The broncho rider boys o.., p.5
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       The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming Trail, p.5

           Lester Chadwick



  The two boys stood there, listening to the sounds that constantlyincreased in volume, as though approaching rapidly nearer the camp inthe timber growing along the little stream.

  There could no longer be the slightest doubt as to what made the noise.Before now Adrian had heard enough to fully agree with his chum when theother pronounced it a stampede of cattle. Besides the crash of manyhoofs on the earth, they could catch wild snortings, low, frightenedlowings, and the rattle of striking horns; all of which were veryfamiliar sounds to both lads, as they had witnessed just such sights onmany a previous occasion.

  "The queer part of it is," Adrian had taken pains to say before thenoise grew so boisterous as to prevent all ordinary conversation, "thatthere doesn't seem to be anything around to start such a wild rush. Astorm will do it quicker than most anything else, and there couldn't beone in the quarter where they're heading from."

  "Wait and see," Donald had wisely added; if he suspected anything as tothe real facts he did not appear willing to share his thoughts with hischum as yet, waiting doubtless until he could pick up further proof.

  "Shall we wake Billie up?" asked Adrian.

  "He'd never forgive us if we didn't," the other replied. "You'd thinkthe sound would get him to stirring, but Billie could sleep through thebiggest earthquake that ever happened; and if you did knock him up he'dwant to know who was shaking the floor with dancing. But I'll get him onhis feet, while you fetch our ponies in."

  So Donald stepped over to where the fat chum was cuddled up in hisblanket just like an Esquimau. After shaking him several times withoutany result, save a grunt, Donald shouted in his ear:

  "Wake up, Billie! earthquake! cattle stampede, and we're right in theway!"

  "Goodness gracious! is that so?" remarked Billie, as he sat up, andbegan to dig his knuckles into his eyes; then, hearing the roar of theapproaching hoofs he became suddenly greatly excited, as he realizedthat it was after all no joke his comrades were trying to play upon him.

  "Oh! will they grind us to powder, Donald? Can't we even climb a tree,and get out of reach of their hoofs? Hurry up, and say something beforeit's too late! Think what a terrible muss there'll be if ever theytrample on me, and do please tell a fellow what to do!"

  "Don't worry, Billie; they won't come into the timber at all. Fetch yourgun, and come along to join Adrian near by. We want to see what it allstands for as the herd sweeps past. Be quick now, or you'll lost a sightworth looking at, I tell you!"

  Billie hurried at hearing this. Besides, he did not exactly fancy beingleft behind when his chum departed.

  "How about the ponies, Donald; won't they get in trouble?" he managed tocall out, as he trailed along in the wake of the other.

  "I reckon Adrian has brought the lot into the timber; he was juststarting out to do the same when I came to wake you up. Yes, here he is,and with all our horses safe and sound. Fasten Jupiter to a tree withhis rope, and be quick about it, Billie!"

  This was speedily done, after which the trio of Broncho Rider Boyscrouched there on the edge of the timber, waiting until the herd ofstampeding cattle came along.

  "If that moon'd only draw out stronger," said Adrian, as he cast a lookupward toward the sky, over the face of which light clouds were driftinglazily; "but it don't mean to, and we'll just have to do the best wecan. Look sharp, boys!"

  "I can see 'em coming right now!" announced Billie.

  In fact all of them saw the fast-moving blurr upon the prairie somelittle distance away, which they knew must be the cattle rushingheadlong toward them, spurred on by some unseen power, either fear, or amore tangible force.

  Ten seconds later and they were on a line with the hidden boys, who,crouching there, stared as hard as they could, trying to see whetherwolves were chasing after the herd, as might happen when the ferociousanimals were in great numbers, but not otherwise; or what other causethere could be for such a great commotion among the cattle.

  "Oh! did you see that steer go down?" ejaculated Billie suddenly. "Hemust a put his forelegs in a gopher hole, and before he could get up therest had trampled him into flinders. Whee! ain't I glad that wasn'tJupiter and me!"

  "You've a right to be thankful, believe me," said Donald, solemnly;"because it'd be all over with you before you could give more'n a singleyelp. That steer was a big and powerful beast, but you saw how even hecouldn't get up again, once those many hoofs began to pound him flat.We'll find him there afterwards, and only food for the coyotes."

  The stream of cattle had now swept past them, and the thunder of theirmany hoofs was gradually growing less insistent as they passed on.

  "Well, that was a queer sight, sure," said Billie, rubbing his eyes, asthough he hardly knew whether he could believe what they had told him ornot.

  Adrian was strangely quiet, Donald thought.

  "Did you ever see a stampede like it?" asked Donald, determined to findout what the other chum's opinion might be.

  "I surely never did, if it _was_ a real stampede," returned Adrian,slowly, as if he might still be struggling to see light.

  "Oh! it was that, all right, but not one brought about by a storm, noryet by fear of wild animals," Donald continued.

  "Then you heard them too, did you?" demanded the other.

  "What was that?" asked Billie, arousing to the fact that he was somewhatbehind, and never liking to be left out of a race through any handicap.

  "Cowboys yelling like mad!" Donald went on to say, seriously.

  "Oh! you mean that they were trying the best they knew how to head offthe herd and start them to milling; was that it?" Billie went on; for hehad managed to pick up considerable information connected with a cattleranch during the time he had spent on the border with his cousin, downin Arizona.

  "On the other hand," Donald remarked, still more solemnly, "it struck methey were yelling like that to make the long-horns more frightened thanever; because they whooped like wild Injuns off their reservation, andin for a gay old time."

  Billie gave it up. His wits were inclined to be a little dense at best;and on being so suddenly aroused from a sound sleep, to witness thisstrange passing of a stampeded herd of cattle, he was hardly in a faircondition to do himself justice when it came to figuring what a mysterymeant.

  "I throw up the sponge!" he hastened to say; "somebody'll just have totake hold and whisper what it all means; because for the life of me Iain't able to get a grip on the thing. What's the answer, fellows?Cowboys awhooping things up, and making more work for themselves byscaring the life half out of their cattle. Say, that's a silly thing todo, strikes me, now, boys. Tell me what possesses the chump to act thatway? And be quick about it, because when I'm that curious it's dangerousto leave me groping in the dark. Don't you know fellows have been knownto pine away to nothing just because they kept aworrying aboutsomething. Donald, what's it mean?"

  "Adrian you tell him, while I get that little electric torch we used tofind so valuable; I'd like to step out and take a look at that deadsteer, now that the danger's gone past."

  The roar of many hoofs was dying away by degrees in the near distance,showing that the herd must still be on the full run, and as filled withfright as when the boys saw them sweep past.

  "Why," began Adrian, as the other hurried back to where the red embersof the little camp-fire glowed like a wakeful eye among the trees, "allI can say, Billie, is that the herd was in a panic, and had beenfrightened. If there were punchers galloping along, as both Donald and Ithink we made out, they didn't seem to be trying to head the cattle off,or turn them, but kept in the rear, or the flank, and yelled just tokeep them hustling. Now do you catch on, Billie?"

  "Rustlers, you mean, Adrian; cattle thieves carrying off a bunch of thelong-horns!" ejaculated the astonished Billie. "Just to think of runningon a game as old as that the very first thing we come up here? Why, Ithought that was only a practice along the border, where the rustlerscould drive the stolen cattle over into Mexico,
and be safe frompursuit."

  "Oh! that's all a mistake, Billie!" declared Adrian; "wherever cattleare raised on any large scale you'll find men trying to steal them, andchange the marks; because once this is done it's hard to pick out yourown property. And unless both of us are mighty much mistaken, that'swhat was being done with that herd we saw pass by on the gallop. Buthere comes Donald with the little torch; and as the dust has partlysettled by now, we can go out and take a look around."

  "And," said Billie, as if to show that he was not so dull as he had beenonce upon a time, "if them rustlers _were_ chasing along behind the herdwe'll find the plain hoofprints of their ponies there; because they'llshow up different from the split hoofs of the steers, eh, Adrian?"

  "Good for you, Billie; you're on to the racket nowadays!" declared theother; and then Donald coming up, the three stepped out toward the spotwhere they had seen the unlucky steer fall never to rise again.

  There was little trouble about finding the remains, for these prairieboys had a fashion of locating things at the time they happened, so thatthey could head straight to them again when they wished.

  And just as Donald had said, the wretched animal had been pounded almostflat by the many hoofs that passed over him. They might find some decentpieces of beef to make use of, and that was all, for even the hide hadbeen ruined.

  Adrian took the torch from his chum's hand. They saw him bend downcloser as if to examine the flank of the dead steer. Hardly had he doneso than he gave utterance to a loud cry.

  "What have you found now?" demanded Billie, scenting new developments inthe remarkable mystery which had greeted their advent into the Wyomingcattle country.

  "Look at this mark here!" was what the other said, as he drew in a longbreath; and of course both Donald and the fat chum dropped on theirknees, the better to see what was meant.

  And there, plainly branded on the flank of the dead animal was the signmanual which Adrian recognized as his own property, a bar, and theletter S!


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