“What do you think is going on?” asked my companion, as several more reports rang out.
“What I feared; the Apaches are attacking the men who went out to bring in the dead and wounded men at Soldiers’ Holes.”
“And if Mr. Hudson was not the wounded man there, I suppose he is sure to be in this scrape. Why not rush in with the escort and frighten them away?”
“They may be too many for us,” I answered, “and it will be prudent to learn the situation at the ranch before we go nearer. I want to join the white men without the Indians’ knowledge, if possible.”
“If Mr. Hudson is not dead, he must know we are here.”
“He may be there, and the men may know we are on the road, but it certainly does not look like it.”
“Can’t Vic be sent with a message?”
“No; she will not take a message to a stranger.”
We had now reached a point from which we could see a log cabin, a stable, and an open shed or tool-house. On the side of the buildings towards us, as if screening themselves from an enemy in the opposite direction, were a few men.
“If you would like me to, sir, I can crawl to the house without being seen,” said Frank. “That cart, wagon, oven, and stack will screen me.”
“Yes, you can do it easily. Tell Mr. Hopkins that we are here—seventeen, counting you two boys—and to make no demonstration when we close up. I will explain a plan to him which, I think, will enable us to teach the Apaches a lesson. If you find Mr. Hudson there, tell him to show himself at a window or door.”
THE BOY SERGEANTS DO GOOD SERVICE
Frank dropped flat upon the earth and worked his way to the cabin without being seen. Instantly I received a signal from Mr. Hopkins through a back window, and a moment later Mr. Hudson looked out of a back door and raised his hat. I was glad to see that his college career was still a possibility.
Hurrying back to the ambulance, I caused the animals to be grouped in charge of the driver and two soldiers, and with the rest of the detail moved in the direction of the ranch buildings.
It had become so dark that we might possibly have passed over the open space without being seen, but, for fear of accidents, we covered it, as Frank had done, on all fours. The first persons I met when I rose to a vertical position were Hudson and Frank, who took me to Mr. Hopkins. The ranchman greeted me with the assurance that the arrival of my party was a godsend, and had probably saved their scalps.
I learned that the men at Date Creek, including the mail-carrier, numbered seven; that three were in the stable and four in the house. These buildings were the same distance from the stream, and fifty feet apart. The bank of the creek was perpendicular for a mile either way, standing fully twelve feet above the surface of the water; but there was a notch with a sloping descent, midway between the buildings, down which the live-stock was driven to water. This slope offered the only practicable point of attack, unless the Indians chose to move by one of our flanks over a long level.