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   Chapter 26 No.26

The Cave in the Mountain / A Sequel to In the Pecos Country By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 16680

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Lone Wolf's Tactics.

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Mickey O'Rooney gave a yell of defiance as he vanished from view, horse and rider unharmed by the scattering shots which followed them, even after they were lost to sight. It was well and bravely done, and yet it would have failed altogether but for the wonderful cunning and shrewd courage of Simpson, who had kept close to the heels of the flying horse. It was when the crisis came-when the Apaches were closing around the fugitive, and it seemed inevitable that he should reap the natural reward of his own foolhardiness that Sut had acted. When the warriors were confident of their success, he discharged his rifle with marvelous quickness, and with a more important result than the mere tumbling over of his man.

There was a momentary check, a sudden stoppage, lasting but a few seconds, when the foe rallied and made for the fugitive. But that brief interval of time was precisely what was needed, and it secured the safety of Mickey and his steed. It mattered not that Sut Simpson as good as threw away his life by his chivalrous act. He knew that full well, while awaiting the opportunity, as much as he did when he raised his faithful weapon and discharged it into the group.

The moment the piece was fired he knew that his mission was accomplished, and he began a retreat, moving stealthily and rapidly backward, for the purpose of getting beyond the range of the redskins before they should fairly recover from the escape of the horseman. But events were proceeding rather too rapidly. Before he could cover any appreciable distance, the baffled wretches turned upon him and it was flight or fight, or, more likely, both.

The Apaches were brave, they knew the character of the dreaded scout and they were not desirous of rushing, one after another, to their doom. Sut was certain that, if he should turn and run, the howling horde would be at his heels. The instant there should appear any possibility of his escape, they would all open upon him, and it was impossible that any such good fortune should attend him as had marked the flight of Mickey. It was his purpose, therefore, to keep up his retreat with his face to his foe, forcing all to maintain their distance, until he could reach the side of the ravine, where, possibly, a sudden desperate effort might enable him to outwit the redskins.

The scout had not yet been given time in which to reload his piece, but the uncertainty whether it contained another charge prevented them from making an impetuous rush upon him. Besides, they knew that he carried a formidable knife, and, like every border character, he was a professor of the art of using it. All at once it occurred to Sut that he might thin out his assailants by the use of his revolver. If he could drop three or four, or more, and then follow it up with a savage onslaught, he believed he could open the way. He felt for the weapon, and was terribly disappointed to find it gone.

He recalled that he had given it to Fred Munson when he was left alone with the mustang. So, as he had nothing but his knife, he placed his hand upon the haft, glaring defiantly at his enemies, while he continued walking slowly backward, and gradually edging toward the side of the grove. But Apaches were plenty in that latitude, and the business had scarcely opened when three or four warriors commenced a stealthy approach upon the scout from the rear. He glanced hastily over his shoulder several times, while slowly retreating, to guard against this very danger; but the Indians, seeing the point for which the fugitive was making, ensconced themselves near it and waited.

At the moment Sut placed his hand upon the knife, he was within twenty feet of the three Indians crouching in the grass, with no suspicion of their proximity. One of them arose to his feet, quietly swung a coiled lasso about his head (the distance being so slight that no great effort was necessary), and then with great dexterity dropped it over the head of the unsuspicious scout, inclosing his arms, when he jerked it taut with the suddenness of lightning.

A few seconds only were necessary for Sut to free himself, but ere those seconds could be taken advantage of, he was drawn over backward. The entire party sprang upon him and seized his gun and knife.

"Skulp me, if this don't look as though I'd made a slip of it this time!" muttered Sut, as he bounded like lightning to his feet. "When yer varmints undertake a job of this kind, yer show that yer ain't no slouches, but have a good knowledge of the business."

As if anxious to deserve the complimentary opinion of their distinguished prisoner, they coiled the lasso again and again about him, until he was fastened by a dozen rounds and was no more able to contend against his captors then if he were an infant.

As all the warriors recognized the prisoner, their delight was something extraordinary. They danced about him in the most grotesque and frantic manner, screeching, yelling, and indulging in all sorts of tantalizing gestures and signs at Simpson, who was unable to resist them or help himself.

There was a certain dignity in the carriage of Sut under these trying circumstances. Instead of replying by taunts to the taunts of his enemies, he maintained silence, permitting them to wag on to their heart's content.

It was wonderful how rapidly the tidings of the capture spread. The hootings and yellings that marked the rejoicings of the party were heard by those who were further away, and they signaled it to the warriors beyond. The redskins came from every direction, and, within half an hour from the time Sut Simpson was lassoed, there must have been nearly a hundred Apaches gathered around him. These all continued their frantic rejoicings, while, as before, the prisoner remained silent.

His eyes were wandering over the company in search of Lone Wolf, their great leader; but that redoubtable chieftain was nowhere to be seen. Sut was certain that he was somewhere near at hand, and must know of all that had happened on this spot.

Did Simpson expect anything like mercy from the Apaches? Not a whit of it. He had fought them too long, had inflicted too much injury, and understood them too thoroughly to look for anything of the kind. Besides, even if he was innocent of having ever harmed a redskin, he would not have received the slightest indulgence at their hands. The Apaches are like all the rest of their species, in their inherent opposition to mercy on general principles.

The afternoon was well spent, and, as a means of occupying his mind until his case was disposed of, he set himself speculating as to what their precise intentions were. Being quite familiar with the Apache tongue, he caught the meaning of many of their expressions; but for a considerable time these were confined to mere exultations over his capture. The excitement was too great for anything like deliberation, or concerted council.

"It may be the skunks are waitin' fur Lone Wolf," he muttered, as he stood with his arms bound to his side. "They wouldn't dare to do much without axing him, though I 'spose they might a skulp any man wharever they got the chance, without stopping to ax questions. Helloa! thar he comes!"

This exclamation was caused by the sudden turning of heads, and a sort of hush that fell upon the group for the moment, close to the approach of someone on horseback. It was already so close to dusk that he could not be identified until he came closer, when Sut was surprised to find that it was not the chieftain, after all. It was a man altogether different in appearance, probably a subordinate chief, who had performed some daring deed which had won him the admiration of his comrades. The indications, too, were that he brought interesting news about something.

"That varmint has been away somewhar," concluded Sut, carefully noting everything, "and they expect him to tell something worth hearin', and I guess they're about kerrect, so I'll see what I kin do in the way of listening myself."

The scout was right in his supposition. The Indian was the avant courier of a party three or four times as great as that which had gathered about him in the ravine. His companions had separated and gone in other directions, while he, learning the cour

se taken by his chief, Lone Wolf, had hastened to report directly to him.

Sut Simpson suspected what all this meant. He saw a number of scalps hanging at the girdle of the Apache, and he had not listened long when his fears where more than confirmed. The embryo town of New Boston, planted in the valley of the Rio Pecos, was no more. Repulsed bloodily at the first, Lone Wolf had gathered together the best of his warriors, placed them under one of his youngest and most daring chiefs, and sent them forth with orders to clean out the settlement that had been planted so defiantly in the heart of their country. And now this chief had returned to say that the work had been completed, precisely as commanded.

"I knowed it war coming," muttered the scout. "I told that Barnwell that Lone Wolf would bounce him afore he knowed what the the matter was, and I urged 'em to make for Fort Severn, which war only fifty miles away, and save their top-knots. He did not say so, but I could see he thought I war a big fool, and now he's found out who the fool was. Wonder whether any of the poor cusses got away? Thar couldn't have been much chance. 'Twon't do to ax this rooster, cause he wouldn't be likely to answer me, and, if he did, he would be sartin' to tell me a lot of lies."

The young chief having communicated his good tidings, and exchanged congratulations with those about him, started his mustang forward, heading him directly up the ravine or pass. This brought him within arm's length of the scout, who was standing mute and motionless. The redskin drew up his horse and stared fixedly at him, as if, for the moment, uncertain of his identity.

"I'm Sut Simpson, the man that has slain so many Apache warriors that he cannot number them," said the scout, with a view of helping the Indian to recognize him.

There was no real braggadocio about this. As Sut could not hide his personality, the best plan for him was to make an open avowal, backed up by a rather high-sounding vaunt. This was more pleasing to the Indians, who were addicted to the most extravagant kind of expression.

Rather curiously, the young chief made no reply. The observation of the prisoner seemed to have settled all doubts that were in his mind, and perhaps he was desirous of seeing Lone Wolf without any further delay. His steed struck into a rapid gallop, and speedily vanished in the gloom, leaving the captive with the howling hundred.

Sut was brave, but there was a certain feeling of disappointment that began to make itself felt. Although he would not have admitted it, yet the termination of the recent meeting with Lone Wolf, had led him to hope, not that the chieftain would liberate him, but that he would give him some kind of a show for his life-an opportunity, no matter how desperate, in which he might make a fight for his existence. He had spared Lone Wolf when he was at his mercy, refusing to fight the chief because he was so disabled that his defeat was assured. It would seem that the chief, in return, might offer the scout a chance to fight some of the best warriors; and such probably would have been the case with any set of people except the American Indians. The absence of Lone Wolf impressed Sut very unfavorably. He believed the chief meant to remain away until after his important prisoner was killed.

By the time night was descended, the wild rejoicing in a great measure ceased. One of the Apaches started a fire, and the others lent their assistance. A roaring, crackling flame lit up a large area of the ravine, revealing the figure of every savage, as well as that of the scout, who, having grown weary of continual standing, seated himself upon the ground. Had Sut possessed the use of his arms, he would have made an effort to get away at this time. A short run would have carried him to the place which he had in mind at the time he began his retreat. Without the aid of his hands, however, he was certain to be entrapped again, so he concluded to remain where he was, with the hope that something more inviting would present itself.

The frontiersman never despairs; and, although it was difficult to figure out the basis of much hope in the present case, yet Sut held on, and determined to do so to the end. He made several cautious tests of his bonds, but the lariat of buffalo-hide was wound around his arms so continuously, and tied so well, that the strength of twenty men could not have broken it. The exploit of cutting them by abrasion against a sharp stone (which he had once done), could not be accomplished in the present instance, for the reason that there was no suitable stone at hand, and he was under too strict surveillance. And so it only remained for him to wait and hope, and hold himself in readiness.

When the fire had crackled and flamed for a while, the Apaches clustered in groups upon the ground, where they smoked and talked incessantly. They seemed to be paying no attention to their prisoner, and yet they took pains to group themselves around him in such a way that if he should attempt flight he would be forced into collision with some of them. Sut was surprised that as yet no indignity had been offered him. As the Apaches had every reason to hate him with the very intensity of hatred, it would have been in keeping with their character to have made his lot as uncomfortable as possible.

"It'll come by-and-bye," he sighed, as the cramped position of his arms pained him. "I don't know what they're waitin' fur. Mebbe they want to get up such a high old time with me that they're writin' out a programme, and have sent to New Orleans fur a band of music. Thar's nothing like doing these things up in style, and I s'pose Lone Wolf means to honor me in that way."

At a late hour, the moon arose, and the light penetrated the ravine, where the strange, motley crowd congregated. The fire still burned, and no one showed any disposition to sleep. By way of relief, the scout lay over upon his side, and was looking up at the clear moon-lit sky when he heard the tramp of horses, and immediately rose up again.

He saw the chieftain, whom he had observed a few hours before, as he came in with his news of the destruction of New Boston, accompanied by two others, all mounted. They rode up in such a position that they surrounded the captive, who was suddenly lifted by a couple of Apaches, and placed astride of the mustang in front of the young chief. The next minute the quartette moved off.

"Skulp me! if I know what this means!" muttered Sut, who felt uneasy over the new turn of affairs. "Things are getting sort of mixed just now."

He hoped that he would learn something of the purpose of the three redskins from their conversation as they rode along; but unfortunately for that hope, they did not exchange a word. When they had ridden a fourth of a mile, Sut caught the flash of a knife in the chieftain's hand. The next instant, it moved swiftly along his back, and the lariat was cut in many pieces. The arms of the scout were freed, although for some minutes they were so benumbed that he could scarcely move them.

What did all this mean? Fully another quarter of a mile was ridden in silence, when the three halted, and Sut felt that the critical moment had arrived. The chief dismounted from the horse, leaving the scout seated thereon. One of the others reached over and handed him his own gun, while the third passed him back his long knife.

"Wall, if I'm to fight all three of yer, sail in!" called out Sut, gathering himself for a charge from them.

They made no reply. The chief vaulted upon one of the other horses, behind the warrior, and, as he did so, a fourth figure advanced and leaped upon the other, so that there were two Indians upon each mustang. The scout scrutinized the new comer, as well as he could in the moonlight.

Yes, there was no mistake about his identity. It was Lone Wolf, who remained as silent as the others.

The heads of the mustangs were turned down the ravine again, and they struck into a gallop, the sound of their hoofs coming back fainter and more faintly, until they died in the night. Sut Simpson was free, and free without a fight, as he realized, when he gave his horse the word, and he dropped into an easy gait in a direction opposite to that taken by the Apaches.

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