4. ON THE WATCH.


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For fully half an hour poor old Pike remained there at his post of observation, every now and then vainly scanning the plateau through his field glass. Meantime he was talking over the situation to himself. ‘‘The jig is up now. I've got to go back to camp presently. I'll have to tell them the captain is still away and that I have no idea where he has gone. I might just as well make a clean breast of it and admit that Manuelito has deserted and gone off with the mules, and that the old man (for by this half-endearing appellative the soldiers often spoke


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of their captain) is in pursuit. I don't suppose he found their trail until broad daylight anyhow.’’ Then he looked back towards the nook in which his precious charges were doubtless impatiently awaiting his return. He could just see the top of the ambulance over the ledge of rock that hid it from the road. ‘‘Jim is just giving them his breakfast about this time,’’ he went on with his self-communion. ‘‘They could not eat another mouthful if I were to go back now with my bad news. Better wait until they've had a square meal before I tell them. They can bear it better then.’’

Still the stout-hearted veteran would not give up hope. Again he swept the road with his glass, searching wistfully for some little dust cloud or other sign of coming horseman across the wide, open plateau, but all was silence and desolation, and, at last, feeling that he must go back to camp and get something


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to eat, he shouldered his rifle and went down the hill, his heart heavy as lead.

Of course it was still possible for him to hitch up the team and make a run for it, with Kate and the children, for Sunset Crossing, but he felt confident that neither Kate nor little Ned would listen to such a project if it involved leaving the captain behind. There was yet a chance of his old commander's returning in time Although he was not to be seen anywhere over the twenty-mile stretch towards Jarvis Pass it was all the more probable that he might have found Manuelito's trail leading into the mountains north or south of the gorge in which they were now hiding. The Mexican had long been employed in the pack train and had been up through this range towards Chevelon Fork — he had heard him say so. Very probably, therefore, he had struck out for the old short cut back


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to the Verde. It was impracticable for wagons but easy enough for mules — and it lay, so Pike judged, ten or fifteen miles south of the Pass. The very thing! It would be the most natural course for him to follow since the signal fire west of Snow Lake had showed them the evening previous that the Indians were on their trail. Doubtless the captain had reasoned it out on the same line and ridden southward along the western base of the range until he had overtaken his treacherous employé. A huge shoulder of the mountain shut off the view in that direction, but the theory seemed so probable to Pike that his spirits began to rise again as he struck the road Why! It might readily be that at this moment the captain was not more than a mile or two away, and hurrying back, fast as the mules would let him, to join the loved ones whom he had left at camp.


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‘‘It's a theory worth banking on for an hour or two at least,’’ said Pike to himself. ‘‘By Jinks! I'll swear to it as long as it can possibly hold good. There's no use in letting them worry their hearts out — those poor little kids. God be with us and help me to bring them safely through!’’ And so, much comforted in spirit, the old trooper — half New England Puritan, half wild frontiersman — strode briskly down the road, determined that he would make no move for the Colorado until he knew from the evidence of his own eyes that the Apaches were coming in pursuit.

The shortest way from Jarvis Pass to the point where they now lay resting, was by way of the road along which they had come the night before, on both sides of which, as has been said, the country lay comparatively clear and open for miles to both north and south. Pike felt certain that with the aid


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of his glass he could see the Indians almost as soon as they got out upon the plain and while still many a long mile away. Then there would be abundant time to bundle their supplies into the ambulance, run it back to the road, stow Kate and the children safely in the interior and whip up for the Chiquito, leaving their pursuers far behind. What a mercy it is, thought Pike, that these Tontos have no horses! The captain, too, he argued, even if he had not started before, would have an eye on that road wherever he was, and would gallop for camp the moment he saw the distant signs of the coming foe.

Even as he trudged along, whistling loudly now by way of conveying an idea of jollity to the anxious little party at the ambulance, Pike's keen eyes were scanning the mountain sides. North of the Pass the ground did not begin to rise to any extent


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until fully half a mile away, but southward the ascent began almost at the roadside and was so steep as to be in places almost precipitous. A thick growth of scrub oak, cedar and juniper covered the mountain and here and there a tall tree shot up like some leafy giant among its humbler neighbors; and, standing boldly out on the very point where the heights turned southward, was a vertical ledge of solid rock. Pike stopped instantly. ‘‘Now that's a watch-tower as is a watch-tower!’’ he exclaimed. ‘‘I'll scramble up and have a look from there before I do another thing.’’ So saying he left the road and pushing his way among the stunted trees and over rocks and bowlders he soon began a moderately steep climb. Long accustomed to mountain scouting, the craft of the old Indian fighter was manifest in his every movement. He carefully avoided bending or breaking the merest twig


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among the branches, and in stepping he never set foot on turf or soft earth, but skipped from rock to rock, wherever possible, so as to leave no sign behind him. It was more a matter of habit than because he believed it necessary to conceal his trail from the Indians in this case. No human being on earth can follow an enemy, like an Apache; a bent twig, a flattened bit of sod, even a tiny impression in the loose sand or rocky surface will catch his eye in an instant, and tell him volumes. Pike knew well that there was no such thing as hiding the trail of his party, and thinking of them he stopped to take breath and look down. Their little fastness was hidden from him by the trees, but he could see the baggage wagon down in the road, and, being unwilling to have Kate and the little ones worrying about his long continued absence, he set up a loud and cheery shout.


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‘‘Hullo — o — o Jim!’’

Jim's voice came back on the instant. ‘‘What d'you want?’’

‘‘Just save a little breakfast for the captain and me, will you? We'll be hungry as wolves when we get in.’’

‘‘Is papa there?’’ piped up little Ned in his childish treble.

‘‘No — he's down around the west side. He'll be in presently. I look for him every minute. He's all right, Ned.’’

‘‘Where you at?’’ shouted Jim again in his southern vernacular.

‘‘Up here on the hill. I'm going a piece farther to look at a big rock. I'll be down in ten or twenty minutes.’’

And so having cheered and re-assured them, Pike pushed on again. A few minutes' sharp climbing brought him to the base of the ledge which proved to be far bigger and higher than he had supposed, and all


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the better for his purpose. Clambering to the top he could hardly repress a shout of exultation. Not only had he now a commanding view of all the plateau over to the ridge through which wound Jarvis Pass, but he could even see over beyond towards Snow Lake, while northward for several miles the western foothills of the range were open to his view. It was by long odds the best lookout he could have found and he only regretted that his view southward was still shut off. Adjusting his binocular he again gazed long and carefully over all the plain and especially along the western edge of the range to the north, but the search was fruitless as before. Not a living, moving object was in sight.

Finding an easy descent on the side farthest from camp and opposite that on which he had clambered to the top Pike half slid, half swung himself to the base again, and


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there he came upon a sight that filled his soul with joy. From base to summit the ledge was probably fifty feet in height and was so far tilted over on the western side as to have an overhang of at least fifteen. More than this, there was a great cleft near the base and an excavation or hollow running inwards and downwards, perhaps fifteen feet more. Pike went in to explore, and, to his farther satisfaction, found a tankwhere the water had gathered from the melting snows and in the rainy season. He tasted it and found it cool and fresh, and then, sprawling at full length, he drank eagerly.

‘‘What a find!’’ he almost shouted, with glee. ‘‘We can store Kate and the children back in there, throw up a little barrier of rock at the front with loopholes for our rifles. Not a bullet or arrow can reach us from any direction except the tops of those


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trees yonder, and God help the Tonto that tries to climb 'em. And, even if the captain don't come, by Jinks! we can stand off all the Apaches in Arizona. It won't be more than three days before Al Sieber will be galloping out with a swarm of the old boys at his back, and if Jim and I, in such a fort as this, can't lick Es-Kirninzin and his whole gang, call me a 'dough boy!'’’

The more he explored, the better was Pike pleased with the situation, and in five minutes he had made up his mind what to do. The little nook in which the party had been hiding was all very well for the night and a good refuge for the horses as well as the human beings, but in broad daylight the Indians would have no difficulty in finding and surrounding it, and there was hardly any space within its rocky walls which would be safe from bullet or arrow when once the assailants got up the hillside.


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Here, however, they could stand a siege with almost perfect safety. From above or from the flanks the Indians could not reach them at all, and if they attacked from the front — up hill — nothing but a simultaneous and preconcerted rush of the whole band could succeed, and Pike knew the Apache well enough to feel secure against that possibility.

Now it was possible to wait for the captain indefinitely. If he got back in abundant time for them to load up and push out for the Colorado Chiquito before the Indians reached the Pass — well and good. If he did not — well, thought Pike, from here I can see the scoundrels when they are still miles away, and all we've got to do is stock this cave with blankets, provisions and ammunition, build our breastwork and let 'em come. ‘‘With Kate and the kids out of harm's way, back in that hole, I wouldn't ask anything better than to have


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those whelps of Tontos trail us up here and then attempt to rout us out. We'd make some of 'em sick Indians; wouldn't we, old girl?’’ wound up the ex-corporal apostrophizing his Henry rifle.

Greatly elated over his discovery, Pike went scrambling down the rocky hillside in the direction of camp. He no longer took any precautions about concealing his trail. He well knew that in the two or three trips it would take to bring their stores and then Kate and the children up to the cave, such signs would be left that the Apaches could follow without the faintest hesitation.

Five minutes brought him into the midst of his charges, and here for a moment the stout-hearted soldier was well nigh unmanned. Instantly he was besieged with eager and anxious inquiry about papa, and poor little Nellie, who had come running eagerly forward when she heard his cheery voice, looked wistfully beyond him in search of her father, and seeing at last that Pike had come alone, she clasped her little arms about his knees and, looking imploringly up in his face, burst into tears and begged him, amid her sobs, to say why papa did not come. Bending down, he raised her in his strong arms and hugged her tight to his heart.

BENDING DOWN HE RAISED HER IN HIS STRONG ARMS.


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‘‘Don't cry, little sweetheart,’’ he plead. ‘‘Don't worry, pet. Papa isn't far away. He's coming soon and I've got such a beautiful playhouse for you and Ned and Kate up there on the hill. We won't go up just now, for we all want to be here to give papa his breakfast when he comes in. And my! how hungry I am, Nellie! Won't you give old Pike some coffee now, and some bacon and frijoles?’’

Nellie, like a little woman, strove to dry her tears and minister to the wants of her


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staunch old friend, the corporal. Ned manfully repressed his own anxiety and helped to comfort his little sister, but Kate retired behind the ambulance and wept copiously. She knew that something must be wrong. No mere matter of a mule astray would keep the captain from the childer all this long while. Black Jim had set the coffee pot and skillet again on the coals and in a few moments had a breakfast piping hot, all ready for the present camp commander who, meantime, slung aside his slouch hat and neck-handkerchief, rolled up his sleeves and was giving himself a plentiful sluicing of cold water from one of the tanks below them. Then, as he went up to take his rations, he sung out gaily to Ned:

‘‘Here, Ned, my boy. We ought to have a sentry posted to present arms to the captain when he comes in. Get your rifle and mount guard until I get through here.’’


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And Ned, proud to be so employed, and out in the Indian country, too, was presently pacing up and down on the side nearest the road, with all the gravity and importance of a veteran soldier.

Pike made great pretence of having a tremendous appetite and made little Nell help him to coffee twice, refusing to take sugar except from her hand. Once during his repast, poor old Kate came forth from behind the ambulance, and with her apron to her eyes slowly approached them, but the trooper sternly warned her back, saying no word but pointing significantly to the ambulance. He did not mean to have the little ones upset by the nurse's lamentations. His square meal finished, he asked Nellie to see to the breakfast for her father being carefully kept in readiness and then, sauntering off towards the road, called Jim to follow him.


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Then, while they were apparently examining the bolts of the baggage wagon, he gave the darkey his instructions.

‘‘Jim, I don't know when the captain will get back or how far he's gone, but I haven't a dread or fear of any kind now. Up there where you see that big gray rock I've found a cave that is the most perfect defensive position I ever saw. No bullet can reach it from any point, and on the contrary, from the mouth of the cave, we command the whole hillside. Now if those Apaches are bound to follow, they ought to be along here about noon. If the captain gets here in plenty of time we'll pull out for the Chiquito. If he doesn't I mean to move the whole outfit up to the cave. I want you now to roll and strap all the blankets; to get the provisions and everything of that kind in shape so that we can easily 'pack' them, then I'm going back to the top of the


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rock to keep a look out. I can see way beyond Jarvis Pass, and if the Indians are following I'll spot them before they get within ten miles of us. See?’’

Quarter of an hour later Pike was once more on the top of the rock. First he glanced at his watch. Just nine o'clock. Then he sprawled at full length upon the blanket he had brought with him, levelled his glasses and, resting his elbows on the rock, gazed long and earnestly over the winding road. Presently he sat up, whipped off the red silk handkerchief about his neck, carefully wiped the eye and object glasses of his binocular and his own tired old eyes and, once more prone on his stomach, gazed again; then twisted the screw a trifle as though to get a better focus; gazed still another time; lowered the glass; rose to his knees, his eyes gleaming brilliantly and his teeth setting hard; once more levelled the


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glass and looked with all his soul in his eyes and then slowly let the faithful binocular fall to the blanket by his side as he spoke aloud:

‘‘By Jove! They're coming.’’

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