Such excitement followed the Kid’s
outburst that the very horses seemed imbued with it.
The cowboys, keeping well out of the way of that
floating, white cloud of gas more or less
poisonous, it was not to be doubted had
mounted their animals and were on their way, by a
roundabout trail, to the ranch house.
“Gold!” muttered Snake.
“Do you really think there’s gold in that
“It would not be beyond the
bounds of possibility,” Dick replied. “I’m
not a geologist, and I don’t know anything about
mining. But the west is the home of gold, and
so is Mexico. We’re not far from Mexico.
What’s to prevent a ledge or seam of gold from
running up into these hills, or small mountains, and
cropping out in that cave? What’s to prevent?”
“Nothing!” came from Billee, a new light
in his eyes.
“It would be very natural, I think,” added
“That would account for what
Bud saw the men picking away at the stone
sides of the cave,” went on Dick. “And
the roof and sides are of rock that my
brother and I saw.”
“Then we’re on the right
track!” cried Snake joyfully. “I
been tryin’ to figger out what all this meant,
but I see it now. The other poison attacks,
where cattle and men died, didn’t have nothin’
to do with the gas we just now ran away from.
Somebody else must have been the blame of that, or
maybe it wasn’t poison gas at all might
‘a’ been just bad water or loco-weed.
But this is different.”
“Yes,” agreed Nort, “this
is different. We know, positively, that this
gas attack was launched by men.”
“Men who want to keep us out
of that cave ’cause it’s full of gold!”
murmured Old Billee. “Boys, for once I
see daylight ahead of me! I’m goin’
to turn miner! I’m through nursin’
cattle! I’m goin’ to dig gold and
retire rich! By golly, I am!”
“You better wait until we see
the color of pay dirt!” chuckled Snake.
“And until we get those fellows
out!” added another cowboy.
“Oh, we’ll git them out
soon as we have them gas masks!” declared Billee,
who seldom had shown such enthusiasm. “By
golly, at last I see daylight! I’ll soon
lay this on the shelf,” and he patted his old
“I hope he isn’t disappointed,”
murmured Dick to his brother.
“Do you really believe there’s
a chance of finding gold in that cave?” Nort
asked in a low voice.
“I really do. Why else
would those fellows want to keep us out? It
can’t be that it’s a mere cattle-rustling
“No,” admitted Nort, “I
don’t believe it’s that. But gold!
Seems sort of far-fetched.”
“Well, maybe I’m wrong,”
went on Dick. “But we’ll soon find
out, if those gas masks are any good.”
On the way back to the circle of ranch
buildings a close lookout was kept for any sign of
intruders on the range of Dot and Dash. But no
strangers were seen, nor did a casual survey of the
various herds scattered over the plains disclose any
“I guess everything that happens
takes place around Smugglers’ Gulch,”
“Seems so,” admitted his brother.
No one had suffered any serious results
from the gas attack. It had been discovered
so quickly, and the retreat had been made so promptly,
thanks to Snake’s vigilance, that aside from
a little irritation of their mouths and throats the
attackers were not injured. The irritation soon
passed away and was about gone when they neared the
“They were just teasing us that
time,” decided Snake. “The next time
they’ll shoot some real nasty gas at us.”
“And that’s the time we’ll
be ready with the masks,” declared Nort.
Bud Merkel was as excited as either
of his cousins when he heard the news. He declared
no better plan could be devised than going against
the unknown cave dwellers with gas masks and a telephone
message was soon on the way, asking the commander
of the Los Pompan branch of the American Legion for
the loan of as many of the protectors as were needed.
In due time word came back that the
Dot and Dash ranchers were quite welcome to the masks.
Snake and Kid, as experts in their use, and as judges
of the best ones to bring back, were sent as a committee
into town to get the life-saving apparatus.
It was next day, when the gas masks
had been tried on by the cowboys who were to use them,
and plans were being talked over for a second attack,
that Nort suggested:
“Maybe we ought to try these
masks before we use them. They may be defective
in spite of the fact that they look all right.”
“Not a bad idea,” agreed
Bud. “But we haven’t any poison gas
to try ’em with.”
“If we could go in a room filled
with ammonia, or some such vapor as that, we could
soon tell if the masks were any good,” Dick suggested.
Dr. Taylor was communicated with and
agreed to supply from his somewhat limited laboratory
sufficient fumes to make a sure test of the masks.
He came out to the ranch, a small room was set aside
for the experiment and into this vile chamber the
men went one at a time, each one wearing the mask
that was designed to protect him in the coming fight.
With the exception of one or two of
the affairs, each one was gas proof and the defective
ones were quickly replaced with good ones. So
that in a comparatively short time the avengers were
once more ready to make the attack.
Much the same tactics were observed
as on the former occasion. The horses were left
well out of reach of any clouds of vapor that might
float from the ravine, and the guards were instructed
to deploy their reserve cavalry to east or west, according
to the direction of the wind, in case gas was noted
coming out of the defile.
“Well, I reckon we’re
all ready,” observed Old Billee on a certain
morning a few days after the first failure. “How
about it, Bud?”
“All set,” answered the
ranch owner’s son, for he had recovered from
the gas he had inhaled and was quite fit again.
“Let’s go!” he cried.
The cavalcade moved forward, and when
within about the same distance as before from the
defile, the horses were led aside, the guard posted
and the men again advanced up the gorge.
“Don’t make any more noise
than you can help,” warned Bud, as one of the
men rattled some of the loose stones.
“Oh, I think they know we’re coming,”
“You do? How?”
“Well, naturally they have scouts
posted. We’d do the same if we were in
their position. They know we’re coming,
“Perhaps so,” Bud admitted.
“Well, everybody have his mask ready to slip
on as soon as gas is smelled.”
“What if they use a kind we
can’t smell until it’s too late?”
“Well, that’s a chance
we have to take,” said Bud with a shrug of his
“I think I shall smell it all
right,” Snake interjected. “I was
pretty good at that sort of thing in the war.
The officers said I had a mighty good nose for
smelling I mean,” he made haste to add for fear
his pals would accuse him of personal vanity.
“In some of the trenches they used rats and
canary birds to give warning of gas. But I was
the official smeller for my bunch, and I got so I
was pretty good at it if I do say it myself.”
“Then we’ll make you the
advance guard,” decided Bud, and so it was arranged.
Up the gulch they marched, with guns
and gas masks ready, and once more, as on the former
occasion, they were just within sight of the cave
when Snake cried:
At once each man donned his protector,
and then, looking like prehistoric monsters the crowd,
led by Bud, Nort, Dick and Old Billee rushed to the
attack. The same white wisps of vapor floated
down into the faces of the avengers, but there was
no turning back now. There was no choking or
gasping. The gas masks were a perfect protection.
Dick’s surmise that the advancing
party was being spied on seemed to be correct, since
before they reached the cave shots came from the cavern,
and there was the vicious whine and ping of bullets.
One or two of the cowboys were hit, one seriously,
and then the avengers began shooting on their own
Bud gave the signal for a rush attack
and eagerly he and his comrades sprang forward.
They passed a little trench near the mouth of the
cave. In this shallow ditch were several iron
cylinders from holes of which was pouring a white
vapor. This was the gas, how deadly could only
be surmised for the masks kept all fumes and effects
of it from the attackers.
There was a current of air from the
cave blowing down the defile and this carried the
fumes away from the hidden men and into the ranks of
the attackers. This direction of the wind explained
why no gas masks were needed by the foe. The
wind was their protection. And the fact that
they wore no masks was soon demonstrated.
For as the attackers swept on and
up to the cave they dislodged several of the first
line fighters of their foes rough, ugly-looking
men who sprang up from amid the rocks and, after firing
their last shots, turned and ran into the cavern.
Not one wore a mask.
In a few minutes the attackers were
safely back of the gas-emitting cylinders and could
take off their masks for the wind carried the fumes
away from them. Yanking his protector off, Bud
“Into the cave after them!”
The rush was made. A sight was
had of a crowd of men retreating into the black depths
of the cavern. The cowboys fired at them and
were shot at in turn, Nort receiving a nasty scratch
from a bullet along his shoulder, and his brother
stopping a lead slug in the fleshy part of his thigh.
Bud was nipped on the hand and several of the other
cowboys were more or less painfully injured.
Some damage was inflicted on the foe,
for there were yells of pain from several and one
man was seen to fall. He was quickly picked up
by his pals, however, and carried into the far end
of the cave.
Then, when it grew dark as the daylight
faded, a short distance beyond the entrance, Bud called
a halt on further pursuit.
“No use going back there when
we don’t know what’s beyond,” he
said. “We’ve driven ’em out,
and we can have a look, now, and see what secret they
have been guarding.”
When Snake and Kid, again donning
their masks, had shut off the flow of gas from the
cylinders, a precaution taken against a possible change
of wind, flashlights were produced and a close inspection
of the cave was begun. It was evident that the
men who had been in it, and who had relied on gas
to keep intruders out, had made their escape through
some rear exit, or they might still be hiding in the
depths of the cavern.
Extra powerful portable electric torches
had been brought by the exploring party and these
were turned, now, on different parts of the rocky
walls and roof of the cave. Bud showed where
he had been held a prisoner, and it did not take long
to find places where digging had been going on.
As the lights flashed over the rough,
rocky walls, there were reflected back glistening
yellow slivers of illumination.
“Look!” cried Dick, pointing. “There
it is! Gold!”
“Gold! Gold!” came
in joyful shouts from the exulting cowboys. “We’ve
found a gold mine!”
And truly it seemed so.