THE BOY LAND BOOMER
DICK ARBUCKLE'S ADVENTURES IN OKLAHOMA
CAPTAIN RALPH BONEHILL
"THREE YOUNG RANCHMEN," "A SAILOR BOY WITH DEWEY," ETC.
ILLUSTRATED BY W. H. FRY
H. M. CALDWELL COMPANY NEW YORK Publishers BOSTON
COPYRIGHT, 1902, BY THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
Made by Robert Smith Printing Co., Lansing, Mich.
———————- Transcriber's Note: Obvious printer errors have been corrected. All other inconsistencies have been left as they were in the original. ———————-
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"The youth had to cling fast around his neck to save himself a lot of broken bones" Frontispiece
"The next instant the boy was hurled headlong into the boiling and foaming current" 62
"Dick had let fly the jagged stone, taking him directly in the forehead and keeling him over like a tenpin" 179
"In a second more the two men were in a hand-to-hand encounter" 220
"The Boy Land Boomer" relates the adventures of a lad who, with his father, joins a number of daring men in an attempt to occupy the rich farming lands of Oklahoma before the time when that section of our country was thrown open to settlement under the homestead act.
Oklahoma consists of a tract of land which formerly formed a portion of the Indian Territory. This region was much in dispute as early as 1884 and 1885, when Captain "Oklahoma" Payne and Captain Couch did their best to force an entrance for the boomers under them. Boomers remained in the neighborhood for years, and another attempt was made to settle Oklahoma in 1886, and up to 1889, when, on April 22, the land was thrown open to settlement by a proclamation of the President. The mad rush to gain the best claims followed, and some of these scenes are related in the present volume.
The boomers, who numbered thousands, had among them several daring and well-known leaders, but not one was better known or more daring than the leader who is known in these pages as Pawnee Brown. This man was not alone a great Indian scout and hunter, but also one who had lived much among the Indians, could speak their language, and who had on several occasions acted as interpreter for the Government. He was well beloved by his followers, who relied upon his judgment in all things.
To some it may seem that the scenes in this book are overdrawn. Such, however, is not the fact. There was much of roughness in those days, and the author has continually found it necessary to tone down rather than to exaggerate in penning these scenes from real life.
CAPTAIN RALPH BONEHILL.
THE BOY LAND BOOMER.
* * * * *
DICK ARBUCKLE'S DISCOVERY.
The call came from a boy of sixteen, a bright, manly chap, who had just awakened from an unusually sound sleep in the rear end of a monstrous boomer's wagon.
The scene was upon the outskirts of Arkansas City, situated near the southern boundary line of Kansas and not many miles from the Oklahoma portion of the Indian Territory.
For weeks the city had been filling up with boomers on their way to pre-empt land within the confines of Oklahoma as soon as it became possible to do so.
The land in Oklahoma had for years been in dispute. Pioneers claimed the right to go in and stake out homesteads, but the soldiers of our government would not allow them to do so.
The secret of the matter was that the cattle kings of that section controlled everything, and as the grazing land of the territory was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to them they fought desperately to keep the pioneers out, delaying, in every manner possible, legislation which tended to make the section an absolutely free one to would-be settlers.
But now the pioneers, or boomers as they were commonly called, were tired of waiting for the passage of a law which they knew must come sooner or later, and they intended to go ahead without legal authority.
It was a dark, tempestuous night, with the wind blowing fiercely and the rain coming down at irregular intervals. On the grassy plain were huddled the wagons, animals and trappings of over two hundred boomers. Here and there flared up the remains of a campfire, but the wind was blowing too strongly for these to be replenished, and the men had followed their wives and children into the big, canvas-covered wagons, to make themselves as comfortable as the crowded space permitted.
It was the rattle of the rain on the canvas covering of the wagon which had aroused the boy.
"I say father!" he repeated. "Father!"
Again there was no reply, and, kicking aside the blanket with which he had been covered, Dick Arbuckle clambered over some boxes piled high in the center of the vehicle to where he had left his parent resting less than three hours before.
"Gone!" cried the lad in astonishment. "What can this mean? What could take him outside in such a storm as this? Father!"
He now crawled to the opening at the front of the wagon and called at the top of his voice. Only the shrieking of the wind answered him. A dozen times he cried out, then paused to strike a somewhat damp match and light a smoky lantern hanging to the front ashen bow of the turn-out's covering. Holding the light over his head he peered forth into the inky darkness surrounding the boomer's temporary camp.
"Not a soul in sight," he mused. "It must be about midnight. Can something have happened to father? He said he felt rather strange in his head when he went to bed. If only Jack Rasco would come back."
From the front end of the wagon Dick Arbuckle shifted back to the rear. Here the same dreary outlook of storm, mud and flapping canvases presented itself. Not so much as a stray dog was in sight, and the nearest wagon was twenty feet away.
"I must find out where he is. Something is wrong, I feel certain of it."
Thus muttering to himself the youth hunted up his overcoat and hat, put them on, and, lantern in hand, swung himself into the sea of half-submerged prairie grass, and stalked over to the other wagon just mentioned.
"Mike Delaney!" he cried, kicking on the wagon wheel with the toe of his boot; "Mike Delaney, have you seen my father anywhere?"
"Sure, an' Moike Delaney is not here, Dick Arbuckle," came in a female voice. "He's gone off wid Pawnee Brown, and there's no tellin' whin he'll be back. Is yer father gone?"
"Yes, and I don't know where," and now Dick stepped closer, as the round and freckled face of Rosy Delaney peered forth from a hole in the canvas end. "He went to bed when I did, and now he's missing."
"Saints preserve us! Mebbe the Injuns scalped him now, Dick!" came in a voice full of terror.
"There are no Indians around here, Mrs. Delaney," answered the youth, half inclined to laugh. "But he's missing, and it's mighty strange, to say the least."
"He was sick, too, wasn't he?"
"Father hasn't been real well for a year. He left New York very largely in the hope that this climate would do him some good."
"Moike was sayin' his head throubles him a good bit."
"So it does, and that's why I am so worried. When he gets those awful pains he is apt to walk away and keep right on without knowing where he is going."
"Poor mon! Oi wisht Oi could help yez. Mebbe Moike will be back soon. Ain't Jack Rasco about?"
"No, he is off with Pawnee Brown, too. Rasco and Brown have been looking over the trails leading to Oklahoma. They are bound to outwit the United States cavalry, for the boomers have more right to that land than the cattle kings, and right is always might in the end."
"Especially wid Pawnee on the end o' it, Dick. He's a great mon, is Pawnee, only it do be afther givin' me the shivers to hear him spake the Pawnee language loike he was a rale Injun. Such a foine scout as he is has no roight to spake such a dirthy tongue. How illegant it would be now if he could spake rale Oirish."
"His knowledge of the Indian tongue has helped both him and our government a good deal, Mrs. Delaney. But I mustn't stop here talking. If my father——"
A wild, unearthly shriek cut short further talk upon Dick Arbuckle's part. It came from the darkness back of the camp and caused Mrs. Delaney to draw back and tumble to the bottom of her house on wheels in terror.
"It's the Banshee——" she began, when Dick interrupted her.
"It's Pumpkin Bill. I'd know his voice a mile off," he declared. "Somebody ought to send him back to where he belongs. Creation, what a racket!"
Nearer and nearer came the voice, rising and falling with the wind. The shrill shrieking penetrated to every wagon, and head after head was thrust out of the canvases to see what it meant. In another minute Pumpkin Bill, the dunce of the boomer's camp, "a nobody from nowhar," to use Cal Clemmer's words, came rushing along, hatless and with his wild eyes fairly starting from their sockets.
"Save me! a ghost!" he yelled, swinging his hands over his head. "A ghost full of blood! Oh, oh! I'm a dead boy! I know I am! Stop him from following me!"
"Pumpkin!" ejaculated Dick, striding up and catching the fleeing lad by the arm. "Hold on; what's this racket about?"
The dunce paused, then stood stock still, his mouth opening to its widest extent. He was far from bright, and it took him several seconds to put into words what was passing in his mind.
"About, about?" he repeated. "Dick Arbuckle! Oh, dear me! I've seen your father's ghost!"
"Yes, I did. Hope to die if I didn't. I was just coming to camp from town. Some men kept me, and made me sing and dance for them—you know how I can sing—tra-la-la-da-do-da-bum! They promised me a dollar, but didn't give it to me. I was running to get out of the wet when I plumped into something fearful—a ghost! Your father, covered with blood, and groaning and moaning, 'Robbed, robbed; almost murdered!' That's what the ghost said, and he caught me by the hand. See, the blood is there yet, even though I did try to wash it off in the rain. Oh, Dick, what does it mean?"
"It means something awful has happened, Pumpkin, if your story is true——"
"Hope to die if it ain't," and the dunce crossed his heart several times. Suddenly, to keep up his courage, he burst into a wild snatch of song:
"A big baboon Glared at the moon, And sang la-la-la-dum! 'Come down to me And I will be Your lardy-dardy——'"
"Stop it, Pumpkin," interrupted Dick. "Come along with me."
"To where you saw my father."
"Not for a million dollars—not for a million million!" cried the half-witted boy. "It wasn't your father; it was a ghost, all covered with blood!" and he shrank back under the Delaney wagon.
"It was my father, Pumpkin; I am sure of it. He is missing, and something has happened to him. Perhaps he fell and hurt himself. Come on."
The dunce stopped short and stared.
"Missing, is he? Then it wasn't a ghost. La-la-dum! What a joke. Will you go along, too?"
"And take a pistol?"
"Poor mon, Oi thrust he is not very much hurted," broke in Rosy Delaney, who had been a close listener to the foregoing. "If he is, Dick Arbuckle, bring him here, an' it's Rosy Delaney will nurse him wid th' best of care."
As has been said, many had heard Pumpkin Bill's wild cries, but now that he had quieted down these boomers returned to their couches, grumbling that the half-witted lad should thus be allowed to disturb their rest.
In a minute Dick Arbuckle and Pumpkin were hurrying along the road the dunce had previously traveled. The rain was letting up a bit, and the smoky lantern lit up the surroundings for a circle thirty feet in diameter.
"Here is where I met him," said Pumpkin, coming to a halt near the edge of a small stream. "There's the hat he knocked off my head." He picked it up. "Oh, dear me! covered with blood! Did you ever see the like?"
Dick was more disturbed than ever.
"Which way did he go?"
"I don't know."
"Didn't you notice at all, Pumpkin? Try to think."
"Nary a notice. I ran, that's all. It looked like a bloody ghost. I'll dream about it, I know I will."
To this Dick did not answer. Getting down on his knees in the wet he examined the trail by the lantern's rays. The footsteps which he thought must be those of his father led around a bend in the stream and up a series of rocks covered with moss and dirt. With his heart thumping violently under his jacket he followed the footprints until the very summit of the rocks was gained. Then he let out a groan of anguish.
And not without cause. Beyond the summit was a dark opening fifteen feet wide, a hundred or more feet long and of unfathomable depth. The footprints ended at the very edge of this yawning abyss.
DICK ON A RUNAWAY.
"If he fell down here he is dead beyond all doubt!"
Such were Dick Arbuckle's words as he tried in vain to pierce the gloom of the abyss by flashing around the smoky lantern.
"Gosh! I reckon you're right," answered Pumpkin in an awe-struck whisper. "It must be a thousand feet to the bottom of that hole!"
"If I had a rope I might lower myself," went on the youth, with quiet determination. "But without a rope——"
A pounding of hoof-strokes on the grassy trail below the rocks caused him to stop and listen attentively.
"Somebody is coming. I'll see if I can get help!" he cried, and ran down to the trail, swinging his lantern over his head as he went. In ten seconds a horseman burst into view, riding a beautiful racing steed. The newcomer was a well-known leader of the land boomers, who rejoiced in the name of Pawnee Brown.
"Ai! Pawnee Brown!" cried Dick, and at once the leader of the land boomers came to a halt.
"What is it, Arbuckle?" he asked kindly.
"My father is missing, and I have every reason to fear that he has tumbled into an opening at the summit of yonder rocks."
"That's bad, lad. Missing? Since when?"
Dick's story was soon told, and Pawnee Brown at once agreed to go up to the opening and see if anything could be done. "It's the Devil's Chimney," he explained. "If he went over into it I'm afraid he's a goner."
A lariat hung from the pommel of the scout's saddle, and this he took in hand as he dismounted. Soon he stood by the edge of the black opening, while Dick again waved the lantern.
"You and the dunce can lower me by the lariat. I don't believe the opening is more than fifty feet deep," said Pawnee Brown.
The lariat was quickly adjusted around the edge of a smooth rock, and with his foot in a noose and the lantern in hand, the scout was lowered into the depths of the opening.
Down and down he went, the light finding nothing but bare, rocky wall to fall upon. Presently the lowering process ceased.
"We have reached the end of the lariat," called out Dick.
Hardly had he spoken when a fearful thing happened. There was a snap and a whirr, and Dick and Pumpkin went flat on their backs, while ten feet of the lariat whirled loosely over their heads.
The improvised rope had broken.
"Gone!" gasped Dick. "Merciful heavens!"
He scrambled up and looked over the edge of the opening. The lantern had been dashed into a thousand pieces, and all was dark below.
"Pawnee Brown!" he cried, and Pumpkin joined in with a cry which was fairly a shriek.
The opening remained as silent as a tomb. Again and again both called out. Then Dick turned to his companion.
"This is awful, Pumpkin. Something must be done. I shall mount his mare and ride back to camp and get help. For all I know to the contrary both my father and Pawnee Brown are lying dead below."
"I shan't stay here alone," shivered the half-witted boy. Then, before Dick could stop him, he set off at the top of his speed, yelling discordantly as he went.
"Poor fool, he might have ridden with me," thought Dick.
He was already rushing down to the trail. Now he remembered that he had heard a strange noise down where Pawnee Brown's beautiful mare, Bonnie Bird, had been tethered—a noise reaching him just before the lariat had parted. What could that mean?
He reached the clump of trees where Bonnie Bird should have been. The mare was gone!
"Broken away!" he groaned. "Was ever such luck before! Everything is going wrong tonight! Poor father; poor Pawnee Brown! I must leg it to camp just as Pumpkin is doing. Hullo!"
He had started to run, but now he pulled up short. Grazing in the wet grass not a dozen steps away was a bay horse, full and round, a perfect beast. At first Dick Arbuckle thought he must be dreaming. He ran up rubbing his eyes. No, it was no dream; the horse was as real as a horse could be. He was bridled, but instead of a saddle wore only a patch of a blanket.
"It's a Godsend," he murmured. "I don't know whom you belong to, old boy, but you've got to carry me back to camp, and that, too, at a licking gait, you understand?"
The horse pricked up his ears and gave a snort. In a trice Dick was on his back and urging him around in the proper direction. He was a New York boy, not much used to riding, and the management of such a beast as this one did not come easy. The horse arose upon his forelegs and nearly pitched Dick over his head, and the youth had to cling fast around his neck to save himself a lot of broken bones.
"Whoa, there! Gee Christopher, what a tartar! Whoa, I say! If only I had a whip!" he panted, as the horse began to move around on a pivot. "Now, why can't you act nice, when I'm in such dire need of your services? If you don't stop—Whoa! whoa!"
For the horse had suddenly stopped pivoting and started off like a streak, not up or down the trail, but across a stretch of prairie grass. On and on he went, the bit between his teeth and gaining speed at every step. In vain Dick yelled at him, kicked him and banged him on the head. It was of no use, and he had to cling on for dear life.
"I might as well let him go and jump for it," he thought at last, when nearly a mile had been covered. "It's just as useless to try to stop him as it would be to stop a limited express. If I jump off—but I won't, now!"
For the prairie had been left behind, and the bay was tearing along a rocky trail leading to goodness knew where, so Dick thought. A jump now would mean broken bones, perhaps death. He clung tighter than ever, and tried to calm the horse by speaking gently to him.
At first the beast would not listen, but finally, when several miles had been covered he slackened up, and at last dropped into a walk. He was covered with foam, and now he was quite willing to be led.
"You old reprobate!" muttered Dick, as he tightened his hold on the reins. "Now where in the name of creation have you brought me to, and how am I to find my way back to camp from here?"
Sitting upright once again, the youth tried to pierce the darkness. The rain had stopped, only a few scattering drops falling upon himself and the steaming animal, but the darkness was as great as ever.
On two sides of him were forest lands, on the third a slope of rocks and on the fourth a stretch of dwarf grass. The trail, if such it could be called, ran along the edge of the timber. Should he follow this? He moved along slowly, wondering whether he was right or wrong.
"Halt! Who goes there?"
It was a military challenge, coming out of the darkness. Dick stopped the horse, and presently made out the form of a man on horseback, a cavalryman.
"I'm a friend who has lost the way," began the youth, when the cavalryman let out a cry of surprise.
"Tucker's horse, hang me if it isn't! Boy, where did you get that nag? Tucker, Ross, come here! I've collared one of the horse-thieves!"
In a moment more there came the clatter of horses' hoofs through the timber, and Dick found himself surrounded by three big and decidedly ugly-looking United States cavalrymen—troopers who belonged to a detachment set to guard the Oklahoma territory from invasion.
"A boy and a boomer!" ejaculated the fellow named Tucker. "I saw the kid over near Arkansas City a couple of days ago. And riding Chester, too! Git off that hoss, before I kick you off!"
And riding up he caught Dick by the collar and yanked him to the ground. In an instant he was beside the boy and had produced a pair of reservation handcuffs.
"Out with your hands, sonny, and be quick about it."
"What for?" asked Dick, somewhat bewildered by the unceremonious way in which he was being handled. "I didn't steal that horse."
"Too thin, sonny. All you boomers are a set of thieves, and I suppose you think stealing our hossflesh is the rarest kind of a joke. Out with those hands, I say, and consider yourself a prisoner of Uncle Sam. You've nearly ridden Chester to death and for two pins I'd take the law into my own hands and string you up to the nearest tree. Take that!"
And having handcuffed Dick the cavalryman let out with his heavy right hand and landed a savage slap that sent the helpless youth headlong at his feet.
The blow aroused all of the lion in the youth's makeup. As quickly as he could he leaped up.
"You brute!" he cried. "Why don't you fight fair? Take that, and that and that!"
Each "that" meant two blows, for Dick could not separate his hands, and therefore struck out with both at a time—two in the chest, two on the chin and the final pair on either side of Tucker's big and reddish nose. The cavalryman, taken by surprise, let out a cry of rage and pain.
"You imp!" he screamed. "To hit a man in uniform! I'll show you what I can do! How do you like that?"
With incredible swiftness he drew his heavy Sabra and leaped upon Dick. The boy tried to retreat, but slipped on the wet ground and went down. On the instant Tucker was upon him, and, with a fierce cry, the infuriated cavalryman raised his blade over Dick's head.
A CAVE AND A CAVE-IN.
Let us go back and see what happened to Pawnee Brown at the time the lariat parted and he found himself going down into what seemed bottomless space.
Instinctively he put out both hands as far as he was able, to grasp anything which might come within reach and thereby check his awful downward course.
The lantern fell from his fingers and jingled to pieces on a protruding rock.
Then his right hand slid over the ends of a bush growing out of a fissure. He caught the bush and held on like grim death.
The bush gave way, but not instantly, and his descent was checked so that the tumble to the bottom of the hole, fifteen feet further down, was not near as bad as it would otherwise have been.
Yet he came down sideways, and his head striking a flat rock, he was knocked insensible.
Half an hour went by, and he opened his eyes in a wondering way. Where was he and what had happened?
Soon the truth burst upon him, and he staggered to his feet to see if any bones had been broken.
"All whole yet, thanks to my usual good luck," he thought. "But that's a nasty lump on the back of my head. Hullo, up there!"
He called out as loudly as he could, but no answer came back, for Dick and Pumpkin were already gone.
"Well, I always allowed that I would explore the Devil's Chimney some day, but I didn't calculate to do it quite so soon," he went on. "What can have become of those boys? Have they deserted me or gone off for help? If I can read character I fancy that Dick Arbuckle will do all he can for me—and, by the way, can his father's corpse really be down here?"
He brought forth a match and lit it. The battered lantern lay close at hand, and, although without a glass, it was still better than nothing, and, turned well up, gave forth a torch-like flame which lit up the surroundings for a dozen feet or more. No body was there, nor did he find any for the full distance up and down the dismal hole.
"The boy was mistaken; his father wandered elsewhere," was the boomer's conclusion. "Poor fellow, he was in no mental or physical condition to push his claims in the West. He should have remained at home and allowed some hustling Western lawyer to act for him. If he falls into the clutches of some of our land agents they'll swindle him out of every cent of his fortune. I must give him and the boy the tip when I get the chance." The great scout laughed softly. "When I get the chance is good. I reckon I had best pull myself out of this man-trap first."
He made a careful investigation of the rocks. At no point was there anything which gave promise of a footing to the top.
"In a pocket and no error," he mused. "I wonder if I've got to stay here like a bull-croaker at the bottom of a well?"
The rain had formed a long pool between the slanting rocks. He threw a chip into this pool and saw that it drifted slowly off between two scrub bushes growing partly under a shelving rock.
With the light he made an inspection of the locality, and a cry of surprise escaped him. Beyond the bushes was the opening to an irregular, but apparently large cavern.
The stream flowed along one side of the flooring to this opening.
"Must be some sort of an outlet beyond," he mused. "I'll try it and see," and in a moment more he was inside of the cavern and crawling along on hands and knees.
He had not far to go in this fashion. Twenty feet beyond the cavern became so large that he could stand up with ease. He flashed the light above his head.
"By Jove! a miniature Mammoth Cave of Kentucky!" burst from his lips.
On he went until a bend in the formation of the cavern was gained. Here the stream of water disappeared under a pile of loose stones, and the opening became less than six feet in height.
"Checked!" he muttered, and his face fell. It looked as if he would have to go back the way he had come.
Again he raised his light and gazed about him with more care than ever.
The loose rocks soon caught his attention, and, setting down the lantern, he began to pull away first at one and then another.
The last turned back, he saw another opening, evidently leading upward.
"This must lead to the open air—" he began, when a grinding of stone caught his ears. In a twinkle a veritable shower of rocks came down around his head. He was knocked flat and almost covered.
For fully ten minutes he lay gasping for breath. The blood was flowing from a wound on his cheek, and it was a wonder that he had not been killed.
"In the future I'll have more care," he groaned, as, throwing first one stone and then another aside, he sat up. The falling of the stones had been followed by some dirt, and now a regular landslide came after, burying him up to the armpits.
"Planted," was the single word which issued from his lips. He was not seriously hurt, and was half inclined to laugh at his predicament. Still, on the whole, it was no laughing matter, and Pawnee Brown lost no time in trying to dig himself free.
The stones and dirt were wedged tightly about his legs, and not wishing to run the risk of a broken or twisted ankle, the scout worked with care, all the time wondering if Dick Arbuckle was back, and never once dreaming of the peril the poor lad was encountering. The rain was soaking through the ceiling of the cavern, and the situation was far from a comfortable one.
At last he was free again, and striking a match, he hunted up the lantern and lit it once more.
The opening to the inner cave was now large enough to pass through with ease, and making sure of his footing, the scout moved forward, straining his eyes eagerly for some sign of an egress to the outer world.
Presently he saw a number of straggly things dangling downward from the rocks and soil overhead.
They were the bottom roots of some great tree standing fifteen or twenty feet above.
"Not far from the surface now, that's certain," he thought, with considerable satisfaction. "And yet, hang me if I can see an opening of any sort yet."
On and on he went, until nearly a hundred feet more had been passed.
The cave had widened out, but now it narrowed once again to less than a dozen feet. The roof, too, sloped downward until it occasionally scraped the crown of his sombrero.
The light of the lantern began to splutter and flare up, showing that the oil in the cup was running low.
"If only the thing lasts until I find the door to this confounded prison," he thought.
Suddenly a peculiar hiss sounded out upon the darkness.
Pawnee Brown knew that hiss only too well, and leaping back he snatched a pistol from his belt.
The hiss was followed by a rattle, and now, flashing the light around, the scout saw upon a flat rock the curled-up form of a huge rattlesnake.
The eyes of the reptile shone like twin stars, and when Pawnee Brown discovered him he was getting ready to strike.
The rattler was less than six feet away, and the scout knew that he could cover that space with ease. Therefore, whatever was to be done must be done quickly.
Like a flash the pistol came up. But ere Pawnee Brown could fire a curious thing happened.
A large drop of water, splashing down from the roof of the cavern, caused the light to splutter and go out.
The scout was in the dark with his enemy.
More than this, he was boxed up in a narrow place, from which escape was well-nigh impossible.
Aiming as best he could under the circumstances, he fired.
The bullet struck the flat rock, bounded up to the side wall of the cavern and then hit him in the leg.
"Missed, by thunder!"
He jumped past the spot and moved up the cavern a distance of several yards.
A rattle and a whirr followed, as the great rattlesnake made a vicious strike in the dark. An intense hiss sounded out when the reptile realized that the object of his anger had been missed.
Listening with strained ears, the boomer heard the deadly thing sliding slowly from rock to rock, coming closer at every movement.
To flee was impossible, so with bated breath he stood his ground.
OUT OF THE CAVERN.
Slowly but surely the great rattlesnake came closer to where Pawnee Brown stood motionless in the darkness of the cavern.
The reptile had been enraged by the shot the great scout fired, and now meant to strike, and that fatally.
Listening with ears strained to their utmost, the boomer heard the form of the snake slide from rock to rock of the uneven flooring.
The rattler was all of ten feet long and as thick around as a good-sized fence rail.
One square strike from those poisonous fangs and Pawnee Brown's hours would be numbered.
Yet the scout did not intend to give up his life just now. He still held his pistol, four chambers of which were loaded.
"If only I had a light," he thought.
Retreat was out of the question. A single sound and the rattlesnake would have been upon him like a flash.
It was only the darkness and the utter silence that made the reptile cautious.
Suddenly the scout heard a scraping on the rocks less than three feet in front of him.
The time for action had come; another moment and the rattler would be wound around his legs.
Crack! crack! Two reports rang out in quick succession and by the flash of the first shot Pawnee Brown located those glittering eyes.
The second shot went true to its mark, and the rattler dropped back with a hole through its ugly head.
The long, whip like body slashed hither and thither, and the scout had to do some lively sprinting to keep from getting a tangle and a squeeze.
As he hopped about he struck a match, picked up the lantern, shook the little oil remaining into the wick and lit it. Another shot finished the snake and the body curled up into a snarl and a quiver, to bother him no more.
It was then that Pawnee Brown paused, drew a deep breath and wiped the cold perspiration from his brow.
"By gosh! I've killed fifty rattlers in my time, but never one in this fashion," he murmured. "Wonder if there are any more around?"
He knew that these snakes often travel in pairs, and as he went on his way he kept his eyes wide open for another attack.
But none came, and now something else claimed his attention.
The cavern was coming to an end. The side walls closed in to less than three feet, and the flooring sloped up so that he had to crouch down and finally go forward on his hands and knees.
The lantern now went out for good, every drop of oil being exhausted.
At this juncture many a man would have halted and turned back to where he had come from, but such was not Pawnee Brown's intention.
"I'll see the thing through," he muttered. "I'd like to know how far I am from the surface of the ground."
A dozen yards further and the cavern become so small that additional progress was impossible.
He placed his hand above him and encountered nothing but dirt, with here and there a small stone.
With care he began to dig away at the dirt with his knife. Less than a foot of the cavern ceiling had thus been dug away when the point of the knife brought down a small stream of water.
Feeling certain he was now close to the surface, he continued to work with renewed vigor.
The scout was right. The knife had found the outer air, and a dim, uncertain light struck down upon the hero of the plains.
It did not take long to enlarge the opening sufficiently to admit the passage of Pawnee Brown's body.
He leaped out among a number of bushes and stretched himself.
Having brushed the dirt from his wet clothing, he "located himself," as he put it, and started up a hill to the entrance to the Devil's Chimney.
He was on the side opposite to that from which he had descended, and, in order to get over, had to make a wide detour through some brush and small timber.
This accomplished, he hurried to where he had left Bonnie Bird tethered.
As the reader knows, the beautiful mare was gone, and had been for some time.
"I suppose that young Arbuckle took her," he mused. "But, if so, why doesn't he come back here with her?"
There being no help for it, the scout set off for the camp of the boomers on foot.
He was just entering the temporary settlement when he came face to face with Jack Rasco, another of the boomers.
"Pawnee!" shouted the boomer, "You air jess the man I want ter see. Hev ye sot eyes on airy o' the Arbuckles?"
"I'm looking for Dick Arbuckle now," answered the scout. "Isn't he in the camp? I thought he came here with my mare?"
"He ain't nowhar. Rosy Delaney says he went off with Pumpkin to look for his dad, who had disappeared——"
"Then he didn't come back? What can have become of him and Bonnie Bird?" Pawnee Brown's face grew full of concern. "Something is wrong around here, Jack," he continued, and told the boomer of what had happened up at the Devil's Chimney. "First it's the father, and now it's the son and my mare. I must investigate this."
"I'm with yer, Pawnee—with yer to the end. Yer know thet."
"Yes, Jack; you are one of the few men I know I can trust in everything. But two of us are not enough. If harm has befallen the Arbuckles it is the duty of the whole camp—or, at least, every man in it—to try to sift matters to the bottom."
"Right ye air, Pawnee. I'll raise a hullabaloo and rouse 'em up."
Jack Rasco was as good as his word. Going from wagon to wagon, he shook the sleepers and explained matters. In less than a quarter of an hour a dozen stalwart boomers were in the saddle, while Jack Rasco brought forth an extra horse of his own for Brown's use.
"Has anybody seen the dunce?" questioned the scout.
No one had since he had gone off with Dick to look for the so-called ghost.
"We will divide up into parties of two," said Pawnee Brown, and this was done, and soon he and Jack Rasco were bounding over the trail leading toward the Indian Territory, while others were setting off in the direction of Arkansas City and elsewhere.
"Something curious about them air Arbuckles," observed Rasco as they flew along side by side. "Mortimer Arbuckle said as how he was coming hyer fer his health, but kick me ef I kin see it."
"I think myself the man has an axe to grind," responded the leader of the boomers. "You know he came West to see about some land."
"Oh, I know thet. But thar's somethin' else, sure ez shootin' ez shootin', Pawnee. It kinder runs in my noddle thet he is a'lookin' fer somebuddy."
"Ah, thar's where ye hev got me. But I'll tell ye something. One night when the boy wuz over ter Arkansas City the old man war sleeping in the wagon, an' he got a nightmare. He clenched his fists an' begun ter moan an' groan. 'Don't say I did it, Bolange,' he moans. 'Don't say that—it's an awful crime! Don't put the blood on my head!' an' a lot more like thet, till my blood most run cold an' I shook him ter make him wake up. Now, don't thet look like he had something on his mind?"
"It certainly does, and yet the man is not quite right in his upper story, although I wouldn't tell the son that, Rasco. But what was the name he mentioned?"
"Bolange, or Volange, or something like thet. It seems ter me he hollered out Louis onct, too."
A sudden light shone in the great scout's eyes. He gripped his companion by the arm.
"Try to think, Jack. Did Arbuckle speak the name of Vorlange—Louis Vorlange?"
"By gosh! Pawnee, you hev struck it—Vorlange, ez plain ez day. Do yer know the man?"
"Do I know him?" Pawnee Brown drew a long breath. "Jack, I believe I once told you about my schoolboy days at Wellington and elsewhere before I left home to take up a life on the cattle trails?"
"Yes, Pawnee. From all accounts you wuz cut out for a schoolmaster, instead of a leader of us boomers."
"I was a professor once at the Indian Industrial school at Pawnee Agency. That is where I got to be called Pawnee Brown, and where the Pawnees became so friendly that they made me their white chief. But I aspired to something more than teaching and more than cow punching in those boyhood days at Wellington; I wanted to have a try at entrance to West Point and follow in the footsteps of Grant and Custer, and fellows of that sort."
"Ye deserved it, I'll bet, Pawnee."
"I worked hard for it, and at last I got a chance to compete at the examination. Among the other boys who competed was Louis Vorlange. He had been the bully of our school, and more than once we had fought, and twice I had sent him to bed with a head that was nearly broken. He hated me accordingly, and swore I should not win the prize I coveted."
"Did he try, too?"
"Yes, but he was outclassed from the start, for, although he was sly and shrewd, book learning was too much for him. The examination came off, and I got left, through Vorlange, who stole my papers and changed many of my answers. I didn't learn of this until it was too late. My chance of going to West Point fell through. There was nothing to do but to thrash Vorlange, and the day before I left home I gave him a licking that I'll wager he'll remember to the day of his death. As it was, he tried to shoot me, but I collared the pistol, and for that dastardly attack knocked two of his teeth down his throat."
"Served him right, Pawnee. But I don't see whar—"
"Hold on a minute, Jack. I said Vorlange didn't go to West Point; but he was strong with the politicians, and as soon as he was old enough he got a position under the government, and now I understand he is somewhere around the Indian Territory acting as a spy for the land department."
"By gosh! I see. An' ye think Mortimer Arbuckle knows this same chap?"
"It would look so. If I can read faces, the old man is innocent of wrong-doing, and if that is so and there is the secret of a crime between him and Louis Vorlange you can wager Vorlange is the guilty party."
"Pawnee, you hev a head on yer shoulders fit fer a judge, hang me ef ye ain't," burst out Jack Rasco admiringly. "I wish yer would talk to Arbuckle the next time he turns up. Mebbe yer kin lift a weight off o' his shoulders. The poor old fellow—creation! wot's that?"
Jack Rasco stopped short and pulled up his horse. A wild, unearthly scream rent the air, rising and falling on the wind of the night. The scream was followed by a burst of laughter which was truly demoniacal.
Pawnee Brown pulled his horse up on his haunches. What was this new mystery which confronted him?
Again the cry rang out; but now the scout recognized it and a faint smile shone upon his face.
"It's the dunce," he exclaimed. "Pumpkin! Pumpkin! Come here!"
A moment of silence followed and he called again. Then from the brush which grew among the rocks emerged the form of the half-witted boy.
"Pumpkin, where is Dick Arbuckle?" questioned Pawnee Brown, leaping to the ground and catching the lad by his arm.
"Lemme go! I didn't hurt him!" screamed Pumpkin. "He went that way—like the wind—on a bay horse which was running away. Oh, he's killed, I know he is!"
"You are sure of this?"
"Hope to die if it ain't so. Poor Dick! He'll be pitched off and smashed up like his father was smashed up. Hurry, and maybe you can catch him."
"I believe the dunce speaks the truth," broke in Jack Rasco.
"How long ago was this?"
"Not more'n an hour. Hurry up if you want to save him," and with a yell such as he had uttered before, Pumpkin disappeared.
Pawnee Brown and Rasco wasted no more time. Whipping up their steeds, they set off on a rapid gallop in the direction the runaway horse had pursued.
Let us rejoin Dick Arbuckle at the time that the incensed cavalryman, Tucker, was about to attack the hapless lad with his heavy Sabra.
Had the cruel blow fallen as intended it is beyond dispute that Dick would have been severely injured.
"Don't!" cried the boy, and then closed his eyes at the terrible thought of such dire punishment so close at hand.
But just at that instant an interruption came from out of the darkness of the brush.
"Hello, there! What are you up to?"
Tucker started, and the Sabra was turned aside to bury itself in the exposed roots of a tree.
"If it ain't Pawnee Brown!" muttered another cavalryman, Ross by name.
"Pawnee Brown!" burst from Dick's lips, joyfully, and, rising, he attempted to rush toward his friend.
"Not so fast, boy!" howled Tucker, and caught the youth by the collar.
"What's the meaning of this? What are you doing to that boy?" asked Pawnee Brown as he rode closer, with Rasco beside him.
"He's a horse thief, and we are going to take him to our camp," answered Tucker, somewhat uneasily, for he had seen Pawnee Brown before and knew he had a man of strong character with whom to deal.
"A horse thief!" ejaculated Jack Rasco. "Say, sod'ger, yer crazy! Thet boy a thief! Wall, by gum!"
"That boy is no thief," put in Pawnee Brown. "He belongs to our camp, and is as square as they make them—I'll vouch for it."
"I ain't taking the word of any boomer," muttered Tucker sourly. "That kid—hold on! Don't shoot!"
And he dropped back in terror, for the great scout had drawn his pistol like a flash.
"You'll take my word or take something else," came the stiff response. "Be quick, now, and say which you choose."
"I didn't mean any harm, Pawnee. Maybe you don't know it, but the boy is a thief just the same. We just caught him riding my horse—this bay. My comrades can prove it."
"It's true," said Ross.
"True as gospel," added Skimmy, the third cavalryman. "We caught him less than half an hour ago."
Without answering to this, Pawnee Brown turned to the youth.
"Tell me your yarn, Dick. I know there is some mistake here."
"There is not much to tell, Major. When the lariat broke up at the Devil's Chimney and I couldn't make you reply to my calls I ran off to get help and a rope. I intended to ride your mare back to camp, but when I got to where the mare had been tethered I found her gone and this bay loafing around in her place. I got on the bay, but, instead of riding to camp, the animal ran away with me and brought me here. These fellows were mighty rough on me, and that man was going to split my head open when you came along in the nick of time."
"That's a neat fairy tale," sneered Tucker. "This horse was stolen four hours ago. More than likely the boy couldn't manage him and lost his way and the horse tried to get back to where he belonged."
"That doesn't connect with what I know," answered Pawnee Brown, quietly. "My mare was tethered where he went to look for her. I might as well accuse you of riding down there, taking Bonnie Bird and leaving this nag in her place."
"Do you mean to insinuate we are horse thieves?" cried Ross hotly.
"I'm giving you as good as you send, that's all. Dick, have you any idea where Bonnie Bird is?"
"Not the slightest, sir."
The great scout heaved a sigh. The little racing mare was the very apple of his eye.
"I'll not give up the hunt until I have found her." He turned again to the cavalrymen. "If the finest little black mare, with a white blaze, that you ever saw strays into your camp remember she belongs to me," he went on. "I want her returned at once, and if anybody attempts to keep her there will be a hotter time than this Territory has seen for many a day. Dick, hop up behind me," and he turned to his horse.
"That boy is to remain here," blustered Tucker, growing red in the face.
"Hardly, my bantam. Hop up, Dick, and we'll strike back for camp before the sun comes up and see if the others who are on the search have seen anything of your father. I saw nothing of him at the bottom of the Devil's Chimney."
"I'm not going to have a lazy, good-for-nothing boomer lay it over me——" began Tucker, when once more the sight of Pawnee Brown's pistol silenced him.
No more was said as the scout, Dick and Rasco rode away down the trail by which they had come. But, once out of sight, Tucker raised his fist and shook it savagely.
"I'll get square with you some day, Pawnee Brown, mark my words!" he muttered between his set teeth.
"We'll all get square," said Ross. "I hate the sight of that man."
"I understand the boomers have made him their leader," broke in Skimmy. "If they have, he'll try to break through to Oklahoma as sure as guns are guns."
"And he'll get shot, too," answered Tucker dryly. "The lieutenant is having all of the boomers' movements watched."
"Pawnee Brown will do his level best to give us the slip, see if he don't," remarked Skimmy. "Four thousand boomers wouldn't make him their leader for nothing."
Thus, talking among themselves, the three cavalrymen mounted their horses and rode back to their various picket stations along the boundary line of the Indian Territory.
They were a detachment of the Seventh United States Cavalry, and the lieutenant referred to by Tucker was in command.
For over a month they had been watching the boomers assembling in Kansas. Other portions of the United States troops were watching the would-be Oklahoma settlers in Arkansas and Texas.
There was every prospect of a lively time ahead, and it was not far off.
Reaching his station, Tucker drew from his pocket a briar-root pipe, filled and lit it and began to puff away meditatively.
His face had been ugly before, but now as he began to meditate it grew blacker than ever.
"Hang me, if everything ain't going wrong," he muttered. "I won't stand it. I'll make a kick, and when I do——" He paused as a shadow among the trees caught his eye. "Who goes there?" he called out and drew his pistol.
"A friend. Tucker, is that you?"
"Vorlange!" cried the cavalryman, and the next moment the newcomer and the military man were face to face.
"It's about time you showed up," growled Tucker, after a brief pause, during which the newcomer looked at him anxiously. "Say, Vorlange, when do you intend to settle up with me. Give it to me straight, now."
"That's why I left the trail to hunt you up, Tucker—I knew you were anxious about that five hundred dollars."
"Why shouldn't I be? It took me a long time to save it—a good sight longer than it did for you to gamble it away."
"Tucker, I didn't gamble that away—I'll swear it. I used it in business."
"Business? What business have you got outside of your position as a land office spy?"
"A good business, if you only knew it. I've been following up a little deal that started in the East—in New York. Out there I had to hire a fellow I could trust to work for me, and that took most of the money. But the whole thing is coming my way now, and I want to talk things over with you. How would you like to have a thousand back in return for the five hundred you loaned me?"
"What sort of a game are you working on me now?"
"A square deal, Tucker. I've been keeping my eye on you, and I reckon you are the fellow to do what I want done."
"And what do you want done?"
Vorlange stepped closer.
"The boomers are going to try to cross into Oklahoma either to-morrow or day after. There will be a fight, I am certain of it, and somebody will be shot and killed. When you fire I want you to pick out your man—two men—or, rather, a man and a boy, if you can do it. I may be on hand to take part myself, but there is a possibility that I may be ordered elsewhere."
"And you are willing to pay me five hundred extra for picking out my target, Vorlange?"
"You've struck it."
"Who is the man?"
"Can I trust you?"
At the mention of the great scout's name Tucker started back.
"Why—why do you want him knocked over?"
"He is my enemy. I have hated him from my boyhood!" cried Louis Vorlange. "And there are other reasons—he stands in the way of my pushing the scheme I mentioned."
"Pawnee Brown was here but a short while ago. He insulted and abused me," growled Tucker. "I'll put a bullet through him quick enough if I get the chance—that is, in a skirmish. I don't want to run any risk of being strung up for—you know."
"The shooting will be O. K., Tucker, and I'll help if I'm not ordered away. Do it and the five hundred extra are yours, I'll give you my word."
"What about that boy you mentioned?"
"His name is Dick Arbuckle. He is——"
"Dick Arbuckle? I know him. He stole my horse. I captured him and Pawnee Brown came to his rescue and made me, Ross and Skimmy give him up," and Tucker gave the particulars in his own version of the affair.
"Then you bear the lad no love?"
"Love?" The cavalryman grated his teeth. "I was wishing I could get a shot at him."
"Then keep that wish in mind, Tucker, when the time for action arrives."
"If it's worth five hundred to you to have Pawnee Brown knocked over it ought to be worth more to have both of 'em laid low," suggested Tucker, who was naturally a grasping fellow.
"Five hundred in cold cash is a good deal in these times," was the slow answer. "But I'll tell you what I'll do. If, after a fight, you can bring me absolute proof that Pawnee Brown and Dick Arbuckle are dead I'll give you an even twelve hundred dollars, the five hundred I borrowed and seven hundred extra. There's my hand on it. What do you say?"
"Will you promise to give me the money as soon as you have the proofs?"
"I will," and Louis Vorlange raised his right hand as though to make good such a blasphemous promise.
"All right, then; I take you up," answered Tucker.
"Don't you take it so hard, my lad; I feel certain that your father will turn up sooner or later."
It was Pawnee Brown who spoke. He addressed Dick, who sat on a horse belonging to Jack Rasco. The pair had been scouring the plains and the woods for three hours in search of Dick's father.
"Poor father! If only I knew what had become of him!" sighed the lad.
In his anxiety he had forgotten all about his adventures among the cavalrymen who had sought to detain him as a horse thief.
"It's a mystery, thet's what it is," burst in Jack Rasco.
"It looks loike the hivens hed opened an' swalleyed him up," was Mike Delaney's comment. "Be jabbers, we all know th' hivens was wide open enough last noight. Me turn-out is afther standin' in two foot o' wather, an' Rosy raisin' the mischief because she can't go out. 'Moike,' sez she, 'Moike Delaney, git a boat or Oi'll be drowned,' an' niver a boat in sight. Th' ould woman will have to shtay in the wagon till the wather runs off of itself."
"I wonder if it is possible my poor father wandered into town," mused Dick. "Perhaps he did that and was locked up by the police. He is—well, you know he gets strange spells," and the youth's face flushed.
"Run into town, lad, and make a search," answered the boomer. "If I and Rasco get the chance we'll follow. We shan't strike camp for several hours yet."
Dick thought this good advice and was soon on his way. The rain had stopped entirely and the sun was just peeping up over the distant plains when he entered Arkansas City and began his hunt.
A visit to the police station speedily revealed the fact that nothing was known there concerning his missing parent. Here Dick left a description of his father, and was promised that if anything was discovered of the man word would be sent to him immediately.
Having ridden around to the depot, hotels and other public places, Dick tied up his steed and began a hunt through the various streets, looking into the doors of the stores and saloons as he passed.
His footsteps soon brought him down to the vicinity of the river front. Here, situated along several blocks, were a number of eating and drinking houses, patronized principally by river men, gamblers and similar persons.
Having satisfied himself, with a sigh of relief, that his father was not in any of the saloons, the youth came to a halt in front of a restaurant. He had not eaten anything since the evening before, and his night of adventures had made him decidedly hungry.
"I'll get a cup of coffee and some rolls to brace me up," he thought, and entered the establishment. His order was soon given, and he took a seat at a side table, close to a thin board partition.
His order served, he was disposing of the last of it, when the sound of voices on the other side of the partition attracted his attention.
"Leave me alone, Juan Donomez!" came in the voice of a girl. "You have no right to touch me."
"You are too pretty to be left alone," came in the slick tones of a Mexican vaquero. "Come, now, senorita, give me just one kiss."
"I will not, and you must leave me alone," went on the girl, and her trembling voice showed plainly that she was much frightened. "Where is the man who sent for me?"
"He is not here yet."
"I do not believe he sent for me at all. It was a trick of yours to get me here. Let me go."
"Not yet, senorita; you can go after a while. But first you must give me a kiss. Then I will explain why I had you come."
As the last words were uttered Dick heard a scurry of feet, then came a faint scream, cut short by the Mexican. The boy waited to hear no more.
"The contemptible greaser!" he muttered and leaped up. Throwing down the amount of his check on the cashier's desk he hurried from the restaurant. As he had supposed there was a hallway next door, where the talking he had overheard was taking place.
"Oh, save me!" cried the girl, and one glance at her told Dick that she was not over sixteen and as beautiful as any maiden he had ever seen. She was attired in true western style and wore on her mass of shining curls a big, soft riding hat.
"Let that young lady alone," cried the youth to the Mexican, who glared at him savagely. "I overheard your talk, and if she wants to leave she shall do it."
"Oh, thank you for coming to my aid," burst out the girl gratefully. "This bad man——"
"Say no more, Nellie Winthrop," interrupted the Mexican. "Go to the rear. I will attend to this cub who dares to interfere with my business."
And he shoved the girl behind him. His roughness made Dick's blood boil over, and, rushing forward, he put out his foot, gave a push, and Juan Donomez measured his length upon the floor.
During the encounter Nellie Winthrop had escaped to the front end of the hallway, and here Dick now joined her.
"We might as well go," said the youth.
"Yes, yes; let us get out as quickly as we can," answered the girl trembling. "He may attempt to attack you."
"I ought to hand him over to the authorities, but I won't," said Dick. "Come," and he opened the door and followed her to the street.
"I shall never forget you for your kindness," the girl burst out as soon as they had left the vicinity of the spot where the trouble had occurred. "You are very brave, Mr.——"
"I'm only Dick Arbuckle, Miss——"
"Nellie Winthrop is my name. I just reached Arkansas City yesterday. I am from Peoria, and am looking for my uncle, who is somewhere among the Oklahoma boomers."
"Indeed! I'm one of the boomers myself—at least, I've been with them a good part of the time. Perhaps I know your uncle. What is his name?"
"John Rasco, but I believe the men all call him Jack Rasco."
"Why, is it possible! I know Jack Rasco well—in fact, my father and I have been stopping with him ever since we came on from New York. As soon as the rush into Oklahoma was over my father was going to get your uncle to locate a certain mine claim in the West for him—a claim that belongs to us, but which can't be located very easily, it seems."
"And where is my uncle now?" demanded Nellie Winthrop.
"At the boomers' camp, I suppose. You see," went on Dick, his face falling, "there is something wrong afoot." And in a few words he told of his father's disappearance and of the search being made to find him.
"I sincerely trust he is safe," said Nellie when he had concluded. "I presume you want to resume your search. Do not let me detain you. If you are among the boomers we will certainly meet again," and she held out her hand.
"Do you feel safe enough to find the camp alone?" he asked. "Perhaps I had better take you there. It is about a mile in that direction," and he indicated the locality with a wave of his hand.
"I feel safe enough in the open air," she smiled. "It was only when that Mexican had me cornered in a dark hallway that I felt alarmed. I was born and brought up on the plains, and I've been to Peoria only to get educated, as they say. I've a horse at the livery stable, and I can ride the distance."
"May I ask how you fell in with that greaser?"
"I think he overheard me asking for my uncle at the hotel, and after that he sent a note saying my uncle was at the place where you found me. I saw him first on the train, where he tried his best to get some information from me about some horses. But I told him little," concluded the girl.
Five minutes later they parted at the livery stable, where Nellie had left her horse, and Dick went on his way to continue his search for his lost parent. The girl had thanked him again for what he had done and had squeezed his hand so warmly that his heart thumped pretty hard, while his face was flushed more than ever before.
OUT ON THE RIVER.
For over half an hour longer Dick tramped the streets of the city looking for some trace of his father.
Presently he found himself down by the docks along the muddy river. The stream was much swollen, and the few boats tied up were bumping freely against the shore as the current swung them in.
"I wonder if father could have come down here?" he mused. "He had a great fondness for the water when he got those strange spells."
Slowly and with eyes wide open he moved down the river shore, ready to seize upon any evidence which might present itself.
Suddenly he uttered a cry and leaped down into a rowboat lying before, him.
"Father's hat! I'd know it among a thousand!"
Dick was right. There on the stern seat of the craft rested the head-covering Mortimer Arbuckle had worn ever since he had left New York.
The tears stood in the youth's eyes as he picked up the hat and inspected it. One side of the brim was covered with dirt, and it was still soaked from the rain.
"Poor father! Is it possible he fell overboard?"
Dick said "fell overboard," but he thought something else. He knew as well as anybody that his father did strange things while under the influence of the melancholy spells which at times haunted him.
He looked up and down the stream. Nothing was in sight but the boats and here and there a mass of driftwood.
He sat down on the seat and covered his face with his hands.
"Say, boy, wot yer doin' in my boat?"
It was a burly fellow standing upon the shore who asked the question.
"Excuse me; I am looking for my father, who is missing. I just found his hat on the seat here. Did you see anything of him?"
"Missing, eh—an' thet's his headgear? Say, boy, thet's no laughin' matter," and the burly fellow looked at the youth kindly.
"I know it. I am afraid he tumbled overboard. He had times when he wasn't feeling quite right in his head."
The burly individual whistled softly to himself. "Then I reckon Sary was right, arter all," he half mused.
"Sary? Who do you mean?"
"Sary's my wife. She woke me up about five o'clock this mornin'. We live up in the shanty yonder. Sary said she heard somebody moanin' an' yellin' down here. I said she wuz dreamin', but I allow now ez I might hev been mistook, eh?"
"You didn't come out to investigate?"
"No; it war too stormy. I listened, but there wuz no more of the noise arter Sary waked me up. If yer father fell overboard I'm mighty sorry fer yer. If he did go over his body must be a long way down stream by this time."
"Poor father!" It was all Dick could say. He and his parent had been alone in the wide world, and now to think that his only relative was gone was almost beyond endurance.
"Take the boat and go down if yer want to," went on the burly individual. "Ye can leave the craft at Woolley's mill. I'd go along, only the old woman's took sick an' I've got to hustle fer a doctor."
"I will take a look around in the boat," answered Dick, and, having procured the oars, he set off. The current was so strong it was not necessary to use the blades, and he had all he could do to keep the craft from spinning around and dashing itself against the shore or the other boats which lay along both banks.
On and on the rowboat sped, until about a quarter of a mile had been covered. Nothing unusual had yet been noted, yet the boy kept his eyes strained for some sign of his father, praying inwardly that all might still be well with the only one who was left to him.
"If father is dead, what shall I do?" he thought with a shiver. "He had all of our money with him, all of those precious papers, everything. I would be left a pauper, and, worse than that, without a single relative in the wide world. Oh, pray Heaven he is spared to me!"
"Look out there, youngster!"
It was a wild cry, coming from a bend in the stream. Dick had been gazing across the river. Now he turned to behold his craft rushing swiftly toward the trunk of a half-submerged tree which the storm had torn away from the shore.
The river was almost a torrent at this place.
He grasped the oars, intending to turn the boat from its mad course. But the action came too late. Crash! The craft struck a sharp branch of the tree with fearful force, staving in the bow completely, and the next instant the boy was hurled headlong into the boiling and foaming current.
EXPOSING A SWINDLER.
It was less than an hour after separating from Dick Arbuckle that Pawnee Brown found his way to Arkansas City.
He was accompanied by Jack Rasco and Cal Clemmer, and the great scout's object was not alone to aid Dick in the search for Mortimer Arbuckle, but also to help Cal Clemmer get back some money out of which the cowboy boomer claimed he had been swindled.
Clemmer had played cards with a certain sharp known as Pete Stillwater, and lost two hundred and fifty dollars. At first he had imagined he had lost it fairly enough, but after thoughts, coupled with what he heard on the sly the next day, made him certain that Stillwater had cheated him.
He had brought his case to Pawnee Brown, and the leader of the boomers at once concluded that the gambler had not acted fairly. He had met Stillwater at Wichita, where the gambler's reputation was far from savory.
"You were a fool to bet at cards, Cal," he said flatly. "But that is no reason why Stillwater should cheat you. I'll do what I can, but you must promise to leave playing for high stakes alone in the future."
"Don't yer fear, Pawnee," was Clemmer's ready reply. "A scorched Injun keeps hez distance from the blaze, don't he? Wall, I'm the scorched Injun in this air case. Git back my money fer me an' I won't play nothin' higher then penny-ante ez long ez I live."
The gambling resort at which Stillwater was holding forth was soon reached, and the three entered, to find the place comfortably crowded by boomers, men-about-town, cowboys and gamblers, all anxious to add to their wealth without working. As Pawnee Brown surveyed the assemblage his lip curled with a sarcasm which was by no means displaced.
"Poor fools!" he thought; "they expect to win, and nine-tenths of them are bound in the end to be fleeced out of all they possess. Why men who have brains will throw away good money in this fashion is more than I can understand."
"Thar's Stillwater," whispered Cal Clemmer. "Hang hez hide, I'd like ter wring hez neck fer him."
"Better wring his money bag first," smiled Pawnee Brown.
Without hesitation he called Stillwater outside and explained the situation.
"You can say what you please, Stillwater," he said. "I am certain you have been cheating, for I know your past record. You must restore that money and do it right away."
A stormy war of words followed, but Pawnee Brown was firm and at last Stillwater gave up about a hundred dollars—all he had with him.
He went off vowing vengeance and when at a safe distance turned and drew a pistol from his pocket.
"He's going to shoot ye!" cried one of the boomers, but Stillwater was afraid to fire. As Pawnee Brown started after him on a run the gambler fled toward the river.
"Let us go after him!" cried one of the others, and away they went. Soon they came in sight of the river and saw Stillwater in a small craft, sculling his way to the opposite shore. Presently a bend in the stream hid him from view.
"Hullo!" sang out Pawnee Brown. "Here comes another rowboat, and—yes, there is Dick Arbuckle in it. What can he be doing on the river?"
"The boat is makin' fer thet half-sunk tree!" interrupted Cal Clemmer. "He'll strike ef he don't look out! Heavens!"
"Look out there, youngster!" yelled Pawnee Brown, and those were the words which attracted Dick's attention, as mentioned in the former chapter.
It was useless to say more. Standing upon the bank, Pawnee Brown and the cowboy boomer saw the craft strike and go to pieces and saw Dick thrown out into the madly rushing current.
As the boy sped along his head came into painful contact with the furthest of the tree branches, and he was partially stunned. His eyes closed and he struck out wildly and ineffectually.
"He'll be drowned!" gasped Clemmer. "It would take a strong swimmer to gain the bank with the water runnin' ez it is to-day."
"I don't believe he could catch a rope," answered Pawnee Brown, starting off down the river bank. "Cal, hunt one up somewhere; I'm going in after him!"
"But the risk——"
"Never mind the risk. Get the rope if you can," and away went the scout again.
"Help!" came faintly from Dick. He was dazed and weak, and could hardly see in what direction the shore really was.
"Keep up, boy, and we'll save you!" shouted Pawnee Brown encouragingly.
Reaching a spot twenty or thirty feet below where Dick was drifting, he threw off his hat and coat and leaped into the stream.
Down he went over his head, to come up a second later and strike out powerfully for the youth. The cold water chilled him, but to this he paid no attention. He had taken a fancy to Dick, and was resolved to save the boy at any cost.
Nearer and nearer he came. It was a tough struggle, for in the bend of the swollen stream the water boiled and foamed upon all sides. He was yet ten feet away from Dick, when he saw the youth sink beneath the surface.
"Gone!" he thought, and made a leap and a dive. His outstretched hand came in contact with Dick's left arm, and he dragged his burden upward.
"Keep cool, Dick," he said when he could speak. "Can't you swim?"
"Yes, but not extra well," panted the half-drowned lad. "I struck my head upon something."
"Then lay hold of my shoulder and I'll keep you up. Steady, now, or the current will send us around like two tops."
No more was said, as both felt they must save their breath. With Dick clinging loosely, so as not to hinder his swimming, Pawnee Brown struck out for the shore.
It was perilous work, for other trees and obstructions were upon every hand, and more than once both were torn and scratched as they sped by in what was little short of a whirlpool.
"Catch the rope!" suddenly came from Clemmer, and a noose whizzed in the air and fell close beside the pair. Both Pawnee Brown and Dick did as requested, and the cowboy boomer began to haul in with all the strength at his command. It was hard work, but Clemmer was equal to it, and presently those in the water came close enough to gain a footing, and then the peril was over.
Dick's story was soon told, to which the great scout added that of his own.
"I shall not attempt to follow up Stillwater," Pawnee Brown concluded. "It is high time I got back to camp, for let me tell you, privately, we move westward to-day. You may continue the hunt for your father or come with me, just as you choose. It is possible you may find some trace of him around here, but it is doubtful to me, after such a storm. It's hard lines, boy, but cheer up; things may not be as bad as you imagine," and he laid a dripping but affectionate arm upon Dick's shoulder.
"I will stay here for a while, at least," answered Dick. "But—but I am without a cent, and——"
"How much do you want, Dick?" and Pawnee Brown's pocketbook came out without delay.
"If you will lend me ten dollars——"
"Here are twenty. When you want more let me know. Now, goodbye, and good luck to you."
And the next minute Pawnee Brown and Clemmer were gone. Dick watched them out of sight and a warm feeling went over his heart.
"The major is as generous as he is brave," he murmured. "He is one scout of a thousand. No wonder all the boomers asked him to lead them in this expedition."
Ten minutes later Dick was drying himself at the fire in a house near by. Hearing his tale of misfortune, the man who took him in insisted upon treating him to some hot coffee, which did a good bit toward making him feel once more like himself.
"It may be a wild-goose chase, but I can't give it up," he muttered as he continued his search by walking along the river bank. "Poor father, where can he be?"
The outskirts of the city had been left behind and he was making his way through a tangle of brush and over shelving rocks. A bend was passed and he gave a wild cry.
And small wonder. There on the river bank lay the motionless form of his parent, dripping yet with the water of the river. The eyes were closed as if in death. With a moan Dick threw himself forward and caught one of the cold hands within his own. Then he placed his ear to his parent's heart.
"Too late! He is gone!" he wailed. "Poor, poor father, dead after all! Oh, if only I had died with you!" and he sank back utterly overcome.
MIKE AND THE MULES.
"We move in an hour!"
This was the word which was whispered about the boomers' camp shortly after Pawnee Brown's arrival.
The great scout had found it out of the question to attempt to enter the Indian Territory in a direct route from Arkansas City. The government troops were watching the trail, and the soldiers were backed up by the cattle kings' helpers, who would do all in their power to harass the pioneers and make them turn back.
Many a man would have gone ahead with a rush, but Pawnee Brown knew better than to do this. If he was brave, he was also cautious.
"A rush now would mean people killed, horses shot down or poisoned, wagons ditched, harnesses cut up and a thousand and one other disasters," he said. "We must beat the cattle kings at their own game. We will move westward to Honnewell either this afternoon or tonight. Get ready to go on whenever the signal is passed."
"But vot goot vill it do to vait by Honnvell?" questioned Carl Humpendinck, a German boomer.
"We'll not wait very long there," answered Pawnee Brown.
So the word went around that the boomers would move in an hour. This was not actually true, but it was necessary to spread some report of this kind in order to make the slow ones hustle. If left to themselves these few would not have gotten ready in two days.
"It's a move we are afther makin' at last, is it?" burst out Rosy Delaney when Mike brought the news. "Sure, an' Oi'm ready, Moike Delaney, but how are ye to git this wagon out av thet bog hole, Oi dunno."
"Oi'll borry a horse," answered Mike. "It's Jack Rasco will lind me the same."
Mike ran around to where Jack Rasco was in earnest conversation with a stranger who had just come in from town. The stranger had brought a letter from Nellie Winthrop, posted two days before, and saying when she would arrive. The letter caused Rasco not a little worry, as so far the girl had failed to appear.
"I haven't any horse to spare just now, Mike," he said; "but hold on, you can have Billy, the mule, if you wish."
There was a little twinkle in his eyes as he spoke, but Mike didn't see the twinkle and readily accepted the mule and led him over to where his own turn-out stood.
"Moike Delaney, phot kind av a horse do yez call that?" demanded Rosy.
"It's a mule, ye ignoramus," he answered. "An' a good puller, I'll bet me whiskers. Just wait till Oi hitch him beside the tame."
Billy was soon hitched up as Mike desired, and the Irishman proceeded to urge him forward with his short whip.
It was then the fun began. Billy did not appreciate being called upon to do extra work. Instead of pulling, he simply turned around, tangling up and breaking the harness, and began to kick up the black prairie dirt with both hind hoofs.
"Oh, the villain!" spluttered Rosy Delaney, who received the first installment of dirt full in her eyes and mouth. "Moike Delaney, ye made him do that a-purpose!" and she shook her fist at her husband. "Ye bould, bad mon!"
"Oi did not," he ejaculated. "Git back there, ye baste!" he added, and tried to hit Billy with his whip. The knowing mule dodged and, turning swiftly, planted a hoof in Mike's stomach so slickly that the Irishman went heels over head into a nearby puddle.
A shout arose from those standing near.
"Score one round for the mule!"
"Mike, thet summersault war good enough fer a show. Better jine the circus!"
"Oi'll show the mule!" yelled Mike, and rushed in again. But once more Billy turned and got out of the way, and this time he caught the seat of Mike's trousers between his teeth and lifted the frightened man six feet from the ground.
"Don't! Let me down! Somebody save me!" yelled the terrorized son of Erin. "Rosy! Clemmer! Rasco! Hit him! Shoot him! Make him let go av me! Oi'll be kilt entoirely!"
Outsiders were too much amused to help Mike, but Rosy came to the rescue with a woman's best weapon—a rolling-pin, one she occasionally used in making pies for the family when in camp. Whizz! came the rolling-pin through the air, hitting Billy on the ear. The mule gave a short snort, broke what remained of the harness and scampered off to make a complete circuit of the camp and then fall into his regular place near Jack Rasco's turn-out.
"Want him some more?" asked Jack, who had seen the fun, and was compelled to laugh, in spite of his worry.
"Want him some more, is it?" growled Mike. "Not fer a thousand dollars, Rasco! Yez kin kape the mule, an' be hanged to yez!" and he stalked off to borrow a horse that was warranted to be gentle under the most trying of circumstances.
In the meantime Pawnee Brown was completing his arrangements for moving to Honnewell and then to enter the promised land by way of Bitter Creek and the Secaspie River. Scouts sent out to watch had reported that the cavalry were watching every movement closely, but Pawnee Brown did not dream that Louis Vorlange had overheard what was said at a meeting in the woods, or that this scoundrel had hired Tucker, the cavalryman, to shoot down both himself and Dick Arbuckle.
Presently Jack Rasco found his way to the scout's side.
"Pawnee, if you can spare a little time I would like your advice," he said, and mentioned the letter from Nellie Winthrop. "It's mighty strange the gal don't turn up, ain't it?"
"Perhaps so; but she may have been detained," answered the scout.
At this Rasco shook his head. The bearer of the letter had seen Nellie's name on the hotel register. Something was wrong, he felt sure of it. The letter had contained Nellie's photograph, and he showed it to Pawnee Brown as he asked for permission to leave his work of assisting the boomers to be prepared for a moving in order to pay Arkansas City another visit.
"Go on, Jack. You're my right-hand man, but I'll manage somehow without you," answered the great scout. "A pretty niece for any man to have," and he handed back the photograph, after a somewhat close inspection. Two minutes later found Jack Rasco on his way, to encounter adventures of which he had never imagined.
"A note for you, Pawnee." It was one of the scouts sent out that morning who spoke as he rode up. Pawnee Brown read the communication with interest.
"Come up to the ravine back of Honnewell as soon as possible," ran the note. "I think the cavalry are up to some new dodge, or else the cattle men are going to play us foul. Urgent. DAN GILBERT."
"I must away, boys!" cried Pawnee Brown, tearing up the note. "Be ready to move, but don't stir until you hear from me," and, giving a few more instructions, he borrowed a fresh horse from Carl Humpendinck and set off on a gallop of twelve miles across the country.
As he covered mile after mile, through woods and over stretches of broad prairie, he could not help but think of his racing mare, Bonnie Bird. How she would have enjoyed this outing, and how she would have covered this ground with her twinkling feet.
"I must find her and find the rascal who stole her!" he muttered. "I wouldn't take twenty thousand dollars for Bonnie," and he meant what he said. The little mare and the great scout were almost inseparable.
The afternoon sun was sinking low when Pawnee Brown struck the outskirts of Honnewell (spelled by some writers, Honeywell). Not caring to be seen in that town by the government agents, who might inform the cavalry that the boomers were moving in that direction, the scout took to a side trail, leading directly for the ravine mentioned in the letter.
Soon he was picking his way down a path covered with brush and loose stones. Upon either side were woods, and so thick no sunlight penetrated, making the spot gloomy and forbidding.
"Now, I suppose I'll have no picnic in finding Dan," he mused. "I'll give the signal."
The shrill cry of a night bird rang out upon the air, and Pawnee Brown listened attentively for a reply. None came, and he repeated the cry, with the same result.
"I'll have to push on a bit further," he thought, and was just about to urge forward his horse when a crashing on the opposite side of the ravine caught his ear. Instinctively he withdrew to the shelter of some brush to learn who the newcomer might be.
He was not kept long in waiting. The sounds came closer and closer, and presently a tall Indian came into view, astride a horse, and carrying an odd-looking burden in his arms.
"Yellow Elk!" almost burst from Pawnee Brown's lips. The Indian he mentioned was a well-known chief, a warrior noted for his many crimes, and a redskin whom the government agent had tried in vain to subdue.
The scout crouched back still further and drew his pistol, for he felt that Yellow Elk was on no lawful errand, and a meeting would most likely mean a fight. Then he made a discovery of still greater importance—to him.
"Bonnie Bird, as sure as shooting! So Yellow Elk is the horse thief. The rascal! I've a good mind to shoot him down where he sits!" He handled his pistol nervously. "What is that he is carrying, wrapped up in his blanket? Ha!"
A murmur of amazement could not now be suppressed. In shifting his burden from one shoulder to the other the Indian had allowed the blanket to fall partly back, and there was now revealed to Pawnee Brown the head and shoulders of a beautiful, but unconscious white girl. Nor was that all. The girl was—Nellie Winthrop!
MR. ARBUCKLE'S STORY.
"Father! father! speak to me! Tell me that you are not dead!"
Over and over again did poor Dick repeat these words as he sat by the side of that wet and motionless form on the muddy river bank. The boy's heart seemed to be breaking.
But suddenly there came a change. He saw one of his father's arms quiver. Then came a faint twitching of an eyelid.
"He is alive!" gasped Dick. The joy of the discovery nearly paralyzed him. "Father! father!"
No answer came back, indeed, it was not to be expected. Kneeling over his parent, Dick set to work to resuscitate the almost drowned man.
Fortunately the youth had, during his school days in New York, heard a lecture on what was best to do in just such a case, so he did not labor in ignorance. His treatment was as skillful as memory and his love for his parent could make it, and in less than half an hour he had the satisfaction of seeing his father give a gasp and open his eyes.
"Father, don't you know me?"
"Dick!" came the almost inaudible reply. "Where—where am I?"
"You are safe, father. You fell into the river and came near to drowning."
"Is that so? I did not know there was a river near here."
Mr. Arbuckle was silent for several minutes, during which Dick continued his work and made him as comfortable as possible by wrapping his parent in his own dry coat.
"Where is that rascal?"
"What rascal, father?"
"The man with the red mask—the fellow who struck me down?"
"I do not know. So you were struck down? Where?"
"Just outside of the boomers' camp. Somebody brought me word that Pawnee Brown wanted to see me privately. I went, and a rascal rushed on me and demanded my private papers. I resisted and he struck me down. I know no more than that," and Mr. Arbuckle gave another gasp. His eyes were open, but in them was that uncertain look which Dick had seen before, and which the lad so much dreaded.
"Why, you were struck down last night, father, and several miles from here. You must have come down to the river at a spot above here. Don't you remember that?"
Mortimer Arbuckle tried to think, then shook his head sadly.
"It's all a blur, Dick. You know my head is not as strong as it might be."
"Yes, yes; and you must not try to think too far. So he got your private papers?"
"The ones referring to that silver mine in Colorado?"
"Yes, and all of the others."
At this Dick could not help but groan. The papers were gone—those precious documents by which he and his father had hoped some day to become rich.
The history of the deeds to the silver mine was a curious one. Two years before Mortimer Arbuckle had paid a visit to Creede, Colorado, on business connected with a mining company then forming under the laws of the State of New York.
While in Creede the man had materially assisted an old miner named Burch, who was falling into the hands of a set of swindlers headed by a rascal called Captain Mull.
Mortimer Arbuckle had never met Captain Mull, but he had saved Burch's claim for him, for which the old miner was extremely grateful.
Over a year later Burch had died and left with another old miner the deeds to a new mine of great promise, deeds which had not yet been recorded.
The old miner had forwarded these papers, along with others of importance concerning the exact location of the claim, to Mortimer Arbuckle, and the gentleman had then begun preparations to go to the West and see if the claim was really as valuable as old Burch had imagined.
Dick was just out of school, and would not think of remaining behind, so it was arranged that father and son should go together.
A spell of sickness had detained the father several months. Before this, however, he had hired Jack Rasco to go to Creede with him and assist in locating the new claim.
As Mortimer Arbuckle failed to come West, Jack Rasco returned to the companionship of Pawnee Brown, for, as already stated, he considered himself the great boomer's right-hand man.
At last Mortimer Arbuckle had come on with Dick, to find Rasco had given his word to Pawnee Brown to stick with the boomers until the desired entrance into Oklahoma was effected.
"Yer will hev ter wait, Mr. Arbuckle," Jack had said. "I'm sorry, but I hev given my word ter Pawnee an' I wouldn't break it fer a cool million, thet's me."
"Let us go with the boomers!" Dick had returned enthusiastically. "It will be lots of fun, father, and it will give you a chance to get back your health before you tie yourself down to those silver mine schemes."
And rather against his wishes Mortimer Arbuckle had consented. Dick saw his father was in no mental condition to locate claims, form a new mining company, and do other labor of this sort, and trusted that the days to be spent with the boomers would make him much stronger in both body and mind.
"Do you think the robber thought of the deeds when he robbed you?" went on Dick, after a pause.
"I—I—don't know, Dick. It runs in my mind he spoke of the deeds, but I can't remember for certain."
"He took your money?"
"Every cent." Mortimer Arbuckle gave a groan. "We are now out here penniless, my son."
"No we are not, father. I asked Pawnee Brown for the loan of ten dollars and he gave me twenty, and said I could have more if I needed it."
"A good man—as generous as he is brave," murmured Mortimer Arbuckle. "Would the world had more of such fellows."
"Pawnee Brown and Jack Rasco are the best fellows in the world!" answered the youth. "But, come, let me carry you to yonder house, where you can get dry and also get something to eat."
He assisted his parent to his feet, then lifted the man to his back and started off. A backwoodsman saw him coming, and ran to meet him. Soon Mortimer Arbuckle was in the house and lying tucked in on a warm couch.
A relapse followed, coming almost immediately after father and son had exchanged stories and detail. In alarm Dick sent off the backwoodsman for a doctor. The medical man was half an hour in coming. After a thorough examination he looked grave.
"The man must be kept absolutely quiet," he said. "If you have been talking to him it has done him more harm than good. You had better go away and leave him among strangers."
In a further conversation Dick learned that the backwoodsman, Peter Day, and his wife were ready to take charge of the invalid for fair pay, and could be trusted to do their best, and it was arranged to leave Mr. Arbuckle at the house, while Dick returned to camp, hunted up Pawnee Brown and Jack Rasco and tried to get on the track of the man of the red mask.
"And if I ever get hold of him I'll—I'll—mash him," said Dick, and the look on his youthful but stern face told that he meant just what he said. The western idea of shooting had not yet entered his mind, but woe to Louis Vorlange if his villainy was once unmasked.
"Do not worry about me, father," said Dick taking his departure. "I will take care of myself, and I am sure that either Pawnee Brown, Jack Rasco or myself can get on the track of the rascal who robbed and struck you down."
"Be cautious, Dick," murmured the sick man. "Be cautious—for you are all the world to me!" and he kissed his son affectionately.
"Who could have attacked father?" he murmured, half aloud. "It was a dastardly thing to do. I must find out, even if I have to remain in the city. But who knows but what it was one of the boomers? Perhaps the man saw father had money and only asked about his papers to put him off the track. As a rule, the boomers are as honest as men can be, but there are several hang-dog faces among them."
Dick had covered a distance of half a mile and was within sight of the spot where he had been rescued by Pawnee Brown from a watery grave, when a murmur of voices broke upon his ear, coming from a thicket down by the river bank. The murmur grew louder and he paused to listen.
Suddenly two pistol shots rang out, followed by a cry of pain and rage. There was a brief silence, then came the words which made Dick's heart almost stop beating:
"Now I'll fix you for helping to run me out of town, Jack Rasco! I never forget my enemies!"
A STRANGE LETTER.
To return to Pawnee Brown at the time when he made the double discovery that Yellow Elk, the rascally Indian, was riding his stolen mare, Bonnie Bird, and had as his fair captive Nellie Winthrop, Jack Rasco's niece.
For the moment the great scout was nearly dum founded by the revelation. He had not met Yellow Elk for several months, and had imagined that the Indian chief was safe within the territorial reservation allotted to him and his tribe.
As Yellow Elk shifted his fair burden, Nellie Winthrop's eyes opened and she started up in alarm.
"Oh, you beast! Let me go!" she screamed faintly. She was about to say more, but Yellow Elk clapped a dirty hand over her mouth and silenced her.
"No speak more," he muttered in his broken English. "White girl speak too much."
"But—but where are you taking me? This is not the boomers' camp."
"We come to camp soon—girl in too much hurry," rejoined the wily redskin.
"I was told the camp was but a short distance out of town."
"Camp he move. Pawnee Brown not safe near big town," went on Yellow Elk.
"You're a good one for fairy tales," was the boomer's silent comment. He had withdrawn to the shelter of the thick brush and sat his steed like a statue, while his pistol was ready for use, with his forefinger upon the trigger.
"But—but—what happened to me?" went on Nellie, struggling to sit up, while Yellow Elk held her back.