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"THE NORTHERN CHEYENNES cleaned out his Pop, an' druv all their stock into the Big Horns," said Big Jim Haskins, gruffly apologetic. "So—well, put him on the payroll at thirty, an' see that he earns it."

Sam Hardy, the lean foreman of the V Up and V Down, grunted and held out a calloused paw.

"Shake, kid," he boomed. "Yo're a hoss wrangler now. W'atcher name, didja say? Joe—an' f'm the Rosebud? Rosebud Joe. Waal, yuh may fill out, give yuh time, but right now yuh look kinda light for wrasslin' Morgans. Yuh know a Morgan f'm a Percheron an' a barb? Sure yuh do."

"I've set hosses, snatchin' calves, but I don't know one kind f'm t'other," said the hollow eyed kid. "I kin learn, though."

"Sure yuh can," boomed Sam Hardy, chuckling dryly as he watched the owner of the horse ranch disappearing into the house. Every time Big Jim went to Miles City, or even over to Roundup on the Musselshell, he brought back some kind of a pet or curiosity. "But yuh look hungry. C'mon an' I'll give yuh a knockdown to Louie Lee. He's the most important jigger 'round here. He's cook."

"Thanks," said the kid huskily. "I aim to—to make yuh glad yuh hired me. Sometime."

The V Up and V Down specialized in Morgans—and Indian trouble. The Northern Cheyennes and the Crows were supposed to be subdued and living happily on their reservations to the south. But now and then raiding bands of them came. Then there was some quick, grim work with Winchesters, or else a band of valuable horses vanished never to be seen again.

BESIDES this chronic trouble, there were a few white rustlers operating in Montana. And then there was Redbird.

Redbird was a four year old stallion, probably a cross of Morgan and Spanish barb. He was a reddish glistening chestnut in color, magnificent in his young strength and sleekness in summer; shaggy and hirsute in winter. He ran a harem of thirty-odd mares, and was always trumpeting and snorting and luring more valuable brood mares away from the ranches.

Big Jim Haskins had a standing offer of a thousand dollars for Redbird alive, and one hundred for him dead. He was a menace, and cost more money than wolves. Just the same no waddy in Montana who ever had set eyes on him, coveted the hundred.

Rosebud Joe, as a button, fetched and carried, spread hay on the snow in winter, and often accompanied the foreman, Sam Hardy, when the latter thought he might need a messenger. The two of them were riding the breaks beyond Thunder Butte one June day, when with a snort, a squealing whinny and a thumping of hoofs the Redbird flew past them, mane and tail bannering as pennons for his troop of mares.

With a gasped oath, Sam Hardy went for the carbine in his saddle boot. But with a choked cry the button rammed the shoulder of his mount into Sam's pony, spoiling any chance to ?re.

"I—kick me if yuh wanta," said Rosebud Joe then, dropping his brown eyes before the foreman's glare. "He—he's too damn purty to kill. He's—"

"All right, kid," chuckled Sam ruefully after a moment. "I'd give six months pay to lay a rope on him, my own self. Only—he costs the ranch plenty. Didja see them three brood mares close up at his heels? The boss paid plenty for them."

WITH the spring of that year, 1898, wild tales had come from the Klondike. Gold. Bonanza Creek. Candle. Gold lying in the black sand just a few feet underground. And three riders from the V Up and V Down left to try their luck in the northland. Others were restive, thinking how long they'd have to draw forty a month to have a stake, when they cou...

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