California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman

CHAPTER IV.
PREPARING FOR THE WORST.

SOMEHOW, all in the emigrant train, once they looked into the honest face of the mysterious youth who answered only to the appellation of Joe, trusted him..

The grumblers became silent, and the entire train was anxious to follow his advice.

He sat upon his horse watching the emigrants get ready for the march, and then rode on ahead as they pulled out of camp.

Captain Reynolds rode forward with him, and more and more interested in the strange youth, tried to draw him out to speak more of himself; but in vain, for Joe was reticent in a wonderful degree about himself, and made no account of why he was there in that wild region, the reason for his coming or whom he had come with.

In referring to the graves in the forest, by which he had been seen seated on his horse, when first discovered by the hunters, he made no reply.

"Whose graves are they, Joe?" asked Captain Reynolds, kindly.

Joe made no response.

"Poor boy, I fear those you loved are in them, and that they were victims of some massacre," said Captain Reynolds.

How many fighting men have you got, cap'n?" asked Joe, as though he had not heard the foregoing remarks of his companion.

"Twenty-seven, men and boys that can handle a rifle well."

"Couldn't you drum up a few more?"

"There are several more boys that might be made useful."

"Boys are as good as men often, I guess," was the laconic response, and looking at Joe, Captain Reynolds felt that be at least he was.

"Well, then, I can make the force thirty-one."

"No women what know how to shoot a rifle?" asked Joe, with utter disregard for the proprieties of the Queen's English.

"Yes, but I wouldn't have them risk danger."

"Better risk it than make it certain."

"How do you mean Joe?"

"That if you got any women-folks that can shoot, take 'em on the bluff with you, and pour in a heavy fire the first time.

"Then if you've got any extra rifles and shot-guns, load 'em and lay 'em by the men to use, and the women can reload the other weapons.

"I tell you, cap'n, that Bad Blood is an old soldier for fighting, and he has got two hundred braves.

"But if you can knock about fifty under the first two volleys, and then pour the music in pretty lively, you'll see those Injuns dig out in style."

"You seem to be an old soldier, too, Joe, for your advice is good and I will follow it."

"I've seen some fighting," was the cool reply, and then Joe rode up to the stream and said:

"Now here is camp, and you can't find a better place."

So it seemed, for the stream made a bend just there, and the point ran in toward the bluff which formed the other bank.

This presented a space of about an acre for a camp, and the wagons were stationed right across from the stream on one side to the other forming thereby a breastwork.

The cattle were corraled in a circle formed by the vehicles, and the camp-fires were built near the bank beneath the bluff and under the shelter of a few trees that grew upon the point of land.

As the stream was not thirty feet in width, a tree was felled that made a bridge across it, and standing upon this, Joe very skillfully threw his lasso and caught the noose upon the branch of the tree growing upon the bluff forty feet above.

Up this he went with the agility of a sailor, and soon hauled up a rope ladder hastily constructed, and which he made fast to a tree-stump.

"That's called Gable Bluff, and there's no way to get on top excepting you go up as I did, by fastening your lasso on some tree growing near the edge.

"It's only a few acres in size, and the banks are steep all round, so it would be a good place to hide the children and women," said Joe.

Then he gave advice about not having the guards set the following night, but to keep the stock feeding all the next day near by upon the prairie but to fasten them securely in their corral of wagons at sunset.

"And the dummies you spoke of, Joe?" asked Captain Reynolds.

"Oh, yes; you must keep your camp-fires burning brightly, and dress up plenty of clothes to look like men lying under blankets, for they will be what the reds will go for.

"Now I must go, but I guess I'll be round near when the Injuns come," and without another word Joe was turning away to mount his patiently waiting white horse that had stood unhitched near, when Captain Reynolds's little girl of five years old came up to him and said:

"You doin' away?"

"Yes," and Joe looked down upon the pretty little golden-haired cherub, with a smile that lighted up his pale face and made it really handsome.

"Kiss Maddie dood-by," she lisped.

He bent over, raised in his arms, and kissed her, sat her down once more.

Then springing upon his horse, with the ease of a circus rider, he rode out of camp at a sweeping gallop, unhearing, or unheeding the request of Captain Reynolds for him to remain with them as their guest.

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