As Eugene rode through the gate the sound of laughter, which he knew
came from the lieutenant’s quarters fell upon his ear. Inside the
apartment was gathered a gay party, consisting of the lieutenant, Frank
Nelson and some of the younger officers of the Fort. The doors and
windows were open, and they could see every thing that went on outside.
The lieutenant was telling some amusing story, in the midst of which he
suddenly paused, and jumping to his feet hurried to the door. Eugene
saw him, but pretended he did not, and reining in his horse, began
looking all about the Fort as if he were in search of somebody. The
lieutenant said something in a low tone to those in the room, and in a
second the doors and windows were filled with heads. That was quite
enough to satisfy Eugene, who turned about and would have gone out
again had not the lieutenant called to him.
“Hallo, there!” he exclaimed.
“Ah! glad to see you,” said Eugene, riding up in front of the young
officer’s quarters. “Hope you are enjoying your usual good health. You
haven’t seen anything of Uncle Dick about here during the last hour or
two, have you?”
“Whose horse is that?” demanded the lieutenant, without replying to the
“This?” said Eugene, innocently. “O, he’s one Archie Winters picked up
a short time ago. Do you know anything about him?”
“Archie hasn’t bought him?” exclaimed the lieutenant.
“Well—yes; I believe so.”
“Why, it can’t be possible! What sort of a looking man was it he bought
him of, do you know?”
“A one-eyed Indian,” exclaimed Eugene, glancing through the door at
Frank, whose face wore so comical a look of blank amazement that
Eugene wanted to laugh outright. “Got him cheap, too—about ninety-five
“It is very strange, and I can’t understand it,” said the young
officer, whose surprise seemed to increase every moment. “To my certain
knowledge, that Indian has been offered three hundred dollars for this
horse, time and again.”
He came out to examine the animal, in order to make sure that he was
not mistaken in him, and then went in again and held a whispered
consultation with Frank; while Eugene once more made inquiries
concerning his Uncle Dick, who, he knew perfectly well, was in camp
enjoying his after-dinner smoke and nap. As he was about to ride away
the lieutenant called to him again.
“I wish you would tell Archie that if he would like to dispose of that
horse I’ll give him a good trade,” said he.
“I’ll tell him, but I don’t think he wants to sell. He needs a horse,
and this one will perhaps suit him as well as any other.”
“I should like to have him for a curiosity,” added the lieutenant.
“That’s what Archie wants him for, I believe—or something else. If you
can’t tell me where to find Uncle Dick, I guess I’ll go. Good-by.”
Eugene rode away from the lieutenant’s quarters demurely enough, but
as soon as he was safe through the gate and out of hearing of Frank
and the rest, he threw himself forward on the horn of his saddle and
laughed so heartily that Fred and Archie, who were waiting for him
behind an angle of the stockade, looked at him in amazement as he came
up. Their faces brightened at once, for they knew he had good news to
“It is all right,” said Eugene, as soon as he could speak. “If you
want to see a crest-fallen set of fellows, just go and call on the
lieutenant. He says he’ll buy this horse if you want to sell him. He’d
like to keep him for a curiosity.”
“O, he would, would he?” said Archie. “I know a story worth two of
that. I don’t want to sell.”
“Of course you don’t. Now let’s go down to camp, and after Fred and I
have saddled our horses, we’ll go out and have a gallop. I want to see
this fellow move.”
The others readily agreed to this proposition. The numerous defeats
they had sustained in their efforts to make Frank “take a back seat,”
as they expressed it, had made them timid, and they wanted to know just
what their new horse could do before they began boasting of his speed.
The camp reached and the horses saddled, the three boys rode off and
finally disappeared behind the swells.
The races that began as soon as they were out of sight of the camp and
Fort continued for half an hour or more, each boy in turn riding the
new horse; and the rapidity with which he moved over the ground when
put to the top of his speed, and the ease with which he left the others
behind, were enough to make the three friends dance with delight. They
did not know that there were three persons who were watching their
movements with a great deal of interest, but such was the fact. One
of them was an Indian, who had thrown himself flat upon the summit of
a neighboring swell, so that nothing but the top of his head could be
seen above the grass, and the others were two horsemen who sat in their
saddles in plain view of the racers. They were Frank and the lieutenant.
It was a great mystery to these two friends, not only how Archie had
managed to possess himself of a horse which nearly every officer
stationed at the Fort had tried in vain to purchase, but also how
he had happened to hear of him. It was their intention to keep his
existence a profound secret. It was a question in their minds, too,
whether or not Archie knew what a prize he had secured; and in order to
settle their doubts on this point, they mounted their horses and rode
out to watch his movements.
“I am satisfied now,” said the lieutenant, when he and Frank had
witnessed two of the three races that came off. “If Archie didn’t know
that the horse was fast when he bought him, he certainly knows it by
this time. It is all up with you, my boy.”
“I shouldn’t mind being beaten,” said Frank, “only I have crowed over
Archie a good deal, and he will pay me back a thousand fold. No one can
beat him at that.”
“There’s no way to avoid it, that I can see, unless you catch that wild
horse of father’s. That would be a feather in your cap and money in
your pocket. The race will take place to-morrow, I suppose.”
“I suppose so,” replied Frank.
But, as it happened, the race did not come off the next day, nor in
fact on any day. An unlooked-for incident which happened that night
saved Frank from defeat.
“Well, Archie,” said Eugene, at the conclusion of the third race,
during which the new steed, which was plainly growing tired of the
sport, took the bits in his teeth and made a persevering attempt to run
away with Featherweight, who was riding him, “if you never had a good
horse before you’ve got one now, and Mr. Nelson will have to take a
back seat, sure.”
“But we don’t want to run him against the black to-day,” said Fred.
“He’s getting tired. We don’t want to go back to camp either, for
there’s nothing interesting going on there; so how shall we pass the
“I don’t know any better way than to follow up those antelopes again,
if we can find them,” said Eugene. “Perhaps we may succeed in bagging
one of them.”
This was the way the boys had passed a good portion of the week that
had elapsed since the occurrence of the events at Potter’s rancho.
Archie knew something about antelope, and the manner of hunting them
practised by the hunters of the prairies, and he had been initiating
his friends into the mysteries of the sport. We mean by this that he
had showed them how to attract the attention and excite the curiosity
of the timid animals, by moving above the grass a red handkerchief
attached to the muzzle of a rifle; but he had not yet shown them how
to shoot one, for the simple reason that the antelope, having been
hunted and shot at by the officers and soldiers of the fort until
their numbers had been pretty well thinned out, had become so wild and
wary that Archie could never induce them to come within reach of his
Maynard, which would have been sure death to one of them at six hundred
yards. So in pursuit of the antelope the boys went; and the fact that
during the whole of the afternoon they saw not the first sign of the
game, did not dampen their ardor or detract from the pleasure of the
brisk gallop they enjoyed. Neither would it in any way have marred
their sport had they known that there was an eye watching all their
movements; that it followed them in all their windings and turnings,
and that when they rode into camp at dark, the owner of it was not more
than two hundred yards behind them.
The Club’s camp was permanently located upon the banks of a small
stream which ran through a thickly-wooded dell about a quarter of
a mile from the Fort. When they first pitched upon that spot as a
suitable camping-ground, they little thought that that stream was one
of the famous trout brooks of which they had heard so much. It had
more the appearance of the sluggish bayous so common in Louisiana. Its
banks were low and marshy, the water was muddy and almost too warm to
drink, the bed of the stream was filled with quicksands, in which a
horse and his rider would sink out of sight, and taken altogether, one
would as soon expect to find alligators and water-moccasins there as
the speckled beauties in which anglers take so much delight. But the
Club having explored the stream almost to its source, knew that its
fountainhead was located among the hills about two days’ journey from
the Fort; that for twenty miles the brook was one succession of foaming
cascades; and that under every shelving rock along the banks was a deep
and silent pool in which the trout fairly swarmed. The strings of fish
they caught there were far ahead of anything Frank and Archie had ever
drawn from the brooks about Lawrence, and two days’ splendid sport made
no apparent diminution in their numbers. There seemed to be just as
many left, and they were so eager to be taken that they would snap at a
But the Club could not spend all their time in fishing, however much
they enjoyed the sport. They expected to remain at the Fort not more
than two weeks longer (Dick had warned them that the mountain passes
would soon be blocked with snow, and that if they intended to return
to California before the winter set in, they had but little time to
spare), and there was still much to be seen. They scoured the prairie
and foot-hills for miles on each side of the Fort; knocked over sage
hens and jack rabbits by the dozen; chased a young grizzly bear that
had strayed down from the mountains, and obtained one or two shots at
elk and black-tails; but there were two species of animals that were
occasionally seen about the Fort which they had not yet been able to
find—buffalo and wild horses. The buffalo had been driven off the
range by the hunters, who, in order to procure their hides, slaughtered
them at all seasons of the year, and wild mustangs, Dick said, were
not as often met with as in the years gone by. He had not seen any for
a long time. True there was a small drove of horses which was now and
then seen in the neighborhood of the Fort, but the animals comprising
it were not mustangs. They were from the States, and it was supposed
that they had either strayed away from some emigrant train, or been
stampeded by the Indians. Among them was a small bay horse, with black
points and a white star in his forehead, which had once belonged to
Colonel Gaylord. He had escaped from the herders, joined this half-wild
drove, and having gained his liberty seemed determined to keep it. He
was a valuable animal, and it was understood that his owner was ready
to pay a handsome reward to any one who would capture and return him.
It had by this time become pretty well known that Archie had traded for
a new horse during the day, and the Club were talking about it when he
rode into the camp. As he dismounted in front of the fire there was a
general setting down of plates, and a simultaneous rush made by all
the boys, who were as eager to examine the new horse as his owner was
to exhibit him. They knew that the animal had been purchased on purpose
to beat Frank’s horse, and they had a multitude of questions to ask
“I suppose you two don’t care to see him, do you?”
This question was addressed by Eugene to Frank and Dick, who kept their
seats by the fire, and devoted their whole attention to their suppers.
“I have seen him once before to-day,” said Frank.
“And what opinion have you formed regarding him?”
“I think he’s a very good-looking old hack.”
“O, do you?” exclaimed Archie. “It is very kind of you to say so much.
But if you will take a ride with me to-morrow morning after breakfast,
I’ll warrant you’ll think he is something besides an old hack before
you see the last of him.”
Every one present understood that this was equivalent to a challenge,
and Frank promptly accepted it as such, being resolved to “die game.”
“Now, Dick, let’s hear what you’ve got to say,” continued Eugene.
“I hope you didn’t give much for him,” was the trapper’s answer.
“Not much—a horse and about twenty dollars worth of blankets and
“I’m sorry you gin that much.”
“Why? Isn’t he worth it?”
“I reckon he is.”
“Then why are you sorry?”
“That’s no reason at all,” said Fred. “You’re sorry the black is going
to get beaten, but we can’t help it. We don’t want to take dust all the
time, and what’s more, we don’t intend to do it.”
Dick made no reply. He only smiled and glanced at old Bob, who gave
him a significant look in return. Archie saw it, and knew that Dick
had some other reason for wishing the trade had not been made. What it
was he could not imagine. He thought of a score of things while he
was unsaddling his horse and staking him out with the rest, but could
decide upon nothing. When he returned to the fire a well-filled plate
was placed before him, and in taking part in the conversation and
listening to the trappers’ anecdotes, he soon forgot all about his new
horse and the race that was to come off on the morrow.
The Club were tired that night, as indeed they were every night, and
sought their blankets at an early hour. Uncle Dick had undisputed
possession of the little Sibley tent that was pitched on one side of
the fire; Frank, Perk, Walter, George and Bab bunked in the wagon;
Archie and his two friends slept under a brush “lean-to” which they
had erected for their own especial benefit; and the trappers passed
the night wherever they happened to be sitting or lying when sleep
overpowered them. On this particular night Dick and old Bob sat up and
smoked after all the rest of the party had retired—indeed until they
had all fallen asleep except Archie.
The latter thought as much of his new horse as he had thought of his
first pair of skates, which he found in his stocking on a certain
Christmas morning when he was about eight years old. For a week or
two after those skates appeared he never went to bed without placing
them on a chair close by, so that they would be the first things his
eyes rested on when he awoke in the morning. He would have been glad
to do the same by the horse, but as he could not, he contented himself
with lying awake and thinking about him; and thus it happened that
he overheard some conversation that was not intended for his ears,
and which was the means of bringing him a hard fall and a jumping
headache, which he had for an inseparable companion all the next day.
The conversation referred to took place between the trappers. The camp
had been quiet for an hour, and old Bob, supposing that everybody was
asleep, removed his pipe from his mouth long enough to say:
“I’m sorry the leetle ’un gin them blankets and things fur that
speckled hoss, ’cause he’s sartin to be jest that much out of pocket!”
“I know it,” replied Dick.
“I was kinder in hopes you’d tell him,” continued Bob.
“I thought of it, but what good would it a done? The Injun in course
sold him the hoss intendin’ to steal it agin, an’ we’d best let him
take it now, an’ without makin’ no fuss about it, an’ without his
hurtin’ the boy.”
“Wal, mebbe so,” said Bob.
“You see,” added Dick, “if he can’t steal him one time he will another.
If he can’t take him to-night, mebbe he’ll ketch the youngster alone
on the prairy to-morrer or next day, an’ knock him down an’ make off
with the hoss; an’ that would be sartin to raise a rumpus; ’cause if
that Injun’s head an’ the sights of my rifle should ever come in line
arterwards, the we’pon would go off whether I said so or not, an’ then
thar’d be one Injun less.”
“I know;” said Bob, “an’ mebbe its best as it is. Let the Injun have
his ole hoss, if he wants him.”
Archie listened in amazement to this conversation and caught every
word of it. He knew now why Dick was sorry that he had purchased
the horse. He remembered that the trappers had told him a dozen
stories illustrative of the propensity on the part of the noble red
man to drive a hard bargain in a horse trade, and after disposing of
a valuable animal for all he would bring, to steal him at the first
opportunity. He knew too why the Indian could not be prevailed upon to
sell the horse to any of the officers of the Fort. They were familiar
with all the tricks to which he and his kind were addicted, and the
horse, once in their possession, would be so closely guarded that he
could never get a chance to steal him again. But Archie was a stranger
to the prairie and its customs, and a boy besides, and the savage did
not think he would run any risk in trading with him.
“And he didn’t run any risk in dealing with me, either,” said Archie,
after he had spent a few minutes in thinking the matter over. “But he
will run some risk if he tries to steal that horse from me, as sure
as he is an Indian. I gave him all the boot he asked—it was a fair,
square and honest trade, and he must stand to it.”
Archie threw aside his blankets, drew one of his revolvers from its
holster and made his way quickly and cautiously toward the place where
his horse was picketed. He held his weapon in readiness to defend his
property, should occasion demand it, but there was no one there to
dispute possession of it with him—that is, there was no one in sight.
There was some one, however, crouching close by in the grass—some one
who saw all he did, and who followed behind him at a safe distance
as he led the horse away and made him fast to a sapling, which stood
in the outskirts of the camp and close beside the wagon. Having done
this, Archie removed his blankets, saddle and weapons from the cabin,
rearranged his bed under the wagon, and laid down almost within reach
of his horse, and in such a position that he could see the smallest
object that might attempt to approach him.
“Now, then,” said he, “if that Indian thinks he is smart enough to
steal this horse, I am ready to undeceive him. He would stand a much
better chance of getting him if he would return those articles I gave
him and tell me he wants to trade back. I’d rather give up the horse
than be obliged to stand guard over him night and day. But I’ll keep
him long enough to have at least one race with Frank, no matter what
So saying, Archie settled himself into a comfortable position and
prepared to go to sleep, intending to wake in time to defeat the
Indian’s nefarious designs, if he had any. He knew that when savages
intend to make a descent upon a wagon-train, they come just before
daylight, for it is generally darkest then, the fires have burned low
and the emigrants sleep the soundest. It was about this time that
Archie wanted to wake up; and if he succeeded in doing so, he would
stand guard over his property until the whole camp was astir.
The excitement occasioned by the conversation he had overheard between
the trappers kept him awake for a long time, but sleep overpowered
him at last, and then Archie knew nothing for many an hour. The camp
fire, which Dick had mended once or twice during the night, had almost
died away, the moon was out of sight behind the hills, and the thick
darkness which the savage likes best was fast settling down over the
woods and surrounding prairie, when Archie suddenly became conscious
that there was something going on near him. A faint, rustling sound, as
if some one was trying to pass carefully through the bushes, aroused
him. Just then a burning ember from the log back of the fire fell off,
blazed up as brightly as a candle for a moment, and then went out,
making the camp and all surrounding objects look darker by contrast.
But Archie, whose eyes were wide open, had seen something in that
instant of time. He had seen an Indian crouching in a thicket close to
the root of the sapling to which his horse was tied.
Giving a loud yell to arouse the camp, Archie jumped to his feet,
and making a blind dive in the direction of his horse succeeded in
fastening upon the lasso with which he was tied to the tree. But it
happened that the lasso was no longer fast to the tree; it was in the
hands of the Indian, who, as active as a cat, sprang upon the horse
before the boy could come within reach of him. Archie quickly bracing
his feet gave the lasso a tremendous jerk, believing that if the savage
held fast to it, he could pull him to the ground again. No doubt he
would have accomplished his object had he had any one but an Indian to
contend with. The latter, much too cunning to be caught in any such
trap, allowed the lasso to run freely through his hands, and Archie
went staggering back against the wagon wheel. Before he could recover
himself the Indian dashed his heels into the sides of the horse, which
sprang away at the top of his speed, and Archie was thrown with great
violence to the ground; while the rawhide rope, which was still fast to
the horse’s neck, was drawn so rapidly through his hands that they were
burned almost to a blister. It was all over in much less time than we
have taken to tell it. Before any of the others, who had been awakened
by Archie’s loud yell, could come to his assistance, the Indian had
obtained possession of the horse and was out of sight in the darkness.
Then the members of the Club began to bestir themselves. Uncle Dick
pulled aside the door of the tent and looked out; Eugene and Fred, who
missed Archie as soon as their eyes were open, began groping blindly
for their rifles, under the impression that the camp had been attacked
by the Indians and their friend carried off by them; the boys in the
wagon quickly made their appearance; while Dick and Bob sat up and
stared at one another with an expression on their faces which said very
plainly that they had been expecting something of the kind.
“‘Like a snow-flake on the river, one moment seen, then lost forever,’”
murmured Archie, gazing in the direction his horse had last been seen.
“What’s the matter?” asked all the boys, in a breath.
“His speckled hoss is gone,” said Dick.
“Yes, he’s gone,” repeated Archie, holding his hands under his arms, as
if they were very cold instead of very warm, “and I am a few dollars
out of pocket.”
“Stolen!” cried the Club, beginning to comprehend the state of affairs.
They stood motionless and speechless for a few seconds, as people
almost always do when they hear any astounding piece of intelligence,
and then each boy looked at his neighbor to see what he thought about
it. Eugene, who had been bustling about the camp, in search of a certain
piece of his property which he could not find, was the first to speak.
“Well, that is not so bad as it might be,” said he. “Can anybody tell
me where to look for my bridle? We expected to have a race any how, you
know, and it might as well come off now as a few hours later. Let’s
follow him and make him give up the horse.”
“How are we going to do it?” asked Archie, dolefully.
“Why, are there not enough of us to take it away from him if he shows
“Perhaps so,” said Frank, “but there are not enough of us to catch him.
He is safe by this time, and we’ll never put eyes on that horse again.”
The trappers said Frank was right; that an attempt to recover the lost
steed would only be time and energy wasted; and this put a stop to the
frantic search for saddles, bridles and weapons, in which some of the
Club were engaged. The pursuit and capture of a cunning Indian thief
would, the boys thought, be something to talk about in after days,
and they were loth to allow so fine an opportunity for distinguishing
themselves to pass unimproved. It was hard, too, to give up that fine
horse, of which they had expected such great things; but the trappers’
word was law, and the Club, with much grumbling, and many hearty wishes
that they might have the pleasure of meeting that Indian at some future
time, threw down their bridles and gathered about Archie to hear the
story of his encounter with the thief. When they had questioned him to
their satisfaction, and the palms of his hands had, at Uncle Dick’s
suggestion, been thickly coated with soap, they went back to their
blankets and finally fell asleep again.
Archie’s slumber was not very refreshing. He could not banish thoughts
of his lost horse, his head and hands throbbed, and when he managed to
catch a few winks of sleep, he dreamed of wild mustangs and fights with
Indians without number. By daylight his hands ceased to trouble him;
but his head reminded him of the hard fall he had received, and he did
not feel much like leaving his blanket. It required something, however,
much out of the ordinary run of events to wholly depress Archie’s
buoyant spirits; and when Dick reported to him that his old horse had
been found grazing with the others, he told himself that he was in
some slight degree recompensed for the loss he had sustained. While he
was washing his hands and face at the brook he was joined by Fred and
“Say, Archie,” whispered the former, looking all around to make sure
that none of the rest of the Club were within hearing, “Dick says he
saw those wild horses this morning.”
“Did he?” said Archie, not in the least interested in the matter,
although under almost any other circumstances Fred’s enthusiasm would
have affected him at once.
“Yes. Can’t you go out and catch one? We should like to see the
operation, and Dick says you are first rate with the lasso.”
“The colonel’s horse is among them, you know,” said Eugene. “If you
should happen to catch him you would make something by it.”
“But I couldn’t do it,” replied Archie. “If it were possible for
anybody to catch him he would have been returned to his owner long
before this time.”
“Well, we can go out and look at them, can’t we? We have never seen any
wild horses, you know.”
Yes, Archie thought they might take a look at them if they could find
them; so a very light breakfast was hastily dispatched, and the three
boys mounted their horses and rode off, telling their friends who
remained in the camp that they were going out to catch the colonel’s
horse, and that they were not coming back without him.
Before they had gone a hundred yards from the camp, Archie began to
wish he had not started at all. He could not help thinking of the
fleet, handsome animal that had carried him the last time he was in
saddle. His old horse—the one the Indian left when he stole the
other—was a shaggy, rough-looking fellow, but he was one of the best
the Club owned. He had been Archie’s almost constant companion ever
since he left Salt Lake City; had carried him safely during that long,
rapid gallop from the foot of the mountains to Fort Bolton, which had
been undertaken by the Club as soon as it was found that Walter was
missing, and the fact that he had borne the fatigue of the journey
better than any of the other horses, Frank’s alone excepted, had raised
him considerably in the estimation of his owner. But with all his good
qualities he had some bad ones, and the most noticeable one, just
now, was his rough, clumsy way of getting over the ground. Archie had
scarcely thought of it before, but having backed the Indian’s mustang,
which was a remarkably easy riding horse, he thought of it now, and
told himself that it was very disagreeable.
But one could not long remain in a gloomy frame of mind while he had
the fresh, invigorating air of the prairie to breathe, and two such
jolly fellows as Fred and Eugene for companions, and after he had been
half an hour in the saddle Archie began to feel more like himself.
Having as yet discovered no traces of the wild horses the boys began to
give up all hopes of finding them, and allowing their animals to settle
into a slow walk they rode side-ways, “woman fashion,” to relieve their
cramped limbs, and talked of the sports and adventures they had thus
far seen since leaving Bellville, and speculated upon those yet to
come. Finally, when the sun began to show himself above the hills, Fred
broke out into a song, in which the others joined, and the result of
which was rather surprising.
“‘The bright, rosy morning peeps over the hills,
With blushes adorning the meadows and rills;
While the merry horn calls come, come away,
O, wake from your slumbers and hail the new day.
“‘The stag roused before us away seems to fly,
And pants to the chorus of hounds in full cry.
Then follow the musical chase,
Where pleasure and vigor and health all embrace.
“‘The day’s sport, when over, makes blood circle right,
And gives the brisk——’”
“Listen! listen!” cried Archie, suddenly.
The boys brought their song to an abrupt ending, and drawing up their
horses gazed at one another with faces full of wonder.
The three friends were at that moment approaching the summit of a high
swell, and the noise which interrupted their song came from the other
side. It was an indistinct, muffled sound, and so very much like that
made by a heavily loaded wagon when rapidly driven, that they looked
toward the top of the swell, more than half expecting to see a runaway
team come quickly into view and dash down among them. But the noise
grew fainter instead of increasing in volume, and after listening a
moment the boys urged their horses forward and rode rapidly to the top
of the swell. Then they found that the sound was occasioned by a drove
of horses which had heard their voices, and were taking themselves off
with all the speed of which they were capable. Featherweight uttered
a cry of delight, but quickly followed it up with an ejaculation of
“I was in hopes they were the wild horses,” said he.
“And so they are,” returned Archie.
“Why, they don’t act as if they were very wild,” said Eugene. “See how
they shake their heads, and kick up their heels! Many a time have I
seen our own horses playing that way in the pasture.”
“No matter; they are the ones we are looking for; and that leading
horse belongs to the colonel. I’ve heard him described often enough to
At first Archie’s companions could hardly believe it. Although the
horses ran rapidly they did not act as if they were frightened, but
pranced and curveted as if they were moved by the same spirit of
mischief that sometimes possesses a domestic horse, when he flourishes
his heels and retreats to the farthest corner of the pasture, as he
sees his owner coming to catch him. But there was the colonel’s horse!
There was no denying his identity, for the boys all knew him as soon
as they saw him. The wild steeds ran to the top of the nearest swell,
faced about and looked at the horsemen, snorted once or twice, and then
went to grazing as if nothing had happened.
“There they are,” said Archie, “and now what are we going to do—take a
good look at them and go back to camp?”
“No,” replied Featherweight. “We’ll give them a race of a mile or two,
just to be able to tell our friends that we have chased a drove of wild
horses. What do you say, Eugene?”
“Why,” replied the latter, after a little hesitation, “I say that I
have a plan in my head regarding those horses, if you will help me
carry it out.”
“Of course we will,” said Archie. “Anything for fun. That’s what we
came out here for.”
“It will keep us out on the prairie for three or four days and nights,”
“Then one of us had better go back to camp after our blankets,” said
Archie. “It is getting cold, and we’ll freeze without some covering.
Besides, if Dick is anything of a prophet, it will not be many days
before we shall find the ground covered with snow. We shall need some
food, too, and a supply of ammunition.”
“You’re sure you won’t laugh at me if my plan fails,” said Eugene.
“Well, then, I’ll go back to camp after the things we need, if you and
Fred will stay and keep an eye on the horses.”
This plan being readily agreed to, Eugene turned and rode off at a
gallop, while Fred and Archie dismounted and prepared to pass the time
as pleasantly as they could until his return. They hobbled their horses
with their lariats, to prevent them from running off to join the wild
drove, turned them loose to graze, and seated themselves on the ground
to watch the mustangs.
Eugene had partly developed what he considered to be a grand scheme for
the capture of at least one of the wild horses. He had been thinking
of it ever since he first heard of the existence of the drove, and he
had finally hit upon something which seemed to hold out bright promises
of success. He had read somewhere that wild horses had been captured
by being kept in motion day and night, and allowed no opportunity
to take food, water or rest. Of course the swiftest and strongest
animal would soon wear out under such treatment, and when exhausted by
long-continued exertion, and weak from protracted fasting, he could be
easily run down and lassoed, and still he would be in nowise injured.
A day or two of rest and good care would restore him to full health
and vigor. Eugene had heard much of the speed of the colonel’s horse
and the fruitless attempts that had been made to capture him, and this
plan of his seemed to be just the thing. He thought it over in all
its details while he was on his way to the camp, and believed that he
could see his way clearly. He provided for every contingency, and told
himself that he knew just what to do in any emergency that might arise.
But after all, he found, to his great surprise, that there was one
very important matter that he had forgotten to take into consideration.
Eugene found the camp deserted by all save Dick and old Bob. These two
were almost always to be found there. They had worked hard, had seen
much excitement and met with many adventures during their sojourn at
Potter’s rancho, and were taking a good rest after it. They told Eugene
that Uncle Dick was visiting with the colonel at the Fort, and that the
rest of the Club had gone up the brook fishing.
“When they come back, whar’ll I tell ’em you’ve gone?” added Dick,
seeing that Eugene was busily engaged in gathering up various articles
that were lying about the camp. “I want to know wharabouts to look for
you when you’re wanted.”
“Well, you’ll find us somewhere along the foot of the mountains
between here and the Missouri river,” replied Eugene. “That’s not very
definite, I admit, but I can’t come any nearer answering your question.
We have found those horses!”
“Wal?” said the trapper.
“And we’re going to bring one of them back with us.”
“Sho!” exclaimed Dick. “You haint agoin’ to racin’ with them critters,
“No, indeed. We know better than that. We are going to drive them down.”
Dick looked at Bob as if wondering whether or not he had heard aright,
and then arose and approached Eugene.
“What did you say you was goin’ to do?” he asked.
“I don’t know what you call it,” answered Eugene, “but we’re going to
keep those horses in motion until they’re tired out, and then we’re
going to catch one of them.”
“Youngster,” said the trapper, lowering his voice as if he were afraid
that some one might overhear what he was about to say, “that’s the only
way the colonel’s hoss can be ketched.”
“Then we can do it, can’t we?” exclaimed Eugene, delighted to hear his
plan endorsed by so high an authority.
“Sartin. Me an’ ole Bob’s jest been talkin’ about it. Now, how are you
goin’ to work it?”
“Why, we’re going to take after them and follow them up until we tire
them out, and then Archie will ride up and lasso one of them.”
Dick looked down at the ground and meditated a moment.
“I don’t reckon I see through it quite,” said he. “You don’t say
nothing about restin’ your own horses an’ yourselves.”
“Eh!” exclaimed Eugene.
“While you’re tirin’ out the wild hosses won’t your own get tired out
too, if you don’t give ’em a chance to eat an’ rest?”
Eugene’s hopes fell instantly. This was the important part of his plan
that he had not thought of. Of course if the wild steeds were to be
“driven down,” it was necessary that their pursuers should occasionally
be mounted on fresh horses, or else the chances were that by the time
the mustangs were exhausted, their own nags would be in no better
“Did you say anything to the leetle ’un about this?” asked Dick
“Who? Archie? No. I’ve kept it to myself.”
“Then that ’counts fur it. I didn’t think he’d go in fur sich a thing,
’cause he knows it can’t be did; an’ so will you arter you think it
over. Howsomever, I’ll tell you what you can do: You see—but if you go
you’ll have to camp out fur three or four nights—mebbe six or seven.”
“We don’t care for that. We’ll be prepared, you see,” said Eugene,
pointing to the bundle he was making up.
“An’ won’t your uncle care, nuther?”
“No. He knows that we used to camp out in the swamps of Louisiana for
weeks at a time.”
“An’ you won’t be afraid when you hear the coyotes a yelpin’ an’ a
howlin’ around you of nights, and you all alone on the prairy?”
“Of course not. We’ve heard wolves before we ever saw the prairie.”
“Wal, go ahead if you’re so sot onto it. The leetle ’un can take keer
of himself an’ you too; but if so be you should happen to get into any
difficulty, as you’d be sartin to do if that keerless Frank was along,
mebbe me an’ ole Bob’ll be around. An’ as fur drivin’ them hosses——”
Here the trapper proceeded to give Eugene some very explicit directions
as to the manner in which he ought to proceed in order to make his
experiment successful; but we will not stop to repeat them, as they
will all appear as our story progresses.
Eugene listened attentively, and after satisfying himself that he fully
understood his instructions, he gathered up his friends’ blankets
and his own, together with a goodly supply of bread and meat, some
ammunition for Archie’s Maynard and his Henry rifle and Fred’s, a
hatchet and a few other articles he thought they might need, and
strapping them in a bundle behind his saddle, mounted his horse and
rode gayly out of the camp. He laughed when he thought what a great
mistake he had made in laying out his first plan, and felt more certain
of success than ever. The trapper had assured him that failure was next
to impossible if the matter were rightly managed, and Eugene began to
enjoy in anticipation the reception that would be extended to him and
his companions when they rode into camp with the captured horse. Of
course they didn’t want any reward for restoring him to his owner, and
wouldn’t accept any. If the colonel would allow them to keep him a day
or two, just long enough to run a few races and take a little of the
conceit out of Frank, they would be abundantly satisfied.
A few minutes’ ride brought Eugene to the top of the swell where he
had left his friends, but they were not there. The wild steeds had
moved nearer to the hills during his absence, and Archie and Fred had
followed in order to keep them in sight. Eugene set up a loud shout and
presently heard a faint response. After repeating the call, to make
sure of the direction in which his friends had gone, he rode down the
swell and in a quarter of an hour joined his companions and found them
in their saddles slowly following the mustangs, which were moving in a
body toward the distant mountains.
The first thing Eugene did was to distribute the ammunition he had
brought with him and to divide his bundle, which was rather too
bulky for one horse to carry. While he was thus engaged his friends
reminded him that he had not yet told them what his plan was; so Eugene
went into details, to which the boys listened eagerly, and said in
“Dick assures me that if we keep the horses moving, we ought to travel
at least twenty-five miles between daylight and dark, and that will
bring us to the mountains the day after to-morrow. We must keep them
walking all the time, but we must not push them too closely, for if
we frighten them they will run away from us and we may never see them
again. If we keep them travelling as nearly north-west as we can, we
shall discover, when we come within sight of the mountains, a tall,
isolated rock, which, at a distance, looks exactly like a chimney.
Close to the foot of this rock is a gully, which leads to a beautiful
valley about twenty miles back in the mountains. Dick says that is the
horses’ stamping-ground, and if we can make them go in there we’ve got
them sure. This valley is about ten miles in circumference, and has no
outlet except the gully before spoken of; and all we’ve got to do is
to make our camp right in the mouth of this gully, so that they can’t
get out, and then relieve one another in the work of driving the horses
“Then we shall not really begin business until we reach this valley?”
“No,” replied Eugene. “While we are on the prairie the wild horses will
have the same chance to eat and rest that ours will; but when we once
get them cornered we’ll fix them. What do you think of it, any how?”
The boys were loud in their praises of the scheme, and Archie, who had
often read of such things, wondered he had not thought of it before.
During the next two days nothing transpired worthy of note. The boys
steadily followed the wild steeds, which finally seemed to become
somewhat accustomed to their presence. During the first few hours they
were very restive, and on several occasions, when the boys in their
eagerness followed them a little too closely, they took to their heels
and left them far behind. They turned out of the way once or twice
for water, but kept the same general course, and on the afternoon of
the third day brought their pursuers within sight of the landmark the
trapper had described to them.