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The Boy Ranchers on the Trail by Willard F. Baker

Part 2 out of 3

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indicated. It was off to the right from the trail they had been

"It is a fire--regular prairie fire," Bud murmured.

"Could any of the reservation Indians be on the rampage and have
set it?" asked Nort.

"I don't know! We've got to find out about it!" shouted Bud.
"Come on, fellows!" And, wheeling his horse, he abandoned the
trail of the rustlers, and galloped toward the fire, followed by
Nort and Dick.



Some time before the boy ranchers reached the scene of the grass
fire toward which they were riding, they caught the smell of the
burning fodder. That it was only grass which was aflame they had
known before this, for that was all there was to ignite in that
section of the valley. There were no buildings as yet, tents
taking their place. Though Bud and his father planned to erect
substantial structures if this year was successful.

"A lot of good fodder going up in smoke, Bud!" yelled Nort, as he
rode beside his cousin.

"If it isn't any worse than that we're lucky," was the answer.

"How do you mean?" asked Dick.

"I mean if we don't lose any cattle. The grass isn't any good
after it dries up on the ground, the way this has. But if the
fire starts a stampede of cattle--that will mean a loss."

"Do you think that's what the game is?" asked Nort, encouraging
his pony, Blaze, by patting the animal's neck.

"I can't see what else it is, unless the fire started when some
one threw down a burning match or cigarette, and most cow
punchers aren't that careless. Our fellows wouldn't do it, and I
don't believe any other ranchers around here would, except on

"You mean the Double Z bunch?" asked Dick.

"Sort of heading that way," replied Bud, significantly.

Together the boy ranchers rode on toward the fire, silently for a
time, the only sounds being the thud of their ponies' feet and
the creak of saddle leathers and stirrups. The smell of the
burning grass was more pronounced now, and the pall of black
smoke was rolling upward in a larger cloud.

"It's a big fire!" exclaimed Nort. "How can we stop it, Bud?"

"It will soon burn out," the western lad replied. "I happen to
know where this grass is. It's a place where we couldn't very
well bring water to, and if it doesn't rain much, as it hasn't
lately, the fodder gets as dry as tinder. There's a sort of
swale, or valley, filled with this dry grass and it's just
naturally burning itself off."

"Then no very great harm will be done; will there?" asked Dick.

"Not much, unless the cattle get frightened and start to
stampede. That's what I'm afraid of, and why I'm riding over
there. We can't hope to put out the fire." Owing to the fact that
the grass was so dry that no cattle would feed on it, there were
no steers in the immediate vicinity of the blaze Had the fodder
been cut it would have made excellent hay, but it would need to
be cut green to bring this about. As it was, the tall grass had
just naturally dried up as it attained its growth.

"It doesn't take even as much as a blaze like this to start a
stampede," said Bud, as he and his cousins rode nearer to the
burning grass, They could feel the heat of it, now. "It's queer
how frightened animals are of fire," went on the rancher's son.
"There must have been some wonderful sights out here, years ago,
when there were millions of buffalo, and when there were prairie
fires, miles in width, driving them before it."

"I should say so!" chimed in Nort. "I've read some of those
stories in Cooper's books. He's great; isn't he!"

"You delivered the goods that time!" remarked Bud.

"I wish the west was like that now," voiced Dick. "With Indians
and buffalo all over."

"There are a few Indians left yet," said Bud. "They're mostly on
reservations, except when they make a break, ride off and act up
bad. I guess we stock raisers are better off without the wild

"As for the buffalo, they were mighty valuable, and if we could
raise them as well as cattle, we'd make a lot of money. The
government is trying to get several herds started, but it's no
easy task. Why, there are almost as many buffalo in New York city
as there is out west now."

"Where!" asked Nort, not thinking for the moment.

"In Bronx Park," answered Bud. "I haven't seen 'em but I've read
about 'em."

"Oh, yes. So have I," agreed Nort. "I forgot about them. Whew!
It's getting hot," he added, as a shift in the wind brought into
their faces a wave of heated and smoke-filled air.

"We'd better not keep on any nearer," decided Bud. "Let's ride
around to the other side, and see what we can see."

Accordingly they turned to the right, as the fire seemed less
fierce on that quarter, and continued on. They had been riding
over a stretch of the valley carpeted with rich, dark green and
fairly damp grass. Bud and his cousins knew that when the fire
reached this stretch it would die out for lack of fuel.

In fact the blaze, as they could see, was confined to an area
about a mile square, but of irregular shape. So far none of the
cattle in sight had shown more than momentary fear of the blaze.
They had run some distance from it and then stopped, sometimes
going on with their eating, and again pausing to look with fear-
widened eyes at the sight of the leaping tongues of fire.

"But we can't tell what's going on behind that smoke screen,"
declared Bud. "Some rustlers may have started it to hide their

"Any of your men over in that direction?" asked Dick.

"They aren't supposed to be," Bud replied. "Of course some of 'em
may have ridden over when they saw the smoke, same as we did. But
I don't see how any of 'em could have reached here as soon as we

Together they rode on, circling to the right to get around the
edge of the fire.

"She's dying out," observed Dick.

"Yes, it can't burn much longer," admitted Bud. "And no great
damage done, either, unless we find something we haven't yet

But when they had completed the circuit around the edge of the
blazing grass, and could ride across the fire-blackened area, and
behind what was still a thick screen of smoke, they saw something
which caused them great surprise.

This was not the sight of a bunch of stampeding cattle, though it
was what Bud and his cousins folly; expected to encounter. There
were some cattle on this side of the fire, but they had run far
enough away to be out of danger, and beyond where they could be
frightened into a frenzied rush.

"Look!" exclaimed Nort, pointing.

"Four Eyes!" exclaimed Dick.

"By the great horned toad and Zip Foster--yes!" agreed Bud, and
his cousins knew he must be stirred to unusual depths of feeling
to use this name. Zip Foster had not been mentioned in several
weeks. The mysterious personage, on whom Bud called in times of
great excitement, was almost a stranger, of late, in Happy
Valley. In fact Dick and Nort never could get Bud to talk about
Zip. But that is a story which will be told in its proper place,
and due season.

"It _is_ Four Eyes!" went on Bud, as he and his cousins
recognized in the form of a distant rider that of Henry Mellon,
the new cowboy. "And what he's doing here is more than I can
imagine. I'm going to find out, though!"

The spectacled cow puncher was riding swiftly along, on a course
that ran parallel to the direction of the fire. He was on the
edge of the burned area, and galloping-away from the boys. But he
was not beyond seeing or hailing distance.

"Hello there!" shouted Bud, dropping his reins and making a
megaphone of his hands.

Four Eyes heard the call--there was no doubt of that, for he
turned in his saddle and looked back. Then he must have seen the
boys, for he waved his hat at them. Next he pointed ahead, as if
to indicate that he was in pursuit of some one, and kept on,
never slacking his pace.

"Come on!" shouted the impulsive Nort. "Let's catch up to him!"

He was about to spur his pony forward, but Bud caught the bridle.

"No use," said the western lad. "He's too far ahead, and our
horses are too played out If he comes back well hear about it. If
he doesn't--"

"Why, don't you think he'll come back!" interrupted Pick.

"It wouldn't surprise me if he didn't," Bud answered. "There are
some queer things going on around here, and he may be one of 'em.
Though I haven't any reason to suspect him--yet!" he quickly

"What are we going to do!" asked Dick, as he saw his cousin
slacking his pony's pace. "Shall we go on to the end of the
rustler's trail, or follow Four Eyes."

"Neither one," answered Bud. "At least not just yet," he added,
as he saw Nort and Dick look at him curiously. "Let Four Eyes go,
for the time being. He may have seen some cowboys he'd like to
interview about this fire, and be after them. Or he may not. As
for getting on the trail of the rustlers, we'd have to ride back
quite a distance to do that, and it would be dark when we picked
it up again. Too late to do anything."

"Are we going back to camp?" asked Dick.

"No, let's stay right here. We've got grub, and water isn't so
far off. We'll just camp out for the night."

"Suits me," assented Dick.

"Same here," agreed Nort.

It was something the boys had often done. They carried blankets
and tarpaulins on their saddles, ready for this emergency, and
they "packed" sufficient rations for several substantial, if not
elaborate, meals. They had a coffee pot, a frying pan, bacon and
prepared flour, and flapjacks were within their range of
abilities as cooks.

Pausing to note that the fire was rapidly dying out, that there
was no cattle stampede in their vicinity, and noting that Four
Eyes was now almost out of sight, the boy ranchers rode on to the
nearest water-hole, and there prepared to spend the night, though
it was still several hours until darkness should fall. But the
horses were tired, for they had been run hard after the fire, and
the boys decided to rest them. The lads, themselves, were fresh
enough to have kept on, had there been occasion for it.

"Well, I'm glad this was no worse," observed Bud, as they sat
down, having picketed their steeds, and looked at the receding
pall of smoke. "I only hope the fellows at camp won't be

"I guess they know we can take care of ourselves--at least we
have so far," spoke Nort.

"Yes," agreed Bud. "You fellows have done pretty well since you
came out here--you aren't tenderfeet any longer, not by all the
shots that ever broke bottles."

"Say, what do you think of that, anyhow?" asked Dick, as he
chewed reflectively on a bit of grass.

"I don't know what to think," asserted Bud. "There are a lot of
serious questions we have to settle if we're going to keep on
with this ranch."

"Why, we are going to keep on, aren't we?" asked Nort.

"I should say so!" cried Bud. "We're going to stick here,
rustlers or not! And those are the only fellows I'm worrying
about," and he tossed a lump of dirt in the fire which Dick was

"Are there always rustlers to worry about on a ranch?" asked

"More or less," answered his cousin. "Especially when you have a
place so near Double Z. I don't accuse Hank Fisher of being a
rustler, exactly," he went on, "though I think Del Pinzo is.
That's been proved, but it didn't do much good, for he broke jail
and they can't seem to land him."

"What makes Hank Fisher and that Double Z bunch so sore at you?"
asked Dick.

"I guess it's because we're beating them at the cattle game,"
answered Bud. "And because dad dammed the Pocut River and took
some water for this valley. As if that hurt Hank!" he added. "But
he makes that an excuse. However, I'll fight him to the finish!"

"And we're with you!" added Dick and Nort.

After supper they sat around the fire, talking of various
matters. But ever and again the question troubled them of whether
or not they could get on the trail of the rustlers. And, too,
they wondered what could be the object of Four Eyes.

Night settled down, quiet save for the occasional snorting of the
ponies. The boys wrapped themselves in their blankets and crawled
between their tarpaulins with their feet to the smouldering fire.
They talked until drowsiness stole over them and then, having
decided to maintain no watch, they all three slumbered.

What time it was that Bud awakened he did not know. But awaken he
did, and suddenly.

And the cause of his awakening was the sound of a horse rapidly
ridden, and, evidently, approaching the place where he and his
cousins had camped for the night.

"Who's there?" cried Bud suddenly, and without preface. Under the
blanket his hand sought his weapon.

"Who's there!"



Quickly the galloping hoofbeats came to a pause. With a motion of
his foot, as he sat up amid his blanket and tarpaulin, Bud kicked
into the fire a stick of greasewood which flared up, revealing a
rider on a panting horse standing over the boy ranchers, all
three of whom were now awake.

"Four Eyes!" cried Bud, for the flaring fire had revealed that
cowboy. He had accepted his nickname in perfect grace.

"That's who," was the good-natured answer. "I saw the fire as I
was riding back, and I thought you'd be here."

"Where were you riding _to_?" asked Bud, pointedly, his
fingers releasing their grip on the .45 under the blanket. "I
thought you were with Old Billee."

"I was supposed to be," answered Four Eyes, "until my horse got
out of the corral and Billee said I could trail him. That's what
I was doing when I saw you behind the fire. I knew it was almost
burned out, so I didn't stop, or come back to explain."

"Yes, the fire didn't amount to much, though how it was started
is another question," said Bud. "You say your black horse got

"Yes, jumped the corral fence. He's a bad one at that."

"You didn't get him back," observed Nort, for he and Dick, as
well as Bud, had noticed that the new cow puncher bestrode one of
the extra ponies kept at the camp corral for use in relieving the
regular animals.

"No, he got clean away," and Henry Mellon did not seem to worry
much about it. "All I have to say," he went on, "is that some one
will get a mighty good mount, outside of his habit of jumping out
of corrals."

"You may get him back--if whoever picks him up knows where he
belongs," said Bud. For in that cow country it was still regarded
as a great crime to steal a horse, or keep one known to belong to
some one else.

"Oh, I'll prospect a bit farther for him tomorrow, maybe," said
Four Eyes. "I didn't want to ride too far this evening, so I
turned back. Did you get on any trail of the rustlers?" he asked,
for he had been aware of the object of the boys' ride.

"We switched off to come over to the fire," said Bud. "Did you
notice anything about it?"

"It was burning pretty good when I struck here, from over at your
camp," was the answer. "I saw that it wasn't likely to do much
damage, so I didn't ride back to tell Billee and the others."

"Did you see any one suspicious?" Bud went on, getting up and
putting more wood on the fire.

"No, I didn't," answered Four Eyes, quietly. "Of course anyone
would have had time to start the fire, and get well away before I
arrived on the scene--judging by the way it was burning," he
said. "Though I can't see what object anyone could have, and I'm
inclined to think a passing cow puncher--not one of your crowd
but some one else--may have flipped a cigarette butt into the
grass where it smouldered for some time."

"That may have happened," Bud admitted. "As for an object, if the
fire had stampeded the cattle it would have given some bunch of
Greasers or rustlers a chance to get away with a few steers."

"Oh, yes, of course," agreed Four Eyes. "Well, I didn't see
anybody. Guess I may as well turn in here. No use riding back to
the camp to-night. It'll soon be morning."

"That's right, turn in," invited Bud. His suspicions had

"There's some cold coffee if you want it," added Nort.

"Guess I'll put it on to heat," said Henry Mellon. "It's a bit

"What time is it?" asked Dick, as the cowboy stirred up the
embers and set the blackened coffee pot on over some stones that
had been made into a rude fireplace.

"Two o'clock," announced Four Eyes, with a glance at his watch.

The boy ranchers watched him idly as he made and drank the
coffee, munching some hard crackers he carried in one of his
pockets. Then, rolling up in their blankets, the quartette went
to sleep.

Morning came, in due course, without any untoward incidents
having occurred. The boys looked across the fire-swept area to
where, beyond it, many cattle could be observed grazing. There
was no further vestige of fire. The heavy dew had extinguished
the last, smouldering spark.

"Well, I'm going back to the camp," announced Four Byes, as they
got the simple breakfast. And how appetizing was that aroma of
sizzling bacon and strong coffee! "Want me to tell 'em anything
for you!" he asked Bud.

"Tell 'em about the fire," was the request. "And say we're going
on the trail of the rustlers. We'll be back to-day, though,
around night, for we haven't grub enough to carry us farther."

"What you going to do about your horse?" asked Dick.

"What can I do?" asked Henry Mellon, in turn. "I can't spend all
my time hunting him, when I've got to ride herd."

"We'll be on the lookout," Nort said.

"Hope you have luck," commented the strange cowboy, as he took
off his glasses and wiped them on his silk neckerchief. "I'm lost
without Cinder, though this pony isn't so bad," and he patted the
neck of the animal he was riding.

A little later the boy ranchers were taking a short cut across
the fire-blackened strip, to get on the trail of the men who had
driven off their cattle, while Four Eyes turned the head of his
pony toward camp.

"Well, it looks as if this was where the trail ended," announced
Bud, several hours later.

"Mighty funny, to come to an end so suddenly," commented Dick.

The three boys had reached one end of the many small valleys into
which the larger vale was divided. They had been following the
trail of the cattle that had been driven off--it was plain enough
until they reached a rocky and shale-covered defile between two
small hills. Then, for some reason or other, all "sign" came to
an abrupt end. There were no further marks of hoofs in the earth,
and none of the ordinary marks to indicate that cattle and horses
had been beyond a certain point.

"It's just as Snake said," observed Dick. "They must have driven
the animals here and then lifted them over the hill in an

"They couldn't!" declared Nort.

"I know they couldn't. But how else do you account for it?" asked
his brother.

"They may have driven 'em through the pass, and then scattered
dirt and stones over the trail to hide it," suggested Bud.

"Let's look a little farther then," remarked Dick.

They did, but without discovering any clues. It was as though the
rustlers had driven the cattle to the bottom of a rocky and bush-
covered slope, and then as if the side of the hill had suddenly
opened, providing a way through.

"Like some old fairy yarn!" declared Bud. "This gets me!"

"If we could only have gotten on the trail of the rascals sooner,
Bud, we might have learned the secret," spoke Nort. "We ought to
keep better watch!"

"How could we?" asked Bud. "We shoot off on the trail, now, as
soon as we hear of anything."

"Yes, but we ought to get on the jump quicker," insisted his
cousin. "If we had an airship, for instance!" and he laughed at
the impracticability of his remark.

"You can see pretty nearly the whole of the valley from the top
of Snake Mountain," spoke Dick, when he and Bud had joined in the
laugh at Nort's airship idea. "If one of us could be up there--"

"We'd have to be there all the while!" interrupted Bud. "There's
no telling when the rustlers will come. Talk about being on the
watch! It's all right to say so, but how you going to work it?"

Dick suddenly uttered an exclamation.

"What's the matter?" his brother wanted to know. "See a snake?"

"No, but I've got the idea! A watch tower! Why not build one at
our camp--or up on the side of the hill back of the reservoir? We
could make it of logs--high enough to give us a good view. It
wouldn't be much of a trick to climb up in the watch tower three
or four times a day and survey the place. A watch tower is the
thing, Bud!"



Nort and Bud stared at Dick for several seconds without making
any remark. They were sitting on their ponies, completely baffled
by the manner in which the trail of the rustlers had suddenly
"petered out." And they had been about to turn and go back to
camp when Dick made his enthusiastic remark.

"A watch tower?" repeated Bud.

"Sure!" declared his cousin. "We used to build 'em when I
belonged to the Boy Scouts. Remember, Nort?"

"Sure! It begins to come back to me. We used to bind saplings
together and make quite a high perch. The idea was that you might
be able to see your way if you got lost," he explained to Bud.

"Not a bad idea, either," commented the western lad. "I begin to
see your drift, as the wind said to the snowstorm. You mean to
build a sort of high platform up by the reservoir, Dick?"

"Yes, a watch tower of logs, strong enough to hold one or two
fellows. You could make ladders so's we could reach the top
platform, or we could scramble up if we left hand and foot holds
where we lopped the branches off saplings." "That's right!" cried
Bud, now almost as enthusiastic as was his cousin. "And with a
good pair of glasses, or a telescope such as dad has at the
ranch, we could see all over the valley."

"Let's make it!" cried Nort, and the matter was settled as
quickly as that.

Something of the excitement that had moved them must have been
visible on the faces of the boys when they returned to camp, for
Old Billee, greeting them in the absence of the other cowboys,

"Did you land 'em, Bud?"

"Who; the rustlers? No. Couldn't see where they'd vanished to any
more than, as one of the boys said, as if an airship had been
used. But we got an idea, Billee."

"They're valuable--sometimes," agreed the veteran cow puncher

"We hope this one is going to be!" frankly laughed Bud. "We're
going to build a watch tower, and take turns staying up in it
with a telescope. We can see almost the whole valley if we get
high enough, and as there aren't many patches of woodland where
the rascals can hide, we hope to spot the rustlers as soon as
they begin their tricks."

"Well, you may do it," and again the cowboy was very cautious. "I
never heard of cattle rustlers bein' caught that way, but when
other means fail, try suthin' diffrunt! We'll tackle th' tower!"

And as the other cowboys, even Four Eyes, pronounced the scheme
worth trying, it was put into operation. Mr. Merkel, to whom Bud
communicated his idea over the telephone, rather laughed at it.

"How about nights?" asked the ranchman. "No matter how high you
are up after dark you can't see any better."

"But most of the raids of the rustlers have been in daylight,"
declared Bud.

"It's about fifty-fifty," his father told him. "However, it won't
do any harm to try it. Only don't fall off that watch tower of
yours. I'll come out and look at it when you get it done."

The boy ranchers and their cow punchers started work the next
day. Dick and Nort remembered, in a dim way, how, as Boy Scouts,
they had helped erect towers, hastily constructed of saplings.
Their recalled knowledge, together with the natural adaptability
and skill of the cowboys, finally succeeded in there being
evolved, and erected, on the aide of the valley rather a
pretentious tower. "It must look like an oil well derrick from a
distance," observed Nort, when it was al most completed.

"What do we care how it looks, if it does the trick?" retorted
Bud. "From that perch, and with this telescope dad let me take, I
can tell the color of a cow clear to the end of our valley."

There was no question but what the watch tower did provide an
excellent vantage point. From its top platform, reached by rude
ladders, any unusual movement in the entire valley could be seen
during the day.

It was planned that the boys--and by this I mean the hired
cowboys also--should take turns in being on watch in the tower
during certain periods each day. A schedule was drawn up by Bud
and his cousins, and put into operation as soon as the tower was

"And now we'll catch the rustlers at work!" boasted Bud.

But alas for their hopes! In spite of all their precautions, and
setting at naught the hard work of constructing the tower, there
was another raid on the cattle in Happy Valley, about a week
after the wooden perch had been set up.

It was not a disastrous raid, and only a half score of steers
were driven off from one of the more distant herds. But the raid
took place, and at night. It was discovered one morning, just as
Bud was going up into the tower, where a seat and sheltered place
had been built.

"They fooled us, Bud," said Old Billee, riding in from a distant
part of the valley.

"Fooled us? How?"

"They let us watch by day, an' they come an' robbed by night!
Another bunch of steers gone!"

"Well--by Zip Foster!" cried Bud, slamming his hat down on the
ground. "I'm getting tired of this!"



"What's the matter?" cried Dick, hastening from the tent where he
had been making a new loop on his lariat, in preparation for
practicing some of the stunts worked by Four Eyes.

"Have you discovered something from the tower?" asked Nort.

"Yes, I've discovered that the tower isn't any good!" exclaimed
Bud with emphasis. "Oh, it isn't your fault, Dick," he went on,
as he saw that his cousin looked a bit crestfallen. "The tower is
all right."

"Then you saw some rustlers from it?" asked Nort.

"No, that's the trouble," said Bud, ruefully. "We didn't see them
but they were here all right--last night. Tell us about it,
Billee," he requested.

"Well, there isn't an awful lot to tell," said the veteran cow
puncher. "I was just prospectin' around, over on that new growth
of Johnson grass, like you told me to, an' I saw where a steer
had been killed, an' they had eat most of it, too, by th' signs."

"You mean the rustlers?" asked Nort.

"Rustlers, Greasers, Del Pinzo's bunch--anything you like t' call
'em," asserted Billee. "Somebody, that hadn't any right t' do it,
druv off our cattle!"

"And I say it's about time it was stopped!" declared Bud with as
great positiveness as before. This time he picked up the hat he
had dashed to the ground and dusted it off. "I'm going to do
something desperate!" he declared.

"What, son?" asked Old Billee mildly. "They's allers been
rustlers in this cow country, an' they'll allers be some, I
reckon. Course if you can git 'em in th' _act_, they's nothin' t' do
but shoot 'em up. But when you can't git 'em--"

"That's what I'm going to do!" declared Bud. "I'm going to get on
the trail of these rustlers and clean 'em out! Tell us more about
it, Billee. No use getting up in the watch tower now," he added,
gloomily enough. "We've got other work cut out for us. Go ahead,
Billee! Shoot!"

"Let me give you a word of advice first, Buddy boy," spoke the
veteran cowboy as he slowly got off his pony, an act of grace for
which the animal was, doubtless, duly thankful. Billee was no
featherweight, though he was as active as need be, in spite of
his bulk.

"What's the advice?" asked Bud good-naturedly. His first hot
anger was beginning to cool.

"Well, my advice is to leave these rustler alone," said Old
Billee. "They's allers been rustlers here an' they'll allers be
here. Every cow country has 'em. They're like th' old pirates
that used t' hold up th' ships. Taking tribute, so t' speak."

"But our country didn't pay that tribute long!" exclaimed Dick,
remembering the brilliant exploits of Decatur against the
corsains of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. "'Millions for defense,
but not a cent for tribute'!" quoted Dick in a ringing voice.

"That's what I say!" chimed in Nort.

"Well, it _is_ tribute, in a way," admitted Old Billee. "I
was going t' say if you'd let th' rustlers make off with a few
steers now an' then it would save trouble. They're used t' takin'
a few. But if you fight 'em then they'll make a big raid with a
big gang, an' mebby, take all you got, Bud!"

"I'd like to see 'em try it!" cried the western lad. "And I won't
sit by and have my cattle stolen; will we, fellows?" he appealed
to his cousins.

"Not on your life!" declared Nort and Dick.

"Well, I shore do like t' hear you talk that-a-way," said Old
Billee. "I didn't think you'd do it. Course it ain't no fun t'
sit still an' let these onery Greasers walk off with your cattle.
But, as I say, it's sometimes easier'n 'tis t' fight 'em. Lots of
th' ranchmen do pay tribute in a way. Your father was one of th'
fust t' fight 'em, Bud, but even he has sorter give up now, an'
he don't raise no terrible row when a few of his steers get hazed

"Well, dad has more, and losing a few doesn't put a crimp in
him," said Bud. "It's different with us, and I'm not going to
stand it. Zip Foster wouldn't and I'm not going to!" and again he
dashed his hat on the ground, thereby startling Billee's horse.

"Say, why don't you get Zip Foster over to help chase the
rustlers?" asked Dick, slyly nudging Nort. They had long been
trying to get Bud to a "show down" on the identity of this
mysterious personage.

"Oh, I reckon we can do it ourselves," and Bud seemed to regret
mentioning the name of his favorite.

"Just what are you aimin' t' do, son?" asked Billee, as Snake and
Yellin' Kid rode up, ready for their day's work out on the range
among the cattle.

"I don't exactly know, but it's going to be something and
something hard!" asserted Bud. "Are there any clues over there,
Billee, to give us a lead?"

"Not many, Bud. Just th' usual. They come onto a few scattered
steers, killed one roasted what they wanted of it, slipped off
the hide an' left th' rest t' th' buzzards. Then they druv off
th' remainder. I didn't foller th' trail, for I could see they
was half a dozen rustlers in th' bunch, an' it ain't exactly
healthy for one man t' trail a crowd like that even if he was a
two-gun man, which I don't lay no claim t' bein' no how,"
concluded the veteran modestly. They all knew he would be brave
enough in an even fight. But they all recognized the fact that it
would have been foolish for him, alone, to have attempted to
trail a gang of desperate men.

"Well, I'm going to see what we can do," Bud declared. "If you've
sized up all there was to see over there, Billee," and he nodded
in the direction of the latest raid on Diamond X Second, "there's
no use in me going over. I think I'll go have a talk with dad,"
he concluded. "I want action!"

"So do we!" added Dick.

"Then come along!" invited his cousin.

A little later the boy ranchers were riding out of the valley, on
their way to the main ranch of Diamond X. They would not be back
until late that night, or, possibly, until the following morning,
for Bud wanted to have a good, long talk with his father, and
decide on some plan of action, that would drive out the rustlers
and keep them away.

As Old Billee had said, probably an older and more experienced
rancher would have put up with a few losses for the sake of peace
and quietness. But Bud, like most lads of his age, was impulsive.
And, as he had said, the loss of even a few steers meant possible
failure to him and his cousins, just starting in the ranch
business as they were.

"Was that a black one?" suddenly asked Bud, as Nort's horse shied
at something.

"A black what!" Nort wanted to know.

"A black jack rabbit that ran across the trail in front of you
just now," Bud resumed. "If it was, it will bring bad luck, as
Old Billee would say," and he laughed.

"No, it was a sort of gray one, part white," Nort answered, for
it was one of those immense hares that had leaped across the
trail, almost under the feet of his pony.

"That means we'll have part bad luck and part good," declared

And some hours later, when they had reached Bud's home, and Nell
was serving peach pie and glasses of milk to the boy ranchers,
Nort paused long enough in his eating to remark:

"_This_ is the good luck, Bud."

"You declaimed something that time!" agreed his brother.

Mr. Merkel listened to what Bud and his cousins told them of the
raids on Happy Valley.

"Well, you haven't suffered any more than the average ranchman,
just starting in," said Bud's father. "The rustlers always seem
to pick on a newcomer."

"Well, they'll find I'm a sort of prickly pear to pick on!"
asserted Bud. "Dad, can't we clean out these rascals?"

"Well, it's your ranch, Bud! You can do anything you like, within
reason, but I wouldn't like to see you take any foolish risks."

"There's got to be some risks," declared Bud. "I'm not looking to
get out of 'em. But don't you think it would be a good thing if
we could get rid of this Del Pinzo gang for good?"

"Sure, Bud. I'll give you all the help I can, and I'll spare you
one or two more men if you need 'em--for a time, that is, as
we're pretty busy here."

"All right. When we're ready I'll call on you," said Bud, as
though he had great plans in preparation. As a matter of fact, as
he admitted later, he really did not know what he was going to
do, but he was not going to admit that to his father. In other
words he was "putting up a bluff," and I have some reason for
suspecting that Mr. Merkel knew this. However he gave no sign. In
spite of the pie, cake and other good things set out by Nell and
Mrs. Merkel, Bud and his chums decided to ride back to their camp
that night. It was dark at the start, but the moon would be up
later, and the trail was well known.

The boy ranchers rode leisurely along, for there was no special
hurry in getting back. It might reasonably be supposed that the
rustlers would not again make a raid within a few days at least.
And Old Billee, Yellin' Kid, Snake Purdee and Four Eyes, to say
nothing of Buck Tooth, were well able to look after matters in
Happy Valley.

And thus proceeding at a foot pace, it was well after midnight
when the boys started down the last slope that led into the
valley proper. In daylight it would have been possible, from this
part of the trail, to have observed the tents and the reservoir.
But now all was shrouded in darkness.

No, not altogether darkness, for as the boys rode forward there
suddenly glimmered in the gloom a light, high up in the air. At
first Bud thought it was a star, but a moment later as it moved
from side to side, and then up and down, he exclaimed:

"Look, fellows! A signal!"

"Signal!" repeated Dick.

"Yes. Over at our camp! See! There's a light on our watch tower."

"Maybe there's been another raid!" said Nort.

"Or going to be one!" spoke Bud, grimly.



Thudding along, their ponies seemingly as eager to reach the
ranch camp as were the boys themselves, Bud, Nort and Dick raced
toward the mysterious light. For that it was mysterious they all
agreed, and that it was flashing from the top of the watch tower
they had built to spy for rustlers was another conclusion.

"Do you s'pose it can be Old Billee, or Yellin' Kid signalling to
us?" asked Nort, as he galloped between Bud and Dick.

"They wouldn't know we were coming," Bud answered. "I said we
might not be back until to-morrow."

"That's so. But who do you think is signalling?" asked Dick.

"And who are they signalling to?" Nort wanted to know. "That's
what we've got to find out," spoke Bud, grimly. "And it's what
we're going to find out in a short time! Come on, Sock!" he
called to his pony. "This is only exercise for you!"

Indeed the animals had not been hard pressed, and this burst of
speed was rather a relief than anything else. Together the boy
ranchers hastened toward their camp.

For some time the lantern--it was evidently that and not a
torch--was waved to and fro, parallel to the horizon, and again up
and down. It was so evidently a signal, or a series of them, that the
boys no longer questioned this theory.

But who the signaller was, and to whom he was flashing his
message in the dark night--those were other questions. And they
were questions that needed answering.

"It must be one of our men," remarked Bud. "No one else could get
into camp and climb the tower without a row being raised."

"How do you know there hasn't been a row?" asked Dick.

"What do you mean?" countered Bud.

"I mean there may have been a fight," Dick went on. "Maybe the
rustlers have surprised our camp, put Yellin' Kid and the rest of
our bunch out of business and are signalling to the main crowd to
come up and drive off the cattle. I might as well say that as
think it," he added. "And that's what I've been thinking the last
few minutes."

This dire suggestion struck Bud and Nort silent for a moment. And
then, more because he did not want to believe it, than because he
did not believe it possible, Bud exclaimed: "I don't believe any
such thing!"

"I don't want to believe it!" said Nort. "But of course there may
have been a fight."

"If there was, there's a lot of dead Greasers and rustlers
scattered around, you can depend on that!" declared Bud, grimly.

"Yes, I reckon Old Billee, Snake and the rest would give a good
account of themselves," asserted Dick.

"And they wouldn't be taken by surprise, either," added Nort.

"Not likely," affirmed his cousin.

Again they directed their gaze toward the flashing signal on the
tower. Once more they saw it slowly raised and lowered, and then
swept from side to side.

"Are they spelling out a message in Morse or Continental code?"
asked Bud.

"It does look like the Morse," said Nort. "We learned that when
we were Boy Scouts. I can make out some letters, but they don't
spell anything that has any sense to it."

"Maybe it's in Spanish," suggested Bud, who was not familiar with
the method of spelling words by flags or lanterns. "There's a lot
of Greasers around here who don't know anything but Spanish."

"That's so," agreed Nort. "I didn't think of that. I'll try and
catch what the next word is, and maybe you'll know it, Bud," for
the western lad understood some of the language of Mexico.

But just when Nort was directing his attention to the signal
flashes Dick, who had ridden on a little ahead, suddenly called:

"Is that a fire?"

They looked to where he pointed and, for a moment, thought it was
another blaze in the dried grass. For the eastern skyline that
had been only dimly seen was now outlined in a red flare.

"It is a fire!" asserted Nort.

"It's the moon rising!" said Bud.

And so it proved. The moon was coming up, big, round and red,
and, when below the horizon, cast a reflection not unlike a fire.
The boys laughed with relieved spirits as they rode on. But when
Nort next directed his attention to the flashing lantern it was
no longer signalling. In the direction of the watch tower there
was only blackness, for the moon's rays had not yet reached it.

"Looks as if they'd quit," said Dick.

"Maybe they thought the moonlight would give 'em away," suggested

"We'll soon know about it," declared Bud, with grim meaning.

They were now within a short distance of the tents, gleaming
white in the moonbeams. From one of the larger canvas shelters
shone a ruddy light, showing dark figures within. And then was
borne to the ears of the boys the sound of laughter.

"That doesn't seem to indicate a raid or fight," spoke Nort.

"You can't be sure," Bud remarked. "We'd better be careful. Let's
dismount and go on foot."

They left their ponies, throwing the reins over the heads of the
animals, and cautiously approached the tents of the cow punchers
on foot. This tent was, practically, the "bunk house," the
assembling place of the men after their hours of work. But before
the boys reached this their approach was evidently heard. For a
figure came to the flap and a challenging voice called:

"Who's there?"

"Old Billee!" cried Bud, as he and his chums recognized the
tones, and with the recognition came a sense of relief.

"Oh, you're back; are you, Bud?" asked the veteran cowboy. "I
thought I heard some one."

"Who's up on the watch tower with a lantern?" called Bud, once it
was certain that no disaster had occurred.

"Watch tower?" repeated Yellin' Kid, coming to the flap to stand
beside Old Billee.

"Lantern?" added Snake.

"Somebody's signalling," went on Bud.

"You'd better come out and we'll have a look. Are you all here?"

"All of us," answered Old Billee. "Come on, Four Eyes!" he cried.
"Tumble out of your bunk. There's somethin' doin'!"

"Four Eyes must have gone to bed early," said Bud to his cousins
as they stood outside the tent. For Billee's call indicated that
the spectacled cowboy had retired.

"Hi! Four Eyes!" shouted Yellin' Kid, in a voice that would have
awakened the proverbial Seven Sleepers. "Turn out!"

There was a moment's pause, during which Buck Tooth came up to
the bunk tent from his own special nook for sleeping. And then,
the voice of Snake Purdee announced:

"Four Eyes isn't here!"

"Isn't here!" repeated Billee. "Why, I saw him turn in a while
ago, when we started t' play cards."

"He isn't here now," declared Snake. "His bunk is empty, and he
didn't go out the front way, I'll wager on that. There's
something queer going on all right!"



Into the bunk tent of the older cowboys crowded the young ranch
lads. Doubt, suspicion and wonder mingled in their minds, and
foremost of all were two outstanding matters--the mysterious
signalling light, and the disappearance of Four Eyes--if, indeed,
that individual had really taken himself off.

"Are you sure he was here?" asked Bud, when, after the first
break of surprise, questions were in order.

"Sure," replied Yellin' Kid. "We all come in here, after th'
chores was done, t' have a friendly game of cards an' smoke. We
didn't look for you back until late, if at all."

"And was Four Eyes with you then?" asked Nort.

"You couldn't exactly say he was _with_ us," replied Snake.
"An' yet he wasn't _away_ from us. He pretended he didn't
want t' play cards, an' he said he was so doggoned tired an'
sleepy that he was goin' t' turn in. I told him that bein' in th'
same tent with a whisperin' infant like Yellin' Kid, wasn't
perzactly healthy for sleep, but Four Eyes said he didn't mind.
So he turned int' his bunk, an' pulled th' covers tip over his
head, though I don't see how he stood it, for it isn't winter,
not by a long shot, an' this place was full of smoke. Anyhow he
done it, an' t' keep th' light out of his eyes, so he said, he
pulled a chair up in front of his bunk like you see it now, an'
stuck his coat over it."

Snake pointed to a chair, now twisted awry from in front of the
cot that the missing cowboy had occupied. His coat, draped over
the back, effectually screened him from observation when lying on
the bed.

"He did that so's he could slip out an' get away!" spoke Yellin'
Kid, justifying the sarcastic name of "whispering infant," that
Snake had bestowed on him.

"But how did he get out?" asked Dick.

"And what for?" Bud wanted to know,

"He got out this way!" said Old Billee quietly, as he leaned over
the cot and pushed with his hand against the side of the tent. A
right-angled opening was disclosed, cut with a sharp knife. The
loose point was at the bottom, and once Four Eyes had slipped
out, the cut flap hung down in place, not disclosing, in the dim
light, that the canvas had been cut.

"He got out that way," went on Old Billee, "because th' tent
sides, bein' fast t' th' board floor, wouldn't let him crawl out
very easy. He's a slick one, Four Eyes is!"

"But why should he slip out this way? Did he do anything? And who
was doing that signalling?" exclaimed Bud.

"I reckon you'll find, son, that the signallin' an' th' vamoosin'
of our late friend Four Eyes had some connection," spoke Old
Billee. "We, bein' intent on our game of cards, didn't know
nothin' at all 'bout it till you fellows rode up. Now it's about
time we got int' action!"

"You win!" declared Yellin' Kid loudly. "There's suthin' queer
prospectin' around these diggings an' I'd like t' know what it

"I guess we all would," spoke Bud. "And we'd better start right
in to find out about it. Come on, boys," he called to his
cousins, but the older cow punchers took the invitation to
themselves also, and soon, with lanterns and flashlights (which
handy little contrivances the boy ranchers nearly always carried)
they began the search.

First they made sure that Four Eyes was playing no trick on them
by hiding under one of the cots in the bunk tent. Though, as Bud
pointed out, it would pass the bounds of fun to have cut the
canvas shelter as it was cut.

But no trace of Four Eyes was to be found.

"He's gone, hide, hair, horns, brand an' everythin'!" was the way
Old Billee expressed it.

"How about his horse?" asked Nort.

"He didn't get his black one back," remarked Snake. "But he may
have sort of helped himself to one of yours, Bud."

This was found to be the case when the corral was visited. It
could hardly have been expected, in that country of great
distances, that the missing cowboy would not take a horse.

"And now let's have a look at the tower," suggested Bud, when a
rapid survey, under the fitful moonlight, had been made in the
vicinity of the camp, and no trace of the missing man discovered.
"Some one was signalling from up there, and it must have been
Four Eyes."

"It _could_ have been some one else," suggested Dick, not
because he believed that, but because he wanted to sift all the
evidence and get to the bottom of matters.

"Yes, it may have been a wandering cowboy, Greaser or some
Indian, far from his native reservation," Bud admitted. "But I'm
saying it was Four Eyes, though why he did it I can't imagine."

Nor could any of the others. Or, if they had a theory, they did
not give voice to it, though, afterward, one and all said they
had associated the missing cowboy with the rustlers.

But a search on and near the hastily-built watch tower disclosed
nothing. On the top platform, whence, doubtless, the signalling
lantern had been waved, no light was found. There were burned
matches and cigarette stubs, to be sure, but these were as much
the discarded property of Yellin' Kid or Snake, as of Four Eyes,
for they all had taken turns doing sentry duty, and, as it was
lonesome up on the high perch, smoking was indulged in.

"Well, he's away, and that's all there is to it," said Bud, when
the search was over. "Now all we've got to do is to wait for
something to happen."

"Do you think something will happen?" asked Nort.

"Well, things have been happening ever since we came out here,"
observed Dick. "First it was the finding of the Triceratops. Then
it was the water fight in the mysterious tunnel, and now it's the
rustlers after our cattle. Isn't that enough to happen?"

"Oh, yes," admitted Nort. "But I thought Bud meant something
special was about due."

"It wouldn't surprise me if it did happen," declared the western
lad. "But I wasn't thinking of anything out of the usual. Only
the combination--Four Eyes missing and us seeing the light makes
me suspicious. So I'm ready for anything."

"And I'm ready for my bunk!" declared Dick, with a yawn. "It's
most morning! Let's turn in!"

They did, but none of the boy ranchers rested well, for they were
too worried.

What did it all mean? And what events portended? These were
questions they wished soon would be answered.

The morning did not bring the return of Four Eyes, nor in the
better light were any more clues discovered at the Watch Tower.
Looking from its height, over the peaceful valley, the boy
ranchers saw nothing evil, and there was no hint of coming
disaster other than in the suspicions engendered by the recent
strange happenings.

"Do you suppose that signalling could have meant an Indian
uprising?" asked Nort.

"Cracky! If it does we'll have to fight 'em, won't we?" asked
Dick, with sparkling eyes.

"I don't imagine the Indians around here have any notion of
rising," said Bud. "They have done such things, years ago, but I
doubt if they have enough spirit left for it now. They are too
well satisfied with their lot. But of course it's possible,
though Buck Tooth says he doesn't look for anything of the sort.
But then he's been with white men so long he isn't really much of
an Indian any more."

"Well, if there's any Indian fighting to be done I want to do my
share!" declared Dick, and his brother nodded in confirmation.

But as several days passed, and nothing more happened than the
usual hard work on the ranch, the apprehensions of the boys began
to disappear. They made inquiries about Four Eyes, but no one on
the neighboring ranches had seen him. Mr. Merkel expressed
himself as greatly disappointed in the character of the cowboy he
had sent to his son.

"Maybe you got off lucky, with only a cut tent," the ranchman
observed. "But better be on your guard, son."

"We will, Dad," replied the western lad.

It was about a week after the signal lights had been observed,
the disappearance of Four Eyes coinciding, that, as Bud and his
cousins were eating "grub" in camp one noon, they heard shots
fired off to the north, and in the direction of the trail between
Happy Valley and Diamond X ranch.

"What's that?" asked Nort, starting from his seat.

"Stampede, maybe," suggested Dick, for the boys knew that the
older cowboys were in that direction, rounding up a small herd
which had been purchased and that was to be shipped east.
Bud hurried to the entrance of the tent and what he saw caused
him to cry:

"Come on, boys! It's the rustlers again! They're making a raid!
Get your guns!"

In less time than you would have deemed possible, unless you had
seen it, the boy ranchers were in the saddle, and were galloping
toward the scene of the shooting. The sounds were more plain,
now, and as they straightened out on the trail they could see
where a fight was in progress.



Yellin' kid, Old Billee and Snake Purdee were standing off the
attacks of more than double their number. This was the spectacle
that greeted Bud, Nort and Dick as they swept up the trail and
toward the sound and sight of the firing. For now they could see
the little puffs of smoke which preceded the discharges of the
guns. Light, traveling faster than sound, brought to the eyes of
the boys the puffs of burned gunpowder before the report echoed.

"This is the meaning of that night-signalling!" cried Nort, as he
galloped beside his cousin.

"Looks so," was the answer. "They're getting bold and desperate
to try to rustle our stock in the day time."

"You said it!" exclaimed Dick, as he looked to make sure he had a
good supply of cartridges.

As the boy ranchers drew nearer the scene of the conflict they
could observe that the herd, which their cowboys had been driving
in, was now in confusion. And no wonder, with more than half a
score of wildly-excited men riding among them, shouting and
firing heavy revolvers.

For distant shouts borne to the ears of our heroes told of the
excitement under way. As nearly as Bud, Nort and Dick could tell
from their vantage point, eight or ten Mexicans, Greasers or
other undesirable characters, had swept down from the north on
Old Billee, Snake and Yellin' Kid as the latter were hazing the
cattle along to the trail which led to the distant railroad
station. Naturally the cowboys of Happy Valley had turned on
their attackers and the fight resulted.

It was evidently the intention of the rustlers (for of their
character there was little doubt) to drive off as many of the
Diamond X Second stock as possible. And if they had to kill or
maim the watchers it meant little to them.

But, so far, none seemed to have been seriously hurt, for no
horses were running around with empty saddles, and no bodies were
prostrate on the ground. I think, if the truth were known, that
the first shooting on both sides was so wild that no one thought
to take accurate aim, which is difficult on the back of a rushing
cow pony, and with a heavy .45 gun.

It was, essentially, a running fight and Bud, Dick and Nort were
urging their ponies forward as rapidly as possible to get their
share of it. However, they were not destined to come to close
grips with the enemy. For as they drew nearer to the scene of
conflict, their guns out, and eager in their own hearts for
action, yelling encouragement to their comrades, the boy ranchers
saw their foes suddenly swing away.

This sudden giving up on the part of the rustlers was due either
to a signal from one of their number that the raid was a failure,
or else they saw reinforcements, in the persons of the boys, and
had no desire for a more nearly even battle.

At any rate, with wild yells, the rustlers pulled up their
ponies, and turned off down the trail, riding at break-neck
speed. Yellin' Kid and Snake, with shouts of defiance, swept
after them, and might have caught them except for what happened
to Old Billee. The veteran suddenly reeled in his saddle, and
would have fallen, except that, as he lagged behind his two
companions, Bud rushed up to him and held him in place.

"Are you hit, Billee?" Bud cried.

"Only just a scratch, but it seems like it took th' tucker out o'
me mighty suddin," gasped the old man. "Beckon I'd better get
down. I'd 'a' fallen if you hadn't rid up, Bud."

"That's what I thought when I saw you reel."

By the time Bud, with his cousins, was helping Old Billee to the
ground, Yellin' Kid and Snake turned and saw what had happened.
They then gave up all thoughts of pursuing the retreating
rustlers and came riding back, winded and excited, but none the
worse for their encounter with the rascals.

"Did they get you, Billee?" asked Snake, a gleam in his eyes that
portended no good to the perpetrators of the deed if he ever
caught them.

"Only a scratch," said the old cowboy, but rather faintly. He put
his hand to his side, and quickly opening his garments, as he sat
on the ground, his friends saw that the wound was more than that.

However, the bullet had glanced off the ribs, and aside from
having lost considerable blood, which accounted for his weakness,
Old Billee was little the worse off.

"I think we got one of 'em," announced Snake. "I saw him holdin'
pretty desprit like t' his saddle."

"What started it? Who were they?" asked Bud, as the last of the
raiders swept out of sight amid the rolling hills of the valley.

"Oh, some of Del Pinzo's gang, you can make sure of that," said
Yellin' Kid. "They just rid down on us an' started t' fire. We
saw what their game was all right, an' come back at 'em. They
didn't get one steer, Bud!" he added, proudly enough.

"That's good," said the boy rancher.

"But they did an awful lot of shootin'," added Snake. "I thought
sure we'd all be hit, but Old Billee was th' only one what got
it. I never heard so much Fourth of July since I was a kid."

"It was a lot of shooting, according to the results," spoke Bud,
as he watched Snake bandaging Billee's wound, for the cowboys
carried a primitive first-aid kit. "I wonder if that meant

"What do you mean?" asked Nort.

But Bud did not answer.

Making sure that none of the cattle had been hit, and managing,
after rather strenuous work, in quieting the herd, the boy
ranchers and their friends started back toward camp, Old Billee
taking it as easily as possible, for his side was getting stiff
and painful.

While they were yet some distance away from the white tents that
corresponded to the usual ranch buildings, Bud and his companions
saw riding toward them a solitary figure.

"It's Buck Tooth," declared Dick.

"And if he doesn't bear evil tidings I miss my guess," murmured

Evil tidings they were, in very truth. For as the Zuni came near
enough he was seen to be much excited. Drawing rein, he made a
sweeping, comprehensive gesture with one hand, toward the south
end of the valley, and exclaimed: "All gone!"

"What's all gone?" asked Bud, a great fear clutching at his

"Cattle!" answered the Indian. "Rustlers drive 'em all 'way,
while you shootin' off there!" and he pointed toward the scene of
the recent conflict.

For an instant Bud said nothing. Then, with trembling lips, which
alone betrayed his feeling, he remarked:

"That was it! They divided their gang and started a fake fight up
at one end, to draw us there, while they worked against our big
herd at the other end. It was a slick piece of work. No wonder
they shot more than they hit. They wanted to keep us away from
the south of the valley."

"I guess you've struck it, Bud," said Snake, grimly. "They sure
fooled us, an' I never smelled a rat! Whew!"

Bud, with lips that were firmer now, touched spurs to his pony
and hastened toward the tents and corral.

"What you aimin' to do?" called Yellin' Kid after him.

"I'm going to get on the trail of those rustlers," grimly
announced Bud Merkel, "and I'm not coming back until I land 'em!
Come on, fellows," he called to his cousins. "Let's pack up for a
long hike on the trail!"



Following after Bud, his cousins and the older cowboys swept
along toward the home camp--to the tents which served the
purposes of ranch buildings. Yellin' Kid trotted beside Old
Billee, who, however, now that his bullet-scarred side had been
bandaged, rode with more ease.

"What you goin' t' stop for?" asked Snake, when he saw Bud
turning in toward the corral where spare ponies were kept.
"Aren't you going after the rustlers?"

"Yes, when we get packed up for a long ride!" Bud answered
grimly. "What's the good of riding over just to look at the place
where they drove off our cattle? I can see that any time. What I
want to do is to get on their trail."

"And not give up until we land 'em!" added Nort.

"That's talking!" cried his brother. "Did you see any of 'em,
Buck Tooth?" he asked the Indian, beside whom he was riding.

"Me see too many," was the grim answer, which explained why the
Zuni had probably not gone in pursuit. "They ride like what you

"They can't keep that pace up long," declared Bud, as he slipped
from the saddle, having turned his horse into the corral. "They
can start the steers off with a hip-hurrah, but they'll have to
slow down if they don't want to kill 'em, and that wouldn't pay.
They'd get some fresh beef and the hides, but they'd waste more
than they'd get out of it."

"What do you imagine they really plan to do, and who are they?"
asked Dick, as he and his brother followed Bud to their own
special tent.

"I can only guess who they are, and your guess is as good as
mine," the western lad answered.

"Then I'll say Del Pinzo and the Hank Fisher gang," ventured

"And I'll agree," replied Bud. "They have two motives, now, for
working against us. One because we've beaten 'em in two innings--
the time of the Triceratops and in the underground river game.
But getting our cattle--or the cattle of any other rancher--is
reward enough in itself at the price beef is selling for now.
They want to make a lot of money, and ruin us because we've come
to Happy Valley. But they'll find that we can bat a little, too,"
added Bud, carrying out the simile of a baseball game. "And it's
going to be our turn at the plate mighty soon!"

"The sooner the better," declared Nort, and his brother nodded in

When Old Billee's wound had been further attended to, with the
more adequate remedies kept in camp, there was a gathering of the
"clan," so to speak, in the tent where the boys and their cowboy
helpers usually ate.

"Then you aren't going to chase over to where they drove off your
cattle right away; is that it, Bud?" asked Snake.

"I don't see any use," said the young western ranch lad. "All
we'd see would be the marks of the trail, and they'll stay for
some time, if it doesn't rain, which isn't likely. What I want to
do is to pack enough grub--and other things," he added significantly
with a motion toward his .45, "for a long trip. We've got to get at the
bottom of how they drive off our cattle, and manage to get them out
of the valley without leaving a trace.

"That's the puzzle we have to solve, as we found out about the
hidden water. Up to now the raids of Del Pinzo and his crowd--
assuming that they are the ones--have been small. They're the
kind that's always going on, and a lot of the cattlemen, and Dad
among 'em, seem to shut their eyes to the thefts. I'm not going
to do that. But what I started to say was that, up to now, the
raids have been small ones. Very likely they thought we wouldn't
make much fuss over the steers we lost.

"But this is a big raid, and the others were only leading up to
it. They played to get us out of the south end of the valley, and
away from our big herd so they could drive it off unmolested."

"And they sure did it," added Nort.

"But they haven't gotten clear away yet!" snapped out Bud. "We're
going to take after them! They can't go fast with a big bunch of
cattle, and we're bound to catch them sooner or later!"

"They'll probably put up a fight," observed Old Billee, who was
feeling much easier, now.

"That's what I'm counting on, and that's why I don't want any
slip-up!" exclaimed Bud. "I'm going to call on Dad for some

"Oh, we can handle that Del Pinzo gang!" boasted Yellin' Kid.

"We could if they'd fight fair and even, maybe," assented Bud.
"But they'll be on the lookout for trouble, now, and they'll have
a big gang of Greasers with them. And while, ordinarily, one
cowboy is a match for half a dozen of the ornery Mexicans, you've
got to be on the watch for treachery. There's no use tackling
this thing unless we have a big enough crowd to meet the biggest
bunch Del Pinzo can muster."

"Well, there's some sense in that," admitted Snake. "I'm not
afraid of any bunch of rustlers that Hank Fisher can scare up,"
he went on, "but it isn't a man's personal feelings we got to
consider. It's for the good of this ranch. And, as Bud says, we
want to make a clean-up this inning."

"That's why I'm going to have help," Bud remarked, as he went to
call his father on the telephone.

Mr. Merkel whistled when he heard the disastrous news.

"I didn't think they'd go at it wholesale, that way, Bud," he
told his son over the wire. "But you've got the right idea. Go
after 'em and clean 'em up! When you take the trail don't turn
back until you've finished the job. I'll send you as many men as
I can spare, Slim Degnan with 'em!"

"Slim? That's good!" cried Bud. "Now we'll make a clean up. But
don't get worried, Dad, if you don't hear from us in several
days, or a couple of weeks. We'll probably be out of the reach of
a telephone."

"Yes, I realize that! Well, good luck to you. When you going to

"First thing in the morning. Old Billee was shot up a little, so
I'll leave him and Buck Tooth to look after what cattle we have
left. Can Slim and the others get here in time to start in the

"They can if I send them over in the jitney which will be
quicker, and save them some hard riding. Have you got ponies
enough for them?"

"Yes, plenty. Get 'em over here in the gasolene gig and we'll do
the rest!" laughed Bud, though he was in anything but a laughing
mood, His mind was grimly set on getting back his cattle, and in
punishing the evil gang of rustlers that was dominating that
section of the "cow country," as ranch localities are sometimes

Immediately on hanging up the receiver, Bud Merkel started in on
a busy time. Nor were his cousins less engaged. Once the boy
ranchers bad determined to "hit the trail," they planned to "do
the trick up brown," as Nort expressed it.

Bud proved himself to be well fitted for the task in hand, in
spite of his youth. But he had been well trained by his father,
and life on Diamond X had put him in trim for hard fighting. It
was not the first time he had had to do with cattle raids, though
it was his own first experience on a large scale, and he was
vitally interested. He followed the plans he had seen his father
put into operation more than once.

Saddles, girths and lariats were looked to, as were all the
various trappings of the ponies, without which the raid could not
be undertaken in that country of far distances. Then it was
necessary to pack sufficient "grub" to last for at least a week,
in case no provisions could be come upon.

As for shelter, each man, and by that term I also include the boy
ranchers, had a pair of blankets and a tarpaulin to spread under
him on the ground. The days were hot, but the nights were cool in
spite of camp fires.

Of course each one "packed a gun," some of the cowboys two, and
there was no lack of ammunition.

Old Billee felt badly at not being able to go. But his wound was
giving him more pain than he liked to admit, and after vainly
protesting that he simply must go, he agreed that perhaps it was
best for him to remain behind.

In the "jitney," as Mr. Merkel dubbed his auto, several cowboys
from Diamond X (including the veteran foreman Slim) reached Happy
Valley in due season. They were fitted out with ponies, and after
the situation had been talked over, and every precaution against
failure taken, they were ready to start early on the morning
following the big raid.

The outfit of the boy ranchers had been sadly depleted by the
descent of the unscrupulous gang, and what cattle remained had
been driven to the feeding grounds in the vicinity of the
reservoir, where Buck Tooth, Old Billee and one man from Diamond
X could watch over them.

"Are we all ready?" asked Bud, as he and his cousins, followed in
example by the older cowboys vaulted to saddles.

"I reckon so," announced Slim, as he slewed around his holster
with its newly-oiled .45.

"Let's go!" said Bud, briefly, and away they started.

They made trail, first, to the scene of the raid. As Bud and the
others had anticipated, there were plenty of signs showing where
the cattle had been driven off. A large herd was missing, and it
must have taken a number of rustlers to have rounded them up and
started them toward Double Z, or whatever place was to be used to
change, or blur the brands, so the cattle could be sold to some
innocent purchaser, perhaps. Though there were not wanting, in
that country, not-so-innocent-purchasers of rustled cattle.

"They'll have to keep near grass and water," said Slim, as he
rode along with Bud and his cousins. "So we'll do the same."

"Yes, they can't make a dry drive very far," Bud agreed. "They
followed this range, it seems."

On reaching the scene of the raid the trail led off to the left,
along a tow mountain range or wild and rugged peaks, some,
evidently, of volcanic origin. At the foot of this range was
grass in plenty, and, occasionally, a water hole, made possible
by the fact that End's father had brought the waters of the Pocut
River to the valley by means of the tunnel flume.

"The trail's plain enough for a blind man to follow," said
Yellin' Kid, who rode beside Snake.

"But it's going to get harder in a little while," spoke Snake.
"We're getting into wilder country, and rocks don't take much of
an impression. See, it's peterin' out now."

He pointed to the surface of the ground over which they were then
traveling. The grass and earth were more and more scanty, and in
some places there were patches of shale and rock, on which even
an iron-shod hoof would leave no mark.

"Yes, it's a wild country," agreed Bud. "I've never been over as
far as this, and I don't believe our cattle ever get here. There
isn't enough feed," he added, as he looked around.

The cavalcade was now in a sort of narrow gorge, or gully, with
rocky walls on either side, and only scant vegetation on the
bottom, where some bunch grass grew. The water seemed to have

"They can't drive cattle on a trail like this very far," said
Slim, looking about with critical eyes.

"And yet they did come in this gulch," said Bud, for the "signs"
were still plain.

"Oh, yes, they've been here," agreed Slim. "It sure is a queer
trail they picked. I don't see--"

He did not finish the sentence. Somewhere In that lonely and wild
section of Happy Valley a single shot rang out, making the echoes
vibrate loudly, and awakening a distant coyote, who sent up a
mournful howl.



"What's that?" asked Bud suddenly, his voice seeming almost as
loud as that of Yellin' Kid's. The horses had been reined to a
halt as soon as the shot sounded, and there was stillness which
made the boy rancher's exclamation appear more vociferous than
would otherwise have been the case. "What's that?" asked Bud

"Some one fired," answered Nort.

"Brilliant!" chuckled Dick. "Bright answer!"

"Almost as bright as my question," conceded Bud, who was willing
to admit when he had "pulled a bloomer," as some Englishmen might
term it. "It was a shot, though," he added. "I wonder if we'll
hear any more?"

They all paused, in listening attitudes; the boy ranchers, the
cowboys associated with them in the Happy Valley venture and the
others sent with Slim to help run down the rustlers, on whose
trail they now were.

But no further firing followed in the three or four minutes they
waited there in that lonely gorge, the only sounds being those
caused by the restless movements of the steeds.

"I wonder if some one shot at us, or if that was a signal!"
remarked Nort, as Bud gave the sign to advance.

"I didn't hear any bullet singin' out this way," drawled Slim.
"Not that I'm hankerin' to," he quickly added.

"Then it might have been a signal," went on Nort.

"What makes you say that?" Bud questioned.

"Because it would seem that if the rustlers are ahead of us,
trying their best to get far enough away, or to get to some
secret hiding place, that they might leave some behind, on the
trail, to give warning when we show up," went on Nort.

"Yes, that might be so," slowly admitted Bud. "In fact I think it
was, probably, a signal, and it may have been given by the same
one who gave signals before."

"What do you mean?" asked Dick.

"I mean Four Eyes, and the lantern flashes we saw from the watch
tower that night we rode in," Bud answered. "I believe Four Eyes
was and still is, in with the rustlers, and that he gave a signal
to show that everything was ready for the raid."

"But the raid didn't take place until some time after we saw
those flashing lights," said Dick.

"It takes some time to get a cattle-rustling gang together,"
declared Bud. "I wish we could find Four Eyes."

His gaze roved the sides of the lonely gorge, and sought to
pierce the maze of the trail ahead. But as it wound in and out,
following the windings of the defile, he could not see far in
that direction.

"If it was Four Eyes, he played his game mighty slick!" declared
Yellin' Kid. "He fooled us all, includin' your paw, Bud!"

"Well, if we get on his trail, and can connect him with the
rustlers, which it won't be hard to do, I'm thinking, he won't
play any more tricks," declared the western lad vindictively and
with righteous anger. "But if that was a warning shot, and that's
what it seems it must have been, we'd better take some precautions

"Such as what-like?" asked Slim, willing to let Bud take the
lead, as the search for the rustlers was distinctly an affair of
the boy ranchers.

"We ought not to go ahead, all in a bunch," decided Bud. "We may
run into a bunch of Greasers at some turn of the trail, and if we
have scouts out we can handle the situation better."

"I was going to suggest it," said Slim, "but I thought you'd
think of it yourself, Bud, being as you're your paw's son."

Bud was pleased at the implied compliment, and, a little later,
as they advanced, they were divided into three small parties,
with rear and vanguard, to insure against a surprise in back,
which might easily happen.

And so they advanced through the defile, keeping watch on both
sides of the trail. There were still evidences that a herd of
cattle had been driven along the rocky defile, but because of the
rocky floor, if such it may be called, the signs were faint, and
only an experienced westerner could have picked them up. But the
boy ranchers were accompanied by experienced cow punchers, who
knew every trick of the trail.

Bud had insisted that it was one of his rights to ride in the
advance guard, with Yellin' Kid, and it was while they were
performing this duty, of watching for a surprise, that they saw,
just around the bend of the trail, some wisps of white vapor
floating up.

"There they are!" exclaimed Bud in a hoarse whisper, pointing.
"They've stopped there--or some of 'em have. Or maybe it's the
person who fired the warning shot."

"Might be," admitted Yellin' Kid, toning his voice down somewhat
to suit the occasion. "Better let me get off and crawl ahead,
Bud. I'm used to that. You hold the horses."

Bud realized the sense of this proposition, and he held the reins
of the Kid's horse, while that cow puncher slipped from the
saddle, and, on all fours, crept toward the wall of rock which
rose abruptly at a turn of the trail shutting off a view beyond.

Bud watched Yellin' Kid closely, the lad's hand on the butt of
his .45, and occasionally he glanced back to catch the first
glimpse of the main party, so he might warn them. He saw the
wisps of vapor rising and floating toward him.

"Not much smoke," mused Bud. "They're using very dry wood--
regular Indian trick. I wonder----"

A moment later he heard Yellin' Kid shout, and it was such a cry
as indicated pain. Yet Bud had heard no shot.

"I wonder if they knifed him?" was the thought that flashed into
Bud's brain. He cast caution to the winds and galloped forward,
making a great racket, and casting loose the reins of the Kid's

The sight that met Bud's eyes was enough to startle him, though
it was not what he expected to see.

For he beheld Yellin' Kid standing in front of a pillar of white
vapor, or, rather, the cowboy was dancing about, holding one hand
in the other, and using excited slang at a rate that soon would
exhaust his vocabulary, Bud thought.

But, more strange than anything else, was the fact that there was
no sign of a fire, to cause the white vapor, nor was there any
indication that anyone besides Yellin' Kid and Bud were in the
immediate neighborhood. No rustlers had started the blaze which
caused the white clouds to drift upward.

"What's the matter, Kid?" asked Bud, as he saw that something had
happened. "Where's the fire?"

"Under there!" and the cowboy pointed to the ground. "Keep away
from it. Don't go near that spring, an' whatever you do, don't
put your hand in. I did, an' I'm sorry for it!"

"Spring! Fire! What is it, anyhow!" asked Bud, as he slid from
the saddle and ran forward.

"It's a boilin' spring, that's what it is!" declared Yellin' Kid.
"Boilin' hot an' it near took th' skin from my hand! What you see
is steam--not smoke! Horned toads and hoop-skirts! It's as hot as
Buck Tooth's tea kettle! Look out for the boilin' spring!"



Bud stood in amazement looking at Kid and listening to what the
excited cowboy was saying. Then the gaze of the western boy
rancher turned toward a depression in the ground, whence arose
what he and Yellin' Kid had thought was smoke but which, in
reality, was steam from a hot spring.

"A boiler, eh?" repeated Bud. "First I ever knew we had any so
near Happy Valley."

"Me, either," went on Kid. "I suspicioned what it was when I got
close and couldn't smell any wood burnin'. Then I put my hand
out, but the steam fooled me. I didn't know the top of the water
was so close, an' I dipped right down into it. Whew! It was hot!"

"Did it scald you?" asked Bud.

"Pretty nigh it," answered the cowboy, exhibiting a very red

At this moment a noise behind the two attracted their attention.
They turned to see pointed at them the black openings of two .45
guns, and they had glimpses of eager eyes looking over the sights
of the weapons. "Don't shoot! I'll come down!" laughed Bud, in
imitation of what was the current saying concerning the famous
Davy Crockett.

"What is it?" asked Nort, owner of one of the menacing guns, as
he arose and slid his .45 into the holster.

"Did they get away?" Dick wanted to know, as he stood beside his
brother. The two boys had left the main body and worked their way
up to join the vanguard, in the persons of Bud and Kid.

"There wasn't anyone to get away," Bud answered grimly. "It was
only a boiling spring, and we took the steam of it for smoke."

"Boiling spring!" cried Nort. "I never saw one before."

"Me, either," added his brother, and together they looked at the
depression in the ground, filled with scalding hot water. At
times it bubbled up, like some great kettle over a fire, and then
the steam was as thick as the smoke at some camp fire when green
wood is used. Again the spring was comparatively quiet.

"I've seen 'em before," remarked Bud, "though I didn't know we
had any so near Happy Valley. There's lots of 'em out in the
Yellowstone Park region, and in other places, some not many miles
from here."

"Any volcanoes?" asked Nort.

"Or geysers?" Dick queried.

"Not that I know of," Bud answered. "You don't need volcanoes to
make boiling springs, though I suppose the hot water must be
boiled over some internal fire beneath the earth's surface. And
these same fires do, sometimes, make volcanoes.

"But I've never seen any volcanoes around here; have you,
fellows?" and he appealed to the cowboys.

"Not since I came up from Mexico," one answered. "I was close to
one there. And I've seen Old Faithful, and some of the other
geysers in the Yellowstone."

"They put soap in some to make 'em spout, don't they?" asked
Dick, who remembered to have read something to that effect.

"So I've heard," the cowboy said, "though it isn't supposed to be
done. It sort of wears out the geyser, I believe, though I don't
know much about such things. Anyhow, I don't know of any around
here, though I have seen a few boiling springs, farther to the

"Yes, I have, too," Bud admitted. "Well, here's one, and she sure
is hot," he added, as a sudden activity on the part of the
phenomenon sent up another cloud of steam. "We could boil eggs
there if we had any."

"We brought some along," Dick said, "but they're hard-boiled
already. No use doing the job over. Say, but this is interesting!" he
added, as the spring suddenly spouted up a little way, almost like
a miniature geyser.

"It would be more interesting if we could get closer on the trail
of that gang of cattle thieves, and take away our steers," said
Bud. "I wonder if the poor animals hurried in here for water, and
couldn't drink it because it was hot?" He recalled days of
helping haze cattle on long trails, when the creatures were
tormented by thirst, and he knew how they suffered.

"There are a few signs that they've been in here," remarked Slim,
as the party was gathered around the boiling spring. "But they
aren't here now."

"Not much use in us staying here, either," commented Bud, as he
looked around on the bleak and cheerless prospect. Except for the
boiling spring there was no sign of natural life. All about were
great and small rocks, piles of shale and jagged stones, as
though the place had been swept by a prehistoric fire. They were
in one of the twists and turns of the rocky defile, and it was a
rocky pass, with no trees or grass growing except near the top,
and these appeared to be a sort of overgrowth from the grass and
foliage growing down above.

"No, they didn't stop here long," declared Yellin' Kid. "They
passed on, an' that's what we got to do."

"Might as well stay here and have grub, now we're dismounted,"
suggested Nort.

The idea was voted a good one, and was soon put into operation.
They ate and talked of what had passed and what lay before them.
Of the latter they could only conjecture, but it is safe to say
that not one of them in his wildest imagination ever conjectured
such an ending to their trailing as actually occurred.

"Well, let's get on," called Bud, when appetites had been
satisfied--that is all but those of the horses. There was no
grass for them, though they did manage to drink some of the water
from the boiling spring where it had collected in little pools,
and had cooled. But this would never have sufficed for hundreds
of cattle.

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