California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman

CHAPTER X.
SEARCHING FOR JOE'S SCALP.

IT must be admitted that poor Joe had the idea in his mind that death was certain, when he glanced below him at about the spot he would fall.

As I have said, there was a pool at the base of the cliff, and its depth Joe did not know, but judged that it was over the he d of his horse.

Around the pool grew a number of willows and cottonwoods almost met in the center, and here is where Joe had aimed to go through, feeling assured if his horse did not turn over in his downward flight, he would strike the water fairly, and if not killed, or crippled, would soon bear him to safety.

But the white had not struck the cliff at the exact point, where Joe had intended he should, and the result was that he went crashing through the tops of the cottonwoods, making the splinters fly and tearing the limbs and foliage to atoms, and at the same time having his snowy sides pierced deeply at half a dozen different points. Once be half turned over, yet Joe still kept his seat, and then a limb caught him under the neck, and checked the turn, so that he went down feet foremost into the pool.

Joe was still seated upon his back and sunk with him while the splash sounded like the explosion of a heavy gun. As the horse did not rise, Joe pushed himself quickly to the surface, a couple of strokes of his strong arms sent him to the shore, where he sat amazed, dazed and considerably shaken up by the fall.

His horse was killed, he knew, and that he had not been surprised him greatly.

As it was his feet and legs had been scratched up pretty badly ; but he was yet whole, with no bones broken, and in such condition felt himself equal to alt least a couple of red-skins.

He glanced up through the foliage and saw three head peeping over the cliff and looking and wondering while they talked They had heard the crashing branches, and even Indian nature had not the heart and nerve to look down then, nor until half a minute after the plunge.

Then they did so, and they felt assured the horse and boy were both dead.

Joe understood enough of their language to hear one of them say:

"Pony and pale-face both dead."

The two others grunted assent.

"I guess not," muttered Joe, who could see them, though they could not see him.

"Get pale-face scalp," said the first speaker.

The two others gave a kind of war-whoop, so tickled were they at this.

"I'll be there when I'm scalped," muttered Joe, grimly.

Then the heads disappeared, and Joe set to work to look at his weapons. The rifle had only powder in it, for he had not had time to put in the bullet, and this he knew he would have to clean out well, as the rifle had gotten a ducking.

Then Joe examined his revolvers, and smiled.

He had over the cylinder of each, from the, barrel back to the stock behind the hammer, a hood of oil-silk, with elastic at each end that held it in place, thus preventing the caps and powder from getting wet-for those were not the days of metallic cartridges.

"These are dry, and I guess I'll wait and see them Injuns take my scalp," said Joe, for he had become revengeful on account of his noble horse.

He could easily have gotten away before the red-skins appeared, but he concluded to wait, and hence he made his preparations accordingly. His first act was to leave his fire arms upon the bank and dive down in the pool, knife in hand.

He soon reappeared with his blankets, and to, which were attached his haversack of provisions and ammunition pouch, the latter being also enveloped tightly in oil-silk.

"Good!" said Joe, as he saw that the ammunition was dry.

Then he cleaned his rifle, dried it as thoroughly as he could under the circumstances, and loaded it.

"Now I'm ready to receive company," he muttered, as he took up a position that would command the approach to the pool around the cliff. And his company soon appeared in sight, three in number.

"They've buried the others, but I kilt 'em" he said, as coolly as though he did not expect the slightest trouble.

Indians are by nature as cautious as coyotes and these three came on with wary advance, though they felt sure that the youth wag dead.

As they got within easy range Joe drew a bead upon the one in advance with his rifle, selected his head as his point of aim, and pulled the trigger.

The cap snapped, the weapon failing to explode.

But it checked the advance of the red-skins, and sent them back to cover with ludicrous suddenness.

"Holy smoke! My rifle's failed me!" cried Joe, and as troubles seldom come singly, at that moment he beheld, a score of mounted Indians coming up the valley not halt a mile away.

Evidently they were some of the same band coming to see what delayed their comrades so long.

Joe thought quickly and he came to the conclusion that that was no place for him.

Seizing his wet blankets, he threw them across one shoulder, and with his rifle in his hand, bounded around the edge of the pool, and keeping the clump of cottonwoods and willows between him and his foes, ran with the speed of a deer along the base of the cliff.

He heard no yell, indicative of his flight being discovered, but did not tarry on this on this account in his rapid run until he had placed the point of the ridge between him and his foes.

Seeing a ravine a short distance before him, he turned into this and was soon brought to a halt by its terminating abruptly.

He was about to retrace his way when the ringing war-cries from the direction of the pool told him that his flight was discovered, and he knew then that his situation was desperate.

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