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The Flight Of Big Pete Ellis








From: Far Past The Frontier

"Look out thar!"

A young, red-bearded man of herculean frame fiercely jerked the words
between his teeth as he leaped between two boys who were about to enter
the country store, from the door of which he sprang.

Diving aside, but quickly turning, the lads saw the cause of their sudden
movement bound into a wagon standing near, and with a furious cry to the
horses, whip them to such instant, rapid speed that the strap with which
the animals were tied, snapped like a bit of string. With a clatter and
rumbling roar the team and wagon dashed around a corner, the clumsy
vehicle all but upsetting, as the wheels on one side flew clear of the
ground.

Running forward, the boys were in time to see, fast disappearing down the
road toward where the September sun was setting, the reckless driver
bending over, lashing the horses to a frantic gallop. The wagon swayed
and jolted over the ruts and holes, threatening momentarily to throw the
fellow headlong. An empty barrel in the box bounced up and down and from
side to side like a thing alive.

"Something has happened! Big Pete isn't doing that for fun!" the larger
of the boys exclaimed.

"Run for Dr. Cartwright, quick! Big Pete has killed Jim Huson, I'm
afraid!"

The speaker was Marvel Rice, proprietor of the store in which Huson was a
clerk. "Tell him to hurry--hurry!" the merchant cried again, as without a
second's hesitation the two boys sped away along the tan-bark path.

"Are you coming, Ree?" asked the more slender lad, glancing over his
shoulder with a droll smile. He was a wiry chap of sixteen and ran like a
grey hound, easily taking the lead.

His companion made no reply, but his spirit fired by the sarcastic
question, he forged ahead, and the other found it necessary to waste no
more breath in humor.

An admirer of youthful strength and development would have clapped his
hands with delight to have seen the boys' close race. Return Kingdom,
whom the slender lad had called "Ree," was a tall, strongly built,
muscular fellow of seventeen. His fine black hair waved under the brim of
a dilapidated beaver as he ran. His brown eyes were serious and keen and
his mouth and chin emphasized the determination expressed in them. Though
his clothes were of rough home-spun stuff, and his feet were encased in
coarse boots, an observing person would have seen that he was possessed
of the decision and strength in both mind and body which go to make
leaders among men.

The smaller boy was John Jerome--quick, vigorous, brown-haired,
blue-eyed, freckled, and his attire was like that of his companion whose
follower he was in everything save foot-racing. In that he would give way
to no one, not excluding the trained Indian runners who sometimes came to
the neighboring village.

"Easy, easy!" Dr. Cartwright sang out, the boys nearly colliding with him
as he was driving from his dooryard. "Somebody dying?" he asked as the
runners halted.

"Jim Huson's been hurt; they want you at the store, quick," Ree Kingdom
breathlessly explained.

"Badly?" asked the doctor with provoking deliberation, drawing on his
gloves.

"Pretty nigh killed, I guess; Big Pete Ellis did it," put in John Jerome,
amazed that the physician did not at once drive off at lightning speed.

"And they want me to finish the job do they?" smiled Dr. Cartwright, who
was never known to become excited. "Well, I'll see what I can do. Daisy,
get up."

The latter words were for the faithful mare that had drawn the doctor's
chaise, or two-wheeled carriage, summer and winter for so many years that
she was as well known as the physician himself. The horse set off at a
leisurely jog, but the master's second "Get up Daisy," though drawled out
as if haste were the last thing to be thought of, quickened the animal's
speed to a lively trot.

The boys started back at a walk, speculating on what could have provoked
Big Pete's assault and how serious Jim Huson's injury might be.

"It upsets all our plans," said John; "for Jim was just the fellow to
tell us the price of everything and just what western emigrants should
take along. We can't talk to Mr. Rice about our going, as we could talk
to Jim."

"Mr. Rice is so excitable he may have thought Huson worse hurt than he
is," Ree answered. "Anyway, we are not to start for three weeks, and Jim
may be up and around long before we go. So don't be blue. There is more
than one way to skin a cat. If we can't have Jim's advice we can talk
with some one else, or use our own judgment as to what we must buy. In
the end we will have to depend entirely on ourselves as to what we should
or should not do, anyway; but come what may, three weeks from this very
Monday, we shall go, if we live and have our health."

"Bully for you, Ree! In three weeks our faces will be turned toward the
setting sun!"

"Our backs will be toward the rising sun in three weeks, less one day,"
Ree answered. "But scamper along; let's get back to the store and find
out first how Jim was hurt and how badly. It will be a sorry job for Pete
Ellis, if they catch him."

The assault on the clerk at the Corners' store had aroused the
neighborhood. Coming at the hour of sundown when the day's work was
nearly over, it found people with leisure to hurry to the scene to learn
all about the affair. A dozen men and boys and a few women and children
were gathered near when Return Kingdom and John Jerome arrived. The boys
found that their injured friend had been carried to the inn across the
street, where Dr. Cartwright was attending him, and all were anxiously
waiting that good man's opinion.

The story of the assault as it was told, over and over again, as the
crowd about the store increased, was that Big Pete had attempted to pass
counterfeit money on Jim Huson. The latter refused it, accusing Ellis of
having brought spurious coin to him at other times as well, and
threatening to cause his arrest. Without warning Big Pete seized a heavy
butter firkin and threw it squarely at the clerk's head.

Huson dropped unconscious to the floor, and Mr. Rice, who ran to his aid,
received a similar blow. Ellis lost no time in dashing through the open
door, then adding to his other crimes the theft of horses and wagon to
assist in his escape.

"Well, there is no great loss without some small gain," said one man. "We
are quit of Big Pete, that's certain, and it is a good riddance of bad
rubbish. He was the worst man in this bailiwick, and I am thinking that
more than one job of pilfering might safely be laid at his door."

It was, indeed, true. Big Pete was not looked upon as a desirable
citizen. So bad had his name become that he could scarcely find
employment where he was known. The honest people of old Connecticut had
little liking for dishonesty, notwithstanding the stories of the
money-making ingenuity of that state's inhabitants.

Leaning against a post, apart from the other men, Ree Kingdom presently
noticed an aged farmer, alternately wringing his hands and burying his
face in them. He was the owner of the team which had been stolen, and,
heedless of all else idly lamented his loss, complaining that no one went
in pursuit of the thief to secure his horses, but wholly forgetful of the
best of scriptural proverbs that God helps those who help themselves. The
boy was about to speak to him, when two men dashed up on horseback.

"There's the constable," John Jerome exclaimed--"The constable and his
brother, and they are going after Big Pete."

Before Ree could answer, the officer called for volunteers to assist in
his undertaking, for Ellis was known to be a dangerous man.

"Here, some of you young bucks that can ride bare-back, strip the harness
off my team an' help ketch that murderous heathen! Only wish't I wasn't
all crippled up with rheumatics, I'd show him!"

The speaker was Captain William Bowen, who had fought in the
Revolutionary War, ending seven years earlier, (1783) and was proud of
it; and who, though really sadly crippled by rheumatism, was still a sure
shot and not the man to be trifled with by law-breakers. He would permit
no one to call him anything but "Captain." His old rifle was always
within reach and two big pistols were ever his companions.

For a minute no one made a move to accept the captain's offer, and then
with: "Come on, John," Ree Kingdom waited no longer. In a twinkling the
boys unharnessed the horses, leaving only the bridles on them, and were
mounted. Tom Huson, the blacksmith and Peter Piper, a half-breed Indian,
a sort of roustabout in the neighborhood, had also hurriedly prepared to
join in the chase.

"Take my twins, lads, they bite as hard as they bark," called Captain
Bowen, passing his brace of pistols up to Ree and John, and in another
moment the party was galloping in pursuit of the big fellow whose crime
might yet be murder, Dr. Cartwright having reported that only time could
tell.

"Who-ho-ho-ho-ho!" John Jerome could not resist the temptation to give an
Indian war-whoop. There is an exhilaration in a rapid ride by moonlight
at any time, and with the clatter of the hoofs of a half dozen horses
upon the beaten road, the forms of other riders, shadowy and ghost-like
on either side to lend a feeling of companionship, and a knowledge of
danger's presence to make every sense the more alert, there is no finer
excitement. Little wonder is it that John could not repress a yell, and
though of a much quieter disposition, Ree felt like shouting, also.

"Who-ho-ho-ho!" John yelled again, a half hour later, and the women and
children ran to the door of a house they were passing to see who it might
be that was dashing by at such breakneck speed. The air came soft and
cool to the riders half hidden in the shadows of the trees which bordered
the road, though the moon was shining gloriously.

"We will send you on ahead to tell Pete we are coming, if you are so fond
of making it known, youngster," exclaimed the constable as John gave
still another whoop.

"He'd have a cat fit if he knew you were after him, I'll wager," the boy
answered, nettled by the man's sarcasm. "Suppose I do ride on and let him
know."

John leaned back and slapped his horse's flank. The animal, scarcely more
than a colt, sprang forward at great speed. At the same time the young
rider raised up on his knees, then on his feet and keeping his balance
with seeming ease, standing nearly erect, the horse running its fastest,
he held the reins in one hand, waved his hat in the other, and again
yelled like an Indian.

"That young dare-devil will kill himself one of these days," said the
blacksmith. "That colt of Captain Bowen's is likely to take it into her
head to bring up short at any minute. Better call him back, Kingdom."

Ree had no fear that his friend could not take care of himself, but in
answer to the suggestion, he gave a shrill, peculiar whistle which made
the woodland ring. Like a shot John dropped to a sitting posture as he
heard the call, and in another minute Ree had ridden up beside him.
Before either could speak, a black object loomed up in the narrow road
and they had barely time to rein their horses in before they were upon
it, the animals leaping sidewise to avoid a collision.

"Big Pete's wagon, sure as shooting! It's broken down!" ejaculated Ree.

"Scotland! Where would I have landed if I had been standing up and this
colt had run into it?" John exclaimed. As he spoke the others of their
party came up.

"Here's the wagon, but Pete and the horses are gone," called Ree. "He
can't be far ahead."

"There's no telling. Hurry on," answered the constable who had hastily
sprung off his horse to examine the wreck. "Here are the harnesses, but
Pete is trying to get away with both horses. Keep your wits about you,
boys, there is likely to be some shooting!"

Ree had been the first to start forward, and was one hundred yards in
advance of the others when his quick eye detected the dim outlines of a
man on horseback in the shadow of a low branching oak just before him at
the roadside. He recognized the huge figure of Big Pete and without a
word guided his horse straight toward the fellow. The criminal saw him
and with a yell started off.

Ree's horse with a splendid bound cleared the ditch beside the highway,
and in another moment the boy had seized the bridle of the horse Big Pete
was leading, just as the fellow was getting the animal he bestrode under
rapid way for a race for his liberty. It was clear that he had been
delayed by the breaking down of the wagon, and had hidden at the roadside
hoping his pursuers would pass him by. With a determined grip Ree clung
to the bridle of the lead horse, though he was nearly jerked to the
ground. With his other hand he sought to check his own animal, but the
skittish young thing had taken fright and was now running ahead of the
flying criminal's horses.

A great out-cry came from the constable and his party as they saw what
had happened and dug spurs into their mounts. Down the road the pursued
and pursuers raced, Ree Kingdom wholly unable to retard Big Pete's
progress but still clinging to the bridle of the horse between them, the
constable and his men trying their best to overtake the fugitive, but
unable to gain on him.

"Shoot! why don't you shoot?" yelled Ree to his friends at last, and a
pair of pistols cracked simultaneously, a third and fourth rapidly
following.

Ree heard the bullets whistle near his head and realized that he was in
almost as much danger of being hit, as Big Pete. But again he cried:

"Shoot!"

The pursuers were slowly but surely falling behind in the race. The burly
Ellis, glancing back, was quick to see that fortune favored him. He
leaned far over from his horse and before Ree Kingdom could detect his
purpose in the dusky light, seized the boy by the neck. With a giant's
strength he pulled the lad partially from his seat, endeavoring to hurl
him to the ground. Failing, he relinquished his hold on the reins, and
using both hands, succeeded in drawing Kingdom over the unridden horse
between them to the shoulders of his own horse. And then with herculean
efforts he tried to throw the boy to the earth.

But Ree held to his own horse's reins with bull dog ferocity, and with
all his strength resisted the other's effort. As he was jerked from his
seat, however, the strain on the reins caused his horse to sharply swerve
inward, crowding against the other animals, and in a twinkling the three
of them, already frantic with the fury of their wild race, left the
course and sped across a woodland at the unfenced roadside.

Gasping an oath, the enraged giant tried again to push Ree to the ground,
and this time he succeeded; but he himself went off head-foremost with
the boy, who held to his arm with a grip of steel, dragging him suddenly
down. Freed of their burden, the horses ran on, Big Pete cursing
frightfully as he sprang to his feet to find them far beyond his reach.

Lying still, bruised but not seriously hurt by his fall, Ree Kingdom was
thinking fast. He felt for his pistol inspired by the thought that he
would capture the criminal yet, and wishing he had used it earlier. But
the weapon was gone--lost in the wild ride, no doubt. The next instant
Ellis swiftly turned and seized him by the throat; and he knew that his
life was in the giant's hands.





Next: A Bound Boy's Story

Previous: Rowdy Finds Happiness



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