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It is high time now that we should hear something of Captain Gwynne himself, and leave for the time our little garrison in
the cave at Sunset Pass. Let us follow the movements of the father for whom the children were so anxiously and tearfully praying.
Galloping away on Pike's horse in close pursuit, as he supposed, of Manuelito and the mules, the captain had turned south
the moment he cleared the rocky buttresses that formed the western gateway to the Pass. He had reasoned that the Mexican would
not dare go back along the road on which
they came, because in so doing he must infallibly run straight into the Apaches, who were following in pursuit. Knowing, as
did Pike, that Manuelito was well acquainted with the short cut through the mountains down to the valley of the Verde, miles
to the south of the winding and roundabout way on which they were compelled to come by road; knowing, too, that this trail
was far to the south of where they had seen the Indians' signal fires, — Gwynne's whole idea seemed to be that Manuelito would
take the shortest line to reach that rough but easily known trail. He did not hesitate, then, a moment in turning short to
the south, and riding confidently along to the western foothills, expecting every moment to hear the bray of the mules or
the sound of their hoof beats. He knew that the moment these creatures heard the hoof beats of his own horse, they would be
almost sure to signal.
Just what to do with Manuelito himself, he had not yet determined; but it was his purpose to force him back to camp at the
point of the pistol, if necessary; then to bind him to the wagon; make him drive, at least until they reached Fort Wingate
over in New Mexico beyond the Navajo Reservation, and turn him over there to the military authorities for such disposition
as they might choose to make of him. Of course, he would have no further employment in Arizona, for his character was blasted
forever. Mile after mile, however, the captain rode without hearing one of the anticipated sounds, and the further he rode
the lighter it grew. Far down to the south, now, he could dimly see objects that looked like four-footed creatures, moving
rapidly. Unluckily, he had with him only a light, short-ranged pair of glasses, and he could not distinctly make out what
they were; but believing
that they could be nothing but Manuelito and the mules, he put spurs to his weary horse, and pushed rapidly in pursuit — wondering,
however, how it was that the Mexican, with the slow-moving mules, could have got so far to the front. Five miles further he
rode and by that time the sun was up above the mountains of New Mexico, over to the east, and lighting up the whole plateau
to his right. By this time, too, the objects, of which he had been in pursuit, had totally disappeared from his sight, and
looking around him he could see nowhere sign of hoof or any trail that would indicate that the mules had come that way. However,
as he might be anywhere from ten yards to ten miles from the exact line Manuelito traveled, this gave him no concern. He decided
that he would push on until he came upon the cavalry trail up which he had ridden a year before on an expedition with
their good guide Sieber to Chevelon Fork. By this time, too, he knew that he must be twelve miles from camp, and that in all
probability the Indians had left their position west of Snow Lake, and were already coming in pursuit. He dreaded to think
of the peril in which his children might be; but he had every confidence in Pike; he believed in Jim's pluck and fighting
qualities, and he reasoned that it would be one or two o'clock before the Indians could possibly reach the Pass, and that
he could easily get back long before that time. Riding, therefore, still further to the south, he pursued his search for an
hour longer, and then came suddenly upon a sight that thrilled his heart with hope and joy. Right before him, coming across
the southern edge of the plateau, and winding up the mountains to the left, was an unmistakable cavalry trail, not more than
a day or two old. Evidently some troop
was out from Verde and had taken the old short cut to Chevelon Fork, expecting by that route to make the quickest time to
the Sunset crossing of the Colorado River. In all probability this was one of the troops coming out in search of and to succor
him and his party. Reining his jaded horse to the left, the captain rapidly followed on the trail. He reasoned that the four-footed
creatures that he took to be the mules were in all probability a portion of the pack-train of the troop that had so recently
passed along, or it might be one or two troopers who had been making scouts to the right or to the left of the trail, and
were now following the main body. All thought of pursuing Manuelito further was abandoned. His sole object was to overtake,
as quickly as possible, the little command of cavalry that he knew to be in his path, and then to guide them by the shortest
line back to Sunset
Pass, and to the defence of the dear ones there awaiting him. If he had good luck, he might catch them before they had gone
many miles. The trail he knew would speedily lead him over into the valley of Chevelon Fork, and following this they would
emerge on the east side of the mountain. Perhaps it might be fortunate that he did not overtake them until they were east
of the range; for the Apaches would certainly not expect the cavalry to come from the Colorado side of the mountain; but would
be looking for them from the west, and the chances, therefore, would be all the more in favor of their dealing them a crushing
blow, and punishing them as they deserved for their assault on defenseless women and children.
On, on he rode, urging his horse as rapidly as it was possible for him to go over the rocky, broken trail. Two hours' ride
brought him no nearer, apparently, to the comrades
he was pursuing. Three hours' ride brought him down into the valley of Chevelon Fork and half way through the range. It was
not until one o'clock that he found himself at such a point that he could look forward and see part of the country toward
the Colorado Chiquito; but not a vestige of the cavalry or pack-train was anywhere in sight, and his horse was now so weary
that he could only answer with a groan the touch of the spur, and could not by any possibility accelerate his speed. Two o'clock
came, and the anxious father found himself, he knew not how many miles away from Sunset Pass, — away from the children so
anxiously praying for him, and awaiting his coming.
He was growing faint from long fasting, and the horse was so jaded that the captain dismounted and was fairly towing him along
behind him with the bridle rein. In this way they had slowly and painfully climbed
a steep and rocky ascent where the trail seemed to make a short cut across a deep bend of the stream, and reaching the summit
they stopped to rest, panting hard with fatigue. Again the captain resorted to his little glasses and looked long and eagerly
over the broad stretch of country to the east, but it was all in vain. No living creatures were in sight.
Directly in front, the trail would downwards over an incline so steep that it looked as though horses and mules could never
have made those hoof tracks, but that only goats could have gone that way. The poor old bay looked piteously at his master
as though imploring him not to force him to undertake that steep descent, but Gwynne could show no mercy now. He had come
too far to turn back. His only hope, if he could not find the scouting party, was to make his way along the east side of the
range back to the little camp in Sunset Pass. He prayed God to watch over and protect his little ones, and then, with almost
a sob rising to his throat, he tried to speak cheerfully to poor Mac; he patted the drooping head of his faithful old servitor
and, calling to him to follow, he pressed forward, and half sliding, half stepping, he began the steep descent. The poor horse
braced his fore feet and stiffened his knees and came skating over the loose slate after him. All went tolerably well until
they were about two hundred feet from the rushing waters of the fork, foaming and swirling over the rocks below, and there,
coming upon a sharp point around which they had to make their way, Gwynne had taken only three or four steps downward and
was about to turn and speak encouragingly again to Mac, when the horse's fore feet seemed to shoot from under him; he rallied,
gathered himself, stumbled,
and then, plunging heavily forward, crashed down upon his master, rolled completely over him, and then went sliding and pawing
desperately to the edge of the rocky precipice, over which he shot, a huge, living bowlder and fell with a thud upon the jagged
rocks below. For some minutes Gwynne lay where he had been hurled, stunned and senseless; then he slowly revived, found that
his left arm was severely wrenched and bruised, and that the blood was streaming from a long gash in his forehead. Slowly
and painfully he made his way to the foot of the steep, bathed his head in the cool waters and bound it up as well as he could
with his big silk handkerchief. He was fainter, weaker now, than he had been before, but never for an instant could he forget
the little ones at the Pass.
‘‘Oh, God help me and bring me back to them in time,’’ he prayed; and then, holding his maimed left arm in his right hand,
and with one backward look up the cañon at the now lifeless carcass of poor Mac, he staggered wearily on, following the trail
of the cavalry.
WITH ONE BACKWARD LOOK HE STAGGERED WEARILY ON.
Late that evening, just as darkness was settling down over the valley of the Colorado Chiquito, the soldiers of a little detachment,
chatting gleefully around their bivouac fires and sipping their fragrant coffee, were startled by the sudden sight of a man
with ghastly, blood-stained features and dress, who reeled blindly into their midst and then fell forward upon his face, to
all appearances dead.
Some of them, believing Indians to be upon them, sprang for their arms; others bent to the aid of the stricken man. They turned
him over on his back, brought water and bathed the blood from his face, and then a sergeant cried:
‘‘My God! What can have happened? It's Captain Gwynne! Here, Murphy, call the lieutenant, quick!’’
In an instant the young officer commanding the party came running to the scene and bent breathlessly over the senseless form.
‘‘It is Captain Gwynne,’’ he said; ‘‘bring more water. Go to my pack, one of you, and get the sponge you'll find there. Fetch
me my flask, too. Which way did he come? Did none of you see?’’
‘‘None, sir. The first we knew he was right over us. He never spoke a word, but fell like a log.’’
And then the rough-looking, bearded, anxious faces hovered about the prostrate man. His heart-beats were so faint that the
young officer was terribly alarmed. No surgeon was with the little party and he hardly knew what to do. The whiskey forced
down Gwynne's throat seemed powerless
to revive him. Full an hour he lay almost motionless, then little by little the pulse grew firmer and respiration audible.
At last there was a long, deep sigh, but still he did not open his eyes. Consciousness returned only very slowly, and when
Mr. Hunter had called him by name time and again and begged him to speak, he sighed even more deeply than before, the lids
slowly drew back, and the almost sightless eyes looked feebly around. Then, with sudden flash of memory, the poor captain
strove to rise. ‘‘My babies!’’ he moaned; ‘‘my babies!’’
‘‘Where did you leave them, captain? Tell us. I'll send for them instantly,’’ said Hunter. ‘‘Sergeant, saddle up right off.
This means something.’’
More whiskey, a long draught, and more cold water, presently revived him so that he could speak collectedly.
‘‘I left them with Pike — in the Pass. My Mexican ran away with the mules — followed and found your trail — my horse fell
on me and then rolled over a precipice — killed. I've come on foot ever since.’’
‘‘Thank God, you're here safe anyhow! Now lie still. I'll leave a guard with you and we'll go as fast as we can through the
darkness and find Ned and Nellie.’’
‘‘No! no! I must go. I will go, too. See, I can stand. Give me a horse.’’
And so, finding him determined and rapidly regaining strength, Hunter made the captain eat all he could bear to swallow then,
and, stowing more food in their saddle bags, away went the gallant little troop hurrying through the starlit night for Sunset
Pass and rescue.
But the way was long; road or trail there was none. Over rugged height, through deep ravine, they forced their way, but not
until all the sky was blushing in the east did they come to the old Wingate road, and the gloomy entrance to the Pass. Up
they rode at a steady trot, Gwynne and Hunter leading, and, at a sudden turn of the road, far in towards the western side,
their horses recoiled, snorting with fear, from a heap of smouldering embers, in the midst of which lay a fearful something,
— the charred and hissing body of a human being. Gwynne groaned aloud at the sight and then drove his horse up a rocky pathway
to the left, the others following. There lay the smoking ruins of an ambulance with scraps of clothing heaped about on every
side, and here the stricken father's waning strength left him entirely. With one heartbroken cry, ‘‘My babies — my little
ones. They are gone! gone!’’ he was only saved from falling by the prompt action of two stalwart troopers.
"MY GOD! WHAT CAN HAVE HAPPENED? IT'S CAPTAIN GWYNNE!"
In ten minutes, supporting the fainting
soldier as best they could, the detachment was marching rapidly westward.
‘‘Sieber with the scouts can't be farther away than Jarvis Pass. We'll meet him,’’ said Hunter to his sergeant, ‘‘and trail
these scoundrels to their holes.’’
His words were true. Before ten o'clock they had met, not only Sieber, but Turner's troop from Verde, coming full tilt, and
Gwynne was now turned over to the doctor's care.
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