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   Chapter 22 No.22

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 9569

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Two Old Acquaintances.

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All three of the little party needed rest, and none of them opened their eyes until morning. As a simple precaution the scout smothered the fire entirely, by scraping the ashes over the embers. Not a ray of moonlight could reach them, and they were wrapped in the most impenetrable darkness.

As might be expected, Sut Simpson was the first to open his eyes, and by the time the sun was up all three were stirring. Enough meat remained over from the feast of the night before to furnish them with a substantial breakfast, and cool, refreshing water was at hand for drink and ablution. When the preliminaries had been completed, Sut went out to learn whether any of the Apaches were threateningly near. He wished, too, to prepare his horse for a ride to a point a dozen miles away, close to the margin of the prairie, where he intended to establish himself until he could procure the two animals that were needed by his companions. He had not been gone ten minutes when he came back in great excitement.

"My mustang is stole, or may I be skulped!" and then he added a general wail: "Them redskins are getting to be the greatest hoss-thieves in the world. I don't know what's to become of us if they're going to keep on in that way."

Mickey laughed heartily, for he recalled the narrative of the night before. In the game for horse flesh it looked very much as if the Apaches could be Sut's tutors.

"May I respectfully inquire where you got that crathur, in the first place?"

"Why, I bought him of the varmints."

"How mooch did you pay?"

"Wall," laughed Sut, in turn, "I haven't paid anything yet."

"I suppose they've sint in their account till they're tired. Finding yer doesn't pay any attention, they've come to take him back again."

"Are you sure that it was done by the Indians?" asked Fred, a little frightened at learning that they had been so close while he slept.

"Thar ain't a bit of doubt. I've looked the ground over, and thar's the trail, as plain as the nose on your face."

"How many?"

"Two."

"And they did it during the night?"

"No," replied the scout, displaying his wonderful woodcraft. "The varmints come yesterday arternoon, or just at dusk, arter I'd took supper and left."

"How do you know that?"

"I'd be a fool if I couldn't tell by the look of the trail how long ago it war made."

It seemed impossible that such was the fact, and yet, young as was Fred, he had heard of such things, and the scout spoke after the manner of one who meant what he said.

"Begorra, but it's meself that has it!" exclaimed Mickey, with a sudden lighting up of the countenance; "they're the same two spalpeens that took your hoss down by the Staked Plain, and then follyed ye up and did the same thing over again, just as ye was going into Fort Severn."

But the scout shook his head.

"The varmints don't know much about pity, but that's too rough a thing even for a Comanche to repeat. I've a s'picion that Lone Wolf had a hand in that, and I'm going for him. Come along."

And the indignant Sut strode out of camp, followed by his friends. He was not the man to submit to such a loss, and they saw that he was in deadly earnest. He neither spoke nor looked behind him for the next quarter of an hour, nor were his friends able to tell what direction he was following, for he changed so often, winding in and out among the trees, that they could form no conjecture as to the general course taken.

They saw that he was following a trail, for he continually looked down at the ground in front of him, and then glanced to the right and left, occasionally inclining his head, as though he was listening for something which he expected to hear. He appeared to be altogether unconscious of the fact that he had companions at all and they sought to imitate his stealthy, cat-like movement, without venturing to speak. After traveling the distance mentioned, and while they were moving along in the same cautious way, the scout suddenly wheeled on his knee, and faced them.

"See yer," said he; "it won't do for you to travel any further."

"What's up?" asked Mickey.

"Why, the trail's getting too hot. I ain't fur from them horses."

"Well, doesn't ye want us to stand by and obsarve the shtyle in which you are going to scoop them in?"

Simpson shook his head.

"Ye are both too green to try this kind of business. I never could get a chance at them varmints if I took yer along. All you've got to do is to stay yer till I get back. That won't be long."

"Suppose you don't get back at all?" asked Fred, anxiously.

"Then yer needn't wait."

"But ain't it probable that some of the Apaches will visit us?"

The scout was quite confident that the cont

ingency would not occur; but, as long as they were in that part of the world, so long were they in danger of the redskins. It was never prudent to lay aside habits of caution; but he did not believe they were liable to molestation at that time. He charged them to keep quiet and always on the alert, and to expect his return within a couple of hours, although he might be delayed until noon. They were not to feel any apprehension unless the entire day should pass without his coming. Still, even that would be possible, he said, without implying anything more than that he had encountered unexpected difficulties in regaining his horse. They were still to wait for him until the morrow, and if he continued absent they were at liberty to conclude that the time had come for him to "pass in his checks." and they were to make the effort to reach home the best way they could. With this understanding they separated.

At the time Sut left his friends the trail was exceedingly "hot," as he expressed it, and he was confident that within the next half hour he could force matters to an issue. The scout was of the opinion that a couple of Apaches had accidently struck his trail, or happened directly upon his norse while he was grazing, and, without suspecting his ownership, aad taken him away. The trail led toward the Apache camp, although by a winding course, and that was not far away. He was desirous of coming up with the marauders before they joined in with the others. In that case he would consider himself fully equal to the task of getting even with them; but it was not likely that they would go into camp when they were so close to the main body.

Shortly after, to his great surprise, he came upon his mustang, tied by a long lariat to the limb of a tree, and contentedly grazing upon the grass, which was quite abundant. There was not the sign of an Indian visible.

"Skulp me! if that ain't a purty way to manage such things!" he exclaimed, astonished at the shape the matter had taken. "Them varmints couldn't have knowed that Sut Simpson owned that hoss, or they'd have tied him up tighter than that, and they'd had somebody down yer to watch him; but they war a couple of greenys, that's mighty sartin. It's a wonder they didn't fetch out some of thar mustangs, and leave 'em whar I could lay my hands onto 'em. But I rather think I've got my own hoss this time, as easy as a chap need expect to get anything in this world."

There was something so curious in the fact of the horse being left alone that Sut was a little suspicious, and decided to reconnoitre thoroughly before venturing further. He was partly hidden behind a large tree and had been so cautious and noiseless in his movements that his mustang, which was one of the quickest to detect the approach of any one, was unaware of his presence.

Sut was on the point of going forward, when a movement in the wood, on the other side of where the animal was grazing, attracted his attention, and he paused. At the same instant his steed lifted his head. There could be no doubt as to the cause, for within the next minute the figure of an Indian stepped forward toward the animal, and proceeded to examine him with a care and minuteness which showed that he expected to identify his ownership.

The eyes of Simpson lit up, and an expression of exultation crossed his countenance, not merely because the redskin before him was in his power, but because he recognized him as no one else but Lone Wolf, the Apache war-chief.

It looked as if the horse-thieves had approached the vicinity of camp with their plunder, and then, securing him to the branch of the tree, had gone in and reported what they had done. Lone Wolf, suspecting, perhaps, that it was the property of his enemy, Sut Simpson, had stolen out quietly and alone to satisfy himself. He knew all the "trade-marks" of the hunter so well that he could not be deceived. This was the theory which instantly occurred to Sut, who muttered to himself:

"Oh, it's mine, and I'm here, though you don't think it, and we'll soon shake hands over it!"

The scout speedily assured himself that Lone Wolf was alone-that he had no half-dozen "retainers" who would immediately precipitate themselves upon him the instant a row should begin. Lone Wolf had no rifle with him, but carried his huge knife at his girdle-one of the most formidable instruments ever seen.

As he walked slowly about the mustang, scrutinizing him very carefully, he brought himself within a yard or two of where Sut Simpson crouched. The latter waited until he was the nearest, when he stepped forward, with his drawn knife in hand, and, placing himself directly in front of the astounded war-chief, said:

"Now, Lone Wolf, we'll make our accounts square!"

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