In a moment she had Hatrack turned, and was going back to where Bud was waiting for her.
"Bully for you, Stella," shouted Bud. "Yer rode a great race. Jest ez I wanted it run. Nobody couldn't hev done it better. I told yer ye'd win."
"That was too easy," laughed Stella. "I wish it had been four times as long."
"That makes it all the better."
"How much did I beat him?"
"A whole length."
"That ought to be enough."
"It was, but I'll bet a cooky they'll make a kick. These crooks always lay out to win, and won't race unless they can win. If they don't, they set up a cry of foul, or something of that sort."
"But they can't do that in this case, because I didn't foul him."
Stella became indignant at the very thought.
"Sure you didn't, but that won't keep those wolves from claiming some sort of a foul."
"You're not going to stand for it, are you?"
"Not in a blue moon. I've got the boys posted. Here comes Norris and his jockey back."
The old racing sharp walked up to Bud, leading Magpie.
"Well, Magpie's mine," said Bud, not giving the other a chance to speak first. "Sorry for your sake that you lost, Cap, but the fortunes of racing often turn unexpectedly, eh?"
"You haven't won," said the old man excitedly.
"Oh, I reckon we won, all right," answered Bud lazily, although there was an ugly gleam in his eye.
"No, sir, you didn't win fair. Thar wuz a foul at ther start. I see it, all right; I wasn't shore until I talked with my boy thar, an' he says as how ther young lady bumped him outer his stride jest ez they wuz gittin' off."
"Oh, no, you can't work me like that, Cap. They were five feet apart when the flag fell."
"I tell yer I see it with my own eyes. 'Twas a foul, an' I claim ther race, er it hez got ter be run over ag'in."
"Never, on yer life. The race goes to the young lady. But I'm not going to stand here and chew the thing over with you. It's up to the judges."
They all approached the judges' stand, where apparently a lively argument was in progress.
Ben and the big man who had been chosen by Norris were talking excitedly, and the other man was listening.
All about the stand an angry crowd of men was surging, all talking at once, so that nothing could be made out of the babel of shouts, except when some person with unusually good lungs made himself heard in a denunciation of one or the other riders.
Ted had joined the crowd, waiting for the arrival of Bud and Stella. Bud was walking by the side of Stella, whose face showed the disappointment she felt at not being declared at once the winner.
It was so evidently a job to steal the race from Hatrack that the leader of the broncho boys was both angry and disgusted.
"This is what you get for having anything to do with this mob of gamblers and thieves," he said to Kit, who was standing by his side.
"What's that you said, young feller?" said a man, edging up.
"I wasn't talking to you, my friend," answered Ted coolly.
"No, but you was talkin' at me," said the other.
"Why, are you a thief and a gambler?" asked Ted, with a lifting of his eyebrows that expressed a great deal that he did not say.
"I guess it's the other way around," answered the fellow, snarling.
"I don't see how you make that out."
"Well, I do. The gal bumped the rider o' Magpie."
"She did nothing of the sort. I stood beside the starter of the race, and I was nearer to the horses than you were, and if any one could see them I could. The horses were several feet apart when they started."
"Why, sure. You and your pals are interested in the bone heap that went in first through a foul."
"That will be about enough of that."
A bright red spot burned on each of Ted's cheeks, the danger signal of his wrath.
"Now, see here, young fellow, you can't throw any bluff into me," said the fellow, approaching Ted with one shoulder raised.
"You let him alone. He's all right, and has got as much right to talk as you have," said another man, elbowing his way up.
He was one of those who had bet on Hatrack, and Ted recognized him as the foreman of the Running Water horse ranch.
"Well, the gal stole the race fer these fellers, an' we ain't goin' ter stand fer it. They needn't think they kin bring any o' their gals in here to do their dirty work. They all look alike to us."
"See here," said Ted coolly, "let me give you a piece of advice. Leave the young lady out of it, or I'll give you something else to think about for a while."
"Rats fer you," said the fellow, snapping his fingers under Ted's nose.
He picked himself from the ground ten feet away, wiping his bleeding nose and wondering what had happened to him.
"Say, boy," said the foreman of the Running Water, "that was as pretty and clean a blow as ever I see. You can handle them mitts o' yours right handy."
A score of men had rushed up and surrounded Ted and Kit, all shouting and gesticulating at the same time.
Meantime, Ben was having his troubles in the judges' stand.
He had, of course, decided in favor of Hatrack, while the big man had declared for a foul and no decision, and the third judge stood wavering.
On the face of it the whole thing was a steal on the part of the gamblers, who had evidently decided beforehand that if the race went against them to claim a foul and bluff it through.
But they had argued without their host. They did not know what they were opposing when they ran against Ted Strong.
Ted was sorry that he had gone into the affair at all, but once in he was there to stick to the finish. The fellow whom he had knocked down had retired to the rear to attend to his broken nose, and to give his friends an opportunity to fight his battle.
The foreman of the Running Water had disappeared. He had foreseen trouble when the gamblers got together, and attempted to force the race through, and had gone to collect the cow-punchers and others who had been induced to bet on Hatrack.
Ted stood his ground patiently, waiting until a decision should be handed down by the judges before declaring himself.
Stella was sitting in her saddle on Hatrack a few feet away from the stand watching the proceedings, and listening to the arguments on both sides made by the angry men.
Bud and Kit stood on either side of her, to protect her from the remarks of the disgruntled gamblers.
Suddenly a man pushed his way through the throng, mounted on a Spanish mule.
He was a fine-looking man, dressed after the manner of the plainsman, and might have been either a cow-puncher in prosperity or a ranch owner.
As the crowd made way for him he caught sight of Bud, and stopped and stared for several moments without speaking.
Bud had not noticed him, but when he did look up he returned the stare, and his forehead was wrinkled in thought.
Somewhere in the back part of his head he carried a picture of this man, but under different circumstances.
Who could he be, and where had he been met, were the things that were puzzling Bud.
"Hello, pard, you don't seem to place me," said the man on the Spanish mule. "But I haven't forgotten you by a dern sight. Think hard."
"I've saw yer som'er's," said Bud thoughtfully, "but it wa'n't like this. You're som'er's in my picture gallery o' faces, but yer ain't ther same as when I saw yer last."
"Right ye are," said the man. "How's Chiquita getting along?"
"Ah, I've got yer now. How did yer come out? Middlin' well, ter jedge from ther mule yer ridin', an' yer ginral appearance o' prosperity."
"You bet I be," said the man, "an' if it hadn't been fer you I wouldn't have been nowhere. I've come a long ways ter hunt yer up, ter thank yer, an' to get better acquainted with yer."
"Well, ye've got me inter a heap o' trouble," said Bud, laughing.
"So I see, an' I'll help yer get out o' it. What seems ter be the trouble?"
"Well, old Chiquita, er Hatrack, ez ther boys in ther outfit calls him, won a race just now, an' ther gamblers won't stand by it. They sent out word that Hatrack was a sure winner, an'—"
"Same old thing. Chiquita fooled them all."
"I didn't know he could do it myself, but I remembered what you said about him, an' when an ole maverick come along an' banters me fer a race I jest took him up, an' this is how it come out. He took us fer a bunch o' gillies, an' used us to try to fleece the people."
"What's his name?" asked the man on the Spanish mule softly.
"Oh, ole Pap Norris, eh? Calls hisself Cap now, does he?"
"That's what he does, an' he's a derned ole skin."
"None skinnier. But where is he? I should like to see him."
"He's sashayin' around here som'er's attendin' ter his dirty work. Lookin' after his grandson, little Willie, I reckon."
"What, is that thief still hangin' on to him?"
"Yes. I see you seem to know him."
"Know him! Well, I should gurgle I do know him. I thought every hoss man in the country knew him. Little Willie, the orphaned grandson, is almost old enough to be a grandfather himself. He's an outlawed jockey, an' he an' Pap go about the country skinning countrymen and cow-punchers with his fake races. He never won a square race in his life. I should say I did know him. Here he comes now. Watch me wake him up."
The old fellow was bustling up to the crowd.
"See here, young fellow, get ther gal offen that hoss, he's mine, er as good as mine in a moment. The jedges are goin' ter award ther race ter me on account o' ther foul," he shouted to Bud.
"I reckon ther hoss stays right with me," said Bud smoothly. "But I want ter tell yer thet yer better bring in that magpie hoss so's I kin git him quick. He ain't yours no more."
"Come, come! None o' yer foolishness with me," blustered the old man. "Git ther gal off before she's pulled off."
"You or any other man put your finger on thet young lady if yer dare," said Bud. "Jest try it once if yer think I'm bluffin', men."
"Hello, Pap," said the man on the Spanish mule. "Up ter yer ole tricks, I see."
The old man looked up at the man on the mule, then turned pale and slunk away without another word.
"Men," said the man on the mule, addressing the crowd, "you've been stung. This old bag o' bones is Chiquita, the best race horse ever produced in Mexico, an' I brought him over here, where I traded him for a plain cayuse an' gave something ter boot. If any o' you men know anything about hosses ye'll recognize ther great Chiquita, what made an' lost more money fer ther people o' Mexico than any one other thing. Pap didn't know it until he see me, then he suddenly remembered a little deal me an' him was in. I know this Magpie hoss well, an' it couldn't stand no more show of winnin' a race from Chiquita than a snail would. Take it from me that ye've been caught at yer own game, an' have been done."
At the name of Chiquita a groan went up from the gamblers.
"And who are you?" asked Bud.
"Come nearer, an' I'll tell you in your ear," was the reply.
Bud went close to him, and the man stooped in his saddle and whispered a word in his ear, at which the old cow-puncher looked startled, then burst into a fit of laughter.
TED'S GREAT VICTORY.
"I tell you I'll never stand for it."
The voice of big Ben Tremont could be heard roaring above the noise made by the crowd around the judges' stand.
"It's a go. The race goes to Magpie on a foul."
The big man in the stand made this announcement in a voice of thunder.
"Bully for you, Shan Rhue!" yelled the gamblers, crowding to the stand in a body.
At the same moment Bud caught Hatrack by the bridle and led him out of the crowd, for he knew what was impending.
"I say it don't go," shouted Ben. "This man, who is in league with that old crook, Norris, declares a foul. I say there was no foul."
"How does the other judge go?" called a voice.
"He declines to give a voice in the matter," answered Ben.
"Throw the coyote down here, and we'll help him make up his mind," called the foreman of the Running Water. "If he's too much of a coward to decide for the right, we'll help him. Throw him over."
The foreman of the Running Water was a formidable-looking man.
He was tall and sinewy, with a seamed and scarred face, a map of many battles with the elements, the wild animals of mountain and plain, and with his fellow men.
He was heavily armed, and the town gamblers knew him for a bad fighter when he was aroused.
"Stick fer ther big show," he said to Ted, who was standing beside him. "I've got the boys bunched back there on the edge of the crowd. When it comes to a show-down we'll all be here. But it's no place fer wimmin an' children."
"I don't want to get into a fight if we can help it," said Ted.
"Yer ain't afraid o' these cattle, aire ye?" asked the foreman, looking at Ted curiously, but with a shade of disappointment in his eyes.
"Not for a minute," said Ted, throwing a straight glance into the other's eyes. "There's nothing to be afraid of, that I can see. But what's the use if we can get at it in some other way?"
"Well, I reckon yer right, bub," said the other slowly. "Some one is shore liable ter git hurt. But I'd sooner see ther whole crowd hurt than have this bunch o' thieves git away with their game."
"They won't do that. Never fear."
The crowd was now watching the men in the judges' stand.
Evidently Ben and Shan Rhue were wrestling in spirit with the third judge, who was still wavering. He knew that the right was with Ben, but he was afraid of the big bully Shan, and the gamblers, who were most in evidence.
He did not know that the cow-punchers and the townspeople who had bet on Hatrack were being organized on the outskirts of the crowd, and that Kit and Clay and the other broncho boys were with them to direct them to the attack when it might seem necessary to assert their rights.
Suddenly there was a roar from the crowd. Shan Rhue had struck Ben Tremont a staggering blow. They heard Ben let out a roar like a wounded bull, as he threw the great bulk of his body upon the man who had struck him.
Now they were wrestling, and the frail stand in which they were, fifteen feet above the ground, swayed with their struggle.
"Kill him!" shouted the gamblers.
"Throw him down here!"
"Let us finish him!"
"Stay with him, Shan!"
These and other cries and threats were shouted by the mob. But Ted Strong said nothing. He was watching the struggle intently and quietly.
He had no fear but that Ben would be able to hold his own. His great strength hardly matched that of Shan Rhue, who was a giant, and the most feared man in the Wichita Mountains. But Ben was more than his match in wrestling skill, and, moreover, he was younger and more supple for all his bulk, and his work on the football gridiron when in college had taught him tricks of the tackle of which the big bully did not dream.
He had a hold on the bully now, and was gradually forcing him backward toward the frail railing that inclosed the floor of the stand.
Ted saw his intention. It was to throw Shan Rhue against the railing, then spring away. Rhue evidently divined the same thing, for he struggled with all his force against it, striking Ben in the ribs and occasionally in the face.
But his blows were not very effective, as Ben had him caught so closely that his blows lost their power. Thus the struggle went on for a few moments. Then, when it was least expected, there was a crash of breaking wood.
A yell went up from the crowd as it surged back, and the gigantic body of Shan Rhue came hurtling through the railing, which went into splinters from the impact of his bulk.
Shan Rhue grasped at the air, as with a roar he went over. He turned a complete somersault as he descended and landed on his shoulders. For a moment he lay quivering, half stunned.
There was dead silence in the crowd and none dared go to his assistance. But presently the bully sat up and passed his hand over his eyes. With a roar of pain and rage he sprang to his feet and looked around.
The nearest person to him was the leader of the broncho boys, who stood on the edge of the crowd, alert and smiling. Ted knew that it meant fight now.
He was convinced that Ben was in the right, but right or wrong, Ben had started it, and it was now up to the broncho boys to see that their side did not get the worst of it.
Realizing that Ted was an enemy, Shan Rhue made a rush at him. Those beside Ted turned and ran. But Ted did not move. He only stood a little tenser.
It took but a moment for the bully to cross the distance that lay between him and Ted. His rush was like that of a bull, and as irresistible. But Ted did not propose to take the brunt of it. He knew several tricks better than that.
As Rhue was about to launch himself upon Ted, the latter stepped lightly aside. So sure was Rhue of landing on Ted and bearing him to the ground that he had leaped into the air, and, finding nothing to stop his progress, was overbalanced. A sweep of Ted's foot completed it, for the legs of the bully were swept from under him, and he went to the sod on his face with a crash that seemed to shake the earth.
Like an eagle upon its prey, Ted was on the back of the bully. The crowd shouted like mad, eager to go to the rescue of their champion. But Ted heard the voice of the foreman of Running Water high above the din.
"It's the boy's fight, an' any man that breaks through the line will get a ball from my forty-four plumb through him. Stand back, you cattle!"
"Let 'em go, fellers. Shan will kill him in a minute," shouted one of the gamblers.
Shan Rhue had been badly shaken up by the jolt that had been his when he struck the ground. For several moments he did not stir, and Ted thought he had been knocked out.
Many of the men in the crowd knew things about Shan Rhue which Ted did not.
Rhue was considered the strongest man in the Southwest at that time. He was barely forty years old, in the prime of his life, and a man who had never dissipated. But he was a thoroughly bad man for all that, and the number of men whom he had killed had been forgotten.
His feats of strength were the talk of barrooms and bunk houses. He had been seen many times to break horseshoes with his hands, and as for bending a bar of iron by striking the muscles of his forearm with it, that was one of his ordinary tricks.
But the thing of which he was proudest was his ability to buck a man off his back. In this feat he barred none, no matter how heavy. He would get on his hands and knees, place a surcingle around his body under his arms for his rider to hold on by, and then proceed to buck.
It would seem impossible for a man to stick to him under such circumstances, and no one had been found yet who could do so.
Thus it was that those of the crowd who had witnessed this feat sometimes in a fight, and more often in friendly contest, looked to see Ted sailing through the air, and then the finish, for Shan Rhue was a merciless enemy.
Ted was now straddling the prostrate bully, who was breathing heavily, his body heaving as his lungs tried to get back into commission.
Presently he was all right again, and, feeling a weight upon him, shook himself. This not having the effect of relieving him of his burden, he twisted his head around and saw Ted sitting on him.
With a growl like a wounded bear he slowly lifted himself to the height of his arms, then slowly rose to his knees.
"By golly, he's goin' ter buck him off," shouted one in the crowd.
"Look out fer some fun, lads," cried another.
"He'll kill ther kid sure," said a third.
In a moment Ted realized what was coming off. The hold he had on the back of Shan Rhue was none of the most secure at best, but he got a clutch on the fellow's shirt under the arm, just back of the armpits, and he felt that he had in his fingers great bunches of the bully's muscles.
By the merest chance he had secured the only hold by which he could hope to stick to the giant's back. Then the fun began. Shan Rhue plunged back and forth, sideways and up and down.
The movement was incessant. He reared and pitched, and, having cunning and intelligence, he was able to distinguish when Ted's seat was least secure and take advantage of it.
Ted had ridden many bucking bronchos, but Shan Rhue beat any of them in the surprises which he furnished. But Ted stuck grimly to him.
He knew that if the bully succeeded in throwing him off his life would not be worth a rushlight, for Shan was a rough fighter and would not hesitate to kick him brutally, if he did not shoot him to death before the boys could come to his assistance.
Thus the struggle went on for several minutes, Shan doing his utmost and Ted hanging on. But the big fellow was getting winded by his exertions.
He was not in the best condition, for all his tremendous power. He was going fast, and Ted was badly shaken up and out of breath, also. If Shan held out a few minutes longer Ted must be thrown, for his hold on the muscles under his antagonist's arms had begun to loosen, and he dared not let go for an instant to get a fresh grip.
It was close to the finish, and the crowd knew it.
"He's goin', Shan. A few more will finish him," shouted the gamblers.
"Stick to him, Ted. He's almost in," cried the boys.
Ted took heart at this, although his body was racked with pains, caused by the innumerable wrenchings to which it had been subjected.
Suddenly Shan Rhue was all in. His body flattened out upon the ground, and he lay there panting laboriously. Ted sprang to his feet gasping. Thus for a few minutes both remained, amid intense silence from the crowd.
Shan Rhue's body was heaving painfully. It was evident that he had never had before a struggle like this.
Little by little he recovered, but Ted's recovery was quicker than that of the man. His youth and strength were responsible for this.
But finally Shan Rhue was himself again, and suddenly he leaped to his feet and glared around. His eyes fell upon Ted, and he looked him up and down in a sort of amazement.
Had this stripling accomplished what older and stronger men had failed in?
Shan Rhue could hardly believe it, but it took some of the conceit out of him at that. However, his anger at Ted had not been in the least assuaged by the fact that the first honors had gone to this youth who now stood watching him with a smile on his lips, but with the light of battle in his eyes.
With a sneer Shan Rhue rushed at Ted. This time he would annihilate him.
But Ted was crouching, awaiting him. His muscles were like steel springs. His breath had come to him again, and he was ready to fight for his life, for it had come to that now. Suddenly there was a smack, sharp and clear in the silence that hung over the crowd.
Shan Rhue staggered back on his heels. The blow from Ted's fist had struck him fairly below the eye. Before he could recover Ted was upon him like a panther.
One, two, three, blows fell with a sharp, sickening sound upon the face and throat of the famous Shan Rhue, as he lurched backward, vainly trying to defend himself.
His body went to the earth with a crash, and he lay there moaning and quivering, beaten, discredited, and no more the hero, for he had been conquered by a boy.
KIT MAKES A CAPTURE.
Shan Rhue lay prostrate for a long time, but no one went to his assistance. As he fell the gamblers raised a shout, and made a motion to attack Ted.
But the foreman of Running Water sprang in front of them, and as if by magic the broncho boys and the cow-punchers and other supporters of Hatrack were by his side.
Ted had leaped to the fore and was standing shoulder to shoulder with the foreman of Running Water. He heard a ripple of laughter, and looked up to see Stella standing by his side.
"Bully for you, Ted," she said. "You did that fine."
Ted smiled back at her, then turned his eyes upon the surprised and angry gamblers. There was something there that demanded all his attention. The gamblers only needed a leader to make them a dangerous proposition.
But their leader was down and out by reason of a few neat and handy blows, and none other had the courage to come to the front. It was the psychological moment.
Ted Strong took advantage of it. Without a moment's hesitation, he stepped in front of the foreman of Running Water, who moved back to give him the place of vantage.
Ted had not even taken his six-shooter from its holster, but stood with his hands resting lightly on his hips, while his eyes roved inquiringly over the menacing crowd.
"Any of you gentlemen like to have some of the same sort of medicine?" he asked, nodding toward the prostrate Rhue.
There was no reply.
"Because if any of you would, I, or any of my friends, will be glad to accommodate you," he added.
An ominous growl came from some one back in the crowd.
"Would you like some of it?" asked Ted, turning suddenly in that direction.
He waited for several moments for an answer, but none came.
"Now, you fellows, I want to say that this incident is closed," said he firmly. "You are beaten every way from the jack, as you would say. You put up this race to skin innocent parties, and you thought to use my friends for your purposes, and have failed. The face was fairly won by our horse, and that goes. If any man doubts it, I will prove it to him by any means he wishes, from fists up to howitzers. You have made a lot of fools of yourselves by allowing an old crook like Norris to play in with you. I haven't a bit of sympathy for you. I'm glad you lost your money, and I'd feel gladder if you all went broke. This is the end of this adventure. Where's Norris? We want that magpie horse which we won."
The men dispersed after this speech, which closed with a ringing cheer from the broncho boys and the cow-punchers and other friends of Hatrack.
But Norris could not be found. He and the horse and the jockey had disappeared. Ted rounded the boys up, and all were present except Kit.
"Where's Kit?" he asked.
"Don't know," said Bud. "He was around here a few minutes ago. Reckon he's somewhere about."
The crowd having dispersed uptown, a search was made for Kit, but he could not be found.
"I wonder if some of that gang hasn't got square with us by some foul play on Kit," said Ted. "It would be like the coyotes. Kit was the smallest of the lot, and naturally the cowards would pick him."
"Kit's small, all right," said Stella stoutly, for she and Kit were great friends, and Stella was always one to stick up for those she liked. "If they pick Kit for his size, and think they have got an easy thing, they will find that they have gathered up a red-hot Chile pepper. He'll give them the hottest fight they ever had, as long as he lasts."
"Hurray fer you, Stella," exclaimed Bud. "You speak for fair. Kit's not much on size, but he's a whirlwind."
Shan Rhue was slowly getting on his feet. His broad, brutal face was badly discolored where Ted's fists had come in contact with it.
One of his eyes was bloodshot and rapidly taking on a green-and-purple hue, and his upper lip stuck out like an overhanging roof. As he looked around and saw that the broncho boys were alone, and that he had been left to recover as best he might by those whom he had called his friends and supporters, he growled deep in his chest.
"The skunks," he muttered, between his swollen lips. "They'd make me fight an' steal fer them, an' then leave me in the hole, would they? Well, I'll make them hump fer this."
Then he looked unsteadily at Ted out of his good eye, as if he was wondering how it all had happened. But while his glance was not as belligerent as it had been, still there was nothing but hatred in his expression.
Ted eyed him back fearlessly, but this time his hand rested upon the handle of his revolver, and Stella, by his side, was on the alert also. Shan Rhue was not one to be trusted, especially after he had met defeat. After staring for a moment he spoke.
"I reckon yer beat me fair, young feller," he said, "although I don't know yet how yer did it. But I want ter say ter yer now that this ain't the end, by no means."
"That's all right," said Ted easily. "You keep out of my way, and you will be all right."
"I go where I please, an' do what I please, an' ask ther right o' no man," retorted Shan Rhue truculently.
"All right, go where you please, but don't run afoul of me," said Ted sharply. "I don't want to have anything to do with such cattle as you, and I don't propose to. Keep off my trail if you know when you're well off. This is a friendly tip—take it or leave it."
"I don't want none o' yer tips," growled Shan Rhue. "Ye've beaten me, an' I hate yer. Look out fer me next time, that's all."
"Yes, that's all. Skidoo! You're not pretty to look at."
Ted turned his back upon the defeated bully, but Stella did not, and had Shan Rhue made a motion toward his gun there would have been one with a pearl handle and trimmed with silver in commission in an instant.
With a long, malignant look after Ted, the bully turned and hobbled slowly from the fair grounds.
"I'm going to start on the trail of Norris," said Ted. "Want to come along, Stella?"
"You bet I do," said the girl. "Wait till I catch my pony."
"Ben, you and Bud ride through the town and see if you can't get on to the movements of that old rip Norris, also, and look out for Kit. If we don't get Norris, and make him give up that magpie pony, our work has not been half done. As long as we have won out all around, we might as well have the fruits of our victory," said Ted.
"What'll we do to ther coyote?" asked Bud.
"Part his coat tails and give him a good, swift kick," answered Ted. "But don't get into any fights with these town gamblers. We can't afford anything of that sort, you know."
"All righty; but I'd shore like ter git a crack at some o' them mavericks," said Bud grudgingly.
"They're all licked in their minds already," said Ted. "Of course, they're sore at losing their money, and if a dozen or more of them were to tackle you, you'd have a hard time getting away with it. When the fight comes off, if ever it does, we all want to be in on it."
They parted, and Ted and Stella rode into the town.
"Say, friend, have you seen anything of that old skin Norris?" asked Ted, meeting one of the Running Water outfit on the street.
"Yep. I wuz jest goin' ter look yer up an' post yer," was the reply.
"Which way did he go, or is he still in town?"
"Jest after yer put ther finish onto Shan—an', say, that wuz a beaut, if any one should ask you—I see Norris an' ther jock makin' fer ther gate, leadin' ther magpie bronc. I thinks they're goin' ter put him in ther corral fer yer, an' didn't pay much 'tention ter him."
"Then he's up at the corral?"
"No, he ain't. He's foggin' along to'rds ther Wichita Mountains as fast as he kin go."
"How do you know?"
"I met one o' our outfit a bit ago, an' he was sore because yer let ther old feller git away with ther magpie, after yer won him fair. Yer see, he thinks ye flunked on collectin' ther pony."
"Not on your life. We don't do business that way."
"That's what I was thinkin', so I ast him whichever way ther ole man was headin'. He says inter ther east, tickity-brindle."
"Right out ther east end o' ther main street."
"Thank you, pard."
"Yer almighty welcome. Good luck. If yer ketch up with ther coyote, bring him in an' let us have a good squint at him."
"Oh, I'll bring him in, all right, if I get him."
"So long! Come on, Stella, we'll have to kick dust if we're going to connect with that old party."
They dashed down the street, followed by an equal mingling of smiles and frowns. Smiles from the cow-punchers and townspeople whose champion he had been, and frowns from the gamblers.
But they saw neither, for they were intent upon their business. They made a mighty handsome couple as they dashed along, for they were well mounted and both were perfect riders.
Many a young girl walking along the street looked enviously after Stella, and wished she could ride as well and was as beautiful. And many a lad looked after his ideal of a hero of the West, dashing and brave Ted Strong, who had so lately vanquished the bully who had been feared of all men, and who could ride like a centaur, and shoot perfectly.
It did not take long for them to clear the town, and dash out onto the prairie road which led into the Wichita Mountains.
They did not spare their horses, for Ted knew that if Norris once succeeded in reaching the mountains it would be almost impossible to find him among the many fastnesses and deep and rough canons which abound in those most picturesque hills and peaks.
While Ted knew the Wichita Mountains well, he was also aware that even the most expert scout did not know all about them, and that there were places in them that had never been explored, unless, perhaps, by renegade Indians and white outlaws, with which the mountains had at times been infested.
They had ridden an hour or more when Ted pulled in his pony.
"No use riding our ponies to death the first heat," he said to Stella, with a smile.
"My cayuse is good for another hour," said Stella; "I can tell by the way he's going under me."
"Yours would last because you're such a light and easy rider. You take weight off a pony. But I'm a good deal heavier, and I can feel this fellow tiring, although he'd go until he dropped in his tracks if I'd let him."
They walked their ponies over the springy sod beside the road, which was becoming fainter the farther they got from the town. In the distance they could see the mountains, a dark mass against the sky.
"Some one on the road," said Stella, pointing ahead.
"It is a little hazy. Dust, I guess," said Ted. "I think we better hit it up a bit. Perhaps it is Norris and his precious 'grandson,' and if it is we'll get to them before they get to the mountains."
They put their ponies, at a lope, and seemed to be catching up with the dust cloud rapidly. Soon they were able to distinguish two riders.
"By Jove, I believe we are on the right track," said Ted.
Stella's bright eyes had been watching the riders in front of them for some time.
"Ted, it's not Norris. There are two riders, one behind the other, and they are coming this way," she said.
Ted reined in his pony, and took a long look.
"You're right, Stella," he said. "But, perhaps, we can get some news of the fugitives from them."
Again they spurred forward.
"Ted, that's Kit, as sure as you live," cried Stella, "I'd know him anywhere."
In a few minutes they were within hailing distance, and Ted gave the long yell, which was answered, and in a few minutes they were reining in beside Kit. Behind him, securely bound to the back of Magpie, was old man Norris, who looked very crestfallen.
"Hello, Kit, you rascal, I see that you got him," said Ted.
"You bet, and a merry chase I had after him," answered Kit.
"Why, Kit, what's the matter with your arm?" cried Stella.
Kit's arm was hanging by his side, and his coat sleeve near his shoulder was stained with blood.
"Shot!" answered Kit laconically.
"Bad?" asked Stella anxiously.
"Not so very. Just touched the bone. But it has been bleeding like the deuce."
"Ted, take charge of the prisoner. Kit, get off that horse and let me see that wound."
Stella's commands were promptly obeyed, and Kit groaned slightly as Stella helped him off with his coat and cut away his sleeve. He had received a nasty flesh wound near the shoulder, made by a ball of large caliber, which had passed clear through.
As soon as she had washed the wound with water from Ted's canteen, and had bound it up, Kit felt much more comfortable.
"How did it happen?" asked Stella.
"I heard that the old man and the jockey had made a sneak from the grounds when Ted was having his fun with the big fellow, and I got my bronc and followed them. I came up with them a ways back, and made the old duffer halt, but the jock potted me and got away. That's all."
KIT'S TROUBLESOME PRISONER.
"Kit, you're the most reckless boy I ever knew," said Stella, as he climbed into his saddle with some effort, for his arm was stiff and swollen, and it was all he could do to keep from groaning with every jump of his pony.
"What in the world made you start after them alone?" asked Ted.
"Well, you were busy with the big bully, and, although I felt certain that you would get the best of him in the end, I thought it wouldn't be good policy to take any of the boys with me, in case there should be a general fight. I know you would need all the fellows."
"Well, but, dog-gone you, you ought to have taken some one," said Ted. "How did you know but the old man and the jockey were not dangerous fellows? Men in their business are generally bad actors when it comes to a scrimmage."
"Oh, I thought I could handle them," laughed Kit. "And I could, too, only I got careless, and let that jockey get the drop on me. The old man knuckled under gracefully when I presented my card."
"Did you get the old man after you were shot?"
"Yes. You see, this was how it was: I got sight of them a short ways ahead of me. They were evidently saving their horses, for they were traveling slowly."
"Didn't they get next that they were being followed?"
"I don't think so. They saw only one rider, and I suppose they thought that if they were pursued at all it would be by several men, and they were confident that with their horses they could run away from anything we had except Hatrack."
"It's a wonder they didn't light out quick."
"I think they figured to save their horses until they were sure they were being followed."
"Then what happened?"
"I saw them look back at me several times, but they did not hit up their speed any."
"Were you fogging along pretty fast?"
"Not so very. You see, I didn't want them to think that I was on their trail. I went just fast enough to overtake them gradually. If they had got on to me they would have been out of sight before I could gather up my reins."
"Foxy Kit," said Stella.
"And they let you come right up with them?" asked Ted.
"Yep. I was right up on them before they got on to me."
"They recognized you, eh?"
"They did when I was about twenty feet away. Then I heard the old man holler, 'It's one o' them dern broncho boys.'"
"And then what?"
"Well, you see, I didn't have my gun out, and, as he says that, the jockey pulls and fires one shot, which landed in my arm. Then, before I can reach around and get my gun out with my left hand, he gets away. But the action was too quick for the old man, and he sat still until I had him covered, when I had sent a couple of balls after the jock to make him hit up the pace a bit."
"The old man was easy, eh?"
"Easiest kind. But he might have got away from me if he had the nerve."
"Well, Kit, you did a great stunt. I'm mighty glad you landed the old coot. But I don't know what to do with him now that we have him."
"Well, we better take him to town, anyway. He'd get lost if we turned him loose out here. Let his friends take care of him, when he gets there."
"All right; let's move on."
Not much was said as they made their way back to town. Old man Norris did not open his mouth, but looked dejected and sad, as if he was brooding over what would happen to him when he arrived at his destination. He was plainly uneasy, and probably wished they would turn him loose.
When they were within a mile of the town they saw a cloud of dust approaching them rapidly, and watched it curiously. It was a horseman, fogging along at a rapid pace.
Finally out of the dust emerged Bud Morgan, and as he came abreast of them he pulled his horse down on its haunches.
"Howdy?" he said.
"How?" answered the others.
"So yer got ther ole pelican, eh?" said Bud, with a grin.
"Kit did," said Ted.
"Bully for you, Kit," said Bud heartily. "I was in town, an' a feller from over to Running Water told me you and Stella had come out this way, an' I follered. What's the matter with your arm, Kit?"
"Got a shot through it."
"Sho! Did that old pirate give it to you?"
"No, the jockey, and then he flew."
"I've got a good mind to go after him, an' bring him in."
"Wouldn't do any good. At the rate he was going when I sent a message after him, he's clear into the suburbs of Chicago by this time."
They were soon on the outskirts of the town, and as they entered the main street they saw a crowd of men coming toward them.
"Here comes a reception committee," said Ted. "Wonder who they are, and what they want."
"By Jove, there's that big fellow Shan Rhue," exclaimed Kit. "I wonder what he's after."
"I thought he had enough o' our kind o' medicine not to want ter tackle us so soon again," said Bud.
"I don't like the looks of that gang," said Ted.
"Neither do I," said Stella. "I've a hunch that they mean mischief."
"In what way?" asked Ted.
"Well, I can't exactly define the feeling I have, but somehow I think they don't want us."
"Eh? Whom do they want?"
For reply Stella made a motion toward Norris. Ted looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then comprehended.
"I see," he said seriously. "Well, they won't get him."
"Bud, where are the other boys?" asked Stella.
"Uptown som'er's. Why?" said Bud.
"They ought to be here," said the girl seriously. "I think we'll be needing them soon."
"I tumble, an' I'll jest fog on ahead an' gather them up."
"Yes," said Ted. "and while you're about it see if you can't find that foreman of the Running Water Ranch, and have him round up his boys or a few good fellows who will back us up if it comes to trouble. I don't know what his name is, do you?"
"Yes, his name is Andy Bowles, an' he's as good as three ordinary men."
"Then fly. There's no telling what's coming off."
Bud gave his pony the rowels, and in a moment was out of sight in a cloud of dust. Ted and the others rode steadily forward, the two parties approaching nearer every moment.
The party headed by Shan Rhue had taken to the middle of the road, and soon they had come together, and both halted. For a moment nothing was said.
Ted was in advance, holding the reins of the pony on which Norris was tied hand and foot, Stella was on one side of Norris, and Kit on the other.
"Well?" said Ted inquiringly, as they came face to face.
He looked directly at Shan Rhue as he said it, then allowed his eyes to wander over the crowd. In it he saw some of the toughest characters in that part of the country.
They were men who bore the reputation of being cattle rustlers on provocation, and who had been suspected of horse stealing and other crimes.
"We want that man," said Shan Rhue shortly and roughly.
"Is that so?" said Ted, with feigned surprise.
"Yes, that's so," was the surly reply.
"Then why didn't you go out and get him?"
"We left that to you," said Shan, with a nasty laugh.
"Then you'll still leave him to me."
"Well, we want him, and that's all there is to it."
"What do you want with him?"
"We'll show you when we get him."
"It's a cinch you won't get him until you do show me."
"Now, I don't want to have any trouble with you, young feller, but—"
"I shouldn't think you would."
At this retort a snicker went up in the crowd, and Shan turned upon his followers with a brow like a thundercloud. But he said nothing, as the snicker subsided as soon as it began.
"And I don't want any of your lip, either. Give us the old man peaceable, an' you can go."
"Say, that's real good of you. But I want to tell you one thing, Shan Rhue, before you lose any more breath in conversation, you don't get him unless you tell me what you propose doing with him, and perhaps not then. It's up to me to say who gets him, or what is done with him. You seem to forget that he's my prisoner, not yours."
"Well, I'll tell you what we're going to do with him," said the bully, with a blustering air. "We're goin' to hang him as high as that telegraph pole out thar."
"Bet you anything you've got you don't," said Ted, with a pleasant smile.
There was a murmur of anger in the crowd.
"Don't let them get me," wailed old Norris.
"Dry up!" said Stella sternly. "Don't you see he's trying to save you."
"Why do you want to hang this old man?" asked Ted.
"Because he whipsawed us all. He's the only one who got any money out of that race. We gave him five hundred dollars to pull it off. He was broke, and couldn't have bet a cent on it, anyway. That's why. He said his horse would win in a walk, and every one of us went broke on it."
"Good! I'm glad to hear it," said Ted heartily. "You ought to have lost. But I'll tell you one thing, the old man really thought his horse would win. He didn't know that Bud's horse was the old Mexican racer, Chiquita; neither did any of us except Bud, who kept the matter to himself, and there you are. The old man is a professional skin, I'm free to confess, but he was out to skin us, not you. You've got nothing against him. You were beaten by gambler's luck, and now you're not game to stand by it. But there is one sure thing, you'll not get old Norris from me until you kill me. That's a cinch."
"You're a game kid, all right," said Shan Rhue, "but you're committing suicide with that kind o' talk. I didn't lose so much myself, an' I ain't got nothin' agin' the ole man; it's you I'm after—"
"Why didn't you come alone if you wanted me? Was it necessary for you to bring a whole posse with you?"
"Now, the less I hear of that kind o' talk, the easier it will be for you. Hand over the old gaffer, an' go your way peaceful. You'll get that much chance."
"Thank you for nothing. I stay by the old man."
Farther up the street Ted saw a commotion out of which evolved a party of men moving in his direction. He had no doubt it was Bud and Andy Bowles, the foreman of the Running Water Ranch.
"For the last time, give up that man!" commanded Shan Rhue.
"Then we'll take him."
Kit had cut the old man's bonds, and thrust a revolver into his hand.
"Fight for your life," he said.
With a roar the mob was upon them. Revolvers were drawn, and as they rushed forward the dauntless three surrounded Norris—three against fifty.
"Halt!" cried Ted. "The first man to lay a hand on any of us is a dead one."
"Go on an' take him. I'll attend to the kid," shouted Shan Rhue.
"Get him!" "String him up!" "Lynch the old thief!"
These were the cries with which the mob advanced.
Out of the mob came several shots. Ted heard a cry of pain behind him, and turned to see Stella reel in her saddle, pale to the lips, with her hand pressing her head, Then she fell.
With a cry of horror and rage, Ted turned toward her, but just then he felt himself seized and dragged from his saddle. Something struck him on the back of the head, and all became black.
But as he was going off into unconsciousness he heard a shout. It was the old Moon Valley yell, and he knew that Norris would be safe.
Bud was coming with reenforcements. Ted had dropped to the road under the feet of the terrified ponies, and it was a miracle that he was not trampled to death.
All about him the fight was going on.
Bud and Andy Bowles, and about twenty men whom they had hastily got together, had come to the rescue, and the gamblers' gang was soon on the run. They had not been able to get near Norris, for Kit had fought them off with his one good arm until, finding themselves attacked in the rear, the would-be lynchers ran for their lives.
The fight was swift and decisive, and several men lay in the dust when it was over, for Andy Bowles and Bud and Ben had fought like tigers.
When Ted recovered consciousness again he found himself lying in the road beside Shan Rhue, who had been knocked senseless by a blow from the butt of Bud's pistol.
Ted staggered to his feet.
"Where's Stella?" he cried.
The other boys looked around. Just before the fight began they had seen her, Kit, and the old man, but now she was gone.
"Stella was wounded," cried Ted. "Where is she? Scatter, men, and find her. She cannot be far away. If anything has happened to her, some one will suffer."
STELLA A CAPTIVE.
We will leave Ted and the broncho boys, to follow the misadventures of Stella.
After securing Magpie, which was taken back to the cow camp by Kit, who, much against his inclinations, was compelled to go into retirement until his arm healed, Ted released old man Norris, who secured a pony and rode rapidly out of town.
When Stella fell from the back of her pony to the road she became insensible. A ball from the weapon of one of Shan Rhue's gang had clipped a lock of hair from her forehead, creasing the skull. By a miracle her life was saved, for the merest fraction of an inch lay between her and death.
During the hurly-burly of the fight, and as Ted was grasped in the powerful arms of Shan Rhue, one of the gang rushed up to her as she lay in the dust and picked her up.
He was a powerful man, and carried Stella's light body as if she had been a child. That he was not seen by some member of the Running Water outfit was due to the fact that they were too busily engaged in fighting to pay attention to anything else.
When Stella regained her senses she was conscious of a racking headache, and, placing her hand to her forehead, brought it away wet and sticky. It was quite dark, and she groaned feebly. The pain was excruciating, and the motion of her body made her deathly sick.
She felt around her, and her hand came in contact with a cold, hard, yet yielding substance. Then she heard the rumble of wheels, and knew that she was in a vehicle of some sort. The motion of the couch on which she was lying was such that she came to the conclusion that she was in one of those old stagecoaches hung on leather springs, which were so much in use in the West before the advent of the railroads.
As her mind grew clearer she tried to remember all that had occurred. Suddenly it flashed upon her. The capture of old Norris, the attempt of Shan Rhue and his gang to take him away to lynch him, and the beginning of the fight. How it had been finished she did not know.
Neither did she know whether or not she was in the care of her friends or in the custody of her enemies. Probably the latter, for if Ted and the boys were taking her somewhere, surely she would have more attention, and the blood would have been washed from the wound on her forehead.
The curtains of the stage were down, and she did not know whether it was day or night.
Outside she heard the voices of men.
"Hurry up them mules, Bill," a man's voice came to her gruffly.
"Can't get any more out o' them. We've come nigh twenty mile on the run. I tell you, the mules is 'most all in," said a man, evidently the driver of the stage.
"Well, we ain't got much farther to go," said the other. "But we got to get there before moondown, er we'll be up against it."
"What time is the bunch goin' to be at the lone tree?"
"Then we've got just about an hour, eh?"
"Just about. But we're a long ways off yet. Git all y'u can out o' them mules. Kill 'em if y'u have to get them there on time."
"They're doin' all they can. Y'u don't want me to kill them before we get there, do y'u?" asked the driver crossly.
"No, but if y'u miss the bunch y'u know what will happen. Shan ain't much on the sweet temper since the kid bumped him so hard, an' he don't like y'u too well, nohow. I'm just givin' y'u a friendly tip."
"Keep it. I ain't so stuck on Shan myself as I used to be."
"Only don't let him know it. We ain't none of us in love with him, an' yet we come up an' eat out o' his hand when he calls us, just like a lot o' hound dogs."
The conversation told Stella the truth she had dreaded. She had been captured by Shan Rhue's ruffians, and she knew that she was in a precarious predicament, for she could hope for no mercy from Ted's merciless and beaten enemy.
She would be used to punish Ted, and she sighed at the thought of what grief her disappearance would cause her aunt and the boys.
Suddenly the curtain on the window was drawn aside. It was bright moonlight without, and in it she saw the villainous face of a man looking in upon her.
Her eyes met his, and she uttered an exclamation.
"Hello!" he exclaimed, in surprise. "Come to, have y'u?"
Stella made no reply.
"Thought fer a while that y'u'd slipped over the Great Divide," the fellow continued.
"No fault of yours that I didn't," said Stella weakly, for the pain and nausea to which she was being subjected had taken all her strength.
"I ain't had nothin' to do with it, lady. I'm just guidin' the outfit. I don't know y'u, er how y'u got hurt. Feelin' better?"
"I would be much better if I could get out and walk. The motion of this carriage makes me deathly sick."
"Can't let y'u do that, lady. We're in too much of a hurry to stop now."
"But you might let me have a drink of water. I am dying of thirst."
"I reckon I can do that."
The flap over the stage window dropped, and in a moment she heard hushed voices outside. Then a canteen was thrust through the window.
"Take all y'u want, lady, an' drink hearty," said her guide.
Stella wet her handkerchief and bathed her throbbing forehead, then took a deep draft, and felt much refreshed.
"Here's your canteen," she said.
Again the flap was thrust aside, and the ugly face looked in upon her with a leer.
"Where are we, and where are we going?" asked Stella.
"We're in the Wich—"
"Hey, Jack, stow that," cried the driver.
"But it won't do no harm—"
"You know what the orders is," said the other significantly.
"Sorry I can't tell y'u, lady. Orders is orders."
"Oh, well, I don't suppose it would do me any good to know where I am, anyway, but you might as well tell me what you are going to do with me. It would relieve my anxiety, and make me feel better."
"There ain't no harm comin' to y'u, lady, while I am with y'u," said the fellow, with a hateful leer that made Stella shudder.
"Thank you," she said faintly, as with a sigh she laid her head back again with her wet handkerchief on her brow.
So the stage rumbled on for almost an hour, with Stella the prey of sickness and pain. She doubted if she could have walked even if she had been permitted to leave the stage.
But as she lay there she thought, and from the scraps of conversation she had heard, and from what her guide was about to tell her when he was interrupted by the driver, she knew that she had been captured and abducted during the fight by Shan Rhue's men, and that she was in the Wichita Mountains.
That much, at least, she knew, but what caused her much anxiety was that she did not know the result of the fight.
She came to the conclusion that the broncho boys and their friends must have lost in the encounter, else she would not be in her present predicament.
But what of poor old Norris, for in spite of his rascality she was sorry that he had fallen into the hands of the ruthless Shan Rhue.
"Keep off to the left," shouted the guide. "We're almost there. Down into that coulee y'u go. There ain't another crossin' this side o' three mile, an' we ain't got time to go so far out o' our way."
"Say, we're liable to turn over down there. Better get the gal out, an' let her walk down. I can get safe up the other side."
"All right. Stop 'er."
The stage stopped, and the cessation of the swaying, swinging motion was a blessed relief to the tortured girl.
"Come on out," said the guide, as he threw the door open. "We'll have to ask you to walk to the bottom o' this coulee, if y'u don't want to be scrambled about on the bottom o' the coach."
Stella was glad to get out, but when her feet were on the ground she swayed and staggered like a drunken person from sheer sickness and weakness.
Beside her was her guide on his horse, and she was compelled to lean against it for a moment until she recovered herself.
The stage had gone lumbering and swaying down the bank of the coulee, and before it reached the bottom it turned on its side.
The driver leaped in safety to the ground, and the guide went scrambling down the bank to his assistance.
The mules were plunging and kicking, and threatened to break their harness to pieces.
Stella was mutely thankful that she had not been in the stage when it went over, as she sat down on a rock to rest and watch the efforts of the swearing and angry men to right the stage.
Once she thought of trying to escape while the men were engrossed in their work, and she arose eagerly.
But when she got to her feet she realized the impossibility of such a thing, for she almost fell. Then she sank down again, and resigned herself to her fate.
But soon the stage was put back on its wheels again, and the guide called to her to come down.
This was a slow and painful operation, during which the driver swore impatiently at the delay. But she accomplished it, and crawled into the stage and sank down on the pallet which had been made for her with the seat cushions.
Now they were off again, faster than before, and with correspondingly more discomfort to Stella. Oh, if the journey would only end, she thought.
"Here we are," she heard the guide's voice in a shout.
The stage stopped, and Stella heard a rush of feet.
"Got her?" some one demanded gruffly.
"Yep, but she's all in," replied the guide. "Her forehead was creased by a bullet, an' the trip has about finished her."
"Can't help that. Get her out. We've got to be moving. The soldiers are out to-night."
"What's the matter?"
"Not yet, but the agent over to Fort Sill has a tip that they are putting on paint."
"What's the trouble?"
"Somethin' about beef issue. The last cows issued to the Injuns were no good, an' the Injuns made a kick, an' the agent told them to go to the deuce. Old Flatnose an' his son Moonface, the Apache chiefs, have always been bad actors, an' now they are tryin' to scare up a muss."
"Reckon they'll do it?"
"The commandant at Fort Sill seems to think they will, for he's got two companies out on the scout."
"The boys better look out, then. The Injuns don't like the gang over at the Hole in the Wall none too good."
"We stand all right with Flatnose and his son, an' it's their band that's actin' bad."
"Well, y'u better get a move on y'u. The moon will be down in an hour."
"Get the gal out, then, an' we'll be movin'."
"All right," said the guide, poking his head into the coach. "Here's where you get out. Boss said to treat her well," he continued, turning to the man with whom he had been talking.
"Oh, we'll do that, all right," was the reply.
Stella scrambled painfully out of the coach. All about her were mounted men, both whites and Indians. There were a score or more of them.
"Can you ride?" asked one of them of Stella.
"Yes," she replied, "if you don't go too fast. I'm sick and weak."
"We'll do the best we can," said the man shortly.
Then he called back to his followers:
"Jake, bring up that spare hoss."
In a moment, and with a staggering weakness, Stella climbed into the saddle. With a man on each side of her, she took up the march again.
Through dark defiles in the black mountains the cavalcade made its way, Stella clinging to the saddle, and often in danger of falling off. Presently they came into a glade, or park, which was surrounded by towering mountain walls. For half an hour they traversed this, then came to the end, and before them yawned an opening in the wall less than ten feet wide.
They entered this, and after traversing it a short distance Stella found herself in a circular chamber in the mountains with the starry sky for a roof. Several fires were burning in the chamber, around which Indians and white men were sprawling, playing cards, talking, or silently smoking.
In one corner was a corral, in which many horses were confined.
"You can get down now," said the leader of the party that had conducted her to the place. "There is a shelter for you over there."
He pointed to a small tent on the farther side of the chamber.
"You will be perfectly safe here. You do not seem well. I will send you assistance."
"Where am I?" asked Stella.
"You are a prisoner in the Hole in the Wall," was the reply.
"Then Heaven help me," said Stella, sobbing.
A HOLE IN THE HERD.
The herd of cattle which Ted and the broncho boys were herding in No Man's Land he had branded Circle S, named after Stella.
There were more than two thousand head of them, which Ted was feeding on the rich range grasses of the Southwest to drive to the Moon Valley Ranch to winter, for it was well known to cowmen that a Southern or Southwestern beef animal will do better for a winter on the Northern range.
After Stella's disappearance Ted and the boys searched every nook and cranny of the town of Snyder, but were unable to get the slightest trace of her. Dividing into bands, they scoured the country roundabout, being assisted by the cow-punchers and the ranchers in the neighborhood.
But Stella had disappeared as if the earth had opened and swallowed her. With all his ingenuity, backed by the strong desire he had to find her, Ted was making no headway, and he hardly slept or ate during the long days and nights, but was in the saddle almost continuously.
Naturally, he suspected Shan Rhue of knowing something about Stella's absence, if, indeed, he was not actually responsible for it.
But he could not fasten anything on the man whom he had come to regard as his greatest enemy, and whom he knew hated him. Whenever he sought Shan Rhue, he was always to be found at his haunts.
Tired of the inaction, Ted met Shan Rhue on the street one day, and resolved to have it out with him.
"Shan Rhue, I want to speak with you," said Ted, stopping him.
"Well, what is it you want?" asked Shan Rhue.
"I want you to tell me where Stella is," said Ted.
Shan Rhue stared at him in apparent amazement.
"How should I know where she is?" asked Shan Rhue, with a wicked twinkling in his eye.
"I don't know," answered Ted; "but I think you do know."
"So I supposed, from the way in which you have had me followed. I suppose you miss her a good deal."
"Her aunt, Mrs. Graham, is distraught with grief and anxiety. Surely you have no fight on her, or on Miss Fosdick, either, that you should keep them apart."
"No. I have no fight with a woman. But why should I know where the young lady is?"
"There are several reasons why you should have had her taken away. But I think the principal reason is that you think you can get square with me by doing so."
"There might be something in that. Mind me, I am not confessing that I took her away, or that I know who did take her away, or where she is. You have seen me in town every day since the little trouble we had over that old thief Norris, haven't you?"
"Yes, but that tells me nothing. It might not be necessary for you to leave this town to have her hidden somewhere."
"But you and your friends searched the town from one end to the other, and you did not find her."
"True, but for all that I am satisfied that you know where she is. Suppose we call it off, and that you tell me where she is."
"If I knew, I would not tell you," said Shan Rhue, his voice intense with hatred.
"What do you mean? Are you such a coward that you will punish a woman for your spite against a man? I did not think that of you. I believe Stella Fosdick was carried off by you, of your men, acting under your instructions."
Shan Rhue's only reply was a sneering laugh.
"If I discover that what I say is true," said Ted, in a low voice so full of purpose that it was in itself a warning, "you will be the sorriest man in all this country. I will make you suffer by it even as you have caused suffering to others."
"So you have suffered, eh? That is good! Now I am a little better satisfied. But my debt to you is not yet paid. There are other things in store for you."
"What do you mean, you dog? By Heaven, I know now that you did cause her abduction, and I shall find her. You cannot keep me away from the place in which you have hidden her. I shall find her if she is at the end of the earth. When I do find her, if anything has harmed her, you, Shan Rhue, gambler, thief, and murderer, shall pay for it, and pay heavier than for any amusement you have had in all your miserable lying, thieving career."
As the epithets addressed to Shan Rhue left Ted's lips, the bully sprang back, and made a motion to draw his six-shooter.
But before he had his hand on his hip his eyes were looking into the bore of Ted's forty-four. Instead of drawing a gun, therefore, he pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his dry lips.
Shan Rhue feared Ted Strong.
"Remember," said Ted, before turning away, "I know that you have spirited Stella Fosdick away. But I shall find her, and when I am sure of it you better leave the country before I reach the place where you are, for as sure as I am standing here I will make my previous experience with you so tame that you will be glad to crawl in the dust on your face to be forgiven."
"Ha, ha!" laughed Shan Rhue. "So it hurts as bad as that, eh? Good!"
He went away laughing, and it was all Ted could do to control himself, and keep from leaping upon him and punching him. Instead, he jumped into his saddle and rode Sultan like the wind out to the cow camp.
For several days he had paid no attention to the herd, leaving it under the general direction of Bud, while he stayed in town trying to hear some news of Stella, or was riding all over the country with one or another of the boys, searching for her.
As he rode into camp with disappointment and dejection written on his face, he was met by Mrs. Graham, who had grown pale and wan with anxiety.
"Any news of her?" she asked Ted.
"None, but I haven't given up hope by any means. Don't worry so, Mrs. Graham. I think I am on the track at last, and that we shall soon have her with us again."
But Mrs. Graham only walked away with the tears coursing down her cheeks. The herd was grazing to the west of the camp, and Ted rode out to it, and to where Bud was sitting quietly in his saddle watching it.
There was an air of dejection about Bud, also. Indeed, every fellow in the outfit was secretly worrying and grieving for Stella.
"Say, Ted," said Bud, as Ted rode up, "I think thar's somethin' wrong with ther dogies."
Cow-punchers call the small Southwestern cattle "dogies."
"What do you mean?" asked Ted. "I was looking them over this morning. Rode through the bunch. They seemed to be all right then."
"Oh, they're eatin' well, an' aire as likely a lot o' beef ez ever I see," replied Bud.
"Well, what then?"
"Thar ain't so many o' them ez there wuz, er my eye hez gone back on me."
"Any of them get away?"
"I figger it so."
"What have you found out?"
"Some one is liftin' our cattle. That's what I mean."
"Great Scott! What makes you think so?"
"Ted, ther herd has shrunk."
"You judge by the eye, I suppose."
"Yes. That is the only way I have o' judgin'. We hev never had a count o' them since we drove them onto this range."
"How many do you think we are shy?"
"My eye tells me erbout five hundred."
"Great guns! How could five hundred head get away from us? And right under our noses, too."
"Easy enough. You must remember that since Stella has been gone we've paid no more attention to the herd than if we didn't own them."
"That's true. As for myself, I confess that I've given them no attention. And I've kept you fellows so busy that we've left the cattle to take care of themselves, almost."
"Well, it's time we woke up ter ther situation, er soon we won't hev no more cattle than a rabbit."
"That's so. We'll run a count of them in the morning."
"It's shore got me puzzled. I can't think whar they could hev gone."
"P'r'aps. Ever hear o' there bein' any rustlers in this part o' ther country?"
"No, I never have. But there are some pretty bad citizens in this section, who, if they never have rustled cattle, certainly are capable of it."
"Alludin' to who?"
"Well, there's Shan Rhue and his gang, for instance."
"They're pretty bad actors, fer shore. But I ain't positive thet they're ther kind what would rustle. They're jest plain town thieves an' gamblers. They ain't cow-punchers. It gen'rally is fellers what has been in ther cow business at some time er another what rustles stock."
"Oh, it doesn't take much of a man to steal cattle. A thieving gambler could do it as well as another."
"But our brand and ear crop? They shore couldn't get away from them."
"They're not so hard, Bud. A good man could run our stock out of this part of the country and alter the brand without any trouble."
"Shore, ther brand is not so hard to alter."
"Let's ride back to camp and look at the brand book, and see if any one has a similar brand to ours, or one that they could alter without trouble. But, remember, I'm not going to give myself any uneasiness in the matter, and I think we will find the herd all there. I can't see how so many cattle as you think could get away from us."
"In what manner could they?"
"Well, yer see, thar ain't ary o' us fellers been ridin' herd at night since Stella was taken away."
"Yes; go on."
"Ther fellers what hev been guardin' ther herd at night we picked up around here when we drove ther herd up from ther South."
"True. They were all local cow-punchers. I realize that we have made a mistake. One of us ought to have had charge of every night watch since we have been on this range."
"Shore. It's a cinch they wouldn't attempt to run 'em off in ther daytime."
"That's the idea. It would be as easy as shooting fish in a rain barrel for a crooked night foreman to drift a few cattle away from the herd in the dark, to be picked up by fellows waiting on the outside, and driven into the hills until the brands and marks could be changed."
They were at the camp now, and Ted got out the brand book and turned its leaves over in an attempt to find a brand similar to their own, the Circle S, which was a circle with the letter S in the center.
In every Western State or Territory in which cattle-raising is a business the law makes it imperative that every ranchman who uses the open range shall select a brand for his cattle which is registered. This brand is his own, and every head of cattle found with his brand on it belongs to him.
On the open range the cattle get mixed more or less, and in the spring there is a general round-up of the cattle, after the calves have been born and are following their mothers.
The cow-punchers go into the vast herds and drive out the calves. Of course, the mother follows the calf, lowing piteously for it.
When the cow is out with the calf, it can be plainly seen to whom she belongs by the brand on her. Her owner, or his men or representatives, promptly throw her and the calf into their own herd, and later put their brand on the calf.
Calves which are motherless and are unbranded are known as mavericks, and belong to whoever finds them. The cowman who finds a maverick promptly puts his own brand on it and it belongs to him.
The safety of the system is in choosing a brand that cannot be easily altered, and which will not be easily confounded with the brand of another.
When the boys had chosen the brand Circle S for this herd in honor of Stella, they had spoken of this, and Bud had remarked that it would be easily altered by making an eight of the S, but they had found no Circle 8 in the brand book, and took the chance, especially as Stella now insisted upon having no other brand for the herd than Circle S, her "own brand," as she called it.
Ted and Bud could find no brand in the Texas or Oklahoma brand books at all like theirs, and dismissed the matter from their minds.
The next morning early all hands turned out for a count of the herd. The herd was split, and the broncho boys took turns at the count, as the bunches of cattle were split and driven slowly past them on the point.
From the books, there should be two thousand three hundred cattle, or thereabouts, in the herd. A few cattle more or less would not have been surprising, for a great herd of cattle will, like a magnet, draw to it all the individual strays in the country roundabout.
It was well in the afternoon before the count was finished, and the boys rode into camp to count up and compare with the books. Ted totaled the figures, while the boys hung eagerly over him to learn the result.
"Well, what d'yer make it?" asked Bud, as Ted, with an expression of perplexity on his face, looked up from his work.
"The count is seventeen hundred and fifty," answered Ted slowly.
"Gee! And that's how many shy?"
"Five hundred and fifty. Bud, you have a good eye."
"Orter hev. I've been runnin' my eye over herds fer many a year. So, we've been done out o' more'n five hundred head, eh? Well, Stella comes fust, an' then ther man what thinks he kin rustle cattle from the broncho boys had better take a runnin' jump outer this man's country."
LITTLE DICK IN TROUBLE.
Little Dick Fosdick had been forgotten by Ted and the broncho boys in their anxiety over the absence of Stella.
They had seen him around the camp, but as it was impossible for him to accompany them on their hard rides, he had been left to his own devices.
He spent his days riding with one of the cowboys on the herd, and grieving in his own way for Stella.
He was a sensible little chap, and seldom complained at his loneliness. His life alone had made him patient, and he took it out in thinking.
He was now well able to take care of himself, although Stella insisted in "mothering" him when she was in camp.
Little Dick, as most of the boys called him, felt himself quite a man, for he could now catch his own pony and saddle it whenever he wanted to ride, and no one paid any attention to him as he came and went.
Ted had bought for him a little, wiry bay cayuse, and both he and Stella had taught him to ride, and Dick could now throw a rope with reasonable accuracy and speed.
Ted had given him a small revolver, and they had had great fun learning to shoot at a target, which was usually a bleached skull of a cow that had died long since on the prairie, and its bones picked clean by the coyotes.
Dick's revolver was only of thirty-two caliber, as befitted his strength, but the youngster had a good eye and the steady nerves of youth, and he soon got so that he could hit the skull with reasonable accuracy.
"Putting the shot through the eye" was one of the jokes of these shooting tournaments, in which Stella, and sometimes Bud, joined.
One day when they were shooting at a skull target, Bud missed—probably intentionally, for Bud was a crack shot.
Dick jumped up and down in glee, for he had just knocked a chip of bone from the skull himself.
"Bud missed! Bud missed!" he shouted, in glee. "Bud, you're an old tenderfoot. Couldn't hit a skull as big as the head of a barrel a hundred feet away."
"Didn't miss, neither," said Bud, in a tone of mock anger. "There's where you're fooled. That is what I call a good shot. See that left eye hole? Well, I aimed at that, and the bullet went through it. Ha! That's where the joke is on you." He grinned, and winked at Stella.
A few minutes later Dick shot and missed the skull.
"Yah!" shouted Bud. "Goody! You missed. You shoot like a hayseed. Couldn't hit a skull as big as the head of a barrel."
"That's where you're left," said the boy. "See that right eye hole? That's what I aimed at."
The laugh was on Bud.
"All right, kiddie," he laughed. "You're on. We'd be in a dickens of a fix if that ole cow hadn't left two eye holes when she died."
So it was that Dick had made great progress in the rudiments of a cow-puncher's life, and it exactly suited him, but, in the meanwhile, Stella was teaching him to read, and telling him the story of the rise and grandeur of his own country, and of the lands that lay beyond the seas.
So it was that Dick was unconsciously getting a better education than if he had gone to school, for he had a mind for the absorption of all sorts of knowledge like a sponge, and once a thing was told him he never forgot it.
The morning of the count he had started onto the range with the other boys, but as there would be great confusion, and perhaps danger of a stampede, Ted sent him back to camp.
"Run on back, Dick," Ted said kindly. "I'm afraid that pony of yours isn't quick enough to get out of the way if these dogies should take it into their heads to act ugly."
Dick never thought of rebelling when Ted spoke, for he knew that Ted was boss, and that he knew what was good for him.
"All right, Ted," he said. "Would it be any harm if I took a ride away from the camp?"
"Of course not, Dick," answered Ted kindly. He felt a little sore at himself for sending the boy away, but he knew that it was for the best. There would be plenty of time and many occasions for Dick to run into danger when he grew up.
Dick went back to camp, which was deserted save for Bill McCall, the cook, who was asleep under the chuck wagon, and Mrs. Graham, who was lying down in her tent.
Dick buckled on his belt and holster, and, mounting his pony Spraddle, set out for a long ride across the prairie.
In the boot of his saddle rested his little Remington, a present from Stella. He was going to look for an antelope, and he thought how proud Ted would be if he brought one back with him.
He knew how hard it was to get close enough to an antelope to shoot it, but he had just enough gameness to think that he could get one if he came within range of it.
Anyhow, there were coyotes and jack rabbits.
He rode across the prairie at a smart gallop, occasionally changing his course to chase a jack rabbit, which generally disappeared over a rise in the ground like a streak of gray dust, and was seen no more.
At noon he stopped for a few minutes to eat the biscuit and piece of bacon which he had taken from the rear of the chuck wagon before setting forth. He found a spring not far away, and, having given Spraddle a good, deep drink, and filling his small canteen, which was tied to the cantle of his saddle, he set forth again.
It was about two o'clock when he came in sight of the first real game of the day. On the top of the rise ahead of him he saw an animal about the size of a dog. As he rode toward it, it raised its head and gave a long, low, mournful howl.
"Coyote," exclaimed Dick to himself breathlessly. "I'll get that fellow, and take him back to camp. Won't Ted be surprised when he sees it?"
He took his Remington out of the boot, slipped in the necessary cartridges to fill the magazine, and rode forward slowly and cautiously.
The coyote watched him sharply, occasionally raising its head to utter its mournful cry. When Dick thought he had got within shooting distance, he stopped Spraddle, took a good, long aim at the coyote, and fired.
The ball kicked up the dust several feet in advance of the coyote, which, with another howl, this time one of derision, as it seemed to Dick, turned and trotted away.
"That was a bum shot," muttered Dick. "I'm glad Ted or Stella did not see it. Better luck next time."
The coyote ran a short distance, then stopped and looked over its shoulder to see if Dick was following, and, seeing that he was, took up its lope again.
It had got some distance from Dick, when, on the top of another rise, it stopped again, and Dick heard once more its luring cry.
It seemed to be an invitation to follow him. Dick had not paid any attention to the direction in which he was going, and had kept no track of time.
That he was following game, and that he intended to get it if it took all day, was all he thought of. Soon the coyote stopped again, and looked at Dick in a tantalizing sort of way, and again Dick approached it cautiously.
When he thought he was within range, he raised his Remington, and, taking a long, deliberate aim, fired. Again he missed. But he had the satisfaction of seeing that the ball had struck the earth several feet nearer the coyote than the first.
The coyote realized it, too, for he did not wait for another invitation, but started on his way in a hurry, with Dick riding pell-mell after him.
Dick for the first time realized that the day was going when he noticed the long shadow cast by himself and the pony on the prairie sod. He had not the slightest idea how far he had come, and there crept into his mind a sort of dread.
He pulled Spraddle down to a walk, and looked about him. Behind him there was no trace of the cow camp, nothing but the everlasting rise and fall of the prairie.
But ahead was the ragged line of the blue mountains. These he knew to be the Wichita Mountains, for, although he had never seen them before, he had heard the boys talking about them in camp.
Then he saw the coyote on a hill a little ways ahead, looking at him in the most aggravating way. The coyote's lips were curled back from his teeth in a contemptuous sort of a smile, it seemed to Dick, and as he started forward again the coyote threw up its head and actually laughed at him.
That settled it with Dick. No coyote that ever trotted the plains could laugh at him, but as this thought came to him he felt the dread of being lost on the prairie, or even having to stay alone in this waste all night.
Dick had heard the boys talk of the danger of being alone at night, for there were wolves and other animals that would daunt a man, to say nothing of a small boy.
He thought he would follow the coyote only long enough to get another shot at him, and then retrace his way back to the camp. By putting Spraddle through his paces he ought to be able to reach it before dark.
So he set forth again in the wake of the coyote, which was becoming more and more aggravating every minute. Suddenly the coyote disappeared altogether. It had done this before when it had gone down into the trough between two of the great, rolling swales of the prairie, but always it had come into sight again in a few minutes.
This time, however, it did not, and Dick wondered why.
In a few minutes he understood why, for he found himself at the edge of a coulee which had been washed deep by the storms of many winters.
Dick looked up and down the coulee for the wolf, and saw a form, gray and lithe, slinking among the bowlders with which it was filled. Dick forced Spraddle down the steep bank of the coulee, and was soon at the bottom.
Hastily he set after the coyote, but suddenly stopped, for a man stepped from behind a shoulder of rock and clay and caught his bridle.
Spraddle stopped so quickly that Dick was almost unseated. But he soon recovered himself, and stared in amazement at the man who had thus stopped him.
He was an Indian.
Dick had often seen Indians in the towns through which the broncho boys had passed, and occasionally they had come into the camps they had established on the drive of the herd up from Texas.
But this was the first time Dick had ever come in contact with an Indian when he was alone. For a moment his heart stopped beating, for he was afraid.
"How?" grunted the Indian.
It was all Dick could do to reply with a feeble, quavering "How?"
Many times around the camp fire, with the boys all about, when Bud was telling one of his tales of Indians, Dick had thought what he would do if he ever came in contact with a real, live, sure-enough redskin, and always he had thought how brave he would be. But now that he had actually met one, he felt his nerve ooze away.
However, the Indian was not aware of it, for Dick had a way of keeping his feelings to himself, and he seldom showed whether he was surprised or angry, although he never hesitated to let his friends know his pleasure at their kindness, or gratitude for what they did for him.
He was looking at the Indian steadily, taking stock of him, and this is what he saw: A broad, dirty face, in which burned two small, narrow eyes. The cheek bones were prominent, and on each one was a spot of red paint. The long, black, coarse hair was braided with pieces of otter fur, and covered with an old cavalry cap, in which was stuck a crow's wing feather, and around his neck hung a small, round pocket mirror attached to a red string, by way of ornament.
The Indian wore a dirty cotton shirt and a pair of brown overalls, and his feet were covered with green moccasins, decorated with small tubes of tin, which jingled every time he took a step.
A belt and holster hung at his hip, and the handle of a Colt forty-four was within easy reach.
"White papoose where go?" asked the Indian, showing a row of sharpened teeth.
"Hunt coyote," replied Dick, in a voice that trembled.
"Heap fool. No catch coyote," said the Indian, reaching over and lifting Dick's Remington from the saddle.
He sighted it, turned it around in his hand, and then coolly slung it over his shoulder.
"Here, give that to me," said Dick sturdily. With this act of theft all his courage came back to him. No dirty Indian should have the rifle Stella had given him.
But the Indian only grinned.
"Me heap brave," said the Indian. "Me Pokopokowo."
He looked at Dick as if he expected the boy to be deeply impressed.
"I don't care who you are. I want my rifle," cried Dick.
"Papoose heap fool. Get off pony." The Indian was scowling now, and looked very ferocious, and once more Dick's courage oozed. The Indian did not seem to be a bit frightened.
As Dick was slow in descending from the saddle, the Indian grasped him by the arm and jerked him to the ground.
Dick was as angry as he ever got, but was sensible enough to know that he could not fight the Indian, and that all he could do was to escape as rapidly as possible.
He turned and ran up the coulee.
But he had not gone far when he was overtaken, and knocked flat with a cuff on the side of the head. As he rose slowly with his head ringing, Pokopokowo grasped him by the shoulder, and bound his hands behind him.
In a moment he was back at the pony's side, and was thrown upon its back, but not in the saddle. This was occupied by the Indian, who directed it down the coulee, and in the direction of the mountains.
Dick Fosdick was a prisoner.
A MESSAGE FROM STELLA.
Dick had some difficulty in keeping his seat on the pony's back, for he could not hold on to the cantle of the saddle, and Spraddle wabbled dreadfully, as he stumbled among the bowlders in the coulee.
But before long they were out on the prairie again, and Dick observed that they were headed toward the mountains.
They had several miles to go to reach the mountains, and it was just getting dusk when they entered upon a broad and beautiful valley, which, as it ran east and west, was flooded with the light from the setting sun.
Here the Indian turned in the saddle and looked at Dick with a malevolent smile.
"Turn white boy loose," he grunted.
Dick twisted around, and the Indian untied the cord that bound his wrists.
"White boy try to run away, I kill um," said the Indian, showing his teeth in a horrible look of ferocity that chilled Dick to the bone.
"All right," he said; "I'll not try to run away again."
"Kill um if do," growled the Indian, hissing, at the pony, which is the Indian way of making a pony go forward, and means the same as a white man's "Get up!"
Dick was dreadfully hungry, but he said nothing, clinging to the cantle of the saddle with both hands, for the pony was now loping.
They had gone up the valley for several miles, when suddenly the Indian turned aside down a dark and narrow defile, still at a lope.
Even Dick realized the danger of this, for the floor of the defile was covered with large, loose stones, over which Spraddle was continually stumbling, for he had come a long way and was tired, besides the added weight of the Indian was more than he was accustomed to carry.
It had grown very dark, and Dick could not see the pony's ears when he twisted around to look past the Indian.
He knew that it was to be a moonlight night, but the moon was not up yet, and would not be for an hour or more. In fact, it was doubtful if the light of the moon would penetrate to the bottom of the defile until it was high in the heavens, so deep was the defile and so steep its walls.
Dick had given up wondering and worrying, and had forced himself to be content with his situation, as he knew that he could not better it any.
Suddenly he became aware that the Indian was asleep, for he was drooping in the saddle, and was breathing deeply and steadily.
Now, thought Dick, was the time to escape, if any. He tried to slip from the pony's back, but in an instant the Indian was awake, and, reaching around, grasped Dick's wrist, twisting it until the boy gave a sharp cry of pain.
The Indian slipped from the back of the pony, and again bound Dick's wrists behind him, and with a grunt climbed into the saddle and urged Spraddle on, slapping him across the face with the end of the rein.
"Don't you do that," cried Dick, who never abused Spraddle himself, and couldn't stand it to see any one else, particularly a dirty Indian, beat his pet.
"White boy shut up, or Pokopokowo beat him plenty," growled the Indian.
"If you dare beat me, Ted Strong will fix you when he gets you," said Dick hotly.
But the Indian only laughed, and continued to beat poor Spraddle over the face, to the pain and anger of Dick, who, however, realized that he was absolutely helpless.
But Pokopokowo was soon to be paid for his cruelty, and by poor Spraddle himself.
Spraddle, stung by the blows, was stumbling along at a good pace over the bowlders that lay in his way, with the Indian urging him faster all the time.
Suddenly there was a great heave. Spraddle went down, almost turning a somersault, as his tired feet struck a larger bowlder than he had encountered before.