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Young Wild West at "Forbidden Pass" - and, How Arietta Paid the Toll
by An Old Scout
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YOUNG WILD WEST AT "FORBIDDEN PASS"

AND

How Arietta Paid the Toll

By AN OLD SCOUT.

CHAPTER I.

THE ARRIVAL AT BIG BONANZA.

It was just about five o'clock in the afternoon of a cool day in autumn when Young Wild West and his friends rode into a little mining camp called Big Bonanza, which was situated in the heart of the range, known as the Silver Bend Mountains, Nevada.

It was the first signs of anything like civilization that the party had seen in two days, and though there were but half a dozen little shanties in it, the sight of it was a welcome one.

Young Wild West was beyond a doubt the greatest and best known of the heroes of the Wild West, and though but a boy in years, he had made a name for himself that many an elder person would have been proud to own.

He had earned the title of the Champion Deadshot of the West by his remarkable skill with the rifle and revolver, and he was ever ready to defend the title against all comers.

Many of his warmest friends called him the Prince of the Saddle, because he was without a peer at breaking and riding the wildest and most vicious horses of the West.

When upon the back of the beautiful sorrel stallion he always rode he made a picture that was dashing and handsome in the extreme. When on his trips through the wildest parts of the Great West he invariably was attired in a fancy buckskin hunting suit, and with his sombrero tipped well back upon his head, he surely showed up as a dashing young hero.

The flash in his eye told of his courage and persistence, while his athletic form betokened his strength and quickness.

But of all his qualifications to make up a dashing young Westerner his greatest was his coolness and fixed purpose to do right, no matter what the cost might be.

Few, indeed, are possessed of such sterling qualities, and it is only those who are that make real heroes.

But, as we have already stated, and the majority of our readers know, Young Wild West was a genuine boy hero of the Wild West, and that is only saying the truth.

Being the owner of several gold and silver mines, the young deadshot had an income that was more than sufficient to permit him to pursue his favorite hobby, which was riding about through the wildest parts of the states and territories in search of adventure.

At the time of which we write there was plenty of excitement and adventure to be found in that region, and Young Wild West was helping along the advance of civilization, which, by the way, has not reached all parts of the West yet, speaking in a true sense, and reckoning in law and order.

In company with our boy hero were his two partners, Cheyenne Charlie and Jim Dart, and two very pretty young girls and a young woman.

Cheyenne Charlie was a government scout and one of the best known Indian-fighters of his time. He was yet a young pan, and though he had been "through the mill," as the saying goes, he was better satisfied to be led than to lead, and thus it was that he had cast his lot with Wild.

The scout was a tall man, straight as an arrow, and his long black hair and mustache, together with his bronzed face, gave him the appearance of being just what he was—an out-and-out Westerner.

Jim Dart was a boy of about the same age as our hero, born and reared in the West, and though he seldom had much to say, he was full of grit, and always ready to do his share.

The two were known as the partners of Young Wild West, and they always dressed in the same style he did.

The two girls of the party were Arietta Murdock, the charming sweetheart of our hero, and Eloise Gardner, Jim Dart's sweetheart; the young woman was the wife of Cheyenne Charlie, and her name was Anna.

The girls, as they always called them, loved to travel around with our hero and his partners, and they had learned to look upon the dangers they were constantly coming in contact with rather lightly.

Arietta was the only one of the three who had been born and reared in the West, but Anna and Eloise had been there long enough to become accustomed to its ways, and they could ride horseback and shoot with great skill.

Two Chinamen, who were riding bronchos and leading pack-horses, were with our friends, and as they came to a halt in front of a saloon that had a sign across the front declaring it to be a hotel, one of them hastily dismounted, and before Young Wild West and the rest knew what he was up to he disappeared around the corner of the shanty.

There were three men, besides the man who ran the saloon, in front of the roughly-constructed building, and they seemed to be cowboys, by their general appearance.

All four of the men were regarding the new arrivals with no little interest, and when the Chinaman slid around the corner of the shanty one of them called out:

"One of your heathens is dry, I reckon, strangers. I'll bet he's headin' fur ther back door."

"Yer kin bet your life on that!" Cheyenne Charlie answered. "Hop likes his tanglefoot once in a while, an' he never loses a chance ter git it."

"Well, if that's ther case I'd better go in an' wait on ther galoot, then," spoke up the proprietor of the place. "We ain't used ter seein' gals around here, an' I sorter hate ter leave, too. But business is business."

The man spoke in a way that was not meant to be disrespectful, for what he had said was undoubtedly the truth. The few inhabitants of Big Bonanza were not in the habit of seeing female visitors.

"Well, gentlemen," said Young Wild West, "we have just dropped in here by accident, and I reckon if there's no objection we'll camp around here somewhere until morning. We are making a trip across the state, and we are going in a straight line as much as possible. What we happen to strike makes little difference to us; whether it is a mining camp or a desert. We are used to all kinds of traveling, and generally go prepared for anything."

"Talks like he was someone what sorter knows all about things, eh, boys?" remarked the cowboy who had called out that the Chinaman was heading for the back door to get into the saloon.

"Yes," answered one of his companions, while the other gave a nod.

"Looks as neat as a pin, too, don't he?" went on the man, who evidently took it that our hero was a boy fond of showing off in an expensive costume, and that he did not amount to a great deal.

"They all look neat," one of the others observed. "Them gals is sartinly worth lookin' at, ain't they? They've struck it rich somewhere, an' ther first big town they come ter they've bought new clothes. I reckon I kin judge things all right."

"So you think you can judge pretty well, eh?" said Young Wild West, as he dismounted. "Well, what do you take me to be?"

"A putty smart boy, who thinks it looks nice ter have his hair long, an' who likes ter put on lugs 'cause he's got some putty gals with him," answered the cowboy, after a slight pause.

"So that is your opinion, is it?"

"I reckon it is, young feller."

"Well, don't you think a person has a right to wear good clothes if he can well afford it?"

"Oh, yes. I ain't sayin' nothin' about that. But clothes don't make ther man—or boy, either. How long have you been West, Sonny?"

"How long have you been West?"

"About fifteen years, I reckon."

"Well, I can beat you by three or four years, then. Anything more you would like to know?"

"Oh, tell him ter dry up, Luke!" said the first speaker. "What's ther use of talkin' ter ther young dandy? Him an' ther other boy has hired ther man they've got with 'em ter take 'em around an' show 'em ther sights; an' they've, got ther man rigged out in buckskin an' fancy trimmin's, jest ter make 'em all attract attention. I'll bet I'm right on that!"

He turned to our hero as he said this and acted as though he was sure he was right.

"How much will you bet, you windy galoot?"

As Young Wild West said this he drew a roll of bills from his pocket and showed it to the three cowboys.

It was just then that the saloon-keeper appeared in the door, and behind him was the Chinaman who had sneaked in at the rear door of the shanty.

"What's all this talk about, gents?" he asked. "I hear some putty loud talk, so there must be somethin' goin' on."

"Oh, there isn't anything going on yet; but there might be, if the fellows don't get a little more civil," our hero answered, coolly. "It seems that they are trying to pick a row just because we have on better clothes than they have. If they are looking for anything like that I reckon they can get it mighty quick."

"Wow!" exclaimed the most talkative of the three cowboys. "Did you hear that, boys? Well, well! Who would have thought it?"

Cheyenne Charlie acted as though he would like to take a hand in the controversy, but he managed to keep quiet.

Jim Dart and the girls were looking on with smiles on their faces, while the Chinaman, looking out of the doorway, over the shoulder of the keeper of the saloon, actually grinned with delight.

They all knew that Young Wild West was quite able to take care of all three of the men if it became necessary and they also knew that something was likely to happen very soon.

The two companions of the talkative cowboy laughed uproariously.

They evidently agreed with him that the boy was away off in his remarks.

Cheyenne Charlie could keep still no longer.

"Jest show ther galoots that yer ain't foolin', Wild," he said. "Shake 'em up it little."

"Lat light, Misler Wild!" called out the Chinaman, from the door. "Makee allee samee be polite, so be."

"Shet up, you heathen!" roared the nearest cowboy, and with that he caught the Celestial by the pig-tail and pulled him out.

A kick followed this and the Son of the Flowery Kingdom let out a yell of pain.

Biff!

Young Wild West darted forward and struck the cowboy a blow on the breast that sent him reeling.

"If you insist on it I'll give it to you good and straight," he said, calmly. "How do you like that?"

Biff!

This time he landed one on the man's ribs, and down he went in a heap.

The other two started to interfere, but out went the boy's left and one of them landed on all fours in a jiffy.

Spat!

Our hero's right caught the other on the chin and he went, too.

As was to be expected, all three of the cowboys made moves to pull their guns.

But Young Wild West got ahead of them.

"Let go of those playthings—quick!" he shouted. "I will show you galoots that you have got to be more civil with us. Get up and say you are sorry for interfering with us."

There was something about the manner of the boy that told them that they really had made a mistake. The revolver was held by a hand that was steady as a rock, and there was no doubt in their minds but that lead would fly from it if they disobeyed.

They let go their revolvers and scrambled to their feet.

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Cheyenne Charlie. "A fine lot of galoots you are! Young Wild West is only a boy, all right, but I reckon he kin lick a stagecoach load of sich fellers as you are! Make 'em do ther tenderfoot dance, Wild. Go on—jest fur fun!"

"All right, Charlie," was the reply, and the young deadshot fired a shot that hit the ground near the feet of the spokesman of the trio.

"Hold on!" the cowboy shouted. "It's all right, Young Wild West. I know who yer are now. I'll 'pologize. Don't shoot no more!"

Crack!

Again the boy fired, and then all three, knowing what was wanted of them, began to dance for all they were worth.

Crack—crack!

Cheyenne Charlie now took a hand in the game, and, while the girls and Jim Dart laughed merrily, the three cowboys did the "tenderfoot dance" in fine shape.

Both Wild and the scout fired three or four shots apiece, and some of them took chips off the high heels of the boots the cowboys wore.

"I reckon that will be about all," said our hero, as he ejected the shells from his revolver and then coolly proceeded to reload the chambers. "You galoots will know better the next time. I don't much like the looks of you, but I want to tell you that if you happen to take a notion to get square with us for what has happened you'll get the worst of it. I hope you understand what I say."

The rascals—for they were undoubtedly such—did not stop to make a reply, but darted into the saloon.

The Chinaman gave a parting laugh, and then, turning to the other Celestial, observed:

"Me havee velly nallow escapee, my blother."

"You allee samee velly muchee fool!" was the retort. "You allee timee lookee for um tanglefoot, so be."

"Me havee two velly nicee lillee dlinks, my blother; you no havee."

"Me no wantee," was the scornful rejoinder.

It was Wing, the cook, who claimed he did not want any whisky.

He was just a common, everyday Chinee, who did his work well and slept whenever he had nothing else to do, providing no one disturbed him.

Hop, on the other hand, was one of the very shrewd and cunning ones of his race.

Gifted with the art of sleight-of-hand, a lover of gambling and a fondness for playing jokes on people had made him a great character, indeed.

But he was a real fixture to the party that Young Wild West led, and as he had on more than one occasion been the means of saving the lives of different members of it through his cleverness, he was thought a great deal of by them all, and many of his shortcomings were overlooked.

Having disposed of the cowboys, Young Wild West now asked the keeper of the saloon if he thought there would be any objections to their pitching a camp somewhere around in the vicinity.

"I reckon not," was the reply. "There ain't no one as lives here in Big Bonanza, what would 'ject ter anything like that. They've all heard tell about Young Wild West, I reckon, an' some of 'em says as how they've seen yer. Yer kin bet that yer will be welcome here! Jest help yourselves ter any spot yer want."

"Thank you. I thought perhaps some one might raise objections—the three cowboys, for instance."

"Oh, they're strangers here. I never seen them until this afternoon. They must have come a putty long ways, fur there ain't a ranch in a hundred miles of here, as I knows of. Go ahead an' pick out a place ter camp. Ther boys will be here in a few minutes, fur it's about quittin' time now. I'll tell 'em that Young Wild West, ther champion deadshot, is here, an' you kin bet that they'll give yer a royal welcome!"

CHAPTER II.

OUR FRIENDS HEAR ABOUT FORBIDDEN PASS.

Young Wild West was not long in picking out a spot to camp upon.

It was right near a little, running brook that came tumbling down the steep rocks and wound its way through the gentle slope upon which was located the cluster of shanties.

It was easy to tell that the mining camp had not been in existence very long, for the shanties were new.

As soon as the pack horses were unloaded our friends allowed the two Chinamen to go ahead with the work of getting the camp in shape, while they took a look around.

Almost opposite to the point they had rounded in order to ride into the mining camp was a high ridge, which was easily a hundred feet above the level. It extended around on both sides and joined the sloping, irregular side of the mountain over which the trail ran.

Almost in the centre of this was a cut that was about thirty feet in width, and it was so regular in shape that one would almost have taken it to be the work of man.

But it was nothing more than one of the passes that are to be found in the mountains, and which are so handy for travelers to proceed to a given point in a more direct line.

Young Wild West noticed that a trail ran through the camp direct to the pass. But it did not appear as though it was used a great deal, since the wagon-ruts and hoof-prints had become obliterated in some parts.

"I wonder where that trail leads to?" our hero observed, as he tamed to his two partners. "Wherever it goes, there are not many using it now, it seems."

"It leads on up in the wilds of the mountains, by the looks of things," Jim Dart answered. "It may be that prospectors have gone that way and, not finding anything worth while, have come back through the pass again."

"Sorter looks that way, I reckon," said Cheyenne Charlie. "But, hello! Ther miners is quittin' work. Now we'll soon see how many of 'em knows us, as ther saloon man said they did."

Sure enough, the miners were seen heading for the saloon. They came from different directions, for it was just six o'clock now, and they had quit work for the day.

The claims that were being worked were all within sight of the shanties, the nearest one being but a couple of hundred yards away from the saloon, which appeared to be the leading place in the camp.

But as the store was very near to it, it might be that some of the men were bound there.

Having satisfied themselves that it was a very nice, little mining camp, our friends turned to and assisted the Chinamen to get things in shape.

They did not intend to remain there any longer to get a rest than for a day or two, but they were always interested when they struck a spot where gold dust was being taken out.

No end of good luck had followed them in their search for gold, and Arietta, the charming sweetheart of the dashing young deadshot, had the lead over them all, as far as making discoveries that were profitable to them were concerned.

But it was nothing more than chance that had brought them to Big Bonanza, and, as was usually the case, a little excitement had started immediately upon their arrival.

But none of our friends minded what had happened.

They were so used to meeting "bad men," as many of the miners and cowboys were proud to style themselves, that there was absolutely nothing new to it.

Meanwhile the miners were not long in reaching the saloon, and the store adjacent to it.

Then it was only a few minutes before half a dozen were seen approaching the spot where the two Chinamen had finished putting up the tents that belonged to the camping outfit.

"Hello, Young Wild West!" called out a big man, with a short, gray beard on his face. "How are yer? An' how's everybody with yer?"

"First rate," answered Wild, as he shook hands with the miner, but failed to recognize him. "How are you?"

"Me? Oh, I'm fine! I've struck it rich here in ther wilds of Nevady, my boy! I'm ther prospector what started ther camp. I named her Big Bonanza, an' it sartinly has been a big bonanza fur me. Beats minin' up in Weston, all right."

"Weston, eh?"

Then our hero remembered of having seen the man before.

The short, gray beard had changed his appearance wonderfully.

The miner was John Sedgwick, a former bartender at a hotel in the little town in the Black Hills that had been named for our hero.

"Sedgwick, I didn't know you," he said, smiling at him. "What in the world are you doing with that gray beard? It makes you look twenty years older."

"Well, we ain't got no barber shop here yet, an' I never was much good at shavin' myself, so I jest let ther beard grow. But what's ther odds? I'll shave up an' spruce up jest as soon as I've made my pile. Then I'll light out fur home, an' me an' my wife will live on ther fat of ther land. I've got nigh to a hundred thousand now, an' jest as soon as I git it I'm goin' ter strike out fur ther East. Hello, Charlie! Hello, Jim!"

He now shook hands with our hero's partners, for they had recognized him as an old acquaintance the moment Wild spoke to him.

The girls had seen Sedgwick, too, and they greeted him warmly.

"Well," said the miner, "I reckon there ain't many here in Big Bonanza what ain't heard tell of Young Wild West an' his pards. I've kept ther boys interested in tellin' 'em about ther wonderful things you've done. Come up an' shake hands with ther whitest boy what ever stuck his toe in a stirrup, boys!"

The last was addressed to the men who had come over with him, and they now pressed forward eagerly.

Young Wild West sized them up quickly and made up his mind that they were an honest lot, indeed.

He had come in contact with so many rough characters that he had made it a point to read faces and study character that way.

It was seldom that he made a mistake in his estimation of a man, either.

The miners seemed very glad to know the dashing young deadshot and his friends, and after they had talked awhile they, turned to make their way to their shanties, so they might get their suppers.

As our hero followed Sedgwick a little way from the camp his glance happened to turn toward the mouth of the narrow pass at the other side of the valley.

"Where does that trail lend to, John?" he asked, pointing it out.

"That?" the miner queried, as he shook his head. "That trail leads ter Silver Bend, which is another minin' camp a good deal bigger than this here one. It's only ten miles from here by goin' through that pass. But few as know about ther pass goes that way. They would rather go around about twenty-five miles, so they don't have ter go through it. They calls it 'Forbidden Pass,' yer know."

"Forbidden Pass, eh?"

Young Wild West looked interested.

"Yes, that's it."

"But what do they call it that for?"

"Well, there's a certain gang what belongs ter Silver Bend what runs things their own way, an' they say that they've organized inter a gang of outlaws ter clean out them what travels through ther pass. They put up a sign at either end of ther pass, which is only about a mile an' a half long, ter let any one what kin read know that they're forbid ter go through. If they do go through they have ter git robbed; that's all. Ter save trouble an' money ther most of folks would rather go around ther other way, or else keep away from Silver Bend, that's all."

"Well, that sounds pretty good, I think, Sedgwick. I reckon I'll have to go through that pass, just to see what will happen."

"I knowed you would say that, Wild. But if I was you I wouldn't bother about it. They're a bad lot, an' no mistake—ther men what runs things in that pass. They say there's about twenty of 'em, an' that ther most of 'em is tough cowboys what have been forced ter light out fur stealin' cattle an' sich like. Though there ain't any doubt that some of 'em lives right in Silver Bend, no one knows who they are. They're a mighty bad lot, an' since there ain't no chance of catchin' 'em, on account of ther many caves what's along on either side of ther pass, they've been doin' business there ever since we opened up ther camp, here, an' a mighty good business they've done, too."

"That seems a little strange," and our hero shook his head. "What sort of people are they over in Silver Bend?"

"Oh, about ther same as anywheres else, I s'pose. But I've heard say that it's ther fault of them what's in charge of affairs over there. It might be that some of 'em is in with ther outlaws of ther Forbidden Pass."

"It might be, that's true. Well, Sedgwick, you can bet that I am going through that pass! I want to meet this gang of robbers, just to see if they are any different from any other robbers I've come across. How about it, boys?"

Wild turned and looked at Cheyenne Charlie and Jim Dart as he said the last.

"Yer kin bet your life we'll go through ther blamed old pass!" the scout answered, while Dart nodded, as though it was a matter of course.

"I knowed it!" exclaimed Sedgwick. "Ther minute I heard you was here I know'd that you'd be fur goin' through ther Forbidden Pass. It struck me, first off that you'd come here jest fur that very, purpose."

"No," answered our hero, shaking his head. "We never heard of Forbidden Pass. But we are mighty glad to hear of it now, I reckon. Sedgwick, you know pretty well what we think of gangs of outlaws, and the like."

"I do," was the reply. "If you start after 'em once, you always land 'em too."

"Well, we'll start after this gang, then. You can bet that we'll come mighty near landing them, too!"

"I'm sure of that, Wild."

"Say!" said our hero, as the miners started again to go. "Didn't you say that the outlaws consist of cowboys who have been forced to light out from the ranches they worked upon?"

"Yes, that's what I heard over in Silver Bend."

"Well, there are three cowboys over at the saloon now. I've sized them up pretty well, and it strikes me now that they might belong to that gang. Anyhow, I am sure that they are no good."

"I saw them galoots, Wild. I don't know who they are. But they seemed to be mighty respectful. Hoker, ther saloon keeper, was tryin' ter tell me how you had some fun with 'em an' made 'em understand that they couldn't do as they pleased. But I was so anxious ter git over here an' see yer that I didn't pay much attention. I s'pose I'll have a chance ter talk to yer after supper?"

"Oh, yes. We'll take a walk over to the saloon. I'll ask the cowboys about the outlaws of Forbidden Pass, too."

The miners now left and returned to their respective homes.

"Well, Wild, I suppose you are very glad to learn all this," said Arietta, as our hero walked back to where the girls were standing.

She, as well as the rest, had heard all that was said, and her face now wore a smile as she looked at her dashing young lover.

"Yes, Et, I am glad to know that there is a place here that is forbidden to travelers. You know very well that it would only make me more anxious to do a thing if I was told that I must not do it. I am certainly going through Forbidden Pass!"

"Well, I don't blame you, Wild."

The girl possessed a spirit of fearlessness, and she was not the one to advise Wild to show himself afraid of any gang of outlaws.

"I reckon we've struck a blamed funny sort of camp, all right," remarked the scout, as he pulled the ends of his long mustache. "It couldn't have been better if we'd been lookin' up somethin' that was ter be good an' excitin', could it?"

"Hardly," answered Jim.

"Well, never mind about it now, boys. I reckon we'll think about the supper. Hurry up, Wing. Just get a little move on you."

"Allee light, Misler Wild," answered the cook, smilingly. "Me havee, um supper leady allee samee pletty quickee, so be."

"Me helpee my blother," spoke up Hop, grinning. "He allee samee velly muchee slow."

"Me no slow," retorted Wing; "me allee light."

"There!" interposed Wild. "Don't get in a wrangle over it. Hurry the supper along, that's all."

The two Celestials said no more, but both worked away as fast as they could.

It was not long before the supper was cooked, and then all hands did fall justice to it.

"Now, boys," said Wild, as he finished eating, "I reckon a good cigar wouldn't go bad, so we will go over to the saloon and buy some. The girls will be all right here, since we won't hardly be out of sight of them. Come on!"

The three soon took their departure, and they had scarcely done so when Hop, the clever Chinaman, sneaked around a clump of trees and took a course that would fetch him around to the rear of the saloon.

It was hard to keep him away from such places, for he loved gambling and practical joking, not to speak of "tanglefoot," to such a degree that he could not be held back.

CHAPTER III.

THE OUTLAWS OF FORBIDDEN PASS.

The three cowboys were just getting ready to leave when Young Wild West and his two partners reached the saloon.

They had loaded up pretty well with "tanglefoot," and they were doing some very loud talking.

But when they saw the young deadshot they became suddenly silent.

"Hello!" called out Wild, speaking in his cool and easy way. "So you are going back to the ranch, eh?"

"Yes," answered the one he had handled so roughly. "I reckon we've about had our spree, so we'll go back now."

"How far is your ranch from here?" queried Wild, as he stepped up closer to them.

"About thirty miles, I reckon," was the reply.

"Why, I heard there were no ranches within a hundred miles of here. That's mighty queer."

"Whoever told yer that don't know nothin' about this part of ther country, I reckon."

"Well, it was the boss of the saloon who told us. Perhaps he isn't much acquainted around here."

Neither of them said anything to this, but went on buckling up their saddle-girths.

"Which way are you going?" Wild asked, as they were ready to mount their horses.

"Right out that way," was the reply, and the speaker pointed toward the pass.

"What! You are not afraid of being held up in Forbidden Pass, then?"

"No. I reckon that's all rot what's said about that. Some galoots named it Forbidden Pass, jest fur fun, an' since then there's them what's afraid of their own shadders what's added enough to it ter make folks think it's dangerous ter go through there. We come that way, an' I reckon we'll go back that way. I don't believe there's any gang of outlaws hangin' around there than there is right in this camp."

"Well, I am sorry to hear that. I had an idea that we could have a little excitement hunting out the gang. If there is no gang there we will be disappointed."

All three of the cowboys looked at him sharply.

It was evident that they did not know just what to make of the boy.

They swung themselves on their horses, however, and started to ride off.

"Say!" said Wild, calling out loudly to them. "If you happen to run across any outlaws in Forbidden Pass just tell them that Young Wild West is looking for them. Don't forget that, will you?"

One of the cowboys gave a reply that was not quite intelligible, but as there was an oath attached to it, our hero knew that it was not complimentary to him.

He did not stop them, however, and they rode away straight for the narrow pass at the other side of the pleasant little valley the camp was located in.

Not until they saw the three men disappear in the pass did our friends go into the saloon.

But let us follow the cowboys and find out something more about them.

When our hero had said that they might belong to the outlaws of Forbidden Pass he had hit the nail right on the head.

The fact was that there was a gang of eighteen villains located in the pass, and these three had been picked by the leader to ride to Big Bonanza for the sole purpose of leading the miners to believe that there was no longer any danger for travelers to go through that way when they wanted to go to Silver Bend.

During the time the trio was in the saloon they had been talking in this way, and they had partly made Hoker, the proprietor, believe that there was something in what they said.

The man Wild had treated so roughly bore the name of Chuck Snivel, and he was a sort of lieutenant of the band.

The leader of the outlaws was a scheming man of a fair education, who was called Cap Roche.

This villain owned a store in Silver Bend and was also the postmaster there.

He divided his time with his lawless band and the store, and, being well thought of in the mining camp, he had all the chance in the world to pursue his villainy and profit greatly from it.

As Chuck Snivel and his two companions entered the pass they turned and took one last look at Young Wild West and his partners.

"I reckon there's trouble ahead, fellers," the lieutenant of the outlaw band observed. "That boy is about ther worst one I ever had tackle me; an' ther others is putty nigh as bad, no doubt. It sorter strikes me that they're here fur ther purpose of findin' us out. Yer all heard what ther boy said as we come away, I reckon?"

"I sartinly did, fur one," answered the man nearest him.

"He said if we happened ter run across any outlaws in Furbidden Pass we should tell 'em that Young Wild West is lookin' fur 'um," the other added, quickly.

"That's jest what he said!" exclaimed Snivel. "Now, then, what does that mean?"

"It means that he's after us," said the second, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders.

"It looks that way," the third villain admitted.

"Well, yer kin bet your life we'll tell ther outlaws, won't we?"

"We sartinly will."

"Come on, then! Let's git to ther cave."

They set their bronchos at a gallop and moved rapidly through the pass.

"I wonder if ther sign was all right?" said one, as they rode along. "I was thinkin' so much about what that boy said that I never thought ter look."

"It was all right," replied Snivel; "I looked at it. Ther sign that Cap Roche made on a barrel-head is there. Yer kin bet that it'll stay there, too. Young Wild West might take a notion ter knock it down; but if he does we'll see to it that it's put up ag'in, or another jest like it."

When they had covered about a mile they slowed down a little and began to look behind them very often.

The fact was that they were nearing the hidden headquarters of the outlaw band of Forbidden Pass.

The pass itself was just about two miles in length, the entrance being less than a quarter of a mile from the cluster of shanties that made up the mining camp of Big Bonanza.

At the other end the regular trail to Silver Bend would be reached, and by taking the cut through the short pass just about fifteen miles could be saved on a journey to Silver Bend.

But, as John Sedgwick had told Young Wild West, the miners no longer took the short cut, since so many holdups had occurred in the pass.

The clever man who captained and ran the gang of villains was now trying to make the traffic be resumed through the pass, and, as has been said, Chuck Snivel and two others were sent over to the little mining camp to make the miners believe that there was no longer any danger to travel that way.

There was no doubt but that they had succeeded pretty well, too, since they were now certain that Young Wild West was coming through that way.

The boy had said enough to convince them of that.

It was a little more than half way through the pass that time three villains, who had posed as cowboys at Big Bonanza, came to a halt.

They looked cautiously in both directions, and, not seeing a sign of a human being, Chuck Snivel nodded his head and exclaimed:

"I reckon everything's all right, boys. Come ahead!"

Then he turned and rode sharply to the left, to what seemed to be a solid wall of rock.

Reaching out his hand, he grasped a rope that was hidden beneath some hanging vines.

A sharp pull on this and up rolled a curtain, leaving an opening that was large enough for a horse and rider to pass through.

The curtain was made of some flexible material and was painted to imitate the rock that was on either side and above it.

Snivel rode in the opening and his companions followed him.

Once inside they all dismounted, and then Snivel walked over to the edge of the entrance and lifted a log that was lying there to an almost upright position, leaning it against a rock.

As he did this the curtain rolled down.

It was a rather simple affair, since the rope that was attached to the top of the curtain was tied to the log, and when the log was made to drop the curtain went up.

It would drop just as quickly when released, as there was a weight at the bottom.

The part of the cave the three men were now in was hardly any wider than the entrance itself, but it extended back a short distance and then took a sharp turn to the left.

As they led their horses to this point they came upon a natural underground apartment that was fully fifty feet long and thirty in width.

Though irregular in shape, it was surely an ideal place for a band of robbers to hold forth.

The natural ceiling was high, and through the face of the cliff light was admitted through several zig-zag cracks.

Fully a dozen men were sitting in the cave on boxes and stools or lying in bunks that were built along two sides of it, and none of them appeared to be much disturbed by the entrance of the trio.

"Where's Cap?" asked Chuck Snivel, when he had led his horse to a dark part of the cave and tied it to the long strip of wood that was there for the purpose.

"He's over to ther store, I reckon," answered one of them. "How did yer make out in Big Bonanza, Chuck?"

"Putty good, I reckon," was the retort. "Everything would have been all right if we hadn't met Young Wild West an' his pards there."

"Young Wild West an' his pards!" exclaimed one of the robbers, jumping to his feet, excitedly.

"Yes, that's what I said. Why, do you know anything about them galoots, Bob?"

"Do I? Well, I reckon I do! I had ther chance ter see 'em a couple of times down in Prescott, Arizona. I belonged ter a gang near there, which got cleaned out by them same three galoots yer jest spoke of. I got away jest by ther skin of my teeth, an' I was mighty thankful fur it, yer kin bet! Young Wild West ain't nothin' but a boy, an' neither is one of his pards. But ther three of 'em makes ther toughest proposition I ever seen. So they're here, are they? Well, I wish they wasn't, fur it means bad fur us. I'll bet they'll be lookin' fur us afore many hours!"

"Oh, yes. There ain't no mistake about that part of it. They'll be lookin' fur us. What do yer s'pose Young Wild West told me as we left Big Bonanza?"

"I don't know. What was it?"

"He said if we seen any outlaws in Furbidden Pass ter tell 'em that he was lookin' fur 'em."

Bob shook his head and showed that he felt very uneasy.

"I know how it'll be," he said, half to himself, "We're in fur it now. That boy has got more lives than a cat, an' when he shoots he kills every time. He's ther luckiest galoot what ever tried ter do a thing, an' if he has made up his mind ter clean us out yer kin bet he'll do it!"

"Pshaw!" spoke up one of the others. "That's all foolishness. Jest because these galoots you're talkin' about happened ter clean out ther gang you belonged to in Arizony, don't say that they're goin' ter do anything like that with us. What did I hear yer say—that Young Wild West is only a boy?"

"That's all he is," Bob answered. "But he kin do more than any man I ever seen."

"An' there's only three of 'em?"

"Yes."

"An' there's another boy?"

"That's right."

"Well, what is ther third galoot?"

"He's a man—a big, powerful one, with no mercy when he gits after a crook."

"Oh, he's man, eh?' I thought maybe he might be a woman," and the outlaw chuckled.

Nearly all of them laughed at this.

But it was plain that the villain called Bob was very uneasy over what he had heard.

And Chuck Snivel and the two who had accompanied him to Big Bonanza were not in a jolly mood, either.

Their experience with the Champion Deadshot and his partners had been quite enough to make them understand that they had struck a proposition that was a little different from what they were in the habit of facing.

While they were talking over it a horseman rode into the cave.

It was Cap Roche, the leader of the outlaw band.

"Now, then, we'll see what Cap says about it," said Bob, his face brightening a little.

"He'll soon fix it so Young Wild West won't amount ter much, I reckon," spoke up one of the men, confidently.

The villainous leader was soon among them and listening to the news Chuck Snivel had brought from Big Bonanza.

CHAPTER IV.

OUR FRIENDS GO TO THE MOUTH OF THE PASS AND READ THE SIGN.

When Wild and his partners entered the barroom of the shanty saloon they saw that quite a crowd had gathered there.

Nearly all the miners working the claims that had been staked out in the camp made the saloon their headquarters evenings.

There were but two or three of the thirty miners who did not drink and gamble, and they usually spent their idle time with the storekeeper, smoking and talking until it was time to retire for the night.

Our hero cast a swift glance around the room and saw Hop standing almost in the centre of the room, the miners gathered around him, and their faces wearing grins.

The clever Chinaman had come in by the back way while our three friends were watching the cowboys as they rode into Forbidden Pass.

The first thing he did was to try and make himself solid with the miners.

Though Nevada had plenty of Chinese at the time of which we write, it so happened that there were none in Big Bonanza until Young Wild West arrived with his two servants.

The men all knew what Chinamen were pretty well, and there was a sort of feeling against them that they were something not to be exactly classed with human beings, so to speak.

Hop knew this as well as any of them, and hence his desire to make himself in good standing with them.

The first thing he did on entering, then, was to pull a chunky piece of bamboo from under his coat and hold it up.

It was not more than eight inches in length and looked to be a very common-looking thing.

But while the miners were wondering what the "heathen Chinee" was up to, Hop suddenly gave the piece of bamboo a twist, and the next minute a small, bright-colored parasol was in his hand.

This was raised in a jiffy, and then he went parading around the room with it over his head.

Only a minute did this continue, however, and then the parasol vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

The Chinaman roiled the piece of bamboo in his hands and that, too, disappeared.

Then he stood still in the middle of the room and bowed right and left.

"Me allee samee velly smartee Chinee, so be," he observed, blandly. "Me likee Melican mans velly muchee."

The next thing he did was to toss a silver coin to the ceiling and as it came down he caught it in his mouth and went through the motions of swallowing it.

"Me allee samee eatee money, so be," he went on to say, smiling and bowing again.

It was just then that our hero and his partners came into the room.

"Hello, Wild!" called out Sedgwick, who was one of those present. "Your funny Chinaman has been doing some stunts fur us."

"Oh, he is liable to do almost anything," was the reply. "What is the matter, Hop? Who told you that you could come over here?"

"Allee samee nothing the mattee, Misler Wild," answered Hop, shaking his head and looking serious. "Nobody say me comee over here; me comee allee samee, so be."

There was a laugh at this, and then Hop had succeeded in doing what he had tried for. He had got the good will of the miners.

Having satisfied himself on this point, he stepped up to the bar, and, nodding pleasantly to Hoker, the boss, he observed:

"Me likee chuckee dicee for um dlinks, so be."

"You would, eh? Well, I never yet chucked dice with a Chinee; but blamed if I don't do it jest this once. What's it goin' ter be, fur all hands?"

"Lat light; allee samee all hands gittee lillee dlink. If me lose me pay; if you lose you allee samee givee um dlinks."

"Good!"

The saloon keeper brought out the dice, and, shaking them in the leather box, rolled them out.

"There yer are!" he said, exultantly. "There's fourteen fur yer ter beat. If yer do it you're a mighty good one."

"Allee light," was the reply; "me velly muchee lucky Chinee, so be."

Then Hop picked up the little cubes and appeared to be examining them closely.

But he was doing something else, too.

He had three dice of his own, and when he rattled the box preparatory to making his throw they were the ones in it.

Hop's dice were not straight dice.

They had only fives and sixes stamped on them, so no matter how they were rolled less than fifteen could not come up.

Though the dice were not exactly the size of those furnished by Hoker, it would be hard to tell the difference, unless one made a close examination of them.

Hop rolled out the dice and two sixes and a five showed up.

"Lat velly goodee thlow, so be," he observed, and then he picked up the dice and dropped the regular ones in the box.

"I reckon it is," answered the saloon keeper. "Come on, boys. It's on me. I lost, but I made him throw big to beat me."

Young Wild West and his partners knew that Hop had all sorts of trick dice, and they could easily guess that he had played a trick on the man in order to beat him.

But since there was no money involved, our hero would not say anything.

He did not like Hop to fleece any one honest, though, and as the clever Celestial was always bent on cheating some one, it often became necessary to make him give back his winnings.

Our hero thought he had better let the boss of the place and his patrons know that the Chinaman was a sharp and trick gambler, so just as Hoker proposed that they throw again, and for five dollars on the side, he spoke out:

"Gentlemen, I advise you not to gamble with Hop Wah. He is a very smart one at the business, and he will relieve you of all the money you have, if you play with him. Being a sleight-of-hand performer, he can do things that you could not see. Just go it light on that point. I don't want to have him get into trouble, and that is what he generally does when he wins a whole lot of money. There is always some one to accuse him of cheating, whether they catch him or not, and then there is trouble. Now don't play cards or throw dice with him for money, if you don't feel like losing your money."

"All right, Young Wild West; I'll take your advice," said the boss of the saloon. "I reckon that you know what you're talkin' about."

Hop put on an injured air and went and sat down at a table.

It was now getting dark and the lamps were lighted in the saloon.

Wild called Sedgwick to him and they got to talking about the cowboys who had left a short time before.

The miner related what he had heard them say about Forbidden Pass, and the young deadshot nodded in a pleased way.

"I reckon that means something," he said. "Business has been pretty bad, I suppose, and the outlaws are anxious to have travel through the pass resumed. Well, I reckon I'll take a walk over and see how it looks at this end of the pass, anyhow. Come on, boys!"

Charlie and Jim promptly responded to the call, and Sedgwick hastened to declare that he would go with them, if there were no objections.

"Certainly not," our hero assured him. "Come on!"

The four left the saloon and walked over to the pass.

Though it was now quite dark, they had no trouble in seeing the sign that was posted at the entrance.

It consisted of a barrel-head nailed together, and the words upon it were as follows:

"FORBIDDEN PASS!" "Travelers must pay toll, or go some other way." "Private Road!"

Jim Dart struck a match so the inscription could be read, and when they had made it out our three friends looked at each other and nodded, while the miner waited to hear what would be said.

"I reckon that's what I call putty good," said the scout, a smile creeping over his bronzed face. "'Private Road,' eh? Well, I wonder who is ther owner of it!"

"We'll find out all about it, Charlie," said Wild, assuringly. "Just wait till to-morrow morning. We'll take a ride through the pass, and don't you forget it!"

"Well, it might be that yer won't be bothered now, fur it's jest likely that ther outlaws has quit ther pass an' gone somewhere else," Sedgwick remarked. "If them cowboys is all right, an' they kin go through without bein' bothered, it are most likely that you fellers kin."

"But I don't believe they are all right," our hero answered. "I think that they belong to the outlaw gang, and that they came over here and talked that way just on purpose to get the people here to use the pass, instead of going by the roundabout way to Silver Bend."

"It looks that way, I'll admit, Wild."

"Well, no matter how it is, we'll go through the pass to-morrow, I reckon. And we'll come back, too, if it takes a whole day to do it."

It was just then that the sounds made by a approaching horse came to their ears.

"Somebody is coming through now," said the scout, as he listened.

"Get behind the rocks here," Wild whispered. "We will watch him as he goes past, and see what he does, if anything."

A few seconds later a horseman came in view.

Our friends could distinguish the outlines of both horse and rider, and when they saw the man halt right at the end of the pass they were not a little interested.

The rider turned and looked at the sign, and, nodding when he found that the sign was there all right, he started on for the little collection of shanties.

"That's Cap Roche, ther storekeeper over in Silver Bend," Sedgwick whispered, as he went on.

"Is that so?" Wild queried. "Well, I reckon we'll go back to the saloon and find out what kind of a fellow Cap Roche is."

CHAPTER V.

CAP ROCHE MEETS YOUNG WILD WEST.

Chuck Snivel was not long in telling Cap Roche all that had taken place over in Big Bonanza.

The face of the leader of the outlaws wore a troubled look as he listened, and when the man was through he shook his head and said:

"I reckon I'll have to go over and have a look at this dangerous boy, boys. I have heard of him, and I have reason to believe that he is a hard one to beat. Though he is mighty young, he has spent his time looking for trouble ever since he was big enough to shoot a gun, and he has had so much luck that I suppose now he thinks that he is invincible."

"He's a regular terror, Cap," spoke up Bob. "I know what I'm talkin' about. I've seen him, an' I've seen what he could do. He's jest as cool as a chunk of ice, an' yer can't no more scare him than yer kin a mad grizzly. If he's after us you kin bet that he'll git us, unless he's catched afore he gits a good start on."

"Well, I reckon he'll have the hardest time of his life getting us, though," the leader answered. "But I'll ride over, anyhow and try and find out something. Told you to tell any outlaws you met that he was after them, eh, Chuck?"

"Yes; that's right, Cap."

"Well, we'll see about that. I won't be long in findin' out what he's up to. If he gets through Forbidden Pass without paying toll he's got to be a good one, that's all. His life will probably be the price demanded for toll, too. I reckon that's what I'll make it."

After a few minutes further conversation on the subject the leader of the gang, who was posing as an honest business man in Silver Bend, left the cave, leading his horse out under the curtain that was rolled up by one of the men for him.

He rode along in the direction of the little mining camp at an easy gait, and in a short time he reached the end of the pass.

He paused long enough to see that the sign he had himself painted was in place, and then he made for the saloon, never once thinking that there was any one so close by watching his movements.

Cap Roche was well known in Big Bonanza, and he was satisfied that no one dreamed that he was anything else but an honest man.

He made up his mind to tell the miners that he had decided to ride through the pass just for the purpose of finding out if the outlaws were still there.

"I'll have no trouble in making them think that it is safe to go through now," he muttered, as he rode up to the saloon.

Dismounting, he entered the shanty and found the biggest part of the population gathered there.

"Hello, boys!" he called out, familiarly. "How are you all? I took a notion to ride over to-night through Forbidden Pass. I did not let the notion get out of my head, and came right away. How is business, anyway?"

Several of the men hastened to shake hands with him, and soon a lively conversation was taking place.

"So yer come through ther pass, eh?" observed Hoker, after there came a lull. "A putty risky thing ter do, I reckon."

"Well, I don't know. You see, I have had the place watched pretty closely the last few days, and not the least sign of any one has been discovered there. I feel that the outlaws, if there were any there, have left for some other parts."

Just then Cap Roche happened to set eyes on Hop Wah, who was sitting at a table, showing half a dozen miners some tricks with a pack of cards.

"Hello! You've got a heathen here, eh?" he exclaimed. "When did he strike here!"

"Late this afternoon, Cap," answered Hoker. "He's a great Chinee, too. He's a sleight-of-hand feller, an' he kin handle dice an' cards any way he wants ter. A man don't stand no more show winnin' from him than he does walkin' on air."

"Ah! He must be a curious sort of a heathen, then. Did he come here alone?"

"Oh, no. He come here with Young Wild West. You've heard of him, I reckon?"

"Yes, I believe I have. A sort of dashing young fellow, who can shoot well, isn't he?"

"Well, I should say so! You oughter been here a couple of hours ago an' seen what he done ter three cowboys! He sartinly did take ther starch out of 'em in no time."

"Yes?" and the two-faced man arched his eyebrows and looked surprised. "I should like to get acquainted with the young fellow. Where is he stopping?"

"Right down below here. He carries a campin' outfit with him, an' he's got two young gals an' a young woman along, as well as his two pards an' this Chinee an' another one. Oh, Young Wild West is used ter goin' about, an' it don't 'pear ter make any difference ter him an' his friends whether there's a hotel ter put up at or not. They didn't even ask me if I could accommodate 'em."

Hoker shook his head, as though he felt that he had been slighted somewhat.

But Cap Roche only smiled.

"I reckon they could tell by the size of your shanty that there wasn't much chance of getting accommodated here," he said. "I don't wonder that they didn't ask you. Why don't you put up a bigger shanty, like we've got over at the Bend? This place is growing all the time, and the time will soon be here when you'll have the chance to fill a good-sized building with boarders. I reckon there's plenty of dust here that hasn't been dug out yet."

"There ain't no doubt about that, Cap," spoke up one of the miners. "This is goin' ter be one of ther best minin' camps in ther middle part of Nevada, an' there ain't no mistake on that. It's most placer minin' that we've been doin' here, 'cause we ain't got no machinery ter go down deep in ther ground. But that there's big deposits down under us there ain't no doubt. I've cleaned up a cool, thousand so fur this week, an' I've got two more days ter make almost another one. I'm goin' ter send my stuff over to ther Bend Saturday afternoon."

"By the long route, I suppose?" and Cap Roche smiled in a peculiar way.

"Yes; that's ther way ther wagons goes nowadays."

"Well, I'll guarantee that it will be safe to go through the pass, just the same."

"How is it that you are able to give such a guarantee as that, stranger?"

The voice came from the doorway, and, turning, Cap Roche saw a dashing-looking boy, with a wealth of chestnut hair hanging over his shoulders, standing there, looking at him.

The villain knew who it was without being told.

"Young Wild West, I reckon?" he said, coolly. "Come on in; don't stand there. I don't know just what kind of a guarantee I can give that this man's gold will go safely through the pass, but it is my opinion that there are no robbers there. That's why I spoke that way."

"Oh!"

Our hero walked in followed by his partners and John Sedgwick.

As the reader may judge, Wild had suspected the man the moment he saw him looking at the sign at the mouth of the pass.

When he heard Sedgwick say he was the storekeeper over in Silver Bend he did not alter his opinion, either.

Determined to find out more about the man, he had walked over to the saloon.

Cap Roche was talking when our friends got there, and as his back happened to be toward the door he did not see them until after the young deadshot spoke.

Wild knew that the only way to get anything out of the man would be first to anger him.

He had tried to do this, but apparently he had not succeeded.

The face of Roche wore, a smile as he came in, and, giving a nod, he said:

"I never saw you before, but I knew you right away. I am glad to meet you, Young Wild West."

"All right, Cap Roche. I am glad to meet you, too."

"Ah! You know me, then?"

"Well, Sedgwick told me who you were. We saw you looking at the sign over at the pass. Quite a sign, isn't it?"

"You saw me looking at it?" queried the man, showing just the least bit of uneasiness.

"Yes, we were over there when you came out. The man who painted the letters on the barrel-head is quite an artist, and he knows how to spell, all right. They say there is another sign at the other end of the pass."

"Yes, there's one just like it there," replied Roche. "I can't help looking at them every time I come through Forbidden Pass. To-night is the first time I have been through in a week or two, so I could not help looking to see if the signs were still in place. As you heard me say before you came in here, I am satisfied that there are no longer any outlaws hanging about the pass. I reckon they must have got disgusted with the lack of business and moved away."

"Maybe they did. But if they haven't moved away they will move before many hours, and you can bet all you're worth on that!"

"You are going after them, then?"

"Well, such work just suits me, and whenever we think we can do a community a good turn we always go ahead and do it. Outlaws don't like me, and I don't like outlaws. It is the same with my partners. Some might call us a little meddlesome sometimes, but it is a way we have got, and we simply can't help it. Are you going back through the pass to-night, Mr. Roche?"

"Why, yes. It is only ten miles from here to my store over in Silver Bend. That is no distance to make, you know."

"That's right. Well, if you happen to meet any of the outlaws while going through just tell them that we will be looking for them to-morrow."

A peculiar smile flitted across the features of Roche, but he quickly changed it and laughed lightly.

"All right, Young Wild West," he said. "If I happen to meet any of them I'll surely tell them what you say."

CHAPTER VI.

CAP ROCHE FALLS A VICTIM TO HOP.

Cap Roche now turned his attention to the table at which Hop was sitting.

"So the heathen is showing you something with the cards, eh, boys?" he said, smilingly.

"That's right, Cap," answered one of them. "An' he's mighty slick, too."

"He is, eh? Well, I'd like to see what he can do."

"Me showee velly nicee lillee tlick," spoke up Hop, nodding pleasantly.

The Chinaman was quite sure that Young Wild West suspected that the man was not altogether right, for he was a keen observer and an attentive listener.

That made him decide to make a victim of him, if he could.

Hop had thought out a brand new trick with a deck of cards, and he was all fixed to work it on somebody.

He was pleased to find that he had a victim.

Shuffling the pack well, he spread them out like a fan and held the cards so that some of the faces could be seen by Roche.

"You see um jack of hearts?" he asked.

"Yes," was the reply.

"Allee light; you allee samee lemember um jack of hearts."

Then he gave the cards another shuffle, and in doing it one of them slipped up his sleeve unobserved by any one.

There was really nothing wonderful about this, since there was a thin piece of elastic attached to the card, and the moment it was released it left the pack.

As might be supposed, it was the jack of hearts.

But Hop had another jack of hearts, as he needed it to carry out the trick.

He kept this one concealed in his hand and passed the deck to Roche, saying:

"You pickee outee um jack of hearts and me allee samee showee how me makee fly away."

The man quickly looked over the cards and found that the jack of hearts was not among them.

"I reckon you took it when no one was looking," he said, with a smile. "That is not much of a trick; I could do that myself."

"Me no takee," declared the Celestial, putting on a look of surprise. "Maybe allee samee dlop on um floor."

He got up from his chair, and then, dropping upon his hands and knees, began looking around on the floor under the table.

While doing this he cleverly slipped the card he had in his hand into the boot-top of Roche.

Then, before he got up, he pulled the card that had the elastic attached to it from his sleeve and held it so the elastic was concealed.

"Here um card," he said, as he showed it to every one. "Me puttee in um pack, so be."

Roche was watching him closely, for he knew that the Chinaman was up to something, and he was certain that the card went into the pack.

But it did not.

It slipped up Hop sleeve the same as it had done the first time.

"Now you findee um jack of hearts," he said, smilingly.

Roche nodded and proceeded to look for it.

"It isn't here," he said, looking surprised.

"You wantee tly foolee poor Chinee," Hop declared, putting on an injured look. "You takee um card and puttee in your boot, so be."

"What's that?" cried Roche, half angrily. "Do you mean to say that I stole the card from the pack?"

"Me allee samee bettee ten dollee you gottee um card somewhere, so be!" was the quick retort.

"You will, eh? All right. I'm a betting man, I am. It don't make any difference who I bet with, either. I'll bet you ten dollars that I haven't got the card on me. If one has got it you're the one, for you are doing the trick."

Hop held up both hands and threw open his coat, to show that he did not have it.

Then he laid ten dollars on the table.

"Boys," said Roche, looking at those around him, "I don't know just what kind of a game I am up against; but I do know that I haven't got that card anywhere on my person. I feel so sure of it that I'll bet a hundred dollars instead of ten!"

"Allee light."

As quick as a wink Hop's hand went into his pocket and out came a roll of bills.

He quickly counted out ninety dollars more and put it on the table.

Roche immediately covered it, and then, rising to his feet, he moved away from the table and called out:

"Hoker, come here and search me. If you find the jack of hearts anywhere on me the Chinaman wins. If you don't find it I win."

"Lat light," said Hop, nodding to the boss of the place.

Hoker came forward and proceeded to go through the man's pockets.

He did not find the card in any of the pockets, so he went on down and tried the boot-tops.

Then it was that he pulled out a card from one of them.

"Here she is, Cap!" he exclaimed, as he arose and held out the card so all could see it. "Here's ther jack of hearts!"

"Tricked, by thunder!" exclaimed Roche, as Hop smiled and put the money in his pocket.

"Mighty clever, I should say," ventured Sedgwick. "Cap, yer shouldn't have bet."

"I couldn't help it," was the reply. "But I know how it was done. He put the card in my bootleg when he was looking around under the table."

"No; that couldn't be," declared the saloon keeper. "He put ther card in ther pack after that. An' I'll swear that he wasn't near enough ter put it on you after that, even if he had it in his hand."

"Well, that is true, come to think of it. But he got it there, somehow."

Roche took the card and looked it over.

Then he picked up the pack and compared the backs of the cards with the one he held in his hand.

"I lose the hundred, that's all," he exclaimed. "But I'll bet another hundred he can't work that trick again!"

Hop smiled.

"You allee samee watched too muchee," he said.

"You bet I would watch."

The cards were laid on the table by him, and Hop picked them up in an offhanded way.

"Here um nicee lillee tlick," he said, as he ran the cards up his arm in a long string. "Evelybody no do lat, so be."

Then he let them go back again, and in doing so two or three of them dropped to the floor.

Hop was on his knees gathering them up in a twinkling.

Then it was that he slipped a card in the bootleg of Roche again.

But he was not caught doing it, however.

He got the cards that had dropped and did the trick over again, this time not losing any of them when they ran back to his hand.

Then he suddenly showed the jack of hearts again.

"Do you want to try the other trick again?" the man front Silver Bend asked.

"You no givee poor Chinee um showee to play um tlick, so be," answered Hop.

"What kind of a show do you want? There you are with the jack of hearts in your hand. Now I'll bet you that you can't get it into my bootleg again!"

He moved back from the table, so he would be entirely clear from the Chinaman, as he said this.

Hop let all hands have a look at the jack of hearts, and then he allowed it to flip up his sleeve.

He shuffled the pack, laid it on the table and brought his fist down upon it with considerable force.

"Lere um go!" he exclaimed. "Me bettee you hundled dollee you gottee um jack of hearts in you bootleg, so be!"

"What!" cried Roche, as he looked down at his feet. "Do you mean that, you heathen?"

"Me allee samee meanee," was the reply. "Me wantee givee you chancee to gittee square, so be."

The villain had a hundred dollars out in a hurry.

"There you are!" he exclaimed. "Cover that!"

"Me covee allee samee pletty quickee, so be."

Hop did cover it, too; and then, folding his arms, he looked at Roche and remained silent for a moment.

"Search me, somebody," said the latter, looking around. "Here, Sam! He bet that the jack of hearts was in my bootleg again. You look and see."

"All right, Cap," answered the miner.

The leader of the outlaws stretched out his limbs and gave the man a good chance to make the search before the eyes of the lookers-on.

He found the card the first thing, and, with a look of amazement on his face, he held it up.

"There she is, Cap!" he exclaimed, with a shake of his head. "I didn't think it was there; I thought ther Chinee was jest goin' ter let yer git your money back. But there's ther jack of hearts, an' it sartinly was in your boot!"

"Well, by ginger!" cried Roche. "I reckon I'm done with this kind of a game. The heathen Chinee is altogether too much for me."

"Young Wild West told us he could beat anything there was goin'," spoke up John Sedgwick. "He's a sleight-of-hand Chinee, that's what he is."

"Well, I am not a squealer, as you all know," said Roche. "But I do think that some one should have told me that I was betting against a sleight-of-hand performer."

"That wasn't fur us ter do, Cap," replied Sedgwick, shaking his head. "You knowed that he was clever when yer seen him foolin' with ther cards, an' doin' them other tricks. You lost your money jest because you thought you was smarter than he was. I happen ter know that a man does a very foolish thing when he bets ag'in a man showin' a trick. That's what ther feller doin' it wants, an' he wins every time, too."

CHAPTER VII.

WILD MAKES AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY.

Cap Roche nodded his head at what Sedgwick said.

"All right," he said. "I reckon I'm satisfied. I am not broke, just because I lost a couple of hundred dollars."

After that he made himself very agreeable to all hands, and when he got ready to ride back to the cave in the pass he bade them good night and invited them to call at his store when in Silver Bend.

Young Wild West and his partners waited until the man rode off, and then they hurriedly left the shanty saloon.

Wild set out on a run for the camp.

He had made up his mind all at once to follow Cap Roche through Forbidden Pass.

He got his horse in a jiffy, and, hastily telling the girls where he was going rode off toward the pass.

So quickly had the young deadshot acted that Roche had not more than three or four minutes the start of him.

If he went along at an easy gait Wild would be able to overtake him before he got through the pass.

So quickly had the young deadshot acted that Roche had not more than three or four minutes the start of him.

If he went along at an easy gait Wild would be able to overtake him before he got through the pass.

Our hero knew that he was undertaking a risky thing, for he was quite sure that there was a band of outlaws located somewhere in the pass, or very near to it.

But he went on without any hesitation, prepared for anything that might turn up.

The place was totally strange to him, but the boy had confidence in the sorrel stallion he rode.

Spitfire would surely follow the horse that was ahead.

There was no mistake about that.

On went the dashing young deadshot, covering the ground rapidly.

He figured it that the storekeeper of Silver Bend was not going very fast, however, and when he thought he ought to be pretty close to him he brought his horse to a sudden halt and listened.

Wild had reckoned rightly, for he could hear the clatter of hoofs ahead.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, under his breath. "That was a pretty good guess. Another minute and I would have been right up chose to him—close enough for him to see me, perhaps. But I hardly think he has heard me, so I'll keep right on."

He set out again, keeping his horse at a walk.

Suddenly the hoofbeats ahead ceased.

Wild let the horse walk right on, for the sounds that came from Spitfire's hoofs could hardly be heard, the ground being very soft just there.

But when about a hundred feet had been covered Wild brought his horse to a halt and dismounted.

Throwing the bridle rein over the animals head, he hurried forward on foot.

He rounded a turn in the pass just in time to distinguish the outlines of a horse, and rider making straight for the almost perpendicular wall at the left of the pass.

Then, all of a sudden, both man and horse disappeared!

"By jove!" exclaimed our hero, under his breath. "I reckon Cap Roche has made a stop before going over to Silver Bend. Now it is for me to find out where he has stopped. I didn't think I would have as much luck as this. Whew! I reckon it won't take us long to settle accounts with the outlaws of Forbidden Pass."

Stepping forward noiselessly, he was soon at the very spot where he had last seen the horse and rider.

There was nothing there now and only the bleak walls of stone were before him.

It was very dark in the pass too, but he could see the stars twinkling overhead, and he was thus enabled to distinguish objects.

Wild went straight to the face of the cliff.

He put out his hand.

It was not rock that he touched, but a piece of canvas or similar material.

This was nothing new to the dashing young deadshot, for he had been up against all kinds of devices, and, he simply gave a low chuckle of satisfaction.

"I'm mighty glad I followed you, Mr. Cap Roche," he thought. "Now, I reckon it will be easy to settle the business. I'll just mark this spot, and then ride back to the camp."

It was an easy thing to mark the spot, for he did it by rolling three stones together, which he had no trouble in finding with his feet.

He took care that they were not directly in front of the hidden opening, so they could not be knocked aside by horses, should they come out.

But Wild knew just where he put them, anyhow, and then he went back to the waiting sorrel, and, mounting, rode off at a walk.

Not until he was a hundred yards from where he had mounted his horse did he set out at a gallop, and then he was not long in reaching the end of the pass.

Wild rode to the little camp and dismounted, surprising his waiting friends for getting back so soon.

"I reckon yer couldn't catch up to ther galoot, eh, Wild?" remarked Cheyenne Charlie.

"Oh, I caught up with him, all right," was the reply. "Things worked just the way I wanted them to."

"Is that so? Good enough!"

"Yes. I caught up to Cap Roche, and I was just in time to see him disappear."

"Disappear?" echoed Arietta. "Then he fooled you, after all?"

"Oh, no. He didn't fool me, Et, for I found where he went."

"Git out!" exclaimed the scout, jubilantly.

"Yes, I was right there in the proper time. But I'll tell you all about it."

This the young deadshot did, and when he had done the faces of his partners and the girls wore smiles of delight and satisfaction.

Even the girls were always anxious to see him make a success of hunting down outlaws and bad men, no matter how much the danger was in doing it.

They had become so used to it that they thought that Wild and his partners were simply following the natural law in doing such things.

"I am glad you did not go into the place, Wild," Arietta said. "If you had done so you might have been caught, and then we would not have known where to look for you."

"That is just why I didn't take the risk of doing it, Et," was the reply. "To-morrow will be time enough to get inside the cave, or whatever it may be. But you can bet that both Charlie and Jim will know just where it is before I make the attempt."

Our friends usually retired quite early nights, and as they were pretty well tired out from an all-day ride, they decided to get the sleep they needed.

Hop had not returned yet, but Wild thought he would allow him to stay out, since there was nothing to do in the morning.

He felt that the Chinaman would not get in any trouble at the saloon, since the miners all seemed to like him.

It was after midnight when Hop returned to the camp, and when he came he sneaked in quietly.

But Cheyenne Charlie was awake, and he let him know that he heard him.

"You yaller galoot, you've been fillin' up with tanglefoot ag'in!" he exclaimed in a whisper. "Don't think I don't know."

"Allee light, Misler Charlie," was the Chinaman's reply; "me feel allee samee velly goodee. Whattee you care?"

The scout let it go at this, and soon the camp was wrapped in silence.

Early the next morning they were up and stirring, however.

Hop was still sound asleep, however, and when his brother tried to arouse him it did no good.

It was not until our friends had eaten their breakfast that it occurred to them that it was time for Hop to get up.

Charlie undertook the task of rousing him.

He threw a pail of water on him, and, as might be supposed, it had the desired effect.

"Lat allee light, Misler Charlie," said the Celestial, as he made for the brook, after crawling out of the tent; "me allee samee git tee square, so be!"

"You're square now, if I know anything about it," was the retort. "You don't count ther tricks you're played on me, I s'pose? Now, you'd better look out what yer do ter me, 'cause I won't stand it, if yer rub somethin' good an' hard on me."

"Allee light, Misler Charlie," was all Hop said just then.

The breakfast being over, Young Wild West decided to take a ride through the pass, and thus keep his promise.

"Come, boys," said he, "I reckon we'll start out now. We'll go right on through, unless it happens that we are stopped by the outlaws. When we come back I'll show you the place where Cap Roche disappeared last night."

"I would like to go along, Wild," spoke up Arietta, "Why can't we all go?"

"Well, it might make it a little bad in case the villains took a notion to hold us up," was the reply. "But if you want to go real bad I suppose you may."

"We do want to go real bad, don't we, girls?" said Arietta, as she turned to Anna and Eloise.

"Of course, we do!" was the quick reply.

"All right, then. Hop and Wing will stay in charge of the camp. Get yourselves ready, and be sure that you take your rifles with you. If we are attacked by a masked gang about half way through the pass I won't be much surprised."

The horses were soon saddled, and then, after giving the two Chinamen instructions to keep a watch on the camp, and not to get into mischief, Wild led the way for Forbidden Pass.

"We are going through, and we won't pay any toll, either!" he said.

"If there is any toll to pay, I'll pay it!" exclaimed Arietta, as she touched the butt of her revolver.

CHAPTER VIII.

CAPTURED IN THE PASS.

As our friends neared the commencement of Forbidden Pass they saw that a crowd of the miners of the camp were watching them.

A man, whom they easily recognized as Sedgwick, waved his hand to them, and they answered it.

"I suppose he thinks that something will surely happen to us, if the outlaws are still hanging around here," our hero observed. "Well, he may be right; we can't tell."

"I want to read that sign, Wild," spoke up Arietta, as she brought her horse to a halt. "Well, it was not painted by an ignorant man, anyhow. It is about the first sign, with so many letters to it, that I have seen spelled correctly—in a little camp, like this, anyhow."

"Oh, I reckon Cap Roche made the sign, all right, Et," replied our hero. "He seems to be a pretty smart man. The lettering is good, I must say. And there is even a painted background—something I did not notice last night, boys. A pale-blue background, with white letters. Well, that is all right!"

"We have got to pay toll, I suppose, Arietta," said Jim, with a twinkle in his eye.

"I said a minute or two ago that I would pay it, if any was demanded," she retorted. "Just leave that part to me."

No one knew exactly what she meant, and it is hardly likely that she did herself. But there was one thing evident, and that was that she did not mean that any money was to be handed over to the outlaws, should it be demanded.

They did not remain at a halt long, but proceeded on their way, their horses at a gentle canter.

"Just keep your eyes on the watch for three stones lying close together," said Wild, as they got nearly a mile through the pass. "They are stones a little larger than a goose egg, I should judge."

"All right," answered the scout, with a confident nod. "I reckon I'll see 'em, if they kin be seen, Wild."

A minute or two later they came to the very spot where Wild had seen the villain disappear the night before.

The boys could tell when he got there right away, as he had noticed the spot where he had dismounted, the ground being rather soft there; and the hoofprints, as well as his own footprints were discernible.

Charlie and Jim noticed the prints, too, and they were almost straining their eyes to catch sight of the three stones.

Suddenly the scout gave an exclamation of satisfaction, and then quickly added:

"I see 'em, Wild."

"So do I," said Jim, almost at the same instant.

"All right, boys. We'll go right on through the pass, and when we come back we'll make an investigation."

The girls also saw the three little stones, but when they found that Wild did not seem to want to make much of them just then they rode on, with only a passing comment.

They reached the other end of the pass without meeting a human being or seeing anything that would indicate the presence of any.

Then they dismounted and took a look at the sign that was posted there.

It was so nearly like the other that if the two had been side by side the difference could not have been told.

This one was nailed to a big tree, and after he had looked it over Wild decided to take it down and see if there was anything on the other side of it.

He used the butt of a revolver in place of a hammer and soon knocked the barrel-head loose from the tree.

Then it was quickly pried off.

Much to his satisfaction, he saw that there was some lettering on the back of the sign.

But it was done in black, and the letters were daubed on in a careless way, such as a shipping house clerk does it.

Young Wild West's face lighted up with a smile as he read the following:

"Cap Roche," "General Store," "Silver Bend, Nev."

"What do you think of that?" he asked, holding the barrel-head so his companions could read it. "I reckon we know where the material to make the sign came from now."

"Great gimlets!" exclaimed Cheyenne Charlie. "If you hadn't seen Roche go inter ther cave last night you would know now that he was connected with ther outlaws. This is what I calls great!"

"Well, I'll just put the sign up again," said our hero, after a moment of thought. "But I'll put it so the back part can be read. It may make Cap Roche wonder a little, and if anybody else, not connected with his gang, sees it they may do a little studying and wondering."

He soon knocked the nails out, and then he lost no time in nailing the sign to the tree in the manner he had proposed to do.

"There you are!" he said. "You can't see the words as plainly as you could the others; but I reckon they can be read all right, if one takes the trouble to get up a little close to the tree."

"I reckon if any one comes this way they'll notice it quick enough," the scout declared.

As they intended to go no further, they simply took a look at the trail that came around the mountain at that point and then continued on toward the southwest.

"There's the way to Silver Bend," said Wild. "I reckon we'll go through there when we get done with Forbidden Pass."

"That's right, Wild," Arietta spoke up. "We will need something from the general store that can't be bought in Big Bonanza."

They all laughed at this, and then, mounting their horses, turned and rode back into the narrow pass.

The mile to the spot where the secret entrance to the cave had been discovered by our hero the night before was soon made, and then they came to a halt.

Wild was just going to dismount to make an examination when a revolver shot sounded and his hat was knocked off his head.

The next instant fully a dozen came down the rocky side of the pass and confronted them with drawn revolvers.

"Hands up—everybody!" called out one of them, who was easily recognized as Chuck Snivel, the cowboy.

Crack—crack!

Charlie fired two shots in quick succession, and then urged the girls to flee.

Wild saw that nearly all the men were pointing their weapons at him, so he thought it best to obey the command.

He seemed to be the one they wanted, and he felt that one hostile word from him would insure his death.

Two of the outlaws had dropped when the scout fired, but the others were so close upon them that Wild was seized and pulled from his horse in less than a second, almost.

The young deadshot struck at them with his clenched fists and made it decidedly unpleasant for them.

But he knew he could not get away, and he was simply doing this to give his companions a chance.

They all took advantage of it but one, and that was Arietta.

"I reckon you'll pay toll fur coming through Forbidden Pass, Young Wild West!" one of the villains exclaimed. "Hold him tight, boys! I'm glad yer didn't kill him when that shot was fired at him. I told Chuck not ter do it. Ther captain wants him alive. Git ther gal, too! This is what I call collectin' toll, all right!"

Arietta's horse had been seized by the bit, and a ruffianly fellow stood holding him with one hand, while his other held a revolver that was pointed at the girl's breast.

The rest of the party had succeeded in getting around a bend, but Wild knew they would not go very far.

But before they had time to get back and do anything both he and Arietta were dragged up close to what seemed to be the rocky wall of the cliff.

Then the curtain rolled up, and in they went, the outlaws following with those who had fallen and the horses.

It was all done so quickly that our hero found himself in the darkness before he fairly realized what had happened.

Arietta uttered a scream as she was hurried into the mouth of the hidden cave, but a hand was quickly placed over her mouth, and that ended any further chance to let Charlie and the rest know where they were being carried.

Wild's weapons were taken from him while he was being dragged into the cave, and it was a very rough handling that he received.

But he knew how useless it was, so he did no further struggling.

The fact that the rest had succeeded in getting away was a little consolation, for that meant that they would come back and effect a rescue.

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