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"Throw up your hands ! Down from that engine, or my bullet's in your heart ! Where's the express messenger ?
The words were sharp and explosive. The voice was that of Jesse, the outlaw. Our train had just been balked by a false signal in the Red Cut. By peering out of the car windows we could see the robbers, some dismounted, some still in the saddle, thronging both sides of the track, with the steep bluffs of the cutting at their backs. The dusk of evening was rapidly deepening.
"Quick -- you chaps that I named !" called out Timberlake, in a hoarse whisper. "To the front, Lawson ! Craig will attend to the rear."
Our car had long before been especially altered for just this sort of an emergency. Timberlake arose while speaking, and pressed a spring over his head. A trapdoor in the roof of the car noiselessly opened. He shinned up through it like a cat, more clumsily followed by the six constables. In the meantime, while Craig headed a part of our remaining force toward the rear door, I stole forward, followed by Gorham, Ford, George Sheppard, and my personal satellites, Sloane and Chipps.
As I slid back the door, Cole Younger confronted me, revolver in hand. Others were at his back, still others were breaking into the express car, right ahead, and there was the customary pandemonium of curses, yells, and pistol-shots being raised on every side, for the purpose of creating a panic.
"Hello !" cried Cole, doubtless taking us for scared passengers trying to escape. "Back with you, or "
I knocked up his hand, shot down his immediate companion, and grabbing his throat, jerked him to his knees, and hurled him back among my comrades.
"Secure that one !" I shouted. "If he gives any trouble,
This was a mistaken move for me. Shots were immediately exchanged behind me, and Younger engaged in such a desperate hand-to-hand struggle with my followers that I stepped out upon the platform almost alone.
Two robbers had just clambered on the opposite platform, one of whom drew a bead on me and fired. I shrank to one side in time, but the shot intended for me struck Sloane, who was behind me, and he fell with a groan. I then dropped his assailant dead on the couplings, and, with another shot, disabled his companion so that he tumbled off the left-hand side all of a heap.
Then, as I jumped off on the other side, and ran to the assistance of the express messenger, who, though wounded, was bravely defending the broken sideentrance of his car against Jesse James, Frank James, and Jim Cummings; the wildest confusion prevailed.
Timberlake and his constables were promiscuously shooting down upon the ruffians from the top of the car, while Craig and his men had just issued from the rear, and were opening fire in every direction with good effect.
It was evident that a panic had seized the bandits in their turn. They had been completely taken by surprise, and the majority of them were already wavering.
As I rushed to the messenger's assistance, I fired another shot that only grazed Frank James' cheek, and at the same instant the messenger was pitched headlong out of his bravely defended car, with Jesse James' bullet in his heart.
Then, Cummings and Frank James being at that instant suddenly engaged by Chipps and Gorham, who had succeeded in following me, I drew a fresh bead on Jesse. At the instant of firing, however, one of his panic-stricken subordinates rushed in between us, receiving my bullet in his skull.
That was the last shot in my first repeater, and there was no time to draw my second. Nevertheless, before the outlaw leader could fire in return, I flew at his throat, grappling him so closely that the could not use the weapon.
To and fro, backward and forward we swayed and struggled silently amid the deadly din and confusion, until at last I tripped over a prostrate body under the windows of the second car, and went down on my back.
But my lucky star was in the ascendant on that eventful evening. The outlaw's knee was on my breast, his revolver at my head; I could see the baleful glitter of his eyes, and hear the gritting of his teeth. At that instant, however, a dead constable toppled over from the roof of the car, crushing my assailant to the earth, and giving me another chance for my life.
Nevertheless, he was on his feet again as soon as I, and again his repeater covered me.
"Curse you! do you carry a charmed life?" he hissed, through his gnashing teeth. "But now -- this time you are doomed !"
But again he reckoned without my lucky star. A carwindow was suddenly slid up but two or three feet away and a woman's jeweled hand was thrust out, holding a small pocket-revolver in its delicate but firm grip.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed a silvery voice, as the timely little weapon flashed and barked in the outlaw's face. "I owe you an old score, Jesse James, on Dick's account, and here's one toward liquidation."
Jesse dodged the pill intended for him, but the flash
momentarily blinded him, causing him to stagger back. Then a rush of his own retreating men making a break for their horses, separated us, the bullet that I sent after him from my second revolver passed harmlessly over his head, and I lost sight of him.
Bewildered, I turned a hasty glance toward the car. But the jeweled hand had been withdrawn, the window closed, and I could not distinguish the face that was behind it.
"I saw it all !" muttered Ford, passing by me, pistol in hand, and grasping my shoulder. "Your deliverer was Mattie Collins, Dick Little's wife. You can thank her afterward. Come! the villains are on the run."
"Go for their horses !" shouted Timberlake, making his way down from the car roof, followed by the remnants of his constables. "Bar 'em off from their horses, and we've got 'em all dead ! I know the cabin they'll run to."
We at once rallied around him in a body, and made a combined rush for the horses of such of the outlaws as had dismounted. We could see them gathered in a knot, under the charge of some boys, on the top of the bluff.
The outlaws, with Jesse James at their head, were also making a rush in the same direction, and with the same object. But we fortunately intercepted them, beat them, and took possession of the animals, while the baffled robbers ran off into the woods, accompanied by their mounted associates.
As they did so, I remarked with bitter regret that Cole Younger was among them, and apparently not even disabled, though it was no fault of mine that he had not remained a captive.
I was the first to reach the horses, and I at once backed the finest one in the lot. This one, to my intense satisfaction, proved to be Dancer, the chief outlaw's sorrel favorite. There were nine more, which were quickly appropriated. Then leaving Craig with the remainder of_ our men, to look after the train, and to see to the forwarding of the dead, wounded, and captured to Topeka, we dashed away in the pursuit, under Timberlake's leadership.
A bright moon had risen with the falling of night, and the woods that we were obliged to penetrate were but sparsely grown. A five minutes' thundering pace brought us in view of the fugitives, horse and foot. They outnumbered us greatly, but a majority seemed to be under the influence of a panic which their leaders were unable to control.
Presently they separated, those that were mounted dashing off down a rocky road they had been following, while those on foot ran up the side of a steep bare hill toward a small cabin, which was situated near its wooded crest.
"Just as I expected!" shouted Timberlake. "After 'em, boys ! Don't give 'em breathing space !"
We spurred straight up the hill in pursuit, emptying our revolvers and reloading as we rode. The robbers, however, succeeded in entering the cabin, and barring the doors and windows, before we could intercept them. Some of our party then dashed around into the thicket directly behind the house, with special instructions, while the rest of us kept peppering the house from the front at long range, to engross the attention of those within.
They replied feebly, and with little effect.
Presently a bright blaze shot up from the rear of the house, and those who had gained the thicket reappeared upon its skirt, and sent us down a cheer of triumph. We responded with a will, for we then knew that it was merely a question of time. They had succeeded in heaping up brushwood against the back of the cabin and firing the place.
In a few seconds, more than half the house was in flames, and we kept banging away unremittingly.
But that night's battle was to be a series of surprises.
Just as Jesse and Frank James, the three Youngers, and two others, suddenly bolted out of the burning building, and replied to our fire, their mounted companions, who had made a detour of the hill from the road below, instead of taking themselves off, as we had supposed, burst out of the thicket behind, and came rushing to the rescue with an appalling yell.
Our men in that quarter were at once driven down upon our support, and the robbers, firing volley after volley, made a movement as though to engage us once more at close quarters.
They didn't do it, however. We maintained our ground, and with the advantage still in our favor, in spite of their superior numbers, by reason of their remaining for the time being in the strong light of the burning building.
At this stage of the fight something occurred which will seem scarcely credible, but which is none the less true.
The long-range firing was proceeding fast and furious but with very little effect. I was slightly in the advance of our line, when I saw Jesse James return his pistol to his belt, and raise his silver whistle to his lips. The triple blast that he blew upon it was of terrific distinctness. Dancer, the horse that I bestrode, in response to it, suddenly shot straight up into the air, as if a bombshell had exploded under his body. Then he came down with a tremendous shock, humping his back like a camel as he did so, and bringing all his feet together like a goat.
Utterly unprepared for his "bucking," or anything of the sort, I shot aloft as though discharged from a mortar. Nevertheless, even while in the air, I knew the trick that had been played me between master and horse.
"Kill that horse!" I yelled, after I had returned to mother earth, and was rolling over and over down the hill. "He's James' Dancer; the fastest horse in Missouri! Shoot him!"
But when I regained my feet and my scattered senses, Dancer had safely reached his master, who was once more on his back, waving his hand derisively at us, while my comrades were all laughing at me, in spite of the peril of their environments.
The robbers then drew up in line, under Jesse's leadership, and seemed about to charge us. Had they done so, with their numbers and the descent of the hill in their favor, they would doubtless have swept us away like chaff before the wind.
But, for some reason, they suddenly changed their intention. Perhaps it was because of their ammunition: giving out. At all events, they sheered off, and began to make for the winding road at an angle down the slope which carried them considerably off to our right, and, for the time being, we were content.
But while this was in progress, a startling episode occurred.
A man, evidently disabled, and whom I recognized as Jim Cummings, suddenly appeared in the doorway of the blazing cabin, pistol and knife in hand. How he had chanced to be left within there, in that condition, none of us could surmise. He seemed hardly able to move, and yelled hoarsely after his confederates.
They, apparently as much surprised as we, came to a confused halt, and seemed undetermined whether to return for him, or leave him to his fate, for they were still under our well-organized fire.
While they were thus hesitating, Cummings suddenly vanished into the lurid interior, as if drawn back into it by some mysterious suction of the air.
He as suddenly reappeared, however, seemingly mastering his disability. But his clothing was on fire, his skin blackened, his beard singed off his face, and, as he rushed limpingly after his confederates down the hill, still brandishing his weapons, he looked less like a human being than an animated column of flame.
They rolled him on the ground, covered him with a blanket, and, seating him on a horse, which one of the mounted men abandoned for the-purpose, they continued their flight.
We continued to follow them up, intending to procure fresh mounts in the town, and keep up the pursuit all night, or until we should have them run down to a man.
As I had to accompany my companions on foot, I was dreadfully tired when we entered Topeka, the outlaws having skirted it through the woods to the south, but in my excitement I was still as eager for the pursuit as any one else.
The train had, of course, arrived before us, and the town was consequently in a high fever.
We had lost no men in the fight at the cabin. But of our number, the train had brought in poor Sloane's dead body and five badly wounded men. But on the same train were five dead outlaws, and as many more suffering from wounds.
We left these to be looked to by the town and railroad authorities, and lost no time in looking up horses and recruits.
I was riding out of a tavern yard on a fair-looking animal that I had succeeded in securing, when a wellknown silvery laugh caused me to look up. It came from an upper porch, in which was standing a pretty woman, whom I at once divined as the owner of the jeweled hand and pocket-revolver that had been so opportunely thrust out of the car window to my rescue in my grapple with the outlaw chief.
"I know you, sir !" she called out. "Wait; I will come down."
In another minute she was shaking my hand in the moonlight, her bright face and fashionably-costumed figure looking very pretty in the white beams.
"Thank you a thousand times!" said I. "I have already learned that you are Dick Little's wife."
"Ah! and who could have told you that?" she cried, with another laugh. "But never mind now, since you are in such a hurry. Yes, I am Dick's wife, though I still retain my maiden name of Mattie Collins here in my native place. I would never have had to be ashamed of Dick, either, but for Jesse James, who led him-into being the robber that he has become. But I'll yet reform Dick, and have my revenge on the Jameses. Good-by, then. We may meet again."
I spurred away, rejoining-Timberlake's rough-riders, by this time increased to a force of more than twenty horsemen, and we at once started in fresh pursuit of the outlaws.
Day was breaking when I found myself alone in a wild forest glade, my horse having gone dead lame, leaving me considerably in the rear of my bettermounted friends.
I had just dismounted, and was leading my horse to a neighboring brook, when I perceived a man who was laving his head in the cool waters, unconscious of my presence.
My first glance discovered him as one of the outlaws, broken down, tired out, and perhaps wounded besides, his belt and pistols having been thrown wearily aside on the turfy bank upon which he was kneeling. My second glance caused me a thrill of satisfaction, for it recognized the man as Bob Younger.
Recollecting what Ford had told me, that my best chance of learning anything about Judge Rideau's grandchild was by questioning Bob Younger, the hope of now discovering the whereabouts of the child occurred to me in a flash.
To steal upon the unsuspecting outlaw, precipitate myself upon him, and have him at my mercy, was the work of but a moment.
"Bob Younger, your life and liberty, now mine, are yours again on one condition!" I exclaimed, with my knee on his chest, and my revolver at his forehead. "Where has Jesse James hidden away the little Tip Younger, Judge Rideau's grandchild?"
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