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   Chapter 15 No.15

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 10730

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


On the Defensive.

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At the moment of reining up their mustangs, the fugitives were about equidistant between the two fires, and it was just as dangerous to advance as to retreat. For one second the Irishman meditated a desperate charge, in the hope of breaking through the company that first appeared in his path, and, had he been alone, or accompanied by a man, he would have done so. But, slight as was his own prospect of escape, he knew there was absolutely none for the boy in such a desperate effort, and he determined that it should not be made.

"Can't we make a dash straight through them?" asked Fred, reading the thought of Mickey, as he glanced from one to the other, and noted the fearfully rapid approach of the redskins.

"It can't be done," replied the Irishman. "There is only one thing left for us."

"What is that?"

"Do as I do. Yonder is an opening that may serve us for awhile."

As he spoke, he slipped off his steed, leaving him to work his own will. Fred did not hesitate a moment, for there was not a moment to spare.

As he sprang to the ground, he pulled the beautiful Apache blanket from the back of the mustang that had served him so well. Dragging that with him, the two hurried to the right, making for a wooded crevice between the rocks, which seemingly offered a chance for them to climb to the surface above, if, in the order of things, they should gain the opportunity to do so. Mickey O'Rooney, as a matter of course, took the lead and in a twinkling he was among the gnarled and twisted saplings, the interlacing vines, and the rolling stones and rattling gravel. As soon as he had secured a foothold, he reached out his hand to help his young friend.

"Never mind me. I can keep along behind you. Go as fast as you can."

"Let me have the blanket," said Mickey, drawing it from his grasp. "Now come ahead, for we have got to go it like monkeys."

He turned and bent to his task with the recklessness of despair, for, even in that dreadful crisis, he thought more of the little fellow than he did of himself. If he could have been assured of his safety, he would have been ready to wheel about and meet his score or more of foes, and fight them single-handed, as Leonidas and his band did at Thermopyl?. But the fate of the two was linked together, and, sink or swim, it must be fulfilled in company.

The narrow, wooded ravine, in which they had taken enforced refuge, was only three or four feet in width, the bottom sloping irregularly upward, at an angle of forty five degrees. So long as this continued, so long could they maintain their laboring ascent to the top. Mickey had strong hopes that, with the advantage of the start, they might reach that point far enough in advance of their pursuers to secure some other concealment that would serve them till nightfall, when they could steal out and try their chances again.

The saplings growing at every inclination afforded them much assistance, as they were able to seize hold with one or both hands, and thus help themselves along. But the vines in many places were of a peculiar running nature and they frequently caught their feet and stumbled; but they were instantly up and at it again. All at once Mickey, who was scarcely an arm's length in advance, halted so abruptly that Fred ran plump against him.

"Why don't you go on?" asked the panting lad.

"I can't. Here's the end."

So it was, indeed. While pressing forward with undiminished effort, the Irishman found himself suddenly confronted with a solid, perpendicular wall of rock. The narrow chasm, or fissure, terminated.

It was like a fugitive, his heart beating high with hope, checked in his flight by the obtrusion of the Great Chinese Wall across his path. Mickey looked upward. As he stood, he could, with outstretched arms, touch the wall on his right and left, and kick the one in front-the only open route being in the rear, which was commanded by the Apache party. As he did so, he saw, through the interstices of the interweaving, straggling branches, the clear, blue sky, with the edge of the fissure fully forty feet above his head. His first hope was that some of the saplings around him were lofty enough to permit him to use them as a ladder; but the tallest did not approach within a half dozen yards of the top. They were shut in on every hand.

"We can't run any further," said the Irishman, after a hasty glance at the situation. "We are cotched as fairly as ever was a mouse in a trap, and it now remains for us to peg away, and go under doing the best we can. Have ye your pistol?"

"Yes; I picked it up again, after throwing it in the face of the grizzly, but it isn't loaded."

"Then it ain't of much account, as me mither used to say in her affectionate references to me father; but if one of the spalpeens happen to come onto ye too suddent like, ye might scare him by shoving that into his eyes. I've got the powder for the same, but the bullets won't fit it, so I'll have to do the shooting."

They were at bay and the Irishman was right in his declaration that they could do nothing but fight it out as best they might. The question of further flight was settled by the trap in which they were caught.

They paused, expecting to hear the tramp of the Indians behind them, but, as it continued quiet, Mickey

ventured upon a more critical inspection of their fortress, as it may be termed. He found little which has not already been mentioned, except the fact that the wall on their left sloped inward, as it ascended, to such a degree that the width at the top was several feet less than at the bottom. This was an important advantage, for, in case they were attacked from above, it was in their power to place themselves beyond the immediate reach of a whole war party by any means at their command.

"Do ye hear anything?" asked Mickey, bending his head to listen.

They were silent a few minutes, during which the occasional tramp of a horse's hoof was noted. Beyond a doubt, the entire war-party of Apaches were at the mouth of the fissure and probably a number had already entered it.

"They haven't tried to rush in pell-mell, head-over-heels," added Mickey, after they had stood thus a short time; but they are sneaking along, just as they always do when they're on the thrack of a gintleman."

"How soon do you think they will be here?" asked Fred, who had recovered his breath, and who began to feel something like a renewal of hope, faint though it might be, at the continued silence of their foes.

"Can't say, me laddy; but they may come any minute, and we must keep eyes and ears open, and be ready to do the last act in style. Don't ye mind that we're very much in the same fix that we was when cotched in the cave, barring that we're worse off here than we were there? If some one should let a lasso down from the top, we might climb up just as we did there; but that's one of the things that ain't likely to happen."

"Suppose we creep back a ways to see what the Indians are doing," ventured Fred, who was puzzled at the silence of their enemies, which had now continued for some time.

"No need of doing that just yet. They'll let us know what they're at and what they mane-whisht!"

At that juncture the Irishman detected a movement among the wood and undergrowth of the ravine, and his rifle was at his shoulder like a flash. Fred understood, or, rather, suspected, the cause of the trouble, though he saw nothing. Only a few seconds elapsed when the trigger was pulled. The sharp crack of the weapon had scarcely broke the stillness when the shriek of a warrior was heard only a few feet away, followed by a threshing of the vines and vegetation, as the comrades of the slain brave caught and hurriedly dragged him back toward the greater ravine beyond.

"That'll taich 'em to be more respictful in the traitment of gintlemen," remarked Mickey, who had recovered something of his natural recklessness, and was reloading his gun with as much sangfroid as though he had just dropped an antelope, and wished to be ready for another that was expected along the same path.

Fred had detected the rustling movement among the shrubbery made by the redskin in stealing upon them, but he saw nothing of the savage himself, and was not a little startled when his friend fired so quickly, and the result was so manifest.

If the victim of this rather hastily fired shot was unable to appreciate the lesson from its having a too personal application to himself, his companions appreciated it fully. It taught them that the way of pursuit was not open and undisputed by any means, and the few who were hurrying forward rather rashly were not only checked, but forced backward. Matters, for the moment, were brought to a stand still.

"They'll be back again," added Mickey, after reloading his piece, "and, as they mean to have our topknots, as the hunters say, we'll wipe out as many as we kin before they git them. And now, me laddy, will ye allow me to make a suggestion?"

"What is it?"

"That ye kaap a little more out of raich. If one of the spalpeens craap up, and shoots ye dead, ye'll be sorry ye didn't take me advice, when ye come to think the matter over coolly. Here's a sort of boulder which seems to have cared in from above. Do ye squaze in behind that."

"And what will you do?" asked Fred, acting upon his advice.

"Being as there isn't room to squaze in wid ye, I'll take my stand a little out here, where I can secure the protection of a similar piece of masonry, and where the spalpeens can't git by me without giving the countersign and showing a pass."

The lad did not specially like this arrangement, as it really retired him, but their quarters were so cramped that they had to dispose of themselves as best they could. He was obliged to feel that practically he was of no account, as his only pistol had become useless hours before. Accordingly, he forced himself in behind the boulder pointed out, and found that his position was safe against any treacherous shot from the front.

He was uneasy, however, about the open space above him, for it struck him that it would be so easy for any of their foes to roll the rocks down upon their heads. When he came to examine the situation more critically, he was not a little relieved to find that he was protected by the sloping wall, already mentioned. A heavy stone heaved over the opening above might really weigh a ton, and come crashing downward with terrific force, but no skill could, at the start, cause its course to be such as to injure the lad. He therefore concluded that his friend Mickey was not unwise in placing him in such a refuge.

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