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   Chapter 24 No.24

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 11105

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Night Visitors.

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As young Munson expected to remain where he was for the rest of the day, and perhaps through the succeeding night, and knew that he was in great danger, he made it his business to acquaint himself thoroughly with his position and with all the approaches thereto. The first natural supposition was that the Apaches, in following the fugitives to the spot, would, from the force of circumstances, keep to the trail, that being their only guide.

This trail, for the last two hundred yards, led up a slope to where he was stationed upon what might have been called a landing in the ascent of the mountain. At the bottom of this two hundred yards or so was an irregular plateau, beyond which the trail was lost.

"If the Apaches should show themselves before dark," he concluded, as he looked over the ground, "there is where they will be seen, and that's the spot I must watch so long as I can see it."

Fred was able to hide himself from view for the time being, but there was no way in which he could conceal the horse. He was sure to be the first object that would attract the eye of the redskins from below, revealing to them the precise position of the fugitives. This reflection disturbed the lad a good deal, until he succeeded in convincing himself that, after all, it was fortunate that it was so.

The redskins, detecting the mustang among the rocks, would believe that the three whites were there on the defensive. No matter if their force were a half dozen times as great, they would make the attack with a great deal of caution, and would probably manoeuvre around until dark, in the expectation of a desperate fight-all of which Fred hoped would give him a good chance of stealing out and escaping them.

This, as a matter of course, was based upon the idea that Sut Simpson, the veteran scout, had committed a serious error in believing that the pursuit would be slow. And such a mistake he had indeed made, as the lad discovered in due time.

The afternoon wore slowly away, and sunset was close at hand, when Fred was lying upon his face, peering over the upper edge of a rock at the plateau below. The fact of it was, his eyes had been roaming over the same place so long, that the stare had become a dreary, aimless one. He was suddenly aroused, however, to the most intense attention by the discovery of an Apache warrior, who drifted very serenely into the field of vision as if he were part of a moving panorama upon which the lad was gazing.

The boy had been waiting so long for his appearance that he uttered an exclamation, and half arose to his feet in his excitement. But he quickly settled back again, and, with an interest which it would be hard to describe, watched every movement of the redskin, as the tiger watches the approach of its victim.

The indian stalked up the other side of the plateau, walking slowly, looking right and left, in front and rear, and down at the ground, his manner showing that he was engaged in trailing the party, using all the care and skill of which he was the master. Reaching the middle of the plateau, he stopped, looked about, and made a gesture to some one behind him. A moment later, a second indian appeared, and then a third, the trio meeting near the centre of the irregular plot, where they immediately began a conversation.

Each of the three was liberal with his gestures, and now and then Fred could catch the sound of their voices. What it was that could so deeply interest them at such a time, he was at a loss to conjecture, but there could be no doubt that it related to the party they were pursuing.

"That must be all there are of them," he reflected, after several minutes had passed, without any other Apaches becoming visible; "but it seems to me it is a small force to chase us with. I've always understood that the Indians wanted double the number of their enemies, whenever they are going to attack them, but I suppose they've got some plan that I can't understand."

They had been talking but a short time, when Fred understood from their actions that they had detected the mustang above them on the mountain side. They looked up several times, and pointed and gesticulated in the same earnest fashion. It suddenly occurred to the lad that he might play a good point on the redskins, with the idea of delaying any offensive movement they might have under discussion. Pointing his revolver over the rock in front of him, he pulled the trigger.

The report was as sharp and loud almost as that of a rifle, but the parties against whom it it was aimed were in no more danger than if they had been in the city of Newark. The report had no sooner reached the ears of the Apaches than they scattered as wildly as if they had heard the whizz of a dozen bullets by their faces. Fred chuckled over the success of his ruse and made sure to keep himself hid from view.

"That will make them think that we're holding a sharp look-out for them, and they'll be careful before they make an attack upon us."

It seemed strange to him that the Apaches, who must know of the presence of Sut Simpson, who was equal to half a dozen men in such a situation, should have sent forward only three of their warriors to trail him.

"It may be," he thought, after a while, "that these men know how to follow a trail faster than the others, and they have gone on ahead, while the others are coming after them. I should think Lone Wolf would do anything in the world to catch Sut, who has done him so much injury."

Night was drawing on apace, darkness being due in less than an hour. Fred was naturally perplexed and alarmed, for he could not help feeling that he was in a most perilous position, regarding which he should have had more advice from the scout before his departure. The only thing that seemed prudent for him to do was to wait until dark and then quietly steel out and shift his position. It looked very much as if he could take care of himself for the night, at least, but he did not see how he could take care of the mustang, which had already changed hands so often, and which was so necessary to their safety.

"Sut said he expected to be home by dark, and I wish he'd come," was the thought that passed through his mind over and over again as he looked into the gathering darkness and listened for the sound of his friends.

But the stillness remained unbroken and the shadows deepened, until he saw that the night was fully come, and he could move about without danger of being fired upon from a distance. The moon was late in rising, so that the gloom was deep enough to hide one person from another, when the distance was extremely slight. Although aware of this, Fred was afraid of some flank movement upon the part of the Apaches, before he could get out of their reach. The suspicion that there were two men besides would make the redskins very cautious in their movements, but a little manoeuvring on their part might reveal the truth, in which case the situation of the lad would be critical in the extreme.

Fred had nerved himself to the task of stealing around the corner of a large rock and off into the darkness, when he was startled by a quick, sudden stamp of the horse. There might have been nothing in this; but, recalling what the scout had said about the skill of the animal as a sentinel, he had no doubt but that it meant that he had scented danger and that the redskins were close at hand. Scarcely pausing to reflect upon the advisability of the step, the lad began crawling in the direction of the animal, not more then twenty feet away.

Before he had passed half the distance he was certain that a redskin was at some deviltry, for the horse stamped and snorted, and showed such excitement, that Fred forgot his own danger, and, springing to his feet, ran rapidly toward the animal. Just as he reached him, he saw that an Indian had him by the bridle, and was trying to draw him along, the mustang resisting, but still yielding a step at a time. In a short time, if the thief was not disturbed, he would have gotten him beyond the possibility of rescue, he seeming more anxious to secure the steed than the scalp of its owner. With never a thought of the consequences, Fred raised his revolver and blazed away with both barrels, aiming as best he could straight at the marauding Apache, who, with a howl of rage and terror, dropped the bridle of the mustang and bounded away among the rocks.

"There! I guess when you want to borrow a horse again, you'll ask the owner."

The lad was reminded of his imprudence by the flash of a rifle almost in his face, and the whizz of the bullet which grazed his cheek. But he still had two loaded chambers in his revolver, and he wheeled for the purpose of sending one of them at least, into the warrior that had made an attempt upon his life. At this critical juncture the mustang displayed an intelligence that was wonderful.

The Apache who was stealing upon him was near the steed, which, without any preliminary warning, let out both his heels, knocking the unsuspecting wretch fully a dozen feet and stretching him, badly wounded, upon the ground.

"I wonder how many more there are?" exclaimed the lad, looking about him, and expecting to see others rushing forward from the gloom.

But the repulse for the time being was effectual and the way was clear.

"I guess I'd better get out of here," was the thought of Fred, "for it ain't likely they will leave me alone very long when they've found out that I'm the only one left."

With revolver in hand he moved hurriedly backward among the rocks, and, after going a few rods, halted and looked for his pursuers, whom he believed to be close behind him. There was something coming, but a moment's listening satisfied him that it was his mustang, which seemed to comprehend the exigency fully as well as he did himself.

"I don't know about that," he reflected. "They can follow him better then they can me, and he can't sneak along like I can. If they catch him, they'll be pretty sure to catch me."

He started to flee, not from the Indians only, but from the mustang as well. But the speed of the latter was greater than his own, and, after several attempts to dodge him, he gave it up.

"If you can travel so well," reflected Fred, "you might as well carry me on your back."

Saying this he leaped upon the animal's back and gave him free rein. The animal was going it on his own hook and he plunged and labored along for some minutes longer, over the rockiest sort of surface, until he halted of his own accord. The instant he did so Fred leaped to the ground, paused and listened for his pursuers. Nothing but the hurried breathing of the mustang could be heard. The latter held his head well up, with ears thrown forward, in the attitude of attention. But minute after minute passed and the stillness remained unbroken. It looked indeed as if the fugitive horse and boy had found rest for the time, and, so long as the darkness continued, there was no necessity for further flight.

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