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The Lumbermen








From: The Young Forester

For a full moment I just lay still, hugging the ground, and I did not
seem to think at all. Voices loud in anger roused me. Raising myself, I
guardedly looked from behind the tree.

One of the lumbermen threw brush on the fire, making it blaze brightly.
He was tall and had a red beard. I recognized Stockton, Buell's right
hand in the lumber deal.

"Leslie, you're a liar!" he said.

Dick's eyes glinted from his pale face.

"Yes, that's your speed, Stockton," he retorted. "You bring your thugs
into my camp pretending to be friendly. You grab a fellow behind his
back, tie him up, and then call him a liar. Wait, you timber shark!"

"You're lying about that kid, Ward," declared the other. "You sent him
back East, that's what. He'll have the whole forest service down here.
Buell will be wild. Oh, he won't do a thing when he learns Ward has
given us the slip!"

"I tell you, Ken Ward gave me the slip," replied Dick. "I'll admit I
meant to see him safe in Holston. But he wouldn't go. He ran off from me
right here in this forest."

What could have been Dick's object in telling such a lie? It made me
wonder. Perhaps these lumbermen were more dangerous than I had supposed,
and Dick did not wish them to believe I had left Penetier. Maybe he was
playing for time, and did not want them to get alarmed and escape before
the officers came.

"Why did he run off?" asked Stockton.

"Because I meant to send him home, and he didn't want to go. He's crazy
to camp out, to hunt and ride."

"If that's true, Leslie, there's been no word sent to Washington."

"How could there be?"

"Well, I've got to hold you anyway till we see Buell. His orders were to
keep you and Ward prisoners till this lumber deal is pulled off. We're
not going to be stopped now."

Leslie turned crimson, and strained on the lasso that bound him to the
sapling. "Somebody is going to pay for this business!" he declared,
savagely. "You forget I'm an officer in this forest."

"I'll hold you, Leslie, whatever comes of it," answered the lumberman.
"I'd advise you to cool down."

"You and Buell have barked up the wrong tree, mind that, Stockton. Jim
Williams, my pardner, is wise. He expects me back tomorrow."

"See hyar, Stockton," put in Bill, "you're new in Arizona, an' I want to
give you a hunch. If Jim Williams hits this trail, you ain't goin' to be
well enough to care about any old lumber steal."

"Jim hit the trail all right," went on Dick. "He's after Greaser. It'd
go hard with you if Jim happened to walk in now."

"I don't want to buck against Williams, that's certain," replied
Stockton. "I know his record. But I'll take a chance--anyway, till Buell
knows. It's his game."

Dick made no answer, and sat there eyeing his captors. There was little
talk after this. Bud threw a log on the fire. Stockton told the Mexican
to take a look at the horses. Greaser walked within twenty feet of where
I lay, and I held my breath while he passed. The others rolled in their
blankets. It was now so dark that I could not distinguish anything
outside of the campfire circle. But I heard Greaser's soft, shuffling
footsteps as he returned. Then his dark, slim figure made a shadow
between me and the light. He sat down before the fire and began to roll
a cigarette. He did not seem sleepy.

A daring scheme flashed into my mind. I would crawl into camp and free
Dick. Not only would I outwit the lumber thieves, but also make Dick
think well of me. What would Jim Williams say of a trick like that? The
thought of the Texan banished what little hesitation I felt. Glancing
round the bright circle, I made my plan; it was to crawl far back into
the darkness, go around to the other side of the camp, and then slip
up behind Dick. Already his head was nodding on his breast. It made me
furious to see him sitting so uncomfortably, sagging in the lasso.

I tried to beat down my excitement, but there was a tingling all over
me that would not subside. But I soon saw that I might have a long wait.
The Mexican did not go to sleep, so I had time to cool off.

The campfire gradually burned out, and the white glow changed to red.
One of the men snored in a way that sounded like a wheezy whistle.
Coyotes howled in the woods, and the longer I listened to the long,
strange howls the better I liked them. The roar in the wind had died
down to a moaning. I thought of myself lying there, with my skin
prickling and my eyes sharp on the darkening forms. I thought of the
nights I had spent with Hal in the old woods at home. How full the
present seemed! My breast swelled, my hand gripped my revolver, my eyes
pierced the darkness, and I would not have been anywhere else for the
world.

Greaser smoked out his cigarette, and began to nod. That was the signal
for me. I crawled noiselessly from the tree. When I found myself going
down into the hollow, I stopped and rose to my feet. The forest was so
pitchy black that I could not tell the trees from the darkness. I groped
to the left, trying to circle. Once I snapped a twig; it cracked like
a pistol-shot, and my heart stopped beating, then began to thump. But
Greaser never stirred as he sat in the waning light. At last I had half
circled the camp.

After a short rest I started forward, slow and stealthy as a creeping
cat. When within fifty feet of the fire I went down on all-fours and
began to crawl. Twice I got out of line. But at last Dick's burly
shoulders loomed up between me and the light.

Then I halted. My breast seemed bursting, and I panted so hard that I
was in a terror lest I should awaken some one. Again I thought of what I
was doing, and fought desperately to gain my coolness.

Now the only cover I had was Dick's broad back, for the sapling to which
he was tied was small. I drew my hunting-knife. One more wriggle brought
me close to Dick, with my face near his hands, which were bound behind
him. I slipped the blade under the lasso, and cut it through.

Dick started as if he had received an electric shock. He threw back his
head and uttered a sudden exclamation.

Although I was almost paralyzed with fright I put my hand on his
shoulder and whispered: "S-s-s-h! It's Ken!"

Greaser uttered a shrill cry. Dick leaped to his feet. Then I grew
dizzy, and my sight blurred. I heard hoarse shouts and saw dark forms
rising as if out of the earth. All was confusion. I wanted to run, but
could not get up. There was a wrestling, whirling mass in front of me.

But this dimness of sight and weakness of body did not last. I saw two
men on the ground, with Dick standing over them. Stockton was closing
in. Greaser ran around them with something in his hand that glittered in
the firelight. Stockton dived for Dick's legs and upset him. They went
down together, and the Mexican leaped on them, waving the bright thing
high over his head.

I bounded forward, and, grasping his wrist with both hands, I wrenched
his arm with all my might. Some one struck me over the head. I saw a
million darting points of light--then all went black.

When I opened my eyes the sun was shining. I had a queer, numb feeling
all over, and my head hurt terribly. Everything about me was hazy. I
did not know where I was. After a little I struggled to sit up, and with
great difficulty managed it. My hands were tied. Then it all came back
to me. Stockton stood before me holding a tin cup of water toward my
lips. My throat was parched, and I drank. Stockton had a great bruise
on his forehead; his nostrils were crusted with blood, and his shirt was
half torn off.

"You're all right?" he said.

"Sure," I replied, which was not true.

I imagined that a look of relief came over his face. Next I saw Bill
nursing his eye, and bathing it with a wet handkerchief. It was swollen
shut, puffed out to the size of a goose-egg, and blue as indigo. Dick
had certainly landed hard on Bill. Then I turned round to see Dick
sitting against the little sapling, bound fast with a lasso. His clean
face did not look as if he had been in a fight; he was smiling, yet
there was anxiety in his eyes.

"Ken, now you've played hob," he said. It was a reproach, but his look
made me proud.

"Oh, Dick, if you hadn't called out!" I exclaimed.

"Darned if you're not right! But it was a slick job, and you'll tickle
Jim to death. I was an old woman. But that cold knife-blade made me
jump."

I glanced round the camp for the Mexican and Bud and the fifth man, but
they were gone. Bill varied his occupation of the moment by kneading
biscuit dough in a basin. Then there came such a severe pain in my head
that I went blind for a little while. "What's the matter with my head?
Who hit me?" I cried.

"Bud slugged you with the butt of his pistol," said Dick. "And, Ken, I
think you saved me from being knifed by the Greaser. You twisted his
arm half off. He cursed all night.... Ha! there he comes now with your
outfit."

Sure enough, the Mexican appeared on the trail, leading my horses. I was
so glad to see Hal that I forgot I was a prisoner. But Greaser's sullen
face and glittering eyes reminded me of it quickly enough. I read
treachery in his glance.

Bud rode into camp from the other direction, and he brought a bunch of
horses, two of which I recognized as Dick's. The lumbermen set about
getting breakfast, and Stockton helped me to what little I could eat and
drink. Now that I was caught he did not appear at all mean or harsh. I
did not shrink from him, and had the feeling that he meant well by me.

The horses were saddled and bridled, and Dick and I, still tied, were
bundled astride our mounts. The pack-ponies led the way, with Bill
following; I came next, Greaser rode behind me, and Dick was between Bud
and Stockton. So we traveled, and no time was wasted. I noticed that the
men kept a sharp lookout both to the fore and the rear. We branched off
the main trail and took a steeper one leading up the slope. We rode
for hours. There were moments when I reeled in my saddle, but for the
greater while I stood my pain and weariness well enough. Some time in
the afternoon a shrill whistle ahead attracted my attention. I made out
two horsemen waiting on the trail.

"Huh! about time!" growled Bill. "Hyar's Buell an' Herky-Jerky."

As we approached I saw Buell, and the fellow with the queer name turned
out to be no other than the absent man I had been wondering about. He
had been dispatched to fetch the lumberman.

Buell was superbly mounted on a sleek bay, and he looked very much the
same jovial fellow I had met on the train. He grinned at the disfigured
men.

"Take it from me, you fellers wouldn't look any worse bunged up if you'd
been jolted by the sawlogs in my mill."

"We can't stand here to crack jokes," said Stockton, sharply. "Some
ranger might see us. Now what?"

"You ketched the kid in time. That's all I wanted. Take him an' Leslie
up in one of the canyons an' keep them there till further orders. You
needn't stay, Stockton, after you get them in a safe place. An' you can
send up grub."

Then he turned to me.

"You'll not be hurt if--"

"Don't you speak to me!" I burst out. It was on my lips to tell him of
the letter to Washington, but somehow I kept silent.

"Leslie," went on Buell, "I'll overlook your hittin' me an' let you go
if you'll give me your word to keep mum about this."

Dick did not speak, but looked at the lumberman with a dark gleam in his
eyes.

"There's one thing, Buell," said Stockton. "Jim Williams is wise. You've
got to look out for him."

Buell's ruddy face blanched. Then, without another word, he waved his
hand toward the slope, and, wheeling his horse, galloped down the trail.





Next: Taken Into The Mountains

Previous: Back To Holston



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