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The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 10958

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Sut's Camp-Fire.

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"But where are Lone Wolf and his warriors?" asked Fred.

"Back yonder somewhere," replied the scout, indifferently. "They came over into the woods this side the pass to look for the Kiowas that have been picking off thar warriors. It'll take 'em some time to find the varmints, I reckon."

"It's mesilf that would like to ax a conundrum," said Mickey, "provided that none of the gintlemin prisent object to the same."

Sut gave the Irishman to understand that he was always pleased to hear any inquiry from him, if he asked it respectfully.

"The question is this: How long are we to kape thramping along in this shtyle? Is it to be for one wake or two, or for a month? The raison of me making this respictful inquiry is that the laddy and mesilf have become accustomed to riding upon horses, and it goes rather rough to make the change, as Jimmy O'Brien said when he broke through the ice and was forced to take a wash, arter having done without the same thing for several months."

This gentle intimation from Mickey that he preferred to ride was promptly answered by the scout to the effect that his own mustang was some distance away in the wood, but he was unable to locate either of theirs, which they abandoned at the time they took such hurried refuge in the narrow ravine.

"But what become of all the craturs?" persisted Mickey, who was anything but satisfied at this plodding along. "Lone Wolf and his spalpeens did not ride away upon their horses."

"No, but yer may skulp me if any of 'em are big enough fools to leave their animals where there seems to be any danger of other folks layin' hands on 'em. When the rest of his band come over arter him, as they s'posed in answer to their signal, they took mighty good care not to leave their hosses where thar war any chance for the Kiowas to put their claws onto 'em. They rode off up the pass till they could reach a place whar the brutes could climb up and jine thar owners."

"Then I'm to consider the question settled," responded Mickey, "and we're to tramp all the way to New Bosting, ef the place is still standing. Av coorse we can do the same, which I take to be three or four thousand miles, provided we have the time to do it and ain't disturbed."

Sut, after permitting his friend to hold this opinion for a time, corrected it in his own way.

"Thar ain't no use of tryin' to reach home on foot, any more than thar is of climbing up that wall with yer toes. Arter we strike camp, we'll stop long enough to eat two or three bufflers, and rest, and while yer at that sort of biz, I'll 'light out, and scare up something in the way of hoss flish. Thar's plenty of it in this part of the world, and a man needn't hunt long to find it. Are ye satisfied Mickey?"

The Irishman could not feel otherwise, and he expressed his profound obligations to the scout for the invaluable services he had already rendered them.

"Lone Wolf knows me," said Sut, making a rather sudden turn in the conversation. "Me and him have had some tough scrimmages years ago, as I was tellin' that ar Barnwell, or Big Fowl, rather, that has had the charge of starting the place called New Boston. I've got 'nough scars to remember him by, and he carries a few that he got from me. I have a style of sliding his warriors under, when I run a-foul of 'em, that Lone Wolf understands, and he's larned long ago who it was that wiped out them two varmints that he sent out to look around arter me. Halloa! here we air!"

As he spoke, he reached a break in the continuity of the wall to which they had been clinging. The opening was somewhat similar to that into which Mickey and Fred had been driven in such a hurry, except that it was broader and the slope seemed more gradual.

Simpson turned abruptly to the left, and they began clambering upward. It took a considerable time to reach the level, and when they did so the scout led them back to the edge of the pass, which wound along fifty or a hundred feet below them.

"Thar's whar we've come from," said he, as they looked down in the moonlit gorge; "and while that's mighty handy at times, yet it's a bad place to get cotched in, as yer found out for yerselves."

"No one will dispoot ye, Soot, especially when Lone Wolf and a score of spalpeens appears in front of ye, and whin ye turn about to lave, ye find him and a dozen more in your rear. That was a smart thrick was the same; but if he hadn't showed himsilf in both places at the same time, we would have stood a chance of giving him the slip, as we had good horses under us."

"Can't always be sartin of that. Them varmints have ways of telegraphing ahead of ye to some of thar friends, so that ye'r'll run heels over head into some trap, onless yer understands thar devilments and tricky ways."

"When we were in camp," said Fred, "we saw the smoke of a little fire near by. Was it yours?"

"It war," replied Sut, with a curious solemnity. "I kindled that fire, and nussed it."

"Well, it bothered us a good deal. We didn't know what to make of it, Mickey and I."

"It bothered the varmints a good deal more, which war what it war intended for. I meant it far a Kiowa signal-fire, and if it hadn't been started 'bout that time, you'd had some other grizzly b'ars down on ye in the shape of 'Paches."

"But it didn't help us all the way through; they came down on us a little while afterward."

"That war accident," said Sut. "the

purest kind of accident-one of them things that is like to happen, and which we don't look for-a kinder of surprise like."

"As me father obsarved when he found we had twins in the family," interrupted Mickey.

"The chances are ten to one that thing couldn't happen ag'in; but luck, just then, war t'other way. Lone Wolf and his men war on their way home, and had no more idea of meeting yer folks than he had of axing me to come down and act as bridesmaid for his darter, when she gits married."

"Do ye s'pose he knowed us, Soot?" asked the Irishman.

"It isn't likely that he did at first, but the sight of the younker must have made him 'spicious, and arter he rammed you into the rocks, I guess he knowed pretty well how things stood, and he war bound to have both of yer."

"What made him want me so bad?" asked Fred. "I never understood how that was."

The tall scout, standing on the edge of the broad, deep ravine, looked down at the handsome face of the boy, to whom he felt attracted by a stronger affection than either he or the Irishman suspected.

"Bless your soul, my younker, that ere Lone Wolf that they call such a great chief (and I may as well own up and say that he is), is heavy on ransoms and he ain't the only chief that's in that line. That skunk runs off with men, women and boys, and his rule is not to give 'em up ag'in till he gits a good round price. He calculated on making a good thing off you, and I rather think he would."

"Does he always give up those, then, that their friends want to ransom?"

"Not by any means; it's altogether as the notion takes him. He sports more skulps and topknots than any of his brother-chiefs, and he never lets his stock run low. As them other varmints creep up onto him, he shoots ahead by scooping in more topknots, and thar's no use of thar trying to butt ag'in him. He's 'way ahead of 'em, and there he's bound to stay, and they can't help it."

"Then he might have used me the same way, after all the pains he took to get me."

"Jest as like as not. He is as ugly as the devil himself. Two years ago he stole a good-looking gal up near Santa Fe. He had a chance for the biggest kind of ransom; but the poor gal had long, golden hair, and the skunk wanted it for an ornament, and he took it, too, and thinks more of it than any out of his hundred and more. Arter getting yer home among his people, and arter he'd found out thar's a good show fur a big ransom from yer father, jest as like as not he'd make up his mind that the best thing he could do would be to knock ye on ther head and raise yer ha'r, and he'd do it, too."

"Well, thank heaven, none of us are in his hands now, and I pray that he may never get us."

The three were still standing as close to the edge of the ravine as was prudent, so that the moonlight fell about them. They were enabled to see quite a long distance up and down the pass, the uncertain light, however, causing objects to assume a fantastic contour, which would have made an inexperienced person uncertain whether he was looking down upon animate or inanimate objects. They were on the point of moving away, when Fred Munson exclaimed, with some excitement:

"The country seems to be full of camp-fires or signal-fires. Yonder is one just started!"

He pointed up the ravine, and to the other side, where an unusually bright star seemed to be rising over the solitude beyond. It was about a quarter of a mile away, and its brightness such as to show its nature.

"Yes, that's one of 'em," said the scout, in a tone which showed that he had no particular interest in it.

"Can ye rade what the same manes?" asked Mickey, who was gradually accumulating a wonderful faith in the woodcraft of the scout.

But the latter laughed. It would have been the height of absurdity for him to have pretended that he could make anything of the meaning of a simple fire burning at night. It was only when actual signals were made that he could tell what they were intended for.

"It's some of the 'Paches, I s'pose. Lone Wolf is in trouble, but I don't know as we've got anything to do with it. The night is getting along, and we ought to be back to camp by this time."

Without waiting longer, he turned about and moved back into the wood, followed by his two friends.

It seemed strange to both of the latter that he could have left his mustang so far away from the place where his self-imposed duties had called him to bring to naught the cunning of his great enemy, the principal war-chief of the Apaches. But the truth was, the camps of the scout and the redskins were not so widely separated as Mickey and Fred believed. He had selected the best site possible, and took a roundabout course in going to or from it, as he had more means given him of concealing his trail. There were places where the soil was so rocky and stony that the foot left not the slightest imprint of its passage.

They had gone but a short distance from the ravine when they encountered one of the very stretches so valuable to persons in their predicament. No grass or vegetation of any kind impeded their way, and it was like walking over a hard, uncarpeted floor. Making their way across this, they struck into a wood that was denser than any they had encountered thus far. There their progress was slow, but they continued steadily forward, talking but little, and then in guarded tones. About the hour of midnight the camp of Sut Simpson was reached.

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