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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.

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