The border boys with the.., p.16
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       The Border Boys with the Mexican Rangers, p.16

           John Henry Goldfrap
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  But the bullets which had been meant to terminate Jack’s career hadnot found their “billet.” Instead, his sudden fall to one side of thesaddle was a quick acting out of an old cowboy trick. The instant thatthe first bullet had whistled by his ear Jack had flung himself downthus, and as a consequence, the shots had missed their mark. The reliefof Walt and Ralph, as they came elbowing through the crowd to find thattheir chum was unhurt, may be imagined.

  The incident, too, had quite changed the temper of the crowd, as suchthings often will. An unpopular monarch has often been turned into hispeople’s idol by an attempted assassination, and something of the samething occurred now. Cheers for the American boy rang through the air.In the midst of the excitement Don Alverado came riding up, pressinghis big chestnut horse through the throng.

  “Thank the saints you are not injured, my gallant boy,” he cried in hisimpulsive way. “Not for my entire estates would I have had you evenscratched. But what is this?”

  The Don broke off in his congratulations abruptly, as a suddencommotion occurred on the outskirts of the crowd. Rising in hisstirrups Jack could see that the center of the turmoil was Coyote Pete,and that he was dragging something at the end of his lariat, one end ofwhich was wound around his saddle horn.

  Suddenly the crowd rushed in on this object, whatever it was, but thenext instant the wave of humanity surged back again, as Coyote drew twopistols and aimed them right and left into the throng.

  “The first one that touches the varmint gits a taste of these!” he wasshouting, and although few in the crowd could understand the words,they all caught the significance of his tones and fell back. Thus,left with a free path, Coyote spurred his horse on and rode up towhere the Don and the Border Boys were assembled. The professor had,by this time, joined the group and brought word that Senorita Alveradowished to be informed at once of Jack’s condition, and if he had beenseriously injured. Word was at once despatched to her that he wasunharmed.

  What Coyote Pete had at the end of his lariat was now at once apparent.It was a human being who struggled to his feet as the cow-puncher drewrein. Covered with dust as the man was, and bleeding from his not overgentle treatment by the first of the crowd who had rushed in on him,Jack yet had no difficulty in recognizing the man as the tall Mexicanwho had been defeated, and who had declared his intention of shuttingout the American boy by fair means or foul.

  “What is this?” demanded the Don, as the abject object stood cringingand whining before him.

  “This is the pesky critter that fired them shots at Jack Merrill, yourDonship!” announced Coyote. “Stand up thar, you dirty dog, and let’em git a good look at you. Yer see,” he went on, “arter that hat wasthrown at Jack, I was on the lookout fer dirty work, so I jest took upmy stand near the tilting post, fer I judged thet if thar was truble it’ud come thar. Wall, I seen this fellow miss and ther look on his facewhen he realized it. ‘Ole hoss,’ thinks I, ‘I’ll jes’ watch you close.’Wall, I did, but afore I could stop him he fired them shots. Arter thathe sneaked off in the crowd, but I got arter him with my lariat, and Ireckon I got him good an’ tight and hog-tied for branding.”

  The Don’s face grew black.

  “I know this fellow,” he said, “he is a former employee of mine whom Idischarged for quarreling and gambling. But this outrage will terminatehis career. As a magistrate of this district, I convene court here andsentence him to——”

  But with a piercing scream the abject being whom Coyote had lassoedcast himself on the ground. He writhed, he dug at the dirt with hisnails, he grovelled and begged in an agony of terror. But the Donwas unmoved. It was different with Jack, however. While the fellow’scowardice disgusted him, at the same time he felt a faint sentiment ofpity. At any rate, he did not wish human life taken on his account.

  Just then a woman rushed through the crowd holding a child by eachhand. Word flew around that it was the would-be assassin’s wife andchildren. This decided Jack. Pressing his pony forward, he rode to DonAlverado’s side.

  “Don’t you think, sir, that leniency might be observed in this case?”he said. “The man’s wife and children, the excitement, the chagrin oflosing the contest, and——”

  “Say no more; say no more,” was the abrupt reply. In fact, at thesight of the man’s terrified wife and bewildered children, the Donhimself had experienced a feeling of compunction, “Jose, your life issaved——”

  The abject creature sprang up, pouring out a fulsome stream of thanksand blessings. But the Don abruptly checked him.

  “Had it not been for your wife and children, and for the nobleintercession of this young man whom you attempted foully toassassinate, I should have hanged you without loss of time. But theirpleadings have had weight with me——”

  “Oh, the blessings of the saints on the caballero’s head,——” beganthe Mexican, but once more he was cut short.

  “But I only remit your sentence on one condition,” went on the Don,“and that is that you leave this part of the country forever. Myoverseer will supply you with the money. If within twelve hours you arein the neighborhood of Santa Anita, your life shall pay the penalty.Now go!”

  The Mexican reeled to his feet, and, shunned by the crowd, totteredoff. Only his wife and children clung to him.

  “Strange that often the worst of men will have the most faithfulwives and devoted children,” mused the Don. “But come,” he said,putting aside his momentary gravity, “do not let us mar the day by thisincident. Senor Merrill, you will now proceed to the stand where yourprize awaits you.”

  At this the crowd set up a great cheer, and surrounded by his friends,Jack rode to the grandstand where the senorita, still pale, butradiant, presented him with the prize. Jack, crimson to the roots ofhis hair, stammered out something in reply, he never knew what; andthen bending low he presented the lance tip on which the ring stillreposed to the senorita. With a blush and a smile she took the ringand snatching a red rose from her hair affixed it to the point of hislance. What a shout went up then! And in the midst of it our party rodeoff, for the roping contest had been called.

  “Say, where did you learn that trick, all that bowing and doo-dadds,and all that?” grinned Walt, as the chums rode side by side.

  “Yes, old chap, you acted like a regular knight errant. Polite as afloor walker,” chortled Ralph; “there’s only one thing you’ve forgottento do.”

  “What’s that?” asked Jack innocently.

  “Why, press the rose to your lips, you chump. I never read of anyregular blown-in-panel knight who didn’t do that.”

  “Well, I’m not one of that brand, I guess,” laughed Jack. But just thesame, it may be set down here that he took particular care of that rosefor many a long day.

  To his chagrin, Coyote Pete only came off second best in the ropingcontest, but, as the boys remarked, “It wouldn’t do for these people tothink we are hogs and want all the prizes.”

  “That’s right,” agreed Pete, good humoredly, “an’, as somebody said,some place ‘thar’s glory enough fer all.’”

  Early the next day after participating in the festivities of theevening, the lads and their elders once more took to the trail. In themeantime, the professor had attended to the renewing of their suppliesand “scientific paraphernalia,” and they had decided to confide theiradventures and the object of their quest to Don Alverado.

  “You are on an adventurous mission,” he commented, “and I wish you allsuccess.”

  Before they set out the generous Don confided to Jack’s care a documentin Spanish.

  “If you fall in with any government officials,” he said, “that will actas your safeguard and passport. Adios, señors.”

  “Adios!” shouted the boys, as they rode off. Jack, looking back in theearly dawn, thought he saw a handkerchief fluttering from an upperwindow of the hacienda. At any rate, he waved his sombrero gallantlyand bowed low.

  “Guess it’s a good thing we
got Jack away from the hacienda,” chortledWalt, in an audible tone.

  “Guess it’ll be a good thing for you to maintain a discreet silence,”growled Jack, in what was for him such a savage tone that Walt lookedrather alarmed. But before they had gone many miles Jack, who had beensilent and thoughtful, began to become his old self once more under theinfluence of the trail and looked-for adventure.

  They traveled that day without any incident worth chronicling, andnightfall found them camped on a fertile plain, deep in waving grassesand plentifully watered. The level expanse was almost at the foot ofthe gloomy Chinipal Range, in which was located the mysterious mountainin search of which they had journeyed so far. That night all lay downto rest with the feeling that the morrow would see the beginning oftheir real hard work.

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