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All this time Darkey Jim had been sleeping soundly, wrapped in his blankets, with his feet to the fire. There was never an hour, day or night, when this lively African could not loll at full length, in sunshine or shade, and forget his cares, if cares he ever had, in less than three minutes. In this case, despite Sieber's warning, which he had overheard, he simply took note of the fact that the captain and Corporal Pike were looking after things and that was enough for him. There was no use in worrying when "Marsa Gwin" was on guard, and

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within an hour from the time he had had his substantial supper, Jim was snoring melodiously, with his head buried in his arms.

Manuelito was thoroughly aware of this trait of his "stable-mate," else he had not dared to bring the captain's horse so close to the fire. Now his fierce, half Indian face seemed full of perplexity and dread. The Apache signal fire still glowed among the black pines away to the westward. The captain and Corporal Pike were hurriedly coming towards him through the stunted trees, — yet here he stood with "Gregg," all irresolute, all fearful what to do. Back towards those black pines and the long reach of road beyond he dare not go. The Tontos held the line of retreat. Here in camp he hardly dare remain for the keen cut in "Gregg's" side line showed plainly that the knife had been used, and left him accused of treachery. Out of the

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fire light and back to the grazing ground he must get the horse at once — but what then? Noiselessly turning, he led Gregg, wondering, back to the glade in which the other horses were tethered, and quickly drove his picket pin and put him on the half lariat. But how was he to conceal the severed side line? Off it came, both nervous hands working rapidly, and then when he had about determined to cut off the lines of one of Jim's mules and so throw suspicion on him, his African mate, he was aware of his captain striding through the trees toward him. He could almost have run away. But the next words re-assured him.

‘‘That you, Manuelito?’’ challenged Captain Gwynne in low, hoarse tones. ‘‘All right! Take the side lines off Gregg and saddle him for me at once. I have work to do.’’

The Mexican could hardly believe in his

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escape. For the time being, at least, he stood safe. It would be easy enough later to "lose" the telltale side line in the waters of the lake. Manuelito cursed his folly in having used the knife at all. Haste prompted that piece of bad judgment. He could have unbuckled them just as well. But all the same he blessed his lucky stars for this respite. In three minutes he had "Gregg" saddled and ready by the little camp-fire. There stood the captain and Pike in low and earnest conversation.

‘‘I shall only go out a short four miles,’’ said the former, ‘‘but I must satisfy myself as to whether those beggars are coming this way to-night. Gregg and I have 'stalked' them many a time and the country is all flat and open for six miles back.’’

‘‘I wish the captain would stay here and let me go,’’ pleaded Pike.

‘‘No! I'm never satisfied without seeing

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for myself. You and Manuelito will have your arms in constant readiness, and watch for me as I come back. There's no moon — no light — but so much the better for my purpose. Is he all ready, Manuelito? Let me glance at my little ones in the ambulance before I start.’’

Who can say with what love and yearning the father bent over those little faces as he peered in upon them? The flickering light of the camp-fire threw an occasional glimmer over them — just enough to enable him to see at times the contour yet hardly to reveal the features of "his babies." He dare not kiss for fear of waking them. ‘‘God bless and guard you, darlings,’’ was the choking prayer that fell from his lips. Then, vigorous and determined, he sprang into saddle.

‘‘Now, Pike,’’ he muttered, ‘‘you've been with me in many a night bivouac and you know your orders. They never attack at

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night unless they know they have an absolutely sure thing, and they haven't — with you three. Jim, there, can fight like a tiger whenever there is need. Watch the horses. I'll be back in an hour or there'll be reason for my staying.’’

Three minutes more and they heard the rythmic beat of "Gregg's" hoofs out on the open plateau and dying away westward, sturdy, measured, steady in the trot the captain preferred to any other gait. Pike moved out to the edge of the timber, where he could hear the last of it — a big anxiety welling up in his heart and a world of responsibility with it; but he clutched his carbine the more firmly and gave a backward glance, his face softening as his eyes fell upon the wagon where little Ned and Nell lay sleeping, and darkening with menace and suspicion as he took one swift look at Manuelito, cowering there over the fire.

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‘‘Blast that monkey-hearted greaser!’’ he muttered. "I believe he would knife the whole party just to get the horses and slip away. I'll keep my ears open to the west — but I'll have my eyes on you.

Once out at his chosen station, Pike found himself in a position where he could "cover" three important objects. Here, close at his right hand, between him and the lake, the horses and mules were browsing peacefully and as utterly undisturbed as though there were not an Apache within a thousand miles. To his rear, about fifty yards, were the two wagons, the little camp-fire and flitting restlessly about it the slouching form of Manuelito. In front of him, close at hand, nothing but a dark level of open prairie; then a stretch of impenetrable blackness; then, far away towards the western horizon, that black, piney ridge, stretching from north to south across the

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trail they had come along that day; and right there among the pines — Pike judged it it to be several miles south of the road — there still glared and flamed that red beacon that his long service in Arizona told him could mean to the Apaches only one thing — "Close in!" — and well he knew that with the coming morn all the renegades within range would be gathered along their path, and that if they got through Sunset Pass without a fight it would be a miracle.

The night was still as the grave; the skies cloudless and studded with stars. One of these came shooting earthward just after he took his post, and seemed to plunge into vacancy and be lost in its own combustion over towards Jarvis Pass behind him. This gave him opportunity to glance backward again, and there was Manuelito still cowering over the fire. Then once more he turned to the west, watching, listening.

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Many a year had old Pike served with the standards of the cavalry. All through the great civil war he had born manful, if humble part, but with his fifth enlistment stripe on his dress coat, a round thousand dollars of savings and a discharge that said under the head of "Character," "A brave, reliable and trustworthy man," the old corporal had chosen to add to his savings by taking his chances with Captain Gwynne, hoping to reach Santa Fe and thence the Kansas Pacific to St. Louis, to betterment of his pocket and to the service of one, at least, of his former troop commanders. No coward was Pike, but he had visions of a far-away home his coming would bless, where a loved sister's children would gather about his knee and hear his stories of battle and adventure, and where his dollars would enable him to give comforts and comfits, toys and "taffee" to her little ones. Was he not conscious

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that her eldest boy must be now fourteen, named for him, Martin Pike, and a young American all through? It must be confessed that as the ex-corporal stood there at his night post under the stars he half regretted that he had embarked on this risky enterprise.

‘‘If it were anybody else now but old Gwynne,’’ he muttered to himself, ‘‘things wouldn't be so mixed, but he never did have any horse sense and now has run us into this scrape — and it's a bad one or I'm no judge.’’

Then he glanced over his shoulder again. Manuelito was shuffling about the fire apparently doing nothing. Presently the ex-corporal saw the Mexican saunter up to the wagons and Pike took several strides through the timber watching before he said a word; yet, with the instinct of the old soldier, he brought his carbine to full cock. Somehow

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or other he "could not tolerate that greaser."

But the suspected greaser seemed to content himself with a cursory examination of the forage and baggage wagon and presently came slouching back to the fire again. He had some scrap of harness in his hand and Pike longed to know what, but it was too far from his post of observation. He decided to remain where he was. He must listen for the captain. All the same he kept vigilant watch of Manuelito's movements and ere long, when the fire brightened up a bit, he made out that the "greaser" was fumbling over nothing else than a side line. Now what did that mean?

Pike took a turn through the little herd of "stock," bending down and feeling the side line of each horse and mule. All were secure and in perfect order. The one in Manuelito's hands, therefore, was probably "Gregg's," or an extra "pair" that he had in his wagon. There was nothing out of the way about that after all, so Pike resumed his watch towards the west, where still the Apache beacon was burning.


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It must have been half after ten o'clock. Manuelito had slunk down by the fire, and not a sound was to be heard except Jim's musical snore, and a little cropping noise among the horses. Yet Pike's quick ear caught, far out on the prairie to the west, the sound of hoofs coming towards him.

‘‘When those Apaches named a horse 'click-click' they must have struck one that interfered,’’ he muttered. ‘‘Now that's old Gregg coming in, I'll bet my boots, and there's not a click about his tread. 'Course there might be on rock, instead of this soft earth. The captain's back sooner than I supposed he'd come. What's up?’’

Quickly, crouchingly, he hurried forward

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some few rods, then knelt so that he might see the coming horseman against the sky. Then challenged sharp and low:

‘‘Who comes there!’’

‘‘Captain Gwynne,’’ was the quick answer.

‘‘That you, Pike? By jove, man! I've come back in a hurry. Are the horses all right? I want to push right on to the Pass to-night.’’

‘‘Horses all right, captain. What's the matter back there?’’

‘‘I didn't venture too far, but I went far enough to learn by my night glass and my ears that those scoundrels were having a war-dance. Now the chances are they'll keep it up all night until they gather in all the renegades in the neighborhood. Then come after us. This is no place to make a fight. It's all open here. But the road is good all the way to Sunset, and once there I know a nook among the rocks where we

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can stow our whole outfit — where there are 'tanks' of fresh water in abundance and where we can stand them off until the cavalry get out from Verde. Sieber said he'd have them humming on our trail at once. Tanner and Canker and Lieutenant Ray are there with their troops and you can bet high we won't have long to wait. It's the one thing to do. Rouse up Jim and Manuelito while I give 'Gregg' a rest. Poor old boy,’’ he said, as he noted his favorite's heaving flanks. ‘‘He has had a hard run for it and more than his share of work this day.’’

In ten minutes Black Jim, roused by vigorous kicks, was silently but briskly hitching in his team, Manuelito silently but suddenly buckling the harness about his mules. Irish Kate, aroused by the clatter, had poked her head from underneath the canvas to inquire what was the matter, and, at a few words from the captain, had shrunk

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in again, stricken with fear, but obeying implicitly

‘‘Let the children sleep as long as possible, Kate,’’ were Gwynne's orders. ‘‘The jolting will wake them too soon, I fear, but we've got to push ahead to Sunset Pass at once. There are Indians ten miles behind us.’’

A few minutes more and all was ready for flight.

‘‘Now, Pike, ride ahead and keep sharp lookout for the road. I'll jump up here beside Jim and drive, keeping right on your trail. Old 'Gregg' will tow along behind the wagon. He is too tired to carry any one else this day — and you — Manuelito, hark ye, keep right behind 'Gregg.' Don't fall back ten yards. I want you right here with us, and if anything goes wrong with your team, or you cannot keep up, shout and we'll wait for you. Now, then, Pike, forward!’’

An hour later in its prescribed order this

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little convoy had wound its way through Jarvis Pass and was trotting rapidly over the hard but smooth roadway towards the high Sunset range. The little ones had been aroused by the swaying and jolting and were sitting up now — silent and full of nameless fears, yet striving to be brave and soldierly when papa threw back some cheery word to them over his shoulders. Never once did he relax his grasp on the reins or his keen watch for Pike's dim, shadowy form piloting them along the winding trail. Little Ned had got his "Ballard" and wanted to load, but his father laughed him out of the idea.

‘‘The Tontos were ten miles behind us, Ned, my boy, when we left Snow Lake, and are farther away now. These mountain Apaches in northern Arizona have no horses, you know, and have to travel afoot. Not a rod will they journey at night if they can help themselves — the lazy beggars!’’

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And so the poor father, realizing at last the fruits of his obstinacy, strove to reassure his children and his dependants. Little Nell was too young to fully appreciate their peril, and soon fell asleep with her curly head pillowed on Kate's broad lap. Ned, too, valiant little man, soon succumbed and, still grasping his Ballard, fell sound asleep. In darkness and silence the little convoy sped swiftly along, and at last, far in the ‘‘wee sma' hours,’’ Pike hailed:

‘‘Here we are, right in the Pass, captain! Now can you find that point where we turn off the road to get into the rock corral?’’

‘‘Take the lines, Jim; I'll jump out and prospect. I used to know it well enought.’’

Down the road the captain went stumbling afoot. Everything was rock, bowlder and darkness now. The early morning wind was sighing through the pines up the mountain side at the south. All else was silence.


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Presently they heard him hail:

‘‘Come on! Here we are!’’

Jim touched up his wearied team and soon, under the captain's guidance, was bumping up a little side trail. A hundred yards off the road they halted and Gwynne called back into the darkness:

‘‘How's Manuelito getting on, Pike?’’

No answer.

The captain stepped back a few yards and listened. Not a sound of hoof or wheel.

‘‘Pike!’’ he called. ‘‘Where are you?’’

No answer at all.

‘‘Quick, Jim, give me the lantern,’’ he called, and in a moment the glimmering light went bounding down the rocky trail, back to the road.

And there the two soldiers met — Pike trotting up rapidly from the west, the captain swinging his lantern in the Pass.

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‘‘Where's Manuelito?’’ was the fierce demand.

‘‘Gone, sir. Gone and taken the mules with him. The wagon's back there four hundred yards up the road.’’

‘‘My God! Pike. Give me your horse quick. You stay and guard my babies.’’

Up: Contents Previous: 1. A RASH RESOLVE. Next: 3. ON THE ALERT.

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