For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 15

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To the boys at the ranch the days passed impatiently enough. But few settlers came that way, so that they were cut off almost entirely from communication with the outside world.

The puma skin had been brought in and cared for, and now they turned their attention to getting ready for the winter, which was close at hand.

One day, unable to stand it longer, Dan rode down to Gonzales for the news. He found the town bubbling over with joy because of the victory at Concepcion.

"They can't stand up against our men," said the storekeeper who was talking to Dan. "The Texans are brave and nearly all good shots, and they are fighting for their homes. The greasers, on the other hand, are lazy and unreliable, paid to do what they are doing, and consequently think of nothing but saving their own skin."

"Oh, I reckon some of them are patriotic enough," answered Dan. "But they are in the minority."

"How can they be patriotic, and follow such a man as Santa Anna, who is continually leading all Mexico by the nose? No, they are doing it for the pay, and nothing else."

At the post-office Dan found a brief letter from his father, stating that he was well, and that if no more fighting came off in the near future he would come home on a short visit. So far there had been no regular enlistments in the Texan army, and volunteers came and went pretty much as they pleased.

From the storekeeper Dan learned that several bands of Indians had been seen in the vicinity, moving to the west and north. Some were Comanches, and others friendly Caddos.

"Well, I don't mind the Caddos," thought the boy, "but I don't want to fall in with any more Comanches."

He had thought to go home that afternoon, or evening, as it is called in Texas, but, after learning about the Indians, resolved to remain in Gonzales all night and make the journey the first thing in the morning.

On the outskirts of Gonzales was the farm belonging to Henry Parker's father, and thither he went, satisfied that he would be sure of a warm welcome. He found Henry at home, and also Mrs. Parker, Mr. Parker being away on business.

"Why, of course you must stay," said Mrs. Parker. "I am glad to have company."

The balance of the day passed pleasantly, and after supper the young man and Dan took a stroll up into the town to learn if any later news had come in.

They had just gained the main street of the town when Dan saw before him a figure that looked familiar. He quickened his pace, and soon ranged up alongside of the man, who proved to be the half-breed, Hank Stiger.

Stiger was partly under the influence of liquor, or otherwise he would not have shown himself in Gonzales at that time, when the Indian raid was still fresh in the settlers minds. He glared angrily at Dan when he saw the boy.

"Stiger, I want to have a talk with you," said Dan, with more firmness than is usual in one of his age.

"What you want now?" demanded the halfbreed.

"I want to know what you have done with my father's papers."

"What papers do you mean?"

"The papers you stole from my father's cabin while we were out after the Indians."

"I was not near your house—I took no papers!' cried the half-breed, fiercely. "Who says so tells a lie."

"I know you did take them, and unless you give them up I will have you placed under arrest."

"Ha! don't you talk to Hank Stiger that way, or you will be sorry for it." The half-breed's hand stole under his coat, and he showed the handle of his hunting-knife. "Do you see dat?"

Dan sprang back, for he knew how treacherous the man before him could be. But now Henry Parker stepped up.

"None of that, Stiger," he said, sharply, and placed his hand on the handle of the pistol he carried in his belt.

"He wants to make trouble for me. He says I stole some papers," growled Hank Stiger, sullenly.

"And I guess he is right, too," returned Henry. "If I understand the matter, he has proof against you."

"Ha! did Big Foot tell—" Stiger broke off short, realising that he was exposing himself.

"Yes, Big Foot told me everything," said Dan. "And you must give up those papers, or take the consequence."

Hank Stiger's face grew as dark as a thunder cloud.

"I'll pay off that Injun for it!" he cried. "I knew he wasn't to be trusted, the skunk! But I ain't got no papers, never had 'em! This is a put-up job to get squar' on account o' that deer," he continued, trying to change the subject. "You got the deer, what more do you want?"

"I am not talking deer now,—I am asking for those papers,—and the other things which were stolen," resumed Dan, doggedly. "What have you done with them?

"Find out fer yourself!" growled Hank Stiger, and turning swiftly, he started on a run for the nearest corner.

"Stop! or I'll fire!" cried Henry Parker, as he drew his pistol, but before he could make up his mind whether or not he had a right to fire on the half-breed, Stiger was out of sight. Dan ran after him, and his friend joined in the chase.

Stiger's course was toward the river, and having reached this, he leaped into a canoe which was handy and began to paddle with all speed for the opposite shore. A large lumber-raft was lying in midstream, and this he kept as much as possible between himself and his pursuers.

"He's bound to get away if he can," observed Henry, as the pair gained the bank of the Guadalupe almost out of breath.

"Here is another canoe—let us follow him in that," replied Dan.

Henry was willing, and they were soon on the river. Dan could paddle well, and they made rapid progress around the raft and in the direction Hank Stiger was taking.

Reaching the opposite shore at a point some distance below Gonzales, the half-breed leaped into the bushes and made his way to a pine grove farther away from the bank. The pursuers followed him to the point of embarkation with ease, but here came to a halt.

"If it wasn't so dark we might follow his trail," observed Henry. "But I can't see a thing under the trees."

"Here it is," came from Dan, who was on his hands and knees. "He went into the pines. I'm going a bit farther," and he stalked off. Henry remained behind to fasten the canoe, that the current might not carry the craft off.

Dan had scarcely come up to the first row of pines when he saw something moving over to his left. Satisfied that it was Stiger, he sped in the direction. The half-breed saw him, and ran on.

"I've spotted him!" cried Dan to his friend. "Come on!"

"All right, I'm coming!" answered Henry.

On through the tall pines ran pursued and pursuers, until nearly quarter of a mile had been covered. Dan was in front, with Henry close behind.

"You are fools to follow me here!" roared Hank Stiger, as he came to a halt. "Take that for your foolishness."

"Hide! he is going to fire!" exclaimed Dan, but before either he or his friend could gain any shelter Hank Stiger discharged a pistol which he carried. The bullet missed Dan, but struck Henry Parker across the temple, and the young man went down, stunned and unconscious.

The unexpected turn of affairs made Dan's heart leap into his throat, and he felt how imprudent both had been to thus expose themselves in such an out of the way spot to a man in Stiger's condition. He drew his own pistol, but the half-breed knew enough to dart out of sight behind a thick clump of bushes.

"Henry, are you badly hurt?" questioned the boy, anxiously, but no reply came back, and running to Parker, he found the young man flat on his back and as still as death.

Never had Dan felt so badly as at this moment, for if his friend was dead he felt that he would be more or less responsible for the murder.

He bent down and made a closer examination, and as he did this Henry gave a deep shudder and opened his eyes for an instant.

"Thank God, he is alive!" burst from Dan's lips. Then, noticing the blood trickling from Henry's temple, he bound up the young man's forehead with his handkerchief.

In the meantime, Hank Stiger was making a détour, expecting to come up behind Dan and surprise him. He had drank just enough to be utterly reckless, and carried his pistol in his hand ready for another shot.

Providence saved Dan from the anticipated attack. While Stiger was still two rods off, the boy happened to turn and catch sight of him. His pistol was still in his hand, and, without stopping to think twice, he fired on the half-breed.

The effect of the shot was curious, and the feat performed would be hard to duplicate. The bullet from Dan's pistol struck the hammer of Stiger's weapon, and while the pistol exploded and the ball sank into the ground, the hammer was knocked off and hit the half-breed in the cheek, inflicting an ugly wound. The bullet itself, having hit the hammer, glanced downward and lodged in Stiger's leg, close to his half-bent knee. The man gave a howl of pain and then fell flat.

In a moment Dan was ready for a second shot, but it was not needed. Stiger's pistol was now useless, and as he could not stand up, because of the intense pain in his knee, handling his knife was out of the question. As he sat up, the boy faced him sternly.

"Up with your hands, Stiger," he said, sternly; and the hands went up, and Dan was master of the situation.