THE BOY RANCHERS AMONG THE INDIANS
Trailing The Yaquis
WILLARD F. BAKER
Author of "The Boy Ranchers," "The Boy Ranchers In Camp," "The Boy Ranchers on The Trail," etc.
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
THE BOY RANCHERS AMONG THE INDIANS
I COMPANY COMING II THE TELEGRAM III "GET READY, BOYS!" IV ON THE TRAIL V ROSEMARY AND FLOYD VI PRISONERS VII INTO THE MOUNTAINS VIII SHOOTING STARS IX A LONE INDIAN X SHOTS FROM AMBUSH XI THE SURPRISE XII FORWARD AGAIN XIII WEARY CAPTIVES XIV SURROUNDED XV WITH THE TROOPERS XVI INDIAN "SIGN" XVII AN ALARM XVIII SEPARATED XIX THE FIGHT XX THE WHITE FLAG XXI THE TRICK DISCOVERED XXII ANXIOUS HOURS XXIII THE LAST STAND XXIV THE RUSE OF ROSEMARY XXV "ALL'S WELL!"
THE BOY RANCHERS AMONG THE INDIANS
High and clear the sweet, western wind brought over the rolling hills the sound of singing. At least it was singing of a sort, for there was a certain swing and rhythm accompanying the words. As the melody floated toward them, three young cowboys, seated at ease in their saddles, looked up and in the direction of the singer.
Thus the song.
"Oh, bury me out on th' lonesome prairie! Put a stone under my haid! Cover me up with a rope an' a saddle! 'Cause why? My true-love is daid * * * * * *"
It is impossible in cold print to indicate the mournful and long-drawn-out accent on the word "dead," to rhyme with head.
"Here comes Slim!" exclaimed one of the youthful cow punchers to his companions.
"As if we didn't know that, Dick!" laughed the slighter of two lads who, from their close resemblance, could be nothing less than brothers.
"His voice doesn't improve with age; does it, Nort?" asked Bud Merkel, smiling at his cousins, Norton and Richard Shannon.
"But he means well," declared Nort with a chuckle. "Oh, you Slim!" he shouted, as a tall lanky individual, mounted on a pony of like proportions, ambled into view, topping a slight rise of the trail. "Oh, you Slim!"
The older cowboy—a man, to be exact—who had been about to break forth into the second, or forty-second verse of his song (there being in all seventy-two stanzas, so it doesn't much matter which one is designated)—the older cowboy, I say, paused with his mouth open, and a blank look on his face. Then he grinned—that is the only word for it—and cried:
"Well, I'm a second cousin to a ham sandwich! Where'd you fellows come from?"
"We haven't come—we're just going!" laughed Bud. "We're going over to see Dad and the folks. How are they all?"
"Oh, they're sittin' pretty! Sittin' pretty!" affirmed Slim Degnan, with a mingled smile and grin. "How'd you fellows come out with your spring round-up?"
"Pretty fair," admitted Bud. "A few steers short of what we figured on, but that's nothing."
"I should say not!" chuckled Slim. "Your paw was a heap sight worse off'n that."
"Rustlers again?" asked Nort quickly, as he and his brother glanced at one another. They had not forgotten the stirring times when they were on the trail of the ruthless men who had raided Diamond X ranch, and their own cattle range.
"No, nothin' like that," answered Slim easily. "Just natural depravity, so to speak. Some of 'em ate loco weed and others jest got too tired of livin' I reckon. But we come out pretty fair. Just got th' last bunch shipped, an' I'm mighty glad of it."
"Same here!" spoke Dick. "That's why we came over here—on a sort of vacation."
"I reckon some other folks is headin' this way on th' same sort of ideas," remarked Slim Degnan, as he rolled a cigarette with one hand, a trick for which the boys had no use, though they could but admire the skill of the foreman.
"What do you mean?" asked Bud. "Is Dad going to take a vacation? If he does—"
"Don't worry, son! Don't worry!" laughed Slim, as he ignited a match by the simple process of scratching the head with his thumb nail. "Cattle will have to fetch a heap sight more'n they do now when he takes a few days off," declared the foreman. "What I meant was that some tenderfeet individuals are headin'—"
Slim did not finish the sentence for he was nearly thrown from his saddle (something most unusual with him) as his pony gave a sudden leap to one side, following a peculiar noise in a bunch of grass on which the animal almost stepped.
The noise was not unlike that made by a locust in a tree on a hot day, but there was in the vibrations a more sinister sound. And well did Slim's horse know what it indicated.
"A rattler!" yelled Bud, and close on the heels of his words followed action.
He whipped out his .45, there was a sliver of flame, a sharp crack at which the three steeds of the trio of youthful cowboys jumped slightly, and there writhed on the trail a venomous rattle-snake, its head now a shapeless mass where the bullet from Bud's gun had almost obliterated it.
"Whew! A big one!" exclaimed Slim, who had quickly gotten his pony under control again, and turned it back toward the scene of action. It spoke well for his ability that he had not lost his cigarette, and was puffing on it, though the sudden leap of his steed, to avoid a bite that probably would have meant death, had jarred the words from his mouth.
"First of the season," added Bud, slipping his gun back into the holster.
"Are they more poisonous then than at other times?" asked Nort.
"Guess there isn't much difference, son," affirmed Slim. "I don't want to be nipped by one at any time. Much obliged, Bud," he said, easily enough, though there was a world of meaning in his voice. "I shore plum would hate to have to shoot Pinto, and that's what I'd a done if that serpent had set its fangs in his leg."
"Why'd he shoot him?" asked Dick, for he and his brother, though far removed from the tenderfoot class, were not wise to all western ways yet.
"There isn't much chance for a horse after it's been bit deep by a rattler," Bud explained. "Of course I don't say every horse that's bitten will die, but it's harder to doctor them than it is a man. And Slim meant he wouldn't want to see Pinto suffer."
"You're right there, Bud!" drawled Slim Degnan. "They do say this new-fangled treatment is better'n whisky for snake bites, but I don't reckon I want to chance it."
"The permanganate of potash is almost a sure cure for the ordinary snake bite, if you use it in time," declared Bud. "But I don't know that it would work after a fer de lance set his fangs into you. Anyhow I'm glad we haven't anything worse than rattlers and copperheads around here."
"They're bad enough!" affirmed Slim, as he gave a backward glance toward the still writhing form of the big rattler, which was now past all power of doing harm.
The incident seemed to cause the foreman to forget what he had been about to say when his horse shied, and the boy ranchers, by which title is indicated Bud, Nort and Dick, did not attach enough importance to it to cause them to question their companion. Yet what Slim had been about to say was destined to have a great influence on their lives in the immediate future, and was to cause them to ride forward into danger. But then danger was nothing new to them.
"Well, things are right peaceful since we got rid of Del Pinzo and his gang of greasers," observed Slim, as he rode on with the boys down the trail that led to Diamond X ranch, the property of Bud's father.
"But I'm always worrying for fear they'll come back, or we'll have some sort of trouble with our cattle," observed Dick. "It doesn't seem possible that over at our Happy Valley ranch we'll be let alone to do as we please."
"Don't cross a bridge until you hear the rattling of the planks!" paraphrased Nort to his brother. "We're all right so far."
"Yes, things are sittin' right pretty for the present," declared Slim. "Well, here we are," he added, as a turn of the trail brought them within sight of the corrals and other parts of Diamond X ranch. "And there's your folks," he added, as a woman and girl, standing in the yard of a red ranch house, began to wave their hands to the boys.
"I see Dad!" exclaimed End.
"Where?" asked Nort.
"Over by the pony corral, talking to Yellin' Kid. Looks like Kid just came in with the mail."
"He started after it when I rode out to look for a couple of strays," said Slim. "Beckon he jest come back. You boys'll hear more partic'lars now, I reckon."
"Particulars of what?" asked Nort. "Was that what you started to say when Bud shot the rattler?"
Slim did not answer, the reason being that a moment later he was surrounded by a knot of laughing, pushing, jostling and shouting cowboys, who seemed to want the foreman to settle some disputed point.
Bud and his two cousin chums rode on and greeted Mr. Merkel and his wife, who was "Ma" to every cowboy within fifty miles, and Nell, who was Bud's pretty sister.
"Hello, Dad! Hello, Uncle Henry!" was the greeting. "Hello, Sis!"
"Got any pie, Nell?" added Bud.
"For Nort and Dick—yes," the girl answered. "But you won't want pie when you hear—"
"Say, what's all this mysterious news?" broke out Bud. "First Slim starts to tell us and then—"
"Rosemary and Floyd are coming!" merrily cried Nell.
"Rosemary and Floyd?" questioned Bud.
"Your cousins, or, to be more exact, your second cousins," explained Mrs. Merkel. "We had a letter last week saying they might come on from California, and now your father has just had a special delivery letter, saying they're on their way. They'll be here any time."
"Company's coming! Company's coming!" joyously sang Nell, for she was delighted with the news.
"Rosemary and Floyd," repeated Bud, "I don't seem—"
"You haven't seen them in some years," his mother said. "But I'm sure you'll like them."
"Especially Rosemary," laughed Nort, and Nell stuck out her tongue at him.
"Well, I'm glad they didn't come until after the spring round-up," spoke Mr. Merkel, looking at a letter he held. "We'll have more time, now, to be with 'em and show 'em around. I wonder—"
But, as in the case of Slim, he did not finish what he started to say, for there came an interruption, in its way almost as sinister as the whirring of the rattle-snake's tail.
Toward the ranch buildings came the sound of rapidly galloping hoofs, and as they all looked in the direction of the sound they saw, riding in toward them, one of the cowboys.
"It's Old Billee Dobb!" exclaimed Yellin' Kid in a voice that was, as usual, unnecessarily loud. "Looks like rustlers were after him!"
But none rode in pursuit of the veteran cowpuncher, though he was spurring his steed to its utmost.
"They've broke out!" he yelled as soon as he was within hearing distance. "They've broke out! Scatter my watermelon seeds, but they've broke out!"
"What has?" demanded Mr. Merkel. "Our steers?"
"No! The Yaquis!"
"Indians!" snapped out Bud.
"That's them, son! They've broke out—left the reservation, and they're headed this way! Oh, rattle-snakes! Get your guns ready! The Yaquis have broke out!"
The boy ranchers looked at each other and it can not be denied that there was a joyous light in their eyes. Nell shrank closer to her father, and Mr. Merkel reached over and placed his hand in reassuring fashion on his wife's ample shoulder.
"Indians!" murmured Dick. "I wonder—"
"Sure we can help fight 'em!" exclaimed Nort, rightly guessing that this was his brother's question.
While the wind fluttered in his hand the letter from Rosemary, telling of her plans to visit Diamond X with her brother, and while Mr. Merkel looked anxiously at Billee Dobb on his panting steed, a far-off look was in the eyes of the ranchman. Bud thought he knew what his father's air portended, and he was eager to speak, but he, as well as the others, felt the tenseness of the situation, and waited for what might come next.
Nell was about to speak, to voice her gladness that a girl companion was to come to the ranch, when Mr. Merkel remarked:
"How come you heard all this, Bill—I mean about the Yaquis? None of it filtered here until you come up sweating lather!"
"I met one of the deputy sheriffs in town," explained the veteran cow puncher. "He'd just got a telegraph message tellin' him to be on the lookout, as the redskins might be headed this way."
"Whoop-ee!" yelled Bud, flapping his hat down on his pony's flank, thereby causing the animal to leap sideways. "Think of it! Indians! Whoop-ee!"
"It's dreadful!" murmured Ma Merkel. "I don't like to think about it!"
"But, Aunt, we have to think of it if the Yaquis are coming this way," spoke Nort. "We want to think of it to protect you and Nell!"
"That's right!" added Dick, while some of the cowboys grinned at the eagerness and impetuosity of the boys.
"Shucks!" exclaimed Mrs. Merkel, getting back her nerve. "Those Yaquis are nothing more than a lot of Greasers, anyhow. They'll turn home at the first sight of a few of the sheriff's posse. I don't believe I'll worry after all."
"That's right!" shouted Yellin' Kid. "No need to worry when the bunch from Happy Valley joins with the Diamond X outfit! We're a match for all the Yaquis that never washed!"
"Let's don't be too sure of that, boys," cautioned Mr. Merkel. "What more did you hear, Billee Dobb? Is it at all serious? How many of the imps broke loose?"
"That I don't know, there's enough of 'em to make the government take action. Some of the regular troops have received orders to move, and they're on their way now. If there were only a scattered few of the Yaquis, Uncle Sam wouldn't be so anxious. They've raided one Arizona town, I heard."
"They have!" cried Nort, Dick and Bud in a breath.
"Why this must have happened several days ago," exclaimed Mr. Merkel. "The Yaquis are quartered some distance from here, and news doesn't travel as fast as all that. How do you account for it, Billee?"
"Well, the fellow who told me got his information from one of those scavengers," explained Billee.
"Scavengers!" cried Bud.
"Yes, you know—one of them fellers that go up in flyin' machines," explained the old cow puncher.
"Oh, you mean aviators!" exploded Bud, trying not to laugh.
"Well, something like that, yes," admitted Billee. "Word of the rising of the Indians was sent out by wireless, and some of the flying machines were ordered to the border. One of 'em who was flying around here had tire trouble, or something like that, and had to come down. It was from him the boys back in town got some of the news, and the deputy sheriff gave out the rest.
"Oh, the Yaquis are risin' up all right, and they may come out here. I rode over like a prairie fire to let you folks know. We've had trouble enough here at Diamond X and I didn't want any more."
"Much obliged to you, Billee," said Mr. Merkel. "Did you happen to hear what town it was in Arizona that the Yaquis raided?"
"It was La—La—wait a minute now. It was one of those crazy Spanish names. I'll tell you—La—La—La Nogalique—that's it!"
"La Nogalique!" cried Mr. Merkel, and he looked at the letter from Rosemary.
"That's her!" affirmed the cowboy.
"Why—why!" exclaimed the ranchman, "that's the way they were coming—in their auto! La Nogalique! They might have been there—"
"Who were coming?" asked his wife quickly.
"Rosemary and Floyd; They'd be there just about—when was that raid, Billee Dobb?" cried Mr. Merkel.
The ranchman whistled.
"That's bad!" he murmured. "Bad!"
"Would Rosemary and her brother have reached there by then?" asked Mrs. Merkel.
"Just about," her husband replied slowly. "Just about! This looks bad! Boys, we've got to do something! Those Yaquis may just be off on a little harmless jamboree, or they may be excited by a lot of their Medicine Men, or whatever they call 'em! Once let 'em get on the rampage, half Mexicans as they are, and we won't know what to expect! It looks bad! I'm glad the round-up is over. It gives us time. Boys, I think—"
But what he thought Mr. Merkel did not disclose—at least for the time being. The attention of all was again attracted by the sound of rapid hoofbeats, and, looking toward the trail that led to town, a horseman was seen riding toward Diamond X. By the manner of his approach it was easily assumed that he came on no ordinary errand.
"More news of the Indians, or I miss my guess!" murmured Bud.
And while the solitary horseman is rapidly approaching, I will endeavor to imitate his speed in acquainting my new readers with a little of the past history concerning the boy ranchers as they have played their parts in the previous books of this series.
The initial volume is entitled "The Boy Ranchers," and tells how Nort and Dick Shannon went to visit their cousin, Bud Merkel, on the ranch of the latter's father. This ranch, Diamond X, was in a western state, not far from the Mexican border. And, as you know, the Yaqui Indians were, in the main, a tribe of Mexican Redmen, who made their home partly in the Land of Montezuma and partly in Arizona, as best pleased them. Efforts were made by the Mexican Government to keep the Yaquis on a reservation, but the efforts were not always successful.
Mr. Merkel was a ranchman of experience, and planned to have his son follow in his footsteps. This Bud was eager to do, and when his cousins came he saw a chance for them to get into the cattle raising business on their own account.
This they did, but not before they had solved a strange mystery centering about Diamond X. As you may recall, the ranch was named after the brand used to mark its cattle—an X within a diamond outline.
The mystery solved, the boy ranchers turned their attention to other matters, and these are related in the second volume, "The Boy Ranchers In Camp." Mr. Merkel, by using an ancient underground water course beneath Snake Mountain, had brought much-needed moisture to a distant valley he owned, thus making it possible to use it as a place for raising cattle. This new ranch, variously called Happy Valley, Diamond X Second, and Buffalo Wallow, was given in charge of the boys to experiment with. They were allowed to raise cattle on their own responsibility. Without water Diamond X Second was out of the question. And the story in the second book has to do with the efforts of Del Pinzo, a dangerous character, and others, to drive away the boys. There was a fight over water rights, and another desperate fight, involving some strange ancient secrets.
The third book, "The Boy Ranchers on the Trail," deals with the boy ranchers after they have become full-fledged "cow punchers." So successful were they in Happy Valley that they incurred the enmity of Del Pinzo and his followers. Cattle rustlers stole many valuable steers from Bud and his cousins, and it was not until after a desperate encounter that the unscrupulous men were defeated.
Then, for a time, peace settled down over Diamond X and the boys' ranch. The spring round-up was over, and a successful year begun, when the ordinary course of events was interrupted in the manner I have set down in the beginning of this book—by news that the Yaquis had risen.
All eyes were turned on the solitary horseman, who rode fast on the heels of Billee Dobb. As this rider came nearer, it could be seen that a paper fluttered in his hand.
"Special delivery letter, maybe," ventured Dick.
"Maybe," admitted Bud.
"I—I have a feeling that it's bad news," murmured Mrs. Merkel to Nell.
"Maybe not," Bud's sister whispered. "It may be only a rush order for cattle to be shipped.
"All that were fit have been shipped," her mother said. "I'm afraid—I'm afraid—"
With a shower of gravel, scattered by the sliding feet of his hastily-reined pony, the man drew up in front of the group.
"Mr. Henry Merkel here?" he asked, crisply.
"Here," said Bud's father, quietly.
"Got a telegraph message for you. It's from La Nogalique!"
"La Nogalique!" murmured Mr. Merkel. "Oh, I hope Rosemary—"
With a rapid motion Mr. Merkel tore open the yellow envelope.
"GET HEADY, BOYS!"
Anxiously the boy ranchers and the others watched the face of the stockman as he read the message. It was rather lengthy, which accounted for the somewhat protracted time it took Mr. Merkel to get at the meaning of the words. But when he had read to the end he passed the missive to his wife, exclaiming, as he did so:
"Couldn't be much worse!"
"Are they killed?" cried Nell, clasping her hands.
"No, but maybe they'd better be," grimly answered her father. "Rosemary and Floyd are carried off by the Yaquis!" he added.
"How do you know?"
"Does the message say so?"
"Which way did they go?"
These were the questions, fired in rapid succession, by Bud, Nort and Dick.
"That information's in the telegram," explained Mr. Merkel. "The message is to me from the Sheriff of La Nogalique, or at least from some one in his service, for it's signed with his name. I know him, slightly."
"Did he see Rosemary and Floyd carried off?" Dick wanted to know.
"Not exactly. But wait. I'll read it so you may all hear," said Mr. Merkel, taking the missive from his wife's trembling hand. "Old Hank Fowler didn't try to get it all in ten words so we have a pretty fair idea of what went on. Reckon he knew he didn't have to pay for that message. It come out of the county funds I take it. Listen to this, boys!"
Mr. Merkel read:
"'I regret to inform you that some relatives of yours were carried off in the last raid of the Yaquis here. The Indians came over the border from Mexico and shot up this place (La Nogalique). I was away, but some of the boys give them a fight, and drove them off. But they took with them some guns, cattle, what money they could steal and a young lady and gentleman who claim to know you. The way it happened was this. This young lady, named Rosemary Boyd, and her brother Floyd, came here in an auto, from California. They give it out they were on their way to Diamond X. But they hadn't more than reached town than the Yaquis came in and shot things up.
"'The Indians took this young couple, and it was owing to the pluck of the girl that we knew what happened.'"
"Good for Rosemary!" cried Nell. "How did it happen?"
"I'm coming to it," her father said, having paused to get his breath. It was dry work, talking so much and under the stress of excitement, and Nell had broken in on him.
"'As the Indians were riding away, with this young lady and her brother,'" the message went on, "'she managed to scribble something on a piece of paper she tore from a note book. She tossed it to one of the cowboys who was shot in fighting the Yaquis. He brought the girl's message to me after the fight, when I'd sent some of my men to trail the devils. This is what the message said, and I'm sending the actual message to you by mail. "Get word to my uncle, Henry Merkel, Diamond X Ranch, that Floyd and I are taken. Ask him to send help." That's what the message said and I'm doing as requested. I've sent all the help I can, but the Yaquis got the start on us, owing to the fact that I was out of town with a posse after rustlers. But we'll get that girl and boy back or bust every leg we've got, Mr. Merkel. And you can send on help if you want to and join us.'"
The lengthy message was signed with the name "Hank Fowler," and when the reading was finished, Mr. Merkel glanced around at his listeners.
"These young folks are some kin of yours, I take it?" asked Old Billee Dobb.
"Sure," assented the ranchman. "More of my wife's than mine, but it's all the same. They were coming here on a visit, coming all the way from California by auto. I thought it was rather risky when they first wrote of it, but my wife says Rosemary is a good driver, and Floyd almost as good."
"Is he a Westerner?" asked Yellin' Kid.
"Not born and raised here," said Mr. Merkel, "but Floyd is no tenderfoot, and as for Rosemary—"
"She's a whole can of peaches! That's what she is!" cried Bud. "To have the nerve to stop and scribble a message to dad when the Yaquis had her and her brother. Clear grit I call that!"
"Sure thing!" assented Nort.
"Gee! I wish I'd been there!" sighed Dick.
"What! To be captured by the Indians and made into sausage meat?" joked Mr. Merkel, for at times they poked a bit of fun at Dick on account of his plumpness. Though, truth to tell, he was now not too stout, and the life of the west had greatly hardened him.
"They wouldn't have caught me without a fight!" he bruskly declared.
"That's right! A fight!" cried Bud. "What are we going to do about this, Dad? We can't let our cousins be carried off this way; can we, fellows?" he demanded of his boy rancher companions.
"I should say not!" was the instant response, duet fashion.
"No, it wouldn't be right for us to sit back and do nothing," agreed Mr. Merkel. "There aren't any too many men available to help out the sheriff. We've got to do our share. Get ready boys!" and he looked at his son and nephews, his glance also roving over his own aggregation of cowboys, most of whom were now gathered in front of the main ranch building of Diamond X.
"Where are we going?" asked Dick.
"On the trail of the Yaquis!" answered his uncle. "We can spare most of the bunch, now that the round-up is over. You don't need many out at your ranch, Bud. Call in all you can spare, and we'll hit the trail!"
"Whoo-pee!" shouted Nort, whirling his horse about and setting it at a gallop down through the corrals.
"This is news!" yelled his brother, following the lead of Nort.
"I only hope we aren't too late!" remarked Bud, when his cousins came back to join him.
"Too late? What do you mean!" asked Nort.
"I mean to save Rosemary—and Floyd. Those Yaquis—they're regular devils when they get on the war path! Oh, I hope we aren't too late!"
It was a hope the others shared.
Rapid action replaced the comparative quiet that reigned during the reading of the telegram. Cowboys rode to and fro, and Bud and his cousins prepared to depart for Diamond X Second to arrange for taking the trail against the Yaquis.
As the boy ranchers rode off down the trail, promising to return as speedily as possible, to join with the bunch from Diamond X, their eager talk over the recent events was interrupted by the noise of shouting.
"What's that?" cried Dick, looking in the direction of the noise. It appeared to come from a swale, or depression among some small, rounded knolls.
"Sounds like a cattle stampede," remarked Bud, urging his pony forward. "And yet it can't be that."
Nort and Dick followed as soon as they could swing their horses about. The sound of shouting and the thunder of the feet of many animals—horses or steers—came more plainly to the ears of the boy ranchers.
ON THE TRAIL
With Bud in the advance, urging his pony to topmost speed, Nort and Dick followed. Bud shot along the trail, up one rise, down another, all the while coming nearer to the noise which increased in intensity. Clearly something was wrong either among a bunch of Diamond X cattle, or with some of the horses belonging to the ranch outfit. And that some human individual was concerned in the "fracas" was evident by the shouts and yells that, now and then, punctured the air.
"By the Great Horned Toad! Look at that!" cried Bud, when he was within viewing distance.
"He'll be killed!" added Nort.
"No, he's out of it now!" yelled Dick. "But maybe it's the end of him!"
As the three boy ranchers thus gave vent to their surprise, and almost while they were in the act of exclaiming, a ragged figure of a man had shot over a stout corral fence, and had fallen in a heap just on the other side and out of the reach of the teeth and hoofs of a number of half wild cow ponies. The thud of the animals' bodies, as they threw themselves against the fence, in the stoppage of their mad race to get the ragged man, could plainly be heard.
"Whew!" cried Bud, reigning his pony to a sliding stop, as he saw that, for the present at least, the man was safe, though his inert form might indicate serious injury. "That was a close call!"
"What was he doing in that corral?" asked Nort, and his hand, almost by instinct, slid to the handle of his .45 protruding from the holster.
"And who is he?" asked Dick, who had followed his brother's lead.
"That's what we've got to find out," said Bud, who, perhaps from longer association with western conditions, had manifested no inclination to draw his gun. "Guess he'll wait for us," he added, as he slid from the saddle, having ridden close to the prostrate form.
But, even as Bud spoke, and as Dick and Nort dismounted, the stranger rose to a sitting position, rubbed his hand across his forehead, tried to smile at the boys and then, in what would have been a jolly voice under other circumstances said:
"I'm supposed to ask 'Where am I?' I believe, but we'll pass that up, and I'll substitute 'what time is it?' Just as a variation you know," and he actually chuckled. "Not that it matters," he added, as he saw Bud fishing out a sturdy silver watch—the only kind it is safe to carry on a cattle range. "Doesn't matter in the least."
"Then why—" began Nort. But the stranger stopped him with a friendly gesture.
"Don't ask me that!" he begged, smiling broadly, as he scrambled to his feet, thereby disclosing the fact that he was even more ragged as to garments than at first appeared when he was lying down. "Don't ask me that. The question has been fired at me ever since I was old enough to decide whether I'd have butter on my bread or take it in the natural state. It was 'why did I do this'—'why didn't I do that' until, in very desperation I gave up trying to answer. I do now. I don't know why I ask the time. I really don't want to know. There are other questions more to the point. Don't trouble to answer. And please don't ask me 'why' this, that—or anything. Frankly I don't know, and I care less. I am here. Where I'll be to-morrow no one knows, and no one cares. It is my philosophy—the philosophy of a rolling stone. I assure you, gentlemen—"
This time it was Bud who interrupted. There was a look on the face and in the eyes of the young ranchman that his cousins could well interpret. It meant that fooling, nonsense or an evasion of the issue was at an end.
"Look here, stranger," said Bud, and, though his voice was stern it was not unfriendly. "Maybe you are a tenderfoot, but you don't look it, and I reckon you've been around here long enough to assimilate the fact that when a stranger is found among other men's horses that stranger is due to make an explanation."
"My boy, you are right!" laughed the ragged man. "Absolutely and tetotally right! Of course you recognize the fact that I am no longer 'among' your horses. I was, but I am not. I came out, so to speak," and he indicated, by a tumbling motion of his hands, that he had leaped the fence to get away from the half wild ponies.
"That's all right," spoke Bud, his voice still stern. His cousins were leaving this matter entirely to him. "That's all right. But you were among them, and it may be more to our good luck than our good management that you aren't astride one of them now, and riding off. What's your name and where are you from?"
These were vital, western questions.
"You are right in your surmise," said the man, limping toward the boys, and still smiling, which occupation he had not left off since arising to his feet. "If luck had been with me I would have ridden on one of your horses. Not off—far be it from me to do that. But I would have ridden to the nearest ranch, tried to get work and so have paid for the use of the animal.
"However, fate had other things in store for me. I never saw such wild animals! They came at me like so many fiends, and after trying in vain to quiet them, and I may say I have some skill with wild beasts, I thought discretion the better part of foolhardiness, and—made for the fence!"
He chuckled at the recollection.
"Then you weren't going to steal a horse?" asked Nort.
"Far from it, kind sir," and the man bowed with just the slightest suggestion of mockery, at which Bud frowned. "I am a lone traveler, and I sought help on my way—help for which I would have paid in work."
"Who are you?" snapped out Bud.
"I have told you my name," said the stranger, in gentle contrast to Bud's harsh tone. "Rolling Stone, at your service," and he bowed again, this time with no trace of mockery.
"Rolling Stone!" ejaculated Nort.
"That isn't a name," complained Bud, but his voice had lost some of its stern quality, and his lips trembled on the verge of a smile.
"I realize that it is more a state of being, or a quality," the man admitted. "But it happens to be a sort of paraphrase of my title. I am Roland Stone, at your service, but my taste, inclination and the action of disheartened friends has fastened the other appellation on me. Rolling Stone I am by name and by nature."
He said it in a way that left little room for doubt, and the boy ranchers seemed to realize this. They could understand how such a character could easily change Roland into "Rolling," if such was his nature. And "Stone" was a common enough name.
"All right, Mr. Rolling Stone," said Bud. "If that's your choice it still leaves the other question unanswered. Where are you from?"
"Everywhere and anywhere, which is to say nowhere," came the reply. "You need only to look at me to tell what I am—a happy-go-lucky individual, a tramp, a hobo, and yet I am willing to work when the spirit is on me. I never stole a dollar or a dollar's worth in all my life. I have harmed neither man, woman or child. I am my own worst enemy, and I am—frankly—hungry! If you will give me food I'll pay for it in work to the best of my ability—"
"You said you had some skill with wild animals," interrupted Bud. "Do you mean—"
"I don't mean horses, if you will excuse the interruption," the man said. "There is my one failing. I used to be with a circus, and the lion and I were good friends. Perhaps some taint of the wild beast odor clings to me, which causes horses to rear up and tear. Or else—"
"That didn't cause these ponies to act that way," laughed Bud, who, with his cousins, was rapidly forming a liking for the stranger. "They're half wild themselves. Just in off the range, and they haven't been broken yet. I doubt if Yellin' Kid would tackle one. It isn't anything to your discredit that you got out in a hurry. But you say you're hungry?"
That was an appeal which never went unheeded in the west.
"Mightily hungry, fair sir!" and, though Rolling Stone smiled, there was an appealing note in his voice. "The last meal I had for nothing was given me by Hank Fowler."
"Hank Fowler!" cried Bud.
"The sheriff?" added Nort.
"Who sent on to Mr. Merkel the message from Rosemary?" completed Dick.
"Rosemary—that's for remembrance," quoted Rolling Stone with a smile. "I know her not, and yet Hank Fowler is a sheriff to my certain knowledge."
"Do you mean the one from La Nogalique?" persisted Bud.
"That same. I appealed to him when I was down on my luck, as I nearly always am, and he befriended me. I have known him for years."
"Then there can't be much wrong with you," decided Bud. "If you want work, my father can fix you up. We'll need some extra hands if we pull out a lot to take the trail after the Yaquis. So—"
"Excuse me, young man. But did you say—Yaquis?" asked Rolling Stone, and there was a new and eager note in his voice.
"Yes," supplemented Nort. "The Yaquis—Indians you know—have gone wild again and they've raided a town and carried off some of our friends. We're going to—"
"You can't tell me anything about the Yaquis that I don't know, young man!" exclaimed Rolling Stone, and he seemed imbued with new life. "I know they're Indians, of a sort, though a very rotten sort. They killed my best friend years ago. I haven't heard anything about a raid lately. Been too lazy to look for news, I reckon. But if it's true that they're on the rampage, and you're on the trail after them let me, I beg of you, have a hand in it. I asked for work just now. Change that to a fight and I'm with you at the fall of the hat and until I drop! Let me come! Let me help pay back the debt I have against these infernal Yaquis. Will you?" he asked eagerly.
Bud looked at his cousins. Here was a new element. And with all his light manner, and ragged clothes, there was something very satisfying about Rolling Stone, as he asked to be called.
"We'll need all the help we can get," said Bud, slowly. "If Hank Fowler says you're all right, that goes with us. Sure it isn't Hank Fisher who vouches for you?" he asked sharply.
"Hank Fisher—I don't know the man," was the answer.
"You're better off not to," spoke Bud grimly, for Fisher was a ranchman of unsavory reputation, who was believed to have figured in more than one affair with the half breed Del Pinzo, to the discomfort of Diamond X.
"Hank Fowler, the sheriff, will tell you I'm straight," said Rolling Stone. "I don't say I haven't faults," he went on. "But when I say I'm my own worst enemy I've spilled an earful," and he laughed genially.
"We'll let it go at that," Bud answered. "If Mr. Fowler says you're on the level that's sufficient. And you can come with us."
"Thanks," was the laconic reply. "Will one of your ponies carry double?" and he looked over his shoulder at the corral.
"We won't ask you to ride one of those mustangs," laughed Bud. "And it's too much to double up. I'll go back and get one of dad's ponies. It isn't far. You stay here," he added to his cousins and Rolling Stone. "I'll be back soon."
Riding rapidly, Bud was quickly back at Diamond X. He told the story of the meeting with Rolling Stone. At first Mr. Merkel was a bit suspicious, but it happened that one of the cowboys had heard of Rolling Stone, and knew him to be what he laid claim to.
"I reckon he's all right," assented the ranchman. "Take him with you, Bud. You'll need help, and if he knows anything about the Yaquis he'll be of value."
"All right," remarked Bud. "He's on. What horse can I take for him?"
One was selected. Together the boy ranchers and Rolling Stone rode out to Happy Valley, for certain matters must be adjusted there before the start could be made after the Indians who had carried off Rosemary and Floyd.
Work went on at top speed, and a day later our young heroes, with Rolling Stone, better dressed, but the same unconventional spirit, started forth.
"On the trail!" grimly remarked Bud as they started to join forces with those from Diamond X.
"On the trail!" echoed Nort and Dick.
"And we can't meet with those Yaquis any too soon for me!" added Rolling Stone.
"You seem to have it in for them rather hard," observed Dick.
"It can't be any too hard," answered the man with a grim tightening of the muscles around his mouth. "When I think of all they did—"
He paused and gazed at the distant horizon. That there was a story connected with his hate of the Yaquis none of the boys doubted, and they were eager to hear it. But this was not the time and place. Too much remained to be done, and there was too little time in which to do it.
"I wonder when we'll meet up with the imps?" spoke Nort, as they ambled easily along.
"No telling," said Bud. "We've got things in shape back there so that we can remain away all summer if need be," and he glanced back toward their ranch which they had just left. "But I'd like to clean up this bunch of 'onery' Yaquis, and then get back on the job. Cattle raising is our business."
"But just now we're following a side line of rescuing Rosemary and Floyd," observed Nort. "And I think we can do it!"
Well it was that Fate veiled the Future.
ROSEMARY AND FLOYD
"Floyd, I don't like this a bit!"
"What's the matter, Rosemary?"
The young man driving the sturdy little sport model of a car brought the machine to a stop and glanced at the girl sitting beside him. There was a quizzical smile on his face, a good-natured smile, however.
"What don't you like, Rosemary?" he asked again, and there was not in his tone any air of bored fault-finding such as seems to come natural to some brothers in appealing from a decision of some sisters.
"I don't like the way this trail is shaping up, if you'll excuse my English," answered Rosemary Boyd.
"Your English is perfectly excusable, Rosemary," retorted Floyd. "In fact I rather like it. It is much better than this trail, to be frank."
"Are you sure we have come the right road?"
"As sure as I can be of anything in this doggoned country, where they haven't enough sign posts. I took the turns they told me to take in the last town we passed through, and all the land marks have run true to form so far."
"But we're a good ways from Uncle Henry's ranch yet; aren't we, Floyd?" and there crept into the voice of Rosemary an anxious note.
"Well, maybe we are, but what do we care for a few hundred miles?"
He laughed merrily, showing a set of white, even teeth, and his jollity was so catching that his sister had to join in.
"Well, I suppose it really doesn't make much difference," she said. "We're out for a lark and we've had it, so far. Only I don't seem to fancy sleeping out in the open again to-night. We were lost yesterday, you remember, and didn't make the town we expected to."
Floyd seemed to be waiting for something.
"Well?" he suggested. "Why don't you add that it was all my fault."
"I was going to leave that out," Rosemary said.
"But I'll admit it," acknowledged her brother. "I did pull a bloomer, as an Englishman would say, and I don't intend to do it again to-day. I admit I shouldn't have tried to do more than a day's trip yesterday. If I had taken your advice and stayed in the town where there was at least an apology for a hotel, you'd have had a better night's sleep."
"Well, I didn't mind being out in the open so much, after I got used to the howling of those wolves," Rosemary remarked.
"Coyotes—coyotes—not wolves, though they're off the same piece of goods," corrected Floyd.
"Well, never mind the lesson in natural history," laughed Rosemary. "The point at issue is that I don't like the sort of country we're getting into. It doesn't look to me as though this could ever lead us to Uncle Henry's ranch, and I'm anxious to get there. Bud's mother wrote that he and his cousins, Nort and Dick, had such exciting times, that I'm anxious to join them."
"So'm I," said Floyd. "And we'll get there."
"Not on this trail!" declared his sister, as her brother was about to start the car. "You're getting into a worse and wilder country all the while. I think we should have taken the left turn a ways back."
"The cow puncher we asked told us to take the right turn, and I did," retorted Floyd.
"Cow puncher!" exclaimed his sister scornfully, "He looked more like a renegade Mexican than a real American cowboy. And his accent was Spanish, too."
"Oh, well, lots of good American cowboys came from Mexican or Spanish people, and speak both languages," asserted Floyd. "Don't hold that against him."
"I don't," said Rosemary. "But I will hold it against him if he has put us on the wrong trail, and I'm beginning to believe that's what he did. And maybe purposely, Floyd."
"Purposely? What do you mean?"
"Well, you know what we were told when we started out to make this trip—that we had better take the most civilized and best traveled trails, as the Yaquis were reported to be on the verge of making an outbreak."
"Yes, and for that reason I kept well away from the border. But we aren't anywhere near the Yaquis country now."
"Aren't we?" asked Rosemary, with a strange quietness in her voice.
"No, of course not!" snapped Floyd. It was the first time, since brother and sister had started from California, to make a somewhat adventurous trip to their uncle's ranch that they had been near a "break" in their cordial relations. "The Yaquis are five hundred miles from here."
"I hope so, I surely do hope so!" murmured Rosemary, in such fervent tones that her brother felt an uneasy sense of fear creeping into his heart. For the first time he began to realize that perhaps they had done a foolhardy thing in making this trip alone. He slipped his hand into his pocket, making sure that his gun was in readiness. And it did not relieve his anxiety to note that Rosemary did the same.
Brother and sister were of the west. They were brave and bold and not afraid of danger when they had half a chance to meet it face to face. But they had heard much of the treacherous and mean nature of the Yaquis Indians. These were not like the early American tribes of redmen, who had something of a code of honor in their warfare, cruel and heartless as it seemed at times.
"Well, do you want to go back?" asked Floyd, as he slowly started the car.
Rosemary considered for a moment.
"Let's look at the map and go over what we were told along the route," she suggested.
Then followed a careful scanning of papers and drawings, with the result that Rosemary said:
"I guess we may as well go on. It's a long way back to the nearest town, and this map does seem to indicate that we are heading for La Nogalique."
"That's what I say!" chimed in Floyd. "I only hope La Nogalique is better than it sounds. If we can put up there for the night you'll get a little rest, and maybe I'll have this carburetor adjusted. I don't like the way it's acting."
"Oh, good, sweet, kind carburetor, don't go back on us now!" implored Rosemary, kissing her hand toward the engine of the car. "Be nice and I'll sprinkle you with violet talcum powder when we get to Uncle Henry's!"
"Don't be silly!" grunted Floyd.
"Let's go!" called his sister. "It's getting late, and according to this map it's ten miles yet to La Nogalique—which means twenty if we are going by past performances."
The car sped forward, the trail seeming to grow worse instead of better, as might be expected if they were approaching a town. Lurching from side to side, making sharp turns to avoid bowlders and holes, Floyd guided the machine. Now and then Rosemary would glance at her brother, after a particularly vicious jolt, but she said nothing.
"A good sport!" Floyd mentally voted his sister.
They topped a steep rise, and as they started down the other slope, making a turn, Rosemary pointed ahead and exclaimed:
"There! Now we're all right! La Nogalique!"
Nestling in a small valley was a smaller town, its few buildings showing plainly in the last rays of the sun which would soon set behind the mountains and hills.
"Guess we're not so badly off after all!" exulted Floyd. "We'll sleep in real beds tonight!"
"And I take back what I—er—thought about you!" laughed his sister.
"Thanks for not saying it!" chuckled Floyd. "I admit I was guessing myself a while back, for that trail looked as though it was heading straight for no place in particular. But we're all right now."
However, as they descended the slope, approaching the town, it became a question in both the mind of sister and brother as to whether they were all right. When they came near enough to see and hear plainly it became evident that something unusual was going on in La Nogalique, if such was the village in view.
There was the popping of guns and intermittant shouts, while figures could be seen riding wildly to and fro amid the scattered buildings.
"Guess there's some sort of a celebration," commented Floyd.
"Probably some Mexicans have come over the border, and are celebrating a feast day," observed his sister. "This must be about the border line between the United States and Mexico."
"I reckon," conceded Floyd. "But say, I don't just like this! Look, those men are shooting at each other!"
He stopped the car and pointed to two groups of horsemen who, undoubtedly, were firing at each other with evil intent. For as Rosemary and Floyd looked, several men toppled from their saddles, and their steeds rushed wildly to and fro.
Then, as the travelers sat in the machine, looking down the last slope that led to the town, a solitary horseman came clattering up the rocky trail.
"Turn back! Turn back!" he shouted. "Don't go down there!"
He was attired as a cowboy and spoke good United States.
"What's the matter?" demanded Floyd, as he let the car roll to one side to give the horseman room to pass.
"Yaquis!" was the answer. "Them onery Mexican Indians have broke loose and are raiding the country. They've started in here at La Nogalique! I'm riding for the troops. Better turn back!"
"Oh, Floyd!" cried Rosemary, involuntarily.
"Don't go down there!" warned the horseman, as he spurred on, for he saw the car slipping down the slope.
"I don't intend to, if I can turn around and beat it up the hill," Floyd said. "The question is—can I?"
It was a question. The road was narrow, and the hill steep. If you have ever tried to turn a car around on a narrow, hilly road and crawl back up it, you will appreciate the position of Rosemary and her brother.
"If you can't make it in your car get out and hide!" advised the horseman, flinging this back over his shoulder as he rode on. "Those Yaquis are human devils!"
He was out of sight a moment later around a turn in the trail. Floyd speeded up the engine and began to guide the machine toward a place that looked wide enough to turn in. But that was the smallest part of the problem.
Just as he was making the turn there was a lurch to one side, and the right forward wheel sank into a ditch at the side of the road. The car settled so far over that Rosemary had to cling to Floyd to avoid sliding out, and she could not repress a scream.
"No going back now!" exclaimed Floyd grimly. "We're lucky if we can go ahead."
"Do something!" desperately cried Rosemary.
And then, with a suddenness that was nerve-racking, there swept around the bend in the road toward them a band of yelling Mexican Indians—the Yaquis!
Rosemary and Floyd knew something of the west. They had lived in California a number of years, and had traveled across the continent more than once—by auto on one occasion. So they were not at all disappointed when they saw the Yaquis did not measure up to the picturesque standard of Buffalo Bill's Indians.
In fact the first glimpse of the onrushing band of Yaquis would give one the impression that they were a lot of colored cowboys, in most ragged garments. But each one carried a gun or a revolver and the weapons were for use, and had been used, some with fatal effect.
Shouting and yelling, some firing their guns off in the air, beating coiled lassos against the heaving sides of their steeds, spurring the frantic animals, shouting in Spanish, all of them dusty, sweaty and dirty—the band was at once ridiculous and fearsome.
Up the trail they rushed, adding to their fierce yells as they caught sight of the auto in which sat Rosemary and Floyd. Probably the band of Yaquis had started off after the cowboy messenger who was riding to summon the United States troopers, and the finding of Rosemary and Floyd was but an accident.
But it was an accident likely to bode ill for our friends. The Indians (I call them that though they were really Mexicans) having sighted what was to them fair game, were turned from their original purpose of capturing the messenger.
Rosemary and Floyd caught a jumbled jargon of Spanish shouts, mingled with Mexican and American words, and then out of the ruck of riders a solitary horseman spurred toward them.
"He's the leader, I guess!" exclaimed Floyd, and Rosemary caught the gleam of his revolver in her brother's hand.
"Floyd! Don't!" she cried.
"Don't shoot? Oh, we haven't a chance! If we do kill—or wound a few—it will only make it worse for us. Don't shoot!"
Rosemary spoke only just in time, for Floyd was already raising the weapon to aim at the leader who had spurred out of the ruck of other yelling Yaquis.
And, as if this leader sensed what was about to happen, and had decided to administer a lesson, there was a sharp crack from his side. He had not raised his hand higher than his saddle pommel, but Floyd's hat spun from his head and went sailing to the ground. At the same time he heard a vicious "zing" which told of a bullet in flight.
"Floyd!" screamed Rosemary.
"I'm all right! He's bluffing!" her brother answered. But he did not shoot back.
This Yaqui, better dressed and mounted, but more evil in face than any of his band, smiled grimly as he jammed his gun back into the holster. And Floyd had the sense to return his weapon. As Rosemary had said, there was grave danger in firing, for at best only a few of the Yaquis could have been disposed of, and the others would have taken a terrible revenge.
Right up to the stalled car—stalled because it had lurched to one side in the ditch—rode the yelling Yaquis. Some of them got in the path of the evident leader, but he bumped them to one side with his horse—a more powerful animal than any ridden by his followers—shouting at them in vigorous Spanish as he knocked them out of his way.
"La Paz! La Paz!" is what Rosemary and Floyd heard shouted at the leader, and this they took to be his name, or, at least, his title. From then on they referred to him as "Paz," which was as good an appellation as any.
Up to the auto he rode, at breakneck speed, pulling his horse to a sliding stop, so that the animal almost sat down on its hind legs in an effort to avoid crashing into the car. To the credit of Rosemary be it said that she did not scream, nor did Floyd flinch, though it seemed, for a moment, that there would be a crash.
Then the Yaqui leader, with a grunt, and a wave of his begrimed hand—in which grime Rosemary noticed with a shudder, blood was mingled—indicated that the travelers were to alight.
"Nothing doing, Chief! That is if you are a chief!" boldly answered Floyd. "We're United States citizens, on United States soil, and we don't have to do what you tell us. Pull your freight—get your men out of the way and we'll mosey along. That is we will if I can get the car out of the ditch!"
The Yaqui grinned, but did not take his eyes from Rosemary or Floyd, and muttered:
"Oh, you understand all right—you don't want to, that's the trouble," exclaimed Floyd. "Come now, be a sport. I don't know what your fight is with the men down there," and he motioned to the town below, where sounds of fighting could still be heard, "but we haven't done anything. If some of your men will help me get out of this ditch I'll pay 'em."
Evidently "pay" was one word not only Paz, but some of his followers, understood, for there were grunts and eyes gleamed more brightly while some of the Indians started forward.
Paz shot out a few words at his men, and those who had had the boldness, to move forward pulled back their ponies. Evidently he had them well in hand.
Rapidly he uttered something in Spanish, at the same time again waving his hand to indicate to Floyd and Rosemary that they were to get out of the machine. Brother and sister knew enough of the language to understand what was said. It was the same request made in gestures.
"Shall I jump on him, Rose?" asked Floyd in a low voice. "I can just about make it from here, and I haven't forgotten my football tackle days. Shall I jump on him? Then maybe you can pop one or two, and we can start down in the car. Once we get into town the officials are bound to protect us."
"Don't, Floyd!" his sister advised in the same low tone. "We have no chance but to submit, and wait for help. I've heard of these Yaquis. There aren't enough men in La Nogalique to cope with them except troopers come. And they're far enough off."
"Just give in, and hope for the best. But don't let them separate us—whatever—whatever you have to do."
There was a catch in the girl's voice, but this was the only evidence of fear she had shown. She was a true "sport."
"But what do you suppose their game is?" asked Floyd, and during this talk between brother and sister, the Yaqui leader, stood regarding them quizzically.
"I don't know," Rosemary answered. "This is just one of their periodical raids, I guess, and they have just added us to their list. But we'll have to do as they tell us—at least for the time being. Help me down, Floyd."
He assisted her out of the car. Paz, smiling—or perhaps grinning would be the better word—came toward them, and motioned with his hand toward the gun Floyd had put up.
"You don't get it,—Paz unless you want the business end!" snapped out Floyd, and his hand edged toward the weapon with no mistake in his meaning.
In an instant he was "covered" by the gun in the hand of the Indian, and Rosemary changed the scream she had started to utter to the advice:
"Give it up, Floyd! They haven't seen mine and don't know I have one. Maybe I can get by with it!"
Floyd almost sighed as he passed over his weapon, butt first, in the accepted style of surrendering. Paz grinned again, and motioned to his men to come up. One of them began loosening a lariat at his saddle horn.
"They're going to make prisoners of us," said Floyd.
"Never mind! There'll be some way out," whispered Rosemary.
INTO THE MOUNTAINS
Disreputable ragamuffins as they appeared, the Yaquis were quick enough to put their captives in a position to render them almost helpless. Though the Mexican Indians do not seem to have the picturesqueness and skill of the outdoors possessed by the North American Indians, still they knew how to knot their lariats about Rosemary and Floyd, and so tie them on spare horses that it would have been no easy task to escape.
Aside from rude hands bundling her about, no insult was offered Rosemary; and though Floyd was not treated so gently he was not actually mistreated. Rosemary was not searched, and her automatic remained in a hidden pocket, where, if need be, she could quickly reach it.
Floyd's gun was taken away, and all the money he carried loose in his pockets. But he had been wise enough when starting out on this trip, to make a secret pocket in his vest, and this now held a goodly sum which the Indians overlooked. Of course a more careful search would reveal it, as it would Rosemary's gun.
Paz, speaking in Spanish, detailed several men to guard the prisoners and then, taking his place at the head of his band, he led them back down the trail.
"Say, what does this mean?" asked Floyd of his sister. "He's going right back down among men that ought to be our friends. If there are any town officials there, or a soldier or two, they ought to save us."
"I'm afraid there isn't, though," the girl answered. "If there had been the lone cowboy wouldn't have ridden for help. And the fighting is still going on."
The sound of shooting was resumed as she spoke, and shouts and yells came to Floyd's ears. He began to understand what had happened, his surmise being borne out, later, by the facts.
La Nogalique is a town in Arizona, just on the Mexican border. In fact so close is it that in places only a barbed wire fence separates the possessions of Uncle Sam from those of the Mexican republic. And outside of town even the wire fence "petered out," so there was nothing—no natural boundary—to tell where citizens were under the protection of the stars and stripes or under the domain of the descendants of Montezuma.
What had happened, just as Rosemary and Floyd suspected, was that the Yaquis—never very peaceable—had risen in one of their periodic raids. They frequently hold up the Southern Pacific trains, kill and rob the passengers and take what express matter they like.
This band, probably weary of making war on the none too resisting Mexican soldiery, had crossed the border, and "shot up" La Nogalique. When it was learned that one of the cowboys of the town had ridden to bring some United States troops from a nearby station, Paz, one of the leaders, had set out with his followers to capture the rider. They had come upon Rosemary and her brother with the result detailed.
"But why are they riding back into town with us?" Floyd wanted to know.
"Mexico is south of La Nogalique," answered Rosemary. "They have to ride through it to get back to Mexico, and they—they're taking us with them!"
There was a gasp in her voice.
"We've got to do something!" desperately cried Floyd. He strained at his bonds, but uselessly.
Paz turned and shouted something in anger, but Floyd gave him back fully as black a look as the one on the Yaqui leader's face. At least Floyd was going to maintain a bold front.
Down the slope and into the small town rode the Indians with their captives. Now the sound of shooting and shouting became louder. It was evident that some of the Americans were making a stand against the Indians. The Americans were firing from houses and other shelter, the Indians riding here and there, aiming whenever they saw anyone at whom to shoot. Several evidently dead bodies were in the streets, the proportion being about equal between the Americans and the Indians. Rosemary could not repress a shudder as she saw, in one doorway, a dead woman and a little girl.
How the fight started, whether it could have been avoided, and what the town officials had done or were doing, were only matters for surmise.
"There was a fight but I guess the Indians were too many for our fellows," grimly said Floyd, as his horse was led along. He had managed to keep close to Rosemary.
"It looks that way," the girl said. "Oh, Floyd! If we could only get word to our folks or Uncle Henry!"
"I don't see how we can," said Floyd. "When night comes maybe we can break away, but—"
He did not finish. It was a desperate hope as he and Rosemary well knew.
Suddenly, when the centre of the town was reached by the band having taken our friends captive, there was a burst of fire, mingled with shouts of defiance. Out of one of the buildings burst a band of American cowboys and others. They had gathered together to make a stand, and this was their chance.
Several of the Indians fell from their saddles, and others, though wounded, managed to retain their seats. Bullets flew about Rosemary and Floyd, fortunately not hitting them, but coming too close for comfort.
Paz and his followers were evidently taken by surprise, and for a moment did not return the fire. Then, as it increased the Indians turned and began fleeing up the trail they had just descended, taking Rosemary and Floyd with them. Evidently they not only thought there might be danger in making a stand against the intrepid Americans, but perhaps they reasoned that they had captives too valuable to risk losing in another pitched fight.
At any rate Paz gave the orders to retreat, and his men obeyed. Rosemary and Floyd saw what was happening. Helpless, they were carried away into the mountains.
True it was United States territory, but for all the good that did the captives, it might as well have been Mexico. There were no troops or other help at hand.
Paz rode on ahead, and directly behind him came his more trusted followers surrounding Rosemary and Floyd.
Suddenly Paz and his lieutenants (if such they might be called) in the lead, were thrown back in confusion as shots rang out, and Floyd and his sister had a glimpse of some cowboys riding down the trail, as if to give battle.
"Hurray! Now we're all right. This is a rescue! The troopers are coming!" shouted Floyd.
But though the valiant cowboys made a brave stand they were too few to cope with the Indians. It developed, later, that they were a stray band who had been told of the trouble by the lone cowboy who was riding after the troops. The band of punchers, resolving to do their best, had spurred to the fight, but were overwhelmed.
Two were killed and another wounded. And this youth—he was but that in years—managed to break through the first line of Indians like a football player with the ball smashing the interference of the opposing team.
Right to the side of Rosemary and Floyd he galloped, and then the girl had a flash of inspiration. Quickly she managed to take from her pocket a notebook, and, one of the ropes coming loose from her hand, she was able to scribble on a torn out page this message:
"Get word to my uncle, Henry Merkel, Diamond X Ranch, that Floyd and I are taken. Ask him to send help."
She rolled this into a ball, and as the cowboy lurched past her she thrust it into his hand.
"Ride! Ride away!" Rosemary fairly shouted in his ear, for there was so much noise of shooting and yelling that she had to cry loudly to make herself understood.
"I'm going to stay and fight!" cried the youth recklessly.
"You can't! They're too many! Ride and bring help! Deliver my message!" pleaded Rosemary. "It's the best way to help us!"
Then, as Paz, wild and furious, rode up with pistol aimed at the cowboy, the latter fired his last shot, full in the face of the Indian leader, wheeled his horse, and managed to dash away.
How Paz escaped no one knew, but the shot only grazed him, and with mutterings he threw aside his own empty weapon, and spurred after the bold cowboy. But the horse of Paz slipped, while the steed of the American, being more sure footed, carried him out of danger.
He vanished around a turn in the trail, and Paz swung back to his own men, several of whom had been wounded, and one killed by the bold, dashing American cowboys.
Then, when this little "fracas" was over, Rosemary and Floyd were again led forward, into the mountain fastness, prisoners of the Yaquis. While, miles away, the boy ranchers were totally unaware of the tragic happenings.
"What did you do, Rose?" asked Floyd, in a low voice, as the trail was resumed.
"I scribbled a note and sent it by that cowboy. He'll bring help if he can."
"Well, I hope he can. If they don't get him, or he doesn't lose your note."
But the message was delivered and was the means of spurring into action those at Diamond X ranch.
Contrary to what was usual when a band of cowboys, including Bud, Nort, and Dick, started off on the trail, there was very little singing, laughing and joking as they gave their ponies rein to begin pursuit after the kidnapping Yaquis. Even the lightest-spirited cowpuncher felt the gravity of the situation, though, save for the three boy ranchers, none had ever seen Rosemary and Floyd. And it was so long ago that Bud, Nort and Dick had met these western cousins that they scarcely remembered them.
"But we'd hit the trail for the rescue whether they were our cousins or not!" declared Bud Merkel, as he kicked his heels against the flanks of his pony, and sent that steady-going animal forward with a rush.
"Whoa there, son, whoa there!" advised Snake Purdee who was in leadership of the party.
"That's right," chimed in Yellin' Kid, with his usual strident tones. "Take it easy, Bud, We've got a long, hard trail ahead of us, and we haven't any spare horses."
"I didn't intend to start a race," spoke Bud, as he slowed up and waited for Nort and Dick. "I was just wishing I could kick some of those greasy Mexican Indians, and it must have been a sort of reflex action on my part that gave Toot a tap in the ribs," and he patted his pony, no very handsome steed, but a sticker on a long trail. Bud had taught his pony to run out of the corral at the blowing of a horn, hence the name "Toot."
"I don't know anything about them there reflex actions," observed Yellin' Kid, "but I do know that this is no fishin' party! We've got hard work cut out for us if we're to trail them sneakin' Yaquis."
"You delivered an earful that time, my friend," stated Rolling Stone, with a grim smile. "I've had dealings with these imps and while they don't compare in bloodthirstiness with the worst of our former American Indians, they're bad enough. I know!"
He seemed to gaze afar, into the past, and the boy ranchers hoped he would some day tell the details of how he had come so to hate the Yaquis.
The trailing party, started into action by the receipt of the message so daringly written by Rosemary, consisted of fifteen cowboys, and in these I include our three heroes, who certainly are entitled to be classed with the others. For though not as old, they had had considerable experience now, and were able to rough it with the most veteran cow puncher.
In addition to Bud, Nort and Dick, there was Snake Purdee, who was in virtual charge, according to instructions from Bud's father. Yellin' Kid, Rolling Stone and several other cowboys made up the remainder of the party, which was well armed, and provisioned as fully as was practical. They expected to replenish their packs of food at various places, and if they passed beyond the pale of civilization they would live off the land, or do their best in this respect.
"It can't be any worse for us than for those Indians," Snake Purdee had said, when the talk was on the food question.
"Yes, but a white man can't live on what those heathen eat," remarked Rolling Stone. "They'll eat lizards and snakes, and think they're stopping at one of the best hotels, with bath an' everything. Or they can go without eating longer than any human beings I ever saw. In fact I don't believe they are human. They're imps, that's what they are—plain imps! If I had my way I'd—"
Rolling Stone gave a sudden jump, and a grunt, the reason for this action being that Snake Purdee had urged his steed to a place next to that of the speaker and had given him a jolting punch in the ribs.
"Wha-wha—" stuttered Rolling Stone.
In answer Snake pointed toward Bud and his cousins, on whose faces were looks of grave alarm as the new acquisition to their forces spoke thus of the fierce character of the Yaquis.
"Don't get 'em to worrying too much about that there young lady an' gent what these Indians have carried off," whispered Snake, and it was well it was he who spoke, and not Yellin' Kid, or our heroes would have sensed what was up. "Keep it dark," advised Snake. "Keep it dark! Don't take the heart out of 'em!"
"Oh!" exclaimed Rolling Stone. "I see!"
"Pity you wouldn't," snapped out the cowboy leader. "You got to have a little consideration for the young fellers!"
Rolling Stone nodded, and then, as if to make amends for what he had said, he added:
"Course I'm not saying all Yaquis are alike. There may be some half way, or maybe a quarter way decent. And maybe they've captured this young lady and gentleman just for ransom. In that case they'll take good care of 'em."
"Do you think so?" asked Bud, for, truth to tell, he had been greatly alarmed as he thought of the possible fate of Rosemary and her brother in the hands of the unprincipled Yaquis.
"Oh, sure!" asserted Rolling Stone, with more conviction than he felt. "They're after money, these Indians are, or what money will buy. And they like good U.S. money instead of Mex. dollars which are worth about fourteen and a half cents a pound just now. So it's to their interests to treat their captives well, so they'll bring a good price in the market."
"Good price?" exclaimed Nort. "Do they put them up at auction?"
"No, I didn't mean just that," Rolling Stone hastened to add. "I mean if they ask a ransom they're bound to keep the prisoners in good shape for if they don't produce 'em in that same fashion they're likely to slip up on the reward."
"Then they won't harm Rosemary or Floyd?" asked Dick, whose vivid imagination had pictured his cousins as being subject to the tortures of the burning stake.
"Well, of course they won't have feather beds to sleep on," spoke Rolling Stone slowly, "but I take it your cousins are used to roughing it, and it will be no worse than a scouting trip for them."
"Yes, I s'pose Floyd is used to camping out," admitted Bud. "But as for Rosemary—"
"Don't worry, son," advised Snake. "Rosemary is a western girl and you know what your sister is."
"That's right!" and Bud visibly brightened. "Nell could look after herself if given half a chance. And maybe we'll catch up to these Yaquis before very long."
"Sure we will!" asserted Snake, but he and the other cowboys, more experienced in matters of this sort than our heroes, felt that there was a grim terror between them and those whom they pursued.
However they had started, and were making as good time as possible. Messages had passed between Mr. Merkel and those in authority at La Nogalique, and the probable route of the kidnapping Yaquis was indicated as well as could be. This saved a long trip to the border in order to get on the trail of the Indians from the time they had taken Rosemary and Floyd.
Well armed, with righteous indignation burning in their hearts, used to roughing it, and with men who knew almost every foot of the country, the expedition from Diamond X was well equipped for the work in hand.
At first after they started out there was eager talk, and speculation as to where the Indians would be met with, and what the probable outcome would be of the fight that was sure to follow.
"Unless they run off when they see us and leave Rosemary and Floyd for us to bring back," spoke Dick, almost afraid lest this outcome should prevent a fight.
"Don't worry. They won't run! They'll stand and give us as good or as bad as we can send," declared Rolling Stone.
"We'll wipe out the band if we get half a chance!" declared Bud, and it was not said in a bloodthirsty or boastful spirit. It was calm retribution that actuated our friends.
Along the trail they traveled—a trail they were destined to follow for weary days and nights. This was only the beginning. They must make all the speed they could, and yet spare the horses all that was possible. There was a chance of getting new mounts at several places, but it was only a chance and could not be depended on. They must save what they had, both in the way of horseflesh and rations.
Night found them well on their way, and though the boys were eager to continue, Snake insisted on a halt being made not only for supper but to give men and horses a needed rest.
"The Indians will have to stop just as we do," said the older cowboy. "They can't keep on continually; they have to stop and rest."
"Yes, I suppose so," granted Bud.
So the night camp was made, and when the horses had been turned out to graze, hobbled so they would not stray, and when the evening meal was over, the party sat about the fires, talking of but one topic—what would happen when they came up with the Yaquis.
As they were in friendly country, not after cattle rustlers and had no fear of Del Pinzo and his gang, there was felt to be no need of standing guard. But for all this Bud, Nort and Dick were a bit restless, and did not sleep as soundly as the others.
In fact along toward morning, though while it was yet very dark, Nort, thinking he heard suspicious noises, unrolled from his blanket and stood up.
"What's the matter?" came in a hoarse whisper from his brother.
"I don't know," answered Nort, in the same hoarse tones. "I thought I heard something."
"So did I," and Dick scrambled out to stand beside his brother. "Are the horses all right?"
"I hope so. We're lost without them. Let's take a look and—"
Nort stopped suddenly and pointed to the northern sky. Above the horizon shone some red sparkles of light skimming and shimmering through the dark night.
"Shooting stars!" remarked Dick, in a whisper.
"Shooting nothing!" cried Nort, and his voice was loud. "Those are signals from the Yaquis! Snake! Wake up! We're right close to the Indians!" he yelled.
A LONE INDIAN
Less noise than that which issued from the excited throat of Nort would have been sufficient to arouse a larger camp than that of the cowboys on the trail of the Yaquis. Instantly every man in the party, not forgetting Bud who had been sleeping as soundly as any, was on the alert, gun in hand, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with the other fist.
"What's up?" snarled Snake. He always did hate to rouse suddenly.
"Look!" cried Nort, pointing to the north, where, now and then, a shimmering light cut the blackness of the sky. "Dick says they're shooting stars, but I say Indian signals."
"They aren't shooting stars, that's sure!" declared Rolling Stone. "I've slept in the open too often, counting those same shooting stars, to be mistaken. They're signals of some kind!"
"But not Indians' signals," asserted Yellin' Kid.
"Whose then?" Nort wanted to know, satisfied that he had not awakened the camp in vain.
"They're rockets—or some sort of fire works," went on Dick. "First I thought they were shooting stars, but I can see now that they aren't. They're sky rockets or Roman candles."
"That's right," agreed Snake. "And no Yaquis will fool with such infernal machines as them."
"Unless your cousins had some," suggested Yellin' Kid looking toward Bud and his chums. Some one had thrown an armful of greasewood on the fire, and it blazed up brightly, disclosing the countenances of the Indian trailers.
"What would Rosemary and Floyd be doing with fireworks?" asked Bud.
"I didn't know but what they might be bringing some to Diamond X for a celebration, and the Indians, having laid hands on the rockets as well as on your cousins, might be setting 'em off—setting off the rockets I mean—for a celebration over their victory," observed Yellin' Kid, somewhat out of breath after this long oration.
"Nonsense!" asserted Snake. "The Indians wouldn't set off the rockets on purpose. They'd be afraid. Though of course they may have done so by accident."
"I don't believe Rosemary or Floyd would be bringing us fireworks," remarked Bud. "They're too old for such kid stuff."
"That's what I thought," said Snake.
"But who is shooting off the rockets?" asked Nort, as another brilliant burst of fire, not unlike shooting stars, illuminated the dark northern sky.
"Troopers," said the old cowboy.
"Troopers?" question Dick.
"Yes. United States cavalry. There are several companies stationed out here, and they may be on a practice march, or having a sham battle, as they sometimes do. These are signals from one post to another."
"Or maybe a signal about the Indians," suggested Bud.
"Yes," agreed Snake. "It may be the troopers are after the Yaquis. I sure hope so, for the imps are going to be hard enough to nab once they get up in the foothills and mountains. We'll need the help of the troopers for sure!"
"Isn't there some way we could let them know we're coming?" asked Dick.
"Not very handy," the cowboy leader answered. "We haven't any fireworks, and shooting off our guns would only waste good bullets that we may need later. Besides, those shooting stars are farther off than they look. We couldn't make our guns heard, and the flashes would be so low down they couldn't be seen. All we can do is to wait until morning. We're traveling in that direction anyhow, and we may come up with the regulars."
"With their help we'll make short work of the Yaquis!" boasted Nort.
"Don't be so sure of that," warned Rolling Stone. "The Indians, while nothing like the American redmen, are cute and foxy enough in their own way. They probably know of nooks and hiding places in the mountains where they could lay up for weeks, and almost next door to a troop of soldiers, without getting located. It's going to be largely a matter of luck if we nab 'em!"
"Well, here's hoping," voiced Bud, as he turned toward the fire.
It was chilly out in the open at that hour of the morning. For though the days are very hot, it began to get cool very often as soon as the sun went down, and the air kept getting cooler until the golden rays again warmed the earth. So one and all sought the genial blaze, to thaw out a little before again rolling in blankets to wait for sunrise.
Aside from the alarm over the shooting stars, nothing else disturbed the camp that night, and all were gladly astir with daybreak. The fire was started into new life, and soon coffee was boiling over the coals, while mingled with its odor was the appetizing smell of crisp bacon.
"Let me make the flapjacks," begged Rolling Stone. "I used to be a great hand for them, and I still have some small skill."
He would need to have, for not a member of the party but what could turn a neatly browned cake high in the air, catching it unerringly as it came down, to be cooked on the other side. Even Nort and Dick had become quite adept at this.
But the skill of even Snake Purdee had to take a back seat in the face of the performance of Rolling Stone. Not only were his cakes better in taste, and more delicately browned, but he showed almost uncanny skill in tossing them high in the air, and catching them in the pan as they came down. Not once did a cake "slop over"—that is descend half within and half without the pan. Each one fell true and in the middle of the skillet, there to be held over the coals again until crisp and brown.
"You're a wonder—that's what you are!" affirmed Yellin' Kid in his usual hearty tones, as he passed his tin plate for more.
"It's a gift—that's all! Just a gift!" modestly admitted the self-constituted "flapjacketer," as he laughingly dubbed himself.
Smart was the word and smart was the action when breakfast was ended. The horses had made their meal during the night, and were ready for their riders who were soon in the saddle, riding toward the north—the north in which direction the Yaquis had vanished with their captives—the north where the mysterious signal lights had been seen.
Through the day rode the posse of self-constituted seekers after the captives. They could not hope, for some time yet, to come upon actual traces of the Yaquis. But they felt that they were heading in the proper direction.
It was towards the close of the afternoon, when they were beginning to seek for a suitable camping place, with water, that Nort, who had ridden on a little in advance, came to a halt at the top of a rise. His halt was caused by the appearance of a solitary horseman, coming toward him. And it needed but a second look, through that clear atmosphere, to disclose that the rider was not an American cowboy.
"What's wrong, Nort?" called Bud, for he had sensed something unusual in his cousin's attitude.
"An Indian!" was the answer. "A lone Indian!"
The others rode hastily up the slope. The solitary horseman was coming rapidly on. He seemed to have no fear of thus riding into the midst of his enemies.
"Got his nerve with him, anyhow!" mused Snake, as he looked to his gun.
"Maybe he's come to say the Yaquis will surrender and give up Rosemary and Floyd," suggested Dick. "Maybe they know we're on their trail."
SHOTS FROM AMBUSH
The boy ranchers were very free with their surmises as to what might portend the oncoming of the lone Indian. Youth is ever thus, eager to guess instead of waiting for certainties. The older cowboys—Yellin' Kid, Snake, Rolling Stone and those who made up the rescue party—remained in silent contemplation of the approaching figure.
"He rides doggoned funny," observed Snake.
"Like a bag of oats," added Rolling Stone. "Looks like he'd fall off any minute."
"Say!" began Bud eagerly, and then he stopped, as if he had thought better.
"What's the matter?" asked Nort.
"Don't you know somebody who rides just like that?" Bud inquired. "Some one we all know?"
Nort and Dick uttered exclamations. Bud's words were all that was needed to set in motion a slumbering train of thought.
"Looks to me like he was hurt," affirmed Yellin' Kid. "Can't be one of the Yaquis. They wouldn't be this near. And if they was they'd be too big cowards to ride right for us this way."
"This isn't any unfriendly Indian!" declared Bud. "He knows us—and we know him!"
"How come?" demanded Snake, half incredulously.
"Can't you see?" cried Bud. "It's our own Indian—Buck Tooth!"
"Wow!" shouted Yellin' Kid. "So it is! But I'd never have known him. He's all togged out—got his war paint on!"
And, in very truth, Buck Tooth—for he it was—had donned a strange garb. Wearing some of the clothing of civilization, he had ornamented himself with dangling bits of cow-hide, with parts of tails dangling from it. He carried behind him a collection of pans and camp paraphanalia that rattled and banged about him as he rode forward. He had stuck some feathers in his coarse black hair and he was a somewhat laughable mixture of an American and Mexican Indian on the warpath.
"Ugh!" grunted Buck Tooth when he came within speaking distance. Not that he ever spoke much, but this was his greeting.
"What'd you come away from the ranch for?" demanded Bud, for Buck Tooth was a valued hand on a cattle place, and he had been left with the somewhat small force to take charge of Happy Valley when the others had started after the Yaquis. "What you doing here?" Bud wanted to know.
"Me after 'em too—Yaquis!" grunted the Indian. "Me catchum an' shootum same like um shoot me!"
As he spoke, or, rather, grunted this out, he pointed to his left shoulder. It was bound about with bloody rags, and in spite of his stoicism the Indian winced as he moved in the saddle.
"Did the Yaquis shoot you?" cried Nort.
"Sure! I come after you—no could stay when fight to be done—and Yaquis what you call plug me! But I plug one, two, three 'fore I quit!"
"Where was this?"
"Was there a fight?"
"Lead us there!"
"When did it happen?"
These were only a few of the questions hurled at Buck Tooth, whose name was obviously well earned once you had looked at him. The old native seemed stunned by the volley of interrogations, and sat stolidly in his saddle while more were shot at him.
"Ugh!" he grunted in answer. "Fight yistidy—back there," and he waved a dirty hand in the direction whence he had come.
"Sure they were Yaquis?" asked Snake.
"Sure; Me know—Me Yaqui once!"
"That's right!" fairly shouted Bud. "I forgot, for the time being, that Buck Tooth is a sort of Yaqui Indian. But how comes it they fired on one of their own tribe?" he asked.
"Bad Yaquis—no good!" was the answer.
"That's right—they sure are bad!" declared Rolling Stone. "I've had dealings with 'em!"
"Did you see anything of their prisoners—young lady and young man?" asked Snake. "Say, you'd better talk with him—you can sling his lingo better than I can," and the cowboy appealed to Bud.
Thereupon the boy rancher talked to Buck Tooth in a way he knew his Indian helper could understand, and Buck Tooth answered in like strain. The Indian had been at Happy Valley ever since that venture had been under way, and in that time Bud and the old native had come to understand one another very well. Buck Tooth, it will be remembered, was of aid to Bud and his cousins when the fight over the water rights and the dam was under way, and the Indian helped fight Del Pinzo's gang.
"It's this way," Bud translated to the others, having finished questioning the Indian. "He got sort of lonesome after we left the ranch, and though I told him he must stay, he hiked off on his own hook to join us. He took a roundabout trail so he wouldn't meet up with us too soon and get sent back.
"Then, it appears, yesterday, he ran into a bunch of Yaquis, and they fired at him. He got in among some rocks and fired back, and he says he did for two or three. Maybe he wounded 'em, or maybe he made 'em candidates for the Happy Hunting Grounds. Anyhow, after the fight he managed to get on our trail, and here he is."
"But did he see anything of Rosemary and Floyd?" asked Nort.
"Not a sign. He says these Yaquis didn't have any captives," Bud answered.
"How do you account for that?" Dick wanted to know, while rather a grim silence fell on the others.
"Well, this may have been another party of Indians. Very likely was," Bud declared.
"That's right!" chimed in Snake. "The ones that captured Rosemary and Floyd could hardly have gotten so far north as the ones were that gave Buck Tooth that little reminder in the shoulder."
This opinion, coming from one who could reason out the matter, made everyone feel less apprehensive.
"There must be two or three bodies of these Yaquis," went on Snake Purdee. "They always split up after a raid. One party has Rosemary and Floyd, and another engaged in a little set-to with Buck Tooth. Being one of them he knew their fighting tricks and he left his marks on 'em."
"It's queer one Indian would turn against the others of the same tribe," spoke Nort.
"No, not in Buck Tooth's case," declared Bud. "He's a good Indian, if ever there was one. And, as he says, these Yaquis may be a lot of half-breeds, or a part of the tribe that is outlawed from the others. I'm not standing up for the Yaquis," he hastened to add, "for I know they've done a lot of dirty work. But this bunch may be worse than the others. Anyhow Buck Tooth says so. And I'm glad he's with us. I felt sorry after I left him back at the ranch."
"Yes, he'll be of service I reckon," asserted Snake, and Yellin' Kid nodded in agreement.
The Indian's wound, which he had not troubled himself to dress, was looked after with rough and ready, but effective cowboy skill and then, a good camping place near a water hole having been reached, saddles were taken off the weary steeds who began to roll about in welcome relief.
The fires were made, grub cooked and as night settled down all prepared for much-needed rest.
"Well, another day or two and we ought to catch up to 'em," observed Bud, as he prepared to turn in with the others.
"That's right," agreed Yellin' Kid. "They can't have traveled any faster than we did, and we took a shorter trail."
The night passed without any incidents of moment, though Nort nearly gave a needless alarm when he sprang up, declaring that he was being "roped" in the darkness.
But a light revealed that only a harmless snake was crawling over his neck, an unpleasant enough sensation as you doubtless will admit, but one not necessarily disastrous.
"Burr-r-r-r!" shuddered Nort, when he saw that it was a snake, and not a lariat that had rasped him. "I'd almost rather it was a lasso! I hate snakes!"
Then sleep was resumed.
The gray, cold and somewhat cheerless dawn was breaking over the temporary camp when, as Buck Tooth toddled over to replenish the fire for breakfast, there came sharp cracks of rifles from the surrounding rocks and scrub underbrush, and the old Indian fell.
"Yaquis!" yelled Nort, springing for his gun.
"Ambushed!" cried Bud.
"Steady, everybody!" shouted Yellin' Kid and his strenuous voice, rumbling and echoing through the silent morning, seemed to calm them all. "Get down on your faces! Drop!" commanded the cowboy, while puffs of smoke, flashes of fire and nerve-racking reports told that the attack from ambush was in some force.
Camp had been made by the boy ranchers and their friends in a little glade, amid rocks and stunted brush, a natural fortification as it were, with only one side open. And it was from this one side that the shots from the ambushers were pouring in.
Though Yellin' Kid and Snake Purdee had said nothing to the boys about it, the place had been purposely selected with an eye to its possible defense.
"You can't tell what will happen in this country," Snake had said to Yellin' Kid, and the latter agreed, lowering his voice, for once at least, so Bud and his cousins could not hear.
"We've got to be on our guard," Snake had added, and so, while Bud, Nort and Dick would have been willing to slump down almost anywhere, and camp as soon as they found water, this secluded site was selected.