Chapter XXIX. Locating the Lost Mine

While Yates and another of the men ran toward Noxton to make him a prisoner, the others turned their attention to the Baxters and Al Roebuck.

The Baxters were hiding behind a clump of bushes, but now, as soon as discovered, they took to their heels, making sure that the bushes and trees should keep them screened, so that there would be no danger from a fire such as had brought down their unlucky companion.

"They're on us, dad!" groaned Dan Baxter, "Oh, why did we ever come out here!"

"Silence, Dan," whispered Arnold Baxter. "If we don't keep still they may shoot us down in cold blood." And then Dan became as mum as an oyster, although his teeth chattered with terror.

On went father and son, down a hill and into a deep valley where the rocks were numerous and the growth thick. Several shots flew over their heads, causing Dan to almost drop from heart failure.

"I -- I can't ru -- run much further!" he panted.

"Come, here is an opening between the rocks," whispered Arnold Baxter. "In you go, before it is too late. If they follow us, we can sell our lives as dearly as possible."

Dan gave a groan at this, and slipped into the hollow. He did not wish to sell his life at any price.

"Let us put out a -- a flag of truce," he whined. "Give them everything, father, but don't let them shoot us!" Every ounce of courage had oozed away from him, for he had seen Noxton brought down, and thought the rascal was dead.

"Shut up, you softy!" answered his parent in a rage. "Shut up, and we will be safe. I'll never give in to a Rover," he added vehemently.

Tom and Sam had gone after the Baxters, with Jack Wumble behind them while the last man of the party turned to collar Roebuck. But Roebuck was game, and fired at his assailant, who fired in return, and each man was slightly wounded in the shoulder. Then Roebuck disappeared in the woods back of the old hotel, and that was the last seen of him for the time being.

The hunt for the Baxters was kept up until nearly nightfall. But they remained in hiding, and although Tom and Sam passed within fifty feet of the hollow, they were not discovered.

"They have given us the slip," said Tom, "It's too bad! I thought we had them, sure!"

As soon as the search was over it was discovered that two of the horses were missing. The several pistol shots had frightened them away, and in the gathering darkness they could not be located.

The entire party camped that night in the old hotel, and Tom showed where he had been a prisoner, and how he had escaped up the chimney. Noxton was not dangerously wounded, and the men did what they could to allay the pain he was suffering. Yet they had little sympathy for him, for, as stated before, horse stealing in that locality was considered one of the worst of crimes.

"But we'll take ye back to the county seat," said Yates. "And ye shall have a fair trial."

"Take all I have, but let me go!" pleaded Noxton, but to this the men with Yates would not listen. Early in the morning the party under Yates set off, taking Noxton along, although the criminal protested that he was too weak to ride. It may be as well to add here that, later on, Noxton, alias Slinky Bill, was tried in court and given a sentence of five years for his misdeeds.

Jack Wumble and Sam had brought along Dick's horse, and they now took good care that the animal should not get away from them. Where to look for Dick, however, was a poser.

"Well, I'll tell you one thing," Tom declared, "I'm not going on to Larkspur Creek until he is found."

"Or until we have found out what has become of him," added Sam. "He may be dead, you know."

"I reckon we had best go back to where he took his tumble," said Wumble. "If he escaped he'll come back thar himself, more'n likely."

This appeared to be good advice, and an hour after the departure of Yates and the others they mounted and set off.

Less than half a mile had been covered when, of a sudden, there came a shot, and a bullet cut through the brush beside them.

"Hullo! this won't do!" cried the old miner. "Come out of sight, an' be putty quick about it, too!"

They rode into a patch of wood and halted. But no more shots came, nor could they locate that which had been fired.

"One thing is certain, at least one of yer enemies is a-watching of us," was the old miner's comment. "We'll keep behind shelter after this." And they did.

It was hard traveling, and poor Sam was utterly worn out by the time the trail along the watercourse was again reached.

"I've got to let up a bit," he murmured. "I can't sit up in the saddle any more!"

"I shouldn't have pushed ye so hard," answered Wumble sympathetically. "If ye --" he stopped short. "Who's that?"

He dodged behind a rock, and the others did the same. Somebody was stirring below them, in the timber. All drew their pistols.

"If it's an enemy we'll give them as good as they send," said Tom, and he meant it.

But it was not the enemy; it was Dick, and he soon appeared and called to them. They were overjoyed, and ran out to meet him and Slim Jim, his companion. There was hearty handshaking all around. Then as they rested each told his tale. It was such a happy gathering as is not easily forgotten.

"You couldn't have fallen in with a better man nor Slim Jim," said Jack Wumble to Dick. "He's got the warmest heart in all Colorady, he has!"

It was decided to wait until the morrow before setting out again for Larkspur Creek. Slim Jim agreed to accompany them, for to the hunter and trapper one spot in the mountains was about as good as another.

"An' I'll help ye keep an eye open for them Baxters," said the old hunter.

A good night's rest did wonders for all hands, and they were stirring bright and early. Slim Jim knew every foot of the way, and he told Wumble of a short cut to the creek which was even better to travel than the short trail the old miner had selected.

For two days the party went on, over hills and mountains and across marvelous cafions and valleys, thick with pines and firs. The boys had never seen such scenery, and for the time being their enemies were forgotten.

Late in the afternoon of the second day they came out on the side of a low mountain which overlooked Larkspur Creek.

"Here we are at the Larkspur at last," cried Jack Wumble.

"And how far still to Kennedy's claim, do you think?" asked Dick eagerly.

"Not more than two or three miles. We'll have to hunt up the landmarks," answered the old miner, but hunting landmarks had to be deferred to the next day. Then they set about it in earnest, and by noon they were on the same ground which Anderson Rover's mining partner had traveled so many years before.

They were trying to put down the first of their stakes when a pistol shot rang out, and Dick received a slight wound in the hand. Looking up the mountain side they saw Arnold Baxter's savage face gazing down at them. Behind the father was his son Dan, and close by stood Roebuck. Evidently their enemies meant to fight for the possession of the mine to the bitter end.