Ambush At Dark Canyon
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\"I guess I'll never git choked,\" replied Pete,truculently. \"Kin you tell me what the skippermeans snooping down this coast with no lightsshowing when it's plumb dark We are liable tosink ourselves or Californey all of a suddint.\"
On deck it is muffling dark, with the starsobscured in some dim way by mist or fog. Thereis a breeze blowing steadily from the broad wastesof the ocean. The bulk of the California coastlooms dimly on the port bow. Not more than ahalf mile distant can be seen the white rushingforward of the breakers towards the rocky coast.
The dark form of the mate could be seen on thedeck below waiting for the order that he knew mustcome soon. The crew of the Sea Eagle thoughsubordinate enough were necessarily partners inCaptain Broom's wicked enterprises so that thediscipline was somewhat different than in ordinaryvessels.
The starboard boat was lowered into the water.First the mate, then Captain Broom and two mengot in. The latter were Cales and Pete who pullednoiselessly at the oars. The boat glided quietlythrough the silent darkness towards the shore.The Captain was seated in the stern, his great bulkcrouched forward, but there was nothing inert inhis posture. His big hands clasped either side ofthe craft.
Although so well hidden, the entrance to thecavern was quite high, so that the men gained admissionwithout stooping, and going a short distanceinto the dark interior, they placed the boatgently down against the wall. There was a constantand heavy drip of water, so that there was nochance for the boat to warp, as it would have surelydone if placed outside in the dry California air.
\"You're a brave old pirate,\" said Cales contemptuously,and with that he went slowly back into thecave. He had to go cautiously, for beyond a certainpoint he was not acquainted with the interior.He could feel the moist ground under footand he kept his hand stretched out, not knowingwhat he might run against in the dense damp darkness.
Oddly enough the Captain said not another word,a fact suggestive to Cales that there was somethingamiss in the cave and the little company at oncetook up their line of march. Captain Broom wasin the lead, followed by the mate, then Cales, withold Pete bringing up the rear. Just as they startedCaptain Broom extinguished the lantern and theytook up the trail in total darkness. Every precautionwould now be necessary for they would soonbe in a region where the very name of Broom wasexecrated with bitter hatred, and every bush wouldgrow a poniard if his whereabouts were known.
They had walked in silence for some time, wellon to two hours, when they came to an open space,with the irregular form of a live oak on the southeastcorner. Then Captain Broom stopped suddenly,his keen eyesight which no darkness couldbaffle had discerned some object moving out fromthe shelter of the oak tree.
They had now arrived at a point opposite wherethe free-booters were hidden. The man who hadlast spoken struck a light and lit a cigarette; theinstantaneous glare showed the dark handsome faceof the Spanish type. There was the high-peakedsombrero, the striking clothes, the intent face andthen the light died suddenly out.
It was evident that they were getting into a differentsection, a short time after they left the road, forthey began going up and winding among littlerocky hills. At last they came to a stopping place.They climbed up an elevation and sat on some rocksamong a group of dark trees.
Jim laughed good-naturedly at the prejudice thatJuarez showed against the little greaser and put itdown to his darkly suspicious nature acquired by hislife among the Indians. It would have been betterif Jim had taken more stock in his comrade's suspicions.Now, Jim was not to be caught nappingwhen once an enemy had declared himself, but itwas his nature to be open-minded and unsuspicious.
He seemed quite isolated but he had become sufficientlyenured to danger and though he kept awary eye, he was not nervous. The boys had unholsteredtheir pistols and Juarez kept a straighteye on the moving shadow in the darkness ahead.At the first sign of attack or treachery, he wasgoing to get that particular Manuel.
The four Frontier Boys went silently along downthe dark canyon, each one occupied with his ownthoughts and the ill-omened Mexican guide in thelead. Juarez kept a sharp lookout on either sideof the trail expecting an ambush. His horse seemedto feel something of the strain his rider was under,as a horse will. Once he shied at something he sawin a clump of bushes, and nearly went off the trail.It was only with the aid of Juarez's horsemanshipthat he clawed his way back to safety. The Mexicanwas much amused at this incident, and Jimgave him a sharp call down.
It was now getting light, the first signs of dawnshowing above the mountains. As the darknesswas drawn away, they could see their position moreclearly and there came the sounds of the morningfrom the direction of the ranch houses. The barkingof dogs, the crowing of roosters, and the callof human voices.
\"We don't need the company of that greaser anyfurther,\" said Captain Broom, after they had madesome headway up a canyon back of the ranch buildings.So they took some rope grass, tough asmanilla, and tied him firmly, and, after havinggagged him, they left him to be found later bysome of his countrymen.
Then they toiled steadily up the trail of thecanyon, until about noon they reached a pocket inthe canyon where there was a pool of clear waterfed by an invisible spring. Coming to meet themwere four boys riding up the trail on the otherside of the range.
Under the guidance of the Mexican dwarf, thefour boys came at last to a halt. It seemed as ifthe canyon down which they had been riding hadcome to an end for there was a wall of rock directlyin front of them.
Jo sat on a log by the slowly dying fire, with hisrifle on his knees looking into the darkness and notfar from him lay the Mexican a mere dark lumpon the ground, apparently asleep, but keeping awary eye on all around. Imperceptibly he creptnearer to where Jo was sitting, but he did not havethe weapon he would have preferred in his hand,the stiletto, which was as natural to him as thefangs to a rattlesnake.
Jo, however, spoiled his first attempt, for whenthe greaser had got within striking distance, Jo gotup and went down to the pool to get a drink. If ithad not been so dark, when they arrived, the boyswould have seen tracks around the pool that wouldhave aroused their suspicions. But everythingseemed to work against them this time.
Then they started, the Captain in the lead, andold Pete bringing up the rear. They had had agood many hours in that vicinity and had made apath from their hiding place to the soft dust trail.So they moved in their sock feet without a sound.There was an oppressive stillness in that dark canyonunder the heavy blanket of fog.
Already it had began to lower and as the sailorsadvanced with snail-like slowness the heavy whitefog settled down, filling the canyon with its whiteopaqueness. You could not see five feet in front,and the moisture beaded itself upon the eyebrowsand mustaches of the men.
Then the mate plunged into view, a dark ballthrough the opaqueness. He could not havestopped if he had so desired and it was evident thathe did not wish to. For, with lowered head, hecame for Jim as he would for an ugly sailor.
So Jo, Juarez and Jim were securely fastenedon the patient mule, while Tom rode behind themate upon his own horse, but no longer as master.Then the queer procession started up the trailthrough the dense fog. The Captain was in the lead,followed by the mate with Tom, then the mule withPete and the Mexican dwarf guarding the animaland its cargo, while the active Jack Cales was therear guard. It was exactly twelve o'clock whenthey weighed anchor and sailed from the harboror cove in the mountain canyon.
Every sound was deadened, so that they couldhave gone directly past the ranch houses and noteven the dogs would have heard them. But theCaptain was determined to take no chances, andas soon as the party were free of the canyon, hebore off toward the south, making quite a circuit.
Jim and Jo now heard the voices of men as wellas the baying of the dogs. The men were talkingexcitedly about the finding of one of their numberin the canyon tied and gagged, and it was evidentthat it was not a good time for strangers tovisit the ranch of the Sebastians.
Just then another man appeared on the scene, attractedfrom the vicinity of the house by the noiseof the encounter. He came full speed on a splendidsorrel. It was Juan Sebastian, a dark, handsomeyoung man, a true son of Spain.
It cannot be truly said that they looked ornamentaleven when they were clean, for Jim's facewas badly torn, one side of it being scraped raw.He got this memento when he tackled the Captainand fell down into the canyon with him. Oneeye was blackened and the other cheek bruised.These disadvantages were not to be overcome ina short time.
Just then the door opened on the verandah and areally beautiful young girl stepped out. She wasprobably seventeen years of age, dressed in white,with a black mantilla over her equally black hairand her dark cheeks glowed with color. A veryromantic meeting, Messieurs, the gallant youngAmericans at one end of the verandah and theSenorita at the other. Then she saw Jim andJo with their scarred and bruised faces. With alittle shriek, and clasping her hand to her eyes,she retreated quickly to her room.
So they stalked along, more or less consciousthat a pair of dark blue eyes were regarding them,and they thought they heard a trill oflaughter, but it might have been one of the maids.They need not have felt embarrassed for therewas the grace in their movements that goes withstrength and youth and suppleness.
It was a simple breakfast that the boys foundprepared for them in a long, low dining-room,with its dark beams and white plastered walls.The coffee was excellent, with a delicate aroma,and was probably the best that Mexico couldafford. There was a large plate of meat garnishedwith peppers, and a mixed dish of vegetablesthat looked odd, but that tasted deliciously.You may be sure that Jim and Jo appreciated theirmeal, and they felt invigorated when it was finished,wishing all the while, however, that theywere on the trail of their captured comrades. 59ce067264