Part 3 out of 3
Ranch. "We don't have to go looking for it. We've got all we
want. Some of Megget's gang have raided our herd."
"No? It must have been them I saw over near the hills early this
"Where were they?" "Which way were they going?" "How many were
there of them?" demanded the lads, each one asking a question.
"It was just after sun-up. I was too far away to recognize the
cattle, but I counted four men. As they only had about fifty head
with 'em, I sort of suspected something was wrong, so I got out of
sight before they could see me. Leastways, if they did, they
didn't make any move to get me."
"Where have you been?"
"I've been up in the hills for a few days prospecting."
"Did you find the mine?" inquired Tom, forgetting the raid and
pursuit in his eagerness to learn about the Lost Lode.
"No, I didn't. I just learned another trail, which isn't the right
Larry, however, was more interested in the cattle thieves and
brought the conversation back to them.
"Were the men near the hills when you saw them?" he asked.
"About a quarter of a mile away."
"Then come on. We must get to the hills so we can find their
trail," declared Horace.
"You kids sure ain't going after 'em alone?" exclaimed Jeffreys
"But if there are only four of them?"
"To you three, and they are men, don't forget that."
"But you'll make four," suggested Tom.
"Providing I was going with you, which I ain't, I'd like to, but I
reckon I'd better ride back to my own ranch and see they haven't
lifted any of my cattle. If they have, I'll get my boys and take
up the trail."
Realizing from the expressions on their faces that the lads were
surprised as well as disappointed at his refusal to accompany them,
the horseman said:
"You all just take my advice and don't try to follow those raiders
into the mountains. What you want to do is to find Wilder and
Snider as quick as you can, providing you won't go back to your
ranch, where you ought to be."
"Which you can bet your whole outfit we won't!" snapped Horace.
"We started on this chase and we're going to stay on it."
Jeffreys smiled at the determined manner of the young rancher,
"Then join your father as soon as you can. Don't try any fool
stunt like going into the mountains. Remember, when you are on the
prairie you can sec on all sides of you."
"Except when you're behind a crest," chuckled Tom.
At this reference to the recent contretemps Jeffreys frowned,
started to say something and instead dug his spurs into his pony,
galloping away without even so much as looking back.
"He's a fine neighbor--not," declared Larry as the trio resumed
their way. "I should have thought he would be only too glad to
help your father and Mr. Snider get back their cattle."
"He isn't very keen for the Half-Moon," rejoined Horace. "Father
beat him in a law case over a boundary line once and he's never
"And I reckon he won't forget his meeting with us to-day," said
At the memory of the reception they had given, Jeffreys the
comrades had a hearty laugh.
"Still, he gave us some good advice," asserted Larry. "I agree
with him that the thing for us is to find the Half-Moon and Three
Stars crowd as soon as we can."
"Which seems to be a pretty big order in itself," mused Tom. "I
say we go and see where they drove the cattle into the hills and
This suggestion met with no opposition, and as the boys rode toward
the mountains, the wooded sides of which looked inviting because of
the relief they promised from the torrid heat of the plains, they
discussed various plans, only to discard them.
At last they reached the hills. Dismounting, they hobbled their
ponies, removed the saddles and bridles sticky with lather, and
then broke out some lunch which they ate ravenously, despite the
fact that their mouths were almost parched.
Greatly refreshed by the food, the boys decided to follow the trail
of the cattle till they could get some idea of its direction.
"Let's go on foot," suggested Tom. "The ponies will be all right,
the rest will do them good, and we can get through the brush and
over the rocks with less noise."
Readily his companions agreed, and picking up their rifles, they
quickly found the tracks made by the cattle.
For some distance the trail seemed more like an abandoned wood road
than anything else. But gradually it began to grow narrower and at
last became no more than a path winding in and out among the rocks.
Several times some sound caused the boys to raise their guns to
their shoulders and peer about in all directions, but nothing could
they see save the trees and rocks, and they ascribed the noises to
some denizen of the forest roaming about.
Of a sudden Tom, who was in the lead, stopped.
"I smell something awful queer," he whispered.
The trail wound along the edge of a sharp descent and just ahead
was an abrupt turn.
Ere either Larry or Horace could reply to their companion's
announcement all three were dumb-founded to see a big, shaggy brown
head appear round the turn in the trail.
"It's a bear!" gasped Horace.
At the sight of the three boys the big head had paused in surprise.
Then its lips began to curl, disclosing a wicked looking set of
teeth, and finally it broke into a savage snarl, at the same time
rising in the air.
"He's getting to his hind legs. That means fight!" breathed
Horace. "Come on, let's run!"
"But he'd overtake us and beat us down with his paws," returned
Larry. "We've got to kill him."
Less time did the action consume than is required to describe it,
and the boys were standing terror stricken when the bear charged
upon them, making vicious lunges at them with his huge paws.
Roused from his fright by the imminence of his peril, Tom raised
his rifle, only to have it knocked from his hands by a swing of one
of the bear's paws.
[Illustration: The rifle was knocked from his hand.]
"Drop down! drop down so I can shoot!" yelled Larry as he saw the
desperate situation in which his brother was placed.
Instantly Tom obeyed, throwing himself to one side as he fell.
But as the younger of the brothers dropped the bear, as though
singling him out for his particular antagonist, also dropped to all
fours, and Larry's shot went over him.
Horace, however, shot lower, and a terrible roar told them that the
bullet had struck home.
In the fury of his pain the bear seemed to think that the boy lying
flat on the rocks was the cause of his suffering, and, with mouth
distended, charged upon him.
In a frenzy lest they might not be able to save Tom, Larry and
Horace both fired.
At the impact of the bullets the bear rose on his hind legs, swung
wildly with his paws at the steel barrels that were pouring the
terribly painful things into him and fell prone, the huge carcass
missing Tom by less than a foot.
From the moment when his brother had cried to him to drop, Tom had
kept his eyes on the bear, and when he saw the beast plunge forward
and realized that it was dead, he leaped to his feet, his pale face
telling of the awful strain under which he had been.
The reaction from their excitement made Larry and Horace tremble
and, for the time, they could only look from their companion to the
carcass of the bear, too unnerved to speak.
Tom was the first to recover from the fright, and he thanked the
others for what they had done.
"Let's not talk about it," interposed Larry. "The thing for us to
do is to get out of here lively. The reverberations from those
shots are echoing yet. The raiders must have heard them, and
they'll know some one is on their trail, so they will either come
back to sec who it is or else hide to waylay us."
Tom and Horace were perfectly willing to give up following the
trail farther, and all three were retracing their steps when the
elder of the chums cried:
"The rifle! Tom, you forgot to pick up your rifle."
"Which shows I was some scared," and he smiled apologetically.
"But it's a worse one on Larry and me," protested Horace. "There's
some excuse for you. But the bear wasn't charging us."
"Oh, well there's no harm done," returned Larry, pleased at the
spirit Horace's words showed. "We can go back and get it. It's a
mighty good thing, though, that we thought of It before we reached
the ponies. From the looks of the sky and the shadows it won't be
long before dusk, and Mr. Wilder told us night comes quickly in the
Ere Larry had finished speaking they had started back to the scene
of their encounter.
Yet when they reached the spot Tom's rifle was nowhere to be seen.
In dismay the boys looked at one another. Already the mountains
were turning purple-black in the twilight, the shadows transforming
the trees and rocks into weird figures.
"Perhaps it's under the bear," hazarded Horace, his low voice
evidencing the awe which the silence and the surroundings inspired
"Then give a hand while we move him," commanded Larry. "It won't
do to stay here long or we may lose our way as well as the rifle."
Little relishing the thought of wandering through the woods in the
dark, the boys seized one of the paws and pulled with all their
But, to their surprise, they could move the carcass scarcely at all.
"My, but he's a monster!" gasped Larry. "It's only a waste of
valuable time to try to lift him or even move him. The only thing
we can do is to try to feel under him with our hands."
Dropping to their knees, the lads thrust their arms under the
shaggy fur, being able to reach far; enough to make sure that the
much-wanted rifle was not beneath the body of the bear.
"Bet he knocked it over the cliff," declared Horace. "From which
side did he strike it, Tom?"
"More than I know. All I could see was paws. The air was full of
them and they seemed to come from all directions at once."
This explanation brought laughter to Larry and Horace, which ceased
abruptly, however, as from somewhere on the mountains there
suddenly rang out a low wail, more like the howl of a coyote than
anything else, yet with a certain difference that even the chums
were able to distinguish.
"Whatever that is, I don't care to meet it," exclaimed Horace.
"Let's go back. We've still got two rifles. If we stick to the
plains till we join father we can get along all right."
"Suppose we don't meet your father, what then?" returned Larry.
"Always looking for more trouble, as if we didn't have enough
already," chided Tom. "Of course we'll meet him. Anyhow, this is
no place to argue about it. If you and Horace can't protect me,
I'll take both your rifles and watch over the two of you."
There was a suggestion of mockery in Tom's voice, but taking it
good naturedly, Larry replied:
"Oh, no you won't. You can't throw your gun away every time you
get scared and then take ours from us. You just get in between
Horace and me. Horace, you lead because you know how to follow a
trail better, and I'll keep off the bears and raiders," he added
with a smile.
The movements of the boys, however, were more rapid than their
words, and they were traveling the trail once more ere Larry's
joking allusion to the loss of the rifle and the protection he
So long as their way lay among the rocks they followed the trail
with little difficulty, but when they entered the woods their
troubles began in earnest.
None too self-possessed in the dark, even when going about the
ranch, when he entered the inky darkness caused by the maze of
boughs and foliage, Horace lost his head completely, and it did not
take the comrades long to realize they had wandered from the trail.
"Better let me take the lead, Horace; I'm taller," said Larry, at
the same time giving his brother a poke In the ribs as a warning
not to object.
"Well, you'll have to be a giraffe to see your way over the tops of
these trees," chuckled Tom.
Their plight was too serious to admit of jest, however, and after
wandering for half an hour, stumbling over dead limbs and running
into trees and branches, they halted in despair.
"I remember Si told us back home that when a man's lost he
generally travels in a circle," said Tom.
"So he did, and he said It was usually to the left, because a man
takes a longer step with his right foot," added Larry.
"That may help when you know which is the right and which is the
left of the way you have been going, but here we've turned round to
talk, so we don't even know that much," interposed Horace.
"That's a fact," admitted the elder of the chums reluctantly as he
realized that by facing one another they had lost all sense of
direction. "It's a good thing you thought of it, Horace, or we
might have got ourselves into a worse mess than we're in now,"
"If it weren't for all that good food cooked by Hop Joy back with
the horses and the fact that I'm hungry, I'd be in favor of staying
right where we are till morning," announced Tom.
"I reckon that is the best thing we can do, anyhow," declared his
"Not with my appetite," retorted Tom.
"This is no time to be funny," reprimanded Larry. "If we keep on
moving, we may never get out, while if we stay here we can climb
into one of these trees and be safe till daylight shows us----"
"By jove! That's the very thing!" exclaimed the younger of the
chums, and there was such a tone of genuine enthusiasm in his voice
that the others asked excitedly:
"Why, the trees. We won't need to sleep in them. By climbing a
tall one, we can get the lay of the land as soon as moonlight
comes, which will show us at least how to get out onto the plains
"Hooray!" cried Larry and Horace together.
Each realized the plan was feasible, provided the night was not
cloudy, and once on the prairie it would not be difficult for the
young rancher to lead the way to the horses. And, although they
knew that the moon would not rise for two hours at least, they were
so eager to try the plan that they began to discuss who should be
the one to do the climbing.
The two brothers claimed preference because they were both stronger
and taller than their companion, but Horace silenced them by
declaring that not only could he go higher because he was lighter,
but that he would be able to recognize their whereabouts from his
knowledge of the mountains.
Restraining their impatience as best they could, the boys sat down.
"When we do get out, which way shall we go to join Mr. Wilder and
the others?" asked Larry.
This question started further discussion. One suggestion after
another was made only to be rejected because of some obstacle, and
finally they decided the safest thing to do would be to ride till
they found the trail over which the cattle had been driven from the
bottoms and follow that.
Soon Horace climbed a convenient tree.
"We sure are dubs!" he cried.
"Why? Is the moon up?" asked the two chums eagerly..
"No, the moon isn't up. I don't need it. The stars are bright
enough. We've been sitting here fretting all this while within a
hundred yards of the prairie!"
A MYSTERIOUS CALL
Horace and Larry having picked up their rifles, the three boys
resumed their way, Larry leading slowly, taking care to make his
steps of as nearly equal length as possible, and in due time they
came onto the prairie.
"My, but this stretch of level does look good," declared Tom, and
his companions expressed their hearty agreement as they hastened
toward the spot where they left their ponies.
Finding them without difficulty, the lads broke out the food and
"Hey, go easy on the grub," cautioned Larry as he noted the amount
his companions were eating. "This is all we have to last us until
we meet the others--or get back to the ranch," he added as the
thought recurred to him that luck would play a large part in the
success of their search for the pursuing party.
"You can go easy if you like. So long as there's anything to eat,
I am going to eat," returned his brother. "Don't worry. We won't
starve. If worse comes to worse, I can get you some deer meat,
provided you'll lend me your rifle."
"Or I can get you some mountain lion meat," added Horace.
"I notice neither of you mention bear meat," chuckled the elder of
"Because it doesn't agree with us," returned Tom, and at this
allusion to their recent adventure they all laughed merrily.
In delight at the extrication from their dilemma the boys chatted
and joked as they repacked the saddle bags, unhobbled their ponies
and prepared to resume riding.
"There's only one thing that could, add to my happiness," remarked
Larry as he swung onto Lightning's back.
"What's that?" Inquired his companions.
"About a gallon of drinking water."
"I'm some thirsty, too," said Horace, "but I don't know of a place
where there is any water."
"Then we'll leave it to the horses," asserted Tom. "Mr. Wilder
told me they would always locate water if there was any about.
From the way Blackhawk acts, I think he scents some."
"Scents water!" sneered Horace.
"Just you wait and see," retorted the younger of the comrades, and
giving free rein to his pony, he let him nose along through the
grass for some distance when the animal turned abruptly and entered
the woods, stopping beside a brook.
"You'd better appoint me guide and captain of this company," smiled
the boy as they dismounted and drank greedily of the cool water.
"You'd be a fine captain without a gun," retorted Larry, and in
high spirits they remounted.
For a time the boys had the moon for company, but toward, midnight
clouds gathered in the sky and a chilly wind began to blow.
"How about pitching camp pretty soon?" suggested Larry.
"Wait till we get to Elkhorn River," answered Horace".
"How far is that? I didn't suppose there was such a thing in these
"Oh, I should say it was fifteen miles from here," returned the
young rancher. "It isn't much of a river, but it's better than
"Wouldn't ride fifteen--Hello! What's that glow in the sky right
next the mountains?" exclaimed Tom, pointing to where a faint glare
was visible against the dark background of trees.
"It's a fire," asserted Horace, "a camp fire. You can tell by the
steadiness of the light."
Excitedly they speculated as to whose it could be.
"If it's raiders, we want to know it. Perhaps we can round up some
of them," declared Horace.
And urging their ponies into a gallop, the boys rode forward.
When they were near enough to distinguish the flames they
dismounted, hobbled their horses in the underbrush and approached
No sign of man or beast could they see, and their curiosity was
"Stoop down so your heads are In the grass," admonished Horace.
"It may be they have seen us and are hiding among the trees. Don't
make any noise and stick close together."
Crouching low, the trio advanced stealthily. Nearer and nearer
they drew, yet no sound could they hear. Consumed with curiosity,
Horace suddenly stood up, determined to learn if any one were
sleeping beside the fire.
Yet no sooner had he risen than a command rang out:
"Throw up your hands!"
The two brothers, ignorant of their companion's action, gasped at
the words. But Horace let out a whoop of joy.
"Hooray! It's father and the boys," he cried so loud that
instantly a dozen figures bounded from about the fire.
"Well, if it ain't them kids!" ejaculated Pete, who had been on
guard. "It's lucky you recognized my voice, Horace."
By this time Tom and Larry had straightened up and all three were
hastening toward the camp fire, thinking only of their good fortune
in finding their friends.
"Horace, what does this mean?" demanded his father sternly. "I
told you to stay at home, and yet we haven't been gone but
twenty-four hours and you come tagging along."
But the severity of his father did not dismay the young rancher.
Looking straight at him, the boy hastily told of the ride to the
pool and the discovery that more cattle had been driven away.
The information excited the cowboys greatly, and emphatic were
their opinions of the daring of the thieves in making another raid
and within a few hours after the men pursuing them had set out.
"They probably were watching us all the time," asserted the owner
of the Three Stars.
"Probably," agreed Mr. Wilder. "But what have you boys been doing
since you learned of the raid? You could almost walk your ponies
from the pool to here in all this time."
Before any of them could reply, however, a long, low wail rang out.
Surprised, the men glanced at one another,
"That sounds like a coyote, but it ain't," asserted Pete.
Again the cry broke on the air and was repeated twice.
"Why, it's the very same sound we heard in the mountains!"
exclaimed Larry. And his companions confirmed him.
"The same cry you heard in the mountains?" repeated Mr. Wilder.
"Yes, sir," and in a few words the elder of the brothers related
"Then it's a signal," declared Pete. "You boys have been followed.
It's a mighty good thing we were camping here."
"Those cries came from the plains. Mebbe it's the thieves going
for more cattle," declared Sandy.
"We'll find out what it is. Everybody to horse!" commanded Mr.
Wilder. "Pete, three or four of you go with Horace and the Aldens
to get their ponies. We'll ride up and join you."
A TERRIBLE PLOT
Quickly the men ran to the woods where they had concealed their
ponies, unhobbled, saddled and mounted them, riding along till they
came to where Pete and the boys were.
"Which way shall we go?" inquired Sandy when all were In their
saddles. "That cry came from straight ahead of us on the plains,
according to my judgment."
Pete and the other cowboys agreed with him, and, trusting to their
sense of direction, the owner of the Half-Moon said:
"Then we'll ride due east. Spread out abreast. The more ground we
can cover the better."
"But don't get too far apart," interposed the rancher from the
Three Stars. "Keep close enough together so you can see the man on
Rapidly were these commands given, and within fifteen minutes after
the mysterious calls had startled them the twenty-three horsemen
were advancing over the prairie, eyes and ears alert for sound or
sight of the men who had uttered the signals, the two Eastern boys
and Horace riding between Mr. Wilder and Pete at the southern end
of the line.
But for once Sandy's ears had played him false. Ignorant of the
psychological fact that only when a man's head is turned can he
correctly judge the direction of sound, it being impossible to
distinguish between a sound coming from directly in front or
behind, the foreman of the Three Stars Ranch had been deceived
because he had been looking straight ahead out into the prairie.
And instead of riding toward the men who had roused them by their
cries, each bound of the horses was carrying them farther away.
When Larry and his companions had met the bear, the four raiders
with the cattle Jeffreys had seen were only about two miles in
advance of them. As the boys had thought, the reverberations of
the shots had reached the ears of the men at the rear of the cattle
and they had uttered the wail as a signal to those ahead, jumping
to the conclusion that they were being followed.
Making use of their knowledge of the mountains, the raiders had
hurriedly driven the cattle into the forest, where they would be
out of sight and so could not give warning of the whereabouts of
the thieves, and had then hidden themselves behind some rocks along
the trail. From their ambuscade they would be able to shoot down
their pursuers or capture them as they felt inclined.
But as the reader knows, the boys doubled on their trail and so
divided the trap.
After waiting till dark without any sign of pursuers, the raiders
"We've got to find out for sure whether it's somebody on our trail
or just some one that is hunting," declared one of them, who, if
the two brothers could have seen him, they would have recognized as
"Considering we've waited more than two hours and no one has showed
up, I say we ought to push onto the Lode, Gus," asserted another.
"How can we drive cattle over this trail in the dark?" growled the
chief of the raiders. "You ought to have more sense, seeing the
trouble we've had to get them as far as this in the daylight."
"So long as we can't drive, we might just as well go back and find
out who's been shooting."
Realizing that it was futile to urge their leader to change his
mind, the other raiders sullenly acquiesced, and, emerging from
their places of concealment, went into the woods to get their
horses and were soon riding stealthily back over the trail.
Though they dared not refuse to go, the men, however, were not
backward in expressing their disapproval of the move, declaring
that they were tempting disaster by returning when they had made so
successful a start.
But Megget paid no attention to their grumblings and soon his
companions lapsed into silence.
Fate, however, which had saved the two brothers and the young
rancher from stumbling into the ambush, was still favoring them.
For when the raiders reached the edge of the prairie Megget ordered
a halt that they might eat, and when again they resumed their ride
the boys were far on their way toward the spot where they met their
Not long did it take their pursuers to discover the place where the
three had eaten and then to find the direction in which they had
"What's the use of following any farther, Gus?" demanded one of
them. "So long as they have ridden to the south, and there are
only three of them, anyhow, we are in no danger."
But with a blind obstinacy the leader of the cattle thieves
persisted in continuing the pursuit, and set the pace at a fast
In due course of time, as the boys before them, they discovered the
glare from the camp fire.
"We'll ride into the mountains, dismount and then find out who it
is that has the fire," declared Megget.
"You're playing with trouble, Gus," protested his companions.
"From what I know of Wilder, he won't let a bunch of his cattle be
lifted without doing something. That may be his fire."
"All the more reason why we should go to it--to make sure," snapped
the leader of the raiders. "Wilder is a fool or he wouldn't leave
his herd unguarded at the Witches' Pool."
"You'll find he's smarter than you think. I'll bet all my share of
these raids will come to that the only reason the herd was alone
was because his whole outfit is on the trail from the bottoms,"
"Well, the boys can take care of 'em if they are. I said I was
going to find out who built that fire, and I'm going to." And
without more ado, the leader of the raiders dashed into the woods.
Riding cautiously among the trees until he thought he was about
back of the fire Megget gave the word to dismount.
A short distance to the south and above them was a ledge from which
they would be able to command a view of the camp fire, and rapidly
the raiders made their way to It.
What they saw when they reached the top and gazed down caused them
to exclaim in amazement.
The cowboys were saddling their ponies, and instead of the three
men they had expected to discover, Megget and his companions saw a
"That's the Half-Moon bunch!" declared one of them.
"There are too many of them," asserted another. "We're in a pretty
mess now. Those three men we followed have evidently informed them
of finding our trail and they are starting to pick it up."
"Don't you worry about that," growled Megget. And before his
companions were aware what he intended to do, he uttered the calls
that caused the ranch owners and cowboys to start out into the
Eagerly the raiders watched them disappear and Megget chuckled:
"I thought I could fool 'em. It's easy when you are above any
one." And then he added: "You'll wish you had never started after
Wondering at their leader's meaning, his fellows had no chance to
ask, however, for even as he spoke Megget was descending from the
Arriving at the camp fire, he glanced about for a few moments, then
sent his men for the horses.
As soon as he was sure he was alone, the leader of the raiders
walked out on the plains, paused, wet his finger in his mouth, then
raised his hand above his head.
"Great! I'm sure playing in luck," he muttered to himself. "The
wind is blowing from the west--straight out across the plains."
And chuckling grimly, the cattle thief returned to the fire to
await the horses.
Mounting quickly when they arrived, Megget gave a curt order for
his own men to follow and galloped in the same direction the ranch
owners and cowboys had taken.
At the end of a quarter of a mile he drew rein and again went
through the performance of wetting his finger and raising it above
his head, murmuring more to himself than his pals:
"I didn't know but that the hills might have changed the direction
of the wind.
"Here, you," he added, turning to his men, "two of you ride a mile
up and Squinty and I'll ride south. When I give the call, fire the
grass and then ride for the trail and drive the cattle to the mine.
I'll cut across and warn Vasquez and the others."
THE PRAIRIE FIRE
As his men heard the words and realized their significance, they
glanced at their leader and then at one another.
Yet none of them moved.
"Are you deaf?" roared Megget. "Do as I say--and lively. Squinty,
come with me." And clapping spurs to his pony, he dashed southward.
Fearing to disobey, the two raiders delegated to ride to the north
started. But as soon as they were out of earshot one of them said:
"Megget can fire the prairie if he wants to, I won't. I'm none too
stuck on cattle raiding, anyhow, but when it comes to starting a
fire that will probably wipe out the Half-Moon outfit and perhaps
even the herd, Bobby Lawrence balks!"
"Showing the white feather, eh?" snarled his companion. "I warned
Gus you wasn't any good, but he wouldn't believe me. You'll do
what he says, though, as long as you're with Red Ike!"
Red Ike was a giant in strength, the bully of the gang, and
Lawrence had seen too much of him to care to risk an encounter with
him, so with a growl he said:
"All right. Lead the way."
"Not much. I'll ride beside you, so you won't come any tricks."
But though Lawrence had appeared to yield, it was only as a matter
of policy, and his determination not to fire the prairie was as
firm as before. Yet how he could prevent it, he was at a loss to
determine until suddenly he remembered that Red Ike had asked him
for a match that afternoon.
As the thought flashed through his mind that his companion had no
means for carrying out Megget's instructions Lawrence put his hand
to his belt, where he carried his tobacco outfit, and quickly
unloosening it, let it fall into the grass.
None too soon was his action, for even as he opened his hand to let
go of the pouch that held his pipe, tobacco and cigarette papers
Red Ike snapped:
"I reckon we've gone a mile." And as he turned to look back the
signal sounded, and in a trice he saw the flames, set by his
leader, leap in the air.
"Quick, Gus has touched off!" he cried, then added as he felt in
vain for any matches, "Gimme some of your fire-sticks, mine are all
Suppressing the smile that came to his face at the words, for
Lawrence bad feared his companion might have obtained a supply from
one of the others, he replied:
"Can't. I haven't any."
"What?" roared Red Ike. "You can't come any such game on me. You
had plenty this afternoon. Hand 'em over--and be lively!"
As he spoke the bully edged his pony closer to the other.
Lawrence, however, only repeated his statement calmly.
"You won't gimme them, eh? Then I'll take 'em myself." And like a
flash his powerful fist shot out, striking his companion under the
right side of his jaw with such terrific force that it lifted him
from the saddle.
Springing to the ground, Red Ike roughly searched the motionless
body, and when he found that the tobacco pouch was indeed gone he
realized the trick that Lawrence had played.
For a moment the baffled raider glowered upon the man who had
outwitted him. Then his attention was distracted by the sound of
hoof beats and, turning, he beheld the two horses racing toward the
hills, having taken fright at the flames leaping over the plains.
And never thinking of the man he had unhorsed, Red Ike dashed after
Advancing cautiously, the ranch owners and their men were beginning
to wonder if they could have mistaken the direction of the signals
when they heard the call again.
"That's back of us," declared Pete.
Instantly the others turned in their saddles, and as they did so
the flames bounded into the air.
"They fooled us good and plenty!" growled Nails, while all the boys
glared at the foreman of the Three Stars Ranch.
"They did," asserted Mr. Wilder grimly, "but it's no use talking
about it now. We've got all we can do to get away from the fire."
In terror the boy chums watched the flames spread as if by magic
till in a few minutes a towering wall of fire was racing toward
"Shall we start a back fire?" asked Bill.
"No use," returned several of the cowboys, "the wind's in the wrong
"Then we've got to ride for it," asserted Snider.
Well did the cowboys realize the danger, and with might and main
they urged their ponies, each one bent only on saving himself.
For a time the two brothers and Horace kept pace with them, but
they were not skilled in the fine art of getting the most out of
their ponies when the animals began to tire, and it was not long
before they found themselves dropping behind.
"Wait for us!" shouted Horace as he noticed the distance that
separated them constantly increasing.
For a moment it seemed to the terrified lads that their cry had not
been heard, yet just when they began to despair three horses
dropped behind, and as the boys came up with them they recognized
the two ranch owners and Pete.
"Take Horace, Pete; Snider, Tom; I'll take Larry," commanded Mr.
Wilder, and each of the men leaped their horses to seize the bridle
of the boy indicated.
Not more than two miles behind them was the terrible wall of fire.
In front of it coyotes and all other animals of the plains were In
full flight, their cries of fear or pain as they fell victims to
the all-devouring flames now and then rising above the sullen roar.
"Oh, it's gaining! it's gaining!" wailed Horace.
"Don't look behind. Keep your eyes in front and _ride_!" commanded
Sparks borne by the wind began to fall all about, now and then
starting blazes which the cowboys put out by beating with their
blankets where they could, yet none checked his speed. To the hot
air was added smoke, and men and horses were breathing with
difficulty, gasping and coughing.
"If you've got handkerchiefs, jam them in your mouths!" cried
Nearer, ever nearer drew the wall of flame. It seemed to the chums
that they must be breathing fire, so did the air burn their mouths.
Time and again they swayed in their saddles and would have fallen
had it not been for the men beside them, who had let go the bridles
to steady the boys, at the same time rowelling their own mounts.
Just when it seemed to the boys that the shirts on their backs
would burst into flames a shout went up from in front:
"The river! The river!"
"One more spurt, everybody!"
Gamely men, boys and horses responded.
"Right over the bank! Don't stop!" bellowed Pete.
Ignorant of the height, caring little, eager only to gain the
water, the boys felt their horses leap through the air and the next
minute were sputtering and gasping as they sank below the surface
of the river.
A RIDE FOR LIFE
Quickly the horses swam for the shore, and as the Elkhorn was only
deep for a few rods, it was not many minutes before the cowboys
were shaking and removing their wet garments. But the boys were
oblivious of their condition.
In open-mouthed wonder they stared at the spectacle presented by
the flames from whose devouring fury they had so narrowly escaped.
The wall of fire had in reality been farther away than it had
seemed. For several minutes it advanced, the tongues of flames
towering in the air. A moment the livid wall paused as it reached
the brink of the river, while jets of fire reached out as though
striving to clutch the men who had escaped. Then seemingly bent on
overtaking them, the flames leaped over the edge, devouring the
brush and grass to the water's edge, where, loath to admit defeat,
the flames flickered uncertainly and then died away, leaving
nothing but a pall of smoke to mark their course of destruction.
"They came mighty near getting us that time," exclaimed Pete,
looking back over the still glowing plains.
"Too near," assented Mr. Wilder. "But Megget's men will suffer for
this trick, never fear."
"They'll sure be surprised when they see us," chimed in the owner
of the Three Stars.
"That's just it," returned Mr. Wilder. "Of course, they think we
have perished in the flames, and when they see us riding in on them
they will be so scared it will take all the fight out of them."
None the worse for their experience, the cowboys were eager to be
under way again that they might exact satisfaction upon the raiders
for their unwilling flight. But Mr. Wilder curbed their
impatience by saying:
"It's all right to want to get on the trail again, but if we should
start now, while the plains are still hot, we run the risk of
crippling some of our ponies. We'll eat breakfast here and then in
an hour I guess we can start. What do you think, Jim?"
"It will be all right to take grub and we can tell about the ground
when we've eaten."
Fate, however, was still on the side of the ranchers, for while
they were at their meal it began to rain.
With a shout the cowboys greeted the first drops, but their masters
"This rain will make it mighty hard to pick up the trail," observed
the owner of the Three Stars.
"But we won't need to search for it," interposed Tom.
At his words all eyes were turned upon him, and Mr. Wilder voiced
their sentiments by asking:
"Because I know the very place where Horace and Larry and I rode
into the mountains. I thought I might want to remember it, so I
broke off some branches and cut a half moon in one of the trees
with my jackknife."
"That's all right, but why should we follow that trail?" demanded
Bill. "The men who set the fire were all of--how far, Horace, from
Tom's trail?" and he looked at his brother.
"A good twenty miles."
"Why should we ride twenty miles when we can start right in at the
hills back where the fire started?" continued Bill.
Some of the cowboys laughed at this seeming evidence of Tom's lack
of understanding of the situation, but the younger of the chums had
his good reasons, as he quickly proved by replying:
"Because that is where they drove fifty cattle in. Mr. Jeffreys
said it was a short cut. Besides, it stands to reason the men
wouldn't have gone that way unless the trail led to the mine where
they could join the rest of the gang. I may be from the East," and
he glanced at the boys who had laughed at him, "but I'm not so much
of a tenderfoot as not to know four men aren't going on a pleasure
trip with a herd of fifty steers."
"I reckon the kid is right," said the owner of the Half-Moon after
the merriment this jibe evoked had subsided. "Even if the
'rustlers' didn't know we had started when they lifted the cattle
from the pool, they'd know something was up when all the boys were
away and that we could follow the trail to the mountains.
Consequently, they being only four, would take the shortest route
to join the main body."
"That argument would have been all right before the fire, Jim, but
things are different now," rejoined Bill.
"Certain. But the difference is the raiders will take more time in
driving the cattle in the thought that there's no one to pursue 'em
till the fact of the prairie fire reaches Tolopah."
"And then that bow-legged sheriff will set out," grunted Skinny.
"He couldn't catch a prairie dog. There's only one man I'd like to
see on the job besides the bunch we've got here."
"Name him," cried several of the cowboys.
"Why, that's our friend!" exclaimed Tom and Larry.
"I don't know about his being a friend of yours, but there's
nothing on two or four legs he's afraid of. And he's great on
tricks. He'd think up a scheme in no time to land Megget."
"I think Tom's idea is the right one," said Mr. Wilder. "By riding
that trail we can reach the Lost Lode probably in a few hours,
while it might take days to find where the gang that set fire rode
into the hills. This rain has cooled off the ground, so we can
start right away."
No direct command to pack the food and saddle up did the cowboys
need and as day dawned they again entered the Elkhorn River.
Tom had been provided with an extra rifle Mr. Wilder had been
carrying and great care did he and the other lads take to keep
their arms and ammunition from getting wet a second time.
Arrived at the top of the bank from which they had leaped to
safety, the party beheld a long stretch of blackened ground. As
far as they could see, it stretched away to the north and in width
it was about four miles.
"Why didn't it burn everything, instead of cutting a sort of path?"
asked Larry after a survey of the scene.
"That's one of the things you can't explain," replied the owner of
the Three Stars. "It just don't, that's all. Of course, the wind
has to be right--that is, stay in the same direction as when the
fire was started. And when it does you can count on the fire's
following pretty close to its lines. You see this one was set in a
sort of semi-circle, with the ends burning toward one another. If
you want a fire to spread, start it fan-shaped."
"There's one way the fire helped us," said Horace. "We can travel
faster than we could through the grass, and it doesn't tire the
"Just another proof it's an ill wind that doesn't do somebody
good," quoted Mr. Wilder, smiling.
"Maybe, but I'd rather go without the wind than have another
experience like last night's," returned the owner of the Three
Realizing that they would be able to advance but slowly along the
trail, giving their ponies a chance to rest, the men were riding a
At first Mr. Wilder had insisted that the three youngest boys
return to the ranch as soon as Tom had showed them the trail, but
they had pleaded so hard, asserting they were entitled to accompany
the pursuers because of their discovery of the trail, that he had
finally consented, making the condition, however, that when they
entered the hills the boys must ride next the rear, where in case
of attack, they would not be in the brunt of it.
Larry was following the edge of grass as they drew near the place
where the fire had been started. As his eyes roved over the
billowy plains, they suddenly were attracted by a peculiar furrow
that seemed to run through the grass like a channel.
For the moment he was tempted to call the attention of the others
to it, and then, fearing their ridicule, decided to find out what
it was first.
Accordingly he reined his pony to one side and was approaching the
furrow when he was startled to hear a cry of delight:
"I've got it! I've got it!"
Hastily unslinging his rifle, the elder of the chums pointed it in
the direction whence the unexpected voice had come and shouted:
"You there, in the grass! Stand up before I count five or I'll----"
But Larry had no occasion to complete his command.
Unconscious that there was another soul within miles of him, the
person addressed raised his head cautiously to see who had accosted
"Stand up straight, I said!" ordered the boy.
As the fellow obeyed, Mr. Wilder, Pete and the others, who had been
almost as surprised at hearing Larry's words as the prisoner
himself, dashed up, quickly followed by the cowboys.
Intuitively each man felt they had captured one of the raiders, and
without waiting for instructions, closed in on him in a circle,
completely cutting off any chance for escape.
"Who are you and what are you doing, sneaking along in the grass ?"
demanded Mr. Wilder sternly.
"I'm Bobby Lawrence, and I was hunting for my tobacco pouch,"
returned the fellow, undaunted by the angry faces gazing at him.
"That's the name of one of Megget's right-hand men," declared
Nails. "I found that out at Tolopah."
With no gentle hands half a dozen of the cowboys searched Lawrence,
taking from him his pistols and a long knife.
When their prisoner was harmless Mr. Wilder resumed his questions.
"Who set the fire last night?"
"If I play fair with you, will you treat me square?" demanded
"That depends," temporized the ranch owner. "You belong to the
gang that has been raiding my herds and last night tried to destroy
us by fire. You can't expect much leniency from us under the
circumstances. Still, if you give us any assistance in founding up
Megget, we'll not forget it."
"Well, I'll do all I can, honest I will, Mr. Wilder."
"Don't trust him, Wilder," interposed the owner of the Three Stars,
"When a man is so willing to turn on his pals, there's something
"See here, Jim Snider, you keep out of this. I'm talking to Mr.
Wilder, not to you. He's square. If it was only you, all your
ponies couldn't drag a word out of me!" snapped Lawrence.
This retort angered the owner of the Three Stars, but before he
could say anything the proprietor of the Half-Moon exclaimed:
"If you can give me any reason why I should believe you, Lawrence,
"That's easy," returned the captive, and without wasting words, he
related the incidents of the pursuit of the three boys, Megget's
signals, the order to set the fire and his own action that alone
had saved the herd at the pool from destruction.
In silence, now looking at one another in amazement and then at the
speaker, the cowboys listened.
"That's a likely story, throwing your tobacco away," sneered Snider.
"I believe it," announced Larry calmly. "The only way I knew it
was a man I'd discovered was because I heard him say twice I've
This confirmation of his words from the very one who had captured
him gave Lawrence heart, and quick to see the advantage it gave
him, he pressed it, saying:
"There, you see, I'm telling you straight. And everything else
I've said is just as true."
"Why didn't you strike for the hills when you recovered your
senses?" asked Mr. Wilder. "You would have been safe there, both
from Megget and from us."
"Because I wanted my tobacco."
Whatever doubt was in the mind of the Half-Moon owner as to whether
or not Lawrence had been telling the truth was dispelled by this
Indeed even the owner of the Three Stars was convinced by the
answer, and after a whispered consultation with Mr. Wilder, the
"I have this proposition to make you, Lawrence. Your act in
refusing to obey Megget, which beyond doubt has saved my cattle at
the pool, shows you are not thoroughly bad. Therefore, if you will
lead us by the shortest trail to the headquarters at the Lost Lode
and help us round up Megget and his gang, I will give you a job on
For a moment Lawrence gazed at the ranchman as though unable to
believe his ears, but the kindly light in Mr. Wilder's eyes
reassured him and he replied:
"Will I? Say, Bobby Lawrence knows a white man when he meets one.
Give me a horse and I'll have you at the Lost Lode before dark
IN THE MOUNTAINS
Openly the owner of the Three Stars objected to the proposition of
providing the erstwhile raider with a pony.
"If we're going to trust Lawrence to lead us to the mine, we can
certainly trust him with a horse," declared Mr. Wilder. "Horace,
climb up behind Tom and let Lawrence have your mount."
Quickly the change was made, and again the party advanced.
"To think we were within two miles of meeting Megget again,"
exclaimed Tom as they rode along. "I'm afraid we would not have
got away from him so well this time."
As he heard the remark, Lawrence turned and looked the boy over
from head to foot, finally saying with a smile:
"So you are the lad Gus ran foul of up in Oklahoma?"
"Yes, but my brother was with me."
"Which is he?"
"The one who found you."
At this information Lawrence threw back his head and laughed
heartily. "My, but that is a good one," he ejaculated when he had
recovered from his merriment. "You tenderfeet make a monkey of Gus
and then capture one of his men. I'll let Gus know it was you who
found me, if I never speak again. It will make him more angry than
anything else could."
To their surprise, the ranchers learned that the Lost Lode was only
about five miles from the plains and that it was at the foot of one
of the mountains, instead of high up in them, with a splendid
valley where the cattle could graze close beside it.
"Why, I've ridden through that place at least twice," asserted Pete
as he recognized Lawrence's description of the spot, "but never a
sign of cattle or mine have I seen."
"You noticed there was heavy woods on both sides, didn't you?"
returned the former raider, smiling.
"Well, that explains why you didn't learn anything, though of
course it might be that no cattle were in the valley when you
This explanation only served to arouse the curiosity of the hearers
"The woods are the thing," he continued. "Every time any one comes
along, we drive the cattle into them and no one would think to look
for the entrance to a mine among the trees."
"But how does it happen you have never been taken by surprise?"
queried Mr. Wilder.
"Because when we had steers in the valley we always kept a lookout.
There's a cliff just above the mine from which a man can see the
trail for at least two miles."
"Then won't some one discover us?" asked Bill.
"Not if we hurry. Every man jack of Megget's gang is out on this
raid. All we need to do is to get there first."
"How about that fellow who was with you?" Bill inquired. "Won't he
be on the lookout?"
"Who, Red Ike? Not much. He'll be too anxious to tell Gus about
me. He knows his chief was going to cut across to join Vasquez and
the others, and he'll follow. They'll be so tickled at the thought
you all were lost in the fire they won't hurry much. Still, if
we're going to round them up, we must get there before dark
to-night. There's a spot just before you enter the valley where we
can lie in wait and get them all."
"No, that won't do," declared Mr. Wilder. "I want to capture them
without resorting to firearms, if possible. While, of course, if
it should be necessary, I would sanction shooting, I much prefer to
take the men prisoners and turn them over to the sheriff and the
At first Lawrence could scarcely believe his ears. His creed had
been force, supported by quick use of weapons, not law, and it
seemed incredible to him that a man who had suffered from the raids
of the cattle thieves should not take justice in his own hands when
opportunity presented. But he suddenly realized that he was
dealing with a new kind of man that he had never been brought in
contact with, an honorable man, and his admiration for the owner of
the Half-Moon increased a hundredfold.
Some time, however, was required to reconcile himself to his new
scheme of life, but of a sudden he burst into a roar of merriment.
"We'll do it, and without a shot. Say, Mr. Wilder, it will break
Gus' heart to think he was caught without any gun play."
"That's just it. Most of the power men like Megget have is because
of the fear the very mention of their names inspires.
"But I don't mean to preach a sermon. What I want to know is, How
do you propose to capture Megget without trouble?"
"Wait till they are asleep. They'll have a celebration when they
reach the mine and afterward we can hog-tie them and they will
never know it."
Without vouchsafing any comment, the owner of the Half-Moon reined
away from the strange guide, and, as Snider joined him, discussed
the situation thoroughly.
The questioning of Lawrence, however, did not cease when the
ranchmen left him. The four boys had listened eagerly, and when
the opportunity presented deluged him with inquiries.
"Are there really ghosts in the Lost Lode?" queried Horace.
"None but very live ones," grinned the former raider. "Vasquez
started that story to keep people from coming into the valley.
Many a time we've chased men in the night when they came near."
The chums, however were more interested in learning whether or not
there was rich ore in the mine.
"Probably there is," explained Lawrence, "but it would require a
lot of drilling and sinking of shafts. What silver could be got
out, Vasquez has taken. He was planning to use the money from the
cattle captured in the raid to buy machinery and begin work."
Disappointed to think they would not be able to pick up chunks of
the ore, the comrades lapsed into silence till Tom suddenly
bethought him of the men he had seen crossing the cliff on the
night of their hunting trip, and he lost no time in asking if they
were some of Megget's gang.
"Must have been Gus and the boys who were with him up in Oklahoma,"
declared the guide. "There's a trail from that direction to the
mine. Now you mention it, I remember he spoke of having seen a
party of horsemen. It's a good thing for you he didn't know who it
was. If he had, he was so angry at your outwitting him that he
would surely have made trouble."
Further questioning, however, was prevented by the arrival of the
troop at the trail.
"There are my marks," exclaimed the younger of the chums, pointing
to the branches he had broken. But no one paid him heed, for with
the arrival at the hills the serious work began and the ranchmen
were busy issuing instructions.
CAPTURING THE CATTLE THIEVES
As they wound in and out among the hills and rocks, now ascending,
now going down steep pitches, the silence of their surroundings and
the realization that they were bent on a dangerous mission sobered
the boys and few words did they speak.
Once or twice the line halted as the leaders heard some sound that
roused their suspicions, and several times Sandy and Nails dropped
back. But nothing untoward occurred, and late in the afternoon
they descended into the valley that was the headquarters of the
"We're in time; there's no one here," announced Lawrence after an
examination of the ground for fresh horse or cattle tracks.
Remembering their guide's statement about the cliff on which the
lookout was posted when the raiders were at the mine, die boys
sought it with their eyes. But though they scanned both sides of
the mountains, all they could see was trees.
Horace was on the point of mentioning the fact when the word was
passed back to dismount, and, leading their horses, they were soon
within the protection of the woods.
"Any of the ponies likely to whinny?" asked Lawrence as they halted
in a glen.
"Yes, Blackhawk," answered Horace. "It was he that gave warning of
"Then we'll take them all pretty well up into the woods. He won't
be able to scent when he's above where Megget and the others will
enter the valley."
"Which way will they come?" asked Mr. Wilder.
"The opposite end from the way we did," responded the former
raider. "That's why I'm taking our ponies to a place on this side."
"Seems to me we're leaving too much to this fellow who's gone back
on his former pals," whispered the owner of the Three Stars to Mr.
Wilder. "It's all right if he plays fair, but if he doesn't we'll
be in a pretty mess."
"I believe he is acting square with us. Still it won't do to take
chances," returned the other ranchman, and calling to Lawrence, he
asked where the mine was.
"It's about two hundred yards to the right, Mr. Wilder. I'll show
you when we get up on top of the cliff. There's a big dead tree in
front of it, so you can't miss it, even in the night, for the bark
has been peeled off it by lightning and the wind, so that it stands
out like a white specter in the darkness."
Deeming it inadvisable to unsaddle the horses, in case they should
need them suddenly, the cowboys close-hobbled them on a plateau to
which Lawrence guided them and then followed him to the ledge.
No need was there for the tree that marked the mine to be pointed
out to them, for as the men looked down each one saw it.
To the east and to the west the ledge commanded a view of the
trails, and as they gazed along them, the owner of the Half-Moon
"I don't wonder no one can surprise Megget with such a lookout.
Why, it's practically impossible to approach without being seen by
a man on guard."
"The only time is at night," returned Lawrence. "And, thanks to
the loneliness of the place and the stories of ghosts, no one has
ever tried to pass through or even come in at night while I've been
with the gang."
"Don't start talking about ghosts or you'll get us all nervous,"
said Mr. Wilder, fearing the effect on his men. "Now that we've
seen where the mine is, suppose you take us where you think we had
better wait till we make the round-up."
"That's right here," rejoined Lawrence. "We can see Megget and the
others when they arrive by being here."
"True enough, but how about the guard they send up?"
"There won't be any to-night, don't worry about that. They'll be
too busy celebrating your supposed loss in the fire last night."
This grim reminder of their escape caused all of the ranchers to
smile, and without further objection the men made themselves
comfortable while they waited the arrival of the raiders.
Huddled together, the boys sat where they could watch the trail.
Of a sudden Tom grabbed his brother by the arm and pointed to where
several specks were moving.
In silence they watched as more and more came into view, and then
Larry cried out:
"Here they come!"
Eager with excitement, the others crowded forward to catch a
glimpse of the men who had caused them so much trouble.
"Keep down!" snapped Lawrence. "Vasquez has an eye like a hawk."
No second warning did the cowboys need, and dropping flat on their
stomachs, they watched the raiders draw nearer and nearer.
Because of the cattle, their approach was slow, and it was fully an
hour after the chums had sighted them before they reached the
"That's Vasquez and Gus in the lead," announced the man who had
forsaken his life of wrong-doing. And as the other raiders rode
into sheltered grazing ground he mentioned them by name.
"There are only nineteen of them. I thought Nails said there were
twenty," exclaimed Bill.
"So there were till Lawrence joined us," rejoined his father.
"Thank goodness, my short-horn Durhams are all right. Now be
quiet. It would be too bad to spoil everything when things are
going so well for us."
Instantly the men obeyed, sitting with eyes and ears alert for any
sight or sound that should proclaim the approach of a guard.
But twilight fell and none came, as Lawrence had predicted.
Sounds of revelry, broken now and then by the lowing of the cattle,
were constant. In due time the moon rose and with its coming the
cowboys grew impatient.
The ranchmen, however, refused to move till no sound from the
raiders could be heard.
"It's midnight," announced Mr. Wilder, looking at his watch. "They
must be asleep, by this time. We'll chance it, anyhow. Careful,
every one. Come, Lawrence."
Overjoyed that the time for action had arrived, the boys followed
their guide, halting at the edge of the valley.
Ordering the others to wait, the owner of the Half-Moon and the
former raider glided noiselessly toward the mine.
All about were signs of the celebration in which the thieves had
indulged, and their loud snores told how sound asleep they were.
Confident the time was ripe for action, the two scouts returned to
their impatient fellows.
"Pete, Sandy, Nails, Skinny, Lawrence, you take the ropes and do
the hog-tying. The rest of you have your rifles ready for use.
But don't shoot till I give the word," commanded Mr. Wilder.
Opening the ropes so they could use them rapidly, the men selected
for the binding of the raiders moved forward, closely followed by
the others, guns ready for action.
Signing to Sandy and Skinny to tie the men lying outside, Lawrence
led the others into the mine.
More like a cavern did it seem to them than anything else as they
cast a hurried glance about the rock-walled room which two
flickering torches lighted.
Sprawled upon the floor lay the raiders, and to them Pete and Nails
turned their attention, while Lawrence glided among them, peering
into their faces.
Watching for the slightest move, stood a dozen of the cowboys, with
Mr. Wilder and the four lads.
Of a sudden Lawrence stooped down, worked his hand rapidly, then
rose, a smile on his face, and continued his search till he found
another form, when he repeated the operation.
Gliding to the owner of the Half-Moon, he whispered:
"I've bound Megget and Vasquez. If they wake up now it doesn't
Having made fast the leaders, for he knew that with them rendered
powerless no effective opposition would be made by the others
should they be aroused, Lawrence returned to the task of
"hog-tying," and in a few minutes every cattle thief in the cave
had been securely bound.
"Well, it has been easier to round up Megget and his gang than I
ever imagined it could be, thanks to you, Lawrence," exclaimed Mr.
Wilder as they left the mine to join the others.
"It was no fun at all," protested Horace, and his opinion voiced
the sentiments of the cowboys. "Can't we wake them up or do
something to let them know they've been captured?"
"You'd have some trouble in rousing them, son," replied his father.
"They've been drinking too heavily."
"That's what," agreed the former raider. "You could ride over them
and they would not budge."
"It's the only time I ever knew the drinking of too much liquor to
do good," chuckled Mr. Wilder. "That is, good to us. I don't
suppose our prisoners will share our opinion, though, when they
When the raiders had been bound the owner of the Three Stars had
sent his men to bring down all the ponies, that the animals might
be relieved of their saddles and enjoy the tender grass in the
valley. And no sooner had Blackhawk reached the open than he gave
an ear-splitting whinny which was answered by several of the
At the racket two or three of the thieves awoke and tried to get up.
For a moment the men blinked at the sight of the cowboys. Then,
their senses returning, they discovered they were tied hand and
foot, and in a trice they were yelling like a band of Indians.
"Go it! Go it!" howled the cowboys.
The shouts roused the prisoners in the cave, and their yells of
rage added to the pandemonium.
"Come on in to see Megget," exclaimed Lawrence. "I say, Mr.
Wilder, can't Larry and Tom go in first alone? You promised, you
Willing that his men should have their fun, the owner of the
Half-Moon laughingly consented.
And with the others following close, the brothers went into the
Entering thoroughly into the spirit of the occasion, Larry
approached the struggling chief.
"Why, how do you do again, Mr. Megget?" he exclaimed, bowing in
mock deference. "What's the trouble? You seem to be down and out.
Quite a difference from when you were teasing me at that station in
As Megget recognized the brothers his face grew terrible to see,
and, summoning all his strength, he leaped to his feet.
But Lawrence had tied his ankles so tight he could not keep his
balance, and the raider pitched forward while Mr. Wilder and the
others rushed in to make sure he did not harm the boys.
At the sight of the men he thought burned, the leader of the
raiders lay trembling like a leaf.
"You see you can't raid the Half-Moon herd with impunity,"
exclaimed Mr. Wilder sternly. "Come on, boys, let's go outside.
These men are not pleasant companions." And turning on his heel,
he led the way from the mine.
Appointing Pete, Sandy and two others to stand guard to make sure
none of the prisoners broke their bonds, Mr. Wilder ordered the
others to turn in.
Some time it took them to get to sleep, but when they did they
slept soundly, and it was broad daylight when they awoke.
After a hearty breakfast, they were discussing the best way to get
their prisoners to Tolopah when a body of horsemen galloped into
For the moment the ranchmen and cowboys thought they were partners
of the raiders and quickly they sprang for their guns. But the
next minute their alarm vanished.
"It's Shorty Jenks and the sheriff of Tolopah!" yelled Skinny. And
such, indeed, it proved to be, together with a score of deputies.
Hearty were the greetings exchanged by the sheriffs and the ranch
owners, and the former were elated when they learned of the
successful round-up of the cattle thieves.
Deeming it unwise to start to drive out the cattle so late In the
day, they whiled away the time exploring the mine, where, to the
delight of the boys, they were able to dig out several small pieces
of almost pure silver ore.
Without adventure the day passed and at dawn the next morning the
start was made.
The prisoners, their legs tied together under their ponies and
guarded by the deputies, led the procession, followed by the
sheriffs, the ranch owners and the lads. Behind them the cowboys
drove the cattle.
Able to travel faster than the steers, Mr. Wilder ordered his men
to drive to the pool, picking up the fifty head on the way, after
which he told them to come to the ranch for a jollification in
honor of the capture.
Reaching the plains In good season, the ranchmen and the boys
separated from the sheriffs and, urging their ponies, arrived at
the home in time for dinner.
As they rode into the yard Mrs. Wilder greeted all joyfully. After
the flush of delight at their safe return she asked about the
raiders, clapping her hands at the information they had all been
captured and were on their way to Tolopah.
"And now for some fun," said Bill the next day.
With riding, hunting and fishing the chums passed many happy days.
At the trial of Megget and his pals in Tolopah Tom and Larry
attracted even more attention than the raiders, but they bore it
like sensible boys, making light of their experience at the
crossing and never referring to it when they could avoid so doing.
Upon the completion of the trial, with long sentences for the
cattle thieves, from which fate Mr. Wilder's influence saved
Lawrence, the brothers returned to the ranch.
Great favorites with all the cowboys, they learned many a trick of
roping steers and riding, and they were never so happy as when,
together with Bill and Horace, they were allowed to pass a few days
Upon the return from one of these trips Mr. Wilder handed Larry a
telegram. Opening it, he read:
"We arrived in New York this morning.
Received fifty thousand dollars from Uncle
Darwent. We shall expect to meet you at
the Hotel Boswell in Pittsburg Saturday.
"It's a good thing we came back to the ranch today," exclaimed
Horace. "To-morrow is Thursday, and you'll be obliged to start
then to reach Pittsburg on Saturday."
"Yes, I suppose it is," assented Larry. "Still we've had such a
good time we hate to go home."
"And leave the life in the saddle for life in Ohio," added Tom.