Chapter XVII. At the Ranch
 

After the first crash in the night, and the rattling and bumping of the sleeping car in which they were riding, the Bobbsey twins heard nothing more that was exciting except the whistling of the locomotive and the shouting of men outside the train.

But though the sleeping car no longer bumped unevenly over the wooden ties of the road bed, and though it had come to a stop, the people in it were all very much excited. Men and women quickly dressed, and came out in the aisle where Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey were now standing.

"What is it?"

"What's the matter?"

"Are we off the track?"

These and many other questions were being asked by every one it seemed.

"I was dreamin' that I fell out of bed and I got a big bump!" said Freddie Bobbsey, and, hearing that, many of the passengers laughed.

This seemed to make them feel better, and when it was seen that the sleeping car was not broken and that no one in it was hurt, the men and women began to talk about what had best be done.

"We're off the track, that's sure," said one man who had a berth next to Mr. Bobbsey. "You can tell we're off the track by the way this car is tipped to one side."

"Yes, I believe we are," said the children's father. "Well, if it isn't anything worse than being off the track we will not worry much. But there was a pretty hard crash, and I'm afraid some of the passengers in the other cars are hurt."

"You're right--it was a hard crash," said a woman to whom Mrs. Bobbsey was speaking. "It awakened me from a sound sleep. If we are off the track I wonder how long it will take us to get back on?"

"I have a train of cars," said Freddie, who, with the other Bobbsey children, was now partly dressed. "I have a train of cars, and when they get off the track Flossie and I put 'em back on."

"Well, I wish you could do that with this train, my little engineer!" laughed the man who had talked to Freddie's father.

"I'm not an engineer!" exclaimed the little fellow, smiling.

"No?" asked the man.

"Nope! I'm a fireman, and my sister's a fairy!" went on Freddie, pointing to Flossie so every one would know he did not mean Nan.

"Well, if she is a fairy maybe she can wave her magic wand and put us all back on the track again," went on the man. "Can you do that, little fairy?" he asked. "Where is your magic wand?"

"I--I hasn't any," answered Flossie, who was feeling a bit shy and bashful because so many persons were looking at her and smiling.

"Well, here comes the conductor," said some one. "Perhaps he can tell us what the matter is, even if he can't put the train back on the rails. What's wrong, conductor?" asked a man whose hair was all tousled from having gotten out of his berth in such a hurry.

"There has been an accident," explained the train conductor. "It isn't a bad one, but it will hold us here for an hour or two."

"Is any one hurt?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"No, I'm glad to say no one is," the conductor said. "Our train ran into a freight car that stuck too far over the edge of its own track out on our track. Our engine smashed the freight car, some damage was done to the locomotive itself, and the crash threw some of our cars off the rails. But no one was hurt more than being shaken up."

"That's good," said Mr. Bobbsey. "Then had we better stay right in our car?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," answered the conductor. "That's what I came in to tell you-- stay right here. We have sent for the wrecking crew, and we will go on again as soon as we can. There is no danger. You need not be afraid, even if you get shaken up again."

"Are you going to shake us up?" asked Bert.

"No, but the wrecking crew will when they pull this car back on the rails," the conductor replied. "But don't be afraid--no one will be hurt."

The passengers quieted down after hearing this, and some of them who were good sleepers went back to bed. The Bobbsey twins were too wide- awake, their mother thought, to go to sleep so soon after the excitement, so she let them sit up a while to get quiet.

Going to the end of the car, in the little passageway near the wash room, Bert and Nan could look out of the window. They saw men with flaring oil torches hurrying here and there. These were the railroad workers getting ready to put the train back on the track.

There was not so much shouting, now that it was known no one was hurt, and soon the children heard the puffing of engines and the rumble of wheels.

"The wrecking crew has arrived," said Mr. Bobbsey, who came down the aisle to see if Bert and Nan were all right.

"What's a wrecking crew, Daddy?" asked Nan.

"They are the men who clear away wrecked trains," her father answered. "Don't you remember? You saw them at the wreck in our town."

"Oh, yes!" exclaimed Nan. "There was one car with a big derrick on it, and it lifted the broken pieces of the wrecked cars out of the way."

"That's the wreck Mr. Hickson was hurt in," went on Bert. "I guess his wreck was worse than this one."

"Yes, it was," said Mr. Bobbsey. "All railroad wrecks are bad enough, but some are worse than others. But now I think you children had better get back to your berths. There isn't much more to see. You can feel the rest."

"You mean we can feel the bumping when they put us back on the rails?" asked Bert.

"Yes," his father told him.

And a little while after Bert and his sister had got back in their berths they did feel a rumbling and bumping. There were more shouts out in the darkness of the night, and, peering under the edges of their curtains, the children saw more flickering torches and moving men.

Then came an extra big bump, and the sleeping car swayed from side to side. A moment later it began to roll along smoothly.

"I guess we're back on the track now," said Bert.

"Yes," his father answered, "we are. Now we'll travel along."

And in about two hours after the wreck the train was on its journey again, not much the worse for the accident. The freight car had been smashed and so had the front part of the passenger engine. But another locomotive had come with the wrecking train, and this was used to haul the Bobbseys and other passengers where they wanted to go.

"Now we'll have something to tell Mr. Hickson when we get back home," said Bert to Nan the next morning at the breakfast table.

"You mean about the wreck?" asked Nan.

"Yes," replied Bert. "Course ours wasn't a big wreck, like his, but it was big enough."

"I don't want another," said Nan. "I like Mr. Hickson; don't you, Bert?"

"Yes, I do. And I wish we could find his two sons for him, but I don't s'pose we can."

"No," agreed Nan, "we can't ever do that."

It was about noon on the day after the night of the wreck, that Mr. Bobbsey said to his wife and children:

"We will get out soon."

"Shall we be in Cowdon?" asked Bert. "At the ranch?"

"No, not exactly at the ranch," his father told him. "But we'll reach the town of Cowdon, and from there we'll drive to the ranch, which is about ten miles from the railroad."

"Oh, may I ride a pony out to the ranch?" cried Bert.

"I don't believe they'll bring any ponies to meet us," said Mr. Bobbsey. "Later on you may ride one."

The train pulled into the little western station. Some time since the big stretches of woods and trees had been left behind, and now the Bobbseys were in the open prairie country--the land of cattle, cowboys and, at least Bert hoped, of Indians also.

"This is really the West, isn't it?" said Bert to his father, as they saw the wide, rolling fields on either side of the train.

"Yes, this is the West," was the answer.

"But where are the cowboys and the cows?" Nan asked.

"Oh, they don't come so close to the railroad," her father explained. "You'll see them when you get to the ranch."

Then the train reached the small station, as I have said. It seemed to be very lonesome. There were no other buildings near it--only a water tank, and there was not an Indian in sight. At first Bert thought there was not even a cowboy, but when he saw a man sitting on the seat of a wagon with some horses hitched in front--horses that had queer, rough marks on their flanks--Bert cried:

"Oh, say! I guess he's a cowboy!" and he pointed to the driver.

"He hasn't any cow!" exclaimed Flossie, and she wondered why the man in the wagon laughed.

"No, I haven't any cows with me," he said; "but if this is the Bobbsey family I can take you to a place where you will see lots of cattle."

"We are the Bobbseys," said the children's father, walking over to the man in the wagon, "Are you from Three Star ranch?"

"That's where I'm from. I'm in charge, for the time being, but I can't stay much longer. You'll have to get another foreman. I got your letter, saying you were coming out, so I stayed to meet you. And now, if you're ready, I'll take you all out to Three Star."

"Is Three Star the name of a city?" asked Bert.

"No, it's the name of the ranch your mother owns, my boy," said the man, who gave his name as Dick Weston. "All the cattle are marked, or branded, with three stars--like the ponies there," and he pointed to the rough marks on the flanks of the team.

"As soon as I saw those marks I knew you must be a cowboy," said Bert. "You do ride a horse, don't you?"

"That's about all I do," said Foreman Weston, with a smile. "I don't often ride in a wagon, but I knew you'd need one to-day to get to the ranch. Now, if you're ready, we'll start."

The train had gone on, after leaving the Bobbseys and their baggage. Into the wagon the twins were helped. Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey took their seats, the driver called to the horses and away they trotted.

"Is Cowdon much of a town?" asked Mr. Bobbsey, as they drove along.

"No, not much more than you can see over there," and Dick Weston pointed with his whip to a few houses and a store or two on the prairie, about a mile from the railroad station. "We don't go through it to get to Three Star ranch. We turn off to the north," and he drove along the prairie road.

"Oh, look at that snake!" suddenly cried Bert, pointing to one that wiggled and twisted across the road.

"Yes, and you want to look out for those snakes," said the driver. "That's a rattler, and poisonous. Keep away from 'em!"

"Yes indeed they must!" said Mrs. Bobbsey. "Are there any other dangers out here?"

"Well, not many, no, ma'am. And rattlers aren't to be feared if you let 'em alone. Just keep clear of 'em. They'll run away from you rather than fight."

Up and down little, rolling hills went the wagon, drawing the Bobbsey twins. They dipped down into a hollow, and for a time nothing could be seen but green fields.

"Where are the cows?" asked Nan.

"And the cowboys?" Bert wanted to know.

"You'll see 'em soon," was the promise of the driver.

All of a sudden a great noise burst out. There was the shooting of pistols and loud shouts.

"Yi! Yi! Yip!" came in shrill cries.

"Woo! Wow!" sounded, as if in answer.

"Bang! Bang!" went the firearms.

"What is that?" cried Nan, holding her hands over her ears.

"Those are the cowboys," answered Dick Weston, with a smile. "That's their way of telling you they're glad to see you. Here we are at the ranch."