Read CHAPTER IV - THE LISTENER UNDER THE WINDOW of The Saddle Boys in the Grand Canyon / The Hermit of the Cave, free online book, by James Carson, on ReadCentral.com.

“That was what I had in mind, Frank, when I hurried Ted Conway out to find you both,” Colonel Haywood remarked, his face filled with pride and confidence.

“Will you let me see the note, please?” asked Bob; who expected some day to study to be a lawyer, his father’s family having had several Kentucky judges among their number.

Just as the owner of the ranch had said, the communication was exceedingly brief, and to the point, not an unnecessary word having been written. It was in pencil, and the handwriting was crabbed; just what one might expect of an elderly man, given over heart and soul to scientific research.

“I suppose you know the writing well enough to feel sure this came from your noted uncle, sir?” asked Bob, as he turned the paper over.

“Certainly, Bob,” replied the cattleman, promptly. “There is not the least possibility of it’s being a practical joke. Nobody out here knows anything about my uncle, who disappeared so long ago. Yes, you can set it down as positive that the letter is genuine enough. He’s located somewhere up in that most astonishing hole, the greatest wonder, most people admit, in the entire world. But just how you two boys are ever going to find him is another question.”

“We can try, dad; and that’s all you could do if you were able to tramp. It happens that the Grand Canyon isn’t more than a hundred and thirty miles from our ranch here, and we can ride that in a few days. How do you feel about it, Bob?”

“Nothing would please me better,” replied the other boy, quickly, his face lighting up with delight at the prospect of a long ride in the saddle, to be followed by days, and perhaps weeks, of roaming through that wonderland, where Nature had outdone all her other works in trying to heap up astonishing surprises.

“So far as I’m concerned,” Frank went on, “I’ve always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, and meant to do it some day later on. Of course I’ve seen what the little Colorado has to show, because it’s only a long day’s ride off. Mr. Hinchman can, I reckon, give us some points about the place, and maybe even mention several smaller canyons where we might be likely to find Uncle Felix in Echo Cave.”

“Which I’ll be only too happy to attempt,” answered the gentleman from Mohave City; “and as I said before, I know considerable about the mysteries of the big hole in the desert, all of which is at your service. Somehow, the queer way that message in the floating bottle came to me, excited my curiosity; and I’ll be satisfied if I can only have a hand in the finding of the noted gentleman who, as your father has been telling me, vanished in the midst of his fame.”

“And now, dad, please explain just what we are to do in case luck follows us in our hunt, and we run across the professor,” said Frank.

“You are to explain to him that the long option which he held on that San Bernardino mine will expire in one more month. The work had been going on in a listless way for three years. All at once some time back they struck a wonderfully rich lode, and vein has been followed far enough to show that it is bound to be a record breaker.”

“That sounds great!” declared the deeply interested Bob.

“The mine couldn’t be bought for a million to-day,” continued the stockman; “and yet Uncle Felix is probably carrying around with him (for it couldn’t be found at his home) a little legal document whereby it will become his sole property in case he chooses to plank down the modest sum of twenty thousand dollars by the thirtieth of next month!”

“Whew! that’s going some, eh, Bob?” exclaimed Frank, with a little whistle that accentuated his surprise.

“Then if we are fortunate enough to find Uncle Felix before that time has expired, what shall we do, sir?” asked the precise Bob, who was always keeping an eye out for the legal aspect of things.

“Coax him to accompany you to the nearest notary public, where he can sign his acceptance of the terms under which he holds the option on the San Bernardino. But if this happens after the thirtieth it is all wasted energy; for at midnight of that day, I happen to know, the option expires,” the ranchman continued, somewhat impressively.

Just as he finished speaking he suddenly turned toward the window, at which his keen vision had caught sight of a moving shadow, as though someone might have been crouching without, and listening.

“Who is there at the window?” he called out, sternly.

All eyes were turned that way. After several seconds had passed a figure rose up, and a head was thrust through the opening. It belonged to a dark-faced cow-puncher, named Abajo, who was supposed to be a half-breed Mexican. Although never a favorite with the owner of the Circle Ranch, Abajo was a first-class handler of the rope, and could ride a horse as well as anyone. He had been employed by Colonel Haywood for half a year. He talked “United States,” as Frank was used to saying, as well as the average cowman. But Frank had never liked the fellow. There seemed something crafty in his ways that was foreign to the make-up of the boy.

“It’s only me, boss,” said Abajo, with an attempt at a grin. “I wanted to ask you about that job you set me on yesterday. I took Pete along, and we found the lost bunch of stock in a valley ten mile away from Thunder Mountain in the Fox Canyon country. Got ’em all safe in but seven. Never seen hair nor hide of them; but after gettin’ back it struck me there was one place they might a strayed to that we didn’t look up. If so be you say the word I’ll pick up Pete again, and make another try.”

“Why, of course you had better go, Abajo,” remarked the stockman, looking keenly at the other, for he did not like the way in which the half-breed had been apparently loitering under that open window, as though listening to all that was passing in the room beyond. “I told you not to draw rein till you’d found all the missing stock; or knew what had become of them. That’s all, Abajo.”

The Mexican cowboy hurried away. A minute later and they heard him shouting to Pete; and then the clatter of horses’ hoofs told that the pair were galloping wildly across the open.

“I wonder how much he heard?” said Frank; from which it would appear that he also suspected the other of having spied upon them for some purpose.

“Much good it could have done him, even if he caught all we said,” replied his father. “Because, of course, he doesn’t know anything about Uncle Felix; and couldn’t be interested in whether he is living or dead.”

“No,” remarked Mr. Hinchman, “but the mention of a mine going a-begging that is worth a comfortable fortune, like a million or two, would interest Abajo. I know his type pretty well, and you can rest assured that they’re always on the lookout for easy money.”

“But didn’t it strike you, dad,” ventured Frank, “that his excuse for being under that window was silly?”

“Yes, because Abajo has always been able to understand, without asking what he should do under such conditions. He wanted some excuse for drawing near the open window, and he found it. Perhaps he’s heard something about the coming of Mr. Hinchman here, and the queer finding of the bottle that floated down the Colorado for one or two hundred miles. I spoke to the foreman, Bart Heminway, about it.”

“When would you want us to make a start?” asked Bob, looking as though he might be ready to jump into his saddle then and there.

“Oh! there is no such rushing hurry as all that,” replied the cattleman, laughing at the eagerness of the two lads. “Your horses are a bit off, just now, and after all that fight in the wolf den you boys need a rest.”

“But when do we start?” asked Frank.

“Suppose you get ready to move in the morning,” Colonel Haywood replied, after reflecting a moment. “That will give me time to write a letter to Uncle Felix, so that you can deliver it, if you’re lucky enough to find his Echo Cave; and at the same time you can make up your packs; for you will need blankets, and plenty of grub along.”

“Well, I reckon you’re right, dad,” admitted Frank; “only it seems as if we might be losing valuable time. All the same we’re going to do just what you say. Now, if you haven’t anything more to tell us, we’ll just skip out, and begin looking up some of the supplies for our campaign in the Grand Canyon.”

“Get along with you, then,” laughed the ranchman. “I want to ask Mr. Hinchman a few more questions that have occurred to me since you came home. And, boys, grub will be ready in a short time, now, for there’s Ah Sin stepping to the door every little while, to look around and see if the boys are in sight. You know what that sign means.”

Frank and his chum went off, to make out a list of things they would take along with them on the strange expedition upon which they were about to start on the following morning.

“What do you think of that slippery customer, Abajo?” Bob asked his chum, as the afternoon waned, and they were sitting on the long porch of the ranch house.

“I’ve never liked him ever since he came here; but dad was in need of help, and the half-breed certainly knows his business to a dot,” replied Frank, who was examining the new girth his chum had attached to his saddle, mentally deciding that whatever the young Kentuckian attempted, he did neatly and well.

“Didn’t I hear something about his being a relative to that Spanish Joe who gave us so much trouble a little while back, on Thunder Mountain?” Bob continued.

“Well, I couldn’t say for sure, but some say he is a nephew,” Frank answered. “Both of them have Mexican blood in their veins; and, when you come to think of it, there is some resemblance in their faces.”

“But do you really think Abajo was listening?” the other asked.

“It looked like it; that’s as far as I’ve got,” laughed Frank.

“But,” Bob protested, “even if he knew that there was a big fortune connected with the paper this queer old professor carries on his person, what good would that do Abajo?”

Frank shrugged his broad shoulders as he replied:

“Well, you never can tell what crazy notions some of these schemers after a fortune will hatch up. He might make up his mind to start a little hunt for the hermit of Echo Cave on his own hook; with the idea of getting a transfer of that valuable paper.”

“That’s a fact!” declared Bob, looking interested. “Perhaps, after all, we won’t have our work cut out for us as easy as we thought.”

“Small difference that will make,” Frank went on, with a shutting of his teeth that told of the spirit animating the boy when difficulties hove in sight.

“I agree with you, all right, Frank,” his companion remarked. “And perhaps it’ll only make the hunt all the more interesting if we believe we’ve got opposition. You know how it was when Peg Grant threw his hat in the ring, and tried to find out what made those queer sounds in the heart of Thunder Mountain?”

“Sure I do,” came the quick reply. “It stirred us up to doing bigger stunts than if we’d thought we had it all our own way. Nothing like competition to get the best out of any fellow.”

“Correct you are, Frank. But speaking of Abajo, perhaps that’s him coming back now,” and as he spoke the Kentucky boy pointed across to a point where a single rider could be seen heading for the ranch house.

He was still far away, but the eyes of Frank Haywood were very keen. Besides, he knew the “style” of every cowboy who was in the employ of his father, and was able to pick them out almost as far as he could see them.

“You’re away off there, Bob,” he remarked quietly.

“Then it isn’t the half-breed?” asked his chum.

“I know the way that chap sits in the saddle,” came the reply. “Only one man on the pay roll of Circle Ranch holds himself that way. It’s Pete.”

“Pete Rawlings, the fellow who went with Abajo to round up the missing cattle?” asked Bob.

“He’s the one,” Frank went on. “And from the fact that he rides alone, I take it he’s bringing news.”

“Of the seven head of cattle that have disappeared, you mean, Frank?”

“Perhaps. They may have found them, and Abajo is standing by, while Pete comes in to make some sort of report. There’s that rustler bunch that comes from the other side of the Gila river once in a while, under Pedro Mendoza, you remember. But he’ll soon be on deck, and then we’ll know. Come along, Bob, and we’ll let dad hear that Pete is sighted. He’ll be interested some, I reckon.”

A short time later the single rider threw himself from his saddle after the usual impetuous manner of cowboys in general.

“Back again, Pete; and did you see anything of that seven head?” asked Colonel Haywood, who had come outside.

“Ain’t run across hair nor hide of ’em, Colonel,” replied the squatty cattleman, as he “waddled” up to the spot where the little group awaited his coming; for like many of his kind, Pete was decidedly bow-legged, possibly from riding a horse all his life; and his walk somewhat resembled that of a sailor ashore after a long cruise.

“Where did you leave Abajo?” asked Frank, unable to restrain his curiosity.

“Didn’t leave him,” replied the other, with a grin. “He gave me the merry ha! ha! and said as how he reckoned he’d had enough of the old Circle. Got his month’s pay yesterday, you see, an’ he’s even. I reckoned somethin’ was in the wind when I seen him talkin’ with that feller.”

“Who was that, Pete?” questioned Colonel Haywood; and the prompt answer made Frank and Bob exchange significant looks, for it seemed to voice their worst fears.

“A gent as you had avisitin’ here some time back, Colonel. Reckon as how he don’t feel any too warm toward you, accordin’ to the way he used to bring them black brows of his’n down, when he thought you wa’n’t lookin’. And his name was Eugene Warringford.”