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On The Back Trail








From: Dave Porter In The Gold Fields

"Just you two wait a minute!"

It was Tom Dillon who uttered the words, as he saw Link Merwell and Job
Haskers turn to where their horses were tethered.

"You bet they'll wait!" exploded Abe Blower, wrathfully. He stepped
forward and seized Merwell by the arm. "What do you mean by playing such
a trick as this on me?"

"Le--let go of me!" cried the youth, in fear. "Let go. I--I--didn't I
say it was only done in fun?"

"Fun? You won't think it's fun when I git through with you!"

"I--ahem! I think this whole matter can be settled amicably," put in Job
Haskers, with an effort. "I am satisfied now that we made a--er--a
mistake. But, as Merwell states, it was all done in a--er--a spirit of
fun."

"And now you want to sneak off--without even paying me for my trouble!"
cried Abe Blower.

"You said you'd come with me for nothing," returned Link Merwell, and
his voice had almost a whine in it.

"So I did, thinkin' you was Maurice Harrison's nevvy. If I had known you
was an outsider I wouldn't have come at all. I've got my own affairs to
'tend to. But bein' as I did come, you're goin' to pay me for my time
and trouble," went on the miner, sharply.

"Don't you want 'em arrested, Abe?" put in Tom Dillon. "As I understand
it, this here Merwell feller is wanted by the police as it is."

"Oh, don't arrest me! Please don't do that!" cried Link Merwell. He
turned to Dave and his chums. "Let me go, won't you? I--I didn't do
anything. I didn't take a thing out of your suit-case," he added, to
Roger.

His manner was so humble and he seemed so full of terror, that the boys
could not help feeling sorry for him, even though they realized that he
was a criminal and should be in the hands of the law.

"What do you think we ought to do, Dave?" whispered the senator's son,
pulling our hero to one side.

"That is up to you, Roger."

"If we make them prisoners what can we do with them? They will only
bother us in the search for the lost mine."

"I think I'd make them pay Abe Blower for his trouble and then let them
go."

"Yes, but they have got to promise not to bother us in the future," put
in Phil, who had followed Dave and Roger to a distance.

"They'll promise that, Phil. But you know what their promises are
worth," answered our hero.

A hot war of words followed, Abe Blower and Tom Dillon telling the two
rascals just what they thought of their conduct. Link Merwell was badly
scared, and the former teacher of Oak Hall looked very much disturbed.

"Well, I'll let you go, if the young gents say so," said Abe Blower,
finally. "But you have got to pay me fer my services in bringin' you out
here, an' you've got to put up fer them hosses you're to ride, so I'll
know they'll git back to town all right."

"We'll return the horses, never fear," said Link Merwell.

"Maybe--but I won't take no chances. You put up the price o' them, an'
I'll give yer a written order fer your money, to be paid to you by Hank
Davis, when he gits the hosses," said Abe Blower.

More words followed, but the miner was obdurate, and in the end Link
Merwell and Job Haskers had to put up nearly all the cash they had with
them. Then they were allowed to take the two horses they had ridden and
a small portion of the camping outfit--just enough to see them safely
back to the nearest town.

"Now remember, Link," said Dave, on parting with the youth, "you have
promised to leave us alone in the future. See that you keep that
promise."

"If you don't, we'll be down on you like a ton of bricks," added Phil.

"I won't bother you again," said Link Merwell, with downcast eyes. "I--I
guess I was a fool to go into this."

Job Haskers said little. But when he looked at our friends it was with
an expression as if he wanted to eat them up. He was in a great rage,
but he did not dare to show it. In utter silence he and Merwell mounted
their steeds and rode out of the camp, on the back trail. Not once did
they look behind. Soon the gloom of the night swallowed them up.

"A 'good riddance to bad rubbish,'" quoted Phil. "My, what a fool Link
is!"

"And Haskers is just as bad," said Roger.

"Link has the making of a fine fellow in him," said Dave, with a sigh.
"But he evidently prefers to be bad rather than good."

"Thet's the way with some fellers," remarked Abe Blower. "I've seen it
in minin' camps many times. A feller would slide in, an' he could make
money diggin' fer gold. But instead o' doin' it, he would jest fool away
his time gamblin' an' drinkin'. It's awful--the way some folks act."

"They won't have any easy time of it, getting back to Butte," said Dave.
"Perhaps they'll meet that Sol Blugg crowd on the way."

"Oh, don't say that!" cried Roger. "Why, they might side right in with
Blugg!"

"So they might," added Phil. "A case of 'birds of a feather,' you know."

"And so you are the real Roger Morr," said Abe Blower, catching Roger by
the shoulder and looking him squarely in the eyes. "Wall, I must say I
like yer looks a heap better nor I did the bogus one!" And he chuckled,
broadly.

"I am glad you do, Mr. Blower. I----"

"Now, stop right thar, lad, stop right thar! Ef you're goin' to be my
friend call me plain Blower, or Abe."

"As you will, Abe. I'm real glad to meet you, and I am sure we are going
to get along first-rate together," said Roger, and then the pair shook
hands once more.

"You must tell me all about yourself, and your friends, an' about them
two skunks as was wantin' to git in ahead o' you."

"I'll do that gladly," returned the senator's son. And then all in the
camp gathered around the fire, to talk the situation over and arrange
their plans for the morrow.

In the meantime Link Merwell and Job Haskers rode along the rocky trail
leading in the direction of Black Cat Camp. As long as they were within
hearing of those left behind neither said a word, but once at a distance
Job Haskers fairly exploded.

"Now you see what a plight you have brought us into!" he snarled. "Here
we are miles and miles from anywhere, and with hardly a dollar in our
pockets! It's a shame! If I had remained in the East, selling mining
stock, or something like that, instead of going on this wild-goose
chase----"

"I didn't know they were so close behind us," whined Link Merwell. "I
thought we would get off the regular trail before they came to this
locality."

"We were off the trail--it's the campfire told them where," went on the
former teacher. "Now, what are we going to do when we get back to town,
tell me that?"

"We'll get our money for the horses first," replied Link Merwell. He
grated his teeth. "I wish I could get back at them!" he cried.

"So do I, Merwell. But it can't be done--at least, I am not coming back
to this forlorn district, once I get to town again. And it looks
dangerous to me, with all these loose rocks ready to slide down into the
valley," added Job Haskers.

Full of bitterness, and trying to plan out what to do later on, the pair
continued on the back trail, moving slowly and with caution. At last,
completely tired out, they reached the spot where Dave and his chums had
stopped for supper. The campfire still smoldered among some rocks, for
in such a barren district it was not necessary to be careful for fear of
a conflagration.

"We'll rest here," declared Job Haskers, sliding from his saddle. He was
not used to riding and was so sore and stiff he could hardly move.

"All right," responded Merwell, and alighted also. They found the spring
and drank eagerly of the somewhat bitter water. Then they stirred up the
fire and proceeded to make themselves as much at home as possible.

But human nature can stand only so much, and soon, instead of talking
over their affairs, each sought forgetfulness in slumber. Exhausted,
they slept soundly until the sun came up. Then, eating a frugal
breakfast--for their stores were scanty--they continued on the way in
the direction of Black Cat Camp.

It was less than two hours later, when, coming around a turn in the
trail, they came in sight of another camp. They found three men seated
in the shadow of some rocks, for the day was becoming warm, all talking
earnestly. One man had his right arm in a sling.

"I wonder who they are?" remarked Link Merwell, as he and his companion
came to a halt.

"Wait, don't let them see us until you are sure they will be friendly,"
cautioned Job Haskers. "For all you know they may be some of those
dreaded road-agents one reads about in the newspapers. We don't want to
be robbed, or have our horses stolen."

"They certainly look like a hard crowd," whispered Merwell. "But I don't
think you'll find road-agents here,--not enough folks to rob."

The men were talking earnestly and had not noticed the approach of the
pair. As quietly as possible, Merwell and Haskers drew to one side and
dismounted. Then the boy who had spent so much time on his father's
ranch, motioned for the former teacher of Oak Hall to follow him.

"We'll crawl up and listen to a little of their talk," he whispered.
"That will soon tell us if we can trust them. If we can't, we'll go
around them--although I don't see any other trail among the rocks."

Job Haskers nodded, and slowly and cautiously the pair crawled over the
rocks until they gained a position close to the three men. Then they
settled back, to listen to whatever might be said.

Inside of half an hour Link Merwell and Job Haskers gained all the
information they desired. They learned that the three men were Sol Blugg
and his cohorts. The wounded man was Staver, and he had been shot
through the hand by Tom Dillon. He was very angry and willing to do
almost anything to square accounts. The men were sure that the Dillon
party and the Blower party were on the trail of a new find of gold and
wanted to get in "on the ground floor," as they expressed it.

"They can't do nuthin' to me about tryin' to git the hosses," said
Staver. "It's only Dillon's word against mine--an' you all know I got
shot in the hand by accident," and he winked suggestively.

"Sure, I done that myself," said Blugg, and laughed. "Nobody took their
hosses--so far as we know."

"I guess the new strike o' gold must be near the old Landslide Mine,"
said Larry Jaley. "Maybe it's the old mine itself."

"We'll soon know, if we watch 'em close enough," returned Sol Blugg. And
then they continued to talk, while Staver dressed his wounded hand,
which, fortunately for him, was not very badly hurt.

Link Merwell caught Job Haskers by the arm and pulled him back.

"I've got an idea!" he whispered, his eyes brightening with sudden
expectation. "Why can't we join these men and go after the Morr crowd
with them? It will give us a chance to get back at those fellows."

"No, I've had enough of this business," replied the former teacher of
Oak Hall. "I am going back to town as fast as I can, and then to the
East."

"Yes, but----" began Link, when he stopped short. Haskers's foot had
shoved a round stone and now this rattled over the rocks, creating
considerable noise.

"Who's that!" roared Sol Blugg, and leaped to his feet, drawing his
pistol as he did so. "Ho, look there! Hands up, or I'll fire!" he
yelled, as he discovered those who had been in hiding.





Next: Dave And The Mountain Lion

Previous: The Exposure



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