John Goldfrap.

The Border Boys with the Texas Rangers





Jack picked up his rope once more and recaptured the buckskin, which was trotting about the corral, apparently feeling that the fight was over and he had won. Once more Bud held the rope while Jack vaulted into the saddle.

This time, however, there was no preliminary pause. Dynamite plunged straight into his program of unseating tactics.

With a vicious squeal the ponys hind feet shot out and the next instant as Jack jerked the little animals head up it caroomed into the air, coming down with a stifflegged jolt that jarred every nerve in Jacks body. Then began a series of amazing bucks. It seemed impossible that anybody, much less a mere boy, could have stuck to the ponys back through such an ordeal.

Wow! Dynamites sure steamboatin some! yelled the cowpunchers.

Suddenly Dynamite ceased bucking.

Look out for a sidejump! shouted Mr. Reeves; but, even as he spoke, it came.

The broncho gave a braintwisting leap to the left, causing Jack to sway out of his saddle to the right. Luckily he caught the pommel and cantle just in time to save himself from being thrown. Dynamite seemed surprised that he had not unseated his rider by his favorite and ofttried method. He repeated his famous sidejump. But Jack stuck like a cockleburr to a colts tail.

All at once the buckskin gave a semiturn while in the air. It was a variation of the regular buck that would have unseated half the veteran cowboys perched on the corral fence watching the fight between boy and broncho.

Good fer you, kid! they shouted enthusiastically, as Jack maintained his seat.

Stick to it, Jack! chimed in the voices of Ralph and Walt.

But it is doubtful if Jack heard any of the applause. He was too busy watching Dynamites antics. Suddenly the pony rushed straight at the corral fence and tore along it as closely as he could without cutting his hide. His object was to scrape off the hateful human who stuck so persistently to his back. But Jack was as quick as the buckskin and as the pony dashed along the fence he had one leg up over the saddle and out of harms way.

All at once Dynamite paused. Then up went his head, his fore feet beat the air furiously. Straight up he reared till he was standing almost erect. Then without the slightest warning he toppled over backward.

A shout of alarm went up from the punchers, but Jack did not need it. As the pony crashed to earth Jack was not there. He had nimbly leaped from the saddle and to one side.

Before the buckskin could rise again Jack was straddling the saddle. As the animal sprang up Jack was back in his seat once more with a sadly perplexed broncho under him. Dynamite had tried everything, and more too, that he had used on the ranch riders and all had failed to remove the incubus on his back.

Good for you, Jack. Youve finished him! yelled Walt Phelps.

Dont be too sure, warned Mr. Reeves, who was standing by the boys.

See the way those ears are set? That means more trouble coming.

The words had hardly left the ranch owners mouth before the trouble came. Dynamite darted off as if he had been impelled from a cannons mouth. Then all at once he set his legs stiff and slid along the ground, ploughing up dusty furrows with his hoofs in the soft earth of the corral. Had Jack not been prepared for some such maneuver, he might have been unseated. But he had guessed that something more was coming off and so he was prepared. Hardly had Dynamite come to his abrupt stop before he threw himself on his side and rolled over. If Jack had been there, he would have been crushed by the ponys weight but he wasnt.

As the pony rolled Jack stepped out of the saddle on the opposite side. The moment he slipped off he picked up the loose end of the lariat which was still around the ponys neck.

Yip! Get up! he cried.

Dynamite, not thinking of anything but that he was free at last, was off like a shot. But, alas! he reckoned without his host. As the little animal darted off Jack took a swift turn of the rope around the snubbing post. When Dynamite reached the end of the rope he got the surprise of his life. His feet were jerked from under him and over he went in a heap.

Before he could rise Jack was over him. As Dynamite struggled up Jack resumed his seat in the saddle; but now he rode a different Dynamite from the unsubdued buckskin he had roped a short time before. Trembling in every limb, covered with sweat and dirt, and his head hanging down, Dynamite owned himself defeated.

A great shout of applause went up from the cowpunchers and from Jacks chums.

His name aint Dynamite no longer; its Sugar Candy! shouted an enthusiastic cowpuncher.

Wow! but the kiddy is some rider, yelled another.

You bet! came an assenting chorus of approval.

Splendid work, my boy, approved Mr. Reeves warmly, coming forward and shaking Jacks hand. It was as fine an exhibition of horsemanship and courage as ever I saw.

Thanks, laughed Jack lightly. Ive got an idea that Dynamite and I are going to be great chums. Arent we, little horse?

Jack patted the buckskins sweating neck and the pony shook his head as if he agreed with the boy who had conquered his fighting spirit by sheer grit.

CHAPTER XXV.
THE GREAT STAMPEDE

How is it going, Jack? All quiet?

Walt Phelps paused in his ride around the herd to address his chum.

Yes, everything is going splendidly, Walt. Dynamites a real cowpony.

No doubt about that. Well, Ill ride on; we must keep circling the herd.

Youre right. They seem a bit restless.

Walt rode off with a word of farewell, while Jack flicked Dynamite with the quirt and proceeded in the opposite direction.

The time was about midnight the night following Jacks little argument with Dynamite. Since nine oclock the Border Boys had been on duty with the Reeves herd. Under the bright stars the cattle were visible only as a black, evershifting mass, round and round which the boys, Bud and two cowpunchers circled unceasingly. Some of the animals were feeding, others standing up or moving about. The air reeked of cattle. Their warm breaths ascended into the cool night in a nebulous cloud of steam.

From far off came the sound of a voice singing, not unmusically, that classic old ballad of the Texas cowman:


Lie quietly now, cattle,
And please do not rattle,
Or else we will mill you,
As sure as youre born.


A long time ago,
At Ranch Silver Bow,
Id a sweetheart and friends,
On the River Big Horn

Jack pulled up his pony for a minute and listened to the long drawn, melancholy cadence. It was the cowpunchers way of keeping the cattle quiet and easyminded. Steers at night are about as panicky creatures as can be imagined. The rustle of the night wind in the sagebrush, the sudden upspringing of a jackrabbit, the whinnying of a pony, all these slight causes have been known to start uncontrollable stampedes that have been costly both to life and property.

The night was intensely still. Hardly a breath of wind stirred. Except for the occasional bellow of a restless steer or the neverending refrain of Buds song, the plains on the border of the Rio Grande were as silent as a country churchyard.

Jack resumed his ride. He began whistling. It was not a cheerful tune he chose. Massas in the Cold, Cold Ground, was his selection. Somehow it seemed to the lad that such a tune was suited to the night and to his task.

Jacks course led him to the south of the herd, between the main body of cattle and the Rio Grande. He kept a bright lookout as he passed along the river banks. He knew that if trouble was coming, it was going to come from that direction. Almost unconsciously he felt his holsters to see if his weapons were all right.

Once he paused to listen. It was at a spot right on the river bank that he made his halt. He was just about to ride on again, whistling his lugubrious tune, when something odd caught his eye and set his heart to thumping violently.

A head covered with a white hood containing two eyeholes had suddenly appeared above the river bank. The next instant a score more appeared. All wore the white hoods with the same ghastly eyeholes, giving them the appearance of so many skulls.

Greatly startled and alarmed, Jack yet realized that the figures that had appeared so suddenly must be those of cattlestealing Mexican rebels and that they had adopted the hoods with the idea of scaring the superstitious cowboys. Hardly had he arrived at this conclusion before the hooded horsemen rushed up the bank. They aimed straight for the boy.

Instantly Jacks hand sought his holster.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

It was the three shots agreed upon as a signal of trouble. From far back on the eastern side of the herd came an answer. Jack had just time to hear it when the hooded band swept down upon him. He felt bullets whiz past his ear and then, without exactly knowing how it happened, he was riding for his life, crouched low on Dynamites withers.

Off to the north, east and west other sixshooters cracked and flashed. The signal of alarm was being passed around rapidly. Jack was riding for his life toward the west side of the herd. Behind him pressed one of the hooded horsemen. All the others had been distanced by the fleetfooted Dynamite. But this man behind him clung on like grim death.

From time to time he fired, but at the pace they were going his aim was naturally poor and none of the bullets went near the fleeing boy on the buckskin pony.

The air roared in Jacks ears as he dashed along. All at once he became conscious of another roar, the roar of hundreds of terrified steers. Horns crashed and rattled. Startled bellows arose. Then off to the east came more firing. Jack judged by this that most of the hooded band had gone off in that direction and were now engaged in fighting with Bud and the rest of the cattle watchers.

The next instant the lad became conscious of a thunderous sound that seemed to shake the earth. It was the roar and rush of thousands of hoofs.

The cattle have stampeded! gasped Jack to himself, and the next instant:

The firing to the east has started them off; and I am right in their path.

He swung his pony in an effort to cut off part of the herd. But through the darkness they thundered down on him like a huge overpowering wave of hoofs and horns. Jack fired with both his sixshooters, hoping to turn the stampede; but he might as well have saved his cartridges. No power on earth can stop stampeding cattle till they get ready to quit.

Jack was in the direst peril. But he did not lose his head. He swung Dynamite around once more and urged him forward. It was a race for life with the maddened cattle. He had lost all thought of the hooded rider who had pursued him so closely. His sole idea now was to escape alive from the stampede behind him. Had he dared, he would have tried to cut across the face of it. But he knew that he stood every chance of being trapped should he do so. He therefore decided to trust to Dynamites fleetness and surefootedness. It made him shudder to think what would befall him if the pony happened to get his foot in a gopher hole and stumble.

A Texas steer in a stampede can travel every bit as fast as a pony, and it was not long before the steers were in a crescentshaped formation, with Jack riding for his life in about the center of the half moon. On and on they thundered in the mad race. To Jack it felt as if they were beginning to go down hill, but he was not certain. Nor had he the least idea of the direction in which he was going. He bent all his faculties on keeping ahead of that hoofed and horned wave behind him.

Dynamite went like the wind. But even his muscles began to flag under the merciless strain after a time. He felt the effects of his strenuous lesson of the morning. Jack was forced to ply quirt and spur to keep him on his gait. But the signs that the pony was playing out dismayed the boy. His life depended on Dynamites staying powers, and they were only too plainly diminishing.

The slope down which they were dashing was a fairly steep one, which accounted for Jacks feeling the grade. It led into a broad, sandybottomed, dry water course, or arroyo as they are called in the west. But of this, of course, Jack was unaware.

All at once Jack felt Dynamite plunge into a thick patch of greasewood. The pony slowed up as he encountered the obstruction, but Jacks quirt and spur urged him into it. But that momentary pause had been nearly fatal. Jack could now almost feel the hot breath of the leading cattle. Despite his grit and courage, both of sterling quality, Jacks heart gave an uncomfortable bound. He felt his scalp tighten at the narrowness of his escape. But still he urged Dynamite on. Luckily he wore stout leather chaps, or the brush would have torn his limbs fearfully.

Dynamite tore on, with seemingly undiminished valor, but Jack knew that the end was near.

Only a few yards more, and then he thought, when he felt a different sensation.

It filled him with alarm. He was dropping downward through the air. Down he plunged, while behind him came the thunder of the maddened steers.

Good heavens! Is this the end? was the thought that flashed through the boys mind in that terrible fraction of time when he felt himself and his pony dropping through space.

The next instant he felt the pony hit the ground under him. Like a stone from a slingshot, Jack was catapulted out of the saddle. He landed on the ground some distance from the pony. He was shaken and bruised, but he was up in a flash. In another instant the steers would be upon him. He would be crushed to a pulp under their hoofs unless he found some means of escape.

If I dont do something quick, its goodbye for me, he told himself.

In frantic haste he looked about for some means of saving himself. All at once he spied through the darkness the black outlines of a cottonwood tree. In a flash his plan was formed. He slipped behind the trunk of the cottonwood, using it as a shield between himself and the oncoming cattle.

Hardly had he slipped behind his refuge when an agonized cry came to his ears, the cry of a human being in mortal terror. Jack peered from behind his tree trunk. As he did so the form of a man rolled almost to his feet and lay still.

With a thrill Jack recognized the white hood the figure wore and knew it must be the hooded horseman who had pursued him. Like himself, the man had been caught in the stampede and been thrown from his horse almost at the foot of the tree. Exerting all his strength, Jack pulled the man into shelter behind the tree scarcely a second before the crazed steers were upon them. In their blind frenzy of terror many of them dashed headlong into the tree, stunning and killing themselves. But the main herd swept by on both sides, leaving Jack and the unconscious man in a little haven of safety behind the tree trunk.

Jack found himself wedged in between two barricades of bellowing, galloping steers, and for his deliverance from what had seemed certain death a few minutes before he offered up a fervent prayer of thanks.

For some time the rush continued and then thinned out to a few stragglers. At last Jack thought it safe to emerge from behind his tree. In front of it lay several dead cattle, their brains knocked out by the force with which they had collided with the cottonwood. A few injured animals limped about moaning piteously. Some of them were so badly injured that Jack, who could not bear to see an animal suffer, put them out of their misery with his sixshooter.

It was now time to turn his attention to the hooded man. The fellow had been stunned when he was thrown from his horse; but he was now stirring and groaning. Jack bent over him and pulled off his hood. As he did so he staggered back with an amazed exclamation.

The face the starlight revealed was that of Alvarez, the man whose destiny had been so oddly linked with Jacks!

Where am I? What has happened? exclaimed the man in Spanish as he opened his eyes.

You have been engaged in the despicable work of cattle stealing, Alvarez, spoke Jack sternly. If you had not been thrown at my very feet, you would have perished miserably under the hoofs of the herd you planned to steal.

At the first sound of Jacks voice Alvarez had staggered painfully to his feet. Now he uttered a cry.

It is you, Se?or Merrill! I thought you were miles from here.

Well, I am not, as you see. Are you badly hurt?

I do not know. I think my arm is broken. It pains fearfully.

I will examine it by daylight. Are you armed?

I was, se?or, but I lost my pistol in that fearful ride before the stampede.

The mans tone was cringing, whining almost. Jack felt nothing but contempt for him. He held that the Mexican revolutionists were about as much in the right as the government troops; but cattle stealing on the Border is a serious offense and Jack Merrill was a ranchers son. He made no reply to Alvarez, but, telling him to remain where he was, he went off to see if he could find some water to bathe the mans injuries, for, besides his injured arm, he had a nasty cut on the head.

He did not find water and was returning to the tree rather downcast, when through the darkness ahead of him he saw something moving. The object was not a steer, he was sure of that. He moved cautiously toward it, his heart beating with a hope he hardly dared to entertain.

But at last suspicion grew to certainty.

Its my pony! Its Dynamite! he breathed, not daring to make a noise lest the pony take fright and dash off.

Cautiously he crept up on the little animal. He now saw as he drew closer that another horse was beside it. He had no doubt that this latter beast was the one Alvarez had ridden. How the horses had escaped death or serious injury Jack could not imagine; but escape it they had, although they both stood dejectedly with heads hung down and heaving flanks.

Whoa, Dynamite! Whoa, boy! whispered Jack, moving up to the broncho with outstretched hand.

Dynamite stirred nervously. He pricked up his ears. Jack crept forward once more. In this way he got within a few feet of the pony. Then he decided to make a dash for it. He flung himself forward, grabbed the pommel of the saddle and swung himself on to Dynamites back. With a squeal of fear the pony started bucking furiously.

Buck all you want, laughed Jack. Ive got you now and, by ginger, if I can do it, I mean to get back those cattle, too.

Dynamite soon quieted down and then Jack set himself to catching the horse Alvarez had ridden. This was not an easy task, but the brute was not so fiery as Dynamite, and at last Jack got him. The dawn was just flushing up in the east when Jack, leading the Mexicans horse, rode back toward the cottonwood tree. Alvarez, looking pale and old, sat where Jack had left him.

He glanced up as the boy approached, but said nothing. Jack hitched the horses and then examined the Mexicans arm. He decided that it was not broken, only badly sprained. He concluded, therefore, that the Mexican was quite able to perform the task he had laid out for him.

Get on your horse, Alvarez, he ordered.

Si, se?or, rejoined the swarthy Alvarez without comment.

Only when he was mounted and Jack told him to ride in front of him, did he inquire what was to be done with him.

You are going to help me drive those cattle back first, said Jack grimly. Then well decide on what comes next.

In silence they rode up the far bank of the arroyo and the plain lay spread out before them. Jack could not restrain a cry of joy as in the distance he saw a dark mass closely huddled. It was the missing band of steers.

Now, Alvarez, he warned sternly, what will happen to you may depend on just how we restore his property to Mr. Reeves. Do you understand?

Si, se?or, nodded the man, whose spirit appeared completely broken.

They rode up cautiously. But the steers appeared to be as quiet as so many sheep and merely eyed them as they approached. The animals were in pitiful shape after their frantic gallop and one look at them showed Jack that he would have no trouble in driving them back to the home ranch once they were got moving.

Keeping a sharp eye on Alvarez, he ordered the Mexican to begin milling the steers, that is, riding them around and around till they were bunched in a compact mass. This done, the drive began. At times Jack hardly knew how he kept in his saddle. He was sick, faint, and thirsty, with a burning thirst. The dust from the trampling steers enveloped him, stinging nostrils and eyes, and, besides all this, he dared not take his eyes off Alvarez for an instant.

The boy surveyed himself. He was a mass of scratches and bruises, his shirt was ripped and hung in shreds, his chaperajos alone remained intact. Even his saddle was badly torn, and, as for the poor buckskin, he was in as bad shape as his master.

Well, I am a disreputable looking object, thought the boy. The Rangers wouldnt own me if they could see me now.

********

It was late afternoon at the Reeves ranch when Bud and the two boys rode in with the news that they could find no trace of the missing cattle. Nor, of course, had they any news of Jack. Mr. Reeves was much downcast at this, almost as much so as Walt and Ralph. Yet somehow the two latter felt sure that Jack would come out all right.





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