“Turned out all right, did it?” asked Hinkee Dee of Gimp when the former came back the next day from the cattle-driving trip.
“Yes, they was the goods all right. But shucks! what do you think of ’em, anyhow?”
“Huh! Well, you know my opinions regardin’ tenderfeet in general, don’t you, Gimp?”
“Sure do!”
“Then just depict it on these young chaps and you’ll have it individually so to speak. A lot of college Willies come out here to make us walk Spanish. Did you see a wrist watch on any of ’em?”
“Great jumping spiders! No! You don’t mean to tell me, Hinkee, that any——”
“No, I didn’t say any of ’em had fallen so depressingly as that, but they’re that kind, I reckon. Catch the cattle rustlers! Oh, say, I’m glad I’m not in the habit of fainting.”
“That bald-headed bug isn’t so bad,” remarked Gimp.
“No, I reckon he’s a sort of keeper to ’em. Well, I should be anxiety. Give me the makings,” and he deftly rolled a cigarette from the bag of tobacco and the papers Gimp passed over to him.
“Anything happen while I was away?” Hinkee Dee next asked.
“No. The new ones sort of made themselves to home and they’re getting the run of the place. Maybe they’re not as green as they look.”
“Huh! Don’t talk to me! Tenderfoot sticks out all over ’em, Gimp.”
“I admit that. But they’ve been West before, accordin’ to their tell, and done some campin’.”
“With a hired cook I s’pose and a patent electric stove like the one in their car,” sneered the assistant foreman.
“No, the real thing they say.”
“Yes, let them tell it.”
“Oh, I don’t say they can throw a diamond hitch, or anything like that,” went on Gimp. “But I’m only tellin’ you p’raps they ain’t as green as we first believed. I s’pose it’s up to us to be decent to ’em, seein’ as how their paws—at least the paws of two of ’em—own this shebang.”
“That doesn’t fit in my pipe,” sententiously observed Hinkee Dee, blowing out a cloud of smoke. “I’ll treat ’em decent, but blamed little of that. I don’t have to work here!”
“You seem sort of peeved,” observed Gimp, rolling himself a cigarette.
“Well, wouldn’t you be if you’d sat up nights thinkin’ up ways to fool these cattle thieves, and then had a bunch of mavericks, right off the baseball field, come along and want all the credit of it? Huh? I guess yes!”
“But you, nor none of us, didn’t solve the cattle mystery,” Gimp said.
“I know we didn’t. But I’m on the track of ’em. I’ve got a theory that I’m sure’ll work out all right— Well, what is it? You lookin’ for me?” he broke off, to speak to an approaching cowboy who was galloping up on a dust-flecked steed.
“They’ve gone and done it again, Jim!” the man called.
“Who’s done what?”
“Cattle rustlers—run off a nice bunch from the bottom lands last night!”
“Whew!” whistled Gimp, while Hinkee Dee scowled.
Gimp galloped off, and the news soon spread around the ranch that the cattle rustlers had made another raid. Several of the cowboys who were at liberty joined the posse that was quickly organized. Ned, Bob and Jerry, of course, heard what was afoot.
“Say, we didn’t get here any too soon; did we?” asked Ned. Norfloxacin lactate
“No, indeed!” agreed Jerry. “It’s lucky they didn’t start a raid while we were on the road, or, if we had heard of it, we’d have had to leave the auto and come on by train to satisfy your folks. The rustlers held off just long enough.”
The boys had been a little longer making the trip than they had counted on, owing to a number of minor accidents, but they had made fairly good time. That there was a cattle raid the very night of their arrival was a coincidence that could be viewed in two lights. It was an advantage that the rustlers had held off this long, but, of course, it was unfortunate that Mr. Slade and Mr. Baker must suffer new losses.
006244rWgw1f4iyju38k2j30of0fxq6i“I guess some of the gang that was captured must have got loose,” said Ned, “or else they’ve had recruits. Well, they’re up to their old tricks and we’ve got to try to stop ’em.”
“And here’s a chance to get some first-hand information about how the thieves operate,” cried Bob. “Come on, fellows!”
“I don’t s’pose there’s any objection to us going along; is there?” asked Jerry of the assistant foreman.
“Yes, there is!” was the snapped-out reply. “I can’t be bothered with a bunch of tenderfeet around. There’s likely to be shootin’, too, and you might get in the way of a bullet.”
“We’ve been under fire before,” said Jerry, quietly. “Still——”
“Let the boys go along!” broke in the foreman. “That’s what they’re out here for—to try to help run down those thieves.”
“A lot they’ll do!” muttered Hinkee Dee.
The boys had been assigned horses as soon as they reached the ranch, and these were quickly saddled. Of Professor Snodgrass little had been seen since his arrival, as he went afield early in the morning armed with net and specimen boxes. He was in his element now.
Square Z ranch was a big one. It had the advantage of water as well as good grass, and it gave range to thousands of cattle divided into several herds which were quartered in various grass sections. When one was eaten well down the animals were moved to another to give the fodder a chance to grow again.
The bunch of cattle that had been run off the night the boys arrived had been kept on a distant part of the range. They had been moved there only a few days before, and after the cowboy guards had remained a short time they were withdrawn.
The cattle thieves, it seemed, had awaited their opportunity, and had made the raid just at the best time for them. A cowboy—one of several in charge of another herd—following up his runaway[107] pony, had noted the missing bunch and had come in with the news.
“Well, they started off this way sure enough,” decided Hinkee Dee, when he and his helpers had made a tour of the grazing ground. The boys went with them, keeping well out of the way, however, of the assistant foreman.
“Not that I’m afraid of him though,” declared Ned. “Only I don’t want a row right off the bat. If he tries to make me knuckle under to him he’ll find he’s got more than he can handle. Dad gave me a free rein on this business and I intend to have it.”
“This is the way they led ’em,” said Hinkee Dee, riding along and pointing to the ground.
“I think you’re wrong,” put in the Parson, quietly.
“Wrong? What do you mean?” demanded the assistant foreman, and his voice sounded threatening.
“I mean the signs show they went over there,” and he pointed in the direction of some low hills.
“Huh! that shows how much you know about it!” sneered Hinkee Dee. “There’s no grass left over there and these fellows have to have fodder to keep the cattle a week or more before they move to sell ’em. You’re wrong!”
“I think I’m right, Hinkee.”
“So do I,” chimed in Gimp.
“Sure he’s right,” said several others, and as there seemed to be no one to side with Felton, he shrugged his shoulders and said:
“Well, have your own way, then. But you’ll find I’m right.”
And it did seem so. For though the trail was plain—at least so the boys believed—for part of the distance along which Gimp and the Parson indicated, it became faint and uncertain when a patch of stony ground was reached where the foot hills began, and ended at the opening of a deep rocky ravine which was a sort of blind alley.
“What’d I tell you?” crowed Hinkee Dee. “Next time you’ll take my advice.”
“Well, there’s been cattle along here, that’s sure!” declared the Parson, and others said the same.
“Well, if they were here, why aren’t they here now?” asked Hinkee Dee. “You can see there’s no sign of a stolen bunch. What would be the sense of driving cattle over there, anyhow? You couldn’t do anything with ’em once you got ’em here, ’ceptin’ maybe coop ’em up in that ravine. They couldn’t live there two days—no grass or water. These rustlers aren’t fools!”
“Well, there was cattle here, and not long ago,” declared the Parson.
“I s’pose them rustlers drove ’em here and then jumped ’em over the mountain on the other side?”[109] sneered the assistant foreman. “Now you’ve had your way, let’s go back an’ try mine.”
Shaking their heads over the puzzle, Gimp and the Parson rode back with the others. But though there were also signs of cattle having been hurried along the route Hinkee Dee pointed out, the animals themselves were not to be found, and none of the cowboys had the temerity to say, “I told you so,” to their superior.
“It’s mighty queer what becomes of the cattle,” said Dick Watson, as he was talking to the boys that night after the return of the unsuccessful search. “If them fellows had an airship I’d say they rode ’em off in that, for all trails, traces and clues seem to disappear at a certain point.”
“Tell us how this thing started,” begged Ned, and the foreman told the story of the losses to date. It was getting serious.
The next day Ned, Bob and Jerry set off alone to see what they could find. They went to the place of the last disappearance of the cattle and investigated as best they could. But they came to the same baffling end as before.
“I wonder if there could be a way of getting the steers over the mountain?” suggested Ned.
“Of course not!” scoffed Jerry. “But it sure is a puzzle.”
“Well, let’s stop, build a fire and have something to eat,” proposed Bob.
“His favorite remedy for all troubles,” laughed Jerry.
A week or more passed, and though no trace of the thieves was discovered, no more cattle were stolen. The boys kept up their search for clues, but without avail, and several times the cowboys laughed openly at them.
“They make me mad!” cried Ned. “You’d think we were a lot of children.”
“We ought to give ’em a surprise—startle ’em—get up some sensation to show we can do something,” declared Bob.
A cowboy came in with the mail, and among the letters for the boys was a postal. At the reading of it Ned gave a cry of delight.
“Now we can do it!” he cried.
“Do what?” Jerry demanded.
“Give these cowboys a surprise! Our airship has arrived at the railroad station. This is a notice from the freight agent. Come on, we’ll go for it!”