The Boy Land Boomer/Chapter 20

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"Pawnee Brown at last!"

The words came from one of the boomers, a fat but spry old chap named Dunbar.

"Yes, Dunbar," answered the great scout. "Were you getting anxious about me?"

"Well, just a trifle, Pawnee."

"The camp must move at once. Send the word around immediately, Dunbar."

"Whar do we move to?"

"To Honnewell. As soon as all hands are at Honnewell I'll send out further orders."

In less than half an hour the immense wagon train organized by the boomers located in Kansas was on the way.

At the front rode Pawnee Brown, Clemmer and several others who were personal friends of the scout.

It was a grand sight, this moving. To this day some of the boomers say it was the grandest sight they ever beheld.

Every heart was full of hope. Past trials and hardships were forgotten. The boomers were to enter the richest farming lands in the States and there start life anew.

The movement was made in silence and in almost utter darkness. Of course, it was impossible to hide the news from the citizens of Arkansas City, but the train was well on its way before the news had any chance of spreading.

At the time of which we write there were several trails to Honnewell from Arkansas City. The regular road was a fair one in good weather, but, after such a rain as had fallen, this trail was hub-deep with mud in more than one spot.

"Oi'll not go thot trail," was Delaney's comment. "Oi'll take the upper road."

"Thot's roight, Mike," put in Rosy, his wife. "It's not meself as wants to stick fast in this black mud. Sure, and it's worse nor the bogs of Erin!"

"Vot's dot road you vos speakin apout alretty?" put in Humpendinck, who had as heavy a wagon as any one.

"It's a better road nor this, Humpy," replied Mike Delaney. "Folly me an' we'll rach Honnewell afore enny of em, mark me wurrud."

Thus encouraged, Humpendinck followed Delaney on the upper train, and, seeing the two go off, half a dozen followed.

It was more than half an hour after before Pawnee Brown heard of their departure.

The great scout was much disturbed.

"It's foolishness for them to start off on the upper trail," he declared. "I went over it but a few days ago, and at Brown's Crossing the road is all torn up by a freshet. Besides that, we must keep together."

"Yer right thar, Pawnee," answered Clemmer. "Delaney ought to know better. But yer can't tell the Irish anything."

"Humpendinck went with him," put in Dunbar, who had brought the news.

"Both the Irishman and the German are smart enough in their way," answered Pawnee Brown. "But they've made a mistake. Cal and Dunbar, you continue at the head, and I'll ride across country and head Delaney and his crowd back through the Allen trail. I'll probably rejoin you just this side of Honnewell."

With this command, Pawnee Brown left the wagon train and plunged off through the darkness alone.

He had been over that district many times and thought he knew about every foot of the ground.

But for once the great scout was mistaken, and that mistake was destined to bring him into serious difficulty.

About half a mile had been covered, and he was just approaching a patch of small timber, when he noticed that Bonnie Bird began to show signs of shyness. She did not refuse to go forward, but evidently was proceeding against her will.

Quick to notice a change in the beautiful mare's mood, Pawnee Brown spoke to her. She pawed the ground and tossed her head.

"What is it, Bonnie? Danger ahead?"

Again the mare pawed the ground. Feeling certain something was wrong, Pawnee Brown stood up in his stirrups and looked about him.

All was dark and silent upon every side. Overhead the faint stars shed but an uncertain light.

"It's one too many for me, Bonnie," he mused. "Forward until the danger becomes clearer."

Thus commanded, the mare moved forward once more, but this time much slower. Once or twice her feet seemed to stick fast, but Pawnee Brown did not notice this. At last she came to a dead halt and would not go another step.

"The danger must be in the timber," thought the boomer. "Bonnie Bird wouldn't balk for nothing. I'll dismount and reconnoitre."

Springing to the ground, he drew his pistol and moved forward silently. Scarcely had he taken a dozen steps than he realized the cause of his mare's unwillingness to proceed further.

He was in a bed of quicksand.

Anybody who knows what a bed of quicksand is knows how dangerous it is—dangerous to both man and beast. Just as the scout made his discovery he sank up to his knees in the mass.

"By jove! I must get back out of this, and in double-quick order," he muttered, and tried to turn, to find himself sinking up to his waist.

Pawnee Brown was now fully alive to the grave peril of his situation.

He tried by all the strength at his command to pull himself to the firm ground from which he had started.

He could not budge a foot. True, he took one step, but it was only to sink in deeper than ever.

Several minutes of great anxiety passed. He had sunk very nearly up to his armpits.

Quarter of an hour more and he would be up to his head, and then——? Brave as he was, the great scout did not dare to think further. The idea of a death in the treacherous quicksand was truly horrible.

His friends would wonder what had become of him, but it was not likely that they would ever find his body.

And even faithful Bonnie Bird would be dumb, so far as telling the particulars of her master's disappearance was concerned.

The mare now stood upon the edge of the quick sands, fifteen feet off, whining anxiously. She knew as well as though she had been a human being that something was wrong.

Suddenly an inspiration came to Pawnee Brown.

"How foolish! Why didn't I think of that before?" he muttered.

At his belt had hung a lariat, placed there when the wagon train started, in case any of the animals should attempt to run off in the darkness.

The boomer could use a lariat as well as Clemmer or any of the cowboys. More than once, riding at full speed upon his mare, he had thrown the noose around any foot of a steer that was selected by those looking on.

He put his hand down to his waist and felt for the lariat. It was still there, and he brought it up and swung it over his head, to free it from the quicksand.

As has been stated, the belt of timber was not far away, the nearest tree being less than fifty feet from where he remained stuck.

Preparing the lariat, he threw the noose up and away from him. It circled through the air and fell over the nearest branch of the tree. Hauling it taut, Pawnee Brown tested it, to make sure it would not slip, and then began to haul himself up, as Rasco had done at the swamp hole.

It was slow work, and more than once he felt that the lariat would break, so great was the strain put upon it.

But it held, and a few minutes later Pawnee Brown found himself with somewhat cut hands, safe in the branches of the tree.

Winding up the lariat, he descended to the ground, and made a detour to where Bonnie Bird remained standing, and to where he had cast his pistol.

The mare and weapon secured, he continued on his way, but made certain to wander into no more quicksand spots.

"It was too narrow an escape for comfort," was the way in which Pawnee Brown expressed himself, when he told the story later.

An hour after found him again among the boomers.

Mike Delaney was just coming in by the Allen trail. The Irishman was much crestfallen over his failure to find a better trail than that selected by the scout, and Rosy was giving it to him with a vengeance.

"Th' nixt toime ye go forward it will be undher Pawnee Brown's directions, Moike Delaney!" she cried. "It's not yerself thot is as woise as Moses in the wilderness, moind thot!" And her clenched fist shook vigorously to emphasize her words. After that Delaney never strayed from the proper trail again.

All of the boomers but Jack Rasco were now on hand, and as hour after hour went by and Rasco did not turn up, Pawnee Brown grew anxious about the welfare of his right-hand man.

"Looking for the girl had brought him into trouble, more than likely," he thought, as he rode away from Honnewell, taking a due south course. "And what can have become of her?"

Pawnee Brown was on his way to the spot where he had left Dick. He had decided that as soon as he had found the lad, he would return to camp, and then the onward march of the boomers for Oklahoma should at once be begun.

On through the ravine where he had met Yellow Elk he dashed, Bonnie Bird feeling fresh after a short rest and her morning meal, for the sun was now creeping skyward. On through the brush, and he turned toward the open prairie.

"Halt! Throw up your hands!"

The unexpected command came from the thicket on the edge of the prairie. On the instant the boomer wheeled about. The sight which met his gaze caused his heart to sink within him. There, drawn up in line, was the full troop of cavalry sent out by the government to stop the boomers entrance to the much-coveted territory.

Vorlange's spy work was responsible, and Pawnee Brown's carefully-laid plan had fallen through.