3. ON THE ALERT.


Up: Contents Previous: 2. MANUELITO'S TREACHERY. Next: 4. ON THE WATCH.


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Obedient to the captain's order, Pike had dismounted and given him the horse, but it was with a sense of almost sickening dread that he saw him ride away into darkness.

‘‘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


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the captain's children and their nurse against a swarm of bloodthirsty Tontos who were surely on their trail. There was no telling at what moment their hideous war-cry might wake the echoes of the lonely Pass.

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.


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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


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genuine darkey fashion, by insisting on his talking with her in low tones. She kept fretting and worrying about the absence of the captain and the non-arrival of Manuelito with his wagon. She asked Jim a hundred questions as to the cause of the delay, but he could give no explanation. It was with joy inexpressible, therefore, that she heard Pike's well-known voice hailing them in cheery tones. He wanted Jim.

‘‘Where's the captain and the wagon?’’ demanded Kate in loud whisper.

‘‘Up the road a piece,’’ answered Pike in the most off-hand way imaginable. ‘‘We'll have it here presently but Jim'll have to help. We've lost a linch-pin in the dark. Come along, Jim.’’

‘‘Shure you're not going to take Jim away and leave me alone with the poor children. Oh, corporal, for the love of the blessed saints don't do that!’’


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‘‘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?’’

‘‘Sleeping soundly, God be praised, and never draming of the awful peril we're in.’’

‘‘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.’’

And so away they went through the inky darkness, plunging along the rocky and winding path by which they had brought


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the ambulance up the steep. Not until they had got down into the road itself did Pike give his negro comrade an idea of what had happened. Then, speaking low and seizing the other's arm, he began:

‘‘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."


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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.


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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


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horse on Jim's shoulders, and lugging a box of hard bread under one arm and of bacon under the other, he led the way up among the rocks until they reached Kate's field hotel, as he called it. There they dumped their load under the ambulance. Pike whispered a jovial ‘‘Go to sleep, old girl. You're all safe’’ to the still trembling Irish woman, then down they went for another load. This time they came laden with a wonderful assortment. Coffee, sugar, condensed milk, canned corned beef, potted ham, canned corn and tomatoes, some flour and yeast powders, a skillet or two, the coffee pot, some cups, dishes, etc., and these, too, were placed close to the ambulance, to Kate's entire mystification; and then, sending Jim down for another little load, Pike set to work to build a tiny fire far back in a cleft in the rocks.

‘‘We'll all be glad of a cup of coffee


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now,’’ he said to himself, ‘‘and so will the captain; he should be brought back before day. We may have no chance for cooking after the sun is up. Thank God, there's water in plenty here in these hollows.’’

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


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only has to know where these tanks are, and he is all right. Both Captain Gwynne and Pike had twice been over to the Pass before, and, spending a day or more there scouting the neighborhood, had noted the little nook among the great bowlders and the abundant supply of water. It was God's mercy that this was the case.

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


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Maqui Pueblo Indians, of whom the wild Tontos stood a little in dread. Then, a little further on, began the Navajo country, and the Navajos—once the most fearless and intractable of mountain tribes—were now all gathered in at their reservations about old Fort Defiance,—the richest Indians in sheep, cattle and stock on the face of the globe. No Apache dare venture on their territory, and white men, on the contrary, were safe there. ‘‘If we can only get away before those scoundrelly Tontos get after us,’’ said Pike to himself. ‘‘Even if the captain doesn't get the mules, we can abandon the wagon and the heavy luggage, cram the ambulance with provisions and make a run for it to Sunset crossing. I wonder which way that blackguard of a greaser did go. He would hardly dare go back the way he came with every chance of running slap into the Tontos. He has taken hard tack and bacon


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enough to keep him alive several days. It's my belief he means to hide somewhere about Jarvis Pass until he sees the Indians following our trail and then, when they are fairly past, to make a run for the Verde. The cowardly hound!’’

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


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stand guard until sunrise—until the sun is well up, in fact, then call me. Keep your ears wide open; listen for every sound; if it's the captain coming back you'll hear the hoof beats down there on the road; if it's Apaches you won't hear anything. But you take my word for it, Jim, they won't attempt to follow beyond Snow Lake to-night. They can't be here before noon, and by that time we'll be miles away towards the river. Don't get stampeded. Just keep cool; watch and listen. If Kate asks anything more about the captain tell her he's down by the wagon. It was too heavy to fetch up here. I don't want to make a man lie, but we mustn't let her and those poor little kids know he's away. Now are you game for it, Jim?’’

The negro mechanically took the rifle that Pike handed to him. ‘‘I'll do my best, corporal,’’ he said.

‘‘That's a trump! Now I believe I can rest


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easy,’’ answered Pike, and so saying he unrolled his blankets, spread them on the ground close by the ambulance, looked to the chamber of his revolver to see that every cartridge was all right, lay his rifle by the wheel, lay down and rolled himself into his soldier bedding, and was asleep in three minutes.

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


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over the camp. Kate, worn out, was evidently still asleep and the children were chatting blithely together but taking care not to disturb their kind old nurse. Little Ned poked his hand out through the narrow space between the curtain and the frame of the door and peeped through with one merry blue eye as he shook hands with Pike, who had scrambled to his feet.

‘‘Where's papa?’’ he whispered.

‘‘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.’’

‘‘I'd like to come out, corporal, and look around,’’ whispered Ned.

‘‘Wait a little while, my lad. It's very


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early and the air is pretty keen. I'll let you out presently. See if you can find papa's field glasses in there anywhere. I want to take a look at the road with them.’’

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.

Presently the little fellow re-appeared at the aperture.

‘‘Here it is, Pike,’’ he whispered. ‘‘But you'll have to open the door to get it out.’’


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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:

‘‘Have you heard nothing — no hoof beats?’’

‘‘Not a thing,’’ answered Jim. ‘‘We can't see the wagon from here, but I could hear anything if anything had come.’’

Pike looked wistfully back up the Pass. In one or two places the road was visible from their lookout, winding and twisting around the rocks.

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."


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So saying, Pike got a pail of water from the tank, liberally soused his head, face and neck in the clear, cold water; then,


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throwing his rifle over his shoulder, the brave fellow went springing down the winding trail to the roadway and then strode westward up the Pass. A few moments brought him to the base of the little hill, a short, sharp climb brought him to its crest, and there, kneeling, he adjusted the glasses, and for a long, long minute swept the open country and the winding road lying before him in the bright sunshine. He could see every inch of the way to Jarvis Pass, and when at last he lowered the glass he groaned aloud: ‘‘My God! My God! There's not a living soul in sight.’’

Up: Contents Previous: 2. MANUELITO'S TREACHERY. Next: 4. ON THE WATCH.




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