VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


From: An Apache Princess

Deep down in a ragged cleft of the desert, with shelving rock and
giant bowlder on every side, without a sign of leaf, or sprig of
grass, or tendril of tiny creeping plant, a little party of haggard,
hunted men lay in hiding and in the silence of exhaustion and despond,
awaiting the inevitable. Bulging outward overhead, like the counter of
some huge battleship, a great mass of solid granite heaved unbroken
above them, forming a recess or cave, in which they were secure
against arrow, shot, or stone from the crest of the lofty, almost
vertical walls of the vast and gloomy canon. Well back under this
natural shelter, basined in the hollowed rock, a blessed pool of fair
water lay unwrinkled by even a flutter of breeze. Relic of the early
springtime and the melting snows, it had been caught and imprisoned
here after the gradually failing stream had trickled itself into
nothingness. One essential, one comfort then had not been denied the
beleaguered few, but it was about the only one. Water for drink, for
fevered wounds and burning throats, they had in abundance; but the
last "hardtack" had been shared, the last scrap of bacon long since
devoured. Of the once-abundant rations only coffee grains were left.
Of the cartridge-crammed "thimble belts," with which they had entered
the canon and the Apache trap, only three contained so much as a
single copper cylinder, stopped by its forceful lead. These three
belonged to troopers, two of whom, at least, would never have use for
them again. One of these, poor Jerry Kent, lay buried beneath the
little cairn of rocks in still another cavelike recess a dozen yards
away, hidden there by night, when prowling Apaches could not see the
sorrowing burial party and crush them with bowlders heaved over the
precipice above, or shoot them down with whistling lead or
steel-tipped arrow from some safe covert in the rocky walls.

Cut off from their comrades while scouting a side ravine, Captain Wren
and his quartette of troopers had made stiff and valiant fight against
such of the Indians as permitted hand or head to show from behind the
rocks. They had felt confident that Sergeant Brewster and the main
body would speedily miss them, or hear the sound of firing and turn
back au secours, but sounds are queerly carried in such a maze of
deep and tortuous clefts as seamed the surface in every conceivable
direction through the wild basin of the Colorado. Brewster's rearmost
files declared long after that never the faintest whisper of affray
had reached their ears, already half deadened by fatigue and the
ceaseless crash of iron-shod hoofs on shingly rock. As for Brewster
himself, he was able to establish that Wren's own orders were to "push
ahead" and try to make Sunset Pass by nightfall, while the captain,
with such horses as seemed freshest, scouted right and left wherever
possible. The last seen of Jerry Kent, it later transpired, was when
he came riding after them to say the captain had gone into the mouth
of the gorge opening to the west, and the last message borne from the
commander to the troop came through Jerry Kent to Sergeant Dusold, who
brought up the rear. They had passed the mouths of half a dozen
ravines within the hour, some on one side, some on the other, and
Dusold "passed the word" by sending Corporal Slater clattering up the
canon, skirting the long drawn-out column of files until, far in the
lead, he could overtake the senior sergeant and deliver his message.
Later, when Brewster rode back with all but the little guard left over
his few broken-down men and mounts in Sunset Pass, Dusold could
confidently locate in his own mind the exact spot where Kent overtook
him; but Dusold was a drill-book dragoon of the Prussian school,
consummately at home on review or parade, but all at sea, so to speak,
in the mountains. They never found a trace of their loved leader. The
clefts they scouted were all on the wrong side.

And so it happened that relief came not, that one after another the
five horses fell, pierced with missiles or crushed and stunned by
rocks crashing down from above, that Kent himself was shot through the
brain, and Wren skewered through the arm by a Tonto shaft, and plugged
with a round rifle ball in the shoulder. Sergeant Carmody bound up his
captain's wound as best he could, and by rare good luck, keeping up a
bold front, and answering every shot, they fought their way to this
little refuge in the rocks, and there, behind improvised barricades or
bowlders, "stood off" their savage foe, hoping rescue might soon reach

But Wren was nearly wild from wounds and fever when the third day came
and no sign of the troop. Another man had been hit and stung, and
though not seriously wounded, like a burnt child, he now shunned the
fire and became, perforce, an ineffective. Their scanty store of
rations was gone entirely. Sergeant Carmody and his alternate watchers
were worn out from lack of sleep when, in the darkness of midnight, a
low hail in their own tongue came softly through the dead
silence,--the voice of Lieutenant Blakely cautioning, "Don't fire,
Wren. It's the Bugologist," and in another moment he and his orderly
afoot, in worn Apache moccasins, but equipped with crammed haversacks
and ammunition belts, were being welcomed by the besieged. There was
little of the emotional and nothing of the melodramatic about it. It
was, if anything, rather commonplace. Wren was flighty and disposed to
give orders for an immediate attack in force on the enemy's works, to
which the sergeant, his lips trembling just a bit, responded with
prompt salute: "Very good, sir, just as quick as the men can finish
supper. Loot'nent Blakely's compliments, sir, and he'll be ready in
ten minutes," for Blakely and his man, seeing instantly the condition
of things, had freshened the little fire and begun unloading supplies.
Solalay, their Indian guide, after piloting them through the woodland
southwest of Snow Lake, had pointed out the canon, bidden them follow
it and, partly in the sign language, partly in Spanish, partly in the
few Apache terms that Blakely had learned during his agency days,
managed to make them understand that Wren was to be found some five
miles further on, and that most of the besieging Tontos were on the
heights above or in the canon below. Few would be encountered, if any,
on the up-stream side. Then, promising to take the horses and the
mules to Camp Sandy, he had left them. He dared go no farther toward
the warring Apaches. They would suspect and butcher him without mercy.

But Solalay had not gone without promise of further aid. Natzie's
younger brother, Alchisay, had recently come to him with a message
from her, and should be coming with another. Solalay thought he could
find the boy and send him to them to be used as a courier. Blakely's
opportune coming had cheered not a little the flagging defense, but,
not until forty-eight hours thereafter, by which time their condition
had become almost desperate and the foe almost daring, did the lithe,
big-eyed, swarthy little Apache reach them. Blakely knew him
instantly, wrote his dispatch and bade the boy go with all speed, with
the result we know. "Three more of our party are wounded," he had
written, but had not chosen to say that one of them was himself.

A solemn sight was this that met the eyes of the Bugologist, as
Carmody roused him from a fitful sleep, with the murmured words,
"Almost light, sir. They'll be on us soon as they can see." Deep in
under the overhang and close to the pool lay one poor fellow whose
swift, gasping breath told all too surely that the Indian bullet had
found fatal billet in his wasting form. It was Chalmers, a young
Southerner, driven by poverty at home and prospect of adventure abroad
to seek service in the cavalry. It was practically his first campaign,
and in all human probability his last. Consciousness had left him
hours ago, and his vagrant spirit was fast loosing every earthly bond,
and already, in fierce dreamings, at war with unseen and savage foe
over their happy hunting grounds in the great Beyond. Near him,
equally sheltered, yet further toward the dim and pallid light, lay
Wren, his strong Scotch features pinched and drawn with pain and loss
of blood and lack of food. Fever there was little left, there was so
little left for it to live upon. Weak and helpless as a child in arms
he lay, inert and silent. There was nothing he could do. Never a
quarter hour had passed since he had been forced to lie there that
some one of his devoted men had not bathed his forehead and cooled his
burning wounds with abundant flow of blessed water. Twice since his
gradual return to consciousness had he asked for Blakely, and had
bidden him sit and tell him of Sandy, asking for tidings of Angela,
and faltering painfully as he bethought himself of the last
instructions he had given. How could Blakely be supposed to know aught
of her or of the household bidden to treat him practically as a
stranger? Now, he thought it grand that the Bugologist had thrown all
consideration of peril to the wind and had hastened to their aid to
share their desperate fortunes. But Wren knew not how to tell of it.
He took courage and hope when Blakely spoke of Solalay's loyalty, of
young Alchisay's daring visit and his present mission. Apaches of his
band had been known to traverse sixty miles a day over favorable
ground, and Alchisay, even through such a labyrinth of rock, ravine,
and precipice, should not make less than thirty. Within forty-eight
hours of his start the boy ought to reach the Sandy valley, and surely
no moment would then be lost in sending troops to find and rescue
them. But four days and nights, said Blakely to himself, was the least
time in which they could reasonably hope for help, and now only the
third night had gone,--gone with their supplies of every kind. A few
hours more and the sun would be blazing in upon even the dank depths
of the canon for his midday stare. A few minutes more and the Apaches,
too, would be up and blazing on their own account. "Keep well under
shelter," were Blakely's murmured orders to the few men, even as the
first, faint breath of the dawn came floating from the broader reaches
far down the rocky gorge.

In front of their cavelike refuge, just under the shelving mass
overhead, heaped in a regular semicircle, a rude parapet of rocks gave
shelter to the troopers guarding the approaches. Little loopholes had
been left, three looking down and two northward up the dark and tortuous
rift. In each of these a loaded carbine lay in readiness. So well chosen
was the spot that for one hundred yards southeastward--down stream--the
narrow gorge was commanded by the fire of the defense, while above, for
nearly eighty, from wall to wall, the approach was similarly swept. No
rush was therefore possible on part of the Apaches without every
probability of their losing two or three of the foremost. The Apache
lacks the magnificent daring of the Sioux or Cheyenne. He is a fighter
from ambush; he risks nothing for glory's sake; he is a monarch in craft
and guile, but no hero in open battle. For nearly a week now, day after
day, the position of the defenders had been made almost terrible by the
fierce bombardment to which it had been subjected, of huge stones or
bowlders sent thundering down the almost precipitous walls, then
bounding from ledge to ledge, or glancing from solid, sloping face
diving, finally, with fearful crash into the rocky bed at the bottom,
sending a shower of fragments hurtling in every direction, oft
dislodging some section of parapet, yet never reaching the depths of the
cave. Add to this nerve-racking siege work the instant, spiteful flash
of barbed arrow or zip and crack of bullet when hat or hand of one of
the defenders was for a second exposed, and it is not difficult to fancy
the wear and tear on even the stoutest heart in the depleted little

And still they set their watch and steeled their nerves, and in dogged
silence took their station as the pallid light grew roseate on the
cliffs above them. And with dull and wearied, yet wary, eyes, each
soldier scanned every projecting rock or point that could give shelter
to lurking foe, and all the time the brown muzzles of the carbines
were trained low along the stream bed. No shot could now be thrown
away at frowsy turban or flaunting rag along the cliffs. The rush was
the one thing they had to dread and drive back. It was God's mercy the
Apache dared not charge in the dark.

Lighter grew the deep gorge and lighter still, and soon in glorious
radiance the morning sunshine blazed on the lofty battlements far
overhead, and every moment the black shadow on the westward wall,
visible to the defense long rifle-shot southeastward, gave gradual way
before the rising day god, and from the broader open reaches beyond the
huge granite shoulder, around which wound the canon, and from the
sun-kissed heights, a blessed warmth stole softly in, grateful
inexpressibly to their chilled and stiffened limbs. And still, despite
the growing hours, neither shot nor sign came from the accustomed haunts
of the surrounding foe. Six o'clock was marked by Blakely's watch. Six
o'clock and seven, and the low moan from the lips of poor young
Chalmers, or the rattle of some pebble dislodged by the foot of
crouching guardian, or some murmured word from man to man,--some word of
wonderment at the unlooked for lull in Apache siege operations,--was the
only sound to break the almost deathlike silence of the morning. There
was one other, far up among the stunted, shriveled pines and cedars that
jutted from the opposite heights. They could hear at intervals a weird,
mournful note, a single whistling call in dismal minor, but it brought
no new significance. Every day of their undesired and enforced sojourn,
every hour of the interminable day, that raven-like, hermit bird of the
Sierras had piped his unmelodious signal to some distant feathered
fellow, and sent a chill to the heart of more than one war-tried
soldier. There was never a man in Arizona wilds that did not hate the
sound of it. And yet, as eight o'clock was noted and still no sight or
sound of assailant came, Sergeant Carmody turned a wearied, aching eye
from his loophole and muttered to the officer crouching close beside
him: "I could wring the neck of the lot of those infernal cat crows,
sir, but I'll thank God if we hear no worse sound this day."

Blakely rose to his feet and wearily leaned upon the breastworks,
peering cautiously over. Yesterday the sight of a scouting hat would
have brought instant whiz of arrow, but not a missile saluted him now.
One arm, his left, was rudely bandaged and held in a sling, a rifle
ball from up the cliff, glancing from the inner face of the parapet,
had torn savagely through muscle and sinew, but mercifully scored
neither artery nor bone. An arrow, whizzing blindly through a
southward loophole, had grazed his cheek, ripping a straight red seam
far back as the lobe of the ear, which had been badly torn. Blakely
had little the look of a squire of dames as, thus maimed and scarred
and swathed in blood-stained cotton, he peered down the deep and
shadowy cleft and searched with eyes keen, if yet unskilled, every
visible section of the opposite wall. What could their silence mean?
Had they found other game, pitifully small in numbers as these
besieged, and gone to butcher them, knowing well that, hampered by
their wounded, these, their earlier victims, could not hope to escape?
Had they got warning of the approach of some strong force of
soldiery--Brewster scouting in search of them, or may be Sanders
himself? Had they slipped away, therefore, and could the besieged dare
to creep forth and shout, signal, or even fire away two or three of
these last precious cartridges in hopes of catching the ear of
searching comrades?

Wren, exhausted, had apparently dropped into a fitful doze. His eyes
were shut, his lips were parted, his long, lean fingers twitched at
times as a tremor seemed to shoot through his entire frame. Another
day like the last or at worst like this, without food or nourishment,
and even such rugged strength as had been his would be taxed to the
utmost. There might be no to-morrow for the sturdy soldier who had so
gallantly served his adopted country, his chosen flag. As for
Chalmers, the summons was already come. Far from home and those who
most loved and would sorely grieve for him, the brave lad was dying.
Carmody, kneeling by his side, but the moment before had looked up
mutely in his young commander's face, and his swimming, sorrowing eyes
had told the story.

Nine o'clock had come without a symptom of alarm or enemy from
without, yet death had invaded the lonely refuge in the rocks,
claiming one victim as his tribute for the day and setting his seal
upon still another, the prospective sacrifice for the dismal morrow,
and Blakely could stand the awful strain no longer.

"Sergeant," said he, "I must know what this means. We must have help
for the captain before this sun goes down, or he may be gone before we
know it."

And Carmody looked him in the face and answered: "I am strong yet and
unhurt. Let me make the try, sir. Some of our fellows must be scouting
near us, or these beggars wouldn't have quit. I can find the boys, if
anyone can."

Blakely turned and gazed one moment into the deep and dark recess
where lay his wounded and the dying. The morning wind had freshened a
bit, and a low, murmurous song, nature's AEolian, came softly from the
swaying pine and stunted oak and juniper far on high. The whiff that
swept to their nostrils from the lower depths of the canon told its
own grewsome tale. There, scattered along the stream bed, lay the
festering remains of their four-footed comrades, first victims of the
ambuscade. Death lurked about their refuge then on every side, and was
even invading their little fortress. Was this to be the end, after
all? Was there neither help nor hope from any source?

Turning once again, a murmured prayer upon his lips, Blakely started
at sight of Carmody. With one hand uplifted, as though to caution
silence, the other concaved at his ear, the sergeant was bending
eagerly forward, his eyes dilating, his frame fairly quivering. Then,
on a sudden, up he sprang and swung his hat about his head. "Firing,
sir! Firing, sure!" he cried. Another second, and with a gasp and moan
he sank to earth transfixed; a barbed arrow, whizzing from unseen
space, had pierced him through and through.

Next: Where Is Angela?

Previous: A Stranger Going

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 459