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   Chapter 25 No.25

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 16175

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Hunting a Steed.

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Leaving Fred Munson to watch for the approach of the Indians, it becomes necessary to follow Mickey O'Rooney and Sut Simpson on their hunt for a horse with which to continue their flight from the mountains and across the prairies. It cannot be said that the scout, in starting upon this expedition, had any particular plan in view. As he remarked, Indians were around them, and, wherever Indians were found, it was safe to look for the best kind of horses. Wherever the best opportunity offered, there he intended to strike. With this view, the first position of their expedition was in the nature of a survey, by which they intended to locate the field in which to operate.

The Irishman could not fail to see the necessity of caution and silence, and, leaving his more experienced companion to take the lead, he followed him closely, without speaking or halting. The way continued rough and broken, being very difficult to travel at times; but after they had tramped a considerable distance, Mickey noticed that they were going down hill at quite a rapid rate, and finally they reached the lowermost level, where the scout faced him.

"Do yer know whar yer be?" he asked, in a significant tone.

"Know whar I be?" repeated the Irishman, in amazement. "How should I know, as the spalpeens always said arter I knocked them down at the fair? What means of information have I?"

"You've been over this spot afore," continued the scout, enjoying the perplexity of his friend.

The latter scratched his head and looked about him with a more puzzled expression than ever.

"The only place that it risimbles in my mind, is a hilly portion in the north of Ireland. Do you maan to say we've arrived thar?"

"This is the pass which you tramped up and down, and whar you got into trouble."

"It don't look like any part that I ever obsarved; but why do you have such a hankering for this ravine, in which we haven't been used very well?"

"Yer's whar the Injuns be, and yer's whar we must look for hosses-sh!"

Mickey heard not the slightest sound, but he imitated the action of the scout and dodged down in some undergrowth, which was dense enough to hide them from the view of any one who did not fairly trample upon them. They had crouched but a minute or two in this position, when Mickey fancied he heard the tramp of a single horse, approaching on a slow walk. He dared not raise his head to look, although he noticed that the shoulders of the scout in front of him were slowly rising, as he peered stealthily forward.

The experiences of the last few days had been remarkable in more than one respect. The two men had set out to secure a horse, neither deeming it probable that the one which was desired above all others could be obtained; and yet, while they were crouching in the bushes, the very animal-the one which had been ridden by Mickey O'Rooney-walked slowly forth to view, on his way up the ravine or pass. The most noticeable feature of the scene was that he was bestrode by an Indian warrior, whose head was bent in a meditative mood. The redskin, so far as could be seen, was without a companion, the steed walking at the slowest possible gait and approaching a point which was no more than a dozen feet away.

The instant Mickey caught sight of the warrior and recognized his own horse, there was a slight movement on the part of the scout. The Irishman narrowly escaped uttering an exclamation of surprise and delight as he identified his property, but he checked himself in time to notice that Sut was stealthily bringing his gun around to the front, with the unmistakable purpose of shooting the Apache. The heart of the Irishman revolted at such a proceeding. There seemed something so cowardly in thus killing an adversary without giving him an opportunity to defend himself that he could not consent to it. Reaching forward, he twitched the sleeve of Sut, who turned his head in surprise.

"What is it ye're driving at, me laddy?"

"Sh!-him!" he whispered, in return, darting his head toward the slowly approaching horseman, winking and blinking so significantly that it was easy to supply the words which were omitted.

"But why don't ye go out and tell him what ye intend, so that he can inform his friends, and bid them all good-bye? It ain't the thing to pop a man over in that style, without giving him a chance to meditate on the chances of his life, so be aisy wid him, Soot."

"BE AISY WID HIM, SOOT."

The scout seemed at a loss to understand the meaning of his companion, whose waggery and drollery cropped out at such unexpected times that no one knew when to expect it. The Indian was approaching and was already close at hand. Keen-eared, and with their senses always about them, Apaches are likely to detect the slightest disturbance. The scout glanced at the horseman, and then at Mickey, who was in earnest.

"It's the only way to git the hoss, you lunkhead, so will yer keep yer meat-trap shet?"

"I don't want a horse if we've got to murder a man to git the same."

"But the only way out here to treat an Injin is to shoot him the minute yer see him-that's sensible."

"I don't want ye to do it," said Mickey, so pleadingly that the scout could not refuse.

"Wal, keep still and don't interfere, and I promise yer I won't slide him under, onless he gits in the way, and won't git out."

"All right," responded Mickey, not exactly sure that he understood him, but willing to trust one who was not without his rude traits of manhood.

All this took place in a few seconds, during which the Apache horseman had approached, and another moment's delay would have given him a good chance of escape by flight. As noiselessly as a shadow the scout arose from his knees to a stooping position, took a couple of long, silent strides forward, and then straightened up, directly in front of the startled horse, and still more startled rider. The former snorted, and partly reared up, but seemed to understand, as if by an instinct, that the stranger was more entitled to claim him than the one upon his back. Another step forward and the scout held the bridle in his left hand, while he addressed the astounded Apache in his own tongue, a liberal translation being as follows:

"Let my brother, the dog of an Apache, slide off that animile, and vamoose the ranch, or I'll lift his ha'r quicker'n lightning."

The savage deemed it advisable to "slide." He carried a knife at his girdle, and held a rifle in his grasp, but the scout had come upon him so suddenly that he felt he was master of the situation. So without attempting to argue the matter with him, he dropped to the ground, and began retreating up the ravine, with his face toward his conquerer, as if he mistrusted treachery.

"Our blessing go wid ye," said Mickey, rising to his feet, and waving his hand toward the alarmed Apache; "we don't want to harm ye, and ye may go in pace. There, Soot," he added, as he came up beside him, "we showed that spalpeen marcy whin he scarcely had the right to expict it, and he will appreciate the same."

"Ye're right," grunted the scout. "He'll show ye how he'll appreciate it the minute he gets a chance to draw bead onto yer; but ye've larned that thar are plenty of varmints in this section, and if we're going to get away with this hoss thar ain't no time to lose. Up with yer thar and take the bridle."

Mickey did as he requested, not exactly understanding what the intention was.

"What is to be done?" he asked, as the head of the animal was turned back over the route that he had just traveled. "Am I to ride alone, while ye walk beside me?"

"That's the idea for the present, so as to save the strength of the horse. A half mile or so up the pass is a trail which leads down inter it. The mustang can go over that like a streak of greased lightning, and thar's whar we'll leave the pass, and make off through the woods and mountains, till we can jine in with the younker and go it without trouble."

A few words of hurried consultation co

mpleted the plans. As they were very likely to encounter danger, it was agreed that the scout should go ahead of the horseman, keeping some distance in advance, and carefully reconnoitering the way before him with a view of detecting anything amiss in time to notify his friend, and prevent his running into it. There might come a chance where it would not be prudent for Sut Simpson to press forward, but where, if the intervening distance was short, Mickey might be able to make a dash for the opening in the pass and escape with his mustang. The Apache, being unhorsed in the manner described, had fled in the opposite direction from that which they intended to follow. Of course he could get around in front, and signal those who were there of what was coming, provided the two whites were tardy in their movements, which they didn't propose to be.

It required only a few minutes to effect a perfect understanding, when the scout went a hundred yards or so ahead, moving forward at an ordinary walk, scanning the ravine right, left and in front, and on the watch for the first sign of danger. He had previously so located and described the opening by which they expected to leave the pass, that Mickey was sure he would recognize it the instant they came in sight of it. This was a rather curious method of procedure, but it was continued for a time, and the avenue alluded to was nearly in sight when Sut Simpson, who was a little further than usual in advance, suddenly stopped and raised his hand as a signal for his friend to stop.

Mickey did so at once, holding the mustang in check, while he watched the scout with the vigilance of a cat. Sut never once looked behind him, but his long form gradually sank down in the grass, until little more than his broad shoulders and a coon-skin cap were visible. The pass at that place was anything but straight, so that the view of Mickey was much less than that of the scout; and, had it been otherwise, it is not likely that the former would have been able to read the signs which were as legible to the latter as the printed pages of a book.

"Begorrah, but that's onplisant!" muttered the Irishman to himself, "We must be moighty close onto the door, when some of the spalpeens stick up their heads and object to our going out. Be the powers! but they may object, for all I care. I'm going to make a run for it!"

At this juncture the figure of the scout was seen approaching in the same guarded manner.

"Well, Soot, me laddy, what do ye make of it?"

"Thar's a party of the varmints just beyont the place we meant to ride out."

"Well, what of that? You can lave the pass somewhere along here, where there seem plenty of places that ye can climb out, while I make a dash out of that, and we'll meet agin after we get clear of the spalpeens."

"Thar's a mighty risk about it, and yer be likelier to get shot than to be missed."

"That's all right," responded Mickey. "I'm reddy to take the chances in that kind of business. Lead on, and we'll try it. It'll soon be dark, and I'm getting tired of this fooling."

Sut liked that kind of talk. There was a business ring about it, and he responded:

"I'll go ahead, and when it's time to stop I'll make yer the signal. Keep watch of my motions."

Ten minutes later they had reached a spot so near the opening that Mickey easily recognized it. He compressed his lips and his eyes flashed with a stern determination as he surveyed it. The scout was still in the advance, proceeding in the same careful manner, all his wits about him, when he again paused, and motioned for the Irishman to stop. The latter saw and recognized the gesture, but he declined to obey it. He permitted his mustang to walk on until he had reached the spot where Sut was crouching, making the most furious kind of motions, and telling him to stay where he was.

"Why didn't yer stop when I tell yer, blast ye?" he demanded angrily.

"Is that the place where ye expected to go out?" asked Mickey, without noticing the question, as he pointed off to the spot which he had fixed upon as the one for which they were searching.

"Of course it is; but what of it? You can't do anything thar."

"I'll show ye, me laddy; I'm going there as sure as me name's Mickey O'Rooney, and me."

"Yer ain't going to try any such thing; if yer do, I'll bore yer."

But the Irishman had already given the word to his horse. The latter bounded forward, passing by the dumbfounded hunter, who raised his rifle, angered enough to tumble the reckless fellow from the saddle. But, of course, he could not do that, and he stared in a sort of a wondering amazement at the course of the Irishman. The latter, instead of seeking to conceal his identity, seemed to take every means to make it known. He put the mustang on a dead run, sat bolt upright on his back, and Sut even fancied that he could see that his cap was set a little to one side, so as to give himself a saucy, defiant air to whomsoever might look upon him.

"Skulp me! if he ain't a good rider!" exclaimed the scout, anxious to assist him in the trouble with which he was certain to environ himself. "But he is riding to his death. Thar! what next? He's crazy."

This exclamation was caused by seeing Mickey lift his cap and swing it about his head, emitting at the same time a number of yells such as no Apache among them all could have surpassed.

"Whoop! whoop! ye bloody spalpeens! it's meself, Mickey O'Rooney, that's on the war-path, and do ye kape out of the way, or there'll be some heads broken."

Could madness further go? Instead of trying to avoid an encounter with the Apaches, the belligerent Irishman seemed actually to be seeking it. And there was no danger of his being disappointed. Certain of this, Sut Simpson hurried on after him, for the purpose of giving what assistance he could in the desperate encounter soon to take place.

Mickey was still yelling in his defiant way, with the long, lank figure of the scout trotting along in the rear, when one, two, three, fully a half dozen Apaches sprang from the ground ahead of the Irishman, and, as if they divined his purpose, all began converging toward the opening which was the goal of the fugitive. But it would have made no difference to the latter if a score had appeared across his path. He hammered the ribs of his mustang with his heels, urging him to the highest possible speed of which he was capable. Then he replaced his cap, added an extra yell or two, raised his rifle and sighted best as he could at the nearest Indian. When he pulled the trigger, he missed the mark probably twenty feet, for it was a kind of business to which Mickey was unaccustomed.

The Apaches threw themselves across his path, in the hope of checking the mustang so as to secure the capture of the rider; but the animal abated not a tittle, and strained every nerve to carry his owner through the terrible gauntlet. One of the redskins, fearful that the fugitive was going to escape in spite of all they could do, raised his gun, with the purpose of tumbling him to the ground. Before he could do anything, he dropped his gun, threw up his arms with a howl, and tumbled over backward. Sut Simpson was near enough at hand to send in the shot that wound up his career.

By this time, something like a sober second thought came to Mickey, who saw that his horse comprehended what was expected of him, and needing do further direction or urging. He realized, furthermore, that he had, by the impetuous movement of the animal, thrown all his foes in the rear, and they being unmounted, and anxious to check his flight, were certain to give him the contents of their rifles. Accordingly he threw himself forward upon the neck of the steed, scarcely a second before the crack of the rifles were heard in every direction. The hurtling bullets passed fearfully near, and more than once Mickey believed he was struck. But his horse kept on with unabated speed, and a minute after thundered up the slope, and he and his rider were beyond the reach of all their bullets.

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