The Young Forester by Zane Grey
Down, down I plunged, and the shock of the icy water seemed to petrify me. I should have gone straight to the bottom like a piece of lead but for the lasso. It tightened around my chest, and began to haul me up.
I felt the air and the light, and opened my eyes to see Herky-Jerky hauling away on the rope. When he caught sight of me he looked as if ready to dodge behind the bank.
"Whar's my gun?" he yelled.
I had dropped it in the spring. He let the lasso sag, and I had to swim. Then, seeing that my hands were empty, he began to swear and to drag me round and round in the pool. When he had pulled me across he ran to the other side and jerked me back. I was drawn through the water with a force that I feared would tear me apart. Greaser chattered like a hideous monkey, and ran to and fro in glee. Herky-Jerky soon had me sputtering, gasping, choking. When he finally pulled me out of the hole I was all but drowned.
"You bow-legged beggar!" shouted Dick, "I'll fix you for that."
"Whar's my gun?" yelled Herky, as I fell to the ground.
"I lost--it," I panted.
He began to rave. Then I half swooned, and when sight and hearing fully returned I was lying in the cave on my blankets. A great lassitude weighted me down. The terrible thrashing about in the icy water had quenched my spirit. For a while I was too played out to move, and lay there in my wet clothes. Finally I asked leave to take them off. Bud, who had come back in the meantime, helped me, or I should never have got out of them. Herky brought up my coat, which, fortunately, I had taken off before the ducking. I did not have the heart to speak to Dick or look at him, so I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
It was another day when I awoke. I felt all right except for a soreness under my arms and across my chest where the lasso had chafed and bruised me. Still I did not recover my good spirits. Herky-Jerky kept on grinning and cracking jokes on my failure to escape. He had appropriated my revolver for himself, and he asked me several times if I wanted to borrow it to shoot Greaser.
That day passed quietly, and so did the two that followed. The men would not let me fish nor move about. They had been expecting Stockton, and as he did not come it was decided to send Bud down to the mill; in fact, Bud decided the matter himself. He warned Greaser and Herky to keep close watch over Dick and me. Then he rode away. Dick and I resumed our talk about forestry, and as we were separated by the length of the cave it was necessary to speak loud. So our captors heard every word we said.
"Ken, what's the difference between Government forestry out here and, say, forestry practiced by a farmer back in Pennsylvania?" asked Dick.
"There's a big difference, I imagine. Forestry is established in some parts of the East; it's only an experiment out here."
Then I went on to tell him about the method of the farmer. He usually had a small piece of forest, mostly hard wood. When the snow was on he cut firewood, fence-rails, and lumber for his own use in building. Some seasons lumber brought high prices; then he would select matured logs and haul them to the sawmill. But he would not cut a great deal, and he would use care in the selection. It was his aim to keep the land well covered with forest. He would sow as well as harvest.
"Now the Government policy is to preserve the National Forests for the use of the people. The soil must be kept productive. Agriculture would be impossible without water, and the forests hold water. The West wants people to come to stay. The lumberman who slashes off the timber may get rich himself, but he ruins the land."
"What's that new law Congress is trying to pass?" queried Dick.
I was puzzled, but presently I caught his meaning. Bill and Herky-Jerky were hanging on our words with unconcealed attention. Even the Mexican was listening. Dick's cue was to scare them, or at least to have some fun at their expense.
"They've passed it," I replied. "Fellows like Buell will go to the penitentiary for life. His men'll get twenty years on bread and water. No whiskey! Serves 'em right."
"What'll the President do when he learns these men kidnapped you?"
"Do? He'll have the whole forest service out here and the National Guard. He's a friend of my father's. Why, these kidnappers will be hanged!"
"I wish the Guard would come quick. Too bad you couldn't have sent word! I'd enjoy seeing Greaser swing. Say, he hasn't a ghost of a chance, with the President and Jim Williams after him."
"Dick, I want the rings in Greaser's ears."
"What for? They're only brass."
"Souvenirs. Maybe I'll have watch-charms made of them. Anyway, I can show them to my friends back East."
"It'll be great--what you'll have to tell," went on Dick. "It'll be funny, too."
Greaser had begun to snarl viciously, and Herky and Bill looked glum and thoughtful. The arrival of Bud interrupted the conversation and put an end to our playful mood. We heard a little of what he told his comrades, and gathered that Jim Williams had met Stockton and had asked questions hard to answer. Dick flashed me a significant look, which was as much as to say that Jim was growing suspicious. Bud had brought a store of whiskey, and his companions now kept closer company with him than ever before. But from appearances they did not get all they wanted.
"We've got to move this here camp," said Bud.
Bud and Bill and Herky walked off down the gorge. Perhaps they really went to find another place for the camp, for the present spot was certainly a kind of trap. But from the looks of Greaser I guessed that they were leaving him to keep guard while they went off to drink by themselves. Greaser muttered and snarled. As the moments passed his face grew sullen.
All at once he came toward me. He bound my hands and my feet. Dick was already securely tied, but Greaser put another lasso on him. Then he slouched down the gorge. His high-peaked Mexican sombrero bobbed above the rocks, then disappeared.
"Ken, now's the chance," said Dick, low and quick. "If you can only work loose! There's your rifle and mine, too. We could hold this fort for a month."
"What can I do?" I asked, straining on my ropes.
"You're not fast to the rock, as I am. Rollover here and untie me with your teeth."
I raised my head to get the direction, and then, with a violent twist of my body, I started toward him; but being bound fast I could not guide myself, and I rolled off the ledge. The bank there was pretty steep, and, unable to stop, I kept on like a barrel going down-bill. The thought of rolling into the spring filled me with horror. Suddenly I bumped hard into something that checked me. It was a log of firewood, and in one end stuck the big knife which Herky-Jerky used to cut meat.
Instantly I conceived the idea of cutting my bonds with this knife. But how was I to set about it?
"Dick, here's a knife. How'll I get to it so as to free myself?"
"Easy as pie," replied he, eagerly. "The sharp edge points down. You hitch yourself this way--That's it---good!"
What Dick called easy as pie was the hardest work I ever did. I lay flat on my back, bound hand and foot, and it was necessary to jerk my body along the log till my hands should be under the knife. I lifted my legs and edged along inch by inch.
"Fine work, Ken! Now you're right! Turn on your side! Be careful you don't loosen the knife!"
Not only were my wrists bound, but the lasso had been wrapped round my elbows, holding them close to my body. Turning on my side, I found that I could not reach the knife--not by several inches. This was a bitter disappointment. I strained and heaved. In my effort to lift my body sidewise I pressed my face into the gravel. "Hurry, Ken, hurry!" cried Dick. "Somebody's coming!"
Thus urged, I grew desperate. In my struggle I discovered that it was possible to edge up on the log and stick there. I glued myself to that log. By dint of great exertion I brought the tight cord against the blade. It parted with a little snap, my elbows dropped free. Raising my wrists, I sawed quickly through the bonds. I cut myself, the blood flowed, but that was no matter. jerking the knife from the log, I severed the ropes round my ankles and leaped up.
"Hurry, boy!" cried Dick, with a sharp note of alarm.
I ran to where he lay, and attacked the heavy halter with which he had been secured. I had cut half through the knots when a shrill cry arrested me. It was the Mexican's voice.
"Head him off! He's after your gun!" yelled Dick.
The sight of Greaser running toward the cave put me into a frenzy. Dropping the knife, I darted to where my rifle leaned across my saddle. But I saw the Mexican would beat me to it. Checking my speed, I grabbed up a round stone and let fly. That was where my ball-playing stood me in good stead, for the stone hit Greaser on the shoulder, knocking him flat. But he got up, and lunged for the rifle just as I reached him.
I kicked the rifle out of his band, grappled with him, and down we went together. We wrestled and thrashed off the ledge, and when we landed in the gravel I was on top.
"Slug him, Ken!" yelled Dick, wildly. "Oh, that's fine! Give it to him! Punch him! Get his wind!"
Either it was a mortal dread of Greaser's knife or some kind of a new-born fury that lent me such strength. He screeched, he snapped like a wolf, he clawed me, he struck me, but he could not shake me off. Several times he had me turning, but a hard rap on his head knocked him back again. Then I began to bang him in the ribs.
"That's the place!" shouted Dick. "Ken, you're going to do him up! Soak him! Oh-h, but this is great!"
I kept the advantage over Greaser, but still he punished me cruelly. Suddenly he got his snaky hands on my throat and began to choke me. With all my might I swung my fist into his stomach.
His hands dropped, his mouth opened in a gasp, his face turned green. The blow had made him horribly sick, and he sank back utterly helpless. I jumped up with a shout of triumph.
"Run! Run for it!" yelled Dick, in piercing tones. "They're coming! Never mind me! Run, I tell you! Not down the gorge! Climb out!"
For a moment I could not move out of my tracks. Then I saw Bill and Herky running up the gorge, and, farther down, Bud staggering and lurching.
This lent me wings. In two jumps I had grabbed my rifle; then, turning, I ran round the pool, and started up the one place in the steep wall where climbing was possible. Above the yells of the men I heard Dick's piercing cry:
I sent the loose rocks down in my flight. Here I leaped up; there I ran along a little ledge; in another place I climbed hand and foot. The last few yards was a gravelly incline. I seemed to slide back as much as I gained.
"Come back hyar!" bawled Bill.
Crack! Crack! Crack . . . The reports rang out in quick succession. A bullet whistled over me, another struck the gravel and sent a shower of dust into my face. I pitched my rifle up over the bank and began to dig my fingers and toes into the loose ground. As I gained the top two more bullets sang past my head so close that I knew Bill was aiming to more than scare me. I dragged myself over the edge and was safe.
The canyon, with its dense thickets and scrubby clumps of trees, lay below in plain sight. Once hidden there, I would be hard to find. Picking up my rifle, I ran swiftly along the base of the slope and soon gained the cover of the woods.