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The Pony Rider Boys in Texas - Or, The Veiled Riddle of the Plains
by Frank Gee Patchin
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THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN TEXAS

Or

The Veiled Riddle of the Plains

by

FRANK GEE PATCHIN

Author of The Pony Rider Boys in The Rockies, Etc.



Philadelphia Henry Altemus Company Copyright, 1910 by Howard E. Altemus



CONTENTS

I. In the Land of the Cowboy

II. The Pony Riders Join the Outfit

III. Putting the Cows to Bed

IV. The First Night in Camp

V. Cutting Out the Herd

VI. Tad Takes a Desperate Chance

VII. The Herd Fords the River

VIII. The Approach of the Storm

IX. Chased by a Stampeding Herd

X. A Miraculous Escape

XI. The Vigil on the Plains

XII. Under a Strange Influence

XIII. Chunky Ropes a Cowboy

XIV. On a Wild Night Ride

XV. Fording a Swollen River

XVI. A Brave Rescue

XVII. Making New Friends

XVIII. Breaking in the Bronchos

XIX. Grit Wins the Battle

XX. Dinner at the Ox Bow

XXI. A Call for Help

XXII. Lost in the Adobe Church

XXIII. Solving the Mystery

XXIV. Conclusion



List of Illustrations

Drop That Gun!

Good for You, Kid!

As the Wagon Lurched Pong Plunged Overboard.

Tad Gave the Rope a Quick, Rolling Motion.



The Pony Rider Boys in Texas



CHAPTER I

IN THE LAND OF THE COWBOY

"What's that?"

"Guns, I reckon."

"Sounds to me as if the town were being attacked. Just like war time, isn't it?"

"Never having been to war, I can't say. But it's a noise all right."

The freckle-faced boy, sitting on his pony with easy confidence, answered his companion's questions absently. After a careless glance up the street, he turned to resume his study of the noisy crowds that were surging back and forth along the main street of San Diego, Texas.

"Yes, it's a noise. But what is it all about?"

"Fourth of July, Ned. Don't you hear?"

"Hear it, Tad? I should say I do hear it. Yet I must confess that it is a different sort of racket from any I've ever heard up North on the Fourth. Is this the way they celebrate it down here?"

"I'm sure I don't know."

"Why, a fellow might imagine that a band of wild Indians were tearing down on him. Here they come! Look out! Me for a side street!"

The little Texas town was dressed in its finest, in honor of the great national holiday, and the inhabitants for many miles around had ridden in at the first streak of dawn, that they might miss none of the frolic.

A rapid explosion of firearms accompanied by a chorus of wild yells and thrilling whoops, had caused Ned Rector to utter the exclamation of alarm. As he did so, he whirled his pony about, urging the little animal into a side street so that he might be out of the way of the body of men whom he saw rushing down upon them on galloping ponies.

"Hurry, Tad!" he called from the protection of the side street.

That others in the street had heard, and seen as well, was evident from the frantic haste with which they scrambled for the sidewalk, crowding those already there over yard fences, into stores and stairways in an effort to get clear of the roadway. A sudden panic had seized them, for well did they know the meaning of the shooting and the shouting.

A band of wild, uncontrollable cowboys, free for the time from the exacting work of the range, were sweeping down on the town, determined to do their part in the observance of the day.

Yet, Tad Butler, the freckle-faced boy, remained where he was undisturbed by the uproar, finding great interest in the excited throngs that were hurrying to cover. Nor did he appear to be alarmed when, a moment later, he found himself almost the sole occupant of the street at that point, with his pony backed up against the curbing, tossing its head and champing its bit restlessly.

As for the freckle-faced boy and his companion, the reader no doubt has recognized in them our old friends, Tad Butler and Ned Rector, the Pony Rider Boys. After their exciting experiences in the Rockies, and their discovery of the Lost Claim, which gave each of the boys a little fortune of his own, as narrated in the preceding volume, "The Pony Rider Boys in the Rockies," the Pony Riders had turned toward Texas as the scene of their next journeying. With Walter Perkins and Stacy Brown, the boys, under the guidance of Professor Zepplin, were to join a cattle outfit at San Diego, whence they were to travel northward with it.

This was to be one of the biggest cattle drives of recent years. A cattle dealer, Mr. Thomas B. Miller, had purchased a large herd of Mexican cattle, which he decided to drive across the state on the old trail, instead of shipping them by rail, to his ranch in Oklahoma.

It had been arranged that the Pony Riders were to become members of the working force of the outfit during what was called the "drive" across the State of Texas. The boys were awaiting the arrival of the herd at San Diego on this Fourth of July morning. Though they did not suspect it, the Pony Rider Boys were destined, on this trip, to pass through adventures more thrilling, and hardships more severe, than anything they had even dreamed of before.

The cattle had arrived late the previous evening, though the boys had not yet been informed of the fact. The animals were to be allowed to graze and rest for the day, while the cowmen, or such of them as could be spared, were given leave to ride into town in small parties. It was the advance guard of the cowboys whose shots and yells had stirred the people in the street to such sudden activity.

On they came, a shouting, yelling mob.

Tad turned to look at them now.

The sight was one calculated to stir the heart and quicken the pulses of any boy. But the face of Tad Butler reflected only mild curiosity as he gazed inquiringly at the dashing horsemen, each one of whom was riding standing in his stirrups waving sombrero and gun on high.

What interested the freckle-faced boy most was their masterful horsemanship.

"Y-e-e-e-o-w!" exploded the foremost of the riders.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

As many puffs of white smoke leaped into the air from the revolvers of the skylarking cowmen.

"W-h-o-o-o-p-e!" they chorused in a mighty yell, letting go at the same time a rattling fire.

"Y-e-e-e-o-w!"

As they swept down toward the spot where Tad was sitting on his pony, the cowboys swung into line six abreast, thus filling the street from curb to curb.

This time, however, instead of shooting into the air, they lowered the muzzles of their revolvers, sending volley after volley into the street ahead of them, the leaden missiles viciously kicking up the dirt into miniature clouds, like those from heavy drops of rain in advance of a thunder squall.

Tad's pony began to show signs of nervousness.

"Whoa!" commanded the boy sharply, tightening his rein and pressing his knees firmly against the animal's sides. The prancing pony was quickly mastered by its rider, though it continued to shake its head in emphatic protest.

"Out of the way, you tenderfoot!" yelled a cowman, espying the boy and pony directly in his path.

Tad Butler did not move.

"Y-e-e-e-o-w!" shrieked the band in a series of shrill cries.

When they saw that the boy was holding his ground so calmly, their revolvers began to bark spitefully, flicking up a semicircle of dust about the pony's feet, causing the little animal to prance and rear into the air.

At this Tad's jaws set stubbornly, his lips pressing themselves firmly together. The boy brought his quirt down sharply on the pony's flank, at the same time pressing the pointless rowels of his spurs against the sides of the frightened animal.

Though Tad determinedly held his mount in its place, he was no longer able to check its rearing and plunging, for the wiry little animal was wholly unused to such treatment. Besides, a volley of revolver bullets about its feet would disturb the steadiest horse.

Two cowboys on his side of the street had driven their mounts toward the lad with a yell. Tad did not wholly divine their purpose, though he knew that their intent was to frighten him into giving them the street. He felt instinctively that if he should refuse to do so, some sort of violence would be visited upon him.

It followed a moment later.

Observing that the boy had no intention of giving way to them, the two cowboys held their course, their eyes fixed on the offending tenderfoot until finally only a few rods separated them.

Suddenly, both men pulled their mounts sharply to the right, and, digging in the spurs, plunged straight for Tad.

"So that's their game, is it?" thought the boy.

They were going to run him down.

Tad's eyes flashed indignantly, yet still he made no move to pull his pony out of the street.

"Keep off!" he shouted. "Don't you run me down!"

"W-h-o-o-o-p!" howled the pair, at the same time letting go a volley right under the hoofs of his pony. It seemed to the lad that the powder from their weapons had burned his face, so close had the guns been when they pulled the triggers.

Tad had braced himself for the shock that he knew was coming, gathering the reins tightly in his right hand and leaning slightly forward in his saddle.

They were fairly upon him now. Two revolvers exploded into the air, accompanied by the long shrill yell of the plainsmen. But just when it seemed that the lad must go down under the rush of beating hoofs, Tad all but lifted his pony from the ground, turned the little animal and headed him in the direction in which the wild horsemen were going.

The boy's clever horsemanship had saved him. Yet one of the racing cow ponies struck the boy and his horse a glancing blow. For the moment, Tad felt sure his left leg must have been broken. He imagined that he had heard it snap.

As he swept past the boy the cowboy had uttered a jeering yell.

Tad brought down his quirt with all his force on the rump of the kicking cow pony, whose hoofs threatened to wound his own animal.

Then a most unexpected thing happened—that is, unexpected to the cowboy.

Looking back at the boy he had attempted to unhorse, the cowman was leaning over far to the left in his saddle when Tad struck his horse. The pony, under the sting of the unexpected blow, leaped into the air with arching back and a squeal of rage.

The cowboy's weight on the side of the startled animal overbalanced it and the animal plunged sideways to the street. The cowpuncher managed to free his left leg from the stirrup; but, quick as he was, he was not quick enough to save himself wholly from the force of the fall. The fellow ploughed the dirt of the street on his face, while the pony, springing to its feet, was off with a bound.

The other cowpunchers set up a great jeering yell as they saw the unhorsing of their companion by a mere boy, while the villagers and country folks laughed as loudly as they dared.

Yet there was not one of them but feared that the angry cowpuncher would visit his wrath upon the lad who had been the cause of his downfall.

With a roar of rage he scrambled to his feet.

In his fall the fellow's gun had been wrenched from his hand, and lay in the street.

He picked it up as he started for Tad Butler.

Tad, who had sat in his saddle calmly, now realized that he must act quickly if he expected to save himself.

His plan was formed in a flash.

Digging in the spurs, and at the same time slapping the little animal smartly on its side, the lad caused his little pony to leap violently forward.

"Drop that gun!"

As he uttered the stern command, the boy brought his quirt down across the cowman's knuckles with a resounding whack.

The cowman with a yell of rage sprang at him, but the blow aimed at Tad Butler's head never reached him.



CHAPTER II

THE PONY RIDERS JOIN THE OUTFIT

At that instant a man, clad in the dress of a cowboy, leaped from the sidewalk. He caught the angry cowman by the collar. From the way in which the newcomer swung the fellow around it was evident that he was possessed of great strength.

"Stop it!" he thundered.

Tad's assailant turned on the newcomer with an angry snarl, his rage now beyond all control.

"Let me alone! Let me get at the cub!" he cried, making a vicious pass at the man.

The cowboy's blow was neatly parried and a mighty fist was planted squarely between his eyes, sending him to earth in a heap.

"Get up!" commanded the man who had felled him.

The cowboy struggled to his feet, standing sullenly before his conqueror.

"Look at me, Lumpy! Didn't I tell you that I'd 'fire' you if you got into any trouble in town to-day?"

The cowboy nodded.

"Is this the way you obey orders? What sort of recommend do you suppose Boss Miller will give you when I tell him I found you trying to shoot up a kid?"

"I don't care. I ain't askin' any recommends. Besides, he—he got in——"

"Never mind what he did. I saw it all. Get your pony and back to the camp for yours. Let Bert come in your place. You get no more lay-offs till I see fit to let you. Now, git!"

Thoroughly subdued, but with angry muttered protests, the cowboy, walked down the street, jerking his pony's head about and swinging himself into the saddle.

"Don't be rough on the fellow. Let him stay."

The newcomer turned to Tad, glancing up at the boy inquiringly.

"Young fellow, you've got nerve—more nerve than sense."

"Thank you. But I asked you to let the man stay. He won't do it again," urged Tad.

"I'm the best judge of that. And as for you, young fellow, I would advise you to ride your pony away from here. First thing I know you will be mixing it up with some of the rest of the bunch. I may not be around to straighten things out then, and you'll get hurt."

"Thank you, sir. I think I have as much right here as anyone else. If those are your men I should think you might be able to teach them to respect other people's rights."

"What, teach a cowboy?" laughed the other. "You don't know the breed. Take my advice and skip."

Tad's rescuer strode away.

The lad's introduction to cowboy life had not been of an encouraging nature, though it was difficult for him to believe that all cowboys were like the one he had just encountered.

"Well, you made a nice mess of it, didn't you?" chuckled Ned Rector, riding up beside his companion a few minutes later. "I didn't see it, but I heard all about it from Bob Stallings."

"Stallings? Who's he?"

"The foreman of the cowboys with whom we are going."

"And were those the fellows that tried to crowd me off the street?"

"I reckon those were the boys," said Ned Rector quietly.

"Then, I can see a nice time when we join them. They will have no love for me after what has happened this morning. Where is the camp?"

"I don't know. Professor Zepplin says it's about four miles to the west of here."

"When do we join them?"

"Some time to-night. The foreman says they are going to start at daylight. He's over at the hotel talking with the Professor now. He was telling the Professor about your mix-up with Lumpy Bates. That's the name of the cowboy who ran into you. And how he did laugh when I told him you belonged to our crowd," chuckled Ned.

"What did he say?"

"Said he thought you'd do. He says we can't use our ponies on the drive."

"Why not?" asked Tad, looking up quickly.

"Because they are not trained on cattle work."

"Pshaw! I'm sorry. Have we got to leave them here?"

"No. He says we may turn them in with their herd, and use them for anything we care to, except around the cattle. We shall have to ride some of the bronchos when we are on duty."

"I think I see somebody falling off," laughed Tad. "Ever ride one of them, Ned?"

"No."

"Well, you'll know more about them after you have."

"I think I should like to go over and see Mr. Stallings," declared Tad.

"All right, come along, then."

They found the foreman of the outfit discussing the plans for their journey with Professor Zepplin, while Stacy Brown and Walter Perkins were listening with eager attention.

"This is Master Tad Butler, Mr. Stallings," announced the Professor.

"I think I have met the young man before," answered the foreman, with a peculiar smile.

"Tad, I am surprised that you should involve yourself in trouble so soon after getting out of my sight. I——"

"The boy was not to blame, Mr. Professor. My cowpunchers were wholly in the wrong. But you need have no fears of any future trouble. The bunch will be given to understand that the young gentlemen are to be well treated. You will find no luxuries, but lots of hard work on a cattle drive, young men——"

"Do—do we get plenty to eat?" interrupted Stacy Brown apprehensively.

All joined in the laugh at the lad's expense.

"Chunky's appetite is a wonderful thing, Mr. Stallings," said Tad.

"I think we shall be able to satisfy it," laughed the foreman. "Our cook is a Chinaman. His name is Pong, but he knows how to get up a meal. I believe, if he had nothing but sage grass and sand, he could make a palatable dish of them, provided he had the seasoning. Have you boys brought your slickers with, you?"

"What's a slicker?" demanded Chunky.

"A rubber blanket that——"

"Oh yes. We bought an outfit of those at Austin," answered Tad. "Anything else that you wish us to get?"

"The boys don't carry guns, do they?"

Professor Zepplin shook his head emphatically.

"Most certainly not. They can get into enough trouble without them. We have rifles in our kit, but I imagine there will be little use for such weapons on this trip."

"You can't always tell about that," smiled the foreman. "I remember in the old days, when we used to have to fight the rustlers, that a rifle was a pretty good thing to have."

"Who were the rustlers?" asked Walter.

"Fellows who rustled cattle that didn't belong to them. But the old days have passed. Such a drive as we are making now hasn't been done on so large a scale in nearly twenty years."

"Why not?" asked Ned.

"The iron trails have put the old cow trails out of business."

"Iron trails?" wondered Tad.

"Railroads. We men of the plains refer to them as the iron trails. That's what they are in reality. Professor, do you wish the boys to take their turns on the herd to-night?"

"As you wish, Mr. Stallings. I presume they will be anxious to begin their life as cowboys. I understand that's an ambition possessed by most of your American boys."

"All right," laughed the foreman. "I'll send them out as I find I can, with some of the other cowpunchers, until they learn the ropes. There is too great a responsibility on a night man to trust the boys alone with that work now. But they can begin if they wish. I'll see first how the bunch get back from their celebration of the glorious Fourth. You'll come out and have supper with us?"

"No, I think not. We shall ride out just after supper, if you will have some one to show us the way," answered the Professor.

"Sure, I'll send in Big-foot Sanders to pilot you out. You boys need not be afraid of Big-foot. He's not half so savage as he looks, but he's a great hand with cows."

Big-foot Sanders rode up to the hotel shortly after six o'clock. Leading his pony across the sidewalk, he poked his shaggy head just inside the door of the hotel.

"Ki-yi!" he bellowed, causing everybody within hearing of his voice to start up in alarm. "Where's that bunch of tenderfeet?"

"Are you Mr. Sanders, from the Miller outfit?" asked the Professor, stepping toward him.

"Donno about the Mister. I'm Big-foot Sanders. I'm lookin' for a bunch of yearlings that's going on with the outfit."

"The young gentlemen will join you in a moment, Mr. Sanders. They will ride their ponies around from the stable and meet you in front of the house."

"You one of the bunch?"

"I am Professor Zepplin, a sort of companion, you know, for the young men."

"Huh!" grunted Big-foot. "I reckon you'd better forget the hard boiled hat you're wearin' or the boys'll be for shooting it full of holes. Take my advice—drop it, pardner."

"Oh, you mean this," laughed the Professor, removing his derby hat. "Thank you. I shall profit by your advice, and leave it here when I start."

"All the bunch got hard boiled ones?"

"Oh, no. The boys have their sombreros," answered the Professor.

Big-foot grunted, but whether in disapproval or approval, Professor Zepplin did not know. The cowpuncher threw himself into his saddle, on which he sat, stolidly awaiting the arrival of the Pony Riders.

In a short time they came galloping from the stable at the rear of the hotel, and pulled up, facing the cowman.

"This, Mr. Sanders, is Tad Butler," announced the Professor.

"Huh!" grunted Big-foot again. "Hello, Pinto!" he said after a sharp glance into the freckled face. "Who's the gopher over there?"

"That's Stacy Brown, otherwise known as 'Chunky,'" laughed Tad. "This is Ned Rector, and the young gentleman at your left is Walter Perkins, all members of the Pony Rider Boys' party. We are ready to start whenever you are."

For answer, Big-foot touched his pony with a spur, the little animal springing into a gallop without further command. The Pony Riders followed immediately, Tad riding up beside the big, muscular looking cowboy, which position he held for half an hour without having been able to draw a word from him.

Leaving the town due east of them, the party galloped off across the country in a straight line until finally the cowman pointed off across the plain to indicate where their destination lay.

A slow moving mass of red and brown and white met the inquiring gaze of the boys. At first they were unable to make out what it was.

"Cows," growled the guide, observing that they did not understand.

"What are they doing, Mr. Sanders?" asked Tad.

"Don't 'mister' me. I'm Big-foot. Never had a handle to my name. Never expect to. They're grazing. Be rounding them up for bed pretty soon. Ever been on a trail before?"

Tad shook his head.

"We have been up in the Rockies on a hunting trip. This is my first experience on the plains."

"Huh! Got good and plenty coming to you, then."

"And I am ready for it," answered the lad promptly. "The rougher the better."

"There's the bunch waiting for us. All of them got back from town. The foreman don't allow the fellows to hang out nights when they're on a drive like this."

Now, the rest of the Pony Rider Boys, understanding that they were nearing the camp of the cowboys, urged their ponies into a brisk gallop and drew up well into line with Tad and Big-foot. That is, all did save Stacy Brown, who, as was his habit lagged behind a few rods.

The cowboys were standing about watching the approach of the new arrivals curiously, but not with any great enthusiasm, for they did not approve of having a lot of tenderfeet with the outfit on a journey such as they were taking now. They were bent on grim and serious business—man's work—the sort of labor that brings out all that is in him. It was no place for weaklings, and none realized this better than the cowmen themselves.

Yet, they did not know the mettle that was in these four young American boys, though they were to realize it fully before the boundaries of the Lone Star State, had been left behind them.

The Pony Riders dashed up to the waiting cowpunchers with a brave showing of horsemanship, and sprang from their saddles their eyes glowing with excitement and anticipation.

Bob Stallings, the foreman, was the first to greet them.

"Fellows, this is the bunch I've been telling you about," was Bob's introduction. "Where's Lumpy?" he demanded, glancing about him with a scowl.

"Lumpy's over behind the chuck wagon," answered the cowboy of whom the question had been asked.

"Lumpy!" bellowed the foreman.

The fellow with whom Tad Butler had had such an unpleasant meeting, earlier in the day, came forward reluctantly, a sudden scowl on his face.

"Lumpy, this is Tad Butler. Stick out your fist and shake hands with him!"

Lumpy did so.

"Howd'y," he growled, but scarcely loud enough for any save Tad to hear.

The lad smiled up at him good-naturedly.

"You and I bumped ponies this morning, I guess," said Tad. "Maybe I was to blame after all. I'll apologize, anyway, and I hope there will be no hard feelings."

"Lumpy!" warned Stallings when he noticed that the cowpuncher had made no reply to Tad's apology.

"No hard feelings," grunted Lumpy Bates.

He was about to turn away and again seek the seclusion of the chuck wagon, as the cook wagon was called by the cow boys, when Chunky came rolling along. In the excitement of the meeting the boys had forgotten all about him. The Pony Riders swung their sombreros and gave three cheers for Chunky Brown as he dashed up.

Chunky took off his sombrero and waved it at them.

Just then Chunky met with one of those unfortunate accidents that were always occurring to him. His galloping pony put a forefoot into a gopher hole, going down in a heap.

Chunky, however, kept on.

When the accident happened he was almost upon the waiting cowboys, his intention having been to pull his pony up sharply to show off his horsemanship, then drop off and make them a sweeping bow.

Stacy Brown was possessed of the true dramatic instinct, yet few things ever came off exactly as he had planned them.

As he shot over the falling pony's head, his body described a half curve in the air, his own head landing fairly in the pit of Lumpy Bates's stomach.

Cowboy and Pony Rider went over in a struggling heap, with the Pony Rider uppermost.

Stacy had introduced himself to the cowboys in a most unusual manner, and to the utter undoing of one of them, for the boy's head had for the moment, knocked all the breath out of the surly Lumpy Bates.



CHAPTER III

PUTTING THE COWS TO BED

The cowpunchers roared at the funny sight of the fat boy bowling over their companion.

Stallings, however, fearing for the anger of Lumpy, sprang forward and hauled the lad back by the collar, while Lumpy was allowed to get up when he got ready. He did so a few seconds later, sputtering and growling, scarcely able to contain his rage.

"That's a bad way to get off a pony, young man," laughed the foreman. "I hope you won't dismount in that fashion around the cattle at night. If you do, you sure will stampede the herd."

Chunky grinned sheepishly.

"It doesn't take much to start a bunch of cows on the run after dark," continued the foreman, "I've known of such a thing as a herd being stampeded because they were frightened at the rising moon. Haven't you, Big-foot?"

Sanders nodded.

"The gopher'll do it, too; he's a clumsy lout," he answered, referring to Stacy in a withering tone.

"And now, boys, I will tell you how our watches are divided, after which you can go out with the cowboys and see them bed down the cows."

"Bed them down?" spoke up Chunky, his curiosity aroused. "That's funny. I didn't know you had to put cattle to bed."

"You'll see that we do. Boys, the night of the cowman on the march is divided into four tricks. The first guard goes on at half past eight, coming off at half past ten. The second guard is on duty from that time till one o'clock in the morning; the third, from that hour till half past three, while the fourth remains out until relieved in the morning. He usually wakes up the cook, too. And, by the way, you boys haven't made the acquaintance of Pong, have you? I'll call him. Unless you get on the right side of Pong, you will suffer."

"Pong? That's funny. Sounds like ping-pong. I used to play that," interrupted Stacy.

"Pong is as funny as his name, even if he is a Chinaman," laughed Stallings. "Pong, come here."

The Chinaman, having heard his name spoken, was peering inquiringly from the tail of the chuck wagon.

Hopping down, he trotted over to the group, his weazened, yellow face wreathed in smiles.

"Shake hands with these young gentlemen, Pong. They will be with us for the next two weeks," said the foreman.

"Allee same likee this," chuckled Pong, clasping his palms together and gleefully shaking hands with himself.

"That's the Chinaman's idea of shaking hands," laughed Stallings. "He always shakes hands with himself instead of the other fellow."

Stacy Brown suddenly broke into a loud laugh, attracting all eyes to him.

"Funniest thing I ever heard of," he muttered, abashed by the inquiring looks directed at him.

"Now watch the heathen while I ask him what he is going to have for breakfast," said the foreman. "Pong, what are you going to give us out of the chuck wagon in the morning?"

"Allee same likee this," chattered the Chinaman, quickly turning to his questioner, at the same time rapidly running through a series of pantomime gestures.

The Pony Riders looked at each other blankly.

"He says we are going to have fried bacon with hot biscuit and coffee," Stallings informed them with a hearty laugh. "Pong is not much of a talker. That's about as much as you ever will hear him say. He's weak on talk and strong on motions."

The foreman glanced up at the sky.

"It's time to put the cows to bed. You young gentlemen may ride along on your own ponies, but keep well back from the cattle. Those of you who go out to-night will have to ride our ponies. All ready, now."

The entire outfit mounted and set off over the plain to where the cattle were moving slowly about, but not grazing much. They had had their fill of grass and water and were now ready for the night.

"Where's their beds?" asked Chunky, gazing about him curiously.

"Right ahead of you," answered Stallings.

The foreman's quick eye already had picked out a nice elevation on which the old dry grass of the previous summer's growth lay matted like a carpet for the cattle to bed down on.

"How many of them are there in the herd?" asked Tad.

"About two thousand. That was the first count. Since then we have picked up a few stray cows. We will be cutting those out in a day or so, when you will see some real cow work. Perhaps you will be able to help by that time."

Now the cowmen galloped out on the plain, separating widely until they had practically surrounded the herd. They began circling slowly about the herd, at the same time gradually closing in on them.

The animals appeared to understand fully what was expected of them, for they had been on the road several nights already. Besides, having had their fill they were anxious to turn in for the night.

As they found spots to their liking, the animals began to throw themselves down.

Tad uttered an exclamation of delight as he watched the steers going to their knees in hundreds, then dropping on their sides, contentedly chewing their cuds. It was such a sight as he never before had seen.

"What are those steers on the outside there—those fellows without any horns?" asked Stacy.

"Those are the muleys. Having no horns, they keep well out of the bunch and wait until the others have gone to bed as you see," the foreman informed him. "You will notice after a while that they will lie down outside the circle. If any of the cows get ugly during the night the muleys will spring up and get out of the way."

In half an hour the last one of the great herd had "bedded down," and those of the cowboys who were not on guard, rode leisurely back toward camp.

It had been decided that Tad Butler should go out on the first guard; Walter Perkins on the second; Ned Rector third and Stacy Brown fourth.

Tad was all eagerness to begin. One of the cowmen exchanged ponies with him, riding Tad's horse back to camp.

"You see, our ponies understand what is wanted of them," explained Stallings, who had remained out for a while to give Tad some instruction in the work before him. "Give the ordinary cow pony his head and he will almost tend a herd by himself."

Three men ordinarily constituted the guard. In this case Tad Butler made a fourth. Taking their stations some four rods from the edge of the herd, they began lazily circling it, part going in one direction and part in another. In this position it would have been well-nigh impossible for any animal to escape without being noticed by the riders.

"Now, I guess you will be all right," smiled the foreman. "Make no sudden moves to frighten the cattle."

"Do they ever run?" asked Tad.

"Run? Well, rather! And I tell you, it takes a long-legged Mexican steer to set the pace. Those fellows can run faster than a horse—at least some of them can. A stampede is a thing most dreaded by the cowmen."

"Our ponies stampeded in the Rockies. I know something about that," spoke up Tad.

"Well, compare the stampeding of your four or five ponies with two thousand head of wild steers and you'll get something like the idea of what it means. In that case, unless you know your business you had better get out of the way as fast as hoss-flesh will carry you. Now, Master Tad, I'll bid you good night and leave you to your first night on the plains."

"How shall I know when to come in?"

"When the second guard comes out. You will hear them. If you should not they will let you know as they pass you."

With that the foreman walked his pony away from the herd. After some little time Tad heard him galloping toward camp.

At first Tad took the keenest enjoyment in his surroundings; then the loneliness of the plains came over him. He began to feel a longing for human companionship.

A dense mantle of darkness settled down over the scene.

Remembering the advice of the foreman, the lad gave his pony the rein. The hardy little animal, with nose almost touching the ground, began its monotonous crawling pace about the herd. It seemed more asleep than awake.

In a short time a sheet of bright light appeared on the eastern horizon. Tad looked at it inquiringly, then smiled.

"It's the moon," he decided.

The boy felt a great sense of relief in his lonely vigil. Just ahead of him he saw a pony and rider leisurely approaching.

It proved to be Red Davis, one of the first guard.

Red waved his hand to the boy in passing, but no word was spoken on either side.

After having circled the herd twice, Tad suddenly discovered a small bunch of cattle that had just scrambled to their feet and had begun grazing a little way outside the circle. The rest of the herd were contentedly chewing their cuds in the moonlight, grunting and blowing over contented stomachs.

The lad was not sure just what he ought to do. His first inclination was to call to some of the other guards. Then, remembering the injunction placed upon him by the foreman, he resisted the impulse.

"I am sure those cattle have no business off there," he decided after watching them for a few moments in silent uncertainty. "I believe I will try to get them back."

Tightening the grip on his reins and clucking to the pony, Tad headed for the steers, that were slowly moving off, taking a step with every mouthful or so.

He steered his pony well outside and headed in toward them.

The pony, with keen intelligence, forced its way up to the leading steer and sought to nose it around. The animal resisted and swung its sharp horns perilously near to the side of the horse, which quickly leaped to one side, almost upsetting its rider.

"Guess I'd better let the pony do it himself. He knows how and I don't," muttered Tad, slackening on the reins.

The straying animal was quickly turned and headed toward the herd, after which the pony whirled and went after one of the others, turning this one, as it did the others. In a short time the truants were all back in the herd.

"That's the way to do it, young fellow. I told the gang back there that the Pinto had the stuff in him."

Tad turned sharply to meet the smiling face of Big-foot Sanders, who, sitting on his pony, had been watching the boy's efforts and nodding an emphatic approval.

"You'll make a cowman all right," said Big-foot.



CHAPTER IV

THE FIRST NIGHT IN CAMP

The camp-fire was burning brightly when the first guard, having completed its tour of duty, came galloping in.

In a few moments the sound of singing was borne to the ears of the campers.

"What's the noise?" demanded Stacy Brown, sitting up with a half scared look on his face.

"It's the 'Cowboy's Lament,'" laughed Bob Stallings. "Listen."

Off on the plain they heard a rich tenor voice raised in the song of the cowman.

"Little black bull came down the hillside, Down the hillside, down the hillside, Little black bull came down the hillside, Long time ago."

"I don't call that much of a song," sniffed Chunky contemptuously after a moment of silence on the part of the group. "Even if I can't sing, I can beat that."

"Better not try it out on the range," smiled the foreman.

"Not on the range? Why not?" demanded the boy.

"Bob thinks it might stampede the herd," spoke up Big-foot Sanders.

A loud laugh followed at Chunky's expense.

"When you get to be half as good a man on cows as your friend the Pinto, here, you'll be a full grown man," added Big-foot. "The Pinto rounded up a bunch of stray cows to-night as well as I could do it myself, and he didn't go about it with a brass band either."

The foreman nodded, with an approving glance at Tad.

Tad's eyes were sparkling from the experiences of the evening, as well as from the praise bestowed upon him by the big cowpuncher.

"The pony did most of it," admitted the lad. "I just gave him his head, and that's all there was to it."

"More than most tenderfeet would have done," growled Big-foot.

Walter had gone out with the second guard, and the others had gathered around the camp-fire for their nightly story-telling.

"Now, I don't want you fellows sitting up all night," objected the foreman. "None of you will be fit for duty to-morrow. We've got a hard drive before us, and every man must be fit as a fiddle. You can enjoy yourselves sleeping just as well as sitting up."

"Humph!" grunted Curley Adams. "I'll give it as a horseback opinion that the only way to enjoy such a night as this, is to sit up until you fall asleep with your boots on. That's the way I'm going to do it, to-night."

The cowboy did this very thing, but within an hour he found himself alone, the others having turned in one by one.

"Where are your beds?" asked Stacy after the foreman had urged the boys to get to sleep.

"Beds?" grunted Big-foot. "Anywhere—everywhere. Our beds, on the plains, are wherever we happen to pull our boots off."

"You will find your stuff rolled up under the chuck wagon, boys," said Stallings. "I had Pong get out the blankets for you, seeing that you have only your slickers with you."

The lads found that a pair of blankets had been assigned to each of them, with an ordinary wagon sheet doubled for a tarpaulin. These they spread out on the ground, using boots wrapped in coats for pillows.

Stacy Brown proved the only grumbler in the lot, declaring that he could not sleep a wink on such a bed as that.

In floundering about, making up his bunk, the lad had fallen over two cowboys and stepped full on the face of a third.

Instantly there was a chorus of yells and snarls from the disturbed cowpunchers, accompanied by dire threats as to what they would do to the gopher did he ever disturb their rest in that way again.

This effectually quieted the boy for the night, and the camp settled down to silence and to sleep.

The horses of the outfit, save those that were on night duty and two or three others that had developed a habit of straying, had been turned loose early in the evening, for animals on the trail are seldom staked down. For these, a rope had been strung from a rear wheel of the wagon and another from the end of the tongue, back to a stake driven in the ground, thus forming a triangular corral. Besides holding the untrustworthy horses, it afforded a temporary corral for catching a change of mounts.

In spite of their hard couches the Pony Riders slept soundly, even Professor Zepplin himself never waking the whole night through. Ned Rector had come up smiling when awakened for his trick on the third guard. With Stacy Brown, however, severe measures were necessary when one of the returning guard routed him out at half-past three in the morning.

Stacy grumbled, turned over and went to sleep again.

The guard chanced to be Lumpy Bates, and he administered, what to him, was a gentle kick, to hurry the boy along.

"Ouch!" yelled Chunky, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

"Keep still, you baby!" growled the cowman. "Do you want to wake up the whole outfit? There'll be a lively muss about the time you do, I reckon, and you'll wish you hadn't. If you can't keep shut, the boss'll be for making you sleep under the chuck wagon. If you make a racket there, Pong will dump a pot of boiling water over you. You won't be so fast to wake up hard working cowboys after that, I reckon."

"What do you want?" demanded the boy. "What'd you wake me up for?"

"It's your trick. Get a move on you and keep still. There's the pony ready for you. I wouldn't have saddled it but the boss said I must. I don't take no stock in tenderfoot kids," growled the cowpuncher.

"Is breakfast ready?" asked the boy, tightening his belt and jamming his sombrero down over his head.

"Breakfast?" jeered Lumpy. "You're lucky to be alive in this outfit, let alone filling yourself with grub. Get out!"

Stacy ruefully, and still half asleep, made a wide circle around the sleeping cowmen that he might not make the mistake of again stepping on any of them.

Lumpy watched him with disapproving eyes.

The lad caught the pony that stood moping in the corral, not appearing to be aware that his rider was preparing him for the range, Chunky all the time muttering to himself.

Leading the pony out, the boy gathered up the reins on the right side of the animal and prepared to mount.

Lumpy Bates came running toward him, not daring to call out for fear of waking the camp. The cowman was swinging his arms and seeking to attract the lad's attention. Chunky, however, was too sleepy to see anything so small as a cowman swinging his arms a rod away.

Placing his right foot in the stirrup, the boy prepared to swing up into the saddle.

"Hi, there!" hissed Lumpy, filled with indignation that anyone should attempt to mount a pony from the right side.

His warning came too late. Stacy Brown's left leg swung over the saddle. No sooner had the pony felt the leather over him than he raised his back straight up, his head going down almost to the ground.

Stacy shot up into the air as if he had been propelled from a bow gun. He struck the soft sand several feet in advance of the pony, his face and head ploughing a little furrow as he drove along on his nose.

He had no more than struck, however, before the irate cowboy had him by the collar and had jerked the lad to his feet.

"You tenderfoot!" he snarled, accenting the words so that they carried a world of meaning with them. "Don't you know any more than to try to get onto a broncho from the off side? Say, don't you?"

He shook the lad violently.

"N-n-n-o," gasped Stacy. "D-d-does it m-m-make any difference w-w-h-i-ch side you get on?"

"Does it make any difference?"

The cowboy jerked his own head up and down as if the words he would utter had wedged fast in his throat.

"Git out of here before I say something. The boss said the first man he heard using language while you tenderfeet were with us, would get fired on the spot."

Without taking the chance of waiting until Stacy had mounted the pony, Lumpy grabbed the boy and tossed him into the saddle, giving the little animal a sharp slap on the flank as he did so.

At first the pony began to buck; then, evidently thinking the effort was not worth while, settled down to a rough trot which soon shook the boy up and thoroughly awakened him.

The rest of the fourth guard had already gone out, Chunky meeting the returning members of the third coming in.

"Better hurry up, kid," they chuckled. "The cows'll sleep themselves out of sight before you get there, if you don't get a move on."

"Where are they?" asked the boy.

"Keep a-going and if you're lucky you'll run plumb into them," was the jeering answer as the sleepy cowmen spurred their ponies on toward camp, muttering their disapproval of taking along a bunch of boys on a cattle drive.

In a few moments they, too, had turned their ponies adrift and had thrown themselves down beside their companions, pulling their blankets well about them, for the night had grown chill.

Out on the plains the fourth guard were drowsily crooning the lullaby about the bull that "came down the hillside, long time ago."

It seemed as if scarcely a minute had passed since the boys turned in before they were awakened by the strident tones of the foreman.

"Roll out! Roll out!" he roared, bringing the sleepy cowpunchers grumbling to their feet.

Almost before the echoes of his voice had died away, a shrill voice piped up from the tail end of the chuck wagon.

"Grub pi-i-i-le! Grub pi-i-i-le!"

It was the Chinaman, Pong, sounding his call for breakfast, in accordance with the usage of the plains.

"Grub pi-i-i-le!" he finished in a lower tone, after which his head quickly disappeared under the cover of the wagon.

By the time the cowmen and Pony Riders had refreshed themselves at the spring near which the outfit had camped, a steaming hot breakfast had been spread on the ground, with a slicker for a table cloth.

Three cowboys fell to with a will, gulping down their breakfast in a hurry that they might ride out and relieve the fourth guard on the herd.

"You boys don't have to swallow your food whole," smiled the foreman, observing that the Pony Riders seemed to think they were expected to hurry through their meal as well. "Those fellows have to go out. Take your time. The fourth guard has to eat yet, so there is plenty of time. How did you all sleep?"

"Fine," chorused the boys.

"And you, Mr. Professor?"

"Surprisingly well. It is astonishing with how little a man can get along when he has to."

"Who is the wrangler this morning?" asked the foreman, glancing about at his men.

"I am," spoke up Shorty Savage promptly.

"Wrangler? What's a wrangler?" demanded Stacy, delaying the progress of a large slice of bacon, which hung suspended from the fork half-way between plate and mouth.

"A wrangler's a wrangler," answered Big-foot stolidly.

"He's a fellow who's all the time making trouble, isn't he?" asked Stacy innocently.

"Oh, no, this kind of a wrangler isn't," laughed the foreman. "The trouble is usually made for him, and it's served up hot off the spider. The horse wrangler is the fellow who goes out and rounds up the ponies. Sometimes he does it in the middle of the night when the thunder and lightning are smashing about him like all possessed, and the cattle are on the rampage. He's a trouble-curer, not a troublemaker, except for himself."

"I guess there are some words that aren't in the dictionary," laughed Tad.

"I think you will find them all there, Master Tad, if you will consult the big book," said the Professor.

The meal was soon finished, Pong having stood rubbing his palms, a happy smile on his face, during the time they were eating.

"A very fine breakfast, sir," announced the Professor, looking up at the Chinaman.

"He knows what would happen to him if he didn't serve good meals," smiled Stallings.

"What do you mean?" asked Ned Rector.

"Pong, tell the young gentlemen what would become of you if you were to serve bad meals to this outfit of cowpunchers."

The Chinaman showed two rows of white teeth in his expansive grin.

"Allee same likee this," he explained.

"How?" asked Tad.

Pong, going through the motions of drawing a gun from his belt, and puffing out his cheeks, uttered an explosive "pouf!"

"Oh, you mean they would shoot you?" asked Walter. "I hardly think they would do that, Pong."

"Allee same," grinned the Chinaman.

"I guess we are pretty sure of having real food to eat, then," laughed Tad, as the boys rose from the table ready for the active work of the day.

"We will now get to work on the herd," announced the foreman. "We had better start the drive this morning. When we make camp at noon we will cut out the strays. I trust none of you will be imprudent and get into trouble, for we shall have other things to look after to-day."

However, the Pony Riders were destined not to pass the day without one or more exciting adventures.



CHAPTER V

CUTTING OUT THE HERD

"Getting ready for rain," announced the foreman, glancing up at the gathering clouds. "That will mean water for the stock, anyway."

Already the great herd was up and grazing when the cowboys reached them. But there was no time now for the animals to satisfy their appetites. They were supposed to have eaten amply since daylight.

The trail was to be taken up again and by the time the steers were bedded down at night, they should be all of fifteen miles nearer the Diamond D. Ranch for which they were headed.

The start was a matter of keen interest to the Pony Riders. To set the herd in motion, cowboys galloped along the sides of the line giving vent to their shrill, wolf-keyed yell, while others pressed forward directly in the rear.

As soon as the cattle had gotten under way six men were detailed on each side, and in a short time the herd was strung out over more than a mile of the trail.

Two riders known as "point men" rode well back from the leaders, and by riding forward and closing in occasionally, were able to direct the course of the drive.

Others, known as "swing men," rode well out from the herd, their duty being to see that none of the cattle dropped out or strayed away. Once started, the animals required no driving.

This was a matter of considerable interest to the Pony Riders.

"Don't they ever stop to eat?" asked Tad of the foreman.

"Occasionally. When they do, we have to start them along without their knowing we are doing so. It's a good rule to go by that you never should let your herd know they are under restraint. Yet always keep them going in the proper direction."

The trail wagon, carrying the cooking outfit and supplies, was not forgotten. Drawn by a team of four mules, the party seldom allowed it to get far away from them, and never, under ordinary circumstances, out of their sight. The driver walked beside the mules, while the grinning face of Pong was always to be seen in the front end of the wagon.

He was the only member of the outfit who never seemed to mind the broiling mid-day heat. He was riding there on this hot forenoon, never leaving his seat until the foreman, by a gesture, indicated that the herd was soon to be halted for its noonday meal. While the cattle were grazing, the cowboys would fall to and satisfy their own appetites.

After the cattle had finally been halted, three men were left on guard while the others rode back to the rear of the line. In the meantime Pong had been preparing the dinner, which was ready almost as soon as the men had cast aside their hats.

"When it comes to cooking for an outfit like this, a Chinaman beats anything in the world," laughed Stallings. "At least, this Chinaman does."

Pong was too busy to do more than grin at the compliment, even if he fully grasped the meaning of it.

The meal was nearly half-finished when the cowpunchers were startled by a volley of revolver shots accompanied by a chorus of shrill yells.

"What's up now?" demanded Ned Rector and Tad in one breath.

Every member of the outfit had sprung to his feet.

"Sounds like a stampede," flung back the foreman, making a flying leap for his pony.

The other cowboys were up like a flash and into their saddles, uttering sharp "ki-yis" and driving in the spurs while they laid their quirts mercilessly over the rumps of the ponies.

Tad Butler, Ned Rector and Walter Perkins were not far behind the cowmen in reaching their own ponies and leaping into their saddles.

Not so with Chunky. He only paused in his eating long enough to look his surprise and to direct an inquiring look at the Chinaman, while the others went dashing across the plain toward the herd.

"Allee same likee this," announced Pong, making a succession of violent gestures that Stacy did not understand.

But the boy nodded his head wisely and went on with his eating.

Out where the grazing herd had been peacefully eating its noonday meal all was now excitement and action.

Revolvers were popping, cowboys were yelling and the herd was surging back and forth, bellowing and dashing in and out, a shifting, confused mass of color and noise.

The boys did not know what to make of it.

"Yes; they are stampeding," decided Ned, riding alongside of Tad Butler.

"I don't believe it," answered Tad. "It looks to me as if something else were the trouble."

"What?"

"I don't know. It's an awful mix-up, whatever they may call it."

"Yes; see! They are fighting."

Surely enough, large numbers of the cattle seemed to be arrayed against each other, sending up great clouds of dust as they ran toward each other, locked horns and engaged in desperate conflict. It was noticed, however, that the muleys kept well out of harm's way, standing aloof from the herd and looking on ready to run at the shake of a horn in their direction.

"Now, look there! What are they doing?" asked Walter.

"They seem to be cutting out a bunch of steers," answered Tad. "That's funny. I can't imagine what it is all about." Neither could Professor Zepplin, who had ridden up at a more leisurely pace, explain to the boys the meaning of the scene they were viewing.

"If we knew, we might turn in and help," suggested Walter.

"That's right," replied Tad. "Suppose we ride up there where the men are at work. We may find something to do. Anyway, we'll find out what the trouble is."

Starting up their ponies, the boys galloped up the line, keeping a safe distance from the herd as they did so, and halting only when they had reached the trail leaders, as the cattle at the head of the line are called.

"What's the trouble?" shouted Ned as they came within hailing distance of the perspiring foreman.

"Mixed herd," he called back, curtly, driving his pony into the thick of the fight and yelling out his orders to the men.

"I know almost as much about it as I did before," announced Ned, disgustedly. "Got any idea, Tad?"

"Yes; I have."

"For goodness sake, let's have it, then. If I don't find out what's going on here, pretty soon, I shall jump into the fight in sheer desperation."

"Mr. Stagings said it was a mixed herd. Don't you think that must mean that a lot of cattle who don't belong there have mixed up with ours?" asked the freckle-faced boy.

"I guess that's the answer, Tad. But, if so, how can they tell one from the other?" wondered Walter.

"From the brands. I have learned that much about the business. Every one of our herd is branded with a capital D in the center of a diamond. That is the brand of Mr. Miller's ranch—the Diamond D Ranch. Evidently they are cutting out all that haven't that brand on."

"Hello! There's Chunky. Now, what do you suppose he is up to!" exclaimed Ned.

Stacy Brown had finished his meal, mounted his pony and was now riding toward the herd at what was for him a reckless speed.

All at once they saw him pull his mount sharply to the left and drive straight at a bunch of cattle that the cowboys had separated from the herd a few moments before.

The boy was too far away, the racket too loud, for their voices to reach him in a warning shout.

Stacy, having observed the cattle straying away, and having in mind Tad Butler's achievement in driving back a bunch of stray steers, thought he would do something on his own account.

"I'll show them I can drive steers as well as anybody," he told himself, bringing down the quirt about the pony's legs.

The strong-limbed little beast sprang to his work with a will. He understood perfectly what was wanted of him. A few moments more, and he had headed off the rapidly moving bunch, effectually turning the leaders, sending them on a gallop back toward the vast herd fighting and bellowing in the cloud of dust they had stirred up.

The cowboys were so fully occupied with their task that they had failed to observe Stacy Brown's action, nor would they have known anything about it had not Tad, yelling himself hoarse, managed to attract the attention of the foreman.

Tad pointed off to where Chunky was jumping his pony at the fleeing cattle, forcing them on with horse and quirt.

They had almost reached the main herd before Tad succeeded in informing the foreman.

One look was enough for Stallings.

Before he could act, however, the stray herd had once more mingled and merged with his own. The work of the cowboys had gone for naught.

Stallings fired three shots into the air as a signal to his men to stop their cutting out.

"Will you young men do me a favor?" he asked.

"Certainly, Mr. Stallings," answered Tad.

"Then ride around the herd and tell the boys not to try any more cutting out until the herd has quieted down. The dust is so thick that we can't do anything with the cows, anyway. You have some sense, but that's more than I can say for your friend, Brown. Of all the idiotic—oh, what's the use? Tell him to mind his own business and keep half a mile away from this herd for the rest of the afternoon."

"All right, sir. Where did those cattle come from?"

"I don't know, Tad. They have broken away from some nearby ranch. Probably somebody has cut a wire fence and let them out. That's the worst of the wire fence in the modern cow business. They can get through wire without being seen. But they can't get by a cowpuncher without his seeing them."

"How many cattle do you think have got mixed with ours?"

"I should imagine there were all of five hundred of them," answered the foreman.

Tad uttered a long-drawn whistle of astonishment.

"Will—will you ever be able to separate them?" asked Ned.

"We sure will. But it means a hot afternoon's work."

"May we help you, Mr. Stallings?" spoke up Walter.

"Yes; I shall be able to use you boys, some, I guess. It's a wonder to me that those cows didn't stampede our whole herd. Had it been night, our stock would have been spread over a dozen miles of territory by this time. Being day, however, our herd preferred to stay and fight the newcomers. I hope they clean up the bunch for keeps."

Pleased that they had been given a task to perform, the boys rode away, Tad and Walter going in one direction, while Ned Rector galloped off in another, that they might reach the cowmen in the shortest possible time.

The men they found sitting on their horses awaiting orders, though they understood what was in the mind of the foreman almost as well as if he had told them by word of mouth.

They found Big-foot and Lumpy Bates expressing their opinion of the mix-up in voices loud with anger. But, upon discovering the boys, the cowmen quickly checked their flow of language.

"Did you see what that—that——" bellowed Lumpy as Tad rode up to him.

"Yes; I saw it," laughed Tad.

"You think this is some kind of a joke, eh?" roared Lumpy, starting his pony toward Tad.

The boy's smile left his face and clucking to his pony he rode slowly forward toward the angry cowpuncher, meeting the fellow's menacing eyes unflinchingly.

"Is there anything you wish to say to me, Mr. Bates?" asked the lad calmly.

Lumpy's emotions were almost too great for speech. He controlled himself with an effort.

"No—only this. I—I'll forget myself some day, and clean up one of you idiotic tenderfeet."

"Perhaps you would like to begin on me, sir," said Tad steadily. "If you feel that way I should prefer to have you do that rather than to try it on any of my companions. Stacy Brown may be indiscreet, but I'd have you understand he is no idiot."

"What—what——"

"You have determined to get square with us ever since we joined out with you last night, and I knew that you and I would have to have an understanding before long. We might as well have it now, though there's nothing of enough consequence to have a quarrel about——"

"You threaten me?"

"Nothing of the kind, Mr. Bates. I only wish to tell you that my companions are the guests of this outfit, and we propose to act like gentlemen. Every other member of the outfit, not excepting the Chinaman, has given us fine treatment. You have hung back, hoping you would have a chance to get us run off the trail."

The cowpuncher's fingers were opening and closing convulsively.

"You—you run into me. The whole bunch had the laugh on me and——"

"If I remember correctly, it was you who ran me down. But we'll drop that. Will you shake hands and forget your bad temper?" asked the lad, reaching over and offering a hand to the cowboy.

For an instant the fellow glared at him, then with a snarl he jerked his pony about and drove in the rowels of the spurs.

"Lumpy's got on the grouch that won't come off," grinned Big-foot. "Better keep a weather eye on the cayuse. If he gets obstreperous, just you let me know."

"Thank you," smiled Tad. "I thought I had better say something to him before it went too far. I knew he meant mischief to us ever since he ran into me yesterday at San Diego."

Tad then delivered his message and rode on to the next cowpuncher.

For fully an hour the cattle surged and fought, some being killed and trampled under foot, while others were so seriously wounded that they had to be shot later in the day.

After a time the battle dwindled down to individual skirmishes, with two or three animals engaged at a time, until finally the entire herd moved off to the fresher ground that had not been trodden upon, and began grazing together as contentedly as if nothing had occurred to disturb them.

All immediate danger of a stampede having passed, Stallings fired a shot as a signal for the cowmen to join him. This they did on the gallop.

After a conference, during which each man gave his opinion as to whom the stray herd belonged to, none recognizing the brand, Stallings made up his mind what to do.

"You will begin at the lower end and cut out as you go through the herd. Cut the newcomers to the west, which will be starting them back toward where they came from, wherever that may be. At the same time while we cut, we will be moving our cows north, which is the direction in which we want them to go."

In the meantime Stacy Brown had ridden up. He was sitting disconsolately on his pony near where the conference was being held, having been roundly scored by every cowboy in the outfit.

The foreman motioned him to ride over to him.

"Young man, can you carry a message back to camp and get it straight!"

Stacy thought he could.

"Then go back and tell the heathen to pack up his belongings and come on. There will be no more eating done in this outfit till we have cut out that new bunch. Tell the driver to be ready to move when he sees us start. We'll get in a few miles before dark, yet, if we have good luck."

Stacy rode away full of importance to deliver the foreman's order.

Then the cutting out began. Cowboy after cowboy dashed into the herd coming out usually with his pony pressing against the side of an unwilling steer and pushing him along in the right direction by main force.

And here was where the Pony Riders made themselves useful. As an animal was cut out, the boys would ride in behind it and worry the steer along until they had gotten it a safe distance to the west of the main herd.

"There's a Diamond D steer in that bunch," Tad informed one of the cowpunchers as he rushed a big, white steer out.

"Never mind; we'll trim the mixed outfit after we get more of the bunch out," answered the cowboy, riding back into the herd.

While doing the cutting out the men also drove out the few cattle that had strayed into the herd earlier in the journey.

For three hours this grilling work had kept up, the perspiring cowboys yelling, their ponies squealing under the terrific punishment they were getting from both riders and steers.

But in the excitement of their own work, the Pony Riders had had little time in which to observe what the cowmen were doing.

Tad thought of a plan by which he might assist them further. So he galloped his pony over to the edge of the main herd and waited until the foreman dashed out with two red, fighting steers, which he gave a lively start on their way to join the mixed herd.

"Mr. Stallings, may I cut back some of the Diamond D animals in the mixed herd?" he asked.

"Think you can do it, kid?"

"I can try."

"All right. Go ahead. Be careful that you don't turn back any of the other brands, though. Above all, look out for yourself."

Tad galloped back to his companions, his face flushed, the dust standing out on his blue shirt, turning it almost gray.

"Keep this herd up, fellows," he shouted. "I'm going to try my hand at cutting out."

Fortunately, the pony understood what was wanted of it, and, the moment it had located an animal which it was desired to cut out, the pony went at the work with a will. Tad, triumphant and warm, rode out driving a Diamond D steer ahead of him, applying his quirt vigorously to the animal's rump until he had landed it safely in the ranks of the main herd.

Again and again had the boy ridden in among the cattle, seemingly taking no account of the narrow escapes both rider and pony were having from the sharp horns of the long-legged Mexican cattle.

One big, white fellow gave the lad more trouble than all the rest that he had cut out, and when once Tad had run him out into the open the perspiration was dripping from his face.

But his battle was not yet won. The steer, for some reason best known to itself, did not wish to return to its own herd. It fought every inch of the way, wearing down pony and rider until they were almost exhausted.

Tad Butler's blood was up, however. He set his jaw stubbornly and plunged into the work before him.

Bob Stallings, shooting a glance in the boy's direction understood what he had in hand, for the foreman had made the acquaintance of this same steer himself, earlier on the drive.

The lad had worried the animal nearly to its own herd, after half an hour's struggle, when, despite all his efforts, it broke away and dashed back toward the mixed bunch.

"I'll get him if it's the last thing I ever do," vowed the boy.

A rawhide lariat hung from his saddle bow, and though he had practised with the rope on other occasions, he did not consider himself an expert with it. He had watched the cowboys in their use of it and knew how they threw a cow with the rope.

On the spur of the moment Tad decided to use the lariat.

Lifting it in his right hand and swinging the great loop high above his head, he dashed up to the running steer, and when near enough to take a cast, let go of the loop.

It fell over the horns of the white animal as neatly as a cowboy could have placed it there.

The coil ran out in a flash; yet quick as the boy was, he found himself unable to take a hitch around the pommel of his saddle with the free end.

The running steer straightened the rope and Tad shot from his saddle still clinging desperately to the line.



CHAPTER VI

TAD TAKES A DESPERATE CHANCE

When the freckle-faced boy took his unexpected plunge, it chanced that neither cowboys nor Pony Riders were looking his way.

No one knew of his plight.

As he felt the line running through his hand, Tad Butler had given it a quick hitch around his right wrist, so that when the rope drew taut, and the pony braced itself to meet the shock, the lad fairly flew through the air.

The white steer had been headed for the mixed bunch which the Pony Riders were guarding. With the stubbornness of its kind, it wheeled about the instant it felt the tug on the rope and dashed for the main herd, Tad's body ploughing up the dust as he trailed along at a fearful pace behind the wild animal, whirling over and over in his rapid flight.

The lad's eyes were so full of sand dust that he was unable to see where he was going. He had slight realization of the peril that confronted him.

"Look! Look!" cried Walter Perkins.

"What is it?" cried Ned Rector.

"What's that the steer is dragging?"

"I don't know."

"And there's Tad's pony standing out there alone," added Walter. "You—you don't think Tad——"

"As I'm alive, it is Tad! He is being dragged by the steer. He'll be killed! Watch this herd, I am going after him!" shouted Ned, putting spurs to his pony and dashing toward the main herd.

At that moment the white steer, trailing its human burden, rushed in among the other cattle and was soon lost among them.

Ned did not dare to set up a loud shout of warning for fear of frightening the cattle. However, he was waving his hat and excitedly trying to attract the attention of some of the cowmen.

They were too busy to give any heed to him.

Ned drove his pony in among the struggling cattle with no thought of his own danger.

The cowmen were roping and rushing the stock that did not belong to them. As it chanced, however, most of them were working at the upper end, or head of the herd.

The foreman, for some reason, had galloped down the line, casting his eyes keenly over the herd. Instantly he noticed that something was wrong, though just what it was, he was unable to decide. Then his eyes caught the figure of Ned Rector, the center of a sea of moving backs and tossing horns. The boy was standing in his stirrups still swinging his sombrero above his head.

It took the foreman but an instant to decide what to do. Wheeling his pony, he fairly dived into the mass of cattle, lashing to the right and left of him with his ready quirt, the cattle resentfully shaking threatening heads at pony and rider and making efforts to reach them with their sharp-pointed horns.

"What is it?" shouted Stallings after he had ridden in far enough to make his voice reach Ned Rector.

"It's Tad!"

"What about him?"

"He's in there," answered Ned, pointing.

"Where? What do you mean?"

"I don't know. It's the white steer. He dragged him."

Stallings thought he understood. He had seen the lad working with the unruly animal only a few moments before.

"What's the trouble—did the boy rope him?" shouted the foreman.

Ned nodded.

"He'll be trampled to death!" snapped the foreman, rising high in his stirrups and looking over the herd. There were several white steers in the bunch, but the one in question was so much larger than the others that Stallings thought he would have no difficulty in picking out the animal. Not finding him at once, the foreman fired two shots in the air to attract the attention of the cowboys. Three of them soon were seen working their way in.

"Open up the herd!" he shouted.

"Whereabouts?" asked Reddy Davis.

"Anywhere. Look out for the big, white cow. The boy's roped to him!"

They understood at once.

Big-foot Sanders had heard, and began working like an automatic machine. The way the cattle, big and little, fell away before his plunging pony and ready quirt was an object lesson for those of the Pony Riders who were near enough to see his effort.

In the thick of it was Ned Rector, driving his pony here and there, anxiously watching for the white steer.

"There he is!" shouted Ned, suddenly espying the animal still dashing about.

"Where?"

"There, to the right of you!"

Forcing his mount through the crowded ranks, Stallings in a moment found himself within reach of the white beast. However, there were three or four cattle between himself and the one he wanted.

The foreman's rope circled in the air above his head, then the great loop squirmed out over the backs of the cattle, dropping lightly over the horns of the white one.

The steer felt the touch of the rope and knew the meaning of it. As the animal sprang forward, Stallings took a quick turn about the pommel of his saddle and the pony braced its fore feet. When the shock came, the cattle over whose backs the rope lay felt it even more than did the pony itself. Three of them were forced to their knees bawling with sudden fright and pain.

The head of the white steer was jerked to one side. A swing of the rope and the steer was thrown heavily.

"Get in there!" roared Stallings.

Ned at the moment, chanced to be nearer than were any of the others to the animal, and to him fell the perilous work of holding down the kicking beast.

He knew exactly what was expected of him, having seen a cowboy hold a steer down for a quick branding that morning.

Ned spurred in and leaped to the ground.

Without an instant's hesitation he threw himself on the neck of the struggling animal, whose flying hoofs made the attempt doubly dangerous.

This act of Ned enabled Stallings to jump from his pony and run to the lad's assistance, leaving the pony braced to hold the line taut.

The foreman sprang to the rear, where he observed the form of Tad Butler doubled up, lying half under the body of a big, red steer.

Stallings picked him up, quickly cutting the lariat.

"Slip the loops off his horns!" he commanded. "Look out that you don't get pinked by them."

"Is Tad hurt?" called Ned anxiously.

"Lucky if he ain't dead," answered the foreman, hurrying to his pony, which he mounted taking the boy in his arms. By this time Ned had the ropes and had sprung away from the steer's dangerous horns.

Tad's form hung limp and lifeless over the saddle. His face, with the sand and dust ground into it, was scarcely recognizable.

Ned followed the foreman as soon as he could get his pony. By the time Ned reached them, Stallings had laid Tad down and was making a quick examination.

"Get water! Hurry!" he commanded sharply.

"Where?" asked Ned, glancing about him, undecided which way to turn.

"The chuck wagon. Ride, kid! Ride!"

Ned bounced into his saddle without so much as touching his stirrup. With a sharp yell to the animal he sped away over the plain, urging on the little pony with quirt and spur.

The way Ned Rector rode that day made those of the cowmen who saw him open their eyes.

Ned began shouting for water as soon as he came in sight of the wagon, which, by this time, was packed for the start.

Pong, understanding from the boy's tone that the need was urgent, was filling a jug from the tap barrel by the time Ned rode up beside the wagon. He had less than a minute to wait.

Grabbing the jug from the hands of the grinning Chinaman, and unheeding Pong's chuckled "allee same," Ned whirled about and raced for the herd.

The lad struggled to keep back the tears as he realized that, even with all his haste, it might be too late.

That Tad should come out of that melee of flying hoofs and prodding horns without being at least seriously injured was more than he could hope.

Faster and faster ran the pony, behind him a rising cloud of yellow dust. Ned's fingers were stiff and numb from carrying the heavy jug, and the lump in his throat was growing larger, it seemed to him, with every leap of the animal under him.

Now Ned could see the cowmen galloping in and gazing from their ponies. He knew they were looking at Tad. Stallings was bent over him, pouring something down the boy's throat.

Ned's heart gave a great bound. Tad Butler must be alive or there would be no need for the liquid that the foreman was forcing down his throat.



CHAPTER VII

THE HERD FORDS THE RIVER

"Is he—is he——" asked Ned, weakly, after they had taken the jug of water from his hand.

"He's alive, if that's what you mean," answered Stallings. "I'm afraid he's got a slight concussion of the brain. He doesn't come around the way I should like to see him."

"Sure it isn't a fracture!" asked the Professor, who had just arrived on the scene.

"No, I hardly think so."

The foreman washed the unconscious boy's face, soaking Tad's head and neck and searching for the seat of the trouble.

"Huh! Steer kicked him," grunted Stallings. "It was a glancing blow, luckily for the kid."

They worked over the lad for fully half an hour before he began to show signs of returning consciousness. At last his trembling eyelids struggled apart and he smiled up at them weakly.

"Ah! He's all right now, I guess," laughed the foreman, with a world of relief in his tone. "Boys, get busy now and cut out the rest of those cows. If the young man is not able to ride we'll put him in the chuck wagon when it comes up. Feel bad anywhere, now?" he asked.

"My—my head weighs a ton."

"I should think it would. Did the white steer kick you?"

"I—I don't know. Hello, Professor. I roped him all right, didn't I, Mr. Stallings?"

"You did. But you got roped yourself, too, I reckon. Think you'll be able to ride in the trail wagon? If not we'll have to send you back to town."

"That'll be the best place for the tenderfoot," growled Lumpy Bates.

Stallings turned a stern eye upon him.

"Lumpy, when I want your opinion I'll let you know. What are you doing here, anyway? Get into that cut out and be mighty quick about it!"

Lumpy rode away growling.

"I'll ride in no trail wagon," announced Tad Butler, with emphasis.

"I guess you will have to, my boy."

"I'll ride my pony if I have to be tied on," he declared resolutely.

The foreman laughed heartily.

"Well, we'll see about that. You boys all have good stuff in you. I see that Master Walter and the gopher are still out there looking after that bunch of cattle."

"I told them to do so," spoke up Tad.

"And they are obeying orders. That's the first thing to learn in this business."

"May I sit up now?"

"You may try."

Tad's head spun round when he raised himself up. The lad fought his dizziness pluckily, and mastered it. After a little while they helped him to his feet. Finally feeling himself able to walk he started unsteadily away from them.

"Where are you going?" demanded the Professor.

"Pony," answered Tad.

"I protest, Tad. You will come back here at once."

Tad turned obediently.

"Please, Professor. I'm all right."

"Let the boy go. He will be all right in a few moments after he has gotten into the saddle," urged the foreman. "Besides, he's too much of a man to be treated like a weakling. He'll get more bumps than that before he leaves this outfit, if I'm any judge."

The Professor motioned to Tad to go on, which the lad did, petting his pony as he reached him, and then pulling himself into the saddle with considerable effort.

"I'm ready for business now," he smiled, waving a hand to the foreman.

"Better look on and let the rest do the work," advised Stallings, mounting his own tough pony and riding into the thick of the cutting out process.

But Tad Butler could no more sit idly by while the exciting work was going on than could the foreman himself. The first steer that was cut out from the main herd, after Stallings went back, found Tad Butler alongside of it, crowding it toward his own herd farther out. And this work he kept up until all the strangers had been separated from the Diamond D stock.

"There, I'm glad that job is done," exclaimed Stallings, whipping off his hat and drawing a sleeve across his perspiring brow.

"Too bad I had to go and upset things so," said Tad.

"Never mind. It's all in a day's work. On a cattle drive if it isn't one thing it's sure to be another. We have been lucky enough not to have a stampede thus far. That isn't saying we won't, however. If you feel like working you can ride up and join the point men. We'll make five or six miles before it is time to bed down the herd."

To Tad's companions was left the task of driving the strange cattle a couple of miles to the west and leaving them there.

The boys could not well lose the main herd; for, no sooner had they started on the trail than a great cloud of dust slowly floated up into the air. Tad, in his position near the head of the line, and well out to one side of it, was free from this annoyance. The longer the lad was in the saddle, the stronger he seemed to feel, and the only trace that was now left of his recent experience among the hoofs of the Mexican steers was a bump on one side of his head almost as large as a hen's egg.

It was near sundown when the foreman, who had ridden on ahead some time before, came back with the information that a broad stream that was not down on his map lay just ahead of them.

"There's not more than thirty feet of swimming water there, and I believe I'll make a crossing before we go into camp," he announced briefly.

"How deep is the water?" asked Big-foot Sanders.

"In the middle, deep enough to drown, but on the edges it's fordable. The cows will be glad of a drink and a swim after the heat of to-day."

With this in mind the cowmen were instructed to urge the cattle along at a little stronger pace, that they might all get well over before the night came on.

The animals seemed to feel the presence of water ahead of them, for they ceased their grazing by the wayside and swung into a rapid pace, such a pace as always gladdens the heart of the cowboy. The steers held it until the rays of the setting sun were reflected on the surface of the broad sluggish stream.

The Pony Riders dashed forward intent upon reaching the stream first. Tad followed them upon receiving permission from the foreman to do so.

The banks on each side were high and steep, making it far from an ideal fording place. Stallings, however, thought it better to cross there than to take the time to work the herd further down. Joining the boys, he cast his glance up and down the stream to decide whether his judgment had been correct.

"I thought we were going to cross the river," said Stacy Brown.

"That's exactly what we are going to do," replied the foreman.

"But where's the bridge? I don't see any?" objected the lad.

"Right there in front of you."

"Where?"

"Chunky, there is no bridge," Tad informed him. "We have to wade, just as the cattle will."

"And swim, too, part of the way," added Stallings.

"But we'll get wet," wailed Chunky.

"No doubt about that," roared the foreman.

"Swim the river with our horses?" exclaimed Ned. "Hurrah! That will be great!"

"I shall be glad to get some of this dust washed off me," laughed Tad. "Besides, the bump on my head will feel better for it, I think."

"Spread out, boys. The cattle are coming up on the run. They will push you into the river before you are ready if you happen to be in their way," warned Stallings.

The riders clucked to their ponies and all galloped up stream some distance that they might be well out of the way of the oncoming herd.

The thirsty animals plunged into the water with a mighty splash. Some forded until their feet could no longer touch the ground, after which they swam to the other side, while others paused to drink until those behind them forced them out into the stream also.

In a few moments the stream was alive with swimming cattle, the herd being spread out for a full quarter of a mile up and down the stream. To the rear, yelling cowboys were urging on the stragglers and forcing the herd into the cool waters.

It was an inspiring sight for the boys.

Here and there a cowman would ride his pony into the water and turn the leaders, who were straying too far up or down the river.

After half an hour of watering, the men began to force the cattle to the opposite bank. There was a great scramble when the steers started to climb the steep bluff. The first ones to try it went half way up on a run.

Losing their footing they came tumbling to the foot of the bluff, knocking a number of the other cattle back into the water.

There was much bellowing and floundering about, but the relentless forcing from the other side swept the unfortunate ones to the crest of the tide and up the steep bank.

Now that the loose dirt had slipped down the footing grew more secure, and the animals soon fell into trails of their own making, up which they crept three and four abreast.

Once on the other side they started to graze as contentedly as if they had not just passed through a most trying experience.

Two of the cowmen who had forded the stream further down, now appeared opposite the main fording place, to take charge of the cattle.

"Get across, boys," shouted the foreman.

With an answering shout Tad and Ned slid their ponies down the sharp bluff, plunging into the water and heading straight across.

"Slip out of your saddles and hang on!" called the foreman.

Without an instant's hesitation the two boys slid into the water with a splash, but keeping tight hold on the pommels of their saddles.

"Let go the reins," directed Stallings. "The ponies know where to go."

Now the lads were being drawn rapidly through the water, and almost before they knew it their feet rested on the bottom of the shallow stream a short distance from the opposite bank.

"Hooray!" shouted Tad, waving his water-soaked sombrero. "Come in. The water's great!"

"Come on, Chunky," called Ned.

"I'll wait and go over in the wagon," decided Chunky.

"You'll do nothing of the sort," snapped the foreman. "You will swim, if you get over at all."

Professor Zepplin, not to be outdone by his young charges, bravely rode his animal into the stream.

The boys set up a shout of glee when he, too, finally dropped into the river with a great splash. Instead, however, of allowing the pony to tow him, the Professor propelled himself along with long powerful strokes of his left hand, while with the right he clung to the saddle pommel.

"Three cheers for Professor Zepplin!" cried Tad as the German, dripping but smiling, emerged from the water and scrambled up the bank, leaving his pony to follow along after him.

The cheers were given with a will.

Stacy Brown, however, was still on the other side with the straggling cattle which were coming along in small bunches.

"Young man, if you expect to get in for supper, you'd better be fording the stream," suggested Big-foot Sanders.

The mention of supper was all that Stacy needed to start him.

"Gid-ap!"

The pony slid down the bank on its haunches, Stacy leaning far back in the saddle that he might not pitch over the animal's head.

"Chunky would make a good side hill rider, wouldn't he?" jeered Ned.

"Depends upon whether he were going up or down," decided Tad.

"Look out! There he goes!" exclaimed Walter.

The boy's mount had mired one foot in a quicksand pocket and had gone down on its knees. But Chunky kept right on going.

He hit the water flat on his stomach, arms and legs outspread, clawing and kicking desperately.

The fat boy opened his mouth to cry out for help.

As a result Stacy swallowed all the water that came his way. Floundering about like a drowning steer, choking and coughing, he disappeared from sight.



CHAPTER VIII

THE APPROACH OF THE STORM

"He's gone down!" cried a voice from the other side of the stream.

Tad sprang down the bank and leaped in, striking out for the spot where Stacy had last been seen.

Cattle were scattered here and there and the boy had to keep his eyes open to prevent being run down. He had almost reached the place where he had made up his mind to dive, should Stacy not rise to the surface, when a great shout from the bluff caused Tad to turn.

"Wha—what is it?" he called.

"Look! Look!" cried Ned Rector.

"I don't see anything. Is it Chunky? Is he all right?"

"Yes. He's driving oxen just now," answered Ned.

By this time the cowpunchers had joined in the shouting. Tad could see, however, that they were shouting with merriment, though for the life of him he could not understand what there was to laugh about.

Several steers were between him and the spot on which the glances of the others were fixed.

"Come on in," called Ned.

The lad swam shoreward with slow, easy strokes. Then he discovered what they were laughing at.

Stacy, grasping desperately as he went down, had caught the tail of a swimming steer. He had been quickly drawn to the surface, and out through an opening between the treading animals, appeared the fat boy's head.

Chunky was not swimming. He was allowing the steer to do that for him, clinging to its tail with all his strength. The lad's eyes were blinded for the moment by the water that was in them. He did not release his hold of the tail when they had reached the shore, but hung on desperately while the steer, dragging him along through the mire, scrambled up the bank.

There was no telling how long Stacy might have hung to the animal's tail, had not Stallings grabbed him by the collar as he rose over the crest of the bank. Stallings shook him until the water-soaked clothes sent out a miniature rain storm and the boy had coughed himself back to his normal condition.

"Well, you are a nice sort of cowboy," laughed the foreman. "When you are unable to do anything else to interest your friends, you try to drown yourself. Go, shake yourself!"

Stacy rubbed the water from his eyes.

"I—I fell in, didn't I?" he grinned.

After having ferried the trail wagon over, everybody was ready for supper. No one seemed to mind the wetting he had gotten. Professor Zepplin made a joke of his own bedraggled condition, and the boys gave slight heed to theirs.

The cattle were quickly bedded down and guards placed around them almost immediately, for the clouds were threatening. Stallings' watchful eyes told him that a bad night was before them. How bad, perhaps he did not even dream.

Supper was ready a short time after the arrival of the wagon, and, laughing and joking, the boys gathered about the spread with a keen zest for the good things that had been placed before them.

"Do you boys feel like going out on guard to-night?" asked the foreman while they were eating.

"I do for one," answered Tad.

"And I," chorused the rest of the lads.

"I see your recent wetting has not dampened your spirits any," laughed Stallings.

"Conditions make a lot of difference in the lives of all of us," announced the Professor. "Now, were these boys at home they'd all catch cold after what they have been through this afternoon. Their clothes, as it is, will not be dry much before sunrise."

"And perhaps not even then," added the foreman, with an apprehensive glance at the sky.

"What did you say, Mr. Stallings?"

"I am thinking that it looks like rain."

"What do we do when it rains?" asked Stacy Brown.

"Same as any other time, kid," growled Big-foot Sanders.

"I know; but what do you do?" persisted Chunky.

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