Read CHAPTER V - STARTING FOR THE GRAND CANYON of The Saddle Boys in the Grand Canyon / The Hermit of the Cave, free online book, by James Carson, on ReadCentral.com.

No one appeared to be greatly surprised at this piece of news. Apparently it had been already discounted in the mind of Frank, his father, and even Bob Archer.

“So, that’s the way the wind sets, is it?” remarked the colonel, frowning.

“Anyhow, dad, that proves one thing,” declared Frank.

“Meaning about that business of listening under the window?” observed the owner of Circle Ranch. “It certainly does. Abajo has been in the employ of Eugene Warringford from the start. But there must have been some other good reason why that schemer wanted to find Uncle Felix. He suspected that, sooner or later, the old gentleman would communicate with me, because I used to be quite a favorite of his, years ago.”

“Yes, and he sent the half-breed here to get employment from you just to spy around,” declared Frank. “All the time he was accepting your money, he had a regular income from Eugene.”

“Oh! well, he earned all he got here,” said the ranchman, quickly. “Say what I may about Abajo, he had no superior when it came to throwing the rope, and rounding up a herd. Those Mexicans make the finest of cowboys. They are at home in the saddle, every time.”

“Also in hanging around under windows, and listening to what is said,” added Frank. “As for me, I have little use for their breed. And, dad, if ever you give me the reins here, no Mexican will ever get a job on old Circle Ranch.”

“Well,” remarked the stockman, laughing at the vigor with which his son and heir made this assertion, “perhaps I’m leaning that way myself. After all, there’s nothing like your own kind. We don’t understand these fellows. Their ways are not the same as ours; and I reckon we puncture their pride often enough. But there’s no trouble now about understanding why Abajo gave us the go-by to-day.”

“Huh! he had some news worth while carrying to his boss,” said Frank. “And I can just imagine how Eugene’s little eyes will sparkle when he hears about that valuable paper; eh, dad?”

“You’re right, son,” the ranchman replied. “Because, it stands to reason he couldn’t know anything about it before. The mine was a dead one up to a few months back, when that lucky-find lode was struck by accident. Eugene will put up a big chase to find this Echo Cave, now that he knows Uncle Felix is located somewhere in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.”

“But it won’t make a bit of difference in our plans, dad; will it?” asked Frank.

“That depends on you two boys. If you think you can carry the game along, even with Eugene against you, I see no reason to make any change,” the stockman replied, with a look that spoke of much confidence.

The balance of the afternoon was spent in exchanging views, and much study of the map of the famous canyon of the Colorado, which it happened the ranch owner had in his desk.

All sorts of theories were advanced by first one and then another of the group. It happened that Colonel Haywood himself had never as yet paid a visit to the strange gash in the soil of northwestern Arizona; and he admitted the fact with a rueful face.

“Then just as soon as you get well, dad, make up your mind you’re going to take a little vacation, and see the Grand Canyon,” said Frank. “When we come back, perhaps what we have to say will set you wild to go. And we expect to bring news of old Uncle Felix too, if he’s still in the land of the living.”

“Let’s go over that ground again,” remarked Bob.

“Now you’re referring to what was said about the funny old stone dwellings of the cliff dwellers, who used to live there centuries ago,” remarked Frank.

“And he’s right, too,” declared the ranchman. “I get the point Bob makes. It was about these wonderful people that Uncle Felix was so deeply interested, and he made up his mind to shut himself away from all the world, just to study up their history, as left in the holes in the rock.”

“And it would seem to follow, then,” said Bob, readily, “that he will be found located in one of those series of terraces where these holes are discovered. I notice that there are a number of these villages connected with the map of the Grand Canyon; but the chances are your Uncle Felix wouldn’t take up with any where tourist travel was common.”

“Now, that sounds all right,” admitted Frank. “In the first place he would have been heard from long ago, if tourists ran across him; because they always talk, and send their accounts to be published in the papers.”

“Besides, these scientific men hate to be watched when they’re wrapped up in work like this. I’ve known a couple back in Old Kentucky,” Bob went on.

“According to your idea, then,” said the Colonel, nodding approvingly, “this Echo Cave he mentions will prove to be some new place that the ordinary tourist in the big canyon has never set eyes on?”

“That’s my opinion, sir,” replied Bob.

“And if that’s so, then it wouldn’t pay you boys to waste any time looking into these ruins of the homes of the cliff dwellers located around Grand View; and in Walnut Canyon, some nine miles from Flagstaff,” the ranchman continued.

“I think we’d save more or less time that way, sir,” Bob declared.

“And you still want to go on horseback; when you might reach the railroad, and take a train, easily enough?” asked Colonel Haywood.

The boys exchanged glances. They were wedded to the saddle, and disliked the idea of leaving their favorite steeds behind them when embarking on this new venture.

“We’ve picked out the trail we expect to follow, dad,” Frank said, pleadingly; “and it seems to run pretty smooth, with only a few mountains to cross, and a couple of rivers to ford. If you don’t object seriously, Bob and I would prefer to go mounted.”

“Oh! as far as that goes, I don’t blame you, boys,” the stockman hastened to say in reply; for he could understand the yearning one feels for a favorite horse; and how a seat in the saddle seems to be the finest thing in the world.

“Thank you, dad!” exclaimed Frank. “I reckoned that you’d talk that way. Somehow or other I just don’t feel more’n half myself out of the saddle. And when we start to go down into the canyon we can find some place to leave our mounts where they’ll be ’tended decently enough.”

Ah Sin, the Chinese cook of the ranch, who generally accompanied the boys when the whole outfit went on the grand round-up, with the mess wagon in attendance, now came outdoors, and beat his gong to announce dinner.

The cowboys were not far away, awaiting the summons with the customary range appetites held in check; and when they were seated at the table they presented a merry crowd. Frank’s mother happened to be visiting East at this time. He had a maiden aunt, however, who looked after the household duties, and sat at the end of the long table to pour the coffee.

Of course there was more or less talk about the sudden flitting of the half-breed, Abajo. Nobody had any regrets, for he had never been liked. And there were several who secretly felt pleased, because they had happened to quarrel with the dark-skinned Mexican at different times, and did not altogether fancy the way he had of scowling, while his finger felt the edge of the knife he carried in his gay sash, after the manner of his countrymen.

Colonel Haywood did not see fit to explain the real cause for the going of Abajo, except to his foreman, Bart Heminway. But during the evening, when Frank and Bob were making up their packs so as to get an early start in the morning, the ranch owner might have been seen in earnest consultation with the foreman.

Presently Bart went out, to return with Old Hank Coombs, and another cowman known as Chesty Lane; who had of course received this name on account of the way he thrust out his figure, rather than from any inclination on his part to boast of his wonderful deeds.

“Chesty tells me, Colonel,” said Bart, “that he used to be a guide in this same Grand Canyon, years ago. I never knowed it ’till right to-day. And if so be you intend to send Old Hank up thar to keep tabs on the doings of that ugly pair, Abajo and Warringford, thar couldn’t be a better man to pick out than Chesty. You can depend on him every time.”

Then followed another conference, of which the two boys, wrapped up in their own plans in another room, were of course entirely ignorant.

It was decided, however, that the two cowmen should wait until the boys were well on their way. Then, supplied with ample funds, they could ride to the nearest station, meet the first train bound north, and be at Flagstaff before night came around.

In this way the Colonel figured that he was safeguarding the interests of Bob and Frank. Already had he begun to regret allowing them to go, and if it had not been for the high regard he had for his word, once given, he might have backed down. However, perhaps the sending of Hank and his companion might answer the purpose, and prove a valuable move.

The night passed, and with early dawn there was a stir all about Circle Ranch.

Every cowboy on the place accompanied Frank and Bob several miles on their long journey, every fellow wishing he had been asked to join them for the adventure. And when Bart Hemingway gave the word to turn back, the entire group waved their hats, and cheered as long as the two lads remained within hearing.