California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman

CHAPTER XX.
THE BANDIT TRAILER.

WHEN Joe left the fort, he did not attempt to strike the trail of the fugitives, as the soldiers had done.

He had heard that the outlaws had killed the guard over the horses, and -mounting the fleetest animals -had separated to each go his own way.

There were eight of them, and each one had been pursued by a squad of cavalry led by an officer and a good scout.

Joe however took his own way to follow them. up.

Having been a member of their baud, while he was plotting their capture, he at once determined to start for their retreat in the hills.

He rightly knew that when Bowie Bob had gone down to the settlement to marry pretty Mollie Kenton, he had left at the retreat a couple of pards, and plenty of arms and plunder, with a score or more of horses.

Though passing as a trapper, Bowie Bob was the captain of the gang of horse-thieves and murderers, and his handsome face and dashing way had won poor Mollie's heart, for she suspected not his vile character.

Therefore Joe, knowing what he did, struck straight for the retreat, and did not spare his horse in the least.

It was a hard six miles' ride, and the sun was nearing the western horizon, when Joe bid his tired horse in a ravine and went to the outlaw cabin.

"Hullo, Joe, whar's the rest o' ther boys?" said one of the two men who came out of the cabin as he approached.

It was a wild, desolate spot, and where few soldiers would care to follow a foe.

A rudely built, but stout cabin, a fenced in lot for stolen horses, and air out-house for plunder, comprised the outlaws' retreat, over which two villainous looking men held guard during the absence of the rest of the gang.

"They is comin' as last as they kin," truthfully answered Joe.

"Did ther Cap git fixed?"

"He did, Tom, durned well fixed."

"Waal, she are a prairie flower o' a but she'll shout of she ever finds out he are what he be; but what is yer lookin' fer?"

I most hev dropped my flask o' speerit as I coined up from where I left my critter."

"I'll go an' git it, Joe," volunteered one only too anxious to get the opportunity to drink half of it, and fill it up with water.

"Waal, my critter are dead beat, so I, left him in ther pine canyon.

"Ef it hain't in my saddle pocket, Tom, I guesses I hev lost it."

Tom started off rapidly in search of the treasured "speerit," and hardly had he gotten out of sight before Joe said:

"Maybe I hev a leetle drop in ther old jug, Jim, so let's see."

Jim followed him into the cabin, to suddenly find his throat in an iron grasp, and to see a revolver shoved into his face.

"Git down on yer knees, Jim, fer I intends ter tie yer."

"Don't kill me, Joe," whined the wretch, as the hold on his throat was released.

"I don't want ter sile my hands with yer, but I does intend ter keep yer from doin' no more deviltry."

With that, Joe gagged the outlaw, and then shoved him, all securely bound as he was, under one of the beds that occupied the four corners of' the cabin.

Going to the door, he saw Tom coming up the hill with the flask in his hand.

A look at him was sufficient to see that he had been drinking heavily.

"Did yer take any, Tom?"

"No, Joe, fer yer see it are full."

"Yas, it are full o' water, an' you is full o' rum." and Joe grabbed the man in a grasp which had he been sober, he could not have shaken off.

With a dexterity that was remarkable, he bound and gagged him also, and he too was rolled under the bed to keep his pard company.

Joe then prepared his supper, and just as he sat down to eat it, in stepped Bowie Bob into the cabin.

Seeing who it was he confronted, Bowie Bob hastily drew a revolver and covered him, a weapon he had taken from the soldier he had killed.

Joe was evidently taken by surprise, for he had not expected that one of the escaped outlaws would be armed.

But not a muscle quivered as the bandit captain cried:

"Ha! you are here, traitor Joe, and I've got the dead drop on you."

"Yas, Bowie Bob, I are here, an' I are sorry ter see yer is sich a durned fool ter think I'd come alone.

"Yer has ther dead drop on me, I 'lows; but thar is some ahind yer, thet covers yer ugly carkis far all it are worth."

The outlaw lowered his weapon and turned quickly to look behind him. That was all Joe wanted, for in an instant he turned the tables, and he covered Bowie Bob with his weapon, while he said coolly:

"Drop that weepin, Bob!"

The outlaw obeyed.

"Now, I guesses you is tired sufficient ter want ter lie down on yer face.

"Down yer goes!"

With a curse the outlaw obeyed, and to bind and gag him was but the work of a minute, arnd he too was hustled out of sight.

Soon after there came the sound of hoofs without, and a voice cried: "Ho, Tom! Ho, Jim! are you abed?"

"No, come in!" gruffly answered Joe.

The bolt was removed from the door, which swung open and a man stepped in with the remark:

"Boys, there has been the devil to pay down in the settlements, for-"

"Thar devils ter pay up hear in the mountings, Josh," said Joe, stepping from behind the door and dealing the man a blow that sent him, reeling to the ground.

But, before he could follow up his advantage and bind him, two more of the outlaws entered, and seeing him, at a glance took in the situation.

One was armed with a knife, and the other seizing a chair rushed upon Joe.

"Back, pards, fer I'd a heap rather yer'd be hung then hev ter kill yer," he shouted.

"We'll take ther chances, yer cussed traitor," cried one.

But they were the last words he ever uttered, as he fell dead, shot through the heart.

But before Joe could fire a second shot the man he had been trying to bind, seized his arm, and instantly a desperate struggle began for the mastery, the other outlaw rushing to his aid.

Hearing the fracas Bowie Bob and his two bound and gagged companions rolled out from under the bed and made frantic efforts to speak and free themselves, so that the cabin was turned into a pandemonium for a few moments.

But Joe had the strength of a giant, and was as wiry as a cat, and rose, to his feet with his two foes clinging to him, and striving all their might to prevent him from using his weapons.

With a herculean effort he shook one off, and at once came the flash and crack of his revolver, and while one man fell dead, the other sung out lustily:

"Don't shoot me, Joe."

"I won't, pard, fer it is better that yer be hung; but yer'll excuse me ef I ties yer."

And tie him he did, after which he turned to Bowie Bob and the two others who had rolled out in a vain endeavor to join in the fight, and said:

"Bein' as yer rolled out, jist roll back ag'in."

They obeyed with an alacrity that pleased Joe greatly, and he said: "Thar is four more due an' they'll be along afore day, ef ther soger hasn't tuk 'em."

And before daybreak, one by one the four dropped into the trap and were made prisoners, after which Joe loaded the stolen horses in the corral with his captives and the two dead bodies, and set out on his return to the fort, where he arrived in safety.

"Joe, you shall not leave this fort, for I will make you chief of scouts," said the delighted major at beholding him and his prisoners.

But in the morning Joe had gone, and none knew when, or whither.

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