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   Chapter 14 No.14

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 9426

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Between Two Fires.

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Mickey had scarcely given utterance to this hopeful remark when he drew up his mustang with a spasmodic jerk and exclaimed, in a startled in a startled voice:

"Do you see that?"

As he spoke, he pointed some distance ahead, where a faint, thin column of smoke was seen rising from the top of the rocks on the opposite side of the canon or pass.

It will be remembered that the pass of which our two friends availed themselves is the only one leading through the section of the mountains which lies to the eastward of the Rio Pecos. That part over which Fred and Mickey were riding showed numerous winding trails, made by the hoofs of the horses, as they passed back and forth, bearing Apaches, Comanches, Kiowas, and, very rarely, white men. At no very distant intervals were observed human skeletons and bones, while they were scarcely ever out of sight of the remains of horses or wild animals; all of which told their tale of the scenes of violence that had taken place in that highway of the mountains.

Sometimes war-parties of the tribes mentioned encountered each other in the gorge, and passed each other in sullen silence, or, perchance, they dashed together like so many wild beasts, fighting with the fury of a thousand Kilkenny cats. It was as the whim happened to rule the leaders.

The rocks rose perpendicularly on both sides to the height of fifty and a hundred feet, the upper contour being irregular, and varying in every manner imaginable. Along the upper edge of the pass grew vegetation, while here and there, along the side, some tree managed to obtain a precarious foothold, and sprouted forth toward the sun. The floor of the canon was of a varied nature-rocks, boulders, grass, streams of water, gravel, sand, and barren soil, alternating with each other and preventing anything like an accurate description of any particular section. A survey of this curious specimen of nature's highway suggested the idea that the solid mountain had been rent for many leagues by an earthquake, which, having opened this great seam or rent, had left it gradually to adjust itself to the changed order of things, and to be availed of by those who were seeking a safe and speedy transit through the almost impassable mountains.

Mickey and Fred checked their mustangs and carefully scrutinized the line of smoke. It was several hundred yards in advance, on their left, while they were following a trail that led close to the right of the canon. They could distinguish nothing at all that could give any additional information.

The fire which gave rise to the vapor had been kindled just far enough back to cause the edge of the gorge to protrude itself in such a way as to shut it off from the eyes of those below. Indeed, it was not to be supposed that those who had the matter in charge would commit any oversight which would reveal themselves or their purpose to those from whom they desired to keep them.

"That is the same as the camp-fire which troubled the three Apaches so much, and which was the means of my giving them the slip."

"It must have been started by some other war-party, so that their ca'c'lations were upsit, and you had a chance to get away during the muss. It was a sort of free fight, you see, in which, instead of staying and getting your head cracked, you stepped down and lift."

Unable to make anything of this particular signal-fire, the two friends carefully searched for more. Had they been able to discover one in the rear, they would have been assured that signaling was going on, and they would not have dared to venture forward. Here and there along the sides of the canon were openings or crevices, generally filled with some sort of a vegetable growth, and into most of which quite a number of men could have taken refuge, but which, of course, were inaccessible to their horses.

"I can't find anything that resimbles the same," said Mickey, alluding to the camp-fire, "though there may be some one that is seen by the gintlemen who are cooking their shins by yon one."

"Will it do to go on?"

"It won't do to do anything else. Like enough the spalpeen yonder has obsarved us coming, and he knows that there's a party behind us, and, being unable to do anything himsilf, he starts up the fire so as to scare us, and turn us back into the hands of the spalpeens coming in our rear. Mind, I say that such may be the case, but I ain't sure that it is."

"I shouldn't wonder a bit, now, if that isn't it exactly," said Fred, who was quite taken with the ingenious theory of his friend. "It seems to me that the best thing that we can do is to ride on as fast as we can."

"We've got

to run the risk of it being all wrong, and fetching up in the bosom of the spalpeens; but it's moighty sure we don't make anything by standing here."

The Irishman turned his horse as near the middle of the canon as possible. Fred kept close to his side, his mustang behaving so splendidly that he gave him his unreserved confidence. The average width of the pass was about a hundred yards, so it will be understood that if a detachment of men were caught within it they would be compelled to fight at a fearful disadvantage.

The plan of Mickey and Fred, as they discussed it while riding along, was to keep up the moderate gallop until close upon the fire. They would then put their animals to the highest speed and pass the dangerous point as speedily as possible. They felt no little misgiving as they drew near the dangerous place, and they continually glanced upward at the rocks overhead, expecting that a party of Indians would suddenly make their appearance and open fire.

The first plan was, as they drew near, to run in as close as possible beneath the rocks on the left, in the belief that, as they overhung so much, the Indians above could not reach them with a shot. But before the time came to make the attempt, it was seen that it would not do. Accordingly, Mickey, who had maintained a line as close as possible to the centre of the canon, suddenly sheered his mustang to the right, until he nearly grazed the wall there. Then he put him on a dead run, Fred Munson doing the same, with very little space between the two steeds. A few plunges brought them directly opposite the signal-fire, and every nerve was strained.

Both beasts were capable of magnificent speed and the still air became like a hurricane as the horsemen cut their way through it. Fred glanced upward at the crest of the rocks on the left and fancied that he saw figures standing there, preparing to fire. He hammered his heels against the ribs of his mustang and leaned forward upon his neck, in the hope of making the aim as difficult as possible.

Still no reports of guns were heard; and, after continuing the terrific gait for a quarter of a mile, they gradually decreased it until it became a moderate walk, and the riders again found themselves side by side. Both had looked behind them a dozen times since passing the dangerous point, but had not obtained a glimpse of an Indian.

"I thought I saw a number just as we were opposite," said Fred; "but, if so, what has become of them?"

"Ye didn't obsarve any at all, for I kipt raising me eye that way, and they weren't there. The whole thing is a moighty puzzle, as our tacher used to remark when the sum in addition became so big that he had to set down one number and carry anither. The spalpeens must have manufactured that fire for our benefit, and where's the good that it has done them?"

"Can't it be that it was for something else? Can't it be that they took us for Indians, or perhaps they haven't seen us at all, and don't know that we've passed?"

"It does seem as if something of the kind might be, and yet that don't sthrike me as the Injin style of doing business."

They continued their moderate pace for quite a distance further, continually looking back toward the camp-fire, the smoke from which continued to ascend with the same distinct regularity as before, but nothing resembling a warrior was detected. Finally a curve in the gorge shut out the troublesome signal, and they were left to continue their way and conjecture as much as they chose as to the explanation of what had taken place.

A little later, and when the afternoon was about half gone, they reached a portion of the pass which was remarkably straight, so that the eye took in a half mile of it, from the beginning to the point where another turn intervened. The two friends were galloping over this exact section and speculating as to how soon they would strike the open prairie, when all their calculations were knocked topsy-turvy. A party of horsemen charged around the bend in front, all riding at a sweeping gallop directly toward the alarmed Mickey and Fred, who instantly halted and surveyed them. A second glance showed them to be Indians, undoubtedly Apaches, and very probably Lone Wolf himself and some of his warriors.

"We must turn back," said the Irishman, wheeling his horse about and striking him into a rapid gait. "We've got to have a dead run for it, and I think we can win. Holy saints presarve us!"

This ejaculation was caused by seeing, at that moment, another party of horsemen appear directly in their front, as they turned on the back trail. Thus they were shut in on both sides, and fairly caught between two fires.

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