"Carted the logs in from ol' Baldy, more'n forty miles. One is the
bunk-house; the other is whar Mendez stops when the ol' cuss is yere.
Creep up a bit an' I'll show yer how the trail runs. Don't be afeerd;
nobody kin see yer from down below."
"All right, son, where is it?"
"It starts at the foot o' that boulder," indicating with his finger,
"an' goes along the shelf clear to the end; then thar's a drop ov maybe
five feet to that outcroppin' o' rock just below. It's wider than it
looks to be from yere. After that yer can trace it quite a spell with
yer eyes, kinder sidlin' ter the left, till yer come to that dead root
ov a cedar. Then thar's a gap or two that ain't over easy, an' a slide
down ter another shelf. Yer can't miss it, cause there's no other way
"And what's at the bottom?"
"Them huts, an' the mouth of a damn big cave just behind 'em. I reckon
it's in the cave they've got the gal; there's places there they kin
shut up, but I don't know what they was ever made fer. I asked Lacy
wunst, but he only laughed."
The two men lay flat, staring down. It was almost a sheer wall, and
the very thought of climbing along the almost impassable path pointed
out by Moore made Westcott dizzy. He had clambered along the ragged
crags of many a mountain in search for gold, but the necessity of
finding blindly in the dark that obscure and perilous passage brought
with it a sensation of horror which he had to fight in order to
conquer. It was such a sheer, precipitous drop, a path - if path it
could be called - so thickly studded with danger the mind actually
recoiled in contemplation.
"You have really been down there, Moore?" he questioned, half
"Oh, I made it all right," boastfully. "But it's no picnic. I'd hate
like hell to risk it at night, but that's the only chance you fellows
will have to git down. It would be like trap-shootin' for them Mexes
if you tried it now."
They lay there for some time talking to each other, and staring down at
the strange scene so far beneath them, and which appeared almost like a
painted picture within its dark frame of towering rocks and wide
expanse of sand. Except for the rather restless herd of cattle there
was little movement perceptible - a herder or two could be distinguished
riding here and there on some duty; there was a small horse corral a
short distance to their right, with something like a dozen ponies
confined within, and a bunch of saddles piled outside the fence. Once
a man came out of the bunk-house and went down to the stream for a
bucket of water, returning leisurely. He wore the braided jacket and
high, wide-brimmed hat of the Mexican peon, and spurs glittered on his
boot-heels. Beyond this the cabins below gave no sign of occupancy.
Moore pointed out to them the main trail leading across the valley and
winding up along the front of the opposite wall. They could trace it a
large part of the way, but it disappeared entirely as it approached the
The three men, wearied with looking, and knowing there was nothing more
to do, except wait for night, crept back into the sand hollow and
nibbled away at the few eatables brought with them in their pockets.
Brennan alone seemed cheerful and talkative - Moore had liberally
divided with him his stock of chewing-tobacco.
CHAPTER XXXI: WITH FORCE OF ARMS
They were still sitting there cross-legged in the sand when the silence
was suddenly punctuated by the sharp report of a revolver. The sound
barely reached their ears, yet it undoubtedly came from below, and all
three were upon their feet, when a second shot decided the matter.
Westcott was first at the rim, staring eagerly downward. It was
growing dusk down there in the depths, yet was still light enough to
enable him to perceive movement, and the outlines of the cabins. For a
moment all he noticed was a man lying on the ground in front of the
small hut, but almost immediately men began to swarm out through the
door of the bunk-house, and a horseman came spurring from the field
The men were armed, several with guns in their hands; all with
revolvers buckled at the waist, and they bunched there, just outside
the door, evidently startled, but not knowing which way to turn. The
figure on the ground lifted itself partly, and the fellow must have
called to the others, although no sound of a voice attained the summit
of the cliff, for the whole gang rushed in that direction, and
clustered about, gesticulating excitedly.
An occasional Spanish oath exploded from the mass with sufficient
vehemence to reach the strained ears above, and the watchers were able
to perceive the fellows lift the fallen man to his feet, and untie his
hands, which were apparently secured behind his back. He must have
been wounded also, for one sleeve was hastily rolled up, and water
brought from the stream, in which it was bathed. Not until this had
been attended to did the crowd fall away, sufficiently to permit the
fellow himself to be distinctly seen. Moore's hand closed convulsively
on the marshal's arm.
"It's ol' Mendez, as I'm a livin' sinner,", he announced hoarsely.
"An' somebody's plunked him. What'd yer make o' that?"
Brennan never removed his gaze from the scene below, but his face was
tense with interest.
"Blamed if I know; might be a mere row - hold on, there! Whoever did it
is in that cabin; watch what they're up to, now."
The three hung there scanning every movement of those below, too
intently interested to talk, yet unable for some time to determine
clearly what was impending. Occasionally the sound of a voice reached
them, shouting orders in Spanish, and men came and went in obedience to
the commands. More guns were brought forth from the bunk-house, and
distributed; the single horseman rode swiftly up the valley, and a
half-dozen of the fellows lugged a heavy timber up from the corral, and
dropped it on the ground in front of the smaller cabin. Mendez, his
arm in a sling, passed from group to group, profanely busy, snapping
"They are going to break in the door with that log!" muttered Westcott
between his clenched teeth. "That white-head down there is boiling
with rage, and whoever the poor devil, or devils, may be, they'll have
"Yes, but who are they?" and Brennan sat up. "The whole gang must be
outside there; I counted fourteen. Then, did you notice? Mendez had
his hands bound behind his back. He couldn't even get up until those
fellows untied him. That's what puzzles me."
"It would take more than one to do that job. Maybe we'll find out
now - he's pounding with a revolver butt on the front door."
They listened breathlessly, hanging recklessly over the rim of the
chasm, and staring at that strange scene below, but the man's words
only reached them broken and detached. They got enough, however, to
realise that he demanded the unbarring of the door, and that he both
threatened and promised protection to whoever was within. It was the
language he employed that aroused Westcott.
"Did you hear that?" he asked shortly. "The man spoke English.
Whoever's in there doesn't understand Spanish. Were any Americans down
there when you left, Moore?"
"Joe Sikes, and a fellow they call 'Shorty,' but they're both outside;
that was Joe who bound up ol' Mendez's arm, an' Shorty was helpin'
bring up the log."
The eyes of Brennan and Westcott met understandingly.
"Yer don't suppose that girl - - "
"Aye, but I do," and Westcott's voice proved his conviction. "There's
nothing too nervy for her to tackle if it needed to be done. But she
never could have corralled Mendez alone."
"Then there must be another along with her - that fellow yer told me
"Fred Cavendish! By Jove, it would be like him. Say, boys, I'm going
down and take a hand in this game."
The marshal gripped him.
"Not yet, Jim! It ain't dark enough. Wait a bit more an' I'm with
yer, old man. It'll be blacker than hell down there in fifteen
minutes, an' then we'll have some chance. They'd pot us now sure afore
we got as far as that cedar. What is the gang up to now, Matt?"
"They're a goin' ter bust in the door," and Moore craned his head
farther out over the edge in eagerness to see. "I reckon they didn't
git no answer that pleased 'em. See ol' Mendez hoppin' about! Lord!
he's mad 'nough to eat nails. Thar comes the log - say, they hit that
some thump; thar ain't no wood that's goin' ter stand agin them blows
long. Do yer hear?"
They did; the dull reverberation as the log butt crashed against the
closed door was plainly audible. Once, twice, three times it struck,
giving forth at last the sharper crackling of splintered wood. They
could see little now distinctly - only the dim outlines of the men's
figures, Mendez shouting and gesticulating, the fellows grasping the
rough battering-ram, a group of others on either side the door,
evidently gathered for a rush the moment the latter gave way.
"My God!" cried Westcott, struggling to restrain himself. "Suppose I
take a crack at them!"
Brennan caught the hand tugging at the half-drawn revolver.
"Are you mad, man? You couldn't even hit the house at that distance.
Holy smoke! There she goes!"
The door crashed in; there was a fusillade of shots, the spits of fire
cleaving the dusk, and throwing the figures of the men into sudden bold
relief. The log wielders sprang aside, and the others leaped forward,
yelling wildly and plunging in through the broken doorway. An instant
later three muffled reports rang out from the interior - one deep and
booming, the others sharper, more resonant - and the invaders tumbled
backward into the open, seeking shelter. Westcott was erect, Brennan
on hands and knees.
"Damn me!" ejaculated the latter, his excitement conquering restraint.
"Whoever they are, Jim, they're givin' ol' Mendez his belly full. Did
yer hear them shots? There's sure two of 'em in thar - one's got a
shotgun an' the other a revolver. I'll bet yer they punctuated some o'
those lads. Lord! They come out like rats."
Westcott's teeth gripped.
"I'm going down," he said grimly, "if I have to go alone."
Brennan scrambled to his feet.
"Just a second, Jim, an' I'm with yer. Moore, get up yere. Now, what
do yer say? Can we count you in on this shindig?"
"Go down thar with yer?"
"Sure! Y're a man, ain't yer? If yer say y're game, I'll play
square - otherwise we'll see to your case afore we start. I don't leave
yer up yere to play no tricks - now which is it?"
Moore stared over the edge into the black depths.
"Yer want me to show you the way?"
"Yer say you've made the trip wunst. If yer have, yer kin do it again.
I'm askin' yer fer the last time."
The boy shivered, but his jaw set.
"I don't give a damn fer you, Dan Brennan," he returned half angrily,
"but I reckon that might be the girl down thar, an' I'll risk it fer
"You'll go then?"
"Sure; didn't I just tell you so?"
Brennan wheeled about.
"Give him his gun, Jim, and the belt," he commanded briefly. "I don't
send no man into a fracas like this unless he's heeled. Leave yer
coats here, an' take it slow. Both of yer ready?"
Not until his dying day will Westcott ever forget the moment he hung
dangling over the edge of that pit, following Moore who had
disappeared, and felt gingerly in the darkness for the narrow rock
ledge below. The young miner possessed imagination, and could not
drive from memory the mental picture of those depths beneath; the
horror was like a nightmare, and yet the one dominant thought was not
of an awful death, of falling headlong, to be crushed shapeless
hundreds of feet below. This dread was there, an intense agony at
first, but beyond it arose the more important thought of what would
become of her if he failed to attain the bottom of that cliff alive.
Yet this was the very thing which steadied him, and brought back his
At best they could only creep, feeling a way blindly from crag to crag,
clinging desperately to every projection, never venturing even the
slightest movement until either hand or loot found solid support.
Moore led, his boyish recklessness and knowledge of the way, giving him
an advantage. Westcott followed, keeping as close as possible,
endeavouring to shape his own efforts in accordance with the dimly
outlined form below; while Brennan, short-legged and stout, probably
had the hardest task of all in bringing up the rear.
No one spoke, except as occasionally Moore sent back a brief whisper of
warning at some spot of unusual danger, but they could hear each
other's laboured breathing, the brushing of their clothing against the
surface of the rock, the scraping of their feet, and occasionally the
faint tinkle of a small stone, dislodged by their passage and striking
far below. There was nothing but intense blackness down there - a
hideous chasm of death clutching at them; the houses, the men, the
whole valley was completely swallowed in the night.
Above it all they clung to the almost smooth face of the cliff,
gripping for support at every crevice, the rock under them barely wide
enough to yield purchase to their feet. Twice Westcott had to let go
entirely, trusting to a ledge below to stop his fail; once he travelled
a yard, or more, dangling on his hands over the abyss, his feet feeling
for the support beyond; and several times he paused to assist the
shorter-legged marshal down to a lower level. Their progress was that
of the snail, yet every inch of the way they played with death.
Now and then voices shouted out of the gloom beneath them, and they
hung motionless to listen. The speech was Spanish garnished with
oaths, its meaning not altogether clear. They could distinguish
Mendez's harsh croak easily among the others.
"What's he saying, Moore?" whispered Westcott to the black shape just
"Something 'bout the log. I don't just make it, but I reckon they aim
now to batter in the winder."
"Well, go on," passed down the marshal gruffly. "What in Sam Hill are
yer holdin' us up yere for? I ain't got more'n two inches ter stand
Fifty feet below, just as Moore rounded the dead cedar, the guns began
again, the spits of red flame lighting up the outlines of the cabin,
and the dark figures of men. It was as though they looked down into
the pit, watching the brewing of some sport of demons - the movements
below them weird, grotesque - rendered horrible by those sudden glares
of light. This firing was all from without, and was unanswered; no
boom of shotgun replied, no muffled crack of revolver. Yet it must
have been for a purpose, for the men crouching against the cliff, their
faces showing ghastly in the flashes of powder, were able to perceive a
massing of figures below. Then the shots ceased, and the butt of the
great log crashed against something with the force of a catapult, and a
yell rolled up through the night.
At last Moore stopped, and waited until Westcott was near enough for
him to whisper in the other's ear.
"There's a drop yere, 'bout ten er twelve feet, I reckon; an' then just
a slope to ther bottom. Don't make no more noise then yer have to, an'
give me a chance ter git out of ther way afore yer let go."
Westcott passed the word back across his shoulder to Brennan who was
panting heavily, and, watched, as best he could on hands and knees,
while Moore lowered himself at arm's length over the narrow rock ledge.
The boy loosened his grip, but landed almost noiselessly. Westcott,
peering over, could see nothing; there was beneath only impenetrable
blackness. Silently he also dropped and his feet struck earth, sloping
rapidly downward. Hardly had he advanced a yard, when the little
marshal struck the dirt, with a force that made him grunt audibly. At
the foot of this pile of debris, Moore waited for them, the night so
dark down there in the depths, Westcott's outstretched hand touched the
fellow before he was assured of his presence.
The Mexicans were still; whatever deviltry they were up to, it was
being carried on now in silence; the only sound was a muffled scraping.
Brennan yet struggled for breath, but was eager for action. He shoved
his head forward, listening.
"What do yer make o' that noise?" he asked, his words scarcely audible.
"I heerd it afore yer come up," returned Moore. "'Tain't nuthin'
regular. I figure the Mex are goin' in through that winder they
busted. That sound's their boots scaling the wall."
"Ever been inside?"
"Wunst, ter take some papers ter Lacy."
"Well, what's it like? For God's sake speak up - there's goin' ter be
hell to pay in a minute."
"Thar's two rooms; ther outside door an' winder are in the front one,
which is the biggest. The other is whar Mendez sleeps, an' thar's a
door between 'em."
"No windows in the rear room?"
"None I ever see."
"And just the one door; what sort o' partition?"
"Just plain log, I reckon."
"That's all right, Jim," and Westcott felt the marshal's fingers grasp
his arm. "I got it sized up proper. Whoever them folks be, they've
barricaded inter that back room. Likely they've got a dead range on
the front door, an' them Mexes have had all they want tryin' to get to
'em in that way. So now they're crawlin' in through the window.
There'll be some hellabaloo in there presently to my notion, an' I want
ter be thar ter see the curtain go up. Wharabouts are we, Matt?"
"Back o' the bunk-house. Whar do yer want ter go? I kin travel 'round
yere with my eyes shut."
"The front o' Mendez's cabin," said the marshal shortly. "Better take
the other side; if that door is down we'll take those fellows in the
rear afore they know what's happening." He chuckled grimly. "We've
sure played in luck so far, boys; go easy now, and draw yer guns."
They were half-way along the side wall when the firing began - but it
was not the Mexicans this time who began it. The shotgun barked; there
was the sound of a falling body; two revolver shots and then the sharp
ping of a Winchester. Brennan leaped past the boy ahead, and rounded
the corner. A Mexican stood directly in front of the shattered door
peering in, a rifle yet smoking in his hands. With one swift blow of a
revolver butt the marshal dropped him in his tracks, the fellow rolling
off the steps onto the ground. With outstretched hands he stopped the
others, holding them back out of any possible view from within.
"Quick now, before that bunch inside gets wise to what's up. We've got
'em cornered. You, Matt, strip the jacket off that Mex, an' get his
hat; bunch 'em up together, and set a match to 'em. That's the stuff!
Now, the minute they blaze throw 'em in through that doorway. Come on,
Westcott, be ready to jump."
The hat was straw, and the bundle of blazing material landed almost in
the centre of the floor, lighting up the whole interior. Almost before
it struck, the three men, revolvers gleaming in their hands, had leaped
across the shattered door, and confronted the startled band huddled in
one corner. Brennan wasted no time, his eyes sweeping over the array
of faces, revealed by the blaze of fire on the floor.
"Hands up, my beauties - every mother's son of yer. Yes, I mean you,
yer human catapiller. Don't waste any time about it; I'm the caller
fer this dance. Put 'em up higher, less yer want ter commit suicide.
Now drop them rifles on the floor - gently, friends, gently. Matt,
frisk 'em and see what other weapons they carry. Ever see nicer bunch
o' lambs, Jim?" His lips smiling, but with an ugly look to his
gleaming teeth, and steady eyes. "Why they'd eat outer yer hand.
Which one of yer is Mendez?"
"He dead, _seÃ±or_," one fellow managed to answer in broken English.
"That heem lie dar."
"Well, that's some comfort," but without glancing about. "Now kick the
guns over this way, Matt, and touch a match to the lamp on that shelf
yonder; and, Jim, perhaps you better stamp out the fire; we'll not need
it any more. Great Scott! What's this?"
It was Miss Donovan, her dress torn, her hair dishevelled, a revolver
still clasped in her hand, half levelled as though she yet doubted her
realisation of what had occurred. She emerged from the blackness of
the rear room, advanced a step and stood there hesitating, her
wide-open eyes gazing about in bewilderment on the strange scene
revealed by the glow of the lamp. That searching, pathetic glance
swept from face to face about the motionless circle - the cowed Mexican
prisoners with uplifted hands backed against the wall; the three dead
bodies huddled on the floor; Moore, with the slowly expiring match yet
smoking in his fingers; the little marshal, erect, a revolver poised in
either hand, his face set and stern. Then she saw Westcott, and her
whole expression changed. An instant their eyes met; then the revolver
fell to the floor unnoticed, and the girl sprang toward him, both hands
"You!" she cried, utterly giving way, forgetful of all else except the
sense of relief the recognition brought her. "You! Oh! Now I know it
is all right! I was so sure you would come."
He caught the extended hands eagerly, drawing her close, and looking
straight down into the depths of her uplifted eyes. To him, at that
moment, there was no one else in the room, no one else in the wide,
"You knew I would come?" he echoed. "You believed that much in me?"
"Yes; I have never had a doubt. I told him so; that if we could only
hold out long enough we would be saved. But," her lips quivered, and
there were tears glistening in the uplifted eyes, "you came too late
"For him? The man who was with you, you mean? Has he been shot?"
She bent her head, the lips refusing to answer.
"Who was he?"
"Mr. Cavendish - oh!"
It was a cry of complete reaction; the room reeled about her and she
would have fallen headlong had not Westcott clasped the slender form
closely in his arms. An instant he stood there gazing down into her
face. Then he turned toward Brennan.
"Leave us alone, Dan," he said simply. "Get that gang of blacklegs out
CHAPTER XXXII: IN THE TWO CABINS
The marshal's lips smiled.
"Sure, Jim," he drawled, "anything to oblige, although this is a new
one on me. Come on, Matt; it seems the gentleman does not wish to be
disturbed - - Well, neither would I under such circumstances. Here
you! line up there in single file, and get a move on you - pronto! Show
'em what I mean, Matt; put that guy that talks English at the head - -
Yes, he's the one. Now look here, _amigo_, you march straight out
through that door, and head for the bunk-house - do you get that?"
"_Si, seÃ±or_; I savvy!"
"Well, you better; tell those fellows that if one of 'em makes a break
he's goin' ter be a dead Mex - will yer? Get to the other side of them,
Matt; now step ahead - not too fast."
Westcott watched the procession file out, still clasping the partially
unconscious girl in his arms. Moore, bringing up the rear, disappeared
through the entrance, and vanished into the night without. Except for
the three motionless bodies, they were alone. The lamp on the high
shelf flared fitfully in the wind, and the charred embers on the floor
exhibited a glowing spark of colour. From a distance Brennan's voice
growled out a gruff order to his line of prisoners. Then all was
still. The eyes of the girl opened slowly, her lids trembling, but as
they rested on Westcott's face, she smiled.
"You are glad I came?"
"Glad! Why I never really knew what gladness meant before."
He bent lower, his heart pounding fiercely, strange words struggling
"You love me?"
She looked at him, all the fervent Irish soul of her in her eyes. Then
one arm stole upward to his shoulder.
"As you love me," she whispered softly, "as you love me!"
"I can ask no more, sweetheart," he breathed soberly, and kissed her.
At last she drew back, still restrained by his arms, but with her eyes
suddenly grave and thoughtful.
"We forget," she chided, "where we are. You must let me go now, and
see if he is alive. I will wait on the bench, here."
"But you said he had been killed."
"I do not know; there was no time for me to be sure of that. The shot
struck him here in the chest, and when he fell he knocked me down. I
tore open his shirt, and bound up the wound hastily; it did not bleed
much. He never spoke after that, and lay perfectly still."
"Poor old Fred. I'll do what I can for him - I'll not be away a minute,
He could see little from the doorway, only the dark shadow of a man's