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CHAPTER XII.

“ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.”

The car came to a halt. Clancy and Ballard ceased their yelling, piled out, and made a rush for their chum.

It was Mr. Bradlaugh’s big sixty-horse-power car that was chasing toward Merriwell along the road.  Clancy’s red head was pushed out from under the top, on one side, and Ballard’s on the other.  Mr. Bradlaugh was driving, and beside him was a hatched-faced man in rough clothing—evidently a man of some authority, although a total stranger to Merriwell.

The car came to a halt.  Clancy and Ballard ceased their yelling, piled out, and made a rush for their chum.

“Darn it!” cried Clancy, “what do you mean by piking off like you did?”

“Getting out by a window in the dead of night,” grumbled Ballard, “and never telling us a thing.  Here we’re chasing you with a deputy sheriff, and looking all along the trail for remains.”

“Sorry I disappointed you, Pink,” grinned Merry.

“Go to blazes,” snorted Ballard.  “Where have you been?  And what have you been doing?”

“Can’t I go into that while we’re on the way back to Ophir?”

“Well, you might, only I’m in a hurry to get to the bottom of this thing.”

“Get aboard, Merriwell,” laughed Bradlaugh.  “First, though, you might shake hands with the deputy sheriff.  Mr. Hawkins, Frank Merriwell, junior.”

“Tickled to find you alive,” remarked Hawkins, shaking Frank’s hand.  “Your friends were worried a lot, but I allowed Barzy Blunt could tell us something.  We were bound for the Bar Z, when we saw you in the trail.  Who was that that just left here?  Barzy, wasn’t it?”

'Tickled to find you alive,' remarked Hawkins, shaking Frank’s hand. 'Your friends were worried a lot, but I allowed Barzy Blunt could tell us something. We were bound for the Bar Z, when we saw you in the trail. Who was that that just left here? Barzy, wasn’t it?'

“Yes,” Frank answered, climbing into the tonneau with his chums.

“Thought I re-cog-nized that black hoss.  Want me to go and arrest anybody, Merriwell?”

“It wouldn’t be worth while, Mr. Hawkins,” said Frank.  “I haven’t been having such a bad time of it, although one or two things happened which were not exactly pleasant.  All’s well that ends well, though, and I guess I’m satisfied.”

The car was turned and was soon moving the other way.

“Where’s Hannibal?” Merry inquired.

“Why,” explained Ballard elaborately, “we thought we might have to storm the Bar Z Ranch in order to get hold of you, and a cripple hasn’t any place in a storming party. Brad’s ankle hasn’t got back into normal condition, you know.”

“In other words,” said Clancy, “Hannibal didn’t happen to be around at the moment of starting, and we left Ophir in a rush.”

“You were a long time beginning the rush. I expected some of you to reach the Bar Z several hours before this.”

“Why, were you expecting us, Chip?”

“I suppose I was wrong,” scored Merry, “but I thought you and Clan would use your brains.”

“Oh, glory!” muttered Clancy. “Just as if we hadn’t!  Say, Chip, Sherlock Holmes is a has-been alongside of Pink. But, even at that, Pink didn’t discover much. It took a deputy sheriff to head us right.”

“What happened?” demanded Ballard. “Stop casting slurs on our mental make-up, Chip, and give us the news.”

Merry began at once. First, of course, he told of the mysterious cowboy under the window, of the pebbles thrown against the glass, and of the argument the cowboy had used to get him to drop from the second story and depart without arousing anybody.

“You walked into their little trap, Chip,” commented Ballard, “in a way that’s painful to contemplate. Talk about us using our brains! What were you doing with yours?”

Merry did not explain that Blunt alone was the cause of his falling into the net so artfully spread by Andy Able.  Clancy and Ballard did not feel toward the Cowboy Wonder as Merry felt.

From that point Merry went on rapidly with his recital, and was pleased to see that all his auditors were vastly interested. Once or twice Mr. Bradlaugh asked him to raise his voice so that all the details might reach the front seat above the noise of the car.

When Merry had finished, Hawkins, the deputy sheriff, was smiling broadly; Mr. Bradlaugh was frowning; Clancy and Ballard were voicing regrets because they had missed an exciting game of ball; and Merry was settling back in his seat, enjoying himself.

“That’s about as high-handed a proceeding as I have heard of in a long time, Hawkins!” exclaimed Mr. Bradlaugh.

“Tut, tut,” returned Hawkins; “just a little cowboy fun.”

“Fun?” echoed Bradlaugh. “It’s lawless fun, then and should be severely condemned. Merriwell lured from his hotel, made a prisoner—even locked up—and this What’s-his-name, pitcher for the Mavericks, deliberately waylaid, bound hand and foot, and left among the rocks-you call that cowboy fun, eh?”

“Rough fun, mebby,” said Hawkins, “but the regular, Simon-pure article as developed by a bunch of daredevil cow-punchers. They didn’t mean any harm, not at all. The consideration shown Merriwell proves that.”

“But suppose those steers had trampled Merriwell in the gap? Suppose he had been injured during the rowdying that followed the game?”

“That would have been too blame’ bad, only it didn’t happen.  No man’s got any business worrying over what doesn’t happen. Eh,Merriwell?”

“I should think not,” Frank answered.

“And you’re satisfied?”

“Perfectly.”

Hawkins turned and reached a hand over the back of the seat.

“Put it there, son!” he cried heartily. “You can take a joke, even if it is rough, and that’s the sort of spirit that’ll carry a fellow far in this man’s country. Right this minute I’ll bet something handsome that the Tin Cup outfit and. the Bar Z punchers are having a love feast.  Oh, they’re all right; so’s Blunt, and Merriwell, too—a whole lot. Everything’s all right, and I wish you’d hit it up with your car and get me home in time for supper. The wife never likes to have me late.”

After dropping Merry’s hand, Hawkins squared around in his seat.

“That boy, Bradlaugh,” he added, in a low voice; “is the clear quill. From now on I’m goin’ to watch him with considerable interest.”

'I'm going to do whatever I can,' declared Bradlaugh, 'to keep him clear of these cowboy jokes.'

“I’m going to do whatever I can,” declared Bradlaugh, “to keep him clear of these cowboy jokes.”

In response to which the deputy sheriff merely laughed good-naturedly.

CHAPTER XI.
RACING AWAY FROM THE BAR Z.

Frank had seen disappointed and angry men try to start a disturbance at ball games before. But his experience with that phase of the question had mostly been confined to the East, where the riotous crowds were sprinkled liberally with blue coats and nickel-plated stars. Always those Eastern demonstrations had been nipped in their infancy, for the strong hand of the law came down and forced the insubordinate ones back on their good behavior.

Merry began wondering if he could not do something. He looked around for some one to help back up his efforts. Every one he could see was busy. Frank himself had only avoided combat by ducking away. His only interest in the row was to stop it, and not to help it along.

Murgatroyd and some one else, locked in each other’s arms, disentangled themselves from the crowd, pitched to the ground, and rolled over and over. When they halted their rolling, not more than a yard from where Frank stood, the foreman’s adversary proved to be Amos Bixler.

Bixler was getting the worst of it, but that did not prevent him from saying scathing things.

'I'm a-tellin' you,' cried Murgatroyd, his voice husky with rage, 'that the Bar Z boys didn't have nothin' to do with what happened to Snow. Blunt’s the chap. He put up the dodge. And he didn't do it to win the game, but jest to pitch ag'in this Merriwell! Don't say I'm lyin', Amos, or I'll bruise your face for you.'

“The Bar Zees are a bunch of crooks! Tried to lick us by holdin’ out Jim Snow, huh? But you didn’t make out!”

“I’m a-tellin’ you,” cried Murgatroyd, his voice husky with rage, “that the Bar Z boys didn’t have nothin’ to do with what happened to Snow. Blunt’s the chap. He put up the dodge. And he didn’t do it to win the game, but jest to pitch ag’in this Merriwell! Don’t say I’m lyin’, Amos, or I’ll bruise your face for you.”

“I wouldn’t b’leeve-any o’ your crowd under oath arter this!” declared Bixler.

Murgatroyd muttered fiercely and raised his fist to strike. Merriwell caught the descending fist and, with a wrench, pulled the foreman from his prostrate antagonist. Bixler would have pursued the battle the instant he gained his feet had not Frank stepped in between the two.

“This is foolish.” said Frank. “Murgatroyd, you and Bixler are acting like a pair of kids. Your rules of conduct are something of a puzzle to me, but I’ve got sense enough to see that there’s absolutely no cause for a quarrel here, or—”

“Get out of the way!” snapped the foreman, trying to push Merry from in front of him.

The attempt was unsuccessful, for Merry kept his place determinedly.

“You agreed,” he went on, to the foreman, “that I should take Snow’s place and pitch for the Mavericks. The Mavericks also accepted me as a substitute. The Rustlers lost; they have no one to blame and ought to be good sportsmen and good losers. You fellows, Murgatroyd, ought to be ashamed to begin rowdying with a lot of visitors. As for you, Bixler, your men won. You have less cause than Murgatroyd to show a bad temper.”

“How do I know what you was workin’ for?” cried Bixler. “I’ll gamble my spurs that you an’ Blunt was back of what happened to Snow. That’s the thing that sticks in my crop. Winnin’ or losin’ hasn’t got a thing to do with that. If I thought–”

Several of t he T in Cup men, catching Bixler’s words, were just wild enough to accept them as a cue.

'Go fer the Eastern kid' they shouted, half a dozen of them breaking from the struggling throng and moving toward Merriwell. 'Give 'im 'Hail Columby!'

“Go fer the Eastern kid!” they shouted, half a dozen of them breaking from the struggling throng and moving toward Merriwell. “Give ‘im ‘Hail Columby!’ Let him know, by thunder, that we’re backin’ Jim Snow!”

It hardly seemed possible that men could change their sentiments so swiftly. But all those cowboys were largely the creatures of circumstance. In their excitement they were not logical.

Then, almost before Frank had time to think, another twist was given to the situation-a twist that was fully as hard to understand as the quick change of front on the part of the Tin Cup cowboys.

Murgatroyd turned on Merriwell.

“This talk o’ Bixler’s is all bunk!” he cried. “I can see through it. He put up the job with you to jump in an’ beat the Rustlers! Blunt’s a fool, an’ played the game right into our hands. We’d ‘a’ won with Snow in the pitcher’s box. With you there we lost out. I don’t know how much you’re gettin’ for your work, but, by gorry, I’ll see that you don’t enjoy it none.”

The foreman, red and disheveled, made jump for Frank. With a quick leap backward Merry evaded his sweeping hands. As the Tin Cup men had taken a cue from Bixler, so the Bar Z fellows now found a pattern set for them by Murgatroyd.

“Frame-up, frame-up!” they yelled. “Merriwell played a lame duck with us! Let’s show him a thing or two!”

The sentiment, false as well as dangerous, spread among the cowboys like wildfire. The opposing factions cried a truce, and side by side they started for Merriwell.

Merry was astounded. How reasoning men, even in the heat of excitement, could so deceive themselves was a point that bewildered him. But, failing though he did to comprehend the hostile movement against him, the movement itself was one that promised violence before the cowboys could be brought to their senses. To escape the violence it was necessary for Frank to do something quickly. Flight was the only course open to him. Spinning around, he started across the athletic field in the direction of the narrow gap. This, the scene of his first attempt to escape from the ranch, was now the scene of his second.

All the cowboys were on foot. A few, realizing early in the pursuit that Merriwell was too fast for them, turned back to secure their horses.

The mounts of the visitors, saddled and bridled, but with the cinch straps loosened, had all been left as far to the north of the ranch buildings as the athletic field was to the south of them. Merriwell, whose thoughts were circling about the possibility of finding a horse quickly, was forced to run directly away from the only available animals. His hope was that he might get through the gap safely, and then, by good fortune, lay his course through a country horsemen could not travel. But the land beyond the gap was totally unfamiliar, and he had not the least idea what lie should find.

His sprinting abilities enabled him to keep a good lead of the cowboys. Blunt was not in evidence, nor Lloyd, nor Ben Jordan, who were supposed to be the best runners among the cowboy athletes. Merry did not wonder that they refrained from taking part in the chase.

Being in the plot which Blunt had evolved and carried through, they knew well that Merry was in no way at fault, and was entitled to his freedom.

Frank dashed into the narrow pass, and through it. As he plunged into the open at the farther end, a look over his shoulder sent a startled thrill through his body. Half a dozen mounted men were spurring after him in full career.

It was Blunt!

And then, as he clenched his teeth and hardened himself for a supreme effort, he was startled again. This time it was by a voice hailing him. Simultaneously with the call a rider spurred out of a thicket of greasewood. It was Blunt!

“Keep away from me, Blunt!” called Frank breathlessly. “You got me into this, and now you’ll keep hands off while I do my best to get out of the scrape!’

“There you go!” grunted the Cowboy Wonder. “You don’t give me any credit for being square. I’m here to help you.” He kicked his foot out of a stirrup and curbed his horse with a firm hand. “Get up behind me—quick!”

Already hoofs were pounding through the gap and Merriwell had no time to give vent to the surprise that filled him. Half a dozen strides carried him to Blunt’s side. He did not find the stirrup necessary, but saved a fraction of a minute by mounting at a flying leap. The mettlesome black horse, frightened by the weight of a second rider, began to buck and plunge. Blunt, however, was a master horseman, and quickly brought the black to time.

“Hang on!” he said, and the quirt swished across the horse’s withers.

The cowboys were boiling through the end of the gap, their mounts at breakneck speed.

Frank, clinging to the saddle cantle, kept his place while the black leaped away like an arrow from a bow. The cowboys were boiling through the end of the gap, their mounts at breakneck speed. With loud yells they swerved to the left, leaned over their saddle horns and came on like the wind, quirt thongs trailing in the air.

“I guess it’s a case of up sticks, Blunt,” remarked Merriwell. “They can’t do much, though, even if they overhaul us.”

“No telling what they’ll do, in the sort of temper they’re in now. Just at present they’d do things they’d fight to keep somebody else from doing an hour later. They’re boiling, fair boiling; but we’ll fool ‘em.”

Where Blunt went Merriwell did not know. Merry was conscious of climbing steep slopes and of tobogganing down descents that were almost clifflike; and then there were hair-raising jumps over bowlders, and a threading of narrow chasms, with now and then a dash across an open space cluttered with cactus and greasewood.

The pursuers faded from sight and hearing. By and by Blunt turned into a trail, and Merry remembered it as one he had followed in coming to the Bar Z Ranch with Andy Able and the others during the night.

“This is the Ophir road!’ he exclaimed.

“Sure it is,” answered Blunt, with a grim laugh. “I’m toting you to town. That was the agreement. After the game you were to be taken back.”

“Whew!” Frank exclaimed, “that was about as lively an afternoon as I’ve ever spent.”

“Thank me for it, Merriwell. I wanted to pitch against you, so I put up the whole dodge. There were a lot of details, but I managed to work them out.”

“I had an idea you had done something to Snow to keep him out of the game, but I imagined you had bribed him. Strikes me it’s serious business, roping a man hand and foot and leaving him in the hills.”

Blunt exploded a careless, scornful laugh.

“This that we’ve just gone through is the only serious part of it,” he declared. “The punchers are mad now, but in an hour or two they’ll be laughing about it and they’ll all sit in at the chuck table for supper like brothers. It’s only a flash in the pan. When a cowboy goes into a tantrum without any good reason, he cools down as soon as he begins to figure things out.”

“When you captured Snow,” Frank asked, “what did you do with his horse?”

“Took it into camp. It’s been out back of the corral all afternoon.”

There followed a brief silence while the black horse galloped easily along under its double burden.

Blunt suddenly pulled in his horse. 'Get down,' he ordered curtly.

Blunt suddenly pulled in his horse. “Get down,” he ordered curtly.

“What for?” asked Frank, bewildered.

“Because I say so. An automobile is coming—I just saw it top a ‘rise,’ dead ahead. Some of your friends are after you, and I don’t want to meet any of your crowd.”

Frank was overjoyed to learn that a motor car was on the way. He had been expecting Clancy and Ballard for several hours, and they were long overdue. Slipping from the horse’s back, he stepped around and offered Blunt his hand.

“What’s the use, Blunt,” he asked, “of you and I being at swords’ points? We might as well be friends.”

“We’ll never be friends,” Blunt answered, with his savage smile, “until I take a fall out of you at something or other. I don’t believe in hemming and hawing and side-stepping, and I’m giving it to you straight. I’m going to get you yet,” and without waiting for further words, the eccentric cowboy athlete swished his quirt and galloped off on the back trail.

By that time the automobile was close at hand, and Merry turned to hear the vociferous greetings of those aboard the car.

CHAPTER X.
WON IN THE NINTH.

His conceit was immense, and it was paraded in his actions no less than in his talk.

Barzy Blunt, confident that the result of that game would show him to be a better man than Merriwell, was chaffing with his admirers both on and off the diamond. His conceit was immense, and it was paraded in his actions no less than in his talk.

“Hold ‘em fer the first half, Barzy,” called an enthusiastic Bar Z puncher, “an’ then snow ‘em under fer a few more while ye’re cuttin’ the thing off.”

“Anything to oblige, old pard,” answered Blunt amiably.

“Shtop mit der gassing,” ordered Dutch Fritz, “und pegin vork wit der pall. Vat you t’ink? Dis iss nod a gabble party. Now, vonce!”

Blunt tossed the ball, and Spuds merely glanced at it and grinned. “Ball vone !” clamored Dutch Fritz.

“Good eye, Spuds,” said Merriwell. “Make him put ‘em over.”

“I’m little Willie Git-there, durin’ this shake-up,” returned Spuds confidently. “I galloped all around oncet, an’ I’m about due fer another tour.”

But Spuds’ tour was toward the benches. He missed the ball once, fouled once, then lifted a fly into the hands of Ed Sparks, out in the middle distance. Barzy Blunt ripped out a cheer. His confidence was growing, and he was now absolutely positive that the Rustlers had made a score that could not be tied. All Blunt wanted was another whack at Merriwell. He’d fan the Eastern kid, that’s what he would do. Bet your life. Watch and see how easily it could be done!

McTurk looked like an easy one to put down. The way Mac had camped on third base, in a previous inning, was remembered by the spectators.

“Give him his blankets, somebody,” shouted a voice in the crowd. “If He gits away he’ll want ter snooze on one o’ them bags, an’ it ain’t right not ter make him comfortable.”

“Shdrike!” bawled Dutch Fritz.

McTurk gave a jump of surprise and looked wild. “Thunder!” he exclaimed, “I didn’t see nothin’ of no ball.”

Blunt had stolen a march on McTurk. The latter was at the plate and in position, and it was perfectly legitimate to catch him napping, if possible.

“Wake up, Mac,” shouted Bixler angrily, “or I’ll come over there an’ be right harsh with ye, an—”

“Shdrike doo!” broke in Dutch Fritz.

“Darn!” yelled McTurk. “Be squar’, Blunt, an’ stop sneakin’ ‘em through. Ye act as though ye was afearrd I’d hit one.”

“You can’t hit anything, Mac,” answered Blunt. “You’re in a trance.”

The Wonder was so sure McTurk was in a trance that he tried to catch him off guard with a third good one. Then Mac woke up and showed all kinds of ginger. The wood thumped the leather, and away went the ball for a safe single.

“Now, Merriwell, you know what we’re expecting,” called Bixler, going down the line to give McTurk his cues.

“Merriwell, line it out!” begged the Tin Cuppers. “Show the bunch how it’s done! If you fall down, we’re plum dished. Bring McTurk home!”

Blunt sent in the ball. It spanked into Lloyd’s mitt wide and high, and Merry refused to waste any energy on it.

Then Dutch Fritz did something which he had done once before, by some sort of weird vagary he called a strike. Frank stared at the umpire, and those of the spectators who were placed so they could get a line on the ball with reference to the plate, were fighting mad over the injustice.

“Some time I’m shore a-goin’ to come comp’ny front with ye, wearin’ a ‘six’ of my own,” roared a Tin Cup man.

“Let’s not wait,” suggested another exasperated cowman, “let’s lynch ‘im now. His eyesight’s played out, an’ he’s no good any more.”

'Shdrike doo !' bawled Dutch Fritz, impervious to any shaft however barbed.

“Shdrike doo !” bawled Dutch Fritz, impervious to any shaft however barbed.

This announcement was all right, for Merry had struck at the ball and had failed to connect. Blunt had a wiggle ball of his own–one that came straight at the plate, wiggled around the bat, and then went straight on into the catcher’s mitt.

It was a unique toss, and one which was brand new to Merriwell. It was an invention of Blunt’s, undoubtedly. If so, it was an invention that deserved promotion for the good of the national game.

It wouldn’t do for Frank to let Blunt strike him out at that stage of the game. For one thing, it would leave too good a taste in the Wonder’s mouth, for fanning Merriwell at that time was equivalent to winning the game–very probably. For another thing, it struck Merry that Blunt needed a defeat of some sort, just then, as part of a course of training.

Frank made a hurried study of the wiggle ball. When it came along again, he did some wiggling with the stick, and the spell was broken-broken with a crash that brought the Mavericks’ rooters to their feet in a cheering mass of riotous humanity, and made many of the Mavericks’ players mount their bench and cheer.

For Merriwell, resenting Blunt’s effort to fan him, had tore off a strike that was the hit of the afternoon. The ball went so far into right field that the Rustlers in that part of the country were still looking for it as McTurk came languidly home with Merriwell tight at his heels.

McTurk’s run had tied the score, and Merriwell’s had put the Mavericks in the lead. Several cowboys ran out and caught Merry as he came in. He was embraced and almost wept over, and while he was trying to escape, Blunt struck Bixler out, as usual, and then beat Hackney to first with the ball on a feeble grounder.

The Mavericks were now done. They had had their last chance and had improved it. If Merry could hold them in the last half of the ninth, the Tin Cup contingent would shake hands with everybody and go home in glory.

Brezee was the first man to bat in the last half of the ninth. He touched one out, just inside the foul line. If Overton hadn’t fumbled, the ball might have reached first ahead of Brezee—but, of course, right then Overton had to fall for an error.

Along came Lloyd, determined to do or die. Instead of sacrificing, as the Mavericks expected and for which they drew in all around the diamond, he rapped the horsehide for a safe single, going to first while Brezee got to second.

And then a mighty cheer went up as Barzy Blunt picked up his favorite stick, mumbled a charm over it, and stepped to the slab.

Perhaps Blunt was excited. A good deal depended on him, and he would have had some excuse for shaking nerves. Perhaps, on the other hand, Frank pitched immaculate ball. It really makes little difference what the cause of the disaster was, for the fact that the disaster really happened was sufficient. Barzy Blunt swung three times, without result, and he nearly broke his back in the hope of adding a home run to his batting average.

For a full minute Blunt stood and blinked. Then, incidentally, Merriwell tossed the ball to Overton, and Brezee was called out at a third on a close play.

Blunt dropped his bat and moved off slowly toward the bench. Frank felt sorry for the fellow. After all his boasting when he thought the game was “sewed up,” now to swallow a personal defeat was extremely bitter.

Ben Jordan, who was the last, faint, flickering hope of the Bar Z men, went down without ever touching the ball. The moment he was called out, bedlam broke loose among the Tin Cup men.

The Mavericks, realizing well who had saved the game for them, rushed as one man for Merriwell.

The Mavericks, realizing well who had saved the game for them, rushed as one man for Merriwell. Andy Able said something to a Mavericks’ rooter that didn’t set well, and the rooter put his arms around Andy and shook him. Then, as if to add fuel to the fire and mix the feelings of victors and vanquished, a wild figure pushed through the crowd and out into the diamond. The newcomer was a person of stocky build but of haggard aspect. He looked as though he had recently undergone a harrowing experience. It was several moments before the angry bellowings were heard and he himself was recognized.

“Jim Snow!” roared a husky voice. “Well, if it ain’t!”

“You’re too late, Snow, too everlastin’ly late! We done won the game with a substitute.”

“Why didn’t ye git here, eh? Not that you was needed at all, but it would ‘a’ looked a heap better.”

'Listen ter me!' howled Snow frantically. 'Hush fer a spell so’st I can talk, will ye? I been double crossed, by thunder! I’d ‘a’ got here if I’d been let. But I wasn’t; I was hindered, an’ had it played low down on me.'

“Listen ter me!” howled Snow frantically. “Hush fer a spell so’st I can talk, will ye? I been double crossed, by thunder! I’d ‘a’ got here if I’d been let. But I wasn’t; I was hindered, an’ had it played low down on me.”

A slow stillness crept over the field as Snow’s words made themselves clear. Bixler, his face grim, stepped forth to interrogate his regular pitcher.

“You say you was hindered, Jim?” he demanded.

“I sure was!” answered Snow, with vigor and venom.

“Who hindered ye?”

“Bar Z fellers. Blunt was one, an’ Andy Able was another, an’ Bandy Harrison an’ some more was along.”

“What was done to ye, Jim? Tell us the hull of it. I couldn’t think it possible you’d lay down on this game of your own accord.”

“I should say not!” fumed Jim Snow. “This is the how of it,” he went on. “Ye see, I pulled out from the ranch ahead o’ the rest o’ ye, calculatin’ to come around by Ophir. That’s what I done. Got out o’ Ophir before noon, in plenty o’ time to reach the Bar Z fer the game. But jest out o’ the gulch I met up with them junipers I was tellin’ ye of. An’ what d’you think they done?”

“Out with it, Jim,” urged Bixler. “Ye’re with friends, pard, an’ we’ll stand by ye.”

“Them onnery skunks grabbed me off o’ my bronk an’ tied me up, an’ dumped me among the rocks,” yelled Snow,” “that’s what they done. They did it ter keep me out o’ this game. I was a long while gittin’ loose, an’ when I was able I put fer here.”

The riot, at that moment, was very near. The Tin Cup men, resenting the treatment accorded their regular pitcher, were moving restlessly. Their faces were black and scowling. Those favoring the Mavericks began getting together on one side, while those loyal to the Bar Z crowd began clustering at a little distance.

It was well that the only man in all that gathering who had a revolver was the fat umpire. And already Dutch Fritz had collected his fee and was mounting his horse to avoid possible trouble.

“Why was it done, Jim?” demanded Bixler, proceeding with his questions.

“It was done so’st to cinch the game fer the Rustlers,” asserted Snow. Having no knowledge of the real reason, he jumped at that one as the most probably. “They was bankin’ on makin’ ye take a scrub pitcher, an’ this Merriwell chap was run in. I—”

A bellowing roar of rage went up from the visiting players and their allies, and Jim Snow’s voice was blotted out.

“Are we goin’ ter stand for any sich rhinecaboo?” came the fierce demand, high over the hubbub. “These coyotes have played it low down on us. What’s the answer?”

The answer was a concerted rush of the Tin Cup crowd on the Bar Z detachment. The two sides came together with a smashing impact, and the yells and whoops arose in a terrible din. Murgatroyd, who had earlier in the day deplored the very thing that was now coming to pass, was leading the Bar Z crowd.

All the nagging and give and take that had been indulged in during the game was now remembered with great bitterness. Every man had a score to settle with some other man, and went about it forthwith. The riot was on.

All the nagging and give and take that had been indulged in during the game was now remembered with great bitterness. Every man had a score to settle with some other man, and went about it forthwith. The riot was on.

CHAPTER IX.
TIED—AND UNTIED.

Now came a time, in that baseball game of Mavericks versus Rustlers, when the goose egg put itself in pronounced evidence. In the second inning Bill Overton, third baseman; Terence Tyrone, short, and a Mexican puncher named Gonzales, who played in the left meadows, came up and went down with a dismal regularity that brought sadness to the hearts of the Tin Cuppers and joy and confidence to the Bar Z men.

Then Merriwell, on his mettle, sent over the same inglorious course “Pork” Sanders, the Rustlers’ shortstop, and Tom Kinney, of the left field, and Ed Sparks, of the right.

“I reckon Merriwell’s gettin’ down ter b-i-z, biz,” remarked a Tin Cup man.

“But I sure don’t want to see no line o’ doughnuts,” spoke up another of the same following. “The way ter play ball is ter go sliding around the bases an’ gallopin’ in with the runs. I hate ter see a pitcher an’ a ketcher hog a fight like this.”

That sentiment prevailed largely. For the finer points of the game some of the cowboy fans cared not a rap. They wanted to see something going on all around the diamond.

What Merriwell was seeking more than anything else was to engender confidence in his abilities as a pitcher, especially among the Mavericks. If they had faith in him, they would give him good support; if they lacked faith, their support would be ragged and cause damage.

In the first half of the third Spuds led off with the swat stick for the Mavericks. Blunt, no doubt, knew Spuds’ eccentricities with the stick, and began angling for them. But accidents will happen in the best of regulated clubs, and Spuds smashed the third ball with a heartiness that went far to make up for his late wrestling match with Jack Lee.

The sphere rose high over Blunt’s head, and the bow legs of Bandy Harrison could be seen grating back from second. The ball dropped in Harrison’s hands, found a gap, and went through.

While the Bar Z groans went up, and the Tin Cup jeers and whoops waxed strong, Spuds bowled along to first.

Bixler, highly encouraged, went down the coaching line.

“Be on the job now, you junipers,” he shouted. “Man on first an’ no one out. Take a lead, Spuds, take a lead. Don’t be afeared of a throw to first. Blunt was never knowed to do it.”

McTurk, right fielder, was next to get in front of the Cowboy Wonder. He made a beautiful sacrifice, advancing Spuds to second.

Just then it was up to Merriwell. He had been placed at the bottom of the batting list, for Bixler was afraid to put him near the top with his hardest hitters. What would Merriwell do? This mental question was going the rounds of players and spectators. Even if he struck out there would still be a chance to tie the score, for Bixler would have another try at Blunt’s balls; and if, by fell circumstance, Bixler fanned a second time, there remained Gib Hackney, the second-best bet, to bring Spuds in. And yet, for all that, everybody wanted to see what Merriwell would do.

Then that little game of personal rivalry within the larger game for ranch championship began a second time. Barzy Blunt did his prettiest. Speed is nothing if there is not control behind it. Blunt had both.

The Wonder had also an easy, careless way of winding up and letting go which Merriwell had been studying. His balls were puzzlers, and Merry swung at two, leaving two wild ones to themselves. On one of the wild ones Spuds hustled for third. Lloyd got the ball over, and Toofers grabbed it neatly, but Spuds had slid head first and beat the ball.

Merry was expecting Blunt to give him a good ball. It came. Merry’s stick fell upon it, and the sphere plunged off along the ground between short and second. Spuds jogged home and Merry camped on second, all to the accompaniment of great rejoicing from the Maverick rooters.

Merry was expecting Blunt to give him a good ball. It came. Merry’s stick fell upon it, and the sphere plunged off along the ground between short and second. Spuds jogged home and Merry camped on second, all to the accompaniment of great rejoicing from the Maverick rooters.

“Elegant!” roared Amos Bixler, quite proud of himself, by then, for giving Snow’s shoes to Merriwell.

“One down, one run, and the Eastern kid on second! There’s where we get ahead.”

Merriwell slipped over to third while Bixler was trying to find Blunt’s tosses. But Bixler couldn’t find them, and for the second time that afternoon the mighty captain of the Mavericks struck out! If he was disgusted before, it would be difficult to describe his surging emotions now. Gib Hackney also repeated his former performance.

So Merriwell had gained his desire. Blunt had expired on third, and so did he. Honors were easy, so far. Best of all, the score was tied.

In the last half of the third the round “0” went up again to Merry’s credit.

Honors had been easy up to that time, but now Blunt had a score to settle. He was not the fellow to forget his debts, either. Wait, just wait, until Merriwell faced him again!

The little circles continued to find their place in the score book. The first half of the fourth saw Jack Lee, Gill Overton, and Terence Tyrone go forth with vigor and find a Waterloo.

The second half took Ben Jordan to first on a fumble by Overton, at third ; and then, half a minute later, Merry whipped the ball over to first and Jordan was stunned with surprise when Bixler touched him out, and Dutch Fritz supported the captain’s play.

Bandy Harrison proved to be the original “easy mark” for Frank; and Toofers was not much more difficult, for he knocked a hot one straight into Merry’s hands.

Then came the fifth. Along in here the balloon, if properly inflated, shows symptoms of rising. The score of one and one could not long endure. Something would have to give.

Gonzales, swarthy and supple, went to bat. Spuds, the next man on the schedule, began swinging a couple of clubs to put himself in trim for another round of the sacks.

Gonzales lined out a hot one, surprising everybody. It was so hot that it burned the hands of Ben Jordan, and he dropped it like a hot branding iron. Before Jordan could gather in the ball, Gonzales had a foot on the sack.
Spuds bunted loyally, was thrown out at first, but had the pleasure of seeing the Mexican roosting on second. This was pretty good, and the balloon threatened to break loose when Blunt hit McTurk on the thigh and Dutch Fritz told him to “Take your base mit dot.”

McTurk, secretly delighted, feigned great anguish as he crawled along the path to Ben Jordan's station. There was now a man on first and another on second, and mighty Merriwell was coming to bat!

McTurk, secretly delighted, feigned great anguish as he crawled along the path to Ben Jordan’s station. There was now a man on first and another on second, and mighty Merriwell was coming to bat!

Blunt, it seemed to Merriwell, was losing his grip on himself. If he became rattled, at that stage of proceedings, there was no telling what the Mavericks might not do to the Rustlers.

Two balls went so far to the east that Merriwell could not have reached out with the stick and have come within a foot of them. With dismal regularity Dutch Fritz called the balls. The third one Merriwell swatted, ‘way, ‘way out into deep center.

Gonzales romped home; and McTurk would have romped home, too, if he hadn’t thought discretion the better part of valor, and hung to the third sack in spite of the coacher, his teammates, and all the Tin Cup spectators. By staying on third, McTurk kept Merriwell
on second.

For a third time Bixler went to bat. He hit the ball this time, but Blunt made a star catch, and then a quick throw to third that wound up McTurk and retired the side.

There had been a chance for a number of runs, but the chance had gone glimmering. However, the Tin Cup men were satisfied. There were now in the lead.

In the last half of this inning Merry took the scalp of Ben Jordan with comparative ease. An inshoot and an outcurve followed by a jump ball that flashed by like a comet did the business for Jordan.

Bandy Harrison then braced his bow legs at the plate and touched off a grounder that should have been Merriwell’s, but which Bixler insisted on trying to take aboard. He got it, finally, but he couldn’t get back to his base ahead of Bandy.

Toofers was next. Why he was called “Toofers” Merriwell did not know, but he made a reason for it that time at bat. He struck twice, handing, at the second blow, an easy fly to Jack Lee on second. Bandy, badly coached, started to run, thinking Lee had returned the ball to Merriwell. As a matter of fact, Lee had the ball under his’ arm and was yelling to Merry to “Throw it back, pard!” Then Lee met Bandy a yard off second and touched him out.

The score was still two to one, in favor of the visiting team, and Merriwell was proving himself both a batter and a pitcher of much renown.

The welkin—whatever that is—began to ring with the vociferous approval of the Tin Cuppers. The score was still two to one, in favor of the visiting team, and Merriwell was proving himself both a batter and a pitcher of much renown.

The sixth inning opened auspiciously for the Mavericks. Gib Hackney got a hit right at the beginning, was advanced by Jack Lee on a sacrifice, and sent to third by a hit by Overton. Terence Tyrone began spoiling it all by striking out with dizzy regularity, and then the Mexican polished the thing off by being thrown out at first before Hackney could put his score over.

Frank had the goose egg pretty well under his thumb during the last half of this round, and Blunt got back into form again during the first half of the round that followed. Nobody scored.

The seventh was a repetition of the sixth; and while matters looked promising for the Mavericks in the first of the eighth, the side was retired with nothing accomplished. The cowboys were getting restive. They wanted to see more members of the team at work. In the last half of the eighth they had their wish, for there was work for all the Mavericks.

Ben Jordan got to Merriwell for a clean single. Hackney, while Harrison was at bat, tried to catch Jordan with a throw across the diamond to second. The ball missed Jack Lee by a yard, and Jordan went to third. Spuds, coming in from center, got the ball and, by a mistake of judgment, rushed it after Jordan to third. The throw fell short, and Tyrone grabbed the ball and—just why, Heaven knows!—threw it to Bixler.

There was no one running, and Tyrone must have been having dreams. While Bixler was juggling the ball Jordan got in with a tally. Harrison and Toofer struck out, for which Merry was thankful; then, owing to defective vision on the part of Dutch Fritz—he admitted it after the game—Pork Sanders “walked.” Merry was indignant, but put the clamps firmly on his temper. Tom Kinney, following Sanders, knocked a little insignificant fly which Tyrone, just to show he was still only half awake, muffed miserably. Ed Sparks knocked out another fly, and Sanders made the most of it and got home with another score. Then Merry took the matter in hand, threw out Kinney at third, and Overton followed suit by throwing out Sparks at second.

The score had been tied for a long time, but now the last inning for the Mavericks was at hand and found the Rustlers a run in the lead.

Could the Mavericks overhaul their rivals and gain a score on them? The nerves of the Tin Cup men were drawn to tightest tension. The first man up in the ninth for the Mavericks was Spuds, then came McTurk, and then—the only hope—Merriwell! As the Tin Cup crowd had turned away from Merry in the first, so now they turned to him in the last. If he failed them, the championship was lost to the Mavericks!

CHAPTER VIII.
THE GAME BEGINS.

Jim Snow did not arrive by two-thirty in the afternoon. As the game was called for that hour, Amos Bixler, with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm, requested Merriwell to pitch for the Mavericks. No objection was raised by the Rustlers. All the Mavericks were flying distress signals, for they had seen little and knew less about “the Eastern kid,” as they called Merry. The Rustlers themselves looked rather sad, but for the reason that they had seen just enough of Merry to give them a good, wholesome fear of his pitching abilities.

While the Rustlers and the Tin Cup rooters were heaping abuse upon Jim Snow for his failure to appear, Blunt, Lloyd, Jordan, and a few others were exchanging winks and significant grins. Merriwell, catching a few of these covert glances, became absolutely certain that Snow had been bribed to keep out of the game. Blunt and his friends, of course, had done the bribing, and had brought Frank to the Bar Z Ranch so that he might step into the box for the Mavericks, thus pitting him against Blunt.

The Cowboy Wonder had gone to a vast amount of trouble to bring the matter about. His one consuming desire was to compete with Merriwell at something or other, and to show that he was the better man.

The Cowboy Wonder had gone to a vast amount of trouble to bring the matter about. His one consuming desire was to compete with Merriwell at something or other, and to show that he was the better man.

The Tin Cup athletes wore uniforms of their own devising. Gray flannel shirts had been hacked off at the elbows, and gray trousers of various shades had been hacked off at the knees. A few had stockings, but many more played in their bare skins. Every man of the nine, however, had spiked shoes, evidently purchased new for the occasion. Snow’s shoes had been brought along with the bats, mitts, mask, and protector, and, with a little cotton in the heels and toes, they fitted Merriwell tolerably well.

The Rustlers had secured from somewhere a secondhand outfit of uniforms. They were blue, and much worn, a little off as to fit, yet serving their purpose.

Possibly a hundred cowboys gathered around the diamond. Their methods were violent in the matter of rooting, and they were fiercely partisan and about equally divided in their loyalty.

Possibly a hundred cowboys gathered around the diamond. Their methods were violent in the matter of rooting, and they were fiercely partisan and about equally divided in their loyalty.

The catcher for the Mavericks was a red-headed, beefy sort of fellow, with a squint. Frank had a little talk with him about signals, and, shortly before time for the game to be called, went out for a little preliminary practice. The rest of the Mavericks were “warming up” out on the diamond, and Frank took casual note of them as he tossed the balls to Gib Hackney, the Mavericks’ catcher.

Merry was considerably surprised at the snappy work the Tin Cup fellows were doing. It was rough and ready in spots, but, for the most part, remarkably swift and sure.

When the Rustlers went out, Frank watched them just as he had the Mavericks. The Bar Z fellows, so far as he could judge, were about on a par with their rivals.

Blunt, who was at a little distance from Frank, oiling up his right wing for the scrimmage, also commanded a part of Frank’s attention. Frank expected something a little better than common from Blunt, and was not disappointed. The Wonder had speed, and, apparently, a thorough understanding with Lloyd, the other half of the Rustlers’ battery.

It was within a minute or so of half past two when the umpire put in an appearance. He came from another ranch, whose brand was a “fiddleback,” and consequently would have no favorites to play in the contest. He was short and thick, and had a pair of puttees buckled over his shins. He was introduced to Frank as “Dutch Fritz,” and certainly he looked the part. From a belt that encircled his ample waist there hung a holster, and over the holster’s top peered the handgrip of a “forty-four.”

“You don’t mean to say he’s going to wear that thing during the game!” Merry exclaimed to Jack Lee, who held down the second sack for the Mavericks.

“Sure he is!” exclaimed Lee, with fervor. “Ain’t he the umpire? If he’s put to it, he uses the gun to make his decisions stick.”

Vociferous demands were going up from the spectators for the playing to begin. The Rustlers were already distributed about the diamond, and Blunt was on his way to the pitcher’s box, while Bixler, first man up for the Mavericks, was buckling Lloyd’s chest protector. Dutch Fritz stepped forward and raised a fat hand to command silence. Something like silence having been secured, the umpire spoke:

'Ladies und chentlemen—or, radder, chentlemen midoudt der ladies—dis iss der rubber game bedween der Mafericks und der Rustlers.'

“Ladies und chentlemen—or, radder, chentlemen midoudt der ladies—dis iss der rubber game bedween der Mafericks und der Rustlers. Alretty she shtands vone und vone, und der successors in dis game here dis afternoon vill haf der championships oof der ranch country by Goldt Hill, yas. For der Rustlers, der pattery iss Barzy Blunt und Aaron Lloyd, und for der Mafericks ve half it Frank Merrivell, chunior, und Gip Hackney. Dot iss all vat I know for der present, oxcept oof I make some decisions you don’t like you vill find dot I can shoot fairst. Now, den, ve vill ged pizzy.”

Wading out to his post behind the pitcher, Dutch Fritz tore the paper off a new ball. “Pegin mit it!” said he.

Blunt rolled the ball on the ground, screwed it around in his hands, and then put over two or three before Bixler stepped to the plate. Finally the captain of the Mavericks took his position, and the game was on.

Barzy Blunt had never shown to better advantage than he did at that moment. He was graceful in his work, and, what was more to the purpose, forceful as well. Every motion spoke of an abundance of reserve power.

He had pitched against the Mavericks before, and, presumably, knew the eccentricities of each man on the opposing team, Merriwell alone excepted. In this, of course, he had a big advantage over Merry, who knew nothing about the men on the Bar Z nine.

“Now, Barzy, ole pard,” yelled a Bar Z, rooter, “you know how to find the hole in his hat. Fan the juniper, kid. I got a five-case note fer you if you make it one, two, three.”

“Bix never was known ter fan,” roared one of the Tin Cup men. ‘‘He allers connects with the horsehide! Blame it all, ain’t he a broncho buster? Whale it out, Bix! If ye can’t put it over into next week, day after to-morrow will do!”

Blunt wound up quickly and shot out his arm. The ball left his hand like a ball from a gun. Bixler looked at it, and grinned.

“None o’ that, Blunt!” he called. “Think you can coax me to reach for the wild ones?”

“Shtrike vone!” boomed Dutch Fritz.

Bixler stared at him in surprise and rage. “Put on yer specs, Dutch!” he suggested.

A chorus of groans filled the air from the Tin Cup crowd. Bixler made a face at the next toss, and kept his bat at his shoulder.

“Pall vone!” announced Dutch Fritz, and the Tin Cuppers were mollified.

Blunt started what looked like a fast one, but proved to be slow. Bixler struck too soon, and another strike was called on him.

Then came another ball, quickly followed by an outshoot which so beguiled Bixler that he swatted the empty air and Lloyd pocketed the ball in his mitt. In great disgust, the captain of the Mavericks dropped his bat.

The Bar Z men began to rise up and crow. They tried to be as insulting as possible, and made out fairly well.

“Oh, wait!” answered the Tin Cuppers, “wait till we git ready to begin, Bumby we’ll strike our gait. Don’t you fret, Amos! There’s a hull hatful o’ innings after this.”

Gib Hackney, the catcher, was the next man to face Blunt. The way the Cowboy Wonder made him beat the air for three successive times must have been tremendously discouraging to the Till Cup crowd. But still the visiting rooters took their roasting at the hands of their hosts in splendid self-restraint.

Jack Lee was next. H struck once, fouled once, and then went down ingloriously.

The Bar Z men went wild. They jeered and hooted and finally formed in a line, a dozen of them, and marched arount the Tin Cup delegation, tantalizing them in every way their florid fancies suggested. Frank did not wonder that Murgatroyd feared a riot might result from the afternoon’s enjoyment.

1st half of 1st inning

It was now Frank’s turn to make a showing. He was aware of the almost painful attention the men of the Tin Cup contingent was giving him. They wanted to be hopeful, and yet were filled with a morbid distrust. There was not a cowboy among the Maverick rooters who would not have given a month’s pay to see the Rustlers retired just as their own team had been in the first half of the first innings. Yet hope fluttered dismally, for they realized that they were using a pitcher who was an unknown quantity.

Aaron Lloyd confronted Merriwell. He grinned and made little jabs in the air with the end of his bat.

Frank started with a straight, speedy ball that cut the plate squarely in half. There are players, many of them, who make it a practice to let the first ball go by. Lloyd was one of them.

“Shtrike!” announced Dutch Fritz.

“Well, well!” cried a Tin Cup puncher, poking a head out of his shell of hope and anxiety. “He’s got on snowshoes an’ mebby he’ll travel, arter all.”

Frank gave Lloyd a wide one, and the umpire called a ball. This was followed by a speedy curve, and Lloyd landed on it, somehow, with a crack that could have been heard a mile. It was a hot liner between third and second, and Tyrone, the short stop, booted it, and fumbled it and all but fell down on it. When he was through with his cutting up, he was surprised to find a fielder sending it in to second.

Jack Lee jumped and drew it in out of the air, but Lloyd was on the ball a fraction of a second before Lee came down. “Safe id iss!” said Dtrtch Fritz, and the Bar Z punchers began to exult.

Merry muttered a little. If that ragged support was to keep up, what could he do? Tyrone should have annexed the ball and got it to first for an out. But—well, he hadn’t. It was plain to Merry that the Mavericks, like their rooters, had no confidence in him.

Blunt was next. Merry handed him a jump ball, and the speed caused everybody to sit up and take notice.

“Wow!” exclaimed Amos Bixler, “he’s got his fighting clothes on. See that, you junipers! Don’t tell us we haven’t got a pitcher.”

“Shtrike!” boomed Dutch Fritz.

Blunt had swung at it and missed. The smile he usually wore when his blood was boiling and he felt least joyful, settled about his lips, and his sloe-black eyes began to gleam.

“Now,” thought Merry, “I ought to fan him while he’s feeling like that.”

He offered a high one, which Blunt’s keen eye told him to refuse, and a ball was recorded. Next Frank sent in a speedy “bender.” Again Blunt struck and missed. The Tin Cuppers began to feel encouraged, and the mirthless smile deepened around the batter’s lips.

Probably very few of the spectators knew of the real cause for Merriwell being in that game. Blunt had schemed to put him there, and for the sole purpose of showing that he—Blunt—was the better man. Face to face as he and Merriwell were, now was the time for Blunt to begin manifesting his superiority. Two strikes were already called, and there was not much time left in which to begin.

With fine calculation, Blunt allowed the next ball to pass without giving it his attention. The next ball cut a corner, but the Wonder managed to get to it. The sphere sailed into the air and dropped into a well between Jack Lee and one Spuds, who was playing center. Lee ran back and Spuds ran forward, Tyrone hustling to cover second. Lee and Spuds came together like a couple of brick houses, while Lloyd jogged home add Blunt reached third.

Lee and Spuds had untangled themselves and Spuds had relayed the ball to second, from which bag Tyrone fired it home to Hackney, by way of heading off Blunt, who, however, was feeling quite comfortable on his threebagger—which ought to have been a single.

Merriwell ground his teeth. He was finding as much fault with himself for giving Blunt a hit as he was with Lee and Spuds for indulging in a wrestling match. There was a good deal to Blunt, after all, it seemed.

“No one down, pards,” yelled Johnny Brezee, the Rustlers’ right fielder, then on the coaching line, “and one run an’ two a-comin’. On yer toes, now, all tergether.”

“All aboard fer the b’loon ascension!” whooped a mirthful Bar Z lad. “A leetle early, but here she goes!”

But she didn’t go. Ben Jordan, the next man up, was fanned. Bandy Harrison popped up a fly which Merriwell smothered easily; and then, one “Toofers,” third baseman for the Rustlers, used his swat stick thrice without effect, and Barzy Blunt died on third.

So ended the first inning, with the Rustlers leading by the one and only score so far recorded, with the Bar Z outfit hooting and yelling, and the Tin Cuppers dismal, depressed, and slowly working toward a riot.

“Ye’re doin’ well in spots, Merriwell,” said Bixler, as Frank came in.

“I’m not the only fellow that’s showing his spots.” Frank laughed. “Wait till I’m limbered up, Bixler.”

CHAPTER VII.
IN THE OLD POWDER HOUSE.

Merriwell was pummelled, and prodded, and slapped on the shoulder, and shaken by the hand by nearly all the Bar Z men. They were delighted because of the remark able performance he had staged for their benefit, and they were relieved, as well, because the attempted escape had not resulted in a serious accident.

“Nice way you’ve got of treating guests at this ranch, Lloyd,” remarked Merry. “It was a real clever stunt, having those steers rushed at me.”

“He’ll be killed!” gasped Lloyd. “Hasn’t he sense enough to see it? Does he think he can head off a couple of cyclones like those plunging critters?”

“Didn’t mean you any harm, Merriwell,” returned Lloyd earnestly. “I reckoned that you’d have sense enough, when you saw the steers comin’, to turn back.”

“Goin’ to promise you won’t try it again?” asked Lloyd anxiously.

“I won’t make any more promises,” Merry answered. “It’s no more than right, though, that you should send a man to Ophir with a note from me. My friends will be worrying, and I want to let them know where I am.”

“Which we don’t want them to know,” said Harrison. “Ye see, Merriwell, we’ve got our plans and if your pards knew where you were they might interfere.”

“What are the plans?”

‘‘I reckon they’ll be batted up to you this afternoon.”

“No promise to hang around here and be good, Merriwell?” asked Lloyd.

“No,” Frank answered.

“Then kindly step over to the powder house. We’ve made it comfortable, and I reckon you won’t be very bad off while you’re there.”

With a cowboy on each side of him and one behind, Frank started for the place where he was to be put for safe-keeping. He was tempted to break away from his guards and make another try for his freedom; and then, upon reflecting that mounted men would certainly follow him, he decided that another attempt would be useless.

With a cowboy on each side of him and one behind, Frank started for the place where he was to be put for safe-keeping. He was tempted to break away from his guards and make another try for his freedom; and then, upon reflecting that mounted men would certainly follow him, he decided that another attempt would be useless.

Lloyd had the key to the plank door, and he unlocked it and swung it open. In contrast with the bright sunshine outside, the interior of the old adobe seemed particularly gloomy. Frank, with a final look around him, stepped through the doorway. The plank framework was slammed behind him, and he could hear Lloyd’s key rattling in the padlock.

“Make yourself to home, Merriwell,” called Bandy Harrison’s voice from outside. “If there’s anything you want and haven’t got, yell. We’re leavin’ a man on sentry-go all the time. So long.”

Retreating footsteps ground in the gravel, and Merriwell turned to make a survey of his surroundings. The single room comprising the interior of the powder house was about ten feet square. Holes had been punched through the adobe some six feet from the floor, and through them played small shafts of daylight. The ventilation was sufficient, and the light served for purposes of observation. The roof, which lay flat on the tops of the walls, was of corrugated iron covered with earth. Frank judged that it was about eight feet from the floor to the iron sheeting.

There was a table, a rocking-chair, and a cot in the room. In one corner hung an olla, or water jar. A tin cup and a lamp stood on the table, and a newspaper a week old had been carefully folded and laid beside the lamp.

“All the comforts of home,” Frank smilingly. “Evidently this place was fixed up for my especial benefit. Cot, eh?” He frowned. “That looks as though they intended for me to spend a few nights here. But I guess not. A few hours of this will do. If they try to keep me longer than that I’ll dig out and get away somehow!’

Throwing aside his hat and coat, he seated himself in the rocking-chair.

“Wonder what Clancy and Ballard are making of my mysterious disappearance?” ran his thoughts. “I was so deuced sly in getting away that I’ve made a whale of a mystery out of the affair.”

Right there Merry’s flow of speculations was cut in upon by the remembrance of Ballard’s discovery of the skulking cowboy, the evening before. Would Ballard connect that cowboy with Merriwell’s strange absence from the hotel? Merry didn’t see how Ballard could help it. That being the case, the forces back of Merry’s disappearance could be traced indirectly to some cattle ranch. Clancy and Ballard, if they used their wits, would surely work around to the Bar Z Ranch as the most likely place to reward a search.

“By Jove!” muttered Merriwell, “It’s pretty nearly a cinch that Clancy and Ballard, in the course of a few +hours, will show up here looking for me. In spite of the care with which Blunt engineered his plot, there are about nine chances in ten that the cat’s out of the bag. Why, any minute, now, the fellows may come sailing in here and—”

At that very moment he heard a patter of hoofs and a grind of wheels. A wild hope struck him that the newcomers might be his chums. Hastily climbing up on the chair, he peered through ventilation holes in the wall that faced the trail.

What he saw was a backboard with three seats, drawn by a team of bronchos. There were three men on each seat, rough-and-ready fellows every one of them. Some were beardless and under twenty; others were older by a few years, but all had well-knit bodies, and looked to be husky and agile. Sombreros, flannel shirts, corduroy trousers, and high-heeled boots comprised the wearing apparel, proving that the buckboard was loaded with cowboys.

Suddenly the newcomers let out a chorus of wild yells. The yells were answered by the Bar Z men. As the buckboard rolled out of Frank’s range of vision, the Bar Z punchers were surrounding it, whooping joyously.

Suddenly the newcomers let out a chorus of wild yells. The yells were answered by the Bar Z men. As the buckboard rolled out of Frank’s range of vision, the Bar Z punchers were surrounding it, whooping joyously.

More hoofs clattered along the trail. These were galloping hoofs, however, and suggested men on horseback. Presently the riders passed the front of the powder house, not by ones and twos, but literally by dozens. They also were greeted with wild cheering by the Bar Z cowboys.

When the last rider had flickered past, Merriwell judged that at least fifty newcomers were in the camp. Who were they, he asked himself as he got down from the chair, and why had they come?

It was certain that some sort of a jollification was on the program. Frank remembered the holidaylike atmosphere which he had noticed about the ranch while on his way to the chuck shanty for breakfast.

An hour or two later, the door of the powder house was unlocked, and Lloyd and a strange cowboy whom Frank had not seen before stepped into the room. Lloyd brought a basket of steaming food, which he placed carefully on the table.

“There’s your dinner, Merriwell,” said he. “Amos,” he went on, “shake hands with Frank Merriwell, junior. Amos Bixler, Merriwell. He belongs with the Tin Cup crowd, that blew in here a spell ago.”

“Glad as blazes!” said Amos Bixler, shaking Merry by the hand and nearly pulling his arm off.

“Bixler,” Lloyd went on, “is captain of the Tin Cup Mavericks.”

“Who are they?” inquired Merry.

“Sho!” cried Bixler, in a startled way. “Don’t mean to say you never heard of the Mavericks?”

“Not till just this minute.’’

“Why, we’re the champeen baseball nine in these parts, by jerry! We—”

“Always excepting the Bar Z Rustlers,” cut in Lloyd, respectfully but firmly.

“Not excepting nobody!” insisted Amos Bixler.

“You’ve got to except the Rustlers. We’re a notch better than the Mavericks, so, you can’t be the champions.”

“We’ll see this afternoon, by jerry,” came grimly from the captain of the Mavericks, “which takes the back seat.”

“Bet your spurs, we’ll see!” declared Lloyd, with confidence. “We’re a game apiece, and the one this afternoon will decide which team is the champion ranch nine. Don’t go to floppin’ your wings and crowin’, Amis till you got the right.”

“Of course,” grumbled Amos Bixler, “I don’t know how we’re going to stack up without our reg’lar pitcher.”

“You see, Merriwell,” Lloyd explained, “the Mavericks’ regular pitcher has got lost in the shuffle somewhere. He didn’t come in the buckboard, but started by himself, intending to drop in at Ophir on the way. Probably the delights of Ophir have put him down and out. He wasn’t much of a pitcher, anyway.”

“He’s a better pitcher’n what Barzy Blunt is,” asserted Amos Bixler. “Jim Snow has got more drops, inshoots, curves, and speed balls up his sleeve than Blunt ever dreamed of.”

“Trouble is,” and Lloyd winked at Merry, “Snow always keeps ‘em up his sleeve. He never lets ‘em do things with the ball if he can help it. And pretty generally he helps it.”

“Oh, hush!” snorted Amos Bixler, his partisan feelings all harrowed up.

“Amos trooped along with me, Merriwell, to see if he could get you to take Snow’s place in case he doesn’t show up in time for the game.”

'What d'you say, Merriwell?' Bixler asked, his eyes traveling over Merry, up and down. 'Can you pitch any?'

“What d’you say, Merriwell?” Bixler asked, his eyes traveling over Merry, up and down. “Can you pitch any?”

“Oh, a little,” Merriwell answered diffidently.

“I might try you out,” said he, “in case Jim Snow don’t show up.”

“Is this ball game for money?” asked Frank.

“Nary. It’s for glory. The Tin Cup outfit is after the ranch championship, and here in the Bar Z camp is where we nail it.”

“Providin’,” qualified Lloyd.

‘‘I don’t mind pitching.” said Frank, “just for the fun of the thing, you understand, and on one condition.”

“What’s the condition?”

“Why, that immediately after the game I’m to be given a horse and allowed to return to Ophir. What about it, Lloyd?”

“It’s a bargain, Merriwell,” answered Lloyd readily.

“Suppose Snow gets here?”

“He won’t; but, if he does and you don’t play, you can clear out after the game, anyhow. Will you promise to stick around until after the game’s over?”

“Yes.”

“Then mow away that chuck, and I’ll leave the door open for you. Come on, Amos.”

At last he understood the situation. Barzy Blunt wanted to pitch against him! He had exercised his ingenuity with that one aim in view. Probably he had paid Snow something to keep away from the Bar Z Ranch so he--Frank--could take his place.

Sitting in the rocking-chair, Frank had a quiet laugh all to himself. At last he understood the situation. Barzy Blunt wanted to pitch against him! He had exercised his ingenuity with that one aim in view. Probably he had paid Snow something to keep away from the Bar Z Ranch so he—Frank—could take his place.

“This is funner than a box of monkeys,” muttered Merriwell, as he began dipping into the basket. “As a schemer, Barzy Blunt takes the bun.”

CHAPTER VI.
A VAULT FOR L I F E.

There were about a dozen men at breakfast in the chuck shanty, and there were vacant places where about a dozen more had left their empty dishes. The Bar Z was a big ranch, Just now cattle were being collected at various points to send down to the alfalfa meadows. This necessitated rather more shifting about than usual on the part of the Bar Z men.

Merry noticed, however, that there was an air about headquarters as though the beef cut had halted temporarily and matters had settled down for the day. Groups of loungers were taking their ease and smoking or gossiping. And over everything there hung an atmosphere of subdued excitement and eager anticipation.

Aaron Lloyd, Ben Jordan, and Bandy Harrison were not in the chuck shanty. Barzy Blunt was there, and Andy, after piloting Merriwell into the room and giving him a seat, walked away and dropped down at the table beside Blunt. The two conversed in low voices, and Merry felt pretty sure that he was the subject of their discussion.

The serving was attended to by a couple of Japanese boys. While it was going on, the cook, a coal-black negro in a grimy white cap and apron, stood in the doorway leading to the kitchen and watched proceedings.

Frank finished his breakfast quickly, and, without much noise, left the table and made for the door. If he had thought to escape observation, he was disappointed. Lloyd, Jordan, and Harrison were on the porch waiting for him.

“Powder house for a while,” queried Lloyd, “or are you goin’ to give another promise not to try for a getaway before noon?”

“I’m done with promises, Lloyd,” answered Frank. “You’d better lock me up from now on.”

“Sorry a heap, Merriwell. I reckoned we could be plumb pleasant and sociable for the rest of the day. But the powder house ain’t so bad. Come on, pard.”

'You’re playing it low down on him! They want him in Ophir! Let him go, let him go!'

Frank was to be personally conducted to the adobe by Blunt’s three aides. As they started to leave the porch, a shrill voice screeched, “You’re playing it low down on him! They want him in Ophir! Let him go, let him go!”

All three of the cowboys whirled around. “Who said that?” demanded Lloyd.

Jordan and Harrison laughed delightedly.

“It was Hungry Joe, up there,” said Jordan, indicating the parrot. “Blamed if he ain’t picked up somethin’ new!”

Hungry Joe was sliding up and down his perch with his head cocked knowingly on one side.

“You’re a bunch of crooks!” he screeched. “Leave Merriwell alone! Let him go, let him go!”

By that time the parrot’s supposed talk had secured the attention of everybody within hearing distance. Cowboys began flocking toward the porch from every direction, and Rufus Jackson was not slow in presenting himself from the depths of the dining room.

“Fo’ de lan’ sakes!” he gasped. “Who-all’s been learnin’ dat ‘ar bird sich talk? Ain’t dat scan’lus?”

Frank’s wonderful powers of imitation were being brought into play, and he was throwing his voice into the cage from the edge of the crowd.

Of course, it wasn’t really Hungry Joe that did the talking. The parrot hung so high that those in the immediate vicinity could see only the bottom of the cage, while those who were far enough away to look into the cage couldn’t tell whether Joe’s beak was going through the necessary motions or not. Frank’s wonderful powers of imitation were being brought into play, and he was throwing his voice into the cage from the edge of the crowd.
What Frank wanted was to make Hungry Joe the center of attraction, so that he could find an opportunity to slip away unseen.

“Look a’ here, Joe,” cried the mirthful Andy, “don’t ye go slanderin’ the Bar Z boys thataway.”

“You’re a pie face,” declared Joe, craning over and apparently looking down at Andy; “you worked a bunko game! Don’t you feel meachin’? Let him go!”

A roar of laughter went up at this sally.

“Har, har, har!” laughed Rufus Jackson, doubling up. “Ain’t dat relicudous? Hungry Joe he done hits de nail right on de head ever’ time. Oh, mah goodness!”

The cook slowly straightened himself, and knuckled the tears from his eyes.

“Har, har, har!” Hungry Joe mimicked. “Who wants a moke for thirty cents? Thirty, gi’me the five! Thirty, gi’me the five! Going, going. gone!”

It was all right for the parrot to poke fun at somebody else, but Rufus Jackson drew the line at having it poked at himself. The laughter went out of him in a flash, and in the face of the roar of merriment that went up at his expense, he scowled and rolled up the whites of his eyes.

“Let me at dat ‘ar bird!” shouted Rufus. “I’d massacree him fo’ two cents.”

“Give him a nickel!” screeched Hungry Joe. “Let him massacree me, and keep the change.”

Merriwell gave these words to the parrot from a considerable distance. He had found his opportunity, and was edging away in the direction of the Bar Z athletic field. Everybody in sight was clustered about the porch, and no one was paying attention to Merry.

The parrot’s “talk” was ended for the time. Urging, nagging, and coaxing, all proved fruitless. Then it was that Lloyd, Andy, and a few more took thought of Merriwell.

“Great guns!” cried Lloyd. “What’s become of Merriwell?”

Everybody whirled round, at that.

'There he goes!' whooped a voice. 'He’s makin’ a getaway! Gee, look at him sprint!'

“There he goes!” whooped a voice. “He’s makin’ a getaway! Gee, look at him sprint!”

“Chase him!” shouted Barzy Blunt angrily.

Instantly there was a rush in the direction of the athletic field. Merriwell was heading for the small passage through the hills and going like a streak.

At that moment, attracted no doubt by the yells and commotion in the vicinity of the chuck shanty, a horseman topped the low, steep hill that edged one side of the gap. Lloyd, suddenly slackening pace, made a trumpet of his hands.

“Newt.” he yelled to the man on the hill, “fill up the pass with some o’ the steers! Stampede ‘em through!”

As it chanced—most unluckily for young Merriwell—a little herd of cattle had been rounded up in a sort of natural corral at the farther side of the passage. For the rider on the hillcrest to get down and intercept Merriwell was an impossibility, owing to the sheer wall the hill presented on the side facing the ranch buildings. But Lloyd’s suggestion, if quickly carried out, would close Frank’s only avenue of escape.

The athletic field was V-shaped, the point running back into the hills. Perhaps it could best be likened to a funnel, with the narrow gap forming the outlet. Merriwell was running into the point of the funnel, and there was no way out except through the funnel itself. Naturally the cowboys realized the true aspect of affairs, and they began spreading out, in order to cover the open end of the “V” as they advanced.

Newt quickly comprehended what was expected of him, and turned his horse and dropped from sight on the farther side of the hill. Merriwell, busy with work that lay immediately in front of him, had not heard Lloyd’s shouted instructions to Newt.

Merry, throwing a quick glance over his shoulder, took note of the crowd of pursuers, spreading out and racing after him at top speed. A vaulting pole lay across two of the hurdles. He picked it up as he ran, intending to use it as a weapon in case any of the pursuers came too close to him.

What he had had in mind, when first starting his race from the chuck shanty, was picking up one of the hobbled horses on the baseball field. These horses, he had observed, had rope halters. He could have cast the hobbles from one of the animals, twisted a rope into a hack-amore, mounted, and ridden away. But fate had stepped in, during the time he was at breakfast, and removed that promising factor in his plans. The horses had been taken away.

Merriwell was at the mouth of the narrow gap when, to his dismay, he saw a couple of steers plunging toward him from the farther end of the passage. The lean brown animals were covered with dust, their heads were down, and they were charging like a pair of locomotives. They came on side by side, crowded together by the narrowness of the pass.

The steep walls of the gap gave Merry no chance for getting out of the way of the maddened animals. His only hope for avoiding them was to turn back into the waiting hands of the Bar Z men.

An idea flashed through his mind, as daring as it was unique. Instead of turning back, he ran on into the gap, apparently flirting with death which was rushing at him headlong.

An idea flashed through his mind, as daring as it was unique. Instead of turning back, he ran on into the gap, apparently flirting with death which was rushing at him headlong. His dark eyes, however, were snapping with determination, and he was calmly confident that the move he had in mind would meet with success. Steady nerves and swift action at the right moment would turn the trick.

“Jumpin’ side winders!” shouted Andy Able, in a spasm of fear. “Say, he’s runnin’ right into them stampeded steers!”

Barzy Blunt, well in the van of the pursuers, stood as though rooted to the ground. The white ran through the tan of his face.

Silence fell like a pall over the crowd of pursuers. Owing to the nature o f the ground, the whole tragic scene was spread out like a picture before the men. They stood breathless, and their eyes wide with consternation and fear.

Merriwell and the rushing longhorns were dashing toward each other. ‘Then, as they cowboys looked, they saw Merriwell give a leap forward, set the vaulting pole, and rise on it with the easy grace of a trained athlete.

It seemed, to the breathless watchers, as though the lad was hardly in the air before one of the steers struck the pole with its horns and flung it a dozen feet. But Merriwell had already released the pole. For an instant he was doubled up in the air over the backs of the plunging animals; then the steers raced on, and Merriwell dropped out of sight beyond them.

“Well.” gulped Andy Able, “thunder, and all sashay! Darned if he didn’t pole vault over the critters!”

Involuntarily a cheer went up, for the cowboy code recognizes bravery and prowess wherever found. Blunt alone withheld applause. His face darkened, but his ugly mood was not observed by his friends. There was a general scamper, on the part of the cowboys to get away from the stampeding animals.

Frank, meanwhile, was hustling safely on through the gap. He had conquered the dangers that had beset him, and was hoping for the best. His hopes were dashed, however, for at the farther end of the pass he found the mounted cowboy, Newt, drawn up with his horse crosswise of the gap, blocking further progress.

“I feel like a coyote, son,” said he “a-stoppin’ of you after that hair-raisin’ pufformance. But it’s got to be done. Take it easy, and I’ll be obliged. Ye see, I don’t want no vi’lence. Layin’ hands on ye is the last thing I want to think about.”

Merriwell could see, at half a glance, that he was at the end of his rope. Even if he succeeded in evading Newt, the latter could gallop after him and use his reata.

“It was pretty rough,” Merry remarked, “turning those steers loose at me.”

“It sure was,” agreed Newt; “but we all allowed that ye’d see ‘em, and turn back. Didn’t have a notion ye’d try to jump ‘em with that pole. Gee, Mariar, but that was a jump!”

Terribly disappointed, Frank faced the other way and walked slowly back through the gap toward the athletic field.

CHAPTER V.
MYSTERIOUS DEVELOPMENTS.

Barzy Blunt was as well-set-up a young fellow as Merry had ever seen. Physically, he fell little short of perfection. Mentally, however, he was twisted and warped in most of his views of life.

The pitiful part of it was–at least to Merriwell—that Blunt was not responsible for his mental shortcomings.  Hilt Boorland, the man who had been foreman at the Bar Z and had done most toward bringing Blunt up, had suffered financial reverses in the East and had buried himself in the Southwest, embittered against civilization and implacably hostile to class distinctions. Little by little, as young Barzy grew toward manhood, Boorland had inoculated his mind with some of his own venom.  Now, when Boorland was dead and gone, young Blunt stood as a living monument of the false principles of the outcast Easterner.

All this Merriwell had been told, and it had softened his generous heart toward Barzy Blunt. For his superb physical development, Blunt alone was responsible; and, as for his mental failings, the responsibility lay at Boorland’s door. In Merriwell’s eyes, the Cowboy Wonder was greatly to be admired, even while a good deal of his conduct was to be severely condemned.

“You’re mad, I reckon,” said Blunt, with characteristic directness, “and I don’t know as I blame you a whole lot. It was my frame-up, getting you here like this. I worked it out, and put it up to some of the boys to see it through. Andy is clever with his tongue, and was selected to get you out of the hotel and into the cañon.  All my scheming, Merriwell, from start to finish.  Hit me, if you feel like it, but, by glory, if you do I’ll give you as good as you send!”

”I’m not going to hit you, Blunt,” said Frank easily, “although I don’t mind saying that I feel like it.”

'I told you when I first met you that I thought you were a stuck-up prig, and that you spent your time parading around and putting on dog. That,' finished Blunt, with calm deliberation, 'is still my opinion. Why don’t you use your fists?'

'Your opinion isn’t worth a picayune, Blunt, one way or the other. Besides, you’re only talking to work up a fight. My head’s too sore to think of it.'

“I told you when I first met you that I thought you were a stuck-up prig, and that you spent your time parading around and putting on dog. That,” finished Blunt, with calm deliberation, “is still my opinion. Why don’t you use your fists?”

“Your opinion isn’t worth a picayune, Blunt, one way or the other. Besides, you’re only talking to work up a fight. My head’s too sore to think of it.”

“Sore?  From that fall in the cañon?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve been giving me the worst of that,” snarled Blunt. “I told you the loosening of that bowlder was an accident, and you said you’d take my word for it; and then you go blowing around that I did it on purpose.”

“That’s a lie,” said Frank angrily. “We’ll be at each other in less than a minute, Blunt, in spite of this head of mine, if you keep up that line of talk. I haven’t talked about what happened in the cañon. Whenever any one has asked me about it, I’ve said it was an accident.”

“Huh!” sneered the Wonder. “Probably you think you’ll get my gratitude by talking like that. But you won’t.”

“Who wants your gratitude?” inquired Merry.  “You’ll find out some time, Blunt, that you are your own worst enemy. And the way you hate me now won’t be a comparison to the way you’ll hate yourself then.”

“I don’t want any of your preaching.”

“I’m no preacher–not built that way. If you had the truth handed to you n little more often, possibly it would do you good.  You’re an athlete, and have the making of an all-around star, but so long as your mind is hogged down in a slough of false ideas you won’t amount to a tinker’s darn at anything. There’s a little more of what you call preaching. Maybe I’m wrong, but it strikes me as plain common sense.”

“Your bazoo works well,” remarked Blunt. “I suppose you got the knack from your father, along with the rest of your accomplishments?”

“I’m mighty grateful to my father for bringing me up without poisoning my mind.” said Frank. “But a fellow’s ‘accomplishments’ he doesn’t inherit–he works them out for himself. An accomplishment, Blunt, is a thing accomplished. Get that?”

“Be hanged to you!” growled the Cowboy Wonder.  “Don’t try to throw any slurs at Hilt Boorland.  If I ever kill a man for anything, it will be for that.”

“If you want to talk to me.” said Merry, “get busy. If you don’t, I’ll move on to the bunk house.”

“I suppose you think you’re a little tin god on wheels,” sneered Blunt. “Just because you’re lucky in pulling off a few athletic stunts, you’ve got the high-and-mighty notion that no one can trim you.”

That hit Frank square on the funny bone. It was the way Blunt said it, more than anything else, that made it humorous. He laughed, genuinely amused.

“That’s right,” yelped Blunt. “When you’re flicked on the raw, laugh it off.”

“Oh, no, Blunt,” said Frank. “I guess I can be trimmed. You’ve tried it three times, though, and didn’t make out.  First it was a hundred-yard dash., then a wrestle, catch-as-catch-can, and then that relay Marathon.  Why don’t you take your medicine and quit your sobbing? Is this your idea of true sportsmanship?”

“I’m not kicking against what’s happened to me,” he said, between his teeth. “I said I’d keep after you until I got you. That’s why I had you brought out here. Tomorrow’s the time–or, rather, to-day, for it’s long past midnight.  I’ll show you which is the better man, Merriwell!”

“Oh, I see!” exclaimed Frank. “You’ve gone to all this trouble just to get me where we can have a set-to at something or other.  I might have guessed that, I suppose.  What sort of a boot is it to be, Blunt?”

“You’ll know at the right time. I reckon that’ll be all.  If you’re ready for the bunk house, I’ll show you the way.”

They stepped off side by side.  Neither spoke as they walked on among the shadowy buildings of the ranch.

Finally they came to a long, low structure in which a dim light was burning. Blunt opened the door.

“Here’s your man, Andy,” he called.

Merriwell followed Blunt into the house. The latter pushed on between a row of cots and was swallowed up in darkness at the farther end of a long rom. The place echoed with the snores of weary cowmen.

Andy Able started up sleepily from a cot near the door.

“There’s where you bunk, Merriwell,” said he, pointing to an unoccupied cot just across from his. “Put out the light afore ye git under yer blankets. Ye’ve promised not to pull out up to and includin’ breakfast. That goes, huh?”

“It goes.”

“Well, buenas noches.  I’m plumb tuckered.”

Andy fell back into his bed.  A tin lamp stood on a shelf.  Frank removed most of his clothes, then blew out the light and groped for his blankets.

He had a little time to think, but not much if he was to secure any more sleep before daylight.  His word bound him to stay with the Bar Z men until after breakfast, in the morning.  They were determined that he should stay longer.  Perhaps he would, just to oblige Blunt; but he wasn’t certain of it.

What would Clancy think when he awoke and found his chum missing?  And Frank understood that he would be mysteriously missing—Able had insisted on that point—and that his absence would cause worry and excitement.

“If I could get away from here right after breakfast,” he thought, “I could surely reach the O.A.C. in time for that practice game. I’d need a horse, though. Wonder if I could borrow one without letting the Bar Z fellows know about it?”‘

He was turning this question over in his mind when his tired brain refused to be further prodded, and lost itself in sleep. It seemed to Frank as though his eyes had not been closed a minute when a sound of guarded voices struck on his ears, and he lifted his eyelids and saw daylight.

He saw something else, too, which caused him to shut his eyes and lie still. Andy, sitting on the side of his cot, was yawning and juggling with his boots; beside him was a big man with a drooping red mustache.

“So that’s this Merriwell person, huh?” the big man was saying.

'That’s him,' Andy answered, making up his mind, evidently, that he’d have to get into his boots sooner or later, and might as well begin. 'He’s some kid, Murgatroyd, let me tell you.' 'Must be,' answered Murgatroyd dryly, 'if it took five o’ you all night to get him out here.'

“That’s him,” Andy answered, making up his mind, evidently, that he’d have to get into his boots sooner or later, and might as well begin. “He’s some kid, Murgatroyd, let me tell you.”

“Must be,” answered Murgatroyd dryly, “if it took five o’ you all night to get him out here.”

“I could ‘a’ b’rung him alone, he was that confidin’.”

“Well, I don’t like it. Blunt’s going too far with his crazy schemes. What’ll happen when Merriwell turns up missin’ at the hotel?”

“Search me.” was Andy’s cheerful response.

Pulling on his boots, he got up and stamped a couple of times, Murgatroyd watching him moodily the while.

“It’s a good thing for you fellers that the old man’s away from the ranch,” commented Murgatroyd. “If he was here, Andy, he wouldn’t stand for this foolishness a minute.”

“Well, Murg,” drawled Andy, ‘‘what the old man don’t know won’t hurt him.”

“You’re going to pull off the play just as Blunt planned it?”

“Sure.”

“The Tin Cup crowd’ll be sore as blazes.”

“You goin’ to lose any sleep over that, Murg?”

“They’ll stir up a riot. As foreman in charge, blamed if I like to have any rowdyin’ goin’ on while the old man’s away.”

“The Bar Z boys’ll take care o’ the rowdyin’?”

“lf there’s trouble, by gorry, I’ll unload it onto you and Blunt and the rest of these pesky puncher athletes.”

“We’re thick in the shoulders—I reckon we can stand it.”

“Well, wake up your prisoner. Rufus Jackson blew the get-up conch fifteen minutes ago.”

Frank, who had heard all this talk, listened while a heavy footfall passed out of the room. A moment later a rough hand was laid on his shoulder.

“Grub pile, kid!” called Andy’s voice. “Hate to wake ye, but they don’t set no second tables here, and the mornin’ chuck’s ‘most ready.”

“I’ll be with you in a couple of shakes, Andy,” Frank answered, sitting up.

“J’ine me at the trough for a wash-down, son,” grinned Andy. “Ye’ll see it plain as plain, minute ye step out the door.”

He vanished. Frank looked around the big room, and saw that every cot had lost its occupant. He was late, that was dear, and would have to hustle.

As he climbed into his clothes, his thoughts were heavy. That talk between Murgatroyd and Andy had interested him greatly. The more he thought over the gist of the conversation, the less he liked it.

The proprietor of the ranch, it seemed, was away somewhere. This had left the cowboys tolerably free to follow their own inclinations. Blunt had developed his scheme and had received enthusiastic assistance in carrying it out. But Murgatroyd, the foreman in charge during the “old man’s” absence, was a little dubious of results.

Who were this Tin Cup crowd? Why should they get “sore” and stir up a riot? Frank, thinking of this and of the alarm of his friends when he “turned up missing,” made up his mind to escape and get back to Ophir somehow.

Frank stepped out of the bunk house into the dear, bracing air of early morning. The valley was a bleak enough place, although a hint of the coming sun touched it rather attractively. Back of the corral was a level space reaching straight to the valley wall. There he saw a baseball diamond, with a couple of hobbled horses browsing between the pitcher’s box and second base.

Beyond the diamond was a roughly made track, with a number of crude hurdles knocking about. A couple of cottonwood posts supported a vaulting bar. Farther on, in the direction of the side of the valley, was a gap through a high bank of earth-a narrow passage leading to what appeared like an open space on the farther side.

Andy was alone at the “trough,” drying his face on a thick towel. Under Andy’s urging, Merry hurried his ablutions, and followed Andy to the chuck shanty. In a sort of porch at the front of the shanty hung a cage with a parrot.

Merry had no sooner set eyes on that parrot than an idea flashed through his mind. If he was going to escape, the squawking bird might help him. After breakfast, he chuckled to himself, he would see what he could do toward making a start for Ophir.

Merry had no sooner set eyes on that parrot than an idea flashed through his mind. If he was going to escape, the squawking bird might help him. After breakfast, he chuckled to himself, he would see what he could do toward making a start for Ophir.

CHAPTER IV.
IN THE HANDS OF THE BAR Z MEN.

“Lloyd!” exclaimed Frank, suddenly recognizing the man who had laid hold of his bridle. “Is that you, Aaron Lloyd?”

“Surest thing you know,” chuckled Lloyd. “Right next to me, here, is Ben Jordan. Back of Ben is Bandy Harrison. Didn’t reckon you were going to meet us again so soon, eh? It’s just a little surprise party, that’s all.”

“You’re an obligin’ cuss, Merriwell,” remarked Jordan. “No relay race about this, eh? I’m thunderin’ glad you came with Andy.”

“We’re going to make your stay at the Bar Z a heap pleasant,” went on Lloyd.

“Goin’ to show you the homemade athletes right on their own stamping ground,” said Jordan. “Don’t put up a holler, Merriwell. You didn’t catch us sobbing when we lost out on that gold mine, did you? Face the music, old sport.”

“Is that Barzy Blunt over there?” Frank inquired, making a gesture in the direction of the fourth rider that had joined him and Andy in the bottom of the cañon.

“Not a whole lot, son,” came from the individual in question. “Blunt’s to home, waitin’ fer you to come. Oh, he’ll be tickled!”

“Just a minute,” said Frank, “before we proceed further with this business. From the way some of you talk, you’re evidently expecting I’m to make something of a stay at the Bar Z Ranch. That’s where you’ve got another guess coming. I’ve got to be back at the Ophir House by five in the morning.”

“Not by five,” demurred Lloyd, “oh, no, not by five!”

“Maybe by five in the evenin’,” said Jordan.

“The game won’t be over sos’t he can make it by then,” protested Bandy Harrison.

“What game?” asked Merry, pricking up his hears.

“Never you mind,” said Aaron Lloyd. “You’ll know what game quick enough.”

“Able,” said Frank, a sudden cold fury rising in him, “you’re a hound. I was fool to trust you and leave the hotel.”

“I said,” returned Andy with a chuckle, “that I could git ye back to the hotel by five in the mornin’, but I disremember sayin’ I would.”

“You lied to me,” went on Frank, his voice like cold steel, “and it doesn’t make a bit of difference whether you did it directly or indirectly. I was sorry for Blunt and wanted to do something for him, and you played up that part of it merely to get me out of town. Talk about being square! Why, Able, I don’t believe there’s a square man among the lot of you.”

“Now, you look a’ here, oncet!” blustered Andy. “We ain’t intendin’ you no harm, or—”

Right at that moment, Frank executed a sudden and unexpected move. His horse was still in the grip of Aaron Lloyd’s strong hand, and even if the animal could have broken away, Frank would have had to pass Jordan and the fourth member of the party of horsemen who had appeared so suddenly in the cañon, Merry was not going to submit tamely to the Bar Z men, and he had made up his mind to get away from them on foot even if he could not escape on the horse. Quick as a flash, and while Able was speaking, he flung himself out of the saddle and made a dash for the black depths of the chaparral at the trailside.

Quick as a flash, and while Able was speaking, he flung himself out of the saddle and made a dash for the black depths of the chaparral at the trailside.

“Stop him!” roared Lloyd.

“He’s quicker ‘n a streak o’ greased lightnin’,” whooped Able.

Frank believed that if he could one reach the friendly screen of the bushes, he would be able to evade the Bar Z men in the dark. But he was not destined to reach the chaparral. He felt something drop on his shoulder, and fall with a rustling thump to the ground.

“A lariat!” was his quick thought.

In order to avoid another noose which the cowboys might throw, he ducked his head forward. He succeeded in keeping his head out of a snare by this process, by his flying feet did not fare so well.

Yet, be that as it may, a wide circle of hemp slipped around one of Frank's feet, contracted swiftly, and in another moment he was tripped and thrown flat.

Chance, rather than design, must have aided one of the rope throwers, otherwise the cast could not have been so well made in the gloom. Yet, be that as it may, a wide circle of hemp slipped around one of Frank’s feet, contracted swiftly, and in another moment he was tripped and thrown flat. His head, already recovering from the fall in the cañon on the occasion of the relay race, was jarred dizzily. Stunned for a moment, he finally sat up, to find Aaron Lloyd and Andy Able on their feet beside him.

“Blazes!” exclaimed Andy, in great regret. “I didn’t want to be rough with ye, son, honest! But I ain’t got ye this far jest to let ye gi’ me the slip. Ye’re goin’ to the Bar Z, and no two ways about it.”

“Take it easy, Merriwell,” urged Lloyd. “We’re not so low down as to run you off and try to do you up. We’re a bunch of square sports, and this game is on the level.”

“This looks like it,” said Merry sarcastically. “I didn’t tell a soul anything about where I was going, because I was led to believe that I’d be taken back to the hotel before morning. Now you’re evidently planning to keep me at the ranch for some time. What will my friends think, when they fail to find me?”

“Bother what they think!” answered Lloyd. “We want you a heap worse than they do for a while.”

“What do you want me for?”

“You’ll find that out when you get to the Bar Z.”

Merry saw that he was in for it. There were five husky cowboys against him, and resistance was worse than useless. He felt as though he ought to return at once to Ophir; and yet, for all that, he had a weird curiosity to find out why the cowboys were so anxious to get him to the ranch.

“I give you my word that I’ll ride with you to the Bar Z ranch,” said Chip. “After I get there, though, I’ll not be bound by any promises. I don’t like this work of yours a little bit.’’

“Take off the rope, Andy,” said Lloyd.

Andy removed the rope and coiled it. Frank got up slowly and moved toward his horse, which Bandy Harrison was holding.

A few minutes later, the whole party was riding up the canyon. They rode two and two in the dim trail. Able and the cowboy, whose name Frank had not learned, rode in front. Back of them came Frank. With Aaron Lloyd at his side, Harrison and Jordan brought up the rear.

Lloyd and Jordan had taken part in the relay race for the mining claim. The fact that they were with the party rather made it look as though the loss of the claim was playing a part in the night’s scheming against Merriwell. All the men talked fair enough, however, yet Able had talked in the same way and with the deliberate intent to deceive.

Frank had been foolish in leaving the hotel as he had done. He realized that now. There was a guiding motive back of that night’s business quite apart from any conversation Merry might have with Barzy Blunt. What was it? Merry’s curiosity stepped in. just here, and he was conscious of a desire to see the adventure through. Could he have escaped and regained the hotel, however, his curiosity would not have stood in his way for a minute. En route to the ranch he had given his promise, and was on parole; but after they reached the ranch he would be governed by circumstances alone.

That Barzy Blunt was concerned in the plot was a foregone conclusion to Merriwell. More than likely Blunt was the ringleader, and had put the whole scheme in motion. It was certainly just such a crazy scheme as the Cowboy Wonder might be expected to develop and engineer to a conclusion.

The conception of the Bar Z athletes of what was “square” in athletics was founded on their ideas of what they considered fair play in the rough life of the ranch. An explosion of animal spirits, resulting in a little lawlessness was fair enough on the range, and ought to be fair enough in sports of the field or track.

Lloyd, doing a second lap of the relay race with Clancy as a contestant, thought there was nothing wrong in kicking a stone in front of the red-headed runner and laming him so that he was delayed five minutes in a stretch of eight miles.

This move of the Bar Z men, in luring Merry away from the hotel was quite in line with their notions of square dealing. They probably meant well enough, but, like many other men, had a poor way of showing it.

The course to the ranch led up the canyon for a mile and a half, then for several miles through a gulch that formed a branch of the larger defile. At the end of the gulch, the trail crawled over the bank to level ground, and for several more miles followed a dusty desert. At its farther side, the desert ran into a chain of hills where nature had placed a never-failing spring whose copious waters supplied the Bar Z cattle.

The ranch buildings lay in a sun-scorched valley, wide and shallow. There was the usual bunk house and chuck shanty and corral—the latter made of okatea stakes braided together with wire. From a rise of ground overlooking the valley, Merriwell beheld the clutter of low buildings sprawled shadowily below.

'There’s our hangout, Merriwell,' announced Lloyd, pointing. 'I see it,' Frank answered.

“There’s our hangout, Merriwell,” announced Lloyd, pointing.

“I see it,” Frank answered.

“We’re a hospitable outfit, and you’ll get all the chuck you want to eat and a good place to bunk. It’s too dark to see our athletic field, but to-morrow we’ll shoo the cattle off it and give you a chance to look it over. We’ve got a corking diamond. Say, you ought to see that diamond! Barzy laid it out, and we’ve got real bags for bases, by jinks! Real bags, stuffed with sand. Oh, you’ll be tickled to death when you see that baseball lay-out.”

“Is that all you brought me out here for,” asked Merry, amused in spite of himself, “just to see your athletic field?”

“More’n that, Merriwell, more’n that. Just wait, old buck. About to-morrow we’ll have you going.”

“I’m liable to get going before to-morrow if you don’t keep an eye on me.”

“That’s you! I’m not forgetting that your promise only lasts as far as the ranch. But we’re going to hang onto you, fast enough.”

The riders galloped down into the valley and toward the shadowy buildings. They passed one or two structures and finally halted in front of a square, windowless adobe.

“Once,” explained Lloyd. “the’ used to be a quartz mine in those hills, but it was ‘pockety,’ like a good many other Arizona mines, and soon petered out. This ‘dobe, here, used to be the powder house, but we use it for storage. It’s not so uninviting as it looks, Merriwell. There are no windows, but holes have been punched for ventilation. Get down and walk in.”

Andy Able had unlocked a heavy plank door, and was holding it open.

‘‘I guess I won’t go in,” said Frank.

“Now, don’t be ‘fussy, Merriwell,” pleaded Lloyd. “We’re tryin’ to treat you white, see? If you’ll promise not to run away, you can go with the rest of us to the bunk house; but if you won’t promise, you’ll have to camp out in this ‘dobe.”

“I’ll agree not to run away until after breakfast,” said Frank, “if you’ll let me put up in the bunk house till then. After breakfast, Lloyd, I’ll see how I feel about this business, and then you can do whatever you think best.”

“It’s a go!’’ said Lloyd. “Close the shack, Andy. Merriwell’s going to the bunk house for a while.”

“Wait a minute,” called a voice.

A form came around the end of the adobe and stopped in front of Merriwell. It was Barzy Blunt.

'I want to talk with you, Merriwell,' said Blunt, 'We might as well do the talking here, I reckon, and now's as good a time as any.'

“I want to talk with you, Merriwell,” said Blunt, “We might as well do the talking here, I reckon, and now’s as good a time as any. He’ll be along to the bunk house later, Lloyd,” he added.

“Correct, Barzy,” Lloyd answered.

Merry dismounted, and the rest rode off to the corral, leading his horse. He turned to face the Cowboy Wonder, hardly knowing whether he ought to punch his head or to meet him with a handshake and a smile.

CHAPTER III.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED.

Clancy was asleep, as has already been stated, before Merriwell got into bed. The back of Merry’s head was sore, and he found his most comfortable position in resting the side of his head on the pillow. He was quickly in sound slumber.

Although he slept as soundly as Clancy, yet Merriwell was more easily wakened. Just how long he had been asleep he did not know, although it must have been several hours, at least, when a peculiar noise brought him straight up in bed.

He listened intently. Had he heard something, he asked himself, or was it only his fancies playing him a trick? Then the sound was repeated again—a muffled clatter of something against the window glass.

“I say, Clan!” he whispered.

Clancy, however, was breathing heavily and did not hear. Merry decided that he would not arouse his chum, but would investigate and find out, if possible, what that rattling on the glass could mean.

It was a moonlit night, and the silvery beams entered the room through the two open windows, so it was not at all difficult for Merry to see what he was about. Moving softly in his bare feet toward the window from which the sounds had come, he halted suddenly. The lower sash was shoved up, and through it there came something which struck him lightly and dropped to the floor. He reached down and picked up the object, finding it to be a small pebble.

Then a light broke over him. There was some one outside trying to secure his attention by throwing pebbles against the window. This smacked of mystery and secured Frank’s immediate attention. Passing on to the window, he thrust out his head and looked down. There was a shadowy form below. In spite of the fact that the figure was indistinct, Frank could see that it wore a cowboy hat, flannel shirt, chaps, and boots.

'Been hangin’ around this hotel ever sence sundown to git a chanst for a powwow.'

“Hello, down there!” he called.

“Sh-h-h!” came up from below, in a warning whisper. “Don’t talk so loud-some ‘un might hear.”

“Well,” answered Frank, but in a guarded voice, “what if some one does?”

“The jig might be up, that’s all,” was the response. “Are you Frank Merriwell, junior?”

“Yes.”

“I’m the boy for luck, then. I know you bunk with one o’ your pards, and I didn’t know but it might be him, instead o’ you. Been hangin’ around this hotel ever sence sundown to git a chanst for a powwow.”

“Why didn’t you come into the office, then, before I went to bed? You had a whole lot better chance then than you have now. This long-distance powwowing, in stage whispers, doesn’t look exactly right. The whole business rather gets my goat, anyhow.”

“Can’t help that, not noways. All you got to do is to give me a chanst to explain. I reckon you’ll do that, too. Is that other feller. in the room with you, poundin’ his ear good and plenty?”

“If you listen,” Frank answered, “you can hear him snoring full and by, about forty knots. Who are you?”

“I’m Andy Able, from the Bar Z.”

“Fine! That’s a tiptop name to work with, Andy. Why all this fussing, just to get a word with me?’

“Don’t want nobody to know, that’s why. Barzy asked for it thataway.”

“Who? Barzy Blunt?”

“Sure. Who else? He wants you to come, and he wants you to come alone and without lettin’ anybody know.”

“Come where?”

“Out to the ranch. I reckon I could git ye back afore chuck time in the mornin’. Will ye come?”

The idea that there might have been a trap of some sort set for him had quickly presented itself to Frank’s mind. Mention of Barzy Blunt, however, rather lessened the impression. Blunt, who called himself the “Cowboy Wonder,” and who had developed a mania for contesting with Frank in sports of track and field, was an eccentric youth. Yet, although eccentric, there was something about the fellow that appealed powerfully to Merriwell. Blunt had been reared in a rough school, and his sense of right and wrong had been warped a little in his bringing up. He carried himself in a manner disagreeably hostile toward Merriwell, but the latter rather admired Blunt’s homely attempts to keep in training and to become an all-around amateur athlete.

Blunt’s fight, all through his eighteen years of life, had been hard and bitter. Poverty came near mastering his desire to make something of himself in an athletic, way; and when he saw others—like Frank, for example—better fixed financially and making the most of their opportunities, a jealous chord was touched in his nature. A life of hardship and fierce endeavor, in short, had soured Barzy Blunt. But, although his spirit was wrenched by the blows of fate, deep clown in his nature Frank felt sure there was much of sterling worth.
So the projecting of Blunt’s name into Frank’s conversation with Andy Able rather settled the misgivings of the lad in the second-story window. If Frank could do anything for Blunt he was anxious to show his good will by meeting the young cowboy halfway.

“What you chewin’ over in your mind?” called Able, from below. “I asked you if you’d come, and you don’t say a word! Feared of somethin’?” and mocking scorn could be detected in Able’s low voice.

“What is there to be afraid of ?” inquired Frank.

“Not a thing. Barzy Blunt is as squar’ a chap as ye’d find in a month’s travel. He didn’t heave that bowlder at ye in the canyon, and he ain’t up to no yelluh tricks now. He jest wants ye out to the ranch, and he sent me to town with a led hoss to bring ye.”

'He jest wants ye out to the ranch, and he sent me to town with a led hoss to bring ye.'

'What does he want?'

'He’s purty badly broke up on account o’ that bowlder, and I reckon he jest wants to palaver about it.'

'Then why didn’t he come to town and palaver?'

“What does he want?” asked Frank.

“He’s purty badly broke up on account o’ that bowlder, and I reckon he jest wants to palaver about it.

“Then why didn’t he come to town and palaver?”

Ask me an easier one. I’m only kerryin’ out orders, Merriwell, an’ not givin’ of ‘em.”

“Well,” said Frank, after a moment’s thought, “I need a good night’s rest, but I’m willing to do what Blunt wants, just to show my good will. Wait till I get into my clothes, and I’ll join you.”

‘‘Wait a second, pard. Don’t wake up t’other chap in puttin’ on yer gear. An’, when ye’re ready, couldn’t ye jest as well drop from the window instead o’ comin’ by the front door?”

“That’s all tommyrot!” said Frank.

“Blunt asked me to tell you particular. If you want to please Blunt, pard, ye’ll do as I say. Ye see, Barzy don’t want anybody in town to know he’s havin’ a powwow with ye. If you should stir up any one in the hotel, they’d ask questions; and if ye didn’t answer them questions like enough they’d suspicion what ye was up to.”

The program, as stated by Andy Able, was characteristic of the peculiar methods of Barzy Blunt.

Merry laughed softly as that fact occurred to him.

“All right, Andy,” he called down, “I’ll drop from the window. But how, am I to get back into the room upon my return from the ranch?”

“There’s a ladder out back of the hotel,” answered Andy. “Ye could use that.”

“Sure,” assented Frank. “Wait there and I’ll be with you in a jiff.”

He turned away from the window. It seemed to Frank as though he was playing it pretty low down on his churn to leave the window with never a word of explanation; but then that was the way the eccentric Barzy Blunt wanted it, and he was generously and trustfully acceding to Blunt’s wishes. Then again Frank would be back at the hotel and in bed long before time to get up. He could have a good laugh with Clancy and Ballard over his night’s adventure the next day.

He dressed quickly in the moonlight. With a last look toward Clancy’s still form, he stepped to the window and lowered himself through it until he was hanging at arms’ length; then he dropped into the soft sand.

'Now for the bronks, and then to hotfoot it for the ranch. This way!'

“That’s you, pard!” exulted Andy, the Bar Z man, in Merry’s ear. “Now for the bronks, and then to hotfoot it for the ranch. This way!”

He whipped around and glided across the dark, deserted main street of the town. Merriwell followed him closely. Andy continued on between two buildings on the farther side of the street, and so to a thicket of chaparral between the outskirts of the straggling settlement and the rim of the canyon. Here there were two saddle horses, safely hitched, and hidden from chance passers. Andy led both of the animals out into the moonlight and put the reins of one of the mounts into his companion’s hand.

“Hit leather, pard,’’ said he, “and then we’ll hit the trail.”

Frank vaulted lightly into the saddle. A few preliminary buck jumps followed, after the manner of the usual cowhorse, but Merriwell held to his seat like a veteran of the range.

“I reckon you can ride some,” remarked Andy, rustling his chaps over the saddle cantle as he rose to his seat.

“A little,” Frank answered diffidently. “What time is it, Andy?”

“Nigh onto one a. m.,” was the reply.

“How long will it take us to reach the Bar Z?”

“Hour and a half.”

“Then an hour and a half to come back, and half an hour to talk with Blunt. I ought to be back in my room by half past four, or by five at latest.”

“Sure you ought,” replied Andy. “Now we’ll ride.”

His spurs rattled, and his horse shot away to the northward. By a wide detour, they missed the fringe of shacks on the outskirts of Ophir, and came into a trail that led toward Gold Hill. This road carried the riders past the fork that led to the clubhouse and athletic field of the O.A.C.

In the afternoon of the day to come he would be on the football field, watching the practice game between the dub’s regular eleven and a scrub team.

On leaving well behind that distant view of the clubhouse and athletic field, the road bore away to the right and dropped into the depths of the canyon. There had been no conversation between Merry and his conductor up to the point where the trail tipped over the rim rock; but on the slope the pace of the horses was slowed, and Frank availed himself of the moment for further talk.

“What’s troubling Blunt, Andy?” he asked.

“I reckon it’s that pesky rock business,” was the reply.

“Well, I told Blunt I believed that was nothing more or less than an accident.”

“A good deal of palaverin’ is bein’ done, and it ain’t all favorable to Barzy, not by a hull row of ‘dobies. Folks is sayin’ that Barzy tried to do you up, and acted like a coyote.”

“That’s too thundering bad!” declared Merriwell. “I’ve done everything I could to stop that sort of talk.’’

“That’s the caliber of a feller that’s plumb white,” cried Able heartily, “and I goes on record, Merriwell, as sayin’ ye’re my style, from spurs to headpiece. But, look: Us punchers at the Bar Z are some on athletics. That’s mostly Barzy’s fault, ‘cause he took to sports like a duck to water, and some more o’ us jest naturally had to wade in an keep him comp’ny. Now, bein’ squar’ as a die, the lot o’ us, ye can see how we hates to have folks layin’ crooked business to one of our crowd.”

“How is my talk with Blunt going to help that?”

“Pass the ante, Merriwell. This work with you is Barzy’s doin’s, so I’ll let the boy speak for himself. Now—”
By that time, the two horsemen were in the dusky depths of the canyon. Suddenly, from either side, a wild, jubilant yell–or, rather, chorus of yells–broke out of the night and kept echoing and re-echoing down the defile.
Simultaneously there was heard a pattering of hoofs, and four riders came out of the denser gloom like so many silhouettes.

“Don’t be skeered, Merriwell,” chuckled Andy. “These boys are from the ranch, and they’re waitin’ for us.”

“Got him, did ye, Andy?” bellowed a voice. “I was ready to lay dollars ag’in chalkmarks he wouldn’t come.”

'No, ye don’t, kid!' said a voice sharply. 'Ye’re with us now, and ye’ve got to stick!'

Frank, suddenly suspicious, whirled his horse to the right-about. At the same moment a hand reached forth and grabbed his bit rings.

“No, ye don’t, kid!” said a voice sharply. “Ye’re with us now, and ye’ve got to stick!”

CHAPTER II.
WHERE IS MERRIWELL?

Although Clancy was puzzled and a little worried, yet his excitement and apprehension were as nothing compared to Ballard’s.

“I guess it isn’t so bad as all that, Pink,” said the red-headed chap. “Maybe there’s nothing more serious back of it than a joke. It wouldn’t be the first time Chip has put one over on us.”

“Disappearing mysteriously from his room, at night, would be a particularly silly joke, seems to me, for Chip to pull off.” Ballard answered, stepping out into the hall. “He wouldn’t do a thing like that, Red. Come on, and let’s have a look at your room.”

He pushed hurriedly on into the other sleeping apartment and began a survey of the surroundings with keen eyes. Ballard, while commonly supposed to have an easy-going, lazy disposition, could be alert enough when roused.

“Chip must have got out through a window,” said Ballard.

“You don’t say so, Pink?” said Clancy dryly. ‘‘I thought maybe he had dug out through the side of the house.”

“He got up, dressed, and dropped from one of the windows–and you never heard him,” went on Ballard, unmoved by his chum’s sarcasm.

“No,” admitted Clancy, “I never heard him. I was worn to a frazzle last night and wouldn’t have heard a cannon if some one had set it off right in the room. Now, Sherlock, I wish you’d tell me at what time Chip dropped from the window, and why he took French leave.”

“That’s too many for me, Watson. It’s a black mystery. You see, it isn’t like Chip to make a move of this sort without putting us next.” Ballard frowned thoughtfully. “I’ll bet,” he hazarded presently, “that Merry never left this room of his own accord.”

“Oh, come! You can’t believe, Pink, that somebody forced him to get out of bed, dress, and drop from the window, all against his will? Even though I was sleeping soundly, how could all that have gone on here without waking me up?”

“I’m arguing from the known facts,” said Ballard loftily. “If you have a better argument, Red, you might come across with it.”

“I’m up in the air and haven’t a notion of how it all happened.”

“Then don’t knock holes in my theory unless you’ve got a better one.”

“I don’t have to do any knocking, Pink. Just as it is, your theory is so full of holes it won’t hang together. If Chip was forced to leave here, somebody had to come in to do the forcing, didn’t they? And they’d have had to come in by the window, same way Chip went out. That would mean ladders, and noise—a whole lot of noise, because Chip would have put up a fight-and I’d surely have heard what was going on.”

“Possibly not.” said Ballard.

“Possibly not!” exclaimed Clancy. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, Red, that maybe you were drugged. A little chloroform on a handkerchief would have done the trick.”

“Go on!” snorted Clancy, in disgust. “There’d be an odor of chloroform in this room if any had been used. Anyhow, who’d want to remove Chip from the hotel by force? What would be the object?”

'Remember that cowboy I saw skulking around the hotel last night?' Ballard whispered huskily.

“Remember that cowboy I saw skulking around the hotel last night?” Ballard whispered huskily. “You joshed me about that cowboy, but more than likely, he was laying his plans to abduct Chip.”

“Why should that cowboy want to get Merry away from the hotel?” Clancy asked.

“Well,” returned Ballard, “once more we shall have to theorize. We won that race yesterday from Barzy Blunt and his cowboy athletes. Blunt and his friends not only lost the relay Marathon, but a bonanza mine as well. Think that left them in a pleasant mood? We know how Blunt felt, for he tried to roll Chip into the cañon with a bowlder. He—”

“Chip says it was an accident.”

“Trying to shield Blunt, of course. That’s a good deal like Chip. He’s giving the Cowboy Wonder the benefit of the doubt. But we don’t have to do that, Red. We can judge the whole affair strictly on its merits. Blunt’s a cur. He and his bunch have put up some scheme or other, and Chip is the victim of it. They want to get even with him.”

Clancy was more than half convinced. At the same time, a doubt was left lingering in his mind. He knew that Merriwell’s judgment was sound, and that if he said that bowlder affair in the cañon was an accident, then, more than likely, an accident it was. But Chip was generous to a fault, and easily imposed upon through that side of his nature. It was possible Blunt had been able to impose upon him, regarding that incident in the canyon, and that this had been done to screen a plot that had resulted in Chip’s disappearance.

“Well, anyhow,” said he, “Chip’s gone, no matter whether he went willingly or unwillingly. I move that we get into our clothes and go downstairs. Perhaps we can get some dews, if we look around. Maybe,” he added, but not in a tone overly sanguine, “we’ll find Chip himself. Perhaps he saw that same cowboy sneaking about the hotel and went out by the window to lay hands on him and find out what he was up to.”

This last offhand remark of Clancy’s had rather a promising look. Ballard admitted it to himself as he hastened back to his own room and began shedding his pajamas and getting into his clothes. Fifteen minutes later, the two lads came together again in the hotel office.

Pophagan, the proprietor of the hotel, was there, and Woo Sing was just traveling through the room, after beating the breakfast gong out in front.

“Mornin’, gents,” said Pophagan. “where’s the Chip of the Old Block? Gen’rally he’s the first one down.”

“Don’t know where he is, Pophagan,” answered the worried Clancy. ‘‘He disappeared from our room some time during the night. I found the door locked on the inside, but Merry was gone. He must have dropped from the window.”

“Sufferin’ horn toads!” remarked the landlord. “What sort of a dodge do you call that, hey?”

“We don’t know what to call it,’’ spoke up Ballard.

“You haven’t seen him around anywhere, have you?”

'Nary I haven’t. But you can’t lose that lad,' and Pophagan wagged his head sapiently. 'He knows what he’s about every time and all the time.'

“Nary I haven’t. But you can’t lose that lad,” and Pophagan wagged his head sapiently. “He knows what he’s about every time and all the time. Take it from me, if he’s gone, he’ll come back. And when he comes back, by thunder he’ll tell you why he went. You’ll find–and I’ll bet my spurs on it–that his reason was a blame’ good un.”

 

This conviction of Pophagan’s, stated in no uncertain terms, rather heartened Ballard and Clancy. They went in to breakfast, and whenever any one entered the dining room they looked around hoping and half expecting that it might be Merry. But Merriwell did not come and the two lads finished their meal and went back to the office somewhat gloomily.

“I’m going to do a little gumshoe work,” announced Ballard.

“All right, Sherlock,” said Clancy. “Anything’s better than loafing around with our hands in our pockets. I don’t think your gumshoe work will amount to a hill of beans, but I’m ready to encourage you in it just to pass the time.”

They left the office, and stepped out on the veranda in front of the hotel.

“Where do you begin your sleuthing?” asked Clancy.

“Under the windows of the room occupied by you and Chip,” answered Ballard. “We will look for tracks.”

They went to look, but the ground was so cluttered up with tracks of all sorts that they could get no clews.

One thing was sure, and that was that a man in tight, high-heeled boots had been under the windows all along that side of the hotel. But this fact was known and the testimony of the boot marks was not needed. So far as any footprints left by Merry entered into the question, it was impossible for the boys to pick them out from the mass of impressions in the soft, dry sand.

“What’s agitatin’ you now?” inquired Pophagan, who had approached and was watching the boys curiously.

“Trying to make sure that Chip dropped from the window,” said Clancy. “But, if he did, he left so many marks Pink is rattled.”

'Leave Merriwell be,' advised the landlord. 'Don’t go to interferin’ with his plans. Maybe you’re butting into something important. See? That kid knows what he’s about. Take it easy, and don’t fret.'

“Leave Merriwell be,” advised the landlord. “Don’t go to interferin’ with his plans. Maybe you’re butting into something important. See? That kid knows what he’s about. Take it easy, and don’t fret.”

“Did you see a mysterious cowboy skulking around the hotel last night, Pophagan?” inquired Ballard.

“Ophir’s full of mysterious cow-punchers. Maybe the one you mention wasn’t skulkin’ particular, but just had a load on. Sometimes they’re like that.”

“Well, this cowboy I saw wasn’t drunk. I looked down from my window and saw him watching someone in the office. MerriweIl was writing at the table, so it must have been him the fellow was staring at.”

“Oh, shucks!’’ grunted Pophagan, in violent disapproval.

“You’re making a mountain out of a two-by-twice molehill. Come back into the office, sit down, and take things easy. Your pard’ll show up afore dinner, and I’ll gamble on it.”

But the slow hours of the forenoon dragged by, and Merriwell did not present himself to the eyes of his worrying friends. Woo Sing pounded his dinner gong, and Ballard and Clancy went in to their noon meal, more apprehensive and disturbed than they had been at any time since the discovery that their chum was missing.

Following the meal, and while the boys sat on the veranda discussing their various theories as to why Frank went away and where he might be, the big Bradlaugh motor car came buzzing up and halted in front of the hotel.

Following the meal, and while the boys sat on the veranda discussing their various theories as to why Frank went away and where he might be, the big Bradlaugh motor or car came buzzing up and halted in front of the hotel.

Mr. Bradlaugh, president of the Ophir Athletic Dub, and Hannibal, Bradlaugh’s son, were in the car.

“Bring Merriwell and come on, fellows,” Hannibal called. “We’re here to take you out to the grounds for that practice game.”

“That practice game had dean slipped my mind,” muttered Ballard. “Say, really, Chip would never have failed to keep his promise to Spink and Handy—if he could have helped it. Here’s proof that he was carried off.”

Clancy was already on his way toward the car.

“Chip’s not here,” said he, “and we haven’t the least idea what’s become of him.”

“Not here?” echoed Bradlaugh senior.

“What are you giving us?” demanded Hannibal.

“We’re giving it to you straight,” put in Ballard; who was dose to the car himself by then.

With that, the boys hurriedly placed the matter before Hannibal and his father.

“This is queer, and no mistake!” commented the elder Bradlaugh. “I can’t imagine why Merriwell should leave so mysteriously. And yet, to tell the truth, I’m of the opinion that something came up that demanded his attention. Where is the professor?”

The last question had reference to Phineas Borrodaile, the man Frank and his friends had found in the deserted mining camp of Happenchance, and for whom they had saved the mining claim by their “relay Marathon.”

“The prof went back to Gold Hill last evening,” explained Clancy.

Bradlaugh’s face brightened.

“Then,” said he, “I’ll make a guess that Merriwell received a sudden call from Gold Hill, and went there on business connected with Professor Borrodaile.”

“Why should he steal away like he did?” asked Ballard.

“He must have had his reasons. Get into the car, boys. I’ll go to my office and call up Gold Hill. It won’t take five minutes to settle this matter, and I think it will be settled to your satisfaction.”

Mr. Bradlaugh represented an Eastern syndicate which was operating a big gold mine no more than half a mile out of Ophir. His headquarters were in the town, and the car was quickly at a halt in front of his office. While Bradlaugh was telephoning, Hannibal, Ballard, and Clancy waited for news in the machine. Mr. Bradlaugh was not gone many minutes. When he reappeared, his face wore a puzzled expression.

“Borrodaile is at the Bristow House, over in Gold Hill,” he reported. “I talked with him, and he says Merriwell has not been in Gold Hill. This certainly ‘gets’ me. You boys go back to the hotel and wait there. I want to see a man I know and have this looked into.”

“What man, pop?” inquired Hannibal.

“Learoyd, the deputy sheriff,” was the reply.

Those words caused the gloom to descend more heavily upon Clancy and Ballard. If it was a case for the deputy sheriff, they reasoned, then it must be pretty serious.

Frank Merriwell, Junior, at the Bar Z Ranch; Or, The Cowboy Athletes.
By Burt L. Standish

CHAPTER I.
A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE.

Young Merriwell and Clancy were alone in the office of the Ophir House. Merry had just written, sealed, and addressed a very important letter to his father at Bloomfield, and had pushed back from the writing table for a few words with his red-headed chum. In the midst of their talk they turned and saw Billy Ballard. He was stealing through the outside door on his tiptoes, a wildly ominous look on his face and a finger at his lips. In turning, Merry and Clancy had rattled their chairs and scuffled their feet.
“Hus-s-h! Be quiet,” warned Ballard. “You’re making more noise than a boiler factory.”

“What’s biting you, Pink?” asked Clancy.

“I wouldst a tale unfold,” said Ballard dramatically.

“For the love of Mike,” urged Merry, “unfold it. Somebody trying to set the hotel on fire?”

“Worse than that,” answered Ballard huskily.

“Well, get it off your chest—don’t be so fussy. You seem to think that winning a relay Marathon hasn’t furnished us enough excitement for one day, and that you’ve got to pile on the agony just as we’re about ready for bed. I’ve done a sprint of eight miles, and Chip’s done ten, and—”

'He heard a noise, Chip,' said Clancy, his voice thrilling with horror. 'Heavens! What if it was Proprietor Pophagan snoring across the hall?'

“I did seven myself,” cut in Ballard reprovingly, “but I’m not so worn out that I can’t investigate when danger threatens. Listen,” and he put on a few more mock heroics, “I was up in my room when I heard a noise!”

“He heard a noise, Chip,” said Clancy, his voice thrilling with horror. “Heavens! What if it was Proprietor Pophagan snoring across the hall?”

“Come again,” said Ballard. “You haven’t guessed it.”

“We’re not going to do any more guessing,” returned Clancy. “Tell us what’s happened, you crazy chump, or you’ll wish you had.”

“Oh, well, if you’re going to get mad about it, Red, I’ll hand it right over. I heard a noise just under my window, and looked out. The light from the office fell through that window there”—Ballard pointed to a window close to the table where Merry had been writing—”and there was a fellow standing outside and looking in. He was dressed like a cowboy.”

“Is there any law against cowboys looking into hotel windows, Pink?” inquired Merry?

“Wait a minute,” said Ballard. “This particular cowpuncher moved around as though he was up to something unlawful. He sneaked up and down the side of the hotel and finally came back to the window. I came down the back stairs and around the other side of the building to the office. When I came in his face was at the glass; but you chumps made so much noise he ducked away.”

“Go back to bed, Pink,” suggested Clancy. “You’ve had a bad dream.”

“No dream about it,” growled Ballard, “for I’m telling you just what I saw. Maybe it amounts to something and maybe not. I give it to you for what it’s worth.”

“It wasn’t worth your bother, old champ,” said Merry.

“That relay race we had with Barzy Blunt and his cowboy athletes must have got on your nerves. Suppose we all go up to bed? I’ll confess that I’m more than ready to hit the blankets.”

Frank picked up his letter, took it over to the office counter, and dropped it through a slot. From the box below Woo Sing, the Chinese roustabout, removed the outgoing mail regularly every morning and carried it to the post office. As Frank turned away from the counter, two young fellows came breezing in through the front door. They were Spink and Handy, of the Ophir Athletic Dub.

The newcomers made a rush across the room and grabbed Frank enthusiastically by the hands.

“Good old Merry!” cried Spink. “Say, Brad has been telling us about that relay marathon you won against Barzy Blunt and his cow punchers. It must have been great! Give us the details, will you?”

“Ballard and Clancy had as much to do with it as I had,” protested Merriwell. “What’s more, fellows,” he added, “there wasn’t anything so very ‘great’ about it, after all.”

“But you found an old professor in Happenchance, the deserted mining town, didn’t you?” demanded Handy. And he’d found a gold mine, and Blunt and three of his cowboy pals stuck up a location notice of their own beside the professor’s, and then tried to beat you into town with another notice for filing at Gold Hill. Wasn’t that the way of it?’

“Something like that,” laughed Merry.

“And you and Blunt,” Spink struck in, “ran the last lap ten miles between Pete Loco’s ranch and Gold Hill; and where the trail crosses the canon Blunt showed a yellow streak by rolling a stone down on you and nearly doing you up. Is that right, too?”

“No,” said’ Merry, “that’s not right, Spink.”

“Oh, piffle!” put in Clancy. “There’s a lump on the back of his head as big as my fist. He dodged the stone, but he had to fall flat to do it. And that’s where the lump came from.”

“It’s a fact,” went on young Merriwell, “that I’ve got a sore head, and that I got it just ask Clancy says. But the rock fell by accident-and Barzy Blunt didn’t show any ‘yellow streak.’ Don’t lay that up against Barzy Blunt, fellows,” he added earnestly.
“It’s mighty fine of you, Merriwell,” said Spink, “to try to give the thing that sort of a twist. Personally, though, I wouldn’t put it past Blunt any to do a dirty trick of that sort.”

“You’re wrong,” declared Merriwell. “As a personal favor to me, fellows. I want you to consider that falling bowlder as an accident. Don’t talk about it to any one else as anything but an accident, pure and simple – for that’s exactly what it was. Blunt’s a pretty good sort, at heart, but he was raised among that Bar Z crowd. You know what that means.”

'Practice game!" grunted Clancy. "Call it a roughhouse, Handy.'

 

“All right, Chip,” proceeded Handy, “we’ll take your word for it so far as Blunt is concerned.” And now we’ll wipe out the Cowboy Wonder, as he calls himself, and take up another subject. You know the Ophir Athletic Dub is going to have a tilt with Gold Hill on the grid next Thanksgiving Day. It’s our annual custom. Mr. Bradlaugh, president of the O. A. C. asked
you to do something to get our eleven clicked into shape, and pulled off a practice game for you day before yesterday, so—”

“Practice game!” grunted Clancy. “Call it a roughhouse, Handy.”

“All right,” agreed Handy, “call it that. I’ll admit that both the regular team and the scrubs indulged in a little too much horseplay, and that Chip got disgusted. But Spink and I are sent here as a committee to ask you to give us another trial. How about to-morrow afternoon?”

“I don’t object to fun now and then,’’ said Merry; “in fact, I usually make a grab for my own share, and not much of it gets past me. If you’re going after Gold Hill in dead earnest, though, you’ve got to cut out the capers.”

“Try us again,’’ pleaded Spink. “We need a coach, Chip, and you measure up to just about what a coach ought to be. Are you with us tomorrow afternoon?”

“Why, sure, I’ll do what I can for you, but I’m in Arizona on business; and if football interferes with business, why, the football work will have to go. I’ve just written a letter home tonight, and it will probably be six days before I get an answer. That answer will tell me what I’m to do. If my instructions leave me no time for anything but business then everything else will have to go. With that understanding, Spink, you fellows can put up another practice game and I’ll come and look on. Then we’ll see what we can do to try and round up a winning team.”

“Bully!” jubilated Handy. “I suppose you fellows are tired and want to hit the feathers. We’ll be going now, and leave you to your peaceful slumbers. So long.”

The O. A.C. fellows, in a very agreeable frame of mind, locked arms and left the office. Frank and his chums went upstairs without any further delay.

Merry and Clancy had a big room with two beds in it, while Ballard had a room next to theirs. Before turning in, Merry bathed the back of his head with cold water and rubbed on a little arnica. The folded handkerchief which he bound over the bruise caused him to wince as he drew up the two ends in a snug knot.

Merry, tired out with a strenuous and an eventful day, was not long in falling asleep. Clancy, from his side of the room, was already in slumberland. Along about six-thirty in the morning Clancy opened his eyes drowsily. For a moment he stared at the open window near the head of his bed and saw a beam of sun struggling into the room. The next moment he was up with a whoop.

There was always a keen rivalry between Merry and Clancy to see which should be the first up and into a tub of cold water made ready Woo Sing the evening previous. The early bird got the water, and the next one had to slip into his trousers and tote up his own.

The whoop faded suddenly from Clancy's lips. The water was there, and the rough towels, just as the China-man had left them; but Merry wasn't in the room.

The whoop faded suddenly from Clancy’s lips. The water was there, and the rough towels, just as the China-man had left them; but Merry wasn’t in the room.

“He wouldn’t go out without his morning plunge muttered Clancy. “It was his business to empty the tub and—- Say, I wonder if he filled it for me?”

This wasn’t probable. Having the tub ready was a sort of reward of merit for getting up first. It wouldn’t have been any reward at all if the early riser had turned around and filled the tub for the next man. Both Merry and Clancy had very carefully drawn the line at doing anything of that kind.

Besides, if Merry had strained a point and filled the tub for his chum, the latter would surely have heard him clattering around with the water pails. No, Merry had reneged on the plunge that morning, and he was downstairs a full half hour before the breakfast gong.

Clancy started for the tub, then changed his mind and laid a hand on the knob of the hall door. He had it in mind to look out into the corridor and see if his chum had gone to Ballard’s room for something or other.

Then he made an astonishing discovery. The door was locked, and the key was on the inside of the lock!

It would have been physically impossible for Merriwell to leave the room by the door and then lock the door on the inside. The fact remained, however, that Merry was not in the room.

“Huh!” grunted Clancy. “Is this a joke, or what?”

If Merry hadn’t gone out by the door, then he must have left by the window. Both windows were wide open, and Clancy stepped to one and looked down. To hang by the sill and drop would not have caused much of a jolt. Yet why on earth should Merriwell want to leave the room in that fashion?

Clancy was vastly puzzled. He puckered up his brows and drummed his forehead with his knuckles.

“By Jupiter,” he exclaimed, at last, “it gets me!”

Turning the key, he let himself out and hurried to Ballard’s door.

“I say, Pink!” he called, pounding with his fist.

“What’s up?” asked Ballard, from the other side of the door.

“Seen anything of Merriwell? I woke up a minute ago and found him gone and the door locked. What the deuce do you suppose is going on?”

'There’s a black business afoot, I’ll take my oath!' declared Ballard. 'There’s something serious back of this, Clan!'

Ballard’s door was unlocked and jerked open, and Ballard’s startled eyes were peering into Clancy’s.

“There’s a black business afoot, I’ll take my oath!” declared Ballard. “There’s something serious back of this, Clan!”

‘Young Merriwell is lured to the Bar-Z Ranch where he is held a captive. He makes several thrilling efforts to escape before he gets away. During his stay he takes a prominent part in a ball game of an unusual sort . All the other players are cowboys. Chip pitches for the “Mavericks,” and Barzy Blunt does the twirling for the “Rustlers.” This story is full of dash and excitement, and gives the reader a clear idea of the life and actions of the cow-punchers of to-day.’

New Tip Top Weekly, No. 9, Sept. 28, 1912

Tune in Monday, April 4, to see what happens when Frank and his chums visit the wild west!

 


The Cast

Frank Merriwell, Jr. (“Merry” or “Chip”):

  • Our hero, who is in Arizona on business
  • “There was nothing noisy or boisterous in his manner, but he carried with him an atmosphere of boundless health and vitality. His handsome face glowed with a rich color, which showed even under the almost mahogany tan that extended over his neck and powerful arms. His dark eyes, so like those of the older man [Frank Sr.], were shining with excitement.”
Barzy Blunt (“the Cowboy Wonder”):

  • A cowboy from the Bar Z ranch and a rival of Merriwell’s
  • “Barzy Blunt was as well-set-up a young fellow as Merry had ever seen. Physically, he fell little short of perfection. Mentally, however, he was twisted and warped in most of his views of life.”
Clancy (“Red”):

  • Merriwell’s red-headed chum
Billy Ballard (“Pink”):

  • Another of Merriwell’s cronies
“Spink” and “Handy”:

  • Friends of Merriwell, Clancy, and the others; from the Ophir Athletic Club
Pophagan:

  • The proprietor of the Ophir House, the hotel where Merriwell and his chums are staying while visiting Arizona
Mr. Bradlaugh:

  • President of the Ophir Athletic Club and representative of Eastern syndicate operating a big gold mine near Ophir
Hannibal Bradlaugh:

  • Mr. Bradlaugh’s son and a peer of Merriwell and his friends
Andy Able:

  • A cowboy from the Bar Z ranch
  • “In spite of the fact that the figure was indistinct. Frank could see that it wore a cowboy hat, flannel shirt, chaps, and boots.”
Aaron Lloyd:

  • A cowboy from the Bar Z
Murgatroyd:

  • A cowboy from the Bar Z and the foreman in charge during the ranch owner’s absence
Hungry Joe:

  • A talking parrot at the Bar Z
Amos Bixler:

  • A cowboy from the Tin Cup Ranch and Captain of the Tin Cup Mavericks, a rival ranch sports team
Dutch Fritz:

  • A ranch hand from another ranch and the referee
  • “He was short and thick, and had a pair of puttees buckled over his shins and carried a sidearm to the game which he uses to make his decisions stick”
McTurk:

  • A cowboy from the Tin Cup Ranch
Jim Snow:

  • A cowboy from the Tin Cup Ranch and the pitcher from that team
Sheriff Learoyd Hawkins:

  • The Sherriff in Ophir

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