For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 16

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"What are you going to do with me?" asked Hank Stiger, after a moment of painful silence, during which Dan glanced toward Henry, to find his friend reviving rapidly,

"You'll find out later, Stiger. I can tell you one thing, you've gotten yourself in a pretty tight box."

"It wasn't my fault,—you forced the shooting," was the sullen response. "Why didn't you leave me alone from the start?"

"Because I am bound to have those papers and the other articles you stole, that's why."

"I took nothing, I swear it."

"Do you expect me to believe you,—after what has happened here, and after that affair of the deer?"

At this Stiger was silent. He wanted to get up and rush at Dan, despite the levelled pistol, but the wounded knee held him back. Had he been a full-blooded Indian he would have suffered in silence, but, being only a half-breed, and of poor Indian and white blood at that, he groaned dismally.

"Dan!" The cry came faintly from Henry, who had slowly raised himself. "Where—what—oh, I remember, now!" And he sank back again.

"It's all right, Henry; I've made Stiger a prisoner."

"A prisoner!" whined the half-breed. "Ain't I suffered enough already? My leg is somethin fearful!" and he groaned again.

"You brought it all on yourself, Stiger, so you need not complain to me."

"I didn't, you—"

"I won't listen to any more explanations. Throw your knife over here, and be careful you don't hit anybody with it."

The half-breed fumed and raved, but all to no purpose, and at last the knife came over, and was followed by the broken pistol.

"Now don't you dare to move," went on Dan, and then turned his attention to Henry. Not far away was a little brook flowing into the Guadalupe, and here Dan procured some water with which he bathed his friend's wound.

The departure from the town shore had been noted by several lumbermen, and, having heard the pistol-shots, several came over to learn if a fight was going on. By calling out, the lumbermen managed to locate our friends and soon came up to them. They listened to Dan's tale with close attention.

"We ought to go fer to string the half-breed up," was the comment of one of the woodsmen. "We've got enough trouble on hand without allowin' sech chaps to make more."

"Thet's jest the size on it," added another. "String him up on the spot."

But Dan would not countenance this, nor would Henry, who had now fully recovered, although the bullet had left an ugly scratch which he was bound to wear to the day of his death. Finally a compromise was made with Stiger, who offered to hobble down to the river, although scarcely able to walk. The threat to hang him had rendered the half-breed thoroughly sober.

The return to the town was made without incident, and at the local lockup Dan told his story, and it was decided to keep Stiger a prisoner for the time being. He was searched, and in one of his pockets was found some small silver trinkets, which Dan at once identified as belonging to his father. But no trace was there of the papers relating to the land grant.

"But these trinkets prove that Stiger was the thief," said Dan. "I would like you to keep him a prisoner until my father can come here and make a regular charge against him." And so the matter was allowed to rest. Stiger was in a rage, and vowed that he would surely get even with Dan some day.

When Henry Parker arrived home his mother was much alarmed to find that he had been shot. Yet beyond the shock the young man had suffered little, and after having the wound properly dressed he felt as well as ever.

"I might rather have gone off to the war," he grumbled. "Dan and I are getting all the fighting by staying at home."

It was hardly daybreak when Dan started to return to the ranch. He would not have gone back at all just then, only he knew Ralph would grow anxious if he did not return. As soon as he could arrange it, the youth had determined to ride over to where the army was encamped, to tell his parent of the encounter with Stiger, and learn if Mr. Radbury wished to take up the case.

Dan had not to take the trip alone, as two of the lumbermen were going up the Guadalupe on business. As yet only a small portion of the Texans had joined the army, many of the others having no idea that a regular revolution was at hand.

"It won't amount to shucks," said one of the lumbermen, as the three rode along the river trail. "We'll have a lot of meetings and a scrimmage or two, and then Santa Anna will come over with a big army, and our leaders won't dare to call their souls their own."

"I cannot agree with you," answered Dan. "Our folks have suffered too much to turn back now."

"But we ain't got no army,—only a lot o' farmers and rancheros, and blacklegs who have run away from the United States to escape justice. Mexico has a finely trained lot o' soldiers."

"Well, the United States didn't have any trained army at the opening of the Revolution," retorted Dan, warmly. "But we showed King George's men a thing or two before we got through with them."

"Well, if we do fight 'em and obtain our liberty, what then?" put in the second lumberman. "The politicians will run everything to suit themselves. We won't have any more rights than we have now."

"Never mind, I think matters will be a good deal better," answered Dan. "Anyway," he added, with a peculiar smile, "do you believe in giving up your arms?"

"Not much!" answered both lumbermen, promptly. "That's a fool law."

"Then what are you going to do, if the greasers demand your guns and pistols, as they demanded that cannon?"

This proved a clincher, and the lumbermen changed the subject. They were for peace, but it may be as well to state here that, in the end, they joined the army, and fought as nobly for liberty as did the average Texan soldier.

Before the journey was half over, it had begun to rain, and by the time the ranch home was reached, Dan and his companions were wet to the skin. As it still poured down steadily, the lumbermen were glad to avail themselves of the Radburys' offer to stay at the cabin for the balance of the day.

"Hurrah for our side!" cried Ralph, when told of the battle at the Mission Concepcion. "If they have a few more such fights, perhaps the Mexicans will wake up to the idea that we have some rights they are bound to respect."

He was glad to hear that Stiger had been jailed, and sorry that Henry Parker had been wounded. "Henry can make a charge even if father doesn't," he said.

Ralph and Pompey had had troubles of their own during Dan's brief absence. Two prize mustangs, not yet broken in, had gotten out of the corral near the cattle shed, and although the boy and the negro had managed to round up one of the steeds, the other had persisted in keeping just out of their reach.

"I tried to lasso him," said Ralph, "but I wasn't equal to it, and, of course, Pompey knows nothing of a lasso."

"Well, we can go after him when the storm clears away," answered Dan.

Pompey had prepared a substantial dinner, and the balance of the day passed off pleasantly enough. By morning the storm had cleared away, and the lumbermen took their departure. Then Dan procured a lasso, and he and Ralph mounted their steeds and set off on a search for the missing mustang, which was a beauty, and which Mr. Radbury prized very highly.

"He went off to the southwest," said Ralph, as the brothers rode away. "Of course, there is no telling how far he ran. I suppose it will be a good deal like looking for a needle in a haystack to locate him."

"Well, we can do our best, Ralph. I know father set a great store by that white pony. He was thinking of breaking him in for his own use."

"I know it, and that is why I tried so hard to capture him. But I can't get the hang of the lasso," and Ralph shook his head, for he had tried to land the loop over the mustang's head at least a score of times.

"You'll learn in time. It's more the knack of it than anything else. Come, let us hurry!" and Dan set off at a gallop. He was thinking altogether of the mustang, and never dreamed of the other odd adventure in store for him,—an adventure which was to make a soldier of him almost before he was aware.