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The Rover Boys out West
by Arthur M. Winfield
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"A couple of miles or so," answered the old miner. "Want a smoke? You can have my pipe."

"Thank you, but I don't smoke, and I guess it would only make me feel worse," answered Tom.

He began to drop further and further behind. The other boys spoke to him, but they were in reality nearly as much worn out as their brother, and had all they could do to keep Wumble in sight.

At last Tom's head fell forward on his breast, and on the instant he went fast asleep. His horse continued to move forward, but coming to a fork in the trail, took the downward path, that being the easier to travel. On and on went the beast, until striking a smooth road he set off on a gallop.

The violent motion aroused Tom, and he stared about him in bewilderment. "Dick! Sam!" he called out. "Where are you?"

No answer came back, and he sat bolt upright in alarm. Nobody was in sight, nor could he hear a sound saving the hoof beats of his own horse. He drew rein instantly.

"Dick!" he called loudly. "Jack Wumble! Where are you?"

Not a sound came in reply—not even the cry of a bird—all was absolutely silent. Tom gave something of a gasp. He realized his position only too well.

He was lost in the mountains.



CHAPTER XXIII

TOM MEETS THE ENEMY

"Oh, what a fool I was to fall asleep!"

Thus spoke poor Tom to himself, as he continued to gaze around him and call out. To one side was the high mountain, to the other a deep valley filled with giant trees, and on both sides an utter loneliness which seemed to penetrate his very soul.

Like a flash there came over him the various stories he had heard of men being lost in these mountains and wandering around for days and weeks until their very reason forsook them. Was he, too, doomed to such a horrible fate?

Fervidly he prayed to Heaven that such an ending might not overtake him. Then with care he turned his horse about, thinking to gain the point where he had become separated from the rest, and feeling that they must, sooner or later, turn back to look for him.

Once he imagined that he heard somebody calling him. But the sound was so far away he was not sure, and the echo was such that he could not determine from what direction the call emanated. Yet he yelled in return, nearly splitting his throat in his endeavor to make himself heard. For the time being the enemy was completely forgotten.

Tom's turning back, as he thought he was doing, only made matters worse, for the horse branched off on another trail—but so slender that it soon gave out altogether and left him on the trackless mountain side, and several miles from the fork where his steed had made the first mistake.

Yet he pressed on, calling again and again, but receiving no answer. Twice he imagined he heard pistol shots, and this gave him the idea of firing his own weapon, and he emptied the cylinder, but with no good to himself. Then he reloaded and came to a dead stop. He had never been more lonely in his life.

The balance of the night dragged so slowly that Tom thought it would never come morning again. With the first streak of light in the East he arose from the rock upon which he had thrown himself, and running to a higher point gazed eagerly around him.

He felt as Robinson Crusoe must have done on his deserted island. On all sides were rocks and hills, mountains and valleys, some bare and others covered with growths of pines and firs. Here and there glistened a rushing stream or a lofty waterfall, and on one of the hills he saw a herd of mule deer and on another a solitary Rocky Mountain goat. But nowhere was there the first sign of a human being.

Tom stood there for fully ten minutes, his breast heaving and his heart sinking within him like a lump of lead. He was alone, absolutely alone, in that wild and almost trackless region.

What was to be done?

Over and over he asked himself the question, and the answer always remained a blank. He knew not which way to turn, for going on might bring him into worse difficulty.

And yet he could not think of remaining still where he was, for the very thought was maddening. He must try to do something, be the consequence what it might.

Then he realized that his mouth was dry and that he was hungry. This made him remember that all of the provisions were loaded on the horses ridden by Jack Wumble and Dick. His own steed bore only some mining tools.

"I wish I could swap the tools for something to eat," he mused. "But there is no use in crying over spilt milk. I'm in a pickle, and I must do my best to get myself out of it."

At a short distance he saw a small hollow which had become partly filled by the rain of several days before. He walked to the hollow and drank his fill and then led his horse thither.

"We're lost, old man," he said, patting the beast on the neck. "We must find the others. You'll help, won't you?" And the horse pricked up his ears and looked around wisely as if he understood every word. At that moment Tom felt that a horse is indeed man's best friend.

He soon set off, but slowly, trying to locate the trail which had brought him astray, and trying at the same time, by the rising sun, to determine the direction in which his brothers and Jack Wumble had passed. But, as before, his efforts were misleading, and by the middle of the forenoon he found himself on a barren hilltop with no chance of leaving it excepting by the way he had come.

It was truly disheartening, and hot, tired, and discouraged he leaped again to the ground. He was now very hungry, without a morsel to satisfy the cravings of his stomach. His steed, too, wanted for something to eat, and gnawed eagerly at the spare vegetation as soon as permitted.

Tom was wondering what should be his next move when he was startled by the appearance of a mule deer on the hillside just below him. As he gazed at the animal he soon saw another, and then another, until the hillside seemed to be covered with them.

"I suppose men never come here to disturb them," he thought bitterly. "I wonder if I could bring one down with my pistol? I've got matches, and cooked deer's meat would be first class."

He crept as close as he could to the deer. Fortunately the breeze was blowing up the hill toward him, so the animals could not scent him readily. When he had gotten as near as he thought possible, he took careful aim and blazed away twice in quick succession.

His first shot was a failure, but his second landed in the deer's front leg, breaking that member at the knee and pitching the deer headlong. At once the rest of the herd took alarm, and went off like the wind, down the hillside into the valley and up another hill a good mile away. At the same time the wounded beast tried to rise, but before it could do so Tom ran closer and put three more balls into it, and then it rolled over, gave a jerk or two, and remained quiet forever.

The sight of such a feast made Tom's heart much lighter, and he brought out his pocket-knife and cut out some of the steaks. Then he moved down the hillside to where some brush promised abundant firewood and better forage for his horse.

The fire was soon lit and blazing away merrily, and the boy began to broil his steaks.

"Perhaps Dick and the others will see the smoke," he thought. "I trust they do, for I don't want to put in a whole night alone."

Tom ate his meal slowly, for he did not know what to do after it was finished. He wished he knew how far the nearest settlement was and in what direction.

After he had eaten his fill, he tied the balance of the steaks in a corner of his blanket, for the food must be kept for future use. Then he walked up to the top of the hill for another look around.

Suddenly he caught sight of a man riding swiftly toward him—a heavy-set man, with busky whiskers and a face that was almost black from constant exposure to the elements.

"Hullo, youngster!" cried the man, when he was within hailing distance. "All alone here?"

"I am!" cried Tom, and he felt something of joy to see a human being again.

"What brought you away out here? Hunting?"

"Not exactly, although I did bring down yonder animal," with a jerk of the thumb toward the deer. "I've lost my way."

"Did you, really? That's bad. It's lucky I ran across you. What's your handle?"

"Tom Rover," answered the youth boldly. "What is yours?"

"Noxton. So you are all alone?"

"Yes." Tom was trying to think where he had heard that name, but could not remember.

"Are you alone?"

"Well, hardly." Bill Noxton hesitated for a moment. "I was alone, but day before yesterday I fell in with a couple of Englishmen who are out here to see the sights, and they hired me to show 'em around. Our camp is just below here. Will you come down an' be introduced to the beef-eaters?"

"I suppose I might as well," answered Tom, never suspecting any trick. "I certainly don't want to remain alone any longer."

"Then come on. I told the beef-eaters I would be back inside of half an hour."

The man waited for Tom to mount, and then led the way down the hillside and into the valley. There was a patch of forest to pass, and they came out in a clearing on another hill, overlooking a mountain stream which flowed a hundred feet below.

"Here we are," cried Bill Noxton, as he suddenly wheeled behind Tom. "Shall I introduce you, Mr. Rover?"

Tom looked ahead, and his heart dropped.

There around a camp-fire sat Arnold Baxter and his son Dan, and a man who was a stranger to him. Clearly he was trapped, and in the hands of the enemy.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE SEARCH FOR THE MISSING BOY

"Tom isn't here!"

It was Dick who uttered the words, as of a sudden he wheeled around on the dark trail and tried to penetrate the blackness of night behind them.

"Isn't here?" demanded Jack Wumble, while Sam set up a cry of dismay.

"No. Tom! Tom!"

Sam joined in the cry, and so did the old miner, but as we already know, it was useless.

"This is the wust yet!" growled Jack Wumble. "I told ye all to keep close to me."

"Perhaps he fell asleep— I know he was dead tired," answered Dick, hitting the plain truth.

"We'll have to go back for him," said Sam, and turned without delay, for going ahead without Tom was all out of the question.

"Yes, we'll go back," rejoined the old miner. "But go slow, or you may make matters wuss. I kin follow a clear trail, even of three hosses, but I can't follow a trail mixed up backward an' forward."

They rode back slowly until at least half a mile had been covered. Then they shouted, but only a dismal echo came back. Dick fancied once that he heard Tom calling, but was not sure.

Daylight found them still searching around, Dick and Sam with more sober faces than they had worn in many a day. They knew only too well the danger of becoming lost in those wild mountains.

"Perhaps he has fallen in with Baxter's party," suggested Dick, as they came to a halt at the edge of a cliff overlooking a rushing river far below. It was past the breakfast hour, yet none of them felt like eating.

"Be careful how you expose yourself," observed Jack Wumble, as he screened himself and his horse behind some brush. "It won't do no good to Tom to let your enemies see you."

"If only we hadn't lost the trail," sighed Sam. The back trail had disappeared, on some rocks half an hour before and all efforts to take it up again had proved unsuccessful.

The Rover boys felt very much disheartened. Without Tom what was the use of going ahead to locate the missing mine?

"He's worth a dozen mines," said Dick.

"We must find him—we simply must."

But they were "stumped," to use Sam's way of expressing it, and with nothing better to do, Jack Wumble drew further back into the bushes, tethered his horse and got out the provisions for a meal. The boys ate mechanically and were soon done. Then Wumble got out his pipe and began to smoke more vigorously than ever.

"If we had a field glass we might spot him," he observed. "He can't be such a terrible distance away."

"I'm going to fire my pistol again," said Dick, and did, so, but no response came back and he re-loaded as crestfallen as ever.

It was a clear day, but the very sun seemed a mockery as it beamed down upon them.

"Supposing we separate and renew the hunt?" suggested Sam, but Wumble slowly shook his head.

"None o' that, lad. It will only be a case of another one lost. No, we must keep within sight of each other, no matter what we do. Come, I have an idea of looking into the valley on the other side of this hill, and then we can try the hill yonder."

Anything was better than sitting still, and once more they rode on. For the time being the enemy was almost forgotten.

They were going down along the edge of the cliff when, without warning, Dick's horse began to slip, having stepped on a rock which was insecure.

"Hi! whoa!" yelled the youth, and tried to hold the horse back. Then, as he saw the animal could not save himself, he leaped for the ground. The horse managed to scramble to a place of safety, but Dick, in trying to avoid a dangerous hoof stroke from the beast, lost his balance and went crashing down into the bushes overhanging the cliff!

Down and down, and still down, went the elder Rover, from one bush to another, his clothing catching here and there, thus partly staying his progress. But he could not stop himself entirely, and reaching the stream at last he went in with a loud splash and disappeared from view!

"Dick's gone!" ejaculated Sam. He tried to look over the edge of the cliff. "Oh, my! He will be drowned!"

He had heard the splash, as had also Wumble, and now both dismounted with all speed and crept to the very edge of the bushes. But the cliff bulged outward just below them and they could see nothing but a strip of the water on the opposite side.

"Dick! Dick!" sang out the brother. "Are you safe?"

No reply came back, and Sam's face turned white as he looked at Jack Wumble. "Do you think he has been—been killed?" The question nearly choked him.

"I can't say, Sam," was the answer. "We must git down an' see."

With extreme care the old miner let himself down from one clump of brush to another. His experience at prospecting stood him in good stead, for he had frequently climbed down just such heights to see if the mountain stream below would "pan out" sufficiently to set up a claim.

In the meanwhile Dick had gone to the very bottom of the stream, struck on the sand and rocks, and come up again. In falling down he had turned over and over, and he was as much dazed by this as he was by the quantity of cold water which he swallowed. For the minute after coming up he did not realize his situation. Then he felt himself borne along swiftly, he knew not to where. The rushing of the water was deafening, for the stream was approaching a narrow canyon, and here the water was lashed into a milky foam as it tumbled and tore over the rocks on its way to a broader spot quarter of a mile below.

Presently Dick felt his feet touch bottom, but only for an instant. The stream was calmer now, and to one side of the cut he saw a narrow strip of band, leading up to a shelving of rocks, with here and there a tiny brush struggling for existence in a spot which the sunlight never touched. He began to strive with might and main to reach the strip of sand, and finally succeeded. Then he threw himself down, too exhausted to make another move.

"I'm in for it now," he thought, when he somewhat recovered. "How in the world am I ever to get back to that trail again?"

He looked above him. The mountain was high here, and there was nothing resembling a path leading upward. To climb from one scant footing to another would prove perilous, if not impossible.

"We are making a mess of this expedition," he groaned. "First Tom must get lost, or worse, and now I am down here like a rat in a trap. Perhaps we would have been better off if we had never started out."

When Dick felt able he walked from one end of the sand strip to the other. This gave him no satisfaction, and he began to inspect the stream again. Below him was a curve, and what was beyond there was no telling.

"If I enter the water again it may carry me along for miles before I have another chance to get out," he reasoned. "And then I will be just that much further away from Sam and Wumble."

If he had had his pistol he would have fired it to let them know that he was safe, and in the hope that they would come for him. But the weapon had been lost in the tumble down the cliff.

With much hesitation he began to climb up the side of the canyon, making sure that one footing was perfectly safe before he tried another. In this manner he at length reached the height of a hundred feet. He did not dare to look back for fear of tumbling. And yet the path to safety was still a long way off.

"If I can't gain the top and can't go back, what then?" he asked himself, and the cold perspiration stood out on his forehead in beads. There was a bush in front of him, and he squeezed into this, so that he might sit down to consider the situation. Pushed back, the bush suddenly gave way altogether, and to his astonishment Dick fell into the opening of a large cave.



CHAPTER XXV

A CAVE AND A BEAR

"Hullo, here's something new!" thought Dick, as he gathered himself up. Bush and boy had rolled downward for a distance of a dozen feet. He found himself on a rocky floor that was almost level. The cave was ten to twenty feet wide, and so high that in the gloom he could not see the ceiling.

Luckily the boys had with them the waterproof match safes which had proved so handy in Africa, and now Dick brought out the one he carried and lit a match. The bush that had given way was dry, and soon he made of it quite a respectable torch. Satisfied that the cave had no side branches in which he might become lost, he resolved to push into it, in the hope that another opening might present itself, leading to the cliff where the accident had occurred.

The cave was dry and dusty, not a particle of water being anywhere visible. As he walked along he came across some dead leaves and then some small tree branches. These gave him much encouragement, for how could they have gotten into the place if there was no entrance from the mountain side?

Dick had advanced a distance of several hundred yards when he came to a turn to the right, and from this point the bottom of the cave sloped gradually upward. He also made out a glimmer of light, but it was so far off that nothing was to be seen distinctly.

Much encouraged, he pushed on faster than ever, until a line of rocks barred his further progress. He was about to climb the rocks when a growl from a distance caused him to pause.

What was it? With bated breath Dick listened until the growl was repeated. The walls of the cave took it up, and it was repeated over and over again until lost in the distance.

"A bear—or something just as bad!" thought the youth. "Now what's to do?"

He crouched down on the rocks and sat as still as death for fully five minutes. But no further growl reached him, and then he plucked up courage enough to scramble up the rocks, which led to a flooring considerably higher than that over which he had been traveling.

Hurrah! It was the light of day ahead, and Dick could scarcely suppress a shout of joy. But the growl still hung in his mind, and though he went forward it was as silently as a cat and with eyes strained first in one direction and then in another. He was glad he still had the torch, for he remembered that the majority of wild beasts are afraid of a light. It had burned rather low, but by swinging it around he soon started up the blaze.

And now he could see the cave entrance distinctly, less than two hundred feet off. It was low and wide, and there were several bushes growing around it. He started on a run, and as he did so the growl sounded out again, this time almost directly beside him.

He turned swiftly and beheld two glaring eyeballs bent upon him, from the gloom of a hollow on one side of the cave. Whether or not the bear was preparing to leap upon him he could not say, but he jumped like lightning and then tore on as if the demon of the bottomless pit was after him.

The bear was following! Dick knew this without looking behind. The animal was heavy and clumsy, yet it covered the ground with an agility that was surprising. It was hungry, not having tasted meat for several days, and now thought it saw the prospect of a fine meal ahead.

"Back!" yelled Dick, but the animal paid no attention. The boy was running as never before, yet the bear kept drawing closer, until Dick almost felt its hot breath on his neck. He trailed the torch behind him and the beast fell back several paces.

The opening was now gained, and the youth ran out on the mountain side, which was covered with stubble and rocks. Glancing hastily around, Dick saw one rock that was both small and rather high and scrambled to the top of this.

The bear gained the mouth of the cave and looked out suspiciously. Then, as it discovered the boy on the rock, it let out another growl, more terrifying than any which had gone before. Slowly it trotted toward Dick, and then began a circle of the rock, as if to determine whether or not the ground was clear for an attack.

The boy still held the torch, but it was burnt nearly to the end and was in danger of going out every minute. Besides, in the sunshine it did not look half as formidable as it had in the gloomy cave.

Suddenly the bear reared itself up on its hind legs and advanced straight for the rock. At this movement Dick's heart seemed to stop beating. Yet he managed to let out one long scream for help. Then as the bear came still nearer, he thrust the torch end directly into the brute's face.

Of course the animal fell back, and down went the torch on the rocks below, and Dick was now utterly defenseless. The bear appeared to know this, and let out a growl of satisfaction, as though it had its next meal already within its grizzly grasp.

Bang! It was the report of a gun not over a hundred yards away, and the bear dropped to all fours and shook its head wildly. Bang! came another report, and now the bear screamed with pain and fell over on its side. Dick looked behind him in amazement and beheld a stranger on horseback. The stranger had just emptied his double-barreled rifle, and now he came riding up with his pistol in his hand. The bear tried to rise up to meet him, but was too seriously wounded already, and a shot at close range finished the brute's misery.

"Well, young fellow, reckon you was in a putty tight fix?" remarked the stranger, after he had made certain that the animal was dead.

"I was in a tight fix," answered Dick, with a shiver. "You came in the nick of time, and I owe you a good deal for it."

"That's all right—I never go back on a bar if I git a chance at him. But how in thunder came you in such a fix in the fust place?" went on the horseman, who was at least six feet four in height—and about as thin a man as Dick had ever seen.

"It's a long story, sir," was the cautious response. "May I ask who it is that has saved me?"

"Wall, my right handle are James Carson," was the answer. "But them as knows me well callers calls me Slim Jim, and it's good enough fer the likes o' a shadder like me, too, I calkerlate. An' who might you be?"

"I am Dick Rover. I was with my two brothers and an old miner named Jack Wumble when I slipped off my horse into the river over there and nearly lost my life. But I managed to crawl out, and in climbing up the mountain side found yonder cave and came through to this end. In the cave I found the bear and he followed me to here. You know the rest."

"Wall! wall! You have had a narrow escape, youngster, an' no disputin' the p'int. Ef I hadn't a-come as I did, thet air bar would have chawed ye up in no time."

"I know it, Mr. Carson. Your kind—"

"Whoopee, Rover, don't go fer to mister me, or I'll be sorry I killed the bar for ye. I'm plain Slim Jim to all as knows me—Slim Jim the hunter an' trapper. I've spent forty year on these mountains, an' like ez not I'll spend forty more, ef the good Lord allows me to live thet long. An' whar do ye calkerlate your brothers and Jack Wumble air now?"

"I'm sure I don't know. One of my brothers, Tom, got lost and I and Sam and Wumble were looking for him when I had the mishap. Do you know Jack Wumble?"

"Fer sartin I do—knowned him when he war mining up on the ole Bumble Bee Creek, ez he called it."

"Indeed!" cried Dick. "Then perhaps you knew my father, Anderson Rover? He used to be in partnership with a man named Kennedy."

"Knew him—o' course I knew him, lad! An' so you air his son, hey? Wall! wall! shake!" And Slim Jim, as he preferred to be called, thrust forth a hand that was as hard as a piece of horn. But he had a soft heart, and Dick soon learned that he was as much to be trusted as was Jack Wumble.

"I'll do my best to set ye right, lad," said the old hunter, after he had listened to the details of Dick's story. "I think I know about the spot whar ye took the tumble."

Before leaving the vicinity Slim Jim set to work and cut the pelt off the bear and hung it up. He also cut away some of the choicest of the meat.

"It's a pity to leave any o' it behind," he observed. "Some poor folks a-starvin' to deth in the city, an' thar's a meal fer a hundred!"

It was well along in the afternoon when they started, Dick riding behind the old hunter. He felt that he could tell Slim Jim about their mission, and he mentioned how the Baxters were watching them and trying to outwit them.

"I remember thet Baxter, too," said the old hunter. "Wumble kin tell ye how we come nigh to makin' him do a dance on nuthin' onct. I'll take your part agin him every time, hear me!" And his openness showed that he meant what he said.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE BAXTERS TRY TO MAKE TERMS

For the moment after Tom found himself in the presence of the Baxters he could not speak. Then he turned fiercely upon Bill Noxton.

"You have fooled me!" he cried hotly.

"That's right," laughed Noxton sarcastically.

"And let me add, ye was fooled putty easy."

"It's Tom Rover!" ejaculated Dan Baxter, as he leaped to his feet, followed by his parent. "Where did you find him, Noxton; over to that fire?"

"Yes."

"Were the others of the party with him?" put in Arnold Baxter quickly.

"No, he was alone. He got lost from the rest last night, when they gave us the slip in the dark."

"Then you have seen nothing of the others?" said Arnold Baxter, and it was plain to see that he was keenly disappointed.

"No, but I reckon they can't be far off," replied Noxton.

Seeing that Tom contemplated running away, he made the youth dismount. "Better make a prisoner of him," he suggested.

"By all means!" cried Dan Baxter, and brought forth a stout lariat. With this Toni's hands were bound behind him, and his feet were also secured.

"That's number one, Roebuck," laughed Arnold Baxter, turning to the man who had thus far remained silent.

"Tom Rover?" asked the man laconically.

"Yes."

"A bright-looking chap."

"Oh, he's bright enough," growled Baxter senior.

"But it won't help him any," put in Dan, bound to say something.

"Is he the oldest of the three?"

"No, Dick is the oldest. Tom comes next."

"Then it is Dick you ought to have collared," said Roebuck, turning to Noxton.

"I collared the one I happened to see."

"Well, Tom Rover, how do you like your situation?" asked Dan, with a sickly smile, as the men turned away to discuss the situation among themselves.

"Don't like it," replied Tom, as lightly as he could.

"I guess you are sorry, now, that you didn't heed our warning and go back to Gunnison."

"I'm not particularly sorry. I have as much right out here as anybody."

"Oh, you needn't put on airs to me. I know you are trembling in your boots."

"Thanks, but if you'll bring your chin out of the air, Baxter, you'll see that I am wearing shoes."

"Don't you put on airs with me, Tom Rover. You are in our power and you shall suffer for the way you have treated my father and me in the past."

"I have no doubt, Baxter, now I am helpless, that you will do your worst. You were always ready to take an unfair advantage of another."

This answer made Dan Baxter boil with rage, and he stepped closer and shook his fist in Tom's face.

"You be careful or I'll—I'll crack you one," he blustered.

"You're a cheerful brute, Dan, I must say. Why don't you try to fight fair for once? It would be such a delightful change."

"I do fight fair. You and your brothers have no right to poke your noses in my affairs, and my father's."

"This affair out here is our own, not yours. The Eclipse Mine is my father's property."

"And I say it belongs to me and dad," answered Dan, with more force than elegance. "But I won't argue with you. You are in our power and have got to take the consequence."

"What do you intend to do with me?" asked Tom.

"You'll find out soon enough."

"Don't you know that my brothers are in this neighborhood, and that they have the law on their side?"

"Yes, I know your brothers are here—and we'll have them prisoners, too, before long," returned Dan Baxter, and then cut the conversation short by walking away.

Tom had managed to speak bravely enough, yet his heart was by no means light. He realized that the Baxters had not forgotten the past, and that here, in this wild country, they were more inclined than ever to take the law in their own hands.

He was left alone for the best part of an hour, only Noxton seeing to it that he did not run away. Then he was ordered to mount again, his legs being liberated for that purpose.

Feeling it would be foolhardy to refuse, with three men and a boy against him, Tom mounted, and the whole party moved along the mountain to a spot which was evidently well-known to Noxton. Here, at a certain point, was what had once been an overland hotel, but the building was now dilapidated and deserted.

"We'll stop here for the present," said Arnold Baxter grimly. "Get down, Rover," and Tom obeyed.

Inside of the place, two of the rooms were found in fair condition and in one of these Tom was tied fast to a cupboard door. Then the men went out for another parley.

The youth could not hear all that was said, but learned enough to convince him that Al Roebuck, as he was called, was the party who had forged the pardon which had obtained for Arnold Baxter his liberty. For this work Roebuck had been promised a half share in the Eclipse Mine, and of some money which Baxter the elder was hoping to obtain.

At last Arnold Baxter and Dan came in once more and faced Tom.

"Rover, we are now ready to come to terms," began the man.

"Are you ready to release me?"

"Yes—under certain conditions."

"You've got to sign off all rights to that mine," broke in Dan.

"Dan, keep quiet," interposed his father. "I can do this better alone."

"I know him better than you do, dad," returned his graceless son.

"Perhaps, but I am fully capable of making terms with him."

"All right, fire away, I don't care. Only don't let him off too easy."

"I am anxious to settle this matter quietly," went on Arnold Baxter to Tom. "I don't want any more trouble."

"Well, go ahead, I'm listening," came from Tom.

"You are out here to locate a certain mine."

"I don't deny it. The mine belongs to my father."

"It belongs to me—and I am bound to have it."

"You are a jailbird, Mr. Baxter. How can you hold such a property now?"

The criminal winced and clenched his fists.

"Don't be quite so plain-spoken, Rover, it doesn't set well. I say the claim is mine."

"Well?"

"You are in my power."

"Granted."

"Isn't your life worth something to you? To be sure it is. Then why not try to make terms to save it?"

"You are fooling with me. You cannot be it earnest, Arnold Baxter."

"You'll soon see if dad aint in earnest," burst out Dan.

"I am not fooling, Rover, I mean every word of what I say. If you want to save your life you must make terms with me."

"What sort of terms?"

"You must write a letter to your brothers and the man who was with you and get them to return without delay to the East."

"And after that?"

"After they have returned to the East we will set you free, providing you swear to follow them and all of you swear to keep out of Colorado in the future."

"And if I refuse?"

"If you refuse your life shall pay the forfeit," answered Arnold Baxter. "Come now, which do you choose?"



CHAPTER XXVII

DASH FOR LIBERTY

For the minute after Arnold Baxter spoke Tom had nothing to say. The man had offered terms, and if he did not accept them his very life would be in danger.

Now, had Tom been the hero of some dime novel he would have shouted at once, "I refuse your offer—do your worse, base villain that you are!" But being an everyday American boy, with a proper regard for his own life, he revolved the situation in his mind with great care.

"Well, what do you say?" demanded Arnold Baxter impatiently.

"You had better accept dad's offer," broke in Dan.

"I don't know what to say," was the slow answer. "This, you must remember, is brand new to me."

"My offer is a very fair one, Rover. You have gotten yourself in a bad fix, and you can consider yourself lucky if you get out of it with a whole skin."

"If I write the letter, how are you going to deliver it to my two brothers and Jack Wumble?"

"We will find a way."

"And supposing they refuse to go back, what then? I won't be to blame for that."

"They won't refuse—not when they realize that such a refusal means death to you."

"They may. Dick is quite headstrong at times. I don't want to do what I can for you and then suffer anyway."

"Well, if you do your best I will remember it when it comes to a final settlement," responded Arnold Baxter, with more grace than Tom had anticipated.

"Let me think it over for a few hours, and I will give you an answer," said the boy, and though they coaxed and threatened, neither of the Baxters could get any more out of him. At last they left him in disgust, first, however, seeing to it that his bonds were as tight as ever.

As soon as Tom was left alone he looked around for some means by which he might escape from his tormentors. The room was square, with a small window at one side and a broad fireplace at the other. At one end was the door and at the other the cupboard to which he had been fastened.

In his schooldays Tom had been a great hand at doing rope tricks, and when his hands had been tied he had taken care to make his enemies adjust the lariat as loosely as possible. Now, with a dexterous twist or two he cleared his hands, although the effort drew blood on one of his wrists. But, under the circumstances, Tom counted this as nothing.

As soon as he was free the boy tiptoed his way to the window and looked out. He saw Noxton and Roebuck sitting on a fallen tree talking earnestly. Close to the door of the house stood the Baxters, and Arnold Baxter was laying down the law to his son, although what it was all about Tom could not determine.

"I can't go by the window," he mused. "And if I try the door—"

He stopped short, for just then Dan Baxter started to come into the building. But his father stopped him.

"Let the boy alone," cried the elder Baxter. "He'll come around all right, never fear."

"Oh, you're too soft with him," returned the son. "I'd give him a cowhiding." Nevertheless, he walked away, and then all became as silent as before.

Tom realized that whatever was to be done must be done quickly, and walking back he surveyed the broad chimney. It was wide open to the sky, and at one corner of the opening he saw the waving green branch of a tree.

"If I could only get up into the tree," he thought, and no sooner thought than tried. The chimney was dirty, and he was soon covered with soot from head to foot. But being rough the chimney afforded easy footings, and he reached the top without great effort. The tree branch was scarcely two feet from the top.

With great caution the boy peered from the chimney. Noxton and Roebuck were still talking earnestly and both had their backs partly turned in his direction. The Baxters were out of sight.

As quickly as it could be accomplished, Tom stood upon the top of the chimney, caught the tree limb and pulled himself up. The branch swayed violently with his weight, but did not break, and soon he was close to the trunk and out of sight.

"So far so good!" he murmured. "But what shall I do next?"

This question was soon decided. There was another tree close at band, but further from the house than the first, and into this he leaped, and made his way across it to where a drooping branch fell directly over a heavy clump of bushes. Down this branch went Tom and dropped into the bushes as silently as a cat.

It must be confessed that the boy's heart was now thumping like a steam engine. What if he was discovered? He was afraid that his enemies would kill him on the spot.

He looked around and saw the horses tethered among the bushes a hundred feet further on. If only he could gain the animals he felt that escape would be almost secured.

He crawled along the ground like a snake. Once he had to go around a big rock and actually tear his way among the thorns, which scratched him in a dozen places. But behind the rock the shelter was greater, and unable to stand the suspense any longer he set off on a run for his horse.

The animal saw him coming and set up a low whinny of recognition. Then all of the horses swayed around in a bunch, for they were tethered close together.

This gave Tom another idea, and he not only untied his own horse but likewise all of the others. He kept hold of the other lariats as he mounted his steed.

"Get up!" he said sharply but in a low tone, and touched on the flank the horse set off on a gallop, followed by the other animals.

"Hullo, something is wrong with the hosses!" he beard Bill Noxton cry. Then came a rush through the bushes. At the sound Tom bent as low in the saddle as possible and urged his horse to do his best.

"They are stampeding!" came from Arnold Baxter. "Whoa there! whoa! How did they manage to get loose?"

"The prisoner!" shouted Roebuck. "He is on the leading horse! He has escaped us!"

"Impossible!" gasped the elder Baxter. "Why, I have been watching the house—"

"No matter, it's Tom Rover!" interrupt Dan Baxter. "See, there he goes—and he taking all of our horses with him!"

At this Arnold Baxter drew his pistol and the others also brought forth their firearms. But Tom's steed was not a large one, and while he crouched low in the saddle the horses behind kept his enemies from getting more than an occasional glimpse of him.

On and on went the boy, the horses' hoofs clattering loudly over the rocky trail. The men shouted loudly for him to halt, and several pistol shots rang out, but no damage was done. Soon the enemy was left in the distance.

As soon as he felt that he was safe for the time being, Tom brought his horse down to a walk, in order that he might consider the situation.

Where were the others? That was the all important question. He had escaped from the men who wished him harm, but he was now no better off than when he had fallen in with them.

"But they are a good deal worse off," he thought grimly. "I don't believe they'll want to travel around very far on foot."

It was now sunset, and the youth felt that night would soon be upon him. He did not know which way to turn, although of one thing he was certain—that he wished to keep as far away as possible from those who had held him a prisoner.

Presently he gained the entrance to a small wood, and as it was now too dark to go on he determined to rest for the night. He tied up all of the horses and tried to make himself comfortable at the foot of a large tree. For a long time he could not sleep, but at last he dozed off. His sleep was full of horrible dreams, and his awakening was a rude one.



CHAPTER XXVIII

BILL NOXTON COMES TO GRIEF

"We've found him, boys! Here's the hoss thief, with five o' the hosses with him!"

"Git up thar, young feller, an' give an account o'yerself!"

Tom did not hear these words, but he felt a sharp kick in the ribs and gave a gasp of pain and surprise.

"Let up, Sam," he murmured. "Can't you keep your feet out of my—" He broke off short and stared around him. "Wha—what does this mean?" he stammered.

Three men stood around him-rough-bearded men, each heavily armed.

"It means thet we have collared ye!" answered one of the men sharply. "Git up!" And he kicked Tom again.

"See here, keep your toe to yourself!" cried Tom hotly. "If you are Arnold Baxter's tools you can treat me half decently, anyway," and he leaped up and faced the crowd.

"Who is Arnold Baxter?" questioned the leader of the men quickly.

"I guess you know well enough."

"Oh, all right if you don't want to talk. But let me say, young feller, thet you have got yerself in a fine mess. Don't yer know ez how they hang hoss thieves in these parts?"

"A horse thief! What do you mean? I am no horse thief, if that's what you are driving at."

Tom's straightforward manner appeared to impress all three men. But the leader shrugged his shoulders.

"Ef ye aint no hoss thief, how is it ye hev got all these critters with ye?" he questioned triumphantly.

"I can explain that easily enough. That horse is my own, purchased in Gunnison from Ralph Verbeck the dealer there. Those horses belong to a set of rascals who captured me and made me their prisoner. I got away from them, and to prevent them from following me I took their horses with me."

"Hurmph! Thet's a slick story!"

"It's the plain truth. Do I look like a horse thief?"

"Not persackly, youngster. But two o' them hosses I know well, an' they war stolen. My pards hyer kin prove it."

"Well, I know nothing about that. I have told you the plain truth. You don't claim the horse I said was mine, do you?"

"No. But wot's this tale ye tell of bein' captured?"

Anxious to set himself straight with these men, who appeared to be of upright character, Tom told the larger part of his story, to which the crowd listened patiently. Then they asked him a number of questions.

"I reckon you are O.K.," said the leader at last. "I know Jack Wumble, and I know he wouldn't be attached to a gang that wasn't on the level."

"I don't care what becomes of those horses," went on Tom. "Only I want my own."

"You shall have it, lad. But you must put us on the trail o' them thieves. It runs in my mind thet I know this Bill Noxton, 'though perhaps not by thet handle. Thar used ter be a hoss thief down hyer called Slinky Bill, with a scar on his cheek an' one tooth missin' in front—"

"That's your man. The tooth is still missing and the scar is there as plain as day."

"Then he's the gent as we wants to be introduced to," put in one of the other men.

"I calkerlated he had left these diggin's fer good," added the third newcomer.

"I can try to lead you back to their camp," said Tom, "although I am not altogether sure of the trail. They were stopping at a long, low deserted house, having a wide chimney, and with several big trees growing close by."

"Dillwell's old overland hotel, I'll bet a hoss," cried the leader of the men.

"It must be about ten miles from here," went on Tom.

"Jest about, youngster. Come, we want ye to go with us."

"I will do that willingly, if you'll promise to protect me from the rascals. I suppose they are mad enough to shoot me down on sight."

"We'll see ye through—ef everything is straight," answered Hank Yates, for such was the name of the leading spirit of the party.

The men had their own horses close at hand, and soon all were in the saddle, with the extra horses bringing up the rear, as before. The men had rations with them, and offered Tom some crackers and a bit of meat as they progressed.

They were not a bad crowd, although very rough and stern, and it developed presently that Hank Yates had known the Kennedy who had been Anderson Rover's partner in mining operations.

"He war a good man," said Yates. "A banrup, whole-souled critter. It's a pity he had to turn up his toes, with wuss men hangin' on an never dyin', at all."

Half of the distance to the old hotel had been covered, when on coming out on a little hill one of the men called attention to a man and a boy riding along the top of a ridge, a short distance away.

"It's my brother Sam and Jack Wumble!" ejaculated Tom. "Oh, but am I not glad to see them again!"

He set up a shout and waved his cap, and soon Wumble saw him and waved his hand in return. Then the old miner and Sam came forward at top speed.

"Tom!" came from Sam, and he rode up close and almost embraced his brother. "Where in the world have you been?"

"Been with the enemy," answered Tom. "I can tell you I paid up for going to sleep on the trait!" he added half comically. The meeting made his heart ten times lighter than it had been.

"Where is Dick?"

"Thet's the wust on it," answered Wumble. "Dick had a dirty tumble, and we can't find him nowhar."

Of course the stories on both sides had to be told. Jack Wumble could not keep from laughing when told that Tom had been mistaken for a horse thief.

"Not but wot ye run away with them hosses slick enough," he added slyly.

Dick's disappearance sobered Tom greatly.

"Can it be possible that he has been drowned?" he asked.

"I crawled down to the river, but couldn't find hide nor hair of him," answered Wumble.

Soon all were on the way to the old hotel. As they drew closer Yates warned them to be cautious.

"Perhaps we can do a bit o' surprisin'," he explained.

"Here comes Noxton!" exclaimed Tom.

"Slinky Bill, sure enough," returned Yates, and one of his companions nodded.

Noxton was still fifty feet away when he saw them, and gave a shout of consternation. Then he turned and tried to run away.

"Stop!" called Hank Yates. "Stop, or I'll fire on ye!"

But instead of stopping Noxton ran the faster. Seeing this, the man of the plains raised his pistol, took steady aim, and fired. Noxton was hit in the leg and went down in a heap, shrieking with pain.



CHAPTER XXIX

LOCATING THE LOST MINE

While Yates and another of the men ran toward Noxton to make him a prisoner, the others turned their attention to the Baxters and Al Roebuck.

The Baxters were hiding behind a clump of bushes, but now, as soon as discovered, they took to their heels, making sure that the bushes and trees should keep them screened, so that there would be no danger from a fire such as had brought down their unlucky companion.

"They're on us, dad!" groaned Dan Baxter, "Oh, why did we ever come out here!"

"Silence, Dan," whispered Arnold Baxter. "If we don't keep still they may shoot us down in cold blood." And then Dan became as mum as an oyster, although his teeth chattered with terror.

On went father and son, down a hill and into a deep valley where the rocks were numerous and the growth thick. Several shots flew over their heads, causing Dan to almost drop from heart failure.

"I—I can't ru—run much further!" he panted.

"Come, here is an opening between the rocks," whispered Arnold Baxter. "In you go, before it is too late. If they follow us, we can sell our lives as dearly as possible."

Dan gave a groan at this, and slipped into the hollow. He did not wish to sell his life at any price.

"Let us put out a—a flag of truce," he whined. "Give them everything, father, but don't let them shoot us!" Every ounce of courage had oozed away from him, for he had seen Noxton brought down, and thought the rascal was dead.

"Shut up, you softy!" answered his parent in a rage. "Shut up, and we will be safe. I'll never give in to a Rover," he added vehemently.

Tom and Sam had gone after the Baxters, with Jack Wumble behind them while the last man of the party turned to collar Roebuck. But Roebuck was game, and fired at his assailant, who fired in return, and each man was slightly wounded in the shoulder. Then Roebuck disappeared in the woods back of the old hotel, and that was the last seen of him for the time being.

The hunt for the Baxters was kept up until nearly nightfall. But they remained in hiding, and although Tom and Sam passed within fifty feet of the hollow, they were not discovered.

"They have given us the slip," said Tom, "It's too bad! I thought we had them, sure!"

As soon as the search was over it was discovered that two of the horses were missing. The several pistol shots had frightened them away, and in the gathering darkness they could not be located.

The entire party camped that night in the old hotel, and Tom showed where he had been a prisoner, and how he had escaped up the chimney. Noxton was not dangerously wounded, and the men did what they could to allay the pain he was suffering. Yet they had little sympathy for him, for, as stated before, horse stealing in that locality was considered one of the worst of crimes.

"But we'll take ye back to the county seat," said Yates. "And ye shall have a fair trial."

"Take all I have, but let me go!" pleaded Noxton, but to this the men with Yates would not listen. Early in the morning the party under Yates set off, taking Noxton along, although the criminal protested that he was too weak to ride. It may be as well to add here that, later on, Noxton, alias Slinky Bill, was tried in court and given a sentence of five years for his misdeeds.

Jack Wumble and Sam had brought along Dick's horse, and they now took good care that the animal should not get away from them. Where to look for Dick, however, was a poser.

"Well, I'll tell you one thing," Tom declared, "I'm not going on to Larkspur Creek until he is found."

"Or until we have found out what has become of him," added Sam. "He may be dead, you know."

"I reckon we had best go back to where he took his tumble," said Wumble. "If he escaped he'll come back thar himself, more'n likely."

This appeared to be good advice, and an hour after the departure of Yates and the others they mounted and set off.

Less than half a mile had been covered when, of a sudden, there came a shot, and a bullet cut through the brush beside them.

"Hullo! this won't do!" cried the old miner. "Come out of sight, an' be putty quick about it, too!"

They rode into a patch of wood and halted. But no more shots came, nor could they locate that which had been fired.

"One thing is certain, at least one of yer enemies is a-watching of us," was the old miner's comment. "We'll keep behind shelter after this." And they did.

It was hard traveling, and poor Sam was utterly worn out by the time the trail along the watercourse was again reached.

"I've got to let up a bit," he murmured. "I can't sit up in the saddle any more!"

"I shouldn't have pushed ye so hard," answered Wumble sympathetically. "If ye—" he stopped short. "Who's that?"

He dodged behind a rock, and the others did the same. Somebody was stirring below them, in the timber. All drew their pistols.

"If it's an enemy we'll give them as good as they send," said Tom, and he meant it.

But it was not the enemy; it was Dick, and he soon appeared and called to them. They were overjoyed, and ran out to meet him and Slim Jim, his companion. There was hearty handshaking all around. Then as they rested each told his tale. It was such a happy gathering as is not easily forgotten.

"You couldn't have fallen in with a better man nor Slim Jim," said Jack Wumble to Dick. "He's got the warmest heart in all Colorady, he has!"

It was decided to wait until the morrow before setting out again for Larkspur Creek. Slim Jim agreed to accompany them, for to the hunter and trapper one spot in the mountains was about as good as another.

"An' I'll help ye keep an eye open for them Baxters," said the old hunter.

A good night's rest did wonders for all hands, and they were stirring bright and early. Slim Jim knew every foot of the way, and he told Wumble of a short cut to the creek which was even better to travel than the short trail the old miner had selected.

For two days the party went on, over hills and mountains and across marvelous canyons and valleys, thick with pines and firs. The boys had never seen such scenery, and for the time being their enemies were forgotten.

Late in the afternoon of the second day they came out on the side of a low mountain which overlooked Larkspur Creek.

"Here we are at the Larkspur at last," cried Jack Wumble.

"And how far still to Kennedy's claim, do you think?" asked Dick eagerly.

"Not more than two or three miles. We'll have to hunt up the landmarks," answered the old miner, but hunting landmarks had to be deferred to the next day. Then they set about it in earnest, and by noon they were on the same ground which Anderson Rover's mining partner had traveled so many years before.

They were trying to put down the first of their stakes when a pistol shot rang out, and Dick received a slight wound in the hand. Looking up the mountain side they saw Arnold Baxter's savage face gazing down at them. Behind the father was his son Dan, and close by stood Roebuck. Evidently their enemies meant to fight for the possession of the mine to the bitter end.



CHAPTER XXX

THE LANDSLIDE-CONCLUSION

"Dick, are you badly hurt?" cried Tom.

"No—it's only a scratch. But it was a close call."

"To cover!" came from Jack Wumble. "Quick, all of you!"

There was no need to call out, for all realized that they were in a dangerous position. It was Arnold Baxter who fired on Dick. Now Tom fired in return, and so true was his aim that the elder Baxter was hit in the left shoulder.

As soon as our friends were under cover they held a council of war.

"We ought to round 'em up," muttered Jack Wumble. "Don't you think so, Jim?"

"I am with ye on it," answered the old trapper. "We air five to three, although one o' the crowd is wounded."

"It's not much—only a scratch," said Dick, as he showed the wound. "Yes, let us surround them if we can. Anyway, it will be better if we get on the high ground above them. It's useless to think of staking off the claim while they are in the vicinity. They'll pull up our stakes, and shoot us in the bargain."

Their talk was interrupted by a crashing of the bushes, and looking up they saw that their enemies were beginning to roll rocks down toward them. One rock, weighing several tons, tumbled within two yards of them.

"All right, we'll try some o' that when we're on top," said Slim Jim.

It had threatened rain, and now the drops began to come down, at first scatteringly, and then in a steady downpour. In this rain they moved off through the brush, leading their horses and following the old hunter, who knew more of the old Indian trails than did even Jack Wumble.

It was necessary to make a long detour, for the rocks at one point were so steep that mounting them was all out of the question. This took them an eighth of a mile to the northward of the claim.

It was now raining so hard that the water seemed to come down in sheets, and they felt compelled to seek temporary shelter. It had also begun to lightning, and the thunder roared and rumbled among the mountains in a manner that was deafening.

"This is about as bad as that tornado we encountered in Africa," observed Sam, as he crouched close to his brothers. "Don't you remember it and how the lightning struck that baobab tree?"

Yes, both remembered it well. "It was awful," said Tom. "I hope the lightning doesn't come near us here."

If anything, the rain now came down heavier than before, until Jack Wumble declared it to be the greatest downpour he had ever witnessed in that section of the country. The water leaped over the rocks in tiny waterfalls, and soon Larkspur Creek became a raging torrent. The sky was inky black, and they could not see a dozen paces in any direction.

Suddenly a strange rumble reached their ears, a rumble that made both Wumble and Slim Jim turn pale and look at each other with faces full of fear. The rumble rose and fell, shaking the earth beneath them, and mingling with a grinding and crashing and ripping that seemed to strike each one to the very heart.

"What is it? The end of the world?" gasped Sam.

"A landslide," answered Wumble. "Please God, it doesn't come this way!"

They waited, and the next half-minute seemed an eternity. The ground continued to tremble beneath them, and the rumble kept coming closer and closer. "We are doomed!" wailed Tom, but then the rumble and crashing passed them by and was slowly lost in the distance, until with one last crash it came to a sudden end.

"It's over!" said Slim Jim. "Thank Heaven, we escaped it!"

"You are sure it was a landslide?" asked Dick, when he felt able to speak.

"Yes, my lad, and a putty big one, too. Somewhar along this mountain side you will find a furrow cut down to the creek, an' find thet tons an' tons o' stone and dirt have slid down fer quarter o' a mile or more. Perhaps the slide has filled up the creek entirely."

The rain continued to come down, now drowning out every other sound. But wet as it was, Wumble urged that they go still higher up the mountain, to escape any other landslide that might be imminent.

So up they toiled until a large table rock was gained. At this point a second rock gave them shelter, and here they remained throughout the whole of one of the most disagreeable nights the Rover boys had ever encountered.

The storm and the landslide had driven away all thoughts of surrounding the Baxters and Roebuck, but with the coming of morning the skies cleared, and they felt as if they must do as originally planned.

"Unless the landslide paid 'em off," said Jack Wumble.

"Do you think they were caught in it?" asked Dick.

"No tellin', lad, until we locate the slide."

To locate the landslide was not difficult, since it had passed to their right. They soon made out its trail, which moved down to the creek in a zigzag fashion. Sure enough the creek was partly filled with the debris, and here the opposite bank was overflowed to the extent of several acres.

"We may find some rich deposits down thar," said Wumble. "A landslide sometimes provides a harvest for prospectors."

They moved on cautiously until they came to the spot where the Baxters and Roebuck had been seen last. Here the landslide had been at its worst, and rocks and trees had been torn up and cast down as by a giant's hand. Not a trace of the enemy was to be discovered, until Jack Wumble at last made out a part of a man's coat lying a hundred feet away. They ran to the spot, and soon uncovered the lifeless form of Roebuck. The man had been literally mauled to death by the fury of the elements.

"Poor fellow!" murmured Tom, as he gazed at the remains. "It was a dreadful death to die!"

"Yes, and he probably wasn't prepared for it," said Dick soberly. "I wonder if the Baxters were caught, too?"

"More'n likely," put in Wumble. "Look, here is a man's hat."

"Arnold Baxter's hat," cried Tom. "I noted it particularly when I was their prisoner. Where can the man be?"

"There are tons an' tons o' loose dirt just be low here," said Slim Jim. "Ye see the ground turned over and over as it rolled. Probably both o' the Baxters are under that dirt, mebbe twenty or thirty foot down."

At this all of the Rover boys shuddered. Very likely the old hunter spoke the truth. What a terrible fate for their old enemies!

"Let us go away," whispered Sam. "I can't stand this any longer!" And he rushed off with the tears standing in his eyes. The others were also affected, and glad enough to leave the place, once and forever. Wumble and Slim Jim threw Roebuck's body into a hollow and placed some dirt over it, and then built up a little mound of stones to mark the spot.

It was not until the next day that the party returned to the creek and began to look up the Eclipse Mine once more. The landslide had cut across this, and it was not long before both Wumble and Slim Jim declared the ground to be full of good paying "dirt," to use their own term. The claim was staked out to the boys' satisfaction, and then Wumble staked out a claim just above Discovery, as it is called in mining laws, while Slim Jim staked out one for himself just below Discovery. All three claims ran to both sides of the creek, so that no one would suffer for water when mining operations should begin.

"And those claims will yield us thousands of dollars!" said Jack Wumble. "Boys, we will all be rich."

"Hurrah!" shouted Tom. "I'm glad I came West, after all."

"And so am I," said Sam. "Dick, what do you say?"

"I say hurrah for the Eclipse Mine, and all the gold it will bring us," answered Dick. "Won't father be pleased when he learns the news?"

Here let us bring to a close the story of the Rover boys' trip out West. They had faced many grave perils, but one after another these perils had been surmounted, and now, when success had finally crowned their efforts, all the hardships were forgotten.

In due course of time the title to the Eclipse Mine was established in law, and later on Anderson Rover sent out a body of skilled miners to work the claim for all it was worth. It proved to be as valuable as anticipated, and the Rovers were, of course, correspondingly happy.

The claims staked out by Jack Wumble and by Slim Jim proved also to be good payers from the start.

When the boys got home they found that the story of the Baxters' fate had preceded them. Many folks were inclined to think that the wrongdoers deserved the catastrophe which had overtaken them. As nothing was heard of either father or son for a long while, it was presumed that both were dead beyond a doubt.

But they were not dead, although terribly bruised and unable to do much for themselves for a long while. The landslide threw both into the creek, and when they came to their senses they were fully a mile from the scene of the disaster. Here they fell in with a body of miners from Canada, and these men took them to a settlement still further West, where Arnold Baxter hovered between life and death for many weeks. Dan recovered more quickly.

"It's the Rovers' fault," growled Dan Baxter, when he was able to sit up. "I'll fix them yet."

He had still many plans for the future, and what some of them were will be told in the next volume of the series, to be entitled "The Rover Boys on the Great Lakes; or, The Secret of the Island Cave." In this volume we will meet all of our old friends again, and also learn what was done by the Rover boys to outwit their old enemy.

Yet all went well for the present. Randolph Rover had quite recovered, so the boys' Aunt Martha was happy. Anderson Rover could now walk around again as well as ever.

"Never saw such boys in my life!" declared Martha Rover. "No matter what scrape they get into, they always come out with colors flying. God bless 'em every one!"

And to this, kind reader, let us say Amen, and bid each other good-by.

THE END

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