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FLIGHT AND PURSUIT.
Lieutenant Radbury's party had come up to the ravine at a point opposite to the cave, about half an hour before Dan attempted to make his escape.
"I see nothing of the Mexicans here," he remarked to Poke Stover, as he swept the ravine from one end to the other with his well-trained eye.
"No more do I see anything," answered the old frontiersman. "But they may be behind yonder rocks, leftenant. If ye say the word, I'll climb down and scout around a bit."
"There is a cave among yonder rocks," put in another of the Texans. "It is called Haunted Rock by the Indians. The Comanches used to use it as a meeting-place when they were out for plunder. I've often heard old Si Bilkens tell about it."
"I have heard of such a cave," answered Amos Radbury. "If the Mexicans knew of it, they might think it just the right sort of a hiding-place. Yes, Poke, you can scout around. But be careful. They may be watching for a shot."
The frontiersman nodded, to show that he understood, and went off immediately on foot, it being impossible to go down the ravine's side on mustang-back, no matter how sure-footed the animal might be.
The descent into the ravine took time, and Poke Stover was still some distance from the cave's entrance when he heard a commotion among the bushes and rocks.
"A mustang a-comin' this way," he muttered to himself. "And somebody ridin', too. It must be one of them dirty greasers trying to git away. I'll cut him short."
He raised his rifle, and stepped out into the open to get a better aim. Then of a sudden his weapon dropped to his side.
"Dan! Dan Radbury! What in thunder are you doing out here?"
At first Dan did not hear the call, for the hoof-strokes of the mustang made considerable noise on the rocks over which he was clattering. But then the youth caught sight of the old frontiersman and his face beamed with joy.
"Poke Stover! and is it really you?" he exclaimed.
"Yes. What are you doing here?"
"I just escaped from four Mexican soldiers, who are hiding in a cave up the ravine."
"The greasers we are after!"
"Are you after them? They said something about being followed."
"Yes, I am after them, and so is your father, who is in command of our party."
"Father! Where is he?"
"At the top of the ravine--in that direction," and Poke Stover pointed it out. "He jest sent me out to do a bit o' scoutin'."
"To locate the greasers?"
"I can tell you all about them. They are at the cave on guard. I took this mustang from them, and also this musket."
"Then thar won't be no need fer me to scout any more, Dan, and we might as well join the rest," answered Poke Stover. "We must capture them greasers."
"How did you come to go after them?"
Stover told the particulars as they were climbing out of the ravine, Dan leading the mustang by the head. In a short while, the youth was with his father.
Of course the parent was astonished to find his son in this wilderness, so many miles from the ranch home, and Dan had to tell his story in detail.
"I am glad you are safe," said Amos Radbury. "But what of Ralph?"
"I can tell you nothing of him, father."
"We saw the white mustang twice, but nothing of him," added Amos Radbury, thoughtfully. And then he decided to go on a hunt for his boy as soon as the affair of the four Mexicans was settled.
To the others Dan pointed out the exact location of the cave, and the entire party drew within a hundred yards of the opening, without exposing themselves. The Mexicans, also, kept out of sight.
"We are now eleven to four," said Amos Radbury. "I believe if they understood the matter, they would surrender, rather than risk being shot."
"If they won't surrender I know what you can easily do," returned Dan.
"And what is that?"
"Starve them out. They are all as hungry as bears,--and so am I, for the matter of that."
"An excellent idea. But if you are hungry, here are rations in the saddle-bags," and Dan was speedily supplied with sufficient food to stay his hunger for the time being.
One of the party, who could talk Spanish fluently, was now ordered to show a white handkerchief tied to a stick, and this he did, moving to the very edge of the ravine for that purpose. At first, owing, probably, to the darkness, the Mexicans did not see the flag of truce, but at last the captain came forward, and demanded to know what was wanted.
"We want you to surrender," said the Texan.
"We will not do so, and you will attack us at your peril," was the Mexican's sharp reply.
"You are but four, while we number twelve."
"We will fight, even so, seņor. A Mexican never surrenders."
"What if we starve you out?"
"You cannot do that. Still, you may try it, if you wish," continued the capitan hurriedly. If the Americans tried starving them out, it would give them time in which to perfect some plan for escape.
The talk continued for several minutes, and then the Texan came back with the information that the enemy would agree to nothing.
"He's willing to be starved out," went on the ranger. "But I think he wants the chance to get away in the darkness."
"We will draw closer to the cave as the darkness settles down," answered Amos Radbury. This was the first time, as an officer, that he had been sent out on a commission, and he was resolved not to fail.
The night came on swiftly. Evidently a storm was brewing, for not a star lit up the heavens.
"We'll catch it, in more ways than one, soon," said Stover to Dan, suggestively.
The Texans had had a small fire, but now this was deserted, and the party moved down into the ravine on foot.
Just as the first rain of the coming storm began to fall, one of the men of the party set up a shout.
"There they go!"
He was right. The Mexicans were making a mad dash for liberty up the ravine, the four men on three mustangs.
"Fire at them!" ordered Lieutenant Radbury, and instantly half a dozen shots rang out. None of the enemy was hit, but two of the mustangs pitched headlong, carrying three of the riders down with them. The fourth Mexican, the captain, continued on his way, forcing his steed along at a greater pace than ever.
Before those on the ground could rise, they found themselves surrounded.
"Surrender!" cried Lieutenant Radbury. "Surrender, or we must shoot you down!"
"I surrender!" cried one of the Mexicans. "No shoot me!" And he held up his hands.
But the others were game, so to speak, and, rising, they discharged their muskets, and continued their flight on foot. They had scarcely gone a dozen steps, when the Texans opened fire again, and one dropped, shot through the heart. The second man was wounded, but kept on and disappeared up the side of the ravine, in a thick pine brake, where all was now pitch dark.
"Make that man a close prisoner!" shouted Lieutenant Radbury to two of his followers. "Come on!" and he dashed away after the Mexican captain. Several, including Poke Stover and Dan, followed him, while others went after the fellow in the pine brake.
It was largely a go-as-you-please hunt, for, as mentioned before, the army was not yet sworn in, and every man felt that he could do about as he wished.
Before leaving the Mexican who had surrendered, Lieutenant Radbury had appropriated his horse, consequently he readily outdistanced those who followed. But he could not catch his man, although he got close enough to note that the fellow left the ravine where there was a cut upward, and took to the timber on the north.
"We can't follow him in this darkness," said Amos Radbury. "We will have to wait until morning. It is raining now, and probably there will be an easy trail to follow."
They returned to the others, and then the entire party went into camp in the cave the Mexicans had just vacated, the horses being also brought in, to keep them out of the storm, for it was now raining in torrents. A fire was kindled and a warm supper prepared.
"Two out o' four," declared Poke Stover. "That wasn't so bad, after all."
The captured Mexican was questioned, and said the missing officer was Captain Arguez, from Santa Cruz.
"He belongs to a most noble family," said the prisoner. "He will never give up."
"He will if I lay my hands on him," said Amos Radbury, quietly.
Both father and son were much worried over Ralph, and wondered what had become of him. It was agreed that while looking for Captain Arguez they should hunt for the boy also.
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