10. LITTLE NED'S SHOT.


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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.’’


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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!"


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‘‘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,


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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?

THE BULLET OF THE LITTLE BALLARD HAD TAKEN HIM JUST UNDER THE EYE.


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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


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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.


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‘‘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


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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.


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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!


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Just as a ringing trumpet call, ‘‘Cease firing,’’ comes thrilling up the steep, and little Ned once more leaps forward to aid him, the vetera 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


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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


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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.

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