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The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 10310

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


An Old Acquaintance.

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All this was grist for Mickey and Fred. The long silence and inaction-so far as these two were concerned-of the Apaches convinced the fugitives that some important interruption was going on, and that it could not fail to operate in the most direct way in their favor. It was well into the afternoon when the collision occurred between them and the Apaches, and enough time had already passed to bring the night quite close at hand. An hour or so more, and darkness would be upon them.

"I don't belave the spalpeens have found put just the precise spot where we've stowed away," said Mickey, in his cautious undertone, to his companion, "for I've no evidence that such is the case."

"They may take it into their heads to come into the fissure again, and then where are we?"

"Right here, every time. We couldn't get a better spot, unless it might be at the mouth."

"Don't you think we had better go there?" asked the lad, who could not feel the assurance of his friend.

"I see nothing to be gained by the same, as Tim O'Loony said when some one told him that honesty was the best policy. If we start to return there, they'll find out where we are, and begin to roll stones on us. I don't want to go along, dodging rocks as big as a house, wid an occasional rifle-shot thrown in, by way of variety."

"Don't you fear they will creep in and try to surprise us?"

"Not before dark, and then we can shift our position."

"Do you believe there is any hope at all for us in the way of getting out?"

The Irishman was careful not to arouse too strong hopes in the breast of the lad, and he tried to be guarded in his reply:

"An hour ago I would have sworn if there war a half-dozen of us in here, there was no show of our getting away wid our top-knots, for the raison that there is but one hole through which we could sneak, and there's twenty of 'em sitting round there, and watching for us; but I faal that there is some ground for hope."

"What reason for your saying there is hope? Isn't it just as hard to get out the front without being seen?"

"It might be just now; but there's no telling what them ither spalpeens mane to do arter the sun goes down. S'pose they get Lone Wolf and his men in such a big fight that they'd have their hands full, what's to hinder our sneaking out the back-door during the rumpus, hunting up our mustangs, or somebody else's, and resooming our journey to New Boston, which these spalpeens were so impertinent as to interrupt a short time since?"

Fred Munson felt that this was about as rose-colored a view as could be taken, and indeed a great deal rosier than the situation warranted-at least, in his opinion.

"Mickey, if that isn't counting chickens before they're hatched, I don't know what is! While you're supposing things, suppose these Indians don't do all that, where's going to come our chance of creeping out without their knowing it?"

Mickey scratched his head in his puzzled way, and replied:

"I'm sorry to obsarve that ye persist in axing knotty questions, as I reproved me landlord for doing in the ould country, when he found me digging praities in his patch. There's a good many ways in which we may get a chance to craap out, and I'm bound to say there be a good many more by which we can't; but the good Lord has been so good to us, that I can't help belaving He won't let us drop jist yet, though He may think that the best thing for us both will be to let the varmints come in and scalp us."

There was a good deal of hope in the Irishman, and a certain contagion marked it, which Fred Munson felt, but he could not entertain as much of it as did his older and more experienced friend. Still, he was ready to make any attempt which offered the least chance of flight. He was hungry and thirsty, and there was no way of supplying the wants, and he dreaded the night of suffering to be succeeded by the still more tormenting day.

It was very warm in the ravine, where not a stir of air could reach them. If they suffered themselves to be cooped up there through the night, they would be certain to continue there during the following day, for it was not to be expected by the wildest enthusiast that any way of escape presented itself under the broad sunlight. The following night must find them more weakened in every respect; for the chewing of leaves, while it might afford temporary relief, could not be expected to amount to much in a run of twenty-four hours. Clearly, if anything at all was to be done or attempted, it should not be deferred beyond the evening, which was now so close at hand.

But the objection again came up that whatever Mickey and Fred decided on, hinged upon the action of parties with whom they had nothing to do, and with whom, as a matter of course, it was impossible to communicate. If the Kiowas, as they were suspected to be, should choose to draw off and have nothing further to do with the business, the situation of the fugitives must become as despairing and hopeless as in the first case.

There perhaps was some reason for the declaration of Mickey that the st

rangers (their allies for the time being) were a great deal more likely to perform their mission before the sun should rise again. Consequently, the next few hours were likely to settle the question one way or the other.

"Do you know whether any of the Apaches are still up there?" asked Fred.

"Yes; there be one or two. I've seen 'em since we've been talking, but they're a good deal more careful of showing their ugly faces. They paap over now and then, and dodge back agin, before I can get a chance to pop away."

"Would you try and shoot them if you had the chance?"

"Not just yet, for it would show 'em where we are, and they would be likely to bother us."

The two carried out this policy of keeping their precise location from the Indians so long as it was possible, which would have been a very short time, but for the terror inspired among the Apaches from the shots across the pass. Mickey had no suspicion that Lone Wolf and his best warriors were absent on a hunt for the annoying cause of these shots. Had he known it, he might have been tempted upon a reconnoissance of his own before sunset, and so it was well, perhaps, that he remained in ignorance.

Within the next hour night descended, and the ravine, excluding the rays of the moon, became so dark that Mickey believed it safe to venture out of their niche and approach the pass, into which they had no idea of entering until the ground had been thoroughly reconnoitered.

"The spalpeens will be listening," whispered Mickey, as they crept out, "and so ye naadn't indulge in any whistling, or hurrahing, or dancing jigs on the way to our destination."

Fred appreciated their common peril too well to allow any betrayal through his remissness. Favored by the darkness, they crept carefully along over the rocks and boulders, and through the vines and vegetation, until they were so close that the man halted.

"Do ye mind and kaap as still as a dead man, for we're so close now that it won't do to go any closer till we know what the spalpeens are doing."

The two occupied this position for some time, during which nothing caught their ears to betray the presence of men or animals. Feeling the great value of time, Mickey was on the point of creeping forth, when he became aware that there was somebody moving near him. The sound was very slight, but the proof was all the more positive on that account; for it is only by such means that the professional scout judges of the proceedings of a foe near him.

His first dread was that the individual was in the rear, having entered the fissure while they were at the opposite end, and then allowed them to pass by him. But when the faint rustling caught his ear again there could be no doubt that it was in front of him.

"One of the spalpeens-and maybe Lone Wolf himself-coming in to larn about our health," was his conclusion, though the situation was too critical to allow him to communicate with the lad behind him.

Reaching his hand back, he touched his arm, as a warning for the most perfect silence.

The boulder against which he was partly resting was no more quiet and motionless than Fred, who had nerved himself to meet the worst or best fortune. A few minutes more listening satisfied Mickey that the redskin was not a dozen feet in front, and that a particularly large boulder, which was partly revealed by some stray moonlight that made its way through the limbs and branches, was sheltering the scout. Not only that, but he became convinced that the Indian was moving around the left side of the rock, hugging it and keeping so close to the ground that the faintest shadowy resemblance of a human figure could not be detected.

It was at this juncture that the Irishman determined upon a performance perfectly characteristic and amusing in its originality. Carefully drawing his knife from his pocket, he managed to cut a switch, some five or six feet in length, the end of which was slightly split. He next took one of his matches, and struck it against the rock, holding and nursing the flame so far down behind it that not the slightest sign of it could be seen from the outside. Before the match had cleared itself of the brimstone, Mickey secured the other end of the stick in his hand. His next proceeding was to raise this stick, move it around in front, and then suddenly extend it at arms length. This brought the burning match into the dense shadow alongside the rock, and directly over the head of the amazed scout. The Hibernian character of the act was, that while it revealed to him his man, it also, although in a less degree, betrayed the location of Mickey himself, whose delighted astonishment may be imagined, when, instead of discerning a crouching, painted Apache, he recognized the familiar figure of Sut Simpson, the scout.

"What in thunder are ye driving at?" growled the no less astonished Sut, as the flame was almost brought against his face. "Do yer take me for a kag of powder, and do ye want to touch me off?"

"No, but I was thinking that that long, red nose of yourn was so full of whiskey that it would burn, and I wanted to make sartin."

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