They had not had an easy night of it, either. The battle to the eastward of the herd that had started the stampede had resulted in a flesh wound for Walt and a bad cut on the hand for Ralph. But the boys and the cowЦpunchers had managed to make prisoners of ten of the hooded Mexicans, so that they felt they had not done a bad nightТs work. If only they had possessed a clew to JackТs fate, they would, in fact, have been jubilant. RalphТs behavior during the fight had quite won him back the respect he had lost by his poor exhibition with the rope. The Border Boys were declared Уthe grittiest everФ by every puncher on the range.
The ten prisoners were confined in the barn, but they all denied vigorously having seen anything of Jack. They confessed that their raid had been made for the purpose of getting beef for the rebel army, which had been practically starved out by the government troops.
Bud had just dismounted by the corral and Walt and Ralph were dispiritedly doing the same when Mr. Reeves uttered a shout and pointed to the far southwest.
УWonder what that is off there, that cloud of dust!Ф he exclaimed.
УIТll get the glasses, boss,Ф declared Bud.
He dived into the house and speedily reappeared with a pair of powerful binoculars such as most stockmen use.
Mr. Reeves applied them to his eyes and gazed long and carefully at the distant object that had attracted his attention.
УWhat is it?Ф demanded Bud.
УI donТt know yet. I canТt see for dust. But IТm pretty sure itТs a band of cattle.Ф
Walt and Ralph held their breaths.
УOur cattle?Ф almost whispered Bud, in a tense voice.
УI canТt be sure. It might be any band of steers crossing the state. Tell you what, Bud, saddle the big sorrel for me and weТll go and find out.Ф
Ten minutes later the band of horsemen was riding at top speed toward the distant moving objects. As they drew closer it was seen that they were unmistakably cattle. All at once Bud gave a sharp cry.
УBoss, theyТre our cows. See the big muley steer in front? ThatТs old Abe. IТd know him among a thousand.Ф
УBy George, Bud, youТre right! But who can be driving them?Ф
He was interrupted by a mighty shout from Ralph Stetson.
УItТs Jack!Ф he cried.
УIt is the broncho bustinТ Tenderfoot as sure as youТre a foot high!Ф bawled out Bud.
УBut whoТs that with him?Ф demanded Walt.
УDunno; looks like a greaser,Ф growled Bud, who had no liking for the Уbrown brothersФ across the Border.
And then, at the risk of starting another stampede, the cavalcade dashed forward, waving their hats and yelling like wild Indians.
Mr. Reeves rode right down on Jack.
УBoy, youТre a wonder. How did you do it? No; stop; donТt tell me now. I can see youТre about tuckered out. How are you?Ф
УRoasted out,Ф rejoined Jack with an attempt at a smile. But his voice was hoarse as a crowТs and his lips were too baked and cracked to smile naturally.
УGreat heavens, boy, youТve been through an awfully tough ordeal, I can see that.
Mr. Reeves indicated Alvarez, who shrank under his gaze.
Jack forced his voice out of his parched throat.
УThat is my assistant driver, Mr. Reeves,Ф he said. УWe have had a good deal of talk as we came along and he tells me that he has a great longing to go back to his own country and stay there. He knows what it means if he comes back across the Border again, donТt you, Alvarez?Ф
УSi, Se?or Merrill,Ф stammered the Mexican while Bud glowered at him.
УThereТs something behind all this, Jack, that I can partly guess at,Ф declared Mr. Reeves, Уbut if you really want him to go, let him go.Ф
УYou hear?Ф croaked Jack in Spanish.
The Mexican wheeled his horse, doffed his peaked hat in a graceful wave and in a loud, clear voice shouted:
He struck his spurs home and brought down his quirt. His horse sprang forward. Straight for the Rio Grande he rode and vanished over its northern bank. Five minutes later he was off American soil. On the opposite bank he paused once more, wheeled his horse and waved his sombrero in token of farewell. Then he vanished, so far as the boys were concerned, forever.
УNow, forward,Ф cried Mr. Reeves. УBud, you hold the cattle here till I send out some boys to help you bring them in. Jack, you come with us at once. You need doctoring up.Ф
УCanТt I stay and bring the cattle in?Ф pleaded Jack.
УSon,Ф said the rancher in a deep voice, УyouТve done your duty; mine begins now. I havenТt heard your story yet, but IТll bet my last dollar that youТve done a big thing out there, and that the Rangers will be mighty proud of their boy recruits.Ф
And then they rode forward to the ranch house and food and drink, and later to the unfolding of JackТs story.
As Mr. Reeves had prophesied, the Rangers were proud of their young comrades. And not only the circle of Rangers, but the whole state of Texas rang with their praises until the boys were afraid to look at a newspaper. As for JackТs generous action in letting Alvarez go free, none but Captain Atkinson, Mr. Reeves and the Border Boys themselves knew of it, though Bud suspected, or УsuspicionedФ as he called it.
A few days later the revolution was crushed, and they heard afterward that Alvarez had died fighting bravely for what he deemed the right cause. A few days later, too, the boys had to leave their kind Texan friends and wend their way homeward.
And now we, too, have reached the parting of the ways so far as this part of the Border BoysТ adventures is concerned. Here, for a time, we will take leave of our young friends, wishing them well till we meet them again in further stirring adventures. What befell them after leaving Texas and how they acquitted themselves in scenes and situations as exciting and thrilling as any through which they have yet passed, will all be related in the next volume of this series, which will be called: УThe Border Boys in the Canadian Rockies.Ф
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