The Boy Land Boomer/Chapter 9
MIKE AND THE MULES.
"We move in an hour!"
This was the word which was whispered about the boomers camp shortly after Pawnee Brown's arrival.
The great scout had found it out of the question to attempt to enter the Indian Territory in a direct route from Arkansas City. The government troops were watching the trail, and the soldiers were backed up by the cattle kings' helpers, who would do all in their power to harass the pioneers and make them turn back.
Many a man would have gone ahead with a rush, but Pawnee Brown knew better than to do this. If he was brave, he was also cautious.
"A rush now would mean people killed, horses shot down or poisoned, wagons ditched, harnesses cut up and a thousand and one other disasters," he said. "We must beat the cattle kings at their own game. We will move westward to Honnewell either this afternoon or to-night. Get ready to go on whenever the signal is passed."
"But vot goot vill it do to vait by Honnvell?" questioned Carl Humpendinck, a German boomer.
"We'll not wait very long there," answered Pawnee Brown.
So the word went around that the boomers would move in an hour. This was not actually true, but it was necessary to spread some report of this kind in order to make the slow ones hustle. If left to themselves these few would not have gotten ready in two days.
"It's a move we are afther makin' at last, is it?" burst out Rosy Delaney when Mike brought the news. "Sure, an' Oi'm ready, Moike Delaney, but how are ye to git this wagon out av thet bog hole, Oi dunno."
"Oi'll borry a horse," answered Mike. "It's Jack Rasco will lind me the same."
Mike ran around to where Jack Rasco was in earnest conversation with a stranger who had just come in from town. The stranger had brought a letter from Nellie Winthrop, posted two days before, and saying when she would arrive. The letter caused Rasco not a little worry, as so far the girl had failed to appear.
"I haven't any horse to spare just now, Mike," he said; "but hold on, you can have Billy, the mule, if you wish."
There was a little twinkle in his eyes as he spoke, but Mike didn't see the twinkle and readily accepted the mule and led him over to where his own turn-out stood.
"Moike Delaney, phot kind av a horse do yez call that?" demanded Rosy.
"It's a mule, ye ignoramus," he answered. "An a good puller, I'll bet me whiskers. Just wait till Oi hitch him beside the tame."
Billy was soon hitched up as Mike desired, and the Irishman proceeded to urge him forward with his short whip.
It was then the fun began. Billy did not appreciate being called upon to do extra work. Instead of pulling, he simply turned around, tangling up and breaking the harness, and began to kick up the black prairie dirt with both hind hoofs.
"Oh, the villain!" spluttered Rosy Delaney, who received the first installment of dirt full in her eyes and mouth. "Moike Delaney, ye made him do that apurpose!" and she shook her fist at her husband. "Ye bould, bad mon!"
"Oi did not," he ejaculated. "Git back there, ye baste!" he added, and tried to hit Billy with his whip. The knowing mule dodged and, turning swiftly, planted a hoof in Mike's stomach so slickly that the Irishman went heels over head into a nearby puddle.
A shout arose from those standing near.
"Score one round for the mule!"
"Mike, thet summersault war good enough fer a show. Better jine the circus!"
"Oi'll show the mule!" yelled Mike, and rushed in again. But once more Billy turned and got out of the way, and this time he caught the seat of Mike's trousers between his teeth and lifted the frightened man six feet from the ground.
"Don't! Let me down! Somebody save me!" yelled the terrorized son of Erin. "Rosy! Clemmer! Rasco! Hit him! Shoot him! Make him let go av me! Oi'll be kilt entoirely!"
Outsiders were too much amused to help Mike, but Rosy came to the rescue with a woman's best weapon—a rolling-pin, one she occasionally used in making pies for the family when in camp. Whizz! came the rolling-pin through the air, hitting Billy on the ear. The mule gave a short snort, broke what remained of the harness and scampered off to make a complete circuit of the camp and then fall into his regular place near Jack Rasco's turn-out.
"Want him some more?" asked Jack, who had seen the fun, and was compelled to laugh, in spite of his worry.
"Want him some more, is it?" growled Mike. "Not fer a thousand dollars, Rasco! Yez kin kape the mule, an' be hanged to yez!" and he stalked off to borrow a horse that was warranted to be gentle under the most trying of circumstances.
In the meantime Pawnee Brown was completing his arrangements for moving to Honnewell and then to enter the promised land by way of Bitter Creek and the Secaspie River. Scouts sent out to watch had reported that the cavalry were watching every movement closely, but Pawnee Brown did not dream that Louis Vorlange had overheard what was said at a meeting in the woods, or that this scoundrel had hired Tucker, the cavalryman, to shoot down both himself and Dick Arbuckle.
Presently Jack Rasco found his way to the scout's side.
"Pawnee, if you can spare a little time I would like your advice," he said, and mentioned the letter from Nellie Winthrop. "It's mighty strange the gal don't turn up, ain't it?"
"Perhaps so; but she may have been detained," answered the scout.
At this Rasco shook his head. The bearer of the letter had seen Nellie's name on the hotel register. Something was wrong, he felt sure of it. The letter had contained Nellie's photograph, and he showed it to Pawnee Brown as he asked for permission to leave his work of assisting the boomers to be prepared for a moving in order to pay Arkansas City another visit.
"Go on, Jack. You're my right-hand man, but I'll manage somehow without you," answered the great scout. "A pretty niece for any man to have," and he handed back the photograph, after a somewhat close inspection. Two minutes later found Jack Rasco on his way, to encounter adventures of which he had never imagined.
"A note for you, Pawnee." It was one of the scouts sent out that morning who spoke as he rode up. Paw nee Brown read the communication with interest.
"Come up to the ravine back of Honnewell as soon as possible," ran the note. "I think the cavalry are up to some new dodge, or else the cattle men are going to play us foul. Urgent.
"I must away, boys!" cried Pawnee Brown, tearing up the note. "Be ready to move, but don't stir until you hear from me," and, giving a few more instructions, he borrowed a fresh horse from Carl Humpendinck and set off on a gallop of twelve miles across the country.
As he covered mile after mile, through woods and over stretches of broad prairie, he could not help but think of his racing mare, Bonnie Bird. How she would have enjoyed this outing, and how she would have covered this ground with her twinkling feet.
"I must find her and find the rascal who stole her!" he muttered. "I wouldn't take twenty thousand dollars for Bonnie," and he meant what he said. The little mare and the great scout were almost inseparable.
The afternoon sun was sinking low when Pawnee Brown struck the outskirts of Honnewell (spelled by some writers, Honeywell). Not caring to be seen in that town by the government agents, who might inform the cavalry that the boomers were moving in that direction, the scout took to a side trail, leading directly for the ravine mentioned in the letter.
Soon he was picking his way down a path covered with brush and loose stones. Upon either side were woods, and so thick no sunlight penetrated, making the spot gloomy and forbidding.
"Now, I suppose I'll have no picnic in finding Dan," he mused. "I'll give the signal."
The shrill cry of a night bird rang out upon the air, and Pawnee Brown listened attentively for a reply. None came, and he repeated the cry, with the same result.
"I'll have to push on a bit further," he thought, and was just about to urge forward his horse when a crashing on the opposite side of the ravine caught his ear. Instinctively he withdrew to the shelter of some brush to learn who the new-comer might be.
He was not kept long in waiting. The sounds came closer and closer, and presently a tall Indian came into view, astride a horse, and carrying an odd-looking burden in his arms.
"Yellow Elk!" almost burst from Pawnee Brown's lips. The Indian he mentioned was a well-known chief, a warrior noted for his many crimes, and a redskin whom the government agent had tried in vain to subdue.
The scout crouched back still further and drew his pistol, for he felt that Yellow Elk was on no lawful errand, and a meeting would most likely mean a fight. Then he made a discovery of still greater importance—to him.
"Bonnie Bird, as sure as shooting! So Yellow Elk is the horse thief. The rascal! I've a good mind to shoot him down where he sits!" He handled his pistol nervously. "What is that he is carrying, wrapped up in his blanket? Ha!"
A murmur of amazement could not now be suppressed. In shifting his burden from one shoulder to the other the Indian had allowed the blanket to fall partly back, and there was now revealed to Pawnee Brown the head and shoulders of a beautiful, but unconscious white girl. Nor was that all. The girl was—Nellie Winthrop!