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   Chapter 23 No.23

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 13680

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Border Chivalry.

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As the scout uttered these words, the Apache whirled like lightning and drew his knife. His swarthy, painted face glowed with passion, and his black eyes twinkled with a deadly light. Seeing that he had no weapon but the knife, Sut Simpson, with a certain rude chivalry that did him credit, left his rifle leaning against the tree, while he advanced with a weapon corresponding to that of his enemy, so that both stood upon the same footing.

"Lone Wolf is glad to meet the white dog that he has hunted so long," said the chieftain, speaking English like a native.

With a sardonic grin Sut replied:

"That's played out, old Pockared"-alluding to the chieftain's pitted face. "I'm just as mad at yer as I kin be, without yer getting up any fancy didoes to upset my nerves. I've come for yer this time, and the best thing yer kin do is to proceed to business."

They were facing each other with drawn knives-almost toe to toe, and each waiting for the other to lead off. It would have been hard to tell which stood the best chance of winning.

Lone Wolf suddenly sprang forward like a panther, and made a vicious lunge with his knife, Sut easily avoiding it by leaping back, when, in turn, he made a similar attempt upon his adversary, who escaped in precisely the same manner. But the scout noticed an unaccountable thing. Lone Wolf had dropped his knife!

True, he picked it up like a flash, and put himself on guard, but how it was that a veteran like him could have made such a slip was totally inexplainable to his foe. But the explanation came the next moment, when the chief, without removing his eyes from those of the white man, cautiously changed the knife to his left hand. His right arm was injured in some way, so that it was unreliable. He had shown this, first by dropping the weapon while attempting to use it, and he showed it again by shifting it to his left hand, thus placing himself at a frightful disadvantage.

Sut saw no wound, yet there could be no doubt of the truth, and his feelings changed on the instant. He felt himself the meanest of men to attempt to overcome an almost helpless foe.

"Lone Wolf," said he, still looking him straight in the eyes, "why don't yer hold yer knife in the hand that yer generally do?"

"Lone Wolf can slay the dog of a white man with which hand he may choose."

"Yer haven't been able to do it with both hands during all these years that you've been tryin', when yer've had yer whole tribe to help yer; but don't make a fool of yerself, Lone Wolf. Are your right arm hurt?"

"Lone Wolf will fight the white dog with his strong arm."

"No, yer don't-that's played out," growled the scout, shoving his knife back in his girdle. "I don't love yer 'any more than I love the devil, and I felt happy to think that I had got a chance at last to git square with yer; but when I lift the top-knot of Lone Wolf and slide him under, he's got to have the same chance that I have. I don't believe you'd act that way toward me; but, then, you're a redskin, and that makes the difference. Lone Wolf, we'll adjourn the fight till you're yerself agin."

And, deliberately turning away, the scout vaulted upon the back of the mustang, cutting the lariat that held him by a sweep of the knife.

"I s'pose you'll own I've got some claim on this beast; so good-by."

"I S'POSE YOU'LL OWN I'VE GOT SOME CLAIM ON THIS BEAST."

And, without turning to look at him again, he rode deliberately away.

The Apache stood like a statute staring at him until he was hidden from view by the intervening trees. Then he turned and walked slowly in the opposite direction, no doubt with strange thoughts in his brain.

"I don't know how that scamp will take it," muttered Sut, as he rode along. "He's one of the ugliest dogs that ever wore a painted face; and if he could catch me with a broken arm or head, he wouldn't want anything better than to chop me up into mincemeat; but, as I told the old varmint himself, he's an Injin and I ain't, and that's what's the matter."

The wood was too dense and the ground too uneven to permit him to ride at a faster gait than a walk, but long before the appointed hour was up, he rejoined his friends, who were as surprised as pleased at his prompt reappearance.

"But where are the bastes that ye promised to furnish us?" inquired Mickey, who had very little relish for the prospect of walking any portion of the distance homeward.

"That's what I'll have for yer before the sun goes down," was the confident reply. "I'll get you one hoss, anyway, which, maybe, is just as good as two, for the weight of the younker don't make no difference, and we kin git along with one beast better than two."

"I submit to your suparior judgment," said the Irishman, deferentially, "and would suggist that the sooner the same quadruped is procured the better all round. I hope the thing won't be delayed, as me aunt obsarved when the joodge sintenced her husband to be hung."

Sut explained that his plan was to ride some distance further, to a spot which he had in mind, where they would be safer against being trailed. There, consequently, they could wait with more security while he went for the much-needed horse. Time was precious, and no one realized it more than Sut Simpson. He turned the head of his mustang toward the left, and, after he had started, leaped to the ground and walked ahead, acting the part of a guide for the horse as well as for his friends.

The surface over which they journeyed was of the roughest nature. The fact of it was, the scout was working the party out toward the open prairie, without availing himself of the pass-an undertaking which would have been almost impossible to any one else. At the same time, by picking his way over the rocky surface, and using all means possible to conceal their trail, he hoped to baffle any pursuit that might be attempted.

Lone Wolf was not the redskin to allow such a formidable enemy as Sut Simpson to walk away unmolested, even though he had received an unexpected piece of magnanimity at his hands. He had learned that it was he who had played such havoc among his warriors the day before, who had deceived them by cunningly uttered signals, and had drawn away the redskins sufficiently to permit his two intended victims to walk out of his clutches. It had been a series of unparalleled exploits, the results of which would have exasperated the mildest tempered Indian ever known.

These thoughts were constantly in the mind of the scout as he picked out the path for his equine and human companions. He took unusual pains, for a great deal depended upon his success in hiding the trail as much as possible. Perhaps it is not correct to say that the Apaches could be thrown entirely off the scent, if th

ey should set themselves to work to run the fugitives under cover. None knew this better than Sut himself, but he knew also that the thing could be partially done, and a partial success could be made a perfect one. That is, by adopting all the artifices at his command, the work of trailing could be rendered so difficult that it would be greatly delayed-so that it would require hours for the Apaches to unearth the hiding-place. And Sut meant to accomplish his self-imposed task during those few hours, so as to rejoin his friends, and resume their flight before the sharp-witted pursuers could overhaul them.

The journey, therefore, was made one of the most difficult imaginable. The mustang was unshod, and yet he clambered up steep places, and over rocks, and through gravelly gullies, where the ordinary horse would have been powerless. The animal seemed to enter into the spirit of the occasion and his performances again and again excited the wonder and admiration of Mickey and Fred. The creature had undergone the severest kind of training at the hands of an unsurpassed veteran of the frontier.

This laborious journeying continued for a couple of hours, during which it seemed to the man and lad that they passed over several miles of the roughest traveling they had ever witnessed. The mustang had fallen several times, but he sprang up again like a dog and showed no signs of injury or fatigue. Finally Sut made a halt, just as Mickey was on the point of protesting, and, turning about, so as to face his companions, he smiled in his peculiar way as he spoke.

"You've stood it pretty well for greenhorns, and now I'm going to give yer a good rest."

"Do you maan to go into camp for a week or a month, or until the warm season is over?"

"I'm going to leave yer here, while I go for some hoss flesh, and it'll take longer time than before."

But the Irishman insisted that he should be allowed to accompany the scout upon this dangerous expedition.

"For the raison that ye are going to pick out this animal for me," he added, "how do I know but what ye'll pick out some ring-boned, spavined critter that trots sideways, and is blind in both eyes?"

Fred, who dreaded the long spell of dreary waiting which seemed before him, asked that he might make one of the company; but Sut would not consent, and he objected to both. He finally compromised by agreeing to take the Irishman, but insisted that the lad should stay behind with his mustang.

"A younker like you couldn't do us a bit of good," added Sut, by way of explanation, "and like as not yer'd get us into the worst kind of difficulty. Better stay whar you be, rest and be ready to mount your new animal as soon as we're back, and scoot away for New Boston."

"How soon will you be back?" he asked, feeling that he ought to make no objection to the decision.

The forenoon was about half gone, and the scout looked up at the sky, removed his coon-skin cap, and thoughtfully wrinkled his brows, as though he were solving some important mental problem.

"Yer may skulp me, younker, but it's a mighty hard thing to tell. Now I got back with my own animile a good deal sooner than I expected, but that same thing ain't likely to happen agin. More likely it'll be t'other way, and we may be gone all day, and p'raps all night."

"And what am I to do all that time?"

"Wait; that'll be easy enough, arter such a rough tramp as I've given yer."

"But suppose some of the Indians come here; I haven't got any gun or pistol, so what shall I do?"

"The hoss thar will let you know when any of the varmints come sneaking round, and he'll do it, too, afore they know whar yer be, so you'll have time to dig out. I ain't much in the way of using a knife," added the scout. "I depends on me gun for a long range, and when I gets into close quarters, I throw this yer (tapping the handle of his knife), round careless like; but I've got a little plaything yer that has stood me well, once or twice, and if it's any help to yer, why, yer are welcome to it. It was give to me by an officer down at Fort Massachusetts."

As he spoke, the scout drew a small revolver, beautifully mounted and ornamented with silver, which he handed to the lad, who, as may be supposed, was delighted with the weapon.

"Just the thing, exactly," he said, as he turned it over in his hand. "There are five barrels."

"And every one is loaded," added the scout. "The pill which it gives a redskin ain't very big, but it's sure, and it'll hunt for him a good ways off; so the dog is apt to bite better than you expect."

Sut told him that he expected to return by nightfall, and possible before, but they might be kept away until morning. Under any circumstances, whether successful or not, they would be back within twenty-four hours, for they could better afford to wait and repeat the attempt than to stay away longer than that. The reason for this decision was that if any of the Apaches should attempt to trail them, and there was every reason to believe that they would, they would not need more than twenty-four hours to track them to this hiding place. It was especially necessary that a collision with them should be avoided as long as possible, for the whites had everything to gain by such a course. As time was valuable, Sut did not delay the departure, and, as he and Mickey gave the lad a cheery good-by, they turned off to the right, and a minute later disappeared from view.

"Here I am alone again," he said to himself, "excepting the horse, and I've got a loaded revolver. Sut don't think those Apaches can get here before to-morrow morning, and he knows more than I do about it, so I hope he's right. We've got thus far on our way home, and it would be a pity if we should fail."

As he looked around, he saw nothing in the place or surroundings which would have commended it to him. There was water in the shape of a trickling stream, and that was plenty everywhere, but there was scarcely a spear of grass visible. The vegetation was stunted and unthrifty in appearance. There were stones and rocks everywhere, with nothing that could serve as a shelter in case of storm. He searched for a considerable distance around, but was unable to find even a shelving rock, beneath which he might creep and gather himself up if one of those terrific tempests peculiar to this region should happen to strike him. Nor did there seem to be any suitable refuge if the Apaches should attack him before he could retreat.

He might crouch down behind some of the boulders and rocks, but the make-up of the surface around him was so similar that three red skins could surround him with perfect ease and without any danger to themselves. Fred therefore made up his mind that he was in about as uncomfortable a situation as a fugitive could well be.

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