The Indian, who was dozing again, shot over his head as if from a catapult, and Dick went sprawling forward over the saddle onto the neck of the pony.
Fortunately, the pony righted itself in time to save Dick from a hard fall, and he stayed on Spraddle's back, talking to him gently.
At the sound of Dick's voice the pony became quiet, and Dick half sprawled, half fell to the ground. The boy was in a pretty bad fix, for the Indian had tied his hands securely. He thought of ways by which he might cut the cord, but it seemed hopeless. He had heard somewhere of bound men releasing themselves by wearing their bonds asunder against the rough edge of a rock, and determined to try it for himself.
If he could only get his hands free, he might escape yet. Backing up to the wall of the canon, he felt with his hands for a rock, and soon knew that he was against one. As he sawed his hands back and forth, he was listening for some sound from the Indian, but heard none.
Could it be that the fall had killed Pokopokowo?
To his joy, he felt the cord part, and his hands were free. At that moment there came a flood of light into the defile, for the moon had risen overhead.
Lying on the floor of the defile, lay the Indian, with a deep gash across his forehead, where it had struck a sharp rock. His ugly face was covered with blood, making it additionally hideous.
By the side of the Indian lay Dick's precious rifle, and he stooped to pick it up. As he did so, something glistened beside it, and Dick picked it up.
It was the little, round mirror that the Indian had worn around his neck. Dick pocketed it for proof of his adventure when he should again reach camp, and, picking up his rifle, climbed upon Spraddle's back, turned him around, and drove down the defile.
When he reached the open valley it was as bright as day, and under his coaxing and kind words the tired little pony, relieved of the Indian's weight, picked up his feet and set forth at a brisk pace into the west, in which direction Dick knew the cow camp lay.
It was almost daylight when Bill McCall, the cook, roused from his blankets to begin the preparations for breakfast. He leaped to his feet and listened.
Not far away he heard the sound of the pony's footsteps approaching. Bill was an old cow-puncher, and he knew instantly that the pony was tired, and that he was under saddle, and also that the saddle was occupied.
The footsteps came nearer, and just as they were close to the camp daylight came on with a rush, as it does on the plains, and Bill gave a great shout of joy which brought every puncher in camp scrambling out of his blankets, for there rode in a very tired little boy on a very tired little, pony.
The boy was pale and tired from hunger and his long hours in the saddle, and it was all the pony could do to stagger in.
"It's little Dick," shouted Bud. "Well, jumpin' sand hills, whar you-all been all night? Takin' a leetle pleasure pasear?"
"Oh, Bud, I'm so tired and hungry," said Dick, as Bud lifted him from the saddle.
"Here you, Bill, git busy in a hurry. This kid ain't hed nothin' ter eat in a week. He's 'most starved. Bile yer coffee double-quick, an' git up a mess o' bacon an' flapjacks pretty dern pronto, if yer don't want me ter git inter yer wool."
Bud was rubbing the cold and chafed wrists of the boy beside the fire, which one of the boys had replenished. The boys surrounded little Dick with many inquiries, but Bud shooed them away.
"Don't yer answer a bloomin' question until yer gits yer system packed with cooky's best grub. I reckon, now, yer could eat erbout eighteen o' them twelve-inch flapjacks what Bill makes, an' drink somethin' like a gallon o' ther fust coffee what comes out o' ther pot."
Little Dick smiled, as he watched with glistening eyes the rapid movements of Bill McCall as he hustled over his fire, the air redolent with the odors of coffee and bacon and griddle cakes, so that his mouth fairly watered.
When Bill shouted breakfast, Ted and Bud sat Dick down and loaded his plate with good things, which he caused to disappear in a hurry.
But after a while he was stuffed like a Christmas turkey, and put his tin plate away with a sigh, and absolutely cleaned.
"Now," said Ted, when he saw this good sign, "where have you been all day and all night? We've been scared about you. Thought we had lost you, too."
Dick went ahead with his story from the very beginning, and told of the downfall of Pokopokowo, and his escape, and of his all-night ride into the west, to accidentally stumble, at daylight, into camp.
The boys listened in amazement to this record of courage on the part of its youngest member, and some seemed to doubt the Indian part of it.
"Sho, yer dreamin', kid," said Sol Flatbush, the cow-puncher. "Thar ain't no Injuns like that in this yere part o' ther country. Why, an Injun wouldn't dare carry off a kid like that."
"You don't believe it, eh?" exclaimed Dick hotly.
"I believe yer," said Bud soothingly, for the boy was very nervous from being up all night and his hard ride, which would have taxed the energies of a grown man. "Don't yer mind what thet ole pelican says. He ain't got no more sense than a last year's bird's nest, nohow."
"The Indian had this around his neck," said Dick, "and when he fell it came loose from his neck, and I picked it up, for I thought some one might think I wasn't telling the truth. Now, I'm tired, and I can't keep my eyes open."
His head began to nod, and his eyes closed.
Bud picked him up and carried him to a pair of blankets which had been spread on the shady side of Mrs. Graham's tent, and laid him down and left him dead to the world.
Dick had placed the little, round looking-glass in Ted's hand.
As he took it, Ted uttered an exclamation.
"By Jove," he exclaimed, "I believe this is the little glass Stella used to carry in her pocket. Why, what is this?"
Ted was holding the little mirror up to the sky, apparently in an endeavor to look through it.
"What is it?" asked Bud, approaching the fire.
"Dick has brought back Stella's little pocket mirror," said Ted. "I'd know it anywhere. But the back has been torn off it."
"Tooken off ther neck o' an Injun?" said Bud, dropping his usual jolly manner. "I thought yer said thar wa'n't no bad Injuns eround yere, Sol Flatbush. What d'yer make o' that?"
Sol Flatbush got a little pale.
"Thar ain't none," he said. "All ther Injuns on the reservation is peaceable. They knows they couldn't do no monkey business with all them sojers at Fort Sill."
"Yet here's a kid run off with by an Injun, and he brings back a pocket mirror what belonged to Stella Fosdick. Sol Flatbush, ye've got ter give a better defense o' ther Injuns than that."
"What hev I got ter do with ther Injuns?" asked Flatbush defiantly.
"Search me. But ye've made a wrong diagnosis, an' I don't like yer brand o' talk none. I think myself thet yer too friendly ter ther redskins."
"What d'ye mean?" cried Flatbush, springing to his feet.
"I mean thet I don't trust yer none. I think ye're a skunk, an' I don't like ter see yer face eround this yere camp. How much do this outfit owe yer?"
"Three months' wage," answered the cow-puncher sourly.
Bud went down into his leather pouch and extracted a roll of bills, and skinned off several.
"Thar it is. Skidoo! An' don't try ter mingle with this outfit none hereafter. Thar'll be a new foreman o' ther night herd what ain't got so many friends in this yere locality."
"What d'yer mean by that?" Flatbush's hand sprang to his side.
But Bud was quicker, and in the flash of an eye had the muzzle of his six-shooter under the nose of the night foreman, who shrank from it.
"I mean thet yer a crook, an' I'll give yer jest three minutes ter rope yer hoss an' git."
Flatbush turned and hurried to the remuda, caught and saddled his horse, and rode out of camp.
"I've had my eye on that maverick fer quite some time," said Bud, turning to the boys after he had watched Flatbush fade into the distance. "I've suspected him o' turnin' off our cattle every night. I haven't caught him at it, or thar wouldn't've been no necessity o' chasin' him out. He'd've gone feet foremost."
"What do you think of it, Bud?" asked Ted, handing the little mirror over to the golden-haired puncher.
Bud took it in his hand, and looked at it a long time.
"It shore is Stella's," he said. "I reckernize it by this leetle dent on ther side o' it."
He was holding it in the palm of his hand, looking down at it intently.
"Hello, what's this?" Bud held the mirror against the sleeve of his blue shirt.
"Pipin' pelicans," he muttered, "if thar ain't some kind o' a pitcher on it."
Ted went to his side and looked at the mirror.
"I believe you're right," he said. "Let me look at it."
"What do you make of it?" asked Bud.
All the boys crowded around, watching Ted eagerly.
"This is evidently intended for the picture of a stone wall," said Ted, "and that wavy line behind it is meant for mountains."
"What's that?" asked Bud, pointing to the picture.
"I guess it is meant for a hole in the stone wall," said Ted.
"Wow!" said Bud. "That's as easy as livin' on a farm. Don't yer see? It is a message from the Hole in the Wall."
"By Jove, you're right. The Hole in the Wall in the Wichita Mountains."
"What is that right below it?"
"It looks like a star. It is a star."
"It is Stella's signature," said Ben. "Stella is the Latin for star. Don't you see, she has sent this message out from the Hole in the Wall, where she is a prisoner? It's as plain as day to me."
"You're right," shouted Ted. "Into your saddles, boys; we're off to the Hole in the Wall at once."
"HOLE IN THE WALL."
"Kit, you will stay and take care of the herd," said Ted, just before the boys galloped off.
"All right, but I'd mighty well like to go with you," said Kit, who, although he was eager to be in the fight that he knew would come off if Ted found that Shan Rhue had anything to do with the abduction of Stella, was not one to get disgruntled.
Ted would have been well pleased to have Kit with him, but Kit's arm was not yet well enough to risk in a possible rough-and-tumble adventure.
"Say, Ted," Kit called after the leader of the broncho boys.
"What?" asked Ted, riding back.
"Don't you think you better take Stella's pony, Magpie, along with you? She'll have to have something to ride coming back."
He did not say "if you find her," for he knew that if she was anywhere in the Wichita Mountains Ted would find her.
"Glad you spoke of it," said Ted.
It did not take long to rope the magpie pony and throw Stella's saddle on it.
Now they were off into the northeast, where the Wichita Mountains lay. None of them knew just where the Hole in the Wall was, but Ted felt confident of finding it if there was such a place.
They rode so hard, only stopping at noon to water the ponies, that early in the afternoon they entered the mountains.
As they were going up the valley they saw the flying figure of a man on horseback coming toward them.
As he approached, they saw that he was a cavalryman.
"Hello, what's up?" said Bud. "I never see a sojer goin' so fast, except there was somethin' doin'."
A few minutes later the soldier rode up to them.
He proved to be a sergeant of cavalry.
"Where are you going?" he asked, pulling his horse to its haunches.
"What's that ter you?" asked Bud jovially.
"Just this: The Indians are threatening to rise, perhaps to-night, perhaps not until to-morrow. But when they do, this will be no place for white men."
"Where is the place called the Hole in the Wall?" asked Ted.
"Do you want to go there, or do you want to avoid it?" asked the sergeant.
"We want to go there as soon as we can."
"I'd advise you to keep away until the troops get there and clean things up."
"That is where the dissatisfied Indians are camped. I do not know it officially, but I understand that Flatnose and Moonface, the two chiefs, are there now, and that the orders from Washington are to send us in to drive them out."
"When is this to take place?"
"The Indians have made no open declaration of war as yet, but it is looked for at any time."
"How will it be announced?"
"By the signal fires on the hills. A detachment of our men picked up early this morning a wounded Indian, named Pokopokowo. He was wounded, and was taken to the post surgeon to be cared for. He has just confessed that it is the intention of the Indians to rise and kill all the white settlers they can lay their hands on. I am on my way to send out the alarm."
"And you say the Indians are camped at the Hole in the Wall?"
"Yes, the detachment sent out early this morning were on a scouting expedition when they picked up Pokopokowo."
"Where is this Hole in the Wall, and how do you get there?"
"You are bound to go there? I would advise you not to."
"We must go. A young lady belonging to our party has been captured and taken there. We did not know there were any Indians there, but only white outlaws."
"That is different. I suppose you must go. But why don't you wait and go in with the troops? The Hole in the Wall is the rendezvous for all the white outlaws in this part of the country, and they are believed to be in league with the Indians, and will use the uprising of the Indians as a cover under which to run off all the stock in the country."
"There is no use of our waiting for the troops when the young lady is in there, we don't know under what indignities. The troops put off attacking the Indians as long as they can for the sake of policy. We are all deputy United States marshals, and we get quicker action. Tell us where the Hole in the Wall is, and we will go in and get our own. The troops can do what they please later."
"Weil, pardner, you talk straight, and you feel about the young lady as I would if she was a friend of mine. But they are a bad bunch in there."
"I appreciate your warning, but it will not stop us."
"All right; go ahead, and good luck to you. About a mile farther on you will come to a narrow defile leading to the north, cutting the range. That leads into a broad valley, at the west end of which is the place called the Hole in the Wall. It is practically impregnable. It is entered by a narrow passage which one man could hold against an army. It can be approached at night by riding down the valley, dismounting, and crawling over the mountain until you are above the Hole in the Wall, when every man can be wiped out by a few rifles."
"Thanks, sergeant. We will take to the hills."
With mutual good wishes, they parted, and the boys were soon riding in single file up the defile.
In the valley they secreted themselves and their horses, while Ted and Bud went forward to reconnoiter. It was rapidly growing dark in the mountains as Ted and Bud crawled along the mountain paths toward the end of the valley.
Suddenly Ted placed his hand on Bud's arm.
"Some one right ahead of us," he whispered.
"Sentinel, I reckon," answered Bud.
Ted nodded: "You stay here. I'm going forward. I'll be back soon."
Ted glided away into the gloom. Presently Bud heard a muffled cry. Then all was still again.
He waited a few minutes, and was about to go forward, when he heard a slight rustle beside him, and there stood Ted.
"It was a guard," he said. "I jumped him, and gagged him, but he gave me a pretty good fight. I've rolled him away where his pals won't find him. I guess we can go on now, but we must go slowly and quietly. I don't know how many more of them are about."
"Get a line on where the hole is?"
"Yes, we're on the right track. It is ahead of us."
On they went, and, having proceeded about half a mile, they suddenly became aware of the neighing of horses and the voices of men, which seemed to come from beneath them, and it was not long before they saw a glare of light against the rocks not far ahead.
They went more cautiously now, crawling forward on their hands and knees. Ted, in advance, soon threw up his hand and lay flat on the rocks, and Bud crawled to his side.
They found themselves looking down into a circular little valley, in reality a hole in the wall of the mountain.
Several camp fires were burning here and there, and about fifty Indians and white men were lounging about.
Near the rear wall was a small tent, before which sat a fat old squaw.
As Ted was looking, the flap of the tent was pushed aside, and Ted clutched Bud's arm, for Stella had come forth, and stood looking up at the sky.
"By Jove, if we could only attract her attention," muttered Ted.
"It would help her a lot if she knew we were so close to her," said Bud.
The glare from the fires flaring upward fell full upon their faces, and they knew that if she looked in their direction she would not fail to see them.
They saw her cast her eyes all around the sky, and in their direction. Ted dared not make a noise, but he nodded his head several times so that she would know who it was, should she chance to see him.
Evidently she did not, for she turned away, and again her eyes swung around in the circle with her back to them.
"I've a mind to throw somethin' down at her, and attract her attention ter us," said Bud.
"And have every one of those cutthroats get on to us. Don't you do it," said Ted.
In a moment Stella looked up again, and this time they saw her start, then stare fixedly at them. Ted nodded his head again, and this time she made a gesture that told them that she had seen them, and knew that they were there.
"Duck yer head quick," said Bud, rapidly getting out of sight himself.
"What's the matter?" asked Ted.
"I saw Shan Rhue walking toward Stella."
"But she saw us, just before she ducked into her tent. Now it's up to us to get her out of there."
"You bet. But it will be a big job to get in there."
"I've got a plan that ought to work out."
"What is it?"
"You go back and get the boys. Put Ben and Clay down in the valley to hold the entrance to the Hole in the Wall. Bring the rest up here. Hurry! I'll stay here on guard. If any man attempts to touch Stella, I'll pot him from here. Bring your lariat with you."
Bud hurried away as he was bid, and in the course of half an hour, during which Ted, looking over the edge of the Hole, saw the men preparing to retire for the night, he returned with seven of the boys.
"Now, fellows," said Ted, "I'm going down into the hole to send Stella up on the rope."
"Jeering jackals!" exclaimed Bud. "Don't you ever do that. It means sure death ter you, an' p'r'aps ter Stella, too."
"No, I don't think so. At any rate, I'm going to take a chance. It will be up to you fellows to keep the bunch down there busy while I'm at work. Three of you will stay on this side of the hole, and four on the other. If you do your firing right, you will keep those fellows jumping from side to side so fast that they won't have any time for me."
"I see yer scheme, but I wouldn't like ter undertake it myself."
"Did you bring the rope?"
"Here it is," said Bud, unwinding it from around his waist.
Ted took it from him while the boys distributed themselves in their firing positions as he had directed.
Ted looped the rope under his arms. "You'll lower me down, Bud," he said. "Maybe I'll come up hand over hand if I can, and you will pull away when I give the rope two jerks."
He took another look over the edge. All the men were rolled up in their blankets asleep, except an old Indian who sat crouched over the fire.
Ted carefully lowered himself over the edge for the descent.
Down he went slowly and quietly, and soon his feet touched the ground just back of Stella's tent.
"Hiss-t!" He gave a low, sibilant warning of his presence, and in a moment the corner of the tent moved aside, and he saw Stella's bright eyes looking into his. He motioned her to come out, and the flap was gently lowered again.
In a few moments, which seemed hours, the flap was raised again, and Stella crawled forth.
"Oh, Ted," she whispered, pressing his hand. He held up a warning finger as he rapidly tied the rope beneath her arms.
"Bud will pull you up. Good luck," he whispered.
"Are you going to stay down here?" she whispered back.
"Yes, I must. Hurry!" He gave the rope two jerks, and it at once began to tighten, and Stella's feet left the ground as she slowly ascended skyward.
Ted, concealed against the wall back of the tent, saw her go up and up. She was more than halfway to the top when an old Indian woman crawled out of the tent, and, casting her eyes aloft, saw Stella.
A sudden scream rang through the hole. It was the Indian's warning. The rope began to go faster, and before the sleepy men in the hole had been able to sit up and rub their eyes, Ted saw Stella reach the top and disappear over its edge.
But the old Indian woman had run among the men crying out something in her native tongue. Evidently she was telling of the escape of Stella, for in an instant all sleep vanished and the place was full of men running about or staring up at the edge of the wall over which Stella had gone.
Then Shan Rhue came forth, swearing horribly. He caught the old squaw by the arm and threw her down.
"So you let the white squaw go, did you?" he asked. "And how much was you paid for it?" But the poor old wretch only shrank closer to the ground and moaned her protests that she had nothing to do with the escape of the white squaw.
Shan Rhue strode toward the tent, behind which Ted was crouching with his hand on his revolver.
Shan Rhue threw open the front of the tent and looked within. Then he straightened up, and caught a glimpse of Ted, whom he did not at first recognize in the gloom.
He reached in his powerful right arm to pull the intruder out, and looked into the muzzle of Ted's six-shooter, behind which he now saw Ted's smiling face.
At that he straightened up with a loud laugh that filled the Hole in the Wall and reverberated from side to side.
"Well, of all the luck," he shouted. "This has worked out just as I expected. I knew that if I got ther gal in yere that you'd be after her, an' here you are. Well, my bucko, you remember what I said about getting even with you. Now is the time. You've come to the end."
"Oh, I don't know," said Ted coolly. "I'm a long ways from a dead one yet. Be careful what you do. This six-shooter of mine is mighty sensitive on the trigger."
He heard a soft, swishing noise behind him, and knew that Bud was lowering the rope again. As he thrust his gun forward into the face of Shan Rhue, the bully backed away a few feet.
At that moment the rope swung down in front of his face, and, hastily putting his revolver into his pocket, Ted grasped it and went sailing up into the air hand over hand, assisted by Bud and Carl, who were pulling on the rope for all they were worth.
THE ALTERED BRAND.
As Ted went up into the air, Shan Rhue shouted a command, and the white men in the Hole in the Wall ran to him.
"That boy must not get to the top," he shouted. "I want him."
"What will we do?" asked one of them.
"Here, Sol Flatbush, you are the best shot of us all. See if you can't bring him down. But don't shoot him. I need him for other things. Shoot the rope in two."
This was easier said than done, for the rope was so high that it was almost out of the light cast by the fires.
Flatbush was, indeed, a splendid shot, and he fired twice at the rope with his revolver, but missed each time on account of the uncertain light and the swaying motion of the rope.
"Give me my rifle," he called, and one of the men fetched it for him.
Ted was within fifteen feet of the top when Flatbush, leaning against the opposite wall, took deliberate aim and fired.
At the second shot Ted, who was aware that some one was trying to cut the rope, felt it vibrate suddenly beneath his hand.
Before the last thread was severed he reached up and began to climb, hand over hand. In a few seconds he was at the top, and the boys were helping him over the edge.
For a moment or two he could say nothing; he could only listen to the yells of rage and disappointment below. Now he was surrounded by his friends, and Stella was free. Away on a mountain peak a light flared up.
"What does that mean?" asked Stella, pointing to it.
"It is the signal that the Indians have gone on the warpath," said Ted. "The sergeant was right. It is up to us now to do stunts."
"In what way?" asked Stella.
"We must keep those Indians and renegades confined in the Hole in the Wall. If we can keep them there until the arrival of the troops we can end the uprising without shedding a drop of blood. See, there is another fire!"
Ted pointed to a blaze upon another peak, and this was followed by others until there was a ring of fires on the crests of the mountains for miles around.
"It is up to us to do a good thing here," he said. "Bud, take two or three of the boys and go to Ben's assistance. Hold the mouth to the entrance to the hole at all hazards. From what the sergeant said I have no doubt but the troops will be here at least by daylight. We will keep them busy down there from this place."
Bud hurried away with two of the boys, and Ted and the others composed themselves to await developments. In the meantime, Stella told Ted the details of her capture. Since she had been a prisoner she had been well treated, so far as most of the men were concerned, although Shan Rhue had insisted on seeing her every day, and had told her that he was going to take her away to the North and make her marry him. She had defied him, and had scorned him so scathingly that he had put many petty persecutions on her, and had deprived her of her liberty for revenge.
"How did you happen to find me?" asked Stella, after she told all that had happened to her.
"Little Dick was captured by an Indian, and while he was being brought here the pony Spraddle stumbled and threw him. A small looking-glass which was slung around his neck fell off, and Dick picked it up and brought it to camp."
"The Indian was Pokopokowo," said Stella.
"That was his name."
"I tried in every way to get a message out to you, but it seemed impossible. Then I hit upon the mirror, ripped the back off it, and made my cryptogram on it with a pin. I let Pokopokowo see it, and when he saw that there was a picture on it, and I told him it was good medicine, he wanted it. Of course, I let him take it, hoping that it would be taken outside, and that you would chance to see it, and so learn where I was."
"It was a very clever idea, and I doubt but for the mirror we should have been able to get here in time. It was little Dick who saved you."
"Yes, little Dick and big Ted. Ted, you are wonderful!"
Below, in the hole, there were signs of activity. Men were rushing here and there, saddling horses, packing mules, filling their cartridge belts, and getting ready for some sort of action.
"They have seen the war fires on the hills," said Ted, "and are getting ready for their raid upon the settlers. Evidently they do not know that the gate to the outside is guarded, and they think that we are gone, having succeeded in getting you."
Having finished their preparations for departure, an old Indian rode forth on a pony decorated with eagle feathers.
"That is old Flatnose, the head chief," said Ted.
Flatnose was painted for war, and as he rode toward the passage from the Hole in the Wall he swung his rifle above his head and shouted a guttural command, at which a war whoop, shrill and terrifying, went up from the Indians, followed by a hoarse shout from the white renegades.
"Now, we'll see some fun," whispered Ted to Stella, who was lying on the crest of the hole beside him, watching the proceedings below. "I guess Bud has got there by this time, and is ready to protect the opening out to the valley."
Only a few minutes had passed before there came to their ears a volley of rifle shots, followed by yells of fear, and the whites and Indians came rushing back into the hole, scrambling and falling over one another in confusion.
"I thought so," chuckled Ted. "They are trapped and they know it. They can defend the hole against all comers by that passage, but it didn't seem to occur to them that they might be made prisoners by the same means."
The inmates of the hole were in the confusion of terror, but at last Flatnose and his son, Moonface, succeeded in pacifying them, and a consultation was under way.
"Where is Shan Rhue?" asked Stella. "I haven't seen him for some time."
"That's so," answered Ted. "I don't see him." He scanned the hole carefully, but Shan Rhue was not there.
"Is there any secret passage by which he might escape?" asked Ted.
"Do you see that little shelter of canvas over against the wall?" said Stella.
"I believe there is a way out there known only to Shan Rhue. That is where he slept," she continued.
"Then he has escaped by it. Sol Flatbush is not in evidence, either. I'll bet a cooky they've skipped."
It was getting light in the east, and the Indians rode once more into the passage, firing their rifles. Then they charged.
But soon they came rushing back; the boys at the entrance had again repulsed them.
From far away came the soft but clear call of a bugle.
"The troops!" cried Ted, springing to his feet. "The cavalry is coming from Fort Sill. This thing will soon be over now."
He and Stella went to the edge of the cliff overlooking the valley, and far away saw a dark mass, in the midst of which they caught the flash of the rising sun on polished swords and carbines, and a gleam of color from the flag that fluttered in the fresh morning breeze.
The Indians in the hole had heard the bugle also, and now there was confusion indescribable. On came the troops, and Ted and Stella went down to meet them.
Captain Hendry was in command, and it did not take him long to get in possession of the facts.
"So you've got them bottled up, eh?" he said to Ted.
"Yes; all you have to do is to make them surrender," answered Ted.
"Which I don't think will be such an easy thing."
"I don't think you'll have any trouble about it. Come with me, and bring a firing squad of your men."
The captain gave the order, and followed Ted to where he could look down into the hole.
Then the captain laughed. "You have done better than I expected," he said.
Raising his voice, Captain Hendry shouted:
"Flatnose, you know me. This is Captain Hendry. I have got you in that hole like a rat in a trap. If you are wise, you will throw down your arms and surrender. I have my men here with me, and if you do not surrender, we will have to shoot you to death one by one. Will you surrender?"
The old chief looked up and saw the captain leaning over the edge above. For several minutes he stared upward, then he threw his rifle to the ground and gave a hoarse command, and his followers threw their arms upon that of their leader.
One of the troopers ran down into the valley with a command, while those above lay flat on the edge with their carbines in a ring pointed at the throng below.
In a few minutes the bugle sounded again, and the troops were seen marching into the hole. The war was at an end without a fatal shot having been fired.
As Captain Hendry marched away with his prisoners, he thanked Ted for the great service which he had done the government by holding the Indians and renegades until the arrival of the troops.
"Well, that's over," said Ted, as the last of them faded out of sight at the end of the valley. "But our work is just begun. We've got to find those five hundred head of stolen Circle S cattle."
"I suggest that we take a look behind that shelter of Shan Rhue's, and see if there is a passage leading from it," said Stella.
"Good idea," said Ted, and they climbed down into the valley and entered the Hole in the Wall, where the other boys were waiting for them.
Ted went at once to the shelter, which was only a piece of canvas which had been at one time a wagon cover, and tore it away.
There was revealed a hole in the rock wall, and beside it a small mound of earth.
Evidently the hole had been known to the white desperadoes who had used the hole as a hiding place for many years, and that it had been their habit to conceal it by means of a stopper of earth. This Shan and Sol had removed, and had made their escape while the Indians and renegades were preparing for their raid on the settlements.
Ted at once showed it to the other boys, and it was decided to follow the passage and find out what was at the other end.
The hole was so small that Ted was compelled to enter it on his hands and knees. Bud followed him, and then came Stella. Ben remained with Carl to guard the entrance in case any of the white renegades should return.
A short distance in, the passage, or tunnel, became larger, and soon opened out into a natural cave, so that they were able to assume an upright position.
Ted lighted his pocket electric searchlight and led the way. They walked for some distance when they saw a gleam of light ahead, and a few minutes later walked out of the cave into another valley, larger than that which they had just left.
"Great Scott! Look at that," said Ted, pointing to where a large herd of cattle was grazing.
"What?" asked Stella, who could see nothing unusual in a bunch of cattle grazing in the valley.
"I believe they're ours."
Ted strode toward the cattle, which seemed to become uneasy at seeing a man on foot, which range cattle will not tolerate.
"Don't go any closer, Ted," said Stella. "Wait until Bud goes back after the horses."
"I just want to get a glimpse of the brand. By Jove, here's our lost Circle S brand, I believe. But look at it. It has been altered."
"See those two perpendicular lines drawn through the S, making the brand Circle Dollar-mark. That's a most ingenious thing. It has been done with a running iron. The fellow who stole our cattle has just changed it by running a curved hot iron through the S."
"Yer shore right," said Bud. "That Circle Dollar brand hez been registered somewhere. It's up to us ter find out who registered it, an' we've got ther thief. I'll skip out fer ther hosses an' ther boys. I reckon we kin git in here by ridin' across ther backbone o' ther hills."
"All right, get back as soon as you can, and we'll wait for you in the cave."
Bud and the boys were back within half an hour, having found a pass into the valley through the hills which inclosed it.
"It's as plain as the face of the sun to me," said Ted, when they were mounted and were riding toward the cattle. "Shan Rhue would have had those cattle over the border in a day or two, had he not been so unwise as to have abducted Stella. It's up to us now to get that bunch back to the herd."
It did not take the boys long to get the bunch together, and Ted and Stella rode out to the front of it to point it down the valley, while the other boys started back to the rear to drive up.
Suddenly they heard yells in the rear, accompanied by pistol shots and the cracking of quirts. In an instant the herd was up with distended eyeballs and lifted tails. The poison of fear was in them.
Looking back, Ted saw several men riding toward the herd at a terrific pace. At the head of the band rode Shan Rhue and Sol Flatbush.
Then a remarkable thing happened: Every man of them produced a red blanket. They dashed among the cattle waving the blankets in the faces of the now terrified cattle.
"Look out for trouble," shouted Ted, for he saw at once the intention of Shan Rhue. It was to stampede the herd.
The effort was immediately successful, for the terrified animals, with a deafening roar that expressed abject fear, started forward on a gallop, with a front as resistless as the prow of a battleship.
Stella was on the side of the herd opposite Ted.
She heard his warning cry, and then looked back at the herd. If she stayed where she was, there was no escape from death, for by her side was the sheer wall of the valley. There was only one way to safety, to ride across to the side of Ted.
She gave one look, then started.
Stella rode quartering the path of the stampede, and would have made it in safety had it not been for a prairie-dog hole, into which her pony's foot went. Magpie went down. The thundering host of frantic cattle was upon her when she felt herself caught in mid-air.
The thought of death was still ringing in her head, and everything swam before her eyes.
"You're all right! Stick close!" It was the reassuring voice of Ted, who, at the imminent risk of his own life, had ridden out and plucked her from the jaws of death.
Behind them, as Sultan, straining every nerve and muscle to carry them to safety, galloped ahead of the cattle, the boys rode into the ruck, beating the brutes with their quirts in an endeavor to stop them.
But they went a mile before they began to slow down, and Ted was able to deflect the course of Sultan, who was beginning to tire from the double burden and the terrific pace.
But at last the steers calmed down, and permitted themselves to be driven quietly to where the rest of the herd were grazing.
As soon as Ted had restored the stolen cattle, he and Bud started back into the valley in search of Shan Rhue and Sol Flatbush, but, although they searched everywhere, the renegades could not be found.
In the cave through which they had come from the Hole in the Wall they found a running branding iron, and fastened to the wall the following notice:
"To TED STRONG AND OTHERS: You win this time, but there will be others, and I am a lucky man in the end. You can't beat me.
Later they discovered that Shan Rhue had recently registered in Colorado the Circle Dollar brand, and evidently it was his purpose to steal nearly all of the Circle S herd.
But although he escaped with his lieutenant, Sol Flatbush, the men of his band, who had been captured by the soldiers, were convicted and sent to prison for long terms, after they had confessed that Shan Rhue's organization had made a business of rustling cattle all through the Southwest for many years.
Ted received several letters from the authorities in Washington commending his services in averting an uprising of the Indians, and the capture of the white renegades, but while this was gratifying, he felt disappointed that Shan Rhue and Sol Flatbush were not in prison, also. However, Ted believed in the motto, "I bide my time," and he felt in his bones that some time in the future his path and that of the bully, Shan Rhue, would cross again.
No. 42 of the WESTERN STORY LIBRARY, by Edward C. Taylor, is entitled "Ted Strong in Montana."