The Boy Land Boomer/Chapter 5
Let us re-join Dick Arbuckle at the time that the incensed cavalryman, Tucker, was about to attack the hapless lad with his heavy sabre.
Had the cruel blow fallen as intended it is beyond dispute that Dick would have been severely injured.
"Don't!" cried the boy, and then closed his eyes at the terrible thought of such dire punishment so close at hand.
But just at that instant an interruption came from out of the darkness of the brush.
"Hello, there! What are you up to?"
Tucker started, and the sabre was turned aside to bury itself in the exposed roots of a tree.
"If it ain't Pawnee Brown!" muttered another cavalryman, Ross by name.
"Pawnee Brown!" burst from Dick's lips, joyfully, and, rising, he attempted to rush toward his friend.
"Not so fast, boy!" howled Tucker, and caught the youth by the collar.
"What's the meaning of this? What are you doing to that boy?" asked Pawnee Brown as he rode closer, with Rasco beside him.
"He's a horse thief, and we are going to take him to our camp," answered Tucker, somewhat uneasily, for he had seen Pawnee Brown before and knew he had a man of strong character with whom to deal.
"A horse thief!" ejaculated Jack Rasco. "Say, sod'ger, yer crazy! Thet boy a thief! Wall, by gum!"
"That boy is no thief," put in Pawnee Brown. "He belongs to our camp, and is as square as they make them—I'll vouch for it."
"I ain't taking the word of any boomer," muttered Tucker sourly. "That kid—hold on! Don't shoot!"
And he dropped back in terror, for the great scout had drawn his pistol like a flash.
"You'll take my word or take something else," came the stiff response. "Be quick, now, and say which you choose."
"I didn't mean any harm, Pawnee. Maybe you don't know it, but the boy is a thief just the same. We just caught him riding my horse—this bay. My comrades can prove it."
"It's true," said Ross.
"True as gospel," added Skimmy, the third cavalry man. "We caught him less than half an hour ago."
Without answering to this, Pawnee Brown turned to the youth.
"Tell me your yarn, Dick. I know there is some mistake here."
"There is not much to tell, Major. When the lariat broke up at the Devil's Chimney and I couldn't make you reply to my calls I ran off to get help and a rope. I intended to ride your mare back to camp, but when I got to where the mare had been tethered I found her gone and this bay loafing around in her place. I got on the bay, but, instead of riding to camp, the animal ran away with me and brought me here. These fellows were mighty rough on me, and that man was going to split my head open when you came along in the nick of time."
"That's a neat fairy tale," sneered Tucker. "This horse was stolen four hours ago. More than likely the boy couldn't manage him and lost his way and the horse tried to get back to where he belonged."
"That doesn't connect with what I know," answered Pawnee Brown, quietly. "My mare was tethered where he went to look for her. I might as well accuse you of riding down there, taking Bonnie Bird and leaving this nag in her place."
"Do you mean to insinuate we are horse thieves?" cried Ross hotly.
"I'm giving you as good as you send, that's all. Dick, have you any idea where Bonnie Bird is?"
"Not the slightest, sir."
The great scout heaved a sigh. The little racing mare was the very apple of his eye.
"I'll not give up the hunt until I have found her." He turned again to the cavalrymen. "If the finest little black mare, with a white blaze, that you ever saw strays into your camp remember she belongs to me," he went on. "I want her returned at once, and if any body attempts to keep her there will be a hotter time than this Territory has seen for many a day. Dick, hop up behind me," and he turned to his horse.
"That boy is to remain here," blustered Tucker, growing red in the face.
"Hardly, my bantam. Hop up, Dick, and we'll strike back for camp before the sun comes up and see if the others who are on the search have seen anything of your father. I saw nothing of him at the bottom of the Devil's Chimney."
"I'm not going to have a lazy, good-for-nothing boomer lay it over me——" began Tucker, when once more the sight of Pawnee Brown's pistol silenced him.
No more was said as the scout, Dick and Rasco rode away down the trail by which they had come. But, once out of sight, Tucker raised his fist and shook it savagely.
"I'll get square with you some day, Pawnee Brown, mark my words!" he muttered between his set teeth.
"We'll all get square," said Ross. "I hate the sight of that man."
"I understand the boomers have made him their leader," broke in Skimmy. "If they have, he'll try to break through to Oklahoma as sure as guns are guns."
"And he'll get shot, too," answered Tucker dryly. "The lieutenant is having all of the boomers movements watched."
"Pawnee Brown will do his level best to give us the slip, see if he don't," remarked Skimmy. "Four thousand boomers wouldn't make him their leader for nothing."
Thus, talking among themselves, the three cavalry men mounted their horses and rode back to their various picket stations along the boundary line of the Indian Territory.
They were a detachment of the Seventh United States Cavalry, and the lieutenant referred to by Tucker was in command.
For over a month they had been watching the boomers assembling in Kansas. Other portions of the United States troops were watching the would-be Oklahoma settlers in Arkansas and Texas.
There was every prospect of a lively time ahead, and it was not far off.
Reaching his station, Tucker drew from his pocket a briar-root pipe, filled and lit it and began to puff away meditatively.
His face had been ugly before, but now as he began to meditate it grew blacker than ever.
"Hang me, if everything ain't going wrong," he muttered. "I won't stand it. I'll make a kick, and when I do——" He paused as a shadow among the trees caught his eye. "Who goes there?" he called out and drew his pistol.
"A friend. Tucker, is that you?"
"Vorlange!" cried the cavalryman, and the next moment the newcomer and the military man were face to face.
"It's about time you showed up," growled Tucker, after a brief pause, during which the newcomer looked at him anxiously. "Say, Vorlange, when do you intend to settle up with me. Give it to me straight, now."
"That's why I left the trail to hunt you up, Tucker—I knew you were anxious about that five hundred dollars."
"Why shouldn't I be? It took me a long time to save it—a good sight longer than it did for you to gamble it away."
"Tucker, I didn't gamble that away I'll swear it. I used it in business."
"Business? What business have you got outside of your position as a land office spy?"
"A good business, if you only knew it. I've been following up a little deal that started in the East—in New York. Out there I had to hire a fellow I could trust to work for me, and that took most of the money. But the whole thing is coming my way now, and I want to talk things over with you. How would you like to have a thousand back in return for the five hundred you loaned me?"
"What sort of a game are you working on me now?"
"A square deal, Tucker. I've been keeping my eye on you, and I reckon you are the fellow to do what I want done."
"And what do you want done?"
Vorlange stepped closer.
"The boomers are going to try to cross into Oklahoma either to-morrow or day after. There will be a fight, I am certain of it, and somebody will be shot and killed. When you fire I want you to pick out your man—two men—or, rather, a man and a boy, if you can do it. I may be on hand to take part myself, but there is a possibility that I may be ordered elsewhere."
"And you are willing to pay me five hundred extra for picking out my target, Vorlange?"
"You've struck it."
"Who is the man?"
"Can I trust you?"
At the mention of the great scout's name Tucker started back.
"Why—why do you want him knocked over?"
"He is my enemy. I have hated him from my boyhood!" cried Louis Vorlange. "And there are other reasons—he stands in the way of my pushing the scheme I mentioned."
"Pawnee Brown was here but a short while ago. He insulted and abused me," growled Tucker. "I'll put a bullet through him quick enough if I get the chance—that is, in a skirmish. I don't want to run any risk of being strung up for—you know."
"The shooting will be O. K., Tucker, and I'll help if I'm not ordered away. Do it and the five hundred extra are yours, I'll give you my word."
"What about that boy you mentioned?"
"His name is Dick Arbuckle. He is——"
"Dick Arbuckle? I know him. He stole my horse. I captured him and Pawnee Brown came to his rescue and made me, Ross and Skimmy give him up," and Tucker gave the particulars in his own version of the affair.
"Then you bear the lad no love?"
"Love?" The cavalryman grated his teeth. "I was wishing I could get a shot at him."
"Then keep that wish in mind, Tucker, when the time for action arrives."
"If it's worth five hundred to you to have Pawnee Brown knocked over it ought to be worth more to have both of 'em laid low," suggested Tucker, who was naturally a grasping fellow.
"Five hundred in cold cash is a good deal in these times," was the slow answer. "But I'll tell you what I'll do. If, after a fight, you can bring me absolute proof that Pawnee Brown and Dick Arbuckle are dead I'll give you an even twelve hundred dollars, the five hundred I borrowed and seven hundred extra. There's my hand on it. What do you say?"
"Will you promise to give me the money as soon as you have the proofs?"
"I will," and Louis Vorlange raised his right hand as though to make good such a blasphemous promise.
"All right, then; I take you up," answered Tucker.