Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: In the Pecos Country
Author: Ellis, Edward Sylvester
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the Pecos Country" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



IN THE PECOS COUNTRY

By Lieutenant R. H. Jayne [pseudonym of Edward Sylvester Ellis
(1840-1916)]



CHAPTER I. A WARNING

In the valley of the Rio Pecos, years ago, an attempt at founding a
settlement was made by a number of hardy and daring New Englanders,
whose leader was a sort of Don Quixote, who traveled hundreds of miles,
passing by the richest land, the most balmy climate, where all were
protected by the strong arm of law, for the sake of locating where the
soil was only moderate, the climate no better, and where, it may be
said, the great American government was as powerless to protect its
citizens as was a child itself. The Rio Pecos, running through New
Mexico and Texas, drains a territory which at that time was one of the
most dangerous in the whole Indian country; and why these score or more
of families should have hit upon this spot of all others, was a problem
which could never be clearly solved.

The head man, Caleb Barnwell, had some odd socialistic theories, which,
antedating as they did the theories of Bellamy, were not likely to
thrive very well upon New England soil, and he pursuaded his friends to
go with him, under the belief that the spot selected was one where they
would have full opportunity to increase and multiply, as did the Mormons
during their early days at Salt Lake. Then, too, there was some reason
to suspect that rumors had reached the ears of Barnwell of the existence
of gold and silver along this river, and it was said that he had hinted
as much to those whom he believed he could trust. Be that as it may, the
score of families reached the valley of the Upper Pecos in due time, and
the settlement was begun and duly christened New Boston.

“How long do yer s’pose you folks are goin’ to stay yer? Why, just long
enough for Lone Wolf to hear tell that you’ve arriv, and he’ll down here
and clear you out quicker’n lightning.”

This was the characteristic observation made by the old scout, hunter
and guide, Sut Simpson, as he reined up his mustang to chat awhile with
the new-comers, whom he looked upon as the greatest lunk-heads that he
had ever encountered in all of his rather eventful experience. He had
never seen them before; but he did not care for that, as he had the
frankness of a frontiersman and never stood upon ceremony in the
slightest degree.

“Did you ever hear tell of Lone Wolf?” he continued, as a group,
including nearly the entire population, gathered about the veteran of
the plains. “I say, war any of you ever introduced to that American
gentleman?”

He looked around, from face to face, but no one responded. Whenever he
fixed his eye upon any individual, that one shook his head to signify
that he knew nothing of the Apache chief whose name he had just
mentioned.

“What I meant to say,” he continued, “is that any of you have got any
yearnin’ toward Lone Wolf, feeling as if your heart would break if you
did n’t get a chance to throw your arms about him, why, you need n’t
feel bad, _‘cause you’ll get the chance_.”

There was a significance in these words which made it plain to every one
of those who were looking up in the scarred face of the hunter. As they
were spoken, he winked one of his eyes and cocked his head to one side,
in a fashion that made the words still more impressive. As Sut looked
about the group, his gaze was attracted by two figures--a man and a boy.
The former was an Irishman--his nationality being evident at the first
glance--while the latter seemed about fourteen years of age, with a
bright, intelligent face, a clear, rosy, healthy complexion, and a keen
eye that was fixed steadily and inquiringly upon the horseman who was
giving utterance to such valuable information. The hunter was attracted
by both, especially as he saw from their actions that they were friends
and companions. There was something in the honest face of the Irishman
which won him, while the lad by his side would have carried his way
almost anywhere upon the score of his looks alone.

As the entire group were gazing up in the face of the scout, he spoke to
them all, although, in reality, his words were now directed more at
the two referred to than at the others. When he had completed the words
given, there was silence for a moment, and then Mickey O’Rooney, the
Irishman, recovered his wits. Stepping forward a couple of paces, he
addressed their visitor.

“From the manner of your discourse, I judge that you’re acquainted with
the American gentleman that you’ve just referred to as Mr. Lone Wolf?”

“I rather reckon I am,” replied Sut, with another of his peculiar grins.
“Me and the Wolf have met semi-occasionally for the past ten years,
and I carry a few remembrances of his love, that I expect to keep on
carrying to my grave.”

As he spoke, he laid his finger upon a cicatrized wound upon his cheek,
a frightful scar several inches in length, and evidently made by a
tomahawk. It ran from the temple to the base of the nose, and was
scarcely concealed by the luxuriant grizzled beard that grew almost to
his eyes.

“That’s only one,” said Sut. “Here’s another that mebbe you can see.”

This time he removed his coon-skin hunting-cap and bending his head
down, he parted the hair with his long, horny fingers, so that all saw
very distinctly the scar of a wound that must have endangered the life
of the recipient.

“I’ve got half a dozen other scars strung here and there about my body,
the most of which was made by that lonely Apache chief that is called
Lone Wolf; so I reckon you’ll conclude that he and me have some
acquaintance. Oh! we was as lovin’ as a couple of brothers!”

Mickey O’Rooney lifted his cap, and scratched his red head in a puzzled
way, as if he were debating some weighty matter. Suddenly looking up, he
asked:

“Was this Mr. Wolf born in these parts?”

“I can’t say, precisely, where he first seed the light, but it must have
been somewhere round about this part of the world. Why did you ax?”

“I was thinking p’raps he was born in Ireland, and came to this country
when he was of tender age. I once knowed a Mr. Fox, whose petaty patch
was so close to ours, that the favorite amoosement of me respected
parents was flingin’ the petaties over into our field by moonlight. His
name was Fox, I say, but I never knowed anybody by the name of Wolf.”

“He’s a screamer,” continued Sut Simpson, who seemed to enjoy talking of
such a formidable foe. “The Comanches and Apaches sling things loose in
these parts, an’ the wonder to me is how you ever got this fur without
losing your top-knots, for you’ve had to come right through their
country.”

“We have had encounters with the red men times without number,” said
Caleb Barnwell, who was standing erect, with arms folded, looking
straight at the hunter. He spoke in a deep, rich, bass voice, recalling
the figures of the early Puritans, who were unappalled by the dangers of
the ocean and forest, when the question of liberty of conscience was at
stake. “We have encountered the red men time and again,” he continued,
“so that I may conclude that we have become acclimated, as they say, and
understand the nature of the American Indian very well.”

Sut Simpson shook his head with a displeased expression.

“If you’d understood Injin nature, you’d never come here to settle. You
might have gone through the country on your way to some other place,
for, when you’re on the way, you can keep a lookout for the varmints;
but you’ve undertook to settle down right in the heart of the Apache
country, and that’s what I call the biggest piece of tom-foolery that
was ever knowed.”

This kind of talk might have discouraged ordinary people, but Barnwell
and his companions had long since become accustomed to it. They had
learned to brave ridicule before leaving their homes, and they classed
the expressions of the hunters who had called upon them with the
utterances of those who failed to “look into the future.”

“We were not the dunces to suppose that this was a promised land, in
which there were no giants to dispossess,” replied Barnwell, in the
same dignified manner. “Our fathers had to fight the Indians, and we are
prepared to do the same.”

Sut Simpson had no patience with this sort of talk, and he threw up his
head with an impatient gesture.

“Did you ever toss a hunk of buffler meat to a hungry hound, and seen
how nice he’d catch it in his jaws, and gulp it down without winkin’,
and then he’d lick his chops, and look up and whine for more. Wal,
that’s just the fix you folks are in. Lone Wolf and his men will swallow
you down without winkin’, and then be mad that there ain’t somethin’
left to squinch thar hunger.”

As the hunter uttered this significant warning, he gathered up the reins
of his mustang and rode away.



CHAPTER II. A BRIEF CONFERENCE

Sut Simpson was thoroughly impatient and angry. Knowing, as well as he
did, the dangerous character of Arizona, New Mexico, Northwestern Texas
and Indian Territory, he could not excuse such a foolhardy proceeding as
that of a small colony settling in the very heart of that section. The
nearest point where they could hope for safety was Fort Severn, fifty
miles distant. There was a company of soldiers under command of an
experienced United States officer, and they knew well enough to
keep within the protection of their stockades, except when making
reconnoissances in force.

All those who were acquainted with the veteran scout were accustomed to
defer to his judgment, where Indians were concerned, and he was so used
to receiving this deference, that when he was contradicted and gainsayed
by these new settlers, he lost his patience, and started to leave them
in a sort of mild passion.

The place fixed for the location of New Boston was in a gently sloping
valley, with the Rio Pecos running on the right. The soil was fertile,
as was shown in the abundance of rich, succulent grass which grew about
them, while, only a few hundred yards up the river, was a grove of
timber, filled in with dense undergrowth and brush--the most favorable
location possible for a band of daring red-skins, when preparing to make
a raid upon the settlement. The hunter turned the head of his mustang in
the direction of this wood, and rode away at a slow walk. He had nearly
reached the margin, when some one called to him:

“Hist, there, ye spalpeen! Won’t ye howld on a minute?”

Turning his head, he saw the Irishman walking rapidly toward him, after
the manner of one who had something important to say. He instantly
checked his horse, and waited for him to come up.

“Do you know,” struck in Mickey, “that I belaved in Misther Barnwell
till we reached Kansas City? There we met people that had been all
through this country and that knew all about it, and every one of the
spalpeens told us that we’d lose our sculps if we comed on. I did n’t
consider it likely that all of them folks would talk in that style
unless they meant it, and half a dozen of us made up our minds that the
best thing we could do was to go back, or stop where we was. We wint
to Misther Barnwell and plaided with him, and I was ready to break a
shillalah over his head by way of convincin’ him of the truth of me
remarks, but it was no use. He just grinned and shook his head. The
folks all seem to be afeard of him, as though he were St. Patrick or
some other sensible gintleman, and so we comed on.”

“What made _you_ come?” asked Sut, throwing his knee upon the saddle and
looking down upon the Irishman. “You could do as you choosed.”

“No, I could n’t. I hired out to Mr. Moonson for a year, and there ain’t
half a year gone yet, and I’ve got to stick to him till the time is up.”

“Whose little boy is that I seed standing by you?”

“That’s Mr. Moonson’s boy, Fred, one of the foinest, liveliest lads ye
ever sot eyes on, and I’m much worried on his account.”

“Are his parents with you?”

“Naither of ‘em.”

The hunter looked surprised, and the Irishman hastened to explain.

“I never knowed his mother--she havin’ been dead afore I lift owld
Ireland--and his father was taken down with a sort of fever a week ago,
when we was t’other side of Fort Aubray. It was n’t anything dangerous
at all but it sort of weakened him, so that it was belaved best for him
to tarry there awhile until he could regain his strength.”

“Why did n’t you and the younker stay with him?”

“That’s what orter been done,” replied the disgusted Irishman. “But
as it was n’t, here we are. The owld gintleman, Mr. Moonson, had
considerable furniture and goods that went best with the train, and he
needed me to look after it. He thought the boy would be safer with the
train than with him, bein’ that when he comes on, as he hopes to do, in
the course of a week, be the same more or less, he will not have more
than two or three companions. What I wanted to ax yez,” said Mickey,
checking his disposition to loquacity, “is whether ye are in dead
airnest ‘bout saying the copper-colored gentleman will be down here for
the purpose of blotting out the metropolis of New Boston?”

“Be here? Of course they will, just as sure as you’re a livin’ man. And
you won’t have to wait long, either.”

“How long?”

“Inside of a week, mebbe within three days. The last I heard of Lone
Wolf, he was down in the direction of the Llano Estaeado, some two or
three hundred miles from here, and it won’t take him long to come that
distance.”

“Is he the only Indian chief in this country, that ye talk so much about
him?”

“Oh, no! there are plenty of ‘em, but Lone Wolf has a special weakness
for such parties as this.”

“When he does come, what is best for us to do?”

“You’ll make the best fight you can, of course, and if you get licked,
as I’ve no doubt you will, and you’re well mounted, you must all strike
a bee-line for Fort Severn, and never stop till you reach the stockades.
You can’t miss the road, for you’ve only got to ride toward the setting
sun, as though you meant to dash your animal right through it.”

“Where will the spalpeen come from?”

The hunter pointed toward the woods before them.

“That’s just the place the varmints would want--they could n’t want any
nicer. You may be lookin’ at that spot, and they’ll crawl right in afore
you’r eyes, and lay thar for hours without your seein’ ‘em. You want to
get things fixed, so that you can make a good fight when they do swoop
down on you. I guess that long-legged chap that I was talkin’ to knows
enough for that. You seem to have more sense than any of ‘em, and I’ll
give you a little advice. Let’s see, what’s your name?”

The Irishman gave it, and the hunter responded by mentioning his own.

“Do you put some one in here to keep watch night and day, and the minute
you see the redskins comin’ give the signal and run for your friends
there. Then if the red-skins foller, you must let ‘em have it right and
left. If you find you can’t hold your own agin ‘em, you must make all
haste to Fort Severn, as you heard me say a while ago. Aim for the
setting sun, and after you’ve gone fifty miles or so you’ll be thar.
Good by to you, now; I’m watching the Injin movements in these parts,
and, if the signs are bad, and I have the chance, I’ll give you notice;
but you must n’t depend on me.”

The hunter leaned over the saddle, and warmly shook the hand of the
Irishman, the two having conceived a strong liking for each other.

Then he wheeled his mustang about, and gave him a word that caused him
at once to break into a swift gallop, which quickly carried him up the
slope, until he reached the margin of the valley, over which he went at
the same rate, and speedily vanished from view.

The Irishman stood gazing at the spot where he had vanished, and then he
walked thoughtfully back toward the settlement, where all were as busy
as beavers, getting their rude huts and homes in condition for living.
In doing this Caleb Barnwell was guided by a desire to be prepared for
the Indian visitation, which he knew was likely soon to be made. They
had gathered an immense quantity of driftwood along the banks of the Rio
Pecos, and the other timber that they needed had already been cut and
dragged from the woods, so that about all the material they needed was
at hand.

Even with their huts a third or a half finished, they would be in a much
better condition to receive the attack of the Apaches than if compelled
to place their heavy luggage-wagons in a semi-circle and fight from
behind them.

“The gentleman spakes the thruth,” muttered Mickey, as he walked along,
“and I’m not the one to forgit such a favor, when he took so much pains
to tell me. I’ll remember and fix a watch in the wood.”



CHAPTER III. FRED GOES ON GUARD

Mickey O’Rooney, fully believing the warning of the hunter, could not
but feel deeply anxious for the safety of himself and those around him.
He was particularly concerned for his young friend, Fred Munson, who had
been committed to his charge.

“It’s myself that is the only one he has to look after him, and if I
does n’t attend to my dooty, there’s no telling what may become of it,
and be the same towken, I can’t say what’ll become of him if I _does_
attend to the same. Whisht! there.”

The last exclamation was uttered to Caleb Barnwell, whom he approached
at that moment. The leader stepped aside a few minutes, and they
conferred together. The Irishman impressed upon the leader the warning
he had received from the hunter, and Barnwell admitted that there might
be grounds for the fear, but he added that he was doing all he could
to guard against it. At Mickey’s suggestion, he sent two of his most
trustworthy men to the woods to keep watch, while a third was stationed
on some elevated ground beyond, where he commanded an extensive view of
the surrounding prairie. As this was to be a permanent arrangement,
it would seem that he had taken all reasonable precautions. Not a
suspicious sign was seen through the day.

When night came, the two men were called in, and Mickey O’Rooney, Fred
Munson, and a man named Thompson went on duty. As two was the regular
number at night, it will be seen that the boy was an extra.

“We’re to come in at one o’clock,” he said, in reply to the remonstrance
of his friend, “and I’m sure I can keep awake that long. I believe the
Indians will be around to-night, and I won’t be able to sleep if I go
into the wagon.”

Mickey had not yet learned how to refuse the boy, and so he took him
along.

Thompson was a powerful, stalwart man, who had joined the party in
Nebraska, and who was supposed to have considerable knowledge of the
frontier and its ways. He had proved himself a good shot, and, on more
than one occasion, had displayed such coolness and self-possession in
critical moments, that he was counted one of the most valuable men in
the entire company.

The sentinels were stationed on the other side of the wood, Mickey
at one corner, Thompson at another, with Fred about half way between,
something like a hundred yards separating them from each other.

It must be said that, so far as it was possible, Fred Munson was
furnished with every advantage that he could require. He had a rifle
suited to his size and strength, but it was one of the best ever made,
and long-continued and careful practice had made him quite skillful in
handling it. Besides this, both he and Mickey were provided each with
the fleetest and most intelligent mustang that money could purchase, and
when mounted and with a fair field before them, they had little to fear
from the pursuit of the Apaches and Comanches.

But it is the Indian’s treacherous, cat-like nature that makes him so
dangerous, and against his wonderful cunning all the precautions of the
white men are frequently in vain.

“Now, Fred,” said Mickey, after they had left Thompson, as he was on the
point of leaving the boy, “I don’t feel exactly aisy ‘bout laving you
here, as me mother used to observe when she wint out from the house,
while I remained behind with the vittles. If one of the spalpeens should
slip up and find you asleep, he’d never let you wake up.”

“You need n’t be afraid of my going to sleep,” replied Fred, in a voice
of self-confidence. “I know what the danger is too well.”

With a few more words they separated, and each took his station, the
Irishman somewhat consoled by the fact that from where he stood he was
able, he believed, to cover the position of the lad.

The moon overhead was gibbous, and there were no clouds in the sky.
Thompson’s place was such that he was close to the river, which flowed
on his right, and he had that stream and the prairie in his front at his
command. Mickey O’Rooney, being upon the extreme left, was enabled to
range his eye up the valley to the crest of the slope, so that he was
confident he could detect any insidious approach from that direction.
Down the valley, on the other side of the settlement, were placed a
couple of other sentinels, so that New Boston, on that memorable night,
was well guarded.

The position of Fred Munson, it will be understood, was apparently the
least important, as it was commanded by the other two, but the lad felt
as if the lives of the entire company were placed in his hands.

“Talk of my going to sleep,” he repeated, as soon as he found himself
alone. “I can stand or sit here till daylight, and wink less times than
either Thompson or Mickey.”

As every boy feels this way a short time before going to sleep, no one
who might have overheard Fred’s boast would have been over-persuaded
thereby. Before him stretched the sloping valley of the Rio Pecos.
Glancing to the right, he could just catch the glimmer of the river as
it flowed by in the moonlight, the banks being low and not wooded, while
looking straight up the valley, his vision was bounded only by darkness
itself. Carefully running his eye over the ground, he was confident that
the slyest and most stealthy Indian that ever lived could not approach
within a hundred feet of him without detection.

“And the minute I’m certain its a red-skin, that minute I’ll let him
have it,” he added, instinctively grasping his rifle. “A boy need n’t be
as old as I am to learn that it won’t do to fool with such dogs as they
are.”

The grove which was guarded in this manner, it will be understood, was
nearly square in shape, reaching from the shore of the Rio Pecos on
toward the left until the termination of the valley in that direction
had been gained. It had been so plentifully drawn upon for logs and
lumber that here and there were spaces from which, several trees having
been cut, the moon’s rays found unobstructed entrance. One of these
oasis, as they may be termed, was directly in the rear of Fred, who
noticed it while reconnoitering his position. The open space was some
twenty feet square, and was bisected by the trunk of a large cottonwood,
which had fallen directly across it.

Being left entirely to himself, the boy now devoted himself to the
somewhat dismal task of keeping watch, an occupation that cannot be
classed as the most cheerful in which a man may engage. The excitement
and apprehension that marked the first two or three hours prevented the
time from hanging too heavily upon his hands, but as the night stole
along and nothing was heard or seen to cause alarm, the fear grew
less and less, until, like a boy, he began to suspect that all these
precautions were useless.

For the twentieth time he stood up and listened. The soft, musical
murmur of the Rio Pecos was heard, as it flowed by on his right, and
now and then the gentlest possible breath of night-wind disturbed the
branches overhead; but nothing else caught his notice. To prevent
the feeling of utter loneliness from gaining possession of him, Fred
occasionally emitted a low, soft, tremulous whistle, which was instantly
responded to from the direction of Mickey. It was the old familiar
signal which they had used many a time when off on their little hunting
expeditions, and either, hearing it, could not mistake its source. But
this grew wearisome at last, and he leaned back against a tree, looking
out upon the moonlit valley beyond, where nothing as yet had caught
his eye that looked in the least suspicious, and where everything still
appeared as silent as a graveyard.

“I don’t believe there are any Indians within fifty miles,” he muttered,
impatiently; “and yet we must have three or four men on the look-out
till morning. Well, I s’pose it’s the only safe thing to do, and I’m
bound to stick it out till one o’clock. It must be near midnight now,
and if Mickey should come around here, an hour from now, and find me
asleep, I never would hear the last of it.”

He felt very much like sitting down upon the ground, but he knew if he
did that he would be sure to fall asleep, while, as long as he kept
his feet, he was sure to retain his senses. When disposed to become too
drowsy, a sudden giving away at the knees recalled him so vigorously,
that it was a considerable time before the drowsiness crept over him
again.

Thus the night advanced, until all at once, Fred aroused himself as if a
sharp pin had been thrust in him.

“By George! I heard something then!” he exclaimed, in an excited
undertone, looking sharply about him; “but I don’t know where it came
from.”

His impression was that it came from some point directly before him
out on the open space; but the most rigid scrutiny failed to reveal the
cause. There was the level stretch of grass, unbroken by stone or shrub,
but nothing that could be tortured into the remotest resemblance to a
human figure.

“It can’t be there,” he muttered; “or if it was, it do n’t amount--”

His senses were aroused to the highest pitch, and he was all attention.

Just as the thoughts were running through his head, he caught the
slightest possible rustle from some point behind him. He turned his head
like lightning, and looked and listened. He could dimly discern the
open moonlit space to which reference has already been made; but the
intervening trees and undergrowth prevented anything like a satisfactory
view.

“There’s where it seemed to come from,” he said, to himself; “and yet
I do n’t see how an Indian could have got there without our finding it
out. Maybe it was n’t anything, after all.”

He waited and listened awhile longer, but no more. Anxious to learn
what it all meant, he began a cautious movement toward the open space,
for the purpose of finding out.



CHAPTER IV. FACING LONE WOLF

Fred’s few weeks spent in crossing the plains on his way to the valley
of the Rio Pecos had taught him much of the ways of the Indians, and he
knew that if any of the scamps were in his immediate neighborhood, it
would be almost impossible for him to stir from his position by the tree
without betraying himself. The lad half suspected that the sound was
made by some wild animal that was stealing through the wood, or what was
more likely, that it was no more than a falling leaf; but, whatever
it was, he was determined to learn if the thing were among the
possibilities.

A veteran Comanche, himself, could not have picked his way through the
undergrowth any better than did he; and, when at last he stood upon the
edge of the open space and looked around, he was morally certain that no
other creature was aware of his movement. Nor was he aware of the action
of the other party, if there was really such a one, which had been the
means of bringing him thither. If some wild animal or wild Indian were
lurking in the vicinity, he knew how to remain invisible.

“I’ll stay here a little while--”

Fred at that moment was looking at the cottonwood tree, which, it will
be remembered, had been felled directly across the opening, when, to his
speechless terror, the figure of an Indian warrior suddenly rose
upright from behind it, and stood as motionless as a statue. His action
indicated that he was not aware that any one was standing so near him.
He had probably crept up to the log behind which he crouched, until,
believing he was not in danger of being seen, he arose to his feet and
assumed the attitude of one who was using his eyes and ears to their
utmost extent.

He was of ordinary stature, without any blanket, his long, black
hair hanging loosely down upon his shoulders, his scarred and ugly
countenance daubed and smeared with different colored paint, his chest
bare, and ornamented in the same fashion, a knife at his girdle, and
a long, formidable rifle in his hand--such were the noticeable
characteristics, to a superficial observer, of Lone Wolf, the Apache
chief--for the Indian confronting Fred Munson was really he, and no one
else.

The lad suspected the identity of the red-skin, although, having
never seen him, it amounted only to a suspicion. No matter who he was,
however, he was prepared for him.

The Apache showed his usual cunning. He was evidently attempting to
steal upon the sentinels, and, having risen to his feet, he remained
motionless and upright, listening for any sign that might betray any
motion of the individuals whom he was seeking to slay, as does the
assassin at night.

“He must have been after _me_, for he is right behind where I stood,”
 thought the boy, as he grasped his rifle more firmly than ever, resolved
to fire upon the wretch the moment he attempted to advance.

Lone Wolf stood but a minute in the position described, when, seemingly,
he was satisfied that the way was clear, and, throwing one moccasin on
the trunk, he climbed over as silently as a shadow, and stood again holt
upright upon the other side. This brought the Indian and boy within ten
feet of each other, and still the advantage was all upon the side of the
latter, who stood in such deep shadow that he was not only invisible,
but his presence was unsuspected.

The Indian was not gazing in the direction of the lad, but seemed
to turn his attention more to the left, toward the spot where Mickey
O’Rooney, the Irishman, was stationed. In ignoring the proximity of a
boy, it cannot be said that he acted unreasonably.

Lone Wolf remained like a carven statue for a few seconds longer, and
then began a cautious movement forward. In the moonlight, Fred could
observe the motion of the foot, and the gradual advance of the body.
He felt that it would not do to defer any longer his intention of
obstructing him. If permitted to go on in this manner, he might kill
Mickey O’Rooney, and bring down a whole host of red-skins upon the
sleeping settlers, cutting them off to a man.

Fred had his rifle to his shoulder, and pointed toward the Indian.
Suddenly stepping forward, he placed himself in the moonlight, and, with
the muzzle of his piece almost at the breast of the chief, he said:

“Another step forward, and I’ll bore you through!”

The lad did not stop to consider whether it was likely that the Indian
understood the English tongue; but, as it happened, Lone Wolf could
use it almost as if to the manner born; and it would have required
no profound linguistic knowledge upon the part of anyone to have
comprehended the meaning of the young hero. It was one of those
situations in which gesture told the meaning more plainly than mere
words could have done. But if ever there was an astonished aborigine,
Lone Wolf was the same.

It was not often that such a wily warrior as he was caught napping, but
he was completely outwitted on the present occasion. When he saw the
muzzle of the rifle pointed straight at his breast, he knew what it
meant, even though the weapon was in the hands of a boy. It meant that
any attempt on his part to raise his gun or draw his tomahawk or knife,
would be met by the discharge of the threatening weapon, and his own
passage from time into eternity. So he stared at the lad a moment, and
then demanded in good English:

“What does my brother want?”

“I want you to leave, just as quickly as you know how, and never show
yourself here again.”

“Lone Wolf’s wigwam is many miles away,” supplied the Indian, pointing
northward, “and he is on his way there now.”

Fred started a little at this terrible chieftain’s name; but he held
his gun pointed steadily towards him, determined to fire the instant
he attempted the least hostile movement, for his own salvation depended
upon such a prompt check-mating of his enemy.

An Indian is always ready to make the best of his situation, and Lone
Wolf saw that he was fairly caught. Still, he acted cautiously, in the
hope of throwing the young hero off his guard, so as to permit him to
crush him as suddenly as if by a panther’s spring.

“If your wigwam is there, it is time you were home,” said Fred. “We are
on the lookout for such customers as you, and if any of the others see
you they won’t let you off so easy as I do. So the best thing is for you
to leave.”

Lone Wolf made no direct reply to this, except to take a step toward the
side of the lad, as if it were involuntary, and intended to further the
convenience of conversation; but Fred suspected his purpose, and warned
him back.

“Lone Wolf, if you want to carry your life away with you, you will go at
once. I do n’t want to shoot you, but if you come any nearer or wait
any longer, I’ll fire. I’m tired of holding this gun, and it may go off
itself.”

The Apache chief made no answer, but, with his eyes fixed upon the
lad, took a step backward, as an earnest of his intention of obeying.
Reaching the log, he hastily clambered over it and speedily vanished
like a phantom in the gloom of the wood beyond, leaving the boy master
of the field.



CHAPTER V. THE APACHES ARE COMING

As soon as Lone Wolf was out of sight, young Munson stepped back in the
shadow of the wood, and quickly placed himself behind the trunk of a
large tree. He had learned the nature of the Indian race too well for
him to give this precious specimen any chance to circumvent him. Had he
remained standing in the moonlight opening, after the Apache entered the
wood, the latter could not have had a better opportunity to pick him off
without danger to himself. Had he meditated any such purpose, when he
wheeled to fire the shot there would have been no target visible.

The strained ear of the lad could not detect the slightest rustling that
might betray the where-abouts of the dreaded chief, and Fred knew better
than to expect any such advantage as that which just permitted to
pass through his hands. But what would Lone Wolf do? This was the
all-important question. Would he sneak off through the wood and out of
the valley, and would he be seen and heard no more that night? or would
he return to revenge himself for the injury to his pride? Was he alone
in the grove, or were there a half dozen brother-demons sulking among
the undergrowth, like so many rattlesnakes, except that they did not
give any warning before striking their blow? Had any of them visited
Mickey or Thompson, and was a general attack about to be made upon the
settlement? Such questions as these surged through the mind of Fred, as
he stood leaning against the tree, rifle in hand, listening, looking,
and thinking.

Suddenly he gave utterance to a low whistle, which he was accustomed to
use as a signal in communicating with Mickey. It was almost instantly
answered, in a way which indicated that the Irishman was approaching. A
minute later the two were together. The lad hastily related his stirring
adventure with the great Apache war-chief, and, as may be imagined,
Mickey was dumfounded.

“It’s meself that has n’t seen or heard the least sign of one of the
spalpeens since the set of sun, and they’ve been about us all the time.”

“How was it they got here without being seen?”

“There be plenty ways of doing the same. They’ve found out that we were
watching this pint, and so they slipped round and came the other way.”

“Do you think they will attack us to-night?”

“I’m thinkin’ they’re only making observations, as me uncle obsarved,
when he was cotched in the house of Larry O’Mulligan, and they’ll be
down on us some time, when everything is ready.”

“It seems to me it is a poor time to make observations--in the night.”

“The red-skin is like an owl,” replied Mickey. “He can see much better
at night than he can by day; but there’s Thompson; let us see whether
some of the spalpeens haven’t made a call upon him in the darkness.
Be aisy now, in stepping over the leaves, for an Injin hears with his
fingers and toes as well as his ears.”

The Hibernian led the way, each advancing with all the caution at his
command, and using such stealth and deliberation in their movements
that some ten or fifteen minutes were consumed in passing over the
intervening space. At last, however, the spot was reached where they had
bidden good-bye to their friend, earlier in the evening.

“Here’s about the place,” said Mickey, looking about him; “but I does
n’t observe the gintleman, by the token of which he must have strayed
away. Hilloa!”

He repeated the call in a low, cautious voice, but still loud enough
to be heard a dozen yards or more from where he stood; but no response
came, and, although neither of the two gave any expression to it, yet
they were sensible of a growing fear that this absence or silence of
their friend had a most serious meaning.

“Yonder he is now,” suddenly exclaimed Fred. “He’s a great sentinel,
too, for he’s sound asleep.”

The stalwart figure of Thompson was seen seated upon the ground, with
his back against a tree, and his chin on his breast, like one sunk in a
deep slumber. The sentinel had seated himself on the edge of the grove,
where all the trees and undergrowth were behind, and the open space in
front of him. At the time of doing so, no doubt his figure was enveloped
in the shadow, but since then the moon had climbed so high in the sky
that its rays fell upon his entire person, and the instant the two
chanced to glance in that direction, they saw him with startling
distinctness.

“Begorrah! if that does n’t bate the mischief!” exclaimed Mickey,
impatiently, as he looked at his unconscious friend. “I thought he was
the gintleman that had traveled, and knew all about these copper-colored
spalpeens. S’pose we’ all done the same, Lone Wolf and his Apaches would
have had all our skulp-locks hanging at their goordles by this time. I
say, Thompson, ain’t you ashamed of yourself to be wastin’ your time in
this fashion?”

As he spoke, he stooped down, and seizing the arm of the man, shook it
quite hard several times, but without waking him.

“Begorrah, but he acts as if he had n’t a week of sleep since he had
emigrated to the West. I say, Thompson, me ould boy, can’t ye arouse up
and bid us good night?”

While Mickey was speaking in this jocose manner, he had again seized the
man, but this time by the shoulder. At the first shake the head of the
man fell forward, as if he were a wooden image knocked out of poise.

The singularity of the move struck Mickey, who abruptly ceased his
jests, raised the drooping head, and stooped down and peered into it.
One quick, searching glance told the terrible truth.

_“Be the howly powers, but he’s dead!”_ gasped the horrified Irishman,
starting back, and then stooping still lower, and hurriedly examining
him.

“What killed him?” asked the terrified Fred, gazing upon the limp
figure.

“Lone Wolf, the haythen blackguard. See here,” added Mickey, in a stern
voice, as he wheeled about and faced his young friend, “you told me you
had your gun pinted at that spalpeen; now it’s meself that wants to know
why in blazes you did n’t pull the trigger?”

“He hadn’t hurt me, Mickey, and I did n’t know that he had been doing
anything of this kind. Would you have shot him, in my place?”

The Irishman shook his head. It looked too cowardly to send a man, even
though he were an Indian, out of the world without an instant’s warning.

“Well, Thompson is done for, that’s dead sure, and we’ll have to give
him a dacent burial. Whisht, there! did ye not hear somethin’?”

Footsteps were heard very distinctly upon the leaves, and the two shrank
back in the shadow of the wood and awaited their approach, for they were
evidently coming that way. Something in the manner of walking betrayed
their identity, and Mickey spoke. The prompt answer showed that they
were the two men whose duty it was to relieve Thompson and the Irishman.
They came forward at once, and when they learned the truth, were, as
a matter of course, terribly shocked. They reported that the sentinels
nearer the settlement had detected moving figures during the night
skulking about the wood and valley, and the sound of horses’ hoofs left
no doubt that they were Indians who had gone.

The death of Thompson, of course, was a terrible shock to the new
arrivals, but it was one of the incidents of border life, and was
accepted as such. The two took their stations unflinchingly, and Mickey
and Fred returned to the settlement, the body of the dead sentry being
allowed to lie where it was, under guard, until morning.

On the morrow the body was given decent burial, and the building of the
houses was pressed with all possible activity, and scouts or sentinels
were stationed on all the prominent lookouts.

Barnwell was confident that if no interruption came about within the
next two or three days, he could put the defenses in such shape that
they could resist the attack of any body of Indians; but an assault on
that day or the next would be a most serious affair, the issue of which
was extremely doubtful; hence the necessity of pressing everything
forward with the utmost dispatch. Fred rendered what assistance he
could, but that did not amount to much, and, as he possessed the best
eyesight, he took upon himself the duty of sentinel, taking his position
near the river, where he remained for something over an hour.

Nothing of an alarming character was seen, and, thinking his standpoint
was too depressed to give him the range of observation, he concluded to
climb one of the trees. This was quickly done, and when he found himself
in one of the topmost branches he was gratified with the result.

On his right hand, he could trace the winding course of the Rio Pecos
for several miles, the banks here and there fringed with wood and
stunted undergrowth. His attitude was such that he could see over the
tops of the trees in his rear, and observe his friends busily at work as
so many beavers, while off on the left, stretched on the prairies, with
the faint bluish outlines of mountains in the distance. All at once the
eye of the boy was arrested by the figure of a horseman in the west. He
was coming with the speed of a whirlwind, and heading straight toward
the settlement.

Fred, wondering what it could mean, watched him with an intensity of
interest that can scarcely be imagined. At first he supposed him to be a
fugitive fleeing from the Indians; but none of the latter could be
seen on the right, left or in the rear and so he concluded that that
explanation would not answer.

The speed soon brought the horseman within hail. As he neared the Rio
Pecos Valley, he rose in his stirrups, and swung his hat in an excited
manner. At that moment Fred recognized him as Sut Simpson, the scout,
whose voice rang out as startling and clear as that of a stentor.

“The Apaches are coming! The Apaches are coming! Lone Wolf will be down
on yer quicker’n lightnin’!”



CHAPTER VI. THE APACHE ATTACK

“The Apaches are coming! The Apaches are coming!” shouted Sut Simpson,
as his mustang thundered up to the edge of the valley, while his clear,
powerful voice rang out like a bugle.

The words were startling enough, and the sudden dropping of a dozen
bombshells among the unfinished dwellings of New Boston could not have
created greater consternation, emphasized as they were by the towering
form of the hunter and steed, who looked as if they had been fired from
the throat of some immense Columbiad, and had not as yet recovered from
their bewilderment. There was some system, however, in the movements
of the pioneers, for there was ever present in their thoughts the very
danger which had now come upon them so suddenly.

In the structure which was nearest completion were placed the dozen
women and children, while the other houses that were in a condition to
afford the means of defense were taken possession of by the men, gun in
hand, ready to defend themselves to the last. Fortunately enough, the
horses happened to be corraled within the inclosure, so that, unless
the defense should utterly fail, there was little danger of their being
stampeded by the Indians.

While these hurried preparations were going on, the hunter remained
seated upon his mustang, looking down upon the pioneers with a gathering
calmness, as though he were a general watching the evolutions of his
army. Now and then he anxiously gazed off over the prairie, his manner
showing that he was mentally comparing the speed of the approaching
Apaches with that of the labors of his friends.

To Fred Munson, perched in the top of the lofty tree, the whole scene
seemed like a hurrying panorama of a dream. He never once thought of his
own personal danger, in the intensity of his interest in what was going
on before his eyes.

The hunter had scarcely checked his mustang when the lad saw the Apaches
appear upon a ridge some distance behind. It was less than two miles
away, and they all dashed over at the place where the _avant courier_
had come at his break-neck pace; and as soon as they were all over, and
stretching away in the direction of the settlement, Fred had some chance
of estimating their number.

“There must be a thousand of them,” he muttered, in a terrified voice.
“They will murder us all--none can get away.”

His imagination, however, intensified matters. The Apaches numbered
several hundred, and, armed to the teeth as they were, brave, daring,
and mounted upon the best of horses, they were as formidable a party
as if they were composed of so many white desperadoes of the border.
A month before they would have walked over this party of pioneers; but
there is no teacher like experience, and in the long journey across
the plains, marked by innumerable skirmishes with the red-skins, the
settlers had acquired a coolness and steadiness under fire which was
invaluable in such emergencies as this.

But Simpson still maintained his position, glancing from the settlement
below him to the approaching Apaches, with that quick, nervous motion
which showed only too plainly that he felt a crisis was at hand, and he
could delay only a few moments longer.

It was a thrilling sight, the hurried preparations of the pioneers, and
the swift approach of their assailants. The latter came in no regular
order, but swept along like so many Centaurs, at first well together,
but, as they approached the valley, gradually separating and spreading
out, like a slowly opening fan, until the crescent was several hundred
yards in breadth, and it looked as if they intended to surround the
settlement.

Such being their apparent purpose, the hunter speedily saw that it would
not do to stay another second. He had come to warn the whites of their
danger, and now that it had burst upon them, he emphasized his good
intentions by dashing down the valley, and, leaping from the back of his
mustang, took his place among a dozen defenders who were gathered in the
building with the women and children.

His horse was covered with foam and sweat, for his master had ridden
like Paul Revere, and he needed the rest that was now given him. He
possessed extraordinary intelligence, and Sut knew that he could be
thoroughly depended upon in case matters got mixed, and a stampede was
attempted by the assailants.

There was no dilly-dallying. The most serious kind of business impended,
and all were forced to prepare for it. In a twinkling, as it seemed, the
hurry, bustle, and confusion suddenly ceased. Everything settled down
into quiet, and the defenders, with their loaded rifles, calmly awaited
the assault that was soon to be made.

As the Apaches neared the valley, they gradually slackened their speed,
but all reached the margin, from which they could look down upon the
pioneers, with their steeds upon a gallop, and then, without checking
them, branched still further apart, and, speeding down the slope, began
the battle forthwith.

In an instant the sharp crack! crack! of rifles was heard from different
directions, as the Apaches opened fire upon the whites, who showed an
equal readiness in replying. The Indians never allowed their steeds to
rest. They were constantly in motion, back and forth, round and round,
circling here and there, seemingly at times in inextricable confusion,
but with a certain system, as shown in the evolutions of a large
party upon a stage, and with the result of never interfering with one
another’s efficiency.

Some of the Apaches, in the very wantonness of their skillful
horsemanship, threw themselves from side to side upon the backs of their
steeds, firing under the neck or belly with as much accuracy as if from
the saddle. None of them were furnished with the regulation saddle;
some had blankets, while the most were mounted bareback. Their skill
was little short of the marvelous. Again and again, one of the red-skins
would make a lunge over the side of his animal, as though he were going
to plunge headlong into the earth; but, catching his toe over the spine
of his horse, he would sustain himself apparently by no other means,
while he kept up his fusilade. When his horse wheeled, so as to expose
the rider to the fire of the whites, the Indian would quickly swing over
the other side, where he would continue the same demonstrations.

Thus it was that within five minutes after the Apaches came down in the
valley, the settlement was surrounded by the several hundred, who
were circling back and forth, and sending in their shots, whenever the
opportunity presented itself.

The wood to which frequent reference has been made, it will be
remembered, was situated some distance from the settlement, and, as Fred
Munson was perched in a tree upon the other side, many of the gyrating
horsemen were frequently shut out from his view by the intervening
trees; but enough was constantly in view to keep his excitement up to
the highest pitch, and to cause him to forget his own prominence as a
target.

As has been already said, the settlers, from behind their intrenchments,
were prompt in returning the fire of their assailants. The effect upon
persons who had never been brought in collision with Indians would have
been to bewilder and terrify them. It is very probable that such was one
of the principal objects of the Apaches in making their attack as they
did; but it failed utterly in that respect. Carefully avoiding any
exposure of themselves, they popped away right and left, the reports of
the rifles mingling together, while the warriors, as they tumbled to the
ground here and there, showed how effectual the defense of the pioneers
was.

The Apaches scarcely expected such a vigorous defense, and, after losing
several of their best men, they widened their circle so as to avoid such
a close range, and fired more seldom, but with greater care.

New Boston was a peculiarly built, or rather laid out, city. If Caleb
Barnwell committed an absurdity in attempting to plant a settlement in
the valley of the Rio Pecos, when the entire surrounding country was
hostile, he showed some wisdom in the manner in which he conducted
matters after the attempt was made. The town was in an irregular circle,
with a grassy court in the centre, in which were pitched their horses.

Knowing how indispensable these animals were to men in such
circumstances, there could be but little doubt that the Apaches would
make a desperate attempt to stampede them, and the whites were therefore
on the look-out for such an effort. Not only Sut Simpson, but Barnwell
and a number of the principal men, held fire after the first repulse, so
as to meet such an essay at the very instant it was attempted.

The Apaches edged away some distance, under the galling fire of the
pioneers, until the watchful hunter saw them hurriedly massing on the
slope above. He knew the meaning of that the moment he perceived the
action.

“Be ready! they’re coming for the animals!” he shouted, in a voice so
loud that the words were distinctly heard by Fred Munson from his perch
in the tree.

All those who held empty rifles hastily reloaded them, and the others,
raising the hammers of their weapons, fixed their eyes upon the
hideously painted forms, which resembled so many demons about to sweep
down upon them. There was barely time for preparation, and in another
minute the horde came rushing down the slope, like a mountain torrent,
their objective point being the square where the horses were secured.
Before they could reach them, however, the settlers poured in their most
murderous volleys, bringing many a glaring red-skin to earth, wounding
a number of their animals, and creating such a panic that the foremost
swerved off to the right and dashed up the valley, followed by the
others, while the property of the whites remained uninjured.

The first attack of the Apaches resulted in a repulse, and that, too,
when led by Lone Wolf; but the peril was not past. That war-chief had
learned the situation fully, and there was no danger of his repeating
this blunder. The next time he was sure to succeed.



CHAPTER VII. IN A TREE

All this passed in much less time than has been necessary to describe
it. Not until Fred Munson saw that the Apaches were repulsed did he
reflect upon the startling fact that there was no one among all the
settlers that was placed in as perilous a position as he.

The red-skins were between him and the houses, or fortifications, as
they may be considered. He was alone, and although he had no gun in his
possession, yet it cannot be supposed that his situation would have been
any less dangerous on that account. In the excitement of interest, he
had climbed to the highest attainable portion of the tree, where he not
only had a good view of the thrilling contest going on under his very
eyes, but where the contestants themselves, had they chosen to glance
toward him, could have obtained an equally good view of him. Whether or
not they had done so remained to be seen.

“My stars! I hope they have n’t seen me,” muttered the terrified lad, as
he began retreating toward the trunk, with the intent of descending to
the ground. “If they have, I’m a goner, that’s certain.”

The Apaches, although defeated, and driven beyond range of the settlers’
rifles, did not withdraw altogether. Reaching a point several hundred
yards from the houses, they continued moving about on their horses,
as though reconnoitering from that distance. The red-skins did not go
together, as would have seemed natural under circumstances, but kept up
that peculiar restless movement, as though it were impossible for them
to settle down into anything like quiet. This action upon their part
threw a number of the red horsemen among the woods, where Fred was
perched, so that he had every reason for being alarmed.

He was a skillful climber, however, and when he reached the trunk he
moved down it, with the nimbleness of a monkey, taking care, however,
not to be too rapid or sudden, as the movement might attract notice.
Then, too, he had the benefit of a denser vegetable growth, in which he
thought it quite possible to conceal himself even from an Indian passing
beneath.

“If they have n’t noticed me,” he reflected, as he crouched upon a limb,
and looked and listened, “I’ve a good chance of keeping out of their
sight altogether. It’s a pity I had n’t had enough sense to think of all
this before.”

He continued creeping down the tree, until he was within twenty feet or
so of the ground, when he paused, deeming it hardly safe to descend to
the solid earth until matters looked a little less threatening. Fred was
in a bad predicament, and he was sorely puzzled to decide what was best
to do. There could be no doubt that numbers of Indians were in the wood
around him, and if he descended to the ground he ran that much more
danger of falling into their hands. He could not avoid a strong
suspicion that he had been seen, and that his movements had been watched
and understood for some time past.

“I should n’t think those Apaches would consider a boy like me of much
account,” he muttered; “but if they have a chance to grab me, I s’pose
they will. I’m sure I saw Lone Wolf at the head of the attacking party,
and he’ll want to pay me up for that big scare I gave him last night.”

The afternoon was well advanced, and he finally concluded to stay where
he was, provided the red-skins permitted him to do so; so he crawled
into the place, where he seemed the best protected by the surrounding
vegetation and branches, and, crouching down, he awaited the coming of
darkness with an anxiety which can scarcely be described.

It will be understood that he had come down so low in the tree that he
could see nothing of his friends on the other side of the wood. He
was so near the margin that his view on the right was comparatively
unobstructed. Occasionally he caught sight of a horseman in the
distance, but the majority of the red-skins were in other directions.
Now and then the crack of a rifle broke the stillness, which was
so perfect that he distinctly caught the sound of the hoofs of the
mustangs, as they whirled and spun hither and thither.

When one is placed in such a position as was Fred, his imagination is
sure to be very active, and, time and again, he was sure that he heard
the stealthy tread of a moccasin upon the leaves below. All this,
however, was not imagination; for he had not been on his perch more
than half an hour, when, peering downward through the leaves, he saw the
unmistakable figure of an Indian, gliding along in the stealthy manner
peculiar to that race. The heart of the lad throbbed violently, and he
grasped the limb more tightly, watching every movement of the red-skin.

“He must be looking for me,” was his thought. “He saw me in the tree,
and he has now come to kill or take me away.”

He was sure that that particular Apache was not Lone Wolf, although he
could not be certain that any advantage was to be reaped from that. The
chief was not likely to be more devoid of anything like mercy than was
the greatest or humblest of his warriors.

The red-skin was on foot, and bore a rifle in his hand. Instead of
the fanciful scalp-lock ornamenting his crown, his black, wiry hair
straggled down around his shoulders, over which was thrown a dirty army
blanket, that had once belonged to the United States government. The
hideous paint upon his face was easily seen from the perch of the
lad, and the red-skin was as repulsive and dreaded an object as can be
imagined.

The scamp was moving along with that stealthy, cat-like tread which is
characteristic of all his race; but although directly under the tree
when first seen by the lad, he did not look up nor act in any way which
would suggest that he suspected the presence of anyone over him. He did
not hesitate in his movement, and thus it was that he was scarcely seen
when he disappeared in the wood beyond, and the boy was alone.

Fred was now fully satisfied that it would not do to leave the tree so
long as a particle of daylight remained. Apaches were too plentiful in
those parts.

“I s’pose they’ll hang around till night, though I can’t see what
they’re going to make by it,” said the boy to himself. “They’ve tried to
clear out Mr. Barnwell and the rest of them, but could n’t begin to
do it, and now it won’t do them any good to stay here. It’ll be pretty
risky for me to try and get into the house after dark, but they know I
am out here and they will be looking for me. And then Mickey--”

At the mention of the Irishman’s name, Fred suddenly stopped with a
start, for he was reminded of a fact which had escaped him until that
moment. Mickey O’Rooney had gone out on a little scout of his own, some
hours before, and he had not yet returned, so that his situation, in one
sense, was like his own. But he manifestly had greater advantage, for
he was not only fully armed, but was mounted on one of the fleetest
mustangs of the West; so that, unless he ran into some trap, he need
fear no disturbance from them.

“I only wish I was with him,” reflected Fred, “mounted upon Hurricane.
I wouldn’t mind a little run into some of these Apaches that think they
are such wonderful riders.”

As has been intimated in another place, young Munson had been furnished
with one of the finest of prairie steeds--one whose speed, endurance,
and intelligence was extraordinary. There was naturally a great
attachment between the two, and Fred would have been off most of the
time, skimming over the prairie, had he been allowed to do so, but
Hurricane was in the group in the centre of the settlement, with the
others, which the Indians had tried so hard to stampede, and he was
as difficult to reach, under the circumstances, as were his friends
themselves.



CHAPTER VIII. THE SWOOP OF THE APACHE

The afternoon dragged slowly by with Fred crouching, as he was, in the
top of the tree and waiting for the time to come when he might descend
and make the attempt to rejoin his friends, who could not but be greatly
concerned over his absence. At rare intervals, the spiteful crack of a
rifle reached his ear as before, and he knew that the white and red men
were watching each other, both ready to seize the first opportunity
that might offer for obtaining the slightest advantage. The occasional
clamping of the hoofs of a galloping horse showed, too, that his dreaded
foes were close at hand.

Finally, the sun disappeared, and darkness slowly settled over wood,
forest, and prairie. There was the moon, shining as bright and unclouded
as on the night before; but the shadow was so dense among the trees that
this was of no particular importance, and so soon as night was fairly
come the impatient lad was resolved upon making the attempt to reach his
friends.

No Apaches had been seen beneath the tree since the departure of the
first stealthy visitor, and the hope was quite strong within the lad
that in the hurry and swirl of the fight the red-skins had failed to
note him in his hiding-place. If such were really the case, it would
seem that there was a chance of his passing through the lines without
detection.

“Anyhow, I am going to try it,” he muttered, with set teeth, as he
resumed his cautious descent of the tree.

A moment later he found himself upon the nethermost limb, where he
hesitated a few seconds, peering around in the breathless darkness and
listening for anything that might betray the location of his enemies.
The silence of the tomb seemed to have settled upon the earth, and,
hanging by his hands a moment, he let go and dropped lightly to the
ground. As he did so, he purposely sank upon his hands and knees, in the
belief that he was less liable to be seen in that position than in any
other.

The signs continued favorable, and, without any useless waiting, he
turned his face in the direction of New Boston and began stealing
forward, with the care and caution of a veteran courser of the plains.
There was a fluttering hope that, with the coming of night, the
red-skins had departed, but he knew better than to rely upon any such
chance to reach his friends. If they had really gone, he would have
heard something from Sut Simpson.

No more trying ordeal can be imagined than that which Fred endured
when he attempted thus to steal his way through the Apache lines to his
friends. He crept along upon his hands and knees, for he dared not
trust himself in an upright posture, and he studiously avoided all those
places through which the rays of the moonlight made their way. There was
scarcely a minute in which he did not fancy that he heard the stealthy
movement of some one near him, and stopped and lay flat upon his face,
remaining thus until hopeful that it was safe to move forward again. And
this apprehension was not always imaginary. Two separate times the sound
of footsteps were too distinct to be mistaken, and the glimpse obtained
of a shadowy figure, as it flitted across a partially moonlit space, was
equally conclusive.

Almost an hour had passed, when Fred finally found himself on the edge
of the open area which separated the wood from the settlement. Thus far
he had evaded all danger and only a comparatively small space remained
to be passed over in order to reach the haven of safety.

The boy assumed an upright position, and, standing in the shadow of the
wood, debated with himself as to the best means of getting over that
narrow but dangerous neck of territory which still interposed. It would
be useless to attempt to creep over it, for the moon would be sure to
reveal him to the Indians that were lurking near, and it was not likely
that he could advance a dozen yards without detection. If it were
possible, by drawing himself along on his face, to elude the vigilance
of the Apaches, it would be clearly impossible to escape being discerned
by his own friends. At such a time, the entire company would be on the
look-out for just such insidious advances, and the chances were that he
would be taken for a savage and shot by his own friends.

Fred was compelled to do a good deal of thinking, and the conclusion he
came to was the next best possible to reach. Clearly, the wiser course
was for him to remain where he was for the time being. So long as
darkness remained, it was comparatively easy for him to keep concealed,
and, while the situation could not have grown any worse, with the
passage of the night, the chances were that it would improve, as the way
for a safe run across the exposed area would have shown itself in due
time. But it was natural that the boy should become impatient, and he
easily persuaded himself that his position became more critical each
moment.

He decided to make a run straight for the larger building, depending
not upon concealment but upon speed. He expected to be fired at, and
probably chased by some of the Apaches, but there was a reasonable
chance of his escaping both. The distance was short, and he was sure to
gain a good start at the beginning; but his main reliance was upon his
being recognized by his friends, who would cover his flight. Having
decided upon this course, he did not delay its execution a moment, since
delay foreboded so much.

Breathing a prayer to heaven to guide him safely, he drew in a deep
breath, and, leaping full into the moonlit space, started through his
fiery gauntlet.

For a second or two the tomb-like silence continued, and then he heard
several hoarse, crow-like calls, which he knew were made by the Apaches.
Then came several rifle reports, but he was not injured. It showed,
however, that his flight had been discovered. Fred had nothing to do,
however, but to run, and he put on the utmost speed to which he
could force himself, straining every nerve in the hope of making the
log-house, which seemed to recede as he advanced.

Silence succeeded the shots and shouts, and the heart of the young
fugitive was throbbing with a wild hope, when a noise caused him to look
over his shoulder. To his horror, he perceived an Indian runner on foot,
and within a dozen feet, bearing down upon him with the speed of the
wind. The poor lad felt as if weighed down by a horrible nightmare, but
he bent to his work with the desperation of despair.

It was useless.

His speed was not one half as great as that of the trained Apache, who
bounded forward like a panther, and the next instant griped his horny
fingers in the arm of Fred, who uttered a wail, and sank like one dying.

At that moment, the sharp, penetrating crack of a rifle came from the
direction of the large building, and the warrior, with an ear-splitting
screech, threw up his hands, and fell backward.

“Run, you young beaver! Thar’s a chance for you yet!”

The ringing voice of Sut Simpson, aroused the boy, who, finding himself
loose from the grasp of the Indian, bounded forward again. But he had
scarcely done so, when the tramp of horses’ hoofs were heard, and a
warrior, more daring than the others, sent his mustang forward with
arrowy swiftness, not behind the lad, but directly in front of him, so
that he was compelled to turn to one side, in the attempt to dodge him.

Detecting his purpose, a fusilade of rifles was kept up from the houses,
but the Apache seemed to escape them all; and, throwing himself on the
opposite side of the horse, so as to interpose the body of the latter
between himself and his enemies, and, without checking his speed, he
reached down, and catching the bewildered lad, dashed up the slope,
bearing him away in triumph.



CHAPTER IX. IN LONE WOLF’S CLUTCHES

Poor Fred Munson struggled with the vigor of desperation to escape
the clutches of the Indian, who swooped down upon him in the fashion
described, but it was in vain; and he scarcely heard the thunder of the
horses’ hoofs and saw the figure of the rushing mustang, when he was
snatched up by the muscular and far-reaching Apache, and borne away amid
the shower of bullets, which hurtled as harmlessly about the red rider
and his steed as if the two bore charmed lives.

The daring warrior who performed this remarkable feat had no sooner
secured the boy than he righted himself on the back of his horse,
sitting bolt upright, while, almost at the same instant, the dead run
was toned down to a moderate walk. Turning his head, the Apache emitted
several tantalizing whoops, intended to irritate the whites into firing.

Although he was within easy rifle-shot, no one essayed to fire, and he
knew none would do so. Not even that skillful marksman, Sut Simpson,
dared make the trial, for the painted body of the sinewy red-skin was
covered by that of the boy, whom he held in front of him, and he who
fired at the wretch was much more likely to kill the lad so cunningly
held in his arms. Thus it was that the captor made off with his prize,
and no one was able to check him, although the hearts of the whites
were burning with rage and with the desire to shoot the Apache who had
baffled them so utterly.

Fred was still struggling, in the frantic hope of twisting himself
loose from the grasp of the redskin, when the latter spoke in his harsh,
guttural voice:

“Stop, or I’ll kill.”

This was said in the best of English, and the boy was astonished, as
may well be supposed, at the linguistic accomplishment of the Indian. At
first he imagined that it was a white man painted and disguised, but
one searching glance not only removed that impression, but revealed the
identity of his captor. It was Lone Wolf, whom he had baffled the night
before in the wood.

“It’s all up with me now,” was the thought of Fred, when this
intelligence flashed upon him. “He will never forgive me for the way I
stopped him last night. How sorry I am that I didn’t shoot him when I
had such a good chance!”

For one minute he thought of appealing to his mercy, but a brief
reflection convinced him that that was worse than useless, and he
abandoned the idea as absurd. He was old enough to know that Indians are
merciless.

It will be remembered that night was closing in when Fred was captured
and a few minutes later, when he turned his head back toward New Boston,
he was unable to distinguish a single house.

The mustang bearing captor and prisoner dropped into an easy gallop,
passing entirely out of the valley and a short distance over the
prairie, where, when he halted, he found himself amid some thirty or
forty mounted Apaches. Here a halt was made and the red-skins engaged in
a consultation, which, as a matter of course, was conducted in their own
language, and, consequently, was unintelligible to the lad, who was as
deeply interested as any of them in the proceedings.

The scene was a strange one, and was so firmly impressed upon his memory
that he was sure he could not forget it if he lived a hundred years.
The Indians he saw now for the first time with their animals perfectly
motionless. They were grouped around their chief in an irregular circle,
and in the gathering darkness, with their long, coarse, black hair
dangling over their shoulders; their low, scarcely perceptible
foreheads; broad, misshapen, painted faces and their hideous figures,
they formed as unearthly a scene as can be conjured up. Several
persisted in talking at the same moment, and they indulged liberally in
gesture, so that it was very apparent that something exciting was before
the convention.

What it was, Fred could not conjecture satisfactorily to himself. He
could not believe that he himself was regarded of sufficient importance
to cause any such discussion, and from what he had heard of the
war-chief, it did not seem probable that he would allow any such wrangle
over a prisoner which he had in his own possession. It surely was
over some other matter, probably concerning the action of the Apaches,
regarding which he had invited discussion; but whatever it was, Fred
could only content himself with looking and listening.

The lad felt that he was as helpless as an infant, and, now that he had
been given time to collect his senses, he stopped making any further
effort to escape from his captor. Knowing the uncontrollable temper of
the Indians, he resolved not to provoke an outburst by any action of his
own. The wonder with him was, that the chief did not kill him the minute
he found that he was in his power. They had not shown any desire to
make prisoners, when it was so much more easy to rid themselves of their
captives by a blow from the tomahawk or the thrust of the knife.

“I suppose they mean to do something dreadful with me,” was the thought
of Fred, as he shudderingly looked around upon the repulsive group.

There could be but little doubt of that, and he could do nothing but ask
heaven to protect him in the terrible danger in which he was placed. At
such a time a person’s mind is unusually active and a hundred schemes
agitated the mind of the young captive--schemes which, when analyzed by
the clear light of reason, were about as unsubstantial as the fabric of
a dream. Fred felt that if he was not killed immediately there was some
chance for him. A few hours, or at least a day or two, would give time
for his friends to do something. Mickey O’Rooney, upon returning to the
settlement (as he would have to do sooner or later), would not consent
to remain there as long as the fate of his young friend was in doubt.
And there was Sut Simpson, the hunter, who had taken so much pains to
come and warn the settlers of the impending attack. He had witnessed the
capture of the lad and was certain to do all he could to rescue him.
His long experience in the west, and his numerous encounters with these
Indians, had given him a knowledge which would be of great value in such
an emergency. Fred recalled too, that he had heard it stated more than
once that the Indians frequently took prisoners for the purpose
of ransom, and that he might be restored in this manner so soon as
communication could be opened between the Apaches and his friends.

It so happened, therefore, as the minutes passed, that something like
the renewal of hope came to the heart of the lad, who had reached the
conclusion that the subject under discussion did not relate to himself.

This Apache convention did not prolong its session. Lone Wolf seemed to
permit his warriors to talk until he became weary, when he said a few
words, and the talk ended. During the discussion, numbers had continued
to come in, until there were over a hundred gathered together. The moon
was shining from a clear sky overhead, and the group gathered on the
open prairie, where the members thereof were in readiness to dash in any
direction, in case of an attack. With the words of Lone Wolf came the
adjournment of the convention. The talk ceased instantly, as if by
magic, and the heads of the horses were turned toward the north.

The Indians were about to leave the neighborhood where they had been so
roughly used by the whites. A number had already gone, bearing with them
the dead and wounded, and the remainder were about to depart--that is,
for a time, until their forces could be marshaled into a body that would
sweep New Boston from the face of the earth. Such was the decree of Lone
Wolf. Was he to permit a party of white men to plant a settlement in
the very heart of his country? Was he to allow his hunting grounds to
be appropriated in this fashion? Was he to submit quietly to the
encroachments of those who had never so much as asked his consent? Not
so long as he could summon an army of the best warriors of the Southwest
to his command. If his present company had been too small, then he would
double and treble it. At all events, the power would be provided to
accomplish his purpose.

The horsemen speedily arranged themselves; the head of all turned in
a northerly direction. It took some minutes for them to arrange
themselves, but they were about ready to receive the command of their
chief, when the report of a rifle broke upon the stillness. An Indian,
with a spasmodic shriek, threw up his arms and rolled backward, and then
from his steed, which snorted and reared, as if it, too, had suffered
some injury.

This warrior was directly in the rear of Lone Wolf, and had been so
fairly in line with him that there could be no doubt that the bullet had
really been intended for the chief. The point from whence it came could
not be mistaken.

Over half of the war-party saw the flash of the gun, off to their right,
in the direction of the settlement, and those who chanced not to see it
were quickly informed of the spot by the appearance of a horse, looking
as if he had sprung from the ground itself. No rider was visible; but,
of course, he was there, as he had just demonstrated by means of his
shot. That there might be no doubt of his identity, he uttered a loud
yell, like that with which one Indian defies another, and called out in
the Apache tongue:

“Sut Simpson sends the shot for the heart of Lone Wolf, who is a dog and
a coward.”

This was the favorite taunt of the hunter when he sought to draw out his
old enemy. Some of the numerous scars which he received were the direct
result of his daring defiance, and he was hopeful that the challenge
would accomplish something in the present case. Nor was he disappointed.



CHAPTER X. TWO OLD ENEMIES

Lone Wolf recognized the taunt of his old enemy, and his black eye lit
up with a gleam of fire and passion. He would not turn his back upon his
white foe, who had just sent a bullet in quest of his heart. He would
accept the gage of battle, and end his personal warfare of years. But,
like all Indians, the chieftain was the personification of treachery,
without a particle of chivalry or manhood, and when he resolved upon his
attempt to destroy the frontiersman, it was without any regard for the
fairness of the means which he should employ.

He handed the boy to one of the warriors sitting near him, as, of
course, he could do nothing when impeded by his presence, although he
had proved very convenient some time before, in the way of a shield.
Then he said something to a dozen or so of the warriors immediately
around him. The main body remained comparatively motionless, while the
chief rode out in advance and headed toward his antagonist, his horse
upon a slow walk, and moving with great caution.

Sut Simpson was not to be caught napping. No one understood the sneaking
character of Lone Wolf better than did he. He had had it back and forth
with him too many times not to be able to read the fellow through and
through.

While the leader was coming forward in this cautious manner, he saw
several other horsemen in motion. Their direction was not the same as
their leader. They appeared to be riding further back upon the prairie,
as though they had been sent upon some errand to a distant point. But
Sut knew what it meant. They meant to steal away until they were out
of sight, when they would come around behind him. There were enough to
surround him completely and to cut off his escape in any direction.

Sut saw all this and was not surprised thereat. He believed that he
was too old a bird to be caught with such chaff. The manner in which he
could defeat the purpose of Lone Wolf was by direct fight, or by forcing
him into a combat which would anticipate the intention of the Apache. He
preferred the latter course, and he made the effort in the common Indian
way, by uttering a taunt, still using the Apache tongue.

“Lone Wolf is a coward and a dog! He is afraid of the white hunter! He
stays by his warriors, that they may hold his head when his heart grows
faint at sight of his pale-face foe.”

Anyone who understands the temper of an Indian will see that such a
taunt as this was of the most exasperating nature. It rankled deeply
in the heart of Lone Wolf, who would have given a dozen of his best
warriors for the chance of burying his tomahawk in the skull of his foe;
but he was too cunning to be misled by his desire for revenge. He,
too, indulged in a little of the taunting business himself; and, as the
hunter had honored him by speaking in the Apache language, he “threw
himself,” so to speak, in English.

“The white hunter is afraid of Lone Wolf. He dreads his scalping-knife.
His heart trembles, and he knows not where to hide himself.”

“He does not hide from Lone Wolf, for he has hunted days and nights to
find him, and when Lone Wolf saw him coming, he ran among his warriors
and hid.”

“He is not among them now,” retorted Lone Wolf; “while he seeks Sut
Simpson, the brave hunter moves away.”

Such was really the case. Judged from a superficial standpoint, the
greatest show of courage was made by the Apache, whose horse was moving
forward at a slow, cautious pace, while the mustang of Sut Simpson kept
up a continued and equally guarded retreat, so that the distance between
the two taunting enemies remained about the same. The hunter had a
manifest purpose in this, which was simply to draw his foe far enough
away from his support to gain a chance for a sudden dash at him before
he could elude him. At the same time he did not forget the dozen
horsemen that had stolen out so cautiously from the rear, and he knew
that “if it were done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly,” as
Macbeth so aptly puts it.

Sut carefully measured the intervening space with his eye, but Lone Wolf
was still too near his reserve. The two men were eying each other like
cats, and, although he taunted so loudly, yet no one would have been
readier than the Apache to flee if he believed that he was in greater
peril than his antagonist.

“Why does not Lone Wolf move faster?” asked Sut, hoping to spur him into
doing so.

“Why does not the hunter wait for him?” asked the chief, very
appropriately, in return.

The scout thought that if he could draw the savage a few yards further
he would have him just where he wanted him. Feeling how precious the
passing time was, he galloped his mustang a rod or so and then came to a
sudden abrupt halt.

“Here I’ll await you, you old copper-skinned hoodlum!” he called out, in
unmistakable English.

Lone Wolf did not check his speed; nor, on the other hand, did he hasten
it. Let alone, he was sure to reach the proper point in due time; but
the trouble was that Sut had no time to spare. The dozen horsemen who
were making their circuit must have accomplished considerable of it
already, and would soon be closing in around him.

The hunter had been caught in just such predicaments many a time before,
and had managed to pull through without material injury; but no brave
man who was possessed of ordinary sense would willingly allow himself to
be drawn into such a trap. The Apaches were as good riders as he, and a
shot that would disable his horse would play mischief with the rider. He
wished to avoid any such snarl, and so he dallied and trifled with his
adversary in the hope of trolling him along to a point where he could
hold him, while the Indian continued his advance like one whose only
purpose was to hold his man until the other warriors could close in
behind him. The moment speedily came when it would not have been best to
wait a second longer.

Wheeling his horse with the suddenness of lightning, Simpson charged
at full speed straight at Lone Wolf. The latter was surprised by the
movement, but he was not thrown off his guard, nor did he seek to fall
back on his reserves. It would be time enough to do that when he should
become convinced of its necessity; besides which, he had only to keep
the hunter engaged for a brief time in order to give his horsemen the
chance to entrap him.

Bearing in mind the deceitful character of the chief, Sut waited until
he was within a short distance, when he wheeled and let drive with a
couple chambers of his revolver. Lone Wolf went over the side of his
mustang so suddenly that the hunter believed he had been killed; but, as
he checked himself before reaching the ground, he saw his mistake, and
knew that the savage’s “reply” would be forthcoming on the instant.
Accordingly, Sut followed suit and interposed the body of his mustang
like a flash between himself and the red-skin.

He was not a wink too soon. Just as he went over he caught the flash,
and heard the report of a pistol. The chief had fired from beneath
the neck of his steed, with his revolver--for Lone Wolf carried his
revolver, like any other gentleman of the plains.

This was complicating matters so much that the hunter determined to
force conclusions without a moment’s delay.

There was no use of firing at the Indian as long as he was protected
by his horse. He was to cunning to be caught napping. So, without a
particle of hesitation, Sut threw the muzzle of his rifle beneath the
neck of his steed, and fired straight at the one which was sheltering
his adversary.

The shot was fatal, and, with a frenzied leap, the animal stumbled
forward upon his neck, and fell dead in his tracks. Nimble Lone Wolf
threw himself as quick as a flash from beneath the falling body, and,
conscious of his disadvantage, started on a run for the main body of
warriors; but Sut, with extraordinary shrewdness, had anticipated this
very thing, and, assisted by the intelligence of his animal, he threw
himself ahead of him, so as to shut off the flight in that direction.

Everything now went with bewildering swiftness. The Apaches, seeing
their chief environed, rode forward to his assistance, while the hunter,
revolver in hand, blazed away at him, determined to bring him to
earth, now that he had the chance. The activity of Lone Wolf was simply
marvelous.

He darted here and there, dodged back and forth, and once or twice
actually shot beneath the belly of his adversary’s mustang. His antics
were confusing, and, although Sut succeeded in wounding him, it seemed
utterly impossible to disable him.

The hunter had already discharged his rifle when he slew the horse, and
when he emptied his revolver, he was chagrined, furious, and baffled.

“I believe you’re the devil himself!” he exclaimed, ceasing his efforts
to bring him down, “and I’ll let you go this time!”

He turned to flee when he saw that the Apaches were all about him.



CHAPTER XI. HOT QUARTERS

The contest of Simpson with the wonderfully supple and sinewy Apache
began and ended in a few seconds. In the most thrilling moments the
hunter did not forget his peril from outside barbarians.

The main war-party seeing the desperate straits of their leader, who was
liable to be shot down by a ball from the revolver, galloped forward to
his assistance, and, almost at the same moment the dozen horsemen that
had set out to head him off put in appearance, all coming from different
directions, and converging toward the one point, where the veteran
borderer was suddenly transformed from an aggressor into a deeply
imperiled fugitive.

It was a time for “business” of the sternest kind, and the grizzled
hunter went at it like one who understood what it meant. Rifle and
pistol were discharged, and, therefore, useless. The former was slung
over his back, and the latter was quickly jammed into his girdle. In a
twinkling he had his huge bowie in his right hand, and, shouting to
his mustang, he headed out on the prairie, and made a dash for life and
freedom.

At such a crisis, everything depends upon the sagacity and intelligence
of the horse. It requires something more than speed--it needs a grasp
of the “situation,” upon the part of the brute, and the guidance of his
action which should result therefrom. It was in this respect that Sut
Simpson possessed an advantage which can scarcely be appreciated. He
made no attempt to guide or control the creature he bestrode; but,
bending forward upon his back and clutching his terrible weapon in his
hand, he uttered a shout, which the mustang interpreted as an appeal to
do his best, and he proceeded to do so without an instant’s hesitation.

Still, it was vain to try to dodge through the converging warriors
without coming in contact with them. There were too many to permit any
such performance, but the wall was not impenetrable. Like an arrow
from the bow sped the animal, and, seeing the point toward which he was
aiming, the Apaches endeavored to close the gap. The equine fugitive did
not swerve in the least, and it looked as if he was plunging to his own
destruction.

The scout saw it all, and made no effort to change the direction he was
pursuing. He only grasped his bowie the more tightly and compressed his
lips. There was an ugly gleam in his sharp gray eye as he braced himself
for the conflict.

The nose of the mustang was almost touching the head of the other
horses, when he swerved almost at right angles, and, with a tremendous
burst of speed, shot through the nearest “opening.” This threw all his
enemies, by the brilliant maneuver, in his rear, and left the clear
prairie before him as a path in which to complete his flight.

The space separating Sut from his enemies was too slight for him to
reach safety by one plunge. The mustang was scarcely under way, when he
was compelled to dodge as abruptly as before, and in a trice he made a
third, which was done with consummate skill, and yet with the unavoidable
result of bringing the scout in collision with a swarthy warrior. Sut
was expecting it, and, bursting like a thunderbolt upon the howling
red-skin, he drove the flashing bowie with such prodigious force that,
to repeat an old expression, the first thing the Apache knew, he knew
nothing.

At the moment of making the thrust, a painted warrior riding on the
opposite side struck a terrific blow with his tomahawk, but the dextrous
flirt of the hunter’s head permitted the weapon to whizz by and graze
his cheek. The time was to short for him to do any work with the
knife in the other hand, quick as was Simpson in his movements; so the
tomahawk had scarcely descended upon its harmless mission when he sent
out his left hand straight from his shoulder, like the plunge of a
piston rod.

It struck the astonished warrior straight in his face with irresistible
force and his head went down and his heels up so suddenly that he was
knocked completely off his horse--a thing which, it may be safely said,
does not occur with an Apache or Comanche once in a thousand times,
unless it be a bullet that tumbles him to the ground. This opened the
way again and the magnificent mustang settled down to the work of life
and death.

Sut saw that it was impossible for any of the horsemen to throw
themselves across his track, and so he flung himself forward upon his
matchless steed and said a few words encouragingly in the hope that it
might add a particle to his speed; but that was impossible, as the noble
creature was doing his very utmost.

The pursuing Apaches seemed to cling to the hope of capturing the daring
scout, for they thundered away in pursuit, while he as steadily drew
away from them. Suddenly came the crack of rifles, but Sut noticed that
most of them came from a point in advance, and he raised his head enough
to learn what it meant.

The mustang (whether by design or accident cannot be stated) had sped
continually in the direction of New Boston, and was dashing down toward
that point. The pioneers were on the alert, and the instant they could
distinguish pursuers from pursued, they opened on the former, with
the result of tumbling several from the backs of their steeds. This so
disorganized the hot pursuit that in the flurry of the moment the scout
shot in among the group of alarmed horses, sprang from his back, and was
soon among his friends, from whom he had been separated less than half
an hour.

Lone Wolf seemed meditating a charge down the valley, and once or twice
a formidable number of his warriors were observed gathering upon the
slope; but the moment they were discovered such a galling fire was
poured in among them that they quickly scampered out of range. The
chief, beyond question, was infuriated by the manner in which he had
been baffled, and this fury tempted him, perhaps, to a rash deed or two;
but he speedily regained his shrewdness and drew his warriors off.

A careful reconnaisance, made an hour later, failed to show a single
Apache. The entire body had departed.

The special errand of Sut in venturing out was to effect the recapture
of the lad. The chance of success was very desperate, but upon that
alone the scout had based his hopes. Had the opportunity been tempting,
the Apaches would have done all they could to head off any effort in
that direction, but it is often by a sudden dash, when apparently there
is no hope, that the most brilliant successes are made. But the issue
in the present case had been a complete failure, and Sut chafed greatly
under the reflection, for everything connected with it was mortifying to
him.

In the first place, he had been completely outwitted from beginning to
end by his old enemy, Lone Wolf. That chieftain, whom he detested with
the very intensity of hatred, had snatched up the boy under his very
nose, and made off with him. The shot that had been fired to bring
the war-chief to earth failed in its purpose, and while the hunter
was forcing him into a corner he awoke to the fact that he was there
himself, and it was only by a hair’s breadth that he succeeded in saving
his bacon.

“But Sut Simpson don’t give up the job just yet,” said he, the next
morning, in discussing the situation with Barnwell and the leading
pioneers. “That younker has got himself in a scrape, through no fault
of his own, and onless he gets a lift there’s no show for his pullin’
out of it.”

“Mickey O’Rooney is still absent, and he may be able to help you.”

But Sut shook his head. He saw no prospect of any appreciable assistance
from that quarter.

“He’s a good fellow, and I like him; but he’ll have all he can do to
take care of himself. When a chap undertakes to go it alone in these
parts, he must never wink both eyes at the same time.”

“Suppose the Irishman has been killed?” ventured one of the men, who was
somewhat shaken up by the events of the night before. “It seems to me
that it is very probable.”

“You’re right,” replied Sut, as if he were discussing the question of
stock. “Very likely he’s gone under. We’ve all got to come to it sooner
or later, and what’s the odds if one’s a little ahead of the other?”

By this time the speaker was astride his mustang, which was as fresh and
eager as though he had not been subjected to the tremendous strain of
the night before. The little party of pioneers had come to look upon the
scout as indispensable to their safety. His timely warning of the coming
of the Apaches had saved them from a frightful massacre, and he now gave
them some parting advice, which could not be disregarded.

“You cleaned ‘em out this time,” said he, as he sat on his mustang,
hesitating a few minutes, until several of the sentinels that had been
sent out could come in with their reports; “you cleaned them out this
time,” he repeated, “but don’t you think on that account they’ll stay
away. As I observed to you some time ago, I know something ‘bout that
varmint, and he’ll be back agin, and you kin bet your bottom dollar on
it. He’ll fetch a pile of the dogs at his back, and he’ll clean out this
place so complete that a fortnight from now a microscope won’t be able
to tell where the town of New Boston stood.”

“And you urge us to give over the attempt to make a settlement here?”
 remarked Barnwell, with his old cynical smile.

“For the present I do; I don’t ax you to give it up forever, mind, but
only to wait some fifty or seventy-five years, till I get a chance to
wipe out Lone Wolf, and things become sorter quieted down like. It’s
better to get out of bed than it is to be kicked out, and you must take
your choice.”

“But we are here, and why should we not stay?”

“The best reason is ‘cause you can’t. I don’t know as there’s any
better. It’s only fifty miles to Fort Severn, and you can make it easy
in two or three days with your teams and baggage. You’ve traveled the
plains long ‘nough to understand how the thing is done.”

At this juncture the three men who had been sent out in different
directions on a reconnoissance came in with their report. One of them
had climbed the very tree in which Fred Munson had taken refuge. This
gave him an extended view of the surrounding country. One of the others
had devoted himself to a careful examination of the river, while the
third scanned the prairie in another direction. The result in every case
was the failure to detect any signs of the Apaches.

Sut Simpson waved his friends a good-by and galloped up the slope, where
he took the trail of the Indians and at once set off in quest of his
young friend, who was a captive in their hands.



CHAPTER XII. THE YOUNG CAPTIVE

The experience of Fred Munson as a prisoner among the Apaches was one
which he was not likely to forget to his dying day. From the back of the
steed where he was held a captive he gained an indistinct view of the
short, savage struggle between Lone Wolf and Sut Simpson, and more than
once he concluded that it was all over with the daring hunter, who had
ventured out with the purpose of befriending him. But when the chieftain
returned to his warriors alone and without any scalp strung to his
girdle, he knew that the fellow had pulled through all right.

Lone Wolf was so exasperated at his treatment that he hovered around for
a short time with his entire force, in the hope of balancing accounts
with his old enemy. But he soon saw, however, the utter impossibility of
that in the present shape of things, and so he summoned all his warriors
together and moved off in a northerly direction, his purpose being,
as the hunter said, to return with a force which would prove itself
invincible.

Fred expected to be handed back to the redoubtable chieftain, who, he
supposed, would subject him to the most cruel kind of treatment; but
that worthy did not seem desirous of receiving his charge back again and
permitted him to remain with his deputy. The lad did not know whether
to be pleased by this or not; for his custodian was the most repulsive
looking being he had ever seen. He was deeply pitted with smallpox, and
the enormous nose which he had once possessed had been splintered by a
blow from a tomahawk, so that in no respect at all did it resemble that
useful and ornamental organ. There was an enormous breadth, too, between
the eyes, or rather temples, the face tapering down to the chin so
rapidly that the contour from the front suggested the shape of a wedge.

An Indian almost invariably has good teeth but the mouth of the one in
question was filled with snags that projected in every direction; his
chin was excessively retreating, and, to add to it all, his countenance
was daubed with different colored paint, in such fantastic streakings
that an Adonis himself would have appeared hideous. Such was the jailer
of Fred, who heard him addressed once or twice by a name which sounded
to him as if it were Waukko.

He was, in fact, one of the most famous warriors of the Jiccarilla
Apaches, his fame depending as much upon his cruelty as upon his
prowess. There are legends in the southwest crediting Lone Wolf with
having shown some slight signs of mercy on one or two occasions, but
nothing of the kind was ever said of his lieutenant, Waukko, who brained
the innocent babe with the same demon-like enjoyment that he silenced
the pleadings of old age and blooming womanhood. Fred, as a matter of
course, knew nothing of these characteristics; but the appearance of the
redskin himself was so repulsive that he could not look at him without a
shudder of terror.

The lad sat on the blanket directly in front of Waukko, who held him
in place by passing his arm about him. Such was his position when the
entire company headed northward, and struck into a sweeping gallop.

It was comparatively early in the evening when the start was made, and
the flight was continued without interruption through the night, the
horses scarcely ever varying from that same everlasting canter.

The novelty of his situation, and the interest which Fred felt as to
what was to be done with him in the end kept him wide awake for a
time, and he indulged in all sorts of surmises and conjectures. Without
brother or sister, and with only one parent, his father, to whom he was
deeply attached, his greatest suffering was the thought of the sorrow
that would be his father’s when he should come to know the dreadful fate
of his only son.

Such were his thoughts when he had no hope of ever seeing him again;
but when he reflected that Mickey O’Rooney was still absent from the
settlement, and that Sut Simpson was likely to take up the hunt, a
strong hope arose within his breast and encouraged him to believe that
he might escape from the Apaches.

“Ah, if I only had my handsome Hurricane here!” he murmured, as he
recalled the figure of his sinewy and symmetrical steed. “Once on his
back and with a clear field before me, all the Indians in the Southwest
could n’t catch me. If the hunter would only think to bring him along,
it would help a good deal, but I don’t suppose he will.”

Then his thoughts wandered away to his father, and the tears came to his
eyes and the sorrow lurked deep in his heart, nourished by the thought
that very likely they would never meet again, and his father’s lonely
heart would be sorrowful all the rest of his life as he thought of how
his only child had been murdered by the Apaches.

The steady sinking and rising of the Indian’s horse gradually became
monotonous, and, after a time, the boy’s nodding head drooped, and
Waukko knew, from the pressure against his breast, that his captive was
asleep. Could he have had his way, he would have strangled the life out
of him as he lay thus unconscious, but he was carrying him for Lone
Wolf, the chief, and he dare not disobey him.

It is not often that the sleeper rests his head upon the bosom of his
enemy, yet such was the case in the present instance. The swaying,
rocking motion of the bed of Fred Munson not only lulled him to sleep,
but retained him in as sweet and dreamless slumber as though he were
resting upon his bed at home, where no thought of the treacherous Indian
ever entered his head.

The red-skin sat his steed like a statue. Lone Wolf had entrusted the
young captive to his charge, and he would hold him responsible for his
safe deliverance, that was all. He might have slept for twenty-four
hours, using his scarred and evil chest as a pillow, without protest
from him.

When at last Fred opened his eyes, it was several minutes before he
recalled his situation. It was just beginning to grow light, and when he
saw the figures of horses with their riders he remembered the scene of
the night before. When he turned his head and saw the horrid face of
Waukko, no doubt then remained of where he was. But he looked upon a far
different scene from that upon which he had closed his eyes.

Instead of being upon the broad, sweeping prairie, he was among the
mountains. They towered upon every hand, and the war party had halted
in a sort of canon or valley, where they seemed shut out from the outer
world.

“Where are we?” asked Fred, thinking it polite to open a conversation
with his guardian, with a view of conciliating him; but the red-skin did
not seem to be in a mood for conversation, or it may be that he did not
possess a very profound knowledge of the English tongue, for he made no
reply.

After a time, the lad ventured upon another modest remark, but receiving
no attention, he concluded it hardly worth his while to attempt to work
any further in that direction, and he gave over the effort.

As soon as the halt was made, Lone Wolf gave a sort of address to his
warriors, which Fred believed to be a sort of harangue, intended to
incite them to deeds of greater daring than any they had as yet shown.
The red-skins became much excited, and answered his appeals with angry
shouts, grunts and gestures. No doubt, had he chosen to lead them, they
would have rushed back to a second attack upon New Boston, without the
addition of another warrior to their number. The oratory of Lone Wolf
was not very graceful, but it was very effective. He knew how to appeal
to his followers in a way that went directly to their hearts.



CHAPTER XIII. THE ENCAMPMENT

Immediately after the harangue of Lone Wolf a general dismounting of the
warriors followed, and the mustangs, which showed admirable training,
were left to themselves. The halt had been made where there was grass
and water, to which the animals now paid their attention, while their
owners prepared for their morning meal.

There was a certain system in all this apparent confusion, and, it being
known that a halt would be made at this point, a half dozen of the most
skilful hunters of the party had scattered among the mountains in
quest of game. By the time several fires were fairly under way, these
providers began dropping in, all of them laden with spoils of the chase,
which were dressed and boiling over the different camp-fires in an
incredibly short time. The Apaches had reduced this thing to a science,
and a company of trained soldiers could not have done the thing more
expeditiously than did they.

While it was all going on, Fred Munson walked to the brook near at hand,
and taking a deep draught from the icy water, he stood somewhat apart
from the others, watching the proceedings with a strange interest.

At first he failed to understand one thing. He knew, from what he had
seen, that at least a dozen of the Apaches had been killed, and as many
wounded, on the night before during the fight. Yet not one of these was
visible, with the exception, perhaps, of Lone Wolf, whose scratches from
Sut Simpson’s bullets were of a superficial nature. The only explanation
of the absence of these parties was that they had gone home. Under
the charge of a strong escort they had taken another route, and were
probably miles away at that moment, and most likely in their own
wigwams, receiving the nursing and attention required.

“I wonder whether there is any chance of my getting away?” mused the
lad, as he looked searchingly about him. “If a fellow could only get the
start, there are plenty of places where he might hide; but there’s where
the trouble is.”

On the right and left of the gorge were precipitous mountains, evidently
broken by chasms, ravines, and covered with patches of wood, their
elevation being so moderate that no snow was visible upon their tops,
while the scene was wild and forbidding in the extreme.

“If I were only up there,” sighed Fred, as he looked at the mountain
side, “I could crawl into some of the places, where I’m sure they
couldn’t find any signs of me.”

This might all be, provided the lad had an hour or two in which to
hunt his hiding place, but the whole difficulty lay in getting that
opportunity. It was not to be supposed that the Apaches were so stupid
as to give a young captive like him a chance to slip from their hands in
broad daylight. They were too shrewd for that and Fred felt that he must
wait for some better opportunity than the present.

The meat was prepared in short order, and then the Apaches fell-to
like so many wild beasts, using only their fingers and teeth. A large
quantity of food was provided, and the redskins were rapidly disposing
of it, when the lad saw that no one was likely to offer him any, and he
struck in and helped himself.

This morning halt of the war-party lasted about an hour, during which
Fred felt that there was little attention being paid him. Considerable
earnest talk was indulged in by the warriors, who were apparently
discussing some important plans with Lone Wolf, the whole thing
resolving itself into a sort of council of war. When they leaped
upon the backs of their mustangs, the decision had been made, and
preparations made for carrying it out without delay.

The whole party started up the gorge, Fred riding again with the Apache
Apollo, Waukko, while Lone Wolf kept himself at the head of the force.

“I thought he would be mad enough to kill me,” mused the boy, as he
caught sight of the notorious chief, “for the reason that I gave him
such a scare night before last. It can’t be that he has forgotten it
or that he doesn’t know who I am; but maybe he is going to do something
dreadful to me after he gets me home.”

What the real purpose of Lone Wolf was could only be conjectured; but
there was reason to believe that he meant to hold his prisoner for
a ransom, as the aboriginal scamp was very partial to that kind of
business. By carrying the lad back among the mountains, he could hold
him against the army of the United States, utterly refusing to yield him
up until he should receive his price.

The mustangs galloped along at an easy gait, for a mile or so, when
the canon, or gorge, divided in a manner precisely like that which is
frequently observed in the highways or streets of a city. Lone Wolf
instantly turned the head of his mustang to the left, and, without
checking him in the least, continued at a sweeping gallop in that
direction, followed by all of his warriors, save three.

These were Waukko and two companions scarcely less repulsive in
appearance, who wheeled their steeds to the right. Without any exchange
of word or signal, they sped down the ravine and in less than a minute
the two parties were lost to sight of each other.

What this meant was a mystery as baffling as the other, but Fred
concluded that Lone Wolf had gone in quest of some other party of his
warriors, and had sent Waukko and his two companions as an escort to
conduct him to some place where he would be beyond all danger of
rescue. The shrewd Apache chief, in doing this, only acted with ordinary
discretion.

He knew Sut Simpson through and through, and had not a particle of doubt
that the hunter was already on their track, and that he would use every
exertion to recover the lad. Hence the most important thing to do was to
get forward without any loss of time. He had a full night’s start of the
scout, who could only press his pursuit by daylight, when the trail was
visible, and there was no reason why the three men who had the lad in
charge should allow the fleetest-footed mustang to catch up with them.

Fred, as may be supposed, was gratified to find his companions so
suddenly and greatly reduced in number, for it seemed to him at once
that his chances of escape were increased tenfold. It simplified
matters. It did not occur to him that three vigilant Indians were as
effective as three hundred, and that in a certain sense his prospect of
deliverance was diminished rather than increased. He was a boy and as
hopeful as his years.

The day remained sunshiny and pleasant, and the easy canter of the
mustangs caused just enough breeze to make the riding delightful. Fred
felt an unconquerable aversion to the Apache Waukko, whose horrible face
and appearance caused him more than once to half suspect that he was a
ghoul or demon. He again made an attempt to open communication with him,
but he uttered a sort of grunt that Fred took as a command for silence,
and he resolved that he would die before he would repeat the attempt.

The gorge continued its winding course among the mountains, some of the
turns being at very sharp angles. The width of the ravine varied from
fifty to five hundred feet, the walls on either side showing about the
same difference of altitude. At times they were perpendicular, and then
again sloped at such a moderate angle that a horse could have galloped
up them without difficulty.

The mountainous nature of the country rather increased than diminished,
and, looking right and left, in front and rear, the jagged peaks were
forever visible, the distances varying, but the number greater and
greater. At times it seemed as if the ravine were about to terminate
suddenly against the solid wall of the mountain, but, as they rode
forward, the open way was there, albeit the angle was sharp, and the
little party suffered no interruption of progress until near the close
of the day.

The noon halt which Fred expected was not made.

He was hungry and supposed that the Apaches were; but, if so, they
manifestly considered it of more importance to get forward than to
satisfy that hunger. Once or twice they permitted their horses to drink
from the water when it was reached, but these momentary halts were all
that were made.

It was near the middle of the afternoon, when Waukko, who was the leader
of the little group, suddenly showed great excitement, which speedily
communicated itself to his companions. All three of these scamps were
sullen and reticent, frequently riding for hours at a time without
exchanging a word, so that this excitement meant something. The three
halted simultaneously, and talked loudly and excitedly, so that Fred
suspected that some cause for a quarrel had abruptly sprung upon them.

“I wonder if they’re wrangling about _me_?” was the thought that came
to the lad, who immediately recalled the fate of Miss MacCrea during the
Revolution, when the two Indians conducting her to Fort Edward settled a
quarrel over her by sinking a tomahawk in her brain.

If the present excitement could be quelled only by such a remedy, he
preferred that it should go on. Otherwise, if there was a prospect of
their settling it by falling upon each other, he was in hope of seeing
it intensified. It looked as if a deadly fight were impending, when he
was tossed to the ground, and the three Apaches instantly dropped to the
earth and faced each other.



CHAPTER XIV. THE STRANGE CAMP

The Apaches, however, were not quarreling. They were engaged in a
dispute, or rather argument, which concerned them all, and about which
it was all-important that no blunder should be made.

Fred Munson, the instant he found himself upon the ground, moved timidly
back, so as to be out of the way when the expected clash of arms would
come, and he watched the three men with an intensity of interest which
can scarcely be imagined. He now noticed, for the first time, that as
the disputants talked, they all three pointed and looked, at intervals,
up the mountain, showing that the all-absorbing topic was located there.

Following the direction indicated, the boy noticed the smoke of a
camp-fire rising from the side of the mountain, about a quarter of a
mile in advance. It could be seen plainly and distinctly, although the
fire itself from which the smoke came was imperceptible. It was evident,
therefore, that the discovery of this camp-fire had produced the
excitement among the Apaches.

And why should such be the case?

The fact of it was, that the three Apaches were upon territory which
could by no means be considered the exclusive tramping-ground of their
tribe. Immediately to the eastward roamed the Kiowas and Comanches,
and it was no more than natural that their warriors should come into
occasional collision, especially when none of them were disposed to
recognize any of the presumed rights of the other.

The dispute, therefore, was regarding the campfire, which had suddenly
appeared to plague them. Did it belong to their friends or enemies?

Lone Wolf, in sending his three warriors homeward with the captive,
dispatched them by a round-about method through the mountains, for the
reason that it would be more difficult to trail them. The advantage
which they had gained in the start, he was confident, placed it out of
the power of Sut Simpson, or any of his friends, to do them injury.
But here, while carrying out the directions of their chief, they found
themselves confronted by an unexpected danger.

If the Kiowas or Comanches, as the case might be, discerned the little
company, they would not fail to observe that they had a prize in
their possession, and they very probably would show a disposition to
interfere. The wrangle was as to whether it was best to go directly
ahead upon the route they were pursuing, trusting not only to the
possibility that the strangers there were friends, but to the prospect
of their getting by without detection, or whether they should go to the
trouble of a flank movement.

Waukko was inclined to go directly ahead, while the others were opposed,
and, as is frequently the case with such people, the dispute was excited
and hot for awhile; but the hideous Apache triumphed by virtue of his
official position. Lone Wolf had placed the lad in his charge, and he
was bent upon managing the business in his own fashion.

It was agreed, therefore, that they should continue on up the ravine, as
this offered so much the better chance for their mustangs to make good
progress. Waukko took the lead, his horse walking at a steady gait,
while he scrutinized the camp-fire as closely and searchingly as if his
life depended on the result.

The flame seemed to have been started directly behind a mass of rocks,
large and compact enough to shelter a dozen men, if they wished to
conceal themselves. The smoke showed that it was burning so vigorously
that fuel must have been placed upon it but a short time before.
It would seem that, if set going by hostile hands, the owners were
short-sighted in thus exposing their location; but the mischief of such
a thing is that the smoke of a camp-fire in an Indian country may have
one or more of a dozen dangerous meanings.

In the West and Southwest the Indians have a system of telegraphy,
conducted entirely by means of signal fires from mountain top to
mountain top. Treaties signed in Washington in one day have been known
hundreds of miles away at night, by the redskins chiefly concerned, who
had no means of gaining the news except by some system of telegraphy,
understood only by themselves. The most cunning and effective war
movements, where the success depends upon the cooperation of widely
separated parties, have been managed and conducted by the smoke curling
upward from hills and mountain peaks. Still further, a camp-fire is
frequently used as a way of confusing an approaching enemy, for by what
means could the latter judge whether the parties who had kindled it were
in the immediate neighborhood?

Was there not, in this instance, one stealthy Kiowa carefully keeping up
the blaze, while his companions had stolen around and across the chasm,
where they were ambushed and awaiting the coming of their victims? Were
not the sly dogs successful in hiding their positions by the very means
which would generally be supposed to betray it?

At any rate, Waukko was not yet abreast of the dangerous point when
he again checked his mustang, and the three Apaches consulted in a low
voice and with every appearance of suppressed excitement. There
was something in the wind which made all three feel anything but
comfortable.

The consultation was brief and decisive. Waukko and one of his warriors
dismounted, leaving Fred and his guardian upon the remaining horse.
Waukko moved off to the right, as though he meant to reconnoiter the
camp-fire, while the other savage stole off to the left. Very evidently
there was something which needed looking after, and it may have been that
Waukko was in quest of information for his leader, Lone Wolf.

Be that as it may, before Fred Munson fairly suspected it he found
himself alone with another mounted Apache, both the others having
vanished as effectually as if the ground had opened and swallowed them
up.

“Now is my chance, if I could only get an opening,” was the truthful
conclusion of the lad, whose heart suddenly beat with an awakened hope.
“If I can manage to get this old fellow off, or if I could steal a
little march on him, so as to gain a chance, I could escape. Anyhow,
I’m going to try it,” he added, and his boyish heart was fired with a
renewed determination to make a desperate leap for liberty.

One Apache, however, if he attended to his business, could guard him as
effectually as a dozen, and it all depended upon the disposition this
warrior should manifest. Just now his great and all absorbing interest
was in the efforts of his comrades to detect the meaning of the signal
fire.

Fred sat behind him upon the horse, and he stealthily looked to the
right and left, in the hope of detecting some place which offered an
opportunity for concealment, for he felt that there would be but the
single chance offered him. If he should fail in that, the savages would
guard him too closely to permit a second effort.

The ravine at this place was about a hundred feet in width. The sides
sloped abruptly downward, growing nearly perpendicular further ahead, so
that the Apaches, if caught in any trap at all, would be caught in the
worst possible manner. Hence the extreme caution they displayed before
committing themselves.

There were rocks and stones on the right and left, and here and there
some stunted vegetation. A few minutes start would give any one a chance
to hide, but just there was the whole difficulty. How was the start to
be obtained? It seemed, at this juncture, as if the fates were unusually
propitious. Everything conspired to invite the attempt which the boy was
so anxious to make.

Waukko and his companion had not been gone more than ten minutes when
one of them signaled to the Indian left behind. It came in the shape
of a soft low whistle, which could easily be mistaken for the call of
a bird. The horseman started and turned his head sidewise to listen the
instant it fell upon his ear, and this caused Fred to notice it. The
Indian held his head a moment in the attitude of deep attention, and
then he replied in precisely the same manner without turning his head.
A full minute passed. Then a second call was heard, emitted in precisely
the same manner as before. This was the one which did the business.

The trained ear of the veteran scout could have detected no difference
that had been made, but there was, for all that, and a very wide one, so
far as meaning was concerned. The red-skin had no sooner caught it than
he dismounted and moved carefully forward, his mustang quietly following
him, bearing the lad upon his back.

The warrior glanced backward only once, to satisfy himself that
his steed was there, and understood what was required of it. In the
meantime, the heart of Fred was throbbing painfully with hope. He felt
as if Providence was interfering directly in his behalf.

“Now is my time,” he added, a moment later.



CHAPTER XV. A LEAP FOR LIBERTY

It seemed that nothing could be more favorable for the attempt to
escape. There was Fred seated upon the back of a mustang. His copper
colored captors were some distance away at the side of the ravine, while
the only Indian in sight was a dozen feet ahead with his back toward
him. True, there was the risk of being shot, but he felt that he did not
deserve safety unless he was willing to run that or any risk.

There was a loose rein hanging on the neck of the mustang. Fred gently
pulled it and the beast stopped. He was walking so quietly that his
hoofs made scarcely any sound in falling upon the flinty surface, and
the Indian, from some cause or other, failed to notice the cessation of
sound until the distance between them had about doubled.

At that instant, the redskin turned his head as quick as lightning.
Fred, who had been washing for that identical movement, whirled the
steed about and started him back in the ravine at full gallop, the brute
responding gallantly to the sudden demand made upon him.

The fugitive was expecting a shot from the rifle in the hand of the
Apache, and he threw himself forward upon the horse, so as to make the
target as difficult to hit as possible. But the Indian did not fire,
not only on account of the risk to his favorite mustang, but because
it would have been certain to disarrange the reconnoissance upon which
Waukko and his companions were engaged.

But the red-skin did not stand in stupid helplessness. A glance told
him everything, and, running with extraordinary swiftness to the nearest
mustang, he vaulted upon his back and started in pursuit, putting his
animal upon the jump from the first. The few seconds’ unavoidable
delay gave the young fugitive something like a hundred yards start, an
advantage which he used every effort to increase, and which, for a brief
spell, he succeeded in doing.

Fred’s object was to avoid a regular chase, for he dreaded that in such
case the superior knowledge of the country possessed by the Indian would
enable him to outwit him at every turn. Night was close at hand, and,
if he could dodge the red-skin until darkness, the lad was confident of
escaping him altogether.

For a short distance, the ravine continued in almost a straight line,
and then it turned at a sharp angle. Without attempting to guide the
mustang in the least, Fred kept himself thrown forward, with his arms
about his neck, while he hammered his sides with his heels, spoke
sharply to him, and did everything he could to urge him to the highest
possible rate of speed. The animal whirled about the corner, and,
with his neck extended, went down the ravine with almost incredible
swiftness--a speed which was steadily drawing him away from his pursuer,
and which would have carried him beyond his reach in a brief time, but
for a singular and altogether unexpected check.

The pursuing red-skin saw his charge quietly slipping from his grasp,
and he must have viewed the wonderful speed of his favorite mustang,
under the circumstances, with mixed emotions. At any rate, it took him
but a short time to see that in a stern chase he had no chance of coming
up with his own animal, and so he commanded him to halt. This was done
by a peculiar, tremulous whooping sound, which he had used scores of
times to summon his animal to him, and which had never failed. Nor did
it fail now.

Fred was careering along at this amazing speed, congratulating himself
meanwhile upon his cleverness, when the brute checked himself so
suddenly that the rider narrowly escaped being pitched over his head. He
jerked the bit, and pounded his heels against his ribs, but it was of no
avail. The horse had pricked up his ears, neighed, and was looking back,
with very much the appearance of an animal that was in a mental muddle.

The Indian saw it, and repeated the signal. Thereupon the mustang
wheeled and started backward at a gallop, directly toward his master.

“If that’s your idea, I’m not going with you!” gasped the lad, who
slipped off his back, as nimbly as a monkey, and made a dash for the
side of the ravine, without any clear idea of where he was going.

It seemed that there was no possible escape for the lad, for the Indian
was but a short distance behind him, and was twice as fleet of foot as
he; but one of those fortunate interferences which seem to be in their
nature like special Providences occurred at this juncture.

The flight and pursuit of Fred Munson took place at a critical period
in the affairs of all parties and so mixed up the business that it was
thrown entirely out of gear and almost into inextricable confusion.
It seemed that there was a party of Kiowas in hiding, and awaiting the
chance to open fire upon the approaching Apaches. The sly scamps saw
every movement of the warriors, and it looked as if the flies were about
walking into their trap when the unexpected by-play occurred.

There must have been all of half a dozen Kiowas, enough to extinguish
the Apaches, and when Fred Munson started in his flight, two of the
Indians hurried down the ravine for the purpose of taking a hand in the
business. They unavoidably fell behind in such a trial of speed, but
when they saw the Apache about to reach out his hand to grasp the
fugitive, two shots were fired almost simultaneously at him.

They were intended to kill, too, for the Kiowas, who were actuated by no
love for the despairing white boy, felt that they could afford to give
him this temporary respite. They were certain of their own ability
to step in and pluck the prize at the very moment it might seem to be
beyond their reach. Rather curiously, however, neither of the shots did
what was intended. One of them missed the Apache altogether, and the
other only slightly wounded him.

As it was, however, the pursuing warrior was dumbfounded, and he stopped
as suddenly as if smitten by a bolt from heaven. Leaving his mustang to
look out for himself, he darted to the opposite side of the ravine from
that taken by the lad, for the purpose of securing cover before a second
volley could be fired.

Fred heard the report of the rifle-shots, and sup posed that he was the
target and that they had been fired by Waukko and his companion.
Instead of stopping to ascertain, he continued his flight with all the
desperation of combined hope and despair.

A few seconds sufficed to carry him across the ravine, and among the
rocks, boulders, and stunted growth. The panting fugitive was rendered
almost frantic by the thought that he was about to elude the red-skin
after all. As he bounded into cover, he cast a terrified glance
backward, to see how close to his heels was his dreaded enemy.

Not an Indian was visible.

But although Fred failed to see anything of his enemies, he could not
but believe that they were somewhere in the immediate neighborhood, and
he did not relax his efforts in the slightest. Such strenuous efforts
speedily exhausted him, and after climbing, clambering, and stumbling
forward and upward for some twenty rods or so, he tripped and pitched
forward upon his face, where he lay panting, and so weak that he could
not rise. He was sure he heard the footsteps of his pursuer but a short
distance away, and the most that he could do was to raise his head and
glance furtively in the direction. He had not the strength absolutely to
rise to his feet and run away.

Again and again he was confident that the Apache was close to him, but
still he did not become visible, and all this time Fred was rapidly
regaining his strength. In a very short time his rapid breathing
subsided, and he felt his old vigor and vitality creeping back into his
limbs. He was ready to spring to his feet again, but he did not deem it
best. It seemed to him that the warrior had lost sight of him, and was
looking about. If the boy, therefore, should rise to his feet, he would
be the more likely to be seen, and if he remained where he was he was
sure of being found.

He compromised the matter by crawling forward on his hands and knees,
listening and looking, and continually pausing to prevent creeping into
the arms of his enemies. All this time night was approaching, and with
the passage of each minute came a corresponding rise in the hopes of the
fugitive. Fred kept moving forward upon his hands and knees, climbing
higher and further away from the point of danger.

Everything remained as silent as the tomb.

The Apache that Fred fancied was so close upon him was, in reality,
playing hide and seek with the Kiowas, a business which is generally
conducted in silence, unless the stillness be broken by the occasional
crack of the rifle, or the death-yell of one of the participants. The
footsteps which the boy fancied he heard were all in his imagination.
In fact, he was alone. No human eye saw him, or took cognizance of his
movements. For the present he was left to himself.

There was but One who held him in view and remembrance at this critical
juncture. To Him Fred appealed again and again to lead him through
the labyrinth of peril, and to permit him to return in safety to his
friends.

Still the boy picked his way along as does the frightened animal, and
still he failed to see or hear anything of his enemy. Meanwhile
the gloom deepened, and with the passage of every moment his heart
lightened, until he felt that for the time being, at least, his safety
was assured.



CHAPTER XVI. THE RECONNOISSANCE

It was a mystery to young Munson why the shots fired, as he supposed, by
the Apaches, should have checked his pursuer, who was so close upon him.
Had he known that they came from a couple of hostile Kiowas, and that
they were intended for the warrior whose hand was outstretched to grasp
him, the matter would not have been so hard to understand. But he saw
the night closing in about him, while he remained among the rocks,
moving forward in the same stealthy manner, upon his hands and knees,
and his strained ear failed to catch the slightest sound that could make
him fear that any of his enemies were near at hand.

Of course he looked with all the eyes at his command, but they also
stared upon a blank, so far as animated creation was concerned. At last
Fred halted, tired out with this species of locomotion.

“I do believe I’ve given them the slip,” he exclaimed, his heart
throbbing more than ever with renewed hope. “I don’t exactly understand
how it was done, but I thank the Lord all the more for it.”

He now arose to his feet and reconnoitered his own position. So far as
he could judge, he was fully two hundred yards away from and above the
ravine where he had made this successful attempt at escape. The day was
so far gone by this time that he could barely discern the open space
which led through the mountain. His view on the left was shut off by the
angle to which reference has been made, and on the right the gathering
obscurity ended the field of vision.

As soon as he was able to locate the gorge, his eyes roamed up and
down in quest of those from whom he was fleeing. Not a glimpse could be
obtained. It was as if he had penetrated for the first time a solitude
never before trodden by the foot of man. Satisfied of this pleasant
fact, he then made search for the smoke of the campfire which was the
real cause of his escape.

No twinkling point of light revealed its location, but, having decided
where it was first seen, he fancied he could detect the faintest outline
of a column of vapor rising until, clear of the crest of the mountain
behind it, it could be seen outlined against the sky beyond. He more
than suspected, however, that it was merely imagination. Leaning back
against a boulder, the lad folded his arms and endeavored to take in the
situation in its entirety.

“Thank the Lord, that I have a good start,” he mused, his heart stirred
with deep gratitude at the remarkable manner in which he had eluded the
Apaches.

With the knowledge that for the nonce he was clear of his enemies,
several other facts impressed themselves upon his mind--facts which were
both important and unpleasant. In the first place, he had not eaten
a mouthful of food since morning, and he was hungry. He had swallowed
enough water to stave off the more uncomfortable sensation of thirst,
but water is not worth much to appease the hunger. He felt the need of
food very sorely.

In the next place, he could think of no immediate means of getting
anything to eat. He had no gun or pistol--nothing more than his simple
jack-knife. The prospect of procuring anything substantial with that was
not flattering enough to make him feel hopeful.

And again, now that he had freed himself of captivity, how was he to
make his way back to New Boston, where friends were awaiting him,
with little hope of his return? He had traversed many miles since the
preceding night, and had gone through a country that was totally unknown
to him. To attempt to retrace his footsteps without the aid of a horse
was like attempting that which was impossible.

While in the act of fleeing, he thought not of these. He was unconscious
of hunger, and forgot that he was so many miles from home; but now both
conditions were forced upon him with anything but a pleasant vividness.
But all of Fred’s ingenuity was unequal to the task of suggesting a way
whereby his want could be supplied. Even had he a gun, there was not
much show for anything like game in the darkness of night, and thus,
under the most favorable circumstances, he would be forced to wait until
morning.

“I’m pretty tired,” he said, as he thought over the matter, “and, maybe,
if I get asleep, I can keep it up until morning, and in that way worry
through the night. But I tell you, Fred Munson, I would like to have a
good square meal just now. There is fruit growing here and there among
those mountains, but a chap can’t find it at night. Now, if there was
only some camp of the hunters, where I could get in and--”

He abruptly paused, as his own words suggested an idea.

It was a camp-fire to which he owed his escape. Why couldn’t he use it
still further? Was it not likely that the Indians who had kindled it had
taken their meals there, and that there might be some remnants of the
feast which could be used to satisfy his hunger?

It was not a very pleasant prospect to contemplate. It was like going
back into the lion’s mouth; nor, indeed, could it be considered a very
wise proceeding to return to the very spot from which he had escaped by
such a providential interference. But a hungry or thirsty man is not in
the best mood to reason, and the incapacity is still more marked in an
excessively hungry boy.

The prospect of getting something to eat overshadowed all other
questions, and after several attempts to consider the matter fairly,
Fred came to the conclusion that he would make the attempt.

To do this it was necessary to go back over the same path he had
followed, and to return to the very spot where he had been ready to
break his neck, if it would assist him in escaping, but a short time
before. But he reasoned that he had the darkness in his favor, that the
Indians were not likely to stay in the same place, and that none of them
would be looking for his return. This, together with the prospect of
securing something to satisfy his hunger, easily decided the question.
Within five minutes from the time the thought had entered his head he
was carefully picking his way down the mountain-side toward the ravine.

Fred did not forget the precaution necessary in a movement of this
kind. He moved as silently as he could, pausing at intervals to look and
listen; but the way remained clear, and nothing occurred to excite alarm
until he had descended into the gorge itself.

At this precise juncture, he was startled by the sharp crack of a rifle,
which seemed to come from a point two or three hundred yards away,
directly behind him.

In his terror, his first fear was that the shot had been aimed at him,
and he started to retrace his steps--but before he went any distance,
he reflected that that could not be and he stood motionless for a few
minutes, waiting to see what would follow. All remained as quiet as
before, and, after a time, he resumed his cautious movement along the
ravine, keeping close to the side, and advancing on tip-toe, like a
thief in the night.

The further he got along, the more convinced did he become that he was
venturing upon a fool-hardy undertaking; but when he hesitated, his
hunger seemed to intensify and speedily impelled him forward again. At
the end of a half hour or so, he reached a point in the gorge which he
judged to be at the foot of where the camp-fire was, and he began the
more difficult and dangerous task of approaching that.

As upon the night before, there was a moon in the sky, but there were
also clouds, and the intervening rocks and stunted vegetation made the
light treacherous and uncertain. Shadows appeared here and there, which
looked like phantoms flitting back and forth, and which caused many a
start and stop upon the part of the young scout.

“I wonder where they have gone?” he said to himself fully a score of
times, as he picked his way over the broken land. “Those two Apaches
must have come back by this time, and I hope they knocked the other one
in the head for letting me get away. They must have been looking for me,
but I don’t think they will hunt in _this_ place.”

Fred had made his way but a short distance up the side of the mountain,
when he became assured that he was upon the right track. Standing upon a
lower plane and looking upward, he saw that the column of smoke from the
camp-fire was brought in relief against the sky beyond. The vapor was
of nearly the same rarity as the natural atmosphere, and was almost
stationary--a fact which also proved that the fire from which it arose
had not been replenished, as, in such a case, a disturbance would have
been produced that would have prevented this stationary feature.

When the lad was within some fifty yards of the camp-fire, he discovered
that he was not nearly as hungry as he supposed, and, at the same time,
he began to suspect that he had entered upon a very risky undertaking.

“I don’t know how I came to do it,” he said to himself, as he hesitated.
“If there’s a camp-fire in this part of the world, it must have been
kindled by Indians, and it’s very likely that some of them are hanging
around, so that if I attempt to get too close, I’ll tumble right into
their hands. I can wait till to-morrow for something to eat, so I guess
I’ll go back.”

But, curiously enough, he had scarcely started to act upon this decision
when he was tormented more than ever with hunger, and he turned about
with a desperate resolve.

“I won’t stop again! I will go!”

As has been already intimated, the camp-fire, which had played such
an important part in the events of the afternoon had been started
immediately behind a large rock, the evident purpose being to mislead
the very ones who were deceived by it. Consequently, the boy could not
gain a fair view of it without making a detour to the right or left, or
by coming rather suddenly upon it from behind the rock. Just then it was
shut out entirely from view.

Fred stole along like a veritable Indian scout, until he was within
arms’ length of the rock. Then he sank down upon his hands and knees,
and, making sure that he was enveloped in shadow, he crept forward, with
the utmost possible stealth, until at last he reached a point where he
had but to thrust his head forward around the corner, and the camp-fire
would be before him.

Here it was natural that he should pause awhile longer, for the very
crisis of this perilous task had been reached.

The silence remained as profound as the tomb. Not a rustle, not the
slightest sound, even such as would have been made by a sleeping
person--surely no one could be there. The camp-fire must be deserted and
all his precaution useless.



CHAPTER XVII. FORAGING FOR FOOD

Fred’s fear was that if any of the Apaches were near at hand they
would hear the beating of his heart--so intense was his excitement and
anxiety. But delay seemed only to increase it, and, pressing close to
the corner, he removed his cap and stealthily shoved his head forward
until he could look along the other side.

At the first glance, he jerked back as if he had caught the flash of
a rifle aimed at him, for the sight that he gazed upon was startling
enough. Within ten feet of him sat an Indian warrior, his knees gathered
up, his back against the arch, and his head bowed as if in slumber.

The lad’s first supposition was that the redskin was waiting for him,
and had seen his head as it was thrust forward and drawn back again.
But, as he listened, there was no sound to betray any movement, and when
he recalled the terrifying picture that caught his eye, he remembered
that the face of the warrior was not turned toward him, so that it was
hardly to be supposed that he could have observed the stealthy movement.
By carefully considering the matter and reassuring himself, Fred soon
gained sufficient courage to repeat the attempt.

This time, after pushing his head forward enough to see the red-skin, he
held it motionless sufficiently long to take in the entire picture.

The first thing which impressed itself upon his mind was the fact that
the Indian was not an Apache, or at least, did not belong to the trio
which had had him in charge. His dress and make-up were altogether
different, and he clearly belonged to another tribe. The truth of it
was, he was a Kiowa, and his attitude was that of a sleeping person.

A dirty blanket was gathered about his shoulders, and his head, with its
straggling horse-hair covering, drooped so far forward that the line of
the face was at right angles with that of the chest. The up-drawn knees
were separated enough to permit a long, gleaming rifle to rest between
them, the barrel partly supported by the shoulder, with the stock at his
feet, while if the aquiline nose, clear cut against the dim fire beyond,
had descended three or four inches lower, it would have been shut off
from view by the same knees. The blanket was thrown back far enough to
reveal the body, legs and moccasins of the warrior, which were those of
a man of powerful frame and great activity.

The camp-fire had smoldered as though it had not been replenished for
hours. Still it diffused a steady, subdued glow, from the other side of
the figure, as if the latter were stamped in ink, and the picture was a
striking one in every respect.

After Fred had scrutinized it a few minutes he gathered more courage
and took in the surroundings. These were not very extensive, but such as
they were, they were of a hopeful nature. Just in front of the sleeping
Indian were several objects lying upon the leaves, which he was certain
were the bones of some animal, most probably a deer or buffalo.

“And if they are, there’s meat upon them,” was the consideration of the
lad, who smacked his lips in anticipation.

That might be, but how were they to be obtained? That was the
all-important question. It was not to be supposed that the most skillful
scout in the West could creep up to the feet of a sleeping Kiowa and
gather some food without an almost certainty of detection. But for the
fact that Fred was so hungry, nothing could have induced him to make the
attempt. As it was, he believed that he could succeed. At any rate, he
resolved that the attempt should be made.

“Maybe he’ll wake up and turn over,” reflected the boy, as he fixed his
eyes upon the Kiowa and watched him, like a cat waiting for a mouse to
come within its reach. “I wonder whether Indians snore,” added Fred, a
moment later. “I can’t hear him breathe, and yet his chest seems to rise
and sink, just as regular as anybody’s.”

Some ten minutes’ more waiting brought the boy to the second crisis in
his perilous undertaking. With another ejaculated prayer he crept out
from the rock, and moved toward the “feast,” as he believed it to be.

He knew where the fragments lay, and, heading in that direction, he
moved carefully forward, while he kept his eyes fixed upon that dreaded
red-skin, who certainly seemed a remiss sentinel when in an enemy’s
country. Only a few feet interposed, and these were speedily passed
over, and Fred stretched out his hand to lay it upon what seemed the
greatest prize of his life.

So, indeed, it proved.

The Kiowas, at some time during the day, had cooked some antelope meat
by that very campfire, and had scattered the remnants all round. The
first thing which Fred grasped was a bone, upon which still remained
considerable half-cooked meat. His hunger was so consuming at that
moment that, forgetful of the red-skin sitting so near, he began knawing
the bone like a famished dog.

Never did food taste sweeter and more delicious!

If the boy’s jaws had been a little stronger, he would have crunched up
the bone also--but he cleaned it of its nutritious covering so speedily
and cleanly that it seemed as if done by some wonderful machinery.

When he found that no more remained, he clawed about in the
semi-darkness for more and found it. Indeed, it looked very much as if
the Kiowas had left one of their rude meals prepared for some expected
visitors.

When fairly under way, Fred did not stop until he had fully sated his
appetite, and there proved to be enough to satisfy all his purpose.
Then, when he craved no more, he awoke to a keen realization of the
extremely perilous position in which he was placed.

“I had better dig out of here,” was the thought that came to him, as he
glanced furtively at the motionless figure. “He doesn’t see me yet, but
there is no telling how soon he will.”

And now the extraordinary good fortune which had attended the boy up to
this time seemed to desert him. He had scarcely begun his return to the
cover of the rock, when he felt a sudden desire to sneeze coming over
him. He grasped his nose, in the hope of checking it--but it only made
matters worse, and the explosion which instantly followed was twice as
great as it would have been otherwise.

Poor Fred was in despair!

He felt that it was all over, and he was powerless to move. He was like
one overtaken by a dreadful nightmare, when he finds himself unable to
escape some appalling evil that is settling down upon him. He turned,
with a despairing glance, to the red-skin, expecting to see the glitter
of his tomahawk or knife as it descended.

The warrior did not stir! Could Indian sleep so sound?

Surely not, and the boy just then recalled the fate of the sentinel
Thompson, a couple of nights before.

“I believe he is dead,” he muttered, looking attentively toward him, and
feeling a speedy return of his courage.

With a lingering fear and doubt besetting him, he crept around the
corner of the rock, taking one of the bones as he did so, and, when in
position, he gave it such a toss that it dropped directly upon the head
of the unconscious red man.

This was not a very prudent way of learning whether a man was sleeping
temporially or eternally, when so much depended upon the decision of
the question, for, if he were only taking a nap, he would be certain
to resent the taking of any such liberties with his person. The test,
however, was effectual. The bone struck his bead, and glanced as though
it had fallen against the surface of a rock, and Fred could no longer
doubt that the red-skin had been slain while sitting in this very
attitude by the fire.

Such was the case. There had been plotting and counterplotting. While
the Kiowas were playing their tricks upon the Apaches, the latter
managed to a certain extent to turn the tables. When they branched out
upon their reconnoitering expedition, Waukko was engaged in the same
business. When he discovered the single sentinel sitting by the fire,
he crept up like a phantom behind him, and drove his hunting knife with
such swift silence that his victim gave only a spasmodic quiver and
start, and was dead.

Waukko placed him in the position he was occupying at the time he first
caught sight of him, and then left his companions to learn the truth for
themselves, while he crept back to learn that his prisoner had given his
captor the slip.

Fred Munson was terrified when he found he was standing by the dead
form of his friend Thompson, a couple of nights before, and so, in the
present instance, a certain awe came over him, as it naturally does when
a person stands in the presence of death. But, for all that, the boy
was heartily glad, and he had wisdom enough to improve the splendid
opportunity that thus came to him, and for which he had hardly dared to
pray.

“I don’t see what a dead man can want of a gun,” he muttered, as he
moved rather timidly toward the figure, “and, therefore, it will not be
thieving for me to take it.”

There was a little involuntary shuddering when he grasped the barrel and
sought to draw the weapon from its resting-place. The inanimate warrior
seemed to clutch it, as though unwilling to let it go, and the feeling
that he was struggling with a dead man was anything but comfortable.
Fred persevered, however, and speedily had the satisfaction of feeling
that the rifle was in his possession.

The weapon was heavy for one of his size, but it was a thousand times
preferable to nothing.

He stood “hefting” it, as the expression goes, and turning it over in
his hand, when he heard the report of a second gun, this time so close
that he started, thinking it had been aimed at him.

Such was not the case; but at that moment there came an overpowering
conviction that he was doing a most foolhardy thing in remaining so
conspicuously in view, when the red-skins were liable to return at
any moment and wreak their vengeance upon him for the robbery, to say
nothing of the death, of their comrade, which might be attributed to
him. So he hurriedly and quietly withdrew into the outer darkness.



CHAPTER XVIII. ALONE IN THE RAVINE

Fred Munson felt that he had been extremely fortunate, not only in
securing a good, substantial supper, but in getting a rifle. With it
he could guard against danger and starvation. In that country, and
especially among those mountains, was quite an abundance of game, and he
had learned how to aim a gun too well to prevent his throwing any shots
away.

By this time the night was well advanced, and he concluded that the
wisest thing he could do was to hunt up some place where he could sleep
until morning. This did not seem to be difficult in a country so cut up
and broken by rocks, and he moved away from the camp-fire with a sense
of deep gratitude for the extraordinary good fortune that had followed
him from the time Lone Wolf had withdrawn him from the main party.

“Now, if I could only get a horse,” he said to himself, “I would be set
up in business. I could find the way back to New Boston in a day or two,
shooting what game I want, and keeping out of the way of all Indians. I
wonder what has become of Sut Simpson? I expected he would be somewhere
around here before this. It would be very handy to come across him just
now and have him help me home. And there’s Mickey Rooney. He went off on
one of the best horses; and if he could pick me up and take me along,
it wouldn’t need much time for us to get back home. Ah, if I only had
Hurricane here,” he sighed. “How we would go back through that ravine,
leaving behind us the best horses in the country; but there’s no use of
thinking of that. Hurricane is at home, and so he can’t be here, and I
must trust to Providence to get back. I have something now that is of
more use than a horse. If I miss with one charge, I can--”

He stopped suddenly in amazement, for at that juncture he recalled a
piece of great stupidity which he had committed. He had secured the
rifle, and yet he had left without one thought of the indispensable
ammunition that was required to make the weapon of any use. He did not
know whether the gun in his hand was loaded or not, in which latter case
it was of no more account than a piece of wood.

“Well, if that don’t beat everything,” he muttered, at a loss to
understand how he could have committed such an oversight. “I never once
thought of it till this minute, and now it’s too late!”

The reflection of his great need inclined him to return to the camp-fire
and incur the risk involved in the effort to repair the blunder that he
had committed.

“_That_ Indian cannot hurt me, and I don’t suppose that any of the
others have come back. It won’t take me long to get what I want; and I
will do it, too.”

He was but a short distance from the place, and, having decided upon the
proper course, he moved rapidly back upon the path he had just trod, and
in a few minutes was beside the rock, which was becoming familiar in a
certain sense. Mindful of the danger to which one was always exposed
in that section, Fred peered around the rock with the same silence
and caution as before. The result was a disappointment. The Kiowa had
disappeared.

“Now it can’t be that he was only pretending he was asleep all the
time,” thought the puzzled lad. “And yet, if he wasn’t, how was it he
managed to get away?”

A few minutes’ reflection convinced Fred that it was impossible that
there should have been any such thing as he had imagined at first. The
more reasonable theory was that some of the Kiowas had returned and
taken the body of their comrade away, fearful, perhaps, that some of
the Apaches might put in an appearance again and rob him of his scalp.
However, whatever the explanation was, Fred saw that his expedition was
a failure. There was nothing to be gained by remaining where he was,
while there was unmistakable risk of being detected by some of the
copper-colored prowlers.

He noticed that the camp-fire bore very much the same appearance as when
he last saw it, and the probabilities were that the Kiowas were some
distance away at that very time; but the young fugitive had already run
enough risk, without incurring any more, and he resolved to spend an
hour or two in getting out of the neighborhood altogether.

There was little choice of direction, but it was natural that he should
prefer the back-trail, and, clambering down into the ravine again, he
turned his face to the southward, directly through the ravine that he
had traversed during the day upon the back of Waukko’s mustang.

“I can tell when I reach the place where Lone Wolf and his men left us,”
 he said to himself. “That will take me a good while, but when I do find
it, the trail will be so much larger and plainer that there will be no
trouble about following it, but it will take me several days to do it,
and it is going to be hard work. I need all the time possible, so I
guess it will be best to keep going all night.”

There was not so much amusement in this as he fancied, but he kept it up
bravely for some two or three hours, during which he made good headway.
The walking was comparatively easy in the ravine, which was one of those
openings encountered at intervals among the mountains in the West, and
which are known under the name of passes. In many places it would be
utterly out of the question for parties to force their way through the
chains but for these avenues, which nature has kindly furnished.

The moonlight was just sufficient to make the boy feel uneasy. He could
discern objects, although indistinctly, nearly a hundred yards away, and
where the character of the gorge was continually shifting to a certain
extent there was abundant play for the imagination.

He had been walking but a short time when he abruptly halted, under the
impression that he had seen an Indian run across the gorge directly in
front of him. This caused a wilder throbbing of his heart, and another
examination of his gun, which was loaded, as he had assured himself some
time before, and ready at any time to do him one good turn, if no more.

“He wouldn’t have skipped over in that style if he had known I was so
near,” was the reflection of the boy, as he sheltered himself in the
shadow of the rocks and looked and listened. “How did he know but what
I might have picked him off? What was to hinder me? If he did n’t know I
was here, why, it ain’t likely that he would loaf along the side of the
ravine.”

By such a course of reasoning, he was not long in convincing himself
that the way was open for his advance. He hurried by on tiptoe, and drew
a long breath of relief when certain that he had passed the dangerous
spot. But he was only a short distance beyond when his hair fairly arose
on end, for he became certain that he heard the groan of a man among the
boulders over his head.

“I wonder what the matter is there?” he whispered, peering upward in the
gloom and shadow. “It may be some white man that the Indians have left
for dead, and that still has some life in his body, or it may be an
Indian himself who has met with an accident--helloa!”--

Just then it sounded again, and a cold shiver of terror crept over him
from head to foot, as he was able to locate the precise point from which
it came. The frightful groaning did not stop as suddenly as before, but
rose and sank, with a sound like the wail of some suffering human being.

As Fred stood trembling and listening, his shuddering fear collapsed;
for the sound which had transfixed him with such dread, he now
recognized as the whistling of the wind, which, slight in itself,
was still manipulated in some peculiar fashion by a nook in the rocks
overhead.

“That does sound odd enough to scare a person,” he muttered, as he
resumed his walk. “It must be a regular trumpet-blast when the wind is
high, for there isn’t much now.”

The two incidents resulting so harmlessly, Fred was inspired with
greater confidence, and advanced at a more rapid walk along the ravine,
suffering no check until he had gone fully a mile further. Just then,
while striding along with increasing courage, he came to a place where
the side of the ravine was perpendicular for two or three hundred feet.

He was close to this, so as to use the protection of the shadow, and was
dreaming of no danger, when a rattling of gravel and debris caused him
to look up, and he saw an immense mass of rock, that had become loosened
in some way, descending straight for his head.



CHAPTER XIX. THE MYSTERIOUS PURSUER

Young Munson made a sudden bound outward, and, just as he did so, a mass
of rock weighing fully a dozen tons, fell upon the precise spot where
he had stood, missing him so narrowly that the blast of wind, or rather
concussion of the air, was plainly felt. The boulder broke into several
pieces, its momentum being so terrific that the ground for several feet
around was jarred as if by an earthquake.

The lad was overcome for a moment or two, for he realized how narrow his
escape was from a terrible and instantaneous death.

“That was a little closer than I ever want to come again,” he exclaimed.
“It seems to me that a person is always likely to get killed, no matter
where he is or what he is doing. I don’t suppose that anybody threw that
down at me,” he continued, in a half-doubting voice, as he stepped a few
paces back and again peered into the gloom.

If it had been during the day-time, he might have suspected that
some scamp had managed to pry the mass loose, and to send it crashing
downward straight for his head. But as the case stood, such a thing
could not have taken place.

Fred continued his flight until nearly midnight, by which time his
fatigue became so great that he began to hunt a place in which to spend
the remainder of the night. He had not yet seen any wild animals, and
was hopeful that he would suffer no disturbance from them. The single
charge of his rifle was to precious to be thrown away upon any such game
as that.

The lad was in the very act of leaving the ravine, when his step was
arrested by a sound too distinct to be mistaken. It was not imagination
this time, and he paused to identify it. The sound was faint and of
the nature of a jarring or murmur. He suspected that it was caused by
horses’ hoofs, and he listened but a few minutes when he became certain
that such was the fact.

“There must be a big lot of them,” he thought, as he listened to the
sound growing plainer and plainer every minute. “I wonder if Lone Wolf
and his men have not done what they started to do and are going round
home again?”

Judging from the clamping hoofs, such might have been the case. At all
events, there was every reason for believing that a party of horsemen
were in the ravine and that they were headed in his direction.

Fred made up his mind to wait where he was until they passed by. He
had no fear of being seen, when the opportunity for hiding was all that
could be desired, and, lying flat upon his face, he awaited the result.

Nearer and nearer came the tramp, tramp, the noise of hoofs mingling
in a dull thud that sounded oddly in the stillness of the night to the
watching and listening lad.

“Here they come,” he muttered, before he saw them; but the words were
hardly out of his mouth when a shadowy figure came into view, instantly
followed by a score of others, all mingling and blending in one
indistinguishable mass.

The forms of animals and riders were plainly discernible, but they came
in too promiscuous fashion to be counted, and they were gone almost as
soon as they were seen. Fred was confident that thirty warriors galloped
by him in the stillness of the night.

“I believe it was Lone Wolf and some of his men,” he muttered, as he
clambered down from his place among the rocks. Having been thoroughly
awakened by what he had seen, he determined to walk an hour or more
longer, for he felt that the best time for him to journey was during the
protecting darkness of night.

“There ain’t anybody to make me get up early,” he reasoned, “and when I
go to sleep I can stick to it as long as I want to. It seems to me that
if I walk all I can tonight, and keep at it the most of tomorrow,
I ought to be somewhere near the place where we came in among these
mountains. Then a day or two’s tramping over the back trail will take me
pretty nearly to New Boston--that is, if nobody gobbles me up. I’ve got
a rough road before me, but God has guided me thus far, and I’ll trust
him clean through. I’ve had some wonderful escapes to tell about--”

He was too wide awake and too much on the alert to forget precisely
where he was, or to fail to take in whatever should occur of an alarming
nature. That which now startled him and suddenly cut short his musings
was the sound of a horse’s hoofs, close behind him.

Fred had been duped by his own fears and imaginings so many times
that he could not be served so again, and, as he was not apprehending
anything of the kind at that moment, there was no possibility of escape
from the reality of the sound. He halted and turned his head like
lightning, grasping his rifle in his nervous, determined way as he
peered back into the gloom, whispering to himself:

“That must be Lone Wolf or some of the warriors coming back to look for
me.”

This was rather vague theorizing, however. Look and stare as much as he
chose, he could detect nothing that resembled man or animal. He shrank
to one side and waited several minutes, in the hope that the thing would
explain itself. But it did not, and, after waiting some time, he resumed
his journey along the ravine, keeping close to the shadow on the right
side, and using eyes and ears to guard against the insidious approach of
any kind of foe.

Sometimes, under such circumstances, when a sound has very nearly or
quite died out In the stillness, there seems to come a peculiar eddy or
turn of wind, or that which causes the sound, passes for an instant at a
point which is so situated as to impel the waves of air directly to
the ear of the listener. Fred did not exactly understand how this thing
could happen, but he had known of something of the kind, and he was
gradually bringing himself to explain the thing in that fashion, when
his theory was upset by such a sudden, violent rattling of hoofs, so
close behind him, that he leaped to one side, fearful of being trampled
upon.

“That’s a pretty way to come upon a fellow!” he gasped, whirling
about with the purpose of shooting the red-skin for his startling
introduction.

But neither rider nor horseman was visible.

The watcher could scarcely believe the evidence of his own senses.
It seemed to him that the Apache, as he believed him to be, must have
turned abruptly aside, into some opening in the side of the ravine, but
he could not remember having seen any place that would admit of such
strategy. When he came to reflect upon it, it seemed impossible.

“Well, that beats everything,” he said, with a perplexed sigh. “That
sounded so close that I expected to be run over before I could get out
of the way, and now he’s gone.”

He waited some minutes, and, hearing and seeing nothing, once more
resumed his stealthy way along the gorge, a new, shivering fear
gradually creeping over him, as it does over anyone who suspects himself
in the presence of the unexplainable and unnatural.

“I wonder whether they have ghosts in this part of the world?” he said
to himself. “I used to hear the men talk of such things, but father said
there was nothing in them, and so I didn’t believe them--but I don’t
know what father would say or think if he was in my place.”

There was the strong counter-belief, also--the conviction that most
likely there was a reality about the thing--which kept Fred on the _qui
vive_. He was determined, if possible, to prevent a repetition of the
startling surprise of a few minutes before. He scrutinized the side of
the ravine as he walked along, on the lookout for any opening or crevice
which would permit a man and a horse to find shelter. It did not seem
possible that any retreat that would shelter them could escape the eyes
of the lad.

“I haven’t seen any such place yet, so, if the Indian is trying any such
trick, he can’t do it here without my seeing him, and if I do--Heaven
save me!”

He sprang to one side, again pressing himself back against the rock, as
though trying to flatten his body there in order to escape the trampling
hoofs. At the same time he cocked his rifle, with the purpose of giving
the finishing touch to the Apache who had alarmed him once too often in
this fashion.



CHAPTER XX. AN UNCOMFORTABLE LODGING

A more astounding surprise than before awaited the lad. His hair almost
lifted itself as he found himself staring at vacancy, with no sign of a
living person in sight. Whatever had been the cause of this mysterious
performance, it was very apparent that the solution rested not with the
young fugitive.

“I’m tired of this,” he exclaimed, impatiently, after he had waited
several minutes, “and it is n’t going to be played on me again.”

With this, he began clambering up out of the ravine, with the resolve to
reach some place where no shadowy horseman could ride over him.

The climbing was difficult at first, but he soon reached a point where
the inclination was not so steep, and where he could progress with much
more ease and facility. In this way he in time reached the upper level,
and, believing himself out of range of his phantom pursuer, had time to
look about for some sleeping-place for the night.

He frequently paused and listened, but could not see or hear anything of
man or beast, and, confident that no danger was to be apprehended from
either, he devoted himself to hunting for some refuge, that he could
consider secure against molestation. His first inclination was to seek
out a place among the rocks, as he was likely to gain room where he
could stretch out at his ease and enjoy a few hours’ slumber, but, on
reflection, there were several objections to this.

In that part of the world were an abundance of poisonous serpents, and
he had a natural dread of disturbing some of them.

“If I can find the right kind of tree, I think that will be the best
sort of a place, for nothing could get at me there, and there may be all
the limbs I want to make a bed. I guess there’s the location now.”

He was walking along all the time that he had been thinking and talking,
and, at this juncture, he approached a straggling group of trees, which
seemed likely to offer the very refuge he was seeking. He made his way
toward them with quickened steps.

Fred found himself upon a sort of plateau, broken here and there by
rocks, boulders, and irregularities of surface, but in the main easy to
be traversed, and he lost no time in making a survey of the grove which
had caught his eye. There were some twenty in all, and several of them
offered the very shelter. The limbs were no more than six or eight feet
above the ground, and the largest trees were fifty feet in height, the
branches appearing dense, and capable, apparently, of affording as firm
a support as anyone could need while asleep.

“I guess that will do,” he concluded, after surveying the largest, which
happened to stand on the outer edge of the grove. “If I can get the bed,
there ain’t any danger of being bothered by snakes and wild animals.”

Fred naturally pondered a moment as to the best means of climbing into
the tree with his gun. It was full size, and of such weight that he
had been considerably wearied in carrying it such a distance, but it
contained a precious charge, to be used in some emergency that was
likely to arise, and no man was wealthy enough to buy it from him. The
way that he decided upon was to leave the gun against the trunk of the
tree, and then climb in the way that comes natural to a boy. The barrel
of course, would bother him a little, but he could pull through very
well, and he immediately set about doing so.

As he expected, the gun got in his way, but he managed it very well,
without knocking it down, and in a few minutes had climbed high enough
to grasp the first limb with one hand, which was all that he desired, as
he could easily draw himself up in that fashion.

Fred had just made his grasp certain, when he heard a peculiar yelp, and
a rush of something by him.

Not knowing what it meant, but apprehending some new danger, he drew
himself upon the limb with a spasmodic effort, and then turned to see
what it meant. To his amazement and terror, he discovered that it was an
immense wolf, which had made a snap at and narrowly missed his heels.
It had come like a shadow, making no announcement of its presence, and a
second or two sooner would have brought the two into collision.

As Fred looked downward the wolf looked upward, and the two glared at
each other for a minute or so, as if they meant to stare each other out
of countenance. The wolf was unusually large, belonging to what is known
as the mountain species, and he seemed capable of leaping up among the
limbs without any extra effort; but wolves are not addicted to climbing
trees, and the one in question seemed to content himself with looking
up and meditating upon the situation. It seemed to the lad that he was
saying:

“Well, young man, you’re up there out of my reach, but I can afford to
wait; you’ll have to come down pretty soon.”

“If I only had some powder and ball,” reflected Fred, “I’d soon wipe you
out.”

The temptation was very strong to spend the last bullet upon him, but he
could not fail to see the absurdity of the thing; besides which, his gun
was seated upon the ground, with the muzzle pointed upward at him. He
could reach it from his perch on the lowermost limb, but it was hardly
safe to attempt it while his enemy was seated there upon his haunches,
as if debating whether he should go up or not.

The boy was in terror lest the brute should strike the piece and knock
it down, in which case it was likely to be discharged and to be placed
altogether beyond his reach. But the dreaded creature sat as motionless
as if he were a carved statue in front of some gentleman’s residence,
his eyes fixed upon his supper, which had escaped him by such a narrow
chance. The situation was about as interesting as it could well be, and,
in fact, it was rather too interesting for Fred, who was alarmed at the
prospect of being besieged by a mountain wolf.

After the lapse of a minute or two, the brute quietly rose from his
haunches, trotted a few paces, and then gave utterance to the dismal
wail peculiar to his species. It had a baying, howling tone, which
made the chills creep over the boy from head to foot. He had heard the
barking and howling of wolves when crossing the prairies, but there was
deep, thunderous bass to the one which now struck upon his ear such as
he had never before heard, and which gave it a significance that was
like a voice from the tomb.

The instant the brute left his station, Fred reached down, seized the
muzzle of his gun, and drew it up. Then he made his way some twenty feet
above, where he could feel secure against any daring leap from his foe.
He had scarcely perched himself in this position, when the bay of the
wolf was answered from fully a dozen different directions.

He had called to his comrades, and their replies came from every point
of the compass--the same rumbling, hoarse, wailing howls that had
notified them where a prize awaited them. A minute later, the brute
trotted back to his place, where he sat down until the arrival of
reinforcements.

“It isn’t one wolf, but a hundred, that going to besiege me!” gasped the
terrified boy.

He spoke the truth.



CHAPTER XXI. A TERRIBLE NIGHT

The prospect of being besieged all night in a tree by a pack of mountain
wolves was not a pleasant one by any means, and Fred, who had climbed
up among the branches with the object of securing a few hours’ slumber,
found little chance of closing his eyes for even a minute.

“It might have been worse,” he reflected, as he listened to the dismal
howling, “for if they had happened to come down upon me when I was
walking along the ravine, I could n’t have gotten into any place like
this in time to save me. Wolves don’t know how to climb trees, and so
long as I stay here I’m all right; but I can’t stay here forever.”

By-and-by there was a sharp pattering upon the ground, and then the
hoarse howling changed to quick, dog-like yelps, such as these animals
emit when leaping down upon their prey, and which may be supposed to
mean exultation.

Fred came down sufficiently far from his perch to get a glimpse of the
ground beneath. He saw nearly a score of huge mountain wolves, bounding
hither and thither, and over each other, and back and forth, as though
going through some preliminary exercise, so as to prepare themselves for
the feast that was soon to be theirs.

“If I was down there,” thought the boy, with a shudder, “I suppose I’d
last them about two minutes, and then they’d be hungrier than ever.
They’ll stay there all night, but I wonder if they’ll go away in the
morning. If they don’t, I can’t tell what’s to become of me.”

He watched them awhile with a lingering fear that some of them might
manage to get among the branches, but they did not make the attempt.
They had sufficient dexterity to leap from the ground up among the
lowermost limbs, but had no power of retaining their position, or doing
anything after they got there.

Nature had unfitted them for such work, and they did not try it. They
seemed to possess tireless activity, and they kept up their leaping and
frolicing as though they had nothing else in the world to do.

After watching them until he was tired, Fred carefully climbed up among
the branches again, where he secured himself as firmly as was possible.
He had lain his rifle across a couple of limbs above his head, and fixed
upon a place within a dozen feet or so of the top, as the one offering
the best support.

Here two or three limbs were gnarled and twisted in such a way that he
could seat himself and arrange his body in such a way that he could have
enjoyed a night’s slumber with as much refreshment as if stretched out
upon a blanket on the ground. But the serenade below was not calculated
to soothe his nerves into soft, downy sleep, and he shuddered at
the thought of sitting where he was for four or five hours, with the
pattering feet below him, varied by a yelp or howl, when he should feel
disposed to close his eyes.

“But, then, it can’t be helped,” he added to himself, endeavoring to
look philosophically at the matter. “I ought to be thankful that they
didn’t catch me before I reached the tree, and so I am; and I would be
very thankful, too, if they would go away and leave me alone. I’ve got a
bed here twice as good as I expected to find, and could sleep as well as
anywhere else.”

Almost any sound long continued becomes monotonous, and thus it was that
scarcely a half-hour had passed when, in spite of the dreadful beasts
below, his eyes began to grow heavy and his head to droop.

But at this juncture he received a terrible shock. Just as everything
was becoming dreamy and unreal, he was startled by a jarring of the
tree, as though struck with some heavy object. When it was repeated
several times, his senses returned to him, and he raised his head and
listened.

“I wonder what that can be?” he said to himself. “Is some one hitting
the tree? No, it isn’t that.”

It seemed not so much a jarring of the trunk as a swaying of the whole
tree.

Puzzled and alarmed, Fred drew his legs from their rather cramped
position, and picked his way downward among the limbs until he had
descended far enough to inform himself.

“Heaven save me! they’re in the tree!” he gasped, paralyzed for the
moment with terror.

In one sense, such was the case. The frolicsome wolves had varied their
amusement by springing upward among the lowermost branches. A brute
would make a jump, and, landing upon the limb, sustain himself until
one or two of his comrades imitated his performance, when they would all
come tumbling to the ground.

Thus, it may be said, they were climbing the tree, but they were
scarcely in it when they were out of it again, and Fred had nothing to
fear from that source.

In his fright, he hastily clambered back again after his rifle, with the
intention of shooting the one that was nearest, but by the time he
laid his hand upon the weapon his terror had lessened so much that
he concluded to wait until assured that it was necessary. And a few
minutes’ waiting convinced him that he had nothing to fear from that
source. It was only another phase of the hilarious fun they were keeping
up for their own amusement.

“I guess I’ll try it again,” concluded Fred, as he proceeded to stow his
arms and legs into position for the nap which he came so near commencing
a few minutes before.

He did not consider it within the range of possibility that he could
unconsciously displace his limbs during sleep sufficiently to permit him
to fall.

He heard the yelping and occasional baying below, the rustling among the
limbs, and the undulation caused by the animals leaping upward among the
branches; but they ceased to disturb him after a time, and became like
the sound of falling water in the ears of the hunter by his camp-fire.
It was not long before slumber stole away his senses, and he slept.

A healthful boy generally sleeps well, and is untroubled by dreams,
unless he has been indulging in some indiscretion in the way of diet,
but the stirring scenes of the last few days were so impressed upon the
mind of Fred that they reappeared in his visions of night, as he lived
them all over again. He was again standing in the silent wood along the
Rio Pecos, with Mickey O’Rooney, watching for the stealthy approach of
the Apaches. As time passed, he saw the excited figure of Sut Simpson
the scout, as he came thundering over the prairie, with his warning cry
of the approach of the red-skins. The rattling fight in front of the
young settlement, the repulse of the Apaches, the swoop of Lone Wolf and
the lad’s capture, the night ride, the encampment among the mountains,
his own singular escape, and, finally, his siege by the mountain
wolves--all these passed through the mind of the sleeping lad, and
finally settled down to a hand-to-hand fight with the leader of the
brutes.

Fred fancied that the two had met in the ravine, and, clubbing his
gun, he whacked the beast over his head every time he leaped at him.
He struck him royal, resounding blows, too, but, somehow or other, they
failed to produce any effect. The wolf kept coming and coming again,
until, at last, the boy concluded he would wind up the bout by jumping
upon, and throwing him down, and then deliberately choking him to death.

He made the jump, and awakening instantly, found he had leaped “out of
bed,” and was falling downward through the limbs. It all flashed upon
the lad with the suddenness of lightning.

He remembered the ravenous wolves, and, with a shuddering horror which
cannot be pictured or imagined, felt that he was dropping directly into
their fangs. It was the instinct of nature which caused him to throw out
his feet and hands in the hope of checking his fall.

By a hair’s breadth he succeeded. But it was nearly the lowermost limb
which he grasped with his desperate clutch, and hung with his arms
dangling within reach of the wolves below.

The famished brutes seemed to be expecting this choice tid-bit to drop
into their maws, and their yelps and howls became wilder than ever, and
they nearly broke each other’s necks in their furious frolicing back and
forth.

The moment young Munson succeeded in checking himself, he made a quick
effort to draw up his feet and regain his place beyond the reach of the
brutes. It was done in a twinkling, but not soon enough to escape one of
the creatures, which made a leap and fastened upon his foot.

The lad was just twisting himself over the limb, when he felt one of his
shoes seized in the jaws of a wolf. The sudden addition to his weight
drew him down again, and almost jerked his hold from the limb, in which
event he would have been snapped up and disposed of before he could have
made a struggle in the way of resistance. But he held on, and with an
unnatural spasm of strength, drew himself and the clogging weight part
way up, kicking both feet with the fury of despair.

The wolf held fast to one shoe, while the heel of the other was jammed
into his eyes. This, however, would not have dislodged him, had not
his own comrades interfered, and defeated the brute by their own eager
greediness. Seeing that the first one had fastened to the prize, a
half-dozen of them began leaping upward with the purpose of securing a
share in the same. In this way they got into each other’s way, and all
came tumbling to the ground in a heap.

Before they could repeat the performance the terrified lad was a dozen
feet beyond their reach, and climbing still higher.

When Fred reached his former perch, he was in doubt whether he should
halt or go still higher. His heart was throbbing violently, and he was
white and panting from the frightful shock he had received.

“That was awful!” he gasped, as he reflected upon what had taken place.
“I don’t know what saved me from death! Yes, I do; it was God!” he
added, looking up through the leaves to the clear, moonlit sky above
him. “He has brought me through a good many dangers, and He will not
forsake me.”

After such an experience, it was impossible that sleep should return to
the eyes of the lad. He resumed his old perch, but only because it was
the most comfortable. Had he believed that there was a possibility of
slumber, he would have fought it off, but there was not.

“I’ll wait here till morning,” he said to himself. “It must be close at
hand; and then, maybe, they will go away.”

He looked longingly for some sign of the breaking of day, but the
moonlight, for a long time, was unrelieved by the rose-flush of the
morning.



CHAPTER XXII. LOST

Following the escape of their human victim, the wolves had maintained a
frightful and most discordant howling, as if angered beyond expression
at the style in which they had been baffled of their prey.

The lad sat listening to this, when suddenly it ceased. Silence from
each beast came as completely and simultaneously as if they were members
of an orchestra subject to the wand of such an enchanter as Theodore
Thomas. What could it be?

For the space of two or three minutes the silence remained as profound
as that of the tomb, and then there came a rush and patter, made by the
wolves as they fled pell-mell.

At first sight this seemed a reason for congratulation in getting rid
of such unwelcome company; but Fred saw in it more cause for alarm. Very
evidently the creatures would not have left the spot in such a hurry
unless they were frightened away by some wild animal more to be dreaded
than themselves.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to use my rifle,” he thought, as he moved softly
downward until he reached a point from which he could see anything that
passed beneath. “It’s pretty rough to have to fire a fellow’s last shot,
when he’s likely to starve to death for it; but a beast that can scare
away a pack of wolves is likely to be one that will take a well-aimed
bullet to stop---”

This train of thought was abruptly checked by a sight which almost
paralyzed him. He could dimly discern the ground beneath, and he was
watching and listening when a large figure came to view, and halted
directly beneath him, where the first wolf had sat upon his haunches and
looked so longingly upward.

No noise could be heard and it seemed to move like a phantom; but, even
in the gloom, the peculiar swinging motion of the body showed prodigious
strength and activity. There could be no doubt, either, that the animal
was a climber, and therefore more to be feared than a thousand wolves.

Fred had gained quite a knowledge of the animals of the country on his
way across the plains, and in the indistinct view obtained he made
up his mind that this was that most dangerous of wild beasts in the
Southwest, the American cougar. If such were the case, the lad’s only
defense lay in the single charge of his rifle. The cougar could leap
among the limbs as easily as a cat bounds from the floor into the chair.

Fred had left his rifle beyond his reach, and he was about to climb up
to it, when the possibility occurred to him that, perhaps, the cougar
was not aware that any one was in the tree, and, if unmolested might
pass by. Accordingly, the fugitive remained as motionless as a statue,
his eyes fixed upon the dreaded brute, ready to make for his gun the
instant the cougar showed any sign of making for him.

The animal, known in some parts of the country as the panther, or
“painter,” remained equally motionless. It looked precisely as if he
suspected that something was in the wind and had slipped up to this
point to listen for some evidence of what it was. Fred, who had heard
fabulous stories of the “smelling” powers of all wild animals, feared
that the cougar would scent him out, but he showed no evidence of his
ability to do so.

After remaining stationary a minute or two, he moved forward a couple of
steps, and then paused as before. The lad was fearful that this was an
indication that he had detected his presence in the tree and was about
to make his leap; but, preliminary to doing so, all such animals squat
upon their haunches, and pick out a perch at which to aim. This he had
not done, and the boy waited for it before changing his own position.

The head of the cougar was close to the trunk of the tree, and he had
maintained the attitude hut a few seconds when he started forward again
and continued until he vanished from view.

“I hope he is gone,” was the wish that came to Fred, as he peered
through the leaves, in his effort to catch a glimpse of him.

But the intervening leaves prevented, and he saw him no more.

He remained where he was for some time, on the look-out for the beast,
but finally climbed back to his former place, where his gun was within
reach, and where he disposed of himself as comfortably as possible.

In less than ten minutes thereafter, the whole pack of wolves were
back again. The cougar had departed, and they returned to claim their
breakfast. They were somewhat less demonstrative in their manner, as
though they did not wish to bring the panther back again.

They were scarcely upon the ground, however, when Fred noticed that
it was growing light in the east. The long, terrible night, the most
dreadful of his life, was about over, and he welcomed the coming day as
the shipwrecked mariner does the approach of the friendly sail.

The light rapidly increased, and in a short time the sun itself
appeared, driving the darkness from the mountain and bathing all in its
rosy hues.

The wolves seemed to dread its coming somewhat as they did that of the
cougar. By the time the morning was fairly upon them, one of them slunk
away. Another speedily followed, and it soon became a stampede.

Fred waited awhile, and then peered out. Not a wolf was to be seen, and
he concluded it was safe to descend.

He made several careful surveys of his surroundings before trusting his
feet on solid ground again. When he found himself there he grasped his
rifle firmly, half expecting the formidable cougar to pounce upon him
from some hiding-place; but everything remained quiet, and he finally
ventured to move off toward the eastward, feeling quite nervous until he
had gone a couple of hundred yards, and was given some assurance that no
wild beasts held him in sight.

Now that the lad had some opportunity to gather his wits, he paused to
consider what was best to do, for with the coming of daylight came the
necessity for serious work. His disposition was to return to the ravine,
which he had left for the purpose of seeking a sleeping-place, and to
press homeward as rapidly as possible. There was no time to be lost, for
many a long and wearisome mile lay between him and New Boston.

As was natural, Fred was hungry again, but he resolved to make no
attempt to secure food until night-fall, and to spend the intervening
time in traveling. Of course, if a camp-fire should come in his way,
where he was likely to find any remnants of food, he did not intend
to pass it by; but his wish was to improve the day while it lasted. By
taking to the ravine again, he entered upon the Apache highway, where he
was likely, at any moment, and especially at the sharp turns, to come in
collision with the red men, but the advantage was too great to overlook,
and he hoped by the exercise of unusual care to keep out of all such
peril.

He was on the margin of the plateau, and before returning to the gorge
he thought it best to venture upon a little exploration of his own.
Possibly he might stumble upon some narrower pass, one unfit for horses,
which would afford him a chance of getting out of the mountains without
the great risk of meeting his old enemies.

For a short distance, the way was so broken that his progress was slow.
He found himself clambering up a ledge of rocks, then he was forced to
make his way around some massive boulders, and in picking his way along
a steep place, the gravelly earth gave way beneath his weight, and he
slid fully a hundred feet before he could check himself. His descent was
so gradual that he was not bruised in the slightest, but he was nearly
buried beneath the gravel and dirt that came rattling down after him.

“I wish I could travel all the way home that way,” he laughed, as he
picked himself up. “I would soon get there, and wouldn’t have to work
very hard, either.”

But this was not very profitable work, and when he had quaffed his
fill from a small rivulet of icy-cold water, he was conscious of the
importance of going forward without any further delay.

“I guess the best thing I can do is to get back in that ravine or pass
without any more foolery. It looks as though the way was open ahead
yonder.”

It was useless to attempt to retrace his steps, for it was impossible to
climb up that incline, which came so near burying him out of sight, so
he moved forward, with rocks all around him--right, left, in the rear,
and in the front. There was considerable stunted vegetation, also, and,
as the day was quite warm, and no wind could reach him, he found the
labor of traveling with a heavy rifle anything but fun. Still, he had no
thought of giving up, or even halting to rest, so long as his strength
held out, and he kept it up until he concluded that it was about time
that he reached the ravine for which he aimed from the first.

“It must be right ahead, yonder,” he said, after pausing to survey his
surroundings. “I’ve kept going toward it ever since I picked myself up,
and I know I wasn’t very far away.”

He had been steadily ascending for a half hour, and he believed that he
had nearly reached the level upon which he had spent the night. His
view was so shut in by the character of his surroundings, that he could
recognize nothing, and he was compelled, therefore, to depend upon his
own sagacity.

Fred had enough wit to take every precaution against going astray, for
he had learned long since how liable any one in his circumstances was to
make such a blunder. He fixed the position of the sun with regard to the
ravine, and as the orb was only a short distance above the horizon, he
was confident of keeping his “reckoning.”

“That’s mighty strange!” he exclaimed, when, having climbed up the place
he had fixed in his mind, he looked over and found nothing but a broken
country beyond. “There is n’t anything there that looks like the pass
I’m looking for.”

He took note of the position of the sun, and then carefully recalled the
direction of the ravine with regard to that, and he could discover no
error in the course which he had followed. According to the reasoning
of common sense, he ought to strike it at right angles. But just then he
recalled that the gorge did not follow a straight line. Had it done so,
he would have succeeded in what he had undertaken, but it was otherwise,
and so he failed.

“I’ll try a little more.”

With no little labor, he climbed to an eminence a short distance away,
where he hoped to gain a glimpse of the promised land; but the most
studied scrutiny failed to show anything resembling the pass.

“I’m lost!” he exclaimed, in despair.



CHAPTER XXIII. A PERILOUS PASSAGE

Fred Munson was right. In his efforts to regain the pass by which he had
entered the mountains, he had gone astray, and he knew no more in what
direction to turn than if he had dropped from the moon. The sun was
now well up above the horizon, and he not only had the mortification of
feeling that he had lost much precious time, but that he was likely to
lose much more.

With the feeling of disappointment came that of hunger, and he
questioned himself as to how he was likely to obtain that with which to
stave off the pangs of hunger.

“There isn’t any use of staying here,” he exclaimed, desperately,
“unless I want to lie down and die, and I ain’t quite ready for that
yet. It is pretty sure the ravine ain’t straight ahead, so it must be
more to one side.”

And, acting upon this conclusion, he made quite a change in the
direction he was pursuing, moving off to the left, and encouraging
himself with the fact that the pass must be somewhere, and he had only
to persevere in exploring each point of the compass to reach it at last.
His route continued as precipitous and difficult as before, and it was
not long before the plague of thirst became greater than that of hunger.
But he persevered, hopeful that his wearisome wandering would soon end.

“Halloa! Here I am again.”

This exclamation was caused by the sudden arrival upon the edge of a
ravine, which, on first thought, he supposed to be the very one for
which he was making. But a second glance convinced him of his error, for
it was nothing more than a yawn, or chasm, that had probably been opened
in the mountains by some great convulsion of nature.

Making his way carefully to the edge, Fred saw that it had a varying
depth of fifty to two hundred feet, and a width from a dozen yards to
three times as much, its length seemingly too great to be “gone round”
 by an ordinary traveler. And yet, finding himself confronted by such
a chasm, it was perhaps natural that the lad should become more fully
pursuaded than ever of the absolute necessity of placing himself upon
the opposite side. The more he thought upon it the more convinced did he
become, until his desire of passing over became a wild sort of eagerness
that would not let him rest.

“I don’t believe the pass is more than a hundred yards from the other
side, and the two must run nearly parallel, so I am bound to get over in
some way.”

In the hope that some narrow portion might be found, he made his way
with great care along the margin, until fully an hour had been spent in
this manner, with a result that could not be called very satisfactory.

“If I could jump about three times as far as I can, I could go across
right yonder--helloa! why did n’t I notice that before?”

And the words were yet in his mouth, when he started on a run along the
margin of the ravine, at the imminent risk of falling in and breaking
his neck. He had espied not only a narrower portion of the ravine, but
what seemed to be a fallen tree extending from one side to the other.

If such were really the case, what more could he need? He had thought
over this matter of the pass being upon the other side, until no doubt
at all remained in his mind, and now the discovery that the chasm was
bridged caused the strongest rebound from discouragement to hope.

Upon reaching the bridge, he found that it answered his purpose
admirably. The width was less than ten yards, although the depth was
enough to make him shudder, when he peered down into it.

He flung a stone, and, as it went spinning downward, it seemed to him
that many seconds elapsed before it struck the bottom with a dull thud.

But the tree seemed strong enough to answer every purpose, and capable
of bearing a weight much greater than his.

The trunk at the largest part was fully a foot in diameter, and the top
extended far enough over the opposite edge to prevent any weakness from
the thinning out of the branches.

But what astonished Fred more than anything else, was the discovery that
the tree had been felled not, by nature, but by man. The trunk had been
cut through, clearly and evenly, by some sharp instrument, and beyond
question had been used as a bridge before.

“Somebody has been here ahead of me,” reflected the lad, as he examined
this interesting evidence, “and I don’t believe it was an Indian,
either. I don’t know what could bring a party into this part of the
world, but they have been here surely, and if the bridge was good enough
for them, it will do for me.”

He was quite certain that he could walk over, after the fashion of
Blondin, but it would have been foolhardy in the highest degree, and he
adopted the wiser course of putting himself astride of the trunk, and
hitching along a few inches at a time. His rifle interfered somewhat,
but he kept up his progress, pausing a few seconds at the centre of the
chasm to look down at the bottom far below him.

“Suppose the tree should break,” he exclaimed, in a frightened whisper,
“it would be the last of a fellow! No one could drop down there, and
save his neck without a parachute. I guess the best thing I can do is to
get over as soon as I know how--”

At this juncture, as he was on the point of resuming his onward
progress, he noticed a peculiar jar of the log, accompanied by a
scratching. Mis first impression was that it came from behind, but, upon
turning his head, could see nothing. When, however, he looked forward,
the terrible explanation at once appeared.

The head or top of the tree was unusually bushy and luxuriant, and,
although a considerable time had elapsed since it had been felled, yet
there were a great many leaves clinging to the branches--not enough to
afford concealment to any animal fleeing from a hunter. Then Fred
first looked in that direction, he failed to see that one of the most
dangerous animals of the Southwest was crouching there.

As he looked inquiringly ahead now, he observed a huge American cougar,
larger than that of the night before, issuing from among the branches.
With his phosphorescent eyes fixed upon the terrified lad, he was
stealing slowly along the log, giving utterance to a deep guttural
growl, separating his lips as he did so, so as to show his long, white,
needle-like teeth, intended for the rending of flesh.

For a moment Fred was transfixed at the sight.

The cougar clearly meant fight, and assumed the offensive without a
second’s hesitancy. He seemed to have been crouching in the bushes, and
calmly awaited the time when the boy should advance too far to retreat.

“I guess I’d better go back!” exclaimed the latter, recovering himself,
and beginning his retrograde movement; but a few hitches showed that
he could not escape the cougar in this fashion, if he really meant
business, and it looked very much as if he did.

The beast had already left the other side, and, like his intended
victim, was supported over the chasm by the tree. He had advanced beyond
the fork made by the junction of the lowermost branches with the main
stem, and was stealing along with an appearance of excessive caution,
but really with the certainty of a brute who feels that there is no
escape for his prey. He moved slowly, burying his long, sharp claws so
deeply in the bark at each step, that his feet seemed to stick as he
lifted them again. All the time his large, round eyes, which had a
greenish glare like those of a cat, were never removed from the face of
the lad, and the guttural growl that came from the lowermost depths of
his chest was like the muttering of distant thunder.

It was not until about a dozen feet separated the two that Fred recalled
that his case was not so desperate as he had imagined. He held a loaded
rifle at his command, and the distance was too short for any mistake to
be made in the aim.

“I guess I’ll stop _your_ fun!” was the exultant exclamation of the lad,
as he brought his rifle to his shoulder. “I don’t like to throw away a
shot on you, but I don’t see how it can be helped.”

He sighted directly between the eyes. His hand shook a little, and the
weapon was heavy, but it was impossible that he should miss.

The cougar continued his slow, cautious advance, apparently unaware or
uncaring for the deadly weapon aimed at him.

The distance was very slight between the two when the trigger was
pulled, and the heavy bullet, tearing its way through bone and muscle,
buried itself in the brain, extinguishing life with the suddenness
almost of the lightning stroke. The guttural growl wound up with
something like a hoarse yelp, and the cougar made what might be termed
his death-leap.

The bound was a tremendous one, carrying him clear up over the head of
the lad, who crouched down in affright, expecting him to drop upon his
shoulders; but he passed far beyond, dropping upon the trunk of the
tree, which he clutched and clawed in his blind, frantic way, without
saving himself in the least, and down he went.

Fred was held with a sort of fascination, and had turned his head
sufficiently to watch every movement of his victim. Then he started
downward, his whitish belly was turned upward, while he continued to
beat and claw the air in his death struggles.

As is the tendency of falling bodies, the carcass of the cougar showed
an inclination to revolve. It began slowly turning over as it descended,
and it must have completed several revolutions when it struck the rocky
ground below like a limp bundle of rags, and lay motionless.

The boy, from his lofty perch, watched the form below him for several
minutes, but could detect no sign of life, and rightly concluded there
was none.

“I wonder whether there are any more there,” he exclaimed, hesitating to
go backward, while he scrutinized the branches with the keenest kind of
anxiety. “I do n’t see any chance where one could hide, and yet I did
n’t see that other fellow.”

It was hardly possible that he should find a companion to the one he had
just slain, and he resumed his hitching forward, making it as deliberate
and careful as he could. Clutching the branches, he hurried forward
and was soon upon the other side of the chasm which had come so nigh
witnessing his death. Without pausing longer he hastened on and was not
long in placing himself upon the top of the elevation from which he was
so confident of gaining his view of the promised land, as the pass
had become to him, now that it seemed so difficult to find, and was so
necessary to anything like progress.

But another disappointment awaited him. The most careful scrutiny failed
to reveal anything like the ravine, and poor Fred was forced to the
conclusion that he was hopelessly lost, and nothing but Providence could
bring him through the labyrinth of peril in which he was entangled.



CHAPTER XXIV. A TERRIBLE BED

It was nearly noon, and, having failed so completely in his efforts to
regain the pass, Fred determined to devote a little time to procuring
food. He was certain that he would soon require it and might postpone
his hunt too long. Although now and then he suffered somewhat from want
of water, yet it was not for any length of time. There was an abundance
of streams and rivulets, and he frequently stumbled upon them, when he
had no expectation of doing so. Quaffing his fill from one of these, he
rested a few minutes, for he had been laboring unceasingly for hours.

“What a pity a fellow, when he got caught in such a fix as this, wasn’t
like a camel, so that he might store away enough water to last him a
week, and then if he could do the same with what he ate, he needn’t feel
scared when he got lost like me.”

His gun, of course, was as useless to him as a stick, and although in
his long tramping it became onerous and oppressive, he had no thought of
abandoning it.

“I don’t see as there is any chance of killing any animals to eat, and,
if I did, I haven’t got any matches to start a fire to cook them, so I
must get what I want some other way.”

He had noticed in his wanderings here and there a species of scarlet
berry, about the size of the common cherry, but he refrained from eating
any, fearing that they were poisonous. He now ventured to taste two or
three, and found them by no means unpleasant to the palate; but, fearful
of the consequence, he swallowed but a little, waiting to see the result
before going into the eating line any more extensively.

A half hour having passed without any internal disturbance, he fell to
and ate fully a pint. There was not much nourishment in them, but
they seemed to serve his purpose very well, and when he resumed his
wandering, he felt somewhat like a giant refreshed with new wine.

As it seemed useless to lay out any definite line to follow, Fred made
no attempt to do so, believing he was as likely to reach the ravine
by aimless traveling as by acting upon any theory of his own as to the
location of the place he desired to reach. This he continued to do until
the afternoon was about half spent. He was still plodding along, with
some hope of success, when he became aware of a sickness stealing over
him. The thought of the berries, and the fear that he had been poisoned,
gave him such a shock that the slight nausea was greatly intensified,
and he reclined upon the ground in the hope that it would soon pass
over.

Instead of doing so, he grew worse, and he stretched out upon the
ground, firmly persuaded that his last hour had came. He was deathly
pale, and had he espied a cougar peering over the corner of the rock, he
would n’t have paid him the least attention--no, not if there had been a
dozen of them!

What alarmed Fred as much as anything was some of the accompaniments of
his trouble. As he laid his head upon the ground, it seemed to him that
he could catch the faint sound of falling water, just as if there was
a little cascade a mile away, and the gentle wind brought him the soft,
musical cadence. Then, too, when he flung himself upon the ground, it
gave forth a hollow sound, such as he had never heard before. Several
times he banged his heel against the earth, and the same peculiarity was
noticed.

All this the poor fellow took as one of the accompaniments of the
poisoning, and as additional proof that he was beyond hope. He rolled
upon the ground in misery, and wondered whether he would have his mind
about him when the last dreadful moment should come; but after a half
hour or more had passed, and he was still himself, he began to feel a
renewal of hope.

“It may be that I ate too many of them,” he reflected, as he found
himself able to sit up, “and there’s nothing poisonous about them, after
all. If that’s so, I’ve got a good meal, anyway, and know where to get
another.”

It was nearly dark, and, as he was still weak, he concluded to spend the
night where he was.

A rod or so away was a dense clump of bushes, which seemed to offer an
inviting shelter, and he gained his feet with the intention of walking
to them. He had taken no more than a couple of steps, however, when
such a dizziness overcame him that he sank at once to the ground, and
stretched out for relief. It was a case of poisoning beyond question,
but not of a dangerous nature; and Fred had about time to lie flat when
he experienced a grateful relief.

“I guess I’ll stay here a while,” he muttered, recalling his experience.
“I can crawl in among the bushes in the night, if I find it getting
cold, or any rain falls.”

Darkness had scarcely descended, when the lad sank into a quiet,
dreamless slumber. His rest of the night previous had not been of a
refreshing character, and his traveling during the day had been very
exhaustive, so that his wearied system was greatly in need of rest.

Fred was really in the most delightful climate in the world. New Mexico
is so far south that the heat in many portions, at certain seasons of
the year, assumes a tropical fervor. On some of the arid plains the
sun’s rays have an intensity like that of the Sahara; but numerous
ranges of mountains traverse the territory north and south, with spurs
in all directions, and the elevation of many of these give a temperature
as cool and pleasant as can be desired.

As the lad stretched out upon the ground, he was without a blanket, or
any covering except his ordinary clothes; and he needed nothing more.
The surrounding rocks shut out all wind, and the air was not warm enough
to cause perspiration. The fact was, he had struck that golden mean
which leaves nothing to be desired as regards the atmosphere.

The sky remained clear, and, as the moon climbed higher and higher in
the sky, it was only at intervals that a fleecy cloud floated before it,
causing fantastic shadows to glide over the ground, and making strange
phantom-like formations among the mountain peaks and along the chasms,
gorges, ravines, and precipices. Had the sleeping lad awoke and risen to
his feet, he would have seen nothing of wolf, catamount, or Indian,
nor would the straining vision have caught the glimmer of any solitary
camp-fire. He was alone in the great solitude, with no eye but the
all-seeing One to watch over him.

It was a curious fact connected with the boy’s wanderings that more
than once he was within a stone’s throw of the pass for which he was
so anxiously searching; and yet he never suspected it, owing to his
unfamiliarity with the territory. As is nearly always the case with
an inexperienced hunter, he showed a continual tendency to travel in a
circle, the nature of the ground only preventing him from doing so.

Fred slept, without disturbance, until after midnight. An hour or
so previous to his waking, when the moon was in the best position
to lighten up the earth below, the figure of a man appeared upon an
eminence, a hundred yards or more away, and stood motionless for several
minutes, as though he were engaged in reverie.

Could one have looked more closely, he would have seen that the
stranger’s action and manner showed that he was hunting for something.
He turned slowly around several times, scanning the ravines, gorges,
peaks, and declivities as best he could; but he did not expect to gain
much, without the daylight to assist him, and the result of the attempt
was anything but satisfactory.

Muttering some impatient exclamation, he turned about and walked slowly
away, taking a direction almost the opposite of that which led toward
the sleeping boy. He moved with caution, like one accustomed to the
wilderness, and was soon lost to view in the gloom.

Then Fred Munson awoke, it was with the impression upon him that he was
near some waterfall. He raised his head, but could detect nothing; but
when he placed his ear to the ground, he caught it once again.

“I have it!” he said to himself; “there is a waterfall somewhere about
here under the ground. That’s what makes it sound so hollow when I stamp
on it.”

He was greatly relieved to find that no results of his afternoon’s
nausea remained by him. He had recovered entirely, and when he rather
doubtingly assumed the sitting position and felt that his head and
stomach remained clear he was considerably elated in spirits.

“That shows that I can get a meal at any time, if I want it bad enough
to take a few hours’ sickness in pay. Maybe I can find something else
to eat which won’t be so hard on me. It must be very near morning, for I
have slept a great while.”

The hour, however, was earlier then he supposed, and he found, after
sitting awhile, that his old drowsiness was returning.

Before giving way to it, he recalled the clump of bushes, which was so
near that it was easily seen from where he sat.

“I forgot that I meant to make my bed there.”

With which he rose and moved toward it, not feeling altogether certain
of the wisdom of what he was doing.

“That looks very much like the place where the cougar was waiting for
me, but I didn’t think there were enough in this country to furnish one
for every bush.”

He reconnoitered it for several minutes, but finally ventured upon a
closer acquaintance. There certainly was no wild animal there, and he
stooped down and began crawling toward the centre.

He was near the middle when he was alarmed at finding the ground giving
way beneath him. It was sinking rapidly downward, and he clutched
desperately at the bushes to save himself, but those that he grasped
yielded and went, too.

In his terror and despair he cried out, and fought like a madman to save
himself; but there was nothing firm or substantial upon which he could
lay hold, and he was helpless to check his descent.

Down, down, down he went in the pulseless darkness, lower and lower,
until he found himself going through the dizzying air--to where?



CHAPTER XXV. WITHIN THE EARTH

It was like a terrible dream, and, for an instant or more, during which
Fred Munson was descending through the gloom and darkness, he believed
it was such indeed; but he was quickly recalled from his error by
his arrival at the end of his journey. The truth was that the boy, in
crawling beneath the clump of bushes for shelter, would have crawled
head first into the mouth of the cave, but for the fact that the ground
immediately surrounding the opening gave way beneath his weight before
he reached it.

His fall was not very far, and when he struck the ground, it was so soft
and yielding that he was scarcely conscious of a jar; but the nervous
shock was so great that, for a few minutes, he believed that he was
fatally injured.

When he was able to recall his scattered senses, he looked around him in
the hope of gaining some idea of where he was; but he quickly saw that
he was in a place where his eyes were of no service. The darkness was as
impenetrable as that which plagued Pharoah and his Egyptians. Only
when he looked upward was the blackness of darkness relieved. Enough
straggling rays worked their way through the bushes to give the opening
a dim, misty appearance, such as is sometimes observed when that orb
is rising in a cloud of fog and vapor; but in every other direction he
might as well have been blind, for all the good his eyes did him.

One of the first things that struck the lad was the sound of the
waterfall which he had heard so distinctly when stretched upon the
earth. It was somewhere near him--so close, even, that he fancied he
could feel the dampness from it, but the soft, rippling character showed
that it did not amount to much. It was a mere cascade, the water of
which entered and passed out the cavern by some means which the boy
could only surmise.

How extensive was this cave?

Had it any outlet other than that by which Fred had entered? Was the
flow even or irregular? Were there pitfalls and abysses about him,
making it too perilous to attempt to grope about in the gloom?

Having entered, how was he to make his way out again?

Such questions as these presented themselves to the boy, as he stood
alone in a world of night, and endeavored to consider the situation
calmly. Stooping down, he felt of the soil. It was of a cold, sandy
nature, and so yielding that, when he struck it, he went below his
ankles.

He stood for some time, debating whether he should remain where he was
until the coming of day, in the hope of gaining additional light, or
whether he should venture upon a little cautious exploration. He finally
decided upon the latter.

“When the elephant goes on a bridge, he feels of it with his trunk to
see whether it is strong enough to bear him, and I’ll use my gun to do
the same thing.”

This was no more than a simple precaution, and doubtless saved his life.
Grasping the stock firmly, he reached the muzzle forward, and “punched”
 the ground pretty thoroughly before venturing upon it, making sure that
it was capable of bearing him safely forward into the darkness beyond.

Generally speaking, the ground of the cavern was tolerably even. There
were little irregularities here and there, but none of them were of a
nature to interfere with walking, provided one could have enough light
to see where he was going.

“If I only had a lantern, I could get round this neighborhood a good
deal faster than this,” he said. “It wouldn’t be anything more than
fun to explore this cave, which may be as big as the mammoth one of
Kentucky.”

Up to this time Fred had been moving almost directly away from the
cascade which he had noticed. The misty light over his head served
somewhat as a guide, and he determined not to wander away from that,
which would prevent his getting lost in the bowels of the earth. The boy
was quite confident that there was some easy way of getting out of the
cave; for if there was none, except by the opening above, then he was in
a Bastile, most surely.

It was undoubtedly the cascade which added to this conviction, for it
seemed to him more than likely that if the water entered and left the
cave, the volume which did so must be of a varying quantity, so that
at certain seasons it was capable of carrying a boy with it. This,
of course, was extremely problematical, but it was hopeful enough to
prevent anything like despair taking possession of the lad as he felt
his way around the cavern.

“Every stream finds its way to the daylight after a time, and so must
this, and why can’t it take a fellow along with it? That’s what I should
like to know---”

He paused, with a gasp of amazement, for at that moment the gun went out
of his hand as suddenly as if some one in waiting had grasped the muzzle
and jerked it away.

But there was no human agency in the matter. While punching the surface,
he had approached a vast abyss, and the thrust over the edge was so
unexpected that the impulse carried it out of his hand.

As the boy stood amazed and frightened, he heard the weapon going
downward, Heaven could only tell where. First it struck one side, and
then another, the sound growing fainter and fainter, until at last the
strained and listening ear failed to hear it at all. The depth of the
opening was therefore enormous, and Fred shuddered to think how nearly
he had approached, and by what a hair’s breadth he had escaped a
terrible death.

At this juncture, the boy suddenly recalled that he had some friction
matches in his possession. He was not in the habit of carrying them, but
several days before he had carefully wrapped up a half-dozen, with the
intention of kindling a fire in the wood near New Boston. From that time
until the present he had failed to remember the circumstance, although
he had so frequently felt the need of a light.

He found a half-dozen securely wrapped about with a piece of newspaper,
and he carefully struck one.

The moment the point flickered into a flame he held it forward and
looked downward.

There was the chasm, which came so nigh swallowing him, in the shape of
a seam or rent some three or four feet in width. It had the appearance
of having been caused by some convulsion of nature, and it extended
at right angles to the course he was pursuing, beyond the limit of his
vision. If necessary, it could be leaped over, but the explorer deemed
it unwise to do so just then.

Now that he had the means at command, Fred decided to look after the
cascade, the sound of which was a guide. His gun was irrevocably gone,
and his progress, therefore, became the more tedious. Disliking to
creep, he adopted the plan of advancing one step, and then groping
around awhile with the other foot, before trusting his weight upon it.
This consumed considerable time, but it was the only safe course, after
what had taken place, and he kept it up until the musical murmur of the
waterfall showed that he had approached about as close as possible.

He then struck another match and held it over his head. It told the
whole story.

A stream, not more than three or four feet in width, issued from the
darkness, and, flowing some distance, went over a ledge of rock. After
falling three or four yards, upon some black and jagged rocks, it
gathered itself together and resumed its journey into and through the
gloom. The tiny flame was unequal to the task of showing where the water
entered and left the cave, and, as the boy was straining his eyesight in
the hope of discovering something more, the blaze scorched his fingers,
he snapped it out.

“That leaves only four,” he mused, as he felt of the lucifers, “and I
haven’t got enough to spare. I can’t gain much by using them that way,
and so I guess I’ll hold on to these, and see whether the daylight is
going to help me.”

He picked his way carefully along until he was nearly beneath the
opening which had admitted him, where he sat down upon the dry, sandy
ground to await the light of the sun.

“I don’t suppose it will help much, for the bushes up there will keep
out pretty much of the sunlight that might have come through; but I
guess I’ll have plenty time to wait, and that’s what I’ll do.”

He fell into a sort of doze, lulled by the music of the cascade, which
lasted until the night was over. As soon as he awoke, he looked upward
to see how matters stood.

The additional light showed that the day had come, but it produced no
perceptible effect upon the interior of the cave. All was as dark--that
is, upon the bottom--as ever. It was only in the upper portion that
there was a faint lighting-up.

Fred could see the jagged edges of the opening, with some of the bushes
bent over, and seemingly ready to drop down, with the dirt and gravel
clinging to their roots. The opening was irregular, and some four or
five feet in extent, and, as near as he could estimate, was some thirty
feet above his head.

“If I happened to come down on a rock, I might have got hurt; but things
down here were fixed to catch me, and it begins to look as though they
were fixed to hold me, too.”

His situation was certainly very serious. He had no gun or weapons of
any kind other than a common jack-knife, and it looked very much as
if there was no way for him to get out the cave again without outside
assistance, of which the prospect was exceedingly remote.

He was hungry, and without the means of obtaining food.

The berries, which had acted so queerly with him the day before, were
beyond his reach.

Vegetation needs the sunlight, as do all of us, and it is useless to
expect anything edible below.

“Unless it’s fish,” thought Fred, aloud. “I’ve heard that they find them
in the Mammoth Cave without eyes, and there may be some of the same kind
here; but then I’m just the same as a boy without eyes, and how am I
going to find them?”

The more he reflected upon his situation, the more disheartened did he
become. He had been given many remarkable deliverances in the past few
days, and although his faith was strong that Providence would bring him
out of this last predicament, his heart misgave him as he considered it
in all its bearings.

“The best thing I can do is to try and gather some wood together, and
start a fire. If there is enough fuel, I may kindle a lantern that will
show me something in the way of a new door--Halloa! what is the matter?”

His attention was attracted by the rattling of gravel and dirt at
his side, and looking up, he saw that something was struggling in the
opening above, having been caught apparently in precisely the same
manner as he had been.

His first supposition was that it was a wild animal, but the next moment
he observed that it was a person, most probably an Apache warrior. And
by the time Fred had learned that much, down came his visitor.



CHAPTER XXVI. A WELCOME VISITOR

Lonely as Fred Munson felt in that dismal cavern, he preferred the
solitude to the companionship of an Apache Indian, and, fearful of
discovery, he crouched down to wait until he should move away. His
involuntary visitor dropped within a few feet of where he was hiding,
and Fred tried to hold his breath for fear he might be detected; but the
fellow quietly rose and gave expression to his sentiments.

“Begorrah, if I haven’t fell through into the cellar, as me grandmither
did when she danced down the whole party, and landed on the bottom, and
kept up the jig without a break, keep ing time with the one-eyed fiddler
above.”

Fred could scarcely believe the evidence of his own senses. That was the
voice of his old friend, Mickey O’Rooney, or else he was more mistaken
than he had ever been in his life. But whatever doubts might have
lingered with him were removed by the words that immediately followed.

“It beats the blazes where that young spalpeen can be kaping himself. Me
and Misther Simpson have been on the hunt for two days and more, and now
when I got on his trail, and found where he’d crawled into the bushes,
and I tried to do the same, I crawled into the biggest cellar in the
whole world, and I can’t find the stairs to walk out again---”

“Helloa, Mickey! Is that you, my old friend?” called out the overjoyed
lad, springing forward, throwing his arms about him, and breaking in
most effectually upon his meditations.

The Irishman was mystified for a moment, but he recognized the voice,
reached down, and placed his arms in turn about the lad.

“Begorrah, if this ain’t the greatest surprise of me life, as Mr.
O’Spangarkoghomagh remarked when I called and paid him a little balance
that I owed him. I’ve had a hard hunt for you, and had about guv you
up when I came down on you in this shtyle. Freddy, me boy, I crave the
privilege of axing ye a question.”

“Ask me a thousand, if you want,” replied the boy, dancing about with
delight.

“Are ye sure that it’s yoursilf and nobody else? I don’t want to make a
mistake that’ll cause me mortification, and ye must answer carefully.’’

“I’m sure it is I, Fred Munson.”

“Whoop! hurrah!” shouted Mickey, leaping several feet in the air, and,
as he came down, striking at once into the Tipperary jig.

The overjoyed fellow kept it up for several minutes, making the cold,
moist sand fly in every direction. He terminated the performance by a
higher leap than ever, and a regular Comanche war-whoop. Having vented
his overflowing spirits in this fashion, the Irishman was ready to come
down to something like more sober common sense. Reaching out, he took
the hand of Fred, saying as he did so:

“Let me kaap hold of your flipper, so that I can prevint your drifting
away. Now tell me, my laddy, how did you get here?”

“I come down the same way that you did.”

“Through the skylight up there? It’s a handy way of going down-stairs,
the only trouble being that it’s sometimes inconvanient to stop so
suddint like. Did n’t you obsarve the opening till you stepped into it?”

“I didn’t see it then. I was near it, asleep, and when I woke up in
the night I crawled in under the bushes to shelter myself, when I went
through into the cave. How was it you followed?”

“I was sarching for ye, as I’ve been doing for the last two days and
more. I obsarved the hole, for I had the daylight to help me, and I
crawled up to take a paap down to see who lived there, when I must have
gone too fur, as me uncle obsarved after he had been hung in a joke, and
the ground crumbled beneath me, and I slid in. But let me ax you again,
are ye much acquainted in these parts? You know I’m a stranger.”

“I never was here before. I’ve looked around all I can, but haven’t been
able to find how big the cave is. There’s a small waterfall, and the
stream comes in and goes out somewhere, and there is _one_ rent, at
least, so deep that I don’t believe it has any bottom. I’ve learned that
much, and that’s all.”

“That’s considerable for a laddy like you. Are you hungry?”

“You’d better believe I am.”

“Why had I better belave it?” asked Mickey, with an assumption of
gravity that it was impossible for him to feel. “If ye give me your word
of honor, I’ll belave you, because I’ve been hungry myself, and know how
it goes. I have some lunch wid me, and if ye don’t faal above ating with
common folks, we’ll sup together.”

“I am so glad,” responded Fred, who was indeed in need of something
substantial. “I feel weak and hollow.”

“Ye shall have your fill; take the word of an Irishman for that. Would
you like to smoke?”

“You know I never smoke, Mickey.”

“I did n’t ax ye that question, but if ye doesn’t feel inclined to do
the same, I’ll indulge myself a little.”

The speaker had been preparing his pipe and tobacco while they were
talking, and, as he uttered the last words, he twitched the match
against the bowl, and immediately began drawing at it.

As the volumes of smoke issuing from his mouth showed that the flame had
done its duty, he held the match aloft, and looked down in the smiling,
upturned face of the lad, scrutinizing the handsome countenance, as long
as the tiny bit of pine held out.

“Yes, it’s your own lovely self, as Barney McDougan’s wife obsarved,
when he came home drunk, with one eye punched out and his head cracked.
Do ye know that while I was surveying your swate face I saw something
behind ye?”

“No. What was it?” demanded Fred, with a start and shudder, looking back
in the darkness.

“Oh! it was nothing that will harm ye: I think there be some bits of
wood there that kin be availed of in the way of kindling a fire, and
that’s what I misses more than anything else, as me mither used to say
when she couldn’t find the whisky-bottle. Bestir yourself, me laddy, and
assist me in getting together some scraps.”

The Irishman was not mistaken in his supposition. Groping around, they
found quite a quantity of sticks and bits of wood. All of these were
dry, and the best kind of kindling stuff that could be obtained. Mickey
was never without his knife, and he whittled several of these until sure
they would take the flame from a match when he made the essay.

The fire caught readily, and, carefully nursed, it spread until it
roared and crackled like an old-fashioned camp-fire. As it rose higher
and higher, and the heavy gloom was penetrated and lit up by the
vivifying rays, Mickey and Fred used their eyes to the best of their
ability.

The cave seemed to stretch away into fathomless darkness in every
direction, excepting one, which was toward the waterfall or cascade.
This appeared to be at one side, instead of running through the centre.
The dark walls could be seen on the other side of the stream, and the
gleam and glitter of the water, for some distance both above and below
the plunge.

“Do you obsarve anything new?” asked Mickey.

“Nothing more than what I told you,” replied Fred, supposing he referred
to the extent of the cavern.

“I have larned something,” said the man, significantly.

“What’s that?”

“Somebody’s been here ahead of us.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’ve got the proof. Will you note that, right there before your eyes?”

As he spoke, he pointed to the kindling-wood, or fuel, of which they had
collected considerable, while there was plenty more visible around
them. Fred was not sure that he understood him, so he still looked
questioningly toward him.

“Wood doesn’t grow in such places as this, no more than ye can find
praties sprouting out of the side of a tea kettle; but then it might
have been pitched down the hole above, or got drifted into it without
anybody helping, if it wasn’t for the fact that there’s been a camp-fire
here before.”

“How do you make that out, Mickey?”

The Irishman stooped down and picked up one of the pieces of wood, which
was waiting to be thrown upon the camp fire. Holding it out, he showed
that the end was charred.

“That isn’t the only stick that’s built after the same shtyle, showing
that this isn’t the first camp-fire that was got up in these parts.
There’s been gintlemen here before to-day, and they must have had some
way of coming and going that we haven’t diskivered as yet.”

There seemed nothing unlikely in this supposition of Mickey’s, who
picked up his rifle from where he had left it lying on the ground, and
stared inquiringly around in the gloom.

“I wonder whether there be any wild animals prowling around?”

“I don’t think that could be; for there couldn’t many of them fall
through that hole that let us in, and if they did, they would soon die.”

“That minds me that you hinted something about feeling the cravings
of hunger, and I signified to you that I had something for ye about my
clothes; and so I have, if it isn’t lost.”

As he spoke, he drew from beneath his waistcoat a package, carefully
wrapped about with an ordinary newspaper. Gently drawing the covering
aside, he displayed a half-dozen pieces of deer-meat, cooked to a turn.

“Will ye take some?” he asked, handing one to Fred, who could scarcely
conceal his craving eagerness, as he began masticating it.

“How comes it that you have that by you?”

“I ginerally goes prepared for the most desprit emargencies, as me
mither used to remark when she stowed the whisky-bottle away wid the
lunch she was takin’ with her. It was about the middle of yisterday
afternoon that I fetched down a deer that was browsing on the bank of
a small stream that I raiched, and, as a matter of coorse, I made
my dinner on him. I tried to lay in enough stock to last me for a
week--that is, under my waistband--but I hadn’t the room; so I sliced up
several pieces, rather overcooked ‘em, so as to make ‘em handy to carry,
and then wrapped ‘em up in the paper.”

“It’s a common-sense arrangement,” added Mickey. “I had the time and
the chance to do it, and it was likely to happen that, when I wanted the
next meal, I wouldn’t have the same opportunity, remembering which I did
as I said, and the result is, I’ve brought _your_ dinner to you.”



CHAPTER XXVII. A SUBTERRANEAN CAMP-FIRE

There is no sauce like hunger, and after Fred Munson’s experience of
partial starvation, and nausea from the wild berries which he had eaten,
the venison was as luscious as could be. It seemed to him that he had
never tasted of anything he could compare to it.

“Fred, me laddy, tell me all that has happened to you since we met--not
that, aither, but since Lone Wolf snapped you up on his mustang, and ran
away wid you. I wasn’t about the city when the Apaches made their call,
being off on a hunt, as you will remember, so I didn’t see all the
sport, but I heard the same from Misther Simpson.”

Thus invited, the boy went over the narration, already known, giving the
full particulars of his adventures, from the morning he opened his eyes
and found himself in the camp of the Apaches in the mountains; to the
hour when he slipped through from the upper earth into the cave below.
Mickey listened with great interest, frequently interrupting and
expressing his surprise and gratitude at the good fortune which seemed
to succeed bad fortune in every case.

“You sometimes read of laddies like you gettin out of the claws of these
spalpeens, but you don’t often see it, though you’ve been lucky enough
to get out.”

“Now, Mickey, tell me how it was that you came to get on my track.”

“Well, you see, I got back to New Bosting shortly after the rumpus. I
would have been in time enough to have had a hand in the wind-up, if it
hadn’t been that I got into a little circus of my own. Me and a couple
of Apaches tried the game of cracking each other’s heads, that was spun
out longer than we meant, and so, as I was obsarving, when I rode into
town, the fun was all over. I found Misther Simpson just gettin’ ready
to take your trail, and he axed me to do the same, and I was mighty glad
to do it. I was desirous of bringing along your horse Hurricane, for you
to ride when we should get you, but Soot would n’t hear of it. He said
the horse would only be a bother, and if we should lay hands onto you,
either of our horses was strong enough to take you, so we left the
crature behind.”

“Did you have any trouble in following us?”

“Not at first; a hundred red spalpeens riding over the prairie can’t any
more hide their trail than an Irishman can save himself from cracking
a head when he is invited to do so. We galloped along, without ever
scarcely looking at the ground. You know I’ve larned something of the
perarie business since we came West, and that was the kind of trail I
could have follered wid both eyes shut and me hands handcuffed, and,
knowing as we naaded to hurry, we put our mustangs to their best paces.”

“How was it that you didn’t overtake us?”

“You had too much of a start; but when we struck the camp in the
mountains--that is, where Lone Wolf and his spalpeens took their
breakfast--we wasn’t a great way behind ‘em. We swung along at a good
pace, Soot trying to time ourselves so that we’d strike ‘em ‘bout dark,
when he ca’c’lated there’d be a good chance to work in on ‘em.”

“How was it you failed?’

“We’d worked that thing as nice as anything you ever heard tell on, if
Lone Wolf hadn’t played a trick on us. We had n’t gone far on the trail
among the mountains, when we found that the spalpeens had separated into
two parties--three in one, and something like a hundred in the other.”

“And you did not know which had charge of me?”

“There couldn’t be any sartinty about it, and the best we could do was
to make a guess. Soot got off his mustang and crawled round on his hands
and knees, running his fingers over the ground, and looking down as
careful like as me mither used to do with my head when she obsarved
me scratching it more industrious than usual. He did n’t say much, and
arter a time he came back to where his mustang was waitin’, and, leanin’
agin the beast, looked up in my face, and axed me which party I thought
you was in. I said the thray, of course, and that was the rason why they
had gone off by themselves.”

“You were right, then, of course.”

“Yes, and when I answered, Soot, he just laughed kind o’ soft like, and
said that that was the very rason why he did not believe you was with
the thray. He remarked that Lone Wolf was a mighty sharp old spalpeen.
He knowed that Soot would be coming on his trail, and he divided up his
party so as to bother him. Anybody would be apt to think just the same
as I did--that the boy would be sent to the Injun town in charge of the
little party, while the others went on to hatch up some deviltry. Lone
Wolf knowed enough to do that, and he had therefore kept the laddy with
the big company, meaning that his old friend, the scout, should go on a
fool’s errand.

“That’s the way Soot rasoned, you see, and that’s where he missed it
altogether. He wasn’t ready for both of us to take the one trail, so it
was agreed that we should also divide into two parties--he going after
the big company and I after the small one, he figuring out that, by so
doing, he would get all the heavy work to do, and I would n’t any, and
there is where he missed it bad. There wasn’t any way that we could fix
it so that we could come together again, so the understanding was that
each was to go on his own hook, and get back to New Bosting the best way
we could, and if there was n’t any New Bosting to go to, why, we was
to keep on till we reached Fort Severn, which, you know is about fifty
miles beyant.

“You understand, I was just as sartin’ that I was on your trail as Soot
was that he was gainin’ on ye; so we both worked our purtiest. I’ve been
studyin’ up this trailin’ business ever since we struck this side of
the Mississippi, and I’d calculated that I’d larned something ‘bout such
things. I belave I could hang to the tracks of them three horsemen till
I cotched up to ‘em, and nothing could throw me off; but it was n’t long
before I begun to get things mixed. The trail bothered me, and at last
I was stunned altogether. I begun to think that maybe Soot was right,
after all, and the best thing I could do was to turn round and cut for
home; but I kept the thing up till I struck a trail that led up into the
mountains, which I concluded was made by one of the spalpeens in toting
you off on his shoulders. That looked, too, as if the Ingin’ settlement
was somewhere not far off, and I begun to think ag’in that Soot was
wrong and I right. I kept the thing up till night, when I had n’t
diskivered the first sign, and not only that, but had lost the trail,
and gone astray myself.”

“Just as I did,” Fred observed.

“I pushed my mustang ahead,” Mickey continued, “and he seemed to climb
like a goat, but there was some places where I had to get off and help
him. I struck a spot yesterday where there was the best of water
and grass, and the place looked so inviting that I turned him loose,
intending to lave him to rist till to-day. While he was there, I thought
I might as well be taking observations around there, makin’ sartin’ to
not get out of sight of the hoss, so I shouldn’t get lost from him.”

“And is he near by?”

“Not more than a mile away. I was pokin” round like a thaif in a
pratie-patch, when I coom onto a small paice of soft airth, where,
as sure as the sun shines, I seed your footprint. I knowed it by its
smallness, and by the print of them odd-shaped nails in your heel. Well,
you see, that just set me wild. I knowed at once that by some hook or
crook you had give the spalpeens the slip, and was wandering round kind
of lost like mysilf. So I started on the tracks, and followed them,
till it got dark, as best I could, though they sometimes led me over the
rocks and hard earth, in such a way that I could only guess at ‘em. When
night came, I was pretty near this spot, but I was puzzled. I could n’t
tell where to look further, and I was afeared of gettin’ off altogether.
So I contented mesilf wid shtrayin’ here and there, and now and then
givin’ out the signal that you and me used to toot when we was off on
hunts together. When this morning arriv’, I struck signs agin, and at
last found that your track led toward these bushes, and thinks I to
myself, thinks I, you’d crawled in there to take a snooze, and I hove
ahead to wake you up, but I was too ambitious for me own good, as was
the case when I proposed to Bridget O’Flannigan, and found that she had
been already married to Tim McGubbins a twelvemonth, and had a pair
of twins to boast of. I own it wasn’t a dignified and graceful way of
coming down-stairs, but I was down before I made up my mind.”

“Well, Mickey, we are here, and the great thing now is to get out. Can
you tell any way?”

The Irishman took the matter very philosophically. It would seem that
any one who had dropped down from the outer world as had he, would feel
a trifle nervous; but he acted as if he had kindled his camp-fire on the
prairie, with the certainty that no enemy was within a hundred miles.

When he and his young friend had eaten all they needed, there was still
a goodly quantity left, which he folded up with as much care in the same
piece of paper as though it were a tiara of diamonds.

“We won’t throw that away just yet. It’s one of them things that may
come into use, as me mither used to say when she laid the brickbats
within aisy raich, and looked very knowingly at her old man.”

After the completion of the meal, man and boy occupied themselves for
some time in gathering fuel, for it was their purpose to keep the fire
going continually, so long as they remained in the cave--that is, if
the thing were possible. There was an immense quantity of wood; it had
probably been thrown in from above, as coal is shoveled into the mouth
of a furnace, and it must have been intended for the use of parties who
had been in the cave before.

When they had gathered sufficiently to last them for a good while,
Mickey lit his pipe, and they sat down by the fire to discuss the
situation. The temperature was comfortable, there being no need of the
flames to lessen the cold; but there was a certain tinge of dampness,
natural to such a location, that made the fire grateful, not alone for
its cheering, enlivening effect, but for its power in dissipating the
slight peculiarity alluded to.

Seated thus the better portion of an hour was occupied by them in
talking over the past and interchanging experiences, the substance of
which had already been given. They were thus engaged when Mickey, who
seemed to discover so much from specimens of the fuel which they had
gathered, picked up another stick, which was charred at one end, and
carefully scrutinized it, as though it contained an important sermon
intended for his benefit.



CHAPTER XXVIII. THE EXPLORING TOUR

After gently tossing the stick in his hand, like one who endeavors to
ascertain its weight, Mickey smelled of it, and finally bit his teeth
into it, with a very satisfactory result.

“Now, that’s what I call lucky, as the old miser obsarved when he found
he was going to save his dinner by dying in the forenoon. Do you
mind that shtick--big enough to sarve as a respictable shillalah at
Donnybrook Fair? Well, my laddy, that has done duty as a lantern in this
very place.”

“As a torch, you mean?”

“Precisely; just heft it.” As he tossed it into Fred’s hand, the latter
was astonished to note its weight.

“What’s the cause of that?” he inquired.

“It’s a piece of pine, and its chuck full of pitch. That’s why it’s so
heavy. It’ll burn like the biggest kind of a candle, and me plan, me
laddy, is to set that afire, and then start out to larn something about
this new house.”

Nothing could have suited the boy better. He sprang to his feet and took
the gun from Mickey, so as to leave him free to carry the torch. One end
of the latter was thrust into the fire, and it caught as readily as if
it were smeared with alcohol. It was a bit of pine, as fat as it could
be, and, as a torch, could not have been improved upon.

Then Mickey elevated it above his head, it gave forth a long yellow
smoke blaze, which answered admirably the purpose for which it was
required.

“I’ll take the lead,” said he to his young friend, when they were ready
to start. “You follow a few yards behind and look as sharp as you can
to find out all there is to be found out. You know there is much that
depends on this.”

There was no possibility of Fred failing to use all his senses to the
utmost, and he told his friend to go ahead and do the same.

Mickey first headed toward the cascade, as he had some hope of learning
something in that direction. Reaching the base of the falls, they paused
a while to contemplate them. There was nothing noteworthy about them,
except their location underneath the ground.

The water fell with such a gentle sound that the two were able to
converse in ordinary tones when standing directly at the base. Both
knelt down and tasted the cool and refreshing element, and then Mickey,
torch in hand, led the way up stream again.

Through this world of gloom the two made their way with considerable
care. Mickey cherished a lingering suspicion that there might be some
one else in the cave besides themselves, in which case he and Fred would
offer the best target possible; but he was willing to incur the risk,
and, although he moved slowly, it was with a decision to see the thing
through, and learn all that was to be learned about the cave. The stream
was followed about a hundred yards above the falls, when the explorers
reached the point where it entered the cave, and the two made the
closest examination possible.

On the way to the point the two had acquired considerable information.
The roof of their underground residence had a varying height from the
floor of from twenty to fifty feet. The floor itself was regular, but
not sufficiently so to prevent their walking over it with comparative
ease. The stream was only five or six feet in width and wherever
examined was found to be quite shallow. It flowed at a moderate rate,
and it entered the cavern from beneath a rock that ascended continuously
from the floor to the roof.

“Freddy, my laddy; do you take this torch and walk off aways, so that it
will be dark here,” said Mickey to his companion.

The latter obeyed, and the man made as critical an examination as he
could. His object was to learn whether the water came into the cave
from the outer world, or whether its source was beneath the rock. If the
former, there was possibly a way out by means of the stream, provided
the distance intervening was not too great. Mickey thought that if this
distance were passable, there would be some glimmer of light to indicate
it. But, when left alone in the darkness, he found that there was not
the slightest approach to anything of the kind, and he was compelled
to acknowledge that all escape by that direction was utterly out of the
question.

Accordingly, he called Fred to him, and they began the descent of the
stream. When they reached the falls, they paused below them, and Micky
held the torch close to the water, where it was quiet enough for them to
observe the bottom.

“Tell me whether ye can see anything resimbling fishes?”

The lad peered into the water a minute, and them caught a flash of
silver several times.

“Yes, there’s plenty of them!” he exclaimed, as the number increased,
and they shot forward from every direction, drawn to the one point by
the glare of the torch. “There’s enough fish for us, if we can only find
some way to get them out.”

“That’s the rub,” said Mickey, scratching his head in perplexity. “I
don’t notice any fishlines and hooks about here. Howsumever, we can wait
awhile, being as our venizon isn’t all gone, and we’ll look down stream,
for there’s where our main chance must be.”

The Irishman, somehow or other, had formed the idea that the outlet of
the water would show them a way of getting out of the cavern. Despite
his careless and indifferent disposition, he showed considerable
anxiety, as he led the way along the bank, holding the smoking torch
far above his head, and lighting up the gloom and darkness for a long
distance on every hand.

“When your eye rists on anything interesting, call me attention to the
same,” he cautioned him.

“I’ll be sure to do that,” replied Fred, who let nothing escape him.

The scenery was gloomy and oppressive, but acquired a certain monotony
as they advanced. The dark water, throwing back the light of the torch;
the towering, massive rocks overhead and on every hand; the jagged,
irregular roof and floor--these were the characteristics of the scene
which was continually opening before and closing behind them. In several
places the brook spread out into a slowly flowing pond of fifty or a
hundred feet in width; but it maintained its progress all the time.

At no point which they examined did the depth of the water appear
greater than three feet, while in most places it was less than that. It
preserved its crystal-like clearness at all times, and in all respects
was a beautiful stream.

When they had advanced a hundred yards or so, the camp-fire which they
had left behind them took on a strange and unnatural appearance. It
seemed far away and burned with a pale yellow glare that would
have seemed supernatural, had it been contemplated by any one of a
superstitious turn.

As near as Mickey could estimate, they had gone over a hundred and fifty
yards when the point was reached where the stream gathered itself and
passed from view. Its width was no greater than four feet, while its
rapidity was correspondingly increased.

After Mickey had contemplated it awhile by the light of the torch, he
handed the latter to Fred, and told him to go off so far that he would
be left in total darkness. This being done, the man set to work to study
out the problem before him.

His theory was that, if the passage of the stream from the cavern to the
outside world were brief, the evidence of it could be seen, perhaps, in
the faintest tinge of light in the water, The sun was shining brightly
on the outside, and unless the stream flowed quite a distance under
ground, a portion of the refracted light would reach his eye.

Mickey peered at the base of the rock for a few minutes, and then
exclaimed, with considerable excitement:

“Be the powers! but it’s there!”

It was dim and faint, as light is sometimes seen through a translucent
substance, but he saw it so plainly that there could be no error. When
he looked aloft at the impenetrable gloom, he was sensible of the same
dim light upon the water. He tested his accuracy of vision by looking in
different directions, but the result was the same every time.

The almost invisible illumination being there, the Irishman wanted no
philosopher to tell him that it was the sun striking the water as it
reached the outside, and the outer world, which he was so desirous of
re-entering, was close at hand.

Mickey was in high glee at the discovery, but when he regained his
mental poise, he could not shut his eyes to the fact that if he
attempted to reach the outer world by means of the stream, he ran a
terrible risk of losing his life. There was no vacancy between the
water and the stone which shut down upon it. The outlet was like an open
faucet to a full barrel. The escaping fluid filled up all the space at
command.

No one can live long without air. A few seconds of suspended respiration
is fatal to the strongest swimmer. If the distance traveled by Mickey,
when he should attempt to dive or float through to the outer world,
should prove a trifle too long, the stream would cast out a dead man
instead of a live one.

But he was a person of thorough grit, and before he would consent to see
himself and Fred imprisoned in this cavern, he would make the attempt,
perilous as it was.

Was there no other way of escape? Was there not some opening which had
been used by those who had entered this cave ahead of him? Or was it
possible that the imprisoning walls were to thin and shell-like in some
places that there was a means of forcing their way out? Or was there no
plan of climbing up the side of the prison and reaching an opening in
the roof, through which they could clamber to safety?

These and other thoughts were surging through the mind of Mickey
O’Rooney, when an exclamation from Fred caused him to turn his head. The
boy was running toward him, apparently in great excitement.

“What’s the matter, me laddy?” asked Mickey, cocking his rifle, which
he had taken from him at the time of handing him the torch. “Oh, Mickey,
Mickey! I saw a man just now!”



CHAPTER XXIX. A MYSTERY

O’Rooney stood with rifle grasped, while young Munson ran toward him
from the centre of the cave, exclaiming in his excited tones:

“There’s another man back yonder! I saw him and spoke to him!”

“Did ye ax him anything, and did he make a sensible reply?” demanded the
Irishman, whose concern was by no means equal to that of the lad.

“He made no answer at all, nor did he seem to take any notice of me.”

“Maybe it’s a ghost walking round the cave, on the same errand as
meself. But whist now; where is he, that I may go and ax him the state
of his health?”

The lad turned to lead the way, while Mickey followed close at his
heels, his gun ready to be used at an instant’s warning, while Fred kept
glancing over his shoulder, to make sure that his friend was not falling
too far in the rear.

It seemed that, while the man was engaged in his exploration, the lad
had ventured upon a little prowling expedition of his own. During this
he made the startling discovery that some one else was in the cave, and
he dashed off at once: to notify his friend and guide.

Fred walked some distance further, still holding the torch above his
head and peering into the gloom ahead and on either hand, as though in
doubt as to whether he was on the right track or not. All at once he
stopped with a start of surprise, and, pointing some distance ahead and
upon the ground, said:

“There he is!”

Following the direction indicated, Mickey saw the figure of a man
stretched out upon the ground, face downward, as though asleep.

“You ain’t afeard of a dead spalpeen?” demanded Mickey, with a laugh.
“You might have knowed from his shtyle that he’s as dead as poor
Thompson was when Lone Wolf made a call on him.”

“How do you know he’s dead?” asked Fred, whose terror was not lessened
by the word of his friend.

“‘Cause he couldn’t have stretched out that way, and kept it up all
the time we’ve been fooling round here. If ye entertain any doubt, I’ll
prove it. Let me have your torch.”

Taking it from the lad’s trembling hand, he walked to the figure,
stooped down, and, taking it by the shoulder, turned it over upon
its back. The result was rather startling even to such a brave man
as Mickey. It was not a dead man which the two looked down upon, but
practically a skeleton--the remains of an individual, who, perhaps, had
been dead for years. Some strange property of the air had dessicated
the flesh, leaving the face bare and staring, while the garments seemed
scarcely the worse for their long exposure.

Another noticeable feature was the fact that the clothing of the remains
showed that not only was he a white man, but also that he was not a
hunter or frontier character, such as were about the only ones found in
that section of the country. The coat, vest, and trousers were of fine
dark cloth, and the boots were of thin, superior leather. The cap was
gone. It was just such a dress as is encountered every day in our public
streets.

Mickey O’Rooney contemplated the figure for a time in silence. He was
surprised and puzzled. Where could this person have come from? There
was nothing about his dress to show that he belonged to the military
service, else it might have been supposed that he was some officer who
had wandered away from his post, and had been caught in the same fashion
as had the man and boy.

“Are there any more around here?” asked Mickey, in a subdued tone,
peering off into the gloom.

Fred passed slowly round in a circle, gradually widening out, until he
had passed over quite an area, but without discovering anything further.

“There isn’t any one else near us. If there is, he is in some other part
of the cave.”

“How came ye to find this fellow?”

“I was walking along, never thinking of anything of the kind, when I
came near stepping upon the body. I was never more scared in my life.”

“That’s the way wid some of yees--ye’re more affrighted at a dead man
than a live one. Let’s see whether he has left anything that ye can
identify him by.”

Upon examining further, a silver-mounted revolver was found beneath
the body. It was untarnished, and seemingly as good as the day it was
completed. When Mickey came to look at it more closely, he found that
only one barrel had been discharged, all the others being loaded.

This fact aroused a suspicion, and, looking again at the head, a round
hole, such as would have been made only by a bullet, was found in the
very centre of the forehead. There could be but little doubt, then, that
this man, whoever he was, had wandered about the cavern until famished,
and, despairing of any escape, had deliberately sent himself out of the
world by means of the weapon at his command. But who was he?

Laying the handsome pistol aside, Mickey continued the search, anxious
to find something that would throw light upon the history of the man.
It was probable that he had a rifle--but it was not to be found, and,
perhaps, had vanished, as had that of Fred Munson. It was more likely
that something would be found in his pockets that would throw some light
upon the question; and the Irishman, having undertaken the job, went
through it to the end.

It was not the pleasantest occupation in the world to ransack the
clothing of a skeleton, and he who was doing it could not help
reflecting as he did so that it looked very much like a desecration and
a robbing of the dead. To his great disappointment, however, he failed
to discover anything which would give the slightest clue. It looked as
if the man had purposely destroyed all such articles before destroying
himself, and, after a thorough search, Mickey was compelled to give up
the hunt.

Five chambers of the revolver, as has been said, were still loaded, and,
after replacing the caps, the new owner was confident they were good for
that number of shots.

“Here,” said he, handing the weapon to the boy; “your rifle is gone, and
you may as well take charge of this. It may come as handy as a shillelah
in a scrimmage, so ye does hold on to the same.”

Fred took it rather gingerly, for he did not fancy the idea of going
off with property taken from a dead man, but he suffered his friend to
pursuade him, and the arrangement was made.

In the belief that there might be others somewhere around, Mickey spent
an hour or two longer in an exploration of the cave, with the single
purpose of looking for bodies. They approached the ravine in which Fred
had dropped his gun. The Irishman leaped across, torch in hand, and
prosecuted his search along that side; but they were compelled to
give over after a time and conclude that only a single individual had
preceded them in the cave.

“Where he came from must iver remain a mystery,” said Mickey. “He hasn’t
been the kind of chaps you find in this part of the world; but whoever
he was, it must have been his luck to drop through the skylight, just
as we did. He must have found the wood here and kindled a fire. Then
he wint tramping round, looking for some place to find his way out, and
kept it up till he made up his mind it was no use Then he acted like
a gintleman who prefarred to be shot to starving, and, finding nobody
around to ‘tend to the business, done it himself.”

“Can’t we bury him, Mickey?”

“He’s buried already.”

The Irishman meant nothing especial in his reply, but there was a deep
significance about it which sent a shudder through his hearer from head
to foot. Yes, the stranger was buried, and in the same grave with him
were Mickey O’Rooney and Fred Munson.

The speaker saw the effect his words had produced, and attempted to
remove their sting.

“It looks very much to me as if the man had n’t done anything but
thramp, thramp, without thrying any way of getting out, and then had
keeled over and give up.”

“What could he do, Mickey?”

“Could n’t he have jumped into the stream, and made a dive? He stood a
chance of coming up outside, and if he had n’t, he would have been as
well off as he is now.”

“Is that what _you_ mean to do?”

“I will, before I’d give up as he did; but it’s meself that thinks
there’s some other way of finding our way. Bring me gun along, and come
with me!”

Mickey carried the torch, because he wished to use it himself. He led
the way back to where the stream disappeared from view, and there he
made another careful examination, his purpose being different from what
it had been in the first place. He stooped over and peered at the dark
walls, noting the width of the stream and the contour of the bank, as
well as the level of the land on the right. Evidently he had some scheme
which he was considering.

He said nothing, but spent fully a half hour in his self-imposed task,
during which Fred stood in the background, trying to make out what he
was driving at. He saw that Mickey was so intently occupied that he
was scarcely conscious of the presence of any one else, and he did
not attempt to disturb him. Suddenly the Celt roused himself from his
abstraction, and, turning to the expectant lad, abruptly asked:

“Do you know, me laddy, that it is dinner-time?”

“I feel as though it was, but we have no means of judging the time,
being as neither of us carries a watch.”

“Come on,” added the Irishman, leading in the direction of the
camp-fire. “I’m sorry I didn’t bring my watch wid me, but the trouble
was, I was afeard that it might tire out my horse, for it was of goodly
size. The last time it got out of order, it took a blacksmith in the
owld country nearly a week to mend it. It was rather large, but it would
have been handy. Whenever we wanted to cook anything, we could have used
the case for a stew-pan, or we could have b’iled eggs in the same, and
when we started our hotel at New Boston, it would have done for a gong.
It was rather tiresome to wind up nights, as the key didn’t give you
much leverage, and if your hold happened to slip, you was likely to fall
down and hurt yersilf. But here we are, as Jimmy O’Donovan said when he
j’ined his father and mother in jail.”



CHAPTER XXX. DISCUSSIONS AND PLANS

When they reached the camp-fire, it had burned so low that they threw on
considerable more wood before sitting down to their lunch. As it flamed
up and the cheerful light forced the oppressive gloom back from around
them, both felt a corresponding rise in spirits.

“It was lucky that I brought along that maat,” remarked Mickey, as he
produced the venison, already cooked and prepared for the palate. “It’s
a custom that Mr. Soot Simpson showed me, and I like it very much. You
note that the maat would be a great deal better if we had some salt and
pepper, or if we could keep it a few days till it got tender; but, as it
is, I think we’ll worry it down.”

“It seems to me that I never tasted anything better,” responded Fred,
“but that, I suppose, is because I become so hungry before tasting it.”

“Yees are right. If ye want to know how good a cup of water can taste,
go two days without drinking; or if ye want to enjoy a good night’s
rest, sit up for two nights, and so, if ye want to enjoy a nice maal of
victuals, ye must fast for a day or two. Now, I don’t naad any fasting,
for I always enjoyed ating from the first pratie they giv me to suck
when I was a few waaks old.”

“Well, Mickey, you’ve been pretty well around the cave, and I want to
know what you think of our chance of getting out?”

The face of the Irishman became serious, and he looked thoughtfully
into the fire a moment before answering. Disposed as he was to view
everything from the sunshiny side, Mickey was not such a simpleton as to
consider their incarceration in the cave a matter that could be
passed off with a quirp and jest. He had explored the interior pretty
thoroughly, and gained a correct idea of their situation, but as yet he
saw no practical way of getting out. The plan of diving down the stream,
and trusting to Providence to come up on the outside was to be the last
resort.

Mickey did not propose to undertake it until convinced that no other
scheme was open to him. In going about the cave, he struck the walls in
the hope of finding some weak place, but they all gave forth that dead
sound which would have been heard had they been backed up by fifty feet
of solid granite. Among the many schemes that he had turned over in
his mind, none gave as little promise as this, and he dismissed it as
utterly impracticable.

He could conjure no way of reaching that opening above their heads. He
could not look up at that irregular, jagged opening without thinking how
easy it would be to rescue them, if they could make their presence known
to some one outside. There was Sut Simpson, who must have learned that
he had gone upon the wrong trail, and who had, therefore, turned back to
the assistance of his former comrade.

The latter knew him to be a veteran of the prairie, one who could read
signs that to others were like a sealed book, and whose long years of
adventure with the tribes of the Southwest had taught him all their
tricks; but whether he would be likely to follow the two, and to
understand their predicament, was a question which Mickey could not
answer with much encouragement to himself. Still there was a possibility
of its being done, and now and then the Irishman caught himself looking
up at the “skylight,” with a longing, half-expectant gaze.

There were several other schemes which he was turning over in his mind,
none of which, however, had taken definite shape, and, not wishing to
discourage his young friend, he answered his question as best he could.

“Well, my laddy, we’re going to have a hard time to get out, but I think
we’ll do it.”

“But can you tell me how?”

Mickey scratched his head in his perplexed way, hardly feeling competent
to come down to particulars.

“I can’t, exactly; I’ve a good many plans I’m turning over in my head,
and some of them are very fine and grand, and its hard to pick out the
right one.”

Fred felt that he would like to hear what some of them were, but he did
not urge his friend, for he suspected that the fellow was trying to keep
their courage up.

They had finished their meal, and were sitting upon the sandy soil,
discussing the situation and throwing an occasional longing look at the
opening above. They had taken care to avoid getting directly beneath it;
for they had no wish to have man or animal tumble down upon their heads.
Now and then some of the gravel loosened and rattled down, and the clear
light that made its way through the overhanging bushes showed that the
sun was still shining, and, no doubt, several hours still remained
to them in which to do any work that might present itself. But,
unfortunately, nothing remained to do.

Whatever were the different schemes which Mickey was turning over in his
mind, none of them was ripe enough to experiment with. As the Irishman
thought of this and that, he decided to make no special effort until the
morrow. He and Fred could remain where they were without inconvenience
for a day or two longer, but it was necessary, too, that they should
have their full strength of body and mind when the time should come to
work.

“Sometimes when I git into a sore puzzle,” said Mickey, “and so many
beautiful and irritating plans come up before me that I cannot find
it in my heart which way to decide, I goes to slape and drames me way
through it, right straight into the right way.”

“Did you ever find your path out of trouble?” inquired Fred.

“Very frequently--that is, not to say so frequently--but on one or
two important occasions. I mind the time when I was coorting Bridget
O’Flaherty and Mollie McFizzle, in the ould counthry. Both of ‘em was
fine gals, and the trouble was for me to decide which was the best as a
helpmate to meself.

“Bridget had red hair and beautiful freckles and a turn-up nose, and she
was so fond of going round without shoes that her feet spread out like
boards; Molly was just as handsome, but her beauty was of another style.
She had very little hair upon her pad, and a little love-pat she had
wid an old beau of hers caused a broken nose, which made her countenance
quite picturesque. She was also cross-eyed, and when she cocked one eye
down at me, while she kept a watch on the door wid the other, there was
a loveliness about her which is not often saan in the famale form.”

“And you could n’t decide which of these would make you the best wife?”

“Nary a once. The attraction of both was nearly equal.”

“But how about their housekeeping? I’ve often heard father tell what a
splendid housekeeper mother was, and how he would rather have his wife a
good housekeeper than beautiful.”

“But the trouble was, I had both. I’ve described you the charms and
grace of each, and when I add that both were elegant housekeepers, ye’ll
admit that my dilemma was greater than ever. They both handled the broom
to perfection; they could knock a chap clane across the cabin and out of
the window before ye could know what was coming. Me mither used to say
it was the housekeeping qualities that should decide, and she told me to
call upon ‘em sometime when they was n’t expecting me, and obsarve the
manner in which they handled things. Wal, Bridget was the first one that
I sneaked in upon. I heard a thumping noise as I drew near, as though
something was tumbling about the floor, and when I peeped through the
door, I saw that Bridget and her mother was having a delightful love-pat.
They was banging and whaling each other round the room, and, as the old
lady had her muscle well up, it was hard to tell which was coming out
ahead. Of course, my sympathies were with the lovely Bridget, and I
was desirous that she should win--but I didn’t consider it my duty to
interfere. I supposed the old lady had been trying to impose too much
work on Bridget, and, therefore, she had rebelled, and was lambasting
her for the same. My interest in the little affair was so great, that
I pushed the door ajar, and stood with me mouth and eyes wide open.
It wasn’t long before I began to get worried, for, from the way things
looked, the owld lady was getting the upper hand. I was thinking I would
have to sail in and lend a helping hand, when Bridget fotched the old
lady a whack that made her throw up the sponge. Wid that I felt so proud
that I sung out a word of encouragement, and rushed forward to embrace
my angel, but, before I could do so, she give me a swipe that sent me
backward through the door, busting it off, and I was out of the ring.

“The interview was very satisfactory,” continued Mickey, “and I wint
over to take a sly paap at Molly. As I drawed near the little hut on
the edge of the wood, I did n’t hear any such noise as I noticed over
at Bridget’s house. All was as still as it is here this minute. Me first
thought was that they all had gone away, but when I got nearer, I noted
my mistake. Molly’s mother was busy sewing, and sitting near her was her
charming daughter Molly, leaning back in her chair, with her head thrown
still further back, her mouth wide open, and she a-snoring. I’ve no
doubt that she had become exhausted from overwork, and was taking a
little nap. The mother looked up as I stepped softly in, and I axed
her, in an undertone, how long her pet child had been asleep. She said
between two or three hours, and that she would wake her up, if Molly
hadn’t told her before closing her eyes that if she dared to disturb her
before her nap was finished, she’d break the old lady’s head. Knowing
the delicate relations that existed betwaan us, she suggested that I
should arouse her, she being afraid that she would sleep so long that
she would starve to death before she awoke. I wanted to come at the
matter gintly, so I took a straw and tickled Molly’s nose. She snorted
a little, and rubbed it with her fist, but didn’t open her eyes. I’d
undertook the job, however, and I was bound to do it, or die. So I
wiggled at her nostrils, and she made a yell and a jump, and was wide
awake. I don’t mind me all that took place just then. Things was kind of
confused, and, when Molly lit on me, I thought the cabin had tumbled in.
My senses came back arter a while, and when I got my head bandaged up, I
wint home to dream over it.”

“And what was your dream?” asked Fred.

“In my slumbers, I saw both my loves going for each other like a couple
of Kilkenny cats, until there was nothing of aither lift. I took that as
a sign that naither of ‘em was interested for me, and so I give them up,
sneaking off and sailing for Ameriky before they learned my intintions.”



CHAPTER XXXI. AN EXCHANGE OF SHOTS

Mickey proposed to act upon his own suggestion, which was to go to sleep
as soon as the day ended and discuss the many different plans during his
slumbers. He had a strong hope that the right one could be hit upon by
this method. Somehow or other, his thoughts were fixed upon the
stream, where it disappeared under the rocks, and, leaving Fred by the
camp-fire, he relit his torch and went off to make another survey.

The lad watched the star-like point of light flickering in the gloom as
his friend moved along, holding the torch over his head. It seemed to
the watcher that when it paused they were separated by nearly a half
mile. The light had an odd way of vanishing and remaining invisible for
several minutes that made him think that some accident had befallen the
bearer, or that the light had gone out altogether; but after a time it
would reappear, dancing about in a way to show that the bearer was not
idle in his researches.

Mickey O’Rooney was indeed active. After making his way to the point he
was seeking, he shied off to the right, and approached the chasm, down
which Fred had lost his rifle. As he stood on the edge of the rent in
the fathomless darkness, he loosened a boulder with his foot, and as
it toppled over, listened for the result. The way was so narrow that it
bounded like a ball from side to side, and the Irishman heard it as
it went lower and lower, until at last the strained ear could detect
nothing more. There was no sound that came to him to show that it had
reached the bottom.

“I s’pose it’s going yet,” reflected Mickey, after listening several
minutes, “and no doubt it will kaap on till it comes out somewhere in
Chiny, which I’ve been told is on t’other side of the world. Now, why
could n’t we do the same?” he asked himself, with a sharp turn of the
voice. “If that stone is on its way to Chiny, why can’t we folly on
after it? If we can’t reach the crust of the world at this point, what’s
to hinder our going round by Chiny?--that’s what I’d like to know.
I wonder how long it would take us? I s’pose we’d get up pretty good
steam, and go faster and faster, so that we wouldn’t be many days on the
road.

“But there’s one great objection,” he added, scratching his head
and knitting his brow with thought. “There’s nothing to stop us from
bouncing from side to side like that stone. If the way is rough, we’d be
pretty sartin to get our breeches pretty well ripped off us, and by the
time we raiched Chiny, we wouldn’t be in a condition to be presented in
coort; and then, too, I haven’t enough money about me to pay my way home
again.”

The visionary scheme was one of those which grew less in favor the
more he reflected upon it, and, after turning it over for some minutes
longer, he was naturally compelled to abandon the idea.

“I must try the stream agin,” he said, as he rose to his feet and groped
his way back. “That seems to be the best door, after all, though it
ain’t the kind I hanker after.”

He thrust one end of the torch in the ground some distance away, and
walked to the bank close to the great rock beneath which the stream
dove and disappeared. Stooping down, he observed the same dull, white
appearance that had caught his eye in the first place. Beyond question
this was caused by the sunlight striking the water from the outside.

“I could almost swear that a feller wouldn’t have to go more than twenty
feet before he’d strike daylight,” mused Mickey, as he folded his arms
and looked thoughtfully at the misty relief of the surrounding darkness;
“and it would n’t take much more to persuade me to make the dive and try
it.”

As Mickey stood there, contemplating as best he could the darkly flowing
stream, and debating the matter with himself, he was on the very eve of
making the attempt fully half a dozen times. It seemed to him that he
could not fail, and yet there was something in the project which held
him back.

The stream at that point flowed quite rapidly, and the strongest
swimmer, after venturing a few feet under water, would be utterly unable
to return. Once started, there would be no turning back, so he concluded
not to make the decisive trial just yet.

“The day is pretty nearly ended, and I will drame over it. I told me
laddy that that was my favorite way of getting out of such a scrape, and
I’ll thry it. If there’s no plan that presints itself by to-morrow, then
I’ll thry it then or the day after.”

Going to where his torch was still burning in the sand, he drew it out
and moved back toward his old camp-fire.

“Well, me laddy, how have you made out during me absince? Have you---”

He paused and looked about him.

“Begorrah, but no laddy is here. Can it be that he has strayed off,
and started to Chiny so as to head me off? I say! Fred, me laddy, have
ye---”

“Sh! sh!”

And as the hurried aspirate was uttered, the boy came running silently
out of the darkness, with his hand raised in a warning way.

“What is it?” asked Mickey, in amazement; “have ye found another dead
man?”

“No; he’s a live one!”

“What do yez mane? Explain yerself.”

The lad pointed to the opening over their heads, and motioned to his
friend not to draw too near the camp-fire. There was danger in doing so.

“There’s somebody up there,” he added, “and they’re looking for us.”

“Are ye sure of that?” asked the Irishman, not a little excited at the
news. “It may be that Soot Simpson has found us. Begorrah, if there is
n’t any mistake about it, as me uncle remarked, when he heard that the
ship with his wife on was lost at saa, then I’ll execute the Donnybrook
jig in the highest style of the art. What was it that aroused your
suspicion that some jintleman was onmannerly enough to be paaping down
on us?”

“I was sitting here watching you, or rather your torch, and all the time
the gravel kept rattling down faster and faster, till I knowed there was
something more than usual going on up there, and I sneaked away from the
fire, where I could get a better look. I went right under the place, and
was about to see something worth seeing, when some dirt dropped plump
into my eye, and I couldn’t see anything for a while. After I had rubbed
the grit out I took another look, and I know I saw something moving up
there.”

“What did it look like?” asked Mickey, who was moving cautiously around,
with his gaze fixed upon the same opening.

“I couldn’t tell, though I tried hard to get a glimpse. It seemed to me
that some one had a stick in his hand, and was beating around the edges
of the opening, as though he wanted to knock the loose dirt off. I could
see the stick flirted about, and fancied I could see the hand that was
holding it, though I could n’t be certain of that.”

“No; that’s a leetle too much, as me mither obsarved, when me brother
Tim said that he and meself had got along a whole half day without
fighting, and then she whaled us both for lying. Ye couldn’t tell a
man’s hand at that distance, but I see nothing of him, and I should like
ye to tell me where he’s gone.”

“That is what puzzles me. Maybe he is afraid that we will see him.”

Mickey was hardly disposed to accept such an explanation. It seemed to
him more likely that it was some wild animal mousing around the orifice,
and displacing the dirt with his paws, although he couldn’t understand
why an animal should be attracted by such a spot.

“It may be one of the spalpeens that got us into all this trouble,”
 he added, still circling slowly about, with his eyes fixed upon the
opening. “Those Apaches are sharp-eyed, and perhaps one of their
warriors has struck our trail, and tracked us to that spot. If it’s the
same, then I does n’t see what he is to gain by fooling round up there.
If he’d be kind ‘nough to let a lasso down that we could climb up by,
there’d be some sinse in the same, but---”

To the horror of both, at that instant there was a flash at the opening
over their heads, a dull report, and the bullet buried itself in the
very centre of the camp-fire.

“Begorrah, but that’s what I call cheek, as Ned McGowan used to say when
the folks axed him to pay his debts. While we are looking about, and
axing ourselves whether there’s anybody else at all around us, one of
the spalpeens sinds his bullet down here, coming closer to us than is
plaisant. Did ye obsarve him?”

“I saw nothing but the flash. Do you think they could see us?”

“Not where we are now. We’re too far away from the light. They’ve seen
the fire, and by that token they’ve concluded that we must be somewhere
near it.”

“But there was but one shot. Why not more?”

“We’ll get the rest of thern arter awhile. That’s a sort of faaler,
thrown out to see how we take it, as Larry O’Looligan used to say when
he knocked a man down. Now, do ye stand aside, and I’ll answer ‘em.”

“You’d better not,” protested Fred. “They can tell where we are by the
flash of our guns.”

“Whisht, now, can’t we move? Kape back in the dark like.”

The lad moved away several steps, and Mickey, who made sure that his
form was not revealed by the light of his own camp-fire, circled around
to the other side of the opening, which he was watching with the keenest
interest. His purpose was to catch a glimpse of the wretch who had fired
the shot. But that seemed about impossible. He could detect something
moving now and then, and once or twice there was a twinkle of something
red, like the eagle feather in the hair of the warrior, but he could
make out nothing definitely.

“He’s there; and all I want to do is to be certain of hitting him,” he
muttered, as he held the cocked rifle to his shoulder. “I’m afeard that
if I miss he’ll take such good care of himself that I won’t get another
chance---”

“There, Mickey, there’s something,” broke in Fred, who was scrutinizing
the opening as closely as he could. “Fire, quick! or you won’t get the
chance!”

The words were scarcely uttered, when the Irishman, who had already
taken aim, pulled the trigger, instantly lowering his piece to watch the
result.

Both he and Fred fancied they heard an exclamation, but they could not
be certain. There was no perceptible commotion about the skylight, but
the flickering, erratic movement which had puzzled them ceased on the
instant. Whether the shot had accomplished anything or not could only be
conjectured, but Mickey was of the opinion that the exchange was equally
without result in both cases.



CHAPTER XXXII. FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARKNESS

The direct result of this exchange of shots was to make the two parties
more cautious. Mickey and Fred kept further away from the camp-fire,
which they suffered to die out gradually. There was really no need
fot it, and, since its presence meant danger, it was only prudent to
dispense with it altogether.

For fully a half hour not the slightest movement or disturbance at the
opening betrayed the presence of any one there, although there could be
no doubt that their enemies were within call.

“I can’t see what they can gain by loafing around them parts, as the
lassies used to obsarve in the ould country when any of the laddies
tried to cut me out wid ‘em. They need n’t watch for us to come out
that way, for there ain’t much danger of our trying to steal out of that
hole---”

“Holloa! Look there!” exclaimed Fred, in considerable excitement; “some
of them are coming down to catch us.”

Mickey had already noticed that something unusual was up, and, just
as the lad spoke, the figure of what seemed to be a man blocked up the
opening, and then began slowly descending, as if supported by a rope,
with which his friends were lowering him into the lower room. His form
was swathed with a blanket, and there was a certain majesty in the
slowly sinking figure, which would have been very impressive but for
the fact that it was hardly started when the thin cord by which it
was suspended began to twist and untwist, causing the form to revolve
forward and backward in a way that was fatal to dignity.

On the impulse of the moment, the Irishman had raised his gun to fire
the moment his eyes rested upon the figure. But he restrained himself,
not a little puzzled to guess the meaning of such a proceeding. The man,
as they believed him to be, was slowly lowered, until something like a
dozen feet below the opening, where those who had him in charge seemed
to think was the proper place to hold him on exhibition for a time.

“Are you going to shoot?” asked the boy, who did not understand the
delay.

“What’s the use?” he asked, with an expression of disgust.

“Why, it will stop the man coming down on us.”

“Man, do ye say? He ain’t any more a man than me gun is.”

“What, then, can he be?”

“He’s a blanket that they’ve twisted up so as to look as though it is
gathered about the shoulders of an Apache. It’s easy to see that there’s
nothing in it from the way it swings around, as though it was a little
toy; and, be the same token, that little cord which holds him aloft is
no thicker than a darning-needle. Why they are thrying such a simple
thrick is more than I can tell.”

“I think I know,” said Fred. “They’ve dropped him down to find out
whether we’re on the watch or not. If we didn’t pay any attention to it,
they would think that neither of us was on the look-out, and they would
send some others down to scalp us.”

“Be the powers, me laddy, I b’lave ye are right!” exclaimed Mickey,
admiringly. “That’s just the plan of the spalpeens, by which towken,
I’ll tip him a shot.”

With this he raised his rifle, and, sighting rather carelessly, fired.
The shot, which was aimed at the roll of blanket, missed it altogether
and cut the string which held it suspended in mid-air.

The next moment there was a dull thump upon the sand, and the package
lay at the feet of the Irishman, who gave it a kick to make sure of its
nature. It rebounded several feet, the resistance to the blow showing
that there was nothing more than the simple blanket, and then he stooped
over and examined it more closely by the sense of touch.

“‘Twas very kind of the spalpeens to furnish us with a blanket that
saams as good as this, though the weather ain’t so cold that we naad it
just now; but sometimes the rain comes and the northers blow, and then a
chap is mighty glad to have seech a convanient article about. ‘Twas very
kind I say.”

The result of the little experiment upon the part of the Apaches, it was
apparent, was not satisfactory to them. The boy was right in his surmise
of its purpose; but it cannot be supposed that they counted upon losing
the blanket under any circumstances. It was a costly and beautiful one,
such as are made by the Indians of the southwest, and it was new enough
to be clean, so that the two fugitives had secured a prize. At all
events, the Apaches must have concluded that the people below were
keeping watch and ward so well that no one could descend into the cave
without danger of being perforated by a rifle ball.

Shortly after this occurrence it began to grow dark above, but the
cause was obvious. The day was drawing to a close. Darkness, only less
profound than that within the cave below, was enwrapping the surface
above.

As soon as the night had fairly descended, Mickey O’Rooney, handling
a small torch with great care, made his way once more to the puzzling
outlet of the underground stream. The inspection satisfied him of the
accuracy of his theory. Not the slightest tinge of light relieved the
impenetrable gloom. Mickey considered this strong proof that it was
but a short distance to the free air outside, and his courage rose very
nearly to the sticking point of making the experiment then and there.

“But we both naad sleep,” he mused, as he threw down his torch, and made
his way back by the dull glare of the expiring camp-fire. “We both lost
considerable last night, and a chap can’t kaap reg’lar hours any more
than he can when he’s coorting three lassies at the same time, and
thrying to kaap aich from suspecting it. I faal as though we shall
have something lively to do to-morrow, and so we’d better gain all the
slumber we kin.”

When he reached the camp, he found the lad anxiously awaiting his
return. They had signaled to each other several times, but the presence
of the danger overhead rendered the boy more uneasy than usual when they
were apart.

“Have ye observed nothing?” asked Mickey, in an undertone.

“Nothing at all.”

“It’s too dark I know, to see, but mebbe yees have heerd something to
tell ye that the spalpeens are up there still.”

“You may be sure I listened all I know how, but everything has kept as
still as the grave. I haven’t heard the fall of a pebble even. What do
you think the Indians mean to do?”

“Well it’s hard to tell. It fooks as though they didn’t think we fell
in, but had come down on purpose, and had some way of getting out as
easy, and they’re on the look out for us.”

“Maybe, Mickey, there’s some other way of coming in, that we haven’t
been able to find.”

“I hoped so a while ago, but I’ve guv it up. If them spalpeens knowed of
any other way, what do they mean by fooling around that place up there,
where they’re likely to get shot if they show themselves, and they’re
likely to lose the best blankets they’ve got?”

Fred did not feel competent to answer this question, and so he was
forced to believe that Mickey was right in his conclusion that there was
no other way of entering the cave than by the skylight above.

“Which the same thing being the case, I propose that we thry and see how
the new blanket answers for a bed. Begorrah! but its fine, as me mither
used to say when she run her hands over the head of me dad, and felt the
lumps made by the shillelah.”

And, having spread the blanket out in the dark-ness, he rubbed his hands
over its velvety surface, admiring its wonderful texture. The texture
is such that water can be carried in these Apache blankets with as much
certainty as in a metal vessel. But Fred protested against both lying
down to sleep at the same time. He thought it likely that the Apaches
meant to visit the cave during the night; but his friend laughed his
fears to scorn, assuring him that there could be no danger at all. In
view of the reception tendered the blanket, the Apaches would take it
for granted that the parties beneath were too vigilant to permit anyone
to steal a march upon them.

Mickey at once attested his sincerity by stretching out upon the
inviting couch, and Fred concluded at last to join him. It was not long
before the Irishman was sound asleep, but the lad lay awake a long
time, looking reflectively up at the spot where he knew the opening to
be,--the opening which had been the means of letting himself and comrade
down into that dismal retreat of solitude,--and wondering what their
enemies were doing.

“They must know that I am here. Lone Wolf will punish them if they don’t
keep me, so I am sure they will do all they can to catch me again. I
wish I was certain that there was no way of getting in but through that
up there, and then I could sleep too, but I feel too scared to do it
now.”

This anxiety kept him awake a long time after Mickey became unconscious;
but, as hour after hour passed and the stillness remained unbroken,
his fears were gradually dissipated and a feeling of drowsiness began
stealing over him.

Before consciousness entirely departed, he turned upon his side, that
being the posture he generally assumed when asleep. As he made the
movement and his ear was placed against the blanket, which in its turn
rested upon the ground, he heard something which aroused his suspicions
instantly and he raised his head. But when he rested on his hands, with
his shoulders thrown up, he could hear nothing at all. The earth was a
better conductor of sound than the atmosphere, which accounted for what
at first seemed curious.

The boy applied his ear as before, and again he heard the noise,
faintly, but distinctly; As the eye was of no use, he pressed his head
against the blanket and listened. Several minutes were occupied in this
manner, and then he said, in an undertone:

“I know what it is!--it is somebody walking as softly as he can. There
is another way of getting into this cavern, and those Apaches have found
it out. They’ve got inside and are hunting for us!”



CHAPTER XXXIII. WHAT THE FOOTSTEPS MEANT

Careful listening convinced Fred that there were two red-skins groping
around in the darkness. After making himself certain on that point,
he reached his hand over, and, grasping the muscular arm of Mickey
O’Rooney, shook his companion quite vigorously.

Fred was afraid that, in waking, the Irishman would utter some
exclamation, or make such a noise that he would betray their location.
When, therefore, several shakings failed to arouse him, the boy easily
persuaded himself that it was best to leave him where he was for a time.

“I can tell when they come too close,” he reflected, “and then I will
stir him up.”

A few minutes later he found that he could hear the noise without
placing his ear against the blanket; so he lay flat on his face, resting
the upper part of his body upon his elbows, with his head thrown up. He
peered off in the gloom, in the direction whence the footsteps seemed to
come, looking with that earnest, piercing gaze, as if he expected to see
the forms of the dreaded Apaches become luminous and reveal themselves
in the black night around.

No ray of light relieved the Egyptian blackness. The camp-fire had
been allowed to die out completely, and no red ember, glowering like
a demon’s eye, showed where it had been. The trained eye might have
detected the faintest suspicion of light near the opening overhead, but
it was faint indeed.

“They keep together,” added Fred to himself, as he distinguished
the soft, stealthy tread over the ground. “I should think they would
separate, and they would be the more likely to find the place between
them; but they want to be together when they run against Mickey, I
guess.”

The shadowy footsteps were not regular. Occasionally they paused,
and then they hurried on again, and then they settled down into the
stealthiest kind of movement. The lad, it is true, had the newly found
revolver, with several of its chambers loaded, at his command. There
was some doubt, however, whether it could be relied upon, owing to the
probable length of time that had elapsed since the charges were placed
there.

As a precaution, Mickey O’Rooney had placed new caps upon the tubes, but
had chosen to leave the charges themselves undisturbed. This beautiful
weapon the lad held grasped in his hand, determined to blaze away at
the prowling murderers the instant they should reveal themselves with
sufficient distinctness to make his shots certain.

An annoying delay followed. The Apaches seemed to know very nearly where
the right spot was, without being able to locate it definitely. The
footsteps were heard first in one direction and then they changed off
to another. The warriors acted precisely as if they knew the location
of their intended victims, but were seeking to find whether they were in
the right position to be easily attacked.

Thus matters remained for ten or fifteen minutes longer, during
which the lad held himself on the alert, and was no little puzzled to
comprehend the meaning for the course of their enemies.

“They daren’t do anything, now that they know where we are. They’re
afraid we’re on the watch, and think if they wait a while longer, we
will drop off to sleep; but they will find---”

A sudden light just then broke in upon young Munson. He was looking off
in the direction of the sound, when the phosphorescent gleam of a pair
of eyes shot out from the darkness upon him.

There was a greenish glare in the unexpected appearance that left no
doubt of their identity. Instead of Indians, as he had imagined at
first, there was some kind of a wild animal that was prowling about
them. None of the Apaches had entered the cave at all--only a single
beast.

But where had he come from? By what means had he entered the cave?

These were very significant questions, of the greatest importance to
the two who were shut within the subterranean prison. Fred did not feel
himself competent to answer, so he reached over and shook Mickey harder
than ever, determined that he should arouse.

“Come, wake up, you sleepy head,” he called out. “There might a dozen
bears come down on you and eat you up, before you would open your eyes!
Come, Mickey, there is need of your waking!”

“Begorrah--but--there’s more naad of me slaaping,” muttered the
Irishman, gradually recalling his senses. “I was in the midst of a
beautiful draam, in which there came two lovely females, that looked
like Bridget O’Flaherty and Molly McFizzle. Both were smiling in their
winsome way on me, and both were advancing to give me a swaat kiss, or a
crack over the head, I don’t know which, when, just before they
raiched me, you sticks out your paw and gives me a big shake. Arrah, ye
spalpeen, why did ye do that?”

“Didn’t you hear me say there was something in the cavern? I thought
there were a couple of Apaches at first, but I guess it is a wild
animal.”

The Irishman was all attention on the instant, and he started bolt
upright.

“Whisht! what’s that ye’re saying? Will ye plaze say it over again?”

The lad hurriedly told him that an animal of some kind was lurking near
them. Mickey caught up his rifle, and demanded to know where he was. In
such darkness as enveloped them it was necessary that the eyes of the
beast should be at a certain angle in order to become visible to the two
watchers. Both heard his light footsteps, and knew where the eyes were
likely to be discerned.

“_There he is!_” exclaimed Fred, as he caught sight of the green,
phosphorescent glitter of the two orbs, which is peculiar to the eyes of
the feline species.

Mickey detected them at the same moment, and drew his rifle to his
shoulder. He kept the kneeling position, fearing that the target would
vanish if he should wait until he could rise. It is no easy thing for
a hunter to take aim when he is utterly unable to detect the slightest
portion of his weapon, and it was this fact which caused Mickey to delay
his firing. However, before he could make his aim any way satisfactory,
a bright thought struck him, and he lowered his gun, carefully letting
the hammer down upon the tube.

“Ain’t you going to fire?” asked the lad, who could not understand the
delay.

“Whisht, now! would ye have me slay me best friend?”

“I don’t understand you, Mickey.”

“S’pose I’d shot the baste, whatever he is, that would be the end of
him; but lave him alone, and he’ll show us the way out.”

“How can he do that?”

“Don’t you obsarve,” said the man, who haf got the theory all perfectly
arranged in his mind, “that that creature couldn’t get into this cave
without coming in some way?”

There was no gainsaying such logic as that, but Fred knew that his
friend meant more than he said.

“Of course he couldn’t get in here without having some way of doing it.
But suppose he took the same means as we did? How is that going to help
us?”

But the Irishman was certain that such could not be the case.

“There ain’t any wild beasts as big fools as we was. Ye couldn’t git ‘em
to walk into such a hole, any more than ye could git an Irisman to gaze
calmly upon a head without hitting it. Ye can make up your mind that
there’s some way leading into this cavern, which nobody knows anything
about, excepting this wild creature, and, if we let him alone, he’ll go
out again, showing us the path.”

“I should think if he knew the route some of the Indians would learn
it.”

“So anybody would think; but the crayther has not given ‘em the
chance--so how can they larn it? If we play our cards right, me laddy,
we’re sure to win.”

“What kind of an animal is it?”

They were all the time gazing at the point where the eyes were last
seen, but the beast was continually shifting its position, so that the
orbs were no longer visible. The faint tipping of his feet upon the
gravely earth was heard, and now and then the transient flash of his
eyes, as he whisked back and forth, was caught, but all vanished again
almost as soon as seen. All that could be learned was, that whatever the
species of the animal, he owned large eyes, and they were placed close
together. Neither of the two were sufficiently acquainted with the
peculiarities of the different animals of the West to identify them by
any slight peculiarities.

“I don’t think he can be an ilephant or a rhinoceros,” said Mickey,
reflectively, “because such crathurs don’t grow in these parts. What
about his being a grizzly bear?”

“He can’t be that,” said Fred, who had been given time to note the
special character of the footsteps before he awoke his companion. “He
walks too lightly.”

“What do you conclude him to be?”

“If there were such things as wild dogs, I would be sure he was one.”

“Then I have it; he must be a wolf.”

“I guess you’re right. He acts just like one--trotting here and there,
while his eyes shine like we used to see them when we were camped on the
prairie, and they used to hang round the camp waiting for a chance to
get something to eat.”

“It’s aisy to double him up,” said Mickey,who just then caught a
glimpse of the eyes again; “but if he’ll show the way out of here, I’ll
make a vow never to shoot another wolf, even if he tries to chaw me head
off.”

“How are we going to discover the place?”

“Just foller him. He’ll hang round a while, very likely all night, and
when he finds out there’s nothing to make here, he’ll trot off agin. All
we’ve got to do is to do the same, and he’ll show the way out.”

“It don’t look so easy to me,” said Fred, a few minutes later, while he
had been busily turning the scheme over in his mind. “If we only had the
daylight to see him, it wouldn’t be so hard, but here he is right close
to us, and it is only now and then that we can tell where he is.”

“Yees are right, for it is n’t likely that we can walk right straight
out by the way that he does; but we can larn from his movements pretty
nearly where the place is, and then we can take a torch and hunt for a
day or two, and I don’t see how we can miss it.”

There seemed to be reason in this, although the lad could not feel as
sanguine as did his companion. The wolf, as he believed it to be, was
doubtless familiar with every turn of the cave, and, when he was ready
to go, was likely to vanish in a twinkling--skurrying away with a speed
that would defy pursuit. However, there was a promise, or a possibility,
at least, of success, and that certainly was something to be cheerful
over, even though the prospect was not brilliant, and Fred was resolved
that failure should not come through remissness of his.



The continuation of this absorbing story is entitled “The Cave in the
Mountain.”





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the Pecos Country" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home