Ted Strong's Motor Car
OR, FAST AND FURIOUS
By EDWARD C. TAYLOR Author of the Ted Strong Stories
Ted Strong's Motor Car
TALKING ABOUT SMART HOGS!
Carl Schwartz burst into the living room of the Moon Valley Ranch house with fire in his eye and pathos in his voice:
"As sheur as I standing here am, dot schwein I'm going to kill!"'
"I'll jest bet yer a million dollars ter a piece o' custard pie yer don't," said Bud Morgan, rising from the lounge where he had been resting after a strenuous day in the big pasture.
"I'll pet you," shouted Carl. "Der pig pelongs mit me der same as you."
"Go ahead, then," said Bud, lying down again. "But I want ter tell yer this, and take it from me, it's ez straight ez an Injun's hair, yer kin kill yer own part o' thet hawg if yer want ter, but if my part dies I'll wallop yer plenty. I've spent too much time teachin' thet pig tricks ter lose it now."
"Vich part der pig you own, anyvay?"
"Ther best part; ther head."
"Den I dake der tail. By Chiminy, I get skvare yet so soon. I cut der tail off, und dot vill make der pig not able to valk straight ven he can't der tail curl in der opposite direction. Den ve see how mooch der tricks he done. Vat?"
"I'll hev ther law on yer if yer interfere with thet pig."
"What's the matter with you two fellows?" asked Ted Strong, the leader of the broncho boys, who was writing some letters at the big oak table in the center of the room.
"Der pig, he moost die," cried Carl tragically.
"Why, what has 'Oof' done now?"
"He has ate all mein gabbages," answered Carl, with almost a sob.
"Well, s'posin' he hez," said Bud. "What in thunder is cabbages fer, if they ain't ter be et by pigs?"
"Yes, you, but not fer dose kind of pig. Maybe you might eat dem und it vould be all right, but not der pig mit four feet."
Carl had a small garden back of the ranch house, in which he had been raising cabbages, devoting all his spare time to them and good-naturedly taking the joshing the boys gave him. They were of the opinion that a cow-puncher was degrading himself by working in a garden.
"Jumpin' sand hills, he'll be takin' up knittin' when winter comes on, an' makin' of his own socks," said Bud, in disgust.
"No, he's going in for tatting," said Ben Tremont. "He's going to make a lot of doilies for the chairs so we won't soil the satin upholstery with our oily hair."
As all the chairs in the living room were very plain, made of solid oak, with bullhide seats and backs, this remark was received with laughter.
"Go aheadt!" said Carl. "Ven you ain'dt drough, let me know. I know your own bizziness. Ven der vinter comes und I haf dot deliciousness sauerkraut, und am eating it, und ven your mouts vater so dot you slobber like a colt off der clover, den—ah, den, I gifs you der ha-ha, ain'dt it? Den you see who der knitting und der tatting do, eh?"
Carl laughed at the thought of how the boys would miss the sauerkraut which he was going to make. But now "Oof," the pet pig of the establishment, had eaten them nearly all, and was standing in his sty too full even for the utterance of his usual lazy grunt. He looked like an animated keg of sauerkraut with four pegs at the corners for him to stand on, so full was he of Carl's cherished and esculent cabbages.
"How in the world did he get into the cabbage patch?" asked Ted. "I thought you had made it pig tight."
"So did I," answered Carl. "No pig but vun mit der teufel inside him vould haf got der fence over."
"Got over ther fence!" snorted Bud. "Why, yer feeble-minded son of a downtrodden race, thet thar pig couldn't hev got over ther fence without a balloon. Thet fence is six feet high. A deer couldn't jump it."
"I didn't saying so. He cannot yump, dot pig. He cannot moof, so full mit gabbages are he. No, he didn't yump, he yoost sving himself over mit dot fence."
"Slush! Yer gittin' plumb dotty. No pig could swing hisself over thet fence."
"But it's der only vay vat he could, und Song, der Chineser cook, saw him did it."
"You don't believe what a Chinyman tells yer, do yer?"
"What did Song say? How did the pig do it?" asked the boys, roused to interest in the squabble by this statement.
"Vell, Song he say dot he vos looking der vinder ouid und he saw der pig take der end of dot long rope vot hangs down mit der roof of der hay house in his teeth, und he svings on it some. Song say he t'ought it vas some of Pud's foolishment he vas teaching dot pig, und didn't no more look at him for a leetle vile. Ven he looked again der pig vas svinging avay oop high by der rope. Den I coom along und see der pig in der gabbages, und I takes me a stick und vallops him goot ofer der hams, und drife him his pen into."
"Shucks! Is that all ther story? That don't prove nothin'. Thet pig, Oof, is a animile of high intelligence. He wuz needin' exercise before dinner. He found a hole in ther fence, er maybe he tunneled one fer hisself, an' he wuz jest kinder doin' some gymnasium work ter git up a good appetite. Yer cain't make me believe a Chinyman, nohow."
"I don't know," said Ben thoughtfully, "pigs are mighty smart. He might have swung himself over by the rope, and, if so, I think he was entitled to his dinner as a reward for his ingenuity."
"I don't pay for no pig's inchenoomity mit my gabbages," said Carl hotly. "Vere I get more gabbages fer der sauerkraut, tell me dot?"
"Yer don't git no sauerkraut, that's all," growled Bud. "But speakin' about pigs bein' smart, I jest reckon they aire."
"There are three animals that people persist in calling stupid, when they are only strong-minded and more intelligent than the other animals," said Kit Summers, quietly breaking into the conversation.
"What aire they?" asked Bud.
"The pig, the mule, and the goose," answered Kit.
"Come ter think o' it, yer right ez a book," said Bud, rising from the lounge and joining the other boys in front of the fireplace. "Why, I remember onct down on the Pecos—"
Ben Tremont rose lazily and stretched himself.
"Well, so long, boys," he said. "If I ain't back for supper don't wait for me."
"Whar yer goin'?" asked Bud, with a black look from under his brows.
"I've got some work to do this evening, and I don't want to be getting drowsy," answered Ben, with a wink at Kit.
"Go then, yer varmint," said Bud savagely. "This yere incerdent what I'm goin' ter relate is fer intelligent persons only."
"In that case I shall have to remain," said Ben, throwing his huge bulk into a chair, that creaked like a house in a high wind.
"How about that Pecos story?" said Ted.
"'Tis erbout pigs."
"I didn't know there were any pigs down in that country," said Ted, with a sly smile.
"Oh, yes, there aire. Some folks calls them peccaries, an' others alludes ter them ez wild hawgs. Yer pays yer money an' chooses what yer likes best."
"Well, what about them?"
"'Tain't noways what ye'd call much o' a story, but it 'lustrates ther intelligence o' ther hawg, which in my 'pinion ez almost ez great ez thet o' some collidge gradooates what I hev mixed with."
Bud stopped and looked hard at Ben, who seemed to be taking a nap in his big chair.
With a snort of disgust Bud turned his back on the big fellow and began:
"Me an' 'Peep-o'-day' Thompson wuz ridin' herd on a bunch o' cattle belongin' ter ole man Bradish. All we hed ter do wuz ter keep 'em from driftin' too fur, which nat'rally left us much time fer meditation an' conversation.
"But it wa'n't long before I'd told all my stories, an' Peep bed plumb fergot I'd tole them ter him, an' wuz tellin' them all over ter me, claimin' they'd happened ter him.
"I stood it fer a spell because I didn't want ter make no friction betwixt him an' me, but it made me sore jest ther same, because ther derned lump allays got ther story balled up so's I hed trouble in reconnizin' it sometimes. An' he inveribly got ther p'int o' ther story hindside fore, which made me jest bile. But when yer on a long watch with a feller, an' got ter see him from sunup ter moonrise, it's better ter overlook a lot o' things.
"Well, 's I wuz sayin', we wuz on this stunt, an' had been out all o' three month, takin' turns cookin' an' watchin' so's one o' us could git erway from ther other fer a spell, an' go off an' sit down an' tell hisself what a awful chump ther other wuz, an' how yer hated him.
"We hed a chuck wagon with us filled with flour, salt sowbelly an' saleratus, with some coffee an' a few pounds o' fine terbaccer fer makin' cigareets. I ain't sayin' nothin' erginst sowbelly ez ther national food o' ther plains an' ther staff o' life in farmin' communities, but ez a steady diet it begins ter pall when taken day in an' day out with nothin' ter wash it down with but weak coffee made outer alkali water.
"I reckon both me an' Peep wuz gittin' tired o' one another's cookin', if ther truth wuz knowed, fer Peep could make ther wust biscuit I ever et.
"My biscuit jest suited me ter a ty-ty, an' I reckon Peep felt ther same way erbout hisn. Every time we set down ter vittles, if it wuz my week ter cook, Peep w'd begin ter talk o' ther fine cookin' his wife uster do before she run erway with er Sant' Fe conductor down ter Raton, Noo Mex. He'd tell me how she'd make beef stoo an' hot biscuit thet would melt in yer mouth. 'I don't like them kind,' sez I, one day. 'I like somethin' I kin chew on. What'd ther Lord give us teeth fer if grub is ter melt in ther mouth? No, sir; give me mine gristle an' hide. Ther tougher they be ther better I like 'em,' sez I.
"'Is thet thar meant ez a reflection on my wife?' sez Peep, bristlin' up.
"'I never met yer wife,' sez I, 'an' we'll let thet part o' it pass, fer ye knows me well enough thet I never make no remarks erbout wimminfolks what ain't smooth an' complimentary. But I stands on ther gristle-an'-hide propersition ontil I'm ready ter fight fer it.'
"Yer see, I wuz gettin' some peevish erbout Peep. Ole man Bradish hed left us alone tergether too long. It ain't right fer two fellers ter camp side by each fer so long without a third party buttin' in ter break ther monotony.
"'All right,' sez he, unlimberin' his six foot three o' len'th from ther ground. 'Thet,' sez he, real dignified, 'is either a challenge or a invitation ter fight.'
"'It be,' sez I. 'Either way yer wanter take it.'
"We both riz up.
"'How d'yer want it?' sez he.
"'Please yerself,' sez I. 'Any ole holt is my fav'rite.'
"'Anythin' goes, then,' sez he, makin' a rush at me.
"Jest then we hear a turrible noise, gruntin', squealin', an' sich. We both stopped an' looked eround, an' thar stood watchin' us a big band o' wild hawgs.
"'Fresh meat!' we both hollers simultaneous. At this ther hawgs ups an' runs.
"It wuz my day off, an' hostilities stopped right thar ez I runs an' gits my rifle an' leaps my cayuse an' takes after ther hawgs, Peep hollerin' after me ez friendly ez yer please.
"I chased them hawgs a couple o' miles ter ther river bank, whar they hid in ther canebrake. I couldn't get ther cayuse ter go in after them, so I gits down an' breaks my way in tryin' ter git a shot at one o' them, my mouth waterin' fer fresh pork so's I wuz almost wadin' in it.
"Purty soon I come in sight o' them. A ole boar wuz in charge o' them, an' he wuz a hard-lookin' citizen, I want ter tell yer. He hed tushes five inches long an' both o' 'em ez sharp ez razors. I took a shot at him, but his hide wuz so tough thet ther ball just glanced off him, an' he made a break fer me. I turned an' fled. Ther river wuz not fur erway, an' I knowed thet if I beat them hawgs ter it I wuz safe.
"I jest did it, an' waded out ez fur ez I could an' started ter swim. 'When I gits ter ther other side I'll take some long shots at yer,' thinks I, 'an' we'll hev hawg meat yit.'
"I gits out inter ther middle o' ther stream when I hears a puffin' an' a gruntin' behind me. I looks over my shoulder an' here comes ther whole herd swimmin' right after me as—"
"That settles it," said Ben, as he rose with a snort of disgust.
"What's ther matter with yer?" asked Bud calmly.
"Yer story is what I thought it would be—wild and woolly and full of cockleburs."
"How is thet ag'in?"
"It's rotten. Don't you know, as long as you have been on earth, that swine cannot swim without committing suicide?"
"Go ahead. Will you kindly tell us fer why, perfessor?"
"Certainly. The hoofs of pigs are so sharp, and their forelegs are set so far under their bodies, that when they attempt to swim their hoofs strike their fat throats, cutting them, and they die from loss of blood."
"Thet's c'rect, my son. Every schoolboy knows thet thar p'int in nat'ral history."
"Then why are you insulting our intelligence by stating that a herd of hogs followed you into the water and swam after you? Now don't spring any such flower of your fancy on us as to say that the hogs all killed themselves crossing and that you and Peep-o'-day had all the fresh meat you wanted during the rest of your stay on the Pecos, for we won't stand for it. I don't believe there is any such thing as a Pecos, anyway."
Bud looked so crestfallen that the other boys felt sorry for him.
"You think you're smart, don't you?" said Kit, taking Bud's finish out of his own mouth. "You big chump, it wasn't your story, anyhow."
"Don't worry, Kit," said Bud, smiling confidently. "Ben's so intellectooal thet it hurts him ter pack his knowledge eround in thet pinhead o' hisn. But he didn't finish ther story none. I knows ez well ez him thet hawgs can't swim fer ther reasons he give. But these yere hawgs I am tellin' erbout wuz different."
"How was that?"
"Yer see, thet thar ole boar wuz ez smart ez a copperation lawyer. He'd fixed them hawgs ter swim. First they got thar hoofs all balled up with gumbo, er sticky clay, then they worked ther dry grass inter ther clay and mixed 'em good an' stiff, lettin' 'em dry in ther sun. This made a hard ball on their toes thet jest slipped off their throats when they struck."
Ben slipped into his chair with a grunt.
"O' course, I didn't know thet when I was swimmin'," continued Bud, 'an' I thinks I've run ercross a new web-footed breed o' hawgs. When we come ter ther other side I waited fer them ter land, then I turns an' swims back, ther hawgs follerin'. Back ercross I goes erg'in, an' ther pork keeps right on my trail.
"Purty soon I see they ain't swimmin' so spry, an' I allow they're gittin' some tired. Ther last time over ter our side o' ther river they come slow, an' I picks out ther kind o' pork I likes best, an' ez they land I nails what I want an' slits thar throats, an' I hev my pork. But when ther rest o' them lands they's full o' fight ez ever, an' I takes ter ther water ag'in, but they won't foller me. This seems strange, an' I looks ter see what ther matter is.
"Ther ole boar wuz mighty smart, but he'd overlooked one p'int. He'd fergot thet ther water would melt his balls o' clay, which it did, an' they couldn't swim no more. I jest stood hip high in the water with my Winchester an' popped erway at them until they got tired an' run off, leavin' me enough fresh pork ter start a packin' house."
A hollow groan escaped from Ben.
"What's the use?" he moaned. "You can't beat him."
BUD'S BAD BRONCHOS.
It was time for the fall round-up, and Stella had written from her uncle's ranch, in New Mexico, that she and her aunt, Mrs. Graham, were coming North to do their winter shopping in Denver, and would visit the Moon Valley Ranch to take part in the round-up and the festivities which the boys always held at that time.
Her letter did not say when she would be there, but the boys knew her well enough to expect her at any moment following the letter.
Therefore they were not surprised to hear a clear, high imitation of the Moon Valley yell one morning while they were all sitting at the breakfast table.
They did not need to be told that Stella Fosdick had come, and without ado they sprang from the table, overturning chairs in their haste to get out of the house to greet her and her aunt.
"Hello, boys!" she called from the carriage, in which she and Mrs. Graham had driven over from Soldier Butte. "You're a gallant lot of young fellows not to meet us at the station, particularly when I wrote you that I was coming this morning. I'm real mad." But her smiling face belied the statement.
"You didn't say when you were coming," said big Ben, who was the first to reach the carriage step and was helping Mrs. Graham to descend. "If we had taken your general statement that you were coming, to meet you at the station we would have camped right there forever. Never can tell about your movements, young lady."
"But I did write that I was coming this morning, and to meet us and take breakfast with us in the Butte."
"We didn't get that letter. When did you write?"
"That's good. Always take time by the fetlock. We'll get that letter some time to-morrow. Why didn't you wait and write us to meet you after you got here?"
"Saucy as ever, Ben. But we're positively starved. Hello, Song!" she called to the Chinese cook, who was standing on the veranda grinning like a heathen idol, "got anything good to eat?"
"Yes, missee, plenty good glub. Mebbeso you likee some fried ham and eggs?" said Song, shaking hands with himself and bowing low.
"Ham and eggs! No! Positively, no! I'll be turning into a ham and egg if I get any more of it. That's all the cook at the ranch knows how to do. Anything else?"
"Yes, missee. Plenty paltlidge, what Misto Ted shootee lesterday. I cookee you some plenty quick."
"All right, Song, cook us some partridges."
The boys stood around in a group of admiring servitors waiting to carry Stella's hand bag and gun and saddle and other things with which she was burdened.
Suddenly she looked toward the porch.
"Who's that?" she asked breathlessly, pointing to a little girl who stood shyly beside a post looking on.
"Why, that's Lilian," said Ted. "I didn't know you were up yet," he called to the little girl. "Come here, dear, and see Stella. You haven't forgotten Stella, have you?"
"If it isn't Lilian!" cried Stella, rushing toward the child with wide-open arms and folding her within them.
"I wouldn't have known you, honey," said Stella. "What have you boys been doing to her? She's improved so much. Where did you get all these clothes, and who takes care of her?"
"Isn't she a little beauty?" asked Ted Strong proudly, patting the head of the blushing little girl.
"But how did you do it?" persisted Stella.
"Oh, I went over and saw Mrs. Bingham, the major's wife, at the fort, and asked her to come and advise us what to do. She came and was delighted with Lilian, and promised to oversee her wardrobe. She was going down to Omaha, and when she returned she had a trunk full of things for Lil. She also brought a colored woman to look after her, and Mirandy has proved a blessing and a treasure."
"But the clothes didn't make themselves."
"No, and none of us made them, either, although Bud said he could sew, and insisted upon trying. He cut up several yards of cloth, and at the end of the week, when we saw the product of his needle, he narrowly escaped lynching. If Lilian had not interceded for Uncle Bud, of whom she is very fond, I'm afraid we'd have no little Buddy now. No, we sent down to Omaha for a dressmaker and boarded her in town until she had Lil all fixed up, as becomes the heiress of the La Garita Mines."
"Whose idea is this way of making the things?" demanded Stella, who was looking Lilian over with critical eyes.
"Oh, we all had a finger in it. I sent away for a lot of fashion magazines and things of that sort, and we sat up nights as a board of strategy and picked out the sort of thing we wanted, and I reckon there isn't a better-dressed kid in the State."
"I agree with you. Well, Ted Strong, you're a constant wonder to me. Where in the world did you learn to do all the things you do so well?"
"The honeyed flatterer. Quit your joshing, Stella; hand it to Ben. He likes it, and the thicker it is the more he can stand of it."
"Hello! Breakfast!" called Song from the veranda, and they all trooped back to the living room to finish breakfast and talk about the things they had passed through, and to lay plans for the coming round-up festivities.
After breakfast Ted and Stella went out to the corral to look at the saddle stock.
"Why, there's old 'Calamity Jane,'" cried Stella, as a bay pony came trotting across the corral and put its velvet nose in the hand she held out.
"Jane knows you, all right," said Ted.
"Sure. Why shouldn't she? I rode her all one season down here. I believe she wants me to choose her for my own again. Do you, Calamity, old girl?"
Calamity Jane, which had at one time been the wickedest and stubbornest mare on the ranch, nickered and again rubbed Stella's hand with her nose.
"Talk about your smart horses," said Stella. "Calamity can do everything except talk. Who's been riding her?"
"Kit. He's wrangler, and he won't let any one on her. He's light, you know, and he was saving her for you. You'll find that she hasn't been spoiled at all."
"Then, if Kit has been riding her, she's all right, for if there ever was a horseman it's Kit."
"Isn't she getting fierce?" said a quiet voice behind them. "Say, she's getting to be one of these regular society jolliers. She didn't used to be that way."
They wheeled around to see Kit, who had come up to them in his usual quiet manner.
"Yes," said Ted. "She tried to hand me a package this morning."
"You mean things. That's what a girl gets for being civil and confidential, and talking as she would like to fellows she thinks are her friends. I'm going back to the house. I don't like you very much this morning."
The boys winked at one another.
"Say, Kit, I want Sultan after a while. I'm going to ride down to the lower end of the ranch to look at that bunch of new horses," said Ted carelessly.
"Oh, may I go with you?" asked Stella eagerly.
"I thought you were mad at us, or I would have asked you."
"I was only fooling. I'll be ready in ten minutes. Let's take Lilian with us."
"That was what I was going to do. It is time for Lilian's regular riding lesson. I am trying to make her as good a rider and all-around cowgirl as you, Stella, but I doubt if ever she will."
"Who is jollying now, Mister Ted?" cried Stella, with a laugh, but she was blushing with pleasure at the compliment.
That is the difference between a boy and a girl. A healthy, well-conditioned boy becomes embarrassed and cross at a well-meant compliment spoken in the presence of another, believing that the person who is complimenting him is making fun of him in some unknown and covert way. But to a girl a compliment that is sincere is as grateful as dew to a rose, and Stella always felt much elated when Ted complimented her on her prowess in any of the arts of the range.
They rode away with Lilian, who was learning to ride well for her age and experience under the best of riding teachers, Ted Strong.
As they were nearing the lower pasture they observed a great commotion among the horses that were huddled in a fence corner.
"Hello, what's going on there?" exclaimed Ted.
"Looks like the worst sort of a riot," said Stella. "I believe those boys need help."
They could see Bud and Ben and several cowboys circling around the bunch of ponies, evidently trying to get into it, and break it up and scatter it.
"What's the row?" asked Ted, galloping up.
"Thar's a cayuse in thar thet I'd plumb like ter electrocute," said Bud, who was mad clear through. "My, but he's got er bad dispersition."
"Which one?" asked Ted, laughing. "From what I can see there isn't one of them you could call angelic."
"Thar's ther meanest bunch o' horse meat thet ever come ter this man's ranch, bar none, an' ther prize devil o' ther lot is thet black demon in thar. He near broke my pony's leg a minute ago with a stem-windin' kick sech ez I never see before. Thet hoss is shore double-j'inted."
The horses were bunched, heads in, heels out, around a splendid-looking black stallion, which was biting and kicking at everything that came near him.
"Let him kick his foolish head off," said Ted, viewing the squealing, struggling throng.
"I reckon they're just showin' off because Stella got here this mornin'," said Bud disgustedly. "They're tryin' ter knock us, Stella, by showin' yer thet we aire a bum lot o' horsemen fer not makin' them behave first off."
Stella laughed and nodded. She understood.
"Where did you pick up such a mean bunch of horses?" she asked.
"Them hosses is intended fer ther tourneymint what takes place after ther round-up. We're goin' ter hev some roughridin' fer fair here, an' if we all git out with whole bones we shore kin send up a balloon in celebraytion."
"But where did you get them? Were they bred mean on purpose?"
"I reckon not. I bought 'em from ther wild range in Montana. They ain't seen men closer than a mile, except'n' it wuz Injuns, an' they don't count, until we butted in on 'em. They belonged ter ole man Stallings. I reckon you remember him, what we met on our way ter Fort Grant, when yer run erway an' got lost on Red Mesa."
"I wuz lookin' fer a bunch o' cow hosses. We sold a big run o' 'em ter a Newbrasky cowman who was short o' saddle stock, an' who said he'd heard we had the best-broke cow ponies in ther West, an' I reckon we had. He was willin' ter pay a good price fer our spare stock, an' we unloaded."
"Then you will have to break in a lot of new ones. Isn't that a waste of time?"
"Young woman, we're ranchmen, not rockin'-chair gents. It's part o' our business ter take somethin' what ain't much good, an' make it better. That's the way we earn our bread an' bacon."
"So I see."
"Ted says ter me ter go up inter Montana an' pick up a lot o' good, gingery hosses, an' I struck John Stallings. He says ter me, when I made my wants known, 'Go out on ther range an' he'p yerself,' says he. 'They're all mine, an' Ted Strong an' his boys kin hev anythin' I've got except my fam'ly. But,' says he, 'you'll find some purty lively stock out there.'"
"Well, you did," said Stella, laughing.
"I reckon I picked out ther orneriest hosses in the whole West, an' I'm savin' them fer some o' these Smart-aleck cowboys who'll be here from ther ranches round, who think they kin ride," and he winked wisely.
"Gracious, look there!" she cried. "What's Ted trying to do. He'll be hurt, Bud."
"No, I reckon not, but I'll git in thar handy ter help him if he needs it. Keep the kid outer ther way if that bunch breaks."
Ted had done what none of the others had succeeded in doing.
He had forced his way into the very center of the bunch of wild horses, wheeling and doubling and riding like a circus performer, to avoid the batteries of flying heels, until he was close to the wicked black stallion, which was all that held the bunch together and prevented it from being broken up and driven to the upper end of the ranch, where it belonged.
There was not a moment when he was not in danger. A chance kick might break his leg, or bring down his horse, in which event he must be kicked to death or badly hurt by being trampled on.
But so far they had not been able to reach him.
"Be careful, Ted," cried Stella.
He waved his hand at her with a smile, and she hurried Lilian beyond the reach of danger.
Ted wheeled his horse to face the black brute, which stood looking at him with wicked eyes, its ears flattened like those of a panther. In spite of its evil temper Ted admired it for its lithe beauty. It was as clean of limb as a thoroughbred, and its black skin shone like polished ebony. While he was looking at it thus it suddenly sprang at him, reared on its hind legs, striking at him like a boxer. Had he not wheeled on the instant it would have killed him. Ted was thoroughly angry, and went to the attack himself, beating the horse about the head with his quirt. When the horse rushed at him through a rain of blows across its nose Ted retreated beyond reach of its hoofs, then attacked it again.
Suddenly the black horse wheeled and presented its heels, and Ted rode around it, lashing it well, everywhere the whip could reach.
Although the horse continued to lash out with his heels he struck nothing, and always his enemy was at his side or in front.
At last Ted resolved to bring the unequal combat to an end, as Sultan was tiring of the exercise, so instead of riding around the enraged horse, he pivoted with it, keeping in front of it all the time and whipping it on the nose.
The "insurgent" stopped kicking at last and stood with drooping head, trying to shield its face from that cruel, relentless, stinging thing which the man creature wielded. He was cowed, but not conquered.
Taking advantage of the moment, Ted drove him backward and clear of his companions. Seeing their leader retreat, the other horses broke their close formation, and allowed themselves to be driven down the valley, not without an occasional rebellious kick, however.
STELLA GOES TO THE "RENT RAG."
"Oh, joy, an' pickled pelicans!" said Bud Morgan, skipping onto the veranda one evening, when all the boys were sitting around Stella and Mrs. Graham.
Bud had just returned from Soldier Butte, where he had been spending the afternoon.
"What's devouring you now?" asked Ben Tremont. "Or is it just one of your weekly sillies?"
"Who are yer alludin' at?" asked Bud loftily.
"As you were going to say—" suggested Kit, looking at Bud.
"Boys, thar's goin' ter be a 'rent rag' in the Butte ter-morrer night, an' we all have an urgent bid ter be present."
"A what?" asked Stella.
"A 'rent rag.'"
"Who tore it?" asked Stella innocently.
At this the boys laughed loud and long, then apologized when they saw Stella's embarrassment.
"It ain't tore yet," said Bud, "but it's lierble ter be before ther rosy dawn."
"What are you talking about?" said Stella impatiently. "I never saw such provoking boys. You say such strange things, then cackle over it as though there was a joke in it, which nobody seems to see except yourself."
"A 'rent rag' is a—'rent rag,'" said Kit, trying to explain.
"That sounds as sensible as the conundrum, 'Why is a hen?'" said Stella. "Must I ask the question and get caught? All right, here goes. What is a 'rent rag'? Now, don't tell me, some one, that it is a rag that has been torn, for I exploded that one myself."
"A 'rent rag,'" said Bud slowly and carefully, "is a rag for rent. A—a—er—well, it's a—"
"Tell me, Ted," said the girl, turning to the leader of the outfit, who was leaning back in his chair smiling at the ridiculous conversation.
"Well, as near as I can make out it is a bit of slang that means this: The word 'rag' is the slang for a public dance. When a man in town who is popular enough falls behind in paying his rent, through some misfortune or other, and owes so much he cannot hope to pay it, he hands out a flag that he wants help. In other words, it is an invitation to his friends to organize a public ball for his benefit. It depends upon his honesty and popularity whether or not they do so."
"That's the strangest thing I ever heard of."
"Well, if the thing goes through, a hall is rented and music is engaged, the cost of which is to be deducted from the money taken at the door. Then the man for whose benefit the ball is given and his wife prepare a lot of sandwiches, fried chicken, and other eatables, and a tub or two of lemonade, and help their profits along."
"So that is a 'rent rag,' eh? Who is the man for whom the dance is to be given, Bud?" asked Stella.
"A feller named Martin, whose wife has been sick all summer," answered Bud. "From what they say, I reckon he's all right. Jest ter be a good feller I bought ten tickets, at one bean per ticket."
"Is that all they are?" asked Stella. "Only one bean? Gracious, they'll have to dispose of an awful lot of tickets to get enough beans to sell to pay their rent with! Why don't they make it something else? I'd like to contribute a dollar, at least. A bean a ticket, pshaw! How awfully cheap! I guess he doesn't owe much."
At this remark the boys fairly cackled.
"Now, what are you laughing at?" cried Stella, almost angry. "I seem to be more humorous to-night than I ever thought possible. I can hardly say a word but you all start to laugh at me."
This was too much for the boys. They couldn't restrain themselves and went off into peals of laughter. When they saw the danger signals of two bright spots in Stella's cheeks, they realized that they had gone too far, and all hastily tried to explain. But Ted was before them, and quietly told Stella that in the expressive, if scarcely lucid, language of the day a "bean," in the sense in which Bud had used it, meant a dollar.
"Such silly slang," said Stella, restored to good humor once more. "I don't mind slang if it's clever and reveals or conceals or twists a word in some sensible way, but a bean for a dollar—no, it won't do. The fellow who invented that should try again. The only fun I can see in slang is its aptness."
The boys murmured something to the effect that it wasn't a particularly witty bit of slang, but they continued to grin at one another.
"Suppose we all go to the 'rent rag,'" said Stella suddenly. "I never saw anything of the sort, and I'm crazy to go."
"It's likely to be pretty rough, and break up in a row before its natural time," said Ted.
"We'll only stay a short while," said Stella. "But I should like to do my share toward helping the poor fellow."
"It's done already. I bought ten tickets. Thet's as much ez they expect from ther Moon Valley Ranch, an' it goes inter ther running expenses o' ther ranch, anyhow, in ther charity account."
"I don't care, I want to go."
"I move we go," said Ben. "It will add some tone to the proceedings."
"Ben wants to air his spike-tailed coat and low-neck vest," said Kit.
"Not for me," said Ben, laughing. "I wonder what those cow-punchers and miners and gamblers would do with a chap who sauntered in there in evening dress."
"He shore would come up ter Stella's conception of a rent rag, which is a torn rag," said Kit.
"Ted, won't we go?" pleaded Stella.
"Sure, if you want to; you are our guest, and whatever you want, all you have to do is to ask for it," answered Ted.
It was agreed that they should wear their everyday uniforms, and Stella was for going in her distinctive cowgirl costume, but this Mrs. Graham would not permit, and insisted that she should wear a frock which she had had made in Denver.
When, the next night, Stella walked into the living room, where the boys were waiting to escort her and Mrs. Graham to the ball, there was a general exclamation of wonder and admiration, at which Stella hesitated with a blush, then came forward with smiling assurance.
Instead of the bold and dashing Stella in her bifurcated riding skirt and bolero jacket, the boys saw a beautiful young woman in a pale-blue gown of silk and chiffon, with her pretty hair piled on top of her head, instead of flowing over her shoulders.
For a moment they were awed. They had never seen her so, and perhaps had never thought of her as being a young lady. Most of them were content to regard her just as Stella, their girl pard, and to-night she had given them a surprise.
At her throat was a superb sapphire set in a brooch, which had come out of the broncho boys' sapphire mines on Yogo Creek, and in her hair was an ornament of diamonds and rubies which the boys had made from jewels which had come as their share of the treasures of the Montezumas, which they had discovered beneath the castle of Chepultapec, near the city of Mexico.
Altogether Stella was very stunning, and in their admiration of her in this new role of society girl the boys were between two preferences, as she was now, and as they knew her in the saddle, throwing her lariat or handling her revolver.
Most of them, however, came to the conclusion that she was still Stella, no matter what she wore.
"Say, Stella, that's not fair," drawled Ben, "to dress up like that and make us wear our working togs. I've got a good mind to go and get into my spike."
"If you do, I won't go," said Stella. "Unless the other boys wear theirs also. You and I would look fine going in there dressed up, and the other boys as they are now. No, I wouldn't have worn this dress if aunt hadn't insisted upon it, and this time I couldn't shake her determination. I hate it, and would much rather have my working clothes on. But, never mind, it won't be for long. How do you like me in this?" She revolved slowly before them.
"Scrumptious!" said Ben appreciatively.
"Prettier than a basket of peaches," ejaculated Kit.
"Thar ain't nothin' in art er nature what kin show up more gaudy," said Bud. "Except, mebbe, it might be a pink rose in er garden at airly mornin' with ther dew on it."
"Say, hasn't Bud got us all faded?" said Ben. "I didn't know the old sandpiper had so much poetry in his soul."
"So perfectionately lofely a younk lady nefer did I saw," exclaimed Carl, clasping his hands and holding them before him, while he rolled his eyes toward the ceiling.
"She's all thet," said Bud. "But come down ter airth. Stella ain't up among ther rafters."
Ted had said nothing, and Stella looked at him. He was regarding her attentively.
Her look said: "What do you think?"
He answered it with a look of admiration that satisfied her that he thought her perfect.
"I think I like you best in the everyday clothes," he said quietly. "But that gown is as if you were made for it and it was made for you."
The thought had come into Ted's mind that some day, in the far future, they would lose their girl pard, and society or duties elsewhere would claim her.
Stella understood him and agreed with him.
Soon they were ready to start for the ball. The carriage was got out and Carl volunteered to drive the horses, while the other boys rode.
Just as they were about to start Stella cried: "Where is Jack Slate? I don't see him. Isn't he coming to the ball?"
"Haven't saw him," said Bud. "I reckon he'll be moseyin' erlong after a while. We won't wait fer him. He knowed when we wuz goin' ter start."
"He came in a little while ago from the lower pasture," said Kit, "and went to his room. He said he had been thrown by his horse, and that the jar had given him a headache."
"Oh, don't let us wait for him," said Ben. "If he gets to feeling better he'll be along. You couldn't keep Jack away from a ball with an injunction."
So they proceeded to town, the boys acting as outriders to the girl, whom they were convinced would be the belle of the ball.
When they arrived at the hall in Soldier Butte they found the people flocking in, as Martin, the beneficiary, was a very popular fellow, and any man in hard luck in the West always gets all the help he needs, if he deserves it.
Ted escorted Stella into the ballroom, while Ben followed with Mrs. Graham, the other boys taking the horses around to the corral.
As Ted and Stella entered the room there was a hum of admiration, and conversation stopped as men and women craned their necks to look at the handsome couple.
Ted was both proud and pleased, but a little bit embarrassed at the attention they received, while Stella held her head up proudly, with a look of indifference on her face, as if she had been used to admiration all her life.
The ball certainly was a mixed affair.
In one corner were a lot of army officers and their ladies.
All down the sides of the ballroom cowboys were sitting with girls from the ranches. Town girls and boys had a corner to themselves. The gamblers flocked together, and miners and others wandered here and there, mixing with cavalrymen from the fort.
When the boys returned from the corral they found that Mrs. Graham and Stella and their escorts had preempted a vacant corner.
There was a piano in the room, but no one to play it. Soon, however, a fellow dressed after the cowboy fashion entered and took a seat on a raised platform, producing a fiddle from a green bag.
A round of applause greeted him.
He tuned his instrument, and after a few preliminary scrapes began to play a monotonous tune, repeating over and over again the same few bars.
At the first scrape the cowboys and their girls leaped to the floor and began to dance, but none of the people from the fort cared to dance to such music.
Suddenly the door flew open and a band of a dozen cow-punchers walked into the room, and were greeted by joyous shouts by the other cowboys in the hall.
At their head was a handsome young fellow, slender and dark, with a resolute face and a pair of piercing eyes that flashed around the room for the purpose of seeing and locating his possible enemies.
"Who is that?" asked Stella.
"That's Billy Sudden," answered Ted.
"And who is he?"
"Foreman at 'Cow' Suggs' ranch. That's the Suggs bunch of cow-punchers. There'll be something doing here to-night."
"There are a lot of fellows in this part of the country who don't like Billy, and some of them are liable to tread on his feet."
"Oh, is he quarrelsome?"
"No, Billy is the best sort of a fellow, but he won't let any one hobble him. When he first went to the Dumb-bell Ranch, as the Circle-bar Circle is called, they took him for a kid and tried to run over him. He kicked them, then fired them, and they don't like him."
"Did you see him look around the room?"
"Yes, he has every man who is likely to make trouble for him spotted and located. But we won't wait long enough to see the trouble. I never did like trouble myself."
"Well, for a chap who gets into it as often as you do—"
"What's the trouble now, over there?" interrupted Ted, looking at the door.
Around the entrance to the hall was a crowd of young town fellows led by a youth named Wiley Creviss, the son of the local banker, a dissipated and reckless young man, and a crowd of cow-punchers.
They were shoving some one here and there, making a punching bag of him, at the same time laughing uproariously.
Just then Ted saw the head of Jack Slate in the mix-up.
"Excuse me," said Ted, turning to Stella. "Ben, take care of the ladies until I return."
He strode across the floor toward the door.
As he neared it he heard Billy Sudden say:
"Be careful, there. That is one of Ted Strong's fellows."
"I don't care if it is," said some one. "I'd give it to Strong just as hard if he was here."
"Here I am," said Ted, pushing through the crowd.
THE TROUBLE IS STARTED.
The crowd of men and youths opened out in front of Ted, and he strode into the circle.
There he saw Jack Slate in a much disheveled condition, dressed in his evening clothes.
Ted gasped as he stared for an instant at the youth from Boston.
He wanted to tell Jack that "it served him right," but that was not the part of loyalty, and in the presence of the enemy it did not make any difference to a broncho boy if his pard was right or wrong, if he was in need of help.
"Where is the fellow who was going to throw me around?" asked Ted, looking into the faces about him.
No one replied, although Ted waited for a moment or two before looking at Billy Sudden.
Billy winked at him, but said nothing.
"Seems as if somebody's sand has run out," said Ted contemptuously.
"Oh, I don't know," said Wiley Creviss. "There's plenty of sand left if you need any to prevent your wheels from slipping downhill."
"No, my sand box is always full," said Ted quietly. "But there is some sneak in this bunch who hasn't the nerve to back up his brag."
"Are you talking to me?" said Creviss, swelling up as to chest.
"Oh, are you the misguided chump whom I heard make the remark about pushing me about, as I came up?" said Ted, in a tone of surprise.
The cowboys from Suggs' ranch were snickering.
"Well, what if I was?"
"I'm going to make you try it."
"Oh, I can do it, all right."
"Well, why don't you? I'm the easiest proposition you ever saw to be hazed by a bunch of hoodlums, such as you and your pals are!"
"For two cents I'd punch your nose."
"You're too cheap. I'll give you a heap more than that if you will. It's been so long since my nose was punched that it feels sort of lonesome. I'll pay you well for the job, if you succeed in pulling off the stunt."
"You think you're the whole works because you've got a crowd of dudes around you. You're not the only dent in the can."
Ted flushed at this allusion to his pards.
"I'll put a dent in you if you open your face to remark about my friends again," he said, with some heat.
"See here, you town rough, you better take in your slack and clear out for home, or you'll begin to taste the sorrows that come from inexperience and bad judgment," said Billy Sudden to Creviss.
"It's up to you to mind your own business," snarled Creviss. "What are you but a lot of greasy cow-punchers. We haven't much use for your sort in this town, anyway."
"Now, son, keep quiet and behave yourself," said Billy paternally. "If you get me riled I won't be as patient with you as Ted Strong has been. I'll fix you so as to keep two doctors busy the best part of the night."
"What are you fellows butting in for, anyhow?" said Creviss angrily. "Can't this freak that comes here in a dress suit and tries to lord it over us take care of himself?"
"Surest thing you know," drawled Jack Slate. "But there are ladies here, a thing you don't seem to realize. If you'll step outside, I'd be glad to whip you right and propah."
"What's the use, Jack, of fussing with these rowdies?" said Ted. "Let it go until some other time."
"You bet," said Creviss, courage returning when he heard Ted propose peace. "I guess you'd like to let it go forever."
"That settles it," said Ted. "Go to him, Jack, and if you don't give him what's coming to him, I'll finish the job."
"Git!" said Billy Sudden, opening the door and shoving Creviss out into the street. The rest followed.
As Jack stepped into the open air he peeled off his swallow-tailed coat and threw it over Ted's arm.
He had no sooner done so than Wiley Creviss made a rush at him from the front, while one of the crowd ran in on him from the rear.
It seemed an unequal beginning, and Ted was preparing to take on the second fellow.
But Jack had seen him out of the corner of his eye, and as he came on the Boston boy stepped backward and threw his right elbow up.
It was a timely and masterly trick, for the sharp elbow caught Creviss' ally full in the nose, and he dropped like a limp rag to the ground, with a howl of anguish.
At the same moment Jack swung his left. Creviss had struck at him and missed when he back-stepped, and coming on swiftly ran into Jack's fist with a thud that jarred him into a state of collapse.
"Finish him!" shouted the cow-punchers, who stood about the fighters in a circle.
"Go to him," said Ted, in a low voice. "I saw him signal his pal to tackle you from behind."
Creviss had partially recovered from the blow and was getting ready for another rush, when Jack slipped in and to one side and hit like a blacksmith at the anvil.
This time Creviss went down and out.
"Hooray fer ther bantam!" shouted a big cow-puncher, slapping Jack on the back. "Say, I hear them say you're from Bosting. I'm goin' ter buy a hundred-pound sack o' beans myself ter-morrer an' begin trainin'. If beans'll do that fer you, a sack o' them will make me fit ter lick Jess Willard."
But Jack was busy smoothing down his ruffled hair and pulling his white lawn tie around into its proper place, and when he had put on his coat he and Ted walked into the ballroom as calmly as if they had just stepped out to view the stars.
"What was the trouble?" asked Stella, when they reached her side.
"Some town rowdies became noisy, and they were put out," answered Ted carelessly.
But Jack's dress suit was the joy of the cow-punchers, who had never seen anything like it before, although they all knew that it was the way well-groomed men dressed for evening in the big cities.
"Say, pard," said a cowboy to Jack, as he crossed the room, "I axes yer pardon fer buttin' in, but yer lost ther front part o' yer coat tails."
"That's all right," answered Jack. "Can't help it, don't you know. I left the blooming coat hanging on the line at home to air, and a goat came along and ate the front half of the tails off before I could get to it. I was just on my way to apologize to the master of ceremonies for it. You see, it is the only coat I have, and I was bound to come to the ball."
"Ha, ha! that's on you, 'Honk,'" laughed the cowboy's friends, who had overheard the conversation, and Jack passed on, the boys alluding to him as a "game little shrimp," for the news of his summary punishment of Creviss had got abroad.
But Jack was not through yet. He went into the men's dressing room to leave his hat. As he was coming out he was met by a crowd of town youths, friends of Creviss. There was no one else about.
They scowled and sneered at Jack, and one of them bumped into him.
"Heah, fellah, that will do," said Jack, with his Bostonese drawl. "You're solid; you're no sponge."
"I ain't, eh?" answered the bully. "I'll tell yer, Mr. Slate, you're covered with bad marks what I don't like, an' I'm just the sponge to wipe them off."
"Step lively, then," said Jack, "for I've an engagement to dance the next waltz."
"I'll waltz you all you'll need this evenin'."
But before he had finished speaking Ben Tremont stepped around the corner.
"Hello, Jack! What is this I see?" said Ben. "Disgracing yourself by talking with these hoodlums."
"Yas, deah boy," drawled Jack. "This—er, what shall I call him?—stopped me to tell me he was going to rub the marks off me, at the same time wittily making a pun on my name. I was just telling him to hurry, or I'd miss the next waltz."
"Well, I'll take the job off your hands. Stella was asking for you a moment ago."
"Yes, run along to your Stella," said the hoodlum. "I reckon she's pining for the sassiety o' another dude."
That was where he made the mistake of his life.
It didn't really make much difference what these fellows said about themselves, but the boys would not permit Stella's name to be bandied about by the roughs.
So swiftly, that they didn't know what had happened to them, both Ben and Jack sailed into them.
They went sprawling like tenpins before the ball as Ben jumped in among them and mowed them down with his powerful blows, while Jack, hovering like a torpedo boat around a battleship, sent in several of the telling blows Ted had taught him during the boxing lessons at Moon Valley.
The fight was soon over, and Ben and Jack slipped quietly back into the ballroom, leaving a well-thrashed crowd to stanch bloody noses, and patch up swollen lips and black eyes as best they could.
Meanwhile, a diversion had been created in the hall by the joshing that the Suggs' ranch outfit had directed toward the fiddler, who knew only one tune, and sawed that off for a waltz, quadrilles, and two-steps, without fear or favor.
The musician had been engaged because he was a friend of the beneficiary, and had volunteered his services. As the ball grew more and more hilarious the cow-punchers felt the restraint of the folks from the fort and Moon Valley the less, and began to take it out of the fiddler, who paid no attention to them, but kept on scraping.
Suddenly there was a crack from a revolver and the top of the fiddler's bow was knocked off, and the playing and dancing stopped simultaneously.
There was more or less commotion, but the women did not scream or get panic-stricken. They were used to that sort of thing.
Nobody knew who had fired the shot, but the cowboys and soldiers were mad clear through because there was no more music to dance by.
The shot had come from the part of the hall in which the coatroom was situated, and directly afterward two slender young fellows climbed out a rear window, and a few moments later Billy Sudden and Clay Whipple came calmly through the front door and joined the throng about the musician, who said:
"Honest, folks, I don't blame no hombre fer takin' a shot at thet fiddle bow o' mine, fer I never could make it work right. I know it was bum music, but it was the best I could do."
Ted Strong had observed the quiet entrance of Billy and Clay directly after the shooting, and he put this and that together. He knew that both of them were finished musicians. Clay Whipple was an exceptionally good violin player, and Ted had often heard Billy Sudden make a piano fairly sing. Evidently they had got to the point where they could stand the fiddler's music no longer, and had put a stop to it.
But for all the badness of the music the people should not be deprived of their dance.
He hunted up the culprits, who were hovering on the outskirts of the crowd, listening to the threats against and denouncing the vandals who had "shot up" the fiddler.
"See here, you hombres, I'm on to you," said Ted. "Now you've got to do the square thing. You've beaten the dancers out of the music, and you've got to get in and furnish it, or I'll tell these punchers who plugged the fiddler's bow."
"How did you get on to it?" said Clay, with a grin.
"Never mind. Is it a go?"
"I reckon it'll have to be," said Clay, looking suggestively at Billy Sudden.
"All right," said Billy.
The cow-punchers, who had come to dance with the girls from the ranches, were growing angry, and were telling what they would do to the fellow who had spoiled their fun if they caught him, when Ted Strong stepped upon the platform, and, holding up his hand for silence, said:
"Gentlemen, please do not get obstreperous. You shall have all the dancing you want. Ladies, please be patient; the music that is to follow is such as has never been heard at a dance in this part of the country. Mr. Clay Whipple, of the Moon Valley Ranch, and Mr. Billy Sudden, of the Dumb-bell Ranch, will play the violin and piano respectively. Both of them are cow-punchers, so don't take any liberties with them, or some one will get hurt."
There was such cheering that the roof almost went off as Clay hunted up a violin and tuned it.
Then began a waltz such as they had never heard, and in a moment the floor was covered with dancers, the officers in their uniforms, and the ladies in their light dresses, adding beauty to the scene. But the finest-looking couple on the floor was Stella and the leader of the broncho boys.
Just before the dance began Bud approached Stella, and said:
"See that gal over thar? Ther one with ther corn-silk bang? She is mine, an' I'm goin' ter dance this with her; see? She's ther kind o' girl I admire. She's shore corn-fed, an' some woman."
"Don't you know who that is?" asked Stella.
"'Deed an' I don't, but I soon will. Who is she?"
"That's Sophy Cozak, from over on the Bohemian prairie. She's rich, Bud."
"I don't care nothin' erbout thet. She's shaped up jest erbout right. Yaller hair, and soft as feathers. Watch my smoke."
Bud sauntered over to the girl, who was really pretty and fat and pink. Apparently he was talking his usual nonsense to her, for she smiled, then arose from her chair, and went sailing around the room, Bud's partner in the waltz, and every time they passed Ted and Stella in the waltz Bud winked at them.
Later, however, he met the irate escort of the girl, when he took her back to her seat, and they glared at one another for a moment; then the escort walked off, leaving Bud master of the situation.
After this came the "sour-dough" quadrille, in which only old-timers were permitted to dance, and Bud led it with Mrs. "Cow" Suggs to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw."
But finally, as the ball was drawing to a close, Ted heard Stella utter a slight scream, and saw her trying to draw her hand away from a young fellow, whose back was turned to him.
He was across the room in an instant, and had the fellow by the shoulders and swung him around. It was Wiley Creviss, who had been drinking.
"What has this cur been doing?" asked Ted.
"He insisted on dancing with me, and when I told him I would not, he said he'd make me," answered Stella. "Then he caught hold of me, and I suppose I cried out, although I didn't mean to. That is what comes of wearing these clothes. If I'd had on my others, I'd have had my gun with me."
Ted had heard enough. There was a window close by, which was about ten feet above the sidewalk. Ted rushed the struggling and cursing Creviss toward it, and by sheer strength lifted him to the sill and threw him out.
"I guess we've had about enough of this," he said quietly, when he returned to Stella. "No more mixed balls for mine."
As Ted was escorting Stella to the carriage, Billy Sudden ranged up alongside of him.
"Look out for Creviss and his bunch on the way home. They're telling around what they're going to do with you. Want any help?"
"No, I reckon not, Billy. Our bunch can take care of them."
"They are going to try to kill you to-night."
SHOTS FROM THE DARK.
As the broncho boys swung through the streets of Soldier Butte, after leaving the ball, Ted Strong was in the lead, and Bud, Ben, Kit, and Clay were riding on either side of the carriage, while Jack Slate, with his black coat tails flapping in the breeze, brought up the rear.
They were passing an alley, at the corner of which an electric lamp shed a path of light across the street, when a revolver shot cracked out, and Ted's hat left his head.
The ball had just grazed his scalp, and the merest fraction of an inch lower would have killed him.
Instantly every one pulled up, and Ted, wheeling suddenly, rode at full speed for the mouth of the alley.
As he did so another shot came from the alley.
Ted's revolver was in his hand, and he fired at the spot where he had seen the flash from the muzzle of the assassin's weapon.
He heard Mrs. Graham scream, and turned back to the side of the carriage only to find that one of the horses attached to it had been hit by the bullet, and was down, but that neither Stella nor Mrs. Graham had been injured, and he rode straight into the dark alley, followed by Bud and Kit, leaving Ben and the other boys to guard the carriage, for he did not know from what direction another attack might come.
The alley was as dark as a pocket, and as Ted rode into it he well knew that he was taking his life in his hands.
At the far end of the alley he heard the beat of feet running swiftly, and fired his revolver several times in that direction, and heard a yell of pain.
"Come on, fellows," he called. "I think I got one of them that time."
As he said this they saw two dark figures dart out of the alley into the street at the end opposite that at which the boys had entered, and they spurred in that direction.
But when they came to the street there was no one in sight, but splotches of blood on the sidewalk testified to the fact that a wound had been inflicted upon some one.
They rode up and down the block, but without discovering where their attackers had taken refuge.
It was a low part of the town, and there was scarcely a house on either side of the street into which a criminal would not be taken and concealed.
"We'll have to give it up," said Ted, at last. "We could hunt here all night without being any the wiser."
Disappointed, they rode back, after tracing the bloodstains along the sidewalk to where they were lost in the dusty street.
They found that the carriage horse had been so badly hurt that its recovery was impossible, and Ted mercifully put a bullet into its brain.
The carriage was surrounded by people from the dance hall, who had been brought by the shots.
Among them was Billy Sudden.
"I reckon I called the turn," said he, as Ted came up.
"You sure did," said Ted.
"I ain't presuming to give advice none," said Billy, "but if it was me that got his sky piece knocked off and had a horse shot I believe I'd almost be tempted to round up this yere man's town and capture every hoodlum in it, and sweat them to find out who fired them shots."
"It wouldn't do any good, Billy," said Ted. "The people in this town have got it in for the ranch people. They think the ranches are taking trade away from them. They'd sooner see the ranches split into farms of forty acres each. They'd have so many more farmers to rob that way."
"I reckon so. But what are you going to do? I want to tell you that me and my boys stand with you till the burning pit freezes over, whenever and wherever you need us."
"May have to call on you one of these days, but not now."
"Ain't you going after that young imp, Creviss? Say, he's the meanest boy I ever saw. If I was his father I'd make him behave, or I'd bust him wide open."
"I understand his father thinks Wiley is just smart and spirited, and is ready to back him up in anything he does."
"Ought to make the old man popular."
"Not so you can see it. But that boy is a tough citizen, and getting tougher every day."
"I'm hearing a good deal about that kid these days. He trains with a bunch of bad ones over at Strongburg."
"Lately he's been running with 'Skip' Riley, a crook who has the reputation of having made more money out of holding up trains than by working."
"I know his record. How long has he been there?"
"Several months. He came there from the Nebraska penitentiary, and he was smooth enough to work the reformed-criminal, first-offense racket on the women there until they finally got him a job in the fire department. He seems to be a hero in the eyes of a lot of tough young fellows here and in Strongburg, and they follow him in anything he suggests."
"That's not a healthy proposition for a boy. Mr. Riley ought to be conducted out of town."
"The worst of it is he has banded them into some sort of secret organization."
"What do they call it?"
"I did know, but I've plumb forgotten. There's a young fellow uptown whom I'm trying to keep straight on account of his folks back East. I know his sister." Ted could see Billy's face get red as he said this. "His name is Jack Farley. Perhaps you know him."
Ted shook his head.
"Well, he's a good kid, but he got into bad company at home and skipped. I corresponded once in a while with his sister, and she wrote me about him, and one day I run across him in a gambling house here. I hadn't seen him since he was a kid, but I knew him straight off because he looks so much like Kate—Miss Farley I mean—and I called him outside and had a talk with him. He was mighty uppy at first, and threw it into me so hard that I had to turn in and whale some sense into him."
"That's one way of doing it," said Ted dryly.
"It was the only way for him. He thought he'd get sympathy by writing home about it, but all he got was that they reckoned he deserved it or he wouldn't have got it. After that he was good. But he'd got in with that Creviss bunch and didn't seem able to get out of it, so I let him stay, only I made him come to me every day or two and tell me what he'd been up to, and that's as far as I've got."
"Send him out to me."
"He won't work on a ranch, or I'd had him out at the Dumb-bell long ago. He likes to work in town, so I got him a job, and so far he has stuck to it. But the gang keeps him from doing any good for himself. He knows the name of this organization of boys under Skip, and the next time I see him I'll find out what it is. Then you keep your eye peeled for it, for Creviss is one of the leaders, and I'm afraid, after to-night, he'll do all he can to make things lively for you. He's a mean, vindictive little cuss."
"I'll keep a weather eye out for him, never fear. Thank you for the tip. This is the first time I've heard of the bunch, I've been away from the ranch so much lately."
The boys had hitched Jack Slate's horse into the carriage, and he got on the seat with Carl, and they were ready to start.
With an "Adios" to Billy Sudden and his boys, they were off, and arrived at the ranch house without further incident.
Mrs. Graham and Stella had retired for the night, and the boys were sitting before the fire in the living room, for the night was chilly and Song had built up a good blaze against their return.
Naturally, the conversation drifted to the shots fired at them from the alley.
"While I wuz ambulatin' eround ter-night I overheard some conversation what wuz interestin'," remarked Bud, who was sprawling on a bearskin in front of the fire.
"What was it?" asked Ted, who had been turning over in his mind what Billy Sudden had told him of the organization of tough boys under the guidance of the ex-convict.
"I wuz standin' clost ter one o' ther winders what opens out onter ther alley when I hears two fellers talkin' below me," said Bud.
"What were they saying?"
"I wuzn't aimin' ter listen ter no one's privut conversation, but I caught your name, an' I tried ter hear what wuz said erbout yer."
"One feller wuz talkin' pritty loud, ez if he'd been hittin' up ther tangle juice, an' ther other feller wuz tryin' ter make him put on ther soft pedal, what Clay calls talkin' pianissimo. But when the booze is in ther wit is out, an' ther feller would shut it down some fer a while, then he'd get a good lungful o' air an' bust out ergin."
"What was it all about?"
"Erbout runnin' us off'n ther reservation."
"They'd have a fine chance to do that," said Ted, laughing.
"It seems they hev some sort o' a club, ther 'Flyin' somethin' er other'—I couldn't jest catch what. To hear them fellers talk they're holy terrors."
"How do they propose to run us off? Did you hear that?"
"No; they didn't discuss ways an' means, but they said as how ther boss, they mentioned his name, but it's clear got erway from me, hed riz up on his hind legs an' hed give it out straight to ther gang thet ez long ez we wuz in ther country they couldn't do no good fer theirselfs, consequentially we must skidoo, ez they needed this part o' ther country fer their own elbowroom. They wuz real sassy erbout it, too."
"I suppose they thought all they had to do was to serve notice on us, and we'd vacate."
"I reckon thet's ther way they hed it chalked up."
"Well, that bears out what Billy Sudden told me to-night after we were shot at."
Then Ted related what Billy had told him about Skip Riley and his influence on the boys of Soldier Butte and Strongburg.
"Thet thar's ther very feller they wuz talkin' erbout, thet Skip Riley. Now I recolict it, an' ther name o' their sweet-scented aggergation is ther 'Flyin' Demons.'"
"Oh, mercy! Aren't they just awful?" said Ben, with a grin. "But which way are they expected to fly, toward you or from you?"
"If they come monkeyin' eround these broad acres they'll be flyin' fer home," said Bud.
"Or to jail, if we can prove what I believe against them," said Ted thoughtfully.
"What is that?" asked Kit.
"You haven't forgotten the mysterious robbery of the Strongburg Trust Company's office, have you?"
"You remember that a great many people to this day disbelieve that the office was robbed at all, because everything was found locked and barred, and the most careful examination showed that no one could have broken into the room from which a box containing twenty thousand dollars in currency and a package of negotiable bonds was stolen."
"Shore, I remember. That's allays been ther greatest mystery in these parts."
"You haven't forgotten the robbery soon afterward of the Soldier Butte post office and the disappearance of the registered mail pouch that came in on the train at two o'clock in the morning. It was thrown into the inner office by the carrier, and the office securely locked. Yet in the morning it could not be found, and there was nothing to show that the post office had been entered."
"I reckon I haven't. We lost a bunch o' money in it ourselves."
"But we got it back."
"That's so, but the carrier is still in jail, awaitin' trial fer stealin' the sack, an' I don't believe he had any more ter do with it than I had."
"And yet the most careful examination by the post-office inspectors failed to show that the place had been forcibly entered, and, although the carrier, Jim Bliss, had witnesses to show that he went into the post office with the sack, and came right out without it, still he is in jail, accused of stealing it," said Kit.
"There are several other cases of mysterious robberies which I might cite, but those are enough," said Ted. "But the curious thing about it all is that the robbers left not the slightest trace, not a broken lock, not a mark to show that a window was forced or a hole bored. When the place is closed up at night there is the money, when it is opened in the morning the money is gone. And again, these robberies only occur when valuables are accidentally left out of the vaults."
"It is curious. Everything yer say is true, but I never thought erlong it ez much ez you, an' I didn't figger out how near they wuz alike."
"Well, what's your theory?" asked Ben. "You started to tell us."
"Yes, who do you think committed these robberies?" asked Kit.
"Who but a gang of bad boys under the leadership and tutelage of a criminal?" answered Ted. "Who but the gang of Strongburg and Soldier Butte young toughs who go by the silly name of 'The Flying Demons'? If they get gay around this ranch, we'll have to tie a can to them and head them for the reform school or the penitentiary."
THE "FLYING DEMONS'" MESSAGE.
When Ted Strong stepped out on the veranda the morning after the ball he found Stella staring curiously at a large, square piece of paper stuck on the wall of the ranch house.
Nobody in the house had risen early, as they had all been up very late, except Song, the cook, who, when he saw that no one was disposed to turn out for an early breakfast, had gone out to work in the garden, in which he had with much skill raised an abundance of vegetables that year.
"Good morning, Stella; what is so interesting?" said Ted.
"It beats me," answered Stella. "I wonder if this is one of Ben's witticisms. If it is, he ought to be spanked."
Ted was standing by her side, reading what had been printed on the paper.
"H'm! this is good," said he, and read aloud, as if to himself, the following warning:
"TED STRONG AND BRONCHO BOYS: You ought to know by this time that you are not wanted in this part of the country. Advise you to sell out and skip. If you stay your lives will be made a hell on earth, and we have the stuff that will do it. This is no bluff, as you will find out if you disregard this word of friendly warning. You will be given a short time to sell your stock, then git. This means business.
"THE FLYING DEMONS."
"That's a pretty good effort for a lot of kids," said Ted. "Wait, here's a watermark in the paper. Let's see what it is?"
Ted took the paper from the wall and held it up to the light.
In the paper was the representation of the fabulous monster, the griffin, and woven into the paper were the words "Griffin Bond."
"That's as easy as shooting fish in a tub," said Ted, as he folded the paper and put it in his pocket.
"The fellow who put that warning up certainly left his footprints behind him," said Stella, with a smile.
"He did, but even without that I should have known the authors of it."
Ted then told Stella the substance of the conversation between the boys the night before, and of his suspicions as to the guilt of Creviss and his gang in the mysterious robberies that had occurred in the two towns. "But," he concluded, "it is not up to me to get at the matter. It is work for the sheriff. However, if those boys try any of their foolishness with us, we'll turn in and send them to the reform school, where they belong."
"They're certainly a bad lot. I was talking to a lady at the 'rent rag' last night, and she was telling me what a horrid boy young Creviss is."
"I wish I knew at what time this notice was put up here. It must have been done in daylight, for it was getting light in the east when we turned in."
"Perhaps some one was so quiet as to put it there while you were all inside talking."
"I hardly think so, for we were all sitting near the fireplace, and the room was so warm that Kit opened the door, and it stood open until we separated to go to bed."
"Sure you could have heard them? Some of you were talking pretty loud, for I heard you in my room just before I went to sleep."
"Well, of course, I couldn't be certain about it; but I came out on the veranda to take a look at the sky just before I turned in, and I didn't see it then. Surely, as I turned to come back into the house my eye would have caught that big piece of white paper beside the door."
"What time was it that the most important part of your conversation took place?"
"Just before we broke up. I remember we were going over the mysterious robberies, and I expressed the opinion that they were the work of the gang under Skip Riley and Creviss."
"That was probably the time the fellow who put up that notice was about. You see, if he followed you from Soldier Butte he wouldn't get here much earlier than that, for he wouldn't dare ride a pony the length of the valley at that time of the morning, so he had to walk from the south fence."
"By Jove! I believe you are right."
"If my theory is true, the fellow who brought the warning also carried back your conversation to the gang."
"Then they surely will have something to fight us on."
"Yes, fear that you will get on their trail will compel them to try to make their bluff good, as expressed in that message."
"I'd give something to know when this thing was put up."
"Let's see; it was about four o'clock when you turned in, wasn't it?"
"And just about that time Song gets up to cook for the boys in the bunk house who get out to relieve the night watch in the big pasture. Doesn't he?"
"Those are the orders."
"Then have Song in, and we'll ask him if he saw a strange man around the place when he got up. He might have seen him and thought nothing of it, and would never think of reporting it."
"Good idea. Wait here and I will call him."
In a few minutes the Chinaman came shuffling in from the garden."
"See here, Song," said Ted. "Did you see a strange man here early this morning?"
"Stlange man!" said Song meditatively, with a smile of innocence on his broad, yellow face. "No savvy stlange man."
"Man no b'long here," said Stella,
"Oh, yes, I savvy. No see stlange man."
"What time you get up?"
"Me gettee up fo' clock."
"Did you go outside?"
"Yes, me go out an' call cowbloy. Tell gettee up, P. D. Q. No gettee up, no bleakfast."
"What did you see outside that you don't see every morning?"
"Evely moling? No savvy."
"Yesterday morning, day before that, day before that, all mornings."
"Lesterday moling, evely moling?"
"Oh, the deuce! You try him, Stella."
"Say, Song, you see something makee you flaid this moling?" said Stella, imitating Song's pidgin English.
"Oh, yes, me lookee out, plenty jump in."
"What you see?"
"Plenty wolf. He sneakee lound side house. I lun like devil."
"What wolf look like?"
"Plenty big wolf. When he see me he lise up on hind legee, and lun likee man."
"Ah ha! There's your clew," said Stella, turning to Ted. "The fellow who posted this notice was disguised in a wolfskin so that he could sneak up to the house unnoticed by the Chinaman, or, if seen, he would make a bluff at scaring Song."
"Stella, you're a wonder."
"Say, Song, you no likee wolf?"
"No, me plenty flaid wolf," answered the Chinaman, shaking his head violently.
"All right, Song. I givee you shotgun. Next time you see wolf, plenty shoot. Savvy?"
"All light. You givee me gun, I shootee wolf plenty. Makee go 'ki-yi' and lun belly fast."
Song went away with a grin on his face like a crack in a piece of stale cheese.
"Stella, you've solved it. I believe whoever put that message there heard our conversation, and at least they'll hate us a bit worse than before, if that is possible."
"Let them bark, the wolves. I never was afraid of a wolf, anyhow. If you want to throw me into spasms show me a bobcat. That's the fighting animal."
During breakfast the boys were shown the warning that had been posted beside the door, and it was decided to pay no attention to it, but to watch for the appearance of a messenger from the "Flying Demons," and if one was caught to make it hot for him.
Ted had no doubt but Creviss and his gang would try to injure the broncho boys by every means in their power, but until they committed some overt act the boys could hardly afford to become the aggressors.
For several days nothing happened, and the Moon Valley Ranch went the even tenor of its way.
Preparations were under way for the fall round-up, and Ted had received letters from several heavy stock buyers that they would be present at that time to make their selections of such cattle as they desired to buy.
It had always been the custom at the ranch to have an entertainment of some sort at the ranch afterward. This was started for the purpose of amusing the buyers with cowboy tricks and that sort of thing, but it had developed into something far greater, until now all the world was invited to the barbecue and the "doings" afterward. No one was barred who behaved himself.
This year Ben Tremont had charge of the entertainment, and he was not limited as to expense, for every fellow was on his honor to provide the best entertainment for the least money.
The manager's plans were generally kept secret from every one except Ted and Stella, who were the exceptional ones and were in every one's secrets and confidence.
Ben had declared himself as to the superlative excellence of his show this year.
"It's going to be hard to beat," said he, in boasting about it. "We've had some pretty good shows, but nothing like the one I'm getting up now."
Kit had charge of the cowboy end of it, the races, the bronchobusting, the roping and tying contests; in fact, all the arena acts.
This year Clay Whipple attended to the inner man, and was to provide a genuine old Southern barbecue, with trimmings.
The round-up was to begin in less than a week, and the festivities were to follow immediately.
Invitations had been sent broadcast into Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and the Pacific coast States; everywhere, in fact, where the boys had friends, and from the responses received an enormous crowd would be present.
Three days elapsed after the finding of the warning beside the door before anything more was heard from the Flying Demons.
Then Ted found another message from them near the front door.
It was as follows:
"TED STRONG AND OTHERS: You think you know who committed the mysterious robberies, but you are on the wrong track. You will never find out, while your secrets are known to us. This is warning number two. The third and last will come soon; then look out.
"THE FLYING DEMONS."
"Now, why in the world do they call themselves the Flying Demons?" asked Ted reflectively, as they were reading the second screed from their enemies. "It seems to me that there is the secret of the whole thing. You never can tell what a pack of boys like that are going to do. They are more to be feared than older criminals, for they have no judgment, and will rush into the most reckless things just to show off before one another."
"Pay no attention to them," advised Stella. "That's what I think they are doing now—showing off. I doubt if they think they can frighten us, but they are afraid of us."
"Oh, by the way," said Ted, suddenly thinking of something. "You remember I looked at the watermark on that first warning we received from these terrible demons. Well, this screed has the same mark—'Griffin Bond.' When I was in town to-day I went into the bank. Old man Creviss was behind the counter, and that precious son of his was beside him. I had a check cashed, and Mr. Creviss asked me why we didn't keep our bank account there. I told him we had thought something about it, but I didn't mention that we had decided not to. Then I asked him for a couple of sheets of paper on which to write a note, and he handed them to me. I took them to the window and held them up to the light to see the watermark."
"And what was it?" asked Stella eagerly.
"Then the paper on which these things were written came from the bank?"
"They certainly did. After I had looked at the watermark I turned to young Creviss and looked him square in the eye. He turned as white as chalk, and his lip trembled."
"He's a coward," said Stella positively. "Why didn't he bluff it out?"
"He had nothing to stand on; but, as you say, he's a rank coward, and it's my opinion that it's only fear of Skip Riley that keeps him at it, anyway. At all events, I gave him a good scare, for instead of writing the note I folded up the paper and put it into my pocket. He stepped forward as if he would interfere and make me give the paper back, not having used it, but I gave him a glassy glare and walked out."
"Then it was he who wrote the warnings."
"Of course, and he knows that I have him dead to rights. That is another mark against me with the gang."
"Better watch out."
"They can have me if they can get me."
SONG SHOOTS A WOLF.
Early one morning the broncho boys were startled out of their beds by the double explosion of a shotgun, followed by excited yells and screams of agony.
"That Chinaman has shot somebody," thought Ted, as he rapidly skipped out of bed and pulled on his trousers.
In the living room he met all the boys, as scantily clad as himself, hurrying out to see what the noise was all about.
They could hear Song behind the house screaming in Chinese at the top of his voice, and in an ear-splitting falsetto, which showed that he was tremendously excited.
Thither they rushed, and for a moment the ludicrous scene far outbalanced the seriousness of what had happened.
On the ground was a young fellow about seventeen years of age. He was writhing with pain, and the blood was oozing through his clothes in fifty places.
"Ha, ha!" shrieked Song. "Me shootee wolf, turnee into man light away. Ha, ha, me allee same plenty smart man, likee magician."
"Yes, you're a hot magician," said Bud; "You've made this feller second cousin ter a porous plaster. That's what you've done."
"Who is he, Song?" asked Ted.
"Me no savvy him. Me comee out chicken house getee eggs fo' bleakfast. I cally gun, shotee plenty wolf all samee Mliss Stella say."
"But this is not a wolf."
"All samee wolf. I open chicken house do'. I see wolf. Plenty glowl at Song. I no likee gun. Shutee my eye. Pull tligger, an' gun goee off. All samee wolf no mo' glowlee, him yellee like thundeh. When smokee blow way wolf gonee, all samee man comee. I plenty magician, I thinkee."
Ted looked in the chicken house, and on the floor lay the dried hide of a big gray wolf.
Now he understood. The message had come the third time from the Flying Demons.
"Kit, run around to the front door and see if there is a message there for us from our friends the Demons."
In a moment Kit was back, holding a piece of paper in his hand.
Ted took it from him, and read it.
It was the third and last warning. It said:
"TED STRONG: We have warned you twice before to leave this part of the country, but you have made no move to do so. This is the third warning. If you are not away from here in a week the vengeance will fall upon you. Beware!
"THE FLYING DEMONS."
"Did you bring this?" asked Ted, of the wretched youth, who still lay upon the ground groaning from his numerous wounds.
There was no reply. The fellow could only toss his head from side to side and rub his legs, into which the bulk of the shot had been fired by the excited Chinaman.
"You won't answer, eh? Well, we'll find a way to make you. I'm glad you've given us a week," said Ted, laughing. "That will at least give us time to hold our round-up and festivities."
"Oh, if I live through this I'll never go into anything like it again," moaned the youth upon the ground.
"Here, stand up," said Ted to him. "You're not badly hurt. You're only stung, twice. Get on your feet and we'll see what we can do for you. You're a long way from dead yet. What's your name?"
"Jack Farley. Oh, if I could only be sure that I wasn't going to die!" exclaimed the youth.
He was the young fellow Billy Sudden had spoken about.
"We can't tell how badly you are hurt until you get up," said Ted. "Rise, and we'll go into the house and examine your wounds."
Slowly young Farley got to his feet, but when he tried to walk he uttered a howl of pain, and sank down again.
"Yellow all through," said Ben, in a tone of disgust.
"Ever have about three ounces of duck shot pumped into yer system through yer hide?" asked Bud.
"Then yer don't know all ther joys o' life. I've had one ounce shot inter my leg, an' if ther contents o' two shells gives double ther pain one does, then excuse me. An' mine wuz only snipe shot, at that."
"Pick him up, boys, and lay him on the lounge in my room," said Ted. "I'll take a look at him after a while, meantime some of you watch him to see that he doesn't get away. We need him for evidence."
When Bud and Ben had carried the wounded boy into Ted's room and laid him on the lounge, Bud stood over him regarding him with interest.
"I sorter envy yer, kid," he said at last.
"You can have 'em, but I don't see why you envy me," said Farley.
"I wuz thinkin' how happy you'll be all through these lonesome winter evenings, pickin' ther shot out o' yer legs."
When Farley had been carried into the house, Ted called Kit to him and said:
"Kit, I wish you'd ride over to Suggs' ranch and tell Billy Sudden that his protege is over here with his hide peppered with bird shot, and ask him to ride over and take a look at him."
During breakfast they related to Stella the story of Song's wolf hunt in the chicken house, and the result.
Song was as proud as a peacock, and wore "the smile that won't come off" as he flitted around the table waiting on every one.
"Say, Missee Stella," he said, "Song all samee one cowbloy now, eh? What you sayee?"
"Yes, Song, you have certainly followed instructions. You got your wolf that time, sure. How you likee shootee?"
"No likee, Missee Stella. Makee too much noisee, all samee too much plenty fiahclackers. Kickee like blazes. Plitty near knockee arm outee Song."
The boys stripped Farley after breakfast, and found his legs in pretty bad condition. They looked as if Song's gun had been loaded with smallpox, and all of it had lodged in the lad's legs.
"Boys, we'll have to take relays in picking the shot from our first victim," said Ted. "There's too much work here for one man."
"He's a turrible-lookin' demon now with a hide full o' shot. Ther punctured demon of Demonville! Say, kid, I'd hate ter laugh at yer, but yer a sight. Why didn't yer fix it so's them two charges o' shot would hev been distributed among ther gang? Then yer could sit down o' evenings an' pick shot out o' one another instid o' plottin' agin' ther whites."
"Let him be, Bud, he's having all he can do to think about these shots, as it is. The things for us to do now is to pick them out of him."
"We'll let him count 'em ez they come out. That'll help take his mind off his troubles, but he'll hev ter hev a great head fer figgers."
They went to work on him with their penknives, as most of the shot were just beneath the skin. But it was painful enough, at that, and every time a shot came out Farley groaned deeper. While they were engaged in this, to them, pleasing occupation, Billy Sudden arrived.
"Hello, kid," he said to Farley. "So you got it at last. I could have told you to keep away from Ted Strong and his bunch. They're bad medicine for a herd o' mavericks like you to graze with. You tackled the wrong outfit. They're too many fer you, and if you'll all take a fool's advice you'll keep away, or else some of you will be looking through a griddle in a door up at the penitentiary."
Farley made no reply, only hid his face and groaned at every extracted shot.
"Say, kid, what about this gang you belong to?"
The boy shook his head.
"D'ye mean to say you're not going to tell me about it?"
The boy nodded.
"What's the reason you won't?"
"Slush with the oath. You had no business to take it. What'll the home folks think when I tell them about this. Shot by a Chinaman in the chicken house at dawn!"
Billy paused to let the ignominy of it sink in. It did sound pretty bad and mean and cheap. There were no heroics in this, such as Farley had at first considered his role.
He hid his face on his arm, and his body shook. Billy had probed deep into his pride.
"Well, come on," said Billy. "This is no time for a conspirator to do the baby act. I suppose you thought it was to be a spotlight scene where you stood in the center doing the heavy stunt, and all the rest sat on the bleachers and applauded. By gee! Peppered by a Chinaman, and with snipe shot, at that."
"Oh, quit it!" said Farley. "I know I was a chump for sticking with those fellows, but I needed the money."