California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman

CHAPTER XVIII.
A FAVOR RETURNED.

What became of Joe, after his departure from the fort, no one ever knew, for several years passed away before those who had known him than heard of him again.

Some said he had indeed gone to the Rocky Mountains, and had passed a year or more roaming through its wilds, and others reported that a youth answering to his description, had been guiding trains over the Santa Fe trails, and had won a name in Upper Mexico as a most daring Indian-fighter, and a man whom few of the desperadoes of the plains cared to meet.

But one night he came suddenly before several who had known him at the fort, when he brought his captured herd in, and it was in this way. Major Van Dorn had been pushed further west with his command, for the Star of Empire would not allow the border to remain long in one locality, as the march of civilization beat the red-skins further and further toward the Land of the Setting Sun.

About his outpost Major Van Dorn had been annoyed a great deal with a gang of desperadoes, who were road agents, horse thieves and all else that was vile and he had offered a reward for their capture dead or alive.

One night he had gone over to a small settlement, a few miles from the outpost he commanded, to witness the marriage of a young trapper to a settler's daughter; and as there was just then a number of his troopers off on a raid, he had been accompanied only by one of his officers and two cavalrymen.

The trapper was a handsome young man, but there was that in his face which neither the girl's father nor the major liked; but the maiden had fallen in love with his good looks, and plainly told her father that he did not like her lover because he wanted her to marry the old fort sutler, who was rich.

The settler gave his consent, however, to the marriage, and the day had been set, or rather the night, for the ceremony.

Promptly at sunset the young groom arrived, accompanied by several wild-looking comrades, who he said had come down from the bills to see him "spliced," as he termed it.

The major saw these friends, and liked their looks less than he did the groom's, and, as more of them dropped in, until there were nearly a dozen present, he determined to he on his guard, well knowing that was a locality for characters of a most dangerous kind.

One of the guests attracted the attention of the major in particular, and he was about to walk over to where he stood and ask him where they had met before, when, as though divining his purpose, the young man left the cabin abruptly.

"Did you see that man, Stewart?" asked the major of his brother officer.

"Yes, major, and a dashing looking follow he was, with an eye like an eagle," was the reply.

The one to whom they referred was six feet in height, superbly formed, and had a mass of brown curls hanging down his back.

His face was full of daring, resolute, and his eyes were black, lustrous, and in repose sad, while a slight mustache was just shading his lip.

He was dressed in a full suit of buckskin, fringed and beaded, and even in the settler's cabin wore a black sombrero, the broad brim turned up in front.

Around his waist was a belt made of a panther-skin, and in it were a pair of revolvers and a long bowie-knife.

"I have met him somewhere before, Stewart."

"So it seems to me, major," and the two officers tried to recall where and when the young man had crossed their paths in the past.

At length the bride came in, upon the arm of her father, and her lover and his pards entered from outside the cabin, where they had been joking and frolicking with each other in a somewhat rude manner.

It was evident that they had all been drinking, and the lover, whose name was lost under the border appellation given him of Bowie Bob, said in an insulting tone, as his eyes fell upon the major:

"This hain't no military wedding, and I wants them blue coats and brass buttons to git."

His pards cheered at this; but the settler, Seth Kenton, stopped forward and said:

"Bob, these gentlemen are my friends, and their being on this border prevents our homes being burned and our families massacred, and I invited them here to see Mollie married."

"Waal, I say no, old man," was the rude reply.

"Pardon me, Mr. Kenton, but I do not wish to be a stumbling block in the way of your daughter's marriage, so I will retire, and Captain Stewart will accompany me," said Major Van Dorn quietly.

The old settler evidently feared his intended son-in-law, and knew not what to say; but Mollie Kenton spoke up and said:

"For shame, Bob, to insult my father's friends."

"I'll do more than that, gal, if they don't travel quick.

"Come, git out o' this and lively too, or I'll make it lively fer yer," cried the bully.

Major Van Dorn was no man to be driven, and facing Bowie Bob he said sternly:

"Young man, you are going too far, and I warn you that I will not be bullied by you, nor shall I now leave this house to please you."

The bully winced a little at this bold front shown him, but after a glance at his pards, he said:

You won't go, yer say?"

"I will not, nor can you force me to do so." Come, pards, let's clip his spurs," shouted the bully and he moved toward the major.

"I guess not."

A form suddenly bounded forward and confronted the bully, and in each hand he hold a revolver.

It was the same young man that the major had said he had seen before.

"Look a-heur, Joe, what in thunder's up, thet you plays that tricky hand?" whined Bowie Bob, not liking the change affairs had taken.

"It are a leetle game I hes intended springin' outer yer for some time, yer cussed cutthroat, an' of yer hands don't by up like windmills durned suddint, yer toes will," was the cool and threatening response.

"Pards, does yer all stand this heur music?" cried the bully.

"I guesses they heurs ther tune I are shriekin', an' hesn't got ther narve ter set another hold on thar, Pant'er Pete!"

A ringing report followed as quick as a flash, and the man addressed as Panther Pete fell dead in his tracks, a bullet in his forehead, sent from the unerring pistol of the man who so boldly faced the gang of desperadoes, while, with only the interruption of the shot and the fall, he continued in the same cool way:

"Yer see, pards, I set another tune, an' none o' yer hed ther nerve ter jine in ther chorus, an' it's all well yer didn't, fer I hev every durned gerloot o' yer kivered, an' 'leve more fun'rals in these weepins, while you only counts nine."

"Come, Joe, is yer gone mad?" asked the expected bridegroom.

"Nary, but Pant'er Pete hev gone somewhar an' you'll foller if yer drops them hands o' yourn.

"Up with yer throat-cutters and gold-stealers yer varmints o' Satan, or I'll play the Dead March!"

Those he addressed knew to whom he referred, and up went the hands of the desperado gang.

"Oh, Lordy, anybody lookin' in through the winder w'u'd think we were havin' a pra'er meetin' in hour fer sartin.

"Now, major, jist call in yer sojers an' ther gang shell be tuck in slick as grease."

"I care not to arrest them, my fine fellow," said the major.

"Thar yer is all wrong, major, fer yer hev offered a reward fer these very gerloots."

"Ha! who are they?

"Bowie Bob, are ther capt'in o' ther gang, an' they is knowed as- -Look out thar! "

With the last word a second shot rung through the cabin and another of the men, who had, lowered his hand quickly to draw a weapon, fell his length upon the floor.

"As I were sayin'," coolly went on the young man, "when thet dead pilgrim were so onperlite as ter interrupt me, this hear convention o' gerloots is knowed as ther Midnight Riders."

"Ha! that robber band?" cried the major, now drawing his revolver, while Captain Stewart followed his example and both stepped to the side of the man who made the bold assertion.

"I talks Gospil, major, fer I hes been fer three months with ther gang, layin' fer jist this heur moment o' joy."

The honest settlers present now also stepped forward. and wholly at the mercy of their captors, the band of outlaws offered no resistance, and were soon secured beyond all possibility of escape."

"Now, my friend , whom have I to thank for this night's good work" said Major Van Dorn, as he stopped up to the daring borderman who had been the means of saving his life and also of having captured the very band of outlaws he had tried so hard to hunt down.

"My name are Joe, major," was the quiet reply.

"Joe! By heaven, but I see it now!

"You are Joe the Stampeder, as the boys called you at the fort?"

"I guess I are the one thet were thet Joe," and Joe grasped the hand warmly that was extended to him, and that night accompanied the major and his prisoners back to the fort; but not one word could they get him to tell them of where he had been, and what adventures he had known since three years before he had ridden off alone as the Boy Pioneer, bound for the Rocky Mountains.

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