3. ON THE ALERT.
‘‘Take care of the babies,’’ indeed! The old trooper would shed his heart's blood in their defence, but what would that avail against a gang of howling Apaches? It could only defer the moment of their capture and then — what would be the fate of those poor little ones and of honest old Kate? Jim, of course, would do his best, but there remained now only the two men to defend
With all his loyalty, Pike was almost ready to blame his employer and old commander for riding off in pursuit of the Mexican. It was so dark that no trail could be seen. He could not know in which direction Manuelito had fled. It was indeed a blind chase, and yet the captain had trotted confidently back past the deserted wagon as though he really believed he could speedily overtake and recapture the stolen mules. Pike thought that the captain should stay with his children and let him go in pursuit or rather search, but every one who knew Gwynne knew how self-confident he was and how much higher he held his own opinion than that of anybody else. ‘‘It is his confounded bull-headedness that has got us into this scrape,’’ thought poor Pike, for the twentieth time, but the soldier in him came to the fore and demanded action — action.
HIS FIRST DUTY SEEMED TO BE TO GET THE PROVISIONS FROM THE WAGON.
Knowing the habits of the Apaches it was his hope that they would not follow in pursuit until broad daylight and that it would be noon before they could reach the Pass. By that time, with or without the mules, Captain Gwynne would certainly be back. Meanwhile his first duty seemed to be to get the provisions from the wagon up to the little fastness among the great bowlders where the children, guarded by poor, trembling but devoted Kate, were now placidly sleeping — worn out with the fatigue of their jolting ride from Snow Lake. She kept Black Jim with a loaded rifle close by the side of the family wagon and prevented his falling asleep at his post, in
‘‘Sho! Kate. We won't be any distance away and there ain't an Indian within ten miles. They wouldn't dare come prowling around at night. Here, you take Jim's gun and blow the top of the head off the first Apache that shows up. We'll be back in five minutes. How are the kids — sleeping?’’
‘‘Peril be blowed!’’ answered Pike stoutly. ‘‘We're safer here than we could be anywhere east of the Verde and as soon as it's good and light and the horses are rested, we'll be off for the Colorado Chiquito and leave the Tontos miles behind. Take things easy, old girl, and don't worry. Come along, Jim.’’
‘‘Jim, old boy, we've got to pull together to-night. There's nothing the matter with the wagon—that's all right, but that whelp Manuelito has run off with the mules and the captain's put out after him. It'll be daylight soon and he'll get the son of a gun—sure, and then hurry back to join us; but the wagon lies just where I think you and I can start it down the road and fetch it nearer camp. Then we can rake out what provisions we want in case we have to stand a siege. See?’’
Black Jim's eyes nearly popped from their sockets. He had been on scouts with his master, and bragged prodigiously around garrison about how they fought Tontos down along the Black Mesa and in the infested "Basin."
"JIM, OLD BOY, WE'VE GOT TO PULL TOGETHER TO-NIGHT."
To hear Jim talk one would fancy he had killed at least half a dozen Indians in hand to hand encounters. Indeed he had behaved with self-possession and a very fair degree of coolness in the two affairs which Gwynne's troop had had when Jim happened to be along. But this was different. Then they had forty or fifty veteran soldiers. Here—only old Pike and himself were left to defend the position—and no one might say how many Apaches might come along. Besides it was still dark (and Napoleon said all men were cowards in the dark), though far in the east a grayish pallor was creeping up from the horizon. Who could blame poor Jim if his knees shook and his teeth chattered a little, but he went manfully along by Pike's side and soon they reached the abandoned wagon.
As luck would have it, Manuelito had stopped where the road began a pretty sharp descent and Pike felt sure that if they could only start the thing they could run the wagon almost opposite their hiding place. Then it would be far easier to get the stores up the rocks. Taking the pole himself and telling him to ‘‘put his shoulder to the wheel’’ Pike sung out a cheery ‘‘Heave!’’ and, slowly at first, then more rapidly, the vehicle with its precious freight came thundering down the rocky and almost unused road. Pike had to hold back with all his might and to shout for Jim to join him, but between them they managed to control the speed of the bulky runaway and to guide it safely to a point not far from their little camp. The old trooper rummaged about until he found the lantern hanging under the seat. This he quickly lighted, and then, loading a sack of barley for the
Out in the Arizona mountains one may journey day after day in July or August, and all through the fall and winter, and cross gulley, gorge, ravine, cañon and water cross and find them all dry as a bone—not a drop of water running. It is useless to dig below the surface, as one could do in sandy soil and find water, for it is all rock. Indeed it would be impossible to dig; nothing short of blasting would make an excavation. But a kind Providence has decreed that the scout or traveler should not be left to die of thirst. Here and there in the low ground or in the ravines are deep hollows, in which the water has gathered during the rainy season, and this is almost always palatable and sweet. One
And now as he boiled his coffee in the little niche whence no betraying gleam from his fire could shoot out across the gorge, Pike gave himself over to a calm look at the situation. If the captain recovered the mules and got back by sunrise—despite fatigue they could give them and the horses a good feed of barley and then push for the Colorado Chiquito, some twenty miles away. Once across that stream they were comparatively safe, for the Apaches had a superstitious feeling against venturing beyond. That country was considered as belonging to the
Then Jim came stumbling up the path with his load and the lantern. Pike gave him a big tin mug of steaming coffee and a couple of hard tack. Took another down to Kate, whom he pacified by saying that the captain was with Manuelito and the mules and bidding her to lie down and get a little sleep before day. Then he went back to Jim.
‘‘Now young man,’’ said he, ‘‘I want you to listen carefully to what I say. You had a nap last evening—a sound sleep in fact and I've not had a wink. If I can get an hour or an hour and a half it will fetch me out all right for the day's work. This coffee will freshen you up and keep you awake. You
How long afterwards it was that he was aroused Pike could not begin to guess. It seemed to him that he had not slept five minutes yet he had had a good, long, refreshing nap, and now it was broad daylight. The sun was shining brightly and Black Jim was bending over him; his finger on his lips. Pike sat up and rubbed his eyes. The first question he longed to ask was: ‘‘Has the captain got back?’’ but Jim pointed to the ambulance and, listening, the old trooper heard childish voices, soft and low; their bubbling laughter telling of their utter ignorance of the dread anxiety which hovered
‘‘He's all right, little man,’’ answered Pike, smiling cheerfully up at the bright boy face, though the old soldier's heart was heavy as lead. ‘‘He's all right. He's down looking after the mules with Manuelito. You and Nellie hungry? I'll get you some breakfast presently, but better let old Kate sleep as long as she can.’’
Ned withdrew his little brown fist and could be heard groping around the dark interior. The captain had so arranged the seats in his "family wagon" that they could be turned and flattened against the sides of the vehicle, leaving a clear space in which there was abundant room for Kate and the children to lie at full length and sleep in comfort, and this was their tent and sleeping apartment. The captain and his party slept as we always used to sleep when scouting in the dry season in Arizona, without shelter of any kind, in the open air.
Pike turned the handle, took the binocular, gave Ned a jovial nod and another shake of the hand, closed the door and strode away signalling Jim to follow him. When they were out of earshot of the ambulance he turned:
Three hundred yards away it turned around the foot of a hill and from that point was utterly lost to view. Pike looked at the sun, then at his old silver watch. ‘‘After seven o'clock, by jove! and not back yet,’’ he muttered. ‘‘It's full time we were off for the Chiquito, but we can't stir without the captain.’’ Then he turned once more to Jim. ‘‘Water the horses and give them a good measure of barley each, then put some dry wood on those embers in the niche there — be sure and make no smoke — and cook some breakfast for us all. I've got to go up to that point yonder. From there I can see all over the open country to the west, and the road, too, as far as Jarvis Pass. These glasses will show every moving object to me, and I haven't a doubt I'll see the captain somewhere out there in the distance coming back to join us. Darn the mules! I don't much care whether he gets them or not, but I'd like about two minutes' private interview with that blasted greaser.’’
"MY GOD! THERE'S NOT A LIVING SOUL IN SIGHT."