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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.

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