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Title: Frank Merriwell's Backers - The Pride of His Friends
Author: Standish, Burt L., 1866-1945
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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FRANK MERRIWELL'S BACKERS

       *       *       *       *       *

EXCELLENT BOOKS OF GENEROUS LENGTH


THE NEW MEDAL LIBRARY

  _Issued Every Week._     ::     _Price, 15 Cents_

This is a line of books for boys that is of peculiar excellence. There
is not a title in it that would not readily sell big if published in
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is that they are all of the highest moral tone, containing nothing that
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published. New titles by high-priced authors are constantly being added,
making it more and more impossible for any publisher to imitate this
line.


ALL TITLES ALWAYS IN PRINT

     TO THE PUBLIC:--These books are sold by news dealers everywhere. If
     your dealer does not keep them, and will not get them for you, send
     direct to the publishers, in which case four cents must be added to
     the price per copy to cover postage.

  150--Frank Merriwell's School Days             By Burt L. Standish
  167--Frank Merriwell's Chums                   By Burt L. Standish
  178--Frank Merriwell's Foes                    By Burt L. Standish
  184--Frank Merriwell's Trip West               By Burt L. Standish
  189--Frank Merriwell Down South                By Burt L. Standish
  193--Frank Merriwell's Bravery                 By Burt L. Standish
  197--Frank Merriwell's Hunting Tour            By Burt L. Standish
  201--Frank Merriwell in Europe                 By Burt L. Standish
  205--Frank Merriwell at Yale                   By Burt L. Standish
  209--Frank Merriwell's Sports Afield           By Burt L. Standish
  213--Frank Merriwell's Races                   By Burt L. Standish
  217--Frank Merriwell's Bicycle Tour            By Burt L. Standish
  225--Frank Merriwell's Courage                 By Burt L. Standish
  229--Frank Merriwell's Daring                  By Burt L. Standish
  233--Frank Merriwell's Athletes                By Burt L. Standish
  237--Frank Merriwell's Skill                   By Burt L. Standish
  240--Frank Merriwell's Champions               By Burt L. Standish
  244--Frank Merriwell's Return to Yale          By Burt L. Standish
  247--Frank Merriwell's Secret                  By Burt L. Standish
  251--Frank Merriwell's Danger                  By Burt L. Standish
  254--Frank Merriwell's Loyalty                 By Burt L. Standish
  258--Frank Merriwell in Camp                   By Burt L. Standish
  262--Frank Merriwell's Vacation                By Burt L. Standish
  267--Frank Merriwell's Cruise                  By Burt L. Standish
  271--Frank Merriwell's Chase                   By Burt L. Standish
  276--Frank Merriwell in Maine                  By Burt L. Standish
  280--Frank Merriwell's Struggle                By Burt L. Standish
  284--Frank Merriwell's First Job               By Burt L. Standish
  288--Frank Merriwell's Opportunity             By Burt L. Standish
  292--Frank Merriwell's Hard Luck               By Burt L. Standish
  296--Frank Merriwell's Protégé                 By Burt L. Standish
  300--Frank Merriwell On the Road               By Burt L. Standish
  304--Frank Merriwell's Own Company             By Burt L. Standish
  308--Frank Merriwell's Fame                    By Burt L. Standish
  312--Frank Merriwell's College Chums           By Burt L. Standish
  316--Frank Merriwell's Problem                 By Burt L. Standish
  320--Frank Merriwell's Fortune                 By Burt L. Standish
  324--Frank Merriwell's New Comedian            By Burt L. Standish
  328--Frank Merriwell's Prosperity              By Burt L. Standish
  332--Frank Merriwell's Stage  Hit              By Burt L. Standish
  336--Frank Merriwell's Great Scheme            By Burt L. Standish
  340--Frank Merriwell in England                By Burt L. Standish
  344--Frank Merriwell On the Boulevards         By Burt L. Standish
  348--Frank Merriwell's Duel                    By Burt L. Standish
  352--Frank Merriwell's Double Shot             By Burt L. Standish
  356--Frank Merriwell's Baseball Victories      By Burt L. Standish
  359--Frank Merriwell's Confidence              By Burt L. Standish
  362--Frank Merriwell's Auto                    By Burt L. Standish
  365--Frank Merriwell's Fun                     By Burt L. Standish
  368--Frank Merriwell's Generosity              By Burt L. Standish
  371--Frank Merriwell's Tricks                  By Burt L. Standish
  374--Frank Merriwell's Temptations             By Burt L. Standish
  376--The Rockspur Eleven                       By Burt L. Standish
  377--Frank Merriwell on Top                    By Burt L. Standish
  379--The Young Railroader's Wreck                By Stanley Norris
  380--Frank Merriwell's Luck                    By Burt L. Standish
  381--Chums of the Prairie                  By St. George Rathborne
  382--The Yankee Middy                              By Oliver Optic
  383--Frank Merriwell's Mascot                  By Burt L. Standish
  384--Saved by the Enemy            By Ensign Clark Fitch, U. S. N.
  385--The Young Railroader's Victory              By Stanley Norris
  386--Frank Merriwell's Reward                  By Burt L. Standish
  387--Brave Old Salt                                By Oliver Optic
  388--Jack Harkaway's Struggles               By Bracebridge Hemyng
  389--Frank Merriwell's Phantom                 By Burt L. Standish
  390--Frank's Campaign                        By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  391--The Rockspur Rivals                       By Burt L. Standish
  392--Frank Merriwell's Faith                   By Burt L. Standish
  393--The Starry Flag                               By Oliver Optic
  394--The Young Railroader's Long Run             By Stanley Norris
  395--Frank Merriwell's Victories               By Burt L. Standish
  396--Jack Brown, the Hero                        By Herbert Strang
  397--Breaking Away                                 By Oliver Optic
  398--Frank Merriwell's Iron Nerve              By Burt L. Standish
  399--Jack Lightfoot, the Athlete                By Maxwell Stevens
  400--Tom Temple's Career                     By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  401--Frank Merriwell in Kentucky               By Burt L. Standish
  402--The Young Railroader's Comrade              By Stanley Norris
  403--Jack Harkaway Among the Brigands           Bracebridge Hemyng
  404--Frank Merriwell's Power                   By Burt L. Standish
  405--Seek and Find                                 By Oliver Optic
  406--Dan, the Newsboy                        By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  407--Frank Merriwell's Shrewdness              By Burt L. Standish
  408--Young Tom Burnaby                           By Herbert Strang
  409--The Young Railroader's Promotion            By Stanley Norris
  410--Frank Merriwell's Setback                 By Burt L. Standish
  411--Jack Lightfoot's Crack Nine                By Maxwell Stevens
  412--Freaks of Fortune                             By Oliver Optic
  413--Frank Merriwell's Search                  By Burt L. Standish
  414--The Train-boy                           By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  415--Jack Harkaway's Return                  By Bracebridge Hemyng
  416--Frank Merriwell's Club                    By Burt L. Standish
  417--The Young Railroader's Chance               By Stanley Norris
  418--Make or Break                                 By Oliver Optic
  419--Frank Merriwell's Trust                   By Burt L. Standish
  420--Jack Lightfoot Trapped                     By Maxwell Stevens
  421--The Errand-boy                          By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  422--Frank Merriwell's False Friend            By Burt L. Standish
  423--The Young Railroader's Luck                 By Stanley Norris
  424--Down the River                                By Oliver Optic
  425--Frank Merriwell's Strong Arm              By Burt L. Standish
  426--Jack Lightfoot's Rival                     By Maxwell Stevens
  427--The Rockspur Nine                         By Burt L. Standish
  428--Frank Merriwell as Coach                  By Burt L. Standish
  429--Paul Prescott's Charge                  By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  430--Through by Daylight                           By Oliver Optic
  431--Frank Merriwell's Brother                 By Burt L. Standish
  432--The Young Railroader's Challenge            By Stanley Norris
  433--The Young Inventor                        By G. Manville Fenn
  434--Frank Merriwell's Marvel                  By Burt L. Standish
  435--Lightning Express                             By Oliver Optic
  436--The Telegraph Boy                       By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  437--Frank Merriwell's Support                 By Burt L. Standish
  438--Jack Lightfoot in Camp                     By Maxwell Stevens
  439--The Young Railroader's Hard Task            By Stanley Norris
  440--Dick Merriwell at Fardale                 By Burt L. Standish
  441--On Time                                       By Oliver Optic
  442--The Young Miner                         By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  443--Dick Merriwell's Glory                    By Burt L. Standish
  444--Jack Lightfoot's Canoe Trip                By Maxwell Stevens
  445--The Young Railroader's Sealed Orders        By Stanley Norris
  446--Dick Merriwell's Promise                  By Burt L. Standish
  447--Switch Off                                    By Oliver Optic
  448--Tom Thatcher's Fortune                  By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  449--Dick Merriwell's Rescue                   By Burt L. Standish
  450--Jack Lightfoot's Iron Arm                  By Maxwell Stevens
  451--The Young Railroader's Ally                 By Stanley Norris
  452--Dick Merriwell's Narrow Escape            By Burt L. Standish
  453--Brake Up                                      By Oliver Optic
  454--Tom Turner's Legacy                     By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  455--Dick Merriwell's Racket                   By Burt L. Standish
  456--Jack Lightfoot's Hoodoo                    By Maxwell Stevens
  457--The Go-ahead Boys                            By Gale Richards
  458--Dick Merriwell's Revenge                  By Burt L. Standish
  459--The Young Railroader's Mascot               By Stanley Norris
  460--Bear and Forbear                              By Oliver Optic
  461--Dick Merriwell's Ruse                     By Burt L. Standish
  462--Ben Bruce                               By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  463--Jack Lightfoot's Decision                  By Maxwell Stevens
  464--Dick Merriwell's Delivery                 By Burt L. Standish
  465--The Young Railroader's Contest              By Stanley Norris
  466--The Go-ahead Boys' Legacy                    By Gale Richards
  467--Dick Merriwell's Wonders                  By Burt L. Standish
  468--Bernard Brook's Adventures              By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  469--Jack Lightfoot's Gun Club                  By Maxwell Stevens
  470--Frank Merriwell's Honor                   By Burt L. Standish
  471--Gascoyne, the Sandal Wood Trader          By R. M. Ballantyne
  472--Paul Hassard's Peril                            By Matt Royal
  473--Dick Merriwell's Diamond                  By Burt L. Standish
  474--Phil, the Showman                           By Stanley Norris
  475--A Debt of Honor                         By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  476--Frank Merriwell's Winners                 By Burt L. Standish
  477--Jack Lightfoot's Blind                     By Maxwell Stevens
  478--Marooned                                  By W. Clark Russell
  479--Dick Merriwell's Dash                     By Burt L. Standish
  480--Phil's Rivals                               By Stanley Norris
  481--Mark Manning's Mission                  By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  482--Dick Merriwell's Ability                  By Burt L. Standish
  483--Jack Lightfoot's Capture                   By Maxwell Stevens
  484--A Captain at Fifteen                           By Jules Verne
  485--Dick Merriwell's Trap                     By Burt L. Standish
  486--Phil's Pluck                                By Stanley Norris
  487--The Wreck of the _Grosvenor_              By W. Clark Russell
  488--Dick Merriwell's Defense                  By Burt L. Standish
  489--Charlie Codman's Cruise                 By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  490--Jack Lightfoot's Head Work                 By Maxwell Stevens
  491--Dick Merriwell's Model                    By Burt L. Standish
  492--Phil's Triumph                              By Stanley Norris
  493--A Two Years' Vacation                          By Jules Verne
  494--Dick Merriwell's Mystery                  By Burt L. Standish
  495--The Young Explorer                      By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  496--Jack Lightfoot's Wisdom                    By Maxwell Stevens
  497--Frank Merriwell's Backers                 By Burt L. Standish
  498--Ted Strong, Cowboy                        By Edward C. Taylor
  499--From Circus to Fortune                      By Stanley Norris
  500--Dick Merriwell's Back-stop                By Burt L. Standish
  501--Sink or Swim                            By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  502--For the Right                                 By Roy Franklin
  503--Dick Merriwell's Western Mission          By Burt L. Standish
  504--Among the Cattlemen                       By Edward C. Taylor
  505--A Legacy of Peril                   By William Murray Graydon
  506--Frank Merriwell's Rescue                  By Burt L. Standish
  507--The Young Musician                      By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  508--"A Gentleman Born"                          By Stanley Norris
  509--Frank Merriwell's Encounter               By Burt L. Standish
  510--Black Mountain Ranch                      By Edward C. Taylor
  511--The Boy Conjurer                          By Victor St. Clair
  512--Dick Merriwell's Marked Money             By Burt L. Standish
  513--Work and Win                            By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  514--Fighting for Fortune                          By Roy Franklin
  515--Frank Merriwell's Nomads                  By Burt L. Standish
  516--With Rifle and Lasso                      By Edward C. Taylor
  517--For His Friend's Honor                      By Stanley Norris
  518--Dick Merriwell on the Gridiron            By Burt L. Standish
  519--The Backwoods Boy                       By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  520--The Young Range Riders                By St. George Rathborne
  521--Dick Merriwell's Disguise                 By Burt L. Standish
  522--Lost in the Desert                        By Edward C. Taylor
  523--Building Himself Up                           By Oliver Optic
  524--Dick Merriwell's Test                     By Burt L. Standish
  525--Adrift in Midair                       By Ensign Clarke Fitch
  526--True to His Trust                           By Stanley Norris
  527--Frank Merriwell's Trump Card              By Burt L. Standish
  528--Lyon Hart's Heroism                           By Oliver Optic
  529--Fighting the Rustlers                     By Edward C. Taylor
  530--Frank Merriwell's Strategy                By Burt L. Standish
  531--Digging for Gold                        By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  532--Wyoming                                    By Edward S. Ellis
  533--Frank Merriwell's Triumph                 By Burt L. Standish
  534--Louis Chiswick's Mission                      By Oliver Optic
  535--Facing the Music                            By Stanley Norris
  536--Dick Merriwell's Grit                     By Burt L. Standish
  537--Stemming the Tide                             By Roy Franklin
  538--Adrift in the City                      By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  539--Dick Merriwell's Assurance                By Burt L. Standish
  540--Royal Tarr's Pluck                            By Oliver Optic
  541--Holding the Fort                       By Ensign Clarke Fitch
  542--Dick Merriwell's Long Slide               By Burt L. Standish
  543--Two Ways of Becoming a Hunter              By Harry Castlemon
  544--The Rival Miners                          By Edward C. Taylor
  545--Frank Merriwell's Rough Deal              By Burt L. Standish
  546--The Professor's Son                           By Oliver Optic
  547--Frank Hunter's Peril                    By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  548--Dick Merriwell's Threat                   By Burt L. Standish
  549--Fin and Feather                            By Wallace Kincaid
  550--Storm Mountain                             By Edward S. Ellis
  551--Dick Merriwell's Persistence              By Burt L. Standish
  552--Striving for His Own                          By Oliver Optic
  553--Winning by Courage                            By Roy Franklin
  554--Dick Merriwell's Day                      By Burt L. Standish
  555--Robert Coverdale's Struggle             By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  556--The West Point Boys                  By Col. J. Thomas Weldon
  557--Frank Merriwell's Peril                   By Burt L. Standish
  558--The Last of the Herd                      By Edward C. Taylor
  559--Making a Man of Himself                       By Oliver Optic
  560--Dick Merriwell's Downfall                 By Burt L. Standish
  561--Winning Against Odds                          By Roy Franklin
  562--The Camp in the Foothills                  By Harry Castlemon
  563--Frank Merriwell's Pursuit                 By Burt L. Standish
  564--The Naval Academy Boys           Commander Luther G. Brownell
  565--Every Inch a Boy                              By Oliver Optic
  566--Dick Merriwell Abroad                     By Burt L. Standish
  567--On a Mountain Trail                       By Edward C. Taylor
  568--The Plebes' Challenge                By Col. J. Thomas Weldon
  569--Frank Merriwell in the Rockies            By Burt L. Standish
  570--Lester's Luck                           By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  571--His Own Helper                                By Oliver Optic
  572--Dick Merriwell's Pranks                   By Burt L. Standish
  573--Bound to Get There                            By Roy Franklin
  574--An Annapolis Tangle           By Commander Luther G. Brownell
  575--Frank Merriwell's Pride                   By Burt L. Standish
  576--Across the Prairie                        By Edward C. Taylor
  577--Honest Kit Dunstable                          By Oliver Optic
  578--Frank Merriwell's Challengers             By Burt L. Standish
  579--The Runaway Cadet                    By Col. J. Thomas Weldon
  580--Jack Harkaway Around the World             Bracebridge Hemyng
  581--Frank Merriwell's Endurance               By Burt L. Standish
  582--Out for Big Game                          By Edward C. Taylor
  583--The Young Pilot                               By Oliver Optic
  584--Dick Merriwell's Cleverness               By Burt L. Standish
  585--Oscar in Africa                            By Harry Castlemon
  586--Rupert's Ambition                       By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  587--Frank Merriwell's Marriage                By Burt L. Standish
  588--The Pride of Annapolis             By Com. Luther G. Brownell
  589--The Cruise of the "Dandy"                     By Oliver Optic
  590--Dick Merriwell, the Wizard                By Burt L. Standish
  591--Captain Nemo's Challenge                  By Edward C. Taylor
  592--The Cabin in the Clearing                  By Edward S. Ellis
  593--Dick Merriwell's Stroke                   By Burt L. Standish
  594--Frank and Fearless                      By Horatio Alger, Jr.
  595--Three Young Silver Kings                      By Oliver Optic
  596--Dick Merriwell's Return                   By Burt L. Standish
  597--His Own Master                                By Roy Franklin
  598--An Annapolis Adventure             By Com. Luther G. Brownell
  599--Dick Merriwell's Resource                 By Burt L. Standish
  600--Ted Strong's Close Call                   By Edward C. Taylor

       *       *       *       *       *

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       *       *       *       *       *

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STREET & SMITH, Publishers, NEW YORK


       *       *       *       *       *


FRANK MERRIWELL'S BACKERS

Or

The Pride of His Friends

by

BURT L. STANDISH

Author of

_The Celebrated "Merriwell Stories"_

Published Exclusively in the Medal Library,
in  Paper-Covered Edition



[Illustration]

Street & Smith, Publishers
79-89 Seventh Ave., New York City

Copyright, 1903
By Street & Smith

Frank Merriwell's Backers

All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign
languages, including the Scandinavian.



CONTENTS

       I--IN THE TRAP
      II--IN THE HANDS OF CIMARRON BILL
     III--INTO THE NIGHT
      IV--IN THE OLD HUT
       V--PINTO PEDE RECEIVES HIS LESSON
      VI--INJUN JOE TO THE RESCUE
     VII--MERRIWELL AND BIG MONTE
    VIII--THE DEATH-SHOT
      IX--FRANK MAKES A DECISION
       X--MERRIWELL'S METHOD
      XI--SMOKE SIGNALS AND A DECOY
     XII--LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS
    XIII--FRANK'S ESCAPE
     XIV--MYSTERIOUS PABLO
      XV--MERRY'S DISCOVERY
     XVI--FRANK DETECTS TREACHERY
    XVII--THE WAR-WHOOP OF OLD ELI
   XVIII--A STRANGE FUNERAL
     XIX--NEW ARRIVALS IN HOLBROOK
      XX--MRS. ARLINGTON HAS A VISITOR
     XXI--SEEN FROM THE WINDOW
    XXII--A SENSATION IN TOWN
   XXIII--BOXER CREATES A STIR
    XXIV--BOXER TO THE RESCUE
     XXV--UNTO DEATH!
    XXVI--THE COMING OF CROWFOOT
   XXVII--ARRESTED IN HOLBROOK
  XXVIII--BILL HIKES OUT
    XXIX--OLD JOE TAKES A DRINK
     XXX--FRANK IN SUNK HOLE
    XXXI--THE DANCE IN SUNK HOLE
   XXXII--DEAD OR LIVING
  XXXIII--THE RETURN TO HOLBROOK



FRANK MERRIWELL'S BACKERS.



CHAPTER I.

IN THE TRAP.


Millions of bright stars shone serenely through the clear Arizona night,
shedding their soft white light on the great arid plains and the
mysterious mesas and mighty mountains.

Throughout the night Frank Merriwell lay ensconced behind some
sheltering rocks in a deep ravine, where he had been trapped by the
ruffians in the employ of the mining trust, who were determined to wrest
from him the precious papers they believed to be in his possession.

Old Joe Crowfoot, the aged Indian friend of Merriwell, who had been
snared with him, had, shortly after nightfall, taken the precious
oilskin package, containing the papers, and crept forth on his stomach,
like a snake, from amid the rocks.

Joe had promised to take the papers to the nearest registry post-office,
in case he escaped, and send them, according to directions, to Richard
Merriwell, Frank's brother, at Fardale.

Frank had written a letter to Dick, and had securely tied up and
directed the package. He trusted the aged redskin, who declared that he
might find a method of escaping from the trap, yet could not take the
white youth with him. He had made certain that Joe understood the matter
of registering the package, in case he should reach the post-office with
it in his possession.

Merriwell had become satisfied that this was the best course to pursue.
It was plain that he was in a very bad trap, and he knew those ruffians
could soon starve him out. There was no water or food for himself or his
horse. A day of thirst behind those rocks must surely do for him.

If Joe carried out the plan successfully, the papers would be placed
beyond the reach of the ruffians, even though Frank fell into their
hands. And it was the papers they had been engaged to secure. Were they
to kill him, Dick would have the precious papers and be able to continue
the battle for his rights.

Merry watched old Joe wiggle silently away, wondering that the Indian
could slip along in that manner with so very little effort. The old
redskin lay flat on the ground and took advantage of every little cover
he could find, and soon he vanished amid the rocks and passed into the
shadows, after which Merry saw him no more.

Down the ravine a great mass of rocks and earth had been blown down by a
mighty blast and blocked the passage.

Up the ravine armed and murderous men were waiting and watching, ready
to shoot down the youth they had trapped.

There were also armed ruffians on the barrier to the southeast. They had
trailed Merry with the persistence of bloodhounds.

A full hour passed. The men above were making merry in a boisterous way.
One of them began to sing. He had a musical voice, which rang out
clearly on the soft night air. Strangely enough he sang "Nearer My God
to Thee."

Could they be watching closely? It did not seem so.

Frank rigged his coat on the barrel of his rifle. On the muzzle of the
weapon he placed his hat. Then, he lifted coat and hat above the rocks.

Crack! Ping!

The ringing report of a rifle and the singing of a bullet. The hat and
coat dropped. In the coat Merriwell found a bullet-hole. That settled
it. There was no longer a doubt but that the desperadoes were watching
like wolves.

Yet old Joe had been able to slip forth from the protection of those
rocks and creep away.

More than ever Merriwell admired the skill of the Indian. Thinking that
the old fellow had instructed Dick in the craft which he knew so well,
Frank believed such knowledge had not been acquired in vain. Some time
Dick might find it very valuable to him.

There was a hoarse burst of laughter from the watching ruffians.

"Oh, Merriwell!" called a voice.

"Well," sang back Frank, "what do you want?"

"Stick that thing up again. We'd like a leetle target practise."

"You'll have to provide your own target," Merry retorted.

"Oh, we reckons not! We'll stand you up fer one sooner or later," was
the assurance.

Still they had not discovered old Joe. It seemed marvelous.

The night passed on. Another hour was gone when there came a sudden
commotion far up the ravine, as if on the further outskirts of the
ruffians. There were hoarse shouts, angry oaths, the rattle of shots,
and then the clatter of iron-shod hoofs.

The ring and echo of those clattering hoofs receded into the night,
coming back clear and distinct at first, but growing fainter and
fainter.

Frank Merriwell laughed and lay still until the sound of the galloping
horse had died out in the distance.

"Old Joe is on his way to the post-office," muttered Merry. "He took a
fancy to acquire one of their horses in order to make better time."

The ruffians were filled with more or less consternation. They continued
to wrangle angrily. At last, one cried:

"Oh, Merriwell!"

Frank lay perfectly still and made no answer.

"Oh, Merriwell!"

Peering forth from amid his rocky barrier, yet crouching where the
shadows hid him, Frank cocked his rifle and pushed it forward for use.

There was a time of silence, during which he fancied the men were
consulting in whispers. Finally his keen eyes saw something move into
the dim white light above some boulders. He laughed a little in a
suppressed way and sent a bullet through the moving object.

"Put it up again!" he called cheerfully. "I don't mind a little target
practise myself."

He knew the thing had been thrust up there to draw his fire and settle
the question if he still remained in the trap. But he had shown those
ruffians that he could shoot as accurately as the best of them.

After this he heard the men talking. He knew they were bewildered by
what had happened. They could not believe it possible that a human being
had crept forth from the snare. It seemed to them that the person who
had seized their horse and ridden away had come upon them from the rear
and was in no way connected with Merriwell.

After a time they were silent.

They were satisfied that the trap held fast.

Then Frank found a comfortable place where he was perfectly hidden and
coolly went to sleep, with his hand on his cocked rifle.

Merriwell needed sleep, and he did not hesitate to take it. It spoke
well for his nerves that he could sleep under such circumstances. It may
seem that it did not speak so well for his judgment. Still he knew that
he would awaken at any sound of an alarming nature, and he believed
those men would rest content, satisfied that they had him caged where
there was no possibility that he could give them the slip.

After an hour or more, he awoke and demonstrated the fact that he was
still behind the rocks by exchanging a challenge with the watching
ruffians.

Then he slept again.

And so the night passed on.

Frank was wide-awake with the coming of dawn. He saw the stars pale and
die in the sky. He saw the gentle gray of morning and the flush of
sunrise. Far up the ravine rose the smoke of a camp-fire, telling where
the ruffians were preparing breakfast.

"Oh, Merriwell!"

"Hello, yourself!"

"Are you hungry?"

"No, thank you. I have plenty to eat."

"Are you thirsty?"

"Not in the least. I have my canteen."

"That'll be empty right soon. How would you like some steamin' hot
coffee?"

"It wouldn't go bad. Send some in."

"We'll exchange a pot of coffee for sartin papers you has with yer."

"You're very kind!" laughed Merry derisively.

"It's a right good offer. We're goin' to have them papers anyhow, an'
you may not even git coffee fer them."

"You're due for the greatest disappointment of your lives, gentlemen,"
declared Frank. "If you're looking this way for papers, you're barking
up the wrong tree."

"Oh, you can't fool us!" was the answer. "We know you've got 'em, and
we'll have 'em."

"Ever gamble?" asked Frank.

"Oh, we sometimes take a chance."

"I'll go you my horse and outfit against that of any one in your party
that you don't get the papers."

"Done! It's a sure thing as far as we're consarned. We has yer foul, an'
we'll stay right yere till we starves ye out."

"Too bad to waste your valuable time so foolishly. But, say!"

"Say it."

"I see no particular reason why my horse here should go hungry and
thirsty."

"Not the least. Bring the pore critter right out."

"Beg pardon if I seem a trifle lazy, but it's too much bother. However,
I'll send him out, and I'll look to you to see that he's properly cared
for."

Without exposing himself, Frank managed to get the horse out from the
niche in the wall where he had been placed, headed the animal through a
break in the rocky barrier and sent him off, with a sharp crack of the
hand.

The horse galloped up the ravine, finally saw human beings, stopped,
snorted, seemed about to turn back, but finally kept on and
disappeared.

Then Frank settled down to wait, being resolved to give old Joe plenty
of time.

The day grew hot in the ravine, where there was little air. The sun beat
down with great fierceness from the unclouded sky. Those mountains
seemed bare and baked. Little wonder that their repelling fastnesses had
presented little attraction for the prospector. Little wonder it had
often been reported that they contained no gold.

But Frank Merriwell's "Queen Mystery" Mine lay in that range, and it had
developed so richly that the great Consolidated Mining Association of
America was straining every nerve to get possession of it--to wrest it
from its rightful owner.

So Frank baked in the sun, taking care to keep well hidden, for he knew
those men would gladly end the affair by filling him full of lead, if
they were given the opportunity.

Once or twice he caught glimpses of them. Several times they challenged
him. He was prompt to answer every challenge, and he did not wish to
shoot any of them.

He had fully decided on the course he would pursue; but he was
determined to give Joe Crowfoot plenty of time to perform his part of
the program.

Frank smiled in grim irony over his position. He took it
philosophically, satisfied that that was the best he could do. He did
not worry, for worry would do him no good.

He was given plenty of time to reflect on the course pursued by the
syndicate, and it made him wonder that such high-handed things could
take place in the United States.

It seemed rather remarkable that the head of the mighty syndicate, D.
Roscoe Arlington, was the father of Chester Arlington, Dick Merriwell's
bitterest enemy at Fardale.

Frank had encountered Mr. Arlington. He had found him blunt, grim,
obstinate, somewhat coarse, yet apparently not brutal. Being a clever
reader of human nature, which many are not who pride themselves that
they are, Frank had become satisfied that there were many men in the
world who were far worse than D. Roscoe Arlington, yet were considered
models of virtue and justice. Arlington was not a hypocrite. He was
bluntly and openly himself. He had set out as a poor boy to make a
fortune, and now it seemed possible that he might become the richest man
in America. Comfortable riches had first been the object for which he
strived; but when his scheming poured wealth upon him, he set the mark
higher. He determined to be one of the very rich men of the United
States. That goal he had now arrived at; but the mark had been lifted
again, and now he was determined to become the richest.

Arlington had not ordered those ruffians to take the papers from Frank.
Still he was back of it all. He had turned the matter over into the
hands of unscrupulous lieutenants, instructing them to employ any means
within their power to obtain possession of the Queen Mystery and San
Pablo Mines. Those lieutenants were directing the operations of the
ruffians.

It is quite probable that Arlington did not wish to know the method
employed by his lieutenants. All he desired was the result.

Frank had also met Mrs. Arlington, and he had seen in her a haughty,
domineering, icy woman, ready to do anything to gain her ends. She was
proud and high-headed, although she had once been a poor girl. She
looked down in scorn and contempt on all poor people.

But Merry had not forgotten June Arlington, who had a truly high-bred
face of great attractiveness, and who was vivacious yet reserved, proud
yet considerate, high-spirited yet kind. He had not forgotten the girl,
and ever he thought of her with feelings of kindness, for with her own
hands she had restored to him the precious papers when they had been
stolen from him, by agents of the trust, assisted by her mother.

He knew Dick admired June, and he did not wonder at it, for about June
Arlington there was such fascination as few girls possess.

Still Merry could not help wondering if June would one day develop into
a woman like her mother. Such a result did not seem possible.

Midday passed, and the afternoon waned, yet without any diminishing of
the scorching heat in the ravine.

Frank's water was gone, and he began to feel the torments of thirst.

He had counted the time as it passed. Finally he was satisfied that
Crowfoot had accomplished the task he had set out to perform. The papers
were mailed. Probably they were already on their way to Dick Merriwell
at Fardale.

"Well," muttered Frank, "I think I'll go out and look these ruffians
over now."



CHAPTER II.

IN THE HANDS OF CIMARRON BILL.


A shout quickly brought an answer.

"Gentlemen," said Frank, "I'm for a parley. What say you?"

"We're willing. Parley away."

"If you were to get those papers I suppose you would feel yourselves
perfectly well satisfied?"

"I reckon you've hit it good an' fair."

"Such being the case, if I come forth with hands up and empty, I take it
you won't take the trouble to shoot me up any?"

"None at all," was the assurance promptly given. "If you comes out like
that, you has our promise not to do any shooting whatever."

"And how about the gentlemen below?"

"They'll do no shootin' unless you goes that way."

"Is this all on the square?"

"You bet! Bring out that old redskin with ye, an' let him keep his hands
up, too."

"I think you've made a mistake, gentlemen; there is no redskin with me.
I am quite alone."

"We knows better! Ye can't play any tricks on us!"

"I am willing to convince you. Just keep your fingers off your
triggers. Watch me as close as you like. I'm coming!"

Having said this, he left his rifle lying on the ground and rose to his
feet with his hands held open above his head.

It must be confessed that he did not do this without some doubt
concerning the result, for he knew those ruffians were very treacherous;
but somehow he was satisfied that they had been instructed to obtain the
papers, if possible, without killing him, and that belief led him to run
the risk that he now faced.

He was ready to drop instantly if they fired as he arose into view. A
moment he stood quite still, and then, as no shot rang out, he stepped
through amid the boulders and walked boldly up the ravine.

In this manner, Frank walked straight into the midst of a party of nine
thoroughbred frontier desperadoes, who were waiting for him, with their
weapons in their hands.

The leader was a thin, dark-faced, fierce-looking man, who covered Merry
with a revolver.

"I rather 'lowed you'd come to it," he said, in satisfaction. "But I
told ye to bring that old Injun along."

"And I told you there was no Indian with me. I spoke the truth."

"Say, youngster, did you ever hear of Cimarron Bill?"

Frank looked the fellow over with his calm eyes. He saw a cruel,
straight slit of a mouth, a thin black mustache, with traces of gray,
and sharp, cruel eyes, set altogether too near together. He had heard
of Cimarron Bill as the most dangerous "man-killer" in all the
Southwest.

"Yes," he said quietly, "I have heard of him."

"Well, you're lookin' at him. I'm Cimarron Bill. The butts of my guns
have seventeen notches in 'em. You may make the eighteenth."

Merriwell knew what the ruffian meant, yet he showed no signs of fear.

"I have heard," he said, "that Cimarron Bill has never yet shot a man in
cold blood or one who was unarmed."

"I opine that's right, young man; but this case is a leetle different.
It's not healthy to irk me up under any conditions, and so I advise you
to go slow."

Frank smiled.

"I have no desire or intention of irking you up, sir," he said. "I am
giving you straight goods. There is no Indian with me."

"There was last night."

"Yes."

"Well, I don't opine he's melted into the air or sunk into the ground,
an' tharfore he has to be yander behind them rocks."

"I give you my word, sir, that he is not there, and has not been there
since last night."

The ruffians had gathered about and were listening to this talk.
Picturesque scoundrels they were, armed to the teeth and looking fit for
any job of bloodshed or murder. They glared at the cool youth standing
so quietly in their midst; but he seemed perfectly at his ease.

"Sam," said the leader, turning to one of them, "go out yander to them
thar rocks an' look round for that redskin."

Sam, a squat, red-headed desperado, seemed to hesitate.

"What ef the Injun is waitin' thar to shoot me up some as I comes
amblin' along?" he asked.

"Go!" said Cimarron Bill, in a tone cold as ice. "If the Injun shoots
you, we'll riddle this here young gent with bullets."

"Which won't do me good none whatever," muttered Sam; but he knew better
than to disobey or hesitate longer, and so, dropping his rifle into the
hollow of his left arm, he stepped out and advanced toward the spot
where Merriwell had been ensconced behind the boulders.

The brutal band watched and waited. Cimarron Bill surveyed the face of
Frank Merriwell, more than half-expecting the youth would call for Sam
to come back, knowing the fate that would befall him in case the Indian
began to shoot.

But Sam walked straight up to the boulders, clambered onto them, and
looked over into the hiding-place that had served Frank so well.

"Derned ef thar's ary livin' critter hyer!" he shouted back.

"Make sure," called the leader, in that metallic voice of his, which
was so hard on the nerves. "Don't make no mistake."

Sam sprang down behind the boulders. They saw his head moving about,
but, very soon, he clambered back over them and came walking rapidly
away.

"The varmint is sartin gone," he averred.

Immediately Cimarron Bill thrust his cocked revolver against Frank
Merriwell's temple.

"Tell us where the Injun is!" he commanded. "Speak quick and straight,
or I'll blow the top of your head off!"

"I am unable to tell you just where he is at present," said Frank, with
that perfect coolness that so astonished the desperadoes. "He left me
last night."

"Left you?"

"Yes."

"How? We had this side guarded, an' ther boys below kept close watch."

"All the same, I think Joe Crowfoot passed you. How he did it I do not
know. He told me he could."

The leader of the ruffians looked as if he was not yet willing to
believe such a thing had happened; but there no longer seemed much
chance for doubt.

"Then it must have been that red whelp who stole one of our hosses!" he
said.

"I think it was," nodded Merry. "Something like two hours after he left
me I heard a commotion this way, followed by some shooting and the sound
of a galloping horse, which died out in the distance."

Some of the men began to swear, but Bill silenced them with one swift
look from his evil eyes.

"Well, that sure is the limit!" he observed, trying to hide some of his
disgust. "We didn't opine a kitten could sneak past us without being
seen an' shot up."

"A kitten might not," said Frank. "But old Joe Crowfoot should be
compared with a serpent. He has all the wisdom and craft of one. I
depended on him, and he did not fail me."

"Where has he gone? State it--state it almighty sudden!"

"If he followed instructions, he has gone to Holbrook."

"For what?"

"To send a message for me to my brother."

"A message? What sort of a message?"

"A letter and some papers."

"Papers?" said Cimarron Bill, in a low, threatening tone. "What papers?"

"Certain papers referring to the Queen Mystery and San Pablo Mines,
which I own."

A look of disappointed rage contorted the cruel face of the murderous
ruffian. The lips were pressed together until they appeared to make one
straight line no wider than the thin blade of a knife. The eyelids
closed to narrow slits, while that dark face turned to a bluish tinge.

Many times had Frank Merriwell stood in deadly peril of his life; but,
looking at that man then, he well knew that never had his danger been
greater. Still, if he regretted his act in walking forth and
surrendering himself into the hands of such a creature he effectually
concealed it. He betrayed not a whit of trepidation or alarm, which was
a masterly display of nerve.

The ruffians began to murmur fiercely, like the growling of so many
wolves. Perhaps it was to this outbreak that Merry owed his life, for
the leader suddenly bade them be silent, and the sounds ceased.

"So you sent those papers off by that old redskin, did you?" asked Bill.

"I did."

"And you have the nerve to come out here and tell me that! If you had
known me better, you would have stayed, and choked and starved, or even
shot yourself behind those rocks, before doing such a thing!"

Merriwell made no retort, for he felt that too many words would be
indiscreet. This man was capable of any atrocity, and another straw
might break the camel's back.

"Mr. Merriwell," said the ruffian, "I came here for them papers, and I'm
goin' to have them!"

"You may take my life," said Merry; "but that will not give you the
papers. In fact, it will utterly defeat the object of those men who have
employed you to obtain them."

"How do you figger that out? With you out of the way, they'll have less
trouble in takin' your mines."

"On the contrary, if I am murdered, the fact will react against them. I
have written a full account of the facts concerning my position and
fight with the syndicate to my brother, to be used in case anything
serious happens to me. With that, and with the papers I have sent him, I
fancy he can so arouse public indignation against the syndicate that the
men who are pushing this thing will be glad enough to pull in their
horns and quit the battle. So you can see that by killing me you will
defeat the object of the syndicate and disgust it with your method of
procedure."

Frank spoke those words convincingly, and certain it is that he made an
impression on Cimarron Bill. The other ruffians, however, who failed to
reason clearly, were fierce enough to shoot the captive where he stood.

Bill stood still and looked the young man over, beginning to realize
that he was dealing with a youth of more than ordinary courage, resource
and sagacity. His respect for Merriwell was beginning to develop
amazingly.

Frank could read the man well enough to feel that the danger-point had
been successfully passed, and he breathed more freely, although there
was no outward change in his manner.

"I'm not yet satisfied that you're not lying to me," said the chief of
the ruffians; whereupon he ordered his satellites to search the captive.

The closest search, which was supervised by Bill, failed to bring to
light the package of coveted papers.

Bill seemed to pass a few moments in thought. Then he said:

"We'll all go over yander and have a look round among the boulders."

With Frank in their midst, they proceeded to the spot where he had
successfully held them off. As they went forward, they called to the men
down the ravine, and soon those ruffians came hastening to join them.

"Have ye got the papers?" demanded one called Big Monte, a strapping
ruffian, who was the leader of the party.

When he learned what had happened the giant swore in angry
disappointment.

"However did you all happen to let the Injun slip ye that way?" he
demanded scornfully.

Bill looked him over.

"I opines you're not castin' reflections any whatever?" he said, in a
deadly manner.

Big Monte looked large enough to eat the thin, dark-faced chap, but he
hastened to disclaim any intention of "casting reflections," whereupon
Bill gave him no further heed.

The chief set them to searching amid the boulders, overseeing it all and
taking care that no possible place of concealment was neglected. But all
this search came to nothing, and the baffled wretches were finally
forced to confess that they were outwitted.

But Merriwell was a captive in their hands, and in their disappointment
they might be led to revenging themselves upon him.



CHAPTER III.

INTO THE NIGHT.


Cimarron Bill was a man who disliked being outwitted and outdone,
especially by a youth of Frank Merriwell's years, and he was one who was
not at all likely to let such a thing pass without seeking to recover
and accomplish his object by some method, failing in which, he was
almost certain to take summary and tragic vengeance on the one who had
baffled him.

Merriwell knew well enough in what peril he stood, and yet he maintained
his manner of composure.

Bill spoke to two of the ruffians, of whom Big Monte was one, and Sam,
the red-headed rascal, the other.

"You two take charge of this here altogether too smarty young gent,"
said the leader of the desperadoes, "and look out for him a heap close.
Don't let him come none of his slick tricks on you, for you will be held
responsible for him, and I opines you know what that means."

"Oh, we'll take care of him!" said Sam significantly, as he fingered the
butt of a pistol. "All I wants is a right good chance to do that!"

Bill fixed the red-head with a look of his narrow black eyes.

"At the same time," said he, "permit me to suggest that you lets no
special harm come to him, as I reckons him valuable property just about
now, and I may need him a whole lot later. If anything unnecessary
happens to the young gent, you'll deal with me for it!"

It must be confessed that Merry felt somewhat safer in the hands of
those ruffians after that, for he began to perceive that, for some
reason, Bill wished to preserve him for the time being without harm.

Apparently the captive gave little heed to these words, but in truth he
missed nothing.

As the others drew aside with Bill, Big Monte took a picket rope,
observing:

"I allows, Sam, that we'd better be keerful, jest as the boss suggests,
fer it ain't a whole lot healthy to have anything happen contrarywise to
his wishes. Such bein' the case, I propose we tie up this here young
gent some, so he'll not bring trouble on hisself an' us by tryin' to
lope out."

Sam looked disappointed.

"I was a-thinkin'," he said, "that I'd like to see him try to lope; but
sense the boss has put it so plain, I kind of changes my mind, an' I
thinks your propersition is kirect. Go ahead, Monte, while I keeps him
kivered with my shootin'-iron."

Frank made no objection as Big Monte tied his hands behind him. He knew
it was quite useless, and so he submitted with a meekness that was
rather deceptive, for it seemed to indicate that he was quite awed by
his situation and the men who had taken him captive.

"I judges that will do," said the big man, having bound the rope about
Merry's wrists until it was uncomfortable in its tightness. "He's good
an' fast now."

Merriwell sat down on a rock, while the two ruffians flung themselves on
the ground in the shadow of the wall and waited the end of the
consultation between the chief and the remainder of the band.

Bill was talking to his ruffians in his low, quiet way, and they were
listening. Frank wondered what was passing, but they were too far away
for him to hear.

At last, one of the men, who had but one arm, started off from the
others, hurrying toward the horses. Bill had thrust something into this
man's hand, seeming to give him a final admonition. Five minutes later
the one-armed man, mounted on the very best horse he could find, rode
away at good speed.

Even then Merry did not conceive that it was the desperate purpose of
One-hand Hank to follow those papers all the way to Fardale, if
necessary, in the attempt to gain possession of them. He fancied that
Hank meant to try to find the Indian, with the hope that the papers
still remained in old Joe's possession.

Bill came back and stood looking Merriwell over. Several of the men had
departed toward the spot where the horses were kept.

"I reckons you thinks yerself some slick, kid!" he said, with cold
contempt. "You'll git all over that before you're through dealin' with
Cimarron Bill. I'm sartin to take the conceit out of ye a whole lot."

To which Merry vouchsafed no retort.

"Bring him along," said the chief, to Sam and Monte. "We're goin' to
pull up stakes and hike."

So Frank was marched up to the horses, among which was his own animal,
which had been captured by the ruffians.

"If you don't mind, gentlemen," said Merry, "it would give me
considerable satisfaction to imbibe a little water."

"You'll choke plumb to death afore ye ever gits a drap from me," averred
Sam.

Whereupon Bill looked at the red-head sharply, saying:

"Sam, give him a drink from your canteen."

And Sam did so.

"Thanks," said Merry easily. "It was the desire for water that led me to
saunter out from my place among the rocks earlier than I intended. I
feel much better now."

His saddle had been brought along, and, when it was strapped upon his
horse, he was tossed into it by Big Monte and another. The rest of the
band had prepared to move, with the exception of those who had come from
down the ravine and one fellow who seemed to have taken the place of the
departed fellow with one arm. These men had horses beyond the rocky
barrier that had been blown down to prevent Merriwell from escaping in
that direction, and it was necessary for them to return and pursue
another course, as the horses could not be brought over that barrier.

There was little delay when everything was ready. Bill took the lead,
and those who were to follow did so, the captive in their midst; his
horse led by one of them.

The others had turned back.

The sun was descending peacefully behind the barren mountains, and night
was spreading her sable pinions over the land. There was gold in the
western sky. The heat yet seemed unabated, save in the valleys and
gorges; but later it would become unpleasantly cool.

In silence those men rode onward, with their dark, cruel-faced leader at
their head. The hoofs of the horses clinked and rang, bestirring the
echoes; and, when the gloom of night had stolen upward from the gulches,
there came an occasional spark like a firefly when the iron of a hoof
struck a flinty rock.

So night came on, and still they went forward. Frank wondered what their
destination could be; but he saw they were taking a course that must
bring them nearer the Queen Mystery Mine.

He wasted no words in seeking to engage any of them in conversation. All
the while, however, his thoughts were busy. He wondered much if he
could come safely through this perilous mischance and how it was to be
accomplished. For Frank had not given up, and he had confidence that
somehow he would find a way, or one would be opened to him.



CHAPTER IV.

IN THE OLD HUT.


In a valley amid the hills that lay at the base of the barren mountains
stood an old hut. Who had built it there? It seemed that it had, beyond
doubt, been erected by some prospector. What fate had befallen the
builder no man knew. The hut remained, weather-worn and falling to
pieces.

The coming of another day found Frank Merriwell a captive in that hut,
closely guarded. The ruffians had stopped there, for in the vicinity
could be found wood and water, and feed for the horses.

Some time during the night they had been joined by Big Monte and the
others who had turned back to secure the horses beyond the barrier in
the ravine.

In the morning the men lay about in the vicinity of the hut. Two fires
had been built, and breakfast was preparing.

Inside the hut an armed man kept guard over the captive. At intervals
the guard was changed, but always a man was near with a pistol ready to
shoot Merry down if he offered to make a break for freedom.

But Frank seemed strangely contented. After the ride through the night,
he asked for a blanket to make himself comfortable, suggested in a
pleasant way that it would be agreeable to have the cords about his
wrists loosened a little, as they were chafing him and his wrists were
swollen, and, when the ropes were entirely removed, then lay down on the
blanket and went calmly to sleep.

Merry slept until one of the men brought him some breakfast. This fellow
kicked him to awaken him, whereupon Frank looked up and observed:

"Gently, partner--gently! You don't have to kick in a rib in order to
get my eyes open."

"Ef it wasn't fer ther boss," said the fellow, "I'd take a heap o'
satisfaction in kickin' ev'ry dern rib outer ye!"

"Then I am thankful for the boss."

"Hush! Mebbe ye thinks so now; but wait till he gits round ter deal with
ye. I opines he'll disterb ye some."

"Well, don't lead me into worriment before it is necessary," entreated
Frank, with a smile. "As long as I'm comfortable, I see no reason to
disturb myself over what may happen--for there is always a chance that
it may not happen."

"Waal, not in this case. Ye've robbed us outer a clean two hundred
dollars apiece by sendin' off them papers."

"Only that? Why, you seem to be cheap men! I should fancy it would take
at least five hundred each to hire men to go out to commit robbery and
murder."

"Thar ain't no robbery about it."

"Now, you don't tell me? Perhaps you are right, but the object was
robbery, all right enough."

"Nary robbery! Ther papers belongs to ther gents what wants to git 'em
an' what engaged Bill to do the job."

"Possibly I might convince you to the contrary if I had time; but just
now I will admit that I'm remarkably hungry. Put down the feed right
here on the floor, and I'll turn to directly."

As the man stooped to put down the stuff, as directed, he brought his
head quite close to Frank's lips. In the fellow's ear Merry whispered:

"I'll make it one thousand dollars in your fist if you find a way to
help me out of this scrape."

The man started a little, gave Frank a look, then glanced toward the
armed guard, who had heard nothing.

Merry touched a finger to his lips, thus enjoining silence.

"Ha!" he exclaimed. "Thank Bill for me! This coffee smells most
satisfactory. It will serve finely to wash down the hard bread and beef.
To a healthy appetite, like mine, this will be a feast fit for an
epicurean."

The ruffian looked at him in apparent wonderment.

"Fer a cool galoot, you sure are the limit!" he exclaimed.

Then he went out.

Frank wondered if his proposal to the fellow would bear fruit. He knew
well enough that these men stood in great awe of Cimarron Bill; but
would the greed of this one overcome his fears of the chief and lead him
to attempt to set Frank at liberty?

That was a serious question.

Having eaten heartily, Merry once more made himself comfortable and
slept.

When next he was awakened, Cimarron Bill himself was sitting near,
smoking a Spanish cigarette.

"Good morning," said Frank.

"It's a long distance past morning," said the leader of the ruffians.
"You've slept away the whole morning. You seem to be takin' it a heap
easy and comfortable like."

"Just bottling up a little sleep in case of need," said Merry, sitting
up and placing his back against the wall. "There's no telling when I may
have to keep awake a whole lot, you know."

"Instead of keeping awake," said Bill, in a sinister manner, "you're a
heap more likely to fall asleep some of these yere times an' never wake
up."

"In that case, it will be of no consequence, so I am not losing anything
by sleeping while I may."

The man surveyed Merry long and intently, as if trying to probe the
nature of this cool youth. At last, he turned to the sentinel and
dismissed him.

The sentinel went out, closing the door.

Bill lighted a fresh cigarette.

"Young man," he said, "I want to inform you right yere and now that it
will do you no good whatever to try to bribe any of my men."

"Possibly not," said Frank noncommittally.

"You bet your life it won't!" said Bill emphatically. "Thar ain't one of
them but what knows me, an', knowin' me, thar ain't one what would dare
play me crooked. Savvy?"

"It's quite plain."

"It's straight goods, Merriwell. A while ago you offered one of 'em a
thousan' dollars if he would find a way to get you out of this."

"Correct," admitted Merry immediately. "And had he accepted the offer
and accomplished the job, I should have congratulated myself on getting
off very cheap."

He had seen at once that it was useless to try deception or denial with
Bill, and so he spoke frankly.

"That's right," nodded Bill. "A thousan' would be small money fer such a
job; but it ain't no use, for none of them will take the job at that or
five times as much. 'Cause why? 'Cause they knows me, Cimarron Bill,
right well. They know I'd sure settle up with 'em if they done any
crooked work. They have seen the notches in my guns. Some of 'em has
seen me shoot."

"Well, my dear sir," smiled Merry, "I don't presume you fancied I would
remain here like a man in a trance without trying to get away in some
fashion?"

"I hardly opined that would be your style. But I has to warn ye that you
has about one chance in fourteen million of gettin' off with a hull
hide. I keep a guard inside and outside, besides another over the
hosses. I don't want to shoot ye--now--but it sure will be done if you
breaks an' runs fer it."

"Of course I'd have to take chances on that."

"Don't! But your offer to Jake has set me thinkin'. Somehow I kinder
take to your style."

"Thanks!" laughed Merriwell.

"You has a heap of nerve for a youngster."

"Thanks again!"

"And I opine we'd make a pretty strong team together. Such bein' the
case, I has a propersition to make to ye, whereby, in case you accepts,
you gits outer this scrape in a hurry an' none the worse for wear."

"Let it drive," said Frank. "I'm listening."

"Like 'most ev'rybody," said Bill, "I'm out fer the dust. That's what
brought me up against you. I opined you'd be easy meat. I've sorter
changed my mind. You look an' talk like a tenderfoot, but I take it that
you has your eye-teeth cut, an' this yere ain't the first time you've
seen Arizona."

"I have been in Arizona before. I have likewise been in various parts of
the West."

"I knowed it," nodded Bill. "I likewise opine you has a whole lot of
fight in ye."

"Well, I rather enjoy the strenuous life."

"But you're certain up against a right powerful combination in this yere
gang what means to have your mines."

"Without doubt."

"You needs assistance to hold them there mines. Such bein' the case,
suppose we strikes a partnership, you an' I, an' stan's by each other.
You'll find me a right handy partner when it comes to fightin', an' I
kin back ye up with a gang what will wade through gore fer me. Under
them circumstances, I reckons we kin give this yere minin' trust a run
fer its money."

"Your offer is very interesting, not to say fascinating," confessed
Frank. "But there is something behind it. Come out with the whole
matter."

"There's nothing to come out with, save that I'm to be taken in a
half-partner in your mines."

"Only that?" smiled Merry scornfully.

Bill did not like the manner in which the youth spoke those two words.

"I 'lows," he said, "that you'll be gettin' off a heap cheap at that. If
you fails to accept, it's almost certain your friends never hears of you
no more. You'll be planted somewhere yereabouts. Arter that, the minin'
trust will have easy goin'."

"Well," said Merry, "I presume you will give me time to think this
matter over?"

"Certainly. I gives ye till to-morrer mornin'."

"All right."

Again Bill lighted a fresh cigarette.

"But, without 'pearin' to press ye too hard, which might cause ye
onpleasant rememberances in the futer, I hints that I'll be a heap riled
up if you fails to accept my offer."

Then Bill called the guard and sauntered out.

Frank had no thought of permitting the desperado to force him into such
a partnership, but he believed that it would be well to appear to take
time to consider it.

That afternoon, toward nightfall, he was permitted to go outside in the
open air, with two armed guards watching over him.

Frank inhaled the open air with a sense of gratitude, for the hut had
become stuffy and oppressive. He looked around, noting the surroundings,
without betraying any great interest in the location. He saw that all
about the hills rose to enclose the valley, but conjectured that the
party had entered from the south or southeast.

By this time the men were interested in him, and they looked him over
curiously. Four of them were playing cards, and Merry sat down on the
ground where he could watch the game.

"You don't want to be makin' no remarks about what keerds ye sees in
anybody's hand, young man," growled one of them, whose cards Merry could
see.

Frank smiled.

"I'm not quite that fresh," he said. "I have played the game
occasionally myself. If I had a chance to sit in, I might give you some
points."

They laughed derisively at that, for the idea that this smooth-faced
youth could give them points at poker seemed preposterous.

"Why, ef you got inter this game we'd skin the eye-teeth outer ye!"
declared one.

"You'd be easy pluckin'," said another.

"It would be a shame to rob ye," sneered a third. "But seein's you
ain't got no dust we won't have that pleasure."

"If it's dust that bars me," said Merry, "I might have enough to last a
hand or two. I see you're playing five dollars limit, with a two bits
edge."

"Why, you're plumb skinned dry!" said Big Monte. "You ain't got no
stuff."

Whereupon Frank displayed a little thin wad of bank-bills, amounting to
about twenty-five dollars in all.

They were astounded, for no money had been found on him when he was
searched for the papers.

"How is this?" growled Monte. "Whar did ye keep it hid?"

"That's my business," said Merry. "If you're anxious to teach me this
game let me in."

They made a place for him, assuring him that he would "last quick."

Now Merry was a most adept poker-player, although he let the game
entirely alone, not believing in gambling. He was also a clever
magician, and he could do tricks with cards to astonish far more astute
men than these ruffians.

It was Pinto Pede's deal, and the Mexican handled the cards in a slick
manner. Without pretending to watch him, Merry really kept a close eye
on the fellow's movements.

Pede looked his cards over carelessly. Big Monte chipped a dollar, the
next man raised him a dollar, and it was up to Frank, who immediately
raised five.

Monte laughed hoarsely.

"Throwin' yer money away right off, eh?" he said.

The man after Frank dropped out.

Pinto Pede raised five dollars.

The fellow whose edge it was dropped his cards, but Monte came in, as
did the next man and Frank.

"How men' card?" asked the Mexican.

"I'll take two," said Monte.

"Better draw to the strength o' yer hand," advised the next man. "Gimme
three."

Pede looked inquiringly at Merry.

"One card," said Frank.

Pede frowned and looked annoyed. He had stacked the cards, and
everything had worked perfectly up to Merriwell, who had been given
three jacks on the deal, and whom the Mexican had expected would draw
two.

"You take da two card!" exclaimed Pede. "Yo' no fool anybod' with da
side card."

"I'll take one!" said Frank grimly. "If I choose to hold a side card to
threes that is my business. Perhaps I have two pairs."

The Mexican had betrayed his trick by his anger at Merry's style of
drawing. Writhing with anger, he tossed Frank one card.

"I tak' two," he said.

Merry leaned forward and watched the Mexican's fingers so closely that
Pede was given no chance to perform any crooked work, if he had
contemplated it.

"Now we're off," said Frank. "Go ahead and do your betting."

Then he glanced at his cards. He had held up a five spot with his three
jacks. To his satisfaction, he found Pede had given him another five
spot.

Merry had conceived that it was the Mexican's plan to give him threes
and then to fill his hand with a small pair, but to take a pair himself,
having on the deal secured threes of a higher denomination than those in
Merry's hand. For that very reason, Frank had decided to draw one card,
instead of two, thinking to defeat Pede's object in securing a full.

By a strange chance, Frank had held up a five spot, while all the time
Pede had been intending to give him a pair of fives. This being the
case, the youth secured his full hand just the same, but without the
knowledge of the dealer. At the same time, he spoiled Pede's draw, for
the pair the Mexican had counted on getting had been divided, he getting
instead one of the fives intended for Merriwell. This left Pede with
three queens, a five, and a nine.

But the Mexican believed that Merriwell had secured only threes, as he
did not dream for an instant that the side card held up with the three
jacks could be a five spot.

In case Frank had three jacks only, Pede's three queens were "good."

The betting began.

Monte started it with a dollar.

The next man had failed to improve his hand, and he fell out.

Frank raised five.

Pede shoved in six dollars, and added another five.

"I tak' dis pot," he said.

Monte looked his cards over. Then he looked at Pede. He knew the
Mexican.

"You oughter be shot!" he said. And he threw his cards down, turning to
Frank.

"You ain't got a ghost of a show agin' that greaser, youngster," he
averred.

"Well, as long as my money lasts I'll stay with him," smiled Merry.

He did. Having thrust the last of his money into the pot, he finally
called.

Pede spread out his three queens, smiling with crafty triumph.

"You no fool me," he said. "My t'ree bigger dan your t'ree. I tak' da
mon'."

"Wait a minute," said Merry. "I happen to have more than threes here."

And he displayed his full hand, coolly raking the money over to his side
of the blanket.



CHAPTER V.

PINTO PEDE RECEIVES HIS LESSON.


Pinto Pede was the most disgusted Mexican in all Arizona. At the same
time he was thoroughly thunderstruck. That Merriwell had secured the
pair of fives with his three jacks for all of his style of drawing
seemed like legerdemain.

Big Monte gave a shout of surprise, that was not entirely unmingled with
delight.

"Waal, say!" he roared; "that's the furst time I ever seen Pede done up
on his own deal by a tenderfoot! Haw! haw! haw!"

As the game continued Frank soon demonstrated that he was quite capable
of holding his own with those men. On his deal he simply played "hob"
with them. In less than thirty minutes he had won over a hundred and
fifty dollars.

Cimarron Bill had sauntered up and was standing near, his arms folded,
silently watching the progress of the game.

"Gentlemen," said Frank finally, "you're too easy for me. Just to show
you how easy you are, I'll deal a hand around and then tell you what you
have."

"Not if you lets me cut," declared Monte.

Merry had gathered the cards and was shuffling them.

"You may cut," he said.

He put the cards down on the blanket, and Monte divided them into two
parts, after which he watched Frank to see that he picked them up right.

Merry picked them up with one hand, doing so swiftly. He picked them up
all right, but he cleverly made the pass, which restored the cards to
their original positions, as they were before Monte had cut.

Then he dealt.

When they picked up their cards, he began at the left and called off the
cards each man held, going around the entire circle.

Monte threw his down, with a cry of amazement.

"An' this yere is what we takes for an easy mark!" he exclaimed.

"He cheat!" grated Pinto Pede. "Dat how he win all da mon'."

"I don't want your money," said Merry. "I find it too easy to make money
off such chaps as you. You talk about tenderfeet, but the East is full
of tenderfeet who could skin you fellows to death. If you ran into a New
York bunco man he'd have your boots off your feet in less than thirty
minutes. In fact, gentlemen, you need to get your eye-teeth filed."

He was laughing at them, as they plainly saw. This made Pinto Pede
furious, and, with a cry of rage, the Mexican snatched out a knife,
flung himself forward on his knees, clutched the captive's throat and
seemed about to finish him.

Quick as a flash, Merriwell had seized Pede's wrist, which he gave a
twist that made the bones crack and brought a yell from the yellow-faced
fellow's lips. The knife dropped. Merry tossed it over his shoulder, and
then flung Pede backward, groaning over his wrenched arm.

"The only safe way to play such tricks on me," said the undisturbed
captive, "is to catch me when I'm asleep."

Then Cimarron Bill spoke, and they saw he had a pistol in his hand.

"It sure is a good thing for Pede that the gent stopped his play just as
he did, for if Pede had done any cuttin' I'd sartin shot him up a whole
lot. I has told you boys that Mr. Merriwell is to be kept safe an'
unharmed until I gits ready to finish with him, an' when I says a thing
like that, I generally has a way o' meanin' it. If Pede had used his
knife, I'd a-let daylight through him instanter."

Now they all knew Bill spoke the truth, and so Pede was doubly
humiliated.

"He was a trifle hasty," said Merriwell coolly. "I was about to explain
that I never keep money won at cards, as I do not believe in gambling. I
sat in this game to illustrate to you fellows that it doesn't always pay
to get puffed up and look contemptuously on a tenderfoot. Having made
the lesson plain, I will withdraw my own money, which will leave the
amount I have won. You may divide it equally among you and go on with
your game."

This Frank did exactly as he said, taking himself out of the game.

There would have been a quarrel over the division of the money had not
Bill interfered.

Possibly Frank was counting on that quarrel, for a fight among the men
might have given him an opportunity to escape. However, if such was his
plan, it miscarried, for Bill acted as judge and saw that the matter was
settled without further dispute or bloodshed.

Merry turned away, his hands in his pockets, seeming to take no further
interest in the gambling ruffians. They looked after his fine, supple,
manly figure, and Big Monte said:

"Gents, he shore is a hummer! I admits it now. He's put up a heap
different from any tenderfoot I ever struck afore. We knows he kin
shoot, fer didn't he perforate Sam's coat back yander in the raveen when
Sam h'isted it on his rifle. We know he kin play keerds, fer didn't he
jest demonstrate it to our complete satisfaction. We know he has a heap
of nerve, fer he sure has showed it all the way through. An' I'm bettin'
he's goin' ter make it a right hot fight afore the galoots what are
arter his mines gits what they wants."

"You forgits he's dealin' with Bill," said one of the others; "an' Bill
shore has the keerds stacked on him."

"That's all right," said Monte; "but you got ter do somethin' more than
stack the keerds on that young chap. Didn't Pede do that, an' didn't he
beat Pede a-plenty at his own game? That showed me that you never kin
tell when you has Frank Merriwell beat fer fair."

Frank had known all the time that Bill was watching. He had played the
game more for the benefit of the chief of the rascals than any one else.
At the same time, it had served to pass away a little time and had been
a diversion for the moment.

The guards also were near, watching every move closely.

Frank had satisfied himself that there was no chance of making a break
to escape without throwing his life away, and so he seemed to return to
the hut with perfect content. Indeed, his nonchalance and apparent lack
of fretfulness and dissatisfaction over his misfortune was most amazing
to the rough men.

Merry ate supper heartily.

There was a clay fireplace in the hut, and, the night coming on cool, a
fire was built there. Merry lolled before the fire on the hard-packed
earth, which served as a floor to the hut. Bill came in, sat down on the
ground, and rolled a cigarette.

"Well," he finally said, "how do you find yourself to-night?"

"Oh, comfortable," carelessly answered Frank.

"Smoke?"

"Never do."

"Drink?"

"Out of my line."

"Still you can shoot and play poker! I certain admits you're a queer
one!"

After a little silence, Bill again dismissed the guard. Then he said:

"I'm in a leetle hurry to know what your answer is to that there
propersition I made ye. I sw'ar, partner, I sure reckons we'd make a hot
pair. I takes to you!"

"You're very complimentary!"

"I'm givin' it to ye straight. You're my style. Now, I wants ye ter know
that I kin be of great service to ye, so I reckons it was well enough to
tell ye what has been done. You sent them papers to your brother in the
East. Well, I has sent one of my best men a-chasin' the papers, an'
he'll be sure to get 'em if it kin be did. If he succeeds, you'll be
plumb out in the cold. Howsomever, in case we rigs up a partnership, it
won't be nohow so bad, fer my man he brings me the papers, an' that
fixes it all right. Savvy?"

"That is the way you look at it."

"Sure. You may have thought you was a-givin' me too much to let me have
a half-share in your mines; but when you reckons that you gits your
liberty, my friendship, and you has your papers saved, which same
otherwise would go to the minin' trust, I opine you'll come to see that
you're not makin' such a powerful bad trade after all."

"But it is not at all certain that you'll get possession of those
papers. In fact, everything is against such a thing happening."

"Is that so?"

"It is."

"How do ye make it out?"

"My brother knows his business, and he will take care of the papers."

"How did you send them?"

"Registered mail."

"So I opined. Now you knows it takes things registered a heap sight
longer to travel than it takes other mail."

"Well?"

"Such bein' the case, One-hand Hank is powerful sartin to git thar ahead
o' the letter."

"He may."

"In which case he watches the post-office close. When he sees your kid
brother take out the package, he follers the boy, taps him on the
kebeza, knocks him stiff, takes the papers and ambles. See how easy it
is to be did?"

"It is easy enough to talk about it; but my brother is pretty shrewd,
and One-hand Hank will have the time of his life getting those papers."

"You don't know Hank. He's perfectly familiar with the East, an' that
was why he was sent. One time he escaped from Sing Sing. That was when
he had two good arms. He's a mighty bad man, an' he'll eat up that
brother of yours but he'll have the papers."

"I give you my assurance that Dick will sit hard on Hank's stomach. I
am not greatly worried, for all of what you have told me."

Bill frowned.

"All right," he said. "I did have some intentions of usin' persuasive
measures on ye, such as puttin' your feet to the fire, or things like
that; but I holds them things off to the last finish, as I opine a
partnership brought about that there way would be onpleasant to us
both."

"Rather," laughed Frank.

"Still," said Bill; "I may have to be rather harsh, which certain would
grieve me up a lot with such a fine young fellow as you are. I hopes you
don't bring me none to that. Thar's no chance fer you to give me the
slip. I've taken mighty good keer of that p'int. It will save ye a great
amount of trouble if you decides to-night that we becomes pards. I'll
jest walk out with ye an' interduce ye to ther boys as equal with me,
an' ev'rything will be lovely. I don't reckon you'd be fool enough to go
back on any sech arrangement you made, fer Cimarron Bill ain't the man
to be throwed down in such a way."

"There is no need of even suggesting a threat," said Merry. "If I enter
into such a partnership with you, you can be sure I'll stand by it."

Bill urged him to make the agreement at once, but still Merry declined.

"Time is right precious," said the leader of the ruffians.

"Perhaps I'll give you an answer to-morrow."

And that was all Bill could get out of him then. So the chief fell to
talking of other things, and they chatted agreeably for some time.

When the ruffian was ready to retire, he called the guard. Then he bade
Frank good night and went out.

Merry slept with the same amazing peacefulness. But some time in the
night he started wide-awake, seeming to feel near him the presence of
some one.

The fire had died out, save for a few glowing coals on the hearth. The
sentinel sat rigid in his corner. Merry could not tell if he slept or
not.

Outside the cabin something seemed to brush lightly against the wall.

This gentle sound was not repeated. After listening a long time, Frank
fell asleep once more.

In the morning he found a black feather where it had fallen to the
ground after being thrust through a crack in the wall.

At sight of the feather he started. Then he hastened to pick it up and
conceal it.

For that feather told him that old Joe Crowfoot was near. It promised
escape from the hands of the ruffians, and caused Merry to suddenly
cease planning himself and trust things wholly to Crowfoot. He knew old
Joe would find an opportunity to try to aid him to escape.

That morning Frank was asked by Bill to come out and take breakfast with
the rest of the men, an invitation which he willingly accepted, as he
was beginning to thirst for the open air.

It was a glorious morning, just as all mornings in that land of eternal
sunshine seem to be glorious. The elevation was sufficient to give the
air a pleasant coolness. The sun shone down brightly. The horses fed in
the valley. The men were lazing about, as usual. Never had Merry seemed
so perfectly at his ease as he was on this morning. He was in a jovial
mood. Some of the men attempted to chaff him.

"You're right peert fer a tenderfoot," said Red Sam. "But the effeet
East is ruther slow as compared with the West, you knows."

"I'm sure I don't know," smiled Frank, sipping his coffee. "In what way
is the East behind the West?"

"Waal, when it comes to fast trains, we lays away over the East out
yere."

"I have my doubts."

"Waal, you see it's this a-way," said Sam, winking at some of his
companions, "the trains out yere don't hev to stop ev'ry few miles, an'
so, havin' once got started, they kin keep increasin' an' a-pilin' on
speed till they literally tears along. Now, thar's the Overland Express.
Why, I was a-ridin' on that train oncet when she was jest running at
comfortable speed, and the telygraft-poles beside the track seemed as
nigh together as teeth in a fine-tooth comb."

"That's speedy," confessed Frank.

"You bate. But it warn't northin' to what she did later. A hot box, or
somethin', kind o' delayed us, an' we hed to make up lost time. Sir,
it's a fact that arter she got on full head the telygraft-poles looked
presactly like a solid fence along beside the track!"

"But you see," said Frank, "you confess that your trains out here have
to take time to get up such high speed. That is where they are behind
the trains in the East."

"How?" demanded Sam contemptuously.

"Why, having to stop often, the Eastern trains make it a practise to
start quick and at high speed. They don't have to pump away for fifteen
or twenty miles in order to get to going at a comfortable rate of speed.
Instead of that they start right off at full speed. Now there is a train
runs between New York and Washington. I got aboard at the station in
Jersey City. My girl had come along to see me off. I opened the car
window and leaned out to kiss her good-by, and, so help me, I kissed a
colored woman in Philadelphia!"

There was a moment of silence, and then Big Monte gave a roar of
delighted laughter. This was the kind of humor he could appreciate, and
the fact that Red Sam had been doubly outdone by the tenderfoot gave him
great joy.

The others laughed, also, and their respect for their captive rose
several notches.

Cimarron Bill thoroughly appreciated Merry's cleverness in getting ahead
of Red Sam.

"That youngster'd make the greatest pard a man could tie to!" thought
Bill.

After breakfast Merry coolly sauntered about the hut. He was followed
everywhere by the two guards, but he gave them no heed whatever. He
looked for some further sign of old Joe, but saw nothing.

Merry wondered how the redskin would go to work to accomplish what he
meant to attempt.

Bill let Frank alone until after dinner. Then he sat down with Merry,
they being by themselves, and again broached the subject that seemed
uppermost in his mind.

"See here," said Frank, "I offered one of your men a thousand dollars to
get me out of this. The same offer stands good with you."

The dark face of Cimarron Bill flushed and he looked deadly.

"Mebbe you don't know you're insultin' me a heap!" he said. "Such bein'
the probable case, I resents it none. The minin' trust has promised me
five thousan' when I turns them papers over."

"Which you will never do."

"Which I'll sure do if you gits foolish an' refuses to tie up with me."

"Well," said Frank, "I'm not bidding against the mining trust. I have
refused to recognize that organization."

"Then you refuses my proposal?" said Bill, in that cold, dangerous voice
of his.

"Not that. I want until to-morrow morning to think it over. Just till
to-morrow."

"You'll give me my answer to-morrer mornin'?"

"Yes."

"Then it's settled that you has that much more time. I won't ask ye no
more about it until to-morrer morning; an' then you must sure give an
answer. I knows what that answer will certain be if you has the level
head I thinks."



CHAPTER VI.

INJUN JOE TO THE RESCUE.


Along in the middle of the night Frank awoke. Again he was overcome by
that strange feeling that some person was near him. Then he felt a
touch, light as a feather, and saw at his side a dark figure.

The starlight came in at the small, square window.

A hand grasped Frank's wrist and gave it a gentle pull. There was not
even a whisper. Merry knew what was wanted.

Without making a sound, he crept across the ground to the wall, where a
timber had been removed from the lower portion, making an opening large
enough for a man to slip through.

Some one passed noiselessly through this opening ahead of him. Frank
followed as silently as he could.

Outside he found at his side the one who had entered the cabin in that
manner. This person lay flat on the ground and moved away with amazing
deftness and silence.

Frank could not follow as easily, but he wormed along as best he could.
In that manner they finally passed to the shelter of some scrubby
bushes.

There Frank found a dark form sitting on the ground.

"Heap all right," whispered a voice. "You no make a row when Joe him
come. Joe he know you be ready if you find feather."

It was Crowfoot, the faithful old redskin.

"All right now. Make um no noise. Foller Joe," continued the Indian.

The old fellow did not hurry. He took his time to crawl along on hands
and knees until they were far from the hut. At last he arose, and Frank
followed his example. They bent low and went on like two dark shadows.

"Can we get out of the valley all right?" asked Merry.

"One man him guard this way to go out," said Joe.

"How do we pass him?"

"Joe know. Leave it to him."

The valley narrowed at last. They slipped along between rocky walls.
Joe's feet made absolutely no sound.

"Stop here," advised the redskin. "Joe him come back in minute."

So Frank stopped and waited. The minute was long. Indeed, it became ten
minutes at least. But the old fellow returned, saying:

"All right. Coast clear."

"What's that?" exclaimed Frank, as they nearly stumbled over a dark
figure, as they were hurrying on again.

"Him guard," said Joe.

"Guard? What's the matter with him?"

"Him sleep."

Merry shuddered a bit, for he fancied he knew the sort of sleep meant by
the old fellow.

Cimarron Bill would receive his answer in the morning. It would be a
great surprise to him, and would please him not at all.

More than two miles had been traversed when they came, in a deep gully,
upon old Joe's horse.

"No keep him so near," said the Indian. "Bring him here to have him
ready to-night. You ride."

Frank did not fancy the idea of riding, but the old fellow insisted, and
Merry finally mounted. So they passed through the silent night, Joe
leading for a time.

"Did you get the package off all right?" Merry asked.

"Him go," said Joe. "No worry."

"Joe, I don't know how I can repay you; but anything I have in this
world is yours. You want to remember that. Take what you want that
belongs to me."

"Joe him not need much. He soon go off to the long hunt."

Frank thought of the time when this old redskin had been his bitter
enemy, when Joe had seemed treacherous and deadly as a rattlesnake, and
smiled somewhat over the transformation. He had won the confidence of
the Indian, who was now as faithful as he had once been dangerous.

"Did you see anything of the one-armed man who was with my pursuers?"
asked Merry.

"No see him after leave you."

"He was sent away to follow you."

"No see him. He no bother me."

Frank was thoroughly well satisfied with the work of the faithful
redskin.

They took turns at riding throughout the night. Three hours after dawn
they came into a large, wooded valley amid the mountains. As they
approached this valley they heard afar a rumbling, jarring sound that
brought a smile to the face of Frank Merriwell.

"The stamps are in operation," he said.

Riding up the valley, through which flowed a stream of water, they saw
reared against the bold face of a high mountain, looking like
ant-mounds, some buildings, four or five in number. In the side of the
mountain opened the black mouth of a shaft.

"Hurrah!" Merry cried, waving his hat over his head. "There, Joe, is the
Queen Mystery, and it is in full blast!"

The Queen Mystery mine was located a long distance from the nearest
railroad, but Merriwell had been to the expense and trouble of having
the very latest machinery brought there and set up. He had in his employ
Jim Tracy, as a foreman, said to be thoroughly capable and reliable.
Only about fifty men were employed in the mine at that time; but Merry
contemplated increasing the force extensively.

There was talk of a branch railroad being constructed to pass within ten
or fifteen miles of the Queen Mystery.

Were the mine to fall into the hands of the mining trust, without doubt
that railroad would be constructed, and it would run direct to Camp
Mystery and onward. The influence of the great railroad magnate would
easily bring about the running of the railroad to suit his fancy.

The mining trust had been completely baffled in its first efforts to get
the best of Merriwell.

Frank was welcomed at the mine, where he made himself comfortable.

Old Joe disappeared within six hours after arriving there. He vanished
without saying a word to Merry about his intentions.

Two days later he reappeared, Frank finding him sitting, in the morning,
with his back against one of the buildings, his red blanket pulled about
him, serenely smoking.

"Hello, Joe!" cried Merry. "So you're back?"

"Ugh!" grunted Joe, as he continued to smoke.

"What's your report, Joe?"

"Bad men heap gone."

"Cimarron Bill and his gang?"

"Joe mean um."

"They have gone?"

"Git out. They go heap quick after Strong Heart he git away."

"Well, that looks as if Bill had given up the fight, but it seems hardly
possible."

"No can tell," said the old fellow. "May come 'gain with great lot many
more bad men."

Frank sat down and talked with the old redskin for some time. Then Joe
was given a square meal, and he ate heartily.

Merry had some business to look after in the mine, and he departed, at
last, with the idea that he would find Joe and have another talk with
him after the business was done.

But when Merry came to look again for the Indian, Joe had disappeared
once more in his usual mysterious fashion.

Merry was not at all satisfied that Cimarron Bill had given up the
struggle. In any event, he was confident that the syndicate had not
given up, and experience had taught him that the organization would
resort to any desperate means to accomplish its purpose.

So Merriwell, having seen that all things were going well at the mine,
set out the following day for Holbrook, in which place he mailed a
letter to Dick, informing him of his fortune in escaping from the
ruffians.

In Holbrook Merry purchased a supply of rifles and cartridges, also
small arms. This stock he had boxed and contracted with a man to deliver
everything with the least possible delay at the Queen Mystery mine.

Having attended to this matter, Merry rested over night and set out with
the first hint of coming day for the mine.

Through the hottest part of the day he rested in a ravine where there
was some shade. Then he traveled again until after nightfall.

The following forenoon found him in a part of the mountains that seemed
familiar. He had diverged somewhat from the regular trail between
Holbrook and the mine.

Riding through a narrow pass, he came into a valley that was somewhat
wooded and had a decidedly familiar aspect. Five minutes later he drew
rein, uttering an exclamation of surprise.

Before him, at a distance, stood an old hut.

It required no second glance to show Merriwell that it was the very hut
where he had been held a captive by Cimarron Bill and his gang.

Frank looked around keenly, but the valley seemed desolate, and
apparently he and his horse were the only living creatures within its
confines.

"The very place!" said Merry. "I wonder how Bill liked my answer to his
proposition. He must have been decidedly surprised when he found me
missing in the morning."

He rode forward toward the hut, having a fancy to look around the place.

As he drew nearer, suddenly his horse plunged forward and fell, while a
shot rang out.

Merry had seen a puff of smoke come from the window of the hut. He
managed to jerk his feet from the stirrups and drop to the ground behind
the body of the horse, where he lay quite still.

The animal had been shot through the brain, and it did not even kick
after falling.



CHAPTER VII.

MERRIWELL AND BIG MONTE.


As he lay behind his stricken horse, Merriwell pulled his rifle around
and got it ready for use. Peering over the body of the animal, he
watched the hut.

The sun, which was dropping toward the west, was still decidedly
uncomfortable. It blazed upon him with a feeling like the heat from a
bake-oven.

Frank knew his peril. He knew better than to lift his head high and give
his hidden foe another chance at him. He could not jump up and rush for
cover, as cover lay too far away. Only one thing could he do, and that
was to remain quietly there and watch and wait.

After a time it is likely the man who had fired the shot began to
believe Merriwell seriously hurt. Frank caught a glimpse of him within
the hut.

"He's coming out!" Merry decided.

He was mistaken. Time dragged on and the sun dipped lower toward the
mountain-peaks; but still no person issued from the old hut. The
situation was anything but comfortable.

"Confound him!" muttered Frank. "Who is he, and what does he mean?"

Even as he asked the question, he again saw the man moving beyond the
window.

Frank thrust the rifle across the horse, resting it on the animal's
body. Then he got into a position where he could take good aim, and then
waited again.

The sun was touching the mountain-tops when beyond the window Merry saw
the head of a man.

Then the clear report of his rifle rang through the valley. The puff of
smoke from the muzzle blotted out the window for a moment. When it
floated away the window was empty.

"Did I reach him?" thought Frank anxiously.

He felt that he had not missed, and still he could not be sure. He did
not venture to rise from behind the horse. In case he had missed, he
might fall before a second bullet from the hut.

The sun went down behind the mountains, flinging a hundred golden and
crimson banners into the sky. Finally these began to fade, and a few
stars peeped forth palely.

"If somebody's watching for me there," thought Merry, "it's going to be
dangerous to move, at best."

But something told him his lead had not gone astray.

As the light faded still more he arose quickly, rifle in hand, and
started on a run for the hut. As he ran he felt that it was far from
impossible that another shot might bring sudden death to him. Still he
did not hesitate, and, running steadily, he came up to the hut.

The door swung open before his hand. He looked in. It was not so dark
as to hide a black figure that lay sprawled on the dirt floor.

Frank shuddered a little, and felt like turning away at once.

"He brought it on himself!" he whispered. "It was my life or his. But
I'm sorry I had to do it."

Then he entered the hut. Striking a match, he bent over the prostrate
figure. The reflected light, coming from his hollowed hands, showed him
a familiar face.

"Big Monte!" he cried, starting back and dropping the match.

It was in truth the big man who had been one of Cimarron Bill's paid
satellites.

He found the man's wrist and felt for his pulse.

"Good Lord!" Merry cried.

Big Monte's pulse flickered beneath his fingers. The ruffian still
lived.

Frank knew where there was some wood, and this he soon had piled in a
little heap in the open fireplace. He applied a match, and soon a blaze
sprang up.

By the growing light of the fire he examined Monte's wound.

"Creased him as fine as can be!" he muttered. "Maybe there is a chance
for him, after all."

It may be explained that by "creased" Frank meant that the bullet had
passed along the man's skull, cutting his scalp, yet had not penetrated
the bone. This had rendered Big Monte unconscious.

Merry removed the fellow's revolvers and knife and stood his rifle in a
far corner. Then he brought some water in his drinking-cup and set about
the effort of restoring the wretch to consciousness, which did not prove
such a hard task as he had anticipated.

After a little Monte's eyes opened and he lay staring at the youth. He
seemed bewildered, and it was plain he could not readily collect his
scattered wits.

"Well, Monte," said Frank coolly, "that was a pretty close call for you.
I came near shooting off the top of your head, which I would have been
justified in doing. All the same, I'm glad I failed."

The big man continued to stare at Frank. Already Merry had bound up the
ruffian's wound.

"Ho!" came hoarsely from Monte's lips. "Back! Back to the depths! You
are dead!"

"If I am dead," said Frank, "I'm just about the liveliest dead man you
ever saw."

A strange smile came to the lips of the wounded man.

"If you are not yet dead," he said, "I opines you soon will be a heap."

"Never count chickens before they are hatched, Monte."

"When you come back you'll find your mine in the hands of the syndicate.
Bill will have it."

"That's interesting! How will Bill get it?"

"He will take it while you are away. He has gathered a right good gang,
and he's a-goin' to jump the mine to-night."

"Monte," said Frank, "you interest me extensively. How does it happen
you are not with the gang?"

"I am one of the watchers. I watch to see that you do not get back. I
reckons I have done my part o' the job, for I shot you dead a while
ago."

The big ruffian was not in his right mind, but already he had said
enough to stir Frank Merriwell's blood. So Cimarron Bill had been
watching his movements from some place of cover, and had hastened to
gather his ruffians the moment Frank left the mine. Without doubt Bill
had counted on Frank remaining away longer. However, this night he was
to strike, with his gang. The mine was to be seized.

"I must be there!" muttered Merriwell.

Fortunately Big Monte had a horse hidden not far from the cabin, and
Frank was able to find the animal.

The wounded ruffian was raving at intervals. He seemed quite deranged.

"I can't leave him like this," thought Merry. "He might wander off into
the mountains and perish."

Still he disliked to be encumbered with the wretch. Some would have
deserted the wounded man without delay and ridden with all haste to
reach the mine.

It must be confessed that such a thought passed through the head of
Frank Merriwell.

"No!" murmured Frank. "He's a human being. It is my duty to do what I
can to save him."

So it came about that two men rode Monte's big horse away from that
valley. One of them muttered, and laughed, and talked wildly.

"Riding with the dead!" he said. "We're on the road to Purgatory! Ha!
Ha! Ha! Whip up the horse! Gallop on!"

It was a strange ride through the starlight night. The clicking clatter
of the horse's hoofs aroused the big man at intervals, and he laughed
and shouted.

"I'm dead!" he finally declared. "I am a dead man! Two dead men are
riding together! And we're on the road to the burnin' pit! But it's
getting a heap cold! I'm beginnin' to freeze. The fire will be good an'
hot!"

"Shut up!" said Merry. "We're getting near the Queen Mystery. You may
get shot up some more if you keep your jaw wagging."

As they came nearer to the valley, Merry slackened the pace of the
foam-flecked horse. Fortunately the animal had been big and strong, for
once Frank had seemed to have little mercy on the beast he bestrode.

Monte continued to talk. He had grown so weak that Merry was compelled
to partly support him.

"Look here," Frank said, in a commanding way, "you are not to say
another word until I give you permission. Do you understand that?"

"Yes."

"Then close up. Not another word from you."

Monte closed up, obeying like a child.

They were entering the valley. Suddenly there came a challenge.

"Hold up, thar! Who goes yander?"

Not a word from Merriwell's lips, but he drove the spurs to the horse,
clutched Big Monte tighter, and they shot forward into the valley.

Instantly sounded a shot, followed by several more. Bullets whistled
past them. Frank felt Monte give a great start and lurch sideways, but
he held the man steady.

There were cries of rage from the men who had fired the shots.

Not a word did Frank speak, but he held straight on toward the head of
the valley and Camp Mystery.

As he approached he saw lights gleaming ahead, seeming to indicate that
the sound of shooting had come up the valley and aroused the miners.

He was challenged, but gave an answer that caused the men to welcome him
with a shout. It was Crowfoot who seized the lather-white horse by the
bit, but it was another who caught Big Monte as the ruffian plunged from
the saddle on being released from Frank's arms.

"I 'lows he'd got it good an' plenty," said the man who caught Monte.
"Ef he ain't dead a'ready, he'll be so right soon."

"Take him inside somewhere," directed Frank. "Every man who can find a
weapon wants to get ready to fight. We're going to have a gang of
ruffians down on us here, and we'll have to fight to hold this mine."

"We're all ready, Mr. Merriwell," said Jim Tracy, the foreman. "Joe
Crowfoot came and warned us what was doin'. I opine them galoots must
'a' bin shootin' at you some down yander?"

"That's right," said Frank. "I had to ride through them, and they banged
away at me to their satisfaction. I was lucky to come out with a whole
skin."

"Which the other gent didn't. Who is he?"

"Big Monte."

"What? Not that galoot? Why, he's one o' the wust devils unhung in
Arizona!"

The men began to murmur.

"Big Monte!" cried another. "Why I has a score to settle with that thar
varmint! He shot my partner, Luke Brandt."

"An' I has a score to settle with him, too!" declared another. "He stole
a hoss off me!"

Many others claimed grievances against Monte, and suddenly there was a
rush toward the room into which the wounded man had been conveyed.

Somehow Frank Merriwell was ahead of them all.

As they came crowding in at the door, Merry stood beside the blanket on
which the wounded ruffian was stretched.

"Hold on, men!" he called quietly. "Monte is dying!"

"What do we keer fer that!" cried one. "All the more reason fer us to
hurry an' swing the varmint afore he crokes!"

"Let him die in peace."

"That's escapin' what's his due."

Frank lifted one hand.

"There is One above who will judge him," he said. "It is not for us to
do that."

But those men did not fancy the idea of being robbed of their vengeance.
Big Monte was helpless in their hands, and they were for swinging him
before he could escape them by giving up the ghost.

"Mr. Merriwell, sir," said one, "we respects you all right, an' we don't
like to run contrarywise to anything you says here; but in this yere
case we has to, most unfortunate. It is our sollum duty to hang this
onery hoss-thief, an' that is what we proposes to do. Arter that we'll
be ready ter fight fer you an' your mine as long as it's necessary."

"That's right!" shouted others, as they again crowded forward. "Let us
have him! We'll make it right short work! Then we'll be ready fer his
pards!"

Some of them flourished weapons. They were an ugly-looking crew.

Quick as a flash Frank Merriwell whipped out a pair of revolvers and
leveled them at the crowd.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I have just one thing to observe: If you don't,
one and all, get out of here instanter and leave Monte to shuffle off in
peace I shall open on you! If I open on you, I shall reduce you so that
Cimarron Bill and his crowd will have no trouble whatever in taking this
mine."

They did not doubt but he meant it, remarkable though it seemed. If they
attempted to seize Monte, Merriwell would begin shooting. It was
astonishing that he should choose to defend this ruffian that had been
one of his worst enemies.

As the men were hesitating, old Joe Crowfoot suddenly appeared.

"Com'ron Bill he come!" said the Indian. "There be a heap fight in a
minute! Come quick!"

"Come on!" cried Jim Tracy.

And the men rushed forth to meet and repulse Cimarron Bill and his
gang.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE DEATH-SHOT.


Frank was about to follow, when Big Monte clutched weakly at his foot.

"Pard," said the ruffian, "I may never git another chanct to say it.
You're the white stuff! They'd shore hanged me a whole lot but for you.
Now I has a chanct to die comfortable an' respectable like. Thankee,
Frank Merriwell."

"Don't mention it!" said Frank. "Die as comfortably as you can. I have
to go out to help the boys shoot a few of your pards."

"I ain't got northin' agin' them," said Monte; "but I wishes ye luck.
They're in the wrong, an' you're right."

At this moment the sound of shooting outside startled Merry, and,
without another word, he rushed forth, leaving Monte lying there.

Cimarron Bill had counted on capturing the mine by strategy and meeting
with very little resistance. When Frank had returned and ridden into the
valley Bill knew that it would not do to delay longer, and he had led
his men in swift pursuit.

But old Joe Crowfoot, faithful as ever, had prepared the miners for the
attack; so it came about that the ruffians were met with a volley of
lead that dismayed and demoralized them. This was not the kind of work
they relished.

Thus it happened that Frank Merriwell came hurrying forth, only to find
the enemy already repulsed and retreating in disorder.

The starlight showed two men and a horse stretched on the ground, while
another horse was hobbling about. At a distance down the valley the
mine-seizers were fleeing.

"They git heap hot time!" said old Joe, in Frank's ear.

"What?" cried Merry. "Have they quit it as quick as this?"

"It looks that way, sir," said Jim Tracy.

"And I didn't get into the game."

"You was too busy defending Big Monte. I hopes you pardons me, sir, but
I thinks that was a mistake."

"You have a right to think whatever you like, but I object to your
freedom in expressing yourself."

This was plain enough, and it told Tracy that Frank would not tolerate
any criticism from him.

"It's your own game," muttered Tracy, turning away.

"I see you have dropped two of those chaps."

"Yes."

Revolver in hand, Frank walked out toward the spot where the two figures
lay. He was followed by Crowfoot and several others.

The first man was stone-dead.

The next proved to be the Mexican, Pinto Pede, who was sorely wounded.

"That cursed greaser!" growled one of the men. "Give me lief to finish
him, Mr. Merriwell!"

He placed the muzzle of a pistol against Pede's head.

Frank knew that a word from him would send the Mexican into eternity.

"None of that!" he said sternly and commandingly. "Pick the fellow up
and take him in yonder. He may not be shot up too bad to recover."

But they drew back.

"Sir," said Tracy, "I don't opine thar is a man here but what thinks
hisself too good to be after handlin' the onery greaser."

"And you would let him remain here to die?"

"I reckons that's correct."

In another moment Merry had stooped and lifted the slender body of Pinto
Pede in his arms. With long strides, he bore the Mexican toward the
building in which Big Monte lay.

The miners looked on in amazement.

"Waal, he's the limit!" said Jim Tracy, in disgust.

Crowfoot followed Frank, who took Pede into the room and placed him
beside Big Monte. The redskin stopped at the door, where he stood on
guard.

"Well, Pede," said Frank, "we'll examine and see just how hard you're
hit."

The Mexican was shot in the side. At first it seemed that the wound
might be fatal, but, examining with the skill of an amateur surgeon,
Frank made a discovery.

"She struck a rib, Pede," he said. "She followed around and came out
here. Why, you're not in such a bad way! You may pull through this thing
all right. You'd be almost sure to if you had the right sort of
treatment."

The Mexican said nothing, but certain it is that he was bewildered when
he found Merry dressing the wound. This Frank did with such skill as he
possessed, making the fellow comfortable.

Big Monte had watched all this, and he spoke for the first time when the
job was done.

"I reckon," he said, "that they don't raise galoots like you ev'rywhere.
Why, it shore was up to you to finish the two o' us! Why you didn't do
it is something I don't understand none at all. An' you keeps them gents
from takin' me out an' swingin' me. You shore air plenty diffrunt from
any one I ever meets up with afore!"

Old Joe Crowfoot had been watching everything. The Indian understood
Frank not at all, but whatever "Strong Heart" did Joe was ready to stand
by.

"Don't worry over it," laughed Merry. "I owe you something, Monte."

"I fail to see what."

"Why, you warned me that Bill and the others meant to jump the mine
to-night."

"Did I?"

"Sure thing."

"I don't remember. But I tried ter shoot ye. Bill said you was ter be
shot ef you comes a-hustlin' back afore he gits around to doin' his part
o' the job."

"You got the worst of it in that little piece of shooting, so we'll call
that even."

"If you says even, I'm more'n willin'."

"Now," said Frank, "I'm going out with the men to watch for a second
attack from Bill. I have to leave you, and some of the boys may take a
fancy to hang you, after all. That bein' the case, I don't want to leave
you so you won't have a show. Here, take this gun. With it you may be
able to defend yourself until I can reach you. But don't shoot any one
if you can help it, for after that I don't believe even I could save
you."

So he placed a revolver in the hand of Big Monte and went out, leaving
the wounded ruffians together.

When Frank was gone the two wounded wretches lay quite still for some
time. Finally Pinto Pede stirred and looked at Big Monte.

"How you get shot?" he asked.

"The gent who jest went out done a part o' the job," said Monte, in
reply.

"Heem--he shoot you?"

"Yes."

"Ha! You lik' da chance to shoot heem?"

"Waal, I had it, but I missed him. He fooled me a whole lot, fer he jest
kept still behind his hoss, what I had salted, an' then he got in at me
with his own bit o' lead."

"That mak' you hate heem! Now you want to keel heem?"

"Oh, I don't know! I don't opine I'm so mighty eager."

"Beel says he gif one thousan' dol' to man who shoot Frank Mer'well."

"That's a good lot."

"Beel he do it."

"No doubt o' that, I reckons."

"Mebbe you an' I haf the chance."

"Waal, not fer me! I quits! When a chap keeps my neck from bein'
stretched arter all I has done ter him--waal, that settles it! I opines
I has a leetle humanity left in me. An' he thought I was dyin', too. I
kinder thought so then, but I'm managin' ter pull along. Mebbe I'll come
through."

The face of Pinto Pede showed that he was thinking black thoughts.

"Gif me da chance!" he finally said. "You no haf to do eet. Gif me da
chance. I do eet, an' we divvy da mon'. Ha?"

"Don't count me into your deviltry."

"No count you?"

"No."

"What matter? You no too good. I see you shoot man in back."

"Mebbe you did; but he hadn't kept me from bein' lynched."

"Bah! Why he do eet? You fool! He want to turn you ofer to law."

"Mebbe you're right; I don't know."

"You safe yourself if you help keel him."

"Looker hyer, Pede, I'm a low-down onery skunk; but I reckon thar's a
limit even fer me. I've struck it. This hyer Frank Merriwell made me
ashamed a' myself fer the fust time in a right long time. I know I'm too
onery to reform an' ever be anything decent, even if I don't shuffle off
with these two wounds. All the same, I ain't the snake ter turn an' soak
pisen inter Merriwell, an' you hear me. Others may do it, but not Big
Monte."

"Bah! All right! You not get half! Yes; you keep steel, you get eet."

"What are you driving at?"

"Wait. Mebbe you see. All you haf to do is keep steel."

"Waal, I'm great at keepin' still," said Monte.

It was not far from morning when Merriwell re-entered that room.

Pinto Pede seemed to be sleeping, but Big Monte was wide-awake.

"Hello!" exclaimed Frank. "So you're still on these shores. I didn't
know but you had sailed out."

"Pard, I opine mebbe I may git well enough to be hanged, after all,"
grinned the big ruffian.

"Possibly you may," said Frank. "And the chances are you would be if I
were to leave you alone long enough. I heard some of the boys talking.
They contemplate taking you out and doing things to you after I'm
asleep. But they did not reckon that I would come here to sleep, where
they cannot get their hands on you without disturbing me."

"That was right kind of you," said Monte. "How's Bill?"

"I think that Bill has had his fill for the present. Indications are
that he has left the valley with his whole force, and we are not looking
for further trouble from him in some time to come."

"Bill shore found hisself up against the real thing," said Monte.

Frank placed a blanket near the door, wrapped himself in it, and was
soon sleeping soundly.

Big Monte seemed to fall asleep after a time.

Finally the Mexican lifted his head and listened. He looked at Monte,
and then at Frank. Seeming to satisfy himself, he gently dropped aside
his blanket and began creeping across the floor, making his way toward
Merriwell. He moved with the silence of a serpent.

Now, it happened that Big Monte was not asleep, although he had seemed
to be. The Mexican had not crept half the distance to Frank when the big
man turned slightly, lifted his head, and watched. As the creeping
wretch drew nearer to the sleeping youth the hand of Big Monte was
gently thrust out from the folds of his blanket.

Pede reached Frank, and then arose to his knees. Suddenly he lifted
above his head a deadly knife, which he meant to plunge into the breast
of the unconscious sleeper.

At that instant a spout of fire leaped from something in the hand which
Big Monte had thrust from beneath the blanket, and with the crashing
report of the revolver Pede fell forward across the body of his intended
victim, shot through the brain!

Frank was on his feet in an instant.

"What does this mean?" he cried, astounded, stirring the body of the
Mexican with his foot.

"You gave me a gun," said Big Monte, "so that I might defend myself. It
came in handy when I saw Pede gittin' keerless with his knife an' goin'
fer to cut you up."

"Was that it?" exclaimed Frank. "Why, he was going to stab me! And you
saved my life by shooting him!"

"Which mebbe makes us some nearer square than we was," said Monte, "as
you saved my life a leetle time ago."



CHAPTER IX.

FRANK MAKES A DECISION.


Frank leaned against the door-jamb of his cabin and looked out into the
sunny valley. To his ears came the roar of the stamp-mills of the mine,
which was in full blast. Before him lay the mine-buildings about the
mouth of the tunnel, from which rich ore was being brought to be fed to
the greedy stamps.

It was now something like ten days since the ruffians under Cimarron
Bill tried to carry the mine by assault.

Frank had remained watchful and alert, well knowing the nature of
Cimarron Bill and believing he would not be content to abandon the
effort thus easily. Still the second attack, which he had so fully
expected, had not come.

He was wondering now if the ruffians had given it up. Or had they been
instructed by the trust to turn their attention to the San Pablo Mine?

If the latter was the case, Frank felt that they would find the San
Pablo prepared. He had taken pains before hastening to the Queen Mystery
to fortify his mine in Mexico, leaving it in charge of a man whom he
fully trusted.

Nevertheless, Frank felt that it would be far better were he able to
personally watch both mines at the same time. Just now he was
meditating on the advisability of leaving the Queen Mystery and
journeying southward to the San Pablo.

As he thought this matter over, something seemed to whisper in his ear
that such an action on his part was anticipated by the enemy, who were
waiting for him to make the move. Then, while he was away, they would
again descend on the Queen Mystery.

Again the old Indian, Crowfoot, had disappeared, after his usual manner,
without telling Frank whither he was going. Merry knew he might be in
the vicinity, or he might be hundreds of miles away. Still, Joe had a
remarkable faculty of turning up just when he was most needed.

Merry turned back into the little cabin, leaving the door open. He had
been feeling of his chin as he stood in the doorway, and now he thought:

"A shave will clean me up. Great Scott! but I'm getting a beard! This
shaving is becoming a regular nuisance."

Indeed, Frank was getting a beard. Every day it seemed to grow heavier
and thicker, and he found it necessary to shave frequently to maintain
that clean appearance in which he so greatly delighted.

Frank could wear old clothes, he could rough it with joy, he minded
neither wind nor weather, but personal cleanliness he always maintained
when such a thing was in any manner possible. To him a slovenly person
was offensive. He pitied the man or boy who did not know the pleasure of
being clean, and he knew it was possible for any one to be clean, no
matter what his occupation, provided he could obtain a cake of soap and
sufficient water.

So Frank was shaving every day when possible. He now turned back into
the cabin and brought out his shaving-set. On the wall directly opposite
the open door hung a small square mirror, with a narrow shelf below it.

Here Merry made preparations for his shaving. Over a heater-lamp he
prepared his water, whistling the air of the Boola Song. This tune made
him think of his old friends of Yale, some of whom he had not heard from
for some time.

A year had not yet passed since he had gathered them and taken his
baseball-team into the Mad River region to play baseball. In that brief
space of time many things had occurred which made it evident that never
again could they all be together for sport. The days of mere sport were
past and over; the days of serious business had come.

Frank thought, with a sense of sadness, of Old Eli. Before him rose a
vision of the campus buildings, in his ears sounded the laughter and
songs, and he saw the line of fellows hanging on the fence, smoking
their pipes and chaffing good-naturedly.

With some men it is a sad thing that they cannot look back with any
great degree of pleasure on their boyhood and youth. They remember that
other boys seemed to have fine times, while they did not. Later, other
youths chummed together and were hail-fellow-well-met, while they
seemed set aloof from these jolly associates. With Frank this was not
so. He remembered his boyhood with emotions of the greatest pleasure,
from the time of his early home life to his bidding farewell to Fardale.
Beyond that even unto this day the joy of life made him feel that it was
a million fold worth living.

There are thousands who confess that they would not be willing to go
back and live their lives over. Had the question been put to Frank
Merriwell he would have said that nothing could give him greater
pleasure.

When the water was hot, Frank carefully applied his razor to the strop
and made it sharp enough for his purpose. Then he arranged everything
needed on the little shelf beneath the mirror.

Now, it is impossible to say what thing it was that led him to remove
his revolver from the holster and place it on the shelf with the other
things, but something caused him to do so.

Then he applied the lather to his face, and was about to use the razor,
when he suddenly saw something in the mirror that led him to move with
amazing quickness.

Behind him, at the open door, was a man with a rifle. This man, a
bearded ruffian, had crept up to the door with the weapon held ready for
use.

But for the fact that the interior of the cabin seemed somewhat gloomy
to the eyes of the man, accustomed as they were to the bright glare of
the sun outside, he might have been too swift for Frank.

Another thing added to Frank's fortune, and it was that he had drawn his
revolver and placed the weapon on the little shelf in front of him. For
this reason it was not necessary for him to reach toward the holster at
his hip, an action which must have hurried the ruffian to the attempted
accomplishment of his murderous design. For Merriwell had no doubt of
the fellow's intention. He saw murder in the man's eyes and pose.

The rifle was half-lifted. In another moment Frank Merriwell would have
been shot in the back in a most dastardly manner.

He snatched the revolver from the little shelf and fired over his
shoulder without turning his head, securing such aim as was possible by
the aid of the mirror into which he was looking. Frank had learned to
shoot in this manner, and he could do so as skilfully as many of the
expert marksmen who gave exhibitions of fancy shooting throughout the
country.

His bullet struck the hand of the man, smashing some of the ruffian's
fingers and causing him to drop the rifle.

Merry wheeled and strode to the door, his smoking revolver in his hand,
a terrible look in his eyes.

The wretch was astounded by what had happened. Blood was streaming from
his wounded hand. He saw Merriwell confront him with the ready pistol.

"You treacherous cur!" said Frank indignantly. "I think I'll finish
you!"

He seemed about to shoot the man down, whereupon the ruffian dropped on
his knees, begging for mercy.

"Don't--don't shoot!" he gasped, holding up his bleeding hand, "Don't
kill me!"

"Why shouldn't I? You meant to kill me."

"No, no--I swear----"

"Don't lie! Your soul may start on its long trail in a moment! Don't lie
when you may be on the brink of eternity!"

These stern words frightened the fellow more than ever.

"Oh, I'm telling you the truth--I sw'ar I am!" he hastened to say.

"You crept up to this door all ready to fill me full of lead."

"No, no! Nothing of the sort! I was not looking for you! It--it was some
one else! I swear it by my honor!"

A bitter smile curled the lips of the young man.

"Honor!" he said--"your honor! Never mind. How much were you to receive
for killing me?"

"It was not you; it was another man."

"What other?"

"Tracy."

"My foreman?"

"Yes."

"You were looking for him?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Him and me have had a fallin' out, and he cussed me. He threatened to
shoot me, too."

"What was the matter?"

"Oh, he didn't like the way I done my work. It's true; ask him. I swore
I'd fix him."

"Well, what brought you here to my cabin to shoot the foreman?"

"I thought I saw him coming this way."

Frank pressed his lips together and looked the man over. Somehow he
believed the ruffian was lying, in spite of all these protests.

"See here, Anson," he said, "you were hired by the mining trust, or by
some of its tools, to shoot me, and you tried to earn your money. Don't
deny it, for you can't fool me. Just own up to the truth and it will be
better for you. Tell me who made the deal with you and how much you were
to receive. If you come out honestly and confess all, I'll spare you.
Your hand is bleeding pretty bad, and it should be attended to at once.
I'll see to that, but upon condition that you confess."

Still the ruffian continued to protest, insisting that it was Tracy he
was looking for. In the midst of this he suddenly stopped, seeming to be
badly frightened.

"Oh, Lord!" he choked. "Here comes Tracy! Don't tell him! I can't defend
myself! Don't tell him, or he'll sure shoot me up and finish me!"

Jim Tracy was coming with long strides. He saw Frank and the wretch with
the bleeding hand.

"Whatever is this?" he demanded. "I heard the shooting. What has this
yaller dog been up to?"

"I shot him," said Frank quietly. "He came walking into my door in a
careless manner with his rifle in his hand, and I shot him in a hurry.
He was foolish; he should have been more careful. It's dangerous to walk
in on me that way, even with the most peaceable intentions."

There was a strange look on Tracy's face.

"So that's how it happened?" he exclaimed, in a harsh voice. "Well, it's
pretty certain that Hop Anson needs to have his worthless neck
stretched, and all I ask is permission to attend to the job. I'll
dispose of him very quickly."

"I told you, Mr. Merriwell!" muttered the wounded man.

"You have had some trouble with him, have you, Tracy?" asked Frank.

"Confound his hide! yes, I have. He has no business here at this time.
His place is discharging the rock as it comes out. The fact that he's
here counts against him. Turn him over to me."

"Instead of that," said Frank, thrusting his revolver into his holster,
"I think I'll take care of him. Come in here, Anson."

Tracy seemed astonished and disgusted.

"What are you going to do?" he asked.

"I'm going to see if I can't dress that hand and keep him from bleeding
to death," was Merriwell's answer.

"Well, by thunder!" muttered the foreman.



CHAPTER X.

MERRIWELL'S METHOD.


It was not easy for such men to understand Frank Merriwell. Hop Anson
was as much astonished as was Jim Tracy. He entered the cabin at Frank's
command, and Merriwell proceeded to wash and examine the wound.

"You'll have to lose two fingers and part of another one," said
Merriwell. "I can do the job for you right here, if you say so. Or I'll
patch them up, stop the bleeding, and let you get to a regular
saw-bones."

"You go ahead," said Anson.

So Frank opened a trunk which sat behind a curtain in one corner of the
room, bringing out a case, which, on being opened, revealed a complete
set of surgical instruments. These he spread out on the rough table, and
soon he was ready to operate on Hop Anson's mangled hand.

Jim Tracy, his hands on his hips and his feet rather wide apart, stood
looking on in silence.

Frank spent the greater part of an hour about his task, impressing Tracy
as an assistant, and when he had finished two of the ruffian's fingers
and a part of the third were gone, but the amputation and dressing had
been done in a manner that was anything but bungling. Frank had been as
careful as possible to preserve cleanliness about his work.

"Well, you're certain a wonder!" exclaimed Tracy admiringly. "But you
makes a big mistake in wastin' so much trouble on a dog like this."

Anson did not retort, save with a sullen flash of his treacherous eyes
in the direction of the foreman.

"Permit me to know my business, Tracy," said Merry shortly. "You may go
now, Anson."

"What? You're not going to let him go where he likes?"

"Yes."

So Hop Anson walked out of the cabin, picked up his rifle, and
disappeared.

"I don't want to criticise you, Mr. Merriwell," said the foreman. "You
know I am devoted to your interests. But I feel confident that you will
be very sorry you treated that man in such a decent way and then let him
off. He's a snake. I still believe he crept up to the door to shoot you
in the back."

"Perhaps he did," nodded Frank, cleansing his instruments with the
utmost coolness. "If so, he got the worst of it."

"But would you let him off like that if you knew it was so?"

"No. He swore it was not. I had no proof, so I let him go."

"You're altogether too easy with your enemies," asserted Tracy. "Just
you turn them over to me. I'll take care of them, and they'll never
bother you again, be right sure of that."

"I'll think about it," smiled Frank, returning the instruments to the
case.

"You came mighty near being killed by that greaser because you were easy
with him."

"And my life was saved by Big Monte because I had been easy with him.
That balances things, I fancy. In fact, for me, it more than balances
things. I'd rather let a dozen bad men escape punishment than strike one
who is innocent."

"But neither Big Monte nor Pinto Pede was innocent."

"And Pinto Pede provided a subject with which to start a graveyard here.
Big Monte seemed repentant. Pede would have knifed me, but Monte shot
him just as he was ready to strike."

"Well, where's Big Monte now?"

"I don't know," confessed Frank.

"He skipped out."

"Sure thing. He took a walk the first chance he got."

"And it's certain he's gone back to his pals. When they strike at you
ag'in, if they do, Monte will be with 'em."

"All right. Perhaps he has an idea he'll be fighting fair that way."

"And he may kill you yet."

"Possibly."

"Well," said Tracy, "I must admit that I don't understand you none
whatever! Hop Anson left his work, got a rifle and came sneakin' up to
your door. You shoots him in the hand, then doctors him and lets him go.
That's right peculiar. But I have him to deal with somewhat, and I
propose to deal. If you hear before night that Hop has hopped the divide
don't be any surprised."

Tracy seemed about to depart.

"Look here," said Frank, "before you go, I have some things to say.
Unless Hop Anson gives you good and sufficient cause, you are not to
lift your hand against him. I don't want any shooting to get started
here at the mine. I want these men to dwell together peaceably. The
first shooting is likely to lead to other work in the same line."

"You're too much against such things," said Tracy; "and still I notice
you don't hesitate any whatever to use a gun at times."

"When forced to it; never at any other time. I am decidedly against it.
It would be dead easy to start an affair here that would lead to
disturbances that might get the men to quarreling. That would put the
men in condition to revolt, and an assault upon the mine would find us
weakened. I trust you, Tracy, to be careful about this matter. Much
depends on you. You have proved satisfactory in every way."

"Thankee," said the foreman, somewhat awkwardly. "I've tried to do my
best, sir."

"That is all I ask of any man. That is all any man can do. You should
understand why I wish no disturbance. But, at the same time, let me
warn you to watch Hop Anson closely--for your own benefit. If you have
to do any shooting, well and good."

"I think I understand," said Tracy, as he walked out. At the door he
paused and half-turned, as if to say something more. Already Frank was
facing the little mirror on the wall, ready to resume his shaving. He
stood exactly as he had stood when he shot at Anson, and his revolver
lay on the shelf beneath the mirror.

Tracy went on.



CHAPTER XI.

SMOKE SIGNALS AND A DECOY.


Frank grew restless. On the day following the shooting of Anson he
called Tracy and said:

"Tracy, I want you to keep your eyes open and be on your guard while I
am away."

"Are you going away, sir?" asked the foreman.

"Yes."

"For a long time?"

"That is uncertain. I may return by night, and I may not be back for
several days."

The foreman looked as if he wished to ask where Frank thought of going,
but held himself in check.

"I wish to satisfy myself if any of my enemies are in this vicinity,"
said Merriwell. "I leave things in your hands here, and I believe I can
trust you."

"You can, sir, fully."

Merry attended to the saddling of his horse. When he rode forth from the
mine he was well armed and prepared for almost anything. Behind him the
roar of the ore-crushers died out, and he passed into the silence of the
mountains.

Not an hour had passed when he was somewhat surprised to see before him
from an elevated point a big, ball-like cloud of dark smoke rising into
the sky.

"That's odd," was his immediate decision.

He stopped his horse and watched the smoke as it ascended and grew
thinner. It was followed by another ball of smoke as he watched, and
after this came still another.

Then Frank turned in the saddle, looking in various directions. Some
miles behind him three distinct and separate clouds of smoke seemed to
be mounting into the sky from another high elevation.

"If those are not smoke signals," said Frank, "I'm a chump! In that
case, it's likely I'll have Indians to deal with if I keep on. Perhaps
I'd better turn back."

For something told him that he was the object of those signals, and this
was an Indian method of communication. He sat still for some time,
watching the smoke fade in the upper air, which it did slowly. At last,
however, it was gone, and the clear atmosphere held no black signal of
danger.

Frank's curiosity was aroused. He longed to know the meaning of those
signals. Having looked to his weapons, he rode on slowly, keenly on the
alert.

Coming through a narrow gorge into a valley that looked barren enough,
he suddenly snatched forth a revolver and cried:

"Halt, there! Stop, or----Why, it's a woman!"

For he had seen a figure hastily seeking concealment amid some boulders.
At sound of his voice the figure straightened up and turned toward him.

Then he was more amazed than ever, for he saw a dark-faced Mexican girl,
wearing a short skirt and having about her neck a scarlet handkerchief.
Her head was bare, and her dark hair fell over her shoulders. She
looked like a frightened fawn.

No wonder he was astonished to behold such a vision in that desolate
part of the mountains. She seemed trembling, yet eager, and she started
to advance toward him.

"Oh, señor!" she said, in a voice that was full of soft music, "eet mus'
be you are good man! Eet mus' be you are not bad an' weeked. You would
not hurt Gonchita?"

"Not on your life!" exclaimed Merry, at once putting up his revolver.

At which she came running and panting up to him, all in a flutter of
excitement.

"Oh, _Madre de Dios_! I am so much happeeness! I have de great fear when
you I do see. Oh, you weel come to heem? You weel do for heem de
saveeng?"

The girl was rather pretty, and she was not more than eighteen or
nineteen years of age. She was tanned to a dark brown, but had white
teeth, which were strangely pointed and sharp.

"Who do you mean?"

"My fadare. _Ay-de mi_! he ees hurt! De bad men shoot heem. They rob
heem! He find de gold. He breeng me with heem here to de mountain, all
alone. He theenk some time he be vera reech. He have de reech mine. Then
de bad men come. They shoot heem. They take hees gold. He come creep
back to me. What can I to do? _Ay-de mi_!"

"Your father--some bad men have shot him?" said Merry.

"_Si, si, señor_!"

"It must have been Cimarron Bill's gang," thought Merry.

The girl was greatly excited, but he continued to question her, until he
understood her quite well.

"Is he far from here?" he asked.

"No, not de very far. You come to heem? Mebbe you do for heem some good.
Weel you come?"

She had her brown hands clasped and was looking most beseechingly into
Frank's face.

"Of course I'll come," he said. "You shall show me the way. My horse
will carry us both."

He assisted her to mount behind him, and told her to cling about his
waist.

Frank continued to question Gonchita, who sometimes became almost
unintelligible in her excitement and distress. They passed through the
valley and turned into a rocky gorge. Frank asked if it was much
farther.

"We be almost to heem now," assured Gonchita.

Almost as the words left her lips the heads of four or five men appeared
above some boulders just ahead, and as many rifles were leveled straight
at Frank's heart, while a well-known, triumphant voice shouted:

"I've got you dead to rights, Merriwell! If you tries tricks you gits
soaked good and plenty!"

At the same moment the girl threw her arms about Frank's body, pinning
his arms to his sides, so that he could make no move to draw a weapon.

Merry knew on the instant that he had been trapped. He realized that he
had been decoyed into the snare by the Mexican girl. He might have
struggled and broken her hold, but he realized the folly of such an
attempt.

"Be vera steel, señor!" hissed the voice of Gonchita in his ear. "Eet be
bet-are."

"You have betrayed me," said Frank reproachfully. "I did not think it of
you. And I was ready to do you a service."

He said no more to her.

Out from the rocks stepped Cimarron Bill.

"So we meet again, my gay young galoot," said the chief of the ruffians.
"An' I reckon you'll not slip me so easy this time. That old Injun o'
yours is food fer buzzards, an' so he won't give ye no assistance
whatever."

"Old Joe----" muttered Merry, in dismay.

"Oh, we finished him!" declared Bill. "That's why you ain't seen him fer
some time. Set stiddy, now, an' don't make no ruction.

"Gonchita, toss down his guns."

The Mexican girl obeyed, slipping to the ground with a laugh when she
had disarmed Frank.

The ruffians now came out from the shelter of the rocks and gathered
about the youth, grinning at him in a most provoking manner. He
recognized several of the same fellows who had once before acted as
guard over him. Red Sam was there, and nodded to him.

"You're a right slick poker-player," said the sandy rascal; "but we
'lowed a girl'd fool ye easy. Goncheeter done it, too."

Frank nodded.

"She did," he confessed. "I was taken off my guard. But you want to look
out for Indians."

"Why for?"

Merry then told them of the smoke signals, whereupon they grinned at one
another knowingly.

"That'll be all right," said Bill. "Them signals told us when you was
comin', an' which way."

"Then you were doing the signaling?"

"Some o' the boys."

Frank was then ordered down and searched. He appeared utterly fearless.
He observed that Gonchita was watching him closely, a strange look in
her eyes, her lips slightly parted, showing her milky, pointed teeth.

When the men were satisfied that no weapon remained in the possession of
their captive, two or three of them drew aside to consult, while the
others guarded Frank.

Cimarron Bill patted Gonchita's cheek with his hand.

"Well done, leetle gal!" he said. "You fooled him powerful slick."

She smiled into Bill's eyes, but in another moment, the chief, having
turned away, she was watching Frank again.

The result of the consultation led to the placing of Merry on his own
horse, and he was guarded by the armed men who escorted him along the
gorge until they came to a place where two men were watching a number of
waiting horses.

Then there was mounting and riding away, with Frank in the midst of his
triumphant enemies. Gonchita rode with them, having a wiry little pony
that seemed able to cope with any of the other horses.

Frank was not a little disgusted because he had been decoyed into the
trap, but he did his best to hide his feelings.

It was some hours later that they halted to rest until the heat of the
day should pass. A fire was built, and a meal prepared, Gonchita taking
active part in this work.

Frank sat near and watched all that was passing. He had not been bound,
and his manner was that of one free amid the scoundrels by whom he was
surrounded. It was Gonchita who found an opportunity to whisper in his
ear:

"Be vera careful! Dey mean to shoot you eef you try de escape."

He did not start or betray any emotion whatever. It hardly seemed that
he had heard her whispered words. Later, however, he gave her a look
which conveyed to her the assurance that he had not failed to
understand.

As she worked about the fire she called upon him to replenish it with
more fuel, which he did. He was putting wood on the fire when she again
whispered to him:

"I weel drop by you a peestol. Tak' eet; you may need eet."

He made no retort, but watched for her to keep her promise, which she
afterward found opportunity to do.

Merry was lying carelessly on the ground when the weapon, a tiny
revolver, was dropped at his side. Immediately he rolled over upon his
stomach, in a lazy fashion, hiding the weapon, and shortly after he
succeeded in slipping it into his pocket.

Frank wondered how this strange girl happened to be with those ruffians.
It seemed a most remarkable and mysterious thing. He also wondered why
she had been led to give him the pistol. Having led him into the trap,
she had suddenly changed so that she now seemed to wish him to escape
without harm.

The truth was that his coolness and nerve, together with his handsome,
manly appearance, had quite won Gonchita's heart. She was a changeable
creature, and had quickly come to regret leading this handsome youth
into such a snare.

When the food was prepared all partook heartily. Two of the men, a big
fellow with an evil face, called Brazos Tom, and a thick-shouldered
brute hailed as Mike Redeye, had been drinking freely from a flask.
Brazos Tom was given to chaffing the others in a manner that some of
them did not appreciate, and this inclination grew upon him with the
working of the liquor. Redeye was a sullen, silent fellow, and Frank
regarded him as a very dangerous man.

Once or twice Cimarron Bill gave Tom a look, and, at last, the big
fellow seemed to quiet down.

After the meal, while the men were yet resting, Bill had his horse
saddled for some reason, and rode away, having left the men in charge of
Red Sam.

As soon as the chief was gone, Brazos Tom brought forth his flask, which
was now nearly emptied.

"Gents," he said, "while we is waitin' we'll finish this an' try a hand
at poker. Wot d'yer say?"

"Oh, blazes!" growled one. "You an' Mike has purt' near finished that.
Thar ain't enough left fer a drap apiece if we pass it around."

"Drink up your stuff," said Red Sam. "It's poor firewater, anyhow. I'm
fer the poker. Does you come inter this yere game, young gent, same as
ye did oncet before?"

This question was addressed to Frank, but Merry already "smelled a
mouse," and so it did not need the warning look from Gonchita and the
slight shake of her head to deter him.

"Excuse me," he said. "I have no money."

"Waal, fish some out o' the linin' o' your clothes, same as you did
afore," advised Sam.

"But I have none in the lining of my clothes."

"I begs yer pardon, but we knows a heap sight better. Don't try no
monkey business with us, younker! You was good enough ter git inter a
game oncet before an' try ter show us up, so we gives ye another
chanct, an' ye'd better accept it in a hurry."

"I hardly think I have a friend here who will be willing to lend me
money," smiled Merry. "Unless somebody does so, I cannot play. That
being the case, I reckon I'll keep out of it."

Sam laid a hand on the butt of his revolver.

"You can't play none of that with us!" he declared fiercely. "We knows
how you found the money afore, an' you'll find it ag'in. Come, be
lively."

Frank looked the man over.

"You could get blood from a turnip easier than money from me," he
declared.

Then, as Red Sam seemed about to draw his weapon, Gonchita chipped in,
crying:

"Don't do it, Sam! I have you cover' weez my peestol! I weel shoot!"

The men were astonished, for Gonchita had drawn a pistol and had it
pointed at the head of Red Sam, while in her dark eyes there was a
deadly gleam.

"What in blazes is the matter with you?" snarled Red Sam, looking at her
over his shoulder.

"You hear what Gonchita say," she purred, a flush in her brown cheeks.
"She mena de busineeze."

Frank could not help admiring her then, for she presented a very pretty
picture.

Reluctantly Sam thrust back his weapon into his holster.

"Oh, all right!" he laughed coarsely. "I see you're stuck up a heap on
the feller."

"You not to shoot heem while I am around."

"Whoop!" roared Brazos Tom, in apparent delight. "Thar's a gal fer ye! I
shore admires her style!"

Then, being in a position to do so, he sprang on Gonchita, caught her in
his strong arms so she could not defend herself, and gave her a bearlike
hug and a kiss.

The next instant something like a hard piece of iron struck Tom behind
the ear and he measured his length on the ground. Frank Merriwell had
reached his feet at a bound, and hit the giant a blow that knocked him
down in a twinkling.

Through all this Gonchita had held fast to her drawn revolver, and now
she had it ready for use, so that, when those ruffians placed hands on
their weapons, she again warned them.

At the same time she flung herself between them and Frank, so that he
was partly protected as he stood over Brazos Tom, who lay prone and
dazed.

"Take hees peestols!" she palpitated.

And Frank followed this piece of advice, relieving the fallen ruffian of
his revolvers, so that Tom's hand reached vainly for one of the weapons
as he began to recover.

"Eef you make de fight," said the girl to the ruffians, "we now gif you
eet all you want."

Never before had they seen her in such a mood, and they were astounded.
But they knew she could shoot, for they had seen her display her
marksmanship.

"You little fool!" grated Sam. "Are you goin' to help that galoot try to
git erway?"

"No, I do not dat; but I see he ees not hurt till Beel he come back."

Then she commanded Frank to throw down the pistol he had taken from Tom,
which Merry did, knowing there was no chance for him to escape then
without a shooting affray, in which he was almost certain to be wounded.

Immediately on this act of Frank's the ruffians seemed to abandon any
desire to draw and shoot at him.

But Brazos Tom rose in a great rage, almost frothing at the mouth.

"Ten thousan' tarantulas!" he howled. "Let me git my paws on him!"

He made a rush for Frank, who seemed to stand still to meet him, but
stepped aside just as the ruffian tried to fold him in his arms.

Then the big wretch was somehow caught about the body, lifted into the
air, and sent crashing to the ground, striking on his head and
shoulders. The young athlete from Yale handled Brazos Tom with such ease
that every witness was astounded.

The big fellow lay where he fell, stunned and finished.

Gonchita looked at Frank with a light of the most intense admiration in
her dark eyes.

"How you do eet so easee?" she asked.

"That's nothing, with a bungler like him to meet," said Merry quietly.

The ruffians said nothing, but exchanged meaning glances. They had been
foiled for the time being by the girl and by the cleverness of their
captive.



CHAPTER XII.

LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS.


Four persons were lost in the mountains. Three of them were young men
who were scarcely more than youths. All were mounted on broncos.

One was a bright-eyed, apple-cheeked chap, who had an odd manner of
talking, and who emphasized his words with little gestures and flirts of
his hand that were very peculiar. Another was dark and silent, with a
face that was decidedly handsome, although it denoted a person given
more or less to brooding and morbid thoughts. The third youth was long
and lank and talked with a nasal drawl and a manner of speech that
proclaimed him a down-easter.

These three were respectively Jack Ready, Bart Hodge, and Ephraim
Gallup, all friends and former companions of Frank Merriwell.

The fourth one of the party was a red-nosed bummer, known as Whisky Jim,
whom they had picked up to guide them from the little railroad-town to
Frank Merriwell's mine. Jim had averred that he knew "every squar' foot
o' Arizony frum the Grand Cañon to the Mexican line," and they had
trusted in his promise to lead them, with the smallest possible delay,
to the Queen Mystery Mine.

Jim would not acknowledge that he was lost. They had provided him with
the bronco he bestrode and promised him good pay when they should come
to the mine. He had collected enough in advance to "outfit" with a
liberal supply of whisky, and had managed to keep beautifully loaded
ever since they rode out to the Southwest.

Their horses were wearied and reluctant, while they were sun-scorched
and covered with dust.

"By gum!" groaned Gallup. "I'm purty near pegged! This is too much fer
me. I wish I was to hum on the farm!"

"Prithee say not so!" cried Ready. "You give unto me that feeling of
sadness known to those who are homesick. Ah, me! to endure thus to have
my beautiful complexion destroyed by this horrid sun! And behold my
lily-white hands! Are they not spectacles to make the gods sigh with
regret! Permit me to squeeze out a few salt teardrops."

Hodge was saying nothing.

"'Sall ri', boysh," assured the useless guide thickly. "Jesht you wait
an' shee. Whazzer mazzer with you? I know m' bushiness. Who shays I
dunno m' bushiness?"

He was able to sit perfectly straight in the saddle, although he was
disgustingly intoxicated.

"I say you don't know your business, you old fool!" said Hodge, breaking
out at last. "It would serve you right if we were to leave you here in
the mountains. A great guide you are! You'd die if we left you! You'd
never find your way out."

Jim looked astonished. This was the first time Bart had broken forth
thus plainly.

"You don't mean it?" he gurgled.

"You bet your life I meant it! I'm in for leaving you to get back to
town the best way you can."

"Oh, don't do that!" exclaimed Jim, sobered somewhat by his alarm.
"Someshin' might happen t' you, boysh."

"Let's leave him," nodded Jack Ready, amused by the consternation of the
old fellow.

"Derned ef we don't!" cried Gallup.

Upon which the "guide" became greatly alarmed, begging them for the love
of goodness not to leave him there in the mountains to die alone.

"But you're a guide," said Hodge. "You would be able to get out all
right."

"Boysh," said the old toper, "I got a 'fession to make."

"What is it?"

"I ain't been in the guidin' bushiness for shome time. I'm a leetle
rusty; jest a bit out o' practish. That's whazzer mazzer."

"Why didn't you say so in the first place? What made you lie to us?"

"Boysh, I needed the moneysh. Hones' Injun, I needed the moneysh bad.
Been a long time shince I've had all the whisky I could hold. Great
treat f' me."

Bart was disgusted, but Jack Ready was inclined to look at the affair in
a humorous light.

"I'd like to know the meaning of those smoke clouds we saw," said
Hodge. "They looked mighty queer to me."

They consulted together, finally deciding to halt in a shadowy valley
and wait for the declining of the sun, which would bring cooler air.

They confessed to one another that they were lost, and all felt that the
situation was serious. It was not at all strange that Hodge was very
angry with the worthless old toper who had led them into this
predicament.

"We may never get out of these mountains," he said. "Or, if we do, we
may perish in the desert. I tell you, fellows, we're in a bad scrape!"

"Dear me!" sighed Ready. "And I anticipated great pleasure in surprising
Merry to-day. Alas and alack! such is life. I know this dreadful
sunshine will spoil my complexion!"

Gallup looked dolefully at the horses, which were feeding on the
buffalo-grass of the valley.

"We're a pack of darn fools!" he observed. "We'd oughter sent word to
Frankie that we was comin', an' then he'd bin on hand to meet us."

The "guide" had stretched himself in the shadow of some boulders and
fallen fast asleep.

"I suppose I'm to blame for this thing, fellows," said Bart grimly. "It
was my scheme to take Merry by surprise."

"Waal, I ruther guess all the rest of us was reddy enough ter agree to
it," put in Gallup. "We're jest ez much to blame as you be."

They talked the situation over for a while. Finally Bart rose and
strolled off by himself, Gallup calling after him to look out and not go
so far that he could not find his way back.

Hodge was gone almost an hour. His friends were growing alarmed, when he
came racing back to them, his face flushed with excitement and his eyes
flashing.

"Come, fellows!" he cried, his voice thrilling them. "I've got something
to show you! We're wanted mighty bad by a friend of ours who is in
trouble!"

They were on their feet.

"Who in thutteration be you talkin' abaout?" asked Gallup.

"Perchance you mean Frank?" said Ready.

"You bet your life!" said Bart. "Make sure your rifles are in working
order! Leave the horses right where they're picketed. Leave Jim with
them. He'll look after them, if he awakes."

For Whisky Jim continued to sleep soundly through all this.

So they seized their weapons and prepared to follow Bart.

As they ran, Bart made a brief explanation. He had climbed to a point
from whence he looked down into a grassy valley, and there he discovered
some horses and men. The horses were feeding, and the men were reclining
in the shade, with the exception of one or two. While Bart looked he
recognized one of the men, and also saw a girl. At first he thought he
must be deceived, but soon he was satisfied that the one he recognized
was the comrade he had traveled thousands of miles to join, bringing
with him Ready and Gallup.

As he watched, he saw the encounter between Merry and Brazos Tom, and
that was enough to satisfy Hodge that his friend was in serious trouble.
Then he hastened back to get Jack and Ephraim.

When Bart again reached the point where he could look into that valley
he was astonished to discover that another struggle was taking place
down there.

Frank was engaged in a knife-duel with Red Sam, having been forced into
it. And Red Sam meant to kill him.

The watching ruffians were gathered around, while Gonchita, a pistol in
her hand, was watching to see that the youth had fair play.

Without doubt, the sandy ruffian had expected to find Merriwell easy,
and finish him quickly in an engagement of this sort. But Frank
Merriwell had been instructed in knife-play by a clever expert, and he
soon amazed Red Sam and the other ruffians by meeting the fellow's
assault, catching his blade, parrying thrust after thrust, leaping,
dodging, turning, charging, retreating, and making such a wonderful
contest of it that the spectators were electrified.

It was Frank's knife that drew first blood. He slit the ruffian's sleeve
at the shoulder and cut the man slightly.

Gonchita's dark eyes gleamed. More than ever she marveled at this
wonderful youth, who seemed more than a match for any single ruffian of
Bill's band.

"He is a wonder!" she told herself. "Oh, he is grand! They meant to kill
him. If he beats Red Sam they shall not kill him."

Sam swore when he felt the knife clip his shoulder.

"I'll have your heart's blood!" he snarled.

Frank smiled into his face in a manner that enraptured the watching
girl.

"You are welcome to it--if you can get it! But look out for yourself!"

Then he began a whirlwindlike assault upon Sam, whom he soon bewildered
by his movements. He played about the man like a leaping panther. Once
Sam struck hard at Frank's breast, and Merry leaped away barely in time,
for the keen knife slit the front of his shirt, exposing the clean white
skin beneath.

But again and again Frank cut the big ruffian slightly, so that soon Sam
was bleeding from almost a dozen wounds and slowly growing weaker in
spite of his efforts to brace up.

The knives sometimes flashed together. The men stood and stared into
each other's eyes. Then they leaped and dodged and struck and struck
again.

Little did Frank dream of the friends who were watching him from above.

Bart Hodge was thrilled into silence by the spectacle. He knelt, with
his rifle ready for instant use, panting as the battle for life
continued.

"Great gosh all hemlock!" gurgled Ephraim Gallup, his eyes bulging.
"Did you ever see anything like that in all your natteral born days?
Dern my squash ef I ever did!"

"It is beautiful!" said Jack Ready. "Frank is doing almost as well as I
could do myself! I'll have to compliment him on his clever work."

Twice Bart Hodge had the butt of his rifle against his shoulder, but
lowered it without firing.

"He's gittin' the best of the red-headed feller!" panted Gallup.

"Of course!" nodded Ready. "Did you look for anything else to happen?"

"Them men don't like it much of enny."

"They do not seem greatly pleased."

"I bet they all go fer him if he does the red-head up."

"In which case," chirped Jack, "it will be our duty to insert a few lead
pills into them."

Bart was not talking. He believed Frank in constant danger of a most
deadly sort, and he was watching every move of the ruffians, ready to
balk any attempt at treachery.

As Sam weakened Frank pressed him harder. The fellow believed Merry
meant to kill him, if possible.

At length Merriwell caught Sam's blade with his own, gave it a sudden
twist, and the fellow's knife was sent spinning through the air, to fall
to the ground at a distance.

At that moment one of the ruffians suddenly flung up a hand that held a
revolver, meaning to shoot Frank through the head.

Before he could fire, however, he pitched forward on his face.

Down from the heights above came the clear report of the rifle in the
hands of Bartley Hodge.

Bart had saved the life of his old friend.



CHAPTER XIII.

FRANK'S ESCAPE.


As the ruffian pitched forward on his face, Gonchita uttered a cry. The
attention of the men was turned toward the point from which the
unexpected shot had come. The Mexican girl caught hold of Merry, thrust
a pistol into his hand, and hissed:

"Back--back there! Quick! It's your chance! You take eet!"

Frank did not hesitate. With the pistol in his hand, he went leaping
toward the point of cover indicated. He was behind the rocks before the
desperadoes realized what had taken place. They turned, uttering
exclamations of anger and dismay.

"Steady, you chaps!" rang out Frank's clear voice. "Keep your distance!
If you don't----"

But now the three young fellows above began shooting into the valley,
and their whistling bullets sent the ruffians scudding to cover.

Gonchita disdained to fly. She walked deliberately to the shelter of the
rocks near Frank.

"I geet horse for you," she said. "You take eet an' ride. Eet ees your
chance. Mebbe them your friend?"

Frank had caught barely a glimpse of the three fellows, and he was not
at all sure that his eyes had not deceived him.

"Perhaps they are my friends," he said. "They must be."

"You ready to go?"

"Yes."

She ran out and pulled the picket pin of one of the horses. This animal
she brought up close to the point where Frank crouched.

"Take heem queek!" she panted. "You haf de chance! Down de vallee. Mebbe
you git 'way."

Frank hesitated. He knew the danger of such an attempt. He no longer
doubted the friendliness of Gonchita, although the remarkable change in
her was most astonishing.

But the firing from above continued, and the ruffians were forced to
again take to their heels and seek still safer shelter farther up the
valley.

That was Merry's opportunity, and he seized it. In a twinkling, while
the rascals were in confusion, he leaped upon the bare back of the
horse, headed the animal down the valley, and was off.

A yell came down from above; but Frank, bending low, did not answer it.

Two or three bullets were sent after him. He was untouched, however.

Gonchita had armed him with two pistols, neither of which he had used.
One he held gripped in his hand as the horse carried him tearing down
the valley, and thus he came full upon Cimarron Bill, who was returning
to his satellites.

Bill was astounded. He had drawn a pistol, and he fired at the rider
who was stooping low along the neck of the horse. The animal tossed its
head and took the bullet in his brain.

Even as the horse fell, Frank fired in return. He flung himself from the
animal, striking on his feet.

Bill's horse reared high in the air, striking with its forward feet. The
rider leaned forward and fired from beneath the creature's neck as it
stood on its hind legs, but the movements of the animal prevented him
from accuracy.

Merry's second shot struck the hind leg of Bill's horse, and the
creature came down in such a manner that its rider was pitched off,
striking upon his head and shoulders.

Frank did not fire again, for Bill lay in a heap on the ground. The
horse struggled up, being caught by Merry. Frank looked to the beast's
wound, fearing to find its leg broken. This, however, was not the case,
although the bullet had made a rather ugly little wound.

In another moment Frank was in Bill's saddle, and away he went on the
back of the chief's horse, leaving the stunned rascal where he had
fallen.

"An exchange of horses," he half-laughed. "You may have my dead one in
place of your wounded one. If you do not like the bargain, Captain Bill,
blame yourself."

He was in no great fear of pursuit, but he longed to know just what
friends had come to his rescue at such an opportune moment. How was he
to reach them?

When he felt that he was safe, he drew up Bill's splendid horse,
dismounted and examined the bleeding wound. It was far less serious than
he had feared, and he proceeded to dress it, tearing his handkerchief
into strips to tie about the creature's leg.

Having attended to his horse, Merry remounted and sought to find a means
of approaching the spot from which his unknown friends had fired into
the valley at such an opportune moment.

He was thus employed when he came upon a most disreputable-looking old
bummer, who had in his possession four horses. This man was startled by
the appearance of Merriwell and acted very strangely.

Frank rode slowly forward, ready for whatever might take place. However,
he was recognized by the man, who uttered a shout of astonishment.

The man with the horses was Whisky Jim, who had awakened to find his
companions gone.

He greeted Merriwell with protestations of delight.

"I knew I wash a guide!" he said. "Who shed I washn't guide? I shed I'd
bring 'em to Frank Merriwell, an' I done it. But whazzer mazzer? Where
zey gone? I dunno."

Barely had Merry started to question the old toper when Hodge, Ready,
and Gallup appeared, hurrying forward. When they saw Merriwell they gave
a cheer of delight, and, one minute later, they were shaking hands with
him.

"What does this mean?" asked Frank, when he could recover enough to ask
anything.

"It means," said Bart, "that we are here to back you up in your fight
against the mining trust. You can depend on us to stand by you. After
getting your letter, in which you wrote all about the hot time you were
having fighting the trust, I hastened to get hold of Ready and Gallup
and light out for this part of our great and glorious country. Here we
are, though we're dead in luck to find you, for this drunken duffer
managed to lose us here in the mountains."

"And you were the ones who chipped in just at the right time after my
little encounter with Red Sam? Fellows, you have given me the surprise
of my life! It's great to see you again! I ran into those gents, or was
led into a trap by a very singular girl, and it looked as if I was in a
bad box. The girl, however, seemed to change her mind after getting me
into the scrape, and she wanted to get me out. I owe her a lot. But
there is no telling when Cimarron Bill and his gang may come hiking this
way after me, so I propose that we light out for the Queen Mystery,
where we can talk things over at our leisure."

They were ready enough to follow his lead.

Jim Tracy sat with his feet elevated upon Frank Merriwell's table,
smoking his pipe and talking to Hop Anson, who was on the opposite side
of the table when the door opened and Frank stepped in, followed by his
friends, with Whisky Jim staggering along in the rear.

Tracy's boots came down from the table with a thud, and he jumped up,
uttering an exclamation and looking astounded.

"Well, may I be derned!" he said, staring at Frank.

Now Merriwell was not at all pleased to find the foreman making free in
his cabin in such a manner.

"What's the matter, Tracy?" he asked sharply, glancing from Jim's face
to that of Anson, who seemed no less confounded. "You seem disturbed."

"I allow I didn't expect ye back so soon," mumbled the foreman, who
could not recover his composure at once.

"But I told you I might be back in a few hours, or I might not return
for many days."

"I know, but----"

"But what?"

"Oh, nothing!"

"It's plain you were making yourself quite at home here. What were you
doing with Anson?"

"Jest givin' him a piece o' my mind," answered Tracy promptly. "I reckon
he knows now purty well what I think of him."

Now to Merry, it had seemed on his appearance that these two men were
engaged in a confidential chat.

"Well, couldn't you find some other place to talk to him?" Frank asked.

"I brought him here so the rest of the boys wouldn't hear us," explained
Tracy. "I opined they might take a right strong dislike to him in case
they found out what happened this mornin'."

"You have not told them?"

"No."

"Well, your consideration for Anson seems very strange, considering the
talk you made to-day at an earlier hour."

"I'm jest follerin' your orders," protested the foreman, not at all
pleased by Merry's manner.

"Very well. You may retire, Tracy. Boys, make yourselves at home."

As Tracy and Anson were going out, the eyes of the latter encountered
those of Whisky Jim, who was surveying him closely in a drunken manner.

"Who are you lookin' at?" muttered Anson.

"Sheems to me," said Jim thickly, "I'm a-lookin' at a gent what had
shome deeficulty down Tucson way 'bout takin' a hoss what b'longed to
nozzer man."

"You're a liar, you drunken dog!" grated Anson, as he hastened from the
cabin.

"Do you know that man?" asked Merry, of Jim.

"Sh!" hissed the toper, with a cautioning gesture. "I don't want 't
gener'lly know I ever shaw him before. He'sh a hosh-thief. He'd shteal
anything, he would. I never 'nowledge him ash 'quaintance of mine."

"Do you know the other man, my foreman?"

"Sheems to look ruzer nacheral," said Jim; "but can't 'zactly plashe
him. All shame, if he keeps comp'ny wish that hosh-thief, you look out
f' him."

Frank celebrated his safe return to the mine in company with his friends
by preparing a rather elaborate spread, and all gathered about the
table to enjoy it and chat about old times and the present fight Merry
was making against the mining trust.

"Waal, dinged if this ain't scrumpshus!" cried Ephraim Gallup. "I'm
feelin' a hanged sight better than I was when we was lost out in the
maountains this arternoon."

"Fellows," said Merry, "you have given me the surprise of my life. I
never dreamed of seeing you at such a time. And Bart's shot saved my
life. I know it! I owe him everything!"

There was a glow of satisfaction in the dark eyes of Hodge.

"You owe me nothing," he said earnestly. "Whatever I am I owe it to you.
Do you think I am a fellow to forget? That is why I am here. I felt that
this was the time for me to prove my loyalty. When I explained it to
Ephraim and Jack they were eager to come with me to back you in your
fight. If you need them, you can have any of the old gang. They'll come
to a man."

"Thus far," said Merry, "I have been able to balk every move of the
enemy. They have employed ruffians who hesitate at nothing. You saw the
fellow with the bandaged hand who was here with my foreman? Well, it was
this very morning, while I was shaving at that glass, that he crept up
to that open door and tried to shoot me in the back. I fired first, and
he has lost a few fingers."

"Dear me!" said Ready. "I'm so frightened! What if somebody should take
a fancy to shoot me full of holes! It might damage me beyond repair!"

"Gol ding it!" chuckled Gallup. "You must be havin' enough to keep you
alfired busy around here. But what is that chap a-doin' of stayin'
here?"

Frank explained fully about Hop Anson, adding that he had partly
believed Anson's statement that it was the foreman for whom he was
looking.

"But since coming back here unexpectedly," said Merry, "and finding them
together in such a friendly fashion, I am inclined to think differently.
Tracy pretended to have a powerful feeling against Anson. Something
leads me to believe now that Tracy will bear watching."

They sat up until a late hour talking over old times and other matters
that interested them all. When they slept they took pains to make sure
that the door and windows were secured.

Whisky Jim slept outside in another building.



CHAPTER XIV.

MYSTERIOUS PABLO.


The following morning, while Frank and his friends were at breakfast,
there came the sounds of a struggle outside the cabin, followed by a
knock on the door.

Merry drew a revolver and laid it in his lap.

"Come in," he called.

The door was flung open, and Tracy entered, dragging by the collar a
small Mexican lad, who held back and betrayed every evidence of terror.

"Found him skulking about, Mr. Merriwell," said the foreman. "Don't know
whar he come from. Just brought him yere fer you to deal with."

The boy seemed badly frightened.

"Let him go, Tracy," said Frank.

The boy hesitated when released, seeming on the point of running, but
pausing to look appealingly at Merry. He was not a bad-looking little
chap, although he was rather dirty and unkempt. He had wondrous dark
eyes, big and full of interrogation.

"Well, my boy, what do you want?" asked Merry, in a kindly way.

The boy shook his head.

"I want notheenk de señor can gif," he answered, in a low tone.

"How came you around here?"

"I hunt for my seestar."

"Your sister?"

"_Si, señor_."

"Where is she?"

"That I cannot tell, señor. She be take away by de bad man. He haf fool
her, I t'ink."

"What bad man do you mean?"

"Seester call heem Beel."

"Bill?"

"Dat ees hees name."

"Bill what?"

The boy shook his head once more.

"I know eet not," he said. "He half manee man like heem who do what he
say. He get my seester to go wif heem."

"What is your sister's name?"

"Eet ees Gonchita."

Frank jumped.

"Gonchita?" he cried.

"Dat ees eet," nodded the boy. "Mebbe you do know her?"

"I think I have seen her," said Merry. "By Jove! So this fellow Bill led
her to run away with him, did he, the scoundrel? And you are searching
for him. What will you do if you find him?"

"I cannot tell, but I want my seestar to come 'way an' leaf heem. He ees
bad man."

"That's right. What's your name?"

"Pablo."

"Well, Pablo, my boy, I hope you find your sister all right and get her
away from Bill, but you have a big job on your hands. Come here and have
some breakfast. Are you hungry?"

"Oh, vera hungree, señor!"

"You shall have all you can eat. It's all right, Tracy. You may go. I'll
take care of the kid."

"I wish to report, sir," said Tracy, "that Hop Anson is missing."

"What's that? Anson--he's gone?"

"Skipped out last night, sir. He was not to be found this morning. I
thought he'd do it, sir."

"Well, let him go. I don't think he'll do much harm."

"If you had listened to me, I'd fixed him so he'd never done any further
harm."

"All right, Tracy--all right. I'll see you later."

Tracy left the room.

"Look out for that man, Frank," said Hodge, in an ominous manner. "He is
not to be trusted at all."

"All right," said Merry. "We'll not discuss him--now." Which remark was
made with a meaning look toward the Mexican lad.

Pablo was given a place at the table and a steaming cup of coffee placed
before him. Corn bread and bacon, with some canned stuff, made up the
breakfast, and the boy ate almost ravenously of everything given him.
But he kept his hat pulled low over his eyes all the while.

After breakfast Frank sought to question Pablo further, succeeding in
drawing from the boy that both his father and mother were dead, and
that he had lived in Holbrook with his sister, where she had seen Bill,
who seemed to fascinate her. At least she had run away with the man,
and, arming himself with a knife and pistol, Pablo had followed to
rescue or avenge her. Chance had led him to the valley in which the
Queen Mystery Mine was located.

It was rather a pathetic little story, and Merry was somewhat stirred by
it.

"What could you do if you should find Bill?" he asked.

A grim look came to Pablo's soiled yet attractive face.

"I haf my peestol," he said.

"But Bill is a very bad man, and he would have a pistol, too."

"I do my best. I am not skeert of Beel."

"Well, as I happen to know something of Bill, I tell you now, Pablo,
that it will be better for you if you never meet him."

"But my seestar--my seestar! I mus' find her."

Frank was tempted to tell the boy what he knew about Gonchita, but
decided not to do so, believing it would be to no purpose.

So Pablo remained in the valley for the time, seeming in no hurry to
continue the search for his sister. He wandered about the mine and the
buildings, peering curiously at everything with his big eyes, listening
to the talk of the men, and seeming to have a great curiosity.

All this was observed by Bart Hodge, who watched the lad as closely as
possible. That afternoon Bart said to Frank:

"Merry, that greaser boy acts queer. Have you noticed it?"

"How do you mean?"

"Why, he told a story about being in a dreadful hurry to find his
sister, but he hangs around here."

"I suppose the little chap doesn't know where to look for the girl."

"But he's such an inquisitive little rascal. He goes slipping around
everywhere, looking at everything, and listening to the talk of the men.
He acts to me like a spy."

"It's his way. Mexicans have a sneaking way about them, you know."

"Well, it may be his way, but I wouldn't trust him."

"I don't propose to trust him," said Frank, with a laugh. "I am not
given to trusting greasers. It is probable that he will go away
to-morrow and we'll never see anything more of him."

"Perhaps so."

"I expect to find him gone in the morning," said Merry.

But in the morning Pablo was found sleeping just outside Frank's door
when Merry opened it. He lay there, his old hat pulled down over his
ears, curled up like a dog; but he started wide-awake and sat up,
staring at Merriwell with his big black eyes.

"What the dickens you doing here?" asked Frank, annoyed.

"I tak' de sleep," grinned Pablo faintly.

"Well, couldn't you find any other place? Have you been there all
night?"

"Oh, I haf no odar place. Thees good for Pablo."

"Well, it may be all right for you; but it seems deuced uncomfortable to
me. When are you going to look for Bill and your sister?"

"_Manana_."

"To-morrow?"

"_Si, señor_."

Frank could not refrain from smiling at this characteristic answer. With
the Spaniards everything is to be done to-morrow, and the lazy Mexican,
having adopted the language of the Spaniard, has also adopted his motto.

When Frank turned back he found Hodge washing.

"I told you," said Bart. "The fellow acts to me like a spy. It wouldn't
surprise me to find out that he had been sent here by Bill. This story
about his sister may be faked up."

"But I know Gonchita is with the ruffians."

"That's all right. That makes it all the easier to deceive you. That
made the boy's story seem all the more probable. Just you watch him
close and see if he doesn't act the spy."

"All right," laughed Merry. "But let's have breakfast without worrying
about him."

It was necessary to drag Ready out.

"Oh, me! oh, my!" sighed Jack dolefully. "Methinks I have bestridden
something that hath galled me extensively. I am likewise weary and sore
in every limb and joint."

Gallup had stood the riding much better, but even he was lame.

After breakfast Frank went out and found Pablo curled in the sunshine
around the corner of the hut. And not more than four feet from the
Mexican lad was a rattlesnake.

The crack of the pistol in Frank's hand caused Pablo to start up with a
jump. He stared in astonishment at Merry, who stood over him, holding
the smoking pistol. Then he looked and saw the headless snake stretched
on the ground.

"Oh, _Madre de Dios_!" he cried. "You shoot de snake! Mebbe you save me
from de snake!"

"Perhaps so," nodded Frank, with a slight smile. "You had better be
careful, for snakes are not all the dangerous things you will find on
the ground."

Pablo made a spring and caught Frank's hand.

"To me you are so veree goode!" he said, kissing Merry's hand in a
manner that surprised Frank somewhat.

Then he saw the pistol with which the snake had been shot.

"_Carrambo_!" he cried, in astonishment. "Where you geet eet? De
peestol. Eet do belong to my seestar."

For Merry had shot the snake with the pistol given him by Gonchita.

"How you haf eet?" asked Pablo, with great eagerness. "Where you geet
eet?"

Frank was fairly cornered. As a result, he sat down there and told the
Mexican boy of his capture by Cimarron Bill's gang and of Gonchita.

"Then she be steel alife?" exclaimed Pablo. "Beel haf not keeled her!"

"He had not then."

"But she help you to geet away?"

"Yes."

"Then mebbe Beel be veree angry weeth her--mebbe he keel her! Eef he do
that----"

"If he does he ought to be hanged! Pablo, Bill is sure to be hanged or
shot before long, anyhow."

"But he tell Gonchita he mak' veree much monee. He say big men what can
buy the law pay him much monee."

"I know what he means, Pablo. A lot of men have banded together to rob
me of my mines, this one here and another in Mexico. They expected to do
so with ease at first, but made a fizzle of it. They thought to take the
mines from me by law; but now they know they cannot do that, and they
have hired Bill and his ruffians to seize it. Those men are the ones who
are paying Bill for his work. He expects they will protect him when it
is done. He is looking for a pardon for all past offenses."

"But you weel not let him beat you?"

"Not if I can help it. He has failed thus far. He attacked the mine with
his ruffians and was repulsed."

"De nex' time he do eet deeferent. He come een when you do not expect.
Mebbe he geet somebody to gef de mine up to them."

"Nobody here," said Merry, with a laugh. "I can trust my men."

"You theenk so."

"Oh, I'm sure of it."

"One try to shoot you not long 'go."

"Yes. How did you learn of that?"

"Pablo have de ear. He hear something."

"What did you hear?"

"Dat man be paid to try de shoot."

"Look here, how do you know?"

"Oh, I hear some of de men talk. They all say they pritee sure of eet.
How you like my seestar?"

The boy asked the question with such suddenness that Frank was a bit
startled.

"I am sorry for her, Pablo. I'm sorry Bill has her in his hands."

"Oh, Beel he say he marree her; but I know he lie. Mebbe she know eet
now. Beel want her to help heem. You theenk she veree bad girl?"

This question was put almost pathetically, Pablo again grasping Frank's
hand and gazing wistfully into Merry's eyes.

"No; I do not think she is very bad."

"She do noteeng to make you theenk so?"

"Well, she fooled me somewhat at first by telling me a story about her
wounded father. She had such an innocent way that I swallowed the yarn.
That was how I fell into Bill's hands. I accompanied her to go, as I
supposed, to her wounded father. She decoyed me into a trap."

"But afterward--afterward?" eagerly asked the boy.

"She seemed to change in a most remarkable manner, and helped me out of
it. But for her, I fancy I'd surely been disposed of by those ruffians."

"Then you see she be not so veree bad. When she first see you mebbe she
never seen you before. Mebbe she haf promeesed to Beel that she take you
eento trap. Aftare she see you she be soree, and she want you to geet
away."

"I think that was about the way things happened, Pablo."

"I am glad you do not theenk she ees so veree bad girl. What you do eef
I breeng her here?"

"What would I do?"

"_Si señor_; how you like eet?"

Pablo was watching Frank's face closely.

"Why, I would do my best for her," said Merry. "I should feel it my duty
after what she did for me."

"You would not be veree angree?"

"No."

"Nor veree please'?"

"Why, for your sake I would be pleased."

"But you never care for your own sake at all? You never want to see my
seestar again?"

"I should be glad to see her and thank her."

"Dat ees all?"

"And to do her any other favor in my power. I am not ungrateful enough
to forget what she did for me."

"Dat ees all?"

"What more do you want?" demanded Merry, in surprise.

"Notheeng," murmured Pablo regretfully, as he turned and walked away.



CHAPTER XV.

MERRY'S DISCOVERY.


The actions of Tracy seemed strangely suspicious to Merry, who undertook
to watch the man, only to find that Pablo seemed to be watching him
still more closely. Thus it happened that Merry followed the foreman up
the valley and saw him meet another man at a point removed beyond view
of the mine.

The man Tracy met was none other than Hop Anson, readily recognized at a
distance by his bandaged hand.

"Something doing!" muttered Frank, as he crouched behind the rocks and
watched the two. "Tracy wanted to lynch Anson. Now they meet like this,
apparently by appointment. My foreman is playing some sort of a double
game."

This point was settled in Frank's mind. He longed to be near enough to
hear what was passing between the two, but could not reach such a
position without exposing himself.

The men were suspicious that they might be watched. They did not remain
there long. But Frank distinctly saw Anson give Tracy something, which
the latter placed in his pocket. Then the foreman turned back, and Hop
Anson vanished in the opposite direction.

Frank was tempted to step out and confront the foreman, demanding to
know what it meant, but he chose to remain quiet and seek the truth in
another manner. So he let Tracy pass.

But when the foreman had disappeared Merry sprang up and went racing
after Hop Anson, hoping to run the rascal down. He came out where he
could see far along a broad gorge, and there, riding into the distance,
mounted on a good horse, was Anson. Frank knew the folly of trying
further pursuit, so he stood still and watched the vanishing figure.

"I'd like to know just what it was that Hop Anson gave Tracy," he said,
aloud.

Immediately, within less than twenty feet from him, Pablo, the Mexican
boy, arose into view.

"I teel you what eet was," he said. "Eet was monee."

Frank was startled by this sudden appearance of the boy.

"What are you doing here?" he asked sharply.

"Oh, I watch de Tracy man," returned the lad craftily. "I see
something."

"Were you near enough to hear their talk?"

"Just a leetle beet."

"Ha! What was it? What did you hear?"

"De man with hurt hand he geef oder man monee. Oder man take eet. Say
eet not enough. Must have two times more as much before he do something
man with hurt hand want heem to do. Man with hurt hand mad. Eet do no
goode. Oder man say breeng as much more twice over to heem at same
place same time to-morrow."

It is needless to say that this revelation was intensely interesting to
Merriwell.

"Why, Hop Anson has no money!" exclaimed Frank. "Where did he get it? It
must have come from Bill. In that case, an attempt is being made to
bribe my foreman. I have a traitor in the mine, and he means to deliver
me into the hands of the enemy."

"Tracy man he say to man with hurt hand that Pablo, the brother of
Gonchita, ees here."

"So Tracy told Anson that?"

"_Si, señor_."

"Well, I think I need a new foreman--and need him bad! It is about time
for Mr. Tracy to get out!"

"You wait and watch, you ketch heem."

It was arranged that Pablo should return in advance to the mine, in
order that they might not be seen coming in together. So the Mexican boy
strolled back with assumed carelessness.

But it happened that Jim Tracy was watching, and he saw Pablo, whereupon
he hastened to meet the boy.

"Where have you been?" harshly demanded the foreman.

Pablo looked surprised.

"I go to tak' de walk," he said.

"You little liar!" snarled Tracy. "You have been playing the spy! I know
what you have been doing!"

"De spyee--how you mean?"

The Mexican lad seemed very innocent.

"I've seen you sneaking around. Why are you hanging around here, anyhow?
Why don't you get out?"

"Dat none of your busineeze," returned the lad saucily.

"You little runt!" growled Tracy, catching the boy by the shoulder. "Do
you dare talk to me that way?"

"You beeg rufeen!" cried Pablo. "You hurt! Let of me a-go!"

Then he kicked the foreman on the shins. Immediately, with a roar of
rage, Tracy struck Pablo with his fist, knocking the boy down.

Pablo was armed with a pistol, and this weapon he snatched out when he
scrambled to his feet. But Tracy was on hand to clutch him and wrest the
weapon from his grasp.

"You little devil!" grated the man. "I'll cut your throat on the spot!"

There was a terrible look in his eyes as he whipped out a knife and
lifted it.

"Drop that!"

Crack!--the report of a revolver emphasized the command, and the bullet
struck the knife and tore it from the hand of the aroused ruffian.

Frank Merriwell had arrived just in time to save Pablo, who was bent
helplessly backward over Tracy's knee, the hand of the wretch being at
his throat.

Tracy shook his benumbed and quivering hand, releasing the boy and
looking at Frank resentfully.

"Oh, you're not badly hurt!" said Merry, as he strode up. "My lead
struck the knife blade, not your hand. And I seemed to be barely in
time, too."

"Oh, I wasn't going to hurt the kid!" declared Tracy harshly. "I was
going to teach him a lesson, that was all. I wanted to frighten him a
little."

"Well, your behavior looked remarkably bloodthirsty. You seemed on the
point of drawing the knife across his throat. That was enough for me.
You may go, Tracy, but you are to let Pablo alone in the future."

"If he insults me----"

"Report to me; I'll make him apologize. Go."

Tracy seemed to wish to linger to argue over the matter, but the look in
Merriwell's eyes forbade it, and he picked up the knife and slouched
sullenly away.

"I hope he did not hurt you much," said Frank, lifting Pablo's hat to
see the bruise made by the ruffian's fist.

With a cry, the boy grasped his hat and pulled it down upon his head.

But Frank had made a most surprising discovery, and it was enough to
give Merry something to meditate over.

He decided that the boy must be closely watched, and he longed for the
presence of old Joe Crowfoot, than whom no one was more fitted to such a
task.

But the outlaws had averred that old Joe was "food for buzzards," and
the protracted absence of the redskin led Merry to fear that he had
looked into the Indian's beady eyes for the last time.

Frank spoke to no one of his discovery. As far as possible, he kept his
eyes on Pablo, as if he believed the boy meditated treachery of some
sort.

Frank's friends wandered about the place and investigated the mine,
watching operations.

The calm of the valley was most deceptive, and both Ready and Gallup
declared they could not conceive any possible danger lurking near.
Hodge, however, professed to feel a warning in the very peacefulness,
which he declared was the calm before a storm.

Jim Tracy sulked. His treatment by Frank was altogether displeasing to
him, and he felt that he had been humiliated, which caused him to
register a secret vow of vengeance.

Pablo was generally found lingering about Frank's cabin or somewhere
near Merry.

"He knows a good thing when he sees it," said Ready sagely, "and he
means to stick to it. He doesn't seem in any great hurry about rushing
to the rescue of his 'seestar.'"

Frank smiled in a knowing manner, observing:

"Perhaps he has reasons to know that his sister is in no great peril at
present, and he is satisfied to stay here."

"He's a gol dern lazy little beggar!" said Gallup. "An' he oughter hev
to wash his face once in a while."

The evening was cool and agreeable. The sun dropped peacefully behind
the mountains and the shadows gathered deeply in the gorges and cañons.
The roar of the stamps sank to silence, and peace lay like a prayer on
the valley.

Frank and his friends sat about the cabin door and chatted of old times.
Sometimes they sang little snatches of the old songs.

And as the darkness deepened a slender, boyish figure lay on his stomach
and wiggled cautiously nearer and nearer, taking the utmost pains not to
be seen.

This eavesdropper was Pablo, and he evinced the greatest interest in all
they were saying; but it was when Frank spoke or sang that he listened
with the utmost attention, keeping perfectly still. Thus it was that the
boy heard Hodge say:

"Merriwell, I'm half-inclined to believe that dirty little Mexican
rascal is a fakir. I suspect him."

"Of what?" asked Frank.

"Of being a spy. He told a slick tale, but I've had time to think it
over, and somehow it seems too thin. Why shouldn't Bill send him here to
play the spy?"

"My dear Bart," said Merry, with a laugh, "what would be Bill's object?
What could the boy do?"

"He might get a chance to put a knife in your back, old man."

"I'll chance it. I do not believe Pablo that bad. I'll trust him."

"Well, I wouldn't trust any greaser."

"I hate you, Señor Hodge!" whispered the listening boy, to himself. "I
hate you; but I lofe Frank Merriwell!"

The miners gathered near their quarters. As far as possible, Frank had
secured miners who were not Mexicans, but there were a few Mexicans
among them.

Among the men were some who were hard characters when they were
drinking, and Merry had taken particular pains to make rules and
regulations to keep liquor away from them.

The morning after the encounter between Pablo and Jim, the foreman,
Frank arose and flung open the door of his cabin, but immediately made
the discovery that a sheet of paper was pinned to the door with a knife.

"Hello!" he exclaimed. "Here's something interesting!"

Gallup came slouching forward, followed by Ready.

"What, ho!" cried Jack, as his eyes fell on the knife and the paper.
"Methinks I see something! Hist! That is what the tragic actor said when
he appeared upon the stage. He crept in and looked around, after which
he said, 'Hist!' And he was hissed."

"By gum!" cried Ephraim. "There's writin' written on it! What does it
say?"

This is what they read written sprawlingly on the sheet of paper that
was pinned to the door by the knife:

     "FRANK MERRIWELL: You are hearby giv notis that you are to send
     away the boy Pablo instanter. He promised to come to his sister,
     and he has not come. You are warned not to keep him. BILL."

Frank looked at the notice and laughed.

"Well," he said, "that is rather interesting. So Bill wants the boy? Why
doesn't he come and take him?"

Hodge came and read the notice, a deep frown on his darkly handsome
face.

"What do you make of it, Merry?" he asked.

"Give us your opinion."

"Nerve."

"Shall we give up the boy?"

Now Bart had not favored Pablo, but at this juncture he grimly declared:

"I'm against it."

"Good!" nodded Merry. "Let Bill come and take him! If the boy's story is
true, it would not be a healthy thing for him to fall into Bill's
hands."

Just as he spoke these words Jim Tracy came around the corner and
appeared on the scene. He halted, appearing surprised, and stared at the
knife and the notice.

"Whatever is it?" he asked.

"Something left there during the night," said Merry. "Read it."

Tracy looked it over.

"Well, Bill sure wants the greaser kid," he said, "an' I reckon you'd
best give the youngster up."

"Why do you reckon that?"

"Cimarron Bill is a heap dangerous."

"He may be," said Merry; "but he has failed thus far to get ahead of me.
I don't like his notice, if this came from him. But I thought you took
pains to have the place guarded at night, Tracy?"

"So I does, sir."

"Then how did Bill or any of his gang manage to creep up here and pin
this to my door?"

"That I can't say, sir."

"I think I'll look after things to-night," said Frank grimly. "If we're
getting careless around here Bill may walk in some night and seize the
mine before we know a thing of what's going to happen."

He jerked the knife from the door, took the paper and placed it in his
pocket, after which he indicated that he was ready to speak with the
foreman, who had some matter of business to discuss.

When Tracy departed Frank sat down and meditated, for he had noticed
something peculiar and remarkable.

There were ink-stains upon the thumb and two of the fingers of Jim
Tracy's right hand.



CHAPTER XVI.

FRANK DETECTS TREACHERY.


Needless to say Frank did not send Pablo away. He did not tell the boy
of the warning found on the door. Instead, he called the Mexican lad and
said:

"Pablo, I want you to watch Tracy closely for me. Will you?"

"Señor Frank can be sure I weel," said the boy.

"If possible, I want you to get some of Tracy's handwriting and bring it
to me."

"Eet I will do, señor."

"But look out for him. He's dangerous. Don't let him catch you playing
the spy."

"I tak' de great care 'bout that."

Before noon the Mexican boy came hurrying to Merry, his big dark eyes
glowing. He caught hold of Frank's hand and gave it an excited pressure.

"I haf eet!" he said.

"What is it you have?"

"Some of hees writeeng. He do eet in de mine offeese when he think no
one watch heem. I see heem through window. He put eet in lettare, stick
eet up, put in pocket, then drop um. I know; I watch; I pick eet up.
Here eet ees!"

He thrust into Merry's hand a soiled, sealed and undirected envelope.

"Eet ees inside," said Pablo, all aquiver.

"Come in here," said Frank, leading the way into the cabin.

Bart and Jack were watching Ephraim Gallup at a distance from the cabin,
the Yankee youth being engaged in a brave attempt to ride a small,
bucking bronco.

When they were inside the cabin, Frank closed and fastened the door.
Making a hasty examination of the envelope, he quickly lighted a small
alcohol-lamp beneath a tiny brass tea-kettle, which he partly filled
with water.

In a very few moments steam was pouring from the nozle of the kettle.
Holding the envelope in this, Merry quickly steamed open the flap,
taking from it a sheet of paper.

Pablo's eyes seemed to grow larger than ever as he watched. Frank
unfolded the paper and read:

     "I have decided to except terms, and to-night will be the time for
     you to come down on the mine. The whisky will be yoused to get the
     men drunk, jest as you perposed, and I'll hev them all filled up by
     ten o'clock. Wate tell you hear three shots right togather, then
     charge and you'll take the mine, havin' only Merywel and his
     tenderfeet backers to fight, and them I will hav fastened into
     their cabin. J."

Merry whistled over this, showing no small amount of surprise.

"Ees de writin' what you expec'?" asked Pablo anxiously.

"It's somewhat more than I expected," said Frank. "By Jove! there will
be doings here to-night."

He quickly decided on the course he would pursue. Carefully drying the
flap of the envelope, he placed some fresh mucilage on it, thrust the
message into it, and resealed it carefully.

"See here, Pablo," he said quickly, "if you can do it, I want you to
take this and drop it just where you found it, so that Tracy will be
pretty sure to recover it. I do not wish him to know that it has been
picked up. Do your best. If you can't do it, come and tell me."

"I do eet," assured Pablo, as he took the envelope, concealed it beneath
his jacket, and slipped from the cabin.

Frank had been given something to think about.

"So Tracy has turned traitor," he meditated. "He has decided to betray
the mine into the hands of Cimarron Bill's gang. It was his writing on
the notice pinned on the door, not Bill's. That notice was a fake, and
it made him angry because it didn't work out as he planned. Bill got at
him through Hop Anson, who must have been in Bill's employ all along.
Well, to-night is the time I give those ruffians their final setback.
Another repulse will discourage them. They would have descended on the
place while I was in their power if they had fancied there was any
chance that I might escape with my life."

Pretty soon he walked out, with his hands in his pockets, and joined
his friends, laughing heartily over Gallup's trials, and seeming
undisturbed by any worry.

Later he entered the mine and found that Tracy was not about. Nor could
he discover anything of Pablo. The afternoon was far spent when the
Mexican boy suddenly appeared before Frank.

"Hello, Pablo!" said Merry. "What's the word?"

"I followe heem," whispered Pablo excitedly. "I haf drop de letter
where he find eet when he look for eet. Then he find time to go 'way.
I followe. I see heem take letter to place in rocks long distance down
vallee. He hide eet there. Pablo let heem go; stay watch letter. He haf
hoss hid some piece off. He geet to hoss, geet on heem, ride off."

"That's all?"

"Dhat ees all."

"Well, you have done well, Pablo," said Merry. "I'll not forget it."

Pablo again grasped Frank's hand, which he kissed.

"You freen' to Pablo," he said. "You goode to heem. He not forget."

"Tell no one what you have seen and done."

"You look out for Beel."

"You may be sure I'll do that, Pablo. When Bill comes here, he'll
receive a warm reception."

That night after supper, as the miners sat about the long table in the
low, open room, smoking their pipes and cigarettes and enjoying the
grateful coolness of the evening, Jim Tracy, the foreman, came into the
room and cried:

"Well, boys, you've been working right hard to open up this yere old
mine, an' I appreciates it, if the young man what owns the property
don't. It's a long distance to town, an' ye can't all git off together
to have a leetle blow, so I has brought ye some good whisky, and I
perposes that you all takes a drink on me."

Saying which, he produced two big quart bottles and held them above his
head, so the lamplight fell upon them.

Instantly two shots sounded through the place, and the bottles were
smashed in the foreman's hands by a pair of bullets, the glass flying
and the liquor spattering over him.

In through the doorway at the opposite end of the room stepped Frank
Merriwell, a pistol in each hand.

"Keep your hands up and empty, Jim Tracy!" he said, in a commanding
tone. "It will be unhealthy for you if you lower them!"

Behind Frank were Bart, Jack, and Ephraim, with Pablo hovering like a
shadow still farther in the rear.

Tracy was astounded.

"What in blazes does this mean!" he snarled, but he kept his hands up,
as Frank had ordered.

"It means that I am onto your game to drug these boys and betray us all.
Steady! If you try to get a weapon I shall drop you! You know I can
shoot a little. Just tie him up, fellows."

"With the greatest pleasure," chirped Jack Ready, as he waltzed lightly
forward, accompanied by Hodge and Gallup.

In spite of the protests of Tracy, they bound him hand and foot, so that
he could barely wiggle.

The miners had been amazed, but they believed Merry when he told them of
Tracy's plot to betray the mine.

"He would have drugged you all," said Frank. "Then, when Bill's gang
charged on the mine, it's likely many of you would have been killed. But
what did he care about that. Now we'll fool Cimarron Bill and teach him
a lesson."

He explained his plan to them, and they readily agreed. So it happened
that, a little later, the miners began to sing and shout and pretend to
be riotously merry. This they kept up until it seemed as if they were
engaged in a fearful carousal. Then the noises began to die out and grow
less.

It was past ten o'clock when dead silence seemed to rest on the camp.
Frank Merriwell stepped to the door, lifted his hand and fired three
shots into the air.

Five minutes later the sound of galloping horses coming up the valley
was distinctly heard.

"Here they come!" breathed Frank. "All ready for them!"

Right up to the mine-buildings charged the horsemen. They were
dismounting when Frank's challenge rang out sharp and clear:

"Hold, Cimarron Bill! Stop where you are! Stop, or we fire!"

The outlaws uttered a yell and charged, firing the first shots.

Then Merry gave the command, and the armed and waiting miners fired on
the raiders. It was a withering volley, and must have astounded the
ruffians.

Bill, however, had come this time determined to succeed, and he called
on his men to break down the doors. As they were hammering at the front
doors, Frank led some of the men out by the back way and charged round
the buildings.

The encounter that took place was brief and sanguine. The miners were
encouraged by Hodge, Ready, and Gallup, who fought with savage fury, and
the raiders began to waver.

Suddenly a tall figure came rushing into the thick of the fight and
confronted Frank.

It was Tracy, who had been released from his bonds by a sympathetic
miner.

"Yah!" he snarled, having heard Merry's voice and recognized him. "So
it's you! I've found you! Take that!"

He pitched forward a revolver and fired pointblank at Frank.

At that very instant, with a cry, Pablo, the Mexican boy, leaped in
front of Merry.

Struck by the bullet intended for Frank, the little fellow tossed up his
arms and fell backward into Merriwell's clasp. At the same instant
somebody shot Jim Tracy through the brain.

As Merriwell lowered the death-stricken boy, the raiders, completely
baffled, gave over the attack and took to flight, leaving half their
number behind, stretched upon the ground.

"Are you hurt--badly?" asked Frank, as one of the boy's arms dropped
limply over his neck and seemed to cling there.

For a moment there was no answer. Then came the faintly whispered words:

"I--theenk--I--am--keeled--Señor Merriwell."

"Oh, no, Gonchita!" said Frank earnestly; "not as bad as that! It cannot
be!"

"You know me," was the surprised whisper. "How you know I am Gonchita?"

"Oh, I discovered it the other day--I found you had your hair tied up
beneath your hat. Here, men--somebody bring a light! Be lively about
it!"

"All right, sir," said one of the men. "Have one directly."

"No use, Señor Merriwell," came weakly from the lips of the disguised
girl. "I shall be dead in a minute. _Ay-de mi_! Poor Gonchita! You
theenk she ees veree bad girl? Beel he say he weel marree her. He get me
to fool you, señor. Then you are so veree brave! Señor Frank, I theenk
you are de han'someest, de braveest man I evere know. I run away from
Beel. I wear de boyee's clothes an' come here. Dat ees all. Now I haf to
die."

"Perhaps not, Gonchita," said Merry, with infinite pity for the
unfortunate girl. "We'll see what can be done for you."

She managed to press one of his hands to her lips.

"So goode--so han'some!" she whispered. "Good-by, señor! Eet ees ovare."

Then one of the men came out with a lighted lantern; but before the
light fell on the face of the wounded girl Frank knew he was holding a
corpse in his arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

Among the dead was found Hop Anson. Jim Tracy lay where he had fallen
immediately after the shot which ended the life of poor Gonchita.

Such of the ruffians who were wounded were cared for as well as
possible. The dead were buried there in the valley.

Cimarron Bill's band was completely broken up.

On his next visit to town Merry had a marble slab cut for the grave of
the Mexican girl, which was located at a distance from those of the
outlaws.

On the slab were chiseled these words: "Poor Gonchita!"



CHAPTER XVII.

THE WAR-WHOOP OF OLD ELI.


The afternoon sun lay scorching hot upon the arid plain. Heat waves
moved in the air like the billows of a phantom sea. To the west were
barren mountain-peaks and the nearer foot-hills; to the east the
unbroken plain lay level to the horizon.

Behind the body of his dead horse lay a sorely wounded man, with his dog
crouching close at his side. The dog's dry tongue lolled from the
animal's mouth; at times the poor creature whined and sought to lick the
hand of its master; anon he growled fiercely, the hair bristling on his
neck, and started up in a savage manner.

"Down, Boxer, down!" the man would order, in a voice ever growing
weaker. "You can't help. The red devils will get you with a bullet.
Down, sir!"

At which the dog would sink back, whine again and draw his filelike
tongue along the hand or cheek of his master.

"Heavens!" muttered the man. "For a swallow of water. I'd give the last
ounce in the saddle-bags if I could finish one or two more of those
murderous curs before I cash in!"

His almost nerveless hands grasped the barrel of his rifle, and he
looked away toward the spot where six horsemen had drawn up in a little
cluster just beyond bullet-reach.

They were Indians, mounted on tough ponies, and some of them armed with
modern weapons. Two or three carried lances, on which the glaring sun
glinted.

They had hunted him down; they had killed the horse beneath him and
wounded him unto death. The bullet was through his body, and the sands
of life were ebbing fast. He had reached the end of his trail, and the
red fiends out there on the baking plain knew they had only to wait a
while and then ride forward unmolested and strip off his scalp. Yet,
being far from their reservation, the savages were impatient at the
delay. Their hearts were vengeful within them, for in the chase he had
slain two of their number.

One of them, an impetuous young buck, was for making haste in finishing
the paleface. He motioned toward the declining sun and suggested that
the wounded man might try to crawl away with the coming of darkness.
Besides, they had far to go, and it was a waste of time to wait for the
paleface to die. Likely he was so far gone that he could not shoot to
defend himself, and there would be little trouble in getting near enough
to despatch him.

The impetuous spirit of this savage prevailed, and soon the redskins
began riding around and around man and horse and dog, spreading out into
a circle with great gaps and slowly closing in, now and then uttering a
challenging yell. As they closed in they flung themselves over upon the
sides of their ponies opposite the wounded man, so that their horses
seemed riderless. Occasionally a shot was fired from beneath the neck of
a racing pony.

The dying man gathered himself a little and watched them. A puff of
white smoke leaped out before a pony and was quickly left behind to
dissolve and fade in the heated air. A bullet threw up a bit of dust
within three feet of the white man. The dog bristled and growled.
Another bullet clipped a stalk from a cactus plant five feet away.

"They're within shooting distance," whispered the doomed wretch. "Wonder
if I've got nerve enough to drop a pony."

He rested his rifle on the body of the dead horse and waited. Out on the
plain the racing ponies began to swim in a haze. He could see them
indistinctly, and he brushed a hand across his eyes.

"I'm going fast, Boxer," he muttered to the dog. "My sight is failing!
I'm burning inside! And I know you're choking yourself, poor dog! It's a
hard way to pipe out."

The dog whined sympathetically and pressed closer. A bullet whistled
past the head of the man. He tightened his grip on his rifle, sought to
take aim, and finally fired.

His bullet went wide of the target he sought, and a yell of derision
floated to his ears through the hot air.

"No use!" he muttered huskily. "I'm done for! It's the finish! They can
close right in and wipe me out!"

The savages seemed to know it, and they were drawing nearer.

Of a sudden out from the depths of a long barranca, a mighty fissure in
the plain, produced in former ages by a convulsion of nature, or marking
the course of a river--out from one end that rose to the surface of the
plain not far from the circling savages, came a horse and rider. As the
rider rose into view he began shooting with a magazine rifle, and his
first bullet caused a redskin to lose his hold and tumble end over end
in the dirt, while the pony galloped on.

The following Indian stooped and seemed to catch up his wounded comrade
as he swept past.

The lone horseman rode straight at them in a reckless manner, working
his repeater.

A pony was wounded, another plunged forward into the dirt. In another
moment the redskins wheeled and were in full flight, astounded and
demoralized by the attack, two of the horses carrying double, while
another left drops of blood upon the ground.

The daring paleface uttered a strange war-whoop of triumph: "Brekekek
Co-ax, Co-ax, Yale!"

Never before had those Indians heard such a singular cry from the lips
of a white man. It seemed to fill them with a mad desire to get away, to
flee at top speed. It struck terror into their hearts, as many a time
the same slogan has struck fear to the hearts of those battling against
Old Eli on some athletic field. They urged their ponies forward, and
away they went, scurrying into the distance, with bullets singing around
them.

The man behind the dead horse lifted himself and strained his bedimmed
eyes, seeing the youthful rider shoot past in pursuit of the savages.
The dog rose, planting his forefeet on the horse's body, and barked
madly.

When he was satisfied that the Indians were in full retreat, with little
thought of turning or offering resistance, Frank Merriwell, for it was
he who had dashed out of the barranca, drew up and turned about,
galloping back toward the man he had dared so much to save.

But he had come too late.

As Merry rode near the dying man had fallen back beside his dead horse.
Over him stood the dog, covered with dust, its eyes glaring redly, its
teeth disclosed, ready to defend the body of its master. As Frank drew
up the dog snarled fiercely.

Merry saw at a glance that the situation of the dog's master was serious
in the extreme. He dismounted and stepped forward, leaving his horse,
knowing well the animal would stand. As he approached the dog grew
fiercer of aspect, and he saw the creature meant to leap straight at his
throat.

"Good dog!" he said, stopping. "Fine dog! Come, sir--come! Ah-ha, fine
fellow!"

But all his attempts to win the confidence of the dog were failures.

"The man is dying," he muttered. "Perhaps I might save him if I could
get to him now. Must I shoot that dog? I hate to do it, for the creature
seems very intelligent."

At this moment the man stirred a little and seemed to realize what was
happening. He lifted his head a little and saw the dismounted horseman
and the threatening dog.

"Down, Boxer; down, sir!" he commanded. "Be quiet!"

His voice rose scarcely above a whisper, but the dog reluctantly obeyed,
still keeping his eyes on Frank, who now stepped up at once.

"You're badly wounded, sir," he said. "Let me see if I can do anything
for you."

"Give me water--for the love of Heaven, water!" was the harshly
whispered imploration.

In a twinkling Frank sprang to his horse and brought back a canteen that
was well filled. This he held to the lips of the wretched man, while the
crouching dog watched every move with his red eyes.

That water, warm though it was, brought back a little life to the
sinking man.

"God bless you!" he murmured gratefully.

The dog whined.

"Can't you give Boxer a little?" asked the dog's master. "He's suffering
as much as I am."

Frank quickly removed from his saddle-bags a deep tin plate, on which
some of the water was poured, and this the dog greedily licked up,
wagging his tail in thankfulness.

"Poor old Boxer!" sighed the doomed man.

"Now, sir," said the youth, "let me examine your wound and find out what
I can do for you."

"No use," was the declaration. "I'm done for. It's through the lung, and
I've bled enough to finish two men. The blood is all out of me."

But the young man insisted on looking and did what he could to check the
flow of blood.

The doomed man shook his head a little.

"No use," he repeated. "I'm going now--I feel it. But you have done all
you could for Old Bens, and you won't lose nothing by it. What's your
name?"

"Frank Merriwell."

"Well, Pard Merriwell, you sure went for those red devils right hot. I
allowed at first that you must have four or five friends with ye."

"I'm alone."

"And it was great grit for you to charge the red skunks that way.
However did you happen to do it?"

"I saw what was going on from the high land to the west with the aid of
a powerful glass. I knew they had a white man trapped here. I struck the
barranca and managed to get down into it, so I was able to ride close
without being seen and charge up from this end, where it rises to the
level of the plain. That is all."

"It was nerve, young man, and plenty of it! My name is Benson Clark. I'm
a miner. Been over in the Mazatzals. Struck it rich, young pard--struck
it rich. There was no one but me and old Boxer, my dog. I took out a
heap of dust, and I opine I located a quartz claim that certainly is
worth a hundred thousand dollars, or I'm away off. Been a miner all my
life. Grub-staked it from the Canadian line to Mexico. Have managed to
live, but this is my first strike. No one staked me this time, so it's
all mine. But see, pard, what black luck and those red devils have done
for me! I'm finished, and I'll never live to enjoy a dollar of my
wealth. Pretty tough, eh?"

"Pretty tough," admitted Frank Merriwell; "but brace up. Who can
tell----"

"I can. Bens Clark is at the end of his trail. Young man, I want you to
see me properly planted. You'll find enough in the saddle-bags here and
in the belt around my waist to pay you for your trouble."

"I want no pay, sir."

"Well, I reckon you may as well have it, as I have neither kith nor kin
in the wide world, and most of my friends have cashed in ahead of me, so
I'm left all alone--me and Boxer."

The dying man lifted his hand with a great effort and caressed the dog.
The animal whined and snuggled nearer, fixing his eyes on his master's
face with an expression of devotion and anxiety that was quite touching
to see.

"Good old Boxer!" sighed the man, with deep feeling. "You'll miss me,
boy, and you're the only one in all the wide world. What will become of
you, Boxer?"

Again the dog whined a little, touching the bloodless cheek of the man
with its tongue.

"I'll do what I can for your dog, sir," said Frank Merriwell.

"What do you mean? Will you take Boxer and care for him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do it! You'll never be sorry. You'll find him the most faithful,
devoted, and intelligent of dumb animals. Truly, he knows almost as much
as a man--more than lots of men. It's a shame he can't talk! He knows
what I say to him almost always. I've almost fancied he might be taught
to talk; but that's ridiculous, I know. Take him, Frank Merriwell, treat
him well, and you'll never regret it."

The dog seemed listening. He looked from one to the other in a peculiar
manner, and then, as if realizing what had passed and that he was soon
to part with his master forever, he uttered a whining howl that was
doleful and pathetic.

"Poor old Boxer--good boy!" said Benson Clark. "I've got to go, boy."

The dog crept close, and the dying man weakly folded the animal in his
arms.

Frank Merriwell turned away. The sunlight was so bright and strong on
the plain that it seemed to cause him to brush a hand over his eyes. He
stood looking far off for some moments, but was given a start by hearing
a weak call from the man.

"I'm going!" breathed Clark huskily. "Here--in my pocket here you will
find a rude chart that may lead you to my rich mines in the Mazatzals.
Feel in my pocket for the leather case. That's it. Take it--keep it.
It's yours. The mines are yours--if you can find them. Boxer is yours.
Be good to him. Poor old Boxer!"

He closed his eyes and lay so still that Frank fancied the end had come.
But it was not yet. After a little he slowly opened his eyes and looked
at Merry. Immediately Frank knelt beside him, with uncovered head.

The dying man then looked at the dog.

"Boxer," he said faintly, "I'm going off on my long trail, and we'll
never meet up again this side of the happy hunting-grounds. Good-by, old
dog! This is your new master. Stick to him like glue, old boy. Fight for
him--die for him, if you have to. I opine you understand what I mean."

A strange sound came from the throat of the dog--a sound that was almost
like a human sob. If ever a dog sobbed that one did. Agony and sorrow
was depicted in his attitude and the look in its red eyes.

The miner took the dog's paw and placed it in Frank Merriwell's hand,
his body lying between them.

"I make you pards," said Benson Clark.

Then he whispered to Frank:

"Can't you pray? I've clean forgot all the prayers I ever knew. But I
feel that I need a prayer said for me now, for I'm going up before the
judgment bar. Pray, partner--pray to the Great Judge that He will be
easy with me."

So Frank Merriwell prayed, and that prayer fell upon the heart of the
dying man with such soothing balm that all fear and dread left him, and
he passed into the great unknown with a peaceful smile on his
weather-worn face.



CHAPTER XVIII.

A STRANGE FUNERAL.


Frank found the saddle-bags and the belt about the dead man's waist
heavy with gold. It took him some time to make preparations for
transporting the precious stuff, and it was no easy task for him to
quiet his horse and induce the animal to stand while he lifted the
corpse and placed it where it could be tied securely on the horse's
back.

He had no thought of leaving the body of Benson Clark to be devoured by
wolves and vultures.

The sun was resting close down to the blue tops of the western mountains
when everything was ready to start.

The dog had watched every move with eyes full of singular intelligence,
but made no move or sound until Merry was ready to go.

Then Frank turned more water from the canteen, after taking a few
swallows himself, placing it before Boxer in the tin plate. The dog
licked it up.

"Good Boxer!" said Merry, patting the beast's head. "I'm your master
now, my boy. Your other master is dead. He has told you to stick to me.
Did you understand?"

The dog made some strange swallowing and mumbling sounds in its throat,
as if trying to talk back in words.

"By Jove!" said Merry, gazing at the creature with great interest. "You
are a knowing fellow, and you actually try to talk. Your master fancied
you might be taught to talk."

Again those strange swallowings and mumblings issued from the dog's
throat, and the creature wagged its tail a little.

"We'll go now," said Frank. "It's a good distance to the mine, and we
have something to do before we can set out in earnest."

So they started off, Frank leading the horse bearing the ghastly burden,
while the dog walked behind with hanging head, the perfect picture of
sorrow.

A strange funeral procession it was, making its way toward the setting
sun and the hazy mountains. The dead horse was left behind, while far in
the sky wheeled two black specks, buzzards waiting for the feast.

The Indians had long vanished from the face of the plain, yet Frank knew
their nature, and he was not at all sure he had seen the last of them.

The sun vanished behind the mountains and the blue night lay soft and
soothing on the hot plain when the funeral procession came into the
foot-hills.

It was not Frank's intention to carry the dead man farther than was
needful, and, therefore, he kept his eyes about him for some place to
bestow the body where it might rest safe from prowling beasts.

This place he found at last, and, with the aid of a flat stone, and with
his bare hands, he scooped a shallow grave. Into this the body was
fitted. Over the man's face Frank spread his own handkerchief. Then he
besprinkled the dry earth lightly over the body at first, afterward
using the flat rock to scrape and shovel more upon it, ending with
covering it heavily with such stones as he could find, knowing well with
what skill the ravening beasts of the desert could use their claw-armed
paws.

For a time the dog sat and watched everything. When his late master was
placed in the grave he whined and cried softly; but when the body was
covered he lay down beside the grave in silence, and there was in his
posture something so heartbroken that Frank was moved to a great pity.

"Poor old Boxer!" he murmured. "It is the end to which all living things
must come, each in its own time. But it is the law of nature, and it is
not so bad, after all. Blessed is he who goes to his last deep sleep
without fear, feeling that he has done his best and is willing to trust
everything in the hands of Him who sees and knows all. The fear of death
and what may follow is such as should trouble alone the coward or the
wicked wretch. Boxer, your master seemed to pass without fear, and
something tells me it is not so bad with him. His case is in the hands
of the Great Judge, and we may rest sure that he will be done no wrong."

Was there ever such a strange funeral oration! A youth with bared head
and solemn face, speaking above a grave, and a silent, grief-stricken
dog as the only mourner and attendant! The still Arizona night all
around, with no sound of humming insect, no stir of foliage, no whisper
of moving breeze, the dome of heaven above, studded with millions of
clear stars! The dog did not move or lift its head, but Frank saw the
starshine glint upon his eyes, which were wide open and fastened upon
the speaker.

When the work was completed Frank knelt for a moment beside that grave,
praying softly, yet with an earnestness that bespoke his faith that his
words were heard.

It was over. His horse was at a little distance. He went and brought the
animal up and adjusted the saddle. The dead man's belt, stuffed to
bursting and wondrous heavy, he had fastened about his own waist.

"Come, Boxer," he said, again stooping to pat the head of the dog. "We
must go. Bid farewell to your master's grave. It's not likely you may
ever again come beside it."

The dog stirred. He sat up and lifted his muzzle toward the stars. From
his throat came a low note that rose and swelled to the most doleful
sound imaginable.

With his blood chill in his body, Frank listened while the dog sang a
requiem above that grave. Tears started from Merry's eyes, and never
while life was his could he forget that sound and that sight. Never
chanted words of mass had more of sorrow! No human tongue could speak
greater grief.

At last the sound died away into silence, and the dog stood on all
fours, with hanging head and tail, his muzzle kissing some of the rough
stones heaped on that grave. How long he might have remained in that
attitude cannot be said; but soon Frank spoke again and called him to
follow. At the word he turned, and his manner denoted he was ready.

Merry swung into the saddle and started, looking over his shoulder. In
dead silence, the dog followed.

And so they passed into the still night.



CHAPTER XIX.

NEW ARRIVALS IN HOLBROOK.


The town of Holbrook had been greatly stirred. It had not yet settled
into its accustomed grooves. The proprietor of the best hotel in town
had received a consignment of fine furniture, carpets, draperies,
wallpaper and pictures, and he had set about renovating and decorating
several of the largest rooms in his house, having for that purpose a
number of workmen imported from some Eastern point. It was said that the
rooms had been rearranged to connect with each other in a suite, and
that when they were completed, and furnished, and decorated they were
dazzlingly magnificent, nothing like them ever before having been seen
in the place. The good citizens of Holbrook wondered and were amazed at
all this; but they did not know that not one dollar had been expended by
the proprietor of the hotel. All this work had been done without expense
of his to accommodate some guests who came in due time and took
possession of those rooms.

The California Special had dropped four persons in Holbrook, who
regretfully left the comfort of a palace car and looked about them with
some show of dismay on the cluttered streets and crude buildings of the
Southwestern town. Holbrook was even better in general appearance than
many Western towns, but, contrasted with clean, orderly, handsome
Eastern villages, it was offensive to the eyes of the proud lady who was
aided from the steps of the car and descended to the station platform
with the air of a queen. She turned up her aristocratic nose a little on
glancing around.

This woman was dressed in the height of fashion, although somewhat too
heavily for the country she now found herself in; but there was about
her an air of display that betokened a lack of correct taste, which is
ever pronounced in those who seek to attract attention and produce
astonishment and awe. She had gray hair and a cold, unattractive face.
Still there was about her face something that plainly denoted she had
been in her girlhood very attractive.

She was followed by a girl who was so pretty and so modest in appearance
that the rough men who beheld her gasped with astonishment. Never in the
history of the town had such a pretty girl placed her foot within its
limits. She had a graceful figure, fine complexion, Cupid-bow mouth,
flushed cheeks, large brown eyes and hair in which there was a hint of
red-gold, in spite of its darkness.

A colored maid followed them.

From another car descended a thin, wiry, nervous man, who had a great
blue beak of a nose, and who hastened to join the trio, speaking to
them.

The hotel proprietor had at the station the finest carriage he could
find, and this whisked them away to the hotel as soon as they had
entered it, leaving the loungers about the station wondering, while the
train went diminishing into the distance, flinging its trail of black
smoke against the blue of the Arizona sky.

At the hotel the lady and her daughter occupied two of the finest rooms,
the colored maid another, less expensively furnished, and the man with
the blue nose was given the fourth.

Holbrook wondered what it meant.

The lady ordered a meal to be served in her rooms.

The report went forth at once, and again Holbrook stood agog.

The hotel register was watched. Finally the man with the restless eyes
and blue beak entered the office and wrote nervously in the register.

Barely was he gone when a dozen persons were packed about the desk,
seeking to look over one another's shoulders to see what had been
written.

"Whatever is it, Hank?" asked one. "You sure kin read writin'. Whatever
do you make o' it?"

"'Mrs. D. Roscoe Arlington,' the fust name," said the one called Hank.
"Then comes 'Miss Arlington,' arter which is 'Mr. Eliot Dodge,' an'
lastly I sees 'Hannah Jackson.'"

"Which last must be the nigger woman," said one of the rough men.

"I allows so," nodded Hank. "An' it 'pears to me that name o' Arlington
is some familiar. I somehow thinks I has heard it."

"Why, to be course you has!" said another of the men. "D. Roscoe
Arlington, did you say? Who hasn't heerd that name? He's one o' them big
guns what has so much money he can't count it to save his gizzard.
Ev-rybody has heerd o' D. Roscoe Arlington. If he keeps on gittin' rich
the way he has the past three years or so, old Morgan won't be in the
game. Why, this Arlington may now be the richest man in this country, if
ev'rything were rightly known about him. He owns railroads, an' mines,
an' ships, an' manufacturin' plants, an' nobody knows what all."

"That sartin explains a whole lot the fixin' up that has been a-doin'
around this ranch," said a little man with a thirsty-looking mouth.
"They was a-preparin' fer the wife o' this mighty rich gent."

"But say!" exclaimed a young fellow with a wicked face, "ain't she got a
slick-lookin' gal with her, what?"

Some of them laughed and slapped him on the back.

"Go on, Pete!" cried one chap. "You're a gay one with greaser gals, but
you won't be able to make a wide trail with that yar young lady, so
don't be lookin' that way."

"Wonder whatever could 'a' brought such people here," speculated a man
with tobacco juice on his chin. "They must mean to stay a while, else
they'd never had them rooms fixed up the way they are."

A ruffianly-looking man with a full beard broke into a low laugh.

"Why, ain't none o' you heard about the fight what's bein' made to git
holt o' a certain mine not so very fur from yere?" he asked. "I mean
the mine owned by a young chap what calls himself Frank Merriwell. You
oughter know somethin' about that."

"Why, 'pears to me," observed the fellow with tobacco juice on his
chin--"'pears to me I did hear that thar was trouble over a mine
somewhar down in the Mogollons, an' that Cimarron Bill had been sent to
take it."

"He was sent," said the full-bearded man.

"Then I 'lows he took it, fer Bill's sure to do any job he tackles."

"He ain't took it none. Frank Merriwell is still a-holdin' the mine, an'
Bill has had his troubles, leavin' a good part o' his backers stiff
arter the ruction."

"Say you so? Waal, this Merriwell sure must be a hot fighter. But Bill
will down him in the end, an' you kin bet your last simoleon on that."

To which the man with the full beard said nothing.

"All this don't explain any to me jest why this lady an' her party is
hyer," said the one with the thirsty mouth.

"It ain't noways likely she's lookin' arter Cimarron Bill none," said
another.

"Whoever is a-takin' my name in vain?" demanded a voice that made them
all start and turn toward the door.

"It's Cimarron Bill hisself!" gasped one, in a whisper.

And the entire crowd seemed awe-stricken and afraid.



CHAPTER XX.

MRS. ARLINGTON HAS A VISITOR.


The black maid stood over the little table at which mother and daughter
sat taking tea.

"Sugar, Jackson," said the lady wearily.

The maid lifted the sugar-bowl, but, finding no tongs, was compelled to
use a spoon.

"Why don't you use the tongs, Jackson?" asked the woman.

"Dar am no tongs, ma'am," answered the maid.

"No tongs? no tongs?" exclaimed Mrs. Arlington, in astonished surprise.
"And I directed that everything should be prepared here--that we should
have every convenience of a first-class hotel. Dear me! Why, I've found
nothing right! The hardship of spending some days in such a place will
prostrate me. I know it will!"

"But why have you come here, mother?" asked June Arlington, in a voice
that denoted culture and a refined nature. "I cannot understand it. You
told me in the first place that you were going to Mexico. Then I heard
you urging father to come here. When he said it was not possible, you
seemed to get angry, and you declared that you would come here yourself.
But why should you come because he could not? That I wonder at."

"He would not!" exclaimed Mrs. Arlington, sipping her tea. "It was his
duty. Never mind the particulars, June; you may know some time, but not
now."

"And I did not wish to come here, mother. You knew that."

"My daughter, I have decided that it is necessary to keep you with me. I
determined on that after your surprising behavior the last time you went
to Fardale. You deceived me, June! I cannot forget that."

The words were spoken with cold severity. June flushed a little.

"It was for Chester's good, as I explained to you," she said somewhat
warmly. "He has never thanked me for it, yet it is I who have kept him
in Fardale Academy. Had I not entreated Dick Merriwell to be easy with
him, Chester must have been compelled to leave or be expelled before
this."

"I cannot believe that, June. But, were it true, it is no excuse for
your action. I want no favors from either of the Merriwells. I will
accept nothing from them! Dick Merriwell is my boy's enemy, and he shall
know what it is to have an Arlington for a foe. I have determined on
that. I repeat that I'll accept nothing from him."

"Once----" June stopped short. She had been on the verge of telling her
mother that once that lady had accepted something from Dick
Merriwell--her life! For, as Mrs. Arlington slipped on the icy platform
of the railway-station at Fardale and was falling beneath the wheels of
a moving train, Dick had grasped and held her till the cars passed and
she was safe.

But June had seen her mother turn blue with anger at mention of this
affair, so she checked herself now, not wishing to arouse the lady.

Tea was finished in silence, mother and daughter being occupied with
their thoughts.

The maid moved softly about the table.

They had just finished when there came a tap on the door.

"See who it is, Jackson," directed Mrs. Arlington.

The man with the blue beak was at the door.

"I must speak with Mrs. Arlington," he said, and entered, hat in hand.

"What is it, Mr. Dodge?" asked the lady, frowning coldly and plainly
annoyed.

Eliot Dodge paused and looked at June significantly.

"Oh, is it a private matter?" asked the lady.

Flushing a bit, June arose at once and withdrew, from the room.

"William Lamson has arrived in town, and demands to see you," said
Dodge, when June had disappeared, the maid having likewise withdrawn.

"That man?" said Mrs. Arlington, with a little start and a slight
shiver. "I have brought you to do the business with him. You are a
regular attorney of the C. M. A. of A., and you have my instructions."

"So I told him."

"Well?"

"He refused pointblank to do any business whatever with me."

"He did."

"Yes. I talked to him pretty straight until--ahem!--until I could say no
more."

"You could say no more?"

"No, madam; it was impossible."

"Why impossible?"

"He had drawn and cocked a revolver and pointed it at me. He told me to
shut up and take word from him to you at once or he would shoot me."

"What a dreadful creature!"

"He is, indeed, madam; he's a typical ruffian of the worst sort."

"And, therefore, the very man to accomplish the work," said she, with
growing interest. "But I dislike very much to have dealings with such a
fellow."

"I thoroughly understand that, madam."

"You might attend to the matter fully as well."

"That is true, Mrs. Arlington."

"You told him so?"

"I did."

"And still----"

"And still he drew a gun on me. He is bound to see you. He says he will,
and I am sure he is a man to make his word good. Really I don't know how
you are going to get out of it."

"Then I shall not try," said the lady, composing herself.

"You mean----"

"I'll see him."

"Here?"

"Yes."

"Now?"

"Send him up at once. I may as well have it over."

Eliot Dodge hesitated.

"I shall be in my room," he said. "If you need me----"

"I understand. Go bring this man to my door."

Dodge departed, and Mrs. Arlington waited. When there came a knock on
the door she coldly said:

"Come in!"

Cimarron Bill entered the room!

Mrs. Arlington had not called her servant to let this man in. She
glanced toward the door of the room into which her daughter had retired,
and the look on her face was one of apprehension. Cimarron Bill was a
wicked man, as his every aspect betokened, and this woman could not
think without shame that June should have any knowledge of her dealings
with such a creature.

So she arose hastily, which was quite unlike her, and crossed the floor
to close the door, a strange thing, considering that she seldom did a
thing that another could do for her.

When June was thus shut out, the woman recrossed the floor to likewise
close the door of the room into which the colored maid had retired.

All the while Cimarron Bill, hat in hand, stood watching her closely
with his evil eyes. For him it must have been a most exceedingly
strange thing to come thus into the presence of a woman whose husband
was known far and wide as a money king, a woman whose every wish that
wealth could serve was sure to be granted almost as quickly as
expressed.

When she had closed the doors she turned about and faced him, surveying
him from head to feet with her cold and penetrating eyes. He looked back
at her with a sort of boldness, for this man was not one to be in the
least downcast in the presence of a human being of whatever degree.

Mrs. Arlington motioned toward a chair.

"Will you sit down, sir?" she invited.

"Thank you, madam," said Bill, casting aside the rough manner of speech
that he sometimes assumed and now using very decent English. "I don't
care if I do."

Whereupon he placed his hat upon the table and sat upon a chair, with a
certain pantherish undulation of his body, as if his muscles flowed
beneath his skin.

"Mr. Dodge saw you," said the woman, remaining standing. "I directed him
to inform you that he was my accredited agent and prepared to transact
any business with you. I thought it better for him to attend to this
affair."

"And I, madam, if you will excuse me, thought it best that we should
come face to face and have our dealings thus. That is why I declined to
do any business whatever with the gent with the blue nose."

"I did not suppose it would be necessary for me to go so far into this
matter until I was informed of your failure to take possession of the
property that rightfully belongs to the Consolidated Mining Association
of America. I must say, sir, that I am very much displeased over your
failure."

"And you can be no more so than am I myself," returned Bill, civilly
enough, yet with a sort of boldness that did not please her, as she was
accustomed to much deference and respect. "But you must know it is
difficult, even in this country, to find men who are eager to put on
themselves the brand of outlaws, and I acknowledge that my force was not
sufficient. The young dog is a stiff fighter, and that I had not counted
on, him being a tenderfoot to a certain degree--though," he added, as if
on second thought, "he's not so very tender, after all."

"You were told to collect an army, if necessary. Mr. Dodge informs me
that you were directed to get together a force sufficient to make
failure out of the question. Yet you were repulsed and beaten off when
you went to seize the mine."

"Twice," said Bill grimly. "And the second time a full half of my men
were dropped cold or hurt so bad that they were put out of the fight. It
was not just my fault that I failed then, for the treachery of a Mexican
girl betrayed my plans to Merriwell, so he was ready with a trap when I
expected to take him by surprise. That is how it came about, madam. I
had his foreman bribed and should have walked into possession of the
mine with little or no trouble but for the girl I mention. It was a bad
piece of business."

"Bad!" she exclaimed, nodding a little. "It was very unfortunate!"

"A word that scarce expresses it, madam. The rest of my men, the curs,
with one or two exceptions, weakened and gave it up as a bad job. And
then, on top of that, I was informed that the syndicate had grown
disinclined to press the matter further in such a manner, fearing to get
itself into serious trouble."

"That's it!" said the woman sharply. "But I have taken hold of this
matter. The syndicate seems willing to obtain the mine by some other and
slower method. I am not. I cannot brook delay! I have a reason why I
wish the taking of the mine with the smallest possible delay, and it
makes no difference to me how the work is accomplished. That is why I am
here on the scene of action. I shall remain here until I triumph! If you
are able to accomplish the work, well and good. If you are not, then
another man must be found for it."

Cimarron Bill smiled in a most evil manner.

"Madam," he said, "I think you will have trouble to find in all this
country another man so well prepared to accomplish the task."

"Yet you confess that you have failed twice."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"For which reason," he averred, "I am all the more dangerous. There is
an old saying that the third time never fails. I am ready for the third
trial."

"I am glad to hear you speak this way. What will you do?"

"Gather a stronger force and lay my plans so there can be no failure."

"It is well."

"But that will take much money, madam. You have it at your command. It
is almost certain that all of us, to the last man, will bear the brand
of outlaws. We may be hunted. It may be necessary for me to hasten into
Mexico and lose myself there for a time. I must have money in abundance
for myself. As for the men who take part with me, they will all demand
high prices. When it is over and the mine is delivered into the
possession of the syndicate, I shall not trouble about any one save
myself. The men who are with me may look out for themselves."

This was said in a most cold-blooded manner, speaking plainly the real
character of the wretch.

"I care nothing about that," said the woman. "Fix that matter as you
choose. How much money will you require?"

"Let me see," said Bill, as if meditating. "It will take, I am sure, at
least fifty men. They may be got at various prices, some more, some
less; but there will be the bringing of them together and other
expenses. I should say that they must cost at least two hundred dollars
each, which makes a pretty little sum of ten thousand dollars."

"Then it will cost ten thousand dollars?" said Mrs. Arlington quickly.
"I'll draw the sum from my own private account."

"Wait a bit, madam," said the chief of desperadoes. "I have reckoned for
the men, but that does not include myself. I have said that I must be
well paid. I value myself quite as much as fifty common men, and that is
another ten thousand, or twenty thousand dollars in all, for which sum I
am ready to undertake the job. I'll add, also, that I guarantee it shall
not fail this time."

It seemed that such a sum must have staggered the woman. Indeed, her
face went a trifle pale, but her lips were pressed together, and she
coldly said:

"It is a bargain! You shall have the money, but not until you have
accomplished the work. Understand that, not until the work is done!"



CHAPTER XXI.

SEEN FROM THE WINDOW.


Never before had there been such a bargain between such a man and such a
woman. It was the strangest compact on record. And no wonder Mrs.
Arlington had closed the doors that her daughter and her maid should not
hear! Had June known all she must have turned with loathing and horror
from the woman.

Had D. Roscoe Arlington known he must have been shocked and heart-torn
beyond measure. Had he known he must have wondered if this woman had
matured from the sweet country girl who once declared with blushes and
hanging head that love in a cottage with him was all the happiness she
asked. Had he known he might have remembered the soft moonlight night in
June when beneath the fragrant lilacs they plighted their troth, and
surely his gold-hardened heart would have melted with anguish over the
frightful change.

In truth, Mrs. Arlington had become deranged, as it were, on one point.
Her son was her idol. She had petted, and flattered, and spoiled him.
She had sent him off to school at Fardale with the conviction that he
was certain to rise superior to all other boys there. And from him she
had come to learn that he had not risen, but had been imposed upon,
defeated, baffled, and held down by another lad who was the recognized
leader in the school. Into the ears of his astonished and angry mother
Chester Arlington had poured his tale of woe, and it had filled her soul
with intense hatred for this other boy by the name of Merriwell who had
dared think himself better than her Chester. She had gone to Fardale to
set things about as they should be, and had failed. That seemed to fill
her with such bitterness that she was quite robbed of sober judgment and
reason.

When Mrs. Arlington learned that the mining syndicate had claims to the
mines belonging to Frank and Dick Merriwell, she was aroused. When she
came to understand that the taking of those mines by the syndicate would
leave the Merriwell brothers almost penniless and would be the signal
for Dick Merriwell to leave Fardale, she determined that the thing
should be brought about at any cost of money, or time, or trouble to
herself.

And it was in pursuit of this determination that the wife of D. Roscoe
Arlington had come to Arizona and placed herself face to face with a
ruffian like Cimarron Bill, with whom she now struck a bargain that was
most astounding.

Was the woman in her right mind?

It made little difference to Bill if she were sane or not, as long as he
obtained possession of that money. But when he asked for it in advance
she smiled upon him coldly, almost scornfully.

"You were paid money by the syndicate, and you pledged them to
accomplish a task at which you failed. This time there will be no money
forthcoming until the work is done."

In return the man smiled back at her, and he said:

"That settles it! I'm not a fool. When the work is done I may find
myself on the run for Mexico, with the law reaching for me. In such a
case I'll have no time to collect. Cash in advance is my motto. You'll
bargain with me, or you'll fail, in everything. You cannot get another
man to fill my boots in the whole country. And if you were to throw me
down and give the job over into the hands of another gent, I'd speak one
word to him that would be enough."

"What do you mean?" she asked, wondering and angry. "What word?"

"The word 'stop,'" said Bill. "When Cimarron Bill says 'stop,' you can
bet they stop. They know what it means if they don't. If you don't think
so, count the notches on my guns."

"You mean that you would turn against me?"

"Not exactly, madam; I mean that I have no idea of letting any other
gent get my job. I do this piece of work--or no one does it. I rather
admire the sand of this Merriwell, though I'd slit his throat, just the
same, for the price. If there was no object in being against him, I'd
surely be for him; and it seems that you ought to know better than to
put Cimarron Bill in the ranks of the enemy."

"It's a threat!" cried the woman.

"Not so; it's a business statement, begging your pardon, madam. I don't
propose that any gent shall jump my claim."

"How can I be sure you'll not play me false? How can I know you'll not
take the money and do nothing?"

"The syndicate paid me in advance, as you know. I did my best to earn
the money. It was not my fault that I failed. In this case, if you pay
the sum I have named, I swear to you I'll know no rest until I have
succeeded. If I cannot succeed in one way, I will in another."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I'll capture or kill Frank Merriwell himself."

"If you could do that!" said the woman, with great eagerness. "He is the
great stumbling-block."

"That's right. With him out of the way, taking the mine would be easy."

"Is there no way this can be done before you try to seize the mine?"

"He keeps pretty close to it. If he could be caught by himself. I have
had my hands upon him twice, and he has slipped me both times. Next time
he will not!"

"Next time----"

"An accident will happen to him," assured Bill, with deadly meaning.
"That will be the simplest method."

"You are right!" she said, in a whisper. "If that could happen----"

"Would you pay the money?"

"I would. Understand, I make no bargain with you for such a thing, but
that mine must be torn from him somehow. I have with me some money."

Cimarron Bill understood her well, and he nodded.

"Madam," he said, "give me a little time and I'll find a way to see to
it."

At this moment there was a commotion in the street, the sound of
fighting dogs, shouts of men, and the clatter of horses' hoofs.

Bill rose quickly and strode to the window, looking down into the
street. A handsome Irish setter had been attacked by two mongrel dogs,
and he was giving those dogs the surprise of their lives. He had one by
the neck in a moment, and the mongrel was shaken like a rat. When the
setter let go the mongrel took to his heels, howling with pain and
terror. Then the setter turned on the other dog and a battle that was
fierce enough for a few moments ensued, which ended again in the
complete triumph of the setter.

Two young men had ridden into town behind the setter, and they had drawn
up to witness the result of the fight. A crowd had quickly gathered, and
the triumphant setter was loudly applauded.

At sight of one of the two horsemen Cimarron Bill burst forth with an
exclamation of excitement.

"Look!" he said, pointing from the open window. "See--see that fellow on
the dark horse!"

Mrs. Arlington was near the window.

"The one with the small mustache?" she asked.

"Yes, that's the one."

"I see him."

"Well, that's Frank Merriwell!" said Bill.

Cimarron Bill was right. Frank Merriwell and Bart Hodge had ridden into
Holbrook, and with them had come Boxer, the dog. Boxer had been attacked
by the mongrel curs, and he showed his mettle by quickly putting them to
flight.

As Bill gazed down from that window the evil light in his eyes deepened.

"Remember our bargain!" he said in such a terrible voice that the woman
at his side shuddered.

Then she saw him bring forth a revolver, and, knowing what he meant to
do, she uttered a little scream and ran back into another part of the
room, unwilling to witness the dark deed.

Quickly kneeling, Bill rested his elbow on the window-ledge and took
aim, meaning to send a bullet through the heart of the rightful owner of
the Queen Mystery Mine.

The commotion in the street and her mother's cry had brought June
Arlington into that room. June saw the man with the revolver, and her
eyes fell on the horseman below. She recognized Frank Merriwell, for all
that he was bronzed and changed, and had a small mustache.

With a sudden scream, the girl flung herself on Bill and spoiled his
aim, so that when the revolver spouted smoke the bullet flew wide of the
mark intended.

Bill uttered a savage snarl, wheeling about.

"You wretch!" panted the girl, who was now pale as snow. "You
murderer!"

The man was dazzled by her beauty. Immediately he moved back from the
window, bowing low.

"Beg your pardon, miss," he said. "He sure is an enemy of mine, and out
here we shoots on sight. But mebbe he is your friend, in which case I
lets up and gives him another show."

In that moment of excitement he had fallen into the frontier manner of
speaking.

She looked at him with unspeakable horror in her eyes.

"What are you doing here?" she panted. "You--you--murderer! Mother--this
man--why is he here?"

But Mrs. Arlington, usually cold as ice and perfectly self-possessed,
had quite lost her nerve. She sank into a chair, seeming on the verge of
fainting, while she gave Bill a look that, ruffian though he was, he
understood as an appeal to be left alone with June.

Nor was he loath about getting out of that room. His pistol had been
discharged from the window, and, though the bullet had found no human
target, men might come in haste to ask unpleasant questions.

"I begs your pardon, madam," he said, hurriedly picking up his hat. "I
thinks I'll call again and finish this yere bit o' business. Just now I
has another matter to attend to."

Then he hastened out.

June had flown to her mother.

"Tell me--tell me, mother, what it means!" she implored.

"My smelling-salts," faintly breathed the woman. "My heart, June! I--I'm
afraid!"

Now, June knew well that the one great fear of her mother's life was
sudden death from a heart trouble that came upon her at times, and so
the girl hastened to bring out the bottle of salts and hold it beneath
the pale lady's nose till she was somewhat recovered, though still
resting limp on her chair and breathing heavily.

"What does it mean, mother?" asked the girl again. "I do not understand
these strange things. I do not understand why such a wicked-looking man
should be here in this room and about to shoot down in cold blood a
young man in the street. He would have shot him from this very window
had not I spoiled his aim."

Mrs. Arlington turned her eyes toward her daughter's face, but looked
away quickly, still trembling.

"Did you know him at whom the man was about to shoot?" she weakly asked.

"Yes, I knew him, or I am much mistaken. It was Frank Merriwell. I saw
him at the hotel in Fardale the day I returned to him those papers. You
recollect, mother?"

"Yes, I remember it all too well, and it was the giving back to him of
those papers that has made no end of trouble for us all. But for that
foolish act of yours, June, he would not still be holding the mines that
are rightfully the property of the C. M. A. of A."

"If those mines do not belong to him, how is it that he can hold them?"

"He has possession, and he holds it with armed men."

"But the law----"

"The law is slow, and, without those papers, it is not very sure. It is
your folly, girl," declared the woman reproachfully, "that has made no
end of trouble. It is your folly that brought Frank Merriwell near to
his end a few moments ago, though you it was who saved him then."

"Mother, you speak in riddles! How can that be? I gave him back what was
his. And have you forgotten that it was his brother, Dick, who kept you
from slipping beneath the car-wheels, where you must have been maimed or
killed?"

At this Mrs. Arlington sat up, and something like anger took from her
her great pallor.

"No," said she, "nor have I forgotten that it was Dick Merriwell who
brought upon my son all his trouble at Fardale! Dick Merriwell has been
his blight there! Dick Merriwell is his enemy. He has tried to set
himself over my boy, and no one shall do that!"

June knew how useless it was to talk of this matter with her mother, who
refused to listen to reason, and so she did not try to press it further;
but she again asked who was the man who had tried to shoot from the
window.

"He was a miner," said Mrs. Arlington.

"And what business had he here in this room?"

"That is nothing to you, girl. Forget that you saw him here."

"A thing easier said than done, mother. I saw his face and his eyes, and
I know he is a wicked man and one to be greatly feared. Why should you
have dealings with such a wretch?"

"You ask too many needless questions, June. Look out and tell me if you
still see anything of--of--Frank Merriwell."

But when June looked from the window Frank Merriwell was not to be seen
on the street, which had again resumed its usual aspect.

"I must have a spell of quiet to restore my nerves, June," said Mrs.
Arlington, when the girl had told her. "Leave me. Call Jackson. I think
I will lie down."

So the colored maid was called, and June lingered to make sure there was
nothing she could do for her mother, who coldly bade her go.

In her own room June found herself filled with tempestuous thoughts and
vain speculations. She was bewildered by it all, and there was much that
she could not understand, for her mother had told her little or nothing
of what had brought them to that Arizona town. She was wise enough to
know full well that the lady had not come there in search of health, and
surely it could not be pleasure she expected in such a place, which left
but one thing to suppose--it was business. But what sort of business
could she have there? and why should she meet and do business with a
murderous wretch like the man who had tried to shoot Frank Merriwell
from the open window?

Knowing there was little danger of interruption, June found pen, ink,
and paper and sat herself down to write a letter. She thought at first
that she would make it very brief, and she found it exceedingly hard to
begin; but when she had begun it, it ran on and on until she had written
many pages. Sometimes she laughed over it, and sometimes she blushed;
once her chin quivered and tears seemed to fill her splendid eyes. When
it was all finished she read it over, her cheeks glowing, and at the end
she kissed the paper, at which the blush swept down to her very neck,
and in great confusion she folded it all hastily and put it into an
envelope, which she hurriedly sealed. Although she was not aware of it,
she had spent nearly two hours over the letter. On the envelope she
wrote a name and address, and then, finding her hat, she slipped out to
mail it.



CHAPTER XXII.

A SENSATION IN TOWN.


Frank's little "scout," as he called it, on which expedition he had
driven the redskins from the wounded miner, had convinced him that
Cimarron Bill and his gang had withdrawn from the vicinity of the Queen
Mystery Mine.

So it came about that Merry and Bart Hodge started for Holbrook,
bringing with them the gold Frank had found in the saddle-bags and belt
of the dead miner.

Boxer would not be left behind. Since the death of his former master the
dog kept close to Frank, for whom he seemed to have formed an affection
quite as deep as that he had entertained for Benson Clark.

Frank and Bart came, dust covered and wearied, into Holbrook.

Boxer's engagement with the mongrel curs, who set upon him, was an
incident to enliven their advent in town, and it demonstrated the mettle
of the setter.

The shot that came from the window of the hotel was somewhat surprising;
but, as the bullet failed to pass anywhere near either Bart or Merry,
they did not fancy it was intended for them. Still Frank dropped a hand
toward the pistol swinging at his hip, thinking the lead might be
intended for Boxer.

A puff of smoke was dissolving before the open window, but Cimarron
Bill had vanished, nor did he again appear there. Neither Frank nor Bart
had seen him.

So they were not greatly alarmed, and they laughed over the manner in
which Boxer had put his assailants to flight, merriment which was joined
in by many of the spectators who had gathered to witness the fight.

"Good boy, Boxer!" said Merry. "You did that up slickly."

At which the setter turned toward Frank and showed his teeth in a grin,
and something followed that caused several of the bystanders to gasp and
stagger or stand dazed and astounded.

When Frank and Bart rode on two or three of those men hurried into
Schlitzenheimer's saloon, where one of them banged the bar with his
clenched fist, and shouted:

"By thunder! that's the first time I ever heard a dog talk! Was I
dreaming?"

"None whatever, pard!" declared another, mopping sweat from his face. "I
heard it plain enough. For the love of goodness, Fritz, give me a
snifter of tanglefoot! I need something to brace my nerves after that!"

"Vot id vos you peen sayin'?" asked the fat Dutchman behind the bar.
"Vot vos dot voolishness apoudt der talkings uf a tog?"

"No foolishness," declared the sweating individual, as whisky and
glasses were placed on the bar. "I'll swear to it. The dog that came in
with those young gents an' whipped two other dogs in short order sartin
made an observation in good, clean United States, or I'm the biggest
liar on two legs."

"Say, Benchy!" said the Dutchman scornfully, "I pelief you vos readiness
to haf anoder attack py dose delerium triangles, ain'd id! Uf you vill
undertook my advice, you vill off svear alretty soon und safe yourseluf
from der snakes some droubles."

"This is my first drink to-day," asserted Benchy, as he poured with
shaking hand; "and I'd not take this if I didn't need it a whole lot to
steady my nerves arter hearin' a dog talk."

"It's on the level, Fritz," assured the man who had banged the bar with
his fist. "I heard it myself. The young fellow with the mustache says to
the dog arter the dog had licked t'other dogs, says he, 'Good boy,
Boxer; you done that up slick.' Then the dog turns about and grins up at
him and winks, and he opens his mouth, and I hope I may be struck dead
where I stand this minute if he didn't answer and say, 'Oh, that was no
trick at all, Frank; those low-bred curs haven't any sand.' I heard it,
Fritz, and I'll swear to it with my last breath!"

"You vos craziness!" said the Dutchman. "Oh, you vos drying some jokes
on me to play alretty."

But now several of the others asserted that they also had heard the dog
speak, and that the animal had uttered the very words quoted by the man
called Spikes.

"Id peen a put-up jobs!" shouted Schlitzenheimer angrily. "Uf vor a
greadt vool you tookit me, you vos not so much uf a jackass as I look
to peen! Id vos nod bossible a tog vor to speech, und I vill bate zwi
t'ousan' tollar it on!"

"But I heard him!" declared Benchy.

"I'm another!" averred Spikes.

"We all heard him!" cried the others at the bar.

"You got vrom my blace uf pusiness out britty queek!" ordered the
Dutchman, in a great rage. "I vill not had so many plame liars aroundt!
Und dond you back come some more alretty undil you vos readiness apology
to make vor me drying to vool!"

"Look here, Fritz," said Benchy, leaning on the bar, "I'll bet you ten
dollars coin of the realm that the dog can talk! If I had been alone in
hearing the beast, I might have thought myself fooled; but all these
other gents heard him, and so there is no mistake. Do you take me?"

"Den tollars haf nod seen you in a month," declared Schlitzenheimer
disdainfully. "Howeffer, uf you prings pack by you dot tog und he vill
speech my saloon in, I vill gif you den tollars my own moneys out uf,
and all der drink you can a whole veek vor. Now, you tookit my advice
und shut upness or make goot britty queek."

"I'll do it!" cried Benchy, and he hastened forth.

Frank and Bart had proceeded directly to the bank, where their dust was
weighed and taken on deposit. This done, they left and sought a square
meal in the very hotel where Mrs. Arlington and June were stopping.
Fortunately the presence of his guests, who paid extravagantly well,
had caused the proprietor to have on hand an unusual stock of cooked
food, and he was able to see that the young men from the mines were
provided for in a manner that surprised and pleased them not a little.

Although he took good care to keep out of sight, Cimarron Bill knew
Frank Merriwell was in the hotel. At the bar of the place Bill found a
rough, bewhiskered fellow, whom he drew aside.

"Bob," said Bill, in a whisper, "are you ready to tackle a tough
proposition?"

"For the needful, Bill," was the quiet answer of the man, who, in spite
of his rough appearance, was known by his mild manner of speech as
Gentle Bob. "What is it?"

"You know the young tenderfoot gent what I have been stacking up
against--the one what I spoke to you about?"

"I reckon."

"Well, he is now eatin' in the dinin'-room."

"Sho!" said Bob, in placid surprise.

"Fact," assured Bill. "Him an' one of his pards is thar. They came inter
town together a short time ago. Now, I could pick a quarrel with them,
and I allows I could shoot 'em both; but it would be knowed agin' me
that I had been tryin' to jump their claim, which sartin' would rouse
feelin's. In your case, as you were nohow consarned in the raid on the
mine, it would be different, an' I 'lows you might find a way o' doin'
the job easy an' slick. You kin plead self-defense, an' I promise you
there will be plenty o' money to defend ye."

"It's the money fer the job I'm a-thinkin' of first, Bill," said Bob.

"A good clean thousan' dollars if you shoots the young gent with the
mustache," whispered Bill.

"Do you mean it?" asked Bob, looking at him hard. "Where does it come
from?"

"That I allow is none of your business. You has my word that you gets
it. And I opine the word o' Cimarron Bill is knowed to be good."

"As his bond," said Gentle Bob, taking out a brace of pistols and
looking them over. "I takes the job, Bill; and there sartin will be a
funeral in these parts to-morrer."



CHAPTER XXIII.

BOXER CREATES A STIR.


When Frank and Bart came out of the hotel, with Boxer at their heels,
they found a group of men on the steps engaged in earnest discussion.
Immediately, on sight of the two young men and the dog, the babel of
voices fell to a hush and the men all squared about and stared. But
Merry immediately noticed that it was not at Bart or himself that they
were staring, but at Boxer. The dog seemed to observe this, likewise,
for he stopped short, with one paw uplifted, surveyed the men, and
Frank, who was a clever ventriloquist, made the animal apparently say:

"Say, Frank, what do you suppose the ginnies are gawking at?"

"Mother av Moses!" cried an Irishman in the group. "Oi swear be all the
saints the baste did spake!"

"Yah! yah!" chattered a pig-tailed Chinaman by the name of Sing Lee, who
ran a laundry in town. "Dogee talkee allee samee likee Chinyman."

"Go on, you rat-eater!" contemptuously exclaimed the dog. "If I couldn't
talk better than you I'd go drown myself!"

Needless to say this brought the excitement of the crowd to a high
pitch.

Benchy and Spikes were on hand, and now the former appealed to Frank.

"Is that your dog?" he asked.

"Well, I lay claim to him," smiled Merry.

"He--he--can he talk?"

"Didn't you hear him?"

"Yes, but----"

"Well, what better evidence do you want than your own ears?"

"That's enough; but Schlitzenheimer called me names and said I was
trying to put up a joke on him because I told him I heard the dog talk."

"Who's Schlitzenheimer?"

"He runs the saloon down the street right in front of which your dog
whipped those other dogs what jumped on him. He's a black-headed
Dutchman. Come on down and show him the dog."

"Come on!" cried others.

Merry didn't mind the lark, but he now turned to the dog, with a very
serious expression on his face, saying:

"How about it, Boxer? I believe you told me you hold an antipathy
against Dutchmen. Will you go down to Schlitzenheimer's with me?"

The dog seemed to hesitate, and then he answered:

"Oh, I don't care; go ahead. I'm not stuck on Dutchmen, but I'll teach
this one a lesson."

"All right," said Merry. "Come on."

Benchy triumphantly led the way, being followed by Frank and Bart and
the dog, with the crowd at the heels of them. The Irishman was
protesting his wonderment, while the Chinaman chattered excitedly.

Within the hotel a man had been watching and listening. He was a
bewhiskered ruffian, and he strode forth and followed the crowd to the
Dutchman's saloon. Cimarron Bill watched his tool depart, smiling darkly
and muttering to himself:

"Good-by, Bob! You're going up against a hard proposition in Frank
Merriwell, and it's not likely you'll call to collect that little sum of
money from me. All the same, I hope you get in a shot, for you shoot
straight, and you may make a round sum for my pocket, as I'll compel the
old lady to lay down the cash. I'll be able to scare her into it by
threatening to tell the whole story and bring her into the game as an
accomplice. That will yank her around to her feet in short order, I
opine."

For all of Bill's reputation as a "killer," he was willing to let this
piece of work over to the attention of another.

So Gentle Bob followed Merriwell, an evil purpose in his black heart,
nor knew that his employer believed and half-hoped he might be going to
his own end.

Benchy burst into the saloon, uttering a cry of triumph.

"Here comes the dog!" he said. "Now I have you, you old duffer! You'll
find out he can talk."

Schlitzenheimer stared at the door, through which the crowd followed
Frank, and Bart, and the dog.

"Vos dot der tog?" he said.

"Do you take me for a monkey, you lobster-faced frankfurter?" saucily
demanded the dog.

"Hey?" squawked the saloon-keeper, turning purple. "Vot id vos? Dit I
hear correctness?"

"Be careful, Boxer," said Frank reprovingly. "Don't be so free with your
lip. You may offend the gentleman."

"Gentleman!" exclaimed the setter, in a tone of profound contempt. "Do
you call that sourkraut-barrel a gentleman? I'm surprised at you,
Frank!"

At this there was a burst of laughter, and Schlitzenheimer turned as red
as he had been pale a moment before.

"Vot vor did dot tog vanted to insult me?" he exclaimed indignantly. "I
dit not someding to him do!"

"Boxer, I'm surprised!" cried Frank. "You will get me into trouble with
your careless language. I insist that you apologize immediately to the
gentleman. I insist, sir!"

"Oh, very well," said the dog; "if you insist, I'll apologize. I was
joking, anyway."

"And I add my own apology, Mr. Schlitzenheimer," said Merry. "I hope
this will be sufficient?"

"Oh, yah, dot peen all righdt," said the Dutchman at once. "But py
dunder! der tickens id does peat to heard a tog dalking!"

"It's a good one on you, Fritz!" cried Benchy triumphantly. "Remember
your agreement! You're stuck!"

"Vale, I will stood py dot agreements," said the saloon-keeper, rather
reluctantly, "efen if in pusiness id does preak me up. Und I vill sdant
treat der crowdt vor. Sdep up, eferpody, und your trink name."

"That's the talk!" cried the dog. "You're not such a bad fellow,
Schlitzy."

Schlitzenheimer leaned on the bar with both hands and looked over at
Boxer.

"Vot will you haf yourseluf?" he asked.

"Excuse me," said the setter; "I'm on the water-wagon. Go ahead,
gentlemen, and don't mind me."

So they lined up in front of the bar, expressing their amazement over
the accomplishment of the dog and burdening Merriwell with questions,
all of which Frank cheerfully answered or skilfully evaded.

Boxer had been lifted and placed on one end of the bar, where he
immediately sat, surveying the line of men with his clear, intelligent
eyes.

"Hello, Mike!" he called to the Irishman. "When did you leave the Old
Dart?"

"It's goin' on three year now," answered the son of the Old Sod civilly;
"and me name's not Moike--it's Pat."

The dog seemed to wink shrewdly.

"It's all the same," he declared; "Mike or Pat makes no difference, as
long as your last name is Murphy."

"But me last name's not Murphy at all, at all--it's O'Grady, av yez
plaze."

"Thanks," snickered the dog. "I have it down pat now. It's a way I have
of finding out a man's name when no one takes the trouble to introduce
him. Drink hearty, Pat; the whisky'll add to the beautiful tint of your
nose."

"Begorra! it's a divvil the crayther is!" muttered Pat, nudging his
nearest neighbor.

"Ah, there, Chink!" called the setter, seeming to get his eye on the
Chinaman, who was staring open-mouthed. "How's the washee-washee
business?"

"Oh, velly good, velly good!" answered the Celestial hurriedly, backing
off a little, his face yellowish white.

"Vele," said Schlitzenheimer, holding up a glass of beer; "here vos goot
health to der smardest tog vot effer vos."

"Drink hearty," said Boxer; and, with the exception of Frank and Bart,
all swallowed their drinks. Not wishing anything to drink, and still
desiring to join in so that the saloon-keeper might not be offended,
Frank and Bart had taken cigars, which they slipped into their pockets.

"Dot tog peen der vonder der vorld uf," said Schlitzenheimer, gazing
admiringly at Boxer. "Vot vill you soldt him vor?"

"There's not enough money in Arizona to buy him from me," answered Frank
at once.

"You know a good thing when you see it," chuckled the dog.

"Vos there anything exception talk vot he can do?" asked Fritz.

"Lots of things," answered Merry. "He can play cards."

"Beenuckle?" asked the Dutchman.

"You bet! He's a dabster at pinocle."

"Easy, Merry!" cautioned the setter, in a whisper. "If you want to skin
the old bologna-sausage out of his shekels, don't puff me up. I can't
beat him at his own game."

"Vale, I pet den tollars you can't dot do!" cried Schlitzenheimer. "I
nefer vould acknowledgment dot a tog could peat me!"

Frank sternly turned on Boxer.

"What do you mean by getting me into such a scrape?" he demanded,
shaking his finger at the setter. "You know I never gamble, and I will
not bet on a game of cards. If you make any more such foolish talk, I'll
not let you play at all."

The dog hung his head and looked quite ashamed.

"Beg pardon," he whined softly. "I was joking again!"

"I'll blay der fun uf him vor," said Schlitzenheimer. "Id vill peen a
creat jokes to said I had a came uf beenuckle blayed mit a tog. Come
on."

He hurried out from behind the bar.

"Begorra! Oi'd loike to take a hand in this!" cried Pat O'Grady, as a
square table was drawn out and the cards produced. "It's a shlick game
av peenockle Oi play."

"But three-handed----" said Frank.

"Be afther makin' the fourth yesilf."

"I have to hold the cards for Boxer, he having no hands of his own,"
explained Merry.

Then it was that Gentle Bob stepped forward, saying, in a very quiet
voice and polite manner, that he would be pleased to enter the game.

Now, with the exception of Frank and Bart, all knew that Bob was a very
bad man to offend, and so they were willing enough that he should play,
and it was soon arranged.

Frank was keen enough to see in what manner the ruffianly looking fellow
with the quiet voice was regarded, and, as he was not in Holbrook in
search of a quarrel, he raised no dissent. However, he gave Hodge a look
that Bart understood, and the silent youth nodded. From that moment Bart
watched Gentle Bob closely.

The crowd drew about the table, eager to witness a game of cards in
which a dog took part.

Merry sat on a short bench, with Boxer at his side. The cards were cut,
and the deal fell to Schlitzenheimer.

"Be careful, Dutchy," advised Boxer. "We're watching you, and you'd
better not try any slick tricks."

"Eferything on der lefel shall pe," assured the saloon-keeper, pulling
at his long pipe.

O'Grady was likewise smoking, and his pipe contrasted ludicrously with
that of Schlitzenheimer.

When the cards were dealt, it fell the dog's turn to meld first. Frank
spread out the cards and held them in front of Boxer's nose.

"I will meld one hundred aces," said the dog. "Put 'em down, Frank."

Merry did so.

"Sixty queens," called Boxer, and Merry spread them out.

"Lally ka lolly loka!" chattered Sing Lee, or something like that;
whereupon Boxer seemed to fix the Chinaman with a scornful stare, and
observed:

"You ought to take something for that. It must be painful."

"Gleatee Sklot!" gasped the Celestial. "Dogee hab a debbil!" And he
backed away.

"That's right," said Boxer. "I like you a long distance off, the longer
the distance the better I like you."

"Pay attention to the game," said Frank. "Are you going to meld anything
else?"

"Forty trumps, twenty spades, and twenty hearts," said Boxer.

"Dunder!" muttered Schlitzenheimer, and his hands trembled so that he
dropped some of the cards.

"Get a basket," snickered the dog; and the crowd laughed loudly at the
saloon-keeper's expense.

When all the melding was finished they prepared to play.

"I'll lead the ace of trumps," said Boxer.

Frank ran the cards over.

"It's here," he said. "But I didn't see it."

"What's the matter with your eyes?" snapped the dog. "Didn't I meld one
hundred aces? You ought to learn something about this game!"

"I seldom play cards," said Merry apologetically.

"Well, you want to keep your eyes open!" exclaimed Boxer sharply. "These
chaps may try to skin us."

At this Gentle Bob looked up and said:

"I do not mind a little faking none whatever, but I sure objects to
being called a skin, either by a dog or his master, so I opine it will
be best for somebody to apologize."

And, as he made this remark, he suddenly whipped forth a pistol, with
which he covered both Frank and the dog, but held the weapon more in
Merry's direction.

Cimarron Bill's tool had found the opportunity he sought, and he meant
to make the most of it.

Merry saw in the fellow's eyes the full extent of his evil purpose.

"If the apology is not forthcoming instanter," murmured the ruffian, "I
shall puncture the wonderful talking dog with a bullet!"

Now, it seemed that Bob had Frank at a great disadvantage, but at this
point Bart Hodge shoved the muzzle of a pistol against the fellow's ear
and harshly commanded:

"Put up that gun--instanter! If you don't I'll blow the whole top of
your head off!"

But Bart had made a miscalculation, for Gentle Bob had not come alone to
the saloon, having noted well that Frank Merriwell had a friend. He had
picked up a chap of his own sort, and now this fellow had a gun at
Bart's head.

"You're the one who'll lose the ruff o' his head!" he said. "You put up
your gun!"

Gentle Bob still sat pistol in hand, but Boxer had taken advantage of an
opportunity to drop down from the bench to the floor.

Of a sudden there came a wild yell from Bob, who kicked out with his
feet and flung himself backward, his pistol being discharged straight up
at the ceiling.

Boxer had seized him by the leg beneath the table.

Instantly there was a fearful uproar in the saloon. The action of the
dog had disconcerted the plans of every one. Hodge ducked and whirled,
catching the ruffian at his back a fearful blow on the solar plexus that
drove him slam against the bar, and he went down and "out."

Merry went across the table in a leap at Gentle Bob, from whom he tore
the revolver that the fellow was trying to use on Boxer.

"Let up, boy," said Frank to the dog. "I'll attend to his case."

Boxer seemed reluctant to let go, but he did so at the second command.

Merriwell pinned Bob down and deftly disarmed him, removing every
weapon, which he passed over to Schlitzenheimer.

"Take care of these tools, sir," he said, "until I leave town. It will
save this fellow's life--perhaps."

"Und dot vill peen a pity!" muttered the saloon-keeper, who had no love
for the ruffian, but held him in great awe.

Having disarmed Bob, Merry rose and commanded him to get up. The fellow
rose immediately and sprang at Frank, trying to strike him.

Boxer would have mingled in, but Bart held him in check, saying:

"Keep out of it. Frank can attend to that case now without any of your
aid."

Hodge was not mistaken, as Merriwell quickly demonstrated. He avoided
the blows of the ruffian and quickly knocked him down. Bob rose, only to
be struck in the eye and sent to the floor again. Four times this
happened, and then Merry picked the wretch up, carried him bodily to the
door, and kicked him into the street, observing:

"If you come back here or bother me again, I'll send you to the hospital
for a month!"

And the dog barked with great satisfaction.



CHAPTER XXIV.

BOXER TO THE RESCUE.


The second ruffian was ejected, and Frank and the talking dog were
regarded with unbounded admiration by every one present.

"I neffer haf seen Shentle Pob done upness pefore," remarked
Schlitzenheimer. "He vos a pad man."

"You bettee!" put in Sing Lee, who crept forth from behind a barrel,
where he had taken refuge during the encounter. "Him velly bad. Him
shootee, stabbee, killee."

"An' so he will," nodded Pat O'Grady, seeming quite concerned. "It's me
opinion he wur lookin' fer throuble whin he came here."

"Well, he found it," smiled Merry.

"That's what!" said Boxer, wagging his tail and looking up at Frank
knowingly. "But he tasted disagreeable. You don't suppose it will make
me sick, do you?"

Frank stooped and patted the dog's head.

"I hope not," he laughed. "You got hold of his leg just in time, old
boy."

"Oh, I didn't dally when I saw him throw his gun out," said Boxer,
winking rapidly with both eyes. "I allowed he was going to begin
shooting directly."

"Uf you vould tookit my device," said Schlitzenheimer, "you couldt out
uf dis town get a hurriness indo."

"Thot's roight," nodded O'Grady. "It's moighty dangerous to remain after
this, Oi know."

"Pob vill got vor heemseluf another gun, und he vill look vor you on der
sdreet," declared the saloon-keeper.

"Well, he may find us, eh, Boxer?" smiled Frank.

"Sure thing," said the dog. "And I reckon you can shoot as quick and as
straight as he can."

Schlitzenheimer shook his head and averred that Bob was the greatest
pistol-shot known in those parts, which, however, did not seem to alarm
Frank Merriwell in the least.

Suddenly there came a scream from the street, the voice being that of a
girl, and the sound indicating that she was in great fear and distress.

Frank sprang to the open door, Boxer barking at his heels, and Hodge was
not slow in following.

The cry had issued from the lips of June Arlington, who was then on her
way to the post-office to mail the letter she had written, not wishing
her mother to see it.

June had arrived in the vicinity of the saloon as Gentle Bob was turning
away. She noted that the man's face was cut and bruised and one eye was
swollen. His appearance led her to look at him with something like
sympathy, when, of a sudden, he turned on her, smiling evilly, and
seized her arm.

"Derned ef you ain't a right peert gal!" said the fellow insolently.
"Gimme a kiss, sweetness."

Then June screamed and tried to break away, striking at him with her
clenched fist. She was frightened and angry.

"Stop yer squarmin'!" snarled the fellow, who had thought to kiss her
quickly before she could make much resistance, and then hasten along, it
being his intention to boast of what he had done.

But June would not stop. She saw a tall, athletic young man come
bounding through an open doorway into the street, followed closely by a
dog and another young man. Her eyes recognized the one in advance, and
she cried out:

"Mr. Merriwell, help--help, quick!"

With a growl of rage, Gentle Bob released her and turned. As he did so,
the dog, terrible in his fury, shot past Frank, and made a great spring
through the air straight at Bob's throat.

Bob threw up his arm, and the teeth of the dog fastened on it. The force
of the creature's leap hurled the ruffian backward.

The man went down in the dust, and Boxer was at him with all the fury of
a mad animal. He would have torn the wretch to pieces right before their
eyes, but Frank fearlessly grasped the dog and pulled him away, at the
same time crying commandingly to him.

"Keep him off!" palpitated Bob, now filled with a great terror for the
fierce animal. "Don't let him touch me ag'in! He's near bit me to pieces
now!"

"You got just what you deserved, and no more, you miserable creature!"
said Frank indignantly.

Then he turned and asked June what Bob had been doing.

"Oh, he grasped me, and he tried to kiss me!"

"Did he!" grated Merry, very white. "Then I should have let Boxer finish
him!"

"No, no!" gasped June.

"No, no!" exclaimed Bob.

"On your knees!" cried Frank, in ringing tones--"on your knees and
apologize to the young lady! If you don't do it, so help me, I'll let
Boxer get at you again!"

Bob did not hesitate. Ruffian and desperado though he was reputed to be,
he cast himself on his knees before June and humbly begged her pardon,
all the while watching Boxer, who glared back at him and licked his
chops.

"Get up and go, you pitiful coward!" said Frank. "Keep out of my sight
while I'm in town, and be careful not to try any dirty tricks. If you
hurt me, Boxer will eat you up; if you hurt Boxer, I'll have your life!
Go!"

The wretch lost not a moment in getting away.

Frank stooped and picked up the letter June had dropped. He was
restoring it to her when his eye caught the address upon it, and he
stared in astonishment.

     "MR. RICHARD MERRIWELL,
                         "Fardale."

That was the name and address he read. Then he looked closely at June
and recognized her.

"Miss Arlington?" he exclaimed, his hat in his hand; "is it possible?"

The color was coming back into her cheeks.

"Mr. Merriwell," she said, "let me thank you for coming so quickly to my
assistance."

"It was Boxer who got there first. But I'm amazed to see you here--here
in Arizona."

"I don't doubt it."

"What brings you to this place?"

"I came with my mother."

"Your--your mother?" he said, still further astonished. "And your
father--he is here, also?"

"No, sir."

"He is coming?"

"No, sir, I believe not."

Merry had thought at once that there might be a very good reason why D.
Roscoe Arlington should come to Holbrook to learn just how well the
hired ruffians of the syndicate had performed their tasks, but the
presence there of Mrs. Arlington and June, without D. Roscoe, rather
bewildered him.

June looked back toward the hotel windows, thinking it must be that her
mother had heard her cry and would be looking forth; but was relieved
to see nothing of the lady.

"You were on your way to mail this letter?" said Frank, divining her
destination.

"Yes."

"May I accompany you, to make sure you are not molested further?"

She accepted his escort. Bart had lingered near, and Frank presented
him.

"An old school and college chum, Miss Arlington," he said, "and one of
my closest friends."

Bart lifted his hat and bowed, smiling a bit on the pretty girl. In his
way, which was dark and silent, he was almost every bit as handsome as
Frank himself, and it is no cause of wonderment that June could not
wholly repress the flash of admiration that came into her splendid eyes.

On his part, Bart was quite smitten with her, and he stood watching
Frank walk away at her side, Boxer following, smiling without envy, yet
thinking his friend fortunate to have the company of such a charming
girl for even a brief time in that part of the country.

Frank found himself somewhat embarrassed, not a little to his surprise,
as he walked down the street with June. The girl was the daughter of the
man who was doing his best to bring upon Merriwell complete ruin--or
seemed to be doing his best to that end, for Frank could not know that
all his trouble at the Queen Mystery had not risen directly from D.
Roscoe Arlington. Much less did he suspect that any great part of it
came without Mr. Arlington's knowledge and through the vengeful malice
of Mrs. Arlington.

It was not agreeable to speak of this matter with June, and still in his
heart Merry was more than eager to know what had brought the girl to
Holbrook. He had not forgotten that it was the hand of June that had
restored to him the precious papers relating to the mines when those
papers had been stolen from him in Fardale, a service for which he
remained grateful.

Further than this, Frank had learned that Dick had a deep interest in
June--so deep, indeed, that the boy himself did not quite suspect its
measure. Merry had been able to read his brother, and his good sense
told him beyond question that never would Dick hold his hand from the
person of his most persistent enemy simply because that enemy's sister
thus entreated him, unless there was back of it all a feeling of
affection for the sister that was of no small magnitude.

That June cared something for Dick, Merry more than half-suspected, and
the sight of the name on the letter she now carried in her hand seemed
very good evidence that this was not false fancy on his part, for did
she not care for the lad far away in Fardale, then why should she write
to him?

It was June herself who relieved Frank's embarrassment by earnestly
turning to him and beginning speech.

"Mr. Merriwell," she said, with such a sober face that he was greatly
surprised, "I have wanted to see you since you came into town."

"Then you knew I had entered town?"

"I saw you; and I have wanted to speak with you to warn you."

"To warn me?" said Frank. "Of what?"

"Of your great danger, for you are in danger here. You have in this town
a man who would kill you."

"I think we lately parted from such a man," smiled Merry.

"But he is not the one."

"Is there another?"

"Oh, yes! I saw him! Perhaps I saved your life."

At this Frank gave a great start of surprise and asked her how that
could be, upon which she told him how Cimarron Bill had shot at him from
the window, and how she had spoiled the aim of the would-be murderer.
She held back the fact that the man had fired from one of the windows of
her mother's rooms, and that her mother had shortly before been in
consultation with him. Still Frank was keen enough to see that she was
hiding something, and he had the good discernment to come close to
guessing the truth.

"Miss Arlington," he said, "it seems that I owe you my life. I heard the
shot, but I could not be sure it was fired at me. If I mistake not, the
man who fired it has a deadly aim, and I could not have escaped but for
your quickness in spoiling his sight. I owe you a great deal more than I
can ever repay."

June knew something of the truth, and she was aware that her father was
concerned in a movement the accomplishment of which meant ruin to both
Frank and Dick; therefore this acknowledgment by Frank of his
indebtedness to her caused her to flush with shame.

"It is I who owe you a great deal!" she exclaimed. "See what you have
just done--saved me from a ruffian! But your brother--Dick--he did more.
He saved me once from the fangs of furious dogs, at another time from
being killed in a runaway, and that is not all. It is I who owe you much
more than I can ever repay. My brother"--she choked a little--"my
brother is Dick's enemy, yet, for a promise to me, Dick has been easy
with him and has not forced him in disgrace from Fardale. Oh, Mr.
Merriwell!" she suddenly exclaimed, feeling her utter inability to
express herself, "it seems to me that never before was a girl placed in
such a position as I find myself in! What can I do?"

"You can do nothing, Miss June," he said gently. "You are not to blame
for anything that may happen, and I shall not forget that. I am very
sorry for you, as I fancy you must be far from comfortable."

At this her pride returned, and she straightened, thinking she could not
acknowledge to him that her people were in the wrong.

"You know there is always two sides to any question," she said, "and
there may be as much of right on one side as the other. I presume my
father has every reason to think himself right."

Now, June knew that it was her mother who hated Dick and Frank with
undying intensity, while her father cared very little about either of
the Merriwells, save that he had been led to wonder immoderately at the
success of Frank in fighting the syndicate; but she wished to avoid the
shame of confessing that her mother had such a vengeful nature and could
enter with vindictiveness into an affair that might well be left to men.

Frank had no desire to hurt her feelings. He understood her pride and
sensitiveness, and he said:

"It is very likely you are correct about that. At any rate, we will not
argue it. It is no matter for us to speak of, as what we might say would
not change the situation in the least. Still, if I should become
satisfied that your father had the right in this thing, even though it
stripped me of my last dollar and made me a beggar, I would surrender to
him immediately."

She did not doubt him then, and she saw that the character of Frank
Merriwell was one to be admired, his one concern being for perfect and
complete justice, even though by justice he might be the sufferer.
Inwardly she was struck with the conviction that her father seldom made
inquiry into the justice of any project he wished to carry through, his
one concern being to accomplish his ends by any method whatever, so long
as it did not involve him in difficulties of a nature too serious.

"Mr. Merriwell," she said quickly, "you must leave Holbrook just as soon
as you can!"

"Why?"

"The man who tried to shoot you is here--the man with the wicked face
and evil eyes."

"I am not given to running away from one man."

"It's not that. He is an assassin! See how he tried to kill you without
giving you a show! You don't know what moment he may try it again. If he
were to meet you face to face it would be different. You cannot defend
yourself from attacks in the dark. You have no show."

"Well, there is some truth in that," smiled Merry.

"He will attack you that way again. I know it! He will strike at you
from behind."

"Possibly."

"You must go! You must leave Holbrook before dark!"

"I hardly fancy it," muttered Frank, frowning. "I do not like the
notion. It leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth to think of running
away from Cimarron Bill."

For, although June had not mentioned the ruffian by name, not knowing it
herself, her description of him had satisfied Frank that it could be no
other than the baffled scoundrel who had twice attempted to seize the
Queen Mystery Mine.

"But you will go?" she urged.

"I'll think of it."

They had reached the post-office and were now standing in front of the
building. Bart Hodge was sauntering slowly in their direction on the
opposite side of the street, having kept within easy pistol-shot of
Frank all the while.

Frank's words did not satisfy June. He saw she was in distress.

"If you will not go for your own sake," she said, "please do for mine."

He looked astonished.

"For your sake?" he said. "Why, I had not an idea in the world that it
could be of so much concern to you. I'm afraid I do not understand why
it should be. Now, if Dick----"

She stopped him with a gesture, her face flushing very warm.

"Don't!" she entreated, in a low voice. "At least, you are his own
brother! But it is for my sake more than yours. I cannot explain. Do not
embarrass me! But promise me you will go--for my sake!"

Having a quick perception, Frank suddenly fancied he caught an inkling
of the truth. In that moment he saw Mrs. Arlington dealing with Cimarron
Bill. It was a conjecture, but it struck him hard as the truth.

This, then, was the reason why June wished him to flee from Holbrook.
She feared that her mother somehow would become involved in the murder
in case Cimarron Bill should carry into execution his dastardly purpose.

Of course, it was not possible for him to be sure he had struck upon the
truth.

"It is hard for me to refuse a girl when she corners me like this," he
smiled.

"You'll go?" persisted June.

"If you insist."

"Oh, thank you--thank you! I shall not breathe easy until I know you are
well out of this dreadful place."

"And I shall not breathe easy as long as I know you remain here, where
you may become subject to such insults as to-day happened. It is no
place for you at the present time. Holbrook is well enough in its way;
but you are too pretty to walk its streets without an escort. Western
gentlemen are gentlemen in every sense of the word, and no man can hold
the honor of a lady more sacred; but Western ruffians are dangerous, and
it seems there are several of the latter class in this place."

"I must remain while mother stays here; I must stay with her."

The letter was dropped in the post-office, and June urged Frank to
depart at once; but he insisted on escorting her back to the hotel.

Boxer kept close to their heels, seeming to listen to their conversation
at times; but, strange though it may appear, he made no attempt to take
part in it, nor did he speak as much as one word during all the time
that he seemed neglected by his master.

Frank made a sign to Bart, who crossed the street and joined them.

"I have decided to leave town right away," said Merry. "Have the horses
saddled and prepared. We'll start as soon as I have escorted Miss
Arlington back to the hotel."

Hodge looked surprised.

"The horses are in no condition, Frank," he said. "You know they are in
sore need of a good rest."

"I know it, Bart; but I have a reason for this. We'll go. Get them
ready, please."

"All right," said Bart, as he turned away to carry out instructions.



CHAPTER XXV.

UNTO DEATH!


The sun was down in the west and night was gathering over the face of
the world when Frank and Bart rode forth from Holbrook, setting their
faces to the southwest. Boxer trotted behind them.

They were not molested, although Frank remained in constant expectation
of an attack until they were fairly clear of the place and had it a long
rifle-shot at their backs.

The blue night grew upon the distant plain, and the stars were coming
forth over their heads as they rode down into the distance, the beating
hoofs of the ponies making rhythm on the baked ground. The first cool
breath of night touched their heated cheeks with grateful kisses.

"How did you happen to do it, Frank?" asked Bart.

"I found out a thing or two," Merry answered. "Cimarron Bill is in town,
and he was watching his chance to get another shot at me."

"Another?" exclaimed Bart; upon which Merry explained how Bill had fired
at him already.

"It was rather dangerous to stay there, and I couldn't resist when a
pretty girl took enough interest in me to urge me to get away," Frank
laughed. "We had some sport with our talking dog, and now----"

"You can't mean to ride far?"

"Remember the hut we passed on the way into town? It's not very far.
We'll stop there to-night."

"Good!" said Bart; and they rode on.

Coming to the deserted hut, they stopped there. The horses were cared
for, and Frank and Bart entered the hut with their blankets, where they
prepared to sleep until toward morning, planning to rise before daybreak
and get an early start, so that some distance could be covered ere the
sun rose.

Both of the young men were weary, and they lost little time in drawing
their blankets about them and rolling on the floor. Boxer curled in a
corner and went to sleep. The door of the hut was left open to admit the
cool night air.

Frank fell asleep at once, and Bart was not slow in following his
example.

They were awakened in the middle of the night by a snarl, a cry, a
struggle, and a fall. Both sat up, grasping their weapons.

The moon was up, and by its light, which streamed in at the wide-open
door, a man and a dog were seen struggling on the floor. The dog was
Boxer, who had leaped at the throat of the man as he came slipping in at
the open door.

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Hodge. "What's the meaning of this?"

"One of my friends has arrived," said Frank. "Boxer has him."

The struggle was fierce and terrible. The dog seemed to have the man by
the throat. Before either Merry or Hodge could interfere the moonlight
glinted on something bright in the hand of the man, who struck and
struck again.

Not a sound came from the dog. But the bright thing in the man's hand
grew suddenly dark.

"Heavens!" gasped Frank, leaping forward. "He has a knife!"

Then a terrible sound came from the throat of the man, and he lifted his
arm no more. The thing in his hand, dark and dripping, fell to the floor
of the hut.

A moment later the man rolled into the shadow, and then Boxer was seen
dragging himself away, while the man lay still.

"Boxer! Boxer!" cried Frank, bending over the dog. "Are you hurt, boy?
Merciful goodness! he ripped your whole side open with that knife!"

Hodge struck a light and bent over the man who lay in the shadow. When
the match burned out in his fingers he dropped it and stepped out to
join Merriwell, who had picked up the dog and carried the creature into
the open air.

Bart found Merry sitting on the ground, with the dog in his arms. Boxer
had been cut in a terrible manner, and was bleeding in a way that
plainly told his end was near.

"Oh, the wretch!" choked Merry, in a husky voice. "Oh, the wretch who
did this! He ought to be hanged!"

"No need of hanging for him," said Hodge. "He'll be beyond that in less
than three minutes."

"You mean----"

"He's pretty near dead now. Boxer's teeth found his jugular vein."

"Who was it, Bart?"

"The fellow who made the row in Schlitzenheimer's saloon."

"Gentle Bob?"

"Yes."

"One of Cimarron Bill's hired tools, or I am mistaken! He followed us
here and tried to creep in on us with that knife, meaning to finish the
job at which he failed in town. Boxer saved us. Good old Boxer! Poor old
Boxer!"

The dog whined a little on hearing this name from Frank's lip's, and
feebly wagged his tail. The moonlight showed his eyes turned toward
Merry's face.

"Is it so bad there's no show for him?" asked Hodge, in genuine
distress.

"No show!" sobbed Frank. "He's finished, Bart! It's a shame! The most
knowing dog in the whole world! And he has to die like this, killed by a
human being that is more of a beast than he!"

"It's a shame!" said Bart.

The dog licked Frank's hand. Merry bowed his head, and tears started
from his eyes.

"Poor Boxer!" he choked. "Boxer, we have to part here. You're going to
another country, where I must follow in time. It's all up with you. You
may find your first master over there; but he'll never love you more
than I have. Good-by, Boxer!"

The dog uttered a whine. And so his life ended in Frank's arms, with the
moonlight falling on them and the stillness of the Arizona night all
around.

Hodge entered the hut, only to come forth, bringing the blankets and
looking very sick.

"For Heaven's sake, let's get away from here!" he exclaimed.

"The man in there?"

"Dead!" said Bart. "The place is gory! I'm faint from it!"

Boxer's body was wrapped in a blanket, and they mounted and rode away,
Frank carrying the dead dog in his arms to find a burial place where
there could be no chance that his body should be exhumed by any prowling
thing of the desert.



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE COMING OF CROWFOOT.


Rap! rap! rap!

"Wait a minute!" called Frank. "No need to knock the door down!"

He flung the door of his cabin wide open, standing on the threshold.

It was early dawn in Mystery Valley. Sunrise was beginning to gild the
barren peaks of the Mogollons. The new day had come to its birth in a
splendid glow, and the world smiled refreshed after the cooling sleep of
the departed night.

Frank was just risen and not yet fully dressed, but about his waist was
his cartridge-belt, and his pistol swung ready in the holster at his
hip. He had no use for the weapon, however.

Outside the door stood old Joe Crowfoot, his blanket drawn about his
shoulders. Those keen eyes gazed on Merry with an expression of friendly
greeting.

With a shout of surprise and joy, Frank clasped the old redskin in his
arms in the most affectionate manner.

"Old Joe Crowfoot, as I live!" he cried, showing unusual excitement and
delight. "Why, you old reprobate, here you come popping back from the
grave after I've been mourning you as dead! What do you mean by it, you
villain?"

"Ugh!" grunted old Joe, something like a merry twinkle in those beady
eyes. "Strong Heart him think Crowfoot dead, eh?"

"Hang me if I didn't!"

"Crowfoot him heap tough; no die easy," declared the Indian.

"I should say not! Why, you tricky scoundrel, they told me you were done
for."

"Who tell so?"

"Some of Cimarron Bill's delectable gang. They averred they had disposed
of you for good and all."

"Waugh! No let such cheap carrion kill me!" said Joe. "They mebbe think
some they do it. Joe he fool um heap lot."

"But where have you been?"

"Oh, all away round," was the answer, with a wide sweep of the arm. "Joe
him scout--him find out how land lay. Do a little biz."

"Do business? What sort of business?"

"Catch the sucker some."

"Catch the sucker? What's that?"

The redskin flung open his dirty red blanket and tapped a fat belt about
his waist, which gave back a musical clink.

"Play the game of poke'," he exclaimed. "Make heap plenty mon'."

"You've been gambling again?"

"Strong Heart him guess," nodded Joe, with something like a sly smile.

"You villain! And I'll wager you got away with your ill-gotten spoils."

"Heap do so," said Joe. "Have some firewater. Find one, two, three, four
crooked paleface follow to kill and rob. Let firewater 'lone till fool
crooked palefaces so um no follow some more. Then go safe place drink
firewater a heap."

"You've been drunk, too!" cried Merry.

"Mebbe so," admitted the Indian. "White man firewater heap good while um
last; heap bad when um gone. Make um feel much glad at first, then much
sorry little time after."

Frank laughed heartily at the queer manner of the old Indian as he said
this.

"I suppose that's about right," he said. "I've never tried it to find
out."

"Strong Heart him no try firewater?" exclaimed Joe, in surprise.
"Crowfoot him think all paleface drink the firewater."

"Well, here is one who doesn't. I've seen too much trouble come from the
stuff."

"Ugh! Strong Heart him got heap more sense than anybody Joe ever see,"
asserted the Indian admiringly. "Once git taste of firewater, always be
heap fool and drink him some. Many times old Joe he say no drink some
more. Head all swell, middle all sick, mouth all dry, taste nasty a lot,
bone ache--then him say no more the firewater. Mebbe he go 'long some
time, but bimeby he take it some more. White man make firewater. Bad!
bad! bad! No firewater made, nobody drink it."

From inside the cabin a voice called.

"What, ho! Methinks thou hast found a philosopher, Merry! Bring the sage
in that I may survey him with my heavenly blue eyes."

"Yes, dew!" drawled another voice. "I want to set my eyes onter him, by
gum!"

Merry led the old Indian into the cabin.

"Here he is," Merry laughed. "Crowfoot, these are some of my friends,
whom you met last summer. You remember them. They played ball with me in
the Mad River country."

"Ugh!" grunted the redskin. "Heap remember!"

Bart Hodge stepped forward, his hand outstretched to the Indian.

"I am glad to see you again, Crowfoot," he said.

"Me same," said Joe, shaking Bart's hand. "You heap good to ketch hard
ball when Strong Heart him make it go fast like a bullet and man with
stick he--whish!--strike at it so, no hit it at all."

They all laughed at the Indian's manner of describing Bart's skill at
catching.

"Consarned if it ain't a sight fer sore eyes to see ye, Mr. Crowfoot!"
said Ephraim Gallup, as he froze to the redskin's hand and shook it
warmly. "Yeou was the best mascot a baseball-team ever hed."

"How! how!" said the old fellow. "Nose Talk him stand way out far,
ketch ball when it come there. How! how!"

"Nose Talk!" laughed Frank. "Well, that's one on you, Gallup!"

Jack Ready was smiling blandly. He gave his hand a little flirt in
salute, and stepped forward with an odd movement.

"Gaze on my classic features, Joseph Crowfoot, Esquire," he invited.
"See if you can recollect what I did in the game."

"Sure remember," nodded Crowfoot. "Talk-talk a heap, no do much else."

Then the joke was on Jack, and even Bart Hodge was forced to smile,
while Gallup gave Ready a resounding smack on the shoulder with his open
hand.

"Bless my punkins!" snickered the Vermonter. "That's a thunderin' good
one on you, Jack!"

Ready looked sad.

"Alas!" he sighed. "Is it thus I am to be defamed! And by a
copper-colored aborigine! The thought is gall to my sensitive soul! I
shall peek and pine over it! For days to come no sweet smile shall adorn
my beautiful features!"

Joe looked puzzled.

"No say something bad," he declared. "When Red Cheek him talk-talk a
heap lot other man that throw ball he got a lot mixed, no make good
pitch. Red Cheek him help win game a heap."

Jack's face cleared at once.

"Crowfoot, you have poured soothing balm on my wounded heart!" he
cried. "I'm glad to know that I do amount to something, for, so help me!
of late I have begun to wonder what I was made for!"

"Sit down, Joe," invited Frank. "We're going to have breakfast in a
short time, and you are to eat with us."

"Ugh!" said the Indian, disdaining a chair and sitting on the floor with
his back against the wall. "Joe him do so. Him a heap empty. Mebbe after
him eat him tell Strong Heart something much good to hear."

When breakfast was over the old Indian lighted his rank pipe and smoked
contentedly, still sitting on the floor, with his back against the wall.

Through the open door came the sounds of work at the mine. Frank was not
yet running the mine day and night, with shifts of men, but it was his
intention to do so later. Smoke was rising from the high pipe of the
stamp-mill, and soon the stamps began to rumble and roar, awaking the
echoes of the valley. The sound was a pleasant one in Merriwell's ears.

"This running a mine in Arizona is a snap," said Jack Ready, as he
elevated his feet to the top of the table, in which the breakfast-dishes
and remnants of the meal remained. "The hardest part of it seems to be
washing the dishes. It's Gallup's turn this morning."

"Not by a thuttering sight!" exclaimed Ephraim. "Yeou can't shoulder
that onter me! You've gotter wash the dishes to-day. I done it
yisterday."

"Is it possible!" cried Jack. "Why, I thought it was day before
yesterday, or, perchance, the day before that. Alas, how time
flies--tempus fugit!"

"Now, don't go to springin' any Latin on us!" growled Gallup. "You never
learned enough Latin to hurt ye, an' ye don't want to try to show off."

"Behold how the green-eyed monster turneth a friend into a critic!" said
Jack.

"You can attend to the dishes later," said Frank. "Just now I am anxious
to hear the good news Crowfoot said he might have to tell. What is it,
Joe?"

"Some time little while 'go, few days, you be in Holbrook?" questioned
the Indian, pulling away at his pipe.

"Yes, I was there--Hodge and myself."

"Joe him been there since."

"And you bring good news from that place?"

"Heap good to Strong Heart. In Holbrook him find white woman who hate
him a lot, eh? White woman she is the squaw of man who make for Strong
Heart big trouble 'bout mine."

"You mean Mrs. Arlington?"

"Ugh! Mebbe that her name."

"That is it. She is in Holbrook, or was a few days ago."

"She hate Strong Heart a heap."

"I reckon she does," nodded Frank, wondering how the old redskin found
out so much.

"She come to get bad men to take mine."

"Possibly that is right."

"Joe him know it. She make much business with Cim'run Bill."

"That I suspected, although I did not find it out for a certainty while
in Holbrook."

"It so."

"Go on."

"She give Bill heap much mon' to buy bad men to take from Strong Heart
the mine."

"Is that so?"

"Waugh! Joe him find out. Joe he play sharp; he listen."

"Crowfoot, you're as good as a detective."

"No know 'bout that. Find out white squaw she hate Strong Heart, then
try to find out more. Now squaw she heap sorry she come to Holbrook."

"She is sorry?"

"Heap so."

"Why?"

"She have papoose girl with her--young squaw."

"Her daughter June."

"Ugh! Now she no have young squaw."

"What's that? What do you mean by that. What has become of June?"

"You tell," said Joe, with a strange gesture. "She gone. Old squaw tear
hair, tear run from her eye, she make a loud weep. Ha! Now you hear good
news, Strong Heart! Now you know your enemy have the great sorrow! That
make your heart much glad!"

But Frank was on his feet now, his face rather pale and a look of
excitement in his eyes.

"See here, Crowfoot," he said, "do you mean to tell me that June
Arlington has disappeared and that her mother does not know what has
become of her?"

Joe nodded.

"Laugh!" he said. "Laugh, Strong Heart!"

But Frank did not laugh; instead, to the wonderment of the Indian, he
betrayed both consternation and dismay.

"Are you sure of this, Joe?" he demanded. "How long had the girl been
missing when you left Holbrook?"

"The sun had slept once."

"By which you mean that one night had passed?"

"Ugh!"

"Then this is serious, indeed! Something most unfortunate has happened,
or June Arlington would not be missing overnight. Boys, prepare at once
to start for Holbrook! Get ready to mount and ride as fast as horseflesh
can carry us; We'll start at the earliest moment possible!"

Crowfoot arose, a look of wonderment in his dark eyes. He reached out
and grasped Frank's arm.

"What would Strong Heart do?" he asked.

"I'm going to Holbrook hotfoot," was the answer. "I'm going to find out,
if possible, what has happened to June Arlington, and I shall do my best
to return her to her mother, if she has not already returned when I
reach there."

The redskin's hand dropped from Merriwell's arm and the old fellow
stared at the white man in uncomprehending amazement.

"Why so?" he asked. "Paleface squaw she hate you, she is your enemy. Now
she have something to think a heap of, and no time to make trouble for
Strong Heart. He should have a great happiness that it is so. Why does
he hurry to the bad white squaw? Is it to laugh at her? Is it to see her
weep and cry?"

"No, Crowfoot; it is to find out, if possible, what has happened to the
girl, just as I said a moment ago, and to return her to her mother."

The Indian shook his head.

"Waugh! No understand!" he declared. "Strong Heart him much strange."

"Joe, will you go with us? You shall have a good horse. I may need your
aid. Will you go?"

"Joe him go. No understand; him go, all same."

"Then hustle, fellows!" cried Frank. "We'll be off soon!"

He rushed from the cabin.



CHAPTER XXVII.

ARRESTED IN HOLBROOK.


Another morning was dawning when five weary horses bore five persons
into the town of Holbrook. The animals had been pushed to the utmost,
and the riders showed signs of deep fatigue. The dust of the desert lay
white upon men and beasts.

At the head of the party rode Frank Merriwell, showing of them all the
least weariness, his lips pressed together with an expression of grim
determination.

Bart, Jack, and Ephraim were behind, with old Joe bringing up the rear.

Straight to the hotel they went, where Frank learned immediately that
Mrs. Arlington was still there, and he also found out that she was very
ill, having been completely prostrated by the vanishing of June, who was
still missing.

When Frank asked to see the woman he was told that the doctor attending
her had said no one was to see her without his permission.

"Then I must see that doctor in a hurry," Merry declared. "Where can I
find him?"

He was directed and hastened to the home of the doctor, who proved to be
a red-faced, pompous little fellow.

"Impossible to see the lady," declared the doctor. "She has heart
trouble, and it might prove fatal. I cannot permit it."

"See here, doctor," said Frank, "I have ridden a right good distance to
see her, having heard of the disappearance of her daughter June. I have
come to see what I can do about tracing the missing girl and restoring
her to her mother. To start the work right, I should have an interview
with the lady."

"Hum! hum!" coughed the doctor. "I don't know about it." He shook his
head, but Merriwell caught his eye and continued to talk earnestly until
the man gradually ceased his opposition.

"I'm afraid it's not just the wisest thing," he said. "But still it is
anxiety over her daughter that has brought her to this pitiful
condition. If you can do anything to relieve that anxiety, it may be
better than medicine. But you must take care not to excite her more than
possible."

This Frank readily promised, and they set out for the hotel.

Having ascended to the rooms occupied by Mrs. Arlington and those she
had brought with her, the doctor entered first, being admitted by the
faithful colored maid. In a few moments he came out and said:

"I forgot to ask your name, but Mrs. Arlington says she will see you.
Come in."

Frank followed the doctor into the room.

Mrs. Arlington, partly dressed, was reclining on a couch, propped up
amid cushions. She was very pale and showed signs of great worriment and
grief.

The moment her eyes rested on Frank, who came forward, hat in hand, she
gave a great cry and started up. The doctor hurried to her side,
cautioning her against becoming excited, but she appeared to heed him
not in the least.

"You?" she cried, pointing at Frank. "You have dared to come here?"

Merry bowed.

"I know of no reason why I should not come here," he said. "I have heard
of your misfortune, and----"

"Wretch!" the woman panted, glaring at him. "How dare you! I'll have you
arrested at once!"

Frank was surprised by this reception, but he kept his composure,
although he was struck by a thought that the woman must be mad.

"Why should you have me arrested?" he asked. "For defending my property?
I scarcely think you will do that, madam!"

"You--you scoundrel!" panted Mrs. Arlington, pointing at him. "Where is
my daughter? You shall never leave this place until you restore her to
me!"

This did stagger Merry somewhat.

"Mrs. Arlington," he said, "I have come to offer my services in
searching for your daughter. If I can be of any assistance----"

"You--you lured her away!" declared the shaking woman. "You were seen
talking with her on the street. Is this the way you defend your
property? I know your game! You mean to make me promise to drop the
battle against you, on which condition you will restore June to me! I
have been told that you would try that trick! But I am ready for you,
and you shall be arrested immediately. You have walked into the trap!"

"My dear woman," said Merry quietly, "you never were more mistaken in
all your life. I know absolutely nothing of the whereabouts of your
daughter; but I fancied you might be able to tell me something that
would serve as a clue in the search for her."

"Don't tell me that! I have sense enough to know you would not offer to
help me find her!"

Startled by the sound of Mrs. Arlington's excited voice, Eliot Dodge,
her agent, who was in an adjoining room, now entered quickly. When he
saw Merriwell he stopped short.

Frank had met Dodge once in Denver, at which time the man with the blue
nose had made him an offer in behalf of the mining syndicate for the San
Pablo and Queen Mystery Mines, an offer that Merry had scornfully
declined. Now Frank recognized the crafty fox of a lawyer at once.

"So you are here, Dodge?" he said. "And I fancy you are behind some of
the doings that have been going on in this region of late."

Dodge puckered up his mouth and tried to look at the young man with
something like contempt, although the effort was a failure.

"Yes, I am here," he said, in his raspy voice; "and I fancy it is a
pretty good thing for Mrs. Arlington that I am. I have been able to show
her the inwardness of this last move of yours."

"Then you are the one who has filled her mind with the idea that I know
something of the whereabouts of Miss Arlington? Well, Dodge, I know you
are not a fool, and, therefore, I must conclude at once that you have
some rascally reason for giving her such an impression. Be careful, sir,
that you do not make a false step! In this part of the country it is
very dangerous. Down here men are sometimes lynched for rascality."

"Don't you dare threaten me!" fumed Dodge, shaking his fist at Frank.
"There is a warrant out for your arrest, and you'll find that the end of
your career is pretty near."

Frank smiled derisively.

"You remind me of a snapping cur, Dodge," he observed; then he turned
from the man, as if not deigning to waste further words on him. "Mrs.
Arlington," he said earnestly, "I assure you on my honor that I have
come to you with the most friendly intentions. I assure you that I have
ridden more than one hundred miles for the purpose of offering my
services in the search for your daughter. You may not believe me,
but it is the simple truth. You have received me in a manner most
disheartening; but I understand that your nervous condition must be
the excuse.

"I am not your enemy. I do not wish to fight you. I am fighting the
Consolidated Mining Association of America. I would not like to think
that I have a woman among my enemies, who have hired murderers and
ruffians to try to seize my property! Such a thought is most distasteful
to me. I have had the pleasure of meeting your daughter, and I found her
a most charming girl. I was interested in her. When I learned that she
had disappeared I lost not a moment in gathering a few friends and
starting for this place. We have covered the ground as fast as possible,
taking the heat into consideration. If any one has told you that I am
even remotely connected with the disappearance of Miss June that person
has lied to you and deceived you. If you will give me a little aid, I
shall exert myself to the utmost to restore June to your arms. That is
all I have to say."

She heard him through with impatience. Frank saw before he had finished
that her mind was set and that he had wasted his breath.

"Like your brother," said the woman passionately, "you are a scoundrel!
Like him, you assume the airs of a gentleman. I know your tricks, and I
am not deceived. You have been told that there is a warrant out for your
arrest. It is true--and here is the officer to serve it!"

Behind Merry there was a heavy step. He turned and found himself face to
face with a plain, quiet-looking man, who promptly said:

"Are you Frank Merriwell?"

"I am."

"Then let me tell you that I am Ben File, city marshal of Holbrook, and
you are my prisoner! If you try to pull a gun, I'll shoot you in your
tracks!"

Frank showed his nerve then. He did not even change color, although the
arrest had fallen upon him so suddenly.

"Your words are plain enough, sir," he said. "There is no reason why I
should provoke you into shooting me, as I have nothing to fear from
arrest."

"I have been led to understand that you are a very dangerous character,"
said File, looking Merry over in some surprise. "You do not seem so at
first glance."

Frank smiled a bit.

"I assure you I am not in the least dangerous," he said. "I surrender
without the least resistance."

Eliot Dodge stood in the background, rubbing his hands together and
grinning.

"Mr. Dodge," said the city marshal, "will you be good enough to relieve
this young man of his weapons."

"Eh?" said Dodge nervously. "I--I--yes, sir."

He came forward and took Frank's revolvers, handling them gingerly, as
if fearing they would explode in his hands. He passed them over to File,
who afterward searched Merry himself.

In spite of Frank's coolness, he was indignant over the outrage.

Mrs. Arlington astonished the doctor by seeming stronger and better
than she had been since it was known that June had disappeared.

"Now I have you!" she said exultantly. "If you do not tell me at once
where my daughter may be found it will go still harder with you."

Merry gave her a look of pity.

"Madam," he said, "I fear that you are not in your right senses. Your
action in coming to this part of the country and bringing your daughter
here, where you have had dealings with ruffians, confirms me in this
belief. I cannot believe you would do such things if perfectly sane."

"You insult me!" she exclaimed, tossing her head. "But you shall pay
dearly for your insults! The law will punish you!"

"And are you to stand clear of the law--you, who have incited ruffians
to attack me and my property? I am well aware that law and justice may
frequently be two different things; but I fancy it will be to your
discomfort to have the whole truth come out. I know a ruffian called
Cimarron Bill fired at me from the window of this very room. How came he
here unless by your permission? And were you in partnership with a man
of his character in an attempted murder?"

Frank's fearless words struck home, and the woman turned pale, in spite
of herself.

"Oh, doctor!" she said, sinking back on the couch.

The astonished physician, who had remained dumb and staring through the
most of this scene, now cried to Frank:

"See what you have done! See what you have done!"

"She brought it on herself," retorted Merry, turning away, his heart
hardened toward the woman. "I have ridden a hundred miles to do
everything in my power to find her daughter and restore her to her
mother, and I am--arrested!"

There was deep bitterness in his tone and manner.

"Mr. File," he said, "I am ready to go with you, sir."

"Hold! Wait!" called Mrs. Arlington from the couch. "Tell me where you
have taken my daughter!"

Frank gave her a look, shook his head a bit, and again turned away.

"Oh, tell me!" pleaded the wretched mother. "I can't bear this suspense!
My poor June!"

Then she sat bolt upright and almost screamed:

"If you harm a hair of her head, I'll make you regret it until the day
of your death! You'll be conpelled to tell! I'm going to see that you
are sent to prison! I'll make a convict of you!"

Frank did not retort. As he was walking out with File's hand on his
shoulder, the woman fell on her knees and begged him to restore her
daughter.

"Too bad!" said Merry, when the door was closed. "I believe she really
thinks I know something about the girl."

File said nothing until they had descended to the street. On the steps
of the hotel he paused and looked hard at Frank.

"Young man," he said, "you don't act to me like a desperado. I'm
mightily disappointed in you. From what I heard, I supposed you a
ruffian. To tell you the truth, I'm rather inclined in your favor."

"Thank you," said Frank, with a bit of bitterness. "Little good that
does me, although I am grateful to know that I have not become
villainous in appearance. I came here to do that woman a favor, knowing
all the while that she hated me, and this is the way I have been
received."

"Why did you take so much pains to come?"

"Because I know her daughter, a handsome, refined, noble-hearted girl.
It was not for the woman's sake, but for her daughter's that I put
myself to the trouble that has drawn me into this scrape, Mr. File. Tell
me, what has been done to find and rescue June Arlington?"

"Everything possible," said the city marshal. "But the girl seems to
have disappeared off the face of the earth. She vanished in the very
heart of this town, too. It's a most mysterious affair. Mr. Merriwell, I
regret that my duty compelled me to place you under arrest and now
compels me to lock you up. I hope circumstances may give you your
freedom very soon."

Frank was somewhat touched by these simple words.

"Go ahead," he said. "But you had better get me under lock and key
before my friends find out what has happened. They might raise trouble,
and I don't want to see anybody hurt over this affair."

So they started down the street, walking side by side, like two friends.
File did not even keep a hand on Merry.

They had proceeded but a short distance when a man suddenly appeared in
the open doorway of a saloon. Frank saw the pistol in the man's hand,
and he recognized his mortal enemy, Cimarron Bill.

As Bill appeared in that doorway, Merry knew the fellow's purpose was to
make a second attempt to kill him, and Frank was unarmed and
defenseless, under arrest at the time.

As Bill's weapon came up Frank made a sidelong spring. He did this at
the very instant, it seemed, that the revolver spoke. The fact was that
he sprang a trifle before the shot was fired. His movement seemed much
like that of a man death-smitten by a bullet, and Cimarron Bill dodged
back at once, believing he had accomplished his dastardly purpose.

Frank was not touched.

But the bullet meant for him had found a human target. Ben File swayed
from side to side, his legs buckling beneath him, and fell into
Merriwell's arms.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

BILL HIKES OUT.


"Got it!" whispered File huskily. "He nailed me good and plenty that
time!"

Without a word, fearing Cimarron Bill might discover he had shot the
wrong man and seek to rectify his bad work, Frank lifted File in his
muscular arms and ran into a store with him.

The city marshal was stretched on a counter.

"Send for a doctor!" commanded Merry. "And turn out a posse to take
Cimarron Bill. He fired the shot."

At the mention of Cimarron Bill, however, consternation reigned. The
desperado was all too well known in Holbrook, and scarcely a man in all
the place cared to face him.

"No use," said File faintly. "Nobody'll dare touch Bill. He'll get out
of town deliberately without being molested."

"Impossible!" exclaimed Merry. "Why, you don't mean to say they will let
that murderous hound escape?"

"He'll escape now that I'm flat. There's not a man in Holbrook that
dares face him."

"You're mistaken!" said Merry. "There is one man!"

"What one?"

"This one!"

"You?"

"Yes."

"Do you mean to say----"

"That I dare face that man! Give me my weapons and I'll go out and get
him!"

Ben File looked at the boyish young man incredulously.

"You don't know what you're talking about," he said, as they were trying
to stop the bleeding of his wound, which was in his left side. "That man
has a record. He's the deadliest ruffian in Arizona. He would kill you."

"I don't believe it," said Frank. "I've seen his like before. Give me my
revolvers, and I'll go take him. I'll bring him to you if you live!"

File fumbled in his huge pockets and brought out Merry's long-barreled
revolvers.

"Go ahead if you want to," he said. "Somehow I take stock in you, though
I'm afraid it's your funeral you're going to. Anyhow, if I'm booked to
cash in, I don't mind giving you a show to levant. Here comes the
doctor."

The same red-faced little man came rushing into the store, brought there
by a messenger who had gone in search of him.

Frank examined his weapons, and then walked out of the store.

There was considerable excitement on the street, caused by the shooting.
Merry minded no one, yet kept his eyes wide open for every one. As fast
as he could step he proceeded straight to the open door from which
Cimarron Bill had fired the shot. He had a pistol in either hand when he
stepped through that doorway.

As he had expected, it was a saloon. Three persons were in the room, but
Cimarron Bill was not there.

"Gentlemen," said Merry, "I'll be obliged if you will tell me where I
can find the white-livered cur who just shot Ben File from this
doorway."

They stared at him as if doubting their senses.

"If it's Cimarron Bill you're looking for, young man," one of them
finally said, "take my advice and don't. It's the most onhealthy
occupation you can engage in, and I advise----"

"Cut out the advice," said Merry sharply; "and tell me where the
cowardly dog has gone."

"He ambled out o' yere directly arter doin' the shootin', and we last
sees him lopin' down the street that-a-way. But you wants to keep a heap
long distance----"

Frank waited for no more. He was satisfied that Bill had departed just
as the man said, and he wheeled at once and started down the street.

Merry knew full well what sort of mission he had undertaken, but he was
not daunted in the least by its magnitude. Cimarron Bill was his deadly
foe, but he now saw his opportunity to bring the ruffian to an
accounting for his crimes, and he did not propose to let the chance
slip.

So he inquired as he passed down the street and found that Bill had
hurried to the saloon kept by Schlitzenheimer.

Again Merry had his pistols ready when he entered the saloon. Early
though it was, he found four men there engaged in a game of draw poker,
and one of the four was old Joe Crowfoot.

Schlitzenheimer gave a shout when he saw Frank.

"My gootness!" he cried. "How you vos? Vere vos dot dalking tog alretty?
I vouldt like to blay dot tog anodder came beenuckle of."

Frank was disappointed once more in failing to discover Cimarron Bill.
He asked if the man had been there.

"He vos," nodded Schlitzenheimer. "Und avay he dit his saddle take."

"He took his saddle?"

"Yah."

"Then his saddle was here?"

"It he dit keep here, vor id vos very valueless," said the Dutchman. "He
vos avraid stolen id would pe. I know Pill. Ven he come und say, 'Vritz,
you tookit my saddles und keepit it a vile undil vor id I call,' I say,
'Yah, you pet.' I haf nod any anxiety him to make some drouble by."

"If he came for his saddle it is likely he meant to use it. Was he in a
hurry?"

"Der piggest hurry I ever knewn him to pe indo. Ven I invortationed him
to a drink take, he said he could not sdop vor id."

"He's on the run!" exclaimed Frank. "Where does he keep his horse when
in town?"

"Ad Dorvelt's shust down a liddle vays."

Frank almost ran from the saloon and hurried down the street to
Dorfelt's stable.

He was stared at in the same wondering amazement when he asked for
Cimarron Bill.

"Mebbe you has urgent business with that gent?" said one man.

"I have," answered Merry. "He shot Ben File about ten minutes ago, and I
am after him."

"Waal, you'll have to hustle to ketch him, an' I 'lows it's jest as well
fer you. His hoss was saddled jest now, an' I opine he's well out o'
town by this time."

Frank listened to hear no more. On the run, he set out to find his
friends.

Singularly enough, not one of them knew anything of his arrest, although
they had heard of the shooting. He found them in short order, and what
he told them in a very few words stirred them from lassitude to the
greatest excitement.

"Fellows," he said, "I'm going to run Cimarron Bill down if it takes a
year! I've given my word to Ben File that I would bring Bill back. I
mean to make good. Are you with me in this chase?"

They were with him to a man.



CHAPTER XXIX.

OLD JOE TAKES A DRINK.


Away on the horizon, riding to the southeast, was a black speck of a
horseman as Frank, Bart, Jack, and Ephraim galloped out of town on fresh
mounts secured by Merry.

"There he is!" cried Frank. "We mustn't lose him! We must keep him in
view and run him down before nightfall. Can we do it?"

"We can try!" said Bart grimly.

These young fellows seemed made of iron. All their weariness had
vanished, and they sat in their saddles like young Centaurs, with the
exception of Gallup, who could not be graceful at anything.

"This is what might well be called the strenuous life," observed Jack
Ready. "It's almost too much for my delicate constitution. I fear my
health will be undermined and my lovely complexion will be ruined."

"He has seen us," declared Frank. "He knows we are after him! It's going
to be a hard chase."

"How about June Arlington?" asked Bart.

"When I gave Ben File my word to bring Cimarron Bill back I was under
arrest for kidnaping June Arlington. Had I not made that promise I might
still be under arrest. I must keep my word to File. I hope to do
something for June later."

So they rode into the scorching desert, seeming to be gaining on the man
ahead for a time.

The sun poured down mercilessly. Alkali dust rose and filled their
nostrils. Red lizards flashed before them on the ground at rare
intervals. And far ahead the black speck held into the distance.

"He knows where he's going, fellows," said Frank. "He's not the man to
strike blindly into the desert. He'll come to water and feed before his
horse gives out, and so we must find the same."

But fate seemed against them. Afar on the desert a haze arose and grew
and became a beautiful lake, its shores lined with waving trees. And in
this mirage the fugitive was swallowed up and lost. When the lake faded
and vanished the black speck could be seen nowhere on the plain.

"Vanished into a gully of some sort," said Frank. "We must find just
what has become of him."

So they kept on; but in time they came to feel that the search was
useless. Water they had brought for themselves, together with some
canned food; but the only relief they could give the horses was by
pouring a little water over a sponge and wiping out the dry mouths of
the poor animals.

They were forced to turn aside and seek some hills, where Frank felt
certain there was a spring.

Thus it was that nightfall found them at the spring, but Cimarron Bill
was gone, none of them knew where. There was feed for the horses in the
little valley, and they made the best of it.

Frank was far from pleased. Everything had gone wrong since their
arrival in Holbrook, and the prospect was most discouraging.

"By gum! it's too bad to hev to give it up," said Ephraim.

Frank shot him a look.

"I have no intention of giving it up," he said. "But I confess that I
made one bad mistake."

"What was that?"

"I left Crowfoot back there in Schlitzenheimer's saloon playing poker."

"You think he'll be skinned, do you?" said Bart.

"Oh, I'm not worrying about that. The old reprobate can take care of
himself. I knew it would be almost impossible to drag him away from that
game, and that was why I did not bother with him. Didn't want to lose
the time. But that redskin can follow a trail that would bother a
bloodhound. If we had taken him at the start, he'd never lost the
scent."

They lay on the ground and watched the heavens fill with bright stars.
The heat of the day melted into coolness, and all knew it would be cold
before morning.

Frank had anticipated that they might have to spend the night in this
manner, and blankets had been brought.

They seemed alone in the wild waste, with no living thing save their
horses within miles and miles. So, with no fear of attack, they wrapped
their blankets about them and slept.

The wind swept almost icy through the little valley before morning
dawned. As the eastern sky grew pale Frank opened his eyes and sat up.

A moment later a shout from his lips aroused the others.

Merry was staring at a familiar figure in a dirty red blanket. In their
very midst old Joe lay stretched, and apparently he had been sleeping as
soundly as any of them. Nor were his slumbers broken by Merry's shout,
which astounded Frank beyond measure, for never before had he known the
old fellow to sleep like that. Always when he had stirred he had found
the beady eyes of the redskin upon him.

"Behold!" said Jack Ready. "Lo, the noble red man is again within our
midst. But how came it thus?"

"Waal, may I be honswizzled!" grunted Gallup.

Frank flung aside his blanket.

"Something is the matter with him!" he said, in a tone that indicated
anxiety. "If there wasn't, he'd not sleep this way. I wonder what it is.
Is he dead?"

But when the red blanket was pulled down it was found that Joe lay with
a quart bottle clasped to his heart in a loving embrace. The bottle was
fully two-thirds empty.

"That explains it!" said Merry, in deep disgust. "The old dog is drunk
as a lord! That's how we happen to have the pleasure of finding him
asleep. I'll give any man fifty dollars who will catch him asleep when
he is perfectly sober."

"What a picture he doth present!" said Ready. "Look upon it! And yet
there is something in it to bring sadness to the heart. Behold how
tenderly he doth hold the long-necker to his manly buzzum! 'Tis thus
that many a chap hugs a destroyer to his heart."

"The old sinner!" said Hodge. "I don't see how he got here without
arousing any of us. There's his horse, picketed near the other animals."

Frank stooped and tried to take the bottle from Joe's clasp, but the
sleeping Indian held it fast.

"Go heap better five dol's," he muttered in his sleep.

"He's still playing poker," said Frank.

He gave Crowfoot a hard shake.

"Wake up, you copper-colored sot!" he cried. "Wake up and see what
you've got in your hands."

"Four king," mumbled Joe thickly. "Heap good!"

At this the boys laughed heartily.

"That's a pretty good hand!" said Frank. "It takes four aces or a
straight flush to beat it."

Then he wrenched the bottle away, whereupon the redskin awoke at once.

"Mine! mine!" he exclaimed, sitting up.

"It's poison," said Frank, and smashed the bottle.

With a snarl of fury, the Indian staggered to his feet and made for
Merry, drawing a wicked-looking knife.

"Look out!" cried Gallup, in consternation.

Frank leaped to meet old Joe, clutching his wrists and holding him
helpless, while he gazed sternly into the bloodshot eyes of the drunken
old man.

"What's this, Crowfoot?" he demanded. "Would you strike Strong Heart
with a knife? Would you destroy the brother of Indian Heart? Has the
poison firewater of the white man robbed you of your senses?"

"Firewater Joe's!" exclaimed the redskin. "No right to spill um! No
right! No right!"

"I did it for your own good, Crowfoot," said Merry quietly. "You are in
bad shape now. I want you to come out of it. You may be able to help us.
What you need is a good drink of water."

"Ugh! Water heap good. Joe he take some."

Immediately Frank released the old man's wrists, and Joe slipped his
knife out of sight with something like a show of shame.

In another moment Merry had his canteen, filled it at the spring, and
handed it to Crowfoot, who gravely took it and began to drink. The boys
stood around, and their eyes bulged as the old man held the canteen to
his mouth, tipping it more and more skyward, a deep gurgling coming from
his throat. He continued to drink until the canteen was quite emptied,
when he lowered it with perfect gravity, wiped his lips with the back of
his hand, and observed:

"Joe him a little dry!"

"Well, I should say so!" smiled Frank. "Your interior must have been as
parched as an alkali desert, Joe."

"If he takes many drinks like that," said Ready, with a queer twist of
his mug, "there'll be a drought in this country that will make an
ordinary dry spell look like a back number."

Crowfoot did not smile. Giving back the canteen, he sat down on the
ground, resting his elbows on his knees and taking his head in his
hands. He was the picture of misery and dejection.

"Injun big fool!" he groaned. "Last night feel much good; to-day feel a
lot bad. Big pain in head."

"We've all been there many's the time," sang Jack Ready softly.

Then the eccentric chap sat down on the ground beside the redskin, about
whom he placed an arm.

"Joseph," he said, "methinks I know how it is! I have felt that way heap
often. Ugh! Sick all over."

Joe grunted.

"Nothing worth living for."

Another grunt.

"Much rather be dead with the beautiful daisies growing on my grave than
living in such misery."

Again a grunt.

"Internal organs all out of gear, stomach on a strike, head bigger than
a barrel. Are those the symptoms, Joseph?"

"Much so," confessed old Joe.

"Joseph, you have my sympathy. You've never been to college, but you
have received part of a college education. I have taken my degree in
that branch. I'm a P. M. of J. C.--Past Master of Jag Carriers. But I
have reformed, and now 'lips that touch wine shall never touch mine.'
Joseph, I would reclaim you. I would woo you tenderly from the jag path
that leadeth to destruction. It is broad and inviting at first, but
toward the finish it is rough, and hubbly, and painful to travel. Pause
while there is yet time. My heart yearns to save you from destruction.
Listen to the pearly words of wisdom, that drop from my sweet lips. Shun
the jag juice and stick to the water-wagon. Heed this advice and your
days shall be long ere you pass to the happy hunting-grounds."

"Heap talk a lot," said Joe; "no say anything. Make Injun lot sicker!"

Gallup laughed heartily, slapping his knee.

"That's right, by gum!" he cried. "The wind blows ev'ry time Jack opens
his maouth."

"You are jealous," said Ready. "You are jealous of my wisdom and
eloquence. Get thee behind me, Nose Talk! Your face is painful to look
upon."

"Don't you go to makin' that kind of gab!" snapped Gallup. "If yeou do,
dinged if I don't jolt ye one in the slats!"

"Such language! Slats! I'm shocked! Never have you heard words of slang
ripple from my tuneful vocal chords. I disdain such frivolity! Slang
gives me a pain! Go lay down!"

"Lay!" snorted Ephraim. "I'm no hen!"

"Let's have breakfast," said Hodge. "We may as well get on the move
before it grows too hot."

It did not take long to prepare breakfast, but old Joe seemed to grow
ill at the sight of food. All he wanted was water, and he threatened to
drink the weak little spring dry. After a time, he seemed more inclined
to talk.

"No ketch Cim'r'n Bill?" he said.

"So you found out we were after him?" said Frank.

"Ugh!" nodded the Indian. "Joe no big fool only when firewater is to
get. He play poke', all time him keep ear open. Mebbe him learn a whole
lot."

"It's quite likely. If you had been with us yesterday, we might have
stuck to Bill's trail. Now it is lost, and he may get away."

"Crowfoot he know how find Bill."

"What's that? You know how to find him?"

"Ugh!"

"Well, that is interesting, for I am bound to find him. I gave Ben File
my word to bring Bill back, and I'm going to keep that promise. If you
can help----"

"You bet!" grunted Joe.

"How did you find out so much?"

"Joe him take drink in saloon. Keep much careful not git full. Make um
believe so. Go sleep. Hear men talk in whisper. Waugh! Find out a heap."

"Well, you're a clever old rascal!" cried Merry; "and I'm in love with
you!"

"Joe him play game pritty slick," said the Indian. "Same time him get
one, two, three drink. That bad. Make um want heap more. Make um take
firewater when um git out town."

"So you really got drunk because you were trying to do me a good turn?"
said Merry. "Joe, I appreciate it! But what did you hear?"

"Bill him go to Sunk Hole."

"Sunk Hole?" cried Frank. "That place?"

"Where's that?" asked Hodge, who was deeply interested.

"Down in the White Mountain region, near the head of Coyote Creek."

"Why did you exclaim, 'That place?'"

"Because it is a camp made up of the worst characters to be found in the
Southwest. It is a place without law and order of any sort. Murderers,
gamblers, and knaves in general flee there when in danger. They are
banded together to defy the law. Travelers who happen into that wretched
place seldom come forth. At times the ruffians quarrel among themselves
and shoot and kill with impunity. The people of the Territory have more
than once asked that the place be invaded by troops and wiped off the
map. It is a standing disgrace."

"An' Cimarron Bill has gone there?" asked Ephraim Gallup, his eyes
bulging.

"So Joe says."

"Waal, I ruther guess yeou'll take a couple of thinks afore ye foller
him any furder."

"I shall follow him into Sunk Hole if I live!" declared Merry grimly;
"and I mean to bring him out of the place, dead or alive. I do not ask
the rest of you to risk your lives with me. You are at liberty to turn
back. Joe----"

"Him stick by Strong Heart!" declared the old Indian quickly. "You bet!"

"Thank you, Joe!" said Frank. "I shall need you to show me the road to
the place, for I have heard Sunk Hole is not easy to find."

"I hope," said Bart Hodge quietly, "that you do not fancy for a moment
that I'm not going with you? I don't think you would insult me, Frank,
by entertaining such a thought. I shall be with you through thick and
thin."

"Dear me!" said Ready. "How brave you are! Please stand in the glow of
the limelight where we can admire your heroic pose! La! la! You are a
sweet creature, and one to make the matinée girls rave with adoration."

"Don't get so funny!" growled Hodge, who always took Ready's chaffing
with poor grace.

"Softly! softly!" smiled Jack, with a flirt of his hand. "Let not your
angry passions rise. You can't play the bold and fearless hero any
better than can your humble servant. I'm in this, and you want to watch
me and note what a bold front I put on. I'll wager a lead nickle you
will begin to think me utterly fearless, and all the while, beyond a
doubt, I'll be shaking in my boots. Oh, I can make an excellent bluff
when I have to."

"Bluff heap good sometime," said Crowfoot. "Mebbe bluff take pot."

"But it's a mighty poor thing if the other fellow suspects and calls,"
said Jack.

"Waal," drawled Gallup, "darn my punkins! I s'pose I'm in fer it, but I
kinder wisht I was to hum on the farm."

Frank knew the Vermonter well enough not to fancy by those words that
Ephraim was badly frightened. It was Gallup's way of expressing himself,
and, even though he might be afraid in advance, the tall, lank fellow
always showed up well "in a pinch."

"Then it's settled," said Merry. "We all go."

"Joe him not talk all he find out," put in the Indian.

"Is there more? Well, give it to us quick. There are many miles of
alkali between here and Sunk Hole."

"Joe him hear men whisper 'bout gal."

"Eh? About a girl?"

"Ugh!"

"Then it must be about June Arlington? What did they say?"

"Mebbe Bill him know where she is."

"What?" cried Merry, clutching the redskin by the arm. "Is that
possible?"

"Reckon um heap so."

"Then there is a double reason why I should get my hands on Cimarron
Bill!"

"Mebbe Joe he no hear right; no could ketch all men whisper. He think
gal she be took to Sunk Hole."

Frank reeled, his face going white.

"Merciful Heaven!" he gasped. "June Arlington, innocent little June! in
that dreadful place? Come, fellows, we must go! June Arlington there?
The thought is horrifying! If that is true, Cimarron Bill may go free
until I can do my best to get June out of that sink of wickedness! Come,
fellows--come!"

"We are ready!" they cried, in response.



CHAPTER XXX.

FRANK IN SUNK HOLE.


The Great Dipper indicated by its position that the hour was not far
from midnight. Crowfoot halted and pointed downward, where, in the gloom
of a round valley, a few lights twinkled.

"Sunk Hole!" he said.

"At last!" breathed Frank.

The others stood in silence, looking down at those lights. Suddenly they
started, for to their ears came the sound of music, dimly heard because
of the distance.

"Perchance my ears deceive me," said Ready; "but I fancy I hear the
soothing strains of a fiddle."

"Sure as fate!" exclaimed Bart Hodge.

"Listen!" cautioned Merry.

There were other sounds, a sing-song cry at intervals, and then hoarse
laughter and several wild whoops.

"By gum!" exclaimed Gallup. "Saounds jest like one of them air country
dances they uster hev over to Billing's Corners, Varmount. The boys
called them 'hog wrastles.'"

"See," said Merry, "there is one place that seems more brightly lighted
than the others. It's right in the center of the other lights. Fellows,
I believe there is a dance going on down there!"

"Just what I'm beginning to think," said Bart.

"My! my! How nice!" exclaimed Jack. "Let's go right down and get into
it! Balance your partners all! All hands around! Let her sizzle!"

"That would be a splendid place for you to get into a dance!" said Frank
sarcastically.

"But a dance there!" exclaimed Hodge.

"It does seem mighty strange," agreed Frank. "Still something of the
kind is going on. Hear 'em yell!"

And now they could faintly hear the sound of feet keeping time to the
music.

"We've struck this place in a most excellent time to get into it," said
Merry. "I suppose one of us ought to go back and watch the horses."

The horses had been left in a little pocket some distance behind and
they had climbed on foot to the point where they could look down into
the round valley.

"No need watch um now," said Joe. "Um hosses all picket fast. We go down
there, better go quick."

"Correct," agreed Frank. "Just show us how to get down."

"Follow," said the redskin. "Take heap care."

The path over which he led them, if path it may be called, was
precarious enough. At times they felt that they were on the edge of some
precipice, with a great fall lying beneath. But the aged redskin went
forward with surprising swiftness, causing them all to strain every
nerve to keep up with him, and in time he brought them down into the
valley.

"Take lot care," cautioned Crowfoot. "Have guns reddy. No can tell. May
have to use um 'fore git out."

"It's quite likely," said Merry grimly.

So they all made sure that their pistols could be drawn quickly and
readily, and then they crept toward the dark huts, from the windows of
which lights gleamed.

The sounds of fiddling and dancing grew plainer and plainer. Now and
then a shout would awake the echoes.

"Where do they find their 'ladies' for a dance?" asked Hodge
wonderingly.

"Oh, there are a few women in this hole," answered Merry. "Perhaps
others have come in."

They reached the first hut and paused where they could peer along the
street, if such it could be called, for the huts had been built here and
there, so that the road between them zig-zagged like a drunken man.

In the very center of the place was the building, somewhat larger than
its neighbors, from which came the sounds of revelry. Doors and windows
were wide open. The music having stopped, there might be heard a hum of
voices, and then the wild, reckless laugh of a woman floated out upon
the night air.

Frank shuddered a little as he heard the sound, which, to his ears, was
more pitiful and appalling than any cry of distress that could fall from
female lips.

"Poor creature!" he thought. "To what depths has she fallen!"

They went forward again, slipping around a corner, and Merry stumbled
and fell over the body of a man that was lying prone on the ground.

"Hold on!" he whispered. "Let's see what we have here. It's a man, but I
wonder if he is living or dead."

He knelt and felt for the man's heart.

"Living all right," he declared; "but dead in one sense--dead drunk!
Whew! what a vile smell of liquor!"

"Let him lie," said Hodge.

"I have a fancy to take a peep at him," said Frank. "Hold still. I want
a match. I have one."

Bringing out a match, he struck it and shaded it with his hands,
throwing the light on the prostrate man.

The light of the match showed them that the fellow was an unusually
large Mexican, dressed after the custom of his people in somewhat soiled
finery.

"Dead to the world!" sighed Jack Ready softly.

The match died out in Frank's fingers, but Merry did not rise.

"What are you doing?" asked Jack. "Are you accumulating his valuables?"

"Hardly," said Merry. "I'm thinking."

"Can such a thing make you think! What is passing in your massive
brain?"

"I have an idea."

"That's more than Ready ever hed," muttered Gallup.

"Fellows," said Frank, "this man's clothes ought to be a fairly good fit
for me."

"Well, what of it?"

"I'm going to wear them. Get hold here, and we'll carry him aside where
there'll be little chance that any one will stumble upon us. Let's move
lively."

They did as directed, although wondering why Frank should wish to
exchange clothes with the drunken Mexican.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE DANCE IN SUNK HOLE.


A low-ceiled room with a bar at the end near the door. The odor of
smoke, liquor, and perspiration. The place lighted with oil-lamps having
dirty chimneys. The lights of the lamps dancing and flaring to the stamp
of many heavy-shod feet. A maze of human beings whirling, shifting,
prancing, and cutting figures on the floor. Rough-looking men, bearded
and armed; disheveled women, their faces glowing with excitement and
from the effects of drink. At the far end of the room an old man,
mounted on a square box and seated on a chair, sawing away for dear life
at his fiddle, while he called the figures in a sing-song tone.

And this was the way the fiddler called:

    "First couple balance and swing,
    Promenade the inside ring,
    Promenade the outside ring,
    Balance and swing and cast off six,
    Ladies to the right and gents to the left.
    Swing the one you swung before,
    Down the center and cast off four,
    Swing the one that comes to you,
    Down the center and cast off two."

The men were such as most women would avoid. With few exceptions, they
had wicked faces. They had been drinking, and at intervals some elated
and enthusiastic fellow would utter a blood-curdling yell.

But the figures they cut were laughable at times. They "spanked 'er
down" furiously. They seized their partners and swung them until often
they were lifted off their feet. But those were not the sort of women to
mind.

Three or four of the citizens of Sunk Hole were married. Two had
daughters old enough to be present at the dance. Other "ladies" had come
in from the surrounding country, brought there by their partners.

There were a number of Mexicans in the crowd, and three or four Mexican
women.

Into this smoky room came yet another Mexican, a young man, dressed in
soiled finery, his wide-brimmed high-peaked hat shading his face. He had
a little mustache that was pointed on the ends, and he walked with a
swagger. Immediately on entering he made for the bar and called for a
drink.

Had any one been watching him closely that person must have noticed that
he did not drink the stuff put out to him, but slyly and deftly tossed
the contents of the glass into a corner under the bar.

This newcomer was Frank Merriwell, who had disguised himself as well as
possible and boldly walked into this den of ruffians.

Having pretended to drink, Frank stood back in a retired spot and looked
the dancers over.

In a moment his eyes fell on Cimarron Bill, who had a Mexican girl for
a partner and was enjoying himself in his own peculiar way.

Frank knew it would not be safe to come face to face with Bill, although
he saw at once that the desperado had been drinking heavily and could
barely "navigate" through the mazes of the dance.

    "Gents chassé and put on style,
    Resash and a little more style--
    Little more style, gents, little more style,"

sang the fiddler; and the dancers strictly obeyed the admonition by
putting on all the style of which they were capable.

Under different circumstances Merry would have been amused by the
spectacle; and even now, for all of his peril, he was greatly
interested.

Cimarron Bill was not habitually a hard drinker, but on this occasion he
had surprised everybody present by the amount of whisky he had imbibed.
He seemed determined to get intoxicated, and it was plain that he was
making a success of it.

Frank did not wish to dance if he could avoid it, knowing he might be
brought face to face with Bill in the course of some of the figures.

All around the sides of the room men were leaning and looking on, some
of them laughing and calling to various dancers.

"Go it, Seven Spot!"

"Spank it down, Dandy!"

"Steady, Pie Face! Your left hoof belongs to the church!"

"See Honeydew! He's a holy terror!"

"Watch Lanky Jim cut a pigeon wing!"

"Say, Big Kate can dance some! You bet your boots!"

"Hi! hi! There goes Sweet William, plumb off his pins!"

Now the fiddler was calling:

    "First lady out to the right;
    Swing the man that stole the sheep,
    Now the one that packed it home,
    Now the one that eat the meat,
    Now the one that gnawed the bones."

Frank found an opportunity to slip along the wall toward the back of the
room. No one seemed to pay any attention to him until he accidentally
stepped on a big fellow's foot. Instantly he was given a shove, and the
man growled:

"What in thunder ails ye, you yaller-skinned greaser? Keep off my corns,
ur I'll make hash o' you with my toad-sticker!"

"Pardon, señor, pardon!" entreated Merry, in a soft voice, with an
accent that seemed perfectly natural. "I deed not mean to do eet,
señor."

"Ef I'd 'lowed ye did I'd sure slashed ye without no talk whatever!" was
the retort.

Having no desire to get into trouble, Merry took great pains to avoid
stepping on another foot, and he finally reached the point he sought. In
the corner at the far end of the room there was not so much light. A
bench ran along there, and Frank found a seat on it, where he could
lean against the thin board partition, and he did not mind if some of
the men stood up before him so that he was partly screened.

Merry knew full well that he had done a most reckless thing in entering
that place, where all around him were ruffians and murderers; but there
was something about the adventure that he relished, and the danger gave
it a spice that was far from disagreeable.

He thanked his lucky stars that this dance had given him the opportunity
to get in there without attracting any more attention.

    "Meet your partner and all chaw hay,
    You know where and I don't care,
    Seat your partner in the old armchair."

That particular dance ended with this call from the fiddler; but there
were no armchairs in which the ladies could be seated, and Merry crowded
up into the corner in order to be as inconspicuous as possible and to
escape being disturbed.

There was a general rush for the bar, the fiddler getting down from his
box and hastening across the floor, wiping his mouth with the back of
his hand. Some of the women accompanied their partners to the bar and
drank with them.

Such depravity was not pleasant to witness, and Merry felt pity for the
fallen creatures. Sentiment, however, he sought to put aside, thinking
only of the dangerous mission that had brought him into that nest of
gambolling tigers.

Two men sat down near Merry. They had been dancing, and observed, with
some lurid embellishments, that it was hot. Then one of them said
something that interested Frank.

"Bill's goin' it a whole lot stiff to-night."

"That's whatever. Never saw him punish the razzle juice this way afore."

"You know why, mebbe."

"Waal, I opine he's some irked up over his mistake in Holbrook. First
time he ever shot the wrong gent. He warn't gunnin' fer File. It was
another galoot he was after."

"I jedge that's the matter with him. Bandy tried to joke him some about
it, an' Bandy came mighty near gettin' his."

"Bandy's a dern fool! He should 'a' knowed better than to shoot off his
mouth at Bill."

"I say so. But Bill he's a-playin' a right steep game in that thar gal
business."

"Bill kin play his keerds. You let him alone."

"No danger o' me chippin' in. They say the gal's folks are a heap rich."

"I opine so, else Bill he'd never taken so much trouble over her."

"Oh, I dunno; she's the purtiest leetle thing I ever set my blinkers on.
I 'lowed mebbe Bill was lookin' some fer a wife."

"Wife--northin'! He's lookin' fer the dust. Why, he sent word as how
he'd skin the galoot what dared hurt her or even say somethin' impolite
afore her."

"Let me tell you somethin'."

"Fire erway."

"Han'some Charley has seen that gal, an' I 'low he's taken a likin' to
her a whole lot. Bill better look sharp, ur Charley will sure get away
with her."

"I ain't the one to give Charley no advice, but if I were, I'd whisper
fer him to think twice afore tryin' it."

"Charley's some clever. Look, thar he is a-drinkin' with Bill now. Say,
pard, I've got an idee that Charley's doin' his best to load Bill
to-night. If that's so, he's got somethin' up his sleeve, an' we want to
look right sharp fer a breeze afore this dance is over. I'm goin' to
stand ready to duck instanter when the shootin' begins."

Frank could peer past a man in front of him without moving and see the
person referred to as Handsome Charley, who was drinking with Cimarron
Bill at the bar. This man was larger than Bill and heavier. He had a
flushed, reckless face that wore a smile nearly all the time. He had a
dark mustache and imperial, and there was about him the atmosphere of a
dashing desperado.

Charley at this time seemed very friendly with Cimarron Bill, and it was
plain that he was urging Bill to drink again.

"All right," thought Frank; "I'll watch you both."

At this moment a man appeared in the open door and looked timidly into
the room.

At sight of this man Frank gave a start in spite of his wonderful
nerve, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that he kept himself
from crying forth a name.

Eliot Dodge, the crafty lawyer with the blue nose, stood there in the
door. No wonder Merry was astounded to see that man appear in such a
place and at such a time.

Dodge was rather pale, but an expression of relief flashed over his face
when his eyes fell on Cimarron Bill. Then he stepped into the room.

Bill seemed no less astonished, but he advanced to meet Dodge, holding
out his hand, which the lawyer accepted.

"However is this, Mr. Dodge?" inquired Bill. "I sure am a whole lot
surprised to meet up with you here--that is, I'm surprised to have it
occur so soon. Will you wash the dust out of your throat?"

"Don't care if I do," said Dodge, and they crowded nearer to the bar.

"Bill, I thinks mebbe you might present yer friend," chipped in Handsome
Charley.

"Waal, Charley," said Bill, "this yere is Mr.----"

"Lewis," interposed Dodge quickly.

"Mr. Lewis," said Bill queerly. "Mr. Lewis, permit me to make you
acquainted with Charley Sears, generally called Handsome Charley. Will
you take a little pisen with us, Charley?"

Handsome Charley gave Dodge his hand, which the lawyer shook gingerly,
his coolness causing the fellow to frown.

They all drank, and Bill lurched, catching at the edge of the bar.

"'Scuse me," he said, with unusual politeness. "Always makes me dizzy to
dance. There is a right good lot of whirlin' around in it, you know."

Charley smiled.

"You had a fine partner that last dance, Bill; but you ought to bring
out that handsome gal an' take a spin with her, man. I 'low it ain't
right to keep her under kiver when every gent yere is yearnin' to set
eyes on her."

"They'll have to keep right on yearnin'," averred Bill, frowning.

"You're gettin' a whole lot selfish," declared Charley. "Are you afeared
some other gent will git her away from ye if you brings her out?"

"None at all, Charley. But she ain't for this gang to hustle around any,
and that's level."

At this the other seemed to take offense.

"I opine, Bill," he said, "that you don't set yourself up as a heap
better than the rest of this gang?"

The cruel face of Cimarron Bill took on an expression that was a
warning.

"Charley," he said, in a low, smooth voice, with one hand on the bar to
steady himself, "I am willing to confess that you disturbs me some. I
has my reasons for not bringin' the gal out, an' you'll sure excuse me
if I don't recite them none at present. Some other time I may explain."

But Charley persisted.

"Some other time it will be too late," he said. "I'm certain looking to
dance one set with the little beauty myself, Bill."

"Sorry to disappoint you," returned Bill; "but the young lady doesn't
dance none, if you want to know one good reason."

"Well, at least, you can bring her forth and permit us to gaze upon her
a while," suggested Charley.

"Not to-night," was the firm retort.

"Then it certain will seem a heap like you thought her too good for us,
and the boys won't like that a great deal if I tell 'em so."

Bill leaned on the bar, his back against it and his elbows resting so
that his hands were close to his hips. In that manner he stood perfectly
steady, and he was in a position to draw his pistols quickly.

"Charley," he said, his voice like the purring of a cat, all the
thickness seeming gone from his tongue, while his wicked eyes narrowed
to two thin slits, "I don't think you'll go for to say anything whatever
to the boys on this point. You are my friend, I opine. Am I sure right
on that?"

At this juncture Handsome Charley realized all at once that Bill was not
yet drunk enough not to be deadly. Charley's eyes noted in a flash how
the man had steadied himself and was ready for anything, and Charley
decided that the time was not yet ripe for bringing on a quarrel.

"Of course I'm your friend, Bill!" he said, with pretended heartiness,
"and whatever you says goes with me. I was just speakin' because I has
heard some of the boys growlin' over this business. That's all."

Bill smiled, but his smile was anything but pleasant.

"If any o' the boys growl around in your hearin' some more," he said,
"refer 'em to me, please. I reckons I can certain stop their growlin' in
a hurry."

"All right, all right!" nodded Charley.

"And you, pard," Bill went on--"you, I judge, will say to them that I
know my business a-plenty, and that you backs me up. Eh?"

"Sure, sure, Bill."

"I thought you would," nodded the desperado with the deadly eyes. "I
opined I could depend on you."

"You bet! Have another drink, you and Mr. Lewis?"

"Excuse us, please," urged Bill. "I hates most mortally to decline; but
I has some business to transact with Mr. Lewis, an' I says business
first an' pleasure arterwards. Arter we has settled the business I'll
stand up here to this yere bar an' drink with you as long as the pisen
lasts. Is that all satisfactory like?"

This question was put in a manner that indicated beyond question that it
would be best for Charley to acknowledge that it was satisfactory, and
the acknowledgment was made.

"Thanks," bowed Bill. "You're a sure enough gent, Charley, an' I'll
shoot the galoot what says to the contrary! An' now I reckons you'll
excuse us a while. Come, Mr. Lewis, thar's a small back room, an' we'll
jest step in thar."

Through this Dodge had stood there pale to the lips, with the exception
of his blue nose, for he realized that these men were on the verge of a
disagreement, and he understood that a disagreement between them meant
shooting in short order. Bill, however, had won out by a display of calm
assurance and nerve, which was remarkable, considering his condition.

The ruffian slipped an arm through that of Dodge, and they crossed the
floor and passed through a narrow door just as the fiddler resumed his
seat and called for the men to select partners and form for the next
dance.

Frank had watched every move, realizing full well that there was a
possibility of a "gun play" between those two desperadoes. He was unable
to hear what passed between them, but still he fancied he knew the bulk
of it, and, in spite of himself, in spite of the character of the man,
he could not help admitting Cimarron Bill's masterfulness. Frank
comprehended that Charley had thought at first of forcing a quarrel, but
had been cowed by Bill's manner.

The agitation of Eliot Dodge was also quite apparent. Merry had already
marked Dodge down as a coward.

When the two men passed into the back room Frank longed to follow them.
He sat there, wondering what course to pursue.

That June Arlington was somewhere in Sunk Hole he now felt certain. The
talk of the two men who had been seated near him was assurance enough on
that point.

But where was she? How was he to find and rescue her? This task he now
understood as the most important one before him and the one to which he
was to give his attention at once, regardless of the capture of Bill,
which could be accomplished later.

As he sat there, thinking the affair over and seeking to decide on some
course to pursue, he was surprised and pleased to distinctly hear Bill
speaking in the room beyond the board partition. These boards were thin
and badly matched, so that there were large cracks at intervals. One of
these cracks happened to be just behind Frank's head. By shifting his
position slightly, he brought his ear close to the crack.

The fiddler was tuning up, and the rough men and women were laughing as
they formed on the floor for the next dance.

Frank was able to concentrate his mind on anything he chose, at the same
time becoming quite oblivious to everything else; and now he shut out
the sounds of the room in which he sat and listened with all his ability
to hear what passed beyond the partition.

"Sure, partner," Bill's voice was saying, "it surprises me a whole lot
to see you come pokin' in here. However did you git here?"

"Terry came with me all the way. You said he would bring word to you
from me, but I could not wait. I wanted to have a talk with you face to
face, without trusting to any middle man. I felt that I must do it, and
that's what brought me here for one thing."

"Waal, here you are, and now open up. I'm ready to listen to anything
whatever you has to say."

"In the first place," Frank distinctly heard Dodge say, "Ben File is
dead."

"Say you so?" exclaimed Bill, and his voice indicated regret. "I allow
I'm a-plenty sorry."

"It was bad work."

"That's right. Don't know how I happened to do anything like that. Never
did afore. I saw Merriwell make a jump, and I thought from the way he
done it the bullet sure had gone clean through him."

"And you never touched him!"

"Don't rub it in harder than you kin help, Mr. Dodge!"

"Hush! Don't speak that name here! It must not get out that I'm in this
game! It would ruin me!"

"That's all right, pard; no danger. Hear the racket out yonder in that
room. Nobody would ever think o' tryin' to hear what we're sayin'."

"Still it will be better to keep on calling me Lewis. It's a dangerous
game we've tackled, and I want to get it through in a hurry now. That's
why I'm here."

"Waal, whatever do you say is the next move?"

"Merriwell got out of Holbrook right after you."

"I knows it. The gent sure chases me a distance, but he gits lost,
together with his pards, some time afore night."

"Well, now is the time to make the demand on Mrs. Arlington for the
ransom money. It must be rushed along. She's in a state of mind so that
she'll be sure to give up easy now. I've waited for this, and I find she
will pay well to have June returned to her unharmed."

"That's a heap soothin' and agreeable news. I has waited fer you to say
when it was best to make the demand on the old lady."

"And I've waited until I felt sure she was so distressed and agitated
that she would yield. She did not wish her husband to know of her
presence here, and so she sent no word to him at first. Now she has
wired him the whole facts, and we can reckon that he'll be coming this
way as fast as steam can carry him. It's best to get the whole deal
through, if possible, before he shows up."

"I'm for it."

"You must write a demand on the woman for the boodle. She has diamonds
and jewels with her on which she can raise ten thousand dollars. Make
her raise it at once. Don't let her delay. Frighten her into it."

"I opines I can do that. I'll give her a scorcher. I'll tell her the gal
is all safe an' onharmed, but she has to plunk down instanter or I'll
send her one o' Miss June's fingers to hurry her up a leetle."

"That will go. I think that ought to start her."

"If you says so, I'll make it stiffer. What if I adds that one o' the
gal's prittey hands will foller? or an ear--mebbe that's better?"

"As you choose. Say that the money is to be placed in my hands to be
delivered to your agent, who will meet me on the open plain ten miles
from Holbrook in whatever direction you choose. Then I can ride out with
it and come back, and you can bring the girl into town under cover of
night."

"I reckon that ought to work, partner. This yere game is your plannin',
an' I falls inter it because I reckons it was easier than gittin' ahead
o' Merriwell an' seizin' the mine. Had I shot up Merriwell, instead o'
File, I'd 'a' called on the lady hard fer the price, which, together
with the money I'll get out o' this strike, would have made me easy for
a right good while."

"I'm against your idea of trying to saddle the kidnaping onto
Merriwell."

"Why?"

"I don't think it will go. Merriwell might return to Holbrook. If the
demand for money had his name attached, his arrest would seem to put him
where it would be necessary for him to produce the girl. Mrs. Arlington
was for forcing him to do so when File took him. Anything like that
would cause delay, and delay is something we do not want."

"Mr.--ah--Mr. Lewis, you sure reasons correct. We'll jest hitch a
made-up name to the demand for money, which will be a whole lot better."

"I think so. And now let's write this demand, so that I may turn about
and get out of this hole immediately. You must furnish me with a fresh
horse. I'm supposed now to be searching for Merriwell, several men in
town having set out upon the same task, for Mrs. Arlington offered a
reward for his recapture. I will be able to make a very satisfactory
explanation of my absence from Holbrook."



CHAPTER XXXII.

DEAD OR LIVING.


Frank's feelings on listening to this talk, the greater part of which he
was able to hear very well, may be imagined far more easily than
described. At last he was in full possession of the facts relating to
the abduction of June Arlington, and a greater piece of villainy had
never come to his knowledge. From the first he had regarded Eliot Dodge
as a scoundrel of the worst type; but he had not gaged the man as one
who would enter into such a desperate scheme as this.

Merry had also learned that Ben File was dead, and, therefore, he was
released from his promise to bring back Cimarron Bill.

Immediately his one thought turned to June and to the devising of some
method of discovering her whereabouts and going to her rescue. Later he
could think of other things; but not until this great object had been
accomplished.

The voices of the men ran on in the little room, though words grew
fewer, and Merry knew the demand for the ransom money was being written.

For a moment he thought of the satisfaction it would give him to expose
the rascally lawyer and bring him to the end of his tether. Then he saw
Handsome Charley speaking quietly in the ear of a man, afterward
passing on to another and yet another. There was something in Charley's
manner that seemed very significant.

"There's trouble brewing for Bill," Frank decided. "It's coming as sure
as fate."

He felt for his own weapons, making sure they were where he could draw
them and use them without delay; but Frank did not propose to become
involved in the affair unless circumstances made it impossible to keep
out.

Again he listened at the crack in the partition, hoping that some word
passed between Dodge and Bill would tell him where June was hidden. In
this Merry was disappointed. True, Dodge asked about the girl and Bill
assured him that she was perfectly safe and unharmed, but that was all.

The dance was over and another was in progress when Bill and Eliot Dodge
came from that back room. Handsome Charley and his satellites were
watching these two men. But they were permitted to pass to the door,
where Bill shook hands with Dodge, who hurried forth into the night.

"How is that, Bill?" demanded Charley, hastily approaching. "I opine you
agreed that you an' your friend would sure drink with me arter your
business was over. I notices that he has hiked."

Bill turned.

"Count me in, Charley," he said easily. "Mr.--ah--Lewis, he didn't hev
time. My neck is again a whole lot dry, and I'll be pleased to irrigate
with you."

So they stood up to the bar, and Frank saw a number of men drawing near
from different directions, all coming forward quietly.

Charley openly expressed his disapproval of the conduct of Eliot Dodge.

"He certain was most onmannerly, Bill," he declared.

"Forget it," advised Bill curtly.

And this was not at all agreeable to the other.

"Mebbe I can't do that none," said Charley; "but I'll tell ye, Bill,
what will help a whole lot."

"Go ahead," said Bill.

"You has right up-stairs in this same ranch a young lady what is
handsome enough to make any gent fergit a wrong, an' her I most mightily
wants to bring down yere."

Frank heard the words distinctly, and they gave him a start. Handsome
Charley was speaking of June Arlington; there could be no doubt of that.
He said June was "up-stairs in that same ranch." At last Frank had
received the clue he was seeking.

More than Merry saw trouble was brewing between Charley and Bill, and
now the attention of almost every person in the room was directed toward
them.

Bill's face grew grim, and again his eyes narrowed and glittered.

"See yere," he said harshly, "I allows we has settled the p'int in
regard to her, an' so you lets it drop, Charley."

Frank knew that pistols would be out in a few seconds more. He did not
wait for the men to draw and begin to shoot.

There was no flight of stairs in the room where the dance was taking
place, and, therefore, he immediately decided that the stairs might be
found in the back room, where the interview between Bill and Eliot Dodge
had taken place. The door leading into that room was closed, but Frank
slipped quickly to it, and it readily opened before his hand.

He found himself in a bare room, having but little furniture, a table, a
bed, some chairs, and, as Frank had believed likely, a steep flight of
stairs ran railless up one side of the room, disappearing at a dark
landing above.

In a twinkling Merry was bounding lightly up those stairs, the sounds of
loud and angry voices coming from the dance-room, where the music and
dancing had now stopped.

Frank knew that whatever he did must be done in a hurry, for, allowing
that in the trouble in the dance-room, Handsome Charley should come
forth triumphant it was likely that June would be sought by some of
those ruffians.

The thought of this spurred Merry on. He pictured to himself the terror
of the poor girl seized by those men and dragged into the presence of
the mob below.

"They shall not touch her!" he muttered. "If I can reach her, they shall
not touch her!"

Then he found himself, in the gloom of the landing, against a heavy
door. He sought to open it, but it was locked.

From below came the sound of a shot. Then there were shouts and other
shots.

"The devils have broken loose!" exclaimed Merry, and he wondered how it
fared with Bill.

In vain he felt for the fastenings of the door. His heart smote him with
the fear that it would withstand any attack he might direct upon it.

Then he found a match and struck it. The light showed him something that
made his heart leap with satisfaction.

Across the face of the door, lying in iron slots, was an iron bar that
held it fast.

The match was dropped in a twinkling, and Frank's fingers lifted the bar
from the slots and its socket. Then he easily opened the door.

At that instant it seemed as if pandemonium broke loose below. There was
a perfect fusillade of shots, hoarse shouts from men and wild shrieks
from women. There was likewise a terrible crash, as if some part of the
building had been ripped down.

"June!" called Frank. "June! June!"

The room in which he found himself was dark and silent.

"June! June! I am a friend! Answer me!"

Still silence.

Again he brought forth and struck a match. It flared up in his fingers,
and he lifted it above his head, looking all around.

Stretched on the floor in a huddled heap in one corner was the body of a
girl. The glance he had obtained convinced him that it was June beyond
question.

Frank sprang forward, again speaking her name and assuring her that he
was a friend.

In the darkness he found her with his hands. She did not move when he
touched her, and his fingers ran to her face. It was cold as marble to
the touch, and a great horror filled his soul.

"Merciful God!" he groaned, starting back a little. "They have killed
her. The devils!"

The shock was so great that he remained quite still on his knees for a
few moments.

He was aroused by the sound of heavy feet upon the stairs.

Frank sprang up and dashed across the room to the door.

The door leading into the dance-room had been left wide open below. He
saw that a number of men had entered the back room, and already two or
three were on the stairs. Handsome Charley was at their head.

Frank was trapped!

At once he realized that Cimarron Bill was, beyond a doubt, lying in a
pool of his own blood in the dance-room. At last the most desperate and
dangerous man-killer of the Southwest had met his master.

Merry had little time, however, to think of anything like this. His own
life was in the utmost peril. He drew his revolver, and, with the utmost
coolness, put a bullet through Handsome Charley's right shoulder.

With a cry, the man fell back into the arms of the one directly behind
him, and that fellow was upset, so that all were swept in a great crash
to the foot of the stairs.

"Perhaps that will hold you for a while!" muttered Frank, as he picked
up the iron bar and promptly closed the door at the head of the stairs.

He had seized the bar because he thought it might be a good weapon of
defense in case his revolvers should be emptied and he remained in
condition to fight. Now he thought of something else, and decided that
the bar might do for a prop at the door.

"There ought to be some other way out of this room," he muttered. "Isn't
there even a window?"

Again he struck a match, looking around with the aid of its light.

At the end of the long room in which he found himself he fancied he must
find a window. Toward this end of the room he hurried, and another match
disclosed to him a window that was hidden by heavy planking. Plainly the
planks had been spiked over the window after it was decided to hold June
a prisoner in that room.

Down dropped the match, and instantly Frank attacked the planks with the
iron bar.

Fortune must have favored him, for had it been light he could not have
been more successful. Every stroke was effective, and he began ripping
off the planks.

There was wild excitement below, and Merry prayed for a little time. His
heart was filled with a hope that Handsome Charley's fate would be a
warning to others, so they would not be eager to rush up the stairs to
the door.

In just about one minute he had torn the planks from the window.

Once more he heard men ascending the stairs. Instantly he dashed across
the floor, finding the door in the darkness.

"Halt!" he cried savagely, from behind the closed door. "Halt, or I
fire!"

Then he sought to prop the door with the iron bar, pressing it down in
such a position that it might hold for some moments against an ordinary
attack upon it.

"I'll shoot the first man who tries to open this door!" he shouted.

But he did not remain there to await an effort to open the door. Instead
he quickly found the girl in the corner, lifted her limp body, and
sought the window once more.

Reaching the window, Frank promptly kicked out sash and glass with two
movements of his foot.

Bang! bang! bang!--sounded heavy blows on the door behind him, but the
iron bar was holding well.

Merry swung his leg over the window-ledge. Desperate as he was, he meant
to venture a leap from the window to the ground with the girl in his
arms.

But just then, pausing to look down, he was amazed and delighted to see
below him his four friends, who were on the point of entering the
building, led by Bart Hodge. Instantly Frank hailed them.

"Catch her!" he cried, swinging the girl out over the window-ledge, so
that they could see her below.

Immediately Bart and Ephraim extended their arms and stood ready.

"Let her come!" shouted Hodge.

Frank dropped the girl, and the two young men clutched at her as she
fell directly into their arms.

At that moment the door behind Merry flew open with a slam and the
ruffians came bursting into the room.

One of them held a lighted lamp.

The fellow in advance saw Frank in the window and flung up his hand.
There was a loud report and a burst of smoke. When the smoke cleared the
window was empty, Frank having disappeared.

"Nailed him!" shouted the ruffian who had fired. "Nailed him for sure!"

He rushed forward to the window and looked down, expecting to discover
the body of his victim stretched on the ground. But in this he was
disappointed, for neither Frank nor his friends were beneath the
window. Into the darkness of the crooked street some dusky figures were
vanishing.

Frank had leaped from the window, being untouched by the bullet that
fanned his cheek in passing. He struck on his feet, but plunged forward
on his hands and knees. In a moment he was jerked erect by some one who
observed:

"Methinks your parachute must be out of order. You descended with
exceeding great violence. What think you if we make haste to depart?"

"Jack!" exclaimed Frank.

"The same," was the assurance, as Ready clutched his arm and started him
on the run. "Dear me! I know this strenuous life will yet bring me to my
death!"

Ahead of them Frank saw some figures moving hastily away.

"The girl----"

"They've got her," assured Jack. "Old Joe is with them. We'll talk it
over later."

So they ran, well knowing the whole of Sunk Hole would be looking for
them within thirty minutes. It did not take them long to come up with
Bart, Ephraim, and old Joe.

Behind them there sounded shouts and commands, and it was well the whole
of Sunk Hole had been at the dance, else the place must have been
aroused so that they would have run into some of its inhabitants. Here
and there amid the buildings they dodged until they arrived at the edge
of the collection and struck out for the side of the valley, Crowfoot
leading.

It was necessary to trust everything to the old Indian. Without him they
could not have known with any certainty that they were taking the proper
course to enable them to get out of the valley.

The girl was passed from one to another as they ran. They did not waste
their breath in words.

The old Indian ran with an ease that was astonishing, considering his
years.

Looking back, they could see torches moving swiftly here and there
through the town, telling that the search for them was being carried on.

Soon they came to a steep gully that led upward, and the ascent was very
difficult, even at first. It grew more and more difficult as they
ascended, and it became necessary for them to work slowly in the
darkness, the girl being passed upward from time to time, as one after
another took turns at creeping ahead.

Joe did not seem to have much trouble, but he did not bother with the
girl. Finally he said:

"Here come bad palefaces! Make some big hurry!"

It was true that a party of men were running toward the gully. Their
torches danced and flared, showing them with some distinctness.

To the right and left in other parts of the valley were clusters of
torches.

"Heap try to stop us," exclaimed Crowfoot. "One way to go up there,
'nother way down there, this be 'nother way. They know all. That how um
come here so fast."

By the time the men with the torches reached the foot of the gully Frank
and his comrades were so far above that they were not betrayed by the
torchlight. But one of the ruffians bade the others listen, and at that
very moment Ephraim Gallup dislodged a stone that went clattering and
rattling downward with a great racket.

Instantly a wild yell broke from the lips of the ruffians below.

"Here they are!" they shouted. "They're up here!"

Then one of them began to blaze away with his pistols, and the bullets
whistled and zipped unpleasantly close to the party above.

Bart Hodge stooped and found some rocks as large as ducks' eggs in the
hollow of the gully. He knew it would expose their position if he should
answer the fire with his revolvers, and so he simply hurled those rocks
with all the accuracy and skill that had made him noted on the baseball
diamond as a wonderful thrower to second base.

The first rock struck a fellow on the wrist and broke it. The third hit
another man on the shoulder, and not many of the six Bart threw failed
to take effect.

Astonishing though it seemed, this method of retorting to the shooting
proved most effective, and the ruffians scattered to get out of the way,
swearing horribly.

The fugitives continued till the top of the gully was reached and they
struck something like a natural path that soon took them where they
could no longer see the valley nor hear their enemies.

Knowing they would be followed still farther, they halted not for a
moment until their horses were reached. Then they paused only to make
ready and swing into the saddle.

Even as June was passed up to Frank she sighed and seemed to come a
little to herself. And as they rode into the dusk of the night she
recovered consciousness, the cool breeze fanning her face. She wondered
and shuddered until she heard the voice of Frank Merriwell reassuring
her, and then she was certain that it was all a dream. In her prison
room she had listened with shaking soul to the sounds from below, she
had crept to the barred door and heard Cimarron Bill and Eliot Dodge
talking below, and the horror of knowing the rascally lawyer was in the
plot that had brought about her abduction and detention in that den had
been a fearful shock to her. When the quarreling and the shooting began,
she was filled with mortal dread. She heard some one on the stairs and
fumbling at her door, and then, kneeling in a corner of the room, all
the world slipped away from her, and she remembered nothing more until
she awoke in the arms of her brave rescuer, Frank Merriwell.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE RETURN TO HOLBROOK.


Haggard from worriment and need of sleep, her face seeming drawn and
old, her eyes feeling like coals in her throbbing head, Mrs. Arlington
welcomed Eliot Dodge, who came into the room, looking dejected yet
seeming to appear hopeful.

"June! June, my child?" cried the tortured mother. "Have you no news of
her?"

"Nothing but--this," said Dodge, pulling out an unsealed letter.

Then he briefly told of being held up by three ruffians, who had given
him the letter.

Mrs. Arlington read it, and fell half-fainting on the couch, while Dodge
bent over her with protestations of sympathy.

"My poor girl!" gasped the miserable woman. "And she is in the power of
such monsters! The ransom money must be paid! She must be saved at
once!"

"Is there no way to avoid paying the money?" said Dodge. "Is it not
possible she may be saved in some other manner?"

"I think it is," said a clear voice, as the door was thrust open and
Frank Merriwell, covered from head to heel with the dust of the desert,
escorted the rescued girl into the room. "Mrs. Arlington, I have
brought you your daughter."

With a scream of joy, Mrs. Arlington leaped up and June ran into her
arms.

Eliot Dodge seemed to turn green. He stood and stared at the girl in a
sort of blank stupor, failing to observe that just behind Frank
Merriwell, who still wore the clothes taken from the intoxicated
Mexican, there was the officer newly appointed to fill the place left
vacant by the death of Ben File.

"June! June! June!" cried Mrs. Arlington, her face flushed with
gladness. "Is it you, my poor girl! I can scarcely believe it! How does
it happen? Tell me how you come to be here!"

"I am here, mother, because I was rescued from those horrible ruffians
by that brave gentleman whom you have so greatly wronged, Frank
Merriwell. He risked his life for me. I will tell you all, but
first--first I must tell you that you have trusted a snake. I mean that
monster there!"

She pointed her finger at Dodge, who started and looked startled, but
pretended the utmost amazement.

"He is the villain who planned it all!" declared June. "I know, for I
heard them talk it over. But he shall not escape!"

"I hardly think so," said Frank. "Officer, he is a desperate man. Be
careful of him."

"This is an outrage!" declared Dodge, as the new city marshal grasped
him. "I'll not permit it! I----"

Frank clutched him on the other side, and, a moment later, the officer
had ironed his prisoner.

Mrs. Arlington would have interfered, but Merry declared he had sworn
out the warrant for Dodge's arrest, and she saw it was useless.

"Madam," said Frank, "I will leave you alone with your daughter. When
she has told you all, you will be ready, I am confident, to prosecute
Eliot Dodge. I shall then withdraw my charge and permit you to have him
arrested. In the meantime I bid you good day. I shall be in this hotel
for the next day or so."

He bowed gracefully to both Mrs. Arlington and June and left the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

When there was plenty of time, Frank and his friends talked it over. He
told them of his experience in the dance-room, and they told him how
they had lingered near, ready to rush to his rescue. When they heard the
sounds of the quarrel between Cimarron Bill and Handsome Charley they
hurried to the door, but there they halted, for they looked in and saw
nothing of Frank. Thus it was that they beheld the shooting of Bill as
he tried to draw on Charley. He was shot down from behind by Charley's
tools, and they fired several bullets into his body as he lay weltering
on the floor.

Frank shook his head as he heard this account of Bill's end.

"He was a bad man, a very bad man," he said; "but somehow I'm sorry
that he met his end that way. They had to shoot him from the rear. Not
one of them dared pull on him face to face."

Frank received a brief letter from Mrs. Arlington, thanking him for what
he had done for her daughter. Not one word did she say of her own
malevolence toward him, not one word of the manner in which she had
wronged him. And the doctor, who brought the letter, told Merry that she
was in such a precarious condition that she could not write more, nor
could she be seen by any one but June.

Frank smiled grimly, disdainfully, over the letter, then deliberately
tore it into shreds.

But he had proved his manhood, and June Arlington, for all of her
mother, found time to see him a few moments before he left town. After
that brief time with June he rode light-heartedly away, his friends
galloping at his side and listening to the cowboy song that came from
his lips.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

This text file version is encoded in Latin-1 format to preserve
all original accents.

Because of extensive use of dialect, all apparent errors within dialogue
have been assumed intentional and retained.

Page 5, "Merriell's" changed to "Merriwell's" (Frank Merriwell's Rough
Deal)

Page 24, changed erroneous period to comma ("I have no desire or
intention of irking you up, sir," he said.)

Page 27, "referrring" changed to "referring" (Certain papers referring
to the Queen Mystery and San Pablo Mines, which I own.)

Page 93, added missing opening quote ("I think I'll finish you!")

Page 213, "Cimaroon" changed to "Cimarron" (Cimarron Bill watched his
tool depart, smiling darkly and muttering to himself)

Page 216, removed extraneous quote after "hurriedly" ("Oh, velly good,
velly good!" answered the Celestial hurriedly, backing off a little, his
face yellowish white.)

Page 217, "cant" changed to "can't" ("I can't beat him at his own
game.")

Page 300, changed single quote to double quote at end of sentence ("In
the first place," Frank distinctly heard Dodge say, "Ben File is dead.")

Page 318, "Merriwel" changed to "Merriwell" (He stood and stared at the
girl in a sort of blank stupor, failing to observe that just behind
Frank Merriwell, who still wore the clothes taken from the intoxicated
Mexican, there was the officer newly appointed to fill the place left
vacant by the death of Ben File.)





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