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    Chapter 22

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    Chapter 23
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    DAVE AND THE MOUNTAIN LION

    "Don't fire, I beg of you! We--we are friends! Don't fire! Please put down that pistol, do!"

    It was Job Haskers who called out in this fashion, as he raised his hands high in the air. He was seized with a chill, and shook from head to foot.

    Link Merwell was also agitated, and for the instant tried to back away. Perhaps, now that Sol Blugg had spoken so harshly, the youth realized that he was not such a kind-hearted fellow as Abe Blower had proved to be.

    "Come out here, where we can see you!" cried Blugg. "Larry, got yer pistol?"

    "I sure have," responded Larry Jaley, with a wicked grin.

    "There is no need to do any shooting," said Link Merwell.

    "You were spyin' on us," growled Staver.

    "Who are you? Come here and give an account o' yourselves," ordered Sol Blugg.

    There was no help for it now, and, rather awkwardly, with their hands still upraised, Job Haskers and Link Merwell stumbled over the rocks to where the three men had been resting and talking.

    "Humph, a tenderfoot!" muttered the leader of the trio, as he inspected the former teacher of Oak Hall. "I don't reckon he's goin' to do us any harm." He turned to Merwell. "Who are you, sonny?"

    Link told him and also mentioned Haskers's name. "I was just coming forward to introduce myself," he added.

    "How kind," sneered Larry Jaley, with a mock bow.

    "I was. We stepped behind the rocks to find out what sort of men you were. And I guess you are just our kind," added Merwell, with a sickly grin.

    "How so?" demanded Sol Blugg, sharply. "No game, now."

    "I'll give it to you straight," answered Link Merwell. "Can I put down my hands? It's not comfortable to talk with them up in the air."

    "All right,--and fire away," answered the leader of the men.

    "We overheard what you said about the Abe Blower party and the Tom Dillon party," pursued Merwell. "We were with Abe Blower, but the other crowd came up and made it hot for us, and we got out. You said something about their being here to locate gold. So they are, and now that we are on the outs with those other people, if you say the word, we'll go in with you. Isn't that right, Haskers?" asked Link, coolly.

    "I--I presume so," answered the former teacher, nervously. He had dropped his hands, but Sol Blugg still had his weapon handy, and the sight of it was far from comforting.

    "Had a row, did ye?" asked Blugg, curiously.

    "Yes. You see, Blower wanted to run things to suit himself and we--er--we didn't see things quite that way. Then Dillon came up with his crowd, and they made matters worse than ever. We had some information that we didn't want the others to have, so we got out," went on Link Merwell, glibly. He was now recovering from his fright.

    "Got information, have ye?" cried Larry Jaley. "About wot fer instance?"

    "About what those fellows are after," answered Merwell. "Isn't that so?" he asked, of Haskers.

    "It is," answered the former teacher.

    "Is it another gold strike?" burst out Sol Blugg, eagerly.

    "Not exactly a strike," answered Merwell. "All of us came out to relocate the lost Landslide Mine."

    "What! That mine!" yelled Staver, and the tone of his voice showed his deep disgust. "Nuthin' to it--nuthin' at all. If you're arfter thet mine ye might as well go right back home. It's buried deep an' fer good."

    "Let us hear what they have to tell," said Sol Blugg. "They may have news worth listenin' to, Ham."

    "I ain't goin' to waste no time lookin' fer thet lost mine," growled the rascal who had been shot. "I'm goin' back to town an' let a doctor look at this hand o' mine."

    "And I will go with you!" put in Job Haskers, eagerly. "I have had enough of the mountains! The others can locate that lost mine if they wish."

    "See here, you fellers sit down an' we'll talk this thing over," said Sol Blugg. "If you've got Blower an' Dillon interested in lookin' fer the lost mine there must be somethin' in it wuth knowin'. Might be as you've got a new lead, or somethin'."

    "I'll tell you what I know," answered Link Merwell.

    He and Haskers, after bringing in their horses, sat down, and a talk lasting the best part of an hour followed. The men from Butte asked many questions, and wanted to know about the map and papers Roger was carrying. Blugg and Jaley were evidently much impressed.

    "You are right about one thing, Merwell," he said. "That mine is now teetotally lost--the claim was shifted by the landslide. If we could relocate the mine I think we could make our claim to it good at the land office."

    "Let us try it!" cried Merwell, eagerly. "We have as much chance to do it as the Morr crowd."

    "But he has that map, and the directions."

    "We overheard all their talk, so I know as much as Roger Morr does. As for Blower and Dillon, they don't know this district any better than you men do, do they?"

    "Not much better," answered Larry Jaley. "We've been here a good many years." He turned to Staver. "What do you say, now?"

    "Wall, wot this young feller says puts a different look on the situation," replied the man who had been shot. "I'd like to have an interest in thet mine myself--thet or the one Tom Dillon onct said he had near it. An' as Sol says, if we relocated the claim, maybe we could hold it at the land office--anyway, we could claim a fat slice o' the wuth o' it."

    "We'd claim it all!" cried Merwell.

    "So we would!" came from Sol Blugg. "Say, sonny, you're the right kind, I reckon, an' we'll call ourselves friends," he added, and put out his hand to Link.

    "Then we are--ahem!--not going back to town?" queried Job Haskers, in disappointed tones.

    "No, we'll watch those other fellers an' try to locate the lost mine," answered Sol Blugg; and this was finally agreed to, after a discussion lasting another half-hour. Job Haskers was plainly disappointed, and his face showed it, and Link Merwell had much difficulty in cheering up the former teacher.

    "We came out to locate that gold mine and we'll do it," said Merwell. "And I want you to be on hand, when the time comes, to attend to the legal end of it, so that we get our share. Of course, as I am wanted by the police, I can't appear, but you can, and you can, secretly, represent me."

    "All provided the lost mine is found," responded Job Haskers. He had plainly lost heart in the undertaking.

    "Oh, we are bound to locate it--sooner or later," said Link Merwell, enthusiastically.

    While this plotting was going on, Roger and those with him were picking their way with care over the loose stones that covered the ridge of rocks where the great landslide had taken place. Here traveling was exceedingly dangerous and often they had to proceed on foot, for fear of going down into some hollow. None of the footing seemed to be safe, and more than once Tom Dillon shook his head doubtfully.

    "This land ain't got settled yet," he said to Abe Blower. "I shouldn't be surprised if there was another landslide before long."

    "Mebbe you're right, Tom," was Blower's reply. "But if it's to come, I hope it comes arter we're away."

    "I was thinkin' that maybe we had better go over to the second ridge. It might be safer."

    "I was thinkin' that myself."

    "Then we'll git over as soon as we hit a good crossin-over place," replied Tom Dillon.

    As they were now close to the spot where the Landslide Mine was supposed to have been located, Roger became very eager to do some real searching for the mine. And Dave and Phil were equally anxious to aid their chum.

    Coming to something of a plateau of rocks, the party spread out, searching for certain landmarks which Abe Blower had mentioned. This search was by no means easy, for some of the loose rocks were very large in size--one being as big as a house--and it was difficult to find one's way along among them.

    Dave was riding along slowly, letting his horse find the best footing possible, when he came to a narrow defile. The rocks were on both sides, and most of them sticking up from five to ten feet above his head.

    "It wouldn't be any fun if some of those loose rocks came down on a fellow's head, or on his horse," mused our hero, as he moved along. "I wonder where this way leads to?"

    At a distance he could hear the others talking, so he knew they were not far off. They, too, were now among the big rocks, and each hidden from the others. Then the talking gradually ceased, giving way to an occasional call or whistle.

    "Oh, if only I could just stumble into the entrance to that mine!" thought Dave. "What a fine thing it would be for Roger and his family! I know they need the money!"

    He kept his eyes on the alert, but none of the signs for which he was searching appeared, nor did anything that looked like a mine entrance show itself.

    It was growing towards sunset when Dave, who had just met Phil and separated from him, came to another rocky defile, this time leading to something of a hollow. Here the air was damp and cool and our hero paused for a moment, for he felt tired and hot after the hard riding of the day.

    "Wonder where we will camp for to-night," he mused, as he gazed around him. "I hope we find some nicer spot than this. This looks so lonely and spookish. Well, I suppose I've got to go on, or they'll get ahead of me, and it would be no fun to get lost. A fellow----"

    Dave came to a stop in his musings and also drew up his horse. He had taken but a few steps farther, and now saw, to one side of the rocky defile, a small opening, leading into a sort of hill.

    "Looks as if it might be a kind of cave," he told himself. "I guess I'd better dismount and take a look inside. It might be the entrance to the lost mine!"

    Suiting the action to the word, Dave leaped from his horse, and letting the steed stand, approached the cave. The entrance was comparatively small and he had to stoop down to peer inside.

    As he did this there came a sudden ominous growl from the interior of the cave. It was the growl of a wild beast and caused the youth to leap back in alarm. Then a slinking body came into view and a full-sized mountain lion showed himself!

    Dave ran toward his horse. But as the mountain lion gave another growl, the horse snorted and plunged, in sudden fright. Then the steed took to his heels and went clattering along the rocky defile.

    "Stop!" yelled the youth. "Stop!" And then he set up a call for assistance.

    At the sound of his voice, the mountain lion paused, just outside the entrance of the cave. Evidently he did not wish to become trapped in such narrow quarters. He eyed Dave with glaring eyeballs, and showed his gleaming teeth. His tail began to switch from side to side, and he crouched low, as if contemplating a spring at the boy.
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