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CHAPTER XIV


A FACE PUZZLES DAVE


It was a time of extreme peril for Roger, and no one realized it more fully than did Dave. The angry steer was still some distance away, but coming forward at his best speed. One prod from those horns and the senator's son would be killed or badly hurt.

As said before, Phil had gone on, thinking his chums would follow. He was already at the side of his horse, and speedily untied the animal, and vaulted into the saddle.

"Why, what's up?" he cried, in dismay, as he turned, to behold Roger in the hole and Dave beside him.

"Roger's foot is fast!" answered Dave. "Oh, Phil, see if you can't scare the steer off!"

"I'll do what I can," came from the shipowner's son, and rather timidly, it must be confessed, he advanced on the animal in question. He gave a loud shout and swung his arm, and the steer looked toward him and came to a halt.

"You've got your gun—if he tries to horn Roger, shoot him," went on Dave.

"I will," answered Phil, and riding still closer he swung his firearm around for action.

Dave made a hasty examination and saw that Roger's foot was caught by the toe and the heel, and would have to be turned in a sideway fashion to be loosened. He caught his chum under the arms and turned him partly over.

"Now try it," he said quickly, at the same time turning once more to look at the steer. The beast had finished his inspection of Phil and was coming forward as before, with head and horns almost sweeping the ground. Behind him trailed the long lasso, which was still fast to one of his forelegs.

"Phil! Phil!" cried Dave, suddenly. "I have it! Catch the lasso if you can and hold him back!"

"I will—if I can," was the ready response. And making a semicircle the shipowner's son came up behind the steer, leaped to the ground, caught hold of the lasso, and sprang back into the saddle, almost as quick as it takes to tell it. Then he made the rope fast to his pommel and turned his horse back.

The steer was but two yards away from Roger and Dave when the rope on his foreleg suddenly tightened, and he found himself brought to a halt. He gave a wild snort, and, just as Roger found himself at liberty, he turned and gazed angrily at Phil and his steed. Then he charged in that direction.

"Ride for it, Phil!" called Dave, but this warning was unnecessary, for the shipowner's son was already galloping across the field as rapidly as the nature of the ground permitted. The horse easily kept the lasso taut, thus worrying the steer not a little.

By Dave's aid Roger managed to hobble to where the other horses were tethered, and soon both boys were in the saddle and riding after Phil and the steer.

"I guess the steer is getting winded," said Dave, coming closer. "He doesn't seem to have as much fight in him as he did."

Around and around, in a broad circle, went Phil and his horse and the steer. But the steps of the latter were slower and slower, and presently the beast dropped into a walk and then refused to take another step. Phil came to a halt also, but kept the lasso tight. Then the steer lay down on his side.

"I guess he is conquered," was Roger's comment.

The three boys kept at a safe distance and waited for the appearance of Sid Todd and the other cowboys. Presently Todd came over the rim of the ravine and looked around anxiously.

"Anybody hurt?" he questioned, as he ran forward.

"Roger got his ankle twisted, running away from the steer," answered Dave.

"What did the critter do?" went on the cowboy, and Phil and the others told their story, to which Sid Todd listened with interest. The other cowboys also came up, to look the fallen steer over.

"He sure is a crazy one," said Yates. "If I was the boss, I'd shoot him."

"I'll report about him as soon as I get back," answered Todd. "Say, you had a nerve to take hold of this lasso," he went on to Phil.

"Dave told me to do it," was the answer of the shipowner's son. "It was easy enough—when I was on horseback. I shouldn't have done it if I had been on foot."

"Not much—unless you're a staving good runner," said Yates, with a grin.

The steer was too exhausted to make further resistance just then, and the cowboys had but little trouble in taking the lasso from his foreleg.

"He'll be all right after a bit," said Todd, in answer to a question from Dave. "But I think myself he isn't just O. K. in his head, and the next time we want some fresh meat we might as well kill him off and be done with it."

The cowboy insisted upon looking at Roger's ankle. The member was somewhat swollen, but the senator's son said it would not bother him to ride home. In a little while they were off in a bunch. When quite a distance from the ravine they gazed back and saw that the steer had gotten up and was grazing as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

"Well, we have put in a rather strenuous day for a starter," remarked Dave, when they came in sight of the ranch home. "If this keeps up——"

"But it won't," interrupted Phil. "I reckon some days will be dull enough."

The girls were awaiting their return, and they listened with keen attention to what the boys had to tell.

"You must bathe your ankle with liniment," cried Belle. "I'll get some for you," and soon she presented Roger with the stuff. He did as directed, and soon the swollen member felt far more comfortable. During the evening the senator's son took it easy on the wide veranda and in the sitting-room.

"I wish I had seen the race!" cried Jessie, smiling at Dave. "Some day you'll have to have another and let us girls look on."

"What's the matter with you girls having a race?" queried Dave. "That would be dead loads of fun—for us boys."

"Belle would be sure to win—she can ride like the wind," answered Laura.

As soon as it grew dark that evening the girls and boys went indoors, and played and sang. Belle showed her skill on the piano, and Dave and Phil tried the mechanical arrangement of the instrument, with perforated music rolls. Almost before they realized it, it was time to go to bed.

The next morning Roger still limped a little, and it was agreed to take it easy. All wanted to write letters, and the entire day was spent in doing little else.

"How will the letters be posted?" asked Dave.

"Todd will take them over to the railroad station to-morrow," answered Mrs. Endicott.

Shortly after dinner the next day, the cowboy announced that he was ready to take the mail to the station. Phil and Roger had wandered off to the barns, to look at some calves.

"If you don't mind, I'll go with you to the station," said Dave to the cowboy. "The ride would just suit me."

"Glad to have you along," answered Sid Todd. He had taken a strong fancy to the boys and to Dave in particular.

They were soon on their way, Todd carrying the mail in a bag slung over his horse's neck. Man and boy were in the best of spirits, and both made rapid time over the dusty roads.

"Maybe you'll meet a friend of yours at the station when the train comes in," said Todd.

"A friend? Who?" asked Dave.

"That Merwell boy. Yates heard he was coming to-day. One of the cowboys from Merwell's ranch said so."

"I don't know that I care to meet him," answered Dave. "He is no friend of mine."

"That boy ought to have his hide tanned good and proper," growled the cowboy. "He's been a sore spot here for years."

"Have you had trouble with him?"

"Yes, and so has everybody else on this ranch, and on his own ranch, too, for the matter of that. Not that he did anything very bad," continued Todd. "But it's jest his mean, measly ways. He don't know how to treat a hand civilly."

"Isn't his father the same way?"

"Sometimes, but not always. The old man knows that the boys won't stand for too much of that thing."

"Who is at their ranch besides Mr. Merwell?"

"Oh, the regular hands, that's all."

"No young folks?"

"No."

"I should think it would be lonely for Link."

"Maybe it is. But that ain't no reason why he should act so mean," added Sid Todd.

"I should think he'd want to invite some of his friends to visit him."

"Maybe Mr. Merwell don't want it. He's putty close, you must remember, and it costs money to entertain."

"Well, I pity Link if he has got to stay there alone."

"He don't stay all the time. He rides to town, and smokes and gambles, and gets into all sorts of trouble, and then he gets scared to death for fear the old man will find it out," concluded Sid Todd.

They were soon at the station, and there found they would have to wait half an hour for the train to come in. Several cowboys were present and also a gentleman with a white, flowing beard.

"That is Mr. Hooper," said Sid Todd. "He owns a ranch up the river—the Bar X. He's a fine man." And a few minutes later he introduced Dave to the ranch owner.

"Glad to know you," said Mr. Hooper. "I heard that my friend, Endicott, had a lot of boys and girls at his place. Tell Belle she must bring all of you over to my place some day."

"Thank you, I will," answered Dave.

"We haven't any boys and girls there, but I reckon we can give you a good time," went on Mr. Hooper.

Among the cowboys at the station, Dave noticed one tall and particularly powerful fellow. His face looked somewhat familiar, and the Crumville youth wondered if he had met the man before.

"That is Hank Snogger, the fellow who left our place to work for Mr. Merwell," said Sid Todd, in a low voice.

"His face looks familiar to me, but I can't place him," returned Dave. "Did he come from the East?"

"I think he did, years ago. Think you know him?"

"It seems to me I've met him before—or met somebody that looked like him," answered Dave, slowly. He was trying in vain to place those features.

"Don't you remember the name?"

"No."

"We ain't on very good terms any more, otherwise I'd give you a knock-down to him," went on the cowboy.

"I don't know that I care for an introduction," answered Dave. "He doesn't look like a person I'd want for a friend—he looks rather dissipated."

"He was a good man when he worked for Mr. Endicott. But he's not so good since he went over to Merwell."

There the talk about Hank Snogger ended. Once or twice the man looked curiously at Dave. Each time something in his face struck the youth as decidedly familiar. Yet, try his best, the boy could not place the fellow.

"It's no use," he told himself at last. "Perhaps I don't know him, after all. But I've seen a face like that somewhere—I am sure of it."