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CHAPTER XXX


TO THE RESCUE—CONCLUSION


It was a time for quick action and nobody realized this more than did Dave, as he saw the shaggy brute close in on the cowboy. One squeeze of those powerful forepaws and Hank Snogger's ribs would be crushed in and he would be killed.

With hardly a second thought concerning what he was doing, Dave raised his rifle, took quick aim and fired at the bear. Then he fired a second shot, and followed this up with a third.

At the first shot the bear dropped his hold and swung around, uttering a loud snort of pain as he did so. He had been struck in the back, for the youth had not dared to aim too close to Snogger. Then, thinking that he had been hurt by the man before him, the animal made a leap and sent the cowboy sprawling. As he stood over his victim the second shot hit him in the hind quarters, causing him to whirl around. Then the third shot landed in his side, and made him double up like a ball and roll over and over.

"Kill him! Kill him!" came faintly from Hank Snogger. "Don't let him git at me ag'in!"

Dave tried to fire another shot, but for some reason then unknown the rifle refused to work. The bear was rolling over and over and threatened each instant to roll on the cowboy and crush him. Snogger was so weak he was unable to save himself or do anything in his own defense.

Dave glanced around and his eye fell on the loose stones, some of which had caused him a fall. He dropped his rifle, seized a fair-sized stone and hurled it at the bear. The youth's aim was good, and the missile landed on bruin's head, all but stunning him.

"That's it! Gi—give him ano—another!" gasped Hank Snogger. He had raised himself up on one elbow and was looking at Dave pleadingly. He was too weak to get to his feet, for his fight with the bear had lasted for some time before Dave had put in an appearance.

The boy from Crumville was not slow to pick up and throw another stone, and this took the bear in the side, causing him to grunt and snort in pain and rage. Then Dave got a stone of extra size and aimed again for the animal's head. The missile went true, and with his skull crushed, bruin stretched out and lay still.

"Is he—is he dead?" gasped Hank Snogger, hoarsely.

"I think so," answered Dave. He was trembling from the excitement and his breath came thick and fast.

"I—I thought I—I was done for!" added the cowboy, and sank flat on his back and closed his eyes.

Not without difficulty Dave got down to where the man lay. He found the bear stone dead and that the cowboy had fainted. He procured some water from a nearby brook and washed Snogger's face and soon revived the man. Then came a shout from a distance and Sid Todd showed himself, having been attracted to the spot by the rifle shots.

The situation was explained, and Dave came in for a good deal of praise over the killing of the bear.

"You saved my life!" said Hank Snogger. "I shan't forget it, never!" and he gave the youth a grateful look. "I fired on the bear, but only hurt him enough to make him ugly. I fell right over him while I was after a deer I had wounded some time before."

"Oh, then you were the hunter we heard shoot," said Todd. "The deer got away, eh?"

"Yes, I lost track of the deer when I hit the bear," answered the cowboy from the Merwell ranch. "I'm mighty glad you came up!" he added to Dave.

"It's all right, I am glad I did too," answered the youth. "I was wishing I'd get a chance at a bear." He saw that Snogger was deeply affected, and was swallowing a lump that came up in his throat.

"And to think it was you, boy!" went on the cowboy, feelingly. "You—and after what I did to you!"

"Let us forget that, Snogger."

"I ain't going to forgit it. I was a low-down hound, that's what I was," said the man, with energy. "I listened to what that Link Merwell had to say against you, and I planned to do you all the harm I could,—jest to please that fellow."

"Hank, you made a mistake to go over to Merwell," put in Sid Todd. "I don't like to hit at a fellow when he's hurted, but I've got to speak my mind."

"Well, you are only telling the truth," answered Snogger, shortly. "I know it as well as you do. I'm going to quit Merwell the first chance I git."

Dave and Todd made Snogger as comfortable as possible, and the cowboy said he would be all right after he got his wind back. Then Todd went off to locate Roger and Phil and apprise them of what had occurred.

"Mr. Snogger, I'd like to ask you a question," said Dave, when the two were alone and the man was resting comfortably against a tree. "You look very much like a boy I and my friends met in Chicago. Do you know the lad? His name is Charley Gamp."

"Charley Gamp!" exclaimed the man, and stared wildly at Dave. "Say, what do you know about him?"

"Then you know him?" And now Dave was deeply interested.

"Do I know him! He is my son!"

"Your son? Then where did the name Gamp come from?"

"Gamp was his mother's name afore she married me. Tell me, is he safe?"

"Yes." And then Dave related how he and the others had fallen in with Charley at the post-office.

"And Link Merwell was abusin' him callin' him a thief!" cried Hank Snogger, and his eyes commenced to blaze. "How did he dare! Why, Link Merwell is a thief himself!"

"A thief!" echoed Dave.

"Yes. But let that pass now—I'll tell you later. Tell me of my boy, my Charley," pleaded Hank Snogger.

Dave told all that he knew, and the man listened eagerly. Then Snogger told something of his life's history, how he and his wife had quarreled and how some neighbors had gotten them to separate. He had drifted to the West, and remained there for three years. Then he had gone back to look for his wife, but had found out that she was dead. He could get no trace of his little boy, and finally had gone West again. At first he had carried himself straight, but presently he had gotten in with the wrong set and had drank and gambled, and left Mr. Endicott to go to work for Mr. Merwell.

"But I am going to turn over a new leaf," he said. "Only let me find my boy! I'll show him what a good father I can be to him!" And his face took on a look of hope.

"And now I am going to tell you about Link Merwell," went on Hank Snogger, a little later. "I feel you ought to know, for you are the one who has suffered most because of his doings. You remember how your horses were stolen."

"Yes."

"Well, Link took 'em. He says he didn't mean to steal 'em, but that is what it amounted to. He took 'em, and while the storm was on some cattle-thieves, headed by Andy Andrews, came along. Link says Andrews and his gang took the horses away, but I think Link made a deal with the hoss-thieves, for the next day I see Link with a roll of bank-bills, and I know Mr. Merwell didn't give him the money. He had about two hundred dollars, and I think he got the wad from Andrews—on his promise not to open his mouth."

"How did you learn this?"

"I was out, rounding up some stray steers, and I saw him just before the storm with the hosses. I wasn't near enough to talk to him, but that night I spoke to him, and he couldn't deny that he took 'em in the first place. He was terribly afraid I'd give him away, and he said if I did he'd say I took 'em. Well, you can believe me or not, but he took 'em."

"I believe you," answered Dave. "And we'll have this matter sifted just as soon as we return to Star Ranch."

It was some time ere Todd, Roger, and Phil showed themselves. In the meantime Dave made Snogger promise not to say anything about the stolen horses to the others.

"Perhaps the matter can be fixed up between Mr. Endicott and Mr. Merwell," he said. "It would be terrible to have Link publicly branded as a horse-thief."

Hank Snogger had been out alone and he readily consented to join the others at their camp. The two elk and the bear were brought in, and it was decided to start back for the ranches the next morning.

"I must see Mr. Endicott on important business," said Dave to Sid Todd, and then, in private, he told his chums what he had heard concerning Link Merwell. Todd was told about Charley Gamp, and said he hoped that the finding of the son would make a new man of Snogger.

The return to the ranches was begun at sunrise. They carried with them the skin of the bear and also the pelts and heads of the elk. They camped that night in the foothills, and reached Star Ranch about noon the next day.

"I want you to come with me," said Dave to Hank Snogger, after the boys had received a warm greeting from the girls and Mrs. Endicott. And he led the way to Mr. Endicott's office, a small affair located in the ranch home. Here the cowboy told his story once more, just as he had related it to Dave.

"I have suspected something of this sort all along," said Mr. Endicott. "One of our own men saw young Merwell with some horses on that day, but he was not sure if they were our animals. Andrews took the horses up into Canada and sold them at several places, so I don't think I'll be able to get them back. But, if I can prove Link guilty, I shall most certainly hold his father responsible."

Hank Snogger was anxious to go East, to find his son, but was persuaded to remain where he was until the young folks should bring their visit to an end. In the meantime, however, a telegram was sent to Charley and he sent one in return, stating he would be glad to meet his parent.

"Dave, you can go with me to the Merwell house," said Mr. Endicott the next day. "And you can go, too, Snogger."

The three set out, and when within sight of the other ranch home they caught sight of Link Merwell, riding slowly along on his pony. He scowled as he recognized them.

"What do you want here?" he asked, looking at Dave.

"We came for our horses," answered Dave, boldly.

At these words Link grew pale and shot a swift glance at Hank Snogger. Then, in a sudden rage, he shook his fist at the cowboy.

"What have you been saying about me?" he cried angrily.

"Telling the truth," answered Snogger.

"It's false! I didn't touch the horses!" gasped Link, but he grew whiter than ever.

"You took them, and you might as well confess," said Mr. Endicott, sternly. "If you won't confess, and get your father to square up, I'll call on the sheriff of this county to arrest you."

"I—I—didn't mean—that is—I——" commenced Link, and then he broke down completely. He acknowledged that he had taken the horses, but said he did it in fun. Then the cattle-thieves had come along and taken the steeds from him.

"And you got paid for letting them go," said Mr. Endicott. "You got several hundred dollars from Andrews."

"Who say—says so?" faltered Link.

"Never mind, we'll prove it," answered the railroad president, coldly.

"I only got seventy-five dollars!" shouted Link. "I—I didn't sell the horses. Andrews gave me that money because—because——" And then he stopped short, not knowing how to go on.

"He gave you the money so you would keep silent," said Dave.

"We have heard enough—come to the house," said Mr. Endicott, and against his will, Link was made to accompany the others back to his home.

Mr. Merwell was met at the door, and a bitter quarrel took place in his office, lasting the best part of an hour. At first the ranch owner would not believe his son was guilty, but when he saw Link break down he had to give in. He said he would pay for the horses that had been stolen, and also pay to have the whole matter hushed up.

"You cannot pay me for hushing the matter up," said Mr. Endicott. "I have no desire to ruin your son's future. If you will pay for the horses, that is all I ask—that and one thing more. I have no desire to live next door to a man who has a son who is a horse-thief. I understand that you have received a good offer for your ranch. My advice is that you sell out."

"I will!" snapped Mr. Merwell. "I'll get out just as soon as the title can be passed! I never liked to live here, anyway!" And then in a rage he made out a check for the value of the horses, handed it to Mr. Endicott, and showed his visitors to the door.

"Phew, but he was mad!" was Dave's comment, as the three rode over to Star Ranch.

"If he sells out, that is all I ask," said Mr. Endicott. It may be added here that, two weeks later, Mr. Merwell sold his place and moved to parts unknown, taking his son with him. The purchaser of the ranch proved to be an agreeable man, and he and Mr. Endicott got along very well together.

"Well, I hope that is the last of Link Merwell," said Roger, when he heard about the affair. But it was not the last of the fellow, as Dave, later on, found out. Link crossed his path again, and what happened will be told in the next volume of this series, to be called, "Dave Porter and His Rivals; or, The Chums and Foes of Oak Hall." In that volume we shall meet all our old friends and learn the particulars of a peculiar mystery and a stirring struggle on the gridiron.

At last came the time to leave Star Ranch. Mr. Dunston Porter arrived, and listened to the many tales the young folks had to tell.

"Well, you certainly have crowded things," he declared. "I wish I had been on that hunt."

Belle was going East with Laura and Jessie, and Snogger accompanied the boys and Mr. Porter. All received a warm send-off at the railroad station.

"Come again!" shouted Sid Todd, and to show his spirits fired his revolver into the air, and the other cowboys did the same.

At Chicago the party were met by Charley Gamp. Hank Snogger hugged his boy to his breast and wept for joy, and Charley cried too, and so did the girls. Then it was learned that Snogger was really a carpenter by trade. He said he would settle down in the city, and did so, and to-day he is a steady workman, and he and Charley have a good home. The father is giving the son a good education, hoping to make a first-class business man of him.

"Well, all told, we had the outing of our lives," declared Roger, on the way to Crumville.

"It couldn't have been better!" cried Dave. "I tell you what, Star Ranch is all right!"

And the others agreed with him. And here, for the time being, let us say farewell.


THE END