Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 26

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Disappearance of Slavin

"What's that?"

The exclamation came from Allen as he broke off short in his conversation with Watson.

The cry from Noel had reached his ears and the cry was quickly followed by the first of the pistol shots.

"He's in trouble, thet's wot!" cried the old hunter. "Hark, thar's another shot!"

He bounded back to the camp fire, but quick as was his movement, Allen was ahead of him. Both felt that Noel's peril must be extreme.

"Get a torch!" cried Watson, and caught up a burning brand.

"What of Slavin?" questioned Allen, but then, as the second shot rang out, he waited no longer, but with a torch in one hand and his gun in the other, he darted up the rocky steps as fast as he could. Watson was beside him, with pistol drawn, his gun resting on the side of the cave below.

It took but a few seconds to gain the vicinity of the little waterfall but before they came up they heard the third shot and another yell from Noel.

"My gracious!" burst from Allen's throat, as he beheld the awful scene.

Noel was lying partly on his back, with one foot pressed against the wolverine's stomach. The wild beast still held the young man by the arm.

Allen realized that whatever good was to be done must be done instantly, and without stopping to think twice he blazed away at the wolverine, twice in quick succession. Watson likewise fired, and the creature was struck each time. With a yelp that was almost human the wolverine turned, let go his hold on Noel, and leaped for Allen.

"Take care!" yelled Watson, and then fired another shot, just as the wolverine, unable to reach Allen s throat, made a clutch at his left leg. The shot from the old hunter took the beast directly in the right eye, piercing his brain, and he fell over like a lump of lead, to move no more.

"A close shave fer ye," remarked Watson, when he saw that Allen was uninjured. "A big one, too," he went on, shoving the wolverine with his foot. "How are ye, Urner?"

"I—I guess I am not much hurt!" gasped Noel, when he felt able to speak. "The beast bit me in the arm though."

"It's lucky he wasn't after gittin at yer throat. I knowed a man onct as got a nip in the throat from a wolverine that made him pass in his checks then an' thar."

"It was a terrible encounter! I thought I was a goner sure."

"Didn't you have a torch?" questioned Allen.

"I did, but the water struck it and put it out."

"The darkness was what made the critter so bold," remarked Watson. "They're afeered o' fire, jes' like most o' wild beasts."

"Oh, my, we forgot Slavin!" burst suddenly from Allen's lips. "I'll wager a horse he has dusted out!"

"Ye're right," returned Watson, and began to make his way back to the camp fire with all speed, and with Allen close beside him. Noel was too weak to run and had to walk. He was still very white and his limbs trembled under him because of the unusual excitement.

The camp fire gained, it needed but a single glance around to convince them that Slavin had indeed gone.

"Took my shootin iron, too, consarn him!" ejaculated Ike Watson. "What fools we wuz ter leave him yere alone!"

"We saved Noel's life by the operation," answered Allen.

"Thet's so, too, but——"

"You hate to see him get away. So do I, and—Look!"

"What now?"

"He has taken one of the horses, too!"

Allen was right, the best of the horses was gone.

"He ain't got much o' a start," said Watson. "So let us git arfter him hot-footed."

"I am with you on that, Watson; he must not get away under any circumstances. If he does——"

"We won't be able to git on the trail o' yer uncle."

"That's it."

Both were soon in the saddle, and shouted back to Noel to keep the fire burning and wait for their return. Then away they dashed into the midnight darkness.

The storm still continued and the rain poured down with a steadiness that was dismal enough to contemplate. But to the discomfort Allen gave scant heed.

"He must not get away," he said, to himself, over and over again. "We must capture him and make him take us to where the gang have Uncle Barnaby a prisoner."

"Right ye air, Allen."

To follow a trail under such circumstances was not easy, yet they found some tracks in the soft dirt directly in front of the cliff and these led on the back trail and then to where there was a deep ravine between the rocky slopes of the mountains.

Half a mile was covered and Watson called a halt.

"Ye want ter go slow yere," he cautioned, "I don't like the looks o' this territory nohow."

"What is wrong with it?"

"Full o' holes, fer one thing, and water under the surface. We'll go slow," and they did.

Occasionally it lightened and by the flashes of light they made out a fringe of woods skirting the hollow. The wind was coming up and this swept through the trees with a mournful sound.

They were moving with care when they heard a sudden yell ahead. It was Slavin calling to his horse.

"Back up!" they heard him cry. "Back, hang ye! De ye want ter pitch me in a hole?" And then followed a savage muttering they could not make out.

"We've got him!" cried Watson. "Come—but be careful, be careful."

"I'm going to dismount," said Allen, and did so and led his steed forward along the trail which the rain had made slippery and treacherous.

Watson likewise got down and they now had to wait for another flash of lightning to show them just where they were. As the flash came Allen gave a look ahead.

"Well, I never!" he ejaculated.

"Wot did ye see? came quickly from the old hunter.

"Slavin has tumbled down and the horse with him."

"Then we've got the rascal sure!"

They plunged forward again. The trail was narrower than ever and the gully, or hollow, was on one side, and a fringe of mountain brush on the other.

Presently they heard something which served to increase their surprise. Slavin was groaning as if in extreme pain.

"The fall hurt him," said Allen, "Look after my horse, will you? I am going ahead."

He hurried on around a slight turn of the trail and through a clump of bushes and trees growing close to the edge of the hollow. As he emerged from the bushes a sight met his gaze that thrilled him to the backbone.

Slavin had fallen over the edge of the trail at a point where lay a huge half-rotted trunk of a tree. The trunk of the tree had slipped in the wet, rolled partly over the man, and was slowly but surely crushing the life out of him!