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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!”

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