Read CHAPTER VII - STANDING BY THE LAW of The Saddle Boys in the Grand Canyon / The Hermit of the Cave, free online book, by James Carson, on ReadCentral.com.

“What had we ought to do?” asked Bob.

“They must have seen our fire, and that’s what made them head this way. So, all we can do is to wait, and see what they want,” replied Frank.

“But there don’t seem to be many in the party,” his chum went on.

“I think not more than two, Bob.”

“You can tell from the beat of their horses’ hoofs is that it?” inquired the boy who wanted to learn.

“Yes, it’s easy enough, Bob.”

By this time the sounds had grown quite loud, and both boys strained their eyes, trying to locate the approaching horsemen. In the old days on the plains every stranger was deemed an enemy until he had proven himself a friend. Nowadays it is hardly so positive as that; but nevertheless those who are wise take no chances.

“I see them!” Bob announced; but although the other saddle boy had not said so, he had picked up the advancing figures several seconds before.

“One thing sure,” remarked Frank, as though relieved, “I reckon they can’t be horse thieves or cattle rustlers.”

“You mean they wouldn’t be so bold about coming forward?” ventured Bob.

“That’s about the size of it; but we’ll soon know,” Frank went on.

As the strangers drew rapidly nearer he began to make out their “style” for the night was not intensely dark. And somehow Frank’s curiosity increased in bounds. He discovered no signs of the customary cowboy outfit about them. They wore garments that savored of civilization, and sat their horses with the air of men accustomed to much riding.

“Hold hard there, strangers; or you’ll be riding us down!” Frank sang out, as the newcomers loomed up close at hand.

At that the others drew rein, and brought their horses to a halt. Bending low in the saddle they seemed to be peering at the dimly-seen figures of the two boys.

“Who is it speak quick!” one of the strangers said; and Frank believed he heard a suspicious click accompanying the thrilling words.

“Two boys bound for Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon,” he answered, not wishing to take any unnecessary chances.

“Where from, and what’s your names?” continued the other, in his commanding voice, that somehow told Frank he must be one accustomed to demanding obedience.

The ranch boy no longer felt any uneasiness. He believed that these men were not to be feared.

“I am the son of Colonel Haywood, owner of the Circle Ranch; and this is my chum, Bob Archer, a Kentucky boy,” he said, boldly.

Then the other man, who as yet had not spoken, took occasion to remark:

“’Taint them, after all, Stanwix! Perhaps we’ve been following the wrong trail.”

The name gave Frank an idea. He had heard more or less about the doings of a sheriff in a neighboring county, called Yavapai, and his name was the same as that mentioned by the second dimly seen rider.

“Are you gentlemen from Prescott?” he asked.

“That’s where I hold out when I’m home,” replied the one who had asked about their identity.

“Are you Sheriff Stanwix?” pursued the boy, while his companion almost held his breath in suspense.

“I am; and this is Hand, who holds the same office in this county of Coconino,” replied the other, as he threw a leg over his saddle as though about to dismount.

Both of them joined the boys, leaving their horses to stand with the bridles thrown over their heads, cowboy fashion.

Frank meanwhile had picked up some small fuel, and thrown it on the still smouldering fire. It immediately started up into a blaze that continued to increase.

They could now see that their visitors were two keen-eyed men. The evidence of their calling lay in the stars that decorated their left breasts. Both looked as though they could hold their own against odds. And of course they were armed as became their dangerous profession.

Bob was especially interested. He had never really had anything to do with an officer of the law; and surveyed the pair with all the ardor of boyish curiosity.

To see one sheriff was a treat; but to have two drop down upon them after this fashion must be an event worth remembering.

“We had the good luck to knock over a young antelope just before dark,” Frank remarked, after each of the men had insisted in gravely shaking hands with both himself and Bob. “Perhaps you haven’t had any supper, and wouldn’t mind taking pot luck with us?”

“How about that, Hand?” questioned the taller man, turning with a laugh to the second sheriff.

“Just suits me,” came the reply, as the speaker threw himself down on the hard ground. “Half an hour’s rest will do the hosses some good, too.”

“Thank you, boys, we accept, and with pleasure,” Mr. Stanwix went on, turning again toward Frank.

Bob immediately got busy, and started to cut further bits from the carcase of his small antelope. There would be plenty for even the healthy appetites of the two officers, and then leave enough for the boys’ breakfast.

“We’re in something of a hurry to get on to Flagstaff ourselves, boys,” the Yavapai sheriff remarked, as he sniffed the cooking venison with relish; “but the temptation to hold over a bit is too strong. You see, Hand and myself have just made up our minds to bag our birds this trip, no matter where it takes us, or how long we’re on the job.”

“Then you’re after some cattle rustlers or bad men, I reckon,” Frank remarked.

“A couple of the worst scoundrels ever known around these diggings,” replied the officer. “They’ve been jumping from one county into another, when pushed; and in the end Hand, here, and myself concluded we’d just join our forces. We’ve got a posse to the south, and another working to the north; but we happened to strike the trail of our birds just before dusk, and we’ve been following it in hopes of reaching Flagstaff before they can get down into the gash, and hide.”

“A trail, you say?” Frank observed. “Could it have been the one I’ve been following just out of curiosity, and because it seemed to run in the very direction my chum and myself were bound?”

“That’s just what it was, Frank,” the sheriff answered, as he accepted the hot piece of browned venison, stick and all, which Bob was holding out. “We saw that there had come into the trail the marks of two new hosses; and naturally enough we got the idea that it might mean our men were being followed by a couple of their own kind.”

“Then when you saw our little fire, you thought we were the kind of steers you wanted to round up?” the boy asked.

“Oh! well,” Mr. Stanwix replied with a little chuckle; “we kept a touch on our irons when I was asking you who you were; and if the reply hadn’t been all that it was, I reckon we’d have politely asked you to throw up your hands, boys. But say, this meat is prime, and seems to go to the spot.”

“I don’t know which spot you mean, Stanwix,” remarked the other officer, who was also munching away like a half-starved man; “but mine suits me all right. I’m right glad we stopped. The rest will tone the nags up for a long pull; and as for me, I’ll be in great shape after this feed.”

Bob was kept busy cooking more and more, for the two men seemed to realize, after once getting a taste, that they were desperately hungry. But he did it with pleasure. There was something genial about the manner of Mr. Stanwix that quite captured the heart of the Kentucky lad. He knew the tall man could be as gentle as a woman, if the occasion ever arose when he had a wounded comrade to nurse; and if his reputation did not speak wrongly his courage was decidedly great.

While they sat there the two men talked of various subjects. Frank was curious to know something about those whom they were now banded together in a determined effort to capture, and so Mr. Stanwix told a few outlines of the case.

The men were known as the Arizona Kid and Big Bill Guffey. They had been cattlemen, miners, and about every other thing known to the Southwest. By degrees they had acquired the reputation of being bad men; and all sorts of lawless doings were laid at their door. And finally it came to defying the sheriff, evading capture by flitting to another county, and playing a game of hide-and-seek, until their bold methods were the talk of the whole country.

Then it was the Coconino sheriff had conceived the idea of an alliance with his brother officer in the adjoining county, of which the thriving city of Prescott was the seat of government.

Frank even had Mr. Stanwix describe the two men whom the officers were pursuing.

“We expect to be around the Grand Canyon for some weeks,” the lad remarked; “and it might be we’d run across these chaps. To know who they were, would be putting us on our guard, and besides, perhaps we might be able to get notice to you, sir.”

“That sounds all right, Frank,” the other had hastened to reply; “and believe me, I appreciate your friendly feelings. It’s the duty of all good citizens to back up the man they’ve put in office, when he’s trying to free the community of a bad crowd.”

Then he explained just how they might get word to him in case they had anything of importance to communicate. Although the Tarapai sheriff knew nothing about wireless telegraphy, he did understand some of the methods which savage tribes in many countries use in order to send news hundreds of miles; sometimes by a chain of drums stationed on the hill tops miles apart; or it may be by the waving of a red flag.

“And I want to tell you, Frank,” Mr. Stanwix concluded, “if so be you ever do have occasion to send me that message, just make up your minds that I’ll come to you on the jump, with Hand at my heels. But for your own sakes I hope you won’t run across these two hard cases. We’ve got an idea that they mean to do some hold-up game in the Grand Canyon, where hundreds of rich travelers gather. And if luck favors us we expect to put a spoke in their wheel before they run far!”