1. A RASH RESOLVE.
‘‘But you have come through all alone, my friend; why should I not go? I have been stationed among the Apaches for the last five years and have fought them all over Arizona. Surely I ought to know how to take care of myself.’’
The party thus addressed by the familiar diminutive of "Al" paused a moment before reply, an odd smile flitting about his bearded lips. A stronger, firmer type of scout and frontiersman than Al Sieber never sat in saddle in all Arizona in the seventies, and he was a noted character among the officers, soldiers, pioneers, and Apaches. The former respected and trusted him. The last named feared him as they did the Indian devil. He had been in fight after fight with them; had had his share of wounds, but—what the Apaches recoiled
‘‘It makes a difference, captain—their attacking me or you. I've been alive among 'em so many years that they have grown superstitious. Sometimes I half believe they think I can't be killed. Then, too, I may have slipped through unnoticed, but you—with all this outfit—why! you're sure to be spotted, followed, and possibly ambushed in Sunset Pass. It's the worst place along the route.’’
Captain Gwynne looked anxiously about him a moment. He was a hard-headed, obstinate fellow, and he hated to give up. Two months ago his wife had died, leaving to his care two dear little ones—a boy of nine and a girl of six. He soon determined to take them East to his home in far Pennsylvania. There was no Southern Pacific or any other Arizona railway in those days. Officers and their families who wanted to go East had to turn their faces westward, take
Now Captain Gwynne was what we called a "close" man. He could not bear the idea of spending something like a thousand dollars in taking himself, little Ned and Nellie, and their devoted old nurse, Irish Kate, by that long and expensive route. He had two fine horses and a capital family wagon, covered. He had a couple of stout mules and a good baggage wagon. Jim, his old driver, would go along to take care of "the Concord," as the family cart was termed. Manuelito, a swarthy Mexican, would drive the mules; the captain would ride his own pet saddle horse, Gregg, and a discharged soldier, whom he hired for the purpose,
The officers at Prescott shook their heads and endeavored to dissuade him, but the more they argued the more determined was he. There were tearful eyes among the ladies at Prescott barracks, where Mrs. Gwynne had been dearly loved, when they bade good-by to the children. But one fine day away went "the outfit;" stopped that night at Camp Verde, deep down in the valley; started again early in the morning, despite the protestations of the garrison, and that evening were camping among the beautiful pine woods high up on the Mogollon range. Sieber's pronunciation of the name—"Mogeyone"—will give you a fair idea of what it is really like.
‘‘Well, Sieber, I've argued this thing out with all Prescott and Verde,’’ said the captain at last. ‘‘I've sworn I wouldn't turn back, and so, by jinks, I'm going ahead. It's all open country around Snow Lake, and I can keep on the alert when we reach the Pass.’’
‘‘You know your business best, I suppose, captain, but—’’ and Sieber stopped abruptly and gazed through the open windows of the Concord at the two little forms huddled together, with such white faces, on the back seat.
‘‘Well, won't you at least wait and camp here a day or so? I'll go down by way of Wales Arnold's and get him to send up a couple of men. That won't be going back, and you'll be tolerably safe here. The cavalry won't be long getting out this way.’’
‘‘And meantime having my beasts eating barley by the bucketful so that I won't have enough to get through? No, Al, I've made calculations just how many days it will take me to get over to Wingate, and delay would swamp me. I don't mean to discredit your story, of course, but everybody, even at Verde, said the renegades were all down by Tonto Creek, and I cannot believe they would be out here to the northeast. I'm going ahead.’’
‘‘God guard you, baby,’’ he murmured, as finally he set her down. ‘‘Adios, Ned, my lad,’’ and he shook the little man heartily by the hand. ‘‘Good luck all! Now I must gallop to make up time.’’ He turned quickly away and went "loping" down the trail, but his gauntlet was drawn across his eyes two or three times before he disappeared from view. Two white little faces gazed wistfully after him and then into each other's eyes. Irish Kate muttered a blessing onthe gallant fellow's head. ‘‘Come on, Jim,’’ said the captain, with darkening face, and presently the little train was again in motion, winding over the range that, once passed, brings them in view of Snow Lake with the gloomy, jagged rocks bounding the horizon far beyond. There is a deep cleft that one sees in that barrier just as he emerges from the pine woods along the ridge, and that distant cleft is Sunset Pass.
HE DREW LITTLE NELL CLOSE TO HIM.
Though seldom traveled, the mountain road from For Verde over to Fort Wingate was almost always in fair condition. Rains were very few and did little damage, and so at a rapid, jingling trot the wagons lunged ahead while the captain and Pike, the retired trooper, rode easily alongside or made occasional scouts to the front.
‘‘And then we've got good old Pike, papa — and Kate here — I'm sure she could fight,’’ piped up little Nell, but there was no assent to this proposition from the lips of poor Kate. All along she had opposed the journey, and was filled with dread whenever it was spoken of. Vainly had she implored the officers and ladies at Prescott to prohibit the captain from making so rash an attempt. Nothing would avail. As ill-luck would have it the lieutenant colonel recently gazetted
‘‘I was watching Manuelito, sir, while the captain was talking with Sieber. Them greasers are a bad lot, sir — one and all. There isn't one of 'em I'd trust as far as I could sling a bull by the tail. That Manuelito is just stampeded by what he's heard, and while he dare not whirl about and go now, I warn the captain to have an eye on the mules to-night. He'll skip back for the Verde with only one of them rather than try Sunset Pass to-morrow.’’
‘‘True enough, sir; but the captain never took him campaigning. They do very well around camp, sir, but they'd rather face the gates of purgatory than try their luck among the Tontos. I believe one Apache could lick a dozen of 'em.’’
The captain turned slowly back, and took a good look at the Mexican as he sat on his high spring seat, and occasionally encouraged his team with endearing epithets, or, as in the manner of the tribe, scored them with wildest blasphemy. Ordinarily Manuelito was wont to show his white teeth, and touch the broad, silver-edged brim of his sombrero, when "el capitan" reined back to see how he was getting along. To-day here was a sullen scowl for the first moment, and then, as though suddenly recollecting [...] himself, the dark-skinned fellow gave a ghastly sort of grin — and the captain felt certain that Pike's idea was right.
At sunset the little party was cosily camped on the edge of Snow Lake — a placid little sheet far up among the mountains. The plateau was broken by a low ridge a few miles east, through a gap in which, known as Jarvis Pass, ran the road to Sunset Pass beyond. Horses and mules, securely tethered, were grazing close at hand. The two wagons were drawn in near the little camp-fire. The children were having a jolly game of hide and seek and stretching their legs after the long day's ride in the wagon. Kate was stowing away the supper dishes. Manuelito was stretched upon the turf, his keen, eager eyes following every motion of his captain, even though his teeth held firmly the little paper tobacco holder he called his "papelito." Out on the open ground beyond the little bunch of
‘‘As if I would take a burro when one stroke gives me a caballo grande,’’ he muttered, and pushed still further out to where the four horses were "lariated" near the timber. A word to "Gregg" whom he had often cared for; a gleam of his knife from the sheath and the gallant horse was free to follow him. Still in silence and stealth he led him back toward the camp-fire where the saddles were piled. Still he marked that Captain Gwynne and Pike were in earnest talk down at the other end of the camp. Warily he reached forward to grasp the captain's saddle, when a low exclamation was heard from that officer himself and, peering at him through the trees, the Mexican could see that he was eagerly pointing westward and calling Pike to his side. Instinctively Manuelito glanced over his