The Boy Land Boomer/Chapter 14

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"That man is going to shoot Jack Rasco!"

Such was the thought which rushed into Dick Arbuckle's mind as he heard the fatal words spoken in the woods near the river bank.

He could not see either of the men, but he felt tolerably certain in his mind that Rasco's assailant was Stillwater, the gambler, who had been run out of Arkansas City by Pawnee Brown, Rasco, Clemmer and a dozen others.

"Would you kill me?" came in Rasco's voice. The boomer was concerned and was doing his best to gain time, in the hope that something would turn up to his advantage.

"Kill you?" sneered Stillwater. "Do you think I'm going to put up with the way I've been treated? Not much! I had a fine thing in Arkansas City—something worth a thousand a week to me, and you and your friends spoiled it all. I'm going to settle with you, and after that I shall hunt up Pawnee Brown and the rest and settle with them, also."

"You'll have your hands full a-settlin' with Pawnee."

"Bah! I am not afraid of him. He had me foul over to the Golden Pick, but I'll be careful when next we meet. But I'll not waste time with you here, Rasco. I've got you alone and dead men tell no tales."

"Alone?" Jack Rasco began to smile. "You're mistaken. Look behind you."

Stillwater started, but did not look back.

"That's an old dodge, Rasco, but you can't work it off on me. I have you alone and I'm going to end the business right here."

"Not yet!" cried a youthful voice behind Stillwater, and crash! down came a heavy stick, hitting the gambler squarely upon the head and sending him with a thud to the earth.

As Stillwater went down, Rasco leaped forward and came down upon him. But this movement was useless. The rascal was more than three-quarters knocked out and lay for several minutes helpless.

"I owe you one fer that, Dick Arbuckle!" cried Rasco, gratefully. "Yer came in the nick o' time!" Now the peril was over the boomer dropped back into his own peculiar manner of speech.

"I am glad I happened this way," returned Dick, as he drew a long breath. "Gosh! what a lot of excitement we are passing through out here! More than I experienced in all my life in New York."

"The West is the place fer stirrin' times, lad." Jack Rasco turned to his prostrate foe. "Wall, Stillwater, do yer think it war a trick now, tellin' yer ter look behind yer?"

The rascal answered with a groan.

"My head is split in two!" he cried. "Who struck me? What, that boy? I'll remember you, youngster, and some day——" He did not finish.

"I ain't done with yer yet, Stillwater," said Rasco. "You war goin ter shoot me. I reckon turn about is fair play, ain't it?"

"Would you—you shoot me—now?" faltered the card sharp. At the bottom of his heart he was a coward.

"Why not?"

"I wasn't going to do it, Rasco—I was only—only scaring you."

"Thet's a whopper—made outer the hull cloth, Stillwater. Yer war going ter shoot me—an' I'm a-goin' ter be jess as accommodatin'," and on the sly Rasco winked at Dick who was much relieved to think the boomer did not really intend to carry out his bloodthirsty design.

The face of Stillwater grew as white as a sheet and he trembled from head to foot.

"Don't! don't you do it! Let me off, and I'll give you all the money I have with me."

"It won't do, Stillwater."

"It's nearly a thousand dollars. Take every cent of it and let me go!"

The gambler fairly grovelled at Jack Rasco's feet. His horror of dying was something fearful to contemplate.

"I'll give yer one chance, Stillwater," said Rasco, in deep disgust, and at once the rascal's face took on a look of hope. "Yer ain't fit ter die, an' thet's why I say it. Promise ter let me an' my friends alone in the future."

"I promise."

"Promise ter give up cheatin' at cards. If yer don't, some day it will be the death of yer."

"I'll never cheat again."

"All right, I'll take yer at yer word. Now come on down to the river."

"What for?"

"You hev got ter swim across to the other side whar yer belong. Decent folks ain't a-goin' ter have yer over here."

Again Stillwater was much disturbed. But Jack Rasco was firm, and soon the trio were down by the water's edge. Still pale, the gambler plunged into the river and struck out for the opposite shore. It was a hard battle against that current, but presently Rasco and Dick saw him wade out at the other side. He shook his fist at them savagely, then disappeared like a flash into the woods.

"He'll not keep any of his promises," said Dick.

"Keep 'em? Yer didn't expect it o' thet viper, lad? No, he's an enemy to the death. But whar did yer come from, and have yer found out anything about yer poor father?"

Dick's story was soon told, to which Rasco listened with much interest.

"I don't believe a boomer would rob yer father," said he, reflectively. "Like as not it war somebody who followed yer from New York—some man as knew the value of them air minin' deeds."

"Well, I'll go back to camp and make a search, any way, Rasco. But what brought you here?"

"I'm lookin fer my niece, Nellie Winthrop."

And Rasco told of the letter received and of how Nellie was missing and no trace of her could be found anywhere. Dick was almost as much disturbed as Rasco, for he still carried in his mind a picture of the beautiful girl he had saved from Juan Donomez's insults.

"Can the Mexican have waylaid her?" he asked.

"Perhaps," said the man of the plains. "But I've hunted the city high and low."

A short while after the two found themselves in the town once more. Nellie had put up at the Commercial Hotel, and to this hostelry they made their way and entered the office.

"No news of the young lady," said the clerk in charge, who had been interviewed before. "I am quite certain she started for the boomers camp on horse back."

Rasco heaved a sigh.

"Might as well go back," he said to Dick, then as he saw the boy start he continued: "What's up? Do yer see anything of her?"

"No, Rasco. But look at that man, the fellow sitting down by the corner table in the reading room, he with the brown hat."

"I see him. What of him?"

"He's from New York—a fellow who used to come sneaking around father's office, trying to gather information about mining shares."

"Gee shoo, Dick! Yer don't mean it!" Jack Rasco was all attention instantly. "Maybe he's the rascal as knocked yer dad over?"

"Perhaps. If I— There is a man joining him."

"I've seen thet chap afore. 'Pears ter me he works fer the government."

"Do you know his name?"

"No. Wot's the other fellow's handle?"

"Dike Powell. He is known as a Wall street sharper. I wish I could hear what the two have to say to each other. Yet I don't want Dike Powell to see me."

"It's easy enough, lad. Thar's a window close to the table, an' it's open. We'll walk out on the veranda, and get under the opening. Come."

In a second more they were outside. Tiptoeing their way across the veranda, which was deserted, they soon found themselves close to the open window mentioned.

"And so that is settled," they heard the man from New York remark. "I am glad to hear it, Vorlange."

Vorlange! Dick started and so did Jack Rasco. The boy was trying to think where he had heard it before. Ah, he had it now. Many and many a time had he heard his parent murmur that name in his sleep, and the name was coupled with many other things, dreadful to remember. Surely there was some awful mystery here. What made his father mutter that name in his dreams, and why at such time was he talking of murder and hanging, and sobbing that he was innocent? A cold chill crept down the boy's backbone. Was the heart of that secret to be laid bare at last?