Chapter XXI. In the Storm
 

Bert Bobbsey did not pay much attention to what the foreman said, except that one word "Indians."

"Oh, where are they?" cried the boy. "I want to see them!"

"And I'd like to see them myself!" exclaimed the foreman. "If I could find them I'd get back the Three Star cattle."

"Did Indians really take some of the steers?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Yes," answered the foreman, "they did. You know we are getting ready for the round-up. That is a time, twice a year, when we count the cattle, and sell what we don't want to keep," he explained, for he saw that Nan wanted to ask a question.

"Twice a year," went on the foreman, "once in the spring and again in the fall, we have what is called a round-up. That is we gather together all the cattle on the different parts of the ranch. Some herds have been left to themselves for a long time, and it may happen that cattle belonging to some other ranch-owner have got in with ours. We separate, or 'cut out' as it is called, the strange cattle, give them to the cowboys who come for them, and look after our own. That is a round-up, and sometimes it lasts for a week or more. The cowboys take a 'chuck', or kitchen wagon with them, and they cook their meals out on the prairie."

"Oh, that's fun!" cried Bert. "Please, Daddy, mayn't I go on the round-up?"

"And have the Indians catch you?" asked his mother.

"Oh, there isn't any real danger from the Indians," said the foreman. "They are not the wild kind. Only, now and again, they run off a bunch of cattle from some herd that is far off from the main ranch. This is what has happened here."

"How did you find out about it?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.

"A cowboy from another ranch told me," answered the foreman. "Some of his cattle were taken and he followed along the trail the Indians left. He saw them, but could not catch them. But he saw some of the cattle that had strayed away from the band of Indians, and these steers were branded with our mark--the three stars."

"Well, maybe the poor Indians were hungry," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "And that is why they took some of our steers."

"Yes, I reckon that's what they'd say, anyhow," remarked the foreman. "But it won't do to let the redmen take cattle any time they feel like it. They have money, and can buy what they want. I wouldn't mind giving them a beef or two, but when it comes to taking part of a herd, it must be stopped."

"How can it be stopped?" asked Mr. Bobbsey.

"That's just what I came in to talk to you about," went on Mr. Dayton. "Shall I send some of the cowboys after the Indians to see if they can catch them, and get back our cattle?"

"I suppose you had better," Mr. Bobbsey answered. "If we let this pass the Indians will think we do not care, and will take more steers next time. Yes, send the cowboys after the Indians."

"But let the Indians have a steer or two for food, if they need it," begged Mrs. Bobbsey, who had a kind heart even toward an Indian cattle thief, or "rustler", as they are called.

"Well, that can be done," agreed Mr. Dayton. "Then I'll send some of the cowboys on the round-up, and others after the Indians. They can work together, the two bands of cowboys."

"Oh, mayn't I come?" begged Bert. "I can throw a lasso pretty good now, and maybe I could rope an Indian."

"And maybe you could get me an Indian doll!" put in Nan.

"Oh, no! We couldn't think of letting you go, Bert," said Mr. Bobbsey. "The cowboys will be gone several nights, and will sleep out on the open prairie. When you get bigger you may go."

Bert looked so disappointed that the foreman said:

"I'll tell you what we can do. Toward the end of the round-up the boys drive the cattle into the corrals not far from here. The children can go over then and see how the cowboys cut out different steers, and how we send some of the cattle over to the railroad to be shipped back east. That will be seeing part of the round-up, anyhow."

And with this Bert had to be content. He and Nan, with Flossie and Freddie, watched the cowboys riding away on their ponies, shouting, laughing, waving their hats and firing their revolvers.

While the round-up was hard work for the cowboys, still they had exciting times at it and they always were glad when it came. The ranch seemed lonesome after the band of cowboys had ridden away, but Sing Foo, the Chinese cook, was left, and one or two of the older men to look after things around the buildings. Mr. Dayton also stayed to see about matters for Mrs. Bobbsey.

It was well on toward fall now, though the weather was still warm. The days spent by the Bobbsey twins in the great West had passed so quickly that the children could hardly believe it was almost time for them to go back to Lakeport.

"Can't we stay here all winter?" asked Bert. "If I'm going to be a cowboy I'd better stay on a ranch all winter."

"Oh, the winters here are very cold," his father said. "We had better go back to Lakeport for Christmas, anyhow," and he smiled at his wife.

"Maybe Santa Claus doesn't come out here so far," said Freddie.

"Then I don't want to stay," said Flossie. "I want to go where Santa Claus is for Christmas."

"I think, then, we'd better plan to go back home," said Mrs. Bobbsey.

It was rather lonesome at the ranch now, with so many of the cowboys away, but the children managed to have good times. The two smaller twins often went riding in the pony cart, while Bert and Nan liked saddle-riding best.

One day as Bert and his sister started off their mother said to them: "Don't go too far now. I think there is going to be a storm."

"We won't go far!" Bert promised.

Now the two saddle ponies were feeling pretty frisky that day. They seemed to know cold weather was coming, when they would have to trot along at a lively pace to keep warm. And perhaps Nan and Bert, remembering that they were soon to leave the ranch, rode farther and faster than they meant to.

At any rate they went on and on, and pretty soon Nan said:

"We had better go back. We never came so far away before, all alone. And I think it's going to rain!"

"Yes, it does look so," admitted Bert. "And I guess we had better go back. I thought maybe I could see some of the cowboys coming home from the round-up, but I guess I can't."

The children turned their ponies about, and headed them for the ranch house. As they did so the rain drops began to fall, and they had not ridden a half mile more before the storm suddenly broke.

"Oh, look at the rain!" cried Nan.

"And feel it!" exclaimed Bert. "This is going to be a big storm! Let's put on our ponchos."

The children carried ponchos on their saddles. A poncho is a rubber blanket with a hole in the middle. To wear it you just put your head through the hole, the rubber comes down over your shoulders and you are kept quite dry, even in a hard storm.

Bert and Nan quickly put on their ponchos and then started their ponies again. The rain was now coming down so hard that the brother and sister could scarcely see where they were going.

"Are we headed right for the house?" asked Nan.

"I--I guess so," answered Bert. "But I'm not sure."