The Boy Land Boomer/Chapter 17
THE MEETING IN THE WOODS.
After leaving Pawnee Brown, Jack Rasco followed the trail of his horse through a small grove of trees and along the upper bank of the very stream upon which the great scout encountered Yellow Elk.
"Blamed ef he didn't go further nor I expected muttered Rasco to himself as he trudged along. But the hoof-prints were now growing fresher and fresher, telling that the animal could not be far off.
The woods passed, he began ascending a small hill. At the top of this was a level patch, thickly overgrown with short brush.
He had just entered the brush when he heard a strange sound. He listened intently.
"Thet's a hoss in pain," he said to himself. "Too bad if the critter hez had a tumble an broke a leg! If that's—— By gum!"
Jack had stumbled upon a large opening directly in the midst of the brush. Before he could turn back the very soil beneath his feet gave way, and over and over he rolled down an incline of forty-five degrees, to bring up at last at the edge of a pool of black water and mud.
Fortunately he was not hurt, although the roll had dazed him and cut short his wind. As soon as he could he leaped to his feet and gazed around him.
The horse he had heard lay half in and half out of the mud. Its leg was caught between two rocks, and it was trying frantically to free itself. It was his own beast, and at once recognized him.
"Whoa there!" cried Rasco, and did all he could to soothe the animal. The horse appeared to understand that assistance was at hand, and became quiet, while Rasco quickly released the locked leg and the beast floundered up to a safe footing.
"Well, we're in a pocket, 'pears ter me," reflected the man of the plains as he gazed about him. On three sides the walls of the hole were very nearly perpendicular, on the fourth the slant was as previously stated, but here the soil was spongy and treacherous.
"Hang me ef I'm a-goin' ter stay here all day," muttered Rasco, after a view of the situation. "Come, boy, it's up thet slope or nuthin'," and he leaped on the horse's back and urged him forward on a run.
Twice did the horse try to ascend to the plain above and fail. Then Rasco urged him forward a third time. This time the beast balked and away went the man of the plains over his head.
Fortunately Rasco landed in a tolerably soft spot, otherwise his neck would surely have been broken. As it was, his head struck the root of a fallen tree, which had once stood upon the edge of the hole, and he rolled back near the pool all but senseless.
It was a quarter of an hour later before he felt like stirring again.
"Hang the hoss!" he murmured half aloud, yet, all told, he did not blame the animal so much for balking. "Couldn't do it, eh, boy?" he said, and the beast shook his mane knowingly.
"Git along alone, then!" went on Rasco, and struck the horse on the flank.
Away went the steed, and this time the top of the hole was gained without much difficulty.
"Now you're out, how am I ter make it?"
It was easy to ask this question, but not so easy to answer it. Rasco tried to run up the spongy incline and sank to his knees.
"Ain't no use; I'll try a new game," he growled.
Fortunately, Rasco was in the habit of carrying, in cowboy fashion, a lariat suspended from his belt. This he now unwound and with a dextrous throw caught the outer loop over a sturdy bush growing over one of the perpendicular sides of the opening.
Testing the lariat, to make certain it was firm, he began to ascend hand over hand. This was no light task, yet it was speedily accomplished, and with a sigh of relief he found himself safe once more.
But in the meantime the horse had trotted off, alarmed by a black snake in the long grass. Rasco saw this snake a minute later, but the reptile slunk out of sight before he could get a chance to dispatch it.
The trail of the horse led again back to the ravine, but not in the direction of the cave. Bound to secure the animal before rejoining Pawnee Brown, Rasco loped along in pursuit.
He was in the ravine, and had just caught sight of his steed once more, when he heard several pistol shots coming from a distance. These were the shots fired by Pawnee Brown at the wildcat. He listened intently, but no more shots followed, and being below the level of the surrounding country, he was unable to locate the discharge of firearms.
"Something is wrong somewhar," he mused. "Can thet be Pawnee shootin, or is it Dick an' the others?"
He secured the horse and began to ascend out of the ravine, when a murmur of voices broke upon his ears. One of the voices sounded familiar and he soon recognized it as that of Louis Vorlange.
Instantly dismounting, he tied his animal fast to a tree that the creature might not wander away again, and worked his way noiselessly through the brush. The voices came from a nearby clearing, and approaching, Rasco saw on horseback Louis Vorlange and half a dozen cavalrymen, among them Tucker, Ross and Skimmy, the trio who had sought to detain Dick as a horse thief.
"I feel certain they will come this way," one of the strange troopers was saying. "I saw at least two boomer spies along yonder ravine."
"They will come to Honnewell," answered Vorlange. "It may be that instead of making a rush they will try to sneak in during the night, one at a time."
"We'll be ready for 'em," muttered Tucker. "I know my meat," he added, significantly, to Vorlange, meaning that he had not forgotten the reward offered if, in a battle he should lay Pawnee Brown and Dick low. At the words Vorlange nodded.
"When will the reinforcements be up this way. asked Ross.
"I have already sent word to headquarters," answered Vorlange. The lieutenant is sure to respond without delay."
"Do you reckon the boomers know we are on hand to stop them?" questioned Skimmy.
"They know nothing," answered Vorlange. "If Pawnee Brown leads his men in this direction they will fall directly into a trap—if the lieutenant does as I have advised, and I think he will."
"I hope the boomers start to fight and give us a chance to wipe 'em out," muttered Ross.
"There will be a fight started, don't you fear," answered Vorlange.
The spy meant what he said. Too cowardly to meet Pawnee Brown face to face, he wanted to make sure that the great scout should be killed.
This would happen if a battle came off, for he felt sure Tucker would do exactly as he promised.
Vorlange had determined to be on hand. Secreted in a tree or elsewhere he could fire a dozen shots or so into the air, and this would arouse both cavalrymen and boomers to think that actual hostilities had already started, and then neither side would longer hold off.
"When will the boomers move?" was one of the cavalrymen's questions.
"They are waiting for Pawnee Brown," said the spy.
"Where is he?"
"Somewhere about the country."
"Can he be up here?"
"I—I think not.
"He's a slick one, Vorlange; remember that."
"I know it, but some men are slicker. Wait until this boom is busted and you'll never hear of Pawnee Brown again."
So the talk ran on. Rasco listened with much interest, forgetting the fact that he had promised to follow Pawnee Brown as soon as the stray-away horse was secured.
What he had heard surprised him greatly.
Many of the plans of the boomers, made in such secrecy, were known to the government authorities. The plan to move westward to Honnewell was known, and a passage through to Oklahoma from that direction was, consequently, out of the question.
"The boys must know of this," thought Rasco. "I must tell Clemmer and Gilbert before I try to hunt up Pawnee again, or go after Nellie. If there was a fight as Vorlange seems to think, there might be a hundred or more killed."
Having overheard all that he deemed necessary, the man of the plains started to retreat.
He had taken but a few steps when he found himself cut off from his horse.
Three additional cavalrymen were approaching from the thicket.
"Here's a horse tied up!" cried one. "Boys, whose animal is this?"
The call instantly attracted the attention of Vorlange and his companions. They turned toward the speaker, and now there remained nothing for Rasco to do but to run for it, and this he did at the top of his speed.
As long as he could he kept out of sight behind the bushes. But soon Tucker caught sight of him.
"Halt, or I'll fire!" came the command.
Tucker spoke first, and several others followed. As Rasco was now in plain view, and as each of the enemy had a firearm of some sort aimed at him, it would have been foolishness to have thus courted death, and the man of the plains halted.
"It is Jack Rasco!" cried Vorlange. "Boys, this is Pawnee Brown's right-hand man!"
"I know him!" growled Tucker. "Rasco, you're in a box now and don't you forget it. You've been spying on us."
"Make him a prisoner," said another of the cavalrymen, an under officer. "If he is a spy we'll have to take him back to the fort and turn him over to the captain."
A minute later Jack Rasco found himself a close prisoner. It was destined to be some time ere he again obtained his liberty. Thus were his chances of helping Pawnee Brown cut off.