California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman


THOUGH matters certainly did look desperate for Joe, he did not lose his presence of mind. His eyes scanned the sides of the cliff in his front, but he saw that a squirrel could not scale them.

Then he caught sight of what appeared to be a break in the solid wall, and toward this he bounded.

It was where the ravine turned, but the walls were so alike, that Joe had believed he was at the end of the canyon, or gulch.

Now he saw that it went beyond where he stood several hundred feet, but there certainly did end, though the yawning mouth of a cavern extended on beneath the hill.

It took Joe but an instant to reach the cavern and dart into it.

Once within its dark shelter and he turned to look back over his track, to see if his foes were in sight, and to his delight he discovered that they were not, though he could hear them coming upon his trail like a pack of hounds.

Before reconnoitering his quarters, Joe set to work upon his rifle. He knew he had no time to draw the charge, so he began to pour powder into the nipple, beating it down into the barrel by thumping it with his fist.

Steadily he worked at this, although a loud, echoing shout told him the red-skins were close upon him.

The next moment they appeared around the bend of the canyon and came to a halt, pointing at the cavern and gesticulating wildly.

But Joe kept on with his priming until the tube would hold no more, and then he placed a cap upon it, and laying it down took up his revolvers. From. each nipple the cup was removed and a close examination made, and in several a few grains of powder were placed.

"Now, I guess I'm ready," said the plucky boy as he laid his weapons down ready for use, and, rising, unfolded his blankets and hung them upon the cavern walls, to let the water drip from them.

In the mean time his foes, a score in number, had all appeared in sight, and Joe recognized those he had seen upon the cliff, and who seemed to be now the ringleaders of the others.

They seemed to be urging the others to make a rush upon the cavern, for they had followed the boy's trail and knew he could be nowhere else.

"I guess that fellow on the spotted pony is wanted in the Happy Hunting-grounds," said Joe to himself, and he stooped for his rifle.

But hardly had he done so when a perfect shower of arrows came flying into the cavern, the Indians having cunningly fitted them to their bows unseen by Joe, and at a word from their leader, fired them.

Had the boy not stooped for his rifle as he did, and which was laid upon one side of the cavern, he would have been pierced by half a dozen arrows.

But, as it was, not one touched him, though several came dangerously near.

With this volley of arrows the red skins started upon a charge for the cavern, and instantly the boy's rifle went to his shoulder, his eyes caught the sights, and his finger drew on the trigger.

This time there was no misfire, and the warrior on the spotted mustang went down.

"I knew they wanted him," said Joe, as he whipped up his revolvers and began to fire away.

One, two, three shots, and no more were necessary, for the red- skins knew not then what the deadly revolver was, and imagined they had run upon other foes than the brave boy whom they had brought to bay.

A mustang killed, another with a broken leg, and a brave wounded, Joe saw were the results of his pistol practice, and he could not restrain a burst of mocking laughter, as the red skins ran helter- skelter for the bend in the ravine.

They sent a revengeful volley of arrows back into the cavern, and then disappeared, but knew that they had by no means given him up.

"They'll not comeback right off, I guess, so I'll look around and see where I am," muttered Joe, as he reloaded his riffle and then looked about him..

A short distance back from the entrance all was darkness; but Joe was provided with a tin box full of matches, and he quickly gathered the arrows, heaped them together, whittled off a splinters to kindle with, and behind a jutting point of the cavern lighted his fire to have a look around him.

In spite of Joe's free-and-easy air in danger, and his great nerve, what he beheld by the aid of the fire-light, caused a cry of horror to break from his lips.

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