“Here I am,” said Ted, pushing through the crowd.
The trouble is started.
The crowd of men and youths opened out in front of Ted, and he strode into the circle.
There he saw Jack Slate in a much disheveled condition, dressed in his evening clothes.
Ted gasped as he stared for an instant at the youth from Boston.
He wanted to tell Jack that “it served him right,” but that was not the part of loyalty, and in the presence of the enemy it did not make any difference to a broncho boy if his pard was right or wrong, if he was in need of help.
“Where is the fellow who was going to throw me around?” asked Ted, looking into the faces about him.
No one replied, although Ted waited for a moment or two before looking at Billy Sudden.
Billy winked at him, but said nothing.
“Seems as if somebody’s sand has run out,” said Ted contemptuously.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Wiley Creviss. “There’s plenty of sand left if you need any to prevent your wheels from slipping downhill.”
“No, my sand box is always full,” said Ted quietly. “But there is some sneak in this bunch who hasn’t the nerve to back up his brag.”
“Are you talking to me?” said Creviss, swelling up as to chest.
“Oh, are you the misguided chump whom I heard make the remark about pushing me about, as I came up?” said Ted, in a tone of surprise.
The cowboys from Suggs’ ranch were snickering.
“Well, what if I was?”
“I’m going to make you try it.”
“Oh, I can do it, all right.”
“Well, why don’t you? I’m the easiest proposition you ever saw to be hazed by a bunch of hoodlums, such as you and your pals are!”
“For two cents I’d punch your nose.”
“You’re too cheap. I’ll give you a heap more than that if you will. It’s been so long since my nose was punched that it feels sort of lonesome. I’ll pay you well for the job, if you succeed in pulling off the stunt.”
“You think you’re the whole works because you’ve got a crowd of dudes around you. You’re not the only dent in the can.”
Ted flushed at this allusion to his pards.
“I’ll put a dent in you if you open your face to remark about my friends again,” he said, with some heat.
“See here, you town rough, you better take in your slack and clear out for home, or you’ll begin to taste the sorrows that come from inexperience and bad judgment,” said Billy Sudden to Creviss.
“It’s up to you to mind your own business,” snarled Creviss. “What are you but a lot of greasy cow-punchers. We haven’t much use for your sort in this town, anyway.”
“Now, son, keep quiet and behave yourself,” said Billy paternally. “If you get me riled I won’t be as patient with you as Ted Strong has been. I’ll fix you so as to keep two doctors busy the best part of the night.”