Sending Ned for a spade, I soon unearthed one of the large bulbous roots, which I divided into pieces, and, accompanying the boys to the spring, practically demonstrated its remarkable saponaceous qualities, leaving them delighted with the experiment; but had hardly returned to my blanket again when I was startled by the report of two rifles, that came from below us, near the base of the mountains where our animals were grazing.
However commonplace this incident may appear to the reader, to us it was the tocsin of danger. Before the lofty crags above us had ceased to reverberate the echoes, every man was on the alert.
The boys came running to the spot where I stood, their bare arms dripping with soap-suds, while the men rushed to the wagons to procure their firearms and ammunition.
Before we had time to fully equip ourselves, the sight of one of the herders, rapidly approaching, told the story. He rode near enough to make himself heard, then, checking his horse so suddenly as to almost throw him upon his haunches, he brandished his revolver and shouted,—
“Los Indios! Los Apaches!” and, turning, rode rapidly in the direction whence he came.
Jerry sprang upon a horse; and shouting, “Take care er the camp!” rode rapidly in the direction of the herd.
Telling Hal and Ned to climb the rocks and report what they saw, I ordered the wagons to be drawn up in a line parallel with the foot of the bluff, thus improvising a sort of corral.
The boys, by this time, had discovered eight or ten Indians following the herders, who were driving the animals towards camp. I immediately rode out to assist them. At the moment I reached the plain, a little puff of white smoke rose on the air, far to the rear of the herders. A second after, I saw a riderless horse galloping wildly towards the herd, where he was lost to view. I urged my horse forward; and, by our combined exertions, the animals were safely brought into camp and corralled.
These secured, we turned our attention to the Indians, who were coming down upon us like a whirlwind.
“Don’t a man fire till I give the word,” said Jerry; “and remember not to throw away a bullet.”
The Indians had paused upon the plain, nearly half a mile from our camp; and, sitting upon their horses, were evidently considering the best plan of attack. Suddenly, two of their number turned, and rode back towards the spot where we had first seen them.
“What can they be going back for?” asked Hal, who, rifle in hand, was standing by Jerry’s side, evidently anxious for an opportunity to wipe out old scores.
“What are they going back for?” repeated Jerry; “why, to scalp that poor cuss they shot, I reckon. Judge,” continued he, turning toward me, “jest you try a crack at them fellers with yer new-fashioned ‘dust-raiser,’ will yer?” pointing to my Sharpe’s carbine.