Chapter XVIII. A Runaway Pony
 

Suddenly the noise of the shooting and shouting stopped. The children looked up toward the top of a little hill, for the sounds seemed to have come from the other side of that. As yet they had seen nothing that looked like a ranch, nor had they caught a glimpse of any cows or cowboys.

But, all at once Flossie cried:

"Oh, there they are! I see 'em!"

"So do I!" echoed Freddie.

And, with that, over the hill came racing about ten laughing, shouting and cheering men, each one waving his hat in one hand while the other held aloft something black, and from this black thing came spurts of smoke and banging noises.

"There are the cowboys! There are the cowboys! I'm going to be one of them!" cried Bert.

"Yes, there are the cowboys sure enough!" said Mr. Bobbsey.

"Will they shoot us?" asked Flossie.

"No they won't shoot anybody!" said the driver with a laugh. "They only keep their revolvers--guns they call 'em--to drive the wolves away from the cattle. This is only their way of having fun. They'll soon stop."

"Oh, what fun to be a cowboy and shoot a pistol!" cried Bert, as he saw the prancing horses. "I'm going to be one."

"You'll have to grow up a little bigger," said Dick Weston; "though you're pretty good-sized now."

The Bobbsey twins and the Bobbsey grown-ups watched the cowboys as they rode up on their "ponies", as the horses were called.

"Hi, there!" called the leading cowboy. "Are the Bobbsey twins there in that outfit, Dick?"

"That's what!" answered the driver. "The Bobbsey twins are here! I've got all four of 'em!"

"Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!" cheered the cowboys.

"How did they know our names?" asked Nan of her mother, as the cowboys on their horses surrounded the wagon.

"Well, I had to write to tell the man in charge of the Three Star ranch that we were coming," answered Mrs. Bobbsey. "I mentioned that I had four little Bobbsey twins, and of course the cowboys remembered. They seem glad to see us."

And, indeed, it was a most hearty welcome that was given the Bobbsey family on their trip to the great West. Not only the lumbermen, but the men at the ranch were glad to see them.

"Are these the cowboys who work for you?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey of Dick Weston as the men on the ponies put up their pistols, placed their broad-brimmed hats on their heads and rode along beside the wagon.

"Well, you might say they work for you now, as you own this Three Star ranch," the foreman said. "Of course I hire the men, or rather, I did, but after I leave you'll have to get some one else to be foremen and hire the men. I only stayed until you got here. I have a big ranch of my own that another man and I bought. I'll have to go and look after that."

"I shall be sorry to see you go, Mr. Weston," said the children's mother. "Do you know where I can get another foreman?"

"Well, I'm sort of sorry to go myself, after I've seen these twins," replied the driver. "We don't very often see children out here. It's too lonesome for 'em. But I just have to go. As for another foreman, why, I guess you won't have any trouble picking one up. Any of the cowboys will act as foreman until you get a regular one."

"I am glad to know that," said Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Is that the ranch?" asked Bert as the party of cowboys, riding around the carriage, suddenly started off down a little hill, and Bert pointed to several buildings clustered together at the foot of the slope almost like the buildings at the lumber camp.

"Well, all this is Three Star ranch," answered the foreman, and he swept his arm in a big circle across the prairie fields. "But those are the ranch houses and corrals."

"I don't see any cows," said Nan, and this seemed to puzzle her,

"The cattle are mostly out on the different fields, or 'ranges', as we call 'em, feeding," said Mr. Weston. "We drive them from place to place as they eat the grass. We don't generally keep many head of cattle right around the ranch buildings. We have a cow or two for milk, and maybe a calf or so."

"Oh, may I have a little calf?" cried Freddie. "If I'm going to be a cowboy I want a little calf."

"I guess we can get you one," said Mr. Weston, with a smile. "Well, here we are," he went on, as he drove the wagon up in front of a one- story red building, with a low, broad porch. "This is the main ranch house where your uncle used to live part of the time, Mrs. Bobbsey," he said. "I think you'll find it big enough for your family. We fixed it up as best we could when we heard you were coming."

"Oh, I'm sure you have made it just like a home!" said Mrs. Bobbsey in delight, as she went into the house with her husband and the children. "Oh, how lovely!"

There were some bright-colored rugs on the floor, and in vases on the table and mantel were some prairie flowers. On the walls of the one big room, which seemed to take up most of the house, were oddly colored cow skins, mounted horns, and the furry pelt of some animal that Bert thought was a wolf.

"I'm sure we shall like it here," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "I am glad we came to Three Star ranch."

"So'm I!" said Bert.

"And can I get an Indian doll?" asked Nan.

"Well, there are a few Indians around here," said the foreman slowly. "They come to the ranch now and then to get something to eat, or trade a pony. I don't know that I've ever seen any of 'em with a doll, though maybe they do have some."

"Will any Indian come soon?" Nan wanted to know.

"I hope they do--real wild ones!" cried Bert.

"We don't have that kind here," said the foreman. "All the Indians around here are tame. And I can't say when they will come."

"Well, anyhow, there's cowboys," said Bert hopefully.

The baggage was brought in and then the foreman said to Mr. Bobbsey:

"When do you want to eat?"

"Right now!" exclaimed Bert, before any one else had a chance to speak.

"I thought so!" laughed the foreman. "Tell Sing Foo to rustle in the grub," he went on to one of the cowboys on the outside porch.

"Oh, do you have a Chinese laundryman for a cook?" asked Nan, as she heard the name.

"Well, I guess Sing Foo can wash, bake, iron, mend clothes, or do anything around the ranch except ride a cow pony or brand a steer," said Dick Weston. "He draws the line on that. But he surely is a good cook with the grub," said the foreman.

"I don't want any grub," put in Freddie anxiously. "I want something to eat."

"Excuse me, little man. I guess I oughtn't to use slang before you." said the foreman. "When I say 'grub' I mean something to eat And here comes Sing Foo with it now!"

As he spoke a smiling Chinese, dressed just as the Bobbsey twins had seen them in pictures, with his shirt outside his trousers, came shuffling along, carrying big trays from which came delicious appetizing odors.

"Dlinna all leddy!" said Sing Foo. "All leddy numbla one top side pletty quick."

"He means dinner is all ready and that everything is cooked just right and in a hurry," explained the foreman. "He can't say any words well that have the letter "r" in 'em," he went on in a whisper.

The Chinese was busy setting the table, and the Bobbseys soon sat down to a fine meal, Dick Weston ate with them and explained things about the ranch to Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey. The twins were too busy looking around the room and out of the windows through which now and then they could see some of the cowboys, to pay much attention to the talk of the grown-ups.

As Mr. Weston had said, he was going to give up being foreman of Three Star ranch to take charge of a place he and another man had bought. He was only staying until Mrs. Bobbsey could come and take charge of her property. But Mr. Weston said she would have no trouble, with her husband and the cowboys to help her."

"But I don't know anything about cows or cowboys," said Mr. Bobbsey. "When it comes to lumber and trees I'm all right. But I'll be of no use here, We must get another foreman, my dear," he said to his wife.

"Yes, undoubtedly," she agreed. "Oh, look at the children," she went on, pointing out of the window. Bert and Nan and Flossie and Freddie had left the table after the meal, and were now out near one of the cattle yards, or corrals, standing beside a little cart to which a pony was hitched.

"They mustn't get into that pony cart," said Mrs. Bobbsey, for she saw Bert lifting Freddie up into the small wagon, while Nan was doing the same for Flossie.

"They won't hurt it, ma'am," said the foreman. "I brought that pony cart around on purpose, so you could give it to the children. It's been here some time, but as there weren't any children it hasn't been used much. The boys got the cart out and mended it when they heard the Bobbsey twins were coming."

"That is very kind of them, I'm sure," said Mr. Bobbsey. "Is the pony safe to drive?"

"Oh, yes, your older boy or girl can manage him all right. Look, they're all in now. We can go out and I'll tell them what to do."

But before Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey and the foreman could reach the pony cart, in which the Bobbsey twins were now seated, something happened. There was the report of a shot, and a moment later the pony started off at a fast gallop, dragging the cart and the children after him.

"Oh, he's running away!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey. "Stop the runaway pony!"