10. 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
‘‘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
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
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.
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.
"DOWN WITH THESE STONES, NOW!"
‘‘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,
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?
THE BULLET OF THE LITTLE BALLARD HAD TAKEN HIM JUST UNDER THE EYE.
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
‘‘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.
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
‘‘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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
‘‘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