Chapter XXI. Off for the Mining District
 

While Jack Wumble was off attending to his private business the three Rover boys took a stroll through Denver.

The city was different from any they had visited, and their walk was full of interest.

Coming to a store in the window of which were exhibited a number of Indian curiosities, the boys halted to examine the objects, when Tom uttered a sudden cry.

"Look, Dick! There is Bradner inside!"

"Yes, and Dan Baxter is with him!" returned the elder brother quickly. "Here's luck, surely!"

"Will you have them locked up?" asked Sam.

"To be sure -- if we can."

The boys looked around for a policeman, but none happened to be in sight.

"Run and see if you can find one," said Dick to Sam. "Tom and I can watch the pair."

At once Sam made off. But policemen were not numerous, and it took quite some time to locate one and explain what was wanted.

In the meantime Dan Baxter had caught sight of Tom and told Bradner of his discovery.

Boy and man came out of the store in a great hurry. They were about to run off when Dick caught Bradner by the arm, while his brother halted the former bully of Putnam Hall.

"Let go of me!" hissed Bradner, and as Dick paid no attention he aimed a blow for the youth's head. But Dick "had been there before," and dodged, and the force of his effort nearly took the rascal off his feet. Before he could recover Dick had him down on his back and was sitting on his chest.

Tom was having a lively time with Dan Baxter. The bully hit the boy in the shoulder, and Tom retaliated with a sharp crack that landed straight on Baxter's nose and drew blood.

"A fight! a fight!" yelled a passing newsboy, and as if by magic a crowd began to collect.

Again Baxter struck out, but his blow fell short, and now Tom gave him one in the ear that spun him half around. By this time the bully felt that he had had enough of the encounter, and breaking through the crowd he set off on a mad run down the street and around the nearest comer.

Feeling it would be useless to try to catch Dan Baxter just then, Tom turned his attention to Dick and Henry Bradner. Bradner was struggling hard to get up, but Dick was master of the situation, so Tom had little to do.

"What's the meaning of this?" demanded the policeman, as soon as he came upon the scene.

"I want this man arrested," answered Dick, as he got up, but still kept close to Bradner.

"What has he done?"

"He is a sharper of the worst kind."

"You are sure of this?"

"I am --"

"You will have to go to the station house with us if I take the man in," continued the policeman.

"I am willing," answered Dick quietly.

Muttering angrily to himself, Henry Bradner arose. He wanted to run away, but got no chance to do so. Soon the station house was reached, and here Dick and his brothers told their story.

"The assault happened in another State," said the officer at the desk. "The most we can do is to hold him until the Illinois authorities send for him."

"Why, that's Harry the Crook, from Gunnison!" put in an officer who had just come in. "He is wanted here on half a dozen charges."

At these words Bradner turned deadly pale.

"This is a -- a mistake," he faltered. "I know nothing of the man you mention."

"Too thin, Harry; I know you well," replied the officer. "Captain, he is a bad one," he continued to his superior.

An investigation into the records was made, and a picture in the Rogues' Gallery proved that Bradner and Harry the Crook were one and the same beyond a doubt.

"In that case we'll hold him right here," said the police captain.

The matter was talked over with Dick, and the youth decided to let his own charge against the crook drop, as he did not wish to waste time in Denver on the case. An hour later the three Rovers departed, leaving Henry Bradner to a fate he richly deserved.

"That is one of our enemies disposed of," observed Dick, as they walked back to the hotel. "I wish we could do up the Baxters just as easily."

The following day found them on the way to Gunnison. Nothing more had been seen or heard of Dan Baxter, nor had anything turned up concerning Arnold Baxter and Roebuck, the man who was with him and who hid helped him to escape from prison.

The country was now mountainous in the extreme, with here and there a wild, weird canyon thousands of feet deep. Some of the awful pitfalls made Sam fairly hold his breath.

"Gosh!" he murmured. "This beats Africa, doesn't it? Who ever saw such lofty peaks before -- and such rivers cut out of the solid rock!"

The boys found Gunnison a small mining city containing perhaps six thousand souls. A few of the buildings were quite up to date, but the majority were little better than shanties. But Gunnison was a center for the trade of many miles around, and business was brisk.

At Gunnison the entire party procured horses from a dealer Jack Wumble knew, beasts that were strong and used to mountain traveling.

"We might go on for twenty miles or so by rail, but this is the best place for fitting out," said the old miner. "We can strike a putty fair trail from here, leading directly, to Larkspur Creek."

"And how far is that mining district from here?" asked Tom.

"As the birds fly about sixty-five miles. But the trail makes it a good hundred miles, and some putty stiff climbin' at that. I'm glad ye are used to roughin' it, for this traveling don't go well with a tenderfoot."

The day was clear and the air bracing, and the boys started off with their friend in the best of spirits. Soon the city was left behind, and then began a journey along the foothills which seemed to have no end.

"If Arnold Baxter is watching us he is taking precious good care to keep out of sight," said Tom, as they rode along in single file, with Jack Wumble in the lead.

"No doubt Dan has joined his father and told him of Bradner's fate," returned Dick. "But we have got to keep our eyes wide open. We all know what a wretch Arnold Baxter is, and out in this wild country almost anything is liable to happen."

On and on they went, first over a stubble of thin grass and then through a forest of tall pine trees. Rocks were everywhere, and the trail wound in and out, with an occasional watercourse to be forded.

"These watercourses are all right now," observed Jack Wumble. "But in the early spring, when the snow on the mountains begins to melt, they become raging torrents, and getting across 'em is out of the question."

"How far are yonder peaks from here?" asked Sam, pointing ahead.

"About twenty miles."

"Gracious, as far as that! I didn't know one could see so clearly for such a long distance. They look to me to be only about three miles."

"The air is very pure and clear out here, lad. No better air in this wide world than that of Colorady."

At noon they came to a halt in a little hollow, protected alike from the breeze and the direct rays of the overhead sun. Their saddle bags were filled with provisions, and Tom and Sam began to prepare their first meal in the open, with Dick and the old miner assisting.

After the meal Jack Wumble took a smoke and a ten minutes' nap, and during that time the three boys strolled off in various directions, Sam going ahead on the trail.

Presently the youngest Rover had his eye arrested by a post set up in the middle of the trail. To the top of the post was tacked a sheet of white paper.

"This is queer," thought Sam, and drew closer to inspect the sheet. On it were written the words, in pencil:

"To the Rovers and their friend:

"If you want to keep out of trouble you will return to Gunnison at once. If you dare to push on to Larkspur Creek it may cost you your lives. We are watching you, and are fully armed, and you had better be warned in time.

"THE RIGHTFUL OWNERS OF THE MINE"