California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman

CHAPTER XVII.
THE BOY PIONEER.

IT was weeks before Joe came around to be himself again, for he had a severe illness of it.

He had at first raved about his promise to Captain Reynolds, which he had been unable to keep; but Major Van Dorn told him that he had sent a guide and escort with them, and they had arrived in safety at Sunset Settlement.

"And Maggie?" Joe had asked.

"Who is Maggie, Joe?"

"Little Maggie Reynolds," he answered, referring to the little golden-haired girl that had kissed him good-by.

And then his mind would wander away in delirium, and he would make those who nursed him laugh at the tricks he imagined he was playing upon the Indians.

Yet never once did he refer to his past life, from whence he had come, to his parents, or to one act of his boyhood before his life upon the plains.

Once did Major Van Dorn bear him say in his sleep:

"I am going back to the old Kentucky home."

"Joe," he said to him, as the boy was getting better; "Joe, are you from Kentucky?"

"I never said so when I was out of my head, did I, major?" was the strange question.

"No, Joe."

"Then I'll not say so now, major," was the calm response, and the major refrained from questioning him further.

At last the boy got on his legs once more. His wounds had healed under the surgeons care, and he said he was ready to go.

"Go where, Joe?" asked Major Van Dorn.

"Anywhere."

"Why not stay here?"

"Why?"

"Well, you have proven yourself a great Indian-fighter, Joe, and I would engage you as a scout for the fort and give you good pay."

"What would I do with the money, major?"

"Is there not some one you could give it to?"

"No."

"Well, some day there may be!'

"Yes, there may be."

"I'll keep what I've got; but how much is it?"

"I allowed you the same price for the last ponies, Joe, and sent them to head quarters, where they were needed, so I have for you, or the Paymaster has, just a six thousand and sixty dollars."

"Whew! I'm rich!"

"Yes, quite well off, Joe. But you can accumulate more as a scout."

"No, major; I'm going west."

"Well, Joe, I was under the impression that this was west, and a long way west," said the major, with a smile.

"Not west enough for me.

"I am going to the Rocky Mountains."

"In Heaven's name! what are you going there for, Joe?"

"Trapping, hunting, and looking around," was the cool reply.

"You'll never get there."

"I guess so. "

"You'll be killed."

"I guess not."

"Well, you wish to take some money with you?"

"No, I have enough."

The major looked at the strange youth in surprise. He could not make him out, and the more he saw of him, the more of a mystery he became.

He seemed to have an air of refinement about him at times, which he also seemed to endeavor to hide.

He spoke naturally one day, and in border slang the next. Here was an opportunity for him to remain at the fort, where he had won the esteem of officers and soldiers alike, and was looked upon as a hero.

And yet he was going to leave, and though alone, friendless apparently, coolly said his destination was the Rocky Mountains.

"What shall I do with your money, Joe, if you do not return?" asked the major.

"Oh! I I'll be back someday," was the confident response.

"But in case of an accident..."

"You mean if I get killed?"

"Yes."

"Give it to Maggie, and tell her Joe left it for her."

"Maggie Reynolds!"

"Yes."

"She is but a little child?"

"Yes, only four or five years old; but I guess she'll grow."

"No doubt of it, Joe.

Well, I'll give it to her if you do not return."

"Now, major, don't be in too big a hurry about it, for I'll come sliding back some day."

"I'll wait three years, and it I should be ordered away from the post I will leave it with the commander who follows me, and so on."

"Better make it five years."

"So be it, Joe."

And this financial matter being settled, Joe set about his preparations for his departure.

He had the pony he had selected from his herd, and the major said that he had shown great speed, as the men had raced him several times while Joe was ill.

Then he added:

"But Joe, I've got a horse I wish you to accept as a present from me, and he shows his heels to anything on the border, so far.

"Then I have a rifle, a new patent, and a small one, I wish you to have.

"You can use your mustang as a pack-animal, and the men say you shall go well stocked with stores from the commissary and the sutler, so you'll want for nothing."

Joe seemed touched at the kindness shown him, and several days after mounted the splendid animal given him by Major Van Dorn, and with his mustang well loaded and in lead, rode out of the fort to a tune from the band and a cheer from the entire garrison.

All watched him until he got some distance off, and saw him head due west.

And many predicted that he would lose his scalp before a week went by, while others confidently asserted that he would yet be back and give a good account of himself.

"He'll dismount a whole Indian tribe yet and be back with the mustangs," said the major with a laugh, and as the youth was yet in hearing he continued:

"Now, men, three ringing farewell cheers for Joe, the Boy Pioneer!" With a yell they were given, and Joe was seen to turn in his saddle and raise his hat in response.

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