“What’s the idea?”
spluttered Snake, for he had his mouth set for a drink,
and did not appear to like being balked.
“Better wait until you find
out what’s in the bottle before you sample it,”
“Why, didn’t the old gazaboo
tell us what it was Elixer of Life?
Some sort of tonic, I reckon, and, believe me, boy,
I need something right now!”
“What you need is grub!”
broke in Sam. “I’m in the same boat.
I’m getting my appetite back,” he added
with a look at Nort, whose turn it was to get the
“Well, maybe this will give
me an appetite for baked beans,” suggested Snake.
“More likely to take your appetite
away,” went on Nort. “This may be
a good, safe stomach medicine, and, again, it may
be deadly poison. I want it analyzed by a chemist
before I take any of it. And, even then, I don’t
believe I’ll try any though it may be safe.
I don’t need it.”
“Poison; eh?” mused Snake. “Do
you think ”
“No, I don’t think this
harmless, crack-brained old man had anything to do
with the deaths that are said to have taken place at
Dot and Dash,” interrupted Nort, guessing at
Snake’s implied question. “But a
crank is a dangerous man to have mix your drinks.
He may have brewed this from honest herbs, or it
may be an extract of toadstools. I’m going
slow at it.”
“Well, I guess I’d better,
too,” agreed Snake, ruefully, “I’m
glad you didn’t let me sample it, Nort.”
“It’s better to be sure
than sorry,” said the boy. “Is there
a chemist in Los Pompan,” and he nodded in the
direction of the town that lay nearest to the ranch.
“I don’t believe there
is,” Sam answered. “But there’s
a doctor and maybe he can tell whether this stuff
is safe or not,” and he gazed at one of the
Elixer bottles he had picked up off the bench where
Nort had set them.
“Safe or dangerous, we don’t
need it,” went on the boy. “I only
bought it to lead the old man on. But we didn’t
get much out of him.”
“No,” assented Snake.
“His answers were crazy enough. Guess
we’ll have to wait until Billee and the others
come back to find out what’s the real secret
of Death Valley.”
“Maybe we won’t then,” suggested
Sam, in a low voice.
“Do you mean they won’t
come back?” asked Nort with a sudden increase
in his heart beats.
“Oh, some of ’em
are bound to come back,” was the not very cheering
reply. “The deaths ain’t wholesale
like that. And maybe nothing won’t happen
to any of ’em,” which was sufficiently
clear and hopeful if not very grammatical. “But,
even if they all come back, which is more than likely,”
went on the most recent foreman of Dot and Dash, “that
ain’t saying they’ll find out the secret.”
“No, I suppose not,” agreed
Nort. “Well, we’ll hope for the best.”
They resumed their labors of getting
the group of ranch buildings in shipshape against
the return of Bud and the others. Sam had agreed
to stay for a while to aid in the check-over and as
soon as possible, as Nort knew, Mr. Merkel intended
to add to his cattle already on the ranch, and hire
more men to look after them.
“I wish we’d found out
that old geezer’s name and more about him before
we let him vamoose,” said Snake as he worked
away with Nort.
“Yes,” agreed the boy,
“but so much was happening, and he was so queer,
that I forgot about it.”
“Guess we all did. Well,
we can pick him up again when we need him if
we ever do,” chuckled Snake. “I mean
if the doctor says this here Elixer is any good.”
“If there isn’t any harm
in it that’s the most I expect,” came from
Nort. “As for finding the old man ”
“He’s an eel, I tell you!”
broke in Sam. “I’ve seen him more
then once, riding along, that is some time ago, ’fore
I was knocked out. But when I tried to come up
to him he’d vanish. And to look at it you
wouldn’t think that cayuse of his was any quicker’n
“He must have some hiding place,” suggested
“Maybe,” admitted Sam.
“But I don’t like that hombre and
you hear what I’m tellin’ you!”
Dinner was served, and eaten with
hearty appetites in spite of what had happened and
what might take place later. Then more work was
done about the place, and as the afternoon waned Nort
began to get rather anxious for the return of those
who had gone on the round-up.
It was not a round-up in the real
sense of the word but merely a riding around
of the place to size it up to ascertain
the number of head of cattle on the ranch, to find
out the location of water holes, the best pasture,
look to the condition of the fences and such matters
“And I wish, while they were
at it, they’d get a Chink cook,” said Nort
to whom had fallen the task of washing the dishes.
“Any chance of getting a yellow man in Los
Pompon?” he asked Sam.
“Oh, sure, I should think so.
If you can get him to stay.”
“Why wouldn’t he stay?”
Nort wanted to know. And then he remembered
and added: “You mean on account of possible
“Sure! That’s it.
Them Chinks is powerful leery about anything like
that. But maybe we can get one fresh smuggled
over from Mexico and he won’t be so particular.”
agreed Nort as he recalled how desperately eager the
Celestials were to be smuggled into the United
It was getting dusk, and the three
were a bit anxious as they prepared the evening meal,
for, as yet, the prospectors, as they might be called,
had not returned. Nort was going to suggest that
perhaps it might be well to ride out and see if his
brother and the others were in sight when the clatter
of horses’ feet was heard and into the ranch
yard came riding the cavalcade.
A quick count showed not one missing,
and it was with a relieved heart that Nort greeted
Bud and Dick.
“Anything happen?” asked Snake.
“Nary a thing!” boomed
out Yellin’ Kid. “It was as peaceful
as a Sunday school picnic. But this is sure
some dandy ranch.”
chimed in Bud. “We didn’t have time
to go all over it,” he went on to those who
had been left behind. “But we saw enough
to convince us that dad made no mistake in buying it that
is if we can clear out the jinx.”
“But you didn’t see any
signs of him or it?” asked Nort.
“Who?” inquired Dick.
“I mean the jinx.”
“No, not a thing. Didn’t
even see a dead calf, and, as we know, they’re
common enough on a ranch. Everything was lovely.”
“It sure is a good buy,”
went on Bud. “Of course it’s a bit
run down, and the fences here and there need mending.
But there’s plenty of water and what cattle
there are seem to be in good shape. When we buy
a few more herds, and hire some more men to help us,
we’ll be sitting pretty.”
“Then we didn’t need to
do so much worrying?” questioned Nort.
“And that warning was all tommyrot!”
added Dick with a laugh. “Hello, what’s
this?” and he picked up one of the bottles of
Elixer, for by this time the whole party was in the
ranch house, and saw the three flasks on the table.
“Stuff your brother bought to
save lives!” chuckled Snake, and the story was
“An old man, half crazy; eh?”
mused Billee as he listened. “Who is he
and what about him?”
“Doesn’t seem to amount
to much, really,” stated Nort. “But
I thought we’d better have this stuff analyzed.”
“Sure!” assented Billee,
and, taking the three bottles he locked them in a
wall cupboard and put the key in his pocket.
There was much to talk about at Dot
and Dash that night. Nort related the coming
and going of the vender of Life’s Elixer, and
on their part Bud and Dick told of the scenes about
the ranch, and added to their first statements that
it was an ideal place to raise cattle.
“And there weren’t any
signs of sudden deaths?” asked Nort.
“Nary a one. It’s
a shame to call this Death Valley,” declared
The week that followed was a busy
one and there was plenty of work for all hands, including
Sam Tarbell who, when he found that there was no sudden
passing away of any of his new friends or the remaining
cattle, decided to stay and work for Dot and Dash.
A careful examination was made in
the vicinity where Sam had “keeled over,”
as he expressed it, and where his horse had died.
Nothing suspicious was discovered, however, and there
was no way to account for the strange happening.
The animal appeared to have died a natural death.
“Of course,” Sam said,
“my pony might of dropped dead from heart disease,
and when he fell I was throwed off and hit my head
on a rock. That’s what might have knocked
“It’s very possible,” agreed Bud.
Arrangements were under way for the
purchase of two herds from ranchmen in the adjoining
county, and several more cowboys had been engaged
when, like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky, it
Bud, Nort and Dick were riding over
to the south end of the ranch one day, to inspect
the present herd, with a view to shifting it, when
Nort pointed to what looked like several dark bowlders
on a distant, grassy slope.
“What are those?” he asked. “Big
“Stones?” queried Bud
and, a moment later, he exclaimed, “Those are
dead cattle! Boys, I guess the jinx has come