9. THE ATTACK.


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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


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through that loophole and see what you've done!’’

Terrified, with his eyes starting from their sockets, Jim obeyed, and his black face showed in an instant the full realization of the scene before him.

‘‘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?’’

‘‘I'm ready, boss. Just wait one minute until I get my rifle through here.’’


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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.


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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


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they know we're here. Now, Jim,’’ he whispered, ‘‘watch your man! — recollect — you aim at that tall fellow on your own side, — I'll take the little, skinny cuss — the one who is just turning towards us now. They are not more than seventy-five yards away. Aim low!’’ — There was a moment of breathless silence. ‘‘Are you ready, Jim?’’ whispered Pike.

‘‘Yes, all ready, corporal.’’

‘‘All right! — One minute now — get you a good aim! — Draw your bead on him! — Wedge your rifle in the rock, if necessary! Got it?’’

‘‘I think so, corporal.’’

‘‘All right then! Fire!’’

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


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themselves with looking through the loopholes. One look revealed the scene. ‘‘The little, skinny cuss,’’ as Pike had called him, clasping his hands to his breast, had fallen head foremost among the rocks up which he was climbing. But the tall Indian, giving a spring like that of a cat, had leaped behind a bowlder full ten feet away from him, and the next instant, — bang! went his rifle, and a bullet whizzed overhead and struck, flattening itself upon the rocks.

‘‘Oh, you've missed him, Jim,’’ said Pike, reproachfully. ‘‘Now, look out for the others!’’

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,


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from all over the hillside below, thick and fast, the reports of the rifles were ringing on the morning air and the bullets came singing about the stone parapet, some of them chipping off little fragments from the top of the parapet itself, but most of them striking the great mass of rocks overhead and doing no harm whatever, except to spatter little fragments of lead upon the parapet and its gallant defenders.

‘‘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


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bullet barked the tree just where the Apache was standing; but apparently it did no harm to the Indian himself; for the answering shot of his rifle was prompt, and the bullet whizzed dangerously near.

‘‘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?’’

‘‘Because I'm certain that I hit him,’’ said Jim, ‘‘and I reckon by this time he isn't doing any more shooting.’’

‘‘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.


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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!’’

Another minute, and then both the rifles blazed again. Two daring young Indians had made a rush forward, and had attempted


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to seize their wounded comrade; but the shots of the rifles whistling close about their ears, caused them to desist, to throw themselves on their faces, and then to roll or crawl away behind the adjacent rocks. Evidently they didn't care to expose themselves to the chance of further loss. Two Indians lying dead, and one over behind a rock possibly wounded, was enough to discourage even an Apache.

‘‘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.’’

And so for the next five or ten minutes the siege was carried on, Jim and the old


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corporal watching the hillside, but meantime there was consternation back in the cave. Poor old Kate mingled moaning with prayers and tears; little Nellie, frightened, of course, as any child would be, lay sobbing with her head buried in Kate's lap. But Ned, brave little man that he was, had grasped his rifle, the Ballard, of which so much has already been said, and, crouching eagerly forward, before Pike knew it, the boy was close beside him at the stone wall, and had placed his hand upon his arm.

‘‘Corporal, let me come in here beside you, there's room for another. Do let me have one shot at them? Papa would if he were here, and I know it!’’

This was altogether too much for Kate to bear. She dare not come forward, but from the dark recess in which she and Nellie were hidden, her cries and prayers broke forth again:


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‘‘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.’’

With that the old trooper, whose rifle was still projecting through the loophole, again turned his attention to the Indians lurking among the rocks and bowlders down


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the hill. The two bodies still lay there—Jim's rifle covering them and threatening any Indians who might attempt to drag them away.

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


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combined rush. If they were to have sense enough to do that, and ignore the probability of losing three or four of their number in the attempt, it would be all over with the little party in the cave.

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.

What he hoped for was a chance of dealing


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them one more blow before they could crawl back out of range and presently the opportunity came. Two or three of the band who were farthest to the rear had managed to slip back some distance down the hill and occasional glimpses could now be caught of them as they stealthily made their way out towards the western slope. It was not long before their dirty white breech-clouts could be distinguished as they slowly and cautiously came creeping up hill.

‘‘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


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don't want you here where a glancing shot might hit you. The moment we get them started on the run, I'll call you.’’

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.

‘‘Now they've got two to lug,’’ he muttered to Jim. ‘‘Lord! See that beggar roll over those rocks!’’

Again there came yells and shots from down the hill but both were harmless. Cowed, apparently, by the sharp shooting of the defenders, the Apaches who had


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sought to rescue their wounded mate continued in hiding behind the rocks where they had taken shelter. The others, farther to the east, were slipping back as fast as they could, but studiously keeping out of sight of those death-dealing loopholes. Presently it was apparent to the corporal that a number of them had got together far down the hill and were holding excited controversy, probably as to the best means of getting possession of their dead friends and then, their living enemies. Pike looked at his watch. It was half after seven and they had been fighting an hour.

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


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or wherever an Indian head, leg or arm appeared, it was instantly saluted by one, sometimes two, quick shots, and there could be no doubt whatever that the pale faces, as the Tontos supposed them all to be, were fully on the alert.

‘‘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


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watched the front, most of them, making wide detours, were now lurking on every side, and looking for a possible opening. Every now and then he had to give a quick glance over his shoulder to see that Jim was alert and watchful. It would not do to have him fall asleep now. And then once in a while he listened, God only knows how wistfully, for the sound of cavalry coming across the westward plain. It surely was time for Sieber and the troops to be coming if the former had carried out his intentions. Pike could see nothing of the road towards Jarvis Pass and only a glimpse here and there of the plateau itself. The foliage in the larger trees was too thick. He longed to clamber to his watch-tower but felt well assured that one step outside the parapet would make him a target for the Indian rifles. First as an experiment he put his hat on a stick and cautiously raised it


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above their barricade. Two bullets instantly zipped over his head and dropped flat as pancakes from the rock overhead. The experiment was conclusive.

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.

It must have been eleven o'clock and


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after, when, all of a sudden, a black shadow rushed through the air, and Pike started almost to his feet as a huge log fell from above and bounded from the jagged rocks in front of them. Then came another, tumbling one upon the other, wedging and jostling, and speedily rising in a huge pile several feet high. More and more they came; then smaller ones; then loose dry branches and roots in quantities. And then, as the great heap grew and grew, an awful thought occurred to the old trooper. At first it seemed as though the Indians meant to try and form a curtain, sheltered by which they could crawl upon their foes; but when the brushwood came, a fiercer, far more dreadful purpose was revealed. ‘‘My God!’’ he groaned, ‘‘they mean to roast us out.’’

ALL OF A SUDDEN A BLACK SHADOW RUSHED THROUGH THE AIR.

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