Chapter XIX. The Wild Steer
 

Ponies can not run as fast as can horses, not being as large. But the pony drawing the small cart into which the Bobbsey twins had climbed seemed to go very swiftly indeed. Before Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey and Dick Weston, the foreman, could hurry outside the ranch house, the pony and cart were quite a distance down the road which led over the prairies to the distant cattle ranges.

"Oh, the children! What will happen to them?" cried Mrs. Bobbsey, as she saw the twins being carried away.

"Perhaps Bert can get hold of the reins and stop the pony," said Mr. Bobbsey, as he hurried along with his wife.

"If he can do that they'll be all right," said the foreman. "The pony is a good one, and I never knew him to run away before. That shot must have frightened him."

But whatever had caused the pony to run away, the little horse certainly was going fast. Sitting in the cart, the Bobbsey twins had been too frightened at first to know what was going on. As soon as Bert and Nan had followed Flossie and Freddie up into the small cart the shot had sounded and away the pony galloped, the reins almost slipping over the dashboard.

"Oh, Bert!" cried Nan, grasping Flossie and Freddie around their waists so the small twins would not fall out, "what shall we do?"

Bert did not answer just then. For one thing he had to hold on to the side of the cart so he would not be jostled out. And another reason he did not answer Nan was because he was trying to think what was the best thing to do.

He looked ahead down the ranch road, and did not see anything into which the pony might crash, and so hurt them all. The road was clear. Behind him Bert could hear his mother, his father, and the foreman shouting. Bert hoped some of the cowboys might be there also, and that they would run after and stop the pony. But when he looked back he did not see any of the big, jolly, rough men on their speedy little cow ponies.

Bert saw his father and mother, and also Mr. Weston running after the pony cart, and Bert wondered why the foreman did not get on his horse and gallop down the road. Afterward Bert learned that the foreman had loaned his horse to another cowboy, who had ridden on it to a distant part of the ranch. And none of the cowboys was near by when the pony ran away.

"Oh, Bert! what will happen?" asked Nan, still holding Flossie and Freddie to keep them from falling out of the swaying cart. "What are we going to do?"

"I'm going to try to stop this pony!" answered Bert. He saw where the reins had nearly slipped over the dashboard. The reins were buckled together, and the loop had caught on one of the ends of the nickle- plated rail on top of the dashboard. Bert leaned forward to get hold of the reins, so he might bring the pony to a stop, but the little horse gave a sudden jump just then, as a bird flew in front of him. The reins slipped down and dragged along the ground. Bert could not reach them, and the pony seemed to go faster than ever.

"Oh, dear!" cried Nan. "We'll all be hurt!"

Flossie and Freddie were very much frightened, and clung closely to Sister Nan.

But presently Freddie plucked up courage and then grew excited, and after a minute or two he called out:

"We're havin' a fast ride, we are!"

"Too fast!" exclaimed Bert. "But maybe he'll get tired pretty soon and stop!"

However, the pony did not seem to be going to stop very soon. On and on he ran, with Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey and the ranch foreman being left farther and farther behind.

Suddenly, along a side path that joined the main road on which the pony was running away, appeared the figure of a man on a horse. He was trotting along slowly, at first, but as soon as he caught sight of the pony cart and the children in it, this man made his horse go much faster.

"Sit still! Sit still! I'll stop your pony for you!" called the man.

Bert and Nan heard. They looked up and saw the stranger waving his hand to them. He was guiding his galloping horse so as to cut across in front of their trotting pony.

In a few moments the man on the big horse was closer. Then began a race between the horse and the pony, and because the horse was bigger and had longer legs it won. The man galloped up beside the pony cart, leaped down from his saddle and caught the pony by the bridle. It was easy for the man to halt the little horse, and bring the pony to a stop.

"There you are, children!" said the man. "Not hurt, I hope?"

"No, sir," answered Bert. "We're all right."

"Thank you," added Nan, for she noticed that Bert was forgetting this very important part.

"Oh, yes. Thank you!" said Bert.

"You are quite welcome," the man said, "But you shouldn't try to make your pony go so fast."

"We didn't make him go fast," replied Bert "We'd just got in the cart, to see if we would all fit, and somebody shot a gun and the pony ran away."

"Did he run far?" asked the man.

"Yes, he gave us a long ride," answered Freddie.

"Oh, it wasn't so very far," added Nan. "Though it seemed like a good way because we went so fast."

"We're from Three Star ranch," explained Bert.

"Oh, so you live on a ranch," said the man. "Well, I'm looking for a ranch myself."

"We don't exactly live on a ranch," went on Bert. "But it's my mother's, and we came out West to see it. Before that we were at a lumber camp."

"My! you are doing some traveling," exclaimed the man, who was rubbing the velvet nose of the pony. "Are these some of your friends coming?" he asked, looking down the road.

The Bobbsey twins turned and looked, and saw their father and mother and the foreman hurrying along. When the father and mother saw that the pony had been stopped and that the children were safe, they were no longer frightened.

"He stopped the pony for us," explained Bert, pointing to the stranger who had mounted his horse as Mr. Weston took hold of the pony's bridle, so it would not try to run away again.

"You appeared just in time," said Mr. Bobbsey to the strange man. "The children might have been hurt, only for you."

"Well, I'm glad I could stop the runaway," was the answer. "They said they lived on a ranch around here."

"Yes, the Three Star," said Mr. Weston. "You look like a cattleman yourself," he added.

"I am," said the man. "My name is Charles Dayton, and I am looking for a place to work. I was foreman at the Bar X ranch until that outfit was sold. I've been looking for a place ever since."

"The Bar X!" cried Mr. Weston. "I know some of the cowboys over there. And so you are looking for a place as foreman. Why, this is strange. Mrs. Bobbsey here, the owner of Three Star, is looking for a foreman. I'm going to leave."

"Well, I would be very glad to work for Mrs. Bobbsey at Three Star," said Mr. Dayton.

"Are you any relation to a Bill Dayton?" asked Mr. Bobbsey, while Bert and Nan listened for the answer. Flossie and Freddie were out of the cart now, gathering prairie flowers, and did not pay much attention to the talk.

"Bill Dayton is my brother," answered Charles Dayton. "But I did not know he was around here. The last I heard of him he was in the lumber business."

"And he is yet!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey. "He is foreman of a lumber tract my uncle left me."

"And if you are as good a cattleman as your brother is a lumberman I think we can find a place for you at Three Star," said Mr. Bobbsey.

"I can tell you Mr. Dayton is a good cattleman," said Mr. Weston. "He had to be, to act as foreman at Bar X ranch. You won't make any mistake in hiring him."

"Will you come to us?" asked Mr. Bobbsey who seemed to have taken as much of a liking to the newcomer as had the children.

"Well, I'm looking for a place," was the answer, "and I'll do my best to suit you. It's queer, though, that you know my brother Bill."

"He mentioned you," said Mr. Bobbsey, "but he said he had lost track of you."

"Yes, we don't write to each other very often. Both of us have been traveling around a lot. But now, if I settle down, I'll send Bill a letter and tell him where I am."

There was room for Mrs. Bobbsey in the pony cart, and she rode back with the children. There seemed to be no danger now, for the little horse had quieted down.

"He hadn't been out of the stable for some time, and that's what made him so frisky," said the foreman, who was soon going to leave Three Star. "He won't run away again."

And Toby, which was the name of the pony, never did. Bert and Nan drove him often after that, and there never was a bit of trouble. Even Freddie and Flossie were allowed to drive, when Bert or Nan sat on the seat near them, in case of accident.

Mr. Charles Dayton soon proved that he was a good cattleman, and he was made foreman of Three Star ranch after Dick Weston left. The cowboys seemed to like their new foreman.

"And, now that you are one of us here," said Mrs. Bobbsey to her new foreman, "don't forget to write and let your brother know where you are."

"I'll do that!" promised the cattleman.

Busy and happy days on the ranch followed. While Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey looked after the new business of raising and selling cattle, the Bobbsey twins had good times. The new foreman and the cowboys were very fond of the children, and were with them as much as they could be during the day. They took them on little picnics and excursions, and two small ponies were trained so Bert and Nan could ride them. As for Flossie and Freddie, they had to ride in the cart. Freddie wanted to be a cowboy, and straddle a pony as Bert did, but his mother thought him too small. But Freddie and Flossie had good times in the cart, so they did not miss saddle rides.

Bert and Nan were very fond of their ponies. The little horses soon grew very tame and gentle, though Bert and his sister did not go very far away from the main buildings unless some of the cowboys were with them.

One afternoon, when they had been on the ranch about a month, and were liking it more and more every day, Bert and Nan asked their mother if they could ride on their ponies across the fields to gather a new kind of wild flower a cowboy had told them about.

"Yes, you may go," Mrs. Bobbsey said. "But be careful, and do not ride too far. Be home in time for supper."

"We will," promised Bert.

He and Nan set off. It was pleasant riding over the green prairie. Now and then the children saw little prairie dogs scurrying in and out of their burrows. And once they saw a rattlesnake. But the serpent crawled quickly out of the way, and Bert and Nan did not stop to see where it went. They hurried on.

They reached the little hollow in the hills where the red flowers grew, and, getting out of their saddles, began to pick some.

"They'll make a lovely bouquet for the living room," said Nan.

"Yes, but I guess we have enough," said Bert, "I don't want to stay here too long. Mr. Dayton promised to show me how to throw a lasso to- day, and I've got to learn; that is, if I'm going to be a cowboy."

"All right," agreed Nan. "We'll get in a minute. I want to get just a few more flowers." She was gathering another handful of the red blossoms when suddenly she looked up, and something she saw on top of a little hill caused her to cry:

"Oh, Bert, look! Look! What's that?"

Bert glanced up. He saw a wild steer looking at him and his sister. The big animal was lashing his tail from side to side and pawing the earth with one hoof. Suddenly it gave a loud bellow and rushed down the slope.