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DAVE PORTER AT STAR

RANCH


CHAPTER I


DAVE AND HIS CHUMS


"Why, Dave, what are you going to do with that revolver?"

"Phil and Roger and I are going to do some target shooting back of the barn," answered Dave Porter. "If we are going to try ranch life, we want to know how to shoot."

"Oh! Well, do be careful!" pleaded Laura Porter, as she glanced affectionately at her brother. "A revolver is such a dangerous thing!"

"We know how to handle one. Phil has been painting a big door to represent a black bear, and we are going to see if we can do as well with a revolver as we did with the rifle."

"Do you expect to shoot bears on the ranch? I didn't see any when I was out there."

"We don't expect to see them around the house, but there must be plenty of game in the mountains."

"Oh, I presume that's true. But I shouldn't want to hunt bears—I'd be afraid," and Laura gave a little shiver.

"Girls weren't meant to be hunters," answered Dave, laughing. "But I shouldn't consider the outing complete unless I went on at least one big hunt—and I know Phil and Roger feel the same way about it."

"Hello, Dave!" cried a voice from an open doorway, and a handsome lad with dark curly hair showed himself. "Coming?"

"Yes, Roger. Where is Phil?"

"Gone to the field with his wooden bear." Roger Morr looked at his chum's sister. "Want to come along and try your luck?" he questioned. "A fine box of fudge to the one making the most bull's-eyes—I mean bear's-eyes."

"No, indeed, I'd be afraid of my life even to touch a revolver," answered the girl. "But I'll hunt up Jessie, and maybe we'll come down after a while to look on."

"Oh, you want to learn to shoot!" cried Roger. "Then, when we get to Star Ranch, you can dress up in regular cowgirl fashion, and ride a bronco, and fire off your gun in true western style."

"And have a big bear eat me up, eh?" answered Laura. "No, thank you—I want to come back East alive. But I'll come down to the field as soon as I can find Jessie," answered Laura, and walked away.

A long, melodious whistle was floating through the outside air, and Dave and Roger knew it came from Phil Lawrence. They hurried from the broad porch to the garden path, and around the corner of the carriage shed. Here they came upon their chum, carrying on his shoulder an old door upon which he had painted the upright figure of what was supposed to be a bear.

"Hurrah for the great animal painter!" cried Dave, as he ran up and took hold of one end of the door. "Phil, you ought to place this in the Academy of Design."

"It's superb!" was Roger's dry comment. "Best picture of a kangaroo I ever saw. Or is it a sheep, Phil?"

"Humph! It's a good deal better than you could have painted," grumbled the amateur artist.

"Sure it is—best photo of a tiger I ever saw," said Dave, adding to the fun. "Why, you can almost hear him growl!"

"See here, if you're going to poke fun at me I'll throw the target away. I put in two hours of hard work, and three cans of paint, and——"

"We won't say another word, Phil," interrupted Roger. "Here, let me take hold. You've carried it far enough," and he relieved Phil of his burden.

"I wonder where would be the best place to set it?" mused Dave, gazing across the field.

"Up against the tree over there," answered Phil, pointing. "I had that spot picked out when I painted it. We'll set it so that it will look as if his bearship was trying to climb the tree."

"It's rather close to the back road," protested Dave. "We might hit somebody."

"Oh, hardly anybody uses that road,—so the stableman told me," answered Roger. "Besides, we can watch out. One always wants to be careful when shooting, at a target or otherwise."

The three youths soon had the target placed to their satisfaction, and then began a lively blazing away with the three revolvers that had been brought along. They aimed for the eyes of the painted creature, and for other vital spots, and all did fairly well.

"You're the best shot, Dave," announced Roger, during a lull in the practice, when all had gone to inspect the "damage" done. "You've plugged him right in the eyes three times and once in the heart. Had he been a real bear, he'd be as dead as a salt mackerel now."

"Provided he had consented to stand still," answered Dave. "Shooting at a stationary object is one thing, and at a moving, living creature quite another."

"I have it!" cried Phil. "Let us get a rope and throw it over one of the tree limbs. Then we can tie the door to it and swing it to and fro. We'll try to hit the bear while he's swinging."

"That's the talk!" returned Dave, enthusiastically. "I'll get the rope!" And he ran off to the barn for it. Little did he dream of what trouble that swinging target was to make for himself and his chums.

Many of my old readers already know Dave Porter, but for the benefit of others a brief outline of his past history will not be out of place. When he was a wee boy he had been found one day wandering along the railroad tracks outside of the village of Crumville. Nobody knew who he was or where he came from, and consequently he was put in the local poorhouse, there to remain until he was nine years old. Then a broken-down college professor named Caspar Potts, who was doing farming for his health, took the lad to live with him.

Caspar Potts gave Dave the rudiments of a good education. But he could not make his farm pay, and soon got into the grasp of Aaron Poole, a miserly money-lender, who threatened to sell him out.

Things looked exceedingly black for the old man and the boy when something very unexpected happened, as has been related in detail in the first volume of this series, called "Dave Porter at Oak Hall." In Crumville lived a rich manufacturer named Oliver Wadsworth, who had a beautiful daughter named Jessie, some years younger than Dave. Through an accident to the gasoline tank of an automobile, Jessie's clothing took fire, and she might have been burned to death had not Dave rushed in and extinguished the flames.

Mr. Wadsworth was profuse in his thanks, and so was his wife, and both made inquiries concerning Dave and Caspar Potts. It was found that the latter was one of the manufacturer's former college professors, and Mr. Wadsworth insisted that Professor Potts give up farming and come and live with him, and bring Dave along. Then he sent Dave to boarding school, where the lad soon proved his worth, and made close chums of Roger Morr, the son of a United States senator; Phil Lawrence, the offspring of a wealthy shipowner, and a number of others.

The cloud concerning his parentage troubled Dave a great deal, and when he saw what he thought was a chance to clear up the mystery, he took a long trip from home, as related in "Dave Porter in the South Seas." After many adventures he found his uncle, Dunston Porter, and learned much concerning his father, David Breslow Porter, and his sister, Laura, then traveling in Europe.

Dave was now no longer a "poorhouse nobody," as some of his enemies had called him, but a well-to-do youth with considerable money coming to him when he should be of age. While waiting to hear from his parent he went back to Oak Hall, as related in "Dave Porter's Return to School." Here he added to his friends; yet some boys were jealous of his prosperity and did all they could to injure him. But their plots were exposed, and in sheer fright one of the lads ran away to Europe.

Much to Dave's disappointment, he did not hear from either his father or his sister. But he did receive word that the bully who had run away from Oak Hall had seen them, and so he resolved to go on another hunt for his relatives. As told in "Dave Porter in the Far North," he crossed the Atlantic with his chum, Roger, and followed his father to the upper part of Norway. Here at last the lonely lad met his parent face to face, a meeting as thrilling as it was interesting. He learned that his sister had returned to the United States, and with some friends named Endicott had gone to the latter's ranch in the Far West.

Mr. Oliver Wadsworth's mansion was a large one, and by an arrangement with him it was settled that, for the present, the Porters should make the place their home. All in a flutter of excitement, Laura came back from the West, and the meeting between brother and sister was as affecting as had been that between father and son. The girl brought with her some news that interested Dave deeply. It was to the effect that the ranch next to that of the Endicotts was owned by a Mr. Felix Merwell, the father of Link Merwell, one of Dave's bitterest enemies at Oak Hall. Link had met Laura out there and gotten her to correspond with him.

"It's too bad, Laura; I wish you hadn't done it," Dave had said on learning the news. "It may make trouble, for Merwell is no gentleman." And trouble it did make, as the readers of "Dave Porter and His Classmates" know. The trouble went from bad to worse, and not only were Laura and Dave involved, but also pretty Jessie Wadsworth and several of Dave's school chums. In the end Dave "took the law in his own hands" by giving Link Merwell a sound thrashing. Then some of the bully's wrongdoings reached the ears of the master of the school, and he was ordered to pack his trunk and leave, and a telegram was sent to his father in the West, stating that he had been expelled for violating the school rules. He left in a great rage.

"This is the work of that miserable poorhouse rat, Dave Porter," Link told some of his cohorts. "Just wait—I'll fix him for it some day, see if I don't!" Then he wrote a most abusive letter to Dave, but in his rage he forgot to address it properly, and it never reached the youth.

The term at Oak Hall came to an end in June and then arose the question of what to do during the vacation. In the meantime letters had been flying forth between Laura and her warm friend, Belle Endicott, who was still at Star Ranch, as Mr. Endicott's place was called. It may be said in passing that Mr. Endicott was a rich railroad president, and the ranch, while it paid well, was merely a hobby with him, and he and his family resided upon it only when it suited their fancy to do so.

"The Endicotts want me to come out again," said Laura to Dave. "They want me to bring you along with some of your chums, and they want me to bring Jessie, too, if her folks will let her come."

"Oh, that would be jolly!" Dave answered. When he thought of Jessie's going he blushed to himself, for to him the girl whose life he had once saved was the nicest miss in the whole world. Dave was by no means sentimental, but he had a warm, manly regard for Jessie that did him credit.

More letters passed back and forth, and it was finally arranged that Laura and Dave should visit Star Ranch during July and August, taking with them Jessie and Phil and Roger. Dunston Porter was to accompany the young folk as far west as Helena, near which the Endicotts were to meet the travelers, and then Dave's uncle was to go on to Spokane on business, coming back to take the young folks home about six weeks later.

The thoughts of spending their vacation on a real ranch filled the young folk with delight. All anticipated a "Jim-dandy" time, as Phil expressed it.

"We can go out hunting and fishing, and all that," declared the shipowner's son to his chums. "And maybe we'll bring down a bear or two." And then he suggested that they get revolvers and perfect themselves in marksmanship.

"Maybe we'll run into Link Merwell out there," said Roger. "My, but he was mad when he left Oak Hall! He'd like to chew your head off, Dave!"

"I don't want to see him," answered Dave, soberly. But this wish was not to be fulfilled. He was to meet Link Merwell in the near future, and that meeting was to be productive of some decidedly unpleasant results.