The border boys with the.., p.17
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       The Border Boys with the Mexican Rangers, p.17
 

          
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  CHAPTER XVII.

  THE TRAIL OF THE TREMBLING MOUNTAIN.

  But the Trembling Mountain still lay far from them. Following thatbivouac at the foot of the somber chain of mountains, they made theirway for some days through the most magnificent scenery they had everseen. Even Grizzly Pass could show nothing to compare with it. It wasan enchanted land of soaring peaks, deep and narrow canyons in whosedepths lay perpetual twilight, mighty cliffs and crags and leapingwaterfalls.

  Sometimes on topping an eminence they could see far off to thesouthwest a circle of snowy peaks vaunting it above their timberclothed brethren. From some of these peaks issued columns of bluesmoke. Somewhere among those smoldering volcanoes, the professortold them, lay the object of their quest. At noon every day carefulobservations were taken, but they still pressed onward, the mystery andcharm of their quest increasing all the time.

  Often, seated about the campfire, they discussed the possibility of theRamon gang having trailed them; but the consensus of opinion was thatthey had succeeded in throwing the rascals off their tracks.

  “But the scoundrels are keen on the scent where gold or treasure isconcerned,” said Ralph one evening, “and I’ll bet that if they are notnow on our trail they are trying to get upon it. I’ve got a privatepresentiment that we are not destined to land that treasure without astruggle.”

  “If only we could encounter those Mexican Rangers of ColonelAlverado’s, our task would be easier,” said Jack. “I’ve a good mind tolook about at daylight to-morrow before we get under way, and see if Ican discover some trace of them.”

  “Not a bad idea,” assented the professor, “the Don said that his menwere off in this section somewhere, as it was suspected that therascally gang of which Ramon is the head would make in this directionto seek shelter in the wild fastnesses.”

  The next day, dawn had hardly made things visible before Jack wasstirring, and saddling the big horse which they had taken from theMexican outlaws at the lone rancho, set forth on his quest. Theyhad wished to leave this horse as a present to Don Alverado for hiskindness, but the Don would not hear of it. He argued that they mightneed an extra horse, and his words had proven true. The extra animalhad come in handy once or twice when one or another of their own mountswas crippled temporarily by the rough mountain roads.

  Jack did not set out without an objective point. This was the summit ofa cliff at some distance which he felt sure he could reach by a sortof natural trail he had observed from below. It was going to be risky,though. To begin with, the trail was too narrow for him to turn backif he found it ended abruptly, but it was the only way of reaching thecliff top, and Jack felt that only from there could he obtain a goodview of the surrounding country.

  To his relieved surprise, however, the trail, though narrow enough inplaces to give a timid rider heart failure, was yet wide enough towardthe summit to afford a foothold to a sure-footed horse like the onehe bestrode. After about half an hour of breath-catching riding, theBorder Boy at length reached the top. As he had anticipated, the viewfrom there was as extended as it was magnificent. Peak after peak inserried ranks stretched away on every side. Deep canyons lay betweenthem, with here and there a solitary eagle soaring above the darkdepths. The sky above was a blinding blue, and the newly risen sunshone brightly, but yet, at that great altitude, Jack felt chilled.

  But if he had expected to see the smoke of campfires, or spy a distantline of moving dots on this vast panorama, he was mistaken. No humannote marred the impressive solemnity of the scene. Jack Merrill, poisedwith his horse on the cliff top, might have been the only being in theworld for any evidence to the contrary.

  “Well, I suppose I’d better be getting back again,” he thought tohimself. “What a magnificent country! It is like those cloud palacesyou see among the thunder heads on a still summer’s day in New England.”

  With half a sigh at leaving such a spectacle behind him, the boy turnedhis horse, and as he did so gave vent to a shout of surprise.

  Kneeling on one knee behind a rock, and pointing a rifle full at him,was the figure of a man who must have crept quietly up while Jack hadbeen admiring the view. This figure made a gesture cautioning Jack notto move, and then gave a shrill whistle. Instantly the woods all aboutgalvanized into life. A score of wild-looking horsemen sprang out. Theywere all armed, and Jack, utterly at a loss to know what this couldportend, stopped short.

  “Well, senors, what is it?” he asked politely.

  “Get off that horse, Miguel de Acosta,” ordered one of the men sternly.“It is useless to resist, and——”

  “But my name doesn’t happen to be Miguel de Acosta,” protested Jack.

  “In that case, what are you doing with his horse?”

  “Whose horse?”

  “Why, De Acosta’s. If you are not De Acosta and have his horse you area horse thief, which is as bad under our laws as any of the crimes ofwhich De Acosta is accused.”

  “Will somebody please tell me what all this means?” cried Jack, lookingabout him bewilderedly.

  “Please let me examine the brand of that horse,” said the firstspeaker, who seemed to be a kind of leader; “ah, just as I thought. Abar and a flying U. That’s De Acosta’s horse and you are the man we’reafter. Get off now.”

  “But—but——,” began Jack, beginning to think that this adventuremight turn out seriously after all.

  “No explanations now. You may make those to the commandante later.Come, senor,” as Jack still hesitated, “are you going to dismount?”

  “Nothing for it I suppose but to obey,” said Jack, clambering out ofthe saddle.

  The man who was conducting this inquiry while the rest looked grimlyon, was excessively polite, but there was something alarming inhis very suavity. As Jack’s feet touched the ground a sharp orderwas given in Spanish, and two of the horsemen who had so suddenlyappeared stepped to his side. As they did so they tapped their riflessignificantly. But suddenly Jack noted something, and that was that onthe butt of each of the rifles was stamped Republica de Mexico, No. 2,Sonora.

  A great light broke upon him.

  “Why, you are Mexican Rangers,—Rurales,—are you not?” he demanded ofthe seeming leader.

  “Si, senor. None should know that better than you.” was the gravereply. “We are the second division of Sonora, with headquarters atSanta Anita.”

  “Hooray, then it’s all right after all,” cried the boy, and plunginghis hand into his breast pocket he drew forth the paper which DonAlverado had given him before they departed from his hospitable roof.The officer scanned it with raised eyebrows.

  “Why, senor. A thousand pardons. I see that a mistake has been made.But pardon me, how do you come to be riding the horse of the notoriousoutlaw, De Acosta, who is one of Black Ramon de Barros’s chieflieutenants?”

  “Oh, I see it all now,” cried Jack, “you were in search of Black Ramon,and when you saw a horse answering the description of De Acosta’s, youat once jumped to the conclusion that I must be he. Say, that’s quite ajoke.”

  “It wouldn’t have been much of a joke for you, if you had not provedyour identity, senor,” was the grave reply of the officer,—for suchJack now knew he must be, “do you know what we would have done withthe real Acosta had we found him? Hanged him to the nearest tree andleft his body for the gallinazos and the buzzards.”

  The day was warm, but Jack shuddered as the leader of the MexicanRangers spoke.

  “But, senor,” went on the young officer, “you hinted just now at havinga story to tell about how you came by the horse. Will you breakfastwith me at our camp yonder, and you can relate your story as we eat? Itmay be of great value to the State if it throws any light on the waysof Black Ramon.”

  Jack assented to this proposition. For one thing, he was hungry. Foranother, he saw that the Mexican Rangers might prove valuable alliesin case of a brush with the Ramon outfit. All the rurales, among whoma very democratic spirit prevailed, were much interested in his tale.They hung closely ab
out the officer’s quarters, a blanket stretchedon the ground, while Jack related his story of the happenings atthe lonely rancho. It made an odd scene, this conclave under thegreat mountain pines. There was the clean-cut American lad sittingtailor fashion opposite the young officer who listened eagerly, whileall about hovered the forms of the rangers, clad in bright sashesand brilliant-hued serapes, with immense cone-topped hats lavishlydecorated with gold and silver braid. Jack learned later that someof these men oftentimes pay as high as two hundred dollars for theirheadgear, and that a good sombrero will pass down from father to sonand grandson without deteriorating.

  At the conclusion of Jack’s narrative, the officer expressed a wishto visit the camp of the Border Boys, more especially as it was in apart of the mountains unfamiliar to him. No time, therefore, was lostin mounting and getting under way. The Rangers used bugle calls likeregular troops, the trumpeter riding at the leader’s side.

  In single line they defiled down the steep trail by which Jack hadascended, and were soon at the foot of the mighty cliff.

  “And where is your camp, senor?” inquired the officer, after they hadridden for some time in the direction in which Jack knew it lay.

  “That’s what’s puzzling me, senor,” rejoined the boy anxiously, “itshould be here, but——”

  He broke off abruptly. Undoubtedly from the litter and the stillsmoking embers upon which they had just that minute stumbled they mustbe at the site of the camp. But where were the lad’s companions?

  Had the earth swallowed them they could not have vanished morecompletely, nor did a painstaking search by the Rangers reveal any clueas to their whereabouts or the manner of their departure.

 
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