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The Curlytops at Uncle Frank's Ranch
by Howard R. Garis
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"I guess we better go home, Teddy."

"Why?"

"Oh, it's getting late, and I'm getting hungry."

"So'm I. I'll wait until he comes up once more and then well go."

Once more the gopher peeped up, as if wondering why in the world those two strange children did not go away and let him alone. Ted made a grab for him, but missed and then the little boy said:

"Come on, Jan. Now we'll go home!"

"And we haven't any nice little gopher to take to Trouble," said Janet sadly.

"Oh, well, maybe it would bite him if we did catch one," reflected her brother. "I'll take him some of these pretty stones," and he picked up some from the ground. "He'll like to play with these."

Teddy whistled for his pony and Clipclap came slowly up to his little master. Janet held out a bunch of grass to Star Face and her pony, just as he had been taught, came up to her. Teddy helped his sister get up in the saddle. It was not hard for them, as the ponies were small, and Jim Mason had showed them how to put one foot in the stirrup, and then, with one hand on the saddle and the other grasping both the bridle and the pony's mane, give a jump that carried them up. But though Janet could mount her pony alone Teddy always helped her when he was with her by holding the stirrup.

"Let's have another race home," suggested Teddy, when they had started.

"No," answered his sister. "You might fall some more and get hurt. We'll ride slow."

So they did, though Teddy was anxious for a good, fast gallop.

"Well, did you have a nice time?" asked Mother Martin, as they came to the house after putting away their ponies.

"We had lots of fun," answered Janet "Teddy fell off his pony—"

"Fell off his pony!" cried her mother.

"He threw me!" explained Ted, and then he told what had happened.

"An' didn't you catch noffin for me?" asked Trouble, who heard his brother telling the story of his adventure.

"I brought you these nice stones," and Teddy took them out of his pocket. "You can play with them, Trouble."

Baby William laughed and sat down to play with the stones.

"Did the cowboys come back with the Indians?" asked Teddy of Aunt Millie when she was giving him and Janet some bread and jam to eat.

"No, not yet, Curlytop. I expect Uncle Frank and the boys will be gone all night."

"Will they have a house to sleep in?" asked Janet.

"No, unless they happen to be near one when it gets dark. But they took their blankets with them, and it's so warm that they'll just wrap up in them and sleep out on the prairie," said Aunt Millie.

"Won't they be hungry?" Teddy inquired, as he took a big bite of the bread and jam.

"Oh, no! Don't you remember I told you they always take something to eat with them when they go out this way? They are used to camping on the prairies, and they know how to make a fire, broil the bacon and make their coffee," answered Aunt Millie. "You need never worry about Uncle Frank and his cowboys. They'll be all right."

And so they were. It was not until the next afternoon that the party which had gone out to chase the Indians came back. They were tired, because they had ridden a good many miles, but they said they had slept well and had had enough to eat.

"Did you catch the Indians?" asked Teddy eagerly.

"No, Curlytop," answered Uncle Frank. "I'm sorry to say we did not. They got away from us."

"Did you see them?" asked Daddy Martin.

"Yes, but they were a long way off. Too far for us to get at them."

"And did they have your cattle with them?"

"Yes, they had a lot of my best animals. I guess they must be hiding away somewhere among the hills and mountains. We came pretty close to them at one time, and they suddenly disappeared. It seems as if they must have gone into a big hole or cave. We couldn't find them."

"Are you going to look any more?" Teddy questioned. "And if you do go, Uncle Frank, please can't I go too?"

"Well, most likely we will have another hunt for the Indians," answered the ranchman, "but I'm afraid we couldn't take you along, Curlytop."

"Why not, Uncle Frank?"

"Oh, you might get hurt."

"Well, can I see the Indians after you catch 'em?"

"Oh, yes, I guess I can promise you that," and Uncle Frank smiled at Daddy Martin.

"And can I ask them to make me a bow and arrows?" went on Teddy.

"Yes, you can ask them, but I don't believe they will," Uncle Frank replied. "These Indians aren't very nice. They're quite bad, in fact, and we all wish they'd stay where they belong and not come off their reservation and steal our cattle and horses."

"Well, I'm going to ask one to make me a bow and some arrows when you catch 'em," decided Teddy.

That afternoon Teddy saw his sister trying to do something with bits of string and sticks in a shady spot on the porch.

"What are you making, Jan," he asked. "A cat's cradle?"

"Pooh! you don't make a cat's cradle with sticks," said the little girl.

"Well, I thought maybe it was a new kind, or maybe a kitten's cradle," laughed Teddy.

"Nope; it isn't that either," went on Janet, as she kept on twisting the strings around the sticks.

"Well, what are you making?"

"A bow and arrow."

"Ho! Ho!" laughed Jan's brother "You can't make a bow and arrow that way. Anyhow you don't need a string for an arrow."

"I know that!" Jan said. "But I'm making the bow first, and then I'm going to make the arrow. The arrow part is what you shoot, isn't it, Ted?"

"Yes," he answered. "I'll help you, Jan. I didn't mean to laugh at you," he went on, for he saw that Janet was very much in earnest about what she was doing. "I know how to make a bow and arrows."

"Oh, please show me!" begged Janet. "I want to know how to shoot like the Indians."

Teddy, however, did not have much better luck making the bow than his sister had had. The trouble was that the sticks Janet had picked up were not the right kind. They would not bend, and to make a bow that shoots arrows a piece of wood that springs, or bends, is needed. For it is the springy action of the wood that shoots the arrow on its way.

After trying two or three times, each time finding something wrong, Teddy said:

"Oh, I don't guess I can make a bow, either. Let's play something else."

"What'll we play?" asked Janet.

Teddy thought for a few moments. Playing out at Uncle Frank's ranch was different from playing at home. In some ways it was not so easy, for at home if the Curly-tops could not think up any way to have fun by themselves, they could run down the street and find some other boys and girls. But here there were no streets, and no other boys or girls unless Teddy and Janet went a long way to look for them, and they could not do that.

"I know what we can do," said Teddy, after a while. "We can get some blankets and cookies and play cowboy."

"How can you play cowboy with cookies and blankets?"

"I'll show you," Teddy answered, as he went into the house to get the things he wanted. He soon came out with some old quilts and the cookies, which were in a paper bag.

"Now," went on Janet's brother, "We'll go off on the prairie and make believe it's night and we have to stay out like the cowboys when they went after Uncle Frank's horses."

"Oh, that'll be fun!" cried Janet, and then she and Ted rolled themselves up in the old quilts and pretended to go to sleep on the soft grass of the prairie, making believe it was night, though of course it was not, for the sun was shining. Then they ate the cookies, pretending they were bacon, sandwiches, cake and other things that cowboys like.

Two or three days later Uncle Frank and the cowboys went out again to look for the Indians, but they did not find them. From other ranches word came of cattle and horses that had been stolen; and more cowboys were hired to keep watch over the animals that had to be left out in the big fields to eat their fill of grass. No barn was large enough to hold them.

Meanwhile Teddy and Janet were learning how to ride better each day. They could go quite fast now, though they were not allowed to make their ponies gallop except on ground where Uncle Frank knew there were no holes in which the animals might stumble.

Sometimes Daddy and Mother Martin went to ride with the children, and then they had good times together, taking their lunch and staying all day out on the prairie or in a shady grove of trees.

One day Ted and Janet saw some cowboys driving a number of ponies to the corral near the ranch buildings. Some of the animals were quite wild and went racing about as though they would like to run far off and not come back.

But the cowboys knew how to take care of the ponies. They rode around them, keeping them together in a bunch, and if one started to get away the cowboys would fire their revolvers and yell, so the pony would become frightened and turn back.

"Did you take these ponies away from the Indians?" asked Teddy, as he saw the little animals turned into the corral and the gate shut on them.

"No, these are some that have been running wild in a field away over at the far end of my ranch," explained Uncle Frank. "I had them brought in, as I'm going to ship some away to be sold."

"Come on, we'll go and look at the ponies," called Ted to his sister. "Are they very wild?" he asked Jim Mason, who had helped the cowboys bring them to the ranch corral.

"Yes, some of 'em are pretty wild," was the answer. "We had hard work making them come along. They want to get loose and do as they please."

Ted and Janet climbed up on the corral fence to look at the ponies. A few were somewhat tame, and allowed the Curlytops to pat them. But others were very wild, and ran about as though looking for a place to jump the fence or get out through a hole. But the fence was good and strong. It was high and had no holes in it.

"Lots of ponies!" murmured Trouble, as he toddled after his brother and sister to the corral.

"Yes, lots of 'em," agreed Janet. "You'll soon be a big boy and you can have a pony to ride like brother and sister."

"Trouble want pony now!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, no, not now," Janet said as she helped him get up on the lowest board of the fence, part of which was wooden, so he could look in better.

"What they run around like that for?" asked Trouble, as he saw some of the ponies racing about the corral.

"They want to get out," Janet answered.

"Trouble go help," murmured the little fellow, but Janet either did not hear what he said or she paid no attention, for just then two of the ponies had a race together around the corral and she and Ted wanted to see which would win.

Trouble got down off the fence and went around to the gate. His brother and sister did not notice him until, all at once, Janet, missing her little brother, cried:

"Where's Trouble?"

"I don't know," Ted answered. "Maybe he—Oh, look, Janet!" he suddenly cried. "The corral gate is open and all the ponies are running out!"

"Oh, that's right! They are!" Janet then screamed. "But where is Trouble?"

"I don't know. I guess he—Oh, there he is!" and Teddy pointed to a spot near the gate.

There stood Trouble between the fence and the big gate which had swung back on its hinges.

"Oh, look at 'em run!" cried Janet.

"They're all running out!" added Teddy excitedly. "I wonder who let 'em loose."

"Maybe it was Trouble," suggested Janet. "Oh, it was!" she went on. "Trouble must have opened the gate and let the ponies loose!"



CHAPTER XVI

ON THE TRAIL

Trouble had done that very thing. The little fellow had not meant to do any harm, and certainly thought he was doing something to help, but really he made a great deal of work for Uncle Frank and the cowboys.

The corral, or yard where the half-tamed horses were kept while they were being got ready to send away, was closed by a large gate, but one easy to open if you knew how. All one had to do was to pull on a little handle, which snapped a spring and the gate would swing open.

Horses and cattle could not open the gate, for they could not reach the handle, even if any of them had known enough to do anything like that.

But Trouble had watched Uncle Frank or some of the cowboys open the gate by pulling on the handle; and now he did it himself. Then, of course, when the ponies saw the open gate they raced out.

"Get after 'em!" cried Uncle Frank who came galloping up on his horse to find out what was the matter. "Get after the ponies, boys! Round them up!"

"Round up," is what cowboys call riding around a lot of horses or cattle to keep the animals in one place or to drive them where they should go. Uncle Frank wanted his cowboys to ride after the runaway ponies and drive them back into the corral.

As the wild little horses trotted out through the gate, behind which Trouble stood, well out of danger, the cowboys rode after them, yelling and shouting and shooting their revolvers.

"What a lot of noise!" cried Janet, covering her ears with her hands as she got down off the fence.

"I like it!" laughed Teddy. "It's like a Wild West show!"

Indeed it was, in a way, but it meant a lot of work for Uncle Frank and his men. For all the ponies ran out of the corral and were scattering over the prairie.

"Oh, Trouble! did you let the horses out?" asked Janet, as her little brother came out from behind the gate and toddled toward her and Ted. The runaway horses were now well out of the way. "Did you open the gate?"

"Yes. I did open gate," Trouble answered, smiling.

"What for?" asked Teddy.

"Help little horses get out," said Trouble. "Them want to get out and Trouble help them. Trouble 'ike ponies!"

"Oh, but, my dear, you shouldn't have done it!" chided Mother Martin, who had come out of the house to find out what all the excitement was about. "That was very naughty of you. See all the work you have made for Uncle Frank and his men."

"Horses run out when Trouble open gate," was the only reply Baby William made.

"Yes, I know," went on his mother. "But it was wrong! You must never again open any gates on Uncle Frank's ranch. Just think—the horses might have stepped on you or kicked you!"

"We didn't see him near the gate or we'd have stopped him," put in Teddy.

"That's true," added Janet. "The first we saw was the ponies going out, and then we saw Trouble behind the gate."

"He didn't mean to be bad," said his mother, as she carried him back to the house, "but he has made a lot of work. I'll have to punish him by not letting him out to play for an hour or so. Then he'll remember not to open gates again, whether he thinks he is helping horses or not."

And, though Trouble cried very hard, he was kept in the house. For, as his mother had said, he must have something to make him remember not to do such a thing again.

Meanwhile Uncle Frank and the cowboys were busy rounding up the runaway ponies. The little horses, tired of being cooped up in the corral, raced about, kicking up their heels and glad to be out on the prairie again. But the cowboys knew how to handle them.

Around and around the drove of half-wild ponies rode the yelling and shouting men, firing off many blank cartridges to scare the little animals back into the corral.

Some of the ponies, frightened by the noise, did turn back. They ran up to the corral gate, which was still open, and sniffed at the fence. They may have said to themselves:

"We don't like it, being shut up in there, but maybe well have to go back in, for we don't like being shouted at, and we don't like the bang-bang noises like thunder."

But, even when some of the ponies had run back as far as the corral gate they did not go in. Once again they turned around and would have galloped across the prairie again. But Uncle Frank shouted:

"Get after them, boys! Drive those few in and the rest will follow after like sheep! Get after them!"

So the cowboys rode up on their own swift ponies, that seemed to be having a good time, and then the other ponies nearest the corral gate were turned in through it. Then as the rest were driven up they did as the first ones had done and galloped back where they had been before Trouble let them out.

One after another the ponies ran back into the corral until every one was there. Then Uncle Frank closed the gate, and this time he locked it so that no one could open it without the key. But no one would try, not even Trouble, for, crying and sobbing to be allowed to go out and play, he had been given a lesson that he would not soon forget.

"I'm sorry I had to punish him," said Mother Martin to the Curlytops, when they came in after the ponies were once more in the corral, "but I just had to. Work on a ranch is hard enough without little boys letting the horses run wild after they have once been caught."

"Oh, well, no great harm was done," said Uncle Frank with a good -natured laugh, "though it did make us ride pretty hard for a while. Come on, Trouble, I'll take you ponyback!"

This was what Trouble liked, and he soon dried his tears and sat on the saddle in front of Uncle Frank as happy as could be. Janet and Ted got out their ponies, and rode with Uncle Frank and Trouble around the outside of the corral, looking at the little horses inside the fence. They were quieter now, and were eating some oats the cowboys had put out for them.

Two or three days after this, when the ponies had been driven away to the railroad station to be shipped to a far-off state, a cowboy came riding in with news that he had seen a band of two or three Indians pass along the prairie near the rocks where Teddy and Janet had found Clipclap.

"If we ride after them," said the cowboy, "maybe we can find where the other Indians are, and where they have hidden your horses and cattle, Mr. Barton."

"That's it!" exclaimed Uncle Frank. "We'll get on the trail after these Indians. I'm sure they must have some of my animals hidden away in the hills, for I would have heard of it if they had sold them around here. We'll get on the trail!"

"What's the trail, Daddy?" asked Teddy of his father.

"Oh, it means the marks the Indians' ponies may have left in the soft ground," said Mr. Martin. "Uncle Frank and his cowboys will try to trail, or follow, the marks of the horses' feet, and see where the Indians have gone."

"Can't I come?" asked Teddy. "I can ride good now!"

"Oh, no indeed you can't go!" cried Mother Martin. "Are you going?" she asked her husband.

"Yes," he answered. "I think I'll go on the trail with Uncle Frank."



CHAPTER XVII

THE CURLYTOPS ALONE

Teddy and Janet sat on a bench outside the cowboys' bunkhouse, as their father, Uncle Frank and a number of the ranchmen rode away over the prairies on the trail of the Indians. The Curlytops did not seem very happy.

"Don't you wish we could go, Jan?" asked Teddy, after he and his sister had sat in silence for some time.

"I just guess I do!" she exclaimed. "I can ride good, too. Almost as good as you, Ted, and I don't see why we couldn't go!"

"Yes, you ride nice, Jan," said her brother. "But I thought you were afraid of Indians."

"I used to be, but I'm not any more. Anyway, if you'd stay with me I wouldn't be. And, anyhow, Uncle Frank says the Indians won't hurt us."

"Course they won't! I'm not afraid! I'd go on the trail after 'em if they'd let us."

"So would I. We could throw stones at 'em if they tried to hurt us, Teddy."

"Yes. Or we could ride our ponies fast and get away. Uncle Frank told me the Indians didn't have any good ponies, and that's why they took his."

"But we can't go," said Janet with a sigh.

"No; we've got to stay at home."

A little later a cowboy came limping out of the bunkhouse. His name was Sim Body, but all his friends called him "Baldy" because he had so little hair on his head.

"Hello, Curlytops!" cried Baldy in a jolly voice, for he was always good-natured. Even now he was jolly, though he had a lame foot where a horse had stepped on it. That is why he was not on the trail after the Indians with the other cowboys.

"Hello," answered Teddy, but he did not speak in a jolly voice.

"Why, what's the matter?" asked Baldy with a laugh, as he limped to the bench and sat down near the two children. "You act as sad and gloomy as if there wasn't a Christmas or a New Year's any more, to say nothing of Fourth of July and birthdays! What's the matter? Seems to me, if I had all the nice, curly hair you two have, I'd be as happy as a horned toad and I'd go around singing all day long," and Baldy rubbed his hand over his own smooth head and laughed.

"I don't like my hair," grumbled Teddy. "It's always getting snarled and the comb gets stuck in it."

"And it does in mine, too," added Janet. "And mother pulls when she tries to untangle it. Mine's longer than Ted's."

"Yes, and nicer, for that reason," went on Baldy. "Though I'd be glad if I had even half of yours, Teddy. But never mind about that. I won't take your hair, though I'd like to know what makes you both so gloomy-like. Can't you smile?"

Ted and Janet could not help laughing at Baldy, he seemed so funny. He was a good friend of theirs.

"We can't go on the trail after Indians," said Janet. "We want to go, but we've got to stay here."

"And we can ride our ponies good, too," went on Teddy. "Uncle Frank said we could."

"Yes, you're getting to be pretty good riders," admitted Baldy. "But that isn't saying you're big enough to go on a trail after Indians. Of course these Indians may not be very bad, and maybe they aren't the ones that took our horses. But riding on a trail takes a long while, and maybe the boys will be out all night in the open. You wouldn't like that."

"We went camping with our grandpa once," declared Teddy.

"And we slept in a tent," added his sister.

"And we saw a funny blue light and we thought it was a ghost but it wasn't," continued Teddy.

"Hum! A ghost, eh?" laughed Baldy. "Well, I've never been on a trail after one of them, but I've trailed Indians—and helped catch 'em, too."

"How do you do it?" asked Teddy eagerly.

"Well, you just keep on riding—following the trail you know—until you catch up to those you're after. Sometimes you can't see any marks on the ground and you have to guess at it."

"And do the Indians ride on ahead and try to get away?" asked Janet.

"Indeed they do. When they know we're after 'em they ride as fast as they can. That is, if they've done wrong, like taking horses or cattle that aren't theirs. We just keep chasing 'em until we get close enough to arrest 'em."

"It's like a game of tag, isn't it?" asked Janet.

"Well, yes, you could call it sort of like that," admitted Baldy, with another laugh. "But it's a kind of game of tag that little boys and girls can't very well play."

"Not even when they have ponies?" asked Teddy.

"Well, of course, having a pony makes it easier to keep on the trail. You couldn't go very far walking over the prairies—at least none of us do. We all ride. But I'll tell you some stories about cowboys and Indians and that will amuse you for a while. Like to hear 'em?"

"Oh, yes!" cried Teddy.

"Very much, thank you," added Janet, a little more politely but still just as eagerly as her brother.

So Baldy, sitting on the bench in front of the bunkhouse and resting his lame foot on a saddle on the ground, told the Curlytops stories of his cowboy life—of sleeping out on the prairies keeping watch over the cattle, of Indians or other bad men who would come and try to steal them, and how he and his friends had to give chase to get the steers or ponies back.

"Did you ever get captured by the Indians?" asked Teddy.

"Well, yes, once I was," answered the cowboy.

"Oh, tell us about it!" begged the little Curlytop chap. "I love to hear stories about Indians! Don't you, Jan?"

"I like stories—yes," said the little girl. "But if you're going to tell a story about Indians, Mr. Baldy, maybe it'll be a scary one, and I don't like scary stories."

"I do!" exclaimed Ted. "The scarier they are the better I like 'em!"

Baldy laughed as he said:

"Well, I guess, seeing as how the little lady doesn't like scary stories, I'd better tell one that isn't. We must please the ladies, you know, Teddy."

"Oh, yes, I know that," the little boy said. "But after you tell the not-scary story, Mr. Baldy, couldn't you tell me one that is scary—a real, terrible scary one. You can take me out behind the barn where Jan can't hear it."

"Well, maybe I could do that," agreed the good-natured cowboy, laughing at the Curlytops. "Now then for the not-scary story."

"And you don't have to take Teddy out behind the barn to tell him the scary one," put in Janet. "You could stay here, and I could cover up my ears with my hands when you came to the terrible parts, couldn't I? Is there any parts in it that isn't scary? I'd like to hear them, Mr. Baldy."

"Well, I guess we can fix it that way," said the cowboy. "Now the first story I'm going to tell you, is how I was captured by the Indians," and the children sat closer to him and waited eagerly.

"Once upon a time," said Baldy, "a lot of Indians lived not far from the house where I lived."

"Weren't you afraid?" asked Janet.

"Please don't ask questions till he tells the story," begged Teddy.

"All right," agreed his sister, and Baldy went on:

"No, I wasn't much afraid, or if I was I've forgotten it now, as it was quite a while ago. Anyhow, one day I was out on the prairie, picking flowers, I think, for I know I used to like flowers, and, all of a sudden, along came a lot of Indians on horses, and one of them picked me up and took me right away with him, on the horse in front of him.

"The horse was a strong one, and could easily carry both of us, and though I wiggled around a good bit and yelled, the Indian didn't let go of me. On and on he rode, carrying me off, and the other Indians rode ahead of us, and on either side. I couldn't get away, no matter how I tried.

"After a while the Indians, who had been out hunting, came to where their tents were. This was their camp, and then I was lifted down off the horse and given to a squaw."

Teddy simply had to ask some questions now.

"A squaw is a Indian lady, isn't she?"

"Yes," answered Baldy, "that's what she is."

"Well, I shouldn't think she'd want to take you," went on the little boy. "I thought the Indian men always kept the prisoners, and you were a prisoner, weren't you?"

"Yes," answered Baldy, and there was a queer smile on his face, "but I guess I forgot to tell you that the time I was captured by the Indians I was a little boy, not as big as you, Curlytop. And the reason they picked me up off the prairie was that I had wandered away from my home and was lost. So the nice squaw kept me until one of the Indian men had time to take me home."

"Then didn't the Indians hurt you?" asked Janet.

"Not a bit. They were very good to me," the cowboy said. "Some of them knew my father and mother. That's the only time I was ever captured by the Indians, and I'm afraid it wasn't very much of a story."

"Oh, it was very nice," said Teddy politely.

"And not a bit scary, except a little teeny bit at first," added Janet. "Can you tell us another, Mr. Baldy?"

"Well, I guess I can," said the good-natured cowboy. So he told other tales of what had happened to him on the prairies, for he had lived in the West all his life, and knew much about it.

Teddy and Janet were very glad to hear these stories, but listening to them made Ted, at least, wish all the more that he could have gone with his father and his Uncle Frank on the trail after the Indians.

Then Baldy was called away by another cowboy, who wanted to ask him something about a sick horse, and Teddy and Janet were called by their mother to take care of Trouble for a while.

It was still morning, the cowboys having ridden away before dinner. They had taken with them enough to eat, even if they had to stay out all night.

"I wants a wide!" announced Trouble, when his brother and sister came in to get him.

"Could we give him a little ride on our ponies?" asked Teddy of his mother.

"Yes, I think so. But don't go far away from the stable. Are any of the cowboys out there to help you saddle?"

Saddling, which meant buckling the leather seat tightly around the pony, was something Teddy and Janet could not yet do very well for themselves. It takes strong fingers to tighten the straps.

"Yes, Baldy is out there," Janet said.

"How often have I told you not to call the men by their nicknames?" asked Mother Martin with a smile. "It isn't nice for children to do that."

"But, please, Mother, we don't know his other name very well," said Teddy. "Everybody calls him Baldy."

"Yes, that's right," agreed Aunt Millie. "I do myself. I guess he doesn't mind."

"Very well, if he'll saddle your ponies for you, take Trouble for a little ride," agreed Mrs. Martin. "But be careful."

The Curlytops said they would, and they were soon taking turns riding Trouble on the saddles in front of them. Clipclap and Star Face liked the children and were well-behaved ponies, so there was no danger in putting Trouble on the back of either as long as Ted or Janet held him.

"But don't go riding off with him on the trail after the Indians," said Baldy, playfully shaking his finger at the Curlytops.

"We won't!" they promised.

Up and down on the paths among the ranch buildings rode the children. Trouble was allowed to hold the ends of the reins, and he thought he was guiding the ponies, but really Teddy and Janet did that.

But finally even such fun as riding ponyback tired Trouble. He wanted something else to do, and said:

"Le's go an' s'ide downhill on hay in de barn."

Teddy and Janet knew what that meant. They had learned this kind of fun at Grandpa Martin's Cherry Farm. Here, on Ring Rosy Ranch, there was a large barn filled with hay, and there was plenty of room to slide down in the mow, or place where the hay was put away.

"Come on!" cried Janet. "Well give him a good slide, Teddy."

A little later the Curlytops and Baby William were laughing and shouting in the barn, rolling down and tumbling over one another, but not getting hurt, for the hay was too soft.

Pretty soon the dinner horn blew and, with good appetites from their morning's fun, the children hurried in to get something to eat.

"This is a good dinner!" announced Teddy as he passed his plate a second time.

"Yes," agreed Mother Martin. "I hope your father and the cowboys have as good."

"Oh, they'll have plenty—never fear!" laughed Uncle Frank's wife. "They never go hungry when they're on the trail."

After dinner Trouble went to sleep, as he generally did, and Teddy and Janet were left to themselves to find amusement.

"Let's go for another ride," suggested Teddy.

"All right," agreed Janet.

The saddles had not been taken off their ponies. Their mother and Aunt Millie saw them go out and, supposing they were only going to ride around the barn and ranch buildings, as they had done before, said nothing to them.

But Ted was no sooner in the saddle than he turned to his sister and said:

"Jan, why can't we go riding the trail after the Indians?"

"What! We two alone?"

"Yes. We know the way over to the rocks where we found Clipclap in the cave, and from there we can ride farther on, just like daddy and Uncle Frank. Come on!"

Janet thought for a minute. She wanted to go as much as did Teddy. It did not seem very wrong.

"Well, we'll ride a little way," she said. "But we've got to come back before dark."

"All right," agreed Teddy. "We will!"

And the Curlytops rode away over the prairie.



CHAPTER XVIII

LOST

Clipclap and Star Face, the two sturdy little ponies, trotted bravely along, carrying Teddy and Janet on their backs. The ponies did not wonder where they were going—they hardly ever did that. They were satisfied to go wherever their master or mistress guided them, for they knew the children would be good to them.

"Do you s'pose we'll find any Indians?" asked Janet after a while.

"Maybe," answered Teddy. "Are you scared?"

"No," replied his sister slowly. "I was just thinking maybe we could find 'em, and get back Uncle Frank's horses, even if the cowboys didn't."

"Maybe we could!" cried Teddy. "That would be great! Wouldn't daddy be surprised!"

"And Uncle Frank, too!" added Janet

"Yes, and the cowboys! Then they'd think we could ride all right!" went on Ted.

"Come on, let's hurry! Gid-dap!" he called to Clipclap.

"Where are we going first?" asked Janet.

"To the rocks, where we found my pony in the cave," answered her brother, as he patted the little animal on the neck. "The cowboy said he saw the Indians near there."

"Maybe they're hiding in the cave," suggested Janet.

"No, they wouldn't do that," Teddy decided, after thinking it over awhile.

"They'd be afraid to stay so near Uncle Frank's ranch. Anyhow the cave isn't big enough."

"It was big enough for Clipclap."

"Yes, but he's a little pony. Anyhow, we'll look in the cave and then we'll ride on along the trail until we catch up to daddy and Uncle Frank."

"What'll they say?"

"I guess they'll be s'prised."

"Maybe they'll make us go back."

"Well, if they do we'll have some fun, anyhow," said Teddy, laughing. "Gid-dap, Clipclap."

"It's a good thing we've two ponies instead of one goat," remarked Janet, after they had ridden on a little farther.

"Course it is," agreed Ted. "We couldn't both ride Nicknack, though he could pull us both in the wagon."

"Maybe he'd be afraid of Indians," suggested Janet.

"No, I don't guess he would," answered Teddy, after some reflection. "Nicknack's a brave goat. I like him. But I like Clipclap, too."

"And I like Star Face," added Janet "He's an awful nice pony."

On and on the ponies trotted, carrying the Curlytops farther and farther from the Ring Rosy Ranch house. But the children were not afraid. The sun was shining brightly, and they had often before ridden this far alone. They could look back at the ranch buildings when they got on top of the little hills with which the prairie was dotted, and they were not lonesome.

Off on either side they could see groups of horses or cattle that belonged to Uncle Frank, and Ted and Janet thought there must be cowboys with the herds.

"I'm going to get a drink when we get to the rocks," said Janet, as they came within sight of the pile of big stones.

"Yes. And we'll give the ponies some, too," agreed her brother. "I guess they're thirsty."

Indeed the little animals were thirsty, and after they had rested a while—for Uncle Frank had told the children it was not wise to let a horse or pony drink when it was too warm—Clipclap and Star Face had some of the cool water that bubbled up among the rocks.

"It tastes awful good!" exclaimed Janet, as she took some from the cup Ted filled for her.

After Clipclap had been found at the spring, the time he was hidden in the cave, one of the cowboys had brought a tin cup to the spring, leaving it there, so if anyone passed the spring it would be easy to get a drink without having to use a hat or kneel down on the ground. For horses and cattle there was a little rocky basin into which the cool water flowed.

"I wish we could take some of the water with us," said Teddy, when, after a rest, they were ready to follow the trail again.

"If we had a bottle, like some of the cowboys carry, we could," remarked Janet. "Maybe we'll get awful thirsty if we ride on a long way, Ted."

"Maybe we will, but maybe we can find another spring. I heard Uncle Frank say there's more than one on the ranch. Come on!"

The children took another drink, and offered some to the ponies, each of which took a little. Then, once more, the Curlytops were on the trail after the Indians, as they believed.

"Which way do we go now?" asked Janet, as she watched Teddy get up in his saddle after he had helped her mount Star Face.

"We've got to follow the trail," Teddy answered.

"How do we do it?" his sister inquired.

"Well. I asked Baldy and he said just look on the ground for tracks in the dirt. You know the kind of marks a horse's foot makes, don't you, Jan?"

"Yes, and I see some down here," and she pointed to the ground.

"That's them!" exclaimed Teddy. "We've got to follow the marks! That's the trail!"

"Is this the Indians' trail?" asked the little girl, and she looked over her shoulder, perhaps to make sure no one was following her and her brother.

"I don't know if it's the Indians' trail, or, maybe, the marks left by Uncle Frank and daddy," said Teddy. "Anyhow we've got to follow the trail. That's what Baldy said."

"He doesn't know we came off alone, does he?" asked Janet

"No. I guess he wouldn't have let us if he did. But we won't have to go very far, and then we'll catch up to the rest. Then they'll have to take us with 'em."

"Yes," said Janet, and she rode along beside her brother.

Neither of the Curlytops stopped to think that their father, Uncle Frank and the cowboys had started off early that morning, and must have ridden on many miles ahead. The cowboys' horses, too, could go faster than the ponies Star Pace and Clipclap, for the larger horses had longer legs.

All Teddy and Janet thought of was hurrying along as fast as they could go, in order to catch up to the Indian hunters. What would happen after that they did not know.

All at once, as the Curlytops were riding along, they heard what they thought was a whistle.

"Some one is calling us," said Janet, turning to look back. "Did you hear that, Ted?"

"Yes, I heard a whistle. Maybe it's Uncle Frank, or some of the cowboys."

The children looked across the prairie but could see no one. They were about to go on again when the whistle sounded once more.

"That is some one calling us," declared Jan. "Let's see if we can't find who it is, Teddy."

So the children looked around again, but no one was in sight, and, what was still stranger, the whistling sound kept up.

"It's some one playing a joke on us, and hiding after they whistle," said Janet. "Maybe one of the cowboys from the ranch."

"Maybe an Indian," said Ted, and then he was sorry he had said that, for his sister looked frightened.

"Oh!" said Janet, "if it's an Indian—"

"I don't guess it is," Teddy hastened to say. "I guess Indians don't whistle, anyhow."

This made Janet feel better and once more she and her brother looked around to see what made the queer whistling sound, that still kept up. It was just like a boy calling to another, and Teddy was quite puzzled over it until he suddenly saw what was doing it.

Perched on a small mound of earth near a hole in the ground, was a little animal, about as big as a large rat, though, as Janet said, he was "nicer looking." And as Ted and his sister looked, they saw this little animal move, and then they knew he it was that was whistling.

"Oh, what is it?" cried Janet.

"I know," Teddy answered. "That's a prairie dog. Baldy told me about them, and how they whistled when they saw any danger."

"Is there any danger here?" asked Janet, looking around.

"I guess the prairie dog thinks we're the danger," said Teddy. "But we wouldn't hurt him."

"Does he live down in that hole?" asked Janet.

"Yes, just like a gopher," answered her brother, who had listened to the cowboys telling about the little prairie dogs. "And sometimes there are snakes or an owl in the same hole with the prairie dog."

"Then I'm not going any nearer," decided Janet. "I don't mind an owl, but I don't like snakes! Come on, Ted, let's hurry."

As they started off, the prairie dog, which really did make a whistling sound, suddenly darted down inside his burrow or hole. Perhaps he thought Teddy and Janet were coming to carry him off, but they were not. The children saw many more of the little animals as they rode over the prairies.

"But we must look for marks—tracks, Baldy calls them," said Teddy. "Tracks will tell us which way the Indians went," and so the children kept their eyes turned toward the sod as they rode along.

For a while they could see many marks in the soft ground—the marks of horses' feet, some shod with iron shoes and others bare, for on the prairie grass there is not the same need of iron shoes on the hoofs of horses as in the city, with its hard, paved streets. Then the marks were not so plain; and pretty soon, about a mile from the spring amid the rocks where the ground was quite hard, Teddy and Janet could see no marks at all.

"Which way do we go?" asked Ted's sister, as he called to his pony to stop. "Do you know the way?"

"No, I don't guess I do," he answered. "But anyhow we can ride along and maybe well see 'em."

"Yes, we can do that," Janet said.

It was still early in the afternoon, and the sun was shining brightly. They knew they were still on Uncle Frank's ranch, and, though they could not see the buildings any more, they could see the place where they had had a drink at the spring.

"All we've got to do, if we want to come back," observed Teddy, "is ride to the rocks and then we know the way home from there."

"Yes, that's easy," Janet said.

So they rode on and on.

Of course the Curlytops ought not to have done what they did, but they did not think, any more than Trouble thought when he opened the corral gate and let out the ponies.

But the sun did not stay high in the sky all the afternoon. Presently the bright ball of fire began to go down in the west, and the shadows of Teddy and Janet grew long on the prairie. They knew what those long shadows meant—that it was getting late afternoon.

After a while Janet turned in her saddle and looked back.

"Oh, Teddy!" she cried. "I can't see the spring rocks," for that is what the children had called the place where they had found Clipclap.

"They're back there just the same."

"I know. But if we can't see 'em we won't know how to ride back to them," went on Janet. "How are we going to find our way back home, Ted?"

"Oh, I can get to the rocks when I want to," he said. "Come on, we'll ride a little bit farther and then, if we can't find daddy and Uncle Frank, we'll go back."

"Well, don't go much farther," said Janet, and Teddy said he would not.

There were many hills and hollows now, much higher and deeper ones than those near the ranch buildings. Even from the top of one of the high hills up which the ponies slowly climbed, the Curlytops could not see the spring rocks.

"Oh, Ted!" exclaimed Jan, "I'm afraid! I want to go back! It's going to be night pretty soon!"

"It won't be night for a good while," he said, "but I guess maybe we'd better go back. I can't see daddy, Uncle Frank or the cowboys."

He raised himself in the stirrups and looked across the prairies, shading his eyes with his hand the way he had seen some of the cowboys do. Nothing was in sight.

"Come on, Jan, we'll go back," he said.

Clipclap and Star Face were turned around. Once more off trotted the little ponies with the Curlytops on their backs.

The shadows grew longer. It was not so bright and nice on the prairies now. Janet kept close to Teddy. At last she asked:

"Do you see the rocks?"

"Not yet," her brother answered. "But we'll soon be there."

They did not reach them, however. On and on they rode. The sun went down behind a bank of clouds.

"Oh, dear!" sighed Janet, "I don't like this," and her voice sounded as if she were going to cry.

"We'll soon be back at the rocks, and then I know the way home," said Teddy, as bravely as he could.

But they did not reach the rocks. Up the hollows and across the hills they rode, over the broad prairies, but no rocks did they see. At last the ponies began to go more slowly, for they were tired. It grew darker. Ted looked anxiously about. Janet spoke softly to him.

"Teddy," she asked, "are we—are we—lost?"

For a moment Teddy did not answer. Then he replied slowly:

"Yes—I guess we are lost, Janet!"



CHAPTER XIX

THE HIDDEN VALLEY

The Curlytops were in trouble. It was not the first time they had been lost, no indeed! But it was the first time they could remember being lost so far away from home, and in such a big place as a Western prairie. They did not know what to do.

"Don't you know the way home?" asked Janet, still keeping close to her brother. It was getting dark, and, somehow, she felt safer near him, even if he was only a year older than she was.

"I'd know the way home back to the ranch house if we could find the rocks with the cave where Clipclap was," Teddy replied.

"Let's look for them some more," suggested Janet. "If we don't get home pretty soon we'll be all in the dark and—and we'll have to stay out here all alone."

"Are you afraid?" asked Ted, looking at his sister.

"Yes. Won't you be?"

"Pooh! No!" he exclaimed, and he talked loudly, perhaps just so he would not be afraid. You know a boy always whistles very loudly at night when he is walking along a dark place alone. And if there are two boys they both whistle. What girls do when they walk through a dark place alone I do not know. Maybe they sing.

Anyhow Teddy talked very loud, and when Janet heard him say he was not afraid she felt better.

"But will we have to stay out here all night?" she asked.

"I guess so." Teddy answered. "But it'll be just like camping out. Daddy and Uncle Frank and the cowboys are going to stay out."

"Yes, but they've got something to eat," objected Janet, "and we haven't anything. Not even a cookie—lessen you've got one in your pocket, Teddy."

"No, Jan," answered her brother, after a quick search, "I haven't. I forgot to bring any."

"So did I," went on Janet. "I don't think I like to stay out here alone all night if we haven't anything to eat."

"No, it won't be much fun," agreed Teddy. "I guess maybe I can find those rocks, Janet, and then we'll know how to get home. Come on."

He turned his pony's head and the tired little animal walked slowly on and Janet's Star Face followed. But the truth of the matter was, Ted did not know in which direction to guide his little horse. He could not remember where the rocks lay. But Janet was trusting to him, and he felt he must do his best.

So he kept on until it grew a little darker, and his pony was walking so slowly that Trouble would have found it easy to have walked almost as fast.

"What's the matter?" asked Janet, who was riding behind her brother, looking as hard as she could through the darkness for a sight of the rocks, which, once they were reached, almost meant home. "What's the matter, Ted?"

"Matter with what, Jan?"

"What makes the ponies go so slow?"

"'Cause they're tired, I guess."

"Can't you find the rocks and let them rest and get a drink? I'm awful thirsty, Teddy!"

"So'm I, Jan. We'll go on a little more and maybe we'll find the rocks. Don't cry!"

"Pooh! who's goin' to cry?" demanded Janet quickly.

"I—I thought maybe you were," Teddy answered.

"I am not!" and Janet was very positive about it. "But I'm tired and hungry, and I want a drink awful bad."

"So do I," added Teddy. "We'll go on a little more."

So, wearily, the ponies walked on carrying the Curlytops. Ted kept looking ahead, and to the left and right, trying to find the rocks. But, had he only known it (which he did later) he was going away from them all the while instead of toward them.

All at once Clipclap stumbled and nearly fell.

"Whoa there! Look out!" cried Teddy, reining up the head of his animal as he had seen Uncle Frank do. "Don't fall, Clipclap!"

"What's the matter?" asked Janet. "Did he step in a hole?"

"I don't know. I guess he's just tired," and Teddy's voice was sad. For he was very weary and much frightened, though he did not tell Janet so.

"Well, let's stop and rest," said his sister. "Do you think you can find those rocks, Ted?"

"No, I don't guess I can. I guess we're lost, Janet."

"Oh, dear!" she answered.

"Now don't cry!" warned Teddy.

"I—I'm not!" exclaimed his sister. "I—I was just blowing my nose, so there, The-o-dore Mar-tin!"

Teddy grinned in the darkness, tired as he was. He was glad Janet was a little angry with him. That meant she would not cry, and if his sister started to weep Ted did not know what he would do. He might even cry himself. He was not too big for that.

"Let's stop and give the ponies a rest," suggested Janet.

"All right," agreed Teddy. "And maybe they can hunt around and find water. One of the cowboys told me his pony did that once when he didn't know where to get a drink himself."

"I wish Star Face could find water," went on Janet. "I'd drink some of it, too."

"So would I—if it was clean," said Teddy.

Wearily the two Curlytops slipped from their saddles. The ponies seemed glad of this, and at once began to eat the grass that grew all about. Teddy and Janet looked at them awhile. It was not so dark but what they could see things close to them, and the stars were twinkling brightly overhead.

"They don't seem very thirsty," said Janet.

"Maybe they'll start to go after water when they've had their supper," suggested her brother, with a sigh, which, however, Janet did not hear. "We've got to wait—that's all."

The Curlytops sat down on the ground and waited, while the ponies with the reins over their heads—which was a sign that they must not go far away—cropped the sweet grass.

"I wish we could eat grass," said Janet, after a bit.

"Why?"

"Then we could eat it like the ponies do and not be hungry."

"It would be a good thing," Teddy agreed. "But we can't. I chewed some sour grass once, but I didn't swallow it."

"I ate some watercress once at home," said Janet. "But I didn't like it. Anyhow I don't guess watercress grows around here."

"No," agreed Teddy.

Then they sat and watched the ponies eating in the darkness. Clipclap was wandering farther off than Teddy liked and he jumped up and hurried after his animal. As he caught him Teddy saw something on the ground a little way off. It was something round and black, and, now that the moon had come up, he could see more plainly.

"What's the matter, Teddy?" Janet called to him, as she saw him standing motionless, after he had taken hold of Clipclap's bridle. "What are you looking at?"

"I don't know what it is," Teddy answered. "Maybe it's a prairie dog, but he's keepin' awful still. Come and look, Janet."

"Oh, I don't want to!" she exclaimed.

"Oh, come on!" urged Teddy. "It isn't moving. Maybe you can tell what it is."

Janet, making sure that Star Face was all right, walked over to her brother. She, too, saw the dark object lying on a bare spot in the prairie. It did not move. The moonlight became stronger and Janet, becoming brave all of a sudden, went closer.

"It's nothing but a bundle, Teddy Martin!" she exclaimed. "Somebody has dropped a bundle."

"They have?" Teddy cried. "Then if somebody's been past here they can find us—or we can find them—and we aren't lost anymore!"

"Oh, I hope it comes true!" sighed Janet.

"Here, you hold Clipclap—he's starting to walk away"—went on Teddy, "and I'll go see what that is."

Janet took the pony's reins, and her brother walked toward the bundle. He could see now that it was something wrapped in a blanket, and as he came closer he saw that the blanket was one of the kind the cowboys at Uncle Frank's ranch carried when they went out to spend the night on the prairie.

"What is it?" asked Janet, as her brother picked up the bundle and came back toward her.

"I don't know, but it's heavy," he answered. "Well open it."

"Maybe we'd better not," cautioned Janet. "It isn't ours."

"But we're lost," Teddy said, "and we want to be found. Maybe there's something in this bundle to help."

The blanket was fastened with a strap on the outside, and Teddy managed to unbuckle this after two or three trials, Janet helping. Then, as the moon shone down on what was in the blanket, the Curlytops gave a cry of delight, which startled even the ponies.

"It's something to eat!" cried Teddy.

"And to drink!" added Janet, as she picked up the canvas-covered canteen, or water bottle, such as soldiers carry. By shaking it she knew it was full of water.

"Say, this is good luck!" cried Teddy.

Stopping no longer to wonder who had dropped the bundle, the Curlytops took a drink from the canteen. They had not been used to drinking out of a bottle since they were babies, and some of the water ran down their necks.

But they did not mind this. And, even though the water was rather warm, they felt much better after having had a drink.

"I wish we could give the ponies some," said Janet. "But there isn't very much, and they would drink this all up and not know they'd had any."

"Anyhow I guess they're not thirsty, or they'd try to find water just as the cowboys said they would," added Teddy. "They can chew the grass."

He and Janet looked into the bundle again, and found a number of sandwiches, together with some uncooked bacon, a little ground coffee, a small coffee-pot and a tin cup.

"Oh, goody! We can eat the sandwiches," Janet said.

"And in the morning, when we find a spring, we can make coffee," added Teddy. "I know how, 'cause grandpa showed me when we were camping on Star Island. I haven't any matches to make a fire, but maybe I can find some."

"Will we have to stay here all night?" asked Janet anxiously.

"I spect so," her brother answered. "I don't know the way back to the ranch house. We can't even find the rocks. We'll stay here all night. It isn't cold, and now we have a blanket we can wrap up in it like the cowboys do. And we've something to eat and drink."

"But mother and daddy will be awful worried," said Janet.

"Well, they'll maybe come and find us," answered Teddy. "Look out!" he cried. "Clipclap's going off again!"

Indeed the little pony seemed to want to walk away, and so did Star Face.

"Maybe they know where to go to find water," suggested Janet.

"Maybe," agreed Ted. "Let's let 'em go, and we'll go with 'em. That water in the canteen won't be enough till morning."

The children ate nearly all of the sandwiches, and put away the rest of the food in the blanket which Teddy strapped around it. Then they mounted their ponies, Ted taking the bundle with him, and let the animals wander which way they would.

"They'll go to water if they're thirsty enough," Teddy said.

"Who do you s'pose dropped that bundle?" asked Janet.

"A cowboy," her brother answered.

"One from Ring Rosy Ranch?"

"Maybe."

"Oh, I hope he did, and that he's around here somewhere," went on Janet. "I'm tired of being lost!"

"We've only just begun," Teddy said. But, truth to tell, he wished very much that they were both safe back at the ranch house with their mother.

On and on over the moonlit prairies went Star Face and Clipclap. They seemed to know where they were going and did not stop. Ted and Janet were too tired to guide them. They were both getting sleepy.

Pretty soon Janet saw ahead of her something glistening in the stretch of the prairie. The moonlight seemed to sparkle on it.

"Oh, look, Ted!" she cried, pointing.

"It's water—a little river!" he exclaimed. "The ponies have led us to water!"

And so the animals had. Teddy and Janet slipped from their ponies' backs at the edge of the stream and then Star Face and Clipclap took long drinks. Ted emptied the canteen, filled it with the cooler water, and he and Janet drank again. Then they felt much better.

The ponies again began to crop the grass. The Curlytops, very tired and sleepy, felt that it would be all right to make their bed in the blanket they had found, dropped by some passing cowboy.

But first Ted looked around. Off to one side, and along the stream from which they had drunk, he saw something dark looming up.

"Look, Janet," he said. "Maybe that's a ranch house over there, and we could go in for the night."

"Maybe," she agreed. "Let's go to it."

Once more they mounted their ponies. The animals did not seem so tired now, but trotted on over the prairie. They drew nearer to the dark blotch Teddy had noticed.

Then, as the moon came out from behind some clouds, the Curlytops saw that they were at the entrance to a hidden valley—a little valley tucked away among the hills, which they would never have seen had they not come to the stream to drink.

The little river ran through the valley, and in the moonlight the children could see that a fence had been made at the end nearest them. It was a wooden fence, and not one of barbed wire, such as there were many of on Ring Rosy Ranch.

"This is a queer valley," said Janet.

"Yes, and look!" exclaimed Ted, pointing. "Don't you see things moving around in it?"

"Yes," agreed Jan, as she looked. "Why, Ted!" she cried. "They're horses—ponies—a lot of 'em!"

"So they are!" exclaimed Ted. "Oh, we're near a ranch, Janet! Now we're all right!"

"Yes. But maybe we're a good way from the ranch house," answered Janet. "We maybe can't find it in the dark. Some of Uncle Frank's ponies are five miles away from the stable, you know. Maybe we'd better not go on any more in the dark. I'm tired!"

"Well," agreed Teddy. "I guess we could stay here till it's morning. We could sleep in the blanket. It's plenty big enough for us two."

"And in the morning we can ride on and find the ranch, and the cowboys there will take us to Ring Rosy," added Janet. "Let's do it, Teddy."

They looked again at the strange valley in which the horses were moving about. Clipclap whinnied and one of the other ponies answered. But they could not come out because of the fence, part of which was built in and across the little river.

Then, throwing the reins over the heads f their ponies, and knowing the animals would not stray far, Ted and Janet, taking another drink from the canteen, rolled up in the blanket and went to sleep on the prairie just outside the hidden valley that held a secret of which they did not even dream.



CHAPTER XX

BACK TO RING ROSY

"I hope the Curlytops won't ride too far," said Mrs. Martin, coming out into the kitchen to help with the work.

She had just got Trouble to sleep after Teddy and Janet had brought him in from the haymow before riding off on their ponies.

"Oh, I guess they won't," Aunt Millie answered.

But, could Mrs. Martin and Aunt Millie have seen them, they would have been much surprised to know where the Curlytops then were.

As you know, they were riding along the trail after the Indians.

The hours went on until it was late afternoon. And then, when the children did not come back, Mrs. Martin began to be alarmed. She went to the top of a low hill not far away from the ranch house and looked across the prairie.

"I can't see them," she said, when she came back.

"Oh, don't worry," returned Aunt Millie. "They'll be along pretty soon. And, anyhow, there is no danger."

"But—the Indians?" questioned Mrs. Martin.

"Oh, they are far enough off by this time," said the ranch owner's wife. "They won't bother the Curly tops."

But Mother Martin did worry, and when supper time came near and Janet and Teddy were not yet back, Aunt Millie, too, began to think it strange.

"What do you suppose could happen?" asked Mrs. Martin. "I wish Dick were here."

"Oh, lots of little things might happen," said Aunt Millie. "The children may have ridden farther than they meant to. It's such a nice day for riding you couldn't blame them for going. Or one of their ponies may have gone lame and have to walk slowly. That would make them get here late."

"Suppose they should be hurt?" asked Mother Martin, anxiously.

"Oh, I don't suppose anything of the sort!" and Aunt Millie laughed. But Mother Martin did not feel like laughing.

At last, however, when it began to get dark and the children had not come, even the cowboys left at the ranch—those who had not ridden on the trail after the Indians—said it was time something was done.

"We'll go out and find 'em," said Baldy. "The little tykes have got lost; that's about all. We'll find 'em and bring 'em home!"

"Oh, I hope you can!" exclaimed Mrs. Martin.

"Sure we will!" cried Baldy. "Won't we, boys?"

"That's what we will!" cried the cowboys.

The men started out over the prairie right after supper, carrying lanterns, not so much that they needed the lights as that they might be seen by the lost children.

"Hello, Curlytops! where are you?" called the cowboys.

But no one answered them. Teddy and Janet were far away.

The cowboys rode as far as the pile of rocks where the spring bubbled up. There Baldy, swinging his lantern to and fro, said he thought he could see the marks of the feet of Star Face and Clipclap among those of other ponies, but he was not sure.

"We'll have to come back here and start out early in the morning when we can see better," he said.

"And what are we going to do all night?" asked another cowboy.

"Well, we'll keep on hunting, of course. But I don't believe well find the lost Curlytops."

One of the men rode back to the ranch to tell Mrs. Martin that so far, no trace of the missing children had been found. She could not keep back her tears, but she tried to be brave.

"Oh, where can they be?" she asked.

"They'll be all right," the cowboy said. "It's a nice warm night, and they're brave children. Even if they had to sleep out it would not hurt 'em. They could take the blankets that are under the ponies' saddles and wrap up in them. They'll be all right."

Though they were lost, the Curlytops were, at that moment, much better off than the cowboy thought. For they had found the big blanket and the bundle of food, and they were sleeping soundly on the prairie.

At first they had been a little afraid to lie down all alone out in the night, but their ponies were with them, and Janet said it felt as though Clipclap and Star Face were like good watch dogs.

Then, being very tired and having had something to eat and drink, they fell asleep.

All night long, though, the cowboys rode over the prairie looking for the lost ones. They shouted and called, but the Curlytops were too far away to hear or to answer, even if they had been awake.

"Well, now we can make a better hunt," said Baldy, when he saw the sun beginning to rise. "Well get something to eat and start out from the spring in the rocks. I'm almost sure the Curlytops were there."

Mrs. Martin had not slept all night, and when the cowboys came back to breakfast she said she was going to ride with them to search for her children.

"Yes, I think it would do you good," said Aunt Millie.

Mrs. Martin had learned how to ride when a girl, and she had practised some since coming to Ring Rosy Ranch. So she did not feel strange in the saddle. With Baldy and the other cowboys she set off.

They went to the spring amid the rocks and there began the search. Over the prairie the riders spread out like a big fan, looking everywhere for the lost ones. And when they were not found in about an hour Baldy said:

"Well, there's just a chance that their ponies took them to Silver Creek."

"Where's that?" asked Mrs. Martin.

"It's a stream of water quite a way off," Baldy answered. "It isn't on our ranch, and we don't very often go there. But if the Curlytops' ponies were thirsty in the night they might go to Silver Creek, even if Jan and Ted didn't want them to. I think the ponies went the nearest way to water."

"Then let us go that way!" cried Mrs. Martin.

Meanwhile Teddy and Janet had awakened. They could look right into the strange valley through which flowed Silver Creek, though they did not then know its name.

"And look what a lot of horses!" cried Janet.

"And cows!" added her brother. "I wonder whose they are?"

"Oh, I guess they live on some ranch," Janet said. "Now if we can find the ranch house we'll be all right."

"We'll look for it," suggested Teddy. "But first we've got to have breakfast. If I had a match I could make a fire and boil some coffee."

"Let's not bother with breakfast," suggested Janet. "I'm not very hungry. And if we find the ranch house we can get something to eat there. Come on, Teddy."

They got a drink at the stream, and then, rolling up what food was left in the blanket, they got on their ponies and rode away, going around the valley instead of into it, for Teddy saw that hills closed it at the far end.

"There's no ranch house in that valley," he said.

The Curlytops had not ridden far before Janet, who had gone a little ahead of Teddy, cried:

"Oh, look! Here come some cowboys!"

"I guess they belong to this ranch—the one where we saw the ponies and cows," replied Teddy, as he saw a number of horsemen riding toward them. The horsemen began to whoop and shout, and their horses ran very fast toward the Curlytops.

"There's a lady with 'em," remarked Janet.

"They seem awful glad to meet us," went on Teddy. "Look, they're wavin' their hats."

And so the cowboys were. When the riders came a little nearer Teddy and Janet rubbed their eyes in surprise,

"Why—why!" Teddy exclaimed. "There's our own Baldy!"

"And there's mother!" fairly shouted Janet. "Oh, Mother! Mother!" she cried. "Oh, how glad I am!" and she made Star Face run toward the lady on horseback.

"Oh, my dear children! Where have you been?" asked Mrs. Martin, a little later, as she hugged first Janet and then Teddy.

"We—we got lost," Teddy answered.

"Yes, but you ran away, and that was not right," his mother told him. "Where did you go?"

"We—we went on the trail after the Indians," Teddy answered.

"Did you find them?" asked Baldy with a smile.

"No, but we found a lot of horses and cows back there in a little valley with a fence," said Janet. "And we were going to ride to the ranch house when we saw you."

"Ranch house!" cried Baldy. "There isn't a ranch house within fifteen miles except the one at Ring Rosy. Did you say you saw some cows and horses!"

"Yes. In a valley," explained Teddy.

"Show us where it was!" eagerly cried the cowboy, and when the Curlytops had ridden to it, with Baldy and the others following, the lame cowboy, whose foot was a little better, exclaimed:

"Well, if the Curlytops haven't gone and done it!"

"Done what?" asked their mother.

"They've found the lost cattle and horses!"

"You mean Uncle Frank's!" asked Teddy.

"That's just what I mean! These are the horses and cattle the Indians drove away. The Redmen put the animals in this valley and made a fence at this end so they couldn't get out. They knew the horses and cattle would have water to drink and grass to eat, and they'd stay here a long while—until the Indians would have a chance to drive 'em farther away and sell 'em.

"Yes, that's just what they did. I never thought of this valley, though I saw it quite a few years ago. I've never been here since. The Indians knew it would be a good place to hide the horses they stole, and we might never have found 'em if it hadn't been for you Curlytops."

"I'm glad!" said Teddy.

"So'm I," said Janet, "and I'm hungry, too!"

"Well, well soon have you back at Ring Rosy Ranch, where there's a good breakfast!" laughed Baldy. "Well! Well! To think of you Curlytops finding what we cowboys were looking all over for!"

"And are daddy and Uncle Frank looking for these horses and cattle?" asked Teddy.

"Yes. And for the Indians that took 'em. But I guess they won't find either," Baldy answered.

And Baldy was right. Some hours after the Curlytops were back at Ring Rosy Ranch, in rode Uncle Frank and the others. They had not found what they had gone after, and you can imagine how surprised they all were when told that Ted and Janet had, by accident, found the lost cattle and horses in the hidden valley.

"You're regular cowboys!" cried Uncle Frank.

"I knew they'd turn out all right when they learned to ride ponyback!" said Daddy Martin. "Though you mustn't ride on the trail alone after Indians again!" he said.

Teddy and Janet told all that had happened to them, from getting lost, to finding the blanket and going to sleep in it on the open prairie.

One of the cowboys with Uncle Frank had lost the blanket, and he said he was glad he dropped it, since it gave Teddy and Janet something to eat and something to wrap up in.

That afternoon the stolen horses and cattle were driven in from the hidden valley; so the Indians did not get them after all. And a little later some soldiers came to keep guard over the Redmen so they could not again go off their reservation to make trouble. All of Uncle Frank's animals, except a few that the Indians had sold, were found, and the Curlytops were the pride of Ring Rosy Ranch as long as they remained there.

"Well, I wonder if we'll have any more adventures," said Janet to her brother one day, about a week after they were lost and had been found.

"Oh, I guess so," he answered. "Anyhow, we've got two nice ponies, and we can have lots of rides. Come on, I'll race you."

The bright summer days brought more fun to Teddy and Janet at Uncle Frank's ranch. They rode many miles on Star Face and Clipclap, sometimes taking Trouble with them.

"I want to dwive," said the little fellow one day, as he sat on the saddle in front of his brother.

"All right, you may drive a little while," Teddy answered, and he let Baby William hold the reins.

"Now I a cowboy!" exclaimed the little fellow. "Gid-dap, Clipclap! I go lasso a Injun!"

Ted and Janet laughed at this.

And so, leaving the Curlytops to their fun, we will say good-bye.

THE END

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