Infomotions, Inc.Dave Porter at Star Ranch Or, The Cowboy's Secret / Stratemeyer, Edward, 1862-1930



Author: Stratemeyer, Edward, 1862-1930
Title: Dave Porter at Star Ranch Or, The Cowboy's Secret
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): dave; sid todd; phil; todd; roger; ranch; link merwell; answered dave; dave porter; shipowner's son; senator's son; tom shocker; dunston porter; star ranch; charley gamp; nat poole; merwell ranch; caspar potts; aaron poole; oak hall; lender's son; profess
Contributor(s): Stephens, Winifred [Translator]
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Identifier: etext19016
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Title: Dave Porter at Star Ranch
       Or, The Cowboy's Secret

Author: Edward Stratemeyer

Illustrator: Lyle T. Hammond

Release Date: August 9, 2006 [EBook #19016]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

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[Illustration: As Dave clucked again, Hero shot ahead.--Page 121.]

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Dave Porter Series

DAVE PORTER AT STAR RANCH
OR
THE COWBOY'S SECRET

BY
EDWARD STRATEMEYER

Author of "Dave Porter at Oak Hall," "The Gun Club Boys of Lakeport,"
"Old Glory Series," "Colonial Series," "Pan-American Series," etc.

_ILLUSTRATED BY LYLE T. HAMMOND_

BOSTON
LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.

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Published, August, 1910

COPYRIGHT, 1910, BY LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.

_All rights reserved_

DAVE PORTER AT STAR RANCH

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Norwood Press
BERWICK & SMITH CO.
Norwood, Mass.
U. S. A.

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PREFACE


"Dave Porter at Star Ranch" is a complete tale in itself, but forms the
sixth volume in a line issued under the general title of "Dave Porter
Series."

In the first book of the series, called "Dave Porter at Oak Hall," the
reader was introduced to a typical American lad of to-day, and was
likewise shown the workings of a modern boarding school--a little world
in itself.

There was a cloud over Dave's parentage, and to solve the mystery he
took a long sea voyage, as related in the second volume, called "Dave
Porter in the South Seas." Then he came back to Oak Hall, to help win
several important games, as the readers of "Dave Porter's Return to
School" already know.

So far, although Dave had heard of his father, he had not met his
parent. He resolved to go on a hunt for the one who was so dear to him,
and what that led to was related in "Dave Porter in the Far North."

When Dave returned to America he was sent again to school--to dear old
Oak Hall with its many associations. Here he met many friends and some
enemies, as narrated in "Dave Porter and His Classmates." The lad had no
easy time of it, but did something for the honor of the school that was
a great credit to him.

While at Oak Hall, Dave, through his sister, received an invitation to
spend his coming summer vacation on a ranch in the Far West. He was
privileged to take some friends with him; and how the invitation was
accepted, and what happened, I leave the pages which follow to relate.

It has been an especial pleasure for me to write this book. During the
past summer I covered about seven thousand miles of our great western
country, and I have seen many of the places herein described. I have
also been touched by our warm western hospitality, and have had the
added pleasure of meeting some of my young readers face to face.

Once again I thank the many who have praised my books in the past. I
trust that this volume may prove to their liking, and benefit them.

                                                    EDWARD STRATEMEYER.
April 12, 1910.

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CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                               PAGE

       I. Dave and His Chums                             1
      II. A Stray Shot                                  11
     III. An Interview of Interest                      21
      IV. Caught in the Act                             31
       V. At Niagara Falls                              41
      VI. Nat Poole's Little Game                       51
     VII. In Which Dave is Robbed                       61
    VIII. The Youth in the Balcony                      71
      IX. Only a Street Waif                            81
       X. Off for the Boundless West                    91
      XI. The Arrival at Star Ranch                    101
     XII. A Race on Horseback                          112
    XIII. The Crazy Steer                              122
     XIV. A Face Puzzles Dave                          132
      XV. Among the Cowboys                            142
     XVI. A Meeting on the Trail                       152
    XVII. In Which Some Horses Are Stolen              162
   XVIII. Out in the Wind and Rain                     172
     XIX. A Fruitless Search                           182
      XX. Fishing and Hunting                          192
     XXI. A Wildcat Among the Horses                   202
    XXII. Cowboy Tricks and "Bronco-Busting"           212
   XXIII. Dave on a Bronco                             222
    XXIV. The Cattle Stampede                          232
     XXV. The Beginning of the Grand Hunt              242
    XXVI. After Deer                                   253
   XXVII. The Mountain Lion                            263
  XXVIII. Up to the Mountain Top                       273
    XXIX.  Two Elk and a Bear                          283
     XXX. To the Rescue--Conclusion                    292

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DAVE PORTER AT STAR RANCH

CHAPTER I

DAVE AND HIS CHUMS


"Why, Dave, what are you going to do with that revolver?"

"Phil and Roger and I are going to do some target shooting back of the
barn," answered Dave Porter. "If we are going to try ranch life, we want
to know how to shoot."

"Oh! Well, do be careful!" pleaded Laura Porter, as she glanced
affectionately at her brother. "A revolver is such a dangerous thing!"

"We know how to handle one. Phil has been painting a big door to
represent a black bear, and we are going to see if we can do as well
with a revolver as we did with the rifle."

"Do you expect to shoot bears on the ranch? I didn't see any when I was
out there."

"We don't expect to see them around the house, but there must be plenty
of game in the mountains."

"Oh, I presume that's true. But I shouldn't want to hunt bears--I'd be
afraid," and Laura gave a little shiver.

"Girls weren't meant to be hunters," answered Dave, laughing. "But I
shouldn't consider the outing complete unless I went on at least one big
hunt--and I know Phil and Roger feel the same way about it."

"Hello, Dave!" cried a voice from an open doorway, and a handsome lad
with dark curly hair showed himself. "Coming?"

"Yes, Roger. Where is Phil?"

"Gone to the field with his wooden bear." Roger Morr looked at his
chum's sister. "Want to come along and try your luck?" he questioned. "A
fine box of fudge to the one making the most bull's-eyes--I mean
bear's-eyes."

"No, indeed, I'd be afraid of my life even to touch a revolver,"
answered the girl. "But I'll hunt up Jessie, and maybe we'll come down
after a while to look on."

"Oh, you want to learn to shoot!" cried Roger. "Then, when we get to
Star Ranch, you can dress up in regular cowgirl fashion, and ride a
bronco, and fire off your gun in true western style."

"And have a big bear eat me up, eh?" answered Laura. "No, thank you--I
want to come back East alive. But I'll come down to the field as soon as
I can find Jessie," answered Laura, and walked away.

A long, melodious whistle was floating through the outside air, and Dave
and Roger knew it came from Phil Lawrence. They hurried from the broad
porch to the garden path, and around the corner of the carriage shed.
Here they came upon their chum, carrying on his shoulder an old door
upon which he had painted the upright figure of what was supposed to be
a bear.

"Hurrah for the great animal painter!" cried Dave, as he ran up and took
hold of one end of the door. "Phil, you ought to place this in the
Academy of Design."

"It's superb!" was Roger's dry comment. "Best picture of a kangaroo I
ever saw. Or is it a sheep, Phil?"

"Humph! It's a good deal better than you could have painted," grumbled
the amateur artist.

"Sure it is--best photo of a tiger I ever saw," said Dave, adding to the
fun. "Why, you can almost hear him growl!"

"See here, if you're going to poke fun at me I'll throw the target away.
I put in two hours of hard work, and three cans of paint, and----"

"We won't say another word, Phil," interrupted Roger. "Here, let me take
hold. You've carried it far enough," and he relieved Phil of his burden.

"I wonder where would be the best place to set it?" mused Dave, gazing
across the field.

"Up against the tree over there," answered Phil, pointing. "I had that
spot picked out when I painted it. We'll set it so that it will look as
if his bearship was trying to climb the tree."

"It's rather close to the back road," protested Dave. "We might hit
somebody."

"Oh, hardly anybody uses that road,--so the stableman told me," answered
Roger. "Besides, we can watch out. One always wants to be careful when
shooting, at a target or otherwise."

The three youths soon had the target placed to their satisfaction, and
then began a lively blazing away with the three revolvers that had been
brought along. They aimed for the eyes of the painted creature, and for
other vital spots, and all did fairly well.

"You're the best shot, Dave," announced Roger, during a lull in the
practice, when all had gone to inspect the "damage" done. "You've
plugged him right in the eyes three times and once in the heart. Had he
been a real bear, he'd be as dead as a salt mackerel now."

"Provided he had consented to stand still," answered Dave. "Shooting at
a stationary object is one thing, and at a moving, living creature quite
another."

"I have it!" cried Phil. "Let us get a rope and throw it over one of the
tree limbs. Then we can tie the door to it and swing it to and fro.
We'll try to hit the bear while he's swinging."

"That's the talk!" returned Dave, enthusiastically. "I'll get the rope!"
And he ran off to the barn for it. Little did he dream of what trouble
that swinging target was to make for himself and his chums.

Many of my old readers already know Dave Porter, but for the benefit of
others a brief outline of his past history will not be out of place.
When he was a wee boy he had been found one day wandering along the
railroad tracks outside of the village of Crumville. Nobody knew who he
was or where he came from, and consequently he was put in the local
poorhouse, there to remain until he was nine years old. Then a
broken-down college professor named Caspar Potts, who was doing farming
for his health, took the lad to live with him.

Caspar Potts gave Dave the rudiments of a good education. But he could
not make his farm pay, and soon got into the grasp of Aaron Poole, a
miserly money-lender, who threatened to sell him out.

Things looked exceedingly black for the old man and the boy when
something very unexpected happened, as has been related in detail in the
first volume of this series, called "Dave Porter at Oak Hall." In
Crumville lived a rich manufacturer named Oliver Wadsworth, who had a
beautiful daughter named Jessie, some years younger than Dave. Through
an accident to the gasoline tank of an automobile, Jessie's clothing
took fire, and she might have been burned to death had not Dave rushed
in and extinguished the flames.

Mr. Wadsworth was profuse in his thanks, and so was his wife, and both
made inquiries concerning Dave and Caspar Potts. It was found that the
latter was one of the manufacturer's former college professors, and Mr.
Wadsworth insisted that Professor Potts give up farming and come and
live with him, and bring Dave along. Then he sent Dave to boarding
school, where the lad soon proved his worth, and made close chums of
Roger Morr, the son of a United States senator; Phil Lawrence, the
offspring of a wealthy shipowner, and a number of others.

The cloud concerning his parentage troubled Dave a great deal, and when
he saw what he thought was a chance to clear up the mystery, he took a
long trip from home, as related in "Dave Porter in the South Seas."
After many adventures he found his uncle, Dunston Porter, and learned
much concerning his father, David Breslow Porter, and his sister, Laura,
then traveling in Europe.

Dave was now no longer a "poorhouse nobody," as some of his enemies had
called him, but a well-to-do youth with considerable money coming to
him when he should be of age. While waiting to hear from his parent he
went back to Oak Hall, as related in "Dave Porter's Return to School."
Here he added to his friends; yet some boys were jealous of his
prosperity and did all they could to injure him. But their plots were
exposed, and in sheer fright one of the lads ran away to Europe.

Much to Dave's disappointment, he did not hear from either his father or
his sister. But he did receive word that the bully who had run away from
Oak Hall had seen them, and so he resolved to go on another hunt for his
relatives. As told in "Dave Porter in the Far North," he crossed the
Atlantic with his chum, Roger, and followed his father to the upper part
of Norway. Here at last the lonely lad met his parent face to face, a
meeting as thrilling as it was interesting. He learned that his sister
had returned to the United States, and with some friends named Endicott
had gone to the latter's ranch in the Far West.

Mr. Oliver Wadsworth's mansion was a large one, and by an arrangement
with him it was settled that, for the present, the Porters should make
the place their home. All in a flutter of excitement, Laura came back
from the West, and the meeting between brother and sister was as
affecting as had been that between father and son. The girl brought
with her some news that interested Dave deeply. It was to the effect
that the ranch next to that of the Endicotts was owned by a Mr. Felix
Merwell, the father of Link Merwell, one of Dave's bitterest enemies at
Oak Hall. Link had met Laura out there and gotten her to correspond with
him.

"It's too bad, Laura; I wish you hadn't done it," Dave had said on
learning the news. "It may make trouble, for Merwell is no gentleman."
And trouble it did make, as the readers of "Dave Porter and His
Classmates" know. The trouble went from bad to worse, and not only were
Laura and Dave involved, but also pretty Jessie Wadsworth and several of
Dave's school chums. In the end Dave "took the law in his own hands" by
giving Link Merwell a sound thrashing. Then some of the bully's
wrongdoings reached the ears of the master of the school, and he was
ordered to pack his trunk and leave, and a telegram was sent to his
father in the West, stating that he had been expelled for violating the
school rules. He left in a great rage.

"This is the work of that miserable poorhouse rat, Dave Porter," Link
told some of his cohorts. "Just wait--I'll fix him for it some day, see
if I don't!" Then he wrote a most abusive letter to Dave, but in his
rage he forgot to address it properly, and it never reached the youth.

The term at Oak Hall came to an end in June and then arose the question
of what to do during the vacation. In the meantime letters had been
flying forth between Laura and her warm friend, Belle Endicott, who was
still at Star Ranch, as Mr. Endicott's place was called. It may be said
in passing that Mr. Endicott was a rich railroad president, and the
ranch, while it paid well, was merely a hobby with him, and he and his
family resided upon it only when it suited their fancy to do so.

"The Endicotts want me to come out again," said Laura to Dave. "They
want me to bring you along with some of your chums, and they want me to
bring Jessie, too, if her folks will let her come."

"Oh, that would be jolly!" Dave answered. When he thought of Jessie's
going he blushed to himself, for to him the girl whose life he had once
saved was the nicest miss in the whole world. Dave was by no means
sentimental, but he had a warm, manly regard for Jessie that did him
credit.

More letters passed back and forth, and it was finally arranged that
Laura and Dave should visit Star Ranch during July and August, taking
with them Jessie and Phil and Roger. Dunston Porter was to accompany the
young folk as far west as Helena, near which the Endicotts were to meet
the travelers, and then Dave's uncle was to go on to Spokane on
business, coming back to take the young folks home about six weeks
later.

The thoughts of spending their vacation on a real ranch filled the young
folk with delight. All anticipated a "Jim-dandy" time, as Phil expressed
it.

"We can go out hunting and fishing, and all that," declared the
shipowner's son to his chums. "And maybe we'll bring down a bear or
two." And then he suggested that they get revolvers and perfect
themselves in marksmanship.

"Maybe we'll run into Link Merwell out there," said Roger. "My, but he
was mad when he left Oak Hall! He'd like to chew your head off, Dave!"

"I don't want to see him," answered Dave, soberly. But this wish was not
to be fulfilled. He was to meet Link Merwell in the near future, and
that meeting was to be productive of some decidedly unpleasant results.




CHAPTER II

A STRAY SHOT


Dave soon returned to the field with a rope, and the representation of a
bear was swung from the lower limb of an old apple tree. Then another
smaller line was fastened at one side, so that the "bear" could be swung
to and fro.

"You can do the first shooting," said Dave to his chums. "I'll play
bellman." And he pulled on the side rope, so that the door swung like
the pendulum of a clock.

"Hi! don't swing too fast!" called out Phil. "Sixty seconds to the
minute, remember."

He took his position, and watching his chance, fired.

"How's that?" he asked, after the report had died away.

"Hit his bearship in the left ear," announced Dave.

"Humph! I aimed for his right eye!"

The senator's son now tried his luck and managed to hit the
representation of a bear in the tail. This made all the lads laugh, and
Roger and Phil called on Dave to show his skill.

"I don't think this revolver works very well," said the senator's son,
handing the weapon to Dave. "The trigger seems to catch in some way."

"Oh, don't blame the pistol for your poor shooting, Roger!" cried Phil,
good-naturedly.

"Well, examine the pistol for yourself, Phil."

Dave took the weapon and snapped the trigger. There was no report, and
he tried again, aiming at some brushwood not far from the apple tree.
The brushwood was close to the back road.

"It's all right now, I guess," he said, as the pistol went off with
ease. "But that trigger ought to be looked after," he added. "You
wouldn't want it to miss fire at a critical moment."

He stepped forward and, while Roger swung the representation of a bear,
he fired another shot.

"Good for you!" exclaimed the senator's son in admiration. "You took him
right in the throat, Dave!"

"Hold up there! Stop that! Do you hear me, you young rascals! Do you
want to kill me?"

The call came from the back road, and looking in that direction, the
three boys saw a well-dressed man coming toward them on the run. He was
carrying a whip, and his face was full of sudden passion.

"It's Aaron Poole, Nat's father!" said Dave, as he lowered the pistol in
his hand.

"I say, are you trying to kill me?" cried the miserly money-lender of
Crumville, as he came closer, and he shook his whip at Dave.

"Why, no, Mr. Poole," answered Dave, as calmly as he could. "What makes
you think that?"

"Oh, you needn't play innocent," snarled Aaron Poole. "You just fired a
shot at me! It went through my buggy top." And the money-lender pointed
to the back road, where stood his horse and carriage. "Nice doings, I
must say!"

"Mr. Poole, I didn't fire at you," answered Dave. "I didn't know anybody
was out there on the road,--and I didn't fire in that direction."

"You fired into the bushes, when you tried the pistol," said Roger, in a
low voice.

"Maybe the bullet went through the bushes," suggested the shipowner's
son.

"You fired at me--I heard the shot and saw you with the pistol!" stormed
Aaron Poole. "I've a good mind to have you arrested!"

"Mr. Poole, why should I fire at you?" asked Dave. "I----"

"Oh, you needn't try to smooth it over, you young rascal! I know you!
You are down on me because I made Caspar Potts pay me what was due, and
you are down on my son Nat because he is more popular at Oak Hall than
anybody else."

"Well, to hear that!" whispered Phil. He knew, as well as did the
others, that overbearing Nat Poole had scarcely a friend left at the
school the lads attended. On several occasions Nat had tried to harm
Dave, but each time he had gotten the worst of it.

"I didn't fire at you--didn't know anybody was on the back road,"
protested Dave. "If a bullet went through your buggy top I am sorry for
it, but I am also glad it didn't go through your head." And Dave had to
shudder as he thought of what might have happened. "After this I'll be
more careful when I shoot."

"Oh, don't you try to smooth it over!" snarled Aaron Poole. "I know you
of old, Dave Porter! You are always up to some underhanded tricks. Nat
knows you, too! Maybe you didn't mean to kill me, but you meant to scare
me, and you took a big chance, for I might have been hit. I think I'll
swear out a warrant for your arrest."

"Oh, Mr. Poole, don't do that!" cried Phil, in alarm. "Dave didn't know
anybody was back there. It was purely an accident."

"Humph! Who are you, I'd like to know?"

"I am Phil Lawrence. I go to Oak Hall with Dave. I think we have met
before."

"Oh, yes, I've heard of you--through my son, Nat. You sided with Porter
against my son. Of course you'll stick up for Porter now. I think I'll
go right down to town and get a warrant, and have it served." And the
money-lender made as if to walk away.

"If you have Dave arrested we can testify that it was nothing but an
accident," said Roger.

"Bah! it was no accident--he either meant to hit me or scare me! I'll
have the law on him!" stormed Aaron Poole, and then he hurried away.
Dave followed, wishing to argue the matter, but the money-lender would
not listen, and leaping into his buggy he drove off at a rapid gait in
the direction of Crumville Center.

"Now, I wonder what I had better do?" said Dave, soberly, after the
angry man had departed.

"Do you really think he'll have you arrested?" questioned the senator's
son.

"More than likely."

"But you didn't shoot at him. It was nothing but an accident."

"You can trust Mr. Poole to make out the blackest kind of a case against
me," answered Dave, bitterly. "He has been down on me for years, and you
know how Nat is down on me, too. He'll have me sent to prison, if he
can!"

"We'll stand by you," said Phil. "We know you didn't shoot at him--or at
anybody."

"I think I had better tell my father about this," went on Dave. All his
interest in target-shooting had ended. "He will know what is best to
do."

"We'll leave the target where it is," said Roger. "Then we can explain
just how the thing occurred."

With downcast heart Dave left the field and approached the mansion, and
his chums went with him. Just as they reached the piazza, the door
opened and Laura came out, accompanied by Jessie Wadsworth.

"Oh, are you coming back?" asked Laura. "We were just going to join
you."

"Maybe you've killed the bear!" cried Jessie, with a mischievous twinkle
in her eyes. "I heard that Phil had manufactured one."

"No," answered Dave. "We--that is. I--had some trouble with Mr. Poole."
He turned to his sister. "Where is father?"

"Gone out of town on business. He'll be back this evening."

"And Uncle Dunston?"

"Uncle went with him."

"Oh, that's too bad!" And Dave's face showed more concern than ever.

"What was the trouble about?" asked Jessie, who was quick to see that
Dave was ill at ease.

"Oh, Mr. Poole thought I shot at him--but I didn't," replied Dave, and
then told the story.

"Oh, Dave, do you really think he'll have you locked up!" burst out his
sister, while Jessie's face showed her deep concern.

"I don't know what he'll do," was the slow answer.

"Oh, maybe he won't do anything--after he calms down," said the
shipowner's son. "He'll realize that Dave wouldn't do anything like that
on purpose."

"You don't know Mr. Poole," said Jessie. "Father says he is one of the
most hard-hearted men around here."

"Well, let us hope for the best," said the senator's son. He wanted to
cheer up Laura and Jessie quite as much as Dave.

The boys put the pistols away and then went out in a summerhouse to talk
the affair over.

"If he has me arrested, I suppose that will stop my going out to Star
Ranch," said Dave, gloomily. "Too bad! And just when I was counting on
having the time of my life!"

"Oh, don't take it so to heart, Dave!" cried Phil. "Maybe you'll never
hear of it again."

"He'll hear of it if Mr. Poole tells Nat," said the senator's son. "Nat
will want his father to make all the trouble possible for Dave."

"Where is Nat now? At home?"

"Yes," answered Dave. "I saw him yesterday, down at the post-office."

"Then he'll surely hear about it."

At first Dave thought to tell Caspar Potts about the affair, but then he
realized that the professor was too old to aid him. Besides, the aged
man was not well, and the boy hated to disturb him.

The middle of the afternoon came and went, and nothing was heard from
Aaron Poole. Mrs. Wadsworth went out carriage-riding, taking the girls
with her.

"Let us take a walk," proposed Phil. "No use in hanging around the house
for nothing."

"I don't want Mr. Poole to think I ran away," answered Dave.

Nevertheless, he agreed to go with his chums, and they started off,
leaving word that they would be back in time for dinner, which was
served at the Wadsworth mansion at half-past six.

"I'd like to see that place where you used to live with Professor
Potts," said the senator's son to Dave. "Is it far from here?"

"Quite a distance, but we can easily walk it," was the reply.

They passed out on the country road and were soon tramping along in the
direction of the old Potts place. As they went on they talked over the
proposed trip to the West.

"We ought surely to have the time of our lives," said the shipowner's
son. "Just think of riding like the wind on some of those broncos!"

"Or getting flung heels over head from a bronco's back," added Roger.
"I rather think we'll have to be careful at first."

"One thing I don't like about this trip," said Dave.

"The fact that Link Merwell's father owns the next ranch to the Star?"

"Exactly."

"Oh, ranch homes out there are sometimes miles apart," said Roger. "You
may not see the Merwells at all."

"That will just suit me,--and I know it will suit Laura, too. She is
awfully sorry that she once corresponded with Link."

"Well, she didn't know what he was," answered the senator's son. Ever
since he had met Laura he had been much interested in Dave's sister.

The three chums had covered about half the distance to the old Potts
place when they saw a horse and buggy approaching. As it came closer
they saw that it contained two men.

"It's Mr. Poole!" cried Dave, and then, as he caught sight of the other
man's face, he turned a trifle pale. "Step behind here!" he called to
Phil and Roger, and pulled them back of some handy bushes.

The horse and buggy soon came up to them and passed on, the three boys
keeping out of sight until the turnout was gone. Dave gave a deep sigh.

"I guess Mr. Poole means business," he said.

"What do you mean?" questioned the senator's son.

"I mean he is going to have me locked up."

"Why?" asked Phil.

"That man in the buggy with him was Mr. Mardell, the police justice."




CHAPTER III

AN INTERVIEW OF INTEREST


"Well, I shouldn't go back home until your father and your uncle
return," said the senator's son. "Then, if you are arrested, they'll
know exactly what to do."

"It's too bad it happened!" murmured Dave. "I wish I had gotten off to
the West without seeing Aaron Poole. But I suppose there is no use in
crying over spilt milk. I'll have to face the music, and take what
comes."

The three lads went on, and presently came in sight of the farm where
Caspar Potts and Dave had once resided. The ground was now being
cultivated by the man who had the next farm, and the house was
tenantless.

"I've got the key of the house," said Dave. "If you'd like to take a
look inside I'll unlock the door. But it's a very poor place--a big
contrast to the Wadsworth residence."

"And so you used to work here, Dave?" said Phil, gazing around at the
fields of corn and wheat.

"Yes, I've plowed and worked these fields more than once, Phil. And in
those days, I didn't know what it was to have a nice suit of clothes and
good food. But Professor Potts was kind to me, even if he was a bit
eccentric."

"It was a grand thing that you found your folks--and your fortune," said
Roger.

"Yes, and I am thankful from the bottom of my heart."

The three boys entered the deserted house, and Dave showed the way
around. There was the same little cot on which he had been wont to
stretch his weary limbs after a hard day's work in the fields, and there
were the same simple cooking utensils with which he had prepared many a
meal for himself and the old professor. Conditions certainly had
improved wonderfully, and for the time being Dave forgot his trouble
with Aaron Poole. No one could again call him "a poorhouse nobody."

From the cottage the boys walked to the barn. As they entered this
building they heard earnest talking in the rear.

"You are a mean lad, to tease an old man like me!" they heard, in Caspar
Potts's quavering tones. "Why cannot you go away and leave me alone?"

"Don't you call me mean!" came in Nat Poole's voice. "I'll do what I
please, and you can't stop me!"

"I want you to leave me alone," reiterated the old professor.

"I will--when I am done with you. How do you like that, old man?" And
then Nat Poole gave a brutal laugh.

"Oh! oh! Don't smother me!" spluttered Caspar Potts. "Please leave me
alone! You have ruined my clothes!"

"I wonder what's up?" said Dave to his chums, and ran through the barn
to the rear. There he beheld Caspar Potts in a corner. In front of him
stood Nat Poole, holding a big garden syringe in his hands. The syringe
had been filled with a preparation for spraying peach trees, and the son
of the money-lender had discharged the chalk-like fluid all over the
aged professor.

"Nat Poole, what are you up to!" cried Dave, indignantly, and, leaping
forward, he caught the other youth by the shoulder and whirled him
around. "You let Professor Potts alone!"

"Dave!" cried the professor, and his voice showed his joy. "Oh, I am
glad you came. That young man has been teasing me for over a quarter of
an hour, and he just covered me with that spray for the peach-tree
scale."

"What do you mean by doing such a thing?" demanded Dave. "Give me that
syringe." And he wrenched the article from the other youth's grasp. He
looked so determined that Nat became alarmed and backed away several
feet.

"Don't you--you--er--hit me!" cried the money-lender's son.

"What a mean piece of business," observed Roger, as he came up, followed
by Phil. "Nat, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!"

"Oh, you shut up!" grumbled Nat, not knowing what else to say.

"I always thought you were a first-class coward," put in Phil. "Now I am
sure of it."

"This is none of your affair, Phil Lawrence!"

"I should think it was the affair of any person who wanted to see fair
play," answered the shipowner's son.

"Nat, you take your handkerchief and wipe off Mr. Potts's clothes," said
Dave, sternly.

"Eh?" queried the money-lender's son in dismay.

"You heard what I said. Go and do it, and be quick about it."

"I--er--I don't have to."

"Yes, you do. If you don't----" Dave ended by walking over to a barrel
and filling the syringe with the spraying fluid.

"Hi! don't you douse me with that!" yelled the other youth in alarm.
Then he started to run away, but the senator's son caught him by one arm
and Phil caught him by the other.

"You've got no right to hold me!"

"Well, we'll take the right," said Roger, calmly. "Now, Nat, do as Dave
told you."

There was no help for it, and with very bad grace the money-lender's son
drew from his pocket a silk handkerchief and removed what he could of
the fluid from Caspar Potts's clothing. Many spots remained.

"I am afraid the suit is ruined," said the aged professor, sorrowfully.
"Anyway, it will need a thorough cleaning."

"If it is ruined, Nat can pay for it," said Dave, firmly.

"I'll pay for nothing!" grumbled the boy who had done the mischief. He
was short of spending-money, and knew how hard it was to get an extra
dollar from his parent.

"He certainly ought to pay for it," said Caspar Potts. "Some men would
have him locked up for what he has done."

"Humph! Don't talk foolish! It was only a little fun!" grumbled Nat. "I
didn't mean any harm. You can easily get those spots out of your
clothes."

"Did he do anything else to you?" asked Dave of the professor.

"Yes, he plagued me a good deal, and he shoved me down in the cow-yard,"
was the reply. "I was hoping some one would come to drive him away. I
said I'd have the law on him, but he laughed at me, and said nobody else
was around and his word was as good as mine."

"If that isn't Nat to a T!" murmured the senator's son. "Doing the sneak
act every time!"

"Well, we are witnesses against him," put in Phil. He looked at Dave and
suddenly began to grin. "Oh, but this is great!" he cried.

"What's struck you?" queried Dave.

"Oh, nothing, only I reckon we've got a good hold on Mr. Aaron Poole
now--in case he tries to make a complaint against you."

"To be sure we have!" burst out Roger. "He won't dare to do it--after he
knows what Professor Potts can do."

"What are you talking about?" demanded Nat, curiously. "Is my father
going to make a complaint against Dave? What is it for?"

"Maybe you'll learn later--and maybe you won't," answered the senator's
son. "But if you see your father you had better tell him to call it off
as far as Dave is concerned--if he wants to save you."

"Then you've had trouble, eh?"

"No worse than this--if as bad."

"Humph! In that case my father won't believe what you say about me!"
cried Nat, cunningly. And then of a sudden he leaped back, turned, and
ran around a corner of the barn at top speed. He made for the road, and
was soon hidden from view by trees and bushes. Phil and Roger attempted
to catch him, but Dave called them back.

"No use in doing that," said Dave. "Let him go. It will be time enough
to say more when Mr. Poole makes his complaint."

The three youths assisted Caspar Potts in rearranging his toilet, and in
the meantime the aged professor told the lads the details of his trouble
with Nat. The money-lender's son had certainly acted in a despicable
manner, and he deserved to be punished.

"I will leave the matter to Mr. Wadsworth, and to your father and your
uncle," said Professor Potts to Dave. "They will know better what to do
than I."

On the way back to the Wadsworth mansion the boys told of the pistol
incident and the professor became much interested. He agreed with Phil
and Roger that Nat's doings were much worse.

Dave's father and his uncle had returned, and the youth went straight to
them with his tale. Then Mr. Wadsworth came in and was likewise told.
All the men were also informed of what had happened to Caspar Potts.

"I think I see a way of clearing this matter up--if Mr. Poole attempts
to act against Dave," said Mr. Wadsworth. And then he had a long talk
with Professor Potts.

The folks at the mansion had just finished dinner when visitors were
announced. They proved to be Aaron Poole and an officer of the law,
brought along to arrest Dave.

"I think you had better let me engineer this affair," said Mr.
Wadsworth, and so it was agreed. He entered the reception room and shook
hands formally with Aaron Poole.

"I came to get Dave Porter," said the money-lender, stiffly. "I am going
to have him locked up."

"Mr. Poole, will you kindly step into the library with me?" answered Mr.
Wadsworth.

"What for?"

"I wish to have a little conversation with you."

"It won't do any good. I'm going to have that Porter boy arrested, and
that is all there is to it."

"I wished to see you about your son, Nat. Do you know that he stands in
danger of arrest?"

"Arrest! Nat?" queried the money-lender, and the officer of the law
looked at the rich manufacturer with interest.

"Yes. Come into the library, please."

"Want me?" asked the officer.

"No," returned Mr. Wadsworth, shortly, and the man settled back in his
chair, his face showing his disappointment.

Once in the library the manufacturer shut the door with care. He
motioned his visitor to a chair. But Aaron Poole was too impatient to
sit down.

"Now, what's this about my son, Nat?" growled the money-lender.

"I'll tell you," was Mr. Wadsworth's reply, and he related what had
occurred at the old Potts place.

"You expect me to believe this?" snarled Aaron Poole.

"Believe it or not, it is the truth, and I have the three boys to prove
it, and likewise Professor Potts's ruined suit of clothing. Now,"
continued the manufacturer, "I know all about your charge against Dave.
I'll not say that he wasn't careless, because he was. But he meant no
harm, and it is going too far to have him arrested. It would be much
fairer for Professor Potts to have your son locked up, and make you pay
for the suit of clothing in the bargain. Now, the professor thinks a
great deal of Dave, and he is willing to drop his complaint against Nat
if you'll drop your complaint against Dave."

"Oh, so that's the way the wind blows, eh?" snarled Aaron Poole. "Well,
I won't do it!" he snapped. "I'm going to have Dave Porter arrested!"

"If you do, Professor Potts will have Nat arrested, and we'll push our
case just as hard as you push yours, Mr. Poole."

"Humph! I guess this is a plot to free Dave Porter!"

"You can think what you please. This is the way I look at it: Dave was
careless, and his father can give him a lecture on his carelessness. Nat
was brutal, and it is up to you to take him in hand. If he were my son,
I'd give him a good talking to--and maybe I'd thrash him," added the
rich manufacturer, warmly.

"Oh, you are all down on my son--just as you are down on me!" cried
Aaron Poole. "I'll look into this! I'll--I'll----"

"Don't do anything hasty," advised Mr. Wadsworth. "Better talk the
matter over with Nat."

"I'll do it. But I'll not drop this matter! I'll get after Dave Porter
yet!" cried Aaron Poole, and then he stalked out of the library, and,
motioning for the officer of the law to follow him, he left the
mansion.




CHAPTER IV

CAUGHT IN THE ACT


"I don't think he'll do anything--that is, if he gets the truth out of
Nat," said Mr. Wadsworth, as he rejoined the others. "Of course, if his
son denies the attack on the professor, it may be different."

"If Nat does that, we'll have the testimony of the professor, Phil, and
Roger against him," said Mr. Porter.

It must be admitted that the next day was an uncomfortable one for Dave,
for he did not know at what moment an officer of the law might appear to
arrest him. In the afternoon he and his chums went fishing, but he had
little heart for the sport.

Early on the day following Ben Basswood called to see Dave and the
others. As my old readers know, Ben had been a friend to Dave for many
years, and had gone from Crumville to Oak Hall with him.

"Was coming before, to meet you and Roger and Phil," said Ben. "But I
had to go out of town on business for dad. How are you all? Say, I hear
you are going out West on a ranch. That's great! Going to shoot
buffaloes, I suppose."

"No, hippopotamuses," put in the senator's son, with a grin.

"And June bugs," added Phil.

"You'll sure have the time of your lives! Wish I was going. But I am
booked for the Great Lakes, which isn't bad. Going to take the trip from
Buffalo to Duluth and back, you know. But say, I came over to tell you
something."

"What is it, Ben?" questioned Dave.

"Come on outside."

The boys walked out into the garden and down to the summerhouse, where
they proceeded to make themselves comfortable.

"It's about Nat Poole," continued Ben Basswood. "I guess you had some
kind of a run-in with him, didn't you?"

"Not exactly," answered Roger. "We caught him tormenting Professor Potts
and we put a stop to it."

"Well, you had some trouble with Nat's dad, didn't you?"

"Yes," answered Dave. "Did Nat tell you?" he added quickly.

"No, I know of the whole thing by accident. I had to go to the building
where Mr. Poole has his new office. While I was waiting to see a man
and deliver a message for my dad I overheard some talk between Mr. Poole
and Nat. It was mighty warm, I can tell you!"

"What was said?" demanded Phil.

"Mr. Poole accused Nat of something and Nat, at first, denied it. Then
Mr. Poole said something about arrest, and Professor Potts, and Nat got
scared and begged his father to save him. Then Mr. Poole mentioned Dave
and a pistol and said he couldn't do anything if that's the way matters
stood, and Nat began to beg for dear life, asking his father to let Dave
alone this time. At last Mr. Poole said he would, but the way he
lectured Nat was a caution. He said he wouldn't give Nat a cent more of
spending-money this summer."

"Hurrah, that lets you out, Dave!" cried Roger. "The case against you is
squashed."

"The Pooles will have to let it drop," added the shipowner's son. "And I
am mighty glad of it."

"I hope you are right," said Dave, and his face showed his relief.

They had to tell Ben all about what had happened. Then the latter wanted
to see the bear target, and the crowd ended by doing some more target
practicing. But this time Dave was very careful how he shot, and so were
the others.

It had been decided that the start for the West was to be made early
the following week, and for several days the boys and the girls were
busy getting ready. Laura had traveled a great deal, so the journey
would not be a novelty to her, but with Jessie it was different.

"I know I shall like it, once I am there," said Jessie. "But, oh, it
seems such a distance to go!"

"We'll take good care of you," answered Dunston Porter.

"And I am sure you'll like Mrs. Endicott and Belle," added Laura. "Belle
is as full of fun as a--a--oh, I don't know what."

"Shad is of bones," suggested Dave, who stood by.

"Oh, what a comparison!" cried Jessie, and then giggled in the
regulation girl fashion.

They were to take a local train to Buffalo and change at that city for
Chicago. Ben Basswood decided to go with them as far as Buffalo, so
there would be quite a party. The boys gathered their things together
and were ready to start a full day beforehand. The buying of railroad
tickets and berths in the Pullmans was left entirely to Dunston Porter.

A farewell gathering had been arranged for the young people by Mrs.
Wadsworth, to take place on the afternoon previous to their departure
for the West. About a dozen boys and girls from Crumville and vicinity
were invited. The party was held on the lawn of the Wadsworth estate,
which was trimmed for the occasion with banners, flags, and lanterns. A
small orchestra, located in the summerhouse, furnished the music.

Of course Dave and his chums donned their best for this occasion, and
Laura and Jessie appeared in white dresses that were as pretty as they
could be. Jessie's wavy hair was tied up in new ribbons, and as Dave
looked at her he thought she looked as sweet as might a fairy from
fairyland. He could not help smiling at her, and when she came and
pinned on his coat a buttonhole bouquet he thought he was the happiest
boy in the whole world.

"Oh, but won't we have the grand times when we get out West!" he said to
her.

"I hope so, Dave," she answered. "But----"

"But what, Jessie?" he questioned, as he saw her hesitate.

"I--I can't get that Link Merwell out of my head. I am so sorry his
father's ranch is next to that we are going to visit."

"Oh, don't worry. We'll make Link keep his distance," he returned,
lightly. Yet it must be confessed that he was just a bit worried
himself.

Among the first boys to arrive was Ben Basswood, and he lost no time in
calling Phil and Roger aside.

"I don't want to worry Dave or the others," said Ben. "But I think
somebody ought to be told."

"Told what?" asked the senator's son.

"About Nat Poole. I got the word from a friend of mine, Joe Devine. Joe
was talking with Nat Poole, and he said Nat was very angry at all of us,
and angry because Mrs. Wadsworth was giving us the party, especially as
he wasn't invited. Joe said Nat intimated that he was going to make the
affair turn out a fizzle."

"A fizzle?" queried Phil. "How?"

"Joe didn't know, but he told me, on the quiet, that I ought to watch
out, and ought to warn the others. But I don't like to say anything to
Mrs. Wadsworth, or the girls. You see, it may be only talk, and if it
is, what's the use of getting the ladies excited?"

"It would be just like Nat to play some dirty trick," said the
shipowner's son. "The question is, What will it be?"

"Somebody ought to stand guard," was Roger's advice. "And I think we
ought to tell Dave."

This was readily agreed upon, and Dave was told a few minutes later. His
face at once showed his concern.

"It mustn't be allowed!" he said, earnestly. "I don't care so much on my
own account, but think of Mrs. Wadsworth and the girls! Yes, we must
keep our eyes open, and if anything goes wrong----" He finished with a
grave shake of his head.

"What are you boys plotting about?" asked Laura, as she came up. "Come,
it won't do to stick together like this, with all the girls arriving.
Dave, go and make folks at home,--and you do likewise," she added, with
a smile at Phil and Roger.

The boys dispersed and mingled with the arriving guests. Dave did all he
could to make everybody feel at home, but all the while he was doing it
he kept his eyes wide open.

Presently, chancing to look in the direction of the automobile house,
Dave saw somebody skulking along a hedge. The person was visible only a
second, so the youth could not make out who it was.

"Maybe it's all right, but I'll take a look and make sure," he told
himself, and excused himself to a girl to whom he had been talking. As
he hurried across the lawn he passed Phil.

"Come with me, will you?" he said, in a low voice.

"See anything?" demanded the shipowner's son.

"I saw somebody, but I am not sure who it was."

Taking care not to make his departure noticeable, Dave walked toward
the automobile house and Phil followed him. Soon the pair were behind
some rose bushes and then they gained the shelter of the heavy hedge.

"There he is!" said Dave, in a low voice. "It's Nat Poole, sure enough!"

"What's he doing?" asked Phil.

"Nothing just now. But I guess he is up to something."

Keeping well out of sight behind the hedge, the two boys watched the son
of the money-lender. Nat was sneaking past the automobile house and
making for a washing-shed adjoining the kitchen of the mansion.

"I think I know what he is up to," murmured Dave. "Come on after him,
Phil."

As silently as shadows Dave and Phil followed the money-lender's son to
the shed. Once Nat looked around to see if the coast was clear, and the
followers promptly dropped down behind a lilac bush. Reassured, Nat
entered the shed, and Dave and Phil tiptoed their way up and got behind
the open door.

The hired help were in the kitchen, so the shed was empty. On the floor
stood an ice-cream freezer full of home-made ice-cream, and on a shelf
rested several freshly baked cakes, all covered with chocolate icing,
set out to harden.

"Now I'll fix things," Dave and Phil heard the money-lender's son
mutter. "Salt in the cream and salt in the layer cakes will do the
trick! Some of the boys and girls will think they are poisoned!"

Nat took up a bag of salt that was handy,--used for making the
cream,--and proceeded to open the can in the freezer. Dave watched him
as a cat does a mouse.

Just as Nat was on the point of dumping some of the salt into the
ice-cream he felt himself jerked backwards. The salt dropped to the
floor, and Nat found himself confronting Dave, with Phil but a few steps
away.

"You contemptible rascal!" cried Dave, his eyes flashing.

"Why--I--er----" stammered the money-lender's son. He did not know what
to say.

"Going to spoil the cream, eh?" came from Phil. "It was a mighty dirty
trick, Nat."

"On a level with what you did to Professor Potts," added Dave.

"I--er--I wasn't going to do nothing!" cried Nat, with little regard for
grammar. "I--er--I was looking at the ice-cream, that's all."

"A poor excuse is worse than none," answered Dave, grimly. "You were
going to put salt in the cream and spoil it, you needn't deny it."

"See here, Dave Porter, I want you to understand----"

"Don't talk, Nat, we know all about it," broke in Phil. "You planned to
come here yesterday, and we can prove it. We were on the lookout for
you."

At this assertion the face of the money-lender's son changed. He grew
quite pale.

"I haven't time to waste on you--I want to enjoy this party," said Dave.
"Come along with me."

"Where to?" demanded Nat.

"I'll show you," answered Dave, and caught the money-lender's son by the
arm. "Catch hold of him, Phil, and don't let him escape."




CHAPTER V

AT NIAGARA FALLS


"See here, I want you to let me alone!" stormed Nat Poole, and he tried
to jerk himself free.

"Listen, Nat," said Dave, sternly. "If you make a noise it will be the
worse for you, for it will bring the others here, and then we'll tell
about what you tried to do. Maybe Mrs. Wadsworth will call an officer,
and anyway all the girls and the boys will be down on you. Now, if you
want Phil and me to keep this a secret, you've got to come along with
us."

"Where to?" grumbled Nat, doggedly.

"You'll soon see," returned Dave, briefly, and with a wink at his chum.

Somewhat against his will, Nat walked toward the end of the garden. He
wished to escape from Mrs. Wadsworth and the others, but he was afraid
Dave and Phil contemplated doing something disagreeable to him. Maybe
they would give him a sound thrashing.

"Don't you touch me--don't you dare!" he cried, when the barn was
readied. "Remember, my father can have you locked up, Dave Porter!"

"Well, don't forget what Professor Potts can do to you, Nat," answered
Dave.

"What are you going to do?" asked Phil, in an aside to his chum.

Dave was trying to think. He had been half of a mind to lock Nat in the
harness closet until the party was over--thus preventing him from making
more trouble. Now, however, as he heard a locomotive whistle, a new
thought struck him.

"Come on down to the railroad tracks, Nat," he said.

"What for?"

"Maybe you can take a journey for your health--if the freight train
stops at the water tank."

"I--er--I don't understand."

"You will--if the train stops--and I think it will."

The three boys pushed off across the fields to where the railroad tracks
were located. Here was the very spot where Dave had been picked up years
before. Not far off was a water tank, where the locomotives usually
stopped for their supply. A long freight train was just slowing down.
Many of the cars were empty and the doors stood wide open.

"Up you go, Nat!" cried Dave.

"Me? Where?"

"Into one of the empty cars. You are going to have a ride for your
health."

"Not much! Why, that train don't stop short of Jack's Junction, twelve
miles from here!"

"I know it. You can walk back--the exercise will do you good."

"I--er--I don't want to go!" And Nat made as if to run away. But Dave
and Phil held him.

"But you are going!" cried Dave. "In you go!"

He and Phil forced the money-lender's son toward one of the open cars.
Still protesting, Nat was shoved up and through one of the open doors.
The door on the other side was closed. He ran to it, but found it locked
from the outside.

"Hi, you let me off!" he cried, as the train gave a jerk and commenced
to move.

"Don't jump, you might hurt yourself!" cried Dave, and shoved the door
shut.

"Hope you have a pleasant journey!" called out Phil, merrily.

"And a nice walk back!" added Dave.

The freight train quickly gathered headway. Dave and Phil ran down by
the side of the tracks. They saw Nat shove back the door about a foot
and peer out. He did not dare to jump, and, seeing them, shook his fist
wildly.

"He's off!" cried the shipowner's son, and then commenced to laugh.
"Dave, that was just all right! He's booked for quite a journey."

"Twelve miles, or more, and he'll either have to wait for a train, and
pay his fare back, or walk."

"Exactly. And if the train hands catch him, maybe they'll give him the
thrashing he deserves."

"They'll hustle him off pretty lively, that's sure. Well, one thing is
certain, he won't bother this party any more," added Dave. "Let us get
back."

They hurried to the house, and as they did so the freight train passed
out of sight and hearing. They thought they had seen the last of Nat,
but they were mistaken.

"Where have you boys been?" asked Laura, when they reappeared, after
having brushed off their clothing.

"I'll tell you later," answered her brother.

"Anything serious?"

"Not very. It's all over now, Laura."

The party was now in full swing and proved a big success. The boys and
girls played all sorts of games, and also did a little dancing. Then
refreshments were served. When the ice cream and cake were passed
around, Phil and Dave could not help but look at each other, and the
shipowner's son winked suggestively.

"Why are you winking at Dave?" demanded Roger.

"Did I wink?" questioned Phil, solemnly, and then Dave began to laugh
and almost choked on a piece of cake in his mouth.

After the refreshments came more games and some singing, and it was nine
o'clock before the lawn party came to an end. The girls and boys from
the town went home mostly in pairs, but Ben remained behind, for he knew
Dave and Phil had something to tell. All the lads congregated in the
summerhouse and Laura and Jessie went with them.

"Wanted to spoil the ice-cream and chocolate layer-cakes!" cried Jessie.
"Oh, how mean!"

"It served him right, to put him on the freight train!" was Laura's
comment. "I hope he was carried about fifty miles, and has to walk
back."

"He'll be trying another trick before we leave," said Roger. "We must
keep our eyes open."

"Isn't it a shame he can't be nice?" came from Jessie. "If he keeps on
like this, he'll not have a friend in the world."

"Well, he hasn't many friends now," answered Dave. "At Oak Hall the
majority of the fellows turned him down just as they turned down Link
Merwell."

"Oh, that Link Merwell!" sighed Laura. "I trust I never see or hear of
him again!"

Bright and early the next day the boys arose and packed the last of
their baggage. The girls were up, too, and joined the lads at the
breakfast table. Dave's father was there, and also Uncle Dunston, as
well as Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth.

"Well, I certainly hope you all have a grand time," said the rich
manufacturer.

"And I hope the outing does Jessie good," said his wife. Jessie was not
very strong and the doctor had said that a trip to the Far West might do
much towards building up her constitution.

"You must write often," said Mr. Porter to his daughter. "And make Dave
write, too."

"I'll not forget," said the daughter, and Dave nodded.

It was rather a sober meal, although every one tried to be cheerful. The
big touring-car, Mr. Wadsworth's latest purchase, was at the door, and
the baggage had gone on ahead. Soon it was time to go.

"Good-by, everybody!" cried Dave, and shook hands with his father and
Mrs. and Mr. Wadsworth. The lady of the house gave him a warm kiss, and
kissed all the others.

"Wish you were going too, daddy!" cried Laura to her father.

"Well, I'll go the next time," was the answer, with a smile.

In another five minutes the boys and girls and Dunston Porter were off
for the depot, the others waving their hands as the travelers
disappeared. Tears came to Mrs. Wadsworth's eyes, at the parting with
Jessie, yet she did her best to smile.

"We'll be back in six weeks!" called out Dave. "And as brown as berries
and as strong as oxen!" And this caused everybody to laugh. Little did
any of them realize what adventures those six weeks were to contain.

The train for Buffalo was on time, and when it rolled into the station
they climbed on board, and the boys found the right seats in the parlor
car and settled the girls. Ben was there, and had a seat with the crowd.

"I've got news," said Ben, as the train went on its way. "Nat Poole
isn't back yet."

"Who told you?"

"Tom Marvin. He called this morning to see Nat about something. Nat had
sent a telegram home from a place called Halock, stating he had been
carried off on a freight train."

"Humph! then he went further than we supposed he would," mused Phil.
"Where is Halock?"

Nobody knew, and they consulted a time-table taken from a rack in the
car.

"It's a flag-station not far from Buffalo," announced Roger. "Say, he
certainly was carried some distance!"

"What if he didn't have any money to get home with?" asked Laura.

"Maybe he telegraphed for some," said Phil.

"He could pawn his watch--he always wears one," added Ben. "But it is
queer that he didn't get off at Jack's Junction."

"Perhaps he liked to ride--after he once got used to it," returned the
senator's son.

On and on went the train, stopping at several towns of more or less
importance. The girls and boys amused themselves studying the time-table
and in gazing out of the window, and Dunston Porter told them of some of
his experiences while roving in various portions of the globe, for, as
my old readers are aware, he was a great traveler. At noon they went
into the dining-car for lunch, and Dave and Roger sat at one table with
Laura and Jessie opposite to them.

"Say, this puts me in mind of a story, as Shadow Hamilton would say,"
said the senator's son, as the train rushed along while they ate. "A
little girl had a sandwich on a train like this, once, and then boasted
afterwards that she had eaten a sandwich three miles long."

"Well, I think I'll eat some roast beef ten miles long," said Dave. "And
two miles of apple pie to boot!" And this caused the girls to giggle.

They reached Buffalo in the middle of the afternoon and there had to
wait until half-past ten for the night express to Chicago. Here Ben left
them, for the boat he was to take was waiting at the dock.

"Send me a letter to Duluth," he said, on parting, and Dave promised to
do so.

"I'll tell you what we might do," said Dunston Porter. "We can take a
trolley trip to Niagara Falls and come back on a train. We have plenty
of time."

"Oh, yes, I'd like to see Niagara!" cried Jessie, clapping her hands.

The others all voted the suggestion a good one, and soon, having checked
their baggage at the depot, they boarded a trolley car bound for the
Falls.

"We can look at the Falls for an hour, get supper, and still have time
in which to return to Buffalo," said Mr. Porter. "When we get there we
can get a carriage to drive us around."

The trolley car made good time and it was still daylight when Niagara
was reached. Hackmen were numerous, and Dunston Porter soon engaged a
turnout to take them around Goat Island and other points of interest.
They could hear the roaring of the Falls plainly, and the sight of the
great cataracts impressed them deeply. "Want to go down under the
Falls?" asked Phil, as they were riding along.

"No, indeed!" answered Laura.

"We haven't time, anyway," answered Roger. "We've got to get back or
we'll miss that train for Chicago, and that won't do, for our berths
have been engaged ahead."

At the bridge leading to the Three Sisters Islands the whole party
alighted, so as to get a better view of the upper rapids of the river.
As they did so, a youth seated on a rock near by looked at them in
amazement. Then of a sudden he slipped off the rock and dodged out of
sight.

The youth was Nat Poole.




CHAPTER VI

NAT POOLE'S LITTLE GAME


It may not be out of place here to relate how Nat Poole happened to be
at Niagara Falls, and how he chanced to have with him a man who was
willing to do almost anything for the sake of a little money.

When Nat was placed aboard of the freight train by Dave and Phil he was
in a great rage, yet powerless, for the time being, to help himself. The
train moved so swiftly that he did not dare to jump off, and soon
Crumville was left far behind.

As soon as he had cooled off for a little, Nat found out that he was
very tired. He had been out the night before with some of the fast young
men of the town, playing cards and pool, and had had but two hours'
sleep in twenty-four. He found a pile of old bagging in one end of the
freight car and sat down to rest. Presently his eyes closed, and before
he knew it he was sound asleep. He continued to sleep during the stop at
Jack's Junction, and he did not notice another party enter the freight
car, nor did he notice the door being closed and locked.

When Nat awoke it was with a sense of pain. The other party in the car
had stepped on his ankle. He gave a cry and this was answered by an
exclamation of astonishment.

"Who are you?" asked Nat, sitting up and then leaping to his feet.

"I reckon I can ask the same question," returned the stranger.

"Are you a train hand?"

"Are you?"

"No."

"Neither am I."

There was a moment of silence after this, and then the unknown lit a
match and held it close to Nat. Both gave a cry of astonishment.

"Hello! You are Nat Poole, the boy I met at Rally's Pool Parlors," said
the stranger.

"Yes, and you are Tom Shocker, the traveling salesman."

"Right you are--but I'm not a traveling salesman any longer," answered
Tom Shocker, and gave a short laugh.

"Why?" asked Nat.

"Lost my job."

"I suppose your boss found out that you were spending your time playing
cards and pool," said Nat. "How did you make out after I left you?"

"Lost all I had. That's the reason I am stealing a ride on this
freight," answered the man. "But what are you doing here?" he continued
in curiosity.

In his own fashion Nat related how he had been attacked by two of his
former school enemies, dragged to the car and thrown in. He added that
he had been next to unconscious, and so was unable to fight off Dave and
Phil. Then he asked how Tom Shocker happened to be on board.

"I got on at Jack's Junction," said the man. "I haven't got but fifty
cents left and I thought I'd beat my way to Buffalo, where I think I can
get some more cash. But I didn't think they'd lock the door of the car."

During the ride to Halock, Tom Shocker managed to learn a good deal
about Nat and his trouble with Dave and the others, and he also learned
that the youth had considerable spending-money with him. The car was
opened at Halock and run off on a siding, and the pair got off.

"Let us take a trolley to Buffalo," said Shocker. "There we can get a
room at a hotel--that is, if you'll put up the price."

"All right; I might as well go to Buffalo, now I am so close," answered
Nat. "But I'll send word home first," he added, and this was done.

After resting at a hotel in Buffalo, Tom Shocker proposed a trip to
Niagara Falls, Nat, of course, to pay the way.

"I'll pay you back some day," said Shocker, offhandedly. "When I strike
another situation I'll have plenty of cash. And, in the meantime, if you
want me to do anything for you, say the word. I am open for any
proposition that you may offer."

On the way to the Falls, Tom Shocker told much about himself, and Nat
learned that the fellow was one of those shiftless mortals who change
from one situation to another. He had been a salesman on the road for
five different concerns, had run a restaurant, a poolroom, and a
moving-picture show, and had even been connected with a prize-fighting
affair. He did not care what he did so long a it paid, and many of his
transactions had been of the shady sort.

Nat did not enjoy the visit to the Falls as much as he had anticipated.
He found Tom Shocker rather coarse, and the man wanted to drink whenever
the opportunity afforded. From the rapids below the Falls the pair
walked to Goat Island, and there Nat was on the point of giving Shocker
the slip when he chanced to see Dave and the others of the party.

"What's the matter?" demanded Shocker, who stood close by, as he saw the
money-lender's son dart out of sight behind the rocks.

"Do you see that boy?" demanded Nat, pointing with his hand.

"Yes."

"That is Dave Porter, the fellow who put me on the freight car. And over
yonder is Phil Lawrence, the other chap."

"You don't say! What brings them here?"

"They are on their way out West, and I suppose they ran up here to see
the sights. I--I wish I could do something to 'em!" added Nat, bitterly.

"Maybe you can," answered Tom Shocker, always open for action. "I'll
tell you one thing," he continued, in a low tone. "If they had treated
me as they treated you, I'd not let them off so easily."

"Will you help me, if I--er--try to fix that Dave Porter?" asked Nat.
"He started it. I don't care so much about Lawrence."

"Sure I'll help you. Anything you say goes," answered Tom Shocker,
readily. He thought he saw a chance of getting another dollar or two out
of Nat.

The two walked behind some bushes and there talked the matter over for
several minutes.

"Fargo's is the place to go to," said Shocker, presently. "I know we can
trust him."

"Of course, I don't want to hurt Porter," said Nat, nervously. "I only
want to scare him."

"Sure, I understand. We'll scare the wits out of him," returned Tom
Shocker. "Now, let me see. I have it--we'll catch him on the bridge. His
carriage is bound to come that way, to get off Goat Island."

Dave and his friends spent the best part of a quarter of an hour around
the Three Sisters Islands and then returned to their carriage.

"Now we can go to the hotel and have dinner," said Dunston Porter. "And
then we can take a local train back to Buffalo."

The carriage was just crossing the bridge that connects Goat Island with
the city of Niagara Falls when a man stepped up and stopped the turnout.
It was Tom Shocker.

"Excuse me, but I reckon this is the number, 176," he said. "Is there a
young man here named David Porter?"

"Yes, I am Dave Porter," answered Dave, and looked at Shocker curiously.
The fellow was a total stranger to him.

"Got a note for you," went on Shocker, and produced it. It was sealed
and marked _Private_ in plain letters.

Wondering what the note could contain, Dave opened and read it. His face
changed color and he gave a little gasp.

"Excuse me, I'll have to--to leave you for a little while," he stammered
to the others.

"What's the matter?" asked Roger.

"I--I can't tell you just now." Dave turned to his uncle. "Where will
you get dinner, Uncle Dunston?"

"At the International."

"All right--I'll be there before long," answered Dave, and sprang to the
ground.

"But what's up?" cried Phil. He could see that his chum was much
disturbed.

"I--I can't tell you, Phil. But I'll be back before you finish your
dinner."

"Don't you want some one along?" asked Laura, who did not like to see
her brother depart in the company of such a looking stranger as Tom
Shocker.

"No, Laura. Oh, it's all right. I'll be at the International on time,"
said Dave, and then he hurried over the bridge and down a side street of
the city, in company with Tom Shocker.

The note Dave had received was written in a cramped hand and ran as
follows:

     "DEAR DAVE:--You will be surprised to receive this, but I saw you
     in town to-day and noted the number of your carriage. I am in deep
     trouble and would like you to come and see me in private, if only
     for five or ten minutes. You can aid me a great deal. Please don't
     tell any of the others of your party. The man who brings this to
     you will take you to me. Please, _please_ don't disappoint me.

                                                           "Yours truly,
                                                          "ANDREW DALE."

Andrew Dale was the first assistant teacher at Oak Hall, and an
instructor who had made himself very dear to Dave and some of the other
boys. He had sided with Dave when the latter was termed "a poorhouse
nobody," and this had made teacher and pupil close friends.

"What's the matter with my friend?" asked Dave, as he and Tom Shocker
hurried through several side streets of the city.

"I don't know exactly," was the reply. "Money matters, I think, and the
gent is sick, too. He wanted it kept very quiet--said it might ruin his
reputation if it got out."

"Well, I didn't say anything to anybody," answered Dave. "How much
further have we to go?"

"Only a couple of blocks."

But the "couple of blocks" proved to be five, and they had to make
another turn or two. Then they came to the side door of a building used
as a lodging house and a pool and billiard parlor. This resort was run
by a man named Bill Fargo, a sport who had once had dealings with
Shocker in a prize-fighting enterprise.

"He's got a room here--up on the third floor," said Shocker, as he saw
Dave hesitate. "Come on, I'll show you."

He went ahead, up the somewhat dilapidated stairs, and Dave followed. In
the pool and billiard parlors below some men were laughing and talking,
and clicking the ivory balls together, but upstairs it was silent, and
nobody seemed to be around.

During the past few years of his life Dave had had a number of stirring
adventures, and he was by no means as green as he had been when first he
had set out for Oak Hall. He did not like the looks of his surroundings,
and he resolved to keep his wits about him and be on his guard.

"Why should Mr. Dale come to a place like this?" he asked himself. He
knew the teacher to be a model man, who did not drink or gamble.

"Here we are," said Tom Shocker, as he stopped in front of a door at the
back of the hallway on the third floor of the building. "I guess you can
go right in. He's on the bed with his broken ankle."

"His broken ankle?" repeated Dave. "Why didn't you tell me of that
before?"

"I thought I did," returned Shocker, smoothly. "Here you are. It's dark,
isn't it? I'll light the gas," and he commenced to fumble in his pocket,
as if hunting for a match.

It was dark, and for several seconds Dave could see little or nothing.
He heard a faint groan.

"Is that you, Mr. Dale?" he asked, kindly.

A low reply was returned--so low that Dave could not make out what was
said. He went into the room a few steps further. As he did so Tom
Shocker closed the door and locked it. Dave heard the click of the
lock's bolt and wheeled around.

"What did you do?" he demanded sharply.

"I guess I've got you now, Dave Porter!" cried another voice, and now
Dave recognized the tones of Nat Poole. "You played me a scurvy trick by
putting me aboard the freight train. I guess it's about time I paid you
back; don't you think so?"




CHAPTER VII

IN WHICH DAVE IS ROBBED


Dave found himself in a decidedly unpleasant situation. The door of the
room was locked and Tom Shocker stood against it. The man lit the gas,
but allowed it to remain low. Dave saw Nat Poole standing close to a
bed. The money-lender's son had a small bottle and some cotton in his
hand.

"I suppose this is a trick?" said Dave, as coolly as he could.

"Rather good one, too, isn't it?" returned Nat, lightly.

"That depends on how you look at it, Nat. Did you forge Mr. Dale's
name?"

"Why--er--I--er----"

"That isn't a nice business to be in."

"Humph! you needn't preach to me, Dave Porter! You played a dirty trick
on me and I am going to pay you back."

"What are you going to do?"

"You'll see soon enough."

"I want you to open that door!" cried Dave, wheeling around and
confronting Tom Shocker. "Open it at once!"

"This is none of my affair, Mr. Porter," answered the man, with a slight
sneer. "You can settle it with Mr. Poole."

"I'll settle with you, you rascal!" cried Dave, and leaping forward he
caught Tom Shocker by the shoulder and forced him aside. "Give me that
key!"

"Don't you do it!" cried Nat. "Here, wait, I'll fix him! Hold him!"

Nat poured some of the stuff in the bottle on the cotton and advanced on
Dave. At the same time Tom Shocker caught Dave by both arms and essayed
to hold him.

Dave was strong, and a sudden fear gave him additional strength. He
might have been a match for his two assailants, but for the stuff on the
cotton. This was chloroform, and when Nat clapped the saturated cotton
to his mouth and nose he was speedily rendered all but unconscious.

"Don't give him too much!" he heard Tom Shocker say.

"You watch him, while I tie his hands," answered Nat, and then Dave was
forced back and onto the bed. He struggled weakly, but could not free
himself, and before he realized it he was a close prisoner, with his
hands tied fast to the head of the bed and his feet fast to the lower
end. He was flat on his back.

"Now, you can stay there until somebody comes to release you," said
Nat, mockingly. "I reckon that will teach you a lesson not to send me
off on freight trains!"

"Nat, I've got to get back to Buffalo to catch my train for Chicago."

"Humph. Not to-night. You'll stay here."

"The others will worry about me."

"Let them worry. I'll be glad of it."

"Better destroy that note," suggested Tom Shocker. Then he noticed
Dave's watch and chain, and valuable stickpin, and his eyes glistened.
He began to wonder how much money the lad had in his pocket.

The note was taken by Nat. Then the money-lender's son took a soft pillow
and placed it over Dave's face.

"That will keep you from calling too loudly," he said. "I guess it won't
hurt your breathing though. Come," he added to the man. "Let us get out
of here, before somebody comes."

"All right," answered Tom Shocker. He gazed wistfully at Dave's
watchchain and at the stickpin. "I--er--all right," he added, and
followed Nat to the door.

The pair walked outside and the man locked the door. Then both hurried
below and out of the side door to the street. They went as far as the
corner.

"Let us make for the depot," said Nat, who was plainly nervous. Now
that the trick had been played he was becoming alarmed over the possible
consequences. "You don't think he'll smother?" he asked, anxiously.

"Smother? Not a bit of it," answered Tom Shocker. "He'll be out of that
room inside of an hour. He wasn't tied very hard, and he's sure to make
a racket sooner or later."

Tom Shocker went with Nat a distance of two blocks more and then came to
a sudden halt.

"By jove, I forgot!" he cried. "I must see my old friend, Dickson,
before I leave town. It won't take me but a few minutes. You go to the
depot and wait for me." And before the money-lender's son could reply, he
was off, down another side street.

Tom Shocker was well acquainted with the thoroughfares of Niagara Falls
and it did not take him long to double on his tracks and return to
Fargo's resort. He mounted the stairs, pulling his hat far down over his
forehead as he did so. Then he tied his handkerchief over the lower
portion of his face. He had the key of the room still in his possession,
and with it he unlocked the door.

The light was still burning, and on the bed he could see Dave struggling
to free himself of his bonds and of the pillow which still rested
lightly over his head. Holding the pillow in place with one hand
Shocker gained possession of the watch and chain and stickpin with the
other. Then he took from Dave's pocket a small roll of bank-bills. He
tried to appropriate the lad's ring, but could not get it off the
finger.

Dave, finding himself being robbed, struggled harder than ever. But the
bonds held and he was helpless to protect himself. In less than two
minutes Tom Shocker accomplished his purpose, and then he glided out of
the room silently, once more locking the door. Once on the street he set
off on a brisk walk, but he did not go in the direction of the depot.

"I reckon I can afford to part company with Poole now," the man told
himself. "Won't there be a row when that Porter gets free! But he can't
blame me!" he added, with a chuckle.

Left once more to himself, Dave continued to struggle, and at last he
managed to toss the pillow from his face. Then he breathed more freely,
for which he was thankful.

"What a mean trick!" he murmured, as he saw that his watch was gone.

Presently he heard footsteps passing along the hallway, and he uttered a
call. The footsteps came to a stop.

"Come in here, please!" he called. "I need help."

"What's up?" asked somebody outside, and then the door was tried. Soon
a key was inserted in the lock, the door was opened, and a chambermaid
showed herself.

"Untie me at once!" cried Dave.

The maid turned up the gas and then uttered a cry of astonishment.
Without waiting to question the youth she flew out of the room and down
the stairs, to return, a few minutes later, with a burly man.

"What's this mean?" asked the man, as he commenced to untie the ropes
that held Dave.

"It's a trick that was played on me," answered Dave, thinking rapidly.
He was on the point of stating that he had been robbed, but he did not
wish to create too much of a scene. He felt sure that Nat would, sooner
or later, return his belongings to him.

"A trick, eh?" said the hotel proprietor. "Certainly a queer one. Where
are the fellows who hired this room?"

"I don't know. They tied me fast and left."

"Did you know them?"

"I knew one of them--he goes to boarding school with me."

"Oh, I see, a schoolboy's trick, eh? You schoolboys are up to all sorts
of pranks."

"You don't know where they went to, do you?" questioned Dave, as he
leaped up from the bed and stretched himself.

"No, I haven't the least idea. They hired this room for to-night, that's
all."

"I think I'll try to catch them," said the youth. "Much obliged for
setting me free."

"You are welcome. But say, I don't want any more skylarking around
here," added the proprietor of the resort, as Dave hurried out of the
room and down the stairs.

He had found his hat on the floor, and, after brushing up a little, he
started on a brisk walk for the hotel where the others were to have
dinner. He did not, of course, know the way, and so hired a newsboy for
a dime to act as guide.

"Dave! you have been away a long time!" cried Laura, as he appeared. "We
have almost finished eating."

"Never mind, I can get all I wish in a few minutes," he answered.

"Why, your stickpin is gone!" cried Jessie. "And your watchchain, too."

"Dave, have you been robbed?" questioned his uncle, quickly.

"Yes and no," he answered, with a grim smile. "I suppose I might as well
tell you what happened," he continued, and then gave a few of the
details. Then he had to tell his uncle how Nat had been put aboard the
freight car.

"Well, it's a case of tit for tat, I suppose," said Dunston Porter. "You
can thank your stars that you got away so quickly. A little later and
you would have missed the train,--and we would have missed it, too--for
I should not have gone on without you."

"I suppose Nat thinks he has the laugh on you," said Roger. "But what of
your watch and pin and money? Are you going West without them?"

"I suppose I'll have to. But I'll make him give them up in short order.
I'll send him a telegram."

"Tell him if he doesn't send them on by express at once that you will
put the case in the hands of the law," said Phil. "That will scare him."

Dave was quickly served with a meal, and he lost no time in eating what
he wanted. Then the entire party walked toward the railroad station, to
catch the train for Buffalo.

"I was a chump to follow that man up into that room," said Dave to his
chums. "Next time I'll be more on my guard. But I thought Mr. Dale must
be in some dire trouble."

"It was a nervy thing to do--to forge his name," was the comment of the
senator's son. "It's a pity you didn't keep the note."

"I couldn't. After I was tied up they had me at their mercy."

"Who was the man?"

"I don't know. I never saw him before."

"He must have been some friend of Nat's."

"I suppose so."

Arriving at the station, they found they had several minutes to wait.
When the train rolled in all got on board but Roger, who was buying a
late newspaper from a boy on the platform.

"Hurry up, or you'll get left!" cried Dave.

"I'll get on the car behind!" cried the senator's son, and did so. He
did not rejoin his companions until the train was on its way towards
Buffalo.

"What do you think!" he cried. "Nat Poole is on board!"

"Nat!" ejaculated Dave. "Is that man with him?"

"No, Nat seems to be alone."

"Did he see you?"

"I don't think so. He was crouched down in a seat, as if in deep
thought."

"I'll interview him," said Dave, and left the car, followed by Phil,
Roger, and his uncle.

"Don't quarrel on the train," cautioned Dunston Porter. "But insist upon
it that Nat return your belongings."

Roger readily led the way to where the son of the Crumville money-lender
sat, crouched down, and with his eyes partly closed. When touched on the
shoulder Nat sat up, and a look of fright came into his face.

"Why--er--why----" he stammered and was unable to proceed.

"Didn't expect to see me quite so soon, did you?" returned Dave,
pleasantly, and dropped into the seat beside him. "Nat, if it's all the
same to you, I'll take my watch, my stickpin, and my money," he added,
coldly.

"Your what?" exclaimed Nat. Then he stared blankly at Dave. "I--er--I
don't understand you."

"Yes, you do. I want my things, and I want them at once!"

"I haven't got your things, and you needn't say I have!" retorted the
money-lender's son. "Oh, I see how it is," he added, struck by a sudden
thought. "You want to play another joke on me, don't you? Well, it won't
work this time. I didn't touch your things, and you know it."




CHAPTER VIII

THE YOUTH IN THE BALCONY


For a moment Dave stared at Nat Poole in perplexity. He saw that the
money-lender's son was in earnest. Like a flash he realized that
something was wrong.

"See here, I want no more fooling, Nat," he said, sharply. "My watch and
chain, my scarfpin, and thirty-three dollars in bills were taken from
me, either by you or your companion. I want them back, and now!"

"Dave, you--er--you don't mean that you--you were--robbed?" Nat could
hardly utter the words. His teeth were fairly chattering with sudden
fright.

"I certainly was, if you want to call it by such an ugly name."

"But I didn't touch the things, you know I didn't!"

"Then your companion did."

"No, he didn't, he came away with me, you know that. All we did was to
tie you fast and throw that pillow over your face. Then we came away
and locked the door. It was only a bit of fun, to pay you back for
putting me on the freight car."

"One of you came back and took the things. I couldn't see who it was,
for the pillow was still over my head."

"I didn't come back--I give you my word of honor. Shocker must have done
it! Oh, the rascal!" And now Nat's face showed his concern.

"Who was that man?" asked the senator's son.

"A fellow I met in Crumville a few days ago. He appeared to be straight
enough." And then Nat told his story from beginning to end. He said that
he had hung around the depot waiting for Tom Shocker to come, but that
the fellow had failed to show himself.

"It's as plain as day," said Phil. "If Nat's story is true, this Shocker
went back and robbed Dave."

"Yes, but if he did, Nat is partly responsible, for he left me tied up,"
said Dave.

"Of course he is responsible," came from Roger.

"I don't see how," grumbled the money-lender's son, but his uneasiness
showed that he thought as did the others.

"You'll see how, if that Shocker doesn't show up with my things," said
Dave, sternly. "I'll hold you and your father responsible for every
dollar's worth."

This threat almost caused Nat to collapse, and he felt even worse when
Dave added that the scarfpin and the watch and chain were worth about
one hundred dollars.

"I'm going to hunt up Shocker's address as soon as I get home," said
Nat. "I'll run him down, see if I don't--and I'll make him give the
things up, too!"

"Well, I'll give you a fair amount of time," answered Dave. "After that
I'll look to you and your father to make good."

Fortunately for Dave, he could easily get along without the watch and
the scarfpin, and his uncle let him have some money in place of that
taken. But Mr. Porter told Nat that his father would have to settle the
matter if Tom Shocker was not brought to book.

At Buffalo the others separated from Nat Poole, who said he was going to
take the early morning train home. Nat felt very bad over the outcome of
his joke, and to a certain extent Dave and his chums felt sorry for him.

"I was a big fool to take up with a stranger like Shocker," said the
money-lender's son. "You'll not catch me doing it again! I only hope I
can lay my hands on him!" Then, just as he was about to leave, he turned
back and beckoned Dave to step to one side.

"What do you want now?" asked Dave.

"I want to show you that I--er--that is, I am not the enemy you think,
Dave," was the low answer. "I am going to give you a warning. I wasn't
going to say anything, at first. It's about a letter I got from Link
Merwell."

"Merwell?" And now Dave was all attention.

"Yes, he sent it to me from Chicago, where he is stopping on his way to
his father's ranch. He said he had heard that you were going to the
Endicott ranch, and he added that if you came out West he would see to
it that you got all that was coming to you--those are his very words."

"When did you get this letter?"

"A couple of days ago. Take my advice and beware of him, for he means
business. When he left Oak Hall he was the maddest boy I ever saw. He
will do something awful to you if he gets the chance."

"I'll be on my guard--and I am much obliged for telling me," said Dave;
and then he and Nat separated, not to meet again for many weeks.

The train for Chicago was already standing in the station, and the
Porters and their friends were soon on board. The two girls had a
private compartment and the others several sections, and all proceeded
to make themselves at home.

"I never get into a sleeping car without thinking of old Billy Dill, the
sailor who went with me to the South Seas," said Dave to Laura and
Jessie. "He thought we'd have to sleep in the seats, and when the porter
came and made up the berths he was the most surprised man you ever saw."

"And where is he now?" asked Jessie.

"In a home for aged sailors. Father and Uncle Dunston have seen to it
that he is comfortably cared for."

"I must visit him some day," said Laura. "Just think! if it hadn't been
for him we might never have met, Dave!" And she gave her brother a tight
hug.

The train was a comfortable one, and all of the party slept well. When
they arose, they found themselves crossing the level stretches of
Indiana. The boys and Mr. Porter took a good wash-up and were presently
joined on the observation end of the car by Laura and Jessie.

"What a beautiful morning!" cried Jessie.

"I feel just as if I'd like to get out and walk," added Laura, and this
caused the others to laugh.

They had an appetizing breakfast of fruit, fish, eggs, and rolls, with
coffee, and took their time over the repast. Then Dunston Porter pointed
out to them various points of interest. Before long, they reached a
small town and then came to the suburbs of the great city by the lakes.

"Here we are!" cried Roger, at last, as they ran into the immense train
shed. Here all was bustle and seeming confusion, and they picked their
way through the crowd with difficulty. The boys rather enjoyed this, but
it made Laura and Jessie shrink back.

"Why, it's as bad as New York!" said Jessie.

"Almost," answered Dunston Porter. "Come, we'll soon find a couple of
carriages to take us to the hotel."

That the girls and the others might see something of Chicago, it had
been arranged to remain in that city two days. They were to stop at a
new and elegant hotel on the lake shore, and thither they were driven
with their baggage.

"It certainly is as bustling as New York," was Roger's comment, as they
drove along. "Just look at the carriages, and autos, and trucks!"

"This afternoon we'll hire an automobile to take us around," said
Dunston Porter. "It is the only way to see a good deal in a little
time."

They were fortunate in getting good accommodations at the new hotel, and
the boys and girls were struck by the elegance of the rooms, and, later,
by the sumptuousness of the dining-hall.

"Why, it's fit for a palace!" declared Jessie.

"Beats the Crumville Hotel, doesn't it?" said Dave, dryly, and this
caused the girls to giggle and the other boys to laugh.

An automobile was engaged at the stand in the hotel, and immediately
after lunch the whole party went sightseeing, visiting the lake front,
Lincoln Park, and numerous other points of interest. At the park they
alighted to look at the animals, and this pleased the girls especially.

"To-morrow morning I'll have a little business to attend to," said
Dunston Porter, "and I'll have to let you take care of yourselves for a
few hours. I propose that you boys take the girls around to some of the
big department stores."

"Oh, yes!" cried Laura, who had a woman's delight for finery. Jessie was
also interested, for her opportunities for visiting big stores were
rare.

Mr. Porter had already purchased tickets for one of the theaters, where
they were playing a well-known and highly successful comedy drama, and
this they attended that evening after dinner at the hotel. Their seats
were on the right in the orchestra, so they had more or less of a chance
to view the opposite side of the auditorium.

"They certainly have a full house," said Roger, who sat on one side of
Dave, while Jessie sat on the other. "I believe every seat is taken."

"That shows that a good drama pays," answered Dave. "This is clean as
well as interesting." His eyes were roving over the sea of faces,
upstairs and down. "I wonder how many a theater like this can hold?"

"Two thousand, perhaps."

"It certainly looks it, Roger. That gallery--Well, I declare!"

"What is it?" asked the senator's son.

"Do you see that fellow in the front row in the balcony? The one next to
the aisle?"

"Yes. What of him?"

"Looks to me like Link Merwell."

"Oh, Dave, you must be mistaken."

"I don't think so. It looks like Merwell, and Nat Poole said he was in
Chicago."

"So he did. Now you speak of it, he does look like Merwell. Wish we had
an opera glass, we might make sure."

"I'll see if we can't borrow a glass," said Dave.

He looked around and saw that a lady directly in front of Jessie had a
pair of glasses in her lap. He spoke to Jessie, and the girl asked the
lady to lend her the glasses for a minute, and the favor was readily
granted, for it was between the acts, and there was nothing on the stage
to look at. Dave adjusted the glasses and turned them on the balcony.

"It's Merwell, right enough," he announced.

"Let me see," said the senator's son, and took the glasses from Dave. As
he pointed them at the youth in the balcony, the latter looked down on
Roger and those with him. He gave a start and then leaned forward.

"It's Merwell, and he sees us!" cried Roger.

"What's up?" asked Phil, who was some seats away.

"Link Merwell,--up in the balcony," answered Dave, and pointed with his
finger. Phil turned in the direction, and as he did so, Link Merwell
doubled up his fist and raised it in the air for an instant.

"Merwell, sure as you're born," said the shipowner's son. "And full of
fight!"

"Oh, Dave, you mustn't quarrel here!" whispered Laura, who sat on the
other side of Roger.

"We'll not quarrel here," answered her brother. "But I am glad I saw
him," he added to his chums. "Now we can keep on our guard."

The play went on, and, for the time being, the boys and the girls paid
no further attention to Link Merwell. Just as the final curtain was
being lowered, Dave looked up toward the balcony.

"He has gone," he announced.

"Perhaps he was afraid we'd come after him," suggested Phil.

"Maybe he came downstairs to watch for us," added Roger. "Keep your eyes
open when we go out."

They did as the senator's son suggested. They saw nothing of Merwell in
the foyer, but came face to face with the former student of Oak Hall on
the sidewalk. He glared at them, but then seeing Dunston Porter at
Dave's side, slunk behind some other people, and disappeared from view.

"My, what an ugly look!" said Laura, with a shiver.

"He looked as if he wanted to eat somebody up," was Jessie's comment.
"Oh, Dave, you must be careful!"

"I wish his father's ranch wasn't so close to Mr. Endicott's," continued
Dave's sister. "I declare, the more I think of it, the more nervous it
makes me!"

"Don't you worry, Laura, or you either, Jessie," answered Dave. "We'll
take care of Link Merwell. If he tries any of his games, he'll get the
worst of it--just as he got the worst of it at Oak Hall."

But though Dave spoke thus bravely, he was much disturbed himself. He
could read human nature pretty closely, and that look in Merwell's face
had showed him that the fellow meant to do harm at the first opportunity
that was afforded.




CHAPTER IX

ONLY A STREET WAIF


In the morning Dunston Porter left the hotel early, stating that he
would not return until lunch time. The boys and girls took their time
over their breakfast, and then started out for a tour of the big stores
located on State Street.

Two hours were spent in a way that pleased Laura and Jessie greatly. The
girls purchased several things, to be mailed to the folks left behind.
Then all walked around to the post-office, both to see the building and
to send the things away.

It was while the others were addressing their packages and also some
picture postcards, that Dave saw a sight that interested him greatly.
Near one of the doorways was a small and ragged newsboy with half a
dozen papers under his arm. An older youth had him by the shoulder and
was shaking him viciously.

"I say it was a five-dollar gold piece I gave you yesterday by mistake!"
the older boy was saying. "I want it back."

"No, it wasn't, mister," the boy answered. "It was a cent, nothing but a
cent."

"I know better, you little thief! Give me that gold piece, or I'll call
a policeman." And again the big youth shook the ragged newsboy, causing
the papers to fall to the sidewalk.

"Why, it's Link Merwell!" murmured Dave to himself, and he stepped in
the direction of the pair who were disputing. Merwell had his back to
Dave and did not see him.

"Are you going to give me my gold piece or not?" demanded Link Merwell,
and now he gave the newsboy such a twist of the shoulder that the ragged
lad cried out with pain.

"I don't know anything about your gold piece!" cried the boy for at
least the tenth time. "Let me go, please, mister! I ain't no thief!"

"I'll twist your little neck off for you!" muttered Merwell, and was on
the point of hitting the boy in the face when Dave stepped up behind him
and caught his arm.

"Don't you know better than to hit a little chap like this, Merwell?" he
demanded.

"Porter!" muttered the western youth, and his face took on a sour look.
"Say, this ain't none of your affair!" he burst out. "You keep your
hands off."

"Please don't let him hurt me!" pleaded the ragged newsboy. "I didn't do
wrong, mister. I ain't seen no gold piece. He gave me a cent yesterday
for a newspaper, that's all." And the boy looked imploringly at Dave.

"He's got a five-dollar gold piece of mine," cried Link Merwell. "I want
it. And what's more, Dave Porter, I want you to keep your nose out of my
business!" he added, fiercely.

"Merwell," answered Dave, as calmly as he could, "I have no desire to
interfere in your business. But I am not going to stand by and see you
abuse this boy, or anybody else. I know just the sort you are--a bully."

"Bah! Just because you had me expelled from Oak Hall you think you can
do anything, don't you? Well, just wait till you get out West, that's
all! I'll show you a thing or two you won't forget as long as you live!"

"Take care that you don't get the worst of it, Merwell. Now let that boy
go." And Dave came a step closer and clenched his fists.

"Going to help the rascal steal five dollars from me?"

"He says he knows nothing of your gold piece and he looks honest to me.
Why aren't you more careful of your money?"

"He's got my gold piece and I know it!" declared Link Merwell, loudly.
"If he don't pass it over, I'm going to have him arrested."

Quite a war of words followed, the loud talking attracting a crowd,
including Phil and Roger and the girls. The ragged newsboy broke down
completely and commenced to cry bitterly.

"This is a shame, Merwell," said the senator's son. "I think as Dave
does, that the newsboy is honest. If you are so hard up, I'll give you
five dollars out of my own pocket," and he produced a roll of bills.

"I don't want your money, Morr!" answered Merwell, in a rage. "I am
going to make this boy give me back my gold piece."

"Say, you," said a man who had listened to the talk for several minutes.
"When did you lose that five-dollar gold piece?"

"Yesterday morning," answered Link Merwell. "I bought a newspaper from
this boy and after a while I found out I had given him a five-dollar
piece in place of a cent."

"Did you buy any postage stamps about the same time?" went on the man.

"Why--er--yes, I did." Link Merwell gave a start. "Say, did----"

"You did," answered the man, with a sarcastic grin. "I'm the clerk at
that window and I'm just going to lunch," he explained to the crowd.
"You bought five two-cent stamps and threw down a nickel and what I
supposed were five pennies. When I looked at them I saw one was a
five-dollar gold piece. I tried to call you back, but you got out in
such a hurry I couldn't locate you. If you'll come back with me I'll
give you the gold piece in exchange for one cent."

"There you are, Merwell!" cried Dave. "Now you can see how you were
mistaken in this boy."

Link Merwell's face was a study. He felt his humiliation keenly, and it
is safe to say he would rather have lost his five dollars than have been
shown up in the wrong.

"All right, I'll go back and get my gold piece," he muttered.

"I think you owe the newsboy an apology," said Phil.

"Oh, you go to thunder!" snapped Merwell, and pushed out of the crowd as
fast as he could. Several followed him and saw him get his gold piece,
and they passed all sorts of uncomplimentary remarks on his actions.

The girls had become interested in the ragged newsboy, and after he had
picked up his newspapers, they took him to an out-of-the-way corner and
questioned him. He said his name was Charley Gamp and that he was alone
in the world.

"My mother died some years ago," he said. "I don't know where my father
is. He left us when I was a baby."

"And do you make your living selling newspapers?" asked Laura.

"Mostly, but sometimes I carry bundles and run on other errands,"
answered Charley Gamp.

"And where do you live?" questioned Jessie.

"Oh, I live with an old woman named Posey--that is, when I can pay for
my bed. When I haven't the price I go down to the docks and find a bed
among the boxes and things."

"You poor boy!" murmured Jessie, and something like tears came into her
eyes. She turned to Laura. "Can't we do something for him?"

"Perhaps," answered Laura. "At any rate, we can give him some money."

The boys came over, and all had a talk with Charley Gamp, who told much
about his former life, when his mother had been alive. Of his father he
knew little or nothing; excepting that he had not treated his mother
fairly according to the story told by some former neighbors.

"I wish we could get him some sort of regular employment and give him a
chance to go to school," said Dave. "Let us ask Uncle Dunston about it.
He knows quite a number of people in Chicago."

"If you want to do something for me, I'll tell you what," said Charley,
eagerly. "I need a new pair of shoes." And he looked down at his foot
coverings, which were full of holes.

"And I should say that you needed a new suit of clothes, too," said
Laura.

"And a new cap," added Jessie. "I'll get you the cap," she went on. "A
real nice one, too."

In spite of his rags and his dirty face and hands Charley Gamp had a
winning way about him, and the boys and girls easily induced him to
follow them to the hotel. Here they waited for the return of Dunston
Porter, and then asked what might be done with the waif.

"You'll have your hands full if you want to help every waif that comes
along," said Dave's uncle, with a smile. "Every big city has hundreds of
them."

"Well, we can't aid every one, but we do want to aid Charley," answered
Laura. And then she and the others told of what had occurred at the
post-office.

"I don't know exactly how much we can do," said Dunston Porter, slowly.
"I know a number of people here, it is true, but whether any of them
will want to bother with this lad is a question. However, after lunch
I'll look into the matter."

As the urchin was too dirty and ragged to eat in the hotel, he was given
a quarter of a dollar for his dinner and told to come back in half an
hour. This he did willingly, and a little later Mr. Porter, Dave, and
the two girls sallied forth to see what could be done for the homeless
boy.

The quest was more successful than they had anticipated. Mr. Porter knew
a certain Mr. Latham, who was in the wholesale fruit business, and this
gentleman agreed to give Charley Gamp a job, at two dollars a week and
his board. He was to live with a man who had charge of a warehouse where
fruit was unloaded, and was to be sent to night school.

This settled, the waif was fitted out with new clothing and other
things, and the boys and girls and Mr. Porter made up a purse for him of
twenty dollars.

"You had better put the money in a bank," said Dave. "Then you can use
it as you need it,--or put more to it."

"Twenty dollars!" gasped Charley Gamp, when he saw the money. "Wow! Say,
I'll be a millionaire before you know it, won't I?" And this remark
caused a laugh. He promised to put the money in a savings bank, where it
would draw interest, and said he would try his best to add to it from
his weekly wages.

"And will you go to school regularly?" asked Mr. Porter.

"Yes, sir, I'll give you my word," replied the street boy, promptly.

"And as soon as you learn to write, you must send us letters," put in
Jessie. "I shall wish to hear from you very much."

"I'll write, miss. I can write a little already--printing letters,"
answered Charley Gamp.

"Then here is my address," and Jessie handed over her card, and Laura
did the same. Mr. Latham promised to let Mr. Porter know how the boy got
along, and also promised to make some inquiries in the hope of locating
the lad's father. Charley Gamp was extremely grateful for all that had
been done for him, and when he parted from his new friends there were
tears in his eyes.

"My mother used to tell me there was angels," he said to Jessie and
Laura. "I didn't believe it much. But I do now, 'cause you're angels!"
And he nodded his head earnestly, to show that he meant what he said.

"And now, ho, for the boundless West!" cried Dave, when the party was on
its way to the depot. "Now for the plains and the mountains, the canyons
and the rivers, the cattle and the broncos, the campfires and the
cowboys, and the lasso and the rifle, the----"

"Hello, Dave is wound up!" interrupted the senator's son.

"Must have some of that ranch air in his lungs already," added Phil. "I
suppose the first thing you'll want to do will be to break in a bronco,
ride a couple of hundred miles, and lasso a couple of dozen buffaloes."

"Sure thing," answered Dave. "Then we'll build a roaring campfire, cook
a ten-pound bear steak and eat it, shoot half a dozen Apache Indians,
find a few fifteen-pound nuggets of gold, and--wake up and find the
mince pie you had for supper didn't agree with you." And this unexpected
ending brought forth a roar of laughter, in which even Mr. Porter
joined.

"You won't find it so exciting as all that at Star Ranch," said Laura,
after the others had quieted down. "But I think you'll be able to put in
the time doing one thing or another."

"I reckon we'll hunt up some excitement," said the senator's son. And
they did, as we shall speedily see.




CHAPTER X

OFF FOR THE BOUNDLESS WEST


"This is certainly the boundless West!"

It was Dave who spoke, and he addressed the others, who were on the rear
of the observation car with him. As far as the eye could reach were the
prairies, dotted here and there with hillocks and clumps of low-growing
bushes. Behind were the glistening rails and the wooden ties, stretching
out until lost in the distance.

A night and the larger part of the next day had been spent on the train.
They had crossed the Mississippi and made several stops of more or less
importance, including those at St. Paul and Minneapolis, and now they
were rushing westward through North Dakota to Montana.

It was a warm, sunshiny day, and the young folk and Mr. Porter enjoyed
the trip to the utmost. Dave's uncle had traveled through that section
of the country several times, and he pointed out various objects of
interest.

"I haven't seen any Indians yet," said Jessie, with a pout. "I thought
we'd see some by this time."

"We'll see them a little further west," answered Dunston Porter.
"They'll come down to the railroad stations, to sell trinkets," and his
words proved true. They saw a dozen or more redmen and their squaws the
following morning, at a station where they stopped for water. But the
Indians were so dirty that neither Jessie nor the others wanted to trade
with them, although one Indian had a set of polished horns Roger admired
very much.

"Never mind, we'll get some horns at Star Ranch," said Laura. "The
cowboys know how to polish them just as well as these Indians, and
they'll sell their work just as cheaply, too." And this proved to be
true.

They passed Livingston, which, as Dunston Porter told the young folks,
was the transfer point for Yellowstone Park, and then continued on their
way to Helena. Here the young folks left the train, to continue their
journey on a side line running northward.

"Sorry I am not going further with you," said Dunston Porter, as he
kissed his niece and shook hands warmly with the others. "I hope you get
to the ranch in safety, and don't forget to send word to me at Spokane
as well as to send word home."

"And you'll be sure to come to the ranch for us in about a month?" asked
Laura.

"Yes, unless some special business detains me, and then I'll wire when I
can come," was the reply, and then the train rolled off, Dunston Porter
standing at the end, waving the boys and girls adieu.

"Now we have got to take care of ourselves," remarked the shipowner's
son. "Girls, you don't feel afraid, do you?"

"Oh, we are not so very far from Star Ranch," answered Laura. "And
you'll remember, I asked Mr. Endicott by telegraph to have somebody meet
us. If he's at the ranch, maybe he'll come himself, and bring Belle. I
know Belle will be just wild to see what sort of a brother I have
found," she added, with a warm glance at Dave.

"I hope she likes me, Laura. I know I am going to like her. She's a
jolly-looking girl, by her picture."

"Oh, I know she'll like you. Jessie, you had better look out!" went on
Laura in a whisper, and this made Jessie turn very red. Dave heard the
words and grew red, too, and commenced a lively conversation with Phil
and Roger, about nothing in particular.

The train on the side line was a big contrast to the luxurious coaches
they had just left. The cars were of the old-fashioned variety and but
two in number, and drawn by an old mountain engine that had seen better
days. Moreover, the roadbed was very uneven, and the cars rocked from
side to side as they rolled between the hills towards Bramley, where the
young folks were to get off. The cars were about half filled with miners
and cattlemen, and a sprinkling of hunters and sightseers, and the boys
and girls overheard a good deal of talk about steers and horses, mines
and new discoveries, and about the outlook for hunting and fishing.

"Why, Mr. Todd, is that you!" cried Laura, suddenly, as a cowboy was
passing through the car where she sat.

"It sure is me, Miss Porter," answered the cowboy, coming to a halt with
a broad grin on his weatherbeaten face. "Must be you are on your way to
the ranch," he added.

"We are," answered Laura. "I am glad to see you." She held out her hand,
which the cowboy took very gingerly, removing his sombrero at the same
time. "This is my friend, Miss Wadsworth, and this is my brother, Dave,
and his two school friends, Mr. Morr and Mr. Lawrence. This is Mr.
Sidney Todd, Mr. Endicott's head man," she explained.

"Just Sid Todd, miss, that's good enough for me," said the cowboy, as
the others shook hands with him, one after the other. "I ain't used to
no handle, I ain't. The boss thought you might be on this train, but he
wasn't sure when I left. He told me to keep an eye open for you,
though. I hope you had a nice trip."

"We have had a lovely trip, Mr.--Todd," said Jessie. She could not quite
bring herself to drop the mister.

"I've heard of you," said Dave to the cowboy. "My sister told me how you
taught her to ride and do a lot of things. I hope you'll take me and my
chums in hand, too, when we get settled at Star Ranch."

"Ride, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, but not in the fashion that cowboys can," said Dave, and then
he invited Sid Todd to sit down with them, which the cowboy did. He was
a man of about forty, tall and leathery. His eyes were bubbling over
with good humor, but they could become very stern when the occasion
demanded it. Laura had become well acquainted with him during her former
visit to the ranch, and knew that the Endicotts trusted him implicitly.
While he had taught her how to ride, cowgirl fashion, she had taken a
number of snapshot photographs for him, to be sent to some relative in
the South, and for these he had been very grateful.

"We want to do a lot of riding, and a lot of hunting and fishing, too,"
said the senator's son. "Do you think we'll have a chance for much
sport?"

"I dunno," answered Sid Todd, dryly. "Might be the game will hear of
your coming and move on to the next State," and his eyes twinkled over
his little joke.

"I'd like to see some kind of a round-up," said Phil. "Will there be one
while we are here?"

"Might be, Mr.--I didn't quite catch your handle."

"Phil Lawrence. Just call me Phil."

"I will if you'll call me Todd, or Sid. I can't git used to this mister
business nohow. Besides, the boys would have the laugh on me, if they
heard you a-mistering me all the time."

"All right, Sid it is," said Dave. "And I'm Dave."

"And I am Roger," added the senator's son.

"About that round-up," continued the cowboy. "Might see something of the
sort, for Mr. Endicott is goin' to sell some cattle the end of the
month, and they'll be driven off to another range. But you'll see enough
of cattle anyway, before you go home, if you are going to stay a month
or six weeks."

"Any fishing?" queried the shipowner's son.

"Yes, plenty of fishing, back in the mountains. One place there you can
catch a barrel or two of fish in ten minutes--if you've got lines
enough," and once more Sid Todd chuckled at his joke.

It was a three hours' run to Bramley, for the train stopped at many
little stations and at some crossings where there were no stations at
all. At one point they came to a halt where there was a large corral,
and the boys and girls watched the efforts of several cowboys to lasso a
bronco that was untrained. The bronco eluded the rope with apparent
ease.

"Some of 'em are mighty tricky," explained Sid Todd. "I remember two
years ago, we had one bronco nobody at the Star could touch. I reckon he
was sure mad, for finally he bit Hank Snogger, and Hank had to treat him
to a dose of lead."

"Is Hank Snogger still with Mr. Endicott?" questioned Laura.

"No, he ain't," answered Sid Todd, shortly. "He left two months ago. A
good job done, too," added the cowboy.

"Who was this Hank Snogger?" asked Dave, in a low voice of his sister,
for he saw that the subject was distasteful to Todd.

"He was one of the cowboys working for Mr. Endicott," answered Laura.
"He was rather a queer kind of a man."

"Bramley's just ahead," announced Sid Todd, presently. "Maybe you can
catch sight of somebody you know," he added to Laura, as the train
rounded the curve of a small hill.

"I see a young lady on horseback, and a man!" cried Dave's sister a few
minutes later. "It's Belle, and her father! They came to meet us! Oh, I
must signal to them!" And she waved her handkerchief from the car
window. Soon Belle Endicott saw it, and waved her big straw hat in
return.

"Welcome to the West!" she cried, merrily, as she dashed up on her pony
beside the railroad tracks. "Oh, I was so afraid you wouldn't come!"

"And I was so afraid you'd miss our telegram and wouldn't meet us,"
returned Laura.

As soon as the train came to a stop the boys hopped down and assisted
the girls to alight. Sid Todd followed, with the hand baggage, and the
whole party gathered in a group, while Mr. Endicott and Belle dismounted
to greet them.

"Very glad to know you," said the railroad president, with a genial
smile overspreading his features. "I feel as if I knew Morr already. I
have met his father and mother several times in Washington."

"Yes, so dad wrote," answered the senator's son.

"And I feel as if I knew you, and Miss Belle," said Dave. "I've heard so
much about you from Laura."

"And we've heard so much about you!" cried Belle. "Oh, wasn't it simply
wonderful how you found your folks! Why, it's almost like a page out of
a fairy book!"

"Not quite," put in Phil. "Fairy stories aren't true, while this really
happened."

"Some day Dave has got to tell me the whole story from beginning to
end," said Belle. "You see, I'm going to call you Dave, and you must
call me Belle."

"Well, we can't stop for stories just now," said Mr. Endicott. "It's a
long ride to the ranch, and they'll be more than hungry by the time we
get there. Todd, bring up the horses, and tell Jerry to dump all the
baggage in the wagon. Do you all want to ride horseback, or does
somebody prefer a seat in the wagon?"

"Oh, let us ride horseback, if you have animals enough!" cried Laura.
"You're willing, aren't you, Jessie?"

"I--I guess so," said Jessie, rather timidly. "That is, if you don't
ride too fast."

"We'll take it easy," said Belle. "And if you get tired you can wait for
the wagon."

A number of sturdy-looking animals were brought up, and the entire party
proceeded to mount, the boys assisting Laura and Jessie. In the meantime
Sid Todd went off, to return with a ranch wagon, driven by an old man
smoking a corncob pipe.

"Hello, Uncle Jerry!" cried Laura, pleasantly, and the others soon
learned that the old man was known by that name and no other. He had
been attached to the ranch when Mr. Endicott purchased the place, and
knew no other home. He and Todd placed the baggage in the wagon, and
then the cowboy swung himself into the saddle of his own steed, that had
been brought to the station for him.

Just as the party was about to leave, a tall, thin, and well-dressed man
dashed up, riding a coal-black steed. As he came closer Laura gave a
start and motioned for Dave to come closer.

"Who is it?" asked Dave, in a low voice.

"That is Mr. Merwell," answered his sister.




CHAPTER XI

THE ARRIVAL AT STAR RANCH


Mr. Felix Merwell bowed stiffly to Mr. Endicott, and, on seeing Laura,
raised his hat slightly. Both of the others bowed in return. Then the
eyes of the newcomer swept the vicinity of the little railroad station.

"See anything of my son, Link?" he asked, of Sid Todd.

"No, sir," was the short reply. It was quite evident that the cowboy and
the ranch owner were not on very friendly terms.

"Humph! I thought sure he'd be on this train," muttered Mr. Merwell, to
no one in particular. He looked at the boys. "You came in on the train
that just left, I suppose," he said.

"We did," answered Dave.

"See anything of a boy about your own age in Helena, at the depot? He
was coming on the eastern train."

"Your son wasn't on the train," answered Dave.

"Ah! you know him?"

"Yes."

"Who are you, may I ask? I do not remember seeing you before."

"I am Dave Porter. Link and I went to Oak Hall together."

"Ah, I see!" Mr. Merwell drew a long breath and nodded his head
knowingly. "Dave Porter, you said. And who are these young men?"

"My school chums, Roger Morr and Phil Lawrence."

"Indeed! Then you are the young men who caused my son so much
trouble--caused him to be sent away, in fact," continued Mr. Merwell,
and he glared hatefully at the three lads.

"It was Link's own fault that he was sent away," answered the senator's
son. "If he had behaved himself he would have had no trouble."

"Oh, of course, it is natural that you should shield yourselves. But I
know my son, and I know he is not the person he has been made out to be
by Doctor Clay and others. It was an outrage to allow the other boys at
the school to get him into trouble as they did, and I have written to
Doctor Clay to that effect."

"Your son was entirely to blame," said Phil, bound to stand up for
himself.

"He can be thankful that he was let off so easily," added Dave. "If it
hadn't been for the honor of Oak Hall, there might have been a public
exposure."

"Bah! nonsense! But it is useless to continue this discussion here, in
the presence of these young ladies. Perhaps I'll see you again about the
matter--after I have interviewed my son personally."

"Mr. Merwell, these young gentleman are my guests," put in Mr. Endicott,
bluntly. "While they are stopping at my ranch I trust they will not be
annoyed by any one."

"Mr. Endicott, I shall respect your wishes so far as I can," returned
Felix Merwell, with great stiffness. "But if these young men have done
my son an injustice, they will have to suffer for it. I bid you
good-day." And having thus delivered himself, the man wheeled around his
coal-black steed and was off in a cloud of dust down the road.

"Oh, Dave, what do you think he'll do?" asked Jessie, in alarm.

"I don't know," was Dave's reply. "Of course, he is bound to stick up
for Link."

"I never liked him very much, and now I despise him," said Laura.

"One can readily see where Link gets his temper from," was Phil's
comment. "He is nothing but a chip of the old block."

"I am sorry that Mr. Merwell is my neighbor," came from Mr. Endicott.
"But it can't be helped, so we'll have to make the best of it. My
advice is, while you are out here, keep off his lands, and if he annoys
you in any way, let me know."

"We'll have to learn what his lands are," said the senator's son.

"Todd and the others can readily tell you about that, and about
Merwell's cattle, too. But come, we have wasted too much time already.
You'll all be wanting supper long before we reach the ranch."

Old Jerry had gone ahead with the wagon, and now the others followed
along the road taken by the turnout and by Mr. Merwell. It was a winding
trail, leading up and down over the hills and through a dense patch of
timber. Two miles from the station they had to cross a fair-sized stream
by way of a bridge that was far from firm.

"We've got to have a new bridge here some day," said Mr. Endicott. "I am
willing to bear my share of the expense, but Merwell won't put up a
cent. He doesn't go in for improvements."

"He seems to like good horseflesh," remarked Phil.

"That was one of his best mounts. His horses aren't half as good as
those we have; eh, Todd?"

"No better bosses in these parts than those at the Star," answered the
cowboy.

"I have been giving our horses my especial care for three years,"
explained the railroad president. "It has become a hobby with me, and
some day I may turn the ranch into something of a stock farm for
raising certain breeds of horses and ponies. While you are here you'll
not suffer for the want of a mount."

"I'd like to see you break in some of the horses," said Roger.

"Well, you'll have the chance."

"Maybe you'd like to break in a bronco yourself," suggested Belle, with
a twinkle in her eye.

"And get sent skyhigh!" returned the senator's son. "No, thank you, not
until I've learned the business."

"A bronco is all right if you understand him," remarked Sid Todd. "But
if you don't, you'd better monkey with the business end of a gun,--it's
just as healthy."

The woods left behind, they commenced to ascend a long hill. Far off to
the westward loomed the mountains, covered with pines and bordered below
with cottonwoods.

"There is where you'll get your hunting when you want it," said Mr.
Endicott. "How is it, can you shoot?"

"We can," answered Phil, and then told of some of their experiences in
the South Sea islands. Then Roger told of the adventures which Dave and
he had in Norway, and Dave ended by telling of the target practice with
the swinging board.

"Well, I'll tell you right now a big bear out in them mountains ain't no
swingin' board," said Sid Todd. "He's a whole lumber yard, when he's
cornered." And at this remark there was a general laugh.

It was getting dark when they came in sight of Star Ranch. They made out
a long, low building on the southern slope of a small hill. It was built
in modern bungalow fashion, having been erected by Mr. Endicott after
the original log dwelling had been destroyed by fire. It was divided
into a sitting-room fifteen feet by twenty-five, an office, a good-sized
dining-hall, a kitchen, and eight bedrooms, and a bath. Water was pumped
from a brook at the foot of the hill, and the rooms were lighted by a
new system of gasoline gas. The ranch home was comfortably furnished,
and in the sitting-room were a bookcase filled with good reading, and a
new player piano, with a combination cabinet of sheet music and music
rolls.

"I play by hand," said Belle, when the boys noticed the player piano,
"but papa plays with his feet."

"That's the kind of playing I do, too," answered Phil, with a grin.

"But you sing, don't you?" asked the young hostess of the ranch.

"Oh, yes, we all sing."

"Belle is a beautiful player," said Laura. "Wait till you hear her play
some operatic selections."

Supper was in readiness, having been ordered in advance by Mrs.
Endicott, a sweet woman who looked like Laura, and as soon as the girls
and boys had had a chance to brush up and wash, all sat down to partake
of the good things provided. Jessie was much astonished by the things
spread before her.

"Why, I thought we were going to live in regular camping style!" she
declared. "This is as good as what we had at the hotel in Chicago, if
not better."

"The Wild West of to-day is not the Wild West of years ago," explained
Mrs. Endicott. "People from the East have a wrong impression of many
things. Of course some things are still crude, but others are as
up-to-date as any one could wish."

"What I like best of all is the general open-heartedness of the people
you meet," declared Dave. "They are not quite so frozen-up as in some
places in the East."

"That is true, and it is readily explained," answered the ranch owner.
"In the pioneer days everybody had to depend upon everybody else, and
consequently all were more or less sociable. The feeling has not yet
worn off. But I am afraid it will wear off, as we become more and more
what is called civilized," added Mr. Endicott, with something of a sigh.

Everybody was hungry, and all did full justice to the repast. As they
ate, the boys and girls asked many questions concerning the ranch and
the neighborhood generally, and Mr. and Mrs. Endicott and Belle were
kept busy answering first one and then another. The railroad president
told how he had come to purchase the place--doing it for the sake of his
health--and mentioned the many improvements he had made.

"We used to simply corral the horses and cattle," said he. "But now I
have a fine stable for the horses, and numerous sheds for the cattle. We
have also big barns for hay and grain, and a hen-house with a run fifty
feet by two hundred."

"The chickens are my pets," said Belle. "I have some of the cutest
bantams you ever saw."

"I'll help you feed them," said Jessie. At Crumville she had always
taken an interest in the chickens.

The trunks and dress-suit cases had been brought in by old Jerry and one
of the Chinese servants, and placed in the proper rooms, and after
supper the boys and girls spent an hour in getting settled. Laura and
Jessie had a nice room that connected with one occupied by Belle, and
Dave, Phil, and Roger were assigned to two rooms directly opposite.

"You boys can divide up the rooms to suit yourselves," said Mrs.
Endicott.

"Thank you, we will," they answered, and later arranged that Dave was to
have one apartment and Roger the other, and Phil was to sleep one week
with one chum and the next with the other.

"Say, but this suits me down to the ground!" cried the senator's son,
after the boys had said good-night to the others. "It's a complete
surprise. Like Jessie, I had an idea we'd have to rough it."

"I knew about what to expect, for Laura told me," answered Dave, with a
smile. "I didn't say too much because I wanted you to be surprised. But
it's better even than I anticipated. If we don't have the outing of our
lives here, it will be our own fault."

"The Endicotts are certainly fine folks," said the shipowner's son, as
he sat on the edge of a bed to unlace his shoes. "And Belle is--well, as
nice as they make 'em."

"Hello, Phil must be smitten!" cried Roger. "Well, I don't blame you,
old man."

"Who said I was smitten?" returned Phil, his face growing red. "I said
she was a dandy girl, that's all."

"And she is," said Dave. "I don't wonder Laura likes her."

"We ought to be able to make up some fine parties," continued Phil, as
he dropped a shoe on the floor. "Dave can take out Jessie, and you can
take out Laura, and I'll----"

"Take out Miss Belle," finished the senator's son. He caught Phil by the
foot. "Say, you're smitten all right. Come on, Dave, let us wake him out
of his dream!" And he commenced to pull on the foot.

"Hi! you let up!" cried the shipowner's son, clutching at the bed to
keep himself from falling to the floor. "I haven't said half as much
about Belle as you've said about Laura, so there!"

"Never said anything about Laura!" answered Roger, but he, too, turned
red. Dave commenced to laugh heartily, and Phil wrenched himself free
and stood up.

"What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," cried Dave.
"Better both quit your knocking and go to bed. I suppose the girls are
tired out and want to go to sleep."

"Sounds like it, doesn't it," murmured Roger, as a shriek of laughter
came from across the hallway.

"Maybe they are knocking each other the same way," suggested Phil.

"Never!" cried Dave. "Girls aren't built that way."

But Dave was mistaken.

A little later quietness reigned, and one after another the newcomers to
Star Ranch dropped asleep.




CHAPTER XII

A RACE ON HORSEBACK


"What a beautiful spot!"

It was Dave who uttered the words, as he stood out in front of the ranch
house on the following morning. He had gotten up early, and Laura and
Belle had joined him, leaving the others still at rest.

Dave spoke with feeling, for the grand and sublime things in Nature had
always appealed to him. He was gazing toward the east, where the rising
sun was flooding the plains with a golden hue. Beyond the cottonwoods he
caught a glimpse of the winding river. Then, when he turned, he saw the
foothills and the mountains in the west, with their great bowlders and
cliffs and their sturdy growths of pine.

"Aren't you glad you came, Dave?" said his sister, as she placed an
affectionate hand on his shoulder.

"Indeed I am, Laura," he replied. "Why, it looks to me as if I was going
to have the outing of my life! In fact, all of us ought to have the best
time ever!"

"Does it put you in mind of your trip to Norway?" questioned Belle.

"Hardly. That was taken during cold weather, and everything was covered
with snow and ice. Besides, the scenery was quite different." Dave
paused to sweep the horizon. "In what direction is the Merwell ranch?"
he asked.

"Over yonder," answered Belle, pointing up the river. "The little brook
flowing down between those rough rocks marks the boundary line."

"And whose cattle are those on yonder hills?"

"I am not sure, but I think they belong to papa. When you ask about
cattle you must go to Sid Todd. He knows every animal for miles around."

"I suppose your cattle are all branded?"

"Oh, yes, with a star and the letter E on either side of it. That's why
this is called Star Ranch."

"What is the Merwell brand?" asked Laura.

"A triple cross."

Breakfast was soon announced, and all the girls and boys assembled in
the dining-hall. While they ate the meal, Mr. Endicott told the
newcomers much about his ranch, and also about the people working for
him.

"I am sorry to hear that you have had trouble with Mr. Merwell's son,"
said the railroad president. "I am afraid it will make matters worse out
here--and they are bad enough as it is."

"But I am sure Dave and his chums are not to blame, Mr. Endicott," said
Laura, hastily.

"Oh, I am sure of that myself--for I know something of Link Merwell and
his headstrong temper,--a temper he gets largely from his father. If it
were not for that temper, I think Mr. Merwell and myself might be on
better terms."

"We have had trouble over one of the hired men, Hank Snogger," explained
Belle. "Snogger used to work for us, but Mr. Merwell hired him away."

"That wasn't a very nice thing to do," was Roger's comment.

"If it had been done openly it would not have been so bad," said Mr.
Endicott. "But it was done secretly, and Snogger was gone almost before
I knew it. He was a valuable man and I felt his loss keenly."

"I suppose Mr. Merwell offered him more wages," said Phil.

"Probably, although I paid Snogger a good salary. I don't know what game
Merwell played to get the fellow, but he got him."

"It's exactly like some of Link's underhanded work at Oak Hall," was
Roger's comment. "Father and son must be very much alike."

"While you are here I would advise you to steer clear of the Merwells,"
was Mr. Endicott's advice. "I'd not even go on their land if you can
help it. There are plenty of other places to go to."

"I'll not go near his ranch, if I know it," answered Dave.

"It is queer that Link did not come on the train with you, if his father
was expecting him."

"Oh, most likely he stopped off somewhere to have a good time," answered
the senator's son. "A fellow like Link would be apt to find life slow on
a ranch."

After breakfast Mr. Endicott and Belle took the boys and girls around
the ranch buildings, which were quite numerous. The girls were
interested in some fancy chickens and pigeons Belle owned, and the boys
grew enthusiastic over the horses.

"I never saw better animals!" cried Dave, his eyes resting on a black
horse that was truly a beauty. "What's his name?" he asked.

"Hero," answered Mr. Endicott. "He can go, let me tell you. You can try
him this afternoon, if you wish."

"Thank you, perhaps I will."

"And if you like him, you can use Hero during your stay here," went on
the railroad president, and then he pointed out various horses that the
others might use.

"No busting broncos here, I suppose," said Phil, with a grin.

"No. If you want to try a bronco, you'll have to see Todd. But I advise
you to be careful. Some day I'll have Todd give you an exhibition of
bronco busting, as it is called."

During their tour of the place they met several cowboys and other
helpers, and soon became well acquainted. In the past, visitors to Star
Ranch had been numerous, consequently the most of the men were not as
shy as they might otherwise have been. They gladly answered all the
questions the boys and girls put to them, and offered to do all sorts of
things to render the visit of the newcomers pleasant.

After lunch the girls felt like resting, for it was rather warm, but all
the boys were anxious to get into the saddle. They had heard that Sid
Todd was going to a distant part of the range, to see about two steers
that had fallen into a ravine, and asked to be taken along.

"All right, my boys," said the cowboy. "Come ahead. But you'll have to
do quite a bit of riding to get there and back by nightfall."

"Well, we may as well get used to it," answered Phil. "I expect to about
live in the saddle while I am here."

Todd had several things to attend to before starting, so they did not
leave the stables until nearly three o'clock. Dave was mounted on the
steed he had so admired, and the others had equally good horses.

"Shall we take our guns?" asked Roger.

"What for?" asked the cowboy.

"Oh, I thought we might get the chance to shoot something."

"We'll not have much time to look for game," answered Sid Todd.
"However, if you want to take your shootin' irons, there ain't no
objections." So each of the lads provided himself with a shotgun. Todd
carried a pistol, of the "hoss" variety and nearly two feet long, the
same being deposited in the holster of his saddle.

The course was to the westward, to the foothills of the distant
mountains. Here, the cowboy explained, was a treacherous ravine, the
sides overgrown with a tangle of low bushes. The cattle loved to get in
the bushes, finding something there particularly appetizing to eat, and
often the rocks and dirt would give way and a steer would go down in the
hollow and be unable to get out.

"They don't seem to know how to climb the rocks," said Sid Todd. "And
you've got to fairly drive 'em the right way, or they'd stay in the
hollow till they died."

Dave felt like "letting himself loose," as he expressed it, and with a
level stretch of several miles before them, he called on Phil and Roger
for a race.

"Done!" cried the shipowner's son. "But I know you'll beat," he added.
"You've had more practice on horseback than I have had."

"Take care and keep to the trail!" sung out Sid Todd. He had no desire
to join in the sport, for horseback riding was no novelty to him.

Over the soft ground thundered the three horses, the boys at the start
keeping in a bunch. But gradually they spread out and then Roger forged
ahead.

"Here is where I win!" sang out the senator's son.

"Not much!" answered Phil. "Just wait till my horse gets his muscles
limbered up a bit!" And then he urged his animal to a better gait, and
slowly but surely crawled up closer to Roger.

Dave said but little, for he was paying all his attention to Hero. He
had studied horses from childhood, and he thought he saw in the steed he
rode better staying qualities than in either of the other animals. He
kept on directly behind his chums, but made no effort for the first half
mile to pass them.

"How far do we race?" cried the senator's son, presently.

"To the patch of woods," answered Dave, indicating a growth about a mile
distant.

"All right--and--good-by to you!" returned Roger, merrily.

"Dave, you aren't in it a little bit!" added Phil. And he sped after the
senator's son, leaving Dave a full fifty yards in the rear.

Dave saw that Hero was gradually warming up to his task. He clucked
softly, and the little black horse pricked up his ears and increased his
gait. Then Dave clucked again--he had heard Todd do this--and Hero went
a little faster.

On went the three boys, the fresh air of the plains and the mountains
filling their lungs and causing their eyes to snap with pure delight. At
that moment each of them felt as if he hadn't a care in the world.

Phil and Roger were now neck-and-neck, with not quite half a mile of the
race still to cover. Sixty yards behind was Dave. Still further to the
rear was Sid Todd, now urging his horse forward, that he might see the
finish of the contest.

"Now, then, my little beauty, go!" cried Dave to his horse, and he
clucked several times to Hero, and dug his heels into the steed's ribs.

He had not miscalculated, and Hero responded instantly. Up he went into
the air, and when he came down his ears were laid far back, and forward
he shot like an arrow from a bow. Dave kept him to it, and gradually he
ranged up between the others.

"Hi, get back there!" yelled Roger, who was now slightly in advance.
"You can beat Phil, but you can't beat me!"

"Not much! He's not going to beat me!" put in the shipowner's son, and
he urged his horse to do better. But this was impossible, and, inch by
inch, Dave overtook him, and went to the front.

It now seemed to be a race between Hero and the brown horse that the
senator's son rode. Roger's mount was still in fine condition, but it
must be confessed that the senator's son did not know exactly how to
race him to the best advantage. He sawed a little on the reins, thus
worrying the animal, and causing him to lose his gait. Then, with a
bound, Dave came up, and the pair were neck-and-neck for the finish.

"Go! go!" yelled Phil. "May the best horse win!"

"Whoopee!" came unexpectedly from Sid Todd, and, grabbing his pistol
from the holster, he sent three shots into the air, just to add to the
excitement.

As the pistol went off, both horses gave an extra bound forward. The two
young riders were almost unseated, but each quickly recovered. Then they
bent low over their steeds' necks and went forward for the finish.

It was a thrilling moment, Dave and Roger side by side, Phil at their
heels, and Sid Todd further back, firing another shot or two, "just for
fun," in true cowboy fashion.

But Roger had urged his horse to the limit and could do no better. As
Dave clucked again, Hero shot ahead, a foot, a yard, and soon several
yards. Then Phil came up abreast of the senator's son, and thus they
kept until the edge of the woods was gained.

"Dave wins!" cried Sid Todd. "An' a good race, boys,--a good race all
around."

"Yes, Dave wins!" answered Phil. "My, but your horse did go it at the
finish!" he added, admiringly.

"A fine animal," said Roger. "But mine is fine, too, even if he didn't
come in first," he added, loyally.

"You all rode well--better nor I expected," was Sid Todd's comment. "It
was a good race. I wish the others on the ranch had seen it,--they
wouldn't call you tenderfeet no more!"




CHAPTER XIII

THE CRAZY STEER


In the shade of the woods the boys rested their steeds for a few
minutes, and as they did this the cowboy told them of some of the races
he had seen in the past on Star Ranch.

"One of the greatest races was between one o' the cowboys and an Indian
named Crowfoot Joe," said the cowboy. "The Indian was sure he was going
to win, but he lost by a neck. That race took place two years ago, but
the boys in these parts ain't done tellin' about it yet. We had a full
holiday the time it come off."

"I think your horse is just as good as mine," said Dave to Roger. "But I
fancy you pressed him a little too hard at the start."

"He is just as good, an' so is the hoss Phil is ridin'," came from Sid
Todd. "It was the ridin' did it. Dave managed his mount just right." And
this open praise made the youth from Crumville blush.

"Just wait till Jessie hears how he won," said the shipowner's son.
"She'll weave a laurel crown for his brow and----"

"Don't you say a word about it!" cried Dave, and blushed more than ever.
"I didn't win by so very much, anyway."

Forward the party went, through the woods, and then in the direction of
the foothills beyond. The race had not hurt the horses in the least, for
all of them were tough and used to hard usage. They were following a
well-defined trail, but presently branched off to the southward and
commenced to climb the first of the hills.

"That hollow is about quarter of a mile from here," explained the
cowboy. "Be careful now, or your horse will get into a hole, an' maybe
break a leg." And then they went forward with added caution, into the
midst of a growth of low bushes, dotted here and there with sagebrush.

Presently the cowboy uttered a long, loud whistle and this was answered
by somebody near the edge of the ravine. Then another ranch hand named
Tom Yates showed himself. He was on foot, but his horse was tethered not
far away.

"Well, where are they?" asked Todd, of the other cowboy.

"Where are they?" growled Tom Yates. "Where they always are when they go
over, hang 'em! Say, we're going to have a fierce job this time," he
added.

"Why?" asked Todd.

"Because that big steer--the spotted one--went over with two of the
others. He got hurt a few days ago in the woods, and he's as ugly as sin
because of it."

"Well, we'll have to drive 'em up, same as we did before," answered Sid
Todd, briefly.

"I don't think you'll drive that steer," answered Tom Yates. "Blinky and
I tried it, and we couldn't do a thing with him. Blinky wouldn't stay
here. He thinks the steer is crazy."

"Got a rope?"

"Sure," was the answer, and the cowboy who had been working to get the
cattle out of the ravine, swung a strong lasso into view. "But you ain't
goin' to use that on that steer," he continued. "Leas'wise, not if you
want to live to tell it."

"We'll see," answered Sid Todd, briefly, as he dismounted and took the
lasso.

"Can we help?" asked Dave.

"Sure you can," answered the cowboy who had accompanied the boys. "Just
you keep out of the way, an' that will be all the help we need."

"But perhaps we could do something," grumbled Roger. "I want to get into
a regular round-up of cattle some day."

"This ain't no round-up, my boy. If you go down into the hollow those
cattle will be wuss frightened nor ever. You just stay up here and watch
things. I'm going to get 'em out--or know the reason why," finished Sid
Todd, and he walked away with Tom Yates, and presently the pair were
joined by a third hand, the fellow who had said he thought one of the
steers was crazy.

With nothing else to do, the three boys dismounted, tethered their
steeds, and walked slowly and cautiously to the edge of the ravine. The
ground was very uneven, and treacherous holes were numerous.

"You would think there would be a lot of game around here," was Dave's
comment. "But so far I haven't seen a thing."

"I think the cattle and the cowboys have scared the animals away,"
answered Roger. "For hunting we'll have to go where it is even wilder
than this--Todd said so."

"My, but this air is the finest ever!" cried Phil. "I declare, it makes
me feel young!"

"As if he were old!" protested the senator's son. "But the air is
great!" he added.

"I know what it does to me," declared Dave. "Makes me mighty hungry."

"Same here," answered the shipowner's son. "I think I could eat about
six square meals a day. When we go out hunting, for a full day or more,
we mustn't forget to take plenty of food along."

"Oh, we'll eat what we shoot, Phil," said Dave, with a wink at Roger.
"They always do that out West, you know."

"Huh! And if we don't shoot we can starve, eh? Not much! I'm going to
take plenty of good things along when I go out."

"I wonder if we'll see much of Link Merwell," said Roger, after a pause.

"I don't want to see him," answered Dave.

"But he'll see you, Dave. Didn't he say he'd square accounts out here?
He'll keep his word--when it comes to doing anything mean and dirty."

"Roger is right," said Phil. "I shouldn't want to alarm the girls, or
Mr. and Mrs. Endicott, but I'd surely keep my eyes open for Link
Merwell. He'll try some kind of a game--it's his nature."

With caution the boys approached the edge of the ravine and looked over.
They saw a spot where the dirt, rocks, and bushes had torn loose and
slid down to the bottom of the hollow, carrying with the mass three of
Mr. Endicott's herd of cattle. Two of the herd had been driven up to
safety by the cowboys, but the third--the vicious steer--was still
below, unable to help himself, and showing fight whenever approached by
the ranch hands.

"I see him!" announced Phil, pointing with his hand to some rocks below.
"He looks peaceful enough."

"So does a bomb--until it goes off," answered Dave. "The cowboys
wouldn't be afraid of him unless he was a bad one. Maybe he is really
crazy. I've heard of a crazy horse."

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story Shadow Hamilton told," came from
the senator's son. "A boy in school was a regular blockhead, and one day
the teacher asked him what made him so foolish. 'I dunno,' he answered,
'excepting that my mother makes me sleep under a crazy quilt.'"

"Say, that's like Shadow!" cried Phil, after a laugh all around. "Wish
he was here--what stories he would tell!"

For some little time the boys could not see the men, who were hidden by
the rocks and brushwood. But presently they caught sight of Sid Todd. He
was flourishing a stick at the steer. The animal paid no attention at
first, but presently commenced to shake his head from side to side.

"Doesn't like it," was Roger's comment.

"He seems to be saying 'No' quite forcibly," added Dave.

"Now Todd is after him," cried the shipowner's son a minute later. "See,
the steer is on the move at last."

"Yes, but he is going after Todd!" answered Roger.

Such was the fact, and presently man and beast disappeared behind some
brushwood. Then, when they emerged again, it was seen that the cowboy
had lassoed the animal by one of the forelegs. He was mounting the
rocks, and the steer was limping behind, trying vainly to shake himself
free. He did not seem to know enough to hold back altogether.

"Well, I think that rather dangerous!" declared Phil. "Supposing the
steer should run for him?"

"I guess the cowboy knows what he is doing," answered Dave. "If he is
pursued, he can easily scramble up on some of the steep rocks and get
out of the way."

For fully ten minutes they watched the scene below them with interest.
At one time the cowboy would appear to have the best of the situation,
then it looked as if the steer would have his own way. But gradually man
and beast worked up toward the top of the ravine.

"He'll worry the steer along, if he doesn't get too tired," said Dave.
"But it must be a fearful strain on him."

The strain was heavier than the boys anticipated and several times Sid
Todd was on the point of giving up the struggle. Perhaps, had he been
alone, he might have done so. But, with the others looking on, he felt
that his reputation was at stake, and so he worried along, until he
suddenly slipped on some rocks and fell flat.

As he went down, the steer appeared to realize the man's helplessness,
and with a weird snort he rushed forward, the lasso becoming tangled up
on the front leg as he advanced.

"Look out, Sid!" yelled Yates. "He's goin' to hook yer!"

Todd had been a little stunned by his fall, and a bit of brushwood hid
the animal from his view. But at the cry of alarm from the other ranch
hand he realized his peril and rolled over, between two tall rocks.

On came the steer and struck one of the rocks a blow that resounded
loudly through the ravine. Then the beast gave a leap, directly over
Todd's body, and landed on the rocks beyond.

"Is he hurt?" asked Roger, anxiously.

"I don't know, but I don't think so," answered Dave.

"See, the steer is coming right up the side of the ravine!" cried Phil.
"He is dragging the lasso after him."

"Yes, and he is coming this way!" put in the senator's son. "Perhaps we
had better get out of the way!" he added, in alarm.

"Oh, I don't think he'll tackle us," answered Phil.

"There is no telling what he will do," said Dave. "He is coming to the
top, that is sure. Maybe we had better get into the saddle. We'll be
safer on horseback."

The horses of the three boys were tethered some distance away, and as
mentioned before, the lads had to move slowly, for fear of stepping into
some hole. As they advanced they heard loud cries coming up from the
bottom of the ravine.

"What can be wrong down there now?" questioned the shipowner's son.

"I don't know," returned Roger. "Perhaps they are shouting to warn us."

"That is just what they are doing!" added Dave, quickly. "Listen!"

"Look out, up there!" came from the ravine. "Look out! The steer is
coming!"

The boys quickened their pace, but hardly had they covered half the
distance to where the horses were tied when Roger suddenly slipped and
went down.

"Hurry up!" called out Phil, who was near.

"Oh!" moaned the senator's son, and his face took on a look of pain.

"What's wrong?" asked Dave, coming up.

"My foot! It got twisted, and now it is fast in the hole!" answered
Roger. "Gracious! how it hurts!" he went on, making a wry face.

"Come! come!" urged Dave. "That steer is coming! There he is now!" And
he pointed to the lower end of the ravine, where the animal had just
bobbed up among the bushes, shaking his head from side to side in a
queer, uncanny way.

Roger tried to pull his foot from between the rocks, but was unable to
do so. Phil had run on, thinking his chums would follow. Dave stopped
short.

"Can't you make it, Roger?" he asked, anxiously, and with another glance
in the direction of the steer. The animal was now in full view.

"I--I--don't seem to be--be able to!" panted the senator's son. "Oh, if
only that steer doesn't come this way!" he went on, in fresh alarm.

"He is coming this way!" exclaimed Dave. "Oh, Roger, let me help you!"
And now he bent over and tried with might and main to get his chum's
foot free. As he did this the steer came forward slowly. Then the animal
gave an unexpected snort of rage and charged full tilt at the helpless
youth.




CHAPTER XIV

A FACE PUZZLES DAVE


It was a time of extreme peril for Roger, and no one realized it more
fully than did Dave. The angry steer was still some distance away, but
coming forward at his best speed. One prod from those horns and the
senator's son would be killed or badly hurt.

As said before, Phil had gone on, thinking his chums would follow. He
was already at the side of his horse, and speedily untied the animal,
and vaulted into the saddle.

"Why, what's up?" he cried, in dismay, as he turned, to behold Roger in
the hole and Dave beside him.

"Roger's foot is fast!" answered Dave. "Oh, Phil, see if you can't scare
the steer off!"

"I'll do what I can," came from the shipowner's son, and rather timidly,
it must be confessed, he advanced on the animal in question. He gave a
loud shout and swung his arm, and the steer looked toward him and came
to a halt.

"You've got your gun--if he tries to horn Roger, shoot him," went on
Dave.

"I will," answered Phil, and riding still closer he swung his firearm
around for action.

Dave made a hasty examination and saw that Roger's foot was caught by
the toe and the heel, and would have to be turned in a side-way fashion
to be loosened. He caught his chum under the arms and turned him partly
over.

"Now try it," he said quickly, at the same time turning once more to
look at the steer. The beast had finished his inspection of Phil and was
coming forward as before, with head and horns almost sweeping the
ground. Behind him trailed the long lasso, which was still fast to one
of his forelegs.

"Phil! Phil!" cried Dave, suddenly. "I have it! Catch the lasso if you
can and hold him back!"

"I will--if I can," was the ready response. And making a semicircle the
shipowner's son came up behind the steer, leaped to the ground, caught
hold of the lasso, and sprang back into the saddle, almost as quick as
it takes to tell it. Then he made the rope fast to his pommel and turned
his horse back.

The steer was but two yards away from Roger and Dave when the rope on
his foreleg suddenly tightened, and he found himself brought to a halt.
He gave a wild snort, and, just as Roger found himself at liberty, he
turned and gazed angrily at Phil and his steed. Then he charged in that
direction.

"Ride for it, Phil!" called Dave, but this warning was unnecessary, for
the shipowner's son was already galloping across the field as rapidly as
the nature of the ground permitted. The horse easily kept the lasso
taut, thus worrying the steer not a little.

By Dave's aid Roger managed to hobble to where the other horses were
tethered, and soon both boys were in the saddle and riding after Phil
and the steer.

"I guess the steer is getting winded," said Dave, coming closer. "He
doesn't seem to have as much fight in him as he did."

Around and around, in a broad circle, went Phil and his horse and the
steer. But the steps of the latter were slower and slower, and presently
the beast dropped into a walk and then refused to take another step.
Phil came to a halt also, but kept the lasso tight. Then the steer lay
down on his side.

"I guess he is conquered," was Roger's comment.

The three boys kept at a safe distance and waited for the appearance of
Sid Todd and the other cowboys. Presently Todd came over the rim of the
ravine and looked around anxiously.

"Anybody hurt?" he questioned, as he ran forward.

"Roger got his ankle twisted, running away from the steer," answered
Dave.

"What did the critter do?" went on the cowboy, and Phil and the others
told their story, to which Sid Todd listened with interest. The other
cowboys also came up, to look the fallen steer over.

"He sure is a crazy one," said Yates. "If I was the boss, I'd shoot
him."

"I'll report about him as soon as I get back," answered Todd. "Say, you
had a nerve to take hold of this lasso," he went on to Phil.

"Dave told me to do it," was the answer of the shipowner's son. "It was
easy enough--when I was on horseback. I shouldn't have done it if I had
been on foot."

"Not much--unless you're a staving good runner," said Yates, with a
grin.

The steer was too exhausted to make further resistance just then, and
the cowboys had but little trouble in taking the lasso from his foreleg.

"He'll be all right after a bit," said Todd, in answer to a question
from Dave. "But I think myself he isn't just O. K. in his head, and the
next time we want some fresh meat we might as well kill him off and be
done with it."

The cowboy insisted upon looking at Roger's ankle. The member was
somewhat swollen, but the senator's son said it would not bother him to
ride home. In a little while they were off in a bunch. When quite a
distance from the ravine they gazed back and saw that the steer had
gotten up and was grazing as if nothing out of the ordinary had
happened.

"Well, we have put in a rather strenuous day for a starter," remarked
Dave, when they came in sight of the ranch home. "If this keeps up----"

"But it won't," interrupted Phil. "I reckon some days will be dull
enough."

The girls were awaiting their return, and they listened with keen
attention to what the boys had to tell.

"You must bathe your ankle with liniment," cried Belle. "I'll get some
for you," and soon she presented Roger with the stuff. He did as
directed, and soon the swollen member felt far more comfortable. During
the evening the senator's son took it easy on the wide veranda and in
the sitting-room.

"I wish I had seen the race!" cried Jessie, smiling at Dave. "Some day
you'll have to have another and let us girls look on."

"What's the matter with you girls having a race?" queried Dave. "That
would be dead loads of fun--for us boys."

"Belle would be sure to win--she can ride like the wind," answered
Laura.

As soon as it grew dark that evening the girls and boys went indoors,
and played and sang. Belle showed her skill on the piano, and Dave and
Phil tried the mechanical arrangement of the instrument, with perforated
music rolls. Almost before they realized it, it was time to go to bed.

The next morning Roger still limped a little, and it was agreed to take
it easy. All wanted to write letters, and the entire day was spent in
doing little else.

"How will the letters be posted?" asked Dave.

"Todd will take them over to the railroad station to-morrow," answered
Mrs. Endicott.

Shortly after dinner the next day, the cowboy announced that he was
ready to take the mail to the station. Phil and Roger had wandered off
to the barns, to look at some calves.

"If you don't mind, I'll go with you to the station," said Dave to the
cowboy. "The ride would just suit me."

"Glad to have you along," answered Sid Todd. He had taken a strong fancy
to the boys and to Dave in particular.

They were soon on their way, Todd carrying the mail in a bag slung over
his horse's neck. Man and boy were in the best of spirits, and both made
rapid time over the dusty roads.

"Maybe you'll meet a friend of yours at the station when the train comes
in," said Todd.

"A friend? Who?" asked Dave.

"That Merwell boy. Yates heard he was coming to-day. One of the cowboys
from Merwell's ranch said so."

"I don't know that I care to meet him," answered Dave. "He is no friend
of mine."

"That boy ought to have his hide tanned good and proper," growled the
cowboy. "He's been a sore spot here for years."

"Have you had trouble with him?"

"Yes, and so has everybody else on this ranch, and on his own ranch,
too, for the matter of that. Not that he did anything very bad,"
continued Todd. "But it's jest his mean, measly ways. He don't know how
to treat a hand civilly."

"Isn't his father the same way?"

"Sometimes, but not always. The old man knows that the boys won't stand
for too much of that thing."

"Who is at their ranch besides Mr. Merwell?"

"Oh, the regular hands, that's all."

"No young folks?"

"No."

"I should think it would be lonely for Link."

"Maybe it is. But that ain't no reason why he should act so mean," added
Sid Todd.

"I should think he'd want to invite some of his friends to visit him."

"Maybe Mr. Merwell don't want it. He's putty close, you must remember,
and it costs money to entertain."

"Well, I pity Link if he has got to stay there alone."

"He don't stay all the time. He rides to town, and smokes and gambles,
and gets into all sorts of trouble, and then he gets scared to death for
fear the old man will find it out," concluded Sid Todd.

They were soon at the station, and there found they would have to wait
half an hour for the train to come in. Several cowboys were present and
also a gentleman with a white, flowing beard.

"That is Mr. Hooper," said Sid Todd. "He owns a ranch up the river--the
Bar X. He's a fine man." And a few minutes later he introduced Dave to
the ranch owner.

"Glad to know you," said Mr. Hooper. "I heard that my friend, Endicott,
had a lot of boys and girls at his place. Tell Belle she must bring all
of you over to my place some day."

"Thank you, I will," answered Dave.

"We haven't any boys and girls there, but I reckon we can give you a
good time," went on Mr. Hooper.

Among the cowboys at the station, Dave noticed one tall and particularly
powerful fellow. His face looked somewhat familiar, and the Crumville
youth wondered if he had met the man before.

"That is Hank Snogger, the fellow who left our place to work for Mr.
Merwell," said Sid Todd, in a low voice.

"His face looks familiar to me, but I can't place him," returned Dave.
"Did he come from the East?"

"I think he did, years ago. Think you know him?"

"It seems to me I've met him before--or met somebody that looked like
him," answered Dave, slowly. He was trying in vain to place those
features.

"Don't you remember the name?"

"No."

"We ain't on very good terms any more, otherwise I'd give you a
knock-down to him," went on the cowboy.

"I don't know that I care for an introduction," answered Dave. "He
doesn't look like a person I'd want for a friend--he looks rather
dissipated."

"He was a good man when he worked for Mr. Endicott. But he's not so good
since he went over to Merwell."

There the talk about Hank Snogger ended. Once or twice the man looked
curiously at Dave.

Each time something in his face struck the youth as decidedly familiar.
Yet, try his best, the boy could not place the fellow.

"It's no use," he told himself at last. "Perhaps I don't know him, after
all. But I've seen a face like that somewhere--I am sure of it."




CHAPTER XV

AMONG THE COWBOYS


"Here she comes!"

It was an enthusiastic cowboy who uttered the words, and by way of
emphasis he fired his revolver in the air, as he rode up beside the
incoming train. It was the one moment of excitement at the station.

The cars came to a halt, and Sid Todd went forward to give his letters
to the railway mail clerk. Dave watched the cars and saw two men and a
boy alight. The boy was Link Merwell.

The former bully of Oak Hall looked haggard, as if his dissipation in
Chicago and elsewhere had done him much harm. His eyes were heavy as he
stood and stared about him. Hank Snogger had gone forward, to care for
the mail from the Merwell ranch.

"Hello, you here!" cried Link, stepping forward and confronting Dave.

"I am," was the cool answer.

"Got here ahead of me, eh?"

"So it would seem."

"Going to make a spread out here, I suppose," went on Link, with a
sneer. "Paint the plains red, and all that."

"I came for a good time, but I don't intend to paint anything red."

"Bah, I know you, Dave Porter! You want to crow over everybody, no
matter where you go. But you'll find things are different out here from
what they were at Oak Hall," added the bully, significantly. "You can't
pull the wool over people's eyes here like you did there."

"I have no more intention of pulling wool than I have of painting
anything red," answered Dave, as calmly as before. He could see that
Link was in a bad humor and spoiling for a fight.

"I said I was going to get square with you, and I am," continued the
bully, loudly.

"You keep your distance, Link Merwell," answered Dave, and now his tone
was sharper. "Don't forget what I did at Oak Hall. If you want another
thrashing like that I can give it to you."

"Get out! Don't you talk to me!" howled Link. "You attacked me when I
was sick!" He spoke in a loud voice, for the benefit of the cowboys and
others who were gathering around. The train had started away and was
soon out of sight among the hills.

"You were as well as you ever were," answered Dave.

"What's the row, Link?" asked Hank Snogger, as he pushed his way to the
front.

"Here's a fellow used to go to school with me. I've got it in for him,
and I've a good mind to give him a thrashing."

"You put your hand on me, and you'll take the consequences," said Dave.
"I didn't come here to fight, but I can defend myself."

"You don't want to fight, do you, Dave?" asked Sid Todd, in a low voice.
To him it looked as if the Crumville lad might be no match for Merwell,
who was larger and heavier.

"I am not afraid, Todd. I thrashed him once and I can do it again--if I
have to."

"You licked him?"

"Yes."

"With your fists?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"At school. He played a dirty trick on me and some others, and I
wouldn't stand for it."

"You shut your mouth!" roared Link Merwell, and without warning he
rushed forward and struck Dave a blow in the chest that sent the
Crumville youth staggering against Mr. Hooper.

"Wait! wait! This won't do!" said the ranchman.

"If you are going to fight, fight fair," put in Sid Todd.

"Now don't you butt in here, Sid!" growled Hank Snogger, with an ugly
look at the other cowboy.

"I'll see fair play," answered Todd, sharply, and he elbowed his way
between Snogger and Dave.

Having delivered his unexpected blow, Link Merwell sprang back and stood
on the defensive. Dave was not wearing any coat or vest, and he merely
threw his hat to his friend. Then, as quick as lightning, he sprang
forward, knocked aside Merwell's guard, and planted a telling blow on
the bully's left eye.

"As you are so anxious to fight, take that!" cried Dave, and before the
other could recover he landed a second blow on Merwell's chin. This
caused the bully to stagger against Hank Snogger, who kept him from
falling completely.

"Well! well! well!" sang out one of the cowboys in the crowd. "Just look
at that! Merwell, keep your eyes open, or you'll git knocked into a
jelly!"

The former bully of Oak Hall was staggered, but only for a moment. Then,
with a hoarse cry of rage, he leaped at Dave, and for fully a minute the
blows came thick and fast from each side. Then the pair clinched, swung
around and around, and finally went down, with Dave on top.

"Break away there!" sang out Hank Snogger, and caught Dave by the ear.
"Git up off him!"

"Leave Porter alone!" yelled Sid Todd, and caught Snogger by the hair.
"This is the boys' fight, 'tain't yours."

"That's right! That's right!" came from several. "Leave the kids alone."

"He ain't goin' to hit Link when he's down," growled Snogger.

"I don't intend to," answered Dave, and got up. He turned to Hank
Snogger. "You keep your hands off of me," he added, sharply. "This is
not your quarrel."

"Ah, don't talk to me," growled the cowboy.

"I will talk to you," went on Dave. "You keep out of this."

Dave stood back, while Link slowly arose to his feet. The bully was
somewhat dazed. But there was still a good deal of fight left in him,
and suddenly he charged on the Crumville lad, making a heavy swing for
Dave's jaw. Dave ducked, and, as Merwell swung around, caught the bully
in the right ear. Then he followed the blow by one on the neck and
another directly in the mouth. The latter loosened two teeth and sent
the bully into the arms of Hank Snogger.

"Well, have you had enough?" asked Dave. He was panting for breath, and
his eyes were blazing with determination.

A look full of the bitterest kind of hatred filled the face of Link
Merwell, but he was too staggered to attack Dave again. He leaned on
Hank Snogger and then turned his face away.

"I say, have you had enough--or do you want another dose?" demanded
Dave.

"I'll--fight this out some other time," answered Merwell, weakly. He
realized that the eyes of the crowd were on him, and this made him
furious. But he did not dare to risk another attack from the Crumville
youth, fearing what fighters call "a knockout."

"Then you have had enough, eh?" went on Dave. "Very well. And now,
Merwell, I advise you to keep your distance. If you don't--well, you'll
catch it worse, that's all."

"Link is tired out from his long train ride," remarked Hank Snogger. "He
ain't in no fit condition fer a scrap. Wait till he has rested up a week
or two--then he'll show thet tenderfoot what's what." And with these
words he led Link away to where a couple of horses were tied. He leaped
on one and the bully leaped on the other, and in a moment more both were
off for the Merwell ranch.

"Well, youngster, I reckon you can hold your own," remarked Mr. Hooper.
He had led a rough-and-tumble life himself and did not look on a fight
as a dreadful matter. "You had him going."

"So you did, Dave," added Sid Todd, while several other cowboys nodded
in assent.

"He forced the fight," answered Dave. "I suppose he'll try it again some
day."

"Merwell always was scrappy," said one of the cowboys.

"Takes after his dad," added another; and then there was a general
laugh. Several came up to shake hands with Dave and congratulate him on
the outcome of the little bout. Some of the cowboys were not very
refined, and to them such a fist-fight seemed a great thing.

There were a number of letters for those at Star Ranch, including two
for Dave,--from his father and from Ben Basswood. With the epistles in
their pockets, Dave and Sid Todd started on the return to the Endicott
place. They had to follow, for some distance, the trail taken by Link
and Snogger, their road branching off after the bridge over the river
was crossed.

Considerable time had been lost waiting for the train and because of the
set-to with Merwell, and the sun was now going down over the mountains
in the west, casting long shadows over the plains.

"You'll have a late supper to-night," said Todd, as they moved on at a
brisk pace. "And I reckon you'll have an appetite for it. The way you
polished off that cub was great!" And he shook his head
enthusiastically.

"I wish you'd do me a favor, Todd," returned Dave.

"Sure thing, son. What do you want?"

"Please don't say too much at the ranch about the fight. I don't want to
scare my sister and the other girls."

"Can't I tell the boys how you polished off young Merwell? Most of 'em
will be glad to hear it."

"Well, don't say too much, that's all. If they learn that Link is on the
watch to do harm, the girls will be almost too afraid to go out."

"Do you think that cub would be mean enough to harm the gals?"

"He'd be mean enough to scare them half to death."

"If he does that--well, I reckon I'll take a hand in lickin' him
myself."

"We came out here to have a good time, and I want to forget Link
Merwell, if possible. But I'll keep my eyes open for him--and I'll tell
Phil and Roger to watch out, too," added Dave, soberly.

Sid Todd was anxious to know more of Link's doings at Oak Hall, and Dave
told how Link had tried to get Gus Plum and himself into trouble. He did
not mention the trouble Laura and Jessie had had, for he did not wish
to drag the names of the girls into the affair.

"He sure is a bad egg," said the cowboy, at the end of the recital.
"Keep an eye on him by all means."

By the time they reached the vicinity of the bridge it was quite dark.
Remembering the bad condition of the structure spanning the stream, Sid
Todd cautioned Dave to let his horse walk.

"Look!" cried the youth, a second later, and pointed around a rise of
rocks to the bridge. He had seen two figures leaving the structure. They
disappeared behind a high clump of brushwood.

"What did you see?" questioned Todd, who had been gazing off to one side
of the trail.

"Two persons on the bridge. They just ran away into the bushes."

"On foot?"

"Yes."

"Humph! Didn't know anybody was out on foot around here," mused the
cowboy. "Sure it wasn't a bear, or some other animal?" And he felt for
his horse-pistol.

"No, they were men, or boys," answered Dave. "They ran off the bridge
the minute we came in sight."

"Huh! I wonder if it's possible them hoss-thieves is around again."

"Have you horse-thieves in this territory?"

"We sure have. Lost two hosses last spring and two last summer. I'll
have to tell the boss about seeing them fellows. But maybe--say, hold
on, Dave."

"What now?"

"I may be mistaken, but--don't go on the bridge on hossback."

"Why not?"

"I'll tell you--after I've examined the bridge," answered Sid Todd, and
in a manner that mystified Dave very much.




CHAPTER XVI

A MEETING ON THE TRAIL


Arriving at the bridge, Sid Todd told Dave to halt, and the pair
dismounted. As they did so they heard a sound in the bushes beside the
stream. They looked in the direction, but saw nobody.

The cowboy had drawn his pistol, and with this in hand he walked closer
to the bridge. His eyes were on the planking, and presently he uttered
an exclamation:

"The rascals!"

He pointed to two of the planks, and Dave saw that they were loose and
so placed that the slightest jar would send them down into the stream.

"Do you think those men I just saw did this?" questioned Dave.

"Certainly they did! They ought to be hung for it, too!" answered the
cowboy, wrathfully.

"But what for--to cripple our horses?"

"Either that, or to cripple us. Dave, we've got to be on our guard. If
those hoss-thieves are watching us----"

"I don't think they were horse-thieves, Todd."

"You don't? Then----" The cowboy broke off into a low whistle. "Do you
mean to say Link Merwell would play such a dirty trick?"

"Yes, I do. You haven't any idea how that fellow hates me."

"Hum!" mused Sid Todd. "Well, maybe, but I thought it must be the
hoss-thieves."

"Why would horse-thieves want to hurt our horses?"

"They wouldn't want to do that, but they might be thinking our horses
would fall and throw us. But I see that reasoning is weak. Maybe it was
young Merwell--and Hank Snogger. If it was, they ought to be punished
good an' proper, hear me!" went on the cowboy, with emphasis.

"I am going to look around the bushes," went on Dave, determinedly.

"Look out that you don't get into trouble, son. Anybody who would do
this would do worse."

Dave had seen a heavy stick lying beside the road, and arming himself
with this, he walked to the bushes and around them. In the soft soil he
made out a number of hoof-prints, and he called Todd's attention to
these.

"On hossback, both of 'em," said the cowboy, after an examination.
"Dave, you was right," he announced, a little later. "It must have been
Merwell and Snogger, fer see, they have taken the old trail along the
river. That leads to another trail that runs to the Merwell ranch."

"Well, they are gone, that's certain," answered the youth, after another
look around. "We may as well be on our way. But we ought to mend the
bridge."

"We'll do that,--an' post a warning, too," said the cowboy.

Not without difficulty, they managed to fasten the planks into place
once more. Then, at either end of the rickety structure, they set up a
stick in the road.

"That's the usual warning in this country," explained Todd. "It means
'Go slow and look out.'"

When the pair arrived at Star Ranch they found the boys and girls
waiting for them.

"You must have walked back," said Belle. "We have been waiting for you
ever since we heard the locomotive whistle."

"Oh, we had to stop to fix the bridge," answered Dave, and then handed
around the letters, which instantly claimed attention, so no more
questions were asked. Then the Crumville youth had supper, and by that
time it was late enough to go to bed.

"You've got a cut on your cheek, Dave," said Phil, when the three boys
were undressing. "Did you scratch yourself?"

"Thereby hangs a tale, Phil," quoted Dave, and then, in a low voice,
told of the encounter at the railroad station, and gave the true
particulars of the trouble at the river.

"It's the same old Link!" murmured Roger. "We'll have to watch out for
him!"

"I really think the girls ought to be warned," said Phil. "There is no
telling what mean thing Link might do--if he met them alone."

"Well, we don't want to frighten them," answered Dave.

"Better frighten them than give Link the chance to annoy them," answered
the senator's son.

"Say, I wish I had seen you polish off Link!" cried Phil. "It would have
done my heart good. I'll wager he was as mad as he could be!"

"Oh, he was mad enough," replied Dave, with a grim smile. "But say, when
you get the chance, I want you to look at that Hank Snogger. He looks
like somebody I've met somewhere, but for the life of me I can't place
him."

"Is he handsome?" quizzed the shipowner's son.

"No, he looks melancholy--as if he had something on his mind. It's a
peculiar face, and for the life of me I can't get it out of my mind."

Several days passed and nothing of importance happened. The boys and
girls enjoyed themselves thoroughly, and the Endicotts did all in their
power to make the visitors feel at home. At first, Jessie was inclined
to be a little shy, but soon this wore away and she felt as happy as
anybody.

"It certainly is a splendid spot," said she to Dave. "I don't wonder
Laura was anxious to get back, and to have you see it."

"It suits me--I wouldn't ask for a better vacation, especially"--Dave
dropped his voice a little--"with you along, Jessie."

"Oh, Dave!" she cried, and blushed.

"It wouldn't be half so much fun if you hadn't come along, Jessie," he
went on. "I am very, very glad that we are here--together."

"Well, so--so am I," answered the girl, and then, still blushing, she
ran off to join Belle and Laura. But the look she gave Dave warmed his
heart as it had never been warmed before.

Sunday passed, with a little home service, in which all those in the
house and also a few of the cowboys joined. The boys and girls sang some
of the familiar church songs, and this the cowboys greatly enjoyed.

"We don't git much in the way of entertainment here," explained Sid
Todd, "and that singin' sounds mighty good to us. It touches a fellow
here, too," he added, with his finger over his heart.

"If Mr. Endicott will permit it, we'll give you boys an entertainment
before we go home," answered Dave. "We give them at Oak Hall, you
know,--and the girls can help."

"Say, that sure would be fine!" answered the cowboy, enthusiastically.

The boys had found out from Mr. Endicott where good fishing could be
had, and early of the second week at Star Ranch they went out, taking
the girls with them. All were on horseback, and carried lunch along, for
they were to remain out all day.

"Now keep out of trouble," said Mrs. Endicott, as they rode away. "And be
sure to come back before dark."

"We'll be back by six, mamma," answered Belle. "And you needn't worry
about us, for we'll be perfectly safe."

They were bound for a spot among the foothills, about six miles away.
Here was located a mountain torrent, said to be filled with the gamiest
kind of specimens of the finny tribe. Sid Todd had told them of a
particularly good bend in the stream, where fishing was bound to be
excellent, and Belle said she knew the trail, having gone to the
locality several times with her father. She was a true young
sportswoman, and could fish almost as well as her parent. She carried
the same kind of an outfit as did the boys. Jessie and Laura did not
expect to fish, but said they would watch the others, and pick wild
flowers, and also prepare the lunch when it came time to eat.

All were in the best of health and spirits when they departed. It
promised to be an ideal day, with the sun shining clearly, and a gentle
breeze blowing from the northwest. They passed along at a smart gait,
for the boys and Belle were anxious to try their luck with their lines
and poles.

"If we catch enough, right from the start, we can fry some fish for
lunch," said Dave. "I love fish just from the water."

"Oh, so do I!" cried Belle. "They seem so much sweeter."

"In the city one gets them all packed in ice, and then half the flavor
is gone," added Laura.

They started in a bunch, but gradually drifted into pairs, Dave riding
beside Jessie, Roger escorting Laura, and Phil taking the lead with
Belle. The senator's son and Dave's sister had become very "chummy," and
it can be said that Phil and Belle were fully as attentive to one
another as the occasion warranted. All told stories and sang, and the
boys whistled.

Half an hour of riding brought them to the edge of a woods, and here
they had to proceed in single file, or "Indian fashion," as Belle
expressed it.

"By the way, are there any Indians around here?" asked Jessie, timidly.

"A few, and they are very peaceable," answered the ranch owner's
daughter. "Our only enemies are the cattle- and horse-thieves."

They were passing through some dense underbrush when Belle suddenly
called a halt. The trail was very narrow, and on either side grew dense
clumps of trees.

"Somebody is coming," announced the girl.

"On this trail?" asked Laura.

"Yes."

"We'll have some fun passing each other, especially if it's a fat man,"
remarked Roger, dryly, and this caused a laugh.

They waited, and presently saw a boy approaching on horseback, followed
by a lean-looking man who wore a tattered cowboy dress and a
much-battered sombrero.

"It's Link Merwell!" exclaimed Phil.

He was right, and the bully did not stop until his horse stood directly
in front of that ridden by Belle. Then he came to a halt, and his
companion halted directly behind him.

"I want to pass," growled Link, without so much as raising his hat or
bidding the time of day.

"All right, pass," answered Phil, stiffly. "We are not keeping you."

"You are blocking the trail."

"Can't you pass around the ladies?" questioned Roger.

"I've got as much right on this trail as you," returned the bully,
shooting a dark look at the others. "You needn't think you own
everything!"

"Oh, let us ride to one side and let him pass!" whispered Jessie. "He
may want to fight if we don't!"

"He won't fight with so many against him," answered Dave.

"You are very considerate of the ladies, I must say," said Roger. "We'll
give you half the trail and no more," and he urged his horse a little to
one side and Dave and Phil did the same. The girls moved still further
over, so that Link Merwell might not touch them as he passed.

"Where are you going?" demanded the bully, as he moved slowly forward.

"That is our affair, not yours," answered Dave, sharply.

"You keep off my father's land!"

"We don't intend to go near your land," said Belle, coldly.

"Oh, I didn't mean you, Belle, I meant Dave Porter and his cronies."

"Mr. Porter and his friends are my guests, Mr. Merwell. When you insult
them, you insult me." And Belle held her head high in the air.

"All right; have your own way, if you want to. I haven't got anything
against you and your folks. But I don't intend these outsiders shall
ride over me," growled Link. He faced Dave. "I'm not done with you yet,
remember that!" he added, bitterly. Then he rode on, and the
lean-looking man behind him followed. Belle looked at the man curiously,
but the fellow kept his face averted as he slipped by. Soon boy and man
had disappeared from view.

"Talk about a lemon!" cried Phil. "Say, isn't Link the sourest ever!"

"He certainly is," answered Roger.

"Let's forget him," said Dave. "We are out for fun to-day, not for
trouble." And then they moved forward as before. Little did any of them
dream of what that unexpected meeting in the woods was to bring forth.




CHAPTER XVII

IN WHICH SOME HORSES ARE STOLEN


A half hour more of riding brought the little party to the bank of the
stream at a point where Belle said they would be sure to find good
fishing. Here there was something of a pool, the river tumbling from
some rocks above. The pool was lined with rocks and brushwood, and
behind these was a glade, backed up by the woods.

"What a lovely spot!" cried Jessie, enthusiastically, as Dave assisted
her to dismount, and took charge of her horse. "Just look at the wild
flowers among the rocks! One would not believe that they could grow in
such a place!"

"I am glad I brought my camera with me," said Laura. "I am sure I shall
get some fine pictures."

Belle showed the boys where the animals might be tethered, and they took
particular care to fasten the steeds properly, as Sid Todd had
instructed them. Then they got out their fishing-rods, and also that of
Belle, and baited up with the artificial flies they had brought along.

"We'll fish for an hour," announced Dave. "And then I'll knock off and
start up a campfire."

"When you do that be careful and not set fire to the woods," said Belle.
"Papa is very much afraid of fire."

"I don't blame him," put in Roger. "A fire out here would do a terrible
amount of damage."

The boys and Belle were soon busy fishing, in the pool and along the
lower part of the river. The stream was about thirty feet in width and
from a foot to four foot deep, with great rocks sticking up here and
there. Trout and some other fish were plentiful, and all had but little
difficulty in getting bites, and it was great sport to play their
catches and land them.

"This is the best fishing I ever saw!" cried Phil, as he succeeded in
landing an extra fine mountain trout. "I don't wonder that fishermen
come many miles to gratify their taste for such sport."

"Here's another!" exclaimed Belle, merrily, and brought in a fish that
was a beauty. Roger and Dave both leaped to help her, and soon the catch
was dropped into a side pool with the others.

While the boys and Belle were fishing, Laura and Jessie wandered up and
down the rocks and the grassy glade beyond, gathering wild flowers and
also some blackberries that grew in that vicinity. Dave's sister also
succeeded in getting several photographs, including two of the others
with their fishing outfits.

"Now, I want you all to stand in a group, with your fish on strings,"
said Laura, a little later, when the fishing seemed to slow up a little.
And then she arranged them to suit herself and took two snapshots.

"Now, let me take a snapshot of you and Jessie, with your bunches of
wild flowers," said Dave, and this was soon added to the other films.

They had great fun building a campfire and preparing lunch. The boys cut
the wood and started the blaze, and even made coffee, while the girls
spread a tablecloth that had been brought along, and put out tin plates
and tin cups, and the various good things to eat. Then some of the fish
were cleaned by the boys and fried by the girls, and all sat down to
enjoy what every one declared was better than a feast at a hotel. In the
meantime the horses were tethered in a new place, so that they could
crop the luxurious grass.

"I can tell you one thing, life in the open air gives one a great
appetite," remarked the senator's son, as he smacked his lips over a
particularly dainty portion of trout.

"As if there was ever anything the matter with Roger's appetite," cried
Phil.

"How about yourself, Phil?" questioned Dave, with a grin.

"Oh, I reckon I can get away with my share," answered the shipowner's
son calmly, as he reached for another portion of the fish.

As there was no hurry, the boys and girls took their time over the meal,
and many were the stories told and the jokes cracked while the food was
disappearing.

"If only some of the Oak Hall boys could see us now!" cried Dave.
"Wouldn't they envy us!"

"They certainly would," answered Roger.

"And what of the girls at home?" asked Jessie. "I rather think they'd
like to be in our place."

"Crumville seems a long way off, doesn't it?" said Laura.

Besides the fish, they had chicken sandwiches, cake, pie, and half a
dozen other things to eat, and coffee, and water from a sparkling spring
to drink. When they had finished, they took it easy for a while, and
then fished some more, and went strolling.

"I think we had better be thinking of returning," said Belle, at length.
"It is a long ride back, remember, and unless I am mistaken there is a
storm coming up."

"A storm!" cried Jessie. "Oh, I hope not!"

"We don't want to get wet," added Laura.

"I don't think the storm will come right away. But I don't like the
looks of the clouds yonder."

"They certainly do look bad," remarked Dave, casting his eyes in the
direction to which Belle pointed. "It didn't look like rain this
morning."

"It may be more wind than rain, Dave. Sometimes we have great windstorms
around Star Ranch."

They were quite a distance up the river shore when Belle called
attention to the clouds. They had gone up to get a view of a small but
picturesque waterfall, and Laura had taken several snapshots, with the
boys and girls in the foreground, seated on a fallen tree trunk. Now all
started back in the direction of the temporary camp.

"Say, Roger, you help the girls pack up," said Dave. "Phil and I can
get the horses ready. Be sure to see that the fire is out, too," he
called back.

"All right," answered the senator's son. "The fire is out--I saw to that
before," he added.

The horses had been tethered at some distance from the camping-out spot,
behind some heavy brushwood, where the grass was extra thick and
nutritious. Dave hurried in that direction, with Phil at his heels.

When the two youths reached the spot, both stared around in perplexity.

"Why, Dave----" stammered the shipowner's son. "I thought----"

"We left the horses here!" cried Dave. "I'm sure of it."

"Then where are they now?"

"Maybe they broke loose and wandered away."

"Or else they have been stolen!"

"Stolen!"

"Yes,--it couldn't be otherwise. They wandered away or they have been
stolen."

"We'll take a look around."

Both boys hurried, first in one direction, and then another. They could
see hoof-prints in the grass, leading towards the rocks back of the
bushes, but that was all. The horses had been tethered to some saplings.

"The halters didn't break, that's certain," said Phil, soberly. "For if
they did, we'd find the broken ends."

"I can't understand it," returned Dave, and his face grew thoughtful.

"Hello!" came in Roger's voice. "Why don't you bring those horses? We
are all ready to go."

"Come here!" called back Dave. "Something is wrong!"

The senator's son answered the summons on a run, and the three girls
trailed behind him. The newcomers to Star Ranch did not know what to
say, but Belle uttered a cry of dismay:

"Horse-thieves!"

"Oh, Belle, do you really think somebody has stolen the horses?" queried
Laura, while Jessie turned very pale.

"Yes, I do," was the blunt response. "That is, if they were tied
properly."

"Yes, they were well tied--I saw to that myself," said Dave.

"I know mine was tied fast, and so was Laura's," added the senator's
son.

"And I put a double knot in the rope to Belle's and mine," came from
Phil.

"One thing is sure," said Laura. "They couldn't very well all break away
at once."

"I am sure it is the work of horse-thieves," responded Belle. "Papa has
been afraid they might come back."

"But how did they know about our horses being here?" asked Phil.

"They must have watched us and seen us ride away from the ranch, and
then they followed, and took the horses while we were up the river."

"If only we could follow them, and get the horses back!" said the
senator's son, with a sigh.

"They must be worth a lot of money," murmured Jessie. "Oh, supposing
they had shot us!" she added, tremblingly.

"Horse-thieves are usually cowards," answered Belle. "They won't shoot
unless they are cornered. I'd like to follow them myself, but we can't
do it on foot."

"What are we to do?" asked Laura, and looked at her brother.

"I don't know," answered Dave. "One or two of us boys might walk back to
the ranch and tell the folks of what has happened."

"But it is such a distance, Dave!" cried Jessie. "And see how black the
sky is getting!" she added.

"It is quite a number of miles to the ranch house," said Belle. "You
would not be able to reach there until long after nightfall."

"I shouldn't mind that," answered Dave. "But what will the rest of you
do in the meantime? You can't stay out here in the open very well, with
that storm coming on."

"Dave, you're not going to the house alone," cried Laura. "I'll not
allow it. Supposing those horse-thieves should be watching you? They
might attack you, and rob you!"

"Yes, please don't think of going alone," pleaded Jessie, and her eyes
began to fill with tears.

"Dave is not going alone. I am going with him," declared Roger.

"No, I'll go," volunteered Phil. "You can stay with the girls."

"Well, both of you can't go," answered Dave, with a grim smile.
"Somebody has got to stay here,--in fact, I think it would be better
that both of you stay with the girls--in case I don't get back with help
by morning."

"Of course, if it wasn't for the loss of the horses we could all stay
here," said Belle. "Papa will be sure to send somebody out to look us up
when it gets late and we are not back. But I think he ought to know
about the horses just as soon as possible."

"Is there any sort of a shelter around here?" questioned Roger.

"Yes, there is a shack about a quarter of a mile up the river," answered
the ranch owner's daughter. "Papa stayed there several nights, once upon
a time. It isn't much of a place, but it will shelter us from the
storm."

"Are you sure you can find it?"

"Oh, yes, I've been there twice."

"Then you and the others had best put up there for the night, and I'll
start at once for the ranch house," went on Dave. "I am not afraid, and
I'll keep my eyes wide open for those horse-thieves," he continued.

But to this plan the girls would not listen, and at last it was arranged
that Roger should remain with the girls, while Dave and Phil walked to
the house for aid. The crowd left behind were to hurry to the shack up
the river, and there make themselves as comfortable as possible until
help arrived.

"Do be careful now, Dave!" said his sister, as he was on the point of
departing.

"Yes! yes!" added Jessie. "I shall worry every minute until you get
back!"

"Don't be alarmed," answered Dave. "We'll get through all right, and
have help here before you know it."

"Are you sure of the trail?" asked Belle.

"Oh, yes, that's easy," answered Phil.

Without another word the two chums started off in the direction of the
ranch house, so many miles distant. The others, watched them out of
sight, and then turned and walked up the river bank toward the shack
Belle had mentioned.




CHAPTER XVIII

OUT IN THE WIND AND RAIN


"Dave, what do you suppose those six horses were worth?" questioned
Phil, as the two youths hurried along the back trail on a dog-trot,--the
same dog-trot they used when on a cross-country run at Oak Hall.

"At least two thousand dollars, Phil," was the reply. "The horse I used
was a dandy, and so was that Belle had--and yours was a good one, too."

"What do you suppose those horse-thieves will do with them?"

"Drive them a long distance, hide them for a while, and then, when they
get the chance, sell them. Of course they don't expect to get full value
for them, but they'll get a neat sum."

"You don't suppose this can be a trick of Link Merwell's?"

"I thought of that, but I don't think so. Taking a horse in this section
of the country is a serious business. Why, they used to hang
horse-thieves, and even now a ranchman wouldn't hesitate to shoot at a
fellow who had his horse and was making off with it. No, I don't think
Link would quite dare to play such a trick. But of course we can
investigate,--after we have reported to Mr. Endicott."

"You are not going to try to keep up this dog-trot all the way to the
house, are you?" questioned the shipowner's son, after about a mile had
been covered, and when they were passing over a rather rough portion of
the trail.

"Winded?"

"Not exactly, but I shall be if I keep this up," panted Phil. "Besides,
I don't want to tumble over these tree roots."

"I wanted to get as far as possible on the way before that storm broke,"
went on Dave, glancing anxiously upward, between the branches of the
trees. "When it comes, I rather think it will be a corker. I hope the
others reach that shack before it rains."

"Oh, they ought to be there by this time."

The boys kept on, sometimes running and sometimes dropping into a walk.
As they advanced, the sky kept growing steadily darker, both on account
of the storm and because the day was drawing to a close.

"Here's the spot where we passed Link and that man with him," said Dave,
presently. "Wonder who that fellow was?"

"Oh, some hand from the Merwell ranch, I suppose. He didn't seem to be
very sociable. He kept his head turned away all the time Link was
talking to us."

"If he's from the Merwell place, they can't have very nice fellows up
there."

"Well, who would want to work for a man like Mr. Merwell? He and Link
are just alike, dictatorial and mean."

The two boys kept on for a short distance further. Then Phil caught his
foot in a tree root and went sprawling.

"Wow!" he spluttered, as he arose. "Hi, Dave, wait for me!" he added,
for his chum had continued on the run.

"What's wrong?"

"I tripped and fell--just as I was afraid I'd do. Better go slow--unless
you want to break an ankle or skin your nose."

"The storm is coming," said Dave, as he came to a stop. "Much hurt?"

"Not very,--scratched my hand, that's all. Phew! listen to the wind!"

The sky overhead was black with clouds, but to the north and the south
were great patches of light. The wind was increasing steadily.

"Maybe it will be more wind than rain," said Dave. "I hope so, too, for
I have no fancy for getting drenched to the skin."

"I don't like a wind storm--when I am in a big woods like this,"
answered the shipowner's son. "I am always afraid a tree will come down
on me."

"Well, we have got to look out for that--if we can," answered Dave,
gravely. "I don't like it myself, but it can't be helped."

They continued on their way. The wind increased rapidly, and soon it
grew so dark they could see little or nothing under the thickest of the
trees. They came to an open space, and there the wind struck them with
great force, almost hurling them flat.

"Say, I think--we had--had better wait a--a bit!" panted Phil, as he
clutched Dave by the arm.

"Let us get over to yonder rocks," answered Dave. "We'll be a little
safer there than between the trees."

Hand in hand the chums crossed the glade and made for a series of rocks
looming between the trees beyond. The wind was now blowing with almost
tornado force, and with it came a few scattering drops of rain. Just as
they gained the rocks something whizzed past their heads.

"What was that?" gasped Phil, ducking after the object had passed.

"It was a small tree limb," answered Dave. "We've got to watch out.
Hark!"

They listened, and above the whistling of the wind heard a great crash.

"It's a tree being blown down!" cried Phil. "Come on, let us get between
the rocks, before something hits us on the head!"

Much alarmed, both boys leaped for the shelter of the rocks, and in the
darkness felt their way until they reached a split that was seven or
eight feet deep and a foot wide at the bottom and twice that at the top.

"I guess this is as good a place as any, Phil," remarked Dave, when he
had regained his breath sufficiently to speak.

"It won't be much protection if it rains hard," grumbled the shipowner's
son.

"Well, I don't see that we can do better."

"Neither do I."

Further conversation was cut off by the wind and the rain. The former
shrieked and whistled through the woods, sending down branch after
branch with tremendous crashes that awed the boys completely. The rain
was light, but the drops were large and hit them with stinging force.

For fully half an hour the blow continued, and then it appeared to let
up and the rain stopped entirely.

"Shall we go on?" questioned Phil, standing up and trying to pierce the
darkness around them.

"Better hold up a while, Phil," answered Dave. "This is as safe a spot
as any, with the wind blowing down the trees all around us."

They waited, and it was well that they did so, for presently the wind
started to whistle once more, growing louder and louder. A small tree
branch came down on them, and then came a crash that made them both
jump.

"It's coming this way!" yelled Phil. "The tree behind the rocks!"

"Get down!" cried Dave, and threw himself flat.

Both boys crouched as low as possible. They heard the tree bend and
crack. Then came a tremendous crash, and they felt one of the rocks
moving.

"Maybe we'll be crushed to a jelly!" groaned the shipowner's son.

There was no time to say more, for an instant later the tree came down,
directly over the top of the opening. Several small branches thrust
themselves down upon the lads, pinning them to the bottom of the
crevice. The rocks trembled, and for the moment the boys were afraid
they would be crushed to death, as Phil had intimated.

"Safe, Phil?" asked Dave, as the rocking of the stones and the big tree
ceased and the wind seemed to die down once more.

"I--I guess so! A tree limb is on my back, though."

"I've got one across my legs."

With caution both boys crawled from beneath the branches and out of the
split in the rocks. They could see where the big tree had been uprooted,
leaving a hole in the soil fifteen feet in diameter. The top of the tree
was all of a hundred feet away from this hole.

"We were lucky to be between the rocks, Phil," said Dave, with a grave
shake of his head. "Otherwise, if that tree had come down on us----"

"We wouldn't be here to tell the tale," finished the shipowner's son.
"Ugh! it makes me shiver to look at it."

"Now it is down, we may as well get between the rocks until we are sure
this blow is over," went on Dave, after standing several minutes in the
rain.

This appeared the best thing to do, and they crawled back into the
crevice and partly under the tree. Here the thick branches protected the
lads, so that but little rain reached them.

A dismal hour went by, and then the storm came to an end. The wind died
down into a gentle breeze and the rain was reduced to a few scattering
drops, to which they paid no attention.

"If only that wind didn't blow the shack down on the other folks'
heads," said Dave. He was thinking of how frightened the girls, and
especially Jessie, must have been.

"I'll wager the trail is now a mass of mud and water," said Phil, and he
was right, and as they progressed, they frequently got into the mud up
to their ankles.

It was eleven o'clock when they gained the edge of the woods and came
out on the plains. The sky was still overcast, only a few stars being
faintly visible.

"Are you sure of the right direction, Dave?" asked the shipowner's son,
as both paused to look around.

"I think this is the trail, Phil, don't you?" and Dave pointed with his
finger to a deep rut in the soil.

"Yes. But that doesn't make it right," and Phil gazed around in some
perplexity.

"What do you mean? This is the only trail around here."

"So I see. But, somehow, this edge of the woods doesn't look familiar to
me. I thought we entered at a point where I saw a clump of four trees on
the left."

"Hum! I rather think I saw those trees myself," mused Dave. "But I don't
see them now."

"Neither do I, and that makes me think that perhaps we came out of the
woods at the wrong spot."

Much perplexed, the two lads walked around the edge of the woods for a
considerable distance. But they saw nothing of any other trail and so
came back to the point from which they had started.

"This must be right, after all," was Phil's comment. "Anyway, it's the
only trail here, so we may as well follow it."

They hurried on, the halt under the rocks having rested them a good
deal. Out on the prairie the trail grew a bit drier, for which they were
thankful. They got into their dog-trot once more, and thus covered all
of two miles in a short space of time. Then, of a sudden, both came to a
halt in dismay.

"Which one?" asked Phil, laconically.

"Don't know," was Dave's equally laconic answer.

Before them the trail branched out in three different directions, like
three spokes within the right angle of a wheel.

"This is a regular Chinese puzzle," said Dave, after an inspection of
the trails. "The one to the right looks to be the most traveled."

The two boys made every possible effort to pierce the darkness ahead of
them, and presently Phil fancied he saw a light in the distance. Dave
was not sure if it was a light or a star just showing above the clearing
horizon.

"Well, we may as well go ahead," said the shipowner's son. "No use in
staying here trying to figure it out."

They went on, taking the center one of the three trails. They had
covered less than quarter of a mile when Phil gave a shout.

"It is a light, I am sure of it--the light of a lamp or lantern! Hurrah!
we must be on the right trail after all!"

"Go slow, Phil," cried Dave, a sudden thought striking him. "That may
not be a ranch light."

"Yes, but----"

"It may be something much worse--for us."

"What do you mean?"

"It may be the light from the camp of the horse-thieves."




CHAPTER XIX

A FRUITLESS SEARCH


Phil stared at Dave in consternation.

"Do you really think that?" he cried.

"I don't say I think so, I only say it may be," returned the youth from
Crumville.

"If they are the horse-thieves, and we watch our chances, we may get the
animals back!"

"Not unless it is a single thief, Phil. We don't want to run the risk of
getting shot in the dark."

"That's true."

With great caution the two lads advanced along the muddy trail. As they
got closer to the light they saw that it came from a log house, low and
rambling. Not far away were several other buildings, and also a corral.

"We are on the right trail after all!" sang out the shipowner's son,
joyfully, and commenced to run at the best speed he could command.

"Hold on!" called Dave, but Phil was so eager to get to the house first
that he paid no attention to the words. Not until he had reached the
very piazza of the building did he pause to stare around him.

"Why, it's not Mr. Endicott's place at all!" he exclaimed.

He had made considerable noise ascending the piazza, and now a door was
flung open, letting a stream of light flood his face, momentarily
blinding him.

"Hello! what do you want?" demanded a man Phil had never seen before.

"Why--er--what place is this?" stammered the youth, and as he asked the
question Dave came up behind him.

"This is the Triple X Ranch," was the man's answer.

"What! Mr. Merwell's place?" stammered Phil.

"That's it. Want to see him? Why, say, you're all out of wind,--anything
wrong?"

"I--I didn't know this was the Merwell place," murmured Phil. He knew
not what else to say, he was so taken back.

"Who is that, Jerry?" asked another voice, and a moment later Felix
Merwell stepped into view. As he saw Dave he scowled slightly.

"Why, Mr. Merwell, we--er----" commenced Phil, and then he looked at
Dave.

"We were out and we lost our way in the darkness and got on the wrong
trail," said Dave, quickly. "Will you be kind enough to direct us to the
trail to Mr. Endicott's ranch?"

"Endicott's ranch is a good bit from here," growled Felix Merwell.

"But, Dave----" interrupted Phil, when a meaning look from his chum
silenced him.

"Haven't you got no hosses?" asked the man who had first come to the
door.

"No, but we don't mind that," said Dave. "We can walk."

"Jerry, show them the trail," said Mr. Merwell, shortly, and turned his
back on the boys.

The ranch hand came out without waiting to get his hat or coat, and
walked to a point back of the corral.

"It's a long, lonely way," he said, kindly. "You ought to have horses."

"How many miles?" asked Dave.

"About one and a half."

"Oh, that is not so far."

"Got caught in the storm, eh?"

"Yes."

"Link is out too and the old man is kind of worried about him. He sent
Hank Snogger out to look for him."

"Then Link didn't come back this afternoon?" said Dave, quickly.

"No, he's been out since early morning. You met him, eh?"

"Yes, but that was about the middle of the forenoon. He was over in the
woods."

"It was such a blow the old man is worried, thinking Link might have got
caught under a tree in the woods, or something like that. There's your
trail. Keep to that and it will take you right to the Endicott corral."

"Thank you," said both boys, and a moment later they and the man had
separated. The ranch hand watched them out of sight, then returned to
the house.

"Dave, why didn't you tell them about the horse-thieves?" asked Phil, as
soon as he deemed it safe to ask the question.

"I didn't want to ask any favors of Mr. Merwell, that's why," was the
reply. "I don't believe he'd want to go after them, and I didn't want to
borrow any horses from him."

"Well, I don't blame you for looking at it that way. But we may be
losing valuable time."

"We ought to be able to reach Mr. Endicott's place inside of twenty
minutes. Come on," and Dave increased his speed.

"Did you note the fact that Link has not yet returned?" said the
shipowner's son.

"Yes, but that doesn't prove anything. He may have crept into some place
for shelter from the storm, just as we did."

The two youths kept on steadily and before long saw another light in the
distance. Then they heard hoofbeats, and soon several forms on
horseback loomed out of the darkness.

"Hello!" sang out the voice of Sid Todd. "Who are you?"

"Todd!" called Dave, and a moment later the cowboy rode up, followed by
another ranch hand and Mr. Endicott.

"What is wrong?" demanded the railroad president, quickly. "Where are
the others?" and his face showed his extreme anxiety.

"The others are safe, so far as we know," answered Dave. "But we have
had quite an adventure." And then he and Phil told of how the horses had
been stolen, and of how they themselves had been caught in the woods
during the great blow.

"The horse-thieves again!" exclaimed Mr. Endicott, wrathfully. "We must
get after them this time and run them down! Todd, tell the other men at
once! We must lose no time in getting after them! And send word around
to the other ranches!"

The railroad president smiled grimly when the boys told him of the brief
stop at the Merwell place.

"I don't blame you for not wanting aid from Mr. Merwell," said he. "I
want to leave him alone myself. I am only sorry I have him for a
neighbor. I'd help him to sell out, if he wished to do so."

The boys went to the house and were speedily given something to
eat,--for they had had nothing since noon. They also donned some dry
clothing.

"It won't do any good for you to go out again," said Mr. Endicott. "I'll
go out, and so will most of the hands. You can remain here with Mrs.
Endicott, who is very nervous because of the storm and the absence of
Belle."

"As you think best, sir," answered Dave; and so it was arranged. Truth
to tell, both Dave and Phil were glad to rest, for the long walk and the
experience in the woods during the storm had tired them greatly. Each
threw himself on a couch, and almost before he knew it was sound asleep.

When the two boys awoke it was morning. They found that Mrs. Endicott
had covered them up with light blankets. A sound outside had aroused
them.

It was the other young people returning, on horses Sid Todd had taken to
them. Dave and Phil sprang up to meet them.

"Oh, I am so glad to get back!" cried Belle, as she ran to embrace her
mother. "Such a time as we have had!"

"Oh, yes, we were safe enough, after we got to the shack," said Laura,
in answer to a question from her brother. "But, oh, how it did blow!"

"We were afraid the shack would be carried right up into the air," said
Jessie. "And we were so worried about you--thinking a tree in the woods
would come down on you."

"Well, one did, pretty nearly," answered Dave, and gave the particulars.

"The men have all gone off after the horse-thieves," said Roger. "But
Todd hasn't much hope of tracing them, for the rain washed out all the
hoofmarks."

The newcomers were tremendously hungry, and a hearty meal was gotten
ready with all the speed of which the Chinese cook was capable. As they
ate, the boys and girls told the details of their experience at the
shack up the river.

"Did you see anything more of Link or that man with him?" asked Dave.

"No," answered the senator's son. "We've been wondering if they had
anything to do with the disappearance of the horses."

"We have been wondering the same thing," said Phil.

"I spoke to papa about it, and he says he will interview Mr. Merwell--if
they get no trace of the thieves," said the ranch owner's daughter.

Those who had been at the shack all night were so tired that they went
to bed directly after eating, and Dave and Phil were glad enough to rest
some more; so that the balance of the day passed quietly. It was not
until after sundown that Mr. Endicott showed himself, followed by about
half of the ranch hands.

"We thought we found the trail, but we lost it again," said the ranch
owner. "Todd and some of the others are still at it, but I am afraid the
thieves are out of our reach. I have sent word to the sheriff, and I
suppose he'll put some men on the trail to-morrow."

"Did you stop at the Merwell ranch?" asked Belle.

"Yes, I stopped there less than an hour ago. Mr. Merwell had just come
in from a hunt for Link."

"What! then Link isn't back yet?" cried Dave.

"No, and his father was a good deal worried about his absence. When I
told about the loss of the horses, Mr. Merwell was worried more yet. He
said we needn't think that his son touched them."

"It is queer where Link is keeping himself," mused Roger.

"That's true--unless he was hurt by the storm," answered Phil.

"Have you any idea who these horse-thieves are?" asked Dave.

"We have a general idea, yes," answered Mr. Endicott. "The gang who took
the other animals was led by a bold cowboy named Andy Andrews. Andrews
is a thoroughly bad egg, and there had been a reward offered for his
capture for several years. More than likely this raid was made by him or
under his directions."

"Then I sincerely hope they round up this Andy Andrews," remarked Dave.

"So do I--and that we get our horses back."

The night and the next day passed quietly. When it grew dark Sid Todd
came in, followed by several of the ranch hands. The look on the
foreman's face showed that he had had no success in his hunt.

"We got the trail once, but lost it ag'in," said the cowboy. "The
sheriff has got a posse of six men working on the trail now,--but I
don't think they'll make anything out of it." And then he told the story
of how the woods had been scoured, and of a hunt along the river and
over the plains. The men had ridden many miles and were all but
exhausted.

"Did you see anybody from the Merwell ranch?" asked Dave.

"Saw Link and his father just as we were coming home," answered Sid
Todd. "Merwell said he had seen nothing of the thieves."

"Did Link say anything?"

"No. He was dead tired and he looked scared."

"Scared?" queried Roger.

"Yes. When he saw me I thought he was going to run away. I asked him if
he had seen anything, and when he answered me his face went almost
white. I reckon he was scared--thinking of the way he treated you folks
on the trail. Maybe he thought I was goin' to pitch into him for it."

"Maybe," said Dave, slowly. "He hadn't seen anything of the thieves?"

"No. He said he didn't know the hosses was gone until his father told
him. He said he got lost in the woods, and stayed in a certain spot till
the blow was over."

"Humph!" murmured Dave, and there the talk came to an end. But Dave was
not satisfied. He still wondered if Link Merwell knew anything about the
taking of the horses.




CHAPTER XX

FISHING AND HUNTING


The remainder of the week went by, and the boys and girls amused
themselves as best they could. During that time, Mr. Endicott received a
visit from the sheriff of the county, and Dave and his chums were called
upon to tell all they could about the missing horses. Then, after some
whispered talk between the county official and the ranch owner, the lads
were requested to describe the man who had been seen on the trail in
company with Link Merwell.

"I really think the fellow was Andy Andrews," said the sheriff. "But if
so, he had a big nerve to show himself in these parts."

"Didn't you ask Link about the man?" asked Dave.

"Yes. He says the fellow was a stranger to him, and they were just
riding together for company. He says they were together about half an
hour before he met you on the trail, and that the fellow left him about
a quarter of an hour later and headed in the direction of the railroad
station. He said the fellow didn't give any name, but said he was
looking up some ranch properties for some Chicago capitalists."

This was all the sheriff could tell, and on that the matter, for the
time being, rested. Fortunately, Star Ranch possessed a good number of
horses, so none of the young folks were deprived of mounts. But Belle
mourned the loss of her favorite steed, to which she had become greatly
attached.

"I don't care so much for the others, but I do hope papa gets back Lady
Alice," she said, dolefully.

A spell of bad weather kept the young folks indoors for the time being,
and one day they were reminded by a cowboy of the entertainment they had
promised.

"As soon as it clears, we'll give you an exhibition of fancy ridin',"
said the cowboy. "But jest now the boys are dyin' fer some good singin'
an' music, and such."

Dave and the others got their heads together, and the upshot of the
matter was that an entertainment was arranged, to be given in the big
dining-hall of the ranch house. One end of this room was elevated to
form a stage, with big portieres for curtains, and Roger, Phil, and Dave
rehearsed several of the "turns" they had done at various times at Oak
Hall. The girls practiced a number of songs, and Laura and the senator's
son decided to give a dialogue, which they called "Which Mr. Brown
Lives Here?"

Word was passed around about the coming entertainment, and it was
announced that it would be for the benefit of an old lady, the mother of
a cowboy who had been killed in a cattle stampede the season before. The
tickets were placed at one dollar each, the entire proceeds to go to the
old lady. This charity appealed to the cowboys, and every one on the
place took a ticket, and then got the cowboys from neighboring ranches
to do likewise.

"We'll have to let some of them sit on the veranda and look in through
the windows," said Mrs. Endicott, when she heard how many tickets had
been sold. "The room won't hold half of them."

"If we have to, we'll give a double performance," said Dave. "We want
everybody to get his money's worth." And then it was arranged that
tickets should be good for either the "matinee" or the night
performance.

The first performance was given in the afternoon and lasted from three
to half-past five o'clock. Every number on the programme went off
without a hitch, and the cowboys applauded uproariously. During the
intermission one cowboy got up very gravely and marched to the stage,
where he deposited a round Indian basket.

"Fer extra contributions, boys!" he sang out, loudly. "Don't be tight
when thar's an old lady to help!" And he dropped two silver dollars in
the basket. At once the other cowboys sprang up and marched to the
front, and a steady stream of silver poured into the basket, much to the
delight of everybody.

"Financially, this is going to be a great success," said Dave, his face
beaming. "I only hope they really like the show."

"They do, or they would soon let you know," answered Belle. "A cowboy
isn't so polite as to make believe he likes a thing when he doesn't."

The evening crowd was even larger than that which had gathered in the
afternoon, and the seating capacity of the dining-room and the veranda
near the windows was taxed to its utmost. The boys and girls started in
to give exactly the same show as during the afternoon, and the first
part went off very well. The Indian basket was again brought into play,
and once more a shower of silver was poured into it.

"Mrs. Chambers will be more than delighted," said Belle.

"How much money do you think we will have for her?" asked Jessie.

"Oh, ticket money and extra contributions, at least two hundred dollars.
It will be a splendid aid to the old lady."

During the first part of the evening's entertainment, Dave had been much
surprised to note the entrance of Hank Snogger, accompanied by two other
cowboys from the Merwell ranch. Snogger looked a bit sheepish, as if
realizing that he was out of his element. The other two cowboys were
rough and hard-looking men, and had evidently been drinking.

"I didn't think we'd have anybody here from the Merwell place,"
whispered Phil.

"Well, I suppose some of our cowboys sold them the tickets," answered
Dave. "I certainly didn't think that fellow, Snogger, would show
himself."

"The men with him are pretty loud," said Roger. "I hope they don't try
to break up the show."

The second half of the entertainment was in full swing when one of the
men with Snogger commenced to laugh uproariously. His companion joined
in, and both made such a noise that not a word spoken on the stage could
be heard by the rest of the audience.

"Say, keep quiet there!" called out Sid Todd, who was acting as a sort
of usher.

The two cowboys paid no attention to this request, but continued to
laugh, and presently one of them joined in the chorus of one of the
songs the girls and boys were rendering. He sang badly out of tune, and
made such a discord that the song had to come to a stop.

"Go on! Go on!" he yelled, loudly.

"Whoop her up, everybody!" called his companion. "All join in the glad
refrain!" And he started to sing in a heavy, liquor-laden voice.

"You shut up or git out!" cried Sid Todd, striding forward.

"They don't mean no harm," put in Hank Snogger, but he did not speak in
positive tones.

"You keep out of this, Snogger," answered Todd, coldly. "Those men have
got to behave themselves or git out. I said it, an' I mean it."

"That's right--put 'em out!" shouted several.

"Ain't we got a right to laff?" demanded one of the cowboys who were
making the disturbance.

"Yes, but not so as to drown everything else," answered Sid Todd. "An'
you can't sing."

"We come here fer some fun," said the other cowboy from the Merwell
ranch. "An' we are going to have it. Whoop her up, everybody!" And he
commenced to sing once more.

There were cries from all sides, and for a minute it looked as if the
entertainment would end in a general row. But then Sid Todd gave a
signal to some of the other Endicott hands, and in a twinkling the two
boisterous cowboys were grabbed and hustled from the house. One tried to
draw his pistol, but was given a blow in the face that all but sent him
flat.

"You brought those fellows over here--you take 'em away--an' mighty
quick, too," said Sid Todd to Hank Snogger. And he gave the other cowboy
such a black look that Snogger sneaked out of the house in a hurry.
Outside, the three men were surrounded by a dozen of the Endicott hands,
and they were forced to mount their horses and ride away; and that was
the last seen of them for the time being.

The interruption made Laura and Jessie so nervous that they could not
sing any more, so the programme had to be changed. Dave thought of a
funny monologue Shadow Hamilton had once given at Oak Hall, and he gave
this, as far as he could remember it, and put in a few stories that were
new. The youth worked hard, and the cowboys applauded him vigorously
when he had finished, and soon the unpleasant incident was practically
forgotten. When the show was over, the cowboys all said it was the
finest thing they had ever seen outside of a city theater.

"Worth the money," said one old cowboy. "An' I'd go ag'in to-morrow
night, ef I could." Entertainments in that locality were rare, and the
show was a grand treat to all.

"Oh, but those men who laughed and sang were horrid!" said Laura. "And I
was so afraid they would start to shoot, I didn't know how to control
myself!"

"I believe they came over here on purpose to spoil the entertainment,"
said Phil.

"But why should they do that?" asked Jessie, innocently.

"More than likely Link Merwell got them to do it," answered Roger. "It
would be of a piece with his meanness."

"I believe they were brought over by that Hank Snogger," said the
shipowner's son.

"Yes, but I think Snogger is in some way under Link's thumb," put in
Dave. "Anyway, the two seem to have a good deal in common."

"Well, it was a mean piece of business," said Belle. "Oh, I do wish the
Merwells would sell out to some nice people! It would be splendid to
have real good neighbors."

On the following Monday the boys went fishing "on their own hook," as
Phil expressed it, although Jessie said he had better say "hooks," since
they proposed to use several of them. The boys rode over to the river
and took with them their shotguns. While fishing they kept their horses
in sight and their firearms ready for use, and had any horse-thieves
shown themselves they would have met with a hot reception. Fishing
proved good, and inside of three hours they had all the fish on their
strings that they cared to carry.

"Let us ride up the river a bit," suggested Phil, after they had eaten
their lunch. "I'd like to look at the country, and it is possible we may
be able to stir up some game."

As it was a clear day, the others agreed, and soon they were riding
slowly along a trail which wound in and out among the rocks bordering
the stream. They passed the shack which Roger and the girls had used as
a shelter from the storm, and then reached an open spot. Beyond was a
high hill, covered with a primeval forest.

"There ought to be some game in that woods," said Dave, as they
continued to move forward.

"If the cowboys haven't shot everything worth shooting," answered the
senator's son. "There used to be good hunting in Maine and in Upper New
York State, but you have got to tramp a good many miles these days
before you catch sight of anything worth while."

After a ride in the sun it was cool and pleasing in the forest, and they
took their time riding under the great trees, some of which must have
been fifty to a hundred years old. They saw a number of birds flitting
about, but did not attempt to bring any down.

"If we want any big game we must keep quiet," said Dave, and after that
they moved along without speaking, and with their eyes and ears on the
alert for the first sign of something worth shooting.

Presently Dave held up his hand and all came to a halt. Not far away
could be heard a curious drumming sound.

"What's that?" whispered Phil.

"Sounds like grouse," answered Dave. "They drum like that sometimes.
They must be over in the trees yonder. Let us dismount and see."

The others were willing, and leaving their horses tied to the trees, the
three boys crept forward to the spot from which the drumming proceeded.
They came up abreast, and soon all caught sight of a number of grouse of
the sharp-tailed variety, huddled in a little opening among the bushes.

"Get ready and fire when I give the word," whispered Dave, and a few
seconds later all three of the chums blazed away simultaneously. There
was a fluttering and more drumming, and several grouse thrashed the
ground.

"Hurrah! we've got four!" cried Roger, rushing forward.

"And this one makes five!" said Phil, and dispatched one that was
fluttering around. Then Dave killed a sixth, and by that time the rest
of the game was out of sight.




CHAPTER XXI

A WILDCAT AMONG THE HORSES


The bringing down of the grouse filled the boys with satisfaction, and
they inspected the game with much interest.

"They'll make fine eating," declared Roger.

"Let us see if we can't get some more," pleaded Phil. The "fever" of
hunting had taken possession of him.

"We'll not find much in this neighborhood," said Dave. "But I am willing
to go a little further," he added, seeing how disappointed the
shipowner's son looked.

Placing the game over their shoulders, they reloaded their weapons and
continued on through the forest, taking a trail that seemed to have been
made by wild animals. Twice they had to cross a winding brook, and at
the second fording-place Dave, who was in the rear, called a halt.

"What do you want?" questioned Roger, as he and Phil turned back.

"I want you to look at these hoofmarks," answered Dave, and he pointed
up the stream a short distance.

All passed to the locality indicated, and each youth looked at the
hoofmarks with interest. They were made by a number of horses, probably
six or eight, and though the marks were washed a little, as if by rain,
they could still be plainly seen.

"Do you think they were made by the horses that were stolen, Dave?"
questioned Phil.

"I don't know what to think."

"The horse-thieves might easily have come this way," said the senator's
son. "They would be more apt to go away from the ranch than towards it."

"Maybe they stopped here during the big blow," said Phil.

"I think you are right, for here are marks where the animals were tied
to trees," went on Dave. "I wonder--well, I declare!"

Dave stopped short and picked up a bit of a leather halter lying on the
ground. It was of curious Mexican design, having a light leather thong
entwined in a dark one.

"I don't know that I have ever seen a halter like that before," mused
Roger, as he took the bit of halter from Dave, and then passed it to
Phil.

"I have," answered Dave.

"So have I!" cried the shipowner's son. "Link Merwell's horse had one
on, the day we met on the trail!"

"Just what I was going to say," added Dave. "I noticed it particularly."

"Then this must belong to Link," came from the senator's son.

"Perhaps not," answered Dave, slowly. "There may be other such halters
around. We'll have to give Link the benefit of the doubt, you know."

"See here!" burst out Phil. "You may think as you please, but I have
always thought that Link had something to do with the taking of our
horses."

"Do you think he would deliberately steal six horses, Phil?"

"Well, maybe not deliberately steal them, but--but--I think he took
them, anyhow."

"He may have taken them intending to drive them to our ranch, and
perhaps the horses got away from him in the storm," suggested Roger.

"That may be true--it would be just like one of Link's mean tricks,"
answered Dave.

"I think we ought to tax him with it," said Phil.

"He'd deny it point-blank if you did," returned the senator's son. "This
bit of halter is no proof against him. No, you'd only get into hot water
if you accused him without proofs."

"What Roger says is true," declared Dave. "We'll not say a word against
Link, or accuse him, until we have some good proof that he is guilty."

Taking the bit of halter with them, the three chums continued on their
way along the trail. They covered another quarter of a mile, but saw no
game excepting some birds on which they did not care to waste powder and
shot.

"We'll have to go back, I suppose," said Phil, with a sigh. "Gracious, I
wish we'd see a bear, or something!"

"How would an elephant and a few lions do?" quizzed Roger, with a grin.

"Or a couple of man-eating tigers," suggested Dave.

"I don't care! You can make fun if you want to, but I came out to this
ranch to have some hunting," said Phil, stubbornly. "I'm going to the
mountains and get something worth while some day."

"So are we all going, Phil," answered Dave, quickly. "I want to bring
down some big game just as much as you do."

"Sid Todd said he'd take us," said Roger. "We'll make him keep his
word."

They took a look around the locality where they were standing, and then
turned back to where they had left their horses. They were still some
distance from the animals when they heard one of the steeds give a
sudden snort of alarm. Looking through the trees, they saw Phil's horse
leap and plunge, and then the others did likewise, as if trying to break
from their halters.

"Something is wrong!" cried Dave. "Come on, before the horses break
away!"

"Something has scared them," put in Roger. "Keep your guns ready for a
shot. It may be a bear!"

"No such luck!" declared Phil. Nevertheless, he swung his shotgun into
position for firing, and his chums did likewise.

As the boys entered the opening where the horses were tied, Dave caught
sight of what was causing the disturbance. Out on the branch of a tree,
directly over the animals, was a chunky and powerful looking wildcat,
commonly called in that section of the country a bobcat. Its eyes were
gleaming wickedly, its teeth were exposed, and it acted as if ready to
leap at the throat of one of the horses.

"Look!" cried Dave, and then, as quickly as he could, he leveled his
shotgun, took aim, and fired. The report of the firearm was followed by
a blood-curdling cry from the wildcat, and down from the tree limb it
tumbled, to roll over and over on the ground between the horses.

"Oh, what a savage beast!" gasped Phil, and for the instant he was so
taken aback that he did not know what to do.

"He'll drive the horses crazy!" shouted Roger. "Oh, if I could only get
a shot at him!"

What the senator's son said about the horses was true. The wildcat had
been badly, but not mortally, wounded, and now it was rolling and
twisting on the ground, sending the dirt and leaves flying in all
directions. The steeds were in a panic, and leaped and plunged hither
and thither, doing their best to break away.

"I should have waited until we all had the chance to shoot," said Dave.
"If I can catch my horse----"

He got no further, for just then Roger, seeing a chance, rushed in
between two of the steeds and pulled both triggers of his shotgun in
quick succession. His aim was true, and, hit in the side, the wildcat
rolled over and then started to crawl back into some bushes.

"He is going!" shouted Dave.

"I must have a shot!" put in Phil, recovering somewhat, and now he
blazed away. When the smoke rolled off, the boys saw that the wildcat
had disappeared.

"Where is he?"

"He went into yonder bushes!"

"Is he dead, do you think?"

"I don't know. Be careful, or he may leap out at us."

Such were some of the remarks made as the three boys reloaded, in the
meantime keeping their eyes on the spot where the wildcat had last been
seen. The horses were still plunging, but gradually they quieted down.

"I am going to see if the wildcat is really dead," said Dave, boldly.
"Even if he's alive, I don't think there is much fight left in him."

"You be careful!" warned Phil. "A wounded beast is always extra savage.
He may fly at your throat, and then it will be all up with you."

"I guess we plugged him pretty well," said Roger.

With great caution Dave approached the bushes into which the wildcat had
disappeared, and rather gingerly his chums followed him. They could see
a trail of blood, which led to the bottom of a hollow between some
rocks. Here they beheld the wildcat, stretched out on its side.

"Dead as a stone!" announced Dave, after a brief examination.

"Are you sure?" questioned Phil. "He may be shamming--some wild beasts
do, you know."

"No, he's dead,--you can see for yourself."

"What shall we do with him?" questioned Roger, after all were convinced
that the wildcat was really dead. "He isn't good for much."

"We could keep the skin--or have him stuffed," suggested Phil.

"Let us take him back to the ranch--so that the folks can see we really
killed him," said Dave. "Then we might have him stuffed and sent to Oak
Hall, to put in the museum."

"Just the thing!" cried the senator's son. "That will please Doctor
Clay, I am sure."

They dragged the wildcat out into the open, and laid it where the horses
might see that it was dead. As soon as they were aware of this, the
steeds quieted down completely, and the boys had no more trouble with
them. Dave and Phil carried the grouse and the fish, and Roger slung the
wildcat up behind his saddle, and then off they set for Star Ranch at a
gallop.

"Here come the fishermen!" cried Laura, who was out in front of the
ranch house. "I hope you had luck!"

"We did," answered Dave, gayly. "How is that?" and he held up a string
of fish.

"Splendid, Dave!"

"And how is that?" he went on, holding up two of the grouse.

"I declare, some game, too! Why, you've had good luck, haven't you!"

"Let me see!" said Belle, as she appeared, followed by Jessie.

"And how is this?" asked Phil, showing his fish and the rest of the
game.

"Oh, how grand!" murmured Belle.

"What is that Roger has?" questioned Jessie.

"A wildcat!" cried the senator's son, and, leaping down, he brought the
dead beast into full view. All the girls shrieked, and Jessie started to
run back into the house. Hearing the commotion, Mrs. Endicott appeared,
and then her husband.

"A bobcat!" cried the railroad president. "I didn't know there were any
near this place. A big fellow, too," he added, as he inspected the
animal.

"Did you shoot him, Roger?" asked Laura.

"We all had a hand in it," answered the senator's son. "Dave gave him
the first dose of shot, and then Phil and I got in our work. It was a
hard job to kill him, I can tell you," and then Roger told of how the
wounded beast had fallen down among the horses.

"You can be thankful your horses didn't get away," said Mr. Endicott. "I
knew of a horse once that was scared by a bear and he ran several miles,
and wasn't caught until the next day."

"Oh, Dave, weren't you scared when you saw him on the tree?" whispered
Jessie. She felt proud to think her hero had been the first to shoot at
the beast.

"I didn't give myself time to get scared," he answered. "I just fired as
quickly as I could."

"But supposing the wildcat had jumped on you!" And the girl shivered and
caught him by the arm.

"I should have defended myself as best I could, Jessie."

"You--you mustn't take such risks," the pretty girl whispered, and
looked wistfully into Dave's eyes. "I--I can't stand it, Dave!" And then
she blushed and turned her face away.

"I'll be very careful after this, Jessie--for your sake," he answered,
softly and tenderly.




CHAPTER XXII

COWBOY TRICKS AND "BRONCO-BUSTING"


"You boys sure did have a day of sport," said Sid Todd, after he had
inspected the fish, the grouse, and the wildcat. "And you've proved that
you can shoot," he added, nodding toward the slain beast. "I've known
many a putty good hunter to get the shakes when he see a bobcat
a-glarin' at him from a tree. It ain't no tender sight, is it now?"

"Not much!" answered Phil, warmly. He had been as close to getting the
"shakes" as any one of the three. "I was glad when I knew he was dead."

"Something about a bobcat I don't like," went on the cowboy. "We used to
hunt 'em--when they got after the sheep some years ago. Once one of 'em
jest about got me by the throat, an' I ain't forgitting it! I'd rather
face a bear, I think."

"You mustn't forget that you are to take us to the mountains on a
hunting expedition," came from Roger. "We want to get some deer, or an
elk, before we go back East."

"I'll take you--don't worry," answered the cowboy.

The news soon spread around the ranch that the "tenderfeet" had killed a
big bobcat, and all the hands came to get a look at the beast. They
praised the boys, and said they must be nervy hunters or they could not
have done it. Of course the lads were correspondingly proud, and who can
blame them? The animal was prepared for stuffing, and then sent off by
express to a taxidermist in the city.

After talking the matter over among themselves, the boys decided to tell
Mr. Endicott about the piece of Mexican halter they had picked up. He
listened gravely to what they had to say, and looked at the bit of
leather curiously.

"I am afraid it is not much in the way of evidence," said he. "But I'll
remember it, and we'll have to watch Link Merwell--that is, as well as
we can. There would be no gain in speaking to Mr. Merwell, it would only
stir up the bad feeling that already exists. I understand that he has
had an offer for his ranch from somebody in the East, and I trust he
sells out and moves somewhere else."

"So do I," echoed Dave, heartily. "Some place where none of us will ever
hear of him or his son again."

Two days after the shooting of the wildcat, Sid Todd announced that the
cowboys of Star Ranch and Hooper Ranch, up the river, were going to hold
a contest in "bronco-busting" and in fancy riding. All the young folks
were invited to be present and a little stand was to be erected, from
which they might view what was going on in comfort.

"Hurrah! that suits me!" cried Dave. "I've been wanting to see them
break in a real bronco."

"And I want to see some of their fancy riding," added the senator's son.
"It will be a real Wild West show."

"And no fifty cents admission, either," said Phil, with a grin.

"I hope nobody gets hurt," said Jessie, timidly.

"Oh, they are generally more careful than you think," answered Mr.
Endicott.

"But bronco-busting is dangerous, isn't it?" questioned Laura.

"Yes,--for anybody who has had no experience. But Todd and some of the
others can saddle and ride any pony in these parts."

All went out to the stretch of plain where the contest was to take
place. The little stand was there, true enough, and to the four corners
were nailed four flags--two of the Stars and Stripes, and one each of
the two ranches, that of the Endicotts having a blue field with the
words, Star Ranch, in white.

The word had been passed around for a good many miles, and consequently
a crowd numbering over a hundred had assembled on the field, including
half a dozen ladies and several children. The cowboys were out "on
parade," as Mr. Endicott expressed it, and each wore his best riding
outfit, and had his horse and trappings "slicked up" to the last degree.
All wore their largest Mexican sombreros, and, taken together, they
formed a truly picturesque assemblage.

"Puts me in mind of gypsies," said Laura. "Only they haven't their wives
and children with them."

"And they aren't telling fortunes," added Jessie.

The sport began with some fancy riding in which eight of the cowboys,
four from each ranch, participated. The cowboys would ride like the wind
and leap off and on their steeds, turn from frontwards to backwards,
slide from the saddle under their horses' necks and up into the saddle
again, and lean low to catch up handkerchiefs and hats left on the grass
for that purpose. Then they did some fancy vaulting, over bars and
brushwood, and while riding two and even four horses.

"Good! good!" shouted Dave. "Isn't that fine!"

"Best I ever saw!" answered Roger, and everybody in the crowd applauded
vigorously.

After the fancy riding came some shooting while in the saddle, both at
stationary objects and at things sprung into the air from a trap. The
repeated crack! crack! crack! of the pistols and rifles scared some of
the girls a little, but the boys enjoyed the spectacle thoroughly, and
marveled at some of the shots made.

"Game wouldn't stand much chance with those chaps," remarked Dave. "They
could hit a running deer or a flying bird without half trying."

The shooting at an end, the cowboys brought out their best lassoes and
showed what could be done in landing the circlets over running steers
and horses. Here Sid Todd was in his element, and the way he managed his
lasso, one of extra length at that, brought out tremendous applause.

"He is the best lasso-thrower in these parts," said Mr. Endicott. "No
one can compare with him."

"Well, he is a good shot, too," said Dave. "And he rides well also."

"Yes, he is a good all-around fellow," answered the ranch owner. "I am
mighty glad I have him,--and I am glad I got rid of that Hank Snogger,"
he added.

"Are any of the men from the Merwell ranch here?"

"No, I warned them to keep away--after that trouble we had at your
entertainment,--and Mr. Hooper, the owner of the other ranch,--told them
to keep away, too. Some of those fellows drink, and if they got to
quarreling there might be some shooting, and then there would be no
telling where the thing would end. I made up my mind I'd take no
chances."

The "bronco-busting," as it is called, was reserved for after lunch.
Several wild-looking ponies were tethered at a distance, and it was the
task of those who proposed to do the "busting" to take a saddle, fasten
it on a pony, and then get up and ride around the field at least twice.
The ponies were unbroken, and of the sort usually designated as vicious
and unreliable.

It was truly a thrilling exhibition and one the boys, and the girls,
too, for the matter of that, never forgot. As soon as a bronco was
approached he would begin to plunge and kick, and to get a saddle on him
was all but impossible. Then, if at last he was saddled, and the cowboy
who had been successful got in the seat, the pony would leap and plunge
some more, sometimes going straight up into the air and coming down with
legs as stiff as posts. Then, if this did not throw the cowboy off, the
pony would start to run, only to stop short suddenly, in the hope of
sending the rider over his head.

"Oh, somebody will be killed!" screamed Jessie, and often turned her
face away to shut out the sight. "Oh, why do they do such dreadful
things?" she added.

"They've got to break the ponies somehow," answered Dave. "Those broncos
will be all right after they get used to it."

"Say, do you know, I'd like to try that," remarked Roger. "I think I
could sit on one of those ponies, if he had the saddle on."

"I think I could do it, too," added Dave.

"Oh, Dave!" exclaimed his sister, while Jessie gave a little shriek of
horror.

"It's not as bad as it looks--after the pony is saddled," answered Dave.

"We'll try it to-morrow--on the quiet," whispered Roger.

After the "busting" of the broncos had come to an end, there was a
two-mile race, for a first and a second prize, put up by the two ranch
owners. In this race nine of the cowboys started, amid a wild yelling
and the cracking of numerous pistols,--for the average cowboy is not
enjoying himself unless he can make a noise.

"They are off!" yelled Phil.

"Yes, and see them go!" added Dave.

"I'll bet our ranch wins!" came from Roger.

"What will you bet?" asked Belle, mischievously.

"A box of candy against a cream pie."

"That's fair,--but I can't bet against our ranch," answered Belle,
gayly.

On and on thundered the horses across the plains, to a spot a mile
distant. At first three of the cowboys from the other ranch were in the
lead, and their followers cheered them loudly.

"Oh, we are going to lose!" said Belle, with a pout, as the leaders in
the race started on the return.

"No! no!" answered Dave. "See, Sid Todd is coming to the front."

"Yes, and Yates is crawling up, too," added Phil.

Nearer and nearer to the finish line swept the cowboys, those in the
rear doing their best to forge ahead. Now Sid Todd, Yates, and two
cowboys from the Hooper ranch were neck-and-neck.

"It will be a tie," murmured Laura.

"No, Todd is gaining!" cried Mr. Endicott, who was as much excited as
anybody. "See, he and Hooper's man are now ahead!"

"Here they come, on the homestretch!" was the general cry.

On and on thundered the horses, nearer and nearer to the finishing line.
When the leaders were less than fifty yards off Sid Todd made a spurt.

"Here comes Todd!"

"Todd wins! Todd wins!"

"Galpey is second!"

"Yes, and Yates is third!"

"Say, that's riding for you!" And so the cries rang out. Sid Todd had
indeed won, and all of his friends from Star Ranch congratulated him.
The second prize went to the cowboy from the Hooper ranch. Yates got
nothing, but was content to know that he had come in third and only five
yards behind the leader.

"Well, that certainly was an entertainment worth looking at," said Dave,
when it was over, and they were returning to the ranch house.

"I've never been so stirred up," answered Roger. "But, say, I am going
to try one of those broncos to-morrow," he added.

"Not for me!" said Phil. "I value my neck too much."

"What about you, Dave?" And the senator's son looked anxiously at the
Crumville lad.

"Well, I'll see," answered Dave. He was not afraid to try riding a
bronco, but he did not wish to worry Jessie and his sister.

"You are not afraid, are you?"

"No."

"Well, I am not afraid, either," came quickly from Phil, and his face
grew red. "You needn't think----"

"Oh, don't get mad, Phil; I didn't mean anything," interposed Roger.
"If you don't care to try it, you don't have to."

"But you needn't insinuate that I----"

"I am not insinuating anything, Phil. I merely wanted to know if Dave
will try riding with me, that's all."

"Well, I--er--I know what you think. And if you try this bronco-busting
business, why--I'll try it too, so there!" answered Phil, defiantly.

At the house the talk was entirely of the things they had seen. Jessie
was rather glad it was over, for rough things made her somewhat afraid.
Belle was enthusiastic and said she had once tried "bronco-busting"
herself.

"But I didn't do much," she said. "The pony started to run and then
stopped suddenly, and I went over his head into a stack of hay. I was
glad the hay was there, otherwise I might have broken some of my bones."

"It is dangerous sport at the best," said Mrs. Endicott. "But the
cowboys feel that the ponies must be broken in, and there is no other
way to do it."




CHAPTER XXIII

DAVE ON A BRONCO


Dave had his doubts about doing any "bronco-busting" on his own account,
but he did not say anything to Roger and Phil about it. He was not
afraid, but he knew Jessie would be greatly worried if he attempted
anything dangerous.

However, his chums got him up early the following morning, and, directly
after breakfast, Roger led the way down to the corral.

"I am going to try it, even if you are not," said the senator's son, and
insisted upon it that one of the unbroken ponies be brought forward. The
saddle was adjusted by Sid Todd, who held the animal while Roger leaped
into the saddle.

The experience was not as exciting as had been anticipated, for the
reason that the animal chosen by Todd was somewhat tame. The cowboy was
attached to the boys, and did not wish to see any of them run the risk
of breaking his neck.

After Roger came Phil, and he was timid enough to ask for a horse "that
didn't look as if he wanted to eat somebody up." Phil had more of a
time of it than Roger, but managed to keep in the saddle and ride around
the corral several times.

"It's not so hard as I supposed," said the shipowner's son, as he leaped
to the ground, and the pony, freed of the saddle, galloped off. "I
thought I'd be half-killed."

"Those ponies were not so wild as those used yesterday," answered Dave.
"Not but that they were bad enough," he continued, with a smile.

Sid Todd had remained to hold the pony ridden by Phil and had then been
called away to attend to some business at another part of the ranch. He
had told Yates to help the boys.

Now, as it happened, Yates was full of fun and always up to practical
jokes. It had disgusted him to see Todd bring out such comparatively
safe ponies as those ridden by Roger and Phil. He had been told to bring
out a certain animal for Dave, but instead led forth a bronco that was
as wild and fiery as any used the day previous.

"If he rides that beast, he's a good one," Yates murmured to himself,
and then he beckoned to some other cowboys to watch the fun. Half a
dozen quit work to draw closer, each with a broad grin on his sunburnt
face. They expected to see Dave get the shaking-up of his life and felt
positive he would not be able to stay on the bronco's back two minutes.

"He certainly is a wild one," said Dave, as he advanced and eyed the
pony.

"Oh, he's no worse than the others," answered Yates, smoothly, and then
he rolled his eyes and winked at the other cowboys.

Dave looked critically at the saddle and saw to it that it was properly
buckled. Then he flung his cap to Roger.

"Say, Dave, that pony looks half-crazy," said Phil. "You be careful."

"He certainly does look wild," added Roger.

"Well, I'm going to ride him anyway--or know the reason why!" cried
Dave, and a look of strong determination came into his face. "Get around
there!" he called sharply to the pony, and then, with a quick leap, he
gained the saddle and dug his knees into the pony's sides. "Let him go!"

Yates released his hold and everybody in the crowd backed away. For a
moment the bronco stood stock-still, his eyes gazing straight ahead.
Then he gave a vigorous shake and took a few steps forward.

"Hurrah! see him ride!" shouted Yates, and winked again at the other
cowboys, who grinned more than ever.

Five steps forward and the bronco halted. Then up in the air he went, a
distance of six or eight feet. He came down "on all fours," good and
hard, and had Dave been resting in the saddle he would have had the wind
knocked out of him completely. But the youth was standing in the
stirrups, and he allowed his body to spring with that of the animal he
hoped to conquer.

[Illustration: Then up in the air he went.--Page 224.]

Three times the bronco tried this trick, and the third time Dave came
close to falling off. Then the bronco gave a dart forward, like an arrow
from a bow.

"There he goes!" yelled the senator's son, but the words were not yet
out of his mouth when the bronco stopped short. Dave slid to the
animal's neck, but there he clung, his face pale and determined, and his
teeth set.

"Hi! hi! what's this!" shouted a voice, and, turning, the crowd saw Sid
Todd approaching on the run. "Yates, what do you mean by letting him git
up on that critter?" he demanded, indignantly.

"Ain't that the bronco you wanted him to try?" asked the other cowboy,
innocently.

"No--an' you know it!" stormed Todd. "Do you want him to break his neck?
Hi, Dave, jump down! You can't tame that beast, nohow!"

"I--I'm all--ri--right!" jerked out Dave, between his teeth. "Ke--keep
away," he added, as Todd came closer, to lend his assistance.

"He's a bad one, boy--one o' the worst on the ranch. Yates had no call
to offer him to you."

"Ke--keep away," was all Dave replied. He could not say more, for the
bronco claimed all his attention.

"Yates, if that boy is hurt, you'll have an account to settle with me,"
said Sid Todd, and shook his fist at the other cowboy.

"I--er--I was sure you wanted me to bring out that beast fer him,"
murmured Yates, uneasily. He was sorry now that he had played the trick
on Dave.

The bronco had taken another run, coming to as sudden a halt as before.
Dave slid up almost to the animal's ears, but still clung on, and
quickly regained his seat in the saddle. Then, without warning, the pony
dropped to the ground and started to roll over.

"Look out! you'll have your leg broken!" yelled Phil. But Dave was on
his guard, and, as the pony dropped, he leaped away to safety. Then, as
the animal arose once more, the youth grabbed the saddle and vaulted
into the seat.

"Say, that's goin' some, I tell you!" roared one of the cowboys in
delight. "He ain't givin' in yet, he ain't!"

"Look out that he don't bang you into a fence, or one of the buildings!"
yelled Sid Todd. He was alarmed, yet delighted at the manner in which
Dave clung to his difficult and dangerous undertaking.

With Dave once more on his back, the pony tried new tactics. Around and
around he went in a circle, sending the dust of the corral flying in all
directions. Then, like lightning, he reversed, nearly breaking his own
neck, and causing Dave to slip far down on the outer side. But the youth
hung to the saddle, and, leaning forward, slapped the bronco a smart
crack on the neck. This he followed up with a blow on the head.

The effect was just what the boy desired. The pony forgot all his
tricks, and leaping high into the air, he shot off like a streak toward
the corral gate. Once outside, he headed for the open plains, going with
the speed of a racer on the track.

"They're off!" cried Roger.

"Don't let him throw you!" yelled Todd.

"Can't we ride after 'em?" queried Phil.

"Sure we can ride after 'em," responded Todd. "An' we better do it, too,
fer there ain't no tellin' what that pony will do to Dave," he added,
anxiously, and with a black look at Yates, which made the other cowboy
cast his eyes to the ground.

On and on sped the bronco, with Dave sitting firmly in the saddle. So
long as the pony kept going, the lad felt he had nothing to fear. But he
was on the alert, for he did not know but that the animal would play
another trick at any instant.

"Go on, old boy!" he muttered. "We've got miles and miles of prairie
ahead of us. Run till you are tired! But remember, you've got to carry
me back," he added, grimly.

Soon the ranch house and the corral were mere specks in the distance,
and then even these faded from view. The pony kept to the open country,
and not once did he slacken his speed.

"I guess he'll drop into a walk when his wind is gone," thought Dave.
But the pony's breathing apparatus showed no sign of giving out. Dave
allowed his eyes to turn back, and calculated he had gone two or three
miles. "Maybe we had better turn back now," he murmured, and tried to
guide the steed in a circle. But this was a failure. The pony kept
straight ahead, running due eastward, as the youth could see by the sun.

"All right, go as far as you please," said Dave, grimly. "If you can
stand it, so can I," and he settled in the saddle.

Another two miles were covered, and then the bronco commenced to slacken
his speed. Dave was on guard at this, and it was well to be, for, a
second later, the pony once more tried the trick of flinging his rider
over his head. But the effort was a failure, and in return Dave dug his
knees deeply into the steed's ribs. Then off went the pony on a run
again.

This time the bronco did not cover over a mile before dropping into a
walk. Then Dave tried again to turn the animal, but without success.

"Don't want to go back, eh?" said the youth. "Well, you've got to, and
that is all there is to it!" And he hit the pony a sharp slap on the
neck and dug his knees into the animal's ribs as before.

The bronco was now losing courage. He commenced to run, but did not keep
it up for more than a hundred yards. But when he dropped into a walk,
Dave urged him up, and again he ran, but now only a dozen steps. Then
the youth pulled on the left rein, and the bronco came around with
scarcely any trouble.

"You aren't mastered yet, but you're pretty close to it," said the boy.
"We are going home, understand, home!"

The bronco moved forward about a hundred feet. Then he deliberately
dropped on the prairie and lay on his side, as quiet as a lamb.

"Want to rest, eh?" said Dave. "Well, not out here. You brought me here
and you've got to take me back. Get up!"

He gave the animal a prod in the side. The bronco kicked out. Then Dave
gave a harder prod. This the pony would not stand, and up he came with
surprising agility. He tried to bolt, but Dave caught the saddle and
clung there. They headed again eastward, away from the ranch.

"All right, now run for it, and keep it up as long as you please!" cried
the boy, and urged the steed forward. Over the prairie the pony sped,
as if he had just started in the race. Thus another mile was covered,
and now Dave calculated he must be six or seven miles from Star Ranch.
The country about him looked strange, and he wondered where he was.
Nothing in the shape of a trail had come to view during the last run.

When the bronco stopped his racing, the youth turned him around again.
He now showed signs of fatigue, but Dave urged him on, digging his knees
into the animal's ribs as tightly as ever. Dave was almost "used up"
himself, but he resolved to make the bronco take him back to the corral
or die in the attempt.

"They shan't have the laugh on me," he argued. "It's back to the ranch
or nothing!"

Dave steered the best course he could for the corral, but with nothing
to guide him he did not know if he was moving exactly in the right
direction or not. He kept on, with his eyes trying to look beyond the
wide-stretching prairies.

Presently he saw in the distance what looked to be a row of low
buildings. He headed in that direction, and then saw that the objects
were moving towards him.

"They can't be buildings, for buildings don't move like that," he mused.
"Must be cattle, or horses. Cattle, most likely."

To avoid the cattle, he turned slightly southward. But the animals kept
coming closer, and now he saw that they were running in something of a
semicircle.

"Can anything be wrong with them?" he asked himself, and watched the
approaching herd with interest. The bronco, too, pricked up his ears,
and gave a sudden snort of alarm.

Then to Dave's ears came the thunder of the herd's hoofs, and he saw
that the cattle were on a mad run. He drew rein and stood up in his
stirrups.

The sight that met his gaze was truly alarming. At least a thousand head
of steers were coming toward him, running swiftly, and with their horns
bent low.

"They have stampeded!" he gasped. "And they are coming straight this
way! What shall I do to escape them?"




CHAPTER XXIV

THE CATTLE STAMPEDE


Dave had often heard of cattle stampedes, and he knew how truly
dangerous such a mad rush can become. Sometimes, from practically no
cause whatever, a herd of cattle will start on a wild run, going they
know not where, and carrying all down before them.

What had started the present stampede did not interest the youth, but he
was interested in the question of how he might get out of the herd's
way, so that he would not be run down and trodden to a jelly. To scare
the leaders off might be easy, but would not those in the rear push on
until he was simply overwhelmed?

"I've got to get away somehow!" he reasoned, and turned his pony at
right angles to the approaching cattle. For the moment the bronco seemed
too frightened to budge, but at a cry from Dave, he leaped forward, and
then went streaking across the prairies as if he knew his life and that
of his rider depended on his speed.

It was now a race for life, for the cattle were still moving in
something of a semicircle, and Dave did not know whether or not he would
be able to clear the end of the line before it reached him. He called to
the pony, but this was unnecessary, for the bronco evidently understood
the peril fully as well as his rider.

Suddenly, when it looked as if pony and youth could not escape, Dave
heard a whistle float across the prairie. Looking in the direction, he
made out the form of Sid Todd, riding like the wind toward him. Behind
him came Roger and Phil, but the two boys were soon stopped and told to
go back.

"I'll head 'em off!" yelled Todd, coming closer. And waving his big
sombrero in one hand he commenced to fire his pistol with the other. He
shot rapidly, aiming for the ground and sending streaks of dust into the
air. All the time he yelled at the top of his lungs, and, understanding
the move, Dave yelled too, and swung one arm wildly.

Soon the leaders of the herd took notice and came to a sudden halt. The
rest of the cattle shoved from behind, and then the leaders broke, some
going to the right, and the others to the left.

"Look out, Roger! Phil! They are coming your way!" screamed Dave.

He was right, and for the minute it looked as if Dave had been saved at
the expense of his chums. But only a few cattle were headed for the
other boys, and as soon as Roger and Phil commenced to yell and wave
their arms, these broke again, and thus the herd was completely
scattered. They ran a short distance further, then halted, and a little
later began to graze as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

"Are you all right, son?" asked Sid Todd, anxiously, as he ranged up
beside Dave.

"Yes, but--I--I am a lit--tle wi--winded," answered Dave, when he could
speak.

"Good enough! Then you mastered the bronco, eh? Didn't he throw you at
all?"

"No."

"Didn't he roll?"

"Oh, yes, and I got off and on pretty quick, I can tell you."

"It's wonderful! I never would have thought it!" And Sid Todd's face
showed his great admiration. "Why, don't you know that that is one of
the wickedest ponies on this ranch? Yates and some of the others have
tried to ride him more than once."

"And they couldn't do it?"

"Not much they couldn't! Why, that pony bit one of the men in the arm
when he got too near!"

"He snapped at me once."

"Did, eh?"

"Yes, and I slapped his face."

"Well, that's the best way--show 'em you ain't afraid. But it's
wonderful! When I see you on this pony I was sure you'd be killed, and I
made up my mind to give Yates the wust lickin' he ever had."

"He's as mild as a lamb now," went on Dave, as he eyed the pony.

"Don't you go for to trustin' him too much, yet," were Sid Todd's words
of warning, and Dave took them to heart, and it was well he did so, for
while returning to the ranch, the bronco tried several tricks to get rid
of his rider, but without success.

"I never thought you would do it," said Roger, earnestly. "Are you sure
he is safe now?" he added, anxiously.

"I wouldn't try to ride that beast for a million dollars," was Phil's
comment. "When he went off with you I thought you'd never get back to
tell the story. Roger and I and Todd were so worried we rode after you
just as fast as we could."

"I hope the girls don't hear of this," said Dave. "If they do, they'll
worry themselves sick every time we go out."

"Oh, we've got to let folks know how you busted that bronco!" cried Sid
Todd. "Why, son, you don't understand, but it's the finest bit o'
bustin' ever done on this ranch!" he added, vehemently.

"Well, I am glad I won out, for one thing," answered Dave, dryly. "You
won't have to give Yates that licking." And this remark made the cowboy
laugh in spite of himself. Nevertheless, later on he gave Yates a
lecture that the latter never forgot.

"The boy had one chanct in a hundred o' winning out," was what he said.
"One chanct in a hundred, an' you knew it! If he had broken his neck I'd
'a' held you responsible, an' so would the boss."

"But he's a great rider," pleaded Yates.

"Sure he is, better nor you'll be if you live to be a hundred, Yates.
But it was wrong to pile such a thing up his back,--an' don't you go for
to do it again."

The news soon spread that Dave had "busted" the wild bronco, and this,
coupled with the fact that he had aided in bringing down the bobcat,
gave him an enviable reputation among the cowboys. But the girls were
quite alarmed, Jessie and Laura especially.

"Oh, Dave, how could you!" cried Jessie, when they were alone.

"Well, Jessie, you wouldn't want me to appear like a coward, would you?"
he asked.

"No, of course not, Dave! But--if you had been--killed!"

"I was watching out, I can tell you that," he answered, and then
changed the subject, for he did not like to see the girl he admired so
distressed.

After the excitement of the bronco riding, the boys were glad enough to
take it easy for several days. Belle had a tennis court and a croquet
ground, and they played each game for hours at a time. The girls were
all good players and won the majority of the games.

"Tennis and croquet are all well enough when you have nice girls to play
with," remarked Roger. "But otherwise I fancy I'd find them dead slow."

"He'd play twenty-four hours at a stretch with Laura," was Phil's
comment.

"Not to mention how long you'd play with Belle," retorted the senator's
son.

"Dave doesn't care to play at all when Jessie is around," went on Phil,
slyly.

"Neither of 'em cares to play--if there's a hammock and a chair handy,"
added Roger.

"I noticed yesterday, when Jessie and I were playing tennis, you fellows
were so busy talking to the girls you forgot all about your games,"
retorted Dave. "And one of you was spouting poetry, about 'eyes divine,'
or something like that."

"Not me!" cried Roger.

"Then it must have been Phil!"

"No, it was Roger," protested the shipowner's son. "I saw him writing
poetry when he should have been sending a letter home."

"You go on, you manufacturer of bombastic fairy tales!" cried the
senator's son, and he commenced to chase Phil around the piazza. The
other boy leaped the rail and Roger followed, and then both commenced to
wrestle on the grass.

"Mercy me! What's going on?" cried Laura, coming from the sitting-room.

"Greatest exhibition on the globe!" called out Dave, in showman style.
"The two marvelous lightweights of the United States, Master Hitem Morr
and Lamem Lawrence. They will fight to a finish, without gloves, weather
permitting. Walk up, tumble up, or crawl up! Admission ten cents, one
dime; young ladies with grandfathers in arms, half-price!"

"Oh, Dave!" cried his sister, and burst out laughing. The noise brought
Jessie and Belle to the scene, and seeing what was going on, all of the
girls commenced to pelt the boys on the grass with tennis balls. The
"attack" lasted for several minutes, and then the girls ran away, and
the boys went after them, into the house and out again, and across the
yard, and then through the kitchen, much to the astonishment of the
Chinese cook. Here Phil scooped up a ladleful of soup.

"Halt, base enemy!" he cried, holding the soup aloft. "One step closer
and thou shalt be----" And then he slipped and the soup slopped over his
hand and his shoes. He ran for the yard again, dropped on a bench, in
mock exhaustion; and there the others joined him; and the fun, for the
time being, came to an end.

"We are going to the railroad station this afternoon with papa," said
Belle. "Want to go along?"

"Will a duck drink ice-cream soda!" cried Roger. "Of course we will go
along."

"Then you had better get ready now--for we are to start directly after
lunch."

"Anything special at the station?" questioned Dave.

"Papa is going to see a man about some horses. He wants to buy a few
more good ones, if he can."

"It's a pity we can't find out what became of the others," went on Dave.

It took the girls some time to prepare for the journey to the railroad
station, so the start from Star Ranch was not made until after two
o'clock. Mr. Endicott rode in advance, and the young folks paired off in
couples after him.

When they got to the bridge Dave was much surprised to see a couple of
men at work repairing the structure. They were putting down some
planking that was bound to last a long while.

"Mr. Merwell must have opened his heart at last," said Dave, to the
railroad president.

"Not at all, Dave; I am having this work done," was Mr. Endicott's
reply.

"But I thought you said it was up to Mr. Merwell to keep this bridge in
repair."

"So it is, but as he won't do anything, rather than have a quarrel, I am
repairing it myself."

"Do you think he wants to sell out? Maybe that is his reason for not
spending money in repairs."

"He will sell out, but his price is very high--too high to suit the man
who wants to buy."

Leaving the vicinity of the bridge, the party continued on the way to
the railroad station. The train was not yet in, but it soon arrived and
on it came the man Mr. Endicott wished to see. From the train also
stepped Hank Snogger. The ranch hand had evidently been to a barber in
the city, for he was shaven and his hair was closely trimmed.

"He looks like quite a different person," remarked Belle. "He always
wore his hair long and straggly before."

"Yes, and he wasn't any too clean," answered Dave. "Now he is well
washed and brushed."

Hank Snogger walked around the station on an errand, and then came up to
where a horse was waiting for him. As he did this he passed quite close
to the boys and girls and gave the former a cold stare.

"Do you know, I feel sure I have seen somebody that looks like him,"
said Dave in a whisper. "I said so before. But I can't place the man."

"Yes, I've seen somebody that looked like him, too," added Roger. "It
was while we were coming out here. Now let me think." And he rubbed his
chin reflectively.

"Here's a letter about that boy we helped, Charley Gamp," said Phil, who
had just received the mail.

"Charley Gamp!" cried Dave. "That's it--that's the same face! This Hank
Snogger looks exactly like Charley Gamp!"




CHAPTER XXV

THE BEGINNING OF THE GRAND HUNT


Dave's announcement produced a little sensation, and for the moment his
chums stared at him in astonishment.

"Come to think of it, that man does look like the little newsboy," said
Roger, slowly. "Do you suppose they can be related?"

"I'd hate to think that Charley Gamp was related to such a fellow," said
Phil. "Snogger isn't a nice sort to have anything to do with."

"Mr. Endicott said he didn't use to be so bad," answered Dave. "It is
only lately--since he went to work for Mr. Merwell--that he has grown
dissolute."

"Maybe he is sorry that he left the Endicott place," said the senator's
son. "I'll wager he has no such nice times at the Triple X Ranch as he
had at the Star."

"Not if all the cowboys are like those who came to our entertainment,"
said Phil. "But, Dave, if you think he's related to Charley Gamp, why
not speak to him about it?"

"You may get into trouble if you do," interposed Roger, hastily. "Some
of these Western characters don't like to have their past raked up."

"But Charley Gamp wants to find his relatives," went on the shipowner's
son.

"I'll bring it around--when I get the chance," said Dave. "But I can't
do it now," he added. "He's gone." And Dave was right. Hank Snogger had
leaped on his horse, and was off, on a trail that led up the river
instead of across it.

"What are you boys confabbing about?" cried Belle, coming up, with a box
of candy in her hand.

"We were just wondering where we'd get some candy," answered Dave,
innocently. He did not think it wise to mention Snogger just then.

"Indeed! Well, I bought this from the candy man of the train. He is
waiting for the down train."

"Where is he?" questioned Roger.

"Down the track--by the water tower."

"We'll raid him!" cried the senator's son, and then he and Dave and Phil
set off on a footrace in the direction of the man who sold candy,
cigars, and magazines. They found that he had a pretty fair stock of
candy and magazines, and each boy purchased what he thought would suit
the others and himself. In the fun and good spirits that followed Hank
Snogger was, for the time being, forgotten.

Two days later there was a rounding-up of some of the cattle and the
boys were allowed to participate. They went out with Sid Todd, who had
charge of the round-up, and were in the saddle from early morning until
late at night. The cattle were gathered in a valley up the river, sorted
out from some belonging to Mr. Merwell and Mr. Hooper, and then driven
off to a stockyard along the railroad line.

"Not so exciting as I thought it would be," said Dave, after the
round-up was over.

"I've had all the riding I want for one day," answered the shipowner's
son.

"That's right," grumbled Roger. They had had only a quarter of an hour's
rest for lunch. "I reckon some of us will be stiff in the morning," and
he was right, all felt somewhat sore.

The round-up had been a careful one, for Mr. Endicott had heard that Mr.
Merwell was finding fault over the way some of his cattle were being
chased by the cowboys. The following afternoon the Merwells--father and
son--met Mr. Endicott as he and Belle were riding along the trail,
talking over the family's plans for the coming winter.

"See here, I want to speak about my cattle," cried Mr. Merwell,
wrathfully, as he drew rein.

"Some time when I am alone, Mr. Merwell," answered the railroad
president. He quickly saw that his neighbor was "spoiling for a fight."

"Your men took three or four of my steers," went on Mr. Merwell. "I
won't stand for it."

"That can't be so, Mr. Merwell. My man, Todd, is a careful rounder, and
he told me he was sure of the brands."

"He ain't careful at all," broke in Link. "He drinks and he don't know
what he is doing."

"This is an affair between your father and myself," said Mr. Endicott,
stiffly. "You will kindly keep out of it."

"Huh! I guess I can have my say!" growled Link.

"I shall hold you responsible for every head of cattle of mine that is
missing," continued Mr. Merwell, with a dark look.

"I am willing to pay for every head that Todd drove off that did not
belong to us," answered Mr. Endicott. "But he assured me that he took
only our own. I will look into the matter when I get back to the ranch."
And, bowing stiffly, the railroad president rode on, with Belle beside
him. As they passed, Link "made a face" at Belle, but the young lady
refused to notice him.

As soon as he returned to the ranch, Mr. Endicott called up Sid Todd,
and then some of the other cowboys, and questioned them closely about
the cattle sent off. The head herder indignantly denied that he had
included any outside cattle, and his story was corroborated by the
others.

"I can leave it to Bill Parker, Mr. Hooper's man," said Todd. "He was
there. If Merwell didn't want to take our word, why didn't he send a man
down? We notified him that we was going to make a shipment."

"Have the steers been shipped yet?"

"No--not till to-morrow."

"Then ride down to the yard and have Harrison go over them and write out
a declaration that they are all ours," added the ranch owner.

"It's a good deal of work," grumbled the cowboy.

"I know it, but I'll pay Harrison. With a declaration from Harrison, Mr.
Merwell will have no claim."

The ranch owner's orders were carried out, and the next day a duplicate
of the stockyard man's declaration,--that the cattle were all of the
Star Ranch brand,--was delivered to Mr. Merwell.

"Huh! needn't tell me!" he sniffed, after reading the paper. "I guess
Harrison is playing into Endicott's hands."

"You tell Harrison that--if you dare," answered the messenger, who had
delivered the paper. Harrison was known to be a fair and square but
high-tempered individual, and one who could shoot, and shoot straight.

"Oh, I--er--I didn't mean--er--anything against Harrison," answered
Felix Merwell, hastily. "I think Endicott is deceiving him, that's all.
But it is not his fault. I--er--suppose, though, I'll have to let the
matter drop. Just the same, I think some of my cattle slipped into that
drove." And there the matter rested. Mr. Merwell knew he was in the
wrong, but he was too mean a man to acknowledge it. Truly, father and
son were equally despicable.

"I wish he would sell out," said Belle, to the other girls. "But I am
afraid he won't--he'll stay here just so he and Link can worry us."

"Maybe he wants you to sell out," said Jessie.

"Well, we'll not do it," answered Belle, with spirit.

On the following day the boys and girls went out on a picnic, taking a
generous lunch with them. They persuaded Mr. and Mrs. Endicott to go
along with them, and after they returned home the ranch owner and his
wife said they felt ten years younger. They had joined in all the games
played, helped to build a campfire and make coffee, and "cut up" just as
if they were young themselves.

"Oh, if only papa and mamma were here!" sighed Jessie. "I must write
them a long letter, telling them all about it!" And the letter was
penned the next morning. On that day came a letter from Dunston Porter,
stating he would stop at Star Ranch for them ten days from date.

"Only ten days more!" cried Dave. "My, how the time flies!"

There was also a letter from Nat Poole, in which Nat stated that he had
been looking for the fellow who called himself Tom Shocker and had at
last located the rascal in a town not far from Buffalo. He had accused
the man of the robbery at the hotel, and caused the fellow to give up
the stickpin and also a pawn-ticket for the watch. The timepiece had
been recovered, and both articles were now at the Wadsworth home,
waiting for Dave.

"Well, I am glad Nat got the things back," said Dave.

"Maybe that will be a lesson to him, not to trust strangers in the
future," was Phil's comment. "But how about the money?"

"Nat says Shocker spent that."

"Then Nat will have to make it good," said Roger.

"Yes, he says he will," answered Dave.

"What about that grand hunt we were to have?" questioned Roger. "Only
ten days more, remember."

"I'll see Todd about it at once," was Dave's answer.

The matter was talked over, not only with the cowboy, but with the
others, and it was finally decided that the boys and Todd should leave
the ranch home two days later, for a hunt that was to last three and
possibly four days. They were to go on horseback, and carry with them a
small tent and a fair supply of provisions, as well as two rifles and
their shotguns, and the cowboy's pistol.

"We'll strike out straight for the mountains," said Todd. "To be sure,
we may find some game in the hills close by, but in the mountains we'll
be certain to run down something worth while."

"Well, you look out that something doesn't run you down--a bear, for
instance," said Laura.

"Boys that can kill a bobcat can kill a bear, if they try," answered Sid
Todd.

The boys were in great delight, and spent every minute of their time in
getting ready for the trip. Guns were cleaned and oiled, and they sorted
and packed their ammunition with care. Mr. Endicott had a compact
camping outfit, consisting of dishes and cooking utensils, and the
little tent, and these were made into convenient packs for the horses,
and the provisions were likewise strapped up properly. Todd aided in
all, and the lads had to admire how deftly he put things together so
that they might be carried with comparative ease.

"He has been there before, that is plain to see," said the senator's
son.

"A fine man," declared Dave, heartily. "I shall feel perfectly safe with
him along."

The girls were sorry to see the boys go, yet every one of them wished
the lads the best of luck.

"Please don't run into any danger!" pleaded Jessie.

"Don't shoot at a bear unless you know you can get away from him if you
miss him," cautioned Laura.

"And, above all, don't get lost in the mountains," was Belle's advice.

It had looked like rain the night before, and the boys were worried, not
wishing to depart in the wet. But the sun came out full in the morning,
and their spirits at once arose. Roger could not contain himself and
whistled merrily, while Phil did a double shuffle while waiting for
breakfast. Dave was also happy, although sorry that the girls, and
especially Jessie, would not be along.

"All ready!" cried Todd, half an hour later, when the horses had been
brought around to the piazza.

"I am!" cried Dave.

"So am I," came from Phil and Roger.

"Then good-by, everybody!" shouted the cowboy, swinging his sombrero,
and off he galloped. The boys said farewell, the girls waved their
handkerchiefs, one of the hands fired off his pistol, and away the lads
went after Todd; and the grand hunt was begun.

It was still early and delightfully cool, with a faint breeze blowing
from the distant mountains, for which they were headed. Todd had already
told them that they were to keep on steadily until exactly noon,
crossing the river, and following a brook that came from the upper
hills.

"I know a fine spot to stop for dinner," he said. "And we can make it if
you'll keep up with me." He always took his dinner at noon, having no
use for "lunch" at any time.

On and on over the smooth plains the party galloped, and by the middle
of the forenoon reached the river.

"No use in stopping for a mess of fish, I suppose," said the senator's
son, wistfully.

"You can catch 'em up in the hills just as well," answered the cowboy.
"Sweeter, too, maybe," he added. Many fishermen think that the higher up
a stream you go for fish, the sweeter they are to the taste.

The cowboy had certainly set a smart pace, but none of the boys
grumbled, for they were as anxious as he to reach the mountains and look
for game.

"Of course you can keep your eyes open around here," he said, as they
galloped along. "But you won't see much, I'm afraid."

"I see some grouse!" cried the shipowner's son, a few minutes later. "We
might bring some of those down and cook them for supper. We won't want
to wait to do it for dinner."

He pointed to some grouse far away, and all agreed that the fowls would
make good eating. They rode behind some bushes, tied their horses, and
went forward with caution. All fired together, and when the smoke
cleared away they saw that four of the game had been laid low. The rest
had flown away, and to follow them would have been useless.

"Well, four are all right!" cried Roger, and was about to rush forward
to pick up the grouse when of a sudden Dave yelled to him to stop.

"What's the matter?" asked the senator's son.

"A snake!" screamed Phil. And as he spoke all in the party saw what Dave
had first discovered. A rattlesnake had appeared from a hole in a tree,
close to where the dead grouse lay!




CHAPTER XXVI

AFTER DEER


"A rattlesnake!"

"Take care that he doesn't bite you!"

"My, what a big fellow!"

"He is heading this way!"

Such were some of the cries uttered by the young hunters and Sid Todd as
all beheld a large-sized snake crawling from a hole under the tree. That
it was a rattler there was no doubt.

All leaped back, for the sight momentarily stunned them. But then Dave
recovered his presence of mind and blazed away with his shotgun, hitting
the reptile in the middle, and inflicting several ugly but not mortal
wounds. The rattlesnake gave a hiss, glided under some leafy bushes, and
there commenced to sound his rattles.

"He's going to strike!" cried Phil, and as he spoke the shotgun in Sid
Todd's hands was discharged. He fired among the leaves, and whether or
not he hit the snake, nobody could tell.

"Don't go near him," called out Roger. He hated snakes about as much as
he hated anything.

All waited, and while doing so, Dave and Todd took the opportunity to
reload. They were just finishing when Phil, chancing to look behind
them, uttered a yell that would have done credit to an Apache Indian.

"Look out! One of 'em is behind us!"

The others all took his word for it, and leaped to one side. True
enough, a second rattlesnake had appeared, and now a third was coming to
light, from under a rock near by.

"It's a den of rattlers!" screamed Sid Todd. "Run for it, boys! No use
of trying to kill 'em off! They are too many for us!"

The boys were already running at top speed, and the cowboy joined them.
In order to gain the horses, they had to move in a semicircle. When they
reached the animals, they found the steeds exceedingly nervous and
inclined to bolt.

"Reckon they smell the snakes," was Todd's comment. "A hoss ain't got no
use for rattlers--and I ain't nuther," he added, and rode away, with the
boys beside him.

"What about the grouse?" asked Phil, mournfully.

"Do you want to go back after them?" questioned Dave, with a grim smile.

"Not for a thousand dollars!"

"Then I guess we'll have to let the snakes have them," went on Dave.
"Let us be thankful that we weren't bitten."

"Rattlesnakes is the one drawback to this country," said the cowboy,
when they were a safe distance from the reptiles. "I don't mind wild
beasts, but I do draw the line on snakes. But there ain't near so many
as there used to be, an' some day there won't be any at all."

"After this I am going to beware of holes that look snaky," was Roger's
comment. "I think if a rattlesnake got close to me I'd be paralyzed with
fright."

As they went on, they kept their eyes open for more game, and just
before resting for dinner Dave saw some grouse high up in a tree in a
hollow. With caution they advanced, this time on horseback, and all
fired together as before. Out of the tree fluttered seven grouse, for
they had been close together and the shot had created great havoc. All
but one were dead and the seventh was quickly dispatched by Todd.

"We'll have some good eating to-night, after all," said Roger, with a
grin. He liked fowl of all kinds.

The stop for dinner was made beside a mountain spring, where the water
was icy cold and as clear as crystal. They took their time eating, thus
allowing the horses a chance to rest and to crop the nearby grass.

"We have covered about twenty miles," said the cowboy, in reply to a
question from Phil.

"Then, if we do as well this afternoon, we'll be forty miles from the
ranch by the time we camp to-night."

"We'll not make over ten or twelve miles this afternoon, lad," was the
answer. "It will be hard climbing up the hills."

"But harder climbing to-morrow," put in Dave.

"Yes, to-morrow will test the horses, and test you, too," said Todd.

It was very pleasant to rest in the shade after such a long ride in the
sun, but the cowboy was anxious to reach a certain camping spot for the
night, and so he allowed only three-quarters of an hour for the midday
halt.

As soon as they left the spring, the youths realized what was before
them. The trail now led constantly upward, and was in parts stony and
uncertain. In several places they had to leap brooks of fair size.

"This isn't so nice," remarked Phil, as they came to a halt, to allow
the horses to rest after a particularly difficult hill had been climbed.

"Oh, this is nothing to the traveling we'll do to-morrow," answered Sid
Todd. "We are only in the foothills now--to-morrow we'll be right in the
mountains."

About four o'clock they gained the top of another hill. As they came out
in a cleared spot all gazed around with interest.

"Look!" cried Dave, pointing with his hand. "Am I mistaken, or are those
deer?"

He was pointing to the top of another hill about half a mile distant.
There, outlined against the sky, could be seen a number of animals
grazing.

"Deer, my boy!" cried Sid Todd. "A fine lot of 'em, too, or I'm
mistaken!"

"Oh, let us go after them!" exclaimed Roger, impulsively.

"I'm willing," answered the cowboy. "But I don't know if you can get any
of 'em to-night. It will be a hard climb to where they are. I don't know
as we can go all the way on hosses."

"Then we'll go on foot," cried Dave. He was as anxious as his chums to
get a shot at the big game.

The cowboy studied the situation for several minutes, meanwhile
withdrawing himself and the others to a spot where the distant deer
might not see them. Then he led the party down the hill and in the
direction of the game.

If traveling had been hard before, it was doubly so now, and the chums
realized that to get to where the deer were grazing would be no easy
matter. They had to slip and slide over the rocks, and once or twice
they reached places where further progress seemed impossible.

"If we get any of those deer, we'll earn them!" panted Phil, as he half
climbed, half slid, over some rocks. "If my horse goes down, I don't
know what will happen to me!" he added.

"We'll not go much further on hossback, I'm thinking," answered Todd.
"We can't afford to injure our animals."

Between the hills was a small valley and here the cowboy said they had
better tether their steeds and leave them.

"Even if we don't get back, they'll likely be safe till morning," he
added.

"If we have to remain away all night, we had better take some eating
with us," said Phil.

"We sure will," answered Todd, and he gave each of the party something
to carry on his back and in his gamebag.

"Now for a climb that is a climb!" cried Dave. "Roger, this puts me in
mind of some climbing I did in Norway."

"Were you in Norway?" questioned Sid Todd, curiously.

"Oh, yes, I once went there to find my father," answered Dave.

Before them was a steep incline, covered with stones and a stunted
growth of cedars. Up this they went with care, for some of the stones
were loose and afforded only an uncertain footing. Once Phil slipped and
commenced to roll. He bumped against Dave, and both went flat.

"Grab a tree!" sang out Roger. But there was no need to offer this
advance, for Dave had already done so. He saved himself and Phil from
rolling further. But a frying-pan the shipowner's son carried broke
loose from the pack on his back and went clattering down the rocks to
the very foot of the hill.

"For the love of flapjacks, stop that noise!" cried Sid Todd, in a low
voice. "Time you get to the top of the hill them deer will be ten miles
away!"

"I--I couldn't help it," answered Phil, as he arose and gazed
sorrowfully after the frying-pan. "Shall I go back after it?" he asked.

"Where is it?"

"I see it--sticking in the fork of a cedar tree," answered Roger, and
pointed out the pan.

"Let it alone--we can get it when we come back," said the cowboy. "Now
don't make any more noise, or you won't get no chanct at them deer, mark
my words!"

All of the boys understood the importance of keeping quiet, and as they
neared the top of the hill where the deer had been discovered, they
moved with great caution and spoke only in whispers.

"The wind is blowing toward us, and that's in our favor," said Sid Todd.

"I know it," answered Dave. "Deer can scent a fellow a long way off if
the wind is towards them."

The cowboy now took the lead and told the lads not to make a sound that
was unnecessary. Thus they covered another hundred yards. Here was a
ridge of rocks and beyond the top of the hill.

"They are gone!" murmured Roger, as his eyes discovered that the top of
the hill was abandoned.

"I'll crawl forward and take a look," said Todd. "Keep quiet now, or we
won't git nuthin'."

The cowboy disappeared over the top of the hill, crawling forward on his
hands and knees. He was gone fully ten minutes--a time that to the boys,
just then, seemed like an age. They looked to their weapons, to see that
the firearms were ready for use.

Presently Dave, who was on the watch, saw Todd arise in a clump of
bushes on the other side of the hilltop. He was beckoning for the boys
to advance. One hand he held over his mouth, to enjoin silence.

With their hearts beating more rapidly than usual, the three young
hunters wormed their way over the top of the hill and joined the cowboy.
In silence Todd pointed to a distance below them. There, on a sort of
cliff on the hillside, were the deer, ten in number, grazing
peacefully.

"Oh, what a shot!" whispered Dave, and his eyes brightened as he swung
his gun into position.

"Wait!" said Todd, in a whisper. "I'll take the one on the right. You
take the one on the left."

"I'll take the one close to the tree," whispered the senator's son.

"And I'll take the one by the big rock," added Phil.

"All right," agreed the cowboy. "Now, remember, if some are only
wounded, shoot at 'em again, any one of you. And be quick, for they'll
streak it like greased lightning as soon as the guns go off."

All took aim with care, resting their gun-barrels on the bushes before
them. Then the cowboy gave the order to fire.

As if by instinct the deer looked up just as the order to fire was
given. They were fairly close to hand and afforded good targets for the
hunters. The firearms rang out almost simultaneously, and two of the
deer leaped into the air, to fall back dead. The others started to run,
some jumping from the top of the cliff to the rocks far below. Again the
weapons were discharged, and this time a third deer fell. The fourth was
badly wounded and toppled down in a split of the cliff.

"Hurrah! we've got 'em! We've got 'em!" cried Phil, and commenced to
leap about in pure joy.

"We've got 'em--to get!" answered Sid Todd. "But you did well--all of
you!" he added, admiringly.

"How are we to get down to the cliff?" questioned Roger, anxiously.

"The deer got down--we had better follow their trail," answered Dave.

They made an examination, and presently found a run leading to one end
of the cliff. The walking was dangerous and they had to be careful, for
fear of going further than intended. But inside of a quarter of an hour
all were standing where the deer had stood. They found three of the game
dead and quickly put the fourth out of its misery.

"This is worth coming for," declared Dave, with pride.

"It is indeed--even if we don't get anything else," added Phil.

"But we are going to get more," cried Roger, the fever of the hunter
taking possession of him. "Just wait till we strike an elk, or a bear!"

"No more hunting this day," sang out Todd. "Time we take care of these
animals and make a camp it will be dark."




CHAPTER XXVII

THE MOUNTAIN LION


"What are we to do with so much venison?" questioned the senator's son.
"We can't eat it, and it seems a shame to allow it to go to waste."

"I wish we could send some to the ranch," said Dave. "I'd like the girls
to know how lucky we have been the first day out."

"If you wanted to stay here and camp for a day, I could take some of the
game to the ranch," said Sid Todd.

"But it is such a ride," argued Phil. "We don't want to impose on good
nature."

"I won't mind the ride. But can you boys take care of yourselves while I
am gone?"

"To be sure we can," answered Dave.

"Then I'll take three of the deer with me and come back as soon as I
can. One deer will be all you will need," answered Sid Todd.

To get the deer from the cliff they had to use a long lariat the cowboy
had brought with him. By this means the game was hoisted to the
hilltop. Then they "toted" their loads down to where they had left
their horses.

"I'll take two of the hosses, if you don't mind," said the cowboy, and
it was agreed that he should take Dave's animal along with his own. He
decided to start for the ranch that night, stating he would camp at the
spot where they had had dinner.

The boys found a locality that pleased them, and there erected the tent
and started a campfire. The frying-pan had been recovered from where it
had landed and restored to the outfit. Before leaving them, Todd showed
the boys how to skin the deer and cut up the meat.

For a little while after they were left alone the chums felt somewhat
lonely. They piled the wood on the fire, thereby creating a lively
blaze, and fixed themselves a substantial meal of venison steak,
flapjacks and coffee, and took their time over the repast. By the time
they had finished, night had fallen over the hills and mountains, and
one by one the stars showed themselves in the heavens.

"This certainly is Lonesomehurst!" was the comment of the shipowner's
son, as he gazed around the camp. "When you really get to think of it,
it gives one the shivers!"

"Then don't think about it," answered Dave. "Let us be cheerful and tell
ghost stories. I know a dandy story--about four travelers who were
murdered in some lonely mountains by brigands, and----"

"You shut up!" cried Roger. "Don't you want a fellow to sleep to-night?"

"But I thought you wanted me to tell a story," went on Dave, innocently.

"I don't want to listen to such a story as that!"

"Nor do I!" added Phil. "Let's talk about schooldays, and the last game
of football, or baseball, or something like that."

"If only the other fellows were here," murmured Dave. "Shadow Hamilton,
and Buster Beggs, and Polly Vane, and Luke Watson, and----"

"Luke could give us a tune on his banjo," put in the senator's son.

"Yes, and Shadow would tell funny stories, not ghost stories," added
Phil.

"We'll have a story or two to tell, when we get back to Oak Hall,"
continued Dave. "I wish we could have had one of the deer stuffed for
the museum."

"Too late now. But maybe we'll get another," answered Phil.

All of the boys were tired, yet it was nearly ten o'clock before any of
them felt like turning in. As the night wore on the place seemed to
become more lonely.

"Might as well go to bed," said Dave, at last. "We need a good rest."

"Anybody going to stay on guard?" asked the senator's son.

"Do you think it necessary, Roger?"

"I don't know."

"What do you say, Phil?"

"I am too sleepy now to remain on guard," answered Phil. "You can do so
if you wish."

"Oh, what cheek!" murmured Roger. "All right, we'll all turn in and
chance it."

"Let's fix the fire first," said Dave. "A blaze usually helps to keep
away wild beasts."

"Oh, if any come, I reckon the horses will give us warning," said Phil.
"We can tie them close by." And this plan was carried out.

Some cedar boughs had been strewn on the floor of the tent, and on these
the chums laid down, and did their best to go to sleep. Dave dropped off
first, and was presently followed by Roger. But Phil was restless and
turned from one side to the other.

"Oh, pshaw! why can't I sleep?" murmured the shipowner's son to himself
in disgust, and then out of curiosity he looked at his watch. By the
glare from the campfire he saw that it was nearly one o'clock.

He was just straightening out again when a peculiar rustling among the
horses caught his ears. He listened for a moment, then sat up straight.

"Something doesn't suit them," he reasoned. "Wonder what it can be?"

He hesitated, then turned over on his hands and knees and crawled to the
opening of the tent and peered around outside. The campfire had burned
rather low, so that objects a short distance away were indistinct. He
saw that the horses were huddled together and had their heads turned
toward a clump of bushes at one side of the shelter.

"Something must be over yonder," reasoned the youth. "Wonder if I had
better arouse the others?"

He looked at Dave and Roger. Both were sleeping so peacefully Phil hated
to disturb them. He reached for his gun and looked out again.

There was a brushing aside of the clump of bushes and a pair of eyes
glared forth, glistening brightly in the firelight. The eyes were those
of some wild beast, but what, Phil could not tell.

The animal was not looking at Phil, but at the carcass of the deer,
which had been hung up in a low tree not far from the clump of bushes.
Stealthily the animal came into the opening, and with the ease of a cat,
leaped into the tree.

"It's a wildcat--or something like it," thought Phil, and raised his gun
to fire. Then of a sudden he commenced to shake from head to foot, so
that to aim was entirely out of the question. He had what is commonly
called among hunters "buck fever," a sudden fear that often overtakes
amateur hunters when trying to shoot at big game.

"Oh, what a fool I am!" the boy told himself, and tried vainly to steady
his nerves. He hit the front tent pole with his foot, making
considerable noise.

"What's the matter?" cried Dave, waking and leaping to his feet. "What
are you doing, Phil?"

"Noth--nothing," stammered the shipowner's son. "I--I--there is
something in the tree!" And then, raising his gun, Phil banged away
blindly.

The echo of the shot was followed by an unearthly scream from the tree,
and Phil and Dave saw the wild animal slip down from a branch and then
try to regain its footing. Then Dave caught up one of the rifles and
blazed away, and the beast dropped to the ground, where it twisted and
snarled and yelped in a fashion that served to drive the horses frantic.

"What's going on?" cried Roger, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "Who is
shooting?" And he got up and felt around in a haphazard manner for a
gun.

"Wild animal outside--I don't know what it is," answered Dave.

Roger joined the others, and blazed away at the beast, and more
snapping and snarling followed. The animal rolled clear over the fire,
scattering the burning brands in all directions. Then it rolled among
the horses. One steed after another kicked at it, and a flying hoof sent
it against the tree with a thud. Then it lay quiet.

"Must be dead," said Dave, after a pause.

"Don't go near it!" screamed Phil.

"I won't--not yet," answered Dave. "We'll fix up the fire first." And he
kicked the dying embers together and put more wood on the blaze. While
he did this, Phil and Roger watched the huddled-up form at the foot of
the tree. The horses still snorted and did their best to get away.

"I guess it is dead after all," said Phil, after he had poked the beast
with a stick. "Wonder what it can be?"

"Looks a little like a big wildcat," said Roger.

"I know what it is," answered Dave, after all were certain the beast was
dead and they had dragged it over to the fire. "It's a cougar, or
mountain lion,--one of the worst wild beasts to be found in the West."

"Then it's no wonder I got scared when first I saw it," said Phil. "My,
what a powerful animal! And it must weigh fifty or sixty pounds."

"All of that, Phil."

"Is this the beast some call a panther or painter?" asked Roger.

"Yes, Roger. I was reading about them in a natural history, and the
cougar, mountain lion, puma, panther, and painter are all the same
beast. Years ago they were common all over the United States, but now
they are to be found only in the Far West and in the South. I think we
can count it a big feather in our cap that we killed a cougar."

"Do you think he was going to attack us?" asked the senator's son, with
a shiver.

"He was after the deer. But there is no telling what he might have done.
I am glad he is dead. Phil, it was lucky you heard the beast."

"Talk about excitement!" cried the shipowner's son. "I rather think we
are getting it! Rattlesnakes, deer, and a panther, all in one day and
night!"

"That is certainly piling it on some," admitted Dave. "But to-morrow may
pass without a thing doing."

"More than likely," returned Roger. "Things always happen in bunches,
you know."

The boys examined the cougar with interest. It was about four and a half
feet in length and not unlike a young lion in appearance. It had been
hit in the face and in the forelegs, and had died hard. Evidently it had
hoped to carry off the slain deer while the young hunters slept.

"A cougar has been known to carry off a little child," said Dave. "They
are very crafty as well as brave, and will attack both a horse and a
man. I think we can count ourselves lucky to come out of this fight
without a scratch."

"No more sleeping for me without a guard," said Roger. "Let us take
turns at staying up and looking after the fire and the horses." And to
this the others readily agreed.

Morning found them still tired out and willing enough to rest. They got
a late breakfast and tethered the horses in a new spot, and cut
sufficient firewood to last for twenty-four hours. Nobody thought of
doing anything until after lunch, and then Roger suggested they try
their hand at fishing in a mountain brook which ran down between the two
hills.

"All right," answered Dave. "But do you think we ought to leave the camp
all alone?"

"Oh, I don't think anybody will hurt it in the daylight," answered the
senator's son.

They had to tramp about a quarter of a mile to reach the stream and then
an equal distance to gain a spot that looked suited to their purpose.
Phil was the first to throw in, and was rewarded almost immediately by a
bite.

"This looks as if it was worth while," said Dave, and baited up. Fish
were there in plenty, and for an hour the boys amused themselves to
their hearts' content. By that time each had a string of fifteen to
twenty mountain brook trout of fair size.

"We'll have a dandy fish supper!" cried Roger, smacking his lips.

"It will be a change from the venison, and I'll be glad of it," returned
Dave.

"I am going to try my luck for a short while up the stream," called out
Phil, who was some distance away from the others.

"Don't go too far," said Dave. "I am going to rest here," and he threw
himself on the grass, and Roger followed his example.

The two boys left behind rested for the best part of half an hour. Then,
thinking it was time for Phil to rejoin them, they called their chum's
name.

No answer came back, and, walking up the stream a short distance, Dave
repeated the call. Still there was no reply.

"That's queer," he told Roger. "I wonder why he doesn't reply?"

"I am sure I don't know," said the senator's son. "Let us look for him."
And both started after Phil, wondering what could be wrong.




CHAPTER XXVIII

UP TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP


Dave and Roger walked up the stream a distance of several hundred yards.
They continued to call Phil's name, but as before, no answer came back.

"I must confess, Roger, I don't like the looks of things," said Dave,
gravely. "If Phil was all right, he'd surely answer us."

"I think so myself, Dave--unless he was only fooling us."

"I don't think he'd do that, under the circumstances. He'd know we would
be greatly worried."

On walked the two chums, until they reached a point where the mountain
stream came tumbling over some great rocks. Here they found Phil's
fishing rod and also the string of fish he had caught.

"Gracious, Dave! Supposing some wild animal has carried him off!"
ejaculated the senator's son.

Dave did not reply, for he knew not what to say. He advanced to the top
of the rocks and peered over on the other side.

"There he is!" he shouted. "Phil! Phil! Are you hurt?" he called.

Only a faint moan came back, and scrambling up the rocks beside Dave,
Roger saw the trouble. Phil had slipped from the rocks into the mountain
torrent. In going down his legs had caught in an opening below, and
there he was held, in water up to his knees, while the water from some
rocks above was pouring in a steady stream over his left shoulder.

"Can't you get up, Phil?" asked Dave.

"Hel--help!" was the only answer, delivered in such a low tone that the
boys on the rocks could scarcely hear it.

"He can't aid himself, that is sure," murmured Dave. "Roger, we have got
to get him out of that--before that water pouring over his shoulder
carries him down!"

Both boys looked around anxiously. Phil was all of fifteen feet below
them and there seemed to be no way of reaching the locality short of
jumping, and neither wanted to risk doing that.

"If we only had a rope," said Roger.

"We might double up a fishing line," mused Dave. Then his face
brightened. "I have it--the pole!"

He ran back and speedily brought up Phil's pole, and around it he wound
the line, to strengthen it and hold the joints together. Then he leaned
down.

"Phil, can you take hold?" he questioned.

The youth below raised his hands feebly. But his strength was apparently
gone, and he could do little to save himself.

"Hold the pole, Dave, I'll go down!" cried Roger. "But don't let me
slip!"

While Dave braced himself on the rocks as best he could and gripped the
pole and line, the senator's son went over the rocks and down, hand over
hand. This was easy, and in a minute he stood beside Phil in the water.
The torrent from above poured over his back, but to this he paid no
attention. He saw that Phil was on the point of fainting, and if he sank
down he would surely be drowned.

Letting go his hold on the fishing pole, Roger felt down in the water,
and then discovered that Phil's feet were crossed and held by a rock
that was balanced on another rock. In coming down, Phil's weight had
caused the space between the two rocks to widen, then the opening had
partly closed, holding the feet as if in the jaws of some big animal.

It was no easy matter for Roger to shift the upper rock, and once he
slipped and went flat on his back in the water with a loud splash.

"Be careful!" warned Dave from above. "Maybe I had better come down and
help you," he added.

"No, I--I'm all ri--right!" spluttered the senator's son, freeing his
mouth of water.

At last one of the rocks was moved and Phil staggered forward in the
water. But he was too weak to help himself and had to lean on Roger.

"You can't pull us up!" shouted the senator's son. "We'll wade down the
stream a bit."

Supporting the shipowner's son, Roger commenced to move down the
mountain torrent. He had to pick his way with care, for the bottom was
rocky and treacherous. Dave followed along the rocks above, until a spot
was gained where he could leap down. Then he and the senator's son
picked up Phil between them and carried him out, and up to a patch of
grass, where they set the sufferer down in the sunlight.

"We'll take off his shoes and see how his feet and ankles look," said
Dave, and this was done. They found the feet and ankles slightly swollen
and discolored, but not seriously injured.

"Phil, supposing Roger and I carry you back to camp?" suggested Dave.
"We can make an armchair and do it easily enough."

"If it isn't too much trouble I'd be glad to have you do it," answered
the boy who had slipped over the rocks. "I can't walk yet."

The chums had often carried each other "armchair fashion" while at
school, and soon Dave and Roger started off with Phil between them, and
carrying the fishing pole and fish. On the way they rested several times
and also gathered up their own outfits and catches.

Arriving at the camp, the fire was stirred up, and the lads hung up the
most of their clothing to dry, while they took a good rubbing-down.
Phil's feet and ankles were bathed in hot water and then soaked in some
liniment Mrs. Endicott had made them bring along in case of accident.
The injured lad was content to rest on a bed of cedar boughs, but
declared that he would be as well as ever in the morning.

"But I am mighty glad you came when you did," he said, with deep
feeling. "I could not have held up much longer--with that stream of
water rushing down over my shoulder. I yelled and yelled, until I
couldn't yell any longer."

"That must have been before we started to look for you," returned Dave.
"After this you want to be careful how you climb around. Some of the
rocks are loose and very treacherous."

Dave and Roger prepared a fine supper of broiled fish, and to this meal
even Phil did full justice. As there was nothing else to do, the boys
took their time eating. They had almost finished when they heard a shout
from a distance.

"What's that?" cried Roger, and instinctively he leaped up and moved for
his gun.

"It's Todd!" answered Dave. "Hello, Todd!" he yelled. "This way!"

The others joined in the cry, which was answered from a distance, and
presently the cowboy appeared on his horse and leading Dave's animal.

"I reckon I'm just in time for a fish supper!" he cried, with a broad
smile on his face. "Well, I'm hungry enough, with such a stiff ride.
What's the matter with your feet?" he questioned, gazing at Phil's
bandages.

The boys told the story of the trouble up the stream, and then related
how they had shot the cougar, and exhibited the body of the slain beast.
In the meantime they broiled some more fish, and made an extra pot of
coffee and some flapjacks for the newcomer.

"Well! well! well!" cried Sid Todd, after a look at the dead cougar. "I
reckon you youngsters know how to take care of yourselves. A mountain
lion! Why, don't you know, most o' the cowboys would run a mile if they
see that beast a-lookin' at' em? Such shootin' is great!"

"Well, we don't want to meet any more of them," answered Dave.

"No, the rest of them can keep their distance," added Phil.

"Did you get the deer home all right?" questioned Roger.

"Oh, yes, and the folks were a good deal surprised and pleased. The
girls are going to have one of the deer stuffed and mounted, for the
Wadsworth home. They said it would please Mr. Wadsworth and
Professor--let me see--I reckon it's Professor Pans."

"No, Professor Potts," said Dave.

"Well, I knew it had something to do with cookin'-things," answered the
cowboy. "Mr. Endicott told me to be careful and tell you not to shoot
everything there was in the mountains, as he wanted to come out later
for a shot or two."

"I guess there will be enough left after we get through," said Dave,
with a smile.

The cowboy had had a hard ride and he was willing enough to eat his
supper in peace. Then he smoked a pipe of tobacco and turned in. He said
the boys could keep a guard if they wished, but he scarcely deemed it
necessary.

"Won't another mountain lion, or anything else, come around in a year,"
said he. "That jest happened that way, that's all." And after some talk
among themselves the chums concluded to turn in, all hands, and let the
camp and the horses take care of themselves.

The night passed quietly and all slept until the sun was well up in the
heavens. Then, while the boys prepared breakfast and Phil attended to
his bruised feet--which felt much better--Sid Todd told of some
happenings at the ranch.

"The girls went out for a horseback ride, along with Mrs. Endicott,"
said he, "and, coming back, they met Link Merwell. They said he acted so
disagreeable that they were afraid of him. Mrs. Endicott was very angry,
and I think the boss will speak to Mr. Merwell about it."

"Link ought to be hammered good and hard!" cried Roger.

"The boss wishes the Merwells would sell out. But Mr. Merwell doesn't
seem to want to budge. The girls were so afraid of Link they said they
wouldn't go out again unless Mr. Endicott was along," continued the
cowboy.

"If he molests the girls, he'll have another account to settle with me!"
cried Dave.

"And me!" came promptly from his chums.

"He wanted to know where you fellows were, and said he was going out
hunting himself."

"He needn't come near us," cried the senator's son. "We don't want him."

"Oh, he won't come near us--unless to make trouble, you may be sure of
that," answered Dave.

The cowboy had left word at Star Ranch that the young hunters might
remain out longer than originally intended, so the chums did not worry
about getting back. All rested during the morning, and after dinner
started on the trail up into the mountains.

"How is it, Phil?" asked Dave, on the way.

"Oh, I can ride very well," was the reply. "But I am rather glad I
haven't much walking to do. But I think I'll be O.K. by to-morrow."

Sid Todd had been right about the climbing to be done during the last
stage of the journey, and often the boys, as they looked ahead at the
rocks before them, wondered how they were going to make progress. But
the cowboy knew the trail, and up they went, the scenery every moment
growing wilder and more impressive.

"This is an ideal spot for wild animals," said Dave. "I should think
hunting would be very good."

Once they stopped to let the horses rest. They were out on a cliff and
at a distance Sid Todd pointed out two nests perched up on the top of
rocky crags. The nests were several feet in diameter.

"What are they?" questioned Dave.

"Eagles' nests," was the answer. "There are two of the eagles now," and
the cowboy pointed out the big birds, floating lazily around between two
distant mountain tops.

"A fellow would have difficulty in getting to those nests," was Phil's
comment.

"Eagles usually build where nobody can git at 'em," returned Todd.

"I shouldn't care to shoot an eagle," said Dave. "Somehow, I'd feel a
good deal as if I had shot at our flag."

"I think I'd feel that way, too," answered the senator's son.

"The eagle and Old Glory seem to be linked together," added Phil. "But I
wouldn't mind catching a young eagle and taming him."

"You'd have your hands full doing it," said Sid Todd. "I know a cowboy
who once caught an eagle, but the bird scratched him terribly and nearly
took off one of his ears."

On they went again, until, an hour later, they gained the top of the
mountain. Here they found a stiff breeze blowing, and it was much cooler
than below.

"I see some game!" cried Dave, and pointed to a slope on the other side
of the mountain. Two deer were in view.

Scarcely had Dave spoken when a shot rang out and one of the deer jumped
as if hit. The other ran off and disappeared in the bushes. Then, slowly
and painfully, the second deer limped away. A second shot rent the air,
but the wounded animal was not touched, and a second later it followed
its mate to cover.




CHAPTER XXIX

TWO ELK AND A BEAR


"I guess that hunter, whoever he is, will lose that deer," was Dave's
comment.

"He won't if he knows how to follow the game up," answered Sid Todd.
"That deer was badly wounded, and game can't run far over these rough
rocks."

"Wonder who it was?" mused Phil.

"Can't tell that--so many folks come out here to hunt," answered the
cowboy. "It might be some ranchman or cowboy, and it might be some city
sportsman trying his luck."

"We may fall in with him later," said Dave. "If we do, I hope he proves
a nice sort."

"Folks out here usually hunt on their own hook," said Todd.

The cowboy had in mind to pass to the north of the mountain top, and
this they did, soon leaving behind the locality where the two deer had
been seen. They saw nothing of the party who had fired the two shots.

"I hope he doesn't take us for game and shoot this way," said Roger,
who had heard of just such accidents more than once.

"Well, we don't want to mistake him for game either," said Dave.
"Whenever you shoot, be sure of what you are shooting at."

"Right you are," cried Sid Todd. "If hunters weren't too hasty there
wouldn't be any accidents."

A little over half a mile was covered, and by that time the sun was
sinking over the hills to the westward. A suitable spot was selected and
the tent was pitched, and they prepared a supper of fish and venison,
meat and crackers, washing it down with some chocolate that Roger made.

Early in the morning Sid Todd left the camp, to be gone the best part of
two hours. He came back showing his excitement.

"A chance for elk, boys!" he cried. "But you must hurry and do a good
bit of tramping."

"Can you walk, Phil?" asked Dave, anxiously.

"Just as well as ever," was the answer, and Phil took a turn around the
camp to prove his words.

No time was lost in preparing for the hunt, and in less than ten minutes
all were off, having tethered the horses in a spot they deemed safe.
Their provisions they tied in skins and hung in the trees, so they might
be safe from wild marauders.

It was a hard climb, over the rocks and among the bushes, and once the
boys had to call a halt, to catch their breath. But Todd was afraid the
elk would take themselves off, so he urged them on as much as possible.

"There were two elk, big fellows, too," he said. "If we don't bag at
least one of 'em, we may not get another such chance all the time we are
out here."

Presently they came to something of a hollow on the mountain side. Here
was a fine spring of sparkling water, and all stopped long enough to get
a refreshing drink. It was hot in the sun and all were beginning to
perspire freely.

"If we get those elk we'll earn 'em," was Roger's comment.

"Right you are!" panted Phil.

"How much further have we to go?" questioned Dave.

"Not over a quarter of a mile," answered the cowboy. He was still in the
lead and he had his eyes on the alert for the first glimpse at the big
game.

The boys were pretty well winded when Sid Todd called a halt. They had
reached a clump of cedar trees and beyond was an open spot among a
number of loose rocks, with patches of rich mountain grass between.

"Gone!" said the cowboy, with a deep sigh.

"Gone!" echoed the three boys, in dismay.

"Yes, gone. They were right out yonder, grazing as peacefully as could
be. Now I don't see 'em anywhere," continued the cowboy, mournfully.

"It's too bad!" murmured Dave. "Maybe you would have done better if you
had fired on them."

"I wanted you lads to have a chance."

"Perhaps they are still in this vicinity," suggested Roger. "Let us take
a look around."

The others were willing, and slowly and cautiously they made their way
among the cedars and the big rocks, exposing themselves as little as
possible, and speaking only in a whisper. They had the rifles and
shotguns ready for action.

Half an hour's search took them to another dent in the mountain side.
Here the grass was extra thick and inviting and a spring of water flowed
quietly over the rocks.

"That's an ideal spot for a camp," said Phil to Dave, as they halted to
view the scene.

Dave did not answer, for he had seen something moving in the bushes
close to the water. He pointed in silence, and all gazed in the
direction. Slowly a magnificent pair of antlers arose behind the bushes.

"One of the elk!" whispered Sid Todd.

"And there is the other!" came from Roger, and pointed to a rock twenty
yards beyond the bushes.

"Now, boys, be careful," directed the cowboy. "This is the chance of
your lives. Divide up the game to suit yourselves. I won't shoot unless
I see the elk getting away from you."

The chums consulted among themselves, and Roger and Phil decided to aim
at the elk nearest to them.

"Then I'll aim at the elk near the rock," said Dave. "I think I've got
the best rifle anyway," he added.

All crawled forward, followed by Todd, and thus covered half the
distance toward the game. The nearest elk was now less than a hundred
yards away.

"They see us!" cried Phil, and hastily raised his firearm, and the
others did the same. Then, as the elk bounded away, all three of the
young hunters fired.

Both the animals were hit, but neither mortally, and as soon as possible
the boys fired a second time. The elk were now together, and a bullet
and some shot meant for one hit the other. One of the animals staggered
and fell, got up, and staggered again, coming down on the rocks with a
loud thud.

"You've got this one!" cried Sid Todd, in triumph. "Go after the other!"

The boys were not loath to do this, and away they went pell-mell, over
the grass and around the rocks and bushes. The second elk was limping
along, occasionally holding his left hind leg in the air. He did not
seem to be going fast, but he dodged in and out among the rocks so
quickly that to get another shot at him seemed impossible.

"If we can only get him into the open we'll have him!" cried Dave.

The trail now led down the mountain side and then into a thicket of
cedars. As they entered the thicket, Dave gave a yell.

"Look out!"

He leaped to one side and the other lads did the same. A second later
the wounded elk rushed almost on them, his antlers lowered as if to
crush all in his path. The boys fired as quickly as they could, and hit
in the side, the animal swerved and dashed off at a right angle to the
course he had been pursuing.

"Phew! but that was a narrow escape!" gasped Phil.

"It's different when the game hunts you, isn't it?" queried the
senator's son.

"We must keep our eyes open, and our guns ready," said Dave. "Come
ahead, that elk must be pretty hard hit by this time."

Again they went on. They could hear the big game crashing among the
cedars. Evidently the elk was in such pain he did not know where to go.

"I see him!" cried Dave five minutes later, and pointed to a rocky
elevation ahead. At the foot of the rocks stood the elk, glaring in
rage at them. All of the young hunters elevated their firearms, and as
they did this the big game charged them full tilt.

Crack! bang! crack! went the weapons, and the elk was halted in his
course. He tried to come on, but in vain, and slowly swayed from side to
side. Then he tried to retreat, but it was too late. With a snort he
went over, kicking up big clods of grass as he did so. Then he gave a
shiver and breathed his last.

"We've got him! We've got him!" cried Roger, exultantly, and began to
caper about in his joy. "Just think of it, Dave, two elk! Isn't that
something to be proud of?"

"I think so," answered Dave, his face beaming.

"I suppose the other elk is dead," said Phil. "But we'd better go back
and make sure."

"We don't want to leave this here," said Roger, wistfully. "That other
hunter might come along and claim him."

"I'll go back to where we left Todd, and you can watch this elk," said
Dave. "I'll ask Todd what we had best do with both animals."

"Can you find the way?" questioned Phil.

"I think so."

Reloading his rifle, Dave set off for the spot where they had left the
cowboy and the first elk. For a few minutes he followed the back trail
with ease, then, almost before he was aware, he became mixed up and
scarcely knew in what direction to turn.

"I suppose I might call out, or fire my rifle," he mused. "But if I do
that the others may think I am in trouble."

Looking around carefully, Dave set off once more, and presently reached
a spot that looked familiar. On the ground he could see footprints and
these he commenced to follow. But in a few minutes he found himself in a
thicket he was sure he had never seen before.

"I am mixed up, and no mistake," he murmured, his face falling. "I
shouldn't have been so sure of myself at the start. It isn't so easy as
one thinks to find a trail among these rocks and bushes. I guess I had
better call to Todd, and to the others."

He set up a shout and waited for a reply. None came, and he shouted a
second time. Then, from a distance, came a call.

"Well, I didn't think Todd was in that direction," he said to himself.
"I am twisted and no mistake."

Again he started off, and this time found himself skirting a series of
loose rocks of various sizes. He was going down hill and occasionally
loosened a round stone with his foot and sent it crashing to a thicket
of cedars below.

A hundred yards were covered when Dave heard the cry again. Now it was
plainer, and it sounded a little like a call for help.

"Maybe Todd is in trouble," he mused. "Perhaps that elk got up and
attacked him!" And with this thought in his mind he set off on a dog-trot
in the direction of the voice he had heard.

It was dangerous among the loose stones, and once Dave went down and
rolled over and over, coming pretty close to hitting his face and
shooting off his rifle. As he picked himself up he heard a call quite
plainly.

"Help! help! Somebody help me!"

"It must be Todd!" burst from the youth's lips, and now, in spite of the
danger, he bounded from rock to rock down the slope. The call came from
the left, and thither he made his way, halting in dismay as he came out
on a little cliff.

At the foot of the cliff he saw the man who had uttered the call for
aid. It was Hank Snogger. He was having a fierce face-to-face tussle
with a big bear. His gun was on the ground and so was his sombrero, and
in his hand he held his hunting knife. As Dave viewed the scene in
horror, the bear made a pass with one forepaw and sent the hunting knife
whirling from the cowboy's grasp. Then the bear closed in, as if to hug
Snogger to death!




CHAPTER XXX

TO THE RESCUE----CONCLUSION


It was a time for quick action and nobody realized this more than did
Dave, as he saw the shaggy brute close in on the cowboy. One squeeze of
those powerful forepaws and Hank Snogger's ribs would be crushed in and
he would be killed.

With hardly a second thought concerning what he was doing, Dave raised
his rifle, took quick aim and fired at the bear. Then he fired a second
shot, and followed this up with a third.

At the first shot the bear dropped his hold and swung around, uttering a
loud snort of pain as he did so. He had been struck in the back, for the
youth had not dared to aim too close to Snogger. Then, thinking that he
had been hurt by the man before him, the animal made a leap and sent the
cowboy sprawling. As he stood over his victim the second shot hit him in
the hind quarters, causing him to whirl around. Then the third shot
landed in his side, and made him double up like a ball and roll over and
over.

[Illustration: Dave seized a fair-sized stone and hurled it at the bear.
--Page 293.]

"Kill him! Kill him!" came faintly from Hank Snogger. "Don't let him git
at me ag'in!"

Dave tried to fire another shot, but for some reason then unknown the
rifle refused to work. The bear was rolling over and over and threatened
each instant to roll on the cowboy and crush him. Snogger was so weak he
was unable to save himself or do anything in his own defense.

Dave glanced around and his eye fell on the loose stones, some of which
had caused him a fall. He dropped his rifle, seized a fair-sized stone
and hurled it at the bear. The youth's aim was good, and the missile
landed on bruin's head, all but stunning him.

"That's it! Gi--give him ano--another!" gasped Hank Snogger. He had
raised himself up on one elbow and was looking at Dave pleadingly. He
was too weak to get to his feet, for his fight with the bear had lasted
for some time before Dave had put in an appearance.

The boy from Crumville was not slow to pick up and throw another stone,
and this took the bear in the side, causing him to grunt and snort in
pain and rage. Then Dave got a stone of extra size and aimed again for
the animal's head. The missile went true, and with his skull crushed,
bruin stretched out and lay still.

"Is he--is he dead?" gasped Hank Snogger, hoarsely.

"I think so," answered Dave. He was trembling from the excitement and
his breath came thick and fast.

"I--I thought I--I was done for!" added the cowboy, and sank flat on his
back and closed his eyes.

Not without difficulty Dave got down to where the man lay. He found the
bear stone dead and that the cowboy had fainted. He procured some water
from a nearby brook and washed Snogger's face and soon revived the man.
Then came a shout from a distance and Sid Todd showed himself, having
been attracted to the spot by the rifle shots.

The situation was explained, and Dave came in for a good deal of praise
over the killing of the bear.

"You saved my life!" said Hank Snogger. "I shan't forget it, never!" and
he gave the youth a grateful look. "I fired on the bear, but only hurt
him enough to make him ugly. I fell right over him while I was after a
deer I had wounded some time before."

"Oh, then you were the hunter we heard shoot," said Todd. "The deer got
away, eh?"

"Yes, I lost track of the deer when I hit the bear," answered the cowboy
from the Merwell ranch. "I'm mighty glad you came up!" he added to
Dave.

"It's all right, I am glad I did too," answered the youth. "I was
wishing I'd get a chance at a bear." He saw that Snogger was deeply
affected, and was swallowing a lump that came up in his throat.

"And to think it was you, boy!" went on the cowboy, feelingly. "You--and
after what I did to you!"

"Let us forget that, Snogger."

"I ain't going to forgit it. I was a low-down hound, that's what I was,"
said the man, with energy. "I listened to what that Link Merwell had to
say against you, and I planned to do you all the harm I could,--jest to
please that fellow."

"Hank, you made a mistake to go over to Merwell," put in Sid Todd. "I
don't like to hit at a fellow when he's hurted, but I've got to speak my
mind."

"Well, you are only telling the truth," answered Snogger, shortly. "I
know it as well as you do. I'm going to quit Merwell the first chance I
git."

Dave and Todd made Snogger as comfortable as possible, and the cowboy
said he would be all right after he got his wind back. Then Todd went
off to locate Roger and Phil and apprise them of what had occurred.

"Mr. Snogger, I'd like to ask you a question," said Dave, when the two
were alone and the man was resting comfortably against a tree. "You
look very much like a boy I and my friends met in Chicago. Do you know
the lad? His name is Charley Gamp."

"Charley Gamp!" exclaimed the man, and stared wildly at Dave. "Say, what
do you know about him?"

"Then you know him?" And now Dave was deeply interested.

"Do I know him! He is my son!"

"Your son? Then where did the name Gamp come from?"

"Gamp was his mother's name afore she married me. Tell me, is he safe?"

"Yes." And then Dave related how he and the others had fallen in with
Charley at the post-office.

"And Link Merwell was abusin' him--callin' him a thief!" cried Hank
Snogger, and his eyes commenced to blaze. "How did he dare! Why, Link
Merwell is a thief himself!"

"A thief!" echoed Dave.

"Yes. But let that pass now--I'll tell you later. Tell me of my boy, my
Charley," pleaded Hank Snogger.

Dave told all that he knew, and the man listened eagerly. Then Snogger
told something of his life's history, how he and his wife had quarreled
and how some neighbors had gotten them to separate. He had drifted to
the West, and remained there for three years. Then he had gone back to
look for his wife, but had found out that she was dead. He could get no
trace of his little boy, and finally had gone West again. At first he
had carried himself straight, but presently he had gotten in with the
wrong set and had drank and gambled, and left Mr. Endicott to go to work
for Mr. Merwell.

"But I am going to turn over a new leaf," he said. "Only let me find my
boy! I'll show him what a good father I can be to him!" And his face
took on a look of hope.

"And now I am going to tell you about Link Merwell," went on Hank
Snogger, a little later. "I feel you ought to know, for you are the one
who has suffered most because of his doings. You remember how your
horses were stolen."

"Yes."

"Well, Link took 'em. He says he didn't mean to steal 'em, but that is
what it amounted to. He took 'em, and while the storm was on some
cattle-thieves, headed by Andy Andrews, came along. Link says Andrews
and his gang took the horses away, but I think Link made a deal with the
hoss-thieves, for the next day I see Link with a roll of bank-bills, and
I know Mr. Merwell didn't give him the money. He had about two hundred
dollars, and I think he got the wad from Andrews--on his promise not to
open his mouth."

"How did you learn this?"

"I was out, rounding up some stray steers, and I saw him just before the
storm with the hosses. I wasn't near enough to talk to him, but that
night I spoke to him, and he couldn't deny that he took 'em in the first
place. He was terribly afraid I'd give him away, and he said if I did
he'd say I took 'em. Well, you can believe me or not, but he took 'em."

"I believe you," answered Dave. "And we'll have this matter sifted just
as soon as we return to Star Ranch."

It was some time ere Todd, Roger, and Phil showed themselves. In the
meantime Dave made Snogger promise not to say anything about the stolen
horses to the others.

"Perhaps the matter can be fixed up between Mr. Endicott and Mr.
Merwell," he said. "It would be terrible to have Link publicly branded
as a horse-thief."

Hank Snogger had been out alone and he readily consented to join the
others at their camp. The two elk and the bear were brought in, and it
was decided to start back for the ranches the next morning.

"I must see Mr. Endicott on important business," said Dave to Sid Todd,
and then, in private, he told his chums what he had heard concerning
Link Merwell. Todd was told about Charley Gamp, and said he hoped that
the finding of the son would make a new man of Snogger.

The return to the ranches was begun at sunrise. They carried with them
the skin of the bear and also the pelts and heads of the elk. They
camped that night in the foothills, and reached Star Ranch about noon
the next day.

"I want you to come with me," said Dave to Hank Snogger, after the boys
had received a warm greeting from the girls and Mrs. Endicott. And he
led the way to Mr. Endicott's office, a small affair located in the
ranch home. Here the cowboy told his story once more, just as he had
related it to Dave.

"I have suspected something of this sort all along," said Mr. Endicott.
"One of our own men saw young Merwell with some horses on that day, but
he was not sure if they were our animals. Andrews took the horses up
into Canada and sold them at several places, so I don't think I'll be
able to get them back. But, if I can prove Link guilty, I shall most
certainly hold his father responsible."

Hank Snogger was anxious to go East, to find his son, but was persuaded
to remain where he was until the young folks should bring their visit to
an end. In the meantime, however, a telegram was sent to Charley and he
sent one in return, stating he would be glad to meet his parent.

"Dave, you can go with me to the Merwell house," said Mr. Endicott the
next day. "And you can go, too, Snogger."

The three set out, and when within sight of the other ranch home they
caught sight of Link Merwell, riding slowly along on his pony. He
scowled as he recognized them.

"What do you want here?" he asked, looking at Dave.

"We came for our horses," answered Dave, boldly.

At these words Link grew pale and shot a swift glance at Hank Snogger.
Then, in a sudden rage, he shook his fist at the cowboy.

"What have you been saying about me?" he cried angrily.

"Telling the truth," answered Snogger.

"It's false! I didn't touch the horses!" gasped Link, but he grew whiter
than ever.

"You took them, and you might as well confess," said Mr. Endicott,
sternly. "If you won't confess, and get your father to square up, I'll
call on the sheriff of this county to arrest you."

"I--I--didn't mean--that is--I----" commenced Link, and then he broke
down completely. He acknowledged that he had taken the horses, but said
he did it in fun. Then the cattle-thieves had come along and taken the
steeds from him.

"And you got paid for letting them go," said Mr. Endicott. "You got
several hundred dollars from Andrews."

"Who say--says so?" faltered Link.

"Never mind, we'll prove it," answered the railroad president, coldly.

"I only got seventy-five dollars!" shouted Link. "I--I didn't sell the
horses. Andrews gave me that money because--because----" And then he
stopped short, not knowing how to go on.

"He gave you the money so you would keep silent," said Dave.

"We have heard enough--come to the house," said Mr. Endicott, and
against his will, Link was made to accompany the others back to his
home.

Mr. Merwell was met at the door, and a bitter quarrel took place in his
office, lasting the best part of an hour. At first the ranch owner would
not believe his son was guilty, but when he saw Link break down he had
to give in. He said he would pay for the horses that had been stolen,
and also pay to have the whole matter hushed up.

"You cannot pay me for hushing the matter up," said Mr. Endicott. "I
have no desire to ruin your son's future. If you will pay for the
horses, that is all I ask--that and one thing more. I have no desire to
live next door to a man who has a son who is a horse-thief. I
understand that you have received a good offer for your ranch. My advice
is that you sell out."

"I will!" snapped Mr. Merwell. "I'll get out just as soon as the title
can be passed! I never liked to live here, anyway!" And then in a rage
he made out a check for the value of the horses, handed it to Mr.
Endicott, and showed his visitors to the door.

"Phew, but he was mad!" was Dave's comment, as the three rode over to
Star Ranch.

"If he sells out, that is all I ask," said Mr. Endicott. It may be added
here that, two weeks later, Mr. Merwell sold his place and moved to
parts unknown, taking his son with him. The purchaser of the ranch
proved to be an agreeable man, and he and Mr. Endicott got along very
well together.

"Well, I hope that is the last of Link Merwell," said Roger, when he
heard about the affair. But it was not the last of the fellow, as Dave,
later on, found out. Link crossed his path again, and what happened will
be told in the next volume of this series, to be called, "Dave Porter
and His Rivals; or, The Chums and Foes of Oak Hall." In that volume we
shall meet all our old friends and learn the particulars of a peculiar
mystery and a stirring struggle on the gridiron.

At last came the time to leave Star Ranch. Mr. Dunston Porter arrived,
and listened to the many tales the young folks had to tell.

"Well, you certainly have crowded things," he declared. "I wish I had
been on that hunt."

Belle was going East with Laura and Jessie, and Snogger accompanied the
boys and Mr. Porter. All received a warm send-off at the railroad
station.

"Come again!" shouted Sid Todd, and to show his spirits fired his
revolver into the air, and the other cowboys did the same.

At Chicago the party were met by Charley Gamp. Hank Snogger hugged his
boy to his breast and wept for joy, and Charley cried too, and so did
the girls. Then it was learned that Snogger was really a carpenter by
trade. He said he would settle down in the city, and did so, and to-day
he is a steady workman, and he and Charley have a good home. The father
is giving the son a good education, hoping to make a first-class
business man of him.

"Well, all told, we had the outing of our lives," declared Roger, on the
way to Crumville.

"It couldn't have been better!" cried Dave. "I tell you what, Star Ranch
is all right!"

And the others agreed with him. And here, for the time being, let us say
farewell.

THE END

-----------------------------------------------------------------------




DAVE PORTER SERIES

By EDWARD STRATEMEYER


"Mr. Stratemeyer has seldom introduced a more popular hero than Dave
Porter. He is a typical boy, manly, brave, always ready for a good time
if it can be obtained in an honorable way."--_Wisconsin, Milwaukee,
Wis._

"Edward Stratemeyer's 'Dave Porter' has become exceedingly
popular."--_Boston Globe._

"Dave and his friends are nice, manly chaps."--_Times-Democrat, New
Orleans._

DAVE PORTER AT OAK HALL
  Or The School Days of an American Boy

DAVE PORTER IN THE SOUTH SEAS
  Or The Strange Cruise of the _Stormy Petrel_

DAVE PORTER'S RETURN TO SCHOOL
  Or Winning the Medal of Honor

DAVE PORTER IN THE FAR NORTH
  Or The Pluck of an American Schoolboy

DAVE PORTER AND HIS CLASSMATES
  Or For the Honor of Oak Hall

DAVE PORTER AT STAR RANCH
  Or The Cowboy's Secret

DAVE PORTER AND HIS RIVALS
  Or The Chums and Foes of Oak Hall

DAVE PORTER ON CAVE ISLAND
  Or A Schoolboy's Mysterious Mission

DAVE PORTER AND THE RUNAWAYS
  Or Last Days at Oak Hall

DAVE PORTER IN THE GOLD FIELDS
  Or The Search for the Landslide Mine

DAVE PORTER AT BEAR CAMP
  Or The Wild Man of Mirror Lake

DAVE PORTER AND HIS DOUBLE
  Or The Disappearance of the Basswood Fortune

DAVE PORTER'S GREAT SEARCH
  Or The Perils of a Young Civil Engineer

DAVE PORTER UNDER FIRE
  Or A Young Army Engineer in France

DAVE PORTER'S WAR HONORS
  Or At the Front with the Fighting Engineers

For sale by all booksellers, or sent postpaid on receipt of price by the
publishers.

Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. Boston






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