California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman

CHAPTER XVI
A NOVEL ESCAPE

ALMOST any one, under the circumstances in which Joe found himself would have given up for lost.

But the boy did not. He first, as he caught himself upon his blistered, bleeding feet, when his mustang fell dead beneath him, turned his eyes upon his foe to watch the effect of his shot.

The shout that broke from his lips proved that it had not been a miss. Nor had it been a death-shot.

The arm of the chief, over the neck of the pony, had caught the bullet, and the Indian, no longer able to hold on had dropped to the ground, while his horse had bounded on down the canyon.

A shriek of rage broke from the wounded, foiled chief, and wounded though he was he bounded toward Joe.

But that worthy youth comprehended his danger fully.

And he looked to take advantage of anything that might present itself in his favor.

He saw the flying pony, and knew that the nature of the ground would bring him within thirty feet of him.

To the Indian saddle on the pony he had, was a lariat fastened, and to seize this and get it ready was a second's work.

Then, as the chief's horse dashed by he threw it, and with such precision, that, though the animal shied badly, it settled over his neck.

Instantly the mustang was brought to his knees, and almost down, and Joe gave another yell of joy.

But he noticed that the lasso had torn from its hold nearly, by the jerk, and that the first bound of the animal would tear it loose.

For him to attempt to bold the animal, by catching the lariat, would be utterly useless, he was well aware, so he bounded toward the mustang to throw himself upon his back.

But, quick as he was, the pony was quicker, had regained his feet, and the lariat was torn loose, just as Joe reached his haunches.

For the flash of a second all seemed lost, for Joe was suffering greatly with his feet, and the chief and his warriors were not far away; but his quick eyes detected the long tail of the mustang, held up with excitement and instantly he grasped it with a grip that was not to be shaken off.

With a wild snort of rage and fright the mustang bounded away down the canyon.

But Joe was with him. With his good left hand he held on like grim death, and with his rifle grasped in his right he went along at great bounds.

His feet seemed as though they would split open at every bound, his hand that held the tail seemed on fire, but yet he clung for dear life.

The red skins sent showers of arrows after him as they ran, and several stuck in the haunches of the mustang, urging him on the faster, and one buried itself in Joe's arm.

Still he did not let go, and as he bounded along in great leaps, he yelled:

"Yell away, you red devils! but here we go and no one to head us off!" Maddened with fright and pain, the mustang ran on, yet still could not shake off the weight behind him.

And the speed at which he went soon dropped the fastest warriors far behind, greatly to the delight of Joe.

At length the mustang overtook the herd and dashed into their midst, and Joe had just strength enough to grasp the mane of a small pony, as he came alongside, and drag rather than throw himself upon his back.

The sigh of relief he gave was like an escape of steam from an engine; and limp and worn, out he sat upon the animal, as it ran along in the rear of the herd.

But soon he regained his breath, and as the drove struck the prairie, yelled himself hoarse to keep them going.

And go they did at a long, sweeping gallop, which put them several miles away upon the prairie when the warriors reached the end of the canyon and behold them.

Looking back at them, Joe said, sympathizingly:

"It's a pity they don't know English so that they can cuss, for I know they is that mad to make me sorry for 'am."

Whether Joe was sincere in his pity or not I cannot say; but that he was in earnest in pressing on there was no doubt, for he kept the herd at apace that put many a mile behind them before night.

The direction in which he had to go, however, was away from the camp of the emigrant train and he regretted this; but having captured another herd, he determined to carry them first to the fort, thinking that the train would remain encamped until his return.

Suffering as he was with his bands and feet, the latter especially, alone, exhausted after all he had gone through, Joe knew he had a hard task to watch his herd.

But he let them come to a walk, and picked out an animal which he had observed was the best of the lot, and mounted him.

Coming to a stream he allowed them to halt for a rest, and he took advantage of it to bathe his wounds, for the arrow shot in his arm gave him pain also and was swelling.

But Joe was as hardy as a pine knot, and again rushed on, after an hour's rest, and allowing the herd to go at their own gait, managed to snatch a little sleep.

Two days after, tied upon his horse half lying down with a high fever upon him, he drove his ponies up to the fort, and was taken from the back of the animal nearer dead than alive, and most tenderly cared for by Major Van Dorn, who had returned only a short while before from his search for the brave boy.

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