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Sunset Pass - or Running the Gauntlet Through Apache Land
by Charles King
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"You mustn't be sitting here all in the dark," said Pike. "Keep up a little fire, Ned, my boy. It's so far back and so far up the hill that the Indians cannot possibly see the light it may make even were they to come around to the east side of the mountain. They won't to-night, though. They've found papa's stock of whiskey and brandy and are already half drunk. They'll lie around there all night long and never come hunting for us until after sunrise to-morrow, if they do then. We'll just have fun with these fellows until the cavalry come from Verde, as come they will, I haven't a doubt, now that papa has found that he was cut off and has ridden back on the trail to meet and hurry the troops. He knows well that you and Jim and I could take care of Nellie and stand off these beggars until he could reach us. Now, light the lantern and stow it in that niche yonder. And you, Kate, lie down and cover yourself and the children with blankets. I'm going out where I can watch what they're doing."

So saying, Pike took his rifle and the field glasses and, after a word with Jim, passed around to the east front of the ledge. It was too dark to enable him to venture down the bowlders, or to attempt to climb again to the top of the rock, but he found a spot among the stunted trees from which he could just see the back part of the baggage wagon and the Apaches flitting about it in the light of their fire. Leveling his glasses he could make out that several of the Indians were grouped about some object in the road, and presently one or two came running to the spot with buckets of water which they dashed over a prostrate form. It was Manuelito, who had probably fainted dead away.

Then, as the Mexican apparently began to recover his senses, he was lifted roughly from the ground and borne, moaning and feebly struggling, towards the wagon. Into this he was tossed head foremost, so that only his feet and legs were visible to the anxious watcher up the hill. Securely bound, and already half dead from the tortures inflicted on him, unable to move hand or foot, the poor wretch lay there, alternately praying and weeping. What the next move of the Apaches would be was not long a matter of doubt. The whole band, with the exception of their sentinels, were now dancing and leaping about their captive, singing some devil-inspired chant, which occasionally gave place to yells of triumph. Presently the younger men began piling up wood under the back of the wagon—under the Mexican's manacled feet; and then brands and embers were thrust underneath. Pike turned sick with horror and helplessness at the sight, for he knew instantly what it meant. The wagon was to be the wretched Manuelito's funeral pyre. They meant to burn him to death by inches. Suddenly a bright flame leaped up from the bottom of the stack of fuel; broader, brighter, fiercer it grew until it lapped up over the floor of the wagon. A scream of agony rang through the Pass, answered by jeering laughter and fiendish yells. The next minute the whole band were circling round the wagon in a wild war-dance; their yells, their savage song, completely drowned the shrieks of the tortured man. The whole wagon was soon a mass of flames, and more fuel was added. Presently the rear axle came down with a crash, sending showers of sparks whirling through the night air, and Pike turned away faint and trembling.

Another instant, however, and every faculty was on the alert, every nerve strung to its highest tension, and the old soldier sprang back to the cave in answer to Jim's call.

"Look!" whispered the negro. "Look down there! There's some one moving among those rocks."



CHAPTER VII.

PIKE'S STRANGE DREAM.

Kneeling behind their rocky barrier the two men silently peered into the darkness down the hill. The great ledge of rock under which they were hiding concealed from their view the burning fires of the Indians down in the roadway to the east. But the reflection of the fire could be plainly seen on the rocks and trees on the north side of the Pass. Here and there stray beams of light shot through the firs and cedars and stunted oaks that lay below them among the bowlders; and somewhere down among these little trees, watchful Jim declared that he had seen something white moving cautiously and stealthily to and fro. Pike closely questioned him, whispering his inquiries so as not to catch the ears of Kate or the children, but Jim stoutly declared that he could not be mistaken. He had marked it twice, moving from place to place, before he had quit his post and called to the corporal to come and verify for himself what he was sure he had seen. For a few moments Pike thought that it might be the Apache sentinel who had, possibly, left his position on the little hill across the road, and was seeking on his own account some clue to the whereabouts of the fugitives from the camp. Pike had seen one or two Indians running up the road to where the sentinel was stationed in order to give him some of the plunder which they had taken from the wagon, and it was now so dark that he could no longer see objects out on the plain, and, as he could hear approaching horsemen just as well on this side of the road as on that, it was quite possible that this Indian was the cause of Jim's warning.

Several minutes passed without either of them seeing anything. Then suddenly Jim's hand was placed on the corporal's arm, and in a low, tremulous voice he whispered: "Look! Look!"

Following with his eyes the direction indicated by Jim's hand, Pike could just see, probably two hundred or two hundred and fifty yards away down the hillside, something dirty white in color, very slowly and very stealthily creeping from one bowlder to another. The tops and crests of the trees and bowlders, as has been said, were tinged by the light of the fires still burning down in the roadway. The Indian yells were gradually ceasing as, one after another, seemingly overcome by the liquor that they had been drinking, they subsided into silence. A number of them, however, still kept up their monotonous dance, varied every now and then by a yell of triumph; but the uproar and racket was not to be compared with what had been going on during the torture to which Manuelito had been subjected before they had mercifully, though most horribly, put an end to his sufferings.

Nothing but the embers of the wagon and the unconsumed iron work, of course, now remained in the road. Pike judged too that the ambulance had been burned, and that nothing remained of that. But all thought as to what was going on among the Indians in the Pass was now of little account as compared with the immediate presence of this object below him. Could it be one of the Apaches? Could it be the sentinel from the other side? Its stealthy movements and the noiseless way in which it seemed to flit from rock to rock gave color to his supposition, and yet it appeared unnatural to Pike that any one of the Indians should separate himself from his comrades and go on a still hunt in the dead of the night for traces of their hated foes.

"I cannot see it now," whispered Jim. "Where is he gone?"

"Behind that big rock that you see touched by the firelight down yonder. Our trail is just about half way. Look! There it is again! Nearer, too, by fifty yards. I wish he'd get on top of one of those bowlders where the light would strike him. Then we might make him out. By Jove! He's coming up the hill. Whatever you do, don't fire. I'll tend to him."

With straining eyes they watched the strange, stealthy approach of the mysterious object. Every now and then it would totally disappear from sight and then, a moment or two afterwards, could again be dimly seen, crouching along beside some big rock or emerging behind the thick branches of some stunted tree. Nearer it came until Pike was sure it must have reached the "trail" they had made in their journeys up and down the hill.

"I never saw an Apache that could move about in the dark as quickly as that fellow. Jim, by Jimminy, I'll bet it's no Indian at all!"

"What is it, then?" muttered Jim, whose teeth would chatter a little. He had all a darkey's dread of "spooks" and was more afraid of a possible ghost than an actual Tonto.

"That's a lynx or a wild-cat, man! They have a dingy white coat to their backs, in places at least, and you've only stirred up some mighty small game. See here, Jim, you're getting nervous. I'll have to call Ned out here with his little Ballard to take your place if you are going to—There! What did I tell you?"

A heap of fresh fuel—probably dry cedar boughs—had just been thrown on the coals by some of the determined dancers down in the road and a broad glare of firelight illumined the Pass. Again the rocks and trees down in front of the cave were brilliantly tinged, and, as though determined to have a good look at these strange "goings on," there suddenly leaped from the darkness and appeared in view upon the flat top of one of the biggest bowlders a little four-footed creature gazing with glowing eyes upon the scene below.

"There's your Indian, James, my boy," softly laughed Pike and, turning, he called back into the cave:

"Ned, are you asleep?"

"No," was the prompt answer. "Do you want me, Pike?"

"Come here and I'll show you a pretty shot for your Ballard."

Ned was at his side in an instant, bringing his little rifle with him, and the old soldier pointed down the hill.

"That's what Jim took for an Apache," he said.



"So did you, Pike; you needn't try to make fun of me," was Jim's answer, half surly, half glad, because his fears were now removed.

"Is it a panther?" whispered Ned. "Oh!—can't I take a pop at him?"

"Not a shot. It would simply be telling those blackguards where we were hiding and spoil all the fun I expect to have in the morning. That's no panther; they have a tawny hide; but it's the biggest catamount or wild-cat I ever set eyes on. Now go back to Kate, bundle up in your blankets and keep warm and go to sleep. Jim and I stand guard to-night."

And, obediently, the boy crept away. Pike looked after him with moistening eyes—all his jovial, half-laughing manner changing in an instant.

"God bless the little man! He's as brave and plucky as a boy could be, and hasn't so much as whimpered once," muttered the ex-corporal to himself. "What would I not give to know where his father was this night!"

Then he turned to Jim who had somewhat sulkily drawn away to the other end of the little parapet.

"Come back, Jim, my boy. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," he said. "You were perfectly right in keeping such close watch on everything and anything the least suspicious and I was wrong if I ridiculed it. Now we've got to divide the night between us. You lie down at once and go to sleep. I'll keep guard till one or half past; then you relieve me until daybreak."

And Jim, nothing loth, crept back towards the glowing coals and rolled himself in his heavy blanket, leaving the old corporal to his solitary reflections, and these were of a character so gloomy, so full of anxiety and dread, that one only marvels how he was able to keep up, before Kate and the children, the appearance of jollity and confidence that had marked throughout this trying day his whole demeanor.

"I would give anything to know where the captain is to-night!" again he muttered as his weary eyes gazed over the jagged hillside below him. The Indian fires were waning again and the gleams of light on rock and tree were growing fainter and fainter. The sounds of savage revelry, too, were more subdued, though a hoarse, monotonous chant came up from below. As has been said, Pike's watch-tower and fortress was fully a quarter of a mile south of the road and about a third of a mile from the abandoned camp, but in the absolute silence that reigned in every other quarter the sounds from the Apache war-dance in that clear mountain air were almost distinctly audible. The awful groans and cries of Manuelito were still ringing in his ears, and, to himself, the old soldier confessed that his nerve was not a little tried by the fearful sights and sounds of the early evening. It was poor preparation for the fight that he felt morally certain would speedily follow the rising of the morrow's sun, but Pike had been through too many an Indian war and in too many tight places before to "lose his grip," as he expressed it, now.

"If I only had those poor little kids safe with their father nothing would suit me better than to be here with four or five of the old 'Troop' and let the whole of the Apache nation try to rout me out," he said to himself. "Even as it is, I'm bloodthirsty enough now, after what I've seen and heard to-night, to be impatient for their attack. By gad! we've got a surprise in store for them if only Jim don't get stampeded."

Turning to listen for sounds from his little garrison, Pike could distinguish two that were audible and that prevailed above all or any others: Kate was tearfully moaning and praying aloud; Jim placidly snoring.

"That nigger could lie down and go to sleep, by thunder, if he knew the world was coming to an end in less than an hour. I'll have to watch here till nearly dawn and have the strongest coffee I can brew all ready for him or he'll be going to sleep on his post and letting those hounds crawl right upon us. Coffee's a good idea! I'll have some myself."

So saying the veteran stole back into the cave, noiselessly filled the battered coffee-pot and set it on the coals, said a few reassuring words to Kate and begged her to remember him in her prayers, laughed at her doleful and despairing reply and returned to his post.

All quiet. Even the wild-cat had disappeared and there was now no longer light by which he could have detected the creature. Pike almost wished he hadn't gone, for, as he grimly said, the fellow might have been good company and kept him from getting sleepy. Little by little the Indian chant was getting drowsy and the weird dancers, some of the younger braves, tired of the sport when there were neither admiring squaws or approving old chiefs to look on. The chiefs in this case, of course, had consumed the greater portion of the whiskey and were now sleeping off its soporific effects, and the youngsters could only remain where they were, keep watch and ward against surprise, and make no move in any direction until their elders should be themselves again, unless the sudden coming of enemies should compel them to rouse their leaders from their drunken slumbers and skip like so many goats for the highest parts of the mountain.

Looking at his watch as he sipped his tin of coffee Pike noticed that it was now eleven o'clock. "Oh, if I only knew that all was well with the captain," he muttered. "And if I only knew where Sieber and the cavalry were to-night."

Not until after two o'clock in the morning did the old soldier decide that it was time to "turn over the command" and seek a little rest himself. He knew that he would not be half fit for the responsibilities of the coming day unless he could get a few hours' sleep, and as Jim had now been snoring uninterruptedly for over four hours, Pike concluded to call him, give him some strong coffee and some sharp instructions, and put him "on post." It took no little shaking and kicking to rouse the boy, but presently he sat up, just as he had done at the ambulance, with the yawning inquiry, "What's the matter?"

"Nearly half-past two, Jim, and your turn for guard. Stir out here, now. Douse your head with some of this cold water. It will freshen you up. Then I'll give you a good tin of coffee."

Jim obeyed, and after stumbling stupidly around a moment, and then having a gourd or two of water dashed over his face and neck, he pronounced himself all right and proceeded to enjoy the coffee handed him.

"Now, Jim," said Pike, "the wild-cat's gone, and no Apaches will be apt to prowl up here to-night, but I want you to keep the sharpest lookout you ever did in all your life—not only over their movements down in the road, but for cavalry coming from the west. There's just no telling how soon those fellows may be out from Verde, and when they come we want to know it. The Indians have their sentries out, so they evidently expect them. Watch them like a hawk, but don't give any false alarm or make any noise. Let me sleep until it begins to get light, then call me. Now, can you do it?"

"Of course I can, corporal, but where are you going to sleep?"

"Right here by you. I'll hand your blankets and mine out by the parapet, so that if you want me, all you have to do is put out your hand. If you are chilly, or get so towards daybreak, throw that saddle blanket over your shoulders."

For a long time, despite fatigue and watching, Pike could not get to sleep. He lay there looking up at the stars shining in the clear heavens and thinking how peaceful, how far removed from strife or battle, they seemed to be. Then he kept an eye on Jim, and was glad to note that the darkey seemed alert and aware of his responsibilities, for every few minutes he would creep out and peer around the shoulder of the ledge where he could get a better view of anything going on down in the road, and, after half an hour of this sort of thing, he reported to Pike that he "reckoned the whole gang had gone to sleep down there." The old trooper assured him, however, that some must be on the alert and warned him to relax in no way his vigilance, and then at last wearied Nature asserted her rights, and the soldier fell asleep.

Four o'clock came,—five o'clock,—and there had been no sound from below. Then, far in the east the skies began to hoist their colors in honor of the coming Day God, and rich crimson and purple soon blended with the richer gold, and all around the rocky fastness the pale, wan light of the infant morn stole over rock and tree, and still old Pike slept, but not the deep, restful slumber of three hours before. He was dreaming, and his dreams were troubled, for his limbs were twitching; he rolled over and moaned aloud; inarticulate sounds escaped from his lips; but still, as one laboring with nightmare, he could not wake—could not shake off the visions that oppressed him. In his sleep he saw, and saw beyond possibility of doubt, that the Apaches were hurriedly rousing their comrades; that they were quickly picking up their rifles and then nimbly speeding up the rocks; that even as they came towards him up the mountain side several of their number went crouching along towards the east and eagerly watching the roadway through the Pass, and, following their fierce eyes, he could see, winding up the gorge, coming at a trot, a troop of the longed-for cavalry—coming not from the west, as he had expected, but from the direction of the magnificent sunrise that flashed on their carbines and tinged the campaign hats with crimson. At their head rode two officers, and one, he knew at once, must be his old captain, but why that bandage about his head? Why the rude sling in which his arm was carried? Plainly visible though they were to him, the Apaches were completely hidden from the approaching troops. Two minutes' ride brought the leaders to the smouldering ruins of the baggage wagon, at sight of which, and the charred and unrecognizable body in their midst, his captain had groaned aloud, then forced his "broncho" up the rocky path to where they had made their camp, and then, when he saw the ruined ambulance and all the evidences of Apache triumph, he reeled in his saddle and would have fallen headlong had not two stout troopers held him while their young lieutenant thrust a flask of brandy between the ashen lips; and then in his wild vision Pike saw them ride on and on up the road right beneath them—only a quarter of a mile away—never heeding, never looking for him and his precious charges. He strove to shout: he screamed aloud, yet only a suffocated groan seemed to issue from his lips; he shouted to Jim to fire and so attract their attention, but there was no response; and then, in his agony, he started up, wide awake in an instant, and, hurling off his blankets, seized his rifle and sprang to his feet.

Broad daylight; sunbeams dancing through the trees; and there, doubled up at the back of the parapet, lay that scoundrel Jim—asleep on guard. One vehement kick and curse he gave him: then peered over the barrier down the rocky hillside. God of heaven! what a sight met his eyes! The Apaches were almost on them.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE CAPTAIN'S RIDE.

It is high time now that we should hear something of Captain Gwynne himself, and leave for the time our little garrison in the cave at Sunset Pass. Let us follow the movements of the father for whom the children were so anxiously and tearfully praying.

Galloping away on Pike's horse in close pursuit, as he supposed, of Manuelito and the mules, the captain had turned south the moment he cleared the rocky buttresses that formed the western gateway to the Pass. He had reasoned that the Mexican would not dare go back along the road on which they came, because in so doing he must infallibly run straight into the Apaches, who were following in pursuit. Knowing, as did Pike, that Manuelito was well acquainted with the short cut through the mountains down to the valley of the Verde, miles to the south of the winding and roundabout way on which they were compelled to come by road; knowing, too, that this trail was far to the south of where they had seen the Indians' signal fires,—Gwynne's whole idea seemed to be that Manuelito would take the shortest line to reach that rough but easily known trail. He did not hesitate, then, a moment in turning short to the south, and riding confidently along to the western foothills, expecting every moment to hear the bray of the mules or the sound of their hoof beats. He knew that the moment these creatures heard the hoof beats of his own horse, they would be almost sure to signal. Just what to do with Manuelito himself, he had not yet determined; but it was his purpose to force him back to camp at the point of the pistol, if necessary; then to bind him to the wagon; make him drive, at least until they reached Fort Wingate over in New Mexico beyond the Navajo Reservation, and turn him over there to the military authorities for such disposition as they might choose to make of him. Of course, he would have no further employment in Arizona, for his character was blasted forever. Mile after mile, however, the captain rode without hearing one of the anticipated sounds, and the further he rode the lighter it grew. Far down, to the south, now, he could dimly see objects that looked like four-footed creatures, moving rapidly. Unluckily, he had with him only a light, short-ranged pair of glasses, and he could not distinctly make out what they were; but believing that they could be nothing but Manuelito and the mules, he put spurs to his weary horse, and pushed rapidly in pursuit—wondering, however, how it was that the Mexican, with the slow-moving mules, could have got so far to the front. Five miles further he rode and by that time the sun was up above the mountains of New Mexico, over to the east, and lighting up the whole plateau to his right. By this time, too, the objects, of which he had been in pursuit, had totally disappeared from his sight, and looking around him he could see nowhere sign of hoof or any trail that would indicate that the mules had come that way. However, as he might be anywhere from ten yards to ten miles from the exact line Manuelito traveled, this gave him no concern. He decided that he would push on until he came upon the cavalry trail up which he had ridden a year before on an expedition with their good guide Sieber to Chevelon Fork. By this time, too, he knew that he must be twelve miles from camp, and that in all probability the Indians had left their position west of Snow Lake, and were already coming in pursuit. He dreaded to think of the peril in which his children might be; but he had every confidence in Pike; he believed in Jim's pluck and fighting qualities, and he reasoned that it would be one or two o'clock before the Indians could possibly reach the Pass, and that he could easily get back long before that time. Riding, therefore, still further to the south, he pursued his search for an hour longer, and then came suddenly upon a sight that thrilled his heart with hope and joy. Right before him, coming across the southern edge of the plateau, and winding up the mountains to the left, was an unmistakable cavalry trail, not more than a day or two old. Evidently some troop was out from Verde and had taken the old short cut to Chevelon Fork, expecting by that route to make the quickest time to the Sunset crossing of the Colorado River. In all probability this was one of the troops coming out in search of and to succor him and his party. Reining his jaded horse to the left, the captain rapidly followed on the trail. He reasoned that the four-footed creatures that he took to be the mules were in all probability a portion of the pack-train of the troop that had so recently passed along, or it might be one or two troopers who had been making scouts to the right or to the left of the trail, and were now following the main body. All thought of pursuing Manuelito further was abandoned. His sole object was to overtake, as quickly as possible, the little command of cavalry that he knew to be in his path, and then to guide them by the shortest line back to Sunset Pass, and to the defence of the dear ones there awaiting him. If he had good luck, he might catch them before they had gone many miles. The trail he knew would speedily lead him over into the valley of Chevelon Fork, and following this they would emerge on the east side of the mountain. Perhaps it might be fortunate that he did not overtake them until they were east of the range; for the Apaches would certainly not expect the cavalry to come from the Colorado side of the mountain; but would be looking for them from the west, and the chances, therefore, would be all the more in favor of their dealing them a crushing blow, and punishing them as they deserved for their assault on defenseless women and children.

On, on he rode, urging his horse as rapidly as it was possible for him to go over the rocky, broken trail. Two hours' ride brought him no nearer, apparently, to the comrades he was pursuing. Three hours' ride brought him down into the valley of Chevelon Fork and half way through the range. It was not until one o'clock that he found himself at such a point that he could look forward and see part of the country toward the Colorado Chiquito; but not a vestige of the cavalry or pack-train was anywhere in sight, and his horse was now so weary that he could only answer with a groan the touch of the spur, and could not by any possibility accelerate his speed. Two o'clock came, and the anxious father found himself, he knew not how many miles away from Sunset Pass,—away from the children so anxiously praying for him, and awaiting his coming.

He was growing faint from long fasting, and the horse was so jaded that the captain dismounted and was fairly towing him along behind him with the bridle rein. In this way they had slowly and painfully climbed a steep and rocky ascent where the trail seemed to make a short cut across a deep bend of the stream, and reaching the summit they stopped to rest, panting hard with fatigue. Again the captain resorted to his little glasses and looked long and eagerly over the broad stretch of country to the east, but it was all in vain. No living creatures were in sight.

Directly in front, the trail wound downwards over an incline so steep that it looked as though horses and mules could never have made those hoof tracks, but that only goats could have gone that way. The poor old bay looked piteously at his master as though imploring him not to force him to undertake that steep descent, but Gwynne could show no mercy now. He had come too far to turn back. His only hope, if he could not find the scouting party, was to make his way along the east side of the range back to the little camp in Sunset Pass. He prayed God to watch over and protect his little ones, and then, with almost a sob rising to his throat, he tried to speak cheerfully to poor "Mac;" he patted the drooping head of his faithful old servitor and, calling to him to follow, he pressed forward, and half sliding, half stepping, he began the steep descent. The poor horse braced his fore feet and stiffened his knees and came skating over the loose slate after him. All went tolerably well until they were about two hundred feet from the rushing waters of the fork, foaming and swirling over the rocks below, and there, coming upon a sharp point around which they had to make their way, Gwynne had taken only three or four steps downward and was about to turn and speak encouragingly again to "Mac," when the horse's fore feet seemed to shoot from under him; he rallied, gathered himself, stumbled, and then, plunging heavily forward, crashed down upon his master, rolled completely over him, and then went sliding and pawing desperately to the edge of the rocky precipice, over which he shot, a huge, living bowlder and fell with a thud upon the jagged rocks below. For some minutes Gwynne lay where he had been hurled, stunned and senseless; then he slowly revived, found that his left arm was severely wrenched and bruised, and that the blood was streaming from a long gash in his forehead. Slowly and painfully he made his way to the foot of the steep, bathed his head in the cool waters and bound it up as well as he could with his big silk handkerchief. He was fainter, weaker now, than he had been before, but never for an instant could he forget the little ones at the Pass.

"Oh, God help me and bring me back to them in time," he prayed; and then, holding his maimed left arm in his right hand, and with one backward look up the canon at the now lifeless carcass of poor "Mac," he staggered wearily on, following the trail of the cavalry.



Late that evening, just as darkness was settling down over the valley of the Colorado Chiquito, the soldiers of a little detachment, chatting gleefully around their bivouac fires and sipping their fragrant coffee, were startled by the sudden sight of a man with ghastly, blood-stained features and dress, who reeled blindly into their midst and then fell forward upon his face, to all appearances dead.

Some of them, believing Indians to be upon them, sprang for their arms; others bent to the aid of the stricken man. They turned him over on his back, brought water and bathed the blood from his face, and then a sergeant cried:

"My God! What can have happened? It's Captain Gwynne! Here, Murphy, call the lieutenant, quick!"



In an instant the young officer commanding the party came running to the scene and bent breathlessly over the senseless form.

"It is Captain Gwynne," he said; "bring more water. Go to my pack, one of you, and get the sponge you'll find there. Fetch me my flask, too. Which way did he come? Did none of you see?"

"None, sir. The first we knew he was right over us. He never spoke a word, but fell like a log."

And then the rough-looking, bearded, anxious faces hovered about the prostrate man. His heart-beats were so faint that the young officer was terribly alarmed. No surgeon was with the little party and he hardly knew what to do. The whiskey forced down Gwynne's throat seemed powerless to revive him. Full an hour he lay almost motionless, then little by little the pulse grew firmer and respiration audible. At last there was a long, deep sigh, but still he did not open his eyes. Consciousness returned only very slowly, and when Mr. Hunter had called him by name time and again and begged him to speak, he sighed even more deeply than before, the lids slowly drew back, and the almost sightless eyes looked feebly around. Then, with sudden flash of memory, the poor captain strove to rise. "My babies!" he moaned; "my babies!"

"Where did you leave them, captain? Tell us. I'll send for them instantly," said Hunter. "Sergeant, saddle up right off. This means something."

More whiskey, a long draught, and more cold water, presently revived him so that he could speak collectedly.

"I left them with Pike—in the Pass. My Mexican ran away with the mules—followed and found your trail—my horse fell on me and then rolled over a precipice—killed. I've come on foot ever since."

"Thank God, you're here safe anyhow! Now lie still. I'll leave a guard with you and we'll go as fast as we can through the darkness and find Ned and Nellie."

"No! no! I must go. I will go, too. See, I can stand. Give me a horse."

And so, finding him determined and rapidly regaining strength, Hunter made the captain eat all he could bear to swallow then, and, stowing more food in their saddle bags, away went the gallant little troop hurrying through the starlit night for Sunset Pass and rescue.

But the way was long; road or trail there was none. Over rugged height, through deep ravine, they forced their way, but not until all the sky was blushing in the east did they come to the old Wingate road, and the gloomy entrance to the Pass. Up they rode at a steady trot, Gwynne and Hunter leading, and, at a sudden turn of the road, far in towards the western side, their horses recoiled, snorting with fear, from a heap of smouldering embers, in the midst of which lay a fearful something,—the charred and hissing body of a human being. Gwynne groaned aloud at the sight and then drove his horse up a rocky pathway to the left, the others following. There lay the smoking ruins of an ambulance with scraps of clothing heaped about on every side, and here the stricken father's waning strength left him entirely. With one heartbroken cry, "My babies—my little ones. They are gone! gone!" he was only saved from falling by the prompt action of two stalwart troopers.

In ten minutes, supporting the fainting soldier as best they could, the detachment was marching rapidly westward.

"Sieber with the scouts can't be farther away than Jarvis Pass. We'll meet him," said Hunter to his sergeant, "and trail these Scoundrels to their holes."

His words were true. Before ten o'clock they had met, not only Sieber, but Turner's troop from Verde, coming full tilt, and Gwynne was now turned over to the doctor's care.



CHAPTER IX.

THE ATTACK.

Startled suddenly from his sleep, it was indeed a dreadful sight, and one calculated to shake the nerves of many an old soldier, that greeted Pike's eyes as he peered over the rocky parapet in front of him. One glance was sufficient. Looking down behind the wall, he seized Jim by the throat, shaking him vigorously and at the same time placing his other hand over his mouth so that he might make no outcry. "Wake up, Jim! Wake up! and see what your faithlessness has brought upon us! Look down the hill here! Look through that loophole and see what you've done!"

Terrified, with his eyes starting from their sockets, Jim obeyed, and his black face showed in an instant the full realization of the scene before him.

"Now, is your rifle all ready?" whispered Pike. "Don't rouse those poor little people in there until we have to. They must stay way back in the cave. Now, observe strictly what I tell you: I want you to aim at the taller of those two Indians who are the leaders. Do not fire until I give the word; but be sure you hit. Recollect now, you've got to fire down hill, and the bullets fly high. Aim below his waistband, then you'll probably strike him either through the heart or the upper chest. Now, go to your loophole and stay there. Are you ready, Jim?"

"I'm ready, boss. Just wait one minute until I get my rifle through here."

Kneeling beside his own loophole, Pike once more looked down the hill. Not over a hundred yards away—crouching along, following step by step the trail that he and Jim had made—pointing with their long bony fingers at every mark on the ground or upon the trees—two lean, keen-eyed, sinewy Apaches were slowly and silently moving up the mountain side in a direction that would take them diagonally across the front of the hill. Behind them, among the trees and bowlders, and spread out to the right and left, came others,—all wary, watchful, silent,—as noiseless and as stealthy in their movements as any panther could possibly be. Pike could see that they were armed mostly with rifles. He knew that very few of them had breech-loaders at that time; but still that there were some among them which they had obtained by murdering and robbing helpless settlers, or mail messengers.

With abundant ammunition close at hand, with the advantage of position and the fact that he meant to have the first fire, Pike calculated that the moral effect would be such that he could drive them back, and that they would not resume the attack until after a consultation among themselves. The two who were so far in front of the others were steadily approaching the little barricade, only the top of which could readily be seen from below and was hardly distinguishable from the general mass of rocks and bowlders by which it was surrounded.

He knew it could not be long, however, before the quick eyes of the Apaches detected it, and that they would know at once what it meant. "However," thought Pike, "before they see it those two villains in front will be near enough for us to have a sure shot, and then, I don't care how soon they know we're here. Now, Jim," he whispered, "watch your man!—recollect—you aim at that tall fellow on your own side,—I'll take the little, skinny cuss—the one who is just turning towards us now. They are not more than seventy-five yards away. Aim low!"—There was a moment of breathless silence. "Are you ready, Jim?" whispered Pike.

"Yes, all ready, corporal."

"All right!—One minute now—get you a good aim!—Draw your bead on him!—Wedge your rifle in the rock, if necessary! Got it?"

"I think so, corporal."

"All right then! Fire!"

Bang! bang! rang out almost simultaneously the reports of two rifles. The smoke floated upward. Pike and Jim had the good sense not to attempt to lift their heads or peer over the barriers, but to content themselves with looking through the loopholes. One look revealed the scene. "The little, skinny cuss," as Pike had called him, clasping his hands to his breast, had fallen head foremost among the rocks up which he was climbing. But the tall Indian, giving a spring like that of a cat, had leaped behind a bowlder full ten feet away from him, and the next instant,—bang! went his rifle, and a bullet whizzed overhead and struck, flattening itself upon the rocks.

"Oh, you've missed him, Jim," said Pike, reproachfully. "Now, look out for the others!"

The rest of the Apaches, hearing the shots, with the quickness of thought, had sprung for shelter behind the neighboring trees or rocks. Not one of their number, by this time, failed to know just where these shots had come from; and in a minute more, from all over the hillside below, thick and fast, the reports of the rifles were ringing on the morning air and the bullets came singing about the stone parapet, some of them chipping off little fragments from the top of the parapet itself, but most of them striking the great mass of rocks overhead and doing no harm whatever, except to spatter little fragments of lead upon the parapet and its gallant defenders.

"Watch for them! Keep your eyes peeled, Jim! Every time you see a head or an arm or a body coming from behind a rock or tree, let drive at it! It will give the idea that there are more of us up here than we really have, and we've got all the ammunition we can possibly use. Don't be afraid! I'll tell you when to save your cartridges. There's one now! Watch him!" Bang! went Pike's rifle. It was a good shot; for they could see that the bullet barked the tree just where the Apache was standing; but apparently it did no harm to the Indian himself; for the answering shot of his rifle was prompt, and the bullet whizzed dangerously near.

"That fellow's a cool hand!" said Pike. "Watch him, Jim, you're a little further that way. He'll be out again in a minute. What's the reason your man hasn't fired?—the man behind the rock that I told you to kill?"

"Because I'm certain that I hit him," said Jim, "and I reckon by this time he isn't doing any more shooting."

"Watch carefully, anyhow," was the reply. "They'll soon try, when they find there are very few of us, to crawl up the hill upon us. Then's the time you've got to note every movement! See! there comes one fellow behind that rock now. He's crawling on all fours. Thinks we can't see him. Now just hold on until he comes around that little ledge!—I'll take him! I've got him! Now!"

And again Pike's rifle rang out, and to his intense delight the Indian sprang to his feet—staggered an instant—and then fell all in a heap, huddled up around the roots of the tree which he was just striving to reach. Some one down among the Indians gave a yell of dismay. Evidently the one who was shot was a man of some prominence among them—possibly a chief.



"They'll try and haul his body out of the way, Jim. Watch for at least one or two of them coming up there! He may be only wounded, and they'll try to get him into safety. If they do—fire at the first man you see!"

Another minute, and then both the rifles blazed again. Two daring young Indians had made a rush forward, and had attempted to seize their wounded comrade; but the shots of the rifles whistling close about their ears, caused them to desist, to throw themselves on their faces, and then to roll or crawl away behind the adjacent rocks. Evidently they didn't care to expose themselves to the chance of further loss. Two Indians lying dead, and one over behind a rock possibly wounded, was enough to discourage even an Apache.

"They'll show again in a minute, though, Jim. Keep watch! They won't go away and leave those two bodies there if they can possibly help themselves. Some of them will stay. Of course, they'll have a consultation and then see if they can't get at us from the flank or from the rear. They can't; but they don't know it. That'll be their next game."

And so for the next five or ten minutes the siege was carried on, Jim and the old corporal watching the hillside, but meantime there was consternation back in the cave. Poor old Kate mingled moaning with prayers and tears; little Nellie, frightened, of course, as any child would be, lay sobbing with her head buried in Kate's lap. But Ned, brave little man that he was, had grasped his rifle, the Ballard, of which so much has already been said, and, crouching eagerly forward, before Pike knew it, the boy was close beside him at the stone wall, and had placed his hand upon his arm.

"Corporal, let me come in here beside you, there's room for another. Do let me have one shot at them? Papa would if he were here, and I know it!"

This was altogether too much for Kate to bear. She dare not come forward, but from the dark recess in which she and Nellie were hidden, her cries and prayers broke forth again:

"For the love of all the saints, corporal, don't let that boy stay out there! Bring him back here to me! His father would kill me if anything happened to him! Oh, listen to me, Pike! Send the boy back again! Make him come!"

But so far from paying any attention to Kate's admonition, Pike turned with kindling eyes and patted the little fellow on the shoulder: "You're your father's own boy? Ned, and you shall stay here with me for the present at least, and if there should be a chance of a shot—one I can give you without exposing you—I'm going to let you have it. Kneel low down there, and don't lift your head above the parapet whatever you do! Stay just where you are."

With that the old trooper, whose rifle was still projecting through the loophole, again turned his attention to the Indians lurking among the rocks and bowlders down the hill. The two bodies still lay there—Jim's rifle covering them and threatening any Indians who might attempt to drag them away.

Every now and then, a black head would appear from behind some tree, but the instant it did so the darkey's rifle would ring out, the bullet would go whistling close beside it, the head would pop suddenly back, and Jim as promptly would re-load his rifle.

It was beginning to grow monotonous. The Indians—probably because they knew they were only wasting their scanty ammunition—had ceased firing, and were evidently calling to one another and signaling from behind the rocks and trees where they had taken refuge. So long as they remained down there in front Pike had no possible concern. His only fear, as has been said, was that they should make a combined rush. If they were to have sense enough to do that, and ignore the probability of losing three or four of their number in the attempt, it would be all over with the little party in the cave.

But the corporal had served too long among the Apaches to greatly dread any such move. They were already shaken by the severity of their reception and of their losses. He knew that they could not be aware that only two men and a little boy constituted the whole force of the defenders, for they would have come with a rush long before.

Their plan now would doubtless be to leave a few of their number in front to keep the besieged in check while the greater part of the band surrounded the big ledge and sought a means of getting at the little garrison from flank or rear.

What he hoped for was a chance of dealing them one more blow before they could crawl back out of range and presently the opportunity came. Two or three of the band who were farthest to the rear had managed to slip back some distance down the hill and occasional glimpses could now be caught of them as they stealthily made their way out towards the western slope. It was not long before their dirty white breech-clouts could be distinguished as they slowly and cautiously came creeping up hill.

"By George! Jim," muttered the old man with the ejaculation that with him supplied the place of trooper profanity—"I believe you're right about your Indian. You probably wounded him and he's lying behind that rock now, and those fellows are coming up to help him. Don't fire! They're too far away for a down-hill shot. Wait till I tell you. Now, Ned, my boy, run back and comfort Nellie a minute. I don't want you here where a glancing shot might hit you. The moment we get them started on the run, I'll call you."

Ned looked far from satisfied with the proposition, but the corporal was the commanding officer, and there was nothing to do but obey. He went reluctantly. "Mind, corporal, you've promised I should have a shot," he said, and Pike nodded assent, although he could not turn from his loophole. Another minute and the Henry rifle barked its loud challenge down the slope, and the old trooper's keen, set features relaxed in a grin.

"Now they've got two to lug," he muttered to Jim. "Lord! See that beggar roll over those rocks!"

Again there came yells and shots from down the hill but both were harmless. Cowed, apparently, by the sharp shooting of the defenders, the Apaches who had sought to rescue their wounded mate continued in hiding behind the rocks where they had taken shelter. The others, farther to the east, were slipping back as fast as they could, but studiously keeping out of sight of those death-dealing loopholes. Presently it was apparent to the corporal that a number of them had got together far down the hill and were holding excited controversy, probably as to the best means of getting possession of their dead friends and then, their living enemies. Pike looked at his watch. It was half after seven and they had been fighting an hour.

And now came a lull. Once in a long while some one of the besiegers would let drive a bullet at the loopholes, but Apache shooting was never of the best and though the lead spattered dangerously near, "the miss," quoth Pike, "is as good as any number of miles." On the other hand, whenever or wherever an Indian head, leg or arm appeared, it was instantly saluted by one, sometimes two, quick shots, and there could be no doubt whatever that the palefaces, as the Tontos supposed them all to be, were fully on the alert.

"Now, Jim, it won't be long before they will be showing around on all sides. Pile on a few more stones above that loophole that looks to the west. The next thing you know there'll be a head and a gun poked out from behind that shoulder of rock beyond you. I'll watch my side and keep a look on down the hill, too."

And now the hours seemed to drag with leaden weight. All was silence around them, yet Pike knew that this made their danger only the more imminent. He could nowhere see a sign of their late assailants except the stiffening bodies down the hill, but he had not a doubt that while some watched the front, most of them, making wide detours, were now lurking on every side, and looking for a possible opening. Every now and then he had to give a quick glance over his shoulder to see that Jim was alert and watchful. It would not do to have him fall asleep now. And then once in a while he listened, God only knows how wistfully, for the sound of cavalry coming across the westward plain. It surely was time for Sieber and the troops to be coming if the former had carried out his intentions. Pike could see nothing of the road towards Jarvis Pass and only a glimpse here and there of the plateau itself. The foliage in the larger trees was too thick. He longed to clamber to his watch-tower but felt well assured that one step outside the parapet would make him a target for the Indian rifles. First as an experiment he put his hat on a stick and cautiously raised it above their barricade. Two bullets instantly "zipped" over his head and dropped flat as pancakes from the rock overhead. The experiment was conclusive.

At last the straining ears of the watchers were attracted by strange sounds. Low calls in savage tongue from down the hill were answered on both sides and from above. The Indians had evidently thoroughly "reconnoitred" the position, and had found that there was actually no place around the rock from which they could see and open fire on the besieged. The sun was now high overhead. Odd sounds as of dragging objects began to be heard from the top of the rock, and this was kept up for fully an hour. Neither Pike nor Jim could imagine what it meant, but neither dared for an instant to leave his post.

It must have been eleven o'clock and after, when, all of a sudden, a black shadow rushed through the air, and Pike started almost to his feet as a huge log fell from above and bounded from the jagged rocks in front of them. Then came another, tumbling one upon the other, wedging and jostling, and speedily rising in a huge pile several feet high. More and more they came; then smaller ones; then loose dry branches and roots in quantities. And then, as the great heap grew and grew, an awful thought occurred to the old trooper. At first it seemed as though the Indians meant to try and form a "curtain," sheltered by which they could crawl upon their foes; but when the brushwood came, a fiercer, far more dreadful purpose was revealed. "My God!" he groaned, "they mean to roast us out."



CHAPTER X.

LITTLE NED'S SHOT.

From the babel of voices that reached old Pike's ears every now and then, and the bustle and noise going on overhead, he judged that there must be twenty or thirty Indians busily engaged in the work of heaping up firewood in front of the cave. The mountain side, as he well knew, was thickly strewn with dry branches, dead limbs, uprooted trees and all manner of combustible material, and the very warriors who, when around their own "rancheria," would have disdained doing a stroke of work of any kind, were now laboring like so many beavers to add to the great pile that was already almost on a level with the breastwork and not more than eight feet away. Some of the logs first thrown had rolled off and scattered down the slope, but enough had remained to make a sure foundation, and once this was accomplished the rest was easy work.

Poor Jim looked around imploringly at his superior.

"Ain't dey some way to stop that, corporal?" he asked.

"Don't you worry, Jim," was the prompt reply. "It will take them an hour more at least to get it big enough and then 'twill do no great harm. We can knock down our barricade so that they can't use it and fall back into the cave where it's dark and cool and where the smoke and flame can't reach us. Keep your eyes on your corner, man!" But though he spoke reassuringly, the old soldier felt a world of anxiety. Under cover of that huge heap of brushwood, growing bigger every minute, it would soon be possible for the Indians from below to crawl unseen close upon them, and set fire to the mass.

Even now he felt certain that there were several of the more daring of the Apaches lurking just around the corners which he and Jim were so faithfully guarding. The negro seemed so utterly abashed at his having been overcome by sleep during the hour before the dawn, and possibly so refreshed by that deep slumber, that now he was vigilance itself.

Within the cave old Kate had seen, of course, the falling of the logs and brushwood, and though she could not comprehend their object it served to keep in mind that their savage foes were all around her and her little charges, and to add to her alternate prayer and wailing. Unable to leave his post, Pike could only call sternly to her from time to time to cry shame upon her for frightening Nellie so, and to remind her that they had shot five Indians without getting a scratch themselves. "We can stand 'em off for hours yet, you old fool," he said, "and the boys from Verde are sure to get here to-day." And whether it was "old" or the "fool" in Pike's contemptuous remark, that stirred her resentment, it certainly resulted that Kate subsided into suffering and indignant protest. Then Ned's brave, boyish voice was heard.

"Corporal! Can't I come to you now? I'm no good here and I'm sick of the row Kate keeps up. You said you'd let me come back."

"Wait a few minutes, Ned. I want to be sure they are not sneaking around these corners," was the reply, followed almost instantly by the bang of Pike's carbine. Kate gave a suppressed shriek and the corporal a shout of exultation. Encouraged by the sound of his voice to suppose that the guard on the east side of the barrier was neglecting his watch, a daring young Apache crawled on all fours around the foot of the rock to take an observation. The black head came in view even as Pike was speaking and the fierce eyes peered cautiously at the breastwork, but the corporal never moved a muscle, and the savage, believing himself unseen, crawled still further into view, until half his naked body was in sight from the narrow slit through which the old trooper was gazing. The brown muzzle of the cavalry carbine covered the creeping "brave," and the next instant the loud report went echoing over the gorge and the Indian, with one convulsive spring, fell back upon the ground writhing in the agonies of death. In striving to drag the body of his comrade back behind the rock another Tonto ventured to show head and shoulder, and came within an ace of sharing his fate, for Pike's next shot whistled within an inch of the flattened nose, and Apache number two dodged back with wonderful quickness, and did not again appear.

This would tend to keep them from sneaking around that particular corner, thought Pike, and he only wished that Jim could have similar luck on his side, but the Indians had grown wary. Time and again the veteran glanced down the hill to see if there was any sign of their crawling upon him from below, but that threatening pile of brushwood now hid most of the slope from his weary, anxious eyes. The crisis could not be long in coming.

"O God!" he prayed, "save these little children. Bring us aid."

Poor old Pike! Even as the whispered words fell from his lips a low, crackling sound caught his ear. Louder it grew, and, looking suddenly to the left, he saw a thin curl of smoke rising through the branches and gaining every instant in volume. Louder, louder snapped the blazing twigs. Denser, heavier grew the smoke. Then tiny darts of flame came shooting upward through the top of the pile and then yells of triumph and exultation rang from the rock above and the hillside below. A minute or two more, and while the Indians continued to pour fresh fuel from above, the great heap was a mass of roaring flame and the heat became intolerable. A puff of wind drove a huge volume of smoke and flame directly into Jim's nook in the fortification, and with a shout that he could hold on no longer the negro dropped back into the cave, rubbing his blinded eyes.



"Come back, Jim! Quick!" shouted Pike. "Down with these stones, now! Kick them over!—but watch for Indians on your side. Down with 'em!" and suiting action to the word the old soldier rolled rock after rock down towards the blazing pyre, until his side of the parapet was almost demolished. Half blinded by smoke and the scorching heat, he lost sight for a moment of the shoulder of the ledge on the east side. Two seconds more and it might have been all over with him, for now, relying on the fierce heat to drive the defenders back, a young Apache had stepped cautiously into view, caught sight of the tall old soldier pushing and kicking at the rocks, and, quick as a cat, up leaped the rifle to his shoulder. But quicker than any cat—quick as its own flash—there sounded the sudden crack of a target rifle, the Indian's gun flew up and was discharged in mid-air, while the owner, clapping his hand to his face, reeled back out of sight. The bullet of the little Ballard had taken him just under the eye, and as Pike turned in amazement at the double report, saw the Apache fall, and then turned to his left—there knelt little Ned, his blue eyes blazing, his boyish form quivering with excitement and triumph. Pike seized him in his arms and fairly kissed the glowing face. "God bless you, my boy! but you are a little soldier if there ever was one!" was his cry. "Now all three of us must watch the front. Keep as far forward as you can, Jim. We've got to hold those hounds back—until the boys come!"



Until the boys come! Heavens! When would that be? Here was the day nearly half spent and no sign of relief for the little party battling so bravely for their lives at Sunset Pass. Where—where can the father be? Where is Al Sieber? Where the old comrades from Verde?

Let us see if we cannot find them, and then, with them, hasten to the rescue.

Far over near Jarvis Pass poor Captain Gwynne had been lying on the blankets the men eagerly spread for him, while the surgeon with Captain Turner's troops listened eagerly to the details of the night's work, and at the same time ministered to his exhausted patient. Turner, the other officers, and their favorite scout held brief and hurried consultation. It was decided to push at once for Sunset Pass; to leave Captain Gwynne here with most of his nearly worn-out escort; to mount the six Hualpai trailers they had with them on the six freshest horses, so as to get them to the scene of the tragedy as soon as possible, and then to start them afoot to follow the Apaches. In ten minutes Captain Turner, with Lieutenant Wilkins and forty troopers, was trotting off eastward following the lead of Sieber with his swarthy allies. Ten minutes more and Captain Gwynne had sufficiently revived to be made fully aware of what was going on, and was on his feet again in an instant. The surgeon vainly strove to detain him, but was almost rudely repulsed.

"Do you suppose I can rest one conscious minute until I know what has become of my babies?" he said. And climbing painfully into the saddle he clapped spurs to his horse and galloped after Turner's troop.

Finding it useless to argue, the doctor, with his orderly, mounted, too, and followed the procession. It was an hour before they came up with Turner's rearmost files and found burly Lieutenant Wilkins giving the men orders to keep well closed in case they had to increase the gait. The scouts and Sieber, far to the front, were galloping.

"What is it?" asked the doctor.

"Smoke," panted Wilkins. "The Hualpais saw it up the mountain south of the Pass."

Gwynne's haggard face was dreadful to see. The jar of the rough gallop had started afresh the bleeding in his head and the doctor begged him to wait and let him dress it again, but the only answer was a look of fierce determination, and renewed spurring of his wretched horse. He was soon abreast the head of the column, but even then kept on. Turner hailed him and urged him to stay with them, but entreaty was useless. "I am going after Sieber," was the answer. "Did you see the smoke?"

"No, Gwynne; but Sieber and the Hualpais are sure a big column went up and that it means the Apaches can't be far away. We're bound to get them. Don't wear yourself out, old fellow; stay with us!" but Gwynne pressed on. Far out to the front he could see that one of the Indian scouts had halted and was making signs. It took five minutes hard riding to reach him.

"What did you see? What has happened?" he gasped.

"Heap fire!" answered the Hualpai. "See?" But Gwynne's worn eyes could only make out the great mass of the mountain with its dark covering of stunted trees. He saw, however, that the scout was eagerly watching his comrades now so long a distance ahead. Presently the Indian shouted in excitement:

"Fight! Fight! Heap shoot, there!" and then at last the father's almost breaking heart regained a gleam of hope; a new light flashed in his eyes, new strength seemed to leap through his veins. Even his poor horse seemed to know that a supreme effort was needed and gamely answered the spur. Waving his hat above his head and shouting back to Turner "Come on!" the captain dashed away in pursuit of Sieber. Turner's men could hear no sound, but they saw the excitement in the signal; saw the sudden rush of Gwynne's steed, and nothing more was needed. "Gallop," rang the trumpet, and with carbines advanced and every eye on the dark gorge, still three miles before them, the riders of the beautiful "chestnut sorrel" troop swept across the plains.

Meantime the savage fight was going on and the defense was sorely pressed. Covered by the smoke caused by fresh armfuls of green wood hurled upon the fiery furnace in front of the cave, the vengeful Apaches had crawled to within a few yards of where the little breastwork had stood. Obedient to Pike's stern orders Kate had crept to the remotest corner of the recess and lay there flat upon the rock, holding Nellie in her arms. The corporal had bound a handkerchief about his left arm, for some of the besiegers, finding bullets of no avail, were firing Tonto arrows so that they fell into the mouth of the cave, and one of these had torn a deep gash midway between the elbow and the shoulder. Another had struck him on the thigh. Jim, too, had a bloody scratch. It stung and hurt and made him grit his teeth with rage and pain. Little Ned, sorely against his will, was screened by his father's saddle and some blankets, but he clung to his Ballard and the hope of at least one more shot.

And still, though sorely pressing the besieged, the Indians kept close under cover. The lessons of the morning had taught them that the pale faces could shoot fast and straight. They had lost heavily and could afford no more risks. But every moment their circle seemed closer to the mouth of the cave, and though direct assault could not now be made because of their great bonfire, the dread that weighed on Pike was that they should suddenly rush in from east and west. "In that event," said he to Jim, "we must sell our lives as dearly as possible. I'll have two at least before they can reach me."

Hardly had he spoken when bang came a shot from beyond the fire; a bullet zipped past his head and flattened on the rock well back in the cave. Where could that have come from? was the question. A little whiff of blue smoke sailing away on the wind from the fork of a tall oak not fifty feet in front told the story. Hidden from view of the besieged by the drifting smoke from the fire a young warrior had clambered until he reached the crotch and there had drawn up the rifle and belt tied by his comrades to a "lariat." Straddling a convenient branch and lashing himself to the trunk he was now in such a position that he could peer around the tree and aim right into the mouth of the rocky recess, and only one leg was exposed to the fire of the defense.

But that was one leg too much. "Blaze away at him, Jim," was the order. "We'll fire alternately." And Jim's bullet knocked a chip of bark into space, but did no further harm. "It's my turn now. Watch your side."

But before Pike could take aim there came a shot from the fork of the tree that well nigh robbed the little garrison of its brave leader. The corporal was just creeping forward to where he could rest his rifle on a little rock, and the Indian's bullet struck fairly in the shoulder, tore its way down along the muscles of the back, glanced upward from the shoulder blade, and, flattening on the rock overhead, fell almost before Ned's eyes. The shock knocked the old soldier flat on his face, and there came a yell of savage triumph from the tree, answered by yells from below and above. Ned, terror stricken, sprang to the old soldier's side, just as he was struggling to rise.

"Back! boy, back! They'll all be on us now. My God! Here they come! Now, Jim, fight for all you're worth."

Bang! bang! went the two rifles. Bang! bang! bang! came the shots from both sides and from the front, while the dusky forms could be seen creeping up the rocks east and west of the fire, yelling like fiends. Crack! went Ned's little Ballard again, and Pike seized the boy and fairly thrust him into the depths of the cave. A lithe, naked form leaped into sight just at the entrance and then went crashing down into the blazing embers below. Another Indian gone. Bang! bang! bang! Heavier came the uproar of the shots below. Bang! bang! "Good God!" groaned Pike. "Has the whole Apache nation come to reinforce them? Yell, you hounds—aye—yell! There are only two of us!" Shots came ringing thick and fast. Yells resounded along the mountain side, but they seemed more of warning than of hatred and defiance. Bang! bang! bang! the rifles rattled up the rocky slopes, but where could the bullets go? Not one had struck in the cave for fully ten seconds, yet the rattle and roar of musketry seemed redoubled. What can it mean? Pike creeps still further forward to get a shot at the first Indian that shows himself, but pain and weakness are dimming the sight of his keen, brave eyes; perhaps telling on his hearing. Listen, man! Listen! Those are not Indian yells now resounding down the rocks. Listen, Pike, old friend, old soldier, old hero! Too late—too late! Just as a ringing trumpet call, "Cease firing," comes thrilling up the steep, and little Ned once more leaps forward to aid him, the veteran falls upon his face and all is darkness.

Another moment, and now the very hillside seems to burst into shouts and cheers,—joy, triumph, infinite relief. Victory shines on face after face as the bronzed troopers come crowding to the mouth of the cave. Tenderly they raise Pike from the ground and bear him out into the sunshine. Respectfully they make way for Captain Turner as he springs into their midst and clasps little Nellie in his arms; and poor old Kate, laughing, weeping and showering blessings on "the boys," is frantically shaking hands with man after man. So, too, is Black Jim. And then, half carried, half led, by two stalwart soldiers, Captain Gwynne is borne, trembling like an aspen, into their midst, and, kneeling on the rocky floor, clasps his little ones to his breast, and the strong man sobs aloud his thanks to God for their wonderful preservation.

* * * * *

"Papa—papa, I shot an Indian!" How many a time little Ned has to shout it, in his eager young voice, before the father can realize what is being said.

"It's the truth he's telling, sir," said a big sergeant. "There's wan of 'em lies at the corner there with a hole no bigger than a pay under the right eye," and the captain knows not what to say. The surgeon's stimulants have restored Pike to consciousness, and Gwynne kneels again to take the old soldier's hands in his. Dry eyes are few. Hearts are all too full for many words. After infinite peril and suffering, after most gallant defense, after a night of terror and a day of fiercest battle, the little party was rescued, one and all, to life and love and such a welcome when at last they were brought back to Verde, where Pike was nursed back to strength and health, where Nellie was caressed as a heroine, and where little Ned was petted and well nigh spoiled as "the boy that shot an Indian"—and if he did brag about it occasionally, when he came east to school, who can blame him? But when they came they did not this time try the route of Sunset Pass.

THE END.

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