Chapter XVI. Tad Whips a Mountain Boy
 

Shame! Shame on you!" cried Tad Butler indignantly.

The lad leaped from his pony which he quickly tethered to the hitching bar in front of the store.

This done he ran to his fallen companion, who still lay where the lariat had thrown him. He was half stunned and covered with dust. After jerking him from his pony, however, the cowboys, though continuing their shouts of glee, had made no further effort to molest Philip.

Tad quickly released him.

"I 've had a lot to do with cowboys, but you're the first I ever knew who would do a thing like that. The cowboys I know are gentlemen."

"Then, d'ye mean to say that we ain't, ye miserable cayuse?" demanded one of the number, rising menacingly.

"The fellow who roped that boy is a loafer!" answered Tad bravely, taking a couple of paces forward and facing the crowd. "You wouldn't dare do that to a man, especially if he had a gun as you have. Why didn't you try it on Luke Lame when he was over here?"

"Oh, go back to yer mammy," jeered one.

"I want to know who threw that rope? If he isn't too big a coward, he'll tell me. I guess Mr. Simms will settle with him."

"It's up to you, Bob, I guess," nodded one of them, addressing the angry-faced mountain boy who was one of their number.

The latter rose with what was intended to appear as offended dignity.

"Ye mean me?" he demanded, glaring.

"Yes, if you are the one who did it," answered Tad, looking him squarely in the eyes.

"Then your going to git the alfiredest lickin' you ever had in your life," announced the mountain boy.

Tad held the other with a gaze so steady and unflinching as to cause the mountain boy to pause hesitatingly.

"Phil, jump on your pony and get out of here," directed the lad in a low tone.

"He stays where he is," commanded one of the cowboys.

"Do as I tell you," retorted Tad sharply. "Be quick about it, too."

A cowboy aimed a gun at Phil Simms.

"Try it, if ye want ter git touched up," he warned. "Bob, sail into the fresh kid," he added, nodding his head toward Tad Butler.

"I'm not looking for a fight--I don't want to fight, but if that loafer comes near me I'll have to do the best I can," answered Tad bravely. "I don't expect to get fair play. I'll----"

"You'll git fair play and you'll git more besides," called the previous speaker. "Go to him, Bob."

Bob lowered his head, sticking out his chin and assuming a belligerent attitude with eyes fixed on the slender figure of his opponent.

Tad was observing the mountain boy keenly, measuring him mentally, while young Simms, pale-faced and frightened, was leaning against his pony, which he had caught and was preparing to mount when he was stopped by the gun of the cowboy.

"See, you've got him rattled already, Bob," shouted a cowman triumphantly. "He'll be running in a minute."

"Come away, Tad," begged Philip.

"Keep quiet. Don't speak to me," answered the lad, without turning his head toward his companion. Tad Butler's whole being was centered on the work that he knew was ahead of him.

He was angry. He felt that he had never been more so in his life, but not a trace of his emotion showed in his face or actions. If he ever had need of coolness, it was at this very moment. He did not know whether he would be able to master the raw-boned mountaineer or not.

The lad's training in athletics had been thorough, and his title of champion wrestler of the high school in Chillicothe had been earned by hard work and persistent effort to make himself physically fit.

"He's all of twenty-five pounds heavier than I am," decided the boy. "I've got to try some tricks that he doesn't know about, if I hope to make any kind of showing."

Bob was now approaching him with an ugly grin on his face. Tad's arms hung easily by his side.

"Come on, what are you waiting for?" Tad smiled.

With a bellow of rage, Bob rushed him.

Tad laughed, and stepping quickly to one side, thrust a foot between the bully's legs as he passed. Bob landed flat on his face in the dust of the street.

The cowboys set up a roar of delight. It was sport, no matter who got the worst of it.

"Give them room," shouted some one, as the men closed quickly about the combatants. "Let the kids fight it out."

These tactics were so new to Bob, that be did not know just what had happened to him. And when he had scrambled to his feet, he met the laughing face of Tad Butler, which enraged him past all control. This was exactly what Tad wanted.

Bob with a bellow again charged him. Tad made a pass and missed, but covered his failure by neatly ducking under the upraised arm of the cowboy, whose surprised look when he found that he had been punching the empty air brought forth yells of delight from his companions.

Tad had cast away his hat, that it might not interfere with his movements. No sooner had he done so than his opponent renewed his attack. But Tad skillfully parried the heavy blows, delivered awkwardly and without any great amount of skill. The great danger was that his adversary with his superior strength might beat down the lad's defense and land a blow that would put a sudden end to the fray.

Tad was watching for an opening that would enable him to put in practice a plan that had formed in his brain.

"Look out for the cayuse, Bob. He ain't so big a tenderfoot as he looks," warned a cowboy. But Bob had already discovered this fact. Though his fists were beating a tattoo in the air he seemed unable to land a blow on the body of his elusive adversary, and this only served to anger him the more.

"Ki-yi!" yelled the cowboys as a short arm blow, delivered through the mountaineer's windmill movements, reached his jaw and sent him sprawling.

Tad had not been able to put the force into it that he wanted to, else the battle might have ended then and there.

Bob came back. This time he uttered no taunts. The blow hurt him. His head felt dizzy and his fists did not work with the same speed that they had done before.

All at once Tad's right hand shot out, his fist open instead of being closed. It closed over the left wrist of the cowboy with an audible slap.

Tad's left hand joined his right in closing over his adversary's wrist. He whirled sharply, bringing Bob's left arm over his adversary's shoulder. Then something happened that made the cowmen gasp with astonishment. The slender lad lifted the big mountain boy clear of the ground, hurled him over his head, and still clinging to the wrist, brought him down with a smashing jolt, flat on his back in the middle of the village street. Phil Simms narrowly escaped being struck by the heels of the mountain boy's boots as they described a half circle in the air.

Bob lay perfectly still. And for a moment the cowboys stood speechless with amazement.

"Whoopee!" yelled one. "Who-o-o-p-e-e!" chorused the others, dancing about Tad Butler and his fallen victim in wild delight.

"I'm sorry I had to do it," muttered the boy.

They helped Bob to his feet, pounded him on the back, making jeering remarks about his being whipped by a kid, until his courage gradually was urged back as his strength returned.

Suddenly Bob turned on his assailant, and throwing both arms about him, bore him to earth. The move was so unexpected that the lad had no opportunity to side step out of the way. The weight of the mountaineer was so great that Tad found himself unable to squirm from under.

Bob, with a growl of rage, raised his fist, bringing it down with the same movement that he would wield a meat axe.

Tad never flinched as he saw it coming. His eyes were fixed upon the descending fist, his every nerve centered on the task of watching it.

Just at the instant when fist and face seemed to be meeting, the lad by a mighty effort, jerked his head ever so little to the right.

"Oh!" yelled Bob.

Something snapped.

The pressure released from his body, ever so little, Tad by a supreme muscular effort, threw his opponent slightly to one side, and quickly wormed himself from under. He was on his feet in an instant.

The cowboys did not know what had happened, but they knew that the boy from the Simms ranch had done something to their companion that for the instant had taken all of the fight out of him.

Tad had been only partly responsible for Bob's present condition, however. By jerking his head to one side he had caused the mountain boy's fist to strike the hard roadbed instead of Tad's head.

Bob struggled to his feet, holding the right wrist with the left hand and moaning with pain. The right hung limp. Tad knew what had happened.

"He's broken his wrist. I'm glad I didn't have to do it for him," said the lad.

At first glowering glances were cast in Tad's direction. They were of half a mind to punish him in their own way.

"You said it was to be a fair fight," spoke up the lad. "Has it been?"

There was a momentary silence.

"The kid's right," exclaimed a cowman. "He cleaned up Bob fair and square. I reckon you kin go, now."

"Thank you."

"Hold on a minute. Not so fast, young fellow. I'm kinder curious like to know how ye put Bob over yer head like that!" asked another.

"It was a simple little Japanese wrestling trick," laughed the boy.

"Kin ye do that to me?"

"I don't know."

"Well, yer going ter try and right here and now."

"All right, come over here on the grass where the ground isn't so hard. If I succeed in doing it, though, you must agree not to get mad. I can't fight you, you know. You are too big for me."

The cowman grinned significantly, and strode over to the place indicated by Tad Butler.

"Now what d'ye want me ter do?" he demanded, leering. "Yer see I'm willing?"

"Strike at me, if you wish. I don't care how you go about it," replied Tad.

"Here goes!"

The cowman launched a terrific blow with his right. Tad sprang back laughing.

"If that had ever hit me, you never would have known how the other trick is worked," he said, while the cowboys laughed uproariously at the fellow's surprise when he found that his fist had not landed.

"Guess the kid ain't no slouch, eh, Jim?" jeered one.

Jim let go another, then a third one. The third blow proved his undoing. The next instant Jim's boots were describing a half circle in the air over Tad Butler's head. His revolvers slipping from their holsters in transit, dropped to the ground and Jim landed flat on his back with a mighty grunt.

He was up with a roar, his right hand dropping instinctively to his empty holster.

"Wh-o-o-o-e!" warned the fellow's companions. "No fair, Jim. No fair. He said as he'd do it, and he did. Kid, you'd clean out the whole outfit, give you time, I reckon."

Jim pulled himself together, restored his weapons to their places, and walked over to Tad, extending his hand.

"That was a dizzy wallop ye give me, pardner," he. said, with a sheepish grin. "If ye'll show me how it's did, I'll call it square."

Tad laughingly did so.

"I guess I couldn't get even with them any easier than by showing them the trick," he grinned, mounting his pony, and accompanied by Philip rode away. "They'll try that trick till the whole bunch of them get into a battle royal."

They did, as Tad learned next day.