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Foes in Ambush
by Charles King
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"It is one of the most perfect plants they ever put up," he burst in, grinding his teeth in wrath. "Of course they knew of father's movements and of mine. They know everything. They knew we were to meet here, probably. They felt assured you knew nothing of it at all. They have used our supposed peril to draw away your guard. They have succeeded even better than they planned, for they have drawn off father, too, and four of our best men into the bargain. But to think that this old scoundrel Moreno should be in it. We've always suspected the Ceralvo set; but father has done everything for Moreno,—practically built this ranch for him, dug his well, set him up in business, and now he makes this a rendezvous for thugs and assassins. By heaven! I'm glad you have him trapped. How many has he with him, do you think?"

"I don't know. I only feel sure he must have one or two, but it's the main gang we have to watch," answered Feeny; "they may be along any minute, and I thought it was them when we heard you."

"And that's what is worrying me, Mr. Harvey," said the major, as he drew the young man aside. "All they are after now, of course, is my safe full of money. It is my business to defend it to the last, and they can't have it without a fight. You and your sisters, ordinarily, they would not molest, but by this time they know you are here. Very possibly they've followed closely on your trail and may be gathering all around us at this moment. Let me be brief. The sooner you can hitch in those mules again, or those relay mules rather, and get out of here, the better."

"Ah! but, major, how about the Apaches in the Santa Maria? We would get there, you know, just about daybreak."

"By Jupiter! I never thought of them. You wouldn't have your guard now that your father's gone?"

"No. We've simply got to stay here, major. Personally, I'm only too glad to be here to help you out. It cannot be long before the troops come hurrying back when they find they've been tricked. Very probably they have found it out by this time." Then with quick decision he stepped back to the door of the Concord. "Girls! Paquita! Ruthie! tumble out, both of you; we're to stay here at Moreno's to-night." And, the paymaster aiding, the silent, trembling sisters were lifted from the wagon and led away into the one guest-room, the east room, where, pistol in hand, still sat Dawes on the safe. The wraps and pillows were quickly passed in. The little hurricane-lamp was stood in one corner. A bundle of cavalry blankets, left behind by the detachment when it took the trail, was spread out upon the earthen floor. The safe was hauled into the empty bar-room, and, bidding his sisters lie down and fear nothing, assuring them of their perfect safety there and urging them to sleep all they could against their move at dawn, Edward Harvey, looking well to his arms and bidding his two men do likewise, came forth and joined his soldier friends.

"There are five of us now against Morales and his outfit, and I'll just bet my horse we can thrash 'em."

"Only eleven o'clock," muttered old Plummer, as he struck a match and consulted his watch. "It's been the longest evening I ever spent; but, thank God, our worst fears are at an end. I never doubted for a moment that your sisters were captives. Who could the man have been who personated you?"

"I don't know. I've heard of him once before. He is about my height and build, but darker they say, and with more of Mexico in his manner. He has been to Tucson, but I never heard of his masquerading over my name until now, though I have heard of the resemblance. He must have copied my writing, too, to so completely fool father."

"Oh, that was a mere scrawl on soft paper with a broad-pointed pencil. There was no time to scrutinize it closely," explained the major. "Now, Feeny, you're officer of the guard. How do you want to post us?"

"It's what I've been thinking of, sir, ever since Mr. Harvey got in, and we've no time to lose. We can't loop-hole this adobe now, but we can barricade the door of these two rooms and stand off a good-sized gang. Mr. Harvey will, of course, want to be where he can look after the ladies; but if I can put one of his men in the corral, one who can be relied upon to shoot down any of Moreno's people who should try to come out, I think we can look out for the rest. Any minute now they'll be coming. First thing, run these two wagons around to the corral, so as to clear the approaches. There mustn't be anything behind which they can hide or take shelter." And, laying hold of the pole while willing hands manned the spokes, Feeny soon had the Concord and the weather-beaten ambulance safely out of the way. Then came a moment of consultation as to which of Harvey's men would be best suited for the onerous post opposite the enemy's door, and then a sudden and breathless silence.

"Listen!" whispered Feeny. "That's a signal. Hist! you'll hear it again presently."

Grasping their rifles with nervous hands, the five men stood huddling in a little group at the west end of the low, flat building.

Somewhere out on the dark expanse towards the peak a long, low whistle, ending in an abrupt high note, had sounded. For a moment there was no repetition. The invisible foe was signalling for reply. From whom could answer be expected but Moreno?

"Watch the old scoundrel's window there and this shutter over here," whispered the sergeant, indicating a board-covered port in the westward wall. "They'll try to show a light, perhaps. Run round into the corral and smash the first man that tries to come out. I'll tend to any feller that shows a head hereabouts."

Harvey turned with his employe and ran with him as far as the other end of the ranch. Here he entered the low door-way. The little lamp burned dimly, but two pairs of dark, dilated eyes gleamed eagerly upon him.

"I'm going to close this door now, girlies," he whispered. "Lie still. Do not venture near it or the window, and don't be frightened. It looks as though some of the Morales gang were around here hoping to find the paymaster unguarded. We'll give them a lesson they'll never forget, if they attempt to attack him."

For all answer Ruth Harvey only nestled closer to her sister and clung to her for courage and support. Paquita, however, became Amazonian at once.

"Is there nothing I can do, Ned? I can't bear to lie here listening and taking no part. Surely I could shoot a pistol well enough."

"You can help us best and most by lying flat and showing not so much as a finger at the door. We can tend to them, Fan. It won't be long before father and the troop come galloping back. Don't show a light now unless we call." Then he darted to the bar-room.

"Are they coming?" hailed the clerk, in a hoarse whisper.

"Somebody signalled out on the plain. It's probably they. Look out for Moreno now; don't let him or anybody through that door."

Far out on the desert again, louder, shriller, clearer, the whistle was repeated.

"Ah, blow and be damned to ye!" muttered Feeny. "There's no answer from here ye'll get this night. Watch out now. Some of 'em will try to crawl up after a little."

But nearly five minutes passed without other sign or sound. Then, closer in, a horse stamped and snorted; a coarse Mexican voice muttered a savage oath. Feeny, crouching low, darted into the darkness in the direction of the sound. Plummer and Harvey would have restrained him, but it was too late; he was gone before either could speak. Then a latch creaked and snapped behind them and, slowly and cautiously, the wooden shutter began to open outward. In an instant Harvey had raised his rifle and struck the resounding board a fierce blow with the butt. The door flew back, crashing in violent contact against the grizzled pate of Moreno himself, who, with a howl of mingled rage and anguish, fell back from the aperture.

"Open that again and I'll blow your head off, you scoundrel!" growled Harvey. "Don't you dare show hair nor hide outside your room. Every man has orders to shoot you on sight, if that's any comfort to you."

Only for a second had the old Mexican's head appeared; only an instant had he for plea or protestation, but that instant had served to show a narrow streak of light from the room within, and this mere crack revealed to the watchful eyes out upon the plain the position of the ranch, possibly told them something more, for in less than half a minute two horsemen came looming up out of the darkness and cantering fearlessly towards them. Phlegmatic as he was, old Plummer's nerves gave a twitch as, sharp and stern, young Harvey challenged.

"Halt there! Who are you? Halt! or we fire."

"Friends," shouted one voice; "Americans," the other, as promptly the order to halt was obeyed, the trained horses going almost on their haunches under the cruel force of the huge Mexican bit.

"We are seeking Moreno's," continued the first voice. "The Apaches jumped our outfit just after sunset and we had to run for it."

"How many are there of you all told?" demanded Harvey.

"Only us two. We're partners, prospecting,—been down towards the Sonora line. For the Lord's sake, gentlemen, don't keep us out here. We've lost everything we had,—packs, packers, and grub. We're about dead beat for a drink and something to eat."

"What do you think of this, major?" whispered Harvey. "Those are Americans sure."

"Well, I'd let'em in," said the major; "but where the devil's Feeny? He's the best judge, really. Their story may be all true. They may be alone."

"I don't know; it isn't likely. You heard that voice out there a moment ago; that was Mexican beyond any doubt. We've got to stand those fellows off till we hear from Feeny." Then, raising his voice, Harvey called,—

"Just stay where you are a moment. You're all right perhaps, but our guards have orders to be on the lookout for Morales and his gang, and you might get shot by mistake."

"Well, for God's sake turn out your men, if you've got any, and help us catch these murdering thieves," was the impatient reply. "How many are you?"

"Oh, there's plenty of us here," was Harvey's cheery answer. "Most of 'C' troop; but we've other business on hand just now. You wait there quietly for a minute or two until the sergeant comes around with the patrol; he'll see to you."

And then, as though the whole thing had been planned beforehand, out in the darkness to the north Feeny's voice was heard in low-toned but sharp command,—

"Patrol, halt! Close up there, Kennedy. Where are you, Number Five?" And so, cool and confident as though he had a dozen troopers at his back, Feeny came striding up to the spot.

"What's the matter, sentry? Didn't I hear you parleying here with somebody?"

"Two strangers out there, sergeant;—say they're prospectors and been jumped by Apaches."

"Hwere away are they?" Then in low tone, "Go you out beyond the corral," he whispered to old Plummer. "There's four of them out there. Challenge if they try to come in." Then aloud again, "Shure, I don't see anything, sentry."

"Right out ahead there, sergeant. Two men, mounted."

"Come down, one of ye. Dismount and come in here. Lave your gun behind. Give your reins to your pal there," was Feeny's next mandate.

There was a moment of hesitation, a faint sound of whispering as though the self-styled prospectors were in consultation, and again Feeny spoke in tone more sharp and imperative,—

"Dismount one, I say. Come in here, or I'll send a bullet for your cards. Quick now."

Still another delay. The "prospectors" seemed anxious to edge off into deeper darkness.

"If ye're not off that horse's back in ten seconds, be jabers, I'll fire, so be lively." And as his excitement rose so did Feeny's Irish.

Four—five seconds ticked by and still there was no approach. Fiercely, with sharp emphasis, the sergeant brought his carbine to full cock. "It's aiming I am," said he, as he quickly raised the butt to his shoulder. There was a sudden scurry and scramble of horses' hoofs, low-voiced words of warning and a muttered curse or two. Then leaped a tongue of fire into the night, and from the corral corner came sharp report, followed by a cry, a gurgle, a groan, then silence.

"My God! they've shot the major," exclaimed Harvey, as he leaped away in the direction of the shot. At the same moment away sped the two horsemen in front of the post. No use to fire. They were shrouded in thick darkness and out of harm's way before one could pull trigger. Then came two flashes, two quick reports, then half a dozen rapid, sputtering revolver-shots, then a vengeful howl and a rush out on the plain. Feeny ran like a deer on the trail of Mr. Harvey, and in less time than it takes to tell it they came upon the paymaster, sinking shocked and nerveless to the sandy soil, his hands clasping on his side.

"Pick him up, you and your man there; carry him into the ranch. I'll bate back those blackguards yet," muttered Feeny, as he took a quick snap shot at some dim object flitting across the plain and sent another into the darkness, aiming vaguely where he could hear the thud of horses' hoofs. For a moment, running from point to point after each discharge, he kept up a rapid fusillade, under cover of which the hapless paymaster was borne swiftly away around the corner of the ranch and carried into the bar, where, wild with anxiety, but faithful to his trust, Mr. Dawes still guarded the safe. Then Harvey stepped through the narrow door-way to the eastern room.

"I have to borrow the lamp a moment, Fan," he whispered. "Now lie still. We may have to stand a siege awhile until father can reach us."

Two minutes more, bending low and with his last cartridge crammed into the chamber of his carbine, Feeny turned to make a run for the ranch. Just as he came speeding in past the westward wall the wooden shutter was hurled open and a strange voice, loud, exultant, strident, burst upon his ear.

"Come on, Pasqual! Come ——"

But the rest was lost in the roar of Feeny's ready weapon. The rude facade of adobe blazed red one instant in the flash of the carbine and the loud report went bellowing out across the plain. But within the ranch there went up a wail of terror and dismay, for Ramon Morales, shot through the brain, was stretched lifeless at the feet of Moreno and his shuddering wife.

And then Feeny, unscathed, leaped inside the bar-room.

"Now for it, men! Drag in those two drunken brute bastes," he cried, laying hold of Mullan's limp carcass. "Lug in wan of them water-jars. Stick their damned heads into that trough beyant. Now be lively. The whole gang'll be on us in less than a minute."



V.

At midnight the situation at Moreno's ranch was a strange one. The occupants of the two rooms farthest to the east were being besieged by ten or fifteen outlawed men, some Mexican, some "Gringo," but all cut-throats, and up to this moment the besieged had had the best of it.

And yet their plight was desperate. In the easternmost room, secure from bullet or missile of any kind so long as they crouched close to the ground and back from the door-way, lay trembling in silence old Harvey's daughters. At the door, only the barrel of his rifle protruding, keeping under cover all he possibly could behind an improvised parapet of barley-bags, knelt their devoted brother, cool and determined, every now and then whispering words of hope and encouragement. In the adjoining room, connected with the eastern chamber by a doorless aperture through the adobe wall, lay the paymaster, sorely wounded, but still conscious and plucky, his faithful clerk ministering to him as best he could, stanching the flow of blood and comforting him with cool water. At the door-way opening on the hard-trampled space at the southern front of the ranch, sheltering himself behind his breastwork of barley, but never relaxing vigilant watch, knelt Sergeant Feeny, a bandana bound about his forehead, the blood trickling down his right cheek, the sleeve of his flannel shirt rent by a bullet that just grazed the upper arm. Kneeling on the counter and peeping through a hole in the bottom of the wooden window-shutter, one of Harvey's men kept guard, the other faced the door-way into Moreno's domestic apartments, every now and then letting drive a shot through the wood-work to keep them, as he said, "from monkeying with the bolt on the other side." In planning his roadside ranch Moreno had allowed outer doors only to those rooms which were for public use; the three which lay to the west of the bar could not be entered except through that resort or by a door giving on the corral, both of these doors being supplied with massive bolts as security against intruders, and all three rooms being furnished with air-ports rather than windows, pierced at such a height through the adobe that no one from without, except in saddle, could peer through the aperture and see what was going on within. The travellers' room and the bar-room ports, however, were low and large, and all the rooms were spacious; the bar, of course, being the dining as well as drinking-room, carried off the honors in point of size. This, too, was furnished with an opening into the corral, but Feeny's, first thought on reaching his comrades was to barricade. Springing into the walled enclosure and bidding Harvey watch while the others worked, he had soon succeeded in lugging a score of big barley-sacks into the interior and piling them into breastworks at the three doors, the one opening into the corral being provided in addition with a high "traverse" to protect its guard against shots that might come through from Moreno's room. All this was accomplished amidst the wailing of the Mexican women and the fusillade begun by the assailants in hopes of terrorizing the defence before venturing to closer quarters. Like famous Croghan, of Fort Stephenson, Feeny had kept up a fire from so many different points as to impress the enemy with the idea there were a dozen men and a dozen guns where there was in reality only one, and even the temptation of that vast sum in the paymaster's safe was not sufficient to nerve the followers of Morales to instant attack. The valor and vigor of the defence and the appalling death of one of their leaders had so unnerved them that Pasqual himself, raging, imploring, threatening by turns, was unable to urge them to close quarters. "Most men are cowards in the dark" is a theory widely believed in. Indians certainly are only brave against defenceless women and children at such a time. Not until the firing had ceased and it was evident that the defenders had retired to the shelter of the ranch, and then only very slowly and cautiously, would these brigands of the desert be induced to resume their stealthy approach. For full half an hour there was a lull in the fight, and then, guided by the light Moreno was now able to show, Pasqual and two of the stouter-hearted knaves approached the western wall and held brief consultation with the rascally owner. Rage at the death of their leader's brother and ally, the thirst for vengeance, and the hope of securing such rich booty, all were augmented by Moreno's fiery assurances and encouragement. All the soldiers were gone, he said, except the "pig of a sergeant" and two drugged and senseless swine. Somebody among them was wounded. There were only three, possibly four, left. Let his companeros make combined attack, two or three through his (Moreno's) rooms, two or three rush in from the corral, and the same number from the south front at once, and beyond doubt the cursed Yankees would succumb. Then, no quarter, no quarter for the men. His connection with the outlaw band was now known and these witnesses must be put to death. Then—then the paymaster's safe could readily be battered open, then there was the mint of money to be divided among the victors, then away to Sonora with their spoil and with old Harvey's beautiful daughters. What ransom would he not be willing to pay,—that proud, disdainful father! Was ever luck so great? But haste! haste!—not a moment could be lost; they must act at once.

And so Morales hurried to station and instruct his men. Prowling like coyotes through the darkness and at respectful distance from the guarded end of the ranch, half a dozen of the number crept into the corral. Others were distributed over the southern front. Three of the lighter and more slender of the band were "boosted" through the high west window into Moreno's domain. Then through the middle room they made their way, where sat the senora, rocking, weeping, and moaning over the body of the outlaw leader, where, hiding under the bed, shivering and praying, crouched the senorita, her daughter, and then, barefooted, they crept into the room adjoining the bar and listened, breathless, to the low-toned instructions of the veteran sergeant. From without no glimmer of light could guide the assailants or help them in their aim. The black apertures of the door-ways were poor marks for night shooting, and the more enterprising and adventurous, crawling like snakes to reconnoitre, were soon able to report that most scientifically had the defence thrown up their breastworks. From group to group flitted Pasqual. At his shrill battle-cry all hands were to rush simultaneously to the attack, firing no shot for fear of hitting one another; but with pistol in one hand and the long, deadly knife in the other, close at once upon the defenders, leap over their barriers and overwhelm them in the dark interior. In three minutes the signal would be given. He himself would lead the dash of the party within the corral. Pasqual was shrewd enough to know that where there was only one door-way instead of two there would be better chance of dodging the bullets. But keen eyes and ears and wits were there alert. Feeny and Harvey well knew that this was but the lull before the storm.

"Lay low, boys, and be ready. Shoot the first man that shows," was the last caution old Plummer heard before the bursting of the tempest.

All on a sudden a wild cry went up in the corral. All on a sudden from north and south the assailants dashed forward with answering yell. In an instant the dark apertures flashed their lightning, and rifle and revolver-shots rang on the still night air. Harvey's Henry barked like a Gatling; Feeny's old Springfield banged like a six-pounder. Two of the assailants on the south side went down in the dust, face foremost, the others swerved, broke, and scurried for shelter. Pasqual Morales, leading his men close under the north wall, made a panther-like spring for the crest of the barley parapet, and was saved from instant death when he fell by being dragged feet foremost, with a Colt's forty-four tearing through his thigh. In vain Moreno's squad fired shot after shot through the wooden door; their bullets buried themselves deep in the improvised traverse but let no drop of blood, while two return shots scattered the attack with the splinters from the heavy panels. Pleading, raging, maddened, Morales learned that the dash had failed, and that two of his most daring men, the two Americanos who had ridden forward to personate prospectors and who had led the rush in the southern front, were knocked out of the fight.

And then it was that the inhuman brute gave the order to resort to Indian methods, and even old Moreno begged and prayed and blasphemed all to no purpose. Furious at their repulse, the band were ready to obey their leader's maddest wish. The word was "Burn them out." Ned Harvey, crouching behind his barley-bags, felt his blood turn to ice water in his veins when, with exultant yells and taunts, the corral suddenly lighted up with a broad red glare. The match had been applied to the big hay-stack close to the brush-covered shed, close to the "leanto" under which so much inflammable rubbish was stored. It could be a question of only a few moments, then they, too, would be a mass of flames spreading rapidly westward. The stout adobe wall separating the ranch proper from the sheds would protect the occupants from direct contact with the flame, but what could save the roof? Stretching from wall to wall were the dry, resinous pine logs that formed the basis of the bulky structure; over these the lighter boards of pine; and over all, thickly piled, dry as bone and inflammable as tinder, heap on heap of brush. Once this was fairly ablaze the hapless occupants of the rooms beneath might as well be under the grating of some huge furnace.

High in air shot the leaping flames. Far and wide over the desert spread the lurid glare. Screaming with terror, the women of Moreno's household were already dragging into the corral their few treasures and rushing back for such raiment as they could save. Far over at the corral gate, where the bullets of the besieged could not find them, Pasqual Morales and his exulting band were gathered, the chief lying upon his serape with bloody bandages about his leg, his followers dancing about him in frantic glee, all keeping carefully out of range of the black door-ways, yet three or four crack shots lay flat in the sands, their rifles covering the now glaring fronts of the threatened rancho, ready to shoot down, Indian-like, the wretched garrison when driven out.

It was at this juncture that from somewhere in the middle room behind Moreno's heavy door a voice was heard.

"Hand out the safe. Hand out your money now and we'll leave you in peace. Every man of us will ride away, and you can come out as soon as we are gone. Answer, for you have no time to lose."

"Answer him, you!" shouted Feeny to Mr. Dawes. "Send a shot through and hit him if you can."

But before the clerk could drop the fan with which he was striving to revive his fainting chief, the young fellow from Harvey's party, he who was stationed at the north door and had been so fortunate as to shoot Morales himself, now suddenly sprang from his covert and, placing the muzzle of his Henry rifle close to the door, deliberately popped three shots in quick succession through the splintering wood-work, and, in the confusion and dismay which resulted, was able to leap nimbly into his corner again before the answering shots could come.

"Take that for your answer," shouted Feeny again, "you black-hearted, black-bellied thafe, and take this, too, bad scran to ye! Every dollar of that money's in greenbacks that'll burn as aisy as tissue, and if you want it, come and get it now. 'Tis you that's got no time to lose. Come and get it, I say, for be the soul of St. Patrick you'll never have another chance. Just as sure as ye let that fire reach this ranch and harm those young leddies,—old Harvey's daughters that never did ye a harm in the world,—every dollar in the safe goes whack into the fire, and sorra a shinplaster will you have for all your pains. Ain't that so, paymasther? Shure the government ought to be mighty glad of the chance of saving all those promises to pay."

"Bravo, Feeny!" shouted young Harvey from the adjoining room. "We're not smoked out yet by a good deal," he added in lower tone. "But if the worst comes to the worst we can make a rush for the barley-stack in the corral. Lie still, Ruth, little sister; it won't be any time now before the soldiers will come galloping to us." And, hiding her terror-stricken face in her sister's breast, the girl obeyed.

Out at the corral gate meantime a vehement council was being held. Feeny's bold defiance and threat had produced their effect. His voice had rung out above the roar of the flames, and what Morales could not hear was promptly reported by those who had crawled up nearer to the bar and could understand every word. Even hampered by the care of their helpless women, the defence was undismayed; the little garrison was fighting with magnificent hope and courage. Beyond the wounding of one of their number, no impression apparently had been made, whereas the bandits had a sorry loss to contemplate. Ramon shot dead, Pasqual crippled, and the two "Gringos," the daring and enterprising leaders of the attack, painfully wounded, one probably mortally so. And now with the flames lighting up the whole valley between the Picacho and the Christobal, with cavalry known to be out in several squads within easy march, some of the men were already weakening. They had had enough of it and were quite ready to slink away; but Pasqual was a raging lion. Revenge for the death of his brother, wrath over his own crippled condition, fury at the failure of the assault, and hatred on general principles of all honest means and honest men, all prompted him to order and enforce a renewal of the attack, all served to madden him to such a degree that even burning his adversaries to death seemed simply a case of serving them right. What cared he that two of the besieged were fair young girls, non-combatants? They were George Harvey's daughters, and that in itself was enough to bring balm to his soul and well-nigh cause him to forget his physical ills. One or two of the band strove to point out that the faintest indignity offered to the sisters would array not only all Arizona, but all Mexico against them. Like dogs they would be hunted to their holes and no quarter be given. Returning hitherto with their spoils, Chihuahua or Sonora had welcomed them with open arms; but what outlaw could find refuge in Mexican soil who had dared to wrong the children of George Harvey and Inez Romero? It was even as they were pointing this out to Pasqual and urging that he consent to be lifted into the ambulance and driven away southward before the return of the cavalry, that Moreno himself appeared. Slipping out of his western window, dropping to the ground and making complete circuit of the corral, he suddenly joined in the excited conference. What he said was in Spanish, or that pan-Arizona patois that there passes current for such, and was a wild, fervid appeal. They had ruined him, him and his. He was unmasked, betrayed, for now his connection with the band was established beyond all question; now he was known and would soon be branded as an outlaw. His home was being destroyed before his eyes,—not that that amounted to much now that he could no longer occupy it,—his wife and child must flee at once for Sonora and he go with them, but recompense for his loss he must have; never again could he venture into Arizona: he would be known far and wide as the betrayer of his benefactor's children, though he called God and all the saints in the Spanish calendar to witness he never dreamed of their being involved in his plot. The paymaster's funds, not the lives of any of the paymaster's men, were what he had sought to take, and now, there lay the dollars almost within their grasp, but unless captured at once would be gone forever.

"I know that pig of a sergeant,—may the flames of hell envelop him for all eternity!" he cried. "He will not scruple to do as he says. He will cast every package into the seething furnace. Mira! Look; the shed is now all ablaze. In one minute the roof of the rancho will burst into flame. There is not an instant to lose. I adjure you let the daughters of Harvey, the son, the men come out at once; swear to them safety, honor, protection. Let them go their way now, now. Then you will have to deal with only two or three, and the treasure is ours. Look you, Sanchez, Pedro, Jose, down with that shed next the rancho! hurl it, drag it down so that its fire cannot reach the brush beyond, then we can parley, we can win their ear. They will be but too glad to be spared to go on their way unharmed. Yonder are their mules across the corral. Hitch them in at once. Save the others for the ambulance and the buck-board here, and for our noble chief. Is it not so, capitan? Am I not right?"

Approving murmurs followed his fiery words. So long as the Yankees held together there was little likelihood of the outlaws gaining the ground except by burning out, and that now meant the destruction of the very money they were after, the utter loss of the fortune that, divided even among so many, would enable them to live like princes in Hermosillo or beyond. They would be heroes, conquerors. But if that were lost after all their plotting, planning, labor, and crime, there was absolutely no recompense. Even through the brain-clouding fury of his revenge Pasqual Morales saw the sound sense of Moreno's plea. He made no effort to check the men who ran to do his bidding and were even now with lariats and stalwart arms dragging the props from under the shed and letting its western end come pattering down. Within the eastern room the dense smoke was already finding its way. The sound of falling beams and timber only conveyed to the occupants the idea that already the shed was in embers, and that any instant the roof over their heads would burst into a torrent of fire. Ned Harvey's brave spirit was taxed to the utmost. Unless relief could come and come at once, nothing remained for him but death, nothing for those fair sisters but a fate far worse.

At one instant he was on the point of urging the paymaster to comply with the outlaws' demand, pledging himself and his father's fortune to make good to the government every cent so sacrificed. His father could pay it four times over, and would rather sink his last cent than that the faintest harm should come to those beloved children; but the next moment Feeny's splendid defiance had so thrilled him that he could not frame the words he thought to speak, and yet, here was awful peril close at hand. What right had he to further jeopard the life, the honor, of these, his father's fondest treasures? If it were only himself it would be stay and fight it out to the bitter end. But if the robbers could now be content with the money alone and pledge safeguard for the party, was it not his duty, would it not be his father's mandate were he there, to buy the safe and contents from the agent of the general government and pay the ransom levied?

But he little dreamed of the fury of revenge and hatred burning in the soul of Pasqual Morales. He little fathomed the treachery and cunning of the outlawed scoundrel. Even as he was revolving these thoughts in mind, ever and again listening with new hope for the sound of rallying trumpet, the beat of rescuing hoofs, there resounded through the night the sonorous and ringing voice that so short a time before had called for the surrender of the safe.

"Edward Harvey, we pledge safe-conduct for you, your sisters, and your party. Here is your wagon ready, your team hitched in. Throw your arms out of the door. Come forth as you please. Put the senoritas in the wagon. Look neither to the right nor left, but drive away, and God be with you. We have no quarrel with you and yours. We war only with these soldiers who have killed our chief."

Put yourself in his place. Death for him, perhaps for them,—dishonor anyway,—was all they could look for if no rescue came. Was it not his duty to his parents, to his sisters, even to God, to accept these terms,—to withdraw his little force? Why should he be perilling such precious lives and names in the defence of a government official who had been so reckless as to part with his guard and put himself and his funds in such a predicament? From the other room in which the major now lay, feebly moaning, no word of remonstrance came. Even in their extremity, then, the soldiers of the government would not urge that he stay and encounter further peril in their defence. One of the drugged troopers was beginning to regain some atom of sense, and, sitting up, was miserably asking what had happened, what was the matter now.

"Go and douse water over your damned worthless head, Mullan," he heard the sergeant say, so Feeny was evidently alert as ever and must have heard the proposition from without. At his feet, huddled close to the floor where the thick smoke was least distressing, Fanny and Ruth still clung to one another, the latter trembling at the sound of the voice from without. But Fanny had quickly, eagerly, raised her head to listen. For a moment no reply was made. Then came the impatient query,—

"Harvey, do you hear? You have no time to lose. You have but a minute in which to answer."

"Major," he burst forth at last in an agony of doubt, "you hear what they say, you see how I am fixed. If I were here alone you would never need to ask my services, I'd fight with you to the bitter end; but think of my father,—my mother if anything befall my sisters. Can nothing be done?"

From the lips of the stricken paymaster there came only a groan in reply.

"I fear he cannot hold out long, Mr. Harvey," muttered the clerk. "I doubt if he heard or understood you."

"Well, why not let them have the safe if they'll guarantee that that is all they want? How much have you there? I feel sure my father would make it good."

"There's over twenty-five thousand dollars, Mr. Harvey."

"Well, if it was only twenty-five cents, Mr. Ned Harvey, all I've got to say is, devil a wan of them would they get so long as I could load a shot or pull a trigger. Go you if you will; take the leddies by all means if you think it safer; but before I'd trust the wan sister I ever had—God rest her soul—to the promise of any such blackguard party as this, I'd bury my knife in her throat."

An awful stillness followed Feeny's words. For an instant there was no sound but quick-beating hearts, the mutterings and complainings of poor Mullan, staggering about in search of his carbine, the quickened breath and low moaning of poor old Plummer. Then again came the loud hail from without.

"Once more, Ned Harvey, will you come out and be saved, or stay there and roast? Surrender now and you're all right; but, by the God of heaven, if you refuse, it's the last chance for you or those you were fool enough to bring here. Think for your sisters, man. There's no hope for one of you if you delay another minute."

And then it was a woman's voice, tremulous but clear.

"Ned, wasn't it to save us that Major Plummer sent his men? Wasn't it for our sake he gave up all his escort?"

"It was, Fan, yes; at least he thought so."

"And now you would desert him, would you?—leave him to be murdered by these robbers, the worst gang we ever had or heard of. I say you shall not. I for one will not go into their hands. Ruth cannot go without me. Stay and fight it out, Ned, or you're not your father's son."

"Fan! Fan! you're a trump! God bless your brave heart!" cried Harvey. "It seemed cowardly to go, yet the responsibility was more than I could bear."

"May the saints in heaven smile on your purtty face for all eternity!" muttered Feeny, in a rapture of delight. "The young leddy is right, Mr. Harvey; though it wasn't for me to say it. Shure you can't trust those scoundrels; they'd stab ye in the back, sir, and rob you of your pretty sisters and drag them away before your dying eyes. That man Pasqual is a devil, sir, nothing less. Shure we'll fight till rescue comes, for come it will. I tell you the boys are spurring towards us, hell to split, from every side now, and we'll whale these scoundrels yet."

Then from without came the final hail,—

"What answer, Harvey? Now or never."

"Go to hell, you son of an ape and worse than a Greaser!" yelled Feeny. "If you had a dhrop of Irish blood in your veins ye'd never ask the question. Now if you think you can take this money, here's your chance. No Harvey ever went back on his friends."

Even brain-muddled Mullan felt a maudlin impulse to cheer at Feeny's enthusiastic answer. Even poor old Plummer gave a half-stifled cry. Possibly he dreamed that rescue was at hand; but there was little time for rejoicing. Springing back whence he came, the unseen emissary was heard shouting some order to his fellows. The next instant the rifles began their cracking on both sides, and the bullets with furious spat drove deep into the adobe or whizzed through the gunny-sacks into the barley. The unseen foe was once more investing them on every side and not a shot could be wasted in return. Once more the furious crackle and roar of flames was heard close at hand, and then the smoke grew thicker, the heat increased, and poor Ned Harvey, his eyes smarting, knelt steadfast at his post and prayed, prayed for the coming of rescue, for the return of the loved father, all the gallant troop at his back, and then—even as though in answer to his prayer—there came a sudden lull in the fight.

"Something's coming!" shouted Feeny, excitedly. "They see or hear somebody, sure. Look, Mr. Harvey, ain't that two of their fellows scudding away westward out there?"

Surely enough. In the glare of the burning sheds the besieged caught a glimpse of two of the gang bending low in their saddles a hundred yards away and scudding like hounds over towards the open plain.

"Is it rescue? Are our people coming?" was the query that rose to every lip. "God grant it!"

Heavens, how hearts were beating! How ears were straining underneath that now blazing roof! Louder, fiercer soared the flames; furious became the snapping of sun-baked branch and twig; stifling and thick the smoke.

"Quick! Come here for a breath of air," called Harvey to his sisters. "It's safe for a moment, at least." And instantly they joined him at the door-way, still clinging close to the floor.

Listen! Hoofs! The thunder of galloping steeds! A distant cheer! A soldierly voice in hoarse command,—

"Steady, steady there! Keep together, men!"

"God be praised!" screamed Feeny, in ecstasy. "Look up, major; look up, sir. We're all safe now. Here come the boys. Hurroo!" And mad with relief and delight, the sergeant sprang from his lair just as a tall trooper in the Union blue shot into sight in the full glare of the flames, sprang from his foaming steed, waving his hat and yelling,—

"All right! All safe, lads! Here we are!"

Down went Harvey's rifle as he leaped out into the blessed air to greet the coming host. Down went Feeny's carbine as, with outstretched hand, he sprang to grasp his comrade trooper's. With rush and thunder of hoofs a band of horsemen came tearing up to the spot just as Feeny reached their leader,—reached him and went down to earth, stunned, senseless from a crashing blow, even as Ned Harvey, his legs jerked from under him by the sudden clip of rawhide lariat, was dragged at racing speed out over the plain, bumping over stick and stone, tearing through cactus, screaming with rage and pain, until finally battered into oblivion, the last sound that fell upon his ear was the shriek of agony from his sisters' lips, telling him they were struggling in the rude grasp of reckless and infuriated men.



VI.

Harvey could not long have lain unconscious. No bones were broken, no severe concussion sustained in the rapid drag over the sandy surface, and the awful sense of the calamity that had befallen him and the dread and doubt as to the fate of his beloved ones seemed to rally his stunned and bewildered faculties and bring him face to face with the horror of the situation. Barely able to breathe, he found himself rudely gagged. Striving to raise his hand to tear the hateful bandage away, he found that he was pinioned by the elbows and bound hand and foot by the very riata, probably, that had dragged him thither. No doubt as to the nationality of his unseen captors here. The skill with which he had been looped, tripped, whisked away, and bound,—the sharp, biting edges, even the odor of dirty rawhide rope,—all told him that though Americans were not lacking in the gang, his immediate antagonists hailed from across the Sonora line. Who and what they were mattered little, however. The fact that after hours of repulse in open attack, the foe had all on a sudden carried their castle by a damnable ruse was only too forcibly apparent. Writhing, struggling in miserable effort to free himself from his bonds, poor Harvey's burning eyes were maddened by the picture before him only a couple of hundred yards away. There in the fierce light of the flames now bursting from every window and roaring and shooting high in air from the brush-heaped roof of Moreno's ranch,—there stood the Concord wagon, stalwart men clinging to the heads of the plunging and excited mules, a big ruffian already in the driver's seat, whip and reins in hand; there beside it was the paymaster's ambulance, into which three of the gang were just shoving the green-painted iron safe,—the Pandora's box that had caused all their sorrows; there Moreno's California buck-board, pressed into service and being used to carry the wounded, drawn by the extra mules; and then—God of heaven! what a sight for brother's eyes to see and make no sign!—then one big brute lifted from the ground and handed up to a fellow already ensconced within the covered wagon the senseless, perhaps lifeless, form of pretty little Ruth, his father's idol. The poor child lay unresisting in the ruffian's arms, but not so Paquita. It took two men, strong and burly, to lift and force her into the dark interior, and one of those, to the uttermost detail of his equipment, was to all appearance a trooper of the United States cavalry. There stood his panting horse with hanging head and jaded withers, the very steed whose rush they had welcomed with such exceeding joy, saddled, bridled, blanketed, saddle-bagged, lariated, side-lined, every item complete and exactly as issued by the Ordnance Department. The trooper himself wore the field uniform of the cavalry,—the dark-blue blouse, crossed by the black carbine sling, whose big brass buckle Ned could even now see gleaming between the broad shoulders, and gathered at the waist by the old-fashioned "thimble belt" the troop saddlers used to make for field service before the woven girdle was devised. Even more: Harvey in his misery remembered the thrill of joy with which he had noted, as the splendid rider reined in and threw himself from the saddle, the crossed sabres, the troop letter "C," and the regimental number gleaming at the front of his campaign hat. Who—who could this be, wearing the honorable garb of a soldier of United States, yet figuring as a ringleader in a band of robbers and assassins now adding rapine to their calendar of crime? Edward Harvey's heart almost burst with helpless rage and wretchedness when he saw his precious sisters dragged within the canvas shelter,—saw the tall, uniformed brigand leap lightly after them, and heard him shout to the ready driver, "Now, off with you!"

Crack! went the whip as the men sprang from the heads of the frantic mules, and with a bound that nearly wrenched the trace-hooks from the stout whippletree, the Concord went spinning over the sands to the south, whirling so near him that over the thud of hoofs and whirl of wheels and creak of spring and wood-work he could hear poor Fanny's despairing cry,—the last sound he was aware of for hours, for now in dead earnest Harvey swooned away.

Half an hour later, the rafters of the ranch having by this time tumbled in and turned the interior into a glowing furnace, there came riding from the west a slender skirmish line of horsemen in the worn campaign dress of the regular cavalry. With the advance there were not more than six or eight, a tall, slender lieutenant leading them on and signalling his instructions. With carbines advanced, with eyes peering out from under the jagged hat-brims, the veteran troopers came loping into the light of the flames, expectant every instant of hearing the crack of outlaw's rifle, or perhaps the hiss of feathered arrow of unseen foe. Though some of the steeds looked hot and wearied, the big raw-boned sorrel that carried the young commander tugged at his bit and bounded impatiently as though eager for the signal—"charge." Straight into the circle of light, straight to the southern entrance, now a gate of flame, the soldier rode and loudly hailed "Moreno!"

But hissing, snapping wood-work alone replied. Guided by an experienced sergeant, some of the troopers, never halting, rode on into the eastward darkness, and there were stationed as videttes to guard against surprise. Returning to where he had passed his lieutenant, the sergeant dismounted, allowing his weary horse to stand, and then began minute examination. Following the freshest hoof-tracks, he found the young officer riding about through the thick smoke within the corral.

"Any sign of Moreno or his people, sir?" he hailed.

"Not yet. Just see what's beyond that door-way. My horse is frightened at something there and I can't see for the smoke."

Obedient, the sergeant pushed ahead, bending low to avoid the stifling fumes. Between the tumbled-down heap of barley-sacks and the crumbling wall lay some writhing objects in the sand, and his stout heart almost failed him at the moan of agony that met his ear.

"Help! water! Oh, for Christ's sake, water!"

One bound carried him out of sight of his superior. The next instant, dragging by the foot a prostrate form, he emerged from the bank into the fresher air of the centre of the corral. Off came his canteen and was held to the parched lips of a stranger in scorched civilian dress, his beard and hair singed by the flames, his legs and arms securely bound.

"Who are you and what's happened? Whose work is this?" demanded the lieutenant, leaping from saddle to his side. The man seemed swooning away, but the sergeant dashed water in his face.

"Quick!—the others!—or they'll burn to death."

"What others? Where, man?" exclaimed the soldiers, springing to their feet.

"Oh! somewhere in there,—the far end of the corral—or Moreno's west room," was the gasping reply.

Another rush into the whirling, eddying smoke, another search along under the wall, and presently in the flickering light the rescuing pair came upon a barrier of barley-sacks, burning in places from huge flakes of fire falling from the blazing rafters of the overhanging shed, and behind this, senseless, suffocated, helplessly bound, two other forms. Thrusting the sacks aside, the troopers seized and dragged forth their hapless fellow-creatures. Jarred by sudden pressure, a burning upright snapped. There was a crackling, crashing sound, and down came the rafters, sending another column of flame to light up the features of men rescued not an instant too soon from the death that awaited them.

"My God!" cried Sergeant Lee, "this is old Feeny,—and yet alive."

Together the two raised the senseless form, bore it out into the open space, laid it gently beside their first discovery, and ran back for the next, a big, heavy, bulky shape in loose and blood-stained garments. It took all their strength to lug it forth. Then the lieutenant bent by the side of the slowly recovering civilian.

"Are there any more we can reach?" he questioned eagerly, his heart beating madly.

"No,—too late!—others were inside when the roof fell in. More water,—more water!"

Sergeant Lee sprang to the ollas, gleaming there in the fire-light, and brought back a brimming dipper, holding it to the poor fellow's parched lips until he could drink no more, then slashing away the thongs with which he was bound.

"This is Greaser work," he cried. "How could they have left you alive? Where are Moreno's people? Who's done this, anyhow?"

"Pasqual Morales. Moreno was in it, too. 'Twas the paymaster they were laying for; but they've killed Ned Harvey and got his sisters,—old Harvey's children—from Tucson."

"What?" cried the officer, leaping to his feet. "Harvey's daughters here?—here? Man, are you mad?"

"It's God's truth! Oh, if I had a drop of the whiskey that's being burned in there! I'm nigh dead."

"Run to my saddle-bags, Lee; fetch that flask, quick; then call in the men and send one back to hurry up the rest. Where have they gone? What have they done with their captives?"

"God knows! I could hear them screaming and praying,—those poor girls! Mullan and the pay-clerk picked up Feeny after he was stunned and they rushed him back through here, where the paymaster had dragged himself, to where you found him. That—that's the paymaster you've got there. Then they tried to save a drunken soldier while all the gang seemed crowding after the safe and the girls, but they were shot down inside, and must have burned to death if they wasn't killed. Oh, God, what a night!" And weak, unstrung, unmanned, the poor fellow sobbed aloud.

At this instant there rode into the corral a couple of troopers.

"Lieutenant Drummond here?" cried one of them. "We've found a man out on the plain to the southeast, gagged and bound. Shall we fetch him in?"

"You go, Quinn, but get some one else to help you. Patterson, your horse is fresh, gallop back on the trail. Tell Sergeant Meinecke to come ahead for all he's worth. Let the packs take care of themselves. Send Sergeant Lee in here to me again." Then with trembling hands the young officer turned his attention to his other patients. Severing the cords with his hunting-knife, he freed them from their bonds, then dashed water over their scorched and blackened faces, meantime keeping up a running fire of questions. Between his sobs, the young civilian told him that the outlaws had hitched in both teams and taken also the spare mules and the buck-board. They had lifted the Harvey girls into the Concord, the safe and Pasqual Morales into the paymaster's ambulance, while the wounded men and Moreno's people probably were put on the open wagon. Then they had all driven furiously away to the south, leaving only two or three men to complete the work at the ranch. Finding the paymaster and sergeant well-nigh dead, they had contented themselves with binding and leaving them to their fate, to be cremated when the roof of the shed came down. Then one of the gang whom he had once befriended in Tucson pleaded with his fellows to spare the life of the only one of the party left to tell the tale. Pasqual and the Mexicans were gone. Those who remained were Americans, judging by their speech, though two of them were still masked. "My name is Woods," said the poor fellow. "But that bandit had to beg hard. They were ready to murder anybody connected with the defence, for Ramon was killed and Pasqual shot through the leg. I did that, though they didn't know it. They bound and left me here, but made me swear I would tell Harvey and his friends when they got back that it was no use following; they had thirty armed men and three hours' start. They never thought of any one else getting here first. Oh, my God! who can break it to Mr. Harvey when he does come?"

And then Sergeant Lee came hurrying back, one or two men with him, and together they labored to restore to consciousness the paymaster, breathing feebly, and old Feeny, bleeding from a gash in the back of the skull and a bullet-hole through the body. For nearly quarter of an hour their efforts were vain. Meantime Drummond, well-nigh mad over the delay, was pacing about like a caged tiger. He set two of the men to work to hitch the bewildered little burros to the well-wheel and get up several huge bucketfuls of water against the coming of the troop. He ordered others to rub down his handsome sorrel, Chester, and the mounts of two of the advanced party. At last after what must have seemed an age, yet could not have been over thirty minutes from the time of their arrival, a soldier running in, said he could hear hoofs out on the plain, and at the same instant two men appeared lugging between them, bleeding and senseless, the ragged form of Edward Harvey.

Scratched, torn, covered with blood and bruises, and still unconscious though he was, Drummond knew him at a glance. They had met the previous year, and though only once it was enough. Men with young and lovely sisters are not soon forgotten. Kneeling by his side, the lieutenant sought anxiously for trace of blade or bullet. Rents there were many and many a bloody scratch and tear, but, to his infinite relief, no serious wound appeared. Still in deep swoon, his friend seemed to resist every effort for his restoration. The dash of water in his face was answered only by a faint shivering sigh. The thimbleful of whiskey forced between his lips only gurgled down his throat, and Drummond felt no responsive flutter of pulse. The shock to his system must indeed have been great, for Harvey lay like one in a trance. Drummond feared that he might never again open his eyes to light and home.

And then the weary troop came trotting into view, old Sergeant Meinecke in command. Halting and dismounting at his signal, the men stood silent and wondering at their horses' heads, while their leader went in to report to his commander. Drummond barely lifted his eyes from the pallid features before him.

"Unsaddle, sergeant; rub down; pick out the best and likeliest horses. I want twenty men to go on a chase with me. How soon can the packs get up?"

"They must be fully half an hour behind, sir."

"Sorry for that, sergeant. We've got to take at least four of them; load them up with barley, bacon, hardtack, ammunition. Kick off everything else. We'll feed and water here before starting, then we've got to ride like the devil. Send Trooper Bland here as soon as he has unsaddled. I want him to ride with me. He knows all the roads to the south."

Meinecke saluted in his methodical German fashion, turned away, and presently could be heard ordering "Unsaddle" and then shouting for Private Bland.

"Are there any of our men besides the farrier who have any knowledge of surgery?" asked the lieutenant of Sergeant Lee.

"They say Bland has, sir. I don't know any one else."

"Well, I've just sent for him. Mr. Harvey here doesn't seem to be wounded, yet it's impossible to bring him to. Give Woods a little more whiskey and see if you can get a word out of the major or Feeny."

But efforts with the half-suffocated men had no effect. The whiskey with Woods had better results. He presently ceased his shivering sobs and could answer more questions. Drummond begged for particulars of the capture, and these the man found it difficult to give. He was stationed at the back door, the corral side, he said, and hardly saw the final rush. But there was something so queer about it. There had been a few minutes' lull. Then Harvey and Feeny both began to talk excitedly and to call out that the "road agents" were running away, and then presently there came sound of galloping hoofs and cheering, and both the sergeant and Mr. Harvey had shouted that the troops were coming and rushed out to meet them,—"And the next thing I knew," said Woods, "was seeing Feeny flattened out on the ground and crawling on his hands and knees and the room filled with roughs, some Mexicans, some Yanks, and I slipped into the corral and saw one of them shoot Feeny as he was trying to crawl after me; and while they were swearing and searching for the safe and carrying it out, Mr. Dawes and Mullan managed, somehow, to help the paymaster out, and then went in after the other man." Then Woods could tell little more. One thing, he said, amazed and excited him so he couldn't believe his eyes, but he was almost ready to swear that the fellow Feeny ran to shake hands with was a soldier in uniform, and that he held Feeny's hand while another man came up behind and "mashed" him with the butt of his pistol, and that this fellow in soldier clothes was the man who afterwards shot Feeny as he was trying to crawl away.

Drummond looked around at the man incredulous,—almost derisive. The story was improbable, too much so to deserve even faint attention. Just then Meinecke came back and, precise as ever, stood attention and saluted.

"Herr Lieutenant, Private Bland is not with my party at all, sir."

"Did you leave him back with the packs?"

"No, sir; the men say he wasn't with us all night. He rode ahead with the lieutenant until we came to Corporal Donovan's body."

"He's not been with me since," exclaimed the lieutenant. "Sergeant Lee, ask if any of the men have seen him."

Lee was gone but a moment, then came back with grave face and troubled eyes, bringing with him a young trooper who was serving his first enlistment.

"Private Goss, here, has a queer story to tell, sir."

"What do you know? What have you seen?" asked Drummond.

"Why, sir, right after Sergeant Lee caught sight of the fire and sung out that it was Moreno's I was back about a couple of rods looking for my canteen. I was that startled when they found Corporal Donovan dead that I dropped it, and all of a sudden somebody comes out past me leading his horse, and I asked him what he had lost, and he said his pipe, and passed me by, and I thought nothing more about it,—only no sooner did he get out into the dark where I couldn't see him than I heard all of a sudden a horse start at full gallop right over in this direction, and now I think of it it must have been Bland, for it was him that passed me, sir,—sneaking out like."

Drummond sprang to his feet.

"What say you to this, sergeant? Do you believe,—do you think it possible that Bland has deserted and joined these outlaws?"

"I don't know what to think, sir, but I haven't forgotten what Feeny said of him."

"What was that?"

"That he had too smooth a tongue to have led a rough and honest life; that if he was a Texan as he claimed, Texas people had learned to talk a different lingo since he was stationed among them with the old Second Cavalry before the war, and that he wished he'd been there at Lowell when the adjutant accepted those letters from former officers of the regiment as genuine. Bland would never show them to Feeny. Said he had sent 'em all to his home in Texas. That was what made bad blood between them."

"By heaven! and now to think that one of our troop—'C' troop—should have been engaged in this outrage! But we'll get them, men," said Drummond, straightening up to his full height and raising his gauntleted hand in air. "They can't go fast or far with those wagons such a night as this. They'll strike the foot-hills before they've gone ten miles, then they'll have to go slow. We'll catch them before the sun is up, and, by the God of heaven, if Bland is with them, I'll string him to the highest tree we can find."

"There's more than him that'll be strung up," growled a grizzled old trooper in an undertone. "The gang that murdered Pat Donovan will find scant mercy in this crowd."

"Ay, ay," said another, "and there's more than Pat Donovan to be scored off. Look yonder." For at the instant one of the packers came leading into the corral a resisting mule, at sight of whose burden many of the horses started in fear. It was the lifeless body of Donovan's companion, the soldier who had escaped the assassin's bullet when "Patsy" fell only to be overtaken and cut down half-way to Moreno's.

"It's the bloodiest night I've known even in Arizona," said Lee to his young leader. "The paymaster and Mr. Harvey about as good as dead, old Feeny dying, most like, the clerk and Mullan and some other trooper of the escort burned to ashes in that hell-hole there, and Donovan and this last one—some of our fellows think is Flynn, from 'F' troop—shot to death. It's worse than Apache, lieutenant, and there'll be no use trying to restrain our fellows when we catch the blackguards."

Quarter of an hour later, leaving half a dozen soldiers under an experienced sergeant to guard the packs, the wounded, and the non-combatants at the smouldering ruins of the ranch, with barely a score of seasoned troopers at his back, Lieutenant Jim Drummond rode resolutely out towards the southern desert, towards the distant line of jagged mountains that spanned the far horizon. The false and fatal blaze at the Picacho had utterly disappeared, and all was darkness at the west. The red glow of the smouldering embers behind was no longer sufficient to light their path. Straight away southward led the wheel-tracks, first separate and distinct, but soon blending, as though one wagon had fallen behind and followed the trail of the bolder leader in the first. Straight away after them went the ruck of hoof-tracks, telling plainly that for a time at least the gang had massed and was prepared to guard its plunder. Stop to divide it was evident they dared not, for they had not with them the implements to break into the safe, and all their searching and threatening had failed to extract from the apparently dying paymaster any clue as to what he had done with the key. Stick together, therefore, they undoubtedly would, reasoned the lieutenant, and all their effort would be to reach some secure haunt in the Sierras, and there send back their demand for ransom. Twenty-five thousand dollars in cash and George Harvey's precious daughters! It was indeed a rich haul,—one that in all the dread history of the Morales gang had never been equalled. Even had they failed to secure the safe the richer booty was theirs in having seized the girls. But few people in Arizona—as Arizona then was constituted—would make great effort to overhaul a gang of robbers whose only victim was Uncle Sam and "his liveried hirelings." Nobody in Sonora would fail to regard them with envious eyes; but in the deed of rapine that made them the captors and possessors of those defenceless sisters each man had put a price upon his head, a halter round his neck, for "Gringo" and "Greaser," American and Mexican alike, would spring to arms to rescue and avenge.

As the rearmost of the little party of pursuers disappeared in the darkness and the wearied pack-mules went jogging sullenly after, urged on by the goad of their half-Mexican driver, the sergeant left in charge of the detachment at the corral looked at his watch and noted that it was just half-past two o'clock. The dawn would be creeping on at four.

Wearied as were his men he did not permit them all to rest. The condition of his wounded and the instructions left him by Lieutenant Drummond made it necessary that they should have constant attention. It was sore trouble for him to look at the old paymaster, whose life seemed ebbing away, lying there so pallid and moaning at times so pitifully, but Feeny lay torpid, breathing, yet seeming to suffer not at all. Both were in desperate need of surgical attendance, but where could surgeon be found? The nearest was at Stoneman, the little cantonment across the Christobal, thirty miles to the east; and though a gallant fellow had volunteered to make the ride alone through the Apache-infested pass and carry the despatch that Drummond had hurriedly pencilled, there was no possibility of doctors reaching them before the coming night, and the thought of all they might have to suffer through the fierce white heat of the intervening day was one that gave the sergeant deep concern. Then, too, who could say whether the solitary trooper would succeed in running the gauntlet and making his way through? He was a resolute old frontiersman, skilled in Indian warfare, and well aware that his best chance was in the dark, but speed as he might the broad light of day would be on him long before he could get half-way through the range. The stage from the west would probably come along about sunset, but nothing could be hoped for sooner. No troops were nearer than the Colorado in that direction except the little signal-post at the Picacho. Corporal Fox and two men had been sent thither to inquire what the signal meant, and it would soon be time for them to come riding in with their report. How he wished Wing were here! Wing knew something about everything. He was an expert veterinarian, something of a doctor, knew more of mineralogy than all the officers put together, and could speak Spanish better than any man in the regiment. When it became necessary to have a signal-station at the peak and it was found that no one knew anything about the business, Wing got one of the old red manuals, studied the system, and inside of a week was signalling with the expert sent down from San Francisco.

The interior of the ranch was still a smouldering furnace as four o'clock drew nigh. Woods, weak and exhausted, had fallen into an uneasy sleep. The trooper detailed to watch over old Plummer and Feeny and bathe their faces with cool water was nodding over his charge. Here and there under the shed on the north side which the flames had not reached the men were dozing, or in low, awe-stricken tones, talking of the tragic events of the night. Near the east gate, reverently and decently covered with the only shroud to be had, the newest of the saddle-blankets, lay the stiffening remains of poor Donovan and his comrade. Lurking about the westward end of the enclosure, their beady eyes every now and then glittering in the fire-light, the Mexicans, men and boy, were smoking their everlasting papellitos, apparently indifferent to the fate that had deprived them of home and occupation. One of the troopers had burrowed a hole in the sand, started a little cook fire, and was boiling some coffee in a tin quart mug. Overhead and far down to the horizon, on every side the stars shone and sparkled through the vaporless skies. Eastward towards the Christobal they were just beginning to pale when a faint voice was heard pleading for water. Sergeant Butler sprang from his seat and hastened to where he had left Mr. Harvey but a few minutes before, still in deep and obstinate swoon.

"Water is it, sir? Here you are! I'm glad to see you picking up a little. Mr. Drummond left this for you, too, sir. He said you would maybe need it." And the sergeant raised the dizzy head and held a little flask to Harvey's lips.

"Where is he?" at last the sufferer was able to gasp.

"Overhauling the outlaws, hand over fist, by this time, sir. He has twenty good men at his back, and we'll have the ladies safe to-night,—see if we don't."

"Oh, God!" groaned the stricken brother, burying his face in his arms as the recollection of the fearful events of the night came crowding upon him. For a moment he seemed to quiver and tremble in every limb, then with sudden effort raised his head and turned again, the blood trickling anew from a gash in his face as he did so.

"Give me more of that," he moaned, stretching forth a trembling hand. "More water, too. Lend me a horse and your carbine. I must go! I must go!" But there his strength failed him, and grasping wildly at empty air, poor Harvey fell heavily back before the sergeant could interpose an arm to save.

"Don't think of it, sir; you're far too weak, and you're not needed. Never fear, the lieutenant and 'C' troop will do all that men can do. They'll bring the ladies safely back as soon as they've hung what's left of that murdering gang.—Hello! That you, Fox?" he shouted, springing up as two or three horsemen came spurring in.

"It's I,—Wing," was the answer in ringing tones. "Fox is coming slower. Quick now. Is it so that that gang has run off the young ladies?"

"It's God's truth. Here's Mr. Ned Harvey himself."

In an instant Wing was kneeling by the side of the prostrate man.

"Merciful heaven, my friend, but they've used you fearfully! They only bound and held me till Jackson got back from Ceralvo's a couple of hours ago. Are you shot,—injured?"

"No, no," groaned Harvey. "But I am broken, utterly broken, and my sisters are in the hands of those hounds."

"Never worry about that, man. I know young Drummond well. There isn't a braver, better officer in the old regiment if he is but a boy. He'll never drop that trail till he overtakes them, and by the time he needs us, old Pike here and I will be at his side. Thank the Lord, those louts were frightened off and never took our horses. They're fresh as daisies both of 'em. Cheer up, Mr. Harvey. If hard riding and hard fighting will do it, we'll have your sisters here to nurse you before another night.—Come, Pike," he cried, as he vaulted into saddle. "Now for the liveliest gallop of your lazy, good-for-nothing life. Come on!"



VII.

A new May morning was breaking, its faint rosy light warming the crests of the Santa Maria, when Lieutenant Drummond signalled "halt" to his little band, the first halt since leaving Moreno's at half-past two. Down in a rocky canon a number of hoof-prints on the trail diverged to the left and followed an abrupt descent, while the wagons had kept to the right, and by a winding and more gradual road seemed to have sought a crossing farther to the west. It was easy to divine that, with such elements in the gang, there had been no long separation between the horsemen and the treasure they were guarding, and, eager as he was to overtake the renegades, Drummond promptly decided to follow the hoof-tracks, rightly conjecturing, too, that they would bring him to water in the rocky tanks below. Dismounting and leading his big sorrel, he sprang lightly from ledge to ledge down what seemed a mere goat-trail, each man in succession dismounting at the same point, and, with more or less elasticity, coming on in the footsteps of his leader. The faint wan light of early dawn was rendering neighboring objects visible on the sandy plain behind them, but had not yet penetrated into the depths of the gorge. Lying far to the west of the Tucson road, this was a section of the country unknown to any of the troop, and with every prospect of a broiling ride across the desert ahead so soon as the sun was up, no chance for watering their horses could be thrown away. Just as he expected, Drummond found the descent becoming more gradual, and in a moment or two the bottom of the dark rift was found, and presently, keeping keen lookout for the reflection of the stars still lingering overhead, the leading men were rewarded, and halted at the edge of a shining pool of clear, though not very cool, water, and the horses thrust their hot muzzles deep into the wave. Here, shaded by the broad-brimmed hats of white felt, such as the Arizona trooper of the old days generally affected, a match or two was struck and the neighborhood searched for "sign." The rocks around the tank were dry, the little drifts of sand blown down from the overhanging height were smooth. Whatsoever splashing had been done by the horses of the outlaws there had been abundant time for it to evaporate, therefore the command could not thus far have gained very rapidly on the pursued. But Drummond felt no discouragement. Up to this point the way had been smooth and sufficiently hard to make wheeling an easy matter. The wagons had been lugged along at brisk trot, the attending cavaliers riding at lively lope. Now, however, there would be no likelihood of their making such time. The ambulance could only go at slow walk the rest of the way, and the guards must remain alongside to protect the stolen funds, not so much from envious outsiders as from one another. Pasqual Morales showed his accustomed shrewdness when he forbade that any one should try to burst into the safe and extract the money, for well he knew that if divided among the men there would be no longer a loadstone to hold them together, to call for their fiercest fighting powers if assailed. The instant the money was scattered the gang would follow suit, and he be left to meet the cavalry single-handed.

The horses of the little detachment were not long in slaking their thirst. The noiseless signal to mount was given, and, following in the lead of their young lieutenant, the troopers rode silently down the winding canon, Drummond and Sergeant Lee bending low over their chargers' necks to see that they did not miss the hoof-prints. Little by little the light of dawn began to penetrate the dark depths in which they were scouting, and trailing became an easier matter. Presently the sergeant pointed to the face of the opposite slope, now visible from base to summit where an abrupt bend threw it against the eastern light.

"Yonder's where the ambulance came down, sir."

"I see, and we can't be far from where it crossed. Trot ahead and take a look. Let Patterson go with you. If you find a chance for short-cuts, signal."

Another half-hour passed away and still the trail led along this strange, rock-ribbed groove in the desert, the dry bed of some long-lost stream. When first met it seemed to be cutting directly across their line of march, now it had turned southward, and, for several miles ahead, south or west of south was its general course. The light was now broad and clear, though the sun had not yet peeped across the mountain range to their left. The pace was rapid, Drummond frequently urging his men to the trot or canter. Out to the front four or five hundred yards, often lost to view in the windings of the way, Sergeant Lee with a single trooper rode in the advance, but not once had he signalled a discovery worth recording. Both wagon and hoof-tracks here pursued a common road. It was evident that some horsemen had found it necessary to ride alongside. It was evident, too, that the outlaws were travelling at full speed, as though anxious to reach some familiar lair before turning to face their expected pursuers. Every one in the gang, from Pasqual down to their humblest packer, well knew that it could not be long before cavalry in strong force would come trotting in chase. The squadron at Stoneman would surely be on the march by the coming sunset. As for "C" troop, they had little to fear. Pasqual laughed with savage glee as he thought how he had lured them in scattered detachments far up to the Gila or over to the Christobal. No need to fear the coming of the late escort of the paymaster. By this time those not dead, drugged, or drunk were worn out with fatigue. Over the body of his bandit brother, the swarthy Ramon, he had fiercely rejoiced that seven to one he had avenged his death, and Pasqual counted on the fingers of his brown and bloody hand the number of the victims of the night. Donovan and his fellow-trooper killed on the open plain. The paymaster and his clerk, Mullan and the other soldier, dead in their tracks and burned to ashes by this time, and, best of all, "that pig of a sergeant," as Moreno called him, that hound and murderer, Feeny,—he who had slain Ramon,—bound, gagged, and left to miserable death by torture. Indeed, as he was jolted along in the ambulance, groaning and cursing by turns, Pasqual wondered why he had not insisted that Harvey, too, should be given the coup de grace before their start. It was an unpardonable omission. Never mind! There in the brand-new Concord that came clattering along there was booty that outrivalled all. There was wealth far exceeding the stacks of treasury notes,—old Harvey's daughters,—old Harvey's daughters. It was with mad, feverish joy that when at last the sun came pouring in a flood of light over the desert of the Cababi he listened to the report of a trusted subordinate.

"I could see every mile of the road with my glasses, capitan, from the cliff top yonder—every mile from Moreno's to where we struck the canon. There isn't a sign of dust,—there isn't a sign of pursuing party."

"Bueno! Then we rest when we reach the cave. This is even better than I hoped."

But there were two elements in the problem Capitan Pasqual had failed to consider,—Lieutenant Drummond's scout in the Christobal, Cochises's band of Chiricahuas in the Santa Maria. Who could have foreseen that the little troop, finishing its duties at the northern end of the range and about turning south to re-scout the Santa Maria, had ridden out upon the plain, summoned by the beacon at Picacho Pass, and less than two hours after their hurried start from the burning ruins at Moreno's were speeding on their trail? The best field-glasses ever stolen from the paternal government could not reveal to the fleeing outlaw that, only two or three miles back in the dim recesses of the crooked gorge, the blue-coats were following in hot pursuit. Who could have dreamed that a band of Apaches, cut off from their native wilds by detachments from Bowie, Lowell, and Crittenden, and forced to make a wide detour to the southwest, had sought refuge in the very gorge of the Cababi whither Pasqual with all speed was urging his men?

"We rest when we reach the cave."

Ah, even the torment of his wound could not have wrung from the robber chief this longed-for order had he dreamed what was coming at his back.

"How are the girls getting on?" he asked of his hot and wearied aide. "Are they tranquil now?"

"They have to be," was the grim reply. "The little one dare not open her eyes, and Sanchez has his knife at the elder's throat."

And the sunrise had brought with it new inspiration,—new purpose to those who came trotting to the rescue. Just as the cliffs on the western side were tipped and fringed with rose and gold, Sergeant Lee, riding rapidly far ahead from point to point, always carefully peering around each bend before signalling "come on," was seen suddenly to halt and throw himself from his horse. The next instant he stood erect, waving some white object high in air. Spurring forward, Drummond joined him.

"A lady's handkerchief, lieutenant," he quietly said. "They seem to have halted here a moment: you can tell by the hoof-prints. One of their number rode over towards that high point yonder and rejoined them here. I don't believe they are more than half an hour ahead."

Drummond reverently took the dainty kerchief, hurriedly searched for an initial or a name, and found the letters "R. H." in monogram in one corner.

"Push on, then, Lee! Here, one more of you,—you, Bennet, join the sergeant. Look alive now, but do not let yourselves be seen from the front."

Then as they hastened away he stowed the filmy trifle in the pocket of his blouse, and, drawing his Colt from the holster, closely inspected its loaded chambers. Only a boy, barely twenty-three, yet rich in soldierly experience already was Drummond. He had entered the Point when just seventeen. His father's death, occurring immediately before the memorable summer of their first class camp, had thrown him perforce into the society of the so-called bachelor club, and he was graduated in the June of the following year with a heart as whole as his physique was fine. But there were some cares to cloud his young life in the army,—a sister whose needs were many and whose means were few. He found that rigid economy and self-denial were to be his portion from the start, and was not sorry that his assignment took him to the far-away land of Arizona, where, as his new captain wrote him, "you can live like a prince on bacon and frijoles, dress like a cow-boy on next to nothing or like an Apache in next to nothing, spend all your days and none of your money in mountain scouting, and come out of it all in two or three years rich in health and strength and experience and infinitely better off financially than you could ever have been anywhere else. Leave whiskey and poker alone and you're all right."

He had left whiskey and poker alone, severely alone. He had sought every opportunity for field service; had shown indomitable push, pluck, and skill in pursuit of Apaches and cool courage in action. He had been able to send even more than was needed, or that he had hoped, to his sister's guardian, and was proud and happy in the consciousness of a duty well done. There were no young girls in the scattered garrisons of those days, no feminine attractions to unsettle his peace of mind. The few women who accompanied their lords to such exile as Arizona were discreet matrons, to whom he was courtesy itself on the few occasions when they met, but only once had he been brought under the influence of girlish eyes or of girlish society, and that was on the memorable trip to San Francisco during the previous year when he had had the great good fortune to be summoned as a witness before a general court-martial convened at the Presidio. He had been presented to the Harvey sisters by the captain of the "Newbern" and would fain have shown them some attention, but there had been much rough weather in the Gulf which kept the girls below, and not until after passing Cape San Lucas and they were steaming up the sunny Pacific did he see either of them again. Then one glorious day the trolling-lines were out astern, the elders were amidship playing "horse billiards," and "Tuck," the genial purser, was devoting himself to Paquita, when Drummond heard a scream of excitement and delight, and saw the younger sister bracing her tiny, slender feet and hanging on to a line with all her strength. In an instant he was at her side, and together, hand over hand, they finally succeeded in pulling aboard a beautiful dolphin, and landed him, leaping, flapping, splashing madly about, in the midst of the merry party on the deck. It was the first time Ruth had seen the gorgeous hues of this celebrated fish, and her excitement and pleasure over being heralded as its captor were most natural. From that time on she had pinned her girlish faith to the coat-sleeve of the tall, reserved young cavalryman. To him she was a child, even younger by a year than the little sister he had left, and of whom he soon began to tell her. To her he was a young knight-errant, the hero of a budding maiden's shyest, sweetest, fondest fancy, and ere long the idol of the dreams and thoughts she dared not whisper even to herself. Paquita, with the wisdom of elder sisterhood, more than half believed she read the younger's heart, but wisely held her peace. No wonder the little maid had so suddenly been silenced by the announcement at the pass that that very night she might again see the soldier boy to whom, in the absence of all others, her heart had been so constant. No wonder the ride forward to Moreno's was one of thrilling excitement and shy delight and anticipation; no wonder her reason, her very life, seemed wrecked in the tragic fate that there befell them.

And now as he rode swiftly in pursuit Drummond was thinking over the incidents of that delightful voyage, and marvelling at the strange fate that had brought the Harvey girls again into his life and under circumstances so thrilling. Never for an instant would he doubt that before the sun could reach meridian he should overtake and rescue them from the hands of their cowardly captors. Never would he entertain the thought of sustained defence on part of the outlaw band. Full of high contempt for such cattle, he argued that no sooner were they assured that the cavalry were close at their heels than most of their number would scatter for their lives, leaving Pasqual to his fate, and probably abandoning the wagons and their precious contents on the road. A sudden dash, a surprise, would insure success. The only fear he had was that in the excitement of attack some harm might befall those precious lives. To avert this he gave orders to be passed back along the column to fire no shot until they had closed with the band, and then to be most careful to aim wide of the wagons. Every man in the little troop well knew how much was at stake, and men, all mercy to their beasts at other times, were now plying the cruel spur.

Five, six o'clock had come and gone. The chase was still out of sight ahead, yet every moment seemed to bring them closer upon their heels. At every bend of the tortuous trail the leader's eye was strained to see the dust-cloud rising ahead. But jutting point and rolling shoulder of bluff or hill-side ever interposed. Drummond had just glanced at his watch for perhaps the twentieth time since daybreak and was replacing it in his pocket when an exclamation from Sergeant Meinecke startled him.

"Look at Lee!"

The head of column, moving at the moment at a walk to rest the panting horses, had just turned a rocky knoll and was following the trail into a broader reach of the canon, which now seemed opening out to the west. Instead of keeping in the bottom as heretofore, the wagon-track now followed a gentle ascent and disappeared over a spur four hundred yards ahead. Here Lee had suddenly flung himself from his horse, thrown the reins to Patterson, and, crouching behind a bowlder, was gazing eagerly to the front, while with hat in hand he was signalling "Slow; keep down." Up went Drummond's gauntlet in the well-known cavalry signal "Halt." Then, bidding Meinecke dismount the men and reset blankets and saddles, the young officer gave "Chester" rein and was soon kneeling by the side of his trusty subordinate.

Lee said no word at all, simply pointed ahead.

And here was a sight to make a soldier's pulses bound. Not a quarter-mile away the rocky, desolate gorge which they had been following since dawn opened out into a wide valley, bounded at the west by a range of rugged heights whose sides were bearded with a dark growth of stunted pine or cedar. On each side of their path a tall, precipitous rock stood sentry over the entrance and framed the view of the valley beyond. For full a mile ahead the trail swept straight away, descending gently to the valley level, and there, just pushing forth upon the wide expanse, with dots of horsemen on flank and front and rear, dimly seen through the hot dust-cloud rising in their wake, were the three wagons: the foremost, with its white canvas top, was undoubtedly the new Concord; the second, a dingy mustard-yellow, the battered old ambulance of the paymaster; the third and last, with no cover at all, Moreno's buck-board. It was what was left of the notorious Morales gang, speeding with its plunder to some refuge in the rocky range across the farther valley.

Somewhere in the few evenings Drummond had spent in the garrisons of Lowell, Bowie, or Stoneman, he had heard mention of a mysterious hiding-place in the Cababi Mountains whither, when pressed by sheriffs' posses, Pasqual Morales had been wont to flee with his chosen followers and there bid defiance to pursuit. And now the young soldier saw at a glance that the chase was heading along a fairly well defined track straight for a dark, frowning gorge in the mountains some three or four miles ahead of them. If allowed to gain that refuge it might be possible for Morales to successfully resist attack. With quick decision Drummond turned to the men still seated in saddle.

"Dismount where you are, you two. Reset all four saddles. We mount again here, sergeant, and we'll take the gallop as soon as the troop comes up."

"It's the only way, I believe, sir," answered Lee, his eyes kindling, his lips quivering with pent excitement. "Most of them will stampede, I reckon, if we strike them in the open. But once they get among the rocks, we'd have no chance at all."

Drummond merely nodded. Field-glasses in hand he was closely studying the receding party, moving now at leisurely gait as though assured of safety. His heart was beating hard, his blood was bounding in his veins. He had had some lively brushes with the Indian foe, but no such scrimmage as this promised to be. Never once had there been at stake anything to compare with what lay here before his eyes. Sometimes in boyish day-dreams he had pictured to himself adventures of this character,—the rescue of imperilled beauty from marauding foe; but never had he thought it possible that it would actually be his fortune to stand first in the field, riding to the rescue of the fair daughters of one of the oldest and most respected citizens of the Territory. In view of their peril the paymaster's stolen funds were not be considered. Jim Drummond hardly gave a single thought to the recapture of the safe. So far as he could judge the forces were about equally matched. Some saddle-horses led along after the wagons seemed to indicate that their usual riders were, perhaps, with others of the band, resting in the wagons themselves. Surprise now was out of the question. He would marshal his men behind the low ridge on which he lay, form line, then move forward at the lope. No matter how noiseless might be the advance, or how wearied or absorbed their quarry, some one in the outlaw gang would surely see them long before they could come within close range. Then he felt sure that a portion at least would stampede for the hills, and that he would not have to fight more than ten or a dozen. His plan was at all hazards to cut out, recapture, and hold Harvey's wagon. That, first of all; then, if possible, the others.

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