"I shall be sorry to see you go, Mr. Weston," said the children's mother. "Do you know where I can get another foreman?"
"Well, I'm sort of sorry to go myself, after I've seen these twins," replied the driver. "We don't very often see children out here. It's too lonesome for 'em. But I just have to go. As for another foreman, why, I guess you won't have any trouble picking one up. Any of the cowboys will act as foreman until you get a regular one."
"I am glad to know that," said Mrs. Bobbsey.
"Is that the ranch?" asked Bert as the party of cowboys, riding around the carriage, suddenly started off down a little hill, and Bert pointed to several buildings clustered together at the foot of the slope almost like the buildings at the lumber camp.
"Well, all this is Three Star ranch," answered the foreman, and he swept his arm in a big circle across the prairie fields. "But those are the ranch houses and corrals."
"I don't see any cows," said Nan, and this seemed to puzzle her,
"The cattle are mostly out on the different fields, or 'ranges', as we call 'em, feeding," said Mr. Weston. "We drive them from place to place as they eat the grass. We don't generally keep many head of cattle right around the ranch buildings. We have a cow or two for milk, and maybe a calf or so."
"Oh, may I have a little calf?" cried Freddie. "If I'm going to be a cowboy I want a little calf."
"I guess we can get you one," said Mr. Weston, with a smile. "Well, here we are," he went on, as he drove the wagon up in front of a one- story red building, with a low, broad porch. "This is the main ranch house where your uncle used to live part of the time, Mrs. Bobbsey," he said. "I think you'll find it big enough for your family. We fixed it up as best we could when we heard you were coming."
"Oh, I'm sure you have made it just like a home!" said Mrs. Bobbsey in delight, as she went into the house with her husband and the children. "Oh, how lovely!"
There were some bright-colored rugs on the floor, and in vases on the table and mantel were some prairie flowers. On the walls of the one big room, which seemed to take up most of the house, were oddly colored cow skins, mounted horns, and the furry pelt of some animal that Bert thought was a wolf.
"I'm sure we shall like it here," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "I am glad we came to Three Star ranch."
"So'm I!" said Bert.
"And can I get an Indian doll?" asked Nan.
"Well, there are a few Indians around here," said the foreman slowly. "They come to the ranch now and then to get something to eat, or trade a pony. I don't know that I've ever seen any of 'em with a doll, though maybe they do have some."
"Will any Indian come soon?" Nan wanted to know.
"I hope they do—real wild ones!" cried Bert.
"We don't have that kind here," said the foreman. "All the Indians around here are tame. And I can't say when they will come."
"Well, anyhow, there's cowboys," said Bert hopefully.
The baggage was brought in and then the foreman said to Mr. Bobbsey:
"When do you want to eat?"
"Right now!" exclaimed Bert, before any one else had a chance to speak.
"I thought so!" laughed the foreman. "Tell Sing Foo to rustle in the grub," he went on to one of the cowboys on the outside porch.
"Oh, do you have a Chinese laundryman for a cook?" asked Nan, as she heard the name.
"Well, I guess Sing Foo can wash, bake, iron, mend clothes, or do anything around the ranch except ride a cow pony or brand a steer," said Dick Weston. "He draws the line on that. But he surely is a good cook with the grub," said the foreman.
"I don't want any grub," put in Freddie anxiously. "I want something to eat."
"Excuse me, little man. I guess I oughtn't to use slang before you." said the foreman. "When I say 'grub' I mean something to eat And here comes Sing Foo with it now!"
As he spoke a smiling Chinese, dressed just as the Bobbsey twins had seen them in pictures, with his shirt outside his trousers, came shuffling along, carrying big trays from which came delicious appetizing odors.
"Dlinna all leddy!" said Sing Foo. "All leddy numbla one top side pletty quick."
"He means dinner is all ready and that everything is cooked just right and in a hurry," explained the foreman. "He can't say any words well that have the letter "r" in 'em," he went on in a whisper.
The Chinese was busy setting the table, and the Bobbseys soon sat down to a fine meal, Dick Weston ate with them and explained things about the ranch to Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey. The twins were too busy looking around the room and out of the windows through which now and then they could see some of the cowboys, to pay much attention to the talk of the grown-ups.
As Mr. Weston had said, he was going to give up being foreman of Three Star ranch to take charge of a place he and another man had bought. He was only staying until Mrs. Bobbsey could come and take charge of her property. But Mr. Weston said she would have no trouble, with her husband and the cowboys to help her."
"But I don't know anything about cows or cowboys," said Mr. Bobbsey. "When it comes to lumber and trees I'm all right. But I'll be of no use here, We must get another foreman, my dear," he said to his wife.
"Yes, undoubtedly," she agreed. "Oh, look at the children," she went on, pointing out of the window. Bert and Nan and Flossie and Freddie had left the table after the meal, and were now out near one of the cattle yards, or corrals, standing beside a little cart to which a pony was hitched.
"They mustn't get into that pony cart," said Mrs. Bobbsey, for she saw Bert lifting Freddie up into the small wagon, while Nan was doing the same for Flossie.
"They won't hurt it, ma'am," said the foreman. "I brought that pony cart around on purpose, so you could give it to the children. It's been here some time, but as there weren't any children it hasn't been used much. The boys got the cart out and mended it when they heard the Bobbsey twins were coming."
"That is very kind of them, I'm sure," said Mr. Bobbsey. "Is the pony safe to drive?"
"Oh, yes, your older boy or girl can manage him all right. Look, they're all in now. We can go out and I'll tell them what to do."
But before Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey and the foreman could reach the pony cart, in which the Bobbsey twins were now seated, something happened. There was the report of a shot, and a moment later the pony started off at a fast gallop, dragging the cart and the children after him.
"Oh, he's running away!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey. "Stop the runaway pony!"
THE WILD STEER
Ponies can not run as fast as can horses, not being as large. But the pony drawing the small cart into which the Bobbsey twins had climbed seemed to go very swiftly indeed. Before Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey and Dick Weston, the foreman, could hurry outside the ranch house, the pony and cart were quite a distance down the road which led over the prairies to the distant cattle ranges.
"Oh, the children! What will happen to them?" cried Mrs. Bobbsey, as she saw the twins being carried away.
"Perhaps Bert can get hold of the reins and stop the pony," said Mr. Bobbsey, as he hurried along with his wife.
"If he can do that they'll be all right," said the foreman. "The pony is a good one, and I never knew him to run away before. That shot must have frightened him."
But whatever had caused the pony to run away, the little horse certainly was going fast. Sitting in the cart, the Bobbsey twins had been too frightened at first to know what was going on. As soon as Bert and Nan had followed Flossie and Freddie up into the small cart the shot had sounded and away the pony galloped, the reins almost slipping over the dashboard.
"Oh, Bert!" cried Nan, grasping Flossie and Freddie around their waists so the small twins would not fall out, "what shall we do?"
Bert did not answer just then. For one thing he had to hold on to the side of the cart so he would not be jostled out. And another reason he did not answer Nan was because he was trying to think what was the best thing to do.
He looked ahead down the ranch road, and did not see anything into which the pony might crash, and so hurt them all. The road was clear. Behind him Bert could hear his mother, his father, and the foreman shouting. Bert hoped some of the cowboys might be there also, and that they would run after and stop the pony. But when he looked back he did not see any of the big, jolly, rough men on their speedy little cow ponies.
Bert saw his father and mother, and also Mr. Weston running after the pony cart, and Bert wondered why the foreman did not get on his horse and gallop down the road. Afterward Bert learned that the foreman had loaned his horse to another cowboy, who had ridden on it to a distant part of the ranch. And none of the cowboys was near by when the pony ran away.
"Oh, Bert! what will happen?" asked Nan, still holding Flossie and Freddie to keep them from falling out of the swaying cart. "What are we going to do?"
"I'm going to try to stop this pony!" answered Bert. He saw where the reins had nearly slipped over the dashboard. The reins were buckled together, and the loop had caught on one of the ends of the nickle- plated rail on top of the dashboard. Bert leaned forward to get hold of the reins, so he might bring the pony to a stop, but the little horse gave a sudden jump just then, as a bird flew in front of him. The reins slipped down and dragged along the ground. Bert could not reach them, and the pony seemed to go faster than ever.
"Oh, dear!" cried Nan. "We'll all be hurt!"
Flossie and Freddie were very much frightened, and clung closely to Sister Nan.
But presently Freddie plucked up courage and then grew excited, and after a minute or two he called out:
"We're havin' a fast ride, we are!"
"Too fast!" exclaimed Bert. "But maybe he'll get tired pretty soon and stop!"
However, the pony did not seem to be going to stop very soon. On and on he ran, with Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey and the ranch foreman being left farther and farther behind.
Suddenly, along a side path that joined the main road on which the pony was running away, appeared the figure of a man on a horse. He was trotting along slowly, at first, but as soon as he caught sight of the pony cart and the children in it, this man made his horse go much faster.
"Sit still! Sit still! I'll stop your pony for you!" called the man.
Bert and Nan heard. They looked up and saw the stranger waving his hand to them. He was guiding his galloping horse so as to cut across in front of their trotting pony.
In a few moments the man on the big horse was closer. Then began a race between the horse and the pony, and because the horse was bigger and had longer legs it won. The man galloped up beside the pony cart, leaped down from his saddle and caught the pony by the bridle. It was easy for the man to halt the little horse, and bring the pony to a stop.
"There you are, children!" said the man. "Not hurt, I hope?"
"No, sir," answered Bert. "We're all right."
"Thank you," added Nan, for she noticed that Bert was forgetting this very important part.
"Oh, yes. Thank you!" said Bert.
"You are quite welcome," the man said, "But you shouldn't try to make your pony go so fast."
"We didn't make him go fast," replied Bert "We'd just got in the cart, to see if we would all fit, and somebody shot a gun and the pony ran away."
"Did he run far?" asked the man.
"Yes, he gave us a long ride," answered Freddie.
"Oh, it wasn't so very far," added Nan. "Though it seemed like a good way because we went so fast."
"We're from Three Star ranch," explained Bert.
"Oh, so you live on a ranch," said the man. "Well, I'm looking for a ranch myself."
"We don't exactly live on a ranch," went on Bert. "But it's my mother's, and we came out West to see it. Before that we were at a lumber camp."
"My! you are doing some traveling," exclaimed the man, who was rubbing the velvet nose of the pony. "Are these some of your friends coming?" he asked, looking down the road.
The Bobbsey twins turned and looked, and saw their father and mother and the foreman hurrying along. When the father and mother saw that the pony had been stopped and that the children were safe, they were no longer frightened.
"He stopped the pony for us," explained Bert, pointing to the stranger who had mounted his horse as Mr. Weston took hold of the pony's bridle, so it would not try to run away again.
"You appeared just in time," said Mr. Bobbsey to the strange man. "The children might have been hurt, only for you."
"Well, I'm glad I could stop the runaway," was the answer. "They said they lived on a ranch around here."
"Yes, the Three Star," said Mr. Weston. "You look like a cattleman yourself," he added.
"I am," said the man. "My name is Charles Dayton, and I am looking for a place to work. I was foreman at the Bar X ranch until that outfit was sold. I've been looking for a place ever since."
"The Bar X!" cried Mr. Weston. "I know some of the cowboys over there. And so you are looking for a place as foreman. Why, this is strange. Mrs. Bobbsey here, the owner of Three Star, is looking for a foreman. I'm going to leave."
"Well, I would be very glad to work for Mrs. Bobbsey at Three Star," said Mr. Dayton.
"Are you any relation to a Bill Dayton?" asked Mr. Bobbsey, while Bert and Nan listened for the answer. Flossie and Freddie were out of the cart now, gathering prairie flowers, and did not pay much attention to the talk.
"Bill Dayton is my brother," answered Charles Dayton. "But I did not know he was around here. The last I heard of him he was in the lumber business."
"And he is yet!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey. "He is foreman of a lumber tract my uncle left me."
"And if you are as good a cattleman as your brother is a lumberman I think we can find a place for you at Three Star," said Mr. Bobbsey.
"I can tell you Mr. Dayton is a good cattleman," said Mr. Weston. "He had to be, to act as foreman at Bar X ranch. You won't make any mistake in hiring him."
"Will you come to us?" asked Mr. Bobbsey who seemed to have taken as much of a liking to the newcomer as had the children.
"Well, I'm looking for a place," was the answer, "and I'll do my best to suit you. It's queer, though, that you know my brother Bill."
"He mentioned you," said Mr. Bobbsey, "but he said he had lost track of you."
"Yes, we don't write to each other very often. Both of us have been traveling around a lot. But now, if I settle down, I'll send Bill a letter and tell him where I am."
There was room for Mrs. Bobbsey in the pony cart, and she rode back with the children. There seemed to be no danger now, for the little horse had quieted down.
"He hadn't been out of the stable for some time, and that's what made him so frisky," said the foreman, who was soon going to leave Three Star. "He won't run away again."
And Toby, which was the name of the pony, never did. Bert and Nan drove him often after that, and there never was a bit of trouble. Even Freddie and Flossie were allowed to drive, when Bert or Nan sat on the seat near them, in case of accident.
Mr. Charles Dayton soon proved that he was a good cattleman, and he was made foreman of Three Star ranch after Dick Weston left. The cowboys seemed to like their new foreman.
"And, now that you are one of us here," said Mrs. Bobbsey to her new foreman, "don't forget to write and let your brother know where you are."
"I'll do that!" promised the cattleman.
Busy and happy days on the ranch followed. While Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey looked after the new business of raising and selling cattle, the Bobbsey twins had good times. The new foreman and the cowboys were very fond of the children, and were with them as much as they could be during the day. They took them on little picnics and excursions, and two small ponies were trained so Bert and Nan could ride them. As for Flossie and Freddie, they had to ride in the cart. Freddie wanted to be a cowboy, and straddle a pony as Bert did, but his mother thought him too small. But Freddie and Flossie had good times in the cart, so they did not miss saddle rides.
Bert and Nan were very fond of their ponies. The little horses soon grew very tame and gentle, though Bert and his sister did not go very far away from the main buildings unless some of the cowboys were with them.
One afternoon, when they had been on the ranch about a month, and were liking it more and more every day, Bert and Nan asked their mother if they could ride on their ponies across the fields to gather a new kind of wild flower a cowboy had told them about.
"Yes, you may go," Mrs. Bobbsey said. "But be careful, and do not ride too far. Be home in time for supper."
"We will," promised Bert.
He and Nan set off. It was pleasant riding over the green prairie. Now and then the children saw little prairie dogs scurrying in and out of their burrows. And once they saw a rattlesnake. But the serpent crawled quickly out of the way, and Bert and Nan did not stop to see where it went. They hurried on.
They reached the little hollow in the hills where the red flowers grew, and, getting out of their saddles, began to pick some.
"They'll make a lovely bouquet for the living room," said Nan.
"Yes, but I guess we have enough," said Bert, "I don't want to stay here too long. Mr. Dayton promised to show me how to throw a lasso to- day, and I've got to learn; that is, if I'm going to be a cowboy."
"All right," agreed Nan. "We'll get in a minute. I want to get just a few more flowers." She was gathering another handful of the red blossoms when suddenly she looked up, and something she saw on top of a little hill caused her to cry:
"Oh, Bert, look! Look! What's that?"
Bert glanced up. He saw a wild steer looking at him and his sister. The big animal was lashing his tail from side to side and pawing the earth with one hoof. Suddenly it gave a loud bellow and rushed down the slope.
Bert and Nan were really too frightened to know what to do. If they had been more used to the ways of the West, and had known more about cattle and ranches, they would have at once run for their ponies and have got on the backs of the little animals. Cattle in the West are so used to seeing men on horse back that sometimes if they see them on foot on the wide prairie, the cattle chase the men, thinking they are a strange enemy.
Perhaps it was this way with the wild steer. At any rate, seeing Bert and Nan gathering flowers down in the hollow of the hills, the steer, with loud bellows, started down toward them. The two ponies were eating grass near by, and Bert and Nan could easily have reached their pets if they had thought of it.
But they were so frightened that they could not think. As for the ponies, those little horses merely looked up. They saw the steer, but, as they saw such animals every day, the ponies were not at all interested.
"Oh, Bert," cried Nan, "what shall we do?"
She had dropped her flowers and was running toward her brother.
"You get behind me!" cried Bert. "Maybe I can throw a stone at this steer!"
He, too, had dropped the red blossoms he had gathered, and was looking about for a stone. But he could not see any, and the wild steer was coming on down the slope. I do not mean that the steer was wild, like a wild lion or tiger, but that he was just excited by seeing two children off their ponies. If Bert and Nan had been in the saddles perhaps the steer never would have chased them.
But now with tail flapping in the air, and with angry shakes of his head, he was running toward them. Nan got behind her brother, and Bert stood ready to do what he could. The children did not realize how much danger they were in and they might have been hurt but for something that happened.
At first neither Bert nor Nan knew what this happening was. One moment they saw the wild steer racing toward them, and the next minute they saw the big animal, larger than a cow, tumbling down the hill head over heels. The steer seemed to have fallen, and a look toward the crest of the hill showed what had made him. For up at the top of the slope, sitting on his big horse, was the new foreman, Charley Dayton, and from his saddle horn a rope stretched out. The other end of the rope was around the steer's neck, and it was a pull on this rope that had caused the big beast to turn a somersault.
"Oh, he lassoed the steer! He lassoed him!" cried Bert, as he saw what had happened.
And that is just what the foreman had done. He had been out riding over the ranch, and had seen the lone steer on top of the hill which he knew led down into a hollow filled with red flowers.
"At first," said Mr. Dayton to Nan and Bert, telling them the story afterward, "I couldn't imagine why the steer was acting so queerly. I thought may be he didn't like the red flowers, so I rode up to see what the matter was. Then I saw you children down in the hollow and saw the steer rushing at you.
"There was only one thing I could do, and I did it. I didn't even stop to shout to you Bobbsey twins!" said the foreman. "I just swung my lasso and caught the steer before he caught you."
"You made him turn a somersault, didn't you?" said Nan, as she and Bert looked at the big beast which was now lying on the ground.
"Well, he sort of made himself do it," answered the foreman, with a laugh. "He was going so fast, and the lasso rope on his neck made him stop so quickly that he went head over heels. But you had better get into your saddles now, and I'll let this fellow up."
Mr. Dayton had twisted some coils of his rope around the steer's legs so the animal could not get up until the foreman was ready to let him. But as soon as Bert and Nan had gathered the flowers they had dropped, and had seated themselves in their saddles, and when the foreman had mounted his horse, he shook loose the coils of the rope, or lasso, and the steer scrambled to his feet.
"Will he chase us again?" asked Nan.
"No, I guess I taught him a lesson," answered Mr. Dayton.
The steer shook himself and looked at the three figures on the horse and ponies. He did not seem to want to chase anybody now, and after a shake or two of his head the steer walked away, up over the hill and across the prairie, to join the rest of the herd from which he had strayed.
"You want to be careful about getting off your ponies when you see a lone steer," the foreman told Bert and Nan. "Some animals think a person on foot is a new kind of creature and want to give chase right away. On a cattle ranch keep in the saddle as much as you can when you are among the steers."
Bert and his sister said they would do this, and then they rode home with the red flowers. Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey thanked the foreman for again saving the children from harm.
Mr. Charles Dayton seemed to fit in well at Three Star ranch. He was as good a ranchman as his brother Bill was a lumberman. And, true to the promise he had given Mrs. Bobbsey, the ranch foreman wrote to Bill, giving the address of Three Star.
"I had a letter from Bill to-day, Mrs. Bobbsey," said the ranch foreman to the children's mother one afternoon.
"Did you? That's good!" she answered.
"And he says he'd like to see me," went on Mr. Charles Dayton. "He says he has something to tell me."
"Did he say what it was about?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey, while Bert and Nan stood near by. They were waiting for the foreman to saddle the ponies for them, as he always wanted to be sure the girths were made tight enough before the twins set out for a ride.
"No, Bill didn't say what it was he wanted to tell me," went on Charley. "And he writes rather queerly."
"Your brother seemed to me to be a bit odd," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "As if he had some sort of a secret."
"Oh, well, I guess he has had his troubles, the same as I have," said the ranch foreman.
"We were boys together, and we didn't have a very good time. I suppose it was as much our fault as any one's. But you don't think of that at the time. Well, I'll be glad to see Bill again, but I don't know when we'll get together. Are you waiting for me, Bobbsey twins?" he asked.
"Yes, if you please," answered Nan.
"We'd like our ponies," added Bert, "and you promised to show me some more how to lasso."
"And so I will!" promised the foreman. He had already given Bert a few lessons in casting the rope. Of course Bert could not use a lasso of the regulation size, so one of the cowboys had made him a little one. With this Bert did very well. Freddie also had to have one, but his was only a toy. Freddie wanted his father to call him "little cowboy" now, instead of "little fireman," and, to please Freddie, Mr. Bobbsey did so once in a while.
After Bert had been given a few more lessons in casting the lasso, the two older Bobbsey twins went for a ride on their ponies, while Mrs. Bobbsey took Flossie and Freddie for a ride in the pony cart.
It was about a week after this that the Bobbsey twins were awakened one morning by a loud shouting outside the ranch house where they slept.
"What's the matter? Have the Indians come?" asked Bert, for some of the cowboys had said a few Indians from a neighboring reservation usually dropped in for a visit about this time of year.
"No, I don't see any Indians," answered Nan, who had looked out of a window, after hurriedly getting dressed. "But I see a lot of the cowboys."
"Oh, maybe they're going after the Indians!" exclaimed Bert. I'm going to ask mother if I can go along!"
"I want to go, too, and get an Indian doll!" exclaimed Nan.
But when they went out into the main room, where their father and mother were eating breakfast, and when the two Bobbsey twins had begged to be allowed to go with the cowboys to see the Indians, Mr. Bobbsey said: "This hasn't anything to do with Indians, Bert."
"What's it all about then?" asked the boy.
"It's the round-up," answered his father. "The cowboys are getting ready for the half-yearly round-up, and that's what they're so excited about."
"Oh, may I see the round-up?" begged Bert,
"What is it?" asked Nan. "What's a round-up?"
Before Mr. Bobbsey could answer Mr. Dayton, the foreman, came hurrying into the room. He seemed quite excited.
"Excuse me for disturbing your breakfast," he said to Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey. "But I have some news for you. Some Indians have run off part of your cattle!"
IN THE STORM
Bert Bobbsey did not pay much attention to what the foreman said, except that one word "Indians."
"Oh, where are they?" cried the boy. "I want to see them!"
"And I'd like to see them myself!" exclaimed the foreman. "If I could find them I'd get back the Three Star cattle."
"Did Indians really take some of the steers?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.
"Yes," answered the foreman, "they did. You know we are getting ready for the round-up. That is a time, twice a year, when we count the cattle, and sell what we don't want to keep," he explained, for he saw that Nan wanted to ask a question.
"Twice a year," went on the foreman, "once in the spring and again in the fall, we have what is called a round-up. That is we gather together all the cattle on the different parts of the ranch. Some herds have been left to themselves for a long time, and it may happen that cattle belonging to some other ranch-owner have got in with ours. We separate, or 'cut out' as it is called, the strange cattle, give them to the cowboys who come for them, and look after our own. That is a round-up, and sometimes it lasts for a week or more. The cowboys take a 'chuck', or kitchen wagon with them, and they cook their meals out on the prairie."
"Oh, that's fun!" cried Bert. "Please, Daddy, mayn't I go on the round-up?"
"And have the Indians catch you?" asked his mother.
"Oh, there isn't any real danger from the Indians," said the foreman. "They are not the wild kind. Only, now and again, they run off a bunch of cattle from some herd that is far off from the main ranch. This is what has happened here."
"How did you find out about it?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.
"A cowboy from another ranch told me," answered the foreman. "Some of his cattle were taken and he followed along the trail the Indians left. He saw them, but could not catch them. But he saw some of the cattle that had strayed away from the band of Indians, and these steers were branded with our mark—the three stars."
"Well, maybe the poor Indians were hungry," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "And that is why they took some of our steers."
"Yes, I reckon that's what they'd say, anyhow," remarked the foreman. "But it won't do to let the redmen take cattle any time they feel like it. They have money, and can buy what they want. I wouldn't mind giving them a beef or two, but when it comes to taking part of a herd, it must be stopped."
"How can it be stopped?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.
"That's just what I came in to talk to you about," went on Mr. Dayton. "Shall I send some of the cowboys after the Indians to see if they can catch them, and get back our cattle?"
"I suppose you had better," Mr. Bobbsey answered. "If we let this pass the Indians will think we do not care, and will take more steers next time. Yes, send the cowboys after the Indians."
"But let the Indians have a steer or two for food, if they need it," begged Mrs. Bobbsey, who had a kind heart even toward an Indian cattle thief, or "rustler", as they are called.
"Well, that can be done," agreed Mr. Dayton. "Then I'll send some of the cowboys on the round-up, and others after the Indians. They can work together, the two bands of cowboys."
"Oh, mayn't I come?" begged Bert. "I can throw a lasso pretty good now, and maybe I could rope an Indian."
"And maybe you could get me an Indian doll!" put in Nan.
"Oh, no! We couldn't think of letting you go, Bert," said Mr. Bobbsey. "The cowboys will be gone several nights, and will sleep out on the open prairie. When you get bigger you may go."
Bert looked so disappointed that the foreman said:
"I'll tell you what we can do. Toward the end of the round-up the boys drive the cattle into the corrals not far from here. The children can go over then and see how the cowboys cut out different steers, and how we send some of the cattle over to the railroad to be shipped back east. That will be seeing part of the round-up, anyhow."
And with this Bert had to be content. He and Nan, with Flossie and Freddie, watched the cowboys riding away on their ponies, shouting, laughing, waving their hats and firing their revolvers.
While the round-up was hard work for the cowboys, still they had exciting times at it and they always were glad when it came. The ranch seemed lonesome after the band of cowboys had ridden away, but Sing Foo, the Chinese cook, was left, and one or two of the older men to look after things around the buildings. Mr. Dayton also stayed to see about matters for Mrs. Bobbsey.
It was well on toward fall now, though the weather was still warm. The days spent by the Bobbsey twins in the great West had passed so quickly that the children could hardly believe it was almost time for them to go back to Lakeport.
"Can't we stay here all winter?" asked Bert. "If I'm going to be a cowboy I'd better stay on a ranch all winter."
"Oh, the winters here are very cold," his father said. "We had better go back to Lakeport for Christmas, anyhow," and he smiled at his wife.
"Maybe Santa Claus doesn't come out here so far," said Freddie.
"Then I don't want to stay," said Flossie. "I want to go where Santa Claus is for Christmas."
"I think, then, we'd better plan to go back home," said Mrs. Bobbsey.
It was rather lonesome at the ranch now, with so many of the cowboys away, but the children managed to have good times. The two smaller twins often went riding in the pony cart, while Bert and Nan liked saddle-riding best.
One day as Bert and his sister started off their mother said to them: "Don't go too far now. I think there is going to be a storm."
"We won't go far!" Bert promised.
Now the two saddle ponies were feeling pretty frisky that day. They seemed to know cold weather was coming, when they would have to trot along at a lively pace to keep warm. And perhaps Nan and Bert, remembering that they were soon to leave the ranch, rode farther and faster than they meant to.
At any rate they went on and on, and pretty soon Nan said:
"We had better go back. We never came so far away before, all alone. And I think it's going to rain!"
"Yes, it does look so," admitted Bert. "And I guess we had better go back. I thought maybe I could see some of the cowboys coming home from the round-up, but I guess I can't."
The children turned their ponies about, and headed them for the ranch house. As they did so the rain drops began to fall, and they had not ridden a half mile more before the storm suddenly broke.
"Oh, look at the rain!" cried Nan.
"And feel it!" exclaimed Bert. "This is going to be a big storm! Let's put on our ponchos."
The children carried ponchos on their saddles. A poncho is a rubber blanket with a hole in the middle. To wear it you just put your head through the hole, the rubber comes down over your shoulders and you are kept quite dry, even in a hard storm.
Bert and Nan quickly put on their ponchos and then started their ponies again. The rain was now coming down so hard that the brother and sister could scarcely see where they were going.
"Are we headed right for the house?" asked Nan.
"I—I guess so," answered Bert. "But I'm not sure."
Bert and Nan rode on through the rain which seemed to come down harder and harder. Soon it grew so dark, because it was getting to be late afternoon and because of the rain clouds, that the children could not see in the least where they were going.
"Oh, Bert, maybe we are lost!" said Nan, with almost a sob as she guided her pony up beside that of her brother.
"Oh, I don't guess we are exactly lost," he said. "The ponies know their way back to the ranch houses, even if we don't."
"Do you think so?" Nan asked.
"Yes, Mr. Dayton told me if ever I didn't know which way to go, just to let the reins rest loose on the horse's neck, and he'd take me home."
"We'll do that!" decided Nan.
But whether the ponies did not know their way, or whether the ranch buildings were farther off than either Bert or Nan imagined, the children did not know. All they knew was that they were out in the rain, and they did not seem to be able to get to any shelter. There were no trees on the prairies about Three Star ranch, as there were in the woods at Lumberville.
"Oh, Bert, what shall we do?" cried Nan. "It's getting terribly dark and I'm afraid!"
Bert was a little afraid also, but he was not going to let his sister know that. He meant to be brave and look after her. They rode along a little farther, and suddenly Nan cried:
"Oh, Bert! Look! Indians!"
Bert, who was riding along with his head bent low to keep the rain out of his face, glanced up through the gathering dusk. He saw, just ahead of him and coming toward him and his sister a line of men on horses. But Bert either looked more closely than did his sister or else he knew more about Indians. For after a second glance he cried:
"They aren't Indians! They're cowboys! Hello, there!" cried the boy. "Will you please show us the way to the house on Three Star ranch?"
Some of the leading cowboys pulled up their horses, and stopped on hearing this call. They peered through the rain and darkness and saw the two children on ponies.
"Who's asking for Three Star ranch?" cried one cowboy.
"We are!" Bert answered. "We're the Bobbsey twins!"
"Oh, ho! I thought so!" came back the answer. "Well, don't worry! We'll take you home all right!"
With that some of the cowboys (and they really were that and not Indians) rode closer to Nan and Bert. And as soon as Bert caught a glimpse of the faces of some of the men he cried:
"Why, you belong to Three Star!"
"Sure!" answered one, named Pete Baldwin. "We're part of the Three Star outfit coming back from the round-up. But where are you two youngsters going?"
"We came out for a ride," answered Bert "but it started to rain, and we want to go home."
"Well, you won't get home the way you are going," said Pete. "You were traveling right away from home when we met you. Turn your ponies around, and head them the other way. We'll ride back with you."
Bert and Nan were glad enough to do this.
"It's a good thing we met you," said Bert, as he rode beside Pete Baldwin. "And did you catch the Indians?"
"Yes, we found them, and got back your mother's cattle—all except one or two we gave them."
"And is the round-up all over?" asked Bert.
"Yes, except for some cattle a few of the boys will drive in to-morrow or next day," the cowboy answered. "You can see 'em then. It's a good thing you youngsters had those rubber ponchos, or you'd be soaked through."
The cowboys each had on one of these rubber blankets, and they did not mind the rain. Some of them even sang as their horses plodded through the wet.
Bert and Nan were no longer afraid, and in about half an hour they rode with their cowboy friends into the cluster of ranch buildings.
"Oh, my poor, dear children! where have you been?" cried Mrs. Bobbsey. "Daddy and Mr. Dayton were just going to start hunting for you! What happened?"
"We got lost in the rain, but the cowboys found us," said Bert.
"And first I thought they were Indians," added Nan, as she shook the water from her hair.
"Well, it's a good thing they did find you," said Mr. Bobbsey.
The two Bobbsey twins were given some warm milk to drink, and soon they were telling Flossie and Freddie about their ride in the rain.
"I wish I could see an Indian," sighed Freddie.
"All I want now is an Indian doll," said Nan.
Two days later the cowboys came riding in with a bunch of cattle which they had rounded-up and cut out from a larger herd. These steers were to be shipped away, but, for a time, were kept in a corral, or fenced- in pen, near the ranch buildings. There Bert and the other children went to look at the big beasts, and the Bobbsey twins watched the cowboys at work.
It was about a week after Bert and Nan had been lost in the rain that Mrs. Bobbsey met the foreman, Charles Dayton on the porch of the ranch house one day.
"Oh, Mr. Dayton!" called the children's mother, "I have had a letter from your brother Bill, who has charge of my lumber tract. He is coming on here."
"Bill is coming here?" exclaimed the cattleman in great surprise. "Well, I'm right happy to hear that. I'll be glad to see him. Haven't seen him for several years. Is he coming here just to see me?"
"No," answered Mrs. Bobbsey, "he is coming here to see Mr. Bobbsey and myself about some lumber business. After we left your brother found there were some papers I had not signed, so, instead of my going back to Lumberville, I asked your brother to come here. I can sign the papers here as well as there, and this will give you two brothers a chance to meet."
"I am glad of that!" exclaimed the cattleman. "I suppose Bill and I are going to be kept pretty busy—he among the trees and I among the cattle—so we might not get a chance to meet for a long time, only for this."
"That's what I thought," said Mrs. Bobbsey, while Bert and Nan listened to the talk, "Well, your brother will be here next week."
"Oh, I'll be glad to see him!" exclaimed Bert.
"So will I!" echoed Nan. "I like our lumberman."
During the week that followed the Bobbsey twins had good times at Three Star ranch. The weather was fine, but getting colder, and Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey began to think of packing to go home. They would do this, they said, as soon as they had signed the papers Bill Dayton was bringing to them.
And one day, when the wagon had been sent to the same station at which the Bobbseys left the train some months before, the ranch foreman came into the room where Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey were talking with the children and said:
"Who?" asked Bert's father.
"My brother Bill! He just arrived! My, but he has changed!"
"And I suppose he said the same thing about you," laughed Mrs. Bobbsey.
"Yes, he did," admitted the ranch foreman. "It's been a good while since we were boys together. Much has happened since then."
Bill Dayton came in to see Mrs. Bobbsey. The two brothers looked very much alike when they were together, though Bill was younger. They appeared very glad to see one another.
Bill Dayton had brought quite a bundle of papers for Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey to sign in connection with the timber business, and it took two days to finish the work. During that time the Bobbsey twins had fun in a number of ways, from riding on ponies and in the cart, to watching the cowboys.
One day when Nan and Bert were putting their ponies in the stable after a ride, they saw the two Dayton brothers talking together near the barn. Without meaning to listen, the Bobbsey twins could not help hearing what was said.
"Don't you think we ought to tell the boss?" asked the ranch foreman of his brother, the timber foreman.
"You mean tell Mr. Bobbsey?" asked Bill Dayton.
"Yes, tell Mrs. Bobbsey—she's the boss as far as we are concerned. We ought to tell them that our name isn't Dayton—or at least that that isn't the only name we have. They've been so good to us that we ought to tell them the truth," answered Charles.
"I suppose we ought," agreed Bill. "We'll do it!"
And then they walked away, not having noticed Bert or Nan.
The two Bobbsey twins looked at one another.
"I wonder what they meant?" asked Nan.
"I don't know," answered her brother. "We'd better tell daddy or mother."
A little later that day Bert spoke to his father, asking:
"Daddy, can a man have two names?"
"Two names? Yes, of course. His first name and his last name."
"No, I mean can he have two last names?" went on Bert.
"Not generally," Mr. Bobbsey said "I think it would be queer for a man to have two last names."
"Well, the two foremen have two last names," said Bert. "Haven't they, Nan?"
"What do you mean?" asked their father.
Then Bert and Nan told of having overheard Bill and Charles talking about the need for telling Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey the truth about their name.
"What do you suppose this means?" asked Mr. Bobbsey of his wife.
"I don't know," she replied. "But you remember we did think there was something queer about Bill Dayton at the lumber camp."
"I know we did. I think I'll have a talk with the two foremen," Mr. Bobbsey went on. "Maybe they would like to tell us something, but feel a little nervous over it. I'll just ask them a few questions."
And later, when Mr. Bobbsey did this, speaking of what Nan and Bert had overheard, Bill Dayton said:
"Yes, Mr. Bobbsey, we have a secret to tell you. We were going to some time ago, but we couldn't make up our minds to it. Now we are glad Nan and Bert heard what we said. I'm going to tell you all about it."
"You children had better run into the house," said Mr. Bobbsey to Nan and Bert, who stood near by.
"Oh, let them stay," said the ranch foreman. "It isn't anything they shouldn't hear, and it may be a lesson to them. To go to the very bottom, Mr. Bobbsey, Dayton isn't our name at all."
"What is, then?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.
"Hickson," was the unexpected answer. "We are Bill and Charley Hickson. We took the name of Dayton when we ran away from home, as that was our mother's name before she was married. And we have been called Bill and Charley Dayton ever since. But Hickson is our real name."
Bert and Nan looked at one another. They felt that they were on the edge of a strange secret.
"Bill and Charley Hickson!" exclaimed Nan.
"Oh, is your father's name Hiram?" Bert asked excitedly.
"Hiram? Of course it is!" cried Bill. "Hiram Hickson is the name of our father!"
"Hurray!" shouted Bert.
"Oh, oh!" squealed Nan.
"Then we've found you!" yelled both together.
"Found us?" echoed Bill. "Why, we weren't lost! That is, we—" he stopped and looked at his brother.
"There seems to be more of a mystery here," said Charley Hickson to give him his right name. "Do you know what it is?" he asked Mr. Bobbsey.
"Oh, let me tell him!" cried Bert
"And I want to help!" added Nan.
"We know where your father is!" went on Bert eagerly.
"His name is Hiram Hickson!" broke in Nan.
"And he works in our father's lumberyard," added Bert.
"He said he had two boys who—who went away from home," said Nan, not liking to use the words "ran away."
"And the boys names were Charley and Bill," went on Bert. "He said he wished he could find you, and we said, when we started away from home, that maybe we could help. But I didn't ever think we could."
"I didn't either," said Nan.
"Well, you seem to have found us all right," said Bill Dayton Hickson, to give him his complete name. "Of course I'm not sure this Hiram Hickson who works in your lumberyard is the same Hiram Hickson who is our father," he added to Mr. Bobbsey.
"I believe he is," answered Mr. Bobbsey. "Three such names could hardly be alike unless the persons were the same. But I'll write to him and find out."
"And tell him we are sorry we ran away from home," added Charles. "We haven't had very good luck since—at least, not until we met the Bobbsey twins," he went on. "We were two foolish boys, and we ran away after a quarrel."
"Your father says it was largely his fault," said Mrs. Bobbsey, who had come to join in the talk. "I think you had all better forgive each other and start all over again," she added.
"That's what we'll do!" exclaimed Bill.
It was not long before a letter came from Mr. Hickson of Lakeport, saying he was sure the ranch and lumber foremen were his two missing boys. Mr. Bobbsey sent the old man money to come out to the ranch, where Bill and his brother were still staying. And on the day when Hiram Hickson was to arrive the Bobbsey twins were very much excited indeed.
"Maybe, after all, these won't be his boys," said Nan.
"Oh, I guess they will," declared Bert.
And, surely enough, when Hiram Hickson met the two foremen he held out his hands to them and cried:
"My two boys! My lost boys! Grown to be men! Oh, I'm so glad I have found you again!"
And then the Bobbseys and the cowboys who had witnessed the happy reunion went away and left the father and sons together.
So everything turned out as Bert and Nan hoped it would, after they had heard the two foremen speaking of their new name. And, in a way, the Bobbsey twins had helped bring this happy time about. If they had not gone to the railroad accident, if they had not heard Hiram Hickson tell about his long-missing sons, and if they had not heard the cowboy and the lumberman talking together, perhaps the little family would not have been so happily brought together.
Mr. Hickson and his sons told each other their stories. As the old man had said, there had been a quarrel at home, and his two sons, then boys, had been hot-headed and had run away. They traveled together for a time, and then separated. They did not want to go back home.
As the years went on, the two brothers saw each other once in a while, and then for many months they would neither see nor hear from each other. They kept the name Dayton, which they had taken after leaving their father. As for Mr. Hickson, at first he did not try to find his sons, but after his anger died away he felt lonely and wanted them back. He felt that it was because of his queerness that they had gone away.
But, though he searched, he could not find them.
"And I might never have found you if I hadn't been in the train wreck and met the Bobbsey twins," said Mr. Hickson. "Coming to Lakeport was the best thing I ever did."
"How's everything back in Lakeport?" asked Bert of Mr. Hickson, after the first greetings between father and sons were over.
"Oh, just about the same," was the answer, "We haven't had any more train wrecks, thank goodness."
"But we were in one!" exclaimed Freddie.
"So I heard. Well, I'm glad you weren't hurt. But I must begin to think of getting back to your lumberyard, I guess, Mr. Bobbsey."
"No, you're going to live with us," declared Charley. "Part of the time you can spend on Three Star ranch with me, and the rest of the time you can live with Bill in the woods."
"Well, that will suit me all right," said Mr. Hickson, and so it was arranged. He was to spend the winter on the ranch, where he would help his son with Mrs. Bobbsey's cattle. Bill Hickson went back to the lumber camp, and a few days later the Bobbsey twins left for home.
Nan had her wish in getting an Indian doll. One day, just before they were to leave the ranch, a traveling band of Indians stopped to buy some cattle. The Indian women had papooses, and some of the Indian children had queer dolls, made of pieces of wood with clothes of bark and skin. Mr. Bobbsey bought four of the dolls, one each for Nan and Flossie, and two for Nan's girl friends at home. For Bert and Freddie were purchased some bows and arrows and some Indian moccasins, or slippers, and head-dresses of feathers. So, after all, the Bobbsey twins really saw some Indians.
"Good-bye, Bobbsey twins!" cried all the cowboys, and they fired their revolvers in the air. The Bobbseys were seated in the wagon, their baggage around them, ready to go to the station at Cowdon to take the train for the return to Lakeport. "Come and see us again!" yelled the cowboys.
"We will!" shouted Nan and Bert and Flossie and Freddie. They were driven over the prairie to the railroad station, looking back now and then to see the shouting, waving cowboys and Charles Hickson and his father. The Bobbsey twins left happy hearts behind them.
And now, as they are on their homeward way, back to Dinah and Sam, back to Snoop and Snap, we will take leave of the Bobbsey twins.