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In The Hands Of
The Cave Dwellers

BY G. A. HENTY [1900]

Chapter Titles.

Chapter 6
Hopeful News

When all the arrangements had been made for the departure of the raft, Will Harland said to Antonio: "Do you think that it will be absolutely impossible to approach the hacienda by daylight?"

"It could not be done, senor, and, indeed, I don't see that any good could come of it, for even if we could get in unobserved, there would be no one of whom we could ask questions or find out anything as to what has taken place. It is just possible that in the confusion of the attack some of the workers employed in the house, the stables, or our huts may have escaped and hidden themselves. The Indians are good searchers, but just at first they would be anxious to make their success as complete as possible, and doubtless a large party rode up the valley at once while the others started down it. It was important that they should surprise the men with the various herds before they could gather together, for even if twenty or thirty could have been rallied they would have made a hard fight of it before they lost their scalps. Therefore, any who escaped in the attack on the house may have hidden themselves from the first search, and we may possibly come across them at night. They would assuredly never leave their hiding-places until darkness had fallen.

"I have some hopes of Sancho. If anyone has got out safe he has. He had a good deal of experience in Indian fighting some fifteen years ago, when he was farther east, and is sure to have his wits about him. He was at our hut when I came along this morning. As you know, he got hurt by a young bull in the yard ten days since. He was nearly well again, but the padre said he had better keep quiet for another day or two. I fancy that he was the only man there except for the workers, for it is a busy time. At the first war-whoop he heard he would make for shelter, for he would know that it was no use his trying to fight the whole tribe. There is a thick patch of brush twenty or thirty yards from the huts. I expect that he would make for that straight. There is a tank in the middle that was used at one time, but the water was always muddy, and the master had a fresh one made handy to the huts, and since then the path to the old tank has been overgrown, and no one ever goes there. If Sancho is alive, he is lying in that pond under the bushes that droop over it all around."

"He would not be able to give us any information as to what was done in the house."

"No, senor. But he would be of great assistance to us if we follow the red-skins. He is up to all their ways, and is a good shot with the rifle. At any rate, if we do down to the house I should like to try to find him. We have been comrades a good many years now."

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"Certainly, Antonio, you shall see if you can find him. He is a good fellow, and, as you say, would be of great assistance to us. Do you think that we could make a circuit and come down on the river again two or three miles higher up, and cross there and get anywhere near the house?"

"We might do it, senor, but we cannot get near enough to do any good, I think we should be wrong to move from here. You may be sure that there are some of the red-skins hiding on the opposite bank, keeping a sharp watch on us. If any of us were to ride away, one of them would carry the news at once, and they would be on the look-out for us. If we all stay here till it is dark, they would suppose that we have all gone down with the rafts. That will be good for the rafts, too, for the Indians would be unlikely to attack them, believing that there are some fifteen or twenty men with guns on them; and, in the next place, they will think that they are clear of us altogether and be less cautious than they might be if they were to suppose that we were still in their neighbourhood."

"You are right, Antonio, and I will try and be patient."

As soon as it was dark the little party of fifteen men started, moving as noiselessly as possible. They rode two miles up the river to a point where Antonio said they were opposite a path by which they could keep long at the foot of the hills until in line with the hacienda.

"You don't think that there is any fear of there being any red-skins on the farther side?"

"Not the slightest, senor. Long before this they will have their fires lighted and be gorging themselves with meat. They know how small our force is, and will never dream of our venturing back into their midst."

As they rode into the river they slipped off their horses as the latter began to swim, holding on with one hand, and with the other keeping their guns, pistols, and ammunition above the water. The river at this point was some two hundred yards wide, and flowing with a quiet current. In a few minutes they were across. Antonio soon discovered the path, and, following it, they rode in single file for an hour.

Then they reached a spot where there was an opening among the trees, and Antonio said that they were abreast of the hacienda, which was some four miles away; the building itself was not visible, but the number of fires which blazed round it was a sufficient indication of its position. At various other points up and down the valley fires also blazed, but there were none much nearer their side of the valley than those round the hacienda.

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"Do you mean to go with me, senor?"

"Certainly I mean to go. How had it best be done?"

"I should say that we had better ride to within two miles; it would not be safe to go with so large a party nearer than that; then we will take one of the others with us to hold our horses, and, going at a foot-pace, we might get within half a mile of the house without their hearing us. There will be a good deal of movement in the valley; the cattle will be restless, having been chased all day, and the herds broken up, so I think that we can reckon on getting pretty close. Then we will go forward on foot. We had better make for the huts first; you see, the Indians are thick round the house; I don't think there is any chance of anyone being saved there, because that would be the first point of attack. If we do not find Sancho, possibly we may come upon one or two of the workers, who would be likely enough to make for the same shelter; if not, we can try round the stables. Still, I am afraid there is no chance of hearing what has happened at the house - I mean whether the senorita is killed or a prisoner. If there is no other way we must get hold of an Indian and kill him; I will then dress up in his clothes, and see if I can get into the house. As there are two tribes engaged, one would have more chance of passing unsuspected than if they all know each other personally. At any rate, it must be risked. I know the Indian ways pretty well, and might pass muster, but you would have no chance, senor."

When they dismounted Antonio said: "We had better leave our jackets and sombreors here; their outline would show on the darkest night that we were not Indians."

Before leaving the raft Will had obtained from one of the head men a pair of the Mexican fringed leggings, as his own white trousers would betray him at once, and now, with a dark blanket thrown over his shoulder, he might at a short distance be easily mistaken for an Indian. He had already left his riding-boots behind him, and had obtained a pair of moccasins from one of the workers.

"I will lead the way, senor, as I know every foot of the ground," Antonio said.

Moving along noiselessly they came down upon the huts of the white employees of the hacienda. As there were no fires burning here, they had be slight fear of encountering any of the Indians. Each, however, carried a long knife ready for instant action. They had left their rifles and pistols behind them, for it it was necessary to fight, the combat must be a silent one.

They crossed to the clump of bushes of which Antonio had spoken.

"You stop outside, senor; it is of no use two of us making our way into the tangle."

As he parted the bushes before entering, a slight sound was heard.

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"Good! There is someone here," he muttered; and then, making his way a few paces forward, he uttered Sancho's name. There was no reply, and he repeated it in a louder tone. At once there was a low reply: "Here am I. Is it you, Tonio?"

"Yes; I have come to look for you. I thought you would have made a bee-line here as soon as you heard the red-skins."

"You were right, and there are two workers here. We were just going to start to make our way down to the river. Are you alone?"

"I have the young senor with me."

"That is good. I was afraid that we had all been wiped out."

In a couple of minutes the four men emerged from the bushes.

"I am glad to see that you are safe, Sancho," Will said warmly. "Now can you tell me what has happened?"

"I know nothing whatever, senor. I was eating my breakfast when I heard a sudden yell, and knew that it was the Apache war-whoop, and that there must be a big force of them. There was evidently no fighting done, so I caught up my rifle and pistols and made for the bush. These two workers who were outside followed me. I told them to hide as best they could, and I went on into the pool, found a good place under some thick bushes, hid my powder-horn and weapons handy for use close by, and lay down with my head out of water, listening. Already they were down at the huts, and I heard the cries of the workers they caught there. Luckily I was the only Mexican above. A few shots were fired up at the hacienda, and I thought I heard screams, but, owing to the yells of the Indians, I could not be sure. Presently it all died away. I don't fancy they suspected that anyone got away, the attack being so sudden; at any rate, they made no search here. I made up my mind to lie down till most of them would be asleep and then to make for the river, and I told the workers that we must each shift ourselves, as we had more chances of getting away singly than if together." All this was spoken in a low voice.

"The principal thing that I wanted to ask you is, do you know whether the senorita was killed, or whether they have kept her to carry off? But, of course, you don't know."

"They would not kill her," the man said confidently; "but so far as I know, they have not even caught her. I was at the stables maybe half an hour before the senorita came down and had her horse saddled. She had a basket with her, and told me she was going to ride up the valley to that wigwam that remained when the Indians went away, carrying as much meat as their ponies could take. There were an old Indian and his wife left there - she had got a fever or something, and was too ill to travel, and the senorita was going to take a basket of food and some medicine that the padre had made up for the old man. I have been thinking of her all day. I should say she was coming back when the red-skins rode up the valley after the cattle. She could hardly have helped seeing them, and I wondered whether she would take to the trees and ride on this way until after they had passed, or whether she had turned and ridden on. If she did the first, she is pretty sure to have been captured when she got down near home; if she went the other way, she gave them a mighty long chase, for there is not a horse on the estate as fast as hers, and as for the Indian ponies, she could leave them behind as if they were standing still."

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"Thank God, there is a hope, then!" Will exclaimed. "Now we must move farther off and talk it over."

When they had gone a quarter of a mile from the house they stopped. Antonio told the two workers that the rafts had started fully two hours before. "The current is only about a mile and a half an hour, and if you cross the river and keep on, you ought to catch them up before morning, and can then swim off to them. Don't keep this side of the river, there are red-skins on the bank; but if you stay on this side of the valley, among the trees, down to the river, you will meet none of them. We have come that way."

The workers at once started.

"Now, senor, will you go on to where the horses are? Sancho and I will go back to the house; he understands the Apache language. We will crawl up near the fires, and I should think that we are pretty certain to hear if they have caught the senorita or not. However, we may be some time, so do not be anxious, and don't move if you hear a sudden row, for we might miss you in the dark. We shall make straight for this tree, and for a bit my horse much carry double; you have better hand your jacket to Senor Harland, Sancho, and take his blanket."

"How far are the horses?"

"There are three of them about two hundred yards further on."

"I will go there first, then," the man said. "This is terrible business, senor."

"Terrible, indeed. I am afraid there is no doubt that Donna Sarasta has lost her life."

"I reckon," the man said, "that except ourselves and any you may have with you, there are not a dozen alive in the valley; it is a clean wipe out. I never knew a worse surprise. How about the party by the river?"

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Antonio related what had taken place there.

"Well, that is something saved," he said, and with sixteen of us all well armed we can manage to make a decent fight of it. We must get another horse, but that won't be very difficult; most of the others are sure to have their lassos with them, there are a score of horses running loose on the plains, and they cannot have roped them all yet."

When they reached the horses he went on: "You had better stop here, Tonio, you are not accustomed, as I am, to them Injuns, and as you don't know much of their lingo, you would not understand much of their talk. I would much rather go alone."

"All right, old man!" the other said.

"Now for my makeup," Sancho went on; and going up to one of the horses, he pricked it with his knife. "Steady, boy, steady! he said, as the horse plunged.

"It is for your good as well as mine, for you would not find life in an Indian village as pleasant as the life you have been used to."

He dipped his fingers in the blood, drew a broad line across his forehead and round his eyes, placed a patch on his cheek; then he cut off two handfuls of long hair from the animal's tail, tied these together with string and fastened them in his hair, so that the horse-hair fell down on to his shoulder on each side and partially hid his face.

"It is rough," he said, "but it will pass in the darkness. It is lucky you have got a 'Pache blanket; that will help me wonderfully."

"Yes; I bought it from the Indians when they traded here a few weeks since. The man I got it of said that he had traded a good pony for it when he was hunting in the spring on the other side of the river."

"I will take your rifle, Tonio," Sancho said. "I must either have that or a bow and arrow. Now, good-bye!"

Without another word he turned and strolled away toward the ranch house. It was nearly two hours before he returned.

"The senorita has got away so far," he said. "The red-skins came across her half-way up the valley; she turned and rode straight up; a dozen well-mounted men were sent after her. I heard that they send so many because they were afraid that they might fall in with a party of the Genigueh Indians, who would certainly attack them at once."

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"Thank God!" Will exclaimed fervently. "There is a chance of saving her, after all, for if they overtake her - and they won't do that for some time - we can attack them as they come back again."

"Now let us join the others at once, and make up the valley."

During the time Sancho had been away he had been questioning Antonio as to the extent of the valley.

"It goes a long way into the heart of the mountains, senor, but none of us know it beyond what we have learned from the Indians, for we were strictly forbidden to go beyond the boundary for fear of disturbing the game in the Indian country. They say that it runs three hours' fast riding beyond our bounds. After that it becomes a mere ravine, but it can be followed up to the top of the hill, and from there across a wild country, until at last the track comes down on a ford on the Colorado. For there there is a track leading west at the foot of the San Francisco Mountain, and coming down on the Little Colorado, close to the Moquis country."

"How far would that be from here?" Will asked.

"I have never been across there, senor, and I doubt whether any white man has - not on that line. I should think that from what the Indians say it must be some fifty miles from the end of our part of the valley to the ford of the Colorado, and from there to the Little Colorado it must be one hundred and fifty miles in a straight line - perhaps two hundred by the way the track goes - that is to say, if there is a track that anyone can follow. These tracks mostly run pretty straight, so that I should say that it would be about as far to the Moquis country as it would be to San Diego from here; however, we may be sure that we are not going to make such a journey as that; the Apaches are not likely to follow her farther than the end of this valley, or at most to the Colorado ford."

As they rode along Will learned from Sancho how he had obtained the news,

"There was no difficulty about that," the other said carelessly. "I waited till the fires were a bit low, and then sauntered about near those of a party of the Tejunas, and heard them talking about it. I learned that they had, as they believed, wiped out all our people except those who crossed the river on rafts, and the senorita, though they allowed that a few of the men with the herds might have got away, and they were going to search the valley thoroughly to-morrow. Not a soul in the hacienda escaped. The red-skins were exultant over the amount of booty they had taken, and were glad that the cattle were amply sufficient for both tribes, so that there would be no cause for dispute as to the division; and were specially pleased with the stores of flour and goods of all kinds in the magazines."

When they joined the main body Sancho was heartily welcomed by his comrades, who were delighted to hear that there was at least a chance of saving the senorita, of whom all hands on the estate were fond. It was arranged at once that Sancho should ride by turns behind the others, and then they started at a gallop up the valley, keeping close within the edge of the trees that covered the hillside.

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