Harold Bindloss.

The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound



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"We could do with another fish," ventured Harry. "Let's see if you can get one."

Frank took up his pole again. It was a heavy and clumsy affair, but Harry had told him that he would probably break the Indian spear. They waited awhile until another swift shadow swept around with the eddy beneath their feet.

"Hold on!" cried Harry. "Wait till the stream heads him and then strike as quick as you can."

The fish's speed was checked for a moment as it entered the furious rush beneath the fall, and Frank, who could just see its dusky back amidst the foam, swung his pole. There was a splash and then a curious shock which sent a thrill through him, and the haft jerked sharply in his hands.

"Heave him out!" cried Harry. "That thing won't break."

Frank tugged with all his might and the salmon flew up over his shoulder. The next moment he had seized it and was almost reluctant to let it go when his companion clubbed it on the head.

"Two's as many as we have any use for and we'll go along," said the latter. "We haven't made much of a show at that draining lately."

Frank would have preferred to stay where he was, but he followed Harry toward the bush, and soon after they struck a cleared trail to the ranch, which was, however, not the way they had come. A little later they were somewhat astonished to see a group of figures among the trees, and hurrying forward they found Mr. Oliver and Mr. Barclay talking to Jake, who apparently had been driving home two or three steers.

Mr. Oliver, looking unusually grave, nodded to the boys. "We have just met Jake," he said. "He tells me Tillicum's back a little way up the trail with a broken leg."

"I guess he's done," murmured Jake, adding significantly, "I wouldn't have left him like that if I'd had a gun."

"Go on with the steers," said Mr. Oliver. "We'll turn back."

The boys accompanied him and Mr. Barclay, and leaving the trail by and by where the bush was thinner they stopped before a pitiable sight. It was Tillicum who stood awkwardly before them, his head lowered and one leg that seemed distorted out of its usual shape hanging limp. Caked mire was spattered about the poor animal, its coat was foul, and every line of its body seemed expressive of pain and exhaustion. As it raised its drooping head and looked at them pitifully, Frank felt a thrill of hot anger against the outlaws who were responsible for its condition. Mr. Oliver stepped up to the horse and gently felt of its injured limb, after which he turned abruptly toward Mr. Barclay and Frank noticed that his face was set.

"There's only one thing to be done," he said. "Have you a pistol?"

"Haven't you?" his companion asked with a slight trace of astonishment in his tone.

"If I'd had one would I have wanted to borrow yours?" retorted Mr. Oliver.

"Well," said Mr. Barclay, "it's seldom I carry one, but in this case it seemed advisable." He put his hand into his pocket.

"Here you are. It's a big caliber."

Mr. Oliver took the weapon and held it behind him, and turning back toward the horse, gently stroked its head. Then there was a flash and detonation, and the beast dropped like a stone. After a moment the rancher turned around with a very curious look in his eyes, with the smoking weapon clenched hard in his hand.

"I've had that faithful animal six years," he said in a harsh voice. "We'll get away."

They walked on in silence for a while, and then Mr. Barclay spoke.

"The breaking of its leg was probably an accident," he suggested.

"Yes," said Mr. Oliver. "It's possible he broke it after they turned him loose, but that doesn't seem to affect the case." He paused and looked around at his companion. "You understand that I'm with you right through this thing."

Nothing more was said until they approached the ranch, when Mr. Oliver turned to the boys.

"I'll take the fish," he said. "You can go on with whatever you were doing."

They moved away toward the drain, and when they reached it Harry stood still a moment or two.

"It's a long while since I've seen dad look half so mad," he said. "When he sets his face that way it's sure to mean trouble. Anyway, when I saw Tillicum I felt kind of boiling over – as well as sorry."

"Did you notice what Mr. Barclay said about the pistol?" Frank asked.

"Why, of course," said Harry thoughtfully. "Now I don't know what they've been after, but it's plain enough that there was some danger in the thing. Mr. Barclay doesn't seem extra smart, but there's something in his look that suggests he wouldn't be easy scared, and he took a pistol along." Then he laughed in a significant manner and jumped down into the trench. "It's my idea those dope fellows are going to be sorry before dad gets through with them, and now we'll go on with the draining."

He fell to with the grubhoe and for the next half hour worked furiously, after which Jake appeared and called them in to dinner.

CHAPTER IX
A PLAIN HINT

Mr. Oliver bought another horse from one of his scattered neighbors, and a few days afterward he and Jake set off for an inlet along the coast near which a few ranchers lived. Harry explained to Frank that as they clubbed together and bought their supplies from Seattle a little steamer from the latter place called at the inlet now and then to deliver the goods, and his father had ordered a mower which was to be sent down by her.

Mr. Oliver did not come back until late in the evening a couple of days later, but as soon as he arrived he and Jake set to work to put the machine together, and it was getting dusk when at last they left it standing beneath the trees near the edge of a ravine. Early on the following morning the boys went back with them to see if it would work satisfactorily in cutting a little green timothy, but as they crossed the clearing Jake, who was leading the team a little distance in front of his companions, stopped suddenly.

"You didn't go back and move that machine after we left it?" he asked.

"No," replied Mr. Oliver. "What made you think I did?"

Jake looked at his employer rather curiously. "Well," he said, "somebody must have moved it. The thing's gone."

Mr. Oliver broke into a run and the rest followed. When they reached the clump of trees they could discover no sign of the mower, except for the track of wheels among the withered needles and undergrowth. This led toward the ravine, at the bottom of which a little water flowed, and Frank saw Mr. Oliver's face harden as he followed this guide. A minute later they stood on the brink of the declivity and saw the mower lying upon its side among the stones thirty or forty feet below them. The slope was almost precipitous, but Mr. Oliver went down sliding amidst a rush of loosened soil, and Frank and Harry with some difficulty scrambled down after him. A glance was sufficient to show them that the implement was not likely to be of the least use to its owner. Mr. Oliver examined it quietly and then clambered back up the side of the ravine, after which he sat down and took out his pipe before he turned to Jake.

"Every bit of cast-iron in it is smashed," he said. "The pinion wheels are broken, and the other parts are bent. I'll have to order another one."

Jake made a gesture of sympathy.

"If I could get hold of the folks who did the thing it would be a consolation, but I haven't the least notion how to trail them."

"One man couldn't have moved it," said Mr. Oliver.

"There were three of them. The question is, what brought them here? I guess they didn't come just to smash the machine."

Mr. Oliver seemed lost a moment in contemplation.

"I think you're right," he said at length. "They probably came because this is the easiest way of getting through to the settlements in the Basker district and the beach behind the head makes a handy landing. We'll go along and look around. I don't think they'd try the cove. It's too near the house."

They turned into a bush trail together, and when they reached the beach a little while later Jake, stooping over a furrow in the smooth shingle by the water's edge, looked up at Mr. Oliver.

"A sea canoe grounded here soon after last high water," he said. "You can see where they ran her down when it had ebbed a little."

Mr. Oliver, who was still quietly smoking, nodded.

"Yes," he said, "it's very much as I expected. With a sheltered landing here and as good a trail inland as they could find, it's not difficult to understand why those fellows were anxious that I should stand in with them, or, at least, leave them alone. This thing, of course, was meant as a warning." Then he addressed the boys: "You needn't wait. You can get some more of those branches sawed off in the slashing."

They moved away and left him talking to Jake, and it was not until they had reached the bush that Harry made any observation.

"I've a notion that we're up against the meanest kind of toughs, but in the long run I'll back dad," he said. "It's quite likely that if we lie low you and I may get a hand in later on."

Frank made no answer, though the prospect his companion suggested was not unpleasant to him. Going back to their work they sawed up branches until nightfall. On the following afternoon they were still engaged at the same task at some distance from the house when they saw Jake, who had set out for a neighboring ranch in the morning, enter the clearing, dragging a big and evidently very unwilling animal after him. He sat down upon a log, and Harry dropped his ax.

"It's Webster's dog," he said to Frank. "I heard that somebody had given him one. We'll go along and look at him."

They found Jake rather breathless and very red in face, holding the end of a chain fastened to the collar of the dog, who crouched close by watching him with wicked eyes and white fangs bared. A serviceable club lay beside Jake, but it seemed to Frank that he had got as far away from the animal as the chain permitted. The lad was, however, not astonished at this, for he fancied he had never seen as intractable and generally unprepossessing a dog as this one.

"Dad's borrowed him from Webster?" Harry suggested.

"It seemed to me Webster was mighty glad to get rid of him and didn't want him back," said Jake. "Guess if he was mine I wouldn't be anxious to keep him either."

Frank moved a pace or two nearer the dog, holding out his hand, but speedily retired when it growled at him savagely. After that Jake turned to Harry.

"You're fond of dogs," he suggested. "Wouldn't you like to pat him?"

"No," said Harry, edging away. "I wouldn't try it for five dollars. What kind of a brute is he?"

"Well," said Jake, "I figure that fellow has a considerable mixture of ancestors, though there's a strain of the bull in him. That's where he got his stylish mouth from. He's about as amiable as a timber-wolf, and he has the gait of a bear, while it's my opinion there's more sense in a plow ox than there is in him."

"When did you leave Webster's?" Harry next inquired.

"Soon as dinner was over," responded Jake dryly.

"And supper will be ready soon. What in the name of wonder have you been doing?" Harry looked around at Frank. "It's about three miles."

Jake grinned. "Coming along – and resting. This fellow kind of decided he'd sit down every now and then, and I let him. He's a dog that's been accustomed to doing just what he wants."

"Did you have to cross the creek?" asked Frank, who noticed that the man's long boots and part of his trousers were wet.

"No," said Jake curtly. "The critter took a notion he'd like to go in, and as I couldn't let him loose, I had to go in, too. We splashed around in it for quite a few minutes."

Harry broke into a burst of laughter and Jake handed him the club. "I want to get in by supper. Suppose you put a move on him."

He stood up and jerked the chain, but the dog bared his teeth again and declined to stir. Harry, getting behind him, tapped him with the club, and he swung round savagely, straining at the chain.

"Now," said Jake, "I know how we'll fix him. You make him mad and then head for the ranch while he gets after you, and I'll try to hold him."

"No," said Harry decisively, "I don't think we'll try that way. Go on and lead him."

The animal moved off at last and shambled toward the house, looking bigger and considerably more clumsy than the largest bulldog Frank had ever seen. He walked into the kitchen docilely, but when Miss Oliver approached him Harry cried out in dismay.

"Keep away!" he warned. "He isn't safe."

"Loose the chain," said Miss Oliver, and to their vast astonishment the dog walked up to her, wagging his disreputable tail, and crouching down, licked her hands. She patted his great head gently and then turned smilingly to the boys.

"I'm afraid Webster has been rough with him," she said. "It's clear that he's a woman's dog."

"A woman's dog?" echoed Harry scathingly. "Well, the man who gave that beast to a woman must have been crazy."

During the next few days the dog made himself at home at the ranch, though with the exception of Miss Oliver he still eyed its inhabitants suspiciously. Jake said that though almost fully grown he was young and had no sense yet. Then the dog commenced to follow the boys about at a distance, and once fell upon and destroyed their overall jackets which they had taken off when they went to work. They found him sitting upon the tatters, evidently feeling proud of himself, for he wagged his tail and barked delightedly when they approached. As a rule, he did not make much noise, but his growl was deep and ominous, with something in it that discouraged any attempt at undue familiarity.

While they were ruefully inspecting their ruined garments Jake came up and leaned against a neighboring tree.

"He wants training, Harry," he observed. "If he was my dog, I'd break him in."

"The question," retorted Harry indignantly, "is how it's to be done. I'll own up that I know very little about training dogs, and that's not the kind of one I'd like to begin on." He turned to Frank. "Considering that a good many of the ranchers live almost alone, it's rather a curious thing that there are very few dogs in this part of the country."

Jake fixed his eyes dubiously upon the animal, who trotted up a little nearer and growled at him.

"Well," he said, "he's sure a daisy, but I guess he can be taught, and the first thing is to let him see you're not afraid of him."

Harry snickered. "Then suppose you try to prove it. Haul him up by the ear and teach him he's not to eat my jacket."

Jake judiciously disregarded this suggestion. "There's one trick most dogs learn quite easy. It's to guard. You put down some of your clothes, for instance, and make him see that nobody's to touch them until you come back. Then he'll sit tight until you do, and I guess in this fellow's case there'd be mighty little wrong with the nerves of the man who'd put a hand on them."

"If it's to be clothes they'll have to be somebody else's," said Harry. "Anyway, I'll mention it to my aunt. It's my opinion she's the only person who could teach him anything."

How Miss Oliver taught the dog they did not know, but she succeeded, for when the boys walked up to the house at supper time one evening a week or two later Harry, who reached the door first, came out hurriedly.

"The brute won't let me in," he explained. "I confess it sounds kind of silly, but perhaps you'd like to try."

Frank approached the door cautiously and stopped when he reached it. The dog crouched near the center of the kitchen floor, with a woman's straw hat in front of him from which there trailed a couple of chewed-up feathers. He looked up at Frank with a low, warning growl which said very plainly, "Come no farther!"

They called him endearing names, which, so far as they could see, had not the least effect, but neither of them felt equal to entering the kitchen until Miss Oliver walked in by another door. Then the dog let her take the hat, wagging his tail with satisfaction.

"He's a good deal more intelligent than you seem to think," she said. "Give him your hat, Harry, and then go out and wait for a few minutes before you come back for it."

Harry did so, and the dog made no trouble when he picked up the hat, but he would not let Frank go near it in the meanwhile. After that they tried two or three more experiments of the same kind, though Frank took no part in them, which was a thing he regretted when he went for a swim an evening or two later.

On this occasion the tide was almost full, the water in the cove was pleasantly warm and bright sunlight streamed down upon it, showing the white shingle a fathom beneath the surface. Now and then Frank went down toward it, for he had learned to swim under water and look about him while he did so, but by and by he headed for the entrance to the cove with the overhand side stroke which Harry had taught him. Swinging his left arm forward over his head, his face dipped under and then rose in the midst of a ripple as his hollowed palm swept backward under his crooked elbow to his thigh, while his legs swung across each other like a pair of scissors. The brine gleamed and sparkled as it slipped past him, and when he reached the entrance to the cove he slid up and down the smooth, green undulations with a pleasant lift and fall. It was so exhilarating that he went farther than he had intended, and he was feeling a little breathless when at last he turned back, but when he reached the spot where he had undressed trouble awaited him.

The dog was seated upon his clothing, watching him with suspicious eyes, and it growled when he stood up knee-deep. Frank hesitated. The dog did not look amiable, but he was beginning to feel cold, and he walked slowly forward a pace or two. Then the creature raised itself on its forepaws, with white fangs bare, and once more broke into a deep, ominous growl. There was no doubt that it intended to guard his clothes.

He threw a piece of shingle at it and was glad on the whole that he had not succeeded in hitting it when it stood up with bristling hair and a most determined look in its eyes. Frank floundered back into the water, wondering uneasily if it was coming in after him, and then standing still up to his waist considered what he should do. It was evident that he could not stay where he was much longer, and the dog showed no sign of going away. It was equally impossible for him to walk back to the ranch without his clothes, and in the meanwhile he was growing unpleasantly chilly. Then he noticed that although the shadow of the crags above rested upon the spot where he stood the sunshine fell upon a boulder which rose out of the water not far away. Swimming to it he crawled out and found it a little warmer there, but this brought him no nearer to finding a way out of the difficulty.

He did not remember how long he lay shivering upon the stone, but the shadow had crept across it and the tall firs above him showed up more blackly against the evening light, when at last Harry came clattering over the shingle and stopped in astonishment on seeing him.

"Whatever are you doing there?" he asked.

"Waiting until your dog goes home," said Frank. "He won't let me have my clothes. If you hadn't come I expect I'd have to stay here until to-morrow."

Harry couldn't help grinning when he observed the resolute animal. "Wouldn't it have been easier to come out and whack him off?"

"No," said Frank decidedly. "If you were in my place you wouldn't want to try."

Harry walked up to the creature and picked up the clothes, whereat it rose immediately and wagged its tail as though satisfied in having done its duty.

"He doesn't seem to mind me," Harry observed dryly. "Anyway, there's no reason why you shouldn't come out now unless, of course, you're happier where you are."

Frank swam across, dressed, and ran all the way to the ranch, but it was half an hour before he was moderately warm again. The next day he set about teaching the dog to guard. It occurred to him that it was not desirable that Harry and Miss Oliver should be the only ones to whom the animal would give any stray article of clothing he might come across.

A week or two later Miss Oliver went away on a visit to Tacoma, and Mr. Oliver, who had bought a new mower, commenced to cut his timothy hay. The machine could only work on the cleared land, and where the stumps were thick he set the boys to mow with the scythe. Frank found it troublesome work, for the big roots ran along the surface of the ground. The fern had grown up among these roots, and it was their task to cut and pick it out from the grass, while every few minutes the scythe point struck a root and sometimes stuck in it. In places it struck gravel, which made dents in it, and the blade often got entangled among shooting willows and young fir saplings. Frank decided that while it was evidently a costly and difficult thing to clear a ranch, it must be almost as hard for its owner to keep what he had won, since the forest persistently crept back again.

"Suppose you left this place alone for a couple of years?" he asked, stopping to whet his dinted scythe.



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