The Boy Land Boomer/Chapter 18
A CRY FROM THE DARKNESS
Let us return to Pawnee Brown, who, totally unconscious of the fact that Yellow Elk was creeping up behind him, stood beside the body of the dead wildcat, re-loading the empty revolver.
One of the chambers of the firearm had been loaded, when something about the pistol caused the great scout to examine it more closely. As he was doing this Yellow Elk advanced to within three feet of him and raised the tomahawk for the fatal blow.
At this terrible moment it must surely have been Providence which interfered in the boomer's behalf, for, totally unconscious of his peril, he would have done absolutely nothing to save himself. He bent over the pistol more closely.
"That trigger seems to catch," he thought, and threw the weapon up and fired it over his shoulder, just to test it.
The bullet did not pass within a yard of Yellow Elk, but the movement came so unexpectedly that the Indian chief was taken completely off his guard and dropped back as though actually shot. His cry of astonishment and fear lasted longer than did the pistol report, and Pawnee Brown swung around to confront him.
"Yellow Elk!" came from his lips, when whizz! the tomahawk left the redskin's hand and came swirling through the air directly for his head. He dropped like lightning, and the keen blade sank deeply into the tree behind him.
"Wough!" grunted the Indian when he saw how he had missed his mark. Then he levelled the pistol in his left hand at Pawnee Brown's head.
The great scout felt his position was still a trying one. His own shooter, though still in hand, was empty. He pointed it and started to back away to the tree behind him.
"Stop, or I kill! commanded Yellow Elk, but instead of complying, the scout took a flying leap to a safe shelter. Seeing this, Yellow Elk also lost no time in getting behind cover.
With the pistol loaded once more the boomer felt safer. He listened intently for some movement upon the part of his enemy, but none came. The Indian is a great hand at playing a waiting game and Yellow Elk was no exception to this rule.
"Well, if you can wait, so can I," thought Pawnee Brown and settled down with eyes and ears on the alert. He thought of Nellie Winthrop and of Rasco, and wondered what had become of uncle and niece. He did not want to wait, feeling it was important to get back to the boomers camp, but there was no help for it, and he remained where he was.
Fifteen minutes went by and no sound broke the stillness saving that of the water in the brook as it flowed down over a series of rocks. Then came the faint crack of a single dry twig over upon his left. He turned around and blazed away in that direction.
A fierce but suppressed exclamation in the Indian tongue followed, showing that Yellow Elk had been hit. How serious the Indian chief was injured there was no telling. It might be only a flesh wound, it might have been fatal and Yellow Elk might have died without further sound, and then again it might be only a ruse. Again Pawnee Brown paused to listen.
Thus another quarter of an hour was wasted. It must be confessed that the great scout's nerves were strung to the topmost tension. At any moment a shot might come which would end his life. It was ten times more trying than to stand up in line of battle, for the enemy could not be seen.
Again came the crack of a twig, but very faint, showing that the sound came from a distance. There followed a faint splash, some distance up the stream. Yellow Elk was retreating.
"I reckon I hit him pretty bad," mused Pawnee Brown. "But I'll go slow—it may be only a trick," and away he crawled as silently as a snail along the brook's bank.
Inside of the next half hour he had covered a territory of many yards on both sides of the brook. In one spot he had seen several drops of blood and the finger marks of a bloody hand. Yellow Elk, however, had completely disappeared.
"He is gone, and so is the trail," muttered the great scout at last. He spoke the truth. Further following of the Indian chief was just then out of the question.
"There is one thing to be thankful for," he mused. "I don't believe he captured Nellie Winthrop again after he left the cave. I wonder what has become of that girl?"
Bonnie Bird had wandered down the brook for a drink and instantly returned at her master's call. With something of a sigh at not having finished matters with Yellow Elk the boomer leaped once again into the saddle and turned back in the direction from whence he had come.
It was now growing dark, and the great scout felt that he must ere long return to the boomers camp and give the order necessary to start the long wagon train on its way westward to Honnewell. Little did he dream of what the government spy and the cavalrymen had discovered and how Jack Rasco had been taken prisoner.
It was a cry from a patch of woods to the northward, and straining his eyes he saw Cal Clemmer waving his sombrero toward him. Scout and cowboy boomer were soon together.
"Well, whar's Rasco and the gal?" were Clemmer's first words.
"Both gone—I don't know where, Cal. Where are the other boys?"
"Started back toward Honnewell; thet is, all but Dick Arbuckle. He's over ter yonder spring gittin' a drink o' water."
"I am sorry I failed to find the girl," said Pawnee Brown. "She must have wandered off in the woods and got lost. I am quite certain the Indians did not spot her again."
"Went off after his horse."
"Wot do yer advise us ter do—stay here?"
"I am afraid staying here will do no good, Cal. I must get back to camp and start the wagons up. I know they won't move a step unless I am personally there to give directions. The old boomers are all afraid of being fooled by some trick of the soldiers."
"Thet's so. Wall, if yer want me ter stay here I'll stay—otherwise I'll go back," concluded Clemmer.
Dick now came up, as anxious as Clemmer had been to know the news. His face grew very sober when he heard that Nellie had not been found.
"I wish I knew more of this territory—I'd go after her myself," he said, earnestly. "I hope you won't abandon the search?"
"Oh, no, lad; that is not my style. But I must get back to the camp first and start the train along. I'll be on this ground again by midnight."
"Then why can't I stay here? I am not afraid."
"Alone?" ejaculated Clemmer.
"Yes—if you want to join Pawnee."
"By gosh, but that boy's nervy fer a city chap!" cried the cowboy boomer, in admiration.
"Well, you know there's a girl in this, Cal," rejoined Pawnee Brown, dryly. "And I reckon she's a girl well worth going through fire and water for."
At this Dick blushed.
"I want to find out about Rasco, too," he hastened to say. "You know I was going through with him, and he was going to do some business for my father, later on."
The matter was talked over for several minutes, and it was at last decided that Dick should secrete himself in a thicket and stand watch there or close by until he heard from Pawnee Brown again.
"Be on your guard, boy, for enemies may be thick here," were the boomer's last words of caution. "Don't uncover to anybody until you are positive it is a friend."
"And here's a bite for yer," added Clemmer, handing out some rations he carried in a haversack. "You'll get mighty hungry ere the sun comes up again."
In a minute more the two horsemen were galloping away. Dick watched them until they were lost to view, then dropped to a sitting position on a flat rock in the centre of a clump of trees.
The youth's heart beat rather strongly. He was not used to this sort of thing. How different the prairies and woods were to the city streets and buildings.
"Lonesome isn't a name for it," he mused. "Puts me in mind of one vast cemetery—a gigantic Greenwood, only there aren't any monuments. What is that?"
There was a flutter and a whirl, and Dick grasped his pistol tighter. It was only a night-bird, starting up now that the sun was beginning to set.
Soon the woods and the prairies began to grow dark. The sun was lost to view behind tall trees which cast shadows of incalculable length. It grew colder, too, and he buttoned his light coat tightly about him.
To pass the time he began to eat some of the food left behind by Clemmer. It was not particularly appetizing, and in the city Dick might have passed it by for something better. But just then it tasted "just boss," to use Dick's own words. A bracing air and hunger are the best sauces in the world.
An hour had gone by, and all was dark, when Dick started up from a reverie into which he had fallen. What was that which had reached his ears from a distance? Was it a cry, or merely the moaning of the rising wind?
He listened. No, it was not the wind—it was a cry—a girl's voice—the voice of Nellie Winthrop!
"It is Nellie!" came from his set lips, and his face grew pale. Again came the cry, but this time more faintly.
From what direction had that cry for help proceeded? In vain the boy asked himself that question. He was not used to a life in the open and the rising wind was very deceptive.
"I must find her!" he gasped, leaping from the rocks. "I shan't remain here while she is in trouble."
He had no horse the men being unable to provide him with one when they had come together, but for this he did not care. He was resolved to aid the girl if such a thing were possible.
Away he went over the prairie at a rapid gait, in the direction from whence he imagined the cry had proceeded. Two hundred yards were covered and he came to a halt and listened. Not a sound broke the stillness, although he fancied he heard the hoof-strokes of a horse at a great distance.
Then he turned in another direction, and then another. It was all to no purpose. No trace of the girl could be found. He gave a groan.
"It's no use; she's gone and that is all there is to it Poor girl!"
With a sinking heart he set off to return to the spot from whence he had come. He advanced a dozen steps, then halted and stared about him.
Suddenly an awful truth burst upon him. He was lost among the brush!