And now the time had come. In eager but suppressed excitement Meinecke and the men came trotting up the slope.
"Halt!" signalled Drummond; then "Forward into line," and presently the lieutenant stood looking into the sun-tanned faces of less than twenty veteran troopers, four sets of fours with two sergeants, dusty and devil-may-care, with horses jaded, yet sniffing mischief ahead and pricking up their ears in excitement. Drummond had been the troop leader in scout after scout and in several lively skirmishes during the year gone by. There was not one of his troopers whom he could not swear by, thought he, but then the recollection of Bland's treachery brought his teeth together with vengeful force. He found his voice a trifle tremulous as he spoke, but his words had the brave ring the men had learned to look for, and every one listened with bated breath.
"Our work's cut out for us here. Not more than a mile ahead now is just the worst band of scoundrels in all the West, and in their midst George Harvey's daughters. You all know him by reputation. They are in the white-topped wagon, and that is the one we must and shall have. Don't charge till I give the word. Don't waste a shot. Some of them will scatter. Let them go! What we want is their captives." With that he swung quickly into saddle.
"Ready now? No! don't draw pistol till you're close in on them, and no carbines at all this time. All right. Now—steady.—Keep your alignment. Take the pace from me. Forward!"
Up the gentle slope they rode, straining their eyes for the first sight of the hunted quarry, opening out instinctively from the centre so that each trooper might have fighting space. No squares of disciplined infantry, no opposing squadrons, no fire-flashing lines were to be met and overthrown by compact and instantaneous shock. It was to be a melee, as each trooper well knew, in which, though obedient to the general plan of their leader, the little detachment would be hurled forward at the signal "Charge," and then it would be practically a case of "every man for himself."
"I want you four fellows to stick close to me now," said Drummond, turning in saddle and indicating the desired set with a single gesture. "We move straight for the leading wagon. See that you don't fire into it or near it."
And these were the last instructions as they reached the ridge, and a hoarse murmur flew along the eager rank, a murmur that, but for Drummond's raised and restraining hand and Sergeant Lee's prompt "Steady there; silence!" might have burst into a cheer. And then the leader shook loose his rein, and just touching "Chester's" glossy, flank with the spur, bounded forward at the lope.
Out on the sandy barren, winding among the cactus plants, the weary mule-teams with drooping heads were tugging at the traces. Bearded men, some still with coal-blackened faces, rode drowsily alongside the creaking wagons. In one of these, the foremost, an arm in blue flannel suddenly thrust aside the hanging canvas curtain, and a dark, swarthy face, grooved from ear-tip to jaw with a jagged scar, appeared at the narrow opening.
"How much farther have we got to go, Domingo?"
"Only across this stretch, two—three miles, perhaps."
"Well, I want to know exactly. The sun is getting blazing hot and these girls can't hold out longer. Tell Pasqual I say there is more danger of his killing them with exhaustion than there is of their making way with themselves. Say the little one's about dead now. Here, take this canteen and get some fresher water out of the barrel under the wagon."
The fellow hailed as Domingo leaned to the right, took the canteen-strap, and then reined in his foaming broncho.
"Hold your team one minute, Jake," was the order to the driver, and, nothing loath, the mules stopped short in their tracks. Pasqual's ambulance was a few rods behind, and, to save time, Domingo dismounted and, placing the canteen under the spigot, drew it full of water, rewarded himself with a long pull, handed it up to the waiting hand above, and swung again in the saddle just as the second ambulance closing on the first came also to a willing halt, and the lead mules of the buck-board, whereon lay two wounded bandits, attended by Moreno's womenfolk, bumped their noses against the projecting boot.
"Some cool water, for God's sake!" gasped one of the prostrate men, and a comrade rode to the leading wagon to beg a little from Harvey's well-filled barrel. One or two men threw themselves from the saddle to the sands for brief rest. The dust-cloud slowly settled earthwards in their wake. Mules, horses, and men blinked sleepily, wearily. There hung in the heavy air a dull, low rumble as of thunder in the far-off mountains. There seemed a faint quiver and tremor of the soil. Was there distant earthquake?
Suddenly a wild yell, a scream from Moreno's buck-board, a half-stifled shriek from the white-covered wagon. The man in blue leaped forth and made a mad dash for the nearest riderless horse. Whips cracked and bit and stung. The maddened mules flew at their collars and tore away, the wagons bounding after them, and Pasqual Morales, thrusting forth his head to learn the cause of all the panic, grabbed the revolver at his belt with one fierce curse.
Whatever might have been his other moral attributes, Pasqual Morales had borne a name for desperate courage that seemed justified in this supreme moment of surprise and stampede. What he saw as he leaned out of the bounding vehicle was certainly enough to disgust a bandit and demoralize many a leader. Scattering like chaff before the gale his followers were scudding out across the desert, every man for himself, as though the very devil were in pursuit of each individual member of the gang. Eight or ten at least, spurring, lashing their horses to the top of their speed, were already far beyond reach of his voice. Close at hand, however, six or seven of the fellows, desperadoes of the first water, had unslung their Henry rifles and, blazing away for all they were worth, showed evidence of a determination to die game. Behind them, screaming at the tops of their shrill, strident voices, Senora Moreno and her daughter were clinging stoutly to the iron rail of their seats as the buck-board was whirled and dashed across the plain. Already both the wounded men had been flung helplessly out upon the sands, and, even as he looked, the off fore wheel struck a stout cactus stump; flew into fragments; the tire rolled off in one direction, and Moreno's luckless family shot, comet-like, into space and fetched up shrieking in the midst of a plentiful crop of thorns and spines. The husband and father, gazing upon the incident from over his shoulder and afar, blessed the saints for their beneficence in having landed his loved ones on soft soil instead of among the jagged rocks across the plain. But for himself the sooner he reached the rocks the better. A tall Gringo, who cast aside a dark-blue blouse as he rode, stooping low over his horse's neck, seemed bent on racing the late ranch-owner to the goal where both would be, and there was none to dispute with them the doubtful honor. Even those who had stampeded at the first yell of alarm were now reining back in broad, sweeping circle, unslinging the ready rifle and pouring in a long-range fire on the distant rank of cavalry, just bursting into the triumph of the charge. Here, there, and everywhere across the plain little puffs of blue-white smoke were shooting up, telling of the leaden missiles hurled at the charging line. But on like the wind came the troopers in blue, never pausing to fire a shot, their leader at racing speed.
Wounded though he was, Pasqual Morales was not the man to fail in the fight. Yelling orders and curses at his driver, he succeeded in getting him to control his frantic team just long enough to enable the outlaw captain to tumble out. Then away they dashed again, the stiffening body of Ramon and the weighty little safe being now sole occupants of the interior. In the mad excitement of the first rush two or three horses had broken loose, leaving their owners afoot, and believing that no quarter would be the rule, these abandoned roughs were fighting to the last, selling their lives, as they called it, as dearly as possible. From their rifles and from others the shots rained fast upon the troopers, but never seemed to check the charge. The rush was glorious. Drawing their revolvers now, for they carried no sabres, the soldiers fired as they rode down those would-be obstructers, and two poor wretches were flattened out upon the plain when the main body of the troop dashed by, making straight for the fleeing Concord with the white canvas top. Drummond had not fired at all. Every thought was concentrated on the occupants of the wagon. Every shot might be needed when he got to them. "Chester" was running grandly. The designated four who were to follow the lieutenant were already over a hundred yards behind when, from the trail of the ambulance, from a little patch of cactus, there came a flash and report, and the beautiful horse swerved, reeled, but pushed gamely on. Noting the spot, two of the following troopers emptied a cartridge into the clump, but left the lurking foe to be looked after later. They were too close to the Concord to think of anything else,—so close they could hear the cries and pleadings of a woman's voice, the terrified scream of another, and then, all on a sudden, "Chester" pitched heavily forward, and, even as the wagon came to a sudden stand, the gallant steed rolled over and over, his rider underneath him.
When Lieutenant Drummond regained his senses he found himself unable to believe them. Conscious at first only of being terribly bruised and shaken, he realized that he was being borne along in some wheeled vehicle, moving with slow and decorous pace over a soft yet unbeaten and irregular trail. Conscious of fierce white light and heat about him on every side, he was aware of a moist, cool, dark bandage over his eyes that prevented him from seeing. Striving to raise a hand to sweep the blinding cloth away, he met rebellion. A sudden spasm of pain that made him wince, the quick contraction of his features, the low moan of distress, were answered instantly by a most surprising wail in a sweet girlish voice.
"Oh, Fanny, see how he suffers! Can't something be done?"
And then—could he be mistaken?—soft, slender fingers were caressing the close-cropped hair about his temples. A glow of delight and rejoicing thrilled through his frame as he realized that the main object of the fierce and determined pursuit was accomplished, that the precious freight was rescued from the robber band, and that somehow—somehow he himself was now a prisoner.
Striving to move his head, he found it softly, warmly pillowed; but as he attempted to turn, it was held in place by two little hands, one on each side. Then as he found his voice and faintly protested that he was all right and wanted to look about him, another hand quickly removed the bandage, and Fanny Harvey's lovely face, pale and framed with much dishevelled hair, was bending anxiously over him; but a smile of hope, even of joy, was parting the soft lips as she saw the light of returning reason in his eyes. At this same instant, too, the hands that supported his face were suddenly drawn away, and his pillow became unstable. One quick glance told him the situation. The seats of the Concord had been lifted out, blankets had been spread within; he was lying at full length, his aching head supported in Ruth Harvey's lap. Fanny, her elder sister, was seated facing him, but at his side. No wonder Jim Drummond could not quite believe his senses.
It was Fanny who first recovered her self-poise. Throwing back the hanging curtain at the side, she called aloud,—
"Mr. Wing, come to us! He's conscious."
And the next instant the slow motion of the wagon ceased, the door was wrenched open, and there in the glowing sunshine stood the tall sergeant whom he last had seen when scouting through Picacho Pass.
"Bravo, lieutenant! You're all right, though you must be in some pain. Can you stand a little more? We're close to the caves now,—cool water and cool shade not five hundred yards ahead."
"How did you get here, sergeant?" Drummond weakly questioned. "Where are the others?"
"Followed on your trail, sir, Private Pike and I. Most of the men are gathering up prisoners and plunder. You've made the grandest haul in all the history of Arizona. I got up only just in time to see the charge, and Pike's now on his way back already with the good news. We are taking you and the ladies to the refuge in the rocks where Morales and all his people have hid so long. Old Moreno, with a lariat around his neck, is showing the way."
"Got him, did you? I'm glad of that. There was another,—a deserter from my troop; did you see anything of him?"
"I haven't heard yet, sir. One thing's certain, old Pasqual is with his hopeful brother in another if not a better world. 'Twas he that killed poor 'Chester,' the worst loss we've met. Not a man is hit, and by daybreak to-morrow Dr. Day from Stoneman will be here to straighten you out, and these young ladies' father here to thank you."
"Thank you, Mr. Drummond? Ah, how can he or I ever begin to thank you and your brave fellows half enough? I had lost all hope until that disguised bandit suddenly leaped from the wagon, and Ruth was swooning again, but she heard your voice before I did. 'Twas she who saw your charge." And Fanny Harvey's lips quivered as she spoke, and the voice that was so brave at the siege became weak and tremulous now.
Drummond closed his eyes a moment. It was all too sweet to be believed. His right hand, to be sure, refused to move, his left stole up and began groping back of his head.
"May I not thank my nurse?" he said. "The first thing I was conscious of was her touch upon my forehead."
But the hands that were so eager, so active when their patient lay unconscious, seemed to shrink from the long, brown fingers searching blindly for them, and not one word had the maiden vouchsafed.
"I heard your voice a moment ago, Ruthie. Can't you speak to me now?" he asked, half chiding, half laughing. "Have you forgotten your friend Jim Drummond and the long, long talks we used to have on the 'Newbern'?"
Forgotten Jim Drummond and those long talks indeed! Forgotten her hero, her soldier! Hardly. Yet no word would she speak.
"The little lady seems all unstrung yet, lieutenant. Miss Fanny will have to talk for her, I fancy." And Wing's clear, handsome eyes were raised to Miss Harvey's face as he spoke in a look that seemed to tell how much he envied the soldier who was the object of such devoted attention. "Shall we move ahead? The others will join us later on."
But when a few minutes later strong arms lifted the tall lieutenant from the wagon and bore him to a blanket-covered shelter in a deep rocky recess where the sun's rays seemed rarely to penetrate, and a cup of clear, cool water was held to his lips, Drummond's one available hand was uplifted in hopes of capturing the ministering fingers. There was neither difficulty nor resistance. It was Sergeant Wing's gauntlet, and Wing's cordial voice again accosted him.
"Glad to see you so chipper, lieutenant. Now, I have some little knowledge of surgery. Your right arm is broken below the elbow, and you're badly shocked and bruised. I have no doubt the surgeon will be with us by this time to-morrow, but I can set that arm just as soon as I have looked the ground over and disposed of ourselves and our prisoners to the best advantage."
"How many prisoners have we?" asked Drummond.
"Well, as yet, only Moreno and his interesting family and two of their gang, who are very badly wounded. Some of the others were neither prompt nor explicit about surrendering, and the men seem to have been a trifle impatient in one or two cases. You should hear the old woman protesting to Miss Harvey her innocence and her husband's spotless character. You understand Spanish, do you not?"
"No, only the smattering we pick up at the Point and what 'broncho' Spanish I have added to it out here. Where did you learn it, sergeant? They tell me you speak it like a native."
Wing's sunburned face—a fine, clear-cut, and manly one it was—seemed to grow a shade or two redder.
"Oh, I have spoken it many years. My boyhood was spent on the Pacific slope. Pardon me, sir, I want to look more carefully after your injuries now."
"But the ladies, where are they?" asked Drummond, uneasily.
"Occupying the sanctum sanctorum, the innermost shrine among the rocks. This is a wonderful spot, sir. We might eventually have starved these people out if once they got here, but ten determined soldiers could hold it against ten hundred. I've as yet had only a glance, but the Morenos have been here before, it is most evident, for the senorita herself showed Miss Harvey into the cave reserved for the women. There they have cool water, cool and fresh air, and complete shelter."
And now, as with experienced hands the sergeant stripped off Drummond's hunting-shirt and carefully exposed the bruised and lacerated arm and shoulder, he plied his patient with questions as to whether he felt any internal pain or soreness. "How a man could be flattened out and rolled over by such a weight and not be mashed into a jelly is what I can't understand. You're about as elastic as ivory, lieutenant, and you have no spare flesh about you either. That and the good luck of the cavalryman saved you from worse fate. You've got a battered head, a broken arm, and had the breath knocked out of you, and that's about all. But we'll have you on your feet by the time the fellows come from Stoneman."
"But how about the young ladies?" again asked Drummond, wearily and anxiously, for his head was still heavy and painful and his anxiety great. He was weak, too, from the shock. "Won't they suffer meantime?"
"Well, they might,—at least Miss Ruth, the younger, might in the reaction after their fearful experience; but I'm something of a doctor, as I said, and I shall be able to prevent all that."
"Well, by giving her something to do. Just as soon as they've had a chance to rest, both young ladies will be put on duty. Miss Ruth is to nurse you."
"Suppose she doesn't want to?"
"The case isn't supposable, lieutenant. She would have gone into hysterics this morning, I think, had she not been detailed, as a preventive, to hold your head. At all events, she quieted down the instant she was told by her sister to climb into the wagon again and sit still as a mouse and see that your face was kept cool and moist and shaded from the glare." And now Sergeant Wing's lips were twitching with merriment, and Drummond, hardly knowing how to account for his embarrassment, asked no more. His amateur surgeon, however, chatted blithely on.
"There's an abundant store of provisions here, dried meat, frijoles, chile, chocolate.—You shall have a cup in a moment.—There's ammunition in plenty. There's even a keg of mescal, which, saving your presence, sir, as I am temporary commander, shall be hidden before the men begin coming in with their prisoners. There's barley in abundance for horses and mules; water to drink and water to bathe in. We could hardly be better off anywhere."
Drummond looked curiously about him, so far as was possible without moving his pain-stricken head. He was lying in a deep recess in some dark and rocky canon whose sides were vertical walls. Tumbling down from the wooded heights above—rare sight in Arizona—a little brook of clear, sparkling water came brawling and plashing over its stony bed at his feet and went on down the gorge to its opening on the sandy plain. There, presumably, it burrowed into the bosom of the earth, for no vestige of running stream could the Cababi Valley show. The walls about him were in places grimy with the smoke of cook fires. Overhead, not fifty feet away, a gnarled and stunted little cedar jutted out from some crevice in the rocks and stood at the edge of the cliff. A soldier was clinging to it with one hand and pointing out towards the east with the other. Drummond recognized the voice as that of one of his own troop when the man called out,—
"Two of our fellers are coming with the old yellow ambulance, sergeant; but I can't see the others."
"All right, Patterson. Try to see where the rest have gone and what they're doing. I'll send the glass up to you presently. What I'm afraid of, lieutenant, is that in their rage over Donovan's death, and Mullan's, and all the devil's work done there at Moreno's, and your mishap, too, the men have become uncontrollable, and will never let up on the pursuit until they have killed the last one of that gang. These two who are coming in with the bodies of the Morales brothers probably have worn-out horses, or perhaps Lee ordered them to stay and guard the safe. The last I saw of any of the gang they were disappearing over the desert to the south, striking for Sonora Pass."
"I wonder they didn't all come in here," said Drummond.
"Well, hardly that, lieutenant. They knew they would be followed here, penned up, where their capture would only be a question of time. A hundred cavalrymen would be around them in a very few hours, and we could send to Lowell for those old mountain howitzers and just leisurely shell them out. Then, when they surrendered,—as they'd have to,—the civil authorities would immediately step in and claim jurisdiction, claim the prisoners, too. We'd simply have to turn them over to justice as a matter of course, and you know, and they know, that the only judge apt to sit on their case would be that of our eminent frontiersman and fellow-citizen,—Lynch. They are scattering like Apaches through the mountains and will reassemble and count noses later on. Thanks to you and 'C' troop, they have lost all they had gained and their leaders besides. No, sir, they won't stop this side of the Mexican line."
"There's one, Wing, I hope to heaven they'll never lose sight of till they run him down."
"Who's that, sir?"
"The fellow who was enlisted in 'C' troop last winter at Tucson and who deserted last night to join this gang. He drove for the stage company last year and was discharged. He gave his name as Bland."
"Bland! Henry Bland!" exclaimed Sergeant Wing, leaping to his feet in uncontrollable excitement. "Do you mean it, sir? Had he enlisted? Do you mean that he was the man Miss Harvey spoke of,—the disguised soldier she called him?"
And Drummond, amazed at Wing's emotion, gazed up to see the sergeant's features working almost convulsively, his face paling, his eyes full of intense anxiety.
"Why, I cannot doubt it, sergeant. He ran away from us on the discovery of Donovan's body and rode straight for Moreno's, beating us there probably by an hour or so, for no one happened to miss him."
Wing's hands were raised on high in a gesture almost tragic, then dropped helplessly by his side. With a stifled groan the tall soldier turned abruptly away and went striding towards the opening of the canon, leaving Drummond wondering and perplexed.
When, quarter of an hour later, the sergeant returned, bringing with him some improvised splints and bandages, and Drummond believed it his duty to make inquiry as to whether he knew Bland and what was the cause of his excitement, Wing turned his grave, troubled face and looked his young superior straight in the eye.
"Mr. Drummond, I have known that man for good and for ill many a long year. If our fellows have killed him, let his crimes die with him. If he is brought in alive,—brought to trial,—I may have to speak, but not now, sir. Bear with me, lieutenant,—not now."
Was Drummond dreaming? He could have declared that tears were starting in the sergeant's eyes as he turned hastily away, unable for the moment to continue the setting and bandaging of the broken arm.
"Take your own time, Wing," said the young officer, gently. "Speak or keep silent as you will. You have earned the right." And the sergeant mutely thanked him.
The primitive surgery of the frontier took little time, and, with his arm comfortably and closely slung, Drummond lay impatient for the coming of his men, impatient perhaps to hear a softer voice, to feel again the light touch of slender fingers, yet in his weakness and exhaustion dropping slowly off to sleep. All efforts to keep awake proved vain. His heavy eyelids closed, and presently he was in dreamland.
Meantime Sergeant Wing had busied himself in many a way. First he had gone to loosen old Moreno's bonds,—enough, at least, to relieve his pain yet hold him securely. The soldier sitting drowsily on the rock beside the prisoner gladly accepted permission to put aside his carbine and go to sleep.
"I'll watch him, Mat," said Wing. "You lie down there, Moreno, and see to it that you make no effort to slip a knot while I'm at work here. How far away is that ambulance now, Patterson?" he called to the man on lookout.
"Halted down at the edge of the plain, sergeant. That's where they struck water first, and I reckon they couldn't make up their minds to come farther. I can make out one or two of the fellows coming back far down the desert to the south. Horses played out probably."
"Anything to be seen across the valley along the trail we came?"
"Nothing, sir; not a puff of dust. But here's something I don't understand—off here in the range south of us—well up towards the top."
"What's that?" asked Wing, dropping the coil of lariat he held in his hand and looking quickly up.
"Well, it's more like signal-smoke than anything else. Just exactly such smoke as we have seen in the Chiricahua and Catarinas and —— Well, just come up here with your field-glass, if you can, sergeant. I believe there's an answer to it way down to the southeast,—t'other side of the valley."
In an instant Wing turned. "Sorry for you, Senor Moreno," he grimly muttered. "But as only two men are with me and both are otherwise engaged, I'll have to secure you temporarily. It isn't pleasant, but it serves you right."
In vain the Mexican pleaded and protested. A rawhide riata was wound and looped about him in a few scientific turns and he was left reclining against the rock, conquered yet inwardly raging, while Wing stole in to Drummond's rude couch, slipped the field-glass from its case, then, with a longing look into the darker depths beyond, and a moment's hesitation, he stepped to the projecting rock that seemed to divide the cave into two apartments and called in lower tone, "Miss Harvey."
"Here, Mr. Wing. What is wanted?"
And at the instant, prompt, alert, even smiling, Fanny Harvey appeared before him. The pallor was gone. The dishevelled hair had been twisted into shape. Food, rest, relief from dread and misery, and that little appreciated beautifier, fresh water, had wrought their transformation here. Wing's handsome eyes glistened as he removed his hat.
"I have to go up to that point yonder a few minutes, leaving old Moreno alone, bound, to be sure, but his wife or daughter might slip out and release him. Will you have the goodness—to take this—and shoot him if they should make the attempt?" And he handed her his pistol.
"I'll see to it that no one interferes with him, Mr. Wing. What has happened? Are the others coming?" And she took the revolver, balancing it in her accustomed and practised hand. The admiration deepened in Wing's gaze.
"I see you handle a pistol as though you had used one. You're a true frontiersman's daughter. I'll have to be away for a few minutes. I'm going up to look from our rock above there. Some of our men, they say, are in sight slowly returning, and the paymaster's ambulance is only a mile away, probably waiting for the rest of the party. How is Miss Ruth?"
"Sleeping like a baby, bless her heart."
"Well, I have promised Mr. Drummond that she should be his nurse. I hope you will consent. He is sleeping, too. No fever yet, I am thankful to say."
"Ruth will be ready, and so will I, to help in any way we can. But when are you to have a rest, may I ask?"
"O-oh—by and by. Lee and the others must have theirs first. They have been in saddle much longer and farther than I. When is Miss Harvey to have her rest, may I ask?"
"We-l-l, I don't know. I'll say, 'perhaps by and by' too. Look! that man is calling you."
Whirling about, Wing saw his sentinel beckoning, and in a moment he went clambering up the rocky trail, active as a mountain Apache.
"What is it, Patterson?"
"It is signal-smoke, sir, across the valley. That ain't more than eight miles away, and down here in the range ain't more than six. What Indians could be out here, I would like to know? Do they grow everywhere in this infernal country?"
Wing took his glasses and long and earnestly studied the bluish-white clouds rising in puffs, faint and barely distinguishable in the opposite heights, then fixed his gaze upon the filmy column soaring up among the dark pines at the heart of the range to the southward. His face grew graver every minute.
"Stay here and watch," he said. "I must go and get those other men in with the ambulance. Of course if it is Apaches, they've sighted that party and the few men straggling back, and those signals mean, 'close on them.' I'll send the team right in and then ride and hurry the other fellows out."
The sun was retiring behind the Cababi Range as Wing went leaping down the trail.
"Sorry for you, Dick, old boy," he said to his horse, who was drowsing in the shade. "More work for us both now."
Never stopping to saddle, he leaped upon the bare, brown back and went clattering down the canon.
"Keep your eye on Moreno, there!" he shouted up to the lookout. "If he tries to slip away, shoot him."
Ten minutes' brisk gallop through the windings of the gorge brought him to the edge of the sandy plain. There, under a little clump of willows, was the ambulance, its mules unhitched and hoppled securely, nibbling placidly at such scant herbage as they could find. The horses of the two guards, unsaddled, were drooping in the shade, too tired to hunt for anything to eat.
"Saddle up, men. Hitch in and get that team to the head of the canon, lively now," was his brief order to the sleepy trooper who greeted him, carbine in hand.
"What's up, sergeant?" queried another, springing out from the willows. "Lee told us to wait here, or wherever we could find shade and water."
"Wait? How long and what for?"
"Blessed if I know how long. None of 'em ain't in sight from here coming back; but 'what for' is easy to answer. The paymaster's chest."
"The paymaster's chest?" cried Wing. "Why, isn't that here in the ambulance?"
"Not a hinge of it. Those Greasers swapped it onto an apparejo while we were all running for Harvey's daughters. The money's half-way to Sonora by this time."
Peaceful as was his rest, Drummond slept only an hour or so. For months he had lived in the open air, "on the war-path" said his captain, a veteran who had won his spurs twice over in the war of the rebellion, and declared himself quite ready to take his ease now and let the youngsters see for themselves the hollowness of military glory. Weariness and physical exhaustion had lent their claims, and despite bruises and many a pang, despite the realization of the presence of the fair girls whom his dash and energy had rescued from robber hands, the young fellow had dozed away into dreamland. Why not? The object of his mission was accomplished. Fanny and Ruth Harvey were safe. All that was left for the party to do now was rest in quiet until another morn, then it would be quite possible to start on the return without waiting for the coming of their friends. Before sunset his men would be reassembled; they could have a long night's sleep, and with the rising of the morrow's sun, convoying their three wagons and their recaptured treasures, the little detachment would take the back track for the Tucson road, confident of meeting "old Harvey" and, probably, a doctor on the way. He himself, though most in need of surgical attention when they reached the caves, had such confidence in the skill of Sergeant Wing as to feel that his arm was set as perfectly as could be done by almost any other practitioner, and before dropping off to sleep had quite determined that he would make the morning march in saddle.
Still, he could not sleep for any great length of time. The instinct of vigilance and the sense of responsibility would not leave him. In his half-dreaming, half-waking state, he once thought he heard a light foot-fall, and presently as he dozed with eyelids shut there came a soft touch upon his temple. Lifting his hand he seized that of his visitor,—Fanny Harvey.
"Why are you not resting?" he asked, "and where is Ruth?"
"Ruth is sleeping, as we hoped you might be. 'Tired Nature's sweet restorer' is all you need, Mr. Drummond, yet you do not seem to have had more than a cat nap. Twice I have stolen in here to see you, and then, though I was fearful of waking you, you slept peacefully through it all."
"Well, I must have slept a couple of hours anyway, and I slept soundly until within the last few minutes. Have none of the men got back yet, Miss Harvey? Do you know what time it is? I suppose Wing is sleeping."
"Mr. Wing ought to be sleeping, but he isn't. The sentry—Patterson I think they call him—summoned him up to the lookout there in the rocks, oh, about an hour ago, and when the sergeant came back he mounted his horse and rode away down the canon. He said there was something requiring his attention. But you are to drink this chocolate and lie still."
Drummond slowly strove to rise. He was too anxious, too nervous, to remain where he was.
"And none of them have returned yet?" he asked. "I cannot understand that. No, please do not strive to detain me here. I'm perfectly able to be up and about, and if Wing is gone it's my business to look after things."
Over among the rocks across the narrow canon the first object to meet his gaze as he arose was Moreno, reclining there bound and helpless, while near at hand a soldier had thrown himself on his saddle blanket and was sound asleep. The plash of the waters in the brook, dancing and tumbling down the chasm, made sweet, drowsing music for his ears, a lulling, soothing sound that explained perhaps the deep slumber of his trooper friend.
"I heard Mr. Wing tell that man to lie down and sleep," said Miss Harvey, as the young officer's eyes seemed to darken with menace at the sight of a sentry sleeping on guard. "Moreno is securely tied, and both Patterson up there and I here are now his keepers. The senora and her daughter are in the other cave, forbidden to go near him."
Glancing up at the stunted cedar where Patterson stood faithful to his trust, Drummond saw that he was peering steadily southward through the black field-glasses.
"What do you see, Patterson?" he hailed. "Where is Wing? Any of the men coming back?"
"Wing has gone on down the valley, sir. Some of our fellows, two or three only, were coming back, but they didn't come fast enough to suit him. The ambulance will be here in a minute or two,—it's just below us down the canon now."
Indeed, almost at the moment the click of iron-shod hoofs was heard, and the dejected mule-team came into view around a jutting point, the dingy yellow ambulance jolting after them, one soldier in the driver's seat handling the reins, the other riding behind and leading his comrade's horse.
"Come up here to the mouth of the cave, Merrill," called the lieutenant. "You can unhitch and unharness just beyond; but I want that safe unloaded and put in here."
"The safe's gone, sir."
"The safe's gone, sir. We never got it. That's what took Sergeant Wing off down the valley, I reckon. I supposed you knew it, sir, and him, too, but he didn't. Those Morales fellows got away with it on burro-back while we were chasing the white wagon."
For a moment Drummond stood astounded.
"Man alive!" he at last exclaimed, "why was I not told of this? Get me a horse at once, Walsh," he ordered. "I'll take Patterson's. You two remain here and see that that old scoundrel don't get loose,—Moreno there,—and that no harm befall the ladies. I'll ride down after Wing."
"Oh, Mr. Drummond, you must not think of going," exclaimed Miss Harvey. "You're far too seriously hurt, far too weak, to attempt such a thing. Please lie down again. Surely Mr. Wing will do all that any man could do to recover the safe. All the others are in pursuit. They must have overtaken them by this time. Come; I am doctor now that he is away. Obey me and lie still."
Drummond's one available hand found itself clasped by warm, slender fingers. He would have drawn it away and striven to carry out his design, but a glance at his two troopers told him that they plainly and earnestly advocated Miss Harvey's view of the case. He was in no condition to make the attempt. And at the moment, too, even as he strove to release his hand, another voice was heard, almost imploring.
"Oh, don't let him go, Fan; don't let him try to ride!"
And turning suddenly at the sound, Mr. Drummond found Ruth Harvey standing close behind her sister, her eyes suffused, her cheeks blushing red. It was the first time he had seen her to speak to since they landed at the old wharf at San Francisco a year gone by, and for the moment he forgot the safe, the funds, the crippled arm, the bandaged head, and every other item that should have occupied his thoughts.
"Why, Ruthie, is this you? How you have grown!"
And then the imprisoned hand was released only to be transferred to the clasp and keeping of another. In her fear that her knight, her soldier, would leave them, and, wounded though he was, insist on attempting to follow his men in their pursuit, the shyness of maidenhood was forgotten. Ruth had seized and clasped the long, brown fingers, and Drummond forgot for the moment all thought of quitting her presence for the field.
And then having—as she supposed—won her point, and having caught the new light in his admiring eyes, it became necessary to struggle for the release of the hand she had so unhesitatingly used to detain him. This might have proved a difficult matter, judging from the expression in Drummond's face, but for a sudden hail from Patterson.
"Can the lieutenant come up here a moment? There's something going on down there I can't understand."
Old Moreno, whose bonds could not restrain his shifting, glittering eyes, glanced quickly upward. Then, as he caught a menacing look in the sunburned face of the Irish trooper Walsh, he became as suddenly oblivious to all earthly matters beyond the pale of his own physical woes. And now it was Ruth's hand that would retain its clasp and Drummond's that was again struggling for release. In a moment the lieutenant stood under Patterson's perch.
"What did you see? What was it like? How far away?"
"Six or seven miles, sir. The valley is broad and open, and three of our fellows were riding slowly back on the west side, while Wing was galloping as though to meet them, and when they weren't more than a mile apart Wing's horse went down,—looks no bigger than a black speck,—and the other three sheered off away from the rocks on this side and seemed to be scattering apart."
The words were low spoken so as to reach only his ear. Now it was no easy scramble for a man in Drummond's condition to make, but it took him only a little time to clamber to Patterson's side.
"There's something back of all this, and you know it, Patterson. What Apache sign have you seen?"
"Smoke, sir, on both sides. But we agreed, the sergeant and I, that the young ladies mustn't be alarmed nor you aroused. Then he rode away to hurry in any of our fellows who were in sight and warn them to keep out from the rocks. What I'm afraid of is that they've been ambushed, or at least that the Indians have ambushed him. His horse is down, and those others you see are away out on the plain now. They're working around towards the horse as though he were lying behind it, and they appear to be firing mounted."
What was Drummond to do? To leave his charges here, unprotected, was out of the question. Fail to go, or send, to Wing's relief he could not. Decide he must and decide quickly.
"Patterson, that party of Apaches can't be over a dozen strong or they would have rushed out of their cover by this time, yet they are too strong and too securely posted to be driven by that little squad, especially if Wing is wounded. I can't shoot now, but I can ride and direct. Every man who can shoot may be needed here. You have four now and can stand off forty Apaches—Tonto or Chiricahua—in such a position as this, so I leave you in charge. You have everything to help you stand a siege. Now see to it that the ladies are kept well under cover, and I'll hurry back with Walsh and what men I can find."
Then down he scrambled, giving one look at Moreno and his sleeping guardian as he passed, then gave a low-toned order to Walsh.
"Saddle your horse again and ride just to the other side of that rock yonder and wait for me."
Well he understood that it would be impossible for him to ride away without Fanny Harvey's knowing that something of a serious nature was impending, and that he could not get away at all without their knowing it. What he desired was to conceal from them that there was any danger from Apaches.
Just as he expected, both girls were eagerly awaiting him at the entrance to the cave. His revolvers were in there beside the rude couch on which he had slept so peacefully.
"Now are you ready to return to hospital and proper subjection?" asked Miss Harvey, laughingly. "It is high time. What could have tempted you to climb to that high point?"
"Why, it's the first chance I've had of a look around," was the answer. "This is an awfully strong spot for a place of refuge. You are safe here, safer than anywhere between Yuma and Tucson, now that the former possessors are scattered. But did you hear what took Wing off?"
"No, he didn't stop to explain matters. He simply dashed away without even a saddle. 'Something I must look after,' was all he vouchsafed to say."
"Well, the men just in tell me the paymaster's safe was spirited off. Confound that little green box of greenbacks! Some shrewd packer among Morales's people whisked it out of the wagon and onto a burro, and now we are all keen to get it back. Of course I can't sleep again until we know. Some of our people are coming slowly up the valley and Wing went on down to meet them."
But all the time he talked so airily with the elder sister, Ruth stood watching him with suspicious eyes.
"Mr. Drummond, please do not go," she broke forth. "You have no right to—now." And James, the dissembler, found himself trapped.
"Go I must, Ruthie," he said, with sudden change of manner. "I know you will not blame me or detain when I tell you, as I feel forced to tell you now, that Sergeant Wing is hurt. His horse has fallen with him far out on the desert. I'll be back and very soon."
Then with sudden impulsive movement he bent, kissed her forehead, and turned as suddenly away.
When the sisters looked into each other's eyes a moment later one face was blushing like the dawn, the other was pallid with a new and deep anxiety.
And now we, too, must follow Wing. He was a total stranger, it is to be remembered, to the regiment when, after its years of battling in the Army of the Potomac, it was sent into exile on the far Pacific coast and speedily lost to sight in the deserts of Arizona. The type of non-commissioned officer most familiar to the rank and file as well as to their superiors was the old-fashioned "plains raised," "discipplin furst and rayson aftherwards" class of which Feeny was so prominent an exponent. Brave to rashness and faithful to the very death, they had reason to look for respect and appreciation. They were men whose only education was that picked up in the camps and campaigns of the famous old regiments to which, when mere recruits, they had been assigned. They were invaluable in the army, and would have been utterly misjudged and out of their element anywhere else. That "book learning" and soldiering could ever go hand in hand no man in the old dragoons would ever have believed for an instant. Such scholars as had drifted into the ranks were, as a rule, irreclaimable drunkards, lost to any chance of redemption at home, and only tolerated in the service in the rough old days because of their meek and uncomplaining performance of long hours of extra duty in the troop or regimental offices when, their whiskey and their money alike exhausted, they humbly went back to their desks, asking only to live in the hope of another drunk. Hundreds of the old dragoons could barely sign their names, many could only touch the pen when called upon to make "his (X) mark." "Another busted clerk" was the general expression when the young Californian came forward to enlist. Yet he was the picture of clear-eyed, athletic manhood, was accepted with much hesitancy by the officers and undoubted suspicion by the men, yet speedily proved a splendid horseman, scout, shot, and, as was the final admission, "all-round trooper," despite the fact that he was well educated and spoke Spanish like a native. Still, such was the prevailing faith, as it ever is among veteran soldiers, that the old style was the best, it was long before he won promotion. No one who has not known both can begin to imagine the difference between the army of a quarter-century ago and the army of to-day. Just as Feeny was a resolute specimen of the old, so was Wing a pioneer of his class in the new. At the moment when the latter struck spurs to the wearied flanks of poor Dick and called on him for one more effort, the stalwart and handsome sergeant sped away on the path of duty, confident of the fact that by this time every man in his own troop and every soldier who knew him at all would stake his last dollar on "Bob" Wing's tackling the problem before him as fearlessly and intelligently as any veteran in the regiment.
Having ordered the ambulance up the gorge, he himself spurred away to gather in all stragglers within reach, so as to reinforce the little garrison at the caves in the event of attack from the Apaches. To his practised eye no vestige of doubt remained as to the character and purpose of the signal-smokes. Not a moment was to be lost. Within that very hour, perhaps, unseen Indians would come skulking, spying, "snaking" upon their refuge, would be able, infallibly, to determine the number and character of its occupants, and, if their own force were considerable and that of the garrison weak, God alone could help those innocent women.
When last noted the westward signal was puffing slowly up into the cloudless sky from a point in the range perhaps six miles below Patterson's station in the rocks. The three wearied troopers dragging slowly back from the chase could be seen coming up the valley probably four miles away, some distance, therefore, ahead of the supposed position of the foe. Wing well knew with what goat-like agility the mountain Indians could speed along from rock to rock and still keep under cover, and every man who had served a month in Arizona could have predicted that if Indians in any force were within a day's march of those three stragglers ambush and death would be their fate, perhaps even when within view of their longed-for goal. That they had not seen the sign, that they were ignorant of the possible presence of Apaches in the range, was manifest simply because they rode close along under the foot-hills, often over the bowlder-strown outskirt of the falda, and, though still far from them, such was Wing's anxiety for their safety that he rode furiously along, signalling with his left hand as though to say "Keep out! Keep to your right! Don't go so close to the rocks!"
In this way, urging Dick to his speed and never thinking of his own safety, intent only on saving his comrades from possible death, believing, too, that no Apache could yet have worked his way so far up the range, Wing was riding, straight as the crow flies, from the little oasis at the mouth of the canon towards the ambling laggards to the south. His course led him along within a hundred yards of many a bowlder or "suwarrow," though his path itself was unobstructed. The sun had gone westering and he was in the shadow. Presently, however, as Dick panted painfully, heavily, up a very gentle slope and the sergeant came upon the low crest of a mound-like upheaval, he saw some four hundred yards ahead a broad bay of sunlight stretching in from the glaring sea to the east, and, glancing to his right, noted that there was a depression in the range,—something like a broad cleft in the mountains, possibly a pass through to the broader desert on the other side. He gave it little thought, however. There, only a mile or so away now, came his fellow-troopers, two in front, another lagging some distance behind, riding sleepily towards him and dangerously close to a number of sheltering rocks. Intent only on them and still wishing to attract their attention, he swung his broad-brimmed hat, waving it off to the left, but with no apparent result. Confound them! Were they sound asleep? Could they never be made to see? Poor Dick was able now only to strike a feeble canter, so utterly was he used up, and just when Wing, looking only to the front, was thinking that he might as well discontinue the spur and let his poor horse rest, they labored forth from the sheltering shade full upon the tawny, sunlit sand. Then, while the sergeant's eyes were temporarily blinded by the glare, there came from the rocks to his right a sudden flash and report. He felt at the same instant a stinging pang in the leg. He had just time to grasp his own carbine and to attempt to swing off when the second shot echoed loudly from the rocks. He felt poor Dick start and swerve; he felt him going headlong, and the next thing he knew he was vainly striving to peer into the face of the evening sun from over the quivering body of his faithful friend, unable for the moment to see the faintest sign of an enemy, and then the blood came welling through the little hole in his worn cavalry trousers, midway between the hip-bone and the knee, and he knew he had received a serious, perhaps a desperate wound.
For the moment, therefore, he could do nothing more but look for succor. A glance down the desert told him his fellows were at last rudely awakened. True to the practice of the craft, the instant fire was opened from the rocks each man had put spurs to his horse and dashed away to a safer distance with such speed as was possible with their jaded mounts, each trooper warily scanning the dark line of the foot-hills in search of the foe and striving as he rode to unfasten the flap that held his carbine, in the fashion of the day, athwart the pommel of his saddle; and now, circling farther out upon the plain, in wide sweep, with carbines advanced, they were hastening to the succor of their comrade. Presently one of their number suddenly drew rein, halted his startled "broncho," aimed to the left of the horse's head and fired, then, cramming a cartridge into the chamber, came riding farther. The others, too, followed suit, shooting at some object apparently among the rocks in front of the sergeant's position. One of the men threw himself from his saddle, and kneeling on the sands drove two or three shots at long range. Eager to add his own fire to theirs, Wing pulled his hat-brim over his eyes, threw forward the barrel over the now stilled carcass of poor Dick, and peered eagerly up the ravine in search of some foe at whom to aim. Blindly he searched for dusky Apache skulking from rock to rock; there was no moving thing in sight. But what was this,—this object that suddenly shot out from behind a little ledge and, turning sharply to the left, went clattering into the depths of a dark and frowning gorge? Could he believe his eyes? Did the Chiricahuas, then, have horses and wear trooper hats? Bending low over his steed and spurring him to the uttermost exertion, a tall, even soldierly, form had darted one instant into view and then gone thundering out of sight. Up to this moment Wing never had lost full control of his faculties. Now his brain reeled. Before his eyes rose a dense cloud of mist rushing forth from the mountain-side. Bowlders, near at hand, took to waltzing solemnly with their neighbors, and when at last the foremost trooper flung himself from his horse and crept to the sergeant's side, while his comrades rode on, keeping vigilant watch against the appearance of other foe, Sergeant Wing was found lying beside his dead horse: he had swooned utterly away.
By and by, with anxious face and bandaged head and arm, Lieutenant Drummond came galloping down; Wing was then submitting to the rude bandaging of his leg and lying limp and weak, his head resting on Dick's stiffening shoulder. But Wing's eyes were covered by his gauntleted hand; he never looked up at his young commander, though he heard his anxious queries.
"Is he much hurt? Were there many of them?"
"Shot through the leg here, sir," answered the sturdy corporal, "and was in a dead faint when we got to him. I don't know how many there was of them, lieutenant; they skipped off the moment we opened fire."
"They couldn't have seen us coming, lieutenant," eagerly spoke a young recruit. "They must have thought the sergeant was alone, for when we charged they just lit out for all they were worth, didn't they, Mike?" he eagerly asked his comrade, an older trooper.
"Oh, shut up, Billy! There's nothing an Apache doesn't see, but we were too far off to tell how many there was. I only saw one as he lept away. Shure the sergeant was nearer,—he could have seen."
"Sergeant Wing, it is I, Lieutenant Drummond. Look up a moment if you can. You were close to them, how many did you see?"
"How many Indians, sir?" asked Wing, faintly.
"Yes, how many?"
A pause. Then at last,—
"I didn't see one, sir."
Another day had dawned and another patient was added to Miss Harvey's hospital list at the caves. The original plan of starting on the return soon after daybreak had now to be abandoned, as Drummond explained, because here was a man who could not stand the journey. Surely there would not be many hours before the relief party from Stoneman, following their trail, would come speeding to the rescue, bringing to the wounded the needed surgical skill and attention, bringing to the Harvey girls their devoted father. The only question in the young lieutenant's mind as the sun rose, a burning, dazzling disk over the distant mountains to the east, was, which will be first to reach us, friends or foes?
Wearied and shattered though he was and replete as the night had been with anxiety and vigil, Drummond climbed the goat-track that led to the sentry's perch feeling full of hope and pluck and fight. He and his men had divided the night into watches, one being awake and astir, not even permitting himself to sit a moment, while the others slept. The fact that he was able to send back to the caves, have an ambulance hitched in and driven down to where Wing lay wounded, and to bear him slowly, carefully, back to shelter, reaching the caves without further molestation before darkness set in, had served to convince the young commander that he could count on reasonable security for the night. Unless they know their prey to be puny and well-nigh defenceless, Apaches make no assault in the darkness, and so, with the coming of the dawn, he had about him fit for service a squad of seven troopers, most of them seasoned mountain fighters. His main anxiety now was for Wing, whose wound was severe, the bullet having gone clear through, just grazing the bone, and who, despite the fact that Fanny Harvey early in the night had every now and then crept noiselessly in to cool his fevered head, seemed strangely affected mentally, seemed unnaturally flighty and wandering, seemed oppressed or excited alternately in a way that baffled Drummond completely, for no explanation was plausible. Two or three times during the night he had been heard moaning, and yet the moment Drummond or, as once happened, Miss Harvey hastened to his side, he declared it was nothing. "I must have been dozing and imagined the pain was greater than it was." Awake and conscious, so stout a soldier as he would be the last to give way to childish exhibition of suffering, yet twice Drummond knew him to be awake despite his protestation of dozing, and he did not at all like it that Wing should bury his face in his arms, hiding it from all. What could have occurred to change this buoyant, joyous, high-spirited trooper all on a sudden into a sighing, moaning, womanish fellow? Surely not a wound of which, however painful, any soldier might be proud.
Somewhere along towards four o'clock, when it was again Patterson's watch and Drummond arose from his blanket after a refreshing sleep of nearly two hours and he and his faithful sentry were standing just outside the mouth of the cave, they distinctly heard the same moan of distress.
"Is there nothing we can do to ease the sergeant, sir?" whispered Patterson. "This makes the second time I have heard him groaning, and it's so unlike him."
"We have no opiates, and I doubt if he would use one if we had. He declares there is no intense pain."
"Well, first off, sir, I thought he was dreaming, but he was wide awake, and Miss Harvey came in only a moment after I got to him. Could those devils poison a bullet as they do their arrows, and could that make him go into fever so soon?"
"I hardly think so; but why did you say dreaming?"
"Because once it was 'mother' he called, and again—just now—I thought he said mother."
The lieutenant turned, looking straight at his soldierly subordinate.
"By Jove! Patterson, so did I."
There was a little stir across the canon. Moreno was edging about uneasily and beginning to mutter blasphemy at his bonds.
"That fellow begged very hard to be moved down into that wolf-hole of a place where the Mexican women are, lieutenant, with those two bunged-up bandits to take care of. Nice time we'd have, sir, if the three of them was able to move. The boys'd make short work of them now, the way they're feeling. I went in and took a look at those two fellows. One of 'em is a goner, sure, but they're dead game, both of 'em. Neither one has a word to say."
"No," answered Drummond, "they refused to give their names to me,—said it was no earthly consequence what name we put over their graves, the right set of fellows would be along after a while and do them all the honor they cared for. How were the Moreno women behaving?"
"The girl was asleep, I should judge, sir. The old hag was rocking to and fro, crooning to herself until one of the two—the live one, I should call him—hurled a curse at her in Spanish and told her to dry up or he'd kill her. All a bluff, for he can't move a peg."
"Watch them well, Patterson, all the same. Hush!"
Again from within the deep shelter of the rocky cave came the low moan of anguish,—
"Mother! mother! if you knew—"
"Here, Patterson, I can't stand this. I'm going in to him." And, picking up the dim lantern which he had taken from the Harvey wagon, Drummond stole in on tiptoe and knelt again beside his wounded comrade.
"Wing! sergeant! Look up, man. Speak to me. You must be in distress, mental or bodily. Do let me help you in some way."
For a moment no reply whatever. Wing's face was hidden. Then he looked gently upward.
"Lieutenant, I'm ashamed to be giving you so much trouble. Please go and lie down again, sir; you're worse hurt than I am,—only I suppose I get to dozing off and then turn on that side."
"No, it isn't that, sergeant. There's something wrong, and it has all come on you since yesterday morning. Where is your mother?"
Again Wing turned away, burying his face in his arms.
"Listen, sergeant; we hope to get you out of this by to-night. Dr. Gray ought surely to reach us by that time, and while we may have to keep up a field hospital here a day or two, my first duty will be to write and tell your mother how bravely you have served us, and she shall be told that you are wounded, but not in such a way as to alarm her."
Out came a restraining hand.
"Lieutenant, she must not know at all."
"Well, she can't, so far as I'm concerned, as I don't know her address. But think a moment; you know and I know—Hold on, wait!" And Drummond rose and tiptoed to a cleft in the rock through which shone a dim light; it was the entrance to the remote inner cave where the Harvey girls were sleeping. Assured that his words could reach there no listening ears, Drummond returned, kneeling again by the sergeant's side. "Just think, man; any moment after daybreak the Apaches may be upon us, and, who knows? it may be my last fight. Of course I believe that our fellows can stand them off until rescue comes, but a bullet may find me any moment, and then who is there to report your conduct and secure the recognition due you, or, if the doctor should be late in coming and fever set in and this wound prove too much for your strength, is there nothing that ought to be said to her for you?"
Again only painful silence. At last Wing spoke.
"I understand. I appreciate all you say. But I've got to think it over, lieutenant. Give me an hour or so. Don't ask me to tell you now."
"So be it, man. Now rest all you possibly can. It's almost day. The crags are beginning to light up back of us here already. Yes, and the sentry's calling me now. I'll be back by and by. What is it, Patterson?" he whispered, going to the mouth of the cave.
"I've just come down from the tree up there, sir. You can see quite a ways down the range now, though the light is dim, and what I take to be a signal-fire leaped up not three miles below us, certainly this side of where Wing was shot."
"So soon? All right, then get back to the post just as quick as you can. I'll rouse the man who has slept longest. All must be astir in half an hour, but you keep watch there."
And half an hour later it is that, field-glass in hand, the young officer is there by Patterson's side, peering eastward almost into the eye of the sun, searching with anxiety inexpressible for any sign of dust-cloud rising along the trail on which they came, for the sight he has seen down the range, now brilliant in the morning light, has filled his heart with the first real dread it has yet known. In three places, not more than four or five miles apart, down along the sunlit side of this wild and picturesque mountain-chain, signal-smokes have been puffing straight up skyward, the nearest only a couple of miles from this lone picket post, but all on the same side of the valley.
Last evening the answer came from across the broad desert. They have come over, therefore, and are hastening up the chain to join the eager advance here so close to their hiding-place. Beyond a doubt watchful spies are already lurking among those heights to the west, striving to get close enough to peer into the rocky fortress and estimate the strength of the garrison. Great they well know it cannot be, for did not their keen eyes count nearly twenty chasing those hated brigands far down towards Sonora Pass, and of that number how many have returned?—only three. Did they not see the flurry and excitement when that sergeant was shot from ambush? Now, therefore, is the time to strike,—now while the main body is far away. Whatsoever booty there may be obtainable in that rocky canon 'tis well worth the attempt. And so from north to south the puff-balls of blue-white smoke go sailing upward through the pines, and it all means speed! speed!
At seven o'clock the little command has had coffee and a hearty breakfast. No lack of provender here in this hitherto undiscovered robbers' roost. Drummond, cool, confident, has had his men about him where none others could see or hear, has assigned them the stations which they are to take the instant of alarm, and has given them their instructions. Walsh it is who is now on lookout, and he is peering away down southward so intently that some comrade is prompted to call up to him in a low tone,—
To which, without removing the glass from under his hat-brim, the Irish trooper merely shakes his head.
"Any more smokes?"
"Sorra a smoke have I seen at all."
"Well, then, what in blazes are you staring at?"
"How can I tell ye till I find out?" is the Hibernian reply, and this is enough to send the corporal on a climb. Drummond at the moment is again kneeling by Wing, who has but just awakened from a fitful sleep, Miss Harvey being the first to hear him stir and sigh. Ruth and her sister, too, seem about to withdraw, but Wing, whose voice is weak now, begs them to remain.
"Has anything been seen yet—back on the trail—of the Stoneman party?" he asks.
"No, sergeant," replies Drummond; "but remember that we can only see some six miles of the trail, after that it is lost in that tortuous ravine down which we rode on the chase. Walsh is up there on lookout, and I'll ask if he can see anything now;" and calling to one of the men, Drummond bids him inquire. All eagerly await the reply.
At last it comes,—
"No dust on the back track, sir, but something that looks like it far to the south. We think it may be some of our fellows coming back, but it is too faint and far to make it out yet."
The corporal is the speaker, his resonant voice contrasting strongly with the feeble accents of his immediate superior, the wounded sergeant.
"Then I have something that must be told you, lieutenant, something Miss Harvey already has an inkling of, for she has met and known my dear mother. If this pain continue to increase, and fever set in, I may be unable to tell it later. Some of the men thought I had enlisted under an alias, lieutenant, but they were wrong. Wing is my rightful name. My father was chief officer of the old 'Flying Cloud' in the days when American clipper ships beat the world. The gold fever seized him, though, and he quit sailing and went to mining in the early days of San Francisco, and there when I was a little boy of ten he died, leaving mother with not many thousand dollars to take care of herself and me. 'You will have your brother to help you' were words he spoke the last day of his life, and even then I noted how little comfort mother seemed to find in that fact. It was only a few months after father's death that Uncle Fred, from being an occasional visitor, came to living with us all the time, made his home there, though seldom within doors night or day. He was several years younger than mother. He was the youngest, it seems, of the family, 'the baby,' and had been petted and spoiled from earliest infancy. I soon found why he came. Mother was often in tears, Uncle Fred always begging or demanding money. The boys at school twitted me about my gambler uncle, though I've no doubt their fathers gambled as much as he. These were just before the early days of the great war that sprang up in '61 and that we boys out on the Pacific coast only vaguely understood. Sometimes Uncle Fred came home drunk and I could hear him threatening poor mother, and things went from bad to worse, and one night when I was just thirteen I was awakened from sound sleep by her scream. In an instant I flew to her room, catching up as I ran father's old bowie-knife that always hung by my door. In the dim light I saw her lying by the bedside, a man bending over and choking her. With all my strength I slashed at him just as he turned. I meant to kill, but the turn saved him. He sprang to his feet with an oath and cry and rushed to the wash-stand. I had laid Uncle Fred's cheek open from ear to chin.
"It was long before mother could check the flow of the blood. It sobered him, of course, and made him piteously weak. For days after that she nursed and cared for him, but forbade my entering the room. Men came to see him,—insisted on seeing him,—and she would send me to the bank for gold and pay their claims and bid them go. At last he was able to walk out with that awful slash on his thin white face. Once then he met and cursed me, but I did not mind, I had acted only to save mother. How could I suppose that her assailant was her own brother? Then finally with sobs and tears she told me the story, how he had been their mother's darling, how wild and reckless was his youth, how her mother's last thought seemed to be for him, and how on her knees she, my own mother, promised to take care of poor Freddie and shield him from every ill, and this promise she repeated to me, bidding me help her keep it and to conceal as far as I could her brother's misdeeds. For a few months things went a little better. Uncle Fred got a commission in a California regiment towards the close of the war and was sent down to Arizona. Then came more tears and trouble. I couldn't understand it all then, but I do now. Uncle Fred was gambling again, drawing on her for means to meet his losses. The old home went under the hammer, and we moved down to San Diego, where father had once invested and had left a little property. And then came the news that Uncle Fred had been dismissed, all on account of drink and gambling and misappropriation of funds. Miss Harvey knows all about this, lieutenant, for mother told her and had reason to. And next came forgery, and we were stranded. We heard that he had gone after that with a wagon-train to Texas. I got employment on a ranch, and then mother married again, married a man who had long befriended us and who could give her a comfortable home. She is now Mrs. Malcomb Bland, of San Francisco, and Mr. Bland offered to take me into his store, but I loved the open air and independence. Mr. Bland and Mr. Harvey had business relations, and when Uncle Fred was next heard from he was 'starving to death,' he said, 'actually dying.' He wrote to mother from Yuma. Mother wired me to go to him at once, and I did. He was considerably out at elbows, but in no desperate need yet. Just then Mr. Harvey offered him a good salary to take charge of his freight-train. We all knew how that must have been brought about, and I felt that it would only be a matter of time when he would rob his new employer. He did; was discharged, but Mr. Bland made the amount good, and the matter was hushed up. Then he drove stage awhile and then disappeared. Mother has written me time and again to find him or find out what has become of him, and I promised I would leave no stone unturned. Tell her I have kept my word. Tell her I found him. But tell her for God's sake to think no more of him. Tell her not to strive to find him or to ask what he is or even where he is beyond that he has gone to Sonora."
"Lieutenant," said Patterson, suddenly appearing at the opening, "could you step here a moment?"
Drummond springs up.
"One moment, Mr. Drummond," whispers Wing, weakly; "I must say one word to you—alone."
"I'll return in a minute, sergeant. Let me see what Patterson wants."
Miss Harvey and Ruth have risen; the former is very pale and evidently trembling under some strong emotion. Once more she bends over him.
"Drink this, Mr. Wing, and now talk no more than you absolutely have to."
Then renewing the cooling bandage on his forehead, her hands seem to linger—surely her eyes do—as she rises once more to her feet.
Meantime the lieutenant has stepped out into the canon.
"What is it, Patterson? quick!"
"That was some of our fellows, sir, a squad of four; but they turned all of a sudden and galloped back out of sight. It looks to me as though they were attacked."
"How far away were they? How many miles down the desert?"
"Oh, at least six or eight miles down, sir; down beyond where you met them yesterday."
"How about our trail? Anybody in sight there?"
"Nobody, sir, not even a thing, not even a whiff of dust."
"Very well. Keep on the alert. It's good to know that all the Apaches are not around us yet. Neither bullet nor arrow can get down here so long as we man the rocks above. I'll be out in a moment."
Then once more he kneels by Wing.
"Lieutenant, did you ever see a girl behave with greater bravery? Do you know what she has undergone?—Miss Harvey, I mean?"
"Both are behaving like heroines, Wing, and I think I am beginning to see through this plot at last."
"Never let mother know it,—promise me, sir,—but when Harvey discharged him—my uncle, I mean—he swore he'd be revenged on the old man, and 'twas he——"
"The double-dyed villain! I know, I understand now, Wing; you needn't tell me. He has been in the pay of the Morales gang for months. He enlisted so as to learn all the movements of officers and scouting-parties. He enlisted under his benefactor's name. He has forged that, too, in all probability, and then, deserting, it was he who sought to carry away these precious girls, and he came within an ace of succeeding. By the Eternal, but there will be a day of reckoning for him if ever 'C' troop runs foul of him again! No wonder you couldn't sleep, poor fellow, for thinking of that mother. This caps the climax of his scoundrelism. Where,—when did you see him last?—since he enlisted?"
But now Wing's face is again averted. He is covering it with his arms.
"Wing, answer me!" exclaims Drummond, springing suddenly to his feet. "By heaven, I demand to know!" Then down on his knees he goes again, seizing and striving to pull away the nearest arm. "You need not try, you cannot conceal it now. I see it all,—all. Miss Harvey," he cries, looking up into the face of the trembling girl, who has hastened in at sound of the excitement in his voice,—"Miss Harvey, think of it; 'twas no Apache who shot him, 'twas a worse savage,—his own uncle."
"Promise me mother shall not know," pleads poor Wing, striving to rise upon his elbow, striving to restrain the lieutenant, who again has started to his feet. "Promise me, Miss Fanny; you know how she loved him, how she plead with you."
"I promise you this, Wing," says Drummond, through his clinching teeth, "that there'll be no time for prayer if ever we set eyes on him again; there'll be no mercy."
"You can't let your men kill him in cold blood, lieutenant. I could not shoot him."
"No, but, by the God of heaven, I could!"
And now as Wing, exhausted, sinks back to his couch his head is caught on Fanny Harvey's arm and next is pillowed in her lap.
"Hush!" she murmurs, bending down over him as mother might over sleeping child. "Hush! you must not speak again. I know how her heart is bound up in you, and I'm to play mother to you now."
And as Drummond, tingling all over with wrath and excitement, stands spellbound for the moment, a light step comes to his side, a little hand is laid on the bandaged arm, and Ruth Harvey's pretty face, two big tears trickling down her cheeks, is looking up in his.
"You, too, will be ill, Mr. Drummond. Oh, why can't you go and lie down and rest? What will we do if both of you are down at once with fever?"
She is younger by over two years than her brave sister. Tall though she has grown, Ruth is but a child, and now in all her excitement and anxiety, worn out with the long strain, she begins to cry. She strives to hide it, strives to control the weakness, and, failing in both, strives to turn away. All to no purpose. An arm in a sling is of little avail at such a moment. Whirling quickly about, Drummond brings his other into action. Before the weeping little maid is well aware what is happening her waist is encircled by the strong arm in the dark-blue sleeve, and how can she see that she is drawn to his breast, since now her face is buried in both her hands and those hands in the flannel of his hunting-shirt,—just as high as his heart? Small wonder is it that Corporal Costigan, hurrying in at the mouth of the cave, stops short at sight of this picturesque partie carree. Any other time he would have sense enough to face about and tiptoe whence he came, but now there's no room left for sentiment. Tableaux-vivants are lovely in their way, even in a cave lighted dimly by a hurricane-lamp, but sterner scenes are on the curtain. Drummond's voice is murmuring soothing, yes, caressing words to his sobbing captive. Drummond's bearded lips, unrebuked, are actually pressing a kiss upon that childish brow when Costigan, with a preliminary clearing of his throat that sounds like a landslide and makes the rock walls ring again, startles Ruth from her blissful woe and brings Drummond leaping to the mouth of the cave.
"Lieutenant, there's something coming out over our trail."
"Thank God!" sighs Wing, as he raises his eyes to those of his fair nurse. "Thank God! for your sakes!"
"Thank God, Ruth!" cries Fanny, extending one hand to her sister while the other is unaccountably detained. "Thank God! it's father and the Stoneman party and Doctor Gray."
And Ruth, throwing herself upon her knees by her sister's side, buries her head upon her shoulder and sobs anew for very joy.
And then comes sudden start. All in an instant there rings, echoing down the canon, the sharp, spiteful crack of rifles, answered by shrieks of terror from the cave where lie the Moreno women, and by other shots out along the range. Three faces blanch with sudden fear, though Wing looks instantly up to say,—
"They can't harm you, and our men will be here in less than no time."
Out in the gorge men are springing to their feet and seizing their ready arms; horses are snorting and stamping; mules braying in wild terror. Two of the ambulance mules, breaking loose from their fastenings, come charging down the resounding rock, nearly annihilating Moreno, who, bound and helpless, praying and cursing by turns, has rolled himself out of his nook and lies squarely in the way of everything and everybody. But above all the clamor, the ring of carbine, the hiss and spat of lead flattening upon the rocks, Drummond's voice is heard clear and commanding, serene and confident.
"Every man to his post now. Remember your orders."
Gazing out into the canon with dilated eyes, Ruth sees him nimbly clamber up the opposite side towards the point where Walsh is kneeling behind a rock,—Walsh with his Irish mug expanded in a grin of delight, the smoke just drifting from the muzzle of his carbine as he points with his left hand somewhere out along the cliffs. She sees her soldier boy, crouching low, draw himself to Walsh's side, sees him glancing eagerly over the rocks, then signalling to some one on their own side, pointing here and there along the wooded slope beyond her vision; sees him now, with fierce light in his eyes, suddenly clutch Walsh's sleeve and nod towards some invisible object to the south; sees Walsh toss the butt of his carbine to the shoulder and with quick aim send a bullet driving thither; sees Drummond take the field-glass and, resting it on the eastward ledge, gaze long and fixedly out over the eastward way; sees him start, draw back the glass, wipe the lenses with his silken kerchief, then peer again; sees him drop them with a gesture almost tragic, but she cannot hear the moan that rises to his lips.
"My God! those are Apaches, too."
Ten o'clock on a blazing Arizona morning. The hot sun is pouring down upon the jagged front of a range of heights where occasional clumps of pine and cedar, scrub oak and juniper, seemed the only vegetable products hardy enough to withstand the alternations of intense heat by day and moderate cold by night, or to find sufficient sustenance to eke out a living on so barren a soil. Out to the eastward, stretching away to an opposite range, lies a sandy desert dotted at wide intervals with little black bunches of "scrub mezquite" and blessed with only one redeeming patch of foliage, the copse of willows and cottonwood here at the mouth of a rock-ribbed defile where a little brook, rising heaven knows how or where among the heights to the west, comes frothing and tumbling down through the windings of the gorge only to bury itself in the burning sands beyond the shade. So narrow and tortuous is the canon, so precipitous its sides, as to prove conclusively that by no slow process, but by some sudden spasm of nature, was it rent in the face of the range. And here in its depths, just around one of the sharpest bends, honey-combed out of the solid rock are half a dozen deep lateral fissures and caves where the sunbeams never penetrate, where the air is reasonably cool and still, where on this scorching May morning, far away from home and relatives, two young girls are sheltered by the natural roofs and walls against the fiery sunshine and by a little band of resolute men against the fury of the Apaches.
Down in the roomiest of the caves Fanny and Ruth Harvey are listening in dread anxiety to the sounds of savage warfare echoing from crag to crag along the range, while every moment or two the elder turns to moisten the cloth she holds to a wounded trooper's burning, tossing head. Sergeant Wing is fevered indeed by this time, raging with misery at thought of his helplessness and the scant numbers of the defence. It is a bitter pill for the soldier to swallow, this of lying in hospital when every man is needed at the front. At nine o'clock this morning a veteran Indian fighter, crouching in his sheltered lookout above the caves and scanning with practised eye the frowning front of the range, declared that not an Apache was to be seen or heard within rifle-shot, yet was in no wise surprised when, a few minutes later, as he happened to show his head above the rocky parapet, there came zipping a dozen bullets about his ears and the cliffs fairly crackled with the sudden flash of rifles hidden up to that instant on every side. Indians who can creep upon wagon-train or emigrant camp in the midst of an open and unsheltered plain find absolutely no difficulty in surrounding unsuspected and unseen a bivouac in the mountains. Inexperienced officers or men would have been picked off long before the opening of the general attack, but the Apaches themselves are the first to know that they have veteran troopers to deal with, for up to this moment only one has shown himself at all. At five minutes after nine o'clock Lieutenant Drummond, glancing exultingly around upon his little band of fighters, had blessed the foresight of Pasqual Morales and his gang that they had so thoroughly fortified their lair against sudden assault. Three on the southern, two on the northern brink of the gorge and behind impenetrable shelter, and two more in reserve in the canon, his puny garrison was in position and had replied with such spirit and promptitude to the Apache attack that only at rare intervals now is a shot necessary, except when for the purpose of drawing the enemy and locating his position a hat is poked up on the muzzle of a carbine. The assailants' fire, too, is still, but that, as Drummond's men well know, means only "look out for other devilment."
Out on the eastward desert, still far over towards the other side, a little party of Apaches is hurrying to join the fray. Two are riding. Where got they their horses? The others—over half a dozen—come along at their tireless jog-trot. It was this party that, seen but dimly at first, gave rise to such ebullition of joy among the defenders and defended. It was this party that, closely scanned through his field-glass, occasioned Lieutenant Drummond's moan of distress. With all his heart he had been hoping for the speedy coming of relief over that very trail,—had counted on its reaching him during the day. He was sure it could be nothing else when the corporal reported something in sight, and so when he discovered the approaching party to be Apaches no words could describe the measure of his disappointment and dismay. Not for himself and his men; they were old hands and had a fine position to defend. His thoughts are all for those in whose behalf he has already made such gallant fight and for poor Wing, whose feeble moaning every now and then reaches his ear.
At ten o'clock he is able through his glasses to distinctly make out the number and character of the coming party. Nine Apaches, all warriors, but one of them apparently wounded or disabled, for they have to support him on the horse, and this it is that hampers their advance and makes it slower. They are heading for the oasis at the mouth of the canon. There they will leave their horses and their wounded, and then come creeping up the winding gorge or crouching among the bowlders from the east to join in the attack on the hated pale-face. Drummond can have no doubt of that. New dispositions are necessary.
"Stay where you are!" he shouts to his men. "You take charge up here, Costigan; I want to post a man or two below at the bend." And down he goes, sliding and scrambling until he reaches the edge of the brook. Moreno, squatted against a rock, glances up at him appealingly.
"Senor Teniente, I pray you unloose me and let me help. The Apache is our common enemy," he pleads.
An idea comes to Drummond. Wing's carbine can be utilized. He can post Moreno down the gorge at the second bend to command that approach and put little McGuffey, the recruit, at the next bend to command Moreno and send a bullet through him if he shirk or swerve.
"I declare, I believe I will, you old scoundrel," he says. "Here, McGuffey, untie this fellow. I've got to look around a minute."
Into the depth of the fissure where Moreno's women are praying and rocking he peers a moment. One of the wounded bandits is now past praying for. The other, painfully shot but plucky, begs to be given a chance to fight for his life.
"You are too badly hurt now. We couldn't get you up there," is the answer.
"Well, then, put me on with Moreno, wherever you're going to assign him. Surely if you can trust a Greaser you can a white man. I'm only fit to hang, perhaps, but damn me if I want to lie here when there's an Indian fight going on."
And so he, too, is unloosed and lifted to his feet. Leaning on McGuffey's shoulder and supported by his arm, the pale-faced stranger, preceded by Moreno, who goes limping and swearing sotto voce down the rocky way, is led a hundred yards along the canon where it makes a second bend. Here they can see nearly one hundred and fifty more ahead of them, and here some loose bowlders are hurriedly shoved or rolled to form a rifle-pit, and these volunteer allies are placed in position.
"We cover the approaches above so that they can't sneak up and heave rocks down upon you. All you've got to do now is to plug every Apache that shows his nose around that bend below," says Drummond. "McGuffey, you take post at the point behind. Watch the overhanging cliffs and support as best you can." And "Little Mack," as the men call him, gets further instructions as he takes his position, instructions which would give small comfort to Moreno could he only hear them. Then back goes the lieutenant to where Wing is lying, Miss Harvey bending anxiously over him, her beautiful eyes filling with tears at sight of Drummond's brave but haggard young face. Ruth is crouching by her sister's side, but rises quickly as Drummond enters, her fears lessening, her hopes gaining.
"Any news? Anything in sight—of ours?" is Miss Harvey's eager query.
"Not yet, but they're bound to be along almost any minute now. Some Apaches whom I could see coming across from the east have a wounded man with them. It makes me hope our fellows have met and fought them and are following close on their trail. How's Wing?"
She can only shake her head.
"He seems delirious every now and then; perhaps only because of so much mental excitement and suffering. He is dozing now."
"Gallant fellow! What would we have done without him? I only wish we had more like him. Think how all my detachment has become scattered. If we had them here now I could push out and drive the Indians to the rocks and far beyond all possibility of annoying you with their racket. Of course you are safe from their missiles down here."
"Yes, we are; but you and your soldiers, Mr. Drummond! Every shot made me fear you were hit," cries poor little Ruth, her eyes filling, her lips quivering. Then, just as Drummond is holding forth a hand, perhaps it is an arm, too, she points up to the rock above where Walsh is evidently exercised about something. He has dropped his gun, picked up the glasses, and is gazing down the range to the south.
"Perhaps he sees some of our fellows coming for good this time. Four of them tried it awhile ago, but were probably attacked some miles below here and fell back on the main body. They'll be along before a great while, and won't it be glorious if they bring back the safe and all?" He says this by way of keeping up their spirits, then, once more wearily, but full of pluck and purpose, he climbs the rugged path and creeps to Walsh's side.
"Is it any of our men you see?" he whispers.
"Divil a wan, sir! it's more of thim infernal Apaches."
Drummond takes the glass and studies the dim and distant group with the utmost care. Apaches beyond doubt, a dozen, and coming this way, and these, too, have a couple of horses. Can they have overpowered his men, ambushed and murdered them, then secured their mounts? Is the whole Chiricahua tribe, reinforced by a swarm from the Sierra Blanca, concentrating on him now? The silence about him is ominous. Not an Indian has shown along the range for half an hour, and now these fellows to the east are close to the copse. In less than twenty minutes there will be five times his puny force around him. Is there no hope of rescue?