The Boy Land Boomer/Chapter 24

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"Checkmated! By jove, but this is too bad."

Such were the words which issued from Pawnee Brown's lip as he swung around and saw the cavalrymen sitting on their horses at attention.

His disappointment was keen. In speaking of it afterwards he said:

"I never felt so bad in my life. I had promised to take the boomers through and I felt that I had disappointed nearly four thousand people who were looking to me with utmost confidence."

But disappointment was not the worst of it. Hardly had the command to halt been issued than the captain of the troops advanced toward the scout.

"Pawnee Brown!" he ejaculated, in surprise, and a smile of satisfaction crossed his face. "This is a great pleasure."

"Is it?" answered the great scout, coldly.

"It is indeed. Do you intend to throw up your hands?"

For the scout's hands had not yet been lifted skyward.

"This looks as if you meant to arrest me, captain."

"Why shouldn't I? You are at the head of the Kansas boomers, are you not?"

"I have that honor, yes."

"It's a question to me if it is an honor. You are transgressing the laws of the United States when you try to get into Oklahoma for homestead purposes."

"Say rather that we transgress the laws of the cattle kings, captain. Under the U. S. Homestead Law we have a perfect right to this land, if we can get in and stake our claims, and you know it."

"I know nothing of the sort. This talk about the cattle kings is all nonsense!" roared the cavalry officer, He knew Pawnee Brown was more than half right, but felt he must obey the orders he had received from his superiors. "I'll have to take you to the fort."

"All right, take me—if you can, captain," came the quick answer. "Don't you dare fire on me, for you know I am a crack shot and I promise I'll fire on you in return and lay you low!"

Thus speaking, the boomer wheeled about and sent Bonnie Bird off like a shot along the trail he had come.

The movement was so quick that for the moment the Cavalry officer was paralyzed and knew not what to do. He raised his long pistol, but Pawnee Brown's stern threat rang in his ears and he hesitated about using the weapon, having no desire to be laid low.

"After him, men!" he roared, upon recovering his wits. "We must capture him!"

"Shall we fire, cap n?" came from several, and a number of shining pistol barrels were levelled toward the great scout.

"N—no, capture him alive," came the hesitating reply; and away went the calvarymen at a breakneck speed in pursuit.

Looking back over his shoulder, Pawnee saw them coming. To lessen the chances of being shot, he bent low over his faithful mare's neck.

"On, Bonnie, on!" he cried softly, and the beautiful animal seemed to understand that it was a race for life and death.

"Crack!" It was the report of a pistol close at hand. Looking among the trees, Pawnee Brown saw an arm wearing the colors of a cavalryman disappearing among the foliage of a nearby tree. He aimed his own weapon and pulled the trigger. A yell of pain followed.

The marksman had been Tucker, the fellow hired to take the great scout's life. Tucker had been on picket duty for the cavalry troop, but had failed to note Pawnee Brown's first movement in that direction. Seeing the scout coming, he had instantly thought of the promised reward and taken aim. The bullet had struck Pawnee Brown's shoulder, merely, however, scraping the skin. On the return fire Tucker was hit in the side and nearly broke his neck in a tumble backward into a hole behind him.

The chase was not of long duration. Although they had good steeds, not one of the cavalrymen's horses could gain upon the scout's sturdy racing mare, and soon they dropped further and further behind. Seeing this, Pawnee Brown turned to the eastward, out of the ravine, and in three minutes had his pursuers entirely off the trail.

His face grew thoughtful as he allowed Bonnie Bird to drop into a walk. The cavalry had followed the wagon train westward—they were bound to keep the boomers in sight. What was to be done? Should he advise another movement during the night to come and then a forward dash?

"We might make it," he mused. "But if we did not there would be a fearful fight and possibly slaughter. I wish I knew just how matters were going at Washington."

Pawnee Brown had friends at the Capital, men who were doing their best to defeat the cattle kings by having a bill passed in Congress opening Oklahoma to settlement—a bill that would smooth the present difficulty for all concerned. He felt that the bill was not needed, yet it would be better to have such a law than to have some of the boomers killed before their rights could be established.

"I'll send a messenger off to the nearest telegraph station and telegraph for the news," he went on. "A day's delay may mean many lives saved. It shall never be said that Pawnee Brown rushed in, heedless of the danger to those who trusted in him.

It was not long before the scout reached the boomers camp. Here he found several waiting for him.

"I want to see Pawnee Brown." It was Dan Gilbert, who was making his way through the crowd to the great scout's side. Gilbert held a message from Arkansas City. It was to the effect that Pawnee Brown should telegraph to Washington at once and wait until noon at Arkansas City for a reply.

Five minutes later Pawnee Brown was on the trail over which the wagon train had journeyed the night before. He had told Gilbert, Clemmer and the others of the nearness of the Government cavalrymen and had advised a halt until further orders from himself. Clemmer had promised to wait, although ready "ter swoop down on 'em, b' gosh, an' take wot belongs ter us," as he expressed himself.

The ride back to Arkansas City was an uneventful one, and arriving there, Pawnee Brown lost no time in visiting the telegraph office.

"A message for you," said the operator, and handed it over.

It was from Washington and stated: "The Oklahoma bill is now before the Lower House; wait for more news."

"I'm glad we've woke up those politicians at Washington," murmured the scout, and then wrote out a telegram in reply.

There was now nothing to do but to wait, and impatient as he was to rejoin the boomers, Pawnee Brown had to content himself until another message should reach him. To make the time pass more quickly the great scout went around to a number of places buying supplies that were much needed.

An hour later he found himself on the outskirts of the city, whence he had come to look up several wagons, to replace some that had broken down. He was galloping along on horseback when the sight of two men quarreling near the open doorway of a deserted barn caught his eye, and impelled by something which was more than curiosity, he turned in from the road to see how the quarrel might end. As he came closer he saw that one of the men was Mortimer Arbuckle!

"Hullo, what can this mean?" he cried, softly. "I thought Dick's father was still in bed from the effects of that dastardly night's work. Who can that stranger be?"

Dismounting, he tied Bonnie Bird to a tree and came forward, but in line with the barn, that he might not be seen. Soon he was within easy hearing distance of all that was being said.

"I want to know what brought you out here, Dike Powell?" he heard Mr. Arbuckle say in excited tones. "Did you follow me?"

"No, I did not, Arbuckle," came in reply. "What makes you think I did?"

"I was knocked down and robbed but a few nights ago, and my most valuable papers, as well as my money, were taken from me."

"Do you mean to insinuate that I am a thief?" cried Dike Powell.

"You are none too good for it. I have not forgotten how you used to sneak around my office in New York after information concerning my Western mining claims."

"You're getting mighty sharp, Arbuckle."

"I hope I am. I used to feel queer in my head at times, but—but—I think I am growing better of that."

As he spoke Mortimer Arbuckle drew his white hand across his forehead.

The attack and the adventure on the river had been fearful, but it really looked as if they were going to prove of benefit to him. His eyes were brighter than they had been for many a day. Pawnee Brown noticed, too, that his manner of talking was more direct than he usually employed.

"I hope for the boy's sake his mind is clearing," he thought.

"I think you are growing more queer—to accuse me," said Dike Powell. "I never harmed you."

"I know better. While I was on my back I thought it all over. Dike Powell, you are a villain, and if ever I get the chance I'll turn you over to the police. You have followed me to the West, and for no good purpose. I will unmask you."

"Will you? Not much!"

Thus speaking, Dike Powell leaped forward. He was a powerful man, and catching Mortimer Arbuckle by the throat, he would have borne the semi-invalid to the floor had not Pawnee Brown interfered.

There was a rush and a crack, as the scout's fist met Dike Powell's ear, and over the man rolled, to bring up against the side of the barn with a crash.

"Who—who hit me?" spluttered the rascal, as, half dazed, he staggered to his feet. "If I—Pawnee Brown!"

"Dike Powell!" ejaculated the scout, as he saw the fellow full in the face for the first time. "Where have you been these long years?"

"Oh, Pawnee, how glad I am that you came in," panted Mortimer Arbuckle, sinking down upon an old feed box. "The villain was—was——"

"I saw it all, Arbuckle; rest yourself. I will take care of this forger."

"Forger!" came simultaneously from Mortimer Arbuckle and from his assailant, but in different tones of voice. "Do you then know Dike Powell?"

"Yes, I know him as Powell Dike, a forger, who fled from Peoria a dozen years ago. And what do you know of him?"

"I know him as a Wall street sneak—a man who was forever hanging around, trying to get information out of which he might make a few dollars. I have accused him of following me to the West. I am inclined to think he robbed me——"

"I did not," ejaculated Powell Dike, for such really was his name.

"I believe you," replied Pawnee Brown. He had spoken to Dick and Rasco of this man. "But you know who did rob Mortimer Arbuckle," he went on, significantly.

"I—I—do not," answered Powell Dike, but his lips trembled.

"You lie, Dike. Now tell the truth."

Pawnee Brown saw the manner of man he had to deal with and tapped his pistol. Instantly Powell Dike fell upon his knees.

"Don't—don't shoot me!" he whined. "I'll tell all—everything. I am not dead positive, but—but I guess Louis Vorlange robbed Arbuckle."

Pawnee Brown looked at Mortimer Arbuckle to see what effect this declaration might have upon Dick's father. He saw the ex-stock broker start forward in amazement. Then he faltered, threw up his hands, and fell forward in a dead faint!