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CHAPTER XX


FISHING AND HUNTING


The remainder of the week went by, and the boys and girls amused themselves as best they could. During that time, Mr. Endicott received a visit from the sheriff of the county, and Dave and his chums were called upon to tell all they could about the missing horses. Then, after some whispered talk between the county official and the ranch owner, the lads were requested to describe the man who had been seen on the trail in company with Link Merwell.

"I really think the fellow was Andy Andrews," said the sheriff. "But if so, he had a big nerve to show himself in these parts."

"Didn't you ask Link about the man?" asked Dave.

"Yes. He says the fellow was a stranger to him, and they were just riding together for company. He says they were together about half an hour before he met you on the trail, and that the fellow left him about a quarter of an hour later and headed in the direction of the railroad station. He said the fellow didn't give any name, but said he was looking up some ranch properties for some Chicago capitalists."

This was all the sheriff could tell, and on that the matter, for the time being, rested. Fortunately, Star Ranch possessed a good number of horses, so none of the young folks were deprived of mounts. But Belle mourned the loss of her favorite steed, to which she had become greatly attached.

"I don't care so much for the others, but I do hope papa gets back Lady Alice," she said, dolefully.

A spell of bad weather kept the young folks indoors for the time being, and one day they were reminded by a cowboy of the entertainment they had promised.

"As soon as it clears, we'll give you an exhibition of fancy ridin'," said the cowboy. "But jest now the boys are dyin' fer some good singin' an' music, and such."

Dave and the others got their heads together, and the upshot of the matter was that an entertainment was arranged, to be given in the big dining-hall of the ranch house. One end of this room was elevated to form a stage, with big portières for curtains, and Roger, Phil, and Dave rehearsed several of the "turns" they had done at various times at Oak Hall. The girls practiced a number of songs, and Laura and the senator's son decided to give a dialogue, which they called "Which Mr. Brown Lives Here?"

Word was passed around about the coming entertainment, and it was announced that it would be for the benefit of an old lady, the mother of a cowboy who had been killed in a cattle stampede the season before. The tickets were placed at one dollar each, the entire proceeds to go to the old lady. This charity appealed to the cowboys, and every one on the place took a ticket, and then got the cowboys from neighboring ranches to do likewise.

"We'll have to let some of them sit on the veranda and look in through the windows," said Mrs. Endu:ott, when she heard how many tickets had been sold. "The room won't hold half of them."

"If we have to, we'll give a double performance," said Dave. "We want everybody to get his money's worth." And then it was arranged that tickets should be good for either the "matinée" or the night performance.

The first performance was given in the afternoon and lasted from three to half-past five o'clock. Every number on the programme went off without a hitch, and the cowboys applauded uproariously. During the intermission one cowboy got up very gravely and marched to the stage, where he deposited a round Indian basket.

"Fer extra contributions, boys!" he sang out, loudly. "Don't be tight when thar's an old lady to help!" And he dropped two silver dollars in the basket. At once the other cowboys sprang up and marched to the front, and a steady stream of silver poured into the basket, much to the delight of everybody.

"Financially, this is going to be a great success," said Dave, his face beaming. "I only hope they really like the show."

"They do, or they would soon let you know," answered Belle. "A cowboy isn't so polite as to make believe he likes a thing when he doesn't."

The evening crowd was even larger than that which had gathered in the afternoon, and the seating capacity of the dining-room and the veranda near the windows was taxed to its utmost. The boys and girls started in to give exactly the same show as during the afternoon, and the first part went off very well. The Indian basket was again brought into play, and once more a shower of silver was poured into it.

"Mrs. Chambers will be more than delighted," said Belle.

"How much money do you think we will have for her?" asked Jessie.

"Oh, ticket money and extra contributions, at least two hundred dollars. It will be a splendid aid to the old lady."

During the first part of the evening's entertainment, Dave had been much surprised to note the entrance of Hank Snogger, accompanied by two other cowboys from the Merwell ranch. Snogger looked a bit sheepish, as if realizing that he was out of his element. The other two cowboys were rough and hard-looking men, and had evidently been drinking.

"I didn't think we'd have anybody here from the Merwell place," whispered Phil.

"Well, I suppose some of our cowboys sold them the tickets," answered Dave. "I certainly didn't think that fellow, Snogger, would show himself."

"The men with him are pretty loud," said Roger. "I hope they don't try to break up the show."

The second half of the entertainment was in full swing when one of the men with Snogger commenced to laugh uproariously. His companion joined in, and both made such a noise that not a word spoken on the stage could be heard by the rest of the audience.

"Say, keep quiet there!" called out Sid Todd, who was acting as a sort of usher.

The two cowboys paid no attention to this request, but continued to laugh, and presently one of them joined in the chorus of one of the songs the girls and boys were rendering. He sang badly out of tune, and made such a discord that the song had to come to a stop.

"Go on! Go on!" he yelled, loudly.

"Whoop her up, everybody!" called his companion. "All join in the glad refrain!" And he started to sing in a heavy, liquor-laden voice.

"You shut up or git out!" cried Sid Todd, striding forward.

"They don't mean no harm," put in Hank Snogger, but he did not speak in positive tones.

"You keep out of this, Snogger," answered Todd, coldly. "Those men have got to behave themselves or git out. I said it, an' I mean it."

"That's right—put 'em out!" shouted several.

"Ain't we got a right to laff?" demanded one of the cowboys who were making the disturbance.

"Yes, but not so as to drown everything else," answered Sid Todd. "An' you can't sing."

"We come here fer some fun," said the other cowboy from the Merwell ranch. "An' we are going to have it. Whoop her up, everybody!" And he commenced to sing once more.

There were cries from all sides, and for a minute it looked as if the entertainment would end in a general row. But then Sid Todd gave a signal to some of the other Endicott hands, and in a twinkling the two boisterous cowboys were grabbed and hustled from the house. One tried to draw his pistol, but was given a blow in the face that all but sent him flat.

"You brought those fellows over here—you take 'em away—an' mighty quick, too," said Sid Todd to Hank Snogger. And he gave the other cowboy such a black look that Snogger sneaked out of the house in a hurry. Outside, the three men were surrounded by a dozen of the Endicott hands, and they were forced to mount their horses and ride away; and that was the last seen of them for the time being.

The interruption made Laura and Jessie so nervous that they could not sing any more, so the programme had to be changed. Dave thought of a funny monologue Shadow Hamilton had once given at Oak Hall, and he gave this, as far as he could remember it, and put in a few stories that were new. The youth worked hard, and the cowboys applauded him vigorously when he had finished, and soon the unpleasant incident was practically forgotten. When the show was over, the cowboys all said it was the finest thing they had ever seen outside of a city theater.

"Worth the money," said one old cowboy. "An' I'd go ag'in to-morrow night, ef I could." Entertainments in that locality were rare, and the show was a grand treat to all.

"Oh, but those men who laughed and sang were horrid!" said Laura. "And I was so afraid they would start to shoot, I didn't know how to control myself!"

"I believe they came over here on purpose to spoil the entertainment," said Phil.

"But why should they do that?" asked Jessie, innocently.

"More than likely Link Merwell got them to do it," answered Roger. "It would be of a piece with his meanness."

"I believe they were brought over by that Hank Snogger," said the shipowner's son.

"Yes, but I think Snogger is in some way under Link's thumb," put in Dave. "Anyway, the two seem to have a good deal in common."

"Well, it was a mean piece of business," said Belle. "Oh, I do wish the Merwells would sell out to some nice people! It would be splendid to have real good neighbors."

On the following Monday the boys went fishing "on their own hook," as Phil expressed it, although Jessie said he had better say "hooks," since they proposed to use several of them. The boys rode over to the river and took with them their shotguns. While fishing they kept their horses in sight and their firearms ready for use, and had any horse-thieves shown themselves they would have met with a hot reception. Fishing proved good, and inside of three hours they had all the fish on their strings that they cared to carry.

"Let us ride up the river a bit," suggested Phil, after they had eaten their lunch. "I'd like to look at the country, and it is possible we may be able to stir up some game."

As it was a clear day, the others agreed, and soon they were riding slowly along a trail which wound in and out among the rocks bordering the stream. They passed the shack which Roger and the girls had used as a shelter from the storm, and then reached an open spot. Beyond was a high hill, covered with a primeval forest.

"There ought to be some game in that woods," said Dave, as they continued to move forward.

"If the cowboys haven't shot everything worth shooting," answered the senator's son. "There used to be good hunting in Maine and in Upper New York State, but you have got to tramp a good many miles these days before you catch sight of anything worth while."

After a ride in the sun it was cool and pleasing in the forest, and they took their time riding under the great trees, some of which must have been fifty to a hundred years old. They saw a number of birds flitting about, but did not attempt to bring any down.

"If we want any big game we must keep quiet," said Dave, and after that they moved along without speaking, and with their eyes and ears on the alert for the first sign of something worth shooting.

Presently Dave held up his hand and all came to a halt. Not far away could be heard a curious drumming sound.

"What's that?" whispered Phil.

"Sounds like grouse," answered Dave. "They drum like that sometimes. They must be over in the trees yonder. Let us dismount and see."

The others were willing, and leaving their horses tied to the trees, the three boys crept forward to the spot from which the drumming proceeded. They came up abreast, and soon all caught sight of a number of grouse of the sharp-tailed variety, huddled in a little opening among the bushes.

"Get ready and fire when I give the word," whispered Dave, and a few seconds later all three of the chums blazed away simultaneously. There was a fluttering and more drumming, and several grouse thrashed the ground.

"Hurrah! we've got four!" cried Roger, rushing forward.

"And this one makes five!" said Phil, and dispatched one that was fluttering around. Then Dave killed a sixth, and by that time the rest of the game was out of sight.