le

tting me know how he came to do it, he fires the lucky shot, and then waits to see how I will act. My gracious! he is a bouncer!"

This last remark was excited by the carcass, which he kicked, and which shook like a mountainous mass of jelly; and as he passed around it he gained a fair idea of the immense proportions of the bear, in whose grasp he would have been as helpless as in that of a royal Bengal tiger.

"Whew! but he came mighty close to me! When I fell down I expected to feel his paws on me before I could get up. In a few seconds more it would have been all up with me."

Several minutes passed, and nothing was seen of the Irishman, whereupon the lad concluded he might as well go back and gather the wood, which would be needed at the camp-fire.

"I wonder if there's any more of them," he muttered, as he began picking his way among the rocks. "If there are, why Mickey must look out for me."

He found the sticks just as he had thrown them down and he proceeded to regather them, keeping a careful watch for another dangerous visitor. All remained quiet, however, and, making his way down the wooded slope into the open area, he looked back and found that he was still alone. So it continued until he returned to where the two mustangs were tethered. There he carefully adjusted the sticks and prepared everything, after which he began to feel some impatience at the non-appearance of his friend.

"He must see more fun in that kind of thing than I do. There's no telling what has become of those six Apaches we left down in the cave. I feel sure that they've got above ground again. It won't take long for them to find their mustangs, or some other horses, and they may be a mile away, and there may be other parties close by. Halloa!"

Fred thought that he had no matches about his person; but he was making a sort of aimless hunt when he found a solitary lucifer at the bottom of his pocket. This he carefully struck against the rock behind him, and in a few minutes the camp-fire was started and burning merrily.

As he sat down to wait he looked toward the point where the Irishman had vanished from sight. There he was, bearing on his shoulders some choice sections of a young antelope he had shot, although Fred recalled that he had not heard the report of his gun, except when the grizzly was shot. As Mickey came along over the same path taken by the boy, he was forced to make a detour around the carcass of the bear. He paused to survey it, his whole manner betraying great astonishment, as if he had never beheld anything of the kind. He walked around the body several times, punched it with his foot, and finally, grasping his twenty pounds of meat in his right hand, approached the camp-fire.

Here he at once began the preparations for broiling it. The antelope had been of goodly size and he had cut out the most luscious portions, so as to avoid carrying back any waste material. He had a great deal more than both could eat, it is true, but it was a commendable custom with the Irishman to lay in a stock against emergencies that were likely to arise.

While thus employed, it would have been impossible for Mickey to hold his tongue.

"Begorrah, but it was queer, was the same, the way I came to cotch this gintleman. I hunted him a little ways, when he made a big jump, and I thought had got a long ways off, but when I came to folly him, I found he had cornered himself among the rocks, where there was no show of getting out, except by coming back on me. The minute I showed mesilf, he made a rush for me arms, just as all the purty gals in Tipperary used to do when I came along the street. An antelope can't do much, but I don't care about their coming down on me in that style, and so I pulled up and let drive. He was right on me when I pulled trigger, and he made one big jump that carried him clear over my head, and landed him stone dead on the other side."

"That was a good shot, but not as good as when you brought down the grizzly bear at my heels."

Mickey O'Rooney was particularly busy just then with his culinary operations, and he stared at the lad with an expression of comical amazement that made the young fellow laugh.

"Begorrah, why don't ye talk sinse?" added Mickey, impatiently. "I've heard Soot Simpson say that if ye only put your shot in the right spot, ye don't want but one of 'em to trip the biggest grizzly that ever navigated. I was going to obsarve that ye had been mighty lucky to send in your two pistol-shots just where they settled the business, though I s'pose the haythen was so close on ye whin ye fired that ye almost shoved the weapon into his carcass."

"I shot him, Mickey, before I fairly started to run, but he didn't mind it any more than if I spit in his face. It was your own shot that did the business."

"Me own shot!" repeated Mickey, still staring with an astonished expression. "I never fired any shot at the baste, and never saw him till a few minutes ago, when I was coming this way."

It was Fred Munson's turn to be astonished, and he asked, in his amazed, wondering way:

"Who, then, fired the shot that killed him? I didn't."

"I thought ye did the same, for it was not mesilf."

The lad was more puzzled than ever. He saw that Mickey was in earnest, and was telling him the truth, and each, in fact, understood that he had been under a misapprehension as to who had slain the grizzly bear.

"The beast was right on me," continued Fred, "and I didn't think there was any chance for me, when I heard the crack of a rifle from the bushes, and, looking back, saw that the bear was down on the ground, making his last kick."

Mickey let the meat scorch, while he stopped to scratch his head, as was his custom when he was in a mental fog.

"Begorrah, but that is queer, as me mither used to obsarve when she found she had not been desaved by belaving what we childer told her. There was somebody who was kind enough to knock over the grizzly at the most convanient season for ye, and then he doesn't choose to send over his card wid his post-office address on."

"Who do you think it was, Mickey?"

"It must have been some red spalpeen that took pity on ye. Who knows but it was Lone Wolf himself?"

Both looked about them in a scared, inquiring way, but could see nothing of their unknown friend or enemy, as the case might be.

"I tell you, Mickey, that it makes me feel as if we ought to get out of here."

"Ye're right, and we'll just swally some of this stuff, and then we'll 'light out."

He tossed the lad a goodly-sized piece of meat, which, if anything, was overdone. Both ate more rapidly than was consistent with hygiene, their eyes continually wandering over the rocks and heights around them, in quest of their seemingly ever-present enemies, the Apaches. It required but a few moments for them to, complete their dinner. Mickey, in accordance with his custom, carefully folded up what was left, and, taking a drink from the stream which ran near at hand, they sprang upon the backs of their mustangs, and headed westward in the direction of New Boston, provided such a settlement was still in existence by the grace of Lone Wolf, leader of the Apaches.

"Now," said Mickey, whose spirits seemed to rise when he found himself astride of his trusty mustang again, "if we don't have any bad luck, we ought to be out of the mountains by dark."

"And after that?"

"Then a good long ride across the prairie, and we'll be back again wid the folks."

"How glad I am that father isn't there, that he staid at Fort Aubray, for when he comes along in a few weeks, he won't know anything about this trouble till I tell him the whole story myself, and then it will be too late for him to worry."

"Yes, I'm glad it's so, for it saams if I had a spalpeen of a son off wid Lone Wolf, among the mountains, I'd feel as bad as if he'd gone in swimming where the water was over his head. And then it will be so nice to sit down and tell the ould gintleman about it, and have him lambaste ye 'cause you wasn't more respictful to Lone Wolf. All them things are cheerful, and make the occasion very plisant. Begorrah, I should like to know where that old redskin is, for Soot Simpson tells me that he is the greatest redskin down in this part of the world. He's the spalpeen that robbed a government train and made himself a big blanket out of the new greenbaeks that he stole. Soot says that there isn't room on his lodge-pole for half the scalps that he has taken. Bad luck to the spalpeen, he will peel the topknot from the head of a lovely woman, or swaat child, such as I used to be, as quick as he would from the crown of a man of my size. He's an old riprobate, is the same, and Soot says he can niver die resigned and at pace with all mankind till he shoots him."

"I'll be very glad to keep out of his way, if he'll keep out of mine. I wonder why he didn't kill me when he had the chance, instead of keeping me so long."

"I s'pose he meant to carry ye up where his little spalpeens live, and turn ye over to them for their amusement."

"How could I amuse them?"

"There be a good many ways. They might have stuck little wooden pegs in your hide, then set fire to 'em, and then walked ye round for fireworks; or they might fill your ears with powder, and tech it off, and then watched the iligant exprission of your countenance. Or they might lave set ye to running up and down between two rows of 'em, about eight or ten miles long, while aich stood with a big shillalah in his hand, and banged ye over the head with it as ye passed. There be a good many ways, according to what Soot told me, but that's enough to show ye that Lone Wolf and his folks wouldn't have been at a loss to find delightful ways of giving the little childher the innocent sport they must have."

"I shouldn't think they would, if that's the kind of fun they like," replied the horrified boy. "I've thanked the Lord hundreds of times that He helped me get out of Lone Wolf's clutches, and my dread is that he may catch us before we can get out of the mountain. I don't believe we could find as good a chance as I did the other night."

"Ye're right; that thing couldn't happen ag'in. Lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place; but we've got good horses, and if he don't pin us up in the pass, I think our chance is as good as could be asked."

"That's what troubles me," said Fred, who was galloping at his side, and who kept continually glancing from the tops of the rocks upon the right to the tops upon the left. "You know there are Indians all over, and I wonder that some of them haven't seen us already. S'pose they do, and they're behind us, they can signal to somebody ahead, and the first thing we know, they've got us shut in on both sides."

"That thing may happen," replied Mickey, who did not appear as apprehensive as his young friend; "but I have the best of hope that the same won't. I don't think Lone Wolf knows we're anywhere around here, and before he can find out, I also hope we shall be beyond his raich."

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