THE SADDLE BOYS IN THE GRAND CANYON
The Hermit of the Cave
CAPTAIN JAMES CARSON
Author of "The Saddle Boys of the Rockies," "The Saddle Boys on the Plains," "The Saddle Boys at Circle Ranch," Etc.
New York Cupples & Leon Company Publishers
* * * * * *
BOOKS FOR BOYS
BY CAPTAIN JAMES CARSON
THE SADDLE BOYS SERIES
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.
THE SADDLE BOYS OF THE ROCKIES Or, Lost On Thunder Mountain
THE SADDLE BOYS IN THE GRAND CANYON Or, The Hermit of the Cave
THE SADDLE BOYS ON THE PLAINS Or, After a Treasure of Gold
THE SADDLE BOYS AT CIRCLE RANCH Or, In At The Grand Round-Up
CUPPLES & LEON CO PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK.
* * * * * *
Copyrighted 1913, by Cupples & Leon Company
THE SADDLE BOYS IN THE GRAND CANYON
Printed in U.S.A.
I. THE WORK OF THE WOLF PACK 1
II. RIDDING THE RANGE OF A PEST 11
III. THE FLOATING BOTTLE 21
IV. THE LISTENER UNDER THE WINDOW 34
V. STARTING FOR THE GRAND CANYON 46
VI. BUCKSKIN ON GUARD 54
VII. STANDING BY THE LAW 62
VIII. THE MOQUI WHO WAS CAUGHT NAPPING 71
IX. "TALK ABOUT LUCK!" 79
X. THE COPPER-COLORED MESSENGER 87
XI. AT THE GRAND CANYON 98
XII. HOW THE LITTLE TRAP WORKED 105
XIII. GOING DOWN THE CANYON TRAIL 116
XIV. THE HOME OF THE CLIFF DWELLERS 124
XV. THE TREACHEROUS GUIDE 135
XVI. A WONDERFUL DISCOVERY 143
XVII. THE WINDOWS IN THE ROCKY WALLS 151
XVIII. FINDING A WAY UP 158
XIX. FORTUNE STILL FAVORS THE BRAVE 167
XX. ANOTHER SURPRISE 175
XXI. THE LITTLE OLD MAN OF ECHO CAVE 184
XXII. TURNING THE TABLES—CONCLUSION 195
THE SADDLE BOYS IN THE GRAND CANYON
THE WORK OF THE WOLF PACK
"Hold up, Bob!"
"Any signs of the lame yearling, Frank?"
"Well, there seems to be something over yonder to the west; but the sage crops up, and interferes a little with my view."
"Here, take the field glasses and look; while I cinch my saddle girth, which has loosened again."
Frank Haywood adjusted the glasses to his eye. Then, rising in his saddle, he gazed long and earnestly in the direction he had indicated. Meanwhile his companion, also a lad, a native of Kentucky, and answering to the name of Bob Archer, busied himself about the band of his saddle, having leaped to the ground.
Frank was the only son of a rancher and mine owner, Colonel Leonidas Haywood, who was a man of some wealth. Frank had blue eyes, and tawny-colored hair; and, since much of his life had been spent on the plains among the cattle men, he knew considerable about the ways of cowboys and hunters, though always ready to pick up information from veterans of the trail.
Bob had come to the far Southwest as a tenderfoot; but, being quick to learn, he hoped to graduate from that class after a while. Having always been fond of outdoor sports in his Kentucky home, he was, at least, no greenhorn. When he came to the new country where his father was interested with Frank's in mining ventures, Bob had brought his favorite Kentucky horse, a coal-black stallion known as "Domino," and which vied with Frank's native "Buckskin" in good qualities.
These two lads were so much abroad on horseback that they had become known as the "Saddle Boys." They loved nothing better than to ride the plains, mounted on their pet steeds, and go almost everywhere the passing whim tempted them.
Of course, in that wonderland there was always a chance for adventure when one did much wandering; and that Frank and Bob saw their share of excitement can be readily understood. Some of the strange things that happened to them have already been narrated in the first volume of this series, "The Saddle Boys of the Rockies, Or, Lost on Thunder Mountain," and which, in a way, is an introduction to the present story. In the first book the boys cleared up a wonderful mystery concerning a great cavern.
For several minutes Bob was busily engaged with the saddle girth that had been giving him considerable trouble on this gallop.
"There," he remarked, finally, throwing down the flap as though satisfied with his work. "I reckon I've got it fixed now so that it will hold through the day; but I need a new girth, and when we pull up again at Circle Ranch I'll see about getting it. Oh! did you make out anything with the glasses, Frank?"
He sprang into the saddle like one who had spent much of his time on horseback. Domino curvetted and pranced a little, being still full of mettle and spirits; but a very firm hand held him in.
"Take the glass, and see if you can make out what it is," Frank remarked, as if he hardly knew himself, or felt like trusting his eyes.
A minute later Bob lowered the glasses.
"There's something on the ground, and I can catch a glimpse of what looks like a dun-colored hide through the tufts of buffalo grass. The yearling was red, you said, Frank? All right. Then I reckon we'll find her there; but not on her feet."
As he said these curt words Frank let Buckskin have his head; and, accompanied by his chum, started at a full gallop over the level, in the direction of the spot where the dun-colored object had been sighted.
Shortly afterward they topped a little rise, and pulled up. No need to doubt their eyes now. Just before them lay the mangled remains of the lame yearling, very little being left to tell the story of how the animal had met its fate.
"Wolves!" said Frank, gloomily, as he sat looking down at the torn hide.
"I don't know the signs as well as you, Frank, but I'd say the same from general indications. And they had a royal good feast, too. This makes a round half dozen head your father has lost in the last month, doesn't it?" asked Bob.
"Seven, all told. When Bart Heminway told me he had noticed that one of those fine yearlings seemed lame, I wondered if something wasn't going to happen to it soon. And then, when we missed it from the herd last night, I guessed what had come about. They caught her behind the rest, and pulled her down. The poor thing didn't have a ghost of a show against that pack of savage wolf-dogs."
"I'd like to have just one chance at them, that's all," grumbled Bob, as he let his hand fondle the butt of a modern repeating rifle, which he carried fastened to his saddle.
"This is sure the limit, and it's just got to stop!" declared Frank, grimly.
"Right now?" queried his chum, eagerly.
Two pairs of flashing eyes met, the black ones sending a challenge toward the blue.
"Why not?" said Frank, shutting his jaws hard, "the day is before us still; and we're well primed for the business of hunting that pack to their den. Look at that bunch of rocks a few miles off; that must be where they hang out, Bob! Queer that none of the boys have ever thought of hunting in this quarter for that old she-wolf Sallie, and her brood."
"Then you think she did it, do you?" asked Bob.
"Sure she did. You can see for yourself where her jaws closed on the throat of the poor yearling. Everybody knows her trademark. That sly beast has been the bane of the cattle ranches around here for several years. They got to calling her Sallie in fun; but it's been serious business lately; and many a cowboy'd ride two hundred miles for a chance to knock her over."
"And yet none of the rough riders have even thought to search that rocky pile for her den, you say?" Bob continued.
"Why, you see, the killings have always been in other directions," Frank explained. "Just as shrewd animals often do, up to now Sallie has never pulled down a calf anywhere near her den. I reckon she just knew it might cause a search. But this time she's either grown over-bold, or else the pack started to do the business in spite of her, and she was forced into the game."
"Well, shall we head for that elevation, and see what we can find?" asked Bob, who was inclined to be a little impatient.
"Wait a bit. It would be ten times better if we could only track the greedy pack direct; but that's a hard proposition, here on the open," Frank observed.
"Well, what can we do then?" his chum asked.
"Perhaps put it in the hands of the best trailer in Arizona," and with a laugh Frank pointed off to the left.
The Kentucky boy turned his head in surprise, and then exclaimed:
"Old Hank Coombs, on his pony, as sure as anything! You knew he was coming along all the while, and just kept mum. But I'm sure glad to see the old cowman right now. And it may turn out to be a day of reckoning for that cunning Sallie, and her half grown cubs."
The two lads waved their range hats, and sent out a salute that was readily answered by the advancing cowman. Hank Coombs was indeed a veteran in the cattle line, having been one of the very first to throw a rope, and "mill" stampeding steers in Texas, and farther to the west.
He was an angular old fellow, grim looking in his greasy leather "chaps;" but with a twinkle in his eyes that told of the spirit of fun that had never been quenched by the passage of time.
"Howdy, boys," he called out, as he drew rein alongside the two lads. "What's this here yer lookin' at? Another dead calf? No, I swan if it ain't a yearling as has been pulled down now. Things seem t' be gittin' t' a warm pass when sech doin' air allowed. Huh! an' it looks like Sallie's work, too! That sly ole critter is goin' t' git t' the end of her rope some fine day."
"Why not to-day, Hank?" demanded Frank, briskly.
The veteran grinned, as though he had half anticipated having such a question asked.
"So, that's the way the wind blows, hey?" he remarked, slowly; and then he nodded his small head approvingly. "Jest as you say, Frank, thar's no time like the present t' do things. The hull pack hes been here, I see, an' no matter how cunning old Sallie allers shows herself, a chain's only as strong as th' weakest link. One of her cubs will sure leave tracks we kin foller. All right, boys count on me t' back ye up. I'll go wharever ye say, Frank."
"We'll follow the trail, if there is one," said Frank, instantly; "but the chances are that's where we'll bring up," and he pointed with his quirt in the direction of the rocky uplift that stood like a landmark in the midst of the great level sea of purple sage brush, marking the plain.
After one good look the cowman nodded his head again in the affirmative.
"Reckon as how y'r' right, Frank," he remarked; "but we'll see how the trail heads."
Throwing himself from his saddle he bent down over the remains of the yearling that had been so unfortunate as to become lame, and thus, lagging far behind the rest of the herd, fallen a victim to the wolf pack.
"Easy as fallin' off a log," announced old Hank, immediately. "Jest as I was sayin', thar's nearly allers one clumsy cub as don't hev half sense; an' I kin foller this trail on horseback, 'pears to me."
He ran it out a little way; then, once more mounting, went on ahead, with his keen eyes fastened on the ground.
Bob watched his actions with the greatest of interest. He knew Old Hank was discovering a dozen signs that would be utterly invisible to one who had not had many years of practice in tracking both wild animals and human beings.
Now and then the trailer would draw in his horse, as though desirous of looking more carefully at the ground. Twice he even dropped off and bent low, to make positive his belief.
"I reckon you were right, Frank," remarked Bob, after half an hour of this sort of travel "because, you see, even if the trail did lead away from the rocks at first, it's heading that way now on a straight line."
"Thet was only the cuteness of the ole wolf," said Hank. "She's up t' all the dodges goin'. But that comes a day of reckonin' for all her kind; an' her's orter be showin' up right soon."
When another half hour passed the three riders had reached the border of the strange pile of rocks. And as Frank looked up at the rough heap, with its many crevices and angles, he considered that it certainly must offer an ideal den to any wild beast wishing to hide through the daytime, and prowl forth when darkness and night lay upon the land.
"Here's whar the trail ends at the rocks," said Hank, as he dismounted and threw the bridle over the head of his horse, cowboy fashion, knowing that under ordinary conditions the animal would remain there, just as if hobbled, or staked out.
Both of the saddle boys followed his example, and, holding their rifles ready, prepared to search the rocks for some trace of the wolf den. Wild animals may be very cunning about locating their retreat in a place where it will be hidden from the eye of a casual passer; but, in course of time, they cannot prevent signs from accumulating, calculated to betray its presence to one who is keenly on the watch.
The three searchers had not been moving back and forth among the piles of rocks more than ten minutes when Old Hank was observed to raise his head, smile, and sniff the air with more or less eagerness.
"Must be close by, boys," he said, positively. "I kin git the rank odor that allers hangs 'round the den of wild animals as brings meat home, an' leaves the bones. The air is a-comin' from that quarter, an' chances are we'll find the hole sumwhar over yonder."
"I think I see it," said Frank, eagerly. "Just above that little spur there's a black looking crevice in the rock."
"As dark as my hat," added Hank; "an' I reckon as how that's whar Sallie lives when she's t' home. Now t' invite ourselves int' her leetle parlor, boys!"
RIDDING THE RANGE OF A PEST
"Well, what do you think now, Frank?" asked Bob, as they stood in front of that gloomy looking crevice, and observed the marks of many claws upon the discolored rock, where hairy bodies had drawn themselves along countless times.
"I'm wondering," the other replied; "what ails our boys at the ranch never to have suspected that old Sallie had her den, and raised her broods, so close to the Circle Ranch. Why, right now we're not more'n ten miles, as the crow flies, away from home. And for years this terrible she-wolf has lived on the calves and partly grown animals belonging to cattlemen in this neck of the land. It makes me tired to think of it!"
"But Frank, it's a long lane that has no turning," remarked Bob; "and just now we've got to the bend. Sallie has invited her fate once too often. That lame yearling is going to spell her finish, if Old Hank here has his way."
"It sure is," agreed Frank. "And when we get back home with the hide of that old pest fastened to a saddle, the boys will be some sore to think how anyone of the lot might have done the job, if they'd only turned this way."
"But what's Hank going to do?" asked the Kentucky boy, watching the veteran cow-puncher searching on the ground under a stunted pinon tree that chanced to grow where there was a small bit of soil among the rocks.
"I don't know for a dead certainty," replied the other; "but I rather think he's picking up some pieces of wood that might make good torches."
"Whew! then he means that we're to go into the cave, and get our game—is that it, Frank?" demanded the other, unconsciously tightening his grip on his rifle, as he glanced once more toward that yawning crevice, leading to unknown depths, where the wolf pack lurked during the daytime to issue forth when night came around.
"That would be just like the old chap, for he knows nothing of fear," Frank replied; "but of course there's no necessity for both of us to go with him. One might remain here, so as to knock over any stray beast that managed to escape the attention of those who went in."
"All right; where will you take up your stand, Frank?" asked Bob, instantly; at which his chum laughed, as though tickled.
"So you think I'd consent to stay out here tamely, while you two were having a regular circus in there?" he remarked. "That would never suit me. And it's easy to see that you count on a ticket of admission to Sallie's parlor, too. Well, then, we'll all go, and share in the danger, as well as the sport. For to rid the range country of this pest I consider the greatest favor under the sun. But there comes Hank with a bundle of torches under his arm."
"We're off, then!" chuckled Bob.
"Make sure o' yer guns, lads," said the cowman, as he came up; "because, in a case like this, when ye want t' shoot it's apt t' be in a hurry. An' anybody as knows what a fierce critter ole Sallie is, kin tell ye it'll take an ounce of lead, put in the right place, t' down her fur keeps."
"I'm ready," Frank assured the old hunter.
"Then, jest as soon's I kin git this flare goin' we'll push in." Hank announced.
"Will we be able to see the game with such a poor light?" asked Bob, a trifle nervously, as his mind went back to school days, to remember what he had read of that old Revolutionary patriot, Israel Putnam, entering a wolf's den alone, and killing the beast in open fight; truth to tell Bob had never seen a real den in which wild beasts hid from the sun; and imagination doubled its perils in his mind.
"Fust thing ye see'll be some yaller eyes starin' at ye outen the dark," said Hank, obligingly. "Then, when I gives the word, both of ye let go, aimin' direct atween the yaller spots."
"But what if we miss, and the beast attacks us?" Bob went on, wishing to be thoroughly posted before venturing into that hole.
"In case of a mix-up," the veteran went on; "every feller is for hisself; only, recerlect thar mustn't be any shootin' at close quarters. Use yer knives, or else swat her over the head with yer clubbed guns. We're bound t' git Sallie this time, by hook er by crook! Ready, son?"
Both boys declared that they had no reason for delaying matters. Since it had been decided as best to invade the wolf den, the sooner they started, the better.
True, Bob thought that had it been left to him, he would have first tried to smoke out the occupants of the cleft, waiting near by to shoot them down as they rushed out of the depths. But then Hank was directing matters now, and whatever he said must be done.
Besides, Hank had known wolves ever since he first "toted" a gun, now more than fifty-five years ago. Perhaps he understood how difficult it is to smoke out a pack of wolves, that invariably seek a cave with a depth sufficient to get away from all the influences of the smudge.
Without the slightest hesitation Old Hank got down on hands and knees, and began to crawl into the gaping mouth of the crevice.
It did not go straight in, but seemed to twist around more or less. All the while the two boys kept close at the heels of the guide who carried that flaring torch. They watched ahead to detect the first sign of the enemy; and had their ears on the alert with the same idea in view.
Stronger grew the odor that invariably marks the den of carnivorous animals.
"We ought to stir her up soon now, Frank," whispered Bob, on whom the strain was bearing hard, since he was not used to anything of this sort.
"Yes, unless the sly old beast has a back door to her home; how about that, Hank?" asked the cattleman's son.
"Don't reckon as how it's so," came the ready response. "In thet event, we'd feel a breath of fresh air; an' ye knows as how we don't. Stiddy boys, keep yer wits about ye! She's clost by, now!"
"I heard a growl!" admitted Bob.
"And there were whines too, from the half grown cubs," ventured Frank.
"Once we turn this bend just ahead, likely enough we'll be in the mess," Bob remarked.
"Range on both sides of me, boys," directed Hank, halting, so that they could overtake him; because he knew full well that the crisis of this bold invasion of the she-wolf's den was near at hand.
In this fashion, then, the three turned the rocky corner.
"I see the yellow eyes!" whispered Bob, beginning to bring his gun-stock nearer to his shoulder. "Say, there's a whole raft of 'em, Frank!"
"Sure," came the quick reply, close to his ear. "Hank said there was about five of the brood. Hold your fire, Bob. Pick out the mother wolf first."
"That's what I want to do; but how can I make sure?" demanded the Kentucky lad, trying his best to keep his hands from trembling with excitement.
He had sunk down upon one knee. This allowed him to rest his elbow on the knee that was in position, always a favorite attitude with Bob when using a rifle.
"Take the eyes that are above all the rest, and which seem so much larger and fiercer. Are you on, Bob?" continued the other, who was also handling his gun with all the eagerness of a sportsman.
"Yes," came the firm reply.
"Then let her go!"
The last word was drowned in a terrific roar, for when a gun is fired in confined space the din is tremendous. Even as he pulled the trigger Bob knew that luck was against him; for the animal had moved at a time when he could not delay the pressure of his finger.
He heard a second report close beside him. Frank had also fired, realizing what had occurred, and that in all probability the first bullet would only wound the savage beast, without putting an end to her activities.
The torch went sputtering to the floor of the cave, having been knocked from the hand of Hank when the wolf struck him heavily. He could be heard trying to rescue it before it went completely out, all the while letting off a volley of whoops and directions.
Fortunately Frank had kept his wits about him. And his rifle was still gripped firmly in his hands, he having instantly pumped a new cartridge into the chamber after firing. The half grown cubs showed an inclination to follow their mother in her headlong attack on the human invaders of the den; for the numerous gleaming pairs of eyes were undoubtedly advancing when Frank turned his gun loose on them.
The din was simply terrific. Bob was more concerned with the possibility of an attack from the ferocious mother wolf then anything else. He had lost track of her after that first furious rush, and crouching there, was trying the best he knew how to locate the creature again.
Meanwhile Old Hank had succeeded in picking up the torch, which, being held in an upright position, began to shed a fair amount of light once more.
Not seeing anything else at which he could fire, Bob now started in to assist his chum get rid of the ugly whelps that were advancing, growling, snarling, and in various other ways proving how they had inherited the fearless nature of the beast that had nursed them in that den.
Perhaps it was all one-sided, since the animals never had a chance to get in touch with the invaders. Neither of the boys ever felt very proud of the work; but in view of the tremendous amount of damage a pack of hungry wolves can do on a cattle ranch, or in a sheepfold, they had no scruples concerning the matter. Besides, every one along the Arizona border hated a wolf almost as badly as they did a cowardly coyote; for while the former may be bolder than the beast that slinks across the desert looking for carrion, its capacity for mischief is a good many times as great.
"I don't see any more eyes, Frank!" called out Bob, presently, as he tried to penetrate the cloud of powder-smoke that surrounded both of them.
"That's because we got 'em all, I reckon," replied his chum. "How about that, Hank?"
"Cleaned the hull brood out, son," replied the other, chuckling; "an' no mistake about it either."
"But where did the big one go to; has she escaped after all?" asked Bob, with a note of regret in his voice; for he thought the blame would be placed on him, for having made a poor shot when he had such a splendid chance to finish the animal.
"Oh! I wouldn't worry myself about her, Bob," chuckled Frank, who had already made a discovery; and as he spoke he pointed to a spot close by, where, huddled in a heap, lay the heavy body of the fiercest cattle thief known for years along the border.
"She was mortally hurted by the fust shot," said Hank, as they stood over the gaunt animal, and surveyed her proportions with almost a touch of awe; "but seemed like the critter had enough strength left t' make thet leap, as nigh knocked me flat. Then she jest keeled over, an' guv up the ghost. Arter this the young heifers kin stray away from their mother's sides, without bein' dragged off. Thar'll be a vote o' thanks sent ter ye, Bob, from every ranch inside of fifty mile, 'cause of what ye did when ye pulled trigger this day."
Hank, being an experienced worker, did not take very long to secure the pelt of the dead terror of the desert. Then they left the rocks, finding their horses just where they had left them.
All of the animals showed signs of alarm when they scented the skin of the wolf; and Domino in particular pranched and snorted at a great rate since his education had been neglected in this particular. So Hank, having the best trained steed in the bunch, insisted on carrying the pelt with him on their return trip to the ranch.
Ten miles, as the crow flies, and they would be at home; and with comparatively fresh steeds, that should not count for more than an hour's gallop.
Before they had gone three miles, however, Bob called the attention of his chum to a horseman who was galloping toward them. It was a cowboy, and he waved his broad-brimmed hat over his head as he came sweeping forward.
"Is he doing stunts; or does he want us?" asked Bob.
"It's Ted Conway," replied Frank, with a sudden look of anxiety; "one of the steadiest boys at the ranch; and he acts as if something had happened at home!"
THE FLOATING BOTTLE
Waving his hat after the extravagant manner of his kind, the cowboy swept constantly nearer the little party. Indeed, it was impossible for them to guess whether Ted Conway bore a message, or was simply delighted to see the son of his employer, and his chum.
Presently he reached the constantly advancing trio, and under the pull of the reins his pony reared upon its hind legs.
"What's wrong, Ted?" asked Frank, immediately.
"Wanted at the ranch, Frank," came the answer. "The boss has sent me out to look you up on the jump. Told me as how you started out on a gallop this way, an' I took chances. Reckon I was some lucky to strike you so easy."
"But what has happened, Ted?" insisted the boy, trying to read the bronzed face of the other, and get a hint as to whether his mission verged on the serious or not.
It was so very unusual for Colonel Haywood to send anyone out to find him, that Frank's suspicions were naturally aroused.
"Well, the Colonel had a little tumble with that game leg of his—same one that the steer fell on, and broke two years back, in the big round-up—" began the cowboy, when Frank interrupted him.
"Then he must have been seriously hurt this time, or he wouldn't send you out for me. Tell me the worst, Ted; you ought to realize that it's better for me to know it all in the start, than by degrees. Is my father dead?"
"No. Last I seen of the Colonel, he was a real live man; only he had his leg done up agin in splints; an' the ole doc. from the Arrowhead Ranch was thar, 'tending to him. No, it ain't on count of his leetle trouble with that leg that made him send me out huntin' for you, Frank."
"What then?" demanded the boy, curtly; but with a sigh of relief, for his father was very dear to him.
"Thar come a messenger to the ranch a while ago, an' somethin' he fetched along with him, 'peared to excite the boss right from the word go," Ted admitted.
"A messenger, Ted?" the boy echoed, wonderingly.
"Never seen him afore, an' think he kim from town," the new arrival went on to say. "Leastwise, he looked like a stray maverick, an' had a b'iled shirt, with a collar that I reckoned sure would choke him. Atween you an' me I tried to get him to chuck the same; but he only grinned, an' allowed he could stand it."
"Oh! a messenger from town, was it?" said Frank, with a relieved look. "Then the chances are it must have been some business connected with a shipment of cattle. Perhaps the railroad has had a bad wreck, and wants to settle for that last bunch we sent away."
But Ted shook his head in the negative.
"'T'wan't no railroad man; that I know," he affirmed, positively. "'Sides, the boss was holdin' of a bottle in his hand, an' seemed to set a heap of store by it."
"A bottle, Ted?" cried Frank, deeply interested.
"That's what," replied the cowboy, energetically. "But jest why he should reckon such a thing wuth shucks I can't tell ye. But he sent me out to bring you back to the ranch house like two-forty. I seen that he was plumb locoed, and some excited by the news, whatever it might be."
Frank looked at his chum in a puzzled way, and shook his head.
"I don't seem able to make head or tail of this business, Bob," he remarked; "but there's only one thing to be done, and that's to romp home on the gallop. So away we go with a rush. Who's after me! Hi! get long, Buckskin! It's a race for a treat of oats as a prize! Here you are, Bob; hit up the pace!"
With the words Frank gave his horse free rein, and went tearing over the level plain, headed as straight for the distant ranch as though he were a bird far up in the clear air, and could see to make a direct line "as the crow flies!"
And after a time, in the distance, they saw the whitewashed outbuildings of Circle Ranch. Frank never viewed the familiar and dearly loved scene with more anxiety than he did now; but so far as he could see there did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary taking place around the ranch house.
"Looks all right, Bob!" exclaimed Frank, as though a great load had been taken from his heart.
The sudden coming of Ted Conway, with that queer message that meant a hurried return, had mystified the boy not a little. But he knew that all would soon be made plain now, since they were nearly home.
Dashing up in front of the house, the two lads jumped to the ground almost before their mounts had come to a halt. The door was open, and Frank led the way in a headlong rush.
As they entered he saw his father seated in his comfortable easy-chair, with that unfortunate leg, that had given him more or less trouble for two years now, propped on another seat, and bound up.
There was a stranger with him, but no sign of the Arrowhead Ranch cowboy doctor; which would indicate that, having done his duty, the roving physician and bone-setter had returned to his regular business, which was roping and branding cattle.
Colonel Haywood was a man in the prime of life. Up to the time that clumsy steer had broken his leg he had been most active; but since then he had not been able to get around on his feet so well, though able to ride fairly comfortably.
"Hello! Frank, my boy!" he exclaimed, as the two came rushing in. "So Ted managed to round you up in great style; did he? Well, I always said Ted was the sharpest fellow on the range when it came to finding things. Where have you been to-day?"
"Doing a little missionary work for the country," replied Frank, smiling. "We came across that lame pet yearling, the dun-colored one you thought so much of; and there was mighty little left of the poor beast but a torn hide, not worth lifting."
"Huh! wolves again!" exclaimed the stock-raiser, with a frown.
"Sure thing, sir," Frank went on. "We saw a heap of signs that told us our old friend, Sallie, with the broken tooth, had been on the job again. But that was the last of our beef the old lady'll ever taste, or anybody else's, for that matter."
"What's that? Did you sight her, and get a shot?" demanded the pleased rancher, forgetting his broken leg in his excitement, and making a movement that immediately caused him to give a grunt, and settle back again.
"Old Hank happened to run across our trail just then," Frank continued; "and we made up our minds to track the beast to her lair. Where do you suppose we found it, dad, but in the big bunch of rocks that lies about ten miles to the west?"
"You surprise me; but go on, tell me the rest, and then I'm going to let you in on something that will open your eyes a little," remarked the stockman.
"Oh! there isn't much more to tell, dad," the boy hastened to say, for he was eager to learn what all this mystery meant. "We found the opening, easy enough, and made up our minds to crawl in after Sallie, the whole three of us. So Hank picked up some wood for a flare, and in we went."
"And you found her home? You met with a warm reception, I warrant!" the other exclaimed, his eyes kindling with pride as he saw the quiet, confident air with which Frank rattled off his story.
"Sallie was in, ditto five of her half-grown brood, and all full of fight," the boy continued. "But of course they didn't have a ghost of a show against our two repeating rifles. Hank held the torch, and Bob fired first. Then the brute jumped, and nearly got Hank, who lost the flare for a few seconds. We keeled over the ugly whelps as they started for us; and later on found old Sallie, just as she had dropped. That big jump was her last."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that, son," declared the rancher, who had suffered long and seriously from the depredations of that sly animal and her various broods, despite all efforts to locate her, and put an end to her attacks.
"I'm glad you're pleased with what we did," Frank remarked.
"It will mean a lot to all honest ranchmen in this section," continued the cattleman. "With Sallie gone, we can hope to raise a record herd the coming season, without keeping men constantly on the watch, day and night, for a slinking thief that defied our best efforts. Shake hands, Bob, and let me congratulate you on making the shot that ended the loping of the worst pest this country has known in five years."
"But when Ted came whirling along, shouting, and waving his hat, to tell us you wanted me back home on the jump, it gave me a bad feeling, dad; especially when I heard that you'd gone and hurt that leg again!" Frank cried, as he, too, seized the other hand of his father, and squeezed it affectionately.
"But I told Ted to be sure and let you know that it was not on account of my new upset that I wanted you back," declared the ranchman, frowning.
"Yes, he delivered the message all right, dad; but all the same I was bothered a heap, let me tell you," Frank went on. "And now, please, tell us what it's all about; won't you; and what this gentleman has to do with it; also the bottle Ted said you were handling?"
At that Colonel Haywood smiled, and looked up at the stranger.
"This is a Mr. Hinchman, Frank," he remarked. "He lives in a small place on the great Colorado River called Mohave City. And one day, not long ago, a man who was fishing on the river at a place where an eddy set in, found a curious bottle floating, that was sealed with red wax on the top, and seemed to contain only a piece of paper. This is the bottle," and as he spoke he opened a drawer of the desk, and drew out the flask in question.
Frank took it, and turned it around. So far as he could see it was an ordinary bottle. It contained no cork, but there were signs of sealing wax around the top.
"Mr. Hinchman, is, I believe," the ranchman went on, "though he has been too modest to say so himself, a gentleman of some importance in Mohave City, which accounted for the fisherman fetching his queer find to him. The bottle had evidently come down the great river, perhaps for one or two hundred miles, escaping destruction from contact with rocks in a marvelous manner, and finally falling into the hands of one who had both the time and the curiosity to examine its sealed contents."
Colonel Haywood thereupon took up a small piece of paper from the pad of the desk.
"This is what he found in the bottle, Frank," continued the stockman. "It bore my address, and the name of my ranch here; so thinking that it might be something more than a practical joke he concluded to journey all the way across the country to see me. It was a mighty nice thing for Mr. Hinchman to do, and something I am not apt to forget in a hurry, either."
"Then the paper interested you, dad, it seems?" Frank remarked, eagerly.
"It certainly did, son, and I rather think you will feel the same as I did when I tell you whose name is written at the bottom of this little communication," the cattleman went on.
"All right, I'm ready to hear it," Frank remarked, laughingly.
"Felix Oswald!" replied his father, quickly.
The boy was indeed intensely surprised, if one could judge from his manner.
"Your Uncle Felix, dad, who has been gone these three years, and whose mysterious disappearance set the whole scientific world guessing. And you say his name is there, signed to that paper found in the sealed bottle? Well, you sure have given me a surprise. Then he's still alive?"
"He seemed to be when he wrote this," the cattleman said, reflectively; "but as he failed to put any date on it, we can only guess how long the bottle has been cruising down the Colorado, sucked into eddies that might hold it for weeks or months, until a rise in the river sent it forth again."
"Say, doesn't that beat everything you ever heard of, Bob?" declared Frank, turning to his chum.
"It certainly does," replied Bob, and then the ranchman's boy continued:
"Perhaps you remember me telling you some things about this queer old uncle of dad's, Bob, and how, after he had made a name for himself, he suddenly vanished in a night, leaving word behind that he was going to study the biggest subject any man could ever tackle. And as he didn't want to be bothered, he said he would leave no address behind. They've looked for him all over Europe, Asia and Africa, but he was never heard from again. And now to think that he's sent word to dad; and in a sealed bottle too!"
"That looks as if he must be somewhere on the Colorado River, don't it?" suggested Bob.
"Undoubtedly," replied the stockman; "in fact, in this brief communication he admits that he is located somewhere along the Grand Canyon, in a place where travelers have as yet never penetrated. I can only guess that Uncle Felix must have been seized with a desire to unearth treasures that might tell the history of those strange old cliff dwellers, who occupied much of that country as long as eight hundred years ago. All he mentions about his hiding place is to call it Echo Cave. You never heard of such a place, did you, Mr. Hinchman; and you've lived on the lower river many years?"
"I never did, Colonel," replied the man from Mohave City; "and perhaps few people have climbed through that wonderful gash in the surface of the Arizona desert as many times as I have."
"In this brief note," continued Colonel Haywood, "Uncle Felix simply says that he has become aware of the passage of time; and since his labors are not yet completed, and he does not wish to allow his friends to believe him dead, he has concluded to communicate with me, his nephew. And as he knew of no other way of doing so, he resorted to the artifice of the floating bottle."
"Mighty considerate of him, that's sure," chuckled Frank. "Been gone now two or three years, and suddenly remembers that there are people who might worry about his dropping out of sight."
"But son," remarked the stockman, "don't forget that Uncle Felix is wrapped up in his profession, and cares very little about the ties of this world. I know him well enough for that. But it happens, singularly enough, that just now it is of the greatest importance he should be found, and communicated with. I would undertake the task myself, only for this unfortunate break that is bound to keep me laid up for another month or two. The doctor set my leg afresh, and tells me that this time I will really get perfectly well, given time. But it's hard to think that my cousin Janice, his only child, will lose so great a sum if some one fails to locate Uncle Felix, and get his signature to a paper inside of another month."
"Why, how is that, father?" asked Frank.
"Circumstances have arisen that will throw a fortune into her hands;" the stockman continued; "but the time limit approaches, and if his signature is not forthcoming others will reap the benefit, particularly that rascally cousin of mine, Eugene Warringford. You remember meeting him a year ago, Frank, when he came around asking many questions, as though he might have tracked his uncle out this way, and then lost the trail?"
"Why not send us, dad?" demanded Frank, standing up in front of the stockman, with a smile of confidence on his face.
THE LISTENER UNDER THE WINDOW
"That was what I had in mind, Frank, when I hurried Ted Conway out to find you both," Colonel Haywood remarked, his face filled with pride and confidence.
"Will you let me see the note, please?" asked Bob; who expected some day to study to be a lawyer, his father's family having had several Kentucky judges among their number.
Just as the owner of the ranch had said, the communication was exceedingly brief, and to the point, not an unnecessary word having been written. It was in pencil, and the handwriting was crabbed; just what one might expect of an elderly man, given over heart and soul to scientific research.
"I suppose you know the writing well enough to feel sure this came from your noted uncle, sir?" asked Bob, as he turned the paper over.
"Certainly, Bob," replied the cattleman, promptly. "There is not the least possibility of it's being a practical joke. Nobody out here knows anything about my uncle, who disappeared so long ago. Yes, you can set it down as positive that the letter is genuine enough. He's located somewhere up in that most astonishing hole, the greatest wonder, most people admit, in the entire world. But just how you two boys are ever going to find him is another question."
"We can try, dad; and that's all you could do if you were able to tramp. It happens that the Grand Canyon isn't more than a hundred and thirty miles from our ranch here, and we can ride that in a few days. How do you feel about it, Bob?"
"Nothing would please me better," replied the other boy, quickly, his face lighting up with delight at the prospect of a long ride in the saddle, to be followed by days, and perhaps weeks, of roaming through that wonderland, where Nature had outdone all her other works in trying to heap up astonishing surprises.
"So far as I'm concerned," Frank went on, "I've always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, and meant to do it some day later on. Of course I've seen what the little Colorado has to show, because it's only a long day's ride off. Mr. Hinchman can, I reckon, give us some points about the place, and maybe even mention several smaller canyons where we might be likely to find Uncle Felix in Echo Cave."
"Which I'll be only too happy to attempt," answered the gentleman from Mohave City; "and as I said before, I know considerable about the mysteries of the big hole in the desert, all of which is at your service. Somehow, the queer way that message in the floating bottle came to me, excited my curiosity; and I'll be satisfied if I can only have a hand in the finding of the noted gentleman who, as your father has been telling me, vanished in the midst of his fame."
"And now, dad, please explain just what we are to do in case luck follows us in our hunt, and we run across the professor," said Frank.
"You are to explain to him that the long option which he held on that San Bernardino mine will expire in one more month. The work had been going on in a listless way for three years. All at once some time back they struck a wonderfully rich lode, and vein has been followed far enough to show that it is bound to be a record breaker."
"That sounds great!" declared the deeply interested Bob.
"The mine couldn't be bought for a million to-day," continued the stockman; "and yet Uncle Felix is probably carrying around with him (for it couldn't be found at his home) a little legal document whereby it will become his sole property in case he chooses to plank down the modest sum of twenty thousand dollars by the thirtieth of next month!"
"Whew! that's going some, eh, Bob?" exclaimed Frank, with a little whistle that accentuated his surprise.
"Then if we are fortunate enough to find Uncle Felix before that time has expired, what shall we do, sir?" asked the precise Bob, who was always keeping an eye out for the legal aspect of things.
"Coax him to accompany you to the nearest notary public, where he can sign his acceptance of the terms under which he holds the option on the San Bernardino. But if this happens after the thirtieth it is all wasted energy; for at midnight of that day, I happen to know, the option expires," the ranchman continued, somewhat impressively.
Just as he finished speaking he suddenly turned toward the window, at which his keen vision had caught sight of a moving shadow, as though someone might have been crouching without, and listening.
"Who is there at the window?" he called out, sternly.
All eyes were turned that way. After several seconds had passed a figure rose up, and a head was thrust through the opening. It belonged to a dark-faced cow-puncher, named Abajo, who was supposed to be a half-breed Mexican. Although never a favorite with the owner of the Circle Ranch, Abajo was a first-class handler of the rope, and could ride a horse as well as anyone. He had been employed by Colonel Haywood for half a year. He talked "United States," as Frank was used to saying, as well as the average cowman. But Frank had never liked the fellow. There seemed something crafty in his ways that was foreign to the make-up of the boy.
"It's only me, boss," said Abajo, with an attempt at a grin. "I wanted to ask you about that job you set me on yesterday. I took Pete along, and we found the lost bunch of stock in a valley ten mile away from Thunder Mountain in the Fox Canyon country. Got 'em all safe in but seven. Never seen hair nor hide of them; but after gettin' back it struck me there was one place they might a strayed to that we didn't look up. If so be you say the word I'll pick up Pete again, and make another try."
"Why, of course you had better go, Abajo," remarked the stockman, looking keenly at the other, for he did not like the way in which the half-breed had been apparently loitering under that open window, as though listening to all that was passing in the room beyond. "I told you not to draw rein till you'd found all the missing stock; or knew what had become of them. That's all, Abajo."
The Mexican cowboy hurried away. A minute later and they heard him shouting to Pete; and then the clatter of horses' hoofs told that the pair were galloping wildly across the open.
"I wonder how much he heard?" said Frank; from which it would appear that he also suspected the other of having spied upon them for some purpose.
"Much good it could have done him, even if he caught all we said," replied his father. "Because, of course, he doesn't know anything about Uncle Felix; and couldn't be interested in whether he is living or dead."
"No," remarked Mr. Hinchman, "but the mention of a mine going a-begging that is worth a comfortable fortune, like a million or two, would interest Abajo. I know his type pretty well, and you can rest assured that they're always on the lookout for easy money."
"But didn't it strike you, dad," ventured Frank, "that his excuse for being under that window was silly?"
"Yes, because Abajo has always been able to understand, without asking what he should do under such conditions. He wanted some excuse for drawing near the open window, and he found it. Perhaps he's heard something about the coming of Mr. Hinchman here, and the queer finding of the bottle that floated down the Colorado for one or two hundred miles. I spoke to the foreman, Bart Heminway, about it."
"When would you want us to make a start?" asked Bob, looking as though he might be ready to jump into his saddle then and there.
"Oh! there is no such rushing hurry as all that," replied the cattleman, laughing at the eagerness of the two lads. "Your horses are a bit off, just now, and after all that fight in the wolf den you boys need a rest."
"But when do we start?" asked Frank.
"Suppose you get ready to move in the morning," Colonel Haywood replied, after reflecting a moment. "That will give me time to write a letter to Uncle Felix, so that you can deliver it, if you're lucky enough to find his Echo Cave; and at the same time you can make up your packs; for you will need blankets, and plenty of grub along."
"Well, I reckon you're right, dad," admitted Frank; "only it seems as if we might be losing valuable time. All the same we're going to do just what you say. Now, if you haven't anything more to tell us, we'll just skip out, and begin looking up some of the supplies for our campaign in the Grand Canyon."
"Get along with you, then," laughed the ranchman. "I want to ask Mr. Hinchman a few more questions that have occurred to me since you came home. And, boys, grub will be ready in a short time, now, for there's Ah Sin stepping to the door every little while, to look around and see if the boys are in sight. You know what that sign means."
Frank and his chum went off, to make out a list of things they would take along with them on the strange expedition upon which they were about to start on the following morning.
"What do you think of that slippery customer, Abajo?" Bob asked his chum, as the afternoon waned, and they were sitting on the long porch of the ranch house.
"I've never liked him ever since he came here; but dad was in need of help, and the half-breed certainly knows his business to a dot," replied Frank, who was examining the new girth his chum had attached to his saddle, mentally deciding that whatever the young Kentuckian attempted, he did neatly and well.
"Didn't I hear something about his being a relative to that Spanish Joe who gave us so much trouble a little while back, on Thunder Mountain?" Bob continued.
"Well, I couldn't say for sure, but some say he is a nephew," Frank answered. "Both of them have Mexican blood in their veins; and, when you come to think of it, there is some resemblance in their faces."
"But do you really think Abajo was listening?" the other asked.
"It looked like it; that's as far as I've got," laughed Frank.
"But," Bob protested, "even if he knew that there was a big fortune connected with the paper this queer old professor carries on his person, what good would that do Abajo?"
Frank shrugged his broad shoulders as he replied:
"Well, you never can tell what crazy notions some of these schemers after a fortune will hatch up. He might make up his mind to start a little hunt for the hermit of Echo Cave on his own hook; with the idea of getting a transfer of that valuable paper."
"That's a fact!" declared Bob, looking interested. "Perhaps, after all, we won't have our work cut out for us as easy as we thought."
"Small difference that will make," Frank went on, with a shutting of his teeth that told of the spirit animating the boy when difficulties hove in sight.
"I agree with you, all right, Frank," his companion remarked. "And perhaps it'll only make the hunt all the more interesting if we believe we've got opposition. You know how it was when Peg Grant threw his hat in the ring, and tried to find out what made those queer sounds in the heart of Thunder Mountain?"
"Sure I do," came the quick reply. "It stirred us up to doing bigger stunts than if we'd thought we had it all our own way. Nothing like competition to get the best out of any fellow."
"Correct you are, Frank. But speaking of Abajo, perhaps that's him coming back now," and as he spoke the Kentucky boy pointed across to a point where a single rider could be seen heading for the ranch house.
He was still far away, but the eyes of Frank Haywood were very keen. Besides, he knew the "style" of every cowboy who was in the employ of his father, and was able to pick them out almost as far as he could see them.
"You're away off there, Bob," he remarked quietly.
"Then it isn't the half-breed?" asked his chum.
"I know the way that chap sits in the saddle," came the reply. "Only one man on the pay roll of Circle Ranch holds himself that way. It's Pete."
"Pete Rawlings, the fellow who went with Abajo to round up the missing cattle?" asked Bob.
"He's the one," Frank went on. "And from the fact that he rides alone, I take it he's bringing news."
"Of the seven head of cattle that have disappeared, you mean, Frank?"
"Perhaps. They may have found them, and Abajo is standing by, while Pete comes in to make some sort of report. There's that rustler bunch that comes from the other side of the Gila river once in a while, under Pedro Mendoza, you remember. But he'll soon be on deck, and then we'll know. Come along, Bob, and we'll let dad hear that Pete is sighted. He'll be interested some, I reckon."
A short time later the single rider threw himself from his saddle after the usual impetuous manner of cowboys in general.
"Back again, Pete; and did you see anything of that seven head?" asked Colonel Haywood, who had come outside.
"Ain't run across hair nor hide of 'em, Colonel," replied the squatty cattleman, as he "waddled" up to the spot where the little group awaited his coming; for like many of his kind, Pete was decidedly bow-legged, possibly from riding a horse all his life; and his walk somewhat resembled that of a sailor ashore after a long cruise.
"Where did you leave Abajo?" asked Frank, unable to restrain his curiosity.
"Didn't leave him," replied the other, with a grin. "He gave me the merry ha! ha! and said as how he reckoned he'd had enough of the old Circle. Got his month's pay yesterday, you see, an' he's even. I reckoned somethin' was in the wind when I seen him talkin' with that feller."
"Who was that, Pete?" questioned Colonel Haywood; and the prompt answer made Frank and Bob exchange significant looks, for it seemed to voice their worst fears.
"A gent as you had avisitin' here some time back, Colonel. Reckon as how he don't feel any too warm toward you, accordin' to the way he used to bring them black brows of his'n down, when he thought you wa'n't lookin'. And his name was Eugene Warringford."
STARTING FOR THE GRAND CANYON
No one appeared to be greatly surprised at this piece of news. Apparently it had been already discounted in the mind of Frank, his father, and even Bob Archer.
"So, that's the way the wind sets, is it?" remarked the colonel, frowning.
"Anyhow, dad, that proves one thing," declared Frank.
"Meaning about that business of listening under the window?" observed the owner of Circle Ranch. "It certainly does. Abajo has been in the employ of Eugene Warringford from the start. But there must have been some other good reason why that schemer wanted to find Uncle Felix. He suspected that, sooner or later, the old gentleman would communicate with me, because I used to be quite a favorite of his, years ago."
"Yes, and he sent the half-breed here to get employment from you just to spy around," declared Frank. "All the time he was accepting your money, he had a regular income from Eugene."
"Oh! well, he earned all he got here," said the ranchman, quickly. "Say what I may about Abajo, he had no superior when it came to throwing the rope, and rounding up a herd. Those Mexicans make the finest of cowboys. They are at home in the saddle, every time."
"Also in hanging around under windows, and listening to what is said," added Frank. "As for me, I have little use for their breed. And, dad, if ever you give me the reins here, no Mexican will ever get a job on old Circle Ranch."
"Well," remarked the stockman, laughing at the vigor with which his son and heir made this assertion, "perhaps I'm leaning that way myself. After all, there's nothing like your own kind. We don't understand these fellows. Their ways are not the same as ours; and I reckon we puncture their pride often enough. But there's no trouble now about understanding why Abajo gave us the go-by to-day."
"Huh! he had some news worth while carrying to his boss," said Frank. "And I can just imagine how Eugene's little eyes will sparkle when he hears about that valuable paper; eh, dad?"
"You're right, son," the ranchman replied. "Because, it stands to reason he couldn't know anything about it before. The mine was a dead one up to a few months back, when that lucky-find lode was struck by accident. Eugene will put up a big chase to find this Echo Cave, now that he knows Uncle Felix is located somewhere in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado."
"But it won't make a bit of difference in our plans, dad; will it?" asked Frank.
"That depends on you two boys. If you think you can carry the game along, even with Eugene against you, I see no reason to make any change," the stockman replied, with a look that spoke of much confidence.
The balance of the afternoon was spent in exchanging views, and much study of the map of the famous canyon of the Colorado, which it happened the ranch owner had in his desk.
All sorts of theories were advanced by first one and then another of the group. It happened that Colonel Haywood himself had never as yet paid a visit to the strange gash in the soil of northwestern Arizona; and he admitted the fact with a rueful face.
"Then just as soon as you get well, dad, make up your mind you're going to take a little vacation, and see the Grand Canyon," said Frank. "When we come back, perhaps what we have to say will set you wild to go. And we expect to bring news of old Uncle Felix too, if he's still in the land of the living."
"Let's go over that ground again," remarked Bob.
"Now you're referring to what was said about the funny old stone dwellings of the cliff dwellers, who used to live there centuries ago," remarked Frank.
"And he's right, too," declared the ranchman. "I get the point Bob makes. It was about these wonderful people that Uncle Felix was so deeply interested, and he made up his mind to shut himself away from all the world, just to study up their history, as left in the holes in the rock."
"And it would seem to follow, then," said Bob, readily, "that he will be found located in one of those series of terraces where these holes are discovered. I notice that there are a number of these villages connected with the map of the Grand Canyon; but the chances are your Uncle Felix wouldn't take up with any where tourist travel was common."
"Now, that sounds all right," admitted Frank. "In the first place he would have been heard from long ago, if tourists ran across him; because they always talk, and send their accounts to be published in the papers."
"Besides, these scientific men hate to be watched when they're wrapped up in work like this. I've known a couple back in Old Kentucky," Bob went on.
"According to your idea, then," said the Colonel, nodding approvingly, "this Echo Cave he mentions will prove to be some new place that the ordinary tourist in the big canyon has never set eyes on?"
"That's my opinion, sir," replied Bob.
"And if that's so, then it wouldn't pay you boys to waste any time looking into these ruins of the homes of the cliff dwellers located around Grand View; and in Walnut Canyon, some nine miles from Flagstaff," the ranchman continued.
"I think we'd save more or less time that way, sir," Bob declared.
"And you still want to go on horseback; when you might reach the railroad, and take a train, easily enough?" asked Colonel Haywood.
The boys exchanged glances. They were wedded to the saddle, and disliked the idea of leaving their favorite steeds behind them when embarking on this new venture.
"We've picked out the trail we expect to follow, dad," Frank said, pleadingly; "and it seems to run pretty smooth, with only a few mountains to cross, and a couple of rivers to ford. If you don't object seriously, Bob and I would prefer to go mounted."
"Oh! as far as that goes, I don't blame you, boys," the stockman hastened to say in reply; for he could understand the yearning one feels for a favorite horse; and how a seat in the saddle seems to be the finest thing in the world.
"Thank you, dad!" exclaimed Frank. "I reckoned that you'd talk that way. Somehow or other I just don't feel more'n half myself out of the saddle. And when we start to go down into the canyon we can find some place to leave our mounts where they'll be 'tended decently enough."
Ah Sin, the Chinese cook of the ranch, who generally accompanied the boys when the whole outfit went on the grand round-up, with the mess wagon in attendance, now came outdoors, and beat his gong to announce dinner.
The cowboys were not far away, awaiting the summons with the customary range appetites held in check; and when they were seated at the table they presented a merry crowd. Frank's mother happened to be visiting East at this time. He had a maiden aunt, however, who looked after the household duties, and sat at the end of the long table to pour the coffee.
Of course there was more or less talk about the sudden flitting of the half-breed, Abajo. Nobody had any regrets, for he had never been liked. And there were several who secretly felt pleased, because they had happened to quarrel with the dark-skinned Mexican at different times, and did not altogether fancy the way he had of scowling, while his finger felt the edge of the knife he carried in his gay sash, after the manner of his countrymen.
Colonel Haywood did not see fit to explain the real cause for the going of Abajo, except to his foreman, Bart Heminway. But during the evening, when Frank and Bob were making up their packs so as to get an early start in the morning, the ranch owner might have been seen in earnest consultation with the foreman.
Presently Bart went out, to return with Old Hank Coombs, and another cowman known as Chesty Lane; who had of course received this name on account of the way he thrust out his figure, rather than from any inclination on his part to boast of his wonderful deeds.
"Chesty tells me, Colonel," said Bart, "that he used to be a guide in this same Grand Canyon, years ago. I never knowed it 'till right to-day. And if so be you intend to send Old Hank up thar to keep tabs on the doings of that ugly pair, Abajo and Warringford, thar couldn't be a better man to pick out than Chesty. You can depend on him every time."
Then followed another conference, of which the two boys, wrapped up in their own plans in another room, were of course entirely ignorant.
It was decided, however, that the two cowmen should wait until the boys were well on their way. Then, supplied with ample funds, they could ride to the nearest station, meet the first train bound north, and be at Flagstaff before night came around.
In this way the Colonel figured that he was safeguarding the interests of Bob and Frank. Already had he begun to regret allowing them to go, and if it had not been for the high regard he had for his word, once given, he might have backed down. However, perhaps the sending of Hank and his companion might answer the purpose, and prove a valuable move.
The night passed, and with early dawn there was a stir all about Circle Ranch.
Every cowboy on the place accompanied Frank and Bob several miles on their long journey, every fellow wishing he had been asked to join them for the adventure. And when Bart Hemingway gave the word to turn back, the entire group waved their hats, and cheered as long as the two lads remained within hearing.
BUCKSKIN ON GUARD
"A good day's ride, all right, Bob!"
"You never said truer words, Frank. And now, with night setting in, how far do you think we've covered since the start this morning?"
The Kentucky boy sat in his saddle with a slight show of weariness, which was not to be wondered at, considering the steadiness with which they had kept on the move, hour after hour, heading in a general Westerly direction.
The satin skin of Domino was flecked with foam. Even the tough little Buckskin mount of Frank showed signs of weariness; though ready to keep on if his master gave the word.
"That would be hard to tell," replied the rancher's son; "but it must be all of sixty-five miles, I reckon."
"Then that beats my record some," declared the other.
"But it was a glorious gallop all the way through," asserted Frank.
"That's what; and more to follow to-morrow," his chum hastened to remark.
"But a different kind of travel, the chances are, Bob. To-day it happened that we were crossing the great mesa, and it was like a floor for being level. Over yonder, ahead, you can see the mountains we must cross. Then there are rivers to ford or swim. Yes, variety is the spice of life; and unless I miss my guess we're due for a big change to-morrow."
"Think we can make Flagstaff by to-morrow night?" asked the Kentucky lad, who, at a time like this, seemed to depend very much upon the superior knowledge of his chum, who had been brought up on the plains.
"We're going to make a try; that's as far as I've got," laughed Frank. "But what about camping here?"
"As good as anywhere," answered Bob. "Fact is, I'm admitting to being ready to drop down in any old place, so long as I can stretch my legs, and roll. No wonder a horse likes to turn over as soon as you take the saddle off. Shall we call it a go, Frank?"
The other jumped to the ground. Bob thought he heard him give a little grunt in doing so; but just then he was interested in repressing his own feelings.
However, when they had moved about somewhat, both boys confessed to feeling considerably better. As for the horses, there was no danger of their straying after that gallop of many hours in the hot sun. They took their roll, and then began hunting for stray tufts of grass among the buffalo berry bushes.
The sun had already set, and twilight told of the coming night. Around them lay the mesa, with the mountains cropping up like a crust along the edge. It was a familiar scene, to Frank in particular, and one of which he never tired.
"I noticed some jack rabbits as we came along," remarked Bob, "and as they always come out of their burrows about dusk to play, suppose I try and knock over a couple right now."
"Wouldn't object myself to a good dinner of rabbit, after that ride," Frank admitted, as he proceeded to get the little tent in position, a task that was only a pleasure to a boy fond of all outdoors.
So Bob immediately sauntered off toward the spot where he had noticed the long-eared animals, calculated to make a good meal for hungry campers.
"I heard gophers whistling," called out Frank, "and that means there's a village somewhere close by. Keep your eyes out for the rattlers; they are always found where prairie dogs live."
"I never forget that, Frank," came back from the disappearing hunter.
Frank went on with his preparations. A fire would be necessary, if they expected to cook fresh meat; and it is not always an easy thing to have such when out on the open plain or mesa. But Frank had already sighted a supply of fuel sufficient for their needs and it was indeed next door to a miracle to find the dead branch of a pine tree here, far away from the mountains, where the nearest trees seemed to grow.
"I reckon it was just lifted up in some little tornado, and carried through the air, just to land where we needed it," he remarked, as he dragged the log closer to where he had quickly put up the tent; and then began chopping at it with his little camp hatchet.
As he worked there came a quick report from a point not far away.
"That means one jack," he remarked, raising his head to listen; but to his surprise no second shot followed.
"Well, if he hopes to get a pair, he'll have to hurry up his cakes," Frank went on; "because the night's settling down on us fast. But then one will give us a taste all around, and help out."
It was some little time before he heard Bob coming, and then the Kentuckian seemed to be walking rather unsteadily. Frank jumped to his feet, with the suspicion that possibly after all Bob had met with a misfortune. In the minute of time that he was waiting for his chum to appear, a number of things flashed through his head to give him uneasiness.
Had Bob been unlucky enough to run across one of those aggressive little prairie rattlesnakes after all? Could he have wounded himself in any way when he fired his repeating rifle? Neither of these might prove to be the case; and yet Bob was certainly staggering as he came along.
Now he could be seen by the light of the little fire. Frank stared, for his chum was certainly bending over, as though bearing a load. He had heard no outcry that would signify the presence of others in the neighborhood. Ah! surely those were the long slender legs of an antelope which Bob gripped in front of him.
"Bully for you!" exclaimed Frank. "Where under the sun did you run across that fine game? Say, you sure take the cake, stepping out just to knock over a couple of long-ears; and then coming back ten minutes later with a fine antelope on your back. How did you do it, Bob?"
"I don't know," laughed the other. "Happened to start up against the wind, and was creeping up behind some buffalo berry bushes to see if there were any jack rabbits beyond, when this little fellow jumped to his feet. Why he didn't light out when we came along, I never could tell you."
"Oh! he just knew we wanted a good supper, I reckon," Frank remarked. "And now to get busy."
It did not take them long to cut some choice bits from the antelope, which they began to cook at the fire, thrusting the meat through with long splinters of wood, which in turn were held in a slanting position in the ground. When one part gave evidence of being browned the novel spit was turned until all sides had been equally served.
"Remember the way Old Hank showed us how to toll antelope for a shot, when you can't find cover to get near enough?" asked Frank, as they sat there, disposing of their supper, with the satisfaction hunger always brings in its train.
"You mean with the red handkerchief waved over the top of a bush?" Bob went on. "Hank said there never was a more curious little beast than an antelope. If he didn't have a red rag a white one would do. Once he said he just lay down on his back and kicked his heels in the air. The game ran away, but came back; and each time just a little bit closer, till Hank could fire, and get his supper. I've done something the same for ducks, in a marsh back home, trying to draw their attention to the decoys I had out."
A small stream ran near by, at which the boys and horses had quenched their thirst. Sometimes its gentle murmur floated to their ears as they sat there, chatting, and wondering whether their mission to the Grand Canyon was destined to bear fruit or not.
"I can get the smell of some late wild roses," remarked Frank. "And it isn't often that you find such things up on one of these high mesas, or table lands. Do you know, I rather imagine this used to be a favorite stamping ground for buffalo in those good old days when herds of tens of thousands could be met with, rolling like the waves of a sea over the plains."
"What makes you think so?" asked Bob, always seeking information.
"The grass, for one thing," came the reply. "Then I noticed quite a few old sun-burned remnants of skulls as we came along. The bone hunter didn't gather his crop in this region, that means. Besides, didn't you see all those queer little indentations that looked as though they might have been pools away back years ago?"
"Sure, I did; and wondered whatever could have made them," Bob admitted.
"I may be wrong," Frank continued; "but somehow I've got an idea that those must be what they used to call buffalo wallows. Anyhow, that doesn't matter to us. We've made a good day of it; found a jim-dandy place for a camp; got some juicy fresh meat; and to-morrow we hope to land in Flagstaff."
"And what then?" queried Bob.
"We'll decide that while we ride along to-morrow," Frank answered. "Perhaps it may seem better that we leave our horses there, and take the train for the Grand Canyon; though I'm inclined to make another day of it, and follow the old wagon trail over the mesa, and through the pine forest past Red Butte, to Grand View."
"Listen to Buckskin snorting; what d'ye suppose ails him?" asked Bob, as his chum stopped speaking.
"I was just going to say that myself," remarked Frank, putting out his hand for his rifle; and at the same time scattering the brands of the dying fire so that darkness quickly fell upon the spot.
"Too late, I'm afraid," muttered Bob.
"Seems like it, because the horses are sure coming straight for us," said Frank; "but there are many people moving around in this section, and perhaps some tenderfeet from the East have lost themselves, and would be glad of a chance to sit by our blaze and taste antelope meat, fresh where it is grown. Step back, Bob, and let's wait to see what turns up!"
STANDING BY THE LAW
"What had we ought to do?" asked Bob.
"They must have seen our fire, and that's what made them head this way. So, all we can do is to wait, and see what they want," replied Frank.
"But there don't seem to be many in the party," his chum went on.
"I think not more than two, Bob."
"You can tell from the beat of their horses' hoofs—is that it?" inquired the boy who wanted to learn.
"Yes, it's easy enough, Bob."
By this time the sounds had grown quite loud, and both boys strained their eyes, trying to locate the approaching horsemen. In the old days on the plains every stranger was deemed an enemy until he had proven himself a friend. Nowadays it is hardly so positive as that; but nevertheless those who are wise take no chances.
"I see them!" Bob announced; but although the other saddle boy had not said so, he had picked up the advancing figures several seconds before.
"One thing sure," remarked Frank, as though relieved, "I reckon they can't be horse thieves or cattle rustlers."
"You mean they wouldn't be so bold about coming forward?" ventured Bob.
"That's about the size of it; but we'll soon know," Frank went on.
As the strangers drew rapidly nearer he began to make out their "style" for the night was not intensely dark. And somehow Frank's curiosity increased in bounds. He discovered no signs of the customary cowboy outfit about them. They wore garments that savored of civilization, and sat their horses with the air of men accustomed to much riding.
"Hold hard there, strangers; or you'll be riding us down!" Frank sang out, as the newcomers loomed up close at hand.
At that the others drew rein, and brought their horses to a halt. Bending low in the saddle they seemed to be peering at the dimly-seen figures of the two boys.
"Who is it—speak quick!" one of the strangers said; and Frank believed he heard a suspicious click accompanying the thrilling words.
"Two boys bound for Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon," he answered, not wishing to take any unnecessary chances.
"Where from, and what's your names?" continued the other, in his commanding voice, that somehow told Frank he must be one accustomed to demanding obedience.
The ranch boy no longer felt any uneasiness. He believed that these men were not to be feared.
"I am the son of Colonel Haywood, owner of the Circle Ranch; and this is my chum, Bob Archer, a Kentucky boy," he said, boldly.
Then the other man, who as yet had not spoken, took occasion to remark:
"'Taint them, after all, Stanwix! Perhaps we've been following the wrong trail."
The name gave Frank an idea. He had heard more or less about the doings of a sheriff in a neighboring county, called Yavapai, and his name was the same as that mentioned by the second dimly seen rider.
"Are you gentlemen from Prescott?" he asked.
"That's where I hold out when I'm home," replied the one who had asked about their identity.
"Are you Sheriff Stanwix?" pursued the boy, while his companion almost held his breath in suspense.
"I am; and this is Hand, who holds the same office in this county of Coconino," replied the other, as he threw a leg over his saddle as though about to dismount.
Both of them joined the boys, leaving their horses to stand with the bridles thrown over their heads, cowboy fashion.
Frank meanwhile had picked up some small fuel, and thrown it on the still smouldering fire. It immediately started up into a blaze that continued to increase.
They could now see that their visitors were two keen-eyed men. The evidence of their calling lay in the stars that decorated their left breasts. Both looked as though they could hold their own against odds. And of course they were armed as became their dangerous profession.
Bob was especially interested. He had never really had anything to do with an officer of the law; and surveyed the pair with all the ardor of boyish curiosity.
To see one sheriff was a treat; but to have two drop down upon them after this fashion must be an event worth remembering.
"We had the good luck to knock over a young antelope just before dark," Frank remarked, after each of the men had insisted in gravely shaking hands with both himself and Bob. "Perhaps you haven't had any supper, and wouldn't mind taking pot luck with us?"
"How about that, Hand?" questioned the taller man, turning with a laugh to the second sheriff.
"Just suits me," came the reply, as the speaker threw himself down on the hard ground. "Half an hour's rest will do the hosses some good, too."
"Thank you, boys, we accept, and with pleasure," Mr. Stanwix went on, turning again toward Frank.
Bob immediately got busy, and started to cut further bits from the carcase of his small antelope. There would be plenty for even the healthy appetites of the two officers, and then leave enough for the boys' breakfast.
"We're in something of a hurry to get on to Flagstaff ourselves, boys," the Yavapai sheriff remarked, as he sniffed the cooking venison with relish; "but the temptation to hold over a bit is too strong. You see, Hand and myself have just made up our minds to bag our birds this trip, no matter where it takes us, or how long we're on the job."
"Then you're after some cattle rustlers or bad men, I reckon," Frank remarked.
"A couple of the worst scoundrels ever known around these diggings," replied the officer. "They've been jumping from one county into another, when pushed; and in the end Hand, here, and myself concluded we'd just join our forces. We've got a posse to the south, and another working to the north; but we happened to strike the trail of our birds just before dusk, and we've been following it in hopes of reaching Flagstaff before they can get down into the gash, and hide."
"A trail, you say?" Frank observed. "Could it have been the one I've been following just out of curiosity, and because it seemed to run in the very direction my chum and myself were bound?"
"That's just what it was, Frank," the sheriff answered, as he accepted the hot piece of browned venison, stick and all, which Bob was holding out. "We saw that there had come into the trail the marks of two new hosses; and naturally enough we got the idea that it might mean our men were being followed by a couple of their own kind."
"Then when you saw our little fire, you thought we were the kind of steers you wanted to round up?" the boy asked.
"Oh! well," Mr. Stanwix replied with a little chuckle; "we kept a touch on our irons when I was asking you who you were; and if the reply hadn't been all that it was, I reckon we'd have politely asked you to throw up your hands, boys. But say, this meat is prime, and seems to go to the spot."
"I don't know which spot you mean, Stanwix," remarked the other officer, who was also munching away like a half-starved man; "but mine suits me all right. I'm right glad we stopped. The rest will tone the nags up for a long pull; and as for me, I'll be in great shape after this feed."
Bob was kept busy cooking more and more, for the two men seemed to realize, after once getting a taste, that they were desperately hungry. But he did it with pleasure. There was something genial about the manner of Mr. Stanwix that quite captured the heart of the Kentucky lad. He knew the tall man could be as gentle as a woman, if the occasion ever arose when he had a wounded comrade to nurse; and if his reputation did not speak wrongly his courage was decidedly great.
While they sat there the two men talked of various subjects. Frank was curious to know something about those whom they were now banded together in a determined effort to capture, and so Mr. Stanwix told a few outlines of the case.
The men were known as the Arizona Kid and Big Bill Guffey. They had been cattlemen, miners, and about every other thing known to the Southwest. By degrees they had acquired the reputation of being bad men; and all sorts of lawless doings were laid at their door. And finally it came to defying the sheriff, evading capture by flitting to another county, and playing a game of hide-and-seek, until their bold methods were the talk of the whole country.
Then it was the Coconino sheriff had conceived the idea of an alliance with his brother officer in the adjoining county, of which the thriving city of Prescott was the seat of government.
Frank even had Mr. Stanwix describe the two men whom the officers were pursuing.
"We expect to be around the Grand Canyon for some weeks," the lad remarked; "and it might be we'd run across these chaps. To know who they were, would be putting us on our guard, and besides, perhaps we might be able to get notice to you, sir."
"That sounds all right, Frank," the other had hastened to reply; "and believe me, I appreciate your friendly feelings. It's the duty of all good citizens to back up the man they've put in office, when he's trying to free the community of a bad crowd."
Then he explained just how they might get word to him in case they had anything of importance to communicate. Although the Tarapai sheriff knew nothing about wireless telegraphy, he did understand some of the methods which savage tribes in many countries use in order to send news hundreds of miles; sometimes by a chain of drums stationed on the hill tops miles apart; or it may be by the waving of a red flag.
"And I want to tell you, Frank," Mr. Stanwix concluded, "if so be you ever do have occasion to send me that message, just make up your minds that I'll come to you on the jump, with Hand at my heels. But for your own sakes I hope you won't run across these two hard cases. We've got an idea that they mean to do some hold-up game in the Grand Canyon, where hundreds of rich travelers gather. And if luck favors us we expect to put a spoke in their wheel before they run far!"
THE MOQUI WHO WAS CAUGHT NAPPING
Sheriff Stanwix arose with a sigh.
"Reckon we'd better be moving on, Hand," he said, evidently with reluctance; for it was very pleasant sitting there, taking his ease beside the camp fire of the two boys; but when duty called this man never let anything stand in the way.
Their horses had not strayed far away. Like most animals they had sought the company of their kind, as various sounds indicated, Buckskin doubtless showing his prairie strain by sundry nips with his teeth at the strangers.
Another shake of hands all around; then the sheriffs threw themselves into their saddles, and were off. The last the two lads saw of them was when their figures were swallowed up in the night-mists; and then it was a friendly wave of the arm that told how much they had appreciated the hospitality of the saddle boys.
"Well, anyhow, it doesn't seem quite so lonely out here, after all," said Frank, laughing, as he and his chum settled down again.
"Why, no," added Bob, "I thought we owned the whole coop; but I take it back. There are others abroad, it seems."
"I only hope those two fly-by-night birds don't take a notion to double on their trail, and come back to pay us a visit," Frank remarked; and of course Bob understood that he meant the bad men who were being rounded up by Sheriff Stanwix, aided by the official of Coconino County.
"Perhaps we'd better douse the glim, then?" Bob suggested.
"Let it burn out," Frank remarked; "I don't believe there's much chance of anybody else seeing it now; because it's pretty low. Our tent shows up about as plain, come to think of it; but I don't mean to do without shelter."
They sat there, chatting on various subjects, for some time. Of course their mission to the region of the greatest natural wonder in the world took a leading part in this conversation. But then they also spoke of their recent visitors; and as Bob showed signs of considerable interest, Frank told all he had ever heard about the valor of the Prescott sheriff.
"I don't know how you feel about it, Bob," he said, at length, with a yawn, "but I'm getting mighty sleepy."
"Same here; and I move we turn in," Bob immediately replied.
Accordingly, as the idea had received unanimous approval, they took a look at the horses, now staked out with the ropes, and, finding them comfortable, both boys crawled under the canvas.
Some hours later they were aroused suddenly by a shrill yell. As they sat up, and groped for their rifles, not realizing what manner of peril could be hanging over them, the loud snorting of the horses came to their ears.
"Come on!" exclaimed Frank, in considerable excitement. "Sounds like somebody might be bothering our mounts!"
Bob had not been so very long in the Western country; but he knew what that meant all right. Horses were supposed to be the most valuable possessions among men who spent their lives on the great plains and deserts of this region. In the old days it was deemed a capital crime to steal horses.
So Bob, shivering with excitement, but not fear, hastened to follow at the heels of his chum, as Frank hastily crawled out of the tent.
A rather battered looking moon was part way up in the Eastern heavens. Though the light she gave was none of the best, still, to the boys, coming from the interior of the tent, it seemed quite enough to enable them to see their way about, and even distinguish objects at a little distance.
Frank lost no time heading in the direction where he knew the horses had been staked out.
"Anyhow, they don't seem to have got them yet," remarked Bob, gleefully, as the sound of prancing and snorting came to their ears louder than ever.
Frank stopped for a couple of seconds to listen.
"Buckskin is carrying on something fierce," he muttered. "He seems to be furiously mad, too. Perhaps, after all, it may be a bear sniffing around; though I'd never expect to find such a thing out here, so far away from the mountains."
He again started on, with Bob close at his elbow. The words of his chum had given the Kentucky lad new cause for other thrills. What if it should prove to be a grizzly bear? He had had one experience with such a monster, and was not particularly anxious for another, not being in the big game class.
Now they were approaching the spot where the two roped horses were jumping restlessly about, making queer sounds that could only indicate alarm.
Frank spoke to his animal immediately, thinking to reassure him.
"Easy now, Buckskin; what's making you act this way? I don't see any enemy. If you've given a false alarm, it'll sure be for the first time!"
"Frank!" ventured the other lad, just then.
"What is it, Bob?"
"I thought I heard a low groan!" continued the Kentucky boy, in awed tones.
"You did?" ejaculated Frank, quickly. "Have you any idea where it came from?"
As if to make it quite unnecessary for Bob to reply, there came just then a low but distinct grunt or groan. Frank could not tell which.
"Over this way, Frank; he's in this direction!" exclaimed the impulsive Bob, as he started to move off.
"Wait a minute," said the practical and cautious Frank. "You never know what sort of game you're up against, around here. Some of these horse thieves can toll a fellow away from his camp to beat the band, while a mate gets off with the saddle band. I've been warned against that very sort of play. Go slow, Bob, and keep a finger on your trigger, I tell you."
They advanced slowly, looking all around in the dim moonlight. Twice more the strange sounds arose. Frank jumped to the conclusion that it was, after all, no attempt to draw them farther and farther away from the tent; because the groans seemed to come from the one spot, instead of gradually moving off in a tempting manner.
"Here he is, Bob!" he said, presently; and the other, looking, saw a huddled-up figure lying upon the ground in the midst of the low buffalo berry bushes.
Immediately they were bending over the form, which had moved at their approach.
"Why, it's an Indian, Frank!" cried Bob, in surprise.
"Yes, and unless I miss my guess, a Moqui Indian at that," Frank replied. "Three of them wandered down our way once, and gave us some interesting exhibitions of their customs. You know their home is up to the north. They are said to be the descendants of the old cliff dwellers who made all those holes high up in the rocks, to keep out of the reach of enemies."
He was bending down over the other even while saying this; and feeling to see if the Indian could have been wounded in any way.
"What seems to be the matter with him, Frank?" asked Bob, when this thing had been going on for a full minute, the stricken man grunting, and Frank appearing to continue his investigations.
"I tell you what," Frank remarked, presently; "I honestly believe he's been kicked by the heels of my sassy little Buckskin; perhaps he's badly hurt; and then again, he may only have had the wind knocked out of him. That horse is as bad as any mule you ever saw, when it comes to planting his heels."
"But what was he prowling around the camp for?" asked Bob, who had a hazy idea concerning the red men of the West, gained perhaps from early reading of the attacks on the wagon trains of the pioneers of the prairie.
"Oh! these Moqui Indians wouldn't do a white man any harm, unless they happened to take too much juice of the agave plant, in the shape of mescal," Frank hastened to say; "and I don't seem to get the smell of that stuff. So the chances are that he had something of an eye to our horses."
"And as he didn't know about Buckskin's ways he gave the little pony a chance to get in some dents. But he may be badly hurt, Frank," Bob went on, his natural kindness of heart cropping up above any feeling of animosity he might have experienced.
"I suppose, then, we'll just have to tote the beggar to the tent, and start up that fire again, while we look him over. If those hind feet came slap against his ribs, the chances are we'll find a few of them broken."
Swinging their rifles into one hand they managed to take hold of the grunting Moqui, and in this primitive fashion began hauling him along. Buckskin continued to prance and snort as though demanding whether he had not amply fulfilled his duty as guardian to the camp; but no one paid the least attention to him just then. Arriving at the tent the boys proceeded to rekindle the fire.
"Why, he's coming to, Frank!" exclaimed Bob, as, having finished his task, he turned to see his chum bending over the victim of Buckskin's hoofs, and noted that the would-be horse thief was struggling to sit up.
"I don't believe he's hurt very bad," Frank declared. "I've felt all over his body, and don't seem to find any signs of broken bones."
"Listen to him gasp right now, as if the breath had been knocked out of him," remarked Bob. "He's going to speak, Frank, sure he is. I wonder can we understand what he says. Moqui wasn't included in my education at the Military Institution at Frankfort."
The Indian was indeed trying to get enough air in his lungs to enable him to say something.
"TALK ABOUT LUCK!"
"No hurt Havasupai!" was what he managed to say, hoarsely.
"We're not going to hurt you, old man," remarked Frank; for he had seen that the Indian was no stripling. "What we want to know is, how you came to get so close to the heels of my horse as to be kicked? Tell us that, Havasupai, if you please."
There was no answer, although twice the exhausted red man opened his lips as if to speak.
"That knocks the props out from under him, Frank," remarked Bob; "because he was bent on getting away with one or both mounts."
"How about that, Havasupai; weren't you thinking of stealing a horse, when that animal just keeled you over so neatly?" Frank demanded.
The Indian was sitting up now. His head was hanging low on his chest. Perhaps it was shame that caused this: or it might have been a desire to keep his face hidden from the searching eyes of the white boys.
Then, as though realizing the utter folly of denying what must appear so evident, he nodded his head slowly.
"It is true, white boy," he muttered, in fair English. "Havasupai meant to take a horse. He had looked upon the man who beckons, and he was afraid, because he had trouble at his village. He believed every man's hand was against him. And so he would flee to the desert where the white man's big medicine would not find him. There he might die with the poison snakes and the whooping birds."
Bob was of course puzzled by some of the things the Indian said.
"What does he mean, Frank?" he asked.
"I take it the warrior has been in some sort of fuss at his village," the other replied. "Perhaps he even struck his chief in anger, and that made an offense punishable with death. These Moqui Indians are a queer lot, anyhow, I've heard. Then he must have skipped out, and by accident seeing our friend, Sheriff Stanwix, known to him as the 'man who beckons,' he just imagined they were looking for him."
"And that locoed him so much that he just couldn't stand it any longer," Bob said. "Discovering our camp he got the notion in his head that a horse might take him out of the danger zone. So he was in the act of jumping on one of our mounts when your clever little beast took a hand, or rather a hoof, in the matter. But do you know what he means by whooping birds?"
"Well, I can give a guess," replied Frank. "That must mean the little owl that lives with the prairie dogs in their holes, along with the poison snake, otherwise the rattler."
"Looks like we've just got our hands full to-night, Frank!"
"You're right, Bob. First we feed two hungry sheriffs, and pick up quite a little news about the bad men they're looking for. Next, along comes this Moqui, Havasupai he says his name is, and he gets in a bad fix by trying to run off our horses; and feeling sorry for the old chap we lug him to our tent, and look him over, ready to even bind up his wounds, if he has any."
"Getting to be a habit, isn't it, Frank?"
"Seems like it," returned the taller boy, as he once more turned toward the seated Indian. "Here, can you tell us where my horse kicked you?"
"It matters not much. Havasupai get what he needs because he try to steal horse from good white boys," came the humble reply.
"One thing sure," remarked Frank aside to his chum, "he's been in touch with the whites a heap, or he wouldn't know how to talk as he does. But then, that isn't so queer. You know that these Moquis pick up a lot of good coin from the travelers who come and go at the Grand Canyon."
"Why, yes," Bob went on to say, "I've always heard that one of the sights of this wonderland was the snake dance of the Moquis. I read an account of it in a magazine once. It said that hundreds of people gathered from many quarters to be on hand and see it, because it occurs only once a year. Some of them were big guns in science, too."
"They're getting more and more interested in these Indians of the Southwest," Frank continued; "and trying all the time to find out just where they fit in the long-ago past. That's what made old Uncle Felix, who had already made a name for himself, give up his happy home, and hide all these months down here. He wants to learn the long-buried secrets of the past history of the Zunis, the Moquis, and other tribes that might have sprung from the old cliff builders."
"But what can we do with this fellow, Frank?"
"Oh! well, nothing much, I reckon," the other answered, carelessly. "He must have been plum locoed at seeing the sheriff, and hardly knew what he was doing when he set out to grab Buckskin. We'll just have to let him sleep here till morning, and then give him a bite of breakfast."
"Just as you say, Frank; you ought to know what's best," Bob hastened to declare. "Now I wonder what'll be the next thing on the programme? I hope we don't have the two men the sheriff is hunting, drop in to make us a call."
"Little danger of that now," Frank remarked reassuringly. "By this time they're well on their way to Flagstaff. Here, Havasupai, as you call yourself; we don't mean to do you any harm, even if you did play us a mean trick when you tried to steal a mount. Understand?"