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In The Hands Of
The Cave Dwellers

BY G. A. HENTY [1900]

Chapter Titles.

Chapter 9

He threw himself down on the platform, which was entirely deserted, and lay there for five minutes; then he unwound the coil of leather-thong, and threw the weighted end over. He knew that he had allowed ample length, and drew it in until he felt a slight strain; then came three jerks. The party below had hold of the thong; two more jerks told that they had fastened the end of lariat to it; in a couple of minutes it was in his hands. There was a parapet some eighteen inches high along the edge of the platform, intended doubtless to prevent children from falling over. Seeing no place to which he could fasten the lariat, he tied to round the middle of the two poles, laid these on the ground close to the parapet, put his feet upon them, and then leaned over. Two pulls on the lariat told him that the next man was tied on, and he began at once to haul upon it. He found the weight much less than he expected. Not only was the vaquero short and wiry, but he was using both his hands and feet with such effect that in five minutes he stood beside Will.

The work went on quickly now. One after another the men were pulled up, and in less than an hour all were assembled on the platform, where, save three engaged in pulling their comrades up, they had laid down as soon as they reached it. Will had been glad to relinquish the work to others, for his hands were cut and bleeding. He had crawled along, keeping by the wall of rock until he reached the point where the bulge or bend in the face of the cliff enabled him to see the other end of the platform. To his surprise not a soul was visible, but, peering over the parapet, he saw four figures standing as sentinels at the points where there were breaks in the path, and the moon light enabled him to make out that the ladders had been pulled up and laid beside them.

He could hear a confused hum of voices from the principal cave, but, though most anxious to know what was going on there, he dared not venture farther until all the men were up, as anyone coming out of the cave would at once see him. He therefore rejoined the others. Each man as he came up gave him a silent grip of the hand, and the Indian chief muttered something which Sancho whispered meant "heap great brave." As soon as the last man was up they moved silently forward. Every man knew the part he had to play. Sancho and three other crept forward on hands and knees, under shelter of the parapet, to the other end of the platform, where they were to await the signal, the rest halting at the front of the main entrance to the cave.

Here a sight met their eyes that filled them with horror. The entrance opened into a wide hall, which was lighted by a dozen torches. At the farther end was a hideous idol carved from solid rock; in front of this was a sort of altar upon which lay a figure, which they at once recognized as that of Donna Clara. Beside her stood two men, naked to the waist, with their bodies painted with strange figures. They had knives in their hands, and, rocking themselves to and fro, were uttering some sort of prayer or incantation.

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"You take the fellow to the left, Antonio, I will take the other."

The shots rang out together - the distance was but sixteen or seventeen yards - and without a cry the two priests or executioners fell dead. A terrible cry of astonishment and dismay broke from the crowd, and before they could recover from their surprise, the vaqueros and the two Indians, headed by Will, burst their way through them. Will had given strict orders that there was to be no general firing, as men, women, and children were likely to be mixed up together, but as they entered they caught the sound of four rifles outside, and knew that the sentries had been disposed of Will caught up the girl, who was evidently insensible, and threw her over his shoulder, and, surrounded by his men, made his way outside the cave. Here he handed her over to Antonio, who was a very powerfully built man, and the latter, without a word, started for the steps.

"Now, my men," Will shouted, as with cries of fury the Indians followed them, "Don't spare one of these bloodthirsty wretches, but don't touch the women."

The fight was short, half the Indians being shot down as they poured out on the platform; the others, however, maddened by the loss of their expected victim and the capture of their stronghold, fought desperately to the end, the Mexicans using the butt ends of their rifles, while the savages fought with knives. After the fight was over, the cave was thoroughly searched; many of the women had fallen, for they had joined in the fight as fiercely as the men, and in the darkness and confusion it was impossible to distinguish them apart. The rest, with the children, were forced to descend the steps. The ladders had been replaced by Sancho and his party, who, having finished their work, had run off at once to bring up the horses.

Clara was still unconscious when they returned. Will mounted, and Antonio handed her to him. Sancho and two of the men accompanied him, while the rest in charge of the captives followed more slowly. Fires were blazing high at the Moquis village, and it was evident that the attack had been eagerly watched, and that the firing on the platform had shown that the caves had been taken, for on the still night air came the sound of horses, drums, and loud shouting. Will at once urged his horse into the water, his companions swimming by their horses close to him so as to render assistance, if necessary; but the distance was short, and it was not long before the horse felt the bottom again. The sudden chill of the water had roused the girl from her faint.

"Where am I?" she murmured.

"You are safe in my arms," Will said. "We have got you safely out of the hands of those wretches. All danger is over."

"Is it Will," she asked,"or am I dreaming?"

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"It is I, sure enough, Clara," he said; "and I am glad that for once you dropped the don. I followed you with Antonio and Sancho and thirteen other vaqueros. We were joined by the Genigueh chief, Teczuma, and one of his tribe, who have been invaluable in following your track."

"Holy Virgin, I thank you!" the girl murmured, and then lay silent for a time.

"Where are you going now?" she asked presently.

"To the Moquis village, where you will be most kindly received, and where we shall stay till you have got your strength again."

"Zona, my gallant Zona! Is she safe?"

"Yes. She seemed pretty nearly recovered from her fatigue when we found her this morning, and will be ready to carry you back again."

As they approached the hill they saw a number of people coming down the zigzag path, with torches, who welcomed Will on his arrival with loud cries of triumph. The horses could go no farther, as the path, like that up to the caverns, was at several points cut away, the breaks being filled with long planks. As the girl was altogether unable to walk, some of the boys ran up the hill, and in a quarter of an hour returned with some poles, with which a litter was speedily improvised. In this she was laid, and the four Moquis carried her up the hill, Will walking beside her and holding her hand.

The whole of the villagers were assembled on the top of the hill, shouting and dancing with joy at the destruction of their enemies, for Sancho had already made the chiefs aware that all the men had been killed, and the women and the children were being brought in as prisoners.

The Moquis houses surprised Will, as they had neither windows nor doors on the ground floor, and the entrance was only obtainable by a ladder to the upper story. Clara was here handed over to the care of the principal women of the village. Half an hour later the rest of the party came up with the prisoners. There were for a time confined in one of the houses, two armed Moquis keeping guard over them. The women would, Sancho explained to Will, be used as servants and to fetch water from the springs at the foot of the hill. The children would probably be adopted into the tribe.

It was ten days before Clara was strong enough to think of starting. She had for twenty-four hours been in a high fever, but the care lavished upon her, and her fine constitution, speedily brought her through this, and two days later she was able to see Will.

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"Tell me all that has happened," she said. "I feel sure that mother has been killed, for the valley was full of Indians, and I know that there were but few men at home."

"I am afraid that there is no doubt about that," Will said gently. "We may be thankful, Clara, that your father and Juan were both away, or they, too, might have fallen."

Then he related very briefly how those by the river had been saved, how they learned from Sancho that she had been away at the end of the valley, and how they had started in chase; and then, in a few words, told how he had scaled the face of the cliff, had assisted his followers up, and had arrived just in time.

"I will tell you about my journey another time," she said. "I do not like to think of the last part of it; we were both worn out, Zona and I, and if we had not come down upon the river we should have both died. I took a long drink, and then fell down and went to sleep. I was awakened by being lifted up, and found that I was being carried by two Indians, and that others were all round me. I was too weak even to struggle, but I remember being carried up a very steep path on the face of the cliff. As soon as I was laid down I went to sleep, and I suppose slept all night. In the morning they gave me food and water, but left me alone till it was dark again, then they led me into a large cave lit up by torches, with a horrible idol at the end. They laid me down on a great stone in front of it, and two men with knives came beside me. Then I suppose I fainted, and I remember nothing more till I woke up feeling strangely cold as we were swimming across that river."

Almost the whole of the inhabitants of the village paid a visit to the cave on the morning after the fight, and when shown the ropes, still hanging, by which the party had been drawn up, could at first hardly believe Sancho and the two Indians who assured them that Will had climbed up there unaided. After Clara's illness had taken a turn, and there was no longer cause for anxiety about her, Will was greatly interested in the Moquis village. He was taken into one of the underground rooms that served as temples, and was horrified at finding that hundreds of rattle snakes and other venomous serpents were kept there, and still more astonished when he saw the priests handle them carelessly and take them into their mouths. He could not believe that they had not been rendered harmless until shown that they still retained their poison-fangs. He was told that once a year there was a great festival in which all the men in the village took part and performed dances, holding the snakes in their mouths.

The villagers endeavoured to show their thankfulness at the destruction of their enemies by profuse hospitality to their guests, and the latter thoroughly enjoyed their stay. On starting on the return journey Clara rode with Will, the two vaqueros, and the Indian chief to the foot of the cliff, and was shown the spot where Will had climbed up. After looking at it for some time she suddenly burst into tears.

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"It is dreadful even to think of your going up there, Will," she said. "I should never have forgiven myself if you had been killed when risking your life in that way to save me."

"You would never have known it," he said.

"I should have known it," she said earnestly, "when we met in the Hereafter."

The journey home was conducted in easy stages. Wolf, the Indian, and one of the varqueros had been sent off the day after Clara rallied from her attack of fever. If they found the Apaches still in the valley, they were to return to warn them; if not, they were to ride on until they met Senor Sarasta and told him of his daughter's safety.

When half-way back they met Juan with ten well-armed vaqueros. The meeting was a joyful one, although saddened by the loss, now confirmed, of their mother.

"Ah! Will," Juan exclaimed, after his first tender embrace of his sister, "you are tenfold my brother now. You have saved Clara's life as well as mine; your messengers have told me how you scaled a cliff that seemed to all of them so impossible that none had the slightest hope you could succeed."

"And how are things in the valley?"

"Better than might have been hoped. The red-skins only remained three days; some ten thousand of the cattle have been recovered; many were found in the woods in the hillsides, more still had gone right up the valley, and when the red-skins tried to follow them they were assailed with such showers of arrows by the Geniguehs that they fell back, having indeed already as many cattle as they could drive away. Two of the men from the raft brought us the news to San Diego, and the commandant at once sent off one hundred cavalry to accompany us, and in future a fort is to be build near the hacienda, and fifty soldiers are to be stationed there. The commandant was rather reluctant to agree to this until he had received orders from the government, but on our undertaking to supply the garrison with bread and meat, he consented, seeing that it would be a distinct saving of expense. So we need have no fear of the red-skins meddling with us again. My father has already sent down to Monterey to arrange for the purchase of ten thousand head of cattle from the ranches there, so in two or three years we shall be in full working order again. We found twenty of the vaqueros assembled at the hacienda; they had taken to the woods at the first attack, and had remained in hiding until they found that the red-skins had gone."

A messenger was at once sent on ahead to inform Senor Sarasta of the time at which the party would arrive, and he met them at the upper end of the valley. The meeting was an affecting one. After embracing his daughter the Mexican threw his arms round Will with as much affection as if he had been his father.

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"I did not think," he said, when the first emotion was over, "when I left you in charge that the duty would be such an onerous one, but you have nobly fulfilled your trust, most nobly, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

On arriving at the hacienda they found that great efforts had been made to remove all signs of the visit of the Apaches. Donna Sarasta had been buried in the little chapel near the house. The broken and torn-up shrubs had been replaced, and although inside the rooms were bare, for the furniture had been hacked to pieces by the red-skins, everything was spotlessly clean. Will did not enter with Senor Sarasta into the house, but went straight to the stables with the vaqueros and saw his horse and Zona cared for. When he went to the house, Don Sarasta and Juan went out to him.

"We have been talking together, Will," the Mexican said, "and the result is this: I do not know what your sentiments may be, but I have ascertained those of my daughter. We have been as one family for seven or eight months. We all wish that we shall continue to be so in reality, and I now offer you formally the hand of my daughter, Donna Clara Sarasta, in marriage. I know that I can intrust her happiness to you, and the match will afford both myself and Juan the most lively satisfaction."

"It would be altogether beyond my hopes, senor," Will said, greatly moved. "I will not deny that I have from the first had a profound admiration for your daughter, but I should never have spoken of it, seeing that I am at present a penniless man, and am, indeed, much below the age at which we think of marriage in the States."

The Mexican smiled. "According to Spanish law, and our own policy, the legal age for marriage is fourteen for the man and twelve for the woman, and although it is not often that marriages take place quite so young as that, they are very frequent when the man is sixteen and the girl is fourteen or fifteen; therefore, that is no obstacle whatever."

"Then, senor, I accept your generous offer most gladly and thankfully, and shall consider myself the most fortunate man alive in winning such a bride as Donna Clara."

"Well, you had better go in and tell her so," the senor said. "I think that that will be more in accordance with your American customs than for me to go in and formally hand her over to you."

Three months later a double marriage took place at San Diego. Don Sarasta settled a large sum of money upon his daughter, and, with Juan's cordial assent, arranged that at his death the hacienda and ranch, and, indeed, all of his property, should become the joint property of his son and daughter, with the power to make any future division of it that they might think fit. After remaining a week at San Diego, Will sailed with his wife to Panama, crossed the isthmus, and took ship to New York, where he astounded his father and mother by presenting to them his wife, and mentioning casually that she had a fortune of $200,000, and was joint heiress to estates and property worth at least $2,000,000, which caused Mr. Harland, senior, to acknowledge that Will's mania for the sea had not turned out so badly after all.

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