The Project Gutenberg eBook of The X Bar X boys on Whirlpool River

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Title: The X Bar X boys on Whirlpool River

Author: James Cody Ferris

Illustrator: Walter S. Rogers

Release date: November 14, 2022 [eBook #69352]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: Grosset & Dunlap, 1926

Credits: Roger Frank and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at




Author of “The X Bar X Boys on the Ranch,”
“The X Bar X Boys in Thunder Canyon,” etc.
Walter S. Rogers
Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1926, by
The X Bar X Boys on Whirlpool River
IKing of the Forest
IIThe Brainy Beastie
IIIAn Angry Visitor
IVJoe Marino
VGuarded Words
VITo Whirlpool River
VIIIFollow Us
IXThe Water Trail
XA Figure among the Trees
XIA Night in the Woods
XIIVoices in the Night
XIIIThe Fugitive
XVA Vain Search
XVIIPrimitive Tactics
XVIIIAfloat Again
XIXThe Whirlpool
XXBurying the Hatchet
XXIThe Chase
XXIIThe Man at the Fire
XXIIIBoss and Bandit
XXIVFlying Bullets
XXVMeet the Wife


King Of The Forest

“If there be such in these woods, then such there be,” announced Teddy Manley, and punctuated this cryptic utterance with a slight grunt as he bent over the marks in the soft earth.

“No doubt, no doubt,” his brother, Roy, declared dryly. “Speak the mother tongue, Teddy. What are you staring at, anyhow?”

“Take a look for yourself,” Teddy answered briefly, and stepped aside. Roy moved closer, gazed curiously at the impressions on the ground, then gave a low whistle.

“Bear tracks!” he exclaimed excitedly. “Bear tracks, or I’m a shad!”

“You remain as originally intended,” remarked Teddy. “Those are definite, certain, and never-to-be-doubted bear tracks. Now the burning question is—” he hitched up his belt and turned his head from side to side. “Whar am Mister B’ar?”

Roy hunched his shoulders in a gesture expressing entire ignorance of the subject. The tracks were fairly fresh, but their maker could be many miles away by this time.

It was early fall, and the two brothers had started out from the X Bar X Ranch, with the intention of bagging some small game. Teddy carried a light shotgun, hoping to get a chance at duck. Roy had brought with him a small-bore rifle. Hardly the weapons with which to hunt bear.

The boys had picketed their ponies near the foot of the mountain, knowing that the steep grade above made riding impractical. Thus far they had not sighted any game worth considering, but now, when they were near the top, Teddy had come upon the bear tracks.

“Do we follow them?” Teddy, the younger, asked dubiously. He glanced down at the gun held in the crook of his arm. “This shotgun I have would only take his picture, Roy, and that pea-shooter of yours isn’t much better. What’s the verdict?”

Roy looked at his brother and smiled.

“Trying to kid me? After looking for bears in these woods for years, when we raise one, you want to know things! Huh! Don’t ask! Look me straight in the eye, brother mine, and say: What would you rather do, or hunt bear?”

“You’re the doctor,” Teddy responded. “You must be getting reckless in your old age, Roy.” This last was to nail any idea that Teddy hesitated to face the adventure. He was slightly chagrined at the fact that Roy had taken the initiative in suggesting that they proceed. Usually it was the other way around, the younger lad proposing, and Roy, with what he was pleased to call his “more mature judgment,” disposing.

“Far be it from me to dissuade you from entering the lists against a baby bear,” Teddy went on. “I hope you see him before he sees you. Those animals are easily scared.”

“Yes, Teddy, my lad,” Roy said with a maddening grin. “We shall not argue the issue. Come on—let’s go.”

Grumbling half-heartedly to himself, Teddy Manley followed the tracks. As he proceeded, the injustice that had been done him was forgotten in the mounting excitement of the chase. The tracks led diagonally across the mountain, and seemed to get fresher with every yard. As the boys came to a clearing, Teddy halted.

“Not long since he passed here!” he exclaimed, as he noticed an ant heap that had been disturbed by the animal. “Look—those ants are still half crazy with fright—running around every which way.”

It was not by accident that Teddy’s eyes caught this telltale bit of evidence. Born and brought up in the West, these boys could interpret the signs of the forest with unerring judgment. Where another might see merely a broken twig, the young ranchers read a story.

“He’s close,” Roy returned laconically. He looked to his rifle. The magazine was full, and he pumped a bullet into the chamber. If they did come upon the bear, by great good luck Roy might succeed in placing a shot through the eye into the brain, which was the only place where the small bullet would be effective. If he missed—well, several things might happen, and not all of them to the bear.

Teddy gazed intently toward a clump of sage brush just off the trail. Absently he bent his left knee, and with his hand he dislodged a piece of dirt that had caught on the heel of his shoe. This he tossed into the bush carelessly.

There was a sudden deep-throated growl. The bushes stirred, then parted. Framed in a circlet of brown sage brush, appeared the shaggy head of a huge black bear.

Neither boy spoke. Silently Roy leveled his rifle. The bear stood as immobile as a statue, staring fiercely at the intruders, only his head showing. Then, as the lips drew back in a snarl, showing the sharp teeth and the red gums, Roy pressed the trigger.

There was a sharp crack. The bear started as though it had been stung by a hornet, and a crimson spot of blood marked the black fur just above the left eye.

“Take it on the run!” Teddy cried hoarsely, and fired as he spoke. He knew the buckshot would have small effect, but he hoped it might cause the animal to hesitate long enough to give them an opportunity to make their escape.

As the bear moved forward Roy sprang to one side. With a yell to Teddy to follow, he bounded to the right, then up, toward a ledge that jutted out from the mountain over their heads. If they could gain that, and the bear could not, they had a good chance for their lives.

Teddy leaped after his brother. The bear, growling in rage at the pain of his wound, sought to close his teeth in Teddy’s leg. The boy gave a shout, and releasing his hold on the gun gave all his attention to the business at hand—beating the bear to the ledge. Strangely enough, as he scrambled up the incline, Teddy’s thoughts reverted to the ranch yard, when only yesterday he and Roy had sat on the corral fence and snickered as Pop Burns told about the time a bear had tried to make a meal from Nick Looker’s pants, while Nick was in swimming at Lomley’s Lake. According to Pop, the bear had struck a fishhook in the back pocket, and out of revenge had chased Nick all over creation.

“Now I know just how Nick felt,” Teddy panted. “Never—as long as I live—will I laugh at another bear story! Hey, Roy! Hang on to your gun! Mine’s gone!”

But even as he spoke, he heard a thud and saw their only remaining firearm go sliding down the mountain. It hit in the path of the oncoming beast, and the animal stopped for a moment to see what this was that tumbled toward him. As the rifle reached him, he put out his paw, stopped the gun, sniffed at it, then flicked it from him with a snort, and once more lumbered on.

But at least the rifle had served one good purpose—for in that small interval of time Roy had reached the ledge. He jumped upward, careless of consequences, and felt his finger close over the root of a tree. Straining every muscle, he gradually drew himself up—higher—higher—and, with a gasp of thankfulness, he sank down upon the rock.

Then, bracing himself, he stretched his arms over the edge toward Teddy. The boy seized his brother’s hands, and, grunting with exertion, succeeded in gaining the shelf just as the bear reached the spot where he had stood but a moment before.

“Leaping lizards!” Teddy panted. “That was some close! Hey, listen to that geezer grunt! Golly, I—”

“I’ll tell a maverick it was close!” Roy gasped. “Another second and you’d have been mince-meat! I told you we shouldn’t have followed those tracks. If we had had a decent rifle—”

You told me! Well, for the love of Pete! And you were the one who wanted to do all this bear hunting! Great snakes! How do you get that way? Wow! Listen to our friend! He won’t be able to talk to-morrow!”

Below them the bear was uttering dire threats against their safety and was trying desperately to reach the ledge by jumping. Every time he sprang the boys heard the “scra-a-a-ape” of his claws over the rock.

Teddy shook his head.

“Baby,” he remarked, “I sure hope he gets discouraged easily! If he ever manages to pull himself up here—good-night!”

Cautiously Roy leaned over.

“He’s still at it. Thank goodness this shelf is narrow. But the point is, how are we going to get down? It’s a cinch we can’t climb up that cliff.” He motioned with his thumb to the wall back of them, which rose straight up. “As long as the old boy wants to hang around, we’re his guests,” he finished grimly.

“Well, if you had frozen to that gun of yours we might have a chance. But there it is, lying down on the rocks, not doing us a bit of good. It might just as well be at home as down there. Say—”

Teddy stopped short. Speechless, he seized his brother’s arm and pointed. Roy looked along the side of the mountain, then staggered against the wall.

“Jumping catamounts!” he groaned. “We’re cooked! Another one! Start the slow music, Teddy. This bear’s brought his gang along with him!”

“Oh, cheer up! It’s not a gang—yet! It’s one bear, only one! And that makes two bears, only two! Golly, if we only had a rifle!”

The Brainy Beastie

Scuffling rocks down the slope of the mountain in his haste to join his comrade, the second bear approached the ledge. Teddy and Roy knew that the new arrival could not come at them from the side, as the corners of the shelf tapered into the straight wall.

Yet this fact was paramount in the minds of the boys—that two bears were one more bear than one bear.

“Come, join the party,” Teddy said bitterly, as he watched the scrambling approach of the second beast. “The more the merrier. Roy, just tell François to lay another place, will you?”

Roy did not reply, but once more leaned over the edge of the projection. The animal they had first encountered had ceased his ineffectual attempts to reach the shelf, and was calmly awaiting the arrival of his mate.

“The uninvited guest,” Teddy continued, eyeing the oncoming bear with a malevolent stare. “Well, there’s always room for one more. We strive to please.” He raised his voice to a shout. “Hey, amigo, would you mind bringing that rifle with you as you come by? There’s something in it I want to give you. What? Oh, all right. If you want to be nasty about it. The next time I—”

“Teddy, put a buck-strap on that lower lip of yours,” Roy interrupted. “I have an idea.”

“Has it got something to do with us leaving here before winter sets in? Because if it has, let’s hear it.”

Without speaking, Roy nodded his head, then proceeded to search his pockets diligently. At length he brought to light a fishline with a hook attached, imbedded in a small cork. He held the line up with a triumphant smile.

Teddy looked at it for a moment. Then a grin came over his face.

“Fine!” he cried joyfully. “Just the thing. I haven’t been fishing for some time, and it’s well nigh on to three weeks since I fished for bear. I’m kind of out of practice. Let’s see now. What is it you use for bait? Oh, yes, I remember now. You tie the end of the line to a tree, put yourself on the hook, and jump overboard. When the bear nibbles you yell, ‘I’ve got him!’ That is, if you can. Then the bear laughs and says, ‘Oh, no, quite the contrary, I assure you,’ and by that time—”

“Save it, and write a joke book,” Roy retorted. “Now control your well known faculty for humor for a moment and pay attention. What’s that down there?” He pointed, and Teddy stared.

“That? Well, it looks like the rifle you so obligingly dropped. Of course, I can’t be sure, for we’re not sure of anything in this world. But I think it is.”

“Strangely enough, you’re right. Now my idea is this: I’ll tie a weight to this line about a foot below the hook. Make a cast. Catch the hook in the rifle. Draw up said rifle. Shoot said bear and his little friend. Then go home and eat.”

Teddy gazed silently at his brother. His mouth opened wide. A fixed look came into his eyes. Then, gasping for breath, he put out his hand gropingly, as though to steady himself.

“I’m not well,” he said thickly, “and I want to go home. It must be those cucumbers we had for lunch. Never again, as long as I live, will I eat cucumbers. Why, Roy, do you know what I thought you said? I thought—”

“Suffering tripe, can’t you be serious for a minute?” Roy burst out. “I tell you my scheme will work. It’s the only chance we have. Look—the other bear has arrived. Hear ’em talking to each other? Suppose they’re able to boost themselves up here? ’Course I don’t say they could—it’s pretty high, thank goodness. But if they did? Where would we be then? Now you watch. I’m going to try it. Here she goes.”

Teddy settled himself in a sitting position on the ledge with his back to the wall, so that he was out of sight of the bears below. He waved his hand grandly.

“You may fire when ready, Gridley!” he quoted.

Roy carefully judged the distance from the ledge to the spot where the gun lay, estimating the length of line he would have to use. By this time the two bears were in close conference. Deep rumblings of bear talk came to the boys on the ledge, and finally one heavy-throated, decisive grunt.

“Period,” said Teddy, and lapsed once more into silence.

Roy took a firm stand upon the ledge. He had already attached the stone to the line and had removed the cork from the fortunately large hook. Now he drew back his arm, took careful aim, and threw. The line whistled out, then sagged as the stone struck the ground.

“Make it?” Teddy asked, not deigning to arise.

“Missed,” was the laconic reply. “Give me time.”

“Certainly. We have weeks at our disposal. I’ve got nothing to do but sit here, anyway.”

Roy grinned good-naturedly and drew the line in. Once more he cast.

“I’ve got those bears worried, at any rate,” he declared, pulling in for a third attempt. “Notice how quiet they are?”

Teddy nodded solemnly.

“Sure. They just decided which one was going to have me for lunch. I’ll bet the first bear won. He likes me. Tried to kiss me on the way up, but I was bashful, and, anyway, we were in a hurry.”

Once more the line whistled through the air. This time, when it landed, Roy gave a yell.

That’s the one! Watch this now, Teddy, and give me credit!”

Teddy, jarred out of his placidity, leaped to his feet. He saw that the hook had come to rest about five feet below the gun, and in a direct line with the trigger guard.

“Boy—take it easy!” he breathed. “Pull up slow—slo-o-o-w! A little more—no—don’t jerk it—gently now—”

“Well, for the love of Pete, will you pipe down for a second?” Roy exploded, a grin of amusement on his face. “How do you think I can do this with you yelling in my ear? First you sit back and let me do all the work, and then, by golly, you want to play director. Hey, iss diss a system?”

“Pardon,” Teddy replied, mockingly contrite. “You are right. I am at fault, and I await your pleasure. Henceforth I keep my peace.”

With a smile of satisfaction, Roy returned once more to the business of catching the hook in the trigger guard. Slowly he drew in. The hook neared the rifle. Then, with a foot more to go, it caught on the edge of a stone, and stuck. Carefully Roy twitched the line, hoping to dislodge it. But the hook resisted all his efforts. Both boys took a deep breath. Below them the bears started their growling again, and stones and dirt clattered down the mountain as they leaped repeatedly up toward the ledge.

“Now may the gods of the hills be with us,” Teddy murmured. “I fear me those bears have formed a conspiracy against us!”

Roy jerked the line desperately. If it parted, their last hope was gone. They would have to remain on the ledge until the bears left of their own accord or until the animals succeeded in their objective. Roy shuddered slightly as he thought of this last eventuality. That would not be so pleasant.

“Let’s try it,” Teddy suggested hoarsely, afraid almost that his voice would cut the line. He took the cord from his brother’s unresisting hand.

For a moment it seemed that he would have no greater success than Roy. The hook appeared caught firmly. Then, resolutely, Teddy gave the line a violent tug.

The hook released its tenacious hold on the stone and snapped through the air. Teddy gave a gasp of dismay. Then, suddenly, his face cleared and his eyes lit joyfully. He gave a shout of triumph.

The hook, leaping toward the rifle, had become attached to the trigger guard!

“Got it!” Teddy yelled. “Don’t know how, but I did! Now, Roy, we’ll see just how much this plan of yours is worth! Here, gun, gun, gun, gun, gun! Come to papa! Whoa, baby, not so fast! That’s the stuff! Nice rifle!”

By fits and starts, the rifle, drawn by the fishline, made its eccentric way up the mountainside. Gradually it approached a spot just under the ledge where both bears were waiting, crouched against the wall, staring frantically at this strange manifestation. Never before had they seen a stick travel uphill apparently under its own guidance.

“Golly, I hope they leave it alone,” Roy gasped, peering anxiously over the edge. “When I yell, Teddy, you give the line a quick pull up and I’ll grab the gun. Easy now, it’s almost below me. Careful—careful—get away from there, you varmint. Yay-y-y-y! Woof woof! Bang bang! Scat! Now, Teddy! Pull! Hey, you! Lookout—”

Teddy, standing above, where he could not see the rifle now that it was directly below the shelf, had given the cord a quick tug in obedience to Roy’s shouted command. At this very moment the bears recovered from their panic. Simultaneously, they made a dive for that strange thing dangling in front of them. The animal that had chased the boys succeeded in hitting the barrel with one paw, while the other paw brushed against the line. The rifle swung around, the muzzle pressed against the bear’s chest. With a snort of surprise, the beast hugged it to him.


There was a quick report, as though some one had slapped two boards together. The bear, stung with a pain more violent than any bee sting, sprang back with a grunt of outraged dignity—sprang back, and, howling in rage, fled ignominiously down the mountain, with his astounded companion tumbling after!

There was deep silence on the ledge. Open-mouthed, the boys watched the lumbering animals disappear in the foliage at the foot of the incline, and the crackling of the brush and the waving of twigs testified that their speed was as yet undiminished—they were still going, and going fast.

Teddy blinked rapidly. Bending over, he felt with his hand of several places on the rocky floor of the shelf. Finally he found one to his liking. Then he sank blissfully down, rolled over on his back, and the next moment the hills echoed with the laughter of two boys lying on a narrow ledge high up in the mountains.

“The—the poor thing was scared!” Roy spluttered, as soon as he got his breath. “He tried—oh, golly—he tried to commit suicide! Baby! I never expect to see a sight like that again! Teddy, if you had only seen him—seen the expression on his face when the gun went off! He grabbed the barrel, pointed it at his chest, and pulled the trigger! Honestly! Then he looked so gosh-blamed surprised and disappointed, and—and—Hold me, Teddy, or I’ll bust!”

“I saw most of it,” Teddy declared, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “The best part of it all was to see those two hopping down the mountain like a couple of silly cows—or like rocking horses out on a spree! Man, that was one sweet show! Say, I’ll bet the one who shot himself won’t sleep to-night. Or, if he does, he’ll have bad dreams. Imagine a bear shooting himself! Won’t Pop Burns like to hear about this!”

“Yes, but will he believe it?” Roy asked dubiously. “Pop likes to tell ’em, but when it comes to listening—that’s another thing.”

“Well, anyway, this beats his story about the bear eating Nick’s pants.”

“I’ll tell a maverick it does! And we know this is true, while that other—well, I have me ‘doots.’ Come on, we’d better go now. We’ve got to find your gun before we start home. Here—you slide down first then grab me. I’ll bet Star and Flash are getting restless by now. Neither one has been ridden much lately. All right—over you go. There’ll be no bear to welcome you with open arms, either, thank goodness. The party is over!”

Still chuckling, the two boys, after finding the two guns where they had been dropped, made their way down the mountain toward the ponies. Star and Flash whinnied as they came up and pranced about ecstatically the moment the boys were in the saddle. The love Teddy and Roy had for their broncos was not unreciprocated.

Talking of their adventure with the bears, the boys rode slowly home. Teddy was anxious to tell Pop Burns about it, to see what he would say. But as they neared the ranch yard of the X Bar X, they heard something that drove these topics from their minds.

From around the corner of the bunk-house came voices, loud in anger. They listened. One of the speakers was their father!

An Angry Visitor

“What do you reckon is up, Teddy?” asked Roy Manley.

“Haven’t the least idea, but we’ll soon find out!”

The two urged their mounts forward anxiously.

Digressing here, for a moment, it will be recalled that these two youths were first introduced in a book called “The X Bar X Boys on the Ranch,” the opening volume of this series. Therein was told of the long and dangerous hunt they, in company with their father and other members of the outfit, had undertaken to round-up a gang of rustlers who had stolen Flash, Star, and General, the ponies of Teddy, Roy, and Mr. Manley.

The boys felt keenly the loss of their ponies, and braved many dangers before regaining them. The fact that the Manley posse caught the rustlers when they were about to make a raid on the cattle of X Bar X added not a little to the excitement.

In the second book, called “The X Bar X Boys in Thunder Canyon,” the adventures of Teddy and Roy on the trail of kidnappers are related. These scoundrels, in revenge for a wrong they fancied Mr. Manley had done them, took Belle Ada, the boys’ sister, and Nell Willis and Ethel Carew, her friends, to a cavern far up Thunder Canyon. Guarded there by an old woman and a number of men, the girls had a terrifying time until Roy and Teddy found them and brought them safely home after rounding up the kidnappers, who turned out to be the same gang that had made trouble at the X Bar X Ranch before.

The voice of the man who was quarreling with their father in the ranch yard was not an unfamiliar one to the Manley boys. Teddy, who was leading, reined up sharply and jerked his head in the direction from which the words were coming.

“Jake Trummer,” he said shortly. “Seems to be getting a load off his chest. Wonder what the row is about.”

“Plenty, from the noise,” Roy answered. “He’s sure laying it into dad. Let’s investigate.”

As the boys were intimately concerned with the running of the X Bar X, their decision to learn the cause of the argument was not an intrusion. They knew their father wished them to know anything that concerned the ranch. So, chirping gently to their ponies, they rode around the bunk-house and came in sight of the speaker.

Jake Trummer had his back to them as they trotted up.

“You heard what I said, Bard Manley,” he was thundering. “I ain’t got no time for foolin’ around. Either you take yore cattle off my ranges, or, by gosh, I’ll drive ’em off, an’ none too gentle, either! You hear me!”

“Can’t help it, not bein’ deaf,” Mr. Manley returned. “You make a noise like a steam calliope, Jake, only not so pleasant. But you use the same kind of power—hot air. Now listen. Just as fast as I can, I’ll—hello boys!” their father suddenly broke off. “You’re just in time. Jake, here, was tellin’ me a nice little story about a bad wolf; wasn’t it, Jake?”

“We heard some of it,” Roy said, with a grin, and dismounted. “What’s the matter, Mr. Trummer?”

“Matter enough! And if you think it’s a nice story, you’ll learn different, Bard Manley! You get yore cattle off my ranges, an’ quick! You know the grass down by Whirlpool River is the best grazin’ in the state, an’ you know I only got a certain amount of it. Hardly enough for my own stock. Then you let yore cows go roamin’ all around creation an’—”

“Do you mean that our cattle are using your grass?” Teddy asked, sliding from his horse. “If that’s so, we’ll try to get them off as quickly as possible.” He turned to his father. “I’m sorry about that, Dad. I had Nick an’ Gus riding this week. They didn’t do their job very well, I guess. Wait a minute, Mr. Trummer, and we’ll get the straight of this. Hey, Nick!” The boy raised his voice in a shout. “Nick around? Come over here—pronto!”

“Take it easy,” Mr. Manley said suddenly. “Never mind it, Nick!” he called. And as a young puncher appeared from around the bunk-house the “boss” waved a hand. “Trot back. If we want you we’ll yell again.”

Nick Looker, with a puzzled look on his face, obeyed slowly. Mr. Manley turned again to Jake Trummer.

“Listen, Jake. I’ve known you for some years now. We ain’t never had no argument before. I’m sorry my dogies got over on yore land. But, leapin’ turtles! that’s no reason to come an’ take my head off about it! Why’n’t you come up an’ tell me like a man, instead of raisin’ the dust like a cyclone? Hey?”

Jake Trummer’s face grew red. His neck swelled until the veins stood out like knotted cords. His hands clenched.

“’Cause I didn’t want to, that’s why!” he shouted. “Think you can run me like you run this here ranch, Bard Manley? Well, you can’t! When I says a thing I means it! You hear me! Them cattle of yours been on my grass fer a week now. Every day I figures you’ll come over an’ take ’em off, but you don’t do nothin’. So finally I has to come over to you. But it’ll be the last time! You hear me! You get them cows off Whirlpool River, or, by golly, I’ll drive ’em in the river! You hear me!”

Turning on his heel, Jake Trummer strode savagely to the corral rail where he had tied his pony. Releasing her, he vaulted into the saddle, swung the pinto’s head about, and galloped out of the yard. Slowly Mr. Manley took a corncob pipe from his pocket, stuck it in his mouth, applied a match to its already filled bowl, and then grinned.

“The old boy sure had his fur up, didn’t he?”

“I’ll tell a maverick he did,” Roy responded. Then a frown came to his face. “What’s the rights of this, dad? When did Jake come over? Had he been here long?”

“Not five minutes before you came. Teddy, you trot over and ask Nick an’ Gus Tripp to come over here. I want to ask them some questions. I didn’t see no sense in lettin’ Jake Trummer have any say in how we handle our men, so that was the reason I told Nick to go back before. But to tell the truth—” he exhaled a great cloud of smoke—“to tell the truth, I thought Jake was foolin’ at first. But I guess he was sure enough mad.”

“No doubt about that,” Teddy added grimly. “I’ll get Nick for you, Dad. I’m sorry this happened. Jake has always been a good neighbor, and I hate to have trouble with him.” Shaking his head, the boy led his horse to the hitching rail and then made for the other end of the yard.

“Takes it like a veteran,” Mr. Manley remarked to Roy, as he watched Teddy walk off. “Roy—” and he placed a hand on his son’s shoulder—“I never say much to you two, but I guess you know that I’m pretty well satisfied with who I got for youngsters. When the time comes for me to take a back seat, I expect you an’ Teddy to carry on this ranch like I did when I got it from my father—your grandfather. You never saw him, but Pop Burns did. He’ll tell you all about him. An’ I tried to do the best I could by him—just like you an’ Teddy are doin’ for me. You boys are men, now—yep, real men. It took men to locate those rustlers the time we had our broncs stole, and to round ’em up. It took men to ride at that cave in Thunder Canyon to get Belle Ada an’ the rest without knowin’ how many guns you were goin’ up against. Yep, it took men to do those jobs—an’ you did ’em. I ain’t kickin’ none. Snakes! what started me off on that trail? Son, you see any signs of Father Time around here?” and he squeezed Roy’s shoulder affectionately and laughed a little.

“Not any, Dad,” Roy responded, and tried to echo his father’s laugh, but there was a queer lump in his throat that he could not account for. Never before had his father talked like this. And when Mr. Manley saw his son’s eyes, he understood. With a yell he grabbed Roy about the waist and affected to throw him to the ground.

“Could I do it?” he grinned, desisting. “You bet I could! Snakes, Roy, you’re too blame serious! What chance have you got to see me take a back seat yet awhile and watch the grasshoppers whizzing by? In the words of the immortal poet, not any! Where in thunder is Teddy? Oh, here he comes!”

With the arrival of Nick and Teddy, Roy’s mind turned from its rather sombre trend to the business of ranching. Roy, but one year older than Teddy, had a more serious disposition, frequently considering events more important than they really were. This nature he inherited from his mother, who, before her marriage to Bardwell Manley, had been a school teacher in Denver. From her Roy got his taste for the really worthwhile things in life—poetry, literature, pictures. But the fact that these tendencies showed early development occasioned Teddy, who as yet was quite Roy’s opposite, much amusement.

As Nick Looker approached, Mr. Manley’s face took on a frown.

“Hear the news, Nick?” he asked shortly.

“Teddy told me,” Nick returned. An anxious light came into his eyes. “Was Jake Trummer real sore, boss?”

“He sure was,” Mr. Manley replied tersely. “Where’s Gus?”

“Town. Nat Raymond an’ Jim Casey are ridin’ from to-day on, accordin’ to Teddy. Gus went in to get some mail—says he’s expectin’ a letter from some Southern belle he’s got down near the border. Kind of uneasy about her, I’m thinkin’. Want him, too, boss?”

“Yes, I want him, too. But there’s a few things I want to say to you first. Nick, Jake Trummer had a right to be as sore as he liked. It’s no joke for another man’s cattle to eat up all your best grazin’ grass, especially when you ain’t got too much of it. Jake threatened to drive our dogies in the river if we didn’t get ’em out of there pronto, an’ of course I couldn’t let him get away with that, so I came back at him. But I knew he was right. Well—speak up. Got an explanation?”

“Who, me?” Nick’s face expressed hurt surprise. “What have I done, boss?”

“Well, outside of lettin’ our Durhams wander over on Jake Trummer’s land and makin’ him come over here fit to be tied, I guess nothin’. But we all have our own ideas, an’ mine, strange as it may seem, is that when a man’s set to ridin’ cattle, he’s supposed to ride ’em, and not let ’em mess up a neighbor’s grazin’ ground.”

“Me? I let ’em loose? Why, boss, I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it!”

“Weren’t you ridin’ herd?”

“Me? Why, no, boss.”

Mr. Manley turned to Teddy.

“How about that, son? Didn’t you tell me Nick was on herd?”

Teddy looked at Nick, then averted his glance.

“I guess I—” he began.

“Wait!” Nick interrupted. “Teddy did set me out about a week ago! But the way I understood it, he shifted plans, an’ I’ve been workin’ fence fer six days! I ain’t been near the cattle!”

“What do you mean?” Teddy asked sharply.

“Why, Joe Marino—you know, boss, The Pup—he come to me an’ said that Teddy, here, told him to tell me he was to take my place, an’ I was to ride fence. He an’ Gus been on the job all week. I’ve been workin’ on the fence. An’ believe me, it sure needs fixin’. You mean to say that The Pup lied, Teddy?”

Teddy nodded his head.

“That’s just what he did, Nick. I guess it’s all my fault. I should have been more careful and checked up. But what on earth did The Pup do a thing like that for? It sure beats me!”

“Nick, where’s The Pup?” Mr. Manley demanded sharply.

“You got me, boss,” Nick confessed. His eyes were troubled. Somehow, this thing that had happened seemed partly his fault, and he found it a strange experience to be in wrong with the boss.

Joe Marino

Always, as long as Nick Looker had been on the ranch—five years this coming winter—he had done his work cheerfully and well. The men on the X Bar X had more than mere employees’ interest in the ranch. They looked upon it as a home, and, as such, to be well cared for.

“This here Pup—” Nick observed, “now, I don’t like to say nothin’ against a man when he ain’t here fer a come-back; but—well, boss, The Pup sure likes his liquor. I don’t mind a man takin’ a nip now and then, if he’s built that-away. But not during workin’ hours.”

“Do you mean to say Joe Marino has been drunk while he’s on the job?” Teddy asked quickly.

“Now, maybe we’d better wait till The Pup shows up,” Nick countered, shifting his shoulders uneasily. “He’ll be around soon. Maybe he’s rode to town with Gus Tripp. Most likely that’s it.”

Mr. Manley puffed thoughtfully at his pipe. Through half shut eyes he observed Nick. It was several moments before he spoke.

“Gus hasn’t been doin’ any promiscuous galivantin’, has he, Nick? But never mind,” he added quickly, as he saw the cowboy move his head from side to side. “I don’t want you to tell tales out of school. We’ll wait. Whereabouts were all those breaks in the fences?”

It was late in the afternoon before Gus Tripp rode in. With him was The Pup. Roy, who had been seated outside the ranch house on a bench, mending a broken stirrup, saw them come up. He dropped the leather and hurried forward.

“Gus,” he called, “dad wants to see you. Tie your pony and come over to the corral, will you? Joe, you too.”

“He want to see me?” The Pup asked, and Roy noticed that his voice seemed unduly loud. “Well, I’m all set. Where is he?”

“Over by the corral, as I said. Hurry up. Get your letter Gus?”

“Nope—not any,” Gus answered. As he spoke he swayed slightly in the saddle. “Funny—I kind of expected she might write. Guess I’m a back number—ha—that’s funny—me a back number! Can ya imagine that, Roy? A back number! Like a last year’s calendar! Say, that’s pretty good. Get that one—that—that one, Roy? A last year’s calendar. Huh! Pretty good! Made it up all—all by myself, too. Yesser! Pretty good—pretty good,” and he wagged his head stupidly.

Roy looked at the cowboy sharply. This was unlike Gus. It was plain to be seen that he had been drinking, probably at Rimor’s in town. Roy approached, and laid hold of the bridle of Gus’s pony.

“Where have you been all day, Gus?” he asked quietly.

“Who, me?” Exaggerated surprise was on the man’s face. “Why, I—I been busy. Me an’ The Pup. We both been busy. Awful busy. Ain’t we, Joe?”

The Pup disdained to answer. An ugly look on his face, he lashed his horse savagely, and jumped him toward the hitching rail. Then he dismounted and walked toward Gus.

“Come on,” he snarled. “Don’t sit there talkin’. We got to see the boss. Ain’t you heard orders?” and he looked at Roy, a sneer on his face.

Roy flushed. He did not wish to seem above the men, but rather as working with them. Joe intimated with his glance that Roy’s authority was given by virtue of his being “the boss’s son,” and not because he deserved it. Roy opened his mouth to reply, thought better of it, and walked slowly away. The Pup laughed loudly. Roy felt his muscles tighten, but he did not turn. He would not argue with a man who had been drinking.

He was not present at the scene between Mr. Manley and Gus and The Pup. Teddy told him of it later.

“There’s two we will have no longer with us,” Teddy said that night. “Dad was feeding General sugar when they came up. Soon as he heard them he whirled around and he knew in a second that they had been hitting the bottle. Gus just looked kind of ashamed, but The Pup had a mean look on his face.

“‘Gus, where you been?’ dad wanted to know. Gus said he’d been to town, to get a letter that didn’t come. Said he’d been expecting it for two weeks, and he was kind of disappointed. Say, Roy, I thought he was sweet on Norine?” Norine was the daughter of Mrs. Moore, who was the housekeeper on the X Bar X. “How about that?”

“Don’t know,” Roy replied. “Gus told me about the letter, too. I have an idea that had something to do with his drinking—he never used to touch it before. But go ahead. What happened next?”

“Well, as I said, dad caught on right away, and he was some sore. Told ’em both to get out—that he wouldn’t have men on his ranch who drank during working hours. Then he asked The Pup what was the idea, lying to Nick and getting him to change places with him, so The Pup could ride herd. At first Joe wouldn’t tell, but when Gus let out a few secrets the whole thing came forth. It seems that The Pup wanted to take the cows so he could slip away to town when he felt like it and liquor up and no one would know about it. How he ever got Gus to consent to a thing like that is beyond me unless, as you say, Gus isn’t himself on account of that letter.”

“What did Gus do when The Pup spilled the beans?”

“Just acted as if he was mighty sorry. Roy, it isn’t like Gus to pull a stunt like that. He isn’t built that way. Joe Marino, now—I wouldn’t put it past him. I don’t like that hombre for a cent. When he came here last month, dad was short a hand, or he never would have taken him. And now look at the trouble he’s got us in. Jake Trummer, one of dad’s oldest friends, turned into an enemy. You know, Roy, I think something happened up on Whirlpool River at Jake’s ranch besides the mere fact that our cattle wandered there. That, in itself, wouldn’t cause Jake to raise the row he did. I’ll bet The Pup said something to Jake that he didn’t want to repeat, knowing dad as he does. So he took it all out in being sore about the cattle.”

“Maybe,” Roy said slowly. “So Gus is going to leave, is he?”

“Yep! Fact is, he’s gone now. When dad finished, Gus straightened up like a man and shook his head to clear it. Then he spoke right out and admitted he’d been in the wrong—that he’d got it coming to him. Said it was all his fault about the cows and that dad was perfectly right to fire him, and that he’s blamed sorry.”

“He did?” Roy’s eyes lighted. “Good for Gus! I knew he was a straight shooter, even if he did make a mistake. What did The Pup say then?”

“He looked at Gus with a kind of funny expression on his face. Then he let a gob of tobacco juice ride at the ground, laughed, and walked away. Gus took it all. He sure feels pretty low over this.”

At that moment Mrs. Manley came to the door, saw Teddy and Roy seated on the porch steps, and called to them.

“Boys,” she said, “will you come in a minute? Your father wants to see you.”

“And so do I,” a girl’s voice added. Belle Ada, the sister of Roy and Teddy, walked out on the porch. “Where’s that new whip you promised me, Teddy? Got it?”

“Haven’t had time yet, Belle,” Teddy answered. “Have it to-morrow sure. I’m going in to town then, and I’ll stop by and pick it up. It ought to be at the express office by now. I ordered it last week.”

“Oh, you’ll forget it,” Belle declared, and then laughed.

Belle was twelve years old, with dark hair and eyes. In disposition she was a great deal like Teddy—happy-go-lucky, always ready for fun.

“You’d better tie a string around your finger. Or, better still, around your toe. You’re liable to miss it on your finger, and you stub your toe so often that you can’t miss it there.”

“Aw, take a rest,” and Teddy grinned. “Come on, Roy, we’ll hop in and see dad. Where is he, Mother?”

“In his room. I think it’s about Gus that he wants to talk to you. I’m so sorry that happened, boys! I told your father that he should go more slowly. He was so worked up over Mr. Trummer’s visit that he wasn’t quite himself. I tried to calm him as much as I could, and now I think he regrets that he acted so hastily. But you go in and let him tell you himself.”

Mr. Manley was seated in a chair in his room, with his corncob pipe, unlit, between his teeth. This was always a sign of mental uneasiness with him. When smoke came from the pipe, all was well. When it reposed in his mouth cold and dead, there was usually something up.

“Want us, Dad?” Teddy asked.

“Yes. Want to make talk. Come in. Shut the door. Either one of you see Gus?”

“He’s gone, Dad,” Roy answered. “Teddy, you saw him go, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did. He rode away with a bag on his saddle about two hours ago. He owned his own horse, didn’t he, Dad?”

“Yes! Gus came to me with a pony, saddle, and nothin’ else, three years ago. Wanted a job. I gave it to him. So he’s gone, eh?”

“Afraid so, Dad. Didn’t you tell him to clear out?”

“I did, and I’m sorry now that I did it. Your mother’s been talkin’ to me, and, as usual, she’s made me see the error of my ways. I was too fast. Jake Trummer got me all worked up. He used to be my best friend, next to Pete Ball. Well, it’s too late now, I guess. As for Joe Marino, I don’t care when he leaves. We never should have taken him. He didn’t know much about punchin’, and the first day he was here I kind of got set against him. He’s gone, too, I suppose?”

“No, he hasn’t,” Teddy declared. “I saw him at the bunk-house talkin’ to Pop Burns a little while ago. Pop didn’t seem to care much about listening. He said something sharp and turned away. Guess The Pup must have been beefing about you throwing him out.”

“He won’t get far with Pop,” Mr. Manley chuckled. “Imagine Pop hearin’ anything against the X Bar X! Not him. Well, I guess that’s all, boys. I was hopin’ I could catch Gus and explain to him. The poor geezer must have been worried about something, or he never would have done a thing like he did.”

“You’re right, Dad,” Teddy declared. “I noticed he hasn’t looked well for some time. Keeps talking about a letter all the while. Yep, it’s too bad. But it can’t be helped now.”

“No,” and Mr. Manley sighed. Then he arose.

“We got a job ahead of us to-morrow. Got to get those cows off Trummer’s land. I don’t want no man but me to feed my cattle. So be ready to start early. If you see Marino, you can tell him, for me, that the sooner he leaves the better I’ll like it.” Again Mr. Manley sighed. “But I sure wish it had been some one else besides Gus,” he added.

Guarded Words

Sadly enough, however, it was Gus Tripp who was the storm center. This thing had been the only blot on his escutcheon during the three years he had worked for the X Bar X. Willingly would Mr. Manley have wiped it clean had Gus given him the opportunity. But the die was cast. Gus—he of the drawling speech and eyes which were wont to grow languid while Norine was near—had gone.

No one gave much thought to Joe Marino, “The Pup.” Though he had worked for Bardwell Manley, somehow he had never become a part of the ranch, as the rest had. He was a man apart, neither seeking nor admitting intimate friendship. His fondness for the cup, alleged to cheer, was early discovered, but Mr. Manley was loath to discharge a man for a personal defect so long as it did not affect his work. Up to this time The Pup had been a lone drinker, but now, when it became necessary to send him forth because he shirked his job, he dragged one of the most popular boys on the ranch with him.

Pop Burns was loud in his denunciation of the tempter. While the boys were saddling their broncos the next morning, preparing to head for Whirlpool River, the old man halted The Pup as he was lurching past toward the cook house.

“You still eatin’ here?” he wanted to know.

“I am. Anything to you?” The Pup’s eyes, red from the effect of the last night’s indiscretion, glared evilly. “Want to ask any more questions?”

“Well, now, maybe jest one or two,” the veteran puncher said slowly. “First, where’d Gus duck to?”

“How should I know? Think I’m his keeper?”

“Keeper? Not any! I thought you pretended to be his friend, but I guess I was mistaken. Usually, when a man tells a fellow certain things, that other man kind of likes to keep track of his buddy.”

“Hey? What do you mean—certain things? I don’t know nothin’ about Gus. He rode with me a few times, that’s all.” The Pup leered suggestively. “If you mean the letter he was waitin’ for from that skirt down Togas way, why—”

Pop Burns’ expression changed. His eyes narrowed, and the lines about his mouth deepened. His hands clenched until they looked like solid balls of brown leather.

“Suppose you just forget about that,” he said evenly, an unwonted dignity coming into the old man’s voice and manner. “Understand? We ain’t in the habit of talkin’ out in public about another man’s affairs. Gus was a friend of mine, I ain’t aimin’ to listen to a coyote like you makin’ fun of him. Get me?”

The Pup started to reply, then took a second look at Pop’s face, and thought better of it. With an uneasy laugh he turned away and walked toward the corral, where his pony was tied. Pop motioned to Teddy, who was filling a can of flour some distance away.

“Hear that?”

Teddy nodded.

“Some of it. I didn’t want to interfere, so I kept quiet. Dad wants The Pup off the place as soon as possible. He blames him for the whole affair.”

“Yore dad’s right about that, Teddy. The Pup has got a streak of orneriness in him a yard wide. He ain’t no good to no one, least of all himself. Wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some more of him, at that, one way or another.”

“You mean he’ll make trouble?”

“Well, he ain’t appeared to be a dove of peace so far, has he?” Pop countered. “An’ he’ll not hang his tail between his laigs an’ run without one more nip at somebody. You mark my words! I knew them kind of waddies. Long ago, when yore grandpop was alive—an’ yore dad was only a shaver then, like you are—we had a cuss by the name of—” He broke off suddenly. “All right, boss! Comin’!” Pop called out, and he hurried off in response to Mr. Manley’s call.

Teddy watched him disappear in the direction of the ranch house, then reflectively continued packing the can with flour. But as he worked with his hands, a frown came to his face. He was remembering Pop’s prophecy.

It would be a shame if anything unpleasant happened now. Why, it was not so long ago that they had rescued Belle and Nell Willis and Ethel Carew from the kidnappers. How were the girls on the 8 X 8 getting on? Teddy wondered.

He came to a sudden decision to ride over to Peter Ball’s place to visit them as soon as this business was over.

Clamping the lid tight on the flour can, the boy thought of the cattle on Whirlpool River and of the absent Gus Tripp.

“Mighty queer that Gus would go to pieces like that,” he muttered to himself. “There’s a reason behind it all, or I miss my guess. Gus sure looked downhearted when he rode out.”

Teddy carried the can and the flour bin toward the house. It was now about eight o’clock, and the bright fall sun brought the landscape out in bold relief. Teddy paused a moment before he entered the house and peered toward the mountains to the west, where he and Roy had lately come to grips with the gang that had run off with his sister and her two friends. Then his gaze shifted, and he looked over the rolling prairie toward the spot where they had earlier captured this same gang of rustlers, though they had later escaped to make more mischief. A grim smile curved the boy’s lips.

“Did some one say the West was a quiet place to live in?” he muttered, and laughed shortly. “Seems to me we do nothing but meet trouble out here! Well, I suppose it’s all in the game. Now we’ve got a mean job to get the cows off Whirlpool River. However—” He shrugged his shoulders, replaced the flour bin, while the can he had filled he carried to the yard and fastened to his saddle. His father had told them to prepare for a journey of several days, and this flour, mixed as it was with other ingredients, made fine “pan bread.”

Roy met him at the corral.

“Can’t leave just yet,” he said. “Dad wants to wait until Nick comes back. He rode down to see one of the boys from Jake Trummer’s place who has been in town several days, hanging around. Dad wants to get all the dope he can on this before he goes ahead, and Nick knows this puncher pretty well and said he’d find out all he could. Nick ought to be back in about two hours.”

“As soon as Nick returns we go—that the idea?”

“That’s it. Unless dad wants to start sooner, and I don’t think he does. Say, is The Pup still around?”

“Yep.” Teddy smiled grimly. “Around, and noisy. He had a session with Pop not over ten minutes ago. Pop told him where to get off, too. I heard part of it. Started to gas about Gus and his letter. But he got shut up quick, let me tell you. Pop wouldn’t stand for hearing Gus made fun of. Where does this bacon go—on my saddle?”

“Guess so. I’ve got enough to carry. Golly, dad must expect to spend Christmas on Whirlpool River, from the load we’re packing. Bet when we get there Jake Trummer will forget his sore-headedness and invite us to keep our cows there the rest of the year. That’s the kind Jake is—quick to anger, but he gets over it just as fast. He’s a good friend of dad’s too. At least he was before this happened. That’s what made me think there’s more in this than we suspect. However, we’ll know as soon as we hit the river. Jimminy! what in thunder is that?”

Roy stopped and gazed up the road that led past the ranch house. From behind the house came curious sounds—reminiscent of a load of junk being pulled over cobblestones. Now and then a splutter, like the gasp of some huge animal, made itself heard over the noise. Teddy grinned.

“It will arrive in a moment,” he said.

It did. There soon came into sight one of the strangest contraptions ever seen on four wheels. Once it had been a flivver, but those days were gone forever. Its body was of shiny red and made to resemble a boat, with a rudder in the rear, and a propeller. The wheels were nearly concealed in the “hull.” From its pointed bow, blue smoke arose.

Within it, on the front seat, sat a cow puncher, his face alight with the joy of possession. In the rear were two girls, some two or three years older than Belle Manley, trying in vain to suppress the laughter that would bubble over.

“Bug Eye!” Teddy yelled. “And Nell and Curly! But what in the name of seven sledges is that thing they’re riding in?”

“Howdy, boys!” Bug Eye called, waving one arm and reaching toward the “in’ards” of the machine with the other. With a groan the contraption subsided. “What do you think of my Fishmobile?”

“Your what?” Roy shouted.

“Fishmobile! P-s-y-c-h-e—Fish. I saw it on a boat once. And this is a boat and an automobile, so I call it a Fishmobile. Good, hey?”

“Did you two ride in that all the way over from the 8 X 8?” Roy laughed, walking toward Nell and Ethel, the good-looking nieces of Peter Ball.

“We certainly did!” Nell answered. “It runs splendidly, doesn’t it, Ethel?”

“Great!” was the laughing answer. “How are you, boys? We came to visit Belle, though, as I remember, Nell did say something about Roy—”

“Oh, hush!” Nell interrupted, blushing. “Teddy, I haven’t seen you since you and Roy found us in those terrible caves at Thunder Canyon,” and she shuddered slightly. “But we want to forget that—although we’ll never forget what you did for us,” and she looked quickly at Roy. “But where is Belle?”

“Right here!” a voice called from the porch, and Belle Ada ran into the yard.

Greetings were soon over, and then the young folks gathered around to inspect Bug Eye’s new creation.

“She goes on land or water,” he explained proudly. “See? Got a propeller on her and everything. Works on the fly wheel. The boss give me that old flivver—remember?—an’ said I could do what I wanted with it. So I done it. Looks great, hey? An’ when I come to a lake, why all I have to do is throw the propeller in gear, an’ away we go!”

“Yes! But, Bug Eye,” Teddy broke in, with a look at Roy, “where is this lake you’re going to sail on?”

A look of amazement spread over the puncher’s face. He snapped his fingers and frowned.

“Golly!” he exclaimed. “Never thought about that. Well, I’ll be jiggered! Of course there’s Lomley’s Lake—but that would never do. Too small. Well, now, that’s too bad.” Then he brightened. “But if I do find a lake somewheres, I’ll be all set for it!”

A laugh arose, which did not at all disconcert Bug Eye. All but the proprietor of “Psyche, the Fish,” wandered into the house. Bug Eye drove toward the bunk-house, there to be the center of a crowd of sarcastic cowpunchers. The remarks made concerning the Fishmobile were graphic if not flattering.

Much as Roy and Teddy wanted to talk to the visitors, they knew that they must continue preparations for the journey to Whirlpool River. It was nine-thirty now, and Nick had not yet returned. Mr. Manley was pacing about the yard nervously, anxious to get started.

Roy was currying Star over by the hitching rail at the side of the cook house. Suddenly he heard a voice that caused him to start. It came from behind the cooking shack, and Roy made as though to go forward, then thought again and remained where he was.

It was Gus Tripp talking. At first Roy did not recognize the tones of his companion, but as the other talked louder, he knew it to be The Pup. Gus seemed to be strangely insistent over something.

“No, sir,” he was saying. “Not me! Count me out! The boss only gave me what I deserved. I hit the bottle and got fired. All right. I got no kick comin’. I’m sorry I did it, but let that go. It’s all over now, and you can count me out of any scheme like that, Joe. I may be an idiot, but, by golly, I’m no polecat!”

To Whirlpool River

“Gus Tripp!” Roy muttered to himself. “And The Pup! I wonder if I—” Coming to a sudden decision, he threw the currying brush on the ground and stepped forward. It took but a moment to reach the cook house, and without hesitating he walked around to the side. It was in his mind to speak to Gus and tell him Mr. Manley would like to see him. But when he rounded the corner he stopped short. There was no one in sight! Puzzled, Roy glanced within the shack. The only person there was Sing Lung, the cook, who grinned widely as he saw Roy.

“Hungly?” he demanded. “You boy betta’ have plenty eat, you lide long, yes?”

“Yep, we got a long ride ahead of us,” Roy returned absently. “Say, Sing, did you hear two men talking outside here?”

“Who men?”

“Well, I think they were Gus Tripp and Joe Marino. I could hear ’em away over by the hitching rail, so you must have heard ’em too.”

“Me? Nope, I hear nobody. I lun wata—see?” He turned on the kitchen faucet, and the noise of the stream beating against the tin of the sink made even thinking difficult, let alone talking.

“All right, shut it off,” Roy yelled. “I understand. But why you don’t break every dish in the place with that torrent I can’t see. Guess you didn’t hear anything.” He stepped into the yard again. Gazing toward the road as it rose into the mountains past Eagles, the ranch town, Roy discerned two horsemen. The boy nodded.

“There they go—Gus and The Pup. Wish I could have got here sooner, so I could have talked to Gus. Now I suppose he’s gone for good. Wonder what he meant by saying he may have been an idiot, but he wasn’t a polecat? I don’t like that Joe Marino! Chances are he wanted Gus to go in with him on some shady scheme, and Gus refused. Good for Gus! Wish he was back with us.” Roy shook his head, and, seeing Pop Burns walking across the yard, asked him where Teddy was. He was told the boy was talking with his father over at the corral, and, intending to tell them that Gus had returned but had ridden away again, Roy hurried forward.

When he reached the corral he saw that Nick Looker had come back. What he was saying evidently was of interest, for both Teddy and Mr. Manley were listening eagerly.

“Roy, I want you to hear this,” the ranch owner called as Roy came up. “Nick, tell him what you told us.”

“Well, it was just that I had a talk with Bob McKeever—he’s a hand on the Whirlpool River Ranch. I’ve knowed him for quite a spell. Bob says The Pup told Jake Trummer that we put our cattle to his grass on purpose, and that The Pup had orders to let ’em roam as much as they wanted. And I found out how all those breaks got in the fence, too—they been cut. I came across a pair of wire pliers down by the east fence.”

“Marino told Mr. Trummer that we put our cows in his fields on purpose?” Roy repeated amazed. “What did he ever say a thing like that for?”

Nick shrugged his shoulders.

“Don’t ask me. I only know what I been told. Guess that’s reason enough for old man Trummer to go up in the air, hey, boss?”

“It certainly is,” Mr. Manley said slowly. “I wish I had known this before. Things would have been different. What else did McKeever say, Nick?”

“Well, he said he heard his boss swear that if them dogies weren’t off his land by to-morrow, he’d drive ’em into the river. And he would, too—old man Trummer is some hot-headed.”

“I know he is,” Mr. Manley said. He thought for a moment. “If I thought it would do any good, I’d phone him. But I’m afraid that would make things worse. Nope, we got to take our medicine. Drat that Joe Marino! I should have thrown him off long ago! Now look at the mess he’s got us in! Snap to it now, boys, we start right soon. Got no time for delays. Nick, you come with us. Teddy and Roy, I expect you to take complete charge of the ranch while we’re gone.”

“You mean we’re to stay, Dad?” Teddy asked, a disappointed look coming over his face. Up to this moment the boy had fully expected to go with the others to Whirlpool River.

“Afraid so, boys. After what Nick said I can’t afford to leave the place without some one who can handle things. We’ve got a long ride ahead of us—might be a week. And I’ve got to know that the ranch is bein’ taken care of. I didn’t exactly like Marino’s attitude when I gave him the gate. If he tries any funny stuff, you’ve got to be on the job.”

“I see, Dad,” Roy answered. “That’s the right thing, I guess. If you want us to come on later, we can head down the river by boat and get there almost as soon as you can. Now what are the orders, Dad?”

It was a disappointment for the boys to stay at home, when they had been counting on riding with their father, but both saw the wisdom of Mr. Manley’s plan. Their mother would not care to stay any length of time on the ranch without some one of responsibility near by, especially in view of what had lately happened. She was not a nervous woman, but she realized that the presence of a man like Joe Marino on the ranch was a constant threat.

Then, as Teddy and Roy thought that their two friends from the 8 X 8 were visiting Belle, things began to look brighter. They had no real reason for expecting trouble from Jake Trummer. As soon as he heard the straight of the affair he would probably “snap to,” as Teddy expressed it.

“But if you want us, we’ll be ready,” the boy continued. “You’re taking five men, aren’t you? That ought to be enough. We haven’t more than three hundred head in that herd, from the last checking. Guess five can handle ’em.”

Mr. Manley smiled at his son’s assumption of an old rancher’s prerogative, but he took care that Teddy did not see the smile. He wanted his sons to have full confidence in themselves, and to this end he never hesitated to place responsibility on either Teddy or Roy.

Before starting, Mr. Manley gave the necessary instructions for the running of the ranch, then, with complete assurance that they would be carried out to the letter, he set out. Teddy and Roy watched the party, led by Mr. Manley, head for the road and toward Whirlpool River.

“Kind of wish we were going,” Teddy declared, as he waved a hand in farewell. “But dad knows best. Come on—let’s see what Nell and Curly are doing.”

The rest of the day passed uneventfully. Teddy and Roy, after they had attended to the immediate business of the ranch, went for an evening ride with the three girls. Bug Eye and his Fishmobile were to stay the night, and possibly several days, to look over some cattle on the north range that Peter Ball, his boss, was thinking of purchasing to fill out his stock. There had been an epidemic of blackleg among the cows of the 8 X 8, and Mr. Ball wanted to get some healthy Durhams in to fill out, as he had lately contracted to fill a large order from Denver for cattle on the hoof.

On the way back to the ranch, Nell and Ethel, or more popularly, “Curly,” rode on ahead, while Teddy and Roy talked in low tones of The Pup. Roy had neglected to tell his father of the conversation he had heard behind the cook house, but when he informed Teddy, the younger lad attached little importance to it.

“The Pup probably wanted Gus to go on a spree with him,” Teddy suggested. “I guess Gus has had enough of that sort of thing. He’s not built for it. Gus, normally, is a clean liver. He doesn’t take much to booze and he would never have touched it if he hadn’t been worried about something. Wonder what he’s going to do now?”

“But what did he mean when he said dad had a right to discharge him and he wouldn’t hold it against him?” Roy persisted, not answering his brother’s question. “Doesn’t that sound as though Marino wanted Gus to go into some scheme to get even with dad?”

“Aw, don’t be so pessimistic! Golly, Roy, you’re up to your old tricks again, aren’t you? Let it ride! Even if The Pup did have some such plan in mind, he’ll forget it as soon as he hits Rimor’s and gets lit up, and I’ll bet money that’s what he’s doing this minute. I only hope Gus isn’t with him. You say they rode off together?”

“Yes. That’s why I’m worried. But, after all, there’s no use hunting for trouble. We’ve got enough as it is.”

Darkness had settled over the land when the riders reached home. The supper table seemed strangely vacant with Mr. Manley absent, but the girls and Teddy and Roy kept up a running fire of conversation, so that Mrs. Manley had not time to think long about her husband riding far out on the trail. They tried to keep her, as much as possible, from worrying.

Later in the evening Teddy left the porch and walked toward the bunk-house, to see Nat Raymond about the next day’s work. As he neared the corral he heard Flash neigh as though he knew Teddy was near, and the boy turned aside for a moment.

To his surprise he saw a figure dart out from behind a tree, and, silently, the boy sprang forward. In a moment he had the man in his grasp.

“Let’s have a look at you!” Teddy demanded. The man did not struggle. Instead he faced the boy boldly.

“The Pup!” Teddy exclaimed. He released his hold on the man’s arm. “I thought you had gone to town.”

“Yes, it’s The Pup,” the other sneered. “And what about it? Gonna kick me off? If you are, you’d better start kickin’ now, ’cause it’s gonna take you some little time!”


The bright moon made the scene almost as light as day. Teddy could see the man’s small, close-set eyes and his thin-lipped mouth as The Pup thrust his face forward belligerently.

“You’re awfully sure about that, aren’t you?” the boy said in a low voice. Perhaps another youth might disclaim such a quarrel as this, which seemed purposely thrust upon him. Teddy had no reason to seek a fight with Marino, nor even meet him half way. It would have been better, perhaps, had the boy at this moment turned on his heel and walked away. But Teddy was himself, and no one else. The memory of Gus’s betrayal rankled within him.

The Pup moved his shoulders slightly, dropping the right one lower than the left. Teddy settled himself firmly.

“Think yore some baby, don’t you?” the man flashed, and Teddy could see a dark flush mount to his face. “You an’ that brother of yours! Pah! Yuh make me sick!” and he spat energetically.

Teddy clenched his fists, but held his peace. He would not let himself be talked into starting hostilities. If Marino wanted to fight—well, there were two sides to the story.

Of a sudden The Pup changed his tone. His voice took on a whining, ingratiating note.

“What are you two always pickin’ on me for?” he demanded. “I didn’t do nothin’ to yuh. A feller can’t—”

Teddy saw the man’s hand leap to his belt. Like a bundle of coiled springs the boy leaped forward. His open hand found The Pup’s wrist and closed upon it, holding it in a firm grip. The other hand pressed back the man’s chin—pressed it back until Marino was staring with glassy eyes up into starry night.

“Drop it!” Teddy gasped, and a knife flashed to the ground. Teddy kicked it to one side, felt about the man’s shirt to see that no more weapons were concealed, and stepped back.

“A fine snake you are!” Teddy said contemptuously. “Tried to pull a knife on me, didn’t you? For two cents I’d—”

“Oh, let me alone!” the man burst out. “Yes, I tried to knife you, an’ I’m sorry I didn’t! I don’t like your kind! When I came out here—” He stopped, and bit his lip.

Teddy gazed at him in wonder. The man’s Western accent had disappeared. He carried a knife—a thing no true Westerner ever did except for working purposes. Mexicans carried them—it was a Greaser trait. Was this man a Mex? Teddy looked at him closely.

“What you starin’ at?” The Pup asked uneasily, once more reverting to his former manner. “You got me, didn’t yuh? Well, call it a day! Yuh got a shootin’ iron there—why don’t yuh use it?”

“I’m not in the habit of shooting men down in cold blood,” Teddy said deliberately. He stepped closer to the man. “Marino! where are you from?” he snapped.

Although a cloud dimmed the moon just then, Teddy could have sworn he saw fear leap into the man’s eyes. Marino started as though he had stepped on a rattler where he had expected to find a garden snake, then recovered himself.

“Kind of a funny question to ask a man in these parts, ain’t it?” he sneered.

“Not to my notion. But if you want to keep it to yourself, that’s your lookout. The days when a gunman could come West and get a job on a ranch without any one bothering about him until he let daylight into some peaceful citizen, are gone forever.”

“An’ who wants a job on your place, anyhow?”

“That’s not the point. You’re on our land, and you were one of the hands of the X Bar X. As long as you stay here you’ve got to watch your step. What was the idea of toting that thing around?” Teddy nodded toward the long knife, gleaming on the ground a few feet away.

“That’s my business, too.”

“Well, when you try to stick me with it that makes it my business! I guess it would be better for all concerned if you just moseyed out of here, Marino!”

Teddy felt himself growing hot under the collar at the consummate nerve of the man. Standing there arguing a question of ethics just after having tried to murder him!

“Throwin’ a guy out this time of night, hey?” Marino demanded.

“Yes—I’m throwing you out. Going?”

The Pup looked over toward the corral, then back to Teddy. He grinned sardonically.

“Not havin’ no more reason for stayin’, I’ll be on my way,” he declared. “Soon as I—” He made a move toward his knife.

Teddy took a quick step forward, and put his foot on the weapon.

“That stays here,” the boy said grimly. “Where’s your pony?”

Marino motioned with his thumb toward a group of trees on the edge of the ranch yard.

“Over there. I just rode by to get some duds I left here. But never mind ’em now,” he added suddenly. “I’ll get ’em later. Hope you choke.”

With this pleasant farewell, the man walked in the direction he had said his horse was tied. Teddy watched him go, a fixed look on his face.

“Cow-puncher, hey?” the boy muttered. “You’re as much a cow-puncher as I am a Chinaman! Let’s have a look at this toad-sticker.” He bent over and picked up the knife. Holding it up, he saw that the initials “J. K.” were burned in the handle. The blade was long and curved slightly.

“J. K.—the K standing for Marino,” the boy mused. “Some day we’ll have this little argument out, Mister J. K. Marino. But you won’t have one of these things in your hand when we do. Lucky for me I saw you make a dive for it, or I’d be plumb tired of living by now.”

A moment more he gazed at the knife, then absently he stuck it in his belt. Slowly he continued on his way to the bunk-house, to see Nat Raymond.

Before they turned in he told Roy of the occurrence. With the door of their room shut tight, so as not to disturb Mrs. Manley, the boys talked far into the night. When finally they switched off the light they had come to no decision except to agree that Marino was not to be allowed on X Bar X property again. Yet, had they known it, this was, in effect, locking the stable after the horse had been stolen.

While Teddy and Roy were talking things over in their room, another conversation, quite relative to theirs, was being carried on within the doors of the bunk-house. Despite the appeals of a few men to “can the chatter an’ go to sleep,” Nat Raymond and Pop Burns were verbally appointing themselves a committee of investigation.

“Me, I’m goin’ to try to find Gus an’ bring him back,” Pop declared, pulling hard on his pipe. “He’s too good a man to—Jim, take yore toe outa my eye! He’s too good a man to lose.”

“Well, then go an’ chin somewhere else!” Jim Casey ordered petulantly. “You guys loaf all day an’ want to stay up all night. Us, we got to work!”

“Who loafs all day?” Pop asked indignantly. “I do a blamed sight more work than you do, Jim Casey, young as you are! So fold that behind the rim of yore derby!”

“Aw, let him rave,” Nat Raymond pleaded. “He only wants to start an argument. Listen! How you gonna find Gus?”

“Don’t know. But I will somehow as soon as the boss comes back. He’ll be glad to see the old geezer. The boss hated to fire Gus as much as Gus hated to be fired, I’ll bet—maybe more. But Bardwell was all het up over what Jake Trummer said.” Being the oldest man on the X Bar X, Pop felt privileged to take liberties with the boss’s name. “You know, Nat,” he continued, “that time Belle Ada and the others were kidnapped took a lot out of the old boy. He ain’t as young as he was once—none of us are,” and Pop puffed reminiscently. “I mark the time that—”

“For the love of seven kinds of gorillas, will you guys pipe down?” came a voice from one of the upper bunks. “What do you think this is—a lecture hall?”

Since several others took up their grievances at this point, Pop and Nat were compelled to desist and turn in. But Pop called across to Nat that when the boss came back he was “goin’ to ask for a few days leave an’ hunt Gus up.” Nat added he’d do the same and hunt Marino down, and the whole room echoed this sentiment. The Pup had succeeded in making himself uniformly unpopular during his stay at the X Bar X.

Early the next morning the ranch yard was the scene of a consultation. Both Teddy and Roy felt it advisable to tell the others of what had occurred the night before, so that they might be on their guard and see that Marino kept his distance. Pop grunted scornfully when Teddy told of the knife, and expressed himself fluently concerning any one who was yellow enough to try to slip a sticker into another. After Teddy had concluded his story, heads were nodded sagely.

Bug Eye, who was still among those present, declared as his opinion that The Pup was nothing more nor less than a Black Hand.

“With that name an’ carryin’ a dirk,” he demanded, “what else could he be? I know them kind. Saw one in Frisco one time, an’ again in Galveston. They’re all alike.”

“Yore quite some traveled, ain’t you?” inquired Rad Sell sarcastically. “Suppose you went in that Fishmobile of yourn.”

“Naw, he walked,” Nat Raymond interrupted. “Ever see the soles of his feet? All callous. Ain’t they, Bug Eye?”

“Never mind that,” Roy said, suppressing a smile. “This is more important. While dad’s away, Teddy and I have got to manage this place, and we don’t want anything to go wrong. So if any one sees Marino hanging around, tell him he’s not wanted. We don’t care for snakes like that on our ranch—they’re likely to bite and poison some one.”

Teddy nodded in approval.

“And also,” he added, “if you happen to see Gus—though I don’t suppose you will—tell him to return. All is forgiven!” and the boy grinned. “In the meantime there’s plenty to do. Nat, as I started to tell you last night—” and Teddy went on explaining some details of the day’s work.

The crowd in the yard wandered off to go about their respective tasks. Teddy and Roy were to ride to Eagles to see about some new blankets and they turned to the corral to saddle Star and Flash.

As they approached the railing, Teddy said to his brother:

“Remember that horse I broke about a month ago—just before we went on our little picnic to Thunder Canyon? The one that jumped the fence with me?”

“Sure, I remember him. Made a fine riding pony. Dad said he wouldn’t trade him for any horse on the place—except, I imagine, General.”

“Yea! Well, I want you to take a look at his left foreleg. Seems to have some kind of a sore on it, and it won’t heal. I put ointment on it last week, but it didn’t seem to help. Wait here, and I’ll get him.”

The boy opened the gate. At this time of year there were only a few horses within the enclosure, and no steers, since all these were on grazing ground. They would not be brought in until the round-up in the late fall.

Striding up to Flash, Teddy rubbed the pony’s nose with his hand and gazed about him. Strangely enough, his eye did not catch the mount he spoke of, and he looked more carefully among the other horses. Still he could not see the bronco.

“Hey, Roy!” he called. “Can you spot that pinto? Blamed if I can. I must be getting blind.”

For a long moment both boys swept the corral with their eyes. Gradually they were beginning to realize the true state of affairs.

“You say it,” Teddy begged. “Go ahead.”

“I will—the pinto’s gone,” Roy declared grimly. “There’s no doubt about it. He’s not here, and none of the boys have him out. Teddy, he’s been stolen!”

“An’ I know the waddie that took him!” Teddy burst out. “Last night! Oh, what a clown I was not to stop The Pup when I had him instead of letting him get away with a horse like that! Kick me, Roy—I deserve it!”

“You don’t know for sure,” Roy admonished. “Some one else may have taken him—though it certainly does look suspicious. If we—”

He was interrupted by his mother’s voice, calling from the front porch.

“Teddy! Roy!” Mrs. Manley exclaimed. “Come in at once! Something has happened!”

Follow Us

With a bound, the boys were out of the corral and running toward the house. As they came closer they saw a look of anxiety on their mother’s face.

“What is it?” Roy shouted, not slacking his pace. “Is any one hurt?”

“No, not that! But I just went to your father’s desk to get a blotter from the drawer, and a large sum of money is missing! It was taken from his desk last night!”

The explanation of Mrs. Manley’s concern came as a relief, rather than a shock, to Teddy and Roy. On that short journey from the corral to the house, their minds had run the gamut of emotions—they did not know what to expect. Since the true character of The Pup was known to them, they had almost feared he had attempted to injure some one within the house.

“How much was it, Mother?” Roy asked, as he reached the porch.

“About four hundred dollars. Your father drew it from the bank the day before yesterday to pay the men with. He must have forgotten to tell you about it, though he may have wanted to wait until he returned before giving the boys their wages. Now it’s gone! The drawer was forced and the money stolen. Do you think any of the men—I don’t like to mention it, but—”

“Don’t worry, Mom, none of the boys did it,” Teddy assured her.

“We know who’s got it; but that won’t help much,” Roy said.

“You do?” Mrs. Manley’s eyes expressed her surprise. “How do you know?”

“Because the money isn’t the only thing that’s missing. That pony dad liked so well is gone, too.”

“The one Belle’s been riding—the one you broke?” A frown came to Mrs. Manley’s face. “Your father will be sorry to hear that. Next to his own horse, he liked that pony better than any on the place. But tell me—who took him? And who took the money?”

“The Pup,” Roy declared, pressing his lips together.

“Joe Marino! The man Gus rode with!” Mrs. Manley shook her head sadly. “I’m very sorry. I was afraid he would cause trouble of some sort after your father discharged him. But are you sure?”

“I am!” Teddy exclaimed decidedly. “He came back last night, Mother. I met him.” Wisely, the boy did not tell of his fight with the man. “I told him to stay away from here, and, as I remember now, he was near the corral when I caught him! He must have sneaked into dad’s office, taken the money, and then he got the pony out. So-o-o that’s what he meant when he said his job here was finished!” Teddy brought a fist down sharply into his open palm. “And I had him in my hands! If I only had that chance over again, I’d certainly make the most of it! Wonder how far away he is by now? Maybe we could—”

“Cool off,” Roy advised. “No use to beef about a thing that’s already happened. The thing to do is to find Joe Marino.”

“Are you certain it was he?” Mrs. Manley asked.

“We sure are!” came from Teddy. “How about it, Roy? Wouldn’t you bet your bottom dollar that The Pup did this?”

Both his mother and Teddy waited for the reply. They had confidence that Roy would not go off “half cocked,” a trait which Teddy had in full measure. Besides this, with Mr. Manley gone, the mother and younger brother leaned toward Roy as the natural head of the family.

“Marino,” Roy said slowly, “is the thief, or I’m a ring-tailed doodle bird.”

“And there’s no two ways about it!” Teddy added. “Come on, Roy—we’ll go get him! He’s got a payroll and a horse of ours!”

“But, boys—” Mrs. Manley began, when Roy threw an arm affectionately over her shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” he interjected. “Dad told us to stick, and stick we do until he sends for us, payroll or no payroll. Teddy, you fly off the handle too fast. You know what the orders were.”

“That’s right, too,” the younger lad said, a bit regretfully. “But it sure does seem a shame to let a skunk get away so easily!”

“He won’t get away,” Roy asserted. “We’ll telephone in to the sheriff at Hawley to be on the watch, in case he went that way. Then maybe we can reach Nick’s friend at Eagles—the puncher he talked to from the Whirlpool River Ranch. If he’s a friend of Nick’s, he’ll help us out. Then, when dad comes back, we can start on the hunt.”

“Yea, but when’ll that be?” Teddy half grumbled. “A week, maybe. By that time The Pup could be half way across the continent. Oh, I know it’s the only thing to do,” he added quickly, as he saw Roy stare at him. “But—oh, well, I guess you know how I feel!”

“It wasn’t your fault at all, Teddy,” Mrs. Manley consoled. “How could you know that Marino was here to steal?”

“Aw, I might have guessed he’d try some stunt like that,” the boy muttered. “After he—I mean when I saw him sneakin’ around. Well, we live and learn. Anything else missing, Mother?”

“I don’t believe so, and I certainly hope not,” Mrs. Manley answered. “A horse and four hundred dollars are quite enough. Do you think—oh, I can’t think—Gus—”

“Not any!” Teddy exploded forcibly. “And that reminds me, Roy! That conversation you heard behind the bunk-house! Marino was trying to get Gus to go into this scheme with him and split the money. That’s it, as sure as shooting! Nope, Mom, Gus had no finger in this! It was Marino, all alone. I’ll lay anything on that.”

“You’re probably right, Teddy,” Roy agreed, his face clearing. “At least it’s an explanation of what I heard. Of course we can’t be sure of that, though it sounds likely. The Pup may have had another idea, and just formed the plan to rob our place on the spur of the moment when he heard dad was away. Come on, let’s take a look at the desk. That may tell us something.”

When they reached Mr. Manley’s office they saw in a moment that the drawer of the desk had been pryed open with some sort of knife, and the lock sprung. There were marks—small cuts—about the woodwork on the edge of the desk. As Roy saw these, he looked at Teddy significantly, but said nothing. He did not want his mother to know of the knife episode.

A raised window on the side indicated how the intruder had gained entrance. Such was the faith that Mr. Manley had in his men that he never bothered to lock up at night, and this was the first time in all the years he had been the owner of the X Bar X that his trust had been violated. Perhaps it was carrying things to extremes to allow a large sum of money to remain unprotected, but “the boss” was ever an unreliable business man. It was this very quality which so endeared him to his family and to his associates—the quality of his lovable childishness. Yet there were those who could tell of another nature which lay buried beneath this exterior—a nature which men of evil character had learned to fear. When aroused, the boss of the X Bar X was a “fightin’ fool,” as Pop expressed it.

Realizing that there was nothing more to be learned within the office, Roy and Teddy returned to the ranch yard and informed the men of what had occurred. There was a quick rush for “shootin’ irons,” which had to be forcibly quelled. There were many saddened faces when Roy told them that they could not start in immediate pursuit of the marauder, but must wait for the return of the boss.

“I hate to hang around here as much as you do,” he finished. “But dad’ll be back soon, and then we’ll have our inning. There’s a bare chance that some one else may pick up The Pup. If that happens, we’ll be saved the trouble—although it would almost be a pleasure,” and his lips shut tightly.

“An’ we ain’t to do nothin’?” Pop Burns asked wistfully.

“Not yet awhile. We can’t. If dad were only here, we could get up a gang and go after him. But we’ve got to stay on the place. That was the order, an’ I aim to see it’s enforced. Of course if when you are on range you should see The Pup, well—”

“That’s enough, Roy,” Nat interrupted feelingly. “We’ll do the rest. There ain’t no need for you to elucidate. But aside from that, if you say we stick on the ranch, stick we do. But I hope the boss gets back soon. Marino—the polecat! Rustlin’ one of our best horses! The ole—” and Nat proceeded to lay bare the secrets of The Pup’s life as he understood them.

The first excitement of the discovery over, the ranch settled down to its usual workaday tasks. There was much to be done, and the men were soon absorbed in their labor. There are dull times about a ranch, but the early fall is not one of them, and thus it was that when a rider, dusty, hot, and tired, loped into the ranch yard he found it deserted. The only person in sight was Sing Lung, who sat in the doorway of the cook house enjoying the morning sun, and probably dreaming about the pleasanter and more picturesque lands across the sea. But when he saw the horseman, a grin came to his face and he waved a hand.

“’Lo, Nick,” he beamed. “Why you come back quick? Cows all fixee, maybe yes?”

“Maybe no,” Nick answered shortly, “Rustle me some grub, pronto, Sing. Where’s Roy an’ Teddy?”

“Horse pen, me t’ink. You find?”

With a grateful sigh, Nick slid from his horse and set out for the corral.

“I been ridin’ most of the night,” he sang out over his shoulder, “so let that grub be early and plenty.”

He found the boys engaged in replacing one of the corral rails. Roy held one end of the new bar in place and Teddy was about to raise the other when he saw the man on foot.

“Nick!” he exclaimed, and dropped the rail. “What in thunder—”

“Left yore dad last night late,” Nick interrupted wearily, “an’ rode like a fool to get here. I got a message for you.”

He reached in his vest pocket and drew forth a soiled paper. Looking at it with a glassy stare for a moment, he passed it over to Roy. Wonderingly, the boy took it, and as Nick flung himself full length upon the grass he opened it and read:

“Roy and Teddy:

“Got in bad jam. There’s been a slide near Whirlpool River, and the cattle are in danger. Need your help. Take two men and come down the river in a canoe, pronto. Follow us. Got to get the cows out of there. Nick is foreman—he stays. Suggest that Bug Eye, if he’s still there, come with you, and Pop. Only hurry up.


The Water Trail

To Teddy’s excited questions, Nick gave only mumbled replies, and waved his hand protestingly.

When Roy bent down and raised him to a sitting position he declared he knew nothing more than what was in the letter, except that a wandering horseman had told of a slide near Whirlpool River, which threatened to force the cattle into the water, should it reoccur, and would the boys “please give the bronc some water.” This was attended to, and the boys got ready to start.

Nick came to life suddenly at Sing Lung’s cry of “come an’ get ’um,” and started lurchingly for the mess house. After he was stoked with food and coffee, he aroused himself to an interest in life, and where he was taciturn before, he was a veritable spring of information now. The food acted as a stimulant, after his long fast and hard ride, and he talked willingly.

Teddy and Roy, eager as they were to set out, felt it would be worth their while to delay long enough to hear Nick’s story, so they waited for him to light a cigarette, settle himself comfortably on a bunk, and commence.

“We struck camp about seven last night,” Nick said, blowing out a swirling cloud of smoke. “The goin’ had been bad, on account of the rains, an’ we didn’t make such good time, ’cause the boss wanted to save the broncs. We hit that place on the other side of Harver’s Gully—forget the name of it—’bout twenty miles west of the gulch. Then we got set for the night.

“Long about nine o’clock, just when Slim Holiday was startin’ one of them dirges he calls a song, we hears a noise an’ up rides a hombre on a pony that looked like it was more use as a hat-rack than a horse. This waddy tells us something that sure makes us sit up an’ take notice.”

“The slide?” Teddy interrupted.

“Check! He says the whole top of Friendly Mountain has shifted, an’ part of it’s slid down into the valley almost to the edge of Whirlpool River. Says he saw it happen, an’ the rest of the mountain is likely to go any day now. Says if it does, it’ll about block up the river.”

“Just where on the river is this?” Roy asked excitedly. “That river is some long, runs into Thunder Canyon, I think. The slide may not be near our cattle.”

“May not, an’ then again it may. That’s the way yore dad feels about it. Last we heard of that bunch of dogies they was near Friendly Mountain. They may be there yet, or they may have wandered Pete knows where. But we can’t take no chances. We got to see that the cows get out quick. Yore dad says the pick of the whole bunch is in that herd.”

“They are, too,” Teddy mused. “All our best short-horns. Was dad worried, Nick?”

“Well, he wasn’t any too easy in his mind. So he roots me out to ride back—which I done. Yep, which I done.” Nick’s head started to nod, and Teddy motioned toward the bunk he was sitting on. Gently the two boys deposited the puncher on the bed, took his still smoking cigarette from his fingers, and left him to shake the rafters with healthy snores.

“I don’t like the looks of this at all,” Roy declared, as soon as they reached the yard. “I kind of hate to leave mother alone with Marino around. If he should come back—”

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Teddy assured him. “Marino isn’t going to show his face around here for some time to come. And then, too, Nick will be here. Mother will be all right. She depends on Nick—and he’s a good man. Now we’ve got to tell her, and find Bug Eye and Pop. I suppose Bug Eye will want to go in that Fishmobile of his—but not with me. Suppose you see mother while I find the others?”

Mrs. Manley took the news calmly. Nell and Ethel were disappointed that the boys were going to leave, but at Belle’s insistence they promised to remain until their return.

“Bring back some fish,” Belle suggested. “Some trout, if you can.”

“If we bring back any fish, they’ll be the kind that walk on land,” Roy declared grimly. His mind flew to The Pup, and he wondered if there was a chance of meeting him. Then, with a laugh, he dismissed the thought. “That would be the kind of thing you read about, but never happens,” he decided. “I reckon we’ll never see him again, nor our money or horse either.”

Teddy’s idea was to bring the heavy canoe, which lay under a shed in the rear of the yard, to the water by one of the ranch trucks. Both the boys had often been on the river before in this canoe, but never had they been as far as the rapids, which gave the stream its name. The part that flowed by the ranch was broad and peaceful, and continued this way for some fifteen miles. Then, like a beast suddenly released from a cage, it became a roaring, whirling torrent, barely navigable, and dangerous always. It was down this stream, and past these rapids, that Roy and Teddy had to go to reach the cattle.

When Bug Eye and Pop heard the news, they began preparations immediately. Pop examined the bottom of the canoe with minute care, he and Bug Eye going over every seam, for this was the boat to which they were to trust their lives. Bug Eye had received word by phone from Pete Ball that he was not needed for a time at the 8 X 8, and that Mr. Manley was welcome to his services. By one o’clock everything was in order.

Roy, after several attempts, succeeded in awaking Nick for a few moments, and under the boy’s eyes the puncher wrote his instructions on a slip of paper, for Roy knew in his tired state he would never remember them. This over, Nick murmured something that may have been Chinese, but that sounded faintly like “good luck,” and, turning over, resumed his interrupted slumbers.

Jim Casey was to drive the truck, containing the canoe, to the river. All of them were needed to lift it in place on the vehicle, so heavy was it, but at last it was in and securely lashed to prevent it from jolting. The rest of the stuff, including food and blankets, were piled in the front, to be unloaded and put into the canoe when the river was reached.

Mrs. Manley, Belle, and the two visitors watched the start from the porch. Affectionately the mother kissed her sons good-bye and breathed a prayer for their safety. She knew that the journey they were about to undertake was dangerous in the extreme, yet she never uttered one word of protest. It was necessary that they go—their father had called for them. And, as she waved good-bye, she smiled cheerfully and bravely. These were her sons—they would come back as they had always done, successful, unharmed. Yet strive as she would, the mother could not keep a tiny lump from coming into her throat.

The truck containing the five men—Teddy, Roy, Bug Eye, Pop, and Casey, the driver, reached the river in half an hour. Carefully the canoe was lifted from the platform and carried to the water’s edge.

“Now!” Roy grunted, and they swung it into the stream. Eagerly they bent over, watching the bottom with anxious eyes. For a moment they waited.

“Not a drop!” Teddy exulted. “You did a good job, Pop. Nary a leak. Hope she stays that way, and I guess she will. It’s a good boat. All right, Jim. Let’s get the rest of the stuff out. Then you can mosey back. Let Nick sleep as long as he wants to—he’s had a hard ride. And tell Belle she’ll have to ride to Eagles herself for that whip I promised her unless she wants to wait until I get back. It’s at the express office now. Wait—take that roll of blankets first, and we’ll stow ’em at the bow where they’ll stay dry.”

The canoe was soon loaded and ready to start. Roy and Bug Eye were to paddle first, while Teddy and Pop sat in the middle.

“So long!” Jim called. “If you see The Pup tell him we been lookin’ for him!”

“Now why should we see The Pup?” Roy asked of no one in particular, and dipped his paddle deep into the water. “Although I was thinking the same thing a while ago. Pipe dreams, I guess. What do you say, Bug Eye? Let’s hit it up. Hu, hu, hu, hu....”

The boat glided downstream, both paddlers stroking in unison to Roy’s grunted chanty. The gentle current added to their speed, and they went along at a good rate. On either side of the river, willows trailed their drooping branches into the water and afforded a grateful shade from the midday sun. Roy, seated in the rear of the craft, steered nearer the edge to take advantage of this protection.

To the left, many miles from the river, but because of its hugeness seeming almost to border it, rose the highest peak in that part of the country. Its top was capped with eternal snow and framed in a wreath of clouds—a picture to make even the most indifferent heart beat faster. The sparkling water of the stream reflected the sun like a polished mirror. After half an hour of paddling, Roy stopped for a moment and shaded his eyes with his hand.

“She curves around here some place, doesn’t she?” he asked. “I don’t exactly remember—it’s a long time since I’ve been down this far.”

“If by ‘she’ you mean the river, it does,” Bug Eye grinned, turning around slightly. “It swings to the left, then it’s straight for a long stretch before the rough water starts. Golly, it’s almost smooth enough here to try my Fishmobile! Wish we could have brung it—I mean brought it.”

Some one had lately placed into Bug Eye’s hands a copy of “Correct English as Used by Gentlemen,” and since then he had laboriously tried to pattern his speech after the forms advocated by the book. Thus far he had not had much success, most of the time being too lazy to retrace his words.

“You know how long that Fishmobile would last?” Teddy laughed. “About five minutes—if it didn’t fall to pieces before then. Say, Pop, have you ever shot the rapids below here?”

The veteran puncher nodded solemnly. Seated on the bottom of the canoe with his long legs curled uncomfortably about the bundle of blankets and his bald head exposed to the rays of the sun, Pop Burns presented a strange sight. A canoe is no place for a man who appears uneasy unless he’s straddling a bronco.

“I bin down twice,” Pop replied. “Once we got spilled—see that scar?”

He bent over, exposing a white line on the top of his head.

“Where I hit a rock,” he explained laconically. “But we had a small boat then, and she wasn’t well balanced. With this thing, now, we got a good chance. She’s heavy, an’ we got lots of weight on the bottom. But even at that, it ain’t gonna be no picnic.”

“Isn’t,” Bug Eye corrected. “We’ll make it though, Pop. We got to make it. Yore boss wants to get those cattle out quick. We can land an’ see can we scare up some broncs. Can’t do a thing on foot. How long you calcalate it’ll be before yore dad shows up, Roy?”

“Well, we’ll probably hit Trummer’s range sometime to-morrow or the next day. Dad had a start on us of a day. That ought to bring him there soon after we arrive. The land route is much longer, on account of having to skirt the mountains. But dad’s a hard rider, and so are the men with him. I have a hunch they’ll make it almost as soon as we shall.”

“You figuring on borrowing broncs from Jake Trummer?” Teddy asked.

“Well, if he wants us to get the cows off his range he’s got to help us out that much, anyhow. Besides, if that story about the landslide is true, he’ll have his hands full with his own cattle, although his herd may not be near the place where the slide occurred. Something tells me the bird who told that tale exaggerated more than a little. Still, dad believed him, so there may be something in it. We can’t afford to take a chance. Say, here’s a peach of a place to stop. How about eats?”

There was a general assent to this proposition, and Roy steered into a little cove.

“That was a nice, pleasant ride,” Teddy reflected as he seized a bundle of foodstuffs. “If it was all like that, I wouldn’t kick. But wait till to-morrow! If we don’t have our hands full then, I’m a ring-tailed doodle bird!”

A Figure among the Trees

Their meal was rather a sketchy one, for the men all felt that time was precious and that to delay longer than was absolutely necessary lessened, by just that much, their chances of saving their cattle. Nevertheless, they ate heartily, though hurriedly, and when once more they were in the canoe, with Teddy and Pop paddling, Roy gave a sigh of relief.

“Feel like a new man,” he murmured. “Now the thing to do is to give the new man some food, I suppose, but I’ll postpone that for awhile. Glad you’re doing the paddling, Teddy. I hate to work right after a meal.”

“You might leave off those last four words and be nearer the truth,” his brother grinned. “Me, I like it! Helps the food to digest. Increases the salivary activity, and, by exciting the interior of the diaphragm, it adds to—”

“Chuck it,” Roy interrupted calmly. “You’re talking Chocktaw. Here’s that bend you spoke of, Bug Eye.”

Before them the river curved gently, sweeping through a broad lane of grasses and trees. The current was swifter here, and Pop, who was in the rear, and hence occupied the position of steerer, trailed his paddle in the water and found that the boat sped along as fast as though he were paddling.

“A taste of what’s comin’,” he declared. “The banks are a little narrower below here, an’ that’s what makes the current faster. But that don’t mean we won’t have no more work, Teddy,” as he saw that the boy had followed his example and allowed the stream to carry the boat. “It broadens out pretty soon, an’ then we hit it up again.”

“Don’t worry—I know that,” Teddy returned. “Roy and I have both been down this far, but not for a long time. But this curve is familiar. Golly, it sure is pretty around here!”

Silently the boy gazed ahead, resting his paddle across the canoe. The scene was truly magnificent. The sun, past its zenith now, threw flecks of gold on the water as it shone through the trees. Fleecy clouds drifted slowly overhead. The willows nodded sleepily, as a soft breeze stirred them.

“I could enjoy this if we weren’t in such a hurry,” Teddy sighed. Then he turned to Roy and grinned. “This is soft for you, hey, Roy? Kind of beats a sunset, doesn’t it?”

“Kind of,” Roy answered absently. His eyes were dreamy, and as Teddy saw them he winked at Bug Eye.

“‘This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,’” he began to quote softly, then suddenly gave a yell. “Hey! It’s morning! Wake up!”

“What?” Roy stared at his brother stupidly. Then a sheepish grin came over his face. “All right, you Indian! I’ll get you for that. But I sure was day-dreaming. Guess it was that meal.”

“Uh-huh,” Teddy grunted, expressing his contempt of such subterfuge.

As the boat shot downstream, Pop Burns cast an appraising eye shoreward. The foliage was especially thick at this point, almost concealing the hint of mountains which rose back of the pebbly beach line. The puncher thought that if a man wanted to make a getaway after a crime, he would surely take this route. Unless by some chance the pursuers stumbled on the fugitive, there would be very little chance of finding him.

“If he hugged the river, he could travel for miles without bein’ seen,” Pop muttered to himself, and squinted again toward the bank. “But I suppose he wouldn’t have sense enough to do that. More than likely, if a rustler wanted to dig out for another country, he’d take an overland route and have to ride like all get-out to keep ahead. An’ if he wanted to, he could mosey along this bank an’ take his time. Then, when he got to where he wanted, he could cut for it. Seems that when a man takes to stealin’ an’ such like he loses what little brains he ever had.”

Strangely enough, thoughts of this same nature were revolving in Teddy’s mind as his paddle dipped into the water. But they were more definite and were centered about a certain man. That man was The Pup. When they had received word that they were to leave the ranch and follow their father, the boy had been nervous for fear Marino might return and, out of revenge, try to do some damage to the place or its occupants. Yet Roy had said there was not much danger of this—that The Pup was miles away by this time. Surely if Roy—he of the careful, “mature” judgment—was satisfied that the home folks were safe, then Teddy had no cause for worry. Nick knew about Marino, and knew he was a character to be watched. Nick would see to it that Marino had his fangs drawn if ever he ventured to show his face at the X Bar X again.

Teddy recalled the long knife with which Marino had attacked him, and the boy could not repress an involuntary shudder. Suppose The Pup, fired with liquor, should return some night and seek entrance to the ranch house? The men would be some three hundred yards away in their own sleeping shack. Could they—could Nick—hear a call?

Unconsciously the boy’s muscles tightened and he drove his paddle in more forcibly, sending a shower of spray over his brother, who was seated on the bottom of the canoe behind him.

“Hey, take it easy!” Roy yelled. He brushed the water from the back of his neck and demanded: “Why so strong all of a sudden, Teddy?”

“Just thinking,” Teddy murmured. Roy got a side view of his brother’s face as the boy turned his body at the end of the stroke, and the older lad frowned. Was Teddy getting the “willies” now? There must have been some reason for those set lines around the mouth and those tiny knots of muscle just above the jaw bone. Roy knew his brother well enough to be sure that the younger lad’s thoughts were reflected in his face as though it were a mirror.

“What’s on your mind, boy?” Roy asked softly.

“Nothing—yes there is, too!” Teddy burst out. He ceased from his labor and rested the dripping paddle on the bow of the canoe. “I’m worried about mother and Belle and the others. Where do you suppose The Pup is now?”

“Headin’ for the Border, an’ goin’ strong!” Bug Eye interrupted. “That waddy won’t let no grass grow under his feet. He’s afraid he might be pushin’ it up a little later if he does. Yore dad ain’t got much use fer sneak thieves an’ rustlers.”

“You mean he wouldn’t stay in this part of the country?” Teddy asked eagerly.

“Not a chance,” Roy answered. “Is there, Pop? Don’t you think The Pup will head south and try to make the Border?”

“That’s my idea of it,” the veteran said decidedly. He mopped the top of his shiny head with a huge red handkerchief. “This is some hot work! Yep, I reckon Marino is pretty scarce around here now. Why, Teddy? Why was you askin’? Hopin’ to run acrost him?”

“Not any,” the boy said shortly, resuming his paddling. “But—well, you know how I got this.” He drew from his belt the knife he had forced from The Pup’s hand when he had met him near the corral. At the last moment, impelled by a motive he himself could not explain, the boy had brought the weapon with him. Now he turned it over and gazed at the initials burned in the handle. “The man who carries one of these is the kind you need eyes in the back of your head to watch. And I was afraid he might come back to the ranch some night, loaded and sore. Nick might not be handy. I wish—”

“Teddy, believe me, there’s not a chance in the world of that,” Roy said earnestly. He sat up straighter, and twisted around so he could see his brother. “You know how I feel about those things. In fact, I guess you’ve laughed at me plenty for being an old maid. But in this instance, I’m not worried. There are five men left to take care of the place. I told Nick to let the work ride till we came back, and to stick close to the ranch house. I told him if Belle or Ethel or Nell go riding, to be sure to have a man or two trail along. There’s to be a guard awake through the night, wandering around the place. He’ll sleep in the day time. Didn’t know all that, did you?” and Roy laughed.

“Well, to tell the truth,” he went on, “I didn’t want to be kidded about it, so I kept it quiet. But now that I see you’ve got the fever yourself,” and Roy grinned again, “I’ll relieve your mind.”

“And believe me, you have!” Teddy exclaimed fervently. “Roy, if ever I kid you again about being too careful, just remind me of this! Baby! You know, as I was paddling along there, it struck me all of a sudden. Like a cold shower! I started to think, what if The Pup comes back and all the boys are out of reach? And golly, I began to get the fidgets! I didn’t want to tell you, because I know when you start to worry you sure do a good job of it. But, by jingo, you did your worrying ahead of time, which is the right way. Woosh! I feel better. Funny how you get nervous all of a sudden like that, isn’t it? All right, Pop, let’s go! Now we can consider the cattle—and we’ll have plenty to think about there, let me tell you! Come on, Pop! Hit it up! One, two, three, four! One, two, three, four! Yay! Look at her travel!”

The shore slid by rapidly, and the water started to boil under the bow of the canoe. Pop, in the stern, wrinkled his face into a grin. Did this youngster think he could turn the boat on him? The old puncher dug his paddle deep into the water, and his shoulders moved rhythmically. Teddy was hard pushed to keep up with the old man, so powerful were the veteran’s strokes, and as the current was swifter here, the boat seemed fairly to skim over the water, heavy as it was.

“All right, men!” Roy called out. “You’re doing fine! We’re creeping up. Another mile to go now. We’ve left Yale behind, and we’re passing Harvard.” He began to sway his body back and forward, in the manner of a coxswain of a racing shell. “Yo, yo, yo, yo—”

Suddenly he stopped. He had been facing the shore, and now he reached forward and seized Teddy’s right arm. The boy yelled, floundered, and the boat swung around.

“Roy, you big—” he began, then hesitated as he saw his brother’s face.

Roy’s eyes had narrowed to two hazel slits. His forehead was creased with a frown. His underjaw shot forward ever so slightly. He pointed silently. His grip on Teddy’s arm tightened.

The boy gazed at the shore, puzzled as to the reason of his brother’s queer actions. For a moment he could make out nothing except the dense trees and brush bordering the bank.

Then, suddenly, he started. His face grew white. Unconsciously his hand slid to his belt and seized the butt of his gun.

“The Pup!” Teddy gasped. “The Pup, or I’m a ring-tailed doodle bird! And he’s got our pony with him! Come on, Roy! Let’s get him!”

A Night in the Woods

“To the shore, Pop!” Roy yelled, realizing that The Pup had seen them and it would be useless to hope to catch him unawares. “Wait, Teddy—” He saw that the boy had drawn his gun and that his eyes were blazing. “Don’t shoot! You may hit the horse! And, anyway, we don’t want to kill the skunk! We want to capture him, if we can.”

Unfortunately their craft was almost directly in the middle of the stream, some two hundred feet from the shore. The figure on horseback had disappeared, but Roy hoped that, due to the tangle of brush, Marino might not be able to retreat before they could land. Pop set his teeth and leaned on his paddle, and Teddy did the same. But they were not working together, and the boat started to swing crazily.

“Wait till I get in with you, Pop!” Teddy gasped. “This blame current! It sure is strong!”

Gradually the canoe neared the shore. But by that time all four realized that their attempt was doomed to failure. The Pup had surely seen them and had got away.

“I guess we lose,” Roy sighed, while he mopped his face with his handkerchief, for Teddy’s efforts had splashed him considerably. “Let up, boys. No use to land now. Besides, those rocks would make hash of the boat.” He pointed to some sharp-edged boulders along the bank. “No soap. What a fine time to be in the middle of a river! Bet The Pup is snickering up his sleeve by this time. It’s a wonder he didn’t wave good-bye at us,” and Roy laughed bitterly.

“Merry Christmas!” Bug Eye remarked, and looked about him comically. “I am still among those present. Now, if it ain’t too much trouble, will you kindly explain this muddle to a poor man what ain’t got his right health?”

“Do you mean to say you didn’t see him?” Teddy asked in amazement.

“Who? The Pup? I seen nobody, an’ very little of him. I was sittin’ here peaceful-like, maybe dozin’ a bit, as boys will do, when all of a sudden I hears a yell, gets a free shower bath, an’ wakes up to see Teddy an’ Pop paddlin’ like a couple of crazy men. Then I hears some one say ‘The Pup,’ an’ I looks, but don’t see a soul. Now, I ask you: what happened?”

“Why, we saw Joe Marino!” Roy exclaimed excitedly. “And he was on the horse he stole from our corral! I spotted him first, and tipped off Teddy. We tried to make the shore, but the current was too swift. So I guess he’s plenty far by this time. What a break!”

“Yo’re sure it was him?” Bug Eye asked curiously.

“Positive!” Teddy declared. “I saw him as plain as I see you now. He was on our bronc, facing the river. Probably just watered the horse. Then, when he saw us he turned and beat it—disappeared like a shadow. Pop, you saw him, didn’t you?”

The old puncher nodded forcibly.

“Sure did,” he agreed. “But I was too blame busy to say anything. I had all I could do to try an’ keep this fool boat straight, an’ I didn’t make out so well at that. We’re a bunch of dubs, I reckon,” he admitted reluctantly.

“Well, if yo’re sure you saw him, why don’t you land an’ have a look?” Bug Eye inquired eagerly.

Teddy snorted.

“What for? Just to see the scenery? Marino is gone by now. We haven’t as much of a chance as a fish on a desert of finding him.”

“Let’s see! Ain’t that what some one said a while ago?” came from Bug Eye. “Seems to me I heard a voice say he would try fer the Border, an’ that this part of the country would see him no more,” and he looked quizzically at Pop.

“Dry up,” Pop said succinctly. “We all make mistakes. But if you want to, Roy, we’ll land an’ take a look. Think it would do any good?”

“Not a bit,” Roy decided. “We’d only waste our time. I wonder if that waddy could have been following us?”

“Hardly, if he didn’t know we were here,” Teddy replied. “And it’s a cinch we surprised him, because he ducked like a scared rabbit. Nope, we just happened to run across him, that’s all. If we had only been on land!”

“If the cow hadn’t stopped to chase a fly off her back, the train wouldn’t have hit her,” Roy retorted facetiously. “Suppose we had caught The Pup? What would we have done with him?”

“Plenty,” Teddy answered. “Gotten some of dad’s four hundred smackies back, anyway. He can’t have spent it all this soon. Chances are, he’s got most of it with him.”

“What he ain’t spent fer booze,” Bug Eye interjected contemptuously. “The Pup ain’t worth the powder to blow him up, though I’d chip in my little bit to stand part of the expense if any one wanted to try it,” he chuckled. “Well, I guess you can kiss the money goodbye, Roy. An’ the bronc too. Whatever you say about The Pup, he sure can ride, an’ he’ll be ridin’ fer election by now. You boys tired paddlin’? I’ll spell one of yuh, if yuh wants me to.”

Pop accepted his offer, and once more the canoe slid on toward the rapids, still many miles downstream. There was much talk of the possibility of seeing The Pup again, and Teddy was in favor of unlimbering one of the rifles that lay in the bottom of the boat on the chance. But Roy vetoed this idea, saying it was very necessary that they keep the guns dry and clean.

“Those rifles are our dinner-checks, you know,” he added. “When we land, we’ve got to look lively and do a bit of hunting if we want to eat. Sun’s almost down. We ought to make camp shortly. Soon as you see a likely spot, Bug Eye, head for it.”

There was a run of some fifteen minutes while not a word was spoken. The only sound was the regular dip, dip, dip of the paddles, propelling the canoe onward. Pop, the extremist, was either so talkative that he’d “gab the ear off a brass monkey,” to use Nick Looker’s expression, or else he kept strict silence. Bug Eye was content to dream of the possibilities of his Fishmobile, and Teddy was wondering how his father was making out.

“They ought to be about in a line with us,” the boy thought, “though far back behind those mountains. Hope they reach the cattle about the time we get there. If that herd has done much wandering—” He shook his head dubiously.

If they had traveled that far off their own range, there was no telling how much farther they would go. Teddy hoped they would travel beyond the danger of the landslide the stranger had told about.

Roy’s thoughts were in a rather chaotic condition. The discovery of The Pup had bothered him more than he cared to admit. Why was it he was headed toward the Whirlpool River Ranch—Jake Trummer’s place? Of course, it might be that he took that route because it offered the greatest protection. Unconsciously Roy echoed Pop Burns’ thoughts, and decided that the heavy brush along the river would certainly be ideal for the concealment of a fugitive.

Presently his cogitations were interrupted by Bug Eye, who called out:

“How about this place ahead? Me, I’m gettin’ hungry! All right, Roy?”

“Sure, I guess so.” Roy gazed at the small cove, then nodded. “Fine, Bug Eye. Get her up close, and I’ll hop out and pull the canoe up. Steady—”

He leaped to the bank and grasped the bow of the craft. This he held while the others stood up and tossed the blankets, food, and rifles on the shore. Then the canoe was drawn up until it was nearly out of water.

“She stood up well,” Teddy remarked, looking down at the boat. “To-morrow will tell. We’ll hit the rapids then, and give the ole raft a good try-out. Oh, baby, I’m stiff!” He stretched high and wide. “I’d hate to live in a canoe.”

“I’d hate to live in a suitcase, too, but why worry about things like that?” Roy laughed. “Here, you navigator, see what you find.” He handed his brother a rifle. “If you catch anything less than three inches, throw ’em back.”

“Now, by golly, that’s an idea!” Teddy exclaimed. “Fishing with a rifle. I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never seen it done. I’d like to try it.”

“How do you mean?” Pop asked interestedly, ceasing from his labors of untying the blanket roll.

“Why, shoot the fish!”

The old man cackled sarcastically.

“You heard of it, hey? Well, I’ve heard of a willyloo bird, too, but I never seen any. But go right ahead. Have yore fun.”

“Just to show you it can be done, I will!” Teddy declared, and strode resolutely to the water’s edge. “What would you like, trout or pickerel?”

“Chocolate.” Bug Eye responded, with a grin. “Let ’er ride, Teddy.”

The boy peered keenly down at the stream. The others grouped themselves eagerly around Teddy, while the sun, almost at the horizon, threw a cloth of gold upon the water.

Suddenly Teddy saw a silver flash about five feet out. He brought the gun to his shoulder and took careful aim.


“Get him?” Pop asked excitedly, forgetting his former declaration of unbelief.

“Wait a minute,” Teddy grinned. “Give me time. There—what’s that?”

He pointed toward a spot a little out from where they were standing. Bug Eye gave a yell.

“A fish, sure as shootin’! An’ dead! Teddy, yo’re a wonder! I’ll get that one for you!” Shoes and all, he waded into the stream and seized the trout that floated on the surface of the river.

“Boy, it’s a wonder!” Pop exclaimed, as Bug Eye held the fish up for inspection. The veteran rancher gazed at Teddy and shook his head. “One too many for me,” he muttered. “You win, Teddy!”

“Golly, it did work, didn’t it?” the young lad marveled, touching his prize. “What do you think of that, Roy?”

“I think you’re the luckiest boy in seven counties,” his brother laughed. “But, anyway, we’ve got our supper, and we’ll give you credit, Ted. Hail to the chief!” and he bowed low. “May he continue to have much success in his chosen career.”

“It’s the concussion,” Teddy remarked, apropos of nothing. “The bullet hits the water, and the shock stuns the fish. At least that’s the technical explanation of the phenomenon,” and he pretended to choke over the long words. “But I suppose it’s useless to tell you birds that. Come on, let’s eat.”

Had it not been for the fact that the mission before them was of such a weighty nature, the memory of that supper underneath the sky on the banks of the river would have remained in the minds of Teddy and Roy as one of the happiest they had ever enjoyed. But they could not entirely throw off the responsibility that burdened them, and behind all the jests that enlivened the meal was a feeling that this was superficial, and, at most, a respite. Still, worry does not sit long on young shoulders, and the occasion was a jolly one.

Supper over, they saw to it that the boat was safe from possible attacks by the turbulent river. Then, wrapping themselves tightly in their blankets, the four cast themselves down upon nature’s bed. The light from their dying campfire flickered eerily, casting strange shadows. Above them the wind caressed the tree tops, humming or whistling as trees will.

And far down the stream, under these same stars, rode a man with a haunted look on his face—a man on a stolen pony and with four hundred dollars in bills in his pocket.

He heard no whispering winds, saw no stars; the river to him was no friend, nor could he find comfort in the prospect of a camp by the side of a stream.

But he soon must stop, for even he must rest and give respite to the wearily lagging pony.

Voices in the Night

During the night, Roy tossed about restlessly, and once he sat up, under the impression that some one had come upon them. He peered about him and listened intently, but could not place the sound which had awakened him. Finally, with a grunt of contempt at his own nervousness, he rolled over and closed his eyes, at once sinking into a more restful slumber, which lasted until the sun was again warming the languid world. This time, when he awoke, he sprang to his feet and threw the blanket from him quickly.

There was a method in this. The insect tribes of the woods find a blanket, inhabited by a sleeping human, a cosy place to spend the night, and frequently a camper will discover a strange collection of crawling things sharing his covering. Thus, having little fondness for snakes or spiders, Roy tossed the blanket to the ground with some haste, lest the guest intrude further and stay for breakfast. He bent over the cloth to see what he had gathered, but found nothing more than a few beetles and a single, undersized scorpion. He shook himself well, tossed the blanket on a tree limb to air, and called the others.

Teddy, arousing himself gradually, “to avoid sudden shock,” as he explained with a grin, walked toward the canoe.

“Francois, my orange juice,” he muttered sleepily, and, reaching under the seat, pulled forth a can of beans. This was opened with the aid of a revolver barrel, and the contents were soon being heated in a pan held over the fire by two green sticks. The four made a most satisfying breakfast, and, after piling their belongings once more into the craft, set off again down the river.

“Hear anything last night?” Roy, who, together with Teddy, was paddling, asked casually.

“Not me,” Teddy answered forcibly, if not grammatically. “This baby slept like the well known rock. Why?”

“Oh, nothing—only I thought I did. I woke up with a start, some time in the night, and sat up. But I may have been dreaming. Anyway, if it was some one sneaking around, he didn’t disturb us.”

“It would have taken a cannon to wake me up,” Bug Eye declared, yawning and dipping his hand into the water. “Boy, when I sleeps, I sleeps, an’ no mistake. Who did you think it was, Roy, The Pup?”

“Had no idea,” Roy answered. “I dropped off again right afterwards. Pop, do we reach the rapids to-day?”

“We should,” the puncher replied. “If nothin’ happens, I expect to see Whirlpool River Ranch by night. Then the thing to do is to find those locoed steers, that Gus—er, I mean that The Pup—chased.” By common consent the subject of Gus’s disappearance had not been discussed. It was a painful subject for all of them, since they all liked the young cowboy. Each hoped sincerely that, somehow, Gus would some day return and take his place with them once more.

“What do you mean, unless something happens?” Bug Eye questioned, more to relieve the uncomfortable silence induced by the mention of Gus’s name than anything else. “Ain’t gettin’ pessimistic or nothin’, are yuh?”

“Well, yuh can’t tell,” Pop said philosophically. “This river is treacherous. I’ve seen her when it looked like she wouldn’t drown a cat, then it started to rain, an’ in ten minutes she was bubblin’ like a wash-boiler over a furnace—sweepin’ over the bank, raisin’ Cain generally. But I reckon the weather’ll stay clear fer a while.” He squinted up at the sky. “Yep, we won’t get no rain to-day.”

“Now I’ll bet it’ll pour,” Bug Eye jeered. “Pop, I hearn you prophesy before. Yo’re not so hot. Just before we had that cloudburst last spring, you said we was in fer a drought.”

Scorning a reply to such calumny, the veteran puncher pulled out his pipe and lit it. Then, puffing contentedly, he watched the shore line slip by.

Whether the gods of the storm had heard Pop’s boast and decided to put him in his place or not, the fact is that it did rain—and rain hard. Along about three o’clock the clouds started to gather, and by four the first drops fell. Within a few minutes the peaceful scene was changed to a furious tempest, with wind, lightning, and finally hail scourging the earth.

As soon as white-caps appeared on the surface of the water the boys headed for shore, and succeeded in getting their craft to a point of safety on the bank before the real deluge started.

They turned the canoe over and piled branches at its sides, thus keeping the blankets and rifles dry, while they stood shivering under the partial shelter of a tree. They felt that they were as secure there as any place, though the lightning flashed almost continuously. One bolt struck a quakermast not a hundred feet from where they were standing, but it did no more damage than searing off the bark. The thunder, following the flash, was deafening.

When the rain had abated somewhat, they ran toward the river. Pop’s description of it after a storm had not been exaggerated. The current had increased tenfold, and it fairly roared as it dashed over the rocks. Yellow foam was tossed high upon the shore.

“That queers our plan of reaching Jake Trummer’s place to-night,” Teddy said grimly. “No one but a fool would launch a boat in that.” He watched a huge tree limb go floating by. “Are the rapids worse than this, Pop? Do you think this storm will make them much more dangerous? Will—”

“Take it easy, son,” Pop chuckled. “I’m no bureau of information. You’ve seen those rapids, haven’t you, Teddy?”

“Yes; but it was a long time ago. I forget just how swift they are.”

“Well, they’re bad enough, but not quite this bad. It is possible to shoot ’em in a heavy canoe like we got. Now what else was it you asked?”

“Do you think this rain will make ’em worse?”

“It might. There’s no tellin’. But we won’t take a chance on ’em to-night, at any rate. We’ve got to wait till morning. Now let’s have a look at the stuff that was placed under the boat.”

The rain had ceased by this time, and now the sun came forth in all its glory for a farewell flash before night settled down. The boys turned the canoe over carefully and discovered that the rifles and blankets were as dry as before the storm. This lightened their spirits somewhat, for it meant that they could at least spend a fairly comfortable night.

They fretted a good deal at the delay, but there was no help for it, and they set about making camp. It took them some time to get a fire going, for they had hard work to find dry wood, but finally picked up enough to start a small blaze, sufficient to warm them.

“Guess we won’t be at the grazing ground much before dad, at this rate,” Roy declared, munching on some bacon and bread. “Golly! I hope those Durhams stick around a while longer.”

“Say! I wonder if that storm could have started another slide?” Bug Eye questioned suddenly.

“Snakes, I never thought about that!” replied Roy. “Suffering tripe, what a break it would be to get there and find the cows all in the river, drowned! And if that waddy Nick told us about spoke the truth, that may have happened. That will hit dad hard. Our best cows are in that bunch.”

“Aw, forget it,” Teddy returned. “I can’t believe that, Roy. It doesn’t stand to reason. Cows wander all over the lot, and there’s not one chance in a thousand that they’d wait for a landslide to fall on ’em. They may have been in danger when that stranger came through, but that was three or four days ago. They’re just as likely to be a mile away by this time.”

“Hope you’re right,” Roy mused. “And when you look at it that way, I guess you are. The story does sound fishy. Golly! I wish those blamed trees would stop dripping cold water down my neck.”

With a last parting glow, the sun sank out of sight and darkness followed fast. The boys had established themselves some distance back from the river, but its roaring song could be plainly heard through the black night. Like all good campers, they had brought with them a small spade, and now found a use for it. They dug up the soft earth in a trench about their camp until a layer of dry sand made a comfortable sleeping place for them. But all were rather restless, and none of them wished to turn in immediately.

Gradually the voice of the river grew fainter. The torrent was subsiding. Bug Eye and Pop had seated themselves on a log near the fire, and were puffing away on pipes, waiting for sleepiness to come upon them. Roy fed the blaze until he got it going to his satisfaction, then called to Teddy:

“What say we have one more look at the stream before we turn in? I want to see that the canoe is pulled up far enough. Want to come along?”

Teddy stretched himself, and yawned.

“Sure. Might as well. She seems to have gone down quite a bit—you can hardly hear it now. Let’s go.”

Together the two brothers walked through the woods. Neither had a light, but the clouds were nearly dispelled and the moon shone through a faint haze. When they reached the water’s edge Teddy remarked:

“I’ll say it’s gone down. We could almost start now, if we wanted to. I think we could make it all right. But I suppose there wouldn’t be much sense in it.”

“Not much,” Roy laughed. “Golly, it’s lonely here! Listen! Doesn’t the river sound queer? Almost as if it were talking to us.”

“Poetical Roy,” Teddy chuckled. “Ask it if it’s going to be a nice day to-morrow, will you? Or maybe it doesn’t talk English? Maybe—”

He stopped, and a puzzled look came over his face. He grasped his brother’s arm.

“By golly, it is talking!” he whispered tensely. “Listen!”

To their ears came a sound of voices—men’s voices! And they came from the surface of the river!

The Fugitive

Long, weary miles stretched out behind The Pup as he wheeled his tired pony through the brush bordering the stream and allowed him to dip his nose in the cool water, drinking in noisy mouthfuls. Long, weary miles behind—and what before? Would the miles be any shorter, the road less wearisome? Would the midday sun be more merciful, or the nights more friendly?

As his horse drank, The Pup shifted uneasily in the saddle, and, turning his head, peered quickly behind him. This gesture had become almost automatic in these last few days. Always, whenever he halted, his eyes would seek for some hidden enemy, and at the slightest sound his hand would twitch down to the gun at his side. But how guard against one enemy when the very woods themselves seemed hostile and the song of the birds sounded a note of continual warning? The man shivered apprehensively.

Savagely The Pup pulled his pony’s head up, causing the animal to whinny in pain at the suddenness of it.

“Gonna drink all day?” the man muttered, then shivered slightly. It was long since he had tasted food. Perhaps the memory of his last meal caused him to regret his cruelty to the bronco, for he allowed him to continue his drinking until fully satisfied.

He was about to dismount and quench his own thirst when a sound of voices and the splash of paddles pulled him up short, froze the blood in his veins. Panic-stricken, he gazed frantically out from the small bower of brush in which he was encased. As the splash of paddles grew nearer, The Pup’s heart kept time with their beat, almost choking him with its fierce throbbing. Men! On his trail! He must move—must force his muscles to act! Yet he sat there, his face a sickly grey, his breath coming in short gasps.

Now the bow of the canoe slid into his line of vision. In another second—a fifth of a second—those in the craft would see him. Who were they? Did they know him? Could they be—

His lips pressed together suddenly, forcing back the cry of fear that strove for utterance. They were! Roy and Teddy Manley! And two others! The men he had robbed! There, before him, looking at him!

With a sob he threw off the coils of terror that held him rooted to the spot and jerked his pony around desperately, sinking spurs deep into the animal’s sides. A single, frantic bound took him through the brush and out of sight of those on the river. Then, trembling violently, he gave the pain-maddened brute his head and clung fiercely to the saddle as the horse bore him swiftly over the uneven ground—back, far back from that dangerous stream.

Gradually his mind resumed more normal action, realizing that, for the present at least, he was safe from pursuit. Teddy and Roy were in a boat. He was on horseback, and miles from them now. Safe—he was safe! The Pup drew a wavering sigh of relief.

Slowly, stolidly, he continued his onward ride, once more parallel with the river, but at some distance from it. He had not gotten his drink after all, and thirst clutched his throat with hot, feverish fingers. Would he dare to return to the stream, to brave his pursuers, to shout—“Come an’ take me! But I’m thirsty, I tell you—thirsty!”

The very thought set him to trembling again. He must not think of such things. Of what use now was the roll of bills in his pocket? The whole sum could not buy him a single drink. He took them out and gazed at the greenbacks dully. Then, shrugging his shoulders, he replaced them and ran his tongue over his parched lips. Part of the money was gone—spent for whiskey that had proved a traitor, that burned him now, as it had soothed before.

He had to go on—always on. Mexico was ahead—Mexico and safety, Mexico and long, cooling drinks in tall glasses. The Pup grinned to himself. Togas, the town of his birth, lay just across the Border. They had thought his name was Marino! Well, that name was as good as any other. If he had given his real name, old Manley would never have hired him, for it was a name that still lingered in the minds of some of the vaqueros of the South. Marino—or, to give him his right name, Jules Kolto—was born a Mexican, although early in life he had recognized the value of concealing the place of his birth from his companions. A Mexican was not respected in his line of business—a business carried on at the muzzle of a revolver or at the point of a knife. For Jules Kolto had been a highwayman.

It was seven years since he had robbed any one. There was a girl in Togas—his sister—who had decided the matter for him. He had supported her and his mother out of the fruits of his profession, and neither of them knew what that profession was until one day his sister met him at the door of their home and led him gently within. His mother lay on a couch, her face waxen. In her hand she grasped a paper—a paper with his picture on it and “Five Hundred Dollars Reward” printed below. He had killed his own mother.

Then his sister made him promise to go straight. He had, too—until now. But the temptation had been too great. Rimor’s, with its whiskey, had been too convenient, and riding cattle was dusty work. So he had fallen into the old ways again, after seven years of peacefulness. And what was more natural than that the whiskey should remind him of those other days when money was to be had for the taking!

Mr. Manley’s departure had given him his chance. Like a rattler he had struck and glided away. Now he regretted it. Not remorse—Jules Kolto remorseful? But anger, anger at his own foolishness. The hill he had climbed up from evil had been hard and steep. Now, with a single jump, he was just where he had started from!

Jules shook his head bitterly. He had been happy before—well, fairly happy. At least he had known what it was to face a man, then, without fear, turn one’s back and walk away. That was all gone now. He was a fugitive—hunted, trailed by other men.

If he could make Mexico, he would be safe. He would seek his sister. She would understand, would shelter him and help him to come back again. Togas—why, that was the town where Gus had his girl, the girl who hadn’t written, and who had sent Gus to seek forgetfulness in alcohol! Gus—poor, deluded Gus! To worry over a girl! Funny Jules hadn’t recalled that Gus had told him that she lived in Togas. But perhaps it was just as well. He might have given himself away.

How far was it to the Border? A good eight days’ ride, at least. He’d have to leave the river soon. It was too dangerous, anyway, with Teddy and Roy Manley around. But they wouldn’t catch him! Never—never!

Then a sudden thought came to the man. Why, they might not have been chasing him at all! Those cattle—those cows that had wandered on Jake Trummer’s place while he and Gus were in town, drinking! Of course Mr. Manley had gone on ahead to round them up! He had known that. Then the boys followed, to help. That’s what had happened! Jules felt great relief surge through him. They were not chasing him!

He rode forward with a lighter heart. There was some chance for him after all. If he could reach Togas and find his sister, all would be well. He would buy an interest in a small store with his four hundred dollars, then, when he had earned more money, he might send the amount he had stolen back to the X Bar X, just to square things. The horse—well, he’d see about that. It was a fine bronc.

Later that day it rained. The wind beat upon him and the lightning blinded him and the storm left him wet and shivering. He tried to start a fire, but could find no dry wood. He put his hand to his belt for his knife, that he might cut some, then remembered. Teddy Manley had the knife now. He had not really meant to harm the young fellow, just to scare him. But the boy was too quick. Jules grinned faintly. If Teddy had known it, he was the first man ever to get the best of Jules Kolto in a knife fight. The kid sure had nerve!

Well, he would have to do without his fire. But now he could move more openly and with less fear of detection, for night was closing in. Having slaked his thirst, he pulled his belt in another notch, to lessen the pangs of hunger, and rode on. Togas was ahead—Togas and his sister and an easy chair in their tiny patio. Worth living for!

If he reached it with his money still intact, his troubles would be over. He would have enough to start a small business and live the rest of his life in contentment, fearing no man. He would return the four hundred—as soon as he made that much—and send it back to Bardwell Manley. He would start square.

He knew that the region he was now in was a favorite place for bandits. Many gangs had made the banks of Whirlpool River their stronghold in days gone by, and rumor had it that one still flourished—the Denver Smith gang. A lone rider, like Jules, with a roll of bills in his pocket, would be meat for them. He had better stop and camp for the night before he ran across any highwaymen. Jules dismounted. He picketed his horse nearby. Then the former bandit drew his coat about him and lay down to rest, fearful that if he proceeded through these dark woods the money he had stolen would be stolen from him.


A moment, a breathless, hushed moment, Teddy and Roy stood beneath trees which still dripped from the recent rain, the drops falling in a patter whenever the light breeze stirred the branches. Through the darkness came those low, tense tones. As the boys listened, words separated themselves from the mumble of sound.

“... just heard about it,” some one was saying. The speaker had a high, nervous voice which he apparently kept softened by an effort. “Stay out from that shore, Bunk! Wanta have those fools on our necks?”

“Aw, yo’re too touchy, Denver,” another whined, and the boys heard the swirl of a paddle being held in the water, evidently to swing the boat around. The craft was probably drifting with the current now, for the listeners could not detect the dip of blades forcing it onward. “They ain’t near here,” the speaker went on. “Go ahead. Let’s have the dope.”

Roy leaned closer to Teddy and spoke with his mouth close to his brother’s ear.

“We’ll follow,” Roy whispered, and Teddy nodded to show that he understood. Carefully the two boys picked their way along the bank, hoping to hear more before the canoe drifted out of range.

“How many times do I have to repeat this?” the one called Denver snarled. “Now listen, you guys. Manley, up on the X Bar X, let a herd of his cattle wander off his ground on to the grazin’ field of Jake Trummer, of Whirlpool River Ranch.”

Teddy started, and nudged Roy. His brother did not respond. He was listening intently.

“Now I happen to know—never mind how—that old man Trummer went to Manley an’ told him if the dogies weren’t off there soon he’d drive ’em into the river. That was two or three days ago. Manley started out to round ’em up. But he went overland, so he’ll be some time gettin’ there. That’s where we come in.”

“And so do we!” Teddy whispered. “Roy, get this!”

“We’ll keep goin’ now,” Denver continued, “an’ take a little rest in the morning just before we hit the rapids. Then we take our time with the cows. Mike said he’d have ponies waitin’ for us. We drive the cows off Trummer’s range, hide ’em somewhere, an’ when Manley comes up, his Durhams are gone, an’ he says Trummer drove ’em into the river, like he said he would! What could be simpler?”

“You sure got it down pat, Denver,” said a third voice. “Lucky for us that storm came up. All we have to do is to sit back an’ drift along—make good time, too.”

“You allus was a great feller fer work, Porky,” Denver said contemptuously. “How you ever—”

The voice died away. Bunk had evidently steered the canoe further from the shore, and the murmur of the still turbulent waters drowned out the words that followed.

Teddy turned excitedly to Roy.

“Did you hear that?” he whispered. “Come on! Let’s get the gang! Rustlers, that’s what they are! After our cattle! And they’ll beat us to it, unless we can nab ’em!”

Roy had already turned and was running toward their camp.

“See to the canoe!” he called over his shoulder. “I’ll get the others. Take out all the stuff except the rifles. We’ll get those waddies yet!”

Realizing that haste was imperative, Teddy stumbled toward the canoe. Frantically he started to unload. Heedless of consequences, he threw the articles right and left, concentrating on the job of emptying the craft as soon as possible. Every moment the rustlers were getting farther and farther away.

“This is our chance to save the cattle,” the boy panted, as he tossed out the last can of foodstuff. “The dirty rustlers! Trying to frame Trummer, too. If I could only—”

Seizing hold of the boat, he sought to pull it to the water’s edge, but the task was too much for him. Gasping, he finally desisted, and at that moment Roy, Bug Eye and Pop Burns appeared.

“All right, boys!” Roy exclaimed. “In she goes—ho! Teddy, take the front! Grab this paddle! I’ll stay in the stern! Bug Eye, you and Pop keep those rifles loaded—we may need ’em!”

The canoe was in the water now, and swung about madly. The current was stronger than they had imagined.

“With luck, we’ll catch up to them soon!” Teddy panted. “If we can get close enough before they know we’re comin’—”

Roy did not reply, needing all his energy to keep the boat straight. The larger craft received the full force of the stream, and also it was much less heavily weighted than it had been.

“Want me to—” Bug Eye began. But when he saw, by the moonlight, the lines of intense effort in Roy’s face he stopped. This was no time for talk.

“Can you—hear ’em?” Teddy gasped, digging his paddle in deeper.

“Nope!” Pop answered laconically. He, alone, seemed to accept the situation calmly, staring straight ahead as he sat rigidly in the bottom of the canoe. Perhaps he feared the chase would be futile, or perhaps he realized that their best chance of success lay in going about the affair in a businesslike manner. His rifle, loaded, lay across his knees.

As the canoe shot downstream, Teddy, in the front, strained his ears for some indication of the boat they were following. But it seemed to have been swallowed up by the river. Surely they were going much faster than the other craft and should have caught them by this time. Unless—and Teddy frowned at the thought—unless they knew they were being pursued and made for the shore, pulling their lighter boat up out of sight.

Now the river seemed to take their canoe in a powerful grip and shake it. Roy paddled desperately, and succeeded in steadying it.

“Close!” he gasped. “Thought we were over then!”

“If I had my Fishmobile—” Bug Eye muttered, then closed his mouth tightly. The shore seemed far away at this moment.

“Better head in,” Pop suggested quietly. “Afraid they got away, boys. I don’t like the sound of this river.”

“Hate to give up,” Roy responded, but even he was beginning to see the wisdom of Pop’s advice. Somehow, the roar of the stream seemed to have increased in volume. Whether it was because the banks were closer together here, thus adding to the force of the current, the boys could not tell. At all events, both Teddy and Roy decided that they had best attempt to land.

“Take the left side for a minute,” Roy called. The sweat was running off the paddlers in small rivulets and their breaths were coming in short gasps. “We’ll have to—get together. With me, now! Ho—ho—ho—ho—” Slowly the craft turned her nose to the bank. The shoreline was barely distinguishable, and the boys had no means of estimating their speed. But they knew that they were going fast enough to sink, surely, if they hit anything.

“Make it?” Bug Eye asked anxiously. He was holding on to the sides of the boat with both hands, his rifle, forgotten now, lying in the bottom. Indeed, all thought of their quarry had vanished from the minds of both Teddy and Roy. All they knew was that they were out in the middle of a river which was trying its best to whirl them onward to destruction.

Even Pop Burns was startled out of his complacency. He turned and looked sharply at Roy.

“Mebby—mebby not,” he said enigmatically, and began to peel off his vest. “Yo’re gettin’ near, though. A little more, boys. I’d help if I could, but if I tried to shift we’d go over sure.”

“Stick—to it,” Teddy panted. “Roy, you take the left—we’re gaining now—she’s swingin’ closer—”

Teddy had a wild idea that if they came near enough, he could tumble overboard and swim with the canoe to land. But he dismissed the thought as soon as it came to him, for the craft was much too heavy for any such plan as that to work. Besides, there were huge, sharp rocks along here, and if his head struck one he would be lost.

“Got—to stick—to the ship,” the boy murmured, as he strained at the paddle.

Suddenly Roy gave a yell. The boat lurched, and swung about in a circle.

“Paddle’s gone!” he cried. “Broke! We’ll have to swim for it!”

“Take this!” Teddy shouted, and thrust his own paddle back. Bug Eye, who was behind him, seized it and passed it to Roy. “Never mind trying to make shore now! Keep her straight!”

Desperately Roy tried to do this. There was a sickening moment when the river seemed to fall from beneath them and for an instant they hung in space.

A wave slapped them broadside.

“Here—she—” Bug Eye yelled, and that was all. A rock, huge and black, loomed up before them. A crash, then a crunching sound. Water poured over the side.

Then all four were struggling for their lives in a current that sought to draw them into the depths!

A Vain Search

When Teddy felt the dark waters close over his head, his first thought was that now, after their long journey, they were to fail. He did not fear for his own safety, unless it was that his absence would cause his father and mother worry. The rushing current swept him out of reach of the rock which had been their Scylla, and, in one vivid flash, Teddy saw Roy clinging to its ebony sides with arms that seemed almost lifeless.

“Hang on, Roy!” Teddy gasped, and then he was borne out of hearing. Weighted down as he was by heavy clothes, Teddy had hard work keeping his head above the water long enough to take a full breath before being forced below the surface again. Luckily, there were no sharp-pointed rocks in his path.

With desperation, Teddy struck out for the shore he saw looming in front of him. But it was impossible to make much headway against the fierce current that pulled him onward and tumbled him over like a basket in a waterfall. Finally, exhausted by his struggles, he contented himself with keeping afloat, and was promptly spilled upon the bank.

So surprising was the transition from water to land that, for a moment, the boy could not realize it. One second he had been floating down a darkened, turbulent stream and the next he was tossed upon the shore, his breath almost driven from his body by the suddenness of it.

“The—ole river—is full of tricks!” he gasped, and sat up. “Good-bye, canoe! I’ll bet there’s a hole in her big enough to drive a steer through!” He cleared the water from his eyes, pulled himself farther from the edge, and peered into the night.

“Roy!” he yelled. “Where are you? Hey, Roy!”

For a long moment he waited, then fear stole darkly upon him. Breathing quickly, he shouted once more.

When there was no answer to this hail, he sprang to his feet and started to run back along the bank, calling as he ran. He saw that he had landed on the same shore they had put out from, and hoped that his brother might have done the same and perhaps have started back for their camp. But this hope was dispelled when Teddy came upon two bedraggled and forlorn wanderers—Bug Eye and Pop. They were staggering around aimlessly, now and then letting out a weak call for Teddy and Roy.

“Did you see Roy?” Teddy asked them anxiously, as he ran up, breathless.

“Teddy!” Pop gasped. “Yo’re safe! Boy, I was afraid! Where’s Roy?”

“I don’t know!” Teddy answered frantically. “I thought he might have come ashore with you! Didn’t you see him?”

“Not—not me!” Bug Eye stuttered, shivering and resting one hand against a tree to steady himself. “I thought—”

“Never mind about that!” Teddy cried tensely, fully aroused now to the dangers of the situation. “We’ve got to hunt for him! Bug Eye, you go downstream! Pop, you come with me!”

“I seen him hanging on to that rock we hit,” Pop declared, craning his neck forward and seeking to pierce the blackness. To add to their troubles the moon had disappeared behind clouds and the night was as dark as pitch.

“I saw that, too!” Teddy exclaimed, opening and closing his hands. “You two—for heaven’s sake don’t stand there gaping! Roy is lost—maybe—”

“Now, maybe nothin’,” Pop Burns interrupted. “If you want to help him most, Teddy, just take it easy an’ don’t waste none of yore energy in boilin’ over. We’ll find Roy all right. He just came ashore at another place.”

“I sure hope so!” Teddy breathed. “It’s so blamed dark here! The moon is gone—we haven’t a dog’s chance of seeing him. But we can yell.” He raised his voice once more in a shout. “Roy! Yay-y-y, Roy!”

“That won’t do no good,” Pop said gently. “We got to hunt. He may be hurt, an’ lyin’ on the shore somewheres. We’ll get him, sure, when daylight comes.”

“We’ll get him before that!” Teddy said determinedly, and started to run along the bank.

“You go the other way,” Pop directed in a low voice to Bug Eye. “I’ll follow Teddy—I don’t like the way he’s talkin’. Roy may be pretty badly hurt after all, an’ Teddy feels it. I seen Roy go head-on to that rock, but I wouldn’t tell Ted that. We’ll meet you at camp. If you find Roy, give a good loud yell—that is, if he’s—not hurt too bad.” And Pop swallowed quickly. Then he turned and followed Teddy.

The boy was a good distance ahead, and Pop had to hurry to catch him. He located him by the crashing of the bushes as Teddy ran along, almost blindly, calling Roy every five yards.

“Son, son,” the veteran puncher admonished, laying a hand on Teddy’s shoulder, “don’t take it so hard. We’ll find Roy, sure as shootin’! Yuh can’t down him with a little spill in the river! Like as not he’s laughin’ over it now an’ bettin’ he could have made the shore with the one paddle if we hadn’t hit that rock. Shake yore stumps, Teddy, an’ get a hold on yore liver. Roy ain’t hurt!”

Teddy took a deep breath and slowed down to a walk.

“Can’t tell, Pop,” he declared gloomily. “I’m afraid of—I don’t know what. Why didn’t Roy come right ashore if he could?”

“But great snakes, boy, he may be on the other side, or he may have been washed far downstream!” Pop exploded. “Just because he ain’t here, don’t say he’s still sittin’ out there on that bloomin’ rock!”

“That’s right, too!” Teddy agreed, and brightened. “I’ll bet he’s across from us! If we only had that canoe now, we could—”

“Oh, no we couldn’t,” Pop interrupted grimly. “That current is too blame strong. I reckon we can find the canoe all right, come mornin’. She’ll probably need patchin’, but I can fix her if she ain’t too bad.”

It was just this sort of talk that Teddy needed, and when he spoke again his voice was stronger and more spirited.

“Do you really think we can mend the canoe, Pop?”

“Sure we can! Won’t be nothin’ to it. Now, Teddy, we better give up lookin’ for Roy until she gets light. We’re only wastin’ time this way, an’ I got an idea he’s over on the other bank. If that’s so, we got to find the boat first an’ go get him. Let’s hit for camp, Teddy.”

For a moment the boy hesitated, and Pop feared he was going to insist on continuing. But at last the boy sighed, and turned.

“You’re the doctor,” he said dully. “Camp it is.”

Had Teddy known the real reason for Pop’s insistence upon returning, he would have slept little that night. The fact is that the veteran rancher feared the worst. He had seen Roy dashed head foremost upon the rock, then go limp. At that moment the moon was blotted out, and he lost sight of the boy. But he had seen enough to feel that there was little hope for Roy.

There had never been for a moment the question of rescue. It had all happened too quickly—the rock, then the crash, and then that horrible drop. They had been swept apart in a flash, and were not near enough to offer each other assistance. Pop knew that ordinarily Roy would have made the shore safely. But injured, perhaps unconscious—The old man shook his head sadly and was thankful for the darkness that hid the tragedy even for a little.

Their fire was still going well when they reached camp, and half heartedly they set about drying themselves. None of them talked much. Their hearts were too heavy. Pop made an effort at conversation, but did not meet with much success, and at last decided that it would be best to leave Teddy alone with his thoughts. Perhaps the boy might find inward comfort as the night wore on. Pop hoped so, fervently.

The hours passed slowly, as none of the three even attempted to sleep.

As soon as the gray dawn lightened into brightness, Teddy sprang to his feet.

“Now,” he said sharply, “we can start. We won’t stop—” his eyes narrowed and he clenched his fists. “We’ll find Roy if we have to stay here a week! Come on!”

“No breakfast, son?” Pop expostulated questioningly, thinking that unless Teddy kept up his strength he might collapse when he learned the truth. For Pop was firmly convinced that they would see Roy alive no more. Yet, even with this weight on his heart, he presented to Teddy a face that had nothing in it but hope.

“Eat?” Teddy asked contemptuously. “Not me! I’ve eaten my last meal until Roy comes back and eats with me!”

“Keep yore nerve, kid,” Pop muttered. “I’m afraid this day’s gonna be a tough one. Poor Roy!” and with leaden steps he followed Teddy.


Slowly, as though awaking from a drugged sleep, Roy Manley came to himself. His eyes stared upward through a screen of green foliage tangled above him. He twitched his shoulders and felt the hard earth beneath them. Weakly, he turned his head from side to side, trying vainly to force his sluggish brain into activity by impressing upon it some familiar sight, so that he might recall his situation. Of course he knew where he was. It was just that he was tired and couldn’t think well. In a moment it would come to him. He would lie here a bit longer until those confounded trees stopped whirling around, then he’d get up.

Let’s see, now. He was in the woods, that was certain. And that murmuring in the distance—or was the whirr within his own head? Cautiously Roy raised his hand, passed it gently over his disheveled hair. Snakes, what a lump! How did he get that? Dully he rubbed the spot where the bruise was and found the hair matted.

“Must have gotten a terrific sock,” he muttered. “That’s blood. Funny it doesn’t ache. Golly, it’s cold! Better build a fire.”

He sat up uncertainly. Then he made a stupendous discovery.

“Why, I’m all wet!” he exclaimed in amazement. He fingered his soggy vest and stared stupidly down at his soaked shoes. “How did that happen? No wonder I’m cold! And I guess I won’t build a fire, either, for if I’m wet the matches will be wet; that is, if I have any. And if the matches are wet I’ll be wet—I mean the opposite—” He snapped his fingers and shook his head impatiently. Talking to himself like a little child! The thing to do was to find out where he was and how he arrived here. Perhaps if he got out in the sun and away from the shade of this tree he might be warmer. Automatically he struggled to his feet.

A moan of pain escaped him, and he sat down suddenly, his hand twitching to his right ankle. Broken? He moved the foot carefully, and, although the effort was agony, he found that it was just a little sprained. Well, he’d have to take it easy. A sprain was bad while it lasted, but it would mend itself. There was no need of setting it, like a fracture.

Again he arose, gently this time, and it was a relief to discover that by favoring the injured ankle he could move about slowly. Without knowing exactly where he was going, except that it was warmer in the sun, he limped forward. The liquid murmur he had heard before grew louder as he moved toward it, and presently he came in sight of a river. It recalled nothing to him beyond the fact that he was very thirsty, and, making his way to the bank, he threw himself face downward and drank. Refreshed, he arose once more and looked about him.

The opposite side of the stream was about four hundred yards away, with no sign of help there. Turning to the left, he limped along the shore, and found that the river broadened greatly just below him. Following the shore line he made another discovery—that he was on an island!

As his eye followed the rim of land he saw that it swept about in a half circle, the other half of the ring being behind him. Again he put his hand to his head, this time in wondering amazement. An island! How did he get here? The river! Undoubtedly that was the cause of his saturated clothing. But why had he gone in the water with his clothes on? Desperately he tried to concentrate, to remember. He closed his eyes and lashed his memory cruelly. Think! Think! A black shape in front. Darkness. A flash of fire, blinding in its intensity. His fingers reaching out for that black shape, seeking to cling to it, to draw him up. Water roaring in his ears. The rock!

Now it was coming. He must not break the thread. He must follow it to the end. The rock. A cry, in some well-remembered voice, calling to him to “hang on.” His arms straining to retain their hold. Then oblivion.

But what had gone before? Had he been in a boat and fallen overboard? That was it! The canoe! Teddy! Pop! Now memory came to him in a flood, sweeping over him, leaving him weak and gasping for breath. He recalled the launching of the craft in the night and the effort to catch the rustlers they had heard planning to steal their cattle. Then the current had seized them and his paddle had broken. Then the rock, and after that—nothing. Now this—the island, and he, wet and shivering, with his head cut and his ankle sprained, limping about aimlessly!

Where were the others? A great fear struck at him, catching him by the throat. If they had drowned! If Teddy was gone—floating face downward on the surface of the water, silent, inert, dead! A quick shiver passed over Roy’s frame, then he gritted his teeth. He would not think of that! Teddy had surely escaped, as he himself had. Perhaps he had swum ashore and was even now looking for Roy. Teddy was a strong swimmer. And when the canoe had crashed, Teddy was in the far end. He probably had not touched the rock, but had swum directly for shore.

Could he, too, be on this island? Hopefully, Roy threw back his head and called loudly Teddy’s name. There was no answer. A second time, then a third time he called. No welcome sound came back in return. But suppose his brother had been washed ashore as he had! Clenching his fists tightly, to withstand the pain of his injured ankle, Roy started a circuit of the island, for he must make a search.

The island was not large, so the search was soon concluded. Roy was alone. If Teddy had gotten ashore, he must be on the mainland; but on which side? Their camp of the night before had been on the left bank. If Teddy had kept his bearings, he would, of course, head for that. As Roy remembered, the canoe had been about in the center of the river when it foundered, so that Teddy and the others might possibly be on the right shore.

The pain in Roy’s ankle was still great, and the boy sat down and removed his shoe and sock. He saw that the limb was swollen, and, hopping to the water’s edge, he soaked his already damp sock in the stream and bound it tightly about the ankle. This should help reduce the swelling and lessen the irritating pain. The cut on his head was a small matter, he decided, and so gave it no attention other than to bathe it with his wet handkerchief.

Now that the first sensation of uneasy wonderment had worn off, Roy began to realize that he was hungry. His firearms had gone down with the boat, so that even if there was game on the island he would have no means of capturing it. He searched his pockets, and thankfully his fingers closed upon his jackknife. This might be of some use. The knife was a heavy one and the blade long. Roy balanced it in the palm of his hand. Then, experimentally, he raised his hand over his head and threw. The blade bit into a tree some ten feet distant.

“Haven’t lost the old eye,” he chuckled, then limped over and drew the knife out. “Haven’t done this since Teddy and I were kids. Golly, I’m glad I remember how to throw. Wonder if I’ve got any string in my pocket?”

But this time his search was in vain. All he found besides the knife were two handkerchiefs and a buffalo nickel. He looked at the coin musingly.

“You’re not much help out here,” he muttered, with a grin. “Can’t even buy a stamp with you. Well, maybe you’ll bring me luck. I sure need it. Back you go,” and he replaced the five-cent piece in his soggy pocket.

Suddenly an idea struck him. He took one of the handkerchiefs, the one he had wet in the river, and cut the hem off with his knife. This he tested by pulling it.

“Feels strong,” he declared to himself. “We’ll take a shot at it, anyhow. Can’t any more than fail.”

He looked about him until he found a stick and a small dry log.

“Now, Mr. Scout, do your stuff,” he chuckled, and arranged his implements. The strip of handkerchief he wound about the stick in such a manner that, when made the string of a bow and sawed back and forth, the stick spun rapidly around. Then he whittled one end of the stick to a point, found a flat grooved rock to hold the other end with, and bent to his task.

“Handkerchief, stay with me!” he breathed, and he started the stick whirling in a small hole cut in his log. He had piled some fine, dry bark shavings close to this hole, and now he watched them anxiously. Faster and faster he twirled the stick. If the strip of cloth held, he might— Ah! There it was! The shavings were smoking! A little more now!

He blew gently on his fuel and was rewarded by seeing a thready spiral of smoke ascend. Then he cast the stick aside and fed the tiny flame with dry leaves. Within five minutes he had a respectable blaze going, actually a fire started! Did a wood fire ever before send out such welcome incense? Not for Roy Manley—nor for many another boy, perhaps, situated as he was just then.

“The boy firemaker!” he laughed, and strutted about until he came down too hard on his sore leg. But the warmth of the flame was grateful, for the day was cool and his wet clothes anything but comfortable. Presently Roy removed his outer garments and spread them around the fire. Standing near the blaze, he dried his underthings and, after a time, dressed again with considerable ceremony. Dry clothes are real clothes, he decided, while wet clothes are worse than fetters. He felt better; much better.

“The next thing to do is to eat,” he told himself. Building a wall of dirt around the fire so it could not spread, he went in search of food, holding his knife in readiness in case an opportunity to use it should present itself. He saw several rabbits and some squirrels, but none of them was near enough to bring down. But at last he espied a porcupine slowly crossing a log in front of him. Discarding the knife in favor of a heavy stick he picked up, Roy rushed upon the quilled animal. With one sharp blow on the head he killed it.

“That was luck!” he chuckled, looking over the queer thing that lay there.

“We saw your brother about a month ago,” he mused, while he carried his game back to the fire and soon prepared the beast for cooking. “But there was no need of killing him. Teddy wanted to cart him back and show him to Pop,” Roy ruminated. At the thought of Teddy, a frown of anxiety crossed Roy’s face, but he quickly dismissed it. Worrying was worse than useless. Besides, Teddy must be some place.

“Yep,” he went on absently, “ole porky sure did help me out.” Like a great many men, he was talking to himself when alone in the woods. And now, with the smell of meat cooking, for he was hungry and wasted no time in preliminaries, his situation assumed a more normal aspect. Somehow, he felt that this would turn out all right, black as things seemed just now. When a person’s hunger is satisfied, he looks at the world with a clearer, more optimistic vision, and the eating of “porky” worked that sort of miracle for Roy.

When his makeshift meal was over, he breathed a sigh of relief, yawned, and stretched lazily. The reaction from the strain he had been under came with a rush, and now, scarcely able to keep his eyes open, the boy threw himself full length on the ground by the river’s edge.

For a moment he lay there, his head on his arms, thinking drowsily that he must arouse himself and hunt Teddy. He must keep going, he must not give in.

“Can’t let him get lost like that,” Roy muttered, forgetting that he, too, was in trouble. “Good ole Teddy—have to find him.”

He pushed himself up with his hands and shook his head wearily, determined to fight off fatigue. But he was so tired—so tired. If he could only sleep—

Above him sounded a rush of wings. A shrill scream sounded almost in his ear, and he felt a fierce, slashing wind surround him. Roy’s heart leaped into his throat, and he awoke now with a terrific jolt, his pulses hammering. Once more the scream sounded.

With an effort Roy rolled over. Then, swift as light, he threw up an arm to protect his face.

Directly over him hovered a huge eagle, talons outstretched, beak open, eyes glaring fiercely, ready for attack!

Primitive Tactics

When Roy Manley saw the great bird above him, poised and hovering, ready to strike, something in the lad suddenly jerked him to his feet in prompt alertness.

Oblivious of everything save that he was confronted by a creature intent upon attacking him, the savage, primitive man was aroused in the young rancher. He realized that he must, in this emergency, depend for defense upon his hands alone—as must have an ancient dweller in a cave of the stone age.

As the bird, with a savage scream, swooped down at him, Roy lashed out with his bare fists. One blow caught the eagle full upon its feathered breast, knocking him aside. A wild yell burst from the boy’s lips, rivaling the bird’s screech in its intensity. He shouted. He called out meaningless phrases. He was a savage, battling for his life against an ancient enemy.

As the eagle, knocked from its course, fluttered to the ground, Roy’s eyes lit with a strange, fierce gleam. He sprang for the bird and sought to grasp the creature, but, to his surprise, the great dweller of the upper regions was not there. With a single beat of its powerful wings it had gained the air once more.

Sobbing in rage, Roy leaped to his feet, his injured ankle forgotten. Some ten feet above the ground the bird wheeled, screamed, and returned to the attack. This time it was more wary, and did not plunge directly for the boy, but shot down a little to one side, then, spreading its pinions wide, glided in. Roy, his lips drawn back in a snarl, met it fully. The beak stabbed once, as quick as a rattler striking, and Roy felt a searing pain in his right shoulder. A dark stain spread over his shirt. At the same time the boy was able to seize one of the wings in both hands, and he hung on desperately, twisting it with all his strength. Another quick stab of the powerful beak, and Roy released his hold, blood now streaming from his left arm.

The eagle, realizing now that his adversary was no weakling, but able to strike him down with one blow, retreated for the moment to consider matters. This gave Roy the chance he needed, and he quickly drew the knife from his pocket and opened it.

“Now, come on!” he yelled, taking a step forward toward the bird that was resting on the ground, reassembling his ruffled plumage. “Start something, you buzzard!” It is not to be wondered at that the boy in his excitement had mistaken his huge antagonist. “Buzzard” was the first thought that had come to his mind, and he shouted it out.

The bird held off, considering. His wing had been cruelly twisted by this strange-looking foe before him. Some one should suffer for that. And then, with a scream of defiance, the eagle arose again in the air.

Roy stood tense, waiting, his knife held in readiness. The moment’s respite had given the boy time to realize his danger. This was no buzzard, but an eagle that seemed bent upon the boy’s destruction. Tales of strong men being killed by this species of bird flashed through Roy’s mind, and he clenched the knife more firmly. If he was to die, he would put up a good fight first!

The bird was diving again. The pain in his wing had rendered the eagle careless of consequences, as he must punish this impudent being, and now he swooped directly at Roy. The boy drew back his arm. The sun glittered on the open blade as he held the knife poised for action. A harsh cry from the bird—a grunt of fierce effort from the boy—and the eagle, a long jagged rip in his side, lay gasping upon the ground!

Roy sprang forward, his hand red from blood that was not all his own. He knew that he must finish this now, before the bird had a chance to recover. Again the knife sank deep in feathers and flesh, and this time Roy knew his work was well done. The eagle sounded a single cry that floated upward and wavered to silence in the blue regions of its element, the body of the bird gave a convulsive shudder—then the tremulous breathing stopped, the head sank down, and the wings folded themselves quietly to rest.

There, on the shore of Whirlpool River, Roy Manley looked down upon his kill—looked down with eyes from which all anger, all blood-lust had fled, and which held only pity for the death of such a splendid creature.

Silently he wiped his knife clean, shut the blade, and replaced it in his pocket. Then, for the first time, he saw the long cut on his arm, and felt the stiffening of his shoulder where the eagle had struck. Stumbling, he made his way to the water’s edge, and, ripping the remnants of his shirt from him, bathed the wounds. Strange that he felt no pain, but instead a growing wonder that he, and not the bird, had been the conqueror in that mighty battle. He had a queer inclination to kneel for a moment and do homage to a worthy fighter, but the feeling passed and the reaction slowly set in. He felt himself grow faint, and he staggered from the water. A growing blackness encompassed him, as though night were coming. A horrible nausea seized him, close to the dead bird, and he sank upon the earth, already all but unconscious.

The sun was at its zenith when Roy once more opened his eyes. This time there was no wonderment in them. He knew definitely and with certainty what had happened. And if he needed proof that it was not all a dream—and indeed, somehow it did create in his mind a sensation akin to a nightmare—there was the bird lying at his side. Yes, it had actually occurred—he, practically weaponless, had fought an eagle and won.

He sat up, moving his arms gingerly. Everything appeared to be in working order. He examined the cuts, and saw that they had been but superficial and had already stopped bleeding.

Then he grinned.

“Bids are open for the moving picture rights,” he chuckled. “First I get in a scrap with a bear and then an eagle! But the boy, here, nothing daunted, immediately enters the cave of the lion. Isn’t there a lion somewhere around?”

Slowly he got to his feet. Then he noticed the wet sock tied about his ankle. Except for this, he would have forgotten that the limb had ever been hurt.

“The pain must have been scared out of me,” he said aloud, and laughed again. His laughter was not hysterical. It was the wholesome amusement of a boy who had a sense of humor, and the reaction from his late suspense.

Then his mind leaped to thoughts of Teddy and the others.

“They’ll be worried stiff,” he declared. “They’ll think I’m drowned, sure. I’d better find some way of getting back to them.” Never an idea that his brother and Pop and Bug Eye might have failed to reach the shore—might have been caught in the current, and killed. These sombre thoughts had gone from him completely.

He retraced his steps to the water’s edge. The river was once more a placidly flowing stream, its surface harmless and innocent of treachery.

“You’re a hypocrite,” Roy said. “You are a two-faced fraud. However, I’ll try you once more.”

It came to him that if he was to reach the mainland he must swim for it. He breathed deeply, filling his lungs with the keen air.

“My powers of recuperation are extraordinary, to say the least,” he laughed. “Good thing I found that porcupine! All right—camera ready? The boy hero will attempt to swim the terrible rapids—only they’re more like a lake now. But we’ll call ’em rapids to make it look harder.”

He removed his outer clothing and waded in. The opposite shore seemed much nearer now, probably because the water had receded. At all events, he struck out with a will and arrived on the bank not at all exhausted. As he left the water he thought of the spectacle he must present, with the wounds on his shoulder and arm still showing plainly and dressed in a soggy suit of underwear. He burst into a loud laugh.

“Come, take a snapshot!” he exclaimed. “Having a wonderful time! Wish you were here! The bathing is great!”


He turned his face alight with expectation.

“Roy! Oh, golly, it’s Roy!”

From the bushes leaped three figures—three happy, excited, capering figures.

“Teddy! And Pop and Bug Eye! The reception committee! The lost mariners! Well, you old marmadukes!”

Tears stood in Teddy’s eyes as he clasped his brother’s hand. Frank, honest tears, and Teddy was not ashamed of them.

“Roy—” he said brokenly, “we thought you were—”

“We thought you was lost!” Bug Eye finished, with a side glance at Pop. “Snakes, we been lookin’ all over creation for yuh!”

“Son,” Pop said simply, holding out his hand, “I’m glad to see yuh. Mighty glad. We been worried.”

“You’re hurt, Roy!” Teddy exclaimed, as he noticed for the first time the cuts on the boy’s arm and shoulder. “How did you get those?”

“It’s a long story, me lad,” Roy answered, smiling. He threw his arm about his brother’s shoulders. “But first, if you don’t mind, I’ll eat! The last meal I had was roast porcupine!”

Afloat Again

Back to camp tramped these two brothers, the one in a torn suit of underwear, the other fully dressed, but both wearing wide grins.

They were both happy—recklessly so. All things dwindled into insignificance except the fact that they were together again—together, after a night of terror. The cattle of Whirlpool River Ranch—The Pup—the reported landslide—all these were for the moment forgotten. They would return later, with their responsibilities. But now, for Teddy and Roy, there was happiness where they had feared to find sorrow.

Their tremendous relief was not the sort that is communicated by words. A firm handclasp, an arm thrown carelessly around the shoulders, speaks louder than any well-turned sentence. Thus it was that on that journey back to their camp there was little said besides Pop’s interminable: “Snakes!” and Roy’s: “I’ll tell a maverick!” whenever Teddy made a statement.

Roy’s story was soon told. Pop marveled much and examined the boy’s wounds with care, treating them with the antiseptic they had brought along. When Roy’s tale was finished, Teddy sprang his bit of news.

“We found the canoe!”

Roy’s eyes opened wide.

“You mean to say there is anything left of it?”

“Sure, there is!” Bug Eye exclaimed. “We can fix her up in no time! She’s got quite a hole in her, but Pop can mend that. Hey, Pop?”

“Betcher boots,” the veteran rancher replied, as he grinned. “I am one grand little fixer. Let’s take another look at it.”

Roy, clothed “in assembled finery,” as Bug Eye said, was delighted when he saw that the craft was not irreparably damaged. It had been washed ashore a short distance below the rock, and, aside from the hole in the stern, it was as good as ever.

“Guess dad’ll be at Jake Trummer’s by now,” Teddy declared. “But we’ll soon have the old boat on the way. Give your orders, Pop! You can be the boss carpenter. What do we do first?”

“Get out that strip of canvas,” Pop suggested. “Where’s yore knife, Roy? Snakes, you ain’t washed it yet!” He took it from the boy and looked at it silently. Darkening the blades was dried blood—the blood of the eagle. Sticking to the blade were a few tiny, grey feathers. Pop held it in the palm of his hand and nodded his head slowly.

“There’s not many knives that can say they killed an eagle,” he said musingly. “This’ll make a great token, Roy.” Then his voice took on a businesslike tone again. The incident was over. The chapter closed. Pop bent down, inserted the blade in the canvas, and drew it along with a ripping sound.

Soon all four were deep in their task. The hole had to be well mended, as the rapids were still ahead of them and the rocks would search hungrily for a weak spot on which to fasten their needle-like fingers. Pop went about the job slowly and deliberately, and it was afternoon before it was finished to his satisfaction.

“Might as well eat,” Bug Eye said as he straightened up and threw his shoulders back to get the kinks out. “Somehow I never did get over that there habit. So you had roast porcupine this morning, Roy? Well, we can’t promise you that, but we have got some pork an’ beans left unless Pop eat ’em all. You feel all right now, Roy?”

“Sure I do!” The boy flexed his muscles. “Those cuts have stiffened up a little, but they’ll soon work out. Yea, Bug Eye, I feel great! I’m mighty hungry, though.”

“You can do the paddlin’,” Teddy remarked with a grin. “And if you see a rock, duck!”

Unconsciously the boy’s healthy mind was bringing to the fore the events of that fear-ridden night just passed, and instead of hiding them deep in the recesses of the subconscious, later to emerge as tangled emotions, Teddy was baring them and destroying their power to haunt. Of course he did not realize all this. He knew only that an unpleasant experience cannot be forcibly forgotten—that it must be aired, shaken, and dry-cleaned.

But now, his eyes seemed still to hold some of the terror of last night when he had thought that his brother was killed. Roy had had other emotions to occupy his mind—pain, amazement, and self-preservation. Teddy had had nothing—nothing but an overpowering dread that increased hourly until, when dawn had come, it seemed to permeate his whole being, sickening him.

When he had seen Roy wading ashore, happiness caught him a sudden blow, and he had staggered for a moment. Then he had rushed forward, unable to do more than cry: “Roy—Roy!” in a voice that was a hoarse whisper. His brother had returned. The world had lurched, hesitated, and then had gone on spinning merrily. They were together again.

Now the repairs on the canoe were finished. Pop yawned, stretched, and pulled out his pipe. Then he followed Bug Eye to camp and spent the next fifteen minutes in disputing Teddy’s mastery over bean-eating. At length their appetites were satisfied. The pans were washed by the simple method of rubbing sand on them and rinsing them in the river. Blankets were folded. Then, having carried their possessions to the craft, they were ready to start once more.

“Remember those old books in our school library?” Teddy asked Roy, as he stood with his hand on the stern, ready to launch the canoe. “The Amazon Adventurers, or something like that. Where the heroes always come bobbing up from tornadoes, volcanoes, or what have you, with a smile on their faces ready to stop a revolution single handed. Remember the verse Spike Murphy wrote—you know, he played tackle our second year at Hopper. Like this, I think:

“‘The Amazon Adventurers are always to the mus-tard.
They cut an elephant in half as if he was a cus-tard!’

“And a lot more, but I forget the rest. Spike used to walk around the campus singing it. Well, the point of this is that that’s the way I feel now. It’s a good thing there aren’t any elephants around. But something tells me I’ll have my work-out yet. There is still much to be done, as the cook said, turning the whale steak he was roasting. I’ll bet—”

“You’ll bet nothing!” Roy interrupted, with a laugh. “What is this, a political speech? You’ve been talking an hour by the clock. Grab hold, and shove. Ready, Pop and Bug Eye? Then let’s go!”

All four bent down and seized the gunwales. There was a straining of backs, and the canoe slid noiselessly into the river with scarcely a splash.

“No leakee!” Teddy shouted, capering around the bank. “No leakee, no shirtee! Watch it, boys. I’ll bet two bits she don’t leak!”

“Doesn’t,” Bug Eye corrected, a certain page of his English book before his mind. “A plural predicate takes the nominative singular. Or something. Anyway, ‘don’t’ ain’t nowheres near right.”

“Did you say singular?” Teddy asked, grinning. “It is that, at least! But tell me, boys—I’m afraid to look. Does she leak?”

“Nary leak!” Pop exclaimed, leaning close. “Guess I qualify for an expert boat-maker, don’t I? All right, Teddy, stop yore solo an’ hop in.”

Après vous, m’sieu,” Teddy smirked, and bowed low. “I assure you I crave to see you get wet first.”

“Don’t mind him, Pop,” Roy laughed. “That’s French, and not what you think it means. He just said: ‘after you!’ so don’t get sore. Come on, Teddy, you tomato! Get in there before I toss you in!”

Now you said something!” the boy ejaculated. “I obey with pleasure—but I’ll be back—oh, I’ll be ba-a-a-a-ak!” and he waved a hand vigorously as he settled himself in the bottom of the canoe.

“You’ll be back before you’re gone,” Roy remarked. “You paddle, my young gentleman of leisure. Oh, yes, there’s more than one. Bug Eye found the one that wasn’t broken, and this stick will do for the bow paddle. Here. On your horse, cowboy!”

Teddy took the flat board Roy held out to him and looked at it wonderingly.

“I am to paddle with this?” he said in a shocked voice. “Roy, my social position! I could never forgive myself—paddling Whirlpool River with a flat board! Dear, dear, what will Mrs. Percy Van Pelt say when she hears about this? I shall never, never hear the last of it!”

“We’ll try to keep it out of the papers,” Roy replied, laughing loudly. “Pipe down now, and go to work. Just forget Mrs. Percy Van Pelt and remember me sitting back of you here with a strong paddle and a good reach.”

“I desire an objection noted,” Teddy murmured, as he took the stick and shifted to the bow seat. “I obey, but under protest. All right, cap’in, whenever you say! I’m all set.”

“Everything in?” Roy asked, looking about him. “Rifles in the bottom? Yep. We’re off, boys. The Amazon Adventurers!”

The canoe shot for the middle of the river, propelled by Teddy and Roy. The stream was again placid, as it had been before the storm. A gentle current bore them along.

As they left their camping site, Roy turned his head and looked back. Many things had happened in the space of twenty-four hours, since they had first lit their fire. They had heard thieves planning to rustle the cattle on the Whirlpool River range. Then the pursuit and the rock ahead. The crash, and the roaring flood. Then his life had hung in the balance. How close it had come to being taken, he probably would never know. How had he gotten ashore? Why hadn’t he been drowned? Why—

Roy shook his head slowly.

“Mother must have been on the job then,” he said to himself, and smiled. “She said she’d put in a good word, and I guess she did! Surely, something besides me kept my head above water!”

Then another thought came to him. They were approaching the rapids with a mended canoe. The cattle were beyond, and rustlers were bent on taking them, if they had not already done so. There was the possible landslide that the stranger had reported.

“There’s plenty to worry about yet, I reckon,” Roy thought grimly. “But what good is worry? Answer—none! We’ll get those cattle, and we won’t come back till we do! Hey, Teddy!” he exclaimed aloud. “Snap to it! All right, boy—ho, ho ho, ho! Stick in there!”

The Whirlpool

Yes, there was still plenty to worry about, if one was in a worrying mood. The Manley boys and their companions were faced with the prospect of having their whole journey, with its dangers and hardships, go for nothing, if the rustlers reached the cattle first. There was a bare chance that Mr. Manley and his party had gotten to the Whirlpool River range in time to prevent the theft; but even Teddy admitted that this chance was a slim one. The overland route was long and tedious, and could not be accomplished in less than four days at the minimum.

“Guess we’d better resign ourselves to a long chase after those rustlers,” Roy said regretfully. “That is if they go through with their plan, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t. It sounded fool-proof to me. Certainly if the cattle were gone when dad got there, he would naturally suspect Jake Trummer of carrying out his threat and driving them into the river. Suppose we hadn’t heard the thieves talking that night? We would have gone on and probably backed dad up in saying Trummer had drowned the cows. When you think of it, we were pretty lucky after all.”

“But what good is our luck going to do us if we get there after the cattle are stolen?” Teddy asked, as he shifted his “paddle” to get a better grip on it.

“Seems to me I heered tell of a couple of fellers chasin’ some rustlers an’ makin’ out pretty well,” Pop drawled. “Could it have been you an’ Roy, Teddy?”

“Oh, that was different,” Teddy objected. “We got right on their trail then and rounded them up before they had a chance to escape. But now we won’t even know which way to start. They may take the cattle any place.”

“Can’t take ’em in the river an’ get much good out of ’em,” Bug Eye snickered. “They won’t drive ’em back toward X Bar X, ’cause you said they knew about yore dad comin’ along that trail. And as I remember it, there’s mountains back of Whirlpool River range that ’ud make travelin’ with a herd of dogies pretty risky—especially if the dirt on them hills is tearin’ loose. So it looks like there’s only one way they could go, Teddy—an’ that’s straight ahead.”

“That’s one way too many,” Pop remarked, bending over to see if the patch he had put in place was still firm. It was, and he leaned back again. “There’s a straight trail through to the Border, branchin’ left from the river,” he continued. “They’ll head for that, sure as shootin’. Course I ain’t sayin’ they’ll make it, but they’ll try to.”

“No such word as ‘ain’t,’” Bug Eye said absently. “But Pop, how far is it to the Border? Good eight days’ ride, ain’t it—isn’t it?”

“All of that. But what’s eight days? I been in saddle longer than that many a time. I remember, back in ’97—stop that splashin’, Bug Eye! I had my bath!”

“Back in ’97?” Bug Eye grinned.

Pop became absorbed in the shore line and refused to answer. Bug Eye winked, and, resting his head on his arm, started to snore loudly. A sharp dig in the ribs from Pop convinced him of the error of his ways, and he sat up, an innocent look on his face.

“Me, I’m tired!” he proclaimed. “When do we hit those rapids you been talkin’ so much about, Pop? Last time I came over here they was nothin’ but a few waves. I craves excitement, I do.”

“You’ll get it,” Pop said laconically. “They’ll be more than a few waves this time. An’ that reminds me. Roy, you an’ Teddy been workin’ long enough. What say you give me an’ Bug Eye a crack at it? The rapids are just below here, an’ I want to do the steerin’ as we hit ’em. I been over ’em many times, an’ I think I can put us through all right.”

“Yo’re a great thinker,” Bug Eye murmured, as he changed places with Teddy and received the board he was to use as a paddle. “Pop, what am I supposed to do with this here barrel stave, or whatever it is? Cheer you, or somethin’?”

“When I say left, you paddle on the left. When I say right, you shift. That’s all.”

“An’ when you say ‘here she goes,’ I take my little bath,” Bug Eye snickered. “All right, Pop. O.K.! Me an’ my flat board is ready.”

“Are ready,” grinned Pop. “Yuh forget yore plural nominative, Bug Eye. Well, let’s see you work now!”

Roy, who had given up his place and paddle to Pop and was seated in the bottom facing front, saw ahead of him that the banks of the stream were coming together—closing in. It had been long since he and Teddy had come over this route, and the landmarks were unfamiliar. But he knew that just below the point where the shores converged were the rapids.

The river seemed to take on new strength now. The soft purr was developing into a roar, and Teddy, remembering the last time they had heard that, hunched his shoulders. But this sound was different, somehow, from the boiling of the stream after the storm. That had been an unwholesome noise, as though the river had suddenly taken upon itself an evil accomplishment, whereas the deep thunder that came to Teddy’s ears from the rapids below was the voice of a giant who is proud of his strength and who gives fair warning to any one who contests his supremacy.

“Feel it pull?” Pop Burns asked excitedly, as they came nearer and nearer the rapids. “Wait till we hit the worst part! You’ll know yo’re in somethin’ then, let me tell yuh!”

Teddy and Roy were too absorbed in the spectacle to answer. Directly before them a curtain of spray arose like a white cloud, pierced now and then by a jet of water that leaped upward like a silver fish. A cold haze hung over the boat—penetrating, knife-like—that sent the blood tingling through the veins. All four were leaning forward now, waiting, ready.

“Left!” Pop yelled, and Bug Eye shifted his paddle swiftly. “Steady—steady—Take it!

The canoe plunged into the maelstrom. About them the waters tumbled and tossed in an agony of movement. The craft shot forward like an arrow from a bow.

“Yay!” Teddy yelled, his eyes alight with a fierce joy. “Let’s go!”

Roy was too fascinated to exclaim. He sat perfectly still, gripping the sides of the boat, his head thrown back, his lips smiling. This was life!

A deep whirlpool lay directly in their path. Teddy saw that it was spinning with incredible rapidity, and thought that if they hit it destruction was certain. He turned to Pop to sound a warning.

But the veteran had seen it. Not an inch did he swerve from his course. For a moment the boat hung on the edge, poised for a dive. Then it leaped.

Straight into the heart of that silver-lined, foaming vortex it shot.

“Right” Pop yelled, and Bug Eye shifted again.

There was a space of time, seemingly interminable, when the boat appeared to stand still while the waters whirled beneath it. Then a quick lurch—and the whirlpool was left behind.

Stunned by the suddenness of it, Teddy jerked his head around. The whirlpool was far in the rear. They had been in and out in less than a second.

“Pop!” the boy called above the roaring, “what happened?”

“Nothin’ much,” Pop chuckled. “We just took it at the right time, that’s all. It tossed us out. Like it?”

“Certainly did!” Teddy cried enthusiastically. “Hit ’em again, Pop!”

They came now to a place where the stream undulated like a huge white snake. There were hills and valleys of water; smooth, shining water. It seemed that the rocks over which the river was flowing were just beneath the surface—that they must surely crush them to pieces. Teddy saw that Pop’s face lost none of its calmness, so he settled himself once more with an attempt at serenity which deceived no one. Just what in thunder was keeping them from all going to the bottom?

The craft was tossing like a ship on the ocean. First the bow would almost bury itself in a smother of foam, then it would lift until it seemed that it must turn over backward. Bug Eye wrapped his legs firmly about the seat.

“Roller coaster!” he shouted, and went down again, nearly out of sight.

“My Fishmobile—” he began when once more he rose straight in the air, but at that moment they came to an especially deep pool and the words froze on his lips. Teddy watched him with amusement and saw that when he was level again Bug Eye had a wild look about him.

“I’ll stick to crazy steers after this!” the cowboy yelled. “They stay on the ground, anyway!”

But the worst of it was over. The water resumed a more normal flow and the banks widened. They still shot downstream at an alarming rate, but the canoe kept on a fairly level keel.

Bug Eye drew a breath of relief and rested his paddle across the gunwales.

“I’m cured,” he declared solemnly. “I wanted to be a sailor when I was young. But never again! That was some circus! What made it like that, Pop? I’ve been over here before. But snakes, that was a millpond compared to to-day. What happened?”

“The storm,” Pop grinned. “I kinda thought it would be pretty bad. But we’re through now. And Jake Trummer’s place is just ahead. One more bend and we’re there.”

Eagerly the boys waited until they should come in sight of Whirlpool River Ranch. The end of their trip was at hand. Would they find their cattle grazing peacefully, waiting to be driven home? Would their father be there yet? They sat tense, leaning forward.

They rounded the bend. A broad vista of land lay before them, green, rolling range land. Back of the grazing fields mountains rose sublimely, fleecy clouds capping their summits. The late afternoon sun turned the scene into a picture of pastoral beauty.

But on the range was not a hair, hide, or hoof of a single shorthorn.

Burying the Hatchet

There was tender grass to be munched. There was warm sun to bask in. There was the placid river to drink from. Yet of cattle there was none, nor any sign of them.

“Just in time to be late!” Bug Eye groaned, and rested on his paddle.

“They may be further on,” Teddy remarked hopefully. “Beyond the rise, there.”

“Much beyond,” Roy said bitterly. “If they were there, some would wander off to this range. Yet we’ll look.”

Once more the canoe went forward, this time slowly, dispiritedly. Their journey had been in vain. Their cattle were gone.

As Roy had feared, once past the rise in the land, they saw that surely the herd had departed. Pop said nothing, but sat and smoked in silence, his paddle dragging. Bug Eye made a few remarks under his breath.

“We’ll have to land and find Jake Trummer,” Teddy declared. “That gang we heard on the river at night has been here before us.”

“They rustled ’em, hey?” Bug Eye asked inanely.

“Exactly,” Teddy replied. “How far away they’ve gotten with them, there’s no telling. We’re worse than useless without broncs. We’ll have to wait for dad.”

“You’ll not have to do much waitin’,” Pop remarked suddenly. “I seen General just over that hill.”

“With dad on him?” Teddy questioned eagerly.

“Nope. Guess he’s up at the ranch house talkin’ to Trummer. General’s been turned out to grass. We’ll beach, an’ walk over.”

“How far?” Bug Eye wanted to know.

“Four miles. Do you good. We can leave the stuff here. Be all right. Trummer is the only man I know who’s got his range in his back yard.”

The canoe was driven ashore, and Teddy leaped out.

“If we hadn’t hit that rock,” he said bitterly, “we could have been here before the rustlers and saved the cows.”

“Mebby,” Pop said laconically. “There’s lots of things to be considered. We’ll see yore dad first, an’ talk later.”

The four set off across country, after having pulled the canoe up out of reach of the water. As they walked, they turned frequently, as though they expected to find the missing cattle. The way was long, but evening brought coolness, and they were not tired when they came in sight of the ranch house.

Jake Trummer’s place was like a hundred others in the state. The low, broad building where the “boss” and his family lived, the high-fenced corral; the bunk-house; and, separated a little from it, the cook house. A few horses were in the corral, and among them Teddy recognized the bronc Nat Raymond usually rode.

“All here but General,” Roy murmured. “You said you saw him out on the range, Pop. Then dad must be inside.”

Coming nearer the ranch house, a mutter of voices reached them. Loud above the others, sounded Jake Trummer’s, with his repeated:

“You hear me, now—you hear me!”

“Hot times,” Bug Eye remarked.

Then they reached the side steps, and another speaker interrupted. The voice was low, but vibrant.

“That’s dad,” Roy said tensely. “He’s good and mad about something.”

“Jake Trummer,” Mr. Manley was saying, “I’ve known you for a long time. An’ I never thought you’d pull a low-down trick like this.”

“Bardwell Manley, you go careful! I kin only stand so much! You’re at my house, my guest, an’ as such I respect you. But you hear me when I tell you I didn’t touch your dogies, an’ I mean it. An’ if you’re wantin’ to call me a liar to my face, start now!”

“But, Jake you tole me you’d drive ’em into the river, an’ when I get here they’re gone! What would you say in a case like that? Don’t it look as if you’d done it?”

“But I tell you I didn’t! They was there last night. To-day they was gone. That’s all I know about ’em.”

“Well—” Mr. Manley shook his head, and at that moment Roy bounded up the steps.

“Dad! We’re here at last. Had a tough time of it.”

“Roy! Teddy! Glad to see you, boys. I was beginnin’ to worry, but I figured you might have been delayed on account of the storm. And now you’re here—” he spread his hands expressively—“we might as well turn around an’ go home. The cows are gone. Trummer—”

“Wait, Dad,” Teddy said quickly. “You’re wrong. Mr. Trummer had nothing to do with the cattle being stolen.”

“Stolen! How do you know that? Who stole ’em? Jake Trummer—”

“Give the boy a chance, Bardwell!” Mr. Trummer interrupted testily. “He knows more about it than you do. Let him speak.”

“It’s just this,” Teddy went on, with a look at the others. “Two nights ago we camped by the stream, because the storm came up, and we couldn’t see our way clear to taking a chance on keeping afloat. Late at night—at least it seemed late—Roy and I walked down to the river, leavin’ Pop an’ Bug Eye by the fire. That right, Pop?”

The veteran nodded.

“Yuh tell it, Teddy. Yuh know more about it than what I do.”

“We headed for the river,” the boy went on, “and when we got there we heard some men talking. They were in a boat on the stream. Some one they called Denver—”

“Denver!” Jake Trummer broke in. “That’s—But go ahead, son. I’ll have my say later,” he added, with a glance at Mr. Manley.

“This Denver had a plan to rustle our cattle that had strayed over here, an’ he aimed to let you think Mr. Trummer did as he had threatened,” Teddy went on swiftly. “They’d found out, somehow, about the whole business; maybe from The Pup, though he didn’t appear to be with them. They were going to drive the cows off at night, and, by golly, that’s what they did!”

For a moment there was silence. Mr. Manley looked at Jake Trummer, his face a deep red. Then he threw back his head and thrust out his hand.

“Jake,” he said falteringly, “I ain’t sayin’ nothin’ now. I’ve done all my talkin’—a sight too much, I reckon. I’ll stay dumb for the rest of my life. But if you can forgive an old fool—”

With a grin, Jake Trummer clasped the hand offered him, and gripped hard.

“We all make mistakes,” he said softly. “I made the first one. All the forgivin’ to be done ain’t on my side. I come to you like a bag o’ wind an’ shot my mouth off when I shouldn’t. Some hand of yourn told one of my men that the orders were to let the cattle stray as far as they wanted, on my range if possible, because the grazin’ was good an’ they needed fattenin’. I was a fool to believe it.”

“The Pup!” Teddy and Roy exclaimed in the same breath.

“Was he tall, Mr. Trummer?” Teddy asked. “Dark?”

“Never saw him,” Mr. Trummer answered, releasing Mr. Manley’s hand. “He told one of my men. Well, Bardwell, we’ll forget it. We were both wrong, I, mebby, more than you. Now let’s get this thing straight. First I want to ask yore boy: Did that man you said they called Denver have a high-pitched, cracked voice?”

“I’ll tell a maverick he did!” Roy replied excitedly. “High as a girl’s, almost. Why?”

“That was Denver Smith,” Mr. Trummer declared. “They’re the last of the old gangs, an’ the sooner they go the better. They make their headquarters on the banks of Whirlpool River an’ try to pick up tips they can use in their business, which is everything from high-jackin’ to rustlin’. I pity the man that rides that river road alone an’ with money in his pocket. They’d get him sure. Yep, boys, it was Denver Smith an’ his bunch fer a sure bet. What did they say, again?”

“They were planning to steal our cattle and let you take the blame,” Roy replied. “They knew you’d had an argument with dad up on our ranch, though I don’t know how.”

“It’ll be the last one we’ll have, eh, Bardwell?” Mr. Trummer said, and grinned. “As fer them findin’ out, they have ways an’ means. But that’s not the point. Yore cattle’s gone, Bardwell. What you aimin’ to do?”

“Get ’em back!” Mr. Manley said grimly. “I hate to ask it, Jake; but if you can spare a few horses for the boys, here—”

“Spare a few horses?” Mr. Trummer ejaculated. “What kind of a game is this, Bardwell?”

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Manley muttered, and turned away. “I kind of thought—”

“Spare a few horses! By cripes, you got nerve! An’ what about me? Think I’ll stay here? We’ll ride together, like we done before, Bardwell! You can have all the horses yuh want; but yuh got to take me with ’em! We’ll get them rustlers, an’ every one of yore cows! Spare a few horses! Huh! I’ll spare more than that! You hear me?”

Mr. Manley grinned. He clapped his friend on the back, and then laughed.

“For a minute yuh had me scared, Jake. But I might o’ known—I might o’ known. We ride together, then. Tell yore cook to throw some victuals together. Boys, I’m sure glad you showed up! We’ll clean up Denver Smith an’ his gang—an’ dry-clean ’em at that! Saddle what broncs Jake wants to give you, an’ we’ll eat an’ get!”

The Chase

The meal was soon concluded, and Roy and Teddy told of their adventures on the river.

Inwardly Mr. Manley was much concerned over their mishaps, but he only nodded and smiled. He wanted to let his boys know that he expected nothing less from them.

At the same time his face flushed with a glow of pride when Roy told, modestly enough, of his fight with the eagle. He looked at the knife with which his son had slain the bird, and silently put the weapon in his pocket. By this the boy knew he was really affected by the story. The knife would remain a relic, a proof of his son’s bravery. With the exception of Roy, Pop was the only one who realized this. The others thought he had absent-mindedly put it in his own pocket instead of returning it to Roy.

For a while Roy hesitated to tell his father of the payroll robbery and Teddy knew he was holding off purposely, so he said nothing. But when they were walking toward the corral, Roy decided it would be best for his father to know the whole story, even if it did add to his worry, so he told him.

Mr. Manley took it silently, only shaking his head sorrowfully. The loss of the money affected him not so much as realizing that The Pup was a thief. He had never liked the man, but a horse-thief and payroll bandit—that was different from “plain orneriness.”

“Guess I made a mistake in Marino,” he declared. “Got in the house an’ stole my four hundred, did he! Well, maybe it was partly my fault for lettin’ it lay around like that, so open. But none of the boys I ever had would steal a cent. Gus, now—” he stopped, and bit his lip. Gus was a topic that bothered him. “You don’t think Gus—”

“No, Dad, Gus had nothing to do with it,” Teddy said positively. “I’m sure of that, Dad!”

“That’s good,” Mr. Manley sighed. “I didn’t think Gus was that kind. Pshaw, I knew he wasn’t! Wonder if we’ll see him again? Well—” and he shrugged his shoulders. “But this is no time for wonderin’. We got to be on our way. So The Pup stole—right from the house! Stole my payroll!” He shook his head again, slowly, and walked off muttering.

“Dad would rather have that money taken twice than to think Gus was mixed up in it,” Teddy said to Roy in a low voice. “He’s sorry The Pup did it, too. He may have disliked Marino, as I guess we all did, but dad hates to think any one is a thief.”

The horses, saddled and ready, were waiting for them. Those who had come with Mr. Manley had, of course, their own broncos, and Jake Trummer supplied Teddy, Roy, Pop Burns and Bug Eye with other mounts. They took with them food, and each saddle packed a rifle and a blanket. The chase, even if it was successful, might take several days to conclude. They had one big advantage—the rustlers did not know they were being trailed. Thus they would take their time, and Mr. Manley counted largely on this.

“Guess we’re all set,” the boss of the X Bar X stated, as he looked about him. The men were mounted, waiting for the word to start.

“Whenever you say, Bardwell,” Jake Trummer suggested.

“Then let’s go!”

The riders filed out of the yard and headed once more for the river. Mr. Trummer had left word with one of his men on the ranch that the canoe and its contents were to be taken care of, so there was no need to return to the place where they had left it. Instead, the riders cut diagonally across the range and headed away from the direction the boys had come.

“Dad, what about that landslide?” Roy remarked, spurring his mount up closer to his father. “Nick arrived all fagged out and told us a stranger gave you a wild tale about an avalanche.”

“It was a wild tale,” Mr. Manley declared. “Jake said no such thing occurred. Didn’t you, Jake? But it had me worried, all the same. By golly, if it’s not one thing it’s another!”

“I’ll tell a maverick,” Roy muttered, and then rode forward silently. He was thinking of The Pup and Gus. Where had The Pup fled to? They had seen him at the edge of the stream on the horse he had stolen. Did he follow the river? Or did he branch out? Was there a chance of catching him, as well as the cattle rustlers?

“Pipe dreams,” the boy muttered. “We’ve seen all we ever shall of Joe Marino.”

“Roy, quit that mumbling and speak up!” Teddy exclaimed. “What’s on your mind?”

“The Pup, for one thing,” Roy answered grimly. “He’s got a horse of ours, and four hundred dollars. I hate to let him get away with a raw thing like that without an effort to catch him.”

“We’ll make more than an effort, Roy, when we get this cattle business finished,” Mr. Manley called back. “We’ll have every sheriff in the state on his trail, and maybe we’ll take a hand in it ourselves. He was the man who put Gus on the bum. I can’t forget that.”

“There’s another little item that sticks in my mind,” Teddy remarked in a low voice. “It happened near the corral the night the horse and the money were stolen. Guess you know what I mean, Roy. Though I’d rather have it sticking in my mind than in my chest,” he added significantly.

“The knife with J. K. on it,” Roy returned. “Sure, I know, Teddy. But the sooner we forget The Pup the better. He’s gone. If we catch him, fine! If not—well, charge it up to profit and loss.”

“That’s the right idea, Roy,” Mr. Manley agreed. “We’ve got enough on our hands now. If we get our cattle back I’ll be satisfied.”

“I suppose I ought to be—and maybe I’ll have to be; but it sure sticks in my craw to let a thing like that get by me!” muttered Teddy.

The gloom of evening was at hand, and the men rode in close formation, talking in subdued tones. Pop and Bug Eye were ahead, leading. Roy and Teddy brought up the rear, their father riding just ahead of them. They had planned to cover as much distance as possible before dark, so that when morning came they would be near enough to the rustlers to seize them before they had a chance to escape.

They soon came to the lowlands just beyond the range of Whirlpool River Ranch. The air here was damp and chill, due to the moisture from the river which had settled in the depressions. To add to this, the night promised to be cloudy, with no moon showing. Already the dull, gray canopy was curtaining the evening sky, cutting off, in the fullness of its glory, the western sunset.

“This is the first real touch of fall we’ve had,” Roy remarked, buttoning his shirt collar higher. Then, raising his voice: “Where are you figuring to stop, Dad? Going to ride part of the night?”

Mr. Manley, the better to reply, wheeled his pony and circled back toward his son.

“Nope,” he answered. “Soon as we top this rise ahead we’ll call a halt. We sure don’t want to camp in this place. Golly, it’s damp!” and he shivered slightly.

The leaders of the column quickened their pace, so that they might leave the lowlands as quickly as possible. Pop, like most old ranchmen, had his pet superstitions, and one of them was that it was unlucky to stay long in such a place.

“Things happen,” he declared vaguely. “The mountains are all right—don’t care how high they are. Open range is all right. But every time I ride through land that sets low, I get a feelin’ that somethin’ is goin’ to turn up. Don’t know why, but I do.”

“Ever hear that dampness was bad for rheumatism?” Teddy chuckled. “That might have something to do with it, Pop.”

“No sir,” and Pop shook his head obstinately. “It’s got nothin’ to do with rheumatism. Even Nat Raymond’s pony knows what I mean. Look at the way he’s actin’.”

In truth, the bronco Nat rode, which had come from the home ranch with him, was acting queerly. The pony would come to a dead stop, lift its head, whinny, and proceed. This performance was repeated several times.

Mr. Manley observed the horse with interest.

“What makes him do that, Nat?” he asked. “You pullin’ him up?”

“Not any, boss.” Nat answered sincerely. “He’s doin’ it himself. Like Pop said, I guess, he don’t like lowlands.”

“Seems to me as though he sensed a stranger around,” Teddy said to Roy in a low tone. “I’ve seen Nat’s bronco do that before, when a new man came into the yard of the X Bar X. It’s got nothing to do with the place we’re in now.”

“Well, there’s enough men with us he never saw before,” Roy countered. He motioned toward Jake Trummer and his followers. “Think they’re the reason, Teddy?”

“No, I don’t and I’ll tell you why. Because I noticed that it’s only a man that comes alone who effects the bronc like that. Nat,” he called, “did you ever see your horse act like that before?”

“Well, he does get kind of nervous when a stranger comes around,” Nat admitted. “But usually it’s only if the stranger rides alone. I can’t figure why the bronc should do it here unless Pop’s right about him bein’ leary of lowlands.”

Teddy shook his head, but said nothing in reply.

Darkness was nearly upon them, and Mr. Manley held up his hand for a halt.

“Stick close now, men,” he ordered. “Jake, you want to show us the way out of here? Guess you know it better than I do. We want to camp as soon as possible.”

“Right, Bardwell!” Jake agreed. “All set, men? Follow me. Don’t get too far apart. We don’t want no stragglers.”

He rode forward again, and the others strung along behind him. Just as he reached a knoll, which marked the end of the lowland, those following heard him give an exclamation of surprise. Mr. Manley spurred his horse forward.

“What is it, Jake?” he asked.

“Look!” Jake answered shortly. “There’s a horse without a rider. Maybe that’s why Nat’s bronc was actin’ up. He’s got a saddle on, too.”

Ahead of them, half concealed by the settling dusk, stood a pinto. On his back was a saddle, but no rider. When the animal saw the group in front of him, it ran toward them.

“Jimminy!” Teddy breathed. “His right foreleg is hurt. Notice how he’s limping? What does he remind you of, Roy?”

“He doesn’t remind me of anything; he is!” Roy answered forcibly. The horse came closer. “Teddy, that’s the pony The Pup stole, or I’m a ring-tailed doodle bird!”

The Man at the Fire

“Our pony!”

Mr. Manley almost shouted it.

“Do you mean to say that’s the bronc that Marino stole?”

“Look at him yourself, Dad!” Teddy cried excitedly. “Wait, I’ll see if I can get him. He knows me—I broke him. Stay here.”

The boy rode rapidly forward. The horse did not turn and run, but stood, waiting. In a moment Teddy had hold of his bridle rein and was leading him back.

“See? Isn’t he?”

Mr. Manley looked closer.

“He certainly is, Teddy! Well, for the love of Pete! how’d he get here—an’ where’s The Pup?”

“Can’t tell you that, Dad,” Teddy replied. He turned to Roy. “Now are you so sure that we’ll never see Marino again? He’s around here somewhere, I’ll bet a plugged nickel! Maybe he got thrown. If it wasn’t so dark we could have a look for him.”

“By golly, it’s the pinto!” Pop exclaimed, riding up. “Where’d he come from, Teddy? I saw that horse out yonder, but I didn’t pay no attention to him. Thought he had a man with him. The pinto! The Pup must have followed up the river from the time we saw him! Snakes! wonder if he’s around?”

“That bronc of yours is a good watch dog,” Roy declared to Nat. “It was this horse he sensed, and the lowlands had nothin’ to do with it. Pop, you’re all twisted. Nat’s pony was calling in this pinto.”

“Meybe,” Pop agreed doubtfully. “I ain’t sayin’ nothin’. Well, boss, do we camp? We can picket this hoss and come back for him later. He’ll stand, I reckon.”

“Won’t do much wanderin’ with his leg like that,” Bug Eye remarked. It was practically the first sentence he had uttered since they had left Jake Trummer’s place. “He’s got a sore there that seems as if it might have been made some time ago.”

“It was,” Teddy remarked laconically. “I brought Roy in to look at it the night he was stolen. That’s how I found he was gone. Wherever The Pup is, he’s on foot. Unless he got thrown, and is lying hurt somewhere.”

“And alone,” added Roy, with a note of pity in his voice.

The uselessness of attempting to find Marino in the dark was apparent to all, and, leaving the knoll on which he stood, Mr. Manley rode forward until he and Jake Trummer came to a spot which bordered on a group of trees.

“We can pitch camp here,” Mr. Trummer suggested. “There’s a spring in them trees, good an’ cold. In the mornin’ we can start at sun-up, and then, by golly, we’ll run them rustlers to earth. They don’t know we’re comin’, but they’ll learn soon enough. Tryin’ to lay the blame on me fer the cattle bein’ gone! Huh, I’m kinda anxious to meet Denver Smith an’ his gang!”

The horses were picketed some distance from the camping spot, a fire was built and blankets were unrolled. The night was cold, and the men huddled as closely as possible to the blaze, wrapped tightly in their thick coverings. The heavens were entirely obscured by clouds, and beyond the fire a blackness, like heavy velvet, covered the land.

Supper was soon concluded, for the party was “traveling light.” But three men had been told to carry rations, and, consequently, there was hardly enough from which to make a feast. But beans and bacon are filling, and no one went actually hungry.

There was little talk after supper. The finding of The Pup’s pony was commented upon, and guesses were hazarded concerning the whereabouts of Marino, but that was all. The men were tired, and tired men waste no time in idle talk. Definitely and directly they go to sleep.

Within an hour the only sounds to be heard were the uneasy neighings of the horses and the crackling of the fire as it burned brightly and then sank down again. Each man had his rifle by his side, in case he was awakened by a curious beast sniffing at his ear, but no one actually anticipated having to use the firearm.

Certainly they expected no human visitor. The rustlers, even if they were in the neighborhood, would avoid them studiously. True, each man there hoped that the ground they had covered brought them nearer their quarry, for a herd of cattle moves slowly. The only direction the thieves could have taken was the one in which they were traveling. Sooner or later they would come upon the missing cows, and, they hoped, also the beasts’ self-constituted guards.

The rustlers had certainly hoped to gain a long start on possible pursuers, because of the delay occasioned by reason of Jake Trummer’s being blamed for the disappearance of the Durhams. But their plans had miscarried, and this they did not know. Their conversation on the river had betrayed them.

Teddy’s sleep was troubled with dreams—dreams of cattle and huge bales of money and long knives with queer initials burned in the handle. Then he saw Gus, alone, weary, staggering over the prairie, shouting his name. So vivid was the impression that some one was calling him that he sat suddenly upright, with the word “Teddy!” still ringing clearly in his ears.

Then, as one aroused from a sleep gradually realizes the true state of affairs, the boy grinned, and once more lay down on the soft earth and pulled his blanket about him. Dreams are funny things, he thought. Sometimes they’re so real the rest of life seems unreal, and a dream itself.

“Getting poetical,” he muttered, and composed himself to rest, “just like old Roy.” The fire was still going, the embers glowing brightly.

Try as he would, Teddy could not sink again into slumber. He shut his eyes tightly and counted innumerable sheep, but sheep reminded him of cattle, and cattle brought a host of thoughts that were most disturbing. At last the boy sat up and threw his blanket from him.

“Guess I’ll chuck a few pieces of wood on the fire,” he said to himself. His mind formed clear sentences before him, describing his every movement, as is often the case of one who finds himself the victim of insomnia. As the boy made his way carefully from between the sleeping forms lying near, he murmured:

“Easy, now—mustn’t wake the others. Golly, it’s dark—cold, too! Glad the fire’s not out. I’m hungry. Listen to those horses whinny! Why don’t they go to sleep? I wonder where Gus is to-night? Funny how we came across The Pup’s horse and not The Pup. Here’s a stick that’ll do fine.” He threw it on the fire. “There, that’s better. Warmer! That Pop snoring? Must be. Sounds like a saw mill. Funny old geezer, Pop. Wish I could sleep like that.”

Small, unconnected thoughts kept buzzing through his brain. He walked around the fire, then seated himself near it, his knees drawn up, his chin resting on his hands. His dream came back to him, and he recalled that he had awakened with his own name ringing in his ears.

“Sure sounded as though some one was calling me,” he muttered, kicking a piece of wood further in to the heart of the flames. “Wonder what time it is? Must be after midnight. Snakes, there’s not a star out!”

He raised his head and stared vacantly up into the blackness. For a long moment he stayed in this position, then closed his eyes. He came to himself with a start.

“Well!” and he grinned. “Almost went to sleep sitting up. Guess I’ll seek my downy bed once more.”

He arose, and stretched. He stood there, his arms outstretched, staring at a dark form looming up on the opposite side of the fire—a strange, staggering form.

Teddy’s right hand leaped down to his belt and closed over the butt of his gun. But he did not draw, for at that moment the form of a man pitched headlong at his feet and lay still!

Boss and Bandit

Teddy, hand resting on the gun, eyes wide, stared at the prostrate intruder. Something about the man seemed familiar. As he lay there, his arms thrown wide, head turned to one side, he appeared to have been dropped from a great height and pressed into the earth from the force of descent. The fingers weakly opened and closed, but aside from that the figure was motionless, silent.

Teddy dropped on one knee, and laid a hand on the man’s shoulder. A shudder ran through the body.

“Here!” Teddy said sharply. “What’s the matter? Can you speak?”

“Tired,” the man mumbled. “Hungry. Let me be.”

Roy, who was lying near by, awoke and sat up, blinking. When he saw his brother bending over the man he thought at first that Teddy was trying to rouse one of the sleepers.

“Shake him, Teddy,” he advised in a drowsy voice. “What’s the matter—did he steal your blanket?”

“Roy, come here,” Teddy said quickly. “I think this is some one you know.”

“Some one I—” Then the meaning of Teddy’s sentence penetrated his brother’s half-awakened mind, and he struggled to his feet. By this time the others were stirring, asking questions in sleepy tones and rolling about to see the cause of the disturbance.

Roy hastened to his brother’s side. Together, the two boys turned the man over, so that he faced the fire. As the glare of the newly fed flames glinted in his face, he made a feeble gesture of protest and covered his eyes with his hand. Then letting the arm drop like a dead thing, he sighed painfully.

Teddy, seeing the face, started back.

“The Pup!” he exclaimed, and turned at a touch on his shoulder. His father was peering down at their visitor.

“It’s Marino, all right,” Mr. Manley agreed grimly, staring at the dust-streaked face. “Is he hurt? What’s the matter?”

Teddy shook the man gently.

“Are you hurt, Joe?” the boy asked loudly. “Can’t you talk?”

“Talk all right—too tired,” The Pup mumbled. “Not hurt—tired—hungry.” Then for the first time he seemed to realize that he was surrounded by a ring of inquiring, puzzled faces. He pulled himself together and glared haggardly at Teddy, then shifted his gaze to Roy, and finally to Mr. Manley. Suddenly the light of fear came into his eyes, and he leaped to his feet, trembling.

“Don’t—don’t shoot me,” he begged piteously. “I’ll go! But don’t shoot me!”

“No one’s going to shoot you,” Mr. Manley said soothingly. “Here, sit down. Take this blanket. Man, you’re shiverin’ like a leaf. Get closer to the fire—that’s it! Pop rustle up some beans for this feller, will you? He looks half starved.”

“Half starved!” the man gasped, querulously, and sank within himself. “Worse’n that. Three days without food—lost—horse gone—”

Pop Burns brought some cold beans to him, and, hungrily, ravenously, the man reached for them. They watched him while he ate, more like a wild beast than a human being, and later Pop brought him a cup of steaming coffee. When he had finished this he sighed with relief and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. His voice, when again he spoke, was stronger.

“Boss,” he said, turning to Mr. Manley, “I don’t deserve this. By rights you should have thrown me out on my neck. Instead you—” he hesitated, and waved his arm in an expressive gesture—“you treat me like a man instead of like a—a mangy dog.” He gulped, and his listeners shifted uneasily. “I ain’t worth it. I’m a thief—a hoss thief an’ a common robber. Once I— But we’ll let that go. I ain’t got yore money, boss,” he said suddenly, and looked up appealingly. “I ain’t got a cent of it left.”

“You spent it?” Mr. Manley asked sharply.

“I been robbed,” The Pup continued, and gulped again. “Been robbed of everything I had except the hoss, an’ he ran away. For three days I been walkin’—tryin’ to find some one—any one—tryin’ to find food—”

“Who robbed you?”

“Denver Smith an’ his bunch.”

“Denver Smith!” Jake Trummer ejaculated, and bent over The Pup. “When did yuh see them? Where are they? Have they got—”

“Give the man a chance, Jake,” Mr. Manley advised gently. “He’s all in. Listen Marino,” he said in a louder tone, “do you know where Denver Smith is now?”

“Said he was goin’ to rustle your cattle an’ follow the river to the Border,” The Pup whispered weakly. “Wanted me to go in it with him, but I figured I’d done enough to you. Then Denver hit me—hit me with somethin’—” stupidly he put his hand to his head. “Hit me, an’ took the four hundred dollars, an’ when I woke up my hoss was gone an’ I was lyin’ near some trees. The four hundred bucks—I was hopin’ to make Togas an’ find my sister—an’ I was goin’ to work—buy a store, maybe—an’ send the money back to you, boss—honest I was—every cent—”

“And buy a few more knives with some one else’s initials burned in the handle,” Teddy interrupted bitterly. “The story listens fine, Marino!”

“I ain’t lyin’!” Marino almost screamed. “It’s the truth! I wanted to start clean! I been a long time livin’ down—what I used to be. Then, that night—I must have been crazy, I guess. I’d been drinkin’ too much an’ I thought I could turn a trick just once more an’ go back home an’ live straight. My mother—I killed her, I guess, ’cause she died when she found out what I was. It was then I promised my sister I’d give up—that stuff. Oh, you might as well know it all,” he burst out, his words tumbling over one another as if in agony to escape before being called back. “I was a bandit—that knife was marked with my initials, Teddy. My real name’s Jules Kolto—”

“You—Jules Kolto?” Pop cried incredulously. “I heard lots about you years ago! Then yuh are a Mex, after all!”

“Yep, I’m Mex,” Kolto went on bitterly. “A Mex, a hoss thief, an’ a bandit. Now you know. If yuh want to string me up, go ahead!” he exclaimed defiantly. “I ain’t any good to nobody, least of all to myself! So do what you want with me—an’ I won’t do no cryin’, neither!” He took a deep breath, then a sudden tremor shook his frame.

“Take it easy, son,” Mr. Manley said kindly. “You ain’t in no fit condition to be hung. What you want is rest an’ food. Hangin’ wouldn’t make you feel a bit better. Guess you’ve learned yore lesson. Jules Kolto! Well, well! And you been straight for so many years only to backslide an’ have the money you stole taken from you by another thief! The longer we live the queerer things we see,” and Mr. Manley smiled grimly. “Yore hoss—or, rather, the one you stole—is picketed over yonder. We found him. You took a mighty poor way to start straight. No good ever comes of stolen money. An’ while I ain’t a preacher, I’m preachin’ now.

“You wanted to get to Mexico an’ see yore sister, maybe live there the rest of yore life, an’ to do that you undid all the work of ten years in one grand spree. Suppose you had gotten away with it? What would yore sister have said to you? Think she’d have anything to do with stolen money when she’d made you promise to quit? An’ what else was that you said—that yore mother died when she found out that you was a bandit? Then you went ahead and stole again! Humans are funny animals,” and Mr. Manley shook his head. “I can’t figure ’em.

“Now listen, Jules Kolto. I’ll give you another chance. You help us find Denver Smith an’ his gang an’ get our cattle back. Then you come home with me an’ work—work until that four hundred is paid. Then you can find yore sister an’ she won’t be ashamed to see you. Jules Kolto, I’m offerin’ you a chance to go straight. Will yuh take it?”

Jules stood up. He threw back his head and the gleam from the fire shone on the face of a man with his jaw set firmly and with the light of a new purpose in his eyes.

“Boss,” he said huskily, “I’m for you! I can’t say much,—but I’ll do whatever you want me to—barrin’ nothin’. I’ll trail Denver Smith till we get the cattle back if I drop in my tracks doin’ it. I’ll work my fingers off for you. Boss—will you shake?”

There was a tense silence, broken only by the crackle of the fire, as the hands of boss and bandit met in a firm clasp.

Flying Bullets

A rosy dawn broke over the prairie. It shone on a group of men moving quickly about. Near them the smoke from a campfire arose. A few pans, containing the remains of a range breakfast, lay near it on the ground. Horses were being saddled, blankets rolled, rifles were being wiped dry from the morning dew. But there was an orderliness about this activity, a purpose in every movement of the figures. Every man knew exactly what he had to do, and was doing it, swiftly and definitely.

Teddy was tightening a cinch-strap, and he looked up as Roy called to him:

“Need any help? I’m all set.”

“No thanks, Roy. I’ll make it.” The strap was quickly adjusted, and Teddy vaulted into the saddle.

The others were mounting now, and the party soon started to move forward. Mr. Manley and Jake Trummer were leading, while Teddy, Roy and Jules Kolto, the latter seeming like a new man after his sleep, followed directly behind. The rest rode along in the rear. Kolto was astride the pinto he had stolen, but now he sat with his head held firmly and his chin thrust forward. He was a hunted thief no longer, but a man.

Down toward the river the line of riders swept. They came fast and silently. In the crook of each right arm rested a rifle. On every face was a look of fixed determination.

The sun was high when the leaders held up cautioning hands, and the column of horsemen stopped suddenly.

“There’s a bunch of cows just ahead,” Mr. Manley said tensely. “Can’t tell yet if they’re ours, but I think they are. Now ride slow an’ easy. We’ll come up careful an’ have a look.”

Once more the riders started forward, this time spread further apart, so that they came upon the cattle from different directions. Pop was the first to single out a cow and look at her brand. Then he rode swiftly toward Teddy and Roy, who were nearest.

“They’re ours, boys!” he yelled. “I spotted the ole X Bar X brand in a minute! When I invented that, long ago, I figgered it would be easy to see at a distance! Yep, boys, they’re here!”

“Tell dad!” Roy called. “Teddy, we’ll ride around them and see where his dis-honor, Denver Smith, is!”

Spurring their ponies forward, the two boys flashed over the ground, making a wide circle around the milling cattle.

“Looks like the cows are all safe!” Teddy yelled as he sped along. “Now for Denver Smith!”

Behind Teddy and Roy came Bug Eye and Nat Raymond, bending low in their saddles, holding their rifles in readiness. Their pistols were loose in the holsters, should close range fighting hamper the use of the longer barreled rifles.

The four punchers dashed over the ground. Now they came to the head of the cattle herd.

“They ought to be near here!” Teddy shouted, referring to the rustlers, “unless they got scared an’ beat it!”

But he saw almost immediately that this latter was not so. From the opposite side of the herd four men came riding, their guns out, their horses in a lather of foam.

“Spread!” Roy yelled. “Get apart! And fire low—they’ll kill us if they can!”

As the approaching rustlers came closer, their guns began to bark. Bullets whined overhead, and Teddy answered with a shot from his rifle. But this weapon was useless on the back of a rearing bronco. The boy thrust it into his saddle holster and drew his six-gun.

The four rustlers were bunched together and coming like a flying wedge. Teddy realized the wisdom of Roy’s shouted advice to “spread” when he took quick aim at the group and fired. One of the rustlers gave a wild yell and clapped his hand to his side.

“Hope that was Denver,” Teddy said to himself grimly. “Let ’em have it, Roy!” he yelled. “Pepper ’em!”

Roy was doing that very thing. The bullets of the rustlers were coming uncomfortably close, and when they swept past, Roy saw one of them take deliberate aim at Pop Burns and pull the trigger. The veteran lurched, recovered himself, and, wheeling his pony about, followed the outlaws.

“Hurt bad, Pop?” Roy called, his face white.

“Nope! Shoulder—left!” Pop shouted back. “All right. Go get ’em!”

Greatly relieved at Pop’s answer, Roy sped onward. He thought that the rustlers would seek to escape, but this did not now appear to be their plan. They had worked hard to drive the cattle thus far, and were not going to give them up without a struggle.

However, they changed their minds when Mr. Manley, Jake Trummer, and the others came into sight from beyond a rise.

The boss of the X Bar X had ridden in from the south side, trying to see if the cattle were indeed his, but the two men and their companions had whirled about as soon as they heard the firing. Now, with guns out, they rode for the rustlers.

Leading the attackers who were in the reserves, was Jules Kolto. The pinto he was on had outdistanced the others, and, before he knew it, he was face to face with the four cattle thieves.

“Denver!” Teddy heard Kolto yell, “I want you!”

There was a reply from the group of thieves, but it was unintelligible to Teddy. Then a single shot snapped and Kolto swayed in the saddle. Releasing his hold, he fell heavily to the ground, while his pony, mad with fright, raced on without him.

Teddy and Roy reached his side at the same instant and leaped from their horses. The rustlers were in full flight now, so there was no danger that they would attack the boys on foot.

As Roy leaned over the former bandit, Kolto grinned faintly.

“Got me—at last,” he gasped. “Denver—shot me. That’s poetical justice—or somethin’—ain’t it? One bandit shoots another!”

“Where did you get it?” Teddy asked quickly.

“Chest—” and Kolto went into a fit of coughing. When it subsided he asked:

“Where’s Denver?”

Roy pointed silently, and, pushing himself up on one elbow, Kolto stared over the prairie. In the distance four horsemen were burning up the ground. They were beaten—they had failed. Two of them had bullet holes in their skins. The score was even.

“Good riddance,” Kolto whispered. “Say, where’s yore dad?”

Mr. Manley rode up at the moment. He had ordered the chase discontinued, as useless. They had got their cattle back. What good would it do to kill the rustlers?

Mr. Manley had seen Kolto fall, but he knew Teddy and Roy were nearer than he, so he had continued to gallop after Denver Smith. But now the fight was over. Mr. Manley rode up to where Jules Kolto lay and quickly dismounted.

“What’s the trouble, son?” he asked solicitously. He bent over and ripped Kolto’s shirt open. There was a small wound in the right shoulder. He turned the man over gently, and found a corresponding hole at the back. The bullet had passed completely through.

“Whoever used a bullet like that is a mighty poor judge of firearms,” Mr. Manley said grimly. “You’re lucky, Kolto. Not a chance of your passin’ out. The bullet hit your collar bone and knocked you off your horse. You got a nice hole in you—but that’s all it’ll amount to.”

“I—I won’t die?” Kolto asked, sitting up and looking uncertainly about.

“Nary die! You got to work fer me, young feller! No, don’t get up yet. We’ll bandage you first to stop the bleedin’. Where’s that other cripple? Pop, come over here! What do you mean ridin’ around with a forty-five bullet bouncin’ around inside you? Get off that bronc—an’ quick! You bald-headed ole hoss-wrangler!”

Meet the Wife

Into the ranch yard of the X Bar X rode ten men—ten tired, dusty, but triumphant men. Their job had been done. Every Durham had been driven all the way from Whirlpool River Ranch to their own range, and once more safely enclosed within their own fences. The long journey was completed. They were home again.

The whole ranch turned out to welcome them. Mrs. Manley, her eyes shining with happiness, walked down the steps of the porch. A moment later the front door opened again, and Belle Ada, Ethel and Nell came rushing out.

“Hello, Dad!” Belle called shrilly. “Hello, Roy! Climb down off that bronco and give your sister a kiss, Teddy!”

“I’ll think it over,” Teddy laughed, and slid off his pony. “Hello, Mother! Back again as good as new!”

Ethel Carew and Nell Willis were frankly delighted to see the boys again. They demanded the story of the trip “with complete details,” as Ethel said, and sat with wide-eyed fascination as the story was related.

Teddy insisted on telling of Roy’s fight with the eagle, though he had not seen it, because he said “Roy was too modest.” It lost none of its excitement by his recital.

Mrs. Manley was anxious to learn if any one was injured, but her husband, with a wink at the boys, asked her if she ever heard of any one getting hurt at a picnic.

“Of course, sometimes they fall into the brook an’ get wet,” he added, with a grin, “so Teddy an’ Roy had to do that, too. But we’re all home now, an’ hungry. Think we can stop this gab-fest long enough to eat?”

It was then three o’clock in the afternoon, so Mrs. Manley decided to have an early supper. She went to help Mrs. Moore, the housekeeper, and her daughter Norine prepare the meal, while Teddy and Roy continued the tale of their adventures at the urgent request of Nell and of Curly.

By five o’clock all was in readiness for the adventurers’ first meal since their arrival home. When they entered the long dining room, they saw that the table had been enlarged by the addition of many leaves and that there were places set for every one of the punchers.

“Celebration,” Mrs. Manley said, as she smiled. “Teddy, go and tell the boys to come in. And don’t forget Sing Lung. We want everybody! Tell every man on the place to come!”

“You bet I will, Mom!” Teddy shouted, and made for the door. In a few minutes he was back, followed by a crowd of grinning, jostling cowboys. Jules Kolto had recovered sufficiently to return with them, and he, of course, was included in the invitation, although he protested that “he wasn’t fit to eat with honest folks.”

Pop Burns was there, with his shoulder conspicuously bandaged. He was accorded the place of honor—next to the boss. Sing Lung, chatting like a parrot, was placed near Jules. Teddy and Roy sat on either side of their mother, while Belle, Ethel, and Nell were distributed about “to keep the boys from scrappin’ over the chicken,” Mr. Manley laughingly insisted.

The punchers were a bit bashful at first to be eating in “the big house,” but this soon wore off. There are few punchers who stay bashful in the presence of roast chicken and cranberry sauce. There was but one fly in the ointment. Gus Tripp was not there. Holding in his hand a glass of water, Mr. Manley arose.

“Boys,” he said, “I want to propose a toast—that right, Mother?—I want to propose a toast to an absent member. Fellers, here’s to Gus Tripp—may he some day come back to us!”

Nick Looker, who was sitting next to Teddy, jumped to his feet.

“Wait, boss!” he exclaimed. “Don’t drink it yet! I been waitin’ fer this! Hang on to yore seats a minute!” and he ran out of the door toward the yard. Roy and Teddy looked at each other with surprised faces. What was Nick up to, for Pete’s sake?

They saw in a moment. The door flew open, and on the threshold stood Gus, not alone, but holding by the hand a blushing girl!

“Boss,” he said, “meet the wife!”

Jules Kolto started. He staggered to his feet, trembling.

“Sister!” he cried, and opened his arms to the girl.

“Jules!” She rushed to him, sobbing and laughing at the same time. “Jules! You here? Oh, Jules, I thought I’d never see you again!”

Gus stood as though turned to stone.

“What—what—” he stammered.

“Oh, Gus, this is my brother!” the blushing young wife cried, and running to him pulled him forward by the hand. “My brother, Gus! Don’t you understand?”

“Well, not very good—” Gus muttered, then his face cleared and he thrust out his hand. “Joe,” he said, “I don’t know what this is all about, but if she’s yore sister, shake! We’re brother-in-laws.”

“Brothers-in-law,” Bug Eye corrected. “The plural here takes the possessive case.”

“Gus,” Mr. Manley said haltingly, “so yore back? Son, I’m glad! Put ’er there! I’m sorry I—”

“Boss!” Gus interrupted, “you needn’t be sorry for nothin’. It was all my fault—the whole blame thing. But, boss, see what it got me—ain’t she a beauty?” And he looked at his wife proudly.

“She sure is, Gus! Now let’s get this thing straight. Nick Looker—where is that bowlegged wild man? Where’d you find Gus, Nick?”

“He wandered back two days after Teddy an’ Roy left,” Nick chuckled. “He’d been all the way to Togas, Mexico, an’ got married—You tell it, Gus!”

“Well, boss, it was this way,” Gus began, as he gripped an arm of Teddy and Roy affectionately. “You know I was worried about not gettin’ no letters from the lady here—I mean my wife,” and he blushed. “You know, Teddy—I told you about it. Gee, ain’t it funny to have a wife? Well, she didn’t write for a long time, so I got worried, an’ started to—do some things I shouldn’t. I thought she’d threw me down.”

“But, Gus, I did write, every day!” his wife interrupted.

“Sure she did!” Nick burst out. “Gus, that dumb postmaster down at Eagles mislaid the letters! I got ’em now in my bunk—a whole raft of ’em!”

“You have? Well, I’m a ring-tailed doodle bird!” Gus said slowly, and sat down. “An’ I went an’ got sick, almost, with worry, an’ let the cattle stray ’cause I went to town an’ got drunk, an’ all this happened because the postmaster lost my letters! Can—you—beat—that?”

“Golly, Teddy, he’s right!” Roy exclaimed. “Snakes, it’s just like a story! We went up Whirlpool River—got tipped over—found The Pup—had the fight with the rustlers—everything—all on account of some missing letters! Golly, that’s funny! If Gus had gotten those letters he never would have neglected the cattle, would you, Gus?”

“Nope, not me! I hardly knew what I was doin’, I was so worried. I thought you was dead, or somethin’,” and he felt bashfully for his wife’s hand. When he caught it, after not much trouble, he went on:

“An’ that’s the way it was. So I heads fer Togas, after the boss lets me out, an’ goes straight fer the little girl here. So we gets hitched an’ come home!”

“You did come home, Gus,” Mr. Manley murmured. “This is your home from now on!”

“Oh, Dad, isn’t this too romantic for words!” Belle Ada burst out. “And all this happened because the letters Mrs. Tripp sent were mislaid! But, Gus, didn’t you know your wife was Joe Marino’s sister?” she asked, her eyes wide.

“Nope! That’s one too many for me, even now. His name’s Marino, an’ hers is—I mean was—Kolto. I don’t see—”

“Gus, if you do any more thinkin’ you’ll get a headache!” Mr. Manley exclaimed, laughing loudly. Then he clapped his re-engaged cowboy on the back. “Pull up that chair an’ dive into this here roast chicken! Now, boys, I’ll drink that toast I started—here’s to Mr. and Mrs. Tripp. May they live long an’ happy an’ never have more than one scrap a day!”

“Bardwell!” Mrs. Manley chided, and smiled. “I’m sure Gus and his wife won’t have one single dispute as long as they’re married!”

“Well, I don’t reckon we will either; hey, honey?” Gus exclaimed, and glanced at his wife lovingly. “Boss, you ought to see this little girl ride. I want to match her with Teddy some day. Honestly, boss, she—”

“Gus, sit down!” his wife, her face pink, pulled his arm. “They don’t want to hear all that.”

“Sure we do!” Roy declared. “Jules, you sit over next to your sister. I guess Sing Lung won’t mind if you leave him. Will you, Sing?”

“Me no min’ anyt’ing! Me happy—Me likee loast chickee velly, velly much! You glandflather—him do too,” and he proceeded to test the capacity of his mouth.

“He means so does your old man—an’ he’s right, at that!” Mr. Manley laughed. “Sing Lung, you’re not gettin’ ahead of the boss at chicken eatin’!”

Jules Kolto, a happy smile on his face, took the place Roy had indicated. He had forgotten entirely about his wound, and with good reason. This was his sister—the girl he had stolen for—the girl he had traveled many weary, long miles for, only to have the money, for which he had sacrificed so much, taken from him and himself left to wander three days without food, until he had found Mr. Manley. This was the girl—here, sitting beside him! No wonder he held his head high, no wonder his eyes sparkled!

Gus, pulling his chair close to his wife, obeyed the instruction of the boss to “dive in.” But his eating ability was somewhat hampered by the fact that he used only one hand. The other was elsewhere engaged—as was his wife’s.

All these friends we shall meet again in the next volume, to be called “The X Bar X Boys on Big Bison Trail.”

Of course Teddy and Roy will be there—in fact, very much in evidence. But now watch them at the table, surrounded by the boys who had been their companions in many adventures. Teddy is holding up a drum-stick from which the meat has been cleanly picked and waving it around his head.

“As our friend Shakespeare said,” he exclaimed, “the world is a stage—an’ I’m glad I got a ring-side seat!”

I’ve got,” came from Bug Eye. “The plural takes the possessive case.”

“Sink him! He’s got that Fishmobile of his on the brain, an’ he’s seein’ double!” Pop Burns called out. “Roy, you get him to race his Fishmobile against Star—an’ I’ll bet your bronc wins; hey?”

Roy looked around at him and grinned. Then he took a deep breath, reached for a chicken wing, and said:

“I’ll tell a maverick!”

This Isn’t All!

Would you like to know what became of the good friends you have made in this book?

Would you like to read other stories continuing their adventures and experiences, or other books quite as entertaining by the same author?

On the reverse side of the wrapper which comes with this book, you will find a wonderful list of stories which you can buy at the same store where you got this book.

Don’t throw away the Wrapper

Use it as a handy catalog of the books you want some day to have. But in case you do mislay it, write to the Publishers for a complete catalog.

Uniform Style of Binding. Individual Colored Wrappers. Every Volume Complete in Itself.

Every boy possesses some form of inventive genius. Tom Swift is a bright, ingenious boy and his inventions and adventures make the most interesting kind of reading.

GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, New York
Individual Colored Wrappers and Text Illustrations by
Every Volume Complete in Itself

In company with his uncles, one a mighty hunter and the other a noted scientist, Don Sturdy travels far and wide, gaining much useful knowledge and meeting many thrilling adventures.

An engrossing tale of the Sahara Desert, of encounters with wild animals and crafty Arabs.
Don’s uncle, the hunter, took an order for some of the biggest snakes to be found in South America—to be delivered alive!
A fascinating tale of exploration and adventure in the Valley of Kings in Egypt.
A great polar blizzard nearly wrecks the airship of the explorers.
An absorbing tale of adventures among the volcanoes of Alaska.
This story is just full of exciting and fearful experiences on the sea.
A thrilling story of adventure in darkest Africa. Don is carried over a mighty waterfall into the heart of gorilla land.
GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, New York
(Trademark Registered)
Author of the “Railroad Series,” Etc.
Individual Colored Wrappers. Illustrated. Every Volume Complete in Itself.

A new series for boys giving full details of radio work, both in sending and receiving—telling how small and large amateur sets can be made and operated, and how some boys got a lot of fun and adventure out of what they did. Each volume from first to last is so thoroughly fascinating, so strictly up-to-date and accurate, we feel sure all lads will peruse them with great delight.

Each volume has a Foreword by Jack Binns, the well-known radio expert.

GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, New York