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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 10814

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Friend or Enemy?

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It can scarcely be said that either of the fugitives had any definite hope of escape, for neither was able to see how the thing was possible. Mickey knew that occasionally, in the affairs of the world, seemingly providential interferences had occurred, but he looked for nothing of the kind. He considered that there would be a siege, lasting perhaps several days, then a desperate hand-to-hand struggle, and then.

The summary manner in which the Irishman disposed of the first Apache who showed himself brought matters to a standstill. In this condition they probably would have remained but for the Irishman himself, who saw nothing to be gained by inaction. Turning his head, he whispered to Fred:

"Do ye kape quiet, me laddy, till my return. I am going to take a look around."

The boy offered no objection, for he knew it would not be heeded, and Mickey moved away. It required the greatest care to pick his way down the fissure, as the stones and gravel were liable to turn under his feet and betray his approach, and it was much easier to go forward than backward.

The fissure which had afforded this temporary refuge was about fifty feet in length, and the vegetation was so thick that at almost any portion the view was no greater than three or four yards. Mickey was in constant expectation of encountering some of the Apaches at every step he took, and, in accordance with his principle of hitting a head wherever he saw it, he held his rifle so as to fire on the very instant the coppery face presented itself to view. But he saw none, and as he advanced he began to believe that the place was entirely free of the Apaches, who, if prudent, would quietly wait on the outside until their prey dropped into their hands.

It was not to be supposed that they would leave any opening on the outside by which the most forlorn chance could be obtained, and Mickey had no thought of any such thing. If he had, it would have been dissipated by the evidence of his own ears. He could hear distinctly their peculiar grunting voices, the tramp of their mustangs, and the evidence which a score of Indian warriors might be expected to give of their presence, when they had no reason for concealment.

"It may be that the spalpeens mean to make a rush upon me," he muttered, as he halted near the end of the fissure, "in which case I shall have a delightful employment in cracking their pates as they come up and take their turn."

He remained where he was a few minutes longer, and, seeing no prospect of learning anything additional, he resumed his advance until he reached a point where it was only necessary to draw the branches slightly apart to gain a view of the main ravine. And this he proceeded to do in the gentlest and most cautious manner possible.

The view was satisfactory, as it showed him that the Apaches were gathered at the entrance to the fissure and were taking matters very coolly and philosophically. Several were on horses, and a number on foot. Among the mustangs moving about, the Irishman recognized his own, astride of which was a dirty-looking Apache, with a wide mouth and broken nose.

"Ye ould spalpeen," muttered the indignant Irishman, "if it wasn't for fear of spoiling your wonderful booty, I'd turn you somersets off that hoss of mine, which I shall have to whitewash after getting him back, on account of your contact wid the same."

Mickey was strongly tempted to send a bullet after the tantalizing horse-thief, but he thought he could wait awhile. He was extremely cautious in making his stealthy view, only moving enough leaves to permit the service of his eyes and he had not enjoyed this prospect long before he believed that he had been detected.

Of the twenty-odd members comprising the Apache party, about a dozen were constantly in view, the others being too far to the right or left to be seen. The group was an irregular and straggling one, the most interesting portion being five or six, who stood close together, exactly at the base of the fissure, talking with each other. It was impossible that there should be more than one subject of discussion; and the dispute, as Mickey suspected, was as to the precise method of disposing of the job which had been placed in their hands.

Some, evidently, favored a daring charge directly up the narrow ravine, with its short, fierce encounter and sure victory. Others had a different plan, and their gestures led the eavesdropper to suspect that they advocated reaching them from the roof, while it was apparent that there were those who insisted upon waiting until the fruit should become ripe enough to fall into their laps without shaking. There could be little doubt that the Apaches preferred to take both prisoners, instead of shooting or tomahawking them in a fight. They were under the inspiration of Lone Wolf, who believed that a live man was much more valuable than a dead one.

While Mickey was watching this group with an interest which may be imagined, he noticed that a short, thick, greasy, filthy warrior was looking directly toward him, with a steadiness which caused the Irishman to suspect that his presence was known. The Indian, like all of them, was as homely as he could be. He, too, had gone through an attack of smallpox, which had left his broad face so deeply pitted that it could be noticed through the

vari-colored paint which was daubed thereon. There was scarcely any forehead, the black, piercing eyes were far apart, and when Mickey saw them turned toward him, he felt anything but comfortable under their fire.

"I wonder whether he would keep mum if I should tip him the wink?" thought Mickey, who suffered the leaves in front of his face to close until there was just the smallest space through which he could watch his man.

The latter acted very much as if he suspected the proximity of the Irishman, even if he was not assured of it. He continued looking directly at the point where the eyes of the white man peered out upon him, and by-and-by he raised his arm and pointed in the same direction, saying something at the same time to a couple of the warriors near him.

"Be the powers, if that doesn't mane me, as me friend Larry O'Toole said when the judge axed for the biggest rascal in coort. I'll have to retire."

At this juncture a strange occurrence took place. Mickey O'Rooney was looking straight at the man, when he saw him fling up his arms, yell and pitch forward to the ground, while the group instantly scattered, as if a bombshell had dropped at their feet.

Just a second previous to this strange death, Mickey heard the report of a rifle, showing that the warrior had been shot by some one at quite a distance from the spot, which shot, at the game time, caused a temporary panic among the others.

"Well, well, now, if that doesn't bate everything!" exclaimed the amazed Irishman. "Just as I was thinking of raising my gun to give that spalpeen his walking-papers, up steps some gintleman and saves me the trouble; but who was the gintleman? is the question."

The inexplicable occurrence naturally recalled Fred Munson's adventure with the grizzly bear. When he needed assistance most sorely, the shot was fired that saved his life. Could it be that the same party had interfered in the present instance? There was plenty of ground for speculation, and the Irishman was disposed to believe that the diversion came from some small party of Kiowas or Comanches, who had a special enmity against this company of Apaches, and who, being too weak to attack them, took this means of revenging themselves.

It was unsafe, however, to count upon the well-aimed shot as meant in the interest of the whites, although the one that brought down the grizzly bear could not have been meant for anything else than a direct help to the imperiled lad. The Southwest has been noted for what are termed "triangular fights." A party of Americans have been driven at bay by an overwhelming number of Mexicans or greasers, who have suddenly found themselves attacked by a party of howling Comanches. The latter have scattered the Mexicans like chaff, the Americans acting the part of spectators until the rout was complete, when the Comanches turned about and sailed into the Americans. The Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Mexicans and Americans afforded just the elements for a complication of guerilla warfare, in which matters frequently became mixed to a wonderful degree.

The hand that had fired this shot against a mortal foe of Mickey O'Rooney might be turned against him the next hour. Who could tell?

"If that gintleman begins the serenade from the other side, it's me bounden duty to kaap it up from this," concluded the Irishman, as he cocked his rifle and awaited his chance.

It was not long in coming. Only a few minutes had passed after the shot, when a couple of Apaches walked rapidly to view, and, approaching the remains of their comrade, stooped down to carry him away.

Mickey allowed them to get fairly started, when he blazed away at the foremost, and had the satisfaction of seeing the rear Apache not only deprived of his assistance, but his duty suddenly doubled. The warrior, however, stuck pluckily to the work, and dragged both out of view without any assistance from those who were ready to rush to his help.

These two, or rather three, rifle shots produced the strongest kind of effect upon the Apaches. They could not well fail to do so, for they were not only fired with unerring aim, but they came from such diverse points as to show the redskins that instead of having their enemies cooped up in this narrow ravine, they had, in one sense, placed themselves between two fires.

Hurriedly reloading his rifle, Mickey waited several minutes, determined to fire the instant he got the chance, with the purpose of enhancing the demoralization of the wretches. But they had received enough to teach them caution, and as the minutes passed, they failed to expose themselves. They had taken to shelter somewhere, and were not yet ready to uncover.

"When Mickey had waited a considerable time, he concluded to rejoin Fred Munson, who, no doubt, was anxious over the result of his reconnoissance. When he returned he found him seated upon the boulder, instead of behind it. The Irishman hastily explained what had taken place, and added:

"I don't know what they will do next, but we've give the spalpeens a dose that will kaap them in the background for a while."

"No, it won't, either," was the significant response.

"What do you maan, me laddy?"

"I mean that the Apaches, or some of them, anyway, have changed their base. I've heard something overhead that makes me sure they're up there, getting up some kind of deviltry."

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