Read CHAPTER I - THE WORK OF THE WOLF PACK of The Saddle Boys in the Grand Canyon / The Hermit of the Cave, free online book, by James Carson, on ReadCentral.com.

“Hold up, Bob!”

“Any signs of the lame yearling, Frank?”

“Well, there seems to be something over yonder to the west; but the sage crops up, and interferes a little with my view.”

“Here, take the field glasses and look; while I cinch my saddle girth, which has loosened again.”

Frank Haywood adjusted the glasses to his eye. Then, rising in his saddle, he gazed long and earnestly in the direction he had indicated. Meanwhile his companion, also a lad, a native of Kentucky, and answering to the name of Bob Archer, busied himself about the band of his saddle, having leaped to the ground.

Frank was the only son of a rancher and mine owner, Colonel Leonidas Haywood, who was a man of some wealth. Frank had blue eyes, and tawny-colored hair; and, since much of his life had been spent on the plains among the cattle men, he knew considerable about the ways of cowboys and hunters, though always ready to pick up information from veterans of the trail.

Bob had come to the far Southwest as a tenderfoot; but, being quick to learn, he hoped to graduate from that class after a while. Having always been fond of outdoor sports in his Kentucky home, he was, at least, no greenhorn. When he came to the new country where his father was interested with Frank’s in mining ventures, Bob had brought his favorite Kentucky horse, a coal-black stallion known as “Domino,” and which vied with Frank’s native “Buckskin” in good qualities.

These two lads were so much abroad on horseback that they had become known as the “Saddle Boys.” They loved nothing better than to ride the plains, mounted on their pet steeds, and go almost everywhere the passing whim tempted them.

Of course, in that wonderland there was always a chance for adventure when one did much wandering; and that Frank and Bob saw their share of excitement can be readily understood. Some of the strange things that happened to them have already been narrated in the first volume of this series, “The Saddle Boys of the Rockies, Or, Lost on Thunder Mountain,” and which, in a way, is an introduction to the present story. In the first book the boys cleared up a wonderful mystery concerning a great cavern.

For several minutes Bob was busily engaged with the saddle girth that had been giving him considerable trouble on this gallop.

“There,” he remarked, finally, throwing down the flap as though satisfied with his work. “I reckon I’ve got it fixed now so that it will hold through the day; but I need a new girth, and when we pull up again at Circle Ranch I’ll see about getting it. Oh! did you make out anything with the glasses, Frank?”

He sprang into the saddle like one who had spent much of his time on horseback. Domino curvetted and pranced a little, being still full of mettle and spirits; but a very firm hand held him in.

“Take the glass, and see if you can make out what it is,” Frank remarked, as if he hardly knew himself, or felt like trusting his eyes.

A minute later Bob lowered the glasses.

“There’s something on the ground, and I can catch a glimpse of what looks like a dun-colored hide through the tufts of buffalo grass. The yearling was red, you said, Frank? All right. Then I reckon we’ll find her there; but not on her feet.”

“Come on!”

As he said these curt words Frank let Buckskin have his head; and, accompanied by his chum, started at a full gallop over the level, in the direction of the spot where the dun-colored object had been sighted.

Shortly afterward they topped a little rise, and pulled up. No need to doubt their eyes now. Just before them lay the mangled remains of the lame yearling, very little being left to tell the story of how the animal had met its fate.

“Wolves!” said Frank, gloomily, as he sat looking down at the torn hide.

“I don’t know the signs as well as you, Frank, but I’d say the same from general indications. And they had a royal good feast, too. This makes a round half dozen head your father has lost in the last month, doesn’t it?” asked Bob.

“Seven, all told. When Bart Heminway told me he had noticed that one of those fine yearlings seemed lame, I wondered if something wasn’t going to happen to it soon. And then, when we missed it from the herd last night, I guessed what had come about. They caught her behind the rest, and pulled her down. The poor thing didn’t have a ghost of a show against that pack of savage wolf-dogs.”

“I’d like to have just one chance at them, that’s all,” grumbled Bob, as he let his hand fondle the butt of a modern repeating rifle, which he carried fastened to his saddle.

“This is sure the limit, and it’s just got to stop!” declared Frank, grimly.

“Right now?” queried his chum, eagerly.

Two pairs of flashing eyes met, the black ones sending a challenge toward the blue.

“Why not?” said Frank, shutting his jaws hard, “the day is before us still; and we’re well primed for the business of hunting that pack to their den. Look at that bunch of rocks a few miles off; that must be where they hang out, Bob! Queer that none of the boys have ever thought of hunting in this quarter for that old she-wolf Sallie, and her brood.”

“Then you think she did it, do you?” asked Bob.

“Sure she did. You can see for yourself where her jaws closed on the throat of the poor yearling. Everybody knows her trademark. That sly beast has been the bane of the cattle ranches around here for several years. They got to calling her Sallie in fun; but it’s been serious business lately; and many a cowboy’d ride two hundred miles for a chance to knock her over.”

“And yet none of the rough riders have even thought to search that rocky pile for her den, you say?” Bob continued.

“Why, you see, the killings have always been in other directions,” Frank explained. “Just as shrewd animals often do, up to now Sallie has never pulled down a calf anywhere near her den. I reckon she just knew it might cause a search. But this time she’s either grown over-bold, or else the pack started to do the business in spite of her, and she was forced into the game.”

“Well, shall we head for that elevation, and see what we can find?” asked Bob, who was inclined to be a little impatient.

“Wait a bit. It would be ten times better if we could only track the greedy pack direct; but that’s a hard proposition, here on the open,” Frank observed.

“Well, what can we do then?” his chum asked.

“Perhaps put it in the hands of the best trailer in Arizona,” and with a laugh Frank pointed off to the left.

The Kentucky boy turned his head in surprise, and then exclaimed:

“Old Hank Coombs, on his pony, as sure as anything! You knew he was coming along all the while, and just kept mum. But I’m sure glad to see the old cowman right now. And it may turn out to be a day of reckoning for that cunning Sallie, and her half grown cubs.”

The two lads waved their range hats, and sent out a salute that was readily answered by the advancing cowman. Hank Coombs was indeed a veteran in the cattle line, having been one of the very first to throw a rope, and “mill” stampeding steers in Texas, and farther to the west.

He was an angular old fellow, grim looking in his greasy leather “chaps;” but with a twinkle in his eyes that told of the spirit of fun that had never been quenched by the passage of time.

“Howdy, boys,” he called out, as he drew rein alongside the two lads. “What’s this here yer lookin’ at? Another dead calf? No, I swan if it ain’t a yearling as has been pulled down now. Things seem t’ be gittin’ t’ a warm pass when sech doin’ air allowed. Huh! an’ it looks like Sallie’s work, too! That sly olé critter is goin’ t’ git t’ the end of her rope some fine day.”

“Why not to-day, Hank?” demanded Frank, briskly.

The veteran grinned, as though he had half anticipated having such a question asked.

“So, that’s the way the wind blows, hey?” he remarked, slowly; and then he nodded his small head approvingly. “Jest as you say, Frank, thar’s no time like the present t’ do things. The hull pack hes been here, I see, an’ no matter how cunning old Sallie allers shows herself, a chain’s only as strong as th’ weakest link. One of her cubs will sure leave tracks we kin foller. All right, boys count on me t’ back ye up. I’ll go wharever ye say, Frank.”

“We’ll follow the trail, if there is one,” said Frank, instantly; “but the chances are that’s where we’ll bring up,” and he pointed with his quirt in the direction of the rocky uplift that stood like a landmark in the midst of the great level sea of purple sage brush, marking the plain.

After one good look the cowman nodded his head again in the affirmative.

“Reckon as how y’r’ right, Frank,” he remarked; “but we’ll see how the trail heads.”

Throwing himself from his saddle he bent down over the remains of the yearling that had been so unfortunate as to become lame, and thus, lagging far behind the rest of the herd, fallen a victim to the wolf pack.

“Easy as fallin’ off a log,” announced old Hank, immediately. “Jest as I was sayin’, thar’s nearly allers one clumsy cub as don’t hev half sense; an’ I kin foller this trail on horseback, ’pears to me.”

He ran it out a little way; then, once more mounting, went on ahead, with his keen eyes fastened on the ground.

Bob watched his actions with the greatest of interest. He knew Old Hank was discovering a dozen signs that would be utterly invisible to one who had not had many years of practice in tracking both wild animals and human beings.

Now and then the trailer would draw in his horse, as though desirous of looking more carefully at the ground. Twice he even dropped off and bent low, to make positive his belief.

“I reckon you were right, Frank,” remarked Bob, after half an hour of this sort of travel “because, you see, even if the trail did lead away from the rocks at first, it’s heading that way now on a straight line.”

“Thet was only the cuteness of the olé wolf,” said Hank. “She’s up t’ all the dodges goin’. But that comes a day of reckonin’ for all her kind; an’ her’s orter be showin’ up right soon.”

When another half hour passed the three riders had reached the border of the strange pile of rocks. And as Frank looked up at the rough heap, with its many crevices and angles, he considered that it certainly must offer an ideal den to any wild beast wishing to hide through the daytime, and prowl forth when darkness and night lay upon the land.

“Here’s whar the trail ends at the rocks,” said Hank, as he dismounted and threw the bridle over the head of his horse, cowboy fashion, knowing that under ordinary conditions the animal would remain there, just as if hobbled, or staked out.

Both of the saddle boys followed his example, and, holding their rifles ready, prepared to search the rocks for some trace of the wolf den. Wild animals may be very cunning about locating their retreat in a place where it will be hidden from the eye of a casual passer; but, in course of time, they cannot prevent signs from accumulating, calculated to betray its presence to one who is keenly on the watch.

The three searchers had not been moving back and forth among the piles of rocks more than ten minutes when Old Hank was observed to raise his head, smile, and sniff the air with more or less eagerness.

“Must be close by, boys,” he said, positively. “I kin git the rank odor that allers hangs ’round the den of wild animals as brings meat home, an’ leaves the bones. The air is a-comin’ from that quarter, an’ chances are we’ll find the hole sumwhar over yonder.”

“I think I see it,” said Frank, eagerly. “Just above that little spur there’s a black looking crevice in the rock.”

“As dark as my hat,” added Hank; “an’ I reckon as how that’s whar Sallie lives when she’s t’ home. Now t’ invite ourselves int’ her leetle parlor, boys!”