The border boys with the.., p.14
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       The Border Boys with the Mexican Rangers, p.14

           John Henry Goldfrap
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  It was evening before the party reassembled. On arising each memberof our party found, neatly folded upon his bed, a complete outfit.Investing themselves in which, they felt more like human beings again.For this kindness the Don would not hear of being paid.

  “It is only a small part of my indebtedness to you,” he declared.

  After the evening meal that night, which the boys vowed was a starlightbreakfast, the Don informed them that the next day being a Saint’s Dayand a holiday in the village, he had arranged for a series of sportsof the country and a great fete. This was partly in recognition of hisgratitude at his daughter’s recovery.

  “As you are all good horsemen, possibly you may wish to participate,”went on the Don; “the prizes will be worth competing for. In thelassoing contest the prize will be a double-cinched saddle of Cordovanleather, silver mounted. In a novel game called Tilting the Ring, mydaughter has donated as first prize a pair of silver spurs. The secondprize in both events will be bridles fitted with silver-mounted bitsand appendages. There will be other games, races and so on, but thesetwo contests are the most interesting.”

  Of course, this set the boys all agog. Their first rather bashfulfeelings at the sumptuousness with which they were surrounded,vanished, under the stimulus of discussion of the forthcoming contests.They all, with the exception of the professor, entered for the Tiltingthe Ring contest, which will be described later, while Coyote Pete andWalt Phelps put down their names as contestants in the lassoing events.Besides these, there were races and jumping contests, in all of whichthe boys decided to compete.

  The next morning dawned fair and still. Jack, on opening the leadedsash of his window, gazed with delight at the landscape below him.Softly rolling hills spread far and near, dotted with park-like grovesof trees. Cattle could be seen in the distance, and Jack guessed thatthey were part of the herds controlled by Don Alverado. At the foot ofthe hill upon which the hacienda stood, lay the red roofs and whitewalls of the village, with its cathedral towers rising above the greenvegetation which picturesquely was intermingled with the dwellings.Blue smoke ascending into the still air from the chimneys proclaimedthe fact that Santa Anita was astir early on the day of the Don’s fete.

  Breakfast was a merry meal, and the boys gazed admiringly at thesenorita, who looked more beautiful than ever in a white morning gownwith a dewy rose stuck jauntily in her black hair.

  “Say, she looks like an old Spanish painting, only more so,” observedJack to Ralph, as, leaving Walt and Pete to look after the stock andthe professor to examine the Don’s extensive library, they saunteredoff to view the preparations.

  “Seems to me you are taking a lot of interest in old Spanish paintings,my gallant youth,” chuckled Ralph with a knowing look.

  Jack reddened.

  “The Don has a whole gallery full of them,” he said, “and naturally Imade comparisons.”

  “With the advantage in favor of the living type,” chuckled Ralph; “say,you’re as easy to see through as a spy glass, and——”

  “See here, Ralph Stetson, you shut up or I’ll soak you,” sputteredJack, looking rather sheepish over his companion’s raillery.

  Ralph deemed it prudent to change the subject.

  “They certainly do things in style here,” he said, gazing in admirationat the scene of busy preparation which was going forward on the levelfields at the base of the hill on which the hacienda was situated. Jackagreed with him. Already a big force of men was at work roping off acourse for the sports, and decorating the poles in the national colors.

  At one end of the course several peons were erecting a rather tall polewith a swing cross-bar affixed to the top. From this cross-bar dependeda cord to which was attached a ring by a snap contrivance. At the otherend of the bar hung a heavy bag filled with sawdust. This was for thegame of Tilt the Ring, as they were to learn later. Each contestant wasrequired to pass a lance through the ring so skillfully as to remove itfrom the snap bolt. If he did not succeed it was obvious that the bagof sawdust would swing around and deal him a blow before he could getout of its reach.

  “Looks like a bully game,” opined Jack, after the two boys had askedsome questions of an English-speaking peon, “but what happens to you ifthe sack hits you?”

  “Maybe stick on. More maybe you fall off,” grinned the man.

  “Humph,” grunted Ralph, “I don’t know so much about that game. Lookspretty strenuous to me.”

  Soon after, they visited the stables where Coyote Pete and Walt alreadywere. Coyote had his lariat out, stretching it and getting it suppleand ready for the afternoon’s test, for the sports were to commenceafter the midday meal. Walt was rubbing the knees of his horse withcare. Firewater and Petticoats,—for Ralph had given his new pony theold name,—whinnied as Ralph and Jack entered, and their glowing eyesand shiny coats showed that they were in fine fettle. In a stall bythem stood the horse they had appropriated from the outlaws. It was afine beast, somewhat heavy, perhaps, but strongly limbed and sinewed.

  “I’ll bet Ramon would give a lot to have that horse back,” observedJack, gazing at the beast admiringly.

  “Yes, considering that we chose him in the dark and in such a hurry, Idon’t think we made a bad choice,” was Walt’s rejoinder.

  The boys ate sparingly at noon day, despite the variety and splendorof the dishes set before them. They felt that they were therepresentatives of America at the games, and that it would not do torisk a tummy-ache or any other uncomfortable feeling. Ralph, however,eyed the various dishes longingly, having, as we know, a fastidiousappetite. But Jack’s whispered, “You’re in training,” was enough tokeep him to the agreement they had made before luncheon.

  “I will have your horses saddled for you and brought round,” said theDon, after the conclusion of the meal. He was preparing to give theorder to a servant when Jack interposed.

  “Without meaning any discourtesy, Don Alverado,” he said, “we wouldrather saddle up Ourselves. You see——”

  “Say no more, say no more. It shall be as you wish,” said the Don, butit was plain to see that he was rather nettled over the Americans’independence.

  “You see,” Jack explained to his chums later, as they wended theirway to the stables, “the lower orders of Mexicans have no love forAmericans, and they are capable of putting up any tricks on us. I don’tsay that they would, but then again it’s best to be on the safe side.”

  A chorus of assent greeted this. It did not take long to saddle up,the necessary trappings being among the gifts which Don Alverado hadinsisted on showering on the saviors of his daughter. The party hadprotested that they were well able to pay their own way, but the Donwould not hear of it.

  “We do not treat our guests thus, in Mexico,” he said, “and you,of course, know that the hospitality of the old dons of Spain wasproverbial.”

  The Americans made a fine-looking cavalcade as they rode at an easytrot down to the field where the contests were to be held. All woresombreros, held under the chin by a strap of rawhide. Riding trousersof the loose, Mexican style, red sashes and short jackets completedtheir attire. It was in fact only by their clear, cleanlooking skinsand erect bearing that you could have told they were not of the Spanishrace.

  A large crowd had already gathered when they reached the “lists,”as the scene of the contests might be called. People came in costlycarriages with great C-shaped springs, in humbler vehicles, and inback-country burro carts. From the town a great procession streamed outon foot, and everywhere there were Caballeros dashing about on fieryhorses, riding with the reckless abandon of the Mexican horseman.

  “We’re up against a likely looking lot of horsemen,” said Ralph, asthey came in full view of the gay scene.

  “We’ll have to do our best,” said Jack simply, “the more skilled ouropponents are, the more credit it will be to us to defeat them if wecan.”

  In a corral some distance off were the cattle that were to be us
edin the lassoing contests. A curious crowd was gathered about themexpatiating on their good points. All at once a band broke out intothe Mexican national hymn as the Don and his daughter, accompanied bya party of guests, rode up to their seats in a small stand, protectedby a striped awning, placed immediately opposite the tilting ringapparatus.

  “Gee whillakers, it’s hard to believe that we’re in the twentiethcentury, ain’t it?” asked Coyote Pete, as he gazed about him.

  “It’s like Don Quixote,” cried Ralph, quite carried away by theshifting pictures of color and life on the greensward about them.

  “Donkey who?” inquired Coyote Pete, whose reading in the classics hadnot been extensive.

  “Oh, a certain old gentleman in Spain whose specialty was going aboutrescuing beautiful maidens and getting into trouble.”

  “Wall, that seems to be us,” observed Pete dryly. “But look, the Donis announcing the first contest. It’s the race to the town and backagin, carrying a letter to the city hall, or whatever they call it, andreturning with an answer. Whoever makes the best time wins a fine horseblanket and a silver-mounted quirt. Any of you boys in it?”

  “No, I want to keep my mount fresh for the tilting,” said Jack.

  “Same here,” announced the others.

  They watched the contest with interest, however. It was won by asmall Mexican on a wiry little animal who sped into the town and backin seemingly incredible time. As soon as he could escape from thecongratulatory crowd, the wiry little horse was spurred toward whereour friends stood in a group waiting for their contests to be announced.

  “For you I have the letter,” he said, as he rode up and extended a bitof paper.

  “A letter for us. Impossible!” exclaimed Jack. “Who could have sent it?”

  “It’s addressed ‘Senor Jack Merrill,’ sure enough,” cried Ralph, “andthe address is printed, too.”

  “Somebody trying to disguise his hand,” commented Jack, taking thenote. “Well, let’s see what it is, any how.”

  The note was only folded and when opened proved to contain but a fewwords, but those words were fraught with meaning.

  “_Be on the lookout to-day. You are in great danger._”

  “Well, what do you know about that!” exclaimed Coyote Pete. “Is ita genuine warning, I wonder, or jest a trick to keep us out of thecontests?”

  “Hard to say,” rejoined Jack. “Where’s that little Mexican who broughtit?”

  But the man on the wiry little horse had vanished and a diligent searchby the adventurers failed to disclose him.

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