In the Great Apache Forest
In the Great Apache Forest
The Mountain Cave
Table of Contents
Was I frightened at what I had glimpsed?
I was so badly scared that the beating of my heart seemed to be up in my throat and choking me! The shadowy thing I had seen was a man! And no friend, else he would not have been sneaking away from my approach. And swiftly though he had gone, I had not heard the slightest sound of his footsteps. He must, then, be an Apache, I thought. One of those renegades who, despite the vigilance of the soldiers, now and then somehow get possession of a gun and cartridges and sneak off upon a war trail of their own.
I did not know what to do. But after standing for a long time listening and staring about in the deepening night, I at last made a run for the cabin, got safely inside, and slammed shut the door and barred it. Then it suddenly dawned upon me that I must not light the lamp. I could curtain the windows with dishcloths, but there were all those yawning spaces between the logs that I could not cover, through which an enemy could see me and shoot me the instant that I struck a light. I sat upon the bunk and took off my shoes, and then, rifle in hand, stole from wall to wall of the cabin and stared out through the unchinked spaces; and for all the good that did, might as well have stuck my head into a sack. The night was intensely dark; I could not even see the pile of split white-spruce stovewood less than ten feet from the south wall!
But, presently, I heard something; like the cautious steps of some one to the east of the cabin. Just such sounds as I imagined moccasined feet would make upon the stony ground. They had been faint at first; they became fainter and soon ceased. I stood against the wall a long time. My legs began to tremble. I felt my way back to the bunk and sat upon it, again listening, open-mouthed, for those shuffling, soft, padding steps. I must have sat there for hours. I was hungry, but did not dare risk the noise I should make in opening the iron food chest for a handful of crackers and some cheese. And how I wished that I was down home, safe in my bed! This was my first night away from my people; and here I was, eleven miles from them, and in danger. How sorry I was for myself! Several times I went sound asleep sitting straight up upon the bunk, and awoke with a start, and scolded myself, and said that I just would keep awake! Then the next I knew dawn had come, and I was lying flat upon my back, my rifle tightly gripped with both hands. I sprang up and looked out of the windows, and through the wall spaces, and saw nothing to alarm me. The daylight itself was heartening. I slowly unbarred the door and stepped out upon the little porch. About twenty feet away a porcupine was descending a small spruce that he had partly denuded of its bark. When he left the trunk and waddled off down the slope, he made just the shuffling noise that I had heard in the night: ''You are the Apache that was prowling around here, you scalper of trees!" I yelled to him, and the sound of my voice was good in my ears. And seizing a stick I took after him and knocked him in the head. All Forest Service men are required to kill porcupines, for in the course of a year they do a great deal of damage to the forest.
I went back to the cabin, built a fire in the little stove, and washed face and hands. Then, as I sliced some bacon, opened a can of corn, and made some biscuits, it suddenly came to me that, though the porcupine had probably made the noise I had heard in the night, he certainly was not the shadowy figure I had seen skurrying into the shelter of the spruces! All my fears of the night were back in me with a rush. The temptation to seize my rifle and strike out on the run down the mountain for home was almost irresistible. Then I said to myself: "I've just got to stay here! I've got to stick to this job no matter what happens to me! My Uncle Cleve is n't ru