THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN SERIES.
FRANK AMONG THE RANCHEROS.
BY HARRY CASTLEMON, AUTHOR OF "THE GUN-BOAT SERIES," "THE GO-AHEAD SERIES," ETC.
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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by R.W. CARROLL & CO., In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, for the Southern District of Ohio.
COPYRIGHT, 1896, BY CHARLES A. FOSDICK.
A Novel Battle, 5
Frank's New Home, 16
Twelve Thousand Dollars, 29
Frank Proves Himself a Hero, 40
The Fight in the Court, 54
The Mysteries Solved, 68
Frank Meets a Highwayman, 81
Colonel Arthur Vane, 95
An Old Boy, 110
Arthur Shows His Courage, 126
Arthur Plans Revenge, 137
Off for the Mountains, 154
Pierre and His Band, 168
A Dinner in the Mountains, 180
More Treachery, 193
The Escape, 204
The Struggle on the Cliff, 221
FRANK AMONG THE RANCHEROS.
A NOVEL BATTLE.
"Pull him along, Carlos! Pull him along!" shouted a young gentleman about sixteen years of age, as he danced about on the back porch of his uncle's house, in a state of great excitement; "why don't you pull him along?"
"He'll come, after awhile," replied the person addressed; "but he is very wild and obstinate."
The boy on the porch was almost beside himself—so much so, in fact, that he found it utterly impossible to stand still. He was jumping wildly about, swinging his arms around his head, and laughing and shouting at the top of his lungs.
We have met this young gentleman before. We have been with him through the woods, accompanied him across the prairie, and seen him in some exciting situations; but, for all that, it is by no means certain that his most intimate friend, could he have beheld him while he was dancing about on the porch, would have recognized him. The last time we saw him he was dressed in a suit of blue jeans, rather the worse for wear, a slouch hat, and a pair of heavy horseman's boots. Now, he sports a suit of clothes cut in the height of fashion—that is, Mexican fashion. They are not exactly of the description that we see on the streets every day, but they are common among the farmers of Southern California, for that is where this young gentleman lives. He is dressed in a short jacket of dark blue cloth, trimmed around the edges, and on the sleeves, with gold lace, and wide trousers of the same material, also gaudily ornamented. The hat, with which he fans his flushed face, is a sombrero, bound with gold cord, the ends of which are adorned with tassels, that fall jauntily over the edge of the brim. An embroidered shirt of gray cloth, and shoes and stockings, complete his attire; or, we may add, a long crimson sash, which is wound several times around his waist, and tied at the side, and a pair of small Mexican spurs, whose rowels are ornamented with little silver bells, which tinkle musically as he moves his feet about. If you fail to recognize an old acquaintance in this excited, sunburnt boy, you surely can call the name of the tall, broad-shouldered, sober-looking youth, who stands at his side. Three months in the saddle have not changed Frank Nelson a great deal, only he is a little more robust, and, perhaps, more sedate. He has lost none of his love of excitement, and he is quite as interested in what is going on before him as Archie; but he stands with his hands in his pockets, looking as dignified as a judge. It would be a wonder if they were not somewhat excited, as they are witnessing a desperate battle that is going on between two of their uncle's Rancheros and a wild steer, which one of them has lassoed, and is trying to pull through the gate into the cow-pen. The animal is struggling furiously for his freedom, and the issue of the contest is doubtful.
At the time our story begins, Frank and his cousin had lived two months in Southern California, where Mr. Winters owned a farm—or, in the language of that country, a rancho—of sixteen thousand acres. Besides attending to his business in the mines, and superintending his affairs in Sacramento, Uncle James had devoted a portion of his time to stock-raising; and, when Frank and Archie first saw his immense droves of horses and cattle, they thought them sufficient in numbers to supply all the markets in America.
Mr. Winters's rancho was not managed like the farms in our part of the country. To begin with, there were but three fences on it—one inclosed two small barns and corn-cribs; another, a pasture of two or three acres, and the third formed the cow-pen. In the barns, Uncle James kept his riding and farm horses; the pasture was for the use of the half dozen cows which supplied the rancho with butter and milk; and the cow-pen was nothing more nor less than a prison, into which, in the spring of the year, all the young cattle and horses were driven and branded with the initials of the owner's name. This was done so that Mr. Winters and his hired men might be able to recognize the stock anywhere. The cattle sometimes strayed, and became mixed up with those of the neighbors, and the marks on their flanks showed to whom they belonged.
A fence around that farm would have been useless. None of the cattle and horses had ever been handled, except when they were branded, and, consequently, they were very wild. Sometimes they became frightened and stampeded; and then they behaved like a herd of buffaloes, which turn aside for nothing, and stop only when they are completely tired out. On these occasions, the strongest fences that could have been made would have been trampled down like the grass beneath their feet.
Of course, these cattle and horses had never seen the inside of a stable. Indeed, a barn large enough to accommodate them would have been an immense building, and would have cost more money than all the stock-raisers in the country were worth. However, there was no need of shelter for them. The grass on the prairie was abundant at all seasons of the year, the winters were very mild, and the cattle were always fat and in condition to be driven to market.
All this stock was managed by half a dozen men, called Rancheros. Four of them were Mexicans; the others were our old friends, Dick Lewis and Bob Kelly. So skillful were these men in their business, that a herd of cattle, which, in the hands of any one else, would have proved utterly unmanageable, was driven about by them with perfect ease. Sometimes it became necessary to secure a single member of these droves. Perhaps the housekeeper wanted some fresh meat for dinner, or Uncle James desired a new riding horse; in either case, the services of these men were invaluable. Mr. Winters would issue the necessary orders to Carlos—who was the chief of the Rancheros, and the man who managed the farm during the absence of his employer—and an hour or two afterward four quarters of fine beef would be carried into the cellar, or Mr. Winters would be requested to step to the door and see if they had captured the horse he wanted. The Rancheros accomplished this with their lassos, which they carried suspended from the horns of their saddles wherever they went. A lasso is a long rope, about as large as a clothes-line, and is generally made of rawhide. One end of it is fastened to the saddle, and the other, by the aid of a strong iron ring, formed into a running noose. This contrivance these herdsmen could use with a skill that was astonishing. Mounted on their fleet horses, they would ride up behind a wild steer, and catch him by the horns, around his neck, or by one of his feet, as suited their fancy.
On the morning we find Frank and Archie on the porch, their nearest neighbor, also a stock-raiser, had ridden over to inform them that one of his fine steers, which he had intended to drive to market, had escaped from his Rancheros, and joined one of Mr. Winters's droves; whereupon Frank, who, in the absence of his uncle, acted as the head man of the ranch, sent for Carlos, and commanded him to capture the runaway, and confine him in the cow-pen until his owner should send for him. Carlos had obeyed the first part of the order, but just then it seemed that that was all he could do. The steer had suddenly taken it into his head that he had been driven far enough, and that he would not go through the gate that led into the cow-pen; and, although Carlos pulled him by his lasso, which he had thrown over his horns, and another Ranchero, named Felix, vigorously applied a whip from behind, the obstinate animal refused to budge an inch. Sometimes he would kick, and plunge, and try to run off; and then the horse on which Carlos was mounted, which seemed to understand the business quite as well as his master, would plant his fore-feet firmly on the ground to stop him. Finding that he could not effect his escape in that way, the steer would run around in a circle; and the horse would turn around also, keeping his face toward the animal all the while, and thus avoid being wrapped up in the lasso. This novel battle had been going on for nearly ten minutes, and even Frank had become highly excited over it.
"Pull him along, Carlos!" shouted Archie, jumping about on the porch as if he had lost all control over his legs, and they would dance in spite of every thing he could do to prevent it. "Pull him along! Whip up behind, Felix; hit him hard!"
Archie continued to shout his orders at the top of his voice; but they did not seem to help the matter any, for the steer still refused to move. He had fallen to his knees, and laid his head close to the ground, as if he had deliberately resolved that he would remain there; and for a long time, all the pulling and whipping the two Rancheros could do, brought nothing from him but angry snorts and shakes of the head.
"Now, Archie," said Carlos, as he stopped to wipe the big drops of perspiration from his face, "what would you do with this fellow?"
The boys, who never neglected an opportunity to pick up items of information concerning every thing that came in their way, had been taking lessons of the Rancheros in horsemanship, throwing the lasso, and managing wild cattle; and Carlos thought this a proper occasion to ascertain how much they remembered of what they had learned.
"Well," replied Archie, pulling off his sombrero, and digging his fingers into his head, to stir up his ideas, "I'd keep pulling and hauling at him until I got him tired out, and then I think I could manage him."
"That would take up too much time," said Carlos; "I've got other work to do, and I am in a hurry."
"Make your lasso fast to the horn of your saddle, and start up your horse, and drag him in," suggested Frank.
"That's the idea, and that's just what I'm going to do," said Carlos.
But that was just what the Ranchero did not do. While he was preparing to put this plan into operation, the steer suddenly jumped to his feet, and made another desperate attempt to effect his escape, and this time he was successful. There was a loud snap, Carlos's heels made a flourish in the air like the shafts of a windmill, and, in an instant, he was stretched at full length on the ground. His saddle-girth had parted, and the steer was at liberty to take himself off, which he did in short order.
The boys gazed in astonishment at the fallen horseman, who righted himself with alacrity, stretched his arms and legs to satisfy himself that there were no bones broken, and then commenced shouting some orders to his companion, who put spurs to his horse and started in pursuit of the steer, which was galloping over the prairie, dragging Carlos's saddle after him. He was very soon overtaken, and Felix, raising himself in his stirrups, swung his lasso around his head once or twice, to make sure of an accurate aim, and launched it at the steer. The lariat whistled through the air, as true to its course as a ball from a rifle, the noose settled down over his horns, the horse stopped suddenly, and the runaway lay struggling on the ground.
His last attempt at escape seemed to have exhausted his energies, for when he had regained his feet, he allowed Felix to lead him back to the gate and into the cow-pen, where he was turned loose, to remain until his owner should send for him.
FRANK'S NEW HOME.
Frank and Archie, as we have before remarked, had been in California about two months; and, between riding, hunting, visiting, and assisting Uncle James, who was engaged in selling off his stock and closing up his business, preparatory to his return to Lawrence, they had passed the time most agreeably. They were as fond as ever of excitement, were almost constantly in the saddle, and Mr. Winters often said that if they and their horses and dog did not travel a thousand miles every day, it was not because they did not try.
When the boys first arrived in California, they thought themselves expert in all manner of frontier accomplishments. But one morning, they rode over to visit Johnny Harris and Dick Thomas—two boys, about their own age, with whom they had become acquainted—and, during the day, they witnessed some feats of skill that made them wonder. Johnny and Dick, to show what they could do, captured and rode a couple of wild horses, that had never been handled before; and Frank and Archie were compelled to admit that they had some things yet to learn. Every boy in that country could throw the lasso, and the cousins found that, if they desired to keep up their reputation, they must put themselves under instructions. Dick and Bob readily took them in hand, and, although the boys were awkward at first, they improved rapidly. They soon learned to throw the lasso with considerable skill, and Frank speedily took the lead in rifle-shooting, while Archie began to brag of his horsemanship. The former could bring a squirrel out of the top of the highest oak on the farm, at every shot; and his cousin could bend down from his saddle and pick up his sombrero from the ground, while his horse was going at the top of his speed.
The horses the boys rode were the same that had carried them across the prairie, and they were now hitched at the end of the porch, saddled and bridled, and awaiting the pleasure of their masters. One of them, Sleepy Sam, looked as sleepy as ever. He stood with his head down, and his eyes half closed, as if it made no difference to him whether Archie took his morning ride or not. The other, a magnificent iron-gray, pulled impatiently at his halter, and pranced about, apparently as much excited as Archie had been a few moments before. This was the "king of the drove"—the one the trappers had captured during their sojourn at the Old Bear's Hole. He answered to the name of Roderick; for Frank had read Sir Walter Scott's "Lady of the Lake," and, admiring the character of the rebel chieftain, had named his favorite after him. Perhaps the name was appropriate, for the animal sometimes showed a disposition to rebel against lawful authority, especially when any one besides Frank attempted to put a saddle or bridle on him. He was a wild-looking fellow, and he had a way of laying back his ears, and opening his mouth, when any one came near him, that would have made a stranger think twice before trying to mount him. With Frank, however, he was as gentle as a dog. He would come at his call, stand on his hind legs, and carry his master's whip or sombrero. He would kick and bite at Frank when the latter tickled him in the ribs, all in sport, of course; but if Mr. Winters, or one of the herdsmen, came about him, he would use his teeth and heels in good earnest. He was as swift as ever, and Frank had yet to see the horse that could beat him.
The saddles these horses wore were like every thing else about themselves and masters, of the Mexican pattern. They were made of beautifully-stamped leather, with high pommels in front, the tops of which were flat, and as large around as the crown of Frank's sombrero. A pair of saddle-bags was fastened across the seat of each, in which the boys carried several handy articles, such as flint, steel, and tinder for lighting a fire; ammunition for their revolvers, which were safely stowed away in bearskin holsters strapped in front of the saddles, and large clasp-knives, that were useful in skinning squirrels when the boys went hunting. Behind the saddles, neatly rolled up, and held in their places by straps, were a couple of pouches, which they used in rainy weather. They were pieces of India-rubber cloth, with holes in the center for the wearers' heads. They were large enough to afford complete protection from the rain, and could also be used as tents in case the boys found it necessary to camp all night on the prairie.
We have spoken of Frank's dog; but were we to let the matter drop here, it would be slighting an animal which had played a somewhat important part in the history of Frank's life in California. His name was Marmion, and he had been presented to Frank by Captain Porter—an old fur-trader, who lived a few miles distant from the rancho, and with whom the cousins were great favorites. Archie did not like the dog, and, if the truth must be told, the dog had not the smallest particle of affection for Archie. In fact, he cared for no one except his master, and that was the reason the fur-trader had given him to Frank. He was as large as two ordinary dogs—very courageous, and so savage that no one cared to trouble him. He had seen some stirring times during his life, and his body was covered with wounds, some of which were not entirely healed. Frank was quite as fond of him as he was of Brave, and with good reason, too. Marmion had received those wounds while fighting for his master, and it was through his interference that Frank had been saved from a long captivity. It happened before the commencement of our story, and how it came to pass shall be told in the following chapters.
The house in which Frank and Archie lived stood in a grove of stately oak-trees, and, externally, was in perfect keeping with its surroundings. It was built of massive logs, in the form of a hollow square, with an open court in the center, which was paved with stone. The windows, which extended down to the floor, and which were used for ingress and egress quite as often as the doors, were protected by shutters made of heavy planks, and there were four loop-holes on each side of the house, showing that it had been intended to serve as a defense as well as a shelter. Indeed, it looked more like a fortification than a dwelling.
The house was old, and had a history—an exciting one, too, as any one could have told after examining it closely. The walls bore numerous scars, which had been made by bullets, and the trees surrounding the dwelling were marked in the same manner. The grove had not always been as peaceful and quiet as we found it. Its echoes had been awakened by the yells of infuriated men and the reports of hostile rifles, and the very sod upon which Frank sometimes stretched himself after dinner, to while away an hour with some favorite author, had been wet with blood.
When the house was built, there was not another human habitation within a circle of twenty miles. The country was an unbroken wilderness. Mr. Winters's nearest neighbors were bands of roving freebooters, who robbed all who came in their way. They did not, however, content themselves with waylaying solitary travelers. They frequently made organized attacks upon remote farm-houses, and one night they made a sudden descent upon Mr. Winters's rancho. But the old frontiersman had lived too long in that country, and was too well acquainted with the character of his neighbors, to be caught napping. He and his Rancheros were armed to the teeth, and prepared for a fight; and, after a siege of two days, during which time the robbers poured an almost constant shower of bullets against the walls of the house, they withdrew, after shooting and dispersing the cattle, and destroying the crops. Not one of Mr. Winters's party was injured; but the outlaws suffered so severely, that they never repeated the attempt to rob that rancho.
Frank and Archie never grew tired of hearing Uncle James tell the story of that fight, and nearly every day they examined the marks of the bullets on the logs, sometimes being foolish enough to wish that they had been there to take part in those exciting scenes, or that the robbers would return and make another attack on the house, so that they might be able to say that they had been in a real battle. Then they should have a story to tell that would be worth listening to. They never imagined that, before they were many years older, they could recount adventures quite as exciting as their uncle's.
The interior of the house presented a strange contrast to the outside. When one crossed the threshold, he found himself surrounded with all the comforts of civilization. There were fine carpets on the floors, oil paintings on the walls, and easy chairs, sofas, and musical instruments in abundance. The room the boys occupied was the only one in which could be found any traces of the backwoods. It was a pleasant, cheerful apartment, quite as nicely furnished as the other rooms in the house, and every thing about it bespoke the taste and character of its young masters. A stranger, having taken a single glance at the numerous articles hung upon the walls, and scattered about over the floor—some of them useful and ornamental, others apparently of no value or service to any one—could have told that its presiding geniuses were live, wide-awake, restless boys.
The room contained a fine library, an extensive collection of relics of all descriptions, and its walls were adorned with pictures, only they were of a different character from those in the other parts of the house. Frank and Archie cared nothing for such scenes as the "Soldier's Dream" and "Sunrise in the Mountains;" their tastes ran in another channel. Their favorite picture hung over their writing desk, and was entitled, "One Rubbed Out." In the foreground was a man mounted on a mustang that was going at full speed. The man was dressed in the garb of a hunter, with leggins, moccasins, and coonskin cap, and in one hand he carried a rifle, while the other held the reins which guided his horse. The hunter was turned half around in the saddle, looking back toward half a dozen Indians, who had been pursuing him, but were now gathered about their chief, who had been struck from his horse by a ball from the hunter's rifle. The latter's face wore a broad grin, which testified to the satisfaction he felt at the result of this shot. This picture had been shown to old Bob Kelly, who, after regarding it attentively for a few moments, declared that it must have been painted by some one who was acquainted with the story of his last trip to the Saskatchewan, the particulars of which he had related to Dick on the night he made his first appearance in their camp.
"I don't know how the chap that made that ar' pictur' could have found it out," said old Bob, who, simple-hearted fellow that he was, really believed that the hunter in the painting was intended to represent him, "'cause I never told the story to nobody 'cept you an' my chum Dick. But thar's one thing wrong about it, youngsters. When I shot a Injun, I didn't hold my rifle on the horn of my saddle, an' waste time laughin' over it. I loaded up again to onct, an' got ready for another shot."
At the opposite end of the room hung a picture of a hunters' camp. Two or three men were stretched out on the ground before a cheerful fire, resting after the labors of the day, while others were coming in from the woods—some loaded with water-fowl, some with fish, and the two who brought up the rear were staggering under the weight of a fine deer they had shot. Archie often wondered where that camp could have been located. He did not believe there was a place in the United States where game of all kinds was as abundant as the hunters in the picture found it.
Paintings of this character occupied prominent places on the walls of the room, and between them hung numerous relics the boys had collected during their journey across the prairie, and a few trophies of their skill as hunters. Over the door were the antlers of the first and only elk they had killed, and upon them hung a string of grizzly bear's claws, which had once been worn as a necklace by an Indian chief, and also a bow, a quiver full of arrows, a stone tomahawk, and a scalping-knife—all of which had been presented to them by Captain Porter. At the head of the bed were two pairs of deer's horns fastened to the wall, and supporting their rifles, bullet-pouches, powder-horns, and hunting-knives.
These articles were all highly prized by the boys; but, upon a nail driven into the wall beside the book-case, hung something that, next to his horse and dog, held the most exalted place in Frank's estimation. It was the remnant of the first lasso he had ever owned. He thought more of it than of any other article he possessed, and he would have surrendered every thing, except Roderick and Marmion, before he would have parted with that piece of a rawhide rope. It had once saved his uncle's life; and, more than that, Frank himself had been hanged with it. Yes, as improbable as it may seem, one end of that lasso had been placed around his neck, the other thrown over the hook which supported one of his large pictures, and Frank had been drawn up until his toes only rested on the floor; and all because he refused to tell where he had hidden a key. Where the rest of the lasso was he did not know. The last time he saw it, it was around the neck of a man who was running through the grove at the top of his speed, with Marmion close at his heels. The dog came back, but the man and the piece of lasso did not; and this brings us to our story.
TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS.
One day, about six weeks before the commencement of our story, Frank and Archie were sent to San Diego on business for Uncle James. When they returned, they found a new face among the Rancheros—that of Pierre Costello, a man for whom Frank at once conceived a violent dislike. Pierre was a full-blooded Mexican, dark-browed, morose, and sinister-looking, and he had a pair of small, black eyes that were never still, but constantly roving about, as if on the lookout for something. His appearance was certainly forbidding; but that was not the reason why Frank disliked him. It was because Marmion regarded him with suspicion, and seemed to think he had no business on the rancho. When the Ranchero came about the house, Marmion would follow him wherever he went, as if he feared that the man was about to attempt some mischief; and, when Pierre returned to his quarters, the dog always seemed to be immensely relieved. Frank invariably made common cause with his favorites, whether they belonged to the human or brute creation, and without taking the trouble to inquire into the merits of the case; and, when he found how matters stood between Pierre and Marmion, he at once espoused the cause of his dog, and hated the Ranchero as cordially as though the latter had done him some terrible injury, although the man had never spoken to him, except to salute him very respectfully every time they met.
That Pierre hated and feared the dog, quite as much as the animal disliked him, was evident. He would scowl, and say "Carrajo," every time Marmion came near him, and lay his hand on his knife, as if it would have afforded him infinite pleasure could he have found an opportunity, to draw it across the dog's throat. Frank had often noticed this, and consequently, when he one day came suddenly upon the dog, which was looking wistfully at a piece of meat Pierre was holding out to him, he was astonished, and not a little alarmed. The Mexican scowled, as he always did when Frank came near him, and walked away, hiding the meat under his coat.
"Give it to me, Pierre," said Frank; "Marmion don't like to be fed by strangers."
The Ranchero kept on as if he were not aware that he had been spoken to; and his conduct went a long way in confirming the new suspicions that had suddenly sprung up in Frank's mind.
"Uncle," said he, that evening, after supper, as he joined Mr. Winters and Archie, who had seated themselves on the porch to enjoy the cool breeze of evening, "how long do you intend to keep that new Ranchero?"
"As long as he will stay," replied Mr. Winters. "He is one of the most faithful men I ever had, and he is quite as skillful in his business as either Carlos or Dick."
"He is a mean man for all that," said Frank; "he tried to poison Marmion, to-day."
"I don't blame him," said Archie; "a meaner, uglier dog I never saw"—
"Now, Archie," interrupted Frank, "I like the dog; and even if I didn't, I would keep him because he is a present."
"How do you know that Pierre tried to poison him?" asked Mr. Winters.
"Why, he was holding a piece of meat out to the dog, and when I came up he walked off in a great hurry," replied Frank, who, when he came to state the case, found that it was not quite so strong against the Ranchero as he had at first supposed.
"He may have done all that, and still be innocent of any desire to injure your favorite. Marmion doesn't like him, and, no doubt, Pierre is trying his best to make friends with him. I'll insure your dog's life for a quarter."
Frank was far from being satisfied. Somehow, he did not like the scowl he had often seen on Pierre's face. He was certain that the Ranchero had intended to harm Marmion; but why? Not simply because he hated the dog, but for the reason that the animal was in his way. This was the view Frank took of the case; and, believing that Pierre was there for no good, he resolved to keep a close watch on all his movements.
A day or two after that, Mr. Winters and Archie set out on horseback for San Diego, the former to collect the money for a drove of horses he had sold there, before his departure for the East, and Archie to explore the city. Frank, hourly expecting his two friends, Johnny Harris and Dick Thomas, who had promised to spend a week with him, remained at home, with the housekeeper and two of the Rancheros, one of whom was Pierre, for company. Dick and Bob, and the rest of the herdsmen, were off somewhere, attending to the stock.
Frank, being left to himself, tried various plans for his amusement. He read a few pages in half a dozen different books, took a short gallop over the prairie, shot a brace of quails for his dinner; all the while keeping a bright lookout for his expected visitors, who, however, did not make their appearance. About noon, he was gratified by hearing the sound of a horse's hoofs in the court. He ran out, expecting to welcome Johnny and Dick, but, to his disappointment, encountered a stranger, who reined up his horse at the door, and inquired:
"Is this Mr. Winters's rancho, young man?"
Frank replied that it was.
"He is at home, I suppose?" continued the visitor.
"No, sir; he started for the city early this morning."
The gentleman said that was very unfortunate, and began to make inquiries concerning the road Mr. Winters generally traveled when he went to San Diego—whether he took the upper or lower trail—and then he wondered what he should do.
"My name is Brown," said he; and Frank knew he was the very man his uncle expected to meet in San Diego. "I owe Mr. Winters some money for a drove of horses I bought of him before he went to the States, and I have come up to pay it. I have here twelve thousand dollars in gold," he added, laying his hand on his saddle-bags, which seemed to be heavy and well filled.
"Couldn't you remain until day after to-morrow?" asked Frank. "Uncle James will be at home then."
"I can't spare the time. I am on my way to Fort Yuma, where I have some business to transact that may detain me three or four days. I don't like to carry this money there and back, for it is heavy, and there is no knowing what sort of travelers one may meet on the road. Wouldn't it be all right if I should leave it here with you?"
"Yes, sir," replied Frank, eager to accept the responsibility; "I can take care of it. But I thought you might want a receipt."
"I am not particular about that. Mr. Winters has trusted me for about six months, and I think I can afford to trust him for as many days. I'll call and get the receipt when I come back."
As Mr. Brown said this, he dismounted, and Pierre, who, ever since his employer's departure, had seemed to have nothing to do but to loiter about the house, and who had stood at the opposite side of the court, listening to every word of the conversation, came up to hold his horse. The visitor shouldered his saddle-bags, and followed Frank into a room which went by the name of "the office," where Mr. Winters transacted all his business. The room was furnished with a high desk, a three-legged stool, and a small safe, which, like those in banks, was set into the wall, so that nothing but the door could be seen.
"That is just the place for it," said Mr. Brown; "it will be secure there."
"But I haven't got the key," replied Frank; "uncle always carries it in his pocket."
"Well, I don't suppose there would be any danger if you were to leave the money on the porch. Of course, your hired people can be depended on, or your uncle wouldn't keep them."
Frank thought there was at least one person on the rancho who could not be trusted to any great extent; but, of course, he said nothing about it. He glanced around the room, wondering what he should do with the money, when he discovered that his uncle had left the key of the desk in the lock. For want of a better place, Frank decided to put the gold in there. Mr. Brown took it out of his saddle-bags, and packed it away in the drawer—six bags in all, each containing two thousand dollars, in bright, new "yellow-boys." Then, declining Frank's invitation to stay to dinner, the gentleman bade him good-by, mounted his horse, and resumed his journey.
"Twelve thousand dollars!" said Frank, to himself, as he locked the desk and put the key into his pocket. "Why, that's a fortune! Now that I think of it, I almost wish Mr. Brown hadn't left it here. What would Uncle James say if somebody should break into the house and steal it?"
As Frank asked himself this question, he turned suddenly, and saw Pierre standing on the porch, in front of one of the windows, watching him with eager eyes. He must have moved very quietly to have approached so near without attracting the boy's attention, and that, to Frank, whose suspicions had already been thoroughly aroused, was good evidence that the Ranchero was not just what he ought to be. If he was an honest man, he would not try to slip around without making any noise.
Finding that he was discovered, Pierre removed his sombrero and said, without the least embarrassment:
"Is it your pleasure to ride? If so, I will saddle your horse."
"You need not trouble yourself," replied Frank, rather gruffly. "I shall remain at home."
Pierre bowed and walked away.
"Now, that rascal thinks he is sharp," said Frank, gazing after the Ranchero. "He never offered to saddle my horse before, and he wouldn't have done it then if I hadn't caught him looking in at the window. I wonder if he thinks I am foolish enough to ride for pleasure at this time of day, with the thermometer standing a hundred degrees in the shade? That fellow is a scoundrel, and he is up to something. Perhaps he is after this gold. If he is, he may have the satisfaction of knowing that he won't get it."
So saying, Frank began to close and fasten the shutters which protected the windows, and while thus engaged, he caught a glimpse of the Ranchero's dark face peering at him around the corner of the house.
"If I owned this ranch," said Frank, to himself, "that fellow shouldn't stay here five minutes longer. I'd pay him off, and tell him to leave as fast as his horse could carry him."
Having satisfied himself that the windows were so well secured that no one could effect an entrance through them, Frank opened the drawer and took another good look at the money, as if he were afraid that it might have been spirited away even while he was in the room; after which he locked the desk, and hid the key under the edge of the carpet. Then glancing about the office, to make sure that every thing was safe, he closed the door, and hurrying into his own room, he threw the key under his writing-desk, next to the wall. Then he breathed easier. The money was as safe as it would have been in the bank at San Diego.
FRANK PROVES HIMSELF A HERO.
"There!" said Frank, with something like a sigh of relief. "If Pierre gets into that office to-night, he'll have to use an ax; and if he tries that"—
Frank finished the sentence by shaking his head in a threatening manner, and taking down his rifle, which he proceeded to load very carefully. He had made up his mind to fight, if it should become necessary.
He was now more anxious than ever for the arrival of his two friends, for he did not like the idea of remaining alone in the house all night, with so much money under his charge, and a villainous-looking Mexican hovering about. Frank, as we know, was very far from being a coward; but having by some means got it into his head that Pierre was a rascal, and that something unpleasant would happen before morning, he could not help feeling rather anxious.
The afternoon wore slowly away, but Johnny and Dick did not make their appearance. Darkness came on apace, and Frank, being at last satisfied that he was to be left alone in his glory for that night at least, ate his supper, and visited Roderick in his stable to see that he was well provided for, and then whistled for his dog, which he had not seen since the departure of Mr. Brown. Marmion, however, did not respond to the call. Frank whistled and shouted several times in vain, and then set out to hunt up his favorite. He visited the Rancheros' quarters, and found Felix and Pierre sitting in the door of one of the cabins, smoking their cigarettes. The former had not seen the dog; but, willing to serve Frank to any extent in his power, offered to go in search of the animal. Pierre, however, said that would be useless, for he had seen Marmion in hot pursuit of a rabbit. No doubt he had driven the game into its burrow, and was engaged in digging it out. When he caught the rabbit, he would come home of his own free will.
Although Frank was suspicious of every thing Pierre said or did, he could see no reason for disbelieving this story. Marmion was quite as fond of the chase as his young master, and frequently indulged in hunting expeditions on his own responsibility; sometimes being absent all day and nearly all night. But he was not off hunting then, and Pierre had told a deliberate falsehood, when he said that he had seen him in pursuit of a rabbit. The Ranchero had determined upon a course of action which he knew he could not follow out so long as the dog was at liberty, and Marmion was, at that very moment, lying bound and muzzled under one of the corn-cribs, almost within hearing of his master's voice.
Frank slowly retraced his steps toward the house, feeling more nervous and uneasy than ever. In Marmion he had an ally that could be depended on in any emergency; and, if the dog had been at his side, he would have felt perfectly safe. But he was not the one to indulge long in gloomy thoughts without a cause, and in order to drive them away, he lighted his lamp, and, drawing his easy-chair upon the porch, amused himself until nine o'clock with his guitar. The music not only served to soothe his troubled feelings, but also had the effect of banishing his suspicions to a great extent, and left him in a much more cheerful frame of mind.
"How foolish I have been," said he, to himself. "Because Pierre is ugly, like all the rest of his race, and because he always carries a knife in his belt, and hates Marmion, I have been willing to believe him capable of any villainy. I don't suppose he has thought of that gold since he saw me lock it up."
As Frank said this, he pulled his chair into the room, and selecting Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans" from the numerous volumes in the library, he dismissed all thoughts of the Ranchero, and sat down to read until he should become sleepy. He soon grew so deeply interested in his book, that he did not hear the light step that sounded on the porch, nor did he see the dark, glittering eyes which looked steadily at him through the open window. He saw them a moment afterward, however, for, while he was absorbed in that particular part of the fight at Glen's Falls, where Hawk-Eye snapped his unloaded rifle at the Indian who was making off with the canoe in which the scout had left his ammunition, a figure glided quickly but noiselessly into the room, and stopped behind the boy's chair.
"Now, my opinion is that Hawk-Eye was not much of a backwoodsman, after all," said Frank, who was in the habit of commenting upon and criticising every thing he read. "Why did he leave his extra powder-horn in his canoe, when he knew that the Hurons were all around him? You wouldn't catch Dick or old Bob Kelly in any such scrape, nor me either, for that matter, for I would"—
Frank's soliloquy was brought to a close very suddenly, and what he was about to say must forever remain a secret. His throat was seized with an iron grasp, and he was lifted bodily out of his chair, and thrown upon the floor. So quickly was it done that he had no time to resist or to cry out. Before he could realize what had happened, he found himself lying flat on his back, and felt a heavy weight upon his breast holding him down.
Filled with surprise and indignation, he looked up into the face that was bending over him, and recognized Pierre Costello, whose features wore a fiendish expression, the effect of which was heightened by a murderous-looking knife which he carried between his teeth. Scowling fiercely, as if he were trying to strike terror to the boy's heart by his very appearance, he loosened his grasp on Frank's throat, and the latter, after coughing and swallowing to overcome the effects of the choking he had received, demanded:
"What do you mean, you villain?"
Pierre, without making any reply, coolly proceeded to overhaul the contents of Frank's pockets. Like all boys of his age, our hero was supplied with a variety of articles, which, however serviceable they may be to a youngster of sixteen, no one else could possibly find use for, and the Ranchero's investigations brought to light a fish-line, bait-box, a rooster's spur, of which Frank intended to make a charger for his rifle, a piece of buckskin, half a dozen bullets, a brass cannon, a pocket comb, a quill pop-gun, a small compass, a silver ring, a match-box, a jack-knife, and a piece of lead. These articles he tossed upon the floor, rather contemptuously, and then turned all Frank's pockets inside out, but failed to discover any thing more.
"Where are they?" demanded Pierre, removing the knife from his mouth, and looking savagely at his prisoner, who all this time had lain perfectly still upon the floor, apparently not the least alarmed.
"Where are what?" inquired Frank.
"The keys, you young vagabond!" returned the Ranchero, astonished at the result of his search, and in a great hurry to get through with his business. "The keys that open the office and the safe. Speak quick!"
"The safe key is where you'll never get your hands upon it," replied Frank. "If you want it, you'll have to go to San Diego, catch Uncle James, and throw him down, as you did me, and search his pockets for it. But that is something a dozen such fellows as you couldn't do."
"But the office key! Where's that?"
"It's in a safe place, also," said Frank, who had already resolved that the would-be robber should never learn from him where he had hidden the key. "If I were a man, I should like to see you hold me down so easily. Let me up, or I'll call for help!"
"If you speak above your breath, I'll choke you!" said Pierre, with savage emphasis. "I am not done with you yet! Is the money in the safe?"
"That's none of your business! Let me up, I say! Here, Marmion! Marmion!"
"Carrajo!" muttered the Ranchero, again seizing his prisoner's throat in his powerful fingers. "Do you want me to kill you?"
Frank, nothing daunted by this rough treatment, struggled manfully, and tried hard to make a defiant reply, but could not utter a sound. Pierre tightened his grasp, until it seemed as if he had deliberately resolved to send him out of the world altogether, and then released his hold, and waited until Frank was able to speak before he said:
"You see that I am in earnest! Now, answer me! Is the gold in the safe?"
"I am in earnest, too!" replied Frank, as bravely as ever. "I shall not tell you where it is. Are you going to let me up?"
"I am going to make you tell where you have put that key!" said Pierre, as he removed the sash his prisoner wore around his waist, and began to confine his arms behind his back. "If I once get inside the office, I'll soon find out where you have put that gold."
"But you are not inside the office yet, and I don't think you will get there very soon. If you were well acquainted with me, you would know that you can not drive me one inch. You're a coward, Pierre," he added, as he released one of his hands by a sudden jerk, and made a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to seize the ruffian by the hair. "You don't give a fellow a fair chance. I wish my dog was here."
"You need not look for him," said the Ranchero; "he'll never come."
Frank made no reply. He was wondering what his captor intended to do with him, and turning over in his mind numerous wild plans for escape. Pierre, in his haste, was tying the sash in a very clumsy manner, and Frank was certain that, with one vigorous twist, he could set himself at liberty. In spite of his unpleasant and even painful situation—for, after his attempt to catch the Ranchero by the hair, the latter had turned him upon his face, and was kneeling upon him to hold him down—he could not help chuckling to himself when he thought how he would astonish Pierre if he did not mind what he was about.
"Perhaps he will leave me, and try to force an entrance into the office," soliloquized Frank. "If he does, I am all right! I'll jerk my arms out of this sash, pick up that rifle, and the first thing Mr. Pierre Costello knows, he'll be the prisoner. I'll march him to the quarters, and tell Felix to tie him, hand and foot."
Unfortunately for the success of these plans, the Ranchero did not leave the room after he had tied Frank's arms. He was too well acquainted with the old house to think of trying to force an entrance into the office. He knew that the doors and window-shutters were as strong as wood and iron could make them, and that it would be a dangerous piece of business to attempt to break them open. Felix, all unconscious of what was going on in the house, snored lustily in his quarters, and the housekeeper slept in a room adjoining the kitchen; and if Pierre awakened either of them, he might bid good-by to all hopes of ever securing possession of the gold. His only hope was in compelling Frank to tell where he had put the office key.
"Now, then," said he, "I will give you one more chance. Where is it?"
"Where's what?" asked Frank.
"The office key!" exclaimed the Ranchero, enraged at the coolness of his prisoner. "Tell me where it is, or I'll drive you through the floor!"
As he said this, he raised his fist over Frank's head, as if he were on the point of putting his threat into execution.
"Drive away!" replied Frank.
"Then you won't tell me where it is?" yelled the Ranchero.
"No, I won't! And when I say no, I mean it; and all the threats you can make won't scare me into saying any thing else!"
Pierre hesitated a moment, and then jumped to his feet, his actions indicating that he was determined to waste no more words. He placed his knife upon the table, closed the windows, and dropped the curtains, so that any one who might happen to pass by could not see what was going on in the room. His next action was to seize Frank by the collar of his jacket, and pull him roughly to his feet, preparatory to putting into operation his new plan for compelling him to tell where he had hidden the office key.
"If you conclude to answer my question, let me know it," said the Ranchero.
"I will," was Frank's reply.
Pierre stepped upon a chair, and removing one of the pictures from its hook, tossed it upon the bed. After that, he took Frank's lasso down from the nail, beside the book-case, and holding the noose in his hand, threw the other end over the hook.
Frank had thus far shown himself to be possessed of a good share of courage. He had bravely endured the choking, and had made defiant replies to all Pierre's threats; but when he saw this movement, he became thoroughly alarmed. He knew what was coming.
"Aha!" exclaimed the Ranchero, who had not failed to notice the sudden pallor that overspread the boy's countenance; "Aha!"
"What are you going to do?" asked Frank, in a trembling voice.
"Can't you see?" returned the Ranchero, with a savage smile. "I told you that I was going to make you tell me where you had put that office key, didn't I? Well, I intend to do it. I have tamed many a wild colt, and I know how to tame you!"
As he spoke, he adroitly threw the noose over Frank's head, and drew it tight around his neck. Then, seizing him by the shoulders, he pushed him against the wall, under the hook, and pulled down on the lasso, until Frank began to rise on his toes. This was intended merely to give him a foretaste of what was in store for him.
"Now you know how it feels," said Pierre, slackening up on the rope, "and you ought to know, by this time, that I am not playing with you. I am in sober earnest, and if you don't answer my question, I'll hang you, right here in your own room, and with your own lasso. This is your last chance! Where's that key?"
THE FIGHT IN THE COURT.
Frank was certainly in a predicament. He had his choice between revealing the hiding-place of the office key, and being hanged with his own lasso—a most disagreeable alternative. On one side was a lingering death, and on the other, something of which Frank stood almost as much in awe—disgrace. Never before had so heavy a responsibility rested upon him; and if he lost that money, what other evidence would be needed to prove that he was not worthy of being trusted?
"Come, come!" exclaimed the Ranchero, impatiently. "Are you going to answer my question?"
"I don't know whether I am or not," replied Frank. "Don't be in such a hurry. Can't you give me time to think about it?"
"You have had time enough already," growled Pierre. "But I'll give you two minutes more, and while you are thinking the matter over, you can bear one thing in mind: and that is, if you don't tell me where that office key is, you'll never see daylight again."
The expression on Pierre's countenance told Frank that the villain meant all he said.
Frank leaned his head against the wall, closed his eyes, and made use of those two minutes in trying to conjure up some plan to defeat the robber. He had not the slightest intention of allowing him to put his hands on that money if it were possible for him to prevent it, and he was wondering if he could not make use of a little strategy. If he could invent some excuse to get Pierre out of the room for a few moments, he was sure that he could release his hands. Would it not be a good plan to tell him where he had hidden the key, and while Pierre was in the office searching for the gold, free himself from his bonds, and seize his rifle, and make the villain a prisoner? Wouldn't it be a glorious exploit, one of which he could be justly proud, if he could save the twelve thousand dollars, and capture the Ranchero besides? Frank thought it would, and determined to try it.
"Pierre," said he, "if I tell you where that key is, what will you do?"
"If!" exclaimed the Ranchero; "there are no ifs or ands about it. You must tell me where it is."
"But what I want to know is, what will you do with me?"
"I promise you, upon the honor of a gentleman, that no harm shall be done you."
"Gentleman!" sneered Frank. "The State's prison is full of such gentlemen as you are. If I were trying to rob a man of a few cents, I'd never think of calling myself a gentleman."
"Now, just look here," said Pierre, "if you think you can fool me, you were never more mistaken in your life. A few cents, indeed! I heard all that passed between you and Mr. Brown, and I know that there are twelve thousand dollars somewhere in that office. I call it a fortune. It is much more than I could ever earn herding cattle, and I am bound to have it. Where's that key?"
"You must answer my question first," said Frank. "If you had the key in your hand now, what would you do with me?"
"Well, as I am not fool enough to give you the least chance for escape, the first thing I should do would be to tie you hard and fast to that bed-post. Then I'd take the gold, mount my horse, and be off to the mountains."
"And leave me tied up here?" exclaimed the prisoner.
"Exactly. Felix, or the housekeeper, would release you in the morning."
This answer came upon Frank like a bucket of cold water. His fine plan for releasing himself and capturing the robber would not work. The latter saw his look of disappointment, and laughed derisively.
"I am too old," said he, "to allow a boy like you to play any tricks upon me. You won't tell me where the key is, then?"
"No, I won't. If that money was mine, you might take it, and I would run the risk of catching you before you could get very far away with it. But it belongs to my uncle; you have no claim upon it, and, what's more, you sha'n't touch it."
"Is that your final answer?" asked the Ranchero, bracing himself for a strong pull. "You had better ponder the matter well before you decide. What do you suppose your uncle will think, when he comes home and finds you hanging to this hook? He had rather lose the money a thousand times over than to part with you."
Frank shuddered as the Ranchero said this, and, for the first time, he felt his firmness giving away. But he was possessed of no ordinary degree of fortitude, and, after a momentary thrill of terror, his courage returned, and he looked at Pierre as bravely as ever.
The Ranchero paused for a moment or two, to give his last words time to have their full effect, and then said: "Once more—yes or no."
"No, I tell you," was the firm reply. Scarcely were the words out of his mouth, when the Ranchero began to pull down upon the lasso, and Frank, in spite of his desperate struggles, was drawn up until he almost swung clear of the floor. Pierre held him in this position for a few seconds—it seemed an age to Frank, who retained his consciousness all the while—and then gradually slackened up on the lasso, until his prisoner's feet once more rested firmly on the floor. Frank reeled a moment like a drunken man, gazed about him with a bewildered air, and attempted to raise his hands to his throat, while the Ranchero stood watching him with a smile of triumph.
"I have given you one more chance," said he. "Have you come to your senses yet."
Frank tried in vain to reply. The choking he had endured had deprived him of his power of utterance, but it had not affected his courage or his determination. There was not the least sign of yielding about him.
Pierre had thus far conducted his operations with the most business-like coolness, and in much the same spirit that he would have exhibited had he been breaking one of Mr. Winters's wild horses to the saddle. He had smiled at times, as he would have smiled at the efforts of the horse to escape, and the thought that he should fail in his object had never entered his head. He had been certain that he could frighten or torture Frank into revealing the hiding-place of the office key; but now he began to believe that he had reckoned without his host. He was astonished and enraged at the wonderful firmness displayed by his prisoner. He had never imagined that this sixteen-year-old boy would prove an obstacle too great to be overcome.
"You are the most obstinate colt I ever tried to manage," said Pierre, in a voice choked with passion; "but I'll break one of two things—your spirit or your neck; it makes no difference to me which."
Without waiting to give his prisoner time to recover his power of speech, the Ranchero wound the lariat around his hands, and was about to pull him up again, when he was startled by the clatter of a horse's hoofs in the court.
The sound worked a great change in Pierre. As if by magic, the savage scowl faded from his face, and he stood for an instant the very picture of terror. All thoughts of the twelve thousand dollars, and the vengeance he had determined to wreak upon his prisoner, were banished from his mind, and gave place to the desire to escape from the house as secretly and speedily as possible.
"Who can that be?" he muttered, dropping the lasso, and throwing a frightened glance ever his shoulder toward the door.
"I'm sure I don't know," said Frank, speaking with the greatest difficulty; "and I don't care who it is, if he will only make a prisoner of you."
The Ranchero scowled fiercely upon his plucky captive, hesitated a moment, as if he had half a mind to be revenged upon him before he left the house, and then, catching up his knife, and extinguishing the lamp, he jerked open one of the windows, and disappeared in the darkness.
Frank was no less astonished than delighted at his unexpected deliverance. He tried to shout, to attract the attention of the unknown horseman, but all his efforts were unavailing. His attempts to release his hands, however, which he commenced the instant the Ranchero left the room, were more successful. Pierre's carelessness in tying the knots was a point in his favor then; for, in less time than it takes to record the fact, Frank was free. He threw the noose off his neck, pulled the lasso down from the hook, and hastily coiling it up in one hand, he ran to the place where he had left his rifle, fully determined that the robber should not escape from the ranch without an attempt on his part to capture him. His rifle was gone. The Ranchero had caught it up as he bounded through the window, thinking he might find use for it, in case he should happen to run against the visitor in the dark.
Frank looked upon the loss of his rifle as a great misfortune; for, not only did he believe the weapon lost to him forever, but he was powerless to effect the capture of the Ranchero, even if he succeeded in finding him. However, he did not waste time in vain regrets. He sprang through the window, and, running around the house, entered the court, to look for the horseman whose timely arrival had saved his life. He went as far as the archway that led into the court, and there he suddenly paused, and the blood rushed back upon his heart, leaving his face as pale as death itself. He had told the Ranchero that a dozen such men as he could not overcome his uncle; but the scene before him belied his words. Flat upon his back, in the middle of the court, lay Mr. Winters, with Pierre Costello kneeling on his breast, one hand grasping his victim's throat, and the other holding aloft his murderous-looking bowie, whose bright blade glistened in the moonlight like burnished silver.
Frank started back, rubbed his eyes, and looked again. There could be no mistake about it, for the moon shone brightly, rendering all the objects in the court as plainly visible as if it had been broad daylight. He was not only terribly frightened, but he was utterly confounded. He had believed Mr. Winters to be fast asleep in his bed at the hotel in San Diego; but there he was, when Frank least expected him, and, more than that, he was being worsted in his struggle with Pierre. The boy could not understand it.
"Unhand me, you scoundrel!" he heard Uncle James say, in a feeble voice.
"Not until you have given me the key of the safe," was the robber's answer. "I have worked hard for that gold to-night, and I am not going to leave the ranch without it."
Then commenced a furious struggle, and Frank turned away his head, lest he should see that gleaming knife buried in his uncle's body.
Never before had Frank been so thoroughly overcome with fear. He had just passed through in ordeal that would have tried the nerves of the bravest man, and he had scarcely flinched; but to stand there a witness of his uncle's deadly peril, believing himself powerless to aid him, was indeed enough to strike terror to his heart.
"O, if I only had my rifle, or one of my pistols!" cried Frank, "wouldn't I tumble that villain in a hurry? Or if I could find a club, or could loosen one of these stones"—
Frank suddenly remembered that he held in his hand a weapon quite as effective at short range, when skilfully used, as either a rifle or pistol. It was his lasso; and, until that instant, he had forgotten all about it. Then the blood flew to his cheeks; his power of action returned, and his arms seemed nerved with the strength of giants. How thankful was he, then, that his desire to become as expert as his two friends, Johnny Harris and Dick Thomas, had led him to practice with that novel weapon.
With a bound like an antelope he started toward the struggling men, swinging his lasso around his head as he ran. Pierre, believing that he had left Frank securely bound, and being too intent upon taking care of his new prisoner to look for enemies in his rear, heard not the sound of his approaching footsteps, nor did he dream of danger until the noose, which, but a few moments before, had been around Frank's neck, settled down over his own. Then he knew that his game was up. With a piercing cry of terror he sprang to his feet, and, with frantic haste, endeavored to throw off the lariat; but Frank was too quick for him.
"Aha!" he exclaimed, trying to imitate the tone in which the Ranchero had spoken that same word but a few moments before. "Aha! Now I am going to break one of two things—your spirit or your neck; I don't care which. One good turn deserves another, you know."
As Frank said this, he threw all his strength into his arms, and gave the lasso a vigorous jerk, which caused Pierre's heels to fly up, and his head to come in violent contact with the pavement of the court.
"Now, then, Uncle James," exclaimed Frank, "we've got him. No you don't!" he added, as the Ranchero made a desperate attempt to regain his feet; "come back here!" and he gave him a second jerk, which brought him to the ground again.
Frank was blessed with more than an ordinary share of muscle for a boy of his age; but he could not hope to compete successfully with a man of Pierre's size and experience, even though he held him at great disadvantage. The Ranchero, as active as a cat, thrashed about at an astonishing rate, and, before Frank knew what was going on, he had cut the lasso with his knife—an action which caused our hero, who was pulling back on the lariat with all his strength, to toss up his heels, and sit down upon the rough stones of the court, very suddenly, while Pierre, finding himself at liberty, jumped up, and ran for his life.
Mr. Winters had by this time regained his feet, and, catching up Frank's rifle, which lay beside him on the pavement, he took a flying shot at the robber just as he was running through the archway. Pierre's escape was a very narrow one; for the bullet went through the brim of his sombrero, and cut off a lock of his hair.
THE MYSTERIES SOLVED.
Pierre, finding himself uninjured by Mr. Winters's shot, suddenly became very courageous, and stopped to say a parting word to that gentleman.
"Try it again," said he, with a taunting laugh. "You are a poor shot for an old frontiersman! I will bid you good-by, now," he added, shaking his knife at Uncle James, "but you have not seen the last of me. You will have reason to remember"—
The Ranchero did not say what Mr. Winters would have reason to remember, for he happened to look toward the opposite side of the court, and saw something that brought from him an ejaculation of alarm, and caused him to turn and take to his heels. An instant afterward, a dark object bounded through the court, and, before the robber had taken half a dozen steps, Marmion sprang upon his back, and threw him to the ground.
"Hurrah!" shouted Frank. "You are not gone yet, it seems. You're caught now, easy enough; for that dog never lets go, if he once gets a good hold. Hang on to him, old fellow!"
But Marmion seemed to be utterly unable to manage the Ranchero. He had placed his fore-feet upon Pierre's breast, and appeared to be holding him by the throat; but the latter, with one blow of his arm, knocked him off, and, regaining his feet, fled through the grove with the speed of the wind—the piece of the lasso, which was still around his neck, streaming straight out behind him.
"Take him, Marmion!" yelled Frank, astonished to see his dog so easily defeated. "Take him! Hi! hi!"
The animal evidently did his best to obey; but there seemed to be something the matter with him. He ran as if he were dragging a heavy weight behind him, or as if his feet were tied together, and it was all he could do to keep up with the robber; and, when he tried to seize him, Pierre would shake him off without even slackening his pace.
Mr. Winters, in the meantime, had run to his horse—which, during the struggle, had stood perfectly still in the middle of the court—after his pistols; but, before he could get an opportunity to use them, both Pierre and the dog had disappeared among the trees. A moment afterward, a horse was heard going at full speed through the grove, indicating that the robber was leaving the ranch as fast as possible.
All this while, Frank has been almost overwhelmed with astonishment. The ease with which the desperado had vanquished his uncle and the strange behavior of the hitherto infallible Marmion, were things beyond his comprehension. He stood gazing, in stupid wonder, toward the trees among which Pierre had disappeared, while the sound of the horse's hoofs grew fainter and fainter, and finally died away altogether. Then he seemed to wake up, and to realize the fact that the Ranchero had made good his escape, in spite of all their efforts to capture him.
"Let's follow him, uncle!" he exclaimed, in an excited voice. "I can soon overtake him on Roderick."
"I could not ride a hundred yards to save my life!" replied Mr. Winters, seating himself on the porch, and resting his head on his hands. "Bring me some water, Frank."
These words alarmed the boy, who now, for the first time, saw that his uncle's face was deadly pale, and that his hair was matted with blood, which was trickling down over his collar.
"O, uncle!" cried Frank, in dismay.
"Don't be uneasy," said Mr. Winters, quietly. "Bring me some water."
Without stopping to make any inquiries, Frank ran into the kitchen and aroused the housekeeper, giving her a very hasty and disconnected account of what had happened, and then he hurried to the quarters to awaken Felix.
"Go to Fort Yuma for the doctor, at once!" shouted Frank, pounding loudly upon the door.
"What's up?" inquired Felix, from the inside.
"No matter what's up—go for the doctor! Take Roderick; he's the swiftest horse on the ranch. Uncle's badly wounded."
"Wounded!" repeated Felix, jerking open the door, and appearing upon the threshold, with a revolver in each hand. "Who did it? Where is he?"
"I can't stop to tell you who did it, or where he is. Hurry up, Felix, and don't stand there looking at me! We've just had the hardest kind of a fight with Pierre. Marmion was there, but he didn't do any good. He threw the villain down, and then wouldn't hold him. I've a good notion to shoot that dog if he ever comes back. Make haste, Felix! I can't stop to tell you any more."
But, after all, Frank did stop to tell a great deal more; and, by the time the Ranchero was dressed, he had given him a complete history of all that had happened in the house since sunset. Felix, astonished and enraged at the treachery of his companion, examined his pistols very carefully before he put them into his holsters, and Frank knew, by the expression in his eye, that if he should happen to meet Pierre, during his ride to the Fort, the latter would fall into dangerous hands.
As soon as Frank had seen Roderick saddled, he ran back to the house, and found Uncle James lying on a sofa, and the housekeeper engaged in dressing a long, ragged cut on the back of his head. Being weak from the loss of blood, he sank into a deep slumber before the operation was completed, and Frank, finding nothing to do, and being too nervous, after the exciting events of the evening, to keep still, went out to watch for the doctor, who, seeing that the Fort was sixteen miles from the ranch, could not reasonably be expected before daylight. For a long time he paced restlessly up and down the porch, his mind busy with the three questions that had so astonished and perplexed him: What had happened to bring his uncle home that night? How had he been so easily overpowered by Pierre? and, What was the matter with Marmion? The longer he pondered upon them, the more bewildered he became; and, finally dismissing them from his mind altogether, he went out to attend to his uncle's horse, which, all this while, had been running back and forth between the house and barn, now and then neighing shrilly, as if impatient at being so long neglected.
As Frank passed through the court, he picked up his rifle, which Mr. Winters had thrown down after taking that flying shot at Pierre. The stock felt damp in his grasp, and when he looked at his hand, he saw that it was red with blood.
"I understand one thing now, just as well as if I had stood here and witnessed it," said he, to himself. "When Pierre went out of my room, he ran in here to see who it was visiting the ranch at this late hour, and when he found that it was Uncle James, he thought he would get the safe key. He was too much of a coward to attack him openly, and so he slipped up and knocked him down with the butt of my rifle. That's what made the wound on uncle's head, and that's how it came that Pierre could hold him down with one hand. Didn't I know all the time that there was something up? Now, if Pierre had succeeded in getting the safe key, no doubt he would have renewed his attempts to make me tell where I had put the key of the office. Would I have been coward enough to do it? No, sir! I would have—Hallo!"
This exclamation was called forth by the sudden appearance of the dog, which crept slowly toward his master, looking altogether as if he had been guilty of something very mean.
"So you have got back, have you?" said Frank, sternly. "What do you mean by going off to hunt rabbits when you ought to stay at home? And what excuse have you to offer for allowing that robber to get up after you had pulled him down?"
Marmion stopped, and, laying his head close to the pavement, wagged his tail and whined piteously.
"I don't wonder that you feel ashamed of yourself," said his master. "Come here, you old coward."
The dog reluctantly obeyed, and, when he came nearer, another mystery was cleared up, and Frank knew why his favorite had behaved so strangely. One end of a rope was twisted about his jaws so tightly that he could scarcely move them, and the other, after being wound around his head and neck to keep the muzzle from slipping off, was fastened to both his fore feet, holding them so close together that it was a wonder that he could walk at all. Frank's anger vanished in an instant. He ran into his room after his knife, to release the dog from his bonds, and then he discovered that the animal had not come out of the fight unharmed. Two gaping wounds in his side bore evidence to the skill with which Pierre had handled his bowie.
At that moment, Frank felt a good deal as Llewellyn must have felt when he killed the hound which he imagined had devoured his child, but which had, in reality, defended him from the attacks of a wolf. He had scolded Marmion for his failure to hold the robber after he had thrown him down, and had been more than half inclined to give him a good beating; while the animal had, all the while, been doing his best, and, in spite of his wounds and bonds, had kept up the fight until Pierre mounted his horse and fled from the ranch.
The boy's first care, after he had removed the rope, was to bandage the wounds as well as he could, and to lead the dog to a comfortable bed on the porch, where he left him to await the arrival of the doctor; for Frank resolved that, as Marmion had received his injuries during the performance of his duty, he should have the very best of care.
Frank never closed his eyes that night. He passed the hours in pacing up and down the porch watching for the Ranchero, who made his appearance shortly after daylight, accompanied by the doctor. Mr. Winters's wound, although very painful, was not a dangerous one, and after it had been dressed by the skillful hands of the surgeon, he felt well enough to enter into conversation with those around him.
"Now," said Frank, who had been impatiently awaiting an opportunity to talk to his uncle, "I'd like to know what brought you back here last night?"
"I came after the twelve thousand dollars," replied Mr. Winters. "When I arrived in the city, I learned that Mr. Brown had left there early in the morning to pay us a visit, taking with him the money he owed me. I wanted to use it immediately, and as I did not know what might happen if it should become known that there was so much money in the house, and no one here to take care of it, I came home; but I should have lost the money after all, if it hadn't been for you, Frank, and I might have lost my life with it; for I believe the villain was in earnest."
"I am quite sure he was," said Frank, feeling of his neck, which still bore the marks of the lasso in the shape of a bright red streak. "If you had stayed away five minutes longer, I should have been hanged. O, it's a fact!" he added, earnestly, noticing that the doctor looked at him incredulously. "I came very near dancing on nothing, now I tell you; and if you only knew all that has happened in this house since dark, you wouldn't say that there was no one here to take care of that money. But, uncle, how came you by that wound?"
"Pierre gave it to me," was the reply. "He slipped up behind me when I was dismounting, and struck me with something. But what did he do to you?"
"He pulled me up by the neck with my own lasso," replied Frank; "that's what he did to me."
"The scoundrel!" exclaimed the doctor. "Tell us all about it."
Thus encouraged, Frank began and related his story, to which his auditors listened with breathless attention. He told what he had done with the twelve thousand dollars, where he had hidden the keys, how he had detected Pierre watching him through the window, and how the Ranchero had told him that Marmion was off hunting rabbits, when he was lying bound and muzzled in some out-of-the-way place. Then he explained how the robber had overpowered him while he was reading, how he had searched his pockets for the keys, and pulled him up by the neck because he refused to tell where he had hidden them, and how he was on the very point of hanging him in earnest when the arrival of Uncle James alarmed him. Mr. Winters was astonished, and so was the doctor, who patted Frank on the head, and said:
"You're a chip of the old block. And did you not tell him where you had put the key?"
"No, sir;" was the answer. "He choked me pretty hard, though, and my throat feels funny yet."
The boy having finished his story, Mr. Winters took it up where he left off, and told the doctor how Frank had rescued him from the robber, and how hard he had worked to effect his capture, and all who heard it declared that he was a hero.
FRANK MEETS A HIGHWAYMAN.
Frank passed the next day in making up for the sleep he had lost the night before. About three o'clock in the afternoon he arose refreshed, and visited his uncle, whom he found fast asleep. Now that Archie was gone, the old house was quiet and lonesome—too much so, indeed, to suit Frank, who, after trying in vain to find some way to amuse himself until supper time, saddled Roderick, and set out for a short gallop over the prairie. As he was about to mount his horse, Marmion came out of the court, and frisked about his master as lively as ever, apparently none the worse for the ugly-looking wounds he had received during his encounter with the robber.
"Go home, sir," said Frank. "Don't you know that you are under the doctor's care?"
If Marmion did know it, he didn't bother his head about it. He had a will of his own; and having always been permitted to accompany his master wherever he went, he did not feel disposed to remain behind. Instead of obeying the command to go home, he ran on before, and Frank made no further attempts to drive him back.
Frank, having by this time become well acquainted with the country for twenty miles around his uncle's rancho, knew where he wanted to go, and about an hour after he left home, he was stretched at full length beside a spring among the mountains, where he and his friends often camped to eat their dinner during their hunting expeditions. Roderick stood close by, lazily cropping the grass, but Marmion was not in sight. The last time his master saw him, he was trying to gnaw his way into a hollow log where a rabbit had taken refuge.
Frank lay beside the spring until his increasing hunger reminded him that it was nearly supper time, and then he mounted his horse, and started for home. Roderick being permitted to choose his own gait, walked slowly along a narrow bridle-path that led out of the mountains, and Frank sat in his saddle with both hands in his pockets, his sombrero pulled down over his eyes, and his thoughts wandering away to the ends of the earth. He had ridden in this way about half a mile, when he was suddenly aroused from his meditations by a commotion in the bushes at his side, and the next moment a man sprang in front of the horse, and seized him by the bridle.
"Pierre Costello!" exclaimed Frank, as soon as he had somewhat recovered from his astonishment.
"Ay, it's Pierre, and no mistake," returned the Ranchero, with a triumphant smile. "You thought I had left the country, didn't you?"
"I was in hopes you had; but I see you are still on hand, like a bad dollar-bill."
"We are well met," continued Pierre. "I have been waiting for an opportunity to thank you for the very friendly manner in which you treated me last night."
"You need not have put yourself to any trouble about it. You are under no obligations to me. As I am in something of a hurry, I will now bid you good-by."
"Not if I know myself, and I think I do," said Pierre, with a laugh. "You are just as impudent as ever. Climb down off that horse."
Frank's actions indicated that he did not think it best to obey this order. He sat perfectly still in his saddle, looking at Pierre, and wondering what he should do. He could show no weapon to intimidate the robber, for he was entirely unarmed, not having brought even his lasso or clasp-knife with him; while Pierre held in his hand, ready for instant use, the bowie that had rendered him such good service during the fight in the court. At first Frank entertained the bold idea of riding over the Ranchero. Roderick was as quick as a flash in his movements, and one touch of the spurs, if his rider could take Pierre off his guard, would cause the horse to jerk the bridle from his grasp, and before the robber could recover himself, Frank would be out of danger. But Pierre had anticipated this movement, and he was too well acquainted with his prisoner to relax his vigilance for an instant. More than that, he held both the reins under Roderick's jaw with a firm grasp, and stood in such a position that he could control the movements of both the horse and his rider.
A moment's reflection having satisfied Frank that his idea of running over Pierre could not be carried out, he began to look around for his dog. But Marmion had not yet come up, and Frank was compelled to acknowledge to himself that he was as completely in the villain's power as he had been when Pierre had the lasso around his neck.
"Get down off that horse, I say," commanded the Ranchero.
"So you have turned highwayman, have you?" said Frank, without moving. "Do you find it a more pleasant and profitable business than herding cattle?"
"Are you going to get off that horse?" asked the robber, impatiently.
"What's the use? You will not find a red cent in my pockets."
"I suppose not; but if I take you with me, I'll soon find out how many yellow boys your uncle carries in his pockets."
"If you take me with you!" repeated Frank. "What do you mean?"
"I mean just this: I shall find it exceedingly lonesome living here in the mountains by myself, and I don't know of any one in the world I had rather have for a companion than yourself."
"Humph!" exclaimed Frank; "that's a nice idea. I won't go."
"Of course," continued the Ranchero, not heeding the interruption, "when you fail to make your appearance at home for three or four days, your uncle will think he has seen the last of you. He will believe that you have been clawed up by grizzlies, or that you have tumbled into some of these gullies. He will raise a hue and cry, search high and low for you, offer rewards, and all that; and, while the fuss is going on, and people are wondering what in the world could have become of you, you will be safe and sound, and living like a gentleman, with me, on the fat of the land."
"But, Pierre," said Frank, now beginning to be really frightened, "I don't want to live with you on the fat of the land, and I won't do it. Let go that bridle."
The Ranchero, as before, paid no attention to the interruption. He seemed to delight in tormenting his prisoner.
"After you have been with me about six months," he went on, "and your friends have given up all hope of ever seeing you again, I'll send a note to Mr. Winters, stating that you are alive and well, and that, if he will give me twenty thousand dollars in gold, I will return you to him in good order, right side up with care. If I find that we can get along pretty well together, I may conclude to keep you a year; for the longer you remain away from your uncle, the more he will want to see you, and the bigger will be the pile he will give to have you brought back. What is your opinion of that plan? Don't you think it a capital way to raise the wind?"
Frank listened to this speech in utter bewilderment. Cruel and reckless as he knew Pierre to be, he had never for a moment imagined that he could be guilty of such an enormous crime as this. He did not know what reply to make—there was nothing he could say or do. Entreaties and resistance were alike useless.
"Well, what are you thinking about?" inquired the Ranchero.
"I was wondering if a greater villain than yourself ever lived," replied Frank.
"We will talk about that as we go along," said Pierre. "Get off that horse, now; I am going to send him home."
Frank, seeing no way of escape, was about to obey this order, when the truant, Marmion, came in sight, trotting leisurely up the path, carrying in his mouth the rabbit, which he had succeeded in gnawing out of the log. He stopped short on discovering Pierre, dropped his game, and gathered himself for a spring.
"Take him, Marmion!" yelled Frank, as he straightened himself up in his saddle. "If it is all the same to you, Mr. Pierre, I'll not go to the mountains this evening."
The Ranchero did not wait to receive the dog. He was an arrant coward, and, more than that, he stood as much in fear of Marmion as if he had been a bear or panther. Uttering a cry of terror, he dropped the bridle, and, with one bound, disappeared in the bushes. Marmion followed close at his heels, encouraged by terrific yells from his master, who, now that his dog was neither bound nor muzzled, looked upon the capture of the robber as a thing beyond a doubt. There was a loud crashing and snapping in the bushes, as the pursuer and pursued sped on their way, and presently another loud yell of terror, mingled with an angry growl, told Frank that the dog had come up with Pierre.
"He is caught at last," thought our hero; "how shall I get him home? that's the question. How desperately he fights," he added, as the commotion in the bushes increased, and the yells and growls grew louder. "But he'll find it's no use, for he can't whip that dog, if he has got a knife. Now, I ought to have a rope. I'll ride up the path, and see if I can find Pierre's horse; and, if I can, I'll take his lasso and tie the rascal hand and foot."
Frank galloped up the path a short distance, but could see nothing of the horse. The Ranchero had, doubtless, left him in the bushes, and Frank was about to dismount and go in search of him, when, to his utter astonishment, he saw Pierre coming toward him. His face was badly scratched; his jacket and shirt had disappeared altogether; his breast and arms were covered with blood, and so was his knife, which he still held in his hand. But, where was Marmion, that he was not following up his enemy? The answer was plain. The dog had been worsted in his encounter with the robber, and Frank was left to fight his battles alone. He thought no more of taking Pierre a prisoner to the rancho. All he cared for now was to escape.
"Well, now, it was good of you not to run away when you had the chance," said the Ranchero, who appeared to be quite as much surprised at seeing Frank as the latter had been at seeing him.
"If I had thought that you could get away from that dog, I should have been a mile from here by this time," replied Frank. "I was looking for your horse, and, if I had found him, I should have gone to Marmion's assistance."
"Well, he needed you bad enough," said Pierre, with a laugh. "I have fixed him this time."
"You have!" cried Frank, his worst suspicions confirmed. "Is Marmion dead?"
"Dead as a door-nail. Now we must be off; we have wasted too much time already."
If the Ranchero supposed that Frank would allow himself to be captured a second time, he was sadly mistaken. The boy was free, and he determined to remain so.
"Pierre," said he, filled with rage at the words of the robber, "I may have a chance to square accounts with you some day, and if I do I'll remember that you killed my dog."
"Come, now, no nonsense," said the Ranchero, gruffly. "You are my prisoner, you know."
"I think not. Stand where you are; don't come a step nearer."
While this conversation was going on, Pierre had been walking slowly up the path, and, as Frank ceased speaking, he made a sudden rush, intending to seize Roderick by the bridle. But his rider was on the alert. Gathering his reins firmly in his hands, he dashed his spurs into the flanks of his horse, which sprang forward like an arrow from a bow, and thundered down the path toward Pierre, who turned pale with terror.
"Out of the way, you villain, or I'll ride you down," shouted Frank.
This was very evident to the Ranchero, who, seizing upon the only chance for escape offered him, plunged head-foremost into the bushes. He barely missed being run down, for Roderick flew by before he was fairly out of the path, and, by the time he had recovered his feet, Frank was out of sight.
When Frank reached home, he shed a great many tears over Marmion's untimely death; but, as it happened, it was grief wasted. One morning, about a week after his adventure with the highwayman, while Frank and Archie were out for their morning's ride, a sorry-looking object crawled into the court, and thence into the office, where Mr. Winters was busy at his desk. "Mad dog!" shouted the gentleman, when he discovered the intruder; and, springing to his feet, he lifted his chair over his head, and was in the very act of extinguishing the last spark of life left in the poor brute, when the sight of a collar he wore around his neck arrested his hand. It was no wonder that Uncle James had not recognized the animal, for he looked very unlike the lively, well-conditioned dog which Frank was wont to regard as the apple of his eye. But, nevertheless, it was Marmion, or, rather, all that was left of him. He had been severely wounded, and was nearly starved; but he received the best of care, and it was not long before he was as savage and full of fight as ever. Although he had failed to capture the robber, he had rendered his master a most important service, and no one ever heard him find fault with Marmion after that.
Frank's reputation was by this time firmly established, and he was the lion of the settlement. Dick Lewis was prouder than ever of him. Of course, he called him a "keerless feller," and read him several long lectures, illustrating them by incidents drawn from his own experience. He related the story of Frank's adventures with the robber every time he could induce any one to listen to it, and ever afterward called him "the boy that fit that ar' Greaser." Old Bob Kelly beamed benevolently upon him every time they met, and more than once told his companion that the "youngster would make an amazin' trapper;" and that, in Dick's estimation, was a compliment worth all the rest.