The Boy Land Boomer/Chapter 2

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"If he fell down here he is dead beyond all doubt!"

Such were Dick Arbuckle's words as he tried in vain to pierce the gloom of the abyss by flashing around the smoky lantern.

"Gosh! I reckon you're right," answered Pumpkin in an awe-struck whisper. "It must be a thousand feet to the bottom of that hole!"

"If I had a rope I might lower myself," went on the youth, with quiet determination. "But without a rope——"

A pounding of hoof-strokes on the grassy trail below the rocks caused him to stop and listen attentively.

"Somebody is coming. I'll see if I can get help!" he cried, and ran down to the trail, swinging his lantern over his head as he went. In ten seconds a horseman burst into view, riding a beautiful racing steed. The newcomer was a well-known leader of the land boomers, who rejoiced in the name of Pawnee Brown.

"Ai! Pawnee Brown!" cried Dick, and at once the leader of the land boomers came to a halt.

"What is it, Arbuckle?" he asked kindly.

"My father is missing, and I have every reason to fear that he has tumbled into an opening at the summit of yonder rocks."

"That's bad, lad. Missing? Since when?"

Dick's story was soon told, and Pawnee Brown at once agreed to go up to the opening and see if anything could be done. "It's the Devil's Chimney," he explained. "If he went over into it I'm afraid he's a goner."

A lariat hung from the pommel of the scout's saddle, and this he took in hand as he dismounted. Soon he stood by the edge of the black opening, while Dick again waved the lantern.

You and the dunce can lower me by the lariat. I don't believe the opening is more than fifty feet deep," said Pawnee Brown.

The lariat was quickly adjusted around the edge of a smooth rock, and with his foot in a noose and the lantern in hand, the scout was lowered into the depths of the opening.

Down and down he went, the light finding nothing but bare, rocky wall to fall upon. Presently the lowering process ceased.

"We have reached the end of the lariat," called out Dick.

Hardly had he spoken when a fearful thing happened. There was a snap and a whirr, and Dick and Pumpkin went flat on their backs, while ten feet of the lariat whirled loosely over their heads.

The improvised rope had broken.

"Gone!" gasped Dick. "Merciful heavens!"

He scrambled up and looked over the edge of the opening. The lantern had been dashed into a thousand pieces, and all was dark below.

"Pawnee Brown!" he cried, and Pumpkin joined in with a cry which was fairly a shriek.

The opening remained as silent as a tomb. Again and again both called out. Then Dick turned to his companion.

"This is awful, Pumpkin. Something must be done. I shall mount his mare and ride back to camp and get help. For all I know to the contrary both my father and Pawnee Brown are lying dead below."

"I shan't stay here alone," shivered the half-witted boy. Then, before Dick could stop him, he set off at the top of his speed, yelling discordantly as he went.

"Poor fool, he might have ridden with me," thought Dick.

He was already rushing down to the trail. Now he remembered that he had heard a strange noise down where Pawnee Brown's beautiful mare, Bonnie Bird, had been tethered—a noise reaching him just before the lariat had parted. What could that mean?

He reached the clump of trees where Bonnie Bird should have been. The mare was gone!

"Broken away!" he groaned. "Was ever such luck before! Everything is going wrong tonight! Poor father; poor Pawnee Brown! I must leg it to camp just as Pumpkin is doing. Hullo!"

He had started to run, but now he pulled up short. Grazing in the wet grass not a dozen steps away was a bay horse, full and round, a perfect beast. At first Dick Arbuckle thought he must be dreaming. He ran up rubbing his eyes. No, it was no dream; the horse was as real as a horse could be. He was bridled, but instead of a saddle wore only a patch of a blanket.

"It's a Godsend," he murmured. "I don't know whom you belong to, old boy, but you've got to carry me back to camp, and that, too, at a licking gait, you understand?"

The horse pricked up his ears and gave a snort. In a trice Dick was on his back and urging him around in the proper direction. He was a New York boy, not much used to riding, and the management of such a beast as this one did not come easy. The horse arose upon his forelegs and nearly pitched Dick over his head, and the youth had to cling fast around his neck to save himself a lot of broken bones.

"Whoa, there! Gee Christopher, what a tartar! Whoa, I say! If only I had a whip!" he panted, as the horse began to move around on a pivot. "Now, why can't you act nice, when I'm in such dire need of your services? If you don't stop—Whoa! whoa!"

For the horse had suddenly stopped pivoting and started off like a streak, not up or down the trail, but across a stretch of prairie grass. On and on he went, the bit between his teeth and gaining speed at every step. In "vain Dick yelled at him, kicked him and banged him on the head. It was of no use, and he had to cling on for dear life.

"I might as well let him go and jump for it," he thought at last, when nearly a mile had been covered. "It's just as useless to try to stop him as it would be to stop a limited express. If I jump off—but I won't, now!"

For the prairie had been left behind, and the bay was tearing along a rocky trail leading to goodness knew where, so Dick thought. A jump now would mean broken bones, perhaps death. He clung tighter than ever, and tried to calm the horse by speaking gently to him.

At first the beast would not listen, but finally, when several miles had been covered he slackened up, and at last dropped into a walk. He was covered with foam, and now he was quite willing to be led.

"You old reprobate!" muttered Dick, as he tightened his hold on the reins. "Now where in the name of creation have you brought me to, and how am I to find my way back to camp from here?"

Sitting upright once again, the youth tried to pierce the darkness. The rain had stopped, only a few scattering drops falling upon himself and the steaming animal, but the darkness was as great as ever.

On two sides of him were forest lands, on the third a slope of rocks and on the fourth a stretch of dwarf grass. The trail, if such it could be called, ran along the edge of the timber. Should he follow this? He moved along slowly, wondering whether he was right or wrong.

"Halt! Who goes there?"

It was a military challenge, coming out of the darkness. Dick stopped the horse, and presently made out the form of a man on horseback, a cavalryman.

"I'm a friend who has lost the way," began the youth, when the cavalryman let out a cry of surprise.

"Tucker's horse, hang me if it isn't! Boy, where did you get that nag? Tucker, Ross, come here! I've collared one of the horse-thieves!"

In a moment more there came the clatter of horses hoofs through the timber, and Dick found himself surrounded by three big and decidedly ugly-looking United States cavalrymen—troopers who belonged to a detachment set to guard the Oklahoma territory from invasion.

"A boy and a boomer!" ejaculated the fellow named Tucker. "I saw the kid over near Arkansas City a couple of days ago. And riding Chester, too! Git off that hoss, before I kick you off!"

And riding up he caught Dick by the collar and yanked him to the ground. In an instant he was beside the boy and had produced a pair of reservation handcuffs.

"Out with your hands, sonny, and be quick about it."

"What for?" asked Dick, somewhat bewildered by the unceremonious way in which he was being handled. "I didn't steal that horse."

"Too thin, sonny. All you boomers are a set of thieves, and I suppose you think stealing our hossflesh is the rarest kind of a joke. Out with those hands, I say, and consider yourself a prisoner of Uncle Sam. You've nearly ridden Chester to death and for two pins I'd take the law into my own hands and string you up to the nearest tree. Take that!"

And having handcuffed Dick the cavalryman let out with his heavy right hand and landed a savage slap that sent the helpless youth headlong at his feet.

The blow aroused all of the lion in the youth's make up. As quickly as he could he leaped up.

"You brute!" he cried. "Why don't you fight fair? Take that, and that and that!"

Each "that" meant two blows, for Dick could not separate his hands, and therefore struck out with both at a time two in the chest, two on the chin and the final pair on either side of Tucker's big and reddish nose. The cavalryman, taken by surprise, let out a cry of rage and pain.

"You imp!" he screamed. "To hit a man in uniform! I'll show you what I can do! How do you like that?"

With incredible swiftness he drew his heavy sabre and leaped upon Dick. The boy tried to retreat, but slipped on the wet ground and went down. On the instant Tucker was upon him, and, with a fierce cry, the infuriated cavalryman raised his blade over Dick's head.