Read CHAPTER XVII - GOOD-BYE TO SCHOOL of The Rover Boys at Big Horn Ranch The Cowboys' Double Round-Up , free online book, by Edward Stratemeyer, on ReadCentral.com.

“What do you know about that!”

“Big Horn Ranch!  That sounds interesting!”

“What sort of a place is it, Spouter?”

“I suppose you must have thousands of heads of cattle?”

“How about horses, Spouter?  We’ll have enough mounts, sha’n’t we?”

“Any good hunting or fishing?”

“Stop!  Stop!  What are you trying to do?” spluttered Spouter.  “Trying to drown me in a flood of questions?  Why don’t you ask one thing at a time?”

“Well, where is the ranch and how are we going to get to it?” questioned Jack.

“And how big is it?” put in Fred.

And then came another flood of questions until poor Spouter placed his hands to his ears in dismay.

“I can’t answer everything at once,” he said finally.  “So you’d better let me tell what I know in my own way.  Big Horn Ranch is located out in Montana, and it comprises a thousand acres or more - how large I don’t exactly know.  To get there you journey by rail to a little jumping-off place called Four Rocks, and then you have to ride or drive to the ranch, which is four or five miles away.  The nearest town of any size is Arrow Junction, which is quite a distance off.”

“How is it your dad bought a place like that?” broke in Gif.  “I didn’t know he was interested in ranches.”

“Oh, he has always liked outdoor life - you all know that.  And this ranch came to him in rather an unexpected way.  There were two brothers who were interested in a speculation in which my dad was interested, too.  My dad advanced a lot of money to these brothers, and as they couldn’t pay up in cash they asked him if he wouldn’t take the ranch off their hands by allowing them an additional thirty thousand dollars.  So he made a trip out there in company with another man who knew all about ranches and then he concluded to buy, and did so.  So now we own Big Horn Ranch, and the family expects to spend a large part of each summer there.”

“And your father said we could all go out there with you?” questioned Randy.

“Yes.  He told me to invite you four Rovers and also Gif.  And that isn’t all,” went on Spouter.  “He’s invited all your folks out there, too.  He’s going to make a great big house-party of it!”

“Our folks!” exclaimed Fred.  “What do you mean?  They can’t all go.  Uncle Dick is just back from Texas, and somebody has got to look after the offices in New York.”

“It has been arranged that your father and mother are to go along first, Fred, and later on Randy and Andy’s father and mother are to come out.  Then, when they go back to New York, it’s possible that Jack’s folks will come West before the season is over.  Gif’s folks have not decided on what they can do, but will let us know in a week or two.”

“And what about the girls?” questioned Fred quickly.

“Of course, they are to go along, too.  Martha will go with Mary and her folks, and May will, of course, be with my mother, and she is going to try to get Ruth to go with her.”

“But Ruth said she was going somewhere else,” remarked Jack, and his face showed disappointment.

“I know that, Jack.  But I think May can get the Stevensons to allow her to go.  Anyway, all the girls are going to try.”

After that the Rovers and Gif asked many other questions concerning Big Horn Ranch and Spouter told them all he could.

“Of course, I know only what dad has written and what was said about the ranch before we purchased it.  I suppose I’ll learn a lot more as soon as I go home, and then I’ll let you know about it.”

“Gee! we ought to have the best time ever,” exclaimed Andy gleefully, as he caught Spouter by the shoulders and commenced to dance him around the room.

“It was certainly well worth waiting for, Spouter,” came from Jack.

“I don’t see how you managed to keep it a secret,” put in Randy.  “I’d have been bustin’ to tell it every minute.”

“Well, I had a job of it, believe me, with you fellows dinging at me all the time,” was Spouter’s answer.

“When do you suppose we can start?” questioned Fred.

“That, of course, will depend a good deal on you and your folks,” answered Spouter.  “My folks are already out there, getting the ranch in readiness for visitors.  I suppose you’ll want to go home over the Fourth of July, but maybe you’ll be able to start West right after that.”

“I don’t know what could hold us back.”

“Is the ranch house big enough to accommodate such a large crowd?” questioned Jack.  “There are a lot of us, remember.”

“I think so.  You see the ranch is really a combination of two ranches, the buildings of one ranch were located near the eastern boundary while the buildings of the other ranch were set equally close to the western boundary, and as a result the two sets of buildings are not very far apart.  Father and mother didn’t know exactly what they were going to do.  They said they would either divide the party between the two ranch houses or otherwise send all the hired help to one of the houses and keep our whole party at the other.”

“It would be nice if we could stick together,” said Randy.

“Oh, it won’t make much difference, because, as I understand it, it’s only a short walk from one set of buildings to the other.”

After this revelation from Spouter it was difficult for the Rover boys and Gif to settle down once more to their essay writing and their examinations.  However, all did their best, and when the school term came to an end each had made a creditable showing.

“I’ll be proud to take this card home and show it,” said Fred, as he examined the pasteboard which had been handed to him.

Out of a possible 100 per cent. he had received 94 per cent.  Jack had passed with 92 per cent., Randy with 89 per cent., and Andy with 88 per cent.  This last figure was the one also reached by Gif.  Spouter, who was naturally a very studious person, had passed with the highest mark of the class - 96 per cent.

“Well, eighty-eight per cent. isn’t as good as it might be, but it’s a good deal better than lots of the fellows made,” remarked Andy.  “And it’s a long way from the failure mark - below seventy.”

Of course the boys had already talked over the telephone to the girls, and then it leaked out that all of those at Clearwater Hall knew about Big Horn Ranch and that Ruth was almost certain that she could go with the Rover girls and May.

“If we all go together we had better charter a private car,” remarked Jack.

“Say, that would be something worth while!” put in Fred, with satisfaction.  “Let’s put it up to our folks!”

Two days before the boys were to leave for home, Randy saw a messenger boy deliver a telegram to Snopper Duke.  The professor read the brief communication and then Randy saw him stagger up against a chair in the hallway as if about to fall.  He rushed forward and caught the professor by the arm.

“What is the trouble, Professor?” he questioned kindly, for he could see that Snopper Duke was in deep distress.

“I - I - Don’t mind me, Rover,” stammered the teacher.  “It’s a little bad news, that’s all.  And coming on top of some other bad news I’ve received lately I can hardly stand it,” and with these words Snopper Duke turned and went slowly upstairs to his room.  Half an hour later he was closeted with Colonel Colby and then drove away from the Hall; and that was the last the Colby Hall cadets saw of the strange teacher during that term.

“He’s certainly got something on his mind,” said Randy, in telling the others of the incident.  “And I must confess I’m growing really sorry for him.”

On the next day came another surprise for the Rovers.  All of them were out on the campus when they saw Brassy Bangs leap a side hedge and start toward the school.  At the same time they saw a tall man wearing a slouch hat hurrying off in the opposite direction.

“Hello! there is that fellow Brassy had trouble with in town,” exclaimed Randy.

“Just look at Brassy!” whispered Fred, after the youth had passed them and gone into the Hall.  “Why, he’s as pale as a ghost!”

“It certainly is a mystery about Brassy and that strange man,” was Jack’s comment.  “Just as much of a mystery as about Professor Duke’s doings.”

Soon the boys were busy packing up, getting ready to leave.  Then came the usual jolly times just previous to saying good-bye to their fellow-cadets and the teachers.  The students were to scatter in all directions and the majority of them expected to have a glorious time during the summer vacation.  Phil Franklin was to go back to the oil fields, to visit his father.

At the railroad station the Rovers met Mary and Martha and also some of the other girls, and here many good-byes were said.

“I hope you get a chance to get out to Big Horn Ranch,” said Jack to Ruth.

“So do I, Jack.  But I haven’t received permission to go yet.  If I don’t get there you must write to me.”

“I certainly will, Ruth.  And you must write also.  But come out if you possibly can.”

The home-coming of the Rovers was, as usual, made a gala event.  The three mothers had come down to meet their children and there was a happy reunion at the Grand Central Terminal, and then the three families drove off in their automobiles to their homes on Riverside Drive.  A little later the fathers of the young folks came in from downtown, and that night there was a grand dinner spread for all in Tom Rover’s house.

“Gosh, it’s good to be home once more, Mother!” cried Andy, and hugged his parent from one side while his twin hugged her from the other.

“And it’s mighty good to think that we can all be together,” came from Jack.  “It’s so different from what it was when the war was going on.”

“Oh, please don’t speak of the war!  I never want to hear of it again!” put in Martha.

“And to think we’re all going out to Big Horn Ranch!” burst out Fred.  “Isn’t that just the grandest ever?”