Read CHAPTER VII - DINAH’S EXPLOIT of The Great Cattle Trail , free online book, by Edward S. Ellis, on

The revelation that broke upon the senses of the colored servant did not reach her through her power of vision.  She still saw nothing but the all-encircling night, nor did she hear anything except the sighing of the wind through the mesquite bush, or the guarded movements of the red men below.

It was her power of smell that told her an appalling fact.  She detected the odor of burning wood!

The Indian whom she had heard prowling like a hungry wolf over the roof, was there for a more sinister purpose, if possible, than that of gaining entrance through the scuttle into the building.  He had managed to climb undetected to his perch for the purpose of setting fire to the building, and not only that, but he had succeeded in his design.

The same delicacy of scent that had told the woman the frightful truth enabled her to locate the direction of the fire.  It was over the peak of the roof, a little in front and to the left.

Gazing toward the point, she observed a dim glow in the darkness, such as might have been made by the reflection of a lucifer match.  It was the illumination produced by the twist of flame the Comanche had kindled.  If allowed to burn for a few minutes, the wind would fan it into an inextinguishable blaze.

How she managed to do what she did without discovery she never could have explained herself.  But, holding the lid firmly grasped with one hand, she lifted it up until it stood perpendicular on its noiseless hinges.

As the door moved over to this position, her head and shoulders rose through the opening.  Had her movements been quick, instead of deliberate, they would have suggested the action of the familiar Jack-in-the-box.

This straightening of her stature brought her head several inches above the peak or highest portion of the house, and, consequently, gave her a view of the entire roof.

And looking in the direction whence the odor came, and where she had caught the tiny illumination, the brave colored woman saw a sight indeed.

A brawny Indian warrior was stooped over and nursing a small flame with the utmost care.  How he had managed the difficult business thus far without detection from below, was almost beyond explanation.

But it followed, from what has been told, that he had climbed upon the roof, taking with him some twigs and bits of wood, without having been heard by Captain Shirril, who was listening intently at the lower door, and who heard more than one other noise that must have been slighter than that overhead.

It was probable that the warrior, having made his preparations, rode his horse close to the further corner of the cabin, where he stopped the animal, and rose to the upright position on his back.  The roof was so low that it could be easily reached in this way, and he was so far removed from the inmates that his action escaped notice, his presence being finally discovered in the manner described.

Finding he could not open the scuttle, he had crept over the peak of the roof, stooped down, and, gathering his combustibles with care, set fire to them.  In doing this, he must have used the common lucifer match of civilization, since no other means would have answered, and the American Indian of the border is as quick to appropriate the conveniences as he is to adopt the vices of the white man.

Be that as it may, he had succeeded in starting the tiny fire, and, at the moment the wrathful Dinah caught sight of him, was placing several larger sticks upon the growing flame, and, bending over, was striving to help the natural wind by blowing upon the blaze.

The picture was a striking one.  The glow of the flame showed the countenance of the Comanche plainly.  His features were repellent, the nose being Roman in form, while the cheek-bones were protuberant and the chin retreating.  His long black hair dangled about his shoulders, and was parted, as is the custom among his people, in the middle.  The face was rendered more repulsive by the stripes and splashes of yellow, white, and red paint, which not only covered it from the top of the forehead to the neck, but was mixed in the coarse hair, a portion of whose ends rested on the roof, as well as over his back.

As he blew, his cheeks expanded, his thin lips took the form of the letter O, fringed with radiating wrinkles around the edges, and the black eyes seemed to glow with a light like that of the fire itself, so great was his earnestness in his work.

No country boy accustomed to get up on cold mornings and build the family fires could have done his work better.  He saw that while the sticks which were burning, and which he continued to feed and fan, were rapidly consuming and growing, they were eating into the dry roof on which they rested.  They had already burned a considerable cavity, which gleamed like a living coal, and it would not take long before a hold would be secured that would throw the whole structure into a blaze.

Dinah stood for several seconds gazing on the picture, as though she doubted the evidence of her own eyes.  It seemed impossible that such a cruel plot should have progressed thus far without being thwarted.  But the next moment her chest heaved with indignation, as she reflected that the red man stretched out before her was the very one that had tried to enter her apartment, and being frustrated by her watchfulness in that design, he was now endeavoring to burn them all to death.

The fact that the Comanche never dreamed of interruption caused him to withdraw his attention from everything except the business before him, and he continued blowing and feeding the growing flames with all the care and skill at his command.  His wicked heart was swelling with exultation when ­

Suddenly an object descended upon the flames like the scuttle-door itself, which might be supposed to have been wrenched from its hinges and slammed down on the fire, quenching it as utterly and completely as if it were submerged in a mountain torrent.

That was the foot of Dinah.

Next, as the dumfounded warrior attempted to leap to his feet, something fastened itself like the claw of a panther in his long hair, with a grip that not only could not be shaken off, but which threatened to create a general loosening at the roots.

That was the left hand of Dinah.

At the same moment, when the dazed Comanche had half risen and was striving to get the hang of things, a vice closed immovably about his left ankle, and his moccasin was raised almost as high as his shoulder.

The agency in this business was the right hand of Dinah; and instantly she got in her work with the vigor of a hurricane.  She possessed unusual power and activity, though it must not be supposed that the Comanche would not have given a good account of himself had he but possessed a second’s warning of what was coming.  He had a knife at his girdle, though his rifle, as has been said, was left behind with his companions, since his business did not make it likely that he would need anything of the kind, and it was an inconvenience to keep it by him.

“You onmannerly willian!  I’ll teach you how to try to sneak frough de roof into my room!” muttered Dinah, who was now thoroughly aroused, “yer orter have your neck wringed off and I’ll do it!”

The Comanche was at vast disadvantage in being seized with such a fierce grip by the hair, which kept his face turned away from his assailant, while the vicelike grasp of his ankle compelled him to hop about on one foot, in a style that was as awkward as it was undignified.  He realized, too, that despite all he could do to prevent it, his foe was forcing him remorselessly toward the edge of the roof.

But the warrior was sinewy and strong.  He had been engaged in many a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, though never in anything resembling this.  Finding the grip on his hair and ankle could not be shaken off, he snatched out his keen-pointed knife with the intention of striking one of his vicious back-handed blows, which had proved fatal more than once, but just then the eaves were reached and over he went!