John Goldfrap.

The Border Boys with the Texas Rangers





Eh, hows that, young feller?

By a bottle of Epsom salts.

Say, see here, kid, it aint healthy ter git funny with yer elders in these hyar parts.

Its the exact truth, I assure you, declared Jack smilingly, quite ignoring the mayors frown. He went on to tell the full details of the fight, or rather the argument, and when he had finished not one of the assembled crowd was there that did not join in the laugh.

An how did you come to be hyar, young feller? asked the mayor at the conclusion of Jacks story. You beant a greaser.

No, but I have found that there are a few brave and clever men on the other side of the line, too, declared Jack.

Ther kids right, assented one or two in the crowd.

Jack then told as much of his adventures as he thought necessary, and at the conclusion the delighted mayor clapped him on the back so heartily that the breath was almost driven out of his body.

Ill give yer all ther liberty of Go long, he said, sweeping his hand back toward his little principality.

But the two Mexican officers were obliged to refuse the mayors hospitality. A short time after the Federal troops had departed with their prisoners of war the two airmen winged their way southward to their headquarters.

As for Jack, he had ascertained that San Mercedes was only twenty miles or so off, so he determined to hire a horse and ride over there early in the morning. That night he slept in a bed for the first time in many long hours, and with his anxieties cleared away and his heart light, his slumbers were deep and dreamless. He was awakened by the ubiquitous mayor, who was also the hotelkeeper. Incidentally, the pretty school teacher turned out to be his daughter. Her enthusiastic praises of Jack the night before had made the boy blush hotly, but that was nothing to his embarrassment a few moments later when the town band, consisting of a cornet and a drum, headed a procession to the hotel and he had been compelled to give a speech.

Jack felt glad on waking that all that was over, and that in a short time he would be on his way back to his friends in the camp of the Rangers. The town of Go long did not offer much in the way of a menu beyond blackstrap and hot cakes, beans, bacon and black coffee, but Jack made a hearty meal on these frontier delicacies, after which he was informed that his pony was at the door.

His landlord, whose name, by the way, was Jerry Dolittle, refused to take a cent from the boy, and told him that when the Rangers came that way next his old friend, Captain Atkinson, could return him the pony.

The greater part of the population of Go long had accompanied Jack about a mile on his way, but soon he was ambling along alone with a straight road in front of him. Naturally his mind was busy with speculations as to what had occurred in the camp during his long absence from it.

Good old Walt! Dear old Ralph! Wont they be glad to see me! he mused as he rode along across the plains; wont I be glad to see them, too! Gracious, what a lot we shall have to talk about! I wont blame them if they dont believe half of it.

I can hardly believe it myself sometimes, and thats a fact.

Between San Mercedes and Go long the rough road led through one of those peculiarly desolate ranges of hills common in that part of our country. As Jacks pony began to mount into the recesses of these gloomy, barren hills, the lad knew that he had come a dozen miles or so from the Go long hotel.

The road wound along the bottom of the steep, sandy gullies, which were in some places streaked gorgeously with strata of various colors, red, blue and bright orange. Above burned a sky of brilliant blue. It would have made a splendid subject for the canvas of an impressionistic painter.

Jack knew that somewhere within these hills he ought to meet the daily stage that ran between San Mercedes and Go long. At least, such had been the information given him before he set out from the latter place. He was quite anxious to see it, as on his lonely ride he had not encountered a human face. The solitary nature of the barren hills through which he was now riding depressed him, too, with a sense of remoteness and lonesomeness.

As Jack rode he commented to himself on the rugged character of the scenery. The road, which would have hardly been dignified with the name of a trail in the east, crawled along the side of the bare hills, in some places overhanging gloomy canyons.

This must be a dangerous place to drive a stage, thought Jack as he passed by a big rock and found himself traversing a bit of road which bordered the edge of a mountain spur, with a precipice on one side and a deep canyon on the other.

In fact, had the lad known it, that particular bit of road was reputed to be about the worst even in that wild land. Should the horses make a misstep on the trail, instant death to every occupant of the coach must result.

There were few drivers, even the most reckless, that cared to go at more than a snails pace over that stretch of road even with the quietest team. True, the passage had been made on one occasion at night, but that was for a wild and foolish bet and the authorities had put a stop to any more such practices. So that Jack was not far out when he mentally appraised that bit of road as being as dangerous and nasty a track to negotiate as he had ever seen; and Jack had seen a good deal of the wild southwest.

The boy had passed the dangerous bit of road and was jogging along in a deep divide between two ranges, when he was startled by a sudden sound right ahead of him.

It was unmistakably a shot.

A rifle shot, too, the boy judged. He spurred forward rapidly, not knowing well just what to expect when he should round a curve in the road just ahead.

It did flash into his mind that his landlord at Go long had spoken of the coach being held up occasionally, but Jack had placed little stock in the stories. In fact, he rather inclined to think that old Jerry was telling them with the idea of getting a rise out of a Tenderfoot.

Still, there were a few mines in that part of the country and occasionally gold was shipped through to Go long, which was not far from the main line of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

But Jack had only made a few paces forward on his quickened mount when three other shots rang out in rapid succession.

Now I am perfectly sure there is trouble on the trail ahead! exclaimed Jack to himself, urging his pony forward at a yet faster gait.

The idea of personal danger did not enter Jacks head, although the scene that he beheld as he swept round the curve on his galloping pony might well have alarmed an older hand than he.

Coming toward him at a hard gallop was the Go long coach. Its six horses were in a lather of perspiration, and the coach was swaying wildly from side to side.

From the top of the coach a fusilade was being fired at three men in pursuit of the vehicle. These latter appeared to be returning the fire with good will.

At almost the same moment that his eye took in these details Jack became aware that, besides the driver of the stage, there were three other occupants on the roof.

These were Captain Atkinson of the Rangers, Ralph Stetson and Walt Phelps.

As he perceived all this Jack drew his pony back on his haunches and waited whatever might turn up, for it was his determination to aid his friends.

CHAPTER XXI.
THE STAGE HOLDUP

Suddenly Jack saw the driver lurch forward in his seat. Perhaps he had been killed, perhaps he was only badly injured.

Instantly Jacks mind was made up. Snatching off his hat, he waved it about his head.

At the same time he turned in his saddle and yelled back down the trail, as if a numerous band was coming round the turn:

Come on, boys! Hurry up and well get them!

The pursuers of the coach stopped suddenly. Then they wheeled their ponies about and dashed off at top speed. Jacks ruse had succeeded. Evidently the highwaymen thought that a large body of horsemen was behind Jack. At any rate, they deemed it more prudent not to wait to find out.

But only one serious aspect of the situation was relieved by the abrupt departure of the highwaymen. The limp form of the coachman hung on the box, almost toppling off the seat. The lines had dropped from his hands and lay on the backs of the terrified wheelers. On they came, thundering at runaway speed, while Jack hesitated, his mind full of the thought of that dangerous bit of road that lay ahead.

He shouted up to his companions on the roof:

Hullo, boys! Im with you again!

There was a yell of joy. An answer to his hail came quickly.

Jack Merrill, by all thats wonderful!

Jack! How under the sun did he get here!

Its Jack on deck again as usual!

But Jack heard none of these joyous exclamations. He had turned his horse almost on its haunches, owing to the narrowness of the trail. In one swift flash of inspiration he had made up his mind as to the course he would pursue in checking the runaways.

He spurred his pony alongside the wheelers, crying out in as soothing a tone as he could:

Whoa, boys! Whoa, there!

But the terrified animals paid no attention to him, nor had he much expected that they would. He only spoke to them in order that he might not frighten them worse when he spurred his pony alongside them.

He might have ridden in front of them, but the risk of causing them to swerve and precipitate the whole coach from the trail was too great. The most dangerous part of the road lay about a mile ahead. If only he could check the team before they reached it, all might be well; if not well, Jack did not dare to think of what would be the consequences in such a case. Thus began a mad, dangerous ride, a ride of grave risk to the daring young Border Boy.

Of one thing he was thankful the pony under him was a surefooted, fast little beast, and perfectly broken, a rare thing in that part of our country. This made it possible for Jack to loop his own reins about the saddle horn and then, leaning out of the saddle, to seize the lines which the wounded driver had dropped.

This done, he began to pull gently on them, taking care not to terrify the runaways further by jerking on their bits. Bracing himself in his stirrups, Jack exerted a steady pressure on the reins, at the same time using every means he knew of to soothe the maddened beasts.

Good boy, Jack! Good boy! breathed Captain Atkinson from the roof of the coach, while he lifted the stricken stage driver to a place of safety. Boys, Jack will save us yet, he added, turning to his young companions.

You can bet on him every time, came admiringly from Ralph. Hell conquer them yet.

But had Ralph known of the danger place that lay not so far ahead now, he might not have been so confident.

Put on the brake! Jack shouted back over his shoulder as they tore along that dangerous trail.

Bless my soul! Why didnt I think of that? exclaimed Captain Atkinson.

Handing the driver over to the care of the boys, he clambered into the formers seat, and, placing his foot on the heavy Californiastyle brake, he jammed it down with all his force.

Good! cried Jack as the wheels screeched and groaned.

The horses appeared more terrified than ever at the racket made by the brake, but it was strong enough to check their speed perceptibly, struggle as they would.

A short distance further came a little rise, beyond which lay the dangerous spot that Jack dreaded. The rise completed what the brake had begun.

Theyre slackening speed, Jack! cried Captain Atkinson.

They are, indeed! hurled back Jack. I think Ill have them under control in a jiffy.

Jacks words came true, but none too soon. A few seconds more and they would have reached the curve, beyond which lay the bit of narrow road. A thrill ran through Jacks frame as he drew tight on the reins and felt the tired animals slow up to a trot and then, obedient to his voice, come to a halt, sweating and trembling, with distended nostrils.

Jack lost no time in riding round to the heads of the leaders and holding tightly on to them. But there was little fight left in the horses. Dragging the coach with its locked brake up that hill had thoroughly exhausted them; they seemed glad to rest.

Get out, boys! shouted Jack. Come and give me a hand to uncouple the traces. I dont think theyll run again, but we wont take chances.

In an instant Ralph Stetson and Walt Phelps had sprung to the ground and one on either side of the coach were running forward to help Jack complete one of the bravest tasks a boy ever set himself to perform.

Naturally, it was not till the horses were calmed down that they had a chance to talk. In the meantime the stage driver, whose name was Jed Hoster, had been revived and was found to be painfully but not seriously injured. He had been shot through the shoulder.

We are not going to relate all that took place at that odd reunion in the heart of the Ragged Range, as the barren hills were called. Every one of my readers can picture for himself what a confusion of tongues reigned as the boys all tried to talk at once, and relate their many adventures since last they had met.

After awhile the coach, with Captain Atkinson at the ribbons and Jack riding close alongside, was driven to a broad part of the road and then turned around, as San Mercedes was closer to the spot where the attack had occurred than was Go long.

Captain Atkinson told the boys that he had not the least idea who the men that made the attack could have been, but surmised that they must have possessed information that the coach was carrying a consignment of gold dust from a desert mine for shipment at Go long.

Had it not been for your smart trick, Jack, he declared, we should never have got off as easily as we did.

A sharp lookout was kept all the way back to San Mercedes for another sight of the wouldbe robbers. But nothing more was seen of them, and the return journey was made without incident. There was much rejoicing in the camp of the Rangers over the safe return of Jack, and even Shorty appeared to be glad that the boy had come unscathed through so many perils.

That was a gala night in camp. Songs and stories filled the time till far into the night. The three boys, who possessed remarkably good voices, sang several popular songs and were much applauded. At last they had to stop from sheer weariness.

Each lad was anxious to go out on duty along the Rio Grande that same evening, but Captain Atkinson sternly forbade them doing so.

You turn into your blankets and get a good sleep, he ordered. Ive got another job on hand for you tomorrow and I want you to be fresh when you tackle it.

Much mystified and not a little excited at these words, the boys obediently turned in and were soon sound asleep. They were astir bright and early the next morning just as the last patrol of the night was coming in, in fact. The night had been an eventless one, they learned, the rebels having given no sign of their presence.

Soon after breakfast Captain Atkinson approached the boys, who were polishing up their saddles and bits, accompanied by a tall, bronzebearded man, whose tanned skin and keen gray eyes bespoke him a dweller in the open places.

This is Mr. Lionel Reeves, the rancher, of whom you may have heard, he said. Mr. Reeves, these are the lads of whom I spoke to you.

I am sure you could not have picked better young fellows for the task you wish accomplished, spoke Mr. Reeves, shaking hands warmly with each of the boys in turn. By the way, do they know about it?

Not yet, rejoined Captain Atkinson, with a smile at the eager looks that three pairs of eyes turned on him.

CHAPTER XXII.
OFF ON A MISSION

Mr. Reeves lives on the Rio Grande about fifty miles from here, went on Captain Atkinson, while the boys listened eagerly, feeling that they were on the verge of some fresh adventure. He has, as you may know, one of the biggest cattle ranches in this part of Texas. Word has been brought to him that the rebel army of Mexico, which is hard up for food, has planned a raid on his ranch to drive off a band of cattle.

The boys nodded attentively, but as there was no necessity for speech they said nothing.

Now, then, continued the captain of the Rangers, most of his punchers are off on another of his ranges rounding up stock for shipment on a rush order. That leaves the Border ranch practically unprotected. Mr. Reeves is an old friend of mine, and has come to ask me for aid. I cannot spare any of my men, as I need them all to patrol this part of the river. I have offered, subject to your consent, of course, your services to Mr. Reeves. You will rank as Rangers yourselves while performing patrol duty at Lagunitas Rancho. Will you go?

Would they? The cheer that went up was more than ample evidence that the Border Boys fairly leaped at the chance. Captain Atkinson went on to explain that their duties would be to watch the cattle at night and instantly give the alarm if anything out of the way occurred.

But mind, he warned, with a half humorous look playing about his mouth, mind, you are not to get into any danger.

Oh, no, captain, chorused three voices in unison.

I am not so sure about that, rejoined Captain Atkinson. You Border Boys appear to have a remarkable faculty for getting into scrapes of all kinds.

But, then, we always get out of them again, struck in Walt Phelps quite seriously, at which both Captain Atkinson and Mr. Reeves and the boys themselves had to laugh.

Do we start right away? asked Walt anxiously.

No; not until tomorrow morning. Mr. Reeves, however, will go on ahead. I will give full instructions as to the road to take and there will be no chance of your being lost.

As if we couldnt find the road, whispered Ralph indignantly to Walt. That would be a fine thing for fullfledged Rangers to do, wouldnt it?

Soon after, Mr. Reeves said goodbye, as he had a long ride ahead of him and could not expect to arrive home much before midnight. The rest of that day the boys spent in getting their outfits ready. Baldy showed them how to do up their kits in real Ranger fashion. In the town the boys also procured for themselves Ranger hats and gauntlets, so that when the time came for their departure the next morning they were three as doughty looking Rangers as could have been found along the Rio Grande.

Goodbye, boys, were Captain Atkinsons parting words. Keep out of danger and remember that you are going on Rangers work as Texas Rangers.

We wont forget, called back Jack, with a hearty ring in his voice.

Solong! Yipyeeeee! yelled the Rangers.

Yip! Yip! shouted the boys.

Their three ponies bounded forward, and in a cloud of dust they clattered through the town and out upon the plains upon the trail for Lagunitas Rancho.

As they had a long trip before them, they did not ride fast after they had passed the town limits, but allowed their ponies to adopt that easy, singlefooted gait known all over the west as the cow trot. At noon they halted by some giant cottonwood trees to eat the lunch they had brought with them. Large clumps of bright green grass grew in great profusion all about, and the boys decided to let the ponies graze while they ate. They made a hearty meal, washing it down with water from their canteens. These canteens were covered with felt, which had been well soaked with water before leaving camp.

The evaporation from the wet felt as the hot sun struck it kept the fluid within the canteens fairly cool.

Gee whiz! I just hate to go out into the hot sun again, declared Walt Phelps, throwing himself down on the ground and luxuriating in the shade.

Same here, but weve got to be pressing forward if we are to go on duty tonight, declared Jack.

Thunderation! fairly shouted Ralph, do we have to go on duty tonight?

Why, yes. You didnt think we were going to Lagunitas for a vacation, did you? inquired Jack with a smile.

Nnno, stammered Ralph, looking rather shamefaced, but I thought wed have a rest before we started in.

I reckon Rangers do their work first and rest afterward. Isnt that the way, Jack? asked Walt.

I guess thats it, was the reply. But lets go and get the cayuses and saddle up.

Well, I suppose what must be, must be, muttered Ralph, with a groan at the idea of leaving the friendly cottonwoods.

The three lads rose to their feet and looked about them. To their dumbfounded amazement no ponies were to be seen.

Great Scott, what can have become of them? cried Jack.

Stolen, maybe, suggested Ralph.

How on earth could that be? No one came near while we were resting.

But they are not to be seen, objected Walt.

Why, yes, they are, cried Jack suddenly. Look, they are all lying down out yonder.

Gracious, they lie as if they were began Walt, when Ralph interrupted him with a sharp cry of:

Dead!

In a moment the boys were at the side of their little mounts. The animals lay stretched out as if they had not an ounce of life in their bodies. But their hearts could be seen beating, and their nostrils moved as the breath passed in and out; so it was quite evident that they were alive.





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