As it was still early in the evening, I determined to walk over to Magoffin’s camp, which was about a quarter of a mile above us, and ascertain if his men had seen anything to cause them to apprehend danger. I found that Don Ignacio, the wagon-master, fully corroborated Jerry’s statements about the smoke signals, adding that he intended to have a very strict watch kept that night.
With, tins information I returned to camp; and, after telling the boys what I had heard and cautioning them to keep a sharp lookout during their watch, I “turned in,” resolved to nap “with one eye open” myself.
I lay for a long time trying in vain to compose myself to sleep; but, finding it impossible to do so, concluded to rise and endeavor to walk my nervousness away.
Without thinking of my firearms, I sallied forth, and must have travelled nearly a mile, when I came suddenly upon a mule, standing alone, a short distance from the roadside.
Supposing it to be one of our own, which, through carelessness, had been permitted to stray from the herd, I attempted to secure it, with the intention of leading it back; but, to my surprise, it started and dashed furiously away across the prairie, in an opposite direction from camp.
I well knew that a mule, when alone on the plains, is one of the most docile creatures in the world, and will permit any one save an Indian to approach it without making an effort to escape; consequently, the more I thought of the matter the more singular it seemed. Returning to camp, I found old Jerry awake and on the alert, and briefly told him what I had seen, asking him if he did not think it a strange thing for the animal to do.
Without a moment’s hesitation he replied,—
“Strange? no! That air lost critter of yourn was a Comanche scout’s, you bet; and, bein’ a scout, he couldn’t have done nothin’ else, ’cause it might hev spilt their entire calculation. You’ll hev a chance ter see him agin afore mornin’, I reckon.”
“But there was no Indian with the mule,” I insisted.
[Illustration: Comanche Riding.]
“Ten to one there was, though,” replied Jerry. “You ain’t so well ‘quainted with them Comanches as I be. They’re cunnin’ fellers! They never show themselves when they’re on a horse, or in a fight. They just stick closer’n a tick to their hoss’s side, and do a heap of mighty good shootin’ from under his neck, I can tell you. Why, I’ve seen forty of ’em comin’ full tilt right towards me, and narry Injun in sight.”
“If you think they are going to attack us, Jerry, hadn’t we better rouse the camp at once, and notify Magoffin’s people?”
“We’d better just tend to ourselves, and let other folks do the same; and as to rousin’ the camp, why them boys is a heap better off asleep than they would be round here. That’s a nice sort of a guard, ain’t it?” said Jerry, pointing to Hal, who was slumbering soundly near the fire. “That’s just what he was doin’ when I got up; and on his watch too. We can git along without any such help as thet. Air your shootin’-irons reddy?”