Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 11
Ike Watson's Arrival
Let us go back to Allen.
We left him just as the sound made by Paul's horse aroused the leader of the horse thieves, whose full name was Saul Mangle.
"The feller that went over into the river, as sure as fate!" burst from the lips of Mangle, and he started back in astonishment.
"Impossible!" cried Darry, the second man. "That feller must have been killed!"
"See for yourself."
With these words Saul Mangle sprang forward to stop Allen, who was about to mount Jasper. He reached the young man's side as Allen gained the saddle.
"Come down out of that!" he cried, roughly.
"Not much!" returned the young man. "Clear the track, unless you want to be run down!"
He urged the horse forward. Jasper started, but ere he had taken three steps, Mangle caught him by the bridle.
"Whoa!" he cried. "Whoa, I say!"
"Let the horse go, do you hear?" ejaculated Allen, sharply.
"I won't do it! Darry! Jeff! Come here, why don't you?"
The others leaped into the brush. Allen saw that affairs were turning against him. He leaned forward to Jasper's neck.
Smack! Mangle caught a sharp blow full across his mouth. It came so quickly that he staggered back and his hold was loosened.
"On, Jasper, on, my boy!" cried Allen, slapping the animal with his palm. "Come, Rush! Come, Rush!" he added to Chet's horse, which stood close beside.
Off went Jasper with a bound, and Rush followed at his heels.
"Stop him! Hang the measly luck!" roared Saul Mangle. "Darry! Jeff! What are you at?"
As he cried out, the leader of the horse thieves felt for his pistol. But before the weapon could be drawn both horses and Allen had disappeared behind a clump of cottonwoods.
"We had bettah follow him on de mustangs," suggested the negro. "He can't ride——"
"Of course, we'll follow him!" growled Mangle. "Don't stand and talk about it. Come on! He'll be out of hearing in another minute! This is the worst luck yet!"
He leaped for one of the mustangs. In another second all three of the men were mounted and riding after Allen as rapidly as the nature of the land and growth would allow.
"How do you think he escaped? " asked Darry, as they pushed on.
"Can't make it out," replied Mangle. "We'll make him tell the story when we catch him. Ha! what was that?"
A sudden crash ahead had arrested their attention. He listened. A dead silence followed.
"The hosses and young feller have gone into some sort of a hole," cried Darry. "We'll have him now, all right enough."
On they went through the brush, Mangle leading the way. Suddenly the leader came to a halt. Before him was a sheer descent of eight or ten feet.
"Here's where he and the hosses went down," he said to his followers.
"But where is he?" questioned Darry.
"Not far off, I'll warrant ye. Come on."
"Dis yere mustang won't take dat leap," put in Jeff, drawing back.
"And I won't venture it," added Darry. "I don't want to land on my head."
"Cowards!" howled Saul Mangle. "Well, then, there is a trail to the right; take that. Here goes!"
He spoke to his animal, and an instant later rider and mustang went down in a graceful curve. They landed in a bunch of brush, none the worse for the leap.
Darry and Jeff followed by way of the trail. They could hear Allen pushing through the brush not over a hundred yards ahead.
The young man was having a hard time of it. He was going it blindly, and was so faint from want of sleep and something to eat that he could hardly sit up in the saddle.
Yet he realized his peril and clung on desperately, meanwhile, urging the horse and his mate to do their best to place distance between them and their pursuers.
But now the slight trail he was pursuing became rougher, and it was with difficulty that any progress could be made. The horses labored along bravely, but were no match on such ground for the nimble-footed mustangs.
"Halt! Do you hear?" were the first unpleasant words which greeted Allen's ears, and looking back he saw that Saul Mangle was in plain sight.
Allen attempted to dodge out of sight. To frighten him Mangle fired off his pistol, the bullet cutting through the brush under Jasper's feet.
"Will you stop now?" yelled Mangle.
Allen was in a quandary. He did not wish to be shot, and yet——
But the young man was not called on to solve the dreadful question. While he hesitated there was a loud shout from some distance to his right, and looking up the rocks he saw to his great joy Ike Watson, the hunter, sitting astride of his horse, rifle in hand.
"Wall, wall!" shouted the old man. "And what's the row, Allen, I want to know?"
"Horse thieves, Ike! Save me!" was the quick reply. "There are three of them after me!"
"Saul Mangle, as I'm a nateral born sinner, and Darry Nodley and Jeff Jones! Wall! wall! wall! Turn about, before it is too late, ye sarpints!"
The loud cry from Ike Watson caused the gang of horse thieves to come to a sudden halt. Every one of them knew old Ike Watson only too well—knew him for a man of quaint humor, but with a sense of justice that no one dared to question.
"Hang the measly luck!" muttered Saul Mangle. "There's Ike Watson!"
"Then the jig's up for the present, and we had better vamoose!" returned Nodley.
"Clar out, do ye hear me?" yelled Ike Watson to the crowd of three. "Don't wait for me to git riled up."
"Come on!" whispered Saul Mangle, with a scowl, and like magic the trio of villains turned about and disappeared down a side trail, leaving poor exhausted Allen safe in friendly hands at last.
"By the grasshoppers of Kansas, but ye look fagged out, Allen!" exclaimed old Ike Watson as he sprang down and caught Allen in his arms. "What's the matter with ye, boy?"
"I've had an awful experience, Ike," replied the young ranchman as soon as he could recover sufficiently to speak. "I've been underground several miles, and I haven't had a mouthful to eat since yesterday morning!"
"Gee shoo, Allen! Wall! wall! wall! If I didn't know ye so well I'd be apt ter think ye war tellin' me a fairy tale. But I allow as how Granville Winthrop's son couldn't lie if he tried."
"I speak the truth, Ike. But where are those villains?"
"Gone, boy, gone. They knowed better nor to stay whar Ike Watson was, ho! ho!"
"They are horse thieves, and ought to be locked up."
"Thet Saul Mangle ought to be strung up, ye mean. And Darry Nodley and that coon, Jeff Jones, ain't much better. But they are gone now."
"Well, I have Paul's horse and Chet's, too, anyway," returned Allen, with a slight smile of satisfaction.
"Whar's your own horse?"
"Dead, I reckon. We went off the Upas Pass bridge together into the river, and I suppose she was drowned. Poor Lilly!"
"Off the bridge! Gee shoo! Then ye war carried down the Black Rock River?"
"Yes!" Allen gave a shudder. "It was fearful, Ike. But come, let us get to the ranch, and I can tell my story to all at once!"
"That's the best way, sure. But down that air stream! Great snakes and turkey buzzards!"
"I know it hardly can be believed, but that is not the worst or most wonderful part of it. But come; I am nearly famished."
"Here's a bite I have in my pouch; eat that," returned Ike Watson, and he passed over some crackers and meat which Allen devoured with keen relish.