The Silver Canyon, A Tale of the Western Plains, by George Manville Fenn.
This book is by an author who revels in putting his heroes into tense and dangerous situations, and never more so than in the Western plains of North America in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Indians were armed with rifles, and had immense prowess at creeping up unseen upon their enemies. In addition there are rattlesnakes, bears, and other nasty things.
The young hero, Bart for short, is out there with his uncle, seeking for a new life. And they all but got the next life out of it! After enduring these and other privations, they find a massive rocky eminence, which they find to have a good lode of silver in it, one which had been mined before, perhaps thousands of years before. It is also fairly difficult to get up to the summit of this great hill, which makes it easier to defend, but when you do get up there you find a large area of good grazing for their cattle and horses. So they make their home there, but of course the Indian attacks continue right up to almost the end of the book.
Though the mine had been worked before there was still plenty of good ore in it, so they start to mine it commercially.
Eventually a railway is made up to the mine, thousands of workers settle there, and our heroes are heard bemoaning that their way of life is no longer as dangerous and thrilling as once it was. They'll just have to put up with the boredom, I'd say.
THE SILVER CANYON, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
HOW THEY DECIDED TO RUN THE RISK.
"Well, Joses," said Dr Lascelles, "if you feel afraid, you had better go back to the city."
There was a dead silence here, and the little party grouped about between a small umbrella-shaped tent and the dying embers of the fire, at which a meal of savoury antelope steaks had lately been cooked, carefully avoided glancing one at the other.
Just inside the entrance of the tent, a pretty, slightly-made girl of about seventeen was seated, busily plying her needle in the repair of some rents in a pair of ornamented loose leather leggings that had evidently been making acquaintance with some of the thorns of the rugged land. She was very simply dressed, and, though wearing the high comb and depending veil of a Spanish woman, her complexion, tanned is it was, and features, suggested that she was English, as did also the speech of the fine athletic middle-aged man who had just been speaking.
His appearance, too, was decidedly Spanish, for he wore the short jacket with embroidered sleeves, tight trousers—made very wide about the leg and ankle-sash, and broad sombrero of the Mexican-Spanish inhabitant of the south-western regions of the great American continent.
The man addressed was a swarthy-looking half-breed, who lay upon the parched earth, his brow rugged, his eyes half-closed, and lips pouted out in a surly, resentful way, as if he were just about to speak and say something nasty.
Three more men of a similar type were lying beside and behind, all smoking cigarettes, which from time to time they softly rolled up and lighted with a brand at the fire, as they seemed to listen to the conversation going on between the bronzed Englishman and him who had been addressed as Joses.
They were all half-breeds, and boasted of their English blood, but always omitted to say anything about the Indian fluid that coursed through their veins; while they followed neither the fashion of Englishman nor Indian in costume, but, like the first speaker, were dressed as Spaniards, each also wearing a handkerchief of bright colour tied round his head and beneath his soft hat, just as if a wound had been received, with a long showy blanket depending from the shoulder, and upon which they now half lay.
There was another present, however, also an anxious watcher of the scene, and that was a well-built youth of about the same age as the girl. For the last five minutes he had been busily cleaning his rifle and oiling the lock; and this task done, he let the weapon rest with its butt upon the rocky earth, its sling-strap hanging loose, and its muzzle lying in his hand as he leaned against a rock and looked sharply from face to face, waiting to hear the result of the conversation.
His appearance was different to that of his companions, for he wore a closely fitting tunic and loose breeches of what at the first glance seemed to be dark tan-coloured velvet, but a second look showed to be very soft, well-prepared deerskin; stout gaiters of a hard leather protected his legs; a belt, looped so as to form a cartridge-holder, and a natty little felt hat, completed his costume.
Like the half-breeds, he wore a formidable knife in his belt, while on their part each had near him a rifle.
"Well," said the speaker, after a long pause, "you do not speak; I say, are you afraid?"
"I dunno, master," said the man addressed. "I don't feel afraid now, but if a lot of Injuns come whooping and swooping down upon us full gallop, I dessay I should feel a bit queer."
There was a growl of acquiescence here from the other men, and the first speaker went on.
"Well," he said, "let us understand our position at once. I would rather go on alone than with men I could not trust."
"Always did trust us, master," said the man surlily.
"Allays," said the one nearest to him, a swarthier, more surly, and fiercer-looking fellow than his companion.
"I always did, Joses; I always did, Juan; and you too, Harry and Sam," said the first speaker. "I was always proud of the way in which my ranche was protected and my cattle cared for."
"We could not help the Injuns stampeding the lot, master, time after time."
"And ruining me at last, my lads? No; it was no fault of yours. I suppose it was my own."
"No, master, it was setting up so close to the hunting-grounds, and the Injun being so near."
"Ah well, we need not consider how all that came to pass, my lads: we know they ruined me."
"And you never killed one o' them for it, master," growled Joses.
"Nor wished to, my lad. They did not take our lives."
"But they would if they could have broken in and burnt us out, master," growled Joses.
"Perhaps so; well, let us understand one another. Are you afraid?"
"Suppose we all are, master," said the man.
"And you want to go back?"
"No, not one of us, master."
Here there was a growl of satisfaction.
"But you object to going forward, my men?"
"Well, you see it's like this, master: the boys here all want to work for you, and young Master Bart, and Miss Maude there; but they think you ought to go where it's safe-like, and not where we're 'most sure to be tortured and scalped. There's lots o' places where the whites are in plenty."
"And where every gully and mountain has been ransacked for metals, my lad. I want to go where white men have never been before, and search the mountains there."
"For gold and silver and that sort of thing, master?"
"Yes, my lads."
"All right, master; then we suppose you must go."
"And you will go back because it is dangerous?"
"I never said such a word, master. I only said it warn't safe."
"And for answer to that, Joses, I say that, danger or no danger, I must try and make up for my past losses by some good venture in one of these unknown regions. Now then, have you made up your minds? If not, make them up quickly, and let me know what you mean to do."
Joses did not turn round to his companions, whose spokesman he was, but said quietly, as he rolled up a fresh cigarette:
"Mind's made up, master."
"And you will go back?"
"All of you?"
"All of us, master," said Joses slowly. "When you do," he added after a pause.
"I knew he would say that, sir," cried the youth who had been looking on and listening attentively; "I knew Joses would not leave us, nor any of the others."
"Stop a moment," interposed the first speaker. "What about your companions, my lad?"
"What, them?" said Joses quietly. "Why, they do as I do."
"Are you sure?"
"Course I am, master. They told me what to do."
"Then thank you, my lad. I felt and knew I could trust you. Believe me, I will take you into no greater danger than I can help; but we must be a little venturesome in penetrating into new lands, and the Indians may not prove our enemies after all."
"Ha, ha, ha! Haw, haw, haw, haw!" laughed Joses hoarsely. "You wait and see, master. They stampeded your cattle when you had any. Now look out or they'll stampede you."
"Well, we'll risk it," said the other. "Now let's be ready for any danger that comes. Saddle the horses, and tether them close to the waggon. I will have the first watch to-night; you take the second, Joses; and you, Bart, take the third. Get to sleep early, my lads, for I want to be off before sunrise in the morning."
The men nodded their willingness to obey orders, and soon after all were hushed in sleep, the ever-wakeful stars only looking down upon one erect figure, and that was the form of Dr Lascelles, as he stood near the faintly glowing fire, leaning upon his rifle, and listening intently for the faintest sound of danger that might be on its way to work them harm.
WHAT WENT BEFORE.
As Dr Lascelles stood watching there, his thoughts naturally went back to the events of the past day, the sixth since they had bidden good-bye to civilisation and started upon their expedition. He thought of the remonstrance offered by his men to their proceeding farther; then of the satisfactory way in which the difficulty had been settled; and later on of the troubles brought up by his man's remarks. He recalled the weary years he had spent upon his cattle farm, in which he had invested after the death of his wife in England; how he had come out to New Mexico, and settled down to form a cattle-breeding establishment with his young daughter Maude for companion.
Then he thought of how everything had gone wrong, not only with him, but with his neighbours, one of the nearest being killed by an onslaught of a savage tribe of Indians, the news being brought to him by the son of the slaughtered man. The result had been that the Doctor had determined to flee at once; but the day was put off, and as no more troubles presented themselves just then, he once more settled down. Young Bart became by degrees almost as it were a son, and the fight was continued till herd after herd had been swept away by the Indians; and at last Dr Lascelles, the clever physician who had wearied of England and his practice after his terrible loss, and who had come out to the West to seek rest and make money for his child, found himself a beggar, and obliged to begin life again.
Earlier in life he had been a great lover of geology, and was something of a metallurgist; and though he had of late devoted himself to the wild, rough life of a western cattle farmer, he had now and then spent a few hours in exploring the mountainous parts of the country near: so that when he had once more to look the world in the face, and decide whether he should settle down as some more successful cattle-breeder's man, the idea occurred to him that his knowledge of geology might prove useful in this painful strait.
He jumped at the idea.
Of course: why not? Scores of men had made discoveries of gold, silver, and other valuable metals, and the result had been fortune. Why should not he do something of the kind?
He mentioned the idea to young Bartholomew Woodlaw, who jumped at the prospect, but looked grave directly after.
"I should like it, Mr Lascelles," he said, "but there is Maude."
"What of her?" said the Doctor.
"How could we take her into the wilds?"
"It would be safer to take her into the deserts and mountains, than to leave her here," said the Doctor bitterly. "I should at least always have her under my eye."
He went out and told his men, who were hanging about the old ranche although there was no work for them to do.
One minute they were looking dull and gloomy, the next they were waving their hats and blankets in the air, and the result of it all was that in less than a month Dr Lascelles had well stored a waggon with the wreck of his fortune, purchased a small tent for his daughter's use, and, all well-armed, the little party had started off into the wilds of New Mexico, bound for the mountain region, where the Doctor hoped to make some discovery of mineral treasure sufficient to recompense him for all his risk, as well as for the losses of the past.
They were, then, six days out when there was what had seemed to be a sort of mutiny among his men—a trouble that he was in the act of quelling when we made his acquaintance in the last chapter—though, as we have seen, it proved to be no mutiny at all, but merely a remonstrance on the part of the rough, honest fellows who had decided to share his fortunes, against running into what they esteemed to be unnecessary risks.
Joses and his three fellows were about as brigandish and wild-looking a set of half savages as a traveller could light upon in a day's journey even in these uncivilised parts. In fact, no stranger would have been ready to trust his life or property in their keeping, if he could have gone farther. If he had, though, he would most probably have fared worse; for it is not always your pleasantest outside that proves to hide the best within.
These few lines, then, will place the reader au courant, as the French say, with the reason of the discussion at the beginning of the last chapter, and show him as well why it was that Dr Lascelles, Bart Woodlaw, and Maud Lascelles were out there in the desert with such rough companions. This being then the case, we will at once proceed to deal with their adventurous career.
THE FIRST APACHES.
Evening was closing in, and the ruddy, horizontal rays of the sun were casting long grotesque shadows of the tall-branched plants of the cactus family that stood up, some like great fleshy leaves, rudely stuck one upon the other, and some like strangely rugged and prickly fluted columns, a body of Indians, about a hundred strong, rode over the plain towards the rocks where Dr Lascelles and his little party were encamped.
The appearance of the Indians denoted that they were on the war-path. Each wore a rude tiara of feathers around his head, beneath which hung wild his long black hair; and saving their fringed and ornamented leggings, the men rode for the most part naked, and with their breasts and arms painted in a coarse and extravagant style. Some had a rude representation of a Death's head and bones in the centre of the chest; others were streaked and spotted; while again others wore a livery of a curiously mottled fashion, that seemed to resemble the markings of a tortoise, but was intended to imitate the changing aspect of a snake.
All were fully armed, some carrying rifles, others bows and arrows, while a few bore spears, from the top of whose shafts below the blades hung tufts of feathers. Saddles they had none, but each sturdy, well-built Indian pony was girt with its rider's blanket or buffalo robe, folded into a pad, and secured tightly with a broad band of raw hide. Bits and bridles too, of the regular fashion, were wanting, the swift pony having a halter of horse-hair hitched round its lower jaw, this being sufficient to enable the rider to guide the docile little animal where he pleased; while for tethering purposes, during a halt, there was a stout long peg, and the rider's plaited hide lariat or lasso, ready for a variety of uses in the time of need.
The rugged nature of the ground separated the party of Indians from the Doctor's little camp, so that the approach of the war party was quite unobserved, and apparently, from their movements, they were equally unaware of the presence of a camp of the hated whites so near at hand.
They were very quiet, riding slowly and in regular order, as if moved by one impulse; and when the foremost men halted, all drew rein by some tolerably verdant patches of the plain, blankets and robes were unstrapped, the horses allowed to graze, and in an incredibly short time the band had half a dozen fires burning of wood that had been hastily collected, and they were ravenously devouring the strips of dried buffalo meat that had been hanging all day in the hot sun, to be peppered with dust from the plain, and flavoured by emanations from the horse against whose flank it had been beaten.
This, however, did not trouble the savages, whom one learned in the lore of the plains would have immediately set down as belonging to a powerful tribe of horse Indians—the Apaches, well-known for their prowess in war and their skill as wild-horsemen of the plains. They feasted on, like men whose appetites had become furious from long fasting, until at last they had satisfied their hunger, and the evening shadows were making the great plants of cactus stand up, weird and strange, against the fast-darkening evening sky; then, while the embers of the fire grew more ruddy and bright, each Indian, save those deputed to look after the horses and keep on the watch for danger, drew his blanket or buffalo robe over his naked shoulders, filled and lit his long pipe, and began silently and thoughtfully to smoke.
Meanwhile, in utter unconsciousness of the nearness of danger, Dr Lascelles continued his watch thus far into the night. From time to time he examined the tethering of the horses, and glanced inside the tent to stand and listen to the regular low breathing of his child, and then walk to where, rolled in his blanket, Bart Woodlaw lay sleeping in full confidence that a good watch was being kept over the camp as he slept.
Then the Doctor tried to pierce the gloom around.
Away towards the open plains it was clear and transparent, but towards the rocks that stretched there on one side all seemed black. Not a sound fell upon his ear, and so great was the stillness that the dull crackle of a piece of smouldering wood sounded painfully loud and strange.
At last the time had come for arousing some one to take his place, and walking, after a few moments' thought, to where Bart lay, he bent down and touched him lightly on the arm.
In an instant, rifle in hand, the lad was upon his feet.
"Is there danger?" he said in a low, quiet whisper.
"I hope not, Bart," said the Doctor quietly, "everything is perfectly still. I shall lie down in front of the tent; wake me if you hear a sound."
The lad nodded, and then stood trying to shake off the drowsiness that still remained after his deep sleep while he watched the Doctor's figure grow indistinct as he walked towards the dimly seen tent. He could just make out that the Doctor bent down, and then he seemed to disappear.
Bart Woodlaw remained motionless for a few moments, and then, as he more fully realised his duties, he walked slowly to where the horses were tethered, patted each in turn, the gentle animals responding with a low sigh as they pressed their heads closely to the caressing hand. Satisfied that the tethering ropes were safe, and dreading no hostile visit that might result in a stampede, the guardian of the little camp walked slowly to where the fire emitted a faint glow; and, feeling chilly, he was about to throw on more wood, when it occurred to him that if he did so, the fire would show out plainly for a distance of many miles, and that it would serve as a sign to invite enemies if any were within eyeshot, so he preferred to suffer from the cold, and, drawing his blanket round him, he left the fire to go out.
Bart had been watching the stars for about an hour, staring at the distant plain, and trying to make out what was the real shape of a pile of rock that sheltered them on the north, and which seemed to stand out peculiarly clear against the dark sky, when, turning sharply, he brought his rifle to the ready, and stood, with beating heart, staring at a tall dark figure that remained motionless about a dozen yards away.
It was so dark that he could make out nothing more, only that it was a man, and that he did not move.
The position was so new, and it was so startling to be out there in the wilds alone as it were—for the others were asleep—and then to turn round suddenly and become aware of the fact that a tall dark figure was standing where there was nothing only a few minutes before, that in spite of a strong effort to master himself, Bart Woodlaw felt alarmed in no slight degree.
His first idea was that this must be an enemy, and that he ought to fire. If an enemy, it must be an Indian; but then it did not look like an Indian; and Bart knew that it was his duty to walk boldly up to the figure, and see what the danger was; and in this spirit he took one step forward, and then stopped,—for it was not an easy thing to do.
The night seemed to have grown blacker, but there was the dark figure all the same, and it seemed to stand out more plainly than before, but it did not move, and this gave it an uncanny aspect that sent something of a chill through the watcher's frame.
At last he mastered himself, and, with rifle held ready, walked boldly towards the figure, believing that it was some specimen of the fleshy growth of the region to which the darkness had added a weirdness all its own.
No. It was a man undoubtedly, and as, nerving himself more and more, Bart walked close up, the figure turned, and said slowly:—
"I can't quite make that out, Master Bart."
"You, Joses!" exclaimed Bart, whose heart seemed to give a bound of delight.
"Yes, sir; I thought I'd get up and watch for a bit; and just as I looked round before coming to you, that rock took my fancy."
"Yes, it does look quaint and strange," said Bart; "I had been watching it."
"Yes, but why do it look quaint and strange?" said Joses in a low, quiet whisper, speaking as if a dozen savages were at his elbow.
"Because we can see it against the sky," replied Bart, who felt half amused at the importance placed by his companion upon such a trifle.
"And why can you see it against the sky?" said Joses again. "Strikes me there's a fire over yonder."
Bart was about to exclaim, "What nonsense!" but he recalled the times when out hunting up stray cattle Joses had displayed a perception that had seemed almost marvellous, and so he held his tongue.
"I'll take a turn out yonder, my lad," he said quietly; "I won't be very long."
"Shall I wake up the Doctor?"
"No, not yet. Let him get a good rest," replied Joses. "Perhaps it's nothing to mind; but coming out here we must be always ready to find danger, and danger must be ready to find us on the look-out."
"I'll go with you," said Bart eagerly.
"No, that won't do," said the rough fellow sturdily. "You've got to keep watch like they tell me the sailors do out at sea. Who's to take care of the camp if you go away?"
"I'll stay then," said Bart, with a sigh of dissatisfaction, and the next minute he was alone. For Joses had thrown down his blanket, and laid his rifle upon it carefully, while over the lock he had placed his broad Spanish hat to keep off the moisture of the night air. Then he had gone silently off at a trot over the short and scrubby growth near at hand.
One moment he was near; the next he had grown as it were misty in the darkness, and disappeared, leaving Bart, fretting at the inaction, and thinking that the task of doing duty in watching as sentry was the hardest he had been called upon to perform.
Meanwhile the rough cattle driver and plainsman had continued his trot till the broken nature of the ground compelled him to proceed cautiously, threading his way in and out amongst the masses of rock, and forcing him to make a considerable detour before he passed the ridge of stones.
His first act was to drop down on hands and knees; his next to lie flat, and drag himself slowly forward a couple of hundred yards, and then stop.
It was quite time that he had, for on either hand, as well as in front, lay groups of Indians, while just beyond he could distinguish the horses calmly cropping the grass and other herbage near. So still was it, and so closely had he approached, that every mouthful seized by the horses sounded quite plainly upon his ear, while more than once came the mutterings of some heavy sleeper, with an occasional hasty movement on the part of some one who was restless.
Joses had found out all he wanted, and the next thing was to get back and give the alarm. But as is often the case in such matters, it was easier to come than to return. It had to be done though, for the position of those in the little camp was one full of peril, and turning softly, he had begun his retrograde movement, when a figure he had not seen suddenly uttered an impatient "ugh!" and started to his feet.
Joses' hand went to his belt and grasped his knife, but that was all. It was not the time for taking to headlong flight, an act which would have brought the whole band whooping and yelling at his heels.
Fortunately for the spy in the Indian camp, the night was darker now, a thin veil of cloud having swept over the stars, otherwise the fate of Dr Lascelles' expedition would have been sealed. As it was, the Indian kicked the form beside him heavily with his moccasined foot, and then walked slowly away in the direction of the horses.
Some men would have continued their retreat at once, perhaps hurriedly, but Joses was too old a campaigner for such an act. As he lay there, with his face buried deeply in the short herbage, he thought to himself that most probably the waking up of the Indian who had just gone, the kick, and the striding away, would have aroused some of the others, and in this belief he lay perfectly still for quite ten minutes.
Then feeling satisfied that he might continue his retreat, he was drawing himself together for a fresh start, when a man on his right leaped to his feet; another did the same, and after talking together for a few moments they too went off in the direction of the horses.
This decided Joses upon a fresh wait, which he kept up, till feeling that, safe or unsafe, he must make the venture, he once more started, crawling slowly along without making a sound, till he felt it safe to rise to his hands and knees, when he got over the ground far more swiftly, ending by springing to his feet, and listening intently for a few moments, when there was the faint neigh of a horse from the Indian camp.
"If one of ours hears that," muttered Joses, "he'll answer, and the Indians will be down upon us before we know where we are."
THE NIGHT ALARM.
Bart Woodlaw had not been keeping his renewed watch long before he heard a step behind him, and, turning sharply, found himself face to face with Dr Lascelles.
"Well, my boy," he said, "is all right?"
"I think so, sir. Did you hear anything?"
"No, my boy, I woke up and just came to see how matters were going. Any alarm?"
"Yes, sir, and no, sir," replied Bart.
"What do you mean?" exclaimed the Doctor sharply.
"Only that Joses woke up, sir, and I found him watching that mass of rock which you can see out yonder. That one sir—or—no!—I can't see it now."
"Why?" said the Doctor, in a quick low decisive tone; "is it darker now?"
"Very little, sir; but perhaps Joses was right: he said he thought there must be a fire out there to make it stand out so clearly, and—"
"Well? speak, my boy! Be quick!"
"Perhaps he was right, sir, for I cannot see the rock there at all."
"Where is Joses? Why did he not go and see?" exclaimed the Doctor sharply.
"He has been gone nearly an hour, sir, and I was expecting him back when you came."
"That's right! But which way? Joses must feel that there is danger, or he would not have left the camp like this."
Bart pointed in the direction taken by their follower, and the Doctor took a few hasty strides forward, as if to follow, but he came back directly.
"No. It would be folly," he said; "I should not find him out in this wild. Depend upon it, Bart, that was an Indian fire and camp out beyond the ridge yonder, and he suspected it. These old plainsmen read every sign of earth and sky, and we must learn to do the same, boy, for it may mean the saving of our lives."
"I'll try," said Bart earnestly. "I can follow trail a little now."
"Yes, and your eyes are wonderfully keen," replied the Doctor. "You have all the acute sense of one of these hunters, but you want the power of applying what you see, and learning its meaning."
Bart was about to reply, but the Doctor began walking up and down impatiently, for being more used than his ward in the ways of the plains, he could not help feeling sure that there was danger, and this idea grew upon him to such an extent that at last he roused the men from their sleep, bidding them silently get the horses ready for an immediate start, should it be necessary; and while this was going on, he went into the tent.
"Maude—my child—quick!" he said quietly. "Don't be alarmed, but wake up, and be ready for a long ride before dawn."
Maude was well accustomed to obey promptly all her father's orders, and so used to the emergencies and perils of frontier life that she said nothing, but rapidly prepared for their start, and in a few minutes she was ready, with all her little travelling possessions in the saddle-bags and valise that were strapped to her horse.
Just as the Doctor had seen that all was nearly ready, and that scarcely anything more remained to be done than to strike the little tent, Joses came running up.
"Well! what news?" said the Doctor, hurriedly.
"Injun—hundreds—mile away," said the plainsman in quick, sharp tones. "Hah! good!" he added, as he saw the preparations that had been made.
"Bart, see to Maude's horse. Down with the tent, Joses; Harry, help him. You, Juan and Sam, see to the horses."
Every order was obeyed with the promptitude displayed in men accustomed to a life on the plains, and in a very few minutes the tent was down, rolled up, and on the side of the waggon, the steeds were ready, and all mounting save Juan, who took his place in front of the waggon to drive its two horses, Dr Lascelles gave the word. Joses went to the front to act as pioneer, and pick a way unencumbered with stones, so that the waggon might go on in safety, and the camp was left behind.
Everything depended now upon silence. A shrill neigh from a mare would have betrayed them; even the louder rattle of the waggon wheels might have had that result, and brought upon them the marauding party, with a result that the Doctor shuddered to contemplate. There were moments when, in the face of such a danger, he felt disposed to make his way back to civilisation, dreading now to take his child out with him into the wilderness. But there was something so tempting in the freedom of the life; he felt so sanguine of turning his knowledge of metallurgy to some account; and what was more, it seemed so cowardly to turn back now, that he decided to go forward and risk all.
"We always have our rifles," he said softly to himself, "and if we can use them well, we may force the Indians to respect us if they will not treat us as friends."
And all this while the waggon jolted on over the rough ground or rolled smoothly over the flat plain, crushing down the thick buffalo-grass, or smashing some succulent, thorny cactus with a peculiar whishing sound that seemed to penetrate far through the silence of the night. They were journeying nearly due north, and so far they had got on quite a couple of miles without a horse uttering its shrill neigh, and it was possible that by now, silent as was the night, their cry might not reach the keen ears of their enemies, but all the same, the party proceeded as cautiously as possible, and beyond an order now and then given in a low voice, there was not a word uttered.
It was hard work, too, for, proceeding as they were in comparative darkness, every now and then a horse would place its hoof in the burrow of some animal, and nearly fall headlong. Then, too, in spite of all care and pioneering, awheel of the waggon would sink into some hollow or be brought heavily against the side of a rock.
Sometimes they had to alter their direction to avoid heavily-rising ground, and these obstacles became so many, that towards morning they came to a halt, regularly puzzled, and not knowing whether they were journeying away from or towards their enemies.
"I have completely lost count, Bart," said the Doctor.
"And if you had not," replied Bart, "we could not have gone on with the waggon, for we are right amongst the rocks, quite a mountain-side."
"Let's wait for daylight then," said the Doctor peevishly. "I begin to think we have done very wrong in bringing a waggon. Better have trusted to horses."
He sighed, though, directly afterwards, and was ready to alter his words, but he refrained, though he knew that it would have been impossible to have brought Maude if they had trusted to horses alone.
A couple of dreary hours ensued, during which they could do nothing but wait for daybreak, which, when it came at last, seemed cold and blank and dreary, giving a strange aspect to that part of the country where they were, though their vision was narrowed by the hills on all sides save one, that by which they had entered as it were into what was quite a horse-shoe.
Joses and Bart started as soon as it was sufficiently light, rifle in hand, to try and make out their whereabouts, for they were now beyond the region familiar to both in their long rides from ranche to ranche in quest of cattle.
They paused, though, for a minute or two to gain a sort of idea as to the best course to pursue, and then satisfied that there was no immediate danger, unless the Indians should have happened to strike upon their trail, they began to climb the steep rocky hill before them.
"Which way do you think the Indians were going, Joses?" said Bart, as they toiled on, with the east beginning to blush of a vivid red.
"Way they could find people to rob and plunder and carry off," said Joses gruffly, for he was weary and wanted his breakfast.
"Do you think they will strike our trail?"
"If they come across it, my lad—if they come across it."
"And if they do?"
"If they do, they'll follow it right to the end, and then that'll be the end of us."
"If we don't beat them off," said Bart merrily.
"Beat them off! Hark at him!" said Joses. "Why, what a boy it is. He talks of beating off a whole tribe of Indians as if they were so many Jack rabbits."
"Well, we are Englishmen," said Bart proudly.
"Yes, we are Englishmen," said Joses, winking to himself and laying just a little emphasis upon the men; "but we can't do impossibilities if we bes English."
"Joses, you're a regular old croaker, and always make the worst of things instead of the best."
"So would you if you was hungry as I am, my lad. I felt just now as if I could set to and eat one o' them alligators that paddles about in the lagoons, whacking the fishes in the shallows with their tails till they're silly, and then shovelling of them up with their great jaws."
"Well, for my part, Joses, I'd rather do as the alligators do to the fish."
"What, whack 'em with their tails? Why, you ain't got no tail, Master Bart."
"No, no! Eat the fish."
"Oh, ah! yes. I could eat a mess o' fish myself, nicely grilled on some bits o' wood, and yah! mind! look out!"
Joses uttered these words with quite a yell as, dropping his rifle, he stooped, picked up a lump of rock from among the many that lay about on the loose stony hill slope they were climbing, and hurled it with such unerring aim, and with so much force, that the hideous grey reptile they had disturbed, seeking to warm itself in the first sunbeams, and which had raised its ugly head threateningly, and begun to creep away with a low, strange rattling noise, was struck about the middle of its back, and now lay writhing miserably amidst the stones.
"I don't like killing things without they're good to eat," said Joses, picking up another stone, and seeking for an opportunity to crush the serpent's head—"Ah, don't go too near, boy; he could sting as bad as ever if he got a chance!"
"I don't think he'd bite now," said Bart.
"Ah, wouldn't he! Don't you try him, my boy. They're the viciousest things as ever was made. And, as I was saying, I don't—there, that's about done for him," he muttered, as he dropped the piece of rock he held right upon the rattlesnake's head, crushing it, and then taking hold of the tail, and drawing the reptile out to its full length—"as I was a-saying, Master Bart, I don't like killing things as arn't good to eat; but if you'll put all the rattlesnakes' heads together ready for me, I'll drop stones on 'em till they're quite dead."
"What a fine one, Joses!" said Bart, gazing curiously at the venomous beast.
"Six foot six and a half," said Joses, scanning the serpent. "That's his length to an 'alf inch."
"Is it? Well, come along; we are wasting time, but do you think rattlesnakes are as dangerous as people say?"
"Dangerous! I should think they are," replied Joses, as he shouldered his rifle; and they tramped rapidly on to make up for the minutes lost in killing the reptile. "You'd say so, too, if you was ever bit by one. I was once."
"I just was, my lad, through a hole in my leggings; and I never could understand how it was that that long, thin, twining, scaly beggar should have enough brains in her little flat head to know that it was the surest place to touch me right through that hole."
"It was strange," said Bart. "How was it?"
"Well, that's what I never could quite tell, Master Bart, for that bite, and what came after, seemed to make me quite silly like, and as if it took all the memory out of me. All I can recollect about it is that I was with—let me see! who was it? Ah! I remember now: our Sam; and we'd sat down one hot day on the side of a bit of a hill, just to rest and have one smoke. Then we got up to go, and, though we ought to have been aware of it, we warn't, there was plenty of snakes about I was just saying to Sam, as we saw one gliding away, that I didn't believe as they could sting as people said they could, when I suppose I kicked again' one as was lying asleep, and before I knew it a'most there was a sharp grab, and a pinch at my leg, with a kind of pricking feeling; and as I gave a sort of a jump, I see a long bit of snake just going into a hole under some stones, and he gave a rattle as he went.
"'Did he bite you?' says Sam.
"'Oh, just a bit of a pinch,' I says. 'Not much. It won't hurt me.'
"'You're such a tough un,' says Sam, by way of pleasing me, and being a bit pleased, I very stupidly said,—'yes, I am, old fellow, regular tough un,' and we tramped on, for I'd made up my mind that I wouldn't take no more notice of it than I would of the sting of a fly."
"Keep a good look-out all round, Joses," said Bart, interrupting him.
"That's what I am doing, Master Bart, with both eyes at once. I won't let nothing slip."
In fact, as they walked on, Joses' eyes were eagerly watching on either side, nothing escaping his keen sight; for frontier life had made him, like the savages, always expecting danger at every turn.
"Well, as I was a saying," he continued, "the bite bothered me, but I wasn't going to let Sam see that I minded the least bit in the world, but all at once it seemed to me as if I was full of little strings that ran from all over my body down into one leg, and that something had hold of one end of 'em, and kept giving 'em little pulls and jerks. Then I looked at Sam to see if he'd touched me, and his head seemed to have swelled 'bout twice as big as it ought to be, and his eyes looked wild and strange.
"'What's matter, mate?' I says to him, and there was such a ding in my ears that when I spoke to him, Master Bart, my voice seemed to come from somewhere else very far off, and to sound just like a whisper.
"'What's the matter with you?' he says, and taking hold of me, he gave me a shake. 'Here, come on,' he says. 'You must run.'
"And then he tried to make me run, and I s'pose I did part of the time, but everything kept getting thick and cloudy, and I didn't know a bit where I was going nor what was the matter till, all at once like, I was lying down somewhere, and the master was pouring something down my throat. Then I felt him seeming to scratch my leg as if he was trying to make it bleed, and then I didn't know any more about it till I found I was being walked up and down, and every now and then some one give me a drink of water as I thought, till the master told me afterwards that it was whisky. Then I went to sleep and dropped down, and they picked me up and made me walk again, and then I was asleep once more, and that's all. Ah, they bite fine and sharp, Master Bart, and I don't want any more of it, and so I tell you."
By this time they had pretty well reached the summit of the rocky hill they had been climbing, and obeying a sign from his companion, Bart followed his example, dropping down and crawling forward.
"I 'spect we shall find we look right over the flat from here," whispered Joses, sinking his voice for no apparent reason, save the caution engendered by years of risky life with neighbours at hand always ready to shed blood.
"And we should be easily seen from a distance, I suppose?" responded Bart.
"That's so, Master Bart. The Injun can see four times as far as we can, they say, though I don't quite believe it."
"It must be a clever Indian who could see farther than you can, Joses," said Bart quietly.
"Oh, I don't know," said the other, with a quiet chuckle; "I can see pretty far when it's clear. Look out."
Bart started aside, for he had disturbed another rattlesnake, which glided slowly away as if resenting the intrusion, and hesitating as to whether it should attack.
"You mustn't creep about here with your eyes shut," said Joses quietly. "It isn't safe, my lad,—not safe at all. Now you rest there behind that stone. We're close up to the top. Let me go the rest of the way, and see how things are down below."
Bart obeyed on the instant, and lay resting his chin upon his arms, watching Joses as he crept up the rest of the slope to where a few rough stones lay about on the summit of the hill, amongst which he glided and then disappeared.
Bart then turned his gaze backward, to look down into the Horse-shoe Valley he had quitted, thinking of his breakfast, and how glad he should be to return with the news that all was well, so that a fire might be lighted and a pleasant, refreshing meal be prepared. But the curve of the hill shut the waggon and those with it from view, so that he glanced round him to see what there was worthy of notice.
This was soon done. Masses of stone, with a few grey-looking plants growing amidst the arid cracks, a little scattered dry grass in patches, and a few bushy-looking shrubs of a dull sagey green; that was all. There were plenty of stones near, one of which looked like a safe shelter for serpent or lizard; and some horny-looking beetles were busily crawling about. Above all the blue sky, with the sun now well over the horizon, but not visible from where Bart lay, and having exhausted all the things worthy of notice, he was beginning to wonder how long Joses would be, when there was a sharp sound close at hand, as if a stone had fallen among some more. Then there was another, and this was followed by a low chirping noise like that of a grasshopper.
Bart responded to this with a very bad imitation of the sound, and, crawling from his shelter, he followed the course taken by his companion as exactly as he could, trying to track him by the dislodged stones and marks made on the few patches of grass where he had passed through. But, with a shrug of the shoulders, Bart was obliged to own that his powers of following a trail were very small. Not that they were wanted here, for at the end of five minutes he could make out the long bony body of Joses lying beside one of the smaller masses of stone that jagged the summit of the hill.
Joses was looking in his direction, and just raising one hand slightly, signed to him to come near.
There seemed to be no reason why Bart should not jump up and run to his side, but he was learning caution in a very arduous school, and carefully trailing his rifle, he crept the rest of the way to where the great stones lay; and as soon as he was beside his companion, he found, as he expected, that from this point the eye could range for miles and miles over widespreading plains; and so clear and bright was the morning air that objects of quite a small nature were visible miles away.
"Well!" said Joses gruffly, for he had volunteered no information, "see anything?"
"No," said Bart, gazing watchfully round; "no, I can see nothing. Can you?"
"I can see you; that's enough for me," was the reply. "I'm not going to tell when you ought to be able to see for yourself."
"But I can see nothing," said Bart, gazing eagerly in every direction. "Tell me what you have made out."
"Why should I tell you, when there's a chance of giving you a lesson in craft, my lad,—in craft."
"But really there seems to be nothing, Joses."
"And he calls his—eyes," growled the frontier man. "Why, I could polish up a couple o' pebbles out of the nearest river and make 'em see as well as you do, Master Bart."
"Nonsense!" cried the latter. "I'm straining hard over the plain. Which way am I to look?"
"Ah, I'm not going to tell you."
"But we are losing time," cried Bart. "Is there any danger?"
"But can you see immediate danger?" cried Bart impatiently.
"Yes; see it as plain as plain."
"But where? No; don't tell me. I see it," cried Bart excitedly.
"Not you, young master! where?"
"Right away off from your right shoulder, like a little train of ants crawling over a brown path. I can see: there are men and horses. Is it a waggon-train? No, I am sure now. Miles away. They are Indians."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Joses. "That's better. That's a good lesson before breakfast, and without a spy-glass. I shall make a man of you yet, Master Bart."
"Which way are they going?"
"Nay, I shan't tell you, my lad. That's for you to find out."
"Well, I will directly," said Bart, shading his eyes. "Where are we now? Oh, I see. Now I know. No; I don't, they move so slowly. Yes, I can see. They are going towards the north, Joses."
"Nor'-west, my lad," said the frontier man; "but that was a pretty good hit you made. Now what was the good of my telling you all that, and letting you be a baby when I want to see you a man."
"We've lost ever so much time, Joses."
"Nay, we have not, my lad; we've gained time, and your eyes have had such a eddication this morning as can't be beat."
"Well, let's get back now. I suppose we may get up and walk."
"Walk! what, do you want to have the Injuns back on us?"
"They could not see us here."
"Not see us! Do you suppose they're not sharper than that. Nay, my lad, when the Injuns come down upon us let's have it by accident. Don't let's bring 'em down upon us because we have been foolish."
Bart could not help thinking that there was an excess of care upon his companion's side, and said so.
"When you know the Injuns as well as I do, my lad, you won't think it possible to be too particular. But look here—you can see the Injuns out there, can't you?"
"Yes, but they look like ants or flies."
"I don't care what they look like. I only say you can see them, can't you?"
"And you know Injuns' eyes and ears are sharper than ours?"
"Not than yours."
"Well, I know that they are sharper than yours, Master Bart," said Joses, with a chuckle; "and now look here—if you can see them out there against the dry brown plain miles away, don't you think they could see us stuck up against the sky here in the bright morning sunshine, all this height above the ground?"
"Well, perhaps they could, if they were looking," said Bart rather sulkily.
"And they are looking this way. They always are looking this way and every way, so don't you think they are not. Now let's go down."
He set the example of how they should go down, by crawling back for some distance till he was below the ridge and beyond sight from the plain, Bart carefully following his example till he rose, when they started down the hill at as quick a trot as the rugged nature of the ground would permit, and soon after reached the waggon, which the Doctor had drawn into a position which hid it from the view of any one coming up from the entrance of the valley, and also placed it where, in time of peril, they might hold their own by means of their rifles, and keep an enemy at bay even if they did not beat him off.
"SURROUNDED BY INDIANS."
A good breakfast and a few hours' rest seemed to put a different aspect upon the face of affairs; the day was glorious, and though the region they were in was arid and wanting in water, there was plenty to interest any one travelling on an expedition of research. A good look-out was kept for Indians, but the party seemed to have gone right away, and to give them ample time to get to a greater distance, Dr Lascelles determined, if he could find a spring anywhere at hand, to stay where they were for a couple of days.
"You see, Bart," he said, as they hunted about amongst the craggiest part of the amphitheatre where fortune or misfortune had led them, "it does not much matter where we go, so long as it is into a region where Europeans have not penetrated before. Many of these hills are teeming with mineral treasures, and we must come upon some of Nature's wasting store if we persevere."
"Then we might find metals here, sir?" said Bart eagerly.
"As likely here as anywhere else. These rocks are partly quartz, and at any time we may come upon some of the stone veined with gold, or stumble upon a place where silver lies in blocks."
"I hope," laughed Bart, "when we do, I may stumble right over one of the blocks and so be sure of examining it. I think I should know silver if I found it."
"I am not so sure," said the Doctor. "You've led a life of a kind that has not made you very likely to understand minerals, but I daresay we shall both know a little more about them before we have done—that is," he added with a sigh, "if the Indians will leave us alone."
"We must give them the slip, sir," said Bart, laughing.
"Perhaps we may, my boy; but we have another difficulty to contend with."
"What's that, sir; the distance?"
"No, Bart; I'm uneasy about the men. I'm afraid they will strike sooner or later, and insist upon going back."
"I'm not, sir," replied Bart. "I will answer for Joses, and he has only to say he means to go forward, and the others then will keep by his side. Mind that snake, sir."
The Doctor raised his rifle to fire, but refrained, lest the report should be heard, and drawing back, the rattlesnake did the same; then they continued their journey, the Doctor examining the rocks attentively as he went on, but seeing nothing worthy of notice.
"We must be well on our guard against these reptiles, Bart; that is the first I have seen, and they may prove numerous."
"They are numerous," said Bart; and he told of the number he had seen upon the slope above them.
"That settles me upon going forward this evening," said the Doctor, "for water seems to be very scarce. We must try and strike the river higher up, and follow its course. We shall then have plenty of water always within reach, and find wood and trees and hiding-places."
"But I thought you wanted to get into a mountainous part, sir, where precious minerals would be found," said Bart.
"Exactly, my dear boy, and that is just the place we shall reach if we persevere, for it is up in these rocky fastnesses, where the rivers have their sources, and sometimes their beds are sprinkled with the specks and also with pieces of gold that have been washed out of the sides of the mighty hills."
They went on thoughtfully for a time, the Doctor giving a chip here and a chip there as he passed masses of rock, but nothing rewarded him, and their walk was so uneventful that they saw nothing more than another rattlesnake, the valley being so solitary and deserted that, with the exception of a large hawk, they did not even see a bird.
They, however, found a tiny spring of water which trickled down among the rocks, and finally formed a little pool, ample for supplying their horses with water, and this discovery made the Doctor propose a return.
"I don't like leaving Maude for long," he said.
"Joses will watch over her, sir, as safely as you would yourself. You saved his life once he told me."
"He told you that!" exclaimed the Doctor.
"Yes, sir, when the rattlesnake bit him, and I don't think he would ever be ungrateful, though I think he feels hurt that you do not place more trust in him."
"Well, let him prove himself well worthy of my trust," said the Doctor, bluntly. "I have not found him so ready as he should be in helping me with my plans."
Here the Doctor became very silent and reserved, and though Bart asked him several questions, and tried to get him into conversation, he hardly spoke, but seemed moody and thoughtful till they were close upon the little camp.
This was hidden from them till they were almost there, for the upper end of the Horse-shoe Valley was extremely rugged, and their way lay in and out among heavy blocks of stone that seemed as if they had been hurled down from the mountain-side.
When they were just about to turn into the narrow opening where the waggon lay and the horses were tethered, the Doctor stooped down to examine some fragments that lay loose about their feet, and the consequence was that Bart went on alone. He was just about to give a peculiar whistle, one used commonly by himself and the men when they wished to signal their whereabouts, when he stopped short, half hidden by the rocks, raised his rifle to his shoulder, and stood ready to fire, while his face, tanned as it was by the sun, turned of a sickly hue.
For a moment he was about to fire. Then he felt that he must rush forward and save Maude. The next moment calmer reflection told him that such help and strength as he could command would be needed, and, slipping back out of sight, he ran to where he had left the Doctor.
He found him sitting down examining by means of a little magnifying-glass one of the fragments of rock that he had chipped off, while his rifle lay across his knee.
He seemed so calm and content that in those moments of emergency Bart almost shrank from speaking, knowing, as he did, how terrible would be the effect of his words.
Just then the Doctor looked up, saw his strange gaze, and dropping the fragments, he leaped to his feet.
"What is it?" he cried; "what is wrong?" and as he spoke the lock of his double rifle gave forth two ominous clicks twice over.
"They have come round while we have been away," whispered Bart hoarsely.
"They? Who? Our men?"
"No," panted Bart; "the camp is surrounded by Indians."
A SURGICAL OPERATION.
Dr Lascelles' first movement was to run forward to the help of his child, Bart being close behind.
Then with the knowledge that where there is terrible odds against which to fight, guile and skill are necessary, he paused for a moment, with the intention of trying to find cover from whence he could make deadly use of his rifle. But with the knowledge that Maude must be in the hands of the Indians, whose savage nature he too well knew, his fatherly instinct admitted of no pause for strategy, and dashing forward, he ran swiftly towards the waggon, with Bart close upon his heels.
The full extent of their peril was at once apparent, no less than twelve mounted Indians being at the head of the little valley in a group, every man in full war-paint, and with his rifle across his knees as he sat upon his sturdy Indian pony.
Facing them were Maude, Joses, Juan, and the other two men, who had apparently been taken by surprise, and who, rifle in hand, seemed to be parleying with the enemy.
The sight of the reinforcement in the shape of Bart, and Dr Lascelles made the Indians utter a loud "Ugh!" and for a moment they seemed disposed to assume the offensive, but to Bart's surprise they only urged their ponies forward a few yards, and then stopped.
"Get behind the waggon, quick, my child," panted the Doctor, as Bart rushed up to his old companion's side.
"They came down upon us all at once, master," said Joses. "They didn't come along the trail."
"Show a bold front," exclaimed the Doctor; "we may beat them off."
To his surprise, however, the Indians did not seem to mean fighting, one of them, who appeared to be the chief, riding forward a few yards, and saying something in his own language.
"What does he say?" said the Doctor, impatiently.
"I can't make him out," replied Joses. "His is a strange tongue to me."
"He is hurt," exclaimed Bart. "He is wounded in the arm. I think he is asking for something."
It certainly had that appearance, for the Indian was holding rifle and reins in his left hand, while the right arm hung helplessly by his side.
It was like weakening his own little force to do such a thing, knowing as he did how treacherous the Indian could be, but this was no time for hesitating, and as it seemed to be as Bart had intimated, the Doctor risked this being a manoeuvre on the part of the Indian chief, and holding his rifle ready, he stepped boldly forward to where the dusky warrior sat calm and motionless upon his horse.
Upon going close up there was no longer any room for doubt. The chief's arm was roughly bandaged, and the coarse cloth seemed to be eating into the terribly swollen flesh.
That was enough. All the Doctor's old instincts came at once to the front, and he took the injured limb in his hand.
He must have caused the Indian intense pain, but the fine bronzed-looking fellow, who had features of a keen aquiline type, did not move a muscle, while, as the Doctor laid his rifle up against a rock, the little mounted band uttered in chorus a sort of grunt of approval.
"It is peace, Bart," said the Doctor. "Maude, my child, get a bowl of clean water, towels, and some bandages. Bart, get out my surgical case."
As he spoke, he motioned to the chief to dismount, which he did, throwing himself lightly from his pony, not, as a European would, on the left side of the horse, but on the right, the well-trained animal standing motionless, and bending down its head to crop the nearest herbage.
"Throw a blanket down upon that sage-brush, Joses," continued the Doctor; and this being done, the latter pointed to it, making signs that the chief should sit down.
He did not stir for a few moments, but gazed searchingly round at the group, till he saw Maude come forward with a tin bowl of clean water and the bandages, followed by Bart, who had in his hand a little surgical case. Then he took a few steps forward, and seated himself, laying his rifle down amongst the short shrubby growth, while Juan, Sam, and Harry on the one side, the mounted Indians upon the other, looked curiously on.
Once there was a low murmur among the latter, as the Doctor drew a keen, long knife from its sheath at his belt; but the chief did not wince, and all were once more still.
"He has been badly hurt in a fight," said the Doctor, "and the rough surgery of his tribe or his medicine-man does not act."
"That's it, master," said Joses, who was standing close by with rifle ready in case of treachery. "His medicine-man couldn't tackle that, and they think all white men are good doctors. It means peace, master."
He pointed behind the Doctor as he spoke, and it was plain enough that at all events for the present the Indians meant no harm, for two trotted back, one to turn up a narrow rift that the little exploring party had passed unnoticed in the night, the other to go right on towards the entrance of the rough Horse-shoe.
"That means scouting, does it not?" said Bart.
"I think so," replied the Doctor. "Yes; these Indians are friendly, but we must be on our guard. Don't show that we are suspicious though. Help me as I dress this arm. Maude, my child, you had better go into the waggon."
"I am not afraid, father," she said, quietly.
"Stay, then," he said. "You can be of use, perhaps."
He spoke like this, for, in their rough frontier life, the girl had had more than one experience of surgery. Men had been wounded in fights with the Indians; others had suffered from falls and tramplings from horses, while on more than one occasion the Doctor had had to deal with terrible injuries, the results of gorings from fierce bulls. For it is a strange but well-known fact in those parts, that the domestic cattle that run wild from the various corrals or enclosures, and take to the plains, are ten times more dangerous than the fiercest bison or buffalo, as they are commonly called, that roam the wilds.
Meanwhile the rest of the band leaped lightly down from their ponies, and paying not the slightest heed to the white party, proceeded to gather wood and brush to make themselves a fire, some unpacking buffalo meat, and one bringing forward a portion of a prong-horn antelope.
The Doctor was now busily examining his patient's arm, cutting away the rough bandages, and laying bare a terrible injury.
He was not long in seeing its extent, and he knew that if some necessary steps were not taken at once, mortification of the limb would set in, and the result would be death.
The Indian's eyes glittered as he keenly watched the Doctor's face. He evidently knew the worst, and it was this which had made him seek white help, though of course he was not aware how fortunate he had been in his haphazard choice. He must have been suffering intense pain, but not a nerve quivered, not a muscle moved, while, deeply interested, Joses came closer, rested his arms upon the top of his rifle, and looked down.
"Why, he's got an arrow run right up his arm all along by the bone, master," exclaimed the frontier man; "and he has been trying to pull it out, and it's broken in."
"Right, Joses," said the Doctor, quietly; "and worse than that, the head of the arrow is fixed in the bone."
"Ah, I couldn't tell that," said Joses, coolly.
"I wish I could speak his dialect," continued the Doctor. "I shall have to operate severely if his arm is to be saved, and I don't want him or his men to pay me my fee with a crack from a tomahawk."
"Don't you be afraid of that, master. He won't wince, nor say a word. You may do what you like with him. Injuns is a bad lot, but they've got wonderful pluck over pain."
"This fellow has, at all events," said the Doctor. "Maude, my child, I think you had better go."
"If you wish it, father, I will," she replied simply; "but I could help you, and I should not be in the least afraid."
"Good," said the Doctor, laconically, as he lowered the injured arm after bathing it free from the macerated leaves and bark with which it had been bound up. Then with the Indian's glittering eyes following every movement, he took from his leather case of surgical instruments, all still wonderfully bright and kept in a most perfect state, a curious-looking pair of forceps with rough handles, and a couple of short-bladed, very keen knives.
"Hah!" said Joses, with a loud expiration of his breath, "them's like the pinchers a doctor chap once used to pull out a big aching tooth of mine, and he nearly pulled my head off as well."
"No; they were different to these, Joses," said the Doctor, quietly, as he took up a knife. "Feel faint, Bart?"
The lad blushed now. He had been turning pale.
"Well, I did feel a little sick, sir. It was the sight of that knife. It has all gone now."
"That's right, my boy. Always try and master such feelings as these. Now I must try and make him understand what I want to do. Give me that piece of stick, Bart, it will do to imitate the arrow."
Bart handed the piece of wood, which the Doctor shortened, and then, suiting the action to his words, he spoke to the chief:
"The arrow entered here," he said, pointing to a wound a little above the Indian's wrist, "and pierced right up through the muscles, to bury itself in the bone just here."
As he spoke, he pushed the stick up outside the arm along the course that the arrow had taken, and holding the end about where he considered the head of the arrow to be.
For answer the Indian gave two sharp nods, and said something in his own tongue which no one understood.
"Then," continued the Doctor, "you, or somebody else, in trying to extract the arrow, have broken it off, and it is here in the arm, at least six inches and the head."
As he spoke, he now broke the stick in two, throwing away part, and holding the remainder up against the Indian's wounded arm.
Again the chief nodded, and this time he smiled.
"Well, we understand one another so far," said the Doctor, "and he sees that I know what's the matter. Now then, am I to try and cure it? What would you like me to do?"
He pointed to the arm as he spoke, and then to himself, and the Indian took the Doctor's hand, directed it to the knife, and then, pointing to his arm, drew a line from the mouth of the wound right up to his elbow, making signs that the Doctor should make one great gash, and take the arrow out.
"All right, my friend, but that is not quite the right way," said the Doctor. "You trust me then to do my best for you?"
He took up one of the short-bladed knives as he spoke, and pointed to the arm.
The Indian smiled and nodded, his face the next moment becoming stern and fixed as if he were in terrible pain, and needed all his fortitude to bear it.
"Going to cut it out, master?" said Joses, roughly.
"Let's give the poor beggar a comforter then," continued Joses. "If he scalps us afterwards along with his copper crew, why, he does, but let's show him white men are gentlemen."
"What are you going to do?" said the Doctor, wonderingly.
"Show you directly," growled Joses, who leisurely filled a short, home-made wooden pipe with tobacco, lit it at the Indian's fire, which was now crackling merrily, and returned to offer it to the chief, who took it with a short nod and a grunt, and began to smoke rapidly.
"That'll take a bit o' the edge off it," growled Joses. "Shall I hold his arm?"
"No; Bart, will do that," said the Doctor, rolling up his sleeves and placing water, bandages, and forceps ready. "Humph! he cannot bend his arm. Hold it like that, Bart—firmly, my lad, and don't flinch. I won't cut you."
"I'll be quite firm, sir," said Bart, quietly; and the Doctor raised his knife.
As he did so, he glanced at where nine Indians were seated round the fire, expecting to see that they would be interested in what was taking place; but, on the contrary, they were to a man fully occupied in roasting their dried meat and the portions of the antelope that they had cut up. The operation on the chief did not interest them in the least, or if it did, they were too stoical to show it.
The Doctor then glanced at his savage patient, and laying one hand upon the dreadfully swollen limb, he received a nod of encouragement, for there was no sign of quailing in the chief's eyes; but as the Doctor approached the point of the knife to a spot terribly discoloured, just below the elbow, the Indian made a sound full of remonstrance, and pointing to the wound above the wrist, signed to his attendant that he should slit the arm right up.
"No, no," said the Doctor, smiling. "I'm not going to make a terrible wound like that. Leave it to me."
He patted the chief on the shoulder as he spoke, and once more the Indian subsided into a state of stolidity, as if there were nothing the matter and he was not in the slightest pain.
Here I pause for a few moments as I say—Shall I describe what the Doctor did to save the Indian's life, or shall I hold my hand?
I think I will go on, for there should be nothing objectionable in a few words describing the work of a man connected with one of the noblest professions under the sun.
There was no hesitation. With one quick, firm cut, the Doctor divided the flesh, piercing deep down, and as he cut his knife gave a sharp grate.
"Right on the arrowhead, Bart," he said quietly; and, withdrawing his knife, he thrust a pair of sharp forceps into the wound, and seemed as if he were going to drag out the arrow, but it was only to divide the shaft. This he seized with the other forceps, and drew out of the bleeding opening—a piece nearly five inches long, which came away easily enough.
Then, without a moment's hesitation, he sponged the cut for a while, and directly after, guiding them with the index finger of his left hand, he thrust the forceps once more into the wound.
There was a slight grating noise once again, a noise that Bart, as he manfully held the arm, seemed to feel go right through every nerve with a peculiar thrill. Then it was evident that the Doctor had fast hold of the arrowhead and he drew hard to take it out.
"I thought so," he said, "it is driven firmly into the bone."
As he spoke, he worked his forceps slightly to and fro, to loosen the arrowhead, and then, bearing firmly upon it, drew it out—an ugly, keen piece of nastily barbed iron, with a scrap of the shaft and some deer sinew attached.
The Doctor examined it attentively to see that everything had come away, and uttered a sigh of satisfaction, while the only sign the Indian gave was to draw a long, deep breath.
"There, Mr Tomahawk," said the Doctor, smiling, as he held the arm over the bowl, and bathed the injury tenderly with fresh relays of water, till it nearly ceased bleeding; "that's better than making a cut all along your arm, and I'll be bound to say it feels easier already."
The Indian did not move or speak, but sat there smoking patiently till the deep cut was sewn up, padded with lint, and bound, and the wound above the wrist, where the arrow had entered, was also dressed and bound up carefully.
"There: now your arm will heal," said the Doctor, as he contrived a sling, and placed the injured limb at rest. "A man with such a fine healthy physique will not suffer much, I'll be bound. Hah, it's quite a treat to do some of the old work again."
The chief waited patiently until the Doctor had finished. Then rising, he stood for a few moments with knitted brows, perfectly motionless; and the frontier man, seeing what was the matter, seemed to be about to proffer his arm, but the Indian paid no heed to him, merely gazing straight before him till the feeling of faintness had passed away, when he stooped and picked up the piece of arrow shaft and the head, walked with them to where his followers were sitting, and held them out for them to see. Then they were passed round with a series of grunts, duly examined, and finally found a resting-place in a little beaver-skin bag at the chiefs girdle, along with his paints and one or two pieces of so-called "medicine" or charms.
Meanwhile the Doctor was busy putting away his instruments, feeling greatly relieved that the encounter with the Indians had been of so friendly a nature.
At the end of a few minutes the chief came back with the large buffalo robe that had been strapped to the back of his pony, spread it before the Doctor, placed on it his rifle, tomahawk, knife, and pouch, and signed to him that they were his as a present.
"He means that it is all he has to give you, sir," said Bart, who seemed to understand the chief's ways quicker than his guardian, and who eagerly set himself to interpret.
"Yes, that seems to be his meaning," replied the Doctor. "Well, let's see if we can't make him our friend."
Saying which the Doctor stooped down, picked up the knife and hatchet and placed them in the chiefs belt, his rifle in the hollow of his arm, and finally his buffalo robe over his shoulders, ending by giving him his hand smilingly, and saying the one word friend, friend, two or three times over.
The chief made no reply, but gravely stalked back to his followers, as if affronted at the refusal of his gift, and the day passed with him lying down quietly smoking in the sage-brush, while the occupants of the Doctor's little camp went uneasily about their various tasks, ending by dividing the night into watches, lest their savage neighbours should take it into their heads to depart suddenly with the white man's horses—a favourite practice with Indians, and one that in this case would have been destructive of the expedition.
To the surprise and satisfaction of Bart, all was well in the camp at daybreak when he looked round; the horses were grazing contentedly at the end of their tether ropes, and the Indians were just stirring, and raking together the fire that had been smouldering all the night.
Breakfast was prepared, and they were about to partake thereof, when the Doctor took counsel with Joses as to what was best to be done.
"Do you think they will molest us now?" he asked.
"No, master, I don't think so, but there's no knowing how to take an Indian. I should be very careful about the horses though, for a good horse is more than an Indian can resist."
"I have thought the same; and it seems to me that we had better stay here until this party has gone, for I don't want them to be following us from place to place."
"There's a band of 'em somewhere not far away," said Joses, "depend upon it, so p'r'aps it will be best to wait till we see which way they go, and then go totherwise."
Soon after breakfast the chief came up to the waggon and held out his arm to be examined, smiling gravely, and looking his satisfaction, as it was very plain that a great deal of the swelling had subsided.
This went on for some days, during which the Indians seemed perfectly content with their quarters, they having found a better supply of water; and to show their friendliness, they made foraging expeditions, and brought in game which they shared in a very liberal way.
This was all very well, but still it was not pleasant to have them as neighbours, and several times over the Doctor made up his mind to start and continue his expedition, and this he would have done but for the fact of his being sure that their savage friends, for this they now seemed to be, would follow them.
At the end of ten days the chief's arm had wonderfully altered, and with it his whole demeanour, the healthy, active life he led conducing largely towards the cure. But he was always quiet and reserved, making no advances, and always keeping aloof with his watchful little band.
"We are wasting time horribly," said the Doctor, one morning. "We'll start at once."
"Why not wait till night and steal off?" said Maude.
"Because we could not hide our trail," said Bart. "The Indians could follow us. I think it will be best to let them see we don't mind them, and go away boldly."
"That's what I mean to do," said the Doctor, and directly they had ended their meal, the few arrangements necessary were made, and after going and shaking hands all round with the stolid Indians, the horses were mounted, the waggon set in motion, and they rode back along the valley. Passing the Indian camp, they arrived at the opening through which, bearing off to the west, the Indians reached the plains, and for hours kept on winding in and out amongst the hills.
It was after sundown that the Doctor called a halt in the wild rocky part that they had reached, a short rest in the very heat of the day being the only break which they had had in their journey. In fact, as darkness would soon be upon them, it would have been madness to proceed farther, the country having become so broken and wild that it would have been next to impossible to proceed without wrecking the waggon.
Their usual precautions were taken as soon as a satisfactory nook was found with a fair supply of water, and soon after sunrise next morning, all having been well during the night, the Doctor and Bart started for a look round while breakfast was being prepared, Bart taking his rifle, as there was always the necessity for supplying the wants of the camp.
"I wonder whether we shall see any more of the Indians," said Bart, as they climbed up amongst the rocks to what looked almost like a gateway formed by a couple of boldly scarped masses, in whose strata lines various plants and shrubs maintained a precarious existence.
"I wonder they have not followed us before now," replied the Doctor. "Mind how you come. Can you climb it?"
For answer, Bart leaped up to where the Doctor had clambered as easily as a mountain sheep, and after a little farther effort they reached the gate-like place, to find that it gave them a view right out on to the partly-wooded country beyond. For they had left the level, changeless plain on the other side of the rocks, and the sight of a fresh character of country was sufficient to make the Doctor eagerly take the little telescope he carried in a sling, and begin to sweep the horizon.
As he did so, he let fall words about the beauty of the country.
"Splendid grazing land," he said, "well-watered. We must have a stay here." Then lowering his glass, so as to take the landscape closer in, he uttered an ejaculation of astonishment.
"Why, Bart," he said, "I'm afraid here are the Indians Joses saw that night."
"Let me look, sir," cried Bart, stretching out his hand for the glass, but only to exclaim, "I can see them plainly enough without. Why, they cannot be much more than a mile away."
"And they seem to be journeying in our direction," replied the Doctor. "Let's get back quickly, and try if we cannot find another hiding-place for the waggon."
Hurrying back, Bart started the idea that these might be the main body of their friendly Indians.
"So much the better for us, Master Bart, but I'm afraid that we shall not be so lucky again."
"I half fancied I saw our chief amongst them," said Bart, giving vent to his sanguine feelings.
"More than half fancy, Bart," replied the Doctor, "for there he sits upon his horse."
He pointed with his glass, and, to Bart's astonishment, there in the little wilderness of rocks that they had made their halting-place for the night, was the chief with his eleven followers who were already tethering their horses, and making arrangements to take up their quarters close by them as of old.
"Do you think they mean to continue friendly?" asked Bart uneasily, for he could not help thinking how thoroughly they were at the mercy of the Indians if they proved hostile.
"I cannot say," replied the Doctor. "But look here, Bart, take the chief with you up to the gap, and show him the party beyond. His men may not have seen them, and we shall learn perhaps whether they are friends or foes."
On reaching the waggon, as no attempt was made by the Indians to join them or resume intercourse, Bart went straight up to the chief, and made signs to him to follow, which he proceeded to do upon his horse, but upon Bart, pointing upwards to the rocky ascent, he leaped off lightly, and the youth noticed that he was beginning to make use of his injured arm.
In a very short time they had climbed to the opening between the rocks, where, upon seeing that there was open country beyond, the Indian at once crouched and approached cautiously, dropping flat upon the earth next moment, and crawling over the ground with a rapidity that astonished his companion, who was watching his face directly after, to try and read therefrom whether he belonged to the band of Indians in the open park in the land beyond.
To Bart's surprise, the chief drew back quickly, his face changed, and his whole figure seemed to be full of excitement.
He said a few words rapidly, and then, seeing that he was not understood, he began to make signs, pointing first to the opening out into the plain, and then taking out his knife, and striking with it fiercely. Then he pointed once more to the opening, and to his wounded arm, going through the motions of one drawing a bow.
"Friends, friends, friends," he then said in a hoarse whisper, repeating the Doctor's word, and then shaking his head and spitting angrily upon the ground, and striking with his knife.
He then signed to Bart, to follow, and ran down the steep slope just as one of his followers cantered hastily up.
Both had the same news to tell in the little camp, and though the Doctor could not comprehend the Indian chief's dialect, his motions were significant enough, as he rapidly touched the barrels of his followers' rifles, and then those of the white party, repeating the word, "Friends."
The next moment he had given orders which sent a couple of his men up the rocks, to play the part of scouts, while he hurriedly scanned their position, and chose a sheltered place, a couple of hundred yards back, where there was ample room for the horses and waggon, which were quietly taken there, the rocks and masses of stone around affording shelter and cover in case of attack.
"There's no doubt about their being friends now, Bart," said the Doctor; "we must trust them for the future, but I pray Heaven that we may not be about to engage in shedding blood."
"We won't hurt nobody, master," said Joses, carefully examining his rifle, "so long as they leave us alone; but if they don't, I'm afraid I shall make holes through some of them that you wouldn't be able to cure."
Just then the Indian held up his hand to command silence, and directly after he pointed here and there to places that would command good views of approaching foes, while he angrily pointed to Maude, signing that she should crouch down closely behind some sheltering rocks.
The Doctor yielded to his wishes, and then, in perfect silence, they waited for the coming of the Indian band, which if the trail were noted, they knew could not be long delayed.
If Bart had felt any doubt before of these Indians with them being friendly, it was swept away now by the thorough earnestness with which they joined in the defence of their little stronghold. On either side of him were the stern-looking warriors, rifle in hand, watchful of eye and quick of ear, each listening attentively for danger while waiting for warnings from the scouts who had been sent out.
As Bart thought over their position and its dangers, he grew troubled at heart about Maude, the sister and companion as she had always seemed to him, and somehow, much as he looked up to Dr Lascelles, who seemed to him the very height of knowledge, strength, and skill, it filled his mind with forebodings of the future as he wondered how they were to continue their expedition to the end without happening upon some terrible calamity.
"Maude ought to have been left with friends, or sent to the city. It seems to me like madness to have brought her here."
Just then Dr Lascelles crept up cautiously behind him, making him start and turn scarlet as a hand was laid upon his shoulder; for it seemed to him as if the Doctor had been able to read his thoughts.
"Why, Bart," he said, smiling, "you look as red as fire; you ought to look as pale as milk. Do you want to begin the fight?"
"No," said Bart, sturdily; "I hope we shan't have to fight at all, for it seems very horrid to have to shoot at a man."
"Ever so much more horrid for a man to shoot at you," said Joses in a hoarse whisper as he crawled up behind them. "I'd sooner shoot twelve, than twelve should shoot me."
"Why have you left your post?" said the Doctor, looking at him sternly.
"Came to say, master, that I think young miss aren't safe. She will keep showing herself, and watching to see if you are all right, and that'll make the Indians, if they come, all aim at her."
"You are right, Joses," said the Doctor, hastily; and he went softly back to the waggon, while Joses went on in a grumbling whisper:
"I don't know what he wanted to bring her for. Course we all like her, Master Bart, but it scares me when I think of what it might lead to if we get hard pressed some of these days."
"Don't croak, Joses," whispered Bart; and then they were both silent and remained watching, for the chief held up his hand, pointing towards the rocks beyond, which they knew that their enemies were passing, and whose tops they scanned lest at any moment some of the painted warriors might appear searching the valley with their keen dark eyes.
The hours passed, and the rocks around them grew painfully heated by the ardent rays that beat down upon them. Not a breath of air reached the corner where such anxious guard was kept; and to add to the discomfort of the watchers, a terrible thirst attacked them.
Bart's lips seemed cracking and his throat parched and burning, but this was all borne in fortitude; and as he saw the Indians on either side of him, bearing the inconveniences without a murmur, he forebore to complain.
Towards mid-day, when the heat was tremendous, and Bart was wondering why the chief or Dr Lascelles did not make some movement to see whether the strange Indians had gone, and at the same time was ready to declare to himself that the men sent out as scouts must have gone to sleep, he felt a couple of hands placed upon his shoulders from behind, pressing him down, and then a long brown sinewy arm was thrust forward, with the hand pointing to the edge of the ridge a quarter of a mile away.
Dr Lascelles had not returned, and Joses had some time before crept back to his own post, so that Bart was alone amongst their Indian friends.
He knew at once whose was the pointing arm, and following the indicated direction, he saw plainly enough first the head and shoulders of an Indian come into sight, then there was apparently a scramble and a leap, and he could see that the man was mounted. And then followed another and another, till there was a group of half a dozen mounted men, who had ridden up some ravine to the top from the plain beyond, and who were now searching and scanning the valley where the Doctor's encampment lay.