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Title: Rainbolt, the Ranger - or, The Aerial Demon of the Mountain
Author: Coomes, Oll
Language: English
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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.

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RAINBOLT, THE RANGER: OR, THE AERIAL DEMON OF THE MOUNTAIN.


  BY OLL COOMES.

  NEW YORK:
  BEADLE AND ADAMS, PUBLISHERS,
  No. 98 WILLIAM STREET.

       *       *       *       *       *

  Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by
  FRANK STARR & CO.,
  In the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

       *       *       *       *       *

RAINBOLT, THE RANGER; OR, THE AERIAL DEMON OF THE MOUNTAIN.



CHAPTER I. THE VILLAINS’ PLOT.


In fifteen minutes the emigrant train on the Union Pacific railroad was
to leave the depot at Omaha, going west.

Two men, evidently waiting for the train, might have been seen pacing
to and fro upon the station platform in close conversation.

The eldest of the two was apparently forty years of age. He was of
medium hight and build, with steel-gray eyes, sharp and brilliant. His
hair, which was cut closely to a well-shaped head, was of a dark brown,
as was also his heavy mustache and whiskers. He was dressed in light
gray clothes, after the prevailing fashion of the day (1869).

The other individual was a man of some thirty years. He was much taller
than his companion, but not so compactly built. His hair was black as
the raven’s wing, and hung about his shoulders long and straight. His
eyes were black, but small and evil-like. His face was smoothly shaven,
and bore the unmistakable evidence of a dissipated character. He was
dressed in a suit of dark clothes that fitted him stiffly and made him
appear ill at ease.

No one in Omaha knew these two individuals, yet their names were
spoken daily in connection with their crimes, for the former was Duval
Dungarvon, the notorious robber-captain of the Black Hills, and the
latter Blufe Brandon, the renegade Cheyenne chief known as Black Bear.

Having glanced about them to see that no one was near, the robber-chief
asked, in a low tone:

“Well, Brandon, have you made up your mind about that matter?”

“Not exactly,” added Brandon, “for, since I have considered that you
have oceans of gold stowed away in the ‘Hills,’ I think you can afford
to say ten thousand dollars.”

“Ten thousand furies!” replied the robber-captain; “what would such
a notorious cutthroat as you are do with _ten thousand dollars_? You
couldn’t spend it among your accursed Indians, and you _dare_ not
attempt to spend it among white people. But, however, I suppose I must
submit, as the game is in your own hands. But, mind you, the girl has
got to be placed in my hands at the Devil’s Tarn, forty miles south of
Cheyenne, and if one hair of her head is injured I will not give you
one cent!” and the eyes of the robber-captain glowed like living coals
of fire.

“How soon will Sanford--I believe that’s what you called him--start for
San Francisco?”

“Within the next ten days, I understand; however, I will telegraph you
at Julesburg on the morning they start, using, of course, our hotel
_nom de plumes_. Now remember.”

At this juncture the conductor’s call of, “All aboard” ended the two
villains’ conversation, and bidding his companion adieu, Blufe Brandon
entered the cars, and in another moment he was rolling toward the
mountains.

Duval Dungarvon entered an omnibus and ordered the driver to drive him
to the Wyoming hotel.

And thus in a few minutes two villains--one a robber and the other a
renegade--both from the fastnesses of the Black Hills--had planned and
plotted a dark and perhaps bloody crime.

Five days later and Duval Dungarvon was again pacing the
depot-platform. He was alone, but, from the impatient look upon his
face and the occasional glance up the street, it was evident that he
was expecting some one.

Presently his face brightened as he saw a carriage, drawn by four
horses, rolling down toward the depot, and as it drove up alongside
the platform he walked to the opposite side and mingled with some men
collected there, but all the while kept a close watch upon the carriage.

When the vehicle stopped, a tall, noble, gray-haired man of some fifty
years stepped out and assisted a young and beautiful girl to the
platform. These were followed by four young men dressed in sportsmen’s
garbs, each carrying a new Spencer rifle and a game-bag.

The elderly gentleman was Colonel Wayland Sanford, and the young
girl his daughter Silvia. They were just about to start on a visit
to friends in San Francisco. Two of the young men, Willis and Frank
Armond, were the colonel’s nephews and men of means and leisure.
The other two, Walter Lyman, attorney, and Ralph Rodman, physician
and surgeon, were Willis’ and Frank’s intimate friends, who, like
themselves, did not have to depend entirely upon their profession for a
livelihood; so the four young gentlemen had concluded to accompany the
colonel and daughter as far as the mountains, where they could spend
the summer in hunting as recreation from the dust and heat of city life.

As soon as Duval Dungarvon saw the party enter the cars that stood
awaiting their load of human freight, he turned and entered the
telegraph office, and taking up a blank seated himself at a desk and
wrote the following message, which he at once dispatched:

  “OMAHA, June 15th, 1869.

  “WILLIAM BATES, Esqr., Julesburg, W. T.--Sanford and daughter leave
  on morning train for San Francisco.

  “CLIFTON PAYSON.”

Paying for the dispatch, the robber-captain went out upon the platform.
The cars were just rolling away, and from one of the windows he beheld
the eyes of Colonel Sanford fixed upon him like one in a trance; but
in an instant the train was gone, and, turning on his heel, he strode
away, muttering to himself:

“By furies! he recognized me! It’s a good thing he’s gone, Duval
Dungarvon, _alias_ Clifton Payson, for he might have given you trouble,
and the best thing for you is to get out of here yourself.”

And so he did. The next day the villain took the train west.

Had one from the grave confronted Colonel Sanford he could not have
been more startled than he was on seeing Duval Dungarvon. For fully an
hour he sat in profound silence, which his young friends attributed to
his feelings on leaving home, and the possible idea that he might never
live to return to it again. Finally, however, he rallied and talked
and joked in his usual humorous spirits.

After nearly two days’ ride the train rolled into Julesburg, where
it stopped for a few minutes. But one person took the train at this
point, and that person was Blufe Brandon, the renegade chief, his face
completely disguised in a mass of false, grizzly whiskers.

The renegade passed from coach to coach, and finally seated himself on
the seat behind Colonel Sanford, which happened to be vacant. Julesburg
was left far behind, and away in the distance westward the dark range
of the Black Hills loomed up against the glowing sky.

There being no way-stations, the train rolled rapidly on, never tiring,
never halting, gliding into the dark cut, by roaring cañon, over the
yawning gorge, beneath the beetling crag, through dismal tunnel--on,
on until it had entered the environs of the Black Hills. Then the
evil-eyed passenger from Julesburg glanced around, and, seeing no eye
upon him, placed his hand in his pocket and drew therefrom a small
packet which he at once tossed out at the window with considerable
force. A dull report like that of a pistol; a lurid flash like that by
a rocket, where the packet struck the earth, followed this act. But
one person in the cars saw that flash, and that was he who produced
it; but, far away up on a mountain peak, another pair of eyes saw and
read the meaning of that flash, and immediately from the same hight a
blazing arrow shot far up into the air, described a beautiful curve,
and then fell to the earth again. Then, fully three miles further on
toward the west, from the summit of another peak, a blue light might
have been seen swinging to and fro, then standing still, then rolling
through the air like a blazing hoop.

Suddenly, in rounding an abrupt curve, the glowing headlight flashed
on a red flag standing in the center of the track. Instantly the wary
engineer whistled down brakes, and in a moment the train stopped. At
that instant a yell that fairly shook the old hills fell upon the ears
of the passengers--a savage, blood-curdling yell, mingled with the
clash of firearms.

It required but a single thought for the passengers to realize the
terrible truth. _The train had been stopped by a band of Indians!_

Simultaneous with the yell of the Indians a loud, coarse voice cried
out:

“Put out the lights; the train has been attacked by the Indians!”

It was the voice of Blufe Brandon.

In an instant the lights were put out in that coach. Then followed
a confusion that beggars description. The yells of the Indians, the
report of pistols, the crashing of glass, the jamming of shutters, the
screaming of women, the commands and shouts of men, made the moment
awful, terrible.

In the midst of the excitement Brandon sprung to his feet, and, leaning
forward, seized Silvia Sanford around the waist--lifted her in his arms
as though she had been an infant, and turning, glided out the door and
sprung from the car.

“Oh, father, help! Some one is carrying me off!” cried Silvia, as she
was borne from the car.

“Great God! what foul treachery is this?” cried Colonel Sanford,
springing to his feet. “Willis, Frank, boys, all come, for Heaven’s
sake!” and, followed by the four young men, he rushed out and sprung
from the car just in time to see the villain disappear down a black
defile with his child.

The moment the renegade sprung from the car every Indian turned and
followed him, leaving the train to resume its course, which it did,
leaving Colonel Sanford and his young friends standing alone in that
awful gloom!

It was quite evident that the attack had been carefully arranged,
simply for the abduction of Miss Sanford, for no one was killed, nor
did the savages attempt to board the train as they had done on previous
occasions; but withdrew at a signal of their chief, Blufe Brandon.

A speechless silence fell over the colonel and his party. They stood
and gazed into the gloom that seemed impenetrable.

The prospect of recovering the lost girl appeared to the experienced
eyes of the father almost as gloomy as were the surroundings.

The remembrance of the face he had seen at Omaha as the cars were
leaving, the face of a man whom he knew to be his bitter, implacable
enemy, instantly caused him to connect the man with the disappearance
of his daughter.

Under these circumstances it was indeed fortunate that the father
was an experienced Indian-fighter. During the gold-fever of 1848, he
had crossed the plains twice, and spent many years in the mines of
California. Then during the Pike’s Peak excitement he spent a couple
of years there, and during the late Indian troubles he had command
of a regiment of cavalry upon active duty, their field of operations
being in the immediate vicinity of the Black Hills. Thus most of his
life had been spent upon the frontier, or among the Indians, whose
language, haunts and habits he had learned to perfection; and there
was but little of the country in which they now were but what he was
intimately acquainted with, though five years had elapsed since he had
last traversed it. Knowing that no time was to be lost he shaped their
course, and at once set off in the direction taken by the savages, the
darkness rendering it impossible to follow the trail.

Thus began the young men’s summer recreation on the plains!



CHAPTER II. THE AERIAL DEMON OF THE MOUNTAIN.


Night had fallen, but through the darkness gleamed the cheerful light
of a camp-fire that burned in a little wooded valley, near where it
debouched from the Black Hills into the great plain, or Buffalo Range.
Within its radius of light, two men were visible--one lying upon the
ground asleep, the other seated before the fire, evidently keeping
guard. The former was a short, heavy-set man, of some five and thirty
years, with a broad, florid face, that told of humor and good-nature.
A rifle was lying near, a hunting-knife was in his belt, and, though
sound asleep, his hand grasped a short, stout club or _shillalah_ which
alone would have proclaimed his Hibernian extraction.

The Irishman’s companion was a type of a different nationality. He was
a tall, powerful negro, with skin black as the ebon darkness around
him. He possessed limbs and muscles of Herculean development, and a
face firm, courageous and intellectual in its outlines. He held a
double rifle, which flashed like a bar of silver in the firelight. Both
were dressed in garbs of buck-skin, half-savage and half-civilized in
fashion.

The negro sat with his rifle resting in the hollow of his arm, gazing
into the glowing fire with a kind of vacant look.

As the minutes stole by, his eyes grew heavy with watching, and,
presently, his head rolled languidly upon his shoulders in a gentle
doze. Soon, however, he was aroused by a sound--the sound of
approaching footsteps. He sprung to his feet, and, shading his eyes
with his hand, peered into the gloom. At this moment five human figures
emerged from the forest and halted within the radius of light. It was
Colonel Wayland Sanford and his four young companions.

Colonel Sanford fixed his eyes upon those of the negro, and for a
moment the two stood glaring at each other with a look of recognition,
surprise, fear and revenge depicted upon their features. A profound
silence ensued. The hand of the darky wandered mechanically to his
knife, while the cold, gray eyes of Sanford flashed like burning coals,
and his breast heaved and throbbed as though an internal volcano was
surging within it.

The colonel was the first to break the silence.

“Ebony Jim! Villain and rascal!” he exclaimed, fiercely. “Is it
you?--you who deserve shooting without ceremony?”

The colonel’s words seemed to transform the negro. His defiant,
courageous look gave way to one of fear.

“Oh, good Lor’!” he exclaimed, fairly trembling, “it’s ole Massa
Sanfor’, de poor young missus’ father, and now dis poor nigger’s time
am come!”

“Ah! you fear the halter of justice, do you, you black wretch!”
exclaimed the colonel, indignantly. “For four years I have hunted
you--to _shoot you_!”

“Oh, good Heaben, massa, I hab done nuffin’!”

“Then what brought you here, and why do you fear me?”

“’Cause, massa, I s’pose you and dem gemman dar come to ’rest dis
nigger--”

“For what?”

“Why, you ’members I war hid in de woods when poor Massa Walraven war
taken to de Debbil’s Tarn and--”

“Hush! hush! for God’s sake, Ebony, speak not of that affair!” cried
the colonel, growing suddenly changed in his tone toward the darky. He
spoke so loud that the Irishman was awakened from his slumber.

“Och, and be the Howly Vargin, and who’s this that comes a disthurbing
of me paceful shlumber at the dead hour av night? Wirra, but I’ll
sphring afoot and bate their heads wid me ole shillalah, so I will, as
me name is Flick O’Flynn,” exclaimed the Hibernian, rising to a sitting
posture and rubbing his eyes confusedly.

“I am sorry we have disturbed you,” said Frank Armond, apologetically,
“but I hope you will pardon us for the unceremonious intrusion.”

“Ay, and thet I will,” replied O’Flynn, gaining his equilibrium of
mind, “for it’s mees thet’s glad to say the likes av yees in this
h’athing conthry, so it is, so it is.”

In the mean time, Colonel Sanford had stepped to Ebony’s side, and
spoke in a lower and kinder voice:

“Forgive me, Ebony, for my rashness; but tell me truthfully, where is
Florence Walraven?”

“Why should dis nigger know better dan enny body else, massa?”

“Because I know you assisted her to flee from home four years since,
and now where is she?”

“Good Lor’ only knows. S’pecks she’s in heaben wid de angels,” replied
the negro, apparently much surprised.

“Come, Ebony!” exclaimed Sanford, growing nervous and excited again.
“Trifle not with me. You have lied to me already; you know where
Florence is; you assisted her to flee. Speak, tell me the truth or your
life shall pay--”

“Good Lor’, you misjudge dis nigger, Massa Sanfor’. Nebber sence poor
Massa Walraven went into the army have I see’d de young missus, and
when Massa Walraven was convictioned ob bein’ a traitor and taken to
de Debbil’s Tarn--I means when he war punished so orfully--dis nigger
run away into de mountain fear he be sarved so too, ’case he see’d
something, and nebber hab I see’d de young missus, nor nobody, till dis
blessed minit.”

“Are you speaking the truth, Ebony?” asked the colonel, seriously,
calmly.

“As I’s a born nigger dat’s de truf, Massa Sanfor’.”

“Then forgive me, old boy, for my hasty accusal,” said the colonel,
extending his hand to the darky. “Florence has been missing for four
years, and we always suspicioned you of stealing her away.”

“Dis nigger cherishes nuffin ill in his heart to’rds ole Massa
Sanfor’,” said Ebony, grasping the colonel’s hand, “but oh! how his
heart aches when he t’inks ob dat awful--awful ’fair at the Debbil’s
Tarn.”

“Hush, Ebony, about the Devil’s Tarn,” said Sanford in a whisper. “It
racks my soul with torture. Promise me you’ll not mention it again.”

“I promise,” said the negro.

“Then let us be seated and talk of other things.”

They all gathered around the fire and Colonel Sanford informed the two
hunters of their mission there.

“Be garry, and it’s Flick O’Flynn of Carricksfergus that can bate in
more rhed niggars’ skulls than any man on the job, and yees kin count
mees in on the parsuit av the ghal, also. Wirra! but mees am in me
glory when swinging me old shillalah among the dirthy blackg’ards, so
it is, so it--Har--rk!”

Though the Hibernian was talking quite boisterously, his practiced ear
caught a far-off and peculiar sound, coming from the Black Hills.

“Ay, and didn’t ye hear thet, now?” he asked.

“No; what was it?” queried Sanford.

“It was a sound rhesembling the thuang av a horn--there she am again!”

This time all heard it, and, true enough, it was the far-off blast of a
horn. Flick O’Flynn and Ebony exchanged inquiring and ominous glances.

“A hunter, I suppose,” said young Rodman.

“Not a bit av it! It’s the gathering call av robbers, in yonder hills,”
said O’Flynn, pointing away westward over the Black Hills.

“But what means _that_?” asked Willis Armond, pointing up toward the
dark sky.

All eyes gazed upon the object in question with wonder and surprise.
It was a bright, glowing speck not unlike a blazing star; but it was
moving, drifting slowly through the heavens--now east--now west--now
sinking--now rising--now circling around and around--again standing
still against the black canopy of heaven.

“That is surely not a star,” said Walter Lyman.

“No; but it’s a mystery to me,” said Colonel Sanford.

Again the twang of the horn was heard, and, as its echoes rolled back
through the hills, the mysterious blazing star was seen to glide away
through the heavens and disappear in a moment behind the mountain range.

“That is a mystery that is not the agency of man,” said the colonel.

“Oh, Lor’! I tell ye, Massa Sanfor’, our time am come! Dat war de horn
ob de ark-angel wakin’ up de dead.”

“You’re a fool, Ebony; you’ve lost all the courage you ever did
possess.”

“I knows I’s a fool, massa, but I’s been a wicked nigger, and de world
am comin’ to a eend, and oh, Lor’ ob Heabens! dar comes de Ole Nick--de
Ole Nick!--de Ole Nick! after dis chile--oh--oh--oh!”

Ebony stretched out his hands as if to keep off some horrible object.
His eyes were lifted upward and glared like those of a madman. His lips
stood slightly apart, revealing his firm-set teeth, and his features
were convulsed with horror.

“Ebony! Ebony! are you going mad?” exclaimed Sanford, excitedly.

The negro moved not a muscle nor his uplifted eyes, but, at that
instant, a fierce and terrible scream burst over the heads of the
little group. All started and lifted their eyes upward, and as they
did so, every face became blanched with terror. They saw what Ebony
saw, and startled as he did. They saw not a human nor a beast, but an
awful, terrible figure--a figure resembling a human skeleton _floating
through the air, high over the tree-tops_, its ghastly proportions
revealed by the smoke and flame emitted from the sunken eyes, the
distended nostrils and the wide, grinning mouth. Great white arms
beat and buffeted the air like the wings of a struggling vampire,
while scream after scream pealed wild and unearthly from the horrid
creature’s lips. It was fully a hundred feet above the tree-tops and
moved swiftly--so swift, that in a moment it had floated over the camp
and disappeared behind the dark hills.

The party stood transfixed with horror. Colonel Sanford was the first
to break the silence.

“In the name of God, what was it?” he gasped.

“I tell you it’s de Ole Nick after dis poor, black nigger,” persisted
Ebony.

Flick O’Flynn acted quite indifferent. He showed but little surprise at
sight of the horrid creature, yet he exclaimed:

“Holy Mother! it makes the hair sthand on mees head, and polar icebergs
rholl down me back, but then it’s not the first time that Flick O’Flynn
of Carricksfergus, has see’d thet chreature.”

“What is it? beast, human, fiend or--”

“Ay, there now, and it’s the horrid chreature known as the Aerial Demon
of the Mountain.”



CHAPTER III. A MOMENT OF PERIL.


For some time the wildest excitement prevailed in the hunters’ camp
over what O’Flynn had said was the Aerial Demon, the scourge of the
Black Hills.

Flick could throw no light on the subject, further than that he had
seen it once before, and heard of its being seen by others, and
striking terror to the hearts of the Indians.

For fully an hour this aerial apparition was the subject of
conversation, and many and curious were the suppositions entertained by
the party as to its nature.

By this time the clouds had rolled away, and the blue dome of heaven
was glimmering with myriads of stars. The murky shadows were lifted
from the great plain that stretched away in tranquil beauty like an
ocean, broken now and then by a silvery lake or stream, or a little
woodland isle that nestled down on its bosom like a mere black speck.
And as the moments stole by, a score of dusky forms suddenly emerged
from the shadow of one of those prairie islands, and moved silently
over the plain.

It was a band of hostile Cheyenne Indians, heading toward the Black
Hills.

As the night was far advanced, and Colonel Sanford and his young
friends were greatly fatigued with their long tramp through the
mountain, they concluded to remain with the hunters until morning,
inasmuch as they had promised to accompany them on the morrow in
pursuing the red-skins. The fire was replenished with fuel. The flames
leaped up and relieved the gloom for many feet around; but backed in by
the great woods on one side, and the rise of a hill on the other, the
light was, as it were, pent up in the immediate vicinity.

And so it was hidden from the gaze of those on the near plain but not
to those on the hills, nor to those far out on the plain.

Flick O’Flynn was to stand guard the rest of the night--he refusing
all offers of relief. He lit his pipe and seated himself before the
fire, with his shillalah lying across his knees. The rest of the party
stretched themselves in various attitudes about the fire to rest.

Just then a night-bird fluttered overhead with a startled scream. Every
man sprung quickly to his feet. Was it the Aerial Demon again? They
glanced around them. No. It was not the demon, but a sight equally as
horrifying met their gaze. Out from the deep gloom, into the glare of
the roaring camp-fire--with the silence of phantoms, their painted
visages aglow with diabolical triumph, their hands clutching a knife or
tomahawk, came a score of Cheyenne Indians, surrounding our friends on
every side like sheep in a slaughter-pen. For a moment they paused just
within the circle of light; then they uttered a yell, so fierce that
the blood stood like ice in the veins of the whites.

“Och! and be the Howly Mother, it’s a sorry time we’ll have,” exclaimed
Flick O’Flynn, whirling his shillalah about his head; “but here goes,”
and he dashed among the savages with a yell.

“And here comes dis chile,” exclaimed Ebony, clubbing his rifle and
following.

“We have got to fight for our lives,” said Colonel Sanford, who,
possessing no weapon, stooped and picked up a heavy club, one end of
which was afire, and swinging it aloft he dashed in among the savages,
Frank and Willis Armond, Walter Lyman and Ralph Rodman following suit
with clubbed rifles.

The conflict instantly became fearful.

The Cheyennes were three to one, and our friends fought with the
desperation of despair--of madmen. Several savages went down, but
the death of each one made the survivors all the more desperate; and
presently Walter Lyman fell unconscious from a blow on the head,
and Willis Armond received a severe wound on the arm. Defeat and
death stared our friends in the face--they were being gradually
overpowered--the savages were closing in upon them--another moment--but
hark! what sound was that? Was it the voice of doom?



CHAPTER IV. THE MASTER OF THE EAGLE.


It was the wild scream of a bird that fell upon the ears of the
combatants, but at the next instant a horseman dashed wildly in among
the savages, a drawn saber in hand. And so swift did the stranger
swing the polished weapon right and left upon the tufted skulls of the
red-skins that it seemed a broad sheet of flame. Nor did this strange
man come alone to the rescue. A large, tame gray eagle accompanied him,
and the fierce bird seemed inspired with the same warlike spirit of its
master. Down into the savages’ faces, striking with talon, beak and
wing, swooped the great bird with a scream, tearing and lacerating the
flesh and eyes at every stroke.

The scale of battle was turned as if by magic. The savages, defeated
and terrified, fled into the shelter of the forest, pursued by Ebony
and the stranger’s fierce bird, leaving half their number behind, dead.

All eyes were now turned upon their strange deliverer.

He was a young man, not more than thirty. In stature he was about five
feet six inches. His figure was firmly knit but flexible; and every
movement supple, easy and graceful. His hair was of a dark brown, as
was also his beard that in a great measure concealed his face and hung
to the pommel of his saddle. A few premature wrinkles were faintly
traced about his eyes.

A tunic of blue velveteen ornamented with yellow fringe and confined at
the waist by a leather belt, buck-skin trowsers, buck-skin leggings and
moccasins, and a gray felt hat constituted his garb.

A saber, a brace of revolvers in his belt, and a rifle that was swung
at his back by means of a strap passing over his shoulder, were the
weapons he carried.

The animal he rode was a black, mettlesome mustang with arched neck and
flashing eyes, clear limbs and muscular proportions.

A large, and what appeared cumbersome, pair of well-filled saddle-bags
were thrown over the cantle of the saddle, while on one side hung a
double field-glass, and on the other side a coiled silver horn.

Replacing his saber in its scabbard, he turned and gazed upon those he
had rescued. From one to the other his eyes wandered until they met
those of Wayland Sanford, when a strange, wild light flashed in them. A
momentary silence ensued. The horseman was the first to speak:

“A warm time you were having, my friends,” he said, in a clear voice.

“Indeed we were,” replied the old colonel, with a nervous tremor in his
voice induced by exertion and excitement; “and whom have we the honor
of thanking for our rescue?”

“My name is Rodger Rainbolt,” replied the horseman, in his clear,
ringing voice, in which there was much of wild bluntness; “and now your
name if you please?”

“Wayland Sanford.”

The ranger was silent for a moment, then he asked:

“What brings Wayland Sanford here in these wilds, dressed in the fine
clothes of a citizen?”

The colonel informed him of the abduction of his daughter, and that
they were in pursuit of the Indians.

“Uh-humph!” ejaculated the ranger, when he had heard the colonel’s
story.

At this moment Ebony returned from pursuit of the flying savages, and,
as the ranger’s eyes fell upon him, he turned his animal so that the
fire would not shine in his face.

In the mean time, Flick O’Flynn and Frank Armond were busily engaged in
restoring young Lyman to his senses, of which a blow on the head had
bereft him; while the young surgeon, Ralph Rodman, turned his attention
to Willis’ bleeding arm.

“Do you know what tribe the Indians belong to that captured your girl?”
asked Rainbolt, after a moment’s silence.

“They were Cheyennes,” replied the colonel.

“Black Bear’s cut-throats, I suppose,” returned the handsome ranger.

“Golly mighty!” suddenly exclaimed Ebony, peering up into the ranger’s
face as he spoke; “dat sounds jist like Massa Walraven’s voice, as I’s
a born nigger, but den it’s not his face, for Massa Walraven died long
ago--died at de Debbil’s Tarn,” and he turned away.

The ranger flashed a quick glance upon Sanford, who was moving
uneasily; then in a tone of indifference said:

“I am afraid you will not succeed in rescuing your daughter if Black
Bear has reached or does reach his haunts.”

“God forbid that he should!” exclaimed Sanford.

“But,” continued the horseman, “since I am not particularly engaged at
present, I can and will devote my time to assisting you in rescuing
your girl. I wish, however, to act strictly alone, for the assistance I
have will enable me to do so with success--but, I had entirely forgot
my companion,” and taking the silver horn from his saddle, he placed it
to his lips and blew a shrill blast.

Immediately after this act the winnowing of great wings was heard, and
a moment later the eagle that attacked the savages so fiercely settled
down from the gloom overhead and perched itself upon the shoulder of
the ranger. Blood was on its talons and beak.

“A noble pet you have, Mr. Rainbolt,” said the colonel, admiringly.

“Yes, sir; one that will be worth more to me in rescuing your
daughter than a dozen men. His instinct is wonderful and his strength
prodigious. One stroke of his wing, Mr. Sanford, would break your arm
as though it were a straw. I have known him to carry in his talons a
weight of a hundred pounds. Ah, a noble bird is Echo, my eagle. He
hates a red-skin with all the bitterness of his master.”

“You must have had great patience in training him, Mr. Rainbolt.”

“I do not claim all that honor. He was partly trained when he came into
my possession. He was given me by an old Californian named Barker.”

“Barker!” burst involuntarily from Sanford’s lips; “Gustave Barker?”

“Yes; Gustave Barker,” replied the ranger, eying the colonel sharply.
“Do you know him?”

“Oh--no, I have heard of him,” replied Sanford, recovering from his
sudden excitement.

There was a few moments’ silence, broken only by the impatient pawing
of the ranger’s steed.

Doctor Rodman had succeeded in restoring Lyman to his senses, and had
carefully dressed Willis’ arm, which, after all, had only sustained a
flesh-wound.

“I say, Lyman,” said the young physician, after his friend had
recovered his senses, “that blow you got on the head is what is termed
in legal phrase, ‘’Salt and battery,’ ain’t it?”

“Yes,” replied the young lawyer, rubbing his sore head; “but, in this
affair there is more ‘battery’ than ‘’sault’; however, I shall bring
action at once for damages.”

“And try the case before--what is it?--oh, yes; the Aerial Demon,” said
Willis, laughing.

“The Aerial Demon!” exclaimed Rainbolt, “have you seen that horrid,
mysterious creature?”

“Yes; it passed over our camp an hour or so ago. Can you throw any
light on the real nature of the mystery?”

“Nothing more than that it is the most frightful object I ever saw,”
returned the ranger.

“Ay, now, and it’s yees that spakes the thruth loudly, for it’s mees
that’s see’d the chreature twice, and both times it stharted polar
icebergs down my back, so it did,” said Flick.

“Well,” said Rainbolt, “since I can be of no further service to you,
gentlemen, I may as well take my departure. Should I succeed in
rescuing your daughter, Mr. Sanford, I will communicate the fact to
you at once,” and as he concluded, he took from his pocket a time-worn
memoranda, and tearing out one of the stained leaves handed it to
Colonel Sanford, saying: “Read that, _Colonel_ Wayland Sanford, and
good-night to you all,” and as he spoke the pet eagle arose into
the air--the spirited mustang pricked up its ears, champed its bit
impatiently, and the next moment Rodger Rainbolt, the ranger, was gone.

“He’s a curious fellow--a living mystery,” said Ralph Rodman; “but what
ails you, colonel?--what ails you?”

“Oh! nothing, nothing but excitement, as usual,” replied the colonel,
evasively; “but, let me see what the ranger wants me to read.”

He turned and stirred up the waning camp-fire, and seating himself upon
the ground glanced at the paper. A groan escaped his lips as he did
so, and the paper dropped from his hand, and falling into the fire was
consumed in an instant, while the colonel’s hands dropped to his knees
and his eyes became fixed upon the fire.

“What did he write, uncle?” asked Frank.

There was no response to his question.

Frank repeated it. Still no reply.

“The ranger has thrown the colonel’s mind into a quandary,” said young
Lyman.

“Like the red naygur did _yours_,” said Flick O’Flynn.

“How is it, colonel?” asked Rodman.

The colonel was still silent. Frank Armond advanced and laid his hand
upon his uncle’s shoulder, but he started back with a thrill of horror.
The limbs of the colonel were rigid as death; his eyes were still
fixed upon the fire with a cold, glassy, vacant stare. His lips stood
slightly apart and his features were ghastly as the dead’s.

“Uncle! uncle!” exclaimed Frank, shaking him violently, “what ails you?
Come, rouse up--great God, what can it mean, Rodman?”

The young doctor was bending over the colonel, his fingers resting upon
the old man’s pulse.

“Come, speak, Ralph, what does it mean?” repeated Frank.

“Heavens!” exclaimed the young doctor, starting up, “what could the
ranger have written? It has killed the colonel, as God’s in Heaven,
boys; he is _dead--stone dead_!”



CHAPTER V. A ROBBER ROBBED.


The blood-red sun hung low in the western heavens, its usual brightness
partly obscured by the blue mist that hung over the mountain and
plain. The Black Hills lay dimly outlined against the murky sky. In
the vast expanse of mountain and plain, but a single _living_ object
could be seen. That object was a large bird poised aloft above a narrow
defile, or valley, in the Black Hills. For some time it seemed to hang
motionless on the air, then it descended down, down until it was lost
in the mountain shadows; then it darted up again, with a wild scream
from the valley, its keen eyes fixed on some object far below. And what
think you it was that Echo, the eagle, saw there?

It was a beautiful glade in the greenwood valley. A camp-fire burning
in the center of the glade. A number of Indians seated around the fire.
Several lodges standing in the background. An Indian encampment.

But two of the Indians claim our especial notice. The young chief,
Allacotah, and his beautiful wife, Silver Voice.

The young chief sat apart from his companions, apparently in deep
thought. Presently, the light figure of an Indian woman glided from one
of the lodges in the background and approached him. She was young, not
more than three and twenty. Her movements were graceful as the fawn’s;
her voice as sweet and clear as the chimes of a silver bell. She was
dressed in a short frock of some green material, beautifully ornamented
with Indian handiwork, while beaded moccasins and white-fringed
buck-skin leggings incased her feet and ankles.

Approaching and laying her hand upon Allacotah’s shoulder, she said, in
pure English:

“Allacotah, my husband, seems thoughtful.”

The young chief raised his eyes and gazed into those of his wife.

“That is true,” he replied; “but the voice of my beautiful wife cheers
me, though I was only thinking--thinking of our great chief, Black
Bear.”

“Oh, yes,” replied the beautiful Indian woman; “it had not occurred to
my mind before, that to-day Black Bear was to return from the great
wigwams of the pale-faces.”

“Yes, and may his heart not be filled with evil when he comes. Black
Bear is a bad man. He causes much trouble between the pale-faces and my
people. He has made many widows and orphans among the great Cheyenne
nation--waged war till Cheyenne blood flowed like water.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Two miles from the Indian encampment on a high, bold bluff stood Rodger
Rainbolt, the ranger. One hand was resting upon his animal’s arched
neck, while with the other he held his spy-glass to his eyes as he
watched a tiny dark speck in the misty sky before him. That speck was
Echo, his eagle.

“Yes, there _are_ Indians there,” he muttered to himself, “and perhaps
they are the ones that I am in pursuit of. Echo, noble, sagacious bird,
has traced them out, and now he marks the spot by poising himself in
the air--now by descending--now rising again--now circling around and
around. Ah, noble bird! he circles away, away; he knows his mission is
done for the present, and now--”

He lowered his glass and taking the coiled horn from his saddle, placed
it to his lips and blew a shrill, prolonged blast, which, as it echoed
far back over the hills, reached the ear of the eagle, and immediately
it headed its flight toward its master. In a few minutes it was perched
upon his shoulder.

“Your work is well done, Echo,” said the ranger, caressing the bird,
“and I have only to await darkness to accomplish mine.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Cheyenne encampment was only a temporary one, the permanent village
of Black Bear being located several miles south-west within the
southern extremities of the Black Hills.

In anticipation of the return of Black Bear, or Blufe Brandon,
preparations were made for his reception; for a mounted messenger had
arrived in camp during the day and informed Allacotah and his braves
that Black Bear, with a beautiful captive, and accompanied by several
of his warriors, would arrive there some time during the evening.

As the time for the coming of the distinguished _white_ chief drew
near, and darkness gathered around, preparations were hastily made for
his reception.

Presently a wild yell announced the expected arrival.

The name Black Bear had a significant meaning as applied to the
Renegade, Blufe Brandon. Had one who had never seen him in his
disguise, beheld him when he entered the lodge of Allacotah, they would
have started up with sudden fear, for there was nothing natural in his
appearance.

The villain was completely disguised in the skin of a black bear, even
the head of the animal rested upon that of his own with its round,
glaring eyes, its open mouth, red tongue and white fangs in lifelike
presentation. As the nose of the animal projected over the head of the
renegade, the face of the latter was completely concealed by long,
straggling hairs hanging from the under jaw of the animal’s head, yet
the ruffian’s eyes shone through the hairy mask like those of a serpent
through the dark. His arms and legs were wrapped in the skin carefully
taken from the animal’s limbs with the long claws attached, and
dextrously fixed to his toes and fingers--thus perfecting his disguise
so completely that he looked like a bear walking erect upon his hind
feet.

In his arms the renegade carried Silvia Sanford, who a few minutes
before their arrival had fainted from sheer exhaustion, long fasting
and excessive heat.

A rug of skins and robes was laid near the fire, and the pale and
beautiful captive placed upon it. Black Bear then turned to Silver
Voice and requested her to look after the maiden’s wants, and assist
the medicine-man in restoring her to consciousness.

Silver Voice advanced, and bending over the captive, gazed into her
pretty, pale face. A low cry escaped her lips, and beckoning her
husband she pointed down, and said: “Does it not look--”

“Never mind what the girl looks like, but hasten to restore her. That
girl’s life is worth ten thousand dollars to me.”

It was Black Bear who spoke, his voice sounding hoarse and hollow
beneath his hairy mask. Allacotah was a chief of power and distinction,
but Black Bear was his superior--hence the latter’s authoritative,
indignant command.

Silver Voice, with the assistance of Allacotah, began the task of
restoring the captive to consciousness. Water was brought from a spring
hard by and the brow of the maiden bathed. A cordial made of some wild
herbs was administered, and by a vigorous chafing of the limbs and
temples, Silvia was brought back to life.

“Put her in _there_,” said Black Bear, pointing with his claw-clad
finger to Silver Voice’s lodge; “the presence of so many warriors might
excite her too much. She must have rest and food.”

Allacotah lifted her in his strong arms and carried her into the lodge
where Silver Voice had arranged a neat, comfortable couch of skins.
Laying her upon the couch, the chief went out, leaving the two women
alone.

Silvia opened her eyes and gazed around.

There was a fat-lamp, made in a rude stone-bowl, burning in the lodge,
and by it Silvia was enabled to see where she was. All around her wore
an air of neatness. The floor of the lodge was laid with a carpet
of buffalo-robes, and the walls of the cone-shaped structure were
hung with beautiful tapestry of buck-skin, highly and artistically
ornamented. Strands of wampum, stuffed birds of beautiful plumage,
curious figures carved from wood and stone were arranged around the
walls. The only object of civilization to be seen was a small, cracked
mirror.

When the captive saw the beautiful Indian woman tending over her with
tears in her eyes, her heart beat with gentle hope.

“Rest easy, dear girl,” said Silver Voice, kindly, “you are greatly
fatigued.”

“Where am I? and who are you with the tender voice and angelic face?”
asked Silvia, rising to a sitting posture and gazing around, her mind
still confused and bewildered.

“You are in the encampment of Allacotah, and I am Silver Voice,
Allacotah’s wife.”

“Where is Black Bear?”

“The inhuman wretch is out by the camp-fire,” the woman replied,
bitterly.

Silvia was surprised by her manner of speech. She saw that the Indian
woman entertained a feeling of intense dislike toward the chief.

“Then you do not respect the great chief,” said Silvia, “judging from
your remarks.”

“No, I hate him!” she fairly hissed, “the inhuman, merciless outcast of
his own race!”

“And do not his warriors like him?” asked Silvia.

“Yes; those whose hearts are vile as his,” Silver Voice answered,
“and, dear girl,” she continued, coming closer and speaking lower, “if
it’s in my power, and the power of Allacotah, you shall never, _never_
suffer captivity at his hands!”

Silvia’s face brightened; then it became clouded again as she said:

“But he told me he was going to sell me to a robber-captain--that the
robber had promised him a great reward for me, but how a robber-captain
here in the Black Hills knew me is quite a mystery.”

“Did he mention the robber-captain’s name?”

“Yes; I believe it was Dungarvon--Duval Dungarvon.”

“God have mercy!” exclaimed the woman, frantically. “Duval Dungarvon!
Duval Dungarvon! Oh, dear girl, better take your own life than fall
into the hands of that man. He is a fiend, a devil! It is not your
beauty, nor his love for you that makes him desirous of possessing you,
but it is to torture you, and grind, grind your father’s heart out for
revenge--bitter, _bitter_, BITTER revenge!” and the beautiful woman
fairly raved in her excitement.

Silvia was completely mystified by her strange words--her wild emotion.

“I do not understand you, Silver Voice,” she said.

Before the Indian woman could reply, a wild commotion among the savages
outside arrested her attention. She turned and went out, and Silvia
involuntarily arose and followed her.

The women were greatly surprised to see the savages, their faces
convulsed with horror--their eyes lifted upward with a terrified stare,
speechless and motionless. Following the direction indicated by their
startled gaze, the women became equally as terrified.

And why?

Down the valley from the north floated in the air high above the
tree-tops--far above the reach and power of man, an awful figure--the
figure of a human skeleton, its ghastly proportions revealed by the
flame and smoke emitted from the great sunken eyes, the distended
nostrils and wide, grinning mouth. Great white arms beat and buffeted
the air like the wings of a struggling vampire, while scream after
scream rent the air.

It was the Aerial Demon of the Mountain, the scourge of the Black
Hills--the terror of the Indian.

Silvia’s face became white with terror, and she was compelled to cling
to Silver Voice for support.

“Come into the lodge, dear girl,” said the chief’s wife, in a whisper,
“it is the Aerial Demon.”

They turned toward the door of the little cone-shaped structure. Just
then the clatter of iron-shod hoofs coming up the stony valley caught
their ears. They stopped.

The next instant a white man, mounted upon a mettlesome animal, dashed
from the gloom and stopped so quickly by the side of the terrified
women that his animal was thrown back upon its haunches.

It was Rodger Rainbolt, the ranger!

Before Black Bear and his savages could draw their attention from the
Aerial Demon--which in a moment, almost, had passed over the camp and
disappeared--the daring ranger leaned forward in his stirrups--placed
his arm about Silvia’s waist--lifted her from the ground as though she
had been an infant--whirled his animal southward and dashed away into
the gloom of the forest, pursued by Black Bear and his warriors.

As the ranger turned his animal he gave Silver Voice one quick
glance that seemed to pierce her to the heart. She threw up her
hands--clutched wildly at space--uttered a low, convulsive sob and sunk
unconscious into the arms of her husband, Allacotah.



CHAPTER VI. THE HIDDEN HOME.


Away through the dark wood and down the mountain defile, the ranger
dashed with his precious burden.

Silvia uttered no word of fear, no cry of pain. She had caught a
glimpse of the ranger’s noble, handsome face as he lifted her from the
ground in the Indian encampment, and, as if by magic, her heart became
inspired with confidence in him.

“Fear not, Miss Sanford,” the stranger breathed in her ear when they
had fairly cleared the Indian encampment; “you are safe with a friend.”

“A friend--a noble, daring friend, yet a stranger that knows my name,”
replied Silvia, in a voice slightly agitated.

“That’s true, Miss Sanford; but I learned your name from your father.”

“Father!” exclaimed the maiden. “Oh, where and when did you see my
father?”

“I saw him less than twenty-fours ago, but many miles from here. He was
in search of you.”

“Thank Heaven!” breathed the maiden; “but who am I indebted to for my
rescue and the information?”

“My name is Rodger Rainbolt; I am a ranger, a rude, rough man of the
plains.”

“Your bravery and unselfishness, Mr. Rainbolt, are nobler virtues than
the cultivated politeness of refinement.”

“You flatter me, Miss Sanford, and I hope it is rightfully bestowed,”
was the reply, and then both became silent for a time.

Presently they emerged from the dark forest into an open and level
plain, through which wound a little stream like a silver thread. All
around it arose a dark belt of wooded hills like a beautiful landscape
set in a rusty frame.

Away to the north could be heard the roar of falling water.

The blue mist that hung over the mountain at the beginning of night had
cleared away from the face of the sky, and the great round moon looked
out in all its queenly splendor, lighting up the little valley with a
soft, dreamy light.

Halting on the summit of a little knoll overlooking the plain, the
ranger lifted Silvia to the ground, and then, dismounting himself,
stood by her side.

“We rest here,” he said. “Look yonder, and tell me what you see.”

“I can see a broad, silvery surface, resembling a tiny lake, sleeping
there, just where the black wood begins.”

“It is not a lake, Miss Sanford, but a broad sheet of water falling
over a high, jutting rock, in which is my cavern home--my castle.”

Silvia felt a chill creep over her frame as she thought: “What if he is
a robber, or an escaped criminal--a base villain, leading me into his
lair; but no; it can not be possible that an evil heart lies concealed
behind that noble, handsome face. He has saved me from the tortures of
Indian captivity, or perhaps a worse fate, and I will not entertain,
for a moment, one disrespectful thought of him.

“I should think you would get lonesome here, Mr. Rainbolt,” she finally
said.

“That may all be,” he replied, gravely. “But I can do no better, and I
offer you the hospitality of my secluded home--that is, if you have no
scruples of going there alone with me.”

“Why should I, Mr. Rainbolt, when to you I owe my life? I feel
perfectly free--yes, proud, to trust your honesty, manhood and
protection.”

“I sincerely hope you will never have cause to feel other wise, though,
were there any settlements or residences within forty miles, I would
take you there at once. But there is none nearer than those on Laramie
plains, fifty miles distant.”

“But should you take me there, I would not, in all probability, meet
father for a long time.”

“That’s true, Miss Sanford; but would you prefer riding to walking
across this plain to the creek?”

“No, I had rather walk, as I am much fatigued with riding, already.”

“Then I will turn my horse to pasture here,” said the ranger, removing
the saddle and bridle from the animal, which at once began cropping the
rich, succulent grass.

Having removed the capacious saddle-bags from the saddle, he concealed
the caparisons in a small cavity in the knoll on which they were
standing, and then, slinging the saddle-bags across his shoulder, he
took Silvia’s hand and set off across the little valley.

It was only a few moments’ walk, and when the stream was reached
the ranger drew a small canoe from under some drooping willows,
and launched it. In a moment he was seated therein, with his fair
companion, and taking up the paddle, drove the little craft out into
the middle of the stream; then turned and moved up its course.

So swift, so easily did the canoe glide over the rippling waters, that
Silvia, for a moment, forgot the surrounding danger, and conversed with
her handsome rescuer with a real sense of joy and admiration.

Presently the sullen roar of falling waters reached their ears.

“It is the Crystal Falls, Miss Sanford, that you hear,” said the
ranger; “we will soon be there.”

In a few moments more the falls burst upon their view like a great
silver curtain suspended against a black wall.

In the rock, over which the waters fell like a great apron, was the
ranger’s secret home, the water concealing from view the entrance,
which could only be reached by passing through the descending torrent.

“Behind that wall of water, Miss Sanford, is my home, and to reach it
we must pass _through_ the descending sheet; and as it will be pitchy
dark beyond, and the windings of the cavern are difficult to follow, I
had better go in alone, light a torch, and return to you. You can wait
there upon that rock, can you not?”

“Oh, certainly,” replied Silvia, springing to her feet.

Alongside the canoe was a rock, some three feet across, and projecting
several inches above the surface of the stream. Upon this Silvia
stepped to await the ranger’s return. He took up the paddle and drove
the canoe forward, and when he had disappeared in the mist and spray,
a feeling akin to terror crept over the maiden. But she could only
wait--listen to the roar of the falls and the black waters chafing the
rock on which she stood. And as she lifted her eyes and followed the
dark summit of the ridge that rose up before her, what dark objects
were those she saw moving athwart the clear sky?

They were savages, though Silvia did not know it.

Presently a light streamed through the mist and falling water, and
looking, Silvia saw that the latter had been parted near the middle,
and about ten feet above the stream by some contrivance of the ranger,
and that the light was burning in the mouth of the cavern, several feet
beyond.

In a moment the canoe with the ranger shot out through the opening and
came alongside the rock where Silvia stood. Assisting her in as though
she had been a child, the kind-hearted ranger took a gum blanket that
he had brought from the cavern, and wrapped it, hood-like, over her
head and shoulders, that the spray and dropping water might not drench
her. He then took up the paddle and drove the canoe through the mist
and vapor, between the parted waters of the falls, and as far beyond as
the water had backed beneath the jutting rock.

“Here we are, Miss Sanford,” said Rainbolt, removing the blanket from
Silvia’s head and shoulders.

She glanced around and above. A glaring pine torch, fixed in a niche in
the wall, lit up the place. From the rim of the canoe a spiral row of
stone steps led up into the great rock. Overhead the rocky ceiling was
studded with countless numbers of stalactites, on the sharp points of
which hung drops of water that flashed like so many diamonds. Here and
there a little jet of water poured down in ribbons of foam.

“This,” said the ranger, pointing to a kind of sweep fixed upon a
pivot, and reaching out like a great arm, “is what I divide the
waters of the falls with, while I am passing in and out of the cavern.
By allowing that end to hang down as it does, it reaches through the
descending sheet of water and divides it as it now is; and then by
simply lowering this end and hoisting that, thus, the waters close and
flow on just as they did before.”

He took her hand and assisted her from the boat, and then, lifting the
glowing torch from the wall, they began ascending the rude stone steps.
The ascent required much care and time, for the stones were easily
displaced and a single misstep might prove fatal; but, finally, the top
was reached and a dark, capacious chamber was spread out before them.
The ranger stopped and held the torch above his head.

Silvia started back with a low cry of terror, for the light flashed
upon the form of a huge panther crouched at her feet.

“Fear not, Miss Sanford,” said the ranger; “he will not harm you. It is
Purle, my pet panther. I should have spoken of him before and saved you
this sudden affright. Ay, Purle, my pet.”

The panther sprung up and capered around its master with apparent joy.

“Oh!” suddenly exclaimed Rainbolt, while caressing the beautiful
creature, “I had forgotten that my other pet, Echo, my eagle, is still
out. I will conduct you to your room, Miss Sanford, and then call him
in.”

They moved along the rocky chamber that resounded sepulchral with their
footfalls, the panther skipping playfully before them. Presently they
came to where a curtain or partition of skins was stretched from one
wall to the other. Lifting one corner of it they passed beyond.

“Now,” said the ranger, with a smile of embarrassment, “you are in the
kitchen of Rodger Rainbolt, your humble servant. You will not find
things here, even as you would in a bachelor’s kitchen in Omaha, but
men are poor housekeepers, you know.”

Silvia was surprised with the neatness of the apartment, and the order
and variety of its furniture; but she said nothing, fearing that the
ranger might construe her language of praise as that of unmeaning and
polite compliment.

Another partition of skins hanging at right-angles with the first,
separated the kitchen from another apartment into which the ranger
conducted the maiden.

“This,” he said, “is my sitting-room, parlor, bedroom and library all
combined. And now, pray be seated, Miss Sanford, and make yourself at
home while I go and bring my eagle up. You see I think a great deal of
my pets,” and, lighting a lamp that sat near, he turned and went out.

The apartment in which the young girl now found herself was far more
comfortable than could have been expected under the circumstances,
and was well lighted by a large lamp of stone filled with bear’s oil.
In a short time the ranger returned, bringing in the eagle, and then
announced his intention of preparing supper, asking Silvia to be seated
until his return.

In the course of an hour he again entered, bearing in his hands a rude
but ample repast, and with appetite sharpened by the long ride, they
partook of, and thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

After supper was over the ranger made known to his guest the programme
he had adopted for her restoration to her father, which met her hearty
approval. She was to remain there until he could find her father and
bring him there, or take her to where he was.

By this time the night was near, and the ranger seeing that the eyes of
his guest were growing heavy for want of sleep, he arose and turning to
leave the room said:

“As you are doubtless sleepy and fatigued, Miss Sanford, you can
appropriate this room and that pallet of furs, such as it is, for your
own sleeping apartment and retire whenever you feel so disposed.”

He bid her good night and went into the other apartment, where he
constructed him a couch and laid down, his panther curled down at his
feet and his eagle perched in a niche in the rocky wall.

Having offered up a fervent prayer to her Heavenly Father, Silvia
sought her couch and soon she was wrapt in a sound, refreshing slumber.



CHAPTER VII. AN IRISHMAN’S RUSE.


The greatest excitement prevailed in the hunters’ camp over the sudden,
mysterious death of Wayland Sanford. Every thing within the young
doctor’s power was done in hopes of restoring him to life, but all to
no purpose. His limbs were cold and stiff, and his eyes, though wide
open, had that stony, glassy stare and his face the ghastly pallor of
the dead.

“It’s no use, boys; he’s gone,” said the young doctor; “his death by
apoplexy was caused by over-exertion and mental excitement.

“Poor uncle Wayland!” sighed Frank. “We have all been afraid of this
for years. He was a victim of the heart-disease and had a nervous and
excitable temperament to aggravate it, and alas! the abduction of his
daughter, the wearisome pursuit without food and rest, and finally,
that paper placed in his hand by the ranger, did the work.”

“But why should it?” asked young Lyman.

“That’s what I can not tell,” replied Frank. “Uncle Wayland has
been a man of the world--has spent much of his life away from home
among strangers, in California, in Pike’s Peak, in the army upon the
frontier, and to me his life has been a sealed book--a secret volume in
which this very Rainbolt may be an important character.”

The lifeless form was placed upon a blanket near the fire, the rigid
limbs straightened out, and the pale hands folded across his breast.

Ebony Jim burst into a paroxysm of sorrow, as he looked down upon the
pale face of the colonel.

“What is he to you, more than a stranger, Ebony? and why do you mourn
over him?” asked Willis.

“Oh, good Lor’! and wasn’t he de father of poor Florence Walraven?”

“And what about Florence? what do you know of her?”

“Why, wasn’t she de wife of Warren Walraven? and wasn’t poor Massa
Walraven de good master ob dis poor, black nigger?”

“And what about your master and the Devil’s Tarn of which he forbade
you speaking?”

“Oh, good Lor’! don’t ask dat,” the negro replied, glancing toward the
form of the colonel. “I fears him,” pointing to the dead.

“He is dead; you need not fear him now.”

“De spirit ain’t dead--no, no; I’ll tells you some time, not now.”

Ebony was obstinate, and as Frank could elicit no information from him
he turned away, greatly mystified.

By this time day was breaking, and before long the sun arose clear and
warm.

Flick O’Flynn went out in search of food for breakfast, and soon
returned with a quarter of deer-meat. A fire was struck and a great
quantity of the venison roasted.

Breakfast over, a sad duty was to be performed--the duty of interring
the colonel’s body.

An hour was spent in digging a shallow grave; the dirt being loosened
with hunting-knives and thrown out by the hands. The form of the
colonel was now wrapped in a blanket taken from the shoulders of one of
the dead Indians, his face covered with his hat, and then laid away in
the narrow sepulcher.

This sad duty performed, a council was held, and after due
consideration it was decided that Frank Armond and Walter Lyman, with
the Irishman, should pursue a southward direction through the Black
Hills, while Willis Armond and Ralph Rodman, accompanied by Ebony Jim,
should take a south-westerly course, and in case they did not overtake
the savages before they reached their village, they were all to meet
at a certain point near the stronghold known to the hunters, when they
would make other arrangements.

Scarcely an hour after their departure, a score of savages emerged
from the forest into the little glade, and, as their eyes fell upon
the lifeless forms of their friends lying around, they uttered a wild,
revengeful cry, and turning, they glided away into the woods like so
many blood-hounds, directly upon the trail of the white men.

The course of Flick O’Flynn and party lay through the heart of the
Black Hills, and over a rough, mountainous region, but they pushed
rapidly ahead, hoping to overtake the savages before reaching the
village.

The first day’s travel found them but fifteen miles from where they had
started in the morning. At the end of the second day’s journey, they
went into camp about two miles from the Medicine Bow river.

Almost wearied out, Walter and Frank stretched themselves upon the
ground to talk over their serious predicament, while the Irishman
struck a fire by which to prepare supper. But unfortunately, when the
fire was struck there was nothing to prepare for supper, so O’Flynn
proposed to go in search of game, leaving the young men at camp.

In a few moments after his departure, the young unskilled sportsmen
seemed to forget the caution enjoined upon them by the hunter, and
producing a pack of cards, concluded to indulge in the pleasant pastime
of “seven-up,” until the loquacious friend and guide returned. However,
the beginning of the game seemed to have been ominous of evil, for at
that moment, four dark figures glided from the deepening shadows of the
woods with a hideous yell, and, ere the young men had time to realize
“the run of the game,” they were stretched upon the ground and bound
hand and foot, prisoners in the hands of the Cheyennes.

Having secured their prisoners they set off toward the river,
compelling the whites, with their hands tied behind their backs, to
walk in advance.

In the mean time Flick was continuing his hunt.

He had pursued his course across the bottom to the river without
finding any game, and turning, he proceeded down the stream. He had
gone but a short distance in this direction when he spied a large
canoe with a solitary Indian in it, moored near the bank. The savage
evidently was waiting for some one, judging from the impatient look
he would now and then flash into the woods at his side. Simultaneous
with the discovery of the Indian, the Irishman heard a loud yell in the
direction of the camp, and well he knew its import. But, to be certain,
he turned and hastened back toward his friends, and as he neared the
camp he saw that his fears were confirmed. Frank and Walter were
prisoners and were being conducted through the forest toward the river.

The savages were going directly toward that point on the river where
he had seen the Indian in the canoe, and he knew full well that he was
one of the same party. So, turning, he ran with all possible speed back
to the river. He reached the bank several rods above where the Indian
still sat in the canoe, and, dropping upon his hands and knees, he
began crawling down toward the red-skin.

It was his object to put the savage out the way, and as he did not
wish to raise an alarm by firing his gun he resolved to trust in his
shillalah.

The Indian was seated with his face down the stream, and, as Flick
approached him, he discovered him to be a half-breed. He was dressed in
an old ragged suit of clothes, no doubt taken from some white victim.
An old straw hat surmounted his head, with what little there remained
of the brim lopped down over his eyes almost concealing his face.

Flick crawled on with the silence of a shadow, and had nearly reached
the canoe when his foot caught in a vine and he was thrown heavily to
the ground, making no little confusion. An involuntary oath escaped his
lips as he sprung up and prepared to flee, but to his surprise he saw
the Indian never moved.

“Success to mees’ plan, he’s dafe!” muttered the hunter, and he moved
on toward the red-skin.

He had almost succeeded in reaching the water’s edge when the savage
turned his head and saw him. In a moment the red-man snatched up his
tomahawk from the bottom of the canoe and hurled it at the head of the
Irishman. But the latter divined his intention, and falling flat upon
his face in the mud, the weapon passed harmlessly over. The savage did
not utter a single word nor sound, and it was quite evident now that he
was both _deaf_ and _dumb_.

“And sthill so much the better,” exclaimed the Irishman, and quicker
than thought he sprung up and into the canoe, and giving the half-breed
a tap on the head, settled him down perfectly unconscious.

In a minute the Irishman had stripped him of his ragged clothes and
donned them himself. As the Indian was the largest man, he (Flick)
had no trouble in putting the clothes on over his own, and with the
two suits on he appeared fully as large as the red-skin and equally as
woeful.

Flick then saw a little bark canoe resting under some willows that
fringed the bank. Drawing it out he placed the unconscious half-breed
therein and sent him adrift, knowing that ere he recovered his senses
he would be far enough away.

So far things had worked like a charm, and having smeared his face and
hands with a pigment of dark clay, and drawing the old hat-brim down
over his eyes, the disguise was completed, trusting to the gathering
twilight to hide all imperfections.

Flick now concealed his shillalah under his ragged coat, his rifle
under the seat of the capacious canoe, and then, procuring the savage’s
tomahawk, took his seat in the canoe.

By this time it was nearly dark, and, inasmuch as Flick was to play the
part of a deaf and dumb Indian, he felt perfectly safe in his daring
feat to rescue his friends, but, when he saw the savages emerge from
the woods and approach the canoe, his heart almost ceased to beat
through fear of being detected.



CHAPTER VIII. ENTRAPPED.


Through his perfect knowledge of the country, Ebony Jim with his
party succeeded in making about twenty miles the first day. They then
encamped on the edge of a small glade, on three sides of which arose
the dark woods, while on the fourth side a tall, jutting rock, some
fifty feet high, frowned down on the little glade. At the base of this
rock our friends selected their camp, which would not only afford a
shelter from the heavy, chilly dew, but a protection from an Indian
attack in the rear.

Something like an hour had passed, during which time Willis and Ralph
had expressed a wish for a little excitement to keep them awake. In
the mean time the practiced eyes of Ebony had espied several dark forms
moving to and fro along the edge of the timber, but within its shadow.

That they meant harm the negro knew well enough, and he resolved at
once to make them “show their hand.” Saying nothing, he crept out of
the camp, and securing good cover awaited the red-skins’ approach.
Not long did he wait, however, for soon the head and breast of a
red-painted warrior appeared, scanning the glade camp with basilisk
eyes. Ebony was on the alert with a novel weapon--a round stone of the
size of a hen’s egg. Without noise he threw the stone with wonderful
power and precision, striking the savage square in the forehead, and
without a groan the Cheyenne fell forward upon his face--a dead man.

“Hi-hi!” the negro chuckled; “guess dat imp’s squaw’ll be waitin’ a
good while for her next beatin’.”

Not another savage appeared; and Ebony returned to camp to watch and
wait.

Two or three hours passed without any demonstration on the part of
the savages, and the watchful whites began to congratulate themselves
on their enemies’ having withdrawn, when, suddenly, the whole heavens
over them became lit up with the glare of the mid-day sun, and the next
moment a great ball of dry, matted pine brush came rolling over the
edge of the cliff, wrapped in a sheet of red, hissing flame. It fell at
the feet of our friends, lighting up their hiding-place with a blinding
glare, and exposing them to the savages’ aim, while to them all was
inky gloom beyond the radius of light made by the burning brush.

There was no alternative but to take to the woods.

“Foller dis nigga, boys!” exclaimed Ebony, springing from under the
rock and rushing across the opening.

Willis and Ralph did as commanded, and they all would have succeeded
in reaching the shelter of the wood safely, but, unfortunately, Ralph
stumbled, and before he could gain his feet he was seized by a number
of savages that lay in ambush near, and made prisoner.

Ebony and Willis saw their companion captured, but, as they could
render no assistance against such fearful odds, they dashed on and made
good their escape into the woods.

They could hear the yell of the Indians back at the cliff, and to
ascertain what was going on they crept back to a point of observation.
They saw the red-skins, a score in number, grouped around the captive
under the edge of the cliff, but of course they could not tell what
disposition they were going to make of him.

For some time the negro sat in a deep study. Presently he started
up with what he considered a “bright idea,” and which he at once
communicated to Willis.

Ten minutes later, had the savages under the cliff glanced across the
opening, they would have seen the body of their comrade, that was slain
by the negro, dragged from the edge of the glade by some invisible
power, into the clump of shrubbery some ten feet away. This was done by
Ebony fixing the screw of his ramrod in a long pole which he slid along
upon the ground until it came in contact with the savage’s body; he
then twisted the screw into the dead fellow’s garments and dragged him
into the brush--for what purpose will soon be shown.

The savages did not notice the disappearance of their comrade’s body,
so intent were they in the council that was being held to determine
the fate of their captive. Some were in favor of tomahawking him on
the spot, some of burning him, and some one thing and some another.
Finally, it was settled that the captive select his own choice of
death, from burning, the tomahawk, and jumping from the cliff overhead.

The choice was rather a difficult one. Death by the tomahawk and
jumping from the cliff would be instantaneous, while by burning, his
chances of being rescued by Ebony and Willis would be prolonged as well
as his suffering. And so he took his choice of death by burning at the
stake.

The captive’s hands were free, but his legs were bound so tightly that
the bonds cut the flesh, and in this manner he was compelled to stand
perfectly motionless.

In a moment all hands were busied in erecting a stake in the center of
the glade, gathering fuel and making other preparations for the grand
torture; and while thus engaged, a voice suddenly rung out on the night
air, clear and distinct:

“Seize the rope, Rodman; seize the rope!”

All eyes were involuntarily drawn toward the woods across the moonlit
opening, whence the voice had emanated, and at that instant Ralph
Rodman, the doomed captive, _arose from the ground_, floated upward,
upward, upward through the air--up along the face of the cliff; and
when the savages again turned, they found he had vanished from their
midst like mist before the morning sun--gone they knew not where;
but, suddenly, a great black object leaped from the edge of the
cliff overhead, and falling in their midst crushed half their number
to atoms. It was a huge stone, rolled over the cliff by Ebony Jim,
who had also saved Ralph by drawing him up with a rope made of the
dead Indian’s buck-skin garments, and lowered at the moment that the
savages’ attention was drawn toward the woods.

Thus Ebony’s “bright idea” had proved a success. While Willis remained
in the woods to draw the attention of the savages, at the same time
warn Ralph of their presence, the negro had crept around to the top of
the cliff, and at the instant Willis called out he dropped one end of
the rope, and as it fell plump on Ralph’s head, he had his friend’s
command forcibly and instantly impressed upon his mind, and seizing
hold of the rope he was drawn up to the top of the cliff--saved.

Without loss of time they hurried from the place, and two hours’ travel
brought them to the mouth of a large cave, where they at once concluded
to spend the night.

They ventured to strike a fire now, for they were wet and chilly with
the heavy dew. They were just within the mouth of the cavern, and as
the fire lighted up the surrounding gloom it revealed the dark opening
back into the hill.

Ralph and Willis at once determined to explore the cavern. Ebony
remonstrated, but as he could give no reason for his objections, the
young adventurers procured a torch and set out, leaving the negro to
stand guard at the entrance.

Led on by the increasing wonders and magnificence of the place, they
threaded the winding passage for several hundred feet, when they
emerged into a wide, capacious chamber.

Here they halted and held the torch above their heads.

“Hist! didn’t you hear footsteps?” exclaimed Willis, suddenly.

“Fudge! no; you’re getting nervous,” returned Ralph, “and imagine you
hear the footsteps of ghosts. Come, let us look further, old boy. No
superstition--Heavens!”

The last exclamation was caused by a sound in the narrow passage
resembling the rolling of a heavy body on trucks. It came from the
passage behind them, and filled with no little fear and curiosity, they
turned and began to retrace their footsteps.

They had gone but a few steps when they heard the hollow, rumbling
noise again, and what was their surprise and horror to see an immense
rock slide out from the great wall and completely block their passage.

Ralph raised the torch above his head and turned to Willis, speechless
with terror.

At that instant a wild, demoniac laugh of triumph, that seemed to issue
from the lips of a legion of fiends, greeted the young men’s ears as it
echoed through the hollow chambers of the cavern.

_They were entrapped in the den of mountain robbers!_

In the meanwhile Ebony Jim, hearing the yells of laughter proceeding
from the interior, quickly divined the cause, and knowing that he could
be of no assistance to the young men, dashed off at a great speed into
the forest.

For several hours he pursued his way, his intention being to hunt up
Flick O’Flynn, and daylight found him many miles from the robber’s cave.

He had begun to feel satisfied that he had escaped his white enemies
when, as he was passing through a narrow defile, his ear caught the
sound of footsteps, and the next instant he saw three dark figures
coming directly toward him.

Quick as thought he swung himself upward into the branches of a thick
tree, and lying at length upon a large limb, he anxiously awaited the
approach of the party.



CHAPTER IX. “SOLOMON STRANGE, MY LORD.”


Two days Silvia had passed in the ranger’s home. Two days the ranger
had spent in fruitless search of her father among the wilds of the
Black Hills. But the kind-hearted man had every reason to believe that
he would yet find him, and encouraged the maiden’s impatient spirits by
the tenderest words of hope.

With his eagle he had left the cavern in the morning, and after a hard
day’s ride returned at night.

The third day Rainbolt set out upon his mission, in which he had begun
to feel a strange interest.

It was toward noon, that, while ascending a steep hill, he came
suddenly face to face with a strange-looking individual who had come
from the other side of the ridge.

The stranger stopped directly in front of the ranger as if he were
going to dispute his passage. Rainbolt drew rein and scanned the fellow
from head to foot.

He was tall, standing fully six feet in his moccasins, with an ungainly
form, and eyes whose color could not be defined in the shadow of their
scraggy, beetling brows. The complexion of his face was a dirty sallow,
though it was almost hidden beneath its growth of grizzly gray whiskers
that reached to the man’s waist.

Altogether he was a wretched specimen of humanity, and Rainbolt could
not suppress a smile as he took in his doleful figure.

The strange creature carried a huge knotted club, with which he menaced
the ranger.

“What is your name?” asked the fierce-looking man, abruptly.

“My name is Rodger Rainbolt--who are you?”

“Solomon Strange, my lord,” the man replied, boastfully. “I am just
from ‘Merry England’ across the water, the water.”

“A foreigner,” replied the ranger; “and what brings you here, Mr.
Strange?”

“Ho! ho! ho! my lord,” he laughed, with an imbecile leer; “a love for
the chase brings me here. In Merry England across the water, I was
game-keeper to Oliver Cromwell. Do you know you look so much like my
lord Oliver, that I can’t help calling you my lord? Surely, you are
some relation to him, to him, my lord.”

“None at all,” replied the ranger, much amused; “but you are an aged
man to have lived in Cromwell’s time.”

“So I am, so I am, my lord; but the swiftest that ever came from the
land of the Orient--the swiftest of all save your half-brother the
Lightning’s bolt.”

“Crazy,” muttered the scout, to himself, “crazy as a loon.” Then he
said aloud:

“You are a wonderful man, Solomon Strange.”

“So I am, so I am, my lord Oliver--Thunderbolt, I mean; and I can read
the past and future to you, my lord, like an open book, an open book.”

“Then perhaps you can tell me where those are I seek?” said the ranger,
humoring his crazy whims.

“_Those_ are I seek,” the man repeated; “yes, yes, yes; there are five
of them, but you need not hunt, my lord. One of them lies dead and
buried where you last saw him, and the others are scattered through the
mountains.”

The ranger would have been surprised had he known how truthfully the
man had spoken, whether gifted with the power of second sight or not.

Solomon Strange was silent for a moment, then he continued:

“I see you doubt my words, my lord, for you do not know whether I speak
the truth or not; but, try me--ask me other questions--such as you will
know whether I answer truthfully, truthfully, my lord.”

“Then tell me for what I seek those persons, or something touching my
past.”

“I can tell you something of both, of both, my lord,” said the man,
closing his sunken eyes and grasping the knotted staff in both hands.

“In the first question I see a beautiful girl, with golden ringlets
and soft blue eyes. Ay, do I not, my lord, do I not?”

The ranger started with surprise. Before he could speak, Strange
continued:

“Yes, yes, it is so, my lord; I see the answer upon your flushed face;
and now your past, your past, my lord. Ay, it is gloomy, gloomy. I see
trouble and sorrow in the ‘crow’s feet’ about your eyes, your eyes, do
I not?”

“Never mind; go on, go on,” replied the ranger, with a strange
curiosity.

Strange continued:

“Yes, trouble and sorrow in the crow’s feet, and what beyond? Ay, a
group of men, a military tribunal, a cashiered captain, and who is
that wending his way through the hills, the hills? Now, now I see, my
lord; it is the captain, the cashiered captain; and now, what do I see,
see emerge from the woods and seize the captain. Ay, it’s a legion of
dusky fiends, fiends, and then, oh, then, what beyond that, my lord? A
canoe, a canoe drifting, drifting down a wild mountain stream, and in
it lies the cashiered captain bound hand and foot, and the canoe with
the captain is drifting, drifting toward what? Ay, toward _death_--the
falls, the falls--Oh, God! he has gone over, and all beyond is black,
black as----”

The man’s words were here cut short by a bullet whizzing in close
proximity to his head, closely followed by the report of a rifle.
Throwing up his hands, he exclaimed:

“Away, Rainbolt! away! the fiends, the fiends are after you again. Save
yourself for the girl’s sake!” and turning, the man glided away into
the forest.

At this instant, Echo, the eagle, appeared over his master’s head,
and uttered a wild scream which the ranger knew to be his signal of
approaching danger, and speaking to his animal, he dashed away down the
stony hill with a score of mounted Cheyennes thundering after him.

The ranger shaped his course back toward his hidden home, for the
language of the madman, Solomon Strange, had so fearfully impressed his
mind that he could not pursue the search for Silvia’s father until he
had had time for reflection.

After an hour’s hard riding he entered a level, wooded valley, through
which wound the waters of Lodge Pole creek.

He now reined his noble animal to a walk, inasmuch as he had distanced
his pursuers, but, suddenly, his eagle again came swooping down with
the warning cry of danger, and again he rode on at the top of his
animal’s speed.

He had gone thus some two miles, when he suddenly dashed from the thick
timbers into an open plain, and what was his surprise to find himself
in the outskirt of an Indian village.

It required but a single glance to see that the Indians were Cheyennes,
and great was his surprise to see Black Bear among them.

The ranger’s situation was precarious. He could not turn back without
running into the power of those he was fleeing from; nor could he turn
to the right nor the left on account of the, almost, perpendicular
hills on one side and the creek on the other. So there was no
alternative but to ride directly through the heart of the village, and
drawing his saber and giving his animal the reins, he dashed on.

He was half-way through the village ere the savages discovered the
daring ranger in their midst, and was gone like the wind, before they
had recovered sufficiently to pursue.



CHAPTER X. A MIDNIGHT BURIAL.


Frank and Walter’s captors advanced toward the canoe in which Flick
O’Flynn sat, and great was the Irishman’s relief when he saw that they
did not penetrate his disguise.

For several moments the deaf and dumb Indian capered around the two
young men, hoping to give them a signal, but unfortunately for him, in
cutting these pranks, Walter gave him a kick in the stomach that fairly
doubled him on the beach.

Presently one of the savages motioned for his supposed deaf and dumb
comrade to take a seat in the stern of the canoe, which he accordingly
did with a jump.

The captives were then placed on the seat next to him, facing the same
way. Two of the savages with tomahawks seated themselves facing the
captives, while the other two took up the paddles.

“Holy Vargin!” muttered the Irishman to himself, as the canoe shot out,
“what if wees overtake the canoe with the rhale Mr. Lo into it? I niver
thought of that--wirra!”

And this they were quite likely to do, for they moved rapidly down
the stream; however, Flick O’Flynn was not long in making mental
preparations for the emergency that was sure to come, and which did
come sooner than he thought for.

In less than half an hour the canoe rounded an abrupt bend in the
stream, and but a few rods in advance of them Flick saw the Indian
that he had sent adrift sitting up in the canoe and gesticulating in
an excited manner with one hand, while with the other he was trying to
paddle the little craft up the stream. Quick as a flash Flick arose
to his feet and pointed in an excited manner toward the savage. The
two guards turned quickly around to see what the mute wished to call
their attention to; and at that instant the Irishman drew his shillalah
from under his coat, and, reaching forward over the captives’ heads,
dealt the savages a blow on the head that sent them heels over head
into the Medicine Bow. And then he uttered a yell, and springing over
the captives’ heads, served the two oarsmen a blow on the head that
caused them to release their hold on the oars and sink down quietly and
unconscious at his feet.

“Ay, now,” exclaimed the supposed mute Indian, turning to the wondering
captives; “it was a lick on the head wid me shillalah that made mees
known to the rhed bla’guards, and shill mees make meeself known to yees
_blind_ jackasses the same?”

“Flick, as I’m a confounded fool!” exclaimed Frank.

“And it’s a purty mess yees hev got into,” said the Irishman, cutting
their bonds.

In the mean time, the real mute Indian had succeeded in reaching the
shore and making his escape.

Flick now pitched the two unconscious oarsman out into the water, and
taking the paddle sent the craft flying down the stream.

In a few minutes an island densely covered with timber was reached and
the party landed and drew the canoe up on the beach.

The trio did not strike a fire for fear of attracting the attention of
the Indians, should any be lurking in the vicinity; and so they were
compelled to go without supper.

Seating themselves in the shadow of the undergrowth, where they
could not be seen, they entered into conversation, but this was soon
interrupted by the sound of paddles.

Rising to their feet and looking up-stream, they discovered a canoe
containing four men coming down toward the island.

They listened and discovered they were whites, but not feeling free
to make known their presence until they ascertained whether they were
friends or foes, or whether they were going to land on the island or
not, they took their weapons and climbed up a large tree that stood
in the center of the island and concealed themselves among the thick
boughs where they could command a view of the canoe and its occupants.

The canoe landed in a few moments, and then came an exclamation:

“Hullo, boys! here’s a canoe, and what if sum ’un is onter the island?”

“Heavens!” exclaimed another, in a tone of fear, “s’pose you go look
’round an’ see.”

“S’pose you go to the devil, Phil Graball!” replied the first speaker;
“do you think thet Eebenezer Frogfoot’s goin’ to be a fool and venter
out thar alone and git my carcass riddled with bullets? No, sir-ee, you
can’t come thet game.”

“Ye would if ye wer’n’t a coward,” returned Graball.

“Humph! I’ll bet all the gold in the--the hills thet you’re afeard
ter walk ’round this ’ere island onc’t,” said the important Ebenezer
Frogfoot.

“Ay, now,” whispered Flick O’Flynn, “they’re robbers as mees is a born
Irishman.”

“And cowards, too,” added Walter.

“Yes, but keep still; they may do or say something to our benefit,”
said Frank.

And so they listened and watched.

The matter of scouting the island was finally settled by all agreeing
to go in a body.

So the four brave men got themselves into line and began beating around
through the brush, but they found nothing.

“No one here, thank fortune,” said one of the robbers; “that canoe has
drifted there sometime ’r other.”

“Then let’s bring it ashore,” said another, whereupon they all returned
to the canoe.

One of their number now lit a lantern, which sent a red beam of light
across the island. Two of the men then took up a dark object from the
canoe, and following the one with the lantern, advanced toward the
interior of the island.

“Here’s the spot,” said the robber with the light, stopping directly
under the tree in which our friends were ensconced.

The two with the burden advanced and placed it on the ground at the
foot of the tree.

Our friends started with a shudder at what they saw.

_It was a beautiful, silver-mounted coffin!_



CHAPTER XI. A MEETING AT THE DEVIL’S TARN.


The Devil’s Tarn and the Crystal Falls were one and the same. The
latter name had been given the torrent of Rodger Rainbolt, who, as
the reader already knows, dwelt in the secret cavern whose entrance
was concealed by the falls. To those dwelling in the mountains--the
hunters, robbers, and Indians, the place was known as the Devil’s Tarn,
and by this name we will call it hereafter.

It was about two hours of midnight on the evening of the same day that
Rodger Rainbolt had unexpectedly rode into the Indian encampment on
Lodge Pole, that the figure of a man wrapped in a kind of military
cloak, and wearing a broad-brimmed hat and pair of high-topped boots,
and carrying a bull’s-eye lantern, might have been seen pacing to and
fro beneath the boughs of a great pine tree that stood but a few feet
from the head of the Devil’s Tarn.

Presently, his keen ear caught the soft tread of moccassined feet, and
the next moment a dark hairy figure emerged from the black wood and
advanced toward him. The man lifted his lantern and flashed it upon the
figure of the new-comer.

It was Black Bear, the Cheyenne chief. And the man who held the lantern
was Duval Dungarvon, the robber-captain.

“Ay, Duval Dungarvon, and so you’re on time,” said the chief, seizing
the robber by the hand.

“Yes, my handsome Black Bear, I am always up to time; but where’s the
girl?” replied Dungarvon.

“Gone to the devil,” bluntly replied Black Bear.

“Come now, don’t trifle with me, Blufe Brandon!” exclaimed the
robber-captain, fiercely. “I ask you where the girl is?”

“And I tell you she’s gone to the devil,” returned the chief.

“What do you mean, Brandon?”

“Simply what I say; that infernal white ranger known as Rainbolt, rode
right into camp--picked up your girl, and--”

“And what?” gasped the robber-captain with impatient rage and fury.

“And went--to--the--devil with her, as I told you before,” returned,
with emphasis, the chief.

The robber-captain ground his teeth with rage, stamped his foot with
fury, and swore a terrible oath.

“Come, come, Dungarvon! I am going--”

“Yes, yes!” returned Dungarvon, savagely, “you’re always going to do
something. Just like as any way, the girl’s in California by this time.”

“Not a bit of it, Captain Duval,” returned Black Bear; “that girl is in
these ‘Hills,’ and wherever Rainbolt is, she is, also; and I know he is
not far away.”

“Well, how do you know?”

“Because he rode right through the heart of our encampment to-day,
and--”

“And escaped?”

“Yes, escaped.”

“Ha! ha! ha! ha!” laughed the robber-captain, his voice ringing out
above the roar of the Devil’s Tarn; “well, that beats any thing on
record. But, do you know who that ranger is?”

“Yes, your rival for the hand of Silvia Sanford.”

“Curse you, Brandon; if it wasn’t for one thing I’d shoot you for your
insolence.”

“No doubt of it, and it wouldn’t be the first man you’d shot, either,”
returned Black Bear.

“Well, well, let’s talk business, Black Bear. I’m bound to have that
girl if I have to wade through fire and brimstone.”

“Whew, captain! but you’re desperately in love!”

“In love!” sneered the captain; “humph! all I want the girl for is to
torture Sanford, for I know he worships her like I did the dark-eyed
Inez, her mother. He cheated me out of the other girl, and I’ll be
hanged if he does this one. But if he could jist get a hold on old
Barker he’d be all right; but I’ll see to Barker. For two years he
has lain in prison up at my ranch, and seems as though he never will
die. He’s nothing but a living skeleton now, and if I wasn’t afraid
of needing him some time I’d tumble him into the Dead Gorge. But to
business. Now, if you will hunt up and deliver into my hands, at my
ranch, within the next week, Silvia Sanford, I will add five thousand
more to what I offered you at Omaha. What say you?”

“I’ll do it, if it costs me every brave in my tribe,” replied Black
Bear, excited at the liberal reward of his friend.

“And there is another thing, Brandon,” said the robber-chief; “I was
thinking that, if you were one of my band, as well as an Indian chief,
we could throw our forces together and work to a better advantage.”

“And I’ve been thinkin’ that I would like to join your order if it
wasn’t for your confounded initiatory ceremony.”

“I’ll admit it does make a fellow a little shaky in the joints,”
said Dungarvon; “but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you will meet
me to-morrow noon at the Lone Pine, I’ll give a synopsis of the
‘ceremony,’ that you will not be unnerved in case you will join us.”

“_I’ll do it!_” returned the renegade, emphatically; “to-morrow noon at
Lone Pine, and I’ll expect you to tell me the truth in regard to the
‘ceremony,’ for a nice story it would be to get out, that Black Bear,
the great Cheyenne chief, had shown the white feather at a ceremony!”

“Ha! ha! ha! Brandon,” laughed Dungarvon; “you are naturally weak in
the joints, but let it be understood--to-morrow noon, at Lone Pine.”

“I will not fail you, rest assured,” said Black Bear.

Dungarvon mounted a horse which he had hitched near, and soon he was
thundering away over the stony hills, back to his den.

Black Bear turned and glided away through the woods toward his village,
and as he did so, a figure--the figure of a tall man with long, yellow,
disheveled hair streaming behind, and carrying a heavy club, crept
from the bushes within five feet of where the villains had held their
interview, and stole with the silence of a phantom after the chief, his
huge club upraised to beat him down.

It was Solomon Strange, the madman.



CHAPTER XII. SILVIA’S TROUBLES.


Silvia Sanford did not spend her days of confinement in the ranger’s
home in tears and sorrow. Far from it, though she felt anxious and
uneasy about her father’s safety. She was perfectly contented in the
society of the ranger, and his books when he was absent. Too, she had
spent much of her time in wandering through the cavern, watching the
falls and the beautiful trout that gamboled through the crystal waters.

It was on the morning following the night of Duval Dungarvon and Black
Bear’s meeting, that the falls were parted a short time after sunrise,
and a canoe, in which were the ranger and Silvia, and Echo, the eagle,
shot out from under the falls and landed on the left bank of the stream.

The ranger took Silvia by the hand and assisted her on shore, and then
led her up the steep, rocky cliff onto the summit of a high ridge
overlooking the little valley below, and the distant hills.

He seated himself on a large rock and drew the maiden down by his side.

“Now, Miss Sanford,” he said, waving his hand away before him, “you can
have a fair view of nature in her fresh morning robes.”

Silvia’s eyes took in the landscape before her.

“Oh, how grand and beautiful, Mr. Rainbolt!” she murmured, softly.

“I was just thinking, Silvia, that if we could always gaze upon the
beauties of nature, and enjoy them together as we have this morning,
what bliss would be ours.”

Silvia’s face flushed, and her heart fluttered wildly and yet strangely
to her. With a tremulous voice she replied:

“That could never be, Rodger.”

“And why not? There is nothing impossible, Silvia.”

“I do not understand you,” she said.

“Then pardon me, Silvia, for speaking plainly what my heart compels
me to say,” he said, in a warm, tender voice. “Since I have met you,
I have learned to love you, as only a true heart can love. Forgive
me, Silvia, but I could not keep back this confession, and I pray you
will not feel insulted, or as though I were taking advantage of your
helplessness. God forbid.”

The maiden’s eyes sought the ground shyly. Her heart leaped with
strange emotion, but, after a few moments’ silence, during which the
warm color in her cheeks came and went, she looked up and said:

“Why need I disguise my feelings? Oh, Rodger, my heart tells me I love
you; but, give me one day to answer your question, to--”

“Yes, dear Silvia, a week, a year, since I have heard from your lips
that I am loved!” replied the handsome ranger, his face radiant with
joy.

There was a momentary silence, broken only by the roar of the falls.
The ranger was the first to speak.

“Since my heart feels lighter, dear Silvia, since I have something
left in the world to hope for now, I feel like another man, yet I am
neglecting my duty to you, and so I must leave you now, and go and
continue the search for your father. Shall I accompany you into the
cavern before I go?”

“No, no, Rodger, I will remain here awhile in the cheerful sunshine,
then I can go down into the cavern alone. Go, and may God speed you,”
she replied.

The ranger imprinted a warm and ardent kiss upon her brow, then turned,
and with Echo perched upon his shoulder, went in search of his pony.

Silvia watched him until he had disappeared; then she seated herself
again, and became absorbed in thought.

How long she had remained so she did not know, but presently a soft
footstep aroused her from her abstraction.

She arose to her feet and turned quickly around. An Indian woman, whom
she at once recognized as Silver Voice, stood before her. Silvia was
the first to speak.

“Oh, Silver Voice! it is you, who were so kind to me!”

“Yes, dear girl,” the woman replied, with much sadness in her voice,
“but you are looking happier than when I last saw you.”

“Really, Silver Voice, I should be miserable indeed if I had not found
a friend,” returned Silvia.

“Ah! dear girl, I know why. You have learned to love your handsome
rescuer and friend, the ranger, and he loves you. Forgive me, but I
stood in that shrubbery and heard his avowal of love and your reply.”

Silvia’s face flushed with anger.

“Do not get angry,” Silver Voice continued, “for it is all for your own
good. Let me tell you, that if ever you marry Rodger Rainbolt, you will
rue it to the bitter end.”

“Silver Voice!” cried Silvia, petulantly, “why do you presume to speak
so prophetic? You astound me!”

“I know I do, but I speak the truth.”

“What do you know of Mr. Rainbolt, Silver Voice?”

“I know much--oh, God! _much!_” she cried, in a tone of sudden agony.

“And _how_ do you know it?” questioned Silvia, in surprise.

“Take _that_,” Silver Voice said, handing Silvia a folded paper, “and
when I am gone, read it. It will tell you all you wish to know of
Rodger Rainbolt.”

“And of you?” questioned Silvia, eagerly.

“No. You do not wish, you do not _need_ to know more of me than you do;
but promise me that you will not breathe one word in the paper to the
ranger.”

“I promise you,” said Silvia, scarcely knowing what she was saying.

“Then, good-by; you may never see me again,” said Silver Voice, and
turning, she vanished in the forest like a shadow.

“Strange, mysterious woman,” muttered Silvia; “she seems like the
vision of a dream to me. But the paper.”

She opened it. One side was blank, the other covered with the delicate
handwriting of a female.

Silvia’s face turned ghastly pale as she glanced at the first words,
and by the time she had finished the first line, her whole frame was
trembling violently. But she read on, read on to the end, and then she
uttered a low, convulsive cry, and wrung her hands as though a terrible
agony was breaking her heart.

“Oh, my God!” she exclaimed. “Is it possible?”

With her feelings wrought to the highest pitch of excitement, she
descended the cliff to the water’s edge, and stepped into the canoe to
return to the cavern.

As she did so, she did not notice that round, dark ball from which
shone a pair of burning orbs, resting on the water, yet concealed under
the projecting rim of the canoe; nor did she observe how the craft
dragged as it entered beneath the waters when they were parted, with a
deadly enemy clinging to its side.



CHAPTER XIII. THE MEANING OF THE COFFIN.


Frank Armond and Walter Lyman felt a chill pass over their frames as
they gazed down upon the coffin and the four burly, rough-looking men
standing around it.

The Irishman acted quite easy and indifferent about the matter, as he
did on all occasions.

The coffin was small; about the size that a ten-year-old child would
require.

For a moment the robbers gazed at it, then one of them asked:

“Do ye s’pose the body’s all right into it?”

“Don’t know,” was the response. “It mout hev got shook around; however,
it won’t take long ter look,” and in a few moments the lid was removed.

The lantern was lowered as the four men bent over the coffin, and our
friends in the tree parted the foliage carefully, and peered down,
eager to get a glimpse of the dead.

And true enough they did. The pale waxen face of a beautiful child,
wrapped in a sheet was revealed to their startled gaze.

“It’s all right,” growled one of the robbers.

“Ya-as, put on the lid, and let’s git it sunk quick as possible.”

While the robber with the knife was screwing on the lid of the coffin,
one of the others went to the canoe and brought a shovel, with which he
at once began digging a grave.

In a few moments a grave had been dug some three feet deep, and the
coffin placed therein, and then covered up--the sods and turfs of grass
being replaced so as to conceal every trace of the ground having been
disturbed.

“That’s it!” exclaimed one of the robbers, when their task was
finished; “the duty o’ the livin’ to the dead is done.”

At that instant a wild scream was heard overhead, and looking up the
robbers, as well as our friends in the tree, beheld that horrible,
mysterious creature--the Aërial Demon--float over the island and
disappear down the stream.

It acted like a charm on the rebellious robbers, for they rushed to
their canoe, and in a moment were flying upon the stream, fearing to
speak above a whisper.

As soon as they were out of sight our friends descended from the tree.

“Ay, now, and it’s a lovely set of critters they ware,” said the
Irishman; “and it’s mees thet’ll dig up the coffin as soon as daylight
comes and look into the mather a leetle so I will.”

“I’m sure we have seen all that’s to be seen,” said Walter, “and so let
the dead rest.”

“There, now, and it’s yees thet know little av the bloody robber
deviltry. There’s a thrick in it, now mind.”

As the night was quite warm, Walter and Frank laid down upon the ground
and soon fell asleep, leaving Flick on guard.

When they awoke in the morning the sun was up, and the first thing they
saw was Flick O’Flynn just lifting the coffin out the grave.

“Humph! I suppose you are satisfied now you’ve dug up the body,” said
Walter, rising to his feet.

“Nary bit av it, Mishter Walter, I haven’t see’d inside yet,” said the
Irishman, as he began to unscrew the lid.

Walter and Frank came and stood by and watched him perform the
operation with no little curiosity. The last screw removed, the lid was
lifted and--

There was the pale waxen face of the dead upturned to the clear morning
sun, with the flaxen-white hair clustered about the face.

“I suppose you are satisfied now,” said Frank.

Flick burst into a loud laugh and replied:

“Ay, and it’s blind yees are. Can’t yees see the thrick?”

“_Trick?_ no; what do you mean, O’Flynn?” asked Frank.

“_That_, now!” replied the Irishman, and he clutched his fingers in the
silken hair of the corpse and held up to the astonished gaze of the
young men the _trunkless head_ of a WAX-FIGURE!

He now laid down the waxen head and proceeded to unroll what appeared
the body wrapped in a white sheet. Fold after fold was unrolled, until
finally, a small leather bag, filled with some hard metal rolled out.
Flick seized the bag, and taking up his knife cut it open, and then
turning it up he poured into the coffin a great heap of _gold coin_.

“Thet’s the body,” said Flick, a grin of triumph overspreading his
broad, florid face.

“Yes, yes, yes,” replied Frank, “and a clever trick it is. But why do
they take so much trouble in burying their gold?”

“Thinking, thet if any greenhorn like yeeselfs should rhun ag’inst the
coffin and open it, see the dead face, or wax figure in’t, they would
misthrust nothing--put it back and go their way, jist as yees would
have done in this case.”

Flick now filled the leather bag with pebbles, wrapped it in the old
ragged clothes taken from the mute half-breed, and stuffed it back into
the coffin with the wax-figure. He then consigned the coffin to the
earth again--covered it over and smoothed down the sods.

The three pocketed their gold, the generous Irishman having insisted
on dividing it equally, which proved no little incumbrance as well as
fortune, and taking up their arms crossed over to the main-land.

By this time long fasting was beginning to tell upon their strength,
and it was at once decided to procure something to appease their
gnawing hunger.

A few minutes’ hunting resulted in Flick shooting a fawn, a portion of
which was at once roasted. After the meal had been dispatched, another
slice of meat was cooked and stowed away in the young sportsmen’s
game-bags for future use.

Feeling much refreshed they now continued their journey through the
hills, and ere long discovered an Indian trail.

The party at once set off to follow it, and pursued rapidly until it
entered a deep, black defile, where the growth of heavy pines almost
excluded the rays of the sun.

“Faith, and it’s not the farst thime thet mees hev been through here,”
said Flick; “and every time I could imagine thet mees felt the icy
fingers av Old Nick upon me.”

Scarcely had the last word left his lips, than a huge, dusky hand was
thrust down from among the foliage of the low, drooping boughs under
which he was passing--clutched him with its cold, bony fingers by the
nape of the neck, and drew him from the ground, up among the dark
boughs with the quickness of a flash.



CHAPTER XIV. THE TRAGEDY IN THE FOREST GLADE.


Like a phantom the tall form of Solomon Strange glided through the
forest after Black Bear.

Now and then the renegade would stop and gaze around him as though he
felt a presentiment of lurking danger, and then again move on.

Half a mile from the Indian encampment was a little glade through which
ran the trail the chief was following. As he neared the edge of it, the
madman quickened his pace, and just as the renegade stepped into the
moonlit space, a wild voice called out:

“Stop!”

The renegade involuntarily stopped and turned around.

At this moment the tall form of Solomon Strange sprung from the forest
shadows, and dealt the chief a blow with his club that felled him
lifeless at his feet.

Bending over the prostrate form, he scrutinized it.

“Yes, life is extinct,” muttered he, and dropping upon his knees
he began removing the bear’s skin from his body. This done, a low,
triumphant laugh escaped Solomon Strange’s lips, and he lifted the
lifeless form in his arms, and carried it a short ways into the woods
and hurled it down into a deep, black gorge.

Ten minutes later, a dark, hairy form appeared in the glade. It was the
form of Solomon Strange disguised in the bear’s skin.

No one could have told him from Blufe Brandon. Their movements were
similar, and their size exactly the same.

“So far I have been successful,” he murmured. “I stand in Black Bear’s
disguise; and now if I can only have the nerve and cunning to occupy
his position among the red-skins for a few days, I will make these old
hills stand aghast with wonder and startling revelations. The Cheyenne
tongue I can handle to a demonstration, and I believe I can imitate
Black Bear’s voice exactly.

“And then, there’s Duval Dungarvon; but I can hoodwink him easy
enough. Yes, to-morrow noon I will meet him at the Lone Pine, get a
synopsis of the ‘initiatory ceremony’ into the order of road-agents and
cut-throats. Ah, Solomon Strange! a desperate game is yours, and for
what?--to solve a dark mystery, and rub out the stains of a dark crime
that lays concealed behind it, but--”

His musings were here brought to an abrupt termination, by suddenly
entering the opening in which stood the Indian encampment, while a few
paces off sat an Indian sentinel.

“Will he challenge me?” the false chief mentally asked.

Then he knew that the sentinel would see that it was Black Bear’s
disguise, and allow him to pass. And so he did, with only a low,
guttural exclamation at sight of the great chief.

As Strange entered the outskirts of the village, he saw that a large
fire was burning in front of the council-lodge, and that a number of
warriors were singing and dancing around it.

“I’ll swow,” muttered Strange, “I’m going to be drawn right into
business, the first thing. I’d rather kept a little to myself a day or
so, until I got the exact run of things--heavens!”

As if to favor his wish, at this moment a wild scream was heard
overhead, and lifting his eyes, the mysterious Solomon Strange beheld
the Aërial Demon floating over the village; so horrifying in its
appearance that his blood seemed turned to ice.

Had a bomb-shell exploded in the midst of the exultant warriors that
were dancing around the council-fire, they would not have scattered and
fled in greater fear and terror.

The moment that the false Black Bear saw the young warriors flee with
terror to their respective lodges, he hurried across the square and
entered the lodge to the right of the council-house, which he knew to
be the renegade’s.

All was dark within this lodge, so Strange went and procured a torch
from the deserted council-fire. With it, he rummaged the room, making
himself acquainted with every thing, nook and corner within it.

He then extinguished the torch, threw himself upon a couch of skins in
one corner, and curious to say, this mysterious madman, who after all
was _not_ a madman, fell asleep and slept soundly until morning.

He was awakened by the sound of voices without, and rising from his
couch he peered out.

At this moment a light footstep was heard approaching. The skin hanging
at the door of his lodge was raised, and a beautiful Indian woman
entered, carrying upon a tray of woven rushes some slices of venison
and roasted fish.

It was the wife of Allacotah, Silver Voice!

Solomon Strange started like a wild man at sight of the woman, but she
failed to notice it.

“The chief of the Cheyennes must be hungry, since he had no supper,”
said Silver Voice, handing him the venison and fish.

Again Solomon Strange started--this time at sound of the woman’s voice,
though his disguise concealed his emotion. As he took the provision,
however, Silver Voice caught sight of his eyes that glowed like burning
coals of fire through the hairy mask, and caused a strange feeling to
pervade her breast.

“Yes, Black Bear is quite hungry,” Strange replied, watching to see if
his voice attracted her notice.

It did. The woman started and turned to flee with sudden fear.

“_You are not Blufe Brandon!_” she exclaimed.

Solomon Strange seized her by the arm and prevented her escape.
Then he stooped and whispered something in her ear. She would have
involuntarily screamed, but Strange placed his claw-clad hand over her
mouth and prevented her.

“Hush! for God’s sake!” he exclaimed in an undertone, “do not expose
me, but help me.”

Here was more mystery. What could this strange, wild man be to Silver
Voice? And what she, to him? And why did he have the power to hold her
spell-bound--speechless? Alas! why, and for what?

For fully ten minutes Silver Voice remained in the lodge with the
false chief, in a low and earnest conversation. Then she went out and
returned to her own lodge to the left of the council-lodge.

Presently, her husband, Allacotah, entered Black Bear’s tent. He found
the supposed great chief lying upon the couch of skins.

“Is the great Black Bear unwell?” asked the young chief.

“He is,” returned Solomon Strange, hoarsely; “exposure to the night air
is fast telling upon the Black Bear’s lungs. It hurts him to speak. He
is hoarse, but he wished to speak to the brave young chief, Allacotah.”

“The ears of Allacotah are open,” returned the young chief, “he harkens
to the voice of the great Black Bear.”

“Since I am unable to take the war-path,” began Solomon Strange, his
hoarseness seeming to grow worse each moment, “I want the brave young
Allacotah to take all my warriors and go away in the hills toward the
rising sun and search for the white maiden. Should you find her, harm
not a hair of her head, or the vengeance of the great Manitou will rest
upon you. Should you find _any_ pale-faces, harm them not, but bring
them before Black Bear, even the great White Ranger whose sword has
slain our braves in the heart of our encampment. Black Bear has spoken.”

“Allacotah has heard, and will do his bidding with joy and pride,”
returned Allacotah, “but he is sorry the great chief is unwell, and can
not lead his warriors upon the trail. But he must rest and he will be
well soon. Allacotah has spoken.”

The young chief turned and left the tent, and in a few moments the
wildest excitement prevailed throughout the village. Laughing to
himself at his novel situation and splendid success, Solomon Strange
peered out at a hole in his lodge, and saw that Allacotah was gathering
his warriors for the war-path.

In less than an hour every warrior able to bear arms had left the
village.

Black Bear, or Solomon Strange, now arose and walked away through the
encampment and plunged into the woods.

He was on his way to Lone Pine to meet Duval Dungarvon.



CHAPTER XV. SILVIA’S PERILS.


Silvia paddled the canoe, with the Cheyenne concealed under its
projecting rim, under the falls; and having landed, she raised the
sweep to let the waters close, then she took the lamp from where
the ranger had left it in a niche, and wended her way back to her
apartment, seated herself and burst into tears.

The discovery that she had made had sorely wounded her young, loving
heart, and left her confused mind wrapped in blind mystery.

Purle, the panther, was crouched at her feet, and as her eyes sought
the floor, the animal started up, his ears laid back like those of a
maddened cat, his tail moving slowly from side to side, and his eyes
glaring like coals of fire.

Silvia looked in the direction indicated by his burning gaze, and to
her horror she beheld a Cheyenne Indian gazing in upon her from the
door of the apartment.

Silvia uttered a low sob and fell unconscious to the floor with
affright, the paper falling on the table by the lamp.

The savage, not seeing the panther, advanced into the room, but the
next instant the beast leaped forward and dragged him to the floor.

A fierce struggle ensued. But it was as brief as decisive. The panther
tore the savage almost into shreds.

A few minutes later a footstep sounded in the rocky hall. The next
moment Rodger Rainbolt entered the room. As his eyes fell upon the
mutilated form of the savage, the prostrate form of Silvia, the blood
upon the panther’s jowls, the paper upon the table by the lamp, he
staggered under the sight.

Springing forward he raised Silvia tenderly in his arms and placed her
upon the couch in the corner. He then turned to change the light in a
better position, and as he did so the paper arrested his attention.

He glanced at the first word. A cry burst from his lips. His eyes
became fixed upon the paper like one in a trance. He could not, he did
not move them, until he had read the last word. Then he turned away,
his whole frame trembling violently.

He removed the body of the savage; then, taking a vessel, hurried down
to the falls to bring some cool water with which to bathe the brow of
the maiden.

When he returned he was surprised to find her recovered, and sitting up
on the bed, gazing about in a kind of bewilderment.

“Silvia, my darling!” exclaimed the ranger.

She looked around, her senses returning.

“Oh, Rodger!” she exclaimed, springing from the couch and snatching the
paper; “but you must not see it.”

“But I have seen it, Silvia.”

“And read it?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, Rodger! I promised never to breathe a word of it to you.”

“Promised who?”

“Silver Voice, the Indian woman, the wife of Allacotah.”

“You have kept your promise, Silvia. I saw the paper by accident.”

“Then you know all, Rodger?”

“Yes, Silvia; but how came you to get the paper from the Indian woman,
and where?”

Silvia told him all.

The ranger sighed painfully. He was silent for a moment, then said:

“But Silvia, that paper is a falsehood. I will admit that I have been
married to a woman that was an angel, but were she living I would not
be here. No, no, Silvia! God knows I loved my wife--yea, adored her,
worshiped her; but a cruel fate separated us; death took my darling
wife, and in you, Silvia, I had hoped to find her equal.”

“But you have no proof, Rodger, to prove to me that the statement in
this paper is untrue--that your wife is dead.”

“I can procure evidence, Silvia, in an hour, yes, in a moment, to prove
to you that my wife is dead. But, tell me, my dear Silvia, does the
handwriting of this note resemble any person’s handwrite that _you_
know?” and he handed her the note.

Silvia took the paper and examined the writing closely. A shade of
sadness came over her face, as she replied:

“Yes, Rodger, it resembles my poor sister Florence’s writing a great
deal, though she was a better writer.”

“Then you have a sister?”

“I had, but poor Florence is dead now!”

“Are you _certain_ that she is dead?” the ranger asked.

“Why, Rodger, you are getting excited,” she replied, with much surprise
at the ranger’s question. “Of course I would not tell you a falsehood
about my sister being dead, since it is nothing to you.”

“But it is something to me, Silvia; it is something to me; but, let us
drop the question, before it gets to be painful. I must go and search
for your father and that Indian woman who gave you the paper. Have you
any fears to remain here alone?”

“None at all since I have such a noble companion and protector as
Purle, the panther.”

“Then I will take my departure, entertaining hopes that the mystery
that enshrouds us will be cleared away, and that I may yet insist for
an answer to the question of my love for you,” said the ranger, and as
he concluded he turned and left the maiden alone.

When his footsteps had died away in the distant hall, Silvia threw
herself upon her couch and wept bitterly.



CHAPTER XVI. DUVAL DUNGARVON AND BLACK BEAR AT THE LONE PINE.


The sun had just crossed the meridian, on the day set for the meeting
of Duval Dungarvon and Black Bear at the Lone Pine, when Solomon
Strange, in Black Bear’s disguise, emerged from the forest on the south
side of the glade, and stopped beneath the Lone Pine.

He had not been there more than an hour when Duval Dungarvon emerged
from the forest on the north side of the glade and advanced toward him.

“Here we are ag’in,” exclaimed Solomon Strange, quite hoarsely.

“Yes,” replied the robber-captain, looking at him in a way that made
Strange flinch with uneasiness; “but what’s the matter, Brandon, you
talk so hoarse?”

“Matter enuff,” returned the false Black Bear. “I catched a devil of a
cold last night at the Devil’s Tarn. But come, let’s to business.”

“Now, if I tell you, Brandon, you must never breathe it to a living
soul, for it is in strict violation of our laws to do so.”

“You needn’t be afraid of me tellin’, Dungarvon. Go on with your story.”

The robber-captain began, and in a few moments he had related the whole
of their proceedings in initiating a man into their band of Mountain
Men, or robbers, and concluded by saying:

“Suppose you go in to-night?”

“Can jist as well as not,” replied Strange, “though there is one thing
I had forgotten to mention.”

“Well, let’s have it.”

“I shall insist on keeping my bear-skin on at the ranch.”

“Of course! We wouldn’t know that the great _Black Bear_ was in our
midst unless you wore it,” returned Dungarvon.

“Then I am ready to go with you,” said the false chief.

The two arose and at once set off toward the robber’s ranch.

As they walked along, conversing on different topics, Strange finally
said:

“You have never told me, Dungarvon, why it is that you hate this man
Sanford so bitterly.”

“No. I tell _very_ few, because I don’t want everybody to know, for
then it would be no secret, and that’s the beauty of it.”

“Yes; but tell it, tell it to me, Dungarvon,” said Strange.

“Well, to make a short story out of a long one, Sanford and I both
loved the same woman, a Creole of New Orleans. She would have married
me, but Sanford, curse him! told her I was the son of an Italian
brigand, and so won her. In the course of time they had two children,
Florence and Silvia. Wayland Sanford went to California during the
gold-fever, and I followed, waiting for a chance to take his life.
After a time the chance came. Sanford quarreled with a miner, and
publicly threatened his life. That night the miner was killed. Of
course _I_ did it, but I was detected in the act by one of Sanford’s
friends. I threw the man down the shaft, and left him there. Sanford
was arrested for the crime, but escaped, and flew, no one knew where. I
followed, but failed to find my man.

“I left California. And seeing that money could be made, organized the
band I now command, and we have been operating the route ever since.

“Some time after I began, a regiment of troops came into the region,
and fearing they were after me, I went, in disguise, to the camp, and
sought an interview with the colonel. You can imagine my surprise when
I found myself face to face with Wayland Sanford, colonel commanding
the regiment!

“He knew me, and fearful that I would blow on him, asked the price of
my silence.

“I knew Inez was dead, so I demanded the daughter, Florence, for
my wife. He stormed and swore; offered ten thousand dollars, but I
laughed at him, and to end the matter, he finally gave in and wrote
to his daughter that he had made an engagement for her hand with a
_particular_ friend. The girl declined the honor, and answered that she
was engaged to an officer in his regiment, one Captain Warren Walraven.

“I told Sanford I could fix _him_, and so I sat down and wrote a
letter, forged the handwriting, from Walraven to Blufe Brandon, chief
of the Cheyennes, in which he offered to sell the command into his
power. This I dropped where one of Sanford’s scouts found it and gave
it to the colonel.

“Walraven was court-martialed and dismissed the service. The next day
he, with his nigger servant, Ebony Jim, started for Laramie, where
Florence was. I captured him on his way--the nigger escaped--and taking
him to Devil’s Tarn, I put him in a canoe and started him adrift over
the falls. That ended _him_.

“Sanford wrote to his daughter, telling her all about Walraven, how
he was cashiered and killed by the Indians, but she had suddenly
disappeared from the fort, and was seen no more. Her skeleton, however,
was found in an old well near the fort, a year or so afterward. About a
year after that I entrapped a traveler, who proved to be the very man,
Barker, whom I had thrown down the shaft!”

“And you hold him a prisoner yet?” asked Black Bear.

“You bet, though he can’t last a week longer. A few weeks since I heard
Sanford was at Omaha, and you know the rest. But here we are at the
ranch.”

They stood at the mouth of the cavern wherein Willis and Ralph had
been captured. A sentinel was posted at the entrance, who demanded the
password from Dungarvon before he was allowed to pass with the supposed
Black Bear, it being so dark by this time that the sentinel could not
distinguish the features of the captain.

Passing along the narrow cavern a short way, the captain stopped and
placed his hand in a small niche in the rocky wall. Immediately the
wall seemed to part with a heavy, grating noise.

“This way, Brandon,” said the robber chief, and the two stepped through
the aperture in the wall, into a small, but brilliantly-lighted
chamber. Then the captain touched a small, projecting rock on the wall,
when the two walls rolled together again, and there was no sign of the
aperture through which they had passed.

“This,” said Dungarvon, turning to his companion, “is my private
apartment, and you may now consider yourself, Black Bear, in the Lodge
of Mountain Men, from which you will never go alive until you have been
initiated into the brotherhood.”



CHAPTER XVII. AN ADVENTURE IN THE DARK.


Ebony Jim had not remained in his concealment among the foliage more
than a minute when he recognized the voice of his old friend, Flick
O’Flynn, among the three whom he at first took for robbers, but who in
fact were O’Flynn, Frank Armond and Walter Lyman.

Ebony was in the act of springing to the ground and making his presence
known, when the Irishman’s remark--which caught the negro’s ears--of
the place through which they were passing being so gloomy, and that he
imagined he felt the icy fingers of the Old Nick upon him, suggested
a practical joke to his mind. Waiting until the trio were directly
under him, he thrust his hand down through the foliage, and seizing the
loquacious O’Flynn by the neck, jerked him from the ground and up among
the foliage with the quickness of thought.

Flick gave vent to a furious yell, and dropping his rifle drew his
knife, supposing that he was in the hands of the Old Boy, sure enough.
But what was his surprise, when, on turning to deal a deadly blow, he
saw Ebony seated before him, his sable face convulsed with laughter.

“Faith, and mees hev a notion to give yees a dig wath this knife, so I
hev; but niver mind, there’s a rheckoning coming, so there is.”

But how had it fared with Frank and Walter?

They saw the negro’s hand thrust down, saw Flick lifted from the
ground, heard his frightful scream, and, without a second look or
thought, took to their heels and fled with all possible speed over the
hill.

But, unfortunately, they ran right from safety into danger.

They had not gone more than a mile when they discovered a party of
mounted Cheyenne charging directly toward them.

Instantly Frank’s rifle was to his face, and he shot, in quick
succession, two of the leading savages. He was quickly surrounded by
the whole party, which gave Walter an opportunity to escape, which he
did.

Frank was tied upon one of the ponies, and immediately the Indians,
a score in all, mounted their animals and set off toward the north,
moving in regular Indian file, one after the other, Frank being next to
the foremost one, who _led_ his--the captive’s--pony. They seemed in no
hurry, moving along quite leisurely. However, they failed to discover
two figures that were stealing after them like shadows.

Slowly the day wore away. Night came on. Frank strained his eyes in
hopes of catching a glimpse of some friendly form moving through the
gloom. Suddenly he heard a slight noise before him. He fixed his eyes
on the gloom in advance. Just then the animal of the preceding and
foremost captor flitted across a patch of moonlight struggling feebly
down through the opening in the tree-tops.

The captive started with wonder and surprise.

_The animal was riderless!_

Not one of the savages behind had discovered the sudden, silent and
mysterious disappearance of their leader.

Again the preceding animal crossed a patch of moonlight, and
still greater was his surprise, when he recognized by a kind of
phosphorescent gleam, the form of _Flick O’Flynn seated upon its back_!

Then the truth flashed upon his mind. Flick, the brave and noble
hunter, had escaped, followed his, Frank’s, captors, and with the
silence of death had dragged the savage from his pony, dispatched him
and mounted the animal himself.

“What does the man mean?” mused Frank; “what next will he do--Oh!”

The exclamation involuntarily escaped his lips, but it was drowned in
the noise of the animals’ feet. In passing under some low, drooping
boughs where the gloom was impenetrable to the human eye, Frank felt a
heavy form drop from the limbs overhead _behind him on the animal he
was riding_, and the captive felt that his bonds were being cut.

“For heaben’s sake don’t breafe! it’s dis black nigger.”

Frank recognized the voice as that of Ebony Jim, and he at once
realized the situation of affairs.

“Dar, take dat,” whispered the darky, placing a knife in Frank’s hand,
“and loosen your feet.”

Frank leaned over and cut the thongs. So far he was free. A moment
later there were heard the hasty footfalls of hurrying feet.

The escape was not discovered for some moments, and then a hurried but
vain search was commenced by the Indians. Frank was saved by as bold,
silent and daring a stratagem as was ever conceived by the fearless
borderman.

Fortunately, Frank’s rifle, accouterments and coat were restored to
him, they having been in possession of the unfortunate chief, whom
the two hunters dragged from his pony unseen. The rest of his things,
including his share of the robbers’ gold, were lost.

Matters being explained all around, the three set off through the
forest in hopes of finding Walter.

They had not traveled far, when they discovered that they were being
followed, while in every direction they could hear the hooting of owls,
the cry of the night-hawk, and the sharp barking of the wolf.

To Frank these sounds seemed natural enough, but to the two hunters
they did not, for they knew that they were the signals of the Indians.

“Ay, now!” exclaimed O’Flynn, “and it’s a divil av a time wees are
going to have. The whole Cheyenne nation is in these hills, so they
are.”

“S’pose we strike fur de Bear’s Cave,” said Ebony Jim.

“Aghrade,” responded the Irishman, and so they shaped their course
accordingly.

In a few minutes the cavern in question was reached, and taking the
lead, Ebony Jim led the way into the black subterranean passage.

They had not gone more than fifty feet when a glowing fire, in a
chamber to their right, burst suddenly upon their eyes; and within the
light of the fire they saw three men seated, engaged in conversation.



CHAPTER XVIII. IN THE ROBBERS’ RANCH.


Solomon Strange felt a cold chill creep over him as he seated himself
in the robber captain’s private apartment, which was furnished with all
the elegance that heart could wish and gold procure. An oil lamp was
burning on a chintz-covered stand, lighting up the room.

“You’ve a cozy lair here, Dungarvon,” said Strange, gazing around, with
apparent admiration.

“Yes, one into which I defy the lightning’s bolt to enter,” returned
the captain, as he crossed the room, and took from an alcove in the
wall a bottle of brandy and a couple of silver goblets, which he placed
upon the table. “But come, Black Bear, wheel your chair up to the table
and let’s drink to _our_ success.”

Strange could not deny the robber chief’s request, for he was then an
honored guest in his house, so he moved his chair to the table and
filled the goblets with the brandy. Then with one hand he parted the
hairy mask from his lips, and with the other he lifted the goblet,
and with a “Here’s to you, captain,” dashed off the fiery liquid at a
draught.

After several glasses had been drank, Dungarvon seized a rope
communicating with some other room and jerked it violently. Strange
heard the faint tinkle of a bell, and a moment after the wall on the
side opposite from that through which they had entered, rolled apart,
and a slim, pale youth of some twenty years entered.

“Roderick,” said the captain, addressing the youth, “bring me and the
great chief, Black Bear, some supper at once.”

The youth turned and left the room, the walls closing after him.

“That’s our cook,” said the chief-robber.

Presently Roderick returned with a well-prepared lunch, which the
robber-captain and his guest ate with a keen appetite.

After the meal had been dispatched, Dungarvon said:

“Now we are ready for business, Brandon; but excuse me for a moment,”
and he passed out through the opening through which Roderick had come
and went.

“Well, that beats me,” muttered Strange, when he found himself alone;
“the idea of these rocky walls parting at the touch of their inmates.
Wonder if they will part at _my_ touch?” and rising, he advanced to
the wall through which they had entered the room, and touched the
little projecting rock that he had seen Duval touch when they entered,
expecting to see the walls roll back. But he was disappointed; they
remained immovable as the rock of ages, and after several fruitless
efforts to possess himself of the secret, he took his seat.

A few minutes later Dungarvon entered the room, followed by a score of
his men, rough, burly-looking fellows, whose waists were girded with
knives and pistols.

Dungarvon introduced his men to the supposed Black Bear, then said:

“Well, Brandon, we’re ready.”

“And so am I,” returned Strange.

“Then advance through that opening into the adjoining chamber nine
paces and stop,” said the chief.

Strange advanced into the chamber, which was black as Hades, and which,
from the hollow, sepulchral echo of his footfalls, he knew was large
and capacious. Had it been the real Blufe Brandon, his cowardly heart
would have shrunk with terror, knowing what was coming.

Through the dark nine paces, Solomon Strange groped his way, then
stopped. At that instant the room was suddenly lit up by a glowing
light from behind. And, horrors!

He stood on one side of a long table, while facing him on the other
side, sat, bolt upright, in arm-chairs, with black cloaks thrown over
their shoulders, a dozen human skeletons glaring at him in a ghastly,
horrifying manner. Each one clutched in its bony hand, which protruded
from under the cloak, a small glittering dagger. On the table in front
of each one sat a small glass goblet filled with some red liquid
resembling blood. Not a living soul was to be seen in the room.

Although the mysterious Solomon Strange had expected to see the same,
as Dungarvon had told him, he felt an inward shudder of horror and
disgust, and had he not been playing a desperate and secret game, he
would have turned away and cursed the robbers for their fiendishness in
thus tampering with the remains of the dead. But such an act would have
exposed him, and he resolved to go on with the play he had successfully
begun.

The instant the light had flashed upon the ghastly figures before him,
the one in the center arose to a standing posture, as though possessed
of life. The grinning mouth was opened, and then these words seemed to
fall from its lips, hollow and sepulchral:

“Bluford Brandon, are you aware of what you have done? do you know that
you have entered the brotherhood of Mountain Men? If you do, beware!”
and the figure raised its bony hand in which it clutched the glittering
dagger as if to strike, then it fell at its side again. Then each of
the other ghastly figures raised their glittering daggers, and as they
dropped again, they seemed to repeat, in one voice:

“Beware!”

The standing figure then went on:

“Look at these glasses, Bluford Brandon; they contain the blood of
those who once were Mountain Men--the blood of those who stand before
you, those who were once as you now are; but we were traitors; we
essayed to betray our brothers into the hands of the Government
detectives; but, ah! the vengeance of the brotherhood fell upon us,
and sapped our life-blood out, and left us what you see us--a _ghastly
warning to others_! And now again I say, beware!”

“Beware!” chattered the other figures.

At this instant the room was wrapped in blinding darkness. Then
Strange distinguished the light footfalls of hurrying feet. He heard
the robbers removing the ghastly figures, and the ventriloquist that
had put the words of life in their mouths, scrambling from _under the
table_, where he had been concealed with others of the robbers, who,
with wire connections, had raised the arms of the skeletons.

Presently all became silent, then the light flashed through the chamber
again, and in the chairs where the skeleton had sat, Solomon Strange
saw a number of robbers seated, while, where the figure stood, Duval
Dungarvon was standing.

Instead of daggers, the robbers held in their hands the goblets of
(not blood) red, sparkling wine, which as they lifted to their lips,
Dungarvon said:

“Here’s to Black Bear, the great Cheyenne chief, our new and
distinguished member of the brotherhood of Mountain Men,” and as he
concluded, they placed the goblets to their lips and drank.

And thus ended the ceremony, which, to the reader, may be horrifying
and even disgusting, nevertheless it is a positive fact that such a
custom did exist among the mountain robbers.

“Now, come, Black Bear,” said Dungarvon, taking that supposed worthy
by the skin-clad arm, “and I will show you through our ranch, and the
secrets connected with it.”

The two crossed the wide chamber, which Dungarvon had designated the
“Cloister of the Ghouls,” and entered a smaller apartment that was
brilliantly lighted. In this room was a carpenter’s work-bench and
tools of all kinds.

“This,” said Dungarvon, “is the mechanical department. We often find it
necessary to our success to use a carpenter to make coffins and other
things. But let us go on.”

They passed into another apartment.

“This is our engraving-room and mint, for making counterfeit
‘greenbacks’ and ‘gold coin.’ Now I will show you how we make our doors
open and close,” he said, leading Solomon Strange, who was drinking in
every word with the deepest interest, back to his own apartment.

“You see this small projection; by _pushing_ on it when the door is
open, it will close; and by _pulling_ upon it, it will open the door,
thus,” and the robber-chief illustrated the matter, by causing the wall
to roll apart and then shut again. “Now, the whole thing is worked
by hidden springs, how exactly, no one ever knew, but the inventor,
who was three years in constructing the doors in this cavern. First,
however, immense grooves were chiseled in the floor and ceiling, and in
them, these great rocks move on invisible rollers. All the machinery
that works it is concealed in an artificial cavity back in the
permanent walls. Now see, Brandon, if you can open and shut the door.”

The supposed Brandon seized hold of the projection, and pulled toward
him. A thrill of joy passed through his frame, as the heavy walls
rolled apart. Then he pressed upon the projection, and they closed
again.

“Now I have one more apartment to show you, Blufe, and that’s what we
call ‘the Dead Fall,’ where old Barker and the two Omaha ‘larks,’ are
consigned.”

Procuring a lantern, the robber-captain and his friend passed out into
the main entrance. This they followed some distance until they came
to where a wall, crossing the passage at right angles, disputed their
further entrance.

“This,” said Dungarvon, tapping the wall before them, “is the door to
the ‘Dead Fall.’ See here. By pressing a spring in _this_ niche, the
door is _unlocked_, and by pressing another in _this_ niche, the door
rolls back into a cavity in the wall and the passage is continued. No
one not acquainted with the cavern would ever know but what the passage
terminates here. Shall we enter the Dead Fall?”

“Certainly,” returned Strange: “by all means. I should like to see the
man that was thrown into a fifty-foot shaft and climbed out alive.”

The robber-captain opened the door and they advanced into the great
chamber, wherein Willis and Ralph had been entrapped, and where they
were now imprisoned with Barker.

Closing the door after them, they advanced to where the prisoners lay
upon a couch of old skins. They all arose to a sitting posture when
they heard the two men entering.

Willis and Ralph looked sad and dejected, but Barker: God of mercy! he
resembled a skeleton more than a human. He was wasted away to a mere
shadow, while long beard and hair of snowy whiteness hung down upon his
breast and shoulders. His hands were like the claws of an eagle, and
great, pitiful eyes stared at the robber-chief with a wild expression.

“Well, my larks, how are you getting along?” asked Dungarvon, with a
demoniac leer.

“Oh, God! we are dying by inches,” returned Barker.

The robber-captain laughed mockingly, while Solomon Strange turned away
with tears of pity in his eyes.

In a moment more the robber-chief and his companion left the Dead
Fall. When they had got back into the captain’s room, a fresh bottle of
brandy was brought out and placed upon the table.

Drawing the cork, the robber-chief passed the bottle over to Strange,
saying:

“Here, Brandon, take the golden nectar right from Black Betty’s
lips--no use foolin’ with goblets.”

Strange took up the bottle, and while the captain’s eyes were turned,
he managed to pour half the contents on the floor under pretense of
drinking, then passed the bottle back to Dungarvon.

The captain took it, and holding it up between his eyes and the light,
exclaimed with a drunken leer:

“By Jove, Brandon, you _have_ got a lip for glory, and now I’ll show
you that I can swamp the other half,” and so saying, he turned the
bottle to his lips and emptied it.

Strange chuckled to himself, as the captain staggered to a chair,
saying:

“S’pose you’re going to stay all night with me, Brandon, are you (hic)
not? My men are all in bed long (hic) ago.”

“Well, I reckon, as we’re having a good time, I will stay.”

“That’s it, Blufe, you’re (hic) a jolly dog of a boy. Just look in the
alcove (hic) and get another Black Betty.” But before the bottle could
be brought, the robber rolled upon the floor like a dead man.

“Thank God! _my_ time has come,” muttered Strange to himself. And
taking up the robber’s lantern he lit it. In one corner of the room
stood a number of rifles with powder-horns and shot-pouches hung upon
them. Strange selected three of the finest-looking, one of which proved
to be Willis Armond’s repeating rifle, and taking them in his arms he
opened the outlet in the wall and passed out into the main entrance. He
then leaned the rifles against the wall, and turning moved toward the
Dead Fall.

In a moment he had reached the door, and pressing the two springs it
rolled back into the wall. He entered the room and stood before the
prisoners.

“Barker, Armond, Rodman, come,” he said, speaking hastily, “come, if
you wish to escape!”

“And, in the name of God, who are you that speaks thus,” gasped Willis,
starting up at sound of the man’s voice; “are you a beast, or are you a
human in disguise?”

“I’m a friend. Let that suffice. Come, I say, come.”

Strange led the way and the three prisoners arose and followed him,
though the young men were compelled to assist Barker.

In a moment they came to where Strange had left the guns.

“Here are rifles and ammunition,” he said, handing each of them a
weapon, “and here is my hunting-knife. Now wait here a moment.”

He opened the walls and passed into Dungarvon’s room, and returned in a
moment with a bottle of brandy.

“Here, boys, take this. It will strengthen you,” he said. “At the door
or mouth of the cavern is a sentinel. Should he demand a password, say
to him, ‘Golden.’ Should he recognize you in the dark, knock him down
and fly. One word more. Barker, do you know where the Devil’s Tarn is?”

“Yes,” returned Barker.

“Meet me there to-morrow evening. Don’t fail. Go.”

The prisoners moved along the dark passage, wondering who their strange
deliverer could be. At the mouth of the cavern they found the wary
sentinel _sound asleep_, and passing him, they plunged out into the
_free air of heaven_.

Strange waited until they had had time to make their escape, then he
turned and moved back to the door of the Dead Fall. He saw that it was
fastened, then he placed his finger into the niche and tore out the
spring that unlocked it. His work for the night was accomplished. The
door to the Dead Fall could never be opened until it was battered down
with sledges, and, consequently, the robbers would never know but that
the prisoners were still in there.

Softly Solomon Strange stole back into the robber-captain’s room, and
having put out the lantern, he stretched himself upon the carpeted
floor and soon fell asleep.

When he awoke it was daylight, though no ray of sunshine ever shone in
the cavern. Lamps furnished the only light there. Dungarvon had slept
off the effect of his night’s carouse, and when his guest awoke he
found him seated by the table reading a paper that one of his spies had
brought in from Cheyenne City during the night.

Breakfast was brought in to the captain and his guest, the other
robbers dining in the Cloister of the Ghouls.

After their morning repast was over, the false Black Bear took his
departure for the Indian encampment, having expressed a hope that when
he came back to the ranch he would have Silvia Sanford to hand over to
the robber-captain.

Briskly through the forest and over the stony hills went the mysterious
Solomon Strange.

Keeping to the right of the Indian encampment he struck the little
glade wherein, but two nights ago, he had slain the renegade chief,
Blufe Brandon, and entered a small cavern near at hand.

Ten minutes passed by, then he appeared again. But he was not in the
disguise of the Black Bear. He wore his own ragged garments and carried
his heavy, knotted club. For a moment he stood and gazed around him,
then he strode away toward the west, his long yellow hair and whiskers
streaming in the wind.

He had not gone far when his ears caught the sound of clattering hoofs.
He looked down the path before him and saw Rodger Rainbolt, the ranger,
coming toward him.

Stopping, he placed one foot in advance of the other, seized his club
in both hands, and swinging it aloft, cried out:

“Stop! stop! stop, my lord, or I’ll beat you, beat you down!”



CHAPTER XIX. A CHIEF’S DEATH


It required but a single glance for Frank Armond to recognize two of
the three men seated around the glowing fire in the cavern, called by
the two hunters Bear’s Cave. They were Ralph Rodman and his brother
Willis. The third person, the reader will readily guess, was Gustave
Barker.

A shout of joy escaped Frank’s lips when he saw his friend and brother
were safe.

In a moment they were grouped around the fire, greeting each other as
though they had been separated for years.

“But where is Walter?” asked Willis.

“The good Lord only knows,” responded Frank; “he became separated from
me to-day while being pursued by a band of Indians. I hope, however, he
is safe.”

“And, now, jis’ tell dis chile how ye ’scape from de robbers’ den,”
said Ebony.

“Well, we escaped to-night, by the assistance of a man disguised in a
bear’s skin, and whom the robber-captain called Black Bear,” returned
Willis; then turning to Barker, he continued: “This Mr. Barker escaped
with us. He had been a prisoner there for three years. He knew uncle
Wayland Sanford, Frank, years ago in California.”

“I am happy to meet the friend of my dear old uncle,” said Frank,
grasping the thin, cold hand of Barker, “but of course, Willis has told
you of uncle Wayland’s sudden and mysterious death.”

“Yes, my young friend, and I would have given my life to have seen your
uncle before his death,” returned Barker.

“You must have cherished a great affection for him, Mr. Barker.”

“Not only that, young man, but I hold a secret that would have
prolonged his life twenty years.”

Barker began and related the story of Wayland Sanford being convicted
of murder at Miner’s Gulch on the Yuba, through the instrumentality of
Duval Dungarvon, as the reader has already heard it from the lips of
Dungarvon himself. Then he told how he had hid bleeding and mangled
in the shaft for five days before he was taken out, more dead than
alive, to find both Sanford and Dungarvon gone. Then he told how he had
labored in the mines, accumulated a large fortune, started to his home
in the East, was robbed of his gold in the mountains, and left for dead
a second time; how he recovered and hid away in the mountains, where
for years he remained a hunter, and finally fell into the hands of his
would-be murderer, Duval Dungarvon, and that he had never heard of
Wayland Sanford until he met Willis in prison.

“Then you are acquainted with these Black Hills?” said Frank, when
Barker had finished his story.

“Yes, I knew every hill, hollow, and stream, and about two months
before my incarceration in the robbers’ den, I had met and become
acquainted with a young ranger in whom I took a deep interest, and whom
I would love to see.”

“Did you make him a present of something once?” asked Frank, as a
thought occurred to his mind.

“Yes; a trained, pet eagle. Have you met Rodger Rainbolt?”

“Yes; it was he who dealt--” began Frank, but at this juncture Flick
O’Flynn appeared from the entrance and interrupted him, saying:

“Ay, b’ys, and it’s a divil av a time we’re going to have. The red
divils have found out our hiding-sphot, and th’y’re swharming like
hornits arhound us on the outside. Musha! it’s fite ’r stharve, so
bring yer tools, b’ys, and come to the front.”

“Isn’t this cavern called Bear’s Cave?” suddenly asked Barker, as they
started to their feet in alarm.

“Indade it is,” responded O’Flynn.

“Great Heavens!” exclaimed Barker, “I had forgotten the place. Do you
know that there are _two_ entrances to it?”

“Ho’y mother, no!” responded Flick.

Footsteps sounded in the passage behind them. They glanced back. A cry
of horror escaped each lip, for with a flaming torch in one hand and a
tomahawk in the other, they beheld a score of savages, led by the young
chief Allacotah, advancing toward them.

Quick as thought Frank and Willis raised their repeating rifles and
fired. Allacotah fell dead, with a bullet through his heart. Again
and again the young men fired until every chamber of their rifles was
empty. A savage fell at every shot. The others recoiled, then when the
war-whoop of another party coming in at the entrance rolled through the
cavern, they rallied and closed in upon our friends.

The conflict was short. Our friends were all, save one, overpowered and
made prisoners. Gustave Barker, like the phantom that he seemed, had
glided from the cavern and made his escape in the woods.

And now a wail of lamentation echoed through the cavern, as the savages
gathered around the lifeless form of their young chief Allacotah.
Victory had been dearly bought by them. Besides their chief, a dozen
of the best warriors lay dead, while not one of their enemies had
fallen. Though it would have been an easy matter to have tomahawked
the captives, they dare not, for the great chief, Black Bear, had
ordered that all captives be taken and brought to the village alive and
unharmed.

Litters were constructed of blankets, and the dead and wounded placed
upon them to be taken back to the village.

The prisoners’ feet were unbound and they permitted to stand; and then
with their hands bound at their backs, they were marched out the cavern.

The first glimmer of approaching day was beginning to streak the
eastern sky.

In a few minutes the dead had been brought from the cavern, and then
the party filed away through the forest in the direction of the Indian
village.



CHAPTER XX. RAINBOLT MEETS WITH AN ACCIDENT.


Rainbolt halted before the mysterious Solomon Strange, a smile resting
upon his features, a feeling of strange curiosity upon his mind.

“Ho! ho!” laughed Strange, “so we have met again, my lord Oliver--I
mean, Thunderbolt.”

“So it seems, though you were the last person I had expected to meet,
Mr. Strange,” replied the ranger.

“And why so--why so, my lord?”

“I supposed you were on the Pacific coast with old Neptune.”

“So I have been, my lord, and a right merry time had old Nep. and I.”

“I should have thought you would have remained there, Mr. Strange, with
your old friend of the sea,” said Rainbolt, scarcely knowing what to
make of the wild, strange man.

“I would have remained, my lord, but in making my passage over these
hills when I saw you before, I heard a dark secret connected with them,
and that an awful demon rode on the midnight air over the mountain,
striking terror to every heart, every heart, my lord.”

“And who told you so much, Mr. Strange?”

“The wind, the wind, my lord. And the secret I’ll fathom and the demon
I’ll slay. And now, is there aught of the past or future you would wish
to know, my lord?”

“There is much I would like to know, Mr. Strange,” returned the ranger,
“but I can scarcely remember any thing, now.”

“You doubt me, my lord, but hearken: _Your wife lives_, my lord, and
seek you not another! Ay, you start, but it is so. And let me tell you
more, my lord. Since God in his mercy saved you from _death at the
falls_, you need have no fear of your fellow-men. Your shoulders bear
the weight of no crime; you were the victim of a foul plot--the letter
was forged by one Duval Dungarvon in hopes of having you hung, hung, my
lord.”

As the strange man concluded, he turned and strode briskly away,
leaving the ranger seated alone upon his animal, completely dumbfounded
and mystified.

“Who is he? Who is he?” muttered the ranger to himself; “he is a queer,
strange creature, one that knows all about my past, and can even read
my thoughts. Heavens! what if it is--no, it can’t be, but I will
overtake him and make further inquiries.”

Rainbolt spoke to his animal and dashed away in pursuit of Solomon
Strange, but he had gone but a short distance, when a lithe figure
glided suddenly across his path, frightened his animal, causing it
to rear and plunge wildly and throw its rider to the ground, and
unfortunately, in the fall, the ranger’s head struck upon a sharp rock,
completely stunning him.

As the unfortunate man lay thus unconscious, the figure that had
frightened his animal glided from the undergrowth and bent over his
prostrate form. It was the Indian woman, Silver Voice.

As she gazed down into the ranger’s face, a low, convulsive sob burst
from her lips, and then she stooped and kissed his pale lips.

“Oh, my God!” she sobbed, “have I killed him? Oh, Warren, my love, my
darling! Let me hear you say that you forgive. I did not intend to
scare your pony. Oh, Warren! Warren! my wronged and forsaken husband,
are you dead at last? But perhaps it is better that you never lived to
die with shame for her you loved.”

“Florence.”

Silver Voice started up. It was the ranger’s lips that articulated
the name. The voice of the woman seemed to recall him back to
consciousness. He opened his eyes, gazed around him and up into the
face of the woman bending over him. He recognized the face beneath its
dusky paint, and springing up like one delirious, he clasped the form
of the woman in his arms and pressed her to his breast.

“Florence, my wife,” he cried, “have I found you, whom the world thinks
dead?”

She tried to free herself from his embrace, saying:

“Yes, you have found me, Warren, but in disgrace and disguise.”

“Oh, God! Florence, my darling wife, what do you mean?”

“I mean that I am no longer worthy of your love. It will only wound
your heart deeper to tell you. Go, and forget me,” and she turned to
leave, but the ranger detained her.

“Stay, Florence, do not leave me. You are mine. Mine to love, and mine
to cherish. Why do you turn from me?”

“Because I am no longer worthy of your love, but God knows I supposed
you dead.”

“Florence, my wife, I can guess your secret. You are the wife of an
Indian.”

“Oh, God! it is but too true, Warren; for two years I have been the
wife of Allacotah--a noble and kind young chief, in whose veins course
Anglo-Saxon blood by nature, if not by birth.”

The ranger groaned aloud, as though his heart was bursting.

“Then you love your Indian husband, Florence?” he asked.

“No, I only admired him for his kindness and noble principles, such as
no other Indian ever possessed. I became his wife, only for protection
from the insults of _his_ people and the power of _my_ people. But, I
supposed you dead, Warren. Your servant told me he had seen you dashed
to pieces over the Devil’s Tarn. Never, until the night you rescued
Silvia from Black Bear, did I know you lived. And now you know my
secret, my disgrace, Warren; so let me go.”

“No, Florence, you are mine. What you have done makes me love you
all the stronger. It is no disgrace, it is only what a strong, brave
and sensible woman would, and should have done under such trying
circumstances.”

“But, Warren, you love another--you love my sister, Silvia.”

“Only because she _is_ your sister. God knows I never _could_ love
another as I do you, my angel, Florence.”

Before Silver Voice could reply, Echo, the eagle, darted down through
the forest with his warning cry of danger.

Turning quickly around, the ranger and his wife--for such she was, dear
reader--saw a number of savages coming directly toward them.

“Oh, Warren,” the woman cried, “they are savages! fly for your life.
They hate you--they will kill you!”

“Life is nothing more to me, Florence, without you,” replied the
ranger, calmly.

“Then fly, Warren, for my sake.”

The ranger stooped and kissed the sweet, pleading lips of his wife, and
with a feeling of joy that had long been a stranger to his heart, he
turned, and catching his animal that was grazing near, sprung into the
saddle and dashed sharply away.

He at once shaped his course for his cavern home, which he reached
after two hours’ brisk riding.

On entering Silvia’s apartment, what was his surprise to find a young
man seated therein with her! As he entered, Silvia and the stranger
arose to their feet, when the maiden said:

“My friend, Mr. Walter Lyman, Mr. Rainbolt.”



CHAPTER XXI. STARTLING NEWS.


The ranger grasped young Lyman by the hand, and gazing into his eyes
reflectively, said:

“I am sure we have met before, Mr. Lyman.”

“Yes, sir; on the night you rescued Colonel Wayland Sanford and his
party from the Indians,” returned Lyman.

“Yes, yes, I remember you now; but where are the rest of your party?”

“I know where none of them are but Colonel Sanford. Yesterday I became
separated from my friends, and in wandering by the falls to-day I met
Miss Sanford, who invited me into your hidden home.”

“You’re a thousand times welcome, Mr. Lyman. But you said you knew
where Mr. Sanford was, I believe.”

“Yes, sir; he is dead,” the young man returned, seriously.

“Dead!” exclaimed the ranger, starting up and glancing at Silvia, who
was weeping tears of sorrow. “Wayland Sanford _dead_?”

“Yes; he fell dead with the heart disease a few moments after you left
that night. He was buried in the glade where he died.”

The ranger dropped into a chair. A silence that was broken only by
Silvia’s sobs fell upon the place. Young Lyman watched the ranger’s
face with deep interest, and saw that he was terribly agitated.

Presently Silvia raised her head from the table and asked:

“Mr. Rainbolt, what was written upon that paper which you gave father
the night you met him?”

The ranger was much surprised by the question, but replied:

“I wrote that Rodger Rainbolt and Warren Walraven were one and the same
person.”

“Then your name is not Rodger Rainbolt?” asked Silvia.

“No; my name is Warren Walraven.”

“And did you know my father? and did he know you?”

“Yes; why shouldn’t he, when his daughter Florence, your sister,
Silvia, is _my wife_?”

“Rodger, you are jesting!” Silvia exclaimed.

“I am not, Silvia; I have long thought I would tell you this.”

“But we never knew that Florence was married before she died, or
drowned herself.”

“No, Silvia, we were married secretly. You were in Omaha at the time,
so I never saw you until the night I rescued you from Black Bear,” said
the ranger; “and let me tell you something else that will surprise you:
Florence is _not_ dead!”

“Rodger!” Silvia gasped; “is that true?”

“It is, Silvia; the woman in Indian disguise known as Silver Voice, is
Florence.”

“Rodger, it is impossible! Silver Voice is the wife of an Indian chief.”

“Yes, Silvia, but for all that she is Florence,” said the ranger, and
he went on and related the cause of Florence’s flight to the Indian
country, and her marriage to Allacotah, as Florence had related it to
him.

“Then Florence did not commit a willful wrong in marrying the chief.
But why did you not make your existence known to her before she fled?”

In reply to this, the ranger related the story of his trials and
sufferings, of which the reader is already aware.

He stated that when he went over the falls in the canoe, the little
craft alighted upon its end in such a way as not to injure him
severely; and that, by some chance, it was thrown backward _under_ the
falls instead of outward. Here he discovered the cavern that he had
made his home.

“And where is Florence now?” asked Silvia.

“I left her in the forest near the Indian encampment. She begged me
to fly, to escape a band of Indians we saw approaching. I did so, but
since you have company, and it is some time until night, I will go in
search of her.”

“Oh, do, Rodger, and bring her here!” cried Silvia.

The ranger turned to leave the room, saying:

“I will go and try, but I fear I can never induce her to leave the
Indians.”

Before Silvia could reply he was gone.



CHAPTER XXII. A STRANGE INTERVIEW.


It is a night of fearful storm, but one that has been full of events
to the captives. Taken to the Indian village they were doomed to the
stake; but the counterfeit Black Bear coming in with Florence, had
learned all--the assault on the cave, the death of Allacotah, which
freed the unhappy wife from a bond that must have broken her heart--and
by co-operating with Rainbolt, whom Florence brought to the guidance of
the released captives, the brave Solomon Strange had, under cover of
the storm, set the whole party free; and we now behold them gathered in
the Ranger’s Cave, happy enough over their release. But the happiest of
all was the ranger himself, who, with his restored wife in his arms,
was repaid for his long, long days of suffering.

Only Solomon Strange was abroad on that night. Furiously the wind drove
in his face as he moved westward through the woods, guided by the
lightning’s glare. But, what cared the mysterious Solomon Strange for
the bellowing thunder, the rumbling wind, the sullen roar of the trees,
the crashing of fallen timber, the vivid lightning and the rain? Ah,
_what_ cared he?

On through the forest aisles he went. On, on.

Presently he entered a small opening in the woods and stopped.

That spot seemed to recall a dark deed to his mind, for it was there
that he had beaten down the renegade, Blufe Brandon; and but a little
ways off he could hear the waters rushing wildly through the black
gorge into which he had thrown the body.

After a moment’s pause he crossed the glade and entered the forest. A
few steps more and he had disappeared in the cavern, wherein that day
he had left his bear-skin disguise.

Ten minutes passed and then he came forth again, but he wore not the
disguise of the Black Bear.

His long yellow hair and whiskers floated around his head and face like
ragged streamers in the wild winds.

At the mouth of the cavern he paused and leaned upon his knotted club.

Just then a vivid flash of lightning revealed the figure of a man with
a thin, ghastly face and hollow eyes standing before him.

He stepped back and raised his club, for sure was he that an apparition
confronted him.

Another flash of lightning. The figure still is there. Solomon Strange
started like a guilty thing, as he recognized the man’s features--the
features of the renegade, Blufe Brandon.

“Brandon, is it you?” he asked.

“Yes; who are you?” returned the supposed defunct renegade.

“I am Solomon Strange, the Wizard of the West, the same who beat you
down in the forest glade, and tumbled you into the gorge for dead. Ho!
ho! a right merry time have I had playing Black Bear. Your bear-skin
fit me to a gnat’s heel, Mr. Blufe, and then I went up to the robbers’
ranch and passed myself off as Black Bear, and was initiated in the
brotherhood of Mountain Men, as you had arranged at the Devil’s Tarn.
Oh, a right jolly time had Duval Dungarvon and I, Mr. Blufe. A gay dog
is Captain Duval, but he got drunk and I didn’t, and the reason was,
he poured goblets of liquor down his throat, while I poured just as
much down--upon the floor. And while Duval, the thirsty dog, lay dead
drunk, I stole a bottle of his best, gave it to his prisoners, and then
let them out, locked the empty prison and hid the key, Mr. Blufe. And
all this merry sport I’ve had in your bear-skin, and no one knew but I
was Black Bear himself. But, how glad I am that you are not dead, Mr.
Blufe, for I felt like I had done a dirty little deed when I flung you
into the gorge, so deep, so dark, Mr. Blufe.”

“I believe you are an infernal fool,” returned the bruised and wounded
renegade, growing enraged at what he knew must be so.

“Whew! how the winds blow,” continued Strange. “Come into the cavern
and I will tell you more, Mr. Blufe. Come in where the rain won’t
wash you into the gorge, for there is only a shadow of you left, you
unfortunate dog.”

“Go to the devil,” responded the renegade; “I will not go in.”

“But, you must come, you must hear me, Mr. Blufe,” and Strange seized
him, and dragging him into the cavern, compelled him to listen to an
hour’s tales and talk.

When he had finished, however, he turned and glided out the cavern into
the forest.

Soon after Blufe Brandon, weak with loss of blood and fasting, emerged
from the cave and moved slowly away toward the Indian encampment,
cursing the mysterious author of his sore bones and bruised head.

An hour after his interview with the resurrected chief, Solomon
Strange was seated under the shelter of a great pine in conversation
with another man, one whom he had requested to meet him there--at the
Devil’s Tarn.

That man was the white-haired prisoner of the robbers’ ranch, Gustave
Barker.

For hours they sat and conversed as though no storm was raging around
them.

Finally the storm died away, and as the moon struggled out through the
rifts in the skurrying clouds, Solomon Strange and his companion left
their seat beneath the great pine by the Devil’s Tarn, and took their
way eastward through the forest.



CHAPTER XXIII. A DEMON NO MORE.


Morning dawned bright and clear after the night of the storm.

Our friends in the ranger’s cavern breakfasted early, for they were
anxious to be off for the land of civilization.

Captain Warren Walraven concluded to give up his wild, secluded life,
and with his angel wife go back to his old home in Iowa.

Though Ebony Jim and Flick O’Flynn were going to accompany them beyond
the dangers of the hills, they had no desire to quit their nomadic
life of hunters, and, in token of his respect for them, Rodger Rainbolt
presented them his hidden home and all its appurtenances, Purle, the
pet panther, and his library, though, unfortunately, neither of them
could read a word.

Echo, the eagle, the ranger resolved to keep, so long as a feather of
him was left.

As for Frank and Willis Armond, Ralph Rodman and Walter Lyman, they
were _fully_ satisfied with their few days of “recreation in the
mountains,” and concluded to go back to Omaha.

When all were ready to leave the cavern, Florence turned to her husband
and said:

“Oh, Warren! how I would love to visit father’s lonely grave before we
return to the East.”

“And I, too,” said Silvia; “it would afford me great consolation to
look upon poor father’s grave before we go away.”

“Your desire shall be granted, my dear children,” said the ranger, with
tears of tenderness in his eyes.

And so they left the cavern.

The ranger called up his faithful mustang, and having bridled and
saddled it, mounted the women upon it.

Then, with the (seeming) indispensable and capacious saddle-bags, which
he always carried, thrown across his arm, the ranger took the lead and
the party moved away.

Echo, the eagle, had been sent away in advance to keep his wary watch
for danger before, while Ebony and Flick were sent out on either side
to watch out for any enemies that might be disposed to attack them.

Their progress was slow and tedious, and it was not until the end
of the third day that they reached the little glade wherein Wayland
Sanford had been buried.

The young sportsmen found the grave as they had left it, though the
bodies of the savages were gone.

That night the party encamped in the glade by the grave.

After supper had been prepared and eaten, and while the party sat
around the camp-fire conversing, the subject of the Aërial Demon came
up.

After each one had given his opinions and views on the subject, the
ranger started to his feet, saying:

“Indeed, I have been neglecting our safety. I will go out into the
forest and reconnoiter the immediate vicinity for lurking danger, then
we must station guards for the night,” and as he concluded, he stooped
and whispered something to Florence and Silvia, then turned, and
calling his eagle, that had perched itself in a tree-top, walked away
into the forest, though none but the women noticed that he took his
capacious saddle-bags with him.

In about ten minutes he returned.

“Any signs ob danger, capt’ing?” asked Ebony.

“None whatever,” returned the captain; “but, where can Echo be?” and,
as he concluded, he placed the horn to his lips and blew a blast that
echoed far away through the hills.

In a moment a scream was heard down the valley, and all eyes were
instantly turned that way.

An exclamation of horror burst from the lips of the two hunters and the
four young sportsmen.

They saw the Aërial Demon coming up the valley toward them!

The women uttered a little scream, while Rainbolt burst into a hearty
laugh, then he placed the horn to his lips and blew another blast.

At this juncture the Aërial Demon was directly over the camp, and as
the blast of the horn pealed out, the horrid creature ceased its flight
and settled down, _down into the very midst of the excited group_.

A cry of surprise, followed by a ringing laugh, pealed from every lip.

The mystery of the Aërial Demon was explained, and the two hunters and
four young sportsmen felt no little ashamed of their fears of such a
harmless, but after all, a rather mysterious contrivance of Rodger
Rainbolt.

Let us analyze the Aërial Demon, the terror of the Indians:

First, it received its motive power of Echo, the eagle.

Second, its great arms, that beat and buffeted the air, were the
eagle’s wings, and the screams that it uttered were Echo’s screams.

Third, the head of the demon was simply a dark lantern, light and
dextrously made, and carefully fastened upon Echo’s back between the
wings.

Fourth, the ghastly proportions, revealed by the flame, resembling a
human frame, _was the representation of a skeleton_, made of light,
dry pine, and suspended beneath the eagle by means of a small strap
attached to it and passing over the back of the bird.

And this was the mystery of the Aërial Demon, a clever and ingenious
contrivance, which, on more than one occasion, had saved the life of
its originator! Only the patience of Rodger Rainbolt, in training Echo
to perform those aërial missions, with almost a human understanding,
could have produced such a result.

The capacious saddle-bags he always carried, were the repository of the
rude contrivance.

Ebony was, at last, forced to give up the idea that the Aërial Demon
was the Old Nick, and begged hard for the eagle and the demon that he
might use it to work on the fears of the Indians.

The ranger would not part with his noble bird, but gave the lantern and
fixtures to the darky, who declared he would catch and train a hawk, or
an owl, at the earliest time possible.

And so the night was spent as well as circumstances would admit, with
our friends.

Morning dawned clear and warm.

The party breakfasted upon wild pigeon and venison procured by the two
hunters, and prepared by Florence.

When they were ready to resume their Journey, Florence drew her husband
toward her father’s grave, and said:

“Warren, promise me by this grave that you will forgive my father the
wrongs he has done you.”

“Let _that_,” he said, kissing her pleading lips, “be the seal to the
promise which I grant with all my heart.”

“Ho! ho! ho! by the mysteries of the Aërial Demon! Here am I in the
camp of a party of lords and ladies!”

All eyes were turned upon the speaker. It was the mysterious Solomon
Strange, who had appeared from the forest at this juncture, and halted
in their midst.

Florence and Silvia changed significant smiles.

“I am glad to meet you, Mr. Strange,” said Captain Walraven.

“And I, you, my lord, but you all seem as serious as though you were in
a graveyard reading the inscriptions on the gravestones.”

“Sir, those ladies’ father lies buried there,” said Frank, pointing to
the grave.

“Ho! ho!” laughed Strange; “and how know you that, my boy?”

“Because I helped to bury him there,” returned Frank.

“And what would you think, boy, if I, Solomon Strange, gifted with the
power of the ancient soothsayers, should tell you that you are guilty
of burying a _live man there_?”

“I would think you were a fool,” retorted Frank.

“‘To err is human, to forgive divine,’ but I will prove it to you, my
boy,” said Strange; and, as he concluded, began to unfasten the strips
of bark and twisted grass from his limbs.

This done, his ragged garments dropped from his body, revealing it
dressed in a fashionable suit of dark cloth. Then the man placed his
hands to his head and face, and tore off the wig and mask of long
yellow hair and whiskers, and--

_Colonel Wayland Sanford stood before them in perfect health!_

The young sportsmen, the two hunters and Rodger Rainbolt were
completely dumbfounded, and started back as if from a ghost, unable to
utter a word.

A merry peal of laughter rung from the sisters’ lips. They knew their
father lived, and were prepared for the meeting. He had made known his
existence to Florence in the Indian encampment, hence their private
interviews there. Florence then communicated the fact to Silvia.

“Ha! ha! ha!” laughed the colonel; “do you believe now, my boy, that
you buried a live man, _there_?”

“Uncle Wayland Sanford!” exclaimed Frank, realizing the startling fact,
“how in the name of Heaven did you escape?”

“Easy enough, since you had buried me in a _state of catalepsy_,
brought on by excitement and fatigue, and not very deep in the ground,
for when I regained consciousness I found I was in the ground, the dirt
mostly off of me and a pack of wolves lowering around. The beasts had
dug the dirt away.”

The young men came forward and congratulated the colonel on his
resurrection and escape. Rainbolt took him by the hand and said:

“I am happy to meet you thus, Wayland Sanford; your part has been well
played. Solomon Strange _was_ a strange man, and the mystery connected
with him stands revealed.”

“Warren Walraven,” returned the colonel, “it eases my heart to hear you
talk thus--I, who, so--”

“Never mind, colonel, never mind. I know what you would say. Let the
past be forgotten,” said the ranger.

“So be it, thank God!” murmured the colonel.

At this moment Gustave Barker emerged from the woods and joined the
happy group.

Wayland Sanford’s labor had been doubly rewarded.

When he had returned to consciousness and found that he had been buried
for dead, that his young friends were gone, he recalled his situation,
the last he knew before he fell unconscious from the shock the news
Rainbolt had communicated to him had given him, he arose from his
shallow grave, beat off the wolves that had, fortunately, dug him out;
and then he resolved upon disguising himself and going forth to meet
the ranger, and bring to justice the man who held him in his power.

He knew full well that Duval Dungarvon was the direct cause of Silvia’s
abduction, and he determined to search him out and compel him to
acknowledge his innocence in the Miner’s Gulch affair to the world.

Before leaving the grave, however, he filled it up, smoothed it over
and then covered it with the brush which he supposed his friends left
over it. His object in this was to surprise them just as we have seen,
should they ever return there.

Procuring his disguise, he set forth. What he accomplished the reader
has already seen.

After some delay, the party resumed its journey toward Cheyenne City,
increased in number by the colonel and his old friend, Gustave Barker.

In the course of several days they arrived at the city.

There Ebony Jim and Flick O’Flynn bid them adieu and returned to the
mountains, where they still remain; but as the Aërial Demon has never
been heard of since Rodger Rainbolt left there, it is supposed that
Ebony “couldn’t make it work.”

Silvia and her father were so overpowered with joy, that they gave up
their visit to California, and returned with their friends to Omaha.

Captain Warren Walraven and his beautiful wife, Florence, reside at
Council Bluffs, Iowa; and as it is but a little ways over to Omaha,
they often go over to see Walter and Silvia Lyman, who had plighted
their love in the ranger’s cavern, away among the Black Hills, and who
became man and wife shortly after their return home.

Willis, Frank and Ralph are still single, and often declare that Walter
got the best of the summer’s recreation.

Colonel Sanford and his friend, Barker, reside in Omaha.

A short time since, Walter and Silvia became the happy parents of a
bright-eyed boy-baby, and they call him Rodger Rainbolt.

And so we leave them.



CHAPTER XXIV. CONCLUSION.


Once more, dear reader, let us go back to the Devil’s Tarn.

It is night, but the moon is flooding the hill, wood and valley with
its light.

Within its light, on the banks of a stream at the verge of the roaring
falls, a man is standing, ever and anon glancing impatiently around him.

It is Duval Dungarvon, the robber-captain, and who is he there to meet?

The bushes part near him and a man stands before him.

It is Blufe Brandon, the renegade, and he is to meet Duval Dungarvon.

“Well, you’ve got along at last, have you?” asked Dungarvon, as the
chief approached him. “I received your message and came at once to meet
you, and here I’ve been waiting for an hour; but have you any news from
the girl?”

“I am sorry, Duval, that I wasn’t here at the appointed hour, but the
fact is, I’ve been scarcely able to walk for _several_ days; and the
girl--well, I’ll tell you soon.”

“Why, Blufe, what ails you? your voice sounds like the grave. _Several_
days? why you were well enough the night you became one of the
brotherhood.”

“Dungarvon, you’re a fool.”

“Why so? what do you mean, Blufe?”

“Just what I say. The other night that we met here, a man was concealed
where he heard every word we said, and when we parted, he followed me,
beat me down, stripped off my bear-skin and put it on himself, threw
me into a gorge, where I lay, more dead than alive, several days. The
night of the storm I recovered sufficient to get out of the gorge just
as a flood of water came sweeping down. I moved off toward my village,
and on the way I met the man who had beat me down, robbed me of my
disguise, and threw me into the gorge. He seized me, dragged me into a
cavern, and told me that he had been passing himself off as Black Bear,
with success, and--”

“Ha! ha! ha!” roared Dungarvon; “well, your Indians must be a set
of cursed fools, blind at that, to let a stranger fool them in that
manner.”

“Well, he _did_,” continued Brandon, “and he went up to your ranch and
was initiated into your band as Black Bear, and now who’s the blind
fools? ha! ha! ha! Duval Dungarvon and _his_ men!”

“Brandon, you’re lying as fast as you can talk.”

“Not a bit of it, my gallant Duval; but hear me through. The man said
you met him at Lone Pine, told him all about your ceremony, as he
heard you promise to tell me; then he said you told him all about your
killing the miner on the Yuba, swearing the deed onto Wayland Sanford;
your throwing Barker into the shaft; the escape of Sanford; the affair
about the girl, Florence; the death of one Captain Walraven; and the
capture of Barker, the hero of the Yuba shaft, and two Omaha ‘larks,’
all of which were then in your prison at your ranch. Then he said you
got drunk, and that he stole a bottle of your brandy and gave it to
Barker and the Omaha ‘larks,’ let them out of prison, locked the cell,
and hid the key.”

“Blufe! Is what you are telling true?”

“True as gospel, captain.”

“And did the man tell you his name?”

“Yes. It was Wayland Sanford.”

Duval Dungarvon growled with anger, cursed with rage, stamped with fury.

Blufe Brandon laughed in his face. This so enraged the robber-captain
that he dealt the renegade a blow in the face that sent him heels over
head into the brush.

Brandon sprung up, and drawing a knife, rushed upon his robber friend,
wild with sudden rage.

The two grappled. Brandon was the larger, and could have easily handled
the robber, but he was still quite weak from his affair with Solomon
Strange, and their strength was about matched.

“Curse you!” hissed the renegade, “your life shall pay for that blow!”

To and fro the struggling men swayed. Their faces were livid with
rage. Thick and fast fell the deadly blows. The ground at their feet
grew slippery with their own blood. At last they fell, striking and
tugging like maddened beasts. They arose again to their feet, staggered
backward and--

Toppling, fell over the cliff and were crushed to atoms, almost,
against the jagged rocks as they dropped in the stream at the foot of
the Devil’s Tarn.

Two figures came from the shadow of the woods, and walking to the edge
of the cliff, looked down into the foam-lashed waters below.

“Golly, de jig’s up wid dem villains.”

“Ay, and their blood is not on our heads, so it ain’t.”

And Flick O’Flynn and Ebony Jim descended the cliff, entered their
canoe, and in a moment were lost in the mist and spray at the foot of
the Devil’s Tarn, as they sought their cavern retreat.

THE END.

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Transcriber’s Notes:

Punctuation has been made consistent.

Variations in spelling and hyphenation were retained as they appear in
the original publication, except that obvious typographical errors have
been corrected.





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