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The Boy Ranchers on the Trail by Willard F. Baker

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_The Diamond X After Cattle Rustlers_































"Come on, Nort! It's your turn to cut out the next one!"

"S'pose I make a mux of it, Bud!"

"Shucks! You won't do that! You've roped a calf before!"

"Yes, but not at a big round-up like this. If I make a fizzle the
fellows will give me the laugh!"

"What if they do? Everybody knows you haven't been at it long,
and you've got to make a start. Besides, anybody's likely to make
a mistake. That's why they put rubbers on the ends of pencils.
Ride in now and snake out the next one, Nort!"

"All right, Bud! Here goes!"

Blaze, the pony Nort Shannon was riding toward the bunch of
cattle gathered at Diamond X ranch for the big, spring round-up,
leaped forward at the sound of his master's voice, and in
response to the little jerk of the reins and the clap of heels
against his sides. Into the herd of milling, turning and twisting
cattle the intelligent animal made his way, needing hardly any
guidance from Nort. The lad, by a mere touch, corrected the
course of Blaze slightly, and in a moment he was heading for a
calf which bawled loudly.

"Get him, Nort!" cried a voice from among the cowboys looking on.

"Don't get me fussed, Dick!" Nort shouted back to his brother,
who sat astride his pony near Bud Merkle. "It'll be your turn

Into the herd he wormed his way on Blaze, dodging here and there,
but with his eyes ever on the calf he hoped to cut out so it
could be branded. Nort leaned forward in his saddle, and then his
cousin and brother, eagerly watching from outside the herd, saw
the boy rancher's hand shoot up.

Through the air the rope went, turning, twisting, writhing and
uncoiling like a snake. In an instant it had flipped around the
hind legs of a calf.

"Good!" yelled Dick.

"Even Babe couldn't 'a' done better!" complimented Bud,

"'Tisn't over yet!" gasped Nort, for he had hard work ahead of
him, and the dust raised by thousands of hoofs was choking. "Wait
'till I get it to the branding corral!"

He leaned over in his other stirrup, causing the lariat to pull
taut and, the next instant the calf flopped on its side.

"Snake him out, Blaze!" cried Nort to his pony, and the animal
turned and dragged the prostrate calf along over the ground, an
operation not as cruel as it sounds as the surface was inches
thick in soft dust, like flour.

"That's the boy, Nort!" called his cousin Bud. "I knew you could
do it! Now then, Dick! Let's see how you'll make out!"

"I can't throw a rope as good as Nort," answered the stouter lad,
as he urged his pony, Blackie, into the herd. "But here goes!"

Meanwhile Nort had dragged the calf he had cut out to the corral
where the branding was going on. Two cowboys, stationed there for
the purpose, leaped forward and threw the calf over on its side,
for it had managed to struggle to its feet when Nort ceased
dragging it. One man twisted a front leg of the struggling
creature back in a hammerlock and knelt on its neck. The other
took hold of the upper hind leg, and with this hold prevented the
calf from sprawling along on the ground.

"Sit on him!" called Mr. Merkel, owner of Diamond X and other
ranches. He was superintending the round-up of his herds and
those entrusted to Bud, Nort and Dick in the first business
venture of the boy ranchers. "Sit on him!" yelled Bud's father.

Accordingly the men sat on the calf, thus, with the holds they
had secured, keeping it under restraint with the least possible
pain to the small creature.

"Branding iron!" sang out Slim Degnan, foreman of the ranch.

A little blaze was flickering on the ground, not far from where
the calf Nort had cut out was thrown and held. In a moment the
fire-tender had seized the branding iron, and, a second or two
later, it was being pressed on the calf's flank.

The creature bawled loudly, and kicked out, thereby nearly
throwing off the men who were sitting on it. But the branding was
all over in a moment, and the men leaped up, releasing the

The calf stood, dazed for the time being, after it had scrambled
to its feet, and then trotted out of the corral, lashing its side
with its little tail. Plainly branded on it now, never to be
completely effaced, was the mark of the ownership of Mr. Merkel--
an X inside a diamond.

"Next!" called the branders:

"Here comes Dick!" shouted Bud, as Nort rode up beside him. "And
he got his calf!" "Good!" exclaimed the brother. "I guess we're
learning the business!"

"Surest thing you know!" asserted the son of the owner of Diamond
X. "I told you it wasn't so hard, and you've done the same thing

"But not at such a big round-up," remarked Nort, as he prepared
to ride in again and cut out another calf.

"Yes, it is big," admitted Bud, as he made ready for his share in
the affair--his task being the same as that of his cousins--to
cut out the calves for branding purposes. "It sure is a big

It had been in progress for days. Twice a year on the big,
western ranches, the cattle are driven in from the outlying
ranges, to be tallied, inspected, marked and shipped away. The
spring and fall round-ups are always busy seasons at any ranch.

During the times between round-ups the new calves attained their
growth, but they needed to have branded into their hides the
marks of their owners. Then, too, some yearlings escaped branding
at times, either by remaining out of sight at the round-up, or in
the attending confusion.

Unbranded calves who had partly attained their growth, were
termed "mavericks," and when the herds of different owners
mingled, there was, usually, a division of the mavericks, since
it could not be accurately told who owned them.

The title maverick was derived from a stock man of that name,
whose practice was to claim _all_ unbranded calves in a
herd. His cowboys would ride about, cutting out the unmarked
animals, with the cool statement:

"That's a maverick," meaning that it belonged to their "boss."

And so the name has commonly become associated with any half-
grown, unbranded calf.

Mr. Merkel was the owner of several ranches, Square M, Triangle B
and Diamond X, not to mention Diamond X Second, or Flume Valley,
of which his son Bud, and the latter's cousins, Norton and
Richard Shannon, were the nominal proprietors.

The cattle from Flume Valley, or "Happy Valley" as Bud called it
after the mystery of the underground water was solved, were in
the round-up with the others from his father's ranches.

For days preceding the lively doings I have just described, the
cowboys, called in from distant ranges, had driven the cattle
toward the central assembling point--the corrals at Diamond X.

Slowly the longhorns, the shorthorns and cattle with no horns at
all, had been "hazed" in from their feeding grounds toward
Diamond X. The cow punchers had galloped hard all day, and they
had ridden herd at night, to keep the animals from straying. At
night this was not so hard, for the animals were glad to rest
during the darkness.

But during the day there was always some steer--often more than
one--that wanted to run away from the herd. As this might start a
stampede it was necessary to drive the "striker" back, and this
was, often enough, a difficult task.

Bud, Nort and Dick had borne their share of this difficult round-
up task, and now, when the thousand or more of steers, calves and
mavericks had been gathered at Diamond X, the work of tallying
them, branding those that were without marks and shipping away
the best was well under way.

In and out of the herd rode the boy ranchers, doing their best
alongside of more seasoned "punchers." Calves were cut out,
thrown and branded, to be quickly released and again mingle with
the herd.

"Oh, I'm Captain Jinks,
Of the Horse Marines!"

One of the cowboys, wiping the dust and sweat from his face, with
his big, red silk handkerchief, or, rather, neckerchief, started
this song. It was taken up by half a score of loud voices.

"Yi-yippy!" came in stentorian tones from Yellin' Kid. "This is
the life!"

But as, just then, his pony slipped and he missed the throw he
made for a calf, it is doubtful if Yellin' Kid felt as gay as he

"Hot work; eh, boys?" asked Mr. Merkel, when Dick, Nort and Bud
rode past to get drinks of water.

"But it's great, all the same!" answered Dick, with shining
eyes--eyes that gleamed amid a face dark with the tan of the
western sun and grimy with the dust of the western plains.

"Glad you like it!" commented the proprietor of Diamond X as he
kept on with his tallying. "How they coming, Slim?" he asked his

"Couldn't be better! Old Buck Tooth is doing a heap sight more
than I ever dreamed a Zuni could."

"Bud said that his old Indian helper was up to snuff!" commented
Mr. Merkel. "I'm glad to know it. Heard anything from Double Z?"
he asked, and there was an anxious note in his voice.

"No, Hank and his gang seem to have quieted down after what I
told 'em!"

"Well, I hope he doesn't make trouble for Bud and the boys.
They're going back to Happy Valley to-night." "So I understand.
Oh, shucks! Don't worry about Hank! He's all talk--he and that
blustery foreman of his, Ike Johnson!"

There had been a dispute between the cowboys of Diamond X and
those of Double Z, a ranch owned by the notorious Hank Fisher, a
few days before the round-up, the subject of dispute being the
ownership of certain mavericks. It had ended with the triumph of
Slim Degnan, foreman of Mr. Merkel's holdings.

And so the round-up went on, the heat, the dust, the noise and
confusion increasing as calf after calf, maverick after maverick,
was branded, and the steers to be shipped were cut out, to be
hazed over to the railroad stock yards.

And yet, with all the seeming confusion, there was order and
system in the work.

"Well, I guess this is the last," remarked Mr. Merkel to his son,
as Bud, with his cousins, rode slowly up to the ranch house, when
the final calf had been cut out and the tally made. "You boys
going back after grub?"

"Yep," answered Bud, but there was no enthusiasm in his voice.
He, like his cousins, was too tired. For the day had been a
grueling one, with the heat and hard work.

"You sure did make out a whole lot better than I ever thought you
would," said Mr. Merkel, as he rode along with his son and
nephew's. "Putting water into that valley made a big difference."

"I should say so!" exclaimed Bud. "Our stock will lay over
anything you will ship from any of your three ranches, Dad!"

"I wouldn't wonder but what you are right, Bud! Well, let's wash
up and eat."

One by one the cowboys drifted in, some singing ranch songs in
spite of their weariness. Bud and his cousins were through with
their meal first, and, having persuaded his sister, Nell, to pack
a basket of doughnuts, pie and cheese for him, Bud signalled to
his cousins to join him out at the pony corral.

"Let's get an early start back to Happy Valley," he urged. "It's
a long enough ride, anyhow."

"You said it!" commented Nort.

"Well, there's one thing we don't have to worry about, and that
is not finding any water running into the reservoir," added Dick,
as he slipped in through the gate and caught one of his ponies--
not Blackie, who was tired out from the round-up. Each cow
puncher, including the boy ranchers, had several animals in his

"No, I guess, since we solved the mystery of the water supply,
we'll have no more trouble," agreed Bud.

The boy ranchers rode over the trail to their own camp--it was
actually a camp, for permanent ranch buildings had not yet been
erected in Happy Valley, though some were projected. Tents formed
the abiding place of our heroes, and as they were only there
during the summer months the canvas shelters served very well,

The moon rose, shining down from a starlit sky, as the rough but
faithful and sturdy cow ponies ambled along. Now the boy ranchers
would be down in some swale, or valley, and again topping one of
the foothills which led to Buffalo Ridge or Snake Mountain,
between which elevations lay Happy Valley, where the cattle of
Diamond X Second were quartered.

"There she is--the old camp," murmured Dick, as they started down
the slope which led to the collection of tents erected against
the earthen and stone bank of the reservoir.

"And maybe I won't hit the hay!" exclaimed Bud, with a yawn. "We
don't have to get up to-morrow until we're ready."

"Oh, boy!" cried Nort in delight.

They rode forward, and were almost at their camp when Bud, who
had trotted ahead, pulled his pony to a sudden stop and cried

"Hold on there! Who are you and where are you going?"

At the same moment his cousins saw the moon gleaming on the .45
gun which Bud drew from his holster.



"What's the matter, Bud?" asked Dick, as he urged his animal
forward in a jump, until he was beside his cousin,

"Some one's up there around the tunnel entrance," responded Bud
Merkel. "I saw 'em dodge back out of the light." Then, raising
his voice, he cried: "Come on, now! None of your tricks! I've got
you covered!"

"I don't see any one," spoke Nort.

"They're there, all right," asserted Bud. "Come on, fellows," he
exclaimed, "we'll have to look into this. There was trouble
enough with getting water to stay in Happy Valley, without
letting some Greaser in to queer the works again! Come on!"

He and his cousins rode their horses up the rather steep and
winding trail that led from the bottom of the reservoir to the
top, where a big iron pipe, sticking out under the mountain like
the head of some great serpent, brought from the distant Pocut
River a stream, without which it would have been impossible to
raise cattle in the valley the boy ranchers claimed as particularly
their own.

"Who you reckon it is?" asked Nort, as his pony scrambled up
between the animals of Dick and Bud.

"Oh, some prowler that may have been rustling our grub while we
were over at the round-up," was the answer.

"They couldn't get any cattle, for there aren't any to get,"
observed Dick. This was true, as all the animals had been driven
from Happy Valley over to Diamond X. Later such as were not
shipped away, and many of the calves and mavericks would be
returned to fatten up and grow in readiness for the spring

"I don't just like this!" murmured Bud, as he again urged his
pony forward. "Have your guns ready, fellows!"

And while they are thus riding toward the place where a strange
tunnel pierced Snake Mountain, I shall take this opportunity to
present, more formally than I have yet had a chance to do, my new
readers to the boy ranchers. For that is what Bud Merkel, and
Nort and Dick Shannon called themselves, being that, in fact.

Bud was a western lad, the son of Henry Merkel, who had been a
ranchman all his mature years. He lived at Diamond X ranch, with
his wife and daughter Nell. Some time before this present story
opens Bud's cousins from the east had come to spend the summer
with him, while their father and his wife made a trip to South

Nort and Dick, though "tenderfeet" at the beginning, had quickly
fallen into the ways of the west, and in the first volume of this
series, "The Boy Ranchers," I was privileged to tell you how they
helped solve a mystery that revolved around Diamond X.

This mystery had to do with two college professors, and a
strange, ancient animal. But it would not be fair to my new
readers to disclose, here, all the secrets of that book.

So successful was the first summer which Nort and Dick spent at
their uncle's ranch, that they were allowed to repeat it the
following season. But this time there was a change. As related in
the second volume, "The Boy Ranchers in Camp," Mr. Merkel had, by
utilizing an ancient underground water-course beneath Snake
Mountain, and by making a dam in Pocut River, brought water to a
distant valley he owned.

This valley was originally called Buffalo Wallow, the source of
the name being obvious. But once water was brought through the
underground course, and piped to a reservoir, whence it could be
distributed to drinking troughs for the cattle, and also used to
irrigate the land, it enabled a fine crop of fodder to be grown.
With the bringing of the water to Buffalo Wallow, or Flume
Valley, as Bud called the place, it was possible to do what had
never been done before--raise cattle there. Bud's father let him
take this valley ranch as his own, and Nort and Dick were boy
partners associated with their western cousin, Mr. Shannon
putting up part of the needed capital to make the start for his

All would have gone well except for the mysterious stoppage of
the flow of water, which stoppage, if continued, would mean

How the water fight at Diamond X Second (as the valley ranch was
sometimes called) ended, and how the strange mystery was solved,
is the story in the second volume, and I absolutely refuse to go
into more details about it here. It would not be playing the game

At any rate the water was finally turned back into the
underground tunnel, and then, in order to better guard this vital
necessity, Mr. Merkel had the entrance to the tunnel boarded up--
egress being possible only when heavy doors, at either end, were

I might say that while the tunnel was the old water-course of a
vanished river, the shaft under the mountain appeared, in.
ancient times, to have been used by the Aztecs, or some Mexican
tribes, for hiding their store of gold away from the Spaniards.
There were secret passages and rooms in the tunnel, to say
nothing of hidden water gates.

Who had constructed these, and what actual use had been made of
them was, of course, lost in the dim and ancient past. But that
it was the Aztecs, or some allied race, was the statement of
learned men who examined the tunnel.

After the water fight at Diamond X Second had terminated in favor
of the boy ranchers, and great copper levers that operated the
hidden water gates had been removed, the tunnel was boarded up,
and was now seldom entered.

But now, as Bud and his cousins rode back from the big round-up,
and the western lad had, as he thought, seen some one sneaking
about the forbidden gate, there was a feeling of apprehension in
the hearts of himself and cousins.

They had now reached the top level of the reservoir which held a
storage supply of water. The reservoir was a great semi-circular
bank of earth and atones, wide enough on top for two to ride

"I don't see any one," remarked Nort, straining his eyes to
pierce the gloom and shadows into which the face of the tunnel
and the locked gate were thrown by the moonlight and clouds.

"Nor I," added Dick.

"Well, I saw some one!" insisted Bud. "It was a man, as sure as
snakes, and he seemed to be trying to open the big gate."

This gate was made of heavy bolted planks and was set on hinges
in a jamb of other planks and boards that closed the reservoir
end of the tunnel water-course. A similar barrier and big door
was at the Pocut River end.

"Well, if he was here, he seems to be gone," observed Nort "Maybe
it was a sheep herder, Bud."

"Well, if any of that gentry think they can drive their flock
over here, and water their woolies at my expense, they're
mistaken," declared Bud with emphasis. "Sheep men have to be, I
reckon, but they're out of place in a cow country. Hello, there!"
he called, loudly. "Come on out and show yourself!"

But there was no answer, and the only sound, aside from the
creaking of the damp saddle leathers, was the splashing of water
as it flowed from the big pipe and into the reservoir.

"Guess he lit out," observed Bud, thrusting his gun back into the

"Or else you didn't see him," chuckled Nort. "Maybe your eyes are
full of dust, same as mine are, from that round-up."

"Oh, I saw somebody all right!" declared Bud. "Might 'a' been one
of Buck Tooth's Indian friends making a call, but--"

He suddenly ceased speaking and leaned over in his saddle to gaze
earnestly at something on the ground. It was something that
glittered and shone in the mystic moonlight as Nort and Dick
could see. "What's that?" inquired the latter.

In answer Bud slipped from his saddle and picked up the object
which the moonlight had revealed.

"What in the world is this?" asked the boy rancher, as he held up
a curious instrument. "Is this the start of another mystery!"



Leaping from their saddles, Nort and Dick hurried to the side of
their cousin, chum and partner in the ranch venture. Eagerly they
looked over his shoulder while he examined the strange object he
had picked up, almost at the very door leading into the
mysterious tunnel.

The instrument--for such it seemed to be--consisted of a shiny,
nickeled part, which was what had reflected the moonlight, thus
attracting Bud's attention to it. In addition there were two
flexible tubes, of soft rubber, joining into one where they met
the shiny metal.

The two tubes each terminated in hard rubber ends, pierced with a
tiny hole, and on the end of the single tube was a bright metal
disk. The whole formed a strange object, picked up as it was from
the ground, and especially when the boy ranchers feared they had
some cause for alarm.

"What in the world is it?" asked Bud, as he dangled it in front
of his cousins. "I never saw anything like it before. Wait! I
have it! Yellin' Kid said he was going to send to Kansas City for
a flute he could play on. This must be part of it! He dropped it
here; though that couldn't 'a' been him sneaking around the
tunnel. But this is Yellin' Kid's musical instrument all right!
Oh, won't I rag him, though! I wonder which end you blow in?"

"That isn't a musical instrument!" declared Nort, taking it from
Bud's hand.

"Not What is it then?" asked the western ranch lad.

"It's a stethoscope," declared Nort.

"Whew! x I didn't know Yellin' Kid could play one of
_them_!" exclaimed Bud. "He must be more musical than any of
us thought!"

"'Tisn't musical, I tell you!" cried Nort, half laughing. "This
is a _stethoscope_--it's what a doctor listens to your lungs
or heart with when you're sick."

"He never listened to mine!" boasted Bud, "at least not since I
can remember, for I've never been sick."

"Well, I have," admitted Nort, "and so has Dick. You remember Dr.
Thompson using one of these, don't you?" he asked his stout

"Sure I do! And there's some other name for it besides plain
stethoscope," declared Dick. "It's a long word--bi--di--"

"Binaural stethoscope! That's it!" broke in Nort. "I remember,
now. I thought I'd never be able to say those words, but they
come back to me now. Binaural stethoscope."

"'Tisn't good to eat, or shoot with, is it!" asked Bud, as he
again took the instrument and turned it over and over in his

"Eat! Shoot!" laughed Nort. "No, I tell you it's to listen to
your heart beats, or lungs. Binaural means, simply, that it's
fixed so you can listen with both ears at the same time. And
stethoscope comes from two Greek words, stethos, the breast, and
skopen, to view. It means, literally, to view inside the chest,
but of course the doctors who use the stethoscope don't really do
that. They only listen through the ear pieces--these," and he
held up the two rubber tubes ending in hard nipples, pierced with
small holes.

"What's the other end for!" asked Bud, indicating the shiny disk
of metal that dangled from the single tube.

"That's the part the doctor holds on your chest or over your
heart," Dick answered. "Sometimes the doctor puts it to your back
to listen to your breathing from that side."

"Well, who in the world would have a--a binaural stethoscope out
here!" asked Bud. "Yon reckon Doc. Tunison dropped it!" he went
on, referring to the local veterinarian. "Shucks no! Cow doctors
don't use 'em, not that I ever heard of," declared Nort. "Though
Doc. Tunison is up to date."

"He sure was in discovering that it was germs which caused the
epidemic outbreak in our stock last year," remarked Bud.

"Yes, we got out of that mighty lucky," chimed in Dick. "What's
become of Pocut Pete?" he asked, referring to a scoundrel of a

"Oh, Del Pinzo and Hank Fisher had pull enough to get him out of
jail, after he'd served only part of his term for infecting our
stock," said Bud. He had reference to something which is
explained in the volume immediately preceding this. Del Pinzo was
a notorious Mexican half-breed who, more than once, had made
trouble for the boy ranchers. Hank Fisher was the owner of Double
Z ranch, adjoining that of Square M, one of Mr. Merkel's, and
also adjoining Happy Valley. Pocut Pete was believed to be a tool
of these two unscrupulous men, and Del Pinzo had at his command
Several Greasers who slipped back and forth over the Mexican
border, not far from which were located the holdings of Mr.
Merkel and the boy ranchers.

"Well, this is a stethoscope all right," went on Nort, as Bud
turned toward his pony, with the evident intention of mounting.

"And I'd give a lot to know what it's doing here, and who dropped
it," spoke Bud. "Let's look around a little more. I'm not at all
satisfied with this. I sure saw, some one here, and this proves
it," and he stuffed the doctor's instrument into his pocket.

"It doesn't prove that the man you saw--or thought you just saw--
sneaking around here dropped it," spoke Nort. "We've been away
for a week, and it may have been dropped any day within that

"Yes," agreed Bud. "But who was monkeying around here as we rode
back to camp? That's what I want to know!"

However, search as the boy ranchers did, they found no midnight
visitor. All was quiet at their camp, save for the distant howl
of a coyote, and the splash of the water into the reservoir. All
the stock had been driven away from Happy Valley to the big
round-up at Diamond X, but soon the fertile glade would again be
dotted with hungry cattle.

"Well, I reckon we'll have to give up," said Bud, when a thorough
search had been made, and no one discovered.

"The tunnel door doesn't show any signs of an attempt having been
made to bust it; does it?" asked Dick.

"Not as far as I can see, in this light," Bud replied. "We'll
take a stroll up here in the morning," he went on as he thrust
the stethoscope into his pocket. "Now for a little grub, and then
to hit the hay. Oh, boy! But I to tired!"

So were the others, and after rummaging among their camp stores,
and eating some crackers and canned peaches, the boys, having
picketed their horses, turned in, rolled up in their blankets,
and were asleep almost as soon as their heads were on the
pillows, which were, as a matter of fact, stuffed with hay.

An examination, next morning, disclosed nothing more in the
neighborhood of the tunnel entrance than their own and, their
ponies' feet marks, until Bud, with an exclamation, pointed to
several cigarette stubs on the ground, and a number of half-
burned matches.

"Some one was here last night--or yesterday!" he declared. "And
they stood in this one spot for some time--either resting or

"What would they be spying on!" asked Dick.

"Search me!" frankly admitted Bud. "But since we had that water
fight I'm suspicious of everything. Those cigarette stubs are
fresh, and were dropped last night, or yesterday. None of us use
'em, and though some of our cow punchers do they haven't been
here lately enough to have left this fresh evidence. The stubs
are new ones."

"Well, maybe there was some one here last night," said Dick.

"I'm positive of it!" declared Bud. "Let's take another look at
the big door lock."

Even a close inspection, however, failed to disclose any signs of
the great portal, or its heavy padlock having been tampered with.
Nor were there any marks tending to show where an effort had been
made to force boards off the frame in which the door was set.

"Well, we'll just have to wait," said Bud, as he turned to go
back down to the tents. "Hello," he suddenly added, as he gazed
off up the valley. "Here comes somebody, riding like all
possessed, too!"

The boy ranchers watched the approach of the solitary horseman,
and, as he drew nearer Bud exclaimed:

"It's Buck Tooth!"

It was, in fact, that same Zuni Indian, who had been engaged as a
sort of camp cook and ranch hand by Bud's father, later being
transferred to Bud's service. Buck Tooth was devoted to the boy

"What's matter, Buck! What for you ride so _pronto_
fashion!" asked Bud as the Indian, a superb horseman, drew rein
close to the boy ranchers. "You race, maybe, Buck Tooth!"

"Yep--race tell you bad news!" half--grunted the Zuni.

"Bad news!" faltered Bud. "Is it my mother--dad---"

"Them all well," said Buck Tooth. "But got bad news all same. You
see anybody out here?" and he slipped from his saddle to rest his
almost winded steed.



Eagerly the boy ranchers gathered about Buck Tooth. The Indian,
as if rather ashamed of the hurry and emotion that had possessed
him, grew quieter as he threw the reins down over his pony's
head, as an intimation to the animal not to stray. Then the Zuni
turned toward Bud and his cousins.

"This is the second time you gave me bad news, Buck," remarked
the western lad. "Remember?"

"How?" asked the Indian sharply.

"I say this is the second time you've brought news of something
bad. You were the first to tell me about the water stopping in
the reservoir. And from then on we had some rousing times; didn't
we, fellows?" asked Bud, turning to his chums.

"That's right!" assented Nort.

"But what's going on now?" Dick wanted to know.

"You said it!" exclaimed Bud. "I should let Buck Tooth tell it,
instead of keeping him gassing away about the past. What's the
row, Buck?"

"Robbers!" was the Indian's answer.

"Robbers? At Diamond X?" cried Bud.

"Did they get anything?" Dick wanted to know.

"Anybody hurt?" asked Nort.

"Get some money--nobody hurt only Babe--him get broken leg,"
half-grunted the Indian.

"Babe has a broken leg in a fight with robbers?" gasped Bud.
"Shoot it along a little faster, Buck! I'm sorry I didn't let you
ride harder at first. How much did they get? Was it rustlers, and
I'll bet a cookie with a raisin in that Del Pinzo and his gang
had a hand in the fracas! Did Babe shoot any of 'em?"

"Babe him try--but too fat," said the Indian, with as near to a
chuckle as ever he achieved, "Fall down--bust leg. Your
_padre_ no can tell how much money gone, but big iron box
not opened."

"Oh, they didn't get to the safe, then!" exclaimed Bud with
relief in his voice. For he knew, at this season of the spring
round-up, that many thousands of dollars, from the sale of
cattle, were often kept in his father's safe. "But go ahead,
Buck! Tell us more about it. Step on her! Give her the gas! Open
the throttle!"

"Hu?" grunted the Zuni, questioningly. "I step on somet'ing?"
"You're only mixing him up!" declared Nort "Let him take his own
time, Bud."

"If I do he'll be until noon giving us the facts. And if the
robbers looted dad's office, even if they didn't get the safe
open, they may have lit out with a tidy sum, and we ought to take
the trail after 'em. That's what Buck came here for, likely! To
get us on the chase from this end. Go ahead! Shoot!" he
requested, meaning a verbal fire, not actual.

Whether Buck Tooth would have succeeded, under these confusing
directions, in making a quick, dear statement of the matter is a
question that was not settled. For, just as the Indian was about
to resume, Dick looked off toward the distant hills, which lined
the trail between Diamond X proper, and Happy Valley, and the lad

"Here comes one of the robbers now, riding like Sam Hill!"

Bud and Nort leaped to the side of their partner, their hands on
their weapons, but, after a glimpse of the approaching horseman,
having shaded his eyes with his hands, Bud cried:

"That isn't a robber! It's Yellin' Kid. I know his riding. I
reckon he's come to give us the straight of it!"

Which proved to be the case.

"Buck outrode me," admitted Yellin' Kid as he drew rein, and his
voice was not as loud as usual. "We started at th' same time,
shortly after midnight when th' break was made, but that Indian's
cayuse shore can step some! An' Buck can ride--let me tell you!"

"You shot a ringer that time!" asserted Bud. "But what happened!
And is Babe badly hurt!"

"No! He just twisted his ankle gettin' out of his bunk in a hurry
t' take a pot shot at th' bunch that tried to hold us up. Doc.
Tunison says he'll be all right in a week."

"But Tunison is a horse doctor!" objected Bud, for Babe, the fat
assistant foreman of Diamond X, was a prime favorite with him and
his cousins.

"Yes, shore he is! Why not? A horse doctor for a cow puncher!"
chuckled Yellin' Kid. "But here's the yarn."

Thereupon, having turned his pony out to graze with the Indian's,
Yellin' Kid told the boys what had happened.

"We started some of the cattle from th' round-up brandin' over to
th' railroad," the cowboy stated, "an' followin' th' usual
preliminaries we all settled down for th' night, after you
fellows rode off. An' let me tell you I was glad t' hit my bunk!

"Well, some time near midnight we, out in th' bunkhouse, was
roused up by shootin' from your father's bungalow, Bud. Course
that couldn't mean but one thing, an' we all got our guns an'
rushed out, natcherally. But all we saw was a bunch ridin' off in
th' darkness, your father firin' at 'em, Bud.

"Come t' find out, your mother had been woke up by a noise in th'
office where th' safe was. She called your father an' he took a
look, with his gun, of course. He saw a man in a mask tryin' t'
open th' strong box, and your dad gave th' usual countersign.

"But th' burglar wheeled, an' popped one at your dad, not hittin'
him I'm glad t' say, an' out th' winder he jumped, th' burglar, I
mean. Then the rest of th' gang, which was waitin', rode off,
shootin' some, as your dad was doin'.

"Come t' find out, they'd got a few hundred dollars from the desk
where your dad left th' cash, Bud, but th' main part was in th'
safe, an' _that_ they couldn't get open. Course soon as we
knowed what was up we organized a posse, an' started off--all but
Babe. He fell--or rolled--out of his bunk an' twisted his leg,

"Anyhow, Buck an' I was told off t' ride this way, partly t' let
you fellers know what had happened, an' partly t' see if there
was any trace of th' skunks what robbed your dad down here in
Happy Valley. How about it? Seen anybody?"

"Well, yes, we did see some one sneaking around here when we
arrived last evening," Bud answered. "But that was long before
the robbery."

"And tell him what we found!" urged Dick

"Oh, yes, a stethoscope," went on Bud. "But that has nothing to
do with the matter. Maybe some doctor, or medical student, is out
here for his health, and dropped it as he rode over our place."

"What's a slitherscope!" asked Yellin' Kid. "Anything like a

"No!" laughed Nort. "We'll show you. But say, what can we do
toward getting these robbers?"

"We've got t' trail 'em," spoke the older cowboy, as he turned to
go to the tents with the boy ranchers, Buck Tooth following with
the two half-winded ponies. "Soon as I get my breath----"

"That's right!" interrupted Bud. "Come on up and sit down. I'll
make you some coffee. I forgot you'd ridden all night."

"Half of it, anyhow," asserted Yellin' Kid. "An' I rode hard! But
so did Buck Tooth, only you'd hardly know it. He sure can make
his cayuse cover th' ground!"

Indeed the Indian showed little signs of the hard riding he had
accomplished between midnight and dawn. And when he and Yellin'
Kid were having a belated morning cup of coffee further details
of the story were told.

Who the robbers were, and how many there were in the gang that
attempted to force the safe at Diamond X, were matters left to
further enlightenment. Mr. Merkel had only seen one in his
office, bending over the safe, and this one had fled at the
command of "hands up!" Then the others had raced away, amid a
fusillade of shots which they returned.

It was so dark--the moon of the early night having been clouded
over--that the direction taken by the robbers had not been

"They probably scattered," declared Yellin' Kid. "It would be th'
safest way--for them! But there's a chance some might 'a' come
this way, so your dad wanted you t' be on the watch."

"We will!" declared Bud. "And when some of the boys come back on
the job here, and we get our allotment of cattle so things settle
down to normal, I'm going back to the ranch and have a talk with

"'Twouldn't be a bad idea," agreed Yellin' Kid. "But where's that
mouth organ you said you found?"

"A stethoscope," laughed Bud. "Here it is," and he exhibited the
medical instrument.

"Hum!" mused the cowboy. "It might be a burglar tool for all I'd
know the difference. But now, if it's agreeable t' you fellers,
let's have a look around. Maybe some of them burglars got a chunk
of lead in him and he's hidin' out around here."

However, a search in the vicinity of Happy Valley camp disclosed
nothing, and then Bud and his cousins set about getting back into
the routine that had been interrupted by the round-up.

"The first thing we've got to do," Bud declared, "is to mend that
break in the telephone line. If that had been working last night
you could have called us up, Kid, instead of you and Buck having
to ride out here."

"Yes, we wished th' line was working" admitted the cowboy. "But
it wouldn't have been of much use, it seems. Them burglars didn't
come out this way. However, it's just as well t' have it fixed."

There was a system of telephones connecting Bud's camp with his
father's main ranch and also the two branch ones, and the system
was likewise hooked-up with the long distance. But a recent wind,
just before the round-up, had blown down some poles in Happy
Valley, putting Bud's line out of commission. This was why he and
his chums could not be reached by wire from Diamond X.

The poles were set up in the next few days, when some cowboys
arrived to again take up their duties with Bud, Nort and Dick;
for the cattle not sold were again sent back to the valley range
to fatten for the fall, and they needed to be looked after.

Meanwhile, a search of the surrounding country had failed to
disclose any trace of the robbers, and their identity remained
hidden. They had gotten away with about $500, missing a much
larger sum in the safe. The authorities were notified, and a
posse scoured the region, but fruitlessly.

"Let's have a look at the safe they tried to open, Dad," begged
Bud, when he and his cousins had ridden over to pay a week-end
visit to the home ranch. "Did they try to drill it for an

"I don't believe so, son. In fact, I haven't looked at the safe
very closely, except to notice that it was all right. And I took
the money out of it over to the bank next day."

Bud and his cousins looked at the strong box in which Mr. Merkel
kept his money and valuable papers. It was a large, old-fashioned
safe, proof from any fire that might visit the ranch, and beyond
the ability of ordinary burglars to open, without the use of
explosives or special tools.

And as Bud leaned over to look at the heavy door he saw something
that caused him to ask:

"Were these here before the attempted robbery, Dad?"

"What there, Bud?"

"These scratches on the front of the door. It does look as if
they tried to drill the safe!"

Bud pointed to several parallel marks on the steel door. The
scratches were deep in the paint, and seemed to radiate toward
the shiny nickel dial of the combination. "Scratches!" repeated
Mr. Merkel, coming over to look. "No, I never noticed them
before. Why, she is clawed up some," he admitted. "But I can't
say that they haven't been there since I got the safe, which was
just before the round-up. Yes, she sure is clawed up some," and
he spoke as if some mountain lion had done the damage to his
strong box.

But here Bud's sister, Nell, took a hand in the proceedings.

"Those scratches are new ones--they were made by the burglar,"
declared the girl, whom Nort and Dick thought the prettiest they
had ever seen. "I know, for I dusted your office, Dad, the day
the round-up ended, and the door was as shiny then as a new

"Then the burglar did it," decided Bud. "And it shows we have to
deal with a regular gang of safe robbers, instead of just
ordinary cattle rustlers!"



Bud's opinion, expressed with such conviction, coupled with the
fact that Nell, his sister, was sure the safe had not been
scratched the day before the robbery, made it look as though men
practiced in the evil art of burglary had been at work.

"When I saw the fellow, bending over my safe," said Mr. Merkel,
"it appeared to me he was only trying to work the combination. I
have a hard job, myself, remembering how to do it, account of the
safe being a new one. And I was so surprised, at first, that I
just stood there, like a locoed steer, watching him. Then I let
out a yell, told him to throw his hands up, and things began to

"But, instead of just trying to open your safe, by working the
combination, same as I've heard of burglars doing by filing down
their fingers with sandpaper to make 'em sensitive, he was
getting ready to blow it open," declared Bud.

"Does look so. She sure is clawed!" commented Mr. Merkel again.

"Mercy! It's a wonder we weren't all blown up in our sleep!"
exclaimed Bud's mother. "You boys'll stay to dinner," she added,
as if glad to change the subject.

"We aimed to," said Bud with a grin at his cousins. "We manage
pretty well most times, with what we cook, and what Buck Tooth
hands out in the grub line. But we sure do like a home-feed once
in a while."

"Or twice!" added Nort, while Dick nodded his agreement.

But though it was evident that some professional burglar had
endeavored to open the Merkel safe, that was all the conclusion
which could be arrived at. No additional clues were found and,
for a time, matters settled down into the ordinary run at Diamond

Summer was coming, with its heat, and Bud was glad there would be
no interruption in the water supply that flowed into Happy Valley
from the Pocut River, coming through the ancient underground

"For we'll need plenty of water in hot weather," he told Jus

At Diamond X Second, as the outfit of the boy ranchers was often
called, was now a goodly herd of animals eating the rich, Johnson
grass and other fodder, getting fattened in readiness for sale in
the fall, when there would be another round-up.

Besides Bud, Nort and Dick, there was now, at the camp in the
valley, Buck Tooth the Zuni Indian, Yellin' Kid and Snake Purdee,
two efficient and veteran cow punchers who had been transferred
from Diamond X First, meaning by that the main ranch.

While Bud was a true son of the west, and while Nort and Dick
had, some time ago, passed out of the tenderfoot class, still Mr.
Merkel felt that his son and his nephews needed the aid and
guidance of cattlemen older than themselves. So the "outfit," as
the aggregation at a ranch is called, was quite a happy family.

"If we could only catch those burglars, and get back your dad's
money, I'd feel better, though," declared Snake Purdee, as he
rode in from the Diamond X ranch one day, to announce, among
other news items, that Babe, the fat assistant foreman, was able
to be about again.

"Yes," agreed Bud. "It isn't so much the money loss, as it is the
knowledge that such a bunch of men is loose in a neighborhood.
Del Pinzo and that Hank Fisher bunch are bad enough, but I don't
believe they had a hand in this."

"I wouldn't put it past them!" stated Yellin' Kid in his usual,
loud tones. "Th' skunks!"

"But dad said he didn't recognize the fellow he surprised at his
safe," spoke Bud. "Of course he didn't have much chance. But if
it had been Del Pinzo--"

"Don't worry!" broke in Snake Purdee. "That Greaser wouldn't do a
job like that himself; or Hank Fisher, either. They'd get some
one else to take the risk. However, what's th' use gassin' about
it? I guess the money's gone for good. But I'm glad they didn't
get th' safe open!"

"So'm I," chimed in Bud. "Some of our cash would have vanished
then." For he and his cousins had a share in the money received
from the sale of steers at round-up time.

So, following the robbery at Diamond X, matters quieted down. Bud
still kept the stethoscope, and word of the finding of the
strange instrument traveled to other ranches. It was called by
such a variety of names (the cowboys having twisted the original
and proper one) until the boy ranchers had difficulty, at times,
in understanding the reference when they were asked about it.

But no one claimed it, and no trace was found of the person who,
it was presumed, had dropped it the night our heroes saw some one
disappear near the boarded-up entrance to the ancient tunnel.

"Come on, let's try a bit of shooting!" proposed Nort one
evening, when grub had been served at the camp, and he and his
brother were left with Buck Tooth. Snake and Yellin' Kid had
ridden off on an all-night tour of duty, to a, distant part of
the ranch. A choice bunch of steers had started to wander farther
off than Bud thought it was wise to let them. They were,
evidently, in search of another variety of fodder, but that could
not save them from some passing band of Greasers, or other cattle

"Haze 'em back this way," Bud had requested his two cowboys.
"They'll be safer over here."

So Yellin' Kid and Snake had ridden away as the early evening
shadows were falling and, to pass the time until the hour for
seeking their bunks, the boy ranchers sought some amusement.
Shooting at a mark was one form, and Nort and Dick were
endeavoring to become as expert as their western cousin in the
use of the .45.

"Shooting suits me," agreed Bud. "I'll soon have to cut down my
handicap if you fellows keep on the way you're going," for in the
tests of skill Bud had always discounted his own ability in order
to be fair.

"Well, don't scale it down too much," begged Dick. "Nort hasn't
got me skinned, but I'm not up to you."

"Well, let's see how you'll do," suggested Bud.

As a mark a bottle was stuck on a stick which was thrust into the
ground at the foot of the sloping bank which enclosed the
reservoir. Shooting against this earthen bank insured that no
wild bullets would injure any one.

"You go first, Bud," suggested Dick. "We want to get a line on

Accordingly Bud walked to the marked-off place, drew his heavy
revolver, raised it and brought it down on the mark--the bottle
on the stick. There was a sharp crack, followed instantly by the
tinkle of glass, and that bottle was no more.

"Busted it clean!" cried Nort. "I wish I could do that!"

Another flask was provided, and Nort shot at this. His aim was
fairly good, but he was allowed to go five feet nearer than Bud
had stood, that distance being the western lad's handicap. But
Nort only chipped away part of the bottom of the bottle with his
first shot, and it took three to shatter it completely,

"Watch me do better than that!" cried Dick, as he took his place
where his brother had stood, and raised his gun. "I'll crack it
first shot!"

His weapon was still in the air, and he had not brought it to a
level with the bottle when there sounded, from somewhere out in
the valley back of where the boy ranchers stood, the sound of a

The bullet zipped viciously over their heads, and, as they
instinctively ducked, they heard the crash of the broken bottle.



Like a flash Bud, who had been standing beside Nort, to watch
the effect of Dick's try, turned and faced outward to view the
darkening valley, whence had come the sound of that shot. Nort
turned also, but Dick seemed to think one of his companions had
played a trick on him.

"That isn't fair!" cried the stout lad. "What'd you want to go
and bust that bottle for, Nort?"

"I didn't do it!" asserted his brother.

"Nor I," added Bud in a low voice. "The shot came from out
there," and he indicated the long and fertile valley, over which
the purple evening shadows were falling. "Duck, fellows!" he
suddenly cried, and he pulled Nort beside him in the grass.

Dick, who caught the words of warning, and saw what his cousin
had done, also dropped down, so that, a second or two after the
firing of the strange shot that had shattered the bottle, only
the heads of the boy ranchers showed above the grass, and then
only slightly. "What's the idea?" asked Dick, as silence followed
the measure of safety.

"Whoever it was that fired might shoot again," replied End.

"Who was it?" asked Nort.

"That's what we've got to find out," answered Bud in a low voice.

"Could it have been either Snake or Yellin' Kid, riding back and
breaking that bottle over our heads, to show what good shots they
were?" asked Dick.

"No, I hardly think so," replied his cousin. "They're both good
shots, all right, and they could have broken that flask from the
distance it was broken. But they wouldn't throw a scare into us
this way. Besides, they haven't any time to fool around. They
have an all-night ride ahead of them."

"What makes you think the bottle was busted from some distance,
Bud!" Dick wanted to know.

"The way the bullet sounded," was the answer. "It was almost
spent when it got here, but it had force enough to break the
glass, and would have damaged us if it hit us. I thought whoever
played that fool trick might try another shot, so I yanked you
down, Nort."

"Glad you did! I might not have thought of it. But whoever it was
doesn't seem to be going to shoot again."

"No," agreed Bud, after a little period of silence, during which
no other menacing crack of a weapon was heard. "But we'll wait a
little longer."

Through the fast-gathering darkness the boys looked out from
their semi-hiding places across the valley. No wisp of smoke, and
no movement of horse or rider was to be observed. And silence
once more settled down on Happy Valley--not quite so happy as it
had been. For, following the clearing-up of the mystery of the
water supply, new and sinister events seemed pending for the boy

But, as yet, there were only straws, showing which way the evil
wind was blowing.

"Could it have been a chance shot?" asked Dick, raising himself a
little to get a better look.

"That bullet was aimed straight for the bottle, over our heads,"
declared Bud. "It was no chance shot."

"One of ours couldn't have glanced, could it?" Dick wanted to

"Surely not!" affirmed Bud. "Why, no one had shot for some time.
I'd just put the new bottle on the stick for you."

"Yes, and I was just going to shoot, when somebody took the
bullet out of my gun, so to speak," went on Dick, grimly jesting.

"Do you think they were shooting at--us?" asked Nort,

Bud did not answer for the moment, and when he did it was to say,
as he suddenly arose:

"If they did I'm going to give 'em another chance. And I'm going
to do some shooting on my own account!" He had his gun in his
hand, for he had so held it since he had shattered the first
bottle, and now it was grasped in readiness for instant action.

"We're with you!" cried Nort and Dick, as they emerged from their
recumbent positions in the grass, and hastened to the side of
their cousin.

But though they looked across the valley, now half shrouded in
gloom, and up and down, as far as they could see, no one was in
sight. Here and there were small herds of their cattle. Back at
the camp tents Buck Tooth was performing his evening duties, or
"chores," as Bud called them. The Indian paid no attention to the
shooting, for he knew the boys had gone to practice, and he could
not be expected to realize that one of the shots was, possibly, a
hostile one.

I use the word "possibly" with reason, for, as yet, there was
nothing to show that it was not either an accident, or had not
been fired by some passing cowboy who, from a distance, seeing
the bottle on a stick, could not resist a chance to "take a
crack" at it. And yet this last theory would seem to be a poor
one. For if the shot had been a joke the one who had fired it
would, in all reason, it appeared, have shown himself soon after.

"No one seems to show up," remarked Nort at length, in a low

"Then we'd better look for 'em before it gets too dark," declared
Bud. "Come on! Let's get our horses."

"Isn't it taking a chance, riding out to look for some one who
may have fired at us purposely?" asked Dick.

"Yes," agreed Bud, after a moment's thought, "but life out west
is all more or less of a chance and risk. You take a risk, every
time you ride at more than a foot-pace, of your pony stepping
into some prairie dog's hole and not only laming himself, but
killing you. But you don't stop riding on that account."

"No," agreed Nort.

"And we take a chance every time we ride herd," went on Bud. "The
steers may stampede, and before we can get 'em to milling, they
may rush over us. But I notice neither of you ever back out of
that job; do you?"

"No," agreed Nort, adding: "Well, then, I reckon going after this
unknown shooter isn't taking such a long chance."

"I'm with you!" exclaimed Dick.

Briefly telling Buck Tooth what had happened, the boy ranchers
rode off at a fast pace, to take advantage of what little light
of day remained. They headed, as nearly as they could ascertain
it, in the direction whence the single shot had come. But it is
hardly needless to say they found no one, and no sign that could
be construed into a tangible clue.

"We'll tell Snake and Yellin' Kid about it when they come back,"
decided Bud, as he and his cousins returned to camp when darkness
had completely fallen. For it was useless, after that, to search
for the perpetrator of the joke.

Or was it a joke?

That is what the boy ranchers asked themselves more than once.

Contrary to their half-formed expectations, the night passed
quietly. There was no disturbance among the cattle, and no
midnight visitors invaded the camp. But, for all this, the slumbers
of our heroes were not easy. Perhaps they had premonitions of
coming disaster.

For disaster came, with the return, early on the morning of the
next day, of Snake and Yellin' Kid.

"They're after you, Bud!" shouted the cowboy with the loud voice.
"They're after you!"

"Who?" asked Bud, as he and his cousins came out to meet the

"Rustlers!" was the grim answer. "There's a lot of your steers
missin' from that far herd! Rustlers, Bud! Rustlers!"



For a moment Bud Merkel seemed unable to comprehend the bad news
thus brought to him by his cowboy helpers and friends. Nort and
Dick, also, were shocked by the intelligence. But Bud quickly
recovered. Perhaps it was because of his heritage of the west--
the ability to face danger and disaster with grim courage, part
of his father's stock in trade.

"Rustlers, eh?" repeated Bud, and his voice was steadier than
Yellin' Kid or Snake Purdee expected to find it. "Did they get

"Quite a bunch," answered Yellin' Bad. "We rounded up as many as
we could, and--"

"You mean you rounded up the _rustlers_?" asked Nort,

"No, what was left of the steers," answered Snake. "Guess we
wouldn't be back here alone--that is, just us two, if we'd had a
run-in with the rascals. We didn't see 'em, but we did find
traces of 'em. What are you going to do, Bud? Get on their

"Let's talk it over, first," suggested the boy rancher, and he looked
at Nort and Dick, for they were partners with him on this venture of
trying to raise cattle in Happy Valley--which would have been
almost a desert save for the water that came through the strange
mountain tunnel.

"Tell us about it," urged Dick.

"Well, there isn't so much to tell," replied Yellin' Kid, his
voice a bit lower, now that there was serious business afoot.
"Snake an' I started there, to haze back th' steers as you; told
us, Bud. But when we'd rounded up th' herd, drivin' 'em in from
where a lot of 'em had strayed, we saw, right away, that th'
count was short. First we thought a bunch was hidin' out on us,
but we made a pretty good search an' then we got th' evidence."

"The evidence?" exclaimed Nort.

"Yes, we saw where the rustlers had been at work. They must 'a'
been there a day before we arrived. They probably cut out a good
bunch of cattle an' drove 'em off. But they didn't drive 'em

"What makes you think so?" asked Bud. "Do you mean that we have a
few left?" and he laughed uneasily.

"Oh, there's more'n a _few_," said Snake. "But by evidence
Kid means we saw where they'd been blurrin' the brand--the
Diamond X brand!"

"Oh, they're doing that; are they?" asked Bud, sharply.

"Yes, we found th' ashes of two or three brandin' fires," went on
Yellin' Kid, "an' we picked up th' broken handle of a brandin'
iron. No marks on it, like there was on the other," he said,
referring to the time one of the irons from Double Z had been
found on the range of the boy ranchers. "But we brought it along,
anyhow," and he exhibited a broken and charred piece of wood.

"But we found more than that," he continued. "We found one steer
they'd killed, for beef likely, after they'd blurred th' brand.
There wasn't much left. What th' rustlers didn't take th'
buzzards did. But there was enough of th' hide left to show what
work they were up to--blurring th' brand."

This, as you have learned from the previous books of this series,
consists in burning some other mark over the legitimate brand on
cattle, so that the original one can not be made out. Then the
animal may be claimed by whoever has it. Blurring a brand, that
is, making it illegible, or changing one brand into another, are
two of the methods used by unscrupulous men to steal cattle.

The boy ranchers well understood what was meant by the news
brought them by the two cowboys. The next thing to decide on was
what course to pursue. "Did they leave any trail?" asked Bud.

"Well, we didn't stop t' hunt for it, as long as it wasn't a
plain one," Snake answered. "Likely we could 'a' picked it up.
But as long as there had been a raid we decided th' best thing t'
do was t' save th' rest of th' cattle, an' then come an' tell
you, Bud."

"How many cattle do you think they took?" asked Nort.

"Oh, I should say fifty," answered Yellin Kid, "includin' th' one
they killed for beef. Probably they blurred th' brands on th'
others an' drove 'em off--an' I shouldn't be a bit s'prised," he
went on, "but what we'd find most of your cattle, Bud, walkin'
around on Double Z."

"Hank Fisher; eh?" exclaimed Dick.

"Yes, an' that slick Mexican half-breed of his, Del Pinzo!"
declared Snake. "Anyhow, they got away with a bunch of your
steers, Bud, an' now what are we goin' t' do? Are we goin' t' sit
back an' let 'em laugh at us?"

"Not much!" declared the boy rancher. "But let's get this
straight. I wonder why they didn't drive off the whole herd while
they were at it?"

"Probably it was too big a contract for 'em," remarked Yellin'
Kid. "An' then, too, they might not 'a' had men enough, or th'
cattle may 'a' stampeded."

"An' maybe they was scared off," added Snake.

"Yes," agreed his partner on the ride from which they had just
returned, "that may have been so. Somethin' may have scared th'
rustlers. But if I get a chance at 'em, I'll throw a bigger scare
int' 'em!" and he significantly tapped the grim .45 at his hip.

"Any trace of which way they went?" asked Bud.

"There is--up to a certain point," admitted Snake.

"What do you mean?" the boy rancher asked.

"Well, I mean we could trace the cattle down the valley up to
that low place between the hills-a sort of pass. And then all
trace of 'em was lost."

"Lost!" repeated Nort.

"Yes, sir, lost!" declared Snake. "You couldn't see any more
signs of 'em than if they'd been lifted up in one of them flying
machines and histed up over the mountain! That's th' funny part
of this raid."

"There have been some other queer things around here," said Dick.
"There was that bottle last night."

"What was that?" asked Snake, quickly.

"There was some promiscuous shooting around here last night,"
said Bud. "I'll tell you about it as soon as we get the straight
of this rustler business. Maybe there's some connection. But I

He was interrupted by a voice singing, and the song was one of
the usual cowboy refrains, though the voice was rather better
than usual.

At first the boy ranchers thought it might be Old Billee Dobb
who, with Buck Tooth, had been out to a distant part of the
valley to see if he could get on the track of a mountain lion which
had been killing cattle. But a glance showed the approaching
singer, who was also a rider, to be a stranger. He sat astride a big,
black horse, much larger than the ordinary cow pony, and as he
approached the camp the sun glinted in curious fashion on his face.

"Four eyes!" exclaimed Snake, meaning, thereby, that the stranger
wore glasses. The rising sun had reflected on their lens. On came
"Four Eyes," singing as he advanced, until, when he came within
hailing distance, he drew rein, saluted the assembled company
with a half-military gesture and called out:

"Any chance of a job here?"



Silence followed this greeting and question, and then the two boy
ranchers, and their cowboy friends, waited for Bud to speak, he
being, in a sense, the head of the new organization. Though Dick
and Nort held equal shares, purchased for them by their father,
the two lads who had lived so long in the east deferred to the
boy of the west in this matter, thinking, naturally, that he
would better be able to handle it.

"Looking for a place?" asked Bud, genially enough, as he surveyed
the newcomer, from the top of his broad-brimmed range hat to the
pawing hoofs of his black steed, for the horse was impatiently
digging in the dirt.

"Yep!" was the answer. "I'm looking for a place." The voice was
pleasant, and there was none of that clipping off of the final
"g" in his words, so common a practice among most of the cowboys.
Perhaps they didn't have time to use the proper endings. "I'm
dead anxious to ride for some outfit," went on "Four Eyes," as he
had been dubbed and as he came to be called, as long as he
remained with Diamond X Second. "Your father sent me over here,"
he added.

"My father!" exclaimed Bud. "Do you know him? I don't know you!"
he added quickly, for he sensed that the stranger, in some
manner, had managed to pick him from all the others as the son of
the proprietor of Diamond X.

"I don't claim to know your father, only having met him once,
when I rode up, yesterday, to ask for a job," went on Four Eyes.
"I slept out last night--back there," he added with a wave of 'is
quirt in the direction of Diamond X. "Had supper with the boys at
your father's ranch, and he told me you might be needing some
one. If you don't----" He paused suggestively, evidently ready to
ride on and try his luck elsewhere if there was no chance in the

"I may need some one," Bud said. In fact, he was in need of an
additional hand, and since this latest action on the part of
rustlers he wanted help more than ever, for he was about to put
into execution a plan for getting on the trail of these
marauders. "But how'd you know who I was?" he asked, anxious to
ascertain how the stranger had picked him out, as distinguished
from Nort or Dick.

"Oh, your father looks like you," was the easy answer, given with
a laugh, in which Snake, Yellin' Kid and the boy ranchers joined.
"When he said he didn't need any riders, adding that perhaps you
might, I decided to take a chance."

"All right. I can use another hand--or, rather, _we_ can,"
and Bud waved his hand toward his cousins. "You can turn your
pony into the corral," he added, "and we'll give you something to
eat--unless you've had breakfast?" he questioned.

"Not so much but what I can eat more. Thanks! My name's Henry
Mellon. I've ridden some for Curly Q and Long L if you want any

"I reckon my dad sized you up all right," spoke Bud.

"I reckon he did!" laughed Henry Mellon, or Four Eyes, as I shall
call him, following the custom of the others on the ranch. "I
wouldn't want to try to put anything over on him."

"It isn't exactly healthy," agreed Bud, for his father bore an
enviable reputation for finding out the truth about matters in
that "cow country."

"Ever ride for Double Z?" asked Yellin' Kid, and the loud tone's
of his voice appeared to startle the newcomer.

"Why, no," was the answer. "I can't say that I have. One of Mr.
Merkel's ranches?" he asked.

"No. It's Hank Fisher's place," spoke Snake. "Glad to meet up
with you," he added, riding forward and extending his hand.
"That's quite a hoss you got there. Beckon he can go some!"

"Well, he doesn't take dust from many," was the cautious
admission, as the new cowboy shook hands all around. "He'll be
glad of a rest, though, for I've ridden hard lately. I suppose I
can use another?" he asked Bud.

"Sure," was the answer. "Snake here, or Yellin' Kid, will show
you which ones you can add to your string. See you later,
fellows," Bud called to his cowboy helpers, as he motioned to
Nort and Dick to follow him to their own private tent.

"What do you think of it, Bud?" asked Nort, when they were alone,
and the new cowboy was being made to feel at home by Snake,
Yellin' Kid, and Old Billee, who had by this time ridden in. The
smell of cooking arose from the tent that Buck Tooth had turned
into a kitchen.

"You mean him?" and Bud nodded toward where the cowboys were
congregated in friendly talk.

"No, I mean about the rustlers."

"Oh, they're bad! No question about it--they're _bad!_"
declared Bud. "As soon as we get a chance we'll ride over and
take a look at the place. It doesn't seem reasonable that they
can drive a bunch of cattle off down the valley, and then have
all traces of 'em disappear as if they'd gone up in an airship."

"That's right!" chimed in Dick. "Do you s'pose this Four Eyes saw
the rustlers?"

"He didn't come from that direction," declared the western lad.

"He _says_ he didn't," spoke Nort. And when Nort accented
that one word Bud looked at his cousin quickly.

"Don't you believe what he says?" Bud asked.

"All the same I'd call up your father," went on Nort.

Bud hesitated a moment and then said:

"I will! No use taking chances. He may be all right, but it won't
do any harm to know it. I like his looks, though we don't often
get a cowboy with glasses. I'll call dad!"

Which he did, on the telephone, learning from his father that Mr.
Merkel knew nothing about the stranger, though he "sized him up,"
as being all right.

But Mr. Merkel had done more than this. He had called, on the
telephone, or had been in communication, otherwise, with the late
employers of Henry Mellon, and the cowboy was well spoken of. He
was a reliable hand, it was said.

"So we don't have to worry about _him_," Bud told his
cousins. "But we do have to take some action about these
rustlers! Hang 'em! I wish they were all bottled up in the

"That's right!" chimed in Dick.

"Are we going on their trail?" asked Nort.

"If we can pick it up," agreed Bud. "Anyhow, we'll take a ride
over that way. What with cattle missing, and queer shots being
fired behind your back, we're likely to be in for as lively a
time as when we had the water fight!"

"Or locating a Triceratops!" added Nort with a laugh.

After breakfast, and the finishing of the usual "chores" about
camp, the boy ranchers prepared to ride over and look at the
place where the raid had been made. "What cattle had not been
taken--and it was only a small part of the herd that had been
driven off--were now nearer the camp headquarters, having been
hazed over by Snake and Yellin' Kid. Mr. Merkel had been told of
the theft, and had advised prompt action on the part of his son
and nephews.

"Four Eyes seems to be making himself right at home," remarked
Dick, as the three boys started toward the corral, intending to
saddle their ponies and ride over to the scene of the cattle-
rustling operations.

"Yes," agreed Bud.

Henry Mellon was in the midst of Old Billee, Buck Tooth, Snake
and Yellin' Kid, and, as the boy ranchers watched, they saw N
Four Eyes twirling his lariat above his head.

"What's he doing?" asked Dick.

"Oh, just showing 'em some fancy roping," Bud answered.

"Let's go over," suggested Nort. "I'd like to get on to a few
tricks, myself."

They found Four Eyes attempting some of the more difficult feats
of rope throwing. After twirling his lasso about his head, the
rope forming a perfect circle, he changed the direction from
horizontal to perpendicular, and nimbly leaped backward and
forward through the swiftly circling lariat.

Snake tried this, but his spurs caught and there was a queer mix-
up of man and rope. Snake could equal the newcomer's feat in
twirling the rope around his head horizontally, but failed, as
did Yellin' Kid, in the other trick.

"It's just a knack," said Four Eyes, modestly enough. "I had a
lot of spare time, and I practiced some of these fancy twists. I
can rope four horses at once."

"Yes you can--not!" challenged Snake.

"I'll prove it--of course they have to be going in the same
direction," stipulated the new cowboy.

"Even with that I doubt it," went on Snake. "I've heard of that,
but I never saw it done."

"If you fellows will ride past me I'll rope you all," and Four
Eyes indicated Snake, Yellin' Kid, Old Billee and Buck Tooth.
They mounted horses, and as Bud, Nort and Dick watched, the
newcomer prepared for the test.



"Sat when!" called Snake to the spectacle-wearing cowboy, as the
reptile-fearing cow puncher and his companions prepared to let
themselves be roped by the new arrival--providing he could do it.

"I'll be ready in a moment," remarked Henry Mellon, and Bud and
his cousins could not but note how differently he spoke from the
average run of ranch hands.

"More like one of those college professors who were after the
ten-million-year-old Triceratops," remarked Nort, commenting on
the talk.

"Yes, he is a bit cultured in his speech," assented Bud. "Guess
he hasn't been out west long."

"Then how can he be such a wonderful roper?" Dick wanted to know,
for there was no doubt about the ability of Four Eyes, even if he
had not yet made good oh his boast of putting his lariat around
four galloping horses at once.

"Oh, well, it comes natural to some people," said Bud, "and then,
too, he may have been in Mexico. Some of the Greasers are pretty
slick with the horsehair. But let's watch."

By this time the four cow punchers, counting Buck Tooth as one,
for the Indian was a good herdsman, had lined themselves up about
a hundred feet from where Four Eyes sat on his horse--not the
same black one he had ridden in, but another, of Bud's stock,
that had been assigned him.

"Ready?" asked Yellin' Kid.

"All ready! Come a running!" shouted Four Eyes, and even here he
did not drop a "g."

In an instant the four horses were in motion, coming together, in
line, down the stretch which the newcomer faced. In another
moment Four Eyes had ridden across the path of the oncoming
steeds, and on the ground he spread out his lasso in a great
loop, leaning over in his saddle to do this. He retained hold of
the rope end that was fastened to his saddle, and then, having
spread the net, as it were, he pulled up on the opposite side of
the course down which the four were now thundering in a cloud of

"Can he do it?" asked Nort.

"He can that way--yes," Bud said. "It's a trick! I thought he was
going to make a throw."

"It's a good trick, though, if he does it," declared Dick.

In another instant all four horses ridden by the cowboys and the
Indian were within the spread-out loop of Four Eyes as it lay on
the ground. And then something happened.

With a mere twist of his wrist, as it seemed, Henry Mellon
snapped the outspread rope upward and, reining back his horse, he
suddenly pulled the lasso taut.

It was completely around the sixteen legs of the four horses,
holding them together, the rope itself being half way down from
the shoulder of each animal.

"He did it! By the great rattler and all the little rattlers, he
did it!" shouted Yellin' Kid, as he pulled his horse to a stop,
an example followed by the others. For though they might all
(save one, perhaps) have pulled out of the encircling rope, there
possibly would have been an accident. One, or more, of the horses
would have stumbled, or been pulled to the ground. And there was
no need of that in what was only a friendly contest.

"You did it!" declared Yellin' Kid, as Four Eyes loosed his rope
and it fell to the ground, the riders guiding their horses out of
the loop. "You shore did it!"

"But it was a trick!" declared Old Billee. "'Tw'an't straight

"Yes, it's a trick, but not every one can do it," said the new

"Betcher I can!" declared Snake.

He tried--more than once, but failed. It was not as easy as it
looked, in spite of the fact that it was a trick.

"No one can throw, with any accuracy, a loop big enough to take
in four horses on the run," declared Four Eyes when it had been
demonstrated that he alone, of all the "bunch" at the Happy
Valley ranch, could do what he had done. "At least if they can,
I've never seen it. Two, maybe, or three, but not four. Putting
your rope on the ground, and snapping it up as the horses get in
it, is the only way I know."

"I wish you'd show me," spoke Nort.

"I will," promised Four Eyes. "You don't often have need for a
trick like it, but it may come in useful some day."

Then he showed the boys the knack of it, though it was evident
they were not going to master the "how" in a hurry.

Other feats in roping were indulged in by the cowboys, but none
was as expert as Four Eyes. He seemed to possess uncanny skill
with the lariat, though some of his tricks could be duplicated by
Snake, Yellin' Kid and even by the boy ranchers.

But life on a western ranch is not all fun and jollity, though as
much of this as possible is indulged in to make up for the
strenuous times that are ever present. So, after the roping
exhibition was over, and the newcomer had been assigned certain
duties, Bud, Nort and Dick rode down the valley, intending to
look over the place where the steers had been stolen, and the
carcass of one left as a grim reminder of the raid.

Otherwise all in Happy Valley was peaceful. The water was running
into the reservoir, through the pipes that connected with the
mysterious underground course, once utilized, it was thought, by
the ancient Aztecs.

Here and there, feeding on the rich bunch and Johnson grass, were
the cattle in which the boy ranchers were so vitally interested.
The most distant herd had been driven in by Snake and Yellin'
Kid--the herd on which the raid had been made. Like black specks
on the green floor of the valley were the cattle, dotted here and

"If we have luck this season we ought to round up a good bunch
this fall," observed Bud, as he rode with his cousins.

"Yes," agreed Nort. "The water can't be shut off now, and we have
nothing to worry about."

"Except rustlers," put in Dick.

"And the fellow who broke the bottle for us," added Bud. "I'd
like to know who he was."

"It was a bit queer," Nort admitted. "But I believe it was some
passing cow puncher playing a joke on us. This cattle stealing is
no joke, though, and it's got to stop!"

"You let loose an earful that time," spoke Bud, in picturesque,
western slang. "We'll have to let the bottle-breaker wait for a
spell, until we size up this rustler question. We may have to get
up a sheriff's posse and clean out the rascals."

"If we can find 'em," grimly added Dick.

It was some distance to the place where Yellin' Kid and Snake
Purdee had seen evidences of the raid, and it was long past noon
when the boys reached it. They had stopped for "grub" on the way,
having carried with them some food. Water they could get from one
of the several concrete troughs that had been installed, the
fluid coming through pipes from the reservoir.

"Here's where they killed the steer, or yearling," Bud said,
pointing to a heap of bones.

It was all that remained from the feast of the buzzards.

"And here's where they started to drive off the cattle,
evidently," added Nort, pointing to where a plain trail, made by
the feet of many animals, led away from the ground that was more
generally trampled by a large herd.

"Let's follow it," urged Dick. "We want to see when it gets to
the disappearing point"

"That's right!" chimed in Bud.

They urged their ponies slowly along the trail left by the
rustlers. It seemed to go down the valley to the place where the
hills lowered on either side to form a sort of pass. It was in
this pass that the two cowboys said the trail was lost.

"We've got some distance to go, yet," observed Bud, as they
paused to look and make sure they had not lost the trail.

"And, after all, maybe we'll only find the same thing Snake and
Kid did--nothing!" said Nort.

"Well," began Bud, "we've got to get to the bottom of this, and
if we don't in one way we will----"

He was interrupted by a shout from Dick.

"Look!" cried the stout lad. "There's a fire! The grass is on
fire, Bud!"

The western lad gave a quick look in the direction Dick

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