California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman

CHAPTER XV.
THE FATAL CHASE.

Joe knew well that he had not gotten every pony of the herd, and he only wondered that he had gotten so many, while he readily understood that as soon as the Indians recovered from their amazement they would mount those mustangs that remained and come in chase.

Should he at once, upon reaching the prairie, desert the herd and save himself upon his own horse, or rather the one he had selected for himself?

Or, if he did so, would not the whole band, as soon as their ponies were recaptured, give up their game and come hot on his trail, to avenge the wrong?

While he was dashing along in the rear of the drove, thinking what was best to be done, in spite of the thunder of the hoofs in front of him, he heard the clatter of hoof-falls behind.

Instantly he drew rein and listened.

"One, two, three." He counted them slowly, as he recognized from the sound how many there were.

"There may be more behind them, so it won't do any harm if I just give 'em a hint I don't want to be crowded."

So saying, he wheeled his mustang behind a small tree which had slipped down from the bank above, and waited while the herd dashed on.

Soon an Indian came in sight, then another and another.

They had mounted bareback, as Joe could see in the now breaking dawn, and were pushing their ponies hard.

Another thing he discovered was the sound of many feet.

"The whole gang is coming on foot, by the Holy Smoke!" he said.

Then up went his rifle, as the Indian was almost upon him, and the crack followed.

Joe never missed if he had half an aim, and off tumbled the red- skin, while the pony dashed on after the herd.

The other two Indians quickly attempted to wheel their ponies to the right-about, and one succeeded in doing so, but the other had a hard mouthed animal, and he was anxious to go on after his companions, and before he could stop him, Joe darted out of his hiding-place upon him.

"Injun, I want you," he yelled, and his revolver flashed.

But the startled pony reared up just then and got the bullet in his brain and, falling back heavily upon his rider, pinned him beneath him.

Joe spent no time in looking after his foe, but sped on after the herd, just as two score red-skins, running at full speed, came in sight.

"Farewell, Injuns," he shouted, waving his hand and looking back.

As they came to the single rider left of their band, Joe saw the brave pulled suddenly off of his pony, and a chief bedecked with feathers spring upon his back.

"That's the Raging Chief, I guess, and he is after me hot as blazes," coolly said the boy, as he sped along, loading his rifle as he went.

"Yes, it's me he wants," he continued, as the chief-for so his war-bonnet proclaimed him-urged the pony in pursuit.

"And the others are running a foot race to see the show," continued Joe, as the warriors on foot again bounded forward.

"Come, Injun pony, that feller's got a gun," he cried, urging the mustang on.

But the animal on which the chief was mounted seemed the speedier of the two, for he gained steadily.

"I guess I'll muss his feathers for him," and so saying, Joe came to a halt, wheeled about and brought up his rifle.

The chief saw the act and quickly fired, but without effect, as the bullet flow over the boy's head.

Then he threw himself upon the side of his pony, so as to protect himself, and reloaded his old musket with marvelous skill and quickness, while the animal circled around at a gallop.

Watching his chance, Joe was about to fire when, before he could do so, a second shot from the chief came, and down dropped his horse, just as his finger pressed the trigger of his rifle.

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