Read CHAPTER XVIII - ON THE WAY WEST of The Rover Boys at Big Horn Ranch The Cowboys' Double Round-Up , free online book, by Edward Stratemeyer, on ReadCentral.com.

“Well, we’re off for Big Horn Ranch at last!”

“It certainly is a grand prospect, eh, Jack?  We ought to have barrels of fun on the ranch.”

“Yes, Randy, it certainly ought to make a dandy vacation.”

“I’m fairly itching to get on horseback,” put in Andy.  “What dandy rides we shall have!”

“Maybe we’ll get a chance to break in a broncho,” put in Fred, with a grin.

“Don’t you dare do such a thing, Fred Rover!” burst out his sister Mary.  “Most likely the bronco would break your neck.”

“Well, we won’t bust any broncos until we get to the ranch,” came with a smile from Fred’s father, who had followed the young people into the sleeping car at the Grand Central Terminal.

It was the day of their departure for the West, and the young folks were quivering with suppressed excitement.  Sam Rover and his wife headed the party, which consisted of the four boys and the two girls.

Fourth of July had been spent rather quietly at home preparing for the trip.  Of course, Andy and Randy had had some fun, especially with fireworks in the evening, but otherwise the young folks had been too preoccupied with their arrangements for getting away to pay special attention to the national holiday.

It had been arranged that only the Rovers mentioned above should at first make the trip to the ranch, and Gif and Spouter were to meet them in Chicago, where they would change cars for Montana.  Tom Rover and his wife were to come to the ranch two weeks later and bring with them May Powell and Ruth Stevenson.  Later still it was barely possible that Dick Rover and his wife would come West.

Jack’s idea of chartering a private car had fallen through because not all of the party to meet at Big Horn Ranch were to go at the same time.  But those now gathered had seats at one end of the sleeper along with a private compartment for Mrs. Rover and the two girls, so they were all comfortable.

The boys were in the best of spirits; and for a while Sam Rover had his hands full making Andy and Randy behave.

“I hope we strike a lot of lively cowboys, Uncle Sam,” broke out Andy.

“Perhaps you’ll find some of the cowboys too lively,” was the answer.

Jack and Fred, as well as their sisters, were disappointed that May and Ruth had not been able to accompany them, but they were glad to know that the others would follow later to the ranch.

Soon New York was left behind and the train was speeding along the Hudson River on its way to Albany.

“Just think!  By this time to-morrow we’ll be in Chicago,” remarked Martha.  “Isn’t it wonderful how you can cover such a distance?”

“Do you know, I almost wish we were going out there in an auto,” returned Fred.  “That would be a trip worth taking.”

“Especially if you had to put on all the extra tires along the way, Fred,” added Andy, with a grin.

“Oh, well, I guess I could do that, too, if I had to,” answered the youngest Rover boy quickly.  “But the roads from here to Chicago are pretty good, they tell me, so I don’t think we’d have many punctures or blow-outs.”

“Such a trip would be dandy, only it might take more time than we’d care to spend on the way right now,” remarked Jack.  “Personally I want to get out to Big Horn Ranch as soon as possible.”

“Exactly my sentiments,” came from Randy.  “Me for the mountains and plains and a life in the open air!”

    “Oh, for a life in the open air,
    Under the skies so blue and fair!”

sang out Andy gayly.

“Gee, Andy is bursting into poetry!” cried Fred.  “What’s going to happen next?”

“Maybe he ate something that didn’t agree with him,” giggled Mary.

“You’d better bottle up that poetry stuff, Andy,” remarked Jack.  “Remember we’re going out to a ranch owned by Songbird Powell, and he was nicknamed Songbird while at Putnam Hall because he was always bursting out into home-made poetry.  Maybe we’ll get a surplus of it when we get out to the ranch.”

Lunch was had in the dining car, and almost before the young folks realized it the train was rolling into Albany.  Here an extra car was attached, and then they were off on the long journey through the Mohawk Valley to Buffalo, Cleveland, and the great city by the Lakes.

After the train had passed Utica Andy and Randy, who found it hard to sit still, took a walk through the cars from end to end, thinking they might meet somebody they knew.  They were gone so long that Sam Rover became a little worried over them.

“I think I’ll hunt them up,” he said to his wife.  “For all we know they may have gotten into some mischief.”

“More than likely they’re into something,” answered Mrs. Grace Rover.  “They’re exactly like their father Tom when it comes to stirring things up.”

Sam Rover was just leaving his seat when Andy and Randy came back to the car.  Their faces showed their excitement.

“What do you think!” exclaimed Randy, as he dropped into a seat.  “We met that same fellow who was threatening Brassy Bangs at Haven Point.”

“Was Brassy with him?” questioned Jack quickly.

“No.  But two other men were with him, and it’s a tough crowd, believe me.”

“Where are they?” questioned Fred.

“Two cars behind.  And from the way the three talked they must have gotten on at Albany.  The fellow Brassy had something to do with is tough enough, but the other two men seem to be much worse.  By their talk, they are cattle men, and I shouldn’t be surprised if they have been cowboys.”

“And that isn’t all!” added Andy.  “They spoke about going to Arrow Junction!”

“Arrow Junction!” repeated Fred.  “Why, that’s the town that Spouter said was nearest to Big Horn Ranch!”

“What were they going to do at Arrow Junction?” questioned Jack.

“They’ve got some sort of a deal on for handling horses and cattle.  We couldn’t make out exactly what it was,” answered Randy.  “But they certainly are a tough bunch.  It looks to me as if they might have been drinking.”

“Did you hear them mention Brassy?” asked Fred.

“No.  But that fellow who met Brassy at Haven Point, the chap called Bud Haddon, told the others he had struck a real snap in the East.  And one of the others answered that he had noticed that Bud was rather flush.”

“It’s certainly a mystery what that fellow had to do with Brassy,” remarked Jack.  And then of a sudden his face became a study.

A sudden thought had occurred to him, and it was such a horrible one that he was inclined to force it from his mind.  And yet it came bobbing up time and again until Fred, who was sitting beside his cousin, noticed that something was on his mind.

“What are you thinking of, Jack?  Ruth?”

“No, Fred. I was thinking of that fellow who met Brassy Bangs in Haven Point.”

“You’re wondering, I suppose, why Brassy let him have some money.”

“Partly that and partly something else, Fred. But it’s so horrible I hate to think of it.”

“Why, what do you mean, Jack?”

“Well, if you must know, it just happened to cross my mind that that Bud Haddon was hanging around Haven Point and was seen around the school several times just when Colby Hall was robbed.”

As the young major uttered these words in a low tone of voice, Fred stared at him in astonishment.

“My gracious, Jack, that’s so!” he whispered.  “Isn’t it queer we didn’t think of it before?  From what Andy and Randy tell of how that fellow treated Brassy I wouldn’t put it past him to be a bad one.  But if he had anything to do with the robbery at the school, do you think Brassy had, too?”

“I don’t know what to think, Fred. Brassy never struck me as that sort of a fellow.  He’s loud-mouthed and he’s got a big opinion of himself, and all that, but I never put him down as being crooked.”

“Neither did I. But you must remember one thing - that fellow was dinging at him for money.  He said Brassy must get it or there would be trouble.”

“Yes, I’m remembering that, Fred. I must confess it looks pretty bad.  But I don’t think we had better say anything until we know more about the men.”

“Let’s pump Andy and Randy all we can.”

Fred’s suggestion was followed out, and the four Rover boys talked the matter over among themselves.  The twins were as much surprised as Fred had been when Jack mentioned what was in his mind.

“Gee, that Bud Haddon may be the guilty one!” burst out Randy.  “Why didn’t we think of this before?  Colonel Colby might have put a detective on his trail.”

“Do you think we ought to send him a telegram or anything like that?” asked Andy.

“It wouldn’t do much good.  What would be better, I think, is for us to watch the man and see if we can find out more about him.  If he is going to Arrow Junction we may have a chance of learning more about him out there.  Did he expect to stay at the Junction?”

“I think so - or at least in that vicinity.  The whole crowd is bound for some ranch out there.”

“Then if we learn anything of importance against the fellow we can have the local authorities make an investigation,” said Jack.

“Gosh! wouldn’t it be queer if that fellow really had robbed Colby Hall and if Brassy was mixed up in it?” remarked Randy.

“It would be terrible if Brassy was guilty,” answered Jack.  “It would just about ruin him forever.”

“Come on, Jack.  Suppose you and I walk back and see if we can locate the fellows,” suggested Fred.  “They don’t know us, so they won’t be suspicious.”

“Well, we might try it,” was the young major’s reply.

And thereupon he and his cousin walked through the cars to the place where the twins said Bud Haddon and his two companions were seated.