The Boy Land Boomer/Chapter 22
DICK HITS HIS MARK.
"They are coming closer, Dick! What shall we do?"
It was Nellie Winthrop who asked the question. Boy and girl had entered the woods a distance of fifty feet from the bank of the brook, and both rested where several large rocks and some overhanging bushes afforded a convenient hiding place
"Keep quiet, Nellie," he said in a murmur, with his lips close to her shell-like ears. And he gripped her arm to show her that he would stand by her no matter what danger might befall them.
It would have been foolhardy to say more, for Yellow Elk and Louis Vorlange were now within hearing distance, and the ears of the Indian chief were more than ever on the alert. The government spy had lighted a torch, which he swung low to the brook bank, while Yellow Elk made an examination of the ground.
"Here footmarks!" grunted the redskin, a minute later, and pointed them out. They go this way—cannot be far off."
"Then after them," muttered Vorlange. "It was through your stupidity that the girl got away. Yellow Elk, I always put you down for being smarter than that."
"Yellow Elk smart enough!" growled the Indian chief.
"No, you're not. In some things you are like a block of wood," grumbled Vorlange. The escape of Nellie had put him out a good deal.
The manner of the government spy provoked the Indian. To be called a block of wood is, to the red man, a direct insult. Yellow Elk straightened up.
"White man big fool!" he hissed. "Yellow Elk not make chase for him," and he folded his arms.
"You won't go after the boy and the girl?" queried Vorlange.
"No—white man hunt for himself if he want to catch the little woman again."
And having thus delivered himself, Yellow Elk sat down by the brook and refused to budge another step.
The Indian's objections to continuing the search were more numerous than appeared on the surface. The so-called insult, bad as it was, was merely an excuse to hide other motives. Yellow Elk had known Vorlange for years and as the spy was naturally a mean fellow, the redskin hated him accordingly.
Another reason for refusing to go ahead was that Yellow Elk knew only too well that if Dick and Nellie were again taken, Vorlange would consider both his own captives, and Yellow Elk would be "counted out" of the entire proceedings. He could not go to the agency and claim any glory, for he had run away without permission, although he had told Vorlange he was away on a special mission connected with the soldiers.
And deeper than all was the thought that if he did not capture Nellie now, he might do so later on, when he had separated from the spy. Ever since he had first seen the beautiful girl he had been covetous of making her his squaw. Indian fashion, he felt he could compel Nellie to choose him, even if he had to whip her into making the choice.
"You won't go on with the search?" cried Vorlange, in a rage.
"No," was the short answer.
"I say you shall! See here, Yellow Elk, do you want to be shot?"
"Yellow Elk not afraid of Vorlange—Vorlange know dat. Yellow Elk go back to cabin to see if girl or boy leave anything behind."
Then he got up, waded across the brook again and disappeared among the trees surrounding the log cabin.
Louis Vorlange muttered a good many things in a very angry tone. Then, torch in hand, he started up the brook bank to follow the trail alone.
Dick and Nellie listened to the quarrel with bated breath. Both hoped that Vorlange would follow to the cabin. When he approached closer than ever, their hearts seemed to almost stop beating.
Feeling that a contest was at hand, Dick groped around in the darkness for some weapon. No stick was at hand, but at his feet lay a jagged stone weighing all of a pound. He took it up and held it in readiness.
Closer and closer came Vorlange, turning now to the right and now to the left, for following the trail among the rocks and brush was no easy matter.
"Might as well give yourselves up!" he called out. "I am bound to spot you sooner or later."
To this neither offered any reply, but Dick felt Nellie shiver. They could now see the flare of the torch plainly, for Vorlange was less than thirty feet away.
Presently the spy uttered a low cry of pleasure. He had found several footprints, where Dick had slipped from a rock into the dirt. Now he came straight for them, waving the torch above his head that it might throw its light to a greater distance.
Dick had let fly the jagged stone, taking him directly
in the forehead and keeling him over like a tenpin"
"So there you are!" The man caught sight of Nellie's dress. "I told you I would catch you. It's not such an easy matter to get away from Louis Vorlange. The next time I lock you up—oh!"
A deep groan escaped the spy. Dick had let fly the jagged stone, taking him directly in the forehead and keeling him over like a tenpin. The blow left a deep cut from which the blood flowed in a stream, and Vorlange was completely stunned.
"Oh, Dick, have you—you—killed him?" burst from Nellie's lips, in horror.
"I guess not, Nellie; he's stunned, that's all. Come, let us run for it again—before that Indian changes his mind and comes back."
"You might take his pistol," suggested the quick-witted girl.
"A good idea—I will. Now let me carry you again, I see you can hardly stand on that foot." For Nellie had limped along a dozen steps in great pain.
"But I am so heavy, Dick——"
"Never mind, I can carry you a little distance, at least."
"You had better save yourself and let me go."
"What! Nellie, do you think me so selfish? Never! Come, and we'll escape or die in the attempt."
And catching her up as before, he started off on as rapid a gait as the weight of his fair burden would permit.
A distance of a hundred yards had been covered and Dick found himself ascending a slight hill. The climb was by no means easy, yet he kept on manfully, knowing what capture by Yellow Elk might mean.
"He would tomahawk me and carry Nellie off," he thought, and it would be hard to say which he thought the worst, the tomahawking or the carrying off of the girl for whom he entertained such a high regard.
The top of the hill reached, they saw before them a broad stretch of open prairie, flanked to the north and the south by the woods from which they had just emerged.
"I'll be thrashed if I know where we are," he said. "Have you any idea?"
"No, Dick, I am completely bewildered."
"I wonder if it is safe to attempt to cross this prairie? It is pretty dark, but that redskin has mighty sharp eyes."
"Let us go down to the edge of the woods first and rest a bit. I am sure you are pretty well out of breath, and if I can bathe my ankle in some cold water perhaps I'll be able to walk on it before long."
"Don't try it, Nellie; I'll carry you," and again the youth picked her up.
It was not long before they reached a convenient hollow, where there was a small pool. Here Nellie made herself comfortable and took off the shoe which hurt her so much. Bathed, the ankle which had been twisted felt much better. It was still, however, much swollen, and to walk far on that foot was as yet out of the question.
An hour went by, a quiet hour, in which only the cries of the night birds and the occasional hoot of an owl disturbed them. They conversed in whispers and Dick's ears were ever on the alert, for he felt certain that Vorlange or Yellow Elk would sooner or later continue the search for them.
Nellie was very sleepy and at last her eyes closed and she dropped into a slumber upon Dick's shoulder, forming such a pretty picture the youth could do nothing but admire her. "I'll save her—I must do it!" he murmured, and kissed her wavy tresses softly.
It wanted still two hours to sunrise when he awakened her. She leaped up with a start.
"I have been asleep! Oh, Dick, why did you let me drop off?"
"I knew how tired you must be after going through all you did. But we must be on our way now, before it grows lighter. How is the foot?"
"It is stiff, but much better. Which way shall we go?"
"Let us strike across the prairie and to the north. That is bound to bring us into Kansas sooner or later, and once there we'll be sure to locate the boomers without much trouble."
Both were hungry, but, as there was no food at hand, neither said a word on that point. Getting a drink at a running brook close by, they started off, Dick holding Nellie's hand, that she might not go down on the ankle that was still weak.
Only a corner of the broad prairie passed, and then they turned again into a woods. The sun was now up and it was growing warmer.
"I'll shoot a few birds if I can't find anything else," said Dick. "We can't starve, and birds broiled over a fire will make a fair meal."
"But the noise?" began Nellie.
"I know; but, as I said, we can't starve, Nellie. We'll have to take the risk. Here goes!"
Dick crept forward to where half a dozen birds sat on a nearby bush. The birds were in a flutter over something, but Dick did not notice this. Bringing two of the birds into range for a single shot, he blazed away with his pistol.
The sharp crack of the firearm was still echoing through the woods when there came a roar from behind the bushes the birds had occupied. Dick had brought down his game and more, he had struck a bear in the shoulder. In another moment the huge beast leaped into sight, and with angry eyes and gleaming teeth bore straight for the astonished boy.