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Comrades of the Saddle by Frank V. Webster

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Produced by Al Haines



The Young Rough Riders of the Plains








Or Dan Hardy's Rise in Life

Or The Mystery of a Message

Or Roy Bradner's City Experiences

Or Fred Stanley's Trip to Alaska

Or The Wreck of the Eagle

Or Herbert Dare's Pluck

Or Who Was Dick Box?

Or Nat Morton's Perils

Or Lost in the Mountains

Or On the Road with a Circus

Or Frank Jordan's Triumph

Or The Young Rough Riders of the Plains

Copyright, 1910, by


Printed in U. S. A







Twilight was settling on the land. The forms of trees and houses
loomed big and black, their sharp outlines suggesting fanciful
forms to the minds of two boys hurrying along the road which like a
ribbon wound In and out among the low hills surrounding the town of
Bramley, in south-western Ohio.

As the darkness increased lights began to twinkle from the windows
of the distant farmhouses.

"We're later than usual, Tom," said the larger of the two boys. "I
hope we'll get home before father does."

"Then let's hurry. The last time we kept supper waiting he said
we'd have to give up playing ball after school if we couldn't get
home before meal time."

"And that means that we won't make the team and will only get a
chance to substitute," returned the first speaker.

As though such a misfortune were too great to be borne, the two
young ball players broke into a dog trot.

The boys were brothers, Tom and Larry Alden. Larry, the larger,
was sixteen and Tom was a year younger. Both were healthy and
strong and would have been thought older, so large were they.

The only children of Theodore Alden, a wealthy farmer who lived
about three miles from Bramley, unlike many brothers, they were
chums. They were prime favorites, and their popularity, together
with their natural ability and cool-headedness at critical moments,
made them leaders in all sports.

As it grew darker and darker, the brothers quickened their pace.
Talking was out of the question, so fast were they going. But as
they rounded a turn in the road, which enabled them to see the
lights in their home, a quarter of a mile away, Larry gasped:

"There's no light in the dining-room yet. Father hasn't gotten

"Come on then for a final spurt," returned Tom.

Willingly Larry responded, and the boys dashed forward as though
they were just starting out instead of ending a two-mile run.

On the right-hand side of the road a fringe of bushes hedged a

The patter of the boys' feet on the hard clay road was the only
sound that broke the stillness.

Their goal, with the bright lights shining from the windows, was
only about three hundred yards away when suddenly from the
direction of the swamp sounded a sullen snarl.

"Did you hear anything?" asked Larry.

"I thought so."

As though to settle all doubt, the growl rang out again. This time
it was nearer and sounded more ominous.

For a moment the boys looked at each other, then, as with one
accord, turned their heads and looked in the direction whence the
startling noise had come.

Just as they did so there came another howl, and an instant later a
big black form, for all the world like a large dog, leaped from the
bushes into the road.

"Quick, quick!" cried Larry, seizing his brother's arm and pulling
him along, for Tom had slackened his speed, as though fascinated by
the sight of the strange animal. "It must be that wolf father read
about, the one that got away when the circus train was passing
through Husted."

And, Larry was right. The animal was indeed a wolf that had
escaped from its cage through the door, the fastener on which had
been jarred out of place by the motion of the train, and had leaped
to liberty.

The circus people had reported the loss as soon as it had been
discovered and it had been duly announced in the papers.

Mr. Alden had read about it, but all had laughed at the thought of
a wolf in placid Ohio and dismissed the story as a circus man's

Rejoicing in its freedom, the beast had wandered about till it
struck the swamp and now the air brought to its keen nose the scent
of the boys passing. Ravenously hungry, the wolf hastened toward
the lads.

As it bounded into the road the glare from the lights of the
farmhouse momentarily blinded it and it stood blinking.

But only for an instant. Instinctively realizing that it must
catch them before they reached the lights, the wolf uttered a
savage snarl and bounded forward.

Larry's words to his brother had roused the boy, and together they
were racing toward the welcome lights of their home.

But the wolf with its leaps covered three yards to their one, and
as the older of the boys looked over his shoulder he saw that the
beast was gaining on them.

Fifty yards ahead was the house and thirty yards behind them was
the wolf.

Well did the boys know they could not win the race. But they did
not lose their heads.

"Father! Harry!" yelled Larry. "Joe! The wolf! the wolf! Get the

"The wolf! the wolf!" added Tom. "Shoot the wolf!"

The yells, breaking the stillness of the night, startled Mrs. Alden
and the hired men, who were awaiting the coming of Mr. Alden and
the boys.

Unable to distinguish the words, the hired men rushed to the door
and threw it open. Peering along the path of the light, they saw
the forms of the boys.

"Quick! The rifle! The wolf's after us!" shouted Tom.

Fortunately Mr. Alden always kept a loaded rifle on a rack on the
kitchen wall with which to shoot foxes that attempted to raid his

Hastily the hired man named Joe sprang for the weapon, seized it
and dashed from the door, shouting:

"Where is it? Where is it?"

Before the boys could answer, however, his keen eyes espied the
black form.

Joe had often amused himself shooting at a target with Larry and
Tom and was able to make four bull's-eyes out of five, but never
before had the opportunity to aim at a live mark come to him, and
as he raised the rifle his hands trembled.

"Shoot! shoot!" yelled Larry. "No matter if you don't hit it,

Bang! went the gun, and as the report of the firearm died away the
wolf was seen to stagger and fall. Soon the beast arose again, but
by that time the hired man was ready for another shot. This
finished the beast, and with a yelp it rolled over and breathed its



Exhausted by their run and the excitement of their escape, Larry
and Tom staggered into the house and dropped into chairs, their
mother and the hired men pressing about and plying them with
questions. But it was several minutes before the boys recovered
their breath sufficiently to speak.

Tom was the first to get over his fright, and, as soon as he could
control his voice, gave a vivid account of their attempt to reach
home before their father, their hearing the uncanny sound from the
swamp, the sudden appearance of the wolf behind them and their
desperate race to get to the house before the beast should overtake

"It's a good thing I practiced shooting last winter," exclaimed Joe
as the story ended. He was proud of what he had accomplished.

"There's father," declared Mrs. Alden as a "whoa!" sounded from the

Quickly Larry picked up a lantern, and, followed by all but his
mother, went out to help unhitch the horses and take them into the

"What's been going on?" demanded the farmer as the others joined
him. "I heard the rifle shot."

Eagerly they all started to tell.

"Don't all speak at once," interposed Mr. Alden. "You're talking
so loud and so fast I can't understand a word. Tom, suppose you

Excitedly the youngest of the brothers poured forth the tale.

"A wolf in Bramley, eh? Well, well! It's a good thing you boys
were so near home. This is sure a great day for happenings. My
sons get chased into their own dooryard and I----"

But as though to arouse their curiosity, the farmer did not finish
his sentence.

"You what?" asked Larry.

"Never mind now. Put the horses up. You won't have to feed them;
they're too hot. Give them a little hay and then come in to

Knowing it was useless to try to get their father to satisfy their
curiosity, for Mr. Alden, though a kindly man, was what his
neighbors called "set in his ways," Tom and Larry ran to the barn
to open the door, while the hired men followed with the horses.

After rubbing the animals down and giving them some hay, the four
returned to the house.

But not until the supper was finished did the farmer deign to
impart his news. Then, tilting back in his chair, he looked at his
wife and asked:

"How would you like to take the boys to Scotland for the summer,

"To Scotland?" repeated Mrs. Alden, as though scarcely believing
her ears. "Theodore Alden, are you going crazy? What are you
talking about?"

"About going to Scotland," answered the farmer, grinning. "And I'm
not crazy."

At the mention of the trip, Larry and Tom looked at their parent
and then at each other in dismay, for they had planned a different
sort of way for spending the summer. But their attention was
quickly drawn to their father again.

"I've got to go to Scotland and we might as well all go," he was
saying. "The hired men can run the farm for the summer."

Lapsing into silence as he watched the effect of his words, Mr.
Alden enjoyed the looks of surprise and curiosity, then continued:

"When I got to Bramley this morning I found a letter from a man
named Henry Sargent, a Glasgow lawyer. He said my uncle, Thomas
Darwent, had died, leaving me the only heir to his estates. Just
how much money this means I don't know. He said it might be ten
thousand pounds."

"Phew! that's fifty thousand dollars," interposed Larry, excitedly.

"Just so," returned his father. "It may be more. I can't make out
whether that's the amount of cash or if that's what it will come to
when the land and houses are sold."

"You can write and find out," suggested Mrs. Alden.

"I can write, but I doubt if I can find out," chuckled the farmer.
"Those lawyer chaps use such high-sounding words, you can't tell
what they mean. If Uncle Darwent made me his heir, I'm going to
see I get all there Is to get. No Scotchman is going to cheat
Theodore Alden out of what's his. Soon's I'd made up my mind to
that, I drove over to Olmsted and made arrangements to sail from
New York on Saturday."

"Saturday? Why that's only three days off!" protested Mrs. Alden.

"Well, it'll only take a night and part of a day to get to New
York. That'll give you a day and a half to get ready, ma."

The thought of a trip to Scotland delighted Mrs. Alden, and she
immediately began to plan how she could get the boys, her husband
and herself ready in such a short space of time.

But Larry and Tom showed no signs of enthusiasm.

Noticing their silence, their father exclaimed:

"Don't you boys want to go? I never knew you so quiet before when
a trip was mentioned."

"But the ball game with Husted is on Saturday," said Larry, giving
voice to the thought uppermost in his mind. Then, as though he
realized that it was foolish to compare a trip to Scotland with a
game of baseball, he added: "Besides, Tom and I were planning--that
is, we were going to ask you if we couldn't go out to Tolopah and
spend the summer with Horace and Bill Wilder on their ranch."

With this announcement of a plan which the brothers had discussed
over and over, wondering how they could bring it about, the boys
anxiously watched their father's face.

"So that's how the wind blows, eh?" he commented. "Well, ma, what
do you say? Shall we take the boys with us or let them go to the

With her quiet mother's eye Mrs. Alden caught the appeal on her
sons' faces and after a short deliberation replied:

"I think they'd be better off with the Wilders--that is, if they'd
like to have the boys visit them."

"Hooray! hooray!" cried the boys together.

"We can telegraph and ask Mr. Wilder tonight," said Larry. "Can we
go to Bramley and send the message, father?"

"You can telephone the message to the station and the operator will
send it."

And while the boys puzzled over the wording of the telegram, their
father re-read his letter from Scotland.

"I've got the telegram ready," Tom exclaimed presently. "Listen."
And picking up the piece of paper on which he had been scribbling
he read:

"Tolopah, New Mexico:
"We can leave Saturday to visit you. Do you
want us? Answer quick. Father and mother
leave Friday for Scotland. We'll have to go,
if you don't want us.

"You might make it shorter," chuckled the farmer.

"And muddle it all up so they wouldn't understand it any better
than you do your lawyer's letter," returned Larry.

"That's a bull's-eye," grinned Joe, whose mind was running to
shooting terms.

And as neither their father nor mother interposed any objections,
the boys telephoned the message to the operator at Bramley, who
promised to send it at once.



Anxiously the two brothers waited for some news from the West and
in the meantime got ready for the trip to Scotland.

"Oh, I don't want to go to Scotland!" sighed Tom. "I want to go to
the ranch."

"Well, we've got to take what comes," answered his brother.

The boys went down to town and said good-by to their school chums.
All were sorry they were going away and said they would be missed
from the baseball team.

Returning to the farm, their mother met them with a peculiar smile
on her face.

"Any news?" they asked eagerly.

"Yes, word came over the telephone a while ago."

"And what Is it, ma?"

"The Wilders say to come and----"


"And not to bring a trunk," finished the mother. "The idea of two
boys going away all summer without a trunk!"

"Of course we won't need a trunk!" declared Tom. "From the time we
reach the ranch till we start for home I don't intend to wear a
white shirt or collar."

"When we get out there we can buy some cowboy outfits," said Larry.
"Hooray for Tolopah!"

The receipt of the message, which had been telephoned by the agent
at Bramley while the boys were on their way back from the town, was
more of a relief than either Larry or Tom was willing to
acknowledge. And they ate their food with greater relish in the
certainty that their dream of going to live on a ranch was to come

Each was absorbed in his own thoughts when the voice of their
father roused them.

"Now that it's decided you are going West," he was saying, "I
reckon I'll go over to Olmsted and make sure about our steamer
tickets. We won't have any too much time in New York. You boys
can go with me if you like."

Glad of the opportunity, the boys finished their dinner quickly and
were soon whirling over the hard clay road behind their father's
span of spirited horses.

"I've decided to give each of you two hundred and fifty dollars,"
said Mr. Alden, as though expressing his thoughts out loud.

"Phew! Two hundred and fifty dollars! That's more money than I ever
had all at once," exclaimed Tom in delight. "Think of having all
that to spend, Larry."

"But you mustn't spend it all," warned their father. "I was going
to say when you interrupted, Tom, that out of this money you must
pay your railroad tickets, for your berths to sleep in, and for
your meals. These things will amount to about seventy-five
dollars, I should think."

"But that will still leave us one hundred and seventy-five
dollars," declared Tom.

"True enough, but don't forget it will cost seventy-five dollars to
get back. If I were you, when you get to the ranch, I would give
the money for your return tickets to Mr. Wilder. He'll keep it for
you, so you'll be sure not to spend it.

"It's a thing you ought always to remember when you take a trip of
any distance--always save enough out of your money to carry you
back home"

The boys promised to do as their father suggested, and the farmer

"This will be your first experience with the world, and I don't
want you to forget the things your mother and I have taught you.

"It takes bad men as well as good to make up life, and somehow it
seems as though the bad men had the easiest time of it. You'll
find gamblers and others who live by their wits in Tolopah.
They'll try to be pleasant to you because you are young, and when
they learn you are from the East they will try to get your money
away from you.

"You must also be careful to whom you speak on the train. Under no
conditions mention anything about the money you have with you. A
lot of people, when they have any substantial sum, either like to
show it In some way or to talk about it, and then, if they happen
to be robbed of it, they wonder. Remember you can't recognize a
thief by his clothes, and lots of the slickest of them travel about
the country."

With this and other advice Mr. Alden counseled his sons, and so
interested did they become in what he told them about the country
of which they were soon to have their first glimpse that they were
in Olmsted almost before they knew it.

Going first to the bank, Mr. Alden drew out the money for his sons,
obtained a letter of credit for himself and then arranged to
purchase his steamship tickets in Pittsburg, whither all four
travelers were going together.

When they reached home Mrs. Alden had finished her packing and all
was practically ready for the start on the morrow.

After supper the farmer and his wife drove to Bramley to say
good-by to their friends, but the two chums decided to stay at home.

Eager to be on their way, it seemed to Larry and Tom that the hours
never passed so slowly. They tried to read, but in place of the
print on the pages pictures of cowboys and bucking bronchos danced
before their eyes, and they soon shut their books.

"Wish we'd gone with father and mother," exclaimed Tom. "It's more
stupid here than saying good-by."

But scarcely were the words out of his mouth when the door opened
and in came an old friend named Silas Haskins, a former gold miner.

"I got to go to Husted to-morrow, so I came over to-night to say
'so long,'" he said in explanation of his call.

Cordially the boys made him welcome, and the time passed quickly
when they had led Silas round to talking about his adventures in
the far West.

When at last the gold miner rose to go he said:

"I brung some presents for you. They'll be useful in the West."

And from his pockets Silas drew forth two fine big jackknives and
two long pieces of thong.

"They're both the same, so you won't need to quarrel about 'em," he
smiled as he handed their presents to each.

The boys were deeply touched by such evidence of friendship from
their aged friend and were profuse in their thanks when he again
put his hands in his pockets and produced two little bags made of
buckskin and attached to a stout strip of the same strong material.

"I don't know how you're intending to carry your money," he began,

"Why in our pockets," interrupted Larry.

"That's just what I supposed," grunted the old gold miner. "Now I
want you to put it in these two bags and hang 'em round your necks.
There can't no one get to 'em without waking you up nor take 'em
without giving you a chance to fight."

Readily the boys promised to wear the money bags, and with a hearty
handshake with each their aged friend went home.

The night passed quickly and the morning was busily spent in
getting the luggage to the station.

As the family waited for the train the dingy little station was
alive with people who had come to wish the Aldens pleasant
journeys. And as the train left the Bramley depot the members of
the ball team gave three rousing cheers for Larry and Tom.

The parting with their parents at Pittsburg was hard for the boys,
but fortunately for them their train left first, and soon they were
engrossed in watching their fellow passengers.

These consisted of a German boy, who seemed about their own age;
two elderly gentlewomen, and two big men, who would have seemed
well dressed had they not worn so much jewelry.

With interest the two chums watched the German youth and several
times when they had turned to look at him they had found him gazing
at them.

It was only the memory of their father's advice to be careful as to
whom they spoke to on the train that prevented them from striking
up an acquaintance. But when they found themselves at dinner
seated at the same table with the foreigner they broke their
reserve and told him their names.

In return the German said he was Hans Ober.

A speaking acquaintance thus established, Hans lost no time in
asking questions about the United States and particularly the West,
to which Larry and Tom replied as well as they were able.

Evidently glad of their company, the German sat with them after the
boys returned to their car from dinner.

Once or twice Hans had tried to learn where the chums were going
without asking directly, but they had given evasive answers, and at
last, as though believing confidence would beget confidence, he
announced that he was going to join his brother Chris, who had a
store in Tolopah.

As they heard their destination mentioned, Larry and Tom exchanged
surprised glances, which did not need their words to let Hans know
they were all three bound for the same place.

This coincidence removed whatever of reserve was left and the three
boys talked freely.

Hans said he had come from Berlin and that his father had given him
money to buy a share in his brother's business and told them of how
his fears that he might lose the money had made him sit up the
first two nights he was on the steamer.



The boys were at breakfast the next morning when Hans, happening to
look out the window, caught sight of the mighty river that almost
divides the United States in half.

"My eye! but that's a big river," he exclaimed. "What do you call

"The Mississippi," returned the brothers. They were too engrossed
by their first glimpse of the "Father of Waters" to correct the
German as he struggled to pronounce the name.

"Oh, look at the funny boats!" exclaimed Tom, pointing to the long
line of river steamers that were tied up at the levee. "What are
those things on the back end?"

"They are the paddle wheels. I know, because I've looked at
pictures like them in my geography," replied Larry. "They have the
paddle wheels on the end because the water is so shallow in places."

It was Just after noon that the two chums and Hans were vouchsafed
a glimpse of real "dyed-in-the-wool" cowboys.

The train had stopped at a crossing, as stations are known in
Oklahoma, because of a hot-box on one of the wheels.

Learning that it would be all of a quarter of an hour before the
trouble could be repaired, the boys had left their car and were
filling their lungs with the bracing air.

It chanced that a gang of cowboys had ridden Into the town for a
celebration and, as it was unusual for a train to stop for any
length of time at the crossing, they rode up to find out the reason.

For a few minutes they contented themselves with putting their
ponies through all sorts of "stunts" to the great delight of the
people on the train.

At the sight of them, Larry, Tom and Hans walked toward the cowboys
and stared at them in wonder and admiration.

The cowboys had noticed the three lads, and, because they had been
drinking bad "fire-water," suddenly decided to amuse themselves
with them.

"Whatcher lookin' at?" roared one of the cow-punchers, a big fellow
with close-set eyes and a heavy jaw.

The boys made no response.

"Can't cher speak? I'll teach you some manners then!" he bellowed.

In a thrice he whirled his pony and rode for the boys at full speed.

Ignorant of the roughness of cowboy fun, the three lads stood their
ground, never thinking the fellow would hurt them.

The cowboy was riding straight at Hans. When the pony was within
two leaps of the German, boy Larry cried to him to jump to one side.

But Hans was too terrified to move, and the pony was almost upon
him. In another moment he would be run down.

From the train rose shouts of warning and anger, changing in the
next moment to cheers.

Realizing that the German boy could not save himself, Larry threw
up his hands right in the face of the pony, causing the animal to
rear so suddenly that only its rider's expert horsemanship saved
him from being unseated.

At the same time Tom seized Hans and jerked him to one side just
before the broncho's forelegs struck the ground again, almost on
the very spot where the German boy had been standing.

Furious at the interference with his so-called fun, the cowboy
roared at Larry:

"I'll teach you to scare Gus Megget's pony, you calf tenderfoot!"

Black, indeed, did it look for the three lads. The companions of
the bullying cowboy who had announced himself as Gus Megget were
riding up, yelling to him to make the "tenderfoot dance."

His race very white, but every line of his body breathing defiance,
Larry faced his tormentor.

With a calmness that fairly took the breath away from the bully the
elder of the brothers exclaimed in a voice loud enough to be heard
by the other cowboys and the men about the train:

"I didn't pick this quarrel with you, but if you will get off your
horse so that you have no advantage over me; I'll give you all the
fight you want!"

An instant Megget glowered with rage at the mere stripling of a boy
who had announced his willingness to fight him, then with a savage
growl started to swing from his saddle.

"I'll fix you, you whelp!" he roared.

He aimed a savage blow at Larry, who ducked.

"Hi! leave my brother alone!" cried Tom, coming to the spot.

As Tom spoke Larry stooped and picked up a handful of dust. This
he hurled straight into the cowboy's face.

"Good!" shouted Tom and did likewise.

The dust caused the cowboy to sneeze, and some bystanders commenced
to laugh.

"He's got the best of you, Megget," observed another cowboy.

"I'll eat him!" yelled Megget and rushed at Larry with blood in his

But before he reached the boy a voice rang out:

"Keep on your horse, Gus Megget!"

Though Larry did not dare take his eyes from the bully, Tom and the
cowboys looked to see who was taking a hand in the affair. They
beheld a quiet-looking little man pointing a finger at the leader
of the ruffians.

"I can't arrest you for driving off Jim Larson's cattle because
we're in Oklahoma," continued the determined stranger. "But if I
ever get my hand on you in Texas it'll go hard with you! Now
vamoose before you try my patience too far! Come on back, boys.
Gus Megget won't bother you any more."

"Prickly cactus! but it's 'Shorty,' the sheriff from Pawnee
County!" gasped one of the band or cow-punchers. "Come on, Gus; we
must dig out of here! Shorty may pass the word he's seen us."

Fear of the law caused the bully and his companions to wheel their

At this move the three boys turned and ran back toward the train,
while the excited passengers hooted and yelled at the discomfited

The shouts of derision were more than Megget could stand. He shook
his fist at the crowd in general and then at Tom and Larry in
particular, Then he whirled around and disappeared from view in a
cloud of dust.

Quickly the passengers all trooped to the cars and five minutes
later the train was again in motion.

All the passengers wanted to shake hands with Tom and Larry, and
for several minutes the boys were at the mercy of their
well-meaning admirers. Again the sheriff came to their rescue.

"Go back to your own cars," he commanded. "The boys want to be
left alone."

But the people gave no sign of heeding his words.

"Well, if you won't go at the asking, I'll make you go," he
continued, and seizing the person nearest him, the sheriff turned
him round and gave him a shove along the aisle of the car.

After three or four of the passengers had been pushed none too
gently away, the others began to leave of their own accord, and the
two brothers were able to make their escape.

"If it keeps on the way it has started, we're likely to have a
lively summer," remarked Larry when he was again back in his seat.

"I hope they don't come so quick for me," exclaimed Hans. And his
tone was so plaintive that the others could not help but laugh.

"You'll either have to get some nerve or else stick mighty close to
your friends here," declared the sheriff, who had remained to talk
with the boys who had shown such pluck.

"Maybe I'll go back to Germany," sighed Hans.

"Oh, you'll get used to this part of the world after a while.
Where are you going?"


"Well, that ain't the most refined place in the world," chuckled
the man of the law, "but I don't believe you'll get as bad as what
you got."

Pondering over this none too reassuring remark, Hans lapsed into
silence, while Tom and Larry plied the sheriff with questions about
life on the ranches and the antics of the cowboys.

As evening came on the boys grew restive. Their train was due at
Tolopah at nine the next morning, and despite the fact that it was
rushing along at the rate of forty miles an hour, it seemed to them
to be scarcely moving. They had already passed two nights and two
days on the train and the thought of putting another night in the
berth, especially as it was very hot, seemed impossible, making
them fretful and cross.

"Who is he?" asked Larry of the conductor, after the sheriff had
left the train.

"What, you never heard of Sam Jenks, sheriff of Pawnee County?"

"We come from Ohio," said Tom, as though apologizing for their

"That accounts for it. If you lived between the Mississippi and El
Paso you wouldn't ask such a question.

"Sam Jenks, known to every cowboy as 'Shorty,' is the nerviest man
I know. There isn't a cattle thief or a bad man in this part of
the country that won't run when he sees him--if he has the chance.

"You saw how Gus Megget and his gang got scared. It was just the
sight of Shorty that scared him. He's got a record of sending more
cattle thieves and crooked gamblers to jail than any three other
sheriffs in the country. There never was anything he's afraid of,
and he's just as tender-hearted as a kitten. Why, I know one time,
after he'd sent a train robber to prison, he took the money out of
his own pocket to support the rascal's wife and baby till he could
get her folks to take her home. You sure made a friend that's
worth having."

On Hans' account, Larry and Tom kept up a lively chatter during the
evening, and it was not until the brothers were in their berths
that they broached the subject of what to do should the sheriff's
suspicions prove true.

Hans' unfitness for holding his own among the rough men of the
plains made them sorry for him, and they discussed various plans,
without arriving at any conclusion, till well into the night.

"What's the use of worrying?" said Tom finally. "Chris will
probably show up all right. Let's wait and see." And with this
understanding the boys dropped the matter.

Despite the fact that the day was to see the end of their journey,
the boys slept late.

"You ge'mmen better hurry if you all wants yo' breakfas' befoh yo'
gits to Tolopah," interrupted the porter. "We'll be thar in half
an hour."

It was not a hearty meal the brothers and Hans ate, and soon they
were back in their seats, looking to see that they had forgotten
nothing before they closed their suit-cases.

Bringing two big valises of the extending kind the German sat with
Larry and Tom. But their high spirits found no response in him,
and as they neared their destination he could with difficulty keep
back the tears, so worried was he.

"Here we are!" exclaimed Larry as he caught sight of some houses
and barns.

And his words were verified by the porter, who came through the car

"All out for Tolopah!"

Picking up their luggage, the boys hastened to the car steps.

"Hello, Bill! Hello, Horace!" cried the brothers eagerly as they
caught sight of their friends on the station platform.

At the greetings the Wilder boys hurried toward the car.

In the pleasure of the meeting Tom and Larry forgot Hans.

"Come on," commanded Horace, seizing Tom's suit-case. "We won't
dally here in Tolopah. We must get to the ranch before it gets too
hot." And he led the way to where four bronchos stood tied to a

Quickly the Wilders made fast the suit-cases to their saddles and
untied the ponies.

"This is Blackhawk, Tom, and this is Lightning, Larry," said Horace
as he handed the reins to the two boys. "They're a couple of the
best ponies in New Mexico, and while you're here they'll be yours.
You can get acquainted with them on the ride to the ranch."

Both animals were splendid creatures, well built and powerful.
Blackhawk, as the name suggests, was jet black, his coat glistening
in the sun, and Lightning was a roan.

Already Bill and Horace were on their ponies, and the two brothers
were just swinging into their saddles when a voice cried:

"Tom! Larry!"

Turning their heads, the boys beheld Hans, the tears streaming down
his cheeks, rushing toward them as fast as his valises would let

No need was there to ask if he had found a trace of his brother.
The tears told all too plainly that he had not.

"Who in the world is that?" asked Horace in astonishment.

"A German boy who traveled with us," explained Tom. "Do you know
any one in Tolopah by the name of Chris Ober?"

"Struck out for old Mexico, prospecting for gold, three months
ago," replied Bill. "Why?"

"That's his brother Hans, who has come from Berlin to visit him,"
returned Tom. And hurriedly he gave an outline of the German lad's

"Phew! Chicken-hearted, is he?" commented Horace. "It won't do to
leave him in Tolopah. Luckily one of our men is in town with our
grub wagon. He can ride out to the ranch with him."

When Tom imparted this information to Hans, the poor fellow was
delighted and asked where he could find the outfit.

"I'll show him. You all ride on," said Horace. But the others
refused, declaring they would all go together.

As the cavalcade started with Hans and his valises trying to keep
up with them, many were the jests and laughs cast after them.

But the boys paid them no heed, and in a few minutes the German
youth was safe in the provision wagon.

Putting their horses into a brisk canter, the four lads set out for
the ranch.

Many were the questions the Wilders asked about their friends back
in Ohio, and so busy were Tom and Larry in answering, and in
relating all the events of consequence that had transpired since
the family had left Bramley two years before, that the twenty miles
which lay between Tolopah and the ranch seemed scarcely one.



As the boys drew rein in front of the broad, vine-covered piazza of
the ranch house they were greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Wilder,

"Well, it does seem good to see some one from home," exclaimed the
latter as she shook the hands of Tom and Larry.

"It sure does," asserted her husband. "Wish you'd brought your
father and mother with you. What in the world started them off to

Quickly the brothers explained.

"Well, well! So Uncle Darwent really had some money," commented
Mrs. Wilder. "I'm real glad, though of course it isn't as though
your father needed any more. I should have thought you boys would
have wanted to go with them."

"Not when we could spend the summer on your ranch," returned Larry.
"But we began to be afraid we would be obliged to go, and we should
have if the telegram had been any later. No time ever seemed so
long as when we were waiting for your answer."

"It was just luck we got your message," declared Horace.
"Sometimes we don't go to town for a week. But something seemed to
urge me to ride in the other morning, and when I arrived Con Brown
hollered to me he had a telegram. When I read it, I didn't lose
any time answering, and I made Con promise to rush it."

"Con's our telegraph operator," explained Bill. "Come on in and
change your duds and then we'll look the ranch over."

Nothing loath to remove their clothes, which still smelled of
engine smoke, despite their ride over the plains, as the brothers
seized their suitcases and followed their young hosts, Larry
exclaimed laughingly:

"You see we took your advice not to bring a trunk."

"Glad of it," asserted Horace joyously. "There's no need to dress
out here. It's just great! You don't have to put on a collar from
one week's end to another. But if you had brought a lot of
clothes, mother would have made us dress too. That's why I
mentioned the matter in my telegram."

This explanation was given in a low tone that Mrs. Wilder might not
know her son had taken such effective measures to prevent his being
obliged to "dress up," and the boys laughed heartily at the
harmless joke.

The home of the Wilders was only one story high, but the rooms were
big and comfortable. Around three sides ran the piazza, from which
French windows, extending from the floor to the ceiling, opened,
admitting any breeze that might be stirring.

The room assigned to the boys was on the west side of the house,
and through the vines they could look across the plains to some
mountains that towered in the distance.

"Our room is the next one to yours," said Bill. "We'll wait there
till you are dressed. If you want anything, sing out."

Hastily Tom and Larry took off the clothes in which they had
traveled, and bathed, glad of the opportunity to remove the cinders
which had caused them no little discomfort.

"Bill and Horace seem just the same as when they lived in Bramley,"
observed Tom when they were alone. "Horace hasn't grown a bit."

"They are tanned up till they look like Indians, that's the only
change I can see," returned his brother. "Horace always will be
short, but Bill's tall enough for two."

"You can't wear those caps," declared Bill as Tom and Larry
appeared with the light baseball caps they had brought with them.

"But that's all we have," protested Larry, "except, of course, our
straw hats. You don't expect us to knock round in those, do you?"

"Sure not. But if you wore those caps you'd get sunstruck out on
the plains. We've got some sombreros you can take."

As the boys trooped out onto the piazza Tom espied a five-bar fence
about a hundred yards from the house.

"That's the horse corral," explained Horace, noting the direction
of his friend's gaze. "We don't keep our ponies in barns out here.
The horses are all out on the range now, except eight we keep at
home for ourselves."

Passing from the cool veranda, the boys walked toward a long
building some thirty yards away.

"This is the bunk-house, where the cowboys stay when they're home,"
announced Bill. "There are ten of them, the best boys in this part
of the country, but they are a lively lot. It's a good thing they
are with the cattle. You'll have a chance to get used to ranching
before they come in or they might amuse themselves at your expense.
Politeness isn't a cowboy's long suit."

"So I gathered," said Larry as he thought of his experience at the
crossing in Oklahoma. But his mind was quickly diverted by his

"What's that half-moon over the door mean?" asked the younger of
the Alden boys as he caught sight of a gilded crescent that
sparkled in the sunlight.

"Oh, tenderfoot! oh, tenderfoot! It is indeed fortunate the boys
are away," exclaimed Bill in mock solemnity.

"That is the brand of this ranch. Every horse, every steer, cow
and calf we own bears a half-moon because this is the Half-Moon
Ranch. When any of our ponies or cattle go astray or mix with
others, the only way we can tell which belong to us is by the

"How do you put it on?" asked Tom.

"Burn it into the flesh with hot irons. If you can stay till fall,
when we have a round-up, you can see how it's done," said Horace.

Feeling that they were indeed ignorant of ranch life, the two
brothers decided to use their eyes and ask no more questions than
were necessary.

Entering the bunk-house, they saw a long table covered with white
oilcloth and a line of bunks built in two tiers against the wall
opposite the door. A big stove stood at one end, and there were
pegs for saddles, bridles and lassoes all about.

From the bunk-house the boys went to the wagon sheds, which
contained three or four farm wagons and also a buckboard.

"That's for mother," explained Bill. "She doesn't like to ride,
but she can though if it's necessary.

"Here's where your saddles are," he continued, pointing to a beam
into which pegs had been driven. "You want to remember them,
especially when the boys are home. They don't like to have any one
else take their saddles."

"We'll remember," declared Tom and Larry meaningly.

"I suppose we'll find our ponies in the corral?" hazarded Tom.

"Sure thing. And here's something else to keep in mind. Father
always insists that each man put his pony in the corral himself.
Of course this morning he did it for us, but he won't again."

"How do you get the horses when you want them? Call 'em?" asked

"Sometimes that will work--after a pony has come to know its
master--but the quickest way is to take some oats in a pan,"
declared Horace. "We keep the oats here," and he opened a bin at
one side of the wagon shed.

"You can use oats on Blackhawk and Lightning and our own ponies,
but when we want a strange horse we rope him. That makes me think,
I've saved a couple of dandy lariats for you. Cross-eyed Pete, one
of our boys, made them for me out of rawhide. They are in my room.
Come on, we'll get them and then show you how to use them."

"Is it hard to learn?" inquired Larry.

"Yes, to throw one every time," replied Bill. "Horace and I have
been practicing ever since we came out. We can do pretty well.
But you ought to see Cross-eyed Pete! He's the best of all the
boys. He's so good, he can drop a noose over a rattlesnake, and
that's going some."

Before the lads could get the lassoes, however, Mrs. Wilder called
them to get ready for dinner.

As the two visitors took their seats at the table a Chinaman, clad
in white, glided noiselessly into the room and took his place
behind Mr. Wilder's chair, ready to serve.

"Hop Joy, this is Mr. Larry and this is Mr. Tom," said Mrs. Wilder.
"Whatever they ask you to do, you must do it."

The celestial, who was cook, washman and general factotum on the
Half-Moon Ranch, bowed gravely to each of the boys.

"That sounds very fine," laughed Mr. Wilder, "but you must be
careful what you ask Hop Joy to do. If you disturb him when he's
cooking he's apt to throw a pail of water at you."

"Hop's all right, father," declared Horace loyally. "He only
throws water when the boys try to steal his doughnuts. Um--m, but
Hop can make doughnuts! You two just wait till you're riding all
day and then see if they don't taste good."

"So that explains the reason you keep on the right side of Hop Joy,
eh?" answered Mr. Wilder, smiling. "I've often wondered why you
were so willing to help him when the boys are home."

After the laughter this sally evoked had subsided Mrs. Wilder asked
the boys about their journey.

In amazement the Wilders listened as the experiences were related,
and when Larry finished the account of his mix-up with the
cow-punchers Bill exclaimed:

"And here Horace and I have been making fun of you for tenderfeet.
The joke seems to be on us."

"That's what it is," asserted their father. "There are not many
men, let alone lads, who can say they have faced Gus Megget and got
the best of him."

It was the chums' turn to be surprised as they heard this statement.

"Then you know him?" queried Tom.

"I know of him," corrected the ranchman, and the boys noted that
the kindly expression of his face disappeared as he spoke. "Gus
Megget is a very bad man. He hasn't done an honest day's work for
five years. People say he is a train robber, and I've always
believed he was a cattle thief, too. From what you tell me, that's
Shorty Jenks' opinion. If the truth were known, I think Megget
would prove to be the head of a gang of cattle thieves."

And how true were Mr. Wilder's suspicions, they were all destined
to learn.

The recital of their adventuresome journey recalled to the boys
that they had entirely forgotten to tell about Hans' coming.

Each of the four apparently thought of the timid German boy at the
same time and looked at one another uneasily.

And their anxiety was not lessened when Mrs. Wilder asked:

"What became of Hans? Did you call him? Did his brother meet him?"

"No, he didn't," said Larry. Then, determined to get the matter
settled at once, he continued: "Mr. Wilder, I'm afraid I have
imposed on your kindness, but I asked Bill and Horace to let the
German boy come to your ranch until we could decide what he should
do. He's so--so scared, I did not like to leave him alone in

"I asked to have him come, too," declared Tom, as though unwilling
his brother should bear all the blame, if blame there was to be.

"That was right, quite right," said Mr. Wilder, after a quick
glance at his wife. "Tolopah wouldn't agree with him very well.
We've plenty of room and perhaps he will get over his fear. I can
use another hand very well, if he wants work."

It was a great relief to all the boys to have the matter settled so
pleasantly, and they resumed their laughter and chatter.

When dinner was finished they all went out onto the piazza, where
Tom and Larry were initiated into the mysteries of throwing a
lasso. Then the visitors were taken around and shown many sights
new to them.



"How far away are those mountains?" asked Tom, gazing in their
direction as they walked to the corral the next day.

"About forty miles," replied Bill. "They are called the 'Lost
Lode' hills, because there is said to be a rich silver mine in them
somewhere that the Spaniards worked hundreds of years ago. Just
where it is, though, no one has ever been able to discover."

"Wouldn't it be great if we could find it?" exclaimed Larry
eagerly. "Do you suppose your father would let us go and try?
Have you ever been over to the hills?"

"Lots of times on hunting trips. But we never explored them very
much. The trouble is no one knows whether the mine is on this side
or the other."

"But haven't they searched for it?" queried Tom, to whose mind a
silver mine suggested unlimited wealth.

"Lots of men have tried, but no one who has gone to find it has
ever been seen again," returned Bill. "They say the mine is
haunted by the ghosts of the old Spaniards who discovered it and
that they kill any one who goes near it."

At the suggestion of phantom Spaniards guarding the mine and
despatching those who found it the brothers laughed.

"You surely don't believe in ghosts?" inquired Tom, a tone of scorn
in his voice. "Who started the story about the ghosts, anyhow?"

"I don't know," responded the elder of the Wilder boys, rather
disappointed that the legend did not make more of an impression on
his friends. "We heard it when we came here. The cowboys all
believe it, and nothing would make them pass a night in those hills
if they could help it."

But ghosts were something in which the two brothers had been taught
not to believe, and Tom exclaimed:

"Huh! I'll bet some one has found the mine and started these
stories to keep other people from going there. Maybe there are
three or four mines," he added as his lively imagination began to

"It's all right for you to laugh; you haven't been in the hills,"
snapped Horace. "If you'd heard Cross-eyed Pete tell about the
night he was camping there and was scared away by hearing men
shooting you might think differently."

"Just the same, I'd be willing to go and hunt for it," persisted

"And so would I," chimed in his brother. "I say," he continued,
"why can't we go on a hunting trip? We needn't say anything about
trying to find the mine. Then, if we didn't, no one could laugh at
us and say we got scared."

The refusal of the boys from Ohio to believe in the haunted mine
had at first nettled Bill and Horace, but they had always been keen
to hear or see phantoms, and at Larry's proposal of the hunting
trip they became enthusiastic.

"It will be great sport, if father will let us," assented Horace.
"Come on, we'll ask him."

And abandoning their intention of roping ponies, they turned back
to the house in search of Mr. Wilder.

Finding him on the piazza, they lost no time in laying their plan
for a hunting trip before him.

As he beheld the eager faces and noted the lithe, supple bodies of
the boys, in whose eyes shone the light of fearlessness, the
ranchman replied:

"I have no objection, if you don't go beyond the foothills. Bill,
you remember the trails I showed you last spring, don't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"All right, keep to them. You boys certainly ought to be able to
take care of yourselves. Go and tell Hop Joy to put up some grub
for you. You had better camp on the plains to-night, so you won't
be able to shoot your food."

Delighted at the thought of going on a hunting trip, the boys
hurried away to the Chinaman.

"Golly! You boyee go shootee?" exclaimed the celestial when he had
received the orders to pack their food. "No flaid ghostee?"

"Of course not," replied Horace. "There's no such thing as ghosts,
Hop Joy."

"Mebbe so, mebbe not; no be too sure," grunted the Chinaman.
"Plete, him say they be."

But the boys did not linger to argue the matter, and only waiting
to see that Hop Joy put in a quantity of doughnuts, went to get
their rifles and shells ready.

To their surprise, when they returned to the piazza, they found the
ranchman busily overhauling his guns.

"I reckon I'll go with you," he explained. "I haven't been hunting
for some time, and as everything is quiet I can get away for three
or four days as well as not."

"Oh, good! Hooray!" exclaimed the boys.

And Horace added: "Now we won't have to worry about getting lost."

Not long did it take the lads to clean their rifles and fill their
cartridge belt with shells.

"Have you two got any knives?" inquired Mr. Wilder, looking at Tom
and Larry.

"Sure," replied Larry, and he told of the old gold miner's presents
and his advice about always carrying the pieces of thong with them.

"Silas is no fool," smiled the ranchman. "If you remember all he
told you, you won't get into trouble. Still, I think it would be
just as well for you to let me put your money in my safe. Then you
surely can't lose it."

"That's what father told us to do," said Larry as he and Tom
removed their buckskin money bags and gave them to the ranchman.
"We forgot it, though."

"Speaking about forgetting, what about the German boy?" asked Mrs.
Wilder, who had come to learn the cause of the preparations.

At the mention of Hans the four lads looked at one another in
dismay. But the ranchman came to the rescue, saying:

"From all Larry and Tom say, I don't reckon he'll be keen on
hunting. You can let him help Ned."

"Ned's our handy man," explained Horace in a whisper. "He drives
the grub wagon to Tolopah, and to the boys in their camps."

"Well, here comes the wagon now," observed Mrs. Wilder as she
caught sight of the big white-covered wagon, called a prairie
schooner in the old days, bobbing over the plains about a mile away.

"Oh, don't let's wait," protested Horace. "We can saddle up and go
and meet them. I'll make my pony dance and perhaps that will scare
Hans so he won't care to go."

"All right," laughed Mr. Wilder. "Bring up the ponies. Get
Buster for me."

Running to the wagon shed, the boys gathered the saddles, bridles,
some oats and pans and started for the corral.

Opening the big gate, they entered, closed it and then threw their
saddles on the ground.

"Always close the gate before you start to get your ponies,"
instructed Bill. "Sometimes they cut up, and if they get out onto
the prairie it's the old Harry of a job to catch them again.

"Now put your oats in your pans. Watch Horace and me and you'll
see what to do."

When they had prepared the oat bait, the two Wilder boys began to
beat on the pans, calling Buster and the other ponies by name.

The animals, which were at the farther end of the corral browsing,
lifted their heads and then came trotting toward them, halting
about ten feet away.

"Swish your pans so they can hear the oats," whispered Bill.

Slowly the ponies approached, as though deciding whether they
preferred their oats or their liberty.

"Come, Blackhawk! Come, Buster!" called Horace.

The boys set the pans on the ground. For a moment the ponies eyed
them and then trotted up, the eight crowding one another to get at
the four measures.

"Now's the time," breathed Bill.

In a trice the bits were thrust into the ponies' mouths and the
leather over their ears.

Lightning plunged back, but Larry grabbed the reins just in time
and held him.

"Push the pan to him," directed Horace, and, as he smelled the
oats, the pony grew still and was soon munching contentedly.

After catching his own mount, Bill had bridled Buster, and as soon
as the oats were devoured, all five were saddled with little
trouble and the boys were quickly on the backs of four of them,
Bill leading the pony for his father.

It required but a few minutes to make fast the saddle bags Hop Joy
had filled with food, tin plates, cups, knives and forks, coffee
pot, sugar and coffee and to tie on their sleeping blankets.

Then they buckled on their cartridge belts, slung their rifles
across their shoulders and again mounted.

By the time they were ready, however, the grub wagon was coming
into the yard.

"Where's Hans?" gasped Larry, the first one to discover that there
was only one occupant.

With a broad grin suffusing his face, the driver cried:


As the horses stopped Mr. Wilder, fearing that the boy had been
made the butt of some mad prank, said severely:

"If anything happened to that lad, I shall hold you responsible,
Ned. Where is he?"

"Gone with his brother Chris."

"His brother!" cried Tom. "Did his brother come back?"

"He did--yesterday. Hans found him, and such a meeting nobody ever
see before. The brother is going to another town and Hans with
him. They started to-day."

The knowledge that Hans had found his brother was a great relief to
Tom and Larry, and they lost no time in saying so.

"If you feel that way, then it surely is all right," declared the
ranchman. "We're going into the hills for a few days hunting, Ned.
If you need me, you'll find me somewhere on the 'Lost Lode' trail."

"With them tenderfeet?" inquired the handy man, eyeing Tom and
Larry doubtfully.

"Don't take them for easy, Ned. They put the laugh on Gus Megget,
so I reckon they can take care of themselves in the hills and on
the Half-Moon, too," he added with an emphasis which was to act as
a warning to be passed along to the cowboys.

"So it's them two I heard 'em talkin' about in Tolopah? Howdy,
gents! I sure takes off my bonnet to you," and Ned swept his
sombrero good naturedly from his head. "Say, you two are the only
topic of conversation in Tolopah about now. Couple of passengers
told what you all done, and now everybody's telling everybody else.
So it was you kids put the kibosh on Gus Megget. Phew! I hope I
don't get you riled up." And clucking to his horses, Ned drove on
to the wagon shed.

"When you go into Tolopah, you'll own the town," smiled Mr. Wilder,
looking at the brothers. "You see, you are famous already."

But Larry and Tom only laughed, while the latter exclaimed:

"I'd rather find the Lost Lode than fight Megget."

"So my boys have told you about the mine and the ghosts, eh?" And
shaking his bridle, the ranchman waved good-by to his wife and
cantered away, followed by the others.

For a few minutes they rode without talking, the Wilder boys a
trifle envious of the reputation their friends had achieved and the
chums trying to get accustomed to riding with a rifle bumping their

They soon got the swing of it, however, and, as the ponies settled
into an easy, steady lope, Tom exclaimed:

"Larry, we're in the saddle and on the plains at last."

"Like it, what?" queried Horace.

"It's what we've been dreaming of for months," declared Larry.
"Only, I say, Mr. Wilder, let's drop Megget. All we did was to get
away from him."

"As you like," smiled the ranchman, "but that's something."



Now through waving grass up to their knees, now through stretches
of sage brush the hunters rode. Three or four times they caught
sight of cattle in the distance, which Horace eagerly declared
belonged to the Half-Moon, explaining that the biggest herds were
in Long Creek bottoms, about fifty miles southwest, where the
cattle could find water as well as good grazing ground.

"Fifty miles, gracious! Do you own so much land?" asked Larry of
Mr. Wilder.

"No. We have a thousand acres, more or less. But my neighbors and
I have leased the rights to graze in Lone Creek."

"Neighbors?" repeated the elder of the brothers in surprise. "Why
I can't see any house but yours. In fact, I haven't seen any since
we left Tolopah."

"And there isn't any within thirty miles. There are two on the
south and more north, even farther away. But we call them
neighbors just the same. Anybody within a day's ride is a
neighbor," explained the ranchman. And as he noted the look of
amusement that appeared on the faces of the brothers, he added:
"You won't think so much of distances after you've been out here a

At the end of two hours, as they mounted the crest of a great roll
in the prairies, the dried-up course of a stream was disclosed.

"If you follow that, it will lead you to Lone Creek," explained
Horace. "Down about ten miles there's a place called the Witches'
Pool, where we go fishing. It's so deep it never dries. We'll go
there some day."

"More ghosts?" inquired Larry as he repeated the name of the pool.

"No, no ghosts," laughed Mr. Wilder, "just the _ignis fatuus_, or
will-o'-the-wisps. All cowboys are very superstitious, you must
remember. The land round the pool is swampy and at night you can
sometimes see the lights dancing about. I suppose some one saw
them, and, finding no person there, immediately decided the pool
was a gathering place for witches."

"Pete says it's the bodies of the men who have died of thirst on
the plains searching for water," declared Horace in an awed tone.

"That's an ingenious explanation, but it is not the truth, my boy.
The lights are caused by certain gases that come from the marshy
ground and glow when the atmosphere is in a certain condition.
Over in Scotland, on the peat bogs, they call them 'friars'

"My, but I'd like to see one," sighed Tom.

"Then I'm afraid you'll be obliged to camp by the pool. You might
go there a hundred nights and never see a sign of one," returned
the ranchman. And then, as the shadows cast by the mountains were
reaching farther and farther out onto the prairie, he thought it
best to turn the minds of the boys into other channels.

"Shall we camp in the open or would you rather push on to the
foothills?" he asked. "It'll be dark by the time we get there."

"I vote to keep going," answered Larry.

"How far is it?" inquired Tom, who was beginning to feel the
effects of the many miles in the saddle.

"About fifteen, which means two hours at least, because the darker
it gets the slower we'll be obliged to go till you two get more
used to riding the plains," responded Bill.

"If we keep on, and I feel stiff in the morning, we'll be there and
I shall not be compelled to cover the fifteen miles," mused the
younger of the brothers as much to himself as to the others. "I'm
for pushing on, too."

Laughing at their guest's discomfort, the others readily
acquiesced, and they crossed the stream bottom.

Save the noise made by themselves, the twitter of birds, and the
occasional cry of some prairie dog routed out by their approach,
the silence of the plains was intense. At first Tom and Larry did
not notice it, but as they rode mile after mile they began to feel
its depression.

"It often drives men crazy," asserted the ranchman when Larry
mentioned his feeling. "That's why we never send a man out alone
to herd. Having some one to talk to it a big relief, I can tell
you, after you've been a week or so on the prairies with nothing
but a bunch of stolid cattle. The very monotony of their grazing
and chewing their cuds gets on your nerves."

As darkness came on, however, the awful silence was broken. From
all sides came the barking of coyotes, as though they were
signaling one another their whereabouts.

"That howling would scare me a great deal quicker than any ghosts
or witches," observed Tom. "My, but it's mournful! Do they keep
that up all night?"

"Indeed they do," replied Horace, delighted to think one thing had
been discovered which the two visitors feared, "only it gets worse
the darker it grows. Besides, when they are hungry, they'll follow
you and attack you."

"That wouldn't be so bad so long as you had a gun with you,"
interposed Larry. "I'd like to get a shot at one."

"Then there's your chance, over on the left," exclaimed Mr. Wilder.

Unslinging his rifle, the elder of the Alden boys looked eagerly in
the direction indicated. But it was so dark he could see nothing
and he said so.

"Can't you see those two little balls of fire right opposite you?
If you can't, say so. I'll stop him myself," returned the ranchman.

Yet even as he spoke the coyote turned and fled.

"It's just as well," added Mr. Wilder after he had announced the
fact. "You'll have a chance to shoot at something better than a
measely prairie wolf to-morrow, I hope."

"Or perhaps to-night," chimed in Horace. "Maybe a ghost'll attack
our camp."

"That will do, youngster. If you talk any more about ghosts, I'll
make you ride back to the ranch in the dark. If you keep on,
you'll work yourself up so you'll think every sound you hear is a
Spaniard from the mine, and there will be no sleep for any of us."

This command had the desired effect, and Horace gave up the attempt
of trying to frighten his friends.

For a time the darkness grew more and more intense till it was all
the riders could do to make out the forms of one another. But at
last the clouds passed over, revealing the stars, and soon the moon
rose, full and brilliant, changing the swaying grass into a seeming
sea of silver with its light.

In wonder the brothers gazed at the transformation and Larry said:

"I wish the plains could be like this always. They don't seem half
so terrible."

But the boys soon had other things to think about. They were so
close to the mountains that they could see the great cliffs
glistening in the moonlight above the trees from which they rose,

"I don't wonder they say these mountains are haunted," exclaimed
Tom. "I can almost believe I see men moving along the top of that
middle cliff."

"Better curb your imagination then," chided Mr. Wilder. "It's a
good thing we've got to pitch camp pretty soon or you'd all get the

At Tom's words the other boys had sought the middle cliff with
their eyes and suddenly Bill exclaimed:

"Tom's right, father! There are men moving along the top of the

Mr. Wilder had been intent on searching the base of the mountains
for a place to camp for the night. But at his elder son's
statement he looked up quickly, drawing rein that he might be sure
the motion of his horse played no trick on his eyes.

Breathlessly the others waited his decision.

The cliff at which they all were staring so intently was about half
way up the mountain and above it rose another wall of rock. And it
was against the base of this latter that the objects which
attracted Tom's attention were silhouetted.

"By jove! They are men," exclaimed Mr. Wilder excitedly. "I never
knew there was a trail along the base of that cliff before."

The boys were tremendously stirred up as they heard this

"Perhaps they are the men going to guard the Lost Lode for the
night," Horace whispered. "They wouldn't need a trail to walk on,

"Steady, boy, steady," returned the ranchman. "Those men are flesh
and blood, don't worry about that. Who they are I don't know.
Probably some hunters like ourselves."

"That couldn't be the way to the mine, could it?" hazarded Larry,
whose eagerness to discover a silver mine had received new impetus.
"Can't we go there to-morrow and find out?"

"We'll see when to-morrow comes," declared Mr. Wilder. "But
there's no occasion to get excited. The mountains are full of men
hunting and prospecting all the time. Come on, we'll camp under
that big tree up there to the right. Whoever gets there first will
be boss of the camp."

The challenge for a race, with the honor of being in command of the
hunt as the prize, served to take the boys' thoughts from the
mysterious men on the trail as nothing else could, and quickly they
leaped their ponies forward.

The spot selected by the ranchman for their night's bivouac was
about a quarter of a mile away and in the opposite direction from
the cliffs.

Yelling like young Indians, the boys urged their jaded ponies to
greater efforts.

Tom and Horace, being lighter than the others, had not tried their
mounts so much, and rapidly they drew ahead.

"We simply must beat them," called Bill to Larry. "If they get in
first, they'll make us haul all the water and wash dishes--at least
Horace will, if he wins."

Leaning over their ponies' necks and rising in the saddles to
lighten their weight as much as possible, the two elder boys set
out to overtake their brothers.

With spur and lariat end they belabored their mounts and gamely the
horses responded.

Leap by leap they cut down the lead, were soon abreast of the
others and then forged ahead, shouting in triumph as they opened
clear ground between them.

Only about a hundred yards were the leaders from the tree.

Feeling his pony tiring under him, despite his urging, Horace
gasped at Tom:

"Hit Blackhawk with the end of your lasso and then hang on for dear

Instantly Tom obeyed.

As the big black felt the blow he uttered a snort of rage, jerked
forward his head and seemed to fly over the ground.

Like a flash he caught Bill and Larry. Frantically they strove to
keep up with him, but in a few bounds he had passed them.

"Tom wins!" yelled Horace with glee.

But his delight at the success of his ruse was shortlived.

Blackhawk was not accustomed to being beaten and, though ordinarily
he had a good temper, when he was angry he could be very mean.
Accordingly, as though reasoning to himself that he had done his
share in carrying his rider so many miles, when he felt the sharp
cut of the lariat he resented it. And his resentment took the form
of a vicious lunge forward of his head, which enabled him to get
the bits in his teeth, with which advantage no one could control

Despite his greater weight, the ranchman had been close up with the
boys and had noted Blackhawk's action.

Realizing that it would be hopeless to try to overtake the runaway,
and fearing that some injury might befall Tom, Mr. Wilder shouted:

"Rope the black, Bill! He's got the bit!"

Loosening his lariat as quickly as possible, the elder of the
Wilder boys began to whirl it round his head.

"Throw it! throw it!" roared the ranchman, "Can't you see you're
losing ground every second?"

Never before had Bill been called on for so important a cast of his
lasso, and for a moment his hand trembled.

"Steady! Let her go now!" counseled his father.

At the word Bill put forth all his strength and the rope shot from
his hand, the noose opening perfectly as it sped through the air.

Fascinated, the others watched as it hung a moment in the air and
dropped directly over Blackhawk's head.

"Pretty cast!" praised the ranchman. "Now ride along. Don't pull
up too soon."

But his words were too late.

The pony which his elder son rode was perfectly trained to rope
steers. As it caught the sharp hiss of the lariat the animal had
slackened its stride, and the instant it felt the rope tighten had
stiffened its legs and braced, almost squatting back on its

And the next moment Blackhawk was jerked from his feet, measuring
his length on the ground, while Tom went sailing through the air,
alighting about twenty feet away.

"Hold as you are!" ordered Mr. Wilder of Bill and then dashed for
the kicking black, with Larry and Horace at his heels.

"Tom! Tom! are you hurt?" called his brother.

For a second there was no reply, and then their anxiety was
relieved by seeing Tom stand up.

"Any bones broken?" asked Mr. Wilder, who had reached the black and
was dismounting.

"No. I'm all right, thanks to the prairie grass," replied the
younger of the brothers. "Is Blackhawk hurt?"

"I don't think so. Ease up, Bill. I've got him by the bridle."

Quickly the elder of the Wilder boys rode forward, and as the
prostrate pony felt the rope loosen he bounded to his feet.

With skilled eye the ranchman looked him over and there was a world
of relief in his voice as he said:

"We got out of that scrape mighty luckily. There isn't a scratch
on Blackhawk, and if Tom's----"

"There's no scratch on me either," returned the boy. "But what
about the race, do I win or not?"

"Considering you flew from Blackhawk's back almost to the tree, I
reckon you do," declared Mr. Wilder.

And looking up, Tom noticed that he was, indeed, standing under the
branches of the tree that marked the goal.



As the others reached the tree they dismounted, unbuckled the
saddle bags and removed the saddles.

"Well, commander, do you wish me to select a place to hobble the
ponies?" asked Mr. Wilder, addressing Tom.

"Yes, sir. I never was in charge of a camp before, so you must
tell me what to do."

"Oh, make me your lieutenant and I'll tell you," pleaded Horace.
"I know all about it."

"You can give orders all right," grunted Bill, "there's no doubt
about that. I see myself lugging wood."

All laughed heartily at this reference to Horace's fondness for
commanding, and the younger of the comrades replied;

"All right, Horace, you may be my lieutenant. Only you must tell
me what there is to be done, and I will give the orders."

Although by this arrangement the youngest of the party would be
deprived of most of his powers, he readily agreed, saying:

"Wood must be collected for the fire, the food and dishes must be
unpacked, supper cooked and water located."

"Better put me on the job of getting water, because I shall picket
the horses where they can get a drink," declared the ranchman.

"Then, Larry, you and Bill build the fire and get supper ready.
Horace, I'll put you in charge and you must arrange the place for
us to sleep. I can see some pine trees yonder. Break off some
limbs and spread them on the ground. Then put the blankets over
them. I'm going with Mr. Wilder to bring the water and to learn
how to hobble the horses."

"You're a fine commander to be lieutenant for--not," declared
Horace. "Gave me the meanest job of all." Yet he lost no time in

Quickly each one set about the work assigned to him, for the sight
of the doughnuts and other good things to eat, after their long
ride, made them hungry.

"Get the coffee pot and then sling the reins of Lightning and
Buster on your arm and come with me, Tom," said Mr. Wilder. "I'll
take Blackhawk, because he's still cranky, and the other two."

The ranchman, however, let the ponies lead him more than he led
them, for he knew their instinct would take them to the nearest

Yet there was no need of their guidance, for in a few minutes the
ears of the hunters caught the sound of running water.

"That's a brook," declared Mr. Wilder, and quickly he led the way
to a spot where they found a fair-sized pool formed by a stream
coming from the hills.

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