"Rube, me boy, what's the name of this?" exclaimed Pat Linihan, as the last wagon of the mining outfit was hauled into position, and the grizzled veteran he spoke to was dragging the harness from his favorite span of mules.
"The name of it? Do you mean this hollow we've pulled up in?"
"Dade an' I do, thin. Ye've put a name of some kind to ivery rock an' bush we've seen the day."
"Well, then, mebbe it's the Chico Valley. It's a place I'll be glad to git out of with all the hair on my head."
"It's a swate spot, for all that. Is it near here thim Wallopy red-skins lives that makes it a bad boordin'-house for white min?"
"Yes, this is just the place. But there isn't many of 'em, and we didn't send 'em word we was comin'. Mebbe we'll find our way through the pass before they scent us. They're venomous, they are. Worst kind."
The two mules had been standing as if they were listening to him, but now, as old Rube cast them loose, the off mule suddenly threw up his heels and set out at a sharp trot into the grass, while his mate stretched his long neck forward in a sonorous bray.
"That'll do, Gov'nor," remarked Rube. "We all know you kin do it. You and the Senator had better jest feed yer level best while yer chance is good. Mebbe you'll be an Indian's mule yet, before you die."
"Saints preserve thim, thin. It's foine mules they are," said Pat, very soberly. "Misther Adams, was ye hearin' the charakther he gave the place we're in?"
"Is there any danger, Rube?—any real danger?"
"Not if we can find our way through the pass, Charlie. It's more like the neck of a bottle than anything else. Hope they haven't corked it up with rocks for us."
A tall, slightly built boy was Charlie Adams, and his bright blue eyes were wide open, with a look in which there was more fun and love of adventure than fear of anything—even of Hualapais Indians.
He had been staring around the broad level valley while the miners were going into camp, and it did seem as if he had never looked upon anything more beautiful. The grass was so luxuriant and green; the scattered groves had been set down exactly in the right places; the mountains arose so grandly on every side; surely there could not have been imagined a prettier picture in a more wonderful frame. He said so to Rube Sarrow, but all the reply he got from the grim old wagon-master was,
"Ye-es, and the red-skins mean to keep it. Thar's been more than one outfit wiped out a-tryin' to squeeze through the Union Pass."
The wagons of the train were drawn up in two rows, about fifty yards apart, the light "ambulance," from which Rube had unhitched the Governor and the Senator, was pulled across one of the open spaces at the end, and a brisk fire had been started at the other. The ground so inclosed contained room enough to "corral" all the mules and horses of the train in case of an attack, and the members of that exploring party were likely to be able to defend such a fort against any ordinary band of red men.
Not a sign of the presence of Indians in the neighborhood had yet been discovered, and before the middle of the afternoon the scouts sent out came in with a couple of fat deer.
"That looks well," growled old Rube. "The valley hasn't been hunted out lately. Mebbe we'll git through all right."
The animals were watched pretty carefully, nevertheless, and they all had a good long rest and time to feed.
"They'd betther make the best of it," said Pat Linihan to Charlie Adams. "It's a long pull and a hard one they've got before thim. Wud thim red-skins take the skelp of a mule, do ye s'pose?"
"They'd give more for yours, Pat. They'd risk almost anything for hair as red as you have. Light their pipes, you know."
"That's more'n I kin do wid it mesilf. But thim ambulance mules, now. Luk at the ears of thim. Did yez iver see the loike on any human bein' before?"
The Governor and the Senator were mules of the largest and ungainliest type, and they seemed to remember enough of what Rube had said about Indians to keep them pretty close to the camp all the evening. None of the others were permitted to stray to any great distance, and about midnight they were all silently collected.
The men had taken the whole matter as quietly as had their four-footed servants, eating and sleeping as if there were no Indians in the world, or at least in the neighborhood of the Hualapais Mountains and the Union Pass.
All the men, perhaps; but Charlie Adams was not a man yet, and the young blood was tingling through his veins at the thought of actual danger and an attack from Indians. There was no need to wake him up or call him when the time came to get ready for another march. He was wide awake from head to foot, and seemed to be everywhere at once, with his repeating carbine in his hand.
It was a queer piece of work Rube and his teamsters were at for the next hour or so. They began by wrapping all the old blankets they had, and some new ones, around the circumference of the wagon wheels, and they greased the journals of the axles until there was no chance left for a squeak to come from them.
"They'll travel without a sound," said old Rube. "How're ye gittin' on with the critters, boys?"
That had been a job which interested Charlie Adams exceedingly. Every mule and horse was fitted with a pair of buffalo-skin or blanket moccasins, so that his feet would fall silently upon the hardest ground. Some of the men said "shoes," some "boots," and Pat Linihan called them "stockin's, begorra"; but Rube said "moccasins," and Charlie took him at his word.
Between one and two o'clock, the camp, with its fire piled up to a brighter blaze than ever, was left behind them, and the long mining train moved onward toward the dangerous pass. It was wonderful how little noise they made, and Pat Linihan remarked to old Rube:
"Sure an' it's the first toime I iver druv a muffled mule."
"Muffle yer tongue," growled old Rube. "That's one thing I forgot."
They made good speed, and before long Charlie Adams was aware that the narrow wagon trail they were following had led them between great walls of rock.
"We'll do it," whispered old Rube to Charlie. "They're up there on the cliffs, some of 'em, as a matter of course; but we're going to beat 'em this time. They have an awful advantage over any fellows down here. All they need do is to tumble down rocks on us in some places. There's just one bad spot to go by now," said he, a little later, "but it's almost daylight. I wish we were well past the neck."
Nearer and nearer drew the walls of rock, but there were no sounds made for them to echo, until at last, as he and the Senator pulled their ambulance over an unusually rough place, and paused for breath, the Governor seized the opportunity to stretch out his ugly neck.
Oh! what a bray was that! It seemed to fill every cranny of the Union Pass, and stir up the sleeping echoes, and climb up over the crags, and old Rube instantly shouted:
"Whip up, boys! Forward now for your lives! That thar was jest one other thing we forgot to muffle."
The whips cracked sharply enough now, and the Governor received at least his share in payment for his music.
There was no more silence. In less than a minute the heights above them rang with fierce whoops and yells. The savages had been taken a little by surprise, but they were there, and they had been waiting for that train. It had nearly passed them, but they were determined to make an effort for its capture.
Whoop after whoop, and then the crash and thud of rocky masses tumbling down the chasm.
It was getting lighter every minute, and Charlie Adams strained his bright eyes up along the crags in the hope of seeing a mark for his carbine.
Suddenly the sharp reports of rifles came from the front, and old Rube exclaimed:
"Indians in the pass! That's bad. We were almost through."
So they were, for the ambulance Pat was driving, and that Rube and Charlie were guarding, was the very tail of the train.
"Look out, Charlie."
"Bedad, they've done it! What'll I do now?"
A heavy bowlder had come smashing down through the tilted top of the ambulance, making dire destruction of the closely packed stowage, and startling Pat half out of his wits.
"Unhitch! Save your mules!"
The Governor and the Senator had something to say about that. They were worse scared than Pat himself, and they declared it, as mules will, in about half a bray[Pg 227] apiece, but then they sprang wildly away up the pass, dragging behind them the battered ambulance, Pat and all.
"Go it, Pat! Come on, Charlie! There's a fight ahead, but we're beyond the neck."
The "fight ahead" was over quickly enough, for less than half a dozen Indians had clambered swiftly down to hide behind logs and rocks, and try to check the advance of the train. It was getting light enough for them to use their rifles, but so could the miners, and that was bad for that squad of "Wallopies," as Pat called them. Only two of them climbed up the rocks again, and all the harm they did was to wound three of the mules, and send a ball through the arm of a driver. Their friends on the heights were fairly driven to cover again by the storm of rifle-bullets sent after them, and Charlie Adams's carbine cracked as loudly as if he had been six feet high and weighed two hundred pounds.
"I wonder if I hit any of them?" he said to Rube, after they reached an open place and halted the train.
"Dunno 'bout that. Most likely. I kinder hope we barked some on 'em. But that there was a leetle the tightest squeeze I ever hed in Union Pass. All because I didn't muffle the bray of that mule."
"Did ye know," added Pat, "the big stone that kim into the ambylance mashed in the molasses kag? It's a swate mess they've made of it."
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