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CHAPTER XXII


COWBOY TRICKS AND "BRONCO-BUSTING"


"You boys sure did have a day of sport," said Sid Todd, after he had inspected the fish, the grouse, and the wildcat. "And you've proved that you can shoot," he added, nodding toward the slain beast. "I've known many a putty good hunter to get the shakes when he see a bobcat a-glarin' at him from a tree. It ain't no tender sight, is it now?"

"Not much!" answered Phil, warmly. He had been as close to getting the "shakes" as any one of the three. "I was glad when I knew he was dead."

"Something about a bobcat I don't like," went on the cowboy. "We used to hunt 'em—when they got after the sheep some years ago. Once one of 'em jest about got me by the throat, an' I ain't forgitting it! I'd rather face a bear, I think."

"You mustn't forget that you are to take us to the mountains on a hunting expedition," came from Roger. "We want to get some deer, or an elk, before we go back East."

"I'll take you—don't worry," answered the cowboy.

The news soon spread around the ranch that the "tenderfeet" had killed a big bobcat, and all the hands came to get a look at the beast. They praised the boys, and said they must be nervy hunters or they could not have done it. Of course the lads were correspondingly proud, and who can blame them? The animal was prepared for stuffing, and then sent off by express to a taxidermist in the city.

After talking the matter over among themselves, the boys decided to tell Mr. Endicott about the piece of Mexican halter they had picked up. He listened gravely to what they had to say, and looked at the bit of leather curiously.

"I am afraid it is not much in the way of evidence," said he. "But I'll remember it, and we'll have to watch Link Merwell—that is, as well as we can. There would be no gain in speaking to Mr. Merwell, it would only stir up the bad feeling that already exists. I understand that he has had an offer for his ranch from somebody in the East, and I trust he sells out and moves somewhere else."

"So do I," echoed Dave, heartily. "Some place where none of us will ever hear of him or his son again."

Two days after the shooting of the wildcat, Sid Todd announced that the cowboys of Star Ranch and Hooper Ranch, up the river, were going to hold a contest in "bronco-busting" and in fancy riding. All the young folks were invited to be present and a little stand was to be erected, from which they might view what was going on in comfort.

"Hurrah! that suits me!" cried Dave. "I've been wanting to see them break in a real bronco."

"And I want to see some of their fancy riding," added the senator's son. "It will be a real Wild West show."

"And no fifty cents admission, either," said Phil, with a grin.

"I hope nobody gets hurt," said Jessie, timidly.

"Oh, they are generally more careful than you think," answered Mr. Endicott.

"But bronco-busting is dangerous, isn't it?" questioned Laura.

"Yes,—for anybody who has had no experience. But Todd and some of the others can saddle and ride any pony in these parts."

All went out to the stretch of plain where the contest was to take place. The little stand was there, true enough, and to the four corners were nailed four flags—two of the Stars and Stripes, and one each of the two ranches, that of the Endicotts having a blue field with the words, Star Ranch, in white.

The word had been passed around for a good many miles, and consequently a crowd numbering over a hundred had assembled on the field, including half a dozen ladies and several children. The cowboys were out "on parade," as Mr. Endicott expressed it, and each wore his best riding outfit, and had his horse and trappings "slicked up" to the last degree. All wore their largest Mexican sombreros, and, taken together, they formed a truly picturesque assemblage.

"Puts me in mind of gypsies," said Laura. "Only they haven't their wives and children with them."

"And they aren't telling fortunes," added Jessie.

The sport began with some fancy riding in which eight of the cowboys, four from each ranch, participated. The cowboys would ride like the wind and leap off and on their steeds, turn from frontwards to backwards, slide from the saddle under their horses' necks and up into the saddle again, and lean low to catch up handkerchiefs and hats left on the grass for that purpose. Then they did some fancy vaulting, over bars and brushwood, and while riding two and even four horses.

"Good! good!" shouted Dave. "Isn't that fine!"

"Best I ever saw!" answered Roger, and everybody in the crowd applauded vigorously.

After the fancy riding came some shooting while in the saddle, both at stationary objects and at things sprung into the air from a trap. The repeated crack! crack! crack! of the pistols and rifles scared some of the girls a little, but the boys enjoyed the spectacle thoroughly, and marveled at some of the shots made.

"Game wouldn't stand much chance with those chaps," remarked Dave. "They could hit a running deer or a flying bird without half trying."

The shooting at an end, the cowboys brought out their best lassoes and showed what could be done in landing the circlets over running steers and horses. Here Sid Todd was in his element, and the way he managed his lasso, one of extra length at that, brought out tremendous applause.

"He is the best lasso-thrower in these parts," said Mr. Endicott. "No one can compare with him."

"Well, he is a good shot, too," said Dave. "And he rides well also."

"Yes, he is a good all-around fellow," answered the ranch owner. "I am mighty glad I have him,—and I am glad I got rid of that Hank Snogger," he added.

"Are any of the men from the Merwell ranch here?"

"No, I warned them to keep away—after that trouble we had at your entertainment,—and Mr. Hooper, the owner of the other ranch,—told them to keep away, too. Some of those fellows drink, and if they got to quarreling there might be some shooting, and then there would be no telling where the thing would end. I made up my mind I'd take no chances."

The "bronco-busting," as it is called, was reserved for after lunch. Several wild-looking ponies were tethered at a distance, and it was the task of those who proposed to do the "busting" to take a saddle, fasten it on a pony, and then get up and ride around the field at least twice. The ponies were unbroken, and of the sort usually designated as vicious and unreliable.

It was truly a thrilling exhibition and one the boys, and the girls, too, for the matter of that, never forgot. As soon as a bronco was approached he would begin to plunge and kick, and to get a saddle on him was all but impossible. Then, if at last he was saddled, and the cowboy who had been successful got in the seat, the pony would leap and plunge some more, sometimes going straight up into the air and coming down with legs as stiff as posts. Then, if this did not throw the cowboy off, the pony would start to run, only to stop short suddenly, in the hope of sending the rider over his head.

"Oh, somebody will be killed!" screamed Jessie, and often turned her face away to shut out the sight. "Oh, why do they do such dreadful things?" she added.

"They've got to break the ponies somehow," answered Dave. "Those broncos will be all right after they get used to it."

"Say, do you know, I'd like to try that," remarked Roger. "I think I could sit on one of those ponies, if he had the saddle on."

"I think I could do it, too," added Dave.

"Oh, Dave!" exclaimed his sister, while Jessie gave a little shriek of horror.

"It's not as bad as it looks—after the pony is saddled," answered Dave.

"We'll try it to-morrow—on the quiet," whispered Roger.

After the "busting" of the broncos had come to an end, there was a two-mile race, for a first and a second prize, put up by the two ranch owners. In this race nine of the cowboys started, amid a wild yelling and the cracking of numerous pistols,—for the average cowboy is not enjoying himself unless he can make a noise.

"They are off!" yelled Phil.

"Yes, and see them go!" added Dave.

"I'll bet our ranch wins!" came from Roger.

"What will you bet?" asked Belle, mischievously.

"A box of candy against a cream pie."

"That's fair,—but I can't bet against our ranch," answered Belle, gayly.

On and on thundered the horses across the plains, to a spot a mile distant. At first three of the cowboys from the other ranch were in the lead, and their followers cheered them loudly.

"Oh, we are going to lose!" said Belle, with a pout, as the leaders in the race started on the return.

"No! no!" answered Dave. "See, Sid Todd is coming to the front."

"Yes, and Yates is crawling up, too," added Phil.

Nearer and nearer to the finish line swept the cowboys, those in the rear doing their best to forge ahead. Now Sid Todd, Yates, and two cowboys from the Hooper ranch were neck-and-neck.

"It will be a tie," murmured Laura.

"No, Todd is gaining!" cried Mr. Endicott, who was as much excited as anybody. "See, he and Hooper's man are now ahead!"

"Here they come, on the homestretch!" was the general cry.

On and on thundered the horses, nearer and nearer to the finishing line. When the leaders were less than fifty yards off Sid Todd made a spurt.

"Here comes Todd!"

"Todd wins! Todd wins!"

"Galpey is second!"

"Yes, and Yates is third!"

"Say, that's riding for you!" And so the cries rang out. Sid Todd had indeed won, and all of his friends from Star Ranch congratulated him. The second prize went to the cowboy from the Hooper ranch. Yates got nothing, but was content to know that he had come in third and only five yards behind the leader.

"Well, that certainly was an entertainment worth looking at," said Dave, when it was over, and they were returning to the ranch house.

"I've never been so stirred up," answered Roger. "But, say, I am going to try one of those broncos to-morrow," he added.

"Not for me!" said Phil. "I value my neck too much."

"What about you, Dave?" And the senator's son looked anxiously at the Crumville lad.

"Well, I'll see," answered Dave. He was not afraid to try riding a bronco, but he did not wish to worry Jessie and his sister.

"You are not afraid, are you?"

"No."

"Well, I am not afraid, either," came quickly from Phil, and his face grew red. "You needn't think——"

"Oh, don't get mad, Phil; I didn't mean anything," interposed Roger. "If you don't care to try it, you don't have to."

"But you needn't insinuate that I——"

"I am not insinuating anything, Phil. I merely wanted to know if Dave will try riding with me, that's all."

"Well, I—er—I know what you think. And if you try this bronco-busting business, why—I'll try it too, so there!" answered Phil, defiantly.

At the house the talk was entirely of the things they had seen. Jessie was rather glad it was over, for rough things made her somewhat afraid. Belle was enthusiastic and said she had once tried "bronco-busting" herself.

"But I didn't do much," she said. "The pony started to run and then stopped suddenly, and I went over his head into a stack of hay. I was glad the hay was there, otherwise I might have broken some of my bones."

"It is dangerous sport at the best," said Mrs. Endicott. "But the cowboys feel that the ponies must be broken in, and there is no other way to do it."