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WHAT HAPPENED TO RALPH.
"I'm lost, and that is all there is to it!"
Ralph sat on the back of his mustang the picture of dismay. He had tried to follow his big brother and had failed, and had spent the night on the bank of the ravine, but at a point several miles from the cave.
Ralph was not nearly as well versed in woodcraft as his big brother, and he hardly knew how to turn or what to do. All about him was one vast wilderness, and the silence and loneliness made him shiver in spite of himself.
"If I only knew what had become of him," he said, over and over. "But perhaps he is dead!" And the tears started to his eyes.
He had eaten nothing since the evening before, but he was too worried now to satisfy the cravings of his stomach. He had his own mustang and that of Dan with him, and they were feasting on the rich grass close at hand. Procuring a drink at a stream near by, he watered the animals and set forth once again on the hunt.
The day drifted by swiftly, and Ralph found neither Dan nor the way out of the belt of timber. He was now weak from so much travelling, and was compelled to rest and partake of the scant lunch still left in the hamper Pompey had provided.
As night came on so did the storm, and with the first fall of rain he sought shelter under some overhanging rocks near the top of one side of the ravine.
It was anything but a pleasant position, and no wonder Ralph wished himself safe at home again.
The storm increased until the rain came down in a deluge, forming a good-sized stream in the basin of the ravine. Ralph was thankful that there was but little thunder and lightning.
Having found a dry place in a corner of the rocks, he was on the point of falling into a doze when a clatter not far off aroused him.
"It must be Dan," he thought. "Dan! Dan!" he cried, starting up. "Is that you?"
At the sound of his voice the clatter ceased, and only the violence of the storm broke the stillness. Then Ralph called again, that his brother might not go astray.
"Who calls?" The voice was a strange one, and the words were spoken with a Spanish accent. Ralph fell back in dismay, but it was too late, and soon the newcomer showed himself, riding a jaded steed, and carrying a long horse-pistol in his hand.
"Ha, boy, are you alone?" demanded the man, who was none other than Captain Arguez.
"I am," answered Ralph.
"And what brought you here?"
"I was out looking for a lost mustang, and missed my way."
"Ha, that is what the other boy told me!" muttered Captain Arguez, half savagely.
"The other boy? Then you have seen my brother?"
"Where is he now?"
"I cannot tell you. He ran away, taking one of my soldier's mustangs."
"But I don't understand," stammered Ralph. "Are you a Mexican army officer?"
"And Dan was with you?"
"I think he fell in with us by accident, and he got away just as we were having a brush with some of your accursed Americans." The Mexican captain looked around suspiciously. "You are quite sure you are alone?"
"You have two ponies."
"One belongs to my brother. He got on the white mustang,--the one that ran away,--and that is the last I saw of him. You have no idea where he is now?"
"Probably with the Texans who attacked my party."
"And where are they?"
Captain Arguez's brow grew dark. "You are asking too many questions for a mere boy," he growled. "I do not know where they are, nor do I care, so long as they do not bother me any more," and in this he spoke the exact truth. He cared nothing for his men, and wished only to get back to San Antonio in safety.
The Mexican had had nothing to eat throughout the day, and was glad enough to avail himself of what little was left in the hamper. Then he put his mustang beside the others, and made himself as comfortable as possible near Ralph.
"Do you know the way to Bexar?" he demanded.
Ralph shook his head. "I don't know the way anywhere; I am totally lost."
"From whence do you come?"
"From the Guadalupe River, at least thirty or forty miles from here."
"Then I must be almost as far from Bexar?"
"Yes; perhaps farther."
"It is too bad! I was foolish. But let that pass, what is done cannot be undone."
Captain Arguez had relapsed into Spanish, so Ralph did not understand his last words. He remained silent, wondering what the officer would say next. But instead of talking, the Mexican rolled a cigarette, and began smoking vigorously.
Ralph was sleepy, and in spite of his repeated attempts to keep awake, he soon dozed off, and then fell into a sound slumber, from which he did not rouse up until daylight.
The captain was asleep, snoring loudly, and with a half-smoked cigarette between his fingers. At first Ralph thought to leave without disturbing him, but no sooner had the boy risen to his feet than the Mexican opened his eyes and stared about him.
"So it is morning?" he muttered. "Very good. Let us be on our way."
"I do not know which way to go," returned Ralph.
"That is easily answered, boy. You will go with me."
"Yes. I am lonely and want company."
"But you are going to San Antonio de Bexar."
"You are right. It is an ancient Mexican town, and there you will be quite safe."
"But I don't want to go there,--I want to go home."
"You will be better off with me; anyway, you must come on. If I let you out of my sight, and you fall in with those Americans, you will betray me to them. Come, we must lose no time."
Ralph attempted to argue, but the Mexican officer would not listen, and soon they were in the saddle, riding side by side, and with the extra mustang behind. Captain Arguez had noted how the water was flowing in the ravine, and now he crossed the hollow, and struck out down the water-course, but on the opposite side to where the Texans had encamped.
It must be confessed that Ralph felt more downhearted than ever. It was true he had wished for company, but this Mexican was not desirable, and the thought of being taken to the fortified town filled him with dismay.
Yet there was no help for it, and he rode along as directed, and thus they journeyed for many miles, until they struck a road leading directly into San Antonio. Here Captain Arguez met the Mexican who had escaped into the brush, and the two compared notes, the result of which was that both, along with Ralph, made a long détour to the north and the west.
Once on the way the party passed several Indians, but no words were exchanged. In this party was Big Foot, the Comanche, who had been nursed at the Radbury ranch, but Ralph did not recognise the red man, for he was too far away.
The storm had let up a little during the day, but now as night came on it broke forth once more, as furiously as ever.
"This just suits me," said Captain Arguez. "It will wet us to the skin, to be sure, but it will put the Texans off their guard."
Once during the afternoon Ralph had thought to escape, but the captain had threatened to shoot him on the spot, and the attempt had amounted to nothing. The boy's weapons had been taken from him, and the mustang belonging to Dan had been appropriated by the Mexican private.
The private knew the vicinity of San Antonio well, and said they had better halt at a certain gully until two or three in the morning. This was done, and by four o'clock they were safely inside of San Antonio without the Texan pickets being the wiser, the rain and darkness proving the Mexicans' best ally.
As soon as he was safe, Captain Arguez went to headquarters to report, taking the private and Ralph with him. Ralph was put in a side room of the quarters, and left under guard for several hours.
"We have resolved to keep you here for the present," said the soldier, who came to him at last.
"Keep me here!" gasped Ralph. "What for? Surely you don't count me a prisoner of war?"
"Captain Arguez is convinced that your brother was a spy, and that you will help him if you can. It will, therefore, be safer for us to keep you here."
This was all the satisfaction Ralph could get, and soon after he was marched away to the San Antonio jail, there to remain for some time to come.
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