For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 6
POKE STOVER TO THE FRONT.
"Here they come, Dan!"
"Yes, Ralph. Watch your chance, and fire at the fellow on the left. I'll take the one on the right."
There was no time to say more, for now the Comanches were close to the cabin. Both youths were tremendously excited, but they felt that it was a case of life or death, and did their best to nerve themselves accordingly. Each picked his man, and both guns rang out at the same time. The reports had not yet died away when the red skin aimed at by Dan flung up one arm and sank back, badly wounded in the side. Ralph had missed his mark by a few inches.
The sudden attack brought the remaining Indians to a halt, and for a second they appeared not to know what to do next. Then the wounded man staggered back toward the timber, and with another war-whoop the others continued toward the cabin.
The boys had no time left to reload, and caught up the pistols and let drive again. This time it was Ralph who hit his man, a slight wound in the leg. Hardly had the pistols belched forth than the Indians opened fire, and four bullets buried themselves close to the firing-holes in the loft openings.
"They mean to overpower us if they can," cried Dan. "We must load up as fast as we can!"
The Indians, or at least the three that were not wounded, had now gained the door, and were trying to force it open. But their hatchets and the axe they had brought along failed to make much of an impression on it, and all they could do was to shout in their rage and demand that the boys open the door at once.
"Open! Open!" came in Wolf Ear's voice. "Open, or we will scalp you!"
"Go away, or we'll shoot you all down!" answered Dan, who had now reloaded his gun.
"We will not go away. What is in the house belongs to the red man, and he must have it."
"It belongs to our father, and you shall not have one thing," retorted Dan.
He had unbarred the shutter of one of the upper windows, and now, leaning out swiftly, he took aim at the forms grouped below, and fired.
A howl went up, for the bullet had nipped one red man in the ear and glanced along the shoulder of a second. Then came a quick fire in return, and Dan gave a scream that caused Ralph's heart to almost stop beating.
"You are struck?" queried the younger brother.
"It's not much," came from Dan, and, breathing heavily, he flung to the window-shutter and bolted it again. Then he came down the ladder, the blood flowing from a wound in his neck. Had the bullet come two inches closer, Dan would have been killed on the spot.
The Indians were now trying to batter the door down with a log of wood picked up close at hand. The cow bothered them in their efforts, and one of the red men had to take time to cut her loose, at which the cow ran off to the cattle shed once more.
Thus far three of the attackers had been wounded, one quite seriously. The other two continued to hammer away at the door, which presently showed signs of giving way.
"Let us try to fire through the door," whispered Ralph, when he saw that his brother was still able to continue the struggle. "We may hit them, and, anyway, we'll give them a scare."
Dan nodded, and both drew closer to the barrier with their guns. But before they could level their firearms, there came a report from the edge of the timber next to the burn, and one of the Indians was heard to yell in mortal agony and fall on the doorstep.
"Somebody is coming!" cried Dan, joyfully. "It must be father!" Then a second report rang out, and another red man was struck, in the arm. This was the savage who had previously been nipped in the ear, and, without waiting for another shot, he sped away in the darkness, and his two companions after him, leaving the dead Indian where he had fallen.
There was now no use of trying to fire through the door, and Dan motioned Ralph to run up to the loft.
"See if you can make out who it was that fired," he said, "and if it is father, and he wants to come in, call for me to open the door."
The boys had lit a single lantern, but now this was put out, since they were afraid some treacherous red man might still be lurking at hand, to fire at them through a crack in the cabin walls. While Ralph made his survey from above, Dan stood at the door, his hand on the bar, ready to throw it back on an instant's notice.
"A man is coming on the run!" announced Ralph, presently. "He is waving for us to open the door. I can't make out who it is."
"Is it father?"
"No, I can't make out—It's Poke Stover! Let him in, quick!"
Back shot the bolt and up went the heavy bar, and as the door was opened to the width of a foot, the figure of a tall, heavily bearded frontiersman slipped into the cabin. He helped hold the door while Dan secured it again.
"Poke Stover!" cried the youth. "I'm mighty glad you've come!"
"Are you and Ralph safe?" was the question, as soon as the man could catch his breath, for he had been running with all the swiftness at his command.
"Yes, although I've got a scratch on the throat. But father—do you know anything of him?"
"Yes, he has gone to Gonzales to bring help. He says he signalled to you from the tall pine."
"So he did. Did he have a fight with any of the Indians?"
"Yes, he was attacked by Bison Head and Hank Stiger, the half-breed. He put a bullet through Stiger's left calf, and knocked the Injun down with the butt of his gun. That's the reason the two were not with the party that attacked the cabin."
"How many are there, all told?" asked Ralph, who had come down the ladder again.
"Not more than ten, and one of 'em's dead outside."
"And two or three of them are wounded," added Dan.
"The wust on it is, they'll be gittin' thicker and thicker," resumed the old frontiersman, who had drifted into Texas from Missouri several years ago, and who had spent all of his life on the plains. "I've half a notion as how Bison Head is tryin' to git the whole Comanche nation on the war path."
"If that's the case, they may organise around here," said Ralph. "How long do you suppose it will be before father gets back?"
"He said he would try to make it by daybreak," answered Poke Stover. "It's accordin' as how he finds his men."
The talking now dropped off, as the frontiersman said it would be best to remain silent and keep on guard at the various port-holes in the shutters.
Slowly the night wore away, until it was three o clock in the morning. Only one alarm had come, but this had amounted to nothing.
"I see a light," announced Dan. "Can it be a camp-fire?"
"Not likely, lad," answered Stover. "Comanches on the war-path don't light em. It's a signal."
"Another signal to attack?" queried Ralph.
"More'n likely. We must keep our eyes peeled for 'em."
Another half-hour dragged by, and the only sound that broke the stillness was the morning breeze, as it began to stir through the timber surrounding the clearing. Outside not a soul was to be seen.
"Perhaps that was a signal to withdraw," suggested Dan. "I hope it was." But Poke Stover shook his head, for he had seen much of the Comanches and understood them thoroughly.
"They won't go until they've had another round at ye," he said. "I'm expectin' 'em every minit now."
Scarcely had he finished, when something attracted Dan's attention back of the cattle shed. An object was moving around. Presently it started straight for the cabin.
"It looks like one of the cows—and it is," he announced. "I wonder what started her up?"
"Let me take a squint," said the frontiersman, and covered the port-hole searchingly for half a minute. Then he raised his rifle, took careful aim, and blazed away. There was a grunt of dismay, and an Indian, who had been driving the cow and dodging directly behind, ran back, while the cow kicked up her heels and flew in the opposite direction.
"Thar, I reckon he'll know enough to keep back after this," growled Poke Stover, with much self-satisfaction. "He thought he was goin' to sneak up unbeknown to us, but I crossed his trail fer him that trip."
"What do you suppose he was going to do, if he had gotten close to the cabin?" asked Ralph.
"He had a bunch of brush in his hand, lad, and probably a bit o' fire about him, too, although I allow as how I didn't see no light."
"Then he wanted to burn us out!" ejaculated the youngest Radbury.
"That was his game."
Ralph shivered at the thought. It was bad enough to be shot at, but to be burned out! He wished daylight would come and his father would return with the much-needed aid.
With the coming of daylight those in the cabin could see with greater clearness under the tall timber, and soon Poke Stover announced that several Indians were in sight.
"They are making something," he announced. "Looks like a stone-boat," meaning thereby a sort of flat drag-sled often used for removing stones from a field.
"I know what it is!" exclaimed Dan. "It's a shield! One or two of them will come up behind it. See if I am not right."
The three waited anxiously, Ralph fairly holding his breath in expectancy. At last the shield, for such it was, was done, and slowly two Comanches came forward, holding it in front of them, and taking care that neither should expose so much as a hand or foot.
"Hang em!" muttered the tall frontiersman, and, taking deliberate aim at a slight crack in the wooden shield, he fired. But the barrier was thick and tough, and the bullet failed to penetrate to the opposite side.
One of the Indians behind the shield carried a bunch of dry grass and some brush, and as they came closer this was lighted. Then the burning stuff was hurled forward. It was tied into a bundle with some strong vines, and had a stone attached to give it weight. It landed on the roof of the cabin, blazing brightly, then rolled off to a spot directly below one of the windows.