For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 18

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"Well, this looks as if it was going to be a long-winded search."

"So it does, Ralph; but you must remember that a wild mustang who had been shut up in a corral for a couple of weeks will feel very much like stretching his legs when he gets out."

"We must have come at least eight miles."

"It's nearer ten."

"And we haven't seen the least sign of him."

"Oh, yes, we have; we discovered that trail."

"But we are not sure it was the mustang's."

"I take for granted that it was, for I do not believe any other pony passed this way since it rained."

The boys had not gone on straight ahead, but in a grand semicircle, until the footprints mentioned had been discovered. Now they were riding over a broad patch of prairie land, with a belt of timber to the north and another to the south.

"I wonder if there are any Indians in the vicinity," resumed Ralph, a while later. "I won't care to fall in with some of those Comanches who made it so hot for us at the cabin."

"Oh, they were chased a good many miles off, Ralph. Besides, they won't dare to show up here while they know that all of our best fighters are massing between Gonzales and San Antonio."

"I wonder how matters are going on at the front. I should think our army would march on Bexar without delay."

"They don't want to make an attack until they are strong enough to overcome General Cos's force. He may have considerable reinforcements by this time."

So the boys talked and rode until noon was passed. Both were now hungry, and coming to a pool in the prairie surrounded by mesquite-trees and bushes, they drew rein and tethered their ponies, and sat down to enjoy the midday meal they had brought along.

Pompey had packed for them a tempting hamper, and the boys remained over the repast rather longer than anticipated. The sun shone bright, and as there was no wind, the day was pleasant, even though late in the season.

"I suppose some day all this territory will be built up with towns and villages," remarked Dan, as he dug his knife-blade into the earth in a meditative way. "And when it is, I wonder if the boys of that generation will ever remember what a howling wilderness it was in our generation."

"A few will, but not many," laughed Ralph. "We are too much of a go-ahead people to do much looking back." The youngest Radbury leaped suddenly to his feet. "What's that, Dan?"

The brother sprang up also, and gave a searching glance in the direction Ralph pointed out.

"Unless I am greatly mistaken, it's the mustang."

"Just what I thought. He seems to be grazing just at the edge of the timber. How had we best get at him?"

The matter was talked over for several minutes, and they came to the conclusion to ride to the timber at some point below where the pony was grazing and then work up behind him.

"Then, if he bolts, it will be for the prairie," said Dan. "That will give me a chance to lasso him."

The timber was soon gained, and they skirted this with the silence of Indians until within a hundred yards of the white mustang. Then the older brother called another halt.

"Now you take the north side, and I'll keep to the south," said Dan. "Have you got your lasso ready?"

Ralph had, and it was decided that he should
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make the first throw, but not until Dan was prepared to make the second.

With great caution the two boys advanced to the point agreed upon. Then they rode out to where the lassoes could be used freely.

In the meantime the mustang was grazing peacefully, utterly unconscious of their presence in the vicinity. But now, as they drew still closer, he stopped cropping the grass and raised his head as if to listen.

"Throw!" cried Dan, and the lasso left Ralph's hand with a whizzing sound. A few seconds later Dan made his own cast.

As luck would have it, both landed over the mustangs head, but while Dans was drawn tight with great quickness, Ralph's remained loose, so that in a twinkle the mustang shook it off, and then of course the line tightened around Dan's lariat instead.

"Hold back!" yelled Dan, as he saw Ralph sit bewildered in the saddle. "Run off to the other side!"

The younger Radbury attempted to obey, but as quick as a flash the mustang turned and rushed forward, bringing the lasso around Ralph's own steed. Then came a snap of the lariat, and Ralph went down, with the mustang on top of him.

All this took scarcely more time than to describe it, and now Dan found himself holding the white mustang alone, with Ralph's lariat end entangled in his own. Then off went the wild animal, kicking and plunging in a desperate fashion, which even the tightened leather about his neck did not appear to hinder. His course was straight for the timber, and he went on dragging Dan's pony after him. It is true the pony might have held back, but he was not well broken for such a purpose, having participated in but few round-ups.

"Look out! You'll be killed!" yelled Ralph, as he struggled to get out from under his pony. The wind had been knocked out of him, but otherwise he was uninjured.

Dan scarcely heard him, so busy was he trying to bring the white mustang to a halt. Soon he disappeared into the timber, and then Ralph arose, mounted the pony once more, and came after him.

The white mustang did not enter the forest far before the lariat around his neck began to hurt him. He tried to circle around several trees, and thereby cut himself short to such an extent that he was in great danger of choking to death.

"Hold my pony!" shouted Dan to Ralph, and slipped to the ground. The free end of the lariat was passed around a tree and tied, and Dan sprang forward toward the white mustang, who was now acting as if ready to give up the battle.

"Easy now, easy," said Dan, soothingly, and watching his chance, he hopped up on the mustang's back. Immediately the animal bucked and plunged, trying his best to throw his rider. The lariat was depriving him of his wind, and of a sudden he stopped short and trembled, as if about to fall.

Not wishing to strangle the animal now he had caught him, Dan cried to Ralph to come up and help hobble the steed, that he might walk but not run. At the same time he continued to talk soothingly to the mustang and patted him on the neck. Then, fearing he would breathe his last if the lariat remained as it was, he drew his knife and cut the leather.

In a twinkle the whole manner of the mustang changed, and, before Ralph could reach his big brother's side, the steed was off like a streak of lightning, with Dan clinging fast to his neck. Over some low brush the pair went, and then under some tall pines and out of sight.

"Hi! hi!" cried Ralph, but Dan had too much to do to call back to him. On and on went the mustang, and the youth could neither stop him, nor did he dare try to leap to the ground, for fear of a kick from one of those flying hoofs. It was such a wild ride as Dan never forgot.

By instinct the white mustang seemed to know the best course to pursue, and went on where the trees were high branched and tolerably far apart. This was lucky for Dan, for had the limbs been low he must certainly have been knocked off and killed. He bent as low as he could.

"Go it, if you must," he thought, grimly. "You'll get tired some time. But I hope you don't go all the way to Bexar."

Fully two miles were covered, when the white mustang came out of the woods at the edge of a ravine. He ran like the wind until the very edge was reached, then stopped short all in an instant.

Dan was holding on with might and main, but no boy's grip could withstand such a shock, and up flew his body, and over the pony's head he sailed. Then he felt himself going downward, toward the bottom of the ravine. Some brush wood scratched his hands and face, there followed a great thump,—and then he knew no more.