9. THE ATTACK.
Startled suddenly from his sleep, it was indeed a dreadful sight, and one calculated to shake the nerves of many an old soldier, that greeted Pike's eyes as he peered over the rocky parapet in front of him. One glance was sufficient. Looking down behind the wall, he seized Jim by the throat, shaking him vigorously and at the same time placing his other hand over his mouth so that he might make no outcry. ‘‘Wake up, Jim! Wake up! and see what your faithlessness has brought upon us! Look down the hill here! Look
‘‘Now, is your rifle all ready?’’ whispered Pike. ‘‘Don't rouse those poor little people in there until we have to. They must stay way back in the cave. Now, observe strictly what I tell you: I want you to aim at the taller of those two Indians who are the leaders. Do not fire until I give the word; but be sure you hit. Recollect now, you've got to fire down hill, and the bullets fly high. Aim below his waistband, then you'll probably strike him either through the heart or the upper chest. Now, go to your loophole and stay there. Are you ready, Jim?’’
Kneeling beside his own loophole, Pike once more looked down the hill. Not over a hundred yards away — crouching along, following step by step the trail that he and Jim had made — pointing with their long bony fingers at every mark on the ground or upon the trees — two lean, keen-eyed, sinewy Apaches were slowly and silently moving up the mountain side in a direction that would take them diagonally across the front of the hill. Behind them, among the trees and bowlders, and spread out to the right and left, came others, — all wary, watchful, silent, — as noiseless and as stealthy in their movements as any panther could possibly be. Pike could see that they were armed mostly with rifles. He knew that very few of them had breech-loaders at that time; but still that there were some among them which they had obtained by murdering and robbing helpless settlers, or mail messengers.
With abundant ammunition close at hand, with the advantage of position and the fact that he meant to have the first fire, Pike calculated that the moral effect would be such that he could drive them back, and that they would not resume the attack until after a consultation among themselves. The two who were so far in front of the others were steadily approaching the little barricade, only the top of which could readily be seen from below and was hardly distinguishable from the general mass of rocks and bowlders by which it was surrounded.
He knew it could not be long, however, before the quick eyes of the Apaches detected it, and that they would know at once what it meant. ‘‘However,’’ thought Pike, ‘‘before they see it those two villains in front will be near enough for us to have a sure shot, and then, I don't care how soon
Bang! bang! rang out almost simultaneously the reports of two rifles. The smoke floated upward. Pike and Jim had the good sense not to attempt to lift their heads or peer over the barriers, but to content
The rest of the Apaches, hearing the shots, with the quickness of thought, had sprung for shelter behind the neighboring trees or rocks. Not one of their number, by this time, failed to know just where these shots had come from; and in a minute more,
‘‘Watch for them! Keep your eyes peeled, Jim! Every time you see a head or an arm or a body coming from behind a rock or tree, let drive at it! It will give the idea that there are more of us up here than we really have, and we've got all the ammunition we can possibly use. Don't be afraid! I'll tell you when to save your cartridges. There's one now! Watch him!’’ Bang! went Pike's rifle. It was a good shot; for they could see that the
‘‘That fellow's a cool hand!’’ said Pike. ‘‘Watch him, Jim, you're a little further that way. He'll be out again in a minute. What's the reason your man hasn't fired?—the man behind the rock that I told you to kill?’’
‘‘Watch carefully, anyhow,’’ was the reply. ‘‘They'll soon try, when they find there are very few of us, to crawl up the hill upon us. Then's the time you've got to note every movement! See! there comes one fellow behind that rock now. He's crawling on all fours. Thinks we can't see him. Now just hold on until he comes around that little ledge!—I'll take him! I've got him! Now!’’
EVIDENTLY THE ONE WHO WAS SHOT WAS A MAN OF SOME PROMINENCE AMONG THEM—POSSIBLY A CHIEF.
And again Pike's rifle rang out, and to his intense delight the Indian sprang to his feet—staggered an instant—and then fell all in a heap, huddled up around the roots of the tree which he was just striving to reach. Some one down among the Indians gave a yell of dismay. Evidently the one who was shot was a man of some prominence among them—possibly a chief.
‘‘They'll try and haul his body out of the way, Jim. Watch for at least one or two of them coming up there! He may be only wounded, and they'll try to get him into safety. If they do—fire at the first man you see!’’
‘‘They'll show again in a minute, though, Jim. Keep watch! They won't go away and leave those two bodies there if they can possibly help themselves. Some of them will stay. Of course, they'll have a consultation and then see if they can't get at us from the flank or from the rear. They can't; but they don't know it. That'll be their next game.’’
‘‘For the love of all the saints, corporal, don't let that boy stay out there! Bring him back here to me! His father would kill me if anything happened to him! Oh, listen to me, Pike! Send the boy back again! Make him come!’’
But so far from paying any attention to Kate's admonition, Pike turned with kindling eyes and patted the little fellow on the shoulder: ‘‘You're your father's own boy, Ned, and you shall stay here with me for the present at least, and if there should be a chance of a shot—one I can give you without exposing you—I'm going to let you have it. Kneel low down there, and don't lift your head above the parapet whatever you do! Stay just where you are.’’
Every now and then, a black head would appear from behind some tree, but the instant it did so the darkey's rifle would ring out, the bullet would go whistling close beside it, the head would pop suddenly back, and Jim as promptly would re-load his rifle.
It was beginning to grow monotonous. The Indians—probably because they knew they were only wasting their scanty ammunition—had ceased firing, and were evidently calling to one another and signaling from behind the rocks and trees where they had taken refuge. So long as they remained down there in front Pike had no possible concern. His only fear, as has been said, was that they should make a
But the corporal had served too long among the Apaches to greatly dread any such move. They were already shaken by the severity of their reception and of their losses. He knew that they could not be aware that only two men and a little boy constituted the whole force of the defenders, for they would have come with a rush long before.
Their plan now would doubtless be to leave a few of their number in front to keep the besieged in check while the greater part of the band surrounded the big ledge and sought a means of getting at the little garrison from flank or rear.
‘‘By George! Jim,’’ muttered the old man with the ejaculation that with him supplied the place of trooper profanity—‘‘I believe you're right about your Indian. You probably wounded him and he's lying behind that rock now, and those fellows are coming up to help him. Don't fire! They're too far away for a down-hill shot. Wait till I tell you. Now, Ned, my boy, run back and comfort Nellie a minute. I
Ned looked far from satisfied with the proposition, but the corporal was the commanding officer, and there was nothing to do but obey. He went reluctantly. ‘‘Mind, corporal, you've promised I should have a shot,’’ he said, and Pike nodded assent, although he could not turn from his loophole. Another minute and the Henry rifle barked its loud challenge down the slope, and the old trooper's keen, set features relaxed in a grin.
And now came a lull. Once in a long while some one of the besiegers would let drive a bullet at the loopholes, but Apache shooting was never of the best and though the lead spattered dangerously near, ‘‘the miss,’’ quoth Pike, ‘‘is as good as any number of miles.’’ On the other hand, whenever
‘‘Now, Jim, it won't be long before they will be showing around on all sides. Pile on a few more stones above that loophole that looks to the west. The next thing you know there'll be a head and a gun poked out from behind that shoulder of rock beyond you. I'll watch my side and keep a look on down the hill, too.’’
And now the hours seemed to drag with leaden weight. All was silence around them, yet Pike knew that this made their danger only the more imminent. He could nowhere see a sign of their late assailants except the stiffening bodies down the hill, but he had not a doubt that while some
At last the straining ears of the watchers were attracted by strange sounds. Low calls in savage tongue from down the hill were answered on both sides and from above. The Indians had evidently thoroughly reconnoitred the position, and had found that there was actually no place around the rock from which they could see and open fire on the besieged. The sun was now high overhead. Odd sounds as of dragging objects began to be heard from the top of the rock, and this was kept up for fully an hour. Neither Pike nor Jim could imagine what it meant, but neither dared for an instant to leave his post.
ALL OF A SUDDEN A BLACK SHADOW RUSHED THROUGH THE AIR.