The border boys with the.., p.4
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       The Border Boys with the Mexican Rangers, p.4
 

          
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  CHAPTER IV.

  A BATTLE ROYAL.

  Jack struggled to his feet and surveyed the scene of his disasterwith dismay. A brief examination of his fallen horse told him that itwould be impossible to continue his flight on the animal. Its kneeswere cut and bruised, and it lay with an expression of dumb sufferingin its eyes that touched the sorely-tried lad’s heart. If he had notdropped his little rifle in the excitement of his escape he would havedespatched the creature,—risking the chance of detection from thesound of the report.

  “Well, here’s where I take to Shank’s mare,” murmured Jack, setting offonce more,—when something whistled through the air and settled abouthis neck in a stifling coil.

  It was a rawhide lasso, hurled with deadly accuracy by Ramon, who hadentered the glade just as Jack arose from his examination of thefallen horse.

  Before the boy had time to realize what had occurred, he was yankedfrom his feet and thrown violently to the ground for the second time.

  “So I’ve got you fast and tight, at last, eh,” sneered Ramonvindictively, gazing down from his great horse at the crestfallen,dust-covered boy.

  “Well, my young senor,” he continued, with a vicious intonation, “I canpromise you that this time you will not escape so easily. This will bea treat for the boys.”

  Jack answered nothing. He struggled to rise but the rope was givena jerk by his captor which brought him to the ground once more. Hecould almost have cried with humiliation. At the moment this was hisovermastering feeling. Of fear he felt little, but he would have givena lot just then to stand up with Black Ramon in a twenty-four-footring!

  Having “thrown” poor Jack very much as he might have done a refractorycalf, the outlaw turned his attention to the injured horse.

  “So you have ruined one of our horses, too, you Yankee pig,” hesnarled; “well, it only makes one more score to settle up with you.”

  He drew one of his big revolvers from its chased leather holster, andcarefully aiming it, shot the mortally injured animal between the eyes.The creature gave a convulsive shudder and straightened out,—dead.Without another word Ramon swung his black around, and before he couldmake a move Jack found himself being dragged over the rough ground ata swift pace. Within a few yards his side was bruised and cut, and theclothing torn from him.

  “Great heavens, if this keeps up I shall be unable to move hand orfoot,” thought Jack in dismay.

  For a moment his heart failed him, and then he suddenly bethoughthimself of his knife. To reach it in his side pocket—for his armswere partially free,—was the work of an instant, and with one quickslash he cut the rawhide that bound him.

  Released of its burden thus suddenly, the sure-footed black lost itsfooting and almost stumbled.

  “Diablo!” Jack heard Ramon shrill out as the Border Boy gave one quickleap into the dense woods.

  When Ramon looked around there was not a trace of the lad he had had atthe end of his lariat. Instead, a broken end of the rope dangled on theground, its ends frayed out.

  “Maledictions!” he yelled, all the fury of his Latin blood boilingto the surface in an ungovernable flood. “That cursed gringo pup hasfooled me once more.”

  In one of those meaningless frenzies of rage into which his countrymenare apt to fall when thwarted in anything, Ramon began to vent hisrage on the first animate object to hand. This was the black horse. Onthe beautiful creature’s shiny coat the cruel blows of the Mexican’slariat fell furiously, raising great welts across the glossy surface.

  For an instant the black quivered and stood motionless. The suddennessof the attack dazed it. But the next moment, its rage,—as ungovernedas that of its master, surged up in its equine heart. With an angrysqueal it gave a succession of huge bucks which would have unseated anyordinary—or extraordinary rider,—but which did not even disturb theMexican’s seat.

  Then followed a magnificent exhibition of man versus horse. And it wasnot without its watchers—this Homeric struggle for supremacy betweenmaddened man and maddened beast.

  Jack, from his hiding place in the ferns and brush, heard the soundsand almost unconsciously he drew closer to the scene of the combat.Parting the ferns he peered through cautiously, and then was heldspellbound.

  If he were to have been captured for it the next instant he could nothave withdrawn his gaze from the spectacle.

  With clenched teeth and face that was yellow and drawn with rage, Ramonplied quirt and spur. The big rowelled instruments he wore tore greatstreaks in the black’s glossy hide. All the time his quirt fell in aperfect hailstorm of blows about the noble animal’s flanks.

  But if Ramon’s rage was impressive from its very vindictiveness, howmuch more so was the just anger of the big horse.

  Its delicately pointed ears were pressed close back to its shapelyhead, while its eye gleamed whitely. As the big silver-mounted bit ofthe barbarous Mexican pattern cut and gored its sensitive mouth, theanimal champed and snapped,—like a rabid dog,—till its great chestwas flecked with blood and foam. But it was unsubdued, as unconqueredas its master.

  “By George, what a rider!” was the involuntary exclamation ofadmiration forced from Jack as he watched.

  And the next moment.

  “Gracious, what a horse!”

  Suddenly the black reared straight upward, beating the air with itsforelegs. For a breath it swayed and balanced perfectly, and then,losing its equilibrium—perhaps purposely—it fell backward.

  A cry of alarm broke, against his will, from Jack’s whitened lips.Ramon’s death seemed certain. But instead of the black crushing hisbody in its fall, the agile Mexican was out of the saddle with theagility of an eel, and as the black leaped erect once more its masterwas back in the saddle breathing fresh maledictions and flogging androwelling more unmercifully than ever.

  But from that time on, there was no question but that the animalrealized that it had met its match. Its bucks were no longer great,animated, splendid leaps, driven by the force of its powerful muscles.Instead, they were limp and dispirited.

  But Ramon seemed bent on thoroughly humiliating the animal. Jack’sblood began to boil as he saw the brutal punishment increasing inviolence as the black grew more and more subjugated. Its sunken flanksheaved, its limbs trembled and actual tears rolled down its cheeks; butRamon still flogged and beat and spurred as furiously as ever.

  “Oh, that such a rider should be such a brute!” thought Jack, watchingthe scene from his place of concealment.

  “This has got to stop,” he determined the next instant. So great washis anger at the brutal exhibition that had he had his small rifle hewould almost have risked crippling one of the Mexican’s arms or legs inorder to end the sickening brutality.

  But if Jack had not a rifle, he had another weapon perhaps even moreefficacious in his hands. It will be recalled that Jack had performedsome remarkable feats of pitching at Stonefell College, notably inthe great game between West Point and Stonefell. What more naturalthen than that he should select from the plenty about him, a small,well-rounded stone, somewhat smaller than a league ball.

  Feeling sure that Ramon was too intent on his punishment to noticeanything else, Jack stepped boldly to the edge of the little clearing,and with a preliminary twist he sent the stone hurtling straight andtrue at the head of the black’s tormentor.

  Like a tree that has felt the woodsman’s axe, Ramon threw up his handsas the stone struck him, and without a sound pitched out of the saddle,crashing in a heap on the ground.

  Jack felt rather alarmed as he saw this. He had not intended to throwquite so hard. For an instant a dreadful fear that he had killedRamon—rascal though the man was,—clutched at his heart.

  Coming boldly out from his place of concealment he hastened to thefallen man’s side.

 
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