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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.

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