The Border Boys with the Texas Rangersñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“The kind of pitch he means is a location,” rejoined Walt Phelps. “Look, boys! there she comes. Well, that means that we don’t starve, anyhow.”
The others followed the direction of Walt’s gaze and saw a big lumbering vehicle drawn by eight mules approaching across the mesquite plain. It was roofed with canvas, and through this roof stuck a rusty iron stove pipe. From this blue smoke was pouring in a cloud.
“Talk about a prairie schooner. I guess that’s a prairie steamer. Look at her smoke–stack,” cried Ralph.
“Yes; and look at the captain,” laughed Jack, pointing to the yellow face and flying queue of a Chinaman, which were at this moment projected from the back of the wagon.
“That’s the cook,” said Walt Phelps, “I guess he’s been getting supper ready as they came along.”
A loud cheer went up from the Rangers as their traveling dining–room came into sight.
“Hello, old Sawed Off, how’s chuck?” yelled one Ranger at the grinning Chinaman.
“Hey, there! What’s the news from the Chinese Republic?” shouted another.
“Me no Chinese ‘public. Me Chinese Democlat!” bawled the yellow man, waving an iron spoon and vanishing into the interior of his wheeled domain.
“They call him Sawed Off because his name is Tuo Long,” chuckled Captain Atkinson, when he had directed the driver of the cook wagon where to draw up and unharness his mules, “but he’s a mighty good cook – none better, in fact. He’s only got one failing, if you can call it such, and that is his dislike of the new Chinese Republic. If you want to get him excited you’ve only to start him on that.”
“I don’t much believe in getting cooks angry,” announced Walt Phelps, whose appetite was always a source of merriment with the Border Boys.
“Nor I. But come along and get acquainted with the boys. By–the–way, you brought blankets and slickers as I wrote you?”
“Oh, yes, and canteens, too. In fact, I guess we are all prepared to be regular Rangers,” smiled Jack.
By this time the camp was a scene of picturesque bustle. Ponies had been unsaddled and tethered, and presently another wagon, loaded with baled hay in a great yellow stack, came rumbling up. The Rangers, who had by this time selected their sleeping places and bestowed their saddles, at once set about giving their active little mounts their suppers.
First, each man mounted on his pony barebacked and rode it down to the river to get a drink of water. To do this they had to ride some little distance, as the bluffs at that point were steep and no path offered. At last, however, a trail was found, and in single file down they went to the watering place.
The boys followed the rest along the steep path, Jack coming last of the trio. The trail lay along the edge of the bluff, and at some places was not much wider than a man’s hand. Jack had reached the worst part of it, where a drop of some hundred feet lay below him, when he was astonished to hear the sound of hoofs behind him.
He was astonished because, he had judged, almost everybody in the camp had preceded him while he had been busy inspecting the different arrangements.
He faced round abruptly in his saddle and saw that the rider behind him was Shorty.
It must have been at almost the same moment that, for some unknown reason, Shorty’s horse began to plunge and kick. Then it dashed forward, bearing down directly on Jack.
“Look out!” shouted Jack, “there’s only room for one on the trail. You’ll knock me off!”
“I can’t pull him in! I can’t pull him in!” yelled Shorty, making what appeared to be frantic efforts to pull in his pony. At the same time he kept the cayuse to the inside of the trail.
Jack saw that unless he did something, and quickly, too, his pony was likely to become unmanageable and plunge off the narrow path. But there was small choice of remedies. Already Shorty’s horse, which was coming as if maddened by something, was dashing down on him. Jack resolved to take a desperate chance. The others had by this time almost reached the bottom of the trail. As fast as he dared he compelled his pony to gallop down the steep incline. It was a dangerous thing to do, for the trail was too narrow to afford any foothold at more than a slow and careful walk.
Behind him, yelling like one possessed, came Shorty. Jack urged his mount faster.
“Goodness! I hope we get to the bottom safely!” he gasped out.
The words had hardly left his lips when he felt his pony’s hoofs slip from under him.
The next instant, amid a horrified shout from the men below, Jack and the pony went rolling and plunging off the trail down toward the river.
The last sound Jack heard was Shorty’s loud:
“Yip! yip! Ye–o–o–ow!”
WITH THE RANGERS
From below, where Jack’s companions had witnessed his fall with horrified eyes, it appeared almost impossible that he could escape without serious injury. But as his pony struck the ground at the foot of the cliff, amidst a regular landslide of twigs, rocks and earth, Jack succeeded in extricating himself from under the animal, and rolling a few yards he scrambled to his feet, unhurt except for a few slight cuts and bruises.
Ralph and Walt Phelps left their ponies and came running up to where Jack stood brushing the dirt from his garments.
“Hurt, Jack?” cried Ralph.
“No; never touched me,” laughed the boy; “and look at that cayuse of mine, I guess he isn’t injured, either.”
As Jack spoke he nodded his head in the direction of his pony, which had risen and was now galloping off to join its companions at the watering place.
“How did it happen?” demanded Walt. “We saw you coming down the trail quietly enough one moment, and at the next look, behold, you were riding like Tam o’ Shanter.”
Jack looked about him before replying. But he and his companions were alone, for the Rangers were too busy watering their mounts to bother with the boys once it had been seen that Jack was not hurt.
“I guess you were right when you said that Shorty had it in for me,” he remarked, turning to Walt Phelps.
“How do you mean?”
“Just this: Shorty was behind me on that trail. Suddenly his pony began to bolt. It was to avoid being forced from the narrow path that I spurred up my cayuse so as to keep ahead of him.”
“What do you think he meant to do?”
The question came from Ralph.
“It’s my opinion that he deliberately tried to get between me and the wall of the cliff and force me off the trail.”
“Gracious! You might have been killed.”
“Not much doubt that I’d have been badly injured, anyway. But Shorty miscalculated, and where I left the trail was further on and not so far to fall.”
“Why don’t you tell Captain Atkinson?”
“Why, I have nothing to prove that Shorty’s pony really didn’t get beyond his control.”
“Then you suspect that it was not really running away, but that he made it appear that he was unable to manage it?”
“That’s it exactly. However, let’s join the men. If I get a chance I want to examine Shorty’s horse.”
“What’s the idea in that?” asked Walt.
“You’ll see what my plan is if I get an opportunity to put it into execution,” was the reply.
The three boys, arm in arm, sauntered up to the group of Rangers. Some of them were now remounted, and two men had charge of the boys’ ponies, including Jack’s, which had joined its comrades. Shorty was still watering his animal, but when he saw the boys he came up to Jack with an outstretched hand, and every appearance of great affability.
“Say, Pard’ner,” he exclaimed, as if genuinely remorseful, “I hope you ain’t mad with me on ’count of that accident.”
“No; I never harbor a grudge,” responded Jack, with emphasis.
“That critter of mine jes’ nat’ly ran away from me,” pursued Shorty, in the same tone.
“And so that’s the reason you had to spur him till he bled,” flashed Jack, in a low tone. The boy had seized his opportunity to look over Shorty’s pony and saw at once that it had been cruelly rowelled.
Shorty went pale under his tan. His mouth twitched nervously.
“Why – why, you ain’t goin’ for to say I done it a–purpose?” he demanded.
“I’m not saying anything about it,” responded Jack; “all that I know is this, that I shall take care how I ride in front of you again.”
So saying the boy turned on his heel and walked toward his pony, followed by Walt and Ralph, who had witnessed the whole scene. Shorty gazed after them. His alarm had gone from his countenance now, and he bore an expression of malignant rage.
“Dern young tenderfoot cubs,” he growled to himself, relieving his feelings by giving his pony a kick in the stomach, “blamed interferin’ Mammy boys! I’ll l’arn ‘em a lesson yet. I’ll jes’ bet I will, and it’ll be a hot one, too. One they won’t forget in a hurry.”
But of Shorty’s fury the boys were ignorant, for they quickly mounted and clattered back up the trail with the rest of the Rangers. On their return to the camp, as soon as each little pony had been given his generous allowance of hay, they found that supper was ready, the Chinaman announcing the fact by beating on a tin dishpan and shouting:
“Come getee! Come getee!”
None of the Rangers needed any second invitation; nor did the boys need any pressing to make hearty meals. Bacon, salted beef, beans, hot biscuits and strong coffee formed the bill of fare. After the meal had been dispatched Captain Atkinson beckoned to Jack and his companions, and they followed him a little apart from the rest of the Rangers who were singing songs and telling stories around a big camp fire, for the night was quite chilly.
“Since you lads have joined us to learn all you can of the life of a Texas Ranger,” he said, “I think that you had better start in as soon as possible.”
“Right away if necessary,” responded Jack enthusiastically.
“That’s my idea,” struck in Walt Phelps.
“Can’t make it too soon for me, captain,” added Ralph, not a whit less eager than the others.
“Very well, then,” smiled the captain of the Rangers, “you will go on sentry duty to–night, and to–morrow I shall see that you have some other work assigned to you.”
“Do we – do we have to do sentry duty all night?” asked Ralph, in a rather dubious tone.
“No, indeed. That would never do. You must get your sleep. For that reason we divide the hours of darkness into regular watches. There are four of these. I shall assign you to go out with the first guard,” said Captain Atkinson to Jack, and then in turn he informed Walt Phelps and Ralph Stetson that their assignments would come with the second and third watches respectively.
Jack was all eagerness to begin, and when at eight o’clock he and six of the Rangers rode out of the camp toward the river his heart throbbed with anticipation of the duty before him. The men were in charge of one of their number named “Baldy” Sears. This Baldy was quite a character and had determined to give Jack a thorough testing out. As they rode out, the boy questioned “Baldy” eagerly about his duties, but didn’t get much satisfaction.
As a matter of fact, Baldy entertained quite a contempt for “Tenderfeet,” as he called the boys, and was rather annoyed at having to take Jack out and act as “school marm,” as he phrased it.
They reached the river by the same trail that they had descended to water their ponies earlier that evening. As it was still dusk they rode down it without accident. In fact, the Rangers hardly appeared to notice its dangers. Jack, however, wondered how it would be possible to descend it in the dark without mishap. But, then, he recollected the sure–footedness and uncommon intelligence of the average western pony, and realized that if given a loose rein, there probably was not a cayuse in the outfit that could not negotiate it without difficulty.
“Now, then,” said Baldy, when they reached the bottom of the path, “line up and I’ll give you your orders. You, Red Saunders, ride east with Sam, and Ed. Ricky, you and Big Foot ride to the west and keep patrolling. I’ll take the young maverick here with me. If any of you gets in trouble or wants assistance fire three shots. I reckon that’s all.”
The men rode off into the night, and then Baldy and Jack were left alone.
“Got a shootin’ iron with you, young feller?” inquired Baldy.
“A what?” returned Jack.
“Waal, if you ain’t the tenderfootedest of tenderfeets,” scoffed Baldy; “a shootin’ iron – a gun!”
“Why, no, I didn’t think it necessary to bring one,” rejoined Jack. “I don’t like carrying firearms unless they are needful. Do you think that anything will happen in which firearms would be useful?”
“Firearms is always useful along the Rio,” returned Baldy, “I dunno if the cap told you, but we’re here on special duty to–night.”
“Dangerous duty?” asked Jack.
“You can’t most gen’ally sometimes allers tell,” vouchsafed Baldy, examining the magazine of his rifle which he had taken from its saddle holster for the purpose.
“You mean that there is a chance of our being attacked?”
Jack put the question in rather an anxious tone. But for some reason Baldy only grunted in reply.
“I’m going back to camp to git you a gun,” he said; “you stay right here till I get back.”
“Very well, Mr. Baldy,” rejoined the boy, in as conciliatory a tone as possible.
“Don’t mister me. I ain’t got no handle to my name and don’t never expect to have,” grunted Baldy, as he swung his pony and rode off.
As Jack listened to the retreating hoof beats he felt strangely lonely. It was very dark down in the ca?on, and the steely blue stars seemed very far away. Only the rushing of the water of the river disturbed the boy’s thoughts while he awaited Baldy’s return.
“He’s not very lively company,” he admitted to himself, “but it’s better than being all alone. Wish Ralph or Walt had been ordered to share my watch.”
But the next moment he was scolding himself.
“For shame, Jack Merrill,” he said, “here’s the first bit of duty you’ve been put to, and here you are complaining already. It’s got to stop right here and now, and – hello, what was that?”
The boy broke off short, as through the darkness of the ca?on he caught an odd sound from the river.
“What can that sound be?” he said to himself. “It seems familiar, too. Where have I heard something like it before?”
Then all of a sudden it dawned upon him what the odd noise was.
It was the splash of oars. But what could a boat be doing on the river at that time of night, and in such a place? Jack was asking himself these questions when he became aware of some words being spoken at a short distance from him. He recognized the language instantly. The men who were conversing were talking in Spanish, of which tongue Jack had a fair working knowledge, as we know.
He was in the darker shadow of the ca?on wall and therefore, of course, quite invisible to whoever was on the river, and who had apparently come to a stop almost opposite to his station. He quickly slipped from his pony, and taking advantage of the brush that grew almost to the water’s edge, he crawled along on his stomach in the direction of the unseen men.
At last he gained a position where he could hear them quite distinctly, and could even see their figures bulking up blackly in the general gloom. But what they were doing he could not imagine, and when he finally did find out he received the surprise of his life.
Listening to their talk, Jack heard them speaking of Rosario, the leader of the insurgents in that quarter of the Mexican Republic, and apparently they were discussing some mission on which they had been dispatched.
He heard the Rangers mentioned, and then came some information that was new to him. The Federal troops of Mexico were hot on the heels of the insurgent army, and the rebels were planning to bring the coming battle on to American soil if possible, in order to force the interference of Uncle Sam.
Evidently the men knew of the presence of the Rangers in the locality, and, by listening, Jack soon learned that they were there acting as spies in order to find out how strongly the Border was guarded at that point. Finally they strode off cautiously into the darkness, apparently with the object of reconnoitering the vicinity.
This was Jack’s chance. Without a moment’s hesitation he made his way to the river bank and found that a large raft had been moored there. It was evidently on this that the spies had made their way down the stream from some point above. The raft was formed roughly of tree trunks, but appeared to be of stout construction. Some long oars for navigating it lay on the logs; but Jack, in his hasty search, could not see anything on board that might be of interest to Captain Atkinson.
He had just completed his examination and was preparing to go back on shore when something happened that changed his plans. As if by magic the figures of the men who had left the raft reappeared at the water’s edge.
At the same instant that Jack spied them the men became aware of the intruder on their raft. They did not dare to fire the weapons they carried, owing to the nearness of the Rangers; otherwise they would undoubtedly have done so. Instead, they made a simultaneous leap at Jack, the leader aiming a savage blow at him.
The boy dodged the man’s swing, springing backward on the raft. The contrivance had not been securely fastened to the bank. In fact, it had merely been tied carelessly up at the water’s edge. Jack’s sudden spring gave the raft a violent jolt. The current caught it and whirled it round as the strain came upon one side of it.
Before either Jack or the Mexicans exactly realized what had occurred, the raft was swept out into midstream, the current hurrying it along swiftly.
But Jack was not alone on the swaying, pitching craft. The Mexican who had aimed the blow at him had had one foot on the raft when Jack’s backward spring caused it to drift from the bank. By a desperate effort he had managed to maintain a foothold, and now he was crouching back on his haunches like a wild–cat about to spring, while in his hands gleamed a wicked looking knife.
Jack had just time to see this when the fellow, hissing out a torrent of Spanish oaths, sprang at him. Jack dodged the knife blow, and before the Mexican could recover his equilibrium the boy’s fist had collided with the lower part of the Mexican’s jaw.
The blow was a heavy one, and had landed fair and square. With a grunt of pain and rage the fellow reeled backward, almost pitching off the raft. But in a jiffy he recovered from his shock and rushed at Jack, snarling like a wild beast.
The boy realized that he was in for a fight for life, and in that moment he bitterly regretted the curiosity that had caused him to board the raft, although he had done it with the idea of performing a service for the Rangers. Now, however, he found himself facing a desperate situation.
Unarmed, and alone, he was on a drifting raft with an armed and singularly ferocious foe.
“Yankee pig!” snarled out the Mexican, as he flung himself at the boy.
Jack’s blood boiled at the insult. It acted as a brace to his sinking heart. As the man lunged at him the boy’s hand struck up the arm that held the knife and the weapon went spinning into the night. But the Mexican, a large man of uncommon strength and activity, did not cease his attack. He rushed at Jack as if to annihilate him.
This was just what Jack wanted. The angrier the Mexican was the worse he would fight, as Jack knew. He met the onrush with coolness, and succeeded in planting two good blows on the man’s body. But muscular as Jack was the blows appeared to have little effect on the Mexican. He tore in more savagely than ever.
Without his knife the Mexican was not much of a fighter. He knew nothing of the art of boxing, and Jack’s “gym” training stood him in good stead. At last, in one of the Mexican’s frantic rushes, Jack’s fist met the point of his chin with deadly effect. With a wild swinging of his arms the fellow reeled backward.
He would have fallen from the raft into the current had not Jack leaped forward and saved him. But the Mexican was a formidable foe no longer. Jack’s blow had effectually stunned him for a time, and as the boy saved him from pitching overboard he sank in a heap on the floor of the raft.
In the first opportunity he had had for observation of his situation since the raft had got loose, Jack looked about him. Then, for the first time, he realized that the rough craft was proceeding at an extremely swift rate. It was spinning round dizzily, too, as though caught in some sort of whirlpool.
Jack was still wondering how far they had come and what was to be the outcome of this odd adventure, when something happened that effectually put all other thoughts out of his head.
The air became filled with a roaring sound, and spray began to dash upon the floor of the raft. With a sharp thrill of alarm Jack recognized that the roaring sound was the voice of a waterfall, and that the raft was being swept toward it at lightning speed. He seized up one of the oars and attempted to head the raft for the shore. But the oar might have been a straw for all the effect it had against that rapid current.
All at once it snapped, almost hurling Jack overboard. The next instant raft, boy and unconscious man were swept into a vortex of waters. Jack felt himself falling through space. Simultaneously there came a crashing blow on his head. A million constellations seemed to swim before his eyes, and then, with a blinding flash of fire, his senses left him.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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