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    Chapter 11

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    Chapter 12
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    THE ARRIVAL AT STAR RANCH

    Mr. Felix Merwell bowed stiffly to Mr. Endicott, and, on seeing Laura, raised his hat slightly. Both of the others bowed in return. Then the eyes of the newcomer swept the vicinity of the little railroad station.

    "See anything of my son, Link?" he asked, of Sid Todd.

    "No, sir," was the short reply. It was quite evident that the cowboy and the ranch owner were not on very friendly terms.

    "Humph! I thought sure he'd be on this train," muttered Mr. Merwell, to no one in particular. He looked at the boys. "You came in on the train that just left, I suppose," he said.

    "We did," answered Dave.

    "See anything of a boy about your own age in Helena, at the depot? He was coming on the eastern train."

    "Your son wasn't on the train," answered Dave.

    "Ah! you know him?"

    "Yes."

    "Who are you, may I ask? I do not remember seeing you before."

    "I am Dave Porter. Link and I went to Oak Hall together."

    "Ah, I see!" Mr. Merwell drew a long breath and nodded his head knowingly. "Dave Porter, you said. And who are these young men?"

    "My school chums, Roger Morr and Phil Lawrence."

    "Indeed! Then you are the young men who caused my son so much trouble--caused him to be sent away, in fact," continued Mr. Merwell, and he glared hatefully at the three lads.

    "It was Link's own fault that he was sent away," answered the senator's son. "If he had behaved himself he would have had no trouble."

    "Oh, of course, it is natural that you should shield yourselves. But I know my son, and I know he is not the person he has been made out to be by Doctor Clay and others. It was an outrage to allow the other boys at the school to get him into trouble as they did, and I have written to Doctor Clay to that effect."

    "Your son was entirely to blame," said Phil, bound to stand up for himself.

    "He can be thankful that he was let off so easily," added Dave. "If it hadn't been for the honor of Oak Hall, there might have been a public exposure."

    "Bah! nonsense! But it is useless to continue this discussion here, in the presence of these young ladies. Perhaps I'll see you again about the matter--after I have interviewed my son personally."

    "Mr. Merwell, these young gentleman are my guests," put in Mr. Endicott, bluntly. "While they are stopping at my ranch I trust they will not be annoyed by any one."

    "Mr. Endicott, I shall respect your wishes so far as I can," returned Felix Merwell, with great stiffness. "But if these young men have done my son an injustice, they will have to suffer for it. I bid you good-day." And having thus delivered himself, the man wheeled around his coal-black steed and was off in a cloud of dust down the road.

    "Oh, Dave, what do you think he'll do?" asked Jessie, in alarm.

    "I don't know," was Dave's reply. "Of course, he is bound to stick up for Link."

    "I never liked him very much, and now I despise him," said Laura.

    "One can readily see where Link gets his temper from," was Phil's comment. "He is nothing but a chip of the old block."

    "I am sorry that Mr. Merwell is my neighbor," came from Mr. Endicott. "But it can't be helped, so we'll have to make the best of it. My advice is, while you are out here, keep off his lands, and if he annoys you in any way, let me know."

    "We'll have to learn what his lands are," said the senator's son.

    "Todd and the others can readily tell you about that, and about Merwell's cattle, too. But come, we have wasted too much time already. You'll all be wanting supper long before we reach the ranch."

    Old Jerry had gone ahead with the wagon, and now the others followed along the road taken by the turnout and by Mr. Merwell. It was a winding trail, leading up and down over the hills and through a dense patch of timber. Two miles from the station they had to cross a fair-sized stream by way of a bridge that was far from firm.

    "We've got to have a new bridge here some day," said Mr. Endicott. "I am willing to bear my share of the expense, but Merwell won't put up a cent. He doesn't go in for improvements."

    "He seems to like good horseflesh," remarked Phil.

    "That was one of his best mounts. His horses aren't half as good as those we have; eh, Todd?"

    "No better bosses in these parts than those at the Star," answered the cowboy.

    "I have been giving our horses my especial care for three years," explained the railroad president. "It has become a hobby with me, and some day I may turn the ranch into something of a stock farm for raising certain breeds of horses and ponies. While you are here you'll not suffer for the want of a mount."

    "I'd like to see you break in some of the horses," said Roger.

    "Well, you'll have the chance."

    "Maybe you'd like to break in a bronco yourself," suggested Belle, with a twinkle in her eye.

    "And get sent skyhigh!" returned the senator's son. "No, thank you, not until I've learned the business."

    "A bronco is all right if you understand him," remarked Sid Todd. "But if you don't, you'd better monkey with the business end of a gun,--it's just as healthy."

    The woods left behind, they commenced to ascend a long hill. Far off to the westward loomed the mountains, covered with pines and bordered below with cottonwoods.

    "There is where you'll get your hunting when you want it," said Mr. Endicott. "How is it, can you shoot?"

    "We can," answered Phil, and then told of some of their experiences in the South Sea islands. Then Roger told of the adventures which Dave and he had in Norway, and Dave ended by telling of the target practice with the swinging board.

    "Well, I'll tell you right now a big bear out in them mountains ain't no swingin' board," said Sid Todd. "He's a whole lumber yard, when he's cornered." And at this remark there was a general laugh.

    It was getting dark when they came in sight of Star Ranch. They made out a long, low building on the southern slope of a small hill. It was built in modern bungalow fashion, having been erected by Mr. Endicott after the original log dwelling had been destroyed by fire. It was divided into a sitting-room fifteen feet by twenty-five, an office, a good-sized dining-hall, a kitchen, and eight bedrooms, and a bath. Water was pumped from a brook at the foot of the hill, and the rooms were lighted by a new system of gasoline gas. The ranch home was comfortably furnished, and in the sitting-room were a bookcase filled with good reading, and a new player piano, with a combination cabinet of sheet music and music rolls.

    "I play by hand," said Belle, when the boys noticed the player piano, "but papa plays with his feet."

    "That's the kind of playing I do, too," answered Phil, with a grin.

    "But you sing, don't you?" asked the young hostess of the ranch.

    "Oh, yes, we all sing."

    "Belle is a beautiful player," said Laura. "Wait till you hear her play some operatic selections."

    Supper was in readiness, having been ordered in advance by Mrs. Endicott, a sweet woman who looked like Laura, and as soon as the girls and boys had had a chance to brush up and wash, all sat down to partake of the good things provided. Jessie was much astonished by the things spread before her.

    "Why, I thought we were going to live in regular camping style!" she declared. "This is as good as what we had at the hotel in Chicago, if not better."

    "The Wild West of to-day is not the Wild West of years ago," explained Mrs. Endicott. "People from the East have a wrong impression of many things. Of course some things are still crude, but others are as up-to-date as any one could wish."

    "What I like best of all is the general open-heartedness of the people you meet," declared Dave. "They are not quite so frozen-up as in some places in the East."

    "That is true, and it is readily explained," answered the ranch owner. "In the pioneer days everybody had to depend upon everybody else, and consequently all were more or less sociable. The feeling has not yet worn off. But I am afraid it will wear off, as we become more and more what is called civilized," added Mr. Endicott, with something of a sigh.

    Everybody was hungry, and all did full justice to the repast. As they ate, the boys and girls asked many questions concerning the ranch and the neighborhood generally, and Mr. and Mrs. Endicott and Belle were kept busy answering first one and then another. The railroad president told how he had come to purchase the place--doing it for the sake of his health--and mentioned the many improvements he had made.

    "We used to simply corral the horses and cattle," said he. "But now I have a fine stable for the horses, and numerous sheds for the cattle. We have also big barns for hay and grain, and a hen-house with a run fifty feet by two hundred."

    "The chickens are my pets," said Belle. "I have some of the cutest bantams you ever saw."

    "I'll help you feed them," said Jessie. At Crumville she had always taken an interest in the chickens.

    The trunks and dress-suit cases had been brought in by old Jerry and one of the Chinese servants, and placed in the proper rooms, and after supper the boys and girls spent an hour in getting settled. Laura and Jessie had a nice room that connected with one occupied by Belle, and Dave, Phil, and Roger were assigned to two rooms directly opposite.

    "You boys can divide up the rooms to suit yourselves," said Mrs. Endicott.

    "Thank you, we will," they answered, and later arranged that Dave was to have one apartment and Roger the other, and Phil was to sleep one week with one chum and the next with the other.

    "Say, but this suits me down to the ground!" cried the senator's son, after the boys had said good-night to the others. "It's a complete surprise. Like Jessie, I had an idea we'd have to rough it."

    "I knew about what to expect, for Laura told me," answered Dave, with a smile. "I didn't say too much because I wanted you to be surprised. But it's better even than I anticipated. If we don't have the outing of our lives here, it will be our own fault."

    "The Endicotts are certainly fine folks," said the shipowner's son, as he sat on the edge of a bed to unlace his shoes. "And Belle is--well, as nice as they make 'em."

    "Hello, Phil must be smitten!" cried Roger. "Well, I don't blame you, old man."

    "Who said I was smitten?" returned Phil, his face growing red. "I said she was a dandy girl, that's all."

    "And she is," said Dave. "I don't wonder Laura likes her."

    "We ought to be able to make up some fine parties," continued Phil, as he dropped a shoe on the floor. "Dave can take out Jessie, and you can take out Laura, and I'll----"

    "Take out Miss Belle," finished the senator's son. He caught Phil by the foot. "Say, you're smitten all right. Come on, Dave, let us wake him out of his dream!" And he commenced to pull on the foot.

    "Hi! you let up!" cried the shipowner's son, clutching at the bed to keep himself from falling to the floor. "I haven't said half as much about Belle as you've said about Laura, so there!"

    "Never said anything about Laura!" answered Roger, but he, too, turned red. Dave commenced to laugh heartily, and Phil wrenched himself free and stood up.

    "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," cried Dave. "Better both quit your knocking and go to bed. I suppose the girls are tired out and want to go to sleep."

    "Sounds like it, doesn't it," murmured Roger, as a shriek of laughter came from across the hallway.

    "Maybe they are knocking each other the same way," suggested Phil.

    "Never!" cried Dave. "Girls aren't built that way."

    But Dave was mistaken.

    A little later quietness reigned, and one after another the newcomers to Star Ranch dropped asleep.
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