For an instant I was speechless, utterly overwhelmed by the terrible revelation.
I thought of the warm-hearted, impulsive Hal, and the winsome, pretty Juanita, prisoners in the hands of the cruel and merciless Apaches, who were never known to surrender a captive alive. Then, as I thought of a worse fate than death, that was in store for the bright, beautiful girl, I thanked God that her old father was spared the anguish that such a knowledge would have caused him.
As soon as I dared trust myself to speak, I said, in a tone of voice that I was conscious must betray my anxiety to hear my own opinion condemned,—
“This is an Apache’s moccasin, isn’t it?”
“’Tis, for sartin,” said Tom. “No other red-skinned varmint but a devilish Apache, ever wore that moccasin.”
“And what do you argue from that, Tom?” inquired I.
“Ther ain’t nothin’ to argue,” sententiously answered Tom. “The gal’s been took by the Apaches instead of the Comanches, and that’s all there is of it; that moccasin tells the whole story. Ask Jerry. Me and him agreed on that pint, as soon as ever we see it.”
“It’s surer’n preachin’, judge,” said Jerry, as he came up to where we were standing; “and there ain’t no help for it.”
“Well, what can we do, Jerry?”
“Do! foller till we git ’em, if we foiler ’em to hell. We mustn’t leave the trail now, till we know the gal’s dead, for sartin. She’ll be safe, ez long ez they’re travellin’; but if they ever git to where they’re going,—well judge, I’d rather see the pretty little critter layin’ right here, dead, than to meet her, that’s sartin.”
I immediately sought the lieutenant, and informed him of the terrible facts I had just learned.
“I feared as much from the first,” said he, “for during all the years I’ve been stationed on this frontier, I’ve never known the Comanches to venture so far ‘up country’ as this, but have frequently known the Mescalleros to pass through the Comanche country into Mexico. I fear we shall find this to be a band of Mescallero Apaches, but I shall follow them, as long as my men and animals hold out. I have ordered a halt now, because, twenty miles from here, in the direction that we are travelling, we shall come to an extensive deposit of pure, white sand, in which we shall be liable to lose the trail at night; and I want to reach there as near daybreak as possible, so as not to waste more time than is necessary in finding it. We shall rest here until midnight, so you’d better turn in and get what sleep you can.”
Midnight found us once more in the saddle, and when, some hours later, we reached the deposit referred to, an examination showed, that, instead of crossing it, the trail skirted its southern edge for a couple of miles, and then took an easterly course towards the Sacramento Mountains, distant about twenty-five miles.