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CHAPTER XIII


THE CRAZY STEER


In the shade of the woods the boys rested their steeds for a few minutes, and as they did this the cowboy told them of some of the races he had seen in the past on Star Ranch.

"One of the greatest races was between one o' the cowboys and an Indian named Crowfoot Joe," said the cowboy. "The Indian was sure he was going to win, but he lost by a neck. That race took place two years ago, but the boys in these parts ain't done tellin' about it yet. We had a full holiday the time it come off."

"I think your horse is just as good as mine," said Dave to Roger. "But I fancy you pressed him a little too hard at the start."

"He is just as good, an' so is the hoss Phil is ridin'," came from Sid Todd. "It was the ridin' did it. Dave managed his mount just right." And this open praise made the youth from Crumville blush.

"Just wait till Jessie hears how he won," said the shipowner's son. "She'll weave a laurel crown for his brow and——"

"Don't you say a word about it!" cried Dave, and blushed more than ever. "I didn't win by so very much, anyway."

Forward the party went, through the woods, and then in the direction of the foothills beyond. The race had not hurt the horses in the least, for all of them were tough and used to hard usage. They were following a well-defined trail, but presently branched off to the southward and commenced to climb the first of the hills.

"That hollow is about quarter of a mile from here," explained the cowboy. "Be careful now, or your horse will get into a hole, an' maybe break a leg." And then they went forward with added caution, into the midst of a growth of low bushes, dotted here and there with sagebrush.

Presently the cowboy uttered a long, loud whistle and this was answered by somebody near the edge of the ravine. Then another ranch hand named Tom Yates showed himself. He was on foot, but his horse was tethered not far away.

"Well, where are they?" asked Todd, of the other cowboy.

"Where are they?" growled Tom Yates. "Where they always are when they go over, hang 'em! Say, we're going to have a fierce job this time," he added.

"Why?" asked Todd.

"Because that big steer—the spotted one—went over with two of the others. He got hurt a few days ago in the woods, and he's as ugly as sin because of it."

"Well, we'll have to drive 'em up, same as we did before," answered Sid Todd, briefly.

"I don't think you'll drive that steer," answered Tom Yates. "Blinky and I tried it, and we couldn't do a thing with him. Blinky wouldn't stay here. He thinks the steer is crazy."

"Got a rope?"

"Sure," was the answer, and the cowboy who had been working to get the cattle out of the ravine, swung a strong lasso into view. "But you ain't goin' to use that on that steer," he continued. "Leas'wise, not if you want to live to tell it."

"We'll see," answered Sid Todd, briefly, as he dismounted and took the lasso.

"Can we help?" asked Dave.

"Sure you can," answered the cowboy who had accompanied the boys. "Just you keep out of the way, an' that will be all the help we need."

"But perhaps we could do something," grumbled Roger. "I want to get into a regular round-up of cattle some day."

"This ain't no round-up, my boy. If you go down into the hollow those cattle will be wuss frightened nor ever. You just stay up here and watch things. I'm going to get 'em out—or know the reason why," finished Sid Todd, and he walked away with Tom Yates, and presently the pair were joined by a third hand, the fellow who had said he thought one of the steers was crazy.

With nothing else to do, the three boys dismounted, tethered their steeds, and walked slowly and cautiously to the edge of the ravine. The ground was very uneven, and treacherous holes were numerous.

"You would think there would be a lot of game around here," was Dave's comment. "But so far I haven't seen a thing."

"I think the cattle and the cowboys have scared the animals away," answered Roger. "For hunting we'll have to go where it is even wilder than this—Todd said so."

"My, but this air is the finest ever!" cried Phil. "I declare, it makes me feel young!"

"As if he were old!" protested the senator's son. "But the air is great!" he added.

"I know what it does to me," declared Dave. "Makes me mighty hungry."

"Same here," answered the shipowner's son. "I think I could eat about six square meals a day. When we go out hunting, for a full day or more, we mustn't forget to take plenty of food along."

"Oh, we'll eat what we shoot, Phil," said Dave, with a wink at Roger. "They always do that out West, you know."

"Huh! And if we don't shoot we can starve, eh? Not much! I'm going to take plenty of good things along when I go out."

"I wonder if we'll see much of Link Merwell," said Roger, after a pause.

"I don't want to see him," answered Dave.

"But he'll see you, Dave. Didn't he say he'd square accounts out here? He'll keep his word—when it comes to doing anything mean and dirty."

"Roger is right," said Phil. "I shouldn't want to alarm the girls, or Mr. and Mrs. Endicott, but I'd surely keep my eyes open for Link Merwell. He'll try some kind of a game—it's his nature."

With caution the boys approached the edge of the ravine and looked over. They saw a spot where the dirt, rocks, and bushes had torn loose and slid down to the bottom of the hollow, carrying with the mass three of Mr. Endicott's herd of cattle. Two of the herd had been driven up to safety by the cowboys, but the third—the vicious steer—was still below, unable to help himself, and showing fight whenever approached by the ranch hands.

"I see him!" announced Phil, pointing with his hand to some rocks below. "He looks peaceful enough."

"So does a bomb—until it goes off," answered Dave. "The cowboys wouldn't be afraid of him unless he was a bad one. Maybe he is really crazy. I've heard of a crazy horse."

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story Shadow Hamilton told," came from the senator's son. "A boy in school was a regular blockhead, and one day the teacher asked him what made him so foolish. 'I dunno,' he answered, 'excepting that my mother makes me sleep under a crazy quilt.'"

"Say, that's like Shadow!" cried Phil, after a laugh all around. "Wish he was here—what stories he would tell!"

For some little time the boys could not see the men, who were hidden by the rocks and brushwood. But presently they caught sight of Sid Todd. He was flourishing a stick at the steer. The animal paid no attention at first, but presently commenced to shake his head from side to side.

"Doesn't like it," was Roger's comment.

"He seems to be saying 'No' quite forcibly," added Dave.

"Now Todd is after him," cried the shipowner's son a minute later. "See, the steer is on the move at last."

"Yes, but he is going after Todd!" answered Roger.

Such was the fact, and presently man and beast disappeared behind some brushwood. Then, when they emerged again, it was seen that the cowboy had lassoed the animal by one of the forelegs. He was mounting the rocks, and the steer was limping behind, trying vainly to shake himself free. He did not seem to know enough to hold back altogether.

"Well, I think that rather dangerous!" declared Phil. "Supposing the steer should run for him?"

"I guess the cowboy knows what he is doing," answered Dave. "If he is pursued, he can easily scramble up on some of the steep rocks and get out of the way."

For fully ten minutes they watched the scene below them with interest. At one time the cowboy would appear to have the best of the situation, then it looked as if the steer would have his own way. But gradually man and beast worked up toward the top of the ravine.

"He'll worry the steer along, if he doesn't get too tired," said Dave. "But it must be a fearful strain on him."

The strain was heavier than the boys anticipated and several times Sid Todd was on the point of giving up the struggle. Perhaps, had he been alone, he might have done so. But, with the others looking on, he felt that his reputation was at stake, and so he worried along, until he suddenly slipped on some rocks and fell flat.

As he went down, the steer appeared to realize the man's helplessness, and with a weird snort he rushed forward, the lasso becoming tangled up on the front leg as he advanced.

"Look out, Sid!" yelled Yates. "He's goin' to hook yer!"

Todd had been a little stunned by his fall, and a bit of brushwood hid the animal from his view. But at the cry of alarm from the other ranch hand he realized his peril and rolled over, between two tall rocks.

On came the steer and struck one of the rocks a blow that resounded loudly through the ravine. Then the beast gave a leap, directly over Todd's body, and landed on the rocks beyond.

"Is he hurt?" asked Roger, anxiously.

"I don't know, but I don't think so," answered Dave.

"See, the steer is coming right up the side of the ravine!" cried Phil. "He is dragging the lasso after him."

"Yes, and he is coming this way!" put in the senator's son. "Perhaps we had better get out of the way!" he added, in alarm.

"Oh, I don't think he'll tackle us," answered Phil.

"There is no telling what he will do," said Dave. "He is coming to the top, that is sure. Maybe we had better get into the saddle. We'll be safer on horseback."

The horses of the three boys were tethered some distance away, and as mentioned before, the lads had to move slowly, for fear of stepping into some hole. As they advanced they heard loud cries coming up from the bottom of the ravine.

"What can be wrong down there now?" questioned the shipowner's son.

"I don't know," returned Roger. "Perhaps they are shouting to warn us."

"That is just what they are doing!" added Dave, quickly. "Listen!"

"Look out, up there!" came from the ravine. "Look out! The steer is coming!"

The boys quickened their pace, but hardly had they covered half the distance to where the horses were tied when Roger suddenly slipped and went down.

"Hurry up!" called out Phil, who was near.

"Oh!" moaned the senator's son, and his face took on a look of pain.

"What's wrong?" asked Dave, coming up.

"My foot! It got twisted, and now it is fast in the hole!" answered Roger. "Gracious! how it hurts!" he went on, making a wry face.

"Come! come!" urged Dave. "That steer is coming! There he is now!" And he pointed to the lower end of the ravine, where the animal had just bobbed up among the bushes, shaking his head from side to side in a queer, uncanny way.

Roger tried to pull his foot from between the rocks, but was unable to do so. Phil had run on, thinking his chums would follow. Dave stopped short.

"Can't you make it, Roger?" he asked, anxiously, and with another glance in the direction of the steer. The animal was now in full view.

"I—I—don't seem to be—be able to!" panted the senator's son. "Oh, if only that steer doesn't come this way!" he went on, in fresh alarm.

"He is coming this way!" exclaimed Dave. "Oh, Roger, let me help you!" And now he bent over and tried with might and main to get his chum's foot free. As he did this the steer came forward slowly. Then the animal gave an unexpected snort of rage and charged full tilt at the helpless youth.