rig up some sort of a gallows

Jack had been gone a couple of hours and it had become quite dark, when
our dog Found, by growling, pricking up his ears, and looking toward
the road, gave notice that some one was approaching.

On listening closely we could hear some one coming, but the tramping
sounded like that of a horse. We had made no light after dark, for we
did not intend to cook any supper and our experience in the Indian
country had taught us to dispense with lights when in the vicinity of
an enemy.

As soon as we were assured that the coming party, whoever they were,
were making for our camp, Tom whispered: “Get your gun an’ follow me.”
With that he took his rifle and, advancing stealthily for several
paces toward the approaching persons–whose voices we could hear–he
squatted down in a patch of weeds on the path leading to the road while
I followed and did the same. We had chained the dog to a wheel of the
wagon lest he should rush on the newcomers before we could find out who
they were.

We had scarcely got settled in the position we had taken when we
discerned two dark bodies nearing us that seemed to be a man on foot
and, just behind him, a mounted man.

Letting them come on till they were within a few feet of the muzzles of
our rifles, Tom’s voice suddenly rang out:

“_Halt! Who comes there?_”

We could now see plainly that there were but two persons, a footman and
a mounted man, and heard a prompt response from the horseman, in the
unmistakable voice of our Irishman, as they both suddenly stopped.

“Jack, with a prisoner!” This sounded agreeable but mystifying, but the
speaker enlightened us by adding: “I’ve captured Tucker, the jayhawker,
and his horse.”

We all moved back to our tent and struck a light to take a look at
Jack’s captures and hear his explanation. But the Irishman declined
to talk in the presence of his prisoner more than to answer a few
commonplace questions.

By the light of the candle we saw Jack had tied the prisoner’s
arms together at the elbows, behind his back, with the end of the
jayhawker’s lariat, while with the other end securely fastened to the
horn of his saddle he had been driving the fellow before him.

The desperado seemed now very crestfallen and by no means pugnacious
and had nothing to say.

“What are you going to do with him, Jack?” I asked in hearing of the
captive.

“Oh, make a ‘spread eagle’ of him on a hind wheel of the wagon till
morning I suppose, an’ then take him down to the timber an’ hang him
an’ be done with him,” he replied as he began to put the first part of
this programme into execution.

The “spread eagle” is made by requiring the prisoner to stand with his
back against a hind wheel of a wagon; his arms are then stretched out
on each side and tied by the wrists to the upper rim of the wheel,
while his ankles, with feet spread apart, are tied in like manner to
the bottom of the wheel. The prisoner can ease himself a little by
sitting on the hub of the wheel, but this affords an insecure and
uncomfortable seat.

As soon as we had securely spread the big jayhawker on the wheel,
Jack left me to watch him, with a caution to see that he did not work
himself loose, while he unsaddled and picketed out the fine black horse
he had captured. When this was accomplished he called Tom and me off to
one side, far enough to be out of hearing of the prisoner, taking the
precaution to place the light near the open tent door where it would
shine on our “spread eagle,” so that we could see if he made any effort
to free himself, and then Jack gave us a detailed account of his trip.

“When I got to a place in the timber where I could see the store, I
saw that the jayhawkers’ horses was all hitched to the fence an’ I
knew they was inside. Pretty soon they all comes out an’ mounts, an’
all except this man Tucker struck out toward their camp. After seein’
them off, Tucker mounted an’ struck off in a different direction, up
the creek like. I couldn’t make out what he was up to, but I thought I
would go in an’ have a chat with the storekeeper as soon as the coast
was clear. I went in an’ had quite a talk with the ol’ man, an’, sure
enough, he had heard enough of their talk to make sure that their
plan was about what Tom had guessed it would be. They would go back
to their camp an’ wait till after midnight, an’ then mount an’ take a
circuit ’round our camp, pass, an’ git ahead of us, an’ lay for us in
the timber at the crossing of the next creek, which the old man says is
only a mile and a half from here. Tucker had concluded that while he
sent his men back to camp he would ride over the route they intended to
take an’ look at the lay of the land so as to be able to place his men
to the best advantage to get the drop on us.

“In going to the place he had kept up the creek for a piece an’ then
circled ’round across the prairie to the little creek so’s not to be
seen or heard by any of us here; but in comin’ back he had followed the
main road, ’cause he knew it was too dark by that time for any of us to
tell who he was as he passed along the road.

“I was just comin’ out of the timber, after crossin’ the creek this
side of the store, on my way back to camp, when I spied him a-comin’
down the hill toward me at a walk, an’ I squatted down so’s to get him
‘tween me an’ the sky, to get a better view of him, to make sure it was
him; an’ then I made up my mind to take him in right there.

“So I got back behind a tree right beside the road, an’ when he got
nearly to me I stepped out with both barrels cocked an’ called out to
him to halt. He pulled up, sudden like, with a jerk, an’ asked: ‘What’s
up? What’s up?’

“‘Don’t you make a motion toward your pistols,’ says I, ‘or I’ll put
two big loads of buckshot into you.’ I wasn’t more’n six feet from
him, an’ he must have seen that he had no show to get away or draw a
gun. ‘Now,’ says I, ‘do just as I order you, an’ don’t you try any
foolishness, or I’ll fill you full of lead. First thing,’ says I,
‘unbuckle that belt an’ drop belt an’ pistols in the road.’ He did
so, at the same time saying: ‘Pardner, I reckon you’ve mistook me for
somebody else. Who do you take me fur and who are you, anyway?’

“‘I’ve made no mistake,’ I answered. ‘You’re Tucker, the jayhawker, an’
I’m Jack, the giant-killer’–an’ wasn’t that a big bluff? ‘Now,’ says
I, ‘back out a step till I pick up your guns.’

“He did so, an’ I kept a close watch of him while I gathered in his
battery an’ buckled the belt around me over my own.

“Then I commanded, ‘Dismount!’ which he did like a little man, an’ I
made him tie his horse to a tree; an’ then I undone his lariat from
his saddle an’ made him turn his back to me while I tied his elbows
together behind his back with one end of the lariat; an’ with the other
end made fast to the horn of the saddle, with a good holt of it in me
fist, I mounted his fine horse an’ druv him before me, as you saw.

“An now what are we to do with him? No doubt he deserves hanging, as
they all do, but it ain’t my style to kill a helpless prisoner an’ I
know you nor Tom wouldn’t do such a thing, though I told Tucker, comin’
along–just to keep him well scared up that we would hang him in the
mornin’, sure as fate, as soon as it was light enough to see how to do
a good job of it; an’ I b’lieve he’s afeard we’re going to do it, for
he’s been mighty serious ever since. Ef we was nigh to any of Uncle
Sam’s sogers we could just turn him over to them, an’ they’d fix him,
sure, for the order is out fer these jayhawkers to be exterminated
to death or druv out of Kansas, an’ the sogers is huntin’ ’em down
wherever they can hear of ’em. By the way, the ol’ storekeeper told
me that he had sent off that letter, by the mail that went past this
evenin’, to General Hunter, at Leavenworth, askin’ him to send a few
sogers out along the Santa Fé road to look after these fellers.”

While Jack had been telling us all this we had been standing far enough
away from the prisoner so that we were sure he could not hear what was
said.

Tom, while apparently listening to Jack, asked no questions and offered
no suggestions but seemed wrapped in his own thoughts, and I knew, from
often having seen him in a similar revery, that he was studying out
some “strategy,” as he would call it, to spring on our enemies, the
jayhawkers.

When Jack came to a pause Tom began:

“Men, we can’t afford to fool away much more time with these robbers.
An idea struck me when I saw that big fellow tied to the wagon wheel,
an’ I’ve been ponderin’ on it ever since, an’ if we can carry out the
scheme I think I see a way of running a bluff on him an’ his gang that
will scare ’em out of this neighborhood, an’ that will be the next best
thing to killing ’em an’ we won’t have to stay here. Now, listen an’
I’ll give you a hint of my plan. We’ll go into the tent, where we’ll
be close enough to him for Tucker to hear what we’re saying ef he
listens right sharp, an’ I know he’ll do that. I’ll give you two men
a little talk that’ll go to show that instead of our being what we’ve
represented ourselves to be–that is, three wolf hunters goin’ out to
the buffalo range–we are really three soldiers disguised this way an’
sent out here to do a little detective service on purpose to locate
this gang of jayhawkers, an’ that the company of cavalry to which we
belong is coming on close behind us, ready to swoop down an’ gobble up
the gang as soon as I give ’em the word. An’ then, when we git Tucker
to take this all in we’ll manage to let him escape an’ carry this news
to his gang; an’ ef I ain’t badly mistaken they’ll pack up an’ pull out
from here as quick as they can get away. Now, mind you, I’m sergeant in
charge.”

“Be the powers o’ mud,” exclaimed Jack. “That’s a fine scheme if we can
only make it work, ef it pans out the way you’ve planned it. Tom–or
sergeant, I should have said–I’ll always think that a great general
was sp’ilt when they made only a private of you. Now go ahead with your
rat killin’ an’ let’s be tryin’ it on.”

As our conference ended we strolled back to the tent and Tom began
giving orders for guarding our prisoner through the night.

“Now, men, we’ll divide the night into three parts, like a ‘running
guard,’ an’ each one of us’ll take a third of the night to stand post.
An’, mind you, don’t go to sleep on post or the prisoner might git
away. I guess we’ll let Jack take the first watch, an’ you, Peck,
can come on for the middle tour, an’ you may call me up for the last
turn. Ef you think you won’t git sleepy you might bring out one of the
camp-chairs an’ take a seat where you can keep a close watch of the
prisoner; but ef you find yourself gittin’ the least bit drowsy you
must get up an’ walk about, for it won’t do for the sentry to go to
sleep to-night.”

“Why, fellows,” whined the big jayhawker, “you shorely don’t mean to
leave me in this fix all night, do you? I don’t see how I can stan’ it
so long.”

“Well, as to that,” said Jack with a fierce look of assumed
heartlessness, “ef it’d be any accommodation to you we might be able
to rig up some sort of a gallows out about the barn an’ swing you off
to-night so’s you wouldn’t have to stan’ there all night. Come to
think of it,” he continued, turning to Tom and me, “that would be a
good scheme for us as well as to put the prisoner out of his misery,
fer ef we hang him to-night instead of waitin’ till mornin’ we’ll save
ourselves the trouble of standing guard over him, an’ that’s quite an
item. What do you say to it?”

But Tom and I decided that with no better light than a candle, which
the wind might blow out, the jayhawker might escape, and if he didn’t
we would not be able to do a good job of hanging with so poor a light.
And the prisoner concluded that he would try and worry through the
night on the wagon wheel rather than put us to so much inconvenience.

Calling us inside the tent and changing our bayonet candlestick to a
position where it would be protected from the wind, while the light
would still shine on the prisoner through the open tent door, Tom, in
a low voice, began giving us the talk that we intended Tucker should
overhear.

“Now, men,” began the old man, “the objects of our expedition are so
nearly accomplished that I thought I’d better explain the situation to
you more fully so that you will clearly understand the parts you are to
play in our future movements. Everything is working out, so far, just
as the captain planned it. I don’t believe that anybody along the road
or any of these jayhawkers suspects us of being soldiers or anything
else but jest what we’ve told ’em, that we are three wolf hunters goin’
out to the buffalo range. There’s nothin’ military about our team
an’ camp outfit except the Sibley tent an’ our rifles, an’ lots of
citizens use them; an’ laying aside our uniforms an’ puttin’ on these
new buckskin togs makes us look like three tenderfeet tryin’ to imitate
frontiersmen. I must give our captain credit for long-headedness, for
’twas him planned the whole expedition.”

“An’ I give the captain credit,” interrupted Jack, “for selectin’ a
sergeant, among all the non-coms of the company, who could carry out
his plans to the letter.”

“Thanks,” returned Tom with a wink. “An’ the two privates that were
selected to go with the sergeant shows that our captain knows his men.”

“Now,” continued Tom, “ef things turn out as they look now, I think our
trip’ll end right here, for we’ve got our game purty nigh bagged. The
captain, with the company, has kept just far enough behind us to keep
out of sight, an’ to-night they’re about ten miles back on the road;
an’ ef he gits the message I sent to him this afternoon, which I’m sure
he will, they ought to be here, or over about the store, rather–for
there’s where I promised to meet ’em–a little after midnight.”

I could see that our prisoner was taking a keen interest in Tom’s
remarks, craning his neck forward and turning an ear toward the tent
door in an attitude of attentive listening.

“I have arranged with the boy,” continued the old veteran, “who carried
my message back to the captain, to guide the company up to the store
an’ to meet me there not later than two o’clock to-night. An’ this boy
has been down to the jayhawkers’ camp an’ knows the lay of the land
all around there; an’ when I join the captain an’ company the boy is
to guide us all to the camp, or nigh enough so that the captain can
string the company all around ’em; an’ as soon as it’s light enough
we’ll close in on ’em an’ make sure that nary one gits away. From what
Jack says, they are all pretty full of whiskey an’ will be apt to sleep
sound, an’ it’ll be an easy matter to gobble the whole caboodle.”

“Sh, sergeant,” I said in a loud enough whisper for the prisoner to
hear. “Don’t talk so loud–the jayhawker might hear you.”

“Oh, I don’t think he could hear what I say, ‘way out there; but it
won’t make much difference ef he does, fer he’ll never live long enough
to profit by what he might hear, for he’s pretty nigh as good as a dead
man right now. His time’s short.”

Tucker had dropped his head forward–in our direction–as far as he
could lean, and had closed his eyes as if asleep, but was trying to
catch every word that was said.

“But, sergeant,” I asked Tom, “what will the captain do with the
jayhawkers after he takes ’em in–take ’em back to Leavenworth as
prisoners?”

“Not much,” replied the old man. “He has his orders from General Hunter
to exterminate these jayhawkers wherever he can catch ’em–to shoot
or hang ’em; an’ you know our old captain is jest the man that’ll
take delight in carryin’ them orders out to the letter. We’ve heard
complaints enough from people along the road to satisfy the captain
that these rescals are entitled to no mercy, an’ you bet they’ll get
none from him.”

“But, sergeant,” inquired Jack, “what will we do with this feller? Hang
him in the mornin’?”

“No; unless he should try to get away, according to my orders, we’ll
have to keep him till the company gits here an’ then turn him over
to the captain. It’ll only delay his hanging a little while, for the
captain’ll fix him quick enough. But ef he should accidentally get
loose an’ run, why, shoot him, of course.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” said Jack, “that we can’t hang him ourselves as soon
as daylight comes, fer I promised him that, an’ I always like to make
my words good.”

“Now,” continued Tom, “I want you two men to keep a close watch of him
an’ give him no chance to give us the slip, for that’d spoil all our
plans.”

“We’ll see that he don’t get away.”

“Well, as I’ve got to meet the captain an’ company over at the store
a little after midnight, I’ll lie down an’ try to git a little sleep,
an’ you an’ Jack’ll have to divide the time between you, guardin’
the prisoner, for, of course, I’ll not be able to get back here till
some time after daylight, an’ when I come it’ll be with the company.
I guess,” added Tom after a pause, “I’d better ride the jayhawkers’
horse over to meet the company; he’ll make a better mount for me than
one of our broncos.”

“Yes, do so,” said Jack; “he’s a good one, I think.” Then he added
pleadingly: “But, sergeant, is they no way we could fix it so that me
an’ Peck could go with you on this round-up? S’pose we go out to the
barn an’ hang this feller to-night, or shoot him, an’ say he tried to
run–then we could all go.”

“No,” replied Tom decidedly, “that won’t do at all. Remember the old
saying, ‘It’s a good soldier that obeys orders,’ an’ we’ve got our
orders to hold any and all prisoners we may chance to take and turn
’em over to the captain. Much as I’d like to have both of you along,
you must stay an’ take care of the camp an’ prisoner. But I’ll speak
a good word to the captain fer you, an’ I think I can safely promise
that you’ll both be made corporals as soon as there’s vacancies in the
company.”

“Well,” said Jack sorrowfully, “I suppose we’ll have to stan’ it; but I
hate like blazes to break my promise to the jayhawker, for I told him
he could depend on bein’ hung at daylight.”

“But, sergeant,” I put in, “won’t the jayhawkers down at their camp,
waiting for their chief, suspect something wrong when he don’t show up?”

“No, it ain’t likely. They were all pretty full on leaving the store,
Jack says, an’ they’ll be apt to go right to sleep on gettin’ to camp
an’ think no more about it till mornin’. An’ ef they do happen to miss
him they’ll think he got too drunk to git back to camp an’ so laid out
some’ers.

“Now, Jack,” said Tom in concluding this conversation, “you may as well
put that candle out an’ take post outside where you kin keep an eye on
the prisoner. An’, Peck, you’ll take a turn around camp, to see that
the animals are all tied securely, an’ then turn in, an’ you an’ me’ll
be tryin’ to get what sleep we can afore it’s time for us to go on.”

As we came out of the tent the captive seemed to be just rousing up
from a nap he pretended to have been taking and whined:

“Men, would you mind loosenin’ these strings around my wrists and
ankles a little mite? They’re cuttin’ into my flesh.”

“Well,” replied Tom compassionately, “we don’t want to torture a man
unnecessarily. It’ll be enough to put him to death properly, when the
time comes, without keepin’ him a-sufferin’ so long. Loosen up them
cords a little, Jack. There won’t be much danger of his gettin’ away,
without you should go to sleep, an’ I know you won’t do that.”

Jack complied with Tom’s instructions with apparent reluctance,
grumbling as he did so. He purposely slackened the cords on the wrists
so much that the man would probably be able to slip his hands out of
them, seeming to rely on his watchfulness and shotgun to prevent the
possibility of an escape. Then bringing out a camp-chair, the Irishman
sat down with the shotgun across his lap while I made a tour of the
camp as directed. Then joining Tom in the tent, I put out the light and
we pretended to turn in for a sleep. In reality we lay down near the
open tent door, where, having the prisoner between us and the white
wagon cover, we could see every motion he might make, for it had been
arranged that Jack should apparently go to sleep in his chair and let
the jayhawker have a chance to get away.

Jack had prudently taken his seat far enough from the prisoner so that
the latter could not, after freeing himself, spring upon him and seize
his shotgun, and Tom and I, in anticipation of such an effort, lay down
with pistols ready to defeat the move should it be attempted. We had
chained the dog far enough away to be out of reach of the jayhawker,
for fear that he might catch the fugitive and thus spoil our scheme.

Tucker remained in his fixed position on the wagon wheel an
exasperatingly long time before he began to make any move toward
freeing himself, and he remained so still that I began to think that he
had fallen asleep in spite of his uncomfortable position.

After manifestly keeping awake for a reasonable time so as to give his
actions a semblance of reality, Jack began to nod in his chair, and
finally let his head drop against the back of his seat, very naturally,
but in a position that would enable him, through nearly closed eyes, to
watch every move of the prisoner; and then the Irishman began to snore.
Tom and I responded by doing our share of hard breathing, and now the
captive began to show some signs of life.

In the dim light I could see him–silhouetted against the white
wagon cover–leaning over to his left and working his right arm as
if slipping the hand out of the loop that held it to the wheel. When
that hand was free he resumed his original position, kept perfectly
still for a moment, and, when apparently assured that we were all
still asleep, he dropped his free right hand slowly to his waist and
carried the hand to his mouth, evidently having drawn his pocket-knife
and opened a blade with his teeth. Instead of untying the bonds on his
other hand and ankles he had concluded that the quickest and quietest
way was to cut them.

After replacing his right hand in its former position on the wheel,
watching Jack closely for a moment, and listening intently to our
steady, hard breathing, he quietly reached over with the knife in his
free hand and cut the string that held his left wrist to the wheel;
then replacing both hands on the wheel again for a moment as if tied,
he looked earnestly at Jack and then turned an ear toward our tent
door.

Assured by our snoring that we were all asleep, he reached down and cut
the cords that held his ankles, after which he gave another earnest
look at Jack, took a step out from the wheel, and no doubt intended to
steal quietly out to his horse and mount him; but as soon as he started
from the wagon the dog gave an angry growl and sprang the length of his
chain toward the escaping jayhawker.

Knowing that his flight would now be discovered, Tucker quickly darted
around the wagon, to get out of the range of Jack’s shotgun, with Found
lunging on his chain and barking furiously.

Jack sprang to his feet, calling to the fugitive, “Halt! halt!” as he
rushed around the wagon, followed by Tom and me, only to see the form
of the jayhawker disappearing rapidly in the darkness. Still calling
out “Halt! halt!” Jack let off one barrel after another of his shotgun,
but high over the head of the retreating ruffian, merely to accelerate
his speed. Tucker made no attempt to get his horse and was probably
only too glad to get away with a sound carcass.

After chasing him out on the prairie a little way, calling excitedly to
one another to mount and follow the fugitive and try to head him off
at some point toward the jayhawkers’ camp–all to impress Tucker, in
case he heard us, of the earnestness of our pursuit and our anxiety to
recapture him–we returned to our tent to chuckle over the success of
Tom’s strategy.

“‘Tain’t likely,” observed Tom, “that he’ll fool away time hanging
around here to try to get his horse. He’s scared bad, for sure, an’
no doubt b’lieves every word of that yarn I got off about the company
of cavalry; but, to be on the safe side, Jack, you’d best bring the
black horse up here an’ tie him to the wagon wheel that his former
master jest vacated, an’ then turn Found loose, an’ I’ll guarantee no
prowler’ll come nigh our camp without our gettin’ due notice of it.”

“Holy smoke,” exclaimed Jack, still commenting on the jayhawker’s
escape, “didn’t he run! When I run ’round the wagon after him I could
have shot him easy, ef I’d wanted to, fer he lost so much ground
a-zigzaggin’ as he run, to keep me from hittin’ him when I shot, that
he hadn’t got very far ahead of me. But after I let off both barrels
of the shotgun he struck a bee-line fer the timber, only hitting the
ground in high places. He’ll lose no time in getting back to his camp
an’ rousing up his men an’ telling ’em about the company of cavalry
that’s comin’ after midnight to surround their camp an’ hang or shoot
every mother’s son of ’em. What a time the half-drunken robbers’ll
have a-saddling up in the dark an’ gettin’ away from there in a hurry.
They’ll put as many miles as they can between them an’ their ol’ camp
before that company of cavalry surrounds ’em.”

After carrying out Tom’s orders we all turned in and slept till
daylight, when the veteran’s usual morning call brought back the
recollection of the recent exciting incidents.

After breakfast Tom rode over to the store to see what he could learn
of the jayhawkers.

Before he started: Jack asked, “Tom, what are we to do with Tucker’s
horse?”

“Why, Jack, ef no more rightful owner than Tucker turns up to claim him
the horse is fairly yours by right of capture.”

“I’ve been thinkin’ it over,” said Jack, “an’ come to this conclusion:
We know that these jayhawkers make a business of robbing people, taking
all the good horses an’ mules they come across; it’s more’n likely
that this Tucker has stole this fine horse from somebody hereabouts,
an’ I think the square thing to do will be to leave word with the ol’
storekeeper that in case any man comes along claiming the horse, an’
can prove his property, we’ll give him up to the rightful owner. If
the owner should show up in a day or two he can follow us up, prove
ownership, an’ take his horse. Ef he shouldn’t show up until after
we’ve got out to our winter’s camp, or well on the road toward it,
we’ll leave word with the storekeeper to say that we’ll be comin’ back
this way in the spring an’ we’ll fix the business up then.”

“Good idea, Jack,” said Tom. “I guess that’ll be as good a plan as any
to settle about the ownership of the horse, an’ we’ll leave it that
way.”

“As to the horse being mine,” added Jack, “in case no owner turns up,
I don’t look at it that way. This is a partnership concern, I take
it, an’ everything belongs to all hands. But that horse is a dandy. I
was out brushin’ him off a bit ago, an’ I haven’t laid a currycomb on
a finer animal this long time. He’s young–only six years old–well
built, clean-limbed, got good action, fine carriage, sound as a dollar,
an’ I’ll warrant he can run a good lick, too.”

As Tom started off, instead of following the road he took a course
across the prairie that would bring him to the creek some distance from
the regular ford, thus, instinctively, as it were, following out an
old frontier scouting rule by which we were taught that in travelling
a probably dangerous road one should avoid the regular crossing of a
timbered creek as a precaution against being ambushed.

About the middle of the forenoon Tom made his appearance and soon
joined us.

In response to our eager inquiries for news he replied:

“Good news. Our strategy won the game. The whole gang, lock, stock, an’
barrel, lit out from their ol’ camp last night about midnight, an’ went
in a hurry, too. Judging by the signs an’ what a man told us who heard
’em gittin’ away across the prairie, they must have been scared. Now,
let’s hitch up an’ strike the road again an’ try to make up some of
the time we’ve lost here–for we’ve been knocked out of nearly a day’s
drive by these jayhawkers. I’ll tell you all about it as we go along.”

We soon had our team strung out and were again rolling along the old
Santa Fé road, Jack and I on the wagon seat, with Tom riding the black
horse alongside and giving us the particulars of his visit to the store.

“When I got to the store,” he said, “early as it was, I found a farmer
there who lives down near where the jayhawkers have been camped an’
who had come up to report that some time before midnight he had heard
considerable commotion in their camp, an’ shortly afterward heard a
wagon an’ some mounted men pass not far from his house, goin’ southward
across the prairie. He supposed that the gang was breaking camp an’
moving away, but couldn’t understand why they should light out so
sudden an’ at such an hour. When daylight come he visited the abandoned
camp an’ there saw plenty of signs that they’d gone in a hurry. They
left clothin’, lariats, an’ other camp equipage scattered about that
they had failed to gather up in the dark.

“Well, when I got to the store the farmer an’ the storekeeper was all
worked up an’ tickled at the going of their unwelcome neighbors; an’
their astonishment was greater still to see me ridin’ Tucker’s fine
black horse an’ saddle, which they all seemed to recognize at first
sight.

“To explain the situation to ’em, an’ how I come to be ridin’ Tucker’s
horse, I had to tell ’em all about the jayhawkers comin’ to our camp to
try to bluff us out of our mules, an’ how we stood ’em off; an’ about
Jack capturin’ the big duffer; an’ how we made a ‘spread eagle’ of him
an’ give him a good scaring up with that yarn of the company of cavalry
coming; an’ how we give him a chance to get away; an’ how he got.

“I told the storekeeper what Jack’s plan was, in case an owner for the
black horse should turn up; but he don’t think the horse b’longs to any
one in this part of the country; an’ ef anybody comes ’round inquiring
for such a horse he’s to write to me at Fort Larned.

“The ol’ feller was dreadful uneasy for fear the jayhawkers would find
out that we’d gone on out to the plains an’ that there was really no
company of cavalry behind us and then would come back. But I tol’ him
not to worry about that, for I believed there would be a company of
cavalry here from Fort Leavenworth before long in answer to that letter
he had written to General Hunter.

“I put another idea into his head, tellin’ him that he could help the
soldiers to capture or break up the gang by havin’ a man foller their
trail an’ find out just where they locate. He took up with the idea
right away, an’ the farmer said he’d foller the trail. When he gets ’em
located he’s to come back an’ guide the soldiers to the jayhawkers’
camp.”

As we passed through the strip of timber at the crossing of the little
creek where the jayhawkers had planned to get the drop on us we noticed
that it would have been an admirable place for such a manoeuvre, and
Jack and I commented on the possibilities of an encounter with the
enemy here.

“You’re wastin’ your wind,” interrupted Tom impatiently. “I had it all
planned out to take a by-road that leads off from the house where we
camped, which crosses the creek–so the storekeeper had told me–about
a quarter of a mile below this crossin’, comin’ into the main road
again in the prairie beyond. In that way we’d have left the jayhawkers
‘holdin’ the sack,’ like the feller that went a-snipe huntin’.”

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